Monday, June 29, 2015

Embedded Memories at the Hudson Park Branch of the New York Public Library

by Drew Martin
I have a new show up at the New York Public Library from June 29 - July 31, 2015.

Here is my blurb:

Embedded Memories is a show by the artist Drew Martin (b. 1969) about childhood dreams in the most literal sense. The work consists of three 4’x8’ panels of vintage sheets and pillowcases from his childhood with prints of Walt Disney characters, the Peanuts gang, Star Wars, Raggedy Ann and Andy, and the Bernard Kliban tabby cat with red sneakers. 
A fourth panel displays a Thomas the Tank Engine sheet and pillowcase from the early childhood of his own kids.

From a graphics point of view Martin has always appreciated the scale, imagery and daily exposure of these linen prints. Psychologically, he likes how they are part of our culture’s “sweet dreams” send off each night for little kids separated from their families by the dark solitude of the night.

Embedded Memories is Drew Martin’s third show in five years at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library. The first show, TogetherAlone, in 2010, included 40 of his small, black line drawings, some of which were made in the library and referenced the people around him. For the second show, Under the Hood, in 2011, he displayed 250 black and white photographs he took of people who live and work in the neighborhood. The photographs were hung on clotheslines that were stretched across the room.

For this Embedded Memories show Martin first started by thinking about the optimistic energy of the colorful Keith Haring mural just outside the museum above the public pool, and tried to maintain that spirit with these wall hangings.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What is Pussy Riot?

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer on Netflix, which focuses on the crash show of the collective punk band Pussy Riot at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the bank of the Moscow River in 2012, in which they shocked the members of the church with their performance and lyrics that included, Shit! Shit! It's God's shit!

This church, in particular, has a lot to be sensitive about. It was built from coins scraped together by peasants in 1812. After the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and their anti-religious policy it fell into disrepair, was defaced and finally it was imploded in 1931. A public swimming pool was built in its place but after the collapse of the Soviet Union the cathedral was rebuilt.

Even though Russia is a secular state, the Christian Orthodox Church has a great pull on many of the citizens and the 
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which Putin attends, is criticized by the band as a place where the church and state has been fused together.

So Pussy Riot, which was born out of the disruptive performing arts group Voina (War), saw it as a place fit for their intervention. They barely got started when they were dragged out by security. Three members were caught and charged with hooliganism.

Two of those members, 
Nadezhda "Nadia" Tolokonnikova and Maria "Masha" Alyokhina received two year terms at separate penal colonies. While a third member, Yekaterina "Katia" Samutsevich, was released after seven months, which is when the film is wrapped up.

Tolokonnikova, pictured left (top), kissing the female policewoman below that, nude in the center of the third picture down, on the left in the trial cage, and bottom - left in the still from House of Cards (season 3, episode 3) was the leader of the group, and part of Voina, as was Samutsevich, pictured far right in the trial cage.

Two of the previous performances by Voina covered in the film (to give some background of some of Pussy Riot's key members) were Kissing a Cop, in which women from the group aggressively threw themselves at female Russian policewomen and smooched them. The act, they said was to sexually liberate the militant officers.

The other performance was the flash romp in 2008 where members stripped down and had sex in the Moscow Biological Museum. The eight-month pregnant 
Tolokonnikova participated with her husband and father of that child, Pyotr Verzilov. Verzilov, who speaks English quite well, became an international voice for Pussy Riot while his wife and other members were detained for their trial and eventual imprisonment.

The still from the House of Cards episode here shows 
Tolokonnikova, Verzilov, and Alyokhina, (who is also sitting next to Tolokonnikova in the trial cage). This kind of popular fame seems like a hollow, plastic consolation prize for their original revolutionary cause, and raises the question if the kind of attention they seek is more of a desperate cry to be noticed, especially by Tolokonnikova who grew up in a broken home, than a true protest. Although they took political aim against Putin's totalitarian regime, they ended up as marketing propaganda for Madonna, and a stylized punk-feminist facade.

Watch the trailer: 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


by Drew Martin
I am most proud to be American when I am watching Eurovision, the annual music competition between countries (mainly European) in the European Broadcasting Union. It's always mesmerizing how cheesy it gets, and surprising the larger and richer the country, the worse the entry.

I wrote about 2014 Eurovision last year and a lot has changed since then. Poland, by biggest contrast, rebounded from the most provocative showing last year to something much more tasteful. This year's song In The Name of Love was not very good but it was classy. Monika Kuszyńska belts it out from the floor in a white dress, not because she is that casual: she was paralyzed from the waist down from an automobile accident in 2006.

I seem to have a Slovenian fetish because I keep finding things I love about that culture. I liked this year's pop song Here for You by the husband and wife duo, Maraaya. The name is a truncation of their names 
Marjetka and Aleš "Raay" Vovk. It also means - she has Raaya. Their song is poppy but Marjetka seems to bundle Amy Winehouse and Barbra Streisand with a Slavic twist.

The biggest surprise and hands down the best performance was by the Finnish punk band whose members are either autistic or have Down Syndrome: 
PKN (PERTTI KURIKAN NIMIPÄIVÄT) with their song Aina mun pitää (I always have to...)

Here are the lyrics:

I always have to clean...
I always have to do the dishes
I always have to work
I always have to go to the doctor
I am not allowed to go to the computer
I am not allowed to watch television
I am not allowed to see my friends
I always have to be at home
I always have to do chores
I always have to eat well
I always have to drink well
I can't eat candy, drink soda
I can't even drink alcohol
I always have to rest
I always have to sleep
I always have to wake up
I always have to shower

The fact that they did not qualify for the finals of 2015 Eurovision is totally outrageous.

The winning entry was a safe song by Sweden's Måns Zelmerlöw called Heroes with the main lyric "We are the heroes of our time..." It's typical mindless pop that puts a nail in the coffin of the overuse and misuse of the word hero.

The most disappointing thing about Eurovision is the overall blandness of it, with little effort to take chances. In one way, Eurovision is a guide to Europe (and the other countries that enter the event). I use it to think about which countries I would want to visit/revisit. From this approach I would have written off Sweden (and I have been before) but fortunately some Swedes captured my attention again through the film We Are the Best!, which like PKM, keeps punk alive. From a site about the film:

We Are the Best! is a story of three young misfit girls growing up in the early ‘80s Stockholm. Pixieish, mohawk-sporting Klara and her best friend Bobo are 13-year-old rebels looking for a cause. Despite having no instruments—or discernible musical talent—the two put all their energy into forming an all-girl punk band, recruiting their shy, classical guitar-playing schoolmate Hedwig as a third wheel. With tender affection for its young characters, We Are the Best! paints a joyous and sharply observant portrait of the rebellious spirit of youth and growing up different. 

Watch the 2015 Eurovision song entry recap:

Watch PKM perform I Always Have To with English subtitles:

Have a look at this interview with PKM on Consequence of Sound:

Watch the trailer for We Are the Best!:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Bad Side of Good People and the Good Side of Bad People

by Drew Martin
I watched two documentary films in the past month that explore violence from completely different angles: Dawg Fight by Billy Corben and Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog.

Dawg Fight, which takes place in a poor neighborhood of Miami-Dade County, Florida, harnesses the organized violence of backyard ring, bare-fist fighting as a way out of the random violence of poverty. The star of the film and hero of the community is the hulking Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris who arranges the events, pep-talks the fighters, and makes sure the fight is fair so that the best man wins.

The other film, Into the Abyss, is less brutal but much more disturbing. Herzog's closeup look at two young Texans in prison for a triple-murder. One of the men is on death row, and executed by the conclusion of the film. Herzog interviews him days before this. He also interviews a partner in crime who is serving a life sentence. As always, Herzog is tasteful and contemplative. You see this with the respect his subjects grant him even though they could rebuff - this is none of your business. 

When I watched both of these films, I thought about the guileless foreigner who would be shocked by the state of the communities and the degree of violence shown in each of these documentaries, but the truth is I cannot think of bigger-picture portrayals of America that could be more honest than the microcosms of these two documentaries.


Full movie;