Monday, July 31, 2006

Cauleen Smith's Dark Matter @ The Bungalow Project in San Antonio

At left is a still from artist Cauleen Smith's new project Dark Matter, which was showing as a part of The Bungalow Project in San Antonio, organized by Anjali Gupta and Robert Tatum, until today when the show closed.

Review and Interview
Below is an excerpt from a review of the installation exhibit project by Ursula Davila-Villa in ...might be good, a project of Fluent~Collaborative. If you keep reading on the publication site you'll see the interview Smith conducted for her research on dark matter with Dr. Frank Bash, the Frank N. Edmonds Regents Professor of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin’s Astronomy Department:

"Since my first visit to San Antonio, the city has struck me as somehow stopped in time. The landscape is full of empty lots, abandoned structures and magnificent historical buildings. San Antonio appears to be a place waiting for interesting art projects that embrace the city’s character, architecture and spirit. “The Bungalow Project,” organized by Contemporary Art Month San Antonio’s Anjali Gupta and Robert Tatum, is a good example on how a site can serve as catalyst for the production of interesting and stimulating artwork. The project is based at the Johnson Courts/Motel 3, a complex of small recently renovated bungalows that all face a green courtyard. Eight independent galleries from around the country were invited to present a project at each bungalow. A variety of responses were offered, many in relation to the context of the site.

"Among the various interventions, the work of three artists from Austin stood out for embracing the context of the motel in different and stimulating ways. Cauleen Smith’s project Dark Matter (presented by testsite [*]) was an engaging multimedia installation that felt like it was set in a different place in time. The installation included a TV-set which played a short video, another film projected onto one of the walls, a staged bedroom (including some objects that appeared in the short film), and an olfactory component—the sweet scent of Ivory soap—that took over the whole room. Working together, these elements created an artificial environment in a real place; one that drew attention to an imagined past or future life of the motel in which it was situated."

Excerpt from Cauleen Smith's interview with Dr. Frank Bash:

CS: So, this dark energy is "pushing" in on galaxies? Is it pushing in on our galaxy? Is this why, after the big bang, we haven't just expended into nothingness? Is this stuff like a glue that keeps things in space together and coherent?

Dr.B: The dark energy is pushing on us and on all galaxies except that it appears that the effect is appreciable only over large distances. For example, we can measure no effect of the dark energy in our solar system. The dark energy is the anti-glue and some theories suggest that tens of billions of years in the future the universe will expand explosively.

CS: Wow. For the time being, I’m glad that’s just a theory. If we can't see this stuff, how do we know it's there?

Dr.B: The evidence that Dark Energy and Dark Matter are there is that, although we can't see them directly, we can see the influence of each of them on [the] things we can see. There has been all kinds of suggestions for Dark Matter—dead stars, neutrinos, black holes etc.—and we know that each of these are present- but not in sufficient quantities to explain what we see.

Check it out!

[*] testsite is a project of Fluent~Collaborative
502 West 33rd. St.
Austin, Texas

Charles Huntley Nelson artist talk @ Romo Gallery August 12th

I had questions and here's my opportunity and everyone else's to get some answers:

"Everything You Wanted to Know About Afrofuturism But Were Afraid to Ask" an artist talk by Charles Huntley Nelson

Saturday, August 12, 2006, 1-2pm
Romo Gallery
309 Peters St, SW

RSVP by August 8th
404-222-9955 light refreshments served

More news on the Charles Huntley Nelson front:

• Upcoming profile in the Sunday Arts & Books section of the AJC (Atlanta Journal & Constitution) tentatively scheduled for August 13.

• Featured in "Check Out" section of the Studio Museum in Harlem's Studio Magazine. This feature compares the work of an established artist (Howardena Pindell in this case) with an emerging artist.

• Upcoming Fall 2006 shows are Ingalls & Associates Gallery September 9 (Miami, FL), Cheekwood Museum October 6 (Nashville, TN), and Rush Arts Gallery November 18 (New York, NY).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lebanon Sounds, July 2006

mazen kerbaj
Mazen Kerbaj is an improvisational trumpet player, a visual artist and cartoonist, and according to some reports "a very sweet guy." He was supposed to be touring the US right now but has not been able to leave Beirut. Meanwhile he is becoming fairly well known for his piece, "Starry Night," created earlier this month on his balcony in Beirut while bombs were falling. Many people after listening to the piece and reading his blog have asked him for interviews, wanted him to be a political speech maker of some kind. He has pointedly responded: "if your interested in what i am doing, please write yourself a story about it."

He does thank those who have written him non-political comments and and those who have been "spreading the message...with a little bit of luck it will end up on condoleeza rice's desktop. i know it won't stop the war, but i am sure at least that she'll ask me to do her portrait."

To hear an excerpt of "Starry Night" or to read the blog

STARRY NIGHT (excerpt) 6.31 min

a minimalistic improvisation by:
mazen kerbaj / trumpet
the israeli air force / bombs

recorded by mazen kerbaj on the balcony of his flat in beirut,
on the night of 15th to 16th of july 2006.

Clotaire K and Maya talk about bombs in Beruit

ODEO's FM Breakdown features: Lebanese Rapper Clotaire K Speaks About the Bombs in Beirut, while another Lebanese artist, Layla, writes about returning home to Beirut from Jordan as the bombs fell:

powered by ODEO

Monday, July 24, 2006

Romo Gallery: Kalup Linzy + Charles Huntley Nelson July 13 - September 9, 2006

OK a little art expedition to the Castleberry Hill Arts District to see Charles Huntley Nelson and Kalup Linzy's work.

Kalup Linzy
I missed Linzy's performance when he was here in town for the NBAF, but I hoped to see some of his other work. I thought he was a photographer who was also working in video and now performance, but a little research uncovered Linzy as a filmmaker first. He also works in inks as the drawings below right show. Linzy's in his late twenties and apparently being hailed as the next big thing, well since he lives in New York, he's among however many people are allowed to be embraced as "the next big thing" at any given New York Art World Moment. In Linzy's case the enthusiasm is at times modified by the descriptors "black" and "gay" in other words "the next big black gay thing."

The resulting question of commodification and objectification is more loaded in Linzy's case because (hopefully, we can all recall Greg Tate's prose elegy, "Nobody Loves A Genius Child: Jean Michel Basquiat, Flyboy in the Buttermilk") Much of Linzy's video work combines elements of daytime television and melodrama, with plays on "race, gender, sexuality, class [you know the Kobena Mercer role call] and popular culture." In his Conversations Wit De Churen series Linzy appears in his own work as multiple characters and enlists his friends in co-starring and supporting roles. There is a lot of drag and gender play in his work, but costumes are worn outside of an attempt at traditional drag beauty or "realness": wigs are obvious, facial hair is past 5 o'clock shadow stage, and make up besides maybe lip gloss, is not consistently seen. As soon as an African American artist invokes folk tropes either through language, as in "De Churen" (Linzy also has a yahoo announcement list under this name), or his embodiment of truthsaying older black women questions of essentialism and minstrelsy often emerge. When artists use cultural elements that were an integral part of their upbringing, particularly deep south intonations and gestures who has the final word on the resulting art work's interpretation? As I watched Conversations Wit De Churen III: Da Young and Da Mess (2005) I was put in mind of Tyler Perry as an avant-garde video maker. Both Perry and Linzy are southern born and raised--Linzy in Florida. Both demonstrate a certain reverence for older black females, in Da Young and Da Mess this is evidenced in the portrayal of a grandmother, enacted by Linzy, who is accepting of her gay grandson, Taiwan (played by Linzy), and his new marriage-minded boyfriend, Harry (Sean Leonardo). In fact it is the grandson who is too ashamed of being gay to believe that he is deserving of a happy-ever-after despite the support of his grandmother and almost everyone else except for his mother (also played by Linzy) and their church community. Of the latter the grandmother comments, "most of those folks ain't even saved." Similar to Perry there are very southern elements present in the work, notable in interpersonal dynamics--particularly those of the phone conversations. It's probably no accident that the artist chose this piece to screen given this question is being raised in the context of a gay marriage ban in Georgia. The reality for a number of black LsglGBTQs is that to live fully is to loose one's biological family (or segments of it), to loose one's family of worship, to loose the relationship to people and place that make up one's self-definition. I'm making this sound rather maudlin and humorlous and it's anything but in Linzy's treatment, although it is seriously funny in many instances as Linzy looks at some hard truths in black southern life. In the end Taiwan cannot separate himself from his history, can't imagine taking the best of it and creating a new legacy. We feel the opposing hand of Linzy telling us this shame is so much fiction with the lush minimalism of the rich colors of his protagonist's furniture, the modest starlet lighting, and the changing backround of artfully lit homoerotic photographic portraits of brown and black-skinned men. Much of this drama takes place with characters talking to each other on the the phone, creating a sense of intimacy with the viewer. A solitary actor inhabits the medium and close up shots, cradling the receiver or cell phone while going about their private rituals, the suffering diva repose, the religious watching of soap operas, the dramatic and final goodbye of packing a suitcase. Despite my appreciation for Linzy's work, and queer precendent and context, I find myself feeling some discomfort with his drag images of older black women, avant-garde context or no. The other work screened on a loop at Romo was the recent Lollipop (2006) which features Linzy and Sean Leonardo bare chested, their sole costuming their respective countrified hats, playfully (and skillfully) lip-syncing to "Lollipop" a 1940s era double entendre blues duet. This is conversational blues featuring a coy give-and-take about a desired "lollipop", as each performer casts lustful glances in the direction of each others off-screen laps with Linzy resisting Leonardo's mimetic entreaties for a taste of his co-star's candy until at song's end Linzy finally pulls his swirled treat into the frame licking it as Leonardo looks on with longing. According to ARTINFO's report on the 2006 Armory Show in New York, where the piece was shown by Taxter & Spengeman, the video sold for $1000 per copy and still sold out. I can definitely understand its popularity, it is on point, great capturing of the attitude of the song in a campy cruising context with a gay man who just won't give it away when he can give it to himself. Linzy has a background in broadcast production having studied mass communications at University of South Florida where he received his MFA in Visual Arts and has honed his skills doing everything himself.

Charles Huntley Nelson
Nelson's work also is being exhibited at Romo Gallery, a space I really like. Nelson is represented by more watercolors from his Invisible Man 2.0 series and his video of the same title. I've written and included images elsewhere of Nelson's work. I enjoyed the soundtrack for the video although I wished it had been set up in 5.1 because I felt I was losing some of the detail in the stereo placement. Seeing the work made me want to re-read Ellison and read Wells. I realized that I cannot remember if I've read Wells or just seen the 1933 film adaptation. What do each of the works have to say to each other, have to say about African American masculinity and visibility, as well as sanity. When is invisibility power? When is it a perversion?

As with the watercolors that emerged from this work, Nelson’s face appears in his video as a frame within which excerpts from the 1933 black and white film adaptation of The Invisible Man screen. What does H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man say to a young African American man about his experience in the United States as a racinated, particularly gendered, often misleadingly historicized body? What does it say to Invisible Man, a work written almost 60 years later, in which Ellison wrangled the western literary form to speak the language of his story. What does Well’s work say to that same young man about madness, about, as Toni Morrison has said, losing your mind so you don’t loose your mind? What does it say about visibility, if black is the absence of all color, is invisibility the ultimate definition of blackness? That invisibility is usually figured as a place either of intended malice/sinister behavior or victimization limits its possibilities. But given that we’re not talking pure abstraction here, we’re talking bodies, minds, hearts, consciousnesses, can one become visible at will, in what framework? Within what social/institutional structures is the invisible man made visible? As Nelson’s work is located in self-portraiture, (figuratively) within his corpus, and thus operates as a specifically gendered portrait, I did wonder then what were the specific ways that gender played out in Nelson’s engagement of these various texts which also are specifically gendered in their naming: the invisible is male (although not the same male being that one is black and one is white). Why did Nelson choose only to portray Wells’ protagonist within his visage, what about Ellison’s? At one point Nelson's wholy constituted clothed body runs from the background to the foreground of the screen, an impressionistic figure, only to come into greater focus as he comes closer. With a blank somber expression, he raises his hand, closed into a fist, and silently bangs it on, from the audience perspective, the other side of the screen. The obvious trope of the image or screen shattering, does not occur. He is not freed, neither is the image.

Linzy is arguably more transparent on the issue of masculinity or maleness, if only because he is dealing with queerness which tends to bring to the fore the manner in which (hierarchical) identities are often formed in strategic oppositional to each other, which is to say that a person knows what/who they are because they know who/what they are not; the relation of subject to object. Or male queerness, particularly the effeminate incarnation, is a naming that puts the self in stark relief—even as someone else’s projection. I know Nelson knows he’s not a late 19th century white male in Britain, and imagine Wells never imagined a young black man in 20th century United States would identify with his story, not because of a lack of universal qualities in the fiction but due to a lack of imagination regarding the Negro (subject-citizen) in the world, outside of the subject-object dyad, that was fairly ubiquitous in the West during this time. Questions, questions. Nelson left me with them.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Carbonist School's Study Hall Opening Reception, July 15: The People!*

(right) The outside of the Eyedrum Gallery the night of the Opening Reception (photo Cauleen Smith).

(left) A wide shot of Cinqué Hick's graphics for the Opening Reception.

In the beginning there was the word, or was the word an image, and if it was an image was it or was it not a sign, or would the word be a sign? OK enough with the veiled Derridian debates; anyway Nikki Giovanni was working this question out in a different way with The Truth Is On Its Way back in 1971 (the 'fro, the 'fro). In this beginning--The Carbonist Opening Reception-- there was the art, and then there were the people who came to see the art, and the artists who came to see the people seeing their art, and of course to see each other, ya dig? Thanks again to Cauleen Smith for additional photos.

OK Roll Call:
Early in the evening, exhibiting artists Charles Nelson Huntley (also exhibition co-organizer) and Kevin Sipp being hailed and hailing folks (over at the beverages and food spread in the back).

(Left to right) Unnamed gallery visitor, Keith Obadike's very nice mother, Mendi Obadike, Keith Obadike, unnamed person greeting Mrs. Obadike. I wish I had also gotten a shot of Keith Obadike's aunt a statuesque, casually stylish woman with flawless skin; a hair stylist, she's among the artists in their family.

(below) Exhibiting artist and Carbonist School co-founder Cauleen Smith taking a photo as visitors behind her view Chieke's video projection (right wall) and Hall-Smith's video installation (left).

(below, right) Charles Huntley Nelson and wife, Tonia, looking a bit stunned after unbeknownst to any of us, Cauleen Smith and I simultaneously tried to get a candid shot of them with full flash power.

(below, left) Patrons checking out Lil' Big Head (photo Cauleen Smith).

(below right) Sound artist MR Daniel getting ready to interview Atlanta-based photographer Cara Eberhardt Reese [sic?] as part of an audio project documenting responses to the exhibit (photo Cauleen Smith).

(below left) Exhibiting artist Torkwase Dyson and exhibition curator and co-organizer Cinqué Hicks.

(below right) exhibiting artist Kevin Sipp (photo Cauleen Smith).

(below left; left to right) Professor Scott Heath, Torkwase Dyson, Keith and Mendi Obadike.

Artist/professor Tony Bingham expounding on the Carbonist moment, and MR Daniel checking levels while Torkwase Dyson looks on.

(below right) Musician Brian Horton and exhibiting artist and Carbonist School co-founder Cauleen Smith feel the funk.

*For glimpses of The Art! see the entry previous to this one.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Carbonist School's Study Hall Opening Reception, July 15th: The Art!

This was an inspiring night at the Eyedrum Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. There were folks from the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) and National Alliance of African American and African Art Support Groups 8th Annual Conference, plus local artists and art lovers were in attendance. A mixed crowd of parents and kids, older folks young folks, black, Asian, white, punks, post-punks, funksters, dreds, old school and new school, and a little black girl who listens to Anthony Braxton, and can hang with the old folks 'til 1am: they were all there to bear witness to the premier of the Carbonist School's Study Hall.

I've already blogged in short about the Carbonist School here and here, and I wanted to get some extended musings down plus more pics. Participating artist and Carbonist School co-founder Cauleen Smith generously sent me some pics to include, so you can read or just look at the pretty (Beatrice L. Thomas, I Stand Alone) pictures or both (all photos are by Cauleen Smith except where noted). I had hoped to put up some short-short audio, ambient and otherwise, but the studio where I normally work is undergoing some major repairs.

Lets take the tour. When you first walk in you see the Carbonist School founders and a short statement and then entering the show Beatrice L. Thomas' I Stand Alone, a suspended fiber and wire multimedia piece. When I first saw it, the work transmitted a "Miss Otis Regrets" sensation--an elegant line and posture, a fierceness fed by profound vulnerability and fragility--when I first heard "Miss Otis Regrets" and many times thereafter it was sung with understated drama by Jose Feliciano with spare guitar accompaniment. But then I saw it again today and it looked so different, more roughhewn, as the natural light cam through the gallery's galss doors and lit the piece from behind. Was it me, or was the piece like seeing actor Khandi Alexander play sophisticated vixen, then put upon yet wise older sister, then vulnerable crackhead (shoulda gotten a Golden Globe nod for that), then glamorous forensic specialist? I'm not even being facetious, because this is the kind of art I like. It keeps mutating, it keeps creating itself even after the physical hand of the artist has ceased manipulating its materials. Next the focus shifts to Cauleen Smith's The Green Dress video installation, and Torkwase Dyson's multimedia installation, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, Drove the Truck, Wrote the Rhyme, Broke the Code, and Walked on Water.

(above left and right, views of Cauleen Smith's The Green Dress)
I wish I had the time to just sit in front of Smith's piece, volume up, and watch all four monitors simultaneously and then watch each one individually. It's beautiful work, and again the mise-en-scene is just so accomplished, so many visual elements are signifying in each scene but there's always a sense of balance in the frame. Smith told me that this work was an attempt to create something of a new cinematic language using traditional cinematic formalist elements. I look forward to seeing where she goes next. Dyson means her work to have narrative referents and this piece can literally be read in symbolic form from left to right with the trucks, the code and water appearing in titled order across the surface of the work. In quiet moments you can also hear code sound effects, emanating from the piece.

(left, detail of code projection)

(left, detail of LCD belts)

In the middle of the space you can look left and see Greg Tate's video, The Day After Superfly: A Brief History of the Unconscious in Harlem 1972-2012, (below right, a still from Tate's video) appearing on a large monitor and on the right would be Charles Huntley Nelson's Invisible Man 2.0 watercolor series. Nelson's series explores the interstices between H.G. Wells' speculative novel, The Invisible Man (1897)and Ralph Ellison's arguably experimental and speculative opus Invisible Man (1953) and their respective influences on Nelson himself, apparent in his utlization of his visage as a frame. The watercolors are representations of stills from Nelson's Invisible Man 2.0 digital video which incorporates footage from the 1933 film adaptation, The Invisible Man, starring Claude Rains. The video can be seen at Romo Gallery along with additional watercolors. What intrigues me about these pieces is the way that Nelson employs angles along with light and shadow to create textured layering and a simultaneous optical effect of the figures within the frame of his self-portrait both receding into and emerging out of Nelson's head.

(below left, wide view of The Sour Thunder audio installation, and Invisible Man 2.0 watercolors)

Look dead ahead and you'll see the audio set up for Mendi + Keith Obadike's Sour Thunder internet opera. (below right, placard from The Sour Thunder audio installation)

Go through the open doorway to the next main room and you would have seen beverages on your right. To your left are Carbonist School Manifesto declarations illustrated and writ large courtesy of co-founder and exhibition organizer Cinqué Hicks. A visual artist in his own right, Hicks was too immersed in the mounting of the exhibition to include his own work, but did find the time to create these graphic works for the Opening.

On your right two monitors screen a documentary on the school's founding with co-founders Hicks, Cauleen Smith, Beatrice L. Thomas, and Lanneau White talking and conducting science experiments, courtesy of Smith. The dual monitor set up provides alchemy, conversation, and voice over between the founders, the documentary eye, and the audience.
(left, Cauleen Smith signifying in an image from the Carbonist documentary)

Make a U-Turn and walk right, now and you're in front of the wall video projection of Chieke Chieke's three creation theory, digital video. Starting with the anxious caress of black, bones and color enveloped materials rise up to further reveal naked skin, the first. Layers of black, white and finally red--carbon, milk, and blood according to Chieke--are revealed as the silently intoning Chieke sits, eyes closed, her head gesticulating as though in midst of spirit possession or in this case the birth of consciousness.

Behind you is Jabari Hall-Smith's Lil' Big Head (aka The Return of Afrifa Makuffo Jackson). A sci-fi engagement of power, vengeance and freedom, Hall-Smith's video is playful, surreal, epic, and at times meditative. There is a singular look about the work, his enthused and rich sense of color and art design is obvious, I really liked his casting and his bold way with layered animation.

If you come from around the partial wall enclosing that video monitor you'll see Kevin Sipp's Sun Ra P-Funks the Zulu Nation, or notes on black star initiation devices (formerly Untitled).

(right, Sipp full view and detail; photos audiologo; below, close up detail; photo Cauleen Simpson)

Some flashes of Sipp's vinyl technological etymologies:
Outer rotation: 12 Tribes Flow Sun Ra Star-Fari Mu Cipher
Middle rotation: Secret 77 Love $ ...
• Inner Rotation: 33 1/3 2 OM 45 ...
Center Label: Red X File
My conversation with Kevin Sipp was being on the receiving end of the Cipher Files. He broke down the Sun Ra-P-Funk-Vodun-Bambaataa geneologies, and later dropped the word on the significance of dub. The man don't play.

Opposite Sipp are and Kojo Griffin's three oil paintings: He Got Toe Jam Football, Greenhouse Gasses, I Remember When I Lost My Mind. Unfortunately Griffin wasn't in attendance because I would have loved to ask him about his titles. If anybody's had that conversation with Mr. Griffin please share.

Here too, you'll see directions to William Cordova and Leslie Hewitt's untitled collaborative piece which is on a billboard on the other side the street from Eyedrum Gallery.
(below, Cordova and Hewitt; photo audiologo)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Composing Cultures + Filmmaker Madeleine Lim

Composing Cultures: Queer Women Writers Talk About Diversity

I just got notice from Cali artist colleague Kebo Drew--an Astraea Foundation Award winner and Pat Parker/Audre Lorde ZAMI award-winner, and a Cave Canem alum (yes, they are everywhere!) is going to be on a panel of queer women poets discussing diversity. Because of the panelists I expect this will have considerably more depth than these diversity panels usually offer. Also scheduled to participate is Cindy Emch, another Cali artist/film colleague, and widely published chapbook author--the latest is Tobacco Brunette (I love the title, but I hope it's just a color reference)--and founder of Queer Open Mic at the Three Dollar Bill Cafe (as in "queer as a-"). Both are pictured above--Kebo in the fabulous hat and Cindy with the "poet" tatoo). If you click on the image above you'll see the full descriptions and expressive photos of each of the speakers. I've seen them each read/perform except for Irina Contreras. But each of the folks I've heard--Kebo, Cindy, and Meliza Bañales brings the goods. I wish I could be there.

Composing Cultures: Queer Women Writers Talk About Diversity
July 26, 6-8pm
The SF LGBT Community Center
1800 Market Street

Filmmaker Madeleine Lim, July 15 @ Femina Potens Gallery, San Francisco

I missed listing this in a timely manner, but thought I would put it up anyway because Madeleine Lim is doing such necessary work: training the next generation of queer women of color filmmakers in San Francisco as Executive Director of Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project where the project has produced more than 80 films by women of color. The Singapore-born and raised Lim lives in San Francisco where she has been doing this work for close to ten years now. As is the case for many artists who take on active roles as arts advocates/educators, showing her own work has come second to teaching others and curating shows of other folks films/videos. So this was a rare opportunity to attend a screening of Lim's films & videos.

FEMINA POTENS presents the 4th Down N Dirty
Behind the Scenes of Queer Filmmakers as we feature MADELEINE LIM! (stills from "Dragon Desire" and "Sambal Belacan in San Francisco" are below)

WHEN: Saturday July 15, 2006
WHERE: Femina Potens Gallery
465 South Van Ness (between 15 & 16th Streets)
SHOWTIME: doors at 7:30 pm / show 8pm
TICKETS: $5-10 sliding scale, no one turned away
for lack of funds
INFO: / 415.217.9340

Wheel Chair Accessible

Femina Potens Gallery showcases its innovative monthly
film series, Down & Dirty: the Intimate World of Queer
Filmmaking on Saturday, June 17, 2006, featuring
selected shorts from queer filmmaker MADELEINE LIM.

The ongoing series features film and dialogue with Bay
Area Queer Filmmakers as part of Femina Potens 2006
Film Screenings. Celebrate and promote local queer,
trans, and women video artists as we feature intimate
and interactive conversations with local filmmakers, a
shot-by-shot analysis of their filmmaking process,
stories from behind the scenes, and the inside scoop
on San Francisco's filmmaking community. Each film
is followed by an intimate Q&A with the audience.

Award-winning filmmaker MADELEINE LIM is so
infamous for her role as Executive Director of Queer
Women of Color Media Arts Project, which has produced
more than 80 films by women of color in our town that,
seeing her own film's screened together in one night is
a rare and special treat! Screening the banned in
Singapore, award-winning film, "Sambal Belacan in San
Francisco", the delightful short, "Dream" and the
experimental, "Dragon Desire", Lim will share her
experiences making films and teaching others to make
their own in San Francisco.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Frequent Small Meals + Warren Sonbert

A colleague, Andy Ditzler, musician and media librarian, is also a host of a monthly film program at Eyedrum Gallery in Atlanta. Ditzler is a rare film lover, and his program FILM LOVE, produced by Frequent Small Meals (FSM), screens rarely seen films with extensive program notes which are available on the FSM website. Last week he exhibited short films by Warren Sonbert (pictured left). Sonbert, who died from complications from AIDS in 1995, was one of the New York downtown art darlings of the 1960s whose early works documented his view of that world. With his unique, thematic aggregate-image editing style, Sonbert has been considered a master of avant-gard cinema. Unfortunately, until recently his films have not been available for screening. Fortunately the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, has made restoring his works a priority. Much of his early work concerns his New York life, later works are more varied with images from his international travels. Many of the images in a later work Honor and Obey (1988) capture dynamics between people, sharp accusations, frustration, humor, avoidance, it's a less stylized and constructed version of what Bill Viola would do decades later in his video art. Ditzler (pictured below right) showed two of Sonbert's early works Amphetamine (1966) and Where Did Our Love Go? (1966) plus two later works, Honor and Obey (1988), and what is considered his most accomplished work, Friendly Witness (1989). Being a sound freak, and something of a Michel Chion afficionado, I can't get with Sonbert's argument that sound and image don't go together, although I don't disagree that images have their own rhythm, it's just that those rhythms often have attendant sound and vice versa. Not surprising then that I grooved on the first two works more than Honor and Obey--although that work evidenced some compellingly quixotic editing poetics. Sadly, the program ran longer than I expected and I had to leave missing Friendly Witness which I can only hope to see at another juncture. But here's the thing, Amphetamine gives a discrete view of young gay white men shooting up, yes, speed, in an apartment while the soundtrack plays endless Supreme cuts, with their white-pop crossover sound. In its time these scenes of drug use and mundane homosexuality (boys kissing, sitting dazedly, reading books, and doing drugs) were shocking and even now seem so with boys slowly (and I mean slowly) injecting themselves using syringes with vacuum bulb heads, given that Sonbert was only 19 years old in 1966, but also is terribly sad, and a harbinger of the horrible storm that was to come 20 years later. Even the sweet moments of two men giving a full mouthed kiss as Sonbert's camera joyous circles them, and then captures a glimpse of furtive lovemaking and later the drug-addled afterglow, felt elegiac. The real discovery for me was with Where Did Our Love Go? and its potent utilization of the teen-tough girl/Maria Callas pre-performance art pop-dynamics of The Shangri-Las, in particular "He Cried" (a 1966 reworking of Jay & the Americans "She Cried"), and "Past, Present, and Future"(1966) which weaves angst, love, and ennui into spoken word monologue recited over Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata". These played over informal images of the formal space of the art museum where you couldn't quite imagine the tight leather and go-go boot motorcycle chick look of the Shangra-Las fitting in but then moves to the land of Warhol and a rare 360 degree view of The Factory in full-party and down-time creative mode. I had really forgotten how white that world was and suddenly remembered that Andy Warhol had a rather dim view of African American intellectual and creative ability. (Racism: it's an all purpose eraser. First no art world head table (read:white) folks will acknowledge your avant-garde work due to their belief that black people don't do that and then when they see the evidence of the success of that racist application--the absence of such work--use that to explain how black people don't do that work.) Fortunately, as artist Cauleen Smith reminded me this weekend, that art world dynamic is much better than it used to be. Racial exclusivity notwithstanding, it was interesting to see Sonbert's eye, ear, and editing.

Black LGBT Bloggers and LIFEBeat Reggae Gold Protests

I had been telling people that there was this explosion of black gay blogging, particularly black gay men, writing, documenting their thoughts, their travels, their intellectual, political and cultural processes, basically documenting various segments of their lives in a manner that creates a most interesting collection of digitally constructed maps employing images, color codings, links and internet constructed significations to create a record of where folks are now.

The voices are numerous and varied, from thought-provoking ruminations, great reads on the LOGO network's Noah's Arc, everyday lives and scholarly throwdowns of a number of LGBT grad students, anti-hate crime violence efforts, regular updates on black and Latino ball competitions, and more. Recently a number of Black LsGIBT Bloggers came together, virtually, but with real time impact, to protest a benefit concert organized by LIFEbeat, a music industry charity that utilizes recording artists in efforts to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and advocate HIV prevention among youths. LIFEbeat had organized the July 18th Hearts and Minds Reggae Gold Summer 2006 concert and booked artists, Beenie Man and T.O.K. who are known to advocate the murder of gays and lesbians in their songs. According to a July 12th, 2006 Black AIDS Institute press release on the subject, Beenie Man has a song “Han Up Deh,” in which he "urges listeners to lynch lesbians, singing, 'Hang chi-chi gal wid a long piece of rope,' invoking a derisive term for gay women." A 2004 Gay City News article on the No More Murder Music protests against homophobia in dancehall reggae lyrics, cites Beenie Man's hit “Battyman Fi Dead” as another example of murder-inducing lyrics, and noted that according to Amnesty International there had been "over 50 murders of gays and lesbians in Jamaica since 1982 in which homophobia was proven to be at the root of hostility. In 1996, 17 prisonerss suspected of being gay were murdered in the penal system after the Commissioner of Prisons merely suggested that condoms be distributed among the incarcerated." Homosexuality is still illegal in Jamaica, a situation that makes lesbians and gay men particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, violence, and murder with lesbians also facing the threat of rape. Human Rights Watch details many of the issues facing Jamaican LGBTs and those suspected of being queer in a 2004 report, Hated to Death:
Homophobia, Violence, and Jamaica’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic
, with information on violence perpetrated by family and community members which is particularly insidious--that virulent homophobia can compel people to kill persons they've known all their lives once they learn of their sexuality.

Fortunately the efforts by on- and offline activists were effective in convincing LIFEbeat to reconsider their line up and party line that by inviting Beenie Man and T.O.K. they were inviting "dialogue" on the issue of homophobia in the Caribbean community. Although I think it was unfortunate that instead of just cancelling the two artists, LIFEBeat cancelled the entire concert citing fears of violence, after having been inundated with communication of protest (calls, letters, email and faxes). This poorly worded explanation led to a host of responses from protesters online and elsewhere decrying LIFEbeat's implication that the activists had threatened violence at the event. After a 10am Thursday, July 13th press conference in NYC in front of LIFEbeat offices held by black on- and offline activists regarding the concert, LIFEbeat responded that afternoon, with an apology to the "GLBT community" stating:
"'In our desire to do something positive within the Caribbean American community, we didn't realize the depth of the hurt in the GLBT community around the lyrics of these artists,' commented John Cannelli, Executive Director of LIFEbeat. 'Once we saw how deep and real it is, it became very clear that canceling the concert was the right thing to do.'

And with regards to the threats of violence:

"'We also want to clarify the concerns of violence we felt. Those concerns didn't stem from any threats from activists or members of the Caribbean American community. They stemmed from threatening phone calls our office received from random individuals that led to concerns for the safety of our staff and others.'"

I think this apology still somewhat of a cop out, e.g.: "we didn't realize the depth of hurt". I've been noticing this trend of deflecting accountability for some clearly willfully ignorant/prejudiced moments on the part of organizations by invoking the "I'm really sorry that what I said hurt your feelings" clause which puts all the responsibility on the offended party (i.e. "I'm sorry you're so sensitive!"). Often in these cases what really needs to be said is something along the lines of, "I'm sorry that up until this point I've chosen the inhumane path of ignoring your welfare over the acquisition of easy status, wealth, power, maintenance of the current status quo, etc. and I pledge henceforth my intention to act with greater social responsibility."

J'stheater has a detailed documentation of various aspects of this protest (including news articles, participating blogs, and Black LGBT activist statements, and various LIFEbeat responses) on July 7th, July 10th, July 12th, and July 13th, 2006.