Tag Archives: art

Tea With Chris: Recklessly Perfect Things

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: I went to an event recently, an informal award ceremony at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. The K.M. Hunter Artist Awards were recognizing my friend Jean Marshall’s work along with 7 other recipients. The people who received the grants were awarded out of the blue – nothing fancy, no applications, no parades, no advertisements. The night was structured around pretty great and simple short videos of each of the recipients talking about their work and somehow, as my mother would say, there was no B.S. – everyone seemed to know what they were doing. The video of my friend featured her first Skype conversation since she’s from way up north. All in all, a real classy way of going about an art award.

I love this art book by Richard William Hill, The World Upside Down, lent to me by the curator Michelle Jacques. As Hill explains inside: “The term ‘world upside down’ has its origins in Europe’s Middle Ages, and I have taken the liberty, as an enthusiastic amateur, of attempting an account of inversion in the visual arts of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods.” There are many confident and recklessly perfect things inside, one of which is a discussion on tricksters that involves Chery L’Hirondelle. As L’Hirondell says there, “that spirit (the trickster) is there to remind us that many social parameters are just man-made, are not of the natural order.”

Ketchup is changing

This is a pretty interesting audio interview about hearing voices in the evangelical community – “‘When God Talks Back’ To The Evangelical Community”

Good art shows ended and in process in Toronto: I loved some of the new work from Derek Mainella at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. Jenn Murphy has an art show on now at Clint Roenisch gallery, Monkey’s Recovery, that I have no doubt will be pretty great to be in the middle of.

Chris: Here’s the pointillist form letter that rejected would-be contributors to Raw magazine received. “Impossible to reproduce / should not be allowed to reproduce.”

As someone who hates the word “foodie” even more than the bovine fetishism it denotes, I appreciate the fake menus a mystery comedian handed out at Brooklyn’s “Great GoogaMooga” festival (this orthography!) last weekend.

Carl: I have been distressed about our country this week. For just one example of why, listen to what a former government scientist has to say. On the other hand, I have been inspired by what our young, red-squared, francophone compatriots in Quebec have achieved, bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest their province’s drift away from its social-democratic traditions and, subsequently, its attempt to curtail their rights to protest. If you’ve gotten a less positive impression, here are 10 points you should know.

On a lighter (but raspier) note, I had an animated conversation at a dinner party last night about the apparent speech trend called “vocal fry,” aka “creaky voice,” especially among young women, about which there was much pop-science chatter early this year. Today I stumbled on a terrific blog about speech that has a more in-depth examination of the phenomenon’s precedents, prevalence and implications, from Britney to Gene Pitney. I did like the theory that we came up with last night, though – that, among people with parents and elder siblings likely afflicted with at least traces of Uptalk, it’s probably a typical generational reaction-for-distinction.

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Little Boxes #88: Liberation

(Free South Africa, by Keith Haring, 1989)

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Tea With Chris: History, Glamour, Magic

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: If you live in Toronto and can spare the time between now and…March, I urge you to go see History, Glamour, Magic, a show at York University’s gallery devoted to the art and activism and life of the late Will Munro. We’ve written about Will here before, but this exhibition’s far broader context better demonstrates his importance. The underwear he lovingly reworked hangs suspended up above, as if awaiting the unrestrained denizens of some heavenly tenement; a further room houses pieces he made while the end was already approaching, such as those from Inside the Solar Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy (2010), which unite Tom of Finland iconography with the ancient Egyptian variety. There’s a wall of glorious posters silk-screened for his many parties and DJ gigs, nights with names like Peroxide and Moustache. The curators understood that these were equally integral to Will’s do-it-ourselves practice.

I actually missed the raunchy apex of his flagship event Vazaleen – it went from monthly to occasional when I was barely 18. The glass cases filled with vintage photos, flyers and press clippings emphasize just how radical it was at first: a queer bacchanal (with straight sympathizers) outside the traditional gay village, women making up half the throng, which played off loud, punkish rock and glittery dance music not as foes or strangers but kinky kissing cousins. If all that seems unremarkable now, in Toronto and elsewhere, it’s because his vanguard and their parties staged a revolution. I never knew Will very well, though he was almost impossibly friendly and encouraging whenever we met, but I feel so grateful to be one of its children. Looking at the piece below, I remembered the last time I saw him, at Vazoween ’09. Among the final songs in his final DJ set was that sexual liberation anthem George Michael smuggled inside an anti-corporate one: All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true / All we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.

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The September Issue (2009) – Starring Anna Wintour, Directed by R.J. Cutler

by Margaux Williamson

(This always looked pretty compelling on the video store shelf but was always out when I would think to pick it up. The day it was in, it looked a little less compelling. I remembered, once I had it in my hand, that I had not had such luck with movies about fashion. But it still looked compelling enough.)


The September Issue is a documentary about the all-powerful and greatly feared editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour. Anna Wintour is credited with creating a “fashion bible” through Vogue, jump-starting the careers of young designers, centralizing the power of the fashion industry in a circle around her, striking fear into the hearts of subordinates, reigniting the fur industry, and ending grunge.

The movie covers the creation, which Anna Wintour oversees, of the 2007 September issue of Vogue – the bible part. Here, Anna Wintour is a woman who loathes small talk, is self-aware of the relation fashion has to the rest of the world, works incredibly hard, tries to not get mad when others don’t work as hard, uses words more than facial expressions to communicate, is incapable of following her grown child’s every move without adoring and irrepressible love in her eyes, reacts to things she dislikes with silence and reacts to things she likes with genuine praise. She is not primarily negative and she is not a trash-talker.

When I was watching this, I couldn’t remember if this is what our culture thinks a bitch is or if this is a very generous portrait of a woman and an industry.

Sure, you feel for the people who quiver in her uncomforting presence, but you also hope for a bit more integrity of character. If fashion really is an intersection between art and commerce, we think mostly of the commerce part in these moments. We also see that Anna Wintour does believe (or hopes) that fashion is meaningful and that art is involved. Her relief is obvious when people around her seem more preoccupied with the art than with winning her favour for obvious and easy reward. Her relief is most notable here in relation to Grace Coddington, Vogue’s creative director. The working relationship between these two women forms the poetic spine of the movie.

Anna Wintour’s immensity of character was the subject of another movie – fictionalized in The Devil Wears Prada, a movie based on a book of the same name that was written by one of her former assistants.

For The September Issue, the man allowed in to document the real Anna Wintour is named R.J. Cutler. R.J. Cutler’s production company is called “Actual Reality Pictures” (quite a tall claim in these early 21st century times, but anyway). Based on the production company’s name, and the other projects listed on their website, it appears as though R.J. Cutler is a man who thinks that reality TV is not real and that he is the man who will make it real. Though this just means his is a old-school documentary filmmaker whose weakness will be in forgetting his own subjectivity and impact on his subject (or his subject’s impact on him).

All in all, not a bad fit for a real person who was referred to fictionally as “The Devil” right there in the title of a Hollywood movie starring Meryl Streep. How much worse could it be in an old-school documentary? Not worse, though also not great. And clearly Anna Wintour is a subject worthy of something monumental.

If I was Anna Wintour, I too might have invited R.J. Cutler of “Actual Reality Pictures” to take my picture after I was fictionalized as “The Devil”. Had “The Devil” not happened, maybe someone from the production company “Not So Much Actual Reality But Still Kind Of Reality and Killer for Deeper Truth About Humans” would have gained access and made a complicated mountain out of this mountain of a subject. Though there is still time.

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) – Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

By Margaux Williamson

(I didn’t know too much about “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” but I liked the title and I had half-noticed that the word “art” kept being used in relation to it. Somehow the “art” was not mentioned in either a flattering or negative way, just a descriptive way. “Art” can mean a lot of things, like that the characters will have a lot of feelings or that it will be either pretty unpleasant or extremely pleasant to watch or that the movie will be going after something difficult to catch. Very quickly into “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, it was clear that the “art” in this case related to the words “intuitive” and “unusual” – and also maybe “going after something difficult to catch.”)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is made up of separate stories that happen in various times and places. They are connected literally and/or metaphorically by the title Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Servants carry a princess through the jungle. It looks pretty unpleasant to carry a princess through the jungle. But also, it looks maybe a little bit erotic. The princess has a face darkened with a scar or birthmark. The party comes to rest at the base of waterfall. There, the princess tries to convince herself that intimacy with one of her servants is love. It doesn’t work. She sends the servant away and collapses alone by the water’s edge. She cries and voices out-loud her longing for pure and white skin and also for true love. At this point of despair a catfish begins to talk to her from the surface of the water. “Are you a ghost?” she asks the catfish. “No, I am a catfish”, the catfish says. She eventually enters the water with abandon and has sex with the catfish. Something is being promised to her but we are not sure what it is.

There is a big bull tied to a tree. We stay with the bull for a while in the half-dark. We start to relate to him like any character in a movie. He makes a noise and we sort of know what it means. It seems kind of awful for such a big creature to be tied, by the neck, to a tree in the middle of a field. But maybe it’s ok. In a quick moment he yanks his rope free and lightly runs his giant body to the outskirts of the jungle and then stops there for a bit. Eventually, a man finds him. The man gently leads the bull back towards the field.

Uncle Boonmee has a farm where he grows tamarind and sweet and sour honey. Uncle Boonmee’s kidneys are failing and he thinks he will die in two days. He wonders if it’s because of his karma. “I was bad to the communists”, he says during his dialysis treatment. On the porch, he eats dinner with his sister-in-law and her friend when it is dark outside.

At the dinner table, the ghost of his long-dead wife appears. His ghost-wife looks like a normal wife, but younger. Then a monkey-ghost, the transformed body of his long-lost son, comes to sit down. The monkey-ghost looks amazing. He explains that he was trying to capture something with his camera, on the outskirts of the jungle, when he mated with a monkey-ghost and became a monkey-ghost himself. He explains that now the creatures and ghosts can sense Uncle Boonmee’s illness and are coming closer.

They all sit together at the table quietly. There is very little small talk. The whole movie feels like this, as though every living thing is cautiously acting and speaking as simply as possible in order to make room for some understanding.

Eventually, the wife-ghost and the monkey-ghost are shown photo albums of the years they have missed.

Later on, we are shown still photos too. The photos we see were taken in a field during the day: of a monkey-man being led out of the jungle with a rope tied around his neck by a soldier in camouflage. These photos are the strange cousins of horrific photos we are familiar with from history, but here, in this movie, we see and think about the photos in a different way. Which is good because they are difficult to understand in a logical way.

There is another photo of soldiers, laughing and smiling – it seems like something bad is happening to the monkey-man. Then there is a last photo of the soldiers and the monkey-man posing together, the rope still tied around his neck, everyone smiling. Maybe it is OK we think, but probably it really isn’t.

Later, back in real life at Uncle Boonmee’s farm, Uncle Boonmee, his ghost-wife, his sister-in-law and her friend start on a journey away from the farm and into a field and down into the jungle. The ghost-wife is leading. Uncle Boonmee is trying to make the best sense he can out of his good and bad deeds before he dies. This journey is the best he can do now. They go deeper and enter a cave that looks like the frozen stalactites of centuries-old falling water. They travel deep down into the cave, Uncle Boonmee moving slowly. At the very bottom, they find a tiny pool of albino catfish. This is where Uncle Boonmee lies down.

The movie is not an exploration of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s wild ideas. It is him trying wildly to make sense of the best and worst of life’s absurdities by expanding and examining them with intuitive logic.

If you are adept at intuitive logic (and with navigating the trauma that was the 20th century) his film will be as clear and seductive as early dusk. It will be as practical and as heartbreaking as any story about injustice, hope and despair could possibly be. Funny too. And beautiful.

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I’m Still Here (2010) – a movie by Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix

by Margaux Williamson

(I saw Joaquin Phoenix’s notorious 2008 Letterman Show appearance when he presented himself as a non-responsive, sunglassed and bearded guest. He was mumbling about becoming a hip hop artist. I thought that he was playing with performance in a reality-situation and I was pretty curious. Contemporary culture is still a bit fuzzy on how and when to assign authenticity to the different types of interaction, perspective and persona creation that continue to be created by new technologies. The general public is becoming as attuned, and as confused, with the concept of persona as actors are. A good actor even in his sleep, Joaquin Phoenix seemed as likely a candidate as any to explore persona in a reality-style work (where there is often much sleeping). So I was excited when I heard about the movie “I’m Still Here” being presented as a documentary. When it was announced, by the creators, as a hoax during the Toronto Film Festival, I felt disappointed. A hoax suggest more of a put on than an experiment. It also suggested a bit of a failure. Unambiguous creative sucess rarely needs to come with such foreceful, and unambitious, explanations. I went to see it anyway with my friend Julia Rosenberg, a movie producer, who had also been following the process. We had popcorn.)

Joaquin Phoenix decides to leave acting. It’s confusing being an actor and also confusing to be a celebrity. I believe this. He looks good, he’s hiding out in a well-worn hoodie, smoking at night on a grassy hill and looking down at the bright lights of Los Angeles. His friend, Casey Affleck is filming him. “I don’t want to play the character of Joaquin anymore” Joaquin Phoenix says. This scene is physically dark, seductive and promising. We don’t care if it’s documentary or staged because we suspect that, as with any good documentary or fiction, something truthful might be happening here. Unfortunately this is the most truthful-feeling part of the movie.

Joaquin Phoneix spends the rest of the movie smoking pot, growing his hair, yelling at his assistants and chasing down Diddy (formerly P. Diddy), the famous music producer. Joaquin Phoenix’s plan is to become a successful hip hop artist by finding Diddy and having Diddy produce his album. When securing Diddy’s help fails, along with Joaquin Phoenix’s meager and wildly unsucessful 4 or 5 public hip hop performances, Joaquin Phoenix collapses, mentally and physically, and then returns to his birth place for some water redemption.

In the last scene Joaquin Phoenix walks down a river. It is shallow at first and then becomes deeper. We follow him from behind. There is some “movie music” overlaid – the kind of music that reminds you to have feelings now. It doesn’t give me feelings, it makes the scene feel clumsy, long and sentimental. A joke or not – I don’t know. But at this point in the movie, I was needing some “real” in my “reality tv”. I wanted the music to stop and to at least, after enduring this movie, be allowed to indulge in the refreshingly natural sound of a quiet river. If Joaquin Phoenix was going back to nature, I wanted to come with him.

It’s hard to know what was intended. Did they set out to make fun of reality tv? Were they interested in mocking the public – hoping to hold up a mirror, showing them embracing Joaquin Phoenix as a hip hop artist because he was famous – but then were derailed by the public’s poor reaction to the idea? Were they hoping to say something about the insanity of celebrity culture but then didn’t quite know what to say? Were they trying for a remarkable performance? Was the absense of any visible sign of hard work (on the part of Joaquin learning to be a hip hop artist and Casey Affleck learning to be a director – or the two as artistic collaborators) an indication of the creators conceit of a famous fame-seeker not having to work hard – or was it a genuine misconception about how one goes about making art? Was Joaquin’s painful “failure” after simply not securing one of the world’s most famous music producers and not doing well at a few gigs supposed to really represent genuine failure? Or was it to show someone who is bound by being an actor? Was it all really just to say that something that looked real was scripted? Was the music at the end supposed to be funny?

I wouldn’t ask these question if there was something truthful here at the centre to hold on to (I consider a biting satire truthful for instance). If there was something truthful at the centre, then all these questions would be trivial and besides the point. But at the end, I just had the questions and a wish that the creators had worked longer or harder or had taken the ideas to a more developed place. I think there was a lot of potential. I hope Joaquin Phoenix tries something like this again, just… with everything else different. Much has been made of the ridiculousness of Joaquin Phoenix suddenly becoming a hip hop artist, but no one has mentioned how crazy it is for Casey Affleck to suddenly become the director of a contemporary reality experiment. The traditional well-oiled machine that makes a Hollywood movie might have been an easier choice.

When Joquin Pheonix finally manages a meeting with a hesitant and wary Diddy, Diddy eventually looks over at Joaquin and says slowly, “You can’t come into this shit disrespectfully.” I agree, this shit is hard – respect is essential. That goes for reality tv, experimental movies, and hip hop (acting was properly respected in this motion picture). Joaquin Phonix nods along with me. I believe him.

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!Women Art Revolution (2010) – Written and Directed by Lynn Hershman

by Margaux Williamson

(In a rush during the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, I decided to pick movies based on the names alone. Going over the first two days of programming, my eyes stopped at “!Women Art Revolution” and I investigated. The movie is from Lynn Hershman. Her 2007 film “Strange Culture”, a piece that documents a personal tragedy in artist Steve Kurtz’s life that led to an FBI investigation of his artwork, was one of my favourite things at a past Whitney Biennale. “Strange Culture” was one of the few things in the show that genuinely confused my sense of art, government and reality. Playing on a little tv in the corner of one of the galleries, it looked like an unassuming but well-developed portal out of the museum.

I was late getting to the theatre because I ran into a parade, the first sign of which was two women walking down the street with 4 legs, 1 torso, 2 heads and two enormous plush breasts protruding from their uni-shirt. “There go some balls”, I thought as they passed in front of my bicycle. I was late to the theatre but was ushered to my seat in the dark. After the screening, the director thanked artists featured in the movie who had also made it to the premiere – names, for the most part, that have been familiar to me since I was a teenager beginning to investigate art. The last shout-out was for the Guerrilla Girls. I was startled to see that they were sitting next to me. Two well-dressed women, in gaping-mouth gorilla masks, stood up and took a bow.)

Ana Mendieta, from her "Silueta" series (1976)

This movie portal starts from the museum (most of the artists featured have found some success in the art world) but goes back in time, approximately 40 years, to when women could barely get into them. The movie is pieced together from footage shot in between.

As is true with most hopeful acts of defiance against enormous adversity, hearing these cultural workers talk with humour and self-awareness about their struggle to have a voice in the world is unavoidably moving. I specifically fell in love with Marcia Tucker, a curator I was unfamiliar with. She started The New Museum in 1977. Like the movie, she seemed a fountain of good things with very few blind spots. I was sad to eventually discover (in the duration of the movie) that I had learned of her too late – as she died in 2006. But I will look for her book, A Short Life of Trouble.

In the movie, a thesis develops. Lynn Hershman suggests that these past forty years (and counting) of feminist art creation have been dominated by performance, role-playing and persona because these are the activities necessary for creating new spaces and new ways to be – creating bigger (and less oppressive and less boring) spaces for women to live and work in.

An interesting moment comes when Janine Antoni, a performance artist from the younger generation, talked about an experience she had in graduate school. Her professor, Mira Schor, looked at her work and asked if she had ever heard of Anna Mendieta or Hannah Wilke or Carolee Schneemann. She hadn’t, so she went to the library to investigate. There, she found absolutely nothing on any of the artists. Eventually, when Mira Schor brought in her own personal catalogues and clippings from home, Janine Antoni looked through the work and thought “I am making the work of an earlier generation.”

It is a pleasurable idea, and not one I take for granted, to think that some art really needs to be in the world – that there is actually a great deal of order to the often random-seeming nature of art creation. It is interesting to think that if some art doesn’t find its rightful spot in the library, this art will continue to be made until it arrives there.

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