9/25/2009 5:26:35 PM
The new indie film Trash Humpers observes the lives of three fictional cretin-like outcasts who lead filthy and disgusting lives on the margins of society—lives that include, yes, sex with garbage. Is there any redeeming artistic value in this? I doubt I’ll find out, because I probably won’t go see it. (I have other plans.) But the film certainly is already doing what it apparently intended to do: generating heated discussion. In film magazines and blogs, writers are grappling with the unsettling questions that Trash Humpers raises.
Over at IndieWire, Eric Kohn writes that filmmaker Harmony Korine “challenges viewers (those willing to sit through the whole thing, anyway) to deny the movie’s mesmerizing appeal. … Only those compelled by the allure of attempting to comprehend its vulgar tongue-in-cheek appeal will access the fascinating madness beneath its juvenile surface.”
At Cinema Scope, Dennis Lim, in describing the the film’s ultra lo-fi look, proclaims, “Trash Humpers is a proudly cruddy-looking film by an aesthete who understands the power and utility of ugliness.” (Case in point: I was moved to learn about the film after being drawn in by the grotesquely engaging cover of Cinema Scope’s Fall issue.)
And at Variety, frequent Utne Reader contributor Rob Nelson writes, “The result, riveting beyond all rationality, is something like Jackass, except that here the stunts are dangerous only to standards of good taste—which, of course, is precisely the point.”
Sources: IndieWire, Cinema Scope, Variety
9/25/2009 12:55:49 PM
The state mental hospitals of the 19th and early 20th centuries—originally known as “lunatic asylums”—often operated within massive, majestic buildings, most of which are now abandoned or operating at a fraction of their former capacity. Christopher Payne spent several years meticulously photographing 70 of these architectural marvels, and his haunting images are collected in the beautiful new book Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, just out on MIT Press.
“For more than half the nation’s history,” Payne writes, “vast mental hospitals were prominent architectural features on the American landscape. Practically every state could claim to have at least one.”
The location of the hospitals, in the countryside, away from the city, afforded ample privacy and an abundance of land for farming and gardening, which were integral to the patients’ daily regimen of exercise. . . . The grounds provided relief from the indoor sights and sounds of the asylum and also served as a dramatic setting for the buildings, enhancing their grandeur. As visitors to the asylums never penetrated beyond the public lobbies of the administration buildings, it was these spaces and the landscapes that acted as the chief agents of propaganda to exert a positive influence on public perception.
Neurologist-writer Oliver Sacks, who worked for 25 years at Bronx State Hospital (now Bronx Psychiatric Center), pens the book’s introduction, a lively tour through the history of these asylums’ philosophies, inner workings, and patient populations as they shifted over the years.
Source: Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals
Images copyright © Christopher Payne.
9/24/2009 2:37:54 PM
Two years ago, visual artist Collin Sekajugo established an arts center where there weren’t any before: Kigali, Rwanda. The Ivuka Arts Center (ivuka means “rebirth”) provides studio space and workshops, and helps artists “make a living from their art,” Sekajugo tells Peace Review—no easy feat in a country that doesn’t have any art supplies shops or galleries. “We mostly exhibit our art in public buildings, in hotels or in coffee shops—in places where foreigners may go,” Sekajugo says.
Perhaps most surprising is that 15 years after the genocide, Ivuka’s artists tend to avoid the subject. Here’s Sekajugo’s explanation:
Some of our artists address genocide in some works. Most of them don’t though. Some of our artists are genocide survivors, you see. Developing art about the genocide is very hard for them. It’s difficult for viewers too. It elicits bad feelings, feelings of pain, grief, or guilt. Who were the culprits? Or the victims? It creates division. Rather than representing genocide, the artists here would rather paint about reconciliation.
I suppose, if you wanted to, you could read genocide themes into their works. For instance, you could read genocide into this painting of people fleeing. Or you could relate the red color in this abstract painting to blood. Painting directly about genocide is delicate, however. It discourages people from coming to terms with the genocide, from reconciling. People here are very sensitive to these issues and emotions are very raw, especially during commemoration time.
I have a lot of ideas about the genocide that I’d like to put on canvas, but then I think of the repercussions, of how people are going to view it, of how it’s going to affect them. Some people might respond well to it, but others might become emotional, bitter, or angry. Genocide is still a very sensitive subject here, perhaps too sensitive.
The Peace Review interview is not available online, but if you’re at all interested in Rwanda, go out and buy the whole issue (July-September 2009)—it’s packed with essays and reports from that country, and Sekajugo’s interview is just one in a series of chats with artists working on amazing, inspiring projects in post-genocide Rwanda.
Source: Peace Review
Image courtesy of Collin Sekajugo.
9/18/2009 4:14:33 PM
The new issue of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies has arrived in the Utne Reader library, and the work of award-winning editorial cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz graces the cover. Inside, Alcaraz, who is the creator of the syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, talks about his efforts to create images of Obama that would resonate with the Hispanic community during the 2008 campaign:
I was angered by the mainstream/right-wing media's attempt to again divide the brown and black communities by spreading the racist talking point: "Latinos will NOT vote for a black man. ...Obama's national field director Cuauhtemoc Figueroa, who visited forty-two states during the 2008 campaign, reported that he would inevitably find a ... Viva Obama poster in even the most remote Midwestern towns, hanging in the mercado window or an activist's living room. Viva Obama was a grassroots runaway hit. Voters wanted it. Campaign workers distributed it far and wide. Youths would snap cellphone photos of it at my signing events and email the photos to their friends.
9/18/2009 1:15:40 PM
The latest word on the sexual cleansing of Iraq is that militias have been scanning internet chatrooms used by lesbian, gay, and transgendered Iraqis as part of a grotesque and tragic campaign of kidnapping, torture, and murder.
There was an endless parade of celebrities speaking out on behalf of Iraqis in the months leading up to the bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nearly seven years later few raise their voices for the welfare of people in Iraq (not to mention the estimated two million who have fled the violence there).
Enter Antony Hegarty, the achingly beautiful voice of Antony and the Johnsons who posted an article about the killings, followed by a desperate declaration, written in all-caps:
ALLAH TREASURES HIS GAY AND TRANSGENDERED CHILDREN, HIS PRECIOUS HOMOSEXUAL CHILDREN.
JESUS ADORES HIS GAY CHILDREN AND RESERVES A SACRED PLACE FOR THEM IN THE FOLDS OF HIS CLOTHES.
IT IS A SIN TO HURT A GAY OR TRANSGENDERED PERSON. YOU HURT ALLAH WHEN YOU HURT ONE OF THESE MEN OR WOMEN, BOYS OR GIRLS.
Make a tshirt. Tell your friends.
love from Antony, crying
If you want to learn more about the situation for gay and transgendered Iraqis, here are a few resources:
Sexual Cleansing in Iraq (Utne Reader, May-June 2009)
The Sexual Cleansing of Iraq Intensifies (Utne.com, May 5, 2009)
Exterminating Lesbian, Gay, and Transgendered Iraqis (Utne.com, August 17, 2009)
Iraqi LGBT, an organization that publicizes hate crimes in Iraq
They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq, a report published by Human Rights Watch
Source: Antony and the Johnsons
9/17/2009 5:03:46 PM
The proverbial bird sitting on a utility wire. It’s the image that, as the story goes, inspired Leonard Cohen to begin composing the legendary song “Bird on a Wire” in the 1960s. Fast forward 40 years to our present, technology-enabled day, and the iconic avian image is still inspiring musical art. Check out this charming music video on Vimeo by film director/musician Jarbas Agnelli, who interpreted birds sitting on utility wires as “notes” on a “musical staff”—just to discover what song the resting avians were silently singing.
Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.
Source: Jarbas Agnelli’s Vimeo
9/9/2009 5:22:17 PM
The pedestrian reclamation of Times Square in New York City is a good start for the sake of public art, according to Benjamin R. Barber in the Nation. But it’s not enough. To transform the once traffic clogged area into something that can truly be considered “public,” the city must enlist artists, and secure adequate funding. He writes:
Public space is not merely the passive residue of a decision to ban cars or a tacit invitation to the public to step into the street. It must be actively created and self-consciously sustained against the grain of an architecture built as much for machines as people, more for commercial than common use.
Barber points to Chicago’s Millennium Park and Barcelona’s Las Ramblas (with all of its grit) as places that got public art right. New York has the same potential with Times Square, but it’s not there yet.
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9/9/2009 3:56:47 PM
Some people can’t see a place without wanting to sketch it out on paper. The Urban Sketchers, a group of artists founded by Gabriel Campanario, share their visions of the world on their Flickr group and on the blog. The loose affiliations of the artists create a site where pen-and-ink drawings of Madrid will sit comfortably next to watercolor drawings of rural America. Their manifesto states that all of the drawings are made on-site as a truthful representation of what they see. The group recently released a magazine on the self-publishing site Issuu.com, and the first issue is all about cars in cities around the world. The idiosyncrasies of the artists, with their various styles, media, and subjects, make the issue a beautiful and compelling read.
Source: The Urban Sketchers
9/1/2009 1:56:00 PM
The “Wide Right Turn” decals that grace the backs of trucks don’t actually need to be there. They’re simply a courtesy, telling people that the truck makes large turns and that people shouldn’t get too close. There is no government standard for what the signs should look like, so myriad designs will pop up on the backs of trucks around the country: Some are colored and some aren’t, some graphically depict car accidents and some simply say “Caution. Wide Turns.” According to the AIGA design blog, this lack of standardization makes the signs more charming and human, even if they aren’t particularly well designed.
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