photo manipulation by nacrowe
documentaries are meant to answer questions that they pose. but what if there is no answer?
that is the basic conceit of HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY (ELEVATOR PICTURES, 2002), a documentary about the mercurial and enigmatic artist RAY JOHNSON. he was someone that lived through his art and had little need for traditional human interaction, choosing to keep his contemporaries at a distance and not partaking in gallery exhibitions and the like. he instead presented himself doggedly to the world through his coded, impenetrable drawings and collage work that he'd mail out.
in many ways his use of the mail was his mode of interaction, which for the 1950s is exceedingly modern to our eyes in the digital age of anonymous monikers using comments sections with the gusto of a late night bathroom graffiti artist. its interesting to watch a documentary where those that speak of him, speak of their inability to get a sense of the man. a total enigma that confused and yet gained the respect of major players in the art world including contemporaries like CHUCK CLOSE, ANDY WARHOL, CHRISTO & JEAN-CLAUDE and ROY LICHTENSTEIN among others.
i can't say i learned anything about the guy. but maybe that was the point. even his mysterious suicide seemed in comparison to his life less baffling. at least with that act there was some finally conclusion being made. or was it? maybe it was just an exclamation point that invited investigators, the public and his peers to reconsider his life and by extension his work. seems his whole life was one long curated performance piece (including his death) and this documentary itself is both the entry point and the ultimate expression of his legacy as an groundbreaking artist.
but really i dont know. i'm still processing this very intriguing film on a most curious individual. its like trying to decipher MARCEL DUCHAMP. answer: you can't.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
early 20th century french conceptual artist MARCEL DUCHAMP once stated that america's greatest work of art was its plumbing. to him the object was redefined and elevated to that of art purely by the transformational gaze of the artist.
i couldn't help but think of that idea when recently watching a documentary on the legendary BONES BRIGADE 1980s skateboard team for epoch establishing skateboard company POWELL PERALTA, which notably included STEVE CABALLERO, TONY HAWK, LANCE MOUNTAIN, RODNEY MULLEN, TOMMY GUERRERO, and MIKE MCGILL and later BUCKY LASEK, MIKE VALLELY and DANNY WAY among others. BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (NONFICTION UNLIMITED 2012) was directed by STACY PERALTA of POWELL PERALTA and Z-BOYS fame.
for me what made this documentary interesting is that skateboarding for this generation provided a way of reinterpreting the landscape in just as radical a manner as the ROMANTICS or TRANSCENDENTALISTS of the past. oppressive suburban monotony and urban jungles were transformed into a never ending canvass upon which to explore. as much as these athletes provided a new touchstone that shifted culture in terms of sports, fashion, music and normative definitions of masculinity, it is this freedom that they exemplified that i still find the most compelling.
for me personally i only experienced that level of transformation with my surroundings when i got a honda click scooter in MYANMAR. man i loved that bike. life over there was pretty isolating and monotonous where essentially i lived on the same compound of the school, which felt like a prison. the military government felt rather oppressive and it was a situation where you felt like you were being constantly monitored. i only lasted a year at that school and was happy to leave. but having that bike made my year. it gave me the freedom to really explore the countryside and meet locals, talk with artists and monks from other towns and villages. even now i can still smell the air of the rice fields and see water buffalo lounging in the distance.
without that bike i literally would've been stuck in that compound with a bunch of complaining ex-patriots (mostly americans) whining about some inconsequential bullshit. instead i was out taking in the food, sights and culture of the northern region surrounding MANDALAY. there is something visceral about feeling the wind in your face and being physically traveling in space, not in a traveling air-conditioned room (a la cars, trucks, etc) that makes you really take in the surrounding landscape and notice how it shifts and alters over time. maybe this has little to do with skateboarding, but i really miss that feeling. know i understand the risk/reward of motorcycles.