I am yeah-huh with the grotesque/gross-tech/Gurlesque

You know that feeling of getting along, jiving with, being simpatico…

The Little Rascals ~*chin wave*~

Like, um, the I-get-you, a wink and a nod and a pop to the hip, a punch in the gut.

Strange Mercy cover by St. Vincent

When you see it, it is a harmless milkdrop, and then it is a plop of angry milk, shrieking strings, a reeeeeek

 

I view the Gurlesque as a wide, deep, gooey reservoir, filled with sharp shards of glass, metal, and the occasional doll parts… bits of body hair covering the surface like pollen.

A junkyard delight of rejected norms of femininity I get to put on, perform, only to reject it the next day.
It allows me to search for “pleasure at the heart of this excessive poetics, an utter delight in the grotesque.”

Here is where I try to reconcile my ooey gooey feels with the hairy, heavy reality of body hair politics, and there is no catharsis because someone’s always got somethin’ to say about my mustache:

set in place from kangmink on Vimeo.

Unnecessary Art

Hello, dear reader! Thank you for clicking and saying yes to “unnecessary art.” And for clicking this out of obligation because we are: family, friends, colleagues, or lovers. Or because it is Friday afternoon and your brain refuses to function after lunchtime.

Just looking at the neat white box of my internet browser makes me feel drunk with power. “What can I say?” “Will anyone read this?” “Will what I say make a difference, my ugly bundle of thoughts, swimming amongst a sea of lists, like ‘365 ways that Chipotle customers are the worst‘?” (Oh, now I am craving a burrito bowl.)

But the act of writing, just like my super-serious attempts at creating exclusive “clubs” with other middle schoolers, it always feels more important at the time. We made membership cards out of wide ruled notebook paper and stamped them with our carved-out erasers to legitimatize ourselves. You had to be quick about painting the entire eraser in red Crayola marker or it would dry up before you got a chance to stamp anything (or you’d end up with a red smear on your card instead of a nifty seal of approval). In the end, we realized that nobody took us seriously, and some even accused me of being too bossy. We quickly disbanded after 3 meetings. Actually, they probably kicked me out and carried on with their meetings and continued to busymake with markers and stamps.

My journey in making art and writing has been somewhat similar, not so neatly though that each instance from my middle school life can layer on top of my art life, like the results of a faked science fair experiment. (What, you didn’t carefully craft the inclining scatterplot graph, at a perfect 45-degree angle?) In this convoluted way, I am trying to say that oftentimes, I did what I wanted and what made me happy, only to realize others didn’t “get it” or me. Thus began the self-love/self-hate cycle of a writer. The “self-hate” portion was compounded by my knowledge that the pursuit of the arts is often considered a frivolous, nose-picking, nose-thumbing activity. “Whatever, I could have totally slapped some paint into a square shape–where’s my party?”

Despite this unwelcomed, outside knowledge, I have a kernel of bright smallness that continues to grow. Despite the preconceived notions about art being inconsequential or unimportant, I know that its strength could stem from the fact that it appears unimportant. What is life without its luxuries and extravagances? Or without the mundanity of the everyday life, which is transformed through intent focus and attention, resulting in a playful, wonderful observation about how “sugar is not a vegetable“? That’s when shit really gets turnt.

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Fendi’s fur monster keyrings, totally ridiculous and “unnecessary” and compelling

So yes, I live in a time and place in which my own school does not prioritize the arts and let their students enter their decrepit, unsafe buildings. I may not write poetry that is not considered “necessary” or “important” in understanding our human condition, because I choose write about things like body hair removal or selfies, which are deemed unimportant and niche, unworthy of poetizing (word I just made up), but I would argue that it is quite alright to revel in the superfluous, the decorative, the homemade rubber eraser stamps.

Min Kang: Curatorial Intent

During my time at Nola Studiola, I hope to stretch myself through the essay form, but maybe it will end up in verse or as a manifesto in disguise. Or a series of clip art and images found on Google as a “post.”
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Here are some of the things that I hope to explore during the month of April 2014, in a list form, not in order of importance:
-How there always seems to be a difference between the way that I see myself vs. the way others see me (like that time I wore my dad’s old leather jacket in middle school, thinking I looked cool, only to be reminded that I looked like a mini Triad greaser by my bitchy friends).
-Also see: “What I write vs. what book buyers actually want to see on the shelves/online catalogues” or “How I talk to loved ones and pets vs. how I talk in a normal grownup conversation” and if the differences are reconcilable (or are the differences irreconcilable, like a Hollywood marriage?).
-How art privileges some aesthetics over the others. The realistic, the beautiful, and the divine over the ugly, the grotesque, and the cute. Why chasing after mimesis is boring and what we should do instead (hint: fuck. shit. up.).
-Why language is not neutral and a “pure” form of expression and why I cannot remove my identity politics out of my poetry. Why it is boring to seek out “universal” experiences in art.
-Why it is important for me to have good, cheap, Asian eats in the city I live in, and why I still also need to eat Panda Express and mall teriyaki chicken.

the end

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The end

I started this series of blog posts with a story of not keeping the pottery I made in pottery class because I was more interested in making pots than in keeping the pots I made. Well, I wasn’t sure I’d keep the quilt I made for this project, because it, too, was more about making rather than keeping the quilt. But I’m keeping it in the end because 1) who else would want it? And 2) it reminds me why I made it. I made it to figure out what I wanted to say, to realize I meant something. What I mean is all the blue inside the moon phases, which is to say, all I don’t say in words and stitches, can’t say, all that is protected by and hinted at by what I do image and compose. The quilt is my apron, under which I play at being a real artist.

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The theme of my posts this month was: what do doing and product have to do with each other?

I came to realize over the course of this project that I experience the link between doing and making in whom it’s all for. I don’t think about whom it’s for when I play violin. For one thing, I’m 99.9% of the time playing someone else’s compositions. The composer gets to dedicate. Also, the link between doing and making is simpler playing the violin. The doing is the product; they’re simultaneous. When I make a piece of art, though, the product changes the equation. Perhaps because I experience an art form (music) without a material product, I know it’s not the point. And, now that I’ve thought more about it, maybe the process isn’t really always the point, either. It’s doesn’t answer to whom?

I’ve exhibited my art in shows only one or two times. Each time I felt like a live wire unplugged. I felt exposed, absurd. As absurd as if my kooky pottery instructor were giving her opening lecture standing on a soap box on a downtown street corner. “Now, it’s in and down with that clay! Become one with it. Not too much finger; use palm, ladies! Weight, not force!” She’d be ignored at best and offensive at worst. But in class, she has a context in which to be heard. Mysteriously, artistically, her message gets plugged into us, even when she’s not putting her clay-stiffened hands on ours at the wheel or encouraging us with her words. She plugs into us in our own doing. At an art showing, I’m like my kooky pottery instructor, as I sit at a table, waiting for people to come by and take a gander at my pieces. “Beautiful,” they say, or, “cool,” but to what?

They’re diffuse exclamations, as dissipated as my art without a to whom. What I lack at an art show is a closed circuit, a preposition connecting me somehow to my audience through my art. I want my art to be part of a conversation, a relationship, not just something to comment on. When my goal is to do, I walk or practice. But making art, doing isn’t all I want to accomplish. I want something to give to someone in particular. And what I enjoy is the coming together of making and giving.

The gift, the product, in other words, is just a ray of light, like the moon in a vast dark galaxy. It’s surrounded by effort and intention and skill and even some things I don’t have control over, like the time it takes to arrive, and be retrieved, in the mail. It’s for without being invasive. Some gifts give more directly: bathing a young child or massaging a loved one or cooking meals or walking dogs or tutoring or donating blood. But what can I do for a friend watching a loved one die or a friend in a funk or a hapless husband? I can try and be a good conduit, as it were, and avoid doing harm. I can make art. Art is not for in the same way as other gifts; it’s dedicated. It doesn’t accomplish or solve anything. Like the moon, it creates subtle bridges of light, illuminating, not explaining.

My visit with Ms. Barker in New Orleans was surrounded by train time. I couldn’t clearly explain all it meant to me to see her, not in the pause that was my time with her between the great inhale and exhale of train trips, but I think she got it. She’s an artist, a fellow traveler, the most experienced one I know. She understands how to enjoy my depictions of the train trip as packaging and curled ribbon. It’s precisely all those superficial, meaningless, wobbly-sewn letters and misshapen moons that carry a message that is too dear to be said in any other fashion. In fact, I’ve said enough already. Happy April.

 

 

Tennessee take 2 – Milwaukee

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Tennessee again

From Memphis to New Orleans, on the way down, I had watched the sunset paint the sky, as if from the brush tips of trees, out my sleeping car window. When it was dark, I moved to the lounge car to follow, from larger windows, the moon stamp his face on the Big Easy. But on the way back north, although it was the middle of a bright sunny afternoon, memories and impressions and feelings clouded my mind so that I could barely appreciate my outward surroundings.

Then I met Aidan. It was time once again for community dining in the dining car and this time I was paired with a pregnant mom and her 2 year old son. I couldn’t ignore Aidan even if I’d wanted to. Within 5 minutes, he was under the table, on the table, on my side of the table, making eyes at the 4 year old at the neighboring table, then back under the table again. Sugar packets and creamers had no defense against Aidan’s fists. Like Tarzan, I wrenched the little blondies from baby Godzilla. As she re-set him on his seat, his mom told me the reason for their trip: to attend her dad’s unexpected funeral. The doctor had told her to stay as still and calm as possible to keep the baby safe. Yeah, right. By the time our meals came, mom had already used up the dinner calories she would never be able to consume with Aidan on the move. To be his mom required Shiva arms as well as Tarzan strength.

“Will he ever stop?”

“Nope. I have one, too. Now, he climbs trees as well as walls. Good luck.”

The waitress boxed up their dinners so that while Aidan scaled the roomette, mom might be able to eat in relative peace.

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Milwaukee

I left New Orleans with a light jacket on and by Chicago, I was back in mittens, hat and scarf. Snow held up my connection to Milwaukee where my husband would meet me and take me the rest of the way home. In Gate E of Chicago’s Union Station, eager passengers sighed at the DELAYED flashing on our departure screen. We got in touch with our rides on the other end and made alternative arrangements. Others of us ate. My bench mate read nytimes.com. When our neighbor asked him to watch her bag while she went to the bathroom, he stopped reading and stared at the bag the entire time. Would she have asked at an airport?

I appreciate the lower security risks of train travel, but there are drawbacks, too, like perpetual tardiness. I’ve learned to cushion my commute times with conservative ETAs. Or, when my patience is up, I fume inwardly, like a good Scandinavian Midwesterner. How I marvel at passengers who complain out loud and proudly, like my fellow traveler from Chicago’s Southside. We all learned her itinerary over the course of her conversations with those around her and with relatives whom she asked for rides to Milwaukee.

“It’d be a helluva lot cheaper and faster just to pay your young ass to come pick me up and take me over there! Hell, what’d I pay for but a ride to where I’m goin’ and they can’t even get me there when they say. Shoot. I want my money back.”

By the time our departure sign read 11:30, our complaining customer was trading chips for water bottles with her seat mates and comparing notes on trips to Rhode Island. I guess it can pay to live more publicly.

Memphis-NOLA

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Memphis

We got into Memphis about the time we were supposed to have arrived in New Orleans, mid-afternoon. It was the first time I’d been outside in 24 hours, since Chicago, even if just for a smoke stop. It was as if the train had pulled new backdrops across the stage: the sky had gone from white to blue, the ground from snow-covered to a touch of brown. I’d arrived at a cusp of the South! I could already taste green overtones and liquid (not solid) lake in the air.

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New Orleans

I finally arrived at 7pm. With Trixie the iphone’s help, Ms Barker drove us to a friend’s house where a dinner party gathered. After a nibble of king cake, we headed to a bar for po-boys. We shared the tiny back dining area with a group of glamorous gay men from New York. There was no time even to deduce their identity; they called attention to themselves right away and wanted to know who we all were, too. Especially Jon, the only male of our party, who’d come in with us and promptly gone back out to get cash. But our new friends had taken notice.

“Is he family?” asked the one I’ll call Don Juan.

“No, he’s just our friend,” said Catie

“That’s not what I mean! I mean, does he like boys? Is he in OUR family?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” said Lina.

“Ooh, sassy!” flicked Don Juan.

Meanwhile, Don Juan’s compadres were getting sassy with each other. I was trying to keep my eyes on my ginger ale so I didn’t get called into the conversations when a screech made me look up. One of the guys had squirted sriracha sauce onto the head of another one. When Jon came back in, he wasn’t immediately noticed for the dabbing and punch-preventing and coo-ing and coddling going on among his admirers. The sirachi sufficiently cleaned up and the friends once again on flirting terms, attention turned to Jon.

“Those are awfully short shorts, brother. Can I touch them?”

At that we finished our shrimp po-boys faster than a catfish reeled in off the bayou and whisked Jon off for a post-fondle stiff one (pardon the pun) at the Carousel Bar.

Chicago and Tennessee

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Chicago

One of my first interactions was a simple request and response. I’d been eight hours on a bus from Minneapolis, sitting in the front seat, watching the snow fall and a total of five cars spin off the highway. By Chicago I was eager to move my legs.  I headed down Jackson Street toward Lake Michigan. Almost to the Chicago Institute of Art, I saw glittering through the flurries, a metal structure like feathered hair framing a dark face. I needed to know what it was. Despite my insensible footwear and light coat, I forged on in search of exercise and to satisfy my curiosity. I discovered the structure was at the base of a long bridge over a sculpture garden adjacent to the art museum. The bridge originated inside the 3rd floor of the art museum, so in I went. Through fogged glasses I sensed rather than saw all the eyes on me, snow-covered and hunched under my camping backpack. I was in no hurry to leave the warmth of the museum lobby after my trek but I had to state my purpose before they kicked my vagabond ass back out on the sidewalk.

“How do I get to the bridge?”

“Through those doors to the left,” said a Big Mama Guard, with a sweep of her maroon sweater-ed arm, as if beckoning me onto a red carpet. And, indeed, I took regal steps out onto that bridge, into the garden, down to the plaza where the metal structure revealed itself to be an amphitheater. Let the curtains on my trip, open!

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Tennessee

“This is James, your dining car attendant informing you that this is the last call for lunch in the dining car. Again, this is the last call for lunch in the dining car. We remind you that seating is first come first serve and it is community seating. You may be seated with people you don’t know but will have the pleasure to get to know. This is the last call for lunch in the dining car.”

I zig-zagged through the corridor. Who knew the flat Mississippi Delta could cause such a bumpy ride? I was one of the last diners and could have had a table by myself, but, alas, I had the pleasure of getting to know Zack over lunch.

“Hello, I’m Zack, and you are?”

“Mari.”

“You’re not from here, are you?”

“Nope. Minnesota.”

“Ah, then you’re from off.”

And thus we were off on topics ranging from how to make a perfect steak (all it takes is cajun seasoning – only the brand with the fat guy chef on the label – and 11 minutes on each side in a toaster oven at 475) to ceramics (a crush of his quit school to join a pottery community in Arkansas) to folk music ( I should check out the annual folk festival in his town) to the relative merits of Walmart (yes, even he, a bleeding heart liberal shops there because what other choice has he in North Arkansas?) to photography (his reason for going to New Orleans, although if there’s no fog, the photos are all cliché, so mainly he eats) to books (I was to get a Kindle ASAP. No more lugging around books while traveling. Must be a silly “from off” notion) to the finale: the layout of the French Quarter (Jackson Square was like a paper napkin with about 6 blocks – chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop went the chubby mustard stained side of his palm on the table – on either side. Past that isn’t for ladies like me). We closed down the dining car.