Saturday, December 21, 2013

CCVIII: Afraid

Nobody needs anyone
They don't even just pretend...
David Bowie, I'm Afraid of Americans

The video for I’m Afraid of Americans always makes me think of the song less as a satire on America and more as a meditation on fear, paranoia and the other.  Violence certainly begets violence, but (let no one tell you otherwise) violence is not an American monopoly.  More commonly, crazy people make you crazy. Here I think there is a case to be made that America, with its rootless economic nomadism and its conviction that only the above average are worth anything has a special claim on crazy.  Together, song and video reflect that danger in fear itself. What begins as a legitimate critique of obsession with empty pleasure and status ends as violent paranoid delusion. Reznor’s brilliant air machine gun (Wikipedia thinks it’s an assault rifle, but it’s clearly being fired full auto) is indeed just air. There’s a lot going on, but one message seems clear: the visionary or person of conscience risks loosing their own humanity as they begin to doubt that of others. The risk of this alienation is something of a preoccupation of mine. The topic makes me think of an older piece of mine:

All My Useless Outrage, oak, 2009

A fat naked man with a nasty smile could mean anything, (well a lot of things).  Here the title links it explicitly to our topic. Exhibiting the piece years ago I displayed it with this text:

"It was very hard to look at the world with such eyes. When you examined it coldly in this way, the claws of your eyes turned back into your head and tore it to pieces..."
Andre Schwartz Bart, A Woman Named Solitude 
My sculptures draw inspiration from a spectrum of European, African and Native American traditions of ritual woodcarving. Like these traditions, my work gives wooden body to spirits, and daemons, exploring hopes and horrors simultaneously personal and universal.
God may not like Ugly, but somehow he loves them. I don’t. When we look at the Ugly, in crude form, in coarse word, in cruel, selfish action, it forces us to react, sometimes with pity, more often with horror, disgust, violent rage; we tear ourselves apart in the process. 
A fat man, a self-satisfied Ugly American, is a call to contemplate not only the damage the Ugly does, but also how we are damaged, made Ugly ourselves as we look at the Ugly with hatred and match its violence with our own.
The epigraph is from a novel about a Caribbean slave revolt by Andre Schwartz-Bart (French resistance fighter, sole survivor of his family, better known for the Holocaust novel, Last of the Just). It describes the gaze of those watching the execution by torture of a fellow slave. The implication is that innocent or guilty, to look at the world with certain eyes is to lose part of our humanity.  All My Useless Outrage explored this idea on both a general and personal level, visibly and invisibly.  Wood carving is a time consuming art form, and it is easy to become precious about the product of one’s efforts.  In tension with, or rebellion against that I have a fascination with defacing the painstaking work of days, or months. Nails, holes, burning. My initial concept sketches for this piece incorporated this idea in a very particular way. Refraining became as much a part of the work as that intended marring, a reminder to respect our humanity by respecting the spark within the seemingly inhuman...

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