Progress and a Bright Future

"One might justifiably wonder if the true master narrative of our era -- the presence of which is so blinding, we fail to perceive it -- is actually this: that there is not, and no longer can be, any master narrative." -- NB

Nicolas Bourriaud takes on post-modernism and the end of the master narrative in the beefy middle section of The Radicant. Having elder relatives who lived through the Great Depression in America to contrast with the subsequent generation who believed in progress and the miracle of technology helps us understand Bourriaud is pointing out. We feel lucky to have crossed paths with elder artists whose views presage the AlterModern.


Jodi Sedlock on Bat Catching (Case Study No. 8)

She started out an art student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but ended up studying bats as a scientist.  A fateful internship at the Field Museum in Chicago where she was given the charge of drawing a chipmunk penis and rat feet lead Professor Jodi Sedlock to bats as subject matter. As an associate professor of biology at Lawrence University, she believes that "by drawing it, we get to know it." In her biology courses, she often requires students to draw the parts of dissected specimens to learn them. Since 1996, she has traveled to the Philippines to identify the vast number of bat species making the archipelago a "hot spot" of bat species diversity. Her field work mixes photography, drawing, sound recording, and video to create "bat portraits" (see example left) that help humans understand the delicacy of creatures and their habitat.


This is the Modern World

We were thinking about students contemplating the idea of Modernism burning out, turning in on itself (e.g. Post-Modernism), and regrouping. We looked at this phenomenon through the lense of rock performance as demonstrated in the youth subculture movement in Britain that derived its name from Modernism: the Mods. Here in the U.S., we associate this movement with The Who. Their song Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere from 1965--with its lyrics ("Don't follow the lines that been laid before") reflect the prevailing mid-century cultural forces of mass-production, advertising, self-absorption, disregard for sustainability and an emphasis on artistic novelty that are aspects of Modernism. Viewing The Who's performance of Anyway showcases four lads on a path to self-destruction (RIP Keith Moon).

We compared The Who to The Jam, a band that directly referenced The Who's 1965 style.  We see the same attitudes and ideas take a different sahpe as The Jam revive The Mod movement. There is more specificity and self-consciousness in their songs Art School and The Modern World. We'll still do what we want, but with an awareness of contemporary cultural resistance and historical precedent. The rage is focused on the music. Everything about The Jam's version of the Mod seems more contained and streamlined.


It's Work (Advice from Andy)

Andy was a Catholic
the ethic ran through his bones
He lived alone with his mother
collecting gossip and toys

Every Sunday when he went to Church
He'd kneel in his pew and say
"It's work, all that matters is work."

He was a lot of things
what I remember most he'd say
"I've got to bring home the bacon
someone's got to bring home the roast."

He'd get to the factory early
If you'd ask him he'd tell you straight out
It's work

No matter what I did it never seemed enough
he said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, "How many songs did you write ?"
I'd written zero, I'd lied and said, "Ten."

"You won't be young forever
You should have written fifteen"
It's work

"You ought to make things big
people like it that way
And the songs with the dirty words
make sure your record them that way"

Andy liked to stir up trouble
he was funny that way
He said, "It's just work

Andy sat down to talk one day
he said decide what you want
Do you want to expand your parameters
or play museums like some dilettante

I fired him on the spot
he got red and called me a rat
It was the worst word that he could think of
And I've never seen him like that
It's work, I thought he said it's just work

Andy said a lot of things
I stored them all away in my head
Sometimes when I can't decide what I should do
I think what would Andy have said

He'd probably say you think too much
That's 'cause there's work that you don't want to do
It's work, the most important thing is work
It's work, the most important thing is work


John McKinnon on Warhol (Case Study No. 7)

John McKinnon, the Milwaukee Art Museum assistant curator of modern and contemporary, will give a lecture (in the Lawrence University Wriston Auditorium) on the Andy Warhol: The Last Decade exhibition which closed last month. It is the first U.S. museum exhibition to explore the late work of Andy Warhol with all its Last Supper and Christ-figure imagery. The show is currently touring museums around the nation and was curated by Joe Ketner. John received his master's degrees from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in both arts administration and art history and has a bachelor's degree in studio art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in grad school, he was an intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art and at the Art Institute of Chicago. We worked with him in Madison and later Chicago in the early 2000s while we were showing with the Wendy Cooper Gallery, since closed. As director of the gallery, John maintained our film loop installations, provided information to critics, and helped install our work. He was always over-the-top helpful and we're happy to see him come to Lawrence to talk about the Warhol show. He's also written for slick publications such as Artforum, Time Out Chicago and Flash Art.


John T. Gates vs. Klaus Nomi (Case Study No. 6)

As a bass soloist in Germany, John T. Gates (Lawrence Visiting Assistant Professor of Music) sang more than 1,000 performances over a period of thirteen years. His appearances were often accompanied by multimedia elements ranging from a simple boom box switched on and off to video feedback projections to add a feeling of sensory overload and push the limits of the traditional opera form. His academic research examined communication in modern opera and romantic dualism in Schumann. We worked with him a couple years ago to make a 16 mm black-and-white short film (music video?) of his performance of Franz Schubert's "Fruhlingssehnsucht" juxtaposed with his ruminations on romanticism. Student Wil Herbon had the impulse to dress in a bunny-suit that term so we included him skipping through the freshly fallen snow.  Dish soap suds became a mask and close-ups of John's face conveyed a sense of inner torment that seemed an apropos to the content.

The  Nomi Song: The Klaus Nomi Odyssey (c. 2004, 96 minutes), a documentary by Andrew Horn, reflects on the life and art of the self-taught German performer Klaus Nomi. Using vintage archival footage and interviews with Nomi himself as well as friends and collaborators tries to understand how it all went down. Nomi appeared at a pinnacle cultural moment when new wave was truly new and considered avant-garde and Nomi's "alien persona" resonated with counter-culture types in New York, France and oddly, the Midwest. In interviews featured in the film, Klaus spoke of singing along with Maria Callas records and dreaming of being a singer while a boy in Essen, Germany. Nomi came to New York City in the late 1970s where he took his countertenor voice (which some believe is in the  tradition of the Castrato) into a lower east side night club context. Our friend Stanley Ryan Jones photographed Nomi when he performed in Milwaukee. Stan wrote us in a recent email that: "Klaus was very professional and serious as were the people with him. It was a strange occurrence in a strange time. Jaded jaws did drop when he took the stage at the Starship. Nobody knew what to think. It just didn't fit into any box. There was a party after the show where I got my good shot. I got the impression he would have had more fun at this party if I would have photographed him all night long. Of course he only had that one expression. He seemed like a sweet man in over his head but so was I." Just as Nomi's "alien charisma" was nearing its pinnacle complete with television appearances, a record deal and European concert tours booked, he became increasingly ill. On Wikipedia and elsewhere the following dismal factoid is noted: "Nomi was one of the first celebrities to contract AIDS. He died in 1983 at the age of 39 as a result of complications from the disease." His performing career and life, like those of many artists of the era, was cut short and we are left to contemplate the ways he made something old new wave again.