Saturday, December 19, 2015

who's got the moves?

Neurocomic: A Graphic Novel About How the Brain Works

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Neurocomic: A Graphic Novel About How the Brain Works

From the caves of memory to the castles of deception, by way of naughty neurotransmitters and giddy ganglia.

Scientists are only just beginning to understand how the brain works — from what transpires in it while we sleep to how to optimize its memory to what love does to it to how music affects it — and the rest of us fall somewhere on the spectrum between fascinated and confused when it comes to the intricate inner workings of our master-controller.
From British indie press Nobrow — who also brought us Freud’s graphic biography, those lovely illustrated chronicles of the Space Race and aviation, as well as Blexbolex’s magnificent No Man’s Land — comes Neurocomic (public library | IndieBound), a graphic novel about how the brain works. This remarkable collaboration between Dr. Hana Roš (and dog knows I love few things more than a female neuroscientist) and neuroscience-PhD-turned-illustrator Dr. Matteo Farinella, with support from the Wellcome Trust, explains the inner workings of the brain in delightful and illuminating black-and-white illustrations, covering everything from perception and hallucinations to memory and emotional recall to consciousness and the difference between the mind and the brain.

We take a stroll through a forest of neurons, then learn about neuroplasticity. (“This is the great power of the brain, it’s plastic!” they tell us in one of the most heartening and reassuring parts. “Once you learn something it is not set in stone, it’s continuously shaped by experience.”) We meet Pavlov and his famous studies of memory in 1897 Russia. We visit the haunting memory caves and the convoluted castles of deception.

This wonderful trailer for the film about the project, directed by Richard Wyllie, takes us behind the scenes of the duo’s marvelous collaboration and creative process:

Pair Neurocomic — which is gorgeous not only to behold but also to hold, bound in indigo fabric with silver-and-gold cover art — with the graphic biography of Charles Darwin, then dive deeper into the brain’s mysteries with the scientific riddle of left-handedness.
Images courtesy of Nobrow

Some of Today’s Most Prominent Artists on Courage, Creativity, Criticism, Success, and What It Means to Be a Great Artist

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Brain Pickings

Some of Today’s Most Prominent Artists on Courage, Creativity, Criticism, Success, and What It Means to Be a Great Artist

Wisdom from Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramović, Damien Hirst, Laurie Simmons, Carroll Dunham, and more.

Some of Today’s Most Prominent Artists on Courage, Creativity, Criticism, Success, and What It Means to Be a Great Artist
“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant — there is no such thing,” Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in her spectacular letter to Sherwood Anderson. “Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you…” And yet, as human beings, we orient ourselves in the darkness of the unknown by grasping blindly for familiar points of reference, seeking to construct a compass out of similarities and contrasts relative to our familiar world, and out of those we try to construct a framework for what we call success. This is especially true of such nebulous subjects as art, where there is no true North, no universal gold standard of success, so we seek tangibles — like the market — to orient ourselves in the maze of merit. The result can be a great crisis of confidence in artists and a great arrogance in audiences, leaving us still more unsure, as individuals and as a culture, of what makes great art and what it really means to be an artist.
In 33 Artists in 3 Acts (public library) — a belated but wildly worthy addition to the best art books of 2014 — journalist Sarah Thornton sets out to answer these delicate but crucial questions by peering into “the nature of being a professional artist today” and “how artists move through the world and explain themselves” via visits and conversations with such titans of contemporary art as Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Laurie Simmons, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Cindy Sherman. Thornton spent four years traveling several hundred miles to interview 130 artists, of whom she chose 33 — those most “open, articulate, and honest,” who fall “at diverse points along the following spectrums: entertainer versus academic, materialist versus idealist, narcissist versus altruist, loner versus collaborator” — hailing from five continents and fourteen countries. She then divided the great sensemaking task of her project into three umbrella themes — politics, which examines the relationship between the artists’ work and their ethics, attitude to power, and sense of civic responsibility, with a special focus on freedom of speech and human rights; kinship, which explores the ecosystem of peers, influences, and patrons of which Art is woven, all the way from the large-scale creative lineage of inspirations to one actual nuclear family: photographer Laurie Simmons, painter Carroll Dunham, and writer-actor-director Lena Dunham; and craft, a survey of the practicalities of art, from skills to routines to studio spaces.
Thornton writes in the introduction:
Artists don’t just make art. They create and preserve myths… In a sphere where anything can be art, there is no objective measurement of quality, so ambitious artists must establish their own standards of excellence. Generating such standards requires not only immense self-confidence, but the conviction of others. Like competing deities, artists today need to perform in ways that yield a faithful following.
Echoing Ursula K. Le Guin’s wryly wise assertion that “all the arts are performance arts, only some of them are sneakier about it than others,” Thornton — who later notes that “everyone’s personal history is a creatively edited story” — adds:
The walk and talk of an artist has to persuade, not just others but the performers themselves. Whether they have colorful, large-scale personas or minimal, low-key selves, believable artists are always protagonists, never secondary characters who inhabit stereotypes. For this reason, I see artists’ studios as private stages for the daily rehearsal of self-belief.
Nowhere is this interplay between the public and private personae more central to the process and product of art than in performance art itself. For her now-legendary 2010 MoMA show The Artist Is Present, Marina Abramović — an artist who sees “immaterial energy” as her medium and believes that “nonverbal interaction is the highest form of communication” — sat in a wooden chair for more than 700 hours as she offered “unconditional love to complete strangers” — some half a million of them, many of whom were moved to tears in the presence of such piercing intensity.
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, performance, 2010, duration: 3 months, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives.
But for the grand dame of performance art herself, the experience required a Buddhist-like quality of presence, a Buddhist-like attitude of welcoming everything that is. She tells Thornton:
Your shoulders drop, your legs swell, your ribs sink down into your organs… When you have so much pain, you think you will lose consciousness. If you say to yourself, ‘So what, lose consciousness,’ the pain goes away.
But Abramović, who indeed heeds the teachings of Tibetan monks, seeks not the showmanship but the higher purpose of such experiences. Her medium is, above all, the human spirit — something she handles with meticulous care and deep respect, with staunch opposition to nihilism, and always with an eye toward the essential sense of purpose that nourishes the human experience. That her art would take on the hues of a secular cult is neither accidental nor surprising. She tells Thornton with conviction “like a hurricane-force wind”:
Many people spend so much time doubting. Before you choose a profession, you have to stand still, close your eyes and think: who am I? … You know you are an artist when you have the urge to create, but this doesn’t make you a great artist. Great artists result from the sacrifices that you make to your personal life.
She sees the role of the artist as E.B. White saw the role of the writer, and as William Faulkner did in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, extolling the writer’s duty “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” Abramović tells Thornton:
The public is in need of experiences that are not just voyeuristic. Our society is in a mess of losing its spiritual center… Artists should be the oxygen of society. The function of the artist in a disturbed society is to give awareness of the universe, to ask the right questions, to open consciousness and elevate the mind.
Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, Day 1 (Photograph: Marco Anelli courtesy of MoMA)
Perhaps because these deeper desires for meaning are so quintessential and universal, Abramović echoes young Virginia Woolf’s belief that all art merely imitates nature and negates the notion of creative influence between artists:
I have never been influenced by another artist… I like to go to the source, to all the places in nature that have a certain energy that you can absorb and translate into your own creativity as an artist.
And yet, as an artist who wholeheartedly embraces her contradictions — Abramović is a vegetarian, doesn’t drink, fasts regularly, yet freely admits to loving fashion — she acknowledges the arrogant myth of originality:
We can’t invent anything in this world which is not there already. It’s about seeing in a different way. Anything that is revolutionary is in front of your nose and it is never complicated. But you don’t see it until you have a safe mind. Performance can help people to get into a state of mind to perceive the simplicity.
Even so, Abramović is a relentless proponent and practitioner of self-reinvention and risk-taking as the ultimate duty of the artist:
When you repeat, you really lose respect for yourself… For me, the studio is a trap to overproduce and repeat yourself. It is a habit that leads to art pollution. Nothing new happens. You don’t surprise yourself. Artists are here to risk, to find new territory. Risk, especially when you are a known artist, includes failing. It is an essential part of process. Failure is healthy for your ego.
Ai Weiwei, ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,’ 1995
Chinese artist, authority-provocateur, and human rights activist Ai Weiwei has made risk-taking his medium, having dedicated his life to challenging his country’s long history of muffling free speech under a blanket of government propaganda and outright, often militant suppression — a mission that has landed him under arrest, led the Chinese authorities to completely wipe his writing from the country’s patch of the internet, and on one occasion resulted in undercover police pulling a black hood over his head, throwing him into a van, and driving him to a hotel two hours away, where he was kept for two weeks before being transferred into a high-security military compound to endure more than fifty interrogations while handcuffed to a chair. He tells Thornton via translator:
Criticism and finding trouble is, in the Chinese context, a positive, creative act.
But it was precisely this trouble-finding creativity that his father, Ai Qing — who was among the intellectuals exiled during the anti-rightist campaign preceding China’s Cultural Revolution — tried to discourage in young Ai, adamantly demanding that his son be anything but an artist. Ai Weiwei tells Thornton:
He always said forget about literature or art. Be an honest worker. [But] I became an artist because, under such pressure, my father still had somewhere nobody could touch. Even when the whole world was dark, there was something warm in his heart.
And yet under threats from the Red Guards to punish his family, Ai Qing gave up poetry and ended up cleaning the public toilets in a village in a remote Chinese province. Ai Weiwei recalls:
Only in the movies or in the Nazi time could you see things like that. It was very frustrating because this man was not a criminal. But people threw stones at him; the children used sticks to beat him; they poured ink on his head — all kinds of strange things in the name of justice and reeducation. The village people didn’t even know what he had done wrong. They just knew he was the enemy.
This early and deep sense of injustice became the raw material for Ai’s art and the lens through which he views the role of art in society, and yet he describes himself as an “eternal optimist” and tells Thornton:
Art is a mental activity, an attitude, a lifestyle.
With an eye to the endangered art of being alone, he considers the relationship between art and activism, the fusion of which defines his own work:
If you have never felt lonely, you should become an activist. Loneliness is a valuable feeling. Artists need to know how to walk alone.
His views on fame both parallel Einstein’s and better honor the complexity of the subject as he tells Thornton:
It comes too quick, too much. It is kind of ridiculous but I have good intentions. Fame needs to have content. If you use it for a purpose, it becomes different. So I am very happy that I have this chance to always speak my mind.
Although he recognizes the great hunger for commercial success in art today, Ai’s opinion of such aspirations is unambivalent. Thornton writes:
In his opinion, to be a “business artist” requires two qualities: “emptiness and shamelessness”… Emptiness and shamelessness are not uncommon in Western art, I say. Some of the most successful artists appear to be nihilists who don’t believe in much other than themselves and the luxury goods market. Ai nods. “For them, art has become pure play, lacking any essential truth,” he says.
This unflinching dedication to truth shows in Ai’s definition of authenticity, which he offers Thornton after a moment of reflection:
[Authenticity] is a habit. It is a road we are comfortable with.
Being somebody is being yourself. An artist’s success is part of the downside. You can lose yourself. Being yourself is a very difficult game.
Painter Carroll Dunham offers a complementary perspective on this delicate relationship between sense of self and artistic success:
A long career in the art world is hard on the ego.
The most fun time to be an artist is when you are young and when you are old… Getting through the weird middle period with a sense that you’ve kept growing is a challenge.
Laurie Simmons, ‘Love Doll: Day 27/ Day 1 (New in Box),’ 2010
Photographer Laurie Simmons — Dunham’s wife and the other half of their self-described “classic extrovert-introvert couple” — considers the trajectory of one’s relationship with criticism over this long game of an artist’s career:
When you’re younger and get a bad review, you think they hate you. It’s the recovery time that changes. You have to know how to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and get back to work. That’s the key to maturity. It’s what divides the artists that do what they do from those who are not up to it.
When you are younger, you think about eradicating self-doubt. But, as you age, you understand that it is part of the rhythm of being an artist. As I get older, I have developed my ability to examine self-doubt in private, to play around with it, rather than push it away.
Echoing Sherwin Nuland’s undying wisdom on what everybody needs, Dunham considers the heart of what makes criticism burn:
Negative commentary makes you feel misunderstood. So I often say to myself, “Apparently, I haven’t been clear enough with you people!”
Interesting artworks are always hypotheses about what an artwork could be… Why would anyone think that new art should resemble what art already looks like?
Echoing Jeanette Winterson’s spectacular meditation on art and the arrogance of the audience, Dunham adds:
The general public doesn’t understand art so they think that a con has been perpetrated on them.
And yet artists, he suggests, do perpetrate cons when they take market over mystery and deploy cheap tricks like surface shock value in lieu of deeper inquiries into the human experience, which is itself shocking in a much more profound way:
Shock is just another move in the entertainment complex. It’s bullshit. Who are you supposed to shock? Rich hedge fund managers? Do you find the fact that you’re going to die shocking? I do. Art can bracket those human conditions. It can cause you to have a moment of insight.
In those moments, Dunham argues, the viewer is rolfed by creative communion with the artist:
You know the difference between a soothing back rub and truly deep bodywork. The latter is not pleasant while it’s happening but afterward you feel quite changed from it. Shock, awe, whatever. I’m not looking for a back rub from art. I’m looking for something that feels like it matters.
Simmons adds a piercing articulation of the great, disquieting fact of creative work, embracing which sets great creators apart:
Any work that is really great hovers between terrific and terrible.
Calling to mind Amanda Palmer’s exquisite definition of what makes one a “real” artist, Dunham later adds:
There is this reverb. You have to make art to be an artist, but you have to be an artist to make art. It’s about getting your self-representation and your actual activities into alignment. I’ve gone through moments where I thought ‘I hate this, I don’t want to do it anymore,’ but I always come back to the fact there isn’t anything else that would better suit my sense of who I am.
It’s hard to imagine that such strong opinions and unflinching dedication to the integrity of art wouldn’t be passed on to Dunham and Simmons’s daughter, Lena Dunham — herself one of the most courageous creative mavericks of our time. In a testament to the notion that parental presence rather than praise fosters a healthy relationship with achievement, Dunham — who defines creativity as “an ineffable bug that takes you over but also something that you can learn” — reflects on the creative conditions and conditioning of her childhood:
I was given the tools, the space, and the support to do whatever I wanted. New approaches to old problems were encouraged… My parents taught me that you can have a creative approach to thinking that is almost scientific. You don’t have to be at the mercy of the muse. You need your own internalized thinking process that you can perform again and again.
She considers the rewards of the creative life:
As an artist, you get the opportunity to write the world — or create the world — that exists in your fantasies. It’s a really beautiful thing to do.
But beautiful as the overall sense of purpose might be, the fantasy-world of this inward gaze often requires being intensely present with one’s darker demons:
The kind of shame I deal with in my work is about returning to the scene of the crime with all my senses operating. I agree with Woody Allen’s theory that tragedy plus distance equals comedy.
(It should be noted that Dunham’s conversation with Thornton took place before Woody Allen rendered himself existentially disagreeable“nauseating,” even — to Dunham and to many of us.)
Legendary Italian curator Massimiliano Gioni — whose inclusion in Thornton’s survey springs from her belief that “curators are vital cocreators of the myths” — offers a complementary take on this notion of art as a conduit to self-knowledge, folding into it a necessary dissent with our culture’s dominant definitions of what makes an artist:
Our media understanding of an artist as a successful professional who makes entertaining objects that sell for a lot of money is very restrictive. Artists are people who do things with images in order to understand the world. They have a fierce desire to know themselves.
In a related sentiment, Turkish filmmaker and contemporary artist Kutlug Ataman elegantly captures the essential tension between culture and commerce with which all artists must tussle:
Art that goes forward can take a long time to be understood, whereas art that moves sideways — that is just elaborating — can be very commercial… As an artist, you have to decide which way you want to go.
That choice is often mired in the question of originality — something that recurs across Thornton’s interviews, and a subject of ambivalent skepticism for artists long before Mark Twain’s famous proclamation that “all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.” Visual artist and composer Christian Marclay offers an insightful perspective on this role of the borrowed and the begotten in creative work:
Am I being original this morning? You sense the wonder of discovery when you’re doing something that feels new… But, who knows, maybe someone has been there before. Every image that I use is from someone else. But you can be original in what you steal and how you display your bounty.
33 Artists in 3 Acts is a superb read in its hefty totality. Thornton herself embodies what one of her subjects, the great Italian curator Francesco Bonami, observed of his profession — that curation is “about taking care of the artist” — as her own immeasurable insight on the creative experience illuminates and elevates the artists who entrust their ideas in her care.
Complement this treasure trove of wisdom with Teresita Fernández’s spectacular commencement address on what it means and what it takes to be an artist and Dani Shapiro on the ultimate task of the artist.

Published January 12, 2015



Rashida Jones, Pete Yorn Collaborator Boss Selection on Compounds & Elements

Sunny Levine - General 1 - Abby Ross - HR (1)

December 7, 2015

Rashida Jones, Pete Yorn Collaborator
Boss Selection on Compounds & Elements

Who: I am Sunny Levine a.k.a. Boss Selection
Where he was born: I was born in West Hollywood
Where he lives now: I live in Venice, CA
What he does: I make jams. I produce, I write tunes, I engineer, I drink espresso and I wear shoes

How he captures ideas:
Using a butterfly net.
If he were a sound:
A pretty chill sound with a slightly slamming beat.
He believes in:
Count Basie.
His most recent artistic reference:
This past week I’ve been deep in mid 90s RnB while getting together a remix of the song on my Boss Selection record featuring Rashida Jones. Along with a strict diet of SWV, Brownstone, Mary J Blige, Jodeci, Aaron Hall, Groove Theory, Faith Evans, and Brandy. With some everyday Arthur Russell listening for good measure.

If he could see a social disruption:
I’d really dig it, if all of a sudden formulas and the dumbing down of art was deemed unacceptable, rather than being the norm. If everyone took more chances and strived to be the realest version of themselves, then, we might have more interesting things to read, watch and listen to. If creators had a violent Clockwork Orange style reaction when they weren’t being authentic to themselves, things might get more interesting. I see so many talented people making wack sh*t because they think they have to be relevant.
Something great he’s read:
I read anything and everything I can find by the writer Richard Brautigan. His writing can always reset the way my brain works, especially if I get stuck thinking too bland, basic or one dimensional.
Something great he’s seen:
There are these clips on YouTube of Marly Marl rebuilding some of his classic hip hop productions from scratch on the new MPC – he shows how he put all the samples together – it’s some hip hop kid geek stuff, and I love it.

Heavy rotation:
There’s a song called “Quasimodo’s Dream” by an Australian band called the Reels from the 80’s. I can’t get enough of that song, lately. I just discovered it and it hits me so right.
He needs to change:
Currently changing lots of things. Moving my studio, changing up some gear, getting complicated haircuts for the first time since I was a teenager.
Why he makes music:
I make music for the thrill of trying to combine elements and aspects of production in a way that turns me on. My approached to making music always involves a combination of exploring and problem solving.
Sunny’s WILD Wish:
I’d like to have a proper amount of dollars where all I would do is book sessions with friends and musicians that I admire. I really like my life, but when I fantasize about “more,” that’s what I end up thinking about. I’d overpay everyone, have amazing meals, and just over dub on things all day, every day. It’s my favorite part of making music. Once you’ve written the bones of a track – the tune – inviting people to then put their own touches to the piece…that’s when you have something magical to play with. That’s my happy place.

photography by: Abby Ross

Ling Jian’s Nature Chain

launch gallery

November 24, 2015

Ling Jian’s Nature Chain

I love Ling Jian for his suave, sultry and visually tricked-out paintings of impossibly waif vixens and freaky deaky shark porn. Yep, the Chinese painter and provocateur makes insanely killer compositions of great whites fornicating, alchemical canvases that teem with scantily clad sexpots and sassy symbology that will make your taste filters bristle.
Ling Jian Art Cody Ross Culture Art Review
In his latest exhibit, at the always kickass Klein Sun Gallery in Chelsea, you see Ling riffing on art history and philosophy, referencing things like surrealism, Taoism, feminism, and even evolutionary biology; all replete with metaphysical heft, subtle cheekiness, and an inventive combo of chaos and control. Titled Nature Chain, Ling unloads visual zings of shattered skulls, loamy hungers of the flesh and portraits of pretty PLA soldier girls. Mashing up critical theory, feminism and a touch of fetishism, we see racy renderings of the female figure, alabaster skin beauty queens in skimpy undies, rail thin bods and blissed out dispositions.
Ling Jian Surrealism Cody Ross Art
Ling’s whirling-dervish depictions of copulating sea creatures and their alien-like genitalia reveals his fixation with the aquatic life and sexual symbolism, weaving together subplots that may be semi-psychotic but nevertheless intriguing and enlightening (in a Nat Geo Wild kind of way). Ling’s art is expertly infused with intense hues, hyper-real texture, haptic qualities and bucketloads of zest. The exhibit allows you to grasp how he integrates a multitude of schools and tools—neo-Dada, Confucian classics, proprietary techniques, and hybrid aesthetics—to arrive at a number of gnarly niches and exquisite optics while commenting on China’s ongoing artistic and socio-economic upheavals.
Ling Jian Wings Cody Ross Art
launch gallery

Check out the paint-slinger’s sizzling works at Klein Sun Gallery — 525 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011  T: 212-255-4388. On Now through December 23, 2015

Images courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery + Ling Jian
Special thanks to Vera Lee, Eli Klein + Casey Burry

text by: Cody Ross