Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gay Poodle Stalker

by Drew Martin

Perhaps the heavy metal chains of slaves and beasts of burden have been broken but people still want ownership of and obedience from humans and animals. Some roles have changed only in name; maid to cleaner. Sometimes all it takes is a possessive pronoun. My favorite is "My architect..." instead of "The architect who designed the addition to my house..." because it is exclusive and establishes a hierarchy. This pyramid is constructed every day by everyone...the toy dog as a living accessory, the gay friend as supplemental mate who really listens. The problem with all of this is that the singular focus and one-way attitude flattens the dimensions and limits the possibilities of the other.

The newest of these is the "stalker." Originally coined for a harasser with sexual intent, the term is now overused for anyone who randomly says hello on the street, emails twice without receiving a response or shares a schedule that increases the likelihood of
crossing paths.

The trend is that everyone is supposed to have one. Social media makes the occasion quantifiable, identifiable and recordable (and even encourages it to a certain degree) but the real modern twist is not the action or the new tools of the initiator but the mind of the receiver. Assuming the role of the one who is stalked establishes that one is uncontrollably desirable...a fine balance of egotism and paranoia.

“A secret admirer is the same as a stalker... with stationary.”
Demetri Martin

“I've only done it once or twice every week”
Oscar Wilde on stalking

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time

by Drew Martin

If you like the work of Andy Goldsworthy then you should see Rivers and Tides, a documentary about him and his work, which is directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer and accompanied by the music of Fred Frith.

I streamed it on Netflix this weekend and was surprised to note that it is from 2001. It is a timeless film because his artwork is timeless.

Goldsworthy talks to the camera, which functions as the narration. In one moment he suggests that the filmmaker make himself useful and put down the camera to help gather stones for a piece he is creating on the beach. It is a sculpture of flat stones he stacks in the shape of a pine cone. Four early attempts collapse while he is working on it due to the loose sand. He shouts a sharp, frustrated "Shit!" which reminds me of myself in such a moment. Finally the work is topped off and the rising sea engulfs it. The stone sculpture disappears under water. He speaks about how it is a gift to the sea. The tide recedes before sunset and exposes the sculpture again. It is beautiful to see it back in the open air after being embraced by the water, as if it has undergone a rite of passage and understands what the sea is about, with all of its creatures.

I have seen Goldsworthy's wall at Storm King Art Center and a lot of his work in photographs but the film captures the cycle of his projects, which is not possible without the ability to record time. His stone walls last years but some of his projects only last a brief moment. For one of these, he spends hours grinding a reddish stone, by hand. In the end, he holds a ball of red pigment and throws it into the river, where the stone came from. The river turns red for a few minutes and then dilutes itself as it moves downstream. During the preparation of the pigment, Goldsworthy speaks about his pursuit of the red. He comments that the red in the stone is from iron, which is the same reason our blood is red. This piece is about making the stone alive again, as it once was in its volcanic birth.

In the end of the film, the camera pans rock cliffs, which seem like unmovable walls and Goldsworthy offers that the stability of stone is undermined by its fluidity. With much of his work, Goldsworthy likes to take it to the edge of collapse. This is perhaps one of the treats of the film; watching Goldsworthy work on something and have it fall down around him. He deeply cares about his work and such a setback is often met with utter frustration but then he sets to rebuilding the structure. He is tireless.

Goldsworthy started documenting his work with photographs in order to show his teachers what he was doing. He mentions Constantin Brâncuşi who asked why should he have to talk about his sculptures when he can show pictures of them.

Much of the film is shot near his home in Scotland. The moist, green hills are full of sheep, stone walls and an exposed nature. Goldsworthy surveys the land and says that people say it is pastoral and pretty but he remarks there is a much darker side because of the history of sheep and how people were displaced and all the trees were cut down in order to accommodate the animals. He also means that there is a life cycle with decay. He comments on how we think of the signs of Spring on the surface but the evidence is below ground, where the heat and moisture blackens and rots the previous year's growth. This is a theme in Goldsworthy's work...what lies below something, affects the surface.

Goldsworthy speaks about his process but his most insightful comments are about life. He explains how he has lived in different places and how five years might seem like enough time to get to know a place, but it is not. He says you need to see children at a bus stop for years and watch them grow and have children of their own. Goldsworthy recalls a conversation he had with an older lady in his village. After mentioning all the people he knew, she remarked "You see only births and I see only deaths." He says it in a way that he was humbled by it and remarks that he tries not to forget this.

The title of the film, Rivers and Tides, seems obvious enough but Goldsworthy explains that the river is about many things, not just water. There is a river of animals and plants. It is all about flow.

One thing I learned from the film is about Goldsworthy's involvement with his projects. We see him throughout the film, piecing together icicles, reeds and scraps of stone but for a more ambitious piece, such as the wall at Storm King, he worked with wallers, who were often removing the pieces he was placing, for the sake of integrity of the wall. For this project Goldsworthy's role was primarily to define the direction of the wall. Although he was on foreign turf, America, the project was close to home because the Center's property was once farmland and what Goldsworthy found at the site where great stretches of derelict walls made over a hundred years ago by Europeans, possibly Scots. What interested him was how trees took shelter near the walls and grew back around them. Goldsworthy says the wall at Storm King "has a line in sympathy with the place through which it travels."

Although Goldsworthy engages with people and has a wife and several children, you see that he is content by himself, comforted by his own silence. Towards the end of the film he says "Words do their job but what I do here says a lot more."

My favorite comment by him is a line that you feel in his work,

"I am so amazed at times that I am actually alive."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Triathlon and Human Metamorphosis

by Drew Martin

Last Sunday I did the running leg of a triathlon in Croton on the Hudson. It was a "Toughman" half Ironman, which means a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a half marathon (13.1 miles). The half Ironman is the longest triathlon you can race as a team. Our team was well balanced and took first for the coed relay.

Croton is a beautiful part of New York and the annual event takes advantage of this. The course starts down on the Hudson River (actually in the river and this year it was very murky after Hurricane Irene) and climbs up above the spectacular Croton Dam (pictured here).

The bicycle and running courses are difficult because of the extreme elevation changes and a lot of the running is on trails through the woods. That being said, it is one of my favorite places to run and the event is well organized. At the bottom of the dam you are greeted by a band and cheerleaders before entering an uphill battle in the woods. There are other cheering sections, lots of cow bells and even a rock band along the way.

At the turnaround in the woods there is also a waist-high statue of a gorilla or a yeti. It is all quite a surreal experience because you are trying to run and stay focused and yet you are a bit delirious from the exertion. Most of the other athletes had run and swum, and I had fresh legs, so it was very dreamy because everyone was really tired and I was apologetically flying by them as if they were in slow motion.

I have written quite a bit about the arts and running, how they overlap.*
The triathlon culture is more diverse and has its own visual cues and aesthetics. For one thing the hydrodynamics of swimming and the aerodynamics of cycling influence what we look like and how we make things.

These dynamics inform shapes and surfaces. It is amazing how the eye picks up on this. We instinctively know what is lighter and faster. Aerodynamically and hydrodynamically engineered shapes look cool. I think that one reason we gravitate towards streamlined objects is because they appear simple; they are smooth and without complicated and frivolous details. Perhaps it is an association with examples from nature.

Aerodynamics and hydrodynamics are disciplines of efficiency. Just as there is beauty in symmetry, mathematics is also stunningly eye-catching when we witness the tangible results of its formulas for speed and resistance.

A triathlon is the most metamorphic of all sporting events. The athletes start on the beach in tight black neoprene wetsuits looking very fit and aquatic. When the swimmers emerge from the water, they have to run quite a bit to their bikes for a transition, which involves stripping down out of their wetsuits. In this event there was a place where volunteers peeled the suits off the athletes for them. (Pictured here, is our swimmer leaving the Hudson River after a 1.2 mile swim)

In the cycling portion, the participants mount their bikes and take off for a long haul. Some riders wear tear-drop helmets and have low, extended handlebars, which morphs the rider and bike into one streamlined force and a hybrid of human and machine. The shaved legs of the riders and the sleek carbon fiber surfaces are equally smooth.

In the final transition, the bikes are abandoned as are the fancy helmets and stiff shoes. Everything is left behind including the previously shed rubbery skin, and the participant begins to run. It a significant moment, born from water and beyond the assistance of technology. It is the human running free.

For someone, like myself, interested in visual identity and graphics, the event is a real treat. Aside from the numerous logos and the rainbow of colors that adorn bikes, helmets, wetsuits, and running shoes, such an occasion is rich with graphs and charts.

Below, is a map from the Toughman website, which shows the running route. It is not something you could actually use to navigate the course but at least you get a sense that it is hilly and that it is, for the most part, an out-and-back run. Personally, I like running big loops, preferably clockwise.

The next chart is interesting. It shows the elevation changes of the running course. For the kind of runner I am, this is like finding a treasure map. It tells me more explicitly just how hilly the course is, the number of climbs and when they occur in the race. I can also reason that the best runners will stay away from the event because their times would be ravaged by such topography.

Immediately after the first waves of athletes finish, the results are posted on a board. Each triathlete wears a chip around one of his or her legs with a wide, rubbery and Velcro strap. For teams, the chip is passed from swimmer to cyclist to runner. The chip is read by mats at the entrance and exit of the transition area and at the finish line. Theoretically you could cut corners, or worse, and the computer would be none the wiser. In fact, in our race I was ranked with the seventh fastest running time. Naturally, I wanted to see who was quicker but the fastest running time was listed for a woman in 413th place. The only reasonable explanation is that she cut out the few mile loop above the dam, thus placing her with a running time more than four minutes ahead of the elite male who won the overall event with a time two hours ahead of her, even with her shortened course.

These results look something like the chart on the right, which was shows our team on the top line. It has fewer columns than the overall standing chart, which details the duration of each part of the triathlon as well as the transitions times.

Finally, the best visuals of all are the pictures taken by professional photographers (for sale), like the one of our swimmer (above). My pictures are odd to behold. I do not even remember the outside of my body during the run. I do recall some internal cramps and focusing on my lungs, telling myself I was one with the air around me as I ran like the wind. I would not post an image of myself here because I am too pale and skinny. Despite all of the previously mentioned visual elements, I think the most interesting aspect of such event are the body types. Triathletes are perfect. They have swimmers' arms and cyclists' legs. As the mercenary runner, I am all legs and weigh as little as people a head shorter than me. It was a bit of a joke at the event, people asking me if I was the team's swimmer.

Even with all the visual reminders of the day, nothing can compare with the memory of participating in the event...the body moving through space and going into a zone.

*Other posts by me related to running:

Born to Run: A Do-It-Yourself Marathon
Recalling a do-it-yourself marathon inspired by the book, Born to Run

An Out of City Experience
The "third man factor" while running

Find Your Strong
Gladly brainwashed by Saucony's "Find Your Strong" campaign

Running with Music
The analogy of running and music, comparing a runner's body to a musical instrument.

Running the Media
Running as a means of communication

Murakami...About Running: A Book Review
Comments on Haruki Murakami's memoir "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running"

Cause & Effect
Running as performance art

Comparing Neal Bascomb's "The Perfect Mile" (about Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile) with Anaïs Nin's seductive "Delta of Venus"

Friday, September 2, 2011

Frost Nixon

by Drew Martin

If you do not like politics and movies about politics, and you could care less about Nixon, his administration and Watergate then a good film to see is Frost/Nixon because it is about all of these things but from a very different angle. I watched it last night and found it well paced and captivating.

The movie jacket reads:
When a disgraced President Nixon agreed to an interview with jet-setting television personality, David Frost, he thought he'd found the key to saving is tarnished legacy. But, with a name to make and a reputation to overcome, Frost became one of Nixon's most formidable adversaries and engaged the leader in a charged battle of wits that changed the face of politics forever.

I just now realize it is a Ron Howard film. Although I also liked A Beautiful Mind, I still have a hard time accepting him as a director because he was burned into my adolescent mind as his Happy Days incarnation, Richie Cunningham. Knowing this however, makes it easier to see this film as a blend of the media cues I understood it was referencing: The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, All the President's Men and Rocky.

ause the series of interviews, which take place over several days, are treated like a boxing match. From the very start the reference is offered, suggesting that Frost, despite all of his training and hype, is left slack-jawed by the defending champion's first punch. Each session is treated as a physical round of sparring. Between recordings, each "fighter" is coached in the corner. There is not any visible blood, spit or bruises but these breaks mimic the "get back in there and show him what you are made of" ringside pep talks.

The interesting thing about the interview is that it substitutes for a trial that never happened because incoming President Ford pardoned Nixon. This is the most interesting concept because a trial is only a means to an end and what America really wanted was not so much that the truth be told but a real confession and admission of guilt; the truth was already out there. It is stated through one of the supporting characters in the end of the film that the fault of television is that it reduces things and dumbs them down but in this case, the closeup of Nixon's troubled and regretful face was the perfect use of the medium.