MIXTAPES

Sadly Chris Cornell (1964–2017), musician, singer, and songwriter, and member of Soundgarden and Audioslave died on 17 May. It was by his own hand: suicide by hanging.  The Grammy-winning rocker had performed that Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Perhaps indicative of his state of mind, he ended his performance with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying. His family “believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions”.

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The manner of his passing reminded me of just how unbearable being can be.  Cornell literally walked off stage and out of an auditorium full of adoring fans, went to his hotel room, spoke to his wife on the phone, and then killed himself.  Five days later some cowardly religious fundamentalist extremist idiot walked into the Manchester Arena at the end of a Ariana Grande concert and blew himself up, killing 22 and injuring 59. Amongst the dead were many children, including eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who was at the concert with her mother and sister. It takes a really special kind of crazy…or evil, to target a tweens and teens concert like that!

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I guess we are all trying to do our best suppress or destroy something within us, be it with drugs and alcohol, religion, or by living shallow, superficial lives of self-involved consumerism. Or perhaps desperately trying to make sense of our existence or to give it all some meaning.

Here’s a kicker, Mr Bill Gates believes the world is a better place than it used to be, and apparently he is not alone! WTF?!!! I quote from a speech he gave at a graduation:

If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be a copy of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. After several years of studying, you may not exactly be itching to read a 700-page book. But please put this one on your reading list to get to someday. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read.

Pinker makes a persuasive argument that the world is getting better—that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. This can be a hard case to make, especially now. When you tell people the world is improving, they often look at you like you’re either naïve or crazy.

But it’s true. And once you understand it, you start to see the world differently. If you think things are getting better, then you want to know what’s working, so you can accelerate the progress and spread it to more people and places.

It doesn’t mean you ignore the serious problems we face. It just means you believe they can be solved, and you’re moved to act on that belief.

This is the core of my worldview. It sustains me in tough times and is the reason I still love my philanthropic work after more than 17 years. I think it can do the same for you.

The key words he uses here for me are human history.  Perhaps for humans the world is a better place (I don’t agree about that either) than it used to be, but it is certainly not for the planet and its animals…and certainly not for Saffie Rose Roussos.

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Stephen Hawking reckons humanity has about 1000 years left on this planet before extinction. I am a little less optimistic, I reckon we will all be gone long before then. Unfortunately we will probably be taking everything along with us.

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Anyway,  so mix tapes (or mixtapes): well, they kind of help life be a little less crappier, if only by removing you from it for a little while. I got to make one recently for a fellow lecturer at a recent university art programme workshop I facilitated.  It got me thinking about mixtapes and the ones I have made throughout my life…the girls I made them for, and the road trips I made them for, and the parties I made them for!

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These days I generally only make them for my IPOD to run or exercise too. I have to admit though, that those same running mixtapes have saved me when sitting for hours in airports or on planes or during the ubiquitous powercuts we suffer where I live. The technology might have changed drastically but the ethos of the mixtape remains unaltered. It’s something you only really get or understand while listening to it alone in your bedroom (or car), the thought that someone took the time to make a mixtape just for you, and, importantly, it rocked! Or vice versa, when you have carefully compiled music that you love and the person you made it for loves it too! The mixtape then becomes a soundtrack to your whole relationship.

OK, and here is the scenic route bit that is characteristic of my storytelling: on one of my mixtapes is Chris Cornell singing Audioslave’s Be Yourself:

 

Someone falls to pieces

Sleeping all alone

Someone kills the pain

Spinning in the silence

To finally drift away

Someone gets excited

In a chapel yard

And catches a bouquet

Another lays a dozen

White roses on a grave

 

Yeahhh…

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do

Heyyyy…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Someone finds salvation in everyone

Another only pain

Someone tries to hide himself

Down inside himself he prays

Someone swears his true love

Until the end of time

Another runs away

Separate or united

Healthy or insane

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Heyyyy…

Be yourself is all that you can do

 

Even when you’ve paid enough

Been pulled apart or been held up

Every single memory of the good or bad

Faces of luck

Don’t lose any sleep tonight

I’m sure everything will end up alright

You may win or lose..

 

But to be yourself is all that you can do

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can do

Get this song, its beautiful. It always finds its way onto my mixtapes as an anthem for individuality.

So, in the end, a mixtape is about sharing powerful words, poetry put to music, with someone special. It’s you whispering in someone else’s ears about the things you love…or hate. You sharing you with another person and if anything is going to change the world ever it will be doing things just like that.

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Performance Art 101

Dallas Dahms Photography www.dallasdahms.com

swany – untitled performance January 2016

Today I feel all of my days, each and every one: each and every second, minute, day, week, month, year…hell, every milli-second of my existence. My meat aches, my bones creak, my muscles are stiff and sore, I move like something very brittle and fragile, like ice with cats’ paws. I have lesions on my swollen hands and a large bruise on the inside of my right arm. My feet are tender and blistered and my head feels as though it has a pillow stuffed into it. Eyes all skritchy-skratchy, I am tired, sooo tired: physically, emotionally and psychologically. I have just completed a performance and I am here to tell you that performance art is not for sissys! I am not just saying this to butch myself up. It really does take its toll on you. I am such a train-wreck today. Let me tell you about it so that you, dear reader, may grasp the sheer unbearable being of the performance experience.

Traditionally in performance art the human body is the site for creation, the Materia prima. It is the empty canvas, the instrument, and an open book; it is the centrepiece of the altar. The body is the matrix of the performance piece regardless of the location, situation or the artefacts and participants/viewers involved. This is quite logical if one considers that our body is also the very centre of our symbolic universe—a tiny model for humankind, and at the same time, a metaphor for the larger socio-political body. If we are capable of establishing all these connections in front of an audience, hopefully others will recognize them in their own bodies.

Just for interest’s sake, the other basic elements of performance are time, space and also the audience, the one element that the artist has little or no control over. Marina Abramovic, the so-called mother of performance art, said that “the audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind – and they just leave…”

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swany – untitled performance January 2016

 

 

 

So just to re-iterate, for performance artists our main artwork is our own body, ridden with all the accompanying semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications that the body implies and carries with it. This is magnified/amplified by use of ritual, artefacts, symbols, a sacred space and a significant gesture. OK, but what is the difference between Performance Art and the Performing Arts? Performance Art is “making, not faking”! The intention of performance art is not to simply entertain: it is to provoke, to raise questions and most importantly, to implicate the audience/viewer. Performance art is rooted in conceptual thinking while performing arts has its roots in the theatre. In performance art you, the artist, are always you, it is only your context that changes. In performing arts the actor/dancer plays a role, they act. So in performance art one enacts (carries out) while in performing arts one acts out.

OK, back to my performance in particular, the “why”, the “what”, the “when” and the “where”.

Why?:  for the practical component of my master’s degree

What?:  a performance which explores/comments on/questions white masculinity

When?:  from 6 pm on Saturday 16 January  until 7 am Sunday 17 January (13 hours)

Where?:  at artSPACE Gallery (6 to 6) and then at the Natal Command Precinct (6-7)

Dallas Dahms Photography www.dallasdahms.com

swany – untitled performance January 2016

OK, so you have the particulars, now the details. Gender theory states that our gender is socially constructed, by our families and various organizations such as schools, universities, sports teams and the military. They shape our various masculinities and femininities. I spent 3 years in the armed forces so I my masculinity was definitely affected by that time there. In my Masters study I am asking one central question, do artists (white and South African in this case) represent the status of masculinity in their work or do they, as the avant-garde, lead the way in changing what masculinity is and should be? Is it evident in their creations?

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swany – untitled performance January 2016

To investigate this moulding of masculinity in the army I undertook a nightwatch in a local gallery, artSPACE durban. The owner, Claus, locked me in the gallery for 12 hours, from 6 pm until 6 am. In the gallery I performed certain rituals such as hitting a punching bag I had installed until my hands were bloody and bruised, and so swollen and tender that I could not hit it anymore. I also performed marching drills and martial arts katas throughout the night. This is where I stood guard, within the so-called “white cube”, surrounded by artists’ visions and creations, dreams and nightmares. Being January the air was moist and heavy, swampy, and I was soon drenched with sweat. Outside Durban’s city life clamoured at the doors and windows: music from a nearby club and passing vehicles, an adrenalized heartbeat; drunken bellows and laughs like street hyenas; the smashing of glass, the wailing of sirens; gunshots. And then at about 5.30 a brief moment of silence, the city pausing to catch its breath and then once more onward.

At 6 am, dressed in my old army uniform, I ran the equivalent of a 2.4 kilometre to what used to be the Natal Command military base in Durban. The 2.4 was the standard fitness test that we would run once a week while in the training phase in the army. Once at the old base, I performed 3 blood rituals using my own blood drawn by a nurse.

Dallas Dahms Photography www.dallasdahms.com

swany – untitled performance January 2016

 

I have to say I was really worried that I, at the very least, would be arrested  once I entered the public space and that was the least of my worries. There was also the very real possibility that I could be attacked on the streets. I was after all wearing my old apartheid-era military uniform. However, the reality is, the local police with their fat bellies wedged behind steering wheels looked the other way, white people avoided me like the plague, detouring around me frantically, while black people were quite inquisitive and interested to know what I was doing.

So 13 hours of physical exercise, no sleep, no food, lots of stress and really testing my physical and mental limits, pushing my body. Performance art asks a lot of not only the viewer but also of the artist. One hell of an experience!  And where to now? Well, I need to build on this beginning, this experiment I carried out. As I tell my students: the answers all lie in the making, in the doing.

Dallas Dahms Photography www.dallasdahms.com

swany – untitled performance January 2016

 

Pulp Fiction Exhibition

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In Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 movie of the same name pulp fiction is defined as:

a magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper.

Tarantino quite literally provides the audience with the definition in the beginning of his film. This locates its genre and reflects the intertextuality of the work. By intertextuality I mean the relationship between texts and images (as symbols). Tarantino’s film references the classic hard-boiled novels of the pulp fiction genre as well as classic film noir. The images and tableaus he creates consciously reference other literature and films.

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For the first half of the 20th century, the pulp fiction which Tarantino references was one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment. The typical pulp magazine consisted of a slick, glossy, vibrantly coloured cover and within, pages of fiction and advertising printed on poor quality “pulp” paper. Crime, romance, westerns, horror and fantasy were all staples for the pulps. Illustrators, painters and artists created original works to adorn the covers and attract the readers. They were usually sensational and lurid depictions of the short stories and articles inside.

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In South Africa we had our own version of pulp fiction, the photo magazine story. They were extremely popular in South Africa in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Various titles such as Tessa, Grensvegter and Kid Colt were produced by Republican Press.

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The art SPACE durban Gallery has an exciting exhibition coming up paying its own homage to this genre and I am busy creating a work for it. This is the artist brief:

You may pay homage to, or critique this art form or the Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction. There are no restrictions other than including pulp paper in the work submitted.

Key words to inspire are:

bright, femme fatale, lurid, violent, pop, slick and vibrant

So think gaudy, irreverent, inappropriate and politically incorrect! We need more of these “less stuffy”, inclusive exhibitions! It promises to be an awesome exhibition and something very different! Best you all take part!!!

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