Sunday, May 30, 2010

SATC & Performance Art: Carrie and Marina, Together Again

While I was reading two recent posts from fellow blogger Brenda and the F Word I realized that two current, vastly different cultural phenomena are cosmically tied to one another. It was one of those quirky “a ha” moments.

The one post is about her own visits to “The Artist Is Present” at MOMA, where Marina Abramovic has been sitting in a chair since March 14, across from one other chair that has been filled by a stream of the public for 7 hours every day the museum has been open. The NY Times has quite a bit of coverage on the piece.

BRENDA: “It isn’t just the stillness, the silence, that’s so startling. It’s the connection these people seem to feel for a woman who doesn’t speak; a woman who gives you nothing but her full, undivided attention for as long as you can take it. (snip) Anyway, I was riveted. Am going back this afternoon with N. to check her out again."

The Artist Is In/2: “That within its stillness, its silence, there is also such intimacy and emotion. The weeping, for instance. There is a series of absolutely remarkable portraits here. Portraits of people silently weeping as they gaze into Abramovic’s eyes. What is it about these eyes that allows men, women, Asians, whites, blacks, the young and the old, to cry in public? That gives them permission to open their hearts like this?"

Brenda’s other post is about seeing Sex and the City 2. Weeping is also involved there, but it is not cathartic.

BRENDA: “As for the concept of a P.R. junket to the Mideast. Oh My God. Help me! Giggling over jokes in the souk like “Wow! It’s Beduoin, bath, and beyond.” Or how bout this? “Ohhh! Look. It’s Lawrence of the the Labia.” They should have been fucking stoned to death. All of them. And believe me, I ain’t no fan of Mideastern men or their andiluvian attitude/behaviour towards women. They should be stoned to death, too. But this was just plain obscene. The WASTE, the atrocious waste.”

Performance Art and the Sex and the City Universe
Fate had it that Marina’s show ends and SATC 2 opens this Memorial Day weekend. And because I have a ridiculous memory for cultural references high and low, I realized that this is not the first time these two different entities have crossed paths.

Marina; Sex and the City homage

In the season 6 episode of Sex and the City called “One,” Carrie goes to an art gallery with Charlotte to see a performance piece where a woman lives on a series of platforms for 16 days.

It is absolutely meant to be Marina’s 2002 piece “The House with the Ocean View” at the Sean Kelly Gallery, when she lived on view on three platforms for twelve days existing only on water, with ladders made with large carving knives baring her way down. Besides the general premise you can see the oak chair is the same, and you can see the name Sean Kelly on the door behind Baryshnikov later in the scene.

The plot point is that Carrie meets the “Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky” aka Baryshnikov when he asks her her opinion of the piece. Carrie: “There are depressed women all over the city doing the exact same thing as her and not calling it art. Put a phone up on that platform and it’s just a typical Friday night waiting for some guy to call. Why do you think she has the knife ladders? To keep her from running out for a snack.” You can watch it here.

Did Abramovic give permission to the show to reference her piece like that? Might not be too surprising since TV itself is about the relationship between viewer and creative entity, one of the main themes of her own work. I did not go to the Modern to be present with the artist, but I find great lyricism in the way Brenda and others have written about the piece.

I won’t see SATC 2 in a theater, but I will watch it when it comes to pay-per-view. I had a delayed affection for the first movie: hated it when I first saw it, because it didn’t feel like the tv show, but watching it again on a Saturday morning, I find it really holds together. The New Year’s eve scene when Carrie and Miranda are alone together to the strains of Mari Campbell’s distinctive Auld Lange Syne is very moving and satisfying.

I am sorry to hear that the girls have lost their way. That in trying to give their audiences more of their story they have shredded the fragile relationship between creator and audience, something that Marina is not likely to ever do.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flags In

Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) will be joined by service members from the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard in placing more than 250,000 grave decorating flags at Arlington National Cemetery

It's a poignant reminder of the human condition that the unofficial kickoff to the eden of summer is tinged with death: Et in arcadia ego.

Memorial Day has a more piercing importance since we went into Iraq, 5,461 military deaths confirmed by US Central Command for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (which includes Afghanistan.) All those young lives, given in service to us to protect us, whether or not that's actually what's happening.

Eveyone loves Ray Charles's dynamite, definitive version of our unofficial national anthem. What I love about it is that he starts it with the generally lesser-known heroes verse.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Pray for us now, and in the 6 long seasons of our death . . ."


I can’t imagine LOST fans are happy about this ending: UPDATED 5/24.

It turns out the Lost fans are split. Many believe the poetry and beauty of the series finale, particularly the emotional connection to the core characters through the use of flashbacks, outweighs the numerous plot points that were never resolved, the mysteries galore that didn’t go anywhere. And they are satisfied.

Others felt that the six seasons between the pilot and the finale were wasted, since there were not enough smart, imaginative answers to the “whys” that were the raison d’etre of much of the week to week journey for the viewers.

And, a subsection of the annoyed and the miffed felt that the spiritual end was a complete cop out.

I was surprised myself by the spiritual turn (although the signature image for the finales was a “Last Supper” graphic). The writers had displayed some real creativity in opening up the story beyond the confines of the island itself. And that I thought was a nice metaphor in itself: if you get trapped on an island (of any kind), keep using your heart and your mind to expand your world however you can.

And yet, when it came time to end the series, the writer “retreated” into the classic realm of the afterlife---purgatory, being greeted by loved ones, going into the great white light---instead of creating a completely unique other idea.

And so we see a statue of Christ Redeemer (arms outstretched) on church grounds, and when Jack finally enters the sacristy, we see a stained glass window representing Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, and Islam. The church is heaven’s waiting room, and the 815 survivors and others gather there in order to meet up together. In one subtle twist, it became clear that they did not die in the pilot. Everyone died when you saw them over the 6 seasons, and the survivors who got off could have led long lives. But they all meet up at the church where Jack’s father’s funeral was to be to greet Jack when he finally sacrifices himself on the island. (The end of Titanic is what people are comparing it to.)

On the Day of Pentecost

It happened that the finale was aired on the Feast of Pentecost, a solemnity in the Christian Church when the Holy Spirit descended. It was also Confirmation Sunday in my parish, and singing to accompany the teens making this sacrament was extremely moving.

It also happened that Andrew Sullivan has been running many threads lately about the afterlife. On May 16 he posted “What Do Atheists Think of Death” and “At the Hour of Their Death,” readers sharing stories of loved ones final moments. Some RL moments of spirituality amid the Lost hype.

So Lost didn’t answer the multiple mysteries it raised, but it brought to television a very respectful pondering of the greatest mystery that faces us all, tv watcher and not, atheist and believer. It showed one character die and offered an idea of what that next phase of the journey may be like.

And having Vincent (the dog) come out of nowhere to be with Jack as he dies was an embrace of humanity that pretty much everyone can connect to. “I once was lost, but now am found.”

Great discussion, as always, at Alan Sepinwall's new digs at HitFix, and Lance Mannion has some thoughts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Twin Peaks Got Me LOST For Life

The Man From another Place: [talking backwards; subtitled]

“She's filled with secrets. Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song and there's always music in the air.”

I am not a Lostie. I looked in on the pilot in 2004, but it didn’t suck me in. Then when reports started surfacing that it was something very smart and different on tv, I was afraid to get close.

Why? Because I had suffered the complete heartache of Twin Peaks, and I was never going to let a tv show do that to me again.

Oh, I was very young and impressionable back them. How cool was the enigmatic Agent Cooper drifting into the red room in the Black Lodge where the dwarf in red speaks backwards and dances to a 1940s jazz riff.

It was cool, but I also believed that it would mean something. That there would be some satisfying narrative partnered to the cool that would leave that magical feeling that only special narrative brings to the human soul. Hard to describe, but you know it when you read it or see it.

Instead, as Wiki so clearly states it, “The series never made clear The Man's reasons for wanting to help Cooper, or his true identity.”

And that was the least of it. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the extreme disappointment that none of the resolutions were as interesting or imaginative as the set ups, nor as ideas my friends and I had come up with.

Then came The X-Files. I let myself become involved again, even though I was older and knew better. The results are still too raw to talk about that.

The Last Days of LOST

So I didn’t take the plunge with the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. But I do love the passion of the Lost fans, so I’m participating in the finale.

I’ll be live blogging the Last Lost Celebration at the Paley Center in NY on Saturday from 2 to 5, including the all-star panel of great Lost thinkers, including Alan Sepinwall and Time's James Poniewozik

Join us on Twitter.

LOST Fans, Keep Your Cameras/Cell Phone in Hand All Night

The Paley Center wants to document the fans’ finale experience. Take pictures of your own viewing parties, your own tv-islands, reaction shots as things are revealed, emotional outbursts, etc. and send them to us. We’ll post them the next day so that the whole Lost fan community can take a bow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blogger versus the Cuisinart Blade: Film at 11

The Cuisinart blade won. And then there was so much blood. It was one of those accidents that happens out-of-the blue. I was emptying my pots and pans cupboard as part of spring cleaning—getting to the bottom of things to clean.

I put my left hand into the lower part of the cupboard, and hiding amongst the quart saucepans was the chopping blade for the Cuisinart, which I didn’t see until my left index finger was being sliced open along it.

When digits are sliced open they bleed profusely. It’s a little startling. Since I was in the kitchen, I thought about the ice packs in the freezer, and applied one top and bottom to the finger. That stopped the immediate river of blood and allowed me a moment to think.

I gave it some time, but when I took the ice packs away, the gushing started again.

And that left only one thing to do: jump in a cab and walk into the emergency room of New York Presbyterian Hospital. I couldn’t even change my clothes because I was dripping blood everywhere. So my Family Guy Pirate Stewie/skull and cross bones loungewear would have to do.

I made sure I had id and insurance card, and in a practical moment of irony, I scooped up Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to while away the hours I would sit in the emergency room. It arrived the other day as part of my vampire reading, and its cover has blood smears on it, so a few more wouldn’t be so noticed.

In the end, they did not stitch the finger. Infections are so rampant in hospitals of late that they make no incision unless absolutely necessary. The gushing had abated, so they wrapped it up and we’ll see if nature does the rest. Even so, of course I felt lucky to have hospital insurance

Blogging will be light. I’m supposed to stay off of the finger for a week. You can re-route standard typing form not to use the index digit, but it’s slow and tedious. Back when all ten are firing correctly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 2, 15:00 UTC, A Moment in Time

The Lens blog of the NY Times put out a call for people to take a picture of wherever they were at 15:00 U.T.C., Sunday, May 2. UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time; it translated to 11:00 a.m. for my little corner of the Upper West Side. And so I took a photo from the choir loft of Ascension Church on 107 Street, catching the procession at the start of the Mass.

As the site now says, “Thousands of readers worldwide sent in pictures of what they saw,” and so did I. They made the process so very easy to submit.

And they have created a very cool interface for showing this panoply of amazing images. You can spin the globe, and touch a geographic area. Then you chose a category like Arts & Entertainment, Family, Money and the Economy, Religion, or Community, which was the category I submitted it to. It’s really worth a look to. I took my photo with an iPhone, so the acuity isn't great, but the color and composition are fairly good.

Local and Global
I was surprised to see two other images from my neighborhood: Strauss Park at 106, and a shot of the intersection of 106, 110, and Broadway from Body Strength Gym.

When I was taking the photo back on May 2, I loved the anticipation of waiting for 11:00 a.m on the dot. As I was clicking away I thought about the expanse of people across the world doing the same thing at that precise moment. It was a lovely thought. And now, the photos themselves are relevatory of place, time, cultures, peoples. Yes, there are quite a few cats. But also so much more than that.

When I clicked over to England, the first picture was “The Pearly King and Queen organized a gathering to raise funds for a monument to commemorate a tragedy that occurred at the Bethnal Green tube station during WWll.” Oh my gosh. The Pearlies are something my parents told me about when I was a child. The King and Queen used to appear on the old Ed Sullivan Show, so Americans knew about them. My mother crafted a pair of Pearly dolls for me when I went over to live in England during college. I haven't thought about them since then, and then there they were in the first international photo I looked at.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this window onto the world (to mix a metaphor). As the interface says while it’s loading, “Make no plans for the rest of the day.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

And so a generation of British children and their mothers was ushered into stories, songs, and nursery rhymes from 1950 to 1982 with this opening phrase to the BBC radio program “Listen with Mother.” It was followed by the Berceuse of Faure’s Dolly Suite for piano, now synonymous with the show.

To all mothers, who brought us into the world and stuck by us through thick and thin, thanks is never enough.

Here are the mothers in my life. My glamorous Mom with my older brother, and her mother with her grandson.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Road to China: Prometheus' "Gleam of Unwearying Fire" Controlled in Chongqing

A Theft of Epic Proportions
“… and from that time Zeus was always mindful of the trick, and would not give the power of unwearying fire to the Melian race of mortal men who live on the earth.

But the noble son of Iapetus outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk.”

Hesiod’s Theogony lines 556- to 571

And so is the earliest Western explanation of humankind acquiring fire. Prometheus stole it from Zeus, who had been withholding it from Man as a punishment.

Fire is so powerful, so completely transformative, that for this transgression Zeus chained the immortal Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle eat his liver every day. And every night it grew back, to be eaten again (until Hercules freed him during another part of the myth).

It was late in the 8th century in Greece when Hesiod’s Theogony appeared. At the same time, on the other side of the world, the Tang dynasty—-generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization, a gold age of cosmopolitan culture-—was in power.

And there, during the 8th century, sulphur and saltpeter were first combined with charcoal to create an explosive called huoyao or gunpowder. It was initially used as a fulminate to treat skin disease and kill insects before its use as a weapon became clear. The first gun was made in China in the 10th century as a fire lances, combining a bamboo tube containing gunpowder and projectiles tied to a Chinese spear. And so fire sparked power.

And then, 13 centuries later . . .
Eloise would travel to Chongqing to control fire at the High Tech fair at the Centec (Swedish Embassy Center for Environmental Technology) pavilion.

Her power was neither magic nor mythic: it came from an important product called Eco Flame Protect, an eco-friendly flame retardant that can be used on furniture, clothes, paper goods of all kinds. Most current flame retardants use bromide, a chemical that will be banned by the EU in 2012. EFP is from the next generation of retardants that do not contain bromide. Eloise’s Swedish husband is the CEO of the EFP company, and he is looking to do business in China.

And that’s what brought Eloise to show the fairgoers the power of EFP in a simple, entertaining way. She treated some Mickey Mouse party napkins with EFP, and had a pile of untreated party napkins. She would light the untreated ones, which of course would burn up easily. Then she would ask, in Chinese, for one of the visitors to take the lighter and try to light the treated Mouse napkins. Try as they would, the treated napkin would not catch on fire. Smiles and disbelief all around.

The Mastery of Language: Fire on the Tongue

Eloise studied Chinese in college, and went to live in Taiwan for a year to become fluent. (I wrote about our Taiwan adventures here.) Twenty-five years later she did not know how much of the language would come back. And then her brain reconnected with all those beautiful Mandarin words, as she surprised the good citizens of Chongqing by speaking to them in their own tongue. It was as powerful as wielding fire in the darkness: it set immediate good will with the fairgoers and city folk alike.

Here are videos of Eloise and her demonstration at the fair, and singing with some people at the People’s Great Hall. There were actually 2 groups of singers who had gathered in a strange ‘battle of the folk bands.’ We gravitated toward the guy with the megaphone. You can see the smiles of the singers as the New Yorker sings along with their folk music. Bright sparks of human kindness and kinship all around.