Archive for May, 2010

Monday, May 10th, 2010

On the one hand, Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine is a mildly hip take on Jackass.

Korine and his co-conspirators dress up as crystal meth tweekers and generally cause trouble throughout Nashville, Tennessee while being filmed through the retro lens of the VHS camcorder.


On the other hand, the film transcends hipster posing through Korine’s sincerity as an artist and the sense that he is invested in giving the film a certain depth.

(“Make it, make it, don’t fake it!” Korine’s own character implores throughout the film.)

So, with that in mind, what is going on here?

As the film opens, the predictably weird and stylish antics described above are in full effect.

One views the protagonists smashing televisions in abandoned houses, humping plastic trash cans, taking shits in front of automated garage doors, giving mock blow jobs to the branch of a tree, etc.

It’s all funny enough and the super softness of the VHS imagery combined with the perpetually humid, “almost-about-to-rain” milieu in which these actions were documented makes the whole thing feel less like the pounding sharpness of Jackass and more like a Sunday afternoon nap.

But, what else?

Where is all this going going other than towards a certain vague Vice magazine style “artsy-ness”?

Well, to begin, a symbolic motif develops:

One views a succession of ratty, plastic baby-dolls with which the humpers oscillate in response from either maternal love to abject destruction.

The baby-doll calls to mind both the organic fragility of a “real” baby as well as the durable artificiality of plastic in a single image.

(Or, alternatively, the hope for a new life and the dismissal of old garbage.)

Is this baby, then, one the world loves or one the world destroys?

And as Trash Humpers unfolds:

Sometimes plastic baby-dolls are loved.

Sometimes plastic baby-dolls are destroyed.

And one can’t accurately anticipate when these sea changes will occur.

The resulting blur between these two poles then becomes something in-between creation and destruction:

Call it fornication.


(From chaos, to order and back again until The End [“the money shot”].)

(In an ending rivaling 2001, the sight of a humper lovingly coddling a real baby sparks a horrifying question – the baby is coddled by the humper now, but [when] will the sea change?)

This thematic is expanded through the reading of another character’s poem in which the only thing left to do with all the garbage of technological progress choking one’s world is neither creation nor destruction, but endless fornication (this character is later murdered by the humpers).

Again and again, the humpers manipulate the abject, obsolete “trash” mounting in the wake of progress, sometimes destroying it, sometimes preserving it, mostly doing both at once.

Pulling out (or in) a couple of degrees, then, Korine’s approach to his own medium of obsolete analog VHS adds a further layer to one’s understanding.

VHS (trash) is – here – neither destroyed nor created, but (perhaps one could say) loved, humped – manipulated in such a way (not too fast, not too slow, just right) as to elicit its own secret virus out into the air (as if to infect [and mutate]).

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The most recent post on “Schumacher,” a Tumblr of Ben and Louie Schumacher’s sculptural work from mid-2009 to the present moment, displays a series of views on an assemblage sculpture entitled Champfleury in which a (most likely faux) marble plinth supports the following three elements:

1. A framed line drawing (in the style of, say, Matisse) depicting a nude woman paired next to a vase of flowers.

2. A series of approximately twelve small, white rectangular objects which one assumes to be the “12 rapid prototypes of iphones found on google 3d warehouse” listed in the work’s media.

3. An unfinished maquette depicting a figure roughly rendered in plaster.

Additionally, outside of this plinth, one views an un-adorned wire dress-form which is hung on the wall in the background.

Now, a place to begin to understand the interaction of these elements is the work’s title:


“Champfleury” is the pen name of the 19th century French art critic Jules Fleury-Husson who notably defended the “realistic” paintings of Courbet depicting beggars and other previously un-represented (or un-representable) subject matter.

His defense of Courbet rested not on politics, but rather on Courbet’s unique ability to paint what he sees in front of him in the world.

Now, if one views these particular sculptures through the lens of an art critic associated with “realism,” a paradox occurs as the sculptures assembled here each work through and around ideas of mediation between real models and virtual simulations, not “reality” itself or at least not reality as Courbet taught Champfleury (for one) to view it.

Models of ipods, models of sculptures, models of garments, models of drawings of nude models and vases; in each of these cases, one is presented a synthetic portal in-between a “real” thing in the world and the creative representation of that thing.

This paradox is only worked through if one is willing to think through the idea that reality may have mutated from Courbet’s day (which could be a terrifying idea to think through).

The work – here – involved in a new type of “realism” – a realism premised not on distinctions between real and virtual, but on the mixed reality thresholds between the two.

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Battleship Potemkin Dance Edit (120 BPM) by Michael Bell-Smith is a twelve-and-a-half minute video in which the artist condenses the shots of Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, to one half of one second each (one hundred twenty cuts per minute).

He, then, underlays this “sped up” footage with a stripped-down 120 BPM dance music beat which matches the cuts of the image in perfect synchronization.

At first glance, it creates a strobe effect.

However, after a few moments, the flow of the narrative becomes followable due to both the original film’s heavy-handed graphic symbolism (silent films, of course, relied largely on pointed imagery to advance narrative) and the contemporary mind’s training for such rapid-fire editing techniques at the hands of MTV, Web surfing and whatnot.

One views, then, in a Cliffs Notes version, the famous montage elements and the revolutionary propaganda techniques for which the original film, Battleship Potemkin, is deservedly famous.

On the one hand, that’s great – the viewer gets to check out a film with aesthetic, intellectual and historical importance and is able to do so without the “boringness” of sitting there “forever” watching a really old movie.

(“History written with lightning” as Woodrow Wilson put in regard to another landmark silent film – Birth of a Nation.)

But, on the other hand, can one say that they have actually viewed Battleship Potemkin?

That is to say, even though the narrative sequence of the film is more or less legible, is there some missing “purity” to the film which is lost in the sped-up translation?

The goal of the film was to awaken in the viewer a sense of class consciousness through montage editing (shot A + shot B = Synthesis C; the aesthetic answer to the dialectical method of history explored in Marxist theory).

Is this effect, or the ability to even appreciate this effect, lost?

Perhaps what one can say they see in Bell-Smith’s version of the film is this, a new type of synthesis:

The mesmerizing, almost sinister mechanical regularity of one image colliding into another image resulting in an intellectual synthesis of images again and again and again and again without ever achieving “pure” synthesis (like an endless, un-changing dance beat).

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I like to walk around in a particular park.

This park isn’t huge, but it’s not small either (about a mile around) and it has some tennis courts, as well as a series of hills.

On the largest of these hills is a large vertical monument to a military exploit around which a lot of fit, physically attractive people hang out.

And on one of the smaller of these hills are a couple of small, dying trees around which a group of sickly, goth teenagers hang out and role play vampire fantasy scenarios.

Writing about Internet art makes me compare everything I see to the Internet, so, after seeing this group of kids on a regular basis for long enough, I began to think about the relationship between vampires themes and what it’s like to be online.

Here are some thoughts:

1. Vampires are unable to exist in the light of day:

The teenagers don’t seem to fit into the world of daylight.

Multiplayer online gaming in a dark, musty basement is better for them and they would appear more at home there.

2. Vampires are able to exist in an endless duration:

The Internet is a vampire world in the sense that online time is premised less on the rhythms of day and night (the seasons changing through the “real” world) and more on those of the endless twenty-four hour data stream (the endless “now” of the virtual world).

The endless time of the virtual world seems more appropriate for these teenagers than natural time.

In the synthetic, role-playing milieu of virtual worlds, it is the vampire kids who seem relevant and cool, not the physically-fit people who hang out near the military statue.

It should be said, though, that the recent popularity of vampire mythology is not fundamentally bound up with sickly teenagers hanging out near dying trees.

For example, I walked into a large, chain bookstore yesterday and was frustrated to find myself shuffling through hundreds of yuppies, suburban “moms,” and other assorted mainstream people who were packed standing room only to hear Charlaine Harris, the author of a series of elaborately-realized vampire mystery novels, speak.

In fact, this group was almost identical in appearance and demography to the one I (again accidentally) found myself swimming through who were on hand to hear Candace Bushnell, the creator of Sex and the City, speak at the same bookstore – a population less Hot Topic than Gap.

This is not to pass a value judgment either way, just to say that there is something about the thematics and atmospherics of the vampire myth which speaks to an audience of “indoor kids” beyond the goth teenagers in the park.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

From Past Master by R.A. Lafferty (1968):

“New dimensions of pleasure are achieved daily and almost hourly,” the precis machine played. ”All live in a constant ecstasy. We are all one, all one being, the whole world of us, and we reach the heights of intense intercommunication. We come to have a single mind and a single spirit. We are everything. We are the living cosmos. The people of Astrobe do not dream at night, for a dream is a maladjustment. We do not have an unconscious, as the ancient people had, for an unconscious is the dark side, and we are all light. For us there is no future. The future is now. There is no Heaven as the ancients believed; for many years we have been in the only after-life there is. Death is unimportant. By it we simply become more closely integrated into the City. We leave off being an individual. In us there is neither human nor programmed, but we are all one. We verge to our apex which is the total realization of the world-folk. We become a single organism, ever more and more intricate, the City itself.”

NOTE: This passage features a “precis machine” explaining to Thomas More the world of the future which his book Utopia helped create, despite the fact that it was a meant to be satire.