Tuesday, November 29, 2011

iMovie Maker

I have always loved movies--going to the movie theater, visiting the now antiquated video store. There was a time when I wanted to make movies, but the complexity involved was always a deterrent. Film making requires a camera, lighting, sound, a script, actors, costumes, makeup, props, interior/exterior environments. By comparison, painting was quite simple--the artist paints the surface with a brush. There's a direct, one-on-one connection the painter has with their artwork that becomes somewhat removed in the film making process.

That's not to say that I've abandoned this early fascination with movie making. Thanks to digital cameras and Apple editing software, I can live out--on a small scale--this lingering desire to be a director. I've used iMovie to edit footage I've shot to advertise for my artwork and website. As a matter of fact, I'll have used iMovie for each project in the three classes I'm taking at SAIC. It's funny how you can do what you've always wanted and get a master's degree in the process. 

John Waters: This Filthy World

(my response to a lecture given by a social theorist)

            Inspired by the challenges to gender ideology that fill Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman’s Gender Outlaws, I decided to watch a lecture by openly gay filmmaker and icon of bad taste, John Waters. Much like the narratives in Gender Outlaws, Waters subverts societal conventions of sexuality, as he offers a no holds barred account of homosexual lifestyle and fetishistic behavior. What I appreciated the most about this lecture was Waters’ humor, which could be occasionally self-deprecating. He wasn’t preaching or making impassioned arguments for alternative lifestyles; he was just offering up his view on the sensational, often vulgar, aspects of our society. He seemed to revel in bad behavior, encouraging filmmakers, artists, and even children to go out and find some trouble. It could be anything from starting a film society devoted to shocking acts or knocking over a row of bikes. You don’t necessarily need to make a statement; you just want people to react.
The lecture opens with John Waters emerging from a confessional booth to a stage littered with trash and open garbage cans. He seemed to have a very open relationship with the audience, wherein he could share any story or idea without fear of condemnation. Throughout the lecture, Waters parallels his societal observations with his devotion to film, first as an audience member, then as an independent filmmaker.
            As a young man growing up in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1950s, John Waters was influenced by gimmicky, low budget filmmakers like William Castle. These directors would use shock tactics to lure in audiences. Props would often be incorporated into film screenings as well as opportunities for audience participation. Waters also discusses dirty, underground filmmaking—an art form that anybody with a camera can take part in and exploit. These “instant movies,” as Waters refers to them, dealt with a current event and could be put into theaters the same day they were filmed. Due to the controversial and shocking subject matter, however, these film screenings were occasionally cut short by police raids. The films of Andy Warhol are also included in Waters’ description of underground filmmaking, as Warhol was one of the first artists to put homosexuality and drugs on the screen. “At last,” Waters states.
            He then opens up about his own career as a filmmaker; beginning with his early, independent films with drag queen and long time companion, Divine. Waters speaks of Pink Flamingos as a film about testing limits, subjected to repeated problems with censorship. I suppose that would be expected of any film that features a singing anus and a man in drag eating dog feces. In Desperate Living, Waters took a fairytale approach to telling a story of lesbian anguish. He even used real homeless people as extras in the process. Waters then transitions to what he deems his “above ground” movie making, beginning with Polyester. For this film, he incorporated the gimmickry of William Castle with an interactive device called Odorama. Odorama has the audience members scratch and sniff a smell at a particular time, everything from grass to feces. Crybaby, along with Johnny Depp, featured then pornographic star, Tracy Lords. It focuses on a theme Waters often applies to his life and his work: juvenile delinquency. According to Waters, it is a form of rebellion that “needs to be brought back.” Pecker, a movie the Japanese press described as “a Disney film for perverts,” deals with the oddity of fame in the art world. I found it quite interesting the way Waters compared the success of a visual artist with the success of filmmaker. In his view, it is better to be an artist because if everybody loves your work, then it’s a failure. A filmmaker, however, has to receive approval from several people to even get their work released. Such was the case with Waters’ latest film, A Dirty Shame. This is a film about sex addicts and incorporates any number of fetishes that Waters has read about, witnessed, or created especially for the story. Upon its release, it was attacked by the Catholic Church and given an NC-17 rating by the industry of motion pictures. According to the ratings board, no amount of editing could save this film from such limited viewership.
            The lecture is brought to a rather satisfying close as Waters delves into his unique relationship with society. Much like the work of the numerous social theorists we have read this semester, Waters is an observer. More to the point, he is an observer of antisocial behavior, or those people who simply do not fit into everyday society. He regularly attends trials, with many of the defendants accused of heinous acts. He investigates aspects of gay subculture such as adult babies—which Waters himself decries—and heavy-set, hairy gay men who refer to themselves as “bears” (bears who seek a smaller companion, or cub). In a society where all of these things are being documented, being gay, Waters declares, is simply not enough. Many students today are openly homosexual, but only in the more affluent schools. Waters states that humor needs to be used as a form of terrorism amongst the gay community. This struck me as an especially poignant comment as Waters grew up in a conservative, Catholic environment where sexual addiction and fetishes were almost never discussed. Forget about the gay subculture, being gay wasn’t even considered a culture, but rather a disease. Yet even as politically correct and accepting as our society tries to be of alternative lifestyles, there are still people like John Waters who want to push the limits even further. He would probably be the first to admit that these limits go well beyond the lines of good taste, but like with any social theory or piece of artwork, it is important to incite questions and controversy.     

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marilyn Monroe Paintball

Here's a great YouTube video I used to show my middle school students during our project on portraits. A group of artists recreate Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn Monroe entirely out of paint balls.

Click here to view the video.

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

My family & I were planning on attending the Thanksgiving Day parade on State Street. As someone new to Chicago, are there any inside tips anyone can recommend to us? (Other than getting there early & dressing warmly.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hemingway is a Downer

I was introduced to Ernest Hemingway's short stories in an undergrad creative writing course. If you take any contemporary writing or literature class, Hemingway is inescapable. I was instantly drawn to the elemental story telling, how you could express so much about a character or event with such simple sentences. When I transitioned into his novels, I basically stopped with the first text I read. It was A Farewell to Arms, which had the Hemingway style I connected with, but the content--particularly the ending--was so bleak and depressing that I haven't read anything by him since.

Is it possible to separate style from content? If you love one, but hate the other, can you ever appreciate the work as whole?

Images from The Hemingway Museum

Oak Park Conservatory

It's always nice to find an interesting spot to visit that's right where you live. It's even nicer when that spot is free. We visited the Oak Park Conservatory this weekend and it was really amazing to see greenhouse spaces divided into different environments for different greenery. Each room even had its own temperature, so within a few steps you could go from a humid environment to a cool, breathable space. And there was a coi pond.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black & White

I don't know what it is about simplicity that people respond so well to. When it comes to my artwork, some of the most positive responses I have received has been to work that was minimal in composition. Years ago I painted a black and white diptych that I kept going back into because it just seemed too simplistic. It was actually inspired by imagery from Sin City, the movie, but more so the artwork of Frank Miller. I wanted to explore the invasion of twisted white forms into a black background, then reverse the process. I've always found the diptych interesting, but not work I expected to continue to garner praise.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Temporality of Culture

We just read Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope for my Social Theory class. It deals with the temporary nature of culture and how everything that we've known and relied on to guide our lives can suddenly change. Lear examines how the Crow Nation was forever impacted by the loss of the buffalo, followed by a forced confinement to an Indian reservation. Surprisingly, Lear's work deals with the perseverance of the Crow people and how they were able to prepare themselves for an unknowable future. By recognizing that their way of life was coming to an end, they were able to protect aspects of their culture that could be passed down to later generations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Riding Express

I had lived in the southwest almost my entire life. In places like Texas & Arizona, you avoid public transportation at all costs as there is often a stigma attached to people who make use of this otherwise affordable service. You need a car to get around.

That being said, riding the L every week provides me with a wealth of entertainment. I've already discussed a social element of the L in an earlier blog, now I wanted to mention the act of transportation itself.

Coming back from the city on Friday, I got the chance to ride express. I ride the Green Line, which does not offer this service on a regular basis, so it was a thrillingly childlike experience. First of all, you travel fast during an express run. The swerves are somewhat jolting, so you can really feel the movement of the train. Secondly, without as many stops, you just get their faster. A 25 minute ride becomes maybe an 18 minute ride. Which may not seem like a whole lot, but it almost feels like they're going faster just for you. Because you're important and you need to get home and make those 7 minutes really count.  

Blackstone Bicycle Works

Check out this article about a bicycle repair shop in Chicago that offers bikes to kids on the south side. It's like an after school program where kids can learn how to build & repair bikes. After 20 hours of work, they select a bike for repair that they can keep. After 25 hours, they get to take the bike home with them.

Click link to view article