Music

"i'll be your mirror"

Installation, 2013. Artspace Pop-Up, Raleigh, NC. Light, paint, vinyl lettering, vintage photographs and integrated sound. Dimensions variable.

This work explores the fitting room as a private, yet other-oriented, space where identity is often in flux. Lou Reed's lyric, “reflect what you are/in case you don’t know,” functions as both a suggestion and a question. Reversed text leads the viewer to read into the illusory space of the reflection. A series of found photographs from the portfolio of a fashion model evoke the presence of another, and the act of representing. The room responds to a visitor’s entrance, as vanity lights flicker on and textural echoes of a melody fill the space.

The song "I'll Be Your Mirror" points inevitably to Warhol, the Factory and the oft-fraught nexus of self/other, interior/surface, and celebrity psychodrama. Originally released in 1967 as the B-side of the single, "All Tomorrow's Parties," the song is, in a sense, a reflection of that A-side’s concern with an other-oriented construction of identity. In this installation, the song’s deconstructed melody haunts the viewer. The fitting room becomes an intimate space in which one might consider the relationship of appearance to identity, and consider the reflection as a potential locus of strength and possibility. 

Thoughts on the Practice

(This post originally appeared on the Art21 blog.) 

I spent yesterday with two of my oldest friends. At ten, Ben and Neill came over. We’d cleared our schedules to hang and create material for A WeavexxYuxtapongo. Weavexxis the operational name of a thirteen or fourteen year-old improv music project we began in Ben’s parents‘ basement on weekends and summers off during college. The model for the Weavexx jam was always Can — the persistent Kraut rhythm provided the ground on which we’d build wacky, heinous, uncanny rock spectacles for our own expansion and enjoyment (and ultimate commitment to Maxell audiotape]. We don’t meet often to play music together anymore, but the principle still holds: spontaneous, creatively-centered interaction and collaboration for hilarity and poignance.

Yuxtapongois Neill’s monthly cable-access show devoted to experimental video, broadcast in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham, North Carolina. (More on the show and project of Yuxtapongo in future posts.) Though the program has an expanding international cast of contributing artists, Neill produces much of the content each month. Collaboration and spontaneity oil the chassis. Yesterday’s shoot and editing session was a pretty brilliant example of what this kind of work scenario can be: maudlin, exhilarating, stupid, fraught, hysterical, mundane, sublime and finally, somehow, completely satisfying. Starting from nothing, we called it quits with three finished pieces of totally different video, interpolations of experience documented and remade into something I’m going to go ahead and call art.

Figuring out that the things we did in our parents’ basements qualify and stand as records of creative, intentional engagement with the world is a pretty big deal. For me at least, these unstructured, oblique, contraproductive projects were always for their own sake, manifesting zones of transcendence wherein I didn‘t have to correspond to any reflective or higher-order processes or considered decisions or plans. The immediate was the grail. The realization that I seek these spaces as part of a practice has been parcel of my fundamental appraisal of my life as an artist, which is relatively young in title even as I begin my thirty-fourth year. Practice, of course, connotes mindful intent and skillful engagement in a particular scenario. As I move forward, I look to these signposts to indicate where I might find rich ways to meet the world.

"Radios Appear" now online.

Radios Appear, my collaboration with Miles Holst, is now available to view in its entirety online. (The video ran in the Block2 space on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh for two months during the summer of 2010.)

A few words about the piece: In 1959 Charles Mingus recorded a composition called Fables of Faubus for Columbia Records, to be included on his album Mingus Ah Um. Like most of his recordings, it was an instrumental track. But this composition was originally written with lyrics, and Mingus would record a version with accompanying vocals for Candid Records a year or so later. The piece is a rather brazen send-up of Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas, who in 1959 sent in the National Guard to prevent nine black students from integrating Little Rock Central High.

Mingus’s lyrics in Fables of Faubus take on the utter ridiculousness of segregationist attitudes at the height of the civil rights era. His approach to confronting the bitter atmosphere of the times was to take a sideways swipe at the obliviousness of those on the wrong side of the debate. Without being didactic, he struck a blow at the heart of the issue in a way only an artist can.

As I worked on Radios Appear, this idea was an inspiration. I asked a local group of musicians to arrange and perform a take on Mingus‘ composition, and built the visual elements of the piece to evoke the atmosphere of the fable of the tortoise and the hare, where the right and good path ultimately prevails over the hasty rush towards a shortsighted goal. Explicitly, Radios Appear is a commentary on the utter ridiculousness of the current Wake County School Board majority here in Raleigh, who in 2010 are working to reverse decades of progress by dismantling our nationally-acclaimed diversity policy. (See the Raleigh Gawker for comprehensive commentary on the matter. A letter to the editor I published on the matter in the News and Observer is here.)

This debate is certain to rage on… I felt I could not let slide the opportunity to speak on the matter through my piece at Block2 this summer.

(Special props to Crowmeat Bob Pence, who assembled a crack team of musicians for a really rad take on Fables of Faubus. The band included Crowmeat Bob, Dave Menestres, Mike Isenberg, and Jon Hubbard. The audio is taken from their version of Mingus' composition, with permission of his estate, and from Yohimbe's American Bologna, recorded especially for Miles' contribution to this piece.)