Thursday, December 28, 2006


A while ago I listened to this lecture by Lyndall Gordon, who wrote Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. The podcast is fantastic: it's not something I would have sought out, but it came into my ipod on the WGBH Forum network podcast, and I've had good luck with them before.*

Wollstonecraft thought of herself as a "new genus" of woman. She lived during the time of the French revolution, and while the French were defining new notions of the value of mankind in relation to the state, she seems to have been quietly reinventing herself. She went to France when every other sane Englishman was leaving it and saw Louis XVI being taken to his trial, and went on to write this.

I'm not finished reading her biography yet, but I'm really enjoying it. The New York Times Book Review named it as one of their top 100 books of 2005, and it's out in paperback now. If you're interested, there's a review here.

One of the most interesting things about the podcast is the way that Lyndall Gordon talks about how Wollstonecraft has been mythologized. Gordon views the book as a vindication of the complexity of Gordon's life, and as a response to the previous ways that we've constructed narratives of feminine heroines.

Lyndall Gordon

(*The WGBH Forum Series is great. I especially like this lecture, Impassioned Experience: Artwork in a 4h Grade Classroom, in which a hilariously sweet, earnest man talks very seriously about children's photographs and writing. "And as Suzy says about her pink bunny, it is soft, and it is nice..." )

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Angel Gabriel Got Drunk at the Christmas Party

There's a pregnant virgin who is going to give birth to septuplets just in time for the holiday season. Her name is Flora, and she has never, to anyone's knowledge, been touched by a male. The virgin births are expected later this month, and for about $20, visitors will be able to see seven flesh eating, poisonous little messiahs from 10 to 3pm.

Her name is Flora, and she lives at the Chester Zoo in Northern England.

Here's the NY Times article about her, and if you'd like more information, this BBC story is very informative, and even includes a helpful video clip that features gratuitous humping komodo dragons. Which, considering Flora's situation, is rather tactless.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Redeeming Lump of Crap

Is this woman holding a carved jade representation of the problems of the Iraqi prison system?

No. The woman's name is Dorothy, and you can read about her in an article in today's New York Times called "Please Let It Be Whale Vomit, Not Just Sea Junk". Which might cheer you up if you happen to have read about the way we're bringing democracy to Iraq.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I kiss you, Miami!

Becky Kerlin at Gallery Joe just told me that all three of the pieces that she took to Miami sold. She took The Thing About Money, Declaration, and Not Properly Respecting Otherness. I'm so thrilled I can't write straight.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Curse of the Prairie Dog

There's a battle over prairie dogs in Kansas. Which leads me to wonder what new words the prairie dogs have come up with for the bastards that are sneaking in to their colony and poisoning them.

Prairie dogs have very sophisticated language skills. They have adjectives, syntax, and can invent new words for, say, "that guy in the yellow shirt who keeps coming around and studying us." They also refer to the size and shape of the person who visits, and they generalize: when a bunch of guys in lab coats started showing up, they made a sound that indicated something along the lines of "one of those guys in lab coats."

One of the guys they probably have a word for is named Con Slobodchikoff.

Con is a professor at Northern Arizona State and he's written lots of articles about prairie dog language which are available online. The introduction to this one gives a great rundown of prairie dog language and also mentions a bunch of other species that have language (chickens, monkeys, squirrels). He gets right at the problems of studying animal communication in an article called Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals. Here's a quote:

If we looked for the common "meaning" that could be associated with most human vocal communications we would have to conclude that speech perhaps was a means whereby humans located each other- in other words, that one human made noise and the other made a return noise. (Lieberman, 1975)"
Although in fact, we make return noises an awful lot.

Yo. 'Sup. Hey. 'Morning. Hi. Dude. OMG.

I think we work too hard not to believe in the behavior of animals when it doesn't fit our debased idea of animal intelligence. We're ready to believe that Flipper can call the FBI, but we make a huge effort not to understand that squirrels, for instance, have language. Maybe it's just too humiliating. Thinking that a tightrope walking master criminal who is cute as a button and way more agile than we are ALSO has language might just make us so jealous that we'd freak out.

Perhaps we should start slow. Maybe with today's other animal story in the NYTimes, which features the box turtle who, upon hearing the sound of a spoon clinking on an ice cream bowl, would come out from behind the couch, stand on its hind legs and open its mouth.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kentridge and Nauman

Yesterday while I was drawing I listened to this amazing podcast: it was a lecture by William Kentridge at MOCA- you can find it on this page.

In the middle of the lecture Kentridge, who is from South Africa, talks about Bruce Nauman's early videos.

Still from Nauman's Slow Angle Walk

Kentridge says:

"And they're very interesting and they're very minimal. They're kind of minimal pieces of film. They're filmed in the studio and the studio, Nauman's studio, is the backdrop to the film. And the films consist of activities such as walking around a square. Or walking in contraposto, step to step...And they're- for me they're strangely challenging films in the sense that they're so little, there's so nothing in them. And so the question for me was were they enough in themselves, or did they need the whole aura of Bruce Nauman in order for them to have a kind of validation? And this was particularly interesting as someone who's not American, who's not from North America and comes very much from what would be the periphery of the art world rather than the center. And it was a question of whether if you have enough arrogance and self confidence and you're living in the center and you have the whole center, the might of America and the might of the art world behind you..Can you do things which in other places would be seen as so banal they would fall off the table? But, you know, we're big and we're mean and we do what we like and that's it. If you don't like it, um...

And I think there is. I mean, one of the strains of Bruce Nauman is an aggression. He's a kind of JP O'rourke figure. I know that he's not conservative in himself, but the way the work has to work in the world, um...has to work in a very gung-ho, we're the boss of the world manner. "

He makes several more very interesting points about the films and his own work, and then at the end of the talk he returns to Nauman.

"And then at a certain point I came to the question I had asked about Bruce Nauman. Was it enough to have these, just these, banal fragments. Was there...And I kind of realized that for myself it wasn't. It needed...Somehow I needed to have a narrative heart. One fragment that had somewhat more solidity. That could kind of anchor the other pieces. Whether it was in fact necessary or not I'm not so certain but it had to do with a psychological anxiety about saying it's not enough just to leave all these minute fragments..."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Next Season: The Amazing Shrimp Ladies

I'm in the middle of another elaborate drawing, so it's going to be a while before I have any new art of my own to post. In the meantime, feast your eyeballs on the Thousand Hand Gaun Yin.

Guan Yin is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and she's also known as the Goddess of Mercy. But the China Disabled Person's Performing Art Troupe, who performs the dance, is not exactly swimming in the merciful compassion. they are suing several knock-off thousand hand dance groups as well as bringing a lawsuit against Gracewell, a graceless Chinese underwear company that has made tights with a picture of a dancer in one of their poses on them.

(Thanks to Lord Whimsey, who posted this video on his blog recently, and whose moustache, I hope, will inspire a similar dance. I'd love to see the Thousand-Moustached Shrimp Ladies.)