tom moody

Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Winona Ripps' "Ho" exhibition at Postmasters

Winona Ripps blazed a trail in the feminist net art community (and drew some scorn) for her exhibitions and performances where only women were invited. Despite a separatist bent that had not been seen since Andrea Dworkin, Ripps' frequent targets were "cis-identified" females, that is to say, sexy babes that seemed more interested in catering to the male gaze than transcending gender boundaries. Ripps' critics characterized her work as "self-hating" since the word misogynist didn't pass the laugh test. Her project "Art Whore" was a classic Guerrilla Girls stratagem, a prank where she embarrassed a hip Manhattan hotel that had hired her to be an unpaid one-night artist in residence. She used her materials stipend to hire masseuses from Craigslist, one male and one female. Rather than exploiting them by having them pose provocatively, she asked them to make drawings. Completely misunderstanding the nature of the project, a writer for the Art F City website asked if it was "the most offensive work of 2014." Many mainstream publications parroted this diatribe, leading to a mass dumbing-down of a subversive feminist idea.
When Ripps announced that she would be showing paintings at Manhattan's Postmasters gallery, denunciations were swift that she had sold out. Art F City issued another angry ukase, declaring before the show even opened that the work was self-hating and "not truly feminist."
Let's say at the outset, now that the show is up, that most of these aren't great paintings. This reviewer liked some of the smaller ones the gallery had in the back room but it's very hard to feel anything about work you know was farmed out to a Chinese oil-on-canvas sweatshop -- a practice increasingly used by American artists who can't deal with the messy, hard realities of producing a large body of painted work. As a critic you either talk about the outsourcing or pretend it didn't happen.
Digital versions exist of much of the work so that's what we'll talk about here. The target of the show is a cis-identified fashion model named Adrianne Ho, whom the website Hypebeast called "the unofficial face of menswear." Using her Instagram account, Ho presents herself in sexy "exercise" poses sponsored by various brands that pay for the shots. In the manner of Kathy Acker, Winona Ripps appropriates Ho's work, and using an Apple iPhone's imaging program, makes "posthuman" digital distortions of Ho's images. Like a cyber-Orlan, she alters Ho's features, not into some classical ideal but into grotesque modifications suggesting recombinant plastic surgery or gene splicing, aimed at the cliches of female heteronormativity. Instead of a petite button nose, a comically enlarged one. Instead a waist that's merely skinny, one so small that food could barely pass through it. Instead of pleasing symmetry, funhouse mirror asymmetries.
This jamming on the extremes of patriarchal capitalism is the purest feminist work but that hasn't stopped another round of critics from calling Winona Ripps "self-hating." Some have even stooped to personal attacks, saying she's a lousy lay! Hell hath no fury like the cisgendered female scorned.

(a thought experiment - connections to actual persons or institutions are intentional)

- tom moody

April 25th, 2015 at 8:23 am

Posted in general

image cruddiness that supposedly means something

Passing along a couple of links without endorsement:

1. "The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic" (Brian Feldman, The Awl)
What do you mean, rise? We've been covering cruddy image quality around here for years (bicubic mush, quantization noise) but the particular wrinkle of Feldman's article (that we don't much care about) is image noise and compression artifact buildup as a true indicator of virality, or authenticity, or something. Feldman assumes an internet full of non-Turing Complete Users screenshotting and re-screenshotting pictures because of the limitations imposed by phones and social media on downloading and lossless saving. Call us snobs but we're just not very interested in those idiots or their memes.

2. "It’s Supposed to Look Like Shit: The Internet Ugly Aesthetic" (Nick Douglas, Journal of Visual Culture [PDF]
This article is a bit better but still too focused on 4Chan stuff that isn't all that funny (rage comics) or fresh (LOLcats). The subject is meme culture as perpetuated on Tumblr, Reddit, Cheezburger, etc and a kind of sloppiness aesthetic that dominates in comment threads. Again, many Dump.fm users are going to cop to a certain snobbery about the lameness of Douglas's examples.
The bigger question is what's at stake here? Douglas sees these cruddy pictures as the visual face of trollpunk but within that vague label, perhaps we still need to separate true revolutionaries from hapless participants in the troll economy.

- tom moody

April 22nd, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Posted in general

sean dockray interview, 2008

This interview Sean Dockray did with me originally appeared on the website of TELIC Art Exchange, in Los Angeles, where I exhibited work in 2008. The site appears to be "offline" but I saved the text.

ISSUE I. Relationship of art to blogging

Sean Dockray: Can you describe how your artwork and your blog are related to one another?

Tom Moody: The best analogy is a DJ who is also a producer. You make tracks that are meant to stand alone (on a CD or internet player) as your creative work but can also be "slipped into a set." With added "meta" layers that blogging gives you--being able to comment on your own work and others' and how you see them interrelating.

S: And you literally are making music that you've been distributing through your blog too - it's not just an analogy. But also you will also write political commentary, film reviews, critical art history, etc. It's more diverse and strained than your analogy lets on, I think. What do you leave out?

T: Things that are adequately covered in the mainstream media: sports, tips on relationships and dieting, celebrity news, fashion. Am not being entirely flip, here, I am conscious of topics being over-covered and have a taste for the obscure, nerdy stuff.

S: What kinds of subject matter, or attitudes, or people do you tend to leave alone?

T: As you noted, the blog is inclusive. Besides the aforementioned subjects the media beats us over the head with, I guess what I omit reflects my unconscious biases and blind spots. Consciously I avoid personal, touchy-feely stuff, posting photos of myself, and I struggle not to write in the first person. It's not for shyness. The media always wants to put a face and a brandable personality with creative products and that gets very old.

S: How finished does one of your images, songs, gifs, etc. need to be for you to post it?

T: Pretty finished. If it is work in process it will usually be identified as such.

S: Are they ever too finished to post?

T: No, I'm not holding anything back. Certainly some art things I've done can't be experienced online--a DJ set with a good sound system or a room with wall-sized video or paintings. But within the limits of the blog/internet I'm going full throttle.

S: Have you read this book? [link to Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction]. I used to push it on friends and students.

T: I haven't, only excerpts. I'm familiar with Bourriaud from artists and bloggers reacting to him and commenting on him. Also his Relational Aesthetics.

S: What I liked at the time was that he was talking about art that was interactive or responding to cultural changes brought about by the Internet and computers, but he didn't include any properly "new media" work (XYZ art?). He uses the DJ and the programmer as analogies to elaborate his idea of post-production, but there is little work he discusses that would be acceptable in most tech-art programs. But, do you think he's being a little conservative by not including computer art?

T: There is a tendency in the decelerated art world to use the computer as a metaphor without actually touching the damn thing. It may not be conservatism so much as ignorance or the fear of making a judgment in unfamiliar territory. We are constantly having our radical-ness tested: we get the critical gist of sampling but not, say, hyperlinking. As for Bourriaud's ideas, I think I tend to practice relational aesthetics (a refried concept from the '70s) more than I believe in it. As an artist I'm interested in finished, stand-alone works but the blog is sloppily gregarious and incorporates and reacts to what other people are doing.

S: To me, one of the most interesting things about the recent popular net art (as opposed to net.art) is the way it emphasizes use over creation (I'm cribbing from that Bourriaud book now, I guess, but he would say post-production instead of production). It's refreshing not to have art discourse revolving around how someone did something technically, and with GIFs it's usually not a mystery. But at the same time, there is still a significant element of competition or attention-seeking, and definitely a place for the "how did you do that?" conversations. Basically, I'm really interested in going more into what you['ve] said about the social nature of GIF-making, of blog- writing, etc. Maybe an easy way to dive more into it is to explain the difference between your blogging on your own weblog, versus on Nasty Nets?

T: Agreed there is a place for the "how did you do that?" conversations but there is surprisingly little tech talk about GIFs and other "internet folk art" on the sites I've participated in (such as Nasty Nets) or follow (such as cpb.tumblr). On my old blog (more on that below) I had a fair amount of interesting how-to dialog going on in my comments but with Nasty a tacit agreement quickly developed that we weren't going there. Just post things and riff back and forth, and leave the viewer to suss out who made something and how it was made. On my current blog, though, I'm constantly talking about process.

ISSUE II. Relationship of art to blogging (showing whole blog in gallery)

Sean: I remember reading that you actually showed your weblog within a gallery context. Was that interesting for you?

Tom: It was hard work! I did my normal blogging routine as a performance piece. A computer was installed in the project space at artMovingProjects gallery in Brooklyn, and visitors could talk with me via comments, which were an active part of my blog at the time. It was kind of a goof on interactive installations but I took it seriously in terms of being conscious of gallery hours and wanting to be as entertaining as possible during those time frames. I upped my quotient of animated GIFs so at any given moment there was some new, hopefully confectionary thing beckoning from the gallery pedestal.

Sean: Am I remembering correctly that you were throwing out questions about whether you could sell it? The performance itself, the blog posts you made, the whole blog, the computer with its browser history, any of it. I'm not trying to say it can't be commodified because rich people will find a way to buy anything. But did anything "out of the ordinary" happen during the process? For example, if someone bought your blog out from under you, that would have been highly unusual. Were there any non-standard interactions that you had with people? I'm wondering what you got out of it.

Tom: The question "how are you going to sell it?" surfaced on my blog comments and I gave my answer. By way of recapitulating that: A buyer was considering the piece (it was ultimately too much for him, I think, or too little...I don't really know his thought process). He wouldn't have bought it out from under me, in any case: what was for sale was the month-long performance, documented on DVD with the HTML pages and associated files (GIFs, mp3s, etc) for each day of BLOG, the piece. An edition of three, as I recall. What I get out of it remains to be seen. The art work is still on the market and a certain precedent has been set for thinking of blogging as an art-bounded performance work. Other people had put blogs in galleries before, but not where the blog was a disembodied surrogate for an actual breathing artist who was thinking about that particular space (among other things) and interacting with it in real time.

Sean: Yeah, by "get out of it" I was thinking about two things at once: (1) You called it "hard work," and I really do believe that when blogging becomes a performance it is a lot of work. I'm curious how this economy of generating content for free (which is often capitalized on by MySpace, or whoever) will go, and how it relates to art production. (2) By setting up this unusual situation in the gallery, I wondered if you got a new type of interaction, strange experiences, different ideas about what your blog was doing, etc.

Tom: As I said a few years ago (and I think it still holds up): "My blog is a combination of things--studio diary, ongoing documentation of past work, and a place for work-in-process, as well as collaborations, original pieces made for the web, and mini-curated exhibitions of things I like (of both an art and a web-oddity nature). I'm interested in the crossover of visual art, tech, electronic music, film, science fiction, and politics and not just replicating the art world online, with all its ancient structures and restrictions." With BLOG I extended this laboratory environment into a gallery space--kind of a road show that didn't actually involve travelling.
It also got more semantically convoluted. At some points I was blogging about BLOG on BLOG. That was pretty interesting to me, and I was gratified that at least one writer picked up on how absurdly recursive it was.

Sean: Is [the idea of BLOG] still interesting [to you]?

Tom: I would do it again, in the right venue. To some extent the piece could not be done again the same way, though. Shortly after the end of it I stopped posting at http://www.digitalmediatree.com/tommoody, which was my blog from 2001 to 2007, and which had comments, and moved to a commentless Word Press blog at https://tommoody.us, where I've been working since. I really can't say how much of that was a reaction to the intensity of doing BLOG. It was draining, both creatively, and in terms of the load of moderating comment threads, which were active during the show.

Sean: I remember the transition. There was a time when I was being reactionary and I hated weblogs. But then I became a fan of yours because it had active comments and the discussions were often pretty thoughtful. I even participated in a few of the discussions under a generic screenname (yes spd! really to foreground ideas instead of who was writing). When you moved to no comments I was a little disappointed, but I think you made an observation that has grown on me: it's a lot of work to deal with spam; and discussion operates on the Internet across sites, without necessarily needing a "comments" section. Could you elaborate on that (or correct me if I'm wrong)?

Tom: Comments impose a power relationship: bloggers can edit and take their time but commenters generally can't. People assume the blogger is deleting comments s/he doesn't like (I only did it with abusive/obviously psychopathic statements I didn't feel I had an obligation to host--but was amazed from some recent Rhizome discussions to read that people think moderators delete comments willy-nilly. If I had done that I would have no commenters.)
My current mindset is, since blogs are easy to get and run, a good way to have a conversation is with hyperlinks between blog posts where everyone can produce with a "home court advantage." This isn't very spontaneous but better for the kind of writing/thinking I'm most interested in. The conversations can also be visual: e.g., mixing and remixing others' GIFs. Or musical. This is happening, it's not entirely a wish.

ISSUE III. Translating art from blog to public space (specific GIFs)

Tom: A question for you, Sean. For the Distributed Gallery show, will you be using DVD players to display art in the host locations, or will it be possible to display a GIF (as a GIF or rendered as a Quicktime) from a computer hard drive? I'm curious how my GIF imagery will be displayed for reasons of sizing, resolution, etc.

Sean: It will be halfway in between actually. We are using these little Compact Flash video players that were recently donated to us from the California Video show. I believe they are usually meant for playing looping advertisements on buses or in supermarkets or at gas stations. For our purposes, they will behave more or less like a DVD player, but we can drag and drop video files from a computer onto the CF card and play right away. I need to look at one to see the make and model to let you know about resolution, frame rate, preferred encoding, etc. But my impression is that it is similar to a DVD. I will follow up about this in the next couple of days.

Tom: Almost every show I've done lately involves a different way of translating or adapting the animated GIFs on my blog for display in public space, with a unique set of technical issues that changes the art in some way, requires workarounds, and potentially leads to new content (or disaster). I've never tried converting them to Flash--that would be a bitmap-to-vector transfer, which is somewhat like converting abacus to algebra, as I understand the formats from reading Marcin Ramocki's essay on them. (See http://www.tommoody.us/archives/2008/08/02/bitmap-catalog-a-response/)

Sean: Here is a quick FAQ for the players: [link -- player accepts .mpg files used in the DVD process to make MPEG 2 files, the DVD standard]

Tom: Thanks. Do you know what kind of monitors you will be using? Here's the problem. Animated GIFs look crisp and simple on a computer screen but the process of converting them to MPEG so they can be played on DVD players makes them mushier. I've been able to make the mush less noticeable by showing the converted GIFs on cathode ray (CRT) screens. It hides the anti-aliasing and artifacts and adds some additional visual "oomph." If you are using LCDs for the Distributed Gallery the compression of the GIFs will be more noticeable. Not a big deal, I just wanted to make you aware of it.

Sean: This is fine with me. I am actually a little less interested in purity of the images (or faithfulness to the original medium) than I am in what happens through the translation into something else. We['ve] talked a bit about how so much material from the "world" is translated into gifs, blogs, discussions, etc. Not so much yet about the reverse (although I think this comes through strongly in the work, as well as the 2D images that you post of your studio -- world back onto net). As it turns out, there will be 3 CRT screens and one fairly small LCD flatscreen. The flatscreen is necessary for fitting within the changing room or a tiny store, Ooga Booga. There really isn't much volume in there to accommodate a TV!

Tom: That's great to hear about the TVs. My concern with the presentation details isn't so much about faithfulness to the GIF. It's about wanting a good art experience as opposed to a half-baked one in the debased medium of "MPEG 2." My hope is that the unfamiliarity of a looping computer animation on a TV set in a non-art setting will be enough to make up for a loss of impact the images might suffer through multiple translations.

Sean: [Well,] I feel like this translation between mediums, contexts, situations, whatever, is an important part of your work. I asked you to do this show assuming that you would show moving images that refer to, if not belong on the Internet. I imagined your animated gifs on a television in an antiques shop, in the back hallway at a cafe. I'm actually curious how you feel about GIFs becoming a stranger in their own land - they were super common on the Internet just a few years ago, but now with YouTube and other ways of watching video, they're verging on obsolescence. Obviously there's a long history in art of aestheticizing the recently outmoded - how has it been working with something that is passing from ubiquitous to something of an oddity?

Tom: Verging on obsolescence? Au contraire, GIFs are flashing in the backgrounds of YouTube user pages and next to millions of chatboard screen names on the net. Animated GIFs are an integral part of many commercial web pages and they also have a large and devoted culture of makers and appreciators on the artist side. Sites such as http://gifanime.tumblr.com/, http://lalblog.tumblr.com/, Mike's Digital Pog Page, the aforementioned http://cpb.tumblr.com/ and Nasty Nets, are all recent sites that mix artist and non-artist made animations in GIF form. These are not net.artists pining for the old Web but essentially the next generation.

Again, quoting earlier writing: "Animated GIFs have evolved into a kind of ubiquitous 'mini-cinema,' entirely native to the personal computer and the World Wide Web. Almost anyone can make one and almost every browser will read them. In other words, no YouTube compression, no wait time, no subscriptions or proprietary formats to view, and they can be made in the most elementary and cheap imaging programs. They are the purest expression of the democratic web and along with JPEGs and PNGs comprise its most authentic visual language." (see http://www.artfagcity.com/2008/08/05/img-mgmt-psychotronic-gifs/)

Judging from my stats I have hundreds of thousands of GIF loads from my site every year; many of these are not from my blog but hotlinked from my directory. I did an art installation where I captured 60 different uses of one GIF from my site by people on the open Web: http://www.tommoody.us/panel-notes/

Sean: That installation looks fantastic!

"Mini-cinema" is interesting. It obviously evokes all the pre-cinematic display technologies from zoetropes to phenakistoscopes and praxiniscopes and a million other scopes and tropes. And they share a looping animation structure, as well as silence (which means sound, if added, comes from elsewhere). And if you bought a zoetrope back in the day, it wouldn't be hard to draw your own. But what do you mean by "native"? (Alexander Galloway often makes use of that word for protocol.)

I agree with you about the gifs being kind of ubiquitous - and I know you've spent a lot of time thinking about them - but what do you make of the shift in the web vernacular to Flash and CSS and PDF's from GIF's and HTML? Do you think GIFs have more staying power because they are kind of marginal (or ornamental, or peripheral, I'm not sure which is the best word here) parts of a web page?

(An aside, because I'm not sure: Isn't GIF a proprietary format? I remember banging my head against the monitor trying to create animated gifs from programs! I blamed it on Compuserve!)

Tom: Thanks for the kind words about the installation. The GIF patent lapsed a few years ago so they are now open source. There was once a controversy about them, outraged web pages, etc, but that's all over. By native I mean belonging to the web as opposed to the movie industry, books, music, TV, etc. The GIF evolved as a low res graphic format for web pages and they really have no other use. They have staying power, I believe, because every browser reads them with a minimum of fuss. If you are viewing pages with GIFs on an outdated workplace operating system it will not tell you that "additional software is required to view" or "ActiveX controls are disabled for this file"or "do you want to check for software updates?" as often happens with video or streaming media. Browsers just load them, promptly, and that's it. I realize this may not always be true, as the CSS and Adobe conspiracies make us all more dependent on paid designers and bloated retail software.

Regarding 'mini-cinema' and silent movies, I just learned that several of my GIFs will be screened (along with Olia Lialina's, Paul Slocum's, and some others') with a piano accompaniment for an event in Chicago. The music is described as "Italian futurist piano." I'd love to be there to see/hear it.

- tom moody

April 22nd, 2015 at 10:04 am

Posted in general

everything you know is wrong

Worth reading and thinking about: this post by Digby about a Der Spiegel article revealing the origins of the current Middle Eastern evil baddies of the moment. Seems that they aren't in fact Islamist fanatics but an intelligence operation planned by a former Saddam secret policeman, as a way of using the Syrian mess to regain lost Sunni territory in Iraq. If this is true (and Der Spiegel bases the article on a recently-unearthed cache of planning documents by said henchman) then much of the Fox News blather about Islam's inherent violence is turned upside down. As Der Spiegel describes it, this was a mixture of the "long con" and the thought control tactics of a secular military underground.

- tom moody

April 22nd, 2015 at 7:20 am

Posted in general

Germaine Greer's Town Hall speech (annotated) and the subsequent court case over rights

GG_500

The 1971 Town Hall panel where Germaine Greer gave the speech below was a stunt organized by Norman Mailer to capitalize on his bad-boy reputation with the nascent women's movement. He published "The Prisoner of Sex" in Harpers and the conceit of the panel was that he would duke it out verbally with four female antagonists. Kind of a polygamist version of the later Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King tennis match.

Despite the hokey premise, the "Town Hall" panelists took the subject matter seriously, and Greer's presence, voice, and arguments are electrifying (she is a great public speaker to this day). One inclined in 1971 to view the women's movement as strident might actually have been persuaded by the non-gendered tack of her rhetoric, which questioned the capitalist idea of winning, mocked Freud's view of the artist as a striving neurotic, and championed a self-effacing, collective art (a critique as relevant as ever in an era of rampant selfies taken for someone else's profit). Yet the noble hope of transcending Darwinism and ego had almost no correlation to real life, as we'll see below in a discussion of a court case over the rights to the panel's content.

Here is the speech again, with interruptions for commentary:

I'm afraid I'm going to talk in a very different way possibly than you expected. I do not represent any organization in this country and I dare say the most powerful representation I can make is of myself as a writer, for better or worse. I'm also a feminist and for me the significance of this moment is that I'm having to confront one of the most powerful figures in my own imagination, the being I think most privileged in male elitist society -- namely the masculine artist, the pinnacle of the masculine elite.
Bred as I have been and educated as I have been, most of my life has been most powerfully influenced by the culture for which he stands, so that I'm caught in a basic conflict between inculcated cultural values and my own deep conception of an injustice. Many professional literati ask me in triumphant tones, as you may have noticed, what happens to Mozart's sister?
However they ask me that question, it can have caused them as much anguish as it has caused me because I do not know the answer and I must find the answer. But every attempt I make to find that answer leads me to believe that perhaps what we accept as a creative artist in our society is more a killer than a creator, aiming his ego ahead of lesser talents, drawing the focus of all eyes to his achievements, being read now and by millions and paid in millions. One must ask oneself the question in our society, can any painting be worth the total yearly income of a thousand families?
And if we must answer that it is -- and the auction reports tell us so -- then I think we are forced to consider the possibility that the art on which we nourish ourselves is sapping our vitality and breaking our hearts.
But the problem is very deeply seated, as you can see. I'm agitated in this situation because of the concept I have of the importance of the artist, because of my own instinctive respect for him. Is it possible that the way of the masculine artist in our society is strewn with the husks of people worn out and dried out by his ego? Is it possible that all those that have fallen away -- all those competing egos -- were insufficiently masculine to stay the course?

In her essay "My Mailer Problem," published in Esquire shortly after the Town Hall panel, Greer brings this high-flown eloquence down to earth as a series of digs at Mailer. "More killer than creator" alludes to Mailer's "notion of the artist as a great general" (and possibly his pocket knife stabbing of his second wife, although Greer doesn't say it). "Read by millions" Greer translates after the fact as "How does that grab you, Superhack?" "Husks of people worn out" refers to Mailer's fourth wife Beverley, an actress.

I turn for some information to Freud, treating Freud's description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the artist's psyche in our society and not as in any way a metaphysical or eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who've had the misfortune to see it: "He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame and the love of women, but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications." As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile after all to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time was a severe check. The blandness of Freud's assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame and the love of men?
And all too soon it was very clear that the female artist's own achievements will disqualify her for the love of men, that no woman yet has been loved for her poetry. And we love men for their achievements all the time, what can this be? Can this be a natural order that wastes so much power, that frets a little girl's heart to pieces? I had no answers, except that I knew the argument was irreversible. And so I turned later to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it, and I found that it fell into two parts, that we were either low sloppy creatures or menials or we were goddesses. Or worst of all we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.

The goddesses/low sloppy creatures dichotomy is from Mailer's The Prisoner of Sex essay.

Sylvia Plath's greatest poetry was sometimes conceived while she was baking bread, she was such a perfectionist -- and ultimately such a fool. The trouble is of course that the role of the goddess -- the role of the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe -- exists in the fantasies of male artists and no woman can ever draw it to her heart for comfort. But the role of menial unfortunately is real and that she knows because she tastes it every day. So the barbaric yawp of utter adoration for the power and the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe is uttered at the expense of the particular living woman every time.
And because we can be neither one nor the other with any peace of mind, because we are unfortunately improper goddesses and unwilling menials, there is a battle waged between us. And after all in the description of this battle maybe I find the justification of my idea that the achievement of the male artistic ego is at my expense for I find that the battle is dearer to him than the peace would ever be. "The eternal battle with women both sharpens our resistance, develops our strength, enlarges the scope of our cultural achievements." So is the scope, after all, worth it? Again the same question, just as if we were talking of the income of a thousand families for a whole year.

Regarding the "eternal battle..." Greer said she read it aloud in her "quoting voice." Did Mailer actually say this? (Haven't found the quote yet.)

You see, I strongly suspect that when this revolution takes place, art will no longer be distinguished by its rarity, or its expense, or its inaccessibility, or the extraordinary way in which it is marketed, it will be the prerogative of all of us and we will do it as those artists did whom Freud understood not at all, the artists who made the Cathedral of Chartres or the mosaics of Byzantine, the artists who had no ego and no name.

As Greer was sitting down Mailer had a quick comeback to this last paragraph: "The sentiments were exquisite. But the means you offer, and in fact that Women's Liberation offers, to go from here to that point where we will be artists all, belongs to a species of social instrumentality that I call 'diaper Marxism.." In Esquire Greer replied "As an old anarchist I take that as a compliment. The infancy of Marxism is profoundly more relevant than anything since betrayed."

The Aftermath of the Panel

After the Town Hall event Greer and Mailer went to court over the rights to the panel's content. Greer is rather vague and arch about it in her Esquire article but here's what we can glean: The event took place under the banner of Theatre of Ideas, which had produced similar evenings of intellectual debate. Transcripts and other documentation were normally published by McGraw Hill. Mailer (or his agents) orchestrated the panel and convinced Theatre to give him the book rights (via New American Library) as well as film; Mailer hired D.A. Pennebaker to shoot it. Mailer planned a media campaign to promote the project, including an appearance on the David Susskind show with Greer.

Greer, meanwhile, had a BBC film crew shooting the event in connection with a "tour of America" she was doing to promote her career as a writer. Panelist Diana Trilling noted in her post-panel memoir (almost everyone involved published one of these) that prior to going onstage, Greer and Mailer posed together for the BBC holding up a copy of The Female Eunuch.

Mailer finessed the issue of monetary compensation for the panel's women participants, as Greer tells it, possibly through a one-time payment to Theatre of Ideas to be shared out among the panelists. Panelist Jill Johnston, in her post panel memoir, says she was never paid. The matter "passed into the hands of" McGraw-Hill's attorneys (Greer says they were representing her interests) and Mailer's projects were delayed. At the end of the Esquire article Greer says the film consisted of reels that "no one has any right to use."

Sometime after the Esquire piece, a settlement of the dispute over rights must have occurred. According to IMDb, filmmaker Chris Hegedus initiated Town Bloody Hall, the film, in the mid'70s, using Pennebaker's footage. The film's IMDb entry doesn't mention the suit and states that "the rushes were consigned to the filmmaker's vaults as unusable after their initial viewing." Town Bloody Hall was eventually released, in 1979. It's intriguing to consider how this bit of intellectual history would be viewed if Mailer had retained the final cut.

(For links to sources please see the previous post. In the 2013 Town Bloody Hall re-enactment event discussed there, moderator Stephanie Frank describes the Greer-Mailer legal wrangling as a "lawsuit" and we've been referring to it as a "court case." Further research would need to be done to see if an actual record exists in the New York courts; possibly the dispute never advanced beyond the stage of lawyers issuing demands.)

- tom moody

April 21st, 2015 at 7:13 am

Posted in general

Germaine Greer's "Town Hall" speech, 1971

as transcribed* from Town Bloody Hall, a 1979 film documenting a raucous panel in 1971, where Norman Mailer appeared with Greer and three other feminist speakers:

I'm afraid I'm going to talk in a very different way possibly than you expected. I do not represent any organization in this country and I dare say the most powerful representation I can make is of myself as a writer, for better or worse. I'm also a feminist and for me the significance of this moment is that I'm having to confront one of the most powerful figures in my own imagination, the being I think most privileged in male elitist society -- namely the masculine artist, the pinnacle of the masculine elite.
Bred as I have been and educated as I have been, most of my life has been most powerfully influenced by the culture for which he stands, so that I'm caught in a basic conflict between inculcated cultural values and my own deep conception of an injustice. Many professional literati ask me in triumphant tones, as you may have noticed, what happens to Mozart's sister?
However they ask me that question, it can have caused them as much anguish as it has caused me because I do not know the answer and I must find the answer. But every attempt I make to find that answer leads me to believe that perhaps what we accept as a creative artist in our society is more a killer than a creator, aiming his ego ahead of lesser talents, drawing the focus of all eyes to his achievements, being read now and by millions and paid in millions. One must ask oneself the question in our society, can any painting be worth the total yearly income of a thousand families?
And if we must answer that it is -- and the auction reports tell us so -- then I think we are forced to consider the possibility that the art on which we nourish ourselves is sapping our vitality and breaking our hearts.
But the problem is very deeply seated, as you can see. I'm agitated in this situation because of the concept I have of the importance of the artist, because of my own instinctive respect for him. Is it possible that the way of the masculine artist in our society is strewn with the husks of people worn out and dried out by his ego? Is it possible that all those that have fallen away -- all those competing egos -- were insufficiently masculine to stay the course?

I turn for some information to Freud, treating Freud's description of the artist as an ad hoc description of the artist's psyche in our society and not as in any way a metaphysical or eternal pronouncement about what art might mean. And what Freud said, of course, has irritated many artists who've had the misfortune to see it: "He longs to attain to honor, power, riches, fame and the love of women, but he lacks the means of achieving these gratifications." As an eccentric little girl who thought it might be worthwhile after all to be a poet, coming across these words for the first time was a severe check. The blandness of Freud's assumption that the artist was a man sent me back into myself to consider whether or not the proposition was reversible. Could a female artist be driven by the desire for riches, fame and the love of men?
And all too soon it was very clear that the female artist's own achievements will disqualify her for the love of men, that no woman yet has been loved for her poetry. And we love men for their achievements all the time, what can this be? Can this be a natural order that wastes so much power, that frets a little girl's heart to pieces? I had no answers, except that I knew the argument was irreversible. And so I turned later to the function of women vis-à-vis art as we know it, and I found that it fell into two parts, that we were either low sloppy creatures or menials or we were goddesses. Or worst of all we were meant to be both, which meant that we broke our hearts trying to keep our aprons clean.
Sylvia Plath's greatest poetry was sometimes conceived while she was baking bread, she was such a perfectionist -- and ultimately such a fool. The trouble is of course that the role of the goddess -- the role of the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe -- exists in the fantasies of male artists and no woman can ever draw it to her heart for comfort. But the role of menial unfortunately is real and that she knows because she tastes it every day. So the barbaric yawp of utter adoration for the power and the glory and the grandeur of the female in the universe is uttered at the expense of the particular living woman every time.
And because we can be neither one nor the other with any peace of mind, because we are unfortunately improper goddesses and unwilling menials, there is a battle waged between us. And after all in the description of this battle maybe I find the justification of my idea that the achievement of the male artistic ego is at my expense for I find that the battle is dearer to him than the peace would ever be. "The eternal battle with women both sharpens our resistance, develops our strength, enlarges the scope of our cultural achievements." So is the scope, after all, worth it? Again the same question, just as if we were talking of the income of a thousand families for a whole year.
You see, I strongly suspect that when this revolution takes place, art will no longer be distinguished by its rarity, or its expense, or its inaccessibility, or the extraordinary way in which it is marketed, it will be the prerogative of all of us and we will do it as those artists did whom Freud understood not at all, the artists who made the Cathedral of Chartres or the mosaics of Byzantine, the artists who had no ego and no name.

*Most of this transcription was done by Jessica Peri Chalmers in connection with the live reenactment of Town Bloody Hall that she organized at Columbia College Chicago last year. [YouTube] [transcripts and other documentation] I made a few editorial tweaks to the text and filled in several paragraphs that she removed for the reenactment, I assume in the interests of brevity.
The original Hegedus-Pennebaker film should be viewed in its entirety before watching the reenactment, since other redactions for brevity change the meaning slightly (Cynthia Ozick's question from the audience, for example, sounds much more intelligent in the original). Hegedus-Pennebaker are selling the DVD for sixty bucks and appear to be issuing takedown notices for full-length YouTubes. As of this writing the video is here (turning off the speech-to-text doggerel captions is also recommended).
In future posts we'll discuss Greer's speech and how it relates to current feminist writing in the net art context (it's much better). Also to be considered is a behind-the-scenes lawsuit Greer was involved in regarding the film rights, in the early '70s.

- tom moody

April 17th, 2015 at 9:17 am

Posted in general

the tower formerly known as freedom

Marco Rubio announced his presidential candidacy on April 13 and Naked Capitalism's Lambert Strether analyzes his speech for dog-whistle phrases, bipartisan shibboleths, equivocation, dead metaphors, "red meat for the base," and other factors. Rubio lost me with the first, inaccurate sentence:

I chose to make this announcement at the Freedom Tower because it is a symbol of our nation’s identity as the land of opportunity. And I am more confident than ever that despite our troubles, we have it within our power to make our time another American Century.

We don't call it the Freedom Tower anymore! I posted a comment to Strether's post:

April 15, 2015 at 12:48 pm
The building where Rubio made his announcement is called One World Trade Center. The “Freedom Tower” name that everyone used for years was dropped in 2009 after the building had failed to attract any tenants and the possibility loomed of a substantial lease with a Chinese real estate company. The Port Authority insisted there was no connection between the name change and prospective tenant fears of operating in a large, ostentatiously-named lightning rod for future terror attacks. The backpedaling quotes from civic leaders such as Mayor Bloomberg after the announcement were priceless. Possibly Rubio doesn’t read the New York newspapers.

See, for example, this Daily News story for more detail.
Here's what Mayor Bloomberg said:

"It's up to the Port Authority," he said. "I have no idea what the commercial aspects are, and we can say, 'Oh, we shouldn't worry about that,' but of course you have to, particularly now.

"I would like to see it stay the Freedom Tower, but it's their building, and they don't need me dumping on it. If they could rent the whole thing by changing the name, I guess they're going to do that, and they probably, from a responsible point of view, should. From a patriotic point of view, is it going to make any difference?"

There's freedom, the symbol Rubio used, and there's market freedom, which dictated the name change. Which is more valuable, as a concept?

- tom moody

April 15th, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Posted in general

particularly grim jim thompson quote

From his novel Pop. 1280:

I’d been in that house a hundred times, that one and a hundred others like it. But this was the first time I’d seen what they really were. Not homes, not places for people to live in, not nothin’. Just pine-board walls locking in the emptiness. No pictures, no books—nothing to look at or think about. Just the emptiness that was soakin’ in on me here.

And then suddenly it wasn’t here, it was everywhere, every place like this one. And suddenly the emptiness was filled with sound and sight, with all the sad terrible things that the emptiness had brought people to… Because that’s the emptiness thinkin’ and you’re already dead inside, and all you’ll do is spread the stink and the terror, the weepin’ and wailin’, the torture, the starvation, the shame of your deadness. Your emptiness.

via High Priest of the Godless

- tom moody

April 14th, 2015 at 11:27 am

Posted in general

interview re: surf clubs

A graduate student doing research about appropriation and authorship sent me some questions about the surf club era. She put the Q&A together into a nice interview [pdf] with illustrations and footnotes.

She felt the Surfing Club scene/period was difficult to grasp because:

(a) With the exception of VVORK, it was more an American phenomenon; “Old skool” net.art is actually more known and discussed in Europe (even today); (b) there is actually little literature available (Ramocki, Olson, Cloninger, Bewersdorf; I ended up reading all your blog entries from 2008 onwards, and chaotic discussions from the Rhizome archive of June 2008), and everybody seems to disagree on some general level and (c) With the meteoric rise of interest in Post Internet, it seems to me that Surfing Clubs have been forgotten.

In our back-and-forth discussion it became clear that current students are getting an, how can this be said diplomatically?, incorrect slant about the scene from later writers who weren't part of it, and welcomed a chance to put in (more of my) two cents.

- tom moody

April 13th, 2015 at 9:54 am

Posted in general

more on surf club revisionism

The following is an only slightly exaggerated version of online conversations I had about Tuesday's post follower privilege, access privilege, and other things to be bitter about. A couple of interrogators are combined here as "RASG" (recent art school graduate):

RASG: You made a good critique yesterday of the Brad Troemel/Jennifer Chan position on the so-called internet surf clubs of '06-'08. You say the clubs' primary attributes weren't exclusivity and a career vehicle for members.

TM: Right.

RASG: It's personal with you, isn't it? That really weakens your argument.

TM: I don't know them. I met Troemel once. My post was basically fact-checking what I consider wrong assumptions, since I was in one of the surf clubs (Nasty Nets) and those authors are viewing the clubs with what seems to be 20/20 incorrect hindsight.

RASG: Possibly your position inside one of the clubs blinds you to what recent art school graduates face, in terms of current options. For us, it's mainly Tumblr and Facebook and you are making fun of that. That's kind of well, arrogant and hypocritical.

TM: Privilege shaming is always a good rhetorical tactic but you're assuming I had some advantage that you currently don't have. If it was 2006 you could have started a group blog and built an audience. I believe you still could, just using search traffic, word of mouth, hyperlinks from respected sites, RSS, and even social media -- without actually situating your group blog on tumblr or FB.

RASG: Oh, yeah, sure, and that's going to just get archived on Rhizome, just like that.

TM: Well, Rhizome archived Nasty Nets, but then their conservator left, so it's a half-finished project. But assuming that NN is laureled to the extent you're saying, no, there is no guarantee that an interesting group blog is going to be recognized. You have to build an audience. That was true for NN as well.

RASG: (scoffs) You already had a career before you joined NN. You can't really talk.

TM: Again, you are privilege shaming. And no, it took years of being online, blogging, before anyone thought about inviting me to be in stuff.

RASG: But you had an art career before that.

TM: That exposure didn't carry over in 2001, when I started blogging. The art world wasn't following blogs. I basically had to start over.

RASG: OK, maybe, but it takes money and tech savvy to start a blog. You had a leg up that we don't have now.

TM: I started blogging on a site called Digital Media Tree. They were hosting a small collection of blogs (still are). The webmaster was very generous with time and skill but there was no gaming the system, a la Buzzfeed. All I did was sign up and start posting -- and built a "rep," such as it is, over time. You could do that, as well. Starting a group blog outside the social media continuum isn't that hard or expensive.

RASG: You are overly romantic. Your story sounds like every one of these startups that claim to have begun penniless.

TM: I like you, as well.

- tom moody

April 9th, 2015 at 7:56 am

Posted in general