Monthly Archives: April 2011

Can food be art?

Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963, courtesy the National Gallery of Art

A critic over at The Guardian, Jonathan Jones, wrote recently that food and fashion, because they get consumed either in or on the body, are not great art. He writes:

Art is of the mind; it is ethereal. Everything it gives us it gives to our brains. Fashion and food fail to be serious art because they are trapped in the physical world. Compare a still-life painting of food – one of those rich, laden Dutch images of lobsters and lemons – with a real plate of food. The painting is very obviously not food – it does not give what food gives. But it does nourish something deeper instead. It reaches the parts of us that chefs and couturiers cannot reach.

It’s an interesting, if not entirely new, concept. He points out that that chefs like Ferran Adrià at El Bulli create innovative, challenging dishes. But can they challenge you, teach you, or illuminate truths about the world around you? Put simply, have you ever been so affected by food as to have it change your life?

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010 (courtesy designboom.com)

I would respond by saying that art is about context. Thousands of sunflower seeds in my closet is just messy. As arranged by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the Tate Modern, it is most definitely art.

Jones’ argument also takes a pretty narrow view on the meaning of art. Not all art is Great, and meant to tackle life’s deepest questions. Art also brings people together through creative expression. It can come from tentative strumming on a banjo, or designing a new outfit, or creating something in the kitchen that you haven’t before. There’s more to be gained by considering them all art, rather than none.

FREE Dancing All this Week!

It’s finally here!  It’s already started!  The Bay Area’s NATIONAL DANCE WEEK, from Friday April 22nd ~ Sunday May 1st.

National Dance Week is entirely free — you can attend many dance classes, performances, workshops, lectures and open houses in the bay without paying a cent.  Most dance classes are $10~20… so free is muy excellente.  It’s a great opportunity for anyone to see and experiment with different styles of movement!

BANDW is a project that started in 1981 by Dancer’s Group.  This year, they’re supported by California Arts Council, Delta Dental of California, Fleishhacker Foundation, Grants for the Arts, James Irvine Foundation, J.B. Berland Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation and, of course, individual donors.  Pretty impressive, ey?

But it’s only till Monday, so go shake it up somewhere in the city tonight.

tUnE-yArDs ‘Bizness’ Shoot: the Merging of Creative Powers

In honor of the tUnE-yArD’s  playing at Great American Music Hall tonight (with Buke and Gass and Man/Miracle), I thought I’d share some of my photos and words of my experience PA’ing on the set of the ‘Bizness’ video a few months ago here in San Francisco.

(For those of you who haven’t seen it:)

I first heard tUnE-yArDs at Rickshaw Stop last May during SF Popfest.  My friend, the talented Mimi Cave (who would later direct the Bizness video), was onstage as a backup dancer and I stopped by after work to see her.  I was excited to check out a collaboration of modern dance and pop music, first and foremost. But  I remember being truly blown away by the entrancing and tribal sounds Merrill Garbus created with African-inspired drum riddims and looping tenor ukulele and vocals. Not to mention the power of the large brass section she had backing her that night.

I immediately became a fan, addicted to the twangy beat and gravelly yodeling of  Hatari. I later found myself in LA when tUnE-yArDs opened Hollywood Bowl for Buena Vista Social Club and Goldfrapp, having no previous idea how she had and would  continue to blow up the music world.  When Mimi put out a call for help on the set of the artists’ first ‘official’ music video earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity.

Music videos, and ‘Bizness’ in particular, are epitomes of collaborative work. The cast and crew on the neon-forested set included choreographers, filmmakers, dancers, art directors, makeup artists, hair artists, costume designers, directors, set builders, videographers, producers, ‘kid wranglers’… and of course, musicians.   Each person worked hard and fast toward a larger vision.  Videos like this one are a true testament to the success of creative collaboration, utilizing almost all of the art-forms that we at Artlarking are into.

Merrill Garbus getting diva'd up by Kat Steinmetz

I attended the first meeting where all parties involved in the video met and brainstormed- passionate creatives like choreographer Sonia Reiter, hair artist Lorenzo Diaz, makeup designer Kat Steinmetz, art directors Miriam Lakes and Adrian Elliot, director of photography Devin Whetstone, and many more.  Everyone came together with ideas before Garbus showed up. It was great to see specialized professionals give feedback to various areas of the production.

When Garbus did show up to that first meetup, she was most likely one of the most down to earth people there- she told me she was having a hard time getting used to the photoshoots and planning while her mind was occupied with world events and local injustices. (From an interview with the Guardian UK: “I do feel like I should be doing social justice work sometimes, but I also retain the right to say that this – my music – this is doing enough for the world.”)  She talked about what she envisioned with her video premiere. She didn’t want to lip sync, as it felt too ‘diva’/pop/fake, for example. But she amiably let the creative specialists run with their ideas.

Merrill and dancers rehearse at Autofuss

I spent the next couple of weekends at production studio, Autofuss, in Potrero Hill; and at an Chabot Elementary in Oakland helping build colorful cardboard rocks and trees, painting yellow triangles on kids’ faces, and chalking schizophrenic geometry onto cold concrete studio floors:

Art Director Miriam Lakes amongst the cardboard forest

One of my favorite kids on snack-break from a long day of filming in Oakland

What struck me about being a small part of the process of the video was the respect each person involved had for each others art form and how everyone stepped up to create a finished product that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Director Mimi Cave and DP Devin Whetstone

Director Mimi Cave and DP Devin Whetstone with dancers

In between filming at Chabot Elementary

The workflow on site was also an fascinating aspect: days on sets started at 7am and there was a lot of waiting around, but when it came time to get moving on a scene, all of the components and people – hair, makeup, costume, choreography, etc- came together super smoothly (thanks in large part to the serious organizational production skills of Mimi Cave).  This was especially impressive when the cast included dozens of restless 9 year-olds who had to sit still at their desks on a Saturday, and about 20 modern dancers posed in awkward positions on freezing, chalky concrete floors:

Filming in the Classroom

Chalky dancers during the stop-motion segment

Congratulations to everyone who worked on the video (that has now gone viral, indicated by its showing up on a ridiculously wide range of my friends’ Facebook walls/Twitterfeeds from across the globe soon after its release).  From that preliminary amorphous meeting to the final stop-motion editing by Ashley Rodholm (great job!), I feel lucky to have participated in what can happen when great creative minds merge on a solid project.

So looking forward to seeing the sold out show live- see you at Great American tonight, if you’re lucky enough to have gotten tickets!

-AMD

P.S. For more photos of the shoot, check out my flickr sets here and here.

Radio Killaz: the Collaborative Nature of Popular R&B

Popular R&B is arguably one of the most collaborative genres of music, and yet, much of the population doesn’t seem to consider it so much as a contender.

Because of the way it’s portrayed on television, in websites and magazines, and on the radio, the general public tends to think of R&B as a genre of music that focuses on individual performers. Take, for example, the Billboard’s current* “Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles” list. All ten tracks appear not on a GROUP but on a single artist’s record:

1 – Chris Brown – “Look At Me Now (Feat. Lil’ Wayne & Busta Rhymes)”
2 – Kanye West – “All Of The Lights”
3 – Nick Minaj – “Did It On’em”
4 – Nicki Minaj – “Moment 4 Life (Feat. Drake)”
5 – Lil’ Wayne – “6 Foot 7 Foot (Feat. Cory Gunz)”
6 – Trey Songz – “Love Faces”
7 – Wiz Khalifa – “Roll Up”
8 – Marsha Ambrosius – “Far Away”
9 – Miguel – “Sure Thing”
10 – Jennifer Hudson – “Where You At”

Now, look a little closer. Three of these Top 10 feature one or more “guest artists,” and one of the remaining seven – Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” – is such a collaborative clusterfuck that none of the other artists on the track (Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, and M.I.A., just to name a few) are even credited.

And this is just barely scratching the surface. For the past ten years, producers such as the The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart have quietly been crafting pop perfection for artists other than themselves. These guys work almost 100% behind the scenes (The-Dream has pursued a modest solo career, but hasn’t reached anywhere near the level of success that he’s had writing for other artists). And yet, both of them have made more money in the past 100 radio spins than you or I will see in an entire lifetime.

Why is this, exactly? Well, The-Dream and Stewart have together been responsible for dozens of smash hits, including Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” and Rihanna’s career-defining “Umbrella.” In between they have written and produced records for artists such as Usher, Mariah Carey, and Britney Spears. Let’s face it, these dudes are practically bajillionaires – and neither of them is even over the age of 40.

Funny enough, The-Dream’s solo material is far and above his best work (check out 2009′s Love vs. Money for a stellar introduction). But in all likelihood he will probably always remain something of a cult hero in the R&B world, and will be best recognized for his collaborations with other more well-known artists.

And since we’re on the topic of R&B, one of 2011′s great records so far has surely been the House of Balloons mixtape from Toronto-based The Weeknd. While The Weeknd’s spacious, haunting approach doesn’t quite gel with the crossover hits previously mentioned in this article, House of Balloons is still a very, very good mixtape, worth checking out if not for the Beach House-sampling “The Party/The After Party” and “Loft Music” alone.

So, do it. Even if you’ve never considered it before, go out and listen to some R&B – and then think about the collaborative efforts that have resulted in what you’re hearing. It might just be worth your while.
AME

*One could almost certainly apply the same rule of thumb to the Billboard Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles list from any given week – at least 40% of the week’s songs are bound to feature one or more guest artists. Try it, I dare you: http://bit.ly/16N5wR

Ode to the Flashmob

The media started covering the flashmob craze in the early 00’s, and has since exploded as a pop culture phenomenon. Flashmobs could be inspired acts of random fun created with the intention of bringing a moment of enjoyment to those passer-by’s. Flashmobs are public performances choreographed in advance and executed at random in a prominent public place.

If you haven’t participated in one yourself, odds are you’ve seen one or know someone who has. A seemingly spontaneous large scale performance unexpectedly erupts and it is over just as quickly as it began,df leaving both the participants and the audience to return to life as usual. Thanks to the Internet, these once-in-a-lifetime performances are captured on film and archived for out viewing pleasure. Flashmobs have become so commonplace that they were featured on recent episodes of ABC’s Modern Family and Fox’s Glee.

As any art historian knows, the evolution of the flashmob arguably starts with the Guerrilla Girls. Established in 1985 in New York City, a group of anonymous females took to the streets to exposed discrimination and sexism in a blunt and clever manner. They brought awareness to the public via posters, billboards, stickers, appearances (outfitted in gorilla masks) and more. They used provocative images and humor to encourage discussion on serious issues, and their success was due largely by their approach: reaching out to people in their every day lives where they’d least expect it. They cornered the market on memorable and meaningful public messages.

"Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" Copyright © 1989, 1995 by Guerrilla Girls

Perhaps the Guerrilla Girls are responsive for inspiring the term guerrilla marketing. In recent years, flashmobs have been appropriated as a form of viral marketing. Large groups of people get together, do a little dance, sing a universally know song, and BAM! You come to find out this flashmob was brought to you courtesy of a corporate sponsorship. I don’t think this is at all what the Guerilla Girls had in mind, and I’m sure wherever they are they’re reveling in the poetic irony.

T-mobile took advantage of the flashmob craze by sponsoring a performance in the Liverpool Street tube station in London:

Regardless of the intent behind them, Flashmob videos quickly go viral, as evidenced by the number of hits on Improv Everywhere videos. Frozen in Grand Central Station is one of my favorites (currently bosts nearly 29 million views!):

San Francisco gets in on the action with it’s annual Valentine’s Day Pillowfight:

Use Artlarking’s Creative Classifieds or flashmob.com to organize your own flashmob.

Update: Just can’t wait to be part of a flash mob, you SF folks are in luck! Friday, April 22 at noon in Union Square: Join in and be part of the flashmob kick-off event for Bay Area National Dance Week. (Thank you to Maureen for writing in about this!)

Ballet, Grateful Dead, Architecture, oh my!

Dance choreographer Alonzo King is working in collaboration with percussion legend Mickey Hart and architectural guru Christopher Haas!

Their works have been combined into Lines Ballet Company’s spring season performance tour.  You can find tickets HERE in San Francisco until this Sunday.