Doug Ischar – Marginal Waters (art exhibit + catalogue)
Marginal Waters is a set of photographs, debuted in their entirety at Golden Gallery in Chicago, that document casual, amorous, and seductive exchanges between gay men in 1985 on Chicago’s Belmont Rocks (R.I.P.). Chicago-based artist Doug Ischar‘s stunning and provocative series, seamlessly weaves erotic, historical, nostalgic, and ethnographic modes of looking, while never betraying the sense of urgency and intimacy that was the crux of this temporal, now -defunct queer scene, as well as Ischar’s access and capture of it. Framed both by the city, and brilliant blues of water and sky, these scenes also relay the complex interplay between the urban and the natural, the mass-cultural and sub-cultural. The show was compiled into catalogue form with excellent contextualization from an essay by David Getsy, an interview with the artist, and a poetic response from Steve Reinke. Contact the gallery to get a copy (they are very reasonably priced!).
Jonathan Horowitz – And/Or @ P.S.1, New York (art exhibit)
New York-based artist Jonathan Horowitz‘s retrospective-ish show at P.S.1, proposes a new sense of irony - sincere in it’s contradictions, and accessed through personal and political emotion. Horowitz, as erudite in contemporaneity as any other pop cognoscenti, offers fragments of the complicated process by which sexual and political identities foment in this spectacular, celebrity-obsessed, late stage capitalist America we now call the everyday. Funhouse and horrorhouse, sobering and intoxicating, this show manages to somehow be about everything, while simultaneously allowing individual difference – as manifested through subjects ranging from disability, disease, left-wing and right-wing political stances, art historical figures, and most notably, queer identity – to pop and fizzle throughout the work.
Deborah Stratman – O’er The Land (feature film)
This beautifully shot experimental essay/documentary film magically transforms all the tropes of action films into a languid penetration of contemporary notions of freedom (individuality) and its underbelly (territorial violence and centralized systems of power)., disregarding narrative plot in favor of visual and aural meditations. Shot on color 16mm, Chicago-based filmmaker Deborah Stratman, takes us into various realms of mechanized violence: re-enactments of historical turmoil, organized sports, and patrolled borders. She interweaves these scenes with a constructed telling of Col. William Rankin’s survival through a 48,000 foot ejection from his fighter pilot - sans-pressure suit -amidst a massive thunderstorm that turbulently prolonged his elevation for 45 minutes (coincidentally, almost the length of the film). Despite its provocative subject matter, Stratman’s film is not the expected exercise in demagogic positioning, but rather an entry into the productive space of contradictions.
I’ll admit to a little self-promotion here, as I write a column for this online upstart, but I also happen to think the editors (Chris Pappas, Aay Preston-Myint and Joe Proulx) have put together quite an impressive cross-section of cultural production and criticism. The contributions range from drawings to music, but the main star here is the top-notch writing. Amidst the crisis of printed media, Monsters And Dust
manages to revitalize the ephemeral word (essays! short stories! news of the world! poetry!), while refusing nostalgia and and upping the ante for web-based media. Look for issue #2 in Feburary of 2010, and a tangible, paper version of the best of the magazine later in the year.
Shakira – “She Wolf” / Whitney Houston – “Million Dollar Bill”
What is not to love? These organic, nu-disco jams proclaimed the long-overdue death of auto-tune and overstated production. Both derivative and fresh, Whitney and Shakira make no apologies, looking backward and forward at the same time. If you want to create an instant sense of euphoric community on the dancefloor (at least if any queers or women are involved), bust out these jams and watch the hands go up and the sweat fly. Classic.
Yoko Ono & The Plastic Ono Band – Between My Head And The Sky (album)
At the age of 76, Yoko Ono revived/reclaimed her old band moniker, with a lineup that includes such vanguard Japanese musicians as Yuka Honda and Cornelius, and, of course, her son Sean Ono Lennon. This record truly feels like a family affair. Electronic, organic, loud and quiet, Ono proves her mastery at mapping psychological, emotional and political space and, perhaps most importantly, interjects her unique brand of Zen optimism into the stale political and musical milieu. This album doesn’t kill, it lives. Look for some (hopefully bangin’) remixes in 2010.
Taken By Trees – East of Eden (album)
Despite a really obnoxious and problematic National Geographic documentary on Taken By Trees’ latest output, East of Eden is a beautiful, cross-cultural pop record. TBT AKA Victoria Bergsman took a set of hook-y pop songs - including a lovely cover of Animal Collective’s “My Girls” – and her producer to Pakistan, partly due to her own obsession with Pakistani pop singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. She worked with a stellar group of local musicians there, and the resulting output is 9 songs that meditate on loss, desire and redemption – the very things that pop always tries to address, but through a reductive universality. East of Eden, instead, (successfully) vies for a generative space of difference, and the instrumental and vocal complexities that can arise from deceptively simple pop chord structures. This album feels familiar and strange, universal and local, open and intimate. Perfect for love lost or love found; the interiority of winter or lazing in the grass in the spring.
The possibility of justice, freedom and closure for the Uighurs unjustly held in Guantanamo Bay. (ongoing struggle)
The case of the Uyghurs (or Uighurs) held in Guantanamo Bay has not just been a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also revealed the dehumanizing realities of current geopolitics, with China and the U.S. sharing first-prize for biggest assholes. Despite the devastating reversal of a court order that would have freed the remaining Uighurs – who’ve been cleared of enemy combatant status like eons ago! - this year also presented several victories for these embattled Muslim migrant workers from China’s Xinjiang Province. Several of the men were released (ironically) to the island paradises of Bermuda and Palau (though still unable to be reunited with their families), and The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Kiyemba v. Obama (probably not until early 2010, however), which will determine whether or not the U.S. has a responsibility to provide asylum for wrongly detained international citizens who cannot return home safely (it is highly likely that if returned to their original homes in Northwest China, they would be persecuted). Read more about their case at the website for The Uyghur Human Rights Project, stay informed and continue to raise awareness. This is one of the most scandalous and unjustifiable violations of human rights enacted in our name, and 2010 presents us with the possibility of at least partially righting this incredible wrong. Stay active!
The possibility/probability of national healthcare for all. (ongoing struggle)
Despite all the weird Nazi fetishizing, racist mud-slinging, and individualistic BS, I think we (the fucking majority!!!) are gonna get this one in the end. Yes, perhaps the bill will be slightly weak or bastardized, but it will be a beginning. Just think of how much a nationalized healthcare system will help with other core social justice issues: the high costs of care for persons living with HIV/AIDS, the booming rates of teen pregnancy, discriminatory practices that deny same-sex partners coverage. Furthermore, offsetting the astronomical costs of healthcare (I still owe a hospital $500 for getting Penicillin because I couldn’t afford the walk-in rates to get treatment for my strep throat), will greatly contribute to expanding the accessibility of higher education for low-income families, greater job flexibility for the working classes as well as the potential to form unions without fear of losing your healthcare, the possibility of being a working artist, and the list goes on. I look forward to a healthier 2010, and never forget, those freaks in D.C. work for us!
Ssion/Cody Critcheloe – Boy (feature film)
Cody Critcheloe, the artist/musician behind the disco-punk group Ssion
has created a saturated sugarfest of pop pleasure. Boy
is a perpetual riff on Truth or Dare
, punk and queer subcultures, and affected nihilism. Yet, the film, as with Ssion’s music, is all about the possibility of collective pleasure and the performance of identity. Nothing is sacred, but nothing
isn’t the point, either. Rather, Critcheloe and his fantastically hot entourage, are all about carving out a space for the forgotten freaks of subcultural past and present. Don’t miss one of the most interesting dialectical moments of the year: the queer death drive confronting the punk death obsession.