Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Notes on a Vandal

The Artswipe
I Can Eat Cake with Ellen, 2007
Mixed media installation

Unfortunately, the 79th Oscars did not prove Artswipe's psychic ability. With only nine categories correct in my Oscar party predictions, I had no other choice but to eat cake with Ellen. As she was so desperately unfunny in her hosting ability I later threw it in her face. Damn it, if I had remembered Melissa Etheridge sang the song for An Inconvenient Truth, I'd have surely guessed that one because lesbian is so hot this year along with Oscar's ridiculously racist ode to all cultures great and small. This year's focus on nominations over winners just demonstrated how despite our differences, we're all winners. Bless.

Anyway kids, see you next year at Oscar's 80th. Meanwhile you can see me at the local community hall practicing my contemporary shapeshifting shadow dancing. This week we're taking the Twin Towers as our inspiration. I might wear my Crash Parties, Not Buildings outfit.

Postscript: after publishing this post, I commissioned Skanky Jane to produce an animated GIF image of Artswipe's Oscar predictions merging ever so psychedelically with the actual outcome. It can be seen below in the Prize Queen post as I replaced the old image of the Oscar predictions with a kind of Before and After extravaganza. Thanks SJ!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Prize Queen

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The Artswipe
"In addition to God and the studio, I'd like to thank Skanky Jane for making
this animated GIF of Artswipe's Oscar predictions vs the actual outcome", 2007
New New Media

"Artswipe also hopes to do a quick run around town and take in some art shows in their last days, to stave off that bitter feeling of neglect art experiences during the Christmas shut down. Maybe even shed some Oscar tips."

So were the concluding remarks of Artswipe's first blog post for the year. Some art shows were viewed but I just didn't see anything worth the words that hadn't already been uttered somewhere else. That prize show The Anne Landa Award exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW was quite festive, and certainly more interesting than it was the year before. But while Monika Tichacek deserved her win for the (now rather old) video work The Shadowers (2004), the hype and scandal publicly aroused by her lesbo-sadomasochistic work made me less responsive to it on second viewing (I first saw it at Artspace in 2005 and became an instant fan).

What interested me, seeing it in the hallowed context of an art prize at the AGNSW, was how The Shadowers - perhaps to its detriment - stood out because Tichacek was the only female artist represented among a group of seven video and new media artists. But maybe the gender inequity was abated by the surplus of female energy contextualising Tichacek's work. After all, The Shadowers was a piece about female desire and queer sexuality produced by a woman (Monika Tichacek, with some help from performers Aña Wojak and Rosanna Mastroianni). Then it is curated by a woman (Natasha Bullock) into an art prize exhibition named in honour of a woman (Anne Landa).

Usually I tire of the very gender stocktaking I've just outlined because politically correct divisionism is, like, so 1995, but it seems a suited observation in retrospect because the boys represented are such boys. Really, the encircling gangbang of male artists at the Anne Landa Award was so pungent with the whiff of blueballs, soccer practice and dickcheese that it was a relief to be in Tichacek's black curtained safe place... No wonder she sews her legs together. Any self-respecting woman would.

There it is, Artswipe promised an art review. The Anne Landa Award closed on the 11 February. Hope you got to see it. I'm certainly a better person after seeing Tony Schwensen's nipples in yet another absurd performance video situation. If you're now pissed you missed it, let me know and I'll lend you my copy of the $25 catalogue.

If the Anne Landa Award stoked your inner prize queen, then hop along to my favourite opening night of the year. It's The Academy Awards aka Oscars (just in case you didn't know). It's not curated by anyone that I know of. Artswipe did promise some Oscar tips, and this year Artswipe's done some homework and seen a lot of the films. After the last few posts I've indeed realised what a celebrity-themed February it has been. So much so that Aquarians and Pisceans are so fucking cool in that Britney-esque way right now, wading the complex depths of a glittering hirsute ocean. Bid or Buy it Now.

If you can't get tickets to the Oscars, it's best you don't ask because they don't offer freebies to volunteers like the organisers of
The Biennale of Sydney. My recommendation is you make your own little gift bag and watch on TV. It's very democratic that way and TV is the people's medium. My video artist friends may want to watch it as a 3 channel dvd installation, that's up to you.

Why did I pick my picks? Leonardo DiCaprio as best actor because he's as cute as a button. Starring in Blood Diamond and The Departed, he really did work hard. Leo's made like at least five movies now since What's Eating Gilbert Grape. What a working class man. Maybe Alan Arkin as Supporting Actor because he's old. Definitely Helen Mirren because everyone says so - indeed, she's the ultimate Prize Queen. I suppose Jennifer Hudson as Supporting Diva because we need to think for a minute we're at The Grammys instead of perhaps the abortion clinic they call American Idol.

Scorsese will win for The Departed because I don't think he's ever won before. Babel has to get something - it does critique American gun cultures and terror-inspired politics in an ever-so-ambiguously-even-handed manner that it might just be this year's Crash (Best Picture Oscar 2005). Does that mean Babel could be Best Picture? I hope so. If not it will get one of the throwaway awards from the two Screenplay categories.

Notes on a Scandal should get the other Screenplay award, simply because it was so nasty. The Philip Glass score may win for Notes on a Scandal, because Academy voters may cast an intertextual vote this year. Meaning, Philip Glass scored The Hours. The Hours was about Virginia Woolf. Notes on a Scandal makes numerous smartypants references to Woolf throughout. Notes on a Scandal is really in such Room of One's Own that it is Artswipe's personal pick for the Best Picture - even if it's not nominated in that category. But then again, it's all about women's business and like Monika Tichacek's The Shadowers, it's got enough deliciously amoral lesbian ingredients to warrant a major Australian art prize. An Oscar, perhaps not.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Production Values

The Anna Nicole Show

"As Anna Nicole Smith, the unblushing celebrity whose antics were at once garish and pitiful, collapsed in her suite at a Florida hotel and casino, people sat feeding coins into slot machines five floors below. It was a very American death."
- Ben Cubby & Emily Dunn, "End of a Party Girl," Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 2007.

These two sentences introduced today's Herald article about the life and death of celebrity train-wreck Anna Nicole Smith, whose life literally derailed the other day when she was found dead in a hotel room. Artswipe has always admired Anna Nicole because she embodied the white trash American dream more than any other. Stitched to the nines in shit for brains cheap glamour, Anna Nicole's circuitous path to fame mirrored the Paris Hilton brand except one was born into hotel money, the other died in a hotel with oil money amassed along the way. Anna Nicole's second husband, a Texan oil tycoon, was a million years her senior when she married him at 26 years of age. He dies, she inherits, and her claim to the cash is contested at Supreme Court. At the time a judge asks Anna Nicole about her situation to which she replies: "I just wanted to make a name for myself." The judge presses her: "What name is that?"

"Anna Nicole Smith," is her winning reply.

Maybe she's a little smarter than the former stripper seemed in the media spectacle groundswell following her every chemically-enhanced hiccup. Born Vicky Hogan in 1967, she changed her name to Anna Nicole at the edge of 17. Around that time Anna Nicole was busy getting married to her first (unwealthy) husband and giving birth to son Daniel, who died suddenly five months ago - a mere three days after Anna Nicole's second child was born. When she changed her name to Anna Nicole, she knew fame was all about the name. Her name. For Anna Nicole, her name was an epic neon wonderbolt lighting up the dank cesspool of famous-for-being-famous celebrity skank. Where Paris Hilton's star emits greenhouse gasses, Anna Nicole's saintly sheen could multitask by eclipsing the planet, sending us into a tailspin of darkly drrrty moments that momentarily plugged the hole in the ozone. Those not content to just look on and admire her gifts to the globe could feed coins into her slot machine. It was a very American life.

One of Anna Nicole Smith's paintings

If she knew her name could attract attention, it was no more honed to perfection than in her reality TV show, The Anna Nicole Show (2002-04). In an episode from the second season, "Something Trendy This Way Comes" (2003) Anna Nicole shows her artist side. This was the side Artswipe loved the most. You see, Anna Nicole fit perfectly into the "outsider artist" tradition, which is odd because she was not really outside of anything. She was so in. Regardless of what, where or whom she was "in," Anna Nicole's paintings sported that outsider naïvety, suggesting either arrested development or postmodern chic, you decide. If she'd lived earlier she would have been one of Warhol's superstars, and fought with Brigid Berlin for "just one more qualude, daaarling."

According to Anna Nicole, "part of having an art opening is schmoozing the crowd and sometimes the crowd schmoozes with the artist." One such schmoozer appearing on the show is David Galgano, an art dealer who apparently sells a lot of Andy Warhol work. Talking up her artistic ability while Anna Nicole nods ever so shyly, Galgano describes her work as "pure" and "painted from the gut." Having bought one of her pink paintings, he promises Anna Nicole that he'll hang it in his home next to the Rauschenberg.

Anna Nicole was a pop artist briefly during one year of her life, and Artswipe really admires that. If she'd lived longer, it's near certain she would have curated blockbuster exhibitions at MOMA or the Tate Modern. We just know if Anna Nicole made a pilates or work-out video it would have been so fucking cool that some visionary curator would have shown it on a triple projected screen at the 2010 Venice Biennale. Australian skateboarding video artist Shaun Gladwell would be so jealous she thought of it first he'd ask Anna Nicole to collaborate with him on a video work. Anna Nicole would say no because production values are not just her art, they're her life.

Why Anna Nicole's work isn't represented in all the major collections around the world Artswipe will never comprehend.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What's New in Post-9/11 Culture?

Brothers and Sisters

Why is that when American popular culture (especially television and film) reference the present war in Iraq, it does so in an overly self-conscious, corny and clichéd manner? For some time the Artswipe has been deeply suspicious of the tendency to interpret culture within a "post-9/11" frame. Of course it's important for art and culture to reflect the political and social conditions of the present day, but frankly, it just irks me that so much cultural production becomes a beacon for a "post-9/11" paradigm shift either because such themes are deliberately implied by a producer or because said themes are unpacked by a zealous critic. Understandably most culture that is produced or interpreted in this manner derives from the United States. And sure enough, we live in a "post-9/11" world because American critics and/or publications repeatedly say so.

A case in point: if you type "post-9/11" into the embedded Google search engine of the online magazine PopMatters, you get "about 500 results". PopMatters is self-described as "an international magazine of cultural criticism", with global focus and reach, but featuring mostly US writers and published in Illinois. It usually casts a fairly sharp and entertaining eye over the landscape of global popular culture, but often gets caught up in the convenient dogma of the day, which most notably according to Artswipe, is rendering the world at large a post-9/11 vessel adrift in its own complex quagmire of contradictory politics. Then again, PopMatters ain't alone. Evidently, the phrase "post-9/11" is a convenient moniker espoused on a widespread level: if you abandon the Google powered PopMatters search engine and enter "post 9/11" into Google proper you can expect "about 46,000,000" results. If Artswipe felt "terrorism fatigue" five months ago when the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 Twin Towers attack unfurled worldwide as media spectacle, then suffice to say, Artswipe is now asleep at the wheel.

Describing culture in "post-9/11" terms is certainly not new. Surely some doctoral student somewhere is researching the origins of the term and its cultural application as we speak. But why now does Artswipe feel so compelled to speak about it? The "post-9/11" US series Brothers and Sisters premiered on Australian television on Monday night (Seven Network, 5 February 2007, 9:30pm), five months after its "post-five-years-after-9/11" US release date of 24 September 2006. Finally it is safe to say that this tv series lays claim to being embalmed in the most ridiculously saturated gloss of "post-9/11" jingoism.

Sure, I waited with bridal anticipation the entire week before it aired because I have had a huge crush on Rachel Griffiths ever since she played the fucked up slut guts Brenda Chenowith on HBO's Six Feet Under (2001-2005). Since that show drew its last epic breath, I have been in deep grief and nothing televisual (not even Dancing with the Stars) can inspire me to shake it off. But Australian advertising is insistent – it cashes in on nationalistic intertextuality by up-selling the presence of Australian actors who adorn new US or UK tv productions. Clearly Calista Flockhart is the star of Brothers and Sisters (though perhaps its undoing) but on Australian screens "Our Rachel Griffiths" is its draw card. Translation for non-Australian readers: "Our Media" heralds the work of any Aussie artist whose stardom has come about after leaving the Antipodean shores. It's about ownership – we must never to forget that Rachel Griffiths, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crow, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Naomi Watts, etc. are "ours", "we own them", "hands off". It's as if "Our Media" is reminding the stars more than the audiences that "we made you, we will break you if we have to".

At PopMatters, Michael Abernethy rightly notes that Brothers and Sisters is a convoluted mess of a show (despite Aussie TV critic Robin Oliver from the Herald's Guide calling it a "spine-tingling experience"). My spine certainly tingled but only because of the confusion one might expect when a vast cast and complex plot lines are being introduced in a pilot episode. When the first episode was over, I was so confused I went to the official site for the show to get the official plot synopsis. Considering it revealed more than I managed to decipher while viewing it, I have quoted it for you below (and to save me paraphrasing dull narrative exposition):

"Brothers and Sisters follows the Walkers through the maze of American life today - the pressures, limitless options and the struggle to grow beyond our backgrounds into ourselves. Through these fascinating siblings - Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), the corporate VP struggling to balance motherhood with career; Tommy (Balthazar Getty), the loyal son and seeming heir to the family business; Kevin (Matthew Rhys), the gay lawyer cautiously learning about love; Justin (Dave Annable), the baby of the family, grappling with war trauma and addiction; and Kitty (Calista Flockhart), right-wing radio host turned TV pundit who has always been Daddy's little girl - the show explores what it means to be a family in the 21st century, and how these brothers and sisters balance their own lives as they strive to accept their parents as people - flawed, contradictory and forgivable - rather than just as a father and mother. The parents are Tom Skerritt as William Walker, the larger-than-life patriarch and president of the family business, and Sally Field as Nora Holden, the opinionated wife and mother to the five Walker siblings."

Silly me, how did I miss it? Obviously, considering my "post-9/11" introduction, the younger brother as Iraq war veteran is what caught my eye the most (well, second to my lust for Rachel Griffiths). But seriously, I thought he was dead - a casualty of war - because it seemed as if he was being regarded in the past tense. Clearly I nodded off in the split second where his character is introduced. You see, the show revolves around Kitty, the dumbfuck right wing radio diva whose heart of gold accommodates the brightest shades of red, white and blue, even if she's despised by her mother, Nora, for her political views. In the episode's most dramatic moment, Kitty and Nora have a showdown, and Nora explodes because of the heartache a mother experiences when a son is fighting in a war she doesn't agree with. Together they acknowledge that Kitty had a hard time living in New York when the World Trade Centre was attacked, especially because poor Kitty lived just down the street from Ground Zero. Nora was there for Kitty then – she felt her pain because it was everyone's pain. Re. the war in Iraq – the pain feels more like abuse than grief. Kitty suspects the strain wedged between this mother/daughter relationship is not politically driven: "I don't know what it's about but it's not about the war". What a corker of a line! I must use that one whenever anything is described as "post-9/11". It's almost as good a line as the one Kitty says repeatedly to various family members when they challenge her: "It's not about my politics".

Perhaps, then, Brothers and Sisters works on one level at least. It reminds me why I am so vehemently opposed to US right wing propaganda. I'm with Nora: Kitty is a nasty piece of work and undeserving of a mother's genuine love. Even though it's probably preaching to the converted and even though Kitty is probably redeemed somehow (such is narrative convention) I must marvel at this "post-9/11" melodrama for explaining the denial mechanisms embedded in right wing views: how everything is simultaneously about and not about the war; about and not about "my politics". Maybe by next episode it will explain why we are meant to believe Kitty is 31 years of age, when Calista Flockhart looks every bit her 42 years despite her undoubted penchant for cosmetic enhancement.