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The Whitney 2006: through a glass darkly - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 09:07 am
The Whitney 2006: through a glass darkly

It's been hell to keep this secret for so long, but now the participating artist list has been announced I can shout it from the diagonal Marcel Breuer rooftop: I'll spend March to May of 2006 in New York City doing a daily art performance as part of the Whitney Biennial. Curators Philippe Vergne (an old friend of Toog's from Marseille, now at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis) and Chrissie Iles headhunted me for the Whitney when I was in New York this summer doing my story improvisation show with Mai Ueda, I'll Speak, You Sing.

When I went for a drink with Philippe at the tiny Angel's Share bar on Stuyvesant Street in July he asked if there was something I could do which related to my Stars Forever album, perhaps making tribute songs to the art on display. (There are other musicians in the 2006 show, people like Japanther, Spencer Sweeney, Jim O'Rourke and Daniel Johnston.) But I fine-tuned this into the idea of an "unreliable tour guide". The idea is that I'll be in the Whitney daily, making short guerilla interventions as a semi-official tour guide, delivering improbable information about the art in the show. The story improvisation element of I'll Speak, You Sing remains, but there'll also be a strong influence from Stars Forever because I'll be making somewhat Panglossian, 18th century-style tributes to the art, trying to find uplifting humanist messages in the things I describe.

The idea came to me after I saw elderly Jewish ladies tour guiding people around Takashi Murakami's "Little Boy" show at the Japan Centre, authoritatively imposing elevating humanist meanings onto images of Yoshitomo Nara's grumpy little girls and Mr's sex perverts. I also followed a tour around the Glasgow Museum of Contemporary Art this summer, fascinated by how subtly yet firmly the guide was disagreeing with her guests' interpretations of the collection and substituting her own.

As the New York Times reports, there are two firsts, two innovations in the 2006 Whitney show. Firstly, European artists will participate (it's always been billed as an American art show), and secondly there'll be a title and theme: "Day For Night", the English title of Francois Truffaut's 1973 film about film-making, La Nuit Américaine. Technically, la nuit Américaine is just the phrase the French use for the American technique of filming nocturnal scenes in daytime, with dimmed exposure and filters to make it look like night. But it also means "the American night", and the curators want to imply that the US under Bush is currently passing through a "long night of the soul" and has lost touch with the Enlightenment (itself, of course, European in inspiration). This is a show that will see the US "through a glass darkly".

"Through the curatorial lens of the Biennial," says Chrissie Iles, "'Day for Night' explores the artifice of American culture in what could be described as a pre-Enlightenment moment, in which culture is preoccupied with the irrational, the religious, the dark, the erotic, and the violent, filtered through a sense of flawed beauty.  This reflective, restless mood is not unique to the United States; its presence across both America and Europe suggests a shift in the accepted values that have formed the basis of 20th-century Western culture."

This is the context, then, in which I'll be playing a Tocquevillesque or Panglossian tour guide, a European whose attempts to bullshit the dark, irrational work on display into benign and elevating pabulum—somewhat in the manner of an 18th century poet eulogising his brutal, powerful patron—will only end up underscoring the darkness. Of course, things like this have been done before; the Chapman Brothers have ruthlessly undermined humanism in their work, and Andrea Fraser made a tour guide piece as part of the Institutional Critique school of the 80s. There was also a performance at the German pavilion of the Venice Biennale this year in which artist Tino Sehgal had the security guards jumping round chanting "This is so contemporary!" and discussing the meaning of the show with visitors (the ones who debated longest could get a three euro refund at the press office later).

But despite these overlaps and similarities in theme and technique, my three-month performance at the Whitney will be very much my own. It brings my New York experience full circle, because it has something in common with the webcast performances which were my pretext for moving to the city in 2000, when, at the invitation of Glenn Max of Knitactive, I performed a cabaret entitled Momus as the Earl Of Amiga Presents Electronics In The 18th Century. The Whitney performance will also overlap in theme with another interesting project I have for 2006: it looks as if I'll be writing a piece of longform fiction for a French publisher entitled "Lives of the Composers", a series of imaginary lives of musicians pitched somewhere between Calvino's Invisible Cities and Vasari's Lives of the Artists.

34CommentReply

twoheaded_boy
twoheaded_boy
Saelan
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 08:38 am (UTC)

Wow! Look at you, Star Forever. You're everywhere these days. A Momus for every medium and a Currie for every clique. Well done! These projects sound fascinating, and I look forward to hearing about them. I only hope they won't distract you from the new album...?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 08:39 am (UTC)

Well, Rusty Santos lives in New York, so it's the perfect opportunity for us to continue the work we've started in Berlin.


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sophiaalmaria
sophiaalmaria
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 09:39 am (UTC)

for conversation's sake, ain't there a thin line between mis/re/de-guiding your viewers and a glorified, well-executed prank?
leading them through the glass darkly into a space of clarity and fogging the bifocals of already half-blind?
to mince nervously behind an appropriately dressed, innappropriately commenting man.
inspired, novel, profound.



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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 09:44 am (UTC)

Thin lines are the best kind!


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sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 09:44 am (UTC)

For some reason I'm reminded of a visit of a retrospective of Monoha artists I went to in Osaka, where there was a group of Australian curators being shown round. One woman was somewhat thin, austere and controlled. The other was plump, brash and loud and (inadvertently?) used one of the pieces to support her herself while she took photos. Museum officials spluttered and gaped. Not that she appeared to notice. Perhaps you could similarly disturb visitors by casually affronting the artwork in various ways. Otherwise, congratulations!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 10:57 am (UTC)
Attending to Art

Did you see Tino Sehgal's work in the German pavillion at Venice this year? Gallery 'attendants' in one space danced around the visitors chanting "this is all so contemporary, contemporary...", in another space an 'attendant' would attempt to engage the visitor with an in depth conversation about the work.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 11:03 am (UTC)
Re: Attending to Art

Um, yes, I saw it. Twice. And I wrote about it in today's blog already! Scan up the page a few inches...


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armoredbaby
armoredbaby
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 01:37 pm (UTC)
And here we have....

I love the tour guide idea. Ahhh the Whitney. What's it up to now? $12...$15 for admission? They should include you going outside to act as the guide for the dealers in trinkets who man the tables on the street.


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henryperri
henryperri
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 01:40 pm (UTC)

congrats, Momus.

And a note for the curators: culture was just as obsessed with the dark, violent and erotic during the Clinton era.

Is it any surprised we have the culture we do when post-moderns celebrate and encourage the lowest and most base forms of it? Can we not attribute the 20th century's "shift in accepted values" to the liberal post-modern position of moral relativism, wherein good and bad behavior are treated as equals? I'm not fan of Bush, but their premise is embarassingly naive.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 01:52 pm (UTC)

culture was just as obsessed with the dark, violent and erotic during the Clinton era.

That's a big "just as", and it contains a lot of moral relativism for a man who claims to be rejecting moral relativism!


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jasongtokyo
jasongtokyo
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 01:45 pm (UTC)
The Boy's a Bit Special...

Congratulations! So you'll be there as Scottish Momus and Greek Momus, then?

Hope to see it all toward the end of May. By then you'll really have your character down.





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vinylboy20
vinylboy20
Rupert Pupkin
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 02:21 pm (UTC)

Fake tour guides? I am so there.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC)

congrats! can't wait to bother the "tour guide"! the book, also, is very interesting and exciting. go momus!


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cerulicante
cerulicante
cerulicante
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC)

But it also means "the American night", and the curators want to imply that the US under Bush is currently passing through a "long night of the soul" and has lost touch with the Enlightenment (itself, of course, European in inspiration). This is a show that will see the US "through a glass darkly".


It's pretty typical for America to catch heat from Europe for not being "Enlightened" enough to allow in milions of Muslims immigrants that draw welfare, do not assimilate and have their own courts that function outside the law. I guess if we were REALLY enlightened, we'd have riots like France, too.


*sigh* I guess I'll drive my non-flaming car around and not get hit by rocks or bottles and just wish I was as awesome as the French were...
I, for one, would love to meet a European who didn't get their political ideology from a bumper sticker or a headline from a yellow journal.


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aberranteyes
aberranteyes
I'm Mister Cellophane
Fri, Feb. 17th, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC)

It's pretty typical for America to catch heat from Europe for not being "Enlightened" enough to allow in milions of Muslims immigrants that draw welfare, do not assimilate and have their own courts that function outside the law.I guess if we were REALLY enlightened, we'd have riots like France, too.

You're so lucky I didn't see this comment two months ago. That was two whole months (and one half month) in which I wasn't developing a desire to vomit in your face the way you vomited in our host's journal.

I, for one, would love to meet a European who didn't get their political ideology from a bumper sticker or a headline from a yellow journal.

You misspelled "I, for one, would love to meet a member of the American right who didn't get all their information about the world from Fox News, Mallard Fillmore, the Moonie Washington Times or some other identical organ of the Republican/Dominionist noise machine; then again, people in Hell would love ice water." Hope this helps.


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blndsnnts
Christina Ǽthier M©Ni$hq
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 03:34 pm (UTC)

Now finally you'll write your book and not fuss over 'writing your life's work' or something. I hope it will be as multi-textural as your music. I'm excited to see how you translate into literary fiction. Lots of satire, I presume, and anachronisms or 'switches' in form present in songs like "My Kindly Friend the Censor" and "Everyone I've Slept With," etc. Your songs are very literary anyway.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC)

i'm your friend.


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC)

u are sweet, u know?


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bklyndispatch
bklyndispatch
in exile
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 04:58 pm (UTC)

Congratulations. I'll have to try and make one of your tours will they be scheduled or random?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 05:54 pm (UTC)

Dear Sir,

did you mean eulogizing?

lots of love,

Colonel Pedant (ret.),
Royal Tunbridge Wells


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Dec. 2nd, 2005 01:07 am (UTC)

Thank you, Colonel, have corrected!


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nicepimmelkarl
.
Thu, Dec. 1st, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)

i'm not with it right now, nickr. do u mind?


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