Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Just Paint on a Wall: The Art of Cecilia Paredes

As I've said before, if I wasn't a busy-bee of an art history PhD student, I'd spend more time making my own art. And I think that art might appear directly on bodies. So of course I'm enamored of Peruvian artist Cecilia Paredes's photographic performances right now.

She uses paint and clothing to almost entirely disappear into her lush backdrops, usually O'Keeffe-like florals on repeat. However, she always carefully alerts the viewer to her presence, sometimes with the white of an eye or a cloud of unpainted hair.

Paredes explains her work as part of a quest for belonging. "The theme behind all," she says, "is re-location after displacement and migration and how one has to adjust in order to belong. Tough it is, but it has to be done, without forgetting our origin."

Apart from being visually arresting, her photographs remind me of the work of my favorite artist, Frida Kahlo. I'm not entirely sure why, but I know it goes beyond the obvious love of vibrant color and the recurrent portrait composition. I also wonder if she might even be making a direct reference to Kahlo's "The Little Deer" with her antlered self portrait. There's something very special about her work; despite the fact that she's attempting to recede into her surroundings, the confrontation that results from leaving parts of herself visible is aggressive, even shocking.

My mind also automatically goes to Cindy Sherman, but there's an interesting departure here. Standing in a room full of Sherman's photographs, the shock comes from realizing that everyone in the room is Sherman herself. With Paredes, it comes from suddenly noticing that the fading figure isn't fading anymore; she's staring back at you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poetry Wednesday


ponderosa pine,

the ghost at the end of my hall
does not come to you
(only to me) with a mask
and a quiet disposition.
cross-legged we
Consider One Another, our


the exchange:
I have his disappear-clothes, he
hums too;
the song crawled up from the corners
and lit up his mouth
orangecolored I know and he

also does.

Annnnnnnnnnnnd something not-mine that I love:

White Apples
by Donald Hall

when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
I sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Poetry Wednesday

An Education

took a tumble, came up laughing
with the wrong shoes, and some others
(a terrible group).

I was there
but quietly; I had to learn something
about being female
(bring it back to the milk pond
and chew it).

In the cold season I
put snow on my gums, while the terrible ones
took to the air
like crows:
water-slick and shining feathers.

The water tastes metallic,
I’ve been craving stone-fruits
to soothe it.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnd, something not-mine that I love:

A poem from Take It, by Joshua Beckman

Red, the want, the body, slowly
all perturbant drapes fall upon your cheek
and you are left here only to look and
to speculate on the first day of any one
thing. Oh world of pills, boats, and
polka dots, how you let me live, that’s all.
A spinning love for some. A staring love
for some. An edifice. A comb. A kind
disquiet. The crew running back and forth.
Have you asked yourself how, with all we
know, we cannot enter the air as smoke
enters, or the lungs f others as smoke
enters. Have you asked yourself great
critical questions of form and matter, how
they will not spill into your day, or
all concentric circles eerily swimming
around you, as if you wish to ever
forget. On Thursday night you will
return from work to find me here,
and then a year, and then all those things
I have to do. A rose bag from which
the light will spill. And for some time
the light will be there and for some time
the empty bag.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Structuring the Elements: The Art of Bob Verschueren

The internet has been abuzz lately with the so-called "Wind Paintings" of Bob Verschueren, and rightly so. They bring to almost clich├ęd fruition the sad loveliness of mono no aware, premised, as they are, on the inevitability that time means their destruction. Composed of charcoal, red iron oxide, chalk, and other things that can be blown by the breeze or washed away by the waves, their beauty is their brevity. 
Wind Painting I
Crushed charcoal

Wind Painting XVIII
Terra verte, natural umber

But his other works are easily equal to his Wind Paintings, and speak of a broader program in his art. Verschueren works with the elements, obviously, but what I'm interested in is the way he practices structuring and unstructuring them, the places where he meets resistance, and where he chooses to either overpower or submit to it.

Installation V/06
Salagon Priory,
Mane (F)
maple branches, terracotta pot

Installation II/92
Atelier 340,
Brussels (B),

The imposition of verticality and its forcible disorganization, or the presentation of living plant life and its death by desiccation; he plays with nature and, by attempting to control it demonstrates that it will not be controlled.

 Installation V/95
Stichting Open Space,
Amsterdam (NL),

Installation VII/87
Atelier 340,
Brussels (B),
pine needles

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Poetry Wednesday

The Living Room

buckets were needed,
and quick hands bailing:
I Let The Ocean In(to) the living room.

I could not see the down-side (we had no cat) and
our plainness glittered,
disappeared in the water.

it was curious, the way the water
stopped, and did not struggle with doors:
(when we went out, the water kept our beauty) but

lying with you on the other side
of doors, I can hear the ocean/ you pat my head, and
you cannot hear it.

Annnnnnnnnnd, something not-mine that I love:

[The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett]
by Joshua Beckman

The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett.
I'm sad. I make horrible sentences.
A woman alone in the park waves. The water.
The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett.
Put down the cell phone. I'm sad. The waves.
The horrible staring. A woman alone
in the park. Waves. The leaves. Leaves
along in the park. I'm staring. The
dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett. I'm sad.
Put down your cell phone. A wave.
The sad girl alone in the park. Leaves.
Put down your cell phone. The Bartlett.
The staring. A leaf alone in the horrible
leaves. The dead girl. The staring.

Three Cubes Colliding

This is so gorgeous, and it reminds me of Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu's Ringing Singing Tree

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wanderlust: The Viewfinder

Hungry Hungry Hunger Games: For the Love/Hate of Paperback Sensations and Their Blockbusting Counterparts

Hoopla. I believe it is created by a secret cache of 12 to 14-year-old teeny boppers and their 40-year-old mothers whenever a new, romance-driven YA series hits the shelves. Alternatively, it is the product of anybody who has ever ridden an airplane and devoured a paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code, or Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and then feels the need to prove their worldliness by asking of their friends, family, and co-workers, "Have you read --insert any recent and relatively popular novel title here-- yet?" A question inevitably followed by expressions of shock and dismay when the answer is no.

Best case scenario: 1000 years from now, when distant civilizations search for insight into our lives, they will unearth Harry Potter.

Worst case scenario: they unearth Twilight.

This year, the three books from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games series were under the Christmas tree. OK, I thought, I'll give them a go. I had heard that, while the inevitable love-triangle persists, it remains peripheral to a much more interesting post-apocalyptic reality. With the first book (The Hunger Games) I was  riveted. With the second (Catching Fire), I was not, mostly because the love-triangle took over more than I would have liked. The third (Mockingjay) left me  confused more than anything else.

The Hunger Games, I think, capitalizes on some really provocative themes; political oppression and revolution, the cost of war, the roles and responsibilities of the individual in the modern world, etc. And it does so with just enough fluffy love stuff to attract readers who enjoy fluffy love stuff, without triggering the gag reflex of those like myself, who are against fluffy love stuff. At least gratuitous fluffy love stuff. And I can see why it didn't take long for the screenplay to get scooped up. The story is terrifying and glamorous in all the right ways, and, I'll admit, the trailer that's come out is pretty darn good. After seeing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, I'm optimistic about how she'll perform. And I'll see almost anything with Stanley Tucci in it.

My first impulse after finishing the series was appreciation for Collins, as I have to assume that only an author refusing to concede to the demands of the Hollywood blockbuster could have turned out something like Mockingjay. Yes, there are weak points, and loose ends. Some reviewers attribute the loose ends to Collins's greater plan to leave the reader with feelings of emptiness at the end of the series, and demonstrate something greater about the horrifying consequences of war. While I'm hesitant to give her quite so much credit, I do think that Collins's overall decision to leave the end sort of misty and unsatisfying results in a book that, despite its fantastical plot, achieves something like realism. Yes, we want the satisfaction of death for every villain, and we want a virtuous hero/heroine to carry out the sentence. But that's not often the way the world works, as the messiness of Mockingjay's ending reminds us. Again, it's far from perfect, and there are parts where I think sloppiness is just, well, sloppiness. But it does something I haven't seen a YA book do in a while; leave the reader unsettled, and, with its closing, allow us to reconsider right and wrong, our place between them, and all the world's grey areas that can be cleanly filtered neither here nor there.

I'll be very interested to see what Hollywood does with the final book's strange ending.