Tuesday 31 July 2007

Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got

Every once in a while I like to do something a bit artsy fartsy for a change, and so it was a few months ago that I found myself at Monkey Town in Williamsburg to see an exhibit called “We Are So Much Better Than This.”

The exhibit was recommended by Time Out New York which described it as an evening of short form media, and singled out a piece called ‘More Than Meets The Eye: Remaking Jane Fonda’ by the artist Scott Stark in which he re-enacts one Jane’s exercise videos starring himself as the performer. I thought it sounded like a bit of a laugh, and truth be told I’d been dying to check it out Monkey Town ever since I read a review of it in
The Times. Unfortunately I’d yet to coerce anyone to join me, so when Francesca was equally enthusiastic about doing something different for a change I couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, and called to make a reservation for that night’s 10pm show.

The thing that most appealed to me about Monkey Town was the space, specifically the back dining room which serves as a performance space/screening room and has seating and tables around the edge of the room for drinking/dining/reclining and large screens on each of the four walls, so wherever you sit you have an unobstructed view of the show.

Photo credit: Noah Kalina

A great idea right? Isn't it fabulous? I love it, although I think they are missing a trick by sticking to artsy stuff and not screening indie movies every once in a while. The seating is actually much lower to the ground than it looks in the photo and quite futon like, so you can't help but slouch. It’s very comfy, but tricky to get out of easily when you need to nip to the loo. I kind of had to roll to the side and push myself up to standing. It’s not quite as hard as getting out of a beanbag chair, but it’s a close second.

The screening room has a $10 minimum per person, but since we'd already eaten - at fab bistro,
Juliette, which was thronged with good looking men eating together in groups. This is such a rare sight in New York we naturally assumed what any self respecting single NY woman would when faced with a plethora of attractive, well dressed men; we assumed Williamsburg must have a more vibrant gay scene than we were previously aware of. I’ve never seen so many men eating together outside of Chelsea - we made up our minimum with drinks and olives. Super spicy olives as it turned out. They completely overdid it with the chilli stuffing and I nearly choked on the first one I tasted. Fortunately the tamarind mojitos were delicious and definitely worthy of a return visit. Mmmm!!!

The show was interesting, a series of short films with the theme “We are so much better than this” (performing the truth/Perusing a lie”), a fairly arbitrary theme I think since it didn’t entirely correspond to a lot of the work shown. I was also disappointed to find much of the show to be a little on the dull side. Even the Time Out recommended Jane Fonda one wasn’t as amusing as I’d hoped, apparently intended to underscore “a sense of supposed embarrassment I as a male might feel by inhabiting what is essentially a feminine landscape. By overlaying the diligent exercise imagery with provocative and pointed quotations from Jane Fonda's activist days, as well as her thoughtful ruminations from her recent autobiography on war, political transformation, female anxiety and the 'need to be perfect,' the remake gives voice to my own feelings about the criminality of contemporary war-making and our own complicity in a world that gives rise to a kind of cultural bulimia" so sayeth artist, Scott Stark.


I wasn’t sure I got all THAT from the piece, but he did sport humorously ill-fitting sweat pants that were mildly entertaining.

The videos were also quite long and by the time we got to the last one, the pièce de résistance if you will, some two plus hours later, I’d already nodded off a couple of times, so when I noticed in the program that it lasted 29minutes I gave Francesca a nudge to see if she wanted to leave before it started. She shrugged and suggested we stay for at least the first 10minutes, so I settled myself back down to enjoy.

The theme of the last video was "Anthology of an American Folk Song", described as ‘a twisted journey into American mythology and broken dreams’, twisted is right since what exactly a guy flipping through dozens of Polaroids of erect penises (or is the plural peni?) while caterwauling to J. Lo’s “Jenny from the block” has to do with American folk I'll never know. Any ideas? Or how about the bloke who was completely and utterly starkers, spread-eagled on a bed and vigorously bashing his bishop? Do you spot any folk connection to that one? Anyone? Answers on a postcard please. I'm not afraid to admit it, the artistic vision was totally lost on me and it wasn’t exactly what I needed to see on a full stomach.

Avoiding the screen I turned and raised my eyebrows at Francesca, who it must be said was looking a bit startled, to suggest we should leave, but surprisingly she shook her head and leaned towards me.

“We can’t leave now”, she whispered furiously, “we’ll look like complete prudes if we leave mid-masturbation scene.”

Dammit, she was right. There was only one thing for it, to wait for more innocuous subject matter to be shown before making our move for the exit. (Aside: I’m not entirely why I cared that the other people in the room might think me a prude for leaving while the guy on screen was spanking his monkey, since it’s unlikely I’d ever see them again after all, but for some reason that night I cared immensely. Maybe it was the mojitos.)

Thankfully we didn’t have long to wait before a baby or a puppy or some such appeared on the screen and we seized our opportunity to roll to the right and off the futons – in synch I might add, Esther Williams would have been proud of our perfectly synchronised futon rolling skills - swiftly gathered our belongings and left.

I checked my program on the way out to see if I'd read the wrong description, but no, the penis one was the journey into folk mythology. Puzzling!! Maybe I should email the artist, as I'm clearly not at one with his vision, but then that happens to me a lot, since I really don’t get why so many artists are quite so fixated on shoving explicit sexual imagery in our faces. I find it a bit puerile; like they're still in the mindset of 12year old boys. It strikes me as taking the easy way out, aiming for shock value rather than something more intelligent and thought provoking; however it seems to be rampant in the art world. Only a few months prior to the Monkey Town experience I was on a gallery tour of Chelsea with Sara, the both of us closely examining a collage made from photos and old newspapers when the tour guide announced that the artist used his own cum as the glue. We jumped back about three feet on hearing that!! Ugh! Minger! And quite honestly, why bother going to all that trouble when Prit Stick is so easily attainable??

The following day I Googled the penis artist, Steve Reinke, and was surprised to find he’s an award winning Canadian film maker who won a $10,000 art prize from the Canadian Council of Arts, been called "one of the most influential artists currently working in video" and is an "associate professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I still don't get the folk mythology angle, but apparently we were in the presence of greatness. Nevertheless I shall think twice before paying another visit to Monkey Town.

The worst of it was though…I couldn’t get “Jenny from the block” out of my head for an entire week. Ugh!!


Mr and Mrs Knutzen said...

He was Canadian...that explains it all!! :) J/K

fishwithoutbicycle said...


Lisa Wines said...

Yes, mojitos have been known to make people self-conscious and prudish. I'd switch to Scotch. Then you'd be saying, really loudly, "aw fer Christ's sake, I've watched enough men wanking in my lifetime, is there any chance there'll be some real insertion going on anytime soon? Hmmm?"

Anyone whoever uses the word puerile must end up in my RSS feed.

And I laughed out loud at "...why bother going to all that trouble when Prit Stick is so easily attainable??"

Oh my. My face hurts. Thanks for visiting my site so i could find yours. Meanwhile, you inspired me to write a post about the guy across the street from us who likes to pull his pud in front of the window. If I write it, I shall link to you. Cheers!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

I KNEW it was the Mojitos :-)

I shall keep my eyes peeled for the post on your neighbor. Thanks for stopping by. LOVE your blog. Hilarious.

Amel said...

UGH about the penis and the cum. YIKES!!!

LOL!!! about the synchronized futon rolling skills.

UR one funny lady, Fish!!! ;-D

Anonymous said...

Check out the video in question, as well as a lot of Reinke's other work, at steve-reinke.com.

Anonymous said...

Steve Reinke makes some interesting videos, you should watch some other ones before you write him off.

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hey Jared, I haven'yt written Steve Reinke off. Clearly he's very talented given the awards he's received, but that piece really wasn't my thing. If I come across his work again I'll see if I feel differently. Best, Fish