Category: video/film


Abandoned Storage Unit #3: Billy Childish art, The Nutmeg, and Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits

September 19th, 2012

 
 
 
 
      Hey y’all. I present thee with Abandoned Storage Unit #3. As usual, a motley throng of wiring, styrofoam bits, plaster chunks, cinder blocks, corrugated tin sheets, old mattresses, broken lamps. And in and among all that stuff, some choice goodies.
      First up’s a painting by Billy Childish (click to zoom in):
 
 
 
 
 
 
Childish Russian Shepherd Boy 
 

       Billy Childish (b. 1959, Chatham, Kent, England)
          Russian Shepherd Boy, 2011, oil and charcoal on linen

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
      I knew of Childish as a prolific songwriter and recording artist, but I had no idea he worked visually as well. What a lovely surprise. Well deployed pastel blue and pink highlights here, lending bright contrast to the swamp thing murk & tangle of the canvas; sending veins of weird, slightly radioactive cheer through the boggy boughs. And it wouldn’t even be bog without the seated boy, whose detailed luminous red and white presence anchors the work in the natural world (as does the title as well of course). That ghost-boy’s coy and mysterious expression is so well executed. What’s he up to — is he shirking his duties? What’s he holding, a staff? Banjo? We wonder about him, want to know what he was up to before the canvas moment, what he’ll do after. He’s the offset nucleus & anchor of this expressive painting’s power, helping balance its marshy flora against its sinewy, psychographic phantasms.
 
 
 
 

* * * * *
* * * * *

 
 
 
 
 
     Next up is an image I found some time ago and return to every so often when I want a hard jolt of how beautifully alien the natural world is:
 
 
 
Nutmeg Aril
 
 

          (Nutmeg seed with aril)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     The nutmeg. That gorgeous, lustrous red webbing is called the aril of the nutmeg seed, which, when dried, becomes the spice known as mace. Watching the aril’s semi-menacing membrane, & how its gothy serpentine lacing beguiles as much as it warns, I’m not surprised to learn that freshly ground nutmeg contains myristicin, a psychoactive substance which, in sufficient dosage, can produce convulsions, palpitations, hallucinations, paranoia, and delirium, among other symptoms. Nutmeg was notably used as an intoxicant in the states after WWII, among young folks, bohemians, druggies & prisoners. I get buzzy just staring at the aril, thinking about how varied and wonderfully alien are the forms found in nature.
 
 
 
 
 

* * * * *
* * * * *

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

      Finally I wanted to talk a little about Juliet of the Spirits, one of my favorite Fellini films. A movie full of, as usual with Fellini, magic, spirits, beautiful clothing, weird colors, great Nino Rota music, baffling & exotic mystico-spiritual passages, leer-heavy cross-talking carnaval-esque parties & gatherings, and heaps of psychodrama & flashbacks. Not to mention a masterful performance by the titular protagonist and one of the main reasons I continue to explore Fellini’s ouevre: the director’s wife herself, Giulietta Massina.
      There’s so, so much to say about this film, and a great deal of it’s already been typed and inked. The little niche of it I want particularly to explore is the relationship between Juliet and her mother, and how this relationship plays Juliet’s own recovery of her sense of self and agency.
      The film establishes early on Juliet’s well-hid dissatisfaction: she’s married to fashion P.R. romeo & man-about-town Giorgio, and she’s well aware of her husband’s frequent absences & rumored infidelities. She keeps up appearances admirably at the frequent parties and gatherings the two hold at their gorgeous enforested villa. Why can’t she leave Giorgio, despite growing mounting evidence of his cheating? Simple Italian partiarchal influence? Perhaps its her lifelong martyrism (something the film goes to pains to depict), her strong Catholic values, & maybe her simple fear of striking out on a new path to happiness and self-discovery.
      Despite her pain, she maintains perfect and constant social composure — with perhaps a few cracks beginning to appear — & being a gregarious goodwilling and healthy social being, delights in the constant, shifting cast of characters surrounding her: psychics, spiritualists, models, celebrities, her doctor, a sculptor, and various other hangers on and true friends ranging from absurd to freaky kinky to true confidantes. Just about all of them in some way start to open her up to her own discontent and to possible antidotes and solutions for her issues.
      Much of the film in fact has to do with this, with Juliet figuring out herself in relation to others’ ways of finding fulfillment sexually, spiritually, personally. Toward this end the film is strongly psychodramatic, with Juliet finding fulfillment/escape in her developing ability to access a rich dreamlike inner landscape of visions, memories, spirits, and an assortment of characters who symbolize conflicting hungers, pains & needs of her heart-mind. Soon this power, which at first strikes her as a kind of alarming but heady & increasingly attractive spirit-communing or magic art, becomes unchecked and a liability to her as she’s overwhelmed by so many voices all clamoring for within for her to act definitively — in some form or another — to regain her dignity, agency, sexuality, confidence. But Juliet cannot yet act, still shackled as she is to fear, to martyrdom, to holy suffering misery — a suffering that we learn has been fed and nurtured for decades by her mother (pictured below).
 
 
 
 
 
Still from Juliet of the Spirits
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     It’s worth pausing to note that Juliet’s mother, a severe and imposing matriarch, has belittled her throughout the film for not being beautiful enough, for not wearing nice enough clothes (Juliet’s style is well composed & attractive and steers clear from the gaudy and over-made-up excesses of many of the women around her), and throughout the film is complicit in maintaining (&, clearly, having helped construct) Juliet’s neurosis of quiet, smiling suffering. And Juliet’s flashbacks make clear this has been the case since her early childhood. Juliet’s path to empowerment will have to go through her mother.
     Which brings us to the image above, which is from a waking-vision sequence near the end of the film, at which point we find Juliet overwhelmed and bewildered by her psychological voices, by her inner spirit parade’s clamoring for her to act. Giorgio has left for another “business trip”, mumbling pre-emptive denial of any ‘rumours’ going about just as he leaves, and Juliet has been in a state of profound anxiety and pre-nervous breakdown fear and pain for a good ten minutes. She resorts to begging her interiorized mother to help her. Juliet then discovers a small door in her bedroom (a vision-door that is) and is about to open it; her mother then materializes in a vision and loudly and angrily commands her not to. Juliet is able to deny her mother’s wishes and open the small door, in which she discovers a narrow corridor and her childhood girl self tied to a metal grill with fake flames around her. She’s able to free the small martyr version of herself and thereby unlock her own sense of agency. The film ends not long after in a beautiful sequence of self discovery and emancipation, as Juliet is able now to launch herself forth, walking out of her house and away from an emotionally abusive relationship, and hopefully toward a renewal of herself as a still-vital woman and human (see below; Juliet can be seen in the bottom-left):
 
 
 
 
 
End Scene Juliet of the Spirits
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     Of course, we can also read this denouement as Juliet having been brought to full mental splintering breakdown through her interior journey and travails. In this light, her striding forth is less empowered shackle-break and more mad wayward broken-steering-wheeled careen; straitjacket nutso wandering out of the asylum. Or, to pull back a bit, at the very least she’s in equal measure broken and confounded by her inner saga as she is transformed into a healed whole being by it. But I’m keeping things optimistic today folks. Let’s just wish Juliet — all the Juliets in our lives — the best and send her good energy as she strolls on out into sun and fresh air, ready to meet the welcoming world.
 
 
 
 
 

Some stuff about nutmeggggggggs at botanical.com.

More of Billy Childish’s art at billychildish.com.

Ebert’s review of Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits at rogerebert.suntimes.com.

 
 
 
 

[posted by: C Way at 9:40 PM]

[file under: ABANDONED STORAGE UNITS ||| paintings/drawings ||| photography ||| video/film]
Comments







Art of the Day — Film: “Touch of Evil” (1958), Orson Welles dir.

May 8th, 2012

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
I had the chance to see Touch of Evil in mid-March of this year at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The print I saw was the refurbished 1998 version, helmed by Walter Murch & relying on Welles’ own famous 58-page memo to his studio urging the restoration of certain elements of his film after it was swiped from him and — as often happened with Welles — re-tooled and “completed” by other parties. This was also to be my first Welles flick. So I felt doubly lucky while queuing up with my friends and girlfriend: to be seeing this much-acclaimed film on the big screen and to be seeing it in a form as close to what Welles envisioned as possible. And so? Simply put, I was stunned.
     How in the hell does one write about Welles and Touch of Evil 50+ years later? Ink & typewriter ribbon & keystroke have long been exhausted in tribute to the man and the work. If I’m going to add to the tottering heap, I’ve got to do it aslant… besides, as those of you who follow Snailcrow know, my “reviews”, such as they are, are pretty loose and nonstandard: I don’t go for plot summaries (except inasmuch as absolutely necessary) and helpful contextual prologues & footnotes. For better or worse I like to cover my art immediately, ahistorically and without background-primer. This is absolutely by laziness/selfishness as much as by principle: I’m just goddamned greedy to get to what I truly love about whatever I’m covering. So with that said, what I loved most about Touch of Evil, now that I’ve had more than a month to digest the impact of the film: Hank Quinlan as ethically-instructive non-villain villain & the richness of Welles’ V O I C E. The two go together. I’ll explain.
     The sensual first: I loved listening to Welles. Rather, I loved watching Welles talk and matching his voice’s incredibly varied & virtuosic qualities — intonation, pitch, dynamics, murmurs, mumbles, hushes and barks — to the mouth and body onscreen. I had no idea what a mighty presence Welles would be, how commanding he could be, not just with his bulk, but with that fucking voice. It all came together for me while watching: The War of the Worlds broadcast, the Shakespeare, I understood: his power is uttered.
     How does this play out in Touch of Evil? Well, in the film Welles plays a collapsing shambles of a police chief in Quinlan, barely able to breathe out an intelligible sentence from his angry, cynical, alco-poisoned guts — & yet we’re magnetized. Why? Just because he’s a big racist brute shot dramatically, an evil pig we can’t tear our eyes from? No — because Welles invests him with more (or perhaps the very strong suggestion of more, which amounts to the same). With subtlety, intelligence, regret, pathos, warmth … even something approaching love (for Tanya that is, played by Welles’ great friend Marlene Dietrich). Welles fully inhabits this degraded elephant of a man, delivering the audience a virtuosity of decay, an engine of self-loathing and guilt but with just enough humanity and nuance that you don’t know what to feel about him. Is he only just a corrupt lunatic? A justified Dirty-Harryesque hero willing to break laws to uphold the true Law? Something in between? The weighing of these questions is momentarily suspended when you watch him all mush-mouthed & tender in Tanya’s presence:
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
Alco-hippo he may have become, Quinlan moves us here because he’s invested with a vulnerability one doesn’t think possible: witness the charm, bashful flirtation, soft-shoed & humbled poking around at the burnt-out edges of old love. And even when, as the film proceeds, you fully realize Quinlan’s follies and wrongdoings, his evidence-planting ruthlessness, his bigotry and bullying, his cruelty, his self-abuse & self-ruining — all of which I believe to be the sublimated desire he has to punish and put himself away for his having murdered, by strangulation, his wife decades ago (talking here about the bar revelation with his partner Menzies) — you still find him maddeningly sympathetic. Why? How? I think that voice has a huge part to do with it. That voice & the humanity still alive within it, the humanity still invested in Quinlan’s gestures & words, the slightest glimmer of something better in him, the hope it gives us that he can redeem himself. When a villain is this richly, roundly depicted you can’t help but pause and question the villainy.
     Make no mistake, I believe Quinlan to be a morally-bankrupt man. He no longer has close to an inkling of insight into his own soul; he thinks himself an absolute power, a God. He dies in Jesus-pose, convinced of his persecution and wrongdoing at the hand of fools and betrayers. No outward sign of remorse about his careerlogn amoral carrying out of the law. The fact that Sanchez is “found” guilty after Quinlan dies (could have just as easy been a false/coerced confession) is simply coincidence, but because people want a hero and legend, the implication is clear that Quinlan will be romanticized as the genius crook-catcher foremost who maybe bent some rules but, well, meant the best. He’s vile and in any sane society would be held accountable for his misdeeds. So yes, this is a bad man by any measure & he’s gone rank inside long before the film begins, but all in a way that makes us think, feel & pause — and that makes all the difference; therein (in part) lies Welles’ genius.
     In choosing to portray Quinlan this way, Welles to me seems to be exploring the following — & these questions to me constitute the true heart of the film — : a) How men and women broken down in guilt & gnawing conscience shift their self-hatred outward; b) how men and women who commit evil acts can lie to themselves to maintain their fragile ego and permit themselves to continue wrongdoing indefinitely; c) how such men and women are still capable of warmth, love, longing, remorse and wit and intelligence and must be understood as fully complex humans, not just villainous moralized caricatures; d) how such men and women, because they retain vestiges of their former fully-human selves, are vital to examine because they help us understand our own destructive & wrongful urges. Everyone who’s ever watched Touch of Evil and found him or herself confused about what the film stands for or what Quinlan’s all about has gone through this, & what you’re really asking is: how am I like Quinlan? & how do I overcome the Quinlan parts of me? When art makes us questions ourselves like this it’s an invaluable gift to us all.
     And so Quinlan is one of the great film villains because he’s not a stupid wolfman Skeletor Dracula Bad Guy. He’s not even a villain. He’s a fucked up human we learn has done many bad things, who does many more as the film proceeds, who is staggeringly blind to the scope of his own errors & wretchedness, & who is still capable of warm human feelings (however vestigial). Hollywood doesn’t have a place for an anti-hero/anti-villain like that (and at that size? And played purposefully to maximize his repulsiveness? No way). Maybe it never really did: no surprise that this was the last film Welles made for Hollywood.
 
 
 
 

Welles interviewed by Michael Parkinson in 1974, right here.

 
 

[posted by: C Way at 10:06 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| video/film]
Comments







Art of the Day: Governors Island art (Sep 2011) Part 2 of 2 — Joel Bacon and Yeon Jin Kim

September 26th, 2011

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
       Joel Bacon
       fugue, 2009, graphite on paper

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
       Yeon Jin Kim
        excerpt from Zoonomia, 2010 (?)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     As promised, part two my survey of the Governors Island art bits I came across in September. As readers of Art of the Day know, I never review stuff I don’t love (I’m a negative enough old cudgel as it is). So while I came across a lot of noteworthy art things while wandering on Gov’s Island this past labor day weekend, I’m only covering the stuff that I loved most.
     First up tonight’s a work by Joel Bacon that wasn’t something I saw at Governors Island, a piece called “fugue”. So why did I choose it? Well, a) I like it, but the primary reason’s b) — the two pieces of his I did see and love were ungoogleable: “Barbell Diptych” and “Hedgerow”. And that’s a shame because one of the pieces, the former, was strong as hell, and tied for first in my Gov. Island favorites list (co-winner being the next artist I’ll cover). “Barbell Diptych” comprises two tall oblong canvases side by side, each depicting some kind of tall barbell-shaped mass of reddish, wormy viscera. They hovered there, sentient, full of pulsing alien presence. It felt like they could talk to each other and to you in some weird telepathic whisper. Alternately, they seemed just masses of dead, sculpted meat. A lot of the piece’s power for me resulted precisely from this duality: alive & aware extraterrestrial presence vs. sheer impact of two masses of gutty blorp.
     Yeon Jin Kim’s “4 Zoonomia” was my other favorite piece of art I saw on Governors Island over Labor day. It’s a beautifully strange, unnerving piece of video art where the mouse-eye view camera tentatively enters & navigates a heavily textured dreamscape of plant props, leaves & dried coral. Humanoid forms detach from the vegetal background unexpectedly and move in cute halting shamble, eerie sound-fx of their echoey footsteps provided. All the while the camera takes you deeper, pausing and lurching, creating suspense as to what presence will manifest next, leaves and shadows wriggling and shaking. A blue door opens, a feasting giant bug lumbers by, prey in its mandibles.
     Just as interesting was Kim’s “All Intellectual Animals are Dangerous” (not shown here). The best way to describe this video is just to provide improvised running commentary: Gray and white bricks. Ominous backwards-speech sounds. Camera slowly crawls along them. Roots jostle out of holes made in the brick. A window shows a mass of bright red blood encircling a curious dog sitting calmly in the kitchen. Paper cut-out elk stare at you while their heads fall off. The camera keeps crawling up the brickwall, presents us with a goat chewing off the skin of its companion, green ichor spilled, chewing and chewing in the checkered tile chamber. Camera pans, roots everywhere, broken bricks, hole opens into chamber: tall lithe giantess is there, sad and hugging her knees, Alice after the grow potion, filing up the room. Brick wall again, dog looking out at bluecloudy apocalypse storm space, now a dead shark on droughtland. A window glows now soft echinachea rose, the blueshutter opens. Alligator grins at the exposed foot in the bathtub.
 
 
 
 

More of Bacon’s art at Galleryell.com.

More of Yeon Jin Kim’s gorgeous videos over at what I believe to be her youtube channel, here.

 
 

[posted by: C Way at 11:22 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ||| video/film]
Comments







Art of the Day: Governors Island art (Sep 2011), Part 1 of 2 — Matthew Garrison, Kerri Brewer, Selena Kimball

September 21st, 2011

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
       Kerri Brewer
       [Title Unknown], [Date unknown], photograph
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
       Selena Kimball
       Untitled (Materialization 1970), 2009-2011, collage

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
       Matthew Garrison
       In the Rain, 2010, flatscreen television & transparent collage

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     Over labor day weekend I visited Governors Island with my girlfriend, and one of the unexpected highlights of our time there was the art we stumbled across in various little galleries set up in the island’s colonial homes. Above is part one of a mini-survey of some of the art which I liked best. ——–> First is a lovely rustheap by photographer Kerri Brewer, whose work I found for sale in a Governors Island Etsy shop. I like how she caught the powder blue graffiti just right, such that it echoes the background waters without calling too much attention to itself. And of course being a general texture- (and particularly rust-) junkie, I dug those upjutting snarls of rust scraping+crashing into each other like waves. ———> Next is a large-scale collage piece by Selena Kimball. This piece was powerful in person, the first thing you saw when you walked into the colonial home gallery that housed it, mounted on the paintpeeled wall of the entryway. It made you step back several paces and take in its aura of smoke, underwater and gathering spirit. The craft, too was impressive & easy to get lost in up close, all those lovely gradations of black and white and gray meticulously managed across a sea of paper cuttings. Great photo, but this piece definitely needs to be experienced live. ——–> Finally, one of my favorite pieces, a video installation by Matthew Garrison. I liked the simultaneous whimsy and slowmotion melancholy of this piece. I stood there mesmerized, watching the artist skip about among the static droplets on the transparent collage layered over the screen. I would’ve stayed there for another couple minutes if we didn’t have so much to do that day. Gorgeous work. Part two coming tomorrow (maybe).
 
 
 
 

More images of Brewer’s photography here.

More of Matthew Garrison’s art and video here.

More of Selena Kimball’s collage art and other art here.

 
 

[posted by: C Way at 11:10 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| paintings/drawings ||| photography ||| video/film]
Comments







Art of the Day: Stills from Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley’s “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992)

September 13th, 2011

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

       Paul McCarthy (b. 1945) & Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
       stills from Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone, 1992, video and installation (second image from top courtesy of Hauser & Wirth gallery)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     I know, I know, it’s been awhile — I should prolly rechristen to “Art of the Month” at this rate. Or “Art of the Indeterminate Multi-Weekly Interval”. And with that mega-syllabic title, I launch into another, that of today’s Art of the Day: “Heidi: Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone” (1992) by Paul McCarthy & Mike Kelley.
     I saw five or ten minutes of “Heidi” in an NYC gallery years ago, I don’t remember which, might’ve been MOMA. I remember strolling about and suddenly finding my peripheral vision arrested by some kind of onscreen frenzy that disturbed me before I understood why, before I’d focused my full attention on it. I approached it and stood watching, embarrassed, compelled, fascinated, repulsed. If I remember correctly there was a man and a woman, both were manipulating some kind of mannequin torso, struggling to push what appeared to be sausages down its cavity & which exited the doll’s anus in some kind of basin of liquid. The adult figures went about their activity with haste & focus and urgency, splashing and slipping and wrangling with the doll in this weird pointless (and simultaneously deadly important) ritual of forcefeeding that sort of resembled midwifery or operating room surgery in its energy and concentrated involvement with the body. It was a weird tangle of fluid and skin and wet that suggested birth, death, defecation, abuse, parental care, discipline, emergency room, horror movie, the list goes on. It was just so stacked with meanings, so many of them charged and taboo.
     But it wasn’t just that richness of disturbing referent that compelled me to watch. It was the camera framing, the man’s monotone voiceover (disconnected from the immediate action), the direction, the focus of the piece that all helped it transcend mere grody viscera thrown in your face. A vision and a narrative structured all the onscreen juice & frenzy, even if I didn’t get to stand there long enough to see it all play out (eventually embarrassment got the better of me and I walked away). The memory of watching that video snippet remained with me for years whenever I’d see some video artist attempt to mine similar body-shock territory (rarely with anything close to the focused & thoughtful transgression I saw in that brief bit of “Heidi”).
     Fast forward about ten years to just the other day, when I was reminded of “Heidi” again, and decided finally to do some net-hunting for the artist(s) and title (I’d forgotten both years ago). After several wild weird online goose chases involving lots of amusing & pornographic Google results, I finally realized McCarthy & Kelly were the artists and “Heidi” the piece. I was thrilled. If anyone out there’s ever had an art object — be it book, poem, film or sculpture or whatever — whose title and creator you’ve forgotten gnaw away at your mind you’ll know the thrill I mean. You get this little pop of relief and excitement — because up until that moment the entire experience had begun to seem to me like some kind of incorrect dream from a decade ago, some amalgam of other artists, other videos, some bizarre sticky psychological stew I’d whipped up that had no reality-referent.
     At any rate, I didn’t find the full video, but I did manage to scrounge up some stills that (unfortunately) only hint at the sheer primal birth/sex/death/family/shit/pain/horror power this piece communicated. And I learned more about the artwork itself — it stems from co-creator McCarthy’s interest in Joanna Spyri’s 19th century novel “Heidi” (the chronicle of a young girl’s travels and experiences & Switzerland’s most well-known literary achievement) and, in his words, “consisted of a fabricated set, a group of partial and full life-size rubber figures, two large backdrop paintings, and a video tape shot entirely on the set.” (from eai.org). Enjoy & see the full-length version if you can/want. Oh & in the more-info links section below is a link to a small clip of the video I found on Vimeo — be warned, it’s pretty graphic.
 
 
 
 

A short clip from “Heidi” (warning: graphic) at vimeo.com.

More about McCarthy & Kelley’s “Heidi” at arttorrents.blogspot.

More Kelley at pbs.org.

More McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth.

 
 

[posted by: C Way at 2:04 PM]

[file under: ART OF THE DAY ||| installations ||| photography ||| sculpture ||| video/film]
Comments