Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Weekend Stuff (yes, I know it's Tuesday)

So my Friday podcasting class didn’t make. Or rather, it made but only two people showed up. Since it was just the three of us, it seemed silly to go through my whole formal spiel, so we rescheduled the technical part of the training and we just sat and brainstormed ways to fit the technology into their existing professional practice. Once I got them past a few basic concepts, it was fascinating to see two professionals teaching in two vastly different disciplines bouncing ideas off of each other. As the conversation went on, I found it better to referee less and less, and just let them work out bits of it on their own. I honestly believe they learned more that way, but I’m struggling with how to incorporate that into trainings with ten or more people in them (which is my usual class size). It’s easy to steer two people back from the brink of technical improbability, but not so much when it’s a dozen people having half a dozen conversations.

Mary was in town and stayed with us for the weekend. She got in late Friday afternoon and headed straight over to her storage unit to start sorting through stuff to take back (after checking to make sure I really hadn’t killed her cats, of course). Mary being an artist and all, as soon as she got back to the house she wanted to do the opening circuit. Three months teaching 6-12 year olds in some Appalachian valley somewhere had apparently left her a little culture starved.

First stop was the Nia opening at Marshall Arts. I forgot to bring my PDA so I wasn’t able to take notes (and my memory is too swiss cheesed to remember names right now), but I can say as a general statement that it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in that space. There were an incredible series of black on black prints with the word “Grillz” embossed across the top of various pop-cultural images, some unsettling and some subversively funny. Not to say that there wasn’t a fair amount of very serious and considered work, but subversive humor seemed to be a current in the show that carried a lot more successfully than in other work I’ve seen recently. It is an unfortunate tendency of socially conscious art to leave its sense of humor behind. Artists who are capable of, or even known for, making astoundingly funny and simultaneously poignant art suddenly forget how powerful that can be when they start to tackle their favorite cause. Humor can drive home important messages so much easier than a lot the maudlin pap that gets so often foisted up in the name of “the cause” and it was nice to see that the artist in Nia took that lesson to heart.

Interestingly the crowd I’m used to seeing at Marshall Arts openings was nowhere to be found. I’m sure that the fact that both the big college art programs were having openings elsewhere in town probably had something to do with it, but it was disheartening none the less to not see a bigger crowd turn out for such a good show. I admit that I was only there for a little under an hour, but I’d love for someone to explain to me why it is only when a black artist is showing that the makeup of a gallery crowd comes anywhere near reflecting the racial makeup of the city.

I have come to expect good things of the MCA “On the street” gallery in recent months, which made our next stop something of a disappointment. I’m all for salon style shows, when the work and space will support it, but this show just seemed like too much work in not enough gallery. Unlike the mini-comics show or the sculptural show with all of the interchangeable body parts (to pick examples more or less at random), it was impossible to get a sense of space with the work in this show, because you were always in danger of walking into another piece of art. There were a few really solid pieces capable of overcoming the unfortunate arrangements of the show; most notably a series of dyed cotton vignettes on the south wall depicting scenes of the artists touching, fairytale like rememberings of her father. I admit that when it comes to work like this, I don’t trust my ability to view it objectively the way I used to, but both Mary and Amber commenting on them as we were leaving the gallery makes me think I couldn’t have been too far off. They could have been works of fiction for all I know, but they were fantastic none the less.

Down the street was a more consciously salon style show, the fundraising auction for the University of Memphis ARTS group. I’ve picked up work at the last two of these auctions and I didn’t see any reason to stop that trend this year. It’s a little weird for me making the transition from critical viewer to artistic consumer, but that didn’t stop me from picking up four new Scott Fulmar prints. I’m an unabashed fan of his work; this brings my total collection to an even dozen purchased over the last three years. There was some other really good work there but sales were unfortunately not as brisk as I remember seeing them in years past. I wonder how the other auctions have been fairing this fall?

After my little foray into conspicuous consumption, we met up with the movie night crew down at the Arcade for a late dinner. It was good food and great fun to have the gang assembled again, but I just want to sound a quiet note of warning to the handful of you who read this. If someone from Alabama brings up Jimmy Buffet, just pretend to be a fan even if you’ve only ever heard Margaritaville. When it came out that I’d never heard the song “Cheesburger in Paradise” (and that Amber didn’t like it), Chandler looked at us like we’d just stepped off of a spaceship. I gathered from reading what she had to say later that, songs about foodstuffs not withstanding, Buffet’s music has a certain power for people living in places that have beaches and waves (like the blues does for those in the delta or zydeco in Louisanna), but considering I’m not a big fan of sand or saltwater, it’s probably not something I’ll may never be able to really get no matter how hard I try.

The next night, at a Halloween party graciously hosted by someone named Kate whom I’d never met before but who kindly let me occupy her couch for a few hours, Chandler offered to make me a CD. I’m looking forward to it; hopefully it will help...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The gangs all here...

I’ve been seeing a fair amount of good art but a fair amount of it was only fair; I really still don’t have much of a drive to write about any of it. It’s a damned good thing this isn’t how I make my living. I’m not sure if it’s that what I’m seeing just isn’t compelling or that I’m just not in a frame of mind to be compelled right now.

I’ve been teaching all week; Copyright yesterday and the first of two podcasting classes today. I sucked. Copyright went ok (not my best performance), but the network was crawling slow and the instructor computer crashed three times while I was trying to teach the podcasting class… hard to teach an internet class when you can’t get to the !@#$ing internet. This is when I discovered I suck at vamping. I don’t think I was always this bad at it, but entertaining a room full of faculty while troubleshooting computer problems is apparently a trick I’ve forgotten how to perform. I hope to hell that Friday’s podcasting class goes smoother.

In other news, I was down at my grandmother’s place for the Orionids Saturday night. I saw a little over 50 meteors for the hour I managed to keep myself awake… no where near the best show I’ve seen, but not bad. For anyone interested, the Leonids peak on Saturday, November 19. I’m not sure we live far enough east to get the best part of the show, but it should be worth turning out for.

When we got back in town, Amber and I went over to Chandler and Daniel’s for the highlight of the weekend, a pumpkin carving party. After dark, we went in to watch "Art School Confidential." I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a party film, but if you're into quirky or have ever been to art shcool, it's very defenitely worth your time. I know party stories are supposed to be “over” so I’ll leave it at that and just let you check out the pictures if you’re so inclined…

[edit]I've been trying to make this post from the Flickr XML-RPC service for a little over half an hour... I finally gave in and logged into Blogger. I guess that Flickr and the new Blogger Beta don't play well together[/edit]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Astronomy Note: Orionids 2006

Tomorrow night, October 21, will be the peak of the Orionid Meteor shower this year. The radiant is a little to the left of the constellation Orion (hence "Orionid"). The Orion will rise about midnight, with best viewing being about 1am. Everything I've read says that they may tend toward being a little dim, so city viewing may not be particularly good, but it is a new moon and that will help.

If you look right there, you can see the face of Jesus in the Hot Dog

I've seen some decent art in the last two weeks (Tad's show was amazing), but things have largely been so crummy that I haven't had the creative energy to write about any of it. Amber quit her new job (and rightly so) and the damned car broke down again. Blessedly, someone was nice enough to keep me engaged in the comments section or else I probably wouldn't have written a damned thing.

Anyway, I just logged in so that I could share this.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Institutional Critique

I attended a fantastic lecture last night over at AMUM about something called the Semiotic Nonagon. I don't have my notes with me so I'm not going to try to write it up just at the moment. But I did want to say, to the three of you that read this, that the same speaker is giving an all day workshop tomorrow at AMUM starting around 8:30am. Anyone interested in critical analysis of art or design would do well to attend. Unfortunately, I'll be in my office preparing to interview graphic designers instead.

Also, my heart felt congratulations to Spike. He was kind enough to talk shop with me for the better part of an hour at his wife's opening at the Medicine Factory (a fantastic show, which I reviewed here). Hell of a nice guy and I really wish him all the best.

As to the title of this post, I give you the best thing I read today.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Greatest Danger Redux

Can moderates write manifestos? It strikes me that so much of our discourse these days is nothing more than shrill extremists shrieking at each other while laying claim to vast majorities that really don’t belong to them. And I’m not just talking politics here. I see it everywhere… music, science, philosophy, religion, and, especially recently, in art; it’s all the same dialectic. But then I look around and it seems that if you put all the pieces together you can assemble a reasonable, if difficult to articulate, third way.

Without getting terribly preachy, I just have to get this thought off my chest: un-self-critical work in service of the dominant ideology, whether that ideology is supply side economics or abstract oil painting, is nothing more than propaganda. If you’re going to work in the dominant framework, you had better be aware of the power structure that props it up or you’re really nothing more than a shill and we know, deep down, that’s not where you want to be.

The flip side is, of course, the dominant structure is most likely not in place because it completely sucks. There must be (or have been) some value there or it would never have existed in the first place. I’m not saying you must rebel gently, but insurgents needn’t throw out the baby with the bath water; tyranny begins, after all, with the will of the people.

So today, just as I’m getting the urge to say “screw it all, other people have said this better” the good people at Lantana are kind enough to link to this. It’s not exactly Critical or even revelatory, but at least it mostly seems thoughtful. I particularly liked Hari Kunzru and Jeanette Winterson and not so much Matthew Collings. Note to Matthew: water is no less important to the individual because there is lots of it. (Better writers than him have made this same mistake, of course.)

Regardless, I’m going to have to grab a copy of the book.


Also, from the I’m-not-just-some-pontificating-asshead department: I found while blog surfing today a nifty DIY project for anybody into photography. I wish I’d had one of these while shooting slides for Amber.