Sunday, August 30, 2015

Think Anomalous

The Anomalous Duo - T. Remington & AleXander Hirka
• click on image to enlarge •

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The End of Gatekeeping?

      We recently watched the fascinating documentary Finding Vivian Maier which employs the always satisfying strategy of solving a mystery to explore the life of an enigmatic woman who, serving as a nanny to families from Chicago to New York to Minnesota, took literally hundreds of thousands of street photographs over the course of her life. Most were never developed or printed until some flea marketer’s kid bought a trunk of her undeveloped negatives at auction.
      While the story charts her course from family to family, uncovers her family background and shows lots of her work, it skims over a couple of troubling aspects of the story. One is what appears to be Miss Maier’s mental and emotional deterioration as experienced by her young charges. It could be a case of untreated and progressively more dangerous mental illness, but that story thread doesn’t get much juice. The other dark and, yes, unjust aspect is how the established gatekeepers of the art world, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, have declined to sanctify the work of Miss Maier as Really Being Art. 
      We are mad little creative fiends from the start. All of us. But the gatekeepers are there early on as well to determine who has “talent”, who gets to keep making art. The thinning out sometimes begins even with parents who had their own creative joy starved in the service of Something Sensible. Any of us who defy these early attempts to stifle our creative impulses will sometimes find an ally. An art teacher, an English professor, someone who conspires with us to keep making art.
      Eventually, however, we find ourselves submitting our gems, our babies, our joyfully, fearfully, delightfully, carefully created art to the real gatekeepers. As a writer, the first question I get is “Really? Cool! Have you been published?” 
      And here we have it: until MoMA, The New Yorker, a literary agent, a gallery owner, an authority tasked with only letting the Real Art pass, gives us the gold star and lets us in, we are not Really Artists.
      So here is a woman who spent her entire life capturing the most beguiling, arresting, humanly fascinating images and then didn’t even try to get most of her film developed. A woman who compulsively made incredible art and who died alone in a nursing home without having even seen most of her own work. 
      Today she could have had her own blog, a page on Tumblr, her own way to share the images that grabbed her heart and eye. Are the gatekeepers on their way out? They don’t think so, obviously. MoMA rejected Vivian Maier’s work on the basis that she hadn’t printed the work herself; something that is apparently not a problem when it comes to other, earlier (and yes), male photographers. The museum, gallery, auction house cartel has a vested interest in keeping control of who is and who is not creating art worthy of their vaunted attention and money.
      But we keep at it. We scribble away and post on our blogs. We create and invent and cast spells that have to be cast or we wither into eating-sleeping-shitting-fucking things that simply keep moving from paycheck to paycheck. There will always be gatekeepers, judges, critics, crossed spears that signify that thou shalt not pass. At the end of the day, if I’m creating it with an eye on the gate, what I’m creating is a commodity, not art. Still, is it too much to ask for a world where Vivian Maier could have seen her own art?

Value Established" 
another "portrait" of T. Remington by AleXander Hirka
click on image to enlarge

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Where We Come From, What We Want

     Family myth has it that Great Grampa Nick, Dominic Salvatore Scalfaro, was the illegitimate son of a wealthy land-owner back in Italy. According the story we were told as kids, Grampa Nick’s rich daddy had a number of children outside of the bonds of holy matrimony, not an uncommon occurrence in the 19th century. Rich Daddy was probably considered enlightened, generous, and smart by his peers since he paid for his illegitimate progeny (presumably only the males, of course) to attend a trade school and he then bought them a one way ticket to America. Problem solved.
      The story goes that young Nick arrived at Ellis Island at the tender age of 16 with less than $20 in his pockets, took one look at the New York City of nineteen-oh-something, and got the hell out of town. The story gets a little muddled here. According to ships’ manifests, he came back to New York City again from Italy two years later. Most of his story died when he did at the age of 104 up in Silver Creek, New York attended to by his young bride (she was 65 and he was 98 when they wed without saying anything to the family. Surprise!).
      Who knows if the story is true? It sure sounds good, though, right? Most of human history is the endless, convulsive story of movement, emigration, refugees, adventurers, and new arrivals and the resistance that usually greets them. The very word “immigration” has become a flash point in today’s larger conversation with images of desperate brown people fleeing from every direction of the globe to several perceived havens. And here we are, living in the big daddy of perceived havens, The United States of America.
      I began my current rent career last summer, drafting and revising letters of recommendation for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability seeking to work in the United States for three years on an O-1 visa. Now I write the actual cover letter, or legal argument, pulling together all the evidence of extraordinary abilities (press is always good; lots and lots of clippings) into a compelling narrative argument that will sway some poor, worn out Immigration Agent sitting in Vermont and get this deserving young film director, sculptor, photographer, editor, actor, dancer, musician, comedian, magician, stylist or graphic designer the highly prized visa. I marvel at the hoops these hungry young people are willing to jump through (and the scads of money they’re ready to pay) in order to have their shot at the Big Time. And I just happened to be born here; easy peasy.
      We’re all hungry to hit the Big Time; we just have different ideas of what that looks like and how to get there. I grew up with visions of taking the New York City art scene by storm although by the time I was painting murals of the Cleveland skyline (three, count ‘em, three skyscrapers!) on a series of barroom walls, my ambitions were deflating. And, thinking about it, I have jumped through some pretty tight and even pricey hoops myself to get where I am today. Just ask Sallie Mae.
      Today I consider myself successful, even wildly successful. I write for a living and look forward to my work. I have fantastic friends and am no slouch myself in that department. My partner and I share life and art and sex and adventures and creativity and good food and afternoon naps and great films and long walks. And I get to use my talent to possibly open doors for other people who just want successful lives………..lives and definitions of success that are probably very different from my own. What is success to you?

"The Veil of The Manna-hata Immigrant" 
a "portrait" of T. Remington by AleXander Hirka
click on image to enlarge