Friday, May 27, 2011

The Paper-Free Drawing Center

by Drew Martin

One thing about The Drawing Center is that it likes to go out on a limb. This is in part due to its very narrow mission "to focus solely on the exhibition of drawings." With certain shows one might perceive that the Center is interested in anything but drawings, however, the scope is broadened by the Center's loose definition of drawing.

Drawing down on Wooster Street is an all-encompassing term, akin to thing or stuff, because it references anything with a line/edge/border/direction, which includes wire, yarn, a tree branch, even the narrative of a video.

The current show Drawing and its Double, which displays the printing plates of various artists since the 16th Century without their respective prints, may seem like a stretch but it is one of the Center's more conservative exhibits.

The paper-free concept so perplexed the Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica that it initially declined to part with these pieces from their collection. After seeing the show realized, the Institute has asked permission from The Drawing Center to show it (as is) in Rome, where the Institute is based.

The exhibition is quite remarkable. Shown in chronological order (starting with Giorgio Ghisi, whose work is pictured above-left), the progression of the plates reveal an evolution in styles and printmaking techniques. Even though all of the plates have a very tangible and sculptural presence, what we see from the 1960s on is an experimentation with the surfaces and imagery.

One of these is Umberto Mastroianni's plate for Lo stregone, which is engraved on lead and has holes in it. Pictured right is a print from the plate (not on display at The Drawing Center). The pure white circles and triangular spaces correspond to the rough holes in the plate.

The Drawing Center does not show the prints in order to focus on the plates as objects, the way perhaps a museum of technology would, but to emphasize the process, effort and skill of the artists' involvement with the plates. While making prints from a plate is a repetitive reproduction process, the preparation of the plates is where the true act of drawing is transferred and captured.

The problem with the show is that many of the glimmering surfaces are very difficult to see because of how they are hung and lit. Investing in non-glare glass would have been a wiser decision: the plates are ingeniously sandwiched in plexiglass so they float within the frames but the protective panes reflect you, the viewer, and the Center's interior. Magnifying glasses with small lights are available for the viewers but they are cheap aids and do not help that much...although they do like cool when you see someone else using them, as if they are scanning the works with a tricorder.

In the center of the space is a specially designed Drawing Room (it used to be across the street in a garage of a location). This area is designated to Paolo Canevari's show Decalogo. Although this body of work was originally commissioned and exhibited by the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica it seems a little out of place. The ten oversized nickel plates are flashy. The etched and inked images
are cartoonish and blatant, such as the one of his burning skull, pictured below-left.

As explained by the Drawing Center:

Decalogo, the Italian shorthand for the Ten Commandments and perhaps the most well-known social contract or "rules to live by," continues Canevari’s investigation into how dynamic imagery can reveal political and social crises. The plates reverberate on both technical and emotional levels, and lay bare the artist’s acute and perceptive understanding of our times.

That being said, the biblical references do not affect me as much as they would someone from a strong Catholic background. It reminds me of one of my first art reviews for a show by Javier Velasco, “Linea Sutil” (Subtle Line). While I liked it and wrote favorably of it, the work was heavy in religious references, which lost their impact on me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Of Mouses and Men

by Drew Martin

The first time I was introduced to Malcolm Gladwell's writing was in a book club at work. I had hoped we would be reading literature so I was disappointed when the first assigned book was The Tipping Point. I tried to muster some enthusiasm for the selection but I felt that I would be wasting my time by reading it so I borrowed a CD version from my town library in order to listen to it while I did domestic chores. I reasoned that since this kind of book is simply informative, I would not be missing anything.

Despite my first somewhat bemoaned experience, I went on to read Blink, which a coworker lent me, and Outliers, which I bought as a gift for my father because I had heard good reviews about it and I thought he would like it: I read it after he did.

Gladwell is no doubt a smart guy with a lot to say but his curious books leave a bad taste in my mouth. The reason for this is that he reads best when he is brief.

Writers are like runners. The journalist/blogger is the sprinter, someone like Gladwell is middle distance and a novelist is the marathoner. Gladwell is not the first out of the blocks and he runs out of steam after a few laps.

I am not alone with this sentiment: I recently came across a post from just over a year ago on the Volume 1 Brooklyn blog with the title: I Don’t Like Mondays/Smurfs/Long Pieces by Malcolm Gladwell.

What works well at length is good literature, which develops and embraces the reader into its microcosm. What you get with Gladwell's books, however, is an upfront idea followed by a bunch of case studies and a lot of referring to the title of the book in a kind of mantra/marketing slogan. Finally, there is a conclusion that merely repeats the idea he opens with.

This is not a criticism of Gladwell because I do not think he strives for anything more than this as a writer or intends anything else than being the social commentator and a bestseller along the way. He would also probably be the first to admit that his writing and books are simply a means of communication and are not developed or structured in such a way to have emotional powers or aesthetic qualities. For this reason, the medium for conveying his ideas is irrelevant (might as well be a YouTube lecture) but, that being said, there is a reason to contain it in book form: Gladwell's thinking is certainly tuned through his own reading and the way he gathers and solidifies his thoughts is in the process of writing (typing on a computer).

Gladwell is a man of the times. His writings and contemplations reflect how most Americans think. He fits perfectly into this Facebook Era where a lot of brain activity is spent on networking and connecting the dots. Conceptually and philosophically, society has moved beyond a system of categorizing everything under the sun; regimented associations have given way to relational "databases," which is why Gladwell's style works.

Personally, I cannot get excited about his writing because it is too formulated for me. His approach to unifying concepts is not by rethinking them but by overthinking them. Instead of deconstruction we get reverse engineering. The problem with this method is that it is gimmicky and superficial. What he is selling with his books is fruit with sterile seeds. But again...I understand why readers like him: he has his niche and he is certainly prolific.

If there is one thing that I should point out with a critical eye, it is Gladwell's slight of hand with some of his analogies.

An analogy is faulty to begin with; it is the communication equivalent of duct tape and it has too much influence to favor or mock the original idea. When an analogy is used to rescue a complex concept that is one thing but when the analogy is used as a distraction or when it hijacks the topic, then you do have to question the motives of the person who set it up. My own analogies (herein) comparing writers to runners and Gladwell's books to fruit with sterile sees are unfair as they suggest physical limitations and impotence. They certainly are not flattering.

Gladwell's article Creation Myth, published in the May 16, 2011 of the New Yorker, is about the development of the computer mouse, from its innovator, Douglas Englebart at Standford Research Institute, to Xerox to Apple. Respectively shown here is the first mouse from each entity. Unfortunately, Gladwell uses a very politically charged analogy to compare the companies with the institute, which makes one question his intentions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

True Blue

by Drew Martin

In the previous post I wrote about Shannon Plumb, who makes short, silent films of herself playing a multitude of characters.

Plumb's husband is Derek Cianfrance, the director of Blue Valentine. I had wanted to see this film before learning of the connection but knowing it (after reviewing Plumb's work) made me a bit more eager.

I went to my local New York Public Library on Friday to inquire if they had it. The librarian told me that it was quite popular but he could request it for me...and then informed me there were 568 holds. I am a patient person but I think that translates into a couple years of waiting.

I checked my other library system, in New Jersey but only two towns had it available/not checked out. The closest library with it on the shelf would have required about a 15 mile round trip.

I do not obsess about seeing movies; I am quite picky and I rarely finish them but I had some ironing to do and it seemed like the right time to watch it. My wife informed me that Blue Valentine was also at the Redbox DVD rental kiosk at Stop & Shop, less than a mile away. So, very unlike me, I jumped into our minivan, drove to the store and picked up the movie for a dollar and got some groceries. I started watching it on a 5" boombox/DVD player screen and finished it on a 46" LCD television, ironing all the while.

Blue Valentine was much better than I expected. I have liked Michelle Williams in the few films I have seen her in and I kind-of-liked Ryan Gosling in one or two roles, but not everything he has been in. His performance in this film, however, won me over. Blue Valentine is a perfect slice-of-life film.

The performances are great. The directing is great. The locations are great, especially the themed Future Room in a cheesy motel the Gosling/Williams couple goes to on Gosling's urging to get away from their house. While much of the film jumps to the past, their present time in the Future Room is eerie, troubled and without real love. It is certainly not a positive sign for what is to come.

Without knowing anything about the film, the title alone sets a somber tone and whether or not Blue Valentine is a conscious reference to David Lynch's Blue Velvet or Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue, there is little reason to expect a cheerful story. As with Kieślowski, the color is thematic. Gosling's character chooses the Future Room over the Cupid Room, which you can imagine being drenched in red. The future room is a cold, dim blue and it shows us the characters' in unfulfilled and fumbled embraces. The past, which is spliced into these scenes, is full spectrum color and warmer. This contrast of blues and reds is most often used in cinematography and photography to establish the warmth of an interior nested in the cold of night...here Cianfrance flips it...the interior present/future is denied that crackling fireplace warmth.

If I have a another media comment about this film, it is that the viewer is joined to Gosling's character at the hip in that most of the life-altering incidents (an unplanned pregnancy with another guy, the family dog being run over because its gate is not closed and the final termination of the relationship) are all directly controlled by Williams' character. Gosling's character becomes a kind of spectator, like us - the audience. His rearing another man's child is so much of the story but it is also metaphoric: he is made impotent only because he does not tap his potential, a term that drives him nuts. What does it mean to have potential?! He demands of his wife...in the same perplexed and insulted tone as his belligerent display at the medical facility where she works..."What does that mean, 'be a man'?! I hate that!!..."

All of his interjections fail. He can act but he cannot change the final outcome. The whole relationship was started by him literally getting his foot in the door of his future wife's life but it was a forced beginning. If anything, this film is anti-serendipitous, showing the foolishness of whim and that some things were simply not meant to happen. That being said, there are wonderful and charming scenes of a better past, like the ukelele/tap dancing scene used in the trailer and one of my favorite scenes, when Gosling's character moves a feeble old man from a neglected house to an assisted living facility. He carefully unpacks and arranges the man's personal effects, despite his coworker urging him to 'hurry up,' so that the man will feel at home when he arrives.

This is a film from a screenplay, so the story ends with the last scene. This seems unfair to Gosling's character and unfair to a viewer who might have more hope and who might want to give him another chance. I have heard people say this is a sad film; it is sad not because it is a very candid look as a troubled relationship, which really had no chance, but because there is no control...no possibility for anything after the last scene. That is how it ends as a story and the real life it so closely observes cannot defend itself, redeem itself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Plumb Perfect

by Drew Martin

At the end of my previous post I touched on the contemporary arts organization SmartSpaces and Shannon Plumb: The Window Series in the storefront of 200 Lafayette Street.

SmartSpaces matches artists with transitional public venues. Their mission to make art more accessible.

I like this idea a lot. It makes sense for the artist, the property owner/manager and for the existing or future tenant. Most importantly these types of projects add a little something to the lives of the people who are fortunate enough to view/experience the artwork.

For the past six years, I've been using a formerly neglected window at a dry cleaner down the street from my house in Ridgewood, NJ with similar ambitions. Pictured below/right is the first piece I did for the space (click on the image to enlarge). It is a photograph I took of a well (studnia) in Poland and the text of a conversation I had with its owner (translated into English).

The dry cleaner is on a busy street two blocks from the center of the town so I wanted to do something that would catch someone's eye, which the well did because it is quite peculiar looking, and then to accompany it with a very short text, which had the potential to unfold into a longer story. The idea to use this space came from a much larger-scale project I was part of around 1990, and have thought about quite often since that time as a good model for public art.

I was in the art program at The University of California at Santa Barbara while the city of Santa Barbara was renovating multiple blocks of its downtown, which flanks the main drag, State Street. Santa Barbara has a great little art scene that is bolstered by a very supportive Santa Barbara Arts Commission. As their website says, and to which I agree, No city of its size has as vast array of arts programs as Santa Barbara.

So with dozens of stores made vacant during the construction process and not wanting to see its vibrant downtown scene wither, artists were called upon to bring life to the area. It was a great recipe for success. The artists got space and there was a reason for the residents of Santa Barbara to continue to visit this part of town.

I had a small window with some narrative relaying my experiences with and fears of dentists and orthodontists, which was supported by a display of extracted teeth I had gathered from local dentists. I also sat in another student's much larger window space as a live model for her piece.

When I read up on SmartSpaces and Plumb last Friday, I was eager to see her work when I returned to the city so I walked over to Lafayette Street on Monday at lunchtime. I spent all of my lunch breaks the past month in the West Village working on my UNDER THE HOOD: New York project so I immediately felt a bit of culture shock being back in trendy SoHo where there is much more of a scene of people wanting to be seen.

I probably would not have noticed Plumb's Windows walking by at that hour: even though the sidewalk is covered/shaded with scaffolding, the two screens were washed out by the daylight. Non-the-less, I stayed for about fifteen minutes and watched a few of the videos.

I really like what such a SmartSpaces/Plumb combination yields but I think it works better in more desperate areas. In New York City it is hard not to stumble upon an art museum, gallery, public art project or even a really well designed retail shop window. No one else stopped while I was there but when I walked away and rounded the corner, there was a fashion model being prepped and the curious pedestrians had formed a crowd around the shoot. This is what there is to contend with in New York. I should really go back at dusk or in the evening to see what kind of response there is by people who stop to consider her work when it is easier to view.

Fortunately, Plumb has some of the work she has done since 1999 posted on her website, including one of the six videos in Windows, which she has referred to as Woman with a Fan. In this short movie (the clips in this series are around 4-7 minutes long) Plumb dons a burka.

This character is sitting by a window, which is reflecting an American flag and a few windows from an apartment building across the street, which are propped open by air-conditioning units. The character, with all but her eyes covered, is relying on a fan to cool herself off and tries to position herself every-which-way to get the best effect. Finally, after checking to see if anyone is watching, she lifts up the hem of the burka and scoops in the blowing air. Plumb's delivery is pure slapstick but the billowing burka takes the skit into something more akin to classic Saturday morning cartoons.

I did not phone in to hear Plumb speak about the works, which is an audio service provided at the site, but I had previously listened to her online. Plumb is quick to explain that she is not criticizing the tradition of wearing the burka or the religious reasons behind it. The piece was purely an empathetic response to how hot she was once she put it on. While watching it, I considered how probably even the most ardent supporters of the burka would have to laugh at this...because Plumb is hitting on the core of humor here. It reminds me of an old Iranian film I saw where the reoccurring joke (which did not move me to laughter) was that a westernized woman returned to her home in Tehran and was driving a man around and he was embarrassed by this.

What I like about Plumb the most in her works is her energy. Technically "over the hill" (born a year after me, in 1970), she has the spunk of a hyper seven year old. Her lean body and youthful face with a dimpled chin make it easy for her to play some of her boyish characters as convincingly as her female roles. She is a pretty woman and a cute guy, especially with a mustache. Pictured right, is a still from Olympics (2005) of one of her male athletes.

Watching Plumb in action on screen seems less as a performance inspired by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (not to mention the antics of Lucille Ball) as it is a reincarnation of these greats.

Plumb is simply captivating to watch, whether she is in a solo skit, such as Woman and a Fan or layering herself in different characters in the same scene, as she does in one film where she plays a runway model, male photographer and several fashionistas at the pretentious event in one room. I think what works for me is that Plumb is so playful that she recalls a time when performers were still trying to figure out what to do with the new medium of movies. The absence of dialogue makes her work entirely about the physical comedy, which she is so good at.

The movie that I think shows off her facial expressions and quick mood transitions the best is Stewardess, which is just over two minutes long. Typically such a variety of expressions is handled by Plumb with different characters but in Stewardess she plays the flight attendant before a plane takes off, going through the safety instructions to a cabin of passengers. The only sound is smooth lounge music and all you see is Plumb from the waist up.

Plumb's props are economical but perfect. She shows a childish picture of a plane, a happy person and good weather and she flashes a brilliant smile. She flips the page and shows another childish drawing but this time it is of a plane plummeting and Plumb mouths a long Psycho scream. Instead of a seat belt, she uses a massive truck hauling hitch and tugs at it like a sideshow strongman. She pulls out a big paper grocery bag, winks at a nearby passenger and then heaves violently and repeatedly into the bag. She uses a dust mask instead of an oxygen mask and then for the flotation device, she places a wreath of balloons around her neck and acts like she is drowning but quickly takes it off and resumes her calm manner.

In Rattles and Cherries, Plumb explores the collision of her femininity and motherhood. She made it in 2004, a few months after the birth of her first son, Walker, whose needy squeaking contrasts the jazzy burlesque music. Plumb poses with various fruits, slithers up and down a cool lounge chair but is constantly distracted by her off-camera son so she can never get in the right sultry mood. Finally, she stops her act to nurse and rock him.

In her discussion posted on the SmartSpaces website, she speaks about her one-woman-show approach, partially influenced by the process of Cindy Sherman:

It's really important that I'm doing it because it's my only vehicle. I wanted to be a painter. I wanted to be a poet. I wish I could have been a rock n' roll star and write my own songs but I have not talent in any of that. I only have this talent in my body. So my body is my paint and guitar strings. And the only way for me to get everything out is to use my body.

I also like what she says of the inspirations for her skits:

I watch people on the subway and I kind of take them home in my head as an idea.

A great introduction to Plumb is an hour-long video I watched/listened to on YouTube, Artist Talk: Shannon Plumb. Plumb speaks about her work, shows many of her movies and then is interviewed.

Additional work by Plumb and her bio/cv can be found on her website www.shannonplumb.com

Saturday, May 7, 2011

UNDER THE HOOD: New York

by Drew Martin

Yesterday I hung the photo show I did for the New York Public Library, which is a continuation of my UNDER THE HOOD series I have done in Ridgewood, NJ, Los Angeles and Prague. The New York version is comprised of 270 black and white film photographs of people, pets and places in the West Village neighborhood of the Hudson Park Branch.

I was hoping nobody would be in the reference room gallery while I was hanging it so that I would not bother anyone and so I could have some privacy. My art has always been this kind of shy approach to socializing with people.

I walked over to the library on my lunch break with my clothesline, clothespins, photos with pre-attached handwritten captions, scissors, black and yellow handled phillips head screwdriver and a sandwich bag full of short drywall screws.

I was supposed to hang the show at the beginning of the week but the branch was undergoing renovations so the gallery space was being painted and carpeted. I wanted to get it in before the weekend so I was glad it was back open by Friday.

When I arrived at the reference room gallery, I got a bit nervous because there was a young lady sitting in the corner working on her Mac. I unpacked my things and screwed in one screw to a wall panel where I would start to hang my clothesline. The next screw I had to put directly behind her because she was in the corner so I mentioned that I was just going to be stepping behind her to do a little work.

"I am hanging a show" I said.

"A show?" she responded.

I did not explain anything further but just tried to be quiet and hurry because I had a lot of work to do. In total I screwed in about ten screws and hung about 150 feet of clothesline. I attached each photo with one black plastic IKEA clothespin. It took longer than I had expected but I liked the effect because this manner of hanging the show had an installation art feel to it; the clothesline helped redefine the space and it leads into corners and spaces which are typically untrodden.

The reason why I use clothesline is because the first show of this project was displayed in my backyard on my numerous clotheslines. They are actually forbidden in my town but there is nothing that will come between me and my laundry, especially freshly cleaned sheets that spend the day outside in the sun. In the Los Angeles version of this show Bill Wheelock, of The Thinkery, remarked how economical the clothesline system works for hanging art; quick to put up, quick to take down, with only a few contact points.

The process of this current show was very social in that I had to stop people I did not know, explain to them what I was doing and spend some time with them...often over half an hour just to get a couple casual pictures. But once the shooting was finished the process was singular and a bit lonely. While I was hanging it, I understood that I was going to walk away from it and not really be present when most people viewed the pictures. This did not feel right because the other three previous shows had a party feel to them. So I was happy there was someone present, perhaps interested in what I was doing at some level, although the way she said "A show?" I was not expecting any enthusiasm.

None-the-less, while I was going through the motions of hanging the show, I was also thinking about who this person might be. I thought perhaps she was unemployed, looking for job leads on her computer. I dared not look at her screen when I was behind her and I thought I should just carry on and then leave, with a simple thanks for her patience.

At one point she got up and asked me where the bathroom was so I explained to her how to get there. When she returned, she looked at a few of the pictures and then sat back down, saying something to me about her liking the show, especially that I had written personal captions for each picture. Eventually we spoke a little bit more about project and I showed her my write-up for it online (Won't Your Be My Neighbor?). Then to my surprise, she explained that she was part of an arts organization that was along the lines of what I was doing.

When I got back to my desk, I looked up the group SmartSpaces and was amazed by what I saw because it is an organization pursuing the kind of projects I have been interested in and doing since the late 1980s.

From their website:

SmartSpaces re-imagines vacant urban spaces as places to present contemporary art, with a mission to make art more accessible, while energizing local communities. Working with curators and arts organizations, SmartSpaces facilitates artistic interventions at the borders of public and private space, transforming empty properties into temporary public art venues, with information and tools that engage and inform the public.

It turns out this young lady is one of the SmartSpaces team members, Tristine Skyler, a New York based playwright, screenwriter, and producer.

SmartSpaces currently has a Window Series project by Shannon Plumb at 200 Lafayette Street until June 3. I listened to a clip of Shannon speaking about the project online so now I am excited to see her work for many reasons, which I can address it a post dedicated to it in the near future.

The Window Series (2010-2011) in the windows of 200 Lafayette Street. This series of six videos explores notions of voyeurism, intimacy, humor and silence in the context of a large city. Looking at a photograph of an apartment building in New York City, the artist began to imagine the different lives behind each of the individual windows, leading to an investigation of multiple imagined lives.
click to listen

Select images of UNDER THE HOOD: New York can be viewed in an online book at blurb. click to preview

This show will be up until the end of June, 2011 at:
New York Public Library - Hudson Park Branch, 66 Leroy Street, New York, NY

Viewing hours:
Monday & Wednesday 10am - 6pm; Tuesday & Thursday 10am-8pm; Friday & Saturday 1pm-5pm

Friday, May 6, 2011

BOLI

by Drew Martin

One of the most serendipitous spaces in New York for art is 29 Downing Street. It's the residence and studio of husband and wife John Bennett and Karen Lee Grant. John is a sculptor and painter. Karen is a photographer. Downing Street has a number of interesting homes but John and Karen's place is the most accessible; the ground floor has been converted into studio and gallery space.

It is not uncommon to walk by and see John at work on his art or something on display, in fact, I expect it. I love how John and Karen so easily offer their talents and space to passersby. It is a reminder of why Greenwich Village has been such a magnet to artists for decades.

Even when no one is milling about and the house is closed up, it is still a place that is hard not to notice and feel engaged with. When renovating/reconstructing the space, John added a lot of personal elements, such as a lintel with triangle patterns and faces (pictured above) as well as other sculpted details.

Last night I went to their opening BOLI, which will be on display until the end of May.

A boli (pl. boliw), is a ritualistic object from Bamana, Mali (an original boli, pictured right). It is a power object whose function is to accumulate and control life force. The boliw are created from animal bones, plant fibers, honey, and metal, which are packed around an armature. They are covered with layers of mud, clay, dung, porridge and sacrificial blood.

John reinterprets the boli, using wire and concrete to define its form. The shaman's task is replaced with an artist's creativity, which at a certain level is one in the same.

Some of John's boliw look like the mortar part of a Mexican mortar and pestle. Karen has used these objects as the solid, grounded element in still life photography. She fills their cavities with various organic elements and photographs them.

The pictures are quite dark, but that gives them a certain softness and a mystery, like seeing wild animals just before sunrise, before they slip away from sight.

The contents of the boli really make each picture unique. There is one with tubers and avocados; the avocados are so ripe you can sense how soft they are and yet in the photographs, they can also be read as solid as the black-bronze surfaces of Rodin's sculptures.

In another boli Karen has placed tubers, pears and very old figs. They all lean to the right of the picture, which gives it a nice sense of movement, especially compared to the one with avocados, which stays put.

On the back of the boli, the movement of the objects creates a look of raised bristles on the back of a boar or some other alarmed animal. Karen's photographs do not simply treat the boliw as empty containers and they are not merely complementing her husband's art; they complete them.

The strongest part of the show is this combination because while the traditional boli is layered and contained, the boli here is revealing and offering.

We need to look at these as opened boliw, exposing their organs, their sustenance and perhaps their offspring. As with the process of how they are created, the power they hold as ritual or art shares something sacred.


BOLI
John Bennett, Sculpture Painting
Karen Lee Grant, Photography

May 5 to May 31
11am to 7pm Th Fr Sa Su
4pm to 7pm Mo Tu We

or by appointment: 212 242 1703

29 Downing Street 10014
at Bedford Street

http://www.29downingstreet.com/

Thursday, May 5, 2011

To Sleep Perchance To Dream

by Drew Martin

I have been thinking a lot about sleep/rest recently, probably because I have defied it and have been denied it for so long. The analogy is that being awake is being alive while sleep is a form of death. But it doesn't work this way; there is a point when being awake and alert is counterproductive and the body cannot repair itself properly so the equation flips and you find yourself so tired that you feel like the living dead and sleep represents rejuvenation, because that's what it is.

How does sleep and media/art coexist? The references are abundant. Computers go into sleep mode when inactive. A sleeper film is a movie that takes everyone by surprise. The concept of sleep is played upon throughout history in mythology and stories such as Rip Van Winkle and although it is a tired theme, it takes on new meaning in science fiction whether it's in the long cosmic journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey (movie still pictured below, right) or in more recent films such as Inception.

Sleep and media are intertwined. Dreams are a form of media...they are internal movies presented to us with puzzling storylines. Dreams and sleep have been depicted throughout the history of art and contributed heavily to the surrealist movement.

Sleep is also often a transition from media or on the border of media. We stay up too late watching movies and reading books and at the same time a boring film or tome puts us to sleep.

The genius integrator of sleep and media was Andy Warhol with his 1963 film Sleep (pictured on top and below). It was his first film and was planned as an eight-hour-long movie of Brigitte Bardot sleeping but was made by filming his his friend/lover, the poet John Giorno, sleeping for six-and-a-half hours. A ninety minute section was duplicated and looped to stretch it out to eight hours to approximate a night of normal sleep.

"I could never finally figure out if more things happened in the sixties because there was more awake time for them to happen in (since so many people were on amphetamine), or if people started taking amphetamine because there were so many things to do that they needed to have more awake time to do them in... Seeing everybody so up all the time made me think that sleep was becoming pretty obsolete, so I decided I'd better quickly do a movie of a person sleeping."

What I have been interested in most recently is less about the relationship of media and sleep so much as substituting media with sleep. This means in times when I would normally read, write or watch something, I simply rest and perhaps sleep, which happens now while I am commuting by train or during my lunch break.

When you are young, the idea of cramming one's mind with ideas and experiences seems urgent but as you get older and wade into midlife I think you start to realize that the younger, less experienced, less educated version of yourself was just as nice a person as you are now. In many cases that former self was even nicer so what was the lesson learned from all of those novels and movies? What did all of those informational articles about the world really prepare you for?

I am 41 now and although I still love to read and travel and explore life, I also know that these things will not really change me much as a person. Instead, I want to rediscover those moments when I was a better friend, less stressed and keeping closer to my convictions. So I use the rest time to reflect on past experiences and remember friends and family members. It's not simply recalling a memory so much as it is pulling it off the shelf, dusting it off and rereading it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The New School

by Drew Martin

The other day I was walking around 14th Street and Fifth Avenue for the first time in quite awhile and noticed that my graduate school, The New School for Social Research, was gone; a hole in the sky and a crater in the ground. It was an odd feeling, not a tragic, sad loss like the Twin Towers but one of good riddance. What was there before was a cruddy building so I am glad the students and teachers/staff will get something decent, even though there has been a lot of criticism about the new design (pictured left).

Seeing the sun shining through the void, reminded me of how I once spoke of my Masters experience:

The facilities were horrible, the teachers OK, and the students fantastic.

I had classes in three different buildings but spent most of my time in the one that was demolished. The more inspiring original building, a few blocks away, by Joseph Urban is the school's landmark building, not to mention that is houses an Orozco mural (detail, pictured below, right). Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of my favorite professors, Richard Lorber, held classes there.

In the now-razed building, my teachers were not great. One instructor had not even finished her own Masters yet and should not have been teaching. The other adjunct, who I liked a lot, lost control of our thesis tutorial class and even asked me if I could return (after I handed in my thesis early) in order to bring peace to the sparring students. That the students were at each other's throats, was what I liked about the school. They were high-spirited, intelligent kids from an array of countries whose ideas often clashed for the good of the academic banter.

The construction site on this unloved corner of Manhattan also reminded me that one of my favorite classes had nothing to do with an edifice. I went to The New School because instead of getting an MFA elsewhere, I wanted to focus on theory and broaden my background of the arts to media studies. None-the-less, it was required to take a couple practical classes so for one of them I chose an audio course, which was conducted entirely online.

The teacher was invisibly up in Boston and the students were chiming in from all over the world. It was really great and oddly enough, it was my most intimate class. All of our projects were audio posts, including our introductions to one another. There was something about just hearing each other's voices and sound projects on our own terms that was much more intriguing and liberating than meeting at a set hour in windowless room, in a poorly built building.