A Romanticization of Mexico

I have a very Mexican mother in Texas who almost choked on her mid-afternoon pan dulce when I told her I was traveling to Mexico this past summer. The border violence and drug war circumstances–beheadings, sequestrations and drug cartel violence– are what most media outlets cover in regard to Mexico. Oh, and of course immigration, the other hot topic. If a news story on Mexico isn’t about human bodies being hung from bridges, it’s some xenophobic diatribe about how undocumented immigrants are destroying the pristine United States of ‘Merica. The word ‘Mexico’ can sometimes feel like a bad word, highly charged and controversial. This is particularly problematic for me and many people I know because to many Mexican-Americans and Mexicans in the U.S., Mexico is the Motherland. There are untold histories about the ancient civilizations, cultural relics destroyed or hidden during colonization and a sinkhole of untapped art history.

mex1

I flew over the golden-sparkled cityscape of Mexico D.F. to land in the Mexican state of Oaxaca for a day of solitude before my friends’ arrival. The margins of the capital Oaxaca city are lined with mountains where many Oaxacans live. About 48% of the population in Oaxaca is indigenous and speaks an assortment of native languages– the most of any other Mexican state. Streets are made from round stones and the walls that border the avenues are an amalgam of bright colors. My first morning in Oaxaca began at my hostel Casa Angel where ladies from the mountains cooked fried eggs with fresh salsa and bread for the guests.

[Read more…]

Robert Montgomery and the Postmodern Tradition

rmont1

Photo via Robert Montgomery

Last week, I paid a visit to the C24 gallery in Chelsea to catch the final days of an installation by London-based artist Robert Montgomery. The show, which ran from September 10 through October 19, marked Montgomery’s first solo exhibition in New York City.

Robert Montgomery’s artist statement asserts that he works “in a poetic and melancholic post-structuralist tradition.” He follows in the wake of early experimental postmodern artists such as Jenny Holzer, who were attracted to the reemerging power of text in an image-saturated society in the 1980s. Montgomery crafts pieces of prose, usually referential critiques of capitalism and world politics, and plasters them over advertisements. His poetic installations are usually quite minimalist and feature simple, stripped down assertions in stark black-and-white text. Larger-scale pieces illuminate Montgomery’s haunting words using recycled sunlight, or are literally lit on fire. These massive works are installed in empty, open places to emphasize the public paranoia and universal isolation imposed by unrealistic renderings of human potential in advertising and the media.

[Read more…]

What Do Banksy and Arcade Fire Have in Common?

banksy1

Photo via Banksy

Earlier this month, enigmatic street artist Banksy arrived in New York City for what he’s calling “an artist’s residency on the streets of New York.” Banksy has revealed a new artwork each day of October, amassing a collection of funny, thought-provoking pieces that entertain and also force the viewer to confront uncomfortable realities. So far, he has painted an homage to the fallen twin towers in Tribeca, arranged a slaughterhouse delivery truck carting stuffed animals to tour the meatpacking district, and sculpted a traveling fiberglass replica of Ronald McDonald having his shoes shined by a real boy. Halfway through his stint in the city, there is no telling what his next work will be. For Banksy, no territory is too offensive to target.

While Banksy is touring and tagging around the five boroughs, Arcade Fire is also in New York (for a couple of surprise concerts in Brooklyn this weekend) and also tagging. Last month, colorful chalk patterns in the shape of a diamond started showing up in major cities around the world, New York City included. When the band’s new title-track single “Reflektor” dropped in September, the letters in the diamonds suddenly made sense and promotion for Arcade Fire’s highly anticipated, fourth studio album (due out October 29) had begun.

[Read more…]

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Review)

Ben Stiller’s fifth feature-length directorial outing, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, screened Wednesday at Bowtie Chelsea Cinemas. Adapted from James Thurber’s classic 1939 short story, the adventure comedy details a bland office worker’s attempts to subvert reality through transcendent daydreams.

Walter Mitty features beautiful cinematography, with the picturesque mountains and waters of Iceland mirroring the larger-than-life travels of its titular character (Stiller). The duller half of the movie was shot in New York City, with familiar landmarks like Rockefeller Center popping up now and then. A Junip-heavy soundtrack suits the scenery well.

From the opening scene of Walter brooding over his eHarmony account in a solitary uptown apartment, his quiet desperation is palpable. He’s a man committed to his negative asset manager (photo editor) job at LIFE magazine, one he excels at by all accounts, but he has never taken any real chances or followed through on his passions. When a shakeup at work and the loss of a
crucial negative threatens his job as well as that of Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), a co-worker he has a crush on, Walter suddenly comes out of his shell and embarks on a globetrotting adventure to track down renegade photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and the missing negative.

Walter routinely zones out in his daily life and daydreams of heroic feats that quash his nemesis boss (Adam Scott) and win the heart of Cheryl. The scenes portraying this are all excellently shot and provide a large portion of the movie’s laughs, but it’s a tired character trait. One need look no further back than Michel Gondry’s 2006 The Science of Sleep to see a character detaching himself from the moment and blurring the physical and (day)dream realms. Hell, even Zach Braff on Scrubs went down this road in his own cheesy way. In staying true to Thurber’s story, Stiller had to explore the protagonist’s daydreams, but was trapped by the aforementioned cliché and could only hope to go about it in an original way.

The film, like so many mainstream releases of late, is marred by gratuitous product placement. A conversation between Walter and Cheryl painfully namedrops Papa John’s about five times and Patton Oswalt’s cameo is most memorable for him talking about Cinnabon while eating a Cinnabon. This is particularly disappointing given that Stiller seemed to be going for something
more artful and less commercial with the film. Product placement is not enough to ruin Walter Mitty, a charming, slightly above average flick, but it keeps it a safe distance from the lofty heights it was after.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens in theaters on Christmas Day.

The Myth Came Before the Hunt

torii

Photo by April I. Siqueiros

In a critique against paleontology and the science field in general, Barnett Newman, an abstract expressionist artist and writer, quarreled with the invasion of sciences in other fields, such as culture and philosophy, and their attempt to claim and “resolve metaphysical mysteries.”  Newman argues that paleontology deviates from the original scientific “What?” and asks “Who?” instead.  In, The First Man Was an Artist, first published in 1947, he writes:

“Who cares who he was?  What was the first man, was he a hunter, a toolmaker, a farmer, a worker, a priest, or a politician?  Undoubtedly the first man was an artist.”

He continues,

“Man’s first expression, like his first dream, was an aesthetic one.  Speech was a poetic outcry rather than a demand for communication.  Original man, shouting his consonants, did so in yells of awe and anger at his tragic state, at his own self-awareness and at his own helplessness before the void.

The human in language is literature, not communication.  Man’s first cry was a song.  Man’s first address to a neighbor was a cry of power and solemn weakness, not a request for a drink of water.  Even the animal makes a futile attempt at poetry.  Ornithologists explain the cock’s crow as an ecstatic outburst of his power.  The loon gliding lonesome over the lake, with whom is he communicating?  The dog, alone, howls at the moon.  Are we to say that the first man called the sun and the stars God as an act of communication and only after he had finished his day’s labor?  The myth came before the hunt.  The purpose of man’s first speech was an address to the unknowable.  His behavior had its origin in his artistic nature.

The Fall of man was understood by the writer and his audience not as a fall from Utopia to struggle, as the sociologicians would have it, nor, as the religionists would have us believe, as a fall from Grace to Sin, but rather that Adam, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, sought the creative life to be, like God, ‘a creator of worlds,’ to use Rashi’s phrase, and was reduced to the life of toil only as a result of jealous punishment.

In our ability to live the life of a creator can be found the meaning of the fall of man.  It was a fall from the good, rather than from the abundant, life.  And it is precisely here that the artist today is striving for a closer approach to the truth concerning original man than can be claimed by the paleontologist, for it is the poet and the artist who are concerned with the function of original man and who are trying to arrive at his creative state.  What is the raison d’être, what is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man’s fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden?  For the artists are the first men.”

Were the first expressions of women and men poetic before they were utilitarian, as Newman argued?  These types of questions are what Artlux aims to get closer to when attempting to understand and explore the artistic and creative mind.

 

Selections from:

Newman, Barnett. “The First Man Was an Artist.” In Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing         Ideas, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 574-577. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

NYC Skate Doc ‘We Out Here’ Screens at Nitehawk

WE OUT HERE from Ron Brodie on Vimeo

Out in Brownsville, a group of young skaters are defying cultural biases and building a community of inclusion while coping with the typical horror stories associated with life in the hood. We Out Here, a micro-documentary produced by Mitchell Ware and directed by Ron Brodie, screened for the 2nd time at Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinema on Wednesday night courtesy of Airwalk, Harold Hunter Foundation and The Fader, who are now streaming the doc on their site.

After a crowd of skaters, hipsters, and press folks mingled in the exposed brick lobby over open bar booze adjacent to an Airwalk Capsule Collection, theater lights dimmed on a stark monologue from a skater’s mother that provided context for Ware’s portrayal of NYC urban skate culture. The decision to shoot the film entirely in black and white accentuates the odd beauty of kickflips and bench grinds juxtaposed with gritty Brooklyn backdrops.

Centered on eight BK skaters, We Out Here provides snapshots of their daily lives and the hardships they’ve had to endure. A young skater by the name of Sherry Puffin speaks on the two years she spent homeless and what it was like sleeping in shifts with a friend on the train between the Bronx and Brooklyn. Another talented skater, Wade Yates, talks about an annual Father’s Day BBQ held around the corner from his house in Brownsville that gets shot up every year. With little to rely on outside of themselves, these outcasts pick up skateboards and dedicate countless hours to their craft while their peers all too often get tragically caught up in gang violence.

Jessica Forsyth, spokesperson for the Harold Hunter Foundation, took part in a Q&A following the screening and spoke of NYC skate legend Hunter (“…a raunchy individual who died of bad cocaine, but was almost universally loved.”) and the foundation’s mission. We Out Here shows that Hunter’s legacy has lived on and influenced a new generation of disadvantaged Brooklyn skaters finding meaning, opportunity and positive escapism wherever their boards carry them.

Should there be any criticism of We Out Here, it would involve the documentary’s length (a mere 42 minutes) and how it’s a bit light on actual skate footage. Watching Keith White bust a heel manual while being passed a joint is endlessly entertaining, and it’s hard to believe that the cutting room floor isn’t littered with similar greatness.