Thursday, 26 November 2009
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Is that what it is? That the comics reflect our times? I had recently gone to a talk entitled Black Powers among some comic artists and writers about the representation of black people in comics.
The theme of cultural communication and ethnic representation in comics has occurred to me before, as I had written a paper once on The 99. The 99 is a comic created by a Kuwaiti psychologist and executed between New York and Kuwait, published in English and Arabic; their character base, 99 kids depicting the 99 traits of Allah, represent different people of our global society, from various nationalities to various religions and ethnicities. The main character base though, are Arab.
And thus, listening to the 4 artists and one ‘film guy’ (co-curator of the event), their ideas and questions were opening up in my mind, in the same vein, to every other ethnic group. What they said about black representation, also fell the same for Arabs, for my example. The funny side note on that was that there was an older man present who kept shouting out questions and remarks, at some point he mentioned the Egyptian who is on trial for depicting the Qoran through graphic novel format – but that’s another story. By the end he shouts that “it’s the Arabs that are getting it in the neck!” But going back to the point here, which is representation in popular comic books, John Aggs mentioned that he received a letter from someone in the public who was questioning why he wasn’t drawing any characters in wheelchairs. The first thing I thought to myself was wow, The 99 actually does has a character in a wheelchair, an American, who is able to make his enemy feel pain through the levels of his anger.
In discussing US and English comics, my continuous comparison in what they were saying about Blacks to what I was thinking about Arabs brought me to actually question to what extent are these particular artists open to creating characters of different ethnicities. John Aggs, whose style is reminiscent of the Mange style, admits that he does not include black characters unless it was fitting. This was a point he made which I personally didn't understand as that meant, as Woodrow Pheonix commented at that point, that the "default" would be white.
If thinking of comics from the East, as we all know, the Manga genre/style is a popular one that stems from the Japanese imagination and thus depicts Japanese characters. As an ‘ethnicity’, I would say that we, the audience, have been exposed to the Asian ethnicity in various formats of graphic novel art - but again, these would be representations from the region being represented. So when looking at US and English comics, that would expectedly include the cosmopolitanism of the city lifestyles (not that all comics are from or take place in cities, but perhaps it's safe to say the popular ones are) how much of an ethnic range do we, the readers expect? Of course, we all want to be represented somehow, and depending on our medium of choice, we will, to an extent - maybe subconsciously - look for ourselves.
After I took a walk around looking at the artists work hanging on the walls of the room for the simultaneous exhibition of black comics, black comics’ work and work depicting blacks, I saw a few panels by the mother/son duo Patrice and John Aggs. My question was answered, positively in my opinion. Their strip, The Boss, was about school kids on a trip and indeed, much to my surprise, there was in fact a little muhajba (or veiled) girl among the bunch.
Perhaps it is safe to point out that Arabs are among the races that are generally just not included in the Western imagination, an ‘other’ ethnicity that isn’t thought of in the process that will hope to include all basic representations. But though this is but one, it is a very interesting time to be in where veiled girls and Muslim and Arab names are among those in Western panels. But more importantly, I suppose it just demonstrates that the 'fair' strips are those that are drawn most honestly as the world is seen by the artist.
an image from Patrice and John Aggs' The Boss.
Monday, 9 November 2009
The 2nd part of the symposium was given to artists. Both video artists, Daria Martin and Louise Wilson (of the Jane and Louise Wilson twins) spoke about their work and its relation to Lynch. Though the works weren’t influenced directly by him, there were the points that were crossed in terms of similarities in theoretical themes.
Daria Martin, a video artist who includes performance, sound, sculpture and other forms into her work, considers herself to be a feminist. With that, she added that she isn’t the biggest fan of Lynch and rather considers it to be an animation of “what adolescent male desire and imagination must be like.”
She goes back into what she sees as influences on Lynch in the way of eerie cinema. Kenneth Anger, she says, taught Lynch the double-sensory technique of using bubble-gum or pop music over violent imagery, something that we saw most troublingly in Blue Velvet, (again with that lip synching disconnection that pulls us, the audience, into two worlds at once.)
She sites Todd McGowan, writer of The Impossible David Lynch, as saying that “Lynch critiques pop culture by zooming in on it”; that he goes in on the “human impulse for fantasy and exposes the impossibility of the objet of desire.”
With all this back and forth between the wanting/desiring and out of reachness comes another layer of what is ‘eerie’ in that subtle, subconscious way. Two worlds that do not match and do not connect are somehow played within the same realm creating a world of many worlds, where ulterior selves have ulterior motives, intentions and again, desires.
Getting into Martin’s own work was fascinating in the way that she related to this. Her own work plays with a similar thread of what is scary to the subconscious by visiting and revisiting a friend’s nightmare. What is scary in a dream, eerie in that dimension, may not be as such in the palpable world – but there is something about the collision, or perhaps impossibility of that collision, that puts one in that ‘strange’ place of anxiety.
She explains her film, “Harpstrings and Lava”, in which she tried to mimic that frightful place of her friend’s nightmare. A nightmare that perhaps some of us can relate to where the slow and fast happen at the same time, the ability and the impossibility, the close is so far – where what is just there but barely reachable. She describes it as a place where “nothing is attained”, not even identification or knowing, where “desire creates a void that isn’t filled”. She asks, “where is that sense of attaining” or “what is that return to innocence”? She applies these questions and descriptions to both her film as well as Lynch’s: distant figures (Mulholland Drive), innocent characters (The Elephant Man), and betrayel (Harpstrings and Lava) (and then a mix of them all). Lynch’s fantasies, she says, brings opposite characters together.
Louise Wilson, also a video artist showed her (and her sister with whom she works: The Wilson Sisters) called “Cruel Space”, inspired directly by the films Carrie, The Exorcist and The Shining.
Her talk spoke somewhat about the gaze between subject and object. With that she sites the book The Reel Gaze: Film Theory After Lacan, also by Todd McGowan. In this book, McGowan goes beyond what is classically spoken about in film studies, the gaze from the audience to the screen; he goes into what would be the gaze within the screen itself, whereby in a scene, a gaze from within it can alter the situation, changing the scenario and thus disrupting the ongoing. Wilson gives an example of this from Blue Velvet, the scene where Jeffrey is about to have a fight with Sandy’s boyfriend (over Sandy) and Dorothy walks in beat and naked. In that particular scene, Wilson says, we see that disruption where the scene changes, from fight to fragmented: Dorothy is bruised and naked in a suburban house, out of place, demanding attention, she changes everything and now the gaze is on her, from within the frame, the gaze has shifted to her out of place body and position.
In the discussion between the two of them, they linked the idea of the distance that they, Martin and Wilson, brought up with the theme of control that Luckhurst and McCarthy brought up, saying that what is in charge, the person recording, video taping, sometimes controlling from a control room, is also distant, closed off and god like.
The 3rd part of the talk focused on Inland Empire. Because I hadn’t seen the film, I wasn’t able to fully understand what was being said. Reviewing what was said now that I have seen the film will allow me a better understanding.
Parveen Adams, working in the fields of psychoanalysis and feminism, spoke of the plot of Inland Empire.
Using the word “stickiness” to convey her theory on the film, she talked about the density of the plot and the characters, stating that they ‘stuck’ to each other so intensely, that eventually, the melted into each other, going into a form of collapse, confusing critics in the process.
She spoke of the plot, which has a plot within the plot, and the characters, who play another character in the film within the film.
For example, Adams speaks of:
Nikki à who plays à Sue ß both played by Laura Dern
To me, having now watched the film, it was even more complex than that:
Nikki à was also Nikki Grace à who plays Sue ß who’s life meshed with Nikki Grace ß but not the Nikki we started out with ß all of whom are played by Laura Dern
Clearly, it is all much more dense than this: it is a number of characters within the main character, then there are other scenes or themes that collide, linking together certain spaces and settings, and of course, other characters who are involved.
But going back to Adams’ paper, she talks about the cyclical element of the Nikki – Sue performativity. They are stuck to the plot within the movie, but confuse audiences nonetheless with their seamless change in character, situation and setting. We, the audience, being new to the setting of both Nikki and Sue and even further to the situation of Nikki Grace, are easily taken mistakenly in and out of scenes or switching characters.
Adams explains it in the sense that that which symbolizes the character, that is Laura Dern in both cases, has stuck to the plot to the extent that all the plot lines within the movie have collapsed into one. Having now watched the film, I feel that this adds to the affect that is Lynchian in that he has now pulled the audience to be part of the confusion, the separation within the narratives in the film becomes lacking, leaving us all in a meshed space within the film of an ongoing confusion, similar to that being played out between Nikki and Sue.
Adams credited the collapse of the plot to the actors’ and storyteller’s ability to 'stick' to the plot being what allowed for the story to be told and followed. There was such a density to the characters and their ongoing confusion of the narrative that allowed for the story to be followed.
Following Parveen Adams was a performance by Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster. He, a philosopher, and she, a psychoanalyst, are married. They chose to focus on the theme of marriage from Inland Empire and presented their findings in a more unique way. Transcribing lines from the film, they read them out playing a sort of male – female/husband – wife back and forth of dialogue from within the film. I really wished I had seen the film before seeing their performance as, unfortunately, I didn't understand the bulk of it. But if interested in their transcription, it can be read here. (Thanks Amal)
As mentioned at the beginning of Part I, I decided in my ‘overview’ to only add the bits that caught me out of interest and/or agreement. There was clearly a lot more said that I have not mentioned, and in fact more said about what I did mention.
I do hope the papers prepared for this symposium are published because whether or not readers will agree with what was said or how it was said, it does open up some good discussion about the elusiveness of Lynch films.
Monday, 2 November 2009
The Lynch symposium at the Tate Modern this last Halloween day was full of different types of information and insights. Though the good stuff was absolutely fantastic, I had issue with some of the points of the day’s talks where it felt as though people were boasting about themselves, their own works, and at one point one of the speaker’s personal relationship with the Lynch himself, rather than giving a perspective into the works we were gathered to discuss. At those points it seemed as though there was more of an infatuation by the author (Lynch) rather than interest in his works. The blur of the line between the man and his works led to a bit of an uncomfortable glorification that backfired on the intelligibility of the symposium itself.
Otherwise, it was a very strong (he should be proud) outcome for the co-organizer, Richard Martin, whose PhD thesis this event reflected. His title: The Architecture of David Lynch was the topic of discussion; the event was part sponsored by the institution where he’s doing his research, The London Consortium.
There were a few speakers who I found really interesting, eye opening, insightful and exciting. Because there was so much said, I think I will focus more tightly on those.
Below is a sort of overview of/notes on/ideas about/links to what was said at the 8-hour symposium that took place.
Roger Luckhurst gave me a lot to think about and was a great start to the symposium. He spoke of a few themes and placed Lynch’s films within a historical context of American pop-culture.
He starts out bringing up Baudrillard’s notion of the ‘revenge of the object’. To me its so fitting to bring this notion alive by applying it Lynch – where the subject can only imagine the state of the object. And somewhere, that imagination will come out in reverse of cause and effect, creating the hyperreal world of inverse dimensions, where the inanimate, though taking the theory literally, does have a role in the world blurring the lines of live/fiction/surreal.
Just writing that actually fills me with the eeriness that remembering the emotional reaction to Lynch brings me. There are so many examples of this: a video tape in Lost Highway, the box in Mulholland Drive, studio and script in Inland Empire. Spaces and objects shift behaviour, from bright, happy American suburban neighborhood to dark, grimy, violent American urban city taking the characters with them, attached and belonging to the different worlds that they are in at that moment.
The scariness in all this is in the pace: the spaces between words, the quiet, the seemingly mundane, the inanimate… An unspoken of ‘other’ that is constituted by the spaces we live amidst, where the quietude of the spaces are in fact another character themselves.
Luckhurst’s main objective with his paper is to give a general run-through of the history of “weird” in American popular culture, and high culture, the panel seemed to bring up a few times (though I’m more attracted to/interested in the idea of the popular.)
The genre of ‘weird fiction’ was actually a new one to me, and goes a long way. Starting with H.P. Lovecraft, America seemed to nurture the “weird”. There was a lineage of “supreme antidote to realism” from Hawthorne to Ambrose Bierce. Then the weird started to enter the world of cinema with Bunuel, and then further with his collaboration with the surreal and Dali. All this adds to the gothic’s entry into art.
The short story, The Willows, a work that is said to be a favourite of H.P. Lovecraft, pushed the ‘genre’ of weird fiction where its ‘wrongness’ added to the ‘weird’. The story addresses the hidden other that creeps through the trees; something perhaps of the supernatural, but a thought that enters many subconscious minds. The story goes back and forth between an imagination of the unreal having life, the hostility of some unseen force, and the need for spiritual sacrifice.
The role of Lovecraft on horror and film enters the pulp genre, with novelist and screenwriter Robert Bloch, his student, as a pioneer. Having written the original Psycho in novella form, later to be made into a major classic by Hitchcock in 1960, Bloch continued to write screenplays for both Hitchcock Presents and The Hitchcock Hour.
Seeing the more concrete comparisons between Lynch and Lovecraft, Luckhurst followed the thread in their biographies that lead to their being reviled by life in big cities. While Lovecraft’s work was influenced heavily by the grime of life in New York City, Lynch’s was born also from his experiences in Philadelphia.
From this, came Lynch’s many themes including that of the supernatural, the hyperreal and the mythological.
The loose trilogy of Lost Highway / Mulholland Drive / Inland Empire exemplifies most clearly Lynch’s use of the non-linear to tell his narrative. Split personalities that go in loops cutting the linearity of the ‘normal’ and adding to the sense of the surreal even in its form. Sound, the condensation of space and time, old school technology and communication devices like rotary phones and old intercoms, the use of spaces, his mis-en-scene made up of furniture he built himself, all add to the allure of what is the Lynchian akwardity, “the un-recognizable recognizable”, all going in loops, inwards and outwards.
“The power of the weird successfully unsettles and disturbs.”
see also: S.T. Joshi, historian of ‘weird fiction’.
Tom McCarthy (click for an interview by Alexander Provan in Bidoun. Not the same topic, but why not?)
McCarthy’s paper was definitely a highlight in the entire symposium, bringing ideas of the human versus the subhuman versus the ultra-human in to the works of Lynch. He also went into the uncanny between the human and the puppet, “begging the question, then, who is the puppeteer?” and between the angelic and the demonic, gods and witches.
He opens his talk with The Amputee, a film made twice by Lynch about a woman with stubs for legs writing a letter. A nurse is there tending to the scar tissue, still oozing with liquids and substances while a voice over leads us through the letter being written. This double take was the result of the American Film Institute’s intention to test the quality of two different film stocks. Lynch took the opportunity to revisit what seems to be an interesting topic to him (I believe he deemed it popular only through proof that he did it twice); remaking the film using the two different stocks but recreating the exact shots and script. The attraction of Lynch to the handicapped is focused in on here.
Deformity, McCarthy says, is instrumental in the works of Lynch, especially in the case of lost limbs and organs, as they lead to replacement of body parts with instruments, tool or machines, such as crutches, wheel chairs, hearing aids, and so on. The aesthetic of the prosthetic leads to an ontological situation that opens many doors in the realms of the Lynchian.
Crossing over to Freudian interpretation, McCarthy takes us to his “Prosthetic God” which says that a man who is part machine has more power, but because the prosthetic is not a natural growth, there are grasping problems between man and his new tool (or new strength).
In relation to these themes, he gave examples from Blue Velvet:
the ear: with exaggerated sound, transmitted, severed and more powerful that the father, laying down recovering from a heart attack, wired up cage like
the mime: lip synching, voiceless sound travel
the microphone: iconic, classic Lynchian microphone, Dorothy sings loud and the sound is screechy
The technology and the prosthetic bring into the frame and the meta-context the god-like and the handicapped at the same time.
The prosthesis also eludes to imagery of the marionette, joints joined by squeaky nuts and bolts allowing for mechanical, crank-controlled movement.
This questions, as said above, who then the puppeteer would be:
In Blue Velvet the theme (or thread) of ‘control’ plays and re-plays in another form of loops where Dorothy commands Jeffrey, Frank threatens Dorothy; in Elephant Man Treves over Merrick, and of course, overall, Lynch himself over his actors. Thus the marionette lends to the idea of control, the puppeteer, the godly.
Going through Wild at Heart, a film that wasn’t discussed as much throughout the symposium, we looked at more character relations:
Marietta as wicked witch, evil goddess, looking through the crystal ball with her eye on her daughter Lula, hating her lover Sailor and thus plotting to kill him;
Bobby Peroux is the dark angel, not merely in terms of figure of speech, but true to its fantastical metaphor.
Together, they control the lives of Lula and Sailor
Lost Highway – Mulholland Drive – Inland Empire lend to much “ontological discrepancies”.
McCarthy points out the mystery man who has a beaming, lit angelic face, Richard Pryor plays his last role while in a wheel chair, radio’s interference have more to do with fate (see Revenge of the Object above) than the characters themselves, and electronic ears and intercoms have power to give and take information as well as open doors to new dimensions, and finally, the mystery man appears becoming machine, or more cinematically, a man with a movie camera (showing this particular image below as an example), recording all, able to cut and speed up, condensing time and space, creating a non-linear narrative.
With all this, the "outsourcing of the self", the machine lends to just enough excess human power.
In the filmic sense: sound and vision allow for a duality of sense-reaction. Sound (being 50% of Lynch’s film make up - as was brought up in the discussion later) allows the audience to listen, the eerie sounds lead by Lynch and Badalementi and whatever bands they collaborate with have a very precise rhythmic moodiness that envelope the events as the unfold on screen, controlling a view sometimes contradictory of the sound.
McCarthy’s rather inspiring and eye-opening paper was followed by Gregory Crewdson. Although an interesting photographer, his place in the symposium didn’t seem to lend much to the topicality as he dodged (or didn’t have an answer to, or simply wasn’t interested in, or maybe didn’t see the relevance of) any question linking his talk back to Lynch.
He was scheduled to talk about the influences on his own work, but gave us a slide show and bio-talk that showed us his work, the history of it, stories behind it, and the making of it.
I definitely hope that the above two writers publish their papers as there was so much interesting information, citations, and analysis of Lynch.