Monday, June 23, 2008
by Nike Desis
There's a Mystery There: Sendak on Sendak
@ the Rosenbach Museum & Library
In the Night Kitchen? Yes, definitely a mystery there. Likely a trace of that story lingers in your mind. If you need a refresher, it is worth a refresher. A dreaming boy named Mickey floats around a night kitchen, shedding his clothes as he enters a realm populated by three giant man bakers who bake boys. He escapes being mixed in with the milk and baked in with the bread dough. Sendak hoped to evoke “the lusciousness of cooking, of kneading with your hands, of undressing and floating in the sensuality of milk… thus driving every librarian crazy.” Aside from the narratives, there is a naughty quality and crassness to his dark and scratchy images. They seem to circle the offensive, without coming critically close to offending. He doesn’t deal with innocent and wistful fantasy and avoids the cloying and condescending qualities that fantasies can sometimes have.
If you go to the Rosenbach in the next year, you will find for yourself the smooth display of illustrative work and heavy flow of information through many well designed medias: original illustrations, accompanying print material, multiple touch screens, additional artifacts and objects. You won’t find the stories themselves in the exhibition because in a collection this comprehensive you’ve come to see what’s beyond the book. The book/gift store doesn’t miss a beat, and there I spent a good time rereading the hits. (I didn’t, but I recommend reading before viewing.)
The preliminarily and final drawings on display at the Rosenbach were pretty dreamy to think about as an actual artifact and a unique piece of work. Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963. The two-page spread of prancing beasts and Max under a full moon are so iconic that it sort of knocks the wind out of you to see a preliminary drawing. It’s like pulling back the Wizard’s curtain once you’ve reached Emerald City. That is what is very useful about surveys like the Rosenbach has presented.
Behind Sendak’s curtain we can also see him border innocence and adult themes. It is all the more transgressive when Sendak plays it out in books intended for children, as he does in work after work. Not that storybooks need necessarily to be transgressive. However, there is some simplicity of surface associated with kid things like gummy bears or coloring books. Those materials and media can be maturely co-opted to dramatic effect with the littlest hints of anything not so innocent.* Monsters and naked kitchens are hardly candy coated, but naughty boys sent to bed with out dinner are naughty boys we can identify with. Once the characters start floating naked in milk and dough, we continue to follow Sendak, but only on his fantastical terms. He says: “There have to be elements of anxiety and mystery in truthful children’s books, or, at least, there have to be in mine. What I don’t like are formless floating fantasies. Fantasy makes sense only if it is rooted ten feet deep in reality.”
I think the following factoid is an interesting, I guess, twist on Sendak's above quote about reality and fantasy. One of the original attractions at the now totally defunct Metreon entertainment shopping center in San Francisco was an In the Night Kitchen themed restaurant, which served diner-style food. Within the same shopping center was also a children's play area, with toys modeled on Sendak's children's books.
I wish I could have been at the Metreon for the super simulation. I mean, to think that In the Night Kitchen was a beginning concept for a restaurant! Food is a basic thing, especially bread with boys narrowly and nakedly escaping from the dough. I’m going to find Baulldriard's famous essay, now that the Rosenbach exhibition, is sending me tangentially, via night kitchens and Metreon malls, straight into simulacra’s lap. For whatever reasons you like things as a child, I especially liked In the Night Kitchen and it turns out it is still deep enough to dig into as an adult.
*** I love those super sour candies, like sour powers and warheads. I relish in the suckering pain, eating them until my tongue is craterous. The experience might be like the eating equivalent of laughing. I’m making a guess that Sendak is a black licorice eater: dark and mature, yet a cavity causing sweet all the same. My own illustrations often rest on the metaphorical and literal idea of the candy coated with a sour puckering adult theme. Similarly, I think some of us make work with the idea that every one thinks kittens are cute. Some can make it go far and some of us fall flat on their kitten loving faces.
[Nike Desis is a published writer/illustrator, whose "Crayon Couture" is an adult-themed activity book chock full of connect-the-dot satire. Desis is also an artist living and working in Philadelphia]
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008
This week I interviewed Philadelphia based artist, Zoe Cohen. My interest was peaked when I heard about her latest project, "Show Someone How You Feel About Something". The basic idea of it is that you do a drawing for someone and Zoe mails it to them. The project has gotten a lot of press lately, and has been seen in many different places- on site, blogs, newspapers- so I wanted to sit down and get an in-depth view of the artist and her beliefs. In the conversation we talk about everything from public vs private art, politics, the NYC /Phila scene, to the relationships that people have with one another via art.
For more info on Zoe and her projects, and to see images of what we are talking about check out her website, www.zoecohen.com.
Approximate run-time: 28 minutes.
If you are using Internet Explorer, you will probably need to click the player twice to make it play. (All other Web browsers will let you click once.) If you do not see the MP3 player, then you don't have the Flash player installed.
Click here to download
(right click the link, "Save As")
Photos from Zoe Cohen's Listening Station, courtesy of Zoe Cohen
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Only 20 more days to call your mom and tell her you love her. If only there was someway to set that countdown as a screen saver.
As far as the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), there are a host of arguments in favor/against gettting this thing running, all of which have there own scientific backing, and the ever present argument of: “As in all explorations of uncharted domains, there may be a risk,” Dr. Rees wrote, “but there is a hidden cost of saying no.” (NY Times)
And then, there is this guy. I am sure he is not the only one to start relating scientists to masons and European coinage to blasphemy and sweep it under the blanket of the LHC, but, entertainment is entertainment. Without further ado, "LHC: Satans Stargate 2008":
Highlights include "You might be seeing flying saucers by next summer" and "To return the anunarchy [?] from the planet Nibiru".
But seriously, give your folks a call. Just in case.
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Saturday, June 14, 2008
by Melissa McFeeters
Waste Management by Daniel Petraitis
Kelly & Weber Fine Art, Through July 1st, 2008
Daniel Petraitis’s latest exhibition Waste Management at the 201 Gallery combines a few of my own personal interests: Moldmaking = awesome. Graphic design = love it. Miniatures = adorable! With the help of these and other mediums, Petraitis has assembled quite a comprehensive show.
If you haven’t yet made your way over to the Crane Arts building to see it, Waste Management is an exploration of our society’s waste making and disposing habits. Miniature dumpsters and garbage bins are gathered in one corner, while molds of common “waste” objects are displayed in another.
As is the case with many exhibitions, especially when artists specifically want viewers to see things from their own perspectives, I’m unsure if Petraitis is conveying a clear position on waste and excess. Is it a humorous take on human shortcomings? Is it a plea for change? Or is Petraitis purposely reaffirming humanity’s propensity for wastefulness by creating waste and excess himself? How else can you explain the electrical contraption hanging on the wall, pumping electricity through its circuits with no apparent effect?
Coming from a background of environmentalism and a heightened awareness of my own wasteful ways, I want for this exhibition to be a criticism of waste, but I can’t be sure. Maybe that’s what makes this show refreshing, because it doesn’t force the issue down our throats. Instead, the beauty and approachability of the objects he’s created may bring people closer to the subject itself. On the contrary, photographer Chris Jordan’s provocative “Intolerable Beauty” series from 2005 is anything but beautiful, and makes the issue-at-hand almost unbearable. (Although I find myself referencing those photos so much that I can’t help but appreciate how disturbing they are.)
If it is the case that the show is a testament to a need for change, then how many implications of Daniel Petraitis’ work fell on deaf ears? We easily throw around critical words of “waste” and “excess” but as artists are we not guilty of producing waste ourselves?
I’ve heard it said that political/activist art has a “preaching to the choir” effect, but if Philadelphians are the choir to Petraitis’ Ode to Waste Management, then we’re singing out of tune.
[Melissa McFeeters is a graphic designer, living and working in Philadelphia. As well as being a writer, McFeeters is also the Creative Director at Funnel Pages.]
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Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
by Matthew Parrish
"Radio Rocks and Quick Constructions"
at Larry Becker Gallery through June 21st, 2008
When I see a painting, I attempt to isolate components of it to figure out where its essence lies. Is its quality enriched more by its spatial arrangement or its tonality? Its frame or its figures? Its fresh use of materials or its expansion of a genre? I hope my slicing and dicing fails because the best art usually becomes so due to an artists' ability to orchestrate diverse elements into a beautiful, unified conclusion (i.e. better art is a textured and balanced whole rather than a singular part).
But what if the essence of an artwork doesn't lie in aesthetics? Since I've seen a lot of paintings, I have a sense of what is good within the world of painting. I can run a new paintings' redness through my mental database of red paintings to compare and contrast. But what if an artwork's distinction exists in a different field like, for instance, technology? What if my search for what makes an artwork good leads me into a discipline about which I know very little?
Ever since Duchamp's Rotoreliefs from 1935 (Google it), artists have been incorporating technology (exact definition suspended) into their work. Duchamp's Rotoreliefs had a distinct aesthetic appeal (their dizzying, off-balance circles) that made the bridge between art and technology instantly perceptible. The pieces were beautiful and mechanical.
Dove Bradshaw's installations in "Radio Rocks and Quick Constructions," currently showing at the Larry Becker Gallery (through late June), are tougher to read. The immediate visual aspects are simply piles of rocks (Wissahickon schist, Pocono sandstone, and a basalt mixture) whose beauty are strictly of nature and not of the artist. The press release says that the arrangement of the rocks was "chosen to evoke cairns once used as Neolithic astronomical markers" and they "also function as multidirectional antennae." While I enjoy this connection to a primitive astral yearning, I also recognize that this facet or canton is not where the heart is. Tied and twisted through these pyramidal arrangements are wires, speakers, and small contraptions holding crystals and minerals. When one leans close, one can hear, depending on the work, slight "harmonies," buzzing, or a local radio station. Bradshaw has, with the help of inventor Robert Bishop, built "homemade" radios.
So, I've achieved my goal of finding the essence of the artwork and it lies in the context of the history of radio ingenuity, something that I know nothing about. In the framework of Bradshaw's career, when one considers that she's lived elbow-deep in the wonders of alchemy since 1969, this employment of rocks as transmitters is poetic because it adds another function to her primary medium. Not only can the chemical wonders of nature make aesthetically pleasing artworks, they can also function as means towards universal communication. However, when one disregards the internal logic of Bradshaw's oeuvre, one is left wondering if these radio constructions have anything that renders them distinct from commonplace high school (and basement) experiments.
The gallery statement reveals the following: "For the first time for this exhibition a radio telescope in North Carolina will directly transmit live radio emissions from Jupiter. Random radio storms including S-Bursts--sounds of less than a hundredth of a second occurring during storms lasting two or three hours--and Bow Shocks--the sound of solar wind-flow hitting Jupiter's magnetic field will be captured." I don't doubt the validity of this claim but I do wonder if the temporal aspect of this occurrence isn't coincidental. Did Bradshaw's specific structures garner this happening? Or did Bradshaw highjack the work of North Carolinian scientists (the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute to be exact) to add grandeur to her exhibition? To clarify: Could the North Carolinian scientists have transmitted these signals through any radio or did they singularly need Bradshaw's radio for this function? From my blind perspective, the former seems more likely.
With the preceding assumption cemented in my mind (unless someone proves otherwise), Bradshaw's art is pushed from magical to quirky and the essence of the work transforms into a routine science experiment adorned in primitive dressing. Don't take this assessment as an outright dismissal of her art, however, because the fact that Bradshaw continually finds new ways (within the context of her work) to dissolve the boundary between art and science is valuable in its own right. She was a forerunner of this effort and her work perpetually exhibits an innate interest in the materiality of things that we all can relate to.
Since the show, I've watched videos on YouTube of people making radios in order to try and find a standard for comparison, but my expedition is in its early stages and I can't relay any results yet.
NPR did an interesting series of articles/recordings titled "Where Science Meets Art" which can be found here. It includes write-ups about Bradshaw's kin and contemporaries Robert Smithson (see Spiral Jetty) and Ned Kahn (see Encircled Void).