Tonight in the Wattis! – Paul Clipson presents THE ELEMENTS

Tonight @ 7 p.m., Paul Clipson presents an extensive show of his work in Super-8 and 16mm in SFMOMA’s Phyllis Wattis Theater:

Images from an untitled film by Paul Clipson

In previous posts I’ve waxed eloquent thusly:

“Experimental filmmaker Paul Clipson, who modifies the Dionysian-Romantic vision and cinematic practice of Stan Brakhage and Bruce Baillie by a remote, Apollonian, graphically powerful precision, has been making Super-8 works with various musical collaborators for several years, over which time he’s built up a massive body of work …  (Clipson’s is a) formidable aesthetic project … From the depths of his hidden lair, this latter-day Fantômas seeks to convert audiences to a cult of orgasmic beauty, in which mind, eyes, body, and soul are united in ecstatic trance … Clipson is one of the major filmmakers working today.”

One might ask why I haven’t prevailed upon myself to come up with fresh wax — but really, glance at the accompanying images and you’ll know the answer to this question: what proper response to Paul’s films is there other than awe?

This will be the first time the Wattis Theater head projectionist puts on a show devoted to his work on his own turf. He’ll be ably aided by his frequent musical collaborators, including a live performance by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Portraits. Come see the Minotaur at the center of his labyrinth! Expect complete synesthetic-cinécstasy!

UNION by Paul Clipson

UNION by Paul Clipson

Observation on observation

The Berkeley Center for New Media and Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice recently hosted a gallery walk-through with some of the artists featured in Worth Ryder Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Knowledge Hacking, described as a project that “invites artists to use the university research environment as raw material for their work.” While many of the issues raised by this collaboration between BCNM and WRAG’s curator Anuradha Vikram deserve serious exploration, I want to mention here just one exchange that occurred during the panel following the artists’/curator’s walk-through.

Oakland artists Yvette Molina and Sarah Filley were among the three groups chosen to “collaborate” with Berkeley researchers in the production of an artwork. Molina and Filley describe their project, Wonderarium, as “a public art proposal to enchant and reinvigorate our romance with nature at the heart of Oakland’s urban jewel: Lake Merritt.” While the main component of this project is to place a large, floating, spherical terrarium on Lake Merritt, another component of the Wonderarium is their Mobile Plant Ambassador, which they describe as follows:

[It was] developed to take plants “on the road” … [providing the] novel experience of building a terrarium directly from the cart. All supplies (glass containers, pumice, soil, and a variety of plant cuttings) are arranged by drawer in the order needed to make their very own terrarium. As participants express their personal creativity in four easy steps, they are also investigating themes of micro-systems and climates — a mini ecology class!

During the panel discussion, Molina stated that when they send the public home with a biodegradable, plantable Dixie-cup sample succulent, or with a mini-terrarium from the Plant Ambassador, they tell the new plant owner to think of the plant or terrarium as a “science project.” My hackles went up. My arm shot off my torso: “Why,” I asked from the audience, “when you are making the explicit choice to call Wonderarium an art project, do you contextualize this plant as an object of science rather than an object of art?” Framing the newly adopted succulent(s) with this language encourages close observation, Molina explained. I persisted. “But if your purpose in developing this project is to USE art as a seductive tool for the appreciation of nature, what do you gain by then calling your handouts ‘science projects’? And how does it really benefit art, as a discipline, a worthy pursuit, a form of research and reverie, when you teach your public that a practice of observation should be considered science? To my mind, you perpetuate a spurious and unproductive binary by doing so.”

As an artist, I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the panel table, having to field comments that are really statements disguised as questions. As a member of the audience, I was dismayed by what I perceived as the naiveté of Wonderarium, but also excited by finding a useful term with which to discuss the convergences and divergences of scientific and artistic practices. Observation. Within scientific practice, observational is counterposed with experimental study. In film-video history, an observational documentary is counterposed with something that might be thought of as more expressively, or rhetorically driven. Observation strikes me as a term one encounters rarely in the discourse around contemporary avant-garde visual art practices, and yet it’s not so far from the terms one sees more often. Artists experiment, strategize, deploy, examine, investigate, cultivate, work across platforms, mobilize, negotiate, interrogate, intervene, engage, etc. Even when they aren’t using those terms themselves, more often than not, the curators, historians, and critics producing discourse around and from visual art are using this language. I’m sure I am teaching my students to use it, and now I am glad to be asking myself why.

In Search of Christopher Maclaine 2: The THE END Tour – A Work in Progress 1

This is the second in a multipart series unofficially conjoined to the publication of Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, and the accompanying film series currently being presented by the Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco Cinematheque (in partnership with SFMOMA). Tonight’s show at the PFA features a semi-rare screening of Christopher Maclaine’s THE END, the exciting appearance of David Meltzer, and an incredibly rare visit by Wilder Bentley II, who in 1953 played PAUL, the 4th of THE END’s 5 major characters.

With my friend Brian Darr, proprietor of the great Bay Area cinephilia blog Hell on Frisco Bay, I’ve been scouting out the San Francisco locations used in Christopher Maclaine’s first (and arguably greatest) masterpiece, THE END. The results of this quest will be revealed over the next many weeks, starting with the very post you are currently reading. What began as an attempt to identify and document what physically remains of the places at which THE END was shot, has, however, evolved into a larger project to also analyze the film and its long-term covert cultural impact, and to identify all its many actors and extras (all of whom appear uncredited). At the beginning of our research, only two of the actors’ names were known to us, including that of Christopher Maclaine himself. After much searching, we were finally able to make contact with the other, and still very much extant, identified member of the cast, Wilder Bentley II (also known variously as Wilder Bentley the Younger, and Wilder Bentley, Jr.), who identified several of  THE END’s other cast members for us. Still, many of the film’s personages remain elusive. As THE END was made circa 1953, and much of its cast was in their 20s, it’s quite likely that many more are still with us, could be identified, and could themselves participate in the unearthing of further details. This is very much a project, therefore, on which YOU, dear reader, could have an impact, but BEWARE — although the numbers belonging to the cult of THE END are quite low, those for whom it strikes a chord have often found themselves obsessed. You, too, could find yourself devoting countless hours to exploring its minutiae, and contemplating its subtleties and genius… For me, this time has been infinitely rewarding, and I urge everyone in the Bay Area arts community, and elsewhere, to join in. I will credit anyone who is able to contribute (if so desired), and will update these posts as soon as new info is confirmed. The Tour, of necessity, supplies a digest of the film’s narrative (including many stills from its color and b&w images, and quotations from Maclaine’s voice-over narration on its soundtrack), as well as functioning as a critical and archeological project, but by all means acquaint yourself with the work itself! A poor video copy of the first 10 of THE END’s 35 minutes is viewable via this YouTube, and a superb video transfer of the entire film is available as part of the fantastic 2-DVD Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947–1986 set. Those who want to see the REAL THING but aren’t able to make tonight’s show can rent a print from the Filmmaker’s Cooperative (currently only 72 bucks! my God, what a steal!). Readers wishing further information regarding Maclaine may check out the intro to this series. But enough for now — let the Tour commence! …

NEW FEATURE: a Youtube of THE END‘s opening sequence is viewable here.


We make our way into THE END’s labyrinth via a rundown of many of its significant shots, beginning with the first of the film proper. The sound of an (oncoming?) speeding train has accompanied the film’s brief credits, and continues over shot #1:

1) A stock-footage (still?) image: the mushroom cloud of an exploded nuclear bomb.

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Zoopraxology

The first comprehensive exhibition of the work of Eadweard Muybridge, protean genius of early photography, is coming to SFMOMA next February. It will arrive by way of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington and now Tate Britain, where I caught the show a day or two after it opened earlier this month. Tate Britain in Pimlico is the original Tate Gallery, now dedicated to housing and displaying “British” art (the “modern” and international collection having moved across the river to the refunctioned Southwark power station). The British claim to Muybridge is presumably staked on the accident of “Edward Muggeridge’s” birth in Kingston upon Thames in 1830, a few miles up river from the Tate. At the end of “Muygridge’s” life in the American West, the pioneering photographer returned to England, and “Maybridge’s” remains now lie in Woking cemetery, a mock-Tudor stockbroker suburb southwest of London.

The exhibition’s bland title, Helios: Eadweard Muybridge in a Time of Change, conceals strange objects — the uncanny locomotion studies, the gorgeous Victorian kinematic projector Muybridge dubbed a “zoopraxiscope,” the material traces of his various personas (“Helios” of the Flying Studio, among several) forging a life on the Pacific frontier as book dealer, inventor, murderer, director of the Bank of Turkey, washing-machine patentee, landscape photographer, entrepreneur, war artist, publisher, state propagandist, and pioneer of the frozen and the moving image. He was a man of enormous energies and physicality, charged with a volatile egomania that was perhaps the effect of brain damage; his cortex seems to have been severed in a stagecoach accident in Texas.

The exhibition will give a second wind to Rebecca Solnit’s biography Motion Studies: Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge, currently the essential source contextualizing his life and work. The Helios show is sure to give fresh impetus to Muybridge scholarship; indeed, already the Corcoran exhibition, curated by Philip Brookman, has triggered a debate over the authenticity of a considerable number of Muybridge photographs. Weston Naef, the recently retired Getty curator and champion of Carleton Watkins, has suggested that many Muybridge stereograms, as well as some of the Yosemite half-plates and mammoth-plate photographs up to about 1872, should be reattributed to Watkins. [See the interview with Naef, and Brookman’s response.] Solnit has now moved to Muybridge’s defense in the pages of the Guardian, arguing that Naef’s attempted hatchet job on Muybridge’s reputation in favor of Watkins is a campaign of innuendo based on “little evidence other than Naef’s standing in the photographic world.”

The possible misattribution of this or that photograph on display will be of less interest than the issues raised by the incontrovertible evidence of doctored negatives, which turns out to have been a completely routine matter for pioneers of the craft. The doctoring was often in several stages — for example, we see a photograph of a painting of a photograph of a horse and rider, with various pastings and touch-ups along the way, all with the aim of an adequate final product, that is, a publishable book plate. Likewise, in the case of landscapes, for perfectly practical reasons, Muybridge and his contemporaries — Carleton Watkins among them — would often cobble together two separate negatives of sky and foreground, each with different exposures, because wet plate technology using collodion on glass produced overexposed and bleached skies.

These manipulations and technical fudgings were, you might say, “innocent” artifacts of the mid-Victorian limitations of plate sensitivity and shutter technology. On the other hand, they do seem problematic in the case of the famous equine gait photographs commissioned by the railway baron and horse breeder Leland Stanford. Muybridge was employed specifically to achieve images that would adjudicate whether all four legs of a trotting horse were ever in the air at the same time, using the camera as scientific arbiter of truth. The early results were desperately ambiguous, and of course, photography’s relation to the real remains a profoundly vexed question.

The Muybridge collection is one of the glories of the visual archives at Stanford. The other is the vast and magnificent deposit of political posters at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace (albeit gathered with counter-revolution in mind). In my days teaching science and technology studies at Stanford, I offered a course entitled “Tools of Persuasion” on the history of propaganda and its mediating apparatus — the printing press, the camera, radio, TV, the billboard, the poster, etc. In general one can say that the powerful prefer one-way systems of communication, the megaphone rather than the telephone, although it is true that today’s apparatchiks have learned to permit, even insist upon, homeopathic doses of feedback and “interactivity” (read: enhanced passivity) via the call-in, the 3×5 card (“Questions only, please!”), the focus group, the … blog. The role of photography in the history of propaganda is very complex, but presumably the reason why the new ubiquity of the phone-camera — facilitating photography from below, subveillance as it were — is proving awkward for the masters of the planet has something to do with the idea of the camera as a tool of counter-propaganda, if not a truth machine.

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In Search of Christopher Maclaine 1: Man, Artist, Legend

This is the first of a multipart series unofficially conjoined to the publication of Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, and the accompanying film series currently being presented by the Pacific Film Archive and the San Francisco Cinematheque (in partnership with SFMOMA).  This Wednesday evening’s show at the PFA features a semi-rare screening of Christopher Maclaine’s THE END , the exciting appearance of David Meltzer, and a super-rare visit by Wilder Bentley II, who in 1953 played Paul, the 4th of THE END’s 5 major characters. For those who wish to get a taste of what this is all about, a poor video copy of the first 10 of THE END’s 35 minutes is viewable via this YouTube.

Christopher Maclaine in THE END (1953)

The human psyche has been formed by evolution to view history through mirroring twin, but oppositional, prisms: the drive to accept the commonly understood pantheon of key players whose actions define a given area of human endeavor, and the desire to subvert received wisdom and tease out the “goods,” the “true story” of what was “really goin’ on.” Our poor little brains can only handle so much in their efforts to make sense of it all, and yet (or rather consequently), there’s always the sense that there are hidden truths, and a deeper reality kept just out of view … There is, of course, a long tradition of uncovering “Secret History”; my own understanding of such matters was fostered by Greil Marcus’s now 20-year-old Lipstick Traces, a book whose ongoing cult has helped to render its disparate subjects and theme of oppositional culture very much part of “official” history.

I encountered my own White Rabbit secret history in 1986, on a road trip with some friends with whom I was involved in putting together an organization that later that year would receive its official moniker, the Austin Film Society. We’d traveled to Rice University in Houston to see Bresson’s rare LANCELOT DU LAC, and to attend a show of Stan Brakhage films presented by the great experimental film maestro himself. I’d previously been made aware of Brakhage via his tirades against my beloved commercial cinema in various film journals, and so expected a raging monster. Instead, we met with a charming bearded wizard, who seemed, if not to know all, then at least a good chunk of it. We instantly fell under his spell. Going up to talk with him after the screening, we were generously invited to his class the next afternoon.

Still from footage of Christopher Maclaine shot by Dion Vigne, 1957–1960, film. From Pacific Film Archive, permission Loreon Vigne.

The few hours we spent in Brakhage’s classroom was one of the seminal experiences of my youth. First there was Brakhage himself — when I later encountered C. G. Jung’s writings on the Wise Old Man archetype, Brakhage immediately sprang to mind. Faced with a bevy of resentful young postmod/punk student twits fueled by Oedipal animus and drunk with consciousness of the “brilliance” that had gotten them into Rice, Brakhage parried their hostile questions with the grace and inner harmony of the Aikido master, bringing them to understand his own pre-postmod classical/romantic/modernist perspective. Then there were the films he showed from his collection, none of which I’d seen. Chief among these new discoveries were two, THE END (1953) and SCOTCH HOP (1959), by a filmmaker from my native San Francisco of whom I’d never heard, Christopher Maclaine. I was struck with wonder by THE END’s first 10 minutes and their entwinement of absurdism and the ecstatic, and then an incident happened within the film (which I’ll let you experience for yourselves) that caused me to have my own version of what Brakhage much later described as his response to THE END’s world premiere (at none other than SFMOMA): “I mean … the top of my head was coming off!”

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Event Report: OS Thursday 9.23

I’m going to try to commission event reports for each of the Open Space Thursdays discussions — first up is a report on last Thursday’s “Bay Area art writing” conversation, from writer and artist Ariel Goldberg. If you were there — or not — responses much welcome and encouraged.

 

Getting Away with Language

True Story: earlier this month, I was at the ticket inspection stairs of SFMOMA when my pen got the hairy eyeball. I’m sorry, we’re pencil only. A security guard later offered me a pencil when I tried to use the ink.

Then Open Space Thursdays was born as a blog-comes-to-life event. Suzanne Stein introduced the invited conversationalists, and Dominic Willsdon proposed topics of discussion. As we sat with refreshments in stationary orbits of couches and chairs, our purpose was to discuss the interpretive language a museum may produce; art criticism as language of evaluation; and writing that exists alongside, while not about, visual art.

The evening proceeded like a polite dinner conversation. The vibe was moderated by common-interest strangers, mentors and students, bosses and coworkers, potential dates and acquaintances, all plopped into a dreamscape of restaurant tables turning to each other sans cacophony or eavesdropping.

Perhaps because it was the first Open Space Thursdays discussion, speakers articulated their opinions on the purpose of this blog. So replace Tupperware party with dictionary party. And replace virtual with physical so that a group poses in front of a mirror. This blog as an “atrium” or “archive record” were definitions that elicited head-nodding. And there was applause for the personification of Open Space evading a brand because it invites a rotating set of outside columnists who are granted great liberty.

What about arts writing in The Bay Area at large? Patricia Maloney, editor of Art Practical, another local arts-writing website, wants to bring a sort of “rigor” back to writing. To assure Maloney, Meg Shiffler announced that she prints out Art Practical articles. Dominic Willsdon steered the conversation back to etymology about what rigor really is, and questions about how arts writing may or may not be responsible for generating rigorous thinking, especially in the landscape of online reading. Maloney responded that Art Practical strives for “a platform divorced from the personal.” And then the murmur: Is that possible, when The Bay Area Art World is small and there’s not much $$ … When the economy depends on the social, are people being too nice?

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JOE DEAL (1947-2010)

Joe Deal, Untitled View (Boulder City), 1974; George Eastman House collections; © Joe Deal

[from SFMOMA Assistant Curator of Photography Erin O’Toole]

The June 18 death of Joe Deal was a deep blow felt throughout the photography world. A widely respected and much loved artist and educator, Deal will be sorely missed by his former students, fellow photographers, and legion of friends in the community.

Although I never had the opportunity to meet Deal, I have long been an admirer of his work, particularly the photographs he made in Southern California in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Perhaps the fact that I grew up in Los Angeles in that same period makes me somehow predisposed to appreciate Deal’s work, but whatever the reason, I find the stark geometry of his photographs to be deeply, almost viscerally satisfying. As a small gesture to honor his passing I am posting some of my favorite of his photographs from SFMOMA’s collection. Each showcases the artist’s mastery of the challenging square format, his acute sense of design, and his lifelong interest in the Western landscape.

The photograph above is one of a selection of Deal’s early work, featured in our current exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (through October 3).

The exhibition is a restaging of a 1975 show Deal was integral in shaping — he designed the original catalogue, devised the title, and assisted the curator, William Jenkins, with the exhibition’s conceptualization. Considered a seminal event in the history of photography, New Topographics brought together the work of nine photographers who shared a radical new approach to landscape.

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Patricia Maloney on Nicola Tyson’s Red Self-Portrait

For almost two years we’ve been running a regular “One on One” series of posts, featuring curators or SFMOMA staff on a single work of art from our collection. Beginning today, the column will feature artists, writers, poets, curators, and others, from around the country, responding in any manner they like on a work of their choosing. It’s a distinct pleasure to begin this new iteration of the series with a post from Patricia Maloney, editor in chief of Art Practical.

Nicola Tyson, Red Self-Portrait, 1996; Collection SFMOMA; © Nicola Tyson

On September 11, 2001, I was walking down 6th Avenue and had reached 34th Street when the North Tower collapsed. The gigantic plume of smoke rising from the building was in my direct line of vision the entire time, but I have no memory of that moment. Nearly every other minute of that day is clearly delineated in my mind, but when I reach for that one, I arrive at standing at a dead stop in the middle of 6th Avenue, staring at the man next to me, who turns to me and says blankly, “The Tower fell.” I turn and look past him, at the Empire State Building, to wait for it to fall as well. It remains standing. The building across the street also remains standing. I am not sure why. There is a mushroom cloud rising in the distance in front of us. I need to keep walking. We have to get out of the city. Later that evening, I watch the building fall over and over on television, and it doesn’t jar the memory. It is gone.

That is what I think about when I look at Nicola Tyson’s oil and charcoal Red Self-Portrait (which, it is important to note, is from 1996, and, therefore, I am attributing some prescient mirroring magic to this painting to suit my own psyche). My memory of my lack of memory gets triggered because the figure is a morphing, tenuous form on the verge of dissolution into a sea of red. It concretizes Freud’s death drive; the impulse for self-preservation seems to be missing.

According to Freud, the conscious mind contains no memory trace; it is buffered against the constant onslaught of stimuli. Where that process fails, a shock is turned into a moment that is lived again and again, without comprehension or resolution. By this logic, I am well buffered, although I have a tendency to feel displaced, even after nine years. Living outside of New York puts a different spin on the events of that day. It was not because of the attacks that we landed here in California. My husband, Smitty, was offered a job, and we moved. It was good to come to a place where uncertainty is built into the day-to-day. Here, we expect buildings to evaporate behind the fog and for the ground to shift beneath our feet.

In New York, I worked at the Museum of Modern Art. Not the current building, which opened after I moved to California — and is still, despite repeat visits, a foreign place to me — but its prior incarnation. That was the museum I knew since my childhood, and the familiarity that I developed with some of the works in the permanent collection depended in part on where they were hung there. Now when I go to MoMA, I feel like my parents have moved to an enormous new house, and while I recognize the furniture, none of the rooms are familiar.

For three years, in addition to my role in the International Program, I worked with the Education Department, leading programs for children, their parents, and teachers. Matisse’s The Red Studio was a stalwart favorite. I spent a lot of time standing in front of it, asking the students sitting on the floor about what they saw. The things they focused on became very familiar: the creeping plant with its lollipop leaves curling around the small statue; the large, pink painting of a nude propped in a corner; the bronze and marble or plaster sculptures facing each other, as if in conversation. Invariably, the children would come to the conclusion that the room is a self-portrait of the artist, full of his favorite things and paintings. They naturally made the assumption that Matisse loved that color red, because of the way it absorbs everything. The objects — the clock, the dresser, the chair, the stools, and the edge of the wall — lose their weight and form. They become part of a continuous plane, distinguished only by yellow or blue outlines.

Tyson’s figure similarly hovers on the point of absorption. One wing-like arm, and part of her torso, is white, but most of her midriff is absent, a void through which the red penetrates.

She looks down, into herself. There is something both childlike and withdrawn about her downcast gaze, completely self-contained and unaware, resisting our awareness of her loss. She has no hands. Her arms and torso are like the bent prongs of a fork, resting on the flat plate that is her pelvis. The leg on which she balances is almost sheer; the other shrivels into a fragile, deflated balloon. She is young and old at once. Her breasts sag against her chest and the top of her head is a bald dome.

In Matisse’s studio, a grandfather clock stands in the center of the composition; it has no hands. Time does not exist there, just as Tyson’s figure will not be dislodged from floating, mid-skip, arms outstretched, one leg slightly raised. The following gesture, the one in which all the weight that is barely held aloft might come crashing down, doesn’t occur. She will not touch the ground. It is strangely reassuring.

Patricia Maloney is the editor in chief of the online journal Art Practical; a contributing writer to Artforum.com; and a frequent commentator on the weekly contemporary art podcast Bad at Sports. Maloney has received writing residencies from the Philadelphia Art Hotel and the Lannan Foundation, and holds her M.A. in theory and history of contemporary art from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Notable Scatalogical Quotations on the Occasion of the (almost) 50th Anniversary of Manzoni’s Can

Manzoni canned shit (1961)

Ofili Madonna

“Somehow it makes the painting feel more relaxed, instead of being pinned upon the wall like it’s being crucified … [The painting can] stand in its own shit and watch the other paintings being crucified on the wall.” — Chris Ofili

“The Triumph of Shit,” a screed against most contemporary art, by Donald Kuspit includes the memorable lines: “To paint is to stick the extra finger of the physical paintbrush up one’s psychic anus, forcing one’s body ego to excrete a painting,” and, “The artist has become an unreflective asshole, and art has been dumbed down (already in Pop art) to mindless shit, that most leveling and un-ideal of all substances.”

The notorious Belgian artist Wim Delvoye had one of the first one-person shows I organized at Yerba Buena. Most of the work shown was commissioned by him to be made by craftsmen in Indonesia and elsewhere because, he claimed, only the residents of former Dutch colonies retained the skills learned from the colonizers. He showed one floor installation that appeared to be photographic images of decorative delft-style tiles, though the motifs were brown, rather than blue, on white. Looked at closely, the curving patterns revealed themselves to actually be formed by pictures of large turds. “It was the only thing in the show that I actually made myself,” he claimed. [Delvoye later topped himself by building a machine that made simulated shit, called Cloaca. He had a renowned New York chef pour an expensive meal in one end and the next day the machine delivered.]

I once invited the curator Bob McDonald to a class I was teaching at San Francisco State to talk about careers in the arts. At one point he said, “My advice to you is that if you have any other option, do not enter this field, because if you do you will have a life of abuse and betrayal. However, if you absolutely must enter this field, be prepared to eat a lot of shit. The only thing I can tell you is to do your best to make sure that the shit is wrapped in bills of the largest possible denomination.”

My late friend Jim Pomeroy read a manifesto for the first national convention of artist-run spaces in 1978. He ran down a long list of philosophical distinctions between these spaces and other arts institutions (e.g., artists are central to the structure of the governing body vs. have no artists on the board of directors). He concluded with, “Museums have attractive, separate restrooms for men and women. Artist spaces often have bathrooms.”

The Brain in her Arms: Octopus in Space

Our host for next week’s Open Space Thursdays conversation event is artist Jessica Tully. She’s invited cephalopod expert Richard Ross and author and environmentalist Adam Werbach to join us in a participatory parlor game, as we consider the possible civic implications of the myths and metaphors surrounding the otherworldly octopus. 7 p.m. on the second floor, free with museum admission. Come!

Jessica Tully: Octopus in Space

Jean Painlevé, Les amours de la pieuvre (Love Life of the Octopus) 1965, 13 min. (still: click image to watch a clip from the film)

• What are the civic implications of shape-shifting?

• What is the connection between fluidity and flexibility when confronted by conflict?

• If human arms were able to simultaneously smell, touch, and taste, how would that change personal relationships? How would that change community organizing?

• Is decentralized leadership necessarily progressive?

In 1928, French marine biologist and filmmaker Jean Painlevé, an anarchist with strong surrealist tendencies, made a black-and-white silent film called The Octopus. It is one of the earliest known films featuring the terrestrial locomotion and life cycle of a cephalopod. Painlevé also developed a prototype of the underwater camera, predating Jacques Cousteau’s underwater film innovations by two decades. Painlevé made psycho-sexual science films with mass appeal. His work scandalized both the French science and cinematic canons of the day. His early silent films showed the reproduction and respiration of cephalopods and sea urchins in mesmerizing detail. With the advent of sound, Painlevé’s experimental music pairings anthropomorphized sea horses, octopuses, and bats, revealing his deep poetic love for gender equality and other radical ideas. [Click image at top to watch a short clip from The Love Life of the Octopus.]

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From the Archive

Reissues

Several times a year we reissue a suite of articles from the archive, which is rich, deep, and various.

75 Reasons to Live

Organized by Suzanne Stein + Dominic Willsdon

Remember the end of Manhattan, when Woody Allen asks himself what makes life worth living? (“Groucho Marx, Willie Mays… Swedish movies…those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne…”) In celebration of SFMOMA’s 75th anniversary in January 2010, Dominic Willsdon & Suzanne Stein invited 75 people from the Bay Area creative community to give extremely short talks—7.5 minutes or less—on a single collection work they cared about. The talks took place during the museum’s three-day celebratory weekend: two at a time, every half hour, 25 a day (a single to close out each day.)

Proposal for a Museum

Organized by grupa o.k.

In 2013, SFMOMA announced its ambitious expansion project. As a means of reflecting on its then-impending closure, grupa o.k. asked several friends and colleagues to imagine their own proposals for a museum in San Francisco.

Pop-Up Poets

Organized by Samantha Giles + Small Press Traffic

Inspired by The Steins Collect and organized by Samantha Giles of Small Press Traffic and Suzanne Stein, this series of readings honored poet Gertrude Stein and her relationships with the visual artists of her day. Each Thursday evening, a contemporary poet presented a reading, performance, or talk on a single artist or artwork on view.