Saturday, February 28, 2015

Exploding Plastic Inevitable

                The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (alternatively Plastic Inevitables) were a group of auditory and visual performance artists (to put it vaguely) formed and fronted, on the visual side, by Andy Warhol, and typically involving live performances by the rock band “The Velvet Underground (and Nico).”
                EPI was represented in Marshall McLuhan’s chapter on sound in “The Medium is the Massage” because of they directly represent the concepts of the auditory sea, where all sound forms a seamless web, that McLuhan describes. EPI were famous for the barrage of sound and light they confronted their audiences with, sound and light that was composed of films and recordings that may have had traditional significance on their own, but were combined and layered in such a way that sometimes was highly stimulating, if not entirely incoherent.

                EPI was active only in the years of 1966-1977. Their first performance, in 1966, was at a dinner for the New York society of Clinical Psychology – during which several of Warhol’s films were screened, The Velvet Underground and Nico performed, and guests at tables were assaulted by a duo wielding a video camera and bright bulb, asked sexually explicit questions and generally demeaned. The event was called “Up-Tight” (The Art of Projection, 76).
                In 1968, critic Wayne McGuire called the Velvet Underground “prophets of a new age, of breakthrough on electronic: intermedia: total scale.” Several other critics called the effect of the shows “decadence” or “perversion” (The Art of Projection, 71).
                Warhol’s provocative, sometimes pornographic films were projected to accompany the Velvet Underground’s “lengthy, atonal improvisations” and “dark, provocative songs.” EPI shows used 3-5 movie projectors, “often projecting the different reels of the same film simultaneously,” slide projectors “moveable by hand so their images swept the auditorium,” 4 strobe lights, 3 moving spots of different colors, pistol lights, mirror balls on the ceiling and floor, 3 loudspeakers “blaring different pop records at once,” sets by The Velvet Underground and Nico, and dancers enhanced by more lighting to “project their shadows high onto the wall.”

                Warhol after performing at Rutgers University in 1966: “We did two shows for over 650 people… It was fantastic to see Nico singin with a big movie of her face right behind her… The audience was mesmerized… I was behind one of the projectors, moving the images around… [The Velvet Underground] were like audio-sadists, watching the dancers trying to cope with the music” (Andy Warhol 365 Takes, 46)
                Jonas Mekas on EPI: “The film maker became a conductor, having at his fingertips not only all different creative components – like sound controls, a rock band, slide projectors, movie projectors, lighting – but also the extreme personalities of each of the operators of each piece of equipment” (Warhol [Rainer Crone])

                Based on these reactions, it should be apparent why McLuhan would choose EPI to represent the “web of sound:” the barrage of noise, light, and movement that EPI confronted its viewers (experiencers?) with is a perfect analogy to the seamless web sound forms around us. (The Medium is the Massage, 111).
                “Any pattern in which the components co-exist without direct, lineal hook-up or connection, creating a field of simultaneous relations [which] is auditory… is a kind of orchestral, resonating unity” (The Agenbite of Outwit).
                The EPI represented the “group consciousness” McLuhan described – “a vast electronic environment” – in that is was formulated of countless pieces of sound and light (and people) to create this tremendous, singular entity.

                “A demon electric light” said Wayne McGuire.   

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"The West shall shake the East awake"

I wasn't totally thrilled with Kwame Anthony Appiah's convocation lecture last tuesday, and it took me a little while to realize why that was. However, I should preface my explanation of my distaste with the fact that I am also aware that his discussion of the honor code can be very effective when applied to the local community.

That said, I know why I found some problems with what he said, or more specifically, the assumptions he seemed to make in his lecture. Fortunately, it applies well to McLuhan's idea of the global village and the media. It applies even better to the James Joyce McLuhan incorporates in his pages about globalization, "The West shall shake the East awake."

Who are "the west" and who are "the east?" in the interest of responding specifically to Appiah's lecture, I'm writing this with the understanding that "the west" refers to the north-west section of a standard, British Empire style map -- north america, and west europe. Relatively a small portion of Earth's land mass, even on a map that has been accused of depicting certain continents inaccurately.

To get to the point, my problem with Appiah's lecture was that he seemed to be speaking with the presumption that it is the job of the west to "shake the east awake" -- to determine what is right, and guide other nations based on our understanding. The examples he used (foot binding in China and genital cutting in parts of Africa) are not particularly morally ambigous ones; these acts both physically harmful to the woman involved and to the community of women who suffer such ongoing subjugation. However, there are examples of practices in "the East" that western civilization decries, yet are not necessarily harmful to anyone. It is necessary to ask where the line of western judgement should be drawn, and, more importantly, when it is necessary for the west to make a judgement at all.

These questions become more important than ever as the "global village" is increasingly connected, and it is increasingly easy to communicate accross continental borders. It is clear, as McLuhan argues, that there is no outside role in such an argument -- but that does not mean that our understanding of honor is the correct one, and it is not the duty of "the West" to impose its reality on "the East."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Printing, bookmaking, and public exposure (results of projects 3, 4, and 5)

Some of the photos I took for this project seemed hasty at the time -- I would see something I thought might be cool, and sort of hold down the capture button to snap four or five similar images. Now, after how carefully we proofed prints, selected pairs, designed books, and set up a show, that level of hastiness in the actual creation of the substance of the prints, and the books, and the show, makes the substance seem almost irrelevant. However! I do not believe this is true; I do not believe that the images that comprise the meat of our work can be easily passed up. This format -- books, prints framed and hung on a wall, snacks on a table outside -- gives viewers a change, even encourages them, to consider an image in a different light than they would viewing the image on a computer screen. Presentation is everything; conversely, presentation is nothing; presentation is imagined; presentation does not even have a change to emerge as a construct without the art. This is not only true of our gallery, of  course. 

The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Chicago Institute of Art, even the Wriston Gallery -- they choose what to feature, what to display in such a light that a viewer would nod their head and agree that this thing, this is it, this is the art, and then maybe somewhere along the line an Art History major will come and write about it for a paper and everybody reading the paper, which is just the same as the exhibit in its presentation of A-R-T, will nod along. This is art!

Presentation, which (in this case) is a wholly constructed idea based on what we perceive to make something worthwhile, lends itself particularly well to art; art, in itself, is not worth particularly much, but the space in which it is presented to you, the media that presents it to you, shows you how worthwhile a work is. But! Was it worthwhile from the start? Is presentation the only thing that influences our perception, or is there something more inherent that we can appreciate?

Monday, February 16, 2015

(The following is a copy of the curatorial statement for the "Something is Happening" gallery)

Something is Happening: Digital Prints and Photo Books

This show is not for you, viewer. It is for us. We were born from the washed up, gleaming heap of the mid-2000s, and this is our home. These photographs are the product of a consciousness simultaneously independent and merged, merged by the electronic circuitry built into the pockets of our jeans and our fingertips.

Don’t touch the art!

The moments in these photographs never existed to any perspective other than that of a machine. They are brought forth to your warm, gooey eyeballs by the fragmented world of digital bits – two-dimensional tracts of light that sear the channels of laughter and delight, compassion and despair into your eye-canals and through your nervous system to the brain. Are you hungry? There are snacks outside. Will you spend more time eating, or looking at our photographs?

We don’t care. These images are for us. This show is not for you, viewer.

However, these snacks are. Consume! Consume and understand sweet potato wafers and chocolate meats. Are our photographs blemishes on an otherwise pristine wall?
There is beauty here, viewer. Beyond Chips, beyond the sugary scum called Pop. Gaze at these images: that is all we ask. Gaze at them and forget yourself, forget the world you come from, and remember only that the signals you are born from are not so different from the signals that compose these images.
If you came for the Pretzels, the Hummus, the Baba Ghanoush alone, by all means, Eat! Then gaze. Gaze with a full belly and let the perfect, permanent pictures fixed to the walls envelop you; your full belly and your empty mind.

But!! Judge not too quickly! Are any of these images upside-down? Are you sure that one is your favorite? Turn around, look at the image on the opposing wall, and turn around again. Ask your friends their opinions. Odds are, they know more about what art is than you do.

Do you understand, viewer? These rectangular fragments of our world are not put on the wall for your entertainment. They are fixed to these third-floor Mudd surfaces to prove the worth of the world we live in.

Eat, then gaze. This show is for you, viewer.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Project 6: How to Kiss

The idea behind "How to Kiss" came from Marshall McLuhan's quote "We can't shut out sound automatically.  We simply are not equipped with earlids."  I know I've probably beaten the trash thing to death already, but we hear a lot of garbage.  Garbage noise.  We hear toilets flushing several times a day.  We hear obnoxious laughter coming from our own mouths.  We do hear pretty music, and we have more and more control over what we hear with the invention of things like noise cancelling headphones, which are primarily meant to shut out all the garbage noise.  But it's still there, all around us, in waves.  Ugly noises that in waves on paper or computer bits on a monitor look pretty much the same as every other wave or bit.

"Everyone is in the best seat" says John Cage.  Especially if that seat is the toilet.  Red velvet seats in an opera house are far less comfortable, depending on your corporeal needs.

The beeps in "How to Kiss" are representative of the machines that control pretty much everything, starting and stopping every aspect of our lives, letting us in and out of physical space, controlling what we hear.  Just ignore them, please.

"What is the robot voice?  Why is it telling me how to kiss?  I know how to kiss better than a disembodied fake voice made of electronic signals, don't I?"  These are the questions you may ask after listening to "How to Kiss."  I have no answer.  Do you?