Nov 29, 2006

"Talk among yourselves" [LINK]

Fresh after reviewing the last one, Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt details another highly thematic and category-bending performance, titled "Witness Relocation's Dancing vs. the Rat Experiment," which she somewhat impatiently refuses to evaluate on its choreographic merits:

[Artistic director Dan] Safer's subject is a big dire one: the effect of overpopulation on human behavior. He tackles this Malthusian quandary by the extended metaphor of confinement and crowding among lab rats (we learns about the rats' problems through voice-overs by Richard Armstrong and occasional speeches by the onstage performers). "The show might be about the end of the world," announces Safer....

The "experiment" progresses via encounters in a ballroom, a prizefight ring, a soap opera, and on a game show. Winners and losers are announced; so is the real passing time.... [T]he recorded soundtrack starts emitting thunderous rhythms, and the performers, numbers on their backs, are ordered into paired rock scissors-paper contests. A bucket descends from overhead so they can scrub their faces....

People's behavior becomes increasingly odd. I think I noted Abby Browde (clad in a puffy blue sort-of tutu) licking the floor. Randy Thompson is seized by a fit of leaping. Sean Donovan whispers conspiratorially to the audience and then goes nuts. Safer and Heather Christian embrace and dance, but when the music ends, they're kissing frantically with one or the other's hands placed between their mouths ("Lighten up there!" calls Stinger from the back of the space).

Amid the music, shifting lights, spoken information about stressed-out rats, printed signs, and physical exertion, the theater becomes an increasingly littered and disrupted recreation room. Perhaps these people have been dumped here so that behavioral scientists (us?) can examine them through one-way glass. Hostilities build. Emmitt George almost strangles Safer, scrubs the floor with him, and drags him crying away. The "soap opera" details through narration and action how a man leaves his wife for another man. In other words, the mating habits of rats are thrown off course through a deteriorating environment. Mothers kill their young (Stinger picks up a baseball bat and brains the invisible wailing baby she's been rocking).

Then, in one of the show's many abrupt changes, the cast cleans up the mess, and we're advised, "Talk among yourselves."

I understand that to evaluate the content of artistic works strictly in logical terms is to miss the point. Still, I do believe we just witnessed the suggestion that overpopulation may cause homosexuality.

Nov 27, 2006

Every little bit helps [LINK]

From a listing of scholarships tracked by FinAid, a financial aid information site:

The Duck Brand Duct Tape Stuck on Prom Contest is open to students age 14 years or older who are attending a high school prom in the spring. US citizenship is required. Entrants must enter as a couple (two individuals) and attend a high school prom wearing complete attire or accessories made from duct tape. The submission must include a color photograph of the couple together in prom attire. The first place prize consists of a $3,000 scholarship for each member of the winning couple and a $3,000 cash prize to the school that hosted the prom. Other prizes include $2,000 for second place, $1,000 for third, and Duck Tape sportswear for honorable mentions. The winning couple will be selected based on a variety of criteria, including originality, workmanship, quantity of Duck Tape used, use of colors, and creative use of accessories. The Duck Tape contest web site includes photographs of the winning costumes.

Nov 23, 2006

Unacceptable Usage [LINK]

There is no excuse for referring to a "woman candidate." Is there any such thing as a "man nurse"?

Free Speech is Dangerous [LINK]

Well, this letter aroused me from the tryptophan stupor. My response:

Writing on behalf of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Donald Gorton says "a principal reason why the anti-marriage amendment is inappropriate for a popular vote" is that by merely discussing the idea, homophobes may be emboldened to attack gays. This is utter hogwash. We do not let thugs, or fear of thugs, run our democracy. It would have been equally valid to stifle debate over the Voting Rights Act during the 1960s over fear of how white racists might react. The amendment may succeed or fail on its merits, but don't listen to anyone who says we should be afraid to discuss it.

UPDATE: It made it, in the customary slightly altered form. I'm particularly amused by the rather vague term "marriage equality," which only uses words with positive connotations, much like "pro-choice."

Nov 22, 2006

On "Meeting Peter Singer" [LINK]

Aaron Swartz recounts his brief encounter with the animal rights theorist and medical ethicist Peter Singer at a vegetarian gathering, in a post that prompted a few thoughts:

  1. To be "dragged to the Boston Vegetarian Festival," I have to assume a girlfriend is in some way involved.

  2. In the sentence after Aaron describes Singer's "thoughtfulness and clarity of mind," we learn that he wears "thoughtful glasses," kind of like those of Noam Chomsky. How do the glasses you wear affect the quality of your thought? Unfortunately for me, I don't even wear glasses, so I have to do other things to make myself seem intelligent!

  3. I'm not sure if the term "vegetarianism" (as Aaron uses it) matches the simple practice of not eating meat, which does not imply an endorsement of animal rights. There are of course other reasons for adhering to a vegetarian diet, such as health concerns and religious-inspired self-abnegation. What I find most interesting is that no culture (that I know of) enforces a taboo against eating meat. Thus to be a vegetarian for any reason is to consciously join a subculture.

  4. While not intimately familiar with Singer's work, I tend to doubt he adheres to the idea of "animal rights" as such. Could be wrong, but I understand his stance to be more along the lines that if you detect a choice between killing an animal and not killing an animal, choosing the latter means less pain and suffering overall in the world, and is thus preferable. Whatever the merits of that idea, it entirely concerns the motivations and choices of humans and does not require recognizing independent "rights" on the part of animals.

  5. I'm deeply amused that members of the audience at a vegetarian gathering would be "scandalized" at the thought that Singer would consume non-vegan food under certain circumstances, but that (at least in Aaron's account) there was no mention of Singer's approval of targeted infanticide. Similarly, when Aaron says "the one thing bugging me about Singer" was his "Darwinian Left stuff," I assume he's aware of that controversial stance as well.

  6. I believe Aaron was entirely on the right track with his devil's advocate argument: Should we also stop animals from eating each other? (I've asked much the same question: if animals have rights, does that mean I'd frequently need to bail my cat out of jail?) Unlike Aaron, I'm utterly unimpressed with Singer's answer: We would if we knew how to do so without making things worse and disturbing the ecosystems and so on.

    Dwell on that confounding bit of nonsense for a moment. Regardless of how cruel we humans are to livestock and animals used in medical tests, it is insignificant in the face of the cruelty animals constantly inflict on each other in nature. Singer would have us exert effort to protect animals from one another, but only if we had the required knowledge to do so. That's disingenuous: no amount of knowledge on our part would maintain a vegetarian diet among creatures like sharks to begin with, so clearly we are deep in the realm of fantasy. That aside, even if we were somehow able to keep them from eating one another, it would be undesirable because it would damage "ecosystems."

    Either that means such an effort ultimately hurts animals, or that these abstractions we call "ecosystems" enjoy their own independent set of rights, including the right not to be disturbed. The latter is too wacky for even me to contemplate; ecosystems not only don't have rights, they perpetrate unthinkable cruelty, so maybe we should be disturbing them in the interest of animal rights. But if we did, we would cause a cascading series of problems, not the least of which would be extinctions on a massive scale, perhaps including our own. So instead I have to conclude that taking animal rights seriously runs contrary to animals' overall interests. Fancy that.

    I've long been fascinated at the argument by animal rights adherents that animals should be treated just like humans. It's ironic that in practice, this means grafting anthropocentric notions onto them. The debate about animal rights takes place solely among humans, and that should tell you all you need to know. A cat shows no sign of believing the mouse she is tormenting has any rights, or that she herself has rights, so who are we to insist otherwise, contrary to nature... er... the "ecosystem"? Singer's suggestion that we should even entertain the fantasy of protecting animal rights in any coherent way has more to do with his own moral vanity than with any real appreciation for these creatures.

With that off my chest, I must now assist in preparing turkey.

Dance, Sucka! [LINK]

From a Village Voice dance review by Deborah Jowitt:

In the most cryptic moment of David Dorfman's overwhelming and challenging Underground, Jennifer Nugent says to Karl Rogers, "I don't know how to be. Should I . . . ?" Here she lashes herself into a rage, hurtling to the floor and up again -- body as incoherent weapon. "Or should I . . . ?" Now her fury is bottled up, seething through her tense, shaking body.

Underground poses very large questions. What is the difference between a terrorist and an activist? When is violence justified, and to what extent? Dorfman's controversial remarks to the audience weigh his admiration for the daring and courage of the militant Weathermen (a '60s and '70s offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society) against the Weathermen's selective use of violence....

Underground expresses in words and movement his distress over American citizens' apathy in the face of political corruption and threats of terrorism. Patrick Ferreri recounts a journey from impotent anger to no longer caring. Nugent delivers a terrorist's scary justification: "If I kill one person," she says, "I could save three people." She multiplies this flawed ratio into billions of dead and, with a pointing finger, includes us among them....

After almost 50 minutes, the dancing, questions, screams, crashes, and bursts of light die down to reveal Poulson frozen in the lunge-with-fist pose. Nugent, Poerstel, and Tucker try to figure out what he represents -- a monument to what? Their conversation and some of what follows is a little heavy-handed....

I appreciate the "journey" to "no longer caring," for I have made a similar journey.
Welcome, Dr. Sanity readers.

Nov 17, 2006

A tertiary use for a curling iron [LINK]

That is, its stated use is secondary, while its role in a thought-provoking work of art is tertiary. This is from a notice, by the Village Voice's R.C. Baker, concerning a showing by Laurel Nakadate at New York's Mary Boone Gallery:

Part of the group show "Heartbreaker," Nakadate's excruciating video is a faux-autobiographical snuff film. The artist went to the apartments of various men to act out twisted fantasies: She becomes a salacious model, bending and twisting for her beefy director; through cans connected by a string, another man promises to tie her up and says he wants to stick a curling iron in her ass. Sometimes she wields a gun, ordering her co-stars to beg for their lives. And then there's the scene in which she pretends to shoot herself--as she writhes on the ground in slow motion, blood squibs dribbling, her death throes elicit applause from leather-clad bikers.
Based on her similar "standout" showing at 2005's "Greater New York" exhibition, fellow Village Voice critic Jerry Saltz identified an obligatory feminist undercurrent to Nakadate's work:
On the Heterosexual planet men rule through a combination of upper-body strength, institutionalized discrimination, hogwash, and sheer arrogance. Women are always in danger. Nakadate isn't, at least not in her work. She clearly chooses her subjects as carefully as they choose her. She could never do this with "normal" predators. If a young male artist preyed on women this way he'd risk being kicked out of the art world. Either way, Nakadate exploits female sexuality as ruthlessly as any man.

In Where You'll Find Me she acts out suicide scenarios. We see her "dead" in various locales. Here, Nakadate represents primal neediness, the fantasy of "They'll know how much they love me when I'm gone." Then out of nowhere and completely anomalously, she suddenly comes close to the camera, looks from side to side, pulls her shorts to the left, stands, and pees while looking directly at you. It's weird and very feral. In Love Hotel, a similarly narcissistic and conflicted caprice unfolds as Nakadate writhes almost naked on various beds. As alone and pitiable as the men, she's seeing what she would look like if she could actually be with a real person. It's onanistic exhibitionism, very peculiar, strikingly devoid of real feeling, and disquieting.

And so on... If you happen to swing by the Mary Boone Gallery to catch the "Heartbreaker" show (until December 16), here's some information on the other artists' work:
Rashawn Griffin's sculptural installation "Untitled (fort)", 2006, is composed of bed sheets, stained blanket scraps, found fabric, orphan socks, a pillow, and a stuffed toy. Like a child's blanket fort, or an abandoned shelter, Griffin's work is melancholic, offering up fragments of a personal albeit nameless history that encourages reflection of our own past....

Kate Gilmore is the sole protagonist of a dangerous line-up of hilariously reckless performances. Assuming the roles of many different female stereotypes, Gilmore creates makeshift environments that act as sets and props for a mélange of wacky riffs on daily life. In the sixteen-minute video, "Heart Breaker", 2004, Gilmore, dressed in her Sunday best, takes an ax to a larger-than-life-size heart made from scraps of plywood. With each swing, fake blood oozes down the side and splashes her hair, face and pretty dress. In "With Open Arms", 2005, a six-minute video, Gilmore wears a lilac cocktail dress, flashes a beaming smile and spreads her arms out wide to signal the denouement of an imaginary performance. The invisible audience responds by hurling tomatoes at her face. With each repeated gesture, the intensity of the pummeling escalates, but Gilmore retains her smile. do we all.

Nov 7, 2006

Three Glimpses of Contemporary Theater [LINK]

From a review of Go East, Young Girl, by Village Voice theater critic Garrett Eisler, November 7, 2006:

Is Bhutan a blue state? Ask Mary, a widowed mom quietly living the red-state life in an increasingly yuppified New England exurb when a Bush-hating neighbor starts tempting her teenage daughter with dreams of escape -- either to the Orient or that other exotic locale, Columbia University. Why would anyone waste time and money going to either, Mary asks, as both her kids suffer the stifling consequences of Mom's closed-minded class-bound desperation.

Daisy Foote's Bhutan superbly documents the toll taken on the blue-collar family in the age of Nickel and Dimed America. Mary used to work at a bank but now wears a Star Market checkout-lady badge; she sees economic salvation in selling her father's property to a McMansion developer....

Another review from the same issue, this one by Andy Propst, concerning a drama titled Fare Minded:
Pervez (Debargo Sanyal), a Pakistani engineer working in Manhattan as a cab driver, jokes that he's funnier in English than he ever was in Urdu. It's not surprising that his sense of humor has evolved, albeit bitterly. The FBI raided his home and took his brother Nawaz (Aladdin Ullah). Before coming to this country, his wife left him because he wasn't religious enough, and here, Barb (Annie McNamara), a Christian sent to Manhattan to proselytize, has no compunction about kissing him when drunk or sleeping in his cab when locked out of her mission but, ultimately, won't become involved with him because of his religion. Pervez arrived in the States fearful of African Americans; ironically, his only real friend is Nate (Edwin Lee Gibson), a black homeless man living at Port Authority on the corner where Nawaz used to sell newspapers, which he stuffed with pamphlets about Islam.

Playwright Mike Batistick combines issues of religious intolerance, bigotry, and the Patriot Act in a dark comedy that's as aimless as a cab driver cruising for a fare....

And another, this one by Angela Ashman, concerning a play titled Pictures of an Exhibitionist:
In Victoria Stewart's smart, thought-provoking drama, an African American lesbian performance artist interviews a porn star for her latest documentary theater piece on social injustice and winds up questioning the exploitative nature of her own work. Like Anna Deavere Smith, Sarah Brown (the talented Pamela Hart) mimics the movement and language of her subjects onstage....

Stewart's razor-sharp and often humorous dialogue explores the porn industry in an "everything you always wanted to know about a sex worker but were afraid to ask" fashion, from the objectification of women to faking orgasms. Unable to believe Sonia's claim that she enjoys being an "exhibitionist," Sarah pressures her for sob stories about her childhood and ultimately portrays her as a one-dimensional victim of an abusive father. Sarah feels no guilt about selling out Sonia (wonderfully acted by Jenny Maguire) for the sake of her art until her assistant, a doctoral candidate, turns the tables and interviews Sarah ... A surprise twist at the end involving a tape recorder and Sarah's secret desire for Sonia makes for a steamy, shocking conclusion.

11/22 UPDATE: The oblique reference to Nickel and Dimed, by the way, is to the book of the same name by Barbara Ehrenreich, a chronicle of the difficulties the journalist encounters when posing for extended periods as a low-skill worker. The absurdity of the book's premise becomes transparent before you get to the end of the first sentence:
Mostly out of laziness, I decide to start my low-wage life in the town nearest to where I actually live, Key West, Florida...

Gender is whatever you say it is [LINK]

New York City is considering a plan to let people change the sex specified on their birth certificate, regardless of whether they've had sex reassignment surgery.

(via Althouse)

Nov 2, 2006

"Balls-out beauty" [LINK]

From a review, by the Village Voice's R.C. Baker, of Robert Colescott's offerings at New York's Kravets Wehby Gallery:

Seven feet high, The Sphinx Speaks (1993) portrays men, women, and a skeleton in jagged magenta-and-black stripes. A small, naked white male whispers devilishly into the ear of black minstrel-like man who has huge white eyes, thick pink lips wrapped around a cigar, and is wearing a red-and-blue-striped tie that counterpoints a rainbow in the opposite quadrant of the canvas. Second Thoughts on Eternity (1991) includes a golden Anubis (Colescott once studied and taught in Egypt); a smiling, bearded white Godhead; a frowning, white-bearded black man; and, prominently, a chick with a dick. These complex paintings offer enigmatic tales to be unraveled and righteous polemics to be considered, while transcending their outrageousness with balls-out beauty.
More information on another gallery offering at LMAK Projects, featuring the artist Liselot van der Heijden:
This artist from the Netherlands is as outraged by the Bush administration as many Americans. You enter the gallery by pushing aside a glowing scrim on which a snake winding and unwinding inside a white box is projected; a second video features two white mice skittering around an apple. A real-time feed from a tiny surveillance camera creates a third projection, adding the viewer's image to these symbols of sin and curruption. A nearby TV plays a loop of the president's State of the Union speeches, edited so the word evil is proclaimed over and over again and closing with "God is near." Even more frightening than the commander in chief's biblical absolutism is the thunderous applause it evokes.
Also, Joel-Peter Witkin is showing at the Keith de Lellis Gallery:
Witkin's photographic grotesqueries channel the classical past: A beautiful woman with amputated arms becomes a modern Venus de Milo, accessorized with bra and pet dog; Queer Saint (1999) imagines an arrow-pierced human skeleton topped by an animal skull, the only flesh a large, drooping penis. With their distressed, stained backgrounds, these black-and-white prints feel like daguerreotype curiosities, and Witkin's staging of nudes (some with grievous wounds) amid flowing fabrics and vaguely exotic trappings recalls the DIY tableaux vivants of East Village theater genius Jack Smith.
What is left unstated is that Witkin customarily uses corpses as his subjects.
Welcome, Dr. Sanity readers.

Nov 1, 2006

"I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy" [LINK]

At this point, he's insulting everyone's intelligence. My latest letter to the Globe:

I believe Senator Kerry when he says he botched a joke that was intended to disparage the intelligence of President Bush rather than our troops in Iraq. Still, I'm fascinated at his belligerant refusal to apologize for that remark. Kerry now argues that prominent Republicans are distorting his statement, apparently by ignoring what he meant to say, instead relying on what he actually did say. Kerry also accuses the White House of using the controversy to change the subject away from the administration's Iraq policy, which itself is a tactic to shift attention from his indefensible remark. Is this the sort of silliness we can expect from a president who claims to be more intelligent than Bush?
As for the last sentence, I believe the only reasonable interpretation of his refusal to back down is to demonstrate his toughness to skeptical Democrats as part of a 2008 presidential run.
11/02 UPDATE: Now he gets it.
11/02 UPDATE: Wait a minute, no he doesn't! What's this "my words were misinterpreted" business? I assume that, unlike the original "joke," Kerry had to focus his mind closely on the task of crafting a suitable apology. Can I then take his failure to understand the difference between a misinterpretation and a misstatement as an example of his intellectual capacity?