Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ernest Hemingway

Crossposted to these lovely people:
Kittysneezes and A Gathering of the Tribes
Since I have like three venues to publish it in, and I told Tao I needed a galley, I feel obliged to write a review of Tao Lin’s novel, Richard Yates. I don’t think I will ever read anything by Richard Yates. Reading Tao Lin has a way of erasing any literary knowledge one had. I eagerly anticipated this release after reading Eeeee Eee Eeee and Shoplifting from American Apparel. He sold shares in this novel to publish it and not have to work at a vegan restaurant while he was writing it.

Richard Yates

I feel not conscious enough of how I’m mimicking Tao Lin’s Style. Tao Lin’s Style is infectious and hypnotic. Writing about Tao Lin in Tao Lin’s style, as The Observer, or rather Christian Lorentzen, did, is hard to resist. I think the Observer was lazy. I approve of that laziness. Of course, as with Hemingway, another “bad” writer whose parody comes easy, and whom Tao Lin namechecks as much as Yates, and includes in the index, the style slips in anyway. While reading Tao Lin I find myself becoming much drier and flatter. I lose my obligation to feel strongly about anything, especially about how I feel about anything.

Tao Lin is indeed kind of a hipster writer. He’s easy to hate. I think when people say something is “polarizing” that thing often itself has an intense focus on neutrality. Tao Lin is one of the best examples of conveying flat affect and anhedonia as currently endemic and kind of pleasant. Some of the key phrases to use in a Tao Lin parody are “neutral facial expression” and “I feel neutral” and “said in Gmail Chat”. If you use these phrases you will be immediately parodying Tao Lin, and you don’t need anything else. Everything he writes is autobiography, or so it seems. Everything is exactly as it seems. It's just one damn thing after another but there are some interesting elisions and refillings of previous story that are perhaps occuring more in Richard Yates.

There are more changes in Richard Yates from his previous style. Someone must have commented on the names of his characters, like how obvious it is that the main character is always Tao Lin but named like Sam or something. So he named the Tao Lin character Haley Joel Osment and the teenage Jersey girl he met on the internet Dakota Fanning. The ages are about right but the great thing about it is you still can’t actually picture the actors as the characters. I now see “Haley Joel Osment” and that represents a Taiwanese-American hipster writer to me. I wonder whether any kind of defamation charges could be brought but it’s too obviously a stunt. I am willing to honestly believe Haley Joel Osment crossed state borders to statutory rape Dakota Fanning, who is variously self-destructive. I do because those are the characters. There’s really a lot of name-dropping in this, which brings up that issue of how much writers have to be literary historians, or just more culturally aware, or whatever.

I’m afraid that it’s almost a homage to the novel’s namesake that Richard Yates has a pretty clear structure and plot, and particularly that it’s about someone simultaneously epitomizing and feeling alienated from contemporary American society. The story is most of the arc of a codependent relationship. In case you don't know what that is, it's when someone stays romantically involved because they feel the other person needs them and the other person (who often has some compulsion or addiction the first person enables) does more of that to get more from the first person. Neither person involved is very good and both are very depressed. What I like about depression in Tao Lin is that it’s not necessarily pathological. Halfway through the book I totally thought he’d impregnated her.

At first it seems like he just emotional abuses her and then it turns out Dakota Fanning’s been secretly binging and purging. I don't think the "spoiler" concept is relevant here. “Haley Joel Osment” comes across as a total dick even though he does sort of know what to do. I like that Tao Lin does that with not-himself. I like the realism about this couple creating their own little world. I want to use the terms “party girl” and “cheese beast” and have someone understand them. I think Tao Lin is a party girl. I am a party girl. I think the worst party girls got into really intense relationships based on mutual social anxiety when they were 22. It’s easy to say the attitude is immature and neurotic, and I want to shrug that off as harmless and ubiquitous, but the impact on “Dakota Fanning” makes it actually more morally conscious than a parody of Tao Lin. But “Shoplifting” already kind of had that underlying moral message. I think a lot of the couple’s professions of need actually sound kind of weird to me because I feel like every time I’ve said anything like that it was very very self-aware.

I don’t know. A lot of what they, and Tao Lin, do say is self-aware, but so dry that there’s no difference. I always feel like the manuscript was written with a lot less capitalization and punctuation, so it’s gone through that transformation already. Tao Lin definitely is being about neutrality in representation as a direction with an impossible goal. That’s too figurative for a Tao Lin parody. I don’t want to tell you what to do with these books but I do think Tao Lin is important to be able to parody.

I wanted to include some quotes from the book but it lost all the highlights I put in before about 2/3 of the way through and I didn’t want to be biased.

Anyway, I guess I like him because he’s familiar. He steals from places near the place where I work, but doesn’t mention stealing from us, which I appreciate. We have a similar social anxiety and detachment, and have our most emotionally intense experiences through internet chatting. He makes me think “I could do that” but this review was my chance to and I don’t think I could, or want to, and neither could that Observer guy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


September 4-30
Opening Reception September 4 8-10 pm
285 E 3rd St. #2
New York, NY 10009

Curatorial statement by Janet Bruesselbach

“A free society is one in which it is safe to be unpopular.” –Adlai Stevenson

Unpop has a variety of playful reactions to both art as commodity and the legacy of pop art. Art is a commodity so oversupplied that it may be the testing grounds for a post-scarcity economy. Its economy of attention is particularly independent from its capital economy. No artist avoids status anxiety from the judgments of polymarkets, and it often seems the only ideology defining art remains anti-Capitalism, despite pop art’s ubiquitous ironic recombination of fine and commercial art.

The “problem” of existing in a market, one particularly labor-saturated, occupies context-conscious artists worldwide. While we often acknowledge that good art is not necessarily sold art, some of the best commercially-overlooked work is anything but anti- or a- commercial. Duplicating the structures, and becoming part of, the system one is critiquing, is conspicuous, but not the only means of critique. Nor is critique ever a simple argumentative stance.

I would not be surprised if there were not already consumption artists: individuals who self-consciously defined a particular pattern and choice of spending as an art form. We could easily say that any consumer is an artist, ironically or not. While defining art has become entertainingly open-ended, fitting some unpop work into the context of gallery exhibition was unexpected - particularly Chavez and Pocker. Chavez's videos were byproducts of his struggle to market other artwork, while Pocker's photos document hyper-attentive shopping (consumption artistry) and are more jokes or marketing tools themselves.

Sam Pocker, "Fashion Freeze"

Everything in the marketplace is simultaneously buyer and seller. Sam Pocker, Jenny Bhatt, and Lauren Hoffen deal most directly with consumer identity. The freedom a consumer has is to defy neoliberal economics with their irrationality, and not necessarily succumb to the cultural pressure to not be a sucker. Art buyers most intend to defy homo economicus as a type. At the same time, considering art buying as a form of charity, done more because the artist needs money than because the artist did work, enables neoliberalism, as this essay by Yasmin Nair explains.

The peculiar irony of UnPop is that A Gathering of the Tribes, its natal location, as of September 2010, is a nearly broke non-profit, non-commercial, arts organization run out of an old blind guy’s apartment. Traditionally, this is an opportunity to exhibit the kind of work that fronts at freedom from the constraints of marketability. But the competition for grant money in this part-socialized, part-privatized alternative to a capitalist-style marketplace for art, has tightened in the recession. As of the dispossessed among nonprofits, the venue avoids insipid "art for arts sake" and leans toward the dangers of demanding free labor for political reasons that Nair takes apart so well.

Contemporary pop art rules the market because it is self-consciously and self-righteously a commodity. They are artists who refuse to pretend the very obliviousness to their worth that collectors value. In Unpop, we show that spaces peripheral to the art market are all the more market-obsessed. The more money one has the more one can afford not to think about it, so to display reticence toward naming or discussing prices of art objects, or arguments for "pricelessness" (that is, worthlessness) can conventionally be interpreted as anti-radical, siding with the owners. Naturally the politics are more complex than that, and stigma shouldn't be placed either way, but to avoid discussing money out of anxiety or enmity may as well be reverence, especially when one is, reasons aside, unpopular.

Jenny Bhatt, "Reverence Mandala"

Status anxiety extends to the transitional attention economy. Too easily can we both say and hear the myths connecting fame to money and vice versa: that success is just who you know, that art and politics and business and so on are all popularity contests, that self-promotion is most if not all that matters. Such simplifications are both true and devalue the complex interplay of measures of value. Ubiquitous cynicism generates its own measures of worth as art entertainingly becomes social - or a-, or anti-social. Run through your supply of prefixes.

There is as much conceptual beauty to be found in examining our resistance to the pressure to socialize as there is in flattening the dynamic and generating the image of popularity. And popularity is just that: not an actual measure of who knows whom or what, but a self-perpetuating infectious meme, a variable assigned but not necessarily related to anything else. In a cultural turn perhaps not inherently recent, popularity can be a label more detrimental than not. Unpopularity, while feared in acknowledgement of a society that will likely never be perfectly free, can be beneficial as a label – if only in the modern, very NYC phenomenon of Indie Cred.

Many visual styles have come to be called pop, or post-pop, or pop surreal, and so on, all functioning with a specific kind of irony that differentiates between commerciality and anti-commerciality by fulfilling both simultaneously. Unpop involves artists who either use pop tropes or engage commodification in non-dialectical ways. The advertising-inspired aesthetic of high-saturation solid colors, forms simplified to communicate, and assumed exuberant optimism, still pervade. But they are always tempered by something that undermines pop art historically, or doesn't necessarily shape itself to the demands of as many people as possible.

Jenny Bhatt has sent paintings from India that fuse cartoon Western popism with the well-established philosophical conversation of Hindu Buddhist mythology, featuring a cast of conceptual deities in consumerist narratives. She makes interactive work and comic strips at her site
Washington Chavez went to every gallery in New York City asking them to look at his paintings, and filmed all of it. The result is a queasy litany of rejection, the dying profession of door-to-door salesman multiplied by the eternal buyer’s market of art, emotional sadomasochism intensified by raw documentary recording.
Rita Alves’s anamorphic installation paintings are more engaged with the national politics of U.S. human rights violations than directly with consumer politics. The use of funhouse optics to undistort image evidence of atrocities questions the tension artists feel between the obligations to be both sensitizing activists and entertainers. It makes the whole commodity issue look selfish.
Lauren Hoffen paints commercial parodies that literalize ironic double-speak through blacklight-sensitive paint.
James Mercer assembles ephemeral cardboard and paint installations (as well as digital and ink drawings) resembling video game levels. They are idiosyncratic, generative rewarders of attention from Millenial observers trained by extremely creative-labor-intensive products.

Static page for UNPOP