Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 1/28-29/11.

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)


Yay. Someone had the forethought not to schedule the Downtown Gallery Crawl on a First Friday! That means that art-lovers don't have to make some ridiculous decisions about what they "don't have to see" thisd weekend. This can only be a good thing.

Will there be multi-media installations at Wood Street (601 Wood St.)? Why yes, of course. This season features the transormative powers of Czech-born Jan Tichy. Apparently he's into shadows and light. You can take the time, do the research, and find out what it all means... or (like most people) just go and see whether or not it "looks cool".

You can see Jill Larson's work at 709 Penn Avenue. She has put together a site-specific installation meant to comment on her divorce. Larson was the founder and driving force (until quite recently) behind the Fe Gallery in Lawrenceville. Now it seems she's finally finding time for the purely personal. Ian Brill has a light installation next door.

There's a group show at Future Tenant (819 Penn), curated by Jersten Crosby. One-time Pittsburgh art stars Thad Kellstadt and Jesse McLean are participating. Jill Lena Ford displays her work above Tonic (971 Liberty, 2nd fl.). Meanwhile "Keepsake from the Cloud" at Kurt Shaw's gallery (805 Liberty Ave.) features reproductions from the British Library's album (China, 1750) of the same name.

Handmade Arcade will be set up at 939 Liberty where you'll have the opportunity to turn your old t-shirts into totes (whatever they are). And it's not too late to see the Ally Reeves's-curated group show SCALE at SPACE. Heidi Tucker is among the stand-out artists in that show.

Finally... if you really want to light up your night, check out Steel Town Fire at the Katz Plaza (7th and Penn). You'll see choreographed fire art utilizing props as diverse as poi, snakes, swords & other burning items. Performances will be underway at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 pm.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Malcolm Braly, "On The Yard" (1967).

c. David Grim (taken 7/14/08)

It's remarkable just how contemporary prison slang from the late-60's actually sounds. I just finished reading Malcom Braly's "On the Yard" (1967), and the experience really reinforced my sense that criminals precede hipsters in identifying the smoothest and coolest idioms and mannerisms. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise. The demimonde was formed and presided over by criminals, first and foremost. The Beat Generation only presented one more group of social malcontents inspired by the truest ne'er-do-wells. They are merely cogs in the chain of wannabes parroting those who flout convention with actions rather than words.

Reading Braly's book can be a bit puzzling, given the fact that there are so many words used in unfamiliar ways that can only be sussed out by considering the context surrounding them. of course that's half the fun with a book like "On the Yard". What terms you do recognize serve to flatter your own vanity, with your pretensions of being "with it". Naturally I'm speaking from experience. Part of the reason I'm willing to subject myself to the nastiness of prison novels and nonfiction accounts is for the feeling of being in on something that others have no clue about.

The truth is that I have no idea whether what I've read is indeed an accurate representation of what being incarcerated is like. Certainly I can surmise that the reality is often a whole hell of a lot more boring than it's depicted in the texts. After all, it seems like prison life consists of long stretches of mundane routine punctuated by short bursts of intense violence. It's kind of like war when you think about it in those terms. That doesn't take away anything from the intense pangs of dread that must be inescapable in an environment characterized by just barely repressed tensions and brooding menace.

Regardless, it's pretty obvious why Braly's story is considered a classic by those in the know. The author spent decades locked up in correctional institutions. When he describes the tone of the yard where the general population whiles away the days, or when he spells out the unspoken rules of prison politics, the details he includes suggest that he has spent much time finding just the right way to convey what it must be like to be a convict. And along the way we learn about the relationships between inmates, guards, and the institutional administrators. It's a mother lode of information.

"On the Yard" has been called the "Great American Prison Novel", and I can understand why. Braly builds this insular world brick-by-brick without treating the reader like a student in a literature class. If you read his book, you are more likely to feel like a "fish"- a first-timer who has to learn the rules by the careful observation of those who have formed and inherited them for years. Even though populated by law-breakers, prison contains an inherent logic that, while maybe not obvious, can be fatal if ignored or misapprehended. And the first requirement for survival is learning the language.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Boys and Their Friends.

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

The relationships between boys can be fraught with barely restrained tensions, even when the individuals involved claim to be "best friends". While girls grow up without the need to fully separate emotionally from their mothers, boys are expected to put a rather quick end to any close symbiotic ties they have with their parents. It's simply not acceptable for young males to continue honoring "emotional interdependency", even if the reality is that no one can ever be truly free of those around themselves. Naturally this attitude of resistance extends beyond immediate family members to others that surround the boy.

What happens when an adolescent has difficulty negotiating the separation that's demanded of him in this society? Often he ends up acting out in strange ways, in lieu of finding healthy ways to express his attachment. That's just the way it works, and provides a ready explanation for much of what ails us. Extreme examples of this phenomenon are often unsightly. A lot of folks tend to shy away from engaging in this sort of emotional psychological analysis, but they do so at their own risk. Ignorance of these forces can result in tragic consequences.

Certainly the medium of film has several distinct examples of what I'm referring to. One of my favorite movies, Larry Clark's "Bully", is a great case-in-point. Brad Renfro's character is perpetually being abused by his better-looking and more confident friend, played by Nick Stahl. Still, Stahl's sense of self-assurance is predicated in being the alpha male and abusing Renfro at will. This is often how the need for connection among young adolescent males is articulated. The seeming homoeroticism that is implied by such behavior is explored in detail in "Bully". Because it presents such an extreme example of dysfunction, it is no surprise when the story escalates to the point of tragedy.

"Best Friends" (directed by Noel Nosseck, and released in 1975) follows a different trajectory. When young Pat comes back from Vietnam and reunites with his long-time best friend Jesse (played by Richard Hatch), he is increasingly chagrinned by Jesse's plans to settle down and get married to his girlfriend. The idea of losing his partner-in-crime, who he looks up to and relies on for his social identity, is too much for him to handle. He decides to pull out all the stops to end his pal's relationship. Although he commits some absolutely hateful acts, he comes off as crazy and desperately pathetic. That the viewer ends up feeling sorry for Pat is a tribute to the insight of the filmmakers.

While taking the time to understand this issue can be helpful in dealing with young folks, it's extraordinarily difficult to do anything to ameliorate it. The emphasis on competition in our society will continue to exacerbate the situation, and people will continue to display twisted strategies while working through what should be recognized as very difficult emotional manoeuvres without the training, expectation or language to do so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ugh, again.

c. David Grim (taken 7/19/10)

If I remember correctly, it wasn't too long ago that I wrote about how difficult it gets to write and post regularly when life gets complicated. When I was just a kid I was convinced that an artist or writer had to suffer in order to get good work done. In retrospect that belief almost sounds quaint. I find it increasingly difficult to find the time, focus, and motivation to honor my need for creative output whenever the fates are throwing me curveballs. I can only compartmentalize up to a certain point... and then the stream of challenges starts to get overwhelming.

Not only has my personal life been trying (and I could be accused of crafting a whopper of an understatement here), but my domestic arrangements are constantly presenting one problem after another. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what kicked off the latest series of tribulations. There was standing water in the tub after my new roommate took a shower. That had to be snaked and remediated with Liquid Plumber. Then my only television went on the fritz. Then, after buying a replacement, the cable and (more importantly) the internet stopped working. My camera continues to malfunction (even after having it sent away for repair once). Light switches have gone bad. And finally, the shut-off valve on the radiator on the third floor is leaking, draining all of the water through the floor and into the hallway downstairs.

None of these things in isolation would seem too severe. But in combination, they constitute a burden. All of this is happening right after I had to shell out money to replace tires I've only had for a single year. What makes this particularly galling is that I'm scared to tempt the fates by complaining too much. Compared to the vast majority of human beings on planet Earth, I have it inordinately easy. I haven't forgotten that. I'm grateful for what I have. Still I'd appreciate a run of good luck. I just have to plow through until the winds change, I guess.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hikmet Avedis, "The Teacher" (1974).

c. David Grim (taken 5/24/08)

... there's a lunatic driving a hearse, running around spying on pretty girls, and keeping his belongings in a coffin on the floor of an abandoned factory. But wait... over here is a stunning 28-year old teacher seducing an 18-year old ex-student (and son of her best friend). These two threads converge in the 1974-drive-in classic, "The Teacher". Fun and games is had by all.

Anthony James, the actor who plays the aforementioned pervert (who has recently returned from soldiering in Vietnam) is truly deranged looking. In the opening shots his character is seen running around gleefully stalking his object-of-obsession. His presence right from the beginning foreshadows some obvious nastiness, and the resulting anticipation drives the viewer's interest throughout the movie. Still, the prospect of seeing lead female Angel Tomkins sans her hip 70's wardrobe is just as enticing, if in an entirely different way. In fact it's her qualities that ultimately make this film work. Had the filmmakers chosen a less desirable actress, this would not have been nearly as fun.

And watching this type of thing (when it contains all the necessary exploitative elements) is certainly fun. Add in a recognizable face (child actor Jay North of "Dennis the Menace" fame, who spends the majority of his spare time paneling the inside of his van), and now you have amusement AND context. The acting and dialog sometimes fail to rise to professional standards, but the opportunity to see situations presented in a manner well outside the cinematic mainstream, along with some well-placed nudity, makes it all seem somehow worthwhile.

I'm not going to fully summarize the plot here, mostly because with this kind of affair that kind of analysis is fully beside the point. Suffice it to say that there is some romance, creepiness, violence, and humor thrown into the blender. What makes this so worthwhile is the glimpse into an era that is now long-past and is in no danger of being replicated. If you want to develop some perspective about how our country has changed in the last 40 years (and much of it decidedly NOT for the better), then sit down with "The Teacher". After all, it's not just teenage boys who need this kind of guidance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Joseph Ruben, "The Sister-In-Law" (1974).

c. David Grim (taken 5/4/08)

Here's something to get your mind off of whatever particular brand of winter blues you suffer from- "The Sister-In-Law". This flick gives you just about everything you could ask for. It's got a couple of fine looking, groovy 70's chicks with sass and style. Settings range from tree-lined country roads, to a swank Manhattan walk-up, to a truly opulent suburban McMansion in West Chester. There is plenty to marvel at including a lot of very odd artwork interspersed throughout.

The basic story includes the rivalry between a struggling writer and his castabout amateur philosopher brother (played well by John Savage, the only truly recognizable actor in the cast), and the inevitably tragic consequences. Savage comes home from his travels to find the titular character living with his parents during a time of marital separation. That would be cause enough for mild scandal, even if she did not intend on getting revenge on her wayward husband by sleepng with his younger sibling.

When the older brother makes the scene he eventually brings by his mistress, who promptly finds herself attacked in the pool by the wife. This follows a water-basketball match between the brothers that devolves into violence. Its good stuff, and sets off a series of events that results in the ultimate treachery. I won't spoil that by going into too many details, but if you are truly interested in seeing this due to my bare sketch of an outline, then you might not want to read any further.

What really distinguishes this potboiler from its B-grade kin is its script. It includes some delightfully quotable witticisms and rejoinders. At one point, the young buck is in a phone conversation with his brother and says, "I've had your wife and your mistress and I threw your heroin in a mountain stream". It's a defining moment and one that instantly elevates "The Sister-In-law" to classic status. Naturally there's a price to pay... but really, for that kind of cold dis, no price is too high.

Additionally, Savage's competence as an actor is overshadowed by his work on the score. His singing and composing efforts add something indelible to the proceedings. Listen carefully to the lyrics to get some insight into the thought process of the screenwriters, as well as a laugh or two. Throw in a cast of colorfully cheesy mobsters, and all the ingredients are in place for a well-spent hour-and-a-half in front of the tube.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Daniel Woodrell, 'Winter's Bone".

c. David Grim (taken 1/1/11)

I recently succumbed to the hype, and picked up a copy of Daniel Woodrell's "Winter's Bone". The author's eighth novel tracks the progress of teenager Ree Dolly as she simultaneously tries to contend with the raising of her two younger brothers, the caretaking of her addled mother, and the disappearance of her meth-cooking father. "Winter's Bone" was recently adapted as a film, and received The Best Picture award at Sundance. Ordinarily that fact wouldn't compel me to pick up a copy, but it was on my radar due to Amazon recommendations and I came across it cheap at Half Priced Books.

My overall impression of the work is that it is competently written, but ultimately slight. Its less than 200 pages seemed insufficient for a substantial examination of the forces that have led young Ree to her desperate plight. She is tasked with tramping throughout the hollers of the Ozarks in order to clear the mystery of her absentee Dad, and in the process must confront a rogue's gallery of menacing distant cousins and other unsavory characters.

No doubt the reader is supposed to feel a large amount of sympathy for this young woman in her struggles. She does indeed have to face a gauntlet of troubling, and sometimes loathsome, encounters with the living embodiments of redneck stereotypes. And if you weren't completely aware of the type of havoc that the consumption and trafficking of crystal meth can wreak, you surely must be by the time you finish this book. However Woodrell doesn't quite go deep enough into any of the characters to leave a lasting emotional response. I finished the book rapidly, but felt fairly empty at its conclusion.

My experience with "Winter's Bone" is not enough to forever put me off of Woodrells' future output. I can definitely discern a potential for exposing the true terror of the horrid conditions when you mix brain-scrambling drugs with poverty in isolated circumstances. When you add in a Hatfield vs. McCoy mentality... you surely create an untenable (and highly dramatic) situation. Woodrell certainly has the talent to make stories from such settings come alive. I just want a little more from this type of read.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 1/7-8/11.

c. David Grim (taken 1/1/11)


Technically, Unblurred lies dormant during January. But this "First Friday" is far enough away from New Year's Eve to leave room for a few events along the Penn Avenue corridor. Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) features the work of photographer Lexi Shapiro, who concerns herself with images inspired by some of the greatest cults of all time. This content is right up my alley, so I have some amount of expectations for this, even if I've never seen Shapiro's work. Like most Unblurred events it runs from 7PM to about 10PM.

Meanwhile Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 Penn Ave) offers up a selection of stuff from artists it plans to show throughout 2011. Some might call it a "preview" (7-10PM). Grand Snafu is providing musical accompaniment. Come out and show your gratitude for this gallery's year-round commitment to the arts.

In Lawrenceville, Wild Card is hosting an exhibition of rock show promotional art with the work of sixteen different artists- Andre Costello, Andy Scott, Ben Stewart, Christian Breitkreutz, David Pokrivnak, Gian Romagnoli, Jes Lavecchia, Jon Hemmis, Katie Gould, Maggie Negrete, Matt Ketchum, Megan Herwig, Nate McDonough, Ron Copeland, Seth Ledonne, Steph Neary. It runs from 7-9PM. Appropriately, there will be live music from Trash Knight and Means To An End (if you're into that sort of thing).

Laurie Mancuso's The Shop (4314 Main St., Bloomfield) will be having a reception for the photographic work of Brooklyn-based artist Akil Harris from 7-11PM. He's apparently obsessed with trees and leaves.


Is it really THAT difficult to make it over to Homestead for an art opening? Well, it has been for me. Will this weekend be marked by my inaugural trip to Artspace 105 (105 East 8th St.) for the opening (7PM) of "Manufacturing Identity"? The work of Chris McGinnis, Aaron Miller and Daniel Kuhn "reveals the interrelated nature of mechanized society through industrial petroglyphs and images of popular culture, raw materials and assembly line production." Or so their press kit suggests.

If you did plan on staying on the East End, you could still see art at Boxheart's 10th Annual Inter/National Exhibition from 5-8PM. The gallery is located at 4523 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield.

And because I personally like the venue and the people involved in running it- I think you should check out the paintings of John Frevyogel & Johnny Fry at Artforum Gallery and Tattoo in Lower Burrell (2603 Leechburg Rd.). I know it's a lot to ask to suggest you go see the work of some guys I'm not even familiar with... but really, it's not that far and you are BOUND to have a good time (6-9PM). Besides, there is a drive-through espresso joint right down the road to get you fortified for your drive back to the city.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hey. 2011.

c. David Grim (taken 12/31/10)

Well, I've been lazy long enough and now it's back to the grind. I knew eventually I'd get back to writing again... I just didn't know how long it would take. I've had plenty to ruminate and reflect upon, but most of that stuff is of a very private nature, and I certainly wasn't going to plaster it all over my blog. I actually thought for a bit that I would continue those photo juxtapositions without any commentary for awhile, but I guess that's not to be.

It's a new year and this is my first post of 2011. I haven't made any serious resolutions. I figure I've got one coming to me as I actually quit smoking several months earlier than I expected to. I might as well kick back and indulge myself now. Isn't that allowed? Don't I get a free pass or something?

I have no idea where any of this is going. I've been thinking about doing some longer form writing, but that would mean a longer cessation here. Ah, big deal. I guess we'll all just have to wait and see about that.