Tag Archives: death

Brutally Honest Stories About Being Human

There are those times when you feel alone. Even if you’re surrounded by people, you are alone. And you alone love the people around you so much that you fear losing them. I will not lose my life and I don’t want you to lose yours either. We are humans. We breathe & fart. We have air coming out through all sorts of holes. We thrive on routine and live for play. We are nice to each other, or we should be.

Life is too complicated. We are too driven by our brains. And fear.

I fear death as much as I fear being humiliated in front of tons of people. And yet I humiliate myself and call it art. For some reason that’s okay. I allow my creative juices to interpret and embellish on my everyday experiences.

robert-leighton-i-ve-never-been-so-humiliated-in-my-entire-week-new-yorker-cartoon

I’m reading a book, What’s Not to Love by Jonathan Ames. It is the most honestly grotesque book about male puberty and bodily dysfunction. The chapters have titles such as “An Erection is a Felony”, and “I Shit My Pants in the South of France”, and “Insomni-Whack”. The titles say it all. I am in love. With honesty that exposes the inherent imperfections of human nature, Ames has a witty sense of humor and wonderful knack for autobiographical storytelling.

ames_manson_061507

One summer during my teenage years, when I was waiting for my Godotish puberty, I went away to a Jewish Camp in Upstate New York. I was in the Levi division (Levi was the name of one of the original Hebrew tribes before it became a pair of jeans) of newly christened teenagers, and to my horror I discovered that I was the only boy who still had a small, undeveloped penis and no pubic hair! So I had to hide myself the whole summer. I would quickly change my clothes with my back to my tentmates, and only showered early in the morning when no one else was around. It was nerve-racking. (Ames, pg. 8)

Several weeks went by and I didn’t hear from them and I forgot about the whole thing. In the meantime, I was busy regrowing my hair. I had done some research on the subject and I was taking certain actions. I was trying to quit coffee since it robbed my body of hair-related vitamins, and I was avoiding masturbation because I read a book on Eastern practices of semen-retention, which told me that masturbation dried up my spinal fluid and made my hair fall out. I’ve now come to see my bald spot and the bald spots of other men as the mark of Cain for excessive self-abuse.
I also purchased rosemary oil, which is very good for the health, and a rubber scalp invigorator. And I started eating lots of sea vegetables because I read that people in Asian cultures had very good hair and that their diet was rich in seaweed. (Ames, pg. 20)

These are the stories I want to hear, and want to tell. Stories that capture universal human experiences and humorously assure the reader that he or she is, indeed, not alone.

Image Sources:
http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/tag/jonathan-ames
http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/I-ve-never-been-so-humiliated-in-my-entire-week-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8472479_.htm

References:
Ames, Jonathan. What’s Not to Love? New York: Crown Publishers, 2000.

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Beautiful, happy, rainbow-filled art (and why it’s so hard to make it!)

I finally admitted in my second year at graduate school that pretty much all of my creative projects ended in death. Death, in a lot of ways, is an easy way out. It’s like saying “Shit happens.” over and over again. In most ways, I’m in full agreement with that statement. Shit does happen. Just as death does happen. Why deny it? A big part of my art has always been about reflecting my own fears, and acknowledging that there is, indeed, a lot of shit that sucks.

When admitting that all of my stories ended in death, I got this romantic vision that from then on my art could reflect only the beautiful things in life. It could be a meditation on the simplicity of enjoyment in the moment; wind whistling through the trees, birds singing beautiful songs, close friendships that sprouted into love, a gurgling brook in the woods full of colorful fish, a utopia where every tree was filled with ripe mangoes. Oh yes, I dreamed about how beautiful, light and inspiring my work could be. No more death. Only beauty…

It turns out, it’s a lot harder to make beautiful art than it is to make dark art. Beautiful art has to be positive all the time. Even though sometimes the reality is that when making it you stay up until 3am in the morning and then have to wake up at 6:30am to work that eight-hour shift. Even though the fucking car broke down again or my only bike got a flat tire and so I had to push it home after a long day and three hours of sleep. But it should be that instead of dwelling in the misery of everyday life, in the spirit of creative making, the mind should break the shackles of negativity and blossom up toward the light of inspiration. The light where everything is beautiful. Where life couldn’t be better…

In seeking inspiration for my new romantically creative ways, I looked to the Inspiring Vessel of the Internet to see what other happy and enlightening art was out there. These are some of the gems that I found:

1) Experience Freedom:

2) Optimist:

3) Yayoi Kusama’s Art Installations:


4) Manuel D. Baldemor’s Art:


5) Dogs in Cars

6) Babies Underwater (Art)



Okay. I should probably stop now, because I have the feeling that this is just going to get more and more weird. Through creating this blog post, I’ve realized that there really are a lot of things that could be artistically created that inspire a sense of happiness in oneself. But there is a difference between beauty, happiness and humor. And ultimately even something considered ‘dark’, such as death, can also be beautiful.

For me, it always comes back to humor. I decided that I couldn’t necessarily limit myself to only making things that are uplifting and beautiful. I’m not saying that I won’t try, I’m just saying that something that is dark, or depressing, or reflects all the “shit” in life, can still become something enjoyable and lighthearted when combined with a twist of humor. The same thing could go for beauty. Without something dark to compare it to, perhaps beauty would not be so impressive.

Image Sources:
Yayoi Kusama for Louis Vuitton
roslyn oxley9 gallery
More Dots! From Yayoi Kusama
Living and Loving Art
Lucban May Festival by Manuel Baldemor
Adorable Photos of Babies Underwater
Underwater Babies and Kids
Thomas Kuhn Photography
Underwater Baby Portraits

Die Tomato, Die!!!

Last night I performed a piece, Die Tomato, Die!!! at the Performance Laboratory, which is a bi-monthly performance event I co-curate at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit. The theme for this month was Death.

I performed Die Tomato, Die!!! for the first time last April in a seminar in grad school, then titled Tomato Smashing. Here are some pictures from that performance:

It was a successful performance, and I made a lot of discoveries by doing it. One of them was that smashing tomatoes with a hammer was more difficult than I thought (they roll off the table, especially if they’re not ripe enough). Another, that the juice sprays everywhere, including on the audience, who in that particular space space (an empty studio space) was in close proximity. As they were sprayed with squirts of tomato juice, my peers grabbed a plastic sheet on the floor that just happened to be there, and used it to protect themselves from the bursts. There were plenty of  yelps and squeaks as I worked away with my hammer. It was hard to be serious even though I was trying to be- I really didn’t know what would happen, and everything was unfolding in the moment.

The performance was aimed to be an exploration of the RED BLOB, which has been a theme I’ve been experimenting with in my work over the past year. I’ve done all kinds of experiments around the idea of what the red blob might represent, without wanting to define it too specifically as one particular thing. In the tomato smashing context, the tomato represents food and cooking (and a female doing it), there is something quite gorey about it as it is smashed, and it has an interesting context in a performance, especially with me, as the performer, smashing it. Usually it’s the audience members who throw the tomato at the performer…

So, with all these things in mind, I recreated this performance last night at the Performance Laboratory for The Death Show. And it went really well! In the context of death and horror (two other themes I’m working a lot with right now), I wanted to continue with the seriousness of the piece, choosing atmospheric ‘scary’ background music. I chose a costume that was a bit more ‘glamorous’ than the previous one, and was a red color just a bit deeper than the tomatoes, but would be partially hidden behind my white apron. I also added a timer, that I set to 10 minutes long, which is the duration limit for each piece at the Performance Lab. I added rubber gloves, which accentuated the horror effect and made a lot of people laugh in nervous anticipation. And lastly, I handed out plastic bags to the audience members in the first row, who were in close proximity to my table. Oh, the anticipation!!!! AND, I waited to enter for added suspense- just the audience staring at those shiny red tomatoes and a hammer with plastic bags on their laps, waiting for something to happen….

Here are pictures from the performance:

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I have to say, this is definitely one of the most satisfying performances I’ve ever done in my entire life. There is something so incredibly liberating about covering an audience in tomato juice. And even though it was a serious piece, there was a lot of laughter, a lot of participation, and a continuous dialogue between me and the audience. This is still a work-in-progress, and I plan on continuing to develop it for more future performances. I feel so thankful to have the Performance Laboratory as a continuous forum to try things out and experiment. I couldn’t have asked for a more willing and accepting audience, one willing to get covered in tomato juice for the sake of good and experimental art. I don’t know if this would happen everywhere… it would certainly have to depend on the context, and the space that I performed it in.

You can read a review of the Performance Laboratory’s Death Show on the Midwest Theater Review: http://midwesttheatre.wordpress.com/2011/10/22/detroits-performance-laboratory-journey-to-the-interdisciplinary-fringe-a-review-by-edmund-lingan/

For more info about the Performance Laboratory, please visit our facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Performance-Laboratory/139602749441643. I co-curate this event with collaborator Carrie Morris. It takes place at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit (CAID) every other month, featuring short works by artists and performers that explore what performance is, and what it can be.

Death, hibernation, rebirth and growth

I’ve been meaning to write a post about death for the last couple of days. It just seems that death is everywhere right now. October, is all about death. Which is a good thing to put attention to once in a while, you know? A little ODE to DEATH. A little hello, how are you. A little acknowledgement that- oh yeah, death exists. Everywhere, all the time. Just as life exists, death exists too. And in October in particular this year, it seems to be significantly present.

First and foremost is the way the leaves on all the trees are dying. This is the time when free-spirtited, sunny, hot summer transitions to cold, intense, icy winter. Here are a few recent photos of the trees and dying leaves around my neighborhood:

The amazing thing about this time of year is that even though everything seems to be dying, it’s incredibly beautiful. There’s a change taking place in the environment that is not only visible externally, but also felt internally. I know that this time of year can be hard for a lot of people. It certainly has been for me- a lot of questioning, inner turmoil and struggle taking place. And yet… it seems like it’s a good thing, despite the fact that in moments it can be very challenging. Even though it’s just the beginning of a long, SNOWY winter. BUT- and there is a but- there is always rebirth on the other side. All those leaves will bloom again, things will grow back fresh and new, and we will appreciate it all once more as if discovering it for the first time. And that’s what I appreciate about changing seasons- it’s an opportunity to get in touch with a cycle within our own selves that reflects the environment around us- a cycle of death, hibernation, rebirth, and growth.

Other things about death this month- well obviously Halloween. It’s like suddenly everyone is obsessed with the morbid. Part of Halloween is about dressing up in something completely out of the ordinary, while the other part is about celebrating the imminent death that lurks behind every corner. Our own little ZOMBIE world. As a tribute, I’ve found a lovely zombie animation from vimeo:

zombie! by animation block

And then, of course, we can’t ignore the recent death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Obviously, this is a huge victory for the people of Libya who for 42 years suffered under a man who “warped his country with his idiosyncratic vision of autocratic rule.” (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/oct/20/gadhafi-was-a-brutal-unpredictable-leader-killed-b/ Washington Times). I am very happy for this new (and surely challenging) phase in Libya’s history post-Gadhafi. And yet- is any death a celebration? There’s nothing wrong with fictionalized zombie movies and the imagination of horror, but when the real thing is played over and over on the television screen, no matter how important it is for so many people, there is an element of disturbance that goes with it. What if Gadhafi had lived, and had to pay for his atrocities in another way? Would not that have perhaps been even better? In the same way that the death of Osama Bin Laden was celebrated this past May, there is something fundamentally wrong with celebrating any person’s death, no matter how atrocious they were. I can’t say what is right or wrong in this situation, and I don’t in any way want to undermine the importance to the Libyan people in this moment of rebirth from a very long and dark period in their history. But… I wish there was another way to heal wounds besides death in this situation- it just seems like a never ending cycle.

In the end, it all comes  back to that cycle I described in the beginning of this post. A continuous cycle of death, hibernation, rebirth and growth. Internally, externally, and for people and communities all over the world. We can only hope for the best in every situation, and remember that death, in its essence, is meant to remind us of our own precious lives, and to be thankful for them. Perhaps the best death there is is the imagined death- the death that becomes a means of artistic exploration and acknowledges with a light heart that in the very end, despite everything, we’re all going to die.