Pay F#$king Attention: Stop Taking Art Selfies

 

“Want to play a fun game?” an artist asked me once at an international art fair. “What piece of contemporary art here is going to be the ‘selfie’ piece?” he asked. We both kept this underlining dialog going throughout the fair as we snickered and jaunted around the galleries. What is acceptable behavior in the art world, I wondered?

 

At some point in the past 10 years, the ability to enjoy art in the moment has all but disappeared. Remember when you could go to a museum or gallery and actually see visitors indulging the exhibition with their eyes? Damn, I barely do! Why is it that we need to over-document every single moment? There is nothing more infuriating than walking into an exhibition and finding out it’s “selfie central.” I’m not saying that you shouldn’t snap some photos from time to time. Maybe you are writing about it later, or maybe you’re moved by it. I understand that there is sometimes a time and a place for that. However, why in the hell must you capture that moment with a selfie? We all know that when you enter a library you’re suppose to be quiet. I couldn’t tell you at what age it was that I was told this or was first scolded for talking too loud in a library or museum, but I know it was when I was quite young. So at what point did shit get so mixed up with art-viewing etiquette? Selfie sticks were banned from institutions almost as soon as they were conceived. Hmm, I wonder why I’m not allowed to bring my selfie stick into the gallery? I don’t know, maybe because it’s a 3-foot-long stick that you are going to be swinging around wildly while trying to find the right angle all while standing in a room filled with millions of dollars worth of fine art works?

 

I know it’s sometimes hard to follow the rules and prevent your urges from leading you to push the proverbial “red button” in regards to what is acceptable behavior as a viewer of art in a gallery or museum. All we can think about sometimes is, “What happens if I do?” Perhaps I could just push it a little. Is it sensitive? I bet I could push on it just a tad and it would be fine. Just a halfway push? It’s stuck in your head now — the outcome of depressing that shiny red button is looming. But try to check your ego at the door of the museum, or at least take it no further inside than the umbrella receptacle — if you must. It’s worth saying that if you’re feeling the urge to take a selfie in a museum that badly, you probably aren’t at the museum for the actual art. You’re probably there so you can document your outing and post it on social media so other people can see how cultured you are.

 

Duchamp Fountain

Marcel Duchamp, “Fountain,” 1917

That being said, artists, galleries, museums, and institutions have routinely pushed the envelope on the topic of “what is appropriate.” And sometimes, they’ve even been kind enough to invite viewers to push the red button, just when it’s appropriate and can add to the experience. Selfies aren’t usually a part of this though. In 1917, Duchamp created “Fountain,” thus changing the way we view contemporary art. And by the late 1950s, Andy Warhol could be expected to do any number of things at his openings, where the “anything goes” attitude was a given. Then in 1972, at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York City, Vito Acconci performed “Seedbed,” where he lay under the floor of the gallery masturbating and making sexual comments about the experience of the visitor walking up and down his “sexy-time” ramp. Imagine today, the hashtags, the orchestrated selfies lying on the floor: “Just me and Vito masturbating, y’all.” At his performance in 1972, the experience was fresh and raw. The viewer had only themselves, the other visitors, and their thoughts of what was unfolding just below their feet. It was an experience that you had to live and play out in your head. As with so many works of art and other performance, it’s about the time and the place. Yet it just seems like something has slipped up a bit with awareness of your surroundings and the lack of a need for a commemorative photo to prove it. Take an installation for example. Imagine a massive set of lights on a time sensor with ambient music playing as the lights change to the visitors movements. Seems great in theory, bouncing around within it triggering the sensors as the artists intended and feeling the sensation of the light and sound wash over you. Well, you’d probably be wrong in thinking that experience would actually happen. There’s a 90 percent chance there would be at least 60 people standing in place taking a blurry photo of their foreheads and about a dozen poor quality videos of the light show. ENJOY THE WORK, FOLKS! It’s you as the viewer that has to gauge what is what upon entering an exhibition. Yes, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder, but that comes with a baseline of rules.

 

Clark and Mark Flood at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Elizabeth Rhodes

Clark and Mark Flood at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Elizabeth Rhodes

Last year the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston hosted a retrospective exhibition for Mark Flood. The opening was a zoo — almost literally. There were folks dressed to the nines, dudes in underwear, people in costumes, and a confusion as to who was performer and who was the viewer. The idea for the most part was just that — confusion. What was allowed and what wasn’t allowed wasn’t firmly explained. It was like the red button scenario. I know it’s art, but it’s contemporary and conceptual art, so how far do I engage and what is acceptable? Yes, selfies, selfies, selfies! It’s what Flood wanted. Add the dialog of social networking in the realm of contemporary and fine art. I mean, New Media has only existed as a legitimate department for less than 15 years or so. Flood’s planned and unplanned performances were entertaining. The surrogates Mark and Clark Flood were twins in a cage. As the night began, for whatever reason, everyone just started throwing the omnipresent “LIKE” paintings into the cage. These were the small paintings that were originally part of a interactive piece in which viewers were encouraged to place the petite canvases in front of their favorite works. So I guess the crowd was saying, “We like these fellas.” I watched as the twins deflected the paintings and slowly got buried by them as the cage filled. Soon enough, guards rushed in and stopped the crowd from slowly smothering the two under a pile of tactile “LIKES.” The impromptu performance had ended, and everyone had to behave again, if only for a moment.

 

We are working within the realm of technology and instant gratification. And as such, we are increasingly challenged as viewers while artists and spaces blur the lines of viewing. It was actually just recently at Atlas, Plural, Monumental, Paul Ramírez Jonas’ solo exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, that I saw interactive symbols posted for the first time. One reads “You can touch this” and another reads “You can play this.” At first it felt as though the experience was dumbed down, as if it was needed for someone to tell the viewer which pieces were interactive, but I soon found it to be a clever museum move. You want the new or inexperienced viewer not to be afraid to get near to the work and be part of it. It also keeps the ass-hats from say, plunging their hand into a pool of mysterious liquid when you very well should not do that. Most of us are dubious viewers. Within myself is my knowledge in art preparation, handling, and curation that leads me to approach things with caution when indulging in my art viewing adventures. I assume it’s an “err on the side of caution” or “mind your P’s and Q’s” sort of situation. Moreover, it could be “don’t be that idiot when out in public, especially in places with lacquered wood floors or marble tiles.” So if you are that shining star visitor who caused $200,000 worth of damage while attempting to take a selfie a few weeks ago at The 14th Factory in Los Angeles, staged or not, maybe you should rethink the amount of likes you might get on that Instagram photo? Because as Ad Reinhardt said, “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” Of course, this comment was made prior to the advent of smartphone culture.

Pay F#$king Attention: Stop Taking Art Selfies This was reposted for my personal reading use

Chef Alex Padilla’s Guide to Houston’s Top Tex-Mex

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With help from the head chef at Ninfa’s on Navigation, we’ve rounded up the best places in Houston to get your fajita fix.

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Tear Up the Boards: An Interview with XETAS

Photo courtesy of Xetas

 

I had an interesting conversation about the notion that certain songs can seem to become a part of your DNA immediately upon hearing them. Upon hearing the track “The Lamb,” from Austin sweethearts Xetas, I was immediately stuck in deja vu, remembering back to a time holding a Playstation controller with Tony Hawk Pro Skater on my television screen. I bring this specific scenario up because those songs and those feelings helped shape a grand portion of my music tastes for years to come. They grew with me, and I immediately feel joy upon hearing any songs from those soundtracks.

Simply put, this group of three best friends make music that crawls its way into your blood. And it stays there. David’s graveled vocals swirling in unison with Kana’s voice of frustration (especially seen in “The Gaze”) and foreboding warning, all swept in a hurricane of jangling, noise-rock-inspired guitar, threading it’s way between a perfectly orchestrated, pummeling rhythm section, building an uproar of palpable outrage. In a time of turmoil, and with an uncertain future, 2017 has been a strange year for us all. One thing, however, is assured: 2017 and beyond belongs to Xetas.

 

Free Press Houston spoke to the band about their new album, The Tower, their energetic live shows, and about what Austin bands they’re listening to right now:

 

Photo courtesy of Xetas

“The Tower.” Photo courtesy of Xetas

 

Free Press Houston: Treat me as if I am a person completely unfamiliar with the band. What I can expect when I come to a live performance, or if I put on this record?

Kana: One guitar, one bass, one drum set, everyone yells.

David: Expect a lot of energy and expect it to be very LOUD!

FPH: The new album, The Tower, rightfully brought to life by 12XU records, is a beautifully crafted collection of very powerful and memorable songs. I’ve read in places it was an almost accidental concept album taking aim at our political climate and the negative behaviors that are now empowered by our new administration.

Kana: I think if you’re sensitive to the world and others around you, things you observe and react to are going to seep into your work. When we were writing these songs, we didn’t think, “O.K., so this is how the presidential race is going, let’s write what happened in the news.” But the more we’d see and hear about national-scale problems, and also be confronted with local problems that were just smaller echoes of these bigger issues, and we would talk about how we felt about those things and how they affected our lives, as well as what was going on in our personal lives — and then practice for two hours. So it was probably on our minds the entire time without us realizing it. We try not to get too hung up in the studio and look at making an album as a snapshot of a time, mistakes and all, and I think that the timeframe in which we created this album definitely influenced the themes and tone of the LP as a whole.

David: Yeah there was no way we could have known that Trump would actually get elected, but just the political and social climate during the period we were writing the album was a huge influence. The songs are more about the personal struggle of the individual surviving in that climate, and not so much about the politics or social issues themselves.

FPH: Upon each of you being remarkably talented musicians, you continue to give endlessly energetic performances. Would you consider your live performance an essential thing to behold if someone wants to really appreciate Xetas as a whole?

David: Absolutely. Every time we record I think the goal is to capture the energy of the live show as much as possible in a studio environment, so if you want to get the real deal, you gotta come to a show! You can still enjoy the songs for what they are, but I think the energy of our show helps get the message across and engage the audience better.

Kana: Definitely. I mean, I’ve never seen us, but I’ve heard we’re really good live! (haha) I am huge fans of both David and Jay in their other projects and as people, and I love being able to watch them play. So I bet it’s pretty good when we’re all three up there. One time I wasn’t really “feeling it” on stage and kind of dialed it in, and at some point I made eye contact with a good friend that also plays music and he gave me the most disappointed, disgusted look and I felt so ashamed. After the show, I talked to him about it and he was very direct with me, saying that he could tell when I was faking it and it completely flattened the emotion of the show. Ever since then I try to devote 100 percent of my mental capacity and emotion to each performance, because it really makes a difference.

FPH: Xetas has been a group 3+ years at this point, with an impressive handful of releases under your collective belts. In those three years, as bands progress, what would you say some of the most valuable changes/maturities have taken place to become the band you are today?

David: Personally, I’ve learned to trust myself as a songwriter and not worry about what anyone will think about our “sound” or our “direction” with each new thing. I feel like we’re comfortable enough now that we know what we want and how to get it, and I trust my bandmates instincts. Every album and every tour we get a little bit better at it, too.

Kana: I like that we have figured out how to be completely self-sufficient in that time, which is a huge point of pride for me personally. Our label presses the records, but we manage, fund and promote everything else ourselves on top of each holding down full-time jobs, relationships and participating in the community. It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of reward. We don’t have to answer to a label or an agent and can accomplish the same things other more successful bands have done by thinking ahead and working together. If we find the right agent, we would consider a partnership, but from doing all the legwork and paying all the bills ourselves, we know exactly how being in a band should go and can’t be taken for fools. As a music documentary junkie, the lesson I’ve learned is: know what is going on with your band or someone will take advantage of it. So we’ve always prioritized setting goals and working together, and the hard work is starting to really pay off.

FPH: Austin is bursting at the seams with bands, and it’s hard for everyone to be aware of everything going on. Being a band of incredibly talented, genuinely great people in a city such as Austin, where because of the amount of transplant inhabitants it immediately sets up the mercenary mindset of “I am here to get mine,” do you find more success on the road, or playing locally in a comfortable setting?

Kana: I think we tend to surprise people on the road. A lot of people who play music in Austin only focus on “making it” or whatever, or in terms of getting social capital out of it, like, whatever their idea of being “a notable person about town is.” But we’re not really trying to prove anything, we just make music because it’s what we like doing, and we are lucky to live in a town where we have access to multiple venues multiple nights of the week and a giant roster of peers. When I was growing up here, all the older kids called Austin “the Velvet Coffin” because it was so seductive and comfortable and then one day the lid snaps shut and you’re trapped and never did those things you said you were gonna. So that has always been a fear of mine. I just wanna keep moving and go anywhere there is opportunity and support for us.

David: When I moved to Austin years and years ago, it was a little overwhelming, but I never had that mercenary mindset. I’ve always seen punk as a community and not a competition, so I just put in the work and tried to prove myself. It’s definitely easier to pack a house and have a wild show here in Austin, but every time we go out on the road it’s more successful. I feel like the word is starting to get out to other places that we aren’t fucking around.

FPH: Xetas is a beast of it’s own creation, and the power seems to come from the chemistry between members. Who or what else inspires you to create what you create?

David: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes I’ll read something in a book and that will get the gears turning, or I’ll have a conversation with a friend that will make me think about something in a new way and that will inform a song. A lot of the great bands here in town are constantly inspiring me. We have so many talented friends. We really have to work hard to keep up!

Kana: I’m definitely inspired by my bandmates and conversations with my friends. Our music community is full of passions and projects that are interesting, well-executed and push me to want to be a better musician and artist. I also work in a record store and am constantly finding sources of inspiration in music that my friends share with me in addition to what I find and research on my own. I inherited a love of history from my Dad, and combined with being a record store nerd, I am constantly seeking out new timelines to explore.

FPH: Mentioning earlier the influx of Austin bands, are there any local bands you particularly are enjoying at the moment? What are some memorable shows you feel stick with you?

David: Jesus, too many to name, and I know I’m gonna miss some important ones, but off the top of my head Borzoi, Vampyre, Lung Letters, Street Sects, and Tear Dungeon, who may be defunct now. Breathing Problem… I could go on forever. I think all of our shows have been a blast, and we really haven’t had a shitty one. The last tour kickoff that ended up being the Hex Dispensers farewell show will definitely stick with me for a while.

Kana: I really enjoy Mamis, Hot Fruit, Lustron, and Street Sects for rock or noise shows, and lately I’ve been enjoying Jonathan Horne’s various projects and Christina Carter’s solo shows when I can catch them in town. One of the great things about Austin is that there are so many musicians and bands here that you can see all types of music and all formats of shows, sometimes happening within blocks of each other.

FPH: Now that The Tower is released, what are the future plans for the band? Any slowing down points, or is there no choice but to go all in and take over?

David: I don’t think we know how to slow down or take it easy, haha. We’re writing the third LP right now, as well as working on a short East Coast jaunt for the fall… gonna try to do some radio sessions while we’re out there. Kana is editing together a tour documentary, and we’ll hopefully have some more music videos out in the near future. I dunno, we’re doing it all ourselves so we can do whatever we want, I guess. It’s a good feeling!

Kana: Haha, yeah, I’m not sure if slowing down is an option. Life is short and we have a lot more to do.
Catch XETAS at Walters, Wednesday July 26. The night will also be the LP release show for Houston’s own Poizon, with support from local synth punks Criminal Itch. Grab a copy of “The Tower” from 12XU.net or from the band themselves.

Tear Up the Boards: An Interview with XETAS This was reposted for my personal reading use

London Taco Tour: El Pastor

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Despite its central location across from the Borough Market just south of the London Bridge, El Pastor feels like a hidden gem. Tucked away on a tiny side street with a very Mexican-looking sidewalk dining set-up, it’s a delightful place to drop in for some tacos between sightseeing and shopping. People are constantly coming and going in this highly populated neighborhood.. Despite all that, I never saw anyone wait for a table.

My waiter Gaëtan, from Paris, helped answer my questions as I reviewed the menu. There were many delicious sounding options, including an Ahi Tuna Tostada and a Prawn Mojo de Ajo taco, which he noted was a popular choice. I decided to keep it simple and to the point by ordering just the Chicken and the Pork Al Pastor.

24-hour marinated pork al pastor tacos

The tacos at El Pastor are served in pairs on emerald colored glass plates, with tortillas made in house with a combination of white and blue corn. My first bite of their namesake taco was awash in deeply sweet, caramelized pineapple married with rich, smoky pork that is marinated for 24 hours before cooking. The pork tasted amazing, though it was “well smoked” and a little dry. Luckily, the juicy pineapple pieces and guacamole made the dryness of the meat hardly noticeable.

I hadn’t ordered any chicken so far on the London Taco Tour, and the chicken taco reminded me to give chix a chance! Sadly the chicken on my taco was dried out as well. I still enjoyed every bite of the big, delicious flavors from the chipotle, cumin and adobo rub and the onions, taquero salsa, and cilantro added lots of moisture and fresh flavors.

Maybe it was the time of day, but the proteins on the El Pastor tacos I sampled left something to be desired.

Para todo mal, mezcal. Y para todo bien, tambien. — Oaxacan saying.

El Pastor’s mezcal selection made up for their less than spectacular tacos.. There are two mezcals listed on the back of the food menu with the other drinks, and there’s an impressive list of seventeen options on the dedicated mezcal menu.

If you aren’t acquainted with mezcal, the name describes a family of distilled spirits originally made in Mexico by baking the heart of the agave plant in an earth oven, fermenting it and distilling the alcohol produced. Tequila is a mezcal produced in a specific area limited by law (much like a European AOC). Mezcals are produced across Mexico, most famously in Oaxaca.

At El Pastor, you can choose between a 35ml pour, or a carafe of either 150ml or 250ml (now we’re talking!). All the mezcal is served with a traditional garnish of an orange slice sprinkled with  sal de gusano, a Oaxacan condiment made by drying agave worms in seasalt, grinding them, and mixing the salty powder with chile costeño). It’s surprising tasty stuff if you can get over the idea of ingesting insects.

I decided on the Meteoro brand mezcal, which was described on the menu as “an earthy and sweet snog.” The meaty, leathery flavor of the drink fit the poetic description perfectly.

El Pastor’s alluring outdoor dining area in the thick of London and its selection of exotic Mexican libations make it a wonderful spot to grab a few tacos and a drink. As I sat and sipped my mezcal alternating between people watching and chatting with my waiter, the sun slipped ever lower in the sky and I felt no inclination to leave my perfect perch.

As to the interior of the restaurant, well, my apologies for the lack of a description. It wasn’t until I examined my photos some time later that I realized I had forgotten to look inside.

All Photos by Julia Walsh

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London Taco Tour: El Pastor This was reposted for my personal reading use

Pedestrian Pete asks, “Is Houston ready for walkable urbanism?”

Photo: Dewita Soeharjono

 

The answer from Dr. Stephen Klineberg from his recent “Houston Area Surveys,” is a resounding yes! When asking city-dwellers of all ages, millennials, baby-boomers, generation xers, and young professionals, the answer is “yes, we are ready!” However, it is very challenging to name one truly walkable street or area in Houston. In our car-dependent city, walkability seems to have passed us by.

Why hasn’t Houston, as the 4th largest city in America, promoted places that are considered “truly walkable?” Pedestrian Pete asks, “what went wrong?” First, walkability requires strong leadership from elected officials and the Mayor’s Office, which until recently has been short on ideas and financial commitment. Worst of all is the City’s bureaucratic, Public Works “Infrastructure Design Manual,” or IDM. It prioritizes moving cars as fast as possible, while leaving walkability and cycling as a low priority. Finally, creating a walkable city requires innovation, and City Hall has failed to innovate and to plan for pedestrian places.

So, what should the City do at this point given all of the public support? Study the successes of other large cities, especially Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver, and Oklahoma City, where brilliant and innovative urban planning has transformed the core of these cities. Note that Houston has a new Master Plan for Downtown in the works, for which walkable urbanism should be a prime objective.

Yet, can City Hall pull it off? The City of Houston has drawbacks with high speed one-way streets, which discourage ground level retail and pedestrian activities. The best example to serve as a model for Houston is LA, which over 15 years has completely transformed its downtown into an exciting walkable area for both day and night. It is an amazing transformation, anchored by a network of activity-laden promenades, brilliantly connecting a series of beautiful public squares and plazas. If you visit LA, don’t miss The Grand Central Market (amazing) and the redesigned Grand Avenue, the setting for the magnificent Disney Symphony Hall and the recently opened Broad Museum, with a world class collection of contemporary art.

 

Walkable urbanism in Houston depends on a set of interactive design principles:

  • Wide, safe sidewalks.
  • Strong support from City Hall.
  • Plenty of varied destinations along the way, for all ages.
  • Connections to public gathering places, plenty of people places.
  • Easy transit and bikeway connections.
  • Visually attractive landscaping and lighting, with plenty of shade.
  • Easy public parking nearby.
  • Easy direct connections to our City tunnel systems.
  • Two-way streets with curbside parking.
  • A minimum length of 5 to 6 contiguous blocks of pedestrian activities.

 

A good start for Houston would be the relatively simple action of revising our obsolete sidewalk ordinance and incorporating these principles into the Public Works. This would open the doors and provide us the steps to change the dynamics of a car-centric city. Walkable urbanism stimulates the city tax base; it attracts businesses and creates large retail shops, scale investments in office buildings and apartments. This has been the case in LA and in other large cities around the country. Why not in Houston?



Visit me at www.pedestrianpete.com

Pedestrian Pete asks, “Is Houston ready for walkable urbanism?” This was reposted for my personal reading use