Alexis Rockman at Nyehaus

Alexis Rockman has a show of new paintings at Nyehaus Gallery in New York.

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Bruce Sterling wrote that:
“Though he is known for the searing clarity of his paintings, there are things below the waterline that he does not paint.Years ago, the alligator made up his mind about these central issues in his oeuvre. He decided, as an act of deliberate will, to maintain his amphibious ambiguity. An ambiguity about the boundary of man and animal.  An ambiguity about the borders of nature and artifice. Of art, of science…Human debris, sinking to the inky bottom of the alligator pond, a harvest too bitter even for the worms…Glassware, toxic vinyl, and shiny aluminum; a styrofoam soup in the Pacific, polar ice gone missing with no forwarding address, a food web blown to rotten lace, with gothic cobwebby holes of the vanished in the Sixth Great Extinction…A fantastic mulch of the natural and political. Yesterday’s brilliant inventions, more mortal even than their masters, become an ooze in the planet’s hidden waters, a toxic dust, the plaything of the whipping winds.Dripping mayhem covers the canvas: north, east, south and west, center, pole and periphery, forward and back in time. On any scale a monster might care to depict: glaciers, tornadoes, down the busily swarming bacteria, swapping their pirate cassettes of antibiotic resistance, like the music-tape pirates down at Saint Mark’s Place. New genes, plucked like snarled wire from the guts of a shattered piano, then kinked, knotted, plier-jammed into the tasty flesh of pigs, chickens and cows. Over-eager weeds break from concrete sidewalks bridging sullen, forgotten, still-dripping New York streams.

These paintings need to be seen in person;  their alternately pasty palette-smeared impasto and resin-wet gloss  surfaces mess with your eyeballs, vascillating between vivid, convincing representation and  distressed, formal, melting swaths of color.

The Humboldt Squid

The Humboldt squid has 36,000 teeth in total. Moves fast. Eats dirty. Is big. Gorgeous, graceful, and alien creature.

“The Humboldt squid is a voracious predator that will eat anything it can get its tentacles on.”  – livescience.com

photo from smithsonianmag.com
photo from smithsonianmag.com

Creatures of a new mythology. Moving up and down the water columns. Ecosystem parasites. Opportunists. Formidable monsters. Predators. I say monsters, because with climate change the Humboldt squid “substantially expanded its perennial geographic range in the eastern North Pacific by invading the waters off central California. This sustained range expansion coincides with changes in climate-linked oceanographic conditions and a reduction in competing top predators. It is also coincident with a decline in the abundance of Pacific hake, the most important commercial groundfish species off western North America.” – National Academy of Sciences

The squid are expanding their range vertically, in terms of depth and horizontally in terms of range, and eating away their prey. They are competing for our food, having outlasted their competing predators and exhibiting robust resistance to changing conditions.

Monsters represent a threat to our safety and livelihoods. They are our wily and flexible competitors.

pair of humboldt squid
pair of Dosidicus gigas

Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic | Video on TED.com

Charles Moore is founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, one of the first to trawl the Garbage Patch. He captains the foundation’s research vessel, the Alguita, documenting the largest “landfills” of plastic waste that litter the oceans.

“A yachting competition across the Pacific led veteran seafarer Charles Moore to discover what some have since deemed the world’s largest “landfill” — actually a huge water-bound swath of floating plastic garbage the size of two Texases. Trapped in an enormous slow whirlpool called the Pacific Gyre, a mostly stagnant, plankton-rich seascape spun of massive competing air currents, this Great Pacific Garbage Patch in some places outweighs even the surface waters’ biomass six-to-one.”

Souvenirs from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Photo from VICE TV's piece, Garbage Island.

When I was digging around  for Paradoxical Sleep, I wanted to find out what happened after San Jose’s Guadalupe River, after the South Bay of Northern California.  The whirling gyre of nasty pollution information literally culminated in this vortex: The North Pacific Garbage Patch, an area the size of Texas that’s a confluence of ocean currents, north of Hawaii. Maybe it’s twice the size of Texas: it’s an undulating swirling mass;  it’s a soup of industrial and consumer plastics; some are plastic pellets from manufacturing, small enough to be mistaken for plankton and eaten by marine animals;  lots are large enough to comprise a bounty in a net haul.

VBS TV “TOXIC  – GARBAGE ISLAND – Part 1 of 12

Link to page for rest of series.

Reading: Animal, Erica Fudge

(Corey Wolfe, Michael Pollan, Erica Fudge, read like cornball-edly obvious fictional names, but their books are great)

At ITP I’m teaching a class called “Animals, People and Those in Between.
This book, in addition to The Animals Reader, was super-useful, covering a lot of ground both on the history of people’s attitudes towards animals (from Aristotle, Descartes and Bentham to Peter Singer, and Tom Regan,  Carol Adams, Yi-Fu Tuan et al), but also a survey on more radical and critical takes on the subject.

Animal is a clear and critical  guide to ‘reading’ animals, and asking questions of everyone trafficking in animals,  from the view points of science, fashion, advertising and philosophy. Fudge gives a great summary of Peter Singer’s work in chapter 2, “Real and Symbolic: Questions of Difference” as well as magic acts revealed in her treatment of Ham the NASA chimp, the His Master’s Voice dog, and PETA + fake fur.

Animal by Erica Fudge
Animal by Erica Fudge

You can get the book on Amazon

This book’s part of the Focus on Contemporary Issues series by Reaktion Books, who has a great series called Animal.  The series’ titles include Ant, Bear, Cockroach, Cat, Crow, Eel, Elephant... They’re written by a spectrum of eminent nature-culture writers. I loved Fly, which covered the natural and cultural histories of, yeah, flies. Author Stephen Connor describes the fly as one who “takes its pleasure promiscuously, restlessly, unswervably, unashamedly…. Each fly is king of his own country. He knows no laws or conventions…He has no work to do—no tyrannical instinct to obey… what freedom is like his?”

This is my kind of reasoned, academic, delicious anthropomorphism.

Return of the Fly collectible
Return of the Fly collectible

Reading: Zoontologies, Carey Wolfe, ed.

Zoontologies, the Question of the Animal is a collection of essays about “those nonhuman beings called animals (who) pose philosophical and ethical questions that go to the root not just of what we think but of who we are. Their presence asks: what happens when the Other can no longer safely be assumed to be human?”

These collections about “The Animal Question” have spawned and multiplied, many of their core contents get re-spun from book to book, so there is a lot of overlap from collection to collection, but also some real gems. My favorite in this book is by Alphonso Lingis, titled “Animal Body, Inhuman Face.” It’s an über-sexy, gorgeously written essay that extends (and exemplifies the often impossibly textual) Deleuze + Guattari’s Becoming-Animal theories, writ on  bodies –  on our bodies as ecosystems, our bodies as animal bodies.

Mathew Calarco’s review of Zoontologies writes that “Lingis’s essay overflows not with examples of “the animal” but with animals (understood broadly as living beings), in their multiplicity and heterogeneity: bacteria, sea anemones, rodents, rabbits, cats, cockatoos, jellyfish, whales, lions, wolves, and foxes, to name only a few…Lingis is also concerned to draw attention to the becomings-animal that are constantly at work at the very core of the human. It is especially during sex, Lingis argues, that human beings undergo such becomings: during orgasm, “our impulses, our passions, are returned to animal irresponsibility” (172); he notes further, in a passage that is sure to shock those readers who are confident that a sharp line can be drawn between the human and the animal in the realm of sex, that, “When we, in our so pregnant expression, make love with someone of our own species, we also make love with the horse and the calf, the kitten and cockatoo, the powdery moths and the lustful crickets”
Textually bestial?

Here’s the book, at Amazon