2008: Moments: Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

by Travis Jeppesen on December 28, 2008

I haven’t been to the theatre very often in the last ten years. I’ve purposefully avoided it. What a lot of people don’t know is that I actually started off as a writer for the theatre, when I was a teenager. One of my favorite playwrights (and hence formative writers) was Harold Pinter. I read a lot of his plays when I was younger, but never had a chance to see any of them staged. So when I found out about a West End revival of No Man’s Land that happened to coincide with my visit to London in November for the Disorientations launch, I somewhat randomly decided to buy tickets.

I didn’t have high expectations. Actors tend to butcher texts – theatrical actors, especially – this is one of the reasons why I lost interest in playwriting so many years before and retreated into my own personal world of novels and poetry, where I seemingly wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else’s interpretation of my words.

But the production in London was great and I think the actors brilliantly captured the nuances of Pinter’s text. This is difficult because, despite claims to the contrary, acting is an intellectual task – not merely a physical act. Intelligent actors, actors with a true understanding of the irresolvable complexities of being, are rare to come by. Acting Pinter is all the more difficult, because his work directly addresses this project – being and unknowability – in plays that are more metaphysical exercises than generic drama.

No Man’s Land was written in the ‘70s, a great decade for Pinter. Many of his best plays, including Betrayal and Old Times, were also penned during this period. No Man’s Land consists of two acts. It’s a brilliant study for anyone interested in process-oriented writing and/or form. In the first act, you really feel like Pinter was just writing – putting characters in a situation and making no effort to explain their relationship or why they are there, but allowing them to riff on whatever subjects happen to cross their (his) mind. The second act slowly creeps towards some justification of the circumstances they find themselves in, but a lot of questions are left unanswered by the time the play reaches its conclusion. The rigid formal dichotomy between the first and second acts impressed me, and also left me to wonder about Pinter’s editing process. I think you have to be rather strong-willed to choose to maintain the irresolvability that often characterizes the beginning of a work – especially in a world that favors linear narratives with clean finishes and plenty of hooks along the way. This, if anything, is a sign of Pinter’s discipline and genius.

If you had told me a year ago that I would end 2008 writing a play, my first one in years, I probably would’ve laughed. It just never would have occurred to me. I think Pinter is at least partly responsible for reminding me that theatre is a worthwhile art form, and one that is loaded with possibilities that you don’t necessarily find in visual art and literature strictly bound by the page. So I’ll remember 2008 not only as the year of Pinter’s passing, but as the year that I was brought back to the theatre.

Holiday Disorientations

by Travis Jeppesen on December 18, 2008

This holiday season, why not give the gift of disorientation…

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$31.95 – Barnes & Noble.com

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$30.95 – Tower.com

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$45.10 – Biblio.com Books

2008: Moments: The Last of Rothko

by Travis Jeppesen on December 18, 2008

At the end of his life, Mark Rothko was making black paintings. Black and gray. Like TV static, but without the white: the voidlessness is now upon us. When you get closer, you can make out pale beige shapes, contorted figures, and layers of underpainting – particularly in the lower, lighter panels – something creature-like struggling to get out and emerge into the nonexistent foreground. These paintings can all be found in the last room of the Tate Modern’s retrospective of the late Abstract Expressionist painter. I’m not about to claim that they’re emblematic of the artist’s consciousness at the end of his life, but for me, they represent the fulfillment of Rothko’s ongoing quest to vaporize his thoughts on canvas. Everyone who says they dislike the look of Rothko’s paintings seems to miss this point – you can’t just look at a Rothko – his paintings are designed to be seen with the mind – just as art criticism represents a way of seeing with the mind through the medium of language. Ultimately, sensibility always triumphs over reason.

The Rothko retrospective continues at the Tate Modern through February 1, 2009.

Candice Breitz

by Travis Jeppesen on December 17, 2008

My review of the Candice Breitz solo exhibition in Berlin is now online.

Apollinaire for the digital age

by Travis Jeppesen on December 16, 2008

The first review (that I’m aware of) of Disorientations has been published.

Thank you, John Holten and Dogmatika.

2008: Moments

by Travis Jeppesen on December 12, 2008

I’ve been reflecting a lot on art and films and performances and unclassifiable forms of art I’ve witnessed or somehow participated in throughout the past year. I’m not going to do a “Best Of” post, because that kind of thinking seems totally strange to me. But I will use the next couple weeks, as I recuperate from 2008 at my parents’ house, to write about some of these “moments” — particularly those I, for one reason or another, was unable to write about at the time. Sort of a personal means of organizing my memories of 2008, albeit in a public way.

So that’s what I’ll be doing on disorientations.com, on a random basis, until I return to Berlin.

Deflated: Jeff Koons in Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on December 9, 2008

The two Jeff Koons solo exhibitions currently on in Berlin – one a retrospective of the sculptures, the other a show of new paintings – confirm that Koons is the worst living artist anywhere. Koons is a sort of con man who specializes in “art” for a public that has been conditioned by a general devolution of taste. This approach may have been effective in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the former stockbroker first devised a winning formula for his hapless endeavors, but now, only the most vulgar sort of cultural victim can unashamedly defend this garbage without any trace of humor. That Koons is mounting concurrent high-profile exhibitions throughout the continent this season is a sure sign of the artist’s own desperation in what must be a disturbing awareness of his work’s impending expiration date in the pathetic cultural milieu he has managed to exploit for so long.

Of course a show like “Celebration,” the sculpture retrospective on at the Neue Nationalgalerie, will be a blockbuster in Berlin. Berlin suffers from a malaise of insecurity unique to medium-sized capitals; compared to London, New York, and Paris, Berlin is provincial. But so what? Berlin also has an anarchic spirit that those other places have been lacking for many years now, and certainly doesn’t need to demean itself by jumping on the Koons bandwagon. Had the curators inspected with a more critical eye, they would have noted that the wares are looking more than a wee bit rusty. If anything, the choice of Koons points to a general conservatism that plagues the city’s institutional life – and, I suppose, fuels Berlin’s overwhelmingly prolific “unofficial” art scene.

The title “Celebration” is appropriate only in that the sculptures celebrate all that is vapid and not worth preserving in our culture. Twenty years ago, it must have felt invigoratingly defiant to show a garish thing like Hanging Heart in an art context. Today, Heart and the other sculptures just look like the costume jewelry rejects, ironically glamorized in their aggrandizement, that they actually are.

While the show at the Neue Nationalgalerie celebrates the glitter-strewn bowel movements of the past, the paintings at Galerie Max Hetzler are a new low in the Koons oeuvre. I hesitate to use the word new, because despite their recent dating, the paintings are little more than academicized version of ‘80s pop abstraction – striving to be “all style, no substance,” but ultimately devoid of both. I suppose the argument could be made that it’s not Koons’s fault that his art is so bad; it is well known that the artist favors the Warholian assembly line production model, refusing to get his hands dirty and fashioning himself more of an ideas man. Ignoring for a moment that his ideas are depthless, we can at least feign sorrow that his numerous assistants are so lacking in skill. The paintings at Hetzler are at best the work of a first-year art student.

For Koons, you feel like it’s never really been about the art, anyway. “I don’t believe in judgments,” he warns us over and over again in interviews, and despite the seeming inflection of earnestness that inevitably coats such apologies, you can’t help but smell a whiff of disingenuity when confronted with the actual work. Any artist who tells us not to judge is aware that the truth can be unpleasant and would rather deflect attention away from it rather than face it head-on. It says nothing reassuring about the last quarter century that so many have been duped into obeying Koons’s entreaty.

The Art World

by Travis Jeppesen on December 9, 2008

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “the art world.” The art world is in trouble. This is what the future of the art world will look like. I spent a week in the art world and lived to tell the tale.

In pondering the fate of “the art world” amidst the global economic crisis, how come not a singular writer or journalist (that I’m aware of) has stopped to consider the fate of artists – particularly those who aren’t rich and successful enough to not worry?

We’ve really reached a point where all art journalism is completely market-based – there is no art criticism whatsoever, at least none that I can discern. There is no interest in artists or individual works beyond the price they fetch and how “well” they’re doing (and it is apparently now a given that wellness is strictly quantifiable.)

At least Dave Hickey has the gall to call these people out on their lack of integrity.

People seem to be oblivious to the fact that art will continue to be made, no matter what the economic reality happens to be.

Maybe one day we can start talking about art again. Wake me up when that happens.

Disestablishmentarianism

by Travis Jeppesen on December 6, 2008

Melissa Mann’s Beat the Dust is not just an excellent online literary magazine — it’s also a bookshop stocking a range of interesting titles. You can now order Disorientations through the site.

And if you’re in the States, I recommend you order through these guys, who also happen to carry all BLATT titles.

Update, Personal

by Travis Jeppesen on December 1, 2008

Complete and utter chaos in my life right now – some good, some bad, but we’ll pull through (mehopes.) Finished a novel, now writing a play, seeing lots of art but no time to sort my thoughts out on paper. Meanwhile, I wanted to thank everyone who made the Disorientations launches in London and Berlin so much fun in the last month. And to everyone who has bought the book so far, who is planning on buying it in the near future, or is hoping someone will buy it for them. Thankyou thankyou thankyou.

It’s been quite a year, and I’m taking December off. I’ll be in North Carolina visiting family, decompressing, sorting through the detritus of my life, searching for gold… In January I plan on re-vamping this whole thing. In the meantime, I’ll be doing what I’m meant to do, plus thinking lots about my friends, my family, love…

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