Monday, February 11, 2008

Around the world in 15 novelty souvenir print scarves.

A ready-made collection for the highest bidder. Or perhaps a starter kit. Or maybe a gateway drug to more and more souvenir print scarves. And maybe that's just how you'd like to get high. Go get these beauties.

I would totally go for these scarves in a big way if I didn't already own 52 scarves. Hmmm, upon reflection, probably more like 108. And I prefer for souvenir prints to find me naturally, that is, when I'm on the road. You know, somewhere exotic, like Philadelphia, where I can pick up a souvenir scarf of Gibralter for 50 cents at a Goodwill.

You know how I love a little holandaise. This Dutch scarf that looks like delftware is a charmer:

But the Joan of Arc scarf is the show stopper here:

I have long had a fascination with Saint Joan. (Doesn't she look like she's wearing false eyelashes here?) After all, what's not to like? You've got a cross-dressing young peasant woman who leads an army and saves France, guided by some mysterious voices in her head. Of course it all goes badly for her in the end.

I was lucky enough to see Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc on a very big screen at the Hollywood Bowl, like a million years ago in the 80's. I don't remember the music, but there was a full orchestra. And I remember admiring the bravery in the face of fatalism shown by actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan. And how could I resist the electric Antoine Artaud as the mad monk?

Listening to New Sounds last night, I heard bits of a new score created for the film, created by composer Richard Einhorn. For text, fragments from the transcripts of Joan's trial were utilized, along with writings by female mystics of the time period. Beautiful and inspiring music you can listen to here. Of course many of Joan's contemporary female mystics met the same bad end that she did. And apparently the movie even had something of a curse on it, like King Tut's tomb.

A career-wrecker for Renée Jeanne Falconetti, who, rumor has it, spent some time in a mental institution later. Carl Theodor Dreyer also checked himself into the psych ward for a time. The original negative was destoryed in a fire, and Dreyer died believing this film to be lost. A clean copy was later found in a janitor's closet in a mental institute in Norway. How's that for a coincidence?

Perhaps the fascination with Joan is the blending of the spiritual and the political. Oh, and let's not forget torture and sacrifice. Oh yeah: and the cruel, cruel world of dudes who just don't get it. I'm with you, sister.

Originally this post was meant to be an installment of "Now Let Us Praise..." for performance artist Linda Montano. She is an artist who has been a big inspiration for me. She tears down the wall between art and life. I even do a colors project every year inspired by her 7 Years of Living Art + 7 Years of Living Art =14 Years of Living Art.

For those who tuned in late, Ms. Montano spent 14 years focusing on the chakras. She devoted a year to each of the 7 and wore the color associated with that chakra exclusively for one year (she also listened to the sound associated with the chakra and chose a patron saint for each year etc.). After starting at the root chakra and ending at the crown, Ms. Montano decided to do another 7 years, returning down the ladder to the root chakra.

I am not as ambitious nor organized. Starting at the beginning of February, I wear red for two weeks (the color of the root chakra) and progress to orange for two weeks. The rest of the colors for one week each: yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, purple and white. I realize that this is 8 and not 7 chakras, since I separate indigo from purple.

This gets back to Jeanne d'Arc. Really, it does, I promise.

The first year I did the colors project, I was full-throttle. I set up an altar for each color, complete with a patron saint and offering. Wore a special scent and listened to music chosen to evoke that chakra. For example, the root chakra is all about suvival, home, clan and belonging, and the color is red. What could be redder, I ask you, than the Soviet Army Chorus and Band? So my exploration of the chakras was kinda kitschy to begin with. For example, Liza Minelli was the patron saint of the heart chakra. But I digress.

This is year three. As you know, I love repetition, and have created something of a liturgical calendar for myself where I have rituals for different parts of the year. The colors project coincides with the darkest months of winter and the colors cheer me up. I don't take the chakras literally, because I'm not all that new agey. And doing research to write about Ms. Montano (but that will be another post), I found myself distracted by Ms. Montano's one-time collaborator, Tehching Hsieh.

And so: Let us now praise Tehching Hsieh.

An abstract painter and merchant marine who jumped ship in Philadelphia in 1974, Tawainese-born, American artist Tehching Hsieh put down roots in New York where he engaged in a series of overwhelmingly rigourous year-long performance pieces. The restrictions he places on himself are emblematic of the restrictions we all have. But his imagination can both imagine and inhabit the most extreme versions of just what oppresses us all.

In the first, he spent the year of 1978 locked in a cell, a cage he had constructed in his loft. He documented each day with by marking the wall, and taking a photo of himself. He met no one, read nothing, and wrote nothing. Visitors were able to come and view him during 18 different brief viewings.

In the Time Piece from 1980-1981, Mr. Hsieh punched a time clock every hour on the hour, he only missed about 150 hourly punch-in times due to oversleeping, even though he was foggy due to lack of REM sleep. An outside and objective person verified his time cards, and he filmed a single frame each day showing himself with the time clock. The film version of that year has been compressed into 6 minutes.

The next year he took a vow not to enter any building. He stayed in a urban environment, mostly the Lower East Side and notated a map, marking places where he ate and slept. The project was inperiled by the NYPD who arrested him during a street brawl and put him in stir for 15 hours. But other than that Mr. Hsieh was out there and exposed to the elements.

Then there was the year-long rope piece where he collaborated with Linda Montano. And then came a media blitz.

From July 4, 1983 at 6pm to July 4, 1984 at 6pm, Mr. Hsieh and Ms. Montano were contected with an 8 foot rope. They had only met a couple of times before beginning this piece. The boundaries of the piece were set up in advance. For one thing, though they would be forced to spend an entire year together, they agreed not to touch. Avoiding sexuality, the piece was able to focus solely on the literal connectivity of the rope. They are not a couple, but two individuals stuck together (which, no matter how romantic you may be, is the truth for couples too). While Mr. Hsieh's other pieces can be read as explorations of jail, work, and homelessness (or civilization), this one, clearly, is about communication, inter-dependance, privacy, individualism, pair bonding, negotiation, marriage and of course, how another person can reelly reelly get on your nerves.

Speaking with the Brooklyn Rail, Mr. Hsieh even describes the aftermath of the project like an acrimonious divorce. He says: "She took that piece and made it hers. Most people think that was her piece. The picture she always uses I don’t like either. She is in the foreground and I am in the background. Sometimes my name isn’t even included when documentation of the work is shown. So I am a little angry, because actually it was my idea and we decided to do it together and share the work 50/50, but now it is like she has eighty and I have twenty. She says it is the critics that make it that way. I tell her, "You know what is going on." But she doesn’t agree and there it is."

During an interview in 1984, while the two were still tied together, Ms. Montano and Mr. Hsieh describe their experiences differently and yet they meet in the middle somewhere. Ms. Montano says that the discipline of the piece has a spiritual element for her. Mr. Hsieh states that he is like a monk in his dedication, but that he is trying to figure out where he is in life without God. He focuses on struggle, which he states plainly is what all his work is about. He speaks of negotiation, and the inability to hide from negativity in this piece.

Perhaps the glare of the media prompted his next year-long piece entitled A Year Without Art. Paul Laster, writing for Art Asia Pacific notes that this project was "so successful that most of the art world stopped calling." This was followed by a 13 year piece called Earth. From the years 1986 to 1999, Mr. Hsieh proposed to make art but not show it publically. As the 21st Century began, he showed his work: a statement resembling a ransom note saying that he had kept himself alive.

I have a tendency to elevate bowing out, dropping out, taking a lindy, a junket or even absconding, but this is not what is happening here. No, I'm not playing three card monty with you, goslings, but maybe I'm gonna write something more appropriate to a Hallmark card. Keeping himself alive doing carpentry and odd jobs is a victory indeed, and probably even art. He tells the Brooklyn rail: We don’t look at survival that closely. We pretend to smile. We are all taught to say everything is OK, we are in control, even if we are not. There is a need to be positive in public. But art is not doing that. We try to tell the truth in someway, to touch a part of it, to not be so typical. This kind of work is not about suffering, it is about existence. It is about a technique, my concept is to show this technique.

And I find Mr. Hsieh's unflinching look into the void refreshing. But maybe it's my scepticism. (Generally when I first meet someone, I evaluate everything they say as if they are actually saying the opposite. If someone tells me he is a nihilist, I figure he's got a heart somewhere in there; if someone tells me he is religious, I put my hand on my wallet.)

But the thing is: when you tear the veils off of everything and see very clearly, you don't get along so well in the world. And you really piss people off, and they want you to suffer for it. And it used to be that an unpopular opinion sent you to the stake, now it just excludes you from the media circus. It's cold out there with out the camera flash, but is that really so bad?

Mr. Hsieh, I am happy to report, owns a loft building in Williamsburg, supports other artists, travels and lectures. So, he's doing okay. But if you want to set your cap at him, no luck: he's a married man. I know, I was kinda hoping he was single too.

Yes, goslings, even though I've got a show coming up, I'm still thinking of retiring.
I leave you with one more photo of Renée Jeanne Falconetti acting her foot off, now that is a performance to retire on. Even though the still that I chose from the movie kind of resembles Janet Leigh's shower scene in Psycho, doesn't it?


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