“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”-Pablo Picasso*On Sunday night during the Memorial Day weekend, I had the exciting pleasure of attending one of Mountain Springs Arena’s regularly scheduled demolition derbies. I was fortunate to attend with a great group of friends. And as this sort of exhibition is a people-having-fun-together experience, it was really enhanced by our mutually unbridled enthusiasm for the gasoline-and-adrenalin-charged event.On stage, the Journey tribute band, Worlds Apart, started the festivities. They are a solid group of rockers who deliver enough punch to set things right for the raucous metal mentality that rules the night at this sort of venue.Ironically, for this writer, the car show starts out as an art exhibit. A trophy for the best paintjob is awarded to a driver/team for showing up with the most audience-pleasing appearance (as measured by audience cheers and applause). There’s a car with a nocturnal spiderman theme, one sporting a flaming eightball, another has a snarling shark on the side, and so on. This is the best these cars will ever look. Appearance-wise it’s a downhill slide that starts immediately afterward.I see things in an aesthetic context and from start to finish, the screeching, metal twisting, smoke slathered evening was a pure performance art spectacular. The initial state of affairs presents itself as sort of a crowded parking lot situation. The small concrete-buttressed rectangular exhibition area has just enough space for the twenty-plus soon-to-be-total wrecks to park – with a single lane left over in the middle to navigate. Through six heats and a final feature the cadence is the same: start from a parked stop; back up into the field; free yourself up a little room to steer; and proceed to crash into as many of your opponents as possible until you are one of the final two to remain mobile at the end.Along the way, the audience feasts on the amassed devastation as metal crushing pileup after pileup ensues. The crowded parking lot becomes a chaotic continuous traffic accident. We’re drawn like stunned commuters into this singular opportunity to rubberneck ourselves to satiation. Soon after the dangerous game begins, one hears the sounds of radiators exploding in the din. Thick plumes of steam begin rushing outward from the embattled machines. Spinning tires shoot mud spray over the fence and into the stands. Fires break out from the dark innards of the splattered wrecks and force things to a halt while brave firemen rush in with extinguishers. After a moment the fracas begins again. One gets the sense that some cars are simply invincible, unstoppable, immortal. The extent to which a vehicle can continue to operate after all recognizable form is demolished and turned into a shrubbery of jagged steel edges and shredded rubber is uncanny. The third heat was simply awesome. Three cars pitted against each other at the end seemed to possess some alien undead force that could energize them from beyond the auto graveyard toward invincibility. Pummeled by dozens of violent incidents, these wrecks kept on running after all semblance of their former appearance was irretrievably lost. The assembled multitude in the grandstands echoed the shattering concatenations with collective gasps and groans while the mechanical orgy being played out before them escalated toward chaotic crescendos. All in all, this was a heroic evening in which the man/machine drama was played out to its fullest extent.The idea that machines are uniquely suited to self-destruction is not a new one. It seems to share a heritage with the idea of machines themselves. They are, after all, our armored selves – extensions of our bodies that encompass powers beyond mere mortal coils. They are hard while we are soft. They experience no pain. They multiply our ability to wreak destruction by their very nature. It does seem entirely appropriate to pit them against themselves in ultimate combat. What makes the Demo Derby so compelling is that these are piloted vehicles. There’s a human being inside the behemoth. And this fact draws our empathetic response to what is, in this instance, a situation of constant calamity.*Digital images from the series “Deconstructions,” Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2005
Monthly Archives: May 2005
As I walked through downtown Reading on Penn Street today, I thought about the current movement to lure citizens back toward an urban renaissance here and I considered the titular line uttered by Jack Nicholson in Melvin Udall’s 1997 film. It occurred to me that on this spectacular day in late May, surrounded by a varied group of residents intermingling with the lunchtime commuter crowd – with me on my way to an art gallery – this is “as good as it gets.”It’s really time now for good folks to do what only they can do: find a reason or three to explore the downtown area again and populate the place. One good reason to do this would be to visit Anne Heimann’s retrospective exhibit at the Albright Community Cultural Center.First, if you haven’t availed yourself of the chance to view a show at the Albright downtown art venue, let this be a reminder to do so. There’s no better context to experience an art exhibit anywhere, really. The expansive space is quite conducive to aesthetic experience and the setting itself – a first-floor tree-lined entranceway just beyond Robinson Fredenthal’s once-controversial “Gate” – is a calming escape from the Penn Street bustle.Heimann’s multi-media assemblages of common folk in common settings greet viewers first here. They offer a gradual transition from one’s experience of the actual city street one leaves upon entering the gallery and art space. The piece “Benches, New York City,” 1980, presents three groups of cutout and painted figures among actual and pictorial benches in a complex composition straddling the space between the gallery floor and wall. Similarly, “Taverna,” 1972, presents a quintet of world-weary, wise-looking, and wizened inhabitants of a funky tavern along with their furniture and drinking and smoking accessories.Deeper into the exhibition one finds more of the soulful human essence this artist portrays intermingled with evidence of her fascination with the essential aspects of animal life and consciousness. The series, “Confrontations” is all about this union of human and animal awareness. Accompanying the series is a large and varied selection of drawings and paintings of animal skins. Here, it is the strikingly beautiful physical presence of animal life that is invoked.The last piece I encountered struck me as the most significant of the animal-related pieces. Entitled, “Huaca” the skinscape here is broken by the abrupt intrusion of the animal’s eye. In this piece we are brought face-to-face and eye-to-eye, as it were, with the personal confrontation implied by the other works in the gallery. We’re made to reconsider our own existence in relationship to what we are viewing. It is not detached or removed from our participation. The act of observing is in fact an act of relationship with what is viewed – animate or inanimate. After my visit, the trip back through downtown carried echoes of what I had just experienced. The realities of urban, human, and animal life that intertwine in art and in our experience speak precisely to our condition in the world, in the environment, and inside ourselves.*“Ann Heimann In Retrospect” is on view from through July 30 and also from September 7 through October 1 at the Albright Community Cultural Center, 645 Penn Street, Reading, PA. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, noon – 4 p.m.*Images: First Image: Ann Heimannn, “Benches, New York City,” 1980, mixed media.Second Image: Ann Heimann, “Huaca,” 1976, acrylic on canvas.*
My intention here is to create an art space for things global, regional, and local as they relate to our personal experience as human beings. Living, as humans do, within worlds of our own creation, the line between what is art and what is life is indistinct, unclear, and its boundaries are ineluctably blurred – especially today.Interactive opportunities to observe, comment, receive feedback, and respond allow this space to become something unique and for it to have lasting value for its participants. Communication that straddles the line between art and life makes that line a distinct subtext of every entry. An art space is created and maintained online.I’ve been doing this type of thing anonymously on the Internet for the past 20 years – using various pseudonyms for authorship. I do this for many reasons. The main one has to do with the notion that the Internet is a totally new medium, thoroughly unencumbered by the requirements, procedures, and processes of earlier media. And I see my work as collaborative and participatory at its base. The Internet was and still remains an interactive space – one in which participatory and collaborative creation rules.I also see the hallmark of modernist notions of authorship and aesthetic creation as dominated by the individual ego, fed by sociocultural, political, and economic forces that offer up not forms of unique individual expression but – in reality – mediated ones. What I’m doing now is working to bring some of these strands together in a place that has always been very close to my life and my work – this town and this region. The world has shrunk down to the distance between two hyperlinks on a video screen. We can access the entire breadth of human experience as a series of electronic artifacts. We gain infinite breadth but lack anywhere near comparable depth. That’s another byproduct of hyperspace – and one that needs to be worked on in order for this new dimension of experience to be truly valuable to each of us.Conflating human experience down to hypertext requires remediation. It is our challenge and our opportunity to bring personal depth to our global experience. And the place where all depth resides is inside of our very selves. Our personal, local, regional experiences are the foundation of our humanity. Each one of us eventually publishes something on the Internet – whether via websites, instant messaging, e-mail, or forums and bulletin boards. We’re surrounded by and immersed in media worlds. Our lives reflect aesthetic experience more than they ever have. We create ourselves anew in the image of our experience, both internal and external.Local artists and writers reach global audiences instantaneously today. Global media brings aesthetic experience into our homes at an increasingly rapid rate. I’ve had countless opportunities to meet, interact with, and collaborate with artists both local and far from home. I avail myself of opportunities to view their production and to pass word of it and its implications on to you here. What can come from this has something to do with the sources I outlined above but it also has much to do with interactivity. Comments and responses from readers, artists, audiences, and community events organizers will provide feedback and direction as well.Feel free to pass word of ARTology on to your friends and to hyperlink your way here. You’ll find an interactive space where global and personal art and life intermingle, revealing themselves as connected, simultaneous, and continuous.*Image: “Our Place From Space,” Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2005, digitally manipulated satellite imagery, Reading, Pennsylvania and surrounding region.*
3 hours/day of television.3 hours/day of radio. 3 hours/day of exposure to billboards and product advertising. 3 hours/week of movies. 3 hours/week of magazines and newspapers. 3 hours/week of Internet usage.3 hours/week of video games, mp3s, cds.3 hours/week of talking about media subjects. Add to or subtract from the above. Arrive at your own numbers. The statistics are no mystery.Thousands of hours each year immersed in media. Living within mediated realities.When not attending directly to them, we replay them in our heads.Rehearsing movie roles, TV characters.Thinking about them.Fantasizing. Fixated on media images. Pop stars. Celebrities. Rock idols.Supermodels. News anchors. People in ads.Trying to look like them.Trying to act like them.Repeating snippets of their scripts.Thinking their thoughts.Yet we want to believe we can resist their hold on us.It is easier to observe when we see it in a group other than our own – children, for example.Occasionally, for a moment at a time, pay attention to your thoughts. How would you describe them? Ordered? Rational? Do they often seem to be a jumble of adolescent rambling, low-level complaints, self-criticism, media memes, spontaneous obsessive-compulsive repetitions, pieces of previous thoughts, parts of old scripts, generally negative self-image-wise? What could be causing this?**The guy looks pretty anxiety ridden. Here he is, studying hard and booking down. The look of concern begs the implication that he hasn’t yet “made it” – accomplished his goal in life. He looks anxious.The goal is presumed to be to get a home for him and his woman to start a life together. The pressure is on. The woman’s strap is down on her dress, she’s breathing heavily, and she’s got her heel in her crotch. Her hand is in the same place. She can hardly wait for this guy to come up with the goods. They are out in a field somewhere. The woman is a thoroughly erotic presence here. She is hot and he is falling behind in his responsibility. He knows it is his responsibility to “get a room” or by extension a place to bed down together. “All the solutions you need. All in one place.” He needs solutions and he needs them fast! The message is “C’mon dude, get it together and take care of this lady or you will lose her. We can help. Get a home loan from us and the object of your desire will be yours.” All this happens in an instant – a mini-drama imperceptible to the conscious mind but available after extended study. Ads are made to be apprehended in 2 or 3 seconds – flipping through a magazine, driving by a billboard. I have a terminal degree in Fine Art and I have been trained for many years to analyze and create visual images. But I can not preceive all of the messages conveyed here in 2 or 3 seconds. My eyes and brain however, catch them instantaneously. The emotional impact of the image enters the unconscious. Deep-seated fears and urges are unleashed. And the solution to all of this precipitous anxiety and repressed passion is within reach: a Fleet Home Loan… Typically, the most significant aspects of this type of message are not consciously perceived. *Many hundreds of highly researched and engineered commercial messages a day enter our minds. Do we have nearly the same number of ordered, precisely constructed personal thoughts in a day? Do ordered, edited, professionally produced, manipulative commercial messages seem more coherent than our normal thoughts? Imagine one’s self-image being molded from an early age by commercial messages. Self-image is perhaps the very deepest part of a person. How about what we think of others? Does what we think of others seem affected, colored, influenced by commercial messages of what is the ideal way to be? Do the commercial representations of the ideal affect our self-image as they do our judgment of others? How about what we think of the world and our place in it? Affected, influenced by commercial messages?The topic is about the messages that surround us and about how they affect us. Are we strong enough to maintain a clear and assured sense of ourselves within the maelstrom of mediated material we are surrounded by?
This season, I was pleased to draw the shade on my interest in the work of Salvador Dali. I traveled with friends to see the Dali retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. During a pause in the discussion of Dali’s unusual life, I mentioned to my friends my current assessment of his work – it is of minor significance and that, as a progenitor of contemporary popular imagemakers, the artist is in many ways responsible for the debilitating anarchic principle that enervates western media and culture.After viewing the two hundred or so works that comprise this retrospective, I came away with an even lower estimation of the legacy of lunatic imagery this facile illustrator foisted upon his audience in the name of art.I recalled my adolescent fascination and identification with Dali’s paranoid persona and his nightmarish work. I saw value in his visualizations of the repressed messages of the Freudian subconscious. I saw them as revolutionary and radical antidotes to a world where the veneer of civilized life had nearly silenced the deeper truths of existence, and so on. In college, I saw his work as opening the doors of perception in ways similar to the ecstatic revelations available during psychedelic experience, and so forth. I recall the first time I saw “The Persistence of Memory” at the Museum of Modern Art. It was surprisingly diminutive and in hindsight it was probably its underwhelming size more than anything else that made the experience memorable.Later, I came to understand the ways in which Dali’s retardaire illusionism, delusional politics, extreme right-wing monarchism, warped idiosyncratic Catholicism, and his infantile narcissism were at odds with the progress of modernist painting and thought. Much later, I came to question the significance of art history itself – especially its canonical character. And I now find mostly questionable value in contemporary media and culture. Dali’s oeuvre is simply problematic in the context of the above paragraph. So perhaps are my own views. But experiencing his work again, I was able to see through it all –from the contradictory and self-negating nature of modern and contemporary experience to its contradictory and self-negating doppleganger, Pop Culture– because the paintings themselves are so bad. While I have no confidence in either the judgments of “official” art history as it has come to be written or the intellectual trends of the intelligentsia, I am clear about what constitutes bad painting and poor art.Dali was an illustrator of ideas. His work looks much better in reproduction than it does in the flesh. The thinly covered canvases have no presence, convey no sense of authenticity, possess no unity – but for the obvious fact that they are the product of the same narcissistic mind. I had the impression I was viewing the hack production of a pupil-dilated rock-album artist from the psychedelic 1960s. Illustrators create work in large sizes so it looks good when reduced as packaging for products. Dali’s originals have the throwaway appearance that makes them look as if they were made for photographic reduction and mass reproduction. There is no sensible reason to travel to Philadelphia to see them. However, because I did, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to close the book on this man, whose work meant so much to me when I was a teenager.*(“Dali” is on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through May 30.)*Images from exhibition materials:First Image: Little Cinders (Cenicitas), 1927 – 1928Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)Oil on panel, 25 x 19 inchesMadrid, Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia © Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New YorkSecond Image:Still Life –Fast Moving, 1956Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)Oil on Canvas, 49 ½ x 63 inchesSt. Petersberg,( FL), The Salvador Dali Museum© The Salvador Dali Museum, Inc., St. Petersberg