Wednesday, June 27, 2012

304. Art is Dead. Long Live Dada.

This week has presented me the opportunity to immerse myself in any topic I chose, in preparation for my next speech assignment. After days of racking my brains, toying with topics that ranged from marathon running to the Eames, I remained indifferent. I was hoping for a topic that was more than a little intriguing. I wanted something fascinating
That's when I remembered Dada.

Dada, the birthplace of conceptual art as it exists today. Equal parts protest and punk rock, the Dadaists strove to challenge the ways we define what constitutes art. Sometimes referred to as anti-art, Dada was conceived in frustration and born to infuriate. Though the movement only lasted about 7 years, beginning shortly before 1916 and finally wearing out its welcome around 1923, the footprints it left behind are pressed firmly into the sidewalk of our collective consciousness.

Exhibit A, Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q.: Quite possibly the first time in which someone drew a mustache on the Mona Lisa:

L.H.O.O.Q. - Marcel Duchamp, 1919

L.H.O.O.Q. is a play on words, an acronym from the French "Elle a chaud au cul", and translates roughly to, "She has a hot ass".

Right now you may be thinking to yourself, "Psh. No big deal, anyone could have done that".
You're right, and that's the point. Dada wasn't about artistic talent, or years spent improving one's technique. Duchamp began as a painter dabbling in Impressionism and Cubism before deciding to stop painting altogether. To paraphrase his reasoning for this, painting was made for the eye, and not the mind. That isn't to say that the Dada artists were poseurs, cobbling together absurd pieces in order to distract the viewer from noticing their lack of talent. On the contrary, all were accomplished artists capable of working with a variety of mediums, as evidenced by one of my favorite Francis Picabia pieces below.

Machine Turn Quickly - Francis Picabia, 1917

While Dadaists sought to express themselves through utter nonsense, they succeeded in making a surprising amount of sense. Take Tristan Tzara's poem, "Vegetable Swallow":

two smiles meet towards
the child-wheel of my zeal
the bloody baggage of creatures
made flesh in physical legends-lives

the nimble stags storms cloud over
rain falls under the scissors of
the dark hairdresser-furiously
swimming under the clashing arpeggios

in the machine's sap grass
grows around with sharp eyes
here the share of our caresses
dead and departed with the waves

gives itself up to the judgment of time
parted by the meridian of hairs
non strikes in our hands
the spices of human pleasures 

The words read like the rantings of a mad man, yet the imagery is so vivid, it flashes through your imagination like the sequences of a dream.

Taking a cue from Sigmund Freud, Dadaists explored human sexuality and gender roles, poked fun at the stuffiness of the art world, and asked society to view the world from a different point of view. One of the most entertaining methods for accomplishing this was through the use of "Readymades", or found object sculptures.

The most literal example of a Readymade may also be the most famous. Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain", which is nothing more than a porcelain urinal signed with the fake name R. Mutt. Duchamp entered the piece in an open exhibition held by the American Society of Independent Artists, for which he served as a board member. Not surprisingly, the entry was promptly rejected on the basis of indecency. Though Duchamp mischievously intended to shock his art world peers, the question "what defines art?" is a valid one, and has never found a definitive answer.

“Art has nothing to do with taste. Art is not there to be tasted.” - Max Ernst
When taken out of context, everyday objects can't help but be viewed with a fresh perspective. We see the lines of the object, the texture, and color, often before we can even process what the item actually is. And stripped of its original meaning, an object is now free to mean something else entirely.  

Obstruction - Man Ray, 1920

In 1921, Francis Picabia denounced Dada, saying it was no longer vital, and had lost its ability to shock. Within a few years, most of the artists had moved on to Surrealism. Yet Dada, whether intentionally or not, redefined the very being of art, influencing everything that came after it. From Andy Warhol's pop art paintings of Campbell's soup cans, to Alexander Calder's mobiles, or the experimental compositions of John Cage, the way we create and perceive art has never been the same.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

303. Pride

On the morning of the parade I put my hair up in pins.
It looks amateurish; I lack skill and therefore rarely attempt it.
Today I find I am pleased with the result
and quickly spray it into place before it has time to change its mind.

In two hours, hundreds will culminate
in the streets, riding on floats with fluttering flags,
their makeup and hair, done with such precision, will melt
under the gaze of a late June sun.

We used to only celebrate the homecomings
of soldiers and fallen heroes of foreign wars,
never realizing that each and every one of us
holds the promise of infinite potential.

Now we march in celebration of life, the value of the individual.
For the difference that every person has the opportunity
to make. We have become self-aware, and
there is no turning back.

And so, I dress with pride, and take my place on the sidewalk.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

302. A Mouse and a Mattress

The brand new bed has arrived, and it's every bit as comfy as we'd imagined. It's also substantially smaller than I pictured. We had a queen, which is too large for the Wizard's bed frame, so we decided to get a smaller nicer mattress for it, rather than buy a new frame and keep the same worn out mattress. The reduction in width was fully expected, but what I didn't realize is that queens are also longer than fulls. It'll be fine, but we were both taken a bit by surprise. Luckily, neither of us exceeds 6 feet in height, or we'd have a real problem.

The day's second arrival came an hour later, and is much smaller. His name is Fat Albert, and he's from Texas. Al was the classroom pet for my pal Josh's fourth graders. When the year came to a close, Al found himself out of a job and without a retirement plan.
 I've had mice before, but they were lady-mice. They loved spending time curled up together, or running together on their wheel. Al is a dude, and apparently he's not fond of other dudes. His last roommate wound up dead under a mysterious set of circumstances, and foul play was suspected.

I had a ridiculously over-sized cage just sitting in the basement, leftover from my pair of rats, both of whom passed away over a year ago. It's a mouse mansion, and with so much space, it seemed silly to leave all of that room to one mouse. He's like Howard Hughes in there. I knew there was a chance that he really was a loner, but I decided to try and get him some company anyway.

Meet Bruce Willis, the mouse.

Bruce is apparently a bit younger than Al, and the moment we put them together, Al was on Bruce's tail like a school bully after milk money. The Wizard did a quick Google search and discovered that Al is not an exception to his species. Male mice, upon reaching sexual maturity, become highly territorial, and will fight other males for turf, often to the death.

I was crushed. Bruce is a lovely mouse with the casual sort of personality that makes him great company. As I type this, he's perched on my shoulder, curled up under my hair. Happily, the Wizard had a solution. The rat cage is massive, with four levels of indoor climbing space. It can easily be divided into an upper and lower penthouse, each of which will remain substantial in size, and still contain 2 levels for climbing. The boys can rest easy knowing their kingdoms are safe from invasion, while offering a neighbor who lives close enough for over the fence pissing contests and shouting matches. Al has claimed the upper penthouse, and Bruce the lower.

The only issue left to address is the fact that Bruce doesn't have the sense to stay on his side of the fence. He's so small he fits right through the bars into Al's living room, and Al doesn't take kindly to uninvited guests. Once we get all the little cracks sealed, I'm confident the members of the neighborhood association with settle into a more congenial disposition.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

301. The Speech Project

Oral Communications. The assignment: Record a 3-5 minute autobiography themed...thing.
The problem? Filming yourself making any sort of loosely planned speech and not critiquing every mistake you make as you're making them, to the extreme of fifty-something attempts before you finally, finally, get one full video out of the ordeal. It certainly didn't help that I have very little experience in front of the lens...I'm usually behind any cameras I come in contact with.

I spent nearly two hours attempting to capture 3-5 minutes of video, and for all of my efforts, the final product sucks. What remains are a pile of outtakes that have to go somewhere in order to justify all of that wasted time. I'm fresh out of shame, kids.

Warning: What you are about to watch is STUPID. Don't come crying to me for your two minutes back, because once you press play, all sales are final.

Friday, June 15, 2012

300. Missouri is Trying to Kill Me

No, I am not being dramatic. I am so very allergic to this state, you have no idea.

There appears to be a direct correlation between high temperatures and the things I am allergic to, because every time it gets really muggy hot out, I lose it.

It began around 9:30 this morning. An itchy sneezy sniffling that escalated into a spiraling face-storm by lunchtime. In desperation, I used my lunch break to run to the gas station, where I purchased tissues and Claritin. The Claritin did nothing. Not even a dent in the waves of mucous.

By 2:00 I was drowning in a full on hurricane of snot, and blowing my nose constantly. No more than a few seconds between, and the tissues couldn't hold up for more than 3 or 4 of my explosions. 4:00 came, and I sat in my chair, steadily dripping from my nostrils, sapped of any will to live. Whenever I sneezed (which happened often), my co-workers would respond with "God bless you". After something like the fiftieth time, I realized they were actually saying it in the superstitious, voodoo use of the term. I think it was around the time one of them said, "God bless you, keep those germs away from me"...

I barely made it home. The tsunami of sneezes made navigating the sea of rush hour a serious challenge. I nearly rear-ended someone while blinded by a particularly large outburst.

Once home, I devoured more Claritin. These are 24 hours pills, which I have doubled up on in the hopes they might work. Had I planned for this, I would have been taking them every day to build up a nice layer of allergen armor in my veins, but who wants to take allergy medicine every day when you only need it sometimes?

I still accomplished errands. At the grocery store, I succumbed to a chain of explosive sneezes that garnered creepy "Gesundheit"s from an old man who appeared to be trailing me through the medicinal aisles. I was sneezing so often, and he was gesundheiting me after every single expulsion, I finally wanted to scream, "SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!" while chucking boxes of generic laxatives and cold medicines at him. 
I might have too, only I felt like such a slimy troll that I scuttled off down the dairy aisle to peruse my cottage cheese options instead.

After I got home, the Wizard and I went back out domesticating. First was Target, where homey goods like new sheets and mirrors and wall hangers were purchased. Then it was on to Weekends Only, where we bounced and wallowed on every single mattress, just like Goldilocks, until we found the perfect one. It arrives on Sunday, and I cannot wait. It has everything; reassuringly firm support, yet the cushy, marshmallowy give that dreams are made of. If only I could curl up on it after a day like today.

This is my 300th post, and I wish it were more commemorative of the occasion. Oh, well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

299. Tugboats and Barges

It's late, so this post will be short. Just a couple of shots I've been playing with from our bike ride to the river on either image to view larger. I haven't decided if I'm done editing or not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

298. Summer Projects

The other night I sat down and started editing my photos from Chicago. There weren't many shots I was really happy with, and I spent most of the time removing lens spots in spite of the fact that I thoroughly wipe it down every time I take the cap off. I may start carrying glasses cleaner with me, if the spots are going to be that persistent. The shots that I did get fall into the range of satisfied to happily surprised.

Anyway, once I finally began editing, I realized I've finally begun to enjoy the process of working in digital. I am finally starting to feel comfortable editing RAW images in Photoshop, and I was surprised what I was able to salvage from shots I was sure were going to be a loss. Up until this week, my workflow has been totally non-committal. I am rarely patient enough to spend more than a few seconds on any one image. This has resulted in my heavy use of the iPhone as my primary camera and editing studio, and not nearly enough time spent with a real live SLR. My impatience extends to every other medium as well, which means I don't actually do anything. I spend a lot of time coming up with ideas, and not actually pursuing any of them because it takes too long, I don't know how to pull off what I have in mind, or the materials cost too much. Then I work a full time job, try to focus on my college classes on top of that, and still find time to go jogging with my dog. A lot of the time, I wish that the Wizard and I were working on things together, but we rarely do. Our collaborations usually end at bouncing ideas off of one another.

I just feel like I'm waiting for something.


Friday, June 8, 2012

297. Social Network, or Spamming Your "Friends"?

This morning I decided to delete the Facebook app from my phone, and then followed through on that decision. The truth is that I used to like Facebook, and I still appreciate that it keeps me in touch with the people I want to remain close to. I love to share photos and hear about what people are up to. There are lots of other sites I enjoy much more, like Blogger, and Flickr, and even Twitter. Instagram, and Draw Something, and Scrabble, if we're talking iPhone apps.
I realize, however, that most people don't care enough, much less have the time, to follow you on all the smaller but more worthwhile sites.

What I do not appreciate is that my membership on Facebook no longer feels like my decision. Our society has evolved into wanting one hideous monster mega-site for socialization, and that monster is Facebook. You almost have to have an account, whether you want one or not. That might be acceptable if the site were worthwhile, but my feed has digressed into nothing but a scrolling Tumblr account of inane captions plastered across stupid photos. Whoever makes these images is a moron, and I have little respect for the people who feel the need to share them with everyone on Facebook. It is the equivalent of a forwarded chain email. I also realize you can hide people, and unsubscribe from people, and that's great. Except it makes me wonder why I have them on my list at all. Yet just try to remove them, and not have it result in hard feelings. You can't. Delete someone from Facebook, and you have essentially informed them that you would rather not be friends at all. It's juvenile. All of it.

I realized this morning that I check the app far too often because it's there, and because I'm bored at work. It never fails to disappoint me on a level so deep, I actually turn green with Hulkish fury and catch myself muttering a barrage of curse words under my breath.
In extreme cases, I actually start texting my closest friends to complain about how much I hate Facebook. Maybe that makes me a really big jerk, but this morning I realized, that app needs to go.

It was really cathartic. But enough about Faceboob.

It took nearly an entire week to readjust to my normal schedule again. Vacation was wonderful. Frank and Mayday seem relieved that we're home, though.
Things are going well with the new job, my summer class has begun, and the weekend lies ahead.
Thus far, I have no plans but to make blueberry pancakes in the morning.

We stopped at Ikea in Bolingbrook on the way home last Sunday. I scored a new non-stick and a new saucepan. Both are of a much higher quality than you would ever expect at such a reasonable price. The non-stick presented us with a stunning spinach omelet this morning.

We also snagged another gigantic clay pot. Terracotta, actually, and only $8 with the saucer. Milling around at the grocery store a few nights ago, we decided to try growing some okra. I had wanted another tomato plant, but I think it may be too late to start one, and okra is a shamefully under-appreciated gem of summer cuisine. It's one of the fastest seed to harvest plants they had, so I'm hopeful something will come of it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

296. Chi-Chi-Chi-Chicago

I don't even know where to begin. Chicago was so much needed I can't even describe it. We left here needing a trip out of town, and we returned wishing we never left.

Don't get me wrong, the trip was not perfect. Shit downright imploded, right up front. After parking the car in the garage of our swanky hotel, I asked the Wizard, "hey, should I put the club on the steering wheel?" He said, yeah!
I walked to the back of the car and suddenly realized...I DON'T HAVE A KEY FOR THAT CLUB!!!
We spent the next two hours trying to resolve the lock sitch.
I called ONE locksmith. ONE.
They were on North Michigan. Superior Lock.
They said they'd send someone over in 20 minutes.
We waited.
20 minutes came and went, and my phone rang. The woman at the lock shop told me that the tech was having trouble reaching me, it was going straight to voicemail. I apologized, but I'm standing in a parking garage. What can I do, the reception is bad?
I go outside, where I can actually get calls, but discover my voicemails are frozen and won't play on my iPhone.
The technician calls and says he'll be another 20.

20 minutes later, my phone is ringing, but I'm on the phone with Sprint trying to fix my voicemail problem. I put Sprint on hold and answer locksmith, who says he's on the corner, at the light. I wave, saying, "hey, I can see you, hi!" and, "don't park in the garage, it'll charge you". He attempts to pull into the garage and says, "hey, it's going to charge me if I park here". We say, "yeah...that's what we said". He parks on the side of the garage in a 15 minute space, and walks to my car with us. Halfway there, we mention it's a club...
"Um, we don't do clubs".
I am flabbergasted, because I specifically told the phone operator this is a club.
Tech then attempts to charge us $15 for his trip out.
I become angry and call "his boss".
His boss is confused, and says they don't charge a service fee, and that they have no one working for them that looks like the person I am describing.
This is a mystery, but tech takes off. GONE.
So I'm yelling (not really, but I'm kind of agitated) at this guy.
He explains to me that not only does he not have a $15 service charge...he doesn't have a guy fitting my description, but can he have his tech call me back with more details?
We wait.
Tech calls.
We're talking, and he reiterates that there is no guy that looks like what I describe working for them, and they do not charge a fee.
I begin to become suspicious...and ask, "What company do you work for?"

Not Superior Lock.
Not at all.
I can't understand what dood is saying, but he explains that this is a mobile unit that doesn't have an address. Some other name.

I become completed weirded out, and look at the Wizard for instruction.
He appears flabbergasted, and I feel the same.
I disconnect.

We proceed to walk many blocks.
To an Ace Hardware, where we purchase a hacksaw.
We walk back, and DESTROY the club.


Dinner, and an amaaaaaaaazing weekend.

There were so God. I can't even tell you. Chinatown, and gelato, and The Long Room, and a play (The Jammer!!!).