Category Archives: quotes

Interview: Chris Dercon | Electronic Beats

I have said a few times that European cultural journalism of the sort published in free press is generally better than what Australian ‘elite’ media publish. This is not because am mean and/or hate Australia, but because standards of cultural journalism in Australia are held very low.

To demonstrate what I mean, here is an interview from Electronic Beats, a magazine I picked up in a bar a few days ago, here in Berlin. The interviewee is Chris Dercon, the director of Tate Modern:

You’re known for using interviews as platforms to make people aware of such societal developments. To quote you: “There are millions and millions of people […] who don’t know what social class they belong to and who can’t identify with any particular political agenda. And they’re becoming more and more. Those in power are hoping they don’t realize how many they’ve become; they’re hoping that they just continue to exploit themselves . . .” Do you think the art of modern governance lies in the skill to make the millions of members of the freelance “precariat” believe they’re only struggling for themselves individually?
I am completely aware that broaching sensitive topics like that is probably not something that’s expected from the director of a major art institution. A director’s job in the twenty-first century is not only to assume responsibility of a space for art, but also, and maybe even more so, to supposedly create a “time-slot” for art. That’s not my interest and never has been. I want to institute an institution, and this means to really create a space, to establish the conditions that fulfill particular needs and allow for certain experiences, and to make possible events in the future. This shouldn’t be equated with simply celebrating art’s “time-slot” within the larger scheme of socio-political events. I think most politicians see art as entertainment, as an expression of consensus of thought and taste, not as a form of critique. To make the impossible probable, and to celebrate the demos—that’s what I see as my task at Tate Modern, and that’s why this job is so intriguing. The Tate Modern is both sexy and democratic. You see celebrities and famous thinkers, but also groups of school kids and tourists who just arrived in London with the Eurostar . . . not to mention the twenty million visitors who use our online tools every year. And they all want something different. An exhibition like Gerhard Richter: Panorama is just one thing people want to experience amongst a host of other offerings. Curating exhibitions, selecting artists and art works; that’s one thing. Getting a message across is another. That’s why I like talking about small-scale organizations and what they can achieve.

OK, let’s talk about it. How do small-scale organizations fit into the picture?
Enthusiasm about being creative is a key aspect of self-exploitation nowadays, and that’s one of the biggest issues in an era where millions of people are freelancing. Today’s inequality is indeed unbearable. The art world is an ecosystem made up of art schools, art fairs, auction houses, galleries, museums, art publications, et cetera. And within this ecological mix, small-scale organizations become more and more important because they’re forced on the one hand to deal with so many other parts of the ecosystem and to adapt, while on the other hand still being absolutely unwavering about their mission. Most of them operate under almost impossible—I would even say unbearable—conditions. And yet they continue to operate.

You mean they are forced to operate in the face of failure?
That’s exactly why I’m interested in them.

via Interview: Chris Dercon | Electronic Beats.


The original Rolling Stone review of Patti Smith’s Horses (1976)

[from “Patti Smith: Shaman in the Land of a Thousand Dances,” by John Rockwell, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976.]

Patti Smith is the hottest rock poet to emerge from the fecund wastes of New Jersey since Bruce Springsteen. But Smith is not like Springsteen or anybody else at all.

Springsteen is a rocker; Smith is a chanting rock & roll poet. Springsteen’s followers thought he was a poet too, at first, because of the apparent primacy of his speedy strings of street-life images. But Springsteen himself quickly set matters right by building up his band and revealing his words to have been what words have been for most music all along — conceptual frames on which composers hang their art.

For Smith, the words generate everything else. Her “singing” voice has an eerie allure and her “tunes” conform dimly to the primitive patterns of Fifties rock. But her music would be unthinkable without her words and her way of articulating them — and that remains true even if they are occasionally submerged in sound. Patti Smith is a rock & roll shaman and she needs music as shamans have always needed the cadence of their chanting.

Her first record, Horses, is wonderful in large measure because it recognizes the overwhelming important of words in her work. The words are nearly always audible, as they sometimes aren’t onstage. There are occasional touches that betray the studio: an overall instrumental tightness, subtle twists and overdubs (in “Redondo Beach” for instance) that transcend the three-chord, four-man rock & roll basics that prevail elsewhere on the album. But even in the dizzying mix of two and three vocal tracks in “Land,” the climactic song of the album, the raw primordial feeling of a Patti Smith club date — minus only the between-songs patter and all the quirky humor that involves — is right here. John Cale, the producer, has demonstrated the perfect empathy he might have been expected to have for Smith, and he has done so mostly by not distorting her in any way.

The range of concerns in Horses is huge, far beyond what most rock records even dream of. “Gloria” is about sex (with Patti defiantly thrusting herself into the male of the first song), pop glory and redemption. “Redondo Beach” is about a lesbian suicide. “Birdland” is about the death of a boy’s father and the boy’s vision of being taken up into the “belly of a ship” and rejoining his father as an extraterrestrial. “Free Money” is cosmic anarchism. “Kimberly” is about her younger sister and the sky splitting and the planets hitting. “Break It Up” is about God knows what (no doubt he/she’s told Patti) — for me, it’s about schizophrenic shattering of the identity as a prelude to passing over to a higher reality. “Land,” the most complex of a complex lot, is about a teenaged locker-room attack that turns into a murder and homosexual rape that runs into horses breathing flames and an ominous, ritualistically intoned version of “Land of a Thousand Dances” (“Do you know how to Pony?”). And, finally, “Elegie” is about Jimi Hendrix’s death.

To say that any of these songs is “about” anything in particular is silly — it limits them in a way that hopelessly confines their evocativeness. Like all real poets, Smith offers visions that embrace a multiplicity of meanings, all of them valid if they touch an emotional chord. Her poems are full of UFOs and shining light that illuminated parallel worlds, mirrors you step through and cracks in our common realities. She leaps between meanings of words like an elf across dimensions, deliberately dizzying you with crisscrossings between comfortable perceptions: you see, the see becomes a sea, the sea a sea of possibilities.

But with all her Martian weirdness, Patti Smith doesn’t drift hopelessly beyond comprehension, and her music isn’t synthesized neo-British progressivism. Her visions repay consideration but don’t lose their immediate impact. Partly that’s because she couches them in the common words and experiences of everyday life. And partly it’s because she anchors her imagination with the sturdy ballast of rock & roll.

Smith’s singing voice is more Neil Young than Linda Ronstadt. By that I mean that it doesn’t have much range or natural amplitude or conventionally beautiful tone color. But it is full of individuality and entirely sufficient to support the intuitively apt phrasing to which it is bent.

The underlying instrumental music is the kind of artful rock & roll primitivism that has long characterized the New York underground. She has four men in her band but the leader is clearly Lenny Kaye, who has been with her since her first musically accompanied poetry reading five years ago. Kaye is a rock critic and oldies expert. The songs on Horses are co-written by Smith and either Kaye, Richard Sohl and Ivan Kral of the band, Tom Verlaine of Television (a striking, as yet unrecorded New York avant-garde quartet) or Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult. All eight songs betray a loving fascination with the oldies of rock. The hommage is always implicit — the music just sounds like something you might have heard before, at least in part — and sometimes explicit.

It is Smith’s elaborations of rock standards that provide the most striking songs in her repertory. On her limited-edition, long out-of-print, privately released single of Hendrix’s version of “Hey, Joe,” she spun a Patty Hearst fantasy full of sex and revolutionary apocalypse. On Horses she subjects “Gloria” and “Land of a Thousand Dances” to a similar treatment. Each becomes something far more expansive than their original creators could have dreamed. And with all due respect to Van Morrison’s “Gloria” and all those who recorded “Land of a Thousand Dances,” Patti’s versions are better. The other songs on Horses aren’t so overt in their appropriations of the past, although, as in “Elegie,” with its return to Hendrix and a direct quotation from him, they are permeated with a feeling for rock historicism.

Smith is a genuine original, as original an original as they come. But all these debts to rock’s past may make some in the rock audience wonder about that originality. And indeed, if one looks beyond rock, there are all sorts of other antecedents for her, too, and the question is whether a perception of those antecedents undermines her newness or merely places it in its proper context. The Beat poets are the easiest to spot, and particularly the Romantic/surrealist, Blake/Rimbaud sort of visionary mysticism that has always lurked behind the Beats. Such cosmic quests have rarely been prized by the establishment rationalists, leftist revolutionaries and rock & roll populists among us, but that hasn’t fazed the poets much. One reason is that the whole lower Manhattan avant-garde community has for at least 20 years acted as a self-contained world, incubating art on its own. The art toddles blithely across traditional borders: poets sing, composers dance, dancers orate, painters act, rockers make art. These artists owe everything to one another and far less to the outside, even the outside practitioners within any given medium. Patti Smith cares a lot more about Lou Reed than Robert Lowell.

If hardly took Soho to think up the notion of combining words and music — that goes back far beyond Greek tragedy. But there are more immediate musical poetic antecedents. Allen Ginsberg and the Beats couldn’t keep their hands off music. They read to jazz and chanted mantra fashion for hours on end. Their chanting has flowered into a whole movement among Soho artist today. La Monte Young has spawned a school of wordless chanters who move slowly and precisely up and down the overtone series of a give drone in “eternal,” evening-long performances. Meredith Monk, the dancer, has put out two privately issued records and given concerts of her music, which alternates between Satie-esque little piano and organ pieces full of childlike repetition, and quite amazing chants in which her voice (a voice rather like Smith’s) passes through a rainbow of aural colors in witch-doctor incantations.

Most of these efforts arise out of widespread fascination with cultures and modes of perception foreign to a Western sensibility. Young studies Indian singing; Monk’s debts to primitive shamans are overt. But there is another, related kind of music involvement that embraces the West with a violent vengeance. This is the sexually ambiguous, pornographic-pop sensibility that produced Andy Warhol, pop art, instant celebrities and the Velvet Underground.

Cale is the transitional figure here. Born in Wales and trained in classical music, Cale arrived in America from London in the early Sixties, studies with Iannis Xenakis in Tanglewood, and eventually gravitated to lower Manhattan and Young’s circle, where he spent a couple of years doing Young’s kind of quiescent, Orientalized avant-gardism. But by the mid-Sixties his own, rather more pop self began to emerge, and along with Lou Reed he founded the Velvet Underground, the most influential of all the underground New York rock bands.

Why were artists — Walter De Maria played drums occasionally with members of the Velvet Underground in its formative days — attracted to rock & roll? Well, first of all, by the Sixties it was as integral a part of the American consciousness as soup cans and a lot more powerful than they were. It epitomized rebellious violence that mirrored the meditative quiescence that other avant-gardists were sinking into, and it did so with flash and perverse style. Equally important, its simplicity of structure evoked a response in artists caught up in an aesthetic of minimalism and structural process. The other kind of intellectually respectable popular music, jazz, had drifted off into an anarchistically free chromaticism that was tied up too tightly with black rage.

But all of this, one might argue, happened in the Fifties and the Sixties. Aren’t the Sixties dead? Visual artists provided the impetus behind the Manhattan avant-gardism of the Sixties, and perhaps they have settled down a bit now. But the kinds of activities I’ve been talking about here are just getting into gear, and if New York is still the center of it, the activity is really worldwide, from the English and German progressive rocker to Stockhausen’s chant and ritual pieces to Xenakis in Paris to Terry Riley in Oakland. Even now, in New York, the post-Velvet Underground rock scene is in the midst of a fresh eruption of energy, with bands like the Ramones, Television and Talking Heads about to afflict themselves on the national consciousness.

Originality is always something tricky to prove. An artist’s detractors rush to dredge up antecedents in order to deny the claimant’s newness: the artist’s fans stress what is unprecedented about their idol. In Smith’s case, most of the response so far has focused on her debts to the Velvet Underground, the Stones, Jim Morrison and even Iggy Pop, while ignoring her nonrock roots. Horses is a great record not only because Patti Smith stands alone, but because her uniqueness is lent resonance by the past.

Copyright © John Rockwell 1976

from a patti smith babelogue


Groups can be creative too.

Basically, what I learned from Japan is that creativity isn’t solely the domain of individual artists or inventors. Groups can be creative too. It took me a while to realise this, but when I did it made me happy, because it resolved an apparent conflict between two of the things I hold most dear: collectivism and creativity. I think you can say that Japan is capable of producing both the cliches of the manga industry and the originality of someone like Yuichi Yokoyama, whose quirky abstract mangas depend for their impact on twisting the conventions of mainstream manga. It’s not like Yokoyama defies manga, or appears courtesy of divine lightning.

– Momus, The Rumpus Interview

This feeds into a number of conversations I’ve been having recently, through which I have unearthed the roots of my own understanding of a meaningful life in the diet of socialist-approved children’s books my generation grew up on in Croatia; books in which gangs of smart children come together and make awesome things come through, generally accompanied by either a complete disinterest, or active sabotage, of adults (Vlak u snijegu, Družba Pere Kvržice, Junaci Pavlove ulice, Emil i detektivi, Blizanke, Koko i…). This, to me, ties directly to the fact that the most interesting initiatives in art, politics and design in Central Europe (not merely post-socialist, but all of Central Europe) are collective pursuits (art, design and curatorial collectives, magazines, festivals, movements, protests), as well as to the fact that contemporary young Australia is woeful in all of these categories. Coming together to work on a bold, brave project is shrouded in a kind of sublime poetry over there. Here, people shudder and say I hate group work, and ‘arts management’ is understood as the art of midwifery for many individual little geniuses.

Groups can be creative too.

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Italian-language guide to Melbourne arts

A good friend of mine, Daniele, who reports on and critiques Melbourne arts for Italian-language newspaper Il Globo, now has a blog, Metti una sera a Melbourne.

If you speak Italian, he offers an excellent, informed and well-judged guide to local arts, particularly theatre. Enjoy!

Foreign Objects

Foreign Objects
Bruce Covey

Hemlock is high in soluble fiber.
A self-directed bullet contains no fatty acids.
Asphyxiation eliminates 2nd-hand smoke.
Carbon Monoxide is nitrate-free.

Sleeping pills reduce the body’s need for sugar.
A blow from a sword is high in iron.
Hanging flushes the body of its toxins.
Cyanide cleanses potentially harmful resins.

Bleach cuts cholesterol levels.
Jumping simulates weightlessness.
Drowning ensures hydration.
Smoking improves eyesight.

An oncoming train is filled
With many fruits and vegetables.
Running a car into a tree reduces
The need for red meat consumption.

Foreign Objects

Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library | The Awl

What the available details of Wallace’s life and ideas suggest is that we in the U.S. are maybe not doing a very good job of taking care of recovering addicts, or of those suffering from depression.

The new Me Generation of the aughts is like a steroids version of the innocent ’70s one, which really amounted to little more than plain hedonism. There wasn’t as much guilt and self-recrimination in those days. Today this focus on “Me” is something more like an obsession with our faults, a sick perfectionism, coupled with an insatiable need for attention; the idea of the ‘star’ as something we want to be.

A case can be made that U.S. society is very much obsessed with “self-help,” which involves thinking a whole lot (too much, even) about yourself and your own problems, seeing everything only as it relates to the self, rather than seeing oneself as a valuable part of a larger valuable whole; this is one of the themes of The Pale King.

“We’ve changed the way we think of ourselves as citizens. We don’t think of ourselves as citizens in the old sense of being small parts of something larger and infinitely more important to which we have serious responsibilities. We do still think of ourselves as citizens in the sense of being beneficiaries–we’re actually conscious of our rights as American citizens and the nation’s responsibilities to us and ensuring we get our share of the American pie. We think of ourselves now as eaters of the pie instead of makers of the pie. So who makes the pie?”

Maria Bustillos, Inside David Foster Wallace’s Private Self-Help Library

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Holy men of our time

Bismarck’s epigram about diplomacy and sausage applies also to the way we Americans seem to feel about professional athletes. We revere athletic excellence, competitive success. And it’s more than attention we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll spend large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.

But we prefer not to countenance the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll pay lip service to these sacrifices – we’ll invoke luck clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the privations, the prefight celibacy, etc. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up bovine hormones until they collapse and explode. We prefer not to consider the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews, or to imagine what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think in the simplistic way great athletes seem to think. Note the way “up-close and personal profiles” of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life – outside interests and activities, charities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one pursuit. An almost ascetic focus. 42 A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to their one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very serious and very small.

42 Sex- and substance-issues notwithstanding, professional athletes are in many ways our culture’s holy men: they give themselves over to a pursuit, endure great privation and pain to actualize themselves at it, and enjoy a relationship to perfection that we admire and reward (the monk’s begging bowl, the RBI-guru’s eight-figure contract) and love to watch even though we have no inclination to walk that road ourselves. In other words they do it “for” us, sacrifice themselves for our (we imagine) redemption.

David Foster Wallace, ‘Tennis player Michael Joyce’s professional artistry as a paradigm of certain stuff about choice, freedom, limitation, joy, grotesquerie, and human completeness’, in A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again, p.237

Holy men of our time

It is a strange thing to love a city.

I always had a sense that I would fall in love with Tokyo. In retrospect I guess it’s not that surprising. I was of the generation that had grown up in the ’80s when Japan was ascendant (born aloft by a bubble whose burst crippled its economy for decades), and I’d fed on a steady diet of anime and samurai films. Tokyo for all sorts of reasons spoke to me. By the time I was ready to start having fantasies about any city other than New York, Tokyo was already “the default setting of the future”—Blade Runner city!—and whether because of my childhood poverty or personal inclination, the future was where I longed to be.

It took a while—I wasn’t the kind of kid who could afford to just up and go wherever he liked—but I did finally make it to Tokyo. My best friend, a Japanese-American who’d relocated back to the home country after college, was hosting me. It was a strange time, really. My friend was scheduled to have open-heart surgery the following month, which was part of the reason I had flown over when I did. You know: just in case. He had pretty much decided that no matter what the doctors said about the risks, he was going to be fine, and all that really mattered at the moment was showing me as much of Tokyo as possible. His way of dealing with it. So that’s basically what we did for the next three weeks. Saw Tokyo. Lived it. And predictably I fell in love.

With what? The typical stuff. All the bells and whistles of its modernity. The strangeness of it, the impossible overwhelming scale. With the ramen shop behind my friend’s apartment that served the greatest gyoza I’d ever eaten. With his hip neighborhood, Shimo-Kitazawa. With the last trains back from Shibuya, everybody smashed. With the curry shops that were a revelation to me. With the ginkgo trees and the parks that, despite Tokyo’s insane urbanism, were everywhere. With the castles and the temples and the costume tribes that gathered in Ueno Park on the weekends. With the fact that you couldn’t walk five feet in Tokyo without being tempted by some new deliciousness. With the eyeglass-washing stations. With the crows and the wooden crutches propping up ailing trees. With the glimpse of Mount Fuji from the top of the Metropolitan Government building. With the salsa clubs in Roppongi. With my little train book that I carried with me everywhere.

I could go on. We all can when we talk about the cities we love. Tokyo just did it for me the way London or Rome or Paris or Barcelona does it for other people. My childhood self with all his longings resonated with Tokyo’s futurism. My immigrant self grooved on the familiarity of being an utter stranger, of being gaijin No. 1; it was not so long before that America had been as incomprehensible to me as Japan. My apocalyptic self (highly developed after an ’80s childhood) froze at the scars of Tokyo’s many traumas.

It is a strange thing to love a city. In the end because no city is entirely knowable. What you love really are pieces of it. You are like Dr. Aadam Aziz forever peering at sections of his beloved through the perforated sheet. In Midnight’s Children the sheet was finally dropped and the beloved revealed, but with cities that never happens. That is perhaps part of the allure, what brings us back to the cities we love: our desire to accumulate enough pieces so we can finally have it whole within us. But to love a city is also to love who we were at that time we fell in love. For me, my love for Tokyo is intertwined with my love for my best friend, who did, in the end, survive his surgery.

Cities produce love and yet feel none. A strange thing when you think about it, but perhaps fitting. Cities need that love more than most of us care to imagine. Cities, after all, for all their massiveness, all their there-ness, are acutely vulnerable. No city in the world makes that vulnerability more explicit than Tokyo. In the last century alone Tokyo was destroyed two times. Once by the Great Kanto Earthquake and again by the bombings of World War II.

Each time Tokyo has risen anew.

Today, as radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station drifts toward Tokyo, I am again thinking about the vulnerability of cities and of our love for them. Perhaps cities provoke so much love because they know that in that love lies their own endurance. After all, isn’t it true that for all their vulnerability, as long as a city is loved by someone it will never truly disappear? Isn’t that what it really means to love a city the way I love Tokyo: to carry within yourself the possibility, however faintly, of its rebirth?

Junot Diaz, Tokyo

Re-thinking rape: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer

Peter Paul Rubens
The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus
c. 1618
Oil on canvas
88 x 82 7/8 in (224 x 210.5 cm)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Very interesting post at Yes means Yes on communication patterns and how one says ‘no’, applied in regards to sexual violence. A paper by Kitzinger and Frith (1999) uses very fine-combed conversation analysis to discover that

– in English, saying ‘no’ is usually done indirectly: through use of pauses, aahs and ums, palliatives such as appreciation, and explanation. In other words, a typical refusal of an offer sounds like this: ‘Thank you, I would love to, but… uhm… I have to work all day tomorrow, so… yeah… I might not be able to.’ This is how a rejection normally sounds like, a rejection of any offer. In English, a direct ‘no’ is understood as a rude and aggressive communication tactic.
– in English, such rejections are clearly understood by both men and women; neither had any trouble hearing the implicit rejection, however politely expressed, and regardless of the fact that they did not include the word ‘no’. Continue reading “Re-thinking rape: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer” »

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Someone else’s wedding

There must be a breech of etiquette in publicizing a wedding entirely for, by and of strangers, but these photos and the story were too compelling. I am not prone to romanticizing weddings, but something really touched me about this one:

bicycle wedding, via Joanna Goddard.