Horror of “mad scrapbooks” in Ring 2, The Grudge (American version) and Sadako (Japanese), August 18 2013

Horror of Life byline.

In Ring 2, it turns out that several of the clues from a dream sequence had by Rachel, are to be found in a scrapbook-notebook kept by….Samara, or her mother. Of the plot element, I am not much concerned. But as a device, this is what I call the “mad scrapbook.” The cover is in the dream, and, soon after, Rachel finds it in the Morgan basement, in a trunk

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Then, it consists of writing and pictures, taped or glued into place

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This can also include pictures cut out of various places, and given meaning by the writer, including classic paintings, recaptioned by personal assignation of meaning freely associating on personal themes expressed in other pictures.

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But, basically, it is still a scrapbook, a place for keeping clippings, which, in the convention, are clues of psyche, and concern, and which are always denotatively marked with some sort of “psycho” effect, include intense circling

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It also includes personal photos, so it is part photo album

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And, in it, are contained a complete record of the mind of the keeper of the book. The movie associates this kind of book with psychological disorder, since it was kept by Mrs. Morgan as she mulled over the murder of her daughter. Later, further following clues, we go see Samara’s mother.

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Her psychologically gone state, a saint to mothers in trouble, is communicated by the fact that she sits all day busily cutting out newspaper articles for her personal scrapbook. The scrapbook is indistinct, but it is only a scrapbook, containing clippings of news stories

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The suggestion of madness is made by the fact that she has stacks of newspapers in her room. The implication is that, not unlike Torrance typing All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy endlessly on sheet after sheet of paper in The Shining, when he should have been creating productive work, this is scrapbooking run amock, an empty going through the motions, not following any particular storyline to discern a conspiracy theory, but just for it to be done, for the cutting, and the collecting. And it is the meaninglessness of it that makes it mad. As such, then, the mad scrapbook is a sign of trouble, but still given credit for being creative, while psycho scrapbooking, old school, is a sign of madness per se.

The history of the scrapbook as a sign of mental illness runs deep in horror. In the 1975 TV movie Trilogy of Terror starring Karen Black, we see a classic example of just the sort of scrapbook that a psycho might keep.

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This is “old school” in the sense that in its layout, it is very neat, it is focused on headlines, it is a document of news, and following of major stories. It is also neatly cut out and neatly arranged in nice patterns. There is also a telling handling of headlines, a weird kind of streamer, when detached from the newspaper, that takes on a life of its own as a major statement to be impressed into a book (in this sense, then, becoming more like a leaf pressed into a keepsake book—with roots deep in Victoriana. But what makes this different from a sane scrapbook, which would entail any star of a football team or up and coming starlet keeping in a scrapbook all one’s clippings, in effect, being a personal clipping service for oneself, that or one’s mother keeping the book, it has inverted to become a psycho desire for attention as in this case it is a serial killer who keeps news reports of the mysteries following her trail of murder and death. In this capacity, the keeping of the scrapbook bespeaks psycho narcissism, and also a kind of trophy-keeping, a making a shrine on a page for one’s accomplishments, even if sinister.

The Trilogy scrapbook, from 1975, also derives from the end years of an epoch of real-life scrapbook keeping by millions of people in the modern era. In fact, before there was pinterest and Facebook, there were scrapbooks. People kept track of their lives, made note of their admirations, kept talismans and relics of their devotion to a cult, in scrapbooks. They also kept little poems and odds and ends that they wanted to keep and remember, taped to a page. I know of this convention because I participated in it in the 1960s.

By the way, the keeping of my scrapbook (now gone, but it had a big light green leathery old photo album look, and could be added to as it was structured like a stamp album) (note: I am told it exists, so will include at a later date) itself passed from a classic phase, to a more expressive phase, to a synthetic stage, to a decadent stage. That is, at first, it featured all coverage deemed important, about an important event, as articles were rearranged as in a personal newspaper (and we also “played a game” when young of creating our personal newspapers). I kept a full report of that sort for the Alaska Earthquake of 1963. But then as the keeping of all press began to seem tiresome, only headlines were kept, so it became more expressive. Often the headline would not fit, so it was cut and spaced out across the doublepage, and then, sometimes, was set at an angle and slanted up from lower left to upper right, and then other items put in the negative spaces. This expressive phase opened up space for other keepings, at which point the exclusive devotion of a scrapbook to newspaper was expanded to include ticket stubs, brochures, advertisements, pictures, other souvenirs, all of it taped down flat to the page (in this, as I found, my scrapbooking evolved toward where it was most of the time in 1918, as my grandmother kept a scrapbook at that time, and it was a combination of headlines, news items, poems, cards, letters and a few other odds and ends, it was synthetic). Finally, there did come a bit where every scrapbook came up against the point of “what’s the point,” and it began to degenerate into a mere going through the motions. This happened with mine when I never could figure out what to do with the excess of news coming from the space program. I think it is at this point that I broke medium and decided just to keep the whole paper.

But the key element that was absent from my actual scrapbooks, that only emerged later, after I broke the medium paradigm, was combining keeping clippings with extensive caption commentary on my part. This tendency likely derives from the mind as it sees in the world: there is eye, and there is the mind behind it, commenting on what it sees. This is how life is, how humans see. We see, so there is an image, then we think about it, so there is a caption. As a result of this connection, there is a longstanding interest in a medium in which image and writing are combined. This impulse goes back in writing at least into the era of intertextual illustrations, and continues today in FB page conventions. This is pretty common, and not worrisome. Any teenage girl still will have a notebook in which they doodle hearts then write I love Jeremy below it; and then there are hearts, and then more text, and on and on, interweaving the two. But when the text becomes highly driven in a narrative way, that spills out to the borders, through the margins, that might spill over the picture, that will involve pen in marking, circling the picture, this kind of violation of margins, intrusion of text onto image, and obsessive texting, it is this element, more than any other, that makes the mad scrapbook mad. The above is mad scrapbook, of a woman almost mad, because the writing is all over, then even when the photos are put in, the writing gives them no room, but fills up every bit of page space around them

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(there is an element of this sort of scrapbooking not ventured here, but which is also of interest, in terms of charting out the elements of expressionistic word-picture art. This happens when the writing runs on over the picture, when, that is the writer tries to inscribe the picture, or mark it as his, by writing over it.

Another device is using the picture as a security measure, in which case there is secret writing under it. Which you would have to untape to get at. Still another way to increase secrecy or security, if a diary or journal—which at some point the mad scrapbook becomes—is written in a family situation in which violation of secrecy might be expected, is to tape secret pictures under other pictures, to write in cryptograms, or cryptically in symbols, and even to fold pictures several times, then to press them, like leaves or keepsakes, as often happens as the mad scrapbook impulse to flatten everything out like an insect on a page, under a picture, to keep them secret (in my experience, this kind of folded secret image would be of a romantic, sexual, sexual-creative or pornographic nature; by sexual-creative I mean it sometimes happens that for pure personal cult pleasure an image can be manipulated, for your own needs, and no others, and it is hidden away in this fashion for this purpose, especially in the manufacture of personal avatar imagery, the equivalent of internet images putting the faces of celebrities onto everyday pornography, assistant images to masturbatory episodes or ‘affairs’; desire, longing, frustration, are extra emotions, often locked away in journals or scrapbooks, and can distort image keeping in this way). As is, then, this is a pretty straight, not very psycho, mad scrapbook, but in combining text and image, and then, in the movie, by including a breadcrumb trail of images from the dreamy Ring video redo, it is psycho). (this is a whole other topic, however, cryptic imagery in the context of cults).

In The Grudge (American version), we get another example of the mad scrapbook, very nicely insrumentalized. We are introduced to the book by way of pictures, and it always pictures of a woman, the wife killed in the original crime, for this, for having developed such a crush on Bill Pullman that she followed him around, ending up sighted in many of his pictures, which the husband somehow got his hands on

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And then we see that these pictures are not placed in a book, but left out as part of a worktable or desk situation, which includes the notebook, or scrapbook (so, in fact, the scrapbook is subdivided into pictures and notebook). But it is noticed then that the pictures are either torn to pieces

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Or the face of the wife has been cut out of all of the pictures. This means that the husband knew of the problem, and was mulling over what to do about it. To cut the face out of pictures is an act of picture voodoo, with the purpose of exorcising the person from the life lived as recorded in the photos. It is an act of expulsion, even excretion, in magic, this sort of behavior goes back to Egyptians writing curses on pots then
breaking them.

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The fascinating aspect of this demonstration of symbolic killing, for that is what it is, symbolic killings always precede the real thing, in family annihilation scenarios, is that in 1990, or so, this very same idea was utilized by neoconceptual artist Curtis Mitchell at Andrea Rosen gallery, except that he mounted all the pictures on a sheetrock wall, had, apparently, to accentuate the rage behind the act of iconoclasm, done his expulsion by means of a blowtorch, and then, to complete the work, which he placed in the gallery as a kind of installation, he took a sledge hammer to it, and reduced it to broken pieces. In fact, in this movie, this act is joined to others, in a sequence, and instrumentalized as a series of leads to the secret that then paralyzes Pullman. The pictures are on the desk next to a notebook, a narrower example of a mad scrapbook

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But it is a mad scrapbook because not only is it written on obsessively, violating borders and margins, but as mentioned above the writer has manipulated the paper on which it was written, the page, and the fact that the page exists in a book backed up by other pages, to draw an eye on the page behind it, then tearing a hole in the page on top, with edges, so that it opens up like an eye looking through the page (a very nice work of scrapbook art),

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This eye is the ultimate clue, what we are after. That, based on where the iconoclasm led, the eye of the victim is watching. And so, the instrumentation increases, he sees on the door of a closet, all the cut out faces, taped up to the door, an amazingly interesting spin.

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And then the camera closeups son some of the faces, especially the ones that are watching, looking,

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The fact that some of the faces are pinned on with bloody fingers signals that this aspect of the ritual was done after the crime was committed, clueing us in to worse to come

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This then signals that the closet has been dragged into the sequence, and the display of his anger and grief, and that in fact the closet has become a tomb, these images signal that there is something in the closet, and, when he opens it up, out it comes, the victim,

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Of course, in keeping with what seems like a universal trope, the upside down face, the eyes looking out of it upside down, a haunting, evil eye, the eye of the dead then stares at Pullman, and paralyzes him

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It is also, by the way, in this version, that the strange spider walk that the victim does is rationalized, and explained, as the desperate crawling, trying to get out from under the kicks and hits, the woman does, tumbling-crawling down the stairs, to get away from her husband

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So, the mad scrapbook, but here beautifully instrumentalized by being extended to include in conception of it the pictures, then, the eye of the victim, a mixed time frame, before and after, an uncertain authorship, and then the pictures again, then what happened to the missing faces, which are on the closet, which then turn out to be signs that the body is in there, opened up, out it comes, and the curse of the eye of the dead. It is a beautiful piece of work, I almost want to say an inspired piece of work, extending upon the convention of the mad scrapbook. While in the Ring 2, the scrapbook is found, too easily, and, too patly, has on and in it, images that appeared to Rachel in a dream, clues to the mystery, the book itself is just that, an object found in a trunk in a basement, It’s got some clues, and then it is disposed of. To activate the notebook by making it the site of the bizarre obsessive acts of the husband before and after the attack, and an actual instrument that leads, by way of the eye, and the photographs, to the discovery of the body, much better.

In the very poor Japanese movie Sadako, the directors play with the more public and large scale dimension of the curse as it might work in today’s intermedial world of Japan. The movie is mostly about the image of Sadako coming off a computer screen, as dug up on an internet search. But, then, it only makes sense, if the image has come up on one screen, would not, in a world where, in Japan, screens have proliferated in the cityscape, and in a culture perhaps attuned to gargantuan representation, since Godzilla, so as a spooked girl is walking through the city, she looks up and sees the same thing coming from a large billboard screen

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Later, more Sadakos come, en masse, out of a wall of screens, as one might see in public advertising zones

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That this proliferation allows for a swarm of Sadakos to reach out en masse from the sets is rather fun

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And Sadako even reaches out from, and sucks others into, one of those rolling screen advertising trucks,

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All of this is pretty clever, as a publicizing of the private computer screen haunting (though, entirely stupid, on another level). But this impulse toward externalization also invests the discovery of the maker of the killer tape, a performance artist, whose loft is found. And when it is, there is a strange transformation, as a manuscript of some sort disperses, transformed into paper butterflies

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And then, through that, as if introducing it, we see a wall in his studio, where he has been making ‘art’ except that it is not his art, but his bulletin board, his note keeping, his picture keeping, his schedule making, and then it spreads, and becomes something else, a kind of art

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There are various clusters of text, as psycho text originates in spots, then spreads, virally, out to an end, then breaks, and it starts up from somewhere else, not like the pages of a book, but like a stain. Some of this seems to include pages of books taped to the wall, it has that ground about it, other is written directly on the wall, as in the central section here. Since, on the left, this writing runs right over into the coathooks, and the shelves, this means that it likely converts again into scheduling and bulletin board notekeeping, but boundaryless, as a psycho artist would. But then, on the right, it morphs entirely over into painting. The painting is not quite a painting, but a work of evil graffiti. It is a haunted image, come from inside his mind. It pictures, in fact, as we later find out, images of the girls rising out of the well, as in here,

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She squats, her legs are insectly distorted, she has the long hair, she reaches, it is a threat image, a curse image, an evil visage of an evil presence, and we know from later CHI excess, that it represents these girls in the well.

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And here,

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How can we imagine how the girls got like this? I have skipped ahead, first of all, how are we talking about several girls. Well, as we explore the wall more carefully, we see that much of the writing is simply an incantatory chanting of her name, repeated endlessly,

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As this litany turns into an excessive rant, and we are to respond similarly to it, as Shelly Duval to Torrrance’s mad repetition, in The Shining (1980), we see that the pictures are not random, they are pictures of young women, often polaroids, indicating that he took them, and pinned next to pictures of places, suggesting encounters at such and such a place, and the caption tells us that in the name of Sadako he now has killed these girls, sacrificed them, so to speak, to her,

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And so, in the tradition of the mad scrapbook, classic form, this wall is a cult wall, of sacrifice, a list and demonstration of sacrifices to the goddess she has become in haunting. So, the picture is a cult image, in a classic form (the fact that it came into his head in madness, however, suggests its evil nature, it is a curse image, an acheirodiptheria, an image not destroyed by human hands, but by another force), this is a shrine, and then the chanting is cult activity, in written form, and then he performs sacrifices to her, and leaves these votive works of art, their pictures, where they were killed, for her, and for his own record, to testify to himself of his devotion. In actual fact, then, the author of the killer videotape is a mad psycho killer sacrificing young women to Sadako’s revenge. And he completes the murder by tossing them down the well where she lies dead, that then is a classic ancient sacred place, sacrifices made to the original cult image, her, in the waters. At this point, then, imagination must take over. What would a girl look like, after years of being submerged in the water. Just as in the Friday the 13th series, where Jason was a drowned boy who came back to life (and the similarities between Sadako/Samara and Jason are often poorly acknowledged), and then is chained to the lake bottom, becoming, sequel after sequel, more decayed, so they imagine that she turns grey, rotten, a skull, that only her hair survives, and as it spreads out on the surface of the well water like a weed, spreads, grows tremendously, but, in this instance, they imagine what might have happened to her, her limbs broken by the fall, but finding a way to move now, and rotted, and dislocated, and made rubbery and grey, so they climb up like an insect might, have insect reflexes, look more like a grasshoppers than a human’s and thus move in the world as a kind of horrible spider, beetle or unspecified insect (deep down, in terms of deep sex, I believe that there is a subtext comment here on the subjugation of women today in the cult of the one-eyed monster, as these positions could also well be learned by the demands placed upon women in male pornography to assume any number of twisted up pretzel positions the better for the male to be received by her with new frictions and pleasures. The particular pose that the enshrined sadako takes is the position for oral sex, while the position inscribed on these spiders from the well is hard, pressed-down rear entry).

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(which means that not only are these monsters created by a killer haunted by Sadako to act as her golem in seeking revenge; but also that they haunt men, as images of what men have done to them, in blind pursuit of sexual pleasure). In this way, then, in a motif similar to one used in the original The Omen, the mad scrapbook spreads in form and style over into space and onto walls and on the wall with that space becomes a cult space with a cult image that then has room to accommodate a further evolution to incantation, sacrifice and votive offerings. The movie Sadako is a mess, a CGI spaghetti code, but the externalization of the mad scrapbook motif is interesting—not the least because, as so much installation art today does often involve migration from notebook page to wall, it infers that a good deal of conceptual installational art has a dark side, outside the white cube, in an ancient cultic purpose, of an evil, psycho nature. This is, after all, art that kills, which is what sacrificial art, surviving in the modern world, is interpreted as. In every way, then, notebook notes, an expression of artistic agency, is effaced of intent by an implication of madness, and reverts in its function to devotee incantation to a prototype reality, seat of agency, a haunting cursed being, Sadako, who sucks the life out of modern art, and makes it magic conjuring once again.


































Gunther Uecker, four stars, Haunch of Venison, November 17 2012

Gunther Uecker, four stars, Haunch of Venison, November 17 2012

(thinking back on season of 2012-2013, this show was a highlight, from last November)

Gunther Uecker has been pounding nails into found objects and stretchers long enough for his practice to be seen as a “thing”, a something he does, for deep psychological reasons, and no other apparent reason, without obsession, however, likely rooted in the times in which he lived, before age 35, and so the question in a review of his work today is is it old work in a museum show or new work, and if it is new work, how is he doing working his traditional means? This show is all new work which Uecker, now in his 80s, executed in the last few years. It’s a terrific show, proving again the possible wisdom in an artist latching on to one micro practice and staying with it until the end of the time on the supposition that he that Gunter Uecker, having translated nailing into art, now knows more about nailing than any other person on the planet (a claim likely supported by the fact that actual carpenter nailers have probably been using electric guns for over a generation).

I always associated Uecker’s nails with a German thing for postwar self-laceration linking up historically with the penchant of historic German catholic art for uberbloody Jesuses literally pounded down by nails, as in Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece, and so associate Uecker’s practice with the gothic self-scourging of the post war generation.

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Zeroraum after lebensraum, the Beuysian universe of selftorture and penance, but expressed in materials: that sort of thing,

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but certainly if in Uecker the nail once had the aura of torture that has been completely transcended by some sort of resurrection to wonder.

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This show finds Uecker still doing what he has been doing for fifty years with the same material and conceptual integrity his work always had. Maybe because his work was always only about the nails and the optic effects created in the spaces between them as a byproduct or side effect he avoided the trap of some of the optic artists of the early 60s of evolving into commercial creatures whose odd works served as the prototype for so much of the jazzy modern art you see in the background of stylish swinging apartments in movies, such as the one in Bava’s Bay of Blood.

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It is also possible that the espoused interest in the optical in his time was in truth drowned out by the acoustic character of the art in the making, the noise of all that pounding: and that the labor involved, part carpenter, part cobbler, rearranged his relationship with the canvas in a way to keep Uecker eternally grounded in a sense of solid workmanship, abiding by the carpenter aesthetic values of even Donald Judd.u 5

In any case, these issues float about in the background of the show. The main question is, what has he done with it now, and does this show set it off well? Things start off with some confusion as we have a number of front gallery word pieces in which the nails, pounded shallow, then bent by pounding their sides, over each other, act almost to redact texts implied below, balancing in an odd sort of way the odd noisomeness of their execution with a plea for shutting up about them. The fact that adjacent to these works Uecker includes some entirely adventurous prints consisting of German words with a focus on destruction written in an Arabic whose script must have reminded him of his nailed words suggests a mental liveliness still willing to play with associations that polysemously arise now and then from the continual pounding of nails to suggest other types of works.

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The main gallery features some small triangles whose stretchers are accentuated by having the canvas face to the wall and all the margin nailed in the same latch on sort of way. These works one thinks represent a not entirely clear spin off.

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Much more successful is a large loose drawing on a roll of paper sent down from the ceiling at the center of the main gallery covered in tiny splashes of black paint which enchants as forensic abstraction per se, executed by some simple device of application, but also count as an ingenious spin off of the use of the nails because one knows that somehow those microsplashes of black paint, as on an adjacent canvas, were created by a percussive application of nail heads.

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All of this spin off work, playing on the polysemic potential of his micro thing, and building up a vocabulary of possibilities, is great fun, and shows a lively mind. But the show is ultimately fulfilling by representing Uecker himself in a classic mode with the White Phantoms, a few large wood ‘canvases’ painted white over three quarters of the surface and then enlivened by the application of nails in  rich, complex, impossibly labor intensive urchinlike arrays of pounded large thick nails.

The wood is thick, the nails are big, the paint is splashed, the labor is intense: it all retains the roughness of work—and yet Uecker still can deliver the side effects of optic surprise, emitting amazing passages of an unexpected delicacy.

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In one White Phantom if you get in close and look from the side the nails, all at about forty five degrees, are paintsplashed white at the edge of the canvas and along the top heads of the nails, but then less so as you move to the center and down the length of the nail back in toward the canvas. The effect causes the eye to move in and out from light to dark.

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Each step causes the surface of the multiple heads of the nail to act like a wave and slip away from you, over the top of the visual field, even as the dark spaces between make the nails reassert their angularity and give off a porcupine bristle from below.

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Get in eyeball close and you have to wonder how Uecker painted the nails, what decisions were made, but marvel at the sheer variety of little decisions he had to make all the way through a process that must have a hypnotic quality. I even recommend going nose to nose with the very center of the spiral (in, for example, The Scream), to read the perforated surface of the nail heads up-close, at which closeness one seems to hear a squeak of a scream as it all looks like a micro forest felled by a sudden sheer–and there there may lie a faint echo of the forgot punctum of horror at the bottom of Uecker’s practice.

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If you step back out front with a spiral of nails and look at it head on first of all again the sheer scale of the effort to put them all in place, in that number, appalls, but then you forget about that as a hurricane trajectory takes over and your eye wanders from inner to outer bands, from the left side, all shadow of deep down the nail, to the right side, the gallery light bouncing bright off the heads, an effect that somehow causes the dozen spirals of the left side to hunker down, and the twenty or more every widening spirals of the right side to spin out acceleratively away, all of it set in motion by careful placement of nail and a manipulation of poundings and positionings just so to catch up the eye–still after all these years.

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Nor is this is all, because if you step in closer, the darkness of the steel nails, looking down the nail, takes over, the heads seem to irregularly cluster, and bunch, and make movements that they do not in fact make, again causing the whole surface to bristle, or start, but now with a darker intent.

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So, while Uecker demonstrates in the auxillary work in this show a mental liveliness and a willingness to still explore options for the use of his signature nails, all of which is fine, this show finally succeeds by offering an entirely satisfying crescendo of his classic practice, a thrilling entrée back into the workshop of a consummate expert who fifty years ago devised a little zero degree gambit to knock the illusionism out of art and get it down to the surface, all illusion reduced to optic side effect, and still finds ways to masterfully exhibit the endless complexity of it all. For an artist to take a lifetime to explore the full microdynamics of a process, by this point in his career and life it’s almost a scientific study by a great fractalist into the deepest beauty of the world with only a distant echo left of the darker source of his original aggressive idea to pick up the nail and pound down art with it, I guess that is what is called–growing up, or growing old and wise too.

Robert Mahoney.

Close-up pictures by GGP, video grabs from youtube.com

Everday abstract, abstract everyday: review-essay on everyday aesthetics

Everyday Abstract Abstract Everyday, curated by Matthew Higgs, through July 27, James Cohan gallery, July 11 2012

reviewed this July, 2012, still seems relevant: all photos from search or gallery.

This tidy show expediently assembles a group of young contemporaries around some masters practicing an evergreen form of modern art to good effect. But the theme, everyday art, is one that the art world has struggled with for over 100 years, and maybe since the beginning of art making. None of the art in the show is everyday art, in the purest, most basic definition of that term, except maybe for a nice example of the work by the Philadelphia Wireman, a so-called outsider artist who came to fame in the 1980s (and I haven’t heard much of him since). I still address the issue of everyday art when talking about ancient art, in a class I teach, where, to tell the truth, almost nothing is ‘art’ according to modern terms. In the case of Egypt, I point to an odd thing called an Osiris bed that was placed in tombs: a flat hollowed out wooden cutout of the form of Osiris then packed with wet mud and planted with wheat seeds so that by growing in the tomb it could convince Egyptians that all their magic was working, resurrection was happening. An anthropologist would not classify this strange fetish object as a work of art, but a work of magic: as far as they would go, and I agree, is that, since it is an object framed in a belief system and with a number of aspirational metaphors layered over it, it is almost art, we will call it an “encultured object,” which is as far as I go.


Elsewhere, anthropologist Jeffrey Coote (“Marvels of everyday vision: the anthropology of aesthetics and the cattle-keeping Nilotes,“ located the origins of the Dinka people’s aesthetic, with a decided taste for black-white variation, in their preference for rare piebald cattle, and because this pattern was deemed good luck, the style spread, all the way up to putting striping on a planted stick meant to represent the axis mundi on the day when they sacrificed a cow for the good of the herd. He called that ur-aesthetic, below or antecedent to art, an “everyday aesthetic.”

Sudan. Dinka tribe

Everyone in every walk of life has an everyday aesthetic: so do I. People collect things, give them meaning, charms, aproptropaic devices, collectibles, souvenirs, keepsakes, tattoos, special objects with sentimental value, etc etc; sometimes even everyday objects, because of peculiar circumstances, become saved like works of art, for various complex reasons I won’t discuss here, but in no case does that make these cherished objects “works of art” in the modern sense. In the modern sense, a work of art (this again from anthropology) is derived from the artist, who is the source of creative power; not from a god, not from a king, not from a patron, from an artist. Everyday folks can partake of art (someone once looked at my Christmas decorations and said, Irishly, to me, “you’ve got a bit of the artist in you,” and so I do, but that does not make me a visual artist). I have always been interested in all almost-art of this kind. But an artist in an art gallery or working in a studio making a work of art within the material and gestural bounds of a well-known art historical discourse referencing everydayness, or referencing everydayness in order to deconstruct the materiality of art for conceptual reasons, is not making this kind of everyday art, in the anthropological sense of the term. He is making art, not magical talismans (though the art can come to have that value).
You can tell that you are in the presence of true everyday art when you come in contact with a creative object and you literally, actually, perhaps because of context, perhaps not, and regardless of your experience with it, cannot tell if the thing is art, or not art, just someone’s sentimentally valued collected talismanic object, or made with intention by an artist. I have only had this astonishing, uncanny experience three or four times in my career as an art critic. One, age 21, I didn’t know anything about, but had a passing interest in contemporary art. My brother and I are at the Darmstadt Museum in Darmstadt Germany going through the traditional art then, suddenly, we step into a gallery and the vitrines are filled with bizarre disastrous messes of felt, and wax, and fat, and lard, and charred objects, and cardboard boxes, and spills, and just a godawful mess everywhere, it went on like for twelve galleries, and “we fell into a dream.” One of the great lasting art experiences of my life, engendered by ignorance, my encounter with the now disbanded Joseph Beuys collection at Darmstadt.


Thirteen years later. I’m at Art on the Beach, down where Battery Park City now is. We are way out at the end of the landfill, all of it sand (that’s why it was called the Beach). Suddenly, the sky goes dark, fast, a thunderstorm rushes in, soaks us, we run for cover, dodging from work of art to work of art, and finally take shelter in a strange little encampment tent, or wooden shed, of, we assumed, a homeless person, all of the walls of the teepee though remarkably covered in individually nailed in bottle caps. We waited it out, worried if the homeless man would come back in. It was an early masterpiece by David Hammons (still one of my favorite artists).


Third time, just new to art, I visit the ‘studio’ of East Village artist Paul Lamarre to write a catalog for him for his show at Barbara Braathen gallery, studio? It’s a cramped little apartment stuffed with all sorts of strange collectibles, what’s art, what’s not, Everything I Do Is Art, he declared, it was bewildering, and exciting.


And, finally, in 1993, I visit the West Village studio apartment, to include a work of his in an exhibit I am doing, about art that reached out past art into…..everyday life, of Barton Lidice Benes, who just died last month (June, 2012), RIP, and, again, pour for some time through his fantastical assemblage of is it art or is it collectible or what is it

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(and, by the way, that’s what a true micro museum is, an iterative assemblage of objects from varied sources collected over many years, not some lecture three-dimensionalized in research for a librarylike exhibition at Documenta; I would include Claes Oldenberg’s Mouse Museum in this list of everyday art experiences, but I saw it at the Whitney so knew that it was art going in).


In all these instances, I encountered everyday art, because…I was not clear where I stood on that borderline between art and life. Attempts were made in the early 1960s and again in the early 1990s to cross that line inside gallery spaces. Now, it’s of interest that younger artists have begun to prod at the boundary of art once again, after almost a generation of patrolling that boundary pretty carefully, but in fact this exhibition features only artwork, not everyday art, most of it exploiting the Big Pop’s enabling of all metaphorical gestured variants of hand to brush to canvas, rematerialized in any number of other gestures and materials. Andy Warhol and Hannah Wilke represent the premise, newer works the outcomes, and while these works are fine for what they are, mannerist referents of old ideas, and fun, because ‘it’s my kind of art,’ they are not strictly speaking everyday art (only Warhol’s boxes of everyday junk, maybe his polaroids, are everyday art, NOT his oxidation paintings).

That said, I took a liking to a few works simply because the artist appreciated an experiential or incidental artlike or aesthetic instance in, in fact, everyday life, that, it has occurred to me, from time to time, would lend itself to art. I like crinkled up paper, folded paper, folds of all kinds, always struck me as a great seam of artistic potential to explore, and so, while it may be a too Rudolph Stingel-y, did like Michael Francois’ untitled Pollock of paper crumpling.


Stains, of course, have always interest me, more for their potential, a la Da Vinci’s advice, for calling up physiogonomies, so of course David Hammons’ Koolaid Drawing (2004) is fun, but in the vernacular, since that is what Higgs is talking about, ‘drinking the Kool Aid’ is a reference to buying a false belief, Hammons by this time in his career may be laughing in astonishment that he made a long career out of this sort of thing—but he is the real thing.


Bill Jenkins Bed with Rope and Fence again is a lovely post-conceptual play with the material elements of painting, stretcher, etc, metaphorically resituating another potential over it, to suggest a new relationship with it, and its use of rope and fence as paint stroke is intense. It’s a solid work.


I am a particular fan of money origami and I suppose if I was a collector…. (tune up the Dylan, paraphrased) I’d go for any work of art that makes art out of money, so I like the idea of Sergei Jensen’s work, but it is a rather traditional collage, amusing but a bit weak.


Michael Smith’s Untitled features a vision of plastic dolphins swimming round the perimeter of a frying pan. This is everyday art only in the sense that it looks to me to be a visualization of one of those weird little impressions that come to you in the passage of everyday life, but then he caught it and made it into a work of art (either that, or he had an accident, oops, art—and I do love Oops art).


Just cause Shinque Smith bundles up clothing into a bale does not make it everyday, it makes it a distant cousin of Arman. B. Wurtz, too, one of the godfathers of the everyday, is here, but this is not one of his stronger pieces.


That leaves Wolfgang Breuer’s leaves taped to the wall as the closest thing here to actual everyday art. They are leaves…..and that’s it…and taped, with tape, nothing more, to the wall. But I have this covered too, back when neo-conceptualism toyed with this micro art line of escape or as Higgs calls it, Deleuzenly, a rupture, in 1992, I called it ‘bar fly art,’ art mimicking the little nervous tearings and bottle label scrapings and matchbook rippings and etc etc that people do (I was quite good at it) while waiting at a bar. I included a series of matchbook sculptures, consisting entirely of the artist having bent matches in a matchbook every which way, of just this sort by an artist named Rick Franklin (who showed briefly I believed at Postmasters Gallery) in an exhibition I co-curated in 1991. In its use of real objects, its refusal to situate them in a framework validated by fine art (except for the white cube, but Im not raising that bigger picture issue here), in the use of everyday adhesive, tape, Breuer comes up with genuine, dyed in the wool, original everyday art.


The final question is where does this go?: for me, it lead me into religious art, and magic art, and ancient art, and out of art and into anthropology, art that serves everyday life and the needs and fears people have in everyday life. The interest still reverberates, in all I think of art, all these years later. But if you are an artist and thinking of pursuing this line of escape from art, come see me, I have a talking to give you. But that’s another whole everyday.

Modigliani in the Polymorph: the case of art in a Skyfall world.

My son downloaded a copy Skyfall which I watched during my two night stay at his new place after the middle of the night rejection of the apartment I rented online sight unseen. I watched it then, and enjoyed it, and have watched it twice since, so it becomes the accompanying theme work of my fall into a new life. And that is the first theme of the visuals of the movie, the theme of falling, that drama happens when the hero is falling,

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Or more accurately, being pulled down by a force, in this case female,

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And going down the drain,

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The opening sequence, through the rush up of sand, then goes into a graveyard, and back to the iris of the eye of Bond, playing off of the traditional imagery of the barrel of the gun, which is the frame of the iris in this sequence,

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An odd element is the internal, the arterial, the bloody, and in several cases, it coagulates into a bloodclot of the death’s head.

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This then materializes back to the barrel of a gun held by a naked woman, clearly a close up of her intimate nature,

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There is then a suggestion, in images of falling, flaming Bonds, and of Chinese
Dragons, that she has fired her shot, we see the inside of the barrel of a gun
fire, flare up, and then we enter into an internal vision of world split by a
gunshot into a vision of Rorshack test images of women, and more women. As I
counted, this gunfiring following opens up one level,

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two level

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Three level

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Four level

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five level

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six level

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seven level

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eight level

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nine level

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ten level

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eleven level

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twelve level

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thirteen level

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fourteen level

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fifteen level

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sixteen level

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seventeen levels

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That’s seventeen levels, each time opening up into a smaller and smaller dimension, but in a way repeating, in kaleidoscopic rhythms, basic recurring motifs, skull, blood, gun, tomb and Skyfall, compressing the plot in motifs, to the end. But the most interesting part of this simple split screen kaleidoscopic effect is that the instrument of the archway leading down from one dimension of scale to another is, not just a naked female, as in all Broccoli bricolages going back to Goldfinger, all visions through the barrel of a gun, but the armpits of a naked female, not the breast, not the vagina, though that is strongly suggested in every pinch of the recession by blade, gun, elks horns or etc., the armpit. It is an architecture of armpits, opening up, muscularly, the cavity of the armpit leading into a new smaller dimension, and on and on, into infinity. This emphasis is in keeping with current taste, with current pornographic taste for the posed and callisthenic, and represents a more muscular version, a more sinewy version, of the cheesecake objectified women of the old Bond movies. It is again to be noted that while there is a good deal of sexuality in this movie, it is very suggestive and loose, and this James Bond is not much of a lover, except for one love scene. Moreover, in the ongoing flirtation with Moneypenny, she always introduces herself armpit first,

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And then in the movie’s one clearcut love scene, what we see is not breast or body, but silhouette (I can hardly think the average male viewer would have appreciated the opening rorschaks had he known that they would set the limit on the representation of nudity in the movie), and then armpit open, first lead into by the alterior seduction of an Asian bar tender whose strenuous preparation of drink is a show of armpit.  (Armpit fetishism (also known as maschalagnia) is a partialism in which an individual is sexually attracted to armpits.[1]))

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Odd too that when Bond and girl kiss, they make a negative Rorshack space in the form of heart or the muscle of the heart, an echo of the opening sequence, arty, but not very satisfying.

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The substance of this aesthetic, as it applies to the female body, and to Bonds being lured or trapped by it, is named in the movie, when a code morphs away from detection, and Q declares it to be a polymorphic code, like playing a Rubiks’ cube that is fighting back. That is, the female is the expression of this new code of global life, a polymorphic explosion of energy and form all over the earth, conforming women and men to it

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This polyform is nothing but a mapping, a series of connections,

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Elements one can zero in on, or draw away from, elements that are all sinew, and rotations, a postmodern expansion of the original vortex of Bondian gunbarrell vision,

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This polymorphic view of the world remains an outsider, tourist view, filled with panoramas, and awe-inspiring organic forms,

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Filled with the spaghetti of arterials, but, now, in Asia, spread all over the world,

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Distant vistas, with inspiring and imposing structures shimmering up in the ambient

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Towers soaring as high as roads run off, far, and then, as exemplified by the lighting and lettering on the skyscraper towers, from which a skyfall of a victim will occur, more codes, only codes

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Perhaps the symbol of this world or this relation to the world is riding on the outside of an elevator, where one is exposed to the terror of the pure structural form of the polymorph (as a Bond method of secret entry this goes back to Diamonds are Forever)

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Again, with a house of mirrors effect, and silhouettes, and the almost photorealist confusion of visual field seen through or reflected against the glass, leaving us floating in between, a vision of the world first introduced by Estes a generation ago, again the polymorph emerges in the fight scene in the tower, and since a lighted billboard image of a jellyfish is what rises up to define and figure out this world, it is fair to say it is imagined as an undersea world over or across the seas and we must be, to live in it, spineless and jellyfish like in our polymorphous fluidity and even perversity, to survive in it. (I will call a tangle in this world a stinger, after the hanging tentacles of the jellyfish).

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All of this, then, from the opening credit sequence, to the flight to Asia, represents the vision of the polymorphic world, the world of James Bond. It is a modern franchise vision of globalism carried over from a former age into our age, representing the world. In this world, woman is sinew and seduction, not an object, there are no objects. And in this regard, it is meaningful that, while I mentioned one painting shown in the movie in my review of the movie, I did not mention, and it is important, that a painting by Modigliani is represented as the object of possessiveness and collection in a secret showing to a collector, set up to be assassinated, in the tower. How many frames frame this Modigliani? airport, interchange, causeway, elevator, outside of elevator, elevator shaft, empty office tower, hole in office tower window, barrel of a gun, crosshairs, back of head, it is framed many times over by a twist and turn of polymorphic imagining, and so in this context, almost in the sense of a new sort of fluid cubism, its distorted and twisted look (repeated in the faux Eurasian beauty who is working for the villain, against her wishes), is expressive of how woman is squeezed out into a jellyfish in this world, it is a very curious appearance of a painting in the picture,

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I want to also mention that there was a narrative sequence including some polymorphic approach in Bond’s meditation on the Fighting Tremaire by Turner in the National Gallery. The sequence is introduced by news that he has failed his tests, and sight of him crossing Trafalgar Square, then coming up in the famous entrance of the gallery (which I remember well just that way from the rush to my step in in our brief visit in 2005, highlighted by the sighting and appreciation of the death’s head of Holbein underneath the Ambassadors,

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Then we are let into a close view of the picture, for it to record that it is reflection of the kind of thought of challenge, possible obsolescence, and degeneration, in Bond,

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I have said before, in this setting, without going into the give and take of Q and him over this or that device and its modernity, the picture represents Bond. What I did not see first time through is that there is a reprise of this. In the last sequence, when Moneypenny reveals her name, magic slating us back to square one, clean sweeping us away from the distraction of the age of the female M, the old M16 headquarters on the Thames, blown up earlier in the movie, and disparaged as a sitting duck, is shown framed like a sight of an old homestead over the back of the new M’s desk. And when in the final scene he and Bond face off to get back down to business, going back to the Sean Connery stage of seriousness, the Tremaire and its melancholy has been replaced by a robust British Royal Navy battle scene painting, indicating revived manhood, recovered spirit and the capacity to make sense of the world once again. This picture stands as a rebuff and reprise of the Tremaire, to put the world right again, in the care of M16. The odd subtext is that it is almost as if the franchise is writing off and dismissing all the Bond movies of the M period, especially the Pierce Brosnan pictures, and its odd that, in current taste for Bond, what people like is the original Connery pictures, and then the newer Craig pictures, and cannot take at present the suaver, sleeker, somewhat facile Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan pictures. Odd how taste works: but this is a good sounding of it. Overall, then, the movie is an intriguing attempt by an old franchise to seek to refresh or reboot itself according to a revised vision of the relational and shifting nature of globalization under the regime of cyber space and the internet, making the physical acccoutrements and engagements of the former world, as so rightly pointed out by Bardem, in the time of the polymorph, obsolete.

RM April, 2013