Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Green House, Gas

Gordon Matta-Clark
Splitting, 1974

When Big Brother premiered Sunday night, I felt myself being drawn in again against my will and better judgement to watch the damn thing. When the franchise contaminated the globe as a pioneering instance of reality television's banal biopowers some seven years ago, I must admit I was transfixed, lulled into a narcotized state. Reality and panopticism was being streamed (somewhat) live and for like at least Andy Warhol's famous fifteen minutes I was hooked. But that was then, this is now. I haven't watched it since, well, not until I found myself hypnotised on Sunday night by what appeared to be Gretel Killeen's botoxed forehead.

The cast of clones assembled for this season's turkey-slapping marathon appear to be predominately conveyor belt Caucasians – they're that generic. The girls are blond and pretty in that puked-up Supre kind of way, while most of the boys pass the dumb hunk honours with flying colours. The brunette barmaid from Darwin is there for a bit of rum-n-coke realness. There's also a self-confessed male nerd whose only claim to a six-pack is perhaps drinking one, while you could cut glass on the rest of the lads' torsos.

I'm not even going to bother outlining any more of the housemates. I'd rather die with shit in my mouth. But what did pique my interest is the excessive extent to which the show's producers have scripted sustainability and social responsibility into the design of the house. You see, this cast of whiteys get to compete and do whatever they do in a house designed on Green principles. Big Brother's executive producer Tim Tori said in a
news article, "Big Brother is a reflection of society so like many households around Australia this year we are going green". Tone Wheeler, an architect and educator who was a consultant to Big Brother during its re-design has said that the Big Brother house could be a leader in showing Australians how easy it is to make a house green. Among its features are an air-to-water purifier which transforms water from thin air. Then there are design features throughout the house made out of recycled refuse.

The Heineken World Bottle

Why didn't they just try and revive Heineken's World Bottle? As legend has it, the beer entrepreneur Alfred Heineken commissioned an architect to design "a brick that holds beer" after witnessing a Jamaican beach littered with beer bottles in 1960. The "world bottle" was manufactured (but never released) by Heineken as bricks that could make a Green house. Because Heineken bottles are green, the eco-design of the Green house visually suggests a botanical greenhouse.

The beer is more plentiful in Queensland than water so surely a Heineken house would have been suitable? Due to harsh water restrictions housemates can only shower for a few minutes at a time. It probably doesn't stop the show's producers changing the water in the jacuzzi regularly. Surely the jacuzzi will become one big alcoholic punch of rabid STDs. So congrats to Big Brother for being so green; something has to balance its promotion of mindless consumption. Just check out the ridiculous merchandise and product placement tie-ins you can purchase at the online Big Brother shop. Bumper-sticker ecology has never looked better than it does on Big Brother t-shirts. One of them reads, "The Grass is Always Greener on the Inside".

There's even art made by some environmental artist featured on some the walls inside the house. According to Gretel, the artworks are being auctioned at the Big Brother website. I couldn't find information about these artworks at the website, but why would you want them anyway? Bits of organic materials encased in glass - you can buy that shit at Ikea. Big Brother's producers should have instead commissioned an artist to remake
Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in the yard? Or do a Gordon Matta-Clark by cutting the house in half? Such artistic interventions would have been much more interesting than framed pebbles and sand. I really don't think Big Brother viewers are creaming their jeans over an artist's work being featured in the house.

If the Whiteys get to hang out in the Green house, the ethnics (minus a blond white guy whose dreadlocks probably make him black on the inside) get to hang in a mysterious white room – a kind of reality TV purgatory where the last of the four to survive its sensory deprivations can be allowed access into Greenland. It's so colour-coded, so complex! What's more the white room can be viewed on a Plasma screen, making the white room a kind of Big Brother within Big Brother. This babushka doll simulacrum makes sense because the housemates are so clone-like in appearance that they may as well be carbon copies of each other. Pity Baudrillard died before he got to see this.

Speaking of carbon copies, you can't help but wonder if the house and its adjunct white room are carbon neutral. Does that Plasma screen give off carbon emissions? It appears the white room doesn't even have the same green features as the house, and if it does, Gretel couldn't be fucked talking about it. Regardless of whether the house is green or gold, white or black, trash or treasure, its attempt to buy into the whole eco mindset is as sincere as the mobile phone advertising inundating Big Brother. Does 3, the mobile phone company sponsoring Big Brother, really care about the environment? Last time I checked, phones were one of the major causes of landfill. Big Brother is basically a floor plan for planned obsolescence. If the show survives another season, this time next year the house will have been knocked down and redesigned according to the whim of a twelve year old's distracted attention span. Surely the poster children for sustainability.

One such poster child

Monday, April 09, 2007

Rite of Passage

Terry Zwigoff captured the pretensions of art school ennui so vividly in Ghost World (2001) that I expected his more recent feature Art School Confidential (2006) to be a masterpiece. A straight to video affair in Australia, Art School Confidential is about Jerome (Max Minghella) a wannabe Picasso who believes being a famous artist will get him laid. Poor virgin hasn't had a great time convincing the ladies of his worth. Actually no one at art school thinks much of Jerome. Anyone can be a "Picasshole" it seems. And who would give Jerome a second glance – he basically goes to art school because of the supposed "erotics" of life drawing. First myth of art school is that life drawing is the most fucking boring thing you'll ever do, and the skanks who pose in real life usually stink of whatever is leaking from their unattractive junkie stained bodies.

But art school doesn't have a home in real life anymore. (I'm not sure if that has anything to do with the fact that Sydney art schools seem to be either closing down or restructuring themselves out of existence). As Zwigoff's film has it, art school – like a lot of art – is the stuff of cliché. Jerome's art school buddy Bardo (Joel David Moore) rightly point out that the school is littered with human clichés. There's the pretentious art theory idiot, the kiss-ass dork, the angry lesbian, the meditating hippy and the mature age back at school mum. Even Bardo notes that he's the embodiment of art school cliché: the drop out who keeps repeating the first year of different majors until finding an interest that sticks. But here at art school, everyone may as well drop out because as Professor Sandiford (John Malkovich) points out, only one in a hundred will make a living from being an artist. Of course Sandiford is yet another cliché: the art school instructor whose own career is a long-running gag whose punchline no one gets anymore. When Jerome sees Sandiford's geometric paintings, he inquires how long he's been into the "triangle thing". "I was one of the first" is Sandiford's reply.

The rest of the plot's not even worth fleshing out. There's Audrey, the boring blond life model (Sophia Myles) who actually fulfils Jerome's fantasy of idealised erotic muse. There's even a silly subplot about a serial campus strangler. There's a wasted cast of Jim Broadbent as a disillusioned alcoholic artist – perhaps the slurring is enough justification for the weird UK/US hybrid accent. Angelica Huston is sadly extraneous in two brief scenes as a art history professor with great legs. And while the dialogue is not nearly as funny as it thought it was, there's some corkers, the best occurring when Jerome is criticised by a class mate for being "so September 10".

Art school has become a ridiculous place where one goes seeking authenticity but leaves corrupted at best. The basic message of Art School Confidential is that the supposedly good artist (Jerome) will never be noticed, let alone taken seriously. The bad artist – usually naïve "outsider" type – gets the girl and the attention. Phony art "crit" talk is used to talk up the bad art as something that is good precisely because it has "unlearned" representation or some such shit. Phil Morrison's Junebug (2005) and John Waters' Pecker (1998) did much better jobs of depicting art world tryhards getting all wet over "outsider" nowness. Even TV shows like The L Word and Six Feet Under have made better (read entertaining) situations out of stock art school archtypes. In series four of The L Word, Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) becomes Dean of an LA art college and gets to fuck a student before turning attention to the deaf lesbian artist in residence (Marlee Matlin). In series three of Six Feet Under, Claire Fisher (Lauren Ambrose) "finds herself" after experimenting with collage, chemicals, chicks. Real rite of passage stuff. Come to think of it, where there's a rite of passage, there's bound to be a few overused clichés. And it seems they get no more relentlessly regurgitated than in depictions of that thing we call art school.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cultural Currency

The Artswipe
Cultural Currency (I [Heart] The Shire) 2007
Mobile phone memory

The Artswipe has really been getting into the suburbs lately. Who hasn't? It's the suburbs where you're gonna find that piece of literary gold or visual motif that just ties you're whole oeuvre together - you know - culturally speaking. Actually no, I don't know what I mean, but cultural currency is very now, and I hear it's all taking place in the suburbs. Or at least it's in suburbia where you could stop someone in the street and ask if they know what cultural currency actually is. Just to prove a point, I stopped a little old woman on the street and asked her if she knew. Poor old dear just gave me some spare change. Bless her cotton socks.

The Artswipe
Cultural Currency (Hard to Breathe) 2007
Mobile phone memory

Going down on the South has always been a dream unrealised. So yesterday I took a trip down to Cronulla Beach, in Sydney's southern suburbia badlands aka the Sutherland Shire. It's been years since I've had a Chiko Roll on the white sand dunes of Cronulla, had a surf with the old gang, used the old metal detector to find a quick buck. Oh those were the days. But wait, there's also those times I avoided being raped in a carpark by a pack of guys expelled from Northies pub for being too drunk - overhearing them referring to each other by their nicknames: Whopper, Tyson-T, Mad Cunt - was almost enough to make me beg them for it! Christ, the Chiko Roll gets a bit fucking boring after awhile.

The Artswipe
Cultural Currency (Ride) 2007
Mobile phone memory

Memories fade. There's only the here and now. Or Eternity by Calvin Klein if you're, like, in a real hurry and don't have time for past or present. So I'm at Cronulla reminiscing about the old days. I've got my old tapedeck with me. You know the ones which take about ten double D batteries and has separate play and record buttons, which have to pressed simultaneously to record your favourite song. Don Henley's Boys of Summer was one of them back in the day. Today it's just the news. And what news it was! A tsunami warning and the beach is evacuated. I'd expected at best a little race rioting - but a tsunami - who knew?! "Ocean beaches along Australia's east coast have been closed after the Bureau of Meteorology issued a tsunami warning today. Coastal areas from northern Queensland to eastern Tasmania were placed on alert after a large earthquake which measured 8.1 on the Richter scale jolted the Solomon Islands this morning. All of Sydney's ocean beaches have been closed," as one report noted.

The Artswipe
Cultural Currency (Car Parks Aren't Safe) 2007
Mobile phone memory

The jaunt down memory lane didn't exactly last long enough to help solve the cultural currency riddle. I could stay on the beach and maybe drown with a tsunami that's bound to probably suffer a bout of performance anxiety, which is in fact what happened as it didn't reach Australian shores. Shopping malls always make great places to seek shelter from disappointment, an apocalypse or your usual garden variety zombie infestation. George Romero knew it when he made Dawn of the Dead. Following his lead, I made my way to Miranda Fair. It was there I learned that cultural currency has a uniform. A white t-shirt that says "I [heart] The Shire" and a tie featuring the Australian flag. Not the Indigenous one, the other one. You know, the blue one with the Union Jack and a bunch of stars on it. The one flaunted with gay abandon in the front yard of about every second house you pass on the way to the beach. Quick, SMS and say you love me, that you call Australia home, that you'll be there when I need you most. Like the time I could barely breathe through the grief I felt, we all felt really, when the Crocodile Hunter of my [heart] found solace in his own franchise in the sky.