Sunday, October 4, 2009

And Sitting on a Flatbed Truck Was a Giant Black NO

Saturday night was the most impulsive trip to Toronto I’ve ever made, where I found myself wandering among a downtown peppered with esoteric art and flooded with people out to gaze at it all. I was suddenly invited to Nuit Blanche Saturday night by my friend Justine to meet her and Mallorie (who I had met the previous night at a drunken haze at Gallagher’s on Augusta. I was actually paying more attention to the end of Beetlejuice playing on the bar’s lcd tv. She said Saturday that she understood perfectly.) at the GO station down the street. Whether you see me walking up Bay street in Toronto flanked by two beautiful women, an uncomfortable third wheel on a platonic girl-date, or on a simple night-trip with two friends will depend on how sexually insecure you are.

I think I was most disappointed by the vodka pool, though I’m not sure what else they could have done with it. It was just a large artificial puddle of vodka, an irregularly shaped black container roughly ten square metres in area and maybe an inch deep, sitting in the lobby of a bank’s office building. All we could really do was stare at the pool. So we did. Leaving the lobby, I discovered the title card explaining the concept behind the vodka pool, an insufferably pretentious commentary about a critique of black market capitalism through its more frequently used currency, alcohol. The tone of the paragraph was what I could call mid-rectum Marxism. I laughed myself inappropriately sick.

On our way to several other installations, after having passed a stand selling fresh corn cobs, we discovered a flatbed truck sitting on the side of a street with two fifteen foot high letters sitting on it spelling NO. This basically encapsulates Justine’s personality. It was the simplest piece of art we saw all night, and the easiest piece to understand in that what it was, was clear to you: a giant word NO. How you took it was entirely up to you.

Later, we saw a performance art piece of Toronto celebrities playing Monopoly with real money in a locked glass room. By the time we got there, it was approaching the end of one shift, and K-OS was flaunting his winnings over Maggie Casella and the other playing, throwing money in the air and, I hope, calling them out from Park Avenue.

One installation we definitely wanted to see was set up in the hallway of an artfully designed shopping centre in Liberty Village: a network of loudspeakers suspended from the ceiling playing recordings of hundreds of different kinds of crying. At the end of the hallway was a separate installation, which consisted of about thirty people dressed in knee-length paper bags covering their faces who would apologize to you while you walked through. I was slightly freaked and amused at first, but just as I was about to leave the crowd of the besacked, five of them stood around me in a circle, and sent me surround-sound “I’m sorry”s. After that, I was actually kind of disturbed.

You can probably figure out the basics of my philosophy of art through these examples, but I’m going to tell you anyway. This has its foundations in some of my rants as a much younger, pre-blogging man, about the futility of overly complicated gestures of protest, so complicated that the political issue in question and how the symbolism articulates it has to be explained to you before you can actually understand the symbolism. Patton Oswalt has a routine about moronic hippies knitting the world’s smallest pair of pants, putting them on a mouse, and setting it loose in WTO headquarters.

Art makes itself laughable with long, pretentious explanations of symbology, and representations so abstract and obtuse as to become ludicrous. That’s why I laughed so hard at the idiotic pseudo-Marxism explaining what the vodka pool “meant.” Art (and philosophy, and literature) is effective when it is ambiguous and clear. That is, it should not require esoteric theory to understand, and it should be open to many different kinds of understanding. Art must provoke thought, and the only way to do that is to open a space within people for them to develop their own thinking and exercise their own creative powers.
One thing Pitchfork’s countdown of the best albums of the 2000s did was remind me of how awesome J Dilla is. I found his best beats to alter your perception of sound just by listening to them, an awesome power (awesome in the sense of inspiring great awe). That list also taught me how to listen to the Donuts album properly. Because the first track is the completion of the single song that is the last, then first, track, Donuts is essentially not an album with a beginning and an end. It's a continuous loop. So I listen to Donuts by putting the album on repeat, beginning at a random track, and listening until I decide to change albums.

Call it the eternal return of the Dilla.

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