Tuesday, May 30, 2006

high culture, or what happens when I try to write a serious critical piece

In my last entry detailing a walk through the aisles of Liquidation World, I promised to follow up with a description of my subsequent trip to the MacKenzie Art Gallery to see the works of Dominique Blain. In other words, the high-culture portion of the bloggaberry pie. Can you believe my spellcheck flagged 'blogaberry'? Ridiculous. It also flagged 'spellcheck'. Actually, let's not call it a pie. Let's call it 'In High Art's Vaulted Halls: The Palinode Story'. No, let's not call it that either. Wait, let's.

EXT -- Day – MacKenzie Gallery Walkway

PALINODE
(Direct to camera)
Good afternoon! It's a beautiful day here at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, where we're going to take a little tour and talk about Dominique Blain's touring exhibition “Poetic Meets Political”. I'm here with my friend Mark Hamill.

MARK
I live in a condemned bungalow and drive a cab.

PALINODE
Yes you do, Mark. Yes you do. And if you'll forgive me for intruding on the sunny warmth of this day with some weighty matters, Mark, wouldn't you say that some institutions exist in tiny offices and locked basement rooms in the bland grey buildings of every city on earth, insinuating themselves like rhizomes into our lives even as they hide from view, becoming microscopic in size even as their scope is universal?

MARK
That's right, Palinode.

PALINODE
They're fungus, folks! But public institutions like museums, libraries, and art galleries take the form of monolithic slabs of building, modernist blocks and upended chunks of stone and concrete emerging from their foundations like chthonic gods raised to earth.

[CUT TO streeter interviews here, pedestrians laughing and saying “Chthonic gods?” etc.]

PALINODE
Like any building that grants State-sanctioned access to collective memory, it must impress by means of scale. That's why the building is set several hundred feet from the sidewalk, to force pedestrians to watch the building grow slowly larger as they approach, until it fills their entire field of vision. By these unsubtle means the architect hopes to impress upon you the notion that what is held within is sacred. Mark, do you pray at a gallery or a museum?

MARK
Ha ha, no I don't. I pray in the chapel at my local Sam's Club. [There is actually no chapel at Sam's Club. At least I don't think so.]

PALINODE
They sell those chapel-in-a-box kits there too. [No they don't. Or maybe they do.]

[CUT TO streeter interviews, pedestrians laughing and saying “Chapel in a box?” etc.]

PALINODE
Hey Mark, let's take a look inside the gallery, what say?

MARK
You're... on.

[Transition with needlessly sped-up footage of PALINODE and MARK HAMILL walking up to doors, crossing through atrium, waving to security guards and going up stairs to gallery space]

INT – DAY – MacKenzie Gallery

PALINODE
Okay, here we are in the MacKenzie Gallery, tall-ceilinged and friendly, where Dominique Blain's art is on display. What can you tell us about the artist, Mark?

MARK
Plenty, Palinode. Dominique Blain is an internationally renowned artist based in Montreal. Her work deals with the often controversial subject matter of 20th century social relations: injustice, racial and social inequality, fanaticism and oppression. It may come as a surprise, then, to see that her work is poetic in its beauty and poignancy. The viewer is awed by the elegance of her installations while being struck by the impact of the message being delivered. For example, what from a distance looks like a traditional handmade carpet is, in fact, made up of rows of life-size landmines.

PALINODE
Whoah!

MARK
Yeah.

PALINODE
What, you mean real land mines?

MARK
No, the motifs woven into the rug depict twenty-six different kinds of mines. The rug was actually woven by a cooperative in Pakistan, where these land mines represent a real danger.

PALINODE
You could have been a bit clearer on that.

MARK
I'm just repeating the sloppily written copy from the website.

PALINODE
Let's take a look at one of her most impressive and important works first, called “Traces,” which consists of – hey Mark, look at this.

MARK
What are we looking at, Palinode?

PALINODE
What we're looking at here is not “Traces” but "Balance," a small piece made out of an old-fashioned balance with some rusty chains at one end of the balance and a mass of fluffy white cotton on the other end.

MARK
Palinode, there's something weird going on with this piece.

PALINODE
There sure is, Mark. Somehow the airy white cotton is outweighing the pile of rusty chains. Why do you think that is, Mark?

MARK
Palinode, I have no idea.

PALINODE
Well, given the artist's focus on politics and injustice, I might surmise that "Balance" is attempting to tell us something about the privileging of the commodity over abstracter notions of human dignity and freedom. I think that this piece may well be commenting on the institution of slavery, familiar to all of us from nineteenth century America. Or perhaps it's commenting on our familiarity with these items?

MARK
This one explores the issue with nuance and subtlety.

PALINODE
Are you sure? Because it feels about as nuanced as a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

JANELLE
I like this piece.

PALINODE
Hi Janelle! Mark, this is my friend Janelle. I invited her here to discuss "Balance," because she likes it and I don't, and I feel this particular piece deserves explanation from a more sympathetic viewer.

MARK
Hi Janelle. I live in a condemned bungalow and drive a cab. My evenings are free and my house is paid off.

JANELLE
Palinode thinks this piece is a relatively lazy attempt at generating meaning in an otherwise engaging show. But I think that it exemplifies Blain's ability to take huge ideas and distill them into a series of objects, achieving something like poetry in the process. Her true skill emerges from her ability to exploit the tacit cultural relationships between the objects. Take a look at Untitled from 1999, a series of photographs set into the panels of a peaked frame, giving the appearance of a window in a Gothic church. Each pair of frames counterposes an image of a person engaged in religious worship and another engaged in scientific inquiry. The paired images suggest that the quests for empirical and spiritual knowledge are part of the same impulse, the same hunger for meaning. We understand this by drawing the connections in our mind between the images.

At the same time, an object on the floor with the same shape as the 'window' resembles an upside-down boat or broken-off piece of architecture. What this means is [At this point the boom mic cable got pulled and we lost audio. The cameraman forgot to plug in the shotgun mic, so the rest of Janelle's explanation was lost, which is a pity.]

PALINODE
It's kind of like a rebus puzzle in a way.

JANELLE
Yeah, I guess you could say that.

PALINODE
I guess you could say what?

JANELLE
That it's kind of like a rebus.

MARK
She said rebus!

PALINODE
That's right, Mark, she sure did. Rebus is today's 'Crazy Word'! And you know what that means!

JANELLE
What does it mean?

PALINODE
You get to knifefight Ernest Borgnine on the front lawn!

[OFF CAMERA VOICE bellows incoherently]

PALINODE
You hear that? It's Ernest Borgnine's challenge. Mark, you give Janelle the knife and tie it securely to her palm. Janelle, that's a double-bladed sucker, so watch yourself. And remember, Borgnine tends to feint with a jab and then sweep your legs out from under you with his foot, so don't forget to jump up and come down with a stabbing motion. Piece of cake.

JANELLE
I want to talk about the "Traces" piece.

PALINODE
We're running low on time here, Janelle, so you head out to the lawn and we'll catch up with you later.

EXEC. PRODUCER
Aidan?

PALINODE
Folks, this is an executive producer showing up for a surprise visit!

EXEC. PROD.
You need to shut this unit down right now and come back to the office. We sent you out to get some exterior shots of city landmarks for a commercial.

PALINODE
We shot that stuff already. Now We're creating an exciting new show about contemporary art, combining the feel of a hosted lifestyle show with a dash of A&E-style culture and that edgy in situ format so in demand with networks today.

EXEC. PROD.
All that without developmental approval, broadcaster agreement, a production schedule, a series breakdown, or even a single deal memo signed. And how did you hire Mark Hamill?

PALINODE
That's not the real Mark Hamill.

MARK
Yes I am.

PALINODE
Wow. I thought you were some homeless outpatient from the mental hospital.

MARK
I am also Mark Hamill.

PALINODE
At least let's get some footage of the knife fight. I worked hard to get the Event Permit from the city.

EXEC. PROD.
Who's fighting?

PALINODE
My friend Janelle is taking on Ernest Borgnine in a grudge match. She'll wipe the floor with him.

EXEC. PROD.
What? She can't kill Ernest Borgnine - he's already dead.

THE END ALREADY.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ahh… the wonderfully politically poignant art of the Makenzie Gallery locked as it is, ensconced within the hallowed halls of the father of leftist bureaucracy, the Tommy Douglas Building. How many times I’ve stepped through those door looking forward to art that would lift my spirit and inspire me with the majesty and beauty of all that mankind can achieve only to be slammed in the face with blatantly crude works that even pre-schooler’s would be embarrassed by, if it hung on their mother’s fridge.

I recall once I went to show there that consisted of black and white mylar printed litho-photographs of ladies undergarments crumpled and discarded followed by pages of feminist rantings. The artist, the great Mary Kelly, who thought that the photos, the text, the sculptures covered in even more text, and the lengthy 20 odd page artist statement was not quite enough actually reveal the subtleties of her art or capable of getting ever so simplistic message across, “I live off state funded art grants,” added a lecture to open the show. The only comment from the audience was “Why didn’t you just write a book?” to which she replied “I did, but nobody would publish it.”

[sadly not even the same show- http://www-art.newhall.cam.ac.uk/gallery/works/kelly-8col/ ]

Was it ever a wonder why , the Saskatchewan Arts Board shared its building (and board) with the Saskatchewan Institute for the Blind, before it was forced to move in to the gutted remains of a hotel bar, with its new neighbour the welfare office.

Anonymous said...

oops missed the "to" between enough and actually and "her" between getting and ever


-Actually the ceramics show they had there about 2 month ago was brilliant. Their modernist print show last winter was also very excellent. Plus i do like that landmine rug ---its pretty.

Sporkulious said...

oh palinode. why do you post so many words at the end of a long, tiresome day?

i shall compose a haiku:

oh so many words
dialogue weary, my eyes
time for a cuppa?

palinode said...

Herr Spork, for you I will attempt a precis:

I want to write about art. Art is a serious topic deserving careful and ecumenical consideration. Consideration strains against the format of this weblog and the shape of my consciousness. So I write it out as a TV script and end up putting my friend in a knifefight with Ernest Borgnine. Booyah!

Anonymous: Too much to respond to tonight, sir. Later.

Anonymous said...

I see through your Palinode Code (or rebus as you call it). Ernest Borgnine is indubitably of a Masonic order sent by an evil priory of the Mafia side of the Teamsters to quiet your albino friend Janelle. Him and his dirty dozen daggers of deceit fighting in the lawn to keep a secret buried.

Janelle’s telling words at the balance clearly read a deeper truth. The balance itself is justice, speaking of a wrong not righted –clearly shown by the cotton balls outweighing the weight of the chains of capitalist oppression. The cog of the balance is the symbol of the Teamsters Union is clear. The cotton balls are a trickier double entendre being not only those that propped out the cheeks of the Godfather, Don Vito Corleone, but the one and same ones that were wedged into the jowls of Jack Nicholson in his 1992 roll Jimmy Hoffa.

The disguised gothic window – a holy ground –and a hidden ground – more likely a hidden tomb –the boat shadow-- a Viking burial– or the tomb of Hoffa’s burnt ashes? If only we can unravel the mystery of the carpet riddled with 26 mines perhaps leading to an ex-military mine field far from that horse farm of hidden dreams –area 26? Do the mines themselves spell out the letters J and H? What is it?

--don’t leave us hanging here Palinode finish the tale –and what the does Mark Hamill have do with this? –unless its just a loose reference to Luke Skywalker’s search for Han Solo entrapped in his carbonite crypt under the watchful eyes of Orson JabbaWellsihut and merely a redundant hint to clues already deciphered.

Anonymous 2 said...

That other Anonymous should get his/her own blog.

cenobyte said...

Mark Hamill is still ambulatory?

Weird.

Meaty Ochre Poet said...

Sorry I missed you and Mr.Hamill.
I'd have given you guys the nickle tour. The next time you see him, have him call me.
I'm looking for a droid that understands the binary language of moisture vaoporators.
Your blog is cooler than the other side of the pillow. And Ernie Borgnine can't knifefight his way out of a paper bag. Now, Don Amici,
he was one hell of a knifefighter.

Anonymous said...

Those creepy life-size statues hanging out in the lobby of the Tommy Douglas building? Scare me, every time. I see them out of the corner of my eye and they look like real people, but when I look right at them they're all rigor-mortis-stiff and dead-eyed. You should make Ernest Borgnine fight one of them.

~K.

Grand Tuma said...

Ernest Borgnine LIVES!

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000308/

Anonymous Midwest Girl said...

Ha! Truly awesome. High art critiques and knife fights all in one entry. And this is why we love you, Palinode.

Chris said...

I love the intimacy of a knife fight. It's so personal and gritty. Ernie's fetid breathe in your face as you gut him like a trout. Wow, Janelle is a lucky girl, indeed.

Saskboy said...

Hi,
Sorry for posting offtopic. I think you're a recent addition to the Saskblog's Roll?
There's a BBQ Saskbloggers are invited to. There's an event in Regina announced today with information at saskblogs.ca, and one in Saskatoon later.
Hope you can make it.