Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Dada Factory Humanitarian Division: Teaching Film in Palestine!

All's been quiet on the productivity front for this boy. Last time you heard a peep from me about work it was either my job as mobile teacher with the 337 Project's Art Truck or back with the Tale of Don Giovanni. I've been busy, here and there, ever since, but it's time for another big project, which I'm very pleased to announce.

I'm going for 3 months to teach film in Palestine as a volunteer with Project Hope. This is a culmination of several personal goals of mine that stretch so very far back to the last time I was in the Middle East, the summer of 2006, in Egypt. Also embedded in this trip are my desires to use the mediums tentatively under my control to do some good and spread ideas, stories, and information worth hearing about, in this case through film. I'm a little leery of the role a documentarian holds, the recorder of other people's stories, it seems to walk a fine line between authorship and ownership, I'm attracted to other ways.

The premise of my project in Palestine is simple: Give kids cameras, let them tell their stories. If that particular mission rings a bell, it's with good reason. I've always been inspired by co-SLC'er Geralyn Dreyfous' Kids with Cameras project, most well known for their involvement in the excellent movie Born into Brothels. Then there's my co-conspiritor John Schafer, of Children's Media Workshop, who goes around with the audacity to use cameras to make education fun. I'd be working with these folks, hopefully, and following in their footsteps, but in a whole different direction.

Palestine's a hard place to get your head around, harder still to articulate, and often divided along contentious ideological lines that go back generations and even epochs. I hope to do a little good while I'm there, make some friends with Jews and Arabs, and learn a ton.

I'll be living in the City of Nablus, north of Jerusalem, entirely Arabic speaking, surrounded by Israeli checkpoints. The city has a beautiful, warrenous old city Kasbah and sits in the hills, it's a mix of humming contemporary development and impoverished decrepitude.

via Velvetart

Unemployment is at 60%, as high as 80% in the refugee camps I'd be teaching in. I'm excited to explore there, this image search has a smattering of relevant pictures. Notice, even in the rhetoric and claims behind those images, how ideologically contentious this area is.

My goals: To enable students to capture aspects of their situation, stories, and lives on camera in a skilled and watchable manner.
My teaching will have an emphasis on narrative, clarity, and image control, with very little agenda when it comes to content or message. If the youth I work with want to write a screenplay and execute it to practice their English they can, if they want to do stop frame animation or mini-documentaries we'll go in that direction. I'll encourage it all. Due to the social and political climate in Palestine my lesson plan in the program will be very flexible, but my goal is to enable a few kids to get their images out, both through blogs/youtube/social media and hopefully through international children's film festivals.

It is important for underprivileged youth to be connected with the world at large and to be able to express their perspective in a creative, compelling manner. This has the benefit of giving the youth a constructive outlet for frustrations and creative energy. In teaching students how to construct a comprehensible film narrative you also build their analytical and communication skills across the board, while allowing them to invest, explore, and break rules.

After the production-based learning experiences, the product of these explorations can be published on a variety of scales. All of which inform the external world about a situation whose media coverage is typically biased, glossed over, dehumanized, or distanced. Further, Internet access is one of the few amenities Palestinians have, it should be used to its maximum capacity both as a connector and a validation for the youth.

In any case, it'll be quite the experience, I'm incredibly excited and looking forward to it. If you're in Salt Lake I'll be having a going away party on the 16th of December at the Salt Lake Art Center:

Music, food, fun. The race before'll be cold and great. I'll maybe play a scene or two from "Paradise Now" and maybe some film stuff I've done. I'll be raffling off two of my bikes to raise money for the trip too, more info soon :).

If you feel so inclined, you can even donate to the project through the sidebar on the right, I'd really appreciate it.If you're not the money type you can make a music mix to speed me along my way, or bring food/snacks/drinks to the party at the Art Center.
Read More......

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go To Hell: New Theater from... a New Theater.

Go To Hell. A flippant condemnation, and a preview of things to come. There's lots of skin-deep but fiery anger behind the first production from The New Works Theater Machine, and a whole lot more to behold.

The New Works Theater Machine occupies a black box theater nestled in that delicious space, the Pickle Factory. Its ambitions are to push new ground in storytelling and to break away from conventional theater. In fact, Go To Hell's writer/director Jeremy Catterton seems to shudder at the very word 'theater.' He prefers other pseudonyms for live performance. One can support his claim, in a way, because he and his crew are certainly throwing a lot at you.

The play chews up and re-imagines the Myth of Orpheus, a classic tale of love and descent into the depths of hell. It does so with sprightly, rapid-fire dialog and snappy shifts between deeply energetic emotional drama, a kind of lounge comedy, sensational horror, and tiny interludes of multimedia revery. That variety, set in a contemporary frame story of a love gone sour, twists the audience's neck and keeps us very entertained, true to the Greek roots. The vodka-swilling, trash talking, motorcycling Charon (John Kuehne) steals the show with his Bar-room brooklynite attitude and drunken tirades. Equally impressive are the nightmarish sequences of Hades and his Shades who, with the help of consistently creepy performances and nerve-jangling special effects, do justice on a very small budget to the kinds of shocks horror films have desensitized us to.

Where the show falters is with the frame story between Orpheus (Tyson Brett) and Eurydice (Rhiannon Ross). This tale of two lovers, I speculate, is intended to invoke in the viewer an emotional push-pull between the prison that banal love places us in and the infuriating depth to which we are invested in those normal agonies of human relationship. The clever dialog of matrimonial loathing seems targeted towards the interpersonal hells and suffering we create in failed relationships. The problem is the audience isn't given much to invest in. The setup for Brett and Ross' relationship is short and almost effective, but they so quickly degenerate into hateful, scathing tirades toward one another that their characters become two dimensional. The lead woman in particular is given a pretty difficult task to overcome, as her character direction seems to allow her only operate within the predictable and uncreative confines of over-the-top-anger, over-the-top-fear, and over-the-top...domesticity, if such a thing is even possible.

Further, the basis on which the lead relationship is defined seems so incredibly vague (issues with jobs, material concerns like countertops and mortgages) that rather than being examining or critical of a mainstream existence they simply appear unimaginative and uncompelling. Further compelling dramatic chances are missed when Eurydice's ultimate betrayal of Orpheus isn't confronted by either character, leaving us with merely suffering of the flesh. For an ambitious drama about the infinite hells we create between us, there's a simplicity to the drama that seems unambitious.

All in all, I would and will go to this play again. It provides an impressive conflux of genres and stories, its dialog dazzles, and the laughs and terror are genuine. Further, this is the first work of a fledgling theater company, they did a damn good job, and if anything the nit-picky specificity of my criticisms show how well-executed the company really was. They got me invested enough to deal with sub-textual flaws, rather than being embarrassed into silence on the show's behalf.

Go watch it, it's running Thursdays and Weekends through December 18th.
Read More......

A Conflicted Radiance A new film on Jean-Michel Basquiat

by Davey Davis
Originally Published in 15 Bytes.
Of the people who know the childlike, energy-filled, and massively busy works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, most are familiar with the orbiting cautionary tale of success and the art market which consumed and destroyed him, as typified in the 1996 eponymous Hollywood film.

The newly released The Radiant Child contributes an excellent human dimension to that story, a sad portrait of the artist which praises the depth of his work and examines the subjects of his struggles. It is crafted lovingly: bright, lively edits and grainy hand-held film give it an intimate touch, a rarity. One of the great resources of the film is director Tamra Davis' raw interview with Basquiat reflecting candidly on his situation. There's a hypnotism looking into the the long-dead artist's face: he was such a charmer and a cipher. But unfortunately this documentary is not just about the work of the artist and the artist himself, and around that issue Radiant Child is discomforting.

The problem with this film is that it is a praising retrospective of a martyred young artist by all his friends, patrons, collectors and admirers, who seem to have grown up, sleeked up, and landed careers as psychiatrists, designers and massively influential curators. Their youthful freedom and immaturity was something Basquiat didn't live through. It is not unrealistic to expect people to grow up, but the contrast between the youthful energy of Basquiat's era and the established, wealthy art world remembering it loads the film with tension.

If Basquiat's story is admirable and tragic it is because he was a fragile creative soul who was destroyed by his skyrocketing success--which he was unable to adapt to--and the art market's insatiable appetite for "the new." The film is peopled by the individuals who contributed to his success and continue to work within that market, yet they never reveal direct remorse or accountability for their role in the whole destructive process which led to his demise. Rene Ricard’s early Art Forum cover story on Basquiat, for example, is presented with little scrutiny from the filmmakers as a prescient chance for the artist’s star to rise, yet the journalist’s words -- “the next person I wrote about needed to be totally unknown, terribly young, very ambitious, I wanted to latch onto a career that I could watch and write about for a long time” -- seem more than a little bit foreboding and parasitic given the context. To this day curators like Diego Cortez and artist Kenny Scharf are quick to take credit for exposing Basquiat to the world at large, but nowhere is there a sound bite from any of these people acknowledging the possibility that their friend was destroyed by the repetitive machine that is their bread and butter. The film does an interesting tap-dance of condemning these insatiable market forces while only referring to the participants in the art game obliquely, “this artificial world,” in some cases, and anonymously in others, placing blame on a faceless "new crowd" of doting groupies that the filmmakers do not provide a spokesperson for. One is left to wonder who this evil art world is composed of, if not the artists, critics, collectors, curators, and gallery owners interviewed in this film.

To Radiant Child's benefit, it excellently portrays Basquiat's work, especially with a series of side-by-side comparisons of various visual and cultural influences to Basquiat’s pieces that literally pop with color and artistic virtue. There is some truly priceless footage of a fellow with a Ph.D. stuttering and stumbling as he attempts to interview Basquiat and backpedal from the racial implications of calling the artist’s work primitive, and the film's connection of his work to be-bop and jazz is a neat insight. It gives the viewer an honest, loving picture of Jean-Michel's rise and fall in the words of the people closest to him. What it fails to do is critique the overall consumptive art market of which they are a part. In fact, the film's treatment of Basquiat's inability to survive as heroic reinforces the mentality that destroyed him. It lapses into a predictable "good die young/'too rare for this world" kind of mantra that fails to engage with the real problems behind a system that quickly consumes a unique style and simultaneously stifles it from changing and demands that it evolve. The collectors and curators ceaselessly argue for the validity of the works in the highest language possible, and their values ever inflate. Now is it a requirement that a film looking back on the career of a young iconographic artist pick apart the mechanics of art-world capitalism? No. But by making this film at this time the interviewees and participants in Basquiat's life and career are put in a very uncomfortable, one could say complicit, position.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, a film by Tamra Davis will be screened at the Salt Lake Art Center November 12 at 7 pm.
Read More......

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lars Bengtsson solves some problems for me.

Mr. Lars Bengtsson has the fanatic honor of having biked 30000+ miles around the world in about every configuration imaginable. I stumbled upon an excerpt from an interview of him that seems appropriate to my current situation:

"The whole world has, as you know, really gone nuts when it comes to fear of a non-existing threat from Islamic countries for example. Almost ten years has gone by since the 9/11 attacks but the fear is still alive and growing, which is very sad.

Me, on the other hand, have spent a long time in about 15-20 Muslim countries over several years and have never had a bad day. Sometimes I wonder what I would be thinking of Islamic countries and the many other minority cultures within them if I had never travelled in them. Maybe I would be one of the many people who feel an unnecessary fear too. Who knows?

At the same time I wish that ordinary people in Muslim countries had more opportunities, so they too could travel around the world and learn about atheism, the West, Christianity, Mother Earth herself and so on. Metaphorically speaking, the best way to build a bridge between two cultures is to start from both sides of the river, not just one side. Things are never painted in black and white but in every colour imaginable. Islam is misunderstood in the West and the West is equally misunderstood in the Muslim world.

I am afraid that if the bridge over the broad cultural river is built from one side only, the whole thing could turn to neo-colonialism. And we have seen that road before, haven´t we? And we don´t want to walk that path again.

But of course – an average woman in Yemen just can´t go to Canada or Romania or Chile for a couple of months to learn and hopefully got a wider perspective about the world and it´s people – but it would be amazing if she could. Today only people from the West can afford the luxury to do that kind of travel." Read More......

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Greg's Hasselblad x Lindsey Collabo

I think good things about this picture.

Especially considering the conflux of people and technologies it took to make it. Greg, who burns fast and brightly forward with a yearning eye on the past, and Lindsey, made of steel, wool, wood and horsehair, quietly transforming the world onto a real scale. A film image on the highest-quality camera of yesteryear (I think), uploaded hi-res into pixels on flickr.

Well done. Read More......

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Laura Decker's up to!

My ol' buddy Laura D's been busy, she and her boyfriend Max make all manner of art together, their styles contrast greatly and the overlap is the precious thing to me! I love Max's pictures of Laura:

Coupled with Laura's pictures of them:

Together they are Bird Brain Press, they just had an interview write-up in Gavin's underground, check it out and see what's on their minds!

Cute buggers. Read More......

sebastian errazuriz: american kills

Found this via Greg Hebard, more info at designboom.

Public Art, public statistics. Putting the two together. Instantly more appealing to me than any number of theory-based conceptual art pieces. Keep it up. Read More......

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Peaceful Uprising and performance that matters

I haven't been that into art of late. I've spent a lot of time being underwhelmed, not feeling that lifting feeling of inspiration that got me into this world of expression in the first place. When I think of communicating the importance of expression I get disdainful, failing to see how expression for expression's sake can do anything more than provide a consumptive market with MORE. NEW. STUFF.

This perspective forgets, of course, the huge power that comes with expression. The power to awaken people, to make things clear, to teach and spread truths in the hope of a better world.

And what a better way than to be reminded of that by Peaceful Uprising.

If you aren't familiar, Peaceful Uprising is a group "committed to defending a livable future through empowering nonviolent action." They're Utah based, and (quite effectively) sprang up around the case of Tim DeChristopher, who used direct action as an attempt to block illegal land auctions in southern Utah, an action which in part led to the government realizing its mistake and dissolving the agreements Tim was disputing. Tim is still being held on federal trial, however.

The trial has been posponed multiple times, it becomes clearer and clearer that the prosecution is unwilling to allow Tim to make a case for himself while he holds a media spotlight. So he and Peaceful Uprising decided to hold the trial themselves. In public. With puppets. And excellent, directly political dialoge that provides specific ideas and actions to take in its commentary.

I went to the Exchange Place Plaza last Friday to film the performance. Here're some highlights:

You can see the entire half-hour long performance here. I'd suggest checking it out, there's a ton of informative stuff about how we got into the current state of affairs. The performance outlines how corporate power came to weigh so heavily in the civic domain, and what we can do about it.

So what we have here is art. Street theater. It may not be as polished and perfected as the majority of gallery shows out there right now, but it has something most of them do not: Direct, actionable content. I'm sick of vague dithering, and very happy this group is working hard to awaken people to their options in the face of vast environmental injustice. Read More......

Some thoughts on economy and activism

Next post up: Peaceful Uprising's Climate Trial 

I got a second to pull Tim away into a darkened pinball room later that evening and grill him about Economics. We talked about various ways to make anti-consumerism more economically viable, alternative economic models to the current hyper-growth that most of America thinks is the only way. He made the point that in our current model all forms of resources are subsidized heavily. All forms of labor, however, are taxed. This provides as financial incentive for consumptive business models over social business models. If you reverse those subsidies and taxes then labor becomes valued.  

We also talked about steady-state economics, models where your economy needn't grow at a massive rate to keep up with the inflation of national debt, among other things. The problem being that shifting from that consumption system to a stable one is in practical terms impossible. 

The system, most likely, needs to be shown it is unsustainable by completely collapsing. Strap-on-the-boots style collapse. Peaceful Uprising and others try to shift the tide as much as possible before that collapse because that creates an alternative to build towards. 

It needn't be embraced by the community at large to be effective, either. Tim made the point that if 10% of America can be convinced that business-as-usual industrialism is not a working model, then there are 30 million people who can be activated. And what can any force do in the face of those numbers? The trick is getting them to care, and act. 

Tim's actions are effective because he's willing to articulate his motives to anyone who will listen. That gives him the advantage over big industry and big oil, who are forced to backpedal and refute his claims from the get-go rather than determine the framework of the issue. I find a pretty illuminating contrast in the case of Jordan Halliday, a local guy who was just sentenced with 10 months for resisting a Grand Jury.  Jordan's tactics, for whatever reason, haven't been as successful as Tim's. In my opinion, Tim's openness to talk to the press and publicize on his own terms turned him into a media figure, while Jordan's commitment to silence on any ideological stances he may have meant the prosecution was able to walk all over him. Tim's also had a lot of practice, now so his arguments have become very convincing to most anybody who takes a second to think through what he's saying. 
Read More......

This really happened...

I have an extreme dislike for stuff. That is to say, consumerism. Stuff for stuff's sake.

I created a scene this week when I was accosted with various pointless money schemes by a poor unsuspecting Wells Fargo teller, who then tried to solve my problems for me. Our exchange went a little like this:
"I like my banking to be simple. If I could put my money in a box and knew it'd be there when I went back for it I would do it. I've never been in debt and don't plan to be, I've never taken a loan and don't plan to."
I said this with a look of hopeful expectation, as if bankers, of all people, would understand the desire for firm, dependable capital. Not so. A mere second later my bubbly, hipster-housewifey teller replies:
"You know what you should DO?! You should open a holiday account!"
I felt like I was talking to a monkey.
"The last thing I need is another account. I don't spend money. On anything."
"But, look, you'd get this horse!" She replies, with a look of 'aha' triumph. She grabs a stuffed animal horse from nearby. I'd noticed the things proliferating around the bank branch.
I lost it.
"I don't want a horse! I don't want another account!"
"But look how cute and fluffy he is!"
"He's not cute and fluffy! He's been unlovingly stitched together on a third world assembly line and stuffed with processed crap! No one needs a new account and no one needs a stuffed horse!"

I realized at this point the branch was rather full of recently quieted, worried-looking people.

I smiled. "Sorry about that. See you later." Read More......

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the screen.

I was planning on watching only a moment of this Miwa Matreyek performance/animation, but was transfixed. Imposing screens onto live actors or 3 dimensional space does odd things to the mind of the viewer, who is expecting a discrete world to be drawn into and instead finds an interaction. Is it possible this path might lead to 'performative' video games that, unlike the current genre, are actually fun to spectate?

Brilliant. I have some idea how she does it too, though the illuminated hands are a mystery to me. There's incredible potential in this medium for dancers, I think, and combining with projection mapping:

Which Al is working on for the Leonardo at the moment, I believe.

On an unrelated note, I don't listen to enough music. These guys do. This local blog has been an immense undertaking in the last 3 years, I don't know how I didn't hear about it. Hats off, Potters! I've recently become aware that all my previous music sources are more or less dysfunctional or broken, and as I hate CD's and paid-for music that can disappear if you switch platforms I'm on the lookout for new downloadable venues. Read More......

Blog Archive