October 5th, 2014

Marananussati Bhavana

taj-mahal

Despite all the hardship I’ve been through in the last 2 years, I can say I’ve had a very fortunate life. I think of all the incredible friends and family I’ve been blessed with, all the places and things I have seen, how I was able to study what I wanted to, and how I’ve been lucky enough to work doing what I love. I believe I’ve been of service to others for a good part of my life, and I even married an incredible woman.

On July 2002 I heard a wonderful dhamma-talk given by Bikkhu Boddhi at the New York Buddhist Vihara on the subject of death. After dhamma deshana, Rev. Boddhi led a guided meditation on Marananussati.

The Marananussati Bhavanaas the title impliesis a meditation on death. It is not an exercise on gloom or pessimism, but a preparation for the eventual passing of our bodily and mental processes, and the acceptance of this event which every living thing must go through. It asks the practitioner to reflect on three immutable facts: (1) death is inevitable, (2) the time of death is unknown, and (3) you cannot take anything with you. According to Buddhism we have died countless times in the past and we will keep doing so unless we attain nibbana. The main concern of a Buddhist at the time of death is to make this passage as peaceful and as purposeful as possible, and marananussati bhavana allows the practitioner to look at death with a calm mind so he can recall his good deeds, let go of wordly attachments, and reaffirm his commitment to understanding the dhamma.

Dhama Deshana:

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Bhavana:

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Marananussati Bhavana chanting in Pali:

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July 2nd, 2014

Is Kara Walker ‘Bootyliscious’ Now?

mammyI should disclose that I haven’t seen Kara Walker’s installation at the Domino Sugar Factory yet, nor am I against seeing it. I am mostly addressing here the matter of people taking asinine pictures of themselves in front of the statue’s sexual parts and how irksome this has become to many African-American writers and intellectuals.

I also don’t think Kara Walker is sitting on her studio thinking about how to enable white entitlement with her art, but there is something about this work that seems to be bringing the worst out in people, and I think the nature of the market she operates in is only bound to provide a space for this type of behavior (not unlike how for years and years the Puerto Rican parade sponsorship apparatus provided a space for aberrant behavior until the organizers saw how wrong they were and started requiring all floats to be strictly cultural, something I’ve been harping on about since before this infamous incident. But I digress). Her biggest failure as an artist of color surely has been that her work does not attract significant numbers of people of color. It just attracts average Art World numbers. To this, you have to add the tone deafness of Creative Time when curating public art. Although I have seen them put together some great work, they also make the same mistake that most art world people make these days when thinking about public art. They put in the public context work that is really fit for private consumption (i.e. the gallery).

Most people are not aware, and little writing is done on, the inherent difference between public and private work. They are completely different languages, but most curators will treat them the same and you end up with this. Public work is and should be propagandist, in the sense that it should have something to say and it should be unequivocal. To whatever degree you introduce ambivalence in it, it should not be an ambivalence of values or interpretation but of self introspection. In other words, the work shouldn’t provide a space for inane behavior, it should make you question whether you are part of the problem. A private work (her cutouts) doesn’t have to do any of that, because someone purchases it, hangs it at home, and does with it whatever they want, which usually means preserving it as an investment.

There are many other complexities in Kara’s work which I feel she held back here, like “self-inflicted violence.” In her cutouts she puts to task both white people for being opportunistic exploiters, and she also criticizes paternalistic and self-destructive behavior from the people being victimized—her own people. That kind of dialogue seemed to really work in her gallery work because it was mostly seen and studied by people who were interested in art. The type of crowd that comes to these new type of public spectacles, which are more like an adult theme park, is very different. They go to these things seeking entertainment because that’s the experience they expect. They want to jump down a chute, press a button and get something in return, or whatever else. The fact that you have to make a line to see it only reinforces this Disney World inanity. A smarter move would have been to blow out the walls and let traffic flow as it may, that would bring the “public” into it. People don’t make a line to look at Four Freedoms Park; they make a pilgrimage. And when they get there, surprisingly, they behave. But when you take a complex charged piece and present it like you would Carsten Höllers‘ chutes at the New Museum, and super charge it with public spectacle pomp, you’re only bound to end up with this foolishness.

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May 8th, 2014

Kids Today… Tssk.

There’s this new series in YouTube which although well produced is getting lamentably little attention. I mean ‘little’ considering the production standards it has and the fact that so many people are supposed to be “into” art right now. The problem with the whole series is that it flounders back and forth between thoughtful discourse and naïve, or reactionary, platitudes. The narrator claims to be a curator. I’m sure he is, but that hardly means anything these days. All kinds of studio majors call themselves curators without having a grounding in Critical Theory or Art History. And maybe that’s why I think the whole enterprise starts becoming more cute and amusing and less provocative. Too much time is spent hating the Art World for all the wrong reasons. There are a lot of deep misconceptions posited in it and it all ends up in foolhardiness.

First of all, the artist factory is as old as the Middle Ages. For sculpture it is even older, all the way back to Ancient Greece. Michelangelo had one, so did Rubens, and practically every giant of Western painting. Rubens, in fact, was notorious for just showing up and signing paintings that his assistants were working on. Much writing has been done on which paintings are truly his and which merely came from his workshop. All of the great Persian miniatures and manuscripts were worked on by dozens, sometimes hundreds, of artists. They would divide the work by specialty: drafters, calligraphers, colorists, and so on. This information is not new; it is all easily obtainable. When I hear artists complain about large studio operations it’s like listening to a guy with a fanny pack walking around the Louvre.

The idea of the lonely artist started with the Impressionists, who were all nouveau riche, or Bourgeois non-professional artists who could in fact afford to remove the business equation out of art production, since they were solvent (Get it? Non-professional = not making a living out of that trade, unlike their predecessors who did, in fact, live off their trade). They were followed by so-called bohemians, but like hipsters today, these were people who saw being poor as an adventure, now that aristocratic manners were going out of style, because they came from middle class backgrounds. One of the last people to operate a true factory—like the ones who had been in place since Classical Greece—was Rodin, who was considered a dinosaur by his Impressionist, and later Modernist, contemporaries precisely because we was doing large commissions which required a factory operation to execute, and therefore he had to “negotiate” with people over the price of his art; something the Impressionist painters could afford not to do. In the video, a photo of Picasso is shown when talking about “the lone artist.” This is an absolute joke! From all the Modernists Picasso was the most business minded, and unlike them, he had dozens of assistants at any given time and probably hundreds throughout his career. In that respect he was old fashioned, not the other way around.

So the idea of the lonely artist is not only a romantic construct (of the Romanticist era), it is also a bleep in our history. A very small and lonely anomaly. The reason that hacks like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are making such a killing is because they were prepared for this change back to mass production and the rest of us were not. They don’t really have a lot of competition so they get to flood the market with their crap. (And to say that tens of thousands of MFAs are competition to them is like saying that a million sandal makers in India compete with Nike.)

If you hate the current state of affairs, you should be picking your fight with collectors, who are the ones enabling artists like Koons, Hirst, Emin and the rest. These collectors sit on museum boards and get to decide what is in and what is out; very much like fashion. They own and/or buy at galleries, and they are also the ones who favored depoliticized art and abstract impressionism in the first place (and more recently, the least thoughtful among us artists). They relate to artists who think like businessmen because they are themselves businessmen. If you want to change this, you’re going to have to get regular people to stop enabling these new Priestly Class in suits. So while they are right that Koons needs the Gallery System to add value to (read “inflate”) his work, it is not because of his factory operation. That by itself does not necessitate a Dealer. All the large workshop owning artists whose work we look at in Museums today negotiated directly with their clients. Think of a client like the Vatican and a workshop owner like Michelangelo (his employees’ complaints have also been written plenty about). There was no gallery involved in those transactions, but there was indeed a large operation behind the work, and the client was as posh as it gets.

So basically, if you are swimming in Capitalism, it’s kind of lame to be complaining about the water being “too cold.” Disenchanted artists should be advocating for better labor practices among artists, more aptitude for running large operations so that we can secure business loans, more insurance options so that we can compete with large foundries for commissions, artist credit unions, and more unionizing. In this respect musicians, actors, film makers, and illustrators are way ahead of us. (The whole credit card maxing out thing is a lame-ass middle-class-child solution to real world business problems, and frankly it devalues our profession because it says “this is just my pet project, not a career decision.”) But of course the idea of professionalizing our trade probably goes against what kids have been taught in school. Namely that great art was done by single males painting away in their quaint little studios. So off they go and alone they sit, in their studios and then they wonder why they don’t have exposure.

I like Hennessy Youngman’s ridiculing of Damien Hirst much better. Although less pompous and pretentious than the Art and Reality series it alludes at many more realpolitik issues.

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September 6th, 2013

Interactive Ho-Hum

So for some reason this article caused a small furor in facebook recently between some artists, curators and museum people, all of whom I respect. But what I can’t understand is why everyone involved in the conversation seemed to be feeling sequentially offended, or at least accused by the author of not doing enough. If you read the article in a detached way—without thinking they are talking about your work—which is hard for many artists to do, all you get out of it is a history of social practice, its recent iterations and more recent admission into the Art “Pantheon,” and then some very obvious comparisons against actual social work. One example is Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses which Davis weighs against the woeful state of affordable housing in Houston. Neither Davis nor Lowe have ever claimed that Project Row Houses are meant to solve the housing crisis in Houston, but I bet they can both agree that it addresses the problem in some sort of oblique way, even if they disagree on the effectiveness of the tactic. In the same way Guernica probably did not stop one single bomb from being dropped, but why would Picasso stop short of painting it over that? I think the problem is that as ideas trickle up the Art World hierarchy and the different players feel the need to justify them and verbalize them and wrap them up in successive layers and layers of academia and minutiae and as collectors hype up their value for the yearning masses to consume that the ideas take on a life of their own and start looking back at the art that generated them as if to see if they measure up or not. Kind of like the gourd and the sandal in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Anyway, that’s not exactly what I want to write about, but it sort of parallels it: the state of so-called “interactive art” today. First let’s get something out of the way: ALL good art is interactive on some level; just like all art is abstract. A person makes an object out of a hybrid of concepts and ideas and other people have a communion with it; an experience, personal and particular to them or communal, but probably along the lines dictated by the work’s author. Religious art has always done this. Even today you walk into a church in Greece and you’ll find thousand year old icons covered in offerings of coins, jewelry and cheap watches. In South Indian temples statues are covered in successive layers of ghee, flowers and powder. No guards at the door, no one to stop you from smearing them as long as you observe some practices. The minute art stopped doing that was when the bourgeois class started making art, devoided it of function and admired it purely for its aesthetic qualities. This approach, although reductive, was considered “higher” and more noble by them. Most recently artists have started saying “Nah, to hell with all that shit. You can touch my art.” and people have responded. This has manifested itself more obviously in electronic art. To the point that no museum goer can walk by a gadget without starting to act like a fool around it.

serra

Insert strollers here.

I remember a Richard Serra show at Gagosian in 2006 where masses of yuppies were running their strollers up and down rows of his sculptures no differently than if it were at the dog run in Union Square—granted, Serra was standing there with an entourage grinning the whole time, so I don’t know whether he was laughing at the spectacle, basking in his own glory, or enabling the whole thing, but I kind of doubt it’s the last one. I’d bet on him being more cynical than naive. In short, I guess installations and spatial art rather than being places that cause pause, have become theme parks for the bored rich. It reminds me of the scene in El Topo when the Monk and his midget companion are performing in ‘the town’ for money. In case you didn’t get Jodorowsky’s sarcasm, that’s us!

I have no qualms with any type of behavior in particular around art. Tainos used to bury and pee on their Cemíes to try to propitiate fertility in their crops, and I can totally get that. My philosophy is let it be what it may, but what gets tiresome is how quickly interactive “behavior” has become just another set of trite pre-programmed responses devoid of any thought when encountering art. Honestly, waving and clapping like a chimp in front of a sculpture just because there is a light flashing on it or it happens to have a speaker, or the appearance of a sensor is no different than ogling and laughing in front of a nude. It’s a premature response, it does not arise from encountering the object on its own terms, and many times it’s just a masturbatory experience: an easy pleasure provoked by the viewer and not by the viewed. For example, why were people running back and forth in front of Tristan Perich’s piece at MoMA? It produces no additional sensation, you are in fact looking away from the piece as you do it, and there is no prompt whatsoever that it is meant to make you do that. At this point the viewer is foolishly trying to force his obvious conclusion on the work rather than being affected by it. It’s kind of like walking into Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and asking “Hey! When are you gonna crucify that Krsna?”

SAMSUNG

These were the tame ones.

I am not saying that we should now start policing people’s behavior around the art that they rightfully come to enjoy, but could you fucking slow down a bit and look at the damn thing for a minute or so without trying to draw some silly conclusion? Stop. Take it in. By all means explore it with whichever sense feels right, and then interact. This can be done even with a painting—or a phone booth for all that matters, if you are so inclined. But try to have a real experience, not another cheap one.

————————————————————–

I should disclose that in 1995 I made a piece while in undergraduate school that kind of required you to make noise and clap like a chimp in front of it. But it was for entirely different reasons. It was called “Ritualizer” and it was precisely about the mechanization of rituals to bring about the uncanny in our world. Basically people had to make noise to feed the light source of a reflection hologram; the more noise, the more hologram. But I was not so much looking to be interactive just for the hell of it. In that case the work required it.

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July 19th, 2013

One Day Someone Will Write a Movie About This

This is an transcontinental saga with all the makings of a great story: love, lies, crime, and ambivalent truths. It starts with my graduate seminar at SVA in 1999 (actually it starts much earlier but this is when it starts for me).  Jerry Saltz would show us these thematic slide presentations on anything from advertising, to art, to world events. The artwork he showed was mostly post-modernist and contemporary, and this last category included different types of artists: students, mid-career, and blue-chip.

alvarez

Work by José Álvarez

One day the theme was about manipulating people, or something along those lines, and he introduced us to José Álvarez, an artist who according to him was rejected by Yale graduate school against his advice when he was a faculty member at the time. Mr. Álvarez basically showed up in Australia claiming to be some sort of spiritual medium and started a cult. According to Jerry he collected a ton of money from gullible Australians who fell for his New-Agey made up cult. Mr. Álvarez claimed to be channeling a 2,000 year old spirit named ‘Carlos,’ and people just believed him. After some time Mr. Álvarez came out as a fraud on Australian television and declared he was an artist trying to make a point about how easy it was come up with your own religion (kind of like this jerk). A few years passed and José Álvarez was included in 2002 Whitney Biennial along with artists like Kiki Smith and Tim Hawkinson (which speaks volumes about Jerry’s foresight and Yale’s lack of it). This was the time of the Mega Art Market when biennials where huge and spectacular. His work included some psychedelic paintings and (I think) some identity related work. After that I didn’t hear much about him again but I suppose he had secured gallery representation and was doing fine.

Nevertheless that whole Australian story stayed with me and I told it occasionally to others. Then last week my wife saw me laughing at this video, and started asking me if it was a spoof and whether people really believed in that crap. I told her yes and started telling her about the José Álvarez piece. She thought I was joking too and I had to look for material about it online so I could show her. It turns out the whole thing happened in 1988, way before the internet, so there isn’t much material about it, but if you search well enough you can find enough video on it. It turns out that the story is a bit more complicated than the way Jerry told it to us.

In 1988 James Randi—a magician and author of skeptical books on the paranormal—was basically hanging out in his house in Coral Gables, Florida, talking to someone on the phone about manufacturing such a hoax, and at some point he leaned over to his boyfriend who was “airbrushing in the next room,” and asked him “Hey, you wanna go to Australia?” The boyfriend’s name: José Álvarez. The rest is on this video:

(Sorry you had to watch those ugly 10 seconds at the end) So after seeing that, I thought “Wow, what an awesome performer.” and what a mashup too! Álvarez, his magician lover, Penn and Teller and the whole Australian continent.

So anyway, I guess Carlos and Randi went on tour and fooled around the globe in more ways than one. Then, in 2011 a teacher’s aide in the Bronx named José Álvarez applied for a passport so he could attend his sister’s wedding in Jamaica and got denied on the grounds of identity theft. Soon enough he proved he was indeed José Álvarez from the Bronx, not José Álvarez the artist living in Florida, and this is where Deyvi Orangel Peña Arteaga (Deyvi is for “David”), a former Venezuelan art student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, comes in.

fl-artist-jose-alvarez-identity-theft

Celebrated South Florida artist Jose Alvarez Accused of Identity Theft

Yep, art and life come together in one amazing, beautiful and messy intersection of interests, expressions and values. First of all, I admire this guy for taking his art to its most logical conclusion. He’s a pretty good painter as it is, and it turns out that he was performing as a performer who fools people to show them how foolish they are, while at the same time fooling those who knew he was fooling others to tell a truth (or something like that). I do not mean to make light of what the real José Álvarez went through when he found out, which I’m sure was unsettling, nor am I trying to condone identity theft, but there is something fascinating about what Deyvi must have been thinking throughout all of this. In his defense he alleges that they told him José Álvarez was dead, and he didn’t use his new identity to do other crimes. (For all we know he may have even increased Álvarez’ credit score with his earned wealth in the art world.) Whatever the case I couldn’t help thinking of Chen Kaige’s Cheng Dieyi who could not tell the difference between his artistic practice and life. I for one, try to keep those two at a parallel, sometimes they cross over, but I think that if they merged my life would be a mess.

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February 10th, 2013

Site Makeover

It was time to update/upgrade this site, so after some recoding I deployed a new joserg.com and redid the theme for this blog. Please take a look around and report any bugs or style issues.

I have packaged the files for both the portfolio site and the blog, and you may use and change them for your own purposes in whatever way you see fit. The main site is very lean on php to allow for faster loading and the lightboxes use JavaScript for loading the images. The whole thing should run pretty fast on most connections. The blog runs on WP so I just packaged the theme. It uses native menus, and it is a reworking of the ET-Starter theme. Download links are here: Main Site and Blog.

If I had the time I would build an upload page to put image and text files files and update the SQL database to make updating the site even easier, but I can’t get into that right now. If you write such a sessions page please share back!

Thanks and enjoy!

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May 14th, 2012

Pulse Width Modulation

After building a piece at Franconia Sculpture Park last year, I’ve been looking for ways to add more functionality to its electronic component.

The sculpture consists of an array of solar panels feeding 2 car batteries and these in turn feeding an array of LED tubes and a couple of power outlets (USB and 120 VAC). Since LEDs don’t really dim by themselves, you have to fool the eye by turning them on and off at rates faster than the human eye can notice, creating the effect of dimming. (More on that here and here.)

Picture of circuitUsing an Arduino UNO and the code below I managed to get the lights to oscillate, but it still needs more tweaking to get the movement to smooth out some more. I’m also running into the problem that the formula generating the output values for the oscillation doesn’t always reach the lowest values, so sometimes it seems like it never fully dims down. I could probably just “hack it” with an if statement, but I want to see if I can solve it with the delay or the sin() formula itself.

 

const int LED = 9; //For holding pin number
float i = 0;
void setup() {
pinMode(LED, OUTPUT); //Sets pin to Output(+)
}
void loop() {
float amp = 255 * sin(i * .75);
if(amp < 0) {
amp *= -1;
}
analogWrite(LED, amp);
delay(220);
i += .1;
}

This video shows the patern, but not too well. Probably because of frame-rate issues the oscillation looks even choppier on video (I used my phone).

Eventually this will be the oscillation pattern used in the night version of the Surya Ratha.

Picture of Surya Ratha

Me, Surya Ratha, 2011

Diagram for all components

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April 12th, 2012

Happy!

Today is the happiest day of my life! I married the woman of my dreams and we are starting our life together. What else is there to say? 😀

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