Friday, September 19, 2008

Bread and Puppet photos

I’ve posted a bunch of photos from my visit last month to Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont, here.

Peter Schumann interview, part three

The future of Bread and Puppet

Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann (pictured on stilts above) discusses the future of the theater and dancing until the very end of life. The theater will march in the Honk Parade from Somerville to Cambridge on Oct. 12 and perform in Providence from Oct. 15 to 19, in Lawrence on Nov. 9 and 10, and Boston from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. This is the third and final part of edited excerpts from an Aug. 12 conversation I had with the 74-year-old at the theater’s farm in Glover, Vermont. Read the first part here and the second part here.

Peter Schumann:
Where is the theater going? What’s your future role? “My role is now is what it is, what you see. But my role in the future has to be discussed, because I’m getting older and this discussion is taking place. It started with the last annual meeting and it’s going on this summer and it’s going to continue until we find some formulas of agreement of what will happen. Is there possibilities of reorganizing the theater as something that survives beyond me? Is that desirable or not? And then it’s the theater but it’s also the museum. It’s not only the museum it’s also the print shop. It’s not only the print shop it’s also the archives. It’s not only the archives, it’s all the storage. It’s all these things. It’s also the Hiroshima garden. It’s also the memorial in the pine forest. It’s also the big people who live this place and have worked here a lot. It’s a lot of things.” Also the asset of the performing spaces. “I see it that way also.”

“I’m trying to be fair. So I have to find something that is not only to my liking but that is a balanced liking of these different participants in this line of thought. There’s my family who’s thinking about this. There’s the old timers, the ‘geezers.’ The younger folks. There’s different levels of people’s interest. The people who live here and the people who don’t live here also. The people who live in Glover, in the area, and who moved into this area” to work with the theater.

In past, you said you weren’t concerned about what happened after you, the theater was meant to be ephemeral. “I think you didn’t misunderstand, but that isn’t good enough. It’s too easy. So there must be something invented before I step out or down or under, whichever way. It needs to be invented. And it depends on lots of discussions with lots of people.”

Do you see a Bread and Puppet where you’re not performing, but you’re directing in some way? “I don’t see that. It might happen, but I don’t see that. I see myself dancing with two canes or crutches. And having just as much fun as without the crutches. It comes out of the same conviction that says dance isn’t a school of movement or an aesthetic that gets trained, but dance is any existing movement whatsoever. So it’s the movement of an acrobat as easily as the movement of a cripple. There is no value in the acrobat that the cripple doesn’t also have. There’s just a greatly, greatly different vocabulary and both are very valuable to the dance and the whole. So this idea of the cripple dancing is a necessary ingredient. If you think of a real social dance, of a dance that has meaning in the society, then the cripple must be included.”

Could there be Bread and Puppet repertory? “That’s another one of these prolongation ideas, to create repertory. We haven’t done that and with us repertory is very uneasy, very difficult because we don’t have good documentation and then the pieces are not documentable very easily because they change so much. And they are not scripted. Or if so, the scripts get lost. The scripting is not the basis of them, sculpture is more the basis of them. Often the puppets are destroyed and therefore not possible. Or the whole setting in which they take place is destroyed. It’s difficult to think of. Or the memory of people who have been in them who would be able to recreate the pieces.”

Is there a Bread and Puppet after you that creates new work? Do you have thoughts on that? “I do but I won’t tell them to you. I’ll keep them to myself until I come to the result.”

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chippendale endorses Obama

Providence artist and noise rocker Brian Chippendale has announced his endorsement of Barack Obama with this radiant artwork and a statement posted at “Noise for Obama,” a website collecting statements from Obama-backing noise artists and rockers and various members of the noise underground. Chippendale, a co-founder of Fort Thunder and half of the band Lightning Bolt, writes at the site:
Political non-participation in my social sphere often stems from not wanting to 'play the game.' But I’m pretty sure that if you are standing in a city, driving a car down a public road, emailing whoever for whatever, or eating food not grown within walking distance (and even then) you Are playing the game. Earth (and beyond) is the board, and it needs your help to stay a cool place to play. Your town, the country, the entire planet is interconnected now more than ever. We share resources across the globe and we need to participate in our little corner to hold the whole puzzle together. ... I vote in all my local and national elections, and though it won’t solve my every problem, it might effect something. It might mean more money for science, or a more flexible, inspired educational system. It might mean marriage rights for all or government incentives for new energy research. Sure it’s a “maybe”, but it’s an easy one to reach for. Picture a huge heavy ball with hundreds of people trying to push it, add your little bit of weight and at that moment it may give, the ball is rolling. Four years ago Lightning Bolt was on tour in Europe right before the election watching the debates when we could, I specifically remember watching Edwards debate Cheney. Cheney, his pals probably seizing contracts to rebuild Iraq already. What a scheme they had, blow a country up and get everyone to pay you to put it back together. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush had an adviser with a bodybag company. These people are my representatives? Touring in Europe and apologizing to everyone for being from the USA. My country, a country that invades sovereign nations. A country that from the rest of the world’s perspective is a thuggish bully with the capacity to nuke the planet to atoms.

My eyes welled up with tears listening to Obama speak at the DNC, finally a person who I can be proud of, a figurehead who respects intelligence and speaks with intelligence. … [He will] make the mature decisions to put us on the path towards reason and renewal.
Read Chippendale’s full text here.

Peabody Essex hires 1st contemporary curator

Trevor Smith has been hired as the first curator of contemporary art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, the institution announced today. Smith arrives from curatorial posts at Bard, where he organized “Martin Creed: Feelings” last year, and New York’s New Museum, where he co-organized the 2005 show “Andrea Zittel: Critical Space.” These are up-to-the-minute shows of major, challenging contemporary artists. Smith’s hiring is another major statement of the Peabody Essex’s aim to be a kick-ass world-class player – this time in contemporary art. Wow.

The museum’s press release details Smith’s background:
His degree from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, was followed by diverse curatorial residencies and graduate studies at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Cité International des Arts, Paris. Based in Australia from 1992 to 2003, he worked first on the Biennale of Sydney and was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia. From 2003 to 2006 he was a senior curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, where he co-curated the award- winning traveling exhibition “Andrea Zittel: Critical Space.” Most recently, he has been curator-in- residence at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Peter Schumann interview, part two

Israel, “fascist” democracies, Democrats, his influence

Bread and Puppet Theater founder Peter Schumann (pictured above) discusses Israel and Palestine, America as a “fascist democracy,” criticizing Democrats, the theater’s influence, and Julie Taymor. The theater will march in the Honk Parade from Somerville to Cambridge on Oct. 12 and perform in Providence from Oct. 15 to 19, in Lawrence on Nov. 9 and 10, and Boston from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. This is the second part of edited excerpts from an Aug. 12 conversation I had with the 74-year-old at the theater’s farm in Glover, Vermont. Read the first part here. The final part is here.

Peter Schumann:
On the criticism of his Israel-Palestine works: “There are forces in Burlington that are trying very hard to make me look like an anti-Semite. They write it, they say it, and they organize against me when I go to Burlington. But that’s their privilege, you know. They have been doing that all along. That’s one of the tactics of how you silence people. It can’t really impress me too much because it has a very bad history of being what it is. And it’s fairly stupid without asking somebody to call somebody a Holocaust denier. Wouldn’t be decent to at least ask that person: do you deny the Holocaust? From what do you deduce such a thing. How is that possible? From the expression on my face? From my work? How? That’s all right. We are going to lose a big branch of this so-called liberal audience through this, that’s for sure. But that’s okay. We have to do that along the way again and again and again. … There were again and again these moments of people saying, ‘Oh, now that’s going too far, you can’t do that.’”

“It seems to me so shamelessly wrong that the Western world has decided to unquestionably support this military state of Israel, which is barely a democracy. How can you call something a democracy when the majority of the people are there for their religious origin? How can that be a democracy? When there’s a few token Arabs allowed to be partaking in the state. And the rest of the world is invited to bring their Jewry into the country. To me that doesn’t click like democracy. That clicks to me like fascism. So that’s what it is. It’s very similar to America, it’s a fascist democracy. But it advertises itself and is proclaimed by the West as a steadfast democracy. Which it isn’t. By definition not if you define what a democracy ought to do and want to do and wish to do. So I don’t know. [Democracy:] It certainly is a form of the people who live there govern. And the people who live there is the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. And the Palestinians are under military occupation so they don’t govern, they are being trampled upon. And their sons and brothers and dads are killed randomly. The Israelis are also not represented because there are elements in the Israeli population that also go unrepresented.”

How do you compare the US and Israel? “They are closely linked as you know. The history of that is documented, and I’m not a historian. There is the desire to be strong in the Arab world, to be strong on that particular edge over there. So and to have military input there and to have a cohort state there that can act militarily for you when necessary. And all that. There are so many points to that. I don’t need to do the detailing of that.”

How is America a fascist democracy? “I don’t think it’s a democracy when the majority votes for one candidate and another candidate is made president. By definition that doesn’t seem to me to be a democracy. And it also doesn’t seem to me a democracy when a president is allowed on the basis of blatant lies to deceive a whole population and he doesn’t even get impeached or taken to court or taken to the guillotine or whatever people do with people who do that. But nothing of the like. He keeps blabbering along and doing it, even viciously cheating on what’s happening in Iran. And sort of warmongering in that direction again. It’s militarily one organization. So why in a democracy would something that the people are supposed be run really by the military? Well, Hitler claimed to be supported by the majority, but if you take a close look at the history of how much work he had to do to manipulate it that way, that doesn’t look so good either. That maybe he was for one second when he was elected, but two seconds later not anymore. So I think if fascism is this – as demonstrated by Mussolini, Franco and Hitler and so on – this rude form of simply pursing objectives of national interest rudely in the world at large, but that’s exactly what the U.S. is doing. It’s the world’s governing power. And it’s not going to change with another Democrat or somebody like that coming in. They won’t be able to do it. Maybe they will be responsible for a million deaths fewer than the Bush administration, which would be great. Because if you consider numbers then any change whatsoever may ease up the pain of some Afghani villages or the many other people who suffer from air attacks. I mean they’re bombing Iran. They’re doing bombs and CIA work of blowing up factories in Iran all these years now in preparation for war-making. They’re all over the place.”

Lubberland, leans heavily toward criticizing advisors to a potential Democratic administration. “I didn’t even bother about the other ones [Republicans]. Just because that’s so blatantly off anyway. Take the one that the liberals like and criticize those. Because the other one, they don’t go for McCain in the first place. They go for the other side, whether it was Clinton or Obama. But they don’t want to look at what’s in there, what’s inside those guys. And inside of these guys is the same old mass murders that were responsible for incredible events in this world like East Timor or the starvation of the Iraqis during the blockade.”

What is the theater’s influence? “I don’t have to see that. It’s not my job. I know that there is such a thing. It doesn’t bother me. I know that so many people go from here and use these you call it techniques, they are not really techniques they are something else, and they realize that you can use painting for theater, and you can misuse music for sculpture, and so on. You know, you can combine your artistic talents in odd ways and in many ways and they don’t have to be in this abstract mode of being decorative, but they can really speak to issues of the day. So I think that’s what people take away from here. And they go and they make clay molds and make puppets. Or they go away and make cantastorias or they make videos that are like cantastorias. Whatever it is.”

Street protest: “We thought of it as new when he did it in the city, in New York in the early ‘60s, but then the people who we met told us, ‘Well, 20 years ago, 30 years ago something very similar existed.’”

“For me the difference was really that what we did was in the street. Because I worked with dancers in [Merce] Cunningham’s studio and other places and they had no sense that they lived in a Puerto Rican community or that the drug addicts were climbing through their windows, even though they lived in similar circumstances to as I and my family did. But their art was aloof and this aloofness disturbed me. I didn’t think art can be. So for me to take even if it was a non-understandable piece of art or sculpture into the street was its test. And showing it to pedestrians seemed to me makes the sense that it can make. Whereas in the gallery there’s a sanctified sense that’s already in the gallery, that lives there, that is paid for. It is a totally different situation from not being in the gallery.”

Where does that need for engagement come from? “Growing up in Nazi Germany, naturally. I learned, I think it was my dad who was the headmaster of the school where I went when I went to school again after being a few years a refugee.” Students were made to watch films of the concentration camps. “With these piles of bodies. And that just totally devastated not just me, but I think of my classmates and all of us. It’s totally devastating that’s what it is. And it devastated us. And it was unbearable. And to think that you live in a country where the military or the government had done that which you saw there was unbearable. So to find responses to that. It wasn’t immediate. I didn’t start street theater right there and then. I had to come to New York and see people, all the Bowery bums and the poor people hanging out in the streets, typical New York slum life. This street theater was born suddenly. But it’s all from that. It’s all from this awful experience.”

What do you think of Julie Taymor? [She hung around Bread and Puppet in the early 1970s and included a knock-off off of the troupe in her 2007 film "Across the Universe."] “I don’t even know it. I shouldn’t talk about it. I know it so superficially. I saw little bits and pieces that I didn’t care for. I don’t know what it was. It looked to me strained, laborious and not beautiful. It’s something cold that I don’t feel connected to.”

Photos by The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research.

Fall previews: RISD’s Chace Center and more

The big, game-changing news of Providence’s fall arts season is the completion of the RISD Museum’s Chace Center at 20 North Main Street in Providence. The building, which is pictured here, offers new exhibition, education, retail, auditorium, and administrative space — and frees up new space for galleries in the museum’s old buildings. It opens with a free admission day on September 27 from 10 am to 10 pm — which is also the opening of exhibits of two major artists, Dale Chihuly and David Macaulay, who taught at RISD and exemplify pillars of the school’s program: exquisite craftsmanship and illustration.

I talk more about what the fall offers for art in Providence here. And Randi Hopkins, my colleague at the Phoenix, previews autumn art in Boston here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Greg Cook "recommended"

The newspaper New City says “The Hall of Natural and Despicable Wonders,” featuring artwork by me and my Boston pal Kari Percival at Chicago’s Green Lantern Gallery, is “recommended”:
Cook implements American history to show us an interrelation between early American settlers’ obsession with “victory” and present day horrors of Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Cook’s phallic missile made out of bed sheets alarmingly addresses a sexual lust for war…
Read the rest here – if you dare. You can see photos of the exhibit – including my obelisk monument (not missile) – at the top of this page. And you can sample Kari's art here and here.

Greg Cook completists will want to check out my Bigfoot-themed (but unfortunately totally un-phallic) gag cartoon in the October issue of Nick Magazine, which you can buy at supermarket checkouts across this great land.

“Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria” at MFA

From my review of “Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum,” which opens Sunday at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts:
In 1841, Austen Henry Layard was traveling to India, by way of Baghdad, to find work practicing law. But the Brit craved adventure, and he seized every excuse to wander off track. So in what is now northern Iraq, he rode his horse into mounds near Mosul. He spotted pottery shards and fragments of mud bricks that got his mind working over the old tales that this had been the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh.

“Desolation meets desolation,” Layard wrote, “a feeling of awe succeeds to wonder; for there is nothing to relieve the mind, to lead to hope, or to tell of what has gone by. These huge mounds of Assyria made a deeper impression upon me, gave rise to more serious thoughts and more earnest reflection, than the temples of Balbec and the theatres of Ionia.”

He continued on to what is now Iran but soon abandoned his journey to India, and in 1845 he secured funding (first from a British ambassador, then from the British Museum) to return to Mosul for an archæological dig. The marvels he unearthed are the core of “Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum."
Read the rest here.

“Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum,” Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, Sept. 21, 2008, to Jan. 4, 2009.

Pictured from top to bottom:“Royal lion hunt,” Assyrian, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, 875–860 B.C., gypsum; “Escape across a river,” Assyrian, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, 875–860 B.C., gypsum; and “Attack on an enemy town,” Assyrian, reign of Tiglath-pileser III, 730–727 B.C., gypsum; all © The Trustees of the British Museum 2008, all rights reserved, and courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.