Monday, January 21, 2008

The Execution of Hills Snyder and Foot Patrol at the White Swan

I stowed away in the back seat of Michele Monseau's Honda Civic to get up to Austin. By the time she & I and Anjali finished a round of hearty El Camino-burgers and made our way to Gallery 68 for the execution, there was quite a mob. This is what the crowd looked like:

Chris Sauter had apparently just shooed everyone out of the gallery-- something that his cop outfit must have enabled him to do, as I can't imagine him forcefully raising his voice or acting in any other loud authoritative manner... he was standing in for Elaine Wolff, who was down for the count with some virus (no problem envisioning her in the role). Everyone was jockeying for a position at the window. The only thing I could see was Nate Cassie with a paint-roller as he blacked out the window from the inside.

There are clear Justin Parr photos and a good account of the event on the Emvergeoning blog, given by Karen Mahaffey. Plenty of San Antonio faces in the crowd. Heres a shot with a couple of the photos in the gallery barely visible, and Utah Snyder in the reflection of the glass (upper left), also outside the gallery with the rest of us.

The premise of the show goes something like this: Hills is guilty of slaying ten critics, patrons, and otherwise champions of his work/career. There are portraits of each enabler as a dead person including Mike Casey, Catherine Walworth, Laurence Miller, and Anjali Gupta. There is an electric chair sculpture from his "Book of the Dead" installation (produced during his Artpace residency) in which he is to sit and be metaphorically executed.

Jason was going to bring a sign that said "Hell is too sweet for Hills Snyder!" Mine would have read "Save Hills!" Indicative of the squirrely nature of Snyder's work, there are dual (at least) principles at work here that resist resolution. On the one hand we have the artist as a straight-up psychopath, supposedly killing off those who are aiding and abetting the success of his art career. Not only is murder illegal and morally wrong (according to the majority), but why slaughter the hand that feeds you? Hell is too sweet for Hills Snyder.

On the other hand, why not wipe out the art parasites who suck off vital juices inherent to creative practice? Destroy those who would generate competitive power structures that artists fall prey to, becoming distracted from creative beatitude in their quest for success, fame, riches, sex, glory, and so on. "Save Hills" is a sentiment lodged in the ├╝ber-idealism of a possibility of purity in art practice, in allegiance with the notion that creative energy is the only regenerative energy (Beuys). In 1995, I gave a talk to a lecture-hall full of Chinese art students in Shi-Jia-Zhaung about my installation art-work. When someone asked about making a living, I responded that I didn't believe that money was a good motivating factor for making art. Well, OK, that was 13 years ago. What do I know?

And to counter that notion, while pretend-killing-off said pimps of the art-world, Hills is simultaneously capitalizing on the ass-kissing potential of displaying their portraits in the first place. Needless to say, Hills showed up at his own wake (at Art Palace) in a brand new orange pimp-suit, the master of his own prostitution, the artist as grand trickster, gleeful and satisfied with another slippery, definition-defying caper. It is in this labyrinth of possibilities that one might glimpse the rich treasure of meaning unbound.

Speaking of labyrinth... a guy (I wont name any names) comes up to me on the porch at the wake as I'm loudly proclaiming my enthusiasm for this conglomerate of possibilities. He says: I coudn't help but hear you talking and I wanted to tell you about when I went to see Hills' "Book of the Dead"... Inside of the piece was this now infamous maze, a pitch-black physical conundrum designed to disorient the participant in preparation for their rebirth. The guy goes on to say: I was there with my girlfriend... well, she wasn't really my girlfriend, but she started to get really hot in the dark there... it was pitch black, the sensory deprivation was just amazing... he went on from there, and the reader can guess how it ended without me spelling it out. Just an interesting curiosity.


We got a hot tip about a band called Foot Patrol and headed over to a joint called the White Swan. I have no idea where we were, just happy to be along for the ride. According to Anjali, we were in a crack neighborhood undergoing gentrification. I found it refreshing to be surrounded by black faces as I walked up the street and into the club. That feeling gave way to incredulity as I stepped into the back half of the venue, where all of the white people were. And then I remembered that self-segregation is normal, and felt annoyed. I actually believe that most our race problems are really class problems in disguise, but somehow class falls by the wayside, becoming the invisible elephant standing in the middle of the room.

Eventually, Foot Patrol came on and rocked it with a funky house sound, each song another elaboration on the foot fetish. Its been a looong time since my music reviewing days, so I'm going to stick to my topic of race. The singer for the band was a light-skinned African-American-looking guy, the guitarist a Latino/Chicano/Hispanic-looking guy, the bass player an Asian-looking guy, one of the dancers also Asian-looking. The rest of the crew looked white. A three-piece horn section, drummer, and second dancer brought the overall equation to 50% white, 50% other.

I understand that the singer is blind, and right now the metaphor strikes me as an interesting one.

Again, I think that class distinctions are overlooked in favor of the old fallback on race. Barack Obama is considered an African-American man. His sister Maya Soetoro-Ng says, in answer to a question, that she thinks of him as black "because that is how he has named himself" (NY Times Magazine, 20/01/08). I think it is so interesting that historically and, I believe legally, a person has been considered black no matter how much other blood is in their system. For a person who is half-Chinese, there is no way in hell that a Chinese mainlander would consider you Chinese. Period.

Obama stands for unity across the political divide. For me, this is embodied in the fact that he is half black and half white. This position is one in which the racial divide is physically broken down, alchemically transformed within the offspring of two separate entities of differing racial origins. Obama is just a few years older than I am, and I know that my parents were ahead of the multicultural curve, being the not-Chinese, not-Jewish, strange minority crossbreed that I am.

I'll elaborate on this some other time after I dig up my "Post-Race Manifesto." Suffice it to say that Foot Patrol kicked out a brilliant vibe woven from the multicultural sweat of of its ten-member crew.


Colonel D. Williams (Ret.) said...

Lots of thoughts going on here. The gloves came off. I couldn't tell when you were joking at times. I like that.

The Obama situation is full of paradox. Black enough to be hated by some white people, not black enough to be loved by Magic Johnson. Hillary, more and more, reminds me of Reese Witherspoon's character in the film Election.

Austin is nothing but gentrification. It makes San Antonio seem like the Wild West as we spread further and further out into the frontier.

Life So Far.... said...

Thanks for your notes on Hills' execution. It really shed some light on the process for me.
He DID look eerily attractive in that orange jumpsuit, no? lol

Anonymous said...

good write up! gz

Anonymous said...

In a nutshell, in a colonel, in general...
Upon being told no lanes were available, FWG says, "Well, I'm glad to know people are bowling."