Tag: art

Necropastoral, or, Normal Love

by on Jan.13, 2011

Screen Shot from the Necropastoral (Jack Smith's Normal Love)

The Pastoral, like the occult, has always been a fraud, a counterfeit, an invention, an anachronism. However, as with the occult, and as with Art itself, the fraudulence of the pastoral is in direct proportion to its uncanny powers. A double of the urban, but dressed in artful, nearly ceremental rags and pelts, the Pastoral is outside the temporal and geographical sureties of the court, the urbs, the imperium itself, but also, implicitly, adjacent to all of these, entailing an ambiguous degree of access, of cross-contamination. (The Pastoral, after all, is the space into which the courtiers must flee in the time of plague, carrying the plague of narrative with them.)Moreover, the anachronistic state of the Pastoral is itself convulsive and self-contaminating, accessing both a Golden Age, a prehistory somehow concurrent with, even adjacent to, the present tense, and a sumptuous and presumptive afterlife, partaking of Elysian geography, weather, and pastimes.

A Velvet Underground.

Rather than maintaining its didactic or allegorical distance, the membrane separating the Pastoral from the Urban, the past from the future, the living from the dead, may and must supersaturated, convulsed, and crossed. This membrane is Anachronism itself.

Another name for it is Death, or Media.

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Sabrina Chapadjiev on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 3 (of 3)

by on Oct.01, 2010

The following is the final part of a three-part excerpt of my interview with musician/writer/performer Sabrina Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce. Here are the first and second parts.

These questions are about Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), an anthology edited by Chapadjiev that collects stories, essays, and art by mostly feminist and queer artists and writers who have lived through periods of self-destructive acts.

Sabrina Chap / photo by Justin Walker

MILDRED PIERCE: I appreciate the approach you (and the majority of the authors in the book) take to self-destruction, challenging the ‘bad bad’ psychological and social discourse on self-destructive behaviors that can be quite necessary — at the same time avoiding romanticizing such behaviors. Why do you think so much of the discourse around these issues is so simplistic and moralistic?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: I could talk for hours on this. But I will say that it is changing, and that we’ve come a long way in understanding/talking about mental health in the past twenty years. I am not an expert by any means, but I give a lecture on the history of sanity, specifically focusing on the gender difference in sanity/mental health through the years, and these moralistic and numbingly pedestrian outlooks on self-destruction stem from a place of power, which to me was the main way mental health was seen in the past. ‘Insane’ people were weak, ‘sane’ people were powerful. But who got to decide? Well, men, first and foremost. And then Religion took a stab at it. And then Freud came and since then we all want to fuck our fathers and have penis envy, and then there’s now.

For years, the pen of psychiatry was held by primarily by men. Before that, exclusively by men. Only women could be deemed ‘hysterical.’ It was primarily a ‘female disease’, this thing now called ‘mental instability.’ Though self-destruction is something that both men and women experience, there is definitely a gendered difference on how forms of self-destruction have played out. Cutting and anorexia — two primarily female related forms of self-destruction — are damned because a lot of the people studying it have been male, or been working in a relatively extreme male work-force. I think this moralistic misunderstanding is a form of patronization and an attempt of ownership over a woman’s true experience of the world.

Basically, it’s condescension, but a condescension that has been qualified over years of gendered or religious theology over mental health.

Again: I’m talking from an understanding of how females have been seen in the whole self-destructive manipulation. Dudes have their own problems. There is a lot less problematizing of male self-destruction — in fact, it is glorified. I do believe that female self-destruction is shamed and male self-destruction is either glorified or is simply not demonized in the same way.

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Sabrina Chap on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 2 (of 3)

by on Sep.29, 2010

The following is the second part of a three-part excerpt of my interview with musician/writer/performer Sabrina Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce. You can read the first part here.

These questions are about Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), an anthology edited by Chapadjiev that collects stories, essays, and art by mostly feminist and queer artists and writers who have lived through periods of self-destructive acts.

Sabrina Chapadjiev / photo by Jolene Siana

MILDRED PIERCE: Can you talk about your conceptualization process?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: I was in touch with a few publishers about possibly publishing my book length zine, “Cliterature – 18 interviews with women* writers” (*anyone who’s had the experience of being a woman) when one press said they really enjoyed the way I thought, and wondered if I had any other ideas for books.

I was pissed off when I read that. I was pissed off because I’m an idea person – more than anyone I know, and I knew I could come up with fifty ideas for books, but I was already exhausted and aching to do my music. I didn’t want to do another book project. But I had a publisher asking me for a book idea, how do you pass that up? So I spit out a couple of ideas; one of them was ‘For Smart Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide,’ and purportedly would be a collection of women writers who’ve thought about killing themselves but then didn’t. It possibly was that poorly worded. Nonetheless, they bought it, and asked me to start working on it. Again, I was pissed off, but I started rallying the troops.

As proposed submissions came in, I became a bit uncomfortable. I really wanted to talk about anorexia and cutting and such, and I wanted to fit those stories in the book. I also didn’t want twenty stories that were essentially, “I was going to kill myself, but then I didn’t!”

Also, something interesting was happening. Every time I talked to someone about the book, and how it would be based on people who’ve considered suicide, they would get very still. This was because 1. They’ve considered suicide themselves and were on guard or  2. They knew someone who had killed themselves and were on guard. Either way, the resulting conversation would often be very combative. People were highly sensitive about the topic of suicide, such that even talking about the book was exhausting. Once I was able to change it to self-destruction, which covered more of what I was interested in, and also turn it towards surviving, it became a much more bearable topic to work on.

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Sabrina Chap on creativity & self-destruction, pt. 1

by on Sep.24, 2010

I’ve been interviewing Sabrina Chap/Chapadjiev for Mildred Pierce; the book she put together, Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press, 2008), a collection of pieces by various mostly feminist and queer artists and writers, addresses a lot of the issues I, and others, have been approaching on Montevidayo. So I’m excerpting part of the interview.

Chapadjiev’s stage name is Sabrina Chap – she’s a musician and burlesque performer as well as writer and editor, and also a playwright. Her most recent album Oompa! traverses genres, pledging allegiance to ragtime above all. She’s also part of the Schlapentickle Family, a burlesque troupe that toured for the first time this fall.

For Live Through This, Chapadjiev tapped folks like Eileen Myles, Kate Bornstein, Diane DiMassa, and bell hooks to contribute essays and art on the relationship between creative and destructive forces, with an emphasis on creativity and artistry. Chapadjiev’s approach to these issues very much moves away from the medicalization and pathologization of self-destructive behaviors, while also escaping romanticizing them and providing any kind of autopedagogy (thanks, Joyelle!) for self-destruction. The collection is wildly varied in form and content — musician and mental health activist Bonfire Madigan Shive shares her wellness plan; comics artist and illustrator Diane DiMassa visually narrates her turn away from anger and addiction and toward art and journaling; poet and essayist Eileen Myles emphasizes self-care in a meditation on flossing.

In her introduction, Chapadjiev writes:

We have been taught that self-destruction is an awful thing. ‘It is bad,’ we’ve been told by therapists, psychologists, and those who do not understand its seduction. I would like to edit that. Instead of ‘It is bad,’ I would like for it to read, ‘It is.’ It is what we do naturally. We smoke too much, we drink too much, we drive sobbing in the rain. Our hearts break and we do not eat. At times we drink to forget, and at times, we forget for years. …

I offer this book as a discourse, not as an answer, but as a way to help women begin to understand the potential in the power of their self-destructive acts. … Now, what you’re dealing with is the deepest thing, the worst thing, and it could possibly be the thing that destroys you. But it could possibly be the thing that makes you as well.  (12-13)

Chapadjiev gives workshops and lectures in colleges on these issues; anyone interested in inviting her to their campus can see her touring newsletter here.

(This is part one of three excerpts for Montevidayo.)

MILDRED PIERCE: Live Through This is really its own thing, very nurturing in a certain way — perhaps because it emphasizes the creativity side of the [creativity and self-destruction] equation — and also far, far from any self-help books I know. Can you talk about your conceptualization process? What prompted you to put this together?

SABRINA CHAPADJIEV: Those are three questions- well, the first point wasn’t a question, but I’ll respond to that first.

1.  I was very, very conscious to focus on the creative aspect of the book, not only because I was talking about the role of art in the process of self-destruction, but because my entire desire was to promote creativity as a way to help those dealing with these tendencies.

Too often, self-help books end up being instructional manuals for self-destructive behavior. Most of the ones I read were written from two very different perspectives, 1.  Doctors trying to deal with self-destructive patients, and 2. People who’ve survived and had their stories become a major part of their public lives. In the first case, the doctors would always fascinate in how these self-destructive tendencies manifested, i.e., ‘The subject came to me with cuts made by…’ — there was always some sort of explicitly gross fascination by the variety of ways ‘patients’ would hurt themselves.

Well, those types of details often intrigue and teach people different ways to hurt themselves. People reading those types of books for help, actually might learn other ways of self-destructing. I didn’t want the book to be an instructional manual for the variety of ways we can hurt ourselves, especially because this is the first book that I know of that was grouping all of these behaviors into one mass group ‘self-destructive’. There are many books on cutting, anorexia, alcoholism, drug abuse. This is the first one I know of that talks about the variety of ways that women can destroy themselves, and while I wanted to create a communal spirit in the lives of powerful women who’ve felt these inclinations, I didn’t want someone that starved themselves suddenly read an essay about cutting and try that instead.

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Queer Utopianism & Edie Fake in Temporal Drag

by on Aug.06, 2010

Queer utopia, yknow: still pretty sexy, especially with the publication last year of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. I’ll touch briefly on Muñoz here, expecting to return to him in later posts; but here and now instead of the past/future I will take up the past/present. In the meantime, may I direct you to the Gay Utopia project, especially Bert Stabler’s “Bottomless Anus of Perfected Wisdom,” my contribution to recent discussions on the ole ass/hole.

I recently interviewed Edie Fake, a Chicago-based artist:

art by edie fake

and we talked some about his developing queer cartography project. He’s mapping Chicago’s queer heritage in some rad Edie Fake way, and the project has spilled over into other smaller projects, including an installation on display Wednesday at Archie’s bar in Chicago for a joint event co-sponsored by the Swimming Pool Project Space and Queer Social Club. Regrettably, I took no pictures. There were a number of box structures decorated and labeled with the names of Chicago gay bars no longer in existence, spread out on small tables sharing space with empty beer cans and hot pink cards inviting viewers to “celebrate the phenomena of intuitive queer space.”

The night brought a turnout — lots of folks. It was like any other queer night at a normally non-queer bar, only the adjacency of this night to its historical context of under-the-radar gay venues and illicit queer sociality was announced through Fake’s structures. I’d describe the juxtaposition as a kind of temporal drag, borrowing the concept from Elizabeth Freeman, who uses it to describe a crossing of time, a temporal transitivity that carries “all of the associations that the word ‘drag’ has with retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past upon the present,” alongside its associations with crossing and performativity.

Freeman uses this idea of temporal drag to read Elisabeth Subrin’s Shulie, a 1997 experimental film that, shot by shot, remakes an unreleased 1967 documentary of the same title which feature a young Shulamith Firestone, then unknown, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago who would soon jump ship to New York to found the New York Radical Women, the Redstockings, and the New York Radical Feminists; and write the radical feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex. The 1997 film restages the original, duplicating its camerawork and adding only a beginning montage and an ending text explaining that it’s an adaptation.

Bringing in Samuel Delany’s ideas on markers from an essay in About Writing, we might say the 1997 Shulie functions as art-and-its-marker, performing temporal drag to map out space, assign value and legacy to the original (and its subject). Delany pulls from Dean McCannell’s tourist (which Delany connects to Benajmin’s flaneur) in explaining markers as those signs scattered about the landscape from brochures to signboards, conferring importance:

There is a whole set of sites–often the spots where historical events took place–that are sites only because a marker sits on them, telling of the fact… Without markers, even the most beautiful spot on the map becomes one with the baseline of unmarked social reality.

And until something thinks to emit, erect, and/or stabilize a marker indicating it, no tourist site comes into being. (341)

As a marker and as a site in itself, Subrin’s Shulie, as Freeman puts it, “engage[s] with prior time as genuinely elsewhere” (735). It re-maps Firestone’s pre-history as history. In so doing the film implicitly critiques what’s been left out of history/herstory’s charting of the past and links the past and present in complicated and dynamic ways.

Similarly, Fake’s installation on Wednesday exposed the fuzzy boundaries between the then and the now, simultaneously undermining and reinforcing divisions between what we see as distinct “generations” of queers and queer activists. Instead of lopping off the issues of old generations as anachronistic to the goal of a narrative of progress, Fake’s models of long gone venues and their attendant histories united the then and there with the here and now, implying that those issues, those moments, “are not yet past and yet are not entirely present either” (Freeman 742). His other work being so interested in alternate realities, I’m interested to see where Fake further takes his queer cartography, how he interprets and charts the ‘reality’ of the ‘past’ (with apologies for gratuitous scare quotes).

Muñoz’s critical engagement with queer utopianism shares many ideas with Freeman; interested in collectivity and the past, Muñoz employs “a backward glance that enacts a future vision” (4). With regard to Fake’s installation and the scene that surrounded it, Muñoz seems applicable especially given the leaking through of one particular future onto the present – as only hours before, Prop 8 had been ruled unconstitutional, and the implications hung in the air. Muñoz seeing marriage as an antiutopian wish, a desire that “automatically rein[s] [itself] in, never daring to see or imagine the not-yet-conscious” (21), I wonder what he’d say about this messy confrontation between past, present, and future in this moment. In a certain sense, Fake’s temporal drag worked to bring what Muñoz would call “the no-longer-conscious” to bear on the present as well as on the future society, the “not yet conscious” – here, this is our past, just how anachronistic is it, and what do we want our future to look like?

I’ll return to Muñoz in a future post, maybe connected to Acker; and considering temporal drag as temporal push.

References

Delany, Samuel R. “A Para*doxa Interview: Inside and Outside the Canon.” About Writing. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

Freeman, Elizabeth. “Packing History, Count(er)ing Generations.” New Literary History 31.4 (2000): 727-744.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009.

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