1. Eleo Pomare, "Junkie", a solo section from Blues for the Jungle, a dance piece he choreographed in 1962 (far ahead of it's time IMHO). Saw it oncce on public TV, then never again (why? was this brilliant piece of work embarrassing to someone?). The solo excerpt is here (probably where I first saw it); if the original film becomes available I'll let you know.
In "Junkie", Mr. Pomare embodies the tragedy of a street person not just hopelessly addicted to heroin but to his own self-image as the above-it-all, got-it-totally-together, smoothest-talking, hippest baddest most street-elegant underground-economy alpha-male dandy there could be; his flailing and swooning is as much the body language of street sophistication and 'representation' as it is a too-high loss of coordination, and it's a damning, heartbreaking play of irreconcilable opposites complementing each other in a hopeless entropic downward spiral to the final end.
This dance is made from the street, from the reality of life not its aestheticization; in the same way as Buddhists (I'm not one) say that practice must deal with the raw stuff of life, not the decorated version we tend to display, in order to "find the jewel within the manure of experience"; the same as the blues, as in the title, magnetizes and somehow transforms suffering, reminding of the soul behind suffering, eternal, untouched, ever-strong. This is one of the few works I've seen go right to the bottom, to dig into such fertile loam for the jewel. Another such work that gains my admiration is the film Space Is The Place, by Sun Ra, who dives down into the darkest aspects of street life when he could've easily gone the opposite way. He had something to prove.
Why do African-American artists have to lead the way on this? I'm happy to give Af-Ams the credit, though I doubt the art world as a whole will ever own it or even see it; my point is, why is the art world at this late date so uncomfortable with 'reality' as it were? Is it a class issue? Decidedly so. It harks back to Millet if not before, perhaps to the time when making a portrait of anyone but the King was unthinkable. We are not there anymore but the biological impulse to lean toward the alpha male, to worship youth and fertility, and finally affluence, is strong. Don't get me started.
The 'dominant culture' has engaged with this practice in pieces here and there but generally prefers the aestheticized version of reality imported from Europe; there, even the genius of Millet and Dix found only outrage from polite society at first (though I have doubts that Dix ever uncovered his 'jewel' -but maybe; more on that later).
2. "It is not necessary to be someplace else in order not to be here," or, In Order Not To Be Here, Deborah Stratman, 2002. Saw this intense yet strangely soothing (up until the end) edit of surveillance video at the 2004 Whitney Biennale in a giant Diet Coke can (hehe), it's never left me because in a way I was already there; maybe you too. It's composed of surveillance videos from gated neighborhoods, convenience stores, the Mexican border, parking lots; and also some staged shots of a girl sleeping, an alarm clock, a house burning, and a suspect being chased (the creepiest part). There's a lot of silent, still imagery; nothing happens. There's an unspoken tension hanging over the whole thing, and in a sense everything we are, and are capable of, is captured there in the electric vibrating silence/stillness. While watching, noting that all the land, streets, sidewalks, parking lots and property are now under private ownership and private surveillance, I reflected on Burroughs' line from Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, "Listen all you boards, governments, syndicates, nations of the world / And you, powers behind what filth deals consummated in what lavatory / To take what is not yours / To sell out your sons forever! To sell the ground from unborn feet / for ever? for Eve-R..."
Entire video used to be online, now only a preview here.
3. Richard Diebenkorn (can I sneak David Park in here too? esp. the late paintings). Everything, ('cept a lot of the Ocean Park series: nice, critics' darlings, but not my darlings). I don't know really what to say about him, but- what wholly satisfying paintings to anyone who likes abstraction and/or figuration, what a totally unique yet somehow inevitable approach, what consistently interesting color and what relaxed and assured design/drawing/tone etc etc etc. And enlightening and pleasing, this.
4. Sun Ra. The man, the myth, the art, music, poetry, ensembles, films, and on and on and on... the whole thing. As a reviewer for the bio Space Is The Place put it, you'd need something the size of an encyclopedia to accurately record his activities. Sun Ra's life proves that the Universe rules everything: no one could ever plan to do what he did and actually make it happen, not in a billion years. Like the Mona Lisa, 400 years from now they'll still be trying to figure him out. Good luck.
5. Giovanni Bellini. Everything, especially the Christ; as a child, agog with knowing both past and future eternal of every atom for every universe infinite; and as the martyr, being both dead and alive, here and now everywhere, all time and all space; Mother joins him there.
6. Frankenstein, The Living Theatre, 1965 (beginning only, here, 5:23 til 11:31). I saw this as a child, shock. Somehow I would like to add, all of Mabou Mines in the 70s (I saw 4-5 works as a kid, later Dead End Kids, both live and film), eh? Forget about description.
7. Leon Kossoff, the more '3-D' portraits particularly. I like to look away from the 'likeness' to the paint, the many layers and tangles of expression & energy, a simulacrum of nature, a fiery fecundity, a glorious mess, a vivid abstract of passion that I bet Pollock and De Kooning wish they'd wrote. There is one great monograph on him, brilliantly detailed photography, but you'll have to search.
8. Poet Steve Dalachinsky declaiming with all burners lit, superdancer Ximena Garnica and incredibly artistic, melodic, tasteful drummer/percussionist Tim Barnes at Vision Festival 9, 2004. I think there's audio somewhere but it's not enough. Ximena embodied the Cosmos, or Time, or I don't know what, only that it was all and everything; only reference comes to mind (and no pun intended) is the Gurdjieff movements, but this was more the being than the implying of something greater. This performance was the realization of the Vision vision, where three totally independent disciplines merge perfectly to create something wholly beyond any sum of parts. It was one of those performances where you think, "Am I really seeing this?"
|Emily Hennings performs a dance at the Cabaret Voltaire|
10. It pays to remind oneself that one's own experience of life is a form of art: a creative reconstruction of 'reality', an impression only, surely not the thing itself (Epictetus). But you knew that. But enough of that. I want to tell you about Axi-DentIal Enterprises, a work at a Baltimore outdoor artfest in the 70s, that piqued me and confounded me equally. A wooden structure not unlike a wooden labyrinth board with perplexing metaphysical features and detours and instructions, it sounded to me from a greater deep of working knowledge that I considered as help, a help that would help me get through life, a life that was quite as confounding as the board. Thankfully, the artist was very nice, and sat down and tried to explain it to me and whatever was on his mind when he made it. Despite the fact that I could make no real sense of what he said, I felt hopeful: there was some kind of theory that made sense, and if I could just work it out... and so I've been trying ever since.
That oft-recurring vexation has been a kind of mantra for me, guiding me through even worse vexation and beyond. I'll thank him now for all of it; for introducing me to ART the greatest mystery, promising all you'd ever need, which of course can never be solved. The greatest art gives one the feeling that the artist knows, beyond all doubt, the secret doorways in existence, the essence(s) of life, but is not giving it away. It's not our ken to know, just our struggle. Art's not about history, fantasy, the unconscious, or cultural decon; it's about expressing the inexpressible, the unknowable, doing away with the known. Great art tends a fire banked in the soul's hearth, the disquieting intimation, imminence of 'truth'; quietly, insistently urging us on to nameless knowing.
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11 - 100. When someone says, "art", I never forget that there are (at least) five arts: visual, musical, literary, dramatic and whatever else counts as art today. My sincere apologies to all the artists from all disciplines who didn't make it in to the top ten. I will continue this list at my leisure, as no one can possibly express the scope of their love for art in ten examples. Thank you for listening.