Wednesday, March 26, 2008

via violenta viven

via violenta played a reunion show

jokes were told
songs even doled
harmed were foes
we've all grown old

photos by bibiana jaimes

Monday, March 10, 2008

under the volcano

malcolm lowry wrote a book called under the volcano around the middle of the last century. finishing the work, by accounts, was a painstakingly difficult process involving a great deal of back-and-forth and often contentious editing with his wife, and perhaps as an explanation, an even greater deal of alcohol (lowry was an alcoholic to the point of caricature - he was essentially physically incapacitated and resorted, at least on one occasion, to drinking aftershave when out of booze). despite these troubles, the book was ultimately completed and was widely praised; the los angeles times subsequently called it, "one of the ten most consequential works of fiction produced in [the twentieth] century." there were some pretty good books written in the last 100 years so, considering most people have never heard of this guy, that's a pretty interesting comment. part of the reason lowry isn't better known is that he was essentially unable to finish another work, including what would have been his magnus opus, october ferry to gabriola, despite working on it for years. though lowry wrote almost constantly, he spent as much time fighting with his wife and even more time drinking heavily. after a productive stint in british columbia, where he completed volcano, he moved around quite a bit in various abortive attempts to get clean. the new yorker, as always, does a brilliant job in discussing his life and raising some doubt as to the circumstances surrounding his death. a tragic figure to be sure, it's a shame he couldn't squeeze more out of his considerable talent. at least we'll always have under the volcano. here's an excerpt:

The water still trickling into the pool - God, how deadeningly slowly - filled the silence between them... There was something else; the Consul imagined he still heard the music of the ball, which must have long since ceased, so that this silence was prevaded as with a stale thudding of drums. Pariah: that meant drums too. Parian. It was doubtless the almost tactile absence of the music however, that made it so peculiar the trees should be apparently shaking to it, an illusion investing not only the garden but the plains beyond, the whole scene before his eyes, with horror, the horror of an intolerable unreality. This must be not unlike, he told himself, what some insane person suffers at those moments when, sitting benignly in the asylum ground, madness suddenly ceases to be a refuge and becomes incarnate in the shattering sky and all his surroundings in the presence of which reason, already struck dumb, can only bow the head. Does the madman find solace at such moments, as his thought like cannon-balls crash through his brain, in the equisite beauty of the madhouse garden or of the neighboring hills beyond the terrible chimney? Hardly, the Consul felt. As for this particular beauty he knew it dead as his marriage and as willfully slaughtered. The sun shining brilliantly now on all the world before him, its rays picking out the timberline of Popocatepetl as its summit like a gigantic surfacing whale shouldered out of the clouds again, all this could not lift his spirit. The sunlight could not share his burden of conscience, of sourceless sorrow. It did not know him.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

the wave-particle-like duality of art

I’ve always thought of art as a fundamentally subjective experience. The objective physical creation of the artist is only given relevance, value, and even meaning in the various personal minds of the audience. The heart wants what it wants applies not merely to matters of the heart but nearly all matters of non-functional preference. As much as art can be intellectualized and rationalized, explained and deconstructed, it is the immediate and visceral reaction of the experiencer that incubates any subsequent thoughts or reflections on the piece. That’s all fine and good and not much new there, but it’s not the complete picture. Pieces of art can, and to a certain extent must, be considered not merely in the idiosyncratic vacuum of each person's brain, but in the broader context of other influenced and influencing, or related, works. What’s great about art is the unique and unrelatable experience it provides, but what gives this experience shape and meaning is the analysis, even if purely on subjective grounds, of that piece of art vis-à-vis other similar works. An illustration: yes, Van Gogh’s works are awesome by themselves and that’s all that really matters, but don’t we have to at least agree that the fact they are so much, and inarguably, better than Gauguin’s counts for something?

Is it inconsistent to assert that the internalization of art is a subjective experience, while nevertheless admitting that there must be a set of objective criteria with which to evaluate it? Another illustration: the following pictures were both taken at Angkor Wat, the first by myself and the second by someone else.

I think it would be difficult to argue that my picture is not objectively worse than the second. Though the pictures are from opposite ends of the same structure, the intentions of each basically line up: awesome ruins, reflection in moat splits the frame, solemnly blue sky interrupted by a divine-like break of the clouds centered above the structure, etc. Going against my version is a lesser quality resolution and damper colors (my wimpy zoom and amateur digital camera is no match for whatever pro-digital-slr-whatever the other photog got to use). Also, the other shot is perfectly and evenly framed, whereas I would have loved to cut off mine on the right just after the tall structures in the background and before the appearance of the branches on the left. And of course my beautiful photo is sullied by the presence of ugly, ugly tourists walking the bridge and climbing the steps. The off-angle view in my work is actually, I think, more interesting and provides a depth you don’t get in the professional, straight on approach. But nevertheless, I think it’s too little, too late, mine is probably inferior. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but doesn’t intellectual honesty require that we declare a winner when there is one?

Another more salient example comes from the recent Academy Awards. Now, yes everyone knows, award shows are stupid, and the Oscars are particularly dumb, but awarding Best Picture to the Cohen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men over P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is especially egregious and cannot be justified on any objective grounds for evaluating art. The latter is clearly the more ambitious project, both thematically, as an allegory for this country’s dual strains of unbridled capitalism and fanatical religiousness, and how adherence to either will lead you to ruin, as well as cinematically, as Anderson uses a variety of long, drawn out shots, steady cams, moving cams, an insane score by Johnny Greenwood, and coaxes performances from Daniel Lewis and Paul Dano that each range from frightening brutality to pathetic vulnerability and everywhere in between. No Country is a great little picture, but it does not profess or try to be anything nearly as magnificent. It’s a nice little thriller, chase/stalker flick with a likeable protagonist you root for and a psychopathic weirdo you are terrified of, with meandering and barely sufferable interludes featuring a retiring old-timer cop who pontificates on what it all means. Good stuff. But there is no wild range of emotion, no novel shots of people scurrying towards and then away from an exploding oil derrick, no interesting score, no descent into the abyss, and no social commentary. There is much too much happening in Blood to digest and appreciate on one viewing, one needs to watch it again to get the subtleties, the interplay with the music, the information contained in the numerous dialogue-less shots. I can’t imagine anyone needing to see No County again; once you know what happens, what else is there? It was almost surely its social commentary that sealed Blood's fate. It brings to mind Julie Christie’s remark on the Oscar winning German film, The Lives of Others: “I’m not sure I can bear to see a film they gave the Oscar to, that tells you what awful people Communists are.” Amen, sister.

So how can art be at the same time a subjective experience that cannot be evaluated on anything more than a personal basis, yet also a creation that exists in the context of many other creations who all succeed and fail to varying degrees on the basis of objective criteria? In much the same way that light acts simultaneously as a wave and a particle, no one knows.

What we’ve learned:

1) Producing art is fun. Talking about art, less so.

2) I need a better digital camera.

3) There Will Be Blood is very good.

4) Julie Christie is awesome.