A Trip to Columbus

Jenn and I headed toward Columbus with her dog Maia on Friday morning. We first went to The Wayne & Geraldine Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery at the Marion Campus of Ohio State University to take pictures of Jenn's show Rec•ord, which has been on display since the beginning of the year. The gallery is small, and the satellite campus is not nearly as well attended as the main campus in Columbus, but the guestbook revealed quite a few visitors.

The show itself was of Jenn's ambrotype photograms of small objects. She uses a wet-plate collodion process to create the one-of-a-kind ambrotype positives on anodized aluminum. Her level of mastery of that technique is on par with a fairly small set of experts in the field. Her work speaks to the distortion of the photographic process as a way to reliably represent objects and people.

Afterward we went to Columbus to visit her friend Heather Wetzel. We walked near Heather's house and stopped by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (4247 N. High St., Columbus, OH). On this visit, I found it too busy and rushed to make a proper assessment, but the ice cream was indeed good. I didn't find it substantially better than Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, though, and actually found the huge array of flavors to be more daunting than appealing.

On Saturday morning, Ted and Ali arrived to join us for the weekend. We headed to Whole World Natural Restaurant (3269 N. High St., Columbus, OH) for lunch. As vegan food goes, it's hit-and-miss, but I went with the safe bet of avocado on a croissant. Afterward we went to the excellent Pattycake Bakery (3009 N. High St., Columbus, OH) and had some great vegan treats.

Heather wanted to stop by the opening of a The Mirage and the Rainbow: 2014 Department of Art Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at OSU's Urban Arts Space (50 W. Town Street, Suite 130 in the Historic Lazarus Building, Columbus, Ohio 43215) so she could see some of her students' work. Overall it was a good show. Ali, Jenn, and Heather took part in this "Dr. Armbruster's Laboratories" "experiment" where they were measured then drew with a paint drip test. It was a lot of fun.

The "Armbruster" name was fictitious, but I had to look up the list of MFA candidates to remember the ones I wanted, and didn't discern who did that work. The complete list from the website included: Jacci Delaney (Glass), Jonathan Fitz (Ceramics), Leah Frankel (Sculpture), Andrew Frueh (Art and Technology), Keith Garubba (Printmaking), Nick George (Photography), Anne Keener (Painting & Drawing), Gun Young Kim (Ceramics), Amanda Kline (Photography), David Knox (Printmaking), Sage Lewis (Painting and Drawing), Peter Luckner (Art and Technology), Jessica Naples (Photography), Ashley Neukamm (Ceramics), Amy Ritter (Glass), Philip Spangler (Sculpture), and Jennifer Watson (Printmaking). Anyway, I also liked Gun Young Kim's distorted self-sculptures and I was drawn to Amy Ritter's cardboard cutout nudes (digitally manipulated to remove any sexuality).

From there, we went to the Wexner Center for the Arts where we saw Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2002). (I added it to my mini-reviews for the last few months if you're curious.) For dinner we went to Dirty Franks (248 S. 4th St., Columbus, OH) which I thought was quite excellent. They specialize in hot dogs, so it seems natural to compare them to Dogtown, but in this case, I liked Dirty Franks better. In all fairness, the quality is about the same, but Dirty Franks has a few extra unusual toppings, and adding cream cheese to a vegan dog is just great (rendering it vegetarian, at best). The macaroni-and-cheese was considerably sub-par for my taste. (Along with the other meals we ate-out, it made me think Columbus had a preference for blander food.) Later we made another visit to Jeni's and I was more satisfied with my selections and the experience.

On Sunday we took a little detour and stopped at Delaware State Park (5202 U.S. Highway 23 N., Delaware, OH) to let Maia run around before stopping by the Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery to take down Jenn's show. From there, we headed back home.

We stopped in Erie for a bit. We tried to find Whole Foods Co-Op (1341 W. 26th St., Erie, PA) as they have something called "cashew cheese". However, we made a mistake somewhere along the way and found the co-op had just closed. So, quite hungry, we decided to go to Wegmans (6143 Peach St., Erie, PA). I get grumpy when I'm hungry and Erie is, as best I could tell, the most miserable place on Earth and I will never go back there. (Time may moderate that opinion.)

Upon leaving Erie, our collective plans, so Jenn and I in one car, and Ted and Ali in another headed toward home at our respective paces. We forgot to stop for gas in Erie as we had planned, and we started running low so we got off and stopped at the Flying J Travel Plaza (8484 Allegheny Rd., Pembroke). To our surprise, Ted and Ali were there too in the same predicament despite having last crossed paths somewhere around Buffalo.

We arrived home late that night, exhausted.

The Rochester Improvement Society and the Rochester Young Democrats at RoCo

A while back I got involved with a small group called The Rochester Improvement Society. We basically meet once a month, really informally, and just shoot ideas around. Simple as that.

This month, the "instigators" of our group got together with the The Monroe County Young Democrats and decided to meet at The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) The idea was to "make art" for the upcoming 6x6x2012 show, to talk about art and the community, and to chat with councilmember Dr. Elaine Spaull, Ph. D..

Right off the bat, I was a bit puzzled to see "Sam's Choice" soda and cookies which come from Walmart or Sam's Club. I wondered if I was a the right event — our Improvement Society always meets at a locally-owned business, so I kept looking at the cookie boxes to see which local bakery they came from, only to find they didn't. Well, okay …

Then it came around to art in the community. It's obvious that nobody in the room knew what art was. Here we were ostensibly creating 6×6 works as a fundraiser for RoCo, and the goal was to bang something out in an hour with arts-and-crafts tools (e.g. non-toxic markers, glue, magazines for collages). I just did a little abstract piece which really was very lousy, but I felt guilty just throwing it out so I submitted it.

I just kind of listened.

Elaine Spaull spoke a bit on the topic at hand. She mentioned the bus garage and how it was controversial, but failed to see why: that it does not improve bus service, that it will be (as a friend pointed out) essentially a quonset hut that will be loud as hell and reek of diesel exhaust, and that it should be built as an intermodal station supporting train service. Instead she kind of shrugged it off and touted that it will have art in it.

She then talked about improving neighborhoods with art. She made a point of mentioning that the goal was to remove graffiti and to install art in its place. Now, graffiti comes in two forms: tagging and street-art, both on their own spectrum of quality. Tagging is a call for attention, filling a need to have a voice and a place in a community. Street-art is a desperate outlet for creativity: lacking a legal outlet for their voice, the street-artist turns to graffiti. Removing graffiti and installing art from somewhere else is just a big "fuck you" to the local community, reinforcing isolation.

I gathered that what she meant by "art" is "pretty things", specifically to differentiate from "practical things" like factories and office buildings. But factories and buildings can look good and be integrated into the urban landscape, fulfilling the need for "pretty things". Art  is more about communicating a message: the story arc of creating, presenting, observing, and interpreting. Especially interpreting: that's really important in art.

The young democrats hungrily consumed her words. If they disagreed at all, I couldn't sense it. All these bright young faces, excited to be part of making a better tomorrow, and all absolutely clueless. It was incredibly disheartening.

And then I understood what it was that bugged me about the outsourced refreshments: it was an incredibly shallow understanding of community. The family who runs Genesee Bakery (1677 Mount Hope Ave.) are my neighbors. By visiting them, I'm visiting my neighbors. And by spending my money there, I keep it in the community — and that's important because it's the transfer of money that is an economy, so sending it away stalls the economy.

So the money they saved with the cheaper snacks was really a burden they placed on  their community, their neighbors, their family, and ultimately themselves.

But they could only see the numbers on the receipt.

Art and Luck at the Record Archive

I headed to The Record Archive (33 1/3 Rockwood St.) for the Opening Reception of Heather Ingram's Color Mania show. I also happened to want to pick up a couple CD's, so I did it all together.

Ingram's art in this show is a blend of colors in a uniformly random drip-line pattern. The key is in the colors — I found one piece particularly appealing for that reason. I didn't make much more of a connection than purely aesthetic, however.

About a year ago, the Dryden screened Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. I was kind of suckered in to the sound of The Magnetic FieldsMySpace link, and when I saw a semi-positive review of the new album on the AV Club website, I decided to go get Love at the Bottom of the Sea.

But while there, I was walking around looking aimlessly — looking for that which I didn't know I was looking for. Then I passed the $1 Used CD bins and looked straight at the self-titled CD from Julia's Star.

Holy crap. I lost that CD about 10 years ago — I loaned it to someone and pretty much lost touch with them right afterward. I suspect that I was holding the actual copy that I lost. I had seen Julia's Star perform in 1999 at Milestone's and picked up their CD at some point (I have an old e-mail where I lament, "I still don't find all that impressive…not my kind of music more than anything else" so I don't know why I ever got it.) I recall that Matt Blanchard was in the band (playing a synthesizer as I recall) although I knew him better as a saxophonist in the ska band 5HeadMySpace link and in the infectious experimental jazz band JerseybandGarageBand linkMySpace link. In fact, in the aforementioned e-mail, I had seen Julia's Star play on the same bill as 5Head.

Nonetheless, had I owned the CD all these years, I probably would have taken it for granted along with lots of other bands I've seen over the years. I mean I'm sure I would have liked it, but since I had lost it, it always had that fond je ne sais quoi of having disappeared. Funny how listening now, I instantly recalled the songs and the crisp lead vocals of Julia Gray over a couple synthesizers, drums, and a DJ — reminiscent of other late-1990's bands like PortisheadMySpace link.

A Perfect Meme Storm

OK, so here's the deal.  I had this idea to make another satirical thing for Valentine's Day.  This time it's the about "having a heart on for Valentine's Day" and other convoluted permutations to get the auditory pun to work.  I'll start off the bat and let everyone know you can buy things at Cafepress already. And, although I did think of this without seeing it elsewhere, a quick search on Google reveals that there's quite a few others with the same idea.

But the perfect meme storm had to do with the relatively new site Xtranormal. It's probably the fastest way to get from a script to animation as it does it with 3D rendering and computer-generated voices. In all, it actually works pretty good, but among its many quirks is that the computer voices intone virtually no emotion and there's really no way to annotate it so they do. What I've seen is this deadpan delivery used to humorous effect such as the Are you going to Burning Man video. I was thinking, "what better way to play off an auditory pun than with a perfect deadpan delivery?"

So I made a video too and put it on YouTube: Everyone Should Have a Heart On for Valentine's Day. In fact, you can start at the Xtranormal page for the video and "remix" the script by editing it and making your own video … or just see how I did it (like how to get the stupid computer to properly pronounce "Stewart" rather than "stwart" as it seemed hell-bent on doing). Then I went ahead and made a page on Facebook called "Having a Heart On for Valentine's Day" [a new link to a new page for 2012] with the awkward wording for the automatically-generated text for Facebook so one's friends will see, "Joe Boo likes Having a Heart On for Valentine's Day".

In theory I will be living in the lap of luxury sometime in February. (Obviously not in 2011, and certainly having nothing to do with a one-note-pun on a T-shirt going viral.)

Hundreds of People Watch the Beast Pageant at the Dryden

The Beast Pageant screened at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) tonight. It took me a while to extricate my thoughts from the various sets I helped build and from the scenes I acted in, but I think I finally have a grip on what great all-around acoustic soloist Jon Moses, and Albert Birney were getting at.

On its surface, The Beast Pageant follows Abe from his lifeless industrialized existence on a journey of reconnection with the natural world. It's all told in fantastical dream language, so time, space, and reality really have no grounding. It just is its own special place.

But dig deeper, and there's a layer about the beauty of human beings. Moses even used the phrase "it's an anti-aibrushing movie" in the question-and-answer. And by that, he means that the movie defies the media-generated images of the human form. All of us who acted as part of the natural world were nude (unless fully covered in costume). And the point is we're just regular people. We didn't spend 6 months prior to the film with a personal trainer to ensure our bodies were picture-perfect; rather we were all just people from around town who live normal lives.

This was the most consistently shocking element. You'll note that neither the D&C article nor the one in City Newspaper made mention of the near-constant nudity on screen. And it's because they can't unless they also subtly condemn it. So the authors of those pieces, finding a work they genuinely liked, opted instead to simply omit that fact.

To me this is a terrible precedent. It's not as if anyone in the U.S. does not see themselves naked at least once a day. Yet through the media's constant condemnation of the human body, we are taught to loathe the sight of it. And through that we loathe ourselves. And, oddly enough, we strive to buy products to give us satisfaction — so the media will approve of our appearance.

And so that theme runs through The Beast Pageant as well. The giant machine in Abe's apartment is an entertainment system (in addition to personal companion, and provider of all his physical needs.) The machine resists Abe's attempt to escape — much as the media machine resists the existence of The Beast Pageant.

But somehow, I think The Beast Pageant is going to win, one way or another.

The Art of the Steal

I went to see The Art of the Steal at The Little (240 East Ave.) tonight. I wasn't sure what I was getting into because I'd read just a little about it, but it turned out to be an excellent documentary … at least for me.

It sets up the battle between Albert C. Barnes and the Chicago art community. The deal is that when Barnes was alive, he began collecting works of modern artists of the middle 20th century; further, he displayed those works only once at a Chicago gallery and the works were derided by the art community as inferior in nearly every way to true art. This only fueled his disdain for that art community — and he was embroiled in full-out battle when they realized his collection was one of the most valuable in the world, after that form of modern art became popular. Upon his death, he set up a trust for The Barnes Foundation (300 North Latch's Ln., Merion, PA) which was an educational institution for teaching art in a unique way — stipulating that it was specifically not a museum of art, no artwork may be loaned out, etc.

The film sets up Barnes and his foundation as the heroes, and the art community as the greed-infested enemies. As I understand it, Barnes had a view of works of art as things that had value because they spoke to human beings; and specifically that monetary value had no place being attributed to art. The art community intertwined historical value, personal value, and monetary value in a jumbled mess, and never understood Barnes' point.

So, blah blah blah, they go about dismantling the trust and gain access to the collection in ways Barnes never intended.

The reason I found it an excellent documentary is it opened more reasoned questions than it answered. How long should one man's dying wish be honored? How should we view art? By what mechanism does a person's property become public when they die?

But at its heart, the film asks: for any clause in a person's financed trust, how do we measure if it goes against the public good so much that it must be overturned? That's essentially the argument: the Barnes Foundation has all these great works "locked away" from public view. But how many people can really appreciate an original Matisse, for example? Isn't uninformed public viewing just a matter of bragging rights — don't most people say they saw this-or-that artwork and begin with its appraised value rather than any deeper understanding?

I didn't really see Barnes as the "good guy". I agree with his philosophy of art, but think that important works should have public access (even when it's pearls before swine). Perhaps I'm looking back with a lens tainted by 2010's copyright laws and seeing a world where ideas are longing to be free but are blocked. I'm sure Barnes saw a future where art whose dollar value drops below its value as fuel would simply be burned for heat. I don't know if either of us is wrong.

TEDx Rochester

I know I've mentioned TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design): Ideas Worth Spreading quite a few times already, so when I heard there would be an independently-originated series here in Rochester, I couldn't help but go. They called it TEDx Rochester and held it at Geva (75 Woodbury Blvd.) My hopes were high, but I fully understood that not every lecturer would produce an astoundingly favorite lecture.

After a rocky start with the A/V system, Adam Frank got things started. He spoke about the artificiality of the conflict of science and religion. Basically his argument was that science enhances religion because it lets us see more of the world, and if you're a believer in a creator, seeing more of what was created is a good thing.

Larry Moss was next, speaking about his "Airigami": creating art with balloons. At first blush, the whole thing seems as thin as a metaphor using balloons would be if written here. But because the medium he uses is so accessible, he's able to create sculptures with people who don't even share a common language — and he has. Many times. On the one hand, it's astounding and on another, obvious. Definitely one to think about (and hopefully, a lecture that will be prominent on TED's own website).

I was also pleased by a performance by GEOMANTICS Dance Theatre who, like PUSH Physical Theatre, used an amalgam of the varied forms of physical performance to express ideas.

A nano-scale chemist and physicist Todd D. Krauss provided insight into some of his work (as several other lecturers did). Although I didn't find that his talk met my lofty expectation of an "idea worth spreading", he did bring up an interesting bit of new technology: cadmium-selenium nanoparticles. The fascinating thing about them is that they fluoresce different colors of light based on their size. As such, one can create whatever colors they want using the same material.

What he did not touch on that I wish he had was the ramifications of nanoparticles and organic life: specifically, isn't "little particles stuck through cell walls" one of those triggers for cancer? And while he dispelled the myth that artificially-intelligent nanobots will kill us, I think he did a disservice by neglecting to even approach the topic of nanoparticles doing damage in much more banal ways.

Finishing up the night was Geva Comedy ImprovMySpace link who, sadly, were not able to finish their performance in the time allotted.

Overall it was definitely worth it to take time off to see it. But I hope that in the future, things are a bit more refined.

Andy Lock at Eastman House

I went to see Andy Lock speak about his Orchard Park: Utopia's Ghosts exhibit at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) He said that he thought the Eastman House presentation was the best he's seen, capturing the essence of the work. The exhibit is a series of images taken at a housing project called Orchard Park just prior to its demolition; from there, he projected them onto a wall of glow-in-the-dark paint and photographed the fading result. The green tint of the paint gives it a "radioactive" feel and evidence of brushstrokes in the phosphorescent paint gives it a pastoral feel as well.

Thematically, I agree that it captures the notion of "idealism lost" — that these buildings were made to provide some kind of idealized housing to folks, but as the buildings aged, that veneer was worn off completely, leaving the stark reality of really quite basic housing. Plus, the exploration of modern ruins is a running theme in modern photography.

Since he had explored this subject so deeply, I asked him why the ephemera was so exciting while the actual inhabitants probably were not? — that an artist will seldom have interest in the people who lived there, yet be fascinated by the vague shadows of their existence.  He said that the appeal is that we can project ourselves into a fantasy of what was rather than the detailed reality of what is. So, for instance, when a couple chairs are placed at odd angles to one another, they tell a certain kind of story, but there was probably little similarity between the placement of the chairs and the relationship of the people who used them.

Watching The Exiles with Ali at the Dryden

Ali and I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see The Exiles. The description given in the Eastman House calendar was tantalizing, as the film has almost never been screened for 50 years, and it documents Native Americans living in Los Angeles in the 1960's. Sprinkle in phrases like, "seamlessly mixes documentary and narrative techniques" and "deeply emotional and personal achievement", and I'm sold.

Our reaction to the film, however, was one of grand disappointment. It's an arduous film to watch full of interchangeably unlikeable, apathetic characters. In addition, the dialog was dubbed in the studio and loses all of its emotional expression in the process — in fact, according to the program notes authored by K. A. Westphal, the entire soundtrack was meticulously recreated long after shooting was completed [definitely read it for some unbelievable trivia]. In total, though, the film completely neglects the audience and instead slowly stews in its own world.

As such, the film is considered a masterpiece — in part because it deliberately rejects a serviceable narrative, and simply documents the lives of people who are essentially unremarkable jerks. As other reviewers noted, this undesirability of the characters seems to work against the cause of helping Native Americans. However, I took away the point that it was far too late — even in the 1960's — for the Native American cause. The people depicted on screen are the walking dead of a lost civilization. They drift from heartbeat to heartbeat, resigned to a purposeless fate: their entire culture having been wiped from the earth in what amounts to a mass genocide.

So in a way, I agree that it is a masterpiece. It spoke of the situation of recently-displaced Native Americans (who have been generationally displaced to boot) and what happens when you do that to someone. However, it's akin to experiencing the beauty of a sword by having someone slice your arm open with it. You can appreciate the workmanship and detail, but its true function is to cut and to kill, so what better way to truly immerse yourself in its beauty than by taking part in its primary function? The amoral, artistic side of me understands that that would be the pinnacle of sword examination, but the rest of me, well, doesn't really want to get cut.

And so, with my mighty blog and website and stuff, I set forth a demand to appeal to the audience. [And by that, I mean that I know that there are some Eastman House employees who will read this, and might consider bringing it up at a programming meeting, if the mood suits them.] My friends and I have had this kind of experience many times before: when a film is considered "great" or "important" for reasons other than how well it is appreciated by the average audience, but is noted for being altogether brilliant in its cinematic quality. I, personally, tend to enjoy these films too, but I need to be mentally prepared for them, and when I'm unprepared and end up getting blindsided, I find myself alienating the Dryden. I seek other avenues for entertainment … at least for a while. And I always end up coming back, and hopefully sooner than later.

I propose, therefore, that the Dryden begin offering "audience appreciation" films. This is different from "popcorn movies" which offer purely an experience of entertainment; rather a delineation of cinematic masterpieces that overlaps the "popcorn" genre. It's movies where the filmmakers consider the audience to be the most important part of the process.

Understandably, it's a difficult aspect to divine — after all, The Exiles had the audience at the forefront of its production as much as any other movie, and perhaps even more for respecting their knowledge and wisdom. Consider how different it is from Encounters At the End of the World, though: it's as if the audience is a cherished friend invited to explore something new and fascinating rather than colleagues already insatiably interested in the topic at hand.

Put simply, there's a difference between "cinematically important" and "enjoyable".

Dogtown, Oh My God

After Ali and I had lunch at Dogtown Hots (691 Monroe Ave.), I headed to The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) to check out the installation there: Sam van Aken's Audition. Ali and I went to the opening reception last week, but both Thumper and Oh My God were works based on sound, and it was pretty much impossible to fully experience them with all the crowd noise.

I have to admit I was enamored of the idea of Oh My God: a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall of mismatched speakers, impossibly arranged to form a perfect rectangle. I knew from the opening that it sporadically played voices and sounds. I sat in front of it for (what turned out to be) nearly the entirety of its 7-minute loop. The phrase "oh my God" — versions thereof collected from famous and not-so-famous media sources — emanates sporadically from one randomly-selected speaker. And then from another, and another, and so on — gradually playing more and more frequently until building to a cacophonous and overwhelming climax.

As I was letting myself get lost in the experience, I recognized a few of the voices and their sources from popular movies and television. Sometimes I'd recognize a voice that was played earlier being played in a new location. I was also aware of the digital distortion from the variety of low sampling rates and MPEG-styled compression artifacts — a specific kind of harmonic whine that tended to distract me. But certain voices I didn't recognize (save for their intonation), and they brought me specifically to the events of September 11.

In reading the information binder for Oh My God, it turns out that was, in fact, Aken's inspiration. In unavoidably viewing the terrible footage that day over-and-over until he became numb to it, the one thing that rang out was a woman's voice saying, "oh my God" in one of the clips. [In case you don't recall, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists piloting hijacked commercial airplanes on September 11, 2001.]

I was kind-of saddened that the point was so … simple: that this impressive-scaled work, reminiscent of the ideally-packed order of Manhattan's maps and its skylines, was just a reflection of the numbness achieved by repetitive playback of an event by the media by creating numbness to a phrase by parroting its own frequent use in media.

I still want to like it so bad, but I'm at a loss to find any more depth in it. But hey: maybe that's the point too.