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.

6 Spooky Tacos, Lobsters & Dinosaur (Dogs)

Stegosaurus Dog Costume

This year was the 23rd annual Tompkins Square Park Dog Halloween Parade, the biggest dog costume event in the country. There were a lot of dinosaurs, lobsters and tacos.

I handed out flyers for a client who produced an iPhone app for dog parents (hiPancake!), so I got to bill time while taking pictures of dogs dressed up in taco costumes.

Things could be worse.

tacoThat shnauzer’s expression is priceless.

 

Turtle Dog Costume

 

 

Chef and Lobster Dog Costume

 

 

Lobster Dog CostumePhotobomb: My dog, uncostumed.

 

Dinosaur Dog CostumeThis guy’s name is Rex.

Any Of Us Could Be Kindred Spirits

I witnessed something so strange and powerful the other day on an evening walk with my dog before going to bed. The experience has stuck in my head for a few days. This happens sometimes – I’ll encounter something that feels bigger than me, and unless I write it down it nags at the back of my head. Like it’s not supposed to stay within me but is meant to be shared. (So thank you, whoever is reading this.)

It was September 11th, and I had been out all day working at an event in honor of September 11th, at the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald – a company which lost 2/3 of its employees in 9/11. I got home after a long day out, picked up my dog and met some friends for dinner. On our way home, we passed by a church where I saw a couple of people were sitting on the stairs with sleeping bags and clothes and crates and crap. As my dog and I approached, a seated man started cooing over Betsy.

My immediate reaction was to ignore it and keep walking, but then looked at the man and for some reason changed my mind. I thought to myself “He’s not dangerous; I don’t know anything about this person or why he’s on the street. If petting my dog makes him happy, why not let him?”

Betsy went up to him as if she knew him, and he greeted her warmly, exclaiming: “I haven’t seen you in a week! How have you been!?” I can’t explain why but I got the chills. We were on a block we don’t normally walk down; there was no way this man had actually seen my dog a week earlier; she wasn’t even staying with me in the city that much recently. And he definitely hadn’t seen her more than once or I would have remembered the interaction. He was looking directly into her face, as if he was recognizing something deeper inside her. I felt like he wasn’t actually speaking to Betsy, my dog – but to her spirit.

As we started to walk away he said to me “They’re the best, aren’t they?” To which I replied, “Yup!”

The fact that he first spoke directly to my dog as though they knew each other — and then to me as though they’ve never met before — seemed to confirm what I had already concluded. He identified with some aspect of my loving, affectionate, judgment-free animal, who nuzzled up to him and didn’t make him feel dirty or different. He seemed to be addressing the presence of love and kindness that he recognized within her; it saddened me to think he hadn’t seen that in a week.

A poetic way to end the day on September 11th.

War Memorials are Beautiful and Intense; Maybe I Should Visit More of Them

September 11th is in 3 days.

I’m doing the social media marketing for an annual charity event held each year on the anniversary of the attacks. I thought it would be a good time to visit the 9/11 Memorial, created just in the last year or two, to mentally prepare myself for the event on Wednesday and spend some time reflecting to put myself in the right headspace leading in.

I didn’t really know at all what to expect. I waited on line and “donated” a measly assortment of quarters, nickels and dimes to get in while feeling like a jackass for never having cash on me anymore. After walking in line around what felt like an entire city block, you enter a sort of enclosed courtyard, with a few small trees and some lawn and wide, cobblestone paths.

As I wondered “What did you expect here?” I thought about other memorials I’ve been to, and my thoughts went to the Killing Fields in Cambodia: sites that commemorate those massacred during the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. I visited the best-known site, 17km south of Phnom Penh, called Choeung Ek. Very intense place, with indents in the ground where they’d have massive graves that are now covered in grass (but you still see the depression in the ground). There’s a tree where soldiers would smash the heads of babies and toss them in the air and shoot them. You listen to stories about this on a guide headset. It really leaves an impression.

A very different memorial are the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The one outside is powerful in its simplicity. It’s in the center of the city so it makes sense to have it be relatively abstract in its connection to the Holocaust; large, rectangular slabs of gray cement form a grid, and you can walk in between the rows. Grass lines the pathways, and the slabs vary in height, some are slanted, others perpendicular to the ground.

At the 9/11 Memorial, about 200 yards in to the courtyard you encounter an enormous reflecting pool. Another one lies toward the back of the courtyard; they’re both built in the footsteps of where the Twin Towers stood. They drop inward on themselves in a way I’m not explaining well, but there are waterfalls and the names of those who perished surrounding the outside of both pools. The names are arranged according to group: First Responders, Employees of Companies in the North Tower, The South Tower, passengers on Flight 93, Flight 175, Pentagon….and within all those groups, the families of those lost requested the names of their loved ones be placed next to certain other names. I saw one that was a woman’s name with “AND HER UNBORN CHILD” next to it. My cousin is a firefighter and worked in the recovery process in the weeks and months following the attack; he was fine, after not being able to get in touch with us at all that first day, and then working 24 hour shifts for the next few weeks.

All the thought and contemplation and reflection I spent today felt good in preparation for Wednesday. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Apps for New Yorker Dogs and Their Owners

I feel like pet owners could be the new special-interest group.

Apps for New York Dog Owners

Maybe I’m just spoiled from living in Tel Aviv for almost 4 years where you can literally take your dog anywhere, but now that I’m living outside Manhattan, the lack of options is disturbing. I feel discriminated against, not being allowed into stores with her.

What I Want in a Dog-Lover App:

There’s gotta be an app for dog lovers to share pictures of their babies with other obsessed, antisocial crazy pet owners, right? As someone in dire need of this service, I set out to discover what apps are out there for not just myself, but for my little friend with glorious eyebrows.

  1. Location-based info about nearest dog parks, pet stores and garbage cans
  2. Who’s nearby and wants to play? Foursquare for pet owners, with breed, sex and age info (of the dogs, too).
  3. Ability to share photos and video with Betsy’s fans and followers, not my own
  4. No cat pictures whatsoever

Apps for Finding Dog-Friendly Places

Dog Parks

Yessss! Look at all those green dots! There are plenty of dog parks in Manhattan, and a bunch out on Long Island I didn’t know about. You can also see if the parks are fenced in or not, and if they have separate sections for small dogs only. Plus it’s free!

dogpark - dog lover apps for new yorkers

Look at all those green dots!

DogFriendly.com Mobile

This is the head honcho of New Yorker dog owner sites. Stores, travel, park hours, accommodations, etc. for all US and Canadian cities. It’s not location-based, so it doesn’t automatically detect where you are to show what’s nearby, but what it lacks in usability it more than makes up for in providing practical information. Find  off-leash hours at Central Park (9am – 9pm), MTA and LIRR rules and a list of restaurants with outdoor seating.

dogfriendlymobile - dog lover apps for new yorkers

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Dog Friendly

A variation on a theme. Almost same exact name as DogFriendly Mobile, but more user-friendly and with less content. It is location-based, unlike DogFriendly Mobile which forces you to manually scroll…….so such a thing does exists, but there aren’t enough users adding dog-friendly locations.

dogfriendly - location based app for dog owners

Locator app for dog-friendly places

Apps for Socializing and Photo Sharing

Sadly, it appears that Dogster (Facebook for dogs) used to have an app called Dog Park that let you meet up and socialize with dog owners nearby…but such a thing apparently no longer exists.

Rate My Puppy

I can see this app being popular for girls who are going through difficult break-ups. Immerse yourself in a sea full of adorable up-close shots of doe-eyed puppies looking all forlorn and in need of more votes for Cutest Puppy.

ratemypuppy - apps for pet owners

An app to ease the pain of a breakup

I didn’t end up using it because you need to register, and it’s not clear if they want your name, age and sex or your dog’s. In my moment of pondering, I lost interest. Then I berated myself for my short attention span, and attempted to register again, but they didn’t let me use a proxy email address I set up for purposes like this one.

Apps for Pet Health

iKibble

This one lets you check what “human foods” are safe to feed your dog. I’m a huge sucker and always give my dog leftovers and stuff I know I shouldn’t, just in terms of discipline and getting her to like her dog food. But it’s not that hard to remember the handful of foods that are really bad for dogs: onions and garlic, grapes and raisins, chocolate and nuts. I don’t think you need an entire app for that list, but I guess there are apps out there for a lot less useful things. Also, watercress? Really?

ikibble - apps for pet owners

For people with memory problems.

Pet First Aid

This one seemed to be the most useful and legitimate app I found for pet owners. It’s $3.99 to download, a smart price point for marketing to the pet-obsessed. I’m not a monster. I’ll pay $3.99 to have instant emergency health info.

petfirstaid - apps for pet owners

First-aid & medical record for your pet

There are plenty of stupid apps for taking pictures of your dog, games involving dogs (one app lets you adopt a virtual puppy), translate your dogs barks into words, and so on. DogiDuty is a cool way for dog owners to communicate with their dog walkers, for poop updates and feeding times.

But there isn’t one go-to app that feels freshly updated and popular enough to include useful user-generated content. It’s the catch-22 of apps. If you build one, they will come…but unless they stick around and are active users, the app fails.

So for now, the winners are Dog Park and DogFriendly.com Mobile.

I know there are ways to accomplish what I want in a dog-owner app, using platforms like Google+ or Pinterest. I could create “Circles” for my pet-owner friends…but that would require me to use Google+, which I just can’t be bothered to do. I created a “board” on Pinterest and I called it MinPinterest, but that doesn’t take care of everything I wanted out of a social app for dog-owners. I joined Dogster at one point, but sort of forgot about it.
Do you know of any other apps for New York dogs?