Sunday, December 31, 2006

“alfie”: a battle of abundance

[digital composite: cher, cilla black, dionne warwick. 2006]

“alfie,” a burt bacharach and hal david composition, spurred a spirited chart war in 1966-1967. besides hooking the oscar for bacharach and david at the 1967 oscars, “alfie” was ultimately covered by nearly 20 artists, including: vikki carr, the delfonics, maynard ferguson, stan getz, jack jones, nancy wilson, barbra streisand, and sarah vaughan. however, from the march 25, 1966 recording session at abbey road at which cilla black recorded it, the main scuffle was between contenders black, cher, and dionne warwick. arranged and conducted by bacharach himself, cilla black cited the "alfie" recording session with him as one of the most demanding of her career—with bacharach insisting on several takes. (the songwriter reputedly found cilla black's voice “strident.”)

the theme from the film of the same name, “alfie” was just one of many soundtracks for the duo—contributing to their block of oscar conquests… bacharach/david provided film scores for “what's new pussycat?,” “casino royale,” and 1969’s “butch cassidy and the sundance kid,” among others. the latter featured their most celebrated score—netting oscars for best original score and best theme song for “raindrops keep falling on my head.” the film version of “alfie”—sung by cher in a sonny bono arrangement—was performed over the end credits.

the 1966 celluloid chestnut starred michael caine, shelley winters, denholm elliott (the british character actor who died of aids in 1992), and jane asher. (sister of major rock producer peter asher, jane was with paul mccartney for five years—first as a girlfriend and eventually fiancée. she inspired many mccartney songs such as “here, there, and everywhere,” “you won’t see me,” “we can work it out,” and “and i love her”—all credited to lennon/mccartney.)

dionne warwick’s 1967 version blew away the competition—outperforming both black's and cher’s renditions in the u.s. by reaching #18 on the pop charts and #5 on the r&b charts. cher’s imperial label version garnered #32 in the u.s. compared to a “tepid” #95 placement for black (although cilla managed a #9 in her native britain). the best cilla black could muster on u.s. charts was 1964’s bacharach/david composition “you’re my world”—a #1 hit in britain—that peaked at #26 in the u.s.

complicating matters further, two other “alfie” versions competed in 1966 on the billboard adult contemporary chart, with carmen mcrae taking hers to #29 and joanie sommers besting her by peaking at #9. an instrumental harmonica version released by stevie wonder in 1968 peaked at #66 with a top 20 spot on the adult contemporary chart. in november 1971, petula clark performed “alfie” with glen campbell on his network variety show, “the glen campbell good time hour.”

for her part, cher sang “alfie” on the revolutionary and controversial “smothers brothers comedy hour.” “alfie” kept cher’s place on the charts warm on the heels of that year’s #2 hit “bang bang (my baby shot me down),” and set the stage for 1967’s #9 hit to follow—the divorce-themed “you better sit down kids.”

the cilla black-dionne warwick skirmish was unremarkable in regards to bacharach/david’s ability to straddle the u.s./u.k. charts from the very first hits coming out of their collaboration. this breakthrough occurred when bacharach/david struck gold with marty robbins in 1957, the latter taking their composition “the story of my life” to #1 in the u.k. with a top 20 result in the u.s. the duo followed that cross-atlantic hit with another in january 1958 when perry como penetrated the top 5 in both the u.s. and u.k. with bacharach/david’s “magic moments.” subsequent #1 hits by cilla black, frankie vaughan, sandie shaw, the walker brothers, and herb alpert—with bacharach/david compositions—reinforced the duo’s dominance in britain.

[while warwick weathered the rigors of the british invasion better than many u.s. performers, she only released a smattering of entries on the british charts during that period, such as “walk on by” and “do you know the way to san jose”—both bacharach/david compositions. several of the duo’s compositions—huge hits for warwick in the states—were covered by cilla black. warwick was irritated by a preference for black among music industry execs in britain and stung by a perceived sense of entitlement on the part of cilla black—now a doyenne of british television.]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

volcano: jeanne risica & ron ottaviano

[lava flow (triptych), 2006, mixed media on canvas, 16 x 20 inches each]
[turbulent zone (arabic), 2006, mixed media on canvas, 64 x 48 inches]

“scientific american” traverses synthetist harmony in this exhibition running at dillon gallery until january 20, 2007. when confronted by the unabashed naturalism and linear mystery of these works by the collaborative team of jeanne risica and ron ottaviano in “volcano,” one is struck by this team’s process of elucidation in capturing and revealing a mutual fascination with sudden power, physics, and the scientific poetry of upheaval.

regardless of media, risica and ottaviano manage to unravel and respond to diagrams of volcanic processes discovered during long readings at the new york public library. using digital enlargement, six diagrams became the basis for their experiments—such photo scans revealing perspectives and urging reexamination of perceived content. mysteries of data are decoded into chinese and arabic from english in this voracious process.

whether confronting eruptive episodes, sulfur dioxide dispersal, or intraplate volcanism, risica and ottaviano—seduced by visual content in the banal realm of textbooks—have successfully morphed this treasure to paint on canvas. fortunately for the viewer, they go further by producing a visual language independent of the source. this is accomplished by layers of paintings and additions of drawings that carry initial templates forward.

from the “eruption jet” series in english, arabic, and chinese to the “lahar” series, and especially in “lava flow” (triptych), the works elegantly amplify and authenticate narratives of flow, collapse, power, and sudden force in layered depth and color.

confronting the deceptive still beneath our feet on this planet—which on any given day about 10 volcanoes erupt—“volcano” poses cultural and sociopolitical questions about the universality of scientific knowledge, natural forces, power, and upheaval with works on canvas that match this metaphor.

through january 20, 2007 / dillon gallery /
555 west 25th street / nyc 10001 / 212.727.8585 /
tue-sat 10 am- 6 pm / /

good riddance: some thoughts on the expiring of augusto pinochet

[composite of the martyrs: ambassador orlando letelier, general carlos prats, singer/composer victor jara, journalist charles horman jr., & the disappeared, 2006]

[various photos in santiago by jd nalley: salvador allende remembered in downtown santiago, metro exit commemorating the coup, the national stadium/torture center of the coup, street sign in santiago commemorating the coup, families of the disappeared demand action and answers, presidential palace la moneda and site of allende’s death at the hands of putschists, scenes of the rio mapocho where bodies floated by in the coup’s aftermath, statue dedicated to the martyred president allende]

the december 10th death of chile’s former and murderous dictator and embezzler—never punished for his crimes against humanity—should only serve as another opportunity to remember the over 3,000 consumed by the terror in the aftermath of the september 11, 1973 coup. we can also revere the over 100,000 tortured or detained by the illegitimate regime and the 200,000 forced into exile to escape the terror. this number includes those victimized by sexual torture at the hands of coup forces in santiago’s infamous “venda sexy” (sexy blindfold). let us celebrate the lives of those consumed in the death centers villa grimaldi, chacabuco, pisagua, and—the biggest torture center of all—the national stadium, where 12,000 were held and brutalized after the military coup. let us remember the innocent whose bodies floated by in rivers fed by the andes past horrified and traumatized chileans. let us remember those piled high in morgues or on cul-de-sacs. [pinochet’s butchery proved too vile even for his co-conspirator, air force general gustavo leigh, who was ousted by the murder/embezzler in july 1978.]

many of the martyrs will remain nameless—except to their families, friends, and neighbors. many died without a trace—disappeared by pinochet’s sinister forces and either buried in mass graves or dumped from the air into the pacific ocean. the latter operation was exposed in 1976, when the body of activist marta ugarte washed up on a chilean beach—leading to the discovery of 500 others so disposed in an attempt to hide crimes against humanity.

then there are notable victims of the terror unleashed that september day in 1973. there are former ambassador to the u.s. orlando letelier and general carlos prats—two of the many murdered by “operation condor,” spearheaded by pinochet’s secret police, “dina” (national intelligence directorate). then there is the nobel prize winning poet pablo neruda—hounded in his ransacked home and tortured by the forces of the coup as he suffered the painful late stages of terminal cancer. there are the american victims, journalists charles horman, jr. (investigating the murder of constitutionalist general rené schneider chereau) and frank teruggi—both held in the national stadium and murdered by the putschists for “knowing too much.”

victor jara! this remarkable chilean poet, singer/songwriter, professor, dramatist, and political activist was a major proponent of the “nueva canción” movement and marked for special brutality by forces of the coup. while putschists managed to destroy the vast majority of jara’s recording masters, his widow joan jara (a british national) managed to sneak recordings out of chile. his songs, among them “plegaria a un labrador (“a farmer's prayer”) and “te recuerdo amanda” (“i remember you amanda”), remain timeless. taken, along with thousands others to the national stadium (renamed in september 2003 as the “estadio victor jara”), jara was ceaselessly beaten—his torturers breaking the bones in his hands as well as his ribs. fellow prisoners recount putschists’ taunts for jara to play guitar for them as he lay in pain. defiantly, he sang a song associated with allende’s unidad popular government. battered further, jara was riddled by a machine-gun on september 15, 1973 and his body dumped on a road outside santiago before being taken to a city morgue. in advance of his murder, jara wrote a poem about the horrors faced by prisoners in the stadium that was smuggled out in the shoe of a friend.

general carlos prats—pinochet's predecessor and army commander under allende—bravely resigned and sought asylum in argentina rather than support illegitimate actions against chile’s longstanding democratic system. there, he and his wife sofia cuthbert were similarly murdered in a 1974 buenos aires car bombing carried out by dina and ordered by pinochet.

while murdered before the coup commenced, general rené schneider—who opposed a coup d'état and supported keeping chile’s military apolitical—was also a victim of the dark forces from which emerged pinochet, and schneider’s death made the nightmare possible.

pinochet’s expiring provides a fresh impetus to celebrate the lives of former ambassador letelier and 25-year-old american ronni karpen moffitt whose lives were taken in a calculated and cowardly murder thirty years ago. driving to their jobs at the institute for policy studies, both were killed by a car bomb just blocks from the white house. the institute for policy studies now hosts annual “letelier-moffitt human rights awards,” an apt observance for that tragedy of september 21, 1976 and a yardstick to measure the pursuit of justice for pinochet’s victims. it is “inconceivable” that the letelier assassination was carried out without pinochet’s authorization insist two former fbi agents and a former assistant u.s. attorney. clinton officials reactivated the letelier-moffitt investigation and declassified more than 16,000 documents, which have clarified our nation’s intervention in chile and served as evidence in legal cases. horribly, it was a u.s. citizen working for the dina—michael townley—who planned that murder.

this juncture is now an opportunity to remember those countries whose embassies sheltered the desperate souls in threat of life and limb by forces of darkness (including scores of brazilians, bolivians and uruguayans who’d fled repression in their own countries and sought refuge in chile only to be trapped). unfortunately, neither the u.s. nor britain belong to this “roll of honor,” which includes mexico, argentina, italy sweden, france, belgium, and—eventually—the netherlands. (once the objectionable and unmoved dutch ambassador left santiago, a more sympathetic diplomat who became the chargé d’affaires rented a house, bought mattresses, and hired a cook to shelter the endangered—this sanctuary utilized immediately by three leftist parliamentarians.) gaining entrance to such supportive embassies and safe houses proved formidable—with putschists posting patrols outside embassies to snatch the desperate into oblivion. notably, the belgian embassy—located in santiago’s affluent providencia—managed to coordinate such escapes with the short window of opportunity provided by police-cordon changeover.

sweden’s ambassador, the late harald edelstam bravely dueled with the putsch’s dark forces. in the spirit of raoul wallenberg—with three months available before being declared “persona non grata” by the putschists and expelled—edelstam managed to get 1,300 persecuted and endangered people out of chile (including the diplomatic corps of the cuban embassy and 54 uruguayans held at the national stadium). french ambassador pierre de menthon and india’s ambassador also stood up for the vulnerable.

thankfully, the recently elected chilean government headed by president michelle bachelet has denied the tyrant/embezzler the full state funeral usually reserved for former presidents. president bachelet’s father was tortured during those dark days—and died soon thereafter. still unrepentant—the tyrant’s youngest son, marco antonio pinochet, called bachelet’s decision not to attend the murderer’s funeral petty and said the current chilean government was “incapable of taking a noble stance at this moment in history.” did he really expect the daughter of one of those tortured by pinochet to attend? in contrast, his sister lucía pinochet hiriart called the use of torture during her father’s tenure “barbaric and without justification.” [meanwhile, an emotionally overwrought grandson of the murdered general prats, 39-year-old artist francisco cuadrado prats, spat on pinochet’s coffin at the dictator’s wake. the younger prats was fired by the chilean municipality for which he worked—though that decision has met with protest.]

pinochet’s death provides united states citizens—whose tax dollars financed the notorious destabilization campaign against the democratically elected administration of president salvador allende gossens and otherwise made it possible for pinochet to betray the chilean constitution—an opportunity to examine the policies of our government toward our neighbors in latin america. never can we forget the significant role the nixon administration and former secretary of state henry kissinger had in financing, supporting and preparing the scenario for a military coup in chile. our government spent millions to arm right-wing militias, support the right-wing press, and pay off chilean politicians to stymie, and eventually overthrow, salvador allende's unidad popular government.

never again can we allow the cia to finance strikes by transport workers and shopkeepers, nor sabotage public infrastructure, and otherwise foment economic chaos as was done to chile’s legitimate constitutional—and nonaggressive—democracy.

any u.s. ambassador who makes such belligerent comments as “not a nut or bolt will be allowed to reach chile under allende” (as was done by then u.s. ambassador edward korry) must be fired posthaste. during a period when the u.s. pushed for détente and trade with the soviet dictatorship, it vetoed bank loans and foreign-debt credits, and blocked export of food-stuffs and spare parts for machinery and transport equipment to the chilean democracy. such putative policies put buses out of commission—paralyzing a third of chile's transport system. export-import bank credits, totaling $234 million in 1967 fell to zero in 1971 and unleashed financial panic in a democracy heavily dependent on trade with the u.s. lack of replacement parts caused by the nixon-kissinger embargo—despite chile's offer to pay cash in advance for them—paralyzed chile's copper, steel, electricity, and petroleum industries. chileans suffered shortages of foodstuffs, toilet paper, soap and many essential items (though those items “miraculously” appeared on store shelves in the coup’s aftermath). never can we forget international telephone & telegraph’s role in the clandestine and benighted economic disruption of chile.

perhaps we can wash our hands of the infamous “western hemisphere institute for security cooperation” (formerly “school of the americas”), whose alumni include a large number of pinochet’s colleagues, including officers of the highest ranking involved in the butchery. in the period before and after the coup, chile sent over 1,500 troops to learn the fine points of “counter-insurgency,” “irregular warfare,” “psychological operations,” and various means of torture in contravention of the geneva accord. unconscionably and outrageously, the school of the americas held pinochet in high esteem—displaying, for many years, a personal note and a ceremonial sword donated by the chilean tyrant/embezzler at the fort benning office of the school of the americas commandant. the existence of this tax-supported institution—which has produced the likes of 1972 alumnus, the el salvadoran butcher robert d’aubuisson who murdered archbishop oscar romero—should be intolerable to citizens of the united states.

our republican-held white house—home of pinochet’s former patrons, the war criminals nixon and kissinger—issued a most interesting statement following pinochet’s death, calling his rule a “difficult period.” that understatement was followed by a most telling missive: “our thoughts today are with the victims of his reign and their families. we commend the people of chile for building a society based on freedom, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.” what a welcome about-face from the days of reagan when a $160 million loan package was awarded to the tyrant/embezzler's dictatorship! reagan’s administration also received the wife of the tyrant/embezzler to tea at the white house while denying a visa to hortensia allende (the widow of chile’s constitutionally sanctioned president), which prevented her from visiting the u.s. to give a speech on human rights abuses in chile.

ironically, pinochet expired three days after the staunchest member of his cheering section, jeane kirkpatrick, who referred to the murderer/embezzler as a good and honorable man. kirkpatrick—who died on december 7 and was reagan’s u.n. ambassador—had also cheered on argentine death squad leader general jorge videla.
surely, kirkpatrick must have been vexed by the 17 months her buddy spent under house arrest in britain—and his resultant and deserved humiliation. though cold comfort to those impacted by his monstrous tenure, that custody provided important precedents to punish future tyrants. while spain, belgium, france, and switzerland were stymied in their efforts to extradite pinochet, the rule of “universal jurisdiction”—that every nation has an interest in bringing perpetrators of crimes of international concern to justice–can no longer be ignored. this holds regardless of where the crime was committed—and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators and their victims.

thus, a spanish judge did have the authority to order pinochet’s arrest for crimes committed primarily in chile and against chileans! this has enabled chadian victims to bring a criminal prosecution in senegal against the exiled tyrant, hissein habre—thankfully indicted and awaiting trial on torture charges. so, while pinochet was ultimately returned to chile, his house arrest in britain has put a crimp in the travel of war criminals and tyrants: indonesia’s suharto avoided seeking medical treatment in europe for fear of being arrested, while henry kissinger has curtailed international travel to avoid certain arrest and prosecution related to his past enabling of dictatorships and international meddling. [this loophole has also proven a boon to democracies such as chile and argentina in which democracy and rule of law were only restored through the blackmail granting of immunity to criminal military authorities.]

as a former head of state, pinochet enjoyed not one shred of immunity from arrest and extradition. british authorities ruled that, although a former head of state enjoys immunity for acts committed in his “functions” as head of state, such “functions” do not include international crimes such as torture and crimes against humanity. furthermore, once a country becomes a signatory to the united nations convention against torture, not one individual in that country—regardless of rank or position—can claim immunity for that crime.

it is just amazing that some chileans could actually cry and mourn for pinochet when 2004 investigations uncovered that pinochet had stashed millions of dollars in secret bank accounts—and unreported to tax authorities. that year a u.s. senate money laundering investigation led by michigan democrat carl levin and minnesota republican norm coleman uncovered a network of over 125 securities and bank accounts at riggs bank and other u.s. financial institutions used by the tyrant/embezzler and his cronies for 25 years. it is remarkable and an irony that the subcommittee uncovering this was charged only with investigating compliance of financial institutions under the heinous and draconian “usa patriot act,” rather than the actions of pinochet per se.

personally, the coup in chile marks an important milestone. never before had i argued with a teacher about politics. but on a september morning in 1973, as a 14-year-old ninth grader, i did just that. awaiting for my u.s. history class to commence, the teacher from the previous class was putting papers in his briefcase and preparing to leave when he commented to my wonderful teacher, mr. nortier, that “wasn’t it great that they got rid of that ‘communist’ in chile.” before mr. nortier had a chance to respond to him, i told that gloating teacher that it wasn’t good. i defended the allende policies about which i knew—for instance, provision of milk to poor children, health care for the poor, and land reform. that is an event i can never forget. as a new yorker, i share the same date of horror—september 11—with the people of chile. having traveled to that country (two months prior to the world trade tragedy), i made pilgrimages to such places as the national stadium and la moneda palace and tried to imagine the those places in that horrible period.

Monday, December 18, 2006

exit art goes silver with "renegades"

[collected digital composites: joseph beuys, yves klein, sean mellyn, bruce nauman, allessandra torres, david wojnarowicz, 2006]

exit art kicks off its 2007-2008 25th anniversary celebration with “renegades”—performance produced or presented at that institution over its duration. video, photographs, slides, ephemera, and other archival materials examine exit art’s seminal place as a home for performance art. just the first in a series of celebratory exhibitions, “renegades” highlights how exit art fosters presentation of performance art in this city.

“mastfor ii: good treatment for horses” (1987) pays tribute to the russian avant-garde in the first full recreation/adaptation of nikolai foregger’s constructivist dramatization. first performed in 1922, it combined the eccentric and risqué costume design talents of sergei eisenstein and sergei yutkevich with the satiric writing of vladimir mass. “endurance” (1995) examines and documents the work of approximately 30 visual and performance artists in the last century whose works tested the body’s physical, mental, and spiritual endurance. this cavalcade of images—including those of joseph beuys, chris burden, yves klein, bruce nauman, and yoko ono—exemplified acts of endurance done in real time.

“collective actions” (1997), curated by joseph backstein and elena elagina, features over 50 poster-sized black-and-white photos and wall texts from 1976-1990 that document the influential russian performance group collective actions. led by andrei monastyrsky, collective actions was at the forefront of contemporary conceptual and performance art in the soviet union. meanwhile, “body and the east” (2001) surveys body art actions performed in the former eastern bloc and soviet union from the sixties to 2001. few in that political “region” and even fewer in the west have experienced this work—much operated outside the boundaries of state-sanctioned art. zdenka badovinac of the moderna galerija ljubljana organized this exhibition, including the work of 80 artists from 14 countries—some of whom had suffered arrest, condemnation for hooliganism, and accusations of anti-social behavior. “body and the east” explored the concept of “otherness”: body art actions documented in this exhibition took place in private residences and marginal public spaces (e.g., alternative galleries, youth centers) and were vulnerable to sanction by state institutions and legal authorities in those former “people’s democracies.”

in “water project” (2006) ten artists explored private and public use of water in view of the global water crisis, which necessitates reconsideration of our personal relationship to this indispensable resource. performances took place on two separate evenings at exit art with each artist addressing this wrenching issue in a personal performance tied to the collective theatrical presentation.

simultaneous performances on eight stages in exit art’s 10th avenue and 36th street windows synthesized into “prayingproject” (2005). with “faith” imposing itself as critical issue in this century, artists in this installation responded to such questions as the religious right’s political influence, worldwide religious intolerance, connection to personal heritage via the jump-start of religion, the quest to achieve enlightenment, and widespread interest in zen practices. approaches to prayer by the 21 artists ranged from the intense, sublime, vulnerable, powerful, public, and private—with length going from 30 minutes to six hours.

crucial artwork from the united states, europe, and japan produced from 1930-1982 was examined in “illegal america” (1982). work in this historical show manipulates illegality as an art discourse, demonstrates the intellectual capacity of artists to “deal with the rules,” and introduces an anarchistic element within the democratic paradigm. the studio’s usually private and sacred realm came into public scrutiny with “la tradicion” (1996). ten painters in this exhibition transferred their studios to exit art for five weeks and painted during gallery hours—each artist engaged in personal work while contributing to the collective creation, an interactive installation exploring the artists’ behavior and creative process. sun worship, water, inertia, leisure time, and tourism came together to inform “sweat” (1996), which celebrated a chaotic utopian vision and organized contradictions.

exit art can proudly credential its innovation to the medium of performance art in offering this consequential and incisive portfolio in “renegades.”

through january 27, 2007 / exit art /475 tenth avenue
@ 36th street/ nyc 10018 / 212.966.7745 / tue-thur 10 am-
6pm / fri 10 am-8 pm / sat noon-8 pm / closed dec 23, 2006
through jan 1, 2007/free wireless internet access: laptops welcome / / suggested donation $5

Friday, December 15, 2006

the dimension of line: rosemarie castoro

[outside curve ii, 1976, mixed media, 5” x 14” x 6”]

“the dimension of line”—an exhibition of works by rosemarie castoro—spans four decades of endeavor. included are two- and three-dimensional works created from various media. whether rendered in steel, paper, wire, gesso, marble, dust, graphite, or hair, castoro’s work deals with concepts of line, volume, and spatial relationship perception. with work ranging from the early 1970’s, this installation—at tribeca’s hal bromm gallery—encompasses intimate- to large-format works embodying poetic engineering, choreographic gestures, and material transformations.

though with radically different media, castoro’s work breathes a conceptual pathos one finds in that by the late paul thek, who left a niche—both noble and idiosyncratic—in the art world.

“outside curve ii” [pictured] is among castoro’s captivating works in “the dimension of line.” in it (as with “inside corner” and “tight corner”) the shadow becomes impossible to contain. their irresistible kinesis can be felt in tentacles of darkness overcome by light. to view the shadow’s tentative assertions is a delight, and lends castoro’s work a powerful acuity. looming and kinetic, “triptych” harnesses the energy of visitors to “room revelation”—a reostatted room she built in the vancouver art gallery for its “995,000” exhibition in 1970. whimsy outpaces the banal in “hair pieces” an edition of 10 ink jet prints including “meine heir” (1993) and “hair nebula” (2004).

palpable with its exoskeletal aura, “cast of thousands” (1973) conveys the inexorability of its assemblage. stainless steel sculptures of dancers captured from drawing made during performances, “abt” (1997) and “butoh” (1997) render the tedium and eventual triumph of choreography’s travail.

from delineated brushstrokes in “dukes” (1972) and the glimpse at electrical activity in “break in the middle” (1971) to representations from the opera “don carlos”—“king phillip ii” and “rodrigo/don carlos” (1986)—castoro’s work wrestles with kinetic issues, indeed the very chemistry of movement. shown previously at the museum of modern art/new york, dusseldorf’s stadtische kunsthalle, new york’s ps 1, and mamco/geneva, viewing castoro’s work is a cognitive experience not to be missed.

through march 31, 2007/ hal bromm/
90 west broadway @ chambers/nyc 10007/
t 212.732.6196/on view by appointment/

Monday, December 11, 2006

war resisters—support troops who refuse to fight

[composite: tribute to the late pierre trudeau, former premier of canada]

it takes courage to say that you will not fight—especially if you are a soldier. as more in the u.s. military step forward for peace, the peace movement must support them. large numbers now refuse to serve: department of defense estimates approxmately 8,000 awol service members. the g.i. rights hotline (800.394.9544) currently receives about 3,000 calls monthly. in canada, call 416.598.1222.

growing number of soldiers are speaking out against the illegality and immorality of the iraq war and the orders they are being told to carry out. these brave men and women risk jail time and their futures to stand up against the war.

stories of returning combat veterans helped turn the tide and end the war in vietnam. today's war resisters are providing critical first-hand knowledge of the horror and illegality of the iraq war. each service member who has spoken out against the war in iraq has inspired more war resisters to come forward.

steps you can take?

keep war resisters' cases in the media: write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or call into radio talk shows and talk about their cases

organize a war resister solidarity event in your area: invite a war resister or someone working on a war resister's case to speak at a public event

keep pressure on the military to treat war resisters fairly. write letters to officials at the base where a resister is being held and/or such cases are being triedwrite letters of personal support.

check out the following websites for the latest news on war resisters' cases and more specific information on how best to help them:

dr. martin luther king jr. day, a petition called “an appeal for redress,” signed by more than 500 active duty troops, will be delivered to congress. it reads: “as a patriotic american proud to serve the nation in uniform, i respectfully urge my political leaders in congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all american military forces and bases from iraq. staying in iraq will not work and is not worth the price. it is time for u.s. troops to come home." to support this initiative—sponsored by iraq veterans against the war, veterans for peace, and military families speak out—write letters to the editors of your local newspapers and to your congressional representatives, bringing this campaign to their attention, and urging them to listen to these courageous soldiers.

activists who remember the vietnam war fondly recall then-canadian-premier pierre trudeau’s policy delineating his country as a “refuge from militarism.” upwards of 50,000 u.s. draft resisters and military deserters found refuge in canada during that past conflict. most never returned. sadly, the days of trudeau are long gone—in which canadian immigration authorities were instructed not to discriminate against applicants who may not have fulfilled their military obligations in other countries—and the canadian economy no longer has the flexibility to admit such numbers.

despite this, several hundred awol g.i.s are estimated to be in canada, and 25 of them have applied for political refugee status. the first two, jeremy hinzman and brandon hughey, had their claims for refugee status denied, but their cases are making their way through canada’s federal court system. additionally, the canadian labour council, the equivalent of the afl-cio, has endorsed the war resister support campaign—for sanctuary for u.s. war resisters in canada—as have many prominent canadians. (current regulations require would-be immigrants to apply from outside canada, to have much needed job skills and/or substantial financial resources, and to wait up to two years for a response. the only exceptions are where the u.s. citizen is married to a canadian citizen or is a permanent resident or “landed immigrant” or is the son/daughter of a parent who has canadian citizenship or permanent residency.)

la chascona #3: marie howe

[la chascona: the santiago, chile, home
of nobel-winning poet pablo neruda]

if you’ve never read a current poet before, start by reading marie howe whose poetry—in the sage words of her mentor, the late stanley kunitz—is luminous, intense, eloquent, and rooted in abundant inner life. those qualities and many more can be found without effort in her two poetry volumes, “the good thief” and “what the living do.” thankfully a third, “the kingdom of ordinary time,” will soon join the other two. the living, breathing lines of this nea, bunting, and guggenheim fellow have found homes in the new yorker, the atlantic, agni, ploughshares, and the partisan review among many other journals of note—and for good reason. howe’s first book of poems, “the good thief,” was selected winner of the national poetry series by no less a personage as margaret atwood. how could she not have? atwood, in awe at the inability of howe’s poetry to “fool around,” cited their intense feeling, sparse expression, and resistance to aphasia—calling them poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.

publisher’s weekly chose her wrenching second book “what the living do” as one of the five best volumes of poetry published that year, calling its tentative transformation of agonizing slow motion into redemption as howe’s signal achievement. addressing the grief of losing a loved one, the work is just part of howe’s acts of confession—or conversation. “poetry is telling something to someone,” howe asserts.

co-editor of a book of essays, “in the company of my solitude: american writing from the aids pandemic,” howe teaches writing at sarah lawrence, columbia, and nyu. examine some of the links to howe’s work provided below, and it will be hard to argue with the boston globe, which cites its qualities of intimacy, witness, honesty, and relation. the rootedness of howe’s poetry only bolsters its urgency: just ten minutes into her 1987 residence at macdowell, howe received a call from her brother john telling her that her mother had had a heart attack. two years later aids claimed him: “what the living do” is largely an elegy to him.

don’t deny yourself this intensely intimate and brave body of work. breathe the music of its pain and resonance, inhabited by joy and redemption. reading one of howe’s poems will lead you to another, then another, and yet another…

integrity harvested with the corn…

[above: donna reed composite, 2006. below: jean seberg composite, 2006]

look out for those iowa women… coming from generations of them, i know the strength of which they’re capable. two principled iowa women of note quickly come to mind: donna reed of dennison and jean seberg of marshalltown.

best remembered for her work on her own television series, the donna reed show, which aired from 1958 through 1966, reed played the role of a midwestern mother much like her real self. revolutionary for that time was donna reed’s role behind the cameras. the true producer and director of the show (though without an industry credit), reed studied and mastered both lighting and cinematography. while personifying the ideal homemaker on her namesake sitcom, and girded by that same “all-american” suburban mom image, she refused to be reigned in by the role hollywood had consigned to women.

despite network and sponsor pressure, reed pushed for episodes considered controversial at the time: the one involving an “interracial couple” and another the “typical housewife” come to mind. from the beginning of her show, reed wanted african-american characters in roles that defied stereotypes, but the pressure of advertisers prevented that. in episode #257, “trees,” which aired on november 11, 1965 in the final 8th season, one can see shades (no pun intended) of the free speech sit-ins at berkeley nearly a year earlier. when the city attempts to cut down a tree outside donna’s house, it is clear that one can “fight city hall” with grass-roots organizing and civil disobedience!

donna reed (among others in fifties television) employed those hounded by the mccarthy-era horror, such as banned screenwriter alfred lewis levitt. (subpoenaed by the house un-american activities committee in 1951, levitt was never charged with any crime—but the smear destroyed his career. he was forced to use an assumed name, tom august, for nearly 20 years after his huac hearing. long after that darkness, levitt led the screen-credit correction effort to put the real names on scripts of those writers forced to jettison them for pseudonyms in the fifties.)

always angered by the treatment of women in the entertainment industry and arrogance of sponsor and network power—and faced with indefensible escalation of the vietnam conflict—in 1967 reed co-founded “another mother for peace” with the late barbara avedon and others. remember their famous logo created by lorraine schneider—“war is not healthy for children and other living things”? a staunch republican, reed was also the mother of two draft-age sons. (avedon, who died in 1994, wrote for many of the era’s leading television shows and co-created “cagney and lacy.”) donna reed was—said avedon—a feminist before there was a feminist vocabulary.

due to her influence—particularly in europe—jean seberg had the misfortune to have war declared on her by the seamy fbi director j. edgar hoover. active in left-wing groups and a well-known supporter of the black panthers and other anti-racist initiatives, seberg was ordered neutralized by hoover when she was seven months pregnant in 1970 (as part of the outrageous cointelpro program to stifle legitimate dissent in the united states).

suffering from serious depressive illness, seberg was the victim of an fbi cointelpro fabrication in which that government agency colluded with the los angeles times and columnist joyce haber to leak that seberg was “pregnant with the child of a prominent black panther.” haber's nationally syndicated column of may 19, 1970 reported just that. the psychologically fragile seberg—so traumatized by the false allegation—gave birth prematurely, the child stillborn. at a press conference called the next day, seberg presented shocked reporters with the body of her dead white child. this rebuttal put an end to the rumors, but put fbi hounding of seberg on overdrive—forcing her into exile in paris. depression continued to debilitate the harassed progressive actress and star of “airport”—leading several times to her hospitalization. seberg attempted suicide on every subsequent anniversary of her child's death. (she even threw herself under a train of the paris metro in 1978.)

the fbi got their wish to “neutralize” seberg when her rotting body was found in the back seat of her car in a paris suburb on september 7, 1979. (seberg had taken a massive overdose of barbiturates, and had been dead for eleven days.) yet nothing—absolutely nothing—done by j. edgar hoover, the fbi, the los angeles times, joyce haber, or others could take away her special infectious quality, voice, and manner. celluloid preserves her work as a great actress who always looked cool and classic.

sadly, seberg was only one among many thousands of u.s. activists and groups whose respective lives and work were torn asunder by the criminal activities of fbi’s cointelpro—which routinely put out phony leaflets, posters, pamphlets, newspapers, and other publications in the name of movement groups to discredit those groups and turn activists against each other. if that failed, troublesome misinformation could always be dredged out to activists’ financial backers, employers, business associates, families, neighbors, school administrators, landlords, and whomever else might cause trouble to those activists—and prevent work vital to necessary social change.

the rich and principled lives of donna reed and jean seberg—who refused to back down despite the consequences—are a beautiful example of strength in this, more cynical, age.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

but it's alright: a fitful labor

[digital composite: j.j. jackson; j.j. jackson album cover; bronx scene; flags of britian, barbados, botswana, guyana, lesotho. 2006]

the skillet simmered in 1966. barbados, botswana, guyana, and lesotho—granted independence that year from britain—were just the most recent of the carousel. transitions—whether in international equations, human relations, or artistic panoramas—continued their unimaginable course. a hurricane continued to blow away the status quo: what would remain in its wake?

could one glean a hint from that year’s prescient and compelling dance jackhammer? bronx-born songwriter and arranger j.j. jackson belted out “but it’s alright,” a virulently danceable song he’d penned with pierre tubbs—and which ricocheted to the billboard top five. recorded in london, jackson—who’d worked with performers ranging from mary wells to the shangri-las—was backed up by guitarist terry smith, tenor saxophonist dick morrissey, and drummer john marshall. in “but it’s alright” these accomplished british jazz-rock pioneers could match—note for note—the “soulfulness” of stax or muscle shoals. morrissey went on to work with such acts as georgie fame, peter gabriel, and gary numan, while john marshall accompanied “soft works,” “electric phoenix,” and “nucleus.” smith and morrissey later formed “if,” a jazz-rock fusion that was a british equivalent of “chicago” and “blood sweat & tears.”

in a microcosm, this soul-stopper—by an african-american singer with british instrumentalists—hinted at the various re-alignments and unorthodox collaborations on the horizon. “colonizers” and the “colonized” could indeed make great music together.
“but it’s alright” was not the first interracial chart success, by any means. the del-vikings, an integrated group of air force buddies, hit the top 5 of both the pop and r&b charts in 1957 with “come go with me.” then there was 1962’s “green onions” by booker t & the mgs. neither of those could match the vocal and instrumental intensity or technical competence of “but it’s alright.” fuller impacts by the chambers brothers and sly & the family stone (not to mention even more prolific behind-the-scenes collaborations in the studio) were yet to come.

“but it’s alright” exudes empowerment and the day’s ethics of aspiration and riddance with a fluency of otis redding—though coarser and more immediate. listening to the robust riffs of this release offer a glimpse into the primordial soup of raised expectations and fitful empowerment before seventies stagflation, misplaced priorities, and eighties reaganism shriveled them into a gray expanse of cynicism.

baby, you gotta gotta reap what you sow
but it's all right, all right girl
you are payin' now, but it's all right

metaphors of colonialism’s consequences aside, “but it’s alright” proved a major boost to the independent calla label (also graced by the likes of the orlons and great lady of soul bettye lavette). had it not been played occasionally by oldies stations and prized by aficionados of england’s northern soul scene, “but it’s alright” would have faded long ago into a much deeper obscurity. forty years later it still rates a good listen.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

a synchronicity of palettes…

[work of jordon schranz, including “the line/red rover” (2006) 60” x 48” oil on canvas & the fury (2005) 10” x 8" oil on canvas ]
[abstracts by nicole laemmle & portraits by zito]
[top: work by domenick dipietrantonio & michael antkowiak/bottom: work by marissa r. shell & henry chung]
[top: view outside the studio & work by joan reutershan/bottom: work by corina coria & jennifer cushman]

scores of artists in the crane street studios community of long island city showcased their work at open studios on december 2 and 3. with work traversing myriad media, textures, and contexts, these artists opened their doors to the general community for an exuberant weekend of cultural dimensions. while much of the work exhibited was interesting—in tones conveying irony to rootedness as well as whimsy—what follows are but a few examples of what goes on in this long island city powerhouse.

her paintings conveying imaginary worlds in bright colors, marissa r. shell melds elements of macro and micro worlds together in proportionate scale. mostly done with acrylic on canvas, shell’s paintings reveal microsystems and the structure of our geography and architecture.

broaching—if not synthesizing—the media of sculpture and painting and perspectives of figurative, abstract, and conceptual, domenick dipietrantonio combines found synthetic objects with natural materials in a dialectic on contemporary culture and its sturm und drang.

merciless in conveying today’s ever-starker options, the work of jordon schranz brings to bear the persons and objects caught up in our maelstrom. reduced to their common denominator—without room for obfuscation—his pieces dissect the collective vacillations and dissonance of vox populi.

conjuring and culling visages from narratives suggested by artifacts, zito uses paint to communicate the emotional capacity of the human face. his portraits—at the intersection of object and illusion—convey root testimony that alloy individuals with their origins, history, and point of contact with the artist.

how elements of architecture, street patterns, the urban forest, and other features of the city evolve are of special interest to joan reutershan, author of “clara zetkin und brot und rosen.” reutershan transposes some of the visual configurations that present themselves to her perceptions into the colors, lines, and shapes of paint space. what results from this process can be seen in her lush oil-on-canvas scenes of fort greene.

while the vine sculptures and mixed media collages of jennifer cushman intrigue and delight, both viscerally and intellectually, the abstract acrylic paintings of nicole laemmle are remarkable for their wavelength and amplitude. then there are the wonderful black and white pastilles of henry chung that capture the crevices between still life. analyzing existential questions inherent with essence, substance, time, location, space, and identity, robert walden addresses these ideas by building upon physical, temporal, and literal metaphors in his ontological road maps. projecting an intensity that represent an array of psychological states, the paintings of mundane domestic interiors by michael antkowiak are rendered in acidic yellow tones, imbuing this work with a murky past-tense quality.

open studios captured the deep hues of creative firmament in new york despite varying economic and situational challenges. it would be advisable to keep abreast of events like this at crane street studios and combine a visit there with glimpses into the work at p.s. 1 across the street.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

rectify architectural war crimes

[digital composite: southeast corner farley post office, northwest corner farley post office, transit entrance, november 2006]

wonton destruction of the mckim, mead & white beaux-arts masterpiece pennsylvania station—taking three years between 1963 and 1966—was an architectural warm crime. period. end of story. until several years ago there was little way to rectify the horrible atrocity committed against new york and its people by business interests that obliterated our great temple—to erect a cheesy sports and entertainment complex that has never truly served the interests of our metropolitan area. built to last forever, our pennsylvania station, was usurped by a crass piece of plastic that has long showed its age.

our late senator, daniel patrick moynihan, spent over a decade trying to undo that damage. he pushed high and low for a modern pennsylvania station for new york city—using the landmark farley post office (also a mckim, mead & white gem) across eighth avenue from the current cheesy monstrosity. to that end, he lined up federal, state, and municipal monies—shepherding the initial architectural plan to rebuild the station in the gilded realm of the corinthian-columned post office across the street. but—as kent barwick, president of the municipal art society points out—more than eight years have passed since president clinton and governor pataki stood for their photo op with the senator on the post office’s monumental steps to announce that work on the new penn station would “start soon.” on march 4, 1998, clinton announced that an accord had been reached, federal funding had been secured, and plans to restore the james farley post office building were underway. we’re still waiting…

what is taking so long? why are new yorkers being denied our grand portal that unites—in the words of friends of moynihan station director maura moynihan—landmark preservation, infrastructure, urban planning, transportation policy, architecture, design and economic development in service to the common good. this proposed public works project would yield tangible benefits for our entire region. furthermore, it will revive a critical swath of midtown manhattan, for too long blighted by the destruction of the original penn station and the heinous edifice constructed in its place.

barwick states that the latest delay has been precipitated by developers who prefer to build a new madison square garden in the west end of the post office, demolish the current “garden” and construct a huge commercial office complex with an upgraded penn station underneath. the president of the municipal art society is asking some very important questions: who will guarantee us a grand new train station? what will prevent the garden from papering over mckim mead & white’s corinthian columns with jumbo advertising signs? will new york’s favorite post office become ticket windows for madonna? can a train hall be a lobby for the knicks? who will be in charge? where once, barwick notes, vanderbilts and the rockefellers risked their own money in pursuit of great public works—in this situation a lot of our tax dollars are at stake. “we have to see this is a contract with the future that cannot be compromised by a commercial real estate deal.” bravo, mr. barwick!

the dastardly decision to raze penn station was made behind closed doors and rubberstamped by the city planning commission. despite vigorous and eloquent protest, the commission ruled in favor of the strip center—a dear price of a great rail hub, civic space, and architectural masterpiece for which new yorkers still pay. boardroom decisions that consigned the doric columns, sculpted angels and jules muerin murals to a new jersey swamp cannot be allowed to do the same thing again. we in new york’s body politic must stand by the municipal art society in their bedrock principles for the station and hold our elected officials accountable for ensuring them:

• a modern rail station should be constructed within the walls of the james a. farley general post office on eighth avenue at 33rd street, and transportation should be the facility’s main purpose

• moynihan station should be a grand gateway to new york city, something the city lost with the destruction of pennsylvania station more than 40 years ago. design and construction should move forward quickly with full respect for the post office’s city landmark status

• expansion space should be reserved for transportation functions to grow over time so that the station can serve its role as an economic catalyst for manhattan’s newest business district and residential neighborhood, the far west side

• special attention should be devoted to public safety, with well-planned internal circulation patterns—from the curb to the platform—and with the placement of entry and egress on all sides of the station

• knit moynihan station into the fabric of the neighborhood, with visitors, commuters, and local pedestrians able to walk in enclosed passages from sixth avenue to ninth avenue (and perhaps beyond), and allowing easy access to subways, the jacob k. javits convention center, the high line, hudson river park, and future developments

this proposal will expand capacity in the most heavily used transit hub in the tri-state rail network and strengthen a critical link between new york city, long island and upstate. after years of delays and false starts, enough is enough! we cannot be complacent about this process that—without public vigilance—quickly returns to backroom deals. our elected officials must hold the development team of related companies and vornado realty trust (chosen by the empire state development corporation) accountable.

federal funds that are left too long unspent can be rescinded at any time. an out-of-control federal deficit (exacerbated by the costs of the iraq quagmire and hurricane katrina’s aftermath) put the “accord” and its funding in great jeopardy. we must heed the words of maura moynihan: “this is a chance for civic redemption that won’t come again. we lost penn station once before. let’s not lose it again.”

important & informative links:
friends of moynihan station
municipal art society