It’s been a lazy, kind of busy holiday… But I’m back and better than ever. Fired up to finally pop out this thesis and the accompanying arts. An update on that another time. Today I just quickly want to share with you all the press release for the Live Amateurs exhibition I’m participating in, which opens this Saturday! Feel free to share it around. 🙂 See ya kids soon.
I just recently finished reading a short book of essays on photography called Photographs Not Taken, edited by Will Steacy. The essays in this book are written by numerous photographers, including Mary Ellen Mark, Zweelethu Mththwa, Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Elinor Carucci, Laurel Nakadate, and many, many more (there are 60 some essays). In each essay, a photographer addresses the idea of a photograph, that somewhere in their past they didn’t take for some reason, or they wish they would have been able to make, and their feelings about what Lyle Rexer refers to in the introduction as “pictures without photographs”. This is a book that’s been on my reading list for awhile, but I finally broke down and downloaded it to my Kindle last week because I started thinking about how photography, and more specifically film, is a failure, and what implications my avoidance of it has had on my work.
As a teenager, I always carried a camera with me, and photographed everything (and I do mean everything) around me. However, at some unknown point, this started tapering off, until it completely stopped. And then I stopped taking photographs all together. Photography, for me, became frustrating and disappointing, because what I caught on film never seemed to reflect the essence of what I saw through my lens, so I simply stopped trying. I never really considered the idea that I was missing photographs, that these unmade images might haunt me, or even that photographs could be disappointments (as opposed to me just failing), but this book has made me reconsider my abandonment of image making. Additionally, many things that the photographers write about in their essays also echo some of the things I’d been thinking about after reading Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others. This collection covers a number of themes, too many to discuss in great depth here, but below I’ve shared a few that stuck with me.
The introductory essay, The Art of Missing Information, tries to locate this idea of the untaken image in the realm of contemporary art, placing it among a “history of voids, negations, refusals, anti-art strategies, and marketing sleights of hand”. I am not certain that this is where these essays belong. After reading the entire book, it seems to me that these essays are more about a moment of privacy, a moral choice, a decision to remain in the moment and not exclude yourself, or simply an emotional moment which cannot be captured by the lens, nor contained by a photograph. Instead, I might place these “pictures without photographs” in the realm of story telling. The images written about cannot be seen or visually experienced, unless you are the one to experience them. Instead they act as short stories, allowing the listener or reader to compose the scene in their own mind, but without have had the immediate experience, resulting in a purely aesthetic recreation. Later in the introduction however, Rexer goes on to state that the experience of having missed a photograph, for whatever reason provides an impetus for the image maker to continue in their work: “That gnawing lack is precisely what drives photographers to seek more pictures and regret lost opportunities– and poets to write more poems.” I think that this is true. To capture what you see, what you feel, or what you are experiencing, and to find yourself with an image that truly reflects that is powerful, and ultimately the goal for photographers. If you disappoint yourself at that goal, then you must continue to attempt to prove yourself in the future. So this collection of essays could also be viewed as a meditation on what it means to be a photographer and the implications of creating images; the choices, the sacrifices, and the experiences that create, or prevent images.
I think that photographers exist in a difficult place sometimes. On the one hand, they love to make images and do so for a career, but on the other, they are often expected to become image makers and record keepers for life in general. Sometimes this is accepted, but sometimes this becomes a problem for the photographer. Do you choose to experience things through your camera, or do you desire to remain fully present and active in the moment? Many photographers who have written essays for this book talk about this choice, to photograph, or not to photograph, in the context of their personal life. In Elinor Carruci’s essay, she sums the feeling up, saying: “Every moment I had to choose between photographing and mothering, and when I did choose photography, every photograph became a second of guilt, a second I neglected them [her twins Eden and Emmanuelle], a second I thought about light, composition, exposure and not about them.” She beautifully describes the lost images as being “stored in my eyes” but as making her the photographer she is, which is ‘torn’.” Other photographers, like Jim Goldberg, admit to using their cameras to mediate a overwhelming moment: “Immediately when that long-ass needle went into her spine is when I reached for a camera to shield myself from fear”, realizing only after the fact that their choice to not photograph at that moment could keep them from missing something incredible. The decision to photograph or not is also present in less private situations. In his essay, Joshua Lutz discusses his inability to create images on the morning of 9/11, finally concluding: “It’s not that I don’t want to have a photograph of the moment; its more that I would rather be living in the moment than worrying about capturing it.” Photographer Simon Roberts struggled not so much with wanting to be present, but the idea that a moment should not be dissected through the lens, rather lived, concluding his essay about his missed photograph (One of an AIDS victim, a young girl raped by her uncle, at a clinic in Zimbabwe)by writing: “No image, however accomplished, could have captured the agonizing poignancy of that moment. It was a moment to be lived, not framed, analyzed, or reduced in anyway.” Each in its own way, these essays get to the heart of the fact, once you raise the camera to your eye, you cease to be a part of the moment, you are experiencing it through the lens. You make yourself an outsider of sorts and cease to live in the moment. In a way, this is relatable to the current debate over Instagram, where it becomes a question of experiencing and being fully present, versus photographing. As Nadav Kander states in his essay “…sometimes you just get an instinct when to put the camera down and be fully present.” Personally speaking, I think this is what I find most difficult about photography, you can never fully experience the moment you so intensely want to capture and share. For me, there is so much to be had in the experience surrounding the image, and that is lost to the photographer because they are much more focused on the composition, exposure, lighting, etc… This is where I get frustrated. I want to share the experience and allow my viewer to feel something, but I don’t believe that an image does this.
The other theme prevalent throughout Photographs Not Taken, which ties so well into much of what Susan Sontag gets at in Regarding the Pain of Others, is the moral choice photographers often have to make regarding image capture. Particularly when it comes to the genre of documentary photography, photographers are faced with witnessing many things that they may or may not feel they have the right or even stomach to capture. In her essay, Misty Keasler tells the story of her experience living in Transylvania and visiting a ghetto of gypsy families. In general, she says that conditions were bad, dark, crammed, no running water… But then one of the men came out of a room: “He started yelling at me to take pictures, that he would show me how terrible life was for the people living in the building, how sad and tough things were for them…He proceeded to lift both girls [his daughters] by their shirts and slam them into the concrete wall in front of us.” Despite the man’s behavior, her horror and anger at the situation, and the potential good she could have done, Keasler chooses not to make the images, saying that she would never be able to reconcile the fact that she had documented violence, and that it was violence which had been created specifically for her. How can one justify the creation of such an image, much less sharing that image with others, which in some ways makes the behavior therein acceptable, no matter how much we denounce it. Another example of this awareness of responsibility is present in Peter Van Agtmael’s essay about his first trip to Iraq in 2006. He tells the story of being on patrol and witnessing an army chaplain peeing on the grave of an Iraqi child, and only being able to gawk in that moment. He is unsure of why he couldn’t photograph the scene, only later recognizing that his failure to make the image lay in his feelings about the American presence in Iraq: “..a stark realization of the odious nature of the American enterprise…and the insight that even its spiritual leadership was not immune to its dehumanizing effects.” As we talked about with Sontag’s book, sometimes certain things should not be shared, nor do we have the right to unload them onto others. We should always be aware of the power of the images we capture (or choose not to capture), and understand how they could affect others.
As photographers, one of the most fundamental decisions we make–perhaps the most fundamental decisions we make– is when to actually ‘take’ what is before us and transform in into a photograph. By engaging in this calculated act of apprehension, we bestow certain moments, whether they are decisive or not, with value, importance, permanence, relevance, meaning, and a rather cryptic sense of significance. Ostensibly, one could conclude that this implies that all of the other moments, which are allowed to pas by untouched, have ben judged as not particularly important or sigificant, or at least not important or significant enought. Yet, as in the case of the instances listed above (and many more), sometimes we find ourseives faced with the opposite: a moment that is ‘too’ something– too dangerous, too intimate, too immediate, too complex, too intense, too terrifying, too fleeting, too painful, too private, too invasive, too emarrassing, too exciting, too schmaltzy, too cliched, too ecstatic, too imagined, or simply too impossible– to ‘take’.
This is a link to a panel discussion on the relationship of photography and performance art, featuring RoseLee Goldberg, Babette Mangolte, Vanessa Beecroft, and of course, Marina Abramovic. I think that this is a really great discussion of the topic, despite the fact that some of the the concerns don’t get fully addressed. It focuses (photo pun!) mostly on the larger more central concerns of photography as documentation, such as the idea that photo compresses something that is time based and ephemeral into a single static moment, the fact that the photographer should at all times be a representative of the truth, and of course the question of when and how documentation becomes a work of art in it’s own right. It’s difficult to clearly delineate these issues as they all become muddled together, one tying into the next, and feeding back out of another, however.
Personally, I think I struggle the most with the first concept, the fact that photography can never capture the entire scope of the performance. The best that it can hope to do, is to give a good sense of how the performance looked, an impression of what happened where and in relation to whom. It can never capture the “vibe” of the experience, or the dynamic between viewers/participants and the artist. And yet, at the same time, the photographs exist as a type of proof that the event happened for galleries, press, or of course in our current situation, act as evidence for our next studio visit. But, aside from proof, why must these images be created? I go back and forth on this hourly…
Very early in the video, RoseLee Goldberg makes the point that often times people are told that “You have to be there (at the performance), to understand.” Her response is that, well, she wasn’t at the Battle of Waterloo, or any other number of historical events, but she can still appreciate their significance. In her view, experiencing performance via photography is legitimate. I however, am not so convinced on this logic (Isn’t the saying that history is written by the victors?). These “documentary” images of a performance are not the objective records we believe them to be. Photographs can easily be misleading or even misused after the fact, leading to interpretation or opinions that may not be in line with what the artist intended. In fact, you can have a terrible performance, or even one that never actually took place, evidenced beautifully in a still photograph. Then, even if the images captured reflect, at least, the essence of what the artist was going through, they are very carefully edited and circulated by the artist themselves, there by controlling the interpretation of the work. Chris Burden always had his performances documented, but culled the documentation down into one or two photographs that were then used to represent that piece of work for perpetuity. Babette Mangolte also points out that art historians tend to follow a similar behavior pattern in their realm of research. Instead of looking for many images from the same performance, the habit of art historians is to viewing only published documentation, thus narrowing the field through which the work is encountered.
All of this leads me to wonder exactly how right it is to “experience” a performance via photography. Photography lies. It always has, and will continue to, be it through the medium itself, or those who make use of/study it. I think our society is more in love with the idea of a beautiful image than we are with the truth. Marina Abramovic makes a wonderful point when she says that art historians typically only concern themselves with the still photo because it aestheticizes the performance in to one single thing. In essence, it that image becomes one single, easily digestible tidbit, which can easily come to stand in for the piece in it’s entirety. Which is where we cross into the territory of the documentation become a work in it’s own right…
This is another aspect of this discussion for which I don’t have a really good answer. While most of the art we look at is viewed through documentation, performance art is almost exclusively viewed this way. Because of the fact works are often only performed once, or done for a specific place, or the artist has passed, the only way we can access those pieces is through their documentation. So when galleries or museums wish to show a piece of work which no longer actually exists, what is there to do but use the documentation, making it an art work in it’s own right? Finally, there is the need to take into consideration the idea of photography itself as a performance. In this respect, Cindy Sherman could be creating a performance every single time she creates one of her images. Think also of the Yves Kline image, Leap into the Void, a composited image of an event that never truly took place.
Some things I had never considered, that this panel brought up, was the concept of the importance of sound to a performance and it’s documentation, and the idea of “collaboration” with a photographer. The idea of sound I think is a truly crucial one that photography has no hopes of addressing. All performances have some type of sound associated with them, even if it is only the ambient sound of movement, or of the space itself. That has an impact on the way a performance is perceived, and that is not captured in a photography. When we look at photographic documentation of a performance, we cannot get even a sense of what the space sounded like, and so we lose that important information for our interpretation. Lastly, in the panel, the question is raised as to how the artist relates to and works with the photographer. Oddly enough, this thought had never crossed my mind. But it makes sense, if you’re attempting to capture your performance, the relationship to the person documenting it becomes something of a collaboration. You have to understand them, and they you… There’s a necessity for being on the same page. However, this then raises the question of creative rights. Does the work belong to the photographer, do the images belong to the artist?
I’ve been meaning to sit down and write a post, but many things have taken place in the last few weeks that have gotten in my way. Like WordPress crashing and my half written blog post disappearing into the digital ether… But the bottom line is that I still don’t have a blog post ready for you, and unfortunately I don’t have the time to write a good one… So in the mean time I present to you a pictoral version of my last two weeks. Feel free to write your own captions or stories to go along. It might be funnier/more interesting this way!
I swear I’ll get a real post out about what’s going on in the studio pictures as well as my most recent performance… It just won’t happen til the beginning of next week. There is SO much going on right now!
Most of the images are mine, or are borrowed from the web. Paintings from Monica Cook, performance stills from Ellen Mueller (except the ones of me…those are mine, fair and square). Books from respective authors/publishing companies. Fountain logo property of Fountain Art Fair, Working Method Contemporary logo property of Working Method Contemporary Gallery. Did I miss anything? I hope not. If I did I’m sorry, and IT DOES NOT BELONG TO ME, IT BELONGS TO YOU.
It’s been a crazy busy two weeks. School is now in full swing, as are research and art making. I’ve got loads to share about all of that, but first I thought I’d share some thoughts about a play I’ve just read for a class, Ubu Roi, by Alfred Jarry. It prompted a lot of thought and a little bit of research on my part, and hopefully it will do the same for you. The translation I am using is from 1961, with a short preface or forward by Barbara Wright, and accompanied by two essays by Jarry. It was published by New Directions Publishing Corporation, and is the “Twenty-Seventh Printing.”
Until about a year or so ago, I had never even heard of Ubu Roi, which the more I think about it, the stranger it seems, as I’ve taken at least 3 art history courses that covered the time period in which it was first performed. The first time I came across Ubu Roi was reading Roselee Goldberg’s Performance Art from Futurism to the Present. I remember being intrigued by what was described, as well as the cultural/historical events surrounding it. I felt that I should probably read Ubu Roi, but I was wary of doing so. For whatever reason, the way it was described in Goldberg’s book reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Several years ago, I made a valiant attempt to read Catch-22 and found it’s bureaucratic absurdity so painfully difficult that I couldn’t even finish the book (an extreme rarity for me). It left a really bad taste in my mouth that made me hesitant to read Ubu, which come to find out was completely unnecessary. I really enjoyed reading Ubu Roi, and found a number of parallels to our current social, cultural, and political ideas/events.
In the forward/preface to the play, Barbara Wright mentions the comparisons to Shakespeare that Ubu has faced. Even with this forewarning I did not expect it to so obviously and blatantly follow the plot of MacBeth. It’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve read that play, but the prodding and abuse of Père Ubu by Mere Ubu in Act I, Scene I, instantly reminded me of the portion of MacBeth, where Lady MacBeth urges her husband to “screw your courage to the sticking place” and do what needs to be done. At that point MacBeth has essentially thought himself to a standstill in regards to the prophesy delivered by the three witches. Lady MacBeth’s assaults imply that her husband is too weak of will and clearly not manly enough to advance in the world. As Ubu Roi opens, we see Père Ubu, too stupid to see the possibilities that Mère Ubu has clearly already considered, thus the verbal attacks, once again rousing the spouse into action. Reading Ubu Roi reminded me of what a dark, violent play MacBeth is, and how it really reflects the inherent evilness of man kind, in much the way Ubu demonstrates the crass commonness of humans. We always want what others have, we can never be satisfied with what has already been achieved or earned. I think given Jarry’s aims in creating Ubu, a better choice could not have been made, especially in light of what he writes in Of the Futility of the “Theatrical” in the Theatre. In this essay, Jarry asserts that there are two things that can be done in order to make the theater more accessible to the audience. Firstly, that they are provided with characters who think like them and are relatable/understandable. Secondly, that the audience is given a “commonplace sort of plot.” In other words, people, places, things, events, with which they are familiar. In using, nearly word for word, the plot from MacBeth, as well as placing Père and Mere Ubu in the roles of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, Jarry provided a ready known, familiar plot line.
A second thing which crossed my mind while pondering this connection to MacBeth, is that Jarry had created a piece of art that was postmodern long before anyone could grasp the concept of postmodern. He appropriated, with out apology, material from Shakespeare’s work, twisting it and adding to it, serving his own purposes. Part of this “borrowing” pushed his ideas about making the theater more accessible, as I stated previously, but I think it also stood as a sign of things to come, whether or not Jarry intended for it to do so. The idea of Ubu Roi being before it’s time is hinted at in both the forward/preface and the essay Questions of the Theatre. In that essay Jarry uses a really lovely metaphor for the idea of time and the evolution of ideas, writing: “Light is active and shade is passive, and light is not detached from shade, but, given sufficient time, penetrates it.” He goes on to discuss the idea that people who have lived a long time have lived among a specific group of works and concepts. Essentially stating that what these elders are familiar with, is what becomes the accepted, and therefor normal, mode of thought and artistic creation. He notes, however, that one day “We too shall become solemn, fat and Ubu-like and shall publish extremely classical books…And a lot of other young people will appear, and consider us completely out of date…and there is no reasons why this should ever end.” I take these two quotes to mean that something, such as Ubu Roi, may be put forward, but it may not be understood until it has experienced the test of time, so to speak. It brings to mind a sort of wave of understanding. However, these works will eventually be pushed aside the same new understandings and continually advancing tide that brought about it’s initial understanding. It’s my opinion that humans in general seek that which is familiar and comfortable to them. When something comes along, as Ubu did, and challenges or mocks the known, all thrown in to disarray, which is something I think is a very prominent goal in postmodernism. This is underscored by Wright in the forward/preface, when she reports: “It caused an uproar, was violently booed and violently applauded; it was compared with the work of Shakespeare and Rabelais, or dismissed as insipid nonsense; it was called the inspiration of modern youth, or dismissed as a rather poor joke.”
The idea that Ubu Roi was dismissed as a poor joke also brought to mind for me Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. I watched that movie about six months ago, and still find myself wondering exactly what it was meant to convey. Was it a farce? Was it a documentary? Was it only a joke? Is Banksy making fun of the sudden popularity and profusion of street art? Is he questioning the value of the artist and art in our current society? Is he challenging the art market and collectors yet again? Is it all of the above or none? I sincerely wonder. Exit Through the Gift Shop is alternately described as all of the above, depending on who you ask and their personal experience of it. I feel as though this is much the way Ubu Roi would have been received, at least by those in the world of the arts. In the same way Exit Through the Gift Shop is so unbelievable unlikely and absurd, so too was Ubu in it’s time. You are left unsure of whether or not to take it seriously, and it causes to to really question your perceptions of the surrounding ideas, events, and even the culture. While frustrating, and I’m sure confusing for those who experienced the first appearance of Père Ubu in 1896, I feel the lingering questions are a positive thing. It continues to force you to think, long after your initial experience of the thing. While Ubu Roi (as seen through the lens of modern culture) is not as shocking or offensive as it was once considered to be, it is clearly the first of its kind. It asked its audience to view itself with out a filter, and therefore reconsider themselves.
Finally, as I was reading, I saw an incredibly strong parallel between Père Ubu’s behavior and that of today’s culture and politics. Père Ubu is a selfish and immature person, acting with out thought for consequence to himself or others. For him the ultimate goal is self gratification at any and all costs. It doesn’t matter if he has to kill hundreds of nobles, or refuse advancement to those who aided him, he will have what he wants. Ubu Roi examined the entirely too commonplace occurrence of those with power and money to wind up abusing that power and money in the quest for their own success. I think this is still true of American politics. Politicians lobby for, and enact legislation that benefits themselves, forgetting their duty to their constituents. Often times, laws are passed in knee jerk reactions to specific events or situations with no thought of how they might affect future generations. Politicians work to better their own situations, to make more money both privately and for their reelection campaigns, saying whatever it is they need to say along the way. This short sightedness is also a very common theme in today’s popular culture. We want everything, and we want it now, we have become a culture of instant gratification. We continue to talk on the phone and text while driving, even though we have been warned that it may result in fatal car accidents. Our iPhones are much more important than common sense or safety. Americans currently find themselves in financial crisis because they borrowed money with out a true thought as to how we would pay it back. The prominent thing in our minds was the McMansion, the giant flat screen TV, or the giant SUV that we really had no need of. Much like Père Ubu, we are too ignorant to even take responsibility for our behaviors, instead we point fingers every which way, blaming others for our misfortune. We blame the banks for bad business, the economy for high unemployment, and the government for spending too much, but we never stop to examine our own behaviors or think for ourselves, something we have in common with Père Ubu.
So tomorrow is Florida’s primary day. Of course I am going to participate and do my civic duty…or is it doody? Either way, it’s happening and there is no way anyone can stop it, because I Give a Fuck. But to most, AKA the average citizen, local primaries are like the birthday party for the lame second cousin to the presidential election…the one where no one shows up. Boo to that I say. I mean really, how inconsiderate!? People go through so much trouble and expense, and then… Nothing! Uninformed, disinterested, and uninvolved peeps. What I think politics needs is a little bit more humor.
Anyway, as I think I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been reading books by an author named Jasper Fforde. I LOVE LOVE LOVE his books! He has several series running, and I am forever waiting for his new book to come out. He is super witty, funny, and, most importantly to me, absolutely freaking ABSURD. I constantly recommend these books to people, but for some reason no one ever takes me up on it (with one exception that I know of, and she now LOVES his novels as well).
The specific book I’m reading right now is titled Something Rotten…
I demand that you read his books. If not now, then in the very near future, because they will make you laugh and smile AND think. But right now I am going to force you to read part of one of his books because Something Rotten has a plot line about a politician and part of what Fforde does so wonderfully is lampoon politics and politicians. So obviously reading this book was quite timely, and I just want to share with you what is possibly my favorite scene from a book ever:
“Good evening and welcome to Evade the Question Time, the nation’s premier topical talk show. Tonight, as every night, a panel of distinguished public figures generally evade answering the audience’s questions and instead toe the party line.
There was applause at this, and Webastow continued: ‘The show tonight comes from Swindon in Wessex. Sometimes called the third capital of England or “Venice on the M4,” the Swindon of today is a financial and manufacturing powerhouse, its citizens a cross-section of professionals and artists who are politically indicative of the country as a whole. I’d also like to mention at this point that Evade the Question Time is brought to you by the Neat-Fit® Exhaust Systems, the tailpipe of choice.’
He paused for a moment and shuffled his papers.
‘We are honored to have with us tonight two very different speakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum. First I would like to introduce a man who was politically dead two years ago but has managed to pull himself up to the second-highest political office in the nation, with a devoted following of many millions, not all of whom are deranged. ladies and gentlemen, Chancellor Yorrick Kaine!’
There was mixed applause when he walked onto the stage, and he grinned and nodded for the benefit of the crowd. I leaned forward in my seat…
‘Thank you very much,’ said Kaine, sitting at the table and clasping his hands in front of him. ‘May I say that I always regard Swindon as a home away from home.’
There was a brief twitter of delight from the front of the audience, mostly little old ladies who looked upon him as the son they never had.
Mr. Webastow went on, ‘And opposing him we are also honored to welcome Mr. Redmond van de Poste of the opposition Commonsense Party.’
There was notably less applause as van de Poste walked in…
‘Thank you, gentlemen, and welcome. The first question comes from Miss Pupkin.”
A small woman stood up and said shyly, ‘Hello. A Terrible Thing was done by Somebody this week, and I’d like to ask the Panel if they condemn this.’
‘A very good question,’ replied Webastow, ‘Mr. Kaine, perhaps you’d like to start the ball rolling?’
‘Thank you, Tudor. Yes, I condemn utterly and completely the Terrible Thing in the strongest possible terms. We in the Whig Party are appalled by the way in which Terrible Things are done in this great nation of ours, with no retribution against the Somebody who did them. I would also like to point out that the current spate of Terrible Things being undertaken in our towns and cities is a burden we inherited from the Commonsense Party, and I am at pains to point out that in real terms the occurrence of Terrible Things has dropped by over twenty-eight percent since we took office.’
There was applause at this, and Webastow then asked Mr. van de Poste for his comments.
‘Well,’ said Redmond with a sigh, ‘quite clearly my learned friend has got his facts mixed up. According to the way we massage the figures, Terrible Things are actually on the increase. But I’d like to stop playing party politics for a momentand state for the record that although this is of course a great personal tragedy for those involved, condemning out of hand these acts does not allow us to understand why they occur, and more needs to be done to get to the root cause of–‘
‘Yet again,’ interrupted Kaine, ‘yet again we see the Commonsense Party shying away from its responsibilities and failing to act toughly on unspecified difficulties. I hope all the unnamed people who have suffered unclearly defined problems will understand–‘
‘I did say we condemned the Terrible Thing,’ put in van de Poste. ‘And I might add that we have been conducting a study in the entire range of Terrible Things, all the way from Just Annoying to Outrageously Awful, and will act on these findings– if we gain power.’
‘Trust the Commonsensers to do things by half measures!’ scoffed Kaine, who obviously enjoyed these sorts of discussions. ‘By going only so far as ‘Outrageously Awful,’ Mr. van de Poste is selling his own nation short. We at the Whig Party have been looking at the Terrible Things problem and propose a zero-tolerance attitude to offenses as low as Mildly Inappropriate. Only in this way can the Somebodies who commit Terrible Things be stopped before they move on to acts that are Obscenely Perverse.’
There was a smattering of applause again, presumably as the audience tried to figure out whether “Just Annoying” was worse than “Mildly Inappropriate.”
‘Succinctly put,’ announced Webastow. ‘At then end of the first round, I will award three points to Mr. Kaine for an excellent nonspecific condemnation, plus one bonus point for blaming the previous government and another for successfully mutating the question to promote the party line. Mr. van de Poste gets a point for a firm rebuttal, but only two points for his condemnation, as he tried to inject an impartial and intelligent observation. So at the end of the first round, it’s Kaine leading with five points and van de Poste with three.’
There was more applause as the numbers came up on the scoreboard.”
–Something Rotten, Chapter 3, Evade the Question Time, Jasper Fforde
It continues on in this manner, the absurdity increasing, which is why I love it! I hope you enjoyed! Now go to the library and check out his books! 🙂
Among other things, I’ve been doing some research into the artist Yayoi Kusama recently. I am currently reading her autobiography Infinity Net, which is fairly cut and dried, but has a few fascinating insights into this rather prolific artist’s work and mind.
To give you a little bit of background, she is a Japanese artist, who grew up during World War II, and eventually found her way to New York city in the late ’60’s, where she played a crucial role in the avant garde scene. She came to America to escape not only her family and the oppressive social structure of Japan, but to help over come and escape her anxieties and neurosis. She stayed in NYC for almost two decades, finally choosing to return to Tokyo, where she currently lives in an open ward mental hospital.
What is compelling to me about her work, is that she uses it as a sort of catharsis for her anxiety and fears, from which she has suffered since childhood. Kusama’s mass production of phalli, and subsequent covering of objects such as chairs and boats with them, is an attempt to confront something that terrifies her and turn it into something amusing. Her manic covering of herself and all things with polka dots, an attempt at “self obliteration” and an outward manifestation of her diagnosis of dis-personalization.
Fascinating stuff, you should check it out imaginary reader…but I’ll get to the point of this post now. As I said, I’ve been reading her autobiography, and toward the end is a very…apropos bit to some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to my own work. And so, I wanted to share:
“I have been painting, sculpting, and writing for as long as I can remember. But to tell the truth, to this day I do not feel that I have ‘made it’ as an artist. All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes. But by the power of my spirit and my single-hearted pursuit of the path, I have clawed my way through the labyrinthine confusion of the world of people in an unstinting effort to approach even one step closer to the realm of the soul.
If you think about it, there is nothing inherently distinguished about the occupation of the artist- or politician, say, or doctor…
An artist is by no means superior to others just by the virtue of making art. Whether you are a labourer, farmer, janitor, artist, politician, or doctor, if you have managed in the midst of a society awash with lies and madness to get one step closer to the awe-inspiring brilliance of your own life, the footprint you leave behind is that of someone who has truly lived as a human being.
Today, many people take the path of gluttony, or lust, or greed, flailing and floundering as they vie for worldly fame. in such a society, seekers of truth find that their burden is great and the road steep and hard. But that is all the more reason for us to seek a rosier future for the soul.
Many people seem to imagine that Vincent van Gogh must have been great because his paintings now fetch enormously high prices, or because he was mentally ill. But such people have not really seen van Gogh… My view is that in spite of whatever illness he may have had, van Gogh’s art overflows with humanity, tenacious beauty, and the search for truth. His real greatness lies in these qualities, and in his fiery and passionate approach to life.
For an aspiring artist like myself, to triumph over an unjust environment is to triumph over the pain of feeling cornered and trapped. I see it as a trial or test attendant upon having been born a human being, which is why I continue to fight with every fibre of my being. This is my own peculiar karma and destiny in this world…
I intend to intensify further my search for the truth that leads to the light. I want to lift my heart towards a brighter future, with some sense of reverence for human beings…I have chosen art as the means to accomplish this. It is a lifelong task. And even if only one person in the next hundred years were to comprehend what is in my heart, I would continue to create art for the sake of that one individual.”
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