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The Empty Lot

rirkrit-tiravanijaI live across the street from an empty lot—two, actually. The first (let’s call it “Lot A”) is directly across the street and faces the front entrance to my apartment building. For twenty years it has been advertised as the site of a new coop building project. The ramshackle and weather-beaten plywood barrier that fronts the property is “secured” by a chained link gate with huge gaps on either side where people can, and do, enter.

The second lot (“Lot B”) is on a side street. From my fourth floor perch I look down on its cement perimeter with the embedded metal fence that marks an intended outdoor parking lot. At the front, a paved drive barely makes it past the padlocked gate before fading to dirt road and grass. In the middle of Lot B there are several mature of trees and scattered weed-bushes. Someone mows the abundant grass regularly. Continue Reading »

Sounds carry historical and political significance, even when they are intended as pure entertainment. Alternative meanings shimmer just beneath the surface as accepted meanings—safer meanings—give way to the attentive listener. Consider the sound of fireworks. According to Wikipedia, fireworks “were originally invented in ancient China in the 12th century to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.”

In the twenty-first century, fireworks and other forms of explosive entertainment continue to fulfill their ancient mandate to scare away “evil spirits.” When we pack a blanket and join our family and friends on the beach to experience the fireworks, we banish loneliness, depression and tiredness, as well as our anxieties about the economy, our worries about the country’s values and the concerns we have about the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Continue Reading »

sebastian-brajkovic1The digital world and the actual world can bleed into each other in mind-bending ways. A recent example: the furniture sculpture of Sebastian Brajkovic. His chairs are planted solidly in the physical world yet appear to morph, at light speed, into virtual objects. In some ways this blurring / merging / mashing of staticness with motion can be traced back to the Futurists. They attempted to capture the mechanical speed of modern life in paintings and sculptures. Futurist artists were galvanized not only by first-hand experiences of speedy 20th century living, but also by its representation in movies and photographs. As a child of the 21st century, Brajkovic references computer-generated imagery. Though anchored in “meat space” by needle-stitched embroidery, fine fabrics and ponderous bronze frames, his chairs are transformed by our shared experience of the ephemeral digital trace. As to the usefulness of a Brajkovic chair for the purposes of sitting, who cares?

Photograph from Sebastian Brajkovic’s site.

Cupcake Cutie.

thiebaud_cakesA commercial display of baked goods is an art form built on the strategic use of separation.

Example: We step from the mean streets of our little town or big city into a store scented with vanilla, cinnamon and coffee, pull a tiny paper ticket from a stingy red dispenser and read the number that tells us… nothing, really, except that we must be patient. We are. We take our place among the many suitors craning to see the confectionery vision laid before us. Glittering gustatorial gems are staged in Busby Berkeley arrangements on gold foil laminated cardboard platters and white paper doilies.

When we finally reach the front of the line we bend down to peer through the glass encasement—the border fence, the high wall between us and our object of desire. Trays and rows of frosted, sprinkled, drizzled, confettied, and powdered morsels tease our eye and our pallet. Continue Reading »

Diner Semiotics.

n516515620_8993I took this photograph with my cell phone a couple of months ago, at a local Staten Island diner. It is not an unusual scene in a diner. The monster cookies. I was enamored of their inflated forms piled high on a metal pedestal. Who eats these cookies? Does anyone? Does anyone eat the lemon meringue pies with the fake egg white swirl that’s higher than Elvis’ hair? I’ve never seen a person eat a slice from one of those pies. Do the same cookies and pies stay in their respective spots, uneaten, forever? Are they immortal props that complete the “authentic” diner experience? Maybe they were bought 25 years ago when the diner first opened and have stuck around ever since — dusted occasionally — along with the framed first fiver over the cashier’s counter. Continue Reading »

coleI’m planning my first visit to the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, so I checked out their web site. Happily, the museum is featuring one of Dave Cole’s American flags. Cole is a conceptual artist whose work is as strong on social and political commentary as it is on celebrating the physical side of art making. He is best known for his startling reinventions of the American flag. For instance, “Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers)” is made entirely from red, white and blue “troops”; a bristling thicket of tiny soldiers that turn the American flag’s design into manufactured postures of war.

The Aldrich will be displaying Cole’s “Flags of the World.” “Flags of the World” is zigzag stitched from the red, white and blue scraps cut from 192 flags that represent the countries who are United Nations members. Continue Reading »

Call Center Drama

call-cuta-in-a-box-rimini-apparatI entered into the wrong room at the ornate Goethe Institut across from the Metropolitan Museum on 5th Avenue. I waited for the phone call that was apparently originating from a call center from India — a reversal of the dynamic in which one’s call to a U.S.-based corporation is rerouted to a cubicle located in India or elsewhere.

Perhaps it was deliberate on my part as I am more than reluctant to go to theatre pieces that rely on audience participation. I find them contrived, a kind of theatrical mad-libs: the audience is only there to fill in the blank, providing the performance with a verb, a noun, an adverb but never really guiding or transforming the narrative. I am fine with the fourth wall, and I like my experimentation on stage, not in blurring the distinction between performer and ticket-buyer.

But I’m a media studies person and a friend recommended the piece, regrettably entitled “Call Cutta in a Box.” The “intercontinental phone play” is devised by the German troupe Rimini Protocoll in collaboration with the Callcenter Descon Center Limited in Kolkata, India and coproduced in New York by the Under the Radar Festival and the Public Theatre. Continue Reading »

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