Monday, December 10, 2012

Misery Connoisseur- Issue 1

I'm happy to be a contributor to Issue 1 of MISERY CONNOISSEUR~~ a new artists' publication that exists in glossy tactile print pages only. It is the brainchild of Betsy Lundquist, Rowena Harris, and Emma Hunt. Buy it and add it to your collection of amazing irreplaceable and wondrous things.

Launch party~~ December 14th at X Marks The Bøkship in London.

Misery Connoisseur collects the scrapings of a post-cynical generation and smears it on gloss 
- Richard Parry, The Hayward Gallery

MC is a bi-annual glossy magazine art publication that curates the visual and theoreticalartwork musings of up to 30 creative practitioners in print only.
MC Online showcases 30-second adverts video commissions from featured artists within the magazine. Skype becomes the template fictional toolbox to transmute the recorded image.
MC Live operates between the lines. The launch event provides a space to act out the private view. Leading up to each issue contributors to the magazine perform negotiate their work outside the confines of the printed page.
MC team – Rowena Harris, Michael Heilgemeir, Emma Hunt and Betsy Lundquist.
Advisory Board – Richard Parry, Malcolm Garrett, Justin Hammond.
Misery Connoisseur is supported by public funding from the Arts Council England

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beta-Local Newsletter/Old San Juan, Puerto Rico: Cricket is Boring



Cricket is boring. Of course. It takes forever, the pace is excruciating, and the only action happens when the batsman (man at bat) manages to propel a tiny white ball past the bowler (pitcher), and it lands somewhere in the outfield, allowing the batsman to score. But it was this sport, with men in puffy white sweater-vests running back and forth between little metal wickets stuck in the ground, that allowed the West Indies, and much of the Caribbean, to develop an absolute gesture of resistance against colonial rule, physically and psychologically. Trinidadian writer and Marxist theorist C.L.R. James, in his 1963 book Beyond A Boundary, considered by sport enthusiasts to be one of the greatest books ever written about sports, let alone cricket, and considered by artists and political theorists to be a treatise on the importance of symbolic re-appropriation, wrote about how exactly this sport developed into a political minefield:

I haven't the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games…The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honor. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles, which were charged with social significance.

By mastering and indeed outplaying the team of England, the country where cricket was born and which brought cricket to the West Indies through a bloody, degrading and domineering colonial history, the people of Trinidad and the West Indies were able to develop a sense of pride, purpose, and self-determination. When C.L.R. James first started playing cricket in 1920’s Trinidad, he was forced to navigate a British-imposed system that divided and selected teams by class, race, and, most specifically, by skin tone; how light or dark your skin color was put you in one of 128 divisions, or shades, of miscegenation. But by the 1970’s, as seen in the 2010 stellar documentary Fire In Babylon, the great West Indies cricket team was a multi-national Caribbean team that dominated the world of cricket well into the 1980’s, and effected the West Indies specifically with its close, intertwined relationship with music, politics, and identity. In 1984, the West Indian team beat England so severely on British soil, with a 5-0 series record, that the typical term for this phenomenon, a “Whitewash” of victory, became very proudly referred to as a “Blackwash.”

In Beyond A Boundary, James wrote about a specific batsman gesture in cricket, called the “cut,” that was emblematic of cricket as a political stance, as well as a fine art. Discussing C.L.R. James’ ideas about the significance of cutting, Benjamin Graves of Brown University (1998) wrote:

The point is that the shot, the “cut,” is deliberately difficult--a gesture of mastery that serves little if any practical purpose. To James, the "cut" signifies a belligerent affront to the exigencies of colonial rule--a stylization of emancipatory ambitions. To "play it safe" is unthinkable to James, who considered such play the "welfare state of mind"... In other words, what makes cricket such a vital political instrument to James is its aesthetics, and not, for instance, an emphasis on winning or losing.

The act of cutting takes cricket out of the realm of winning and losing and puts it in the domain of aesthetics. For James, cricket is not “like” art, but rather “is” art. And, as with many artists, the political significance of autonomy and creation is inherent. For the West Indies, an autonomous control over their sport, and their art, was tantamount to a battlefield victory. Cricket is boring. But victory over former colonial masters with a national sport and the support of your countrymen is certainly not.

So what, then, can be said is the national sport of Puerto Rico? Some Puertorriqueños say baseball, of course! But then some will tell you it’s definitely politics, which is an interesting position—a reversal of the metaphor, with the political atmosphere taking on the climate of an engorged, pulsating and raucous athletics stadium, rather than the other way around. And if it indeed is politics, what is the “cut”? What is that gesture of resistance, which situates politics into the realm of autonomy and aesthetics? Does it exist? Some people of Viejo San Juan, many of them young and strong, who shall not be named here, won’t vote. Period. They won’t feed into a system they say is “just the same two-and-sometimes-three-headed snake profiting from the people of Puerto Rico year after year after year, while we all struggle.” Of course, to choose not to vote in a political election is still a political choice. But it is a choice outside the designated system put forth in ballots, behind small curtains. It does not move the “game” forward in any practical way, and therefore is a symbolic, although powerful, gesture. In this way, to abstain from voting does sound synonymous with the “cut” of cricket. A gesture of empowerment, that has more to do with aesthetics and autonomy, rather than a score against the other team in this never-ending match.

Vernon Davis, a professional American football player for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, just had quite a season. During a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, he made a touchdown catch so miraculous, it was dubbed in NFL history forever as “The Grab.” Davis could be seen running to the sidelines overcome with tears and emotion, throwing his arms around his team’s father figure, Jim Harbaugh, almost falling if not for the strength and spine of his coach holding him up. I watched this clip over and over. I couldn’t believe, and was so moved by, the fact that this huge, manly, 28-year-old tight end was relieved to the point of tears by his own ability. And after his cry, he looked exhausted. Turns out, Vernon Davis was a Fine Art major in college. He grew up loving to paint portraits and still-lifes, but he had to hide it. As a young man growing up in inner city Washington D.C., he ended up stifling his interest in art because it wasn't the manly thing to do. According to Davis, “You either played sports or sold drugs.” Now that he’s a living legend and a role model, he runs a charity organization, the Davis Family Foundation, specifically geared towards inner city youth, to promote the arts in poorer and more neglected neighborhoods of the US. It encourages creativity and the fulfillment of a life in arts for young people who might otherwise feel embarrassed, if not for the financial and emotional backing of someone much bigger, stronger, manlier, and more powerful than them as well as the people who would judge them. That is Vernon Davis’ way of circumnavigating the system of his youth. That is his “cut.” His gesture of resistance. And his way, in a direct sense, of turning his athletic career and success into quite literally aesthetics—and, very powerfully, artistic encouragement.Beta Local, Old San Juan