Television is a "Frankenstein monster, which no one knows how to control or direct." At least that’s how the British satirist (and fervent Catholic thinker) Malcolm Muggeridge characterized it in his 1977 book Christ and the Media. Just as he predicted, there’s not a shred of doubt mass media has the greatest influence in American society today -- at the expense of moral compass. If only he could see technology’s new toys.
I felt this media control acutely a few weeks ago, while spending precious time with New York artist Man Bartlett and his interactive performance 24hEcho, viewable on the interwebs. Couldn’t help it. Bartlett sent out a press release that had the most charming proposal: "For 24 hours I will repeat, into a webcam, whatever you tell me to. . . . I will be your puppet, your sounding board, you refuge." And so he did, from Saturday, May 22, until Sunday the 23rd, sitting at a table at P.P.O.W. gallery in Chelsea.
Being the responsible critic I am, I followed the tweets people sent him and watched Bartlett repeating them live on USTREAM’s low-quality feed, sitting on my cozy couch in Chicago. All I can say is that his audience had no bite. They were complacent -- seemingly unaffected by BP’s oil spill, DADT, Arizona’s extremist immigration policies and other current issues.
Besides vapid trivia about master artists and song lyrics, Bartlett had nothing relevant to echo. Plus, if you’re going to take on the Twitterverse, you have to somehow manage to make it more interesting, current and thoughtful than Roger Ebert already does.
I endured 24hEcho and hours of multitasking without a glass of whisky. What’s more surprising is that I wasted a few hours more on the hype surrounding the television show Lost. Having never watched it before, I must admit I wasn’t prepared for what seemed to be a David Lynch-type adaptation of a Kirk Cameron wet dream -- Cameron being the ‘80s sitcom star-turned-Creationism spokesperson. Was the island purgatory, a Heaven’s Gate cult reference or a parallel universe? We’ll probably never know, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Coincidentally, both events had the confessional underpinnings of Christianity. Therefore, I have decided to purge my sins of weekender sloth by making an offering. Here are three artists’ books, archaic talismans if you will, that deal with issues similar to those in 24hEcho and Lost. Next time you feel evil media is about to take you hostage, turn off Twitter and your television, and enjoy these instead.
Deities usually are immortal and sacred representatives of a higher god. In Chac Mool (1954), a short story by the great contemporary novelist Carlos Fuentes, deities can be vengeful and deceiving. The book tells the surreal tale of a stone statue of the ancient god of rain (sacred to pre-Columbian Mayan cultures) bought by Filiberto, an amateur collector of native art. Inexplicably, Chac Mool comes to life, sweats profusely, eats cats and dogs late at night, and talks in ancient tongues only audible to our protagonist. In the end, the god consumes Filiberto’s existence to the point where he commits suicide.
Quiet Village, a book of fantasized pinups by the Miami-based artist and professional drummer Beatriz Montevaro, draws similar parallels with its elaborate renderings of strange deities, puny zombies, voodoo rituals, sad monsters and supernatural beings wearing African masks. Monteavaro is simply fantastic at playing with shadows and crosshatch technique, bringing to mind the work of both Dutch master engraver Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) and iconic underground cartoonist Charles Burns.
The entire book keeps a steady frenzied rhythm. Amid images of gore and ripped limbs, the pages slowly reveal hidden names of obscure blogs, lists of cult songs and B-horror-movie characters, as if evoking ancient spirits. But what Monteavaro has done so well in Quiet Village is overwhelm the reader with diverse plot lines and apparently simple metaphors dealing with decadent Capitalism, class struggle, abuse of indigenous people by the Catholic Church, and racial profiling gone extreme in the Three Americas.
Quiet Village is published by [Name], a nonprofit endeavor founded in 2008 by artist Gean Moreno with the help of a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Priced cheap ($15), the hardcover book also includes a soundtrack of atmospheric Trash tunes by Beings, one Monteavaro’s many bands.
Obsolete Shit #7
Obsolete Shit is a blatantly small (4x4 in.) yet monumental 38-page pamphlet by the Italian artist, curator and longtime collaborator Stefano Pasquini. Clearly, Pasquini has a lust for trash, tourism and Arte Povera. His process, well documented in Obsolete Shit, is as follows: He sets a price limit to execute a public installation or sculpture (never above $20), builds it fast, displays it, takes a picture and then leaves it abandoned in hope that it might become a historical ruin. Baghdad, New York, Cuba and London have been unwilling hosts to this process. Some pieces have survived, while most are lost -- becoming (modest) legends on their own right.
Physical and psychological alienation is Pasquini’s favorite subject, but his treatment has a sense of humor. In Warning (documented on page 37) an assemblage of studio trash, a cardboard box and newspapers, bundled together with tape, bears a sign that reads, "You live in Fucking Third World Country Full of Cunts."
Pasquini is well known for his "Unrealizable Projects," in which he randomly distributes detailed instructions on how to build works that are practically impossible, largely due to monetary constraints. Here, authorship is up for grasps. In Unrealizable Project # A00005, the artist asks for the following: "Ford Falcon model early ‘70s, imported from Argentina, preferably blue or green, with no number plate. In a wall, facing the sedan, 8961 photographs of Desaparecidos." If only I could.
Obsolete Shit is free and collaborators are welcome. Also by Pasquini is an excellent sound art project Why the Fuck not Ppodcast.
I Like the Word Panama
Limited Edition of 10
Sex, fashionable squatters and urban decay are only a handful of the issues tackled by RISD alumnus Cristina Tufiño in her downloadable photography book I like the Word Panama. A conceptual artist at heart, Tufiño makes portraits of attractive young models (including herself) that inhabit or invade cheap motels and unfinished housing developments in suburbia. They don’t look comfortable in their own skin. The tension between subject and environment, in occasions staged seamlessly by Tufiño, is evident. To exaggerate their unpleasantness the artist makes her subjects wear masks and costumes made out of blown-out photographs of their own facial contortions. Surprisingly, it ends up being a pretty credible statement about physical transition and spirituality of these alleged squatters -- think of David Wojnarowicz as Rimbaud.
She also plays with the idea of the "enfant terrible." In a performance Tufiño strips behind a life-sized sculpture by Mark Schubert, forcefully showing her naked breasts. Another series of works has her playing amateur paparazzi following famous male artists around openings -- "Jasper Jones" is the victim in one of these.
Tufiño’s dealings in public ridicule and intimate comedic narratives share a certain sensibility with Woody Allen’s comedies, Ryan McGinley’s photos and Gillian Wearing’s works. Young and fabulous, Tufiño has a sweet humility for one with such vast talent.
PEDRO VÉLEZ is an artist and critic living in Chicago.