Street Jizz

July 29, 2010  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

If you were lucky and in Kansas City last Friday night, you were watching a special screening of Boy, the first feature film produced by Cody Critcheloe and SSION.  I want to describe SSION as a sort of contemporary art factory in the Midwest with Critcheloe playing the Andy Warhol part; but in truth the atmosphere of this project feels far more collective, its content is profoundly collaborative.  I don’t have an insider’s knowledge of the process, but the appearance suggests that Critcheloe is directing a vast ensemble of talented artists who actively shape the piece, as actors, musicians, designers, performers, visual artists.

The obsession of Boy is celebrity. The way this obsession manifests contains a critique, but that critique is always an embrace. You know how the word “glamour” etymologically preserves notions of magic and enchantment? It’s as if the enchantment of fame and the limitless fun that’s part of fame’s pitch are privileged here over the gloomy and grungy music of the 1990’s which perhaps has been processed, finally. The self-loathing and abjection which marked grunge, the false modesty and myopic pain of shoegaze and emo, the part of punk that’s funless rage, the nihilistic nostalgia of contemporary prog indie: these are the forms antithetical to SSION’s devotion:  the bright light of everything good/nasty. Critcheloe’s totemic leather jacket has one big word written in white on the back: WHATEVER. And, sure, there’s some preserved stoical apathy in that “whatever,” but there also seems to be a promise of continuous anticipation for what’s coming next. Whatever it is.

By a sort of accident, I saw Boy and Purple Rain in the same 24 hour span. So it was hard to miss the crosstalk. Boy, like Purple Rain, is the tale of an artist overcoming the trials of Midwestern family life and realizing a personality whose power would have been impossible to forecast. A crucial difference between the two is that Purple Rain is finally a fanatical paean by Prince to his own genius which can only concede to the emblem of feminine art in the song (“Purple Rain” itself) after fully realizing itself in its individualist splendor. In Boy, the pilgrim’s progress to the echelons of cult celebrity are always marked by collaboration. Moreover, representations of power are frequently assumed by women and of course the spectral antihero of the film, The Woman.

Boy was playing at the Grand Arts Gallery in the Crossroads district of KC last fall. The big room of the gallery, in which the film was screened, was an installation: a screening room of abject excess, with punk-plush furniture and graffiti. Another room was populated with Polaroids from tours and shows, backstage and onstage. The project isn’t reducible to genre: SSION includes the feature film, the recording and touring band, the collective performance.

The effect of this embrace of forms is the collapse of conventional modes of apprehension.  Which is rather like devotion to any celebrity.  Think about Lindsay Lohan for instance. Lindsay’s work isn’t in the end singly her work as an actress, or recording artist, or model, or fashion designer, or drug addict, or mess. The sign “Lindsay Lohan” means all of that. SSION’s all that fun but less, I don’t know, pathetic. Spraying street jizz and calling bullshit. Or whatever.

1 Comment

  1. Suzanne Says:

    Puts me a bit in mind of the Cockettes and all the films we screened here a year or so back. Fayette Hauser’s Collection Rotation: http://blog.sfmoma.org/2009/11/collection-rotation14/

    and a youtube search: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cockettes&aq=f

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