Aztec Glass Cage Exhibitionists: Chance
Reflections on John Cage, George Quasha, Jesse Glass, John Byrum and the Ancient
Aztecs at the turn of 2005.
The first week of 2005 has gone by. My resolution is not to make: "my resolution is not to make resolutions" my resolution—ad infinitum, or at least for the eighth year in a row (and at the risk of losing you, the reader, to an initial tangent about infinite digression, check out The Infinite Cat Project—if Borges was alive today he never would've got any writing done getting lost in websites like that one). And apologies if these 5˘ense reviews are taking on a more rambly, bloggy tone. In the hey day of blogs its hard to avoid the influence. But this is all it ever professed to be—a somewhat scientific or journalistic documenting of the world around me, as I tote my eyes, ears or any or all of my sense organs to check shit out in this city or world, or fictional whorling worlds of words around me.
And there was a lot to check out this first week of 2005. I had been meaning to check out the John Cage and George Quasha exhibit for for some time, and luckily it was extended a week, and the last day was January 6 (sorry to any one that missed it). Things were crazy at work, but I still managed to skinny out at lunch and take a quick train up to Chelsea to the Baumgartner Gallery. There were 3 New River Watercolor pieces that John Cage made in the late 80s, employing his characteristic I Ching techniques by taking stones along with water colors, paper, brushes and feathers and arranging or displacing them according to chance operations. What's left is a record of the event—a scrapular and gravelly impression, not unlike a glacial scraping on granite, but this medium was ink on paper. Unfortunately there was no program or pictures on the Baumgartner Gallery website, but fortunately they let me take pictures (the place was completely empty and quiet—the perfect environment to absorb Cage—and I had to venture into a back room to even find someone that worked there to ask). Even still, the pictures don't do them justice and my flash was inevitably in the way...
another Cage detail
The Cage New River Watercolors were there more to represent the influence that Cage had on George Quasha, who was more the focus of the exhibit. Quasha had met Cage in his mid-20s (and actually published Cage's Themes & Variations under his Station Hill Press) and while he never embraced the chance techniques that Cage used, the indelible impression Cage left on him is readily apparent. The pieces in Axial Stones & Drawings consisted of two variations on a theme or principle that pervades Quasha's work, whether it be sculpture, drawing, or his poetry—the sense of the axial. The stones were a good introduction to this. On display in the center of the gallery (in a courtyard marked off with wire and a line of salt?) were pairs of stones that were stacked upon each other. He "discovered" these individual stones near rivers and, without any modification, found a complimentary mate to marry them to.
The effect of viewing them was pacifying. The rush of daily life dissolved into the sheer reflection of the inherent balance of these objects. I no longer felt rushed to get back to work. No analysis or interpretation was necessary to appreciate these stones. Viewing them was as natural as floating down a stream. While some might have seemed precarious, your mind can't help but to draw the imaginary axial line, and in the observation of it, it's almost like the left and right spheres of your mind get balanced.
The same axial lines were present in the drawings, though they were created rather than discovered. In contrast to Cage's watercolors, Quasha's drawings were done with graphite, which had the effect of appearing almost like the material of stone itself scraping on paper.
Quasha graphite drawing
another Quasha drawing
For more on the philosophy behind Quasha's work and the axial, check out:
I saw the Cage/Quasha exhibit on Wednesday. On Thursday, just a few blocks away was Ahadada Does New York, a reading featuring Ahadada editors and writers Jesse Glass, Daniel Sendecki, John Byrum, Paolo Javier and Richard Peabody. The event was hosted by Boog City editor David Kirshchenbaum, and was at the ACA Galleries. Unfortunately the walls were covered with awful art that had nothing to do with the reading (at least not that I could tell). But fortunately, it was in a building with other galleries, so while we were waiting for everyone to gather, we strolled around to some other openings and scored some wine and snacks. There was some work by Peter Acheson on the floor above that was particularly interesting. There really is a lot of great art going on, and it's almost overwhelming to keep up with it. I counted some 170 different galleries showing different stuff at different times in Chelsea alone! Its a wonder how these galleries stay in business. Just as it's a wonder that these small presses stay in business.
Almost everyone in the Ahadada lineup was from out of town, including Jesse Glass all the way from Japan. He went first. Most of these people I had never met before, so it was good to put a face to their work. It also adds a new dimension to lyrical poet's such as Glass to hear him speak. He has a natural and rhythmic way of delivery. The first piece he read, I was captivated by the sound of the language to the extent that I wasn't paying too much attention to overall content. Almost as if he read my mind, he explained what the poem was about, or at least what had inspired the poem (a line of ants that was crawling up the wall of his office and into a conch shell, and removing salt, all while he was listening to, I think it was Mahler, but I have a terrible memory and maybe that's what I'm projecting would've been appropriate), and then he reread the poem after this explanation which was an entirely new experience. He also read some prose from "The Passion of Phineas Gage" (Road of Excess Books, though I'm not sure where its available from?) which was inspired by a real historical figure, Phineas Gage, who back in 1848 in New England or thereabouts was blasting rock and managed to accidentally launch a metal rod straight through his brain and then lived for a decade or so afterwards. I had a freak accident once where I completely impaled my finger with a guitar string, but imagining a metal rod traveling all the way through your head in some freak trephination is just a bit more hardcore, and leads your own brain to wonder—so before he even read anything, Glass had already picked an engaging and surefire formula for success and a vehicle to ask and ponder over conceptual and metaphysical questions of of our existence. He had our attention.
Next up was John Byrum, editor of Generator Press, publisher of innovative visual poetry in a variety of formats, and who has been gracious enough to publish my own work, including some recent pieces from my collaboration with Wendy Collin Sorin. It was good to put a face to the name, a face attached to a head with a long mane of hair sprouting from it! Not what I would've imagined. Being that Byrum's poetry is more visual, it was interesting to hear him "speak" it. Sometimes he would read something that sounded fairly lyrical and he would flip the page and you would see it was a page of jarbled and configured vispo. Other times he was reading in a more conversational tone, so maybe he was just taking cues from the paper. Pretty heady metaphysical stuff presenting a lot of interesting, and usually inevitably unanswered, questions.
Richard Peabody went next. I wasn't familiar with his work, and from the beginning his two self-proclaimed obsessions were Bush-bashing and being a stay at home dad, neither of which engages me. The Bush-bashing is just too safe when you are in a room full of liberals in some Chelsea gallery. Of course everyone is going to agree and cheerlead you on. But I would rather hear something I don't know. The stay at home dad stuff I can appreciate, but definitely can't relate to and don't particularly want to. And his humor just wasn't funny to me—dancing around in a mock imitation of hip-hop culture only succeeded to reveal how white and suburban he was. And bashing the likes of Britney Spears is way too safe, and even if it's negative attention, it's still putting the spotlight on her (granted, I just plugged her again by bashing his bashing of her). My partner en zyme liked him though, so I'm sure there is an audience for his stuff, it's just not for me.
During the break I was finally able to introduce myself to John Byrum since I knew the face. I also met Daniel Sendecki and Jesse Glass, who was kind enough to give us two of his books. Besides the Phineas Gage work, he gave us "Trimorphic Protennoia" (published by the Elephantine Press in the Netherlands). We also purchased some goodies to support the Ahadada cause: The Ahadada Reader, "the time at the end of this writing," by Paolo Javier, and Sendecki's "Strange Currencies" all available from Ahadada Books. The only thing I have had time to read so far was Trimorphic Protennoia which I was reading on the subway and it caused me to miss my stop, if that says anything. Its even got a homage to John Cage, and numerous references to numberless infinities, which ties in well with the rest of this thread. Like the I Ching, it's abstract enough that you can apply the words to your own situation, whether you are riding the A train uptown, or lazing on a stone beach in Japan—its rife with visceral images such as "a spurting sea squirt lodged between 2 screw heads" and fleas being smashed by hammers. Cool stuff.
I'm losing steam here before I even get to the headliners Daniel Sendecki and Paolo Javier, suffice to say both were engaging, and particularly Paolo, whose work I was not at all familiar with, seems to be a refreshing young poet who is on the rise. I will save a further comment perhaps until I read their books.
One other thing that I had meaning to see was the Aztec exhibit at the Guggenheim. I had actually tried to see it twice before, but it seems the Aztec gods were conspiring against me. First I was an idiot and took off from work early one Thursday afternoon, only to discover it was closed Thursdays. Then I tried to go on a Friday during the holidays, bad call. The line of tourists was spiraling around the block, and that was just the backlog of those waiting for the spiral of people crowding the inside. New York seemed particularly crowded this year during the holidays. I heard the woes of others who had tried to go to the MOMA or other museums, to discover they were all jam-packed beyond belief. I guess its great to see the museums enjoying good business, but with the prices heading the direction they are going it is becoming somewhat of an elitist privilege ($20 for the MOMA?!).
Friday I finally made it into the Guggenheim, and even got the Friday evening half-price special ($9). I guess that's the price to be a loser and go to a museum on Friday evening rather than a bar. The Aztec exhibit is everything its hyped up to be and more. Some of this stuff I had already seen in its natural environment, and it was a bit weird to see these artifacts in the sterile and dark environment of the Guggenheim. They were out of place, but by detaching them and putting them on display, it imparted new meaning to them. And the conch shell spiral of the Guggenheim was also fitting since the caracol figures prominently with the Aztecs. Of particular interest were the intricate mosaic pieces, of tiny bits of coral and turquoise—unfortunately the online exhibit (http://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/aztecs/highlights.html) doesn't have any pictures of this work, though it does have some other good shots for those who can't make it en vivo. I also found myself fascinated with the disks and calendars and counting the various representations around the perimeter, almost always in increments of 8 and 12 and 52 and 260 and 360, everything with its calculated intent that was way ahead of its time: http://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/aztecs/highlights_8.html. I got to the last piece, a cross inscribed with INRI, that was obviously post-Conquistador, just as the guards announced the museum was closed and escorted us all out. Hopped on a bus to meet my partner en zyme (she had already seen the Aztec exhibit so was checking out something at the international center for photography) and a friend at Sapporo, a cheap noodle shop—if you are into Ramen, it's the real deal.
While I was in maniacal museum mode, I wanted to check out the exhibit of East Village graffiti artists, but duh, the fricking New Museum decided to relocate and not tell me, or maybe I heard that somewhere but just forgot, but I went to go meet my partner en zyme at the old location on Broadway only to discover that it wasn't there. So that will have to wait... and speaking of Cage,
Landscape Under Construction
a tribute to John Cage
for between 1 and 42 CD players, playing John Cage CDs
Live at Tonic
107 Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington
in the Subtonic Lounge
Thursday, January 13
(c) 2005 by Derek White