6/24/2011 2:11:15 PM
While the most famous images to come out of the Great Depression, such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photographs, seem to have been focused on the people upon whom the Depression came crashing down, the prominent images of our tough times seem to focus on the buildings hardest hit. Whereas those Depression-era images force us to see the human struggle, some have argued that the images of today, ubiquitously known as “ruin porn,” allow the viewer to disconnect the human consequences from these dilapidated and abandoned buildings. They are, after all, places that people once lived, places where commerce once thrived, and in many cases, the people are still living just outside the lens.
Utne’s been covering this trend since at least as far back as 2009, usually focusing our attention on the fascinating journey of Detroit over the last few years. Of course, Detroit is not the only city where buildings have been neglected, where places have been abandoned. And the U.S. is not the only country to have its map spotted with such places. The blog fuckyeahghosttowns takes the reader all around the world, from an abandoned motel near Los Angeles to an earthquake ravaged town in Sicily. As with the latter, not all of these images are of places left destitute as a result of the most recent economic downturn. Many, though, do have in common the fact that they were left to wither because of some change on the face of the economy over the last century. Towns built up to cater to one burgeoning development, left to die when our fancies change course. Many of the images are accompanied by the back story that led to the unique place in time when the photo was snapped.
Though there are no people in these images, I for one cannot help but see human faces all over them. After all, it’s clear that these places were made for us. How can you not wonder where all the people who once lived, slept, played, worked, and ate at each of these places have gone?
Related: “Turning Suffering into a Still Life,” “Fallen City with a Heart of Gold,” and “The Problem with Documentary Photography of Urban Decay”
Image by ctsnow, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/22/2011 11:28:51 AM
In this continuing series,
Art Director Stephanie Glaros explains the
process behind an
For the article “If You Make It Mandatory, They Will Have to
Come,” I thought we could have a bit of fun while highlighting the idea of
making voting mandatory to combat low voter turnout. “Fun” and “politics” are
two things that William Brown excels at with his illustrations. His modern
digital-scratchboard style lends itself to a huge variety of topics, which is
why I’ve chosen to work with him many times over the past five years. Another
great thing about Bill is the number of sketches he provides me. Most artists
give me two or three, but with Bill I’ve come to expect a half dozen or more
different options. And I LOVE options! Below are a few of my favorites for
Since its inception in 1984,
has relied on talented artists to create original
images for stories that express powerful emotions, brilliant new ideas, and
humorous storytelling. Browsing through back issues of
is like a tour of “Who’s Who”
in the illustration world. Artists like Gary Baseman, Brad Holland, Anita Kunz,
Bill Plympton, and Seymour Chwast have graced our pages over the years, to name
just a few.
6/16/2011 4:15:51 PM
Aphorisms about the virtues of sports are a common refrain of American boyhood. Sports, grown men preach, are necessary to teach “good sportsmanship” and how to be a “team player.” Sports encourage you to put forward your “best effort,” to develop “self-discipline,” gain positive character traits (fairness, grace under pressure, graciousness when winning/losing) even as you master new physical skills. But, despite this sententious view, haven't you sometimes wondered—given the actual evidence—whether sports really make a positive difference to boys striving toward manhood?
A new exhibition currently up (through August 7) at the Andy Warhol Museum of Art in Pittsburgh raises questions about the true meaning of sports to males and about what sports reveal about maleness. Called “Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports,” the show features works by 17 artists—including Matthew Barney, Catherine Opie, Collier Schorr, and Sam Taylor-Wood—who look at how sports affects the social construction and coding of masculinity in our society. If these artists’ investigations are to be believed, sports may play a far less beneficial, much more complex role in the development of a boy’s character than common wisdom would have us believe.
Consider first a main theme of the show: The cockiness (in all senses of the word) of the typical male athlete. The painting "Receiver" (2002) by Marcelino Gonçalves, for instance, depicts a mirthfully self-assured young football player kneeling on a sideline or during practice. Painted with exaggerated, cartoonish features, the figure looks like a howling wolf from a 1942 MGM cartoon—full of predatory bluster, manly unabashedness, and braggadocio enabled by his position on the football field. (The fact that the title of the work is a randydouble entendre doesn’t hinder this impression.) And while Gonçalves exaggerates this character to make a point, the sex-starved look is familiar. It has appeared in thousands of images of male athletes through the years. Hank Willis Thomas's wall piece "Something to Stand on: The Third Leg" (2007), meanwhile, is a visual one-liner that goes one step further in portraying this attitude toward sex. A version of the famous silhouette image of the “Jumpman”—a spread-legged Michael Jordan leaping for the basket used to promote Air Jordan products—it differs from the original in one particular: Thomas's image has a full third leg extending down from the figure's crotch. This is the leg that male athletes strive to plant on the ground, Thomas suggests, as soon as they reach stardom.
None of this is news to any boy who grew up in America, playing and watching sports. During my own boyhood afternoons spent out on an endless succession on diamonds, pitches, gridirons, and courts, I watched girls pining after the star players, and I watched that power go straight to many a young head. The sense of an athletic boy’s sexual expectation is on blatant display in another work, “Josh” (2007) by photographer Catherine Opie. The subject is a high school boy at summer football camp. His shoulder pads are wide. His yellow practice jersey is pulled up, revealing a fleshy, sweaty belly. But it is the look on Josh’s face that reveals a conquistador’s attitude that is present in many male athletes. This may come because it takes testosterone-fueled aggression and pent up anger to create a winning athlete. Whatever the cause, Josh's look is of confident sexual intensity and angry aggression that is jarringly incongruent to his age. To ensure we get the point, Opie has cut off the image at the bottom just below the boy’s crotch. In place of where his sexual parts would be are the tops of his hands, provocatively gripping a football as a warrior would grip a sword (or as a... well, you get the picture). All in all, this image seethes with a reckless male sexual energy.
Following fast upon its depictions of male sexuality, "Mixed Signals" further explores the recklessness, aggression, and violence of the male athlete as an opposite side of the same coin. The figure portrayed in photographer Collier Schorr's "Anonymous Cowboy" (2008) could be cousin to Opie's Josh, except now the young man is decked out for a rodeo showdown. His hat is pulled low over his eyes, his hands and wrists are carefully taped up, and his shoulders are buckled into a harness. He still seethes with sexuality, but now it is more menacing, more poised. This athlete's nether area, so on display in "Josh," is now covered by one of the cowboy's tools of battle—a gnarled old leather glove, lashed to his chaps and at the ready for when he meets his bullish opponent. Could there be a better metaphor for the sex-violence connection than a young cowboy about to meet his bull? Hank Willis Thomas continues this theme with his photograph "Scarred Chest" (2003), in which an athlete's bare torso reveals nine Nike swoosh marks. The scars seem to mark his chest as ace World War II pilots marked their planes with symbols for each enemy aircraft shot down. So too does Shaun El C. Leonardo hint at the war-like qualities of male sports with his installation "Bull in the Ring" (2008). Here, eleven disembodied helmeted heads hover over the gallery in a kind of poised huddle. The scene looks like a futuristic, robotic death-match waiting to begin.
All of these works ring with a simple truth. Rather than encourage men to develop positive traits, sports often empower male athletes to be their worst selves. Over more than eight years of nearly year-round participation in sports, I witnessed anger, aggression, and poor sportsmanship more often than the promised character building. John Thorn, baseball's official historian, recently concurred, writing about his own experiences with boyhood sports on his blog, Our Game: "Like all games, as I was later to learn, they provided early instruction in the rules of adult society: mimicking its rules of inclusion and exclusion, sublimating its rites of war, and creating a bazaar of barter and status." My own, more recent observation of adult athletes confirms Thorn’s impression. That is, by the time boys become adult male athletes like Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and Plaxico Burress their characters are often damaged by the noxious influence of sports.
As to the question why male athletes are so afflicted, it’s not necessarily an artists’ duty to answer. Yet, as it happens, “Mixed Signals” does provide one intriguing clue. A final centerpiece of the exhibition is the July 29 screening of avant-garde filmmaker Hellmuth Costard’s 1970 film, Soccer as Never Before [Fussball wie noch nie]. To make the film, Costard employed eight 16-mm cameras during a football match between Manchester United and Coventry to follow the actions—through warm-ups, game play, and final whistle—of arguably the sport’s best, most charismatic player at the time, Man U’s George Best. A unique experiment—at least until a similar film did much the same with Algerian-French footballer Zinedine Zidane in 2006—the focus on the 24-year-old Best, whose shaggy moptop of dark hair and sharp-cut chin made him a national sex symbol, reveals how isolated and human are sports stars when they are not the center of game action. In the film, there are large swaths of time when Best, the star of his team, is away from the ball. For most of the film, in fact, through a 90-minute match, Best stands, walks, trots, and watches, waiting for the ball to come in his proximity. He touches the ball a cumulative total of perhaps 45 or 50 seconds. In his isolation, Best’s sense of expectation is palpable; this is a man who craves attention, who wants to be the focal point for the cheers of thousands of adoring fans. At the game’s halftime, as if to further emphasize his craving for attention, the camera follows the footballer into the innards of a stadium on some other day (this is an after-thought bit of continuity, as Best is bearded in this scene, and clean-shaven during the game). In a small utility room, Best stops and regards the camera for an uncomfortably long moment, gazing into the lens like a temperamental movie star, doing his best to smoulder for the filmmaker.
In the brief moments of action that involve Best, his efforts are pretty to see. In the second half, he displays bursts of dazzling quickness and wild improvisational ability while scoring one goal and assisting in another (Man U won the match, 2-0).
Interestingly, in the thick of my own middling involvement in sports at age 10 (playing AYSO soccer in suburban California in 1976), I met George Best. He was a shadow of his magnificent younger self, no longer playing at the top of his sport and relegated to earning an paycheck from theLos Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League (a team, oddly enough, part-owned by Elton John), but he still had a glow about him that appealed to the gathered crowd of kids. What I didn’t know then, in my childhood innocence, was Best at that time was struggling with some nasty personal demons. Always a notorious playboy, Best was becoming known more and more for his excessive drinking. After I met him, Best would be married and divorced twice, would father two children out of wedlock, and would be accused by one wife of domestic violence. In his post-playing career, his drinking got him constant into legal and personal trouble, and eventually, after liver transplants to treat severe liver damage, he would die at age 59.
It is difficult to reconcile the troubled adult soccer star with the polite, handsome athlete who greeted a ragtag bunch of 1970s suburban soccer kids. It’s also troubling to imagine the sparkling and vibrant young star of Soccer As Never Before as a violent and troubled abuser of alcohol. But that's the ironically dual nature of male sports that artists are intent to explore in "Mixed Signals." In view of these artists, male athletes are as much stars as they plain humans full of foibles like sexual aggression, anger, violence, and self-destruction. In the end, the images that emerge from "Mixed Signals" are of men who are flawed, lonely creatures.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts
Photo Credits (in order of their appearance):
Marcelino Gonçalves, Receiver, 2002, Collection of Marcia Goldenfeld Maiten and Barry Maiten, Los Angeles
Hank Willis Thomas, Something to Stand on: The Third Leg, 2007, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Catherine Opie, Josh, 2007, Courtesy the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Collier Schorr, Anonymous Cowboy, 2008, Courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery
Hank Willis Thomas, Scarred Chest, 2003, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New YorkShaun El C. Leonardo, Bull in the Ring, 2008, Courtesy the artist and Praxis International Art, New York
6/15/2011 12:29:45 PM
Have a shocking, injustice-exposing statistic that you want to share with your neighborhood? Thanks to arty designer Golan Levin, it’s now easier than ever. That is, if you’re willing to put on a black stocking-cap and go spray paint your activist data onto private property.
Levin created a downloadable, customizable stencil called “Infoviz” that resembles a pie chart-style infographic. Infoviz comes with an adjustable dial (to change the pie graph’s percentage) and an alphabet (to say what you need to say). Although the stencil is meant to be laser cut from a piece of acrylic, at a minimum you’ll need a large piece of cardboard, a bolt and wing-nut set, and some scotch tape. Then you can get all Banksy on that new Pew study.
Images courtesy of Golan Levin.
6/9/2011 12:51:42 PM
Boredom is still a driving—semi-popular even—force in art. Just look to the wide acclaim bestowed on Terrence Malick’s latest slow-burning film, Tree of Life, or David Foster Wallace’s epitomic The Pale King, a novel about (among other things) American tax law. But there is also a long-standing, all-or-nothing divide between those who seek out art at its most arduous and those who crave entertainment at its emptiest. The disagreement resembles a stalemate trench war, with intellectual critics and cultural arbiters pontificating on the importance of high-and-boring art against the masses that spend $186 million (so far) to guffaw through Hangover Part II. Of late, the snobs are fighting back—a courageous defense of boring art.
Just like eating a pile of wax beans and cauliflower, getting enough cultural vegetables can make you healthy and nauseous at the same time. Writing for New York Times Magazine, Dan Kois describes his love-hate relationship with high art:
As a viewer whose default mode of interaction with images has consisted, for as long as I can remember, of intense, rapid-fire decoding of text, subtext, metatext and hypertext, I’ve long had a queasy fascination with slow-moving, meditative drama. Those are the kinds of films dearly loved by the writers, thinkers and friends I most respect, so I, too, seek them out; I usually doze lightly through them; and I often feel moved, if sleepy, afterward. But am I actually moved? Or am I responding to the rhythms of emotionally affecting cinema? Am I laughing because I get the jokes or because I know what jokes sound like?
Boredom isn’t supposed to be fun or easy, but it can be progressive and rewarding. “I’m saying that boredom is a productive and indeed revolutionary force, by the way,” writes Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, “not that its results are always or everywhere pleasant.” O’Hehir is writing specifically about cinematography, but his case can be made just as well for literature, visual arts, or independent music. Hehir sees his fellow critics’ frustration as systemic:
I think what gets critics all het up about contemporary culture from time to time is the sense that the tyranny or hegemony of entertainment has pushed boredom so far into the margins that it’s no longer available, or at least not in the density or quality required to produce cultural revolutions. What we have instead is the meta-boredom of a pop culture that’s all bells and whistles all the time, can’t be switched off and watches us while we’re watching it, rather too much like the telescreens of Orwell’s 1984.
In a joint rant, New York Times’film critics A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis largely agree: Scott argues that the entire movie business is geared to maintain the “corporate status quo” of Hollywood and asserts “the primary purpose of movies is to provide entertainment, that the reason everyone goes to the movies is to have fun,” while Dargis scoffs at the assumption that moviegoers find that “thinking is boring.”
But, really, it’s not thinking that’s boring, but life. Ultimately, all of the aforementioned critics are taking issue with bald escapism—and O’Hehir pins down the crux of the high-versus-low divide in a few short sentences:
What remains of aristocratic high culture in the art-house tradition really does embody some of the finest aesthetic values of the post-Renaissance West, but it can also be a masochistic and exclusionary ritual, like Odysseus tied to the mast and listening to the Sirens sing. What is boring? A lot of human life is boring, and we’ve all got to pick our poison. Most people, most of the time, prefer to be distracted from the boredom of everyday life with movies that labor to entertain them—and they may get understandably pissed off at those of us who claim that those things, too, are boring.
Sources: New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Salon
The images are screen-stills from Hangover Part II and Meek’s Crossing.
6/8/2011 11:01:53 AM
Criticizing any aspect of hip-hop culture is a task fraught with danger. If you’re white, you might be called a racist. If you’re black, you might be called Bill Cosby. And if you’re over 30, you might just be called old.
Author Thomas Chatterton Williams—30 years old, black, and a fan of hip-hop music—is unafraid to enter the fray. His book Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, recently released in paperback, lays down a strong critique of the disturbing messages behind the beats. Marc Smirnoff of the Oxford American interviewed Williams in a Q&A with the baiting title “Is Hip-Hop Evil?”
Williams contends that thug-life fantasies are sold because they are profitable commodities—follow the money, follow the money—not because they capture the totality of the black experience. These fantasies distort reality in order to confuse children and get their money—in so doing, hip-hop is toying with heavy consequences.
Here are some of Williams’ most provocative lines from the interview:
• “[In hip-hop] the material side of life has been so overemphasized, so glorified over the intangible, over the intellectual, over the spiritual, even over the artistic. This is a shame. This is why Jay-Z can say, ‘I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars’ and his listeners, far from being offended, actually respect him all the more for it!”
• “So many have been taught to define themselves and one another as niggas and bitches, thugs, goons, hustlers, pimps, dealers, gangstas, hoodlums … If you believe, as I do, that how you describe and present yourself has any correlation with how you feel about yourself, then it’s hard not to see some self-hatred going on here.”
• “Even in the upper-middle classes, it’s amazing the degree to which blacks buy into an idea that intellectual development is not cool. … And that is why Barack Obama said we must ‘eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.’ It was incredible that the president had the bravery to address the issue, but he can’t do it alone. Too many of our black academics—and white academics—today are content to spend their time making the case on television that rappers are really our modern-day philosophers and bards. What I wish they would do instead is make the case that all of us should be reading more philosophy and literature.”
Source: Oxford American
Image by Luke Abiol, courtesy of The Penguin Press.
6/7/2011 11:49:56 AM
Scott Weaver’s sculpture Rolling through the Bay is made up of 100,000 toothpicks; 3,000 work hours over 35 years; and an unwavering, buoyant love for the city of San Francisco. (Plus lots and lots of Elmer’s glue.)
The amazingly detailed kinetic sculpture, which stands 9 feet tall, 7 feet wide, and 30 inches deep, includes multiple ping-pong-ball paths that wind past San Francisco’s most beloved landmarks and neighborhoods—the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, The Castro, and more.
You have to see Rolling through the Bay in action to appreciate Weaver’s craftsmanship, as well as his quirky, enthusiastic joy in creating each inch. Watch a video of him giving a tour of the piece, below, or see it on display at The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco until June 19.
Source: The Tinkering Studio
Image courtesy of Fubiz.
6/6/2011 11:16:08 AM
As you scroll down your Facebook news feed, you see a yellow-tinged photograph: a beach scene, the water green and foamy, mom and dad half-asleep on a purple beach towel, throngs of people just out of focus. The photo looks like a family outing that happened 30 prior, but in reality it was taken two hours ago. Before it was uploaded from a smartphone, the photographer altered the image with a retro-camera application to make it look like it was snapped on a finicky, analog camera. The confluence of social media, thirst for nostalgia, powerful palm computing, and heightened individual self-importance, argues Nathan Jurgenson at OWNI, has created a surprising bubble in faux-vintage photography.
Applications like Hipstamatic and Instagram manipulate digital images in a number of ways once championed by darkroom hobbyists and toy-camera enthusiasts; they can, at the swipe of a finger, “fade the image (especially at the edges), adjust the contrast and tint, over- or under-saturate the colors, blur areas to exaggerate a very shallow depth of field, add simulated film grain, scratches and other imperfections and so on.” The washed-out sheen of a Polaroid, the double-exposed ghostliness of a hand-wound lomography camera, and the supernatural hues of expired film have changed from quirky effects to “filters.” “[P]hotos in their Hipstamatic form,” writes Jurgenson, “have become more vintage than vintage; they exaggerate the qualities of the idea of what it is to be vintage and are therefore hyper-vintage.”
Jurgenson fits the popularity of retro-camera apps into Susan Sontag’s “poet and scribe” theory, first posited in On Photography, her collection of essays published in 1977. He explains, “[W]hen taking a photograph we are at once both poets and scribes; a point that I have used to describe our self-documentation on social media: we are both telling the truth about our lives as scribes, but always doing so creatively like poets.” More than a time capsule, Hipstamatic allows us to rewrite history in real time—or at least edit it—as we see fit. “And, ultimately,” Jurgenson continues, “all of this goes well beyond the faux-vintage photo; the momentary popularity of the Hipstamatic-style photo serves to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past.”
The apps themselves are most popular in the realm of social networking, a place where trends are born and die in a flash. “Most damming for Hipstamatic and Instagram is that these apps tend to make everyone’s photos look similar,” Jurgenson concludes,
In an attempt to make oneself look distinctand special through the application of vintage-producing filters, we are trending towards photos that look the same. The Hipstamatic photo was new and interesting, is currently a fad, and it will come to (or, already has?) look too posed, too obvious, and trying too hard (especially if the parents of the current users start to post faux-vintage photos themselves).
Images by braddodaddo, bedrocan, gogoloopie, and british.chris, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/3/2011 5:40:21 PM
One of the Seventies’ most celebrated auteurs, the enigmatic Terrence Malick is notorious for his stingy filmography. Until now, and since releasing Badlands in 1973, a contemplative meditation on obsessive love and true crime, the director has only made three other films: the visually stunning Days of Heaven in 1978; 1998’s The Thin Red Line, still the most poetic treatment of the psychological casualties of modern warfare; and, just three years ago, The New World, a lush, painstaking examination of explorer John Smith. Which is why the relatively quick arrival of Tree of Life, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival, not only comes as a pleasant surprise, but makes one wonder if the 67-year-old director senses that time knows no respect for a slow-moving muse. News that his next project is set to begin production in 2012 only fuels that hope.
Regardless, Malick’s latest is his most ambitious and emotionally rewarding. A hypnotic treatise on the spiritual tension that springs from our physical and philosophical interactions with creation, Tree of Life requires audiences to not only engage on an intellectual level rarely evoked in the modern cineplex, but its languorous pace and dreamy aesthetic both encourages and allows viewers to engage in real-time self reflection. In fact, attempting to describe the film’s “plot” or its potent aftertaste seems as futile as it does difficult, if only because the viewing experience will vary so radically for each audience member. Tree of Life’s power depends on whether or not its hallucinogenic tone, sparse dialogue, and raw emotional terrain succeed in animating each viewer’s inner voice (or voices).
This sort of experience demands concentration, which is why it will be fascinating to watch how domestic audiences respond to the film on opening weekend, and why it was so smart to screen its regional premiere at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. A string quartet couldn’t have expected a more attentive or carefully attuned crowd; appropriate, given that the film’s overall affect more closely resembles the all-consuming embrace of a live musical performance.
Malick’s wife Alexandra Wallace, who later revealed that Tree of Life was the favorite of her husband’s films, introduced the movie, along with co-producer Bill Pohlad (Brokeback Mountain) and actress Jessica Chastain, who enjoyed wide critical claim for her turn in the title role in the Los Angeles’ Wadsworth Theatre production of Salome.
Chastain’s presence proved to be especially apropos.
Tree of Life’s predominant narrative is anchored around the life of a midcentury American family, its tortured patriarch, and three preteen boys lurching toward puberty. The brothers, thanks to a combination of artful editing and pitch-perfect casting, are both believable and haunting. Pitt, save for a scene-nibbling turn now and again, lets his demons burn slowly and gives his fellow performers space to pivot off the tension. But, ultimately, it’s Chastain’s film. As the young mother, she struggles to infuse her household with touches of humanity or, more to the point, a sense of transcendent grace. And it is this struggle and her presence, at times almost ghostly, that most engages and endures.
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