The other Tom Cruz

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Joseph del Pesco recently invited me to participate in Artists Space’s Webcast, a curatorial initiative for making internet- and computer-based cultural content. For this, he invites artists, designers and other curators to participate in two kinds of platforms: one is Typecast, in which new typefaces are commissioned and made available for free (there are five to date, including a beautiful design by Mungo Thompson); the second one is the self-explanatory Youtube Commentary, for which voice-overs are made for videos drawn from this ever-growing online collection. My contribution was in this latter platform. I selected a video clip from P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, and took it as an excuse to speak about Tom Cruise, as a scene to reflect on fan culture, and simply as a moment to consider degrees of insanity, all of which are embedded on Youtube.

Making time for boredom

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

This is the fourth and final video documenting the events organized in conjunction to the exhibition Archaeology of Longing at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris. I’ll continue making videos for Sideshows, but probably less regularly. Anyway, the video here shows excerpts from a lecture on boredom conducted by Lars Svendsen. The video is less than ten minutes, so it’s really just a fragment of an hours-long program, including a Q&A session with the public, which was interesting if a bit contentious—the lack of a psychoanalytic approach in his presentation was questioned. Lars’ response, “I don’t trust Freud.”

Indeed, in his book, A Philosophy of Boredom, Lars does not approach boredom with a psychoanalytic eye. Yet, while his exploratory investigation is not a psychoanalytic in a materialist sense, it still combines research drawn from the history of ideas to popular culture. It looks at boredom from many different sides, and, in its mix of philosophical references to literature to music, it succeeds in introducing one to the complexity that is, what the author deems, a modern condition of humankind. The book is organized in four sections—the problem, the stories, the phenomenology and the ethics of boredom. The video here combines at least a reference to the first two parts, including a brief mention of the typologies of boredom, and a bit of the importance around boredom and the making, or lack thereof, of meaning.

It was Tom Cruz who pointed me to Lars’ book, which he had reviewed for a journal some years ago. We took it upon ourselves to also analyze some of the works Lars had mentioned there, Crash and American Psycho among them. One piece that made a significant impact on me was Alberto Moravia’s Boredom from 1960. In this novel, Dino, a young, aristocrat painter can own anything except what he thinks is the genuine love from his disaffected model and lover. The search for meaning and impossibility of possessing certain things, which Dino represents, are the very characteristics of boredom.

In Archaeology of Longing, displayed were several copies of Moravia’s novel in different translations: a copy in the Italian, La Noia; in French L’ennui; the first English edition called The Empty Canvas and the most recent simply titled Boredom. The idea was not only to declare object as source in the exhibition. It was also to suggest that each translation offered a new interpretation.

The lecture “A Philosophy on Boredom” by Lars Svendsen took place on the afternoon of November 1, 2008 at Kadist Art Foundation in Paris, France. The book, “A Philosophy on Boredom,” was originally published in Norway in 1999; its first English translation was published in 2004 by Reaktion Books.

At the Pace of a Turtle

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Grasshopper antennas, their translucent wings and even a couple of the little insects’ hairy legs were all stuck in-between my teeth. My gums itched, and the sensation in my tongue was so disgusting and vivid that it woke me up in a sweat. Thankfully, it was only a dream, a nightmare, really. That evening, our dinner appetizer was tacos de chapulines made with grasshoppers cooked in limejuice, a local delicacy in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I spent a week with my partner, Tom Cruz. With our itinerary inspired in part by Oliver Sacks’s Oaxaca Journal, a wonderful work about ferns and a literary piece that can well be a travel book, and in part by my sisters’ expeditions there, our journey was an adventure in every way. In the city, we visited colonial churches and cultural centers, drank with fresh-squeezed fruit juices and licuados (shakes) at the Mercado Benito Juarez and livened-up our evenings with a variety of local mescals accompanied by orange slices sprinkled with sal de gusano (crushed dried worms combined with chili powder and salt). We also traveled in the Valley of Oaxaca and to its beaches.

To my surprise, one of the highlights of our city tourism was a guided-tour to the city’s ethno-botanical garden. With plants endemic to the state of Oaxaca, including dozens of cacti species, the garden was created ten years ago in an area that is flanked by the colonial sixteenth-century Templo de Santo Domingo, the Museo Regional de Oaxaca and the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, which are housed in what was the temple’s convent, and an armory building that was built and occupied by the military from the late nineteenth century until 1993 and that is now a public library. The garden’s landscape design is inspired by the cacti fence and the greca engravings of Mitla, one of the three archeological sites in the Valley of Oaxaca that we visited.

Located some 40km northeast of the City of Oaxaca is the archeological zone of Mitla. Unlike Monte Alban, which is a lone site over a hill away from colonial or modern buildings, in Mitla a church stands over a pyramid ruin and homes of locals are in its immediate surroundings. It is said that Mitla’s beautiful decorative frisos on the building’s facades were created about 700 years ago by the Mixtec community.

The once fortified city of Yagul emerged circa 500 BC by the Zapotecs, and was apparently abandoned some centuries later only to be taken-up again by the Mixtecs along the rise of Mitla. Yagul’s ball court (second largest in Mesoamerica) is better known then its labyrinth-like palace of rooms, tombs and plazas. On our way there, we made a couple of stops. One at a mescal factory to learn the way this local liquor is made—from the farming of magueys and the slow-cooking underground cooking of their penachos to the fermentation and distillation processes. The other stop was to check out the monumental Arbol de Tule, a 2,000-year old tree; some say the world’s largest.

At just a 20-minute drive from the city of Oaxaca sits the grandiose site of Monte Alban, founded by Zapotecs circa 500 BC. The main archeological excavations and findings in Monte Alban were directed by Alfonso Caso Andrade in 1931 and 1939, but other excavations happened earlier and have taken place ever since. It was here, in Caso Andrade’s expedition in 1932, that the largest group of gold artifacts has been found to date in Mesoamerica. These were part of the funeral offerings, including more than 400 rich artifacts and jewelry made of gold, silver, jade and other precious materials found in Tumba 7 in Monte Alban.

After some days exploring the city and valley of Oaxaca, we headed further west and spent a couple of days in San Agustinillo, one in a series of relatively virgin beeches including Mazunte and Zipolite, located between the more tourist-filled Oaxaca beaches of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido. The main site of the now illegal turtle industry, San Agustinillo primarily receives foreign travelers interested in bio-diverse landscapes and eco-tourism. Of course, there are other types of travelers that end there–and never leave.