Thursday, February 4, 2010

Montana.  Five below.  Ice fog.  On the way to the airport on Tuesday our cabbie was someone who had done, as he put it, a lot of living.  Long filthy fingernails; dirty long gray hair not combed for a long, long time; teeth broken and a southern drawl inflected with years of hard, probably violent use.  Said he spent much of his life driving truck all over, as he put it, "these 48 states." 72 years old, raised by a grandmother, never knew his mother or heard her name uttered by a soul.  He felt dangerous and a bit frightening.

And I thought of how easy it would be to stick the camera in his face, how he probably wouldn't even object, and that following him for a day would yield the type of distorted, sad, lost look that occupies much of current documentary work that curators, and by extension, the cognizati, find fascinating.  Why is this culture, so very materialistic and driven by possessions, so interested in life's losers?  What's that about?  There but for the grace?

There was a review in the NYTimes of "Leopards in the Temple," at Sculpture-Center in Queens, basically a pan, which included this:  "The show includes a wide range of artists, from young, emerging New Yorkers to internationally known figures like the recent Turner Prize nominee Lucy Skaer and the veteran, anthropologically minded conceptualist Lothar Baumbarten.  But here it looks as if they might have graduated recently from an M.F.A. program that favors semiotic sophistication over the fashioning of compelling objects."

This is exactly what I'm afraid of.  Everything in me worries that proximity is substituting for intimacy in our culture in general.  So when we call strangers on facebook friends, say that messages written for us are on a wall, as though a greeting were being inscribed in a Vietnam-style memorial, I worry.  I'll try, but not if all it yields is "semiotic sophistication."

Anyhow, here I am in Montana, where there are losers for sure, but also people who are just going along, all their teeth in situ, hair combed, words coming from them from a deep place of hard work but general acceptance of life as it is, which shows on their faces.  No pall of the prison.  No exotic tinge of the dangerous.  And I can't imagine violating their personal space like I would have done with the cabbie, without even thinking about it.

1 comment:

  1. Nothing like a surreal cab ride to get the visuals flowing! Love this anecdote, Jill. Can't wait to see the next batch of work from Montana!