Saturday, August 25, 2007

La Vie En Grise

25 August 2007

It’s called EXHAUSTION. It’s called: I’ve had enough. Of the bad, certainly; and maybe even the good. (Although it only takes one amazing thing to shake me out of my somnolence – a line of music or poetry, the right word. An image. An abstraction. . . . of . . . . A semaphore, a signal. A jewel. The right look. “Tell me . . . .” Say anything.) When we last spoke (Of course I hear you. Some of you. Some of the time.), I was on deadline. I think I mentioned my Flynt Building duties – which only intensified over the last couple of weeks. (All those Tiffany lamps to dust; boiseries to re-gild; or something like that.) I finally saw La Vie En Rose. (How’s that for a non-sequitur?) The pitch is somewhere beyond irony – it’s straightforwardly, unrelentingly dark; the life of Paris’s petite moineau was darkness-at-noon grim. But she never broke faith with her ville lumière. She had an obscure sense of herself as an instrument through which the city, even France, resonated. She sang the anthem of its underbelly. (I suddenly think the phrase in French as I write this – elle chantait l’anthème de la sous-ventre.) She stumbled through the first years of her life virtually blind – and ran through the rest of it in a kind of blindness, too. The narrative moves back and forth in time, closing finally on a jaundiced Piaf on her deathbed in Grasse – clear-sighted only for the nightmare events of her early life – un mort en jaune. Clair de cauchemar.

I’m not sure why I’m even mentioning it. It does put my grisaille life ‘behind the black curtain-wall’ into some perspective. (Also my “de-france-dration” – see previous posts.) Also I was writing about movies last time I posted (though I didn’t actually post that stuff – maybe some other time). I also distrust my perceptions to the extent they’re filtered through such exhaustion. It’s like I’m sleepwalking through my evenings (to say nothing of my black-and-white days) in a chronic Epstein-Barr funk.

But I’m still going out a bit. (I’m the elegantly (or not so) disheveled old lady apparently (but not really) on the nod, stumbling up the staircase of the Hammer, stumbing towards the bar, adjusting her specs to have a better look, etc.) Speaking of the Hammer, I went to have a final walk-through of the Eden’s Edge show Thursday night. As did several hundred other Angelenos. Another late night chez Flynt meant I missed Jim Shaw’s performance. Domage – was there music? No one seemed to mention it in the galleries – what do you think that means? I ran into John Knuth, who I’d only just met a week earlier at his own gallery, Circus, on Lexington at Sycamore in Hollywood. (Just to gauge my exhaustion: I pulled John’s name up effortlessly and stumbled over the name of an artist I’ve known FOREVER – Paul Arden; I don’t think I even coughed out his name before we were already moving on. FORGIVE ME!) John didn’t like the show as much as I had – though he admired a few of the artists I singled out in my review. Ran into Anthony Ausgang (and his fabulously statuesque girl-friend), too – who did not share my enthusiasm for Rebecca Morales. (I liked the work MORE THAN EVER.) Elliott Hundley’s work gave renewed pleasure; ditto Anna Sew Hoy.

The week before (Tuesday) marked my first visit to the Circus Gallery. I had gone principally to see a performance by Joe Deutch. (Deutch had himself recommended it to me as a performance venue, so I wasn’t going to miss it.) I have no idea, though, what “Hansen’s Kitten” was going to be about (I half expected some video or video accompaniment) because Deutch apparently performed it in the guise of the Invisible Man. Unfortunately, he forgot to don the requisite sunglasses and gauze. (Aren’t there rules about that sort of thing? I can recall Joe Frank having something to say about this.) Kiersten Puusemp, on the other hand, appeared in the flesh – all but pumping the flesh (it was clear she’d pumped her share of iron) – taking on all comers in her arm-wrestling challenge performance. After besting (or perhaps not) a gauntlet of what looked to be ‘roid-reinforced men in the audience (is it possible artists and aesthetes really do steroids??), John Knuth apparently judged her sufficiently weakened to encourage the wimps and wusses among us to march up to her table. Including me. I was all but dragged kicking and screaming to the table, but once there dutifully planted my elbow and hung on for dear life. Personally, I think Puusemp let me win – except that she definitely had me beat on the left arm wrestle. Until I started whining “but I’m EXHAUSTED!” and finally all but screaming: “I’M AN OLD LADY” – and Puusemp’s left arm did a 180 back in her direction. An (unconscious) theatrical strategy that worked. I guess I’m just a geriatric Monica Seles. (Wish my tennis were in that class.)

Which made it all the more intriguing to see John Knuth’s work (I had no idea he was even an artist, and wasn’t sure it was the same person until I asked) last night in the “Shotgun” Space upstairs from another year in L.A. It was a scatter installation on the floor of the gallery -- recycled household paint in wan, malignant colors (or perhaps blended or recombined colors), rolled and dried up into irregular balls and clods and scattered across the floor without heed for the viewer’s path through the space to take in the work on the walls – and all the better for it. (There was another very interesting piece – also on the floor of the space: “George Mallory’s Cradle (Waxing Gibbous)” by Joey Lehman Morris – a framed magnified photograph of a moonlit patch of desert floor – which reminded me of some of Robert Smithson’s photographs of earth works and installation pieces, though even more elegant. I’m a little mystified by the titles, though. (What does “Tirz” mean, John? I’m assuming it’s not about tax increment reinvestment zones. Or is it?)

I have to say I was delighted by the installation of Brian Dewan instruments (there’s really no other word for them – constructed with his cousin, Leon, apparently a wizard with the alchemy of solid-state electronics) at another year in L.A. – which looked like H.C. Westermann elaborations of archaic radio works and electronica – but I wondered if it was incipient nostalgia for an era when music and broadcasting machines were housed in grand and rather overblown cabinetry of oak, mahogany and Bakelite plastics – fitting oracles for the oracular voices of my grandfather’s age (one could easily imagine the voice of Orson Welles narrating The War of the Worlds through one of these devices – though these would have also given one the option of tweaking and twiddling His Master’s Voice – or reducing it to, uh, magic noise). You can’t help but think of the electronic cathedrals of Philco; Magnavox; RCA. (I’m there already – the RCA Building (now alas, GE) – only blocks away from St. Patrick’s. Thank you General Sarnoff.) One of them was practically a pastiche of the Albert Memorial. Viewers were invited to tweak and twiddle with the arrayed switches and dials – as if on a mixing console – to program their own music – or at least a few rhythmic and harmonic effects and parameters. I liked Brian Dewan’s quasi-conceptual watercolor paintings, too. (I take it these can be ‘read’ serially – he photographs them for filmstrips – though each clearly stands on its own.) MORE on the “Dewanatron” later. I’m going out. (I told you I was.)

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