Another day spent
Making mother’s favorite
At Walter the clockmaker’s
At last the graveyard.
We have a dream that only
YOU can keep alive…)
Another day spent
Making mother’s favorite
At Walter the clockmaker’s
At last the graveyard.
We have a dream that only
YOU can keep alive…)
My friend Gabe recently asked me: “When did art become important to you?”
It’s a question I’ve never been asked — it made me pause and consider something that I haven’t ever really given my specific attention to before. It’s clear that art is important to me, as one can tell from the alleged thematic devotion of this blog and, if you know me, the concerns about my future as “an artist” (whatever that is…) that keep me awake late at night and drive me to wander the streets in a sort of divine despair. But I guess I’ve tended to treat the importance of ‘art’ as sort of a posteriori knowable, when in fact it is, from most perspectives, a construction of vast cultural construction. This is not to say that what we call art is itself culturally constructed — there are works that are intrinsically whatever they happen to be, perhaps even pre-culturally, so the application of the label, ‘art’, is independent of the thing in itself. But does it change the thing, in itself? It changes, at least, our perception of it, since culture is fairly inescapable, and depending on whether you believe in phenomenology, maybe this changes the thing itself simply by changing how we create, psychologically, the thing itself. Hmmm.
All that aside, my response in the moment was to tell a particular anecdote about a time that I had stood for nigh on an hour, transfixed, before a certain Mark Rothko painting that hangs in the MoMA. I mythologize this moment for myself as some rite of passage, a recognition of my true Self and an utter giving up of that Self to a work of ‘art’, to the power of vision and the patience to be — the patience to be moved. I find I tell this story often, actually, and now I question the sincerity of my intention in telling it. Maybe, at age 15, I did stand there and know the importance of art, but now the more I tell it, the more it seems like a prop in my artistic, hipster-clad, surface-oriented, post-modern presentation of self, a tale of appropriate name-dropping and passion, rather full of sound and fury…but signifying something.
Perhaps I was so moved because I had recently seen a documentary on Rothko, or because I was at the appropriately self-constructing and angsty age at which I happened to be, or because it was a very hot day and my subconscious mind knew that my body did not want to leave the air-conditioned space of the exhibition hall or even to move a few inches…who knows. Context, and knowledge, and everything that is decidedly not pre-cultural, could very well have come to bear on this.
I can think of any number of other instances in which art has, I suppose, ‘moved’ me, and these all seem to rally as proof of its importance, if for no better reason than that I am selfish for emotional and sensual experience, that it is good to be moved.
But Gabe’s question: when?
Have I always valued art? I know I haven’t always liked the same art throughout my lifetime, but what of my evaluation of art as whole, as a thing distinct from other things, as something that we seem to elevate as a culture? I don’t remember suddenly beginning to find it important, some precise transition from a dis- to acknowledgement…such a transition would require a negative value judgment to begin with, an awareness that could be switched, like poles, into the positive.
But art is never not a part of life; I go back and forth about whether art is life and life is art. So when did I know that life was important? Perhaps in my first brushes with death. Perhaps, too, such brushes with the potential for eternity and for nothingness are what awaken me to the power of art. Perhaps this is why, in spite of my misgivings about my most hispterish intentions in its telling, I keep coming back to the story of the art of Mark Rothko, who himself made the decision to plunge into eternity.
Now, to answer Gabe’s question: if only to remember the moment I knew that I would not live forever.
Time divorced itself
From reality to find
Us, living the dream.
God must have shot a
Movie in Manhattan to
Create the oceans.
(that’s how much we sweat,
but like they say, you can’t smell
in the cinema.)
I will go deaf to
Perchance dream of sound speeding
Fast as second sticks.
After several years of utter bliss with my Sanyo Katana, I was recently forced to recognize its growing ghetto-ness and make the plunge: upgrading to a smartphone. Consequently, I am now the proud owner of a Samsung Transform with Android technology. (And sadly, no, I am not getting any kickbacks from anyone for these opening lines of blog post. Lovely as it might be to actually make a little money this summer.)
Aside from transforming (!) the way that I communicate via text message, the acquisition of a smartphone presents interesting opportunities and ethical questions to the developing psychogeographer that I am. Many of the coolest things that are happening in (what I am dubbing, for lack of a better term) “organized psychogeography” rely on online integration with mobile technology, such as Tim Clark’s Ice Cream Island at Figment NYC or any number of urban games and reimaginings that involved QR codes and the ability to link an individual in the real world to an online network or augmented reality.
In this overwhelmingly digital age, we tend to assume that everyone is pretty much internet capable, all the time, at least in the Western world. But what about people who can’t afford to upgrade to this new incarnation of the teched-out cellular device? Before I got my own smartphone, I had been ruminating for some time on my own exclusion from large sections of the psychogeographic community and playground, and had some moderately grand designs on creating some psychogeographic trek/art piece that addressed what I see as a modern tendency indicative of underlying issues of privilege and socioeconomic disparity. I may still craft such a piece, but part of me feels that it would lose its impact in light of the fact that I now possess Android capability, wherever I should wander.
More broadly, this raises the question: should the elevation of life by the power of art be restricted based on means or access to technology? In the best of worlds, of course not. On the one hand, not having a smartphone could be comparable to simply not living in New York, if you want access to The Met, but it still presents an interesting opportunity to consider the disparities in wealth and access to art that do, undoubtedly, exist. Also, this isn’t just a psychogeographic issue: consider the $20 entrance fee at the MoMA. (Consider it, artists, and then check out how to culture jamufacture your own pass.)
However. Now that I am Android equipped, there are a lot of cool directions in which I can (and am already beginning to) expand my own practice of psychogeography. Honestly, the main reason that I begged my father for an upgrade was that it was much cheaper and more multi-functional than purchasing the independent GPS tracker that I had been dreaming of as a means to track my progress through the strange and mysterious urban jungle of the Big Apple. Thus, I have initiated myself into the branch of the field that Tim Clark’s professor has dubbed ‘obsessive psychogeography’ (and realizing that I had already been doing this by hand with distances, routes, and times for cycling adventures since the impressionable age of 14 or so). Here is one of my tracked treks as yet, using the opensource technology for Android, MyTracks, exported very simplistically to GoogleMaps (I will do fancier, more artistically abstract things with raw GPS data once I get the hang of this and develop some conceptual frameworks):
My sudden discovery that I was deep into Queens for the first time yesterday afternoon was proof that this is not an issue: I can carry a smartphone, and still lose myself. I was attempting to bike to the Upper West Side to do some filming for my documentary on Tick Out of Time, and having made the trip twice before, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do it now without using the directional assistance of my Samsung. It did prove interesting, in all the best psychogeographic ways. Knowing I had to head vaguely northwest to cross the Pulaski Bridge and then the Queensboro into Manhattan, I set out in that general direction. Unlike the Ritter Sport gridding of The Island, North Brooklyn and Queens (I have yet to discover quite where one becomes the other) comprise a whole different candy bar. I have never been to Queens proper, and somewhere around 51st ave, I turned a corner to be confront be a sea of graves, spreading out beyond the horizon it seemed: the Mount Zion Cemetery.
And then, returning, I crossed two bridges over an unexpected tributary of the East River, the first a great green steal rattler that, I noticed only after having traversed it, exhorted cyclists to “dismount and walk across”. This thrust me into the winding, wheel-rattling back roads of an industrial park that seemed to capture my first impression of Queens: towering factorial edifices and trucks scuttling between unreal cardboard blow-ups of Honest Tea and Vitamin Water.
At some point I re-encountered Bushwick Avenue, by pure luck and general reorientation of the self/cycle combo in relation to the river, which I followed home, musing on my first, sweaty encounter with Queens. My thoughts followed my pedaling feet down a consideration of the way that psychogeographing via bicycle transforms the practice. It’s much less tempting, and much more of a hassle, to pause and photograph at such apace, at least in the way that I have become accustomed to making pictures. When I take out my Nikon, I tend to be deliberate, focusing on enigmatic bits of humanistic evidence or pieces of light and angles of buildings that strike me. But, if I learned anything at all from watching Art School Confidential last week, I am awfully young to be having my own style — especially in how I manifest my psychogeographs. I may start taking pictures with my phone, or taking continuous video, or consider means of attaching cameras to my body (ala the Looxcie, which I may get the chance to ogle this evening!), or even going, on occasion, to the Will Self-ian extreme of pure literary presentation (more thoughts on that illustrious fellow to follow in due course, I assure you). Of course, the medium of translating any performance piece, if we are considering psychogeography to be as such (and I think it is, but maybe only sometimes), must depend on the nature of that piece. So ‘psyclogeography’, if you will pardon my coinage of a new and rather excruciatingly punning term, may call for a unique brand of recording and understanding, just as it must influence the nature of the psychological and physical journeys that it enables. Either way, it showed me Queens as I had never (quite literally) seen it before.
Perhaps I am a glutton for…productivity (as opposed to punishment), but I would like to announce that I have now signed on to a second internship, and a pretty sweet one at that. Last week, I sent an email out into the ether in response to a perfect-sounding video-streaming/new media/networking/psychogeographic-sounding internship call, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back on the same day with an offer to be taken onto the project. So last evening, I met Andrew Demirjian at Rags-a-Go-Go, an awesome vintage shop on west 14th street, where part of Andrew’s latest video installation piece, Scenes From Last Week, is just getting set up. The set-up is pair of video streams in opposing store-fronts, which record and play back in real time, but also play back the synced footage from previous days. As days pass, the installation goes from being simply paired shots of today/yesterday to arrays of 4 or 6 or more days, inviting passersby to glimpse the past and notice patterns in the daily life of two sections of urban space in Chelsea. Andrew has also put out a call to performance artists or anyone interested in being featured to engage the repetitive nature of the media by returning daily and performing for the camera, or sharing a series of words, or whatever might strike one’s fancy — the project is very much about the social engagement and reaction of its viewers and participants, the interaction between past(s) and present, as well as the patterns of the urban setting and the interaction of the physical and psychological aspects of our environment. It is very much, I think, a form of psychogeography that keeps the psychogeographer as a practitioner of stationary surveillance, getting momentary glimpses into a sort of always on-going but unrecognized psychogeography of the collective commuting community of Chelsea.
Andrew’s current work and interests seem to align pretty perfectly with mine, and also with the summer projects and obsessions that I already have going: documentary/non-fiction film, psychogeography/algorithmic art production that engages the urban space. From the sound of it, I will be fairly involved in helping him create a second installation at Eyebeam, where he is an artist-in-residence, from the footage gathered by the current installation — this installation will deal more directly with Andrew’s main research there, which is in exploring the viability of algorithmically-edited non-fiction film as an interesting alternative to standard narrative approaches to filmmaking. We will be experimenting with different ways to combine the footage, and to take this vast database of days and days of recorded sidewalk happenings to create patterned combinations of footage, drawing on Andrew’s interest in the rhythms of music and perhaps my interest in the syllabic patterning of structured poetic forms such as haiku or the Shakespearian sonnet.
Basically, I am incredibly stoked about this internship, although it really seems more like a cross between an artistic partnership and a private independent study, with Andrew even offering to give me some articles on new media by Lev Manovich to read, in response to which I enthusiastically told him that “I dig theory!” (And having already read a little of Manovich’s work, I definitely don’t mind getting some reading assigned — it’s really fascinating stuff on databases and surveillance and modern incarnations of Foucault’s panopticon and whatnot.) More and more I am realizing that I want to marry my love for film with my broader artistic and academic interests in psychogeography, and more and more I am realizing that within film, what I really love making is non-fiction: documentary, experimental, non-narrative, what-have-you. Doing so algorithmically is almost like engaging in a psychogeographic exploration of the filmic medium and a given set of footage, which is totally cool, and perhaps exactly the sort of direction I’ve been looking for. I think I said it recently, but it’s no less true: Living the dream. Living the dream.
The official opening reception for Andrew’s installation is this Friday, July 15th, at 218 W 14th St (Rags-a-Go-Go in Chelsea) from 6 pm to 8 pm, and the installation will run from July 15th to August 15th. If you happen to be in the Big Apple this weekend (or in the next month!), come check it out! I’ll be there taking documentary footage, like I do. Quite probably WITH A CANON 7D! O___O
It’s been a while since my last post, I know. And a lot — I mean a LOT — has happened in the interim. My parents visited, my girlfriend (whoa, my non-heteronormativity is revealed at last!) visited, her mom and sister visited…there was much visiting and rejoicing and theatre and good food to be had by all, for about two glorious weeks. In that span of time, I also worked my first film festival and saw a fantastic documentary about Bill Cunningham, I experienced an astounding amount of great theatre for pretty decent prices and apparently survived the hell that is Times Square, I enjoyed some Super 8 experimental film by Rachel Rahme at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick (a block from my house, literally), I lost my internet but gained a smart phone, and I turned 21 in style after seeing the opening night preview of Hair at the St. James theatre and watching the sun rise from the window of Yaffa Cafe in St. Mark’s Place. A great deal of visual culture that I will re-muse on when I have more ample opportunity. 🙂
But now the visitors have all gone home, and I am back to the daily grind of interning at Anthology and the other things that I like to do with my time here in the cultural capital of my rapidly expanding world. And what, you might wonder, do I do in my ‘spare’ time? When I’m not traipsing around lower Manhattan picking up Brakhage 35 mm films at the Filmmaker’s Co-op or delivering new Anthology Film Archive calendars to various coffee shops and bookstores, I’ve been spending a number of hours hanging out with the awesome kids who are Mother’s Favorite Pictures. We are making a (shockingly low-budget, please donate here!) feature film this summer, and I have been honorably tasked with the role of official meta-videographer/documentarian/assistant rush-editor/extra-who-drunkenly-throws-a-Solo-cup, which means I get to be around the set of Tick Out of Time pretty much allthe time, gathering footage for my meta-movie (AKA making-of feature). After swearing that I didn’t want to do production, I am plunging into in the guise of being a documentary filmmaker…and I’m kind of loving it.
Today was our first day of rehearsals with the three main actors, and their utter commitment to the project is incredibly inspiring. They spent a lot of time discussing the back stories of their characters, read through the whole screen play, and rehearsed one of the opening scenes a number of times. The attention to their craft was really exciting to have the chance to capture on film — I’m fully looking forward to more amazing shoots in the weeks to come.