Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My List of Ten

For the first session, we each had to compile a list of ten things (ANYthing) that corresponded with the theme, "Media and the Senses". Here is my list:

1. iPod Commercials
Particularly the old school iPod commercials, the first set that featured bands like the Gorillaz and Jet and had brightly colored, solid backgrounds and silhouettes of figures dancing. My first reaction was, “Wow! A music-listening device that will allow me to dance around without worrying about the song skipping!” I then decided the commercial itself was a work of genius. The anonymity of the dancing figures, each silhouette lacking a race or age (although one must assume that anyone who can move like that has to be a twenty-something), made the product something everyone could enjoy, maybe even me. The bright colors catch my attention, the songs are always instant hits, and I feel instantly cooler once I put in those iconic ear buds.

2. Adam Smith-An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
This treatise was the first piece I believe really “spoke” to me. The language of The Wealth of Nations was relatable, fluid, and I felt I understood what Smith was saying, despite the fact that he wrote it over two hundred years ago. I really believed I understood economics. I could see the invisible hand at work! The use of the industry of pin manufacture to illustrate the division of labor made complete sense! It wasn’t until Econ 200 that I realized I was totally, completely, and utterly wrong about understanding economics, because I had forgotten that economics involved numbers. I had been duped by language.

3. John Baldessari’s “I Am Making Art” video
This is a fifteen-minute video in which the artist stands in an empty room, positioning himself in different poses by moving one part of his body every ten seconds or so. After each new pose, he says in a monotone voice, “I am making art.” I saw this video at the MUMOK Modern Art Museum in Vienna. It was displayed in a completely dark room and took up the entire wall. Had it been displayed any other way besides forced participation, I probably would have walked right past it. But I’m glad I didn’t. I couldn’t tell if this guy was being absurd or really making a point. It made me think, “What is so wrong with art for art’s sake?”

4. Ciao! Manhattan
This film, I think, illustrates the adaptability of art and artists. The film took five years to make, and started as an account of Andy Warhol and his inner circle at The Factory, including Edie Sedgwick. Due to lack of funding, an unfinished script, and constant drug use on set, production stopped, followed shortly by Sedgwick’s disappearance and leaving of The Factory. Production picked up again when Sedgwick reappeared in California, and the film took on a new plot: the story of Susan Superstar, recounting her days as a model in New York. The story closely followed Sedgwick’s life, and even used the actual headline announcing her death as a plot device to end the film. The film made me question how much art may imitate life, and I wonder where the line should be drawn.

5. The Work of Henry Darger
The man that was Henry Darger proves that anyone, anyone can be an artist. Darger lived as a reclusive janitor, had one close friend and a few peripheral acquaintances, and died in a nursing home. It was after his death that his landlords discovered his 15,000 page manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with hundreds of drawings, paintings, and collages to accompany his story. If he found happiness in his art, the world will never know, but something inspired him to keep creating.

6. Any Book Concerning Food, Food Culture, and/or Eating Habits
Not diet books, per se, but the growing phenomenon of topics centering on organic and local eating. Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, recently came out with a book about her and her family’s year of being “locavores”. Michael Pollan came out with a follow-up to The Omnivore’s Dilemma entitled In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, subtitled: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” The way the authors describe food, the effects of food, and the hang-ups and gripes our society has about food, gave me supermarket anxiety. As a result, I joined a Community Supported Agriculture program and now have someone choose what I will eat for me. I wonder if these books will have any lasting effect, and if the written word is really the most efficient way of reaching people.

7. Tim Walker, photographer
Tim Walker recently has a show at the Design Museum in London, in which he showcased prints from his Vogue shoots along with his scrapbooks, journals, photographs from his childhood, and props from the sets. It was fascinating to see the journey from idea to reality. His work incorporates staple childhood stories (The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, etc), and the idea of bringing the outside to the inside, or vice versa. The results are whimsical, dreamy scenes depicting bedroom sets in trees, a ghost horse in a living room, and vintage dresses that resemble Christmas lights and give a forest a candy-colored glow. Walker plays with the senses, using real, everyday scenes jumbled into out-of-order sequences.

8. Juvenilia in Music
Continuing with the theme of childhood in art, I have noticed the recent trend of what I think I will call “juvenilia” in music. Technically, “juvenilia” refers to a piece of art created during an artist’s childhood, but I can’t think of a better term at the moment. I have noticed that bands such as Bat For Lashes and Tilly and the Wall, and artists like Kate Nash and Sufjan Stevens, increasingly incorporate fairy tale and myth into their lyrics, which reminds me of the stories I used to read as a child. They often make music using found objects, much like I did when I was young. That MGMT song that every apparel store in the English-speaking world plays at least three times a day embodies the idea of a generation not ready to grow up, so they’re choosing not to. It’s not just hearing music, it’s recalling and revisiting memories. For me, at least.

9. The Sensory Garden Project
The Sensory Garden is the brainchild of Carole Johnson, who while suffering from chronic MS, wanted a place where she could relax and indulge in senses other than sight. She created the garden along with her husband and two sons, and used the space to listen to running water and rustling leaves, to taste organically grown fruits and vegetables, to smell scented plants commonly used in aromatherapy, and touch natural surfaces varying in temperature and texture. The garden is now open to the public by appointment only and raises funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. I think nature, specifically manicured nature that still contains its wild essence, qualifies as a medium as well. Visit the Garden here.

10. Karl Lagerfeld’s Piano Dress for Chanel 1999
Chanel is known for its monopoly on the “little black dress”. When Karl Lagerfeld took over the house in 1983, he revolutionized and expanded the house while still honoring the late Coco’s vision of “basics that incorporate elegance, class, and originality”. Lagerfeld’s Piano Dress is a departure from the traditional LBD that made Chanel so popular. The top is a strapless, solid black boned bodice, attached to a silk skirt that poofs out over layers of crinoline. On the bottom half of the white skirt are black vertical lines, about five inches thick, circling the entirety of the skirt. These lines are made to look like the keys of a piano. The result is a playful, original way to connect the past and the present.

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