We live in the age of hucksters. A series of puzzling “business opportunities” were recently presented to me. All contingent on artists subsidizing the whole enterprise upfront, like a pyramid scheme. DIY goes exploitative. My chief compliant is 2fold. First the lip service towards actual diversity. The concept of diversity almost always gets reduced to identity politics, which I believe does the opposite of Martin Luther King’s dream about “judging people by the content of their character”. I believe identity-politics re-enforces stereotype by reducing opportunities for commonality. Human beings are also spiritual beings. We are more than our gender, color, orientation or ability. True diversity is more varied and nuanced than we could ever begin to categorize by type. So my question is why not expand the concept of diversity? Yoko Ono’s music video “Bad Dancer” is an lovely example of how diversity makes us more well rounded as people. She has become an artist who addresses ageism just as she has throughout her life spoken out against racism/sexism, while continuing to speaks up for the environment and global peace. Her artform has always pushed us to expand our imaginations. “Bad Dancer” encapsulates her philosophy. Secondly USA colleges are pumping out “emerging artists” at a huge rate. They are better educated than my generation and well skilled at their chosen crafts. The problem is that flying blind with art degrees that came with a large price tag is bound to be disappointing. The contributing editor for Vanity Fair and writer Fran Lebowitz states blunt that the art colleges give students false hope since it is ridiculously difficult to able to sustain an art career. She should know. Her famous writer’s block after 2 books in the 1970s, made fashion editor a better choice for her. Plus she is a cutting wit and worth paying attention to her hilarious comments. Additionally many students do not get a business education as a part of their degree programs. Or if they do get a business education, the model is linear like manufacturing. By now it should be well-known that the art industry in America is not linear. It is roundabout, curvy and sometimes even circular. Which brings me back to huckerism. The trend to raise funds via DIY social networking is yet another form of begging everyone to assist with your next project. This is a miserable way to run a career. My objection is actually a plea for our newly minted artists to approach their elected official. Get to know who they are, let them know who you are, vote in all elections, not just the big ones. Call them out about their art policies or lack thereof. Artists are some of America’s strongest workers and national, state, county, city, town politics do not even see art as a real industry, with the exception of all “blue-chip art”. So what do entrepreneurial artists do? They could build networks, make art and continue to beg but that is not much of a strategy. I am hoping that artists participate in democracy directly. Democracy could die unless its creative citizens exercising it. Recently watched Ai Weiwei documentary “Never Sorry”. Case in point. He was/is up against extreme ideology. I cannot begin to understand what it was like to go from being a celebrated artist for the development of “The Bird’s Nest” at Beijing Olympics to having your once sanctioned art village bulldozed then eventually jailed for tax evasion. His crime? He named the youngest victims of an earthquake that leveled schoolhouses specifically, which exposed systemic corruption. He sagely noted that artful change starts at the very beginning. It is his level of authenticity and ability to be a seedling that is inspiring and the opposite of hucksterism.
I am part bird.
It is fashion week and as per usual I get caught up with entertaining myself through clothing. It is the cheapest therapy imaginable because taking oneself too seriously is a mental disease. That reminds me, I wonder if I could get my hands on a straight jacket for those with superiority complexes. They require immediate re-styling 4sure! Winter time is a special challenge with fashion decisions. Too much hinges on questions about form or function. Do I ruin my Gloria Gaynor heels in the slush or carry them in bag to change out at the destination (awkward) or just sport snow boots (maybe too much function) until spring. Of course fashion seems trivial against the life and death realities around the world. There is little I can do for the youngest or oldest members of our global village as they face desperate situations. It is heartbreaking. Self expression will always be controversial, people die for the rights to self-express. But I do wonder, since when is it ever fashionable for people to be willfully ignorant about science, language, history, politics, art and culture? The answer is never. It is never fashionable to dress up one’s body and forget to enhance your mind. As Valentine’s day comes and goes I rhapsodize about unconditional love, rarely applied at group level, unless one lives in the rarest of urban settings where judging people solely by their appearance could have unfortunate economic consequences. Like when I first arrived in NYC and rented an Lower East Side apt our landlord looked really worse for the wear during the week. However he lived in palatial Mill Basin, dressed “uptown”, drove his custom Bentley or his giant yacht on the weekends. I’d watch him play people to his financial advantage because of his worn out clothes. Perhaps Shakespeare was right yet again “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Most modern people can understand the concept of individuals playing many parts, we do it everyday by dressing for the part, ie: for the job, to attract attention, to respond to the temperature or just to raise our spirits. So in an effort to raise my spirits I watched the movie “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It had many of the features I like in contemporary story lines: a play within a play within a movie, it’s about NYC life and supernatural powers. It did not strike me as fully developed and I believe it fell short of it’s potential. As the results I am prepared to ponder this film for awhile, not because it was deep but because it was truly well done. Being excellent at what you do it the heart of fashion-ability.
In my natural habitat.
I thought I said “I hate unicorns”. Not really oh glorious unicorns! You know me…a total sourpuss with a heart of gold and colored braids but I am not feeling much mythology these days. Perhaps winter has started to work its gloom on me by making me think about puzzles, just not the ones that make a neat pretty picture. In my artist mind, which btw has no “off” switch; there are gzillions possibilities living in this fertile imagination. An art mindset is constantly questioning and oddly is predisposed to creating sense out of nonsense. Some people might call it being a “know it all”. Many many artists are experts of infinite esoteric subjects, once referred to me as “useless information” because artists are so singularly idiosyncratic. I, like to think of my industry as fixated on achieving ideals with great personal style and always under budget. My mental puzzles include pieces like: a blogger gets 1000 lashes @50 a week for an opinion. Cartoonists are murdered for their juvenile satire. School children are attacked or kidnapped worldwide for trying to learn. People died and maimed for going to watch a Batman on a summer night. Foreign and domestic there is some sick mutherfuckers attacking every community and everyone’s freedom of expression. What to do? Can we ever discuss the prolific global manufacturing of weapons of war? That piece is most puzzling because it seems impossible and therefore very sorrowful. Could the USA ever maintain a Dept. of Peace? Another puzzle piece involves individual gun ownership. This part of the puzzle is on us. Americans could and should vote to change elected offices city/statewide to amend laws. One irrational hope is for the Honorable Micheal Bloomberg to set up an entity to buy guns/ammo; perhaps trade-ins for smart guns, and get us background checks nationwide. If there was ever a need for a modern day messiah to curb USA’s gun appetite it is now! The last unwieldy shaped puzzle piece is the subjugation of women. What to do? This piece is ubiquitous like a shadow but when whole schools of young girls get stolen from their futures as they become captives or slaves, then there is a gigantic need for powerful original thinking. We desperately require creativity because killing people for their pursuit of an intellectual life is too commonplace. I always knew USA policy towards arts and culture was deficit, but with mounting injustices and intractable problems at hand, I truly wish that artists could chime in effectively. I often wonder as a community builder how to make people care actively about peaceful co-existence and how do people work together creatively? If one idea could save the world – it is not going to be same old same old. People have to collectively decide to save the human culture together just as the recent great decisions for NYS to not allow fracking and for the USA to open relations with Cuba. Both achievements happened by many people who raised their objections for years or in Cuba’s case years and years. I seriously doubt that my mental puzzling will ever be finished. So instead I look for the most original artist and learn from them. Enter Artist Tomi Ungerer’s work in documentary film “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story”. His provocative and stunningly beautiful illustrations were varied from evocative political satires against the Vietnam War and animal cruelty to titillating eroticism to wildly adventurous subjects for young readers. He was awarded the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award by the International Board on Books for Young People in 1998. What attracted me was his immense vision and talent but he coined the phrase “expect the unexpected” and I thought I coined that phrase for Micro Museum also years ago, so I connected to his philosophy immediately. This 2012 film by director Brad Bernstein is a must see, it was that inspiring. The other artist who recently inspired me is writer Sven Beckert with his book “The Empire of Cotton”. A Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University, he weaves a story of America’s painful history with some fascinating global detective work and makes it all read like a piece of silk. Maybe at my next imagination garden party we could all wear our hearts on silk sleeves. I am promising a special rainbow filled unicorn dance (happily they are most forgiving) for all those who believe in magic to counterbalance the terrible way people treat one another.
Posted in Art & Community, Artist POV, Micro Museum
Tagged Art, artists, community, creativity, culture, gun control, inspiration, learning, Michael Bloomberg, Sven Beckert, Tomi Ungerer, unicorns, world peace
Perhaps it is my sibling order but I like to create solutions. We all have the ability to make our world shine brighter by having a good attitude towards change since that is the one constant we should count on. So for those people who always want everything to stay the same. I say baloney! Starting the new year is our clean slate time. The. Possibilities. Are. Endless. or at least we have no idea what the future brings so it is considered a great occasion to reflect. This process is one I am especially bad at performing or probably more accurately, I am very slow doing it. Raising and mentoring children in NYC, I strongly professed that one does not get good at the things one is bad at doing. Lacking natural skillset can be improved slightly with effort (and one should always try to improve) but it is hardly worth the dedication since it is more productive to get better at the skills one is good at. The reason I am bad at reflection is that being nonjudgmental is part of my artistic credo. Consequently, I need much more time to process the ups/downs of 365 days. Maybe by July I will have a clue if the previous year’s development was successful or not. Perhaps I just think better in over 80 degree weather. Not sure about that, nevertheless the art industry is a long curved arc that sort of meanders interconnecting people in remarkable ways, sometimes quite randomly. Unpredictably situations that were bleak could mellowed and open a break-through, others times the collaborative ingredients vanish before your very eyes or a magical situation blooms just because one person’s impulse could spark lots of energy. It is powerful force: networking. Nobody does it better than creative people. Or alternatively they seem like they are having the most fun doing it. When those sparks fly it is an intellectual love affair in the making. It is actually a privilege to observe and encourage artists everyday but especially during our annual year-end festivities. Our festivities always starts with discussions about food and beverage because everyone knows that there is no party worth its salt without delicious food and drinks. Over the years we have honed our hospitality chops and developed cuisines for the “picky eaters” and that category seems to expand yearly. Food sensitivities seems at an all time high. So there is a science to feeding friendly faces and variety is the key to success. Happily I am in a city where I get to experience a great deal of variety. End of the year field trips included Matisses Cut-Outs at MOMA (really impressive, the films especially), Bergdoff Goodman Christmas Windows (adore labor intensive art work and these were astonishing), Nam June Paik’s retrospective at the Asia Society (huge fan since day one, saw pieces I had never seen before and there was a serious tribute to Charlotte Moorman, so super love), 2 Hollywood movies: Inherent Vice (Hunter Thompson-esque thriller, very amusing) and Foxcatcher (curious based on real life story that drove me to research the DuPont family tree online) at indie theaters and dozens of movies/documentaries all viewed under blankets from the comfort of my couch. We feasted on Middle Easter, English, Italian, and French cuisines and one event featured American-ish Mac/Cheese. So today as I washed the last dish and packed up the last doggie bag going to Micro Museum supporters in need, it struck me that cultural sensitives are at an all time high too. It is distressing to see police forces around the USA desperately needing and resisting new training because their tactics are either deadly or blatantly discriminatory. The die-ins that happened all over NYC are beautifully disrupting. I am in awe of the young people with this public protest. It is disheartening that many stories of rape are being exposed, often quite shocking. Including Emma Sulkowicz, the artist/student behind “Carry the Weight” an endurance performance piece where she (and other people) carries a mattress around the campus because she claimed to be sexually violated by a fellow student on the mattress. This is her public service announcement/artist statement addressing violence against women. From my vantage point, a pretty effective premise. Again… I am in awe of creative people who take a bad situation and stand up against the a larger force. We’ll see if it develops into something or not. We still need 6 months to process it since there is plenty of ideas to push and shove around. I feel ready to push and shove too. Recently watched comedian Wanda Sykes in a routine about raising 2 infants twins. Her son, she suggested was rather bianary because when he cried his needs were really obvious but her daughter was really hard to figure out because after she addressed all the usual baby problems she was still crying. The parents figured that their baby daughter did not like the way the living room was arranged, “move the couch, now the table, fix those drapes….” It was a heart rendering hilarious routine about how bad parents are at mind-reading. So if there is any hope that I have for 2015 at this early date, it is for less mind-reading and more networking. Back in the 1990s Micro Museum collaborated with Kids Press Magazine and organized an exhibition baseball game between the local police precinct and mostly teens who lived in NYC public housing as a part of “Neighborhood Night Out”. Oddly, US Senator Al Franken suggested the Senate and Congress participate in a “Secret Santa” game to break the ice between the two dominate political party members. These social frameworks may seem simple, maybe even childish but social exercises have merit if repeated regularly. Heck – throw in some complimentary BBQ, grilled vegetables, ice tea or cookies and watch the bitterness begin to dissolve. Games and communal eating won’t replace trying to improve the behaviors we are really bad at but it might be an effective start since it is still unclear what we are really good at.
Wintertime in NYC
Posted in Artist POV
Tagged Art, art exhibits, Artists NYC, drinks, food, KIDS PRESS Magazine, merriment, movies, Neighborhood Night Out, Wanda Sykes, windows
End of the year celebrations and parties are a wonderful way to connect to people and places you really care about especially with libations. Last night’s field trip to Dyker Heights for over the top Xmas decorations brought out my inner elf and the experience ended in a hilarious night “a la Bklyn old school style”! First an ode to libations. In my case… champagne. I really love that effervescent stuff and was totally willing to fill up a plastic travel cup before hitting the road. My friends were tanking up on brandy making laughable claims about guarding against the cold but seriously – what a facade. Everyone knows that brandy tastes delicious in travel cups too. Our car ride perfectly situated us with electric palaces as far as the eye could see, many of them stuffed to the gills with religious and secular imagery plus modern UK radio broadcasting house music very close to the line where families gathered for a real living Santa actor plus a fellow elf. Let me pause briefly to gather myself back into my body since the champagne was having its way with me. So far all was magical including overcoming my reservations about Christmas generally since I’m apathetic for national holidays of all sorts and Xmas has many practical conflicts. While I always disliked the term “starving artists” there is a form of impoverishment that is the nature of the art beast; so gifting adorable people in my life is, in fact, financially prohibitive. My strategy was to build experiences since they are often longer lasting and frankly a lot easy on my bank account. Recently found a truly beautiful Santa inspiration from Mick Foley’s film that involved Morgan Spurlock/Tommy Avallone called “I am Santa”. It followed a few bearded Santas in the USA and WWF Megastar Mick Foley eventually became a Santa for a stint at Santa’s Village. This deeply personal documentary ended with him pulling a good Santa illusion off with his children ages 10 and 8. The good illusion was that for just one sliver of a second the boys suspended their better judgement and were true believers of Santa – obviously another actor hired for the evening. The children’s imaginations instantly expanded and their father’s passion was spot-on. Maybe that is what is meant about “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads”. I, myself was happy with tourists of all nations, photography everywhere and dancing in the streets. For many people Christmas is intoxicating but our travel cups were dry and it was terribly cold, so we skipped dancing with a life size Elmo, located a watering hole to hang out and eventually call a cab. We tucked ourselves in as the clients were in the process of a “Toys for Tots” raffle with famed little person performer “Little Jimmy” dressed as an elf and making well timed jokes like “this one is for a round trip ticket to Jamaica (pause pause) Queens.” or “oh this one is beautiful, I been there myself a spa treatment on an exotic island, an island like well… like Coney… Coney Island”. Getting into the spirit a friend inquired if we could join in the raffle? He was promptly told to shut-up and sit down. It was clearly almost the end of the raffle. Little Jimmy was finished ahead of booking schedule so he was keeping his banter going. “I am 70 years old, what are you 31?” There was a bit of jockeying to get the jukebox up and running with a conversation moving from intellectual property rights to our collective 21st century ability to re-boot when in doubt. Sandwiches were passed around since the staff was anxious to see them not be wasted. We indeed warmed up, bought Little Jimmy’s autographed book and learned of his storied past, like performing 1000s of times as a dancer with the esteemed Tito Puente. My budget was nearly exhausted and there was still a car ride home. It is often customary to ask the bartender to call a car service since they know the ones in the area. Apparently the car dispatcher and obviously well appointed man was sitting right there and he handled us. Dreamily he helped me with my heavy coat and made no comment about the furry fright type hat that one would see on the late Phyllis Diller or Andy Warhol. He got us in a car that already radiated with old school-ism when the driver inserted himself into our conversation about what foods we are planning on making in the next week. Apparently we were making lots of balls: meat balls, fish balls, rum balls, nut ball, cheese balls. When we started giggling like a bunch of 13 year olds so our driver started making comments that were becoming lewd. He did say that he was fighting impulses to become even more graphic, so for this and our safe return to home, I feel jolly.
I’ll be the first to admit it, I am a fool. Artists are frequently fools, that’s okay with me. How ever my foolishness has influenced others, it is clear that nobody lives in a vacuum. Many artists do not get proper acknowledgement for their valiant work. I feel lucky to have a life in NYC that allows artistic freedom so over time Micro Museum® created a tribe of trail blazing entrepreneurs who toil daily to make inspiring art. Even with many good fortunes I underestimate the impact of art. Today a NYC fire department inspector came into the museum and recalled an exhibit that we had on display while he was last here. His detail was rich and memory long lasting. It was fulled of comprehension and energy. Art has great power to help people feel alive inside. It is intangible but real. At this stage of my development I certainly wish it could be bottled and sold because everyone needs more income. This story is on the lighter end of my thoughts today. What weighs heavily on my mind is that the lack of justice all around us – made abundantly clear by the racial injustice from Ferguson to Staten Island to Ohio to Maryland to Florida. Compounded by the fact that people in positions of authority never pay a price for their outrageous actions, not the bankers who systematically looted the US treasury, not the energy companies that pollute with impunity, not the police as they strangled someone to death on camera. Cameras did not help Rodney King in 1992 and they apparently do not help ever; except the supreme irony of it all is that the camera man who recorded the Staten Island Eric Gardner homicide is currently indicted. There will be no punishment for any person of power, that pain is reserved for all of us. The legacy of oppression is huge, bigger than any elephant in a room, it is the air we breathe. It is an empty day in the USA when nobody feels safe. My folly is that I believed in something called “the greater good”. Naivety, my be my cross to bear but I have often worked closely with people of color, LGBT communities, children/parents, disabled individuals and personally experience bias as a woman. Nevertheless throughout my life I watched America slightly transform little by little by little by ever so little to become a more fair and open society. Unfortunately for me I developed hope. What my peers have been able to accomplish, women my mother’s age only dreamed of such opportunities. When we purchased Micro Museum® the neighborhood, largely ethnic, was “red-lined” and that hung us up for almost 4 years, so probably my whiteness helped people feel comfortable. Now I am not so sure of anything. It probably does not help that I watched Ryan Murphy direction of HBO’s “The Normal Heart” that featured Larry Kramer’s play by the same name. It highlighted the beginning days of AIDS in NYC. It struck a cord with me because I was in the East Village at the time 1980 – 1986. There was no love for those young beautiful talented hilarious boys who were dropping like flies, some of their families disowned them long ago, the city ignored them and the nation looked on passively because powerful people did not want to be associated. Too many in the closet, too many excuses but some form of fairness eventually prevailed, well no not really: worldwide AIDS is still devastating, it is just not exclusively gay. I still wonder how things would be different if those gifted artists, writers, musicians, fashionistas were not removed from our city life. When I get into this kind of funk I seek music to help me heal. This is why I follow certain bands but they are not playing soon! I have to wait weeks. Finally there is only one other way to momentarily fix my heavy heart until I can get my fix from “Twin Danger” playing at Soho House December 18 or “Dead Air” playing at The Grand Victory on January 10. I will make a silly playlist and dance until I am exhausted. Perhaps for old time sake I’ll start with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and go to other pop fluff like Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and Rick Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca”. Predictably I will steer clear of Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” cause I might want to curl up in blanket forever and John Lennon’s “Imagine” cause hearing his voice will make me start crying. Here are his powerful words:
Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky
Imagine all the people. Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion, too
Imagine all the people. Living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. Hope someday you will join us. And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people. Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us.
And the world will live as one.
There are two predominate approaches to adult life from my point of view. The first is to embrace your inner Peter Pan and never ever address what happens as a grown person. This choice is filled with disappointment because it is tiresome and weak. The second approach is to have a realistic expectation and perceptive about who you are, what you are capable of doing with your time and how you will operate your life’s dramas. I will not boast about if I fall into this or that category but be assured I think about it all the time. It is astonishing to me that celebrity men and college boys drug women for their carnal pleasure. I am further astonished anyone would imagine that women or others welcomes this type of treatment. In the privacy of these men’s minds their need to unilaterally overpower someone is the antithesis to any motivation towards intimacy. Call me old fashion but sex, even casual sex is about getting naked both physically and emotionally. Apparently these men’s insecurity is enormous but their actual aggression is criminal. Are we failing our young men by not teaching them the art of seduction as many a generation ago claimed they learned from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Magazine? Hefner, at very least advocated dressing the part, wining/dining, bringing the lights down low for mood enhancing smooches and exploring your partner’s entire body. To my knowledge it included drinks not rape-drugs and the goal was always to keep her saying yes. This entire phenomenon of drugging your partner in modern sexual politics is regressive and far too common to be quiet when it does in fact strike a nerve, when it is in fact heartbreaking. I suppose it is easy to fall down any rabbit hole but honestly men need to wake other men up to the responsibilities and virtues of being a fully alive human. Women and wonderful men have plays like “What Tammy Needs to Know about Getting Old and Having Sex: The Concert Tour” – A special concert performance to launch Tammy WhyNot’s debut album. The “Tammy” in question is former famous country and western singer turned performance artist Tammy WhyNot. She is the creation of artist, writer, director, scholar and activist Lois Weaver. Tammy will be giving a special performance to launch her musical exploration into aging, desire, pleasure and intimacy. Currently Ms. WhyNot is playing at LaMama in the East Village NYC. Funny and touching as ever, Weaver ropes you in with her affection for what it means to be truly a living breathing loving human. Recently I watched the movie “Nebraska” directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson. It was a stunner of a story. The cast was beyond excellent: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach explored a father/son relationship during an “going back home” road trip. The father is under the impression that he is a million dollar sweepstakes winner and is determined to collect those magic dollars. The son enabled this fantasy to be played out to the final end. The conclusion was a powerful statement of complicated love, strength of vision, tolerance by the son and a visualization about the vulnerability of an elder. Since the pain of living a full life in a city of hope/dreams or sometimes the catastrophic fail of those hopes/dreams feels unrelenting, we need to seek inspiration everyday. Artists are showing us the way to a greater compassionate experience. All and all artistic merit cheers my periodic but nearly perpetually broken heart.
Small work by Kathleen Laziza