Posts Tagged 'Art'

Be Overwhelmed

Sometimes things just get you, you know? They move past the effectiveness of their particular medium and take hold of you personally. They feel like they came from and were made for a certain part of you. That’s been this week for me. With movies and literature and TV and tonight music. Maybe I’m just in that place right now, that’s possible. But whatever the case, they’re finding their way to me and I am happy for it.

Let's Play

Let's Play

Many people read “Where the Wild Things Are” as a kid. I didn’t but sure wish I had. The movie evoked so much in me (I wrote a full review of it here). Scenes of its main character playing alone. Playing in the snow. His rage. His recklessness. His love. All of them smashing into each other. The powerful line KW says to him: “Don’t go. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.” The way the movie embraced danger in the same way I daydreamt about it as a kid; how much fun it would be to be in such a situation. I wanted it desperately. I fantasized about being a superhero who fought crime at night and did amazing things. I created storylines in my mind and replayed them alone on the bus. I was totally pre-occupied with them. This movie made me miss being a kid.

I love the late writer David Foster Wallace’s way he seems to smile sometimes through his pages as he plays with words. Sometimes it advances something, sometimes it’s just a treat. Other times, he nails turmoil so staggeringly that you hurt for him, even though he might be describing you. Here, in Infinite Jest talking about time and withdrawal:

Poor Tony once had the hubris to fancy he’d had occasion really to shiver, ever, before. But he had never truly shivered until time’s cadences— jagged and cold and smelling oddly of deodorant— entered his body via several openings—cold the way only damp cold is cold—the phrase he’d had the gall to imagine he understood was the phrase chilled to the bone—shard-studded columns of chill entering to fill his bones with ground glass, and he could hear his joints’ glassy crunch with every slightest shift of hunched position, time ambient and in the air and entering and exiting at will, coldly; and the pain of his breath against his teeth.

Also, HBO’s “In Treatment” for the way it confounds your expectations and reminded me that you can have effective drama with just two people, sitting in a room, talking. We watch them fail and learn and cry and get angry. More than any other show I can remember, it looks at the way people look while they listen. How communicative the eyes can be. 43 episodes of it and I was riveted.

decemberists___hazards_of_love_by_monavxFinally, The Decemberists. I’ve seen them many times before, I’ll see them again. But tonight was the only time I ever saw them alone. I didn’t like that part of it. It’s harder to share it. But oh how it felt like seeing old friends. I have a relationship with the music now. The animated Visualization of “The Hazards of Love” was stunning, but the music and the band’s own performance made me breathless. I felt lucky. I got to see it twice and now it is done. Never again to be performed live after this tour. How could it be? It’s over. But I saw it. Perhaps it was the animation or I don’t know what, but I kept noticing how emotional this album is. Can a thing be ornate and raw at the same time?

The feeling starts in my chest and rises— slowly at first, but increasingly fast—to my face. I instinctively smile when it gets there, which is partly my way of acknowledging it and partly my way of stalling it for a moment while I accept it. And in each case, the form of the thing, the way it is packaged in its particular artistic medium is part of the joy. Wallace’s words or Spike Jonze’s playful style; the daring simplicity of “In Treatment” and the immensity of The Decemberists’ sound. They’re like little presents, these things, that the artist cannot help but give. They come from a desire to share, to show for us. Even when they are dark, they seem prepared lovingly; with humanity. And they connect us to something outside and above and something paradoxically larger than ourselves but that is also within us, aching for us to see it.

intreatment.533For some reason, the last week I’ve been seeing it. I’ve been feeling it. Art reveals itself to us in the hope of helping reveal parts of ourselves we may not be aware of; that we forgot we had; that maybe we hoped were gone but aren’t; that we can’t believe; that have been waiting for us; that we desperately need even if we don’t think we do or can’t see why. It can help us get out of our own way. It can challenge us, even anger us. Anne Lamott puts it this (much better) way:

This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of—please forgive me—wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break into our small bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.

I read those words just before the concert started. Afterwards, I stood outside on the lovely UCLA campus, watching people filing away, down large staircases. I wrote a little about what I saw, how at home I felt on a college campus in the fall. And these things came trickling back to me. It feels good to be overwhelmed like this. Life does feel more spacious. Certainly not everything will make you feel this way, and most things that do aren’t trying to do that in the first place. It just happens sometimes. But it’s good and right and important to me to know that it can and be willing when it does.


Electromechanical Installations and Its Uses as an Artistic Canvas; OR, Microcontrol Me


Once in a great while, you see something so new, so interesting, so far beyond the lengths and widths that your mind had stretched. Last Friday, in Kansas City’s downtown Art Walk, I had this experience. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. No long build-up today.

What I saw was an exhibit called “Reel to Reel” by visual artist Jeff Share and musical artist Jon Fisher. Childhood friends from Texas, they went their separate ways during college but have found themselves collaborating on a monumentally impressive, expansive artistic experience.

Think of a sculpture. A 3-D item made of some material or materials. Now add a mechanism, so that your sculpture moves. Now add electricity, so that the mechanism can be both more advanced and more refined. And now revert back to step 1 – a sculpture; a visually stimulating THING. It is aesthetically interesting, the mind pours over it, inspecting its tiny details. 

This is not even the interesting part yet.

Within this sculpture is something else – a set. A model set of, say, a kitchen or bathroom or a hallway. A scale model. And either mounted onto the set or built in with it is a camera, which generates live video from inside, which is projected onto a monitor which itself is a part of the larger, exterior “electromechanical installation” or sculpture. So you have the sculpture, the set inside the sculpture and the film of the set, which is also a part of the original thing – the sculpture. But is the sculpture the first thing? Or have I assigned it “first thing” status? 

And now let’s go further. The set is being moved or rotated by some mechanical means. Within the set are lights, such that as it moves, the shadows move and change. Or there are tiny granules of sand, which flow freely and move and fall into crevices of the motorized set. Now let’s combine this entire experience with music. And what if the music wasn’t merely preset and chosen by the artist as a means of underscoring, but was generated by the movement of those sand granules? Or by the movement of the sculpture as a whole? And what if that movement was not precisely choreographed, but allowed to occur at random? Jon Fisher explains: 

“In each sculpture there is a microcontroller acting as an electronic “brain” for that piece. The microcontroller has the ability to turn on and off the various motors and lights within the sculpture. It also has the ability to communicate with a central computer running the whole show… generating in real time the soundtrack that is accompanying the video output of that piece… At the level of detail, chance is an integral part of the work. The algorithms generating the music heavily rely on computer-generated random numbers, though these are used in very tightly controlled windows of randomness.”

And the exhibit as a whole also functions like each individual piece, in that all of the pieces are linked and play off of each other, at times are projected onto a large movie-screen, which cuts between multiple pieces, which are all moving. So then as you watch, you see people go back and try to figure out which piece is being projected onto the larger screen at a given moment. There is a buzz, people calling out to strangers across the gallery, “Is it that one?” Shore and Fisher have created an exhibit that contains interactivity between art and viewer and between those viewers, as the art is occurring. 

Just the scope of the idea is impressive, a big beautiful collaboration among different arts, sciences and concepts. Big things within small things within other things, within something else, all interacting at random with each other and the connoisseur. It is one of the few pieces of art of any kind I’ve experienced that so perfectly links the abstract and the tactile, the sort of thing the mind puzzles over, going round and round and thinking you’ve gotten to the end and you’re back to the beginning, or thinking you’re at the beginning and finding out you’re in the middle, or thinking you’re in the middle and finding out you’re in the middle, but the middle is something other than what you thought it was.

And even outside of the thing itself, what an inspiring thing it is to be able to be blown over by something, to so fully not see something coming. It’s invigorating. I’ve said before that I hate artists, which is true but incomplete. I hate most people in most groups. But I also love artists, and this is why, this is what restores my faith in us. That pieces like this can be created. That movies like the just released “Synechdoche, New York” can come along and boggle our minds for a solid week, until we run out and see it again. I have hopes to revisit both experiences. This is something my very great friend BJ would have really liked if he still lived in KC. I very much wish he could see it. Explanations are bound to be incomplete, something like this begs to be seen and felt and experienced. Then talked about. It is one of the greatest, most intriguing things I’ve ever witnessed.

Jesus Likes My Website Better Than Yours…

On my podcast recently, I spent some time ragging on a movie I haven’t seen, called “Fireproof.” It stars Kirk Cameron. I won’t restate my annoyance with this film (or rather, its trailer), let’s just say it’s the Christian-movie version of “Ladder 49.” And that phrase “Christian-movie” is important to point out. Not Christian, but Christian-movie. The two are distinct and separate entities.

I am a Christian, but not a Christian-movie. I’m always curious, and suspicious, of Christian-movie types. And to be fair, books, music, all “Christian Art” is held under this microscope, just as all Art in general is held under it. I’m not playing favorites.

And then the other day I stumbled across a website called “GodTube.” (click HERE to join the revival) You read correctly, GODTube. Like YouTube, but with less sin. Okay, hold on. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. I will hold back my instinctive criticism of this website and assume its creation was primarily to act as an online marketplace of Christian videos, and not as a Holy alternative to YouTube (Are there parents out there who would forbid their kids to go on YouTube? Is this level of restriction inevitable?). The real test is, are the videos on YouTube AND GodTube, or only GodTube? I don’t know the answer, and investigation isn’t on my agenda for the day.

Here are two videos I came across, one terrible, one decent (further criticisms – couldn’t embed their video onto the blog, never had any problems before):



Answer: The first one is the terrible one. The premise is interesting – what would it be like to literally hang out with Jesus in the Flesh, as they say? The problem is that Jesus is caught between two roles – Leader and Friend. He’s supposed to be ALL God and ALL Human, here he is 50% of both instead, so the dynamic is off. As well, Jesus is… sortof a dick in these videos (this is a series). Know what’s missing? Forgiveness, which I thought was THE definitive characteristic of Christ. The scene meanders upfront, covering the same dilemma of whether or not to take God’s advice, and once he makes the choice, the wrong choice, Jesus doesn’t correct him so much as he rubs the guy’s nose in his failure like a dog. This is when the scene SHOULD become interesting, but the writers cop out and go for an easy (and I think wrong-headed) moral.

The second one is interesting. Simple concept – Religious vs Christian – how do we present ourselves? Are we self-congratulatory or sincere? Judgmental or Relaxed? So, good so far. It makes its point clearly, I think, without over-simplifying. The only thing I dislike is that it perpetuates perhaps THE biggest Christian-movie cliche by being a pop-culture rip-off. Christian-movies are the guy who always arrived late to the party. By the time they heard about the party, figured out what to wear, how to get there, the party’s peak has come and gone. Now, to be fair. This isn’t merely a Christian-movie cliche, it’s a comedic- and dramatic sketch cliche. It’s done, because it’s easy. In fact, you could make the argument that Christians came late to the party of ripping off pop-culture iconography, too! And of course, the entire website is a rip-off.

What do I make of this website? I’m not sure. Most of the stuff I’ve seen on there is junk, and I looked at the top played videos, so, what else am I to conclude? I’m sure there are good videos on here, but there’s a lot of crap too. Which makes it about par for the course. But why? Why are most Christians, and well, most people in general, content with this low level nonsense? Are most people really this boring? Or am I just being pretentious?

It Has Come to This

March 2019
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