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For as long as I’ve been writing Culture Shock Art one of my biggest challenges involves whether I should write about work I have not seen in person.  In order to effectively write a piece about a specific piece of art you have to see it in person, otherwise you cannot bring a reader into the process of experiencing the art.  While this is true, I believe there is power in the second-hand account of a piece of art.  A first hand description of art can influence later interpretations for those that cannot experience the work in the flesh.  This week I saw a photo of “Disremembered”, by Doris Salcedo, a sculpture that illuminates the power of art to expose our blind spots.  Appreciating art involves us confronting those blind spots to find deeper, personal meaning in a piece and within ourselves. “Disremembered” addresses the painful legacy of gun violence and the lingering emotions and isolation felt by family members lost in its wake.  The gauzy, etherial, ghost-like appearance of the garment is a haunting reminder of lives lost and the shells of family members left behind.

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Doris Salcedo “Disremembered, I”, 2014. Photo Credit, Guggenheim, NYC

Seeing images of “Disrememebered” on Wednesday immediately exposed the realities of how gun violence impacted my family recently.  It has been a little over a year since the murder of one of my cousins, Inity Morrow.  When she was a young girl her mother made the difficult decision to have her children raised by their Grandmothers.  My close cousin Will lived with his maternal Grandmother in Northern California and Inity moved to Indianapolis, IN to live with her paternal Grandmother and as a result of this I lost touch with her.  As siblings my cousins Will and Inity became closer in adulthood.  Inity was preparing for a move to Atlanta to seek a new lease on life and amid the excitement and angst of making a major life change, one of her biggest supporters was her brother.  She was so close to that new beginning and realizing new possibilities for her life, but a man with a gun had other plans for the lives of Inity and her grandmother as he killed them in their home.  While the horror of this tragedy was directly suffered by Inity’s family in Indianapolis, the ripples of pain reverberated through her brother and eventually us.  The pain that was most assuredly a part of me was conveniently buried along with my lost cousin and the memory of her life faded into a statistic as another tragic footnote in a politicized national debate over gun control.  Just as my family’s contact with Inity faded many years ago when she moved away, the pain and guilt faded out of focus after her death.  Disremembered exposed my blind spots of not fully grappling with the grief of her loss, how it affected my cousin Will and my guilt in realizing I was not a part of her life; these buried emotions came to surface upon hearing the news of police shootings and the recent massacre in Charleston last month. Despite the numerous conversations I had with people about Charleston South Carolina, I had so many lingering, unprocessed emotions about violence, forgiveness, denial, accountability and the power of symbols in history.  It was difficult to put those feelings into words.  Even though I was physically detached from the Charleston 9, it was impossible for me to be emotionally detached from the pain of their families.  This tragedy illuminated the nation’s collective blind spots concerning racism and access to guns and it connected us to a level of pain that we either cannot process or choose to avoid. When we unpack these emotions, they have must have someplace to go. I think this speaks to the power of art to bring our emotion and empathy to the surface and the power of the written word to express that emotion.  President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinkney was a powerful demonstration of the transformative power of words to allow us to process grief. As he directly exposed our collective blind spots on race and gun violence, he simultaneously provided a catharsis required for us to collectively move forward. “For too long we have been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.”  ~President Barack Obama, Charleston In his call to action, the President encouraged us all to face the uncomfortable realities of prejudice and challenged us to do the hard work that lasting change requires. “It would be a betrayal of everything Pinkney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.” ~President Barack Obama, Charleston

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Detail of “Disremembered” by Doris Salcedo. Photo Credit: Doris Salcedo via the NYT

One interesting feature of the etherial garments in “Disremembered” is that they are composed of thin, black sewing needles, a detail that is not immediately apparent in photographs of the piece.  Neither the ghost of a painful memory, nor the legacy of tragedy do not simply fade without the specter of pain (visible and hidden).  Healing occurs when we expose that pain and transform it into something new, positive and constructive.

Doris Salcedo,

Doris Salcedo, “Plegaria Muda”, 2008-2010. Photo Credit: Guggenheim Museum, New York

Another piece from the Salcedo show at the Guggenheim is a memorial named “Plegaria Muda” (Mute Prayer).  The sculptor transformed tables into makeshift graves representing lives lost to gun violence in anonymity.  The inspiration for this memorial came to the artist after she visited women in Los Angeles who lost children to gun violence.  Salcedo, who hails from Columbia was not immune to the tragedies of gun violence and immediately saw parallels between the Los Angeles mothers and mothers in Columbia who lost their loved ones in internal conflict.  This memorial draws an important link between the tragedies of the past and our present realities.  In Friday’s eulogy the President pointed out another blind spot.  In tragic situations our eyes are forced open as we address extreme acts of violence that make media headlines, however there are countless lives lost to gun violence in the is nation that remain faceless and nameless.  Plegaria Muda exposes this notion of “repressed phantom grief” and attempts to re-sensitize viewers to it.

Doris Salcedo,

Doris Salcedo, “Plegaria Muda”, 2008-2010. Photo Credit: Guggenheim Museum, New York

While the work in Salcedo’s exhibit exposes painful tragedies, much like Obama’s eulogy, the blades of grass emerging from Plegaria Muda, give us a glimpse of life, promise, renewal and transformation. In memory of Inity Morrow, Julia Morrow, and the Charleston 9 Dedicated to the families living in the aftermath of gun violence.

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Last year I went to a meeting at the CleanTech Incubator near the L.A. river and I was surprised to see how much development has gone into the Arts District.  Over the last few months I’ve been getting acquainted to L.A.’s latest gentrified, “it” neighborhood.  Here’s what I LOVE about it:  The energy is phenomenal (I think that has to do with the fact that there are amazing coffee houses on every corner).  The murals are stunning.  The designers and artists that created this community (and lived here before it was trendy) are still here.

The Arts District is nearing a tipping point. The money has moved in but not the pretentiousness and congestion that plagues other nearby communities (sorry Silverlake and Atwater) and again, the bonus is that the artists are still hanging in.  It is my favorite neighborhood in L.A.

Here are some pics of my favorite spots:

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Gifts galore at Poketo

Gifts galore at Poketo

Click here for more pics on Steller.

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“I got fed up with hearing all these people, even Negroes, ask, “Why are those people rioting?”  My personal project was to show them why.  You have to know what they go through before you can understand why all the violence takes place…”

~ Gordon Parks

I love to collect art books that feature prominent photographers, so when I spotted a copy of Gordon Park’s “A Harlem Family” at the Art Forum Studio, I scooped it up excited to see this work.  When I cracked it open I was transported into the home and hearts of the Fontenelle family in Harlem.  Gordon Park’s photography and editorial commentary provided an important look into the complicated circumstances that plague our most impoverished cities (unemployment, prison, education, drugs and crime).

As a photographer for LIfe Magazine, Parks has an incredible talent for story telling that was so powerful and relatable; in this series it was an unprecedented piece of photojournalism.  The first half of the book shows plates/photographs of the Fontelelles, a family crippled by the ravishes poverty, deplorable living situations, sub-standard educational resources and unemployment.  The images are both beautiful and heart wrenching in their expressive way of inviting you into the family’s story.

IMG_1107 The second half of the book takes an unexpected turn into the final Life article complete with written copy by Parks along the edited layout of photographs.  The story of the family depicted in this story was soul stirring.

There so many layers to this story and the process of telling it. For starters, it was clear that Parks tore down professional walls as an objective observer recounting facts.  He befriended the family and engaged with them beyond the lens of the camera and he spent time with the family without the shield of a camera lens. In these moments he was able to connect to very personal characteristics of each family member.

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Photo Credit: The Gordon Parks Foundation c/o the Daily Mail.

The Fontenelle’s story is tragic and complex.  Parks was able to paint a complete picture of poverty and racism that invited readers into the story without being preachy or forcing them to come to a conclusion.

This book was published to accompany a 2012 exhibit by the Studio Museum of Harlem featuring this body of work and the story behind Parks’ creative process.

Of all of the art books sitting on my coffee table this one stands out as an incredible look into the ways journalism once built bridges to understanding instead of polarizing readers.

Photo Credit: Natural Hair Hats, Zazzle

Photo Credit: Natural Hair Hats, Zazzle

In 2015, “Cultural Appropriation” has replaced 2013’s “micro-aggression” as journalistic code for bias and ignorance. Notice I didn’t say racism, because in many cases I don’t think that cultural appropriation is deliberately borne out of racism, but it is certainly symptomatic of it. This week’s lesson in cultural appropriation came to us via Black Twitter and their strong reaction to a post by hair blog Mane Addicts, labeling this summer’s “it” hair style as “Twisted Mini Buns”, when in actuality they are Bantu Knots. To add insult to injury, Mane Addicts, in an attempt to lend fashion street cred to this proclamation, credited Marc Jacob’s Spring 2015 runway show as the originator of the look.  In actuality, Bantu Knots have been beautifully worn for centuries by African and African-American women across the diaspora.

The debate is a heated one that speaks to the cultural filters that we wear.  On one side you have folks that say that black people are too sensitive and feel that we are heaping a burden on everyone to properly credit cultural sources of trends in fashion and beauty, and on the other side we have black folks desperately trying to shed light on the sensitivity of the perverse forms of racism of a society that denigrates, surpresses, and ignore our beauty only to find it co-opted, repackaged and submitted to the masses as their own.

By no means am I saying that white women cannot rock bantu knots.  For me, the only thing Mane Addicts had to do was include a line citing the original source of the hairstyle.  Right or wrong, Black Twitter jumped on Marc Jacobs quicker than they did the originator of the article (and likely the originator of the style’s label).  Surprisingly Marc Jacobs has been conspicuously silent about the whole thing, which makes all of this problematic to me.

Jacobs is no stranger to artistic appropriation.  Art and design are so self referential that most works of art can be distilled to another.  When I think of this I am reminded of Marc Jacob’s 2013 show which featured an homage to Philip Glass.

Ultimately when a piece is inspired by another work of art it should inspire us to learn more about the original piece. (In my case, I sat through Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, when it was performed in Los Angeles. That was a 5 hour endeavor).

Sadly, as much as I enjoy Marc Jacobs artistry, three years ago I was perplexed by a visit I made to one of his bookstores and this Bantu Knot controversy immediately took me back to this puzzling memory.  I drafted a post about the event and never chose to post it until now. Again, the specter of cultural appropriation, ignorance and the sensitivity of trigger words illuminates the fact that this dynamic manifests itself in many ways.

ORIGINAL POST:  NOVEMBER, 2012

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            “Digitus Infamous”, Photo Credit: High Snobiety

I love bookstores and gift shops, so the idea of a Marc Jacobs inspired book store complete with art/fashion books, unique gifts, and accessories sounded like the perfect match for me.

I went there specifically asking for a photography book by one of my favorite street bloggers.   The sales associate nonchalantly replied that they didn’t carry the book–as if this question was annoyingly stupid and beneath her–after all, I was disturbing her hard at work (reading) and I was the only customer in there.

Despite my disappointment, I decided to browse for something else that might catch my eye.  No less than 30 seconds later I hear over speakers some yelling and the “N” word…twice.

I quickly shut the book and look behind me… the source of the yelling was coming from a mid-day screening of “Shaft” (It could have been”Superfly” or ‘Dolemite”; I’m not up on my 70’s Blaxploitation flicks).

If I’m hanging out in a bookstore, I’m not trying to hear all of this as part of my shopping entertainment-despite my being de-sensitized by an earlier viewing of RZA’s “Man With the Iron Fists” that afternoon.

The whole scenario just turned me off.  I pulled out every move from my heavy arsenal of passive aggressive tricks: slamming the book closed, shaking my head, giving the salesclerk EXTREME side eye while hightailing it outta there with a heavy sigh.

I’m a huge fan of Marc Jacobs and would really hope that he wouldn’t be cool with this (artistic expression or not), and a recent Pharrell book signing doesn’t give you a pass either.  So, I sadly have to give a big “Digitus Infamis” to BookMarc in West Hollywood for shopping experience that was a non-starter.

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In preparation for tomorrow’s 2015 Superscript conference on media and art criticism, the Walker Center has published a virtual interview series probing industry influencers to speculate on the future of arts journalism in an environment where access to and consumption of art has gone through a dynamic shift in the last 10 years.  The key questions:
“How will we be reading and writing about art in 10 years’ time, if we are at all?  How will changes in technology shift the work of critics, curators, arts reporters, and artists?”

Most of the interviewees provided astute commentary on the dynamics we currently face.  Arts journalism is on life support as journalists decide to either embrace or shun social media (embrace=engagement, shun=shilling your own work on Twitter).  The effective ones leverage and engage their networks including those that are outside the community.  At this point it should be no surprise that artists are turning to Instagram, Tumblr, Steller, Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat to engage their followers and future patrons directly.  This has clearly leveled the playing filed and has made art and artists much more accessible to the public.  That presents challenges to traditional media and journalists.  What’s next and how do writers integrate themselves into a more visual, attention challenged network?

In my 5 years of writing about art from the deliberate point of view of an outsider, I’ve learned three things:  1.  Art criticism and the digital dialog involving the art world is alienating, but it can also fall into some predictable traps.  2.  People have a strong desire to connect  3.  People connect through shared stories and experiences.  I’ve found that those shared stories are bridges to understanding art.  In an age of “museum selfies”, the art of celebrity and the lure of attention grabbing ledes, we are on the verge of a digital bubble.

Last week, while everyone was writing about Jay Z, receipts, Marina Abramovic, and Richard Prince, I was left wondering when someone was going to actually write about the Venice Biennale instead of Instagramming every moment of it. At some point there will be a reinvigorated demand for a deeper discourse from writers that acknowledge their growing audience.

It’s a lot like the resurgence of vinyl records.  I’m married to a music producer and on any given Saturday your chances of spotting us in a museum (for me) or record store (for him) is 50%/50%.  Ten years ago you would only find musicians or hardcore collectors in record stores.  Now you’re likely to bump elbows with teenagers on a date with no sense of the history and musicianship found deep in the grooves of those records.  There are crate diggers and casual collectors and between these enthusiasts; I see an opportunity to connect both groups using social media, video, writing, etc.  I think there’s a need for this voice in the art world, but the pendulum currently swings between sensationally trendy and intellectually alienating.

The satisfaction of clicks and likes is fleeting.  To look forward means that we have to dig deeper.  What do we do with all of those data points?  I think if we are going to speculate on the future of arts writing and changes in technology, the future lies in data.  Writers who can connect dots by analyzing trends in data and correlate them in artistic criticism, they can become digital guides.  This helps readers gain a deeper understanding of art and the broader context in which art is created.  A writer’s ability to interpret data and guide readers will undoubtedly help artists leverage the promotion of their work using social media.

I will nurse a raging case of FOMO as these issues are debated in Minneapolis over the next couple of days, but I look forward to the Walker continuing this dialog beyond the Superscript conference.

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Chris Burden’s work has become a permanent fixture in the creative landscape of Los Angeles.  While writing this blog over the years, Burden was revealed to me in many different forms.  The most obvious was from his signature massive installation of Urban Light, a sea of 202 1920’s street lamps that he sourced and refurbished since 2000 and later installed at LACMA in 2008.  HIs collection of these lamps originally began with the parts of 2 lamps he sourced at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market.  It’s a piece that has become indelibly linked to Los Angeles as a landmark, destination and cinematic backdrop.

When I was introduced to Chris Burden’s Performance Art work in 2012 at L.A. Raw I was amazed to see the disturbingly dark, destructive themes of his work during these years but when taken in context they reflect the challenges of the time in which they were created.

Perhaps what was pleasantly shocking to me was that one of Los Angeles’ beloved Pulitzer Prize winning food writers began his career as a performance artist assisting Chris Burden in the late ’70’s.  (Tangent: this story is a wonderfully hilarious and insightful tangent about performance art and the genesis of an unlikely friendship).

Metropolis II is a manic mesmerizing look at cars moving through this expansive labyrinth of roads and byways.  It is a fantastically captivating piece that inspired this rather corny 2012 piece I wrote about at self-driving cars and transportation in Los Angeles.

https://cultureshockart.wordpress.com/tag/metropolis-ii/

Los Angeles has celebrated his career in many different ways which expanded his reach to individuals who may not otherwise experience his work.  His influence and how his creativity has resonated with many.  Burden’s career was anything but predictable and he pushed many creative and personal boundaries.  His vision and creativity will be missed, but his legacy shines on.

Kahlil Joseph: Double Conscience

It’s a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” ~ W.E.B Du Bois

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For me, a great litmus test for a good piece of art is if it remains on your mind long after you experience it.  Last Friday I saw Kahlil Joseph’s “m.A.A.d” a short film featured in Double Conscience, which is the music video director’s debut exhibition at MOCA.  The film takes viewers on a visual journey of the lives of residents of Compton.  Instead of sticking to a plot, dialog and story arcs, the film is an ethereal montage of moments that invite viewers to connect to the featured subjects on visceral level.  The film was presented on dual screens which allowed Joseph to creatively toggle between images. Kendrick Lamar’s, “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” accompanied the piece as the soundtrack, my favorite being “Sing about me”.

Joseph’s background is in music video and short film production and he has a distinct dream-like style featuring stunning kinetic underwater sequences overlayed with audio that plays between the conscious and subconscious mind.

What was particularly powerful for me was when I saw m.A.A.d at MOCA which happened to be the week of the 23rd anniversary of the L.A. Riots.  Many of the images from the film were set in 1992 juxtaposed to current day Compton.  It was an emotionally resonate piece that speaks to Los Angeles’ history and the reality of our present time.

Double Conscience is also a nod to the W.E.B. Dubois’ concept of Double Consciousness which is the theory that explores the double bind African-Americans experience between who we are and how we are perceived by the rest of the world.  I was acutely aware of this theme as the only black woman present during the showing thinking about whether the individuals featured in this piece have seen themselves captivatingly shown in this format at MOCA.

Sturtevant:  Double Trouble

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Sturtevant’s take on Andy Warhol and Felix Gonzales-Torres at MOCA

Perhaps I was too overwhelmed with my thoughts after m.A.A.d that I really didn’t give Double Trouble enough of a chance; I wish I had known more about the enigmatic Elaine Sturtevant prior to seeing the exhibit.  This is the first full museum exhibition of the artist since 1973 and her 53 year career features interpretive re-productions of top flight Abstract Expressionist artists. By re-creating these works she attempts to challenge viewers’ notion of art and the broader context under which it is created, consumed and popularized.

While I understand the concept, I struggled with MOCA’s ability to guide viewers through this process.  I think that the common criticism during the Deitch years was that he catered to the superficial trendy whims of what the world expects of Los Angeles and as a result curatorial rigor took a back seat (or was kicked to the curb depending on who you talk to).  With this exhibit the pendulum eerily swings in the other direction by showcasing these reproductions without guiding viewers through the interpretive process, so it became a confusing foray into sussing out what’s real and what is a copy.

The L.A. Times’ review of this show touches on the idea of mass knock offs which got me thinking about handbags.  In the 1990’s when Kate Spade handbags were the “it” bag, I visited a friend in New York and we scoured the streets for the perfect replica.  Just as we were about to give up on our quest, a woman sitting on a small mountain of concealed boxes spotted us and lifted her veil of blankets to reveal contraband handbags including a Kate Spade.  After closely inspecting them, I snapped one up.  Despite it being a really good copy, there was a slight flaw in a stitch that I discovered after I bought it.  I never wore that bag.  Admittedly it was not the only knock off I would purchase in my twenties, and over time I came to learn the importance of the proverb, “buy cheap, buy twice”.  The moral of this digression (and glimpse into my love for bags) is you have to study both to appreciate the value in the real thing.

According to the L.A. Times‘ review of Sturtevant this perhaps was the point the artist was trying to make but was her motivation out of contempt for the art world or in reverence of it? For me, the experience of viewing this exhibition left me with the same empty feelings of regret and disillusionment that I felt when I bought that bag. I think this personifies what many find so alienating about Contemporary Art.  Instead of building a bridge, this show created a cultural divide between those that “get it” and those that don’t.

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