Culture: May 2004 Archives


This is one of a group of works by Brian Belott [who shows at Canada] lining the gallery's entrance ramp of the White Box show, "Majority Whip," which closed yesterday. Closed, but not to be forgotten, since we can expect to see its children throughout this New York summer, and far beyond.

On Wednesday night, a clutch of Billionaires for Bush managed to crash an enthusiastic gathering of somewhat less-monied and decidedly un-Bush artists and activists in the gallery:


Matt Leines Ambassador of the Men with Lightning Fists (2004)

White Box
is not a just an art gallery. It's become much more. It's something of a complete arts center, and it has a conscience. I'd say it's an alternative humanist space fed by and feeding all the arts.

Last night the courageous Chelsea non-profit space hosted a concert of contemporary art music for electronics, traditional stringed instruments and the customary Titano accordian. The ensemble was the new music group, ModernWorks, collaborating with the ubiquitous William Schimmel.

The environment was the very busy and very smart current installation, "Majority Whip," which remains open through this Saturday. We've already been back twice, and we'll be there again tonight and Saturday, when it closes. The work ranges from very good to phenomenal, and in spite of the general political context, there is surprisingly little hysteria, and most of it stands up aesthetically on its own very well.

Curators Kathy Grayson & Laura Tepper have invited young artists to assemble work and installations related to the human impact, or "lived reality" of government policy.

For the duration of Majority Whip, White Box will be transformed into a congressional interior, modeled after the chambers of the United States Senate. Podiums and circular benches, flags of unusual color, crests, funny blue carpeting, old fixtures and chandeliers and various symbols of power will be re-appropriated and slightly askew. The Senate floor will be used for lectures, performances and events during the run of the exhibition. All of the invited artists will have the opportunity to participate in this installation and have been encouraged to create site-specific work. The artists will donate partial proceeds from the sale of their work to America Coming Together and SAAVY, non-profits dedicated to voter registration issues and run by the League of Conservation Voters.
A partial list of the artists includes Chris Johanson, Jo Jackson, Erik Parker, Keegan McHargue, Rosson Crow, Andrew Guenther & Matt Leines, Dylan Walker, Simone Shubuck, Sarah Braman, Carl Bennett, Brendan Fowler, Daniel Joseph, Ashley Macomber, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Shay Nowick, Scott Hug, Tracy Nakayama, Xylor Jane, Michael Magnan, Chris Lindig, Christopher Garrett, Scott Hewicker, Eamon Ore-Giron, Brian Belott, Dearraindrop, Randy Colosky, Jim Drain, Devendra Banhart, Shaun O'Dell, Hishaam Bharoocha, PFFR, Misaki Kawai, Ry Fyan, Taylor McKimens, Justin Samson, Michael Mahalchick, Koji Shimizu, Jules de Balincourt, Katie A. Davis, Sara Thustra and Jeremy Yoder.

The performance last night included only one overtly-political piece, Michael Daughtery's "Sing Sing: J Edgar Hoover," composed for string quartet and the original G-man's sampled voice, but the remainder of the program was no less provocative musically. My favorites were Gubaidulina's "silence" and Rihm's "Am Horizont," although the charms of Anthony Cornicello's "I'll Have An Electric Mahabharata, Please" for cello and live electronics were seductive. I'ts still a shame that the gestures of most computer instrumentalists are unable to rival those of even a buttoned-up traditional player. Madeleine Shapiro, the cellist and founder of the ensemble, was not buttoned-up.

Tonight, beginning at 6:00 or 6:30 there will be a political art show and cocktail party, tagged "Majority Whipped," in the gallery space, mixing artists and creative activists, "with signs, banners, soapbox speechifying, hats, flags, light-up clothing, flash projections, apple pie, music, invisible performance" according to the organizers' website.

On Saturday there will be a combined exhibition closing party and release party for the catalog edited by Scott Hug. It sounds like the celebration will really get going around 5 o'clock.

The trick would be to get the people who almost filled the seats last night to show up tonight and Saturday, just as it would have been quite a trick to get the artists and activists into the room last night, but if all that were to happen so easily, much of the need for a space like White Box would already have been filled, and we know it's not going to be so easy.

[image from White Box]

Susan Wanklyn Atlay (2004) 24 x 26 inches, Casein on Wood

The art is very smart, very beautiful, but that only begins to describe the artist, for whom we have to add warm and nice. Ok, we know Susan Wanklyn just a bit, but it's because for some time we've very much enjoyed living with both one of her earlier paintings and two iris prints.

Guests invariably ask about the strong, uncharacteristically almost-colorless grid hanging in our dining room. We can't offer much of an answer. We like the fact that we haven't stopped asking about it ourselves.

Barry and I won't be able to make the opening tomorrow of her show at Cheryl Pelavin Fine Art in Tribeca, but I've seen emailed jpegs and the images on the gallery site. They show that she's certainly not standing still and that the work has never been more beautiful - or sensual.

Always loved the casein paint!*

From the artist's statement on her gallery's site:

My work shares with classical minimalism the focus on the viewer and the act of seeing. In addition, however, the challenge has been to set up a room of paintings that have the feel of cohesive narrative, seamlessly giving thematic cover to formal concerns. I have introduced shapes that are abstract and figurative at once (I want to have my cake and eat it too.) As Alfred Hitchcock said in reference to his movies, I am not trying to create a slice of life but rather a "slice of cake."

Susan Wanklyn Action Figure #7 (2004) 9 x 11.5 inches, Casein on Paper

Because of living twenty years in a modest 18th-century house in Rhode Island I once thought it could only be associated with beautiful country furniture.

[images from the Cheryl Pelavin site]

Babbitt, at system

Happy Birthday Milton!

Just found out while streaming David Garland during dinner that today [for another half hour at least] is Milton Babbitt's 88th birthday.

Hope you're still up and maybe Googling, guy!

What a treasure, and what a delight to have him around us.

A composer who asserts something such as: "I don't compose by system, but by ear" thereby convicts himself of ... equating ignorance with freedom, that is, by equating ignorance of the constraints under which he creates with freedom from constraints. ...A musical theory must provide... a model for determinate and testable statements about musical compositions.
- Milton Babbitt, "The Structure and Function of Musical Theory"
Okay, It still bothers me to know how much he loves American musicals, but nobody's perfect.

[both image and quote from Camille Goudeseune]

my exciting nyc apartment.jpg
Lower East Side relativity

Half the theatre had emptied out when we returned after intermission last night. I did recall hearing, as the lights went up, one matron in the row in front of us repeating to her partner over and over again, "no content; the play has no content."

She was wrong. In fact I think she may have been covering for her embarassment in being shocked by what was happening on stage. I cannot account for the reasons why so many others, like those two, failed to come back for the last 50 minutes of Christopher Shinn's "Where Do We Live." but the play making its U.S. premier at New York Theatre Workshop this month is definitely a serious container - of the relationships we all have with family, friends, lovers neighbors, strangers and, finally, the entire world.

He's good. He's very good.

Disclaimer: We stayed after the play for an audience discussion with the young playwright, so I may be a little ahead of the game. Here [the remaining] New Yorkers really redeemed themselves. I was blown away both by their theatre sophistication and by their obvious comfort in talking about some of the scenes and issues which had apparently caused our more prudish seatmates to flee the house, some only minutes after the play had begun. While there we were reminded that Shinn has been very fortunate in his teachers, who have included Maria Irena Fornes, Tony Kushner and Michael Cunningham. Whew.

September 11 plays a subtle, almost mute role in Shinn's drama, written in the months after the destruction of the towers which had stood in sight of his apartment on the Lower East Side. Don't concentrate too much on the dates projected on the back wall. The story which unfolds inside two neighboring apartments in a tenement abandoned by Giuliani's Republican idea of New York is that of nine barely-related people struggling with all human connections, even those they would prefer to ignore.

The energetic young cast, some doubling, tripling or even quadrupling roles, was magnificent. Shinn is directing a play for the first time here, and he seems to know what he's doing. The set and the costumes were a perfect match with the lighting, which peformed small miracles reinventing rooms and scenes. The great sound design was an integral part of the characters' story, but it was just one of the many stimulants in which they indulged, just like real.

"Where Do We Live" opened in London at the Royal Court in 2002 and opens here officially this Sunday, May 9. Performances run only through May 30. If you're not bored with youth, New York, sex, drugs or rock and roll, or indeed with relationships, you're more than welcome to do something about changing the audience demographic responsible for the empty seats we saw later last night.

[image is not from the play, but rather from Mark Allen's site, where it is described as "the confines of my super-exciting NYC Lower East Side apartment"]

Ashraf Abu-elhaje, shown here in the childrens' theatre of the Jenin refugee camp in 1996, was its most impressive student. At the time he dreamed of a future as the “Palestinian Romeo.” Six years later Ashraf led a large group of fighters in the battle of Jenin. He was killed by a rocket fired from a helicopter.

We went to see "Arna's Children" at the Tribeca Film Festival yesterday afternoon. It is the only TFF program we expect to see, so it's clear we had already thought it was important before we knew a great deal about it. We had heard of it through an email sent by the generous Israeli artist, filmmaker and activist Udi Aloni, who had extended an invitation to gather with others for a reception in his studio after the screening.

ARNA'S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna comes from a Zionist family and in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis. On the West Bank, she opened an alternative education system for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. The theatre group that she started engaged children from Jenin, helping them to express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear. Arna's son Juliano, director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin's theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. Now, he goes back to see what happened to them. Yussef committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin, Alla leads a resistance group. Juliano, who today is one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years ago, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

We stayed in the theatre for the generous Q&A which immediately followed the film. Only when the lights went up did we notice that Jeffrey Wright and Glenn Close were also in the audience. We were impressed with their commitment, whether professional or human, but not more than we were with the fact that the festival director was there. Peter Scarlet is responsible for this very large operation showing a number of films simultaneously in widely-spread venues, but he was there to announce the picture and stayed with the filmmakers throughout the discussion after, eventually participating in it.

Even for people who think of themselves as pretty familiar with the issues and the reality of the subject of this magnificent documentary, the film was shattering, and the emotional experience was only made more distressing by a number of things we heard from the director and producers after. One of the revelations was that of all the little boys who had grown up working with Arna in her theatre group, only one survives today.

We were both made physically sick by the emotions tapped that afternoon, and we agreed together that we were unable to imagine going anywhere at that moment, even to be among people who would understand what we were feeling.

There is almost certainly no reason to think that the insanity and horror being visited upon "the other" in the Middle East will end in our time. Films like this may occasionally awaken hope that, were enough people able to see it, the revelation of the humanity and misery of our victims would be sufficient to make us all intelligent peacemakers. This film could change the world, but, except for the incredibly small number already pretty much aware of what's going on, people will not see it. If we survive our times, "Arna's Children" may some day be seen in the same way we see the evidence of other monstrosities, like "The Diary of Anne Frank" - after the fact, but with great reverence.

I'm very sorry, but I see no reason to be optimistic about the possibility that the people of this country or of its client Israel will regain consciousness and reason in time to avoid even the destruction of their own societies, to say nothing of the mortal damage being done to those of others.

Ok, maybe I'm just depressed today. Ask me how I feel about it tomorrow.

[image from the Arna site]

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from May 2004.

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