Friday, July 29, 2011
A Sunday At the Museum
Praise Vishnu and the overdose of Coca-Cola the night before - I awoke the late morning after the humongous pleasure filled Normal's night at the Golden West (early on in the evening Sir Tony said "follow me". He led me into the heart of the kitchen area, strong beautiful youth looked upon me with horror, and he stopped before the soda machine. "Drink as much as you want you goofy-assed old man". Taking me back to my childhood days of working the Friday Bingo nights for Holy Trinity Church. Explode that bladder! Sugar levels Rise!!) and immediately thought "Today is the day to check out the Sondheim Prize finalists at the BMA.
Too many years, too many shows, I've thought "I'll get around to that when I am a well-paid Hopkins surgeon or when all my back hair falls off, each curly brittle strand turning into a speaking serpent). Well, not this time hombre! One of my favorite Baltimore multi-media power hitters - and softball team comrade - Stephanie Barber, was a finalist and had an ongoing installation.
I have to say that I felt funky fresh and invigorated to be back in the BMA, and not just because of their superior air conditioning, but the first room of the exhibit underwhelmed me like a sluggish whisperer in the kitchen at a family party.
The front room was all wood sculpture by Rachel Rotenburg. There were some spots with color stain/painting on the pieces and beautiful vines intertwining, like in the piece "Sacred". The artist is obviously a handy craftsperson and the wood was beautiful, especially for a late in life tree huncher such as myself. But I couldn't help thinking "Gosh if I was wealthy and I had a wealthy aunt this kind of thing would be great to buy her for her back patio".
Sort of like if Red Tree in Hampden handled larger scale arts and crafts. Not a bad thing, by any means, but there were no butterflies in my swollen belly and my aged knees were nowhere near buckling or even bending with the shock of the new or the mystery of the resonant. Especially in a city like Baltimore that is exploding with great art, music and writing now, more than ever, ruled over by the firm mystical hand of Madame Drogoul, High Priestess of Art.
Also, the pieces had such kind of shopworn, or we could be generous and say archetypical, titles as "Sacred", "Memories" and "Dream". If you're going to go with titles like that you really have to pack a punch on the Jungian level.
(picture below is not from show but lifted randomly from internet)
The second room contained powerful graphic photo pigment prints of the war in Afghanistan by
Louie Palu who is Washington based. These photos had titles like "Standing In Dust From Improvised Explosive Device Blast, .....Kandahar, Afghanistan", "A Soldier Asleep In The Morning Before a Combat Operation" and "Horse Killed By Improvised Explosive Device". These three photos were the most effective for me.
Being too young at the time for the Vietnam War, the last war with a draft, and too old and not at all interested in signing up to shoot down folks like Saddam who we propped up for years and gave weapons to so he could whoop up on Iran, I can't imagine what it's like to fight in modern war. As if wasn't bad enough that a near silent bullet could come out of nowhere and take out your windpipe or eye or a lobbed hand grenade plop in your lap like a sea turtle's malignant tumor, now the smiling teen walking beside you and your troop buddies could have a fairly sophisticated explosive device lodged up his ass and one second you could be doing air guitar (or rifle guitar) to a Tool song and in a blinding instant you are flying tartar, clam dip and chunky salsa.
The one photograph, "A Soldier Asleep", actually captures what appears to be a moment of serenity for a soldier. You see him chest up peaceful in bed, the lighting mild and velvety, beside an endtable with a miniature Christmas tree, a very large piece of flatbread of some kind and a glass of what seems to be tea. A moment of humanity in the middle of unimaginable hellishness.
The hellish part of modern war is depicted graphically and starkly in "Horse Killed....". All that's left of a majestic creature is a flattened skull and one charred curving side of ribcage. Everything else has been smeared flat black and charred into the equally grim charred landscape.
Beyond just for being the escape from the horrors of endless modern war, entering Stephanie Barber's laboratory portion of the exhibit was exhilarating and refreshing. She had a mini-studio set up within her exhibit room and was having museum visitors stop and read from scripts she had written. Then she would process these recordings and use them in a new video for the exhibit. While I was there two different sets of guinea pigs were emoting and the electricity was crackling. A group of teenagers read and it was as if this was what they were born to do. Meanwhile people floated around checking out her walls and the videos that were already showing on the monitor.
(Image of Lady Stephanie borrowed from Human Pyramid blog):
As it has already been widely reported in the tabloids, Dr. Barber is not only a hyper creative being pulled in many directions, she also never sleeps. After a few days of non-stop writing, videotaping and sculpting, she merely hangs upside down from a simple acrobat bar from the back of her knees and swings loosely with her fingernails grazing the surface of the floor. Watching her calm attentive treatment of these random art lovers, it is difficult to think of her diet as being strictly the stardust shaken from comets when they strike the Earth.
Stephanie's piece was called "Jhana and the Rats of James Olds". On little standing scraps of paper atop the video monitor is printed "Every day I make a new video and add it to these. They are between one and five minutes long.......they are like poems." Indeed. As a testament to the blurring of poetry and film in her work, Publishing Genius Press published these here separated to see how they standing alone, which is film narration and a dvd of her actual films.
Like poets whose voices are so distinctive that certain words are almost trademarked by them once they've utilized them, like "sheet" or "spit" in the work of John M. Bennet or "goodies" and "bigtime" in the writings of Al Ackerman, certain images, though they may be appropriated or "neutral", have become associated in my brain with the work of Stephanie Barber.
For example, her video which I think is called "Puppet Television", at least I wrote that down in my notebook with quotes around it, features a still photo that looks like it came out of a '60s era House Beautiful or Modern Home type magazine. A TV screen sized area has been cut out of the living room picture and in that area two sockpuppets are communicating in indistinguishable burbling. There are then cut away shots, closeup, of a young girl's face with various emotions crossing it, in apparent reaction to the sockpuppets. There is something about the still photo and the other similar pictures of home interiors that she had delicately pinned sparsely to an area of the museum wall that is as distinctly "Barber" as the high pitched violin strained sound "wheep wheep wheep" is Bernard Herrmann's.