Kelly McBride

A native of Southern California, Kelly McBride is earning her B.A. from Biola University, studying creative writing and taking art classes on the side. She likes mountains, animals, abstract expressionism, and thrift store shopping.

Noteworthy: Banksy’s Dismaland

Banksy’s Dismaland opened August 22. A pop-up art exhibition in the small English seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, Dismaland is a dingy, irreverent take on Walt’s theme park. Billed a “bemusement park”, its attractions are often amusing. The iconic symbol of Disneyland, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, is falling apart, and the Grim Reaper rides around on a bumper car. There is also one of those stands where artists draw guests’ portraits, only Dismaland’s portraits are all of the backs of heads.

Dismaland is a subversion of Disneyland, and Banksy points, like a good postmodern, to the artificiality and consumerism of society. A painting depicts a mother and child with sunscreen and beach gear, oblivious to the tsunami wave about to overtake them. Inside the castle, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach has crashed, the horses killed, her corpse hanging out the window. Paparazzi surround the wreckage and visitors are encouraged to take pictures in front of it. In Banksy’s Dismaland, consumerism blocks people from reality. Brendan O’Neil from Spiked describes Dismaland as a joke, and if it’s a joke, it’s the kind where there’s nothing much to do except keep laughing at yourself.

The guests taking photos of the wreckage are part of the consumerism, and Banksy is part of it as well. In his interview with The Guardian, Banksy describes his park as “A place where you can get your counterculture easily available over the counter. A theme park for the disenfranchised, with franchises available.” Dismaland comments on consumerism by being consumerist itself. Tickets are hard to get, spray paint is not allowed in the park, and the fake security guards at the gate are followed by the real guards they parody. According to Guardian reporter Jonathan Jones, the show is more photo opportunity than amusement park. Jones says, “It is just a media phenomenon, something that looks much better in photos than it feels to be here.” Banksy is using his show, which comments on consumerism by being consumerist, to further his own brand. Perhaps that is part of the point as well.

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But there is a richer kind of subversion than all these levels of irony that implicate the artist himself. Postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard (who also found Disneyland problematic) thinks everything artificial in a culture eventually overtakes reality until there is nothing real at all. If this is the case, then of course Banksy will be consumerist, and the best he can do is point out that his park, his park’s guests, and he himself are all irretrievably consumerist. But if we can escape consumerism, there is something lacking in Dismaland’s attractions. Jones, who experienced Dismaland as actually dismal and depressing, says, “In reality the crazy fairgrounds and dance tents at rock festivals are far more subversive – because they are joyous.” Joy is the real subversion, the real wild escape from consumerism. If there are still real, true things we can get to, then the most meaningful kind of subversion turns over everything in its way to reach them.

Noteworthy: Perfect Likeness

Perfect Likeness: Photography and Composition, a current exhibition at UCLA’s Hammer museum, explores the tension between art photography and commercial photography. As the description of the exhibition states,

“For most of its history, art photography has linked itself with the contingent, the found situation, the apparently accidental arrangement. Since the decline of the movement known as Pictorialism in the 1920s there has been consistent suspicion among serious photographers of images that are too beautiful, too ‘photogenic,’ too well composed—too perfect.

Perfect Likeness is a return to these “too perfect” images, exploring the rich potential of art photography that utilizes arranged or idealized compositions.

Thanksgiving 1984, Roe Ethridge (2009)

Thanksgiving 1984, Roe Ethridge (2009)

One of the exhibition’s “too perfect” images is a photo by Roe Ethridge, entitled Thanksgiving 1984. In it, a young woman in a bright yellow sweater, with beautiful, blank, blue eyes, sits behind a Thanksgiving dinner, luscious and shiny to the point of looking shellacked. Behind the woman hangs a Japanese tapestry.

The image, with the perfect model and perfect food, would look like an advertisement were it not so unsettling. Like commercial photography, it depicts something we think we want, but unlike commercial photography, asks us if we should even want it at all.

Hyperallergic describes one of the photos from the same series as Thanksgiving 1984, saying, “The dinner spread looks so glossy, like it was prepared to serve as the idea of Thanksgiving dinner and not something to actually be eaten.” Thanksgiving 1984 is more about the idea of a perfect Thanksgiving than what Thanksgiving is really like. Etheridge says in the description mounted beside the gallery photograph that Thanksgiving 1984 depicts a teenage boy’s ideal holiday guest. Etheridge himself was a teenager in 1984. But the photo, with the calmly appropriated tapestry, the abundance of food, and the impersonal, retouched woman, is not just the ideal of a teenage boy, but of a consumerist society.

The depiction of this ideal is unnerving, as many depictions of our desires may be. Thanksgiving looks even more artificial than much commercial photography. The shellacked food seems inedible; the woman doesn’t look us in the eye. Her expression doesn’t communicate much of anything. This “perfect” Thanksgiving is artificial to the point of being inhospitable. Thanksgiving is meant to be a holiday of hospitality, but transformed into a consumerist ideal, it is no longer an inviting place for others or for ourselves at all.

Perfect Likeness is open until September 13. More photos can be seen here.

 

Featured image:
Christopher Williams
Untitled (Study in Yellow and Green/East Berlin), Studio Thomas Borho, Düsseldorf, July 7th, 2012
2012. Inkjet print on cotton rag paper. 14 3/8 × 18 in. (36.5 × 45.7 cm). Private Collection; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London.

Noteworthy: Realise Minas Tirith

“Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost walls, shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver.”

For the equivalent of 2.9 billion US dollars, the shining city J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about in Return of the King could become a real-life city in southern England.  A group of British architects headed by Jonathan Wilson have started a crowdfunding campaign, “Realise Minas Tirith,” to build a fully-functional replica of the city that would be “not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

Wilson recognizes that his project is a long shot. Although the campaign has already raised an impressive $128,000, the project is still 0% funded with 39 days left. Wilson says, “this project is a light-hearted venture with virtually no chance of succeeding.”

Light-hearted or not, the desire to build a fantasy city, to make it real, is an interesting one. Many people have been so taken by the houses pictured in books or movies that they create replicas to live in themselves. But bringing fantasy worlds into our world robs them of much of their charm. In general these worlds are desirable because they seem better or more beautiful than our own, or because of the story they are a part of. Translated to planet Earth, Minas Tirith would still have all the everyday annoyances of our own world, and none of the world-saving quests of the other. It would still be our world, just a piece of Tolkien would be a part of it. Ultimately, we don’t want shining white cities; we want a better world, or a different grand story for it all.

 

And for all the orc-fans out there, there’s another crowdfunding campaign, “Destroy Minas Tirith,” so that you can stick the “fleshy humans” with “many pointy and shiny things.”

Noteworthy: Janet Echelman

A sculpture made of a hundred miles of rope netting floats above Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway. Artist Janet Echelman, who has created dozens of these massive, suspended sculptures, was first inspired by the nets of Indian fishermen. Her Boston sculpture, “As If It Were Already Here,” is composed of colored twine and lit at night.

Echelman’s sculptures are an experience of wind and sky in an urban environment. Describing in a TED Talk the first time she stood beneath her Porto, Portugal sculpture, Echelman says, “As I watched the wind’s choreography unfold, I felt sheltered and, at the same time, connected to limitless sky.”

This heightened awareness of wind and sky provide san invitation to wonder. Echelman describes the reaction of some of Phoenix’s inhabitants to her sculpture for the city.

An attorney in the office who’d never been interested in art, never visited the local art museum, dragged everyone she could from the building and got them outside to lie down underneath the sculpture. There they were in their business suits, laying in the grass, noticing the changing patterns of wind beside people they didn’t know, sharing the rediscovery of wonder.

The rediscovery of wonder is elemental to Echelman’s work. Looking at the fluid forms amidst geometric high-rises, is reminiscent of a scene in Terrence Malik’s The Tree of Life, where an enormous cloud of birds moves around the tops of skyscrapers. Like Echelman’s sculptures, the flowing form is not merely set against the architecture, but transforms an everyday sight. Scenes like this led to the film (sometimes negatively) being described as a prayer, but if it is a prayer, it addresses God through the wonder found in this world.

Echelman’s installations locate the transcendent experience of wonder securely in the everyday, confronting us as we commute or look out our office windows.  

Noteworthy: On James Tate

“And who // really cares about such special days, they / are not what we live for.” James Tate was an American poet and winner of the Pulitzer Prize who passed away on July 8th. He wasn’t interested in the once-in-a-lifetime “special” days, like the wedding referenced in this poem. Like many poets, he was after the mystery in the ordinary. “The challenge is always to find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit,” he said in his poem called “South End,” and in his interview with poet Charles Simic for The Paris Review. In his poems, the ultimate is often found by a transformation of the ordinary into the bizarre.

His poem, A Glowworm, a Lemur, and Some Women, begins,

A Glowworm drove by
on its way to a Philosophy Department meeting.
It was in a very large car,
and the radio was playing loudly.
Two nude women were praying at the stoplight.
A lemur hopped onto the hood
and asked directions to the nearest gorse bush.

Oddity and surprise marks this strange world. Tate creates a situation, or a set of characters, and then follows them to their conclusion. In The Paris Review, Tate says,

“The hardest work for me is creating the situation, this new reality. Once that’s done I can work within it, follow the implications. I take a step, I see what the new implications are, I take another step, I see what the next implications are—and I just proceed like that.

Humor lurks in these strange worlds. As the story of the glowworm, the lemur, and the women progresses, the familiar becomes odd, comical. In his poem, How the Pope is ChosenTate imagines the pope as a dog and describes him as a judge might describe a show dog.

But these humorous situations often become tragic or serious. Tate tells Simic that the comedic and tragic can’t be separated, and the one leads into the other in much of his work. After saying that the popes chew up crosses and have mouths covered in black flies, he ends the poem, “Eyebrows are a protection / when the pope must plunge through dense underbrush // in search of a sheep.” This image can go two different ways, either suggesting how the pope, is like Jesus the Good Shepherd, the good sheepdog, hoping to protect his flock, or it can suggest a more predatory one. Peering from the underbrush, the pope is a wild dog in search of prey.

Tate follows implications through to surprising conclusions, turning humor into critique and tragedy, mystery into revelation. 

Noteworthy: Freeways as Cathedrals

I grew up with the Southern California freeways. Coming back from a long trip and leaving the placeless airport, the freeways were always the first part of home I encountered. They are dirty and congested, but I always picture them white and lined with palm trees.

Los Angeles was formed around its roads and cars, both physically and culturally. The city grew up at the center of dirt trails, often made by the Spanish or Native Americans, that were covered by railroads and then freeways. The cultural influence of the automobile on the city includes the Los Angeles-based art movement called Finish Fetish. Characterized by vivid colors and highly polished surfaces, Finish Fetish employed the methods and technology of car customization in its art.

Christopher Knight, art critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article in 1984, “The Automotive Basilica,” about the freeways. He describes the freeways as Los Angeles’ version of a cathedral. Cathedrals can be considered public art not because they were the work of a single artist, but because they embody the values of an entire culture. Knight writes, “The freeway is a work of public art that has arisen out of a collective faith in the value of freedom to be independent, coupled with the corollary freedom to be alone.”

Cathedrals were once a place of communion for a whole city; freeways are where all of Los Angeles’ residents converge. Car travel is one of the few means of transportation that is usually solitary, and a daily commute might be the longest time of privacy and solitude a person experiences. This is a distinctly American form of solitude.

Freeways are less about being alone, and more about being independent, because they allow for mobility. Residents can cross huge distances every day, going where they want when they want. Even things as mundane as freeways reflect the values of the society that created them. We don’t just want mobility, we worship it.

 

Featured Image: The Harbor Freeway through Downtown L.A., 1964 in a photograph by “Dick” Whittington. No copyright.

Reconsidering a “Deathwork”

In his essay for Commentary, “How Art became Irrelevant,” Michael J. Lewis describes a shift in public perception of art. Previously, art was an integral part of the experience of a member of society.To some, contemporary art is seen as increasingly bizarre and having very little to do with the experience of the everyday person. Lewis describes some of this bizarre art saying that it “offered no coordinates from which society could navigate to find a higher purpose. Rather, it fulfilled the definition of what the late Philip Rieff called a ‘deathwork,’ a work of art that poses ‘an all-out assault upon something vital to the established culture.”

One of the works described as a deathwork is Ron Athey’s 4 Scenes in a Harsh Life. Athey’s work was taken as an attack on the basic values of the society that had pushed him out. In one of the 4 Scenes, called “The Human Printing Press,” Athey cut a pattern of lines and triangles onto a collaborator’s back, blotting the blood with towels and sending them out over the audience on a pulley. As John Killacky recounts in his essay for American Theater Magazine, the audience responded favorably to the performance, but the media did not. It was at the height of the AIDs epidemic, and the scene was described as buckets of AIDs-infected blood being slopped around the audience. In reality, blood did not drip from the towels, and while Athey was HIV positive, his collaborator was not. But the performance was considered so outrageous that it led to the trials that ended funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, to which Athey belonged.

But Athey was doing much more than merely trying to attack the values of mainstream culture. On her essay on 4 Scenes, “There Are Many Ways to Say Hallelujah,” Catherine Gund writes, “in the 1980s and 1990s, gay men were overdetermined in their role as stand-ins for a network of alarming but abstract signifiers.” Athey’s performance seeks to reclaim his body both from society’s determinations and from its own disease. Gund writes, “Ron’s is an art form that is the opposite of AIDS: it is a precise and controlled performance in the face of a disease that betrays and destroys the body.”

Part of the problem Athey was trying to remedy–and remedies suggest the higher purpose Lewis spoke of–was the exclusion of his own voice and agency by his disease and by society. Allen Ginsberg suggests something similar in his 1956 poem America. In it, he criticizes America for her war-mongering, paranoia, and self-obsession. He ends the poem, “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” It is precisely his own agency as an outsider that, to him,  is seen as a kind of resolution to the nation’s problems. Transgressive works like those by Athey or Ginsberg only appear to be deathworks, because society has refused them their perspectives. 

Noteworthy: Getting Someone to Care

“We have lost our ability to mourn,” artist Doris Salcedo said in The New York Times. Salcedo, a native of Bogota, Colombia, has spent much of her life researching the terrible crimes and mass murders committed in her own country and in others. Her work is meant to publicly mourn lives lost to these crimes. The largest American retrospective of Salcedo’s work to date opened in the Guggenheim Museum on June 26.

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda (detail), 2008–10. Wood, concrete, earth, and grass in 122 parts, dimensions variable. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda (detail), 2008–10. Wood, concrete, earth, and grass in 122 parts, dimensions variable. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

Her best-known work is what she calls “dysfunctional furniture.” Wardrobes, beds, and other pieces of furniture are fused together, their handles ripped off, their cavities filled with rebar and concrete. They physically evoke the weight of loss. Jason Farago writes for the Guardian, “Her furniture mash-ups bear the weight of history, so heavy they have been dumbstruck. They forcefully advertise their mass and their burden, but also their loss of functionality. They say nothing. They weigh a ton.”

Doris Salcedo Untitled, 2008 Wood, metal, and concrete 78 x 247 x 121 cm Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Doris Salcedo
Untitled, 2008
Wood, metal, and concrete
78 x 247 x 121 cm
Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

Salcedo is not just addressing a shared grief, as public mourners do. She is addressing a loss that we don’t feel enough, that oftentimes we have forgotten to care about. The pieces attempt help us mourn better, and sometimes to help us mourn these deaths at all. Her art has changed over the years from the ambiguity of concrete furniture to something closer to heavy-handedness.

A Flor de Piel is a room-sized shroud of stitched together rose petals, a memorial to a Colombian nurse who was tortured to death. Her newest, not-yet-begun project, is a memorial for children killed in different shootings. She envisions water droplets spelling out the children’s names. Farago writes that if the massacres in Colombia or in Connecticut school classrooms are not enough to focus our attention, then “something blunter is going to be necessary if you want to get someone to care.”

Getting someone to care, and getting someone to care in the right way, is a main point of Salcedo’s work. Perhaps certain communities have lost their ability to appropriately mourn lost lives because of how they view violence, the fascination sometimes accorded to gore or to atrocities. Removed of particulars in their abstraction, her “dysfunctional furniture” presents without simplistic shock value the terrible sorrow of something dismembered, of something whose purpose has been violated. By evoking this feeling, she helps us to feel and maybe feel as we should about these deaths. Her work is a dirge, and invites us to join in its sorrow.

Watch Salcedo talk about her work.

 

Noteworthy: Appropriation and Donald Featherstone’s Pink Flamingo

Donald Featherstone, creator of the iconic pink flamingo lawn ornament, died on June 22nd at the age of 79. Featherstone created numerous bird and animal sculptures throughout his career, but his flamingo lawn ornament took on a life of its own, becoming an icon of American kitsch and appropriated by numerous subcultures throughout its almost sixty-year history.

When it was first designed in 1957, the flamingo was not an icon of kitsch. As Jennifer Price recounts in her essay “The Plastic Pink Flamingo,” plastic was new and pink wasn’t tacky – appliances were “passion pink” or “sunset pink,” and Elvis bought a pink car. The flamingo was marketed primarily to working class families who could personalize their uniform suburban lawns with the decoration. Featherstone describes the appeal of his creation, saying: “A woman could pick up a flamingo at the store and come home with a piece of tropical elegance under her arm to change her humdrum house.”

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But the flamingo didn’t remain a symbol of elegance. Pink Flamingos was a film by John Waters about a 300-pound drag queen living in a trailer park trying to be the “filthiest person alive.” The flamingo became a symbol of gay culture, but the pink flamingo became equated with tackiness, and was picked up by middle class families who displayed the flamingos ironically. The irony was sometimes at the expense of the less cultured. Waters says that to “understand bad taste one has to have very good taste.” In the eighties, yuppies would push the boundaries of their affluent upbringings with symbols of low or pop culture, such as the flamingo. Price writes, “The crossing of boundaries remained a badge of identity, but it was now safer, and very often a matter of style.” Good taste was defined by knowing what to mock, the pink flamingo included.

This was a great departure from the pink flamingo Featherstone made to brighten the yards of hardworking housewives in the fifties. Price describes his creation’s history as baffling to him. People responded in a similar way to the matching handmade outfits he and his wife wore everyday without fail for 35 years. Nancy Featherstone tells the Guardian that people wanted to psychoanalyze the way they dressed and suggest dependency issues. “All it is,” she says, “is a positive reflection of the nature of our relationship. We’re a matched set.”

Price suggests that the power of the pink flamingo might reside in its unfinished nature, how it was less realistic than Featherstone’s other bird sculptures. Featherstone did not entirely finalize what the pink flamingo was, and perhaps this allowed it to suggest so many meanings for so many different groups of people. Whether clothes or flamingos, one never knows what your creation might end up meaning.

Noteworthy: Constellation at Bannerman Castle

This past Sunday, artist Melissa McGill’s new project, Constellation, appeared in the sky over the Bannerman castle ruin. The historied castle is located on an island in the Hudson River, and McGill has placed luminous globes on tall poles above the ruin, giving the effect of a new constellation in the night sky. After flickering on for the first time, the lights will remain on for two hours each night for the next two years.

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McGill is influenced by Land art, an art that is often ephemeral, as it is left for nature to take back or erode. Constellation suggests this ephemerality in the limits placed on its duration – two hours, two years.

But Constellation is also a project on the way things last, and the presence of the past with us. A book will be published in conjunction with the installation, and will include writings and poetry, some created especially for the project. One of the poems, “My God, It’s Full of Stars” by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, speaks of the connection of the past to our present lives, and the communion with others that is part of it. The poem’s third section begins, “Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone, / That the others have come and gone–a momentary blip– / When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic, / Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel / Nor see.” Smith suggests we are surrounded by the life of other galaxies, and the past of our own world. She ends the section with the presence of her father, writing “I might be sitting now beside my father / As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe / For the first time in the winter of 1959.”

Like Smith’s poem, the lights above Bannerman castle are a reminder that we are not alone and that the past is not just a “momentary blip.” The lights suggest the outline of the castle before it deteriorated, positioned where the top of the castle once stood. Also, the lights recall the belief of the Lanape Indians, (natives of the Hudson River area), in Opi Tamakan, or the Milky Way as the “White Road,” a road from this world to the spiritual one beyond. McGill’s Constellation presents us with both the past of the castle and the past of the area’s natives, and reminds us that the passing of time does not mean that we are isolated from what has come before.

For more images of “Constellation, ” check out the project’s Instagram feed.

Noteworthy: TREExOFFICE

Going to work in a tree house could be a reality for East London workers. Groundwork, a London-based charity organization, has just opened a new installation, TREExOFFICE, in Hackney’s Hoxton Square. The installation is a pop-up office pod, built around one of the park’s trees, and constructed of compressed paper, translucent plastic, and polycarbonate. Greenery is visible through the office’s transparent walls, and the pod is filled with natural light.

Groundwork has three main goals – improve open green spaces for public use, educate people and businesses to become more environmentally responsible, and help those furthest from the job market obtain education and jobs. The office pod in Hoxton Square is part of Groundwork’s larger initiative, Park Hack, which seeks to create better and more sustainable parks throughout London. Groundwork’s description of the project states, “London’s newest and most unique office space enables those who work here to both connect with and give back to nature.”

TREExOFFICE and Park Hack, while aimed at busy urbanites with office jobs, rightly connect care of humanity and care for nature. Wendell Berry, poet and environmental activist, writes, “the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility.” Wendell Berry and Park Hack remind us that caring for nature is a joy, not merely a way of caring for an abstract future or places we will never visit–our very humanity and nature’s well being are inextricably interwoven.

Noteworthy: The Future Library

Margaret Atwood just completed her latest work, Scribbler Moon, but neither you nor I will have the chance to read it. Contributing to artist Katie Paterson’s new project The Future Library, Atwood will be the first of a hundred writers – one every year – to contribute a work that will only be read in 2114.

Right now, a thousand trees are growing in Norway’s Nordmarka Forest as part of The Future Library. The trees will be tended until 2114, when they will be cut down and used to print an anthology of the works written for the project. Until then, the manuscripts will be kept in a specially designed room in the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo.

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The project is a hopeful one. Of all the changes the future will bring, some are sure to affect the way books will be read. The technology of physical books might not even be part of everyday life, and The Future Library is including a printing press with the manuscripts to ensure the anthology can actually be printed. Atwood even thinks a paleo-anthropologist might be needed to decipher parts of her text. She says to the Guardian:

“We’re also dealing with the morphing of language over time. Which words that we use today will be different, archaic, obsolete? Which new words will have entered the language? We don’t know what footnotes we will need. Will they have computers? Will they call them something else? What will they think smartphones are? Will that word still exist?

But the project assumes that intergenerational human connection will last. In a society full of dystopian visions of the future, Paterson’s project imagines that a future will exist, and that it will be inhabited by humans who care about art and the past. The project’s next contributor, Britain’s David Mitchell, tells the Guardian that The Future Library is “a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago.” The Future Library is a gift, but it is also an expression of belief.

Noteworthy: “Wasting Time on The Internet”

This spring, poet Kenneth Goldsmith has been teaching a class called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” Listed as a creative writing course at the University of Pennsylvania, the class has been a subject of contention since it was announced. Sitting in on a class session, journalist Katy Waldman described her experience for Slate.

Among other things, the class seems to be an experiment in the construction and perception of meaning. Meant to resuscitate the boredom-driven practice of Internet surfing, students were to use the ephemera of the Internet as writing material. Waldman writes that in concept the students would “go home and transform their Facebook reveries into poetry and memoir, like Walter Benjamin delicately descending from a hashish high in order to produce works of surreal and trancelike beauty.” This is an exciting idea, creating trancelike beauty from ephemera. As web surfing occupies more and more of our time, hoping to find meaning in the mindless is a compelling quest.

Goldsmith’s best-known works make use of ephemera in meaningful ways. “The Day”–his reappropriation of everything published in the New York Times on September 11, 2001–draws attention to how context influences the readings of words. Even weather reports become charged, menacing, within the context of the attacks.

But the students of “Wasting Time” haven’t created trancelike beauty yet. After seeing that no one was writing anything worthwhile, Goldsmith cut the class’ writing requirement. Instead, the class performs bizarre social experiments with their always-turned-on technology.  Students type a daisy chain poem with their arms linked. They text instructions to Goldsmith that he must perform. “Go to the business school. Skip down the stairs,” they write. There are hints of meaning everywhere, but the students mostly can’t articulate them.

What then is the meaning of all the time spent on the Internet?  For Goldsmith the answer seems to be the ephemera itself. He tells Waldman:

“What we create together is so much more exciting than any physical artifact we might take from it or produce afterward. Sometimes I don’t even remember what we’ve done that day—that’s how strange, how ephemeral it is.

Goldsmith is doing away with the privileging of production over presence, of achievement over the thing that doesn’t seem to get you anywhere. But this does not appear to satisfy the students. They still want to understand what has happened in a way they can talk about, and they want more than quirky performances using internet ephemera. Whether or not this desire is too production-focused, it seems that meaning doesn’t simply emerge through one’s immersion in the odd and endless internet.

 

 

Featured image is a screenshot of the internet portfolio of Ben DuVall artist, designer and cultural researcher.