How “Surround Audience” at The New Museum Blew My Mind Twice

Oh hey. I’m going to write a blog post about the most recent mind-blowing cultural shit I’ve seen in New York because it makes me feel like I’m getting more value for my rent.

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Frank Benson, “Juliana”

My first impression of the New Museum back in 2007 was of dismissal; it felt too conceptual, postmodern and obnoxious. The art was not accessible; it made me feel dumb for not “getting it” – for not having any emotional response to “artwork” made of children’s toys and colored planks of wood with pieces of garbage tied to a string.

Last year I gave it another shot for Chris Ofili’s “Night and Day” exhibit. Massive, colorful, collage-like paintings and intricate, obsessive pencil drawings showcased an impressive range of materials. Infamous for his elephant dung paintings, Ofili is more than shock value and envelope-pushing. He is inspired by the human experience and his contemplation of socio-economic inequality. The New Museum redeemed itself for me with that exhibit. It was edgy, modern and relevant – but was also authentic, relatable and accessible. I appreciated it.

Then I heard about this year’s Triennial. I assumed it would include more of the earlier kind of art: conceptual, postmodern…and obnoxious. I then discovered this video online by artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison. I highly recommend watching it and her entire series, “Touching The Art”.

I had to see for myself what was going on here. I ultimately visited the exhibit twice because I couldn’t absorb it all in just one visit. I felt more inspired and connected to not only the artwork but the concepts and motivation behind the artwork, that I only made it to two out of the four floors of artwork on my first visit. The work, collected from 51 artists from 25 countries around the world, explored how digital technology is connecting and separating us as a society more than ever.

Surround Audience intro 

My Favorite Pieces

Each floor of the exhibit was introduced with a warped, enigmatic poem. A choppy yet effortless stream-of-meta-consciousness meditation. It expresses the way we communicate today, with common anxieties, typos, symbols and misspellings marked by our text-based culture. 

Ryan Trecartin, "Time Pend"

Ryan Trecartin, “Time Pend”

 These poems saved me. They made me think “OMG someone else gets how ridiculous everything is.” I smiled while reading each one.

Indian artist Shreyas Kahle’s work left the biggest impression on me after my first visit. He explores “the distorting effect of the male gaze” as seen in the marble sculpture below: are they mountains or boobs? I love his cerebral sketches and “pseudoscientific” symbolic drawings; they evoked a Magritte-esque surrealism in a more raw expression. (“Surround Audience”, New Museum Triennial, Feb-May 2015, p. 188)

Shreyas Kahle, "Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn't Matter"

Shreyas Karle, “Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn’t Matter”

The shameless honesty and self expression of artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison made me laugh out loud while watching a video installation of her avatar performing a standup routine. (Her YouTube interview series, which got me to see this exhibit, was playing on a flat screen TV in the museum lobby.)

Casey Jane Ellison, "It's So Important To Seem Wonderful"

Casey Jane Ellison, “It’s So Important To Seem Wonderful”

These dreamy, haunting paintings by Chinese artist Firenze Lai left me breathless. These figures with warped proportions, to express the way our relationships with others (and ourselves) are often similarly warped with modern technology. We’re always available, we’re always able to connect with everyone everywhere…yet we don’t fully feel “connected” at the same time. I think this is a universal symptom of modern life and I loved every minute I felt like there are others who feel this way – and can creatively express the ennui of the digital age.

Firenze Lai, "Tennis Court"

Firenze Lai, “Tennis Court”

Firenze Lai, "Argument"

Firenze Lai, “Argument”

Firenze Lai, "Alignment"

Firenze Lai, “Alignment”

 

The perfect mix of truth, beauty and intellect.

Art that explores how disconnected we are as society has the effect of subverting that very feeling; it makes you feel connected to the brave artists who felt compelled to visually express their own dissatisfaction with the state of things. It’s all very cerebral and conceptual, but not overly so, with just the right balance of meta-consciousness and visual aesthetic.

“Surround Audience” ends today…but good news! I bought the coffee table book of the exhibition so if we’re friends IRL I’ll let you look through it if you wash your hands and tell me how cool my apartment is both before and after looking through my cultural coffee table book of cool-ass, mind-blowing artwork.

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar: Tagging Nostalgia

Brooklyn Night Bazaar

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar the other night, I traveled to Thailand, Berlin and Israel. Three places I’ve actually visited relatively recently. You walk into this warehouse in Williamsburg, where illuminated paper lanterns on the ceiling offer a warm glow to a large, one-room space. Aisles of vendors extend back into the darkness.

A dark-light miniature golf course with celebrity cardboard cut-outs sits to your left. To the right is an art installation in another room with ping-pong tables in the middle. “Never-ending trails of color” create a 4-wall, floor-to-ceiling graffiti piece by Brazilian artist Raphael a.k.a. SLIKS. His work comes from a lifelong sense of loneliness. Puma sponsors the exhibit, and there are glass cases of brightly-colored sneakers which add a dash of corporate flavor to the site. Instagram is in full use, with iPhone users snapping photos from creative angles. They’re tagging photos of tagging. How meta.

Night Markets in Thailand

I felt pretentious telling my friends how much the place reminded me of the night markets in Thailand; in Chang Mai, where the biggest night market stretches for what feels like miles; or in Pai, where the night market is more manageable in size but not in terms of the endless variety of creative wares, produced by artisans and craftsman you hope are local. (It was a running joke, seeing the same fabric elephant coin purse at literally every market and souvenir store across 3 different South Eastern countries. The first time I encountered the elephant, the woman selling it said “I make, I sew.” My travel companion and I loved commenting on how well that woman must have been doing, to have such a robust distributor network.)

Bars in Berlin  

A beer garden shoots off the main room, where low wooden tables sit facing a white wall loosely covered in black-outline illustrations. The casual intersection of art and alcohol and the reminded me of a 5-story place in Berlin calledTachlas. The place is covered floor to ceiling in decades of graffiti, with 5 different types of music on each floor and a sand-covered outdoor beer garden on the bottom level.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

We left the bazaar and walked down a quiet street. The light of a street lamp illuminated a drawing of a crouched, girl-like figure done on the side of the 2nd story of a building – and for a second I felt like I was in Jaffa. The quiet road, the ubiquity of art in odd places, the subdued yet powerful presence of an underground art scene brought me back to the backstreets of industrial, southern Tel Aviv.

Brooklyn Street Art

These comparisons and memories and nostalgia all feel good and bad at the same time. I make these comparisons yet don’t know for what purpose, or what to do with them. My gut reaction is to share them with others, yet I instantly feel pretentious; “Have any of you ever been to Thailand?” is a question usually met with silence.

The silence echoes inside my own head as I ask myself what to do with those comparisons and memories. Tagging them – on Instagram and my blog – makes them seem captured and categorized.

 

The Day I Decided to Stop Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

Editorial Calendar - VIsual

I discovered last night that it’s NaBloPoMo. So I’m joining the rest of the nutjobs out there, blogging their hearts out one day at a time. I got a late start (It’s November 3rd), but better late than never. Also I could have retroactively published this post on Nov. 1st but that felt like cheating. I even created this colorful editorial calendar I taped to my closet door using pieces of paper I bought at an overpriced Swiss stationery shop in London. I had been “saving” them for some sort of perfect occasion that I think is now.

On Feeling Like a Social Media Hooker

The amount of energy I spend deciding whether or not to turn this into my full blog (I have one at Tumblr as well, and a Cowbird account…and I Tweet and use Instagram regularly) is absurd. I’m a social media specialist at a Manhattan digital marketing agency and I should have better control over my digital footprint. I feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she justifies her job as a hooker by stating “I say who…I say when…I say who…” with no actual confidence or conviction behind the proclamation. That’s me. I’m a social media hooker. 

Facebook isn’t my network of choice. I love defriending people and clearing my social cache, and I don’t post pictures on Facebook often and never check Events. I falsely assumed this would make me  immune to social media overload, but I’m actually a slave to digital media. I’ve lost control. I’m too connected to my cell phone, my iPad, my laptop, my double monitors at the office. I know this is something many others can relate to, but it frustrates me on a personal level for some reason. I love writing, and communicating, but I get overwhelmed with the amount of content out there already and don’t know what the point is of adding more to the pile. Then I stop myself and think “But you’re a decent writer, and you have shit to say, and people like listening to the shit you say in real life…so you should blog.” Then the earlier voice pops back in saying “But what are you going to focus on?” Then I take a nap and decide to figure it out later.

Until now.

Last night I watched an incredibly inspiring talk by Darren Rowse, a professional blogger, on “Getting Dreams Out Of Your Head”. The following tidbits jumped out at me as solutions to the block I’m experiencing:

“The reality is that your next big thing might be the current small thing right in front of you.”

I love this. Darren spoke at length about “sparks” – little ideas that can grow into something magnificent if given enough oxygen and time to breathe.

Choose 1 small thing every day that will get you closer to your dream. Do it to the best of your ability. Not perfectly.

As a chronic perfectionist and over-achiever, this one slapped me in the face as well. It’s about picking one thing to focus on a day, actually doing it, and moving on to the next. I also read an article in the Times about Mindfulness and Meditation, the 30-year-old chief executive of Inward, a startup focusing on “positive lifestyle change”, stated that when he added fewer things to his to-do list, he was actually getting them done – and done well.

“Become obsessed with being useful.”

This one’s important and has the potential to make you, the blogger, successful. It’s about providing solutions to problems others have. I need to spend more time thinking about this one and deciding which approach I want to take here, because I have a hard time thinking of myself as a provider of solutions in a traditional sense. Sometimes I blame my literature background for my love of endlessly analyzing situations – whether it’s the theme in a movie, a topic of conversation, a campaign idea for a social media client…I like stirring the pot and encouraging ideas to brew to the surface. Most people who know me wouldn’t classify me as a “problem solver”, but I definitely do cause others to think of things in a new light and to become excited by the process. Hm. Will have to come back to this.

“Create space to observe”

Last but not least. I’m going to track my daily flow of energy; what did I do that gave me the most energy, and what took my energy away? I want to focus on doing more of the things that energize me and less of the things that drain me. Energy gain v. energy drain. Seems straightforward enough for me to jot this down daily without overanalyzing it too much (see previous paragraph).

This blog post is approaching the point of getting classified as an energy drain, so I’ll stop here. But am excited to give NaBloPoMo a shot…and to start getting some of my dreams out of my head.

Also, It Was Just Purim

I also think it’s worth recording here that the holiday Purim just passed. This is a holiday full of silliness, from its name to its observance.

The word “Purim”, in American English, is pronounced just as the word looks – with a strong “PUH” and a short “rum”. PUH-rum. But if you pronounce it this way to an Israeli, they have absolutely no idea what you are saying. You have to make yourself feel like an a-hole and sound out the gutteral “r”. POO-rheem.

The holiday is all about remembering how Queen Esther and Mordechai saved the Jews from Haman, the evil vizier to the king.

The Food

Also, the cookies you find all over the place during Purim in Israel are a bit different than those in the U.S. They’re triangle-shaped pockets of dough with fillings baked inside. As a child, I always loved the strawberry and raspberry-filled hamantaschen. I have not found a single strawberry or raspberry-filled hamantasch in Tel Aviv. Rather, they contain chocolate, nuts or some mixture of the two.

In the States, we call them hamantaschen, which is Yiddish for “Haman’s ears”. In Israel, they’re called ozney haman, literally “Haman’s ears”. (Israelis generally don’t know/use Yiddish terms like American Jews, which I always find interesting.)

The Ritual

You’re supposed to dress up. It’s pretty much exactly like Halloween in the states. For almost a full week, people are in costume – waiters and waitresses at restaurants, little kids on the street with their parents, teenagers roaming around at night dressed as zombies.

I went as the color purple. I just put on a lot of different clothes and accessories I own that happen to be purple. I was going to just not wear a costume, and say that I was going as “apathy”. I decided it would be better to say I was going to go as apathy – pause – and then explain “but then I didn’t care enough”. Genius, right? There needs to be more ironic, subversive costume options for people who really don’t give a sh*t and don’t want to dress up, and are against the whole thing. Simply not wearing a costume isn’t satisfying enough. It just looks like you’re not creative. I want to make a statement about being above the entire thing. A sort of meta-costume.