Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Out of the Frying Pan...

Last Saturday I rather casually (I thought) shared an epiphany on Facebook that I thought might lead to some lively discussion, but which actually led to some rather dramatic feedback including statements like:
"Here we go...if you thought that art dealers actually believed they were part of something more interesting than the art (made by artists) they supposedly sell, what exactly is it they do sell?"


"I do believe Mr. Winkleman will have a somewhat more interesting day than the art he represents. Cat is out of the bag, by Edward Winkleman, gallery owner."


And my personal favorite, which has since been made unavailable to me, so I can't quote it accurately, except to note that it definitely ended with "You suck" [note, this commenter has since sent me an apology which I have accepted].
As is too often the case in Internet discussions, I realized in hindsight that I could have chosen my words more carefully (and would have had I realized how they'd be misunderstood), but here's what I posted that caused the backlash:
Someone suggested the idea to me recently (and I knee-jerkedly rejected it, but then something I read today made me think perhaps they were right) that the contemporary art world itself is more interesting than any of the art in it.

As I clarified after the fur began to fly, this idea was originally suggested to me by an artist, not a dealer or other art world insider, and my initial response to it was to reject it. It took me a few days (and only then upon realizing an artist whose statements online I found rather brilliant didn't make artwork that I thought was anywhere near as interesting as his texts), for me to reconsider my initial rejection of the first artist's statement. I honestly thought I was just being open minded about the first artist's statement. I didn't realize my post would come off to some as a condemnation of an entire generation of working artists. You'd have to imagine I'm rather dimwitted to think I'd intend to send that message in a public forum.

When asked "what exactly is it that they sell?" my personal answer would be, humbly, I believe I'm selling important artwork made by rigorous and very smart artists. I will note that I also have open conversations with our artists about topics such as "the contemporary art world itself is more interesting than any of the art in it" all the time without any of them internalizing the topic or thinking that I'm critiquing their work (I'll tell them directly what work they make I'm less or more interested in). Furthermore, they are all aware of the spirit in which I might debate such an issue, that it's simply an intellectual exercise or personal reality check. In short, it's simply how we talk around our gallery.

But it's obviously not how everyone talks in the art world. The emotional response by several people suggests to me that I wasn't careful enough in how I opened the topic for discussion. It does not suggest to me, however, that the topic is not a good one to have...quite the contrary...so here I go, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Among the comments that best aligned with how I assumed the posted would be understood and debated (and quite a few folks agreed with or were happy to discuss the premise calmly) were this one by the writer Felix Salmon:
I think that if you were to go back to any random point in the past, you would find a vibrant art scene with lots of galleries and gossip and artists and etc etc -- and the chances are, the tiny handful of artists who would end up standing the test of time would not be particularly obvious or prominent. And with hindsight then the scene would actually in many ways have been more interesting than most of the art in it, especially the art which looks just embarrassing when we look back on those days.
 and this one by the artist Stefano W. Pasquini

I think we live in quite exciting and innovative times, yet visually our art has done almost everything that it could possibly do already. So our brain keep sparkling up innovative ideas [helped by innovative technology] yet we fail to realize them visually, and end up making art that looks like it's been seen before. This thread has a valid point, and it's interesting to consider this, especially in a collaborative discussion on FB...
I wasn't surprised to see other comments with a sense of indignation in them, such as
Ack. I think someone needs to get their head out of their arse and see more artists' studios. Or get out of whatever city they're in. Or branch out of the magazines/websites and showrooms-cum-art-fairs. Live a little. Be daring.
But I was surprised to see several artists take the post personally. (Which reminded me of the notion that you only respond defensively to something you feel in some way is valid...otherwise you dismiss it as nonsense.) Moreover, I was prompted to talk with people offline about whether or not I was simply off base or the backlash was off. And to do to some soul searching myself. My two main findings included:

One other dealer I know (who no one would accuse of being anti-artist...in fact, it's the same dealer who I quoted on Facebook who got tons of artist love) pointed out that the dialog on Facebook is actually also "part of the art world," and the fact that people spent as much time commenting on my controversial post as they did in a way validated its point. 

Ultimately though, I was disappointed in the fact that no one, especially artists, simply posted an image of a contemporary artwork that would have shut everyone up and settled the matter. Personally I can do so to my satisfaction with a number of images on my gallery website. (That is, there are works by our artists that I find endlessly more fascinating than the art world itself. Works I've spent a month with at a time during exhibitions and still get a tingle down my spine when I see them again.) Those images may not be as interesting for every other person as they are for me, but I would have been encouraged to see artists demonstrate the confidence to respond in that way...which is not an invitation to do so now, mind you...but perhaps a way to re-open the discussion without anyone needing to take it as a personal slam...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Send Me a Poet :: Open Thread

[General] Carpenter snapped up his intercom. "Send me a poet," he said.

He waited, and waited...and waited...while America sorted feverishly through its two hundred and ninety millions of hardened and sharpened experts, its specialized tools to defend the American Dream of beauty and poetry and the Better Things in Life. He waited for them to find a poet, not understanding the endless delay, the fruitless search, not understanding why Bradley Scrim laughed and laughed and laughed at this final, fatal disappearance.

"The Disappearing Act," by Alfred Bester (1953)

Sixty years ago the science fiction writer Alfred Bester predicted a 22nd-century, very lengthy world war being fought by America in which the atrocities were so severe that more and more soldiers returning from battle not only withdrew into an autistic world within their own minds, but could literally physically disappear for periods of time into a fantasy world of their own creation, full of people, places and things anachronistically collected from their dreams. They would physically vanish from their secret hospital ward (Ward T) for hours and then days and then weeks at a time, leaving their doctors and generals behind scratching their heads about this disappearing act, this human telekinetic evolution. 

Once they thought they understood this new power somewhat, their attention shifted toward the potential it might give the military to get the upper hand in the seemingly endless war to protect our cultural commitment to "beauty and poetry and the Better Things in Life" (by transporting American troops back in time to defeat the enemy then).

The problem they had in understanding the soliders' power well enough to actively harness it was they no longer technically understood the process for creating dreams. In order to win this war to protect our way of life, the country had forced everyone into specialized fields of study, ensuring the generals could call on experts on any practical topic at any moment to respond quickly to the unpredictable progression of the war.

The hell these disappearing soldiers had to live through before this ability came to them is left to the reader's imagination, but the hell awaiting those people who were unable to figure out how to travel into their own private American Dream, whether to win the war or escape it, was hauntingly imagined by the short story's end. In the story, General Carpenter, who was leading the war effort, called back from prison a rogue historian (Bradley Scrim, imprisoned for pointing out that the effort to save the American Dream was actually killing it) to help him understand how and/or why these soldiers were disappearing. Scrim, rather bitter for being imprisoned and fully aware of Carpenter's militaristic designs on this new power, is here explaining to Carpenter what he was able to determine by examining the soldiers in Ward T:
“The concept is almost beyond understanding. These people have discovered how to turn dreams into reality. They know how to enter their dream realities. They can stay there, live there, perhaps forever. My God, Carpenter, this is your American dream. It’s miracle-working, immortality, Godlike-creation, mind over matter... It must be explored. It must be studied. It must be given to the world.”
“Can you do it, Scrim?”
“No, I cannot. I’m a historian. I’m noncreative, so it’s beyond me. You need a poet...a man who understands the creation of dreams. From creating dreams on paper or canvas it oughtn’t to be too difficult to take the step to creating dreams in actuality.”
“A poet? Are you serious?”
“Certainly I’m serious. Don’t you know what a poet is? You’ve been telling us for five years that this war is being fought to save the poets.”
“Don’t be facetious, Scrim, I—....  

"Send a poet into Ward T. He’ll learn how they do it. He’s the only man who can. A poet is half doing it anyway. Once he learns, he can
teach, your psychologists and anatomists. Then they can teach us; but the poet is the only man who can interpret between those shock cases and your experts.”
Scrim's joke on Carpenter, of course, is that he knows there are no poets left in this highly professionalized society.

Two things I've read recently have made me remember this story (which I had first read in high school). One was Anton Vidokle's provocative essay on (among other things) the professionalization of the contemporary art world, "Art without Market, Art without Education: Political Economy of Art."

In discussing how Warhol had masterfully bridged the business and art worlds toward his own individualist ends, Vidokle concludes:

Warhol’s economic independence seems to have been misunderstood. The independence that came from his bridging of the bohemian sphere and the sphere of day-to-day commerce has been converted into a vast proliferation of so-called artistic practices that treat art as a profession. But art is not a profession. What does being professional actually mean under the current conditions of de-skilling in art? We should probably be less concerned with being full-time, art-school-trained, professional artists, writers, or curators—less concerned with measuring our artistic worth in these ways. Since most of us are not expected to perfect any specific techniques or master any craft—unlike athletes or classical musicians, for example—and given that we are no longer tied to working in specific mediums, perhaps it’s fine to be a part-time artist? After all, what is the expertise of a contemporary artist? Perhaps a certain type of passionate hobbyism, a committed amateurism, is okay: after all, we still live in a reality largely shaped by talented amateurs of the nineteenth century, like Thomas Edison and so many others. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to work in some other capacity in the arts, or in an entirely different field, and also to make art: sometimes this situation actually produces much more significant work than the “professional art” we see at art fairs and biennials. Ilya Kabakov supported himself for decades by being a children’s book illustrator. Marcel Duchamp worked as a librarian and later sold Brancusi’s work to make a living, while refusing to be dependent on sales of his own work.
but the other thing I've read recently that reminded me of Bester's cautionary tale, was the chapter in Douglas Rushkoff's brilliant new book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now on the "collapse of the narrative." He begins his explanation of why he believes we are living through the collapse of traditional narrative with a very compelling description of the importance of storytelling:
As a medium, stories have proven themselves great as a way of storing information and values and then passing them on to future generations. Our children demand we tell them stories before they go to bed, so we lace those narratives with the values we want them to take with them into their dreams and their adult lives. Likewise, the stories and myths of our religions and national histories preserve and promote certain values over time. That's one reason civilizations and their values can persist over centuries.

Rushkoff's basic argument as to why narrative is collapsing is that the values and collective goals our stories have until now expressed and preserved and (and therefore communicated forward to successive generations to guide us in moving forward) have relied on our culture being "future-focused,"  and yet, according to him, we no longer are:
When people stop looking to the future, they start looking at the present. Investments begin to matter less for what they might someday be worth, because people are no longer thinking so much about "someday" as they are about today. A stock's "story"--the rationale for why it is going to go up--begins to matter less than its actual value in real time. What are my stocks worth as of this moment? What do I really own? What is the value of my portfolio right now?

The stock market's infinite expansion was just one of many stories dependent on our being such a future-focused culture. All the great "isms" of the twentieth century--from capitalism to communism to Protestantism to republicanism to utopianism to messianism--depended on big stories to keep them going. None of them were supposed to be so effective in the short term or present. They all promised something better in the future for having suffered through something not so great today. (Or at least offered something better today that whatever pain and suffering supposedly went on back in the day.) The ends justified the means. Today's war was tomorrow's liberation. Today's suffering was tomorrow's salvation. Today's work was tomorrow's reward.
Rushkoff argues that these stories worked for a while in the US, they "helped us construct a narrative experience of our lives, our nation, our culture, and our faith. We adopted an entirely storylike way of experiencing and talking about the world." And that the act (or art) of storytelling became a valued part of our culture itself.  

He quotes Aristotle, though, who said: "When the storytelling in a culture goes bad, the result is decadence."

Indeed, here in the US, after the turn of the century, Rushkoff argues things began to move so quickly we lost our collective future-focused patience (the "discontinuity generated by the 9/11 attacks should not be underestimated" in understanding this, he notes). With that lack of patience, we also seem to have lost the time we're willing to dedicate to traditional, linear storytelling. That art form takes a certain degree of patience to endure the set-up, the character development, the story arc (from introduction to crisis to climax to conclusion).

I know myself that during and in the aftermath of 9/11, I was not consuming information patiently enough to endure such time-consuming constructs. I wanted to know what was going on now! because I was convinced our very survival, and the survival of "the American Dream of beauty and poetry and the Better Things in Life" depended on us having access to that information now

Indeed, since then, even when we told ourselves we simply must relax, we increasingly did so with DVD or online libraries of stories and, very importantly, remote controls! that enabled us to skip over the boring parts, skip the development if we wanted to, essentially, skip the narrative and live entirely in the now of our favorite bits...the crisis...the climax. Instead of spending an evening relaxing, surrendering our minds to another person's carefully crafted story, we could construct our own faster-paced diversion, channel surfing from crisis to crisis, climax to climax. No commercials, no painfully slow development...no traditional narrative...and, taken to this practice's logical conclusions, eventually no reason for anyone to create the more traditional vessels to carry forward the experience of our lives, our nation, our culture and our faith. I highly recommend Rushkoff on this. I've been obsessed with it lately.

In fact, my previous, admittedly strange, post was an experiment in traditional storytelling from a post-narrative-collaspe point of view. What I mean by that, is it intentionally begins by acknowledging time constraints (under-edited, raw prose, choices I realized were probably wrong, but which were left in anyway because developing the replacement transition would take too long); and yet still acknowledging the role of stories to convey values (lest we lose them entirely); doing so via the time-tested role of universal (i.e., project-able) stereotypes, motifs, and symbols; and yet conceding through a Sloterdijk-esque admission that even though there's something off about our "hero's" motivation, he's the best we got, so we might as well move forward with him, because our Beckettian sense of self tells us that move forward we must, at all costs.

All of which is not designed to launch a new career in literature, but more humbly to simply open up a more in-depth discussion of the role of story-telling in a post-narrative culture. Consider this an open thread on that topic.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Let Me Tell You a Story

[Author's note: I've been working on this story for quite some time...it's coming along nicely now, and so I'm sharing a draft here...all details are subject to change, though, according to current events mostly...just so you know...]

In a country far away there lived a young, simple man, in a small apartment, in a quaint village. His name was Amaro.

Amaro lived by himself, not counting his cat (named Starpaw...because it had a star shape on its...but you're already ahead of me, aren't you?). Nor counting his ficus (which I mention only because he talked to it sometimes, having heard that that would make it grow faster...but...we're not really interested here in how well or not Amaro's ficus grew, so we'll just...uh, just forget I mentioned the ficus). 

Even though his apartment had a built-in book shelf, he didn't read much, so Amaro used it to display the various medals he had received in the Boy Scouts for achievements in things like First Aid or tying knots. He also used it as the place he kept his keys and wallet when he came home, alone, each evening.

Simple as he was right now, though, Amaro had plans. Among them were a beautiful wife, at least three children (two boys and one girl), a summer cottage near Lake Wagaravoaka, a position of respect eventually within the company that recently hired him as a junior associate, and one day a very expensive watch he could leave behind as a family heirloom.

This last part of his plans consumed a great deal of Amaro's time. He was frequently up late researching the world's best watches on the Internet and had even set up a Google alert for record-breaking auction prices. His current plan was to buy a Patek Philippe, but (because he didn't live anywhere near the London, Paris, or Geneva salons where they were sold) he secretly hoped he'd stumble across one that no one else quite knew the value of at an estate sale...or some similar scenario...especially if he was to get one on his current salary.

A few years later, on a day in late Summer, no closer to his other plans, Amaro did happen to read of an auction of the belongings of a popular local dignitary who had no heirs. Amaro thought the odds were probably pretty good, and indeed after searching Google for images, low and behold there was a Patek Phillipe on the dignitary's wrist at a ceremony to open a new sewage plant.

Amaro immediately sold all the stock in his uncle's company he got as a graduation present and the four-door sedan his grandfather had given him as his inheritance when he passed away a few years back (he didn't drive it much anyway). Between the two sales he amassed roughly 2,000,000 chmartas...a small fortune for someone like him, but a solid investment nonetheless in the heirloom he now understood was his destiny.

The auction was held at the dignitary's huge house on the outskirts of the village. It turned out to be quite the local occasion, with fine hats on many a head and a virtual who's who of people from the village attending. The room where the auctioneer had set up (with a podium, a side table, and rows of chairs) had been the dignitary's grand dinning room, and as the strong afternoon sun gleamed through the stain-glassed windows with colorful pastoral scenes, it made it quite festive, if a touch too warm. By the time Amaro arrived, all the seats were taken with people fanning themselves, and so he stood in the back of the room.

Amaro studied the room as the auctioneer began with items he had no interest in: some artwork, some rare books, a scotch collection, boxes of linens, and an assortment of silver platters and such. In the second row Amaro recognized one of the Vice Presidents of his company, a Mr. Srkortoz, who had obviously arrived early enough to get a good seat but had yet to bid on anything. A few rows back sat Cristiana, the baker's daughter with the wonderful child-bearing hips, the soft kind eyes, and the long black hair. She had bid on one of the boxes of linens, but backed down when the price got too high. Several seats over sat Herzimao, the village's best realtor, who seemed to get exclusives on all the best properties long before anyone else knew their owners were thinking of selling. 

"I'll have to put a bug in his ear about cottages on Lake Wagaravoaka," thought Amaro.

"Next up," declared the auctioneer in a tone he reserved for truly special items, "We have a truly special item from the estate: an antique gold watch. Just look at that craftsmanship, Ladies and Gentleman. Let's start the bidding at 60,000 chmartas."

Amaro could feel a rivulet of sweat stream down his back. He knew that watch could fetch the equivalent of 3,800,000 chmartas in London or Paris. He only hoped no one else in the room knew its true value. He decided to play it cool and let the bidding peter out before striking.

After the bids reached 1,000,000 chmartas, though, it was apparent to Amaro he wasn't the only one who really wanted that watch. The skunk Srkortoz raised his hand for the third time, sending the bid to 1,010,000. In a flash, though, Cristiana's hand shot up and it was 1,015,000. For the next flurry of bids, the two of them essentially kept their arms raised, vigorously wiggling their hands to indicate, impatiently, Yes, Yes, the next step...I'll pay it...I'll pay it.

After the price reached 1,045,000, though, their arms came slowly down. The last bid belonged to Srkortoz, and Amaro could see by her body language that Cristiana was struggling with the idea of committing to 1.5 million chmartas for a piece of jewelry.

She didn't need to worry about it, as it turned out. 

As cool a customer as one would expect him to be under pressure, Herzimao raised his hand, and the bid was 1.5 million. The smile on Herzimao's smug face told Amaro that the realtor too had read the slouch in Srkortoz's shoulders as a sign of resignation. 

"Going once at 1.5 million," the auctioneer rejoiced. "Going twice..."

"Two million chmartas!" came Amaro's voice from the back of the room. A collective gasp and a hundred heads swung around to witness the audacious act of arrogance. The indignation on Hermizmao's face was matched only by the heartbreaking look in Cristiana's teary eyes. As for Srkortoz, Amaro was not quite sure he had ever seen anyone that color of bright red. All three of their faces conveyed one crystal clear message though: Amaro was persona nongrata, permanently.

"Sold!" cried the auctioneer, with a bang of his hammer, apparently having gone once, twice, and three times while everyone else was trying to process what had just happened. Amaro beamed, despite himself, but couldn't take much more of their glares, and he so took his pack of cigarettes from his pocket and indicated to, well, everyone in the room, all of whom were still watching with their mouths open, that he'd just pop out for a quick smoke. 

"Next up is this fine, bound collection of celebrity signatures," said the auctioneer, as the attendees, one by one, returned their eyes to the podium.

There was a welcome breeze as Amaro stepped through front door of the house, lighting his cigarette, just in time to see a late comer dressed in black, walking up with an obviously heavy briefcase. 

"Hot as hell in there," explained Amaro, stepping aside to let the dark stranger enter the house.

"Not yet, it's not," responded the stranger, who kept on going.

Odd, thought Amaro, but as he walked a bit further into the front garden, the idea of wearing his new Patek Philippe to work next week seized his imagination. Of course, he should be careful with his new heirloom...he wanted it to still be perfect when he left it to the lucky son he favored the most...but part of the myth he would build around the watch would need to include a photo of him wearing it at the office, as if it were the most natural thing in the ...


Amaro was face-down on the ground....

His ears were ringing so fiercely he felt dizzy. Red-hot chunks of wood and roofing were raining down around him. When he managed to turn over, he looked back toward the house to see gray smoke billowing out what had been the stained glass windows. Far off behind the house, he saw the tall dark stranger, running through the fields.

"My watch!" thought Amaro. 

He stumbled to his feet and ran back into the front door, his shirt pulled up over his mouth as the smoke seared his lungs. The dining room was beginning to clear a bit, but the wallpaper was still burning in spots. The auctioneer's smoldering podium was still there, but there was no sign of the Patek Phillipe.

Blackened, moaning bodies lay in mounds or crawled over mangeled chairs throughout the room. Near the front row, Amaro spotted Srkortoz, rummaging through a heap of something on the floor. He flew over the others and nearly dove into Vice President. 

"Where is it?" Amaro screamed, pulling him to his feet. "Where's my watch??"

Srkortoz, completely deafened by the blast, assumed Amaro was asking him if he was alright. He flung one arm over Amaro's shoulder and leaned in to indicate they should head out the front door. Amaro rifled through Srkortoz's pockets as they hobbled together over the rubble. It wasn't easy going. Three rows of scorched chairs back, they passed Cristiana rising jittery from the floor. Srkortoz grabbed her outstretched arm and pulled her up as well.

The trio finally made it out the front door as other survivors, dazed and bloodied, began to assemble in the front garden. Off in the distance, Amaro could hear the village volunteer fire alarm wailing. 

 Satisfied that Srkortoz hadn't pocketed his watch, but still not ready to give up on it, Amaro headed back inside the house. Cristiana and Skrortoz looked after him in wonder and then in admiration at this heroism. Inside the house, though, Amaro made a beeline for the spot where Herzimao was trying to tighten a tourniquet around his injured thigh.

"Empty your pockets!!" he ordered the badly wounded realtor. Years of practice (so he could tell what couples who were discussing an offer in another room were saying) had taught Herzimao to accurately read lips. Still shaken, he did as he was told, taking out his wallet, his cellphone, some lose change, his keys, and the cast-iron, sword-shaped pen he carried in order to produce with a ceremonial flare for his clients to sign the contracts for their new homes.

Seeing that Herzimao didn't have the watch, Amaro rather absent-mindedly began using the pen to tie the tourniquet tighter, as he scanned the room for other ideas on where his watch might have ended up. Herzimao, who had forgotten this trick from his Boy Scout days, looked up at Amaro with profound gratitude. When the tourniquet began to hurt, he reached out and nodded to Amaro that they should head outside.

In the front garden, Amaro looked at each of the survivors with suspicion. Any of them could have scooped up his watch in the chaos. He had no choice. He would need to search them all.

By the time the first responders and TV trucks arrived, word was already spreading through the front garden about how the earnest young man who had surprised everyone with his extraordinary bid on the watch turned out to be the hero of the day, pulling people from the wreckage and checking on everyone he could. By the end of the day, the legend of Amaro's life-saving First Aid interventions had circled the globe via Twitter and Facebook. An Auto-tuned interview of him confessing to reporters, "I wasn't thinking...I was just acting on instinct" became an instant YouTube sensation. 

It lasted only 15 minutes, relatively speaking, but it would have to do. 

Many years later, when caught grumbling to himself by his wife Cristiana or his fellow VP Srkortoz, whose wife and kids often joined Amaro's family at what everyone in the village would agree was the best cottage up on Lake Wagaravoaka, Amaro would say "Oh, nothing...never mind."  He'd just circle the skin around his bare wrist and shake his head. Everything was fine. He had no regrets.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Opening Tomorrow, Saturday, May 11 @ Winkleman Gallery : Leslie Thornton, "Luna" 6-8 PM

Tomorrow is Chelsea Night in Frieze New York Week, with many galleries remaining open until 8 PM. We're having a reception for the amazing new exhibition by Leslie Thornton. Stop on by!


Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present Luna, our second solo exhibition by New York artist Leslie Thornton. In Luna, Thornton continues her intricate and complex exploration of nature and technology, through the interplay of place, memory, and abstraction. The exhibition runs May 11 – June 22, 2013, with an opening reception Saturday, May 11, 6-8 PM.

A triptych of three vertical flat-screen monitors comprises the centerpiece of the exhibition. On each screen there is an image of the parachute-jump tower at Coney Island. Each image is captured and modified so that the reference to place and object is transformed, and subsumed, only to reappear as another form of spectacle. There are occasional figures, walking by, and there are a great many seagulls punctuating the shifting surfaces of the image.

Thornton’s project deals with the relationship between chronology, technology, mediation, and with the “historical” as an artifact of the cinematic/digital image. Luna is an invocation of loss, as well as a tacit critique of nostalgia. How do you address history with something as fragmentary and minute as cinema? What occurs and is at stake in today’s digital absorption of the “world”? By focusing on the presence of the technical image, Luna addresses the trace: an impression, a trace of a voice, a trace of the disappearance of voices, an unflinching engagement with the passing away of place. In Luna, the trace is almost subsumed, it saturates the auditory field, and in this diffusion, it (almost) disappears, leaving but a ghost, an audial echo, riding the repetitive circulation of increasing static/noise: memory’s future.
Classic theories of channels, infrastructure, and institutions are eerily convergent. Each is understood as a kind of bridge that delimits a landscape, facilitates a passage, and forestalls a loss. . . Facilitating passage, each allows displacement in space, through time, between persons, and across possible worlds. Delimiting landscape, each helps constitute the poles so related: speakers and addressees, producers and consumers, selves and others. Finally, forestalling loss, each ensures that some medium endures—that words won’t fade, that goods won’t spoil, that personas won’t wither.
—Paul Kockelman
Among the tacit references set into play in Luna one might find Claude Shannon’s ideas about the relation between message, image, translation and noise —of the necessity of noise, and its value in conveying sense and meaning. Shannon’s works are foundational for contemporary digital culture; one might also find traces of Michel Serres’ notion of the parasitical nature of technical reproducibility, and Roman Jakobson’s ideas about the recursive reflection on the materiality of the channel of communication itself. In Thornton’s hands these complex notions do not appear as dry, supplementary, footnotes but are actively embodied and celebrated, enfolding the audience in the sensual pleasures and sadness of other worlds. Leslie Thornton’s lyrical disfugurations of the apocalyptic—the end, or endings, that appear as a form of uncanny nostalgia, return us to a Coney Island of oneiric spectrality, of desire, dream, and delirium at its most ethereal and sublime, to a nostalgia for what never was, but that one might always have wanted, a technological sublime that we might still want.

Leslie Thornton is considered a pioneer of contemporary media aesthetics, working at the borders and limits of cinema, video, digital media, and installation. Such seminal works as Peggy and Fred in Hell operate in the interstices between various media-forms to address both the architectural spaces of media, and the imaginary spaces of the spectator’s involvement. Thornton uses the process of media production as an explorative and collective endeavor “position(ing) the viewer as an active reader, not a consumer.” She is among the most influential of contemporary artists in opening up new spaces for media, re-mapping its boundaries and possibilities within the projective spaces of the museum or gallery as well as within the public spaces of cinema, television and internet transmission.

Thornton’s career has been an unusual one: as one of the first artists to bridge the boundaries between cinema and video, to explore their affinities and opacities, she has embraced their differences as positive, complementary, attributes. Thornton’s complex articulations and stunning innovations in media form and content push the principles, presumptions and promises of time-based artworks, opening unexpected spaces for contemporary artistic practices. Her projects are ongoing and provisional; she has been unafraid to return to, rework, and rethink, issues, topics, and subjects, to strike out in entirely new directions. Leslie Thornton’s works continue to have a profound impact, and an enduring influence on, an entire generation of media artists, critics and theorists.

Leslie Thornton’s works have been exhibited worldwide, with screenings at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC; Harvard University, and installations/exhibitions at Museum53, Shanghai, China; Zürcher Gallery, New York/Paris; Tate Modern, UK, FluxSpace, Philadelphia, IFFR/Museum of Natural History, Rotterdam, and solo shows at Winkleman Gallery, NYC, and Elizabeth de Brabant Gallery, Shanghai, China. Thornton has won many awards: she is one of the youngest artists to have received the Maya Deren Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Film Institute/Anthology Film Archives; she has also received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, The Alpert Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts; In 2013 she was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Leslie Thornton is currently Professor in the Modern Culture and Media Department at Brown University, and Faculty in Media at the European Graduate School/ Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinare Studien (EGS/EUFIS).

Monday, May 06, 2013

Kyrgyz Crafts Fair Exhibition - One Night Only @ Winkleman Gallery, May 8, 6-8 PM

One of the things I'll never forget about my trip to Kyrgyzstan were the colors and patterns of the textiles and the seemingly endless warmth of not only the crafts, but virtually every object one found in the bazaars and tiny little shops along the highways that form the "New Silk Road." Everything in this mountain country seemed designed to please the senses. 

A guide to Kyrgyzstan notes rightly that "the Kyrgyz are best known for crafting utensils, clothes, equipment, and other items used in everyday life and making them beautiful. Many articles are made of felt: carpets (shirdak and alakiyiz), bags for keeping dishes (alk-kup), and woven patterned strips of carpet sewn together into bags or rugs (bashtyk) . Ornate leather dishes called keter are also made." 

It is our distinct pleasure to invite you to a one-day only Kyrgyz Crafts Fair Exhibition, hosted by Winkleman Gallery, May 8, 6-8 PM.
The Kyrgyz Crafts Fair Exhibition is organized by the Public Fund “Partnership for Culture and Crafts” with idea of the presenting to the public of Kyrgyz Craft. Small Craft fair of 6 Kyrgyz designers will be presented within this event. The exhibition is supported and welcomed by the Winkleman Gallery. The opening of the event will take place on 8th of May 2013 at 6PM-8PM on Winkleman Gallery 621 West 27th Street New York, NY 10001.
Handmade Kyrgyz silk and felt scarf 

Stop on by...I promise you'll be delighted!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Perhaps the Means Justifies the Means

Exitus acta probat. The ends justifies the deed (or the means). 

This is the motto on George Washington's family coat of arms, and it is believed to be the first American President's defense of the bloodshed it took to win the Revolutionary War. With the advantage of hindsight, it's easy to agree with our founding father on this point in this context.

But I'm beginning to wonder lately whether, culturally, we've taken that idea past its logical extremes. I'm beginning to wonder whether we're so consumed by the ends that we've lost sight of the significance of the means. And I don't just mean for wars or other big decisions that put human lives at risk, I mean for smaller, daily decisions that put our very humanity at risk.

In the foreword to Jacues Ellul's analysis of the effects of our increasingly technical culture, The Technological Society (1964), Robert Mertom wrote:
By technique [Ellul] means far more than machine technology. Technique refers to any complex of standardized means for attaining a predetermined result. Thus, it converts spontaneous and unreflective behavior into behavior that is deliberate and rationalized. The Technical Man is fascinated by results, by the immediate consequences of setting standardized devices into motion. He cannot help admiring the spectacular effectiveness of nuclear weapons of war. Above all, he is committed to the never-ending search for "the one best way" to achieve any designated objective.

Ours is a progressively technological civilization: by this Ellus means that the ever-expanding and irreversible rule of technique is extended to all domains of life. It is a civilization committed to the quest for continually improved means to carelessly examined ends. Indeed, technique transforms ends into means. What was once prized in its own right now becomes worthwhile only if it helps achieve something else. And conversely, technique turns means into ends. "Know-how" takes on an ultimate value. [emphasis mine]
The problem that even Ellul couldn't have predicted back in 1964 is how hyper-connected we've become, which has only served to decrease how carefully our ends can be examined. Yesterday in his New York Times column Thomas Friedman noted:
Something really big happened in the world’s wiring in the last decade, but it was obscured by the financial crisis and post-9/11. We went from a connected world to a hyperconnected world. I’m always struck that Facebook, Twitter, 4G, iPhones, iPads, high-speech broadband, ubiquitous wireless and Web-enabled cellphones, the cloud, Big Data, cellphone apps and Skype did not exist or were in their infancy a decade ago when I wrote a book called “The World Is Flat.” All of that came since then, and the combination of these tools of connectivity and creativity has created a global education, commercial, communication and innovation platform on which more people can start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more other people than ever before.

And Friedman notes how this new hyperconnectively is really a good thing for people who are self-motivated. They can get things done with speeds unimagined before. But getting things done is a good thing only so long as the ends to those means are a carefully considered (i.e., good) thing. Moving at light speed for its own sake, and with the casting aside of nonproductive things that moving so quickly requires, is a path to guaranteed regret.

Just last weekend, I had a conversation with a high school classmate I hadn't seen in many years, and we realized we both had come to a similar conclusion. Between the time we left high school and just recently, we had been so focused on achieving our life's goals, we stopped doing some of the things that we really enjoyed (for her it was making ceramics; for me it was playing tennis and piano). After taking them back up again, we were both not only very pleased with the pleasure they brought us, but a bit upset we had ever stopped doing them. Yes, we had accomplished a lot in the interceding years, but these "means" toward a happier life had been put aside quite foolishly we realized. The means toward achieving our goals could have/should have been more balanced with the things we love doing.

Someone recently shared a quote from Leonard Cohen, who reportedly said "Success is survival" (and he should know). When you stand back and look at the short-lived "success" stories of people who climbed to a certain height only to then drop off the other side and disappear altogether, Cohen's definition rings true. And if survival is the "ends," then how you climb, so much more so than how quickly you get to an imagined "top," would seem to be everything.