Why make it elusive?

He's our guy... entity... talking-thing... to do the job

A while back I listened to the audio version of Steve Martin’s biography of his time as a standup comic, Born Standing Up. In it, he talks about getting a whole new kind of reaction from the audience by passing on the stand-up’s standby: the punchline.

So I started kicking this idea around. Could Steve Martin’s idea of humor… that is, basically, of never letting the air out of the balloon, be adapted into comics? Maybe.

I decided to try it. So, allow me to introduce my comic: Eat the Babies. It’s about a walking talking TV. There is no continuity to it, other than the fact that the TV does have friends. The two most frequently recurring friends are Woody Guthrie and John Maynard Keynes. It veers into social and philosophical issues a lot, but mainly its concerned with using the TV’s confusion about humans to create a humor that is elusive.

It means to be elusive.

The idea is you’ll get to wanting to look for it and find it in your own places.

I don’t know if I’m quite getting there, but if the comics don’t make sense yet it is because that is what I am looking to do. To explain my thinking behind strips would be to defeat the purpose, but let me point you to a few favorites so far.

TV gets mugged.

TV talks to Woody Guthrie about songs.

Woody explains adulthood.

TV is a talking head on tv (my personal favorite so far).

If you’ve seen the Charles Schulz tribute site, 3eanuts, that’s the best example I can give of what I want to do so far, though it’s not quite there. Well, it is there. It is awesome at what it is. It’s just not quite what I want Eat the Babies to be. But it’s close!

For the hardcore arts crowd, there are genuinely avant-garde webcomics out there. You should check them out. I don’t think I’ll be going to any conferences with those guys, as much as I might like to. So, if you’re interested in seeing someone try something, that’s the trick I’m trying. Feel free to click any of those links above and, you know… come see.

“Life’s Hard, Wear a Helmet” – art world meets art world by Annette Monnier

Annette Monnier’s new blog project seeks to let her really focus in on one show she sees every month. She recently reviewed #class, a show in New York City meant to underscore the controversy about a bigger show by the famous Jeff Koons, also in New York City.

In her review of the response show, #class, she writes of what she’s looking for in exploring the art world:

I’m a nerd. The reason I participate in the art world is to experience singular moments of great joy when in the presence of great beauty; whether that comes from an idea or the actual physical manifestation of beauty I could care less.

But that doesn’t happen much. So she goes on to say that sometimes the snarkiness she can find in art is enough to sustain her.

Anyway.

The review is a story of art about art and reveals in, I think, a compelling way how a young artist’s thinking about these sorts of things can evolve over time. Readers of this blog seem to appreciate art that comments on the medium itself and questioning the whole notion of where art needs to stop and the gallery or the viewer or the viewer of the viewer needs to begin. That’s why I think what Monnier has to say here is worth a read.

It’s also an interesting commentary on success, what that means and who the winners and losers are when someone in the art world takes off.

Interview with Leah Beeferman

The following continues the series of paired interviews with artists carried out here and at This Too Will Pass. Leah Beeferman is a young artist who recently had the opportunity to show her work at Philadelphia’s SPACE 1026. SPACE turned 10 years old this year, and it’s one of the focal points for the alternative art making and exhibition culture that’s really starting to take on a life of its own in the City of Brotherly Love.

Leah Beeferman likes to imagine the internal lives of architecture and buildings. Her show, Orbital Debris, with Brooke Inman, here in Philadelphia, primarily exhibited work from a series she called “Imagining the Universe as seen by a Building used to track Orbital Debris.”

While her work shows a great interest in technology, she does it all by hand. She talks more about what she’s trying to achieve below. If this isn’t enough, you can find more about the inner workings of Ms. Beeferman in the Exterview at This Too Will Pass.

From

BradyDale: How did the exhibition you just did at SPACE 1026 get started?

Leah Beeferman:
After coming down to Richmond for a short visit and seeing our studios, a couple of 1026ers I knew invited Brooke Inman and me to write a proposal and apply for a show. For what it’s worth, what we originally proposed wasn’t quite what we ended up with, but they didn’t seem to mind. We both feel very lucky to have this opportunity!

BD: So how did you and Brooke work out what you were going to do? What was the original gameplan and how did it change? What do you think led to the change?

LB: Well, we’ve both done installation work in the past, and we were thinking of something more directly collaborative. The idea involved a tall ladder on wheels (like in a library or a bookstore) that you would move around the space and climb up and down to look at drawings hung at various heights. I’ve been thinking, for a long time, about accessing different perspectives on things from different heights, and I was excited to create a situation where there were things you could only see from up high, down low, and so on. Anyway, the “Orbital Debris” show actually came together without much specific collaboration. The more we thought about this ladder idea, the less we liked it, and the more we wanted to show the work we had been making in our studios all year. When we started discussing that work together (we were very familiar with each other’s drawings since we were in the same MFA program this past year), we realized that the “Orbital Debris” title and concept was perfect for both of us. It relates very specifically for me, and more metaphorically for Brooke, but we both felt it suited us well and created a really exciting link!

BD: I just went back to your web page to look at the work you had up at your show here in Philadelphia, “Orbital Debris,” and there you have it under the title: ‘Imagining the universe as seen by a building used to track orbital debris.’ Is there a story behind this place that you’ve imagined and that helped you create the maps and design the structures? And is that a rocket waiting there that I see? Why does the Orbital Debris facility need a rocket? I have a feeling you have a pretty good reason for it, so I have to ask.

LB: Yes, there is certainly a story. It started with research I was doing into the space race in general. It became pretty clear early on that the things that interested me weren’t the space stations and the far-traveling rockets, but more what I refer to as “the earth-bound participants in the space race”: specifically, rocket launch towers and the Eglin FPS-85 radar, a building NASA uses to track orbital debris (the Eglin is a real structure in northwestern Florida and it is a “dedicated sensor” responsible for keeping track of the U.S. satellite catalog, which more or less counts as orbital debris). To me, this building epitomizes the perseverance and limitations of human imagination; it forever looks out into the sky, but can only see so far as it never actually leaves the ground. This was the inspiration for all of the larger drawings in this series – my imagining and drawing the universe that this building “sees.”

But you’re right, you do also see a rocket – in two places. The smaller rocketship drawing, “Support structure,” was my thinking about the relationship between the rocket and the launch tower. For the 10′ tall rocket drawing, “Rocket soundings,” I pictured the Eglin “imagining itself” stacked several times on top of itself to form a launching rocket. In this daydream, it actually gets to lift off the ground…

At the “Orbital Debris” show I have a small sheet of paper with some text on both sides. One side of the sheet lists the short, official titles of the drawings. On the other side, there is a sort of poetic elaboration giving a vague explanation of what’s going on. This is something I’m currently experimenting with; I used to do more drawings that included text. Lately, I’ve been leaving them more abstract. It’s interesting – some viewers really like to know the back story and see what the drawings are “representing”. Others want to be left alone to form their own conclusions. I’m investigating different ways of communicating different amounts of information, and trying to figure out how much it matters to me that the full back story be available.

BD: Doing it like this is a pretty good middle-ground. The backstory is out there but they’d have to go ferret it out to find it, which gives them plenty of opportunity to come to their own conclusions before they see your conclusions. I’m of pretty mixed minds about text in art. In a lot of ways, it’s distracting because text can be the easiest part of a visual work to “understand” and when I watch people looking at art with text, that’s what they spend the most time on.

It’s funny that I’m this ambivalent about it because I’m also a huge comic book fan.

Where did you get the idea that a building would dream of being something more? Can you tell us more about the personality that Eglin has in your head? I also just glanced at your del.icio.us page and saw several saved links to articles about the Super-conducting Super-collider. That’s definitely a fascinating structure/dream. Will the Collider become a character in future works (or has it already)?

LB: Yeah, the impulse for “revealing” things is because I work from things that are so super specific – especially in the way that I come to understand them to work from them. It’s tough – I agree that inserting text can be too easy, or too distracting. That’s why I’m exploring some alternative ways of working with it. I’m glad you’re a huge comic book fan. I was too, for a long time, and I still enjoy them although I don’t read them much anymore. The ones I read, though, were primarily Asterix and Tintin… and less the superhero comics, although I was kind of into those too.

I think the idea that a building could be more than what it was grew slowly and surreptitiously out of a class I took in college called “Film Architecture”. We studied the use of architecture and interiors in film, and thus the way that architecture contributed to the story – psychologically, metaphorically, atmospherically. This was where the idea sprouted from that a building could be a character in a story and not just a container for that story. After that solidified, almost all buildings became characters… so it was natural that the Eglin would too.

Specifically, the idea that it could “dream of being something more” was pretty natural. I found it fascinating, hilarious and sad (or frustrating) that this building’s “job” is to spend its entire existence looking out into the sky and tracking what’s up there, but it never gets to actually see it. It seemed pretty obvious to me that the building would dream of getting off the ground some day. I suppose I’d say its personality is a little resigned, but still a tiny bit hopeful.

And yes – the super-conducting super collider (which is totally insane and in my readings about it I’ve been re-learning a little bit about particle physics) – it’s going to be a character for future work.

BD: Do you make up stories/personalities for the buildings you live and/or work in?


LB:
Not so much, actually. I’m pretty fascinated by the idea that the shells of buildings or apartments or studios often stay the same, but the character of them totally changes from inhabitant to inhabitant. So in that sense, I think I’m giving it my personality. So it’s imposing myself and my imagination on the structure in a totally different way than I do for my drawings. The sentiment is similar, I guess. I do wonder about a building’s past, its past inhabitants. But I don’t really ever get as involved as I do with the subjects of my artwork.

BD:
So what do your buildings think about the people who use them? Do you have ideas about that? In particular, what does the Eglin think, but if you’ve dreamed up strong reactions for other buildings you’ve worked on then it would be great to hear about that, too.

I’m also thinking about the fact that you traveled so far for this show makes me wonder if you ever plan to extend your personality infusion project into vehicles of any kind? You’ve got a rocket in Orbital Debris, already. The Pathetic Fallacy seems like a pretty rich area for artistic inspiration.

LB: I don’t think too much about people in my artwork, actually. That’s been true for a long time. As close as I get, really, is the idea that the human presence is implied by evidence of my hand in the drawing. I deliberately leave people out because I want the focus to be on the structures and the places, not the inhabitants or the users of that place, if that makes sense. It’s not that the presence of humans necessarily “steals the show” away from the setting and the place, but it complicates things in a way that I haven’t really been interested in. So I wouldn’t say that any of the buildings, including the Eglin, really “think” about the people that use them. I’m more interested in the relationships these buildings have with their surrounding landscape and environment.

And regarding vehicles, who knows. I define architecture extremely broadly, so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. I mean, look at Archigram’s Plug-In City – which I love – it’s a city and a building and a vehicle, so anything is possible, as far as I’m concerned.
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More on Ms. Beeferman in the Exterview at This Too Will Pass.

Interview: David Strattan White on SIMULATIONS

A few weeks ago, I watched a staged reading of David Strattan White’s play Simulations, at The Walking Fish Theater in Philadelphia. Simulations is a play inspired by the world of the computer game, The Sims. It imagines two people in the real world, two people in The Sims world and one person who might come from either.

David recently left Philadelphia for a teaching job in Indiana, but after we talked for a little bit after the reading we had a more thorough discussion about his work on-line.

Like the previous interview with David Kessler, this interview has a companion exterview (a talk about everything else) over at This Too Will Pass.
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BradyDale: From where I sit, we are only starting to see literature that deals with the new technology that surrounds us. Do you agree? Jonathan Lethem came to Philadelphia’s Free Library a little while back to talk about his latest book. I remember two things about that visit: first, that I didn’t think he’d be that boring and, second, that he said he just adamantly did not write about email or cell phones or the web in his books. It just didn’t feel right for him, and I empathize. Your play, Simulations, is all about a video game, though. Was that something you had to overcome or is it weird that I’d even bring it up as an issue?

DSW: I think that we are only starting to discover our technology – period. I remember eight years ago when I was moving to Philadelphia, my mom insisted that I get my first cell phone. That was eight years ago. Plays take a while to create. They are written, then they’re workshopped, then they’re marketed, then if, they’re chosen for production, there’s often eight to eighteen months between selection and production. I think the current technological lag is partly due to the fact that technology is moving so fast right now. It’s hard for artists to keep up. The difficult thing about writing for the current moment is that the current moment is often gone before you finish your first draft. I think that’s why a lot of writers avoid it. Because it’s hard to judge what will be an enduring sort of thing and what will become silly.

In Simulations I think I was just so fascinated by the idea of Betty creating her own fantasy happiness. And how easy it is for us to sort of surround ourselves in our own fictions. The most daunting task in tackling a video-game play (if that is a thing) was the question, ‘how do I portray a bridge between real world and Sim world.’ But that was never the point, so I just sort of decided that she’d just wish upon a star and be done with it. The video game just comes to life and the audience will deal with it.

I think that the Sims is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a technological one. Our age is somehow both voyeuristic and escapist. We as a people seem to want technology to transport us away from our problems and on to identical problems. Somehow we relax from our mundane existence by creating an alternate mundane existence. And somehow we find love in our fantasy world, but we hide away from the exact same things we create. It’s a rabbit hole in an Escher painting.

I have read, seen and acted in other plays that deal with the moment in technology. Y2K by Arthur Kopit comes to mind. I participated in a developmental workshop at the Wilma for a play called Agency* by Ken Linn. which was about a pedophile Catholic priest who volunteered to be made into a cyborg assassin for the government in return for curing him of his urges. It was fantastic.

I think technology is something that always will color the landscape of art and literature. Shakespeare wrote about sea travel, Dickens wrote about the Industrial Revolution, Death of the Salesman is greatly influenced by automobiles and telephones, The Fountainhead is an epic story about progress in architecture and journalism. Changes in the world are the most fascinating subjects, and technology is a big fat harbinger of change.

BradyDale: I really liked your response about the bridge between the real world and the world of “The Sims.” Not going into it was a really good choice, though as an audience member I did think about it.

From what you said during the feedback session the other night, it sounds like you plan to revisit the script pretty seriously. How hardcore do you get about rewrites? I saw Chuck Palahniuk speak once and he said that he writes a complete new ending every time he revises a book. Just for fun. It sounded miserable to me because the end of the book is the most stressful part to write. All the stakes are on the end.

Where does the current version fit in your revision process and how much do things change over time with you? Will you put in whole new elements? Do you get re-inspired? Where do the biggest changes happen in the course of writing one of your scripts?

DSW: Personally, at this point in my life, I don’t have a set method. I sort of let the story dictate the process. Maybe I could write more if I did have a set process, but I feel like fitting the process to the story allows each story it’s own kind of form. So I’m always a little off-balance as far as what happens next. I can tell you for Simulations that I’m definitely not happy with the ending yet and that I think the play needs another layer – whatever that means. I’ve been trying to think about what that is, and experimented with some ideas that I’ve more or less thrown out. I think, except for the end, that every scene that is there will be there. And much of the end might be there. So in this circumstance it’s about writing more and finding a way to re-situate the new stuff so that the structure is still harmonious.

BradyDale:
You had one scene in particular where you said in your stage directions that maybe the walls would change color for a moment. We were all watching a staged reading, so that didn’t happen. There is also the issue of the hearts floating over the two characters heads when they fall for each other. Do you hope to incorporate new technology on stage? Would you, ideally, like to be a part of the first staging of “Simulations?” If so, what would be your top priority to see happen in a full staging of the play (at least as it’s written now)?

DSW: I think that directors like to find solutions. I know I do when I direct. I think that’s one of the fun things about creating theatre. A lot of times when I write, I’ll come up with an idea and then something in my brain will say, “Yeah. But how are you going to do it on stage?” Then a different voice says, “That would be really fun to figure out.” I really pride myself in not backing down from impossible things. I think that’s one thing that most really great theatre artists have in common.

That being said, I’ve seen lights really change the color of a room in an amazing way. And there could be new technology or really old technology. I see no reason hearts couldn’t simply be suspended from the ceiling. Ultimately, we don’t even have to see the hearts. But I do think it would be cool if we did. Also, why stop with hearts? there could be plusses, minusses, all other things that hover above Sims’ heads.

I will undoubtebly be a part of a staging. I won’t be the director. I like seeing what others bring to my writing way too much to do that. I’ll be the writer. I may be in rehearsals some or not at all. It depends.

As for the top priority, I’m really not sure. That depends on what the actors bring to it. This particular play, for all the talk I’m finding that it inspires, is really mostly a good time. I don’t think it’s ideas will change our lives, although it’s not without thought. I think for this one, success depends on how much fun it is. That simple. Get it? SIM – ple? Okay. That’s bad.

BradyDale: No, no! Don’t regret a pun! I’m tempted to request a pun in every answer! Your answer is just the opposite to one I once heard Kevin Smith give about his movies. He said he knew he was a bad director but just didn’t trust anyone else with his scripts. I thought, “But if you know you’re a bad director…” Some people have strange logic…

When I saw the staged reading of Simulations, there was a sort of talk-back at the end of the session. It seemed like most of the people in the room were involved in theater to some degree. I’m not, but I am a wannabe writer. As I remember, there was a lot of talk about the characterization of the Sims. Moments that confused people a little. The issue of the gobbledygook language the Sims spoke and how much the audience needed to be educated about The Sims in order to “get” your play. Overall, people were really positive and supportive of the play. I mention all this just to provide some context for folks who weren’t there.

What did you take away from the feedback you got? I could see everything people said churning hard through your head. You didn’t write much down but that seemed to be more because you were processing everything so intensely. What did you take away from that feedback? Did the things people said help or did the whole process help you to reveal even bigger questions about the script? I guess the real point of this question is to try and find out what was going on in your head during that discussion.

DSW: I got a lot from the discussion. Most importantly, that people followed it, even though they weren’t educated about The Sims(TM). That was good news. After that, I was kind of seeing the play fall together in a new way, and all of the specifics just sort of swirl into a new image of the play that was happening. When I wrote it, I’d just discovered Sara Ruhl’s plays. I love her simple, magical humor. I think that sort of aesthetic found its way into what ultimately became a farce in my play. I heard Tom Stoppard say that he doesn’t try to write a play until he has two or three ideas for a play, then he writes them all together. So I was thinking about the play being less direct. I almost think it’s too clear what it’s about. The talkback was great. And the reading was very informative. I don’t think I’m a comedic writer, so it was a little scarey wondering if people would be excited about this one. So it was cool to see the actors so attracted to the story.
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Now read the exterview with David.

Interview: David Kessler of Shadow World

People watching Kessler's videos at the first Shadow World showing, 4/16/2008

This will be the first of a team-up I’m creating between This Too Will Pass and implicit art. On this site, I’ll post some interviews with artists about the work that permitted me to discover them. On TTWP, I’ll publish exterviews, that is, discussions about everything but. Kessler’s exterview is here.

This is my first such effort, with David Kessler, a Philadelphia artist who recently did an exhibition of his vlogging project, Shadow World. Shadow World documents what David finds when he takes his video camera out under the elevated light rail tracks in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Kensington is a huge, largely low-income neighborhood that resists change as much of the city attempts to re-imagine itself. At the exhibition, he supplemented the videos with 9 new paintings, all of which showed at the University of Pennsylvania’s International House from April 4th until May 30th.

For tech junkies, David and I conducted our interview using Google Docs. –BradyDale

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Brady Dale: The first question that I’ve always had about “Under the El” is why just Kensington? For folks who might be reading this from outside of Philadelphia, I’ll try to characterize Kensington, but, David, you should correct me if you think I get it wrong because I’ve only lived here a few years.

Kensington is a low-income area. I’d call it working class but it seems like a lot of people there aren’t working. I associate it more with poor white people than I do with other races, but it’s definitely mixed racially, and your videos capture that well. Kensington is also seeing an influx of development, led by young artists and cool kids moving in ahead of the other builders. If that’s not a fair take on the place, let me know, but, either way, why did you choose the place and why do you keep going back?

David Kessler: It’s a pretty fair representation but I would have to adjust it slightly. Kensington is huge. Shadow World really only scratches the surface of the different neighborhoods in Kensington and even then I only shoot under the El, which leaves a lot out. There are neighborhoods where there are very few white people at all. There are large Puerto Rican communities and some Vietnamese communities. and it’s true that
artists and cool kids are moving in in droves but when you look at the scale of Kensington and really how deep those people are willing to go into the heart of it, I would not say that they make up a very large percentage of the overall character of it.

The areas known as South Kensington and New Kensington are where most of the development seems to be happening and are seeing the fastest changes in ethnicity and culture. There are pockets of places where artists live. I’ve lived inside and outside of those pockets and, however you might feel aboutgentrification, I’ve always managed to find people around me both in the arts community and outside of it that have made me feel welcome in a place that for the most part can be characterized as unwelcoming.

I have to be honest and say that I chose to live there because I was able to find cheap places to live, but you are right about my choice to keep going back. I have periodically taken up residence in South Philly as well but I can’t say that i was ever very excited about South Philly with the exception of the food, an area that North Philly is still largely lacking in (to be polite). It’s really the grittiness, it is diversity and sense of history that makes Kensington more exciting to me. It can get pretty raw but I actually find it
beautiful, startlingly so at times.

But I should add, although all those things (amplified by the power and presence of the El tracks) inspired me to make Shadow World, I don’t feel that Shadow World should be viewed as being about or representing Kensington. That was never my intention. that would be a much different project. The truth is, I leave out as much information
about Kensington as possible and just focus on the individual people that I meet and places that interest me without getting into any of the history or specific sociology of it. I don’t even think of Shadow World as being a documentary, I would not argue that it is not but that is not how I think about it.

One of Kessler's paintings inspired by his Shadow World videos

Brady Dale: You definitely keep your documentaries limited in terms of their context. It’s definitely about the people (and the occasional alley cat), and now you’ve done a series of paintings based on the videos.

Here’s the most interesting thing to me about the paintings (and I’ll just acknowledge that the following is an unfair prejudice, but here we go): I tend to assume that people who do video (or photography) can’t draw or paint. So, here I am at an exhibition that people have primarily shown up to for the video, and right next to those videos is a bunch of paintings that demonstrate a very high degree of technical skill. Very unusual to see the two things by the same artist side by side, in my experience.

They are very, very small paintings. So small that I did a bad job of photographing them because I’m not used to getting that close to a subject. Is this the scale you typically work in? And why did you decide to supplement the videos with paintings?

David Kessler: To give you some background, I’m a painter that started messing around with video a couple of years ago. My degree is in painting with a minor in film. I started painting “seriously” at around grade 5. When i say that I don’t really consider Shadow World to be documentaries, it’s because my thought process while I make them is more similar to that of when I paint to that of constructing a documentary, which in my mind means more about constructing a story than an impression of one.

Like a lot of painters, I think, I became somewhat apathetic to painting in the mid 90’s and my desire to so something “important” overshadowed my enjoyment of painting because it was fun. This I attribute to Art School and the notion that painting was dead that the Art Schools that I went to did not seem to argue with. I was never one to stick with one medium for very long anyway and when film, video and sculpture took hold I kind of let painting go for many years but I still considered it to be at the root of everything that I did.

The series of 9 paintings in the show now is the first series of paintings that I have made in many years. The small scale allows me to work in a way that feels more intimate and analytical to me, almost scientific, at my desk with sharp tools. they are done using a scratching technique that I have been using for a long time. Part of what makes Shadow World (the videos) interesting to me is the deconstruction of a moment, the ability to go back and focus on a short piece of time, analyze, interpret, arrange, manipulate, retell and distribute. These are things that interest me because they relate to how we digest our own memories and experiences. The paintings are intended to do a couple of things. One is to take that process to the next level by then analyze and interpreting the videos into a different medium, that much more separate from the original moment. To the viewer, my intention is to both clue them into my original thought processes of the videos as well as allow them to come to the paintings with a whole set of memory and experience based on the videos, altering the experience of looking at the paintings.

Brady Dale: If this is your first exhibit of paintings in years, then this show marks a somewhat important moment in your history as an artist. Where do you stand on painting now? Is it important? Is it “dead”? Does it need something else alongside it to justify it? Or have your priorities simply shifted?

David Kessler: I certainly don’t think of painting as dead anymore. These days, I don’t make too much distinction between mediums in my own work anymore. I just use what I think will be most successful. I was excited about showing some paintings again. I’m a pretty good painter and it would be a shame to not do something with a skill that i had been refining for so long. With that said, art still needs to satisfy me on several levels. I need it to speak to me on an intellectual level as well as an aesthetic one. Painting is so much about surface and I am naturally more critical of it than most other art forms so it does happen to be the art form that I am least frequently impressed by. I generally look in the windows of galleries showing painting and walk right by but that is also because painting to me seems like the art form that has become most formulaic. I think any artist can go to PAFA and learn all the tricks to be able to sell work. It’s not hard to impress most people with paintings once you understand technique but that doesn’t make a painting good to me. Interesting subject matter and compelling content in a painting is an incredibly elusive thing. But this is also why when I find a painter that I think is good, I am typically more impressed than I am with most other artists. I can’t say whether or not I will be showing more paintings any time soon. I don’t have any immediate plans to but I don’t rule out the idea.

Brady Dale: I think you are dead on about how easy it is to make a painting look impressive. In drawing, I know, all it takes to make a simple line drawing look “impressive” is to throw some cross-hatching in. Much trickier to get some substance in there. I think a lot of people look at artwork and find it impressive because it “must have been hard,” but what does that matter? I’m sure it’s hard to do taxes for Microsoft, but I don’t want to see the spreadsheets.

It seemed like something was missing in your answer about what you need in art to satisfy you. You said it needs to get you on an intellectual level as well as an aesthetic one. What about emotional? Are you going for an emotional hit in your work? Does it have an emotional hit for you? If so, where? A person could come away from one of your videos feeling anything from pathos to humor to tragedy to out-and-out odd/other-worldiness. Where do they get you?

David Kessler: Oh yeah, certainly emotional as well but as far as Shadow World is concerned the emotional element comes out when it is given to me. I can’t go out shooting with the intention of getting someone to say or do something that will elicit an emotional reaction. The most I can do is edit to put some emphasis on that moment. What i can do is go out with a very clear defined concept and pay as much attention to getting well composed compelling shots. I don’t believe in using emotional devices (like music or fades or slow-mo or any other number of tricks that filmmakers use) to tell the viewer how they should feel about a situation. the emotional element comes from being open to it but
there are times when it doesn’t happen and I have to feel like i have
enough substance there that the work is still strong without it. I think the work is far stronger if people can have different or mixed reactions and if they know that their reaction is their own and not fed to them. The videos may or may not elicit the same emotions as the original moments for me. in most cases, they can’t. I don’t have emotional reactions to my own work. I know when it is there but I am reacting to the moment not the video, which is something that no one else can truly do. I do feel that there is far more humor in the videos than most people seem to be (or admit to) seeing. My sense of humor tends to be pretty dark and dry and i don’t think that humor and tragedy are mutually exclusive but I would never tell someone that they should see something as being funny or tragic if they are only seeing one thing and not the other.

Also, back to the last topic, i look at drawing and painting differently. it may be because drawing tends to be a better record of the artists mind and hand in a given moment than painting but I can much more easily appreciate a drawing for the artist line work and the types of marks that they make despite the drawing’s content than that of a painting that seems to demand much more intent for me. This may have something to do with the factor of the moment of conception often being eliminated through the layers of paint. This might also explain why my paintings look more like drawings than most paintings do.

BradyDale: I have a feeling we agree on the parts that are funny and the parts that aren’t. I find Shadow World funny all the time, but more in that odd, sort of tilt your head and smile kind of funny rather than actually laughing.

My Young Philly Politics friend, Jennifer, says that you used to (or still do) go to Dunkin Donuts in the middle of the night and draw people. Is that true? What’s the story there? It’s an interesting concept in and of itself, but it also seems to echo Shadow World in that it’s another example of you getting out in the city and documenting your impressions.

David Kessler: That was a project that I was working on several years back and it was definitely the predecessor to Shadow World. I was living on Snyder in South Philly at the time. I wanted to make a serialized comic strip in The Philadelphia Independent, Matthew Schwartz’s now defunct newspaper. The strip would essentially be an illustrated documentary of the people who, for lack of a better word, “lived” in Dunkin Donuts on Broad and Snyder. There were a group of regulars, very few I think were actually homeless but you would be able to find most of them at Dunkin Donuts at any given hour, pretty much everyday. Besides the regulars, a bus to Atlantic City stopped directly in front of Dunkin Donuts (probably factoring greatly to its appeal) and there seemed to also be some kind of gambling operation being run out of there, too. For a good couple of years, it was just a fascinating place. I was also interested in the very severe separation between employee and “customer” and the exception to this in one man who seemed to have an honorary position there whom, as far as I could tell, was being paid in do-noughts.

I was using what was essentially a scratchbaord technique on ceramic tiles to draw the panels based on photographs that i was taking as I tried to meet and integrate myself into the population. Unfortunately, i didn’t get too far with the project. I saw how good it could have been, but I suppose I did not have the tolerance to spend that much time in Dunkin Donuts or the confidence to be able to really engage the people there. The strip ran once in issue #3 of the Independent and then I let it go. Over the year or so that followed, I saw Dunkin Donuts gradually get made over, progressively losing all of the seats to discourage people from loitering and I saw what would have become the logical ending of the story as the last of the tables where stripped away.

I guess you can say that Shadow World was partially born out of my regret for not continuing with the Dunkin Donuts project but it was years after Dunkin Donuts when i first picked up a video camera which for me made the idea that much more conceivable to accomplish.
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BradyDale is the editor of ThisTooWillPass. Now, read the exterview with David.

Video Setup for Shadow World, by David Kessler

Sub-text: Brian Dettmer’s book sculptures


Every now and then I see art that sort of crushes me and elates me at the same time. For example, Brian Dettmer‘s book sculptures. I love books. We might be at the tail end of the book as a form. I understand that, and, if books go extinct, it will probably be for the best. Some people probably regretted the demise of shadow puppet theater, too, but art moves on. Still, I’m torn, and it always kind of kills me to see someone destroying books.

But what he’s making is so beautiful. It’s so hypnotizing. It’s got both literal, visual and metaphorical depth. In an interview on What to Wear to an Orange Alert, Dettmer says he goes looking for heavy, old, reference books. He seals them up on the edges and then starts carving into them, looking for images and words that jump out at him. He doesn’t move anything, but he enables the viewer to see, all at once, words and images that they would have once had to go looking for.

I hate to see a nice book destroyed, but most of these books are “dead,” anyway. That is, as old sources or information, there are newer, more up-to-date, fresher books that people turn to for the same information now. The information in these books may not be useful, except for historical reference.

In a way, Dettmer gives these old books new life by tearing them to pieces. Interestingly, he doesn’t plan ahead. He seals it up and goes digging. It’s an improvisational approach. I’d be curious to see what he came up with if he picked a few images out ahead of time before he got the glue and carving knives out.

I first discovered his books at Centripetal Notion. Centripetal Notion seems to be a popular website with a strong community around it, but this post got 20 times more attention than any of his other recent posts. I think there are a lot of people out there who feel like I do. Books are great! They are still great! Try one! Try one!

Everyone wants you to win their interest at a glance anymore, but if you just glance at a book all you will see is a cover and a spine. So, writers are indebted to Dettmer, for his work in one way. A glance at a book after he’s done with it and you’ll see a little more — there is some exciting stuff in these things. Come see.
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BradyDale is the keeper of This Too Will Pass.

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