Tuesday, January 14, 2014

the establishment and the institutions

1. down-to-earth takedown

I’m about halfway through the New Yorker profile of Jennifer Weiner, and it’s kind of grossing me out. Summary: Jennifer Weiner is a writer of smart-skewing chick lit (which I have not read) who publicly gives the literary establishment a hard time for ignoring popular literature, especially popular literature by women. I think she and Jonathan Franzen have gotten into some kind of Twitter war without Franzen even being on Twitter. Rebecca Mead’s article raises some legitimate points—namely that the literary establishment honors many women writers, but it rightly favors those who create more complex characters than Weiner does.

OMG, she is clearly wearing a coral top because she's a bitter shrew who wants you to like her.
But the article takes Weiner down using the kind of petty, snobby, sexist digs that drive home Weiner’s point about how non-edgy female writers are treated. Mead compares Weiner’s outfit at a speaking engagement to something a co-host of The View would wear. Weiner often jokes about the equation of Brooklyn with “literary,” so Mead lets us know that Weiner lives in a house in Philadelphia that looks a lot like a Brooklyn row house.

I’m used to reading profiles in fashion magazines that fawn over a famous woman’s clothes and home décor. Usually there’s a lot of scaffolding around said woman’s banal quotes, trying to make her seem miraculously “down to earth” instead of boring, or like she has a “unique relationship to time” (Cate Blanchett, Vogue) instead of running late. I think homes and clothing are fair game—they do say something about the people who inhabit them. But we all know that women’s homes and clothing are under extra scrutiny, except maybe Rebecca Mead doesn’t? Also, all Jennifer Weiner’s quotes are smart and funny and interesting, and the scaffolding around them tries to make them sound personal and pathological (which of course they are, because everything everyone does is). 

If I were a real critic and not just a girl with a blog and too many jobs, I would read the whole profile before writing this, but whatev.

2. exploring purgatory at cielo

In other lady-artist news, I recommend checking out Kristy Lovich’s show, Meet Me In The Day Room, at CIELO galleries/studio next time you’re on the north end of South L.A. It’s a mixed media/installation piece that essentially turns the entire cavernous former lighting manufacturing facility into a day room like those found in mental institutions, hospitals and prisons.

Portrait of whoopee cushion with chair.
At first glance, it looks like a bunch of junk placed in a room. Out-of-date furniture, old books like the ones on the fifty-cent shelf at the Goodwill. Then you realize that this is what actual day rooms in actual institutions are. Found junk for found junkies, so to speak. You feel what it’s like to feel worthless, like someone who will be easily amused by an old TV and a bunch of crayons. (But then, I also thought, Recycling is good. There’s something weird and serendipitous and historical and eco-friendly in all these “donated” things.)

One wall is plastered with narratives by people in or adjacent to various institutions. One man writes about how his brother, who had Down syndrome, was placed in an institution at age eleven, and he seemed really happy there. But the place was closed down due to charges of abuse, and then all facilities for people with mental issues were closed down. As I told Kristy, an Art Center buddy of AK’s, I like that the exhibit problematizes institutions but doesn’t demonize them. A quick look at Skid Row will tell you that no institutions is not a fabulous solution to the problem of institutions.

The other wall is Kristy’s own narrative—a combination collage, screenplay and personal essay—about her experience in a mental institution as a teenager. As she said, “Some kind of intervention was needed—I was doing all kinds of drugs, and I was going to die. But then I went to this place, and it traumatized me in a different way.”

When AK and I visited on Sunday, people dressed in clownish drag or white faceless bodysuits were walking among the day room furniture and the wine and cheese. There were dead fish on the floor in the back. It was hard to tell where the exhibit ended and the studio’s storage/general weirdness began. But I think that’s the point.

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