2018.04.10:

Over the weekend, I visited the RISD Art Books Fair with a friend.

The first question is what is an “art book fair” – are they books about art? Is the library selling off old bits of its collection? Are they books that constitute art? None of the above?

The answer, as always, is complicated. Over all the event leaned into the notion of “books as art” with a healthy dose of “art fair” holding the whole thing together. Representatives from a variety of organizations of creatives were in attendance. Most of the stalls were RISD affiliated, showcasing the work of RISD students, past and present.

My friend and I spent a solid chunk of time pouring over the table half-covered with little, 2 cm in diameter buttons, each with a colorful background and a handwritten statement on the front. “No thank you” read one, “pseudonym” read another, “kind of a drag” read one that I bought, “solid blood” read one my friend bought. There was no method or reasoning to the text that we could discern, but nor did we care to look for one. It was time well spent swimming through the vague thoughts forms of the subconscious.

I picked up two little chapbooks by a graphic design student from the Kansas City Art Institute.

Selecting art books, like buying other kinds of art, is an exercise in self-discovery. It is never clear why you prefer one thing over another, why you want this work of art and not that one. Nevertheless, the feeling is always concrete, always strong. There is no rationalizing it, no secret formula to understanding it; art one brings home becomes a housemate, a companion. So it is also with art books. They call out to us, and we pick them up, and when we bring them home, we find ourselves sitting there, leafing through, curious, always trying to look with new eyes.

Knowing a piece of art can only happen with time. The thing which originally drew us to it is almost immediately papered over, hidden by every subsequent detail we find which pleases us. We put ourselves in dialogue with the piece by accident; simply by spending time with it, little details are revealed, “Oh, look at that little shape there” and “Oh, that shade of blue reminds me of the first house I remember us living in” and “Oh, how melancholy”. We are revealed as much as the art is revealed as much as the artist reveals. Indirect communication and accidental resonances take over.


Retroactively published 22 Jan 2019

2016.11.15 : generative self-valorizing systems (the audacity of money)

Yesterday evening, in my graphic design class, we started talking about conceptual art. Our goal was to understand generative systems; systems that operate not as a complete, static organization of elements and/or information, but a set of rules that govern the organization of elements and/or information, allowing for variation, but also consistency. 

Nevertheless, we approached the question with examples from Sol LeWitt, who is known for his labor intensive conceptual art instillations. (Labor intensive, that is, for persons other than himself.) One of my classmates, who works as an illustrator, expressed her frustration and irritation with the popularity and financial success of conceptual artists. It seems unfair to her that she should expend the effort she does to achieve a high level technical and aesthetic achievement, and make no money, while these people or persons can write up instructions and take up rooms and wings of museums. 

I derailed the conversation by bringing up Damien Hirst. My opinion is split on him; I think he’s a money-grubbing, pretentious, no-talent dick, but I’ve also been greatly moved by at least one of his pieces

In the course of distraction, I came upon a sudden realization. 

The relationship between banking and art is generally recognized. I recommend this piece from The Believer, December, 2012, I believe it is the one that first introduced me Damien Hirst’s famous diamond encrusted skull

Currently, conceptual art is all the rage. I don’t think this is a mere side-effect of post-modernism. We have not exited the aesthetic age, and entered one dominated by the theoretical, nor is this a world of plastic ideas. The reason for the popularity of conceptual art lies with bankers.

We live in the age of finance capitalism. I have a penchant for Italian Marxists (Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Maurizio Lazzarato) whom I fully recognize are far enough out in left field to border on the incomprehensible. (Though I believe that their analyses and concerns are more discerning than most.) 

Finance capitalism is defined by perpetual valorization of non-material capital. The financial machine of the stock market, the one that invented the nihilistic derivative assets that blew a hole in the global economy, the one that consistently over-values enterprises with no clear means of profit production (Uber, Twitter, et. al.), is, literally, a market of ideas. 

They pour money into blackholes with everyone else’s money, and somehow transform that money into more money, until, suddenly, the bottom falls out from underneath them. (Then the money comes out of the real labor and real capital production and real earning power of the general populace, who run the rat race everyday to feed their families––no diamond encrusted skulls to be found.)

Of course finance capitalism spends its unspendable quantities of money on art that jumps, fully formed, from the head of the artist. The technical and physical labor that goes into the works are not the sources of value, and not the ones who will see the true profit. The money will go to the man with the gall to think he can sell such a thing to someone, and the children dying in the wars in Africa to bring us the diamonds and the gold and the shiny pieces that keep our entire immaterial infrastructures alive and beeping will see only hunger and death.

 The bankers know how the system really works––you don’t pay the farmer or the miner or the paint mixer. 

You pay only the broker. 

Book Review: The Grimscribe’s Puppets, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. ED. Miskatonic River Press, 2013

“I don’t really want to see a ghost, but if someone said, ‘Do you want to go to a haunted house and see a ghost?’ I would say, ‘Yes’.”  — Kelly Link. Oct. 6, 2015. Brown University

A review of The Grimscribe’s Puppets by Justin Steele on arkhamdigest.com said, “Thomas Ligotti, one of the finest horror authors, can be a tough pill to swallow. […] His work is definitely not for everyone though, casual horror readers would most likely be turned off by this particular brand of philosophical horror, yet everyone should read Ligotti at least once.” Though I have never read Ligotti, I can easily (and eagerly) imagine his desolate cityscapes, and agonized protagonists who lurch through them, revolted by the existential truths they have uncovered. Their miserable voices call to me saying, “We are all connected. None of us is alone.”

Book photo from MIskatonic River Press

Pulver’s collection here is (according to Wikipedia) award-winning and rightfully so. The stories in it bring a range of voices, both narratively and creatively, together in a dizzying rush through the darkened, greedy corners of our universe. I started the book in the middle, with Jon Padgett’s 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism, and from there explored outwards from the center of the book, devouring the stories and letting the thread, whatever Ligottian impulse Pulver had called forth from them for this collection, which bound them together, thread its way through me and draw me in, another puppet for the Grimscribe, or whatever else is hiding out past the blue veneer of the sky.

Of extra special note are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Kaaron Warren’s The Human Moth, Robin Spiggs The Xenambulist, and Gemma Files’s Obliette (which I didn’t save for last, and highly recommend you take the editor’s implicit recommendation and let it be the last morsel of this collection you savor to end the experience). The Human Moth left me feeling like Ms. Link, now that I know stories like it exist, though I might prefer to have eschewed that knowledge, I must seek them out.

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN PRINT AS THE FIRST STAFF PICK 
AT THE LOVECRAFT ARTS & SCIENCES COUNCIL

Graffiti, Photography, & Writing about Art.

Second in a series.

I still haven’t solved the problem of how to present graffiti. But I’m trying my hand at the first step: collecting all my data in one place.

At the moment, my formal organizational system is in the form of “sets” on Flickr. I made a collection that contains all the sets I’ve made of my ever-expanding collection of photos of graffiti. I still need to get some of the pictures I’ve taken on my phone around both Providence and Amherst/Boston, and marshal them into order. But for now, you have a curated collection of street art from Athens (Summer and Winter of ’09, then Summer ’12 and ’13), London, and a small one from Montreal.

But the predominant struggle here is one of How to Write About Art. Continue reading “Graffiti, Photography, & Writing about Art.”

How to Present Graffiti

First in a series

One of my hobbies is documenting graffiti. This started in Athens, around 2008, when there was, along with an explosion of civil unrest and political discontent in the city, an artistic explosion that spread out across the walls of the city. Continue reading “How to Present Graffiti”