September 27, 2009

Journey To The End Of The Night

Yesterday evening, we were coming home with purchases from the drugstore and with my hands full, I had a package of bathroom tissue tucked securely under one arm. As we walked past a well-dressed and seemingly normal elderly woman on the street, she decided to enter our lives by muttering "Got a lot of shittin' to do?!?" One of those New York moments, but it brought to mind a dark novel recommended by a coworker named Matthew years ago - Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit) by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, first published in 1932. The book touches upon many of the reasons why people often approach their daily life with a sense of deep pessimism and a hopeless attitude. What can one say in this world? What does one do in this world? We can only do one thing...DON'T GIVE UP.  

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1975 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

Here are several excerpts from Journey to the End of the Night:

"People waste a large part of their youth in stupid mistakes. It was obvious that my darling was going to leave me, flat and soon. I hadn't found out yet that mankind consists of two very different races, the rich and the poor. It took me ... and plenty of other people ... twenty years and the war to learn to stick to my class and ask the price of things before touching them, let alone setting my heart on them."

"Poor people never, or hardly ever, asks for an explanation of all they have to put up with. They hate one another, and content themselves with that."

San Francisco, 1966 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"There's something sad about people going to bed. You can see they don't give a damn whether they're getting what they want out of life or not, you can see they don't even try to understand what we're here for. They just don't care. Americans or not, they sleep no matter what, they're bloated mollusks, no sensibility, no trouble with their conscience."

"The worst part is wondering how you'll find the strength tomorrow to go on doing what you did today and have been doing for much too long, where you'll find the strength for all that stupid running around, those projects that come to nothing, those attempts to escape from crushing necessity, which always founder and serve only to convince you one more time that destiny is implacable, that every night will find you down and out, crushed by the dread of more and more sordid and insecure tomorrows.

And maybe it's treacherous old age coming on, threatening the worst. Not much music left inside us for life to dance to. Our youth has gone to the ends of the earth to die in the silence of the truth. And where, I ask you, can a man escape to, when he hasn't enough madness left inside him? The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death. You have to choose: death or lies. I've never been able to kill myself." 

Untitled, c.1972 by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"From up high where I was, you could shout anything you liked at them. I tried. They made me sick, the whole lot of them. I hadn't the nerve to tell them so in the daytime, to their face, but up there it was safe. "Help! Help!" I shouted, just to see if it would have any effect on them. None whatsoever. Those people were pushing life and night and day in front of them. Life hides everything from people. Their own noise prevents them from hearing anything else. They couldn't care less. The bigger and taller the city, the less they care. Take it from me. I've tried. It's a waste of time."

"When, grown older, we look back on the selfishness of the people who've been mixed up with our lives, we see it undeniably for what it was, as hard as steel or platinum and a lot more durable than time itself. As long as we're young, we manage to find excuses for the stoniest indifference, the most blatant caddishness, we put them down to emotional eccentricity or some sort of romantic inexperience. But later on, when life shows us how much cunning, cruelty, and malice are required just to keep the body at ninety-eight point six, we catch on, we know the score, we begin to understand how much swinishness it takes to make up a past. Just take a close look at yourself and the degree of rottenness you've come to. There's no mystery about it, no more room for fairy tales; if you've lived this long, it's because you've squashed any poetry you had in you. Life is keeping body and soul together."

Untitled, 1960s by William Gedney
from the artist's series of night photographs

"The rich don't have to kill to eat. They "employ" people, as they call it. The rich don't do evil themselves. They pay. People do all they can to please them, and everybody's happy. They have beautiful women, the poor have ugly ones. Clothing aside, they're the product of centuries. Easy to look at, well fed, well washed. After all these years, life can boast no greater accomplishment.

It's no use trying, we slide, we skid, we fall back into the alcohol that preserves the living and the dead, we get nowhere. It's been proved. After all these centuries of watching our domestic animals coming into the world, laboring and dying before our eyes without anything more unusual ever happening to them other than taking up the same insipid fiasco where so many other animals had left off, we should have caught on. Endless waves of useless beings keep rising from deep down in the ages to die in front of our noses, and yet here we stay, hoping for something ... We're not even capable of thinking death through."

"We had reached the end of the world, that was becoming obvious. We couldn't go any further, because further on there were only dead people."

September 20, 2009

The Human Condition

The Human Condition, 1969, by Duane Michals
sequence of six gelatin silver prints

"We must touch each other to stay human. Touch is the only thing that can save us." - as written by the artist in Real Dreams, published by Addison House, Danbury, NH, 1976

The photography of Duane Michals is represented by Pace/MacGill Gallery, NY.

September 18, 2009

Immortality Is Mortal

"People ought to be told of such things. Ought to be taught that immortality is mortal, that it can die, it's happened before and it happens still. ... It's while it's being lived that life is immortal, while it's still alive. ..." 

- from The Lover by Marguerite Duras, first published by Les Editions de Minuit, 1984

September 14, 2009

We're Number One! We're # 1!

In the article, Mr. Shanker notes:

"Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world's leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year - down considerably from the $10.8 billion in weapons deals signed by Moscow in 2007." 

Here's a link to a Greenpeace news article titled America's Share of the Climate Crisis.

In the article, data is provided to show that:

"Historically, no nation has emitted more global warming pollution than the United States. ...

Over the past 150 years, the U.S. has emitted 328,264 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2), the primary greenhouse gas. That amounts to 29% of total global emissions. Meanwhile, no other country in the world emitted more than 8% of global emissions. China, the world's second biggest global warming pollution emitter and the favorite scapegoat of those who seek to delay action on global warming, trails far behind the U.S. with just 92,950 MtCO2 over the same time frame.

...While much attention has been paid to the rising emissions of developing nations like China and India, the per capita emissions in the U.S. and across the developed world still far exceed those nations' emissions levels. U.S. per capital emissions in 2005 were more than four times greater than China's (5.5 tons per person), and almost 14 times India's (1.7).

If the nearly 3 billion people living in India and China were to reach per capita emissions levels equivalent to the U.S., there would be no chance of us averting the worst effects of global warming. ...

The average U.S. state emitted 4,449 MtCO2 from 1960-2005, which would rank 30th among the nations of the world. The combined historic emissions of just seven states - Texas, California, Illinois, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio - totaled 96,517 MtCO2, more than any other country in the world, including China (92,950).

If Texas were its own country, it would rank sixth out of 184 countries in the world in total emissions, trailing just China, Russia, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom."

September 13, 2009

Clean Restrooms, Happy People

In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled In Paris, Behavior Brigade Battles To Make Oui-Oui a Non-Non, Susana Ferreira reported on Paris's continuing quality of life battle against public urination. According to the article "...what the French call urine sauvage, which translates to "wild urine," is the hardest to crack. While France's capital has campaigned with some success to have Parisians pick up after their pets, the city is still struggling with the presence of pipi. Urine is hard to escape in certain parts of the city, be it on the street, in the Metro or in parks."

Without attempting in the least bit to be humorous or to become a boor myself, I remembered how I have actually been subjected to thinking about urinals and cleanliness for years now. You see, everyday in the restroom at work, I face the above illustrated sign for Rochester Midland Corporation's Sanor System - a patented hygiene and odor control system. Anyway, as someone involved in art, design and content, what gets me isn't the company's unimaginative and dated logo, but rather the smart and straightforward tagline: Clean Restrooms, Happy People.

Whenever an entrepreneur starts a business or is looking to advertise their company or product in a new light, it is usually a necessity to create a memorable tagline or slogan. These words or sentences are crafted with care and strategy to tell a customer in a short time exactly what your company and brand's mission and core beliefs are. 

It's important to not take shortcuts when it comes to the ideas behind the promotion and marketing of your business. Don't believe me? Here are several good taglines from yesteryear: We bring good things to life (General Electric), Tastes great, less filling (Miller Lite), A diamond is forever (DeBeers), Don't leave home without it (American Express). Can you think of or even remember the bad ones?

It's funny what one thinks of in the cuarto de bano. - PS   

September 6, 2009

99% Of The People

Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973
oil on canvas by Philip Guston

"Painting and sculpture are very archaic forms. It's the only thing left in our industrial society where an individual alone can make something with not just his own hands, but brains, imagination, heart maybe. It's a very archaic form. Same thing can be said with words, writing poetry, making sounds, music. It is a unique thing. Just imagine, 99% of the people just report somewhere, are digits, go to an office, clear a desk, get plastered and then they do the same thing the next day. So what is this funny activity that you do? What is it? I think that the original revolutionary impulse behind the New York School, as I felt it anyway, and as I think my colleagues felt and the way we talked all the time, was a kind of a ... you felt as if you were driven into a corner against the wall with no place to stand, just the place you occupied, as if the act of painting itself was not making a picture, there are plenty of pictures in the world - why clutter up the world with pictures? - it was as if you had to prove to yourself that truly the act of creation was still possible. Whether it was just possible. It felt to me as if you were on trial. I'm speaking very subjectively. I felt as if I was talking to myself, having a dialectical monologue with myself to see if I could create. 

... But there comes a point when something catches on the canvas, something grips on the canvas. I don't know what it is, you can put your paint on a surface? Most of the time it looks like paint, and who the hell wants paint on a surface? But there does come a time - you take it off, put it on, goes over here, moves over a foot, as you go closer you start moving in inches not feet, half-inches - there comes a point when the paint doesn't feel like paint. I don't know why. Some mysterious thing happens. I think you have all experienced this, maybe in parts of canvas. Maybe you can do it by painting a face, an eye, a nose, or an apple. It doesn't matter. What counts is that the paint should really disappear, otherwise it's craft. That's what I mean by something grips in a canvas.

The moment that happens you are then sucked into the whole thing. Like some kind of rhythm. I don't mean a dancing rhythm, or action painting rhythm. I mean you're psychologically sucked in and the thing, this plane, starts acquiring a life of its own. Then you're a goner. Then if you're lucky you have a run of 2 or 3 hours. Then you can't repair it, you can't fix it, and you feel as if you've made a living thing. All I can tell you is what it feels like when you leave the studio. You know, I have all kinds of wonderful ideas ... a little green there, a little blue there, and you proceed to do it. And then you leave the studio, it's like you have a bunch of rocks in your stomach. You can't stand to see illustrations of your ideas.

Well then, all the trouble starts and dissatisfaction starts. You go back, scrape it out and move it around, move it around. And then there comes a time, if you persevere long enough, where the paint seems alive, seems actually living and there's some kind of release. Lots of artists who paint have that experience to one degree or another, this release where their thinking doesn't precede their doing. The space is shortened between thinking and doing. It's a funny thing, what I really hate, yet I have to go through with it, is the preparation. You have to go through it, like somebody preparing for sacred vows, the sensation of you putting paint on, and it's so boring to put paint on and to see yourself putting paint on. You're really preparing for those few hours where some kind of umbilical cord is attached between you and it. You do it and the work is done and this cord seems to slacken, as if you left yourself there. And what a relief to leave yourself somewhere, to get out of it entirely. And then you leave the studio and those rocks aren't there anymore. 

... Once you've tasted that or experienced that, it's hard to settle for anything else. Also I'm not convinced that it's a good thing either. I don't propose this as a great value. In some way I think it's like devil's work. Man is not supposed to make life. Only God can make a tree. Why should you make a living organism? You should make images of living organisms. It seems presumptuous to attempt to make a thing which breathes and pulsates right there by itself. It's unnatural. What's inhuman about it is, the human way to create, I think, is the way we see, from part to part. You do this and then you do that, then you do that and that. Then you learn about composition, you learn about old masters, you form certain ideas about structure. But the inhuman activity of trying to make some kind of jump or leap, where even though you naturally have to paint, after all a painting is only a painting, the painting is always saying, what do you want from me, I can only be a painting, you have to go from part to part,  but you shouldn't see yourself go from part to part, that's the whole point. That's some kind of a leap. You can be painting over here and seeing the whole world. That rectangle or square is the whole world, that's reality. I'm describing the process of painting." - Philip Guston, 1966

September 1, 2009

Let Me Sing You A Waltz

As can be expected, the testosterone-driven portion of our populace flocked to see Hollywood's big budget blockbusters this summer. Action fare such as the military inspired G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra or Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds continue to draw in the crowds and ring up ticket sales at the box office. Is escapism of this nature to be the only legacy of war for our youth?

YouTube video posted by newfilms4u

Our Netflix queue just rewarded us with Waltz with Bashir, Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's 2008 animated documentary on a soldier's internal struggles with the complexities of war and its unforgiving aftermath ... as well as his journey to remember Sabra and Shatila. 

"One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men conclude that there's a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early eighties. Ari is surprised that he can't remember a thing anymore about that period of his life.

Intrigued by this riddle, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades around the world. He needs to discover the truth about that time and about himself. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images..."

. . . . . . . . 

There are no heroes in war.