Posts Tagged ‘media’
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
That’s the million-dollar question – literally, considering the obscene amounts that art goes for these days on the auction block …
Straits Times writer Stephanie Yap, whose initials may not be entirely unfamiliar to sharp-eyed readers of this blog, has a piece in today’s Life! considering the debate.
That particular discussion came out of an evening of post-Biennale beers at The Cider Pit, and, boy, was it a hard-fought battle for all involved ! While it shouldn’t come as any surprise which side of the lines I have my tent pretty firmly pitched on, I think Steph’s opinions deserve to be taken seriously – if only because she is hardly the only person who feels that way, the sentiments of a large number of practicing artists and certain art critics these days constituting an informal backlash of sorts against the theoretification of the art world and the sidelining of aesthetic affect.
The glut of literature dealing with the topic is copious and, in many cases, incomprehensible – though W. J. T. Mitchell‘s writings are a good place to start for a lucid introduction. However, for a caustic, deliberately provocative, infuriating war-cry on behalf of beauty in the visual arts, nothing beats Dave Hickey’s slim volume of essays, The Invisible Dragon.
A preview of Hickey is available on Google Books.
FINDING THE ART AMONG THE JUNK
Visual art should be attractive and engaging or risk getting cast aside as a piece of garbage. By Stephanie Yap.
On a recent weekend, I visited the Old Kallang Airport, one of the four sites of the ongoing Singapore Biennale 2011. As in the case of most trips to art exhibitions or the museum, I liked some of the artworks and disliked others.
This time though, my reaction was more heavily weighted towards the latter than it usually is. This is not a condemnation of the artists, curators and other personnel involved in staging the biennale: I’m the first to admit that I have a very uncompromising, even narrow-minded attitude towards visual art that does not lend itself well to many exhibitions of contemporary art.
You see, I have come up with a personal litmus test as to whether something is a work of art or not: If you saw it in a garbage dump, would you go, “Oh no, there’s a work of art in the garbage dump!” or would you pass it by, not even noticing that the so-called artwork is out of place?
In his 1967 book The Medium Is The Message, Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote: “Art is anything you can get away with.” [Too, too true …]
An early practitioner of this philosophy was French artist Marcel Duchamp, who in 1917 acquired an ordinary porcelain urinal, gave it the title “Fountain”, and signed it “R. Mutt”. (Interestingly, while replicas of “Fountain” are on display at various museums worldwide, the original is lost, believed to have been thrown away. Obviously, no one thought of saving it from the rubbish dump.)
The idea behind Fountain takes the subjectivity of value to the extreme: If one treats an object as art, it then becomes art.
This is an idea I feel, in more ways than one, is full of crap. Yes, it is liberating to embrace a wide definition of art rather than sticking to specific mediums or traditions. But if anything can be art, then the term itself becomes so nebulous that it loses all definition and becomes meaningless. And that’s even before you start appending adjectives like “good”, “bad”, or “complex”.
It is understandable in this high-tech age, where cameras can capture reality more easily and accurately than any paintbrush or chisel, artists might want to avoid being made redundant by eschewing craftsmanship in favour of context, representation in favour of abstraction, accompanied by chunks of wall text explaining what they were trying to achieve in the first place.
Often, the intent described in the text is so exciting, brimming with artistic manifestos and claims to significance, that the actual execution inescapably feels rather underwhelming in contrast – indeed, the artist might have been better off not making the work and just publishing the description, letting readers’ imaginations do a better job than he ever could and saving money, space and the environment in the bargain.
So, which works did I dislike at Old Kallang Airport? The last work I saw before closing time was Imminent Departure by American artist Lisi Raskin, a site-specific work that takes material from the crumbling airport and puts them together to create a new, rather haphazard space, complete with garish colours. According to her bio on the biennale website, Raskin “creates stage-like installations that play on fears engendered by the threat of war”.
Perhaps because I am a sheltered Singaporean, the threat of war has failed to engender any fears in myself for her installation to play on. I must agree with the “stage-like” aspect though – the installation did look like a set for a B-grade science-fiction movie set in a dystopian future with 1970s aesthetic sensibilities. But if I wanted to see such a set, I would be better off watching a B-grade science-fiction movie, which might at least raise questions about the meaning of life, the nature of humanity or feature aliens.
Compare this with Singaporean artist Michael Lee’s Office Orchitect installation, which introduces the viewer to a fictitious 20th-century architect called K. S. Wong, complete with a timeline charting his influences and cardboard models of his unbuilt designs. The architectural models are exquisitely rendered and gorgeously surreal. It also helped that I was caught up in the narrative of this brilliant man whose genius went unrewarded during his lifetime.
Call me old-fashioned, but I do think that visual art should look, if not necessarily attractive, then at least engaging, its physical form being its prime mode of communication with the viewer.
Otherwise, to the rubbish dump it should go – and stay.
Oh, P.S. My response to Steph’s rubbish-dump test can be found here.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The following editorial by Straits Times columnist Ong Sor Fern appeared on Thursday (31 March), two days before notice of the closure of Simon Fujiwara’s Biennale piece, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, appeared in the same section of the paper.
Ong lays out some well-known arguments against the censorship of art by official institutions – a case made more urgent by Singapore’s desire to position itself as an arts hub for the region, as she notes.
Having said that, I do have issues with her article, for reasons which I go into at the end of this post.
Meanwhile, Ong’s piece is reproduced in full below.
SHOCKED BY CENSORS
I was appalled that the Singapore Art Museum had unilaterally amended a work of art. By Ong Sor Fern.
British artist Simon Fujiwara’s Welcome to the Hotel Munber at the Singapore Art Museum has shocked me.
But it was not the graphic homosexual content which got my attention. By the time I saw the work on Monday, the gay pornographic magazines in the installation had already been removed by the museum. They were taken out after a private preview preview of the show on March 11 and 12.
And it is this action which has appalled me. The museum had done so without first consulting the artist. To me, the move is tantamount to an act of vandalism. To amend a work of art without an artist’s prior knowledge and/or consent is a strict no-no. to draw a parallel, it is akin to putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo’s David.
It is even more shocking that this is done by a museum which is organizing the Singapore Biennale and which is pitching itself as an art institution of repute in the region.
The museum might be concerned that the installation could break the law. As lawyer Samuel Seow pointed out in a Life! report on Monday, under the Undesirable Publications Act, anyone exhibiting “any obscene publication knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the publication to be obscene” can be fined a maximum of $10,000 or sentenced to jail for a maximum of two years, or both.
One might add that this rule applies equally to both straight and gay pornography, so the museum’s action is not so much anti-gay as legally prudent. But the moral morass the museum finds itself in is, to my mind, the result of its bungled handling of the whole episode.
If the work were in breach of the law, then the sensible thing to do would have been to close it and talk to the artist about a possible compromise or even a withdrawal of the piece, explaining in the process that the laws of the land do not permit a display of pornography. The installation takes up one room in a gallery, and closing the exhibit would be a simple matter of cordoning it off.
[N.B. Which the museum actually did, a little before this piece appeared in the press apparently.]
The museum could also, from its position as a home for contemporary art, negotiate with the authorities to make exceptions to the rule. While there have been tussles between artists and censors over what is acceptable in Singapore’s social landscape, artists have won concessions for freedom of expression.
The Singapore International Film Festival, for example, won the hard-fought right to show movies with graphic content by saying the films would be screened to a limited audience who were sophisticated enough to handle the content. And theatre groups here have staged plays dealing with sensitive themes such as gay rights, race relations and politics.
The censors have also conceded that such fare should be accessible to certain audiences. The same principle should be applicable to challenging works of contemporary art. It should be within the purview of the museum as an arts institution and as an arts educator to champion such works and educate both the censors and the public.
For all one knew, the authorities might have been open to the work being shown, with certain limitations to access. There are already two advisories, warning of graphic sexual content, on the walls leading to the exhibit. Parents who do not want their children exposed to such fare can simply skip the exhibit.
The museum could also position a gallery sitter – common practice in museums all over the world – in the installation itself to make sure no one can pick up the pornographic magazines, one of which was displayed on a magazine rack within a visitor’s reach. The other magazines were displayed on a shelf well beyond any curious visitor’s grasp. As an aside, visitors should not be pawing through an exhibit anyway, unless they are specifically invited to interact with the artwork.
By choosing to unilaterally amend a work of art, the Singapore Art Museum damages its own reputation as an arts institution and does harm to its ambition as a curatorial authority. Contemporary artists who create edgy work may now think twice before agreeing to exhibit at the museum, or even at other arts events here. That diminishes not just the museum, but the arts scene here in general.
This is the second time this year that a ruckus has resulted from a contemporary artwork that challenges social mores. As the inaugural international art fair, Art Stage Singapore, in January, Hyderabad artist T. Venkanna caused a stir with his performance piece in which he stripped naked and invited visitors to sit with him for a portrait shot. He sat hidden in a cubicle with a cloth-draped doorway and gallery owner Abhay Maskara was on hand to explain the nature and the concept of the work. still the work attracted press, was yanked from the fair and the artist was questioned by the police.
If Singapore wants to host contemporary art events such as Art Stage and the Biennale, then it had better be prepared to deal with the fallout caused by artists who challenge social norms and unknowingly violate the laws here. Nudity and pornography might seem a big deal today, but I am sure that even edgier works dealing with race and religion will spark an even bigger furore in the future.
Singaporeans here are increasingly curious about contemporary art, as can be seen by the 32,000 visitors who paid $30 a pop to get into Art Stage Singapore.
Granted, the majority of Singaporeans may not care to tell a Botero from a Bencab. But this is where institutions such as the Singapore Art Museum have a vital role to play in nurturing this interest and educating the public. This means also that museums need to refine their processes so that they can handle better any complications that might arise when foreign artists who have no knowledge of local sensitivities present works that violate the laws here.
The museum should lead the way in responding to controversial works with the same care and consideration it extends to the sensibilities of its visitors.
Unfortunately, its actions in this incident only reflect that Singapore is not mature enough to host such art. And that is a loss for all Singaporeans, not just the dedicated artsgoer.
Ok, things I like about this piece:
1. The point about the utterly forseeable consequences of dealing with contemporary art: “If Singapore wants to host contemporary art events such as Art Stage and the Biennale, then it had better be prepared to deal with the fallout …” YES. C’mon folks, even people who don’t exactly keep up with the visual arts scene know that if there’s one thing contemporary art does very well, it’s stirring up controversy, from the mid-century antics of the Neo-Dada school to those of the YBA in more recent years, the culmination of which must surely include Charles Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition, which provoked outrage in the U.K. for Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Moors murderer Myra Hindley, and for the resultant withdrawal of public funding for the Brooklyn Museum when it hosted the show in the U.S. On the local end, there was Vince Leow’s public pee-guzzling back in the early ’90s, as well as Josef Ng’s scissor-happy turn …
There’s absolutely no reason why the SAM would not have some sort of plan of action for tackling such issues, much less be caught off-guard when they do arise, which, judging by the way it bungled matters, seems to point to a tragic lack of awareness on its part.
2. Ong’s penultimate observation: “The museum should lead the way in responding to controversial works with the same care and consideration it extends to the sensibilities of its visitors.” Again, a good point, and one that may very easily get lost in the shuffle. Being censored by the censors is one thing, but a museum arrogating to itself the privilege of editing works of art – especially ones they don’t own – is pretty repellent, not to mention legally fraught. The museum’s director is on record as saying that the SAM needs to respect the views of its diverse audience, but what about trying to uphold the rights of the artists it plays host to, or the principle of freedom of expression in general ? Museum goers and children have rights, but artists don’t ? I mean, there didn’t even seem to be much of an attempt made here … Really, for shame.
Now, things I disagree with:
1. The degree of Ong’s reaction, which strikes me as being somewhat disproportionate to the local climate of widespread conformity and censorship – a fact of life that every true blue Singaporean accepts as ineluctable. Yes, she did note that here it was the SAM’s act of self-censorship which rankled, but unfortunately she also expends too much ink retreading old ground – the sanitization of the arts by the local authorities, why that harms rather than helps – for me to take her seriously. I mean, was there much in her argument which even the most casual of arts lovers aren’t already familiar with ? If indeed it was the museum’s actions which made this particular instance of censorship especially egregious, then that should have constituted the main thrust of her article, not all that blather about the ideal role of the museum as an arts institution, the hard fight fought by local artists against the establishment, further instances of how naughty contemporary art can be and why it makes sense for Singapore to go with the flow … Yawn. Get to the point already. She declares it in the first couple of paragraphs, proceeds to ignore it for much of the piece, then resurrects it in the last two lines. And the characterization of her response as “shocked” – unless one’s had their head stuck in the sand for the last four decades or so, how is the act of censorship hereabouts, even self-censorship, even remotely surprising anymore ? Yes, Ms. Ong, we get that you’re a plugged in, liberal, arts-loving soul, so sensitive to the desecration of the artistic voice that you’re “appalled” by a single instance of expurgation, but, to borrow an expression from Gayatri Spivak, that position has become a “meaningless piety” so far as Singapore is concerned. Yes, censorship sucks .. and we all know that. How about something a little less platitudinous next time ?
I know I sound snarky, but Ong’s tone was really exasperating. I was having lunch with an ex once, in an Indian restaurant – this was in New Jersey – and apparently some woman spotted a roach, screamed, raised a stink, and then left hurriedly with her family. It wasn’t so much the reaction, but the way it was played out – not unlike a hammy, sub-par performance in a low-rated daytime soap. In other words, affected, and it definitely showed.
The incident kept coming back as I was reading Ong’s article. ‘Nuff said.
2. Her suggestion for a compromise: “If the work were in breach of the law, then the sensible thing to do would have been to close it and talk to the artist about a possible compromise or even a withdrawal of the piece, explaining in the process that the laws of the land do not permit a display of pornography.” HOW DULL DOES THAT SOUND ?! This is contemporary art, babe ! Nobody wants to do the “sensible” thing … I say Fujiwara should just run with it, make lemonade out of lemons: leave the work in its bowdlerized form, put up signs saying what’s missing and how and why and by whom, and see what alignments of meaning, power and plurality arise out of this new configuration.
But that’s just me.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The censorship of Simon Fujiwara’s Biennale installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, continues to make waves. Hot on the heels of my post yesterday, the following piece appeared in The Straits Times‘ Life! section this morning.
Biennale exhibit which had porn magazines removed without artist’s knowledge is closed. By Adeline Chia.
A controversial art installation with pornographic gay content censored by the Singapore Art Museum is now temporarily closed, while the museum and artist try to work out how to change it.
The installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara titled Welcome to The Hotel Munber looks like a 1970s Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, wine barrels and legs of ham.
But it also contained with sexual images and innuendos which came in the form of erotic images and text, or in the way the fake sausages were arranged.
The museum had removed some gay pornographic magazines from the installation without informing Fujiwara, causing people to accuse the museum of unprofessionalism and censorship.
Now, the exhibit is closed while the artist and the museum discuss how to modify the installation, which is the artist’s fictionalized re-imagining of his father as a repressed gay man running a hotel under Spain’s fascist dictator General Francisco Franco’s regime.
The artwork is part of the ongoing Singapore Biennale, the island’s premier visual arts event. It had been shown in its entirety for two days at a private viewing for reporters and artists on March 11 and 12.
After the private viewing, the museum removed the pornographic magazines. The reason given was that the graphic material was within easy reach of visitors, and the museum had to protect audiences who did not want such graphic sexual material in their face.
In a letter to Life! Yesterday, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui gave the background to the work, saying that many of the artworks in the Biennale were site-specific. He defines these as works “created from the constant negotiation and dialogue between the Biennale curators and artists, sometimes right up tot eh final moments of the installation.”
He said that the museum had known that Fujiwara’s work contained graphic and nude images, and so had put in place advisories and hired gallery sitters. But, he added, “given the ongoing creation process, it is not possible to view site-specific contemporary artworks until they are fully installed.”
Fujiwara’s Hotel Munber is an ongoing work that has been exhibited in cities such as Frankfurt in Germany. It won the prestigious Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel, the iconic Swiss art fair, last year.
Mr Tan said: “Contemporary art is unlike films, which are fully completed works and can be viewed ahead of time for rating assessments.”
As a result, he added, the museum was “not aware of the final configuration of Fujiwara’s artwork” until all its artefacts were in place and the installation was completed “just in time for the Biennale private viewing.”
“it was then that we noted that the artefacts took the form of sexually explicit magazines within the larger installation. One of these magazines was within easy reach of the public and the others could be discerned,” he said.
The museum then decided to remove the magazines but to keep the exhibit open, said Mr Tan. At the same time, the curators were informed and were asked to contact the artist.
He added that Fujiwara “has also conveyed his concern” about the installation, including the magazines, which belong to a collector, being handled by the public.
“in view of this and other feedback, the artist has proposed that we reconfigure the exhibit altogether,” said the museum director.
Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen, 34, was one of the people who caught the installation in full during the Biennale opening weekend.
He said that “such issues should have been ironed out way before the show opened, since the institution should be 100 per cent aware of what is showing within its walls.”
“Sexuality and the gay issue are a big part of Simon Fujiwara’s practice, so it’s not like this is something shocking and unexpected. Moreover, Hotel Munbar [sic] is an existing exhibition, it’s not like it came out of nowhere,” he added.
Fujiwara, 28, won the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious annual Cartier Award for emerging artists last year. The artist, who is of Japanese-British heritage, did not respond to e-mail from Life! this week.
His works often deal with fictional narratives, sexuality and history, and have been exhibited at prestigious platforms such as the Venice Biennale, Manifesta and the Sao Paulo Biennale.
Singapore Biennale 2011: Open House
The following article appeared in the Life! section of The Straits Times on 28 March, 2011. Apparently Brit-Jap artist Simon Fujiwara’s contribution to the Biennale, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, was a little too gay-friendly for – get this, not the local authorities – but the Singapore Art Museum itself, which apparently made a decision to modify the piece on their own say-so.
Welcome to the Hotel Munber, in its incomplete form, is currently on view at the SAM.
MUSEUM CENSORS EXPLICIT ART WORK
A Biennale installation had some of its sexual content removed without permission from the artist. By Corrie Tan.
An installation with graphic homosexual content at the ongoing 2011 Singapore Biennale has been altered by the Singapore Art Museum without the artist’s consent.
The installation by award-winning British artist Simon Fujiwara converted a gallery in the museum into a Spanish hotel bar with a bar counter, bar stools, barrels of wine and legs of ham hanging from the ceiling.
But a row of gay pornographic magazines that were placed on top of a cupboard behind the bar counter and a gay pornographic magazine that was placed under a Spanish newspaper at the gallery’s entrance have been removed.
Extracts of erotic text, framed up on the wall and pasted on the legs of fabricated ham, were not removed from the installation.
The changes to the installation, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, were reported last week by Fridae.com, a gay and lesbian Asian news and lifestyle portal.
When asked about the removal of the items, Singapore Art Museum director Tan Boon Hui said that while the museum and curators were aware that the installation would contain some graphic sexual material, it was only after the installation was completed for the Biennale’s opening weekend that the museum realised some of the graphic material was within the clear view and easy reach of visitors.
So the museum decided to remove the material after a private preview on March 11 and 12, which was attended by local and international artists and reporters. The Biennale curators were informed as well, and they contacted the artist.
The museum said that during the busy opening weekend of March 11 to 13, it did not have a chance to discuss the work with the Berlin-based Fujiwara before he left the country. At press time, the artist did not answer queries sent by Life!.
Mr Tan did not say why the museum did not contact the artist before removing the items from the installation, but said in an e-mail statement: “Given the diversity of visitors at SAM, including audiences who may not appreciate seeing such material in full view, we made th decision to remove it.
“SAM has a broad base of visitors, ranging from those familiar with the language of contemporary art to new audiences and families with young children who are taking initial steps towards appreciating contemporary art. Hence, the museum will always work with the curators and artists whose works deal with, or contain, potentially sensitive subject matter to determine how to best display their works for our audiences, without altering their artistic content.”
Biennale curator Russell Storer, 40, who contacted Mr. Fujiwara after the changes were made to the installation, said of the artist’s reaction: “The artist was concerned because what happened changes the wrok. We are in the process of working out the next step with the museum and the artist.
“It would have been good to have had the discussion before the Biennale but we are trying to be as pragmatic as possible right now. It’s an issue for all of us, but we understand that there are laws in Singapore to abide by.”
Lawyer Samuel Seow, 37, said that it is an offence under the law to exhibit obscene and/or objectionable publications. He cited Singapore’s Undesirable Publications Act, where anyone who exhibits “any obscene publication knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the publication to be obscene” can be fined a maximum of $10,000 or sentenced to jail for a maximum of two years, or both.
When Life! visited the Singapore Art Museum yesterday, two advisories en route to the exhibition space warned that the gallery that housed Welcome to Hotel Munber contained work of a sexual nature and that parental guidance was recommended.
These signs have been put up since the exhibition began.
The work, a travelling installation, was inspired by the hotel and bar run by the artist’s parents in southern Spain under the military dictatorship of General Franco in the 1970s.
Mr Fujiwara, 28, the winner of the Frieze Art Fair’s prestigious Cartier Award for emerging artists last year and who is known for his creation of fictional narratives, retells his parents’ life as erotic fiction.
The installation explores and is a response to the violent and oppressive climate that his parents experienced under General Franco’s rule. The artist’s mother is British and his father is Japanese.
As part of the artwork, Mr Fujiwara gave a lecture performance at the museum during the Biennale’s opening weekend where he read extracts of erotica and used props such as photograph, newspaper clippings and original objects from his parents’ hotel.
Audience members described the performance as a conflation of sexuality, family values and political history.
This is the second art controversy relating to nudity this year. In January, an Indian artist who stripped naked in the name of art at the inaugural international art fair Art Stage Singapore, stopped his act after newspapers went to town with the story.
Asked about the incident at the Singapore Art Museum, Singapore artist and gallery owner Alan Oei, 34, said: “If an artist’s work is to be altered, you need to inform the artist first or negotiate an outcome. If the artist doesn’t understand why, he or shy might pull out, but that’s how it is.”
Mr Olivier Henry, 38, a Singapore-based photographer and gallery owner, said: “I think it’s entirely unacceptable for a museum to change a work like that. You might change a work’s integrity and message.
“If there are censorship issues, these should have been brought up prior to the work being showcased. I find it extremely alarming that someone else can just take the responsibility and creative freedom to change an artist’s message and work.”
I blogged about vegetables last week. Here’s the flip side.
SPH (that’s the Singapore Press Holdings) recently ran a series of rather er, visceral ads in the Straits Times promoting The Pitch – which is what they’re calling their new “reality contest” for ad agencies to “come up with their strategic and creative best.” And if the promotional campaign for the event itself is any yardstick, the creativity bar sure is being set pretty high. The series of ads (below) feature that mainstay of the dinner table, meat, in all its red, raw, bloody glory, ranging from gruesome slaughterhouse scenes to neatly laid out cuts of flesh all ready for the pan or pot. The creative team behind these carnivore-canny visuals, the local firm Wild Advertising & Marketing, explains their otherwise inscrutable choice thus: “Our business is already fraught with macabre language such as ‘deadlines’, ‘executions’ and having ads ‘butchered’ by clients. Which ad exec hasn’t felt like a lamb being led slaughter – walking into a client presentation being less than prepared.” (See here.)
The maternal unit, who’s spent a lifetime reading the ST and looking at their parade of otherwise uninspired ads, made a point of calling my attention to these novel, if rather grim, eye-catchers.
You can read more about The Pitch at SPH’s website.
As a subject of anthropological and semiotic interrogation, meat has aroused interest since the ’60s at least, when French thinker Claude Lévi-Strauss published his seminal (if a trifle far-fetched) piece, The Culinary Triangle, in the Partisan Review quarterly in 1966. He posited that different methods of cooking meat form a triangulated model, along the three connected pathways of which these various culinary modes could be located, and said to approach either “natural” or “cultural” processes. Umm, right …
The essay in its entirety is available on Google Books.
Even earlier though, French filmmaker Georges Franju chronicled first-hand the harrowing goings-on at a Parisian abattoir in his short documentary, Le Sang des Bêtes (Blood of the Beasts). That’s no misnomer, I assure you. One of the initial scenes shows a horse being knocked out by a captive bolt* before having its neck sliced open, bled – a seemingly endless river of dark blood swirling out onto the dirty cement floor – and then gutted, severed and carved up. As for the rest of it, you’ll have to watch it for yourself (see below), because that’s about as far as I got before my insides started feeling real funny. And I certainly haven’t tried getting any further since. Le Sang is quite enough to make a vegetarian out of anyone who isn’t a trigger-happy hunting enthusiast; a shoutout to my friend, AH, who long ago made the decision to give up meat, and hasn’t wavered, or at least not to my knowledge. These days the film attracts a cult audience primarily from having been made available on the Criterion Collection’s DVD of Franju’s 1960 horror classic, Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face), which is worth a look.
* And any talk of cattle guns is just pointless without at least a nod to the Coens’ No Country For Old Men (2007). I managed to sit through this one only because I’d already shelled out 10 USD for a ticket. Still one of the creepiest, stomach-churning-iest movies I’ve ever seen, bar none.
Le Sang des Bêtes, part 1 of 3. [Caution: very explicit, and not in a titillating way.]
Meanwhile, Franju’s documentary interests were transposed into the realm of deliciously nasty satire by fellow Frenchmen Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro in their wicked 1991 début, Delicatessen. It tells the tale of a charcuterie owner who, in a post-apocalyptic world afflicted by an acute shortage of food, begins to butcher the tenants in his building instead, serving up his neighbours bit by paper-wrapped bit over the counter. The concern for how the human race treats its animalian fellows seems to have been overtaken by cannibalistic complexes, a trend that has persisted in the last two decades. While the specter of cannibalism has been explored in film since the notorious D-grade gore-fest, Blood Feast, appeared in 1963, and in the sci-fi dystopia flick Soylent Green (1973) – not to mention providing a gimmicky edge to The Silence of the Lambs and its sequel – movies like Deli and the Dutch black comedy The Green Butchers leave the horror and sci-fi genres behind to take a droll jibe at our most cherished dietary practices. TGB stars the ever Skeletor-ish Mads Mikkelsen (you can practically see the guy’s skull beneath his skin), who has lots of diabolical fun with meathooks and grinders and marinades, becoming a hit among the grocery-shopping housewives of his tiny town for those oh-so-tasty “Chickadees.” Even more than Jeunet and Caro’s work, TGB lifts the food film to surreal heights as a tongue-in-cheek <lol> investigation of the implications of meat-eating.
Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu shifted the terms of the debate when, as part of a piece simply dubbed Eating People, he staged a series of photographs of himself preparing and consuming what looked to be a human foetus (below). While doubts about the authenticity of his er, meal are rife, Zhu himself is on record as stating: ““Our subconscious tells us that eating babies is not right. But it is not prohibited. No religion forbids cannibalism. Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. So I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it.” The piece stirred further controversy when it was shown on BBC’s Channel 4 as part of a program on contemporary Chinese art, Beijing Swings.
What has been termed BioArt deals with living matter and its study, including tissue culture, bioengineering processes, laboratory praxis, and, of course, a whole range of organic substances like meat, animal parts and bodily fluids, representing a new paradigm, beyond the performative, for corporeal engagement in art. Some of it is highly cerebral, literally operating at the interstice between art and lab science, like the SymbioticA collective; others tend toward the deliberately shocking and provocative. The work of female Indian artists Anita Dube and Shilpa Gupta, for instance, were featured at a recent SAM show on contemporary Asian art. Dube’s Silence (Blood Wedding) co-opts actual human bones as part of a series of ornate, florid sculptures, where these remains are transformed through a covering of rich red velvet and fussy beadwork into particularly beguiling, macabre memento mori-s. Gupta, on the other hand, while not actually utilizing biological material, created numerous bottles of simulated blood to stock a grisly pharmacy. Blame (2003) stands as a critique of communal violence in India, as well as global bloodshed such as the war on terror, confronting the viewer with the horrific consequences of these hostilities cloaked in the guise of the everyday, rendering it all the more startling and affective. (Though not without certain misgivings, at least on my part.) Other Asian artists engaged in body art as shock tactics include the infamous Chinese duo Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, whose Body Link and Human Oil utilized actual human foetuses as part of their attempt to highlight the brutality of modern urban life. The artists’ site clearly notes that the materials for Body Link were a “baby cadaver (medical specimen), plastic tubing, needles, and 200 cc of blood”, and Human Oil consisted of “liquefied human fat, one male infant cadaver.” So scandalous, in fact, were the shenanigans of artists like Zhu, Sun and Peng that in 2001 the Chinese authorities banned exhibitions “involving torture, animal abuse, corpses, and overt violence and sexuality”, and any “gallery or alternative space planning to mount a show during the run of the 2002 Shanghai Biennale was required to vet its contents with censors.” (See Richard Vine’s New China, New Art [Prestel USA, 2008], p. 104-5.)
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Body Link (2000). Images from sunyuanpengu.com.
Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Human Oil (2000). Image from sunyuanpengyu.com.
As a sort of subcategory of BioArt, the visual culture of meat and meat-related products has of late been attracting the attention of artists interested in issues like feminism, animal rights, and foodways. Here’s a wonderful snippet from a review of Meat After Meat Joy, an exhibition which showed at the Mahmood Daneyal Gallery in NYC in 2008, which I think serves well as an articulation of the politics and connotations of representing meat:
I sing the song of meat, of its joys and discontents. For text demanded is now text made manifest. For meat is not only murder but also medium. Not merely the flesh, bone and sinew of corporeal existence but also an aesthetic construct replete with its peculiar and innate ontology. Not just tissue but also a symbolic projection of the impolite body into the rarefied space of the contemporary art world ……
Meat is food. Meat is death. Meat is torture. Meat is production. Meat is raw, although it can be cooked. Meat is dissection, substratum, structure. Meat is the bridge between human and animal, a reminder of where we come from, of our shared morphology, and of our place in the food chain. But meat is, above all, metaphor. It drips with larger aesthetic and political implications. It is laced with the gristle of artistic effort, striated by the tendons of semiotic theory and the ligaments of art school curriculum, greased with the lard of unctuous careerism, inflamed in the rotisserie of the contemporary art market, braised on the skillet of critical acclaim or indifference, its physical wholeness challenged by entropy, time and the maggots of eventual dissolution. It is a pungent medium, and should this not be immediately apparent, just give it a day or two without refrigeration.
(Read the full review at post.thing.net.)
Some of the pieces included in the show were the well-known video work My New York (2002) by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, who wore a meat suit down the streets of the city, having evinced a longstanding concern with the human body and its fleshly constituent, as well as the American Betty Hirst, who has incorporated the motif of meat across a broad spectrum of iconographies.
Stills from Zhang Huan’s My New York (2002). Images from Style Tease.
American Flag, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Hommage a Meret Oppenheim, Betty Hirst. Image from a review at Eat Me Daily.
Elsewhere, photographer-artist Dominic Episcopo had a one-man show at the Bambi Gallery in Philadelphia, entitled Meat America. A brief notice at The Urban Grocer remarks: “Through this work, Episcopo intended to celebrate his own unabashed love for meat and “the American appetite for decadent and iconoclastic deliciousness.” And for the artist, delicious it was – word on the street says Episcopo and his wife ate all the meat he photographed. Now that’s dedication.”
All images below from The Coolist.
… It’s the end of the post. There isn’t going to be any mention of Her Gaga-ness.
The body of a dead woman lies in her quake-ravaged home in Sendai (top). Rescue workers recover the body of another victim, in Rikuzentakata (bottom). Images from the New York Times’ photo coverage of the calamity.
It sure seems like it, as news of the devastation and a rising death toll continue to flood the media. Prayers and thoughts at this time go out to Yoko and Fukai sensei-s and their families; hopefully everyone remains safe.
A slightly frivolous point, considering the subject at hand: coverage of the disaster in the local Straits Times utilized ukiyo-e master Hokusai’s iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa 神奈川沖浪裏, as a visual (below). A rather clever reference, I think …
An article in the Straits Times, 14th March, 2011.
Frantically rushing to the can earlier I yanked a magazine out of the pile sitting at the foot of my bed. It turned out to be an old issue of Details – a very old issue. From June, 1995, to be precise, with a young, svelte, intense-looking Val Kilmer on the cover. Boy, was he hawtness personified … a point I stress in response to the one-time heartthrob’s recent er, weight issues. Anyways. So I’m parked on the bowl, squeezing out a couple of floaters, randomly flipping through the mag, when I come upon an article by Douglas Coupland, entitled Generation X’d. (See below.)
Yes, that Douglas Coupland.
The year is 1995, I’m fresh out of secondary school and working a McJob as a shampoo boy in an upmarket salon. (The tips were awesome.) At the recommendation of a colleague, I pick up a copy of Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a book then already in publication for some four years, but at the height of it’s cultural currency thanks to Reality Bites (1994) – which, even more than films like Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993) and Kicking and Screaming (1995), brought the Gen X ethos to mainstream attention and cemented its place in the pop cultural canon of the 1990s. Of course, that was also in many ways the beginning of the end, and apparently by that point Coupland had had enough.
So in the summer of 1995 his piece appeared, under the category of ‘eulogy’. In addition to sounding the death knell, he also took the opportunity to correct a couple of raging misconceptions, the most significant of which – at least for me – is probably this one: “… marketers and journalists never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world.”
The Gen X label always struck me as being more of a descriptive term, rather than a prescriptive one, and I guess after a fashion Coupland agrees. Age-wise I really only fit in at the tail-end of the chronological spectrum, or not at all – but then this isn’t a numbers game. Which is why, a decade and a half after he called for an end to X, it may not be out of place to resurrect it here, because, now more than ever, as an unemployed holder of two degrees from some of the world’s fanciest institutions of higher learning, lying in bed on a Monday afternoon blogging about taking a dump, I suppose I really am a Gen X-er.
Douglas Coupland maintains a personal site here.
[Generation X’d, from the June, 1995, issue of Details magazine, p. 72.]
You were born in the 60s. Does that mean you’ll have to pay for it the rest of your life? Douglas Coupland commits Gen-X-cide.
Five years ago, when I was twenty eight, I wrote a book called Generation X. it was about three strangers who decided to pull back form society and move to the fringe of Palm Springs, California, where they worked at dreary jobs at the bottom of the food chain. Together, they spent time trying to relocate their individual identities inside a new psychic landscape where personal memories fights for real estate with commercial memories. As they searched for meaning, all three sensed that their act of withdrawal was an act of sanity rather than negation; their worldview was simultaneously ironic and sentimental, and it reflected a way of thinking I had never before seen documented.
The book’s title came not from Billy Idol’s band, as many supposed, but from the final chapter of a funny sociological book on American class structure titled Class, by Paul Fussell. In his final chapter, Fussell named an “X” category of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often frames modern existence. The citizens of X had much in common with my own socially disengaged characters; hence the title. The book’s title also allowed Claire, Andy, and Dag to remain enigmatic individuals while at the same time making them feel part of a larger whole.
Generation X’s tiny, March 1991 printing had no publicity, and received almost no reviews. But that summer a Texan my age named Richard Linklater released the movie Slacker, which was filled with overeducated and underoccupied oddballs who loosely paralleled the characters in my book. And in Seattle, a new form of music was exploding. Its attitude had everything to do with withdrawal, contemplation, and seeking the margns – albeit with the volume knob cranked to eleven. As the media goes, two’s nothing, but three’s a trend. Thus were born the most abused buzzwords of the early 90s: “generation X”, “slacker”, and “grunge.”
The problems started when trendmeisters everywhere began isolating small elements of my characters’ lives – their offhand way of handling problems or their questioning of the status quo – and blew them up to represent an entire generation. Part of this misrepresentation emanated from baby boomers, who, feeling pummeled by the recession and embarrassed by their own compromised 60s values, began transferring their collective darkness onto the group threatening to take their spotlight. The result? Xers were labeled monsters. Their protestations became “whining”; being mellow became “slacking”; and the struggle to find themselves became “apathy.” Once I understood this boomer angst-transference, their criticism took on its own twisted logic and instantly became benign.
Then the marketing began. Urban Outfitters. Those Bud ads where people rehash 60s TV sitcoms. Flavapalooza. Irony, which most young people use in order to make ludicrous situations palatable, was for the first time used as a selling tool. This demographic pornography was probably what young people resented most about the whole X explosion. In mean, sure, other fringe movements of the past – the ‘20s expats in Paris, the ‘50s Beats, ‘60s hippies, ‘70s punks – all got marketed in the end, but X got hypermarketed right from the start, which was harsh.
Around this time my phone started ringing with corporations offering from $10,000 and up to talk on the subject of How to Sell to Generation X. I said no. (The Gap asked me to do an ad. It was tempting, but I politely refused.) in late 1991, after both political parties had called to purchase advice on X, I basically withdrew from the whole tinny discourse.
And now I’m here to say that X is over. I’d like to declare a moratorium on all the noise, because the notion that there now exists a different generation – X, Y, K, whatever – is no longer debatable. Kurt Cobain’s in heaven, Slacker’s at Blockbuster, and the media refers to anybody aged thirteen to thirty-nine as Xers. Which is only further proof that marketers and journalists never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world.
Now that we are relieved of the X burden, what to do? Well, it’s still a good policy to continue defying labels: Once people think they’ve pigeonholed you, they’ll also think they can exploit and use you. (I know of what I speak.) refuse to participate in all generational debates. As for the marketing exploitation, a good thing about the X sensibility is that it’s always a few steps ahead of the media game. Marketers have known that to pump money out of baby boomers, all they need to do is play a Beach Boys song and show a clip from Vietnam. With X, they naively continue to assume that any generation actively enjoys participating in its own selling out. Wrong. Let X = X.
One would think that boomers, coming of age in the ‘60s, would be thrilled to see the notion of individualism adapting itself to a changing world. Instead, all they see are monsters. Andy Warhol once said that he liked sci-fi movies where the monster lays an egg at the end because it guarantees a sequel. Well, my three characters didn’t lay eggs at the end of Generation X, but maybe other eggs were laid instead. I’m thinking of millions of monster eggs out there sometime in the future, all hatching small, slimy, horned babies crawling toward some form of truth, tirelessly, en masse, waging war against the forces of dumbness.
So, please, be a monster.