Back that shniz up

Take it as a warning. Learn by my woeful example. There are a thousand stupid tech-based ways you can lose hours or worse of work, whether through your own lapses or through the randomness of electron waywardness. In my case—yes okay, it was definitely a dumbass lapse (but explainable! which I will in a moment…) —but the firstline defense for either type of volatile memory bitchslap is the same one they’ve told us since the storage was big and floppy:

Back up your work.

What I lost was an early pivotal scene (or so it seemed to me) in something that’s either going to be a novel (my first choice), or novella or short (runners up), at which I’ve been pecking for months (yet still have only slogged a few chapters into), but for which I’ve lately started to get a little more interested and excited. It’s going to be a ghost story (or is it?!). Why the heck not, here’s a sneak preview for you sneaky pre-viewers.

Anyway it was as I said a pivotal scene, with what felt to me like some heavy psychological lifting. Wasn’t the easiest thing to write. and I was happy to be done with it.

I was also happy, ironically enough, that me and the fam had just sprung for that vital-ist component of the back-it-up credo: a huge chunk of external memory, in the form of this comfortingly blue-lit (it’s like it’s winking!) 3-TB external hard drive.

I’d just hooked it up right before I started writing. In fact, it was even as I opened the ghost-story doc file, that I thought of something I hadn’t explored when playing with the new hard drive, just moments before: Could I save directly to it? I was fairly certain I could (pretty dumb piece of hardware if I couldn’t), but the main backing-up function it served, according to it’s read-me’s and tutorials and whatnot, was to run automatic periodic backups–of files and folders on a daily basis, and full-system every week. But of course you had to be able to save directly to it, right? Easy enough to confirm, and I already had a doc open: my ghost story. So I went to “save as” and sure enough, there was my brand new hard drive. I’d already saved a full-system backup to the thing (that was part of the freshly out-of-the-box playing with), but no harm no foul, I figured foolishly, and went ahead and saved a copy of my terrifyingly psychologically ambiguous (spoilers!) ghost story directly to the new toy.

Then I spent a couple hours writing that pivotal scene I mentioned earlier. I wrote it well, if my humble memory serves.

When I finished writing that evening I clicked save once (habit), then closed the ghost-story doc. Didn’t have to do that, knowing as I did that I’d work on it the next day. But I did. And having saved that day’s work to the external drive, I hadn’t changed at all the original file, sitting all spooky and ambiguously haunted there on the internal hard drive.

Then overnight the automatic daily save did its thing, overwriting the new and improved manuscript, with the previously (unpivoted) one. All that work was gone.

So, well..hell. The first draft of Moby Dick was lost at sea, right? I lost a chapter. However…

Although the writing process hasn’t changed much since Herman Melville’s day (it’s never really changed, in this writer’s opinion–only the tools have) something very fundamental about cognition has. The change is happening right now.

Having been (with only slight exaggeration) gifted by birthright with unlimited digital memory, our own on-board memory capacities are atrophying. We don’t even remember phone numbers anymore. We just collect them occasionally if a device dies unexpectedly, or transfer them from device to device if we have a chance to upgrade without interruption.

Meanwhile a thousand years ago, bards were reciting by memory a thousand different poems, each with a thousand lines.

In the aggregate, on merits, I’d take digital memory over wetware. All respect to all bards, their encyclopedic memory for lots and lots of poetry doesn’t compare to the modern age’s ability to preserve everything. It’s just these occasional failures, these unexpected and unrecoverable losses of data that against all odds, didn’t get saved…that sting. Losing that chapter stung. It stings sharpest of all to know that wet memory being what it is, I’ll never recreate precisely what I wrote that night.

Nevermind. There’s always one last refuge, another slice of the writing process that’s never changed. Whenever feeling low, whether because of writing woes or any other reason, just enjoy an ale from a crystal goblet. Do that, and it’s impossible to be depressed (or to feel like anything less than a Viking)

Edited (Viking-like) to add another writing thought, and shout-out to
Nocturnal Press Publications taking on my vamp-thriller, Voracious.
Nocturnal helped me remember that no piece of writing is ever quite
done. So tho’ I left that particular monster-infested world years ago,
this writerly lifestyle means it’s never really lost in the rear-view.
Thanks, Shane and NP – Voracious is now avail in
print and electronic formats.
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American Blogger – shunned on arrival

Never has one movie been so thoroughly panned, largely by representatives of its supposed subject community, on the strength of its pre-release trailer alone (see here and here). American Blogger is a documentary created by Chris Wiegand, in which he travels the country in a vintage Airstream RV, interviewing bloggers and getting their take on the reach and scope of our yet-evolving information-age communications platform.

Or it can described more pithily, as per SoCal tweeter @SueBob who describes the film thusly: “Mansplaining Blogging Using My Wife’s Friends.” Indeed, filmmaker Wiegand seems to have set out to record first his wife’s blogging travails, then the entire universe of her blogging friends. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but judging by the trailer, the “American Blogger” of whom Wiegand speaks is white, female, and more than a wee bit attractive (to be fair–sort of–a lone African-American female does appear in the trailer, just as the narrator boasts that Wiegand interviews “a range of bloggers”).

I’m resisting the urge to pile on here, if only because I haven’t seen the movie. The trailer is plenty discouraging though—if the aim was to present the “American blogger” to the world, then I have to suspect that Wiegand has fallen short.

To portray the American blogger, or to even somehow represent him/her/them/us, a filmmaker needs to engage a pool of bloggers as diverse as America itself. Indeed, there aren’t a whole lot of unifying factors across our population, except perhaps this: We think we have something to say, and we’re using this particular platform in which to say it. Does Wiegand capture that? I’m not sure, but the trailer gives no indication that he has.

Beyond that, I’ll do my best to withhold judgment and see what sort of film Mr. Wiegand has created for us. Meanwhile, please enjoy this strange, strange trailer:

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Past masterpieces, new perspectives

This is the second time we’ve seen this, so we’ll go ahead and call it a trend. Modern digital artists are revisiting the canvases of painters departed, lending dimensionality to their works. When last we checked in Picasso’s haunting “Guernica” was exploding in CGI; now we’re invited to explore like never before the depths and personalities of Gyula Benczúr‘s 1896 oil, Budavár Repossession. Behold the virtual interpretation of Hungarian graphic artist Zsolt Ekho Farkas:

Results may vary. Some of us might reasonably label this vandalism, or at least unearned appropriation. We might say that the work was completed in 1896, when the artist lowered his brush. A twenty-first century add-on isn’t welcome and doesn’t belong.

Or we might be little more tolerant, and give Farkas et.al. a bit more benefit of doubt. Maybe he’s not appropriating Benczúr’s work; maybe he’s just giving us all a new tool for exploring it.

I’m in the latter camp, if only because that’s what I’d like to believe. Also, let’s not deny it, 3D art is just mind-blowingly cool.

I’m genuinely interested in both points of view, though. So where do you stand? Is 3D reinterpretation an assault on cultural history? Or is it a legitimate application that can lead to a new species of art appreciation?

All viewpoints are welcome and equally respected. Log in or drop us a line, and let us know what you think.

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Join the culture cadre

The United States is one of the few modern societies that, from the top, generally ignores most of its internal cultural development, and ruthlessly politicizes the rest. We haven’t been verging on cultural wasteland-edness for generations on accident—it’s imprinted on our national character, whether we like it or not.

So—NEA grants and public art be damned. Why be part of a system that doesn’t like you and will never understand you?

In contrast, grassroots self-organization has transformed every other people-powered entity aiming to maturate outside the government’s grip. Why can’t it do the same for cultural self-determination?

So I give to you the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.  Don’t let the official-sounding name fool you; this is a “citizen-powered initiative” that wants nothing to do with the established hierarchy—beyond a bit of good-natured irony. Their mission is described as cultivating “the public interest in art and culture, and [to] catalyze art and culture in the public interest.” Every artist, writer, and lover of cultural growth should consider joining (if for no other reason, then because Glenn Beck thinks it’s a real government agency, and is a fresh and convincing argument for home-schooling).

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The sadness will last forever: Reliving the art of Vincent Van Gogh

We enjoyed a weekend outing, this weekend past (“we” being the Deconstruction Family), to the Cleveland Museum of Art—a world-class institution, boasting a world-class collection, right in the heart of the Rust Belt, and stone’s throw from the Lake Erie shoreline. I cannot commend, nor recommend, this museum enough.

CMA is currently hosting a fascinating special exhibition, called “Repetitions,” a look at Vincent Van Gogh’s practice of reproducing, or producing variations on a theme, of previous works. Witness, for example, his numerous still-life renderings of Sunflowers, each quite different, and each equally, independently gorgeous.

This gives us an exceptional glimpse into the workmanship, the day-to-day practices, of a legendary artist best known for a tragic and extraordinary life. We’re not accustomed to thinking of Vincent in terms of an assembly-line process.

And he deserves this second look. Because although he’s been heralded almost universally since his death as one of the most important artists of the last half-millennium, one must suspect that at least some of this has to do with a shared awe (there’s no other word for it) for his well-known insanity.

Vincent Van Gogh was clearly, dreadfully mentally ill. It translated into his art—the swirls of colors and the distorted perspectives of his later work, particularly those created in his last, frenetic year of 1890, seem to confirm a viewpoint and perspective of an artist who was not seeing the world as most of us see it. It made him, perhaps, a better artist, or at least a more driven one. There was a 70-day period in that last year where he completed 70 paintings. But it also made him a wretch of a man, scarcely able to care for himself, and probably doomed to pass, as he did, far too young, at the age of 37.

On the other hand, the legend of Van Gogh’s madness has taken on a life of his own, perhaps unfairly and to the detriment of a man who lived and died and did the best he could. Two of the best known examples of Van Gogh’s insanity just might be apocryphal: his self-mutilation, and his actual suicide. All we know for certain, in the first respect, is that his ear was cut off. He himself claimed not to remember how it happened (one recent theory is that Paul Gauguin did it). And as for his suicide, that’s equally unclear. On the 27th of July, 1890, he stumbled home, with a bullet wound to his chest. When asked if he’d done the deed, he said that he “must have.” No gun was ever found, though. And a rich merchant’s son, who lived nearby and who was well known as a vicious tormentor of the pitiful artist, was hustled out of town the very next day.

The wound itself was surprisingly not serious. It seemed to have deflected off a rib and missed his organs. However he quickly developed an infection, and within a day and a half, was dying. His beloved brother and protector Theo, his only real friend, had enough time to rush to his side. Van Gogh died in his arms.

His last words have been variously reported. One version had it that, while Theo held him, he said “I want to die like this.”

Another version, this one relayed by Theo himself, is even more poignant, and in one phrase sums up Vincent Van Gogh’s life, death, art, and perhaps the very tortured way he experienced the world.

He said, “The sadness will last forever.”

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Voracious 2014 edition – order now from Nocturnal Press Publications

Couldn’t be happier to report that the latest edition of my 2012 novella, Voracious, is now available for pre-order from Nocturnal Press Publications. All thanks, then, to Shane and his crackerjack team for shepherding this project to fruition.

Amenable to a bit of a waking nightmare? Looking for monsters that just might be looking for you? Then consider adding Voracious to your late-night reading list. Just remember what I’ve told you about these creatures, the ones I call voracious: They feed at will, and the can utterly control you.

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Made in the USA – a collector’s retrospective

Duncan Phillips pioneered the collection of American art. He did so at a time when most of the world was loathe to admit Americans could create or even appreciate art. From the 1920s until his death in 1966, he built not only one of the most celebrated publicly displayed collections, but also the foundation of a modern American art movement. He gave American artists, collectors, and critics a basis for self-assertion—and ultimately, self-determination. It’s not an exaggeration to say that American art wouldn’t be thriving as it is had Duncan Phillips never been born.

So if ever a collection was begging for a retrospective, it would be the Phillips. Today that retrospective begins.

Made In The USA runs from March 1st to August 31st at the Phillips public gallery in Washington’s Dupont Circle. It features the cream of the Phillips collection of American art, created between 1850 and 1970, with more than 100 artists represented. Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keefe, Alexander Calder, and Mark Rothko are just some of the masters on display. The works are curated thematically, with not a few obscure works by lesser known artists hung in concert with their more eminent contemporaries. This is no accident—Duncan Phillips made it his business during his lifetime to seek out emerging artists, particularly self-taught ones, and both his museum and this exhibition happily reflects that.

With more than a century of the evolution of American art available for review, a visitor to Made In The USA has a rare opportunity to absorb the infancy, growth, and maturity of a uniquely American movement. Of course, American art hardly ceased to flower in the seventies; indeed, many of us are convinced that millennial art, influenced and informed by the contraction of the global digital village, is among the most exciting ever created.

But that’s a retrospective for a later age. For now we honor and celebrate the art that Duncan himself honored and celebrated. Because without that, and without him, modern American art might be nothing but a contradiction in terms.

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Michael Sam and our changing minds

Michael Sam hasn’t changed any minds. He hasn’t single-handedly brought on any revolutions in sports or relationships or the way we think and talk about sexuality. He just took a leap of faith and spoke honestly about himself. He was fortunate to have done so at a time when enough minds have changed on their own already, so that his very public coming out was met with more support and understanding than he might have been expecting.

It surely hasn’t been universal, that support and understanding, and those changed minds. We’ve talked before about how some minds can’t or won’t change, and more’s the pity. But even the most jaded observer has to see that the small minds are in the minority—maybe even a drastic minority. A much larger minority are thoroughly, vocally supportive of Michael Sam, and of anyone willing to risk their careers and reputations in furtherance of equality. Good for that larger minority, I say, but I’m even more interested in an even larger group, the one I think is the hands-down majority.

Most people, I think, will if they’re interested in football judge Sam based only on his gridiron performance. If they’re not sports fans, then they’ll probably not judge him at all. Because I think most people—and these are the people who’ve most benefited from the inexorable changing of minds—really don’t care about other people’s sex lives.

It sounds so basic, so simple. In time, it will be; invisibly so. For now it’s still a sea-change, and it should be celebrated as such. We’re still tainted by puritanism, in the U.S. at least, and it’s taken a lot of society-wide growing up to get to the point where we can almost let that go. We’re far from done with the process, as it happens, and there’s nothing to guarantee we won’t backslide into the days when we felt right minding each other’s business and when it was okay to persecute people for being themselves. But for now it feels as though we’re leaving that behind, heading in a much better direction.

Change like this is a journey. We’ve been on it a long time. Maybe it started at Stonewall. More likely it started everywhere at once, in a very small, almost unnoticeable way. Maybe it starts for everyone, if they let it, when they look around with open eyes and notice for the first time that there are gay people everywhere, and some of them are quite close to us.

Having that realization means a decision is necessary. We have to decide how we’ll react to it. The choice is pretty stark: either reject that certain undeniable percentage of friends, family, coworkers and peers. Or accept them for who they are.

Again, I’m not saying acceptance is across the board. Far from it. But there’s more acceptance now than ever before, and that’s heartening. It was heartening to see students and alum of the University of Missouri forming a human chain a half-mile long, to keep haters and protesters away from Michael Sam and his teammates accepting their Cotton Bowl trophy on Saturday.

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And it was heartening to see one Dallas sportscaster, Dale Hansen, defy expectation and Texas stereotype with an on-air commentary that was nothing less than breathtaking. Chances are you’ve seen the video—millions have the world over. But it’s worth watching again, so I’ve embedded it below.

I can’t predict what will happen with Michael Sam’s career. Maybe professional football, in character and content, just isn’t in step with larger society’s creep toward equality, so maybe Michael Sam won’t have a career at all. I hope that’s not the case, but the possibility certainly exists.

Or maybe it will be like the American military. We were warned in the scariest possible terms that the acceptance of gays in the military would destroy the institution. The people saying that probably believed it, too. But the people at the point of that spear greeted it with a yawn. They’re of that generation and of that mindset that aren’t frightened or put off by differences. They seemed to adapt seamlessly to a new, inclusive military. Maybe the same will happen in the NFL.

If not, then it’ll be as clear as ever that this journey isn’t over, and we have a ways to go before we can use the word “equality” without at least a hint of irony. So be it.

I regret we haven’t reached the end of this road but I’m grateful we’ve moved so far down it. I’m grateful that people around me, people I care about, are much less likely to be persecuted for simply being who they are, than ever before in my country’s history.

And I’m grateful beyond words to live in an age where an aging white Southern gentleman is empowered to look into a camera and say of Michael Sam, “I think it’s time to celebrate him now.”

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RIP Shirley Temple Black (April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014)

There aren’t many left from the golden era (i.e., Depression-era) of Hollywood. And there aren’t many left from that first generation of child actors. In both categories, perhaps in every category, Little Miss Miracle stood alone.

The story of child actors is usually an unhappy one, yet Shirley Jane Temple seemed to avoid the worst of that. First appearing in film at age three, a star by age five, she dominated the screen, appearing in nearly 50 movies in just five years, and is commonly credited with saving 20th Century Fox studios from bankruptcy. She did hit the adolescent road-block common to many precocious performers: as a teenager, she just wasn’t the same sought-after commodity she’d been as a toddler. By the time she was 17, her acting career had all but petered out.

In the years following WWII she embraced a much more private role, that of wife and mother of three children. She was married twice; her second marriage, to Charles Black, lasted from 1950 to his death in 2004. She returned to acting once, in the late ’50s, narrating and occasionally performing on NBC in Shirley Temple’s Storybook. In the 1970s, though, she found what might have been her greatest calling: diplomacy and public service. She served as U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, was part of the American delegation to the U.N., and was the first woman to hold the office of Chief of Protocol.

The government and people of the U.S. owe her thanks and honors for her years of dedicated service, and no doubt that’s deservedly forthcoming.

But proper or not, we’ll mostly remember her for something else. We’ll remember her for dimples and dance, for singing and sunny optimism. We’ll remember that her childhood was—if not nonexistent then at least far different from most of our own, lived out largely in the public eye, in adoration, in a very successful bid to ease minds and hearts in very uncertain times. She deserves a lot of thanks for that too.

And she certainly has it. Shirley Temple Black died at home in Woodside, California of natural causes on Monday, February 10th, surrounded by family.

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Is Woody Allen a monster?

This is what scares me about serving on a jury. This is why I’d never want to be a police detective, or a prosecutor, or work in any field where lives and reputations depend on quick and sure recognition of liars. I tell myself I’m a great judge of character and that I know the truth when I hear it—but the truth is, there are liars whose skill at evasion greatly overpower my skill at detection. And this means that with some cases, some real-life examples of horror and depravity, I’m unlikely to ever know the truth.

In the case of Woody Allen and his adopted daughter Dylan, someone is lying. I just don’t know who it is.

In August 1992, when Dylan was 7 years old, her parents Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were going through an ugly, acrimonious break-up. In the midst of that, Allen visited Farrow and her many children (some of them, not all, were also Allen’s) at the family’s country home in Bridgewater, Connecticut. This was just a few months after the public revelation that Allen, then 55, was leaving Farrow for her 22-year-old daughter Soon-Yi (who’d been adopted by Farrow and her then-husband, composer André Previn).

Those facts are not in dispute. What happened next very much is.

Either something unspeakable happened in that house, specifically in the attic—or, if you’d believe Allen’s version, nothing untoward happened at all. Either Allen utterly betrayed the very ideal of fatherhood, or Mia Farrow molded and used her daughter as a pawn in a family’s disintegration.

As repugnant as it is (no matter which version is true), it’s not at all an unusual scenario. It’s being played out right now, in courtrooms and behind closed family doors, all around the world. The difference here is that from 1992 right up to the present day, this one is being played and replayed in tabloids, talk-shows and online, in front of us all.

In late January, Robert Weide, who’d directed a PBS documentary on Woody Allen, authored a Daily Beast piece on this story, coming down definitively on Allen’s side. In particular, he cited both inconsistencies in Mia Farrow’s statements and actions, and court records which found the allegations “inconclusive;” to suggest that Woody Allen had been unfairly accused. In much the same vein, Allen himself has just published an op-ed in the New York Times, which he says will be his “final word on the matter.” Like Weide, he paints Farrow as a manipulative liar; like Weide, he cites as convincing the fact that he, Allen, took and passed a lie-detector test, while Farrow refused to submit to one.

On the somewhat more objective side, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth gives us 10 Undeniable Facts About the Woody Allen Sexual-Abuse Allegation. Regarding that lie-detector test, she informs us that Allen refused to take one administered by the Connecticut State Police, instead sitting for one performed by his own legal team. She also mentions several disturbing examples of Allen’s behavior, particularly toward young Dylan.

Perhaps most compelling of all, and the spark that has reignited this controversy, was An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow, which appeared in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times blog on February 1. She was writing, she said, as response to Allen’s Academy Award nomination, and she began with words that can only chill you: What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know…. She followed that with an account of what she says happened in that attic, and other examples that, if true, make Woody Allen nothing less than a monster.

In the end, none of this is evidence. All of it is allegation and counter-accusation. All of it, once again, makes me thankful that no one is relying on me to discern the truth. All of it tempts me mightily to shrug and say— “What difference does it make? It’s a family affair, it’s not my family, and I have no way of knowing what really happened.”

Except…that’s too easy. And too much is at stake. Either an actress whose work I’ve enjoyed has falsely accused a man. Or a director whose work I’ve (somewhat less) enjoyed is and should be beneath my contempt.

Which leads me to the question of what I would do if I could know the truth. Would I feel compelled to eschew the work of someone I knew to be guilty? Could I separate the art from the artist? In 2009, McKenzie Phillips published High On Arrival, in which she made horrible, explosive allegations against her deceased father, musician John Phillips. I read the book, I believe her, and I’m now convinced that John Phillips was the worst kind of scum. Yet I still enjoy his music. What does that say about me?

It’s an uncomfortable question, but I’m not sure it’s a very relevant one as long as I’m stuck in this limbo of not knowing the truth. But in regard to that, I’ll finish with one last personal anecdote:

In 1997, a police captain in my Northeast Ohio hometown was arrested for the murder of his wife. The evidence against him seemed overwhelming, and the general opinion of most people I spoke with was that he was guilty. I guess I felt the same way.

The verdict and sentencing was carried live on local radio, and I was listening. I remember very clearly the statement he delivered before being given a life sentence. He said, “You’ve convicted an innocent man.” He was very convincing, at least to me, and I recall that this was the first time I realized I couldn’t rely on my own ability to discern liars from truth-tellers.

About a year ago, his conviction was overturned based on DNA evidence, and he went free after 15 years in prison. I think, but I cannot be sure, that this validates the uncanny feeling I had that when I heard, “You’ve convicted an innocent man,” I was hearing the truth.

Throughout the Allen/Farrow trial-in-public I’ve been reading conflicting accounts, and with almost all of them I’ve had that I can’t know the truth feeling of detached helplessness. Almost all of them. It was only when I read Dylan Farrow’s open letter that something inside me told me I was reading the truth.

Here’s how she ended it: Imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter. Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

I think she’s telling the truth. I think Woody Allen sexually abused her. I think that makes him a criminal, a degenerate, an outcast, and an outlaw. I think he should never again be celebrated as a filmmaker, but instead should be pilloried as a predator.

But—and here’s the crux of the matter—I can’t be sure. I could be wrong. I can only hope for some eventual resolution of this thing, whereby the liars are exposed, the guilty are punished, and the victims, somehow, find comfort. And I can only be thankful, once again, that no one is depending on me to make that happen.

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Preempted for Superbowl 2014

Apologies to my non-football-enjoying friends, and to readers of the Deconstruction from all those distant shores. I get that you don’t get it. American football doesn’t get a lot of love around the world, but I know you know that it gets a lot of love back here stateside.

Which makes this Sunday unlike any other Sunday, at least for a lot of us yanks, and certainly for all us here in Deconstruction HQ. Which is to say, it’s nearly time for us to go dark. There are chicken wings to flambé, ranch dip to churn, and a slick selection of craft beers that are dying to get into mah belly.

And oh yes, in a few hours, there will be football.

By way of saying ciao, I offer you these glimpses of Deconstructed Superbowl Sundays past. And if anyone’s asking, I’ll take Denver by 3. Don’t ask me why; ask this guy instead—he’s yelling so he must know something we don’t:

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No place for an Easter egg

Easter eggs are cute devices. I don’t mind them in movies, games, ads—not even in arts and literature. They’re an unexpected connection that happens, sometimes, between creator and the innumerable cadre of explorers who’ve peeled back a layer of whatever to find that hidden message of whatever. It’s fun.

It should go without saying, then, that the laying of such eggs should only happen when fun’s appropriate. “Appropriate” might not apply to all art—probably not much public art.. and certainly not commissioned monumental public art meant to honor the father of a nation.

Sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren agreed to create the 30-foot tribute to Nelson Mandela with the understanding that the monument was to be about the subject, not the artists. Like many public arts project it was to be unsigned, so that its story, for eternity, would only be about the onetime prisoner of Robbin Island, who became president of South Africa.

The statue was unveiled at the capital in Pretoria, shortly after Mandela’s death in mid-December. It’s taken a few weeks, but some sharp eyes have finally spotted the artists’ signature, their easter egg, barely visible way up high in Mandela’s right ear.

The artists have apologized, and have offered up some convoluted symbology for an explanation (the Dutch word for rabbit, haas, is the same as for “haste.” They were bitching about being rushed to finish). Authorities in South Africa have graciously accepted their apology but are left with the prospect of putting a man with a grinder in a cherry-picker, so as to permanently erase a case of artists’ hubris.

That’ll be done easily enough, and the whole sorry episode will be easily enough forgotten. With a bit of luck the Mandela statue will stand for generations, and all those generations will know the Mandela story—but not a one of them will know of the rabbit-in-the-ear sideshow that flared up when the statue was new.

Until very recently you could see a peculiar variety of unsigned public art in just about every town in America. There were a spate of post offices all newly built or at least remodeled and spruced up, during the coast-to-coast public-works stimulus of the 1930s. Most of these post offices are being pulled down now, but for three quarters of a century you could see soaring murals and discreet statuary and carvings, uplifting these very utilitarian public spaces. They were a product of one of Roosevelt’s ‘alphabet agencies,’ like the Works Progress Administration, in this case tasked to find, or more accurately create work for unemployed artists. The artists responded beautifully, and their art was viewed for decades. The question of their signature, their need or even their right to tie their identity to their commission, was absurdly irrelevant.

And these guys put a rabbit in Nelson Mandela’s ear.

They’re clearly talented. Their craftsmanship is self-evident. They have a right, I suppose, to be proud of their work. They have a right, I accept, to develop egos like most artists and writers. It’s hard to avoid.

But they, like everyone, should have the strength to stifle ego whenever that’s called for. And they should have the discernment to know when it’s called for. That’s not a matter of being a working professional, or even a journeyman artist. It’s a matter of being a grownup.

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GraveYart

On a cold January day, or any old day, you can reach out and find art anywhere you care to look.

With the right kind of eye you can find new angles, new art, even in those last and longest-lasting graven statements. They’re carved and eroded, making their eventual impact both intentional and unintentional.

Art doesn’t always have to have a story. But this art is almost entirely story.

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Many others capture this far better than me. Be sure to check out: Hong Kong grave art, Everything Graveyard, The Cemetery Traveler, and My Modern Met.

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What happens when you can’t read the inscription anymore?

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(the stone’s far older)


Continue reading

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Petro Wodkins strikes again (at a much more deserving target)

Artist/provocateur Petro Wodkins has made some more enemies—by making art, and by making a statement.

The Deconstruction reported on his hijinks in Brussels last May, when he artistically hijacked that city’s beloved Julianski; the somewhat NSFW 17th century statue Manneken Pis. It was kind of funny, but perhaps a little frivolous, with the point of it all being a little elusive.

His latest aesthetic offensive, though, is a lot more satisfying, because the target is so much more richly deserving.

Robert Mugabe is another of those genocidal, self-enriching, land-raping dictators that seem to delight in impoverishing their own people for their own benefit. He’s been doing it for decades, and has as a result turned the formerly prosperous and beautiful nation of Zimbabwe into a third-world hellhole. The man has a Hitler mustache, for pete’s sake.

There’s only a little substantiation of this, outside Wodkin’s version of events, but here goes: Late last year, Wodkins was apparently (and hilariously) invited by Mugabe’s government to participate in the Harare International Festival of the Arts. Probably snickering with delight, he agreed. Someone in Harare’s Ministry of Public Works finally did a little due diligence, and Wodkins’s invitation was rescinded in October…but not before he constructed a gaudy gold statue of himself (because why not?), and recorded a far-from-complimentary song about Mugabe and his iron-fisted rule. Then last week, he packed up his bag of tricks and went to Zimbabwe.

Using hidden cameras (media is tightly controlled in Mugabe’s little fiefdom), Wodkins recorded the public display of his statue, and the debut of his anti-Mugabe song. According to Wodkins, at least, this resulted in joyous dancing in the streets, followed by a response by Mugabe’s army. Wodkins says the statue was pulled down, and he (Wodkins) was chased by armed thugs, finally escaping unharmed to Zambia.

Who knows. Some stories are too good to be true, and some stories are so good they should be true. I hope this really happened, I hope Mugabe knows about it, and I hope he raged impotently like Charlie-Chaplin-as-Adolf-Hitler.

Because here’s the truth about Robert Mugabe: he’s 90 years old, his grip on power is as secure as ever, and despite the best wishes and efforts of the civilized world, he’s unlikely to ever be punished for his crimes. There’s not much justice queued up for scum like him, at least not in this world, but there is—maybe—the justice of proactive aesthetics. And it might just come down to an avenging artist like Petro Wodkins to show him what free people really think of him.

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Would you trust this man with your North Korean diplomacy?

Dennis Rodman is looking to justify his ongoing, train-wreck-like odyssey in North Korea by comparing it to the Ping-Pong Diplomacy that helped cool relations with China in the 1970s. I couldn’t disagree more, but whatever helps him sleep at night.

The one constant in the public life of Dennis Rodman is self-parody. At least, that’s what I always thought it was. But his shuttling back and forth to the hilariously named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, his fawning expositions staged for the edification of dictator Kim Jong-un, seem to suggest he’s actually taking himself seriously.

Which would only serve to make this funnier…if he wasn’t whoring himself (and now, others) out for one of the most despicable human beings (not coincidentally leader of one of the most despicable regimes) in the world. But of course Rodman doesn’t see lil’ Kim as despicable. He calls him his best friend.

One wonders if Rodman has taken the time to objectively analyze the history and practices of North Korea. It isn’t pretty (the word “atrocity” comes up a lot) but it’s not hard to do. See here, here, here, and here.

But you know, you could force those facts down Dennis Rodman’s throat and I don’t think it would make any difference. I used the term “whore” advisedly. Kim has a well-documented history of spending lavishly on his own lifestyle while his people starve. Is he paying Dennis Rodman to stage this pitiful sideshow? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit, but even if he’s not, he’s still remunerating Rodman with a very twisted sort of international prestige. Which is just as bad, just as whorish.

All Dennis Rodman has done is confirm his own irrelevance. Despite his best efforts, he hasn’t even achieved the worst of what he’s been accused of: lending legitimacy to North Korea and Kim Jong-un. Because Rodman’s a joke, and Kim is a thug; legitimacy is beyond the both of them.

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