Bling Bling

This is another fiction-piece and I thought to include it here because of the dynamic of texting (which I think can sometimes feel like a ping-pong match) and a fantasy I’d always had that Michael Jackson and Orlan were friends. They also feel like parallel mirrors, somehow, embodying cultural pressure as part of their work. In both instances, the body is a site of manipulation and transformation, tied directly to economy and persona. 

BLING BLING

Michael had a plastic chin and new skin. Born with nothing, he made 750 million dollars in his life. He went 500 million dollars bankrupt thereafter. He said in the press release after his death:

“It was so cool look look look look look it was so cool the kids danced so chill they had an alter in the street like look like it one girl so cute so fantsy one girl pulled her car up the day I died she pulled her car up to the side of the road in the city she pulled up and she got out and she wore a white mini skirt and white high heel shoes and a side ponytail and a sparkle head band and sparkle jelly shoes and bangles that caught the street light it was night she left her car on and she pulled the candle out of her car the votive candles and a photo she tore out a magazine a glossy magazine with its corners furled from the grease of her hand she had painted sparkle nails and pink eyes and brown brown brown brown eye brows she left the car running she had pink tights and doily ankles she had converse and dirty socks she had ripped jeans on she played my music over and over thriller and over Billy Jean and over look it was so looklooklooklooklook all the kids came out and the kids came out to dance in the street and drunk people who passed by they danced also and some of the hobos danced also (toothless) and everyone dancedancedanced they flung their arms they waved they danced like zombies for me look at me look what I did when I died lookit.”

Michael did not die on June 25th. It was only pretend. A publicity stunt to get away from creditors, to get away from his old life, to flee the clutches of his doctor, to go to his niece’s debutant ball, To Make Even More Money Later: Artist Formerly Known As MJ. Vanquishes Death.

—·—·—·—

Along with describing the scene at the Holmby Hills mansion where Jackson was stricken, the document lists prescription drugs found in the home (some were prescribed in Jackson’s name as well as an alias used by the singer).

The document also provides the detailed results of the performer’s autopsy—which included analysis of Jackson’s corpse and his various organs—from the size of his liver to the “unremarkable” nature of his testes and scrotum. The “immediate cause” of Jackson’s death was listed by the medical examiner as “Acute propofol intoxication.”

—·—·—·—

The last time he slept without mittens he had a dream he was in Iraq embedded with troops and he was afraid of the men but then he was afraid of a missile because a missile was coming and the men said the missile was after him so he ran away from the missile he ran very fast when he woke up he’d crashed through a hotel window he woke up running on a grassy knoll in front of his hotel room, blood running down his arms, he realized the missile was only a dream but they took him to the hospital and the doctor said you could have died and Michael said I sleep walk I can’t help it, looking at magazines of himself. The doctor said, Sleep in a sleeping bag with mittens on and you’ll be fine. (1)

And after his death, sat up late nights, texting in bed with Orlan, giggling like a girl, whispering to himself sometimes so the body guards wouldn’t come say, Turn off the light and get some sleep. Aside from employees on salary, Orlan was the only one who knew MJ was still alive.

Orlan is an artist born in France on May 30th 1947 her life is a secret, real name unknown. A spy in her own life. She had plastic surgery to look like Botticelli’s Venus. She had plastic surgery to look like the Madonna. She had plastic surgery to look like Mrs. Frankenstein. She wept when MJ died. And giggled when he called to say it was only a joke.

Michael texted her in bed, “The paint they used in my skins supposed to make me look healthy but they used lythol red. Fugitive paint it fades after a few years. ACH.”

She texted, Terrible!, and then, I may get plastic surgery on my pussy. He said, OMG, and tittered, sitting under the tent of his sheets, torso hemmed with the zipped up sleep sack. The phone a flashlight, clasped in both hands, waiting waiting waiting for her answer. Finally his phone buzzed, he read it. “I want it to have the same typography as the hills of Kilimanjaro,” she says, “and then I want to put clay inside and then I want to give birth to the cast of my cunt.”

HAWHAWHAW, he texted back. “The color of my skin is fading,” he writes letter by letter. “Doctor says to stay out of sun.”

And she again, Is that why you wear a mask in all those pictures? Michael smiled in the dark, his face blue from the light of the phone.

—·—·—·—

The decedent’s home is a two-story mansion located in Bel-Air on a quiet residential street. The home is clean and well groomed. I observed the bedroom on the second floor of the home, to the right of the staircase. Reportedly, this is the bedroom where the decedent had been resting and entered cardiac arrest. His usual bedroom was down the hall.

The bedroom to the right of the staircase contained a queen size bed and nu- merous tables and chairs. The bedding was disheveled and appeared as though someone had been lying on the left side of the bed. There was a blue plastic pad lined with cotton on the left side of the fitted sheet near the center of the bed. Near the left foot of the bed, there was a string of wooden beads and a tube of toothpaste. Also near the foot of the bed, there was a closed bottle of urine atop a chair.

Next to the left side of the bed, there were two tables and a tan colored sofa chair. Reportedly, the decedent’s doctor sat here. A green oxygen tank was also on this side of the bed. The decedent’s prescription medication bottles were seen on the tables with various medical supplies including a box of catheters, disposable needles and alcohol pads. Several empty orange juice bottles, a telephone and lamp were on the tables as well. An ambubag and latex gloves lay on the floor next to the bed. (2)

—·—·—·—

“I read my autopsy report,” Michael texted. “I didn’t like it. It made me sound sad.” Orlan did not reply and Michael listened to the whoosh of the air conditioner. He wondered if it was daytime where she was.

It made me sad! he texted again.

He thought about tomorrow’s talk show, his first public appearance. He won- dered if Leno would punch him again. Last time Michael talked to Leno, Leno punched him on the arm. Someone told him later it had been a “chummy” gesture. Michael rubbed his shoulder. He bruised easily.

Michael imagined the bright lights of the stage like surgery lights, he thought.

“When I think about me and read about me I sound sad to me,” he texted quickly.

“But darling, you are,” Orlan answered at last. “We all are.”

“When I come back, I want to be happy.”

________________

(1) This sleep walking story is taken directly from Mike Birbiglia

(2) Excepted directly from MJs autopsy report.

This story was first published in Artifice Magazine.

 

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If I Take Care of You Others Will Take Care of Me

Street view of AS220s 115 Empire St. location in Providence, RI

For the month of July, I was an artist-in-residence at AS220, a non-profit art space located in the heart of downtown Providence, RI. The space is remarkable for numerous reasons: it began illegally almost 25 years ago, when some artists began squatting in a building downtown. Now, the project employs approximately 40 people, owning three buildings within a three block radius, integrating a performance space, two art galleries, a restaurant, a bar, a print shop (with offset, lithography, letterpress, etching and other printing technologies), a photo lab, an electronic lab (where one might build a robot, for instance) a youth program (where highschool kids take classes to learn photography, video design, recording technology, painting and creative writing) and artist live/work studios. People who live in the live/work studios pay less of a monthly rent in exchange for a certain number of weekly volunteer hours. They work the door during performances, clean windows and floors in addition to other types of assistance. The result of this infrastructure is that the defining bounds between what is commercial and what is not are porous. Furthermore each employee of the AS220 payroll receives the same salary, from the Founding Director, to Building Management to Assistant Directors, Grant Writers and Program Directors. One of the gems of this organization is its Youth Program located on the second floor of Empire Street. There, high school students come to develop portfolios. Under the guidance of teachers hired by AS220, these students learn to create their own video games, record their own music, take and develop photographs etc–developing a viable skill set while also learning in an environment of positive support. Because the mission of the organization is to create a platform for creative expression, it fiercely denounces its claim to curate and measure the work of its constituents. It is uncensored and unjuried. Anyone can have a show, you just have to sign up and (at the moment) signing up means waiting for four years.

Mural located behind AS220s 115 Empire Street location by Shepard Fairey

While I have only scratched the surface of this place–I think it’s interesting to think about in response to “If I take care of you others will take care of me // If I take less others have more.” The organization seems based around the first principle: if we build a community in which people are cared for, they will in turn take care of others (with the implication that the “I” benefits from the happiness of others–because there is something held in common by all: i.e. we all live in Providence, how do we make it a more pleasant place to inhabit).  Which, in this instance, goes against the second hypothesis, “If I take less other have more.” In this instance, building culture is not a zero-sum game. Instead by investing in this community, by accepting (for instance) grants and soliciting private investment, there is a gain that exceeds the sum of its parts. Downtown Providence, an allegedly seedy dive of a post-industrial town has improved drastically in the last ten years. AS220 provides a cultural center. Or, in another instance: their print shop is membership-run. Members pay dues to use the equipment. Like tenants, they also volunteer their time to monitor the space and get discounts on any classes they take. (Each of these labs also provides a variety of classes). The print shop works because of the many people involved: more members creates more resources that then benefit the whole.

I’m reminded of an anecdote someone told me once about Canada. (I always try to look this up, to see if it’s true, but my research has remained fruitless, though I love the story.) An old friend told me that in the early days of Canada’s western-immigration history, they had the barest infrastructure. It was basic and it might work in the long run, except they didn’t have enough people to ensure it’s ongoing stability. They needed more people to move there. The Canadian government printed pamphlets depicting the Okanogan in the summer time: beautiful rolling hills, ripe fruit trees, smiling apple pickers. They sent those flyers to London, where people embedded in a static class system might see them. Tempted by the fantasy of another future, Londoners abandoned their lives in the UK and ran into the arms of new promise. They arrived in Canada just before winter. They had nothing. The civilization they met was also under-built and there was little to spare these newcomers. Without resources or know-how, many of them dug holes in the ground to wait out winter. When they emerged, (this moment always astonishes my imagination: the dirt-ridden face emerging from the ground, born again and looking like a zombie in the first light of spring) they started building proper homes. While they must have suffered terribly for their ignorance, they managed to survive and contribute in such a way as to help others survive.

AS220 Print Shop, Mercantile Building, Providence RI

When I first got to Providence, they had a Print Shop Ice Cream Social–what apparently takes place on a monthly basis. There, I was given the opportunity to take the letter-press for a spin. The poster I printed (it was already set up and I’m not sure who designed it) read, “When given a chance humans will always build houses next to one another.” Which, I gather, is another way to think about what is gained from a group and how it relates to the currency of a single gesture–particularly when that gesture is made in some kind of infrastructural vacuum.

If you happen to be in Providence on Saturday, August 13th 2011 you should try checking out AS220s annual street festival, Foo Fest

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When Performance is a Mirror


 

Dear Yoko,

Mothers don’t always ask to be Mothers and dogs scratch any old door to escape dogcatchers or their idea of dogcatchers—but here we are now; we’ve found ourselves Here.

My mother has died and I need a new one.

Yrs truly.

P.S. At the age of 18, before I knew you, before I knew the war, before I knew knew knew, I saw your Cut Piece.

You were in London, sitting on a stage. There was a queue outside the door, all the way down the street, all the famous people brought their own shears in order to snip snip your clothes away, to take your dress home as a souvenir, to remember you by. The flashing lights went off pow pow pow like lightening, like strokes from a belt, contracting and dilating pupils with a fleeting and unconscious violence as the line passed quickly, the fever of possession grew, and all the pretty people with their perfect shears, ravenous, they snip snip snipped you all away.

This 18-year-old girl threw up in the alley behind the Tate Museum.

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Beyond reciprocity

Invitation The New Conversations 1: La chaîne est belle (The Chain is Beautiful), front side

Joseph Beuys: “If I take care of you, others will take care of me.”
Stanislav Menshikov: “If I take less, others have more.”

These two quotations still resonate in my mind since I attended “La chaîne est belle”; the New Conversations 1, a two and a half day workshop, held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp last June, on the initiative of artist Nico Dockx, in collaboration with Louwrien Wijers.

The front side of the invitation for the workshop showed these two quotations, printed as if written in white chalk on blackboard, just like Joseph Beuys used to make his statements. Beuys’s statement was written down by Louwrien Wijers, while she was attending one of his sessions at the end of 1970s. The second quote is by someone less known in the art world: Russian economist Stanislav Menshikov. While preparing the workshop Nico Dockx and Louwrien Wijers combined both quotations, as guidelines for this workshop on art and economy.

The phrase of Beuys speaks of chain-reciprocity. This is not a dualistic interplay between isolated subjected. It is not “if I take care of you, you will take care of me”, but: “others will take care of me”. The self is not isolated, it is a connected self. This self forms part of a community. The person who cares may reckon on some sort of chain effect, a transposition of care, a solidarity which goes over from one person to the other, as if from one bead in a chain or necklace, to the other. So in the end you may trust that you, being part of this chain, will be cared for too. Here, at first, I started to feel a little bit uneasy with the saying of Beuys. This chain reaction, if I’m right, seems to work as a boomerang. A positive boomerang, a caring boomerang, for sure, but still a boomerang. This reciprocity is about returning to the self. It starts with the self (“If I…”) and it ends with the self (“…of me”). Menshikov’s phrase seemed to me more extreme, more radical: generous. By taking less, he says, others have more. That’s it. No return of favors, no reciprocal expectations, no chain reaction, no boomerang, no possibility of counting on others to be helpful in return. Just stepping back, so there’s more space for somebody else.

Later on, my thoughts were changing. In Menshikov’s statement, one can still discern the language of ranking and banking. Taking less. Having more. As in a debet-credit balance. This doesn’t erase the generosity, but the terms remain within the framework of the stockmarket. On the other hand, underlying Menshikov’s phrase is his concept of compassionate economy. Menshikov advocates an economy based on compassion, enhancing generosity. Compassion goes beyond the stockmarket. Compassion can’t be counted, can’t be balanced, can’t be returned, it goes beyond reciprocity.
Care, used in Beuys’s phrase, also goes beyond reciprocity. A person who cares, doesn’t ‘care’ about reciprocity at all. Care doesn’t limit itself to a chain reaction. Care can’t be calculated. Care doesn’t come back. Care is about love, comfort, friendship. By using a word such as care in his lectures on the Erweiterte Kunstbegriff (=Expanded Art Concept) Beuys lets his own way of thinking, which according to his quote seems to be still bound by the reciprocal ‘returning a favor’, expand beyond reciprocity.

Both Beuys and Menshikov use strong words, even catching phrases, which help them to go beyond their (and our?) own way of thinking.

This post: by invitation of Nico Dockx.

Invitation The New Conversations 1: La chaîne est belle (The Chain is Beautiful), back side

More about Compassionate Economy by Stanislav Menshikov: http://www.louwrienwijers.nl/compassionateeconomy.html

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Handshake Games


 

In greeting one another there is an expectation.

You put your hand out with the expectation it will be received in a reciprocal clasp. Some kind of up-down-shake is expected.

They say you can learn everything about a person based on the way in which he or she shakes a hand. Is it a limp grasp? Is the grip premature? Does one’s partner, like a politician, grasp both your hand and your elbow? Yet, in order to measure someone’s shake, one must participate in the action of shaking and therefore allow oneself to be measured.

With this in mind, an artist and friend, A.E. Simns developed a handshake game. He created an index of handshakes, along with accompanying diagrams. One handshake can lead to another, for instance that same politician just mentioned can be countered with “The Dirty” (where you wiggle your middle finger in the palm of your opponents palm as it clasps yours), which can then lead to subsequent responses.

I have included some examples from his index below. The first video included above is another example of a handshake (unfortunately the volume is low, so please be sure to turn up your headphones).

"The Bitch Smack" where you are to take your partner's hand and smack it, very quickly and very hard. The icons surrounding the figured are indicate the appropriate "feelings/sensations" inspired by this shake.

18. The Comrade

A shake for friends and enemies both, this handshake to be used in such instances where you desire a firm intimacy. The Benefactor puts out a hand, eyes bright and hard and smiling. The Beneficiary takes said hand, and with rhythmic precision both Benefactor and Beneficiary use their remaining and respective hand to reach in and grasp the other’s elbow. In deceptive times a special knife (known as a knuckleswitch) has been worn which, when set off by a pressure pad on the palm, flicks out and shivs the opponent. Thus, just as this is a celebratory shake for friendship and loyalty, it can also stir up the panic of death.

19. The Rifle

Like The Comrade with a little more play, upon grasping The Benefactor’s elbow, pull the whole arm of your opponent up to your line of sight and cock it, as though it is a rifle and you are aiming to shoot something behind your opponent’s back.  The Rifle is an excellent anti-asasination solution toThe Comrade, when assassination is suspected. The Rifledeflects any knuckleswitch without acknowledging suspicion for the other. It sends a message of protection and has been used as a secret handshake to demonstrate loyalty in darker times. To that end bother Benefactor and Beneficiary can execute The Rifle on one another simultaneously, thereby creating a metaphorical fortress of defense.

20. The Cold War

In which no hands are shaken, but both individuals stand across from one another, staring with unrelenting gazes.

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Identity in Action

When I think of reciprocity, I visualize a call-and-response scenario: a give and take, or the meeting of a positive action with a subsequent positive action. In order to understand reciprocity one must therefore define boundaries: to attribute one action with its source, thereby attributing the subsequent action with its subsequent source. There is a cause/effect relationship embedded in the course of movement and, at first, it seems like separate identities are necessarily contained—because one must be able to hold a single body responsible. In thinking though, about how a shared action in common can generate a greater return, I started wondering after those boundaries. For instance, what does it mean for several people to enact an airport? Who is the author of such an action? At a certain point, the boundaries of authorship get murky.

In his book, The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010) Timothy Morton reassesses the individual’s relationship to nature, encouraging us to recognize a fundamental and interstitiary “mesh” of which we are all a part. He is not examining art communities. Instead he studies scientific allocations of species and how its distinctions frame humanity’s specific relationship to nature. Over the course of his book, he continues to break down the most basic categorical distinctions—pointing out the blurry line between plant and animal by examining species that occupy abutting biological kingdoms. There is such a minimal difference between an anemone, say, and a fungus that assigning one the attributes of plant and the other those of an animal becomes arbitrary. Only via farther-out consequences—for instance when comparing a palm tree and a lion—does the difference seem apparent. Each member of the “mesh” is distinct, “The mesh is…the entanglement of strangers” (p. 47). We are not so categorically different, but rather necessarily contingent. This approach disrupts ideas of hierarchical thinking. “Thinking interdependence involves dissolving the barrier between ‘over there’ and ‘over here,’ and more fundamentally, the metaphysical illusion of rigid narrow boundaries between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’”(39). Morton focuses on the idea of cooperation, arguing that the mesh consists of countless, various bodies acting independently but in congress. Its members gain from being a part of a group so that there is a built-in reciprocity. He emphasizes “cooperation,” because those individual parts are serving their own interest—what is compromised and enhanced by the additional purposes working with, against and around it. Rather than focusing on a local effort, Morton suggests we inhabit an inclusive mind-space that accounts for the whole mesh. By expanding our awareness beyond an immediate vicinity, he argues, we expand our consciousness to reflect not only other humans in other parts of the world, but also animals and—he would argue—stars. The specialness of community, therefore, lies in an apprehension of the entire, massively intricate system. Which is where the idea starts pressing into something mystical even without the personal connection that mystical experience often boasts. In tandem with this view is kind of death of self-as-center. Can our ideas of community survive such a non-center?

The other question that comes to mind for me: can we admit a degree of categorical poresness, while still being inspired to respond through action? If we are, all us, responsible for participating in the whole mesh, then where does one’s own responsibility stop? And where does this leave us with regard to “ownership?”

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Potential Return

When I was a child we sometimes played a game in the school gymnasium. My kindergarten class would line up around the periphery of a parachute-blanket. Everybody grabbed a piece of the outside and, following the count of a teacher, we all-together lifted the blanket up at the same time, over our heads. The blanket filled with air, ballooning above us like a mushroom cap while we scrambled underneath its canopy, still holding our respective corners. I remember the color of the light as it filtered through the red fabric—an orange world was born between the shiny, squealing wood floors and the quilted sail: I experienced a temporal suspension, being always surprised that the parachute stayed so long above us. The faces of my peers reflected that peculiar orange light. I remember we were always silent, waiting inside this temporary caccoon. Eventually the sail dropped on top of us, obliterating everything and moments later we’d squirm noisily, clambering out from under the material, giggling with sudden chaos. I was thinking about this recently because I was thinking about reciprocity, and the idea of commensurate value. It’s true in our world everything has a public exchange rate. What’s interesting, though, are those instances when an action creates a reciprocal experience greater than the sum of its parts.

Landing Strip, International Airport Montello

A few weeks ago I read an essay by Juliana Dreiver about the International Montello Airport in Nevada. After purchasing a plot of land on ebay in 2004, artists Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger from eteam, created a temporary airport around an abandoned landing strip. The 10-acre property was purchased for a 500 dollars and after spending time with people in town (population 67) eteam decided to collaborate. “The airport didn’t have to be physically constructed; eteam proposed it could be conceptually built through events that would revitalize the culture around the landing strip” (eteam-International Airport Montello, Art in General, New Commissions Program Book Series, 2007). Given the overall depressed state of the town (its primary industry being that of service for neighboring casinos) citizens and artists alike grew invested in creating the fantasy of an airport. With support from the New York Arts Commission, they were able to bring art enthusiasts from New York to Las Vegas on a plane. They staged a layover at IAM. “Montello became a theatre, its people and visitors the actors, and the play—an abstraction of what a layover is—much of nothing. The willingness of every parti-cipant, whether citizen of Montello or cultural tourist, made the happening unique, collapsing the extraordinary and yet minimal characterist-ics of land art and the affective nature of performance.” I suppose I’m suggesting that everyone—the artists, the locals, the visitors and the coordinators were lined up around a large vision—a playful, imaginative piece of cloth. Everybody lifted it up at the same time and everyone clambered underneath it, to admire the cast of its light. For a moment, the airport came to life. Here is another kind of reciprocity—each constuituent is engaged, relied upon and capable of receiving a unique perspective/experience that would not have otherwise have been possible.

Dining at The Sky View Supper Club, International Airport Montello

You can find out more about the airport by going to its website here.

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