Posadas

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Took the boys on their first posadas celebration. It was cold and rainy so there wasn’t much walking around on campus. Just one visit and then back inside for tamales, galletas, and hot chocolate. Still it was a fun time.

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Thanksgiving

We travelled to Virginia like last year. I managed to get out for a good walk in the falling snow as well.

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First walk of winter

Yeah. I know. It’s not technically winter yet. But we’ve had our first snow and we’re past Thanksgiving and it’s time to think about getting a Christmas tree and so yes, it feels like winter now. After a long weekend of eating too much and watching too much TV, I had to take a walk.

I went exploring someplace new with just my phone. I’ve been looking at these fields for a while from my car, finally got around to getting to them on foot. These are quick images and visual notes of things that I might want to come back to later with a different camera.

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Cutting my losses

I’m not a big TV watcher. I tend to pick shows carefully (usually at the recommendation of friends) and watch them on DVD (or streaming) at least a few season after the fact. Part of this is because I’ve much preferred watching movies. But the main reason is that watching a TV show is a major time commitment that I’m really hesitant to embrace. So I usually have very high bars for what I choose to watch. And I’m extremely fast on pulling the trigger when it comes to bailing from a show.

This is something that’s come up a lot on twitter when discussing TV shows. Compared to a lot of my contacts, I appear to give up on things much more quickly than a lot of people. Even when bingewatching. Just because I have access to the DVDs doesn’t mean I finish the show. Heck, sometimes I don’t even finish the season.

So at the request of a number of my twitter contacts, here’s a quick rundown of when, and why, I gave up on some shows. It’s not a complete list of everything I’ve watched, these are just the ones I’ve ended up in discussions about and had to explain why I bailed. This isn’t a critique of these shows either as I’m inherently unqualified to critique these due to bailing early.

Sopranos—Season 3

I’m one of those viewers who found the Meadow’s college trip to be the high point of the series. This episode is what got me to watch season 2 but as the show became more and more about the mob stuff and the banality of it all I started to drift away. I’m not sure I made it through season 3 actually. I can watch people do their jobs. But have a hard time with stupidity and a lot of the mob stuff started to get increasingly stupid to me.

CSI—Season 4

I stuck with CSI (only the Las Vegas edition) a lot longer than I expected. This was brain candy which I enjoyed watching for a few years. I eventually got tired of the fact that it was only ever about murders. And after watching The Wire season 1, CSI just seemed like a joke.

Lost—Season 1

Lost is a show that I made a conscious decision to drop because I didn’t trust the network format to treat it correctly. Season 1 felt like a full-season Monsters are Coming to Maple Street. I loved the mystery and open endedness of it all; I just didn’t expect or trust the show to be able to hold on to that. Either the mystery would get pushed out past the point of credibility. Or the answers would suck. Or the show would get cancelled at a lousy point. So I picked my exit point.

Heroes—Season 1

Holy crap. I should have bailed sooner. I like origin stories—even with the current rebootitis trend going around*—but I hate stupidity. Hate it. And this show got intolerably stupid in the second half. The only reason I finished the season was because I was watching this with friends and we ended up hatewatching it together instead.

*I will always find something enjoyable in watching someone discover what they are good at. I also tire at the way that no one—well, besides Brad Bird—seems to be able to write superhero movies or shows which deal with aging or growing out of the superhero thing.

Veronica Mars—Season 1

Another show like Lost which I stopped watching because I didn’t trust the way the network would handle it and found the existing ending to be just fine. In this case, the season one story arc was just too good. Even if season 2 was good, I didn’t think it was needed and instead risked straining the credibility of the world they’d created. How fucked up could that high school be?

Dexter—Season 1

I got tired mid-season but wanted to see the conclusion. The show gimmick had potential but never measured up to it. In hindsight, it’s hard to make a show about characters who are so emotionally damaged they don’t seem capable of growth. Also, I had problems with the idea of so many competing serial killers being active in the same location.

Mad Men—Mid-Season 1

I couldn’t figure out what this show wanted to be. It appeared to glorify a time period without addressing the underlying race issues. It also has similar character issues as Dexter. And it tapdanced around critiquing mass culture plus its smart moments felt more like accidents. There were also too many moments which reminded me that the show wasn’t on HBO and, quite frankly, it could have used some of that edge.

I may come back to Mad Men though. I’m still skeptical but if it really does manage to make something of a central character’s lack of growth I might be interested to see if they really pull it off.

How I Met Your Mother—Mid-season 3

I bailed when Ted became a certifiable asshole. Any show whose main character becomes that awful isn’t worth sticking with.

True Blood—Season 2

This show is technically on probation. I was fully prepared to bail mid-season with Godric’s death. Only the Sam storyline is keeping any interest right now. Still, I haven’t watched any of this for a few years now. Nor do I really feel like watching again. Unlike the better HBO shows, there’s a bit of “fuck yeah we’re on HBO” in this show. When it’s good, the writing is crisp and smart. But it tends toward pulp and losing a handle on the writing a little too much for me.

Lingerie, Dance, Silhouette, and Movement

My sister works in costuming and is big into fashion. After visiting MoMA, we wandered over to FIT since it’s the museum in New York which is most in-line with her interests. As a design/use junkie, I also enjoy fashion and clothing exhibitions since clothing is one of those universal things. Even if it’s fashion, it’s meant to be worn and reveals a lot about how society views the human body. The two exhibitions on display when we visited—Lingerie and Dance—both explicitly discussed issues about how much of clothing’s intent is to either emphasize or alter the body’s shape and movement.

FIT_Exposed

The lingerie exhibition was more interesting to me—especially as a social history. The main takeaway for me was confirming that demonization of underwear in the late 1960s was indeed misplaced. Underwear gives structure to the silhouette—something which changes with the fashions of the time. Looking at this structure allows us to extrapolate a lot of other things about the fashions of the time, but it also reminds us that the way people look in clothes often has very little to do with how they look out of clothes.

For most of history, structured undergarments allow for clothes to fit “correctly.” And it was understood that the undergarments were doing most of the heavy lifting*—In other words, it wasn’t “cheating” to wear a corset or bustle or crinoline. Comparing this to today where wearing a padded bra or Spanx seems to feel dishonest** because women are supposed to be able to exercise or diet to be able to achieve the desired silhouette in a “natural” fashion and I can’t help but conclude that focusing on the undergarments as “instruments of female torture” may have misdiagnosed the target that should have been protested.

*Or squeezing or padding or tucking.

**Shit, getting surgery to minimize or maximize certain body parts feels dishonest.

It’s not the underwear which is the problem. The problem is the desire to have a specific silhouette—and the fact that what is desirable changes every decade. At least you can change your underwear easier than you can change your body.

That said, looking at the history of lingerie also makes it clear that even before those protests started, underwear—and the clothing being worn over it—was getting less and less complicated and revealing more and more skin anyway. I found it somewhat ironic that the late 1960s through the 1970s in fact had the least restrictive and softest-structured undergarments in the entire show. We’ve swung since then to more structured bras and increased padding and even corsets again. Though a lot of that has become outerwear as well.

The other interesting thing in looking at lingerie was seeing how the technology and materials changed and the number of different ways we’ve tried to accomplish the same sorts of goals. The exhibition goes from whalebone corsets to padded underwire bras and touches on many other kinds of ways to shape the body. It’s amazing to see how much lighter and more efficient everything has become. This is extremely intimate technology intended to be worn for long periods of time up against the skin. It’s kind of a shame that it’s relegated to fashion museums since not only does it concern half of humanity, it’s also just a fascinating design challenge.

FIT_Dance

The dance show felt a bit forced to me. It’s a great concept but there were too many pieces which felt shoehorned in as possibly dance related. Which is too bad since I was liking the comparison between the dance costumes and the lingerie exhibit—in particular how these costumes were explicit about how they were intended to impact the body’s movement in the same way that lingerie impacts the body’s silhouette. These are two sides of the same coin and both need to be kept in mind when thinking about clothing and how it works.

Dance appears to have two distinct ideas about how fashion and costume should be. One is that nothing should get in the way of the human form and how it moves. The other is that by altering the form and restricting its movement through costume, other interesting things can be revealed. Both views are valid though the second view results in the costumes I find more interesting.

The costumes that stay out of the way end up being more decorative—some fabulously so—but mostly things that we can get a sense of when seeing them on mannequins. The costumes that rely on restricting or hiding movement though need videos so we can see them in action.* I could kind of picture some of them with basic movement. But dance isn’t basic and that intellectual leap was more than I could muster.

*Although, really, more video in general would be nice since this is, after all, a dance exhibition.

Christopher Williams

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The third big exhibition at MoMA was the Christopher Williams show. This one was a mixed bag in terms of how I responded to it. On one hand, it was a bit of a fuck you to the audience since a lot of it felt like an in-joke that most people won’t get.* At the same time for me it felt like an exhibition which worked really well with Gober. Many of the photos were a little bit surreal or odd. And the whole show played with converting non-art objects to art objects.

*Not the biggest fuck you I’ve received in a Museum exhibition. That honor is still held by Santiago Sierra who, while I get what he was doing, still produced an exhibition that blew off anyone who attended it in favor of the statement that he was making.

In Williams’s case, he’s playing with the concepts behind stock and “professional” photography—bringing photographic muzak into the museum by suggesting alternate readings of the image and revealing some of the artifice in how it was produced. The alternate readings are obscure and stretched and, to my mind, not even that important. I’ve worked in printing, production, and design long enough to understand how everyone includes in-jokes in the process—the more obscure the joke the better so as no one else will notice. That we know he’s winking or enjoying a self-satisfied giggle here is enough for me even though I can totally understand how other people would be upset by this.

Revealing the artifice behind the stock photos is more interesting to me anyway. That so many of them feel a little off makes us question our expectations and points out how much of this photographic language we’ve absorbed even though this kind of photography is universally unmemorable.* Getting into and figuring out why they feel off though is almost impossible. They’re not off in a bad or incompetent way, they’re just somehow less commercial than we expect even while looking completely professional. Some of this is definitely because they’re in a museum rather than a magazine ad. But a lot of it is based on our collective snap judgements against a standard of professionalism that we can’t even articulate.

*It’s interesting to compare Williams to what people are currently calling Hipster Photography. Hipster photography appears to ape the unmemorable product consumption images only without being about the product. Williams makes the product more explicit but tweaks the delivery so it isn’t as unmemorable.

This isn’t “that’s not art” kind of art because it’s giant or made from expensive materials or being trangressive and saying “yes this is art.” Instead Williams directly triggers our “that’s not art” reflex only to have us immediately realize that we may jumped to that conclusion too quickly. I love this kind of category blurring.

I also love all his photos which intentionally include production elements in the frame. I’m a backstager by heart who tends to sympathize with all the unseen stuff that goes into making anything. It’s very easy to forget or be ignorant about all that process so any artist who tweaks the ideas of what belongs offstage* is okay by me.

*For example, Baz Luhrmann’s stage direction.

Matisse Cutouts

MoMA_Matisse

The big exhibition at MoMA was the Matisse show. Unlike Gober, Matisse was packed full of people who like his artwork—and who were visiting the museum to indulge in how much they liked it. It is indeed superficially easy to like: Bright colors. Fun shapes. A famous name. Some iconic pieces.

I liked it too, but the main appeal to me was that it was, in many ways, an exhibition of process documents instead of final products. Many of the pieces on display were actually about designing for a different medium. Maquettes for murals,* printed books,** ceramics,*** and stained glass. Cutouts eventually realized as silkscreens. Even the pieces which remained as cutouts went through multiple iterations before ending up in their final arrangements.

*The Barnes Mural

**Jazz

***La Gerbe

The exhibition does a great job at showing how the cutouts evolved and interacted with each other as Matisse worked on them. There are photos showing different arrangements and the displays go out of their way to emphasize the pinholes and other ways that the pieces were held together and rearranged. This is distinct from other process documents where multiple iterations are created and can be preserved. The fluidity of composition in the cutouts is fascinating to see and think about and there’s something wonderfully tactile and evocative with cut shapes stuck on a surface where we can see the possibilities of playing with everything.

Which made it especially interesting to see how despite the ephemeral nature of the cut outs, they were all also presented as being finished and final. The maquettes might be final proofs but they’re not the final piece. Some of the cutouts were indeed intended to be final pieces but many of them were living on Matisse’s walls and there’s a huge difference between being in the state Matisse’s death left them in and having it be finished complete works of art.* I can appreciate them as being finished enough, but declaring them as complete—and seeing people view them as complete—got me thinking some more about how we conceive of art and the role that presentation plays in how we react.

*It’s worth mentioning an exhibition on sketches I saw at Princeton here for some additional thoughts about process documents and unfinished pieces in the museum.

It’s an exhibition of Matisse Cutouts, not an exhibition of maquettes for Matisse Prints or Matisse Ceramics. So cutout as final form is the expectation going in.

And that’s fine too. Many of the pieces are a joy to look at and the form itself is fun. Squiggles where you can see both parts and try and match up the original paper pieces across multiple compositions. Vaguely botanical shapes that remind me of Hawaiian quilts. Some remarkably effortless and graceful forms such as the parakeet which show how much a single confident line can convey.*

*And other equally effortful forms, especially his human figures, which show that this medium is a lot harder than it looks.

There is so much here which I want to show my sons as basic art education. How to explore colors and positive and negative spaces. Being able to move compositions around before committing to their placement. The willingness to just try a line or shape and see what happens with it. The fact that this is just cut pieces of colored paper means it’s simple and cheap to try.