Archive for the 'Art' Category

The Carters at the Louvre

Flanööri asked me to write about the new video by the Carters. I am not a fan of their music. I’m completely the wrong person to write about the topic, but that might make this interesting. The song sounds like it follows the common theme of bragging about how much money and stuff the artists have, which I don’t find interesting at all. Of course, all this has very little to do with music and everything to do with the video shot at the Louvre. So, I’ll put the new Death Grips album on and have a closer look at the visuals.

carters 1It begins with a very nice panning shot of the ceiling paintings in the Galerie d’Apollon. They look great in fancy lighting. We get a few close-ups of paintings I do not recognize, and then move to the Mona Lisa room with the Carters. They are dressed wonderfully throughout the video and play their part as celebrity royalty very well.

They change into white costumes and there is a wonderful shot of the Nike staircase with dancers lying on the stairs. Then, there is dancing, tilted shots of a few paintings and a bit more ceiling art. And many shots of the Carters who look very defiant in most of them.carters 2

There is more dancing and singing in front of Napoleon’s coronation, Nike and the Sphinx. There is a quick shot of David’s Sabine Women, after which the Carters take another meaningful look at the camera. I don’t know what they are trying to convey, but they look like they mean business.

carters 4Overall, there are not that many instances where our stars interact with the paintings and sculptures in a meaningful way, but I do get some of the points Sarah Huny Young writes about in her piece in Elle: that blackness is an art form in the video. There are a few shots where we see people mimicking the actions of statues, and a strange image of a man standing on a horse that somehow reproduces a Géricault painting. The latter looks interesting, because it obviously carnivalizes the original image of a Napoleonic officer. The man’s clothing mimics the stars and stripes, he’s wearing a cowboy hat, and he is standing on his horse. It would probably be my favorite image in the video were it not for another one that occurs a bit earlier.

carters 3It’s another David, his Portrait of Madame Récamier. Reclining on the floor under the painting, dressed in headgear that echoes the madame’s dress, are two women who also seem to recreate the symmetry of the strange sofa of the painting. There is a morbid parody of the painting by Magritte where the madame has been replaced by a coffin. I would have loved to have seen it in the background instead of the original. In any case, the Neoclassical dress and general setting of the image point to an idealized version of Ancient Greece, the socialite madame to contemporary ideals of beauty. The two ladies point to something else.

The Carters’s strange poses, defiance, intentional vulgarity (the song is called “Apeshit”) and all the rest of it seem to be aimed at creating a new standard of beauty through a commentary on European aesthetics. The plan still rests on the tradition it criticizes, but the critique does remind us of everything that has contributed to it, and of the fact that it’s still an ongoing tradition. The pieces in the Louvre are not preserved in the past. They are here with us in the present.

I guess that’s what I take home from this: aesthetics is never a theoretical exercise and always entangled with history. To quote Death Grips: “It’s a shitshow.”

What Is It Like to Teach a Course on Nihilism?

nothingnessI noticed some time ago that my Kindle was filling up with books on nihilism. These were mostly related to philosophy and literature. The philosophical works covered topics like anti-natalism and suicide. The literary studies discussed a range of literature from French existentialists to Lovecraft. Among my books I found the following:

There were a lot more. It was interesting to see so many books, many of them quite recent, discuss the meaninglessness of life. Some of them analyzed nihilism into different kinds or types: theological nihilism, political nihilism, semantic nihilism, epistemological, alethiological, metaphysical or ontological, ethical or moral, existential or axiological nihilism. Oddly enough, what I thought was a taboo subject had become the centerpiece of modern philosophy and art. Nihilism also showed a surprising taxonomical richness. If life really was meaningless, it seemed like this fact was immensely interesting and meaningful to a lot of people.

There is a history of nihilism in literature as well and it can be traced for the purposes of an English literature course. Many works have to be excluded, but that always happens. One can begin with the decadents and the fin de siecle hellraisers, go through Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, Faulkner and Beckett. One can read popular writers like H.P. Lovecraft, William Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, and the more recent American Psychos and Fight Clubs. And one can end with the criticism of David Foster Wallace and the dystopian glory of Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Ligotti. That’s precisely what we did.

The history traced the ways in which artists and thinkers dealt with the disenchantment created by modernity. Again, immensely interesting and meaningful works of literature. Going through this rich vein of bleak poetry and prose, students often began their comments with “I know nothing really matters, but …” One could see Western thought turning in on itself, trying to wiggle itself out of the abstract hell it had knotted itself into. We knew something like that would happen, but it was nevertheless fascinating to witness. There are two more lessons to go and that’s a shame, because it has been one of the most rewarding courses I have taught in my almost ten years of teaching literature. Something can come from nothing. Quite a lot, actually.

Romances I-V

A while back, I tried to write something about the paintings in the Tate Modern, but it was very frustrating to try to find something to say about paintings that seemed to represent the mechanistic silence of modernity. As a result I decided to write little romantic scenes under them which have something (or at times very little) to do with the artworks themselves. They came out alright, I think. Here’s a list of those five little pieces.

(1) Kandinsky
(2) Warhol
(3) Léger
(4) Pollock
(5) Rothko

It would be nice to see them staged, but as they are just pointless fragments intended to create a contrast with obscure Modernist paintings there’s little chance of that. As they stand, it is enough they trigger a vague memory of a vague experience.

Rothko

I tried to think of something to say about Mark Rothko‘s stuff, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance V

[At an art gallery]
T: It does seem like this is beyond me, or that we are beyond art.
U: ‘We are beyond art?’ That sounds good.
T: Because it makes us sound all mysterious and advanced beyond the comprehension of a concept of art dreamt up by our forefathers?
U: No, it just sounds good after ‘beyond me’ because there’s a kind of symmetry to the statement, that either-or thing.
T: There’s also that generalization, that jump from ‘me’ to ‘we.’
U: True.
[Pause]
U: Do you think there’ll be something better after this?
T: In the next room, you mean? I saw some interesting photographs and posters when we passed the entrance.
U: After whatever it is we are experiencing and seeing in that painting?
T: Why can’t you just enjoy the colors? You are thinking way too much.
U: It makes me feel stupid if I don’t!
T: You do have to learn to be quiet at some point, even if it makes you think you are stupid. Maybe that’s what the painting is telling you.
U: Quiet?
T: Painting’s a dead form anyway.
U: Everything else had already been said.
T: It is simple for a reason.
U: What’s left?
T: Well, there’s us.
U: We aren’t beyond that.
[Kiss]

Pollock

I tried to think of something to say about Jackson Pollock‘s later stuff, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia


A Romance IV

[Two people facing a masterpiece]
W: What the hell is that?
G: A masterpiece, it says here.
W: It does not open up that well for a masterpiece, does it? Maybe it will get better as we continue to observe it.
G: Adhuc tranquillum est, sed expecta paulum.
W: What?
G: It’s Latin.
W: Oh?
[Pause]
W: You know, what we see and hear is not that much in the end. In fact, you could say that we are blind and deaf and that what we can sense is just the result of an absence of blindness and deafness.
G: You could say that, but you’d have to be a moron to believe it makes any difference.
W: I know. Still, it gives you a nice tingle in your spine to think that sort of thing out loud, doesn’t it? Sort of shake things up a bit and say that because A is dependent on B in some way there must be a shared identity between them and then substitute B for A in whatever you say next because of this residue of identity?
G: It does.
[Pause]
W: You still think it’s a crap painting, don’t you?
G: Let’s wait here for a while. Maybe it will start growing on us.
W: It sure looks like it wants to. It’s like . . .
G: Rhizomatic?
W: Yes.
[G and W hold hands]

Léger

I tried to think of something to say about Fernand Léger, his films and art, but I couldn’t think of anything. (He wrote some stuff about art himself and that’ll help anyone interested to learn more.) Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings of beer.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance III

[Man on a mall escalator going down, speaking on the phone]
M: Yeah, he went nuts, completely nuts.
P: . . .
M: He went completely nuts!
P: . . .
M: Totally!
P: . . .
M: Well, he didn’t go completely nuts, but you could tell he was excited.
P: . . .
M: I don’t know. It makes everything seem livelier. You do understand that if we were left with the bare essentials our lives would appear to us as empty and meaningless as they really are.
P: . . .
M: In a way it’s a question of metaphysics. Where are you, you sound like you’re close by.
P: . . .
M: I like the stuff he did with the band more than his solo stuff. There you are!
P: You got everything? Here, smell this. She says it’s got real amber in it.
M: Couldn’t find the peanuts, but I got everything else. That’s a bit rich.
P: Once it dries it should have nice base notes, once the citrus from the top dies down. It’s pretty expensive and the middle florals are a bit too sweet, but after an hour it’ll be just right, I just know it. I think I’ll try it out for a few days. Do you like it?
M: I love the way you smell. I would love you whatever you smelled like.
P: No you wouldn’t.
[Shop keeper talks inanely]
[Kiss]

[Phil Collins]

Warhol

I tried to think of something to say about Warhol’s art, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I wrote this little scene under one of his paintings.

Source: Wikipedia

A Romance II

[Leather couch creaks]
P: Doctor, I suffer from insomnia. I can’t sleep and when I’m awake I’m so tired I’m not really awake. My work suffers, my relationships suffer, and I think I might be losing my mind. I’m afraid to talk to people because I fear my words will come out as madness when I’m like this. And there’s this noise in my head.
D: Well, take drugs. That’s what everybody does.
P: I know, but I don’t want to do what everyone else does. I find the idea of drugs repulsive. It would make me something I’m not and substitute my true self with chemicals. I can’t lose that, my personality, my soul. However difficult this problem is, I still want to be me.
D: Do you realize that you have not uttered a single phrase without referring to yourself? Maybe you should get rid of your current true self. I think it is an absolute bore.
P: Sorry. Let’s try something else, then.
D: What do you want to do?
P: Can’t do anything, really. Too agitated to sleep, too tired to work or think. It’s hellish.
D: Come now, surely hell is worse than this.
P: I said ‘hellish’, mind the ‘ish’.
D: Ah, excuse me. You are not suicidal, are you?
P: No. Couldn’t be bothered.
D: Homicidal?
P: Don’t be silly.
D: Amorous?
P: I thought you’d never ask.
[Leather couch creaks]
[Kiss]
[Song of birds through an open window and fade]