Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Catching my breath--9/14: noontime chat, Baron/Shulkowsky, Takesue, Machineworks 

Last Tuesday was my noon to midnight tba experience, the kind of exhausting lineup that leaves one invigorated and overwhelmed. Apparently, so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to collect my thoughts until now.

I began the day at PNCA attending the noontime chat, Homeland Security: Art in America, which took place in front of Schnapf’s beautiful, large explosive abstractions. Artist Daniel Duford led a discussion with New York choreographer John Jasperse and local collaborators Tahni Holt (Monster Squad choreographer) and Marty Schnapf (installation artist/painter). The discussion was as much about the validity of direct artistic reaction to the events of Sept 11 than about issues of security, anxiety, and censorship. Though Schnapf in particular did admit to a thematic shift in his work following 9/11, the panelists did not regard the event as a single turning point, but rather part of a continuum of issues that had been brewing in the US and the world for over a decade. As Duford summed it up, “I was anxious all through the 90s.”

All of the panelists displayed a flagrant distrust towards work that has been produced directly dealing with 9/11, weary perhaps of the potential exploitation in addressing such volatile issues without giving time to put them in proper context. I was living in NYC just following the attacks, and while I recognized the importance of institutionalized memorialization, the art shows I saw in the months that followed bore a closer resemblance to Canal Street hawkers unloading patriotic pins and small flags than the sincere ad hoc shrines that popped up on street corners throughout the city.

After the discussion veered towards the insecurities that artists live with on a day to day basis (e.g. financial), Jasperse ended the chat on a positive note, pointing out that while he has striven to live outside of social & political systems intended to make one feel safe, he has gained an even more valuable trait, an “improvisational life practice” that has allowed him to adapt as an artist living inside these current systems.

Early in the evening, I went to the Wieden & Kennedy atrium to catch one of my favorite jazz/experimental drummers, Joey Baron, performing with the spritely and energetic Robin Shulkowsky. I first became acquainted with Baron via his work with John Zorn and Naked City. Though this particular set was far from Naked City in its lack of pretension and accessibility, it was refreshing to see a show so utterly unpretentious and, well, fun. The chemistry between Baron and Shulkowsky was nothing but infectious, and both kept a grin on their faces throughout most of the set as they leapt between a set of wooden sub-bass maribons invented by Shulkowsky, and a more traditional drum kit surrounded by a litter of various percussive instruments.

Immediately after the Baron/Shulkowsky show, I ran into the heart of downtown to the Guild Theater, where Kimi Takesue was on hand to present two very different, but thematically linked, films. Heaven’s Crossroad was a non-narrative film comprised of journalistic footage Takesue had collected on her travels to Vietnam several years ago. Takesue gave us a fluid, dream-like montage that slipped between moments of intimacy and foreignness. The eye of the camera truly embodied a touristic perspective. We experienced along with Takesue genuine interactions with curious children, who communicated through soulful eyes and expressive gestures; fly-on-the-wall observations of city life; lush panoramas of the rural countryside; and scenes of travel on bumpy buses. The most striking moment is when the camera turns towards a photographer, awkwardly arranging the limbs of bathing suit-clad models lounging in gently surging tides. At this moment, one slips out of the dreamy romanticism of the film and begins to consider the artifice of the camera, becoming aware of the potential artifice latent in this seemingly honest, filmic travelogue.

In my mind, this point marked a strong thematic connection to the second film, Summer of the Serpent, a beautifully filmed and edited story about a pensive young girl’s day at the poolside and her unlikely encounter with a yakuza-like bodyguard. Though strongly narrative, elements of fantasy and dream-like ambience are subtly incorporated into the plot, all framed within carefully considered compositions saturated with summer color. Like Takesue’s experimental film, this one pays tribute to the self-conscious act of creation, this time through the eyes of the young protagonist.

I ended the day gazing at the curious sight of professional contemporary dancers gettin’ down to Kraftwerk (courtesy Pulseprogramming) at Machineworks, an odd clash of cultures.


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