Notes on Metamodernism ~ Source Image: Screenshot of online zine

Notes on metamodernism is a webzine documenting trends and tendencies across aesthetics and culture that can no longer be understood by a postmodern vernacular but require another idiom – one that we have come to call metamodernism. Written by academics and critics from around the globe, Notes on metamodernism features observations on anything from the Berlin art scene to US cinema, from London fashion shows to network cultures.

~ Excerpt from Notes on Metamodernism online zine

I do a lot of exploring in the virtual landscape. My evenings are spent reading, writing, and discovering new artists, writers, and theorists. Sometimes, I run into virtual spaces I’m convinced were created just for me (okay, okay, that’s a bit selfish to say but you know what I mean). Notes on Metamodernism is an online zine for artists, writers, and bloggers who thrive on critical theory and thinking. Definitely worth your time if you’re interested in this type of writing (and reading)!

I had two entertaining conversations (both on separate occasions) in the past two weeks. The Understanding Perception posts are dedicated to two intelligent men who, admittedly, have said, “I don’t get it!” when discussing Modern and Contemporary Art. Their innate curiosity and willingness to exchange ideas prompted me to write.

Now, Justin and Josef, I’m not trying to persuade you to fall in love with Modern and Contemporary art. Although I’m a huge fan of both, your opinions are valued and respected. What was important to me was your inclination to delve deeper into why you think Modern and Contemporary artists (specifically, abstract expressionists and conceptual artists) don’t make (what you define as) art.

This is my attempt at taking what is purely retinal and showing how art evolves through a series of radical changes in practices, philosophies, and a desire to involve the viewer on a much more intellectual level. Art, truly, is a living thing. Remember, there was a time in history when art was used, primarily, to tell a story (i.e., Catholic Church), especially, for people who were considered uneducated or completely illiterate (i.e., thank you again, Catholic Church and Colonialism – that’s another issue for another day). With time, Art’s function shifts and even can go against function. With all this change, it makes sense that many forms of art have evolved into such a multi-faceted experience.

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John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1884 (Black and White Photograph or Original)

Having recently finished the book, Strapless by Deborah Davis, I felt obliged to use the subject of the book as an example of representational art. The sense of sight is activated, you receive all the visual data you need, and your memories and experiences tell you what you’re looking at. For many people, this painting is a close composite to what may be found in the real world. A woman. A Black dress. A white woman wearing a gown. You’ve got the picture, literally.

However, in 1884, this painting was rejected by art critics and the general public because it was such a departure from its subject, Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau, also known as Madame X. Her skin was corpse like white with an awkwardly positioned arm, and a fallen dress strap (which didn’t bode well within Parisian Belle Epoche). Essentially, the fallen strap was scandalous. In retrospect, it was Sargent’s way of introducing something innovative in portraiture. Yet, what about someone like me? Since I’m a woman of color, it means something different to me. Madame X was a dilettante housewife and socialite that went to great lengths to keep her appearance pristine. In many ways, this is not a portrait of an average woman in Parisian culture. The portrait means nothing to me but, technically, it’s an amazing testament to Sargent’s deftness with a brush but it’s a part of art history I can’t deny, right? I can’t dismiss it because it doesn’t resonate or relate to me. It’s an artifact. Yet, in any case, this is what most people know and define as art.

Bottom line: This painting is a purely ocular experience. Isn’t it? You get what you see, for the most part. Granted, it’s all the more interesting when you know the story behind the painting and I think that’s what intrigues people the most – the back story.

Marcel Duchamp's, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

Next, there’s Marcel Duchamp. Some people love him or you hate him. Either way, he’s another important figure in art history. This painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, is an abstraction of, well, a nude model descending a staircase! The architectural nature and form that the lines create are significantly different from the portrait of Madame X. Your eyes give you information but it may not necessarily match up with what you know about a real life nude (let’s say, a woman), correct? Would you have known it’s a woman or man descending a staircase? Why or why not? Does it even matter? There is a particular visual rhythm you see here that gives you all the visual clues necessary to ascertain that this is a figure in motion. Another aspect of abstraction is that you’re not being spoon fed the content. Forget about a subject or a figure. There’s something greater at work. You’re no longer thinking about an individual, you’re senses along with your cognition are working to make you think of other things (i.e., motion, tradition vs. avant-garde, etc.).

Bottom line: Representation gives you what you know. Abstraction gives you what you don’t know so you think.

I know, I know…one of you mentioned to me that you don’t like art that makes you think but you were willing to hear me out and exchange thoughts about art history (i.e., effects of the advent of photography and what it did to painting, innovation, post war, etc.). 🙂

All right, I’m going to end here.

We’re getting closer to looking at the smudges and smears on the museum walls and canvases that prompt you to ask, “WHY is THIS art?” I’m getting to it…

[Traditional Art enters the room]

Dorothy (DS): Hey Traditional!! I’m glad you could make it. I really wanted you to meet my friend, Digital. I know you’ve heard a lot about her. She’s amazing! Just like you!

Traditional: I don’t know about this. I’ve heard a lot about Digital. She moves way too fast. I mean, all those connections. Who knows where all those wires have been?! Are you sure this is a good idea? I’m okay with all the painters and sculptors, you know. They like me but it is starting to get a bit boring from time to time. Oh, I had some time and passed by this exhibition where your voice controlled the piece! Crazy chaotic drawing that looked like a bunch of blind contours. Anyway, it was pretty cool. Look, I don’t want to give up all my drawing and painting and I just got into sculpture. You’re right though. I need to connect with more people. This is still scary for me. You know how shy I am. I still don’t know about this. What if she doesn’t like me?!?

[Traditional, nervously, steps away to retrieve her sketchbook and pencils to doodle for a bit]

DS to Traditional: Don’t take too long. She’s gonna be here any minute now.

[DS, quickly, walks to the monitor and sees Digital]

DS to Digital: Heya Digital!! [We exchange emoticons. Our waves are in slow motion so it’s faster to send a smiley face with teeth! Yes, this meeting is virtual. What did you expect?]. How have you been? I haven’t seen you in like, oh, I don’t know, 2 minutes! That’s a long time!!

Digital: I know, right? So, yeah, I’ve gotta get back to connecting the world but I know you’ve been wanting to introduce me to someone? Where is she? You told me she’s classic. You know how I love perennial style. I’m getting hard pressed by all the ladies who swing all these gigs and fancy script around. It takes more than code and all these fancy pimped out externals to get me going. I don’t mind slowing things down a bit too. I’ve got a soft spot for craftiness, an affinity for Olympia typewriters. Yeah, you know what I mean, right? Oh, if I could draw with some pencils without all these vectors and Wacom tablets. I don’t know. I’m starting to feel like Data from Star Trek.

DS to Digital: Oh, umm, hold on a second.

[DS moves away from the monitor and has TA take a seat in front of the monitor]

DS Voice: Traditional meet Digital. Digital meet Traditional.

TA and DA [simultaneously]: Ummm, hi.

Will they get together? Will their lines get crossed? Who knows?!? This is only the beginning…stay tuned. Yes…I had an imaginary friend when I was growing up. I’ll try to make the next installment a juicy one! 😉

Being a native San Franciscan, I’ve seen the cityscape change drastically over the years.  From the addition of the UCSF campus at China Basin to the 3rd Street Rail Line project, I’ve always been quite curious of the urban planning involved in such large-scale projects.  Although fanciful and whimsical ideas of making one’s commute more comfortable and accommodating (i.e., a sauna and gym conveniently located in a neighboring train car) are left up to dreamy planners and imaginative artists and designers, these innovative ideas were discussed during the Urban Visions panel discussion held at the California College of the Arts (CCA) on Monday, February 4, 2008.

Talented and humorously prophetic artists, Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert, collaborated with a multi-faceted group of panelists from transportation to urban development consulting and architecture.  The dialogue was specifically geared towards the city’s current concerns involving urban planning and transportation.  Based on existing conversations and research, Jennings and Lambert, created posters depicting a San Francisco urban plan where the possibilities were not bound by bureaucracy, public opinion, pecuniary hindrances, and physics.  The amusing takes on the San Francisco urban landscape were shown via Jennings and Lambert’s Market Street posters.  The surreal yet inventive depictions of human convenience aim to entertain the onlooker but present citizens with ideas for endless travel possibilities as potential reality.

The overall panel discussion was lively and rife with discussion that crossed over a broad range of issues within any cosmopolitan place.  Transportation consultant, Seleta Reynolds with Fehr & Peers Associates presented current projects that gave the audience a glimpse into what is entailed in her day-to-day job.  Basically, Fehr & Peers Associates look at a large number of transportation solutions that are both feasible and not so feasible (i.e., aerial tram way that would transport travelers from Alameda to Oakland).  Granted, much of what goes on the drawing and planning board may be deemed as virtually impossible, yet it is a way for people to engage in discourse of what is actually possible prior to disregarding rather realistic ideas that may other wise not make it to an urban planning meeting.

Peter Albert, Deputy Director of Planning with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) provided an overview of how creative thinking is implemented into practical solutions to improve and address the overall transportation issues and concerns.  Oddly enough, driving alongside the J line, I’ve always wondered why the train lets the passengers exit right out into open traffic and learned that the SFMTA addresses where these issues are occurring and how they can be remedied.  I also learned of ongoing projects for “Traffic Calming”.  Calming the streets of bustling and densely populated city incorporates tools that include but not limited to road narrowing, speed bumps, raised intersections, concrete islands, closures, and, yes, trees.

Principal, founder, and chair of Public Architecture, John Peterson of Peterson Architects, presented two polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to urban living.  Peterson showed the layout for a recently purchased home in one of the more affluent San Francisco neighborhoods that was once rented for $20,000 a month until escrow closed for an undisclosed amount to a wealthy dot com co-founder.  Well, undisclosed at the panel discussion.  The other example addressed the utilization of public space for a more egalitarian benefit – a day laborer station.  This station included multi-level benches for convenient seating and a kitchen to stimulate that particular community and bring in a shared revenue.

As mentioned by Tom Radulovich, Executive Director for Livable City and member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors, there are three primary factors that play an integral part in understanding and creating a livable space – the 3 Ms – Movement, Marketplace, and Meeting.  Radulovich drew comparisons of cities to San Francisco, which included Brussels, Granada, and London.  Although similar in density, there is still a disparity in the advancements and overall innovations in urban design.  Unfortunately, San Francisco falling a bit behind but catching up with the emergence of many sustainable living efforts.  He also emphasized the desire many people have for a walk-able urban environment integrated with natural elements (i.e., foliage, more trees, and all things natural).

Although I left the lecture with a tremendous amount of information and resources, it reminded me of how I define my space and what exactly comprises it.  There were tons of questions and comments after the discussion which dealt with the frustrations and the need to expand the conversation beyond a college theater.  Considering much of what San Franciscans see is already in the construction phase, the discussion reminded me of the importance around discourse and how community arts lends itself extremely well to communicating what citizens can do to create space as opposed to just living in it.

For more information on Packard Jennings, click here
To learn more about Steve Lambert, click here

Originally Posted: February 5, 2008