Monday, November 21, 2011

Avant Garde and Experimental Video?

George Kuchar
The "tradition" of experimental and avant garde film is described on Wikipedia as being "opposed to the practices of mainstream of commercial and documentary film making." Can home made video continue this tradition? In case of the work of George Kuchar (b. August 31, 1942 - d. September 6, 2011), his film making was about sheer joy--and maybe this is exactly what most people are trying to do within the typical YouTube video "genre." Kuchar's 1977 10 minute film, "I An Actress" shot on one length of 16 mm film under pressure--at once reveals the aspirations of an actress and the directorial techniques of the young Professor Kuchar. Kuchar's cinematic vision is one based on pop culture, specifically comic books that reflect his idiosyncratic sense of humor.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Experimental Videos Screening

(or why go to an art museum to watch TV?)

Lawrence University Warch Campus Center Cinema
Sunday, November 20, 2011, 6:30-9:00 PM

ART 240 Digital Processes students will screen their 1-minute experimental videos. Each will introduce their video before and take questions after from the audience about their content, meaning and artistic process. Pop corn and slushies! All are welcome!

6:30 - WELCOME - J. Shimon & J. Lindemann

6:40 - Zhan Guo "Dizzy" about tbeing overwhelmed by books and escaping into the world of nature

6:50 - Natalie Fordwor "The Simple Joys" about the joyful moments of life

7:00 - Briana Harter "From Yourself" about not letting anyone hold you back from expressing your individuality and passion

7:10 - Jessica Meissmer "Take a Moment" about taking the time to relax

7:20 - Aisha Eiger "Self-Portrait in Charcoal" about exploring video through exploring self

7:30 - Deborah Levinson "The Descent" is a humorous take on the impact of desire (It could also be about bestiality)

7:40 - BREAK

7:50 - Christine Seeley "The Meat Department" about the grocery store meat department in relation
to excessive production, overeating, and consumerism in America

8:00 - Chelsea Lee "Skin" about beauty and emotion, and how we express them

8:10 - Geneva Wrona "Stranger and Stranger Strangers" about the surreality of the process of knowing people

8:20 - Rachele Krivichi "The Fight" about the decreasing ability to communicate directly with another in the digital age

8:30 - Sara Sheldon-Rosson "I Want to Line The Pieces Up" an exploration of the human condition and the curiosity and fear of death


9:00 -  FINI

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What We Find

Since the dawn of the industrial age, artists have used the cut/paste action to digest material ranging from newspaper clippings to tape loops or digital audio/video tracks. In Remix: Making Art  & Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008), Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig argues for avoiding a "permission culture" as he calls for a revamp of copyright law so: "More people can use a wider set of tools to express ideas and emotions differently." According to Lessig, artists could reference the "aura" of cultural objects through their remixes to create new meaning and perhaps help us all sort out the sheer volume of cultural production over the past century. Negativland has called for  "mass culture" to be returned to the masses through rethinking intellectual property law. They wrote in a missive on Fair Use: "We now exist in a society so choked and inhibited by cultural property and copyright protections that the very idea of mass culture is now primarily propelled by economic gain and the rewards of ownership." Web 2.0 platforms such as YouTube combined with digital video editing software have made critiquing moving images as easy as making a photocopied zine was in the 1970s.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Watching Exhibition Opening Reception, October 19, 2011
Twelve Digital Processes students exhibited their framed inkjet prints and MagCloud magazines in an exhibition titled "Watching" at Lawrence University's MUDD GALLERY (October 19-November 7, 2011). Being able to touch the art seemed to absorb visitors, who patiently waited to turn the pages of each and every magazine.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Distinct and Intense Order

National Gallery of Art Curator Sarah Greenough talks about Robert Frank's iconic post-World War II book, The Americans in a video documenting the 2009 exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans. Greenough and other scholars have looked intensely at "the sequence and structure" of the book that expressed a rhythm and at times Frank's own intuitive response using images of people looking or the American flag to "keep the beat" as poet Allen Ginsberg observed. The process of Frank's printmaking and maquette have been replaced today by online organizing tools such as Flickr and MagCloud and software such as Adobe's InDesign making bookmaking more accessible for artists and helping artists self-publish material that may have otherwise not been of interest to the mainstream press.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sony NEX-5, Not Just a Fashion Accessory

You can set today's digital cameras on automatic and use them as jewelry...or take control and make meaningful images by starting out with a concept then learning enough about what the camera can do to control the end result.  On the most basic level setting the ASA/ISO, color balance and size of your .jpgs (or raw files) or manipulating the focus, exposure and flash takes the user beyond the generic point-and-shoot aesthetic.  We'll be experimenting with the Sony Nex-5 camera, which is lightweight and portable yet offers control. There's a beautiful "Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera Handbook" PDF you can download that offers helpful illustrations and instructions to aid you in understanding the camera's capabilities.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

People You May Know

Diego Velazquez: Las Meninas, 1656
In Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera since 1870, SFMOMA curator Sandra Phillips argues that photography has played a major role in voyeuristic looking. Velazquez famously recorded acts of looking as far back as 1656 in his Las Meninas painting. Contemporary artists Emily Jacir (linz diary) and Shizuka Yokomizo (Stanger series) make work about deliberate performances before an unseen but perceived camera reminding us that someone is always watching. Gladys Kravitz was the nosy neighbor archetype always looking out the window in Bewitched. Today, every cell phone has a camera and every person has a cell phone thus making it possible for any action to be captured by anybody. Boundaries between public and private space blur and the  doors are thrown open for ubiquitous self-surveillance as we all willingly post every detail of our lives on FaceBook or otherwise. The panopticon conceptualized by Michel Foucault (wherein we live with the idea of being watched and adjusting our behavior accordingly) has seduced us. Philip Agre in Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy cautions us as he critiques ways our daily activities are captured and turned into a commodity. 

Gladys Kravitz always watching on "Betwitched"

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Machine is Us/Ing Us

1945 ENIAC computer showed several problems with the H-Bomb Design
Why is Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) a household name and not Doug Engelbart (inventor of the mouse and networked computing first demonstrated in 1968), Computer Lib/Dream Machines (inventor of hypertext) or Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web)? For one thing, Edison was an entrepreneurial business man while Engelbart, Nelson and Berners-Lee were idealists who saw their inventions as ways for people to share information and collaborate freely. Scholar Michael Wesch still believes the web is a huge collaborative project with all of us contributing using platforms that both help share information and fuel the capitalist machine. Lev Manovich also views Web 2.0 as a platform for mass collaboration.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Like the Stars

Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. 1962, the first American to orbit Earth.
The astronaut John Glenn may have caught a glimpse of heavenly blue from the porthole of his spaceship, but I have watched the lights of a computer in operation. And they looked like the stars. -- Allan Kaprow from his essay The Artist as a Man of the World (1964)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Digital Projects Show Case

Friday, March 11, 2011, 3-6:30 pm
Warch Campus Center Cinema
Lawrence University
Fruit Slushies & popcorn! Everyone Welcome!


Tom Coben: 
Into the Caves:
Protecting the Bats of the Philippines (video, 18 min.)
Delicious to some
The bat population falls
What is the answer? 

Kate Duncan-Welke: 
Song of the Sea (soundscape, 4 min.)
Calm whales amid blue seas
Silence then a flowing song
Music from nature 

Kanesha Walker & Jinglei Xiao:  
Systematic Destruction (video, 5 min.)
Strikes our nation making it
Better? No. Far worse. 

Cait Genovese
Words Cannot Explain (video, 6 min.) 
Birds floating in air
traveling down a foggy road
abstract remembrance

Jordan Severson:  
An Exquisite Cycle (book, video, 9 min.)
Video and sound
Conceptions of life and death

George Ziegler:  
Quest for the Apple Part II: 
The Ultimate Quest (video, 13 min.)
Look what I found here
I lost something I once knew
I need the apple 

Hillary Rogers:  I Don't Get It (book)
Peek at glory past.
If only marble mouths could
move, what would they say? 

Zenabu Abubakari:
All Displayed (book and calendar)
Visually displayed 
A global dialect is formed

Anam Shahid:  Distortion of Reality: 
Pakistan in America (book)
We are who we are,
No matter how far away
We go beyond home

Krissy Rhyme:  

Portraits of People I Wish I Could Be (book)
Ah navel gazing
Like the art of karate
It must be mastered

Maki Miura
Earthlings (portfolio)
In little A-town
Hatch that bubble; discover
the diversity

Ali Scattergood:  
Sheer Presence - Relocated (portfolio)
Sheer Fabric Flows on
Energy moves within us
like a tree grows tall

Jake Cihla:
Record of Rose Creek Dairy (portfolio)
I cannot describe
The joy of finding a place
In graceful decay

Art and the Day Job

Artist Kristin Boehm of Minneapolis, 2010

What's going on out there for young artists right now? Lawrence University alumnus Kristin Boehm ('09) visited the Department of Art & Art History to talk about what she found in Minneapolis. Boehm's first video made when she was a sophomore in our Digital Processes course, Sweet Porridge, a digital adaptation of a Grimm's Fairy Tale predicted her future interests in a way. With its use of hand made yarn dolls, references to nurturing and eerie digitally synthesized dialog from an old-fashioned fairy tale, we begin to see the artist's ideas and aesthetic begin to take shape. Kristin's Reclaiming Technological Landscapes: SpinHandSpunDesigns honors project in 2009 incorporated knitting functional cozies to protect digital devices on commission. She also made larger cozies for street signs to communicate with a larger and perhaps more random public. Her visit to Lawrence was sponsored by the Coleman Foundation and the Lawrence's Department of Art and Art History as part of an initiative exploring opportunities self-employment for artists. That Boehm embarked on a series of proposals and internships related to her interests in art, knitting and technology while completing numerous commissions for iPod cozies is a testament to her determination, engagement with issues and stamina. Ironically, her attempts to be a self-employed artist lead her to a professional position as a designer working for Caring Bridge nicely merging her interests in digital culture, design, humanity, and psychology.

Kristin Boehm's "Sweet Porridge" video, 2007

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The most fascinating kind of art

Tupperware Party: domestic fans gather to
socialize and consume (circa 1950s).

In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), Warhol writes: "Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business-they'd Money is bad," and "working is bad," but making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art."  Having started out as a commercial artist designing store windows and ending up operating Andy Warhol Enterprises publishing magazines and cranking out portrait commissions holding this view makes sense. As Warhol wrote, calling an artist a $ELL OUT was the greatest of insults decades ago. Warhol predicted if not forged the way for the current possibility of "artist as entrepreneur" which has captured the mainstream media imagination with a spate of articles. The Economist wrote in its February 17, 2011 issue, "If businesspeople should take art more seriously, artists too should take business more seriously. Commerce is a central part of the human experience. More prosaically, it is what billions of people do all day." 

Warhol, Koons, and Hirst demonstrated that both fame and wealth could be achieved while an artist was still alive to benefit. The starving artist became stereotype than lapsed into "boho" lifestyle. Indeed the Internet has created new opportunities for young artists to make and sell artwork. Like a Tupperware party, young artists can develop networks of fans and friends, an inner circle of supporters willing to buy their wares. In 2007, Jen Bekman created 20x200 offering a "large selection of high-quality artwork starting at only $20." She welcomes novice consumers with only $20 to spend and hopes to turn them into art fans by offering editions of prints by an array of both the famous and the up and coming. Kate Bingaman-Bert started drawing then selling her drawings of her credit card statements to help get herself out of debt. Then she began drawing everything she bought and posting the drawings online as a project. The ongoing project evolved into her Tumblr blog Obsessive Consumption/The Office of Kate Bingaman Burt and a book. Even Minneapolis photographer Alec Soth, who has been embraced by the chic Chelsea art world has found a creative outlet in the realm of selling cheap items online to "fans." He recently established Little Brown Mushroom Books to publish and sell posters, zines, t-shirts, hats and books ranging in price from $7 to $950. Artists can craft an online artist profile using FaceBook then blog about their artistic process and projects for free on BlogSpot and selling hand made items on Etsy. It is free and easy but it takes a degree of persistence, resilience, adaptability and vision to stand out in the increasingly crowded online world of artists self-promoting and business becomes an art in itself as Andy said.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Future Already Exists

Borges in Central Park,
New York, 1969 by Diane Arbus
Video Artist Bill Viola described electricity, in a lecture in 2009 at  Otis College of Art and Design (13:30-18:30), as a "gift from the sky." Electricity, remarked Viola, brought movement to images through video. It made the digital medium possible and it gave us all the power to send messages around the globe at the speed of light. Viola saw the combination of science, technology and art made possible by the digital medium as culminating in cultural change on the scale of the Renaissance. The digital medium, he predicted, will break down barriers between disciplines making knowledge universal and accessible to everyone. On the Web, all time and all knowledge coexist in ways Jorge Lois Borges described his 1941 story, The Garden of Forking Paths. Borges describes the work of a fictional  poet, calligrapher and governor named Ts'ui Pen who leaves everything behind to "compose a book and a maze" with the aim to "construct a labyrinth in which all men would become lost." To new media scholars, Borges description of Ts'ui Pen's maze relates to the hypertext of the World Wide Web. The long process of conceiving, understanding and fully utilizing the tool of the Web may no doubt take centuries to fully work out. As Viola wrote in his essay Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?(1982): "Applications of tools are only reflections of the users--chopsticks may be a simple eating utensil or a weapon, depending on who uses them."

With the recent use of Web 2.0 social media to share information about the regime in Egypt, we see the Web's function beyond selling shoes and booking travel. Tim Berner-Lee and his CERN colleagues refrained form describing the political possibilities of the Web in their article titled The World-Wide Web (1994). "The World-Wide Web (W3) was developed to be a pool of human knowledge, which would allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas and all aspects of a common project" they wrote. Commerce may have outpaced knowledge-sharing with the development of entrepreneurial projects from Amazon to Facebook, but users ultimately use and sometimes subvert the tool. Through Web 2.0, artists can today avoid the traditional gate keepers of culture (e.g. art fairs, galleries, museums, publications) by building their own audiences by putting their work on sites ranging from Etsy to TuneCore to their own blogs where ideas as well as commodities are exchanged. FaceBook and Twitter are being used by even established gallery artists to share information on their projects and processes. The artistic process may be less mysterious than it used to be, but it is also accessible to audiences perhaps searching for familiar voices edged out of the mainstream. Meanwhile, Berners-Lee urges users to share "unadulterated raw data" by posting it on the Web to break down  barriers between people and disciplines.
Tim Berners-Lee in 1994 unleashing the Web

Friday, February 11, 2011

Art Alchemy & The Void

WC Gallery, 908 Talbot Avenue, DePere, Wisconsins, 2011

Our friend, the environmental sculptor  Roy Staab, rants incessantly about museums and curators caring more about dead artists and dead art than living artists and their work. He wants art to be free and alive and mostly for living artists to be supported (financially and psychically) and taken seriously. It takes effort(s) to accomplish what Roy wants. Last week our Digital Processes students visited the WC Gallery (allegedly the smallest gallery in the Midwest) just off  the kitchen in Dr. Stephen Perkins' home in a residential neighborhood not far from the Shopko store in DePere, Wisconsin. His day job is as a curator of art and professor of museum studies at the Lawton Gallery at University of Wisconsin Green Bay. By painting the walls of his small water closet metallic gold and inviting artists from around the world to exhibit, he has sparked dialog and opportunities for interaction. It is a sort of art alchemy.

Dear Artist Ray Johnson

A current exhibition of Ray Johnson works at WC titled Should An Eyelash Last Forever (Ray Johnson Works on Paper) runs January 22-July 29, 2011. The show includes 15 photocopy works neatly framed (for $60) and installed with an audio loop of a Ray rant. A Venice Lockjaw button sits on a pedestal on the back of the toilet. Though the show contained the works of a dead artist meticulously documented in a small catalog featuring an essay by Dr. Perkins, the gallery seemed alive with possibilities and the lingering aura and mystery of Ray Johnson. In a gallery talk, Dr. Perkins described his correspondence with Johnson via the U.S. Postal Service and telephone in the early 1990s just a few years before Johnson's suicide performance piece on Friday, January 13, 1995.

Johnson's enigmatic art process, which includes "Paloma-izing" his collages or otherwise reworking them to achieve an alluring patina, was documented lovingly in a film by Andrew Moore titled How to Draw a Bunny (2002). Moore and collaborator John Walter construct their movie as a film-noirish detective story. The camera enters the lives of Johnson's network of friends and attempts to assemble the pieces of a puzzle to the steady beat of jazz drummer Max Roach. Moore's skill for enlivening slow declines also manifests itself in his recent still photographs of the ruins of Detroit, Cuba and other places in the process of disintegrating just as Johnson was.

Living Curator Mary Jane Jacob

Curators like Mary Jane Jacob of Chicago wait for connections and directions to emerge in large-scale projects involving entire communities, living artists and in under-used and sometimes ignored or misunderstood public space. In a lecture titled The Collective Creative Process at Lawrence University on Tuesday, February 8, 2011, Jacob described her practice of observation, co-generation, action and integration. She urged artists, curators and community to establish clear aims, to trust the process (solutions will emerge!), to be fully present and to be sensitive to moments of insight. These methods evolved from her many projects in Charleston, in schools and sometimes galleries. Working within the system of art schools (she works for The School of the Art Institute), art institutions, publishers (she's edited a number of books published by the University of Chicago Press), she maintained a calm demeanor during her two days at Lawrence University. Amidst the overly-rational, carefully programmed culture of 21st century America, she granted permission to linger in the void and observe.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Doing is Knowledge

Allan Kaprow explaining Household, a Happening prepared for
Cornell University, May 1964. He gave a lecture explaining the piece
the day before a Happening or Activity then followed it with
a workshop to discuss the results.

The artworld produces "stillborn art" wrote Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) in his "Happenings" in the New York Scene essay first published in 1961. He sought a venue more free for artists than "the white walls, the tasteful aluminum frames, the lovely lighting, fawn gray rugs, cocktails, polite conversation" of chic galleries and art museums. He wanted to blur art and life and coined the term Happenings ("Happenings are events that, put simply, happen") and came to realize that the world and everyday life should provide the backdrop for his Happenings. By the early 1960s, he located his "activities" in dumps, parking ramps, the street, courtyards, auditoriums, woods and orchestratraed them though a "score" mimeographed or handwritten. It was his pushing, his yearning to break down barriers between artist and audience that makes his work from some 50 years ago increasingly relevant today. In 2011 and the era of Web 2.0, artists design projects circumventing the art establislhment to involve online participants by providing instructions for what could more or less be described as performance-inflected works to be completed in the outside world. Many of these art projects such as Post Secret have been embraced by the mainstream. In 2005 artist Frank Warren began inviting people to participate by mailing him their secrets on a homemade postcard which he scanned and posted on blogspot. Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher's Learning to Love You More listed assignments, which participants could complete and until 2009submit for publication on their website. New York artist David Horvitz posted ideas"anyone can use without permission"on Tumblr suggesting activities such as making fake press passes to gain free admission to art museums. Even institutions, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art has invited the public to post portraits of photographers into a group pool on Flickr to coincide with their current Facing the Lens: Portraits of Photographers exhibition. Though Kaprow spoke against museums as more or less dead zones and resisted displaying his work, numerous museums have recently "reinvented" or "reinterpreted/reinvented" his "scores" including Fluids  mounted by The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in 2008. Many of Kaprow's "scores" have been collected and published as documents from an archive in Allan Kaprow: Art as Life by Eva Meyer-Herman, Andrew Perchuk and Stephanie Rosenthal (Getty 2008). The coffee table volume makes his pieces accessible to a new generation such as our Digital Processes students who "reinterpreted" Kaprow's Routine piece one wintry Wisconsin afternoon.

Digital Processes students "reinterpret/reinvent"
Allan Kaprow's Routine
L to R:  Jinglei Xiao, Zenabu Abubakari,
Professor Elizabeth Carlson,  Kanesha Walker in
Lawrence University's Science Hall Atrium, 2.2.2011

Digital Processes students "reinterpret/reinvent"
Allan Kaprow's Routine
L to R:  Anam Shahid, Ali Scattergood,
Krissy Rhyme and Hillary Rogers in
Lawrence University's Science Hall Atrium, 2.2.2011

Digital Processes students "reinterpret/reinvent"
Allan Kaprow's Routine
L to R:  Tom Coben and Jordan Severson in
Lawrence University's Science Hall Atrium, 2.2.2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Everyone is an Artist

Joseph Beuys planting one of 7000 Oaks.
A 4 foot high basalt stone was positioned next
to each tree to mirror the constantly changing
relationship between the tree and the stone.
Photos are posted to flickr showing their current state.

Nazi war trauma and abandoned plans to study medicine lead Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) to the Dusseldorf Academy of Art to pursue sculpture. He eventually gave up his early aspirations to emulate the work of British sculptor Henry Moore and created actions, multiples and installations instead. Through these works, he called for political reform and worked to engage the media and the public. Though some may perceive his art works (made of tallow, felt, honey and gold among other substances) as hard to "get", Beuys worked to draw in everyday people in hopes of breaking down boundries between art and life. Often associated with Fluxus, Beuys publicly denounced the movement. His works were his alone. His sculptures ran the gamut froms sweeping Karl-Marx-Platz in West Berlin on May Day 1972 to cooperating with the Guggenheim to install a major exhibition of his sculptures (as documented in John Halpern's Transformer video) to co-founding the Green Party to planting 7000 oak trees (7000 Eichen, 1982-7) to singing, with rock star swagger, his song Sonne Statt Reagan attacking American president Ronald Reagan's arms policy. Since his death, the faithful propagate his message via YouTube videos and a Museum Schloss Moyland which holds his early works. Contemporary artists and institutions also seem to be embracing the sorts of gestures that Beuys injected into the art discourse. Rirkrit Tiravanja prepared and served vegetarian curry daily to gallery-goes at David Zwiner in 2007) and part of his Untitled 1992 (Free) piece elevating cooking and eating to art.  Tino Sehgal made walking and engaging in conversation part of his art in This Progress staged in the empty Guggenheim in 2010 making human experience and thoughts a material for art.
Every sphere of human activity, even peeling a potato can be a work of art as long as it is a conscious act -- Joseph Beuys

Beuys at the peak of his career from a 1987 BBC documentary

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Animal Magnetism

Bruno S. watching his mobile home repossessed in the barren
Wisconsin winter landscape in Werner Herzog's Strozek (1977).

The relationship of Bruno Schleinstein and Werner Herzog came to mind while reading a passage from Herzog's 2009 book Conquest of the Useless: Reflections on Making Fitzcarraldo:

A fairly young, intelligent looking man with long hair asked me whether filming or being filmed could do harm, whether it could destroy a person. In my heart the answer was yes, but I said no. (19)

Watching Bruno S. perform for Herzog's camera in spaces like a prison cell, his own apartment in Berlin and later in a mobile home set in the cold beige and brown landscape of central Wisconsin in November, we ponder the potential psychic residue for both men after Stroszek. Drawn together perhaps through the fateful pull of the flux of the fluid described by the German Physician Franz Mesmer, the two men worked together on two films The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974) and Strosek (1977) and never again. In Bruno's obituary dated August 14, 2010, The New York Times quoted his reflection on his post-Herzog celebrity status: "Everybody threw him away." But he did not necessarily feel exploited. "I have my pride, and I can think, and my thinking is very clever," the Times quotes him saying. His flashback performances on camera are cruel and compelling as he appears to relive his childhood experiences in orphanages and at the hands of Nazi tormentors. Bruno and his struggles become integral to Herzog's metaphoric closing scene. A lingering shot of a chicken doomed to dance against a cheerful yellow backdrop for viewers willing to insert a quarter in the slot. The chicken exits and the scene fades to black all the while an ecstatic Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee tune (Hootin' the Blues) plays as the chicken prances leaving viewers to search for meaning in the pained emotions and bleak landscapes that pervaded the film.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee performing Hootin' the Blues (circa 1959)

Infamous dancing chicken scene from Stroszek (1977). Herzog states in the voice over commentary that it seemed to him to be among the most important moments of cinema.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dreams and Nightmares

Werner Herzog (b. 1942) on location for Fitzcarraldo (1982) set in Peru
Werner Herzog's fascination with characters living an extreme existence or landscapes providing an extreme shooting environment pervades his search for ecstatic truth. From the Amazon jungle to central Wisconsin in November, the self-taught German filmmaker has crafted his films around his desire to leave behind a record of the state of the human soul. In a text Herzog wrote for wife Lena Herzog's photographs documenting the pilgrimage site Bodh Gaya in Western Tibet (published in 2002 as Pilgrims: Becoming the Path Itself), he wrote of  Mount Kailash:
The mountain itself is not only a very impressive pyramid of black rock with a cap of ice and snow on its top, it immediately strikes the voyager as something much deeper - an inner landscape, an apparition of something existing only in the soul of man. (9)
Plainfield, Wisconsin (infamous for the crimes of the oft-satirized bachelor farmer/killer Ed Gein), says Herzog in Herzog on Herzog, "is one of those places that are focal points where every thread converges and is tied into a knot...where dreams and nightmares all come together." (146)  In his film Stroszek (filmed in Berlin, Manhattan, Plainfield and Cherokee, North Carolina), Herzog blurs documentary and narrative form to articulate his vision and over-arching concept. Starting with a script based on a real man named Bruno Schleinstein, the film evolved during the process of shooting which has long been a part of Herzog's film making practice. Improvising and collaborating with places, landscapes, animals, pimps, doctors, truckers, deer hunters, auctioneers and waitresses he happens upon, Herzog intuits truths about the "universal theme of shattered hopes" (144) and ends up with a film that questions what it means to be human.

Excerpt from Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Do Everything

Andy Warhol "painting" pop singer Debbie Harry
with his Commodore Amiga 1000 in 1985.

As the 20th-century began winding down, artist Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) art practice vociferously encompassed emerging media. His mantra: Do Everything. From 16 mm Bolexes (1960s) and Sony Portapaks (1970) to founding Interview magazine, shooting Polaroids with his Big Shot camera, tape recording every conversation, talking on the phone, shooting MTV videos, producing a cable TV interview show, staging multi-media light shows with Velvet Underground his practice eventually included the Commodore Amiga 1000 computer--just months before his death. Warhol exploited the speed, ease of use and newness with each successive technology. The social and collaborative quality of his art practice made his working methods miles away from the individual artist genius toiling alone in their artelier producing small easel paintings.  Bridget Berlin once said "He just wishes it was all easier" presaging Warhol's foray into digital technology by a couple decades. Warhol perceived his Amiga computers as a faster way to work and try out colors on his portraits. He stated in an interview with Amiga World magazine that the imagery the Amigas produced looked a lot like what he was doing with his silkscreens. He found using a mouse awkward and hoped for a pen tool for ease of use and a printer so he could make prints to send to the subjects of his portraits.