121015_r22677_p233The judges of the Booker prize might have the HT on Mantel, but I read Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies in about two weeks, and am into this article she just wrote for the London Review of Books. It starts with Kate Middleton and Diana and folds many mostly female royal bodies together as “carrier[s] of myth”, discussing how the public consumes them; what the public demands of them. It spins from the lack of soul allowed by our adulation of royal bodies to the fact that “a royal lady is a royal vagina”, to genetics and back again, mapping the way morals are mapped onto the bodies in question. What do we mean when we talk about royalty? What does Kate Middleton mean to us,  why do we care, and what do we owe to this newer royal or to any others? Mantel brings in the recent discovery of Richard III, whose twisted spine was used as a narrative device in Shakespeare but is now a archaeological reality, to illustrate the truth in some of our public myth making, and circles back to the intrigue that surrounded Henry VIII. She references a recent paper hypothesizing that Henry had a rare genetic disorder – now he is the one  bound by a common “biological tragedy, inscribed on the body.” If you pair it with this New Yorker profile of Mantel, written in the style of her Cromwell books, there is good reading for all.

Mm, go on, relationship experts.

In this article in the NY Times, Alex Williams tries to parse out the new dating landscape for the sweeping, broadly accessible generation of people under 30 working in tech and media in Philadelphia, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Moorsetown, NJ, San Francisco, and LA. What’s frustrating to me about this article is what is frustrating to me about Yelp reviews – just because you’ve eaten food doesn’t mean you should write about it. He does seem to be the one tasked at the NYT with explaining newfangled social trends to aging readers, like Sasha Frere-Jones when he writes about Rick Ross or EDM for the New Yorker. These examples make the institutions sound bleak and grasping. In this article, Williams doesn’t rescue himself from that association.

He fails because he sticks so doggedly to his thesis that this shift toward informality is bad. A woman describes meeting a bouncer one night when she was out and about and being invited back to his place with all of her friends, where they danced and ate macaroni and cheese with all of his. She spent the night, and it turned into a four month thing, and based on the article, it seems like they coordinated through text message. Williams takes this to mean that four months of fleeting texts (“hey babe”) are all anyone can hope for nowadays. I think the take away is that relationships still have to be based on sharing, and intimacy, and that is as likely to happen over mac and cheese with your friends in the same room as it is in the “hottest new West Village bistro”. Going out for dinner does not guarantee that anything worthwhile is going to happen. I know I am not alone in saying that.

Not to say that there isn’t evidence of laziness and flakiness masquerading as the realities of the asynchronous communication Williams talks about. But my bet is that the people who send half-hearted text messages are the same people who wouldn’t call you back, or even ask you out in the first place back in the day. Some people kind of suck. Others just aren’t right for you. Let’s not blame changing mores on that, right?

I think mainly, the people frustrated are frustrated at being single, and if we operated by super strict, gendered norms with formal dates, they’d be frustrated by that too. Connection takes vulnerability, and maybe our discomfort with that is what a story like this should actually be about.

A dad changed the code of a video game so the protagonist was female instead of male, and his 3 year old daughter would grow up in a world where women fight and search on their own and prevail over danger.

He wrote, “as you might imagine I’m not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers.”

The story is here, and he also includes instructions for doing it yourself. I love that his solution is not to accept the way gender stereotypes seem to bleed into everything, or even to whine about them – but to change them. And that he describes his desires for his daughter as self evident. How awesome.

I’ve always loved hip hop but I listen to it so much less now than when I was in middle and high school. Part of it is that I’m no longer surrounded by people who are into it like I used to be, and part of it is that I’m pickier now and can’t deal with some of its bullshit. My friend sent this to me the other day though, and I’m proud to rep Seattle in a way that I don’t often get to anymore. This is exactly how I remember high school – huge crowds of everyone dressing like second hand fools, dancing like maniacs with hip hop bouncing in the background. Red Light, I see you!

I just got back from “When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes” at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. It is a revisiting of a seminal show from 1969 “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Forms” curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern, that was instrumental in bringing the first wave of Conceptual and post-Minimalist Art to audiences. The art in the original was only loosely related, and so the show was as conceptual as the pieces within it: bringing disparate ideas to facilitate conversations instead of to prove a thesis constructed by Szeemann. The show at the Wattis was organized similarly, and there was a dinky model of Szeemann’s layout in the first room so you could compare the two shows – this minimalist art has never looked goofier than in miniature.

It is no longer 1969, though. The art that was in Szeemann’s original show is now familiar to us, and indeed lots of it, and its derivatives, are in major museums around the world. The art at the Wattis is in this same vein; visually restrained pieces where you often have to read the wall label to understand the significance of all the components. And questions comes up: is this still important? Does it have anything to do with Szeemann’s show in a way that all the other shows with work that gets off on being withholding don’t?

Eh, not really. But there are some good pieces, like a battering ram suspended mid air by many opposing wires, by the artist collective Claire Fontaine – arresting an object designed for movement in a position of permanent stasis. In a brief comparison of the works in the two shows, it did seem like the Wattis’ show had many pieces that maintained the visual restraint but also dealt in one way or another with the human body, through process, or photographs arranged or original, or mirrors. Perhaps this points to the simple legacy that Szeemann’s show, and shows like it, had – codifying a visual language from which contemporary artists borrow and use to their own ends. The show at the Wattis was enjoyable, but mainly because it was made of good art. The historical conceit is a bit of a stretch.

Secondly, two at least part time Chicago area curators have been selected to curate the 2014 Whitney Biennial, which is a big change for an institution that has traditionally pulled from within its own ranks. And from outside New York, no less. One, Michelle Grabner, founded a artist run project space about ten miles west of downtown Chicago more than twenty years ago called The Suburban, which is one of the cornerstones of the whole alternative art scene in Chicago. She now also serves as a senior critic at Yale and it’s really wonderful to see the principled idealism that is so present in the Chicago art world (but often does not take people many places beyond that) being rewarded on a more public scale.

Finally, this post by Shane McAdams pulled something about Minimalist Art together for me in a way I’d never considered. Writing about his Thanksgiving in suburban Wisconsin, he connected his in-law’s unwavering dedication to the industrialized regularity of cranberry sauce or baby formula to the industrialized regularity of Minimalist Art. Just as a certain generation embraced industrialization and all of its promises as a cure for rampant social inequities, artists like Donald Judd or Craig Kauffman, that we so revere, did too. Principled intellectual rejection was necessary to get to the place of using machine made materials (rejection of emotion, of association, of the messiness of human expression), but seen this way, Warhol owes as much to the Minimalists as he does to Duchamp and Picasso and the other historical tricksters, for the way they embraced the changing world around them. Seen this way too, the artists at the Wattis look all the more contemporary for their use of wood, dirt, and dust – reinforcing the relevance of their continued inclusion of the human body.

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Swan Usher

I’ve been meaning to do a post about why I love pop music so. much. and then today while doing research for it (ahem), I got caught up in the video for Climax by Usher. The video, in contrast to the title, is just a couple short hints of narrative fleshed out with close ups of him singing. It’s designed to draw your focus to Usher and his emotional story, and the choreography – again, only in close up – is incredibly evocative. His movements made me think of a book I read when I around 10 and trying to learn everything I could about ballet: to be a successful dancer, you have to communicate by doing more than just the steps. Though of course Usher is a dancer, the video is about his face and his voice – like ballet dancers using emotional cues to supplement the storytelling in the choreography, Usher uses those same body language signals to compliment the emotional tone of his lyrics.

I wish I could post these videos side by side, but I encourage you to watch any snippet of Swan Lake and then watch Ursher, baby employing many of those same tactics. Look at Usher from 2:52 – 3:11 – you could watch that segment with the sound off and still understand he’s deeply upset about losing something forever. He manages to convey the magnitude as well as the tenor with just the top fifth of his body, even using his face even while it is mostly occupied by, notably, singing.

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