YOUR input here. By prose or by verse, please write a caption for our newest Shutter INK photo. (Photo: K. Cecchini)
Text by K. Cecchini
Come As You Are: Art of the 1990’s
Montclair Art Museum (MAM): Now-May 17, 2015
If Pearl Jam, Wu Tang and, of course, Nirvana, are now considered classics, then I suppose the nineties is now ripe for retrospect. Alexandra Schwartz takes on the decade through art created between the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and 9/11 (2001). As Montclair Art Museum’s first contemporary art curator, Schwartz brings the prestige of debuting an exhibit to the New Jersey suburb that is not only ambitious in its scope but is also hailed as the “first major historical survey of art of the 1990’s”.
Come as You Are
Graduating from high school in 1997, the nineties was my coming-of-age period. I was seeking out my identity while steeped in the decade’s “sense of melancholy and loss” as described on the placard for Elizabeth Peyton’s elegy painting of Nirvana’s Kirk Cobain.
Now, steeped in nostalgia as a thirty-something, I was excited to examine the art of my era at MAM Member’s Preview on Saturday night. Having confronted the culture through other media at the time, it felt as if it was rounding out my own appreciation for the decade Schwartz refers to as “watershed” while perusing the pieces.
Borrowing its name from the Nirvana’s 1991 hit, Come as You Are is divided chronologically into 3 sections that each wrestle with love and angst on three fronts; the politics of identify, globalization and the digital revolution. Ultimately, the exhibit provides insight into how artists were reflecting and reacting to the social, political and economic upheavals at the wrap of the millennium.
Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be…
Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach, as I want you to be
As a trend, as a friend as an old memoria, memoria, memoria…”
Partly because I was a teenager seeking out my own identify during the nineties and partly because I was hyperaware of friends and other contemporaries struggling with identities inherently outside the mainstream, I was particularly fascinated by this thread in the exhibit.
For instance, Catherine Opie’s early nineties’ photographs documented figures who asserted their countercultural identity through body piercings and tattoos before body art became more ubiquitous and less “alternative”.
Although, “alternative” was a cultural notion that was prized in lifestyle and music and represented in style, it became commercially popularized and repackaged. Whether focused on the alternative styles of the era or other stereotypes, some of the curated artwork provokes typecasts.
A dominating piece, Lockhart’s large-scale chromogenic print features a young man standing before a window that reflects his high-rise hotel room and overlooks an urban landscape that lacks any indication of place; his generic surroundings appear to simultaneously echo and contrast his ‘alternative’ grunge style.
Appropriately, in this photo from the opening, the bean bag sitting area in front of Alex Bag’s video is layered in a reflection on the photo frame’s glass. In it, the artist assumes various typified roles reflective of her recent experience in art school that with a nod to the “‘head and shoulders, confessional shots'” that was infused into the emerging reality television genre.
Furtheirng the push back on conventions, Nikki S. Lee not only defied perceptions based on physical appearance but extended the conversation to more hardened stereotypes. In her late nineties self-portraits, the Korean-American artist costumed herself to match a variety of American typecasts including a pierced and dyed punk, a bikini-topped Latina and a white trash women under a Dixie flag. “By morphing through these disparate identities, Lee examines issues of gender, race, and class, while demonstrating the arbitrariness of these stereotypes.”
Given the dialogue and smart phone photographs around it, was Mendi + Keith Obadike’s “Blackness for Sale”, may have been the most popular piece of the night. Among one of the first viral phenomenon on the internet, Obadike infused a provocative conversation starter on racism into Ebay’s digital, global marketplace. Within the “Products Description,” the seller guarantees a Certificate of Authenticity and provides pointed “Benefits”: i.e.
7. This Blackness may be used for securing the right to use the terms ‘sista’, ‘brotha’, or ‘nigga’ in reference to black people. (Be sure to have certificate of authenticity on hand when using option 7).” and “Warnings” such as “1. The Seller does not recommend that this Blackness be used during legal proceedings of any sort.”
Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend, as an old enemy
Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours, don’t be late…
Of course, I may be biased, but this is a fascinating retrospective. Come for the art, come for the history or come for the bean bags chairs…
Text by K. Cecchini/Images by Margeaux Walter
Do commercial objects act as props in our life stories or are we Becoming them? Margeaux Walter continues an exploration of our relationship with the commercial world via an interactive public art project in Queens and her solo exhibit at Chelsea’s Winston Watcher Gallery.
“Keep Calm & Get Jiggy”
14×48’s latest billboard by Margeaux Walter: Greenpoint Ave & 46th Street, Queens, NY
Tweet your Keep Calm message #keepcalm14x48
First conceived of as World War II propaganda, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters encapsulated the British crown and the stolid personality of his subjects.
Seventy-five years later the slogan has been appropriated with fill-in-the-blank varieties ad nauseam for advertising campaigns, T-shirts, mugs and a myriad of memes on social media. Each version purports everything from self-empowerment to a celebration of the utterly mundane.
So what did Ms. Walter do?
By way of 14×48.org, she bombarded a Sunnyside, Queens billboard with an image that crams layers of ‘Keep Calm’ slogans. Its composition reflects the slogan’s wear and tear; the photograph is literally littered with ‘Keep Calm’ bills pasted over more tattered bills and a pasted photograph of a figure that lies in relief under them as if suffering death by the chaos of calm.
Some of the posters Ms. Walters designed for her photograph include these fill-in-the-blank messages: “…Test On,” “…Blog On” and my favorite, “Follow the White Rabbit”.
It is particularly apropos that 14×48.org repurposed the vacant ad space into her canvas as Ms. Walter is interested in sparking conversations about how advertising language infiltrates our interpersonal communications. With this constant barrage from the advertising world, we are constantly perceiving ad information on a subconscious level and, as is the aim of advertising, the messages pervades our lives at every level.
To further engage the community in the dialogue, people are invited to tweet their own ‘Keep Calm” slogans to #keepcalm14x48; the adapted slogans are printed on postcards that are to be available across the street at Ave Coffee House for the duration of the display.
Ultimately, the artist hopes people will not only be able to “see how their own words fit into that template of advertising language,” but at the same time “kind of subvert it in a way to create their own messages”. In other words, it’s an opportunity to shape the words into a campaign representing the individual rather than the consumer.
On a side note, Ms. Walter identified “Keep Calm & Get Jiggy” as her favorite contribution because it made her smile as it is the most unusual one to emerge from the worn out template.
Now – FEBRUARY 28, 2015
Winston Wachter Gallery
530 W 25TH ST
NEW YORK, NY 10001
“Keep Calm” is among the images in Margeaux Walter’s solo exhibit which opened in January. Each of the 6 photos and 9 lenticulars perpetuate the dialogue on how we as individuals are “consumed” by objects and our environment much in the same vein as her MFA thesis show.
Variants of another iconic campaign, “I❤️New York,” mummifies a new victim in T-shirts. Some of the shirts offer more simplistic messages like “I❤️MOM” or clever graphics – “I❤️Sushi” (with chopsticks sticking out of the heart), while others imbibe an ad within an ad such as “I (Adidas logo) ADIDAS”.
The lenticulars alternate between a stereotypical scene to a “psychological rendering of what is actually happening” or the characters being consumed/overwhelmed by the objects in the scene. For instance, one image portrays a family birthday celebration that morphs into a candy coated nightmare – and, incidentally, the dedicated artist’s apartment.
Additionally, the individual versus consumer commentary is quite poignantly presented in “Sunday Best,” which Ms. Walter shared was inspired by watching someone preoccupied with Snapchatting. With this in mind, the lenticular oscillates between a young woman who is posing for a selfie in her closet mirror and the woman knocked over by an avalanche of her own clothing.
Continuing her Becoming theme, Ms. Walter’s still photographs capture figures disguised in a natural setting such as a birch tree forest. At first look, it seems as if the image celebrates a union with nature but, upon reflection, it appears to be more of a reflection of our more stilted relationship with our environment. Ms. Walter’s clarified her conception, “The camouflaging is (us) trying to fit into an environment we no longer fit into,” and her use of faux nature props -like craft store birch tree peelings- in these images speaks to our level of disconnect with the Earth.
As always, Margeaux Walter orchestrates complex scenes in which she deftly plays most of the roles through costumes, her extensive wig collection and a range of expressions. With each series she appears to be fine-tuning the conceptual foundations in her exploration of the personal, the social and the cultural. So, if you want my advice, Keep Calm and Follow the Artist:
The official Margeaux Walter art site or Twitter: @xomx
Text by K. Cecchini @tonightatdawn/Images by WNYC’s New Tech City
Tonight at Dawn is growing and I am thrilled. All the same, I’m at odds with the process. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to grow TaD more, while another is to have less screen time.
I’m an oxymoron.
So, I welcome your ideas for the war on both fronts, while I share some of the things I am trying here:
📌Bored & Brilliant. This is for all of us who spend so much time in proximity to our phones that it begins to feel like a security blanket; I simply leave it at home sometimes when I go for a walk or at least leave it in the other room. With all the other devices. It helps me wean myself off of them and, according to WNYC’s New Tech City “Bored & Brilliant” challenge, it leaves more space in my brain for creativity.
📌Watched stats never grow. It’s motivating to see your own progress and reach, but just because I’m idle doesn’t mean I have to check stats or any of the other streams on my phone – Facebook, Twitter…I’m looking at you. A break, should be a break.
📌No screen-time before bedtime. There has been plenty of data that points to how viewing a screen before bed disturbs healthy sleep patterns. By the same token, although I use my phone as an alarm, I don’t need to do anymore with it than to shut it up when it wakes me up.
📌A little bit of the old school goes a long way. I am starting to grow my ideas more and more on paper-discarded notebooks-before moving to the computer. Not only does it reduce screen time, for me, it seems a change in medium helps to break my writer’s block. Perhaps paper and pencil also supports better developed planning as a 2008 Princeton journal study included evidence that people plan their writing more when given a paper task rather than a computer task.
📌Attack of the apps. Deleting apps, from games to the social media varieties, has helped free me from the screens; I am not a gamer so why am I getting sucked into Words with Friends on my phone? Also, if I have to log into sites such as Facebook, I know I am so much less likely to whittle away the minutes on it as opposed to having it ready on an app.
📌Push off. Push notifications irritate me. On that note, I’ve always only allowed them for text messages and telephone calls. Most of the apps that offer it are providing notifications of the most non-urgent updates. Not for nothing, Tonight at Dawn will survive even if I don’t respond to a comment for 2 hours. Forgive me, dear readers.
We began a regular photo post series, “Shutter INK,” that prompts our readers to write a caption for our featured photos by prose or by verse. Since then, we have received only one comment on our second post- and it left something to be desired. I suppose I would call that missing element enlightenment. But, as the Charlie Hebdo tragedy reminds us, free speech should be heralded even when it diverges from our own views.
So although I will not suppress the comment, I will exercise my power to contextualize it. Either the comment was a lame attempt at ignorant satire or, more likely, straight ignorant. The person wrote, “Just received my RAISE in my welfare obamamoney check, HALLELUJAH, glory be”. Not for nothing, poor mechanics and anonymity (screen name: “Al”) added to the class.
My question to “Al” is whether you would have been inspired to ascribe “welfare obamamoney” to the photo had the subject been Caucasian rather than an African-American woman? I assume the woman’s race also led you to include “HALLELUJAH, glory be”?
In essence, your ignorance only provides fodder for discussion.
Have we reached a post-racial United States?
I think not, “Al”.
Your Input Here.
We are going to post a daily image and ask YOU to provide the caption; a phrase, a sentence, paragraph, story, poem…it’s yours. The following day, underneath the new image, we will share a choice caption from our readers for the previous day’s image.