Listen to the audio of from Hadley's fortune, fall 2002
DJs Take Control at Jilly's
Address: 1744 Broadway, 816-221-4977
One week, you've got Mark Southerland doing his ambient tape-jockey routine with old 8-tracks, and the next, DJ Crochet is spinning girl punk-pop from the '80s and '90s, getting the crowd riled up with a little Siouxsie and the Banshees. Where the hell are you that this makes sense? You are at Jilly's on a Friday night. Back in the spring, three area DJs -- John Dretzka, Senor Ozgood and Christopher Landis Shevley -- got together and started DJs Take Control, with a mission to bring together the sounds of DJs who work outside the mainstream boom-boom-boom-with-strobe-lights gig. The only stipulation was that the music be danceable. It started out small, with only a handful of people attending, but those few eager visitors danced like all get out. It didn't take long for word of mouth to work its magic, and soon the event was packing the bar until closing time. On First Fridays, watch out; you're not the only one with the brilliant idea of capping off a night of art openings just a few blocks away by stopping in to do a little bit of the old robot.
pitch.com | originally published: October 9, 2003
Interview with Jay Stuckey
Published in September 2003 Review
OZ:You started this series before the 9/11 attacks. Not too many people are able to remember what life was like before the attacks.
Initially what was your inspiration for these disaster prints?
JS:It's funny you mention this because three months ago Artforum did this review of the 80's and in the roundtable discussion about painting Carroll Dunham had this quote, which is apt, because 9/11 comes up pretty regular with this work. Dunham said "Cultural contextualization can't be predicted by the maker". Its one of those things that in certain respects, it came up on me, and once it came, and Alice Thornson made reference to this in the review, it did put a lens over everything. It's hard to look at it pre-imposed in the same way that D-DAY, which I didn't mean to make yet another airplane analogy, is another moment that when that happened your looking at life now pre-imposed and its hard to discern the two. The initial inspiration was coming out of graduate school I felt like I was in a corner, and you come out of it, I needed new things to look at and think about. School was really great for that being submerged around all theses great people and great things to look at. But I think the downside of that is you come out of that and you lose a bit of yourself. You have all this other information coming from other sources floating around and so when I first got out all this work was kind of formal and I was working through making formal things I was interested in. But I think that’s a real limited road. I got to the point where I wondered how much of me was in the work, was I really enjoying it, was I being too clinical? My wife and I had been in Las Vegas at one of these gambling supply stores and bought a package of cards with airplanes replicated on them, back in World War II they handed out these playing cards that had silhouettes of all the airplanes on them to identify the enemy aircraft. It was a silhouette of the sides from the front and from below. I was back in my studio and I really wasn't happy with the work I made and we had just got back from this trip and I was looking at these cards and in looking at them it really reminded me of doing war drawings as a kid. I hate to be so boy-specific about it, but a lot of boys my age had made war drawings. And when I made those drawings I was just lost in that world, if the drawing lasted 5 min. or 45 min. It was almost a direct narrative; here was the one plane you drew, then the next plane, then the bullets, and then the explosion. And I remembered just really getting lost in that and loving it then, and I thought that’s what I really need to get back. I really just need to enjoy making the work. And I just started making airplane drawings, and the cards were inspirational at the time. And I set a rule out for myself that if I felt like if it was work again, because there was a time for two or three months that it felt like I was punching a time card in to work when I went to the studio, I wanted to get that excitement back, so that if at any point in the drawing I felt like I was finishing it just to finish it I would stop and start something else. It's funny because there are a lot of early airplanes and mummy drawings that you look at and they don't look done. It was like, next (motion of flipping to next sheet of paper)! I really was trying to keep that excitement, and I think that really come across.
OZ: IT does! Because when you're a kid you're free from thinking about finished composition. So it was kind of fallout from academia?
J: But at the same time there came a point where stuff that I had learned I was able to apply to it. I learned a great deal from Barbara Rossey at the Art Institute of Chicago about how different cultures from the beginning of man to the present day have depicted space on a two-dimensional surface. …. With a lot of the airplane stuff how the space is created became important to me because that’s the way its going to communicate if I want to create a tension or an absurdity or humor its gonna come about using that vocabulary. In that respect it's been a nice blending of the two, being able to thing about the academic but also trusting my instinct. Ideally shooting from the hip.
Oz:Your style has a naïve, outsider, and child-like vein. Are these prints and drawings the same subject and style that you drew as a young artist?
Jay) Maybe not as a young artist, but as a young child.
OZ:Was there a point as a mature artist that you consciously returned or de-evolved back to this naïve style?
Jay:I wouldn't say de-evolved. It's an interesting balance. How do you take what you learned and make it your own? There's certain elements in the painting that are not necessarily complex, but are considered. It's no mistake that in the large piece you never see a plane at a skewed angle, an asymmetrical angle, going back to a Cézanne concept of respecting the flatness of the surface you're working on. The idea of consistently presenting the viewer with flat images, but just by changing their relative size and creating a space, so ideally there's this moment where there's space and flatness existing. The idea is to take these two seemingly contradictory elements existing in the same space creating a tension, or taking you to some other space.
OZ:When I look at your prints I can't help but be reminded of the young American male's devotion and fancy with machinery, violence, technology, basically the Military Industrial Complex. Many cultural critics have condemned Hollywood and video games in the last ten years for creating the obsessive relationship between young men and violence. Obviously this has been going on for a lot longer than Lieberman cares to remember. Your art puts this childlike glee for gore on the gallery wall without any didactic message. Will young boys love violence no matter what?
JS:Wow that’s a good one. Lets see how I can break this up.
Going back to the idea of putting two contradictory elements within the same space and seeing what happens when they cohabitate. I recognize there's violence inherent in these images and they're shooting and blowing things up, but I hope that its counterbalanced by a certain humor or joy in the way there actually played out. I don't see myself as a violent person or advocating violence. I like that idea of looking at something and wanting to laugh but being worried at the same time. Creating that tension like "Oooh, damn, that's kind of fucked up". When some of the airplane pieces work successfully there's something of an impossibility about it, there's no way that many airplanes could inhabit that air space, I play more towards the absurdity of it.
OZ) Will young boys love violence no matter what?
JS: I just don't know. There's a point where I wonder if that’s there problem and not mine! It is hard in this culture, where violence is put out there. You watch television and it's crazy just what's accepted now on NBC, CBS and ABC compared to when we were growing up.
OZ) At least fictionally. In real life they won't show the violence.
JAY) and what's the difference there
OZ) I dunno but there's obviously a gap there, during the recent Gulf War, they would seldom show any close-ups of violent acts
Jay) we can't show you that but we can show you someone getting brutally tortured by a psychopath on CSI: Miami because that’s okay, its make believe. Come on.
OZ: Your references in the prints and paintings in this show are from past eras. You have old fighter planes and mummies from B-Movies of the 50's and 60's.
Jay) even a lot of my painting references would not be considered contemporary. In general there is just a lot to learn from history. Going back to that Dunham quote about contextualization, I think before the 11th I think people would have seen these (paintings) as purely playful…
I spend more time looking at the work than anyone else, for me one thing I delight in is something that is visually enjoyable. Just looking at it, and moving your eye in and out of the space. I spend a lot of time looking at other artists and how they got around problems. So in terms of how can we learn from the past, someone once commented to me that the same way you have your family and your family tree you have the same things in art. Sometimes its good to figure out who your brothers and sisters are, who your parents are, it’s a good thing to do when your on a long car trip! I'm consistently learning from those folks, it’s the same with music and movies I find myself consistently going back and like what was the first soundtrack ever put out, maybe there's something there. Going from punk rock back to soul, when did the fervor really begin? Where's the first great "Woaw!"
…Some of the paintings address more general issues, about the human condition or space and what that means. Sometimes they're just straight narratives just from again being from Southern blood and loving a good story. Just as an example my wife and I were flipping channels and there was a Godzilla film I'd never seen called Mecca Godzilla. Godzilla had come back from the ocean, of course. There was this mad scientist who created this mechanical Godzilla called Mecha Godzilla. He was the best stereotypical professor ever, he had big thick glasses and he literally had the speech where he said (invoking accent)"they laughed at me at the university but I'll show them!" It was great. We're watching this movie of Godzilla and Mecha-Godzilla beating the crap out of each other and destroying Tokyo in the process. It was one of those moments, if it was a snake it would have bit me, I was like 'I gotta have a giant mummy battling a mechanical mummy over a city' so I just turned out three or four drawings of it. It goes back to the joy of the actual act of making the work, I'm engaged in it, it keeps me making the work. Sometimes it is formal issues; sometimes it is just showing people what you like, what you think about.
OZ) Though the references are from the past, they parallel contemporary issue and times. Do you think commenting directly on current affairs can have limiting results?
Jay) I think that contemporary culture is just around us. Its here all the time. Getting influenced by it is easy you just walk out your front door. Finding out where it connects with things in the past, there's that whole Zen concept of Big Mind, that everything is interconnected in someway. You start thinking about it and man is always in conflict with man somewhere else. Things just move in this wave, and finding these connections.
Oz) In that process you save many fragments of culture that could have been lost forever.
Jay) To be specific to painting….once about every ten years people proclaim painting to be dead. For me that’s even better, go ahead proclaim painting to be dead! When people do that they want to cut off the history from that (point) and let it go.
There is such a great history there, so much to be culled from. I can get just as excited by a Carroll Dunham, as I can by a great Chardin painting. Who cares when they did it! They're showing you how to do things…(Stuckey relates somewhat brief history of Chardin's formalist principles)…. Why cut that off, because that’s old and that's painting why disregard it.
Oz) Its great to hear you discuss all these formal issues. Looking at your work initially I thought of the "bad art" genre of painting.
Jay) It goes back to the idea of putting two contradictory elements together in the same work. Some of the works seem to convey chaos. The sheer fact that I sat down and made it, there's order to that. ……In certain respects I hope that the formal element of it are seamless.
OZ) Are there good planes and bad planes in this piece (BIG DAY)?
Jay) No. That’s not so important to me. Its more about creating this overwhelming chaotic mass, that has a certain absurdity and humor to it.
Being so influenced by movies, and just enjoying watching them, when I started this piece. (Big Day, large yellow), I wanted to make an epic. I wanted this grand thing. The thing that makes the epic movies so great is the format, Cinemascope. Overwhelming panoramic. I called up my wife who is a filmmaker and asked 'what's the aspect ratio for Cinemascope, and she said " 1 to 2.35". It was a conscious decision to get this panorama of this saga.
OZ) Iron Eagle or Top Gun?
Jay) I haven't seen Iron Eagle or Top Gun. I would say the question would be Tora,Tora,Tora vs. Battle over Britain. Tora,Tora, Tora has that one great scene, but for straight up massive airplane fighting Battle over Britain is a pretty massive movie. So I guess I have to pick Battle over Britain.
Oz) Three greatest apocalyptic endings scenarios for mankind according to Jay Stuckey?
Jay) World Being over run by mummies. World being over run by mummies. World being over run by mummies.
OZ) Last Question, 3 B-movies everyone should see?
Jay: ( This list was emailed to me as a post-script to the interview)
1 A Bucket Of Blood, 1959, Roger Corman.
"Ring rubber bells, best cotton gongs, Walter Paisley is BORN!"
Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley, a sort of *slow* bus boy at the local beatnik café - The Yellow Door. His dreams of becoming a famous sculptor are realized in at first accidental, then more deliberately violent acts. A MUST see for all artist. Of note is Walter*s relationship with the owner of the Yellow Door who is also his art dealer; and the beat poet Max who acts as the films Greek Chorus. Throw in a subplot about heroin, and you can*t ask for more in an hour.
2 I Walked With A Zombie, 1943, Val Lewton
Val Lewton made some of the most beautiful B-Movies ever. He had this obsession with cast shadows that make every shot mesmerizing. I Walked With A Zombie approaches zombisim from it*s more factual roots in Haitian Voodoo. A chilling movie. Don*t let the date fool you, this movie is genuinely scary.
3 Curse Of The Demon, 1957, Jacques Tourneur
It*s no co-incidence that Tourneur was a protege of Val Lewton*s, as this film shares much with Lewton*s aesthetic. The pacing, acting, cinema photography, and sound are all deftly handled in creating a psychological gestalt. Also of note is set designer Ken Adam who went on to design sets for Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Dr. Strangelove.
4 IT! The Terror From Beyond Space, 1958
Rumor has it that "IT" screen writer Jerome Bixby filed suit against Ridley Scott for stealing his story when Scott was filming "Alien", and that Scott settled out of court. One look at "IT" and you*re on Jerome*s side. Sure the acting is wooden and the monster obviously fake, but you don*t care because the premise and story are so strong.
5 Last Man On Earth, 1964
Respect is due to any movie that influenced both "Night Of The Living Dead" and "Omega Man". Actually "Omega Man" is pretty much an American version of this Italian film starring Vincent Price. Two things look great on film: cinematic shots of abandoned city streets and zombies wandering aimlessly. This film may be the first to employ both, and thus laid the ground work for so many great films to come.
6 Night Of The Living Dead, 1968, George Romero
Without question the "Citizen Kane" of Zombie films. Others came before, but "Night Of The Living Dead" set the standard. If you see only one film on this list, THIS IS THE ONE.
7 Dawn Of The Dead, 1979, George Romero
In this sequel to "Night Of The Living Dead" even more zombies are populating the Earth, and still very little is known about them. This movie is such a part of popular culture it*s hard to write about. If it isn*t a part of your vernacular it simply must be.
8 Day Of The Dead, 1985, George Romero
Romero doesn*t take breaks, he re-loads. In this often overlooked final installment zombies have all but taken over the planet, save a few pockets of resistence. If you*ve ever found yourself thinking about how zombies might evolve as a species, this is the movie for you. The acting is just plain bad, but the story makes up for it. The shots of abandoned city streets, and zombies wondering aimlessly are a visual delight. The film*s original script supposedly adds even greater insight into the evolution of the zombie race.
9 Not Of This Earth, 1957, Roger Corman
Mr. Johnson, an alien from the planet Devana, arrives on Earth, and receives the objectives of his mission in 6 phases:
Phase 1: Study the characteristics of the Earth sub-humans
Phase 2: Send more Earth blood to Devana
Phase 3: Delivery of a live sub-human specimen to Devana for research
Phase 4: Earth blood value to be determined by Mr. Johnson*s survival or death
Phase 5: The conquest, subjugation, and pasturing of the Earth sub-humans
Phase 6: The utter obliteration of Earth
This movie doesn*t try to redefine the science fiction/ horror genre, so much as it plays off the genre*s already established conditions to perfection. Also of note is a cameo by Dick Miller of Bucket Of Blood fame.
10 Wild In The Streets, 1968, Barry Shear
Through an odd twist of events which includes drugging the water supply of Washington, D.C. with liquid acid, rock star Max Frost becomes President, and instantly forces everyone over 30 into internment camps where they are forced to wear monk like robes and drink acid on a daily basis. With a premise like that, what*s not to like? The film*s a little slow in pacing, but Shelley Winters turns in a wonderfully over the top performance as Max*s mom, and a young Richard Pryor is also featured as the drummer in Max*s band.
11 The Mask
This movie, which the Jim Carrey feature was loosely based on, is enigmatic to say the least. I have been unable to find any information on it save that it is on the cover of the Research book *Incredibly Strange Films*. And rightfully so. When the movie was originally released the mask sequences were filmed in 3-D and moviegoers were given 3-D glasses shaped like the mask in the film. When the main character is commanded by a disembodied voice to *PUT THE MASK ON NOW* we in the audience are expected to do likewise. Then it begins, some of the most unsettling, creepy, bad trip induced imagery you*ve ever seen. And, it*s in 3-D. Some video copies of *The Mask* come with 3-D glasses, and still include the mask sequences in their original format. If you find such a copy rejoice, but be warned, the mask sequences are not to be trifled with, they will scare you. PUT THE MASK ON NOW!
12 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, 1956, Don Siegel
Inexplicable plant life appears in a small Northern California town. The pods upon hatching assume the appearance of the town*s citizenry, while their human counterparts mysteriously disappear. Our hero, played by Kevin McCarthy, is one of only a few humans who realizes the alien invasion is under way. This film directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame is the whole package. Taught, fast paced, and gripping. You don*t like the scenes when Siegel allows McCarthy to over act, you love them. Especially in what was meant to be the film*s final shot before a test audience deemed it far too disturbing. McCarthy hysterically runs between automobiles on a jam packed California highway at night screaming, "You fools, you*re in danger, can*t you see? They*re after you, they*re after all of us...They*re already here, (then facing directly into the camera) YOU*RE NEXT!"
13 The Thing; 1951, Christian Nyby; 1982, John Carpenter
Both versions of this movie are worth mention. The story revolves around a group of isolated, arctic explorers who slowly discover an evil alien among them. The Thing can assume the form of any living being, creating an atmosphere drenched in claustrophobic paranoia and anxiety. The original contains some campy/ironic dialogue between the dueling factions of science and military within the camp itself, while the remake has one of the most unexpected, jaw dropping shots I*ve ever seen.
At Jilly's, we discover the Thursday-night feel-good scene.
BY JEN CHEN
Is it possible that all the cool bars in town go by someone's first name? There's Harry's, Dave's, Davey's and Chez Charlie. Now we can add Jilly's. For months, we had been hearing that its Fat Sal Señor Oz Soundsystem (definitely not a one-name moniker), which goes from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Thursday nights, was a rockin' good time. Because we were looking for something different to fill our weeknights, we swung by the corner of 19th Street and Broadway.
For a Research Assistant, we recruited another non-one-namer, David Wayne -- who, because of his previous RA experience, wanted to go by his fake bar name of "Todd." We met Todd shortly after Señor Oz (McGuire) started spinning his collection of funk from around the world, which he described as "American house mixed with Latin music and other styles." (Sadly, Oz's cohort Fat Sal -- Pat Alexander -- was not present.)
First, though, drinks were in order. We asked about specialty drinks, and the bartender responded that, though Jilly's had no specialties, its specials that night were on Boulevard beer. "I can make anything you want, though," she added, so we opted for mixed drinks. Because the night was still young and the crowd still sparse, we relaxed in one of Jilly's great circular booths and talked while scoping out the place. It's a medium-size room with a loungey feel; its walls are mainly brick with the occasional red trim. White Christmas lights adorn the bathroom doors, which flank the raised platform that serves as a stage. As if to reinforce the lounge look, side-by-side posters of Frank Sinatra decorate one wall. Other thoughtful touches in the décor were candles on each table, white-tea-and-ginger moisturizing soap from Bath & Body Works in the women's bathroom, and fresh flowers in cylindrical glass vases. As the night wore on and more people arrived, the flowers ended up in people's hair. But it was the self-serve popcorn machine that caught our attention. We grabbed a basket and munched on its salty, garlicky goodness while we drank; it was as addictive as garlic-flavored crack ... or so we would speculate.
"I like Jilly's," Todd said as he took a swig of his Jack and Coke. "I used to come here when it was Pauly's and James Trotter was spinning. Back then, it was a bumpin-est sugar shack." He turned his attention to the revelers and offered an assessment. "It's a hip little crowd."
"It's definitely a city crowd -- downtown and midtown," Señor Oz said. "There are art people, restaurant people -- they want an alternative to Westport." There was also a tinge of glam, such as the two glamazons who teetered in on 4-inch fuck-me pumps, ankle tattoos blazing, short-strapped purses tucked securely under their arms. One was wearing a leather skirt, and the other had on tight, white, cropped pants. They were an awesome display lounging by the bar, then strolling out after a couple of drinks.
The crowd grew, and hugs abounded as people recognized one another. "It's almost like a Youth for Christ lock-in with drinks," Todd said of all the camaraderie. "It's a small world, it seems like," added Kat, one of the regulars, who knew the bartender and Señor Oz. "It's a nice meeting place on Thursdays."
After we had walked around and interviewed people, we came back to Todd, who had been mingling, drinking and dancing. "I'm having a good time!" he proclaimed. "It's gay-friendly, too. There's a table of fags over there. Yea!" As we were trying to head out (we kept getting stopped by various people on the way), in walked Ron Megee from Late Night Theater, who insisted that we all do a shot. He bought us elevator shots -- light beer mixed with pineapple juice, with a shot of amaretto dropped into it. We clinked and dropped, and the quasi-fizzy concoction tasted deliciously sweet. We were a little slow on the drinkage, though, which prompted Ron to roar, "Drink that shot, bitch!" He proceeded to randomly tweak nipples and slap asses, both male and female -- he was an equal-opportunity tweaker and slapper.
Our image of Jilly's as a bumpin-est sugar shack thus confirmed, we left, nipples still a-tingle and asses still stinging.
pitch.com | originally published: August 7, 2003
Jan Weinner Gallery
The rural iconography of gas pumps, Ferris wheels, outhouses, barbed wire and stars are represented in 13 pastel on vellum drawings and one DVD piece at Gary Simmons' recent show at Jan Weiner Gallery. Simmons signature drawing style is marked by excessive amounts of pastel or chalk that has been partially erased and rubbed out by the artist's own hand. The image and its residue leave a rich palimpsest that is effective on a visceral and conceptual level, the former invoked through the artists own handprints being dragged across the highly crafted images and the latter by his equal understanding of the contemporary street vernacular channeled through a Cal Arts education.
Simmons most famous representational motif is the five-pointed star. The basic image that many doodlers scribble to pass the time Simmons finds a way to ascribe multiple levels of meaning to. In "Large Filled Stars" there are 7 pastel filled stars on vellum, each one dark black with surfeited amounts of pastel engrained on the vellum papers surface. The stars are not stylized with any details; rather they are drawn in a heavily gestural style that gives them an active feel. The negative image of the usually bright white banal imagery is the first suggestion that the images meaning lay beyond the celestial. Simmons' presence is felt over the entire piece of paper, he has physically erased parts of the images by dragging his hands across the pastel and distorting their recognizable shapes into near abstraction, leaving marks and fingerprints behind to leave no doubt that there remains a personal and socio history behind his marks. The smeared stars are a fleeting image, they appear like they will be wiped away permanently, their current state temporary, they contain a parallel history to that of the real world. Literally speaking the Black Star was the name of the ship Marcus Garvey planned to use to end the Diaspora of former slaves back to a utopian colony in Africa. Simmons' stars linger in history in other ways also, the negative space of the paper does not hold them, they look active and we do not know if in their journey they have reached their brightest moment, or if they are burning out and on their way to total disintegration. "Dessert Blizzard" the one DVD piece included in the show reinforces the feeling of brevity in the drawings. In a remarkable companion to the drawings the DVD shows a skywriters "drawing" five pointed stars in the air with the smoke from the airplane. As the video progresses we witness the stars come to fruition, diminish and vanish as a new one is created.
In "Study for Ma and Pa" the object being represented are two outhouses that linger in negative space, laid side by side with one building slightly higher on the plane of paper than the other creates a slightly asymmetrical composition. With no background to affix them to the partially erased buildings occupy a space beyond a physical location, one that resides in the memory, the imagination, or the mythical. "Tex-a-flame" subject is a vintage gasoline pump on fire, it's the kind of pump you might still find a few miles off the interstate in anywhere U.S.A. The pump's flames and billowing smoke have been smudged with the artist's hands and flow up the sides of the paper. The image is ghostly and the associations it references are vast: a candle, a burning tower, a Klansman. Like "Study for Ma and Pa", "Tex-a-Flame" is drawn free from the context of a back or foreground, occupying only the left quarter of the five foot piece of paper the composition solidifies Simmons' mastery of space to create the effect of the ephemeral.
Sherry Leedy Gallery
America’s romantic notions of Cuba are stronger than for any other “exotic” locale in the world. Every cultural product that paints the country as a repressed adversary to the individual (Before Night Falls, HBO’s The Arturo Sandoval Story, etc) emphasizes the beauty inherent in the romantically painted individual struggle against a system turned against him. The embargo furthers this sense of romance. Cuba is the one country in the world that did not sell itself to the United States’ imperial wishes; the one regime we tried hardest to topple remains. The country that lies in our backyard and would seem would seem most likely to benefit from the riches of Capitalism has stood a firm ground in remaining a Communist state. It is the epitome of the rebel stance, confirmed in the image of its national revolutionary icon Che Guevara — subsequent rebels have been idolized and Romanticized to the fullest. Cuba’s exoticness is exemplified by the fact that you can’t go to a travel agent and book a trip to Cuba. Cuba is off-limits. Our capacity to develop communications or understanding is buried behind deep walls of bureaucracy. Cuba’s reality is skewed by years of cold war rhetoric and history lessons provided by the victors, the people with power and wealth. Enter Michael Eastman, commercial photographer extraordinaire with clients including IBM, Jack Daniels, Miller Brewing, Farmland and Hummer — a perfect candidate to illustrate our one-sided written history. How is Mr. Eastman able to achieve this task? Eastman is producing formally beautiful, technically perfect and monumental photographic prints. They are largely absent of human subjects, except from afar, concentrating on architecture, color and interior spaces to tell exactly half the story. Like a photo ripped from a giant text-free page of National Geographic Eastman’s photos are maudlin and gorgeous.
When I entered Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art the most striking aspect of the gallery was not one single piece of work but the contrast of photographer Michael Eastman’s largest piece Two Chairs, Isabella’s (96”x72”), and its proximity to the oversized Dale Chihuly glass sculptural chandelier hanging in real space next to it. Eastman’s photo is of a Havana interior that is decrepit and deteriorating, a once grand hallway now used to hang and dry laundry. The focal point of the photo is the large, iron chandelier that hangs as a relic to grander times. Considered in relation to the Chihuly, I observed the two most antithetical pieces of non-functional hanging sculpture in existence, the former representing the prosperous past glories of Cuba, the latter recognizable as the fulfillment of American excess as expressed by an artist most renowned for decorating the lobby ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The other element most effective upon entering the gallery was the audio, none other than the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack, Wim Wenders’ internationally acclaimed documentary that featured American recording artist Ry Cooder collaborating with and thereby bringing to the world’s attention a host of forgotten Afro-Cuban musicians. The eloquent soundtrack has become the recognizable “sound of Cuba” to most Americans — most likely because most of the music was written before the embargo and carries no urgent social messages. Like the photographs in the exhibit, the music from the soundtrack is STUNNING AND AESTHETICALLY PLEASING, but to have a culture’s entire musical heritage represented to the world by fifty-year-old songs is (I TOOK OUT LUKE WARM HERE)the result of an outsider’s discovery and promotion of the product as an authentic cultural artifact. I’m happy the elderly musicians can now make an income of their music and don’t have to shine shoes and cut hair for a living anymore but I would hope that the same audiences interested in BVSC would also be interested in the contemporary voice of Cuba’s urban youth as it emerges through more innovative forms such as the latest Cuban hip-hop. However, that soundtrack would best accompany another show, perhaps one featuring Cuban artists documenting their own country. For this show the BVSC soundtrack is more than fitting. The title of the show itself is nothing less than Cuba, telling in the fact that it lays claim to a universal visual depiction of an over-simplified country. With the combination of Eastman’s photographs and the BVSC music, we have a nice, clichéd package — an entirely simulated version of Cuba.
The largest piece in the show, Two Chairs, Isabella’s, centrally placed on the south wall of the main gallery, is also reproduced in the second room of the gallery at 70” x 50”. An image shot from an elevated position of an interior of a large open room with light emanating from the ground level, one is confronted with the elegant shape of the iron and glass chandelier, its durability, and its contrast to the cracks in the ceiling that expose the white plaster underlayer and temporality of the space. “Isn’t it beautiful”, I hear a viewer exclaim. “No, its beautiful”, the second concurs. I wonder if there is any stopping the double-edged sword known as beauty, because I know they’re right, these are stunningly beautiful photographs. Perfectly composed, with orthogonal lines connecting at a vanishing point directly underneath the chandelier where two lines of hanging clothes also meet in the center of a wall that appears to be exposed to every kind of atrophic condition. Unlike many other photographs of Cuba Two Chairs, Isabella’s is subtle in its use of color, monochromatic like a sepia print — emanating warmth, creating nostalgia. The decaying chairs in the picture seem perfect perfectly placed in the composition and in the streams of light that illuminate them. Many of Eastman’s other interior shots depict uncomfortable looking chairs, dilapidated buildings and walls that have not been painted since Castro took office. In Blue Interior, Havana, a crumbling mattress looks as if it has sunken into the floor, but the seductively colored, pastel ocean-evoking cobalt wall is so gorgeous it abolishes the astonishment one should feel upon realizing that Blue Interior is inhabited — a private residence of abject poverty. Beauty has the power to uplift humanity and get one through the day, it also has the capacity to mask the trouble of the day with its polished, flimsy glow. Displaying poverty through such a visually appealing aesthetic brings joy to the viewer, it also renders one passive, raising no questions. We are seduced by the surface appeal, and left with no story to fall back on. Through the use of the picturesque, Eastman has created a depoliticized Cuba, an invented Cuba, a “whitewashed” interpretation of the country. Looking at the remains of Havana through this lens, Capitalist ideology is subtly re-affirmed — anyone dubious of it has no choice but the rubble in the street.
Though the invention of the photograph brought with it dreams of an egalitarian tool, the objective eye does not exist in photography. Mr. Eastman states that his photographs “almost become theatrical sets waiting for the play to begin.” It is clear that in creating these sets, formal elements of space, color and light supercede any other concerns. Eastman’s remaining concern, I assume, is to avoid political or controversial issues.
One image that avoids potentially controversial content is Woman in Doorway, Havana. The woman referred to in the title is actually two women who are silhouetted against large columns in an image taken from across the street by Mr. Eastman’s voyeuristic lens. The photo is focused on the architecture of the columns and arches that surround the women and the pastel pink light highlighting the structure. Striking sexually suggestive poses, one of the women, a young teenager, wears a dress and appears to be hanging out, waiting. I wondered if this photo could be a commentary on the sex tourism trade and its effect on the young woman of Havana? In the context of the rest of the show I think not. I asked the artist what intentions he has regarding Cuba’s history, political structure, and current events when photographing these sites, he asserted, “I try to approach photography with no expectations…for me it is easier to respond…to react…to create.” If every viewer approaches his exhibit without expectation, and with such hocus pocus nonchalance, they too will surely be fulfilled, but in a post-colonial era is it still appropriate to blatantly construct “our” vision of “others” on flimsy, romantic notions of dated artistic purpose?
“Eastman’s photographs offer viewers an unparalleled opportunity to meet Cuba”, so says the essay in the press release to the show. I imagine Eastman’s cultural visa must have been easy to obtain — this is the Cuba the American establishment wants you to meet. One that is easy to be critical of, a country that is in need of American currency, one that we can help when they’re ready to be helped. In an interview with the University Daily Kansan, Eastman stated that he does not “pretend to understand all the politics in the foreign relations with them, but I hope my work makes people think about what our trade embargoes are doing to those people.” Eastman’s benevolent intentions are moot. It is important to not believe in the autonomy of the artwork related to the culture that creates it. These works are tied up in American foreign policy in ways that may not be obvious even to the artist; rather than making a point about how the embargo has hurt the Cubans, these photographs divide America’s relationship with the country even more. By allowing an American artist to project a representation of another culture’s identity, our own culture remains absent of any relevant issues concerning those we are representing. Instead of gaining access to an authentic representation of Cuba, glorification of Eastman’s images simply further the myth surrounding Cuba. By making claims to authenticity and objectivity, these photos place the viewer beyond the murky waters of understanding contemporary Cuba and into an abyss of false understanding solidified by the simple rhetoric these photos illustrate.
The art world is controlled by the ruling classes, but there is always possibility of being critical of one’s own cultural ineptness, inside this space, that is not available in any other cultural arena. The curatorial risks of offending are great, but the rewards can mean a greater understanding of other values. In the last year The Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence presented Contemporary Art from Cuba, Grand Arts in Kansas City held a show by the Mexican-American artists Jamex and Einarde la Torre, and The San Fransisco MOMA curated a group show called Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art. Each show exposed artists from Latin America to North American viewers and presented their indigenous views on the complex history and relations of their native lands in a world that resists responsible Global trends. As Americans increasingly answer the call of “us against them” it is pertinent to find out who the “them” are. Leaving the question of another culture’s identity up to the current administration, Fox News, or a misdirected corporate photographer moonlighting in an art gallery amounts to negligence and an ill-informed population.
The main exposure of the first Gulf War conflict came through CNN's round the clock coverage of the air attacks. The Night Vision effect the cameras on the planes were equipped with turned the black night into a digitized lime green and yellow field of vision. Upon explosion the yellow hue would flash white light and commentators would announce the play by play for the uninformed viewers. Previous documentation of modern warfare has always had a disheartening effect on viewers. The widespread use of photography at the beginning of the century allowed the masses to witness the brutality of trench warfare during Word War 1, provoking considerable critical outcry at the violence and mutilation. The Vietnam War was the first televised war and brought the spilled blood of America's youth into the confines of living rooms across the country, adding an animated daily reminder for the anti-war movement. The way we witnessed the Gulf War in 1991 with the digital aid of Night Vision and the perspective from the air attack proved to be an invaluable aid in public support for the first war effort in Iraq. There were few pictures or video of direct ground battle or close ups of the many who directly suffered, mainly un-natural colors of abstract geographies being bombed from above. How we see and what technologies are at hand help forge our understanding of reality and also our ideology. The widespread use of digital filters through still and motion graphic design and animation has distanced the populations from previous modes of reality in favor of a simulated one; one with brilliant colors and less starker visions of even the most inhumane acts.
Armando M. Diaz first one-man show at the Paragraph Gallery takes the lens of this brave new visual world order as a starting point in presenting the six canvases in this series. The Acrylic on canvas paintings range from 3' by 3' squares to a massive 10' by 5' piece. The imagery, motif, and color remain consistent in every canvas: highly stylized architectural landscapes with disorientating abstract lines creating the silhouette of a helmeted soldier, a post-Bladerunner scene created in a frenzy of Day-Glo style colors that have resurged in so many culture mags and Flash websites. One soldier has just shot a missile out of a rocket launcher, caught in mid shot the viewer witnesses the rocket; still, flat, and covered with purple, red, white, and yellow stripes. Another canvas shows a soldier hands above his head jeering in his victorious pose. These paintings intentions are not to provide commentary on the current war effort (the series was started two years ago). They are part of a dialogue about the possibility of a generation used to dealing with war and violence through Apocalypse Now and Grand Theft Auto facing real threats of terrorism and war without the mediation of a gaming console or scripted ending by the very timing of the show. Diaz contributions are successful because he avoids a dogmatic approach to his subject. On first glance one is likely to miss any forms of representation and mistake the paintings as pure abstraction. By appropriating the vocabulary of the Hard Edge abstract artists like Frank Stella and transforming it into a figurative subject Diaz actually changes the minimalist mantra of "what you see is what you get".
Diaz's earliest paintings in this series are square shaped, compact and economical canvases. They retain the same style as the later pieces but are too rigid for their own good. The buildings in the background retain enough detail to be identified by the keen eye. In the piece INF_SEC.03 there is a forest green building with a shaded multi-level car garage cutting a sharp diagonal line across the bottom right third of the composition. The architectural space appears lifted from a virtual reality game and the unnatural colors and hard edges create another dimension. Breaking up the space are the vertical lines of orange, black, and burnt sienna; like a Barnett Newman stripe showing up in a Peter Halley painting, following the vertical lines one discovers the pale pink tones make up the outline of a helmeted soldier with rifle raised. At first the soldier appears decorative and ornamental. He is outlined with no detail inside his form, his shape a purely artificial figure. There are no signs of brushstrokes, no misplaced paint or sloppy line. Everything in this painting is exactly executed as if by machine. The man/machine process is the defining characteristic of the work. These are paintings of rendered pictures based on photographs. Sketching the images into Adobe Illustrator, the program that vectorizes images into flattened planes one finds in contemporary advertisements and in Internet graphics, Diaz is able to find swatches adequate to provide a slick look. He cleans up his pictures and removes hints of reality, the hindrances of a world burdened with graffiti and trash are removed in favor of an architectural space that is flattened and washed in the passive pastel hue of the future. He has adopted the visual language of marketing, the aesthetic of the cool, the clean and the consumable. We understand that a living human has created these because of their physical presence, but we also know that they would not be possible without current technology. Lichtenstien used the effect of the Ben Day dot to transfer the printing techniques of his time into large-scale paintings; Diaz has Adobe Illustrator. Once the work leaves the computer screen and the inkjet print or color copy and occupies the physical space and history of paint on canvas the viewer is allotted a special privilege; a critical distance, the possibility to understand the impact current technologies have on the way people see and understand reality. In Diaz's landscapes the viewer witnesses a soldier with a gun aimed and ready to shoot and it means nothing to us. The sight is familiar to everyone from the daily news, cartoons, cinema and childrens toy. Americans are inundated with images of guns, violence, and warfare. Many have participated with similar looking soldiers in video games like Doom, Quake, and Bond. By further stylizing the soldier in this unidentified artificial place these paintings hold a mirror to our current moment in history and the immunity such pictures now have on the viewer.
The most successful and recent painting is saferd2 and is nearly ten feet long by five feet high. The painting has further minimized the color palette, contrasting the darker purple and green in the background with the lighter pink and greens of alert soldier in the foreground. The figuration of the soldier cuts across the right plane of the canvas interrupting and interacting with the background. The figure is flat, torso to helmet, shoulder to barrel of his gun creates a new plane of space that has no shading of dimension, only the multiple flat stripes of color. He appears to be alert but could be an exacto knife cut out pasted onto this three dimensional landscape. The engagement of the viewer with this near life size figure is one of entanglement. We are accustomed to viewing this type of graphic image on the computer screen, where it is at the largest 19" and the light emanates from the back of the screen. Enlarged and well lit in the confines of the cube of the gallery, Diaz has traded the illusionism of one graphic mode to another. He understands our relationship to this new world of visual understanding and responds with a new realism, one that is enjoyable to look at but somewhat troubling to digest. When the viewer looks at the remnants of the buildings in this painting which have become further abstracted, one is not sure if it is a further stylized form that has become less recognizable, or if these are representations of a real site that has been ravaged by rebel guerrillas fighting for a free state. This could be the Night Vision of the future. It would make a beautiful war.