Bristol, UK multimedia painter Ian Francis makes bridges: between abstraction and figuration; between the Pictures Generation and Francis Bacon; between sex and violence (or, in his words, “pornography and news reports from warzones”); between savaging our media-saturated era and dancing in the ruins it’s left behind. For his new exhibit, “Artificial Winter,” Francis continues to tackle his usual themes while incorporating material confronting the massive social-media driven shift from ordinary people’s role as passive consumers of media content to active creators and curators—a world where we have seen “The Spectacle” and it is us.
Speaking with the wonderfully named but now defunct San Francisco-based arts e-zine Fecal Face, Francis had this to say about his work:
I spend a lot of time watching TV/films, reading books and looking around the internet… I save loads of photos I find interesting from all kinds of different places. I then flick through them, and try to think about how ideas link together, and mock up roughs in photoshop. I like combining different elements of photos of people with abstract sections of old paintings I’ve done. Once I’ve got an idea of what I want to do, I try and figure out how to paint it… sometimes the final piece looks a lot like the rough, sometimes it changes drastically while I’m painting it. When I’m painting, I just switch back and forth between paint, drawing, collage or anything lying around.
Regarding “Artificial Winter” in particular, Francis shares:
Looking back on my work, the focus has slowly shifted from media images of celebrities, to the curated images people create and maintain of themselves. I’m interested in the fragility of the construction of these images, the way they relate to each other, and their broader relationship with a pervasive feeling of a world falling apart. I’m amazed by the way people have transitioned from watching a world through screens, to being creators and participants of it, and the way they have become inextricably enmeshed within its structures and artifices.
Enjoy some selections from “Artificial Winter.” A mouse click spawns an enlargement.
I know of very few vinyl obsessives who’ve never availed themselves of the global online music database at discogs.com. A crowdsourced and fact-checked project of 17 years standing so far, its every entry is a deep trove of information, including every known global release of any given official release, bootleg, promo, off-label release or vanity press. In all the years I’ve used it, I can think of maybe twice that a release about which I sought information was unknown to the database. All of this, it merits mentioning, is free of charge and free of advertising. There’s even a marketplace, putting users and shops who’re selling items together with frustrated crate-diggers who haven’t been able to find them the old-fashioned way. That feature has repeatedly posed a mortal threat to my checking account.
In the last few years, they’ve expanded their model, creating similar sites that seek to comprehensively catalog books, films, pieces of musical equipment, comics, and even posters—all with their own potentially wallet-decimating marketplaces. But their most exciting project, to my mind, is VinylHub, their endeavor to create an interactive map of every brick-and-mortar record store on Earth, a perfect resource for the world-traveling vinyl obsessive. I was in Bangkok last spring, and had I only known how close I was to the selection of international indie rock at 8 Musique and the DJ hub Quay Records, I probably could have come home with armloads of amazing finds. (Next time…) If you’re going to be in Ulaanbaatar, Azerbaijan, or Nairobi, and you’re just JONESING for a crate-dig, you’re covered.
8 Musique (Photos from the shops’ respective FB pages)
But as I have no major travel plans in the works for now, what’s been most fascinating to me has been looking for the outliers, and a recent post on Discogs’ blog has some interesting breakdowns for data geeks. The single city with the largest density of shops is Tokyo—had you asked me to guess I’d have probably said London. The most remote record store on Earth is a cluster of CD stalls above a produce market in the tiny Pacific island Kingdom of Tonga, but Vinyl Run, located on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, sure looks like a contender. The northernmost is in Alta, Norway; the southernmost is in Invercargill, New Zealand. But there remain huge uncharted swaths of the globe, and this is a crowdsourced project, so if you’re a Discogs member (which, again, is free) and you know of an unlisted shop, you’re free to contribute and make VinylHub as complete as possible. I mean, there have to be record stores in Vladivostok, no? Yet VinylHub lists none.
I was a lonely teenager who spent too much time wandering around the streets of Edinburgh taking photographs with my old Hanimex Halina camera of the historic buildings, monuments, and busy streets thronged with people busy with some unknown purpose. I was trying to fix in black & white and color how exactly I fitted in to all of this—other than by accident of birth.
When I handed in the roll of film to get developed, I would wait three days to a week for the magic to be done and a slim paper wallet filled photographs returned to me. I wanted the finished results to be a starting point for stories which I could claim as my own. A lot of the time, I wondered why I’d bothered in the first place as the pictures were little more than plain representations of what already existed—the theatrical backdrops against which we all perform. That’s possibly why I often preferred the pictures that came back with a quality control label attached that stated the image was blurred, out of focus, subject to close to camera, camera shake, or were diagnosed with red/yellow overall cast to print, or film exposed under tungsten light or early morning/late afternoon sunlight, or the warning: fluorescent lights give prints a yellow/green cast. These were far more appealing as they offered a starting point to stories that were more to do with imagination than biography.
“Bad” photographs, that is pictures poorly framed, blurred by movement, or over exposed by light, are sometimes like the best illustrations to weird tales of horror and nightmare. The woman who happily sat in her garden waiting for her picture to be taken oblivious of the small approaching beast, its flash of teeth and claws, ready to pounce and devour. Or, the family of monstrous shapeshifters captured unraveling in front of the camera. Or the demon held proudly aloft in its mother’s arms burning with the flames of Hell. Or, the strange Lovecraftian light moving purposefully across the creased waters of a lake. Perhaps the following selection of bad vintage photographs will inspire your imagination too?
More weirdly wonderful photographs, after the jump…
I’ve never really cottoned to 60 Minutes. I’ve always thought their approach was rather heavy-handed, pushing a simplistic line through bullying interviews and repetition of facts that might be considered innocuous when viewed in a sober frame of mind. One of the best takedowns of the 60 Minutes method comes from the talented writer Michael J. Arlen, who published a lengthy critique of the show in The New Yorker in 1977—and his criticisms stand up perfectly well in the present day, in my view. (You can read Arlen’s piece in his 1981 collection The Camera Age.)
In 1985 the show turned its attention to Dungeons and Dragons, and the results were predictably overwrought. The 1980s were an unusual time of “moral panic”—over drug use and satanism, sexual lyrics in rock songs and D&D and drunk driving—there was hardly an aspect of teens’ lives that parents couldn’t blow up into a huge threat to the safe and featureless suburbanism in which so many of the teens lived.
The 60 Minutes reporter on the case is Morley Safer, whose very calmness is an ideal conduit for the moral panic at issue. He idly puzzles over the funky-looking dice—one young enthusiast tells him that the 4-sided die is mainly used for damage from daggers and darts—before getting to the condemning testimonials, most heartbreakingly the sister of a teen who had committed suicide. An alarmist psychologist is trotted out—this one employed by the University of Illinois—I’m sure that such people would never use the moral panic to enhance their own bank accounts, no sir.
Fortunately, Gary Gygax himself is on hand as well, to supply a reasonable analogy to Monopoly, in which the money lost isn’t real. With the perspective of decades, it’s all too clear that D&D may at best have been a symptom of deeper problems like alienation and loneliness, rather than a driver of violent deaths.
An image of Maila Nurmi as Vampira taken in 1955. It is a part of a huge collection of vintage LAPD crime scene pictures unearthed by photographer Merrick Morton in 2014.
Fototeka is a large photo digitation service that works in conjunction with the National Film Archive to enhance historically relevant vintage photographs. Started in 2009, the photographic archive has digitized photos that were taken as early as the 1920s. In 2014 LA photographer Merrick Morton (who also spent time as an LAPD reserve officer) was hipped to the existence of a massive collection of crime scene photos taken for the LAPD that had been long forgotten. The photos were in such bad shape that their decay posed a fire threat thanks to the instability of the cellulose nitrate-based film and negatives. Cellulose nitrate was used widely in the film industry up until the late 1940s or early 1950s when it was “retired” from use due to the dangers associated with the decomposing film.
Morton and his group of film archivists spent hundreds of hours toiling to rescue the photos that had been slated for the trash pile owing to their condition. The grim collection includes pictures that chronicle crimes such as mob hits and bank robberies, as well as other curious images such as one of Maila Nurmi dressed as Vampira posing in what appears to be a dingy-looking storage facility (pictured at the top of this post). Some of the more infamous photos that were salvaged by Morton include the aftermath of comedian Lenny Bruce’s overdose in March of 1966 and a shot of members of the Manson Family arriving at their arrangement in 1970. Many of the images that follow are NSFW.
A lifeless body lying underneath a bridge over the Los Angeles River in 1955.
February 4th, 1949.
A truck carrying a huge load of seized marijuana photographed on October 11th, 1935.
Last year, I was very fortunate to see an early cut of Rupert Russell’s documentary on the rise of fake democracy Freedom of the Wolf, which will be on release soon and is currently screening at the International Documentary Festival (IDFA) over the next two weeks. The title of the film comes from the renowned philosopher Isaiah Berlin who once said, “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.” This quote provides a starting-point for Russell who goes in search of the world’s most dangerous idea Freedom.
The end result is an excellent and indispensable documentary which provides one helluva ride across continents to meet the people battling on the frontline like the demonstrators occupying the streets of Hong Kong against the Chinese government’s removal of their democratic rights; or the youngsters in Tunisia who are left frustrated and isolated after the failure of the Arab Spring where telling a joke now can land them in jail; and to death on the streets of America, #BlackLivesMatter, and the game-changing election of Donald Trump in 2016. Freedom of the Wolf is the essential documentary to go and see if you want to get a handle on what is happening to freedom and democracy in the world right now .
I caught-up with Russell who has been screening Freedom of the Wolf at film festivals across the world to great acclaim. I started by asking him what had the response to his film been like at film the festivals?
Rupert Russell: The screenings have been fantastic; with a few cultural differences. In the UK, people have been responding to the dark humor – there’s a low-level absurdity that runs through the whole film, which the Brits pick up on pretty quickly. In Poland, the audiences were anxious to discuss how to mount successful protests; which, for them, is understandable!
DM: Was it what you expected?
Russell: To be honest, I think it’s wise to have no expectations. Sure, you screen the film to your friends and family who are supportive and tell you it’s great. I’m sure even Ed Wood had words of encouragement when he played a cut of Plan 9 From Outer Space or Tommy Wiseau with The Room. So I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the reaction.
DM: What do you think Trump will do? Where do you think he’s going as President?
Russell: After the Republicans take a pummeling in the 2018 elections, Trump will be rattled. He’ll provoke a foreign war to consolidate his base and divide the Democrats. Where? Who knows. Australia and Canada appear as villains in Trump’s twitter feed as much as North Korea. I’m guessing that Trump is going to surprise us by invading a U.S. territory. Remember in 2015 how the InfoWars crowd was stoking a heated conspiracy for months that Obama was going to “invade” Texas? It may sound insane, but Trump’s favorite website reported that this kind of action is a normal response to a “hostile” enemy – even if it is already under the control of the Pentagon. Puerto Rico would be the obvious contender for a self-invasion. But Trump is never predictable, so I’m putting my money on California.
DM: Do you think revolutionary acts “keep the status in the quo”?—as a character in one of Derek Jarman’s films once ironically pointed out?
Russell: If your bar for success is the elimination of inequality, sexism, racism and other forms of oppression in their entirety, then yes, every act – revolutionary or not – is unlikely to eliminate them. There’s something ingrained in us to create distinctions and hierarchies. Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels captured this flaw in human nature elegantly in the sectarian conflict between Big-Endians and the Little-Endians; that is, between those who crack open an egg on the big or little end. If we can’t find a real reason to divide ourselves, we’ll find one: no matter how arbitrary or absurd.
But if you lower the bar, to say, improvement, then I think even small – let alone revolutionary – acts can make a big difference. If you thought the global women’s marches on January 21 were going to lead to the removal of Donald Trump or the overthrow of patriarchy, then yes, you will have been disappointed. But the current pushback against famous men who have sexually assaulted, harassed, and demeaned women, then I think you have the Women’s March to thank for it. It generated grassroots organizations - in both real life and online - that gave women spaces, opportunities, and platforms to articulate and understand what, until then, had been largely private interactions.
And if you take the two most successful civil disobedient campaigns in history – the civil rights struggle in the US and campaign for independence in India – the striking thing is how long they took. Change takes decades. Sometimes a protest resulted in a step backward with more oppression; other times they moved things forward. But the individuals knew that their struggle was historic and may even take multiple generations to complete. That’s why the arc of history is “long” – and not conveniently contained within a 24-hour news cycle.
DM: What do you think will happen in Hong Kong? And in Tunisia?
Russell: In Hong Kong, the short term looks very bleak. Young leaders are in prison, and pro-democracy legislators have been banned from the legislature. In the long term, I’m optimistic. There’s a body of research in psychology that has found that the events that happen in your early adult life – from 18 to 22 – have an incredible impact on the rest of your life. So in Hong Kong, you have an entire generation who has teargassed by the police and slept under highways for democracy; they’re not going to forget that. And in twenty, thirty years, these will be the people who will be running the banks, the civil service, and even the police in Hong Kong.
Tunisia is sadly predictable. The President, Beji Essebsi, has used the police to drive motorcycles in protests and kept laws that prohibit the criticizing of public officials on the books (inherited from the dictatorship, which he served in). He has made some important reforms on women’s issues, freeing Muslim women from the necessity of having to marry another Muslim. This shouldn’t surprise us though. He was the Minister of the Interior – the heart of the police state – under the secular dictator Ben Ali. So a mixture of authoritarianism and anti-Islamism was to be expected. The unfortunate thing is that while progress on women’s issue is reported in the Western press, his illiberal actions are not. Perhaps this is because we want to keep in our (Western) minds the notion that Tunisia is a “success” and “progress” is being made. It’s a narcissistic reflection of our own ideals; our values flourishing outside of our immediate cultural orbit. And if we look too closely, we may not like what we see.
DM: What next for you? What are you making?
Russell: I have just completed an animated web-series for the online streaming platform, Yaddo. It’s called How the World Went Mad and it uses a mixture of satire and science to try to explain the rise of Trump. Each episode takes a lesson from social science to explain a different aspect of this “disease” – diagnosis, symptoms, transmission, epidemic, and cure. It’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to put them out there. Not sure how the episode on suicide bombing is going to be received. But I’m ready for the trolls (the episode might be the one thing that will unite ISIS and the Alt-Right).
It’s been noted that all of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, in addition to being a feast for the eyes, are positively obsessed with food. There’s always a section in every movie where the characters enjoy a bite to eat, and in every case the food is meticulously observed and rendered. The food can be grand or simple, doesn’t matter, the same careful attention to detail, whether it’s the feast of the king in The Cat Returns or Umi’s cooking in Up on Poppy Hill or the candies in Grave of the Fireflies.
Some dedicated Instagrammer going by the name 01ghibli23 has decided to recreate the meals of Miyazaki’s movies in real life, right down to the careful positioning of the egg on the bread or the pieces of carrot on the plate. In addition to these re-creations, there are also pix of Miyazaki’s posters and Totoro-shaped cookies and stuff like that.
Great, now I want to watch all of Miyazaki’s movies and I’m hungry….. Actually that’s not a bad place to be at all!
Celebrity endorsements of PETA are nearly as infamous as the company’s graphic and often-questionable awareness campaigns. Since the animal rights organization was founded in 1980, influentialfigures from the arts and entertainment world have voiced their concerns over animal cruelty, whether in favor of vegetarianism or in disapproval of product testing on animals. Even Iggy Pop and Nick Cave are known proponents.
The man behind the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ most controversial campaigns is Senior Vice President, Dan Matthews. Much earlier in his career, before more famous people like Paul McCartney, Pink and Pamela Anderson got involved, Dan reached out to none other than Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen—an inspired choice, I think you’ll agree—about a compilation album to benefit PETA. With Jourgensen on board as the album’s primary producer, Matthews put together a different kind of record; one that would find a correlation between music and animal activism.
Featuring a forlorn monkey in a laboratory on its cover, Animal Liberation was released by legendary Chicago independent label Wax Trax! on April 21st, 1987. All songs on the compilation were donated to PETA by the artists (some had been previously released) and featured subjects of animal cruelty. Among key contributors to the album were musicians like The Smiths, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Captain Sensible, Chris & Cosey, Shriekback, and a collaboration between Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich. Song clips between tracks featured ominous segments of “actual dialogue from animal experimenters and meat farmers and actual alerts from TV and radio shows.” While Jourgensen did not contribute any actual music to the project, the interlude clips were all produced by him.
From the album’s linear notes:
In 1985, Dan Matthews (PETA) approached Al Jourgensen (Ministry, Wax Tax) about helping put together a “different” sort of benefit album - for animal rights. Sympathetic artists from across America and Europe were approached to donate material on animal issues (some songs previously released). From all these submissions, ANIMAL LIBERATION has surfaced - the songs interspersed with action segments containing actual dialogue from animal experimenters and meat farmers and actual alerts from TV and radio shows. The introduction carries, in 11 languages, the central theme: “ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS TO EAT, WEAR OR EXPERIMENT ON.”
Berenice Abbott was born in Springfield, Ohio, the “Home City” then best known for its Masonic Lodges and farming equipment, in July 1898. Her parents split when Berenice was young, leaving her mother Lilly to raise her daughter on her own.
Abbott grew up wanting to be an artist. She figured she’d be a sculptor and signed-on for classes at Ohio State but dropped out after two semesters in 1918. Ohio was dullsville compared to the exciting lights and freedoms of Paris with its freedoms and long list of bohemian artists, writers, and dancers who’d made the city their home. Abbott skipped town. Moved to Europe. Spent a couple of years studying art and sculpture in Paris and Berlin.
She arrived in Paris at the right time. With the end of the First World War, a whole new generation of tyro artists and writers moved in to stake their claim on immortality. The cobbled boulevards were bordered with scrums of “creative types” expounding their revolutionary thoughts and ideas between gasps of Gitanes and vin rouge.
Abbott hooked up with a band of men and women who were in the process of making history. One introduction led to another and led to another and so on. She hung out with Djuna Barnes—who herself had arrived in Paris with an introductory letter to James Joyce. It was Barnes who told Abbott to change her birth name Bernice to the more exotic Berenice. Abbott met Man Ray, Sylvia Beach (the American owner of the famed bookshop Shakespeare and Co.), Jean Cocteau, and photographer Eugène Atget, among many others.
Abbott began her career as Man Ray’s photographic assistance in 1923. She took to photography like “a duck to water,” she later said, and never looked back. Man Ray was impressed by her flair and skill in the darkroom. Abbott was taking portraits and soon had a series of small exhibitions of her own work. But after looking at flâneur photographer Atget’s work, a whole new world of possibilities opened up to her.
Atget was a highly eccentric individual with weird notions about food and cleanliness. He lived off a diet of milk, bread, and sugar most of his life. Abbott essentially “discovered” Atget and realized he was a brilliant photographer. After his death, she snapped up as much of his work as she could, fearing it would be lost to the public forever. Atget took photographs that triggered memory. He wandered the streets of Paris with his camera and tripod and snapped those seemingly odd, inconsequential moments that when captured resonated with a potent tension and hidden drama.
When Abbott traveled to New York in 1929, she instantly saw the potential of photographing the city as Atget had captured Paris—but through her own personality and obsessions. She started documenting New York as it changed from an old 19th-century city to the high-rise, skyscraper city of the future. The buildings changing from statements of individual wealth and success to the collective growth and worth of the thousands of people who lived and worked together in the city.
Abbott called her project Changing New York. She supported herself during for six years while she walked the streets of Manhattan carrying her Century Universal camera taking pictures of the “fantastic” contrasts between the old buildings falling into ruin and the modern blocks rising like a New Jerusalem. Abbott’s photographs of New York during the 1930s was described by pioneering documentarian and filmmaker Ralph Steiner as “the greatest collection of photographs of New York City ever made.” Her photographs redefined the city and influenced generations of photographers and filmmakers on how they represented New York.
Berenice Abbott was one of the handful of brilliant photographs whose work not only captured life in the twentieth century but changed our aesthetic appreciation of it.
‘Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, looking south-west, Brooklyn.’
See more of Berenice Abbott’s New York, after the jump…
A close look at an elaborate, fully-functional glass bong made by Mothership Glass (in collaboration with a group of talented Japanese glass blowers) in Bellingham, Washington.
Since 2016, eight states in the U.S. have passed laws allowing for both recreational pot enthusiasts and people who rely on marijuana to help alleviate physical suffering to use the drug legally. The advent of marijuana legalization has ushered in a tidal wave of seemingly limitless THC products and accessories which cater to all types of weed consumers, including pet owners. Have a dog or cat that has chronic pain or perhaps acts aggressively toward other pets in your household? Thanks to legalization, you can now purchase CBD (aka Cannabidiol, one of many active ingredients in THC that can help reduce pain and anxiety) oil at your local pet store to help diffuse such issues.
As of March 2017 here in my home base of Washington state, the legal marijuana industry had pulled in over $168 million dollars in sales. Pot is big business, and it’s only going to keep expanding into other commerce-friendly ventures as weed entrepreneurs continue to come up with creative ways to market all things THC. However, Mothership Glass—a high-end functional bong and rig company here in Seattle—has cornered the market when it comes to wealthy cannabis connoisseurs who shell out thousands of dollars for Mothership’s exquisite functional glass. In 2016 a version of one of Mothership’s most famous bongs, the “Fab Egg” sold at a local auction for over $100,000—making it the second Fab Egg purchased for such an unfathomable sum. Started by master glass-blower Scott Deppe and glass artist Jake Colito, Mothership has quickly become a marijuana mecca of sorts, not only for customers but for the vast community of glass artists who reside in the state of Washington. According to an article on Mothership from Seattle publication The Stranger, the last five years have brought swift sales of their $10,000 bongs. The piece also notes that earlier Mothership models, which initially retailed for a grand, have fetched up to $80,000 in the resale arena. Mothership isn’t just producing glass bongs, they are making investment-worthy high art that can also get you stoned.
Pretty much everything Mothership produces comes out of their shop in the delightful city of Bellingham. The company has had several wildly successful collaborations with other well-known glass artists such as Junichi Kojima and his group of glass blowers. Mothership’s work with Kojima resulted in the creation of a glass device that looks like a cup filled with multi-colored marbles, which according to Colito sold for more than $100,000. Make no mistake—Mothership will make other bongs that will sell for more than that remarkable sum. In fact, it looks like they may have already.
A look at the top of Mothership’s Grateful Dead bong and a glass image of the “Trucking Fool” planting his ice cream cone on his head.
Earlier this year another collaboration with the Japanese artists resulted in a remarkable ten-inch Grateful Dead bong. Among the many creative aspects of this model is the inclusion of a colorful image of the “Trucking Fool” (pictured above) and his ill-fated ice cream cone. Created by artists and long-time associates Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, the Trucking Fool design originally appeared on the back cover of the Dead’s live album, Europe ‘72. Industry experts predict this symbolic piece of glass will easily sell for more than $200,000. And, since I haven’t delved into the details of getting high using one of these gloriously extravagant devices, it all comes down to the power of the smoke that is allowed to cook up perfectly within these painstakingly crafted vessels by Mothership.
A full shot of the Grateful Dead bong.
A gold-plated pipe (noted to be a hookah) by Mothership Glass which sold for $100,000.
A close look at the unbelievable detail on the gold-plated pipe/hookah above.