So we are all going to die

My friend IH hosted a lovely brunch yesterday morning that sprawled into lazy, all-afternoon affair that make me grateful to be a graduate student and not someone punching a nine-to-five. There was the suggestion that we might rally and get some grading done together, but I’ve yet to ever see that work out in practice. Instead we had a long discussion about childhood. Despite hailing from several different countries, it seems that that all of us clustered in the late-20-something age group were all at one point obsessed with dinosaurs and astronomy, whereas the generation directly below us was into Pokémon. I made some overblown argument that an interest in T-Rex and Pluto somehow made my generation cannier to science, but I now regret it. My interest in dinosaurs was probably the first time my desires for a compulsively well-ordered universe reared their ugly head. I kept my plastic dinosaur collection in margarine containers categorized by era (Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, etc.) and hyperventilated at the thought of anachronistic play scenarios. I never became a paleontologist, nor could I even tell you anything insightful about dinosaurs now. I just found great comfort in schematizing their plastic world. I suppose this is the same type of comfort that the next generation found in their encounter with the world of Pokémon, so who am I to throw stones?

My crew and I went to see some pretty offensively bad video art last night at the Centre Pompidou. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to not be so damn critical of everything and everyone, so I guess in keeping with that I won’t detail everything that was wrong with this young woman’s oeuvre. My old therapist said that it is important to try and come up with one positive thing about a situation that is unpleasant overall. It took awhile for me to think of one for this experience, but here it is:  this lady had a strong understanding of the literal. Suffice it to say that the audience dropped like flies. It takes a lot for me to leave a talk, concert, or screening early. Sadly, this is the second event that I’ve dragged my friends to in Paris that ended with stolen sideways glances and a quick shuffle to the exit. The first such flight was from a Williamsburg-based psyché-folk band that weaseled their way into a show at the Palais de Tokyo because the lead singer/gong clanger is Paul Laffoley’s assistant. I don’t even know how the Spanish video artist from last night got the Pompidou gig, but her work confirmed a sneaking suspicion I’ve held about video art for a long time, namely that it allows for any jackass with a camcorder to call themselves an artist. That’s ungenerous, I know, and there is a lot of video art that I genuinely respect and enjoy.  But there is something terrifyingly democratic about the medium. Worst of all, she holds her MFA from my graduate school, making it an ugly day for institutional pride.

We saw an excellent screening of some of Paul Sharit’s films last Wednesday evening at the Pompidou. Especially rapturous was the silent Analytical Studies II: Unframed Lines of 1971-76, which uses the undulating projection line at the bottom of the screen to create some truly mesmerizing abstract imagery. Regrettably, the evening ended with Epileptic Seizure Comparison of 1976, in which footage of two epileptics undergoing induced seizures are interposed with colored panels that somehow mimic the brain waves of the patients. It’s loooong, and while conceptually interesting, it’s decidedly painful to actually watch. I mean, it’s basically watching someone have a seizure through a strobe light for a half-hour. However, having watched someone have a seizure through a strobe light for a half-hour becomes a useful litmus test for other experiences. Would you have rather watch a thirty-minute seizure or eat this casserole? Would you rather watch a thirty-minute seizure or listen to this Spanish video artist talk about Rousseau’s misogyny? Would you have rather watch a thirty-minute seizure or grade these 68 economics exams? It’s good to have a sense of precisely where you hit bottom and how close the experience you are currently undergoing is to the forehead-scrape.

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