27 November 2005

A failed pop-cultural vaccination

So-called 'free newspapers' that mainly survive on advertisement and are available on every corner tend to make my stomach polically upset, which is the reason for my usual avoidance. As I walked past one of such newspaper stands a couple of weeks ago, I noticed Floria Sigismondi's face on the front cover and had to break the pattern and pick up the issue of Toronto's NOW from November 11, 2005 and read Kevin Temple's article regarding Floria's career and her new photographic publication Immune.

This curiosity was rooted in my early interest in Floria's work: back around 1997, as I struggled with learning HTML, my fan site was one of the first unofficial tributes to this artist. I admired her video work for Manson and Bowie and found her fashion photography to be quite unique. Floria also was a bit of an inspiration - after all, she went to the same art school my friends attended, and look at her now!.

At the same time, I dared to call her a less shocking, repackaged Witkin rip-off. I must emphasize that in my book everyone in possession of a remotely similar style is a Witkin rip-off, which in turn makes everyone and Joel-Peter himself an Arbus rip-off. Naturally, I exaggerate, but my gods must maintain their Olympic pedestals.

Years went by, the brief life of a virtual fan art gallery had run its course, and I lost track and interest in following Floria's projects. Yet there she is on the cover of a politically unsound pop-cultural magazine. This magazine informs me that Floria's career is booming more than ever, which prompted her recent move from Toronto to Los Angeles, where she barely has any time to spend with her husband and baby daughter due to excessive work demands. NOW also details her second photography book.

Author Temple presents a short synopsis of some of the works included in this new release - as much as a two-page newspaper spread would allow. In particular, he describes one of the photographs as:

"A female manikin (sic) posed naked, revealing her enhanced body with four breasts (doubles her pleasure) and spikes running down her spine, an added defense to compensate for her missing right hand"

Despite the article's limits, this attempt at visual analysis could and should have acquired further depth. Do the doubled breasts double the mannequin's pleasure or ours - that of the voyeur? If the spikes are defense mechanisms - spine extensions tearing through skin to counterbalance the disrupted bodily totality, then could the mannequin function as a cyborg? On the artist's website this same figure mechanically rises from behind a cityscape depicted from below, not unlike Rodchenko's early 1920's famous balconies featured on the Left Front of the Arts cover. Floria's photographic training points in the direction of purposeful referentiality. The mannequin becomes a modernist triumph - the fusion of man and machine. At the same time, the spikes appear to be organic - this animates the perfect one-size-fits-all artificial human canon and transports it into the 21st century.

Is the absent elaboration a sign of the author's misguided writing or Floria's self-unawareness? I read further. The artist proceeds to comment on a "futuristic family who's been numbed by society" and is "eating media", because they've been "fed and brainwashed". The family's heads are large white blobs with holes, because Floria "wanted to see if you took away expression and eyes, could you still get emotion?"

While the mass-produced seriality of consumerist humans floats at the surface, had I seen the photographs prior to reading her comments, my initial concern would have been with whether the subjects are able to return the gaze. That is to say, do the holes where the eyes should be provide this family with any kind of agency in contrast to lacking any indication of sight at all? Are they aware that they are being visually consumed just as they themselves consume the media? Even more obviously, where is the sense of cognizance regarding being the producer of this very media by which this family had been brainwashed?

Last year New York artist Nikki Lee, famous for her photographic documentation of infiltrating various subcultures, gave a talk at the University of Toronto. While I was not present at the event, I learned that Nikki avoided discussing certain obvious implications of her work for no other reason than a somewhat poor preparation. This alleged lack of responsible self-awareness is inexcusable for a photographer who holds a Master's of Fine Art from a prestigious American institution and undoubtedly encountered the same types of questions while she earned it. Are her poignant candid photographes subconscious to a much greater degree than initially assumed, and does the same then apply to Floria?

Perhaps what I seek is located in Floria's book, but I currently only have her website accessible. An artist statement detailing the apparent sophistication of her work would do, but I find none. Nothing, nothing at all. Lacking evidence for the contrary, we the fans inadvertently transform into Subliminal Floria's Futuristic Family, getting a little more infected with mass media through the artist's aesthetically pleasing visuals, as a result of her attempts to vaccinate us against it.

You can decide for yourselves by checking out http://www.floriasigismondi.com

18 November 2005

An article about an article that never was

I am not a professional journalist, nor do I aspire to be, though I consider some of my more polished essays and critiques to be of at least above-average quality.

Ever since my (now-deleted) succinct and colloquial Sucks to be you, France entry, I've been attempting to write a well researched, lengthy editorial regarding the immigrant riots. I read dozens of articles from all over the globe and saved a draft in my blog. I investigated the rioters' demographics - ethnicity, religion, and immigration status, looked into the type of social services and welfare rates available to them, and compared it to the rest of Western Europe, particularly Germany. I proceeded to look at the response tactics - both by the average citizens, and the government and analyzed the latter's currently implemented policies and future political aspirations. I paid close attention to the vastly ranging media coverage these events produced. The more I read, the more links I added to this unpublished draft, but recorded very little of my own thought.

As days went by, I began to question the seemingly subconscious deterrent that has been impeding my progress on the editorial. Sloth? Fatigue? During this period my free time was spent on commencing work on several artworks, posting other rants, and updating my website. The French draft, on the other hand, remained in its pristine state. I've ceased adding reference links as well, despite the fact that I regularly read the news. Then I just stopped reading.

There were little to no reports of the Frenchmen's retribution for "reversed colonization". Perhaps the media failed to report such acts of righteous vengeance in fear of instigating further cultural hatred? Perhaps the French were at least adequately defending themselves, as their government sold them out with promises of even better social support to fund the rioters' chain-pot-smoking habits, joke sentencing, and inadequate damage control in hopes of reelection?

Perhaps not.

13 November 2005

Somewhere between the male lion and a sloth...

....on Discovery channel's laziest animals list must lie the male dachshund.



First name: Polygraph (Polygraphovich)
Last name: Sharikov
Former names: Buster
Formal address: Comrade
Age: 3
Occupation: Cat Exterminator
Status: Castrated. Adopted.
Favorite activities: When not sleeping or yawning, comrade Sharikov enjoys replacing cats with squirrels or swans and sorting the garbage.

Ordnung muß sein? This German's motto is Schlaf über alles!

11 November 2005


I was recently asked whether I wanted to contribute to a charitable donation for Christmas via my department. The donations will allegedly go to those proverbial "inner city kids, who have nothing". I am unsure whether in this case majority rules, and I would be forced to contribute regardless of my opinion, or whether the decisions would be made on an individual basis. Likewise, I am unsure as to how I should go about not coming across as the Meanest Woman in the World by declining, and whether I should even be concerned if such a perception were to arise.

I've always been somewhat intrigued by the fairly related (oxy)moronic notion of forced volunteering, which I had initially encountered in high school. Having only been in Canada for a couple of years at that point, I was astonished to find out that 150 hours of volunteering were part of the requirement for the International Baccalaureate program. For the first time in my life shockingly my academic achievements alone were insufficient (of course, that was before grad school entry ;)).

Even those who do not participate in such activities for an immediate purpose like a program requirement are fully aware of the resume benefits that an act like this would provide afterwards. The obvious positive effects of "forced volunteering" aside, we could at least choose another title for it - the lack of financial gain is not enough reason to maintain its current name.

During my first years in Canada, I was similarly shocked to see just how much fundraising was done for just about every imaginable cause. Unimaginable, yet real causes included encountering parents in an attempt to raise money for their children's dance classes! Most of the time I would not even answer the phone calls or open the door, and if I did, my negative response incurred angry looks or even commentary. One of the more recent examples includes:

"Welcome to Tim Horton's. Would you like to donate a dollar to the Tsunami victims"?

"No, thanks"


"Can I buy a coffee in peace and not get harrassed about donations?" - Okay, I thought that one, which doesn't make it any less valid.

Would you like to buy a bracelet to fight lupus?

Would you like to sponsor a child through World Vision? What about the Christian Children's Fund? What about United Way? What about..........

And if you indeed would like to sponsor such a child for the mere price of a cup of coffee a day, you aren't even given the choice of the child's location! Apparently, feeling greater affinity towards a youngster from a related culture is unacceptable!

The biggest mass hypnosis donation mockery is, of course, Live Aid. It is particularly infuriating to witness financial demands from the likes of Russia due to its membership in the G8, while it cannot feed its own. And it gives, it gives! Remants of tearing a shirt (skin) off your back and starving yourself - a standard Soviet mentality - is alive and well, while third world dictatorial moochers continue perfecting their beggary skills.

In general, Canadians pay high enough (~30%) taxes to cover many of these causes (whether or not we'd like our money to be spent in such a way) - so when a country's leader decides to increase financial aid drawn from these taxes towards [insert a third world disaster here] and you are approached to donate further, a raised eyebrow response is to be expected in the very least.

Even considering our taxes, there are a number of causes towards which I would not mind contributing. The common thread shared by these selected causes is the fact that they embody a personal interest - dog shelters and hereditary familial ailments, for example. I also do have an interest in helping children, however, I would a) bypass an organization and b) focus on slavic children in orphanages only. Such charitable financial support out of personal engagement is directly pertinent to complex political and economic structures within a given state, which involve the way in which issues like social welfare, healthcare, and tax designation are dealt with, and is clearly beyond the scope or purpose of this rant.

It suffices to say that for every cause there is bound to be someone interested; hence personal engagement leads to improved results due to heightened motivation - the kind that cannot possible arise out of a guilt trip. More often than not, those individuals agitating for saving the world most ardently and accusing everyone else around them of "selfishness" also demonstrate the greatest lack of concern for their personal microcosm - even something as simple as giving up your seat to an old woman on public transportation. And I would much rather "start with the man in the mirror"! (Tee hee hee!)

01 November 2005

Commissioned postmodernism

"When I hear the word discourse, I grab my simulacrum" - Victor Pelevin's facetiousness never fails, including his new Helmet of Horror. Having been released this past week, the book features eight characters, with names like Monstradamus, trapped in separate labyrinth rooms (not unlike Saw II, which also shares its release date!). They know not what they are and await Theseus the Liberator, while Minotaur, crowned with the Helmet of Horror, a source of illusions and false impressions, lurks in the shadows.

The most engaging aspect of the book is not Pelevin's expected mastery of dialogue or his equally expected application of just about every authorial trick a good self-[mocking]-respecting postmodernist shares, but the fact that it pertains to an ongoing series published by UK's Canongate. The series focuses on reestablishing famous age-old myths by modern literary classics - from Umberto Eco (!) to Margaret Atwood. Atwood's Penelopiad customarily offers agency to Odyssey's quintessential faithful wife Penelope. She must've grown rather bored in those twenty years after all!

Despite the obvious danger of turning this act of Retelling into an instant cliche, Canongate's clever marketing technique is at least worth looking into. Or not.