Friday, April 18, 2014

Schematic Cinematic: The Use of Drawing as Scheming in Film

by Drew Martin
I first took note of the use of drawing in films during an Italian cinema class that I took in the late Eighties. In one film there was a character who loses a ton of money in a stock exchange. The main characters observe him minutes later, nonchalantly drawing a flower on a napkin in an outdoor café. The scene held as much simple power for me as drawing itself.

Since this clip I have been really interested in how and why drawing is shown in films that are unrelated to the arts. Typically, it is a way to show thoughts, which are normally handled with voiceovers. A voiceover is much easier to pull off because it is direct, and can be tacked on in post-production. The typical drawing scene in a film has little concern for the act of drawing or whether or not the character enjoys the exercise. Its purpose is to show a unique visual cue about the thinking of the character.

Two drawing scenes that I recently noted in shows/films were in House of Cards, and There Will Be Blood. In House of Cards, Kevin Spacey’s character sketches a potent bull while listening to the President of the United States practice a speech. Spacey, as Vice President, explains there are two types of Vice Presidents: doormats and matadors. He proves to be the latter. In There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, an oilman in the early 1900’s, studies an etching of an oil-drilling rig and sketches his own derrick. It is not as direct an assault as the bull, but it is just as scheming because it is the machine behind his ruthless deals, cut-throat pragmatism, and godless approach to life.

What is most interesting about these scenes is that they show something unique to humans. I have read that one difference between Neanderthals and humans is that the former never created art. For that matter, humans have the most developed capacity to extensively plot a future move over a long stretch of time. These cinematic examples couple drawing and scheming, and show how a determined person can dominate his or her environment.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

If You Run A Marathon-Distance But No One Is There To See It, Is It Still A Marathon?

by Drew Martin
A few years ago I wrote about a do-it-yourself marathon that I ran with my youngest son in a jogger. Yesterday I ran another spontaneous marathon: I started a little before 5am and planned to run about 20 miles but I kept going. I got back around 8am, and during those three hours and ten minutes I covered more than 26.2 miles. But it is not really a marathon is it? A marathon is an event where there is food and medical support, and it is organized and people cheer for you on the side, and there are thousands of other people running next to you. When you are out there by yourself, you are alone in many ways: you have to carry your own food and drinks, and when you get lost you have to navigate back to your course. No one blocks traffic or eggs you on. When people drive by they just see you moving along and probably think you are out for a spin around town.

When I was a teenager I appreciated Alistare Cooke’s musings about traveling across America. He recommended to drive east to west, and to cover most of the driving each day in the morning; that way the sun is not in your eyes but rather it illuminates the road ahead of you. I thought about this yesterday because of how I was running my own marathon. I ran the first half towards the northwest into the hills, and then I looped back towards the southeast so I was able to enjoy a long, slow descent as I watched my environment light up with the eventual rising of the sun. This is a great way to approach a long-distance run because it breaks it up into two distinct sections. The first half is abstract – like you are on a spacewalk in the cold darkness. The most noticeable variables are smells: wet leaves, skunk, and the occasional sputtering, old, truck. In this pre-dawn zone, silence rules, and when you pass roadside deer, they just stop and stare but do not dart off. The second half is when the world comes to life, and the help you might need if you get in trouble later in the run, wakes up, opens stores and chats on phones.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

That Maks Too of Us

by Drew Martin
I love the new American Apparel ad of Maks, a gorgeous Bangladeshi-American who is a merchandiser for the company. In the ad she is topless; her ample bosom is partially obscured by the words Made in Bangladesh in a bold Helvetica. I like it first and foremost because Maks is beautiful, naked and natural looking. The words controversial and brave are used to describe the ad and her, particularly because she is from a muslim family, but there is really nothing vulgar about it. I look at it less as a campaign out to shock the world to drive sales, and more as a platform to loosen up prudish thinking. I just hope American Apparel gave her a ton of money for all the attention this is getting.

And I am not actually sure just how shocking this ad is to Bangladeshis. The documentary Whores' Glory features three prostitution hotspots: Thailand, Mexico, and...Bangladesh where there is a ginormous, maze-like brothel known as the City of Joy, which houses hundreds of women and seems to be accepted as part of life. One young man (who visits the brothel a couple times a day) explains in the film that men would be jumping on women in the street if it weren't for the City of Joy

I first saw the ad with Maks in print on the back cover of the most recent issue of Vice Magazine. On the front cover is a blown-up/full-frontal shot of a cockroach. The picture of Maks is nicer to look at.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Last Temptation of Christo

by Drew Martin
Christo has scored some nice spreads this month in large format magazines such as DuJour and Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Christo, also known as and used here to reference Christo Vladimirov Javacheff + Jeanne-Claude (R.I.P 2009) are the most ambitious and persistent artists, ever. Their company, C.V.J. Corporation has managed hundreds of millions of dollars to deliver their art projects, and they have often stuck it out through administrations and waited decades for permission to proceed with their large-scale outdoor installations. In 50 years, they realized more than twenty major projects.

To appreciate the scale of their production consider The Umbrellas, which was a project that simultaneously took place in California and Japan in 1991 and required 2,500 workers during installation.

The recent press only scratches the surface of this brilliant career and their most massive project yet, which will be the largest and most expensive art structure in the world. It is called The Mastaba, referring to the shape of benches that were built in front of houses thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. The word comes from Arabic for a bench of mud but it also references the eternal house - the precursor to the more durable and better built pyramids.

The 
Mastaba will be made from a super-column core with a jacked up shell for the basic trapezoidal shape, and then covered with 410,000 stacked oil barrels, which will be specially be fabricated in a factory moved near the site for this project. The barrels will be coated with durable BASF paint typically reserved for BMW automobiles. The site is part of the Empty Quarter, 130 miles inland in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates.

Exotic sounding every way you slice it, The Mastaba actually originated as a much smaller piece proposed to MoMA in 1967 in a scope of work that first and foremost included the wrapping the museum, Christo-style. The project was turned down and then a larger mastaba was proposed that same year for a site between Houston and Galveston, but that too went nowhere. The stacking of barrels by the couple came from earlier projects: the stacking and wrapping of barrels on the docks of the Cologne harbor in 1961, and in 
1962, the stacking of 89 oil barrels in a narrow Paris street to protest the Berlin Wall,  which had been built less than a year earlier. Coincidentally, the Wall came down in '89. Nearly half a century later The Mastaba project has grown in every way. It will cost $350 million and will rise 500 feet out of the sand. 

Funding for Christo’s projects is always a question. Not only do the materials cost millions of dollars but installation and de-installation labor can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. On top of that, the sites are not donated spaces from either private or public groups. Christo pays for the use of the locations: three million dollars to New York City for the use Central Park for three months for The Gates, and $160,000 a year to the United States government to rent 42 miles of the Arkansas River for Over the River, the other big pending project. Christo paid for the use of the Reichstag and the Pont Neuf for those two wrapped projects, and for the land in California and Japan for The Umbrellas.  The reason for this is to have the rights and control of the space.

It sounds like a crazy business model: to get lines of credit from banks, sell back basic materials, sell off pieces of the work and profit from the planning sketches of the projects, which may fetch around a million dollars with collectors. Financially speaking, that is like saying you are going to put up 50-story building in mid-town Manhattan and pay for it by selling the architectural drawings. It is not a real practical model for other artists but it fortunately works for Christo. I love the breath-taking and mind-boggling work this couple has created.

If you want to see a really well-organized artist website, and learn more about this approach to projects, check out the Christo and Jeanne-Claude site.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

5 Broken Cameras

by Drew Martin
I recently broke one of my cameras lenses. It was a stupid mistake: I dropped it while I was trying to take a backup shot of an installation at a museum with my smartphone. A new lens was really expensive so I got a used one for half the price at a camera shop that I like in New Jersey. The trip was an intermission from my watching 5 Broken Cameras today, which is an eye-opening documentary by Emad Burnat about the abuses endured by the Palestinians.

It feels silly to mention my lens when the cameras of the self-taught, journalistic Burnat are shot at by Israeli soldiers and smashed by Israeli settlers. The film cycles through peaceful protests by Burnat and his fellow Palestinians to the illegal settlements of the Israelis, which are met with all-out Israeli military actions and other retaliations, such as torching the olive trees that Burnat and his friends harvest on their land for sustenance.

The Palestinians shout "We want peace" and the Israeli civilians shout back "We are going to sue you!" and then the Israeli soldiers shoot at the Palestinians, including women and children. Burnat mentions the death of one child only 11 years old, who was shot near his home by an Israeli army sniper.

I was always shocked by the images of Palestinians who had thrown a few stones at heavily armed vehicles raiding their villages, being shot at in return by Israelis soldiers but this film is so personal that it is even more enraging. One of the most kind-hearted of Burnat's friends, named Phil (pictured here in the yellow shirt) is shot dead by an Israeli soldier even though he was on Palestinian soil, unarmed, and two barricades away from the soldier.


Typically I include a trailer with my posts but this film is available in its entirety on Youtube, and it should be watched from beginning to end:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

UNDER THE HOOD: LA Revisited

by Drew Martin
Five years ago I started a neighborhood art project called UNDER THE HOOD, which uses photography to capture the faces of the people who live and work around museums, galleries, and other cultural meeting places such as libraries. I started in my neighborhood as an extension to a makeshift home gallery, and then continued in Los Angeles, Prague, and New York. The hosts for the Los Angeles shoot, Anne Hars and Bill Wheelock of The Thinkery, really helped defined the project by turning it into a happening. We agreed I would take the pictures in the morning, and show them in the afternoon for the neighbors to take home.

Before I embarked on a trip to the West Coast last month, the couple invited me to reshoot their neighborhood. I planned to visit them but had not considered another shoot, which was hard to resist after they planted the seed. Bill later mused, "You know what this means, don't you? You have to come back every few years to takes pictures here."


UNDER THE HOOD Los Angeles 2014
took place on February 17. On the previous trip I had my two-year-old son in a backpack for the shoot. This time my 15-year-old daughter, Olympia, traveled with me. We started shooting during our morning run around Silver Lake and then joined Anne and Bill in the Echo Park area to walk their streets and to photograph their immediate neighbors. We took 200 pictures: I shot black and white film, and Olympia took a number of digital color pictures. The photographs were developed/printed midday and then they were displayed in the late afternoon on clotheslines outside The Thinkery for passersby and the people in the photographs to take home.

In the diptych on the left is a picture Olympia took of me as we helped one of the neighbors bring her groceries home. The picture on the right is of Olympia checking out the show.

Click here to flip through an e-book of select pictures from the show (but don't buy it because Blurb charges and arm and a leg)
Posted here are even more photographs than in the book: