2013 year in review
Filming some more cutaways for the indiegogo campaign video – launching in 2014.
Help us finish this documentary.
We have 23 years of footage.
A longitudinal documentary following the process of an artist, over the last 23 years, after her art inspired a protest.
As part of Creative Time Reports’ Summit Series, musician, artist and bicycle diarist David Byrne considers New York City’s present and future ahead of the 2013 Creative Time Summit: Art, Place & Dislocation in the 21st Century.
I’m writing this in Venice, Italy. This city is a pleasantly confusing maze, once an island of fortresses, and now a city of tourists, culture (biennales galore) and crumbling relics. Venice used to be the most powerful city in Europe—a military, mercantile and cultural leader. Sort of like New York.
Venice is now a case study in the complete transformation of a city (there’s public transportation, but NO cars). Is it a living city? Is it a fossil? The mayor of Venice recently wrote a letter to the New York Review of Books, arguing that his city is indeed a place to live, not simply a theme park for tourists (he would like very much if the big cruise ships steered clear). I guess it’s a living place if you count tourism as an industry, which I suppose it is. New York has its share of tourists, too. I wave to the double-decker buses from my bike, but the passengers never wave back. Why? Am I not an attraction?
New York was recently voted the world’s favorite city—but when you break down the survey’s results, the city comes in at #1 for business and only #5 for living. Fifth place isn’t completely embarrassing, but what are the criteria? What is it that attracts people to this or any city? Forget the business part. I’ve been in Hong Kong, and unless one already has the means to live luxuriously, business hubs aren’t necessarily good places for living. Cities may have mercantile exchange as one of their reasons for being, but once people are lured to a place for work, they need more than offices, gyms and strip clubs to really live.
New York is funky, in the original sense of the word—New York smells like sex.
Work aside, we come to New York for the possibility of interaction and inspiration. Sometimes that possibility of serendipitous encounters—and I don’t mean in the meat market—is the principal lure. If one were to vote based on criteria like comfort or economic security, then one wonders why anyone would ever vote for New York at all over Copenhagen, Stockholm or some other less antagonistic city that offers practical amenities like affordable health care, free universities, free museums, common spaces and, yes, bike lanes. But why can’t one have both—the invigorating energy and the civic, intelligent humanism?
Maybe those Scandinavian cities do in fact have both, but New York has something else to offer, thanks to successive waves of immigrants that have shaped the city. Arriving from overseas, one is immediately struck by the multi-ethnic makeup of New York. Other cities might be cleaner, more efficient or comfortable, but New York is funky, in the original sense of the word—New York smells like sex.
Immigrants to New York have contributed to the city’s vibrancy decade after decade. In some cities around the world, immigrants are relegated to being a worker class, or a guest-worker class; they’re not invited to the civic table. New York has generally been more welcoming, though people of color have never been invited to the table to the same extent as European immigrants.
I moved to New York in the mid-1970s because it was a center of cultural ferment—especially in the visual arts (my dream trajectory, until I made a detour), though there was a musical draw too, even before the downtown scene exploded. New York was legendary. It was where things happened, on the East Coast anyway. One knew in advance that life in New York would not be easy, but there were cheap rents in cold-water lofts without heat, and the excitement of being here made up for those hardships. I didn’t move to New York to make a fortune. Survival, at that time, and at my age then, was enough. Hardship was the price one paid for being in the thick of it.
I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit.
As one gets a little older, those hardships aren’t so romantic—they’re just hard. The tradeoff begins to look like a real pain in the ass if one has been here for years and years and is barely eking out a living. The idea of making an ongoing creative life—whether as a writer, an artist, a filmmaker or a musician—is difficult unless one gets a foothold on the ladder, as I was lucky enough to do. I say “lucky” because I have no illusions that talent is enough; there are plenty of talented folks out there who never get the break they deserve.
Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.
The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.
Written by: David Byrne: Will Work for Inspiration.
In New York there has been no public
rejection of the culture that led to the financial crisis.
What then is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this New Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now, then we would have to say that it looks a lot like the divided city that presumptive mayor Bill De Blasio has been harping about: most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me and some of the Creative Time team), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.
This city doesn’t make things anymore. Creativity, of all kinds, is the resource we have to draw on as a city and a country in order to survive. In the recent past, before the 2008 crash, the best and the brightest were lured into the world of finance. Many a bright kid graduating from university knew that they could become fairly wealthy almost instantly if they found employment at a hedge fund or some similar institution. But before the financial sector came to dominate the world, they might have made things: in publishing, manufacturing, television, fashion, you name it. As in many other countries the lure of easy bucks Hoovered this talent and intelligence up—and made it difficult for those other kinds of businesses to attract any of the top talent.
A culture of arrogance, hubris and winner-take-all was established. It wasn’t cool to be poor or struggling. The bully was celebrated and cheered. The talent pool became a limited resource for any industry, except Wall Street. I’m not talking about artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians—they weren’t exactly on a trajectory toward Wall Street anyway—but any businesses that might have employed creative individuals were having difficulties surviving, and naturally the arty types had a hard time finding employment too.
If young, emerging
talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been.
Unlike Iceland, where the government let misbehaving banks fail and talented kids became less interested in leaping into the cesspool of finance, in New York there has been no public rejection of the culture that led to the financial crisis. Instead, there has been tacit encouragement of the banking industry’s actions from figures like Mayor Bloomberg. The nation’s largest financial institutions are almost all still around, still “too big to fail” and as powerful as ever. One might hope that enlightened bankers might emulate the Medicis and fund culture-makers—both emerging artists and those still in school—as a way of ensuring a continued talent pool that would invent stuff and fill the world with ideas and inspiration, but other than buying blue-chip art for their walls and donating to some institutions what is, for them, small change, they don’t seem to be very much interested in replenishing the talent pool.
One would expect that the 1 percent would have a vested interest in keeping the civic body healthy at least—that they’d want green parks, museums and symphony halls for themselves and their friends, if not everyone. Those indeed are institutions to which they habitually contribute. But it’s like funding your own clubhouse. It doesn’t exactly do much for the rest of us or for the general health of the city. At least, we might sigh, they do that, as they don’t pay taxes—that we know.
Many of the wealthy don’t even live here. In the neighborhood where I live (near the art galleries in Chelsea), I can see three large condos from my window that are pretty much empty all the time. What the fuck!? Apparently rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of a year. So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city? They’re never here.
This real estate situation—a topic New Yorkers love to complain about over dinner—doesn’t help the future health of the city. If young, emerging talent of all types can’t find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been. Those places might have museums, but they don’t have culture. Ugh. If New York goes there—more than it already has—I’m leaving.
But where will I go? Join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson?
Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian? Is that possible? I think it is. It’s still the most stimulating and exciting place in the world to live and work, but it’s in danger of walking away from its greatest strengths. The physical improvements are happening—though much of the crumbling public infrastructure still needs fixing. If the social and economic situation can be addressed, we’re halfway there. It really could be a model of how to make a large, economically sustainable and creatively energetic city. I want to live in THAT city.
A collection of art from Kat Thorsens’ exhibit in 1998.
Her synopsis from the 1998 exhibit:
In 1983, through my Scandinavian Literature class at the University of British Columbia (taught by Peter Stenberg, now head of the Department of Germanic Studies), I was introduced to an extraordinary novel which forever embedded itself into my heart. I honestly didn’t know at the time how much it affected me, for my mind was cluttered with other university courses and accompanying distractions, but I did know that the book was very important, and indeed it was the one I have returned to again and again over the last 14 years.
The novel is Independent People by Nobel prize winner Halldor Laxness, beautifully translated from Icelandic by J. A. Thompson, 1946, Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. The novel was reissued in paperback by Vintage international, January 1997.
It is an epic tale of a farm family in rural Iceland around the time of World War I. The central character is a rough and self-proclaimed independent sheep farmer called Bjartur, who early on establishes his croft in which the epic and isolated events of his family are played out. Bjartur is the central antagonist of the story, but the most striking character is his daughter Asta Sollilja. This lonely pubescent girl is the heart of the novel, embodying beauty, pity, tragedy; she is the face of Iceland. Her relationship with her father is awkward, heavy, yet extremely endearing.
At once inspired by the words of Halldor Laxness and my Scandinavian heritage, I chose to do a visual essay on Asta, an essay that should allow the viewer to understand the character without having read the book first, but to inspire them to read it. The paintings and the quilts in the exhibit are strictly my personal interpretation of Asta, focusing on emotion and relationships with other characters rather than specific themes. The quilts are an important feature of the exhibit, providing a visual and tactile commentary- on women’s hand work, the bed covering as protection, the bed where birth, dreams, rape, death occur.
Central quote to the exhibit: page 351 “He did not know what to say in the face of such sorrow. He sat in silence by his sister’s side in the spring vendure, which was too young; and the hidden strings in his breast began to quiver, and to sound. This was the first time that he had ever looked into the labyrinth of the human soul. He was very far from understanding what he saw. But what was of more value, he felt and suffered with her. In years that were to come he relived this memory in song, in the most beautiful song the world has ever known. For the understanding in the soul’s defencelessness, of the conflict between two poles, is not the source of the greatest song. The source of the greatest song is sympathy. Sympathy with Asta Sollilja on earth.”
Sometimes artists are ahead of their time, and their work simply isn’t as beloved or highly regarded by people during their lifetime as it is by those in the generations that follow. Artists, writers and musicians can all fall into this unfortunate phenomenon, robbing them of the credit they deserve for their genius. Here are ten great artists you’re bound to learn about during your university studies, who simply weren’t appreciated for the work they produced during their time.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890): Today, Van Gogh’s work sells for unprecedented prices and is some of the most valuable and highly sought after in the world. His Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million in 1990, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold. In his time, however, Van Gogh was a failed, starving artist. He produced more than 2,000 works of art, but sold only two during his lifetime. Suffering with mental illness and further depressed by his lack of success, Van Gogh committed suicide at the age of 37. Van Gogh’s post-Impressionist style, filled with emotion, movement and vibrancy, was not popular during his life but would go on to influence decades of artists that followed, and his works remain some of the most highly regarded paintings in modern art.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924): Few artists ever have terms in the English language coined after them, but Kafka’s influence should be evident in the wide – and perhaps over – usage of the term “Kafkaesque.” While today he is seen as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, he enjoyed little to none of this success during his lifetime. His main income came from work as an insurance officer and later helping to operate an asbestos factory. Yet, Kafka’s true passion was writing and he eventually quit working to focus on his art. Kafka may very well have been appreciated during his time had a wider audience gotten to see his work, but the author died from starvation brought on by tuberculosis at age 40, before much of his work had been published or even finished. Kafka asked his close friend to burn all his work on his death, but luckily for the literary world, he didn’t and today people the world over can enjoy his dry humor and existential take on the world.
El Greco (1541-1614): Domenikos Theotokopoulos, or El Greco as he came to be known, wasn’t an entirely unsuccessful artist during his lifetime. Born in Crete, he studied in Rome and Venice before settling down in Toledo, Spain, where he created some of his best known paintings for the Spanish royal family. While El Greco found work and made a comfortable living as an artist, he was largely panned by art critics. The works he painted for the royal family displeased the king and dashed all hopes he had for becoming a court painter. His work was laughed at, scorned and within the larger art community, ignored. It was not until the 19th century that his work saw the attention it deserved. It became an inspiration for the artists that would push forth the Expressionist and Cubist movements, drawing inspiration from El Greco’s dramatic compositions and bizarrely elongated and distorted figures. Spanish artists of the late 19th and early 20th Century paraded his works through the streets and critics, artists and everyday people now laud his work as that of a true artistic genius and pioneer– status he never attained during his own time.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Today, even those who know little of classical music will recognize the name Bach. Yet during his lifetime, Bach was successful not as a composer of unique musical arrangements, but as a highly respected and competent organist. While he was intimately involved in music and did win acclaim for his work within it, his work as a composer largely went unrecognized, save that which involved the organ. It was not until a revival in interest in the works of the Baroque period during the early 19th Century that the true value of his musical compositions was truly appreciated. While he did not innovate a new musical style, Bach brought Baroque music to its pinnacle, adapting the style and making it his own by bringing in musical elements from Italy and France and enriching his native German style. In modern times, he is regarded as one of the greatest composers ever, and it’s hard to imagine that his work wasn’t lauded during his own period.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862): It’s hard to imaging Thoreau today as a struggling writer and unappreciated artist given his widespread success and name recognition, but during his own time, Thoreau wasn’t a widely known or read author. His work, praising the importance of appreciating the natural world, preaching social activism, and peppered with symbolism and hidden meanings was unique and different and society at the time was perhaps not quite ready for it. Thoreau could not find a publisher for many of this works, and in one case took money out of his own pocket to publish, selling only a fraction of those that he printed. At the time of his death, Thoreau had published only two books which were not well-received by the larger public. While he enjoyed the support of authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau was an unknown in the literary world and only received attention for his works in the 20th century. Today, his work has served as the inspiration for great leaders, artists and thinkers and is regarded as one of the greats in American literature.
John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969): An American novelist from New Orleans, Toole’s work A Confederacy of Dunces won him a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. You wouldn’t think that would be a recipe for an unappreciated artist, but his work was not published nor praised until nearly 12 years after his death. Toole’s lack of success and widespread acceptance as a writer during his lifetime wasn’t from a lack of trying. He submitted his famous novel to publisher Simon & Schuster, where he was told it needed major revisions and that ultimately, it was not publishable. Distraught over his lack of success and rejection, Toole took off on a journey around the country, killing himself in a cabin in Mississippi at the age of 31. It was not until Toole’s mother brought his novel to writer Walker Percy that it was published and received the attention that it, and he, deserved.
Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675): Check out any art history text these days and you’re bound to see page after page dedicated to this Dutch Baroque painter. A fictional novel and a movie were made that were inspired by one of his better known works. Yet Vermeer wasn’t always the art historical star that he is today. During his lifetime, Vermeer made a respectable living as an artist, painting small genre scenes but never achieving particular wealth or widespread name recognition as an artist. His masterly treatment of light and color and careful treatment of the subjects in his work did bring him high regard in the Netherlands during his life, but upon his death he was a forgotten and obscure artist for almost two centuries. It was not until art historians Waagen and Thore-Burger published an essay on him in the 19th century that his work came to light in the larger art world. Today, the limited number of works he created (only 34) and his high level of skill make him one of the most sought-after artists in the world.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): Poe wasn’t always seen as the master of the macabre that he is today. In fact, he struggled most of his life to make a living as a writer, often making only a few dollars for the publication of some of the works that are his most famous today. Plagued by the death of his young wife, alcoholism and financial troubles, Poe moved from place to place trying to sell his work, stay out of trouble and make a life as a writer. His depression and addiction finally grew to be too much and under mysterious circumstances, Poe was found dead in an alley at the age of 40. While his work did see publication during his lifetime, it certainly didn’t see widespread success, nor was it as appreciated as it is today for its style or content. Today, Poe’s work is known the world over and he is credited with helping bring credibility to the short story, detective fiction and science fiction.
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903): Gauguin’s close friendship with Van Gogh should make it no surprise that the two shared a similar fate in the art world during their lifetimes. Today, we can look at Gauguin’s work as heralding in the Symbolist movement, paving the way for new artistic styles and famous painters who would come after him. Yet during his life, Gauguin was a bit of an outsider and never received widespread success for his work. Gauguin deserted a prosperous life as a stockbroker and his family to live and paint in the South Pacific. Yet Gauguin didn’t find the idealized paradise he sought out on these islands, nor the success he so desired as an artist. His work was appreciated by few and even ridiculed when presented in the Post-Impressionist exhibit of 1910 in London. It was not until the 1940s that his work saw widespread success in the marketplace and was appreciated by a larger audience. Today, his paintings rank among some of the most expensive in modern art and few critics would ridicule his work.
John Keats (1795-1821): It might be unfair to say that Keats wasn’t appreciated in his own time because his life was so short, but even while he was alive, this Romantic poet’s works weren’t especially well-received. Critics panned his work and he was recognized as a talent mainly by other poets, not a wider audience. Keats didn’t get much time to prove his talent to himself or anyone else — he died of tuberculosis at age 25, believing himself a failure. While a small circle of academics praised his work soon after his death, it was not until 1890 that he became recognized as one of the greatest Romantic poets. Today, Keats’ works are some of the most studied in English literature classes, and his life and his works have become the subject of numerous books and movies both in academic and popular culture.
The Forum – all interested are invited to attend – 1990