Sunday, March 24, 2013

shepherds of the modern empire

After spending a few months in a kind of emotional limbo, and not doing anything with this blog, I joined Twitter. On my Twitter account I made mini-essays that kind of substituted for this blog. But after a few months worth of writing mini-essays about stuff I read or art I saw on Twitter, I decided I'd better at least try to get this blog started back up.

One limiting factor, at least, to this blog has been that I kind of restricted myself to explaining whatever my dreams were in the directly previous night with whatever experiences I'd been having through the course of the recent days or months. I think I'd like to break free of that restriction a bit. If I feel like I have the ability to analyze my dreams within the context of this blog, I will, and I'll make sure I provide links to the dreams, like I have in the past.

But I think that what this blog will mainly become is something of a dreamer's journal. I'm not really an artist. And even as far as dreamers go, I'm rather pedestrian. But I seem to have the ability to keep track of my dreams -- I've done so somewhat well since 2004. And I might as well keep notes of my creative (rather than personal, insofar as I can avoid it) experiences, so that the few people who are interested in my dreams can also see what some might think of as the raw material of my art, the art of dreaming.

And one thing I keep trying to force myself to remember is that a blog is basically like a journal, except that, instead of gathering dust in a drawer or closet or who knows where, until I need to recall it for the sake of research or emotional support, it will be in a rather open space -- however open the internet is. Sometimes it feels like the internet is even more isolated than a drawer or a closet. But I think I've always had a few eyes on my blog posts, here and there. And so that's much better than never having any eyes on my ideas.

Today I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, one of my favorite haunts. I recently became a member there, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to haunt the place a lot more frequently. The MCAD is one of the many, many sites taking part in Denver's Month of Photography, which takes place through March and even through a little bit of April.

The Month of Photography exhibit MCAD has going on right now is by an artist named Lucas Foglia. Foglia's exhibit is called "A Natural Order." It is curated by Mark Sink, the person who founded Denver's Month of Photography. If I'm not mistaken, Mark Sink also curated the Month of Photography exhibit going on at the RedLine Gallery.

Foglia's exhibit shows photographs taken between 2006 and 2010, of people living off the grid and, in a lot of ways, close to nature, in the southeastern United States. A lot of these people, apparently, live in communities. Some of them dress in an old-fashioned style. Others dress in more of a hippie-style. Others dress in a militia style. Others, apparently, don't dress at all.

There are some really interesting photos. There's a nice one of a little baby dancing on its mother's (?) shoulders as the mother plays a banjo. The little baby and mother are blonde and tan. The mother has her hair done in dreads. She has a bracelet-like tattoo on her right wrist, showing the phases of the moon. On her left forearm is a tattoo of some kind of creeping plant, maybe a morning glory. Another parent and child (?) photo I like is of a man floating on his back in a river while a baby stand-crawls on his chest.

There's another photo of a little girl that I like. The girl is lying on her back on a colorful blanket. The girl is dressed in a green fairy-costume with a vine decoration running up the front of the blouse. She has a daydreamy look on her face, and she appears to be holding the bone of some just-eaten animal in her left hand.

Another interesting photo shows a girl in her early teens, or maybe younger, being taught how to shoot a rifle by an older woman. The girl is wearing a prim, blue dress, and the older woman is wearing a prim, pink dress. Something about the posing of this photo, while rather violent in a lot of ways, also has a feeling one might get from a Jock Sturges photograph.

This feeling is accentuated in another photo, showing the back view of a fat man in swimming trunks on a dock, I believe, wrestling with a naked child, who is skinny and has long hair, but whose gender I, personally, couldn't discern.

But the violence of the photo carries over into a couple other photos. It's hard to tell if shooting a gun should be equated with violence. Obviously these people aren't learning to shoot a gun to hurt people. They're learning to shoot because they need to know how to shoot in order to hunt for their food. But in one photo, the rifle on a young man's headboard compliments his militia-style outfit and skull-and-crossbones/Confederate flag to make one feel that he has learned to use his gun to do more than hunt for food.

Another photo shows a little girl in a prim, pink dress scrawling away on a chalkboard. From a distance, one might simply assume that the little girl is writing math or spelling formulas. But a closer glance at the chalkboard reveals that the little girl is writing out conspiracy theories, modern "who controls the oil" theories and older George Orwell theories.

Some other photos show a frightful state of nature in decay. One photo is of a bear that had been killed by poison. I think it's implied, by the title of the photo, that the bear had been poisoned by a neighbor of the off-the-grid community. But I'm not sure. What's frightening about the photo, though, is how, where the bear's fur has fallen off its body, the bear kind of resembles a fat human being. In fact, at first seeing the bear at a distance, I thought I was looking at a human being playing some kind of weird game.

Another unsettling photo is of a patch of watermelons -- all decayed. I'm not sure how an entire patch of watermelons could have undergone decay like that. Some of the watermelons even appeared to be split right in half, as if they'd purposely been split open, so that they would decay. The field of watermelon vines also seems to be in a state of decay: half the vines have rotted into a rusty color against the brown soil.

One photo that I, in my insulated, little, suburban world, would think of also as a photo of decay, is of a man in something he called a wigwam (not sure how like a genuine wigwam it was). The structure doesn't seem much bigger than a sleeping bag, and it's mostly shadow. At the front of this structure are all kinds of dirt, ash, jars, and so forth. The man in the wigwam appears to be sleeping. But he doesn't seem restful. He seems miserable. Again, I may be investing something of my own feelings into my perception of the man.

One photo that I liked was of a writing desk in some kind of wood cabin. At the writing desk are a non-electric typewriter, an ash tray, and, I think, two hunks of stone. The writing desk seems to have been made out of an old door, or an old piece of wall. On the walls behind and beside the writing desk are a painting of two cheetahs in the darkness and a framed (!!!) deer's head.

After looking at the Lucas Foglia exhibit, I went to the William Lamson exhibit, which was a room with a video. The video showed a man in a wide river balancing himself on some sort of do-it-yourself, motorized flotation device. The device didn't -- I think -- move forward. I think it just kept the man floating. It was basically a circle, maybe a meter in diameter, with a mesh-metal platform on top of it. Whatever the motorized piece was was below the circle, under the water.

Whenever the river waves got too rough, or, perhaps, whenever the motor clunked out, the man was thrown off the device. He'd have to fix the motor and re-balance himself on the platform. He was wearing rubber boots. And each time he'd re-balance himself on the platform, he'd use a strange device made out of an old bike tire pump to suction the water out of his boots.

I then went upstairs, to the Karen Kilimnik exhibit, which I'd gone to before. But the first time I'd gone, I'd spent so much time in the first half that I didn't have any time to spend looking at the second half. The second half has some interesting paintings of scenery from ballets and ballet and opera halls.

It also has a little installation of a ballerina's tutu and dance shoes, sprinkled over with blue glitter and lying atop a fake cinder block, over which are crawling little mice. The installation draws attention to the fact that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ballerinas were thought of as rats. Ballerinas were thought of as generally having had low origins, maybe of having grown up on the streets or in very poor neighborhoods. It's not too different from the way people thought of actors and playwrights in the same time period.

But what's interesting is that another of Kilimnik's drawings shows the opera house Marie Antoinette built for her Villa Trianon. The description of the drawing mentions that Marie Antoinette, while at the Villa Trianon, used to dress very simply, in a white, muslin gown, and go out into the fields, playing at being a shepherdess.

There's a strange juxtaposition here: on one side, there are the ballerinas, stigmatized as having low origins, but acting as some of the most sublime personages in the universe of human archetypes; and on the other side, there are Queens of Empires, dressing and acting as shepherdesses.

I can't help but feel that, in some way, this kind of strange juxtaposition also fits in with the photos of Lucas Foglia. The United States grew, the old Europeans might have said, out of low origins. But it soared upward to become the greatest power in the world. But now, as the greatest power in the world, we, maybe not as a whole, but in part, choose to dress simply and go back to the fields.

One last interesting thing from Kilimnik's exhibit is a little, white structure, kind of like a child's playhouse. Inside the structure are curtains with floral designs on them. And on the back wall is a screen playing some kind of fairy's ballet.

The video shows a pretend forest -- really, an artificial forest landscape inside a studio or some other small room. As the camera moves through the lush canopy of this artifical forest, it pauses, to allow superimposed images of little ballerinas to dance on the limbs and leafs of the trees and other vegetation. The whole thing is very charming.

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