Tag Archives: sholem krishtalka

Tea With Chris: Cloven Poetry

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: Great one Jimmy Carter – I love this letter he wrote about religion and women’s rights. I love his description of “The Elders” that he is a member of. Sounds bad-ass.

Chris: Blog-friend Sholem Krishtalka has begun drawing his own tarot set, one symbolic omen at a time, which oddly reminded me of Bill Sienkiewicz’s old Friendly Dictators trading cards.

The ethical dilemma of Amazon links, not one faced by B2TW thus far, where we’ve probably raised enough money to cover one dinner at a middlingly expensive restaurant (wine not included).

“The reason why the Stuff White People Like humor genre has so many holes in it is because the vast majority of the things lampooned are not white-specific, they’re creature comforts of the middle class. But the lines between race and class are getting blurrier and blurrier by the day, and there are quite a few people of color being born into comfortable financial situations who will likely never know what it’s like to be poor. Thus, memes like White Person Bingo end up portraying a common theme in popular culture: class stereotyping poorly and tastelessly masquerading as race stereotyping.” Martin Douglas, killing it, and recalling another essay about indie rock, race, and class.

Carl: I used to dream about making a book of poems in the form of crossword puzzles, where the clues and the answers would each be a poem. I soon realized that I had nowhere near the skill set to pull this off, if it was even theoretically possible. Here’s the closest thing, though: A giant of the puzzle world has announced his mortal illness to his readers in cryptic-crossword form.

It’s great that the new season of Girls has started, but they only show once a week. To fill the empty days in between, I am watching the two independent web series (Delusional Downtown Divas and Tight Shots) that Lena Dunham made years ago, clearly teaching herself how to make TV series, rationing episodes like sips of water on a lifeboat. I also really enjoyed her conversation with Miranda July. (If you are annoyed by one or both of them, you won’t, though – it is a very Lena Dunham-and-Miranda July conversation.)

This spot on the Merv Griffin Show in 1965 is the best window into Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick’s relationship, and why everyone loved her so much. (Thanks, Mike McGonigal.)

Poetry grudge matches: Michael Robbins somewhat-lovingly trashes Dylan Thomas for lines that are “the kind of thing you’d expect unicorns to write.” However, he adds, at least he’s not as bad as e.e. cummings.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Don Armando’s Rhumba Band, “I’m An Indian Too”

This 1979 mutant-disco reinterpretation of a song from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun arguably queers the offensiveness out of it, and arguably doesn’t. The original has its roots in the ethnic-masquerade/hate-comedy of vaudeville and minstrelsy that Berlin partook in, early in his career – which likewise may include maneuvers of self-assertion and not just exploitation. (Cf Bert Williams; cf Jewface.) Many a toxic parasite haunts these borderlines between mockery and camp. But it’s sure hard to inoculate against this infectiously incorrect arrangement.

(Thanks to Sholem Krishtalka and Anthony Easton for the Facebook tip.)

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Tea With Chris: We Were Collaborators

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:

Chris: When you read this I’ll be in Montreal, scoping out Leonard Cohen’s favourite smoked meat place, so I’m going to keep it minimalistic. This is Steve Ditko’s unyielding door.

I have way too many tote bags, but I’ll buy anything with Eileen Myles’ name on it, so … shit.

If you’re in Toronto and have even five dollars to your name tomorrow, our friend Sholem Krishtalka will do your nails.

Carl: I could spend all day browsing the galleries in this series from the great blog If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Lot of Dead Copycats: They Were Collaborators — which includes members of bands, the casts of plays and movies, writers and editors, producers and musicians, directors and actresses (who often make cross-referenced appearances in the blog’s other series, They Were an Item, which also contains stuff like this devastatingly sweet shot of Isherwood and Auden), art collectives and comedy teams, even ventriloquists and ventriloquial figures. (Apologies to anyone with automatonophobia.) It’s refreshing to see pictures of famous people at parties together and then reclassify them as collaborators, co-workers — a reminder that this culture stuff is not mostly just goofing off and looking pretty.

They were collaborators: Sonny Rollins and Max Roach

My friend (and co-eponymist) Carl (I just made that last word up) Zimring has one of the coolest academic specialties of anyone I know: garbage. He’s an environmental historian and studies ” how attitudes concerning waste shape society, culture, institutions, and inequalities.” He’s also an enthusiastic music head, and this week he brought those interests together in a fine short essay about (another near-sharer of our name) Karl Hendricks and his new song about a wistful hoarder:  “Why do I hold on to all this trash?/ Hanging tight to the concrete/ ’Cause I lost all the abstract. The song particularly spoke to Carl Z. this week because he is in the process of rapidly packing up — and purging — his own possessions as he is heading from Chicago to New York to take up a new post at Pratt. Good luck with the move, man.

Finally, a good way to purge the hoarded trash in your own brainpan would almost certainly be to listen to Dan Deacon’s rendition of “Call Me Maybe, Acapella, 147 Times Exponentially Layered.”

Margaux: Whales are people. Finally. Or almost finally. Or in any case, the fight is on. They are bigger and older than us and maybe, as Jeff Warren quotes Hal Whitehead, they can scan through each others bodies “So there’s no hiding what one has eaten, whether one’s sexually receptive, whether one’s pregnant, whether one’s sick. Presumably, this changes social life a lot.”  Maybe someday soon when people are on trial for not being such great people, we will be hearing the high pitched and empathetic cetaceatarium plea that people too are deserving of whalehood.

Some human music from The Fugs to go with whale reading. NOTHING. courtesy of sheila heti courtesy of janos mate

I went on Google + for the first time and found this from my other pal. It’s something.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson, music

Friday Pictures – Sholem Krishtalka from his Lurking series – an ongoing series of drawings based on his friends’ Facebook photos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post: David Wojnarowicz Gets It Better

by Sholem Krishtalka

By now, the It Gets Better campaign – spawned by sex columnist/gay avenger Dan Savage in response to a seeming rash of gay teen suicides – is an international phenomenon.

The user-submitted videos on its YouTube channel number over a thousand; both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have weighed in; an official response from queer Canadian celebs has been added to the roster. More pour in daily. And this is to say nothing of the splinter campaigns: there are, in fact, some It Gets Worse videos.

The more I look at these videos, the more I am reminded of one of my favourite artworks: David Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One Day This Kid…). I’ve seen it numerous times, in reproduction and “in the flesh.” And each time I see it, its brutal honesty and cutting simplicity shake me to my core (it’s one of the few works of art in front of which I’ve cried).

It’s a gelatin silver print: a grainy school photo of a young Wojnarowicz (he can’t be more than 9 or 10), buck-toothed and gawky, smiling at the camera. The phrase “One day this kid will get larger” appears on the upper right-hand corner of the page, and from there starts a litany of the systems of casual and institutional oppression that will be brought to bear on this kid as he makes his way through life. It ends with the phrase, “All this will begin to happen in one or two years when he discovers he desires to place his naked body on the naked body of another boy.”

Wojnarowicz himself narrowly escaped a viciously abusive family life to wind up as a homeless, underage street hustler in Manhattan in the early ‘70s. His artwork (film, writing, performance, painting, prints) channeled and attempted to exorcize the demons of his life; their chilling directness and hallucinatory power earned him success in the New York art world in the ’80s (he was included in the 1985 Whitney Biennial). He died of AIDS-related complications in 1992.

One Day This Kid… was made in 1990 and, twenty years on, I can’t help but think that Wojnarowicz, in a single print, has eclipsed the totality of the It Gets Better campaign. For one thing, each of the horrors that Wojnarowicz enumerates are still true, twenty years on (as I read through it, I can easily think of news items from the past year that bear these phrases out). Given his art-world fame, one might be tempted to infer that It Got Better for Wojnarowicz. But that’s not the point, and he knew it. (And, eighteen years after his death, conservatives are still attacking his work.)

The face of gay activism has changed radically since the 1990s. Since the 1960s, it always teetered, Janus-like, between assimilationism and radicalism: the button-down civic respectability of the homophile movement versus the disruptive streak of Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society; the Stonewall riots; the “liberated” hedonism of the ‘70s and ‘80s; the AIDS crisis, which spawned a hydra of queer activist organizations, such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP), of which David Wojnarowicz was a member.

But a strange thing happened in the ’90s: AIDS activist organizations made significant victories. AIDS became part of the public discourse; its research garnered public funding; the Republicans, with their history of tacit denials (Reagan’s first public uttering of the word “AIDS” was in 1987) were out of office.

A decade of civil disobedience and activism (carried on amidst deaths of friends and lovers) had left many exhausted (I urge the watching of Gregg Bordowitz’s seminal 1994 video Fast Trip, Long Drop). And in the strange vacuum created by the semblance of victory and a spent, mourning people, a new brand of activism emerged: so-called pink-dollar activism, the marshaling of influence based on leveraging the queer community’s power as a mostly wealthy niche market.

There are those who would defend this brand of activism as efficient, and they are right in certain senses. However, it has ultimately shifted the queer community’s relationship to mass culture and politics (if one can even make such generalizations now). The goal of ACT UP was to prompt a sea change, to force institutions to recognize queers as citizens under the law, regardless of our habits and proclivities. Pink-dollar activism, on the other hand, speaks the language of these same institutions.

Clement Greenberg once said that art should never attempt to meet its audience halfway. I’m not about to go to bat for Clement Greenberg’s snobbery, but to paraphrase him wildly for my own ends, the mainstream of queer activism has gone more than halfway in meeting its intended audience.

There is much that is valuable about the It Gets Better project; I am heartened by its sustained success. But at its core, it is an emanation of this particular brand of late-20th-century queer activism, and thus puts its emphasis in the wrong places. It makes an ultimately misguided argument: Get through this immediate trauma, so that one day, you’ll have the means to live a comfortable life, and those comforts will compensate for past suffering.

Material luxuries and promises of tomorrows are a poor weapon against the imminent threat of physical and emotional violence. To my mind, it’s a strange kind of hope to offer a teenager, and one of the more remarkable things about One Day This Kid… is that it offers no hope, and yet is not nihilistic.

It’s important to remember that it was made in the midst of the initial onslaught of the AIDS crisis, the heyday of ACT UP’s furious civil disobedience. Wojnarowicz can’t offer hope, because he knows that hope itself isn’t a guarantee and, more importantly, neither is it its own end. Wojnarowicz only offers hope tangentially, indirectly (certainly, we want This Kid to escape the text that surrounds and suffocates him). Crucially, the enumeration of harms to which This Kid will be subjected is meant to incite rage.

Finally, this is what I find missing from It Gets Better, and what I still find moving about One Day This Kid…: The former tries to soothe with the prospect of escape, and eventual isolation within domestic, urban comforts. The latter bears unflinching witness, and as such, is a challenge and a call to arms. Outrunning pain is only the first step; it’s what happens after that’s valuable.

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The Gays of Tomorrow – by Jon Davies and Sholem Krishtalka

A wonderful video and text essay, by my friends and colleagues Sholem Krishtalka and Jon Davies, made Artforum’s top ten list for November. The November list was selected by the artist Christian Holstad.

The piece, The Gays of Tomorrow, was originally presented live this past summer at a Ryeberg Curated Video event in Toronto.

It’s an effortless heartbreaker.

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Special Guest Post: The Julian Schnabel Paradox – Fine Filmmaker, Wretched Artist

by Sholem Krishtalka


Photo by Ian Lefebvre.

It’s not merely that Julian Schnabel is a bad artist; he’s the worst artist. In fact, if you were to ask me to create some kind of stereotype of bad artist, I couldn’t do better than Julian Schnabel. He’s the kind of awful you just can’t fake – an inept painter whose every deficiency, every technical lack, every conceptual gap stands in inverse proportion to his own ego and self-satisfaction.

As if his paintings weren’t evidence of his towering horridness, consider his unique contribution to the field of premature self-congratulation: an insufferable, ruminating autobiography written at the ripe old age of 35.

All this is on eminent display whenever and wherever a painting of his is exhibited, and it’s some small wonder that the 5th floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario hasn’t collapsed in on itself under the groaning strain of the pendulous load of Schnabel’s output. It’s difficult to describe the experience of walking through his new show there, simply because anything I can muster sounds too fun. The closest approximation I can venture is that it feels like being clobbered about the head by a pair of giant testicles. See? Too fun.

Perhaps another strand of metaphor is required. The overwhelming atmosphere of the show is bulimic: Walking through it, you are assaulted on all sides by vastness and enormity – almost all of the paintings clock in at the 20-foot mark; gargantuan things that ram their hyper-inflated claims to genius down your throat like someone force-feeding a duck for foie gras. I staggered towards the elevator desperate to somehow puke it all out of me, to wash myself clean of Schnabel’s oily presence.

Let’s be clear (because I was being coy up until now): Schnabel can’t paint. The two most difficult scales for a painter to tackle are the extremely small and the extremely large. Both highlight the importance of touch and of gesture.

In an extremely small painting, there is literally no room for clumsiness – everything has to be graceful and efficient; a weak passage in that tight an environment is disastrous. In an extremely large painting, the painter has to fill the canvas with their gesture, the entire body becoming an extension of the paintbrush. On a 20-foot scale, everything is amplified, everything is immediately available for scrutiny. And Schnabel’s gracelessness, his inability to do anything more than to stab and drag paint around in the most perfunctory way, is on full display. His marks merely and only fill space.

His conceptual capabilities are exactly on par with his technical abilities. This is a man who famously said of his plate paintings that the surfaces are meant to recall the destruction and trauma of Kristallnacht– which is why, I presume, they make an excellent support for portraits of pop stars and Beverly Hills socialites (one of his plate paintings is at the AGO: it’s garishly busy to the point of cluttered illegibility; it looks like sharp, shiny vomit).

The same staggering thematic blindness shouts at you from almost every wall in the AGO. Of a canvas stretched in the shape of a sail with nothing but the name “Jane Birkin” painted across its bottom, the didactic panel would have us believe that Jane Birkin not only evokes but summarizes Egypt. I’m sure Egyptians think so, too.

His homages to Bertolucci involve blown-up photo-transfers of surfers with a great splooge of white paint leaking down one side. I’d say this bit of oleaginous ejaculate is a recurring motif with Schnabel, but motif is too coherent a word, as this puddle appears almost everywhere, and is made to mean anything. The same 10-foot dribble appears on a painting made in immediate and heartfelt homage to his friend Jean-Michel Basquiat upon learning of his death. How much can this puddle of paint be made to signify? In the space of two rooms, it is reiterated to the point of irrelevance, celebrating the glory of Italian manhood and mourning the drug-overdose of his closest friend.

It doesn’t signify anything, of course, just as the plates don’t really mean anything. They’re bullshit nothings, lurching stabs at shorthand expressiveness from a man whose visual vocabulary is infantile at best.

Of his ego, this too is on eminent and laughable display. Painting after painting is choked with poorly disguised references to painters whom he imagines to be his peers: Goya, Bacon. Only Schnabel doesn’t actually have the wit to quote either appropriately or properly, and so it all comes off as cack-handed mimicry.

The show was mounted in cross-marketing with the premiere of Schnabel’s latest film at TIFF. And here’s the curious thing: Schnabel makes good movies. This has been owned up to by people whose critical natures and opinions I respect (one of my most impossibly demanding friends said that his movies “redeemed [Schnabel]”). I own up to it myself: I’ve enjoyed every movie of his I’ve seen.  How is this? How can he be such a horrible artist, but a good filmmaker?

I refer you to Gore Vidal’s 1976 essay, “Who Makes the Movies?” in which Vidal, drawing upon his years of experience as a “hack writer” for the Hollywood Studio system, tries to debunk the application of auteur theory to Golden Age Hollywood movies. In those times, he argues, the producer was king and the director was referred to by all and sundry as “the brother-in-law” – at best, an appendix to the phalanx of talent and business that were responsible for the picture.

The core of his point applies to Schnabel’s film career. Movie-making is not a solitary business. So here’s the question: How much can we really say that Schnabel himself is responsible for the excellence of his films? On each film, he had a cinematographer to actually do the hard craft of constructing his images; writers to draft a cogent script (though, granted, Schnabel is given a tertiary writing credit on his first two films); actors to interpret the script; editors to translate the raw footage into a cohesive film.

Even though his films are independent, Schnabel still operates at a level whereby he has a vast staff of very talented people at his disposal to construct his movies (he had enough lucre to hire Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s DP, to film 2007’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

My loathing of his paintings (and my bafflement at his rise to art-stardom, even in the hysterical art world of the ’80s) makes it tempting to dismiss Schnabel the director as a mere brother-in-law, blustering and ineffectual, who, at the crucial moment, shoves everyone aside to don the mantle of singular genius, and bathe in the critical hosannas.

Still, let’s give Schnabel the benefit of the doubt, and assume that, as a director, he is perpetually present, guiding everyone at all stages, keeping a dictatorial eye over the exercise of his vision; his movies are his own. Still and all, there is a very basic fact that underscores all of this: a movie is photographed; a painting is built.

A movie involves arranging various elements (actors, locations, etc.), letting them do their thing, and recording it. Not an easy task, by any stretch of the imagination. But a painting involves not only creating those elements out of nothing, but also creating the world in which they interact, and then translating all of that from thought to gesture to image.

Schnabel cannot build paintings, but he can make movies. It’s the assaultive, egomaniacal failure of the former that compels these doubts about the latter. Still, these doubts are nothing more than conjecture (and mostly unproductive conjecture at that). So I’ll leave the question of who makes Schnabel’s movies open. But I know with certainty exactly who makes Schabel’s paintings.

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