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Archive for the ‘The Third World’ Category

I started totally crushin’ on the work of artist Kota Ezawa after I saw it in the 2008 “Photography on Photography” exhibition at the Met. His slideshow History of Photography Remix is a series of notable still photographs re-rendered by precise tracings.

The lunar view is a great example of what I find really charming about these tracings – the absence of shadings and gradients transform the ultra-magnificence of the original into something much smaller and milder. I find this image hilarious – the Earth looks like a piece of penny candy.

I’d known for a while that Ezawa had used similar processes with video material, but these pieces were hard to see without being at a gallery or screening until now. Ubuweb.com has posted two-minute excerpts of four of Ezawa’s video pieces (U B U W E B – Film & Video: Kota Ezawa). Footage from moments in art and political history (The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, The OJ Simpson Trial, the assassination of JFK) are subjected to the tracing technique, and much of the material is quite powerful. The objective regard of the tracings makes the human gestures all the more poignant – by removing shadows and depth, even the most nuanced movements speak. The way he renders Susan Sontag’s hair flips is really thrilling, and the footage of the JFK assassination is newly chilling in the silence and calm objectivity of the animation.

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Like many drifting wanderers of the information age, I’ve recently discovered the joys of free movies on the internet. Movie Powder, as these sorts of sites go, is really not bad. Part of the excitement of browsing through and watching its library of films is the cap on quality. There are some conventional favorites that somehow found themselves in the mix – David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and “Harold and Maude,” for example – but on the whole Movie Powder’s archive is curated around old films in the public domain or recent films so bad that nobody cares to renew the rights. The latter category is of course the more fascinating. A shot in the dark can be a risk (“Snowbeast,” the story of a Big Foot-esque creature who terrorizes a ski lodge during its winter festival, is captivating at first but quickly grows dull), but there is gold in the hills if you know where to look.

“Invasion of the Bee Girls” (1973) is one of those fabled 1970s horror / soft core porn films that are often parodied but were difficult to find or care about when found before the internet made them free to watch. Like the best kitsch films the writing is criminally bad; so many links and relationships are left unexplained that the plot is nearly avant garde. The story revolves around a federal agent (William Smith, a former Marlboro man) who is sent to investigate a mysterious rash of heart-attacks sustained during coitus by men working in and around a federal research institution. With the help of his bespectacled librarian love interest (Victoria Vetri, 1968 Playmate of the Year), he discovers that a mischievous entomologist (Dr. Susan Harris, played by one-time Price Is Right model Anitra Ford) is crossing the town’s womenfolk with bees in her basement lab, and that somehow this makes their lovemaking fatal.

Though the film is assuredly crap, loaded as it is with cheap thrills and shameless, dated misogyny, the density of its shit elements makes the search for moments of real beauty and intelligence all the more fun. If you don’t have time to watch the whole film, skip ahead to the bee conversion scene at 54:50. The choice of music is amazing, and the transparency of the acting makes the image of a sisterhood quite touching. Something about the uniformity of the costumes and the way the faces of the women are filmed is really mysterious and intriguing to me. The original music by Charles Bernstein is at times quite creative, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherezade” is put to good use during Dr. Harris’s seduction of Dr. Kline.

“Werewolf Woman” (1976) succeeds and fails for many of the same reasons. Dubbed from Italian (orignally La Lupa Mannara), the rushed English dialogue is often hard to follow, but the story is surprisingly coherent. A hysteric young girl (Annik Borel) begins to believe that she is a werewolf when she discovers that she bears a frightening resemblance to her great-great-aunt, who was killed, as legend has it, in wolf form not far from her father’s countryside villa. An hour of killing and sex ensues.

Basically the best reason to watch this film is Borel’s extraordinary performance, not in the talking way but in her extreme physicality and expression. Particularly in scenes where she is killing someone or struggling against captors, she is able to achieve a remarkable physical range. I have never seen someone open their mouth so wide while screaming, it’s really something to see.

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I became aware of this film during a workshop with famed video artist Charles Atlas. Sergei Parajanov was one of the great Soviet film makers, and one of the more controversial for his time. After breaking with the institutionally approved “Soviet Realism” style, Parajanov was routinely persecuted, denied funding, and eventually imprisoned for homosexual acts. “Sayat Nova,” “King of Songs,” was the moniker given the 18th century Armenian poet Harutyan Sayatyan (the film is marketed to the English speaking world as “The Color of Pomegranates). As luck would have it, the whole film is on Google video:

It is indeed a feature film of about 70 minutes. If you’re pressed for time and want a taste, I suggest the Prayer Before the Hunt scene at around 19:00. It may give you an appetite for more, as it did for me.

What I love most is how Parajanov uses the still frame and the choreography to activate iconic portraiture. The work is a remarkable marriage of 20th century film editing technology with the image production of the 18th century Persian empire. Fans of Meredith Monk or Christopher Williams should get a kick out of it, as should anyone else who enjoys the poetry of image – it is beautifully composed.

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So in the past two years shit’s gone down. Things have seriously happened and it’s great, I mean for me personally it’s been a real whirlwind of stuff just happening, personal life- and personal reflection-wise. A big part of this has had something to do with the coming together of my body and my thinking and churning over aesthetics, sort of this intercourse of my flesh and blood with personal and cultural histories, macro and micro cultures, economics, preferences, etc. It’s really great!

A big part of this was finishing a pretty absurdly rigorous program of physical education at the Tisch School of the Arts, a really wonderful opportunity to just be in the body all day, sometimes thirteen hours at a time just sitting there with the body while it stretched and strained and flopped. Really you have to look at these ballet classes to really believe what we were doing it was outrageous! Summer of 2007 and pretty much through the end of that year I was really psyched, really happy to be with the body, really thinking a lot about effort and relaxation and the emotional and intellectual connections to the body. I was having a great time. I think I must have gotten tired though, I was in three repertory pieces, other student work, class and rehearsals everyday, and trying to make my own work and money and to have time to just sit and read sometimes besides. So I was exhausted and meanwhile really getting into some very different artistic work, some new kinds of dance like Beth Gill and Charlotte Vanden Eynde and Kurt Vandendriessche and Trajal Harrell, but also performance and video work. I read the memoirs of Karen Finley (which are a TREAT let me tell you and as cheap as $3.38 plus shipping on Amazon.com). And though of course I had known for years that there was a lot of dance that wasn’t dancing, and while I was mostly really excited about all the other stuff happening in these performances, still I was really absorbing the point that I didn’t have to move if I didn’t want to. I should also tell you that meanwhile I was figure modeling, which also hurt my body like hell but introduced me to classical Academic painting and this whole new way of thinking about the commodification of the body. So I made this solo, “Study for Seven Activities,” which you may or may not have seen:

It takes some patience to watch so maybe you’d like to do so later and that’s fine, but you should keep reading because what’s coming up next is something of a dramatic turn.

With all this thinking I started to conflate the virtuosic dancing body with the body itself and started getting into some tough, really necessary but really difficult territory of discrediting the body as an instrument of expression or anything else. To do so I think made a lot of sense personal history wise. My dance training had come ready made with the notion that any body could dance, that the dancing body was not restricted by size or shape or training, and for that I was really lucky. So from that there was already this idea that dance art came from somewhere else, separate from or in addition to the physical body. Then there was Unitarian Universalism, which started exposing me to Eastern thought at a very young age, so add to the mix this idea of a spirit that is above and ultimately wishes to transcend and abandon the physical, and add as well the liberal politics I was soaking up. Some really shit stuff has been done to people with bodies and because of their bodies: human trafficking, slavery, teasing, fat phobic discrimination, commodification of all kinds within the realm of visual culture and image obsession, etc. So all of this got me to this point where the body didn’t really matter, it was the mind that mattered or something else, but not the body. So I didn’t move that much for a while, really only when I had to for other people, some really great choreographers working in movement.

Well at some point I got dumped and spent a few months having beer and ice cream for dinner, not every night but maybe something like 30% or 35% of nights, and I started to feel a little chunky to I decided to start going to the gym. I went to New York Sports Club on their two week trial membership (they still have it, such a good deal!). I had always had a lot of judgements about gyms for many of the reasons referred to above, but if it could help me feel a little sexy then why not, and it did and much more. Gyms are kind of gross, there were indeed some body dysmorphic people there (one bigorexic guy was actually sucking on a lollipop for energy while lifting huge-o weights, it was such a delight to see), and many people do have the sort of typical New Yorker no-intellectual-interaction blinders on as a result of the architecture and planning of the room – all the machines are facing the same way, there are TV screens on each machine, etc. But there were also some very sweet people there, people who looked around and smiled at me, people who just want to get in shape or recover from an injury, people charmingly befuddled by the machines, etc. Gyms are also really funny; the unity of body and machine and the nature of these machines that are so ergonomic (the TVs, the little fans that blow on your face while you run, the messages on the display) make the whole image kind of sci-fi. I kept thinking about Gattaca. 

During those two weeks I not only resurrected my killer pecs but felt all the things they tell you you’re supposed to feel with regular exercise: happier, healthier, more rested, more energized, and with a more positive and nourishing feeling toward food and nutrition. I also got back in touch with music – Remy Ma, my favorite heinously violent rapper, makes for an excellent work out, while Devendra Banhart gives a great cool down. 

After my two week membership ran out I visited my friend and fellow dancer Megan Flynn for a private Pilates session. I had taken mat classes before, mostly from Kathy Grant, a New York legend of sorts who was a student of Joe Pilates himself. While this provided an excellent base, studying with Megan was like entering the next dimension. Megan’s teaching practice is fed by a real curiosity and hunger for information, and she has developed a very clear method of imparting information and a philosophy for regarding the body that is, in my opinion, exceptionally sound. She’s also a complete hardass (in the best of ways) when it comes to the subtleties and finer points – she would NOT let me work in poor alignment or release my Kegel muscles. This wasn’t just physical exercise, this was brain exercise, demanding the kind of wild blend of mathematical logical thinking and sensory association that learning a language requires. At one moment I nearly cried, perhaps from frustration or from contact with some untouched/unrecognized part of myself (the core body stores A LOT of shit). From her keen observations I learned more in one hour about the idiosyncracies of how I use my core than I think I ever had. 

Megan is a fantastic resource and a total sweetheart. You can learn more about her teaching and performing by visiting her website. You can also contact her directly at meganflynn@mac.com. If you’re in a financial place to do so and have wanted to study Pilates, I give her my highest recommendation – private study with an exceptional teacher like Megan is the best way to learn the technique. She’s also a fantastic resource of information on how you can study Pilates and other body techniques at a range of cost and commitment.

These days, my body practice includes regular study of Ashtanga yoga and Feldenkrais (with legend of the form Claude Espinassier), as well as daily bike rides. It’s all a bit softer than the gym, which has its drawbacks but also it’s definite advantages – I am really excited by the connections I am making between body and imagination in these slower practices, and I can feel myself developing a more personal mental map of my body.

I am having a bit of trouble finding a note to end this post on, I think largely because the reality of what I am writing about is not tied up neatly – these things are in no way finished. I guess I’m just glad to be doing things with my body and thinking about them.

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