Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Hand Of The Spirit Is Drawing Now

I would like to be thorough in my readings of women and gay men (most recently, Kristin Hersh and Gore Vidal, the two most ardent admirers of Betty Hutton, for different reasons), but honestly I am not reading much, an artless condition I have sought to improve by looking at photography books. I’m starting off big, as I usually aim to do with new canon endeavors:

[a] Robert Frank’s The Americans
[b] Garry Winogrand’s Figments from the Real World
[c] Atget’s Paris
[d] Friedlander, Harry Callahan
[e] Arbus, Avedon
[f] The Book of 101 Books

[a] As fine a way as any to spend the Fourth of July. /// I recognize a lot of my own instincts in Robert Frank, and in one particular image of a barbershop seen through a window, the blurry reflection of the author looming in the center, so large and abstracted as to be mere visual noise, a sort of impersonal reminder of subjectivity and half-invisible way to divide the image into three sections of light and shadow. There’s some relief to be found in self-reflexive picture-taking (that moment after the click when the compulsion to stop time briefly dissipates), but I’ve always lacked the courage to take pictures of strangers, which is the crucial quality for a photographer to have.

[a/b] I wonder if a similarly expansive and keen-eyed documentation of the world today has been undertaken, somewhere, and I worry that my not knowing is an implicit and wrong-headed acknowledgment that there’s nothing left worth photographing. But I’m thrilled to be able to look at a half-stocked replica of the former present. Like most things I do in private, encountering it mostly serves to make me cry in wonder. Who are these people rendered in shadow? What do their bodies tell, besides capture? How many more snatched moments were they allowed before death? Should they be allowed the right to be lost to the past? I’ve long wondered if characterization is a sin (to pretend to know someone, and build a lie from them), but maybe documentary representation is no better. A person shouldn’t have to carry all their humanity on their body, or anywhere it can be seen. (Well, sometimes I think that, but it’s just as easy to shut it off and take the visual world for myself. But strangers still scare me.)

[c] I had an initial impression that Atget shares something with Frank and Winogrand, but couldn’t figure out why his Paris streets are so empty (unlike their American ones) until it occurred to me that he is working with such slow exposures that all human subjects blur out of existence (unless they stand still, in which case they render as half-human fog). Loneliness begot by technological limitation. Of course there is loneliness in any photograph no matter its proximity to the human face, but Atget is accidentally lonely in his own particular way. Art is a product of chance, and photography is, at its best, pure accident.

[d] Note to self: Spend more time with these men. Bold extrapolations of and movements away from the grain of humankind?

[e] I am generally more interested in accidental portraiture than in portraiture, but have re-familiarized myself with these two, the meaning of whose work it is generally considered is already known. But what we think we know we know even less.

[f] A helpful guide to sort through all of this.

[g] Note to self: Travel often with a camera (digital is okay). Already lost is your most dramatic night: a storm cloud over Riverside Apartments (seen from Washington Avenue near the Love Power church), downtown bathed in imminent apocalypse, and even before then, an evening of weird light, office parks, strangers, wary poses at streetlights, declarations of “yes I am, with a capital G.” G for what?

The best things I saw at John Waters’ Absentee Landlord exhibit at the Walker Art Center on June 23:

-There is more implied movement in Lee Lozano’s hammers than there could ever be actual movement in an actual hammer, which is why I shook just looking.

-Speaking of Lee Friedlander, his Galax, VA proves my theory that the best, most alien pictures are always taken at home.

-Mike Kelley’s map of spatial relationships at Stevenson Junior High is just about the cleverest and funniest thing I ever saw. I wish I’d had the idea, but if I had I probably wouldn’t have figured out that a middle school would serve best as the conduit for such academic pathos.

-I’m never sure if there’s quite enough story in visual art or enough visual art in story for me to be permanently satisfied with either, but there’s a lot of both in Larry Johnson’s widescreen literary passage about jumping in a car with a Hollywood stranger.

-Gregory Green’s elaborate construction of a Minneapolis bomb-maker’s workspace creates yet again that a-ha moment that somehow never diminishes: of course, a Roundy’s paper bag will look like art in museum light!

-But the most compelling thing on display is quite obviously a 20-minute film of a McDonalds slowly filling with water, called Flooding McDonalds. I came and went, and the ensuing closure indicated that it proceeds at the pace of quiet doom.

The nearby Voyeurism & Surveillance exhibit is a lot less fun, clearly. Except for the room of horror (whose power mostly registers during the act of looking away), the unconsentingly captured moment is only interesting to me if it’s also, in Cartier-Bresson parlance, a decisive one. But I appreciate my introduction to his possible disciples: Frank, Callahan, Winogrand.

Also, at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, in early June:

-Stephanie Frostad's Sudden Gulch is what they might have come upon next in Meek's Cutoff.

Notes on the modern cinema:

1. Jane Eyre – The movies haven’t given us such fine verbal sparring leading so inexorably toward love in quite a while; the sparrers fall even as they win.

2. Bridesmaids – Gross-out humor has never been tied so closely to actual physical sensation; this must have to do with the fact that the characters are women, generally more likely to pay attention to their bodies and go to doctors.

3. Hesher – Please note the dual (or double) protagonist. Hesher is not the vital center of this movie, but somewhere left of center, the force unleashed to bring the child’s nascent teenager into view.

4. Everything Must Go – I like the “Janie Jones” sequence of my own adaptation, but applaud this one for scattering the man’s lawn with similarly good records and other well chosen items Carver’s prose is too spare to list.

5. Kung Fu Panda 2 – Every action director should have to make an animated movie to prove that he knows how to coherently block and cut an action sequence, as Jennifer Yuh Nelson, freed from practical filming concerns, certainly does.

6. The Tree of Life – The moment after the first cosmic sequence when the man listens to his wife’s pregnant belly and by extension a murmur of the mysteries just shown; and then we see a boy swimming through a bedroom and out the door, as if already in the womb exists the promise of future rooms; from there, life and the movie is all learning, trembling.

7. Midnight in Paris – States its themes pretty clearly, so I won’t repeat them, but they are synonymous with all my ideas about life and art. Also, it seems Woody’s greatest golden years woe is that he does not rank with novelists (given his recent fascination with the aspiring and failed among them).

8. Rubber – The most original aspect is also the most serious, the way the movie ponders the aimless life of a tire, not yet killing people, just time.

9. Super 8 – Novel development amid nicely detailed nostalgia: boy has already learned the movie’s lesson via dead mother and imparts it to alien, not vice versa.

10. Cars 2 – Hey, this is pretty good! There’s certainly no defect of story here, and if there is one at all, it’s maybe just one of pace, or emotional degree. These are the only Pixar movies not set anywhere adjacent to the human world (though the cities look like ours), which might explain the twinge of dissatisfaction you feel.

11. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – But if art isn’t accident, then it’s a deliberate attempt to organize time. The greatest solace of film/books/music (for me, lately) is the way they force the beholder to succumb to another’s sense of time. Boonmee is downright noble in that regard, almost makes Cars 2 look evil.

12. Beginners – I love any movie that dares to imagine the real lives of our parents, to think of their hopes and desires in relation to our own.

13. The Trip – Philosophical question that could have been the point of the not-so-philosophical Joaquin hoax: Because this is Coogan playing Coogan, do we laugh at his misery? If he’d been entirely fictional, or, conversely, the real Coogan, we’d despair for him.

14. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Art across time! We love the individual artist, but his canvases can never be as large as those of a collective humanity anonymous even to each other. And yet that beautiful panel (slab? chunk?) of four horses is the work of one hand and almost begs to be seen as apart.

Ideas for poems:

-Everything that’s left to do, like: a concert movie without sound.

-How when someone says, “In the grand scheme of things,” they should not say anything else after.

-Things implied in correspondence sent and received: the barely manageable cost of a stamp; everything you want to say but can’t.

-A transcription of such beauty in its enjambment and punctuation that it, and not the thing it transcribes, must be cited.

-A conversation between the figment and the stand-in: “How would I know how things work? I’m only a figment of the author’s limited imagination, while you, of course, are his stand-in.”

-An erratic dog near traffic as the owner desperately tries to keep it safe, unresolved: but whatever happens, we know he will love the dog more than ever tonight.

-How I keep track of my thoughts (index cards, envelopes, twice-folded printer paper, quilt as poem or poem as quilt).

-Graffiti that still packs a punch: Looting Is Survival.

The best music I’ve heard since last we met (What Is Folk Music Anyway? Edition):

-Mary Gauthier’s The Foundling
-Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse

Coming soon to the sidebar: I’ve been writing for The Big Takeover for nearly a year now, and will maintain a list of links to those articles, as they are the reason that sightings of me have been rarer here in recent months.

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