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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Thursday, February 27, 2014

“If the butterflies in your stomach die, send yellow death announcements to your friends.” Yoko Ono.  

Most artists (painters, poets, writers, musicians, singers, actors, pastry chefs, quilters, pretty much all children, and the guy at the recycling center that sorts plastic) crave attention and recognition.  One way artists often try to get this fix of attention is by “shocking the public.”  Usually that means making use of nudity, blood, piss or nailing something to a crucifix (or a combination of all of these) which like Pavlov’s bell gets conservative christians riled up and marching off to another mutually profitable “culture war.”  But, ‘Is it even possible anymore for art to shock the public?’ This was a question asked in an article in the Guardian “culture” section.  What got them asking this was the performance piece of artist, Elani Sininger, a student at Northern Kentucky University, who decided to “create art in collaboration with people on the street.” She stripped half-naked in Cincinnati and lay on the floor with a sign that asked people to “write their secrets, confessions and general thoughts on her body” (no blood or crucifix thankfully).

Sininger’s stunt got me to thinking about Yoko Ono’s 1964 performance called “Cut Piece” (and no, I don’t blame Yoko for the Beatles breakup, Yoko was a serious experimental artist and cultural critic of some stature before the Beatles became superstars).  In this performance Yoko sat on stage and allowed members of the audience to cut away pieces of her clothing until she was made naked.  Of course there are a variety of ways to interpret her performance and it is reasonable to ask wether it challenged the cultural discourses around women’s bodies as objects of desire or merely reinforced the worst of them.  I reckon that today this kind of performance would mostly be understood as just a hollow stunt/marketing gimmick to increase ones market-share of visual cultural/capital (Miley Cyrus etc.).  But in 1965 I think that it took great courage to perform this act of self-disclosure, vulnerability, and confrontation with the machinery of phallic driven spectacle.   Afterwards Yoko said: “People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me until finally there was only the stone remained of me that was in me but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone.”  By that I think she might have meant that after she was stripped bare, many put down their scissors and started furiously smashing at the stone for challenging the scripts of their false selves and the patriarchic foundations of this pathological culture.  Of course, doing that sort of thing can sometimes get one nailed to an actual cross.  Then again, I have painted dozens of icons of crucifixes and there is nothing the least bit shocking about them anymore, especially to christians.

Much obliged.
Btw, Yoko’s last performance of “cut piece” was in 2003 when Yoko was 70 years old.

p.s. if the video is blocked here is the youtube link:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This music is for my Serbian Orthodox family.

Klediments:   The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God."  St. John of Damascus

“My brother asked the birds to forgive him; that sounds senseless, but it is right; for all is like an ocean, all is flowing and blending; a touch in one place sets up movement at the other end of the earth. It may be senseless to beg forgiveness of the birds, but birds would be happier at your side – a little happier, anyway – and children and all animals, if you were nobler than you are now. It’s all like an ocean, I tell you. Then you would pray to the birds too, consumed by an all-embracing love, in a sort of transport, and pray that they too will forgive you your sin. Treasure this ecstasy, however senseless it my seem to men.”  Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.

The condemned
 “What is the anarchic arche at the heart of all this disorder?  And instead of asking whether some intelligent being must not have designed it, I will ask whether some something amorous must not have loved it?”  Caputo, The Weakness of God.  p.14

Two things on the screen caught our attention when I was home with my wife because of a bad cold.  One was the report of the public killing/culling of a young giraffe at a Danish zoo. “The young animal in question could not contribute to the future of its species” according to zookeepers.  After a public execution and autopsy, the giraffe’s body was then fed to the zoo’s lions.  There is such outrage (and my own ineffectual queezyness) over this event that death threats have been made to zoo personnel.  In many of the articles and comments that I read about this “murder,” one phrase that recurred was that zoo officials had ‘no right to play god.‘  It seems to me though that much of what humans do could be spoken of as a kind of ‘playing god.‘ And that includes capturing animals and imprisoning, force breeding, displaying, and selectively killing them for entertainment and profit in the first place.  But why is it that when humans are accused of ‘playing god‘ it’s always a negative thing, a pantomime of god’s apparent capriciously destructive and vengeful characteristics that we have imposed upon god?  If someone sacrificed part or all of their life to save another person or other living creature (or planet) couldn’t we say that that person was also playing God?  Don’t many religious traditions instruct human beings to do just that?

Anyway, the second thing was the documentary movie “Blood Brother” that I ardently recommend (with a few reservations).  The documentary focuses on Rocky Braat, a quite ordinary young man from Pittsburgh (ordinary also in that like so many others he was abused, abandoned, neglected as a child). Rocky moves to India, encounters by accident and then takes up permanent residence with an orphanage full of children who are HIV positive.  My nose and eyes were already watering from my cold, but my bouts of weeping as I watched this movie put me in need of I..V fluids by the time it ended.  Not that there isn’t a great deal of humor and joy in the movie, but keep kleenex handy.  Interestingly (and refreshingly) the movie virtually never mentions god(s), religion, theology, theodicy, or metaphysics, we just witness a person ‘playing god‘ so to speak to a bunch of outcast, sick, and dying children who their society has determined, 'could not contribute to the future of their species.'  In one case Rocky ministers day and night to one small dying boy in the hospital for 40 days and nights, and the boy (miraculously?) recovers.  Rocky’s friend who did the filming proclaims that it was a miracle from God, but all the Indian doctors agree that Rocky saved the boys life.  I'm joyful either way, but I don’t know why it couldn’t be both?  Can’t even God play God sometimes?


p.s. if the youtube plugin doesn't work here is the link: