Friday, July 22, 2011

chain letter casualty

A month or so ago, I got invited to participate in an art show at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery called Chain Letter. You were probably invited too. As best I could tell, approximately twenty percent of the world’s population showed up at Bergamot Station this morning to unload their artwork. I guess that’s what happens when the premise of your show is “Invite ten people who will each invite ten people who will….”

Pretty soon you get people like me, who aren’t even visual artists, making little collages. The next thing you know, it’s installation day and Cloverfield is backed up all the way to the 10. It was like an effing Dodger Game, or what the Glendale Galleria does to the 5 at Christmastime. And once I got to the actual gallery, it was pure Hollywood Forever.

I immediately turned around, which tells you something about my commitment to visual art. I sent some of the people I invited—Sara, Pedro and Jennifer—mission-aborted texts. Suzanne actually made it in, so it will be fun to go see her stuff. Jennifer and I are both going to see Dolly Parton at the Hollywood Bowl tomorrow night, so we decided we’ll bring our art and put it on the bench next to us and say 10,000 people saw it.

In the meantime, here are a few excerpts for you. Remember that angsty pioneer poem I wrote last month? For my art project, I turned it into a sketchbook. I love sketchbooks. But because the narrative is continuous, it kind of reads like an illustrated poem, except that there’s no overarching concept for the visual elements, so it’s sort of problematic. It’s also really personal, and I feel like it would be small and lonely and stepped on in that show. Plus, I drew myself naked (there is a naked-er picture than the mermaid one below, but I am not posting it in case I run for congress or something). I’m not that great of an artist, though, so it’s basically a cartoon of a generic naked lady. In real life I have more cellulite.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

how i spent my carmageddon vacation

Carmageddon—a.k.a. the shutting down of a ten-mile stretch of the 405 for two days, allegedly prompting a citywide traffic nightmare in a city that is already a daily traffic nightmare—is now old news to Angelenos, who collectively decided its effects were overhyped. Of course, it was hype that kept people off the roads and prevented what one writer called Sepulvedapocalypse. Never underestimate the power of fear as a motivator. Carmageddon was never exciting news to my four non-L.A. blog readers (shout-out to Tracy, Sizzle, Keely and Claire), but whatever. I’m blogging about how I spent Carmageddon anyway.

My strategy was basically to make people come to me. So arguably I cheated. A nobler carless weekend would have involved finally visiting one of the 75 galleries within a one-mile radius of my house, or taking public transportation. Instead, I:

  • Stayed in Friday night and graded student reading journals while AK and Amy worked on a paper about dental care for poor children and reading literary submissions, respectively. Welcome to the 24-hour mobile workplace. It sucks.
  • Made a dish for book club, which I found by Googling “russian fish soup easy.” All my recipe searches end in “easy.” And it was, despite the fact that it required me to make my own fish stock—stock being one of those foods like marinara sauce and marshmallows, which I forget actually come into the world as a set of unassembled ingredients. The recipe also called for halibut, which is like $90 a pound. Our book was about starving Russians during World War II. They actually only talk about eating fish soup; what they eat is “library candy” made from melted book bindings. Yum. So I went with cod and something called “Icelandic char.” That sounds like one of those deep-water species that lives to be a thousand years old and doesn’t breed till it’s two hundred and is therefore highly unsustainable and used to be called something unappetizing like “the mucous face blorg,” but which has come to market because we ate all the edible, easy-to-catch fish. Anyway, throw in some tomatoes, lemons and capers, and it tastes great.
  • Forced people to brave traffic to come have book club on our newly somewhat-clean back patio. Despite the cleanliness, our canvas patio covering is still in tatters, so it was a little like taking shelter from Nazis in some blown-apart farmhouse. Except that it was 72 degrees out and we had take-out from a Russian restaurant in the South Bay and a keg of Heineken, which we decided we’d pilfered from the Germans. But the beer was slightly flat, so it’s not like we didn’t face hardship.
  • Made Holly and Joel drive over from Pasadena on Sunday (by which time construction had ended and the city was opening the 405 early) for veggie tacos. Also on the patio.
We are a commuting town. The things I pride myself on culturally, like driving to Tarzana for a poetry reading, don’t always make sense ecologically. Or even psychologically, when you consider the effects of sitting in your car for hours: anxiety, depression, ennui, bad books on CD, bad music on the radio, bad reception on my Bluetooth. Sometimes it’s nice to stay close to home, especially when it’s not even being invaded by Nazis.

Monday, July 11, 2011

midnight at moca

After seeing Midnight in Paris a few weeks ago—about a guy who romanticizes Paris in the 1920s—AK, Meehan and I tried to figure out what our own overly idealized Golden Ages would be. “There aren’t many eras when it would be good to be brown and queer,” AK pointed out. “Time traveling doesn’t work out well for me.” I remembered how, during my Little House on the Prairie phase, I wanted to travel back to pioneer times and buy a couple dozen acres of land for $5, like Pa did. I could do that with my allowance! But now I’m pretty sure washing one load of bonnets by hand in the river would cure me of any prairie lust.

Saturday AK and I went to see Art In the Streets at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the first national exhibition of graffiti art, and I landed on my Golden Age: New York in the ‘80s. Wandering through the nooks and crannies of a huge multi-artist work that recreated not just graffiti art but the streets themselves—a sort of impressionistic playground of rundown shops and funky signage—I was swept away to a time that was as cynical as the current one but bursting with new kinds of art that would define the decades to come. I also dug the more traditional historical retrospective upstairs, from the depiction of Senor Suerte, a logo claimed by my own neighborhood’s Avenues gang in the late ‘60s, to the video of Deborah Harry rapping about Fab Five Freddy in a little shorts outfit that any present-day hipster would lust after.

If I lived in New York in the 1980s, I would live out my Rent fantasy, hanging out with Basquiat and Keith Haring and of course Jonathan Larson. I’d live in a brick squat with all my best friends and we’d be outraged and make art together. When I was in grad school, I read an essay by a performance artist recalling this time of Reagan, AIDS and art called “Our Golden Age in Hell.”

Now I know better than to take the hell part lightly. If I lived in New York in the 1980s, I would see every freckle as a KS lesion, and Basquiat would totally ignore me. (But I do think Jonathan Larson would hang out with me. He’s dorky enough.) Washing one load of legwarmers in the rusty water trickling from the sink in my loft would cure me of any Bohemia lust.

There’s a part of me that can’t help but mourn the renegade aspect of street art that is inescapably destroyed by the exhibit, despite MOCA’s incredibly innovative efforts. But there’s another part of me that is transported to some old train yard full of cars waiting to be canvas for my can of RustOleum. And I am grateful for that flight and for the opportunity to romanticize, however problematic of an act it is. Nostalgia is sort of a new thing for me. Having a tough year makes you look back at better ones, and at ones that were much worse, ones you never lived in—but knowing that other people lived through them and filled the world with their angry beauty means more now than ever.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

saints and literary sinners

June was a special month: I only read one book, and I gave up on two. I’m usually really stubborn about finishing books, but I’m trying out this new fuck-you attitude. So I said a (respectful) fuck-you to The Sound and the Fury. I’m sure it was very original in its time, but I had to Google the plot to figure out what the hell was going on, and when my car’s CD player refused to play disc five, I decided that my car was performing an act of passive resistance. Who am I to argue with the literary tastes of a wise old Honda Civic?

I did see a really good play this weekend, though: 100 Saints You Should Know at the Elephant Theatre. Written by Kate Fodor and discovered for us by Christine, it’s about a scholarly, uptight priest who decides he’s had enough of the theoretical God and longs for the more touchy-feely spiritual experience that comes from, well, actually touching other humans now and then (but not in a creepy way). Cheryl Huggins and Kate Huffman as the rectory cleaning lady and her teenage daughter, respectively, are great playing everything he’s not: warm, impulsive, profane. What they all have in common is a desire to feel something bigger than they are—something pure and unconditional, electric and earthy. The pacing of the production feels a little off at the beginning, but the play is definitely worth catching if you’re looking to avoid the Westside in a cultured way on Carmageddon weekend.

Anyway, so here’s what I did manage to read, in addition to 12 student stories and a lot of Facebook updates:

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier: The teens at the center of this historical novel have good old-fashioned virtually parent-less Dickensian fun in late 18th century London: They fall in puppy love, work in factories, avoid the fallout of the French Revolution and get knocked up by smooth-talking circus troupers. I liked the gritty glee running through this book, and I enjoyed loud, curious Maggie Butterfield as a heroine. But I wasn't so into William Blake as next door neighbor and literary gimmick. Although his innocence/experience dichotomy did lend some thematic depth, mostly I wondered why historical fiction always has to be about famous people.