November 10, 2015
As I walked into the next gallery at Wolfgang Tillmans’s most recent exhibition at David Zwirner, I kept hearing gasps, whispers and hushed comments. As I turned the corner, I saw why immediately. A large-scale photographic print showing the close up of a man’s hairy ass and scrotum greets visitors as they enter one of the largest galleries within David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery. “Is this supposed to be art?” a woman next to me, evidently perturbed, mumbled curtly to her friend under breath.
To some Tillmans’s work may seem unsophisticated, crude, and ordinary. Some say there’s no point–it’s just a bunch of photos that anyone could have on their iphone or in a family album. To say make these comments is not to truly see the work, to not take enough time to look at his images and allow yourself to feel an emotional response. For this is what Tillmans’s work is all about—a personal, intimate and emotional connection to something or someone within the realm of the everyday.
A German photographer and artist, Tillmans has made quite the impact in the contemporary photography world. His career gained a high level of prominence in the 1990’s with its new approaches to subjectivity, pairing intimacy and playfulness with social critique, and the persistent questioning of existing values and hierarchies.
This latest exhibition, which closed on October 24th in New York, titled PCR (polymerase chain reaction) presented a diverse array of subjects and photographic styles. The prints are displayed haphazardly around the galleries; some are hung so low that you have to bend over and crouch to see them whereas others are stuck high up so you have to crane your neck back. It’s different, but makes you physically interact with the space, most likely what Tillmans hoped for as he designed the layout.
Everything and anything was on display; from mundane yet carefully arranged still lifes of fruit, to beautiful nature landscapes, to snapshots of protests from around the world, to dark and smoky club scenes, to intimate portraits of couples or families, to night shots of Los Angeles traffic intersections.
The arbitrary nature of these images is frustrating at first—what are we even looking at? Do any of these things even matter? Where is the artistic revelation…perhaps under that heaping pile of laundry (which every single person in the gallery has dreadfully waiting at home) that he decided to point his camera at and transform it into a print priced in the thousands?
The beauty of Tillmans’s work is that he humbly brings us back to reality. Everything around me seems familiar, like I’ve experienced or seen something similar to it before. It is comforting in a way that many contemporary shows strive not to be. Instead of shocking or irritating us with nonsensical, perverse, or ridiculous manifestations of “the limitlessness of art” Tillmans gives us a much needed breather from the weirdness of contemporary art. The images on display at David Zwirner are the in-between moments. They are reminders us of the small, seemingly insignificant details of our daily lives, which we so desperately try to ignore or transform into something fabulous and “likable.”
His next show will be opening at the end of November in the Gallery of Contemporary Art and Architecture at the České Budějovice House of Art in the Czech Republic. After that his next show will open in December at the Hasselblad Center, Göteborgs Konstmuseum in Gothenburg, Sweden.
November 3, 2015
This is going to be the first in a series of articles that I will write about Albania and art. As an introduction to subsequent pieces (where I will also explain my obsession with the place), I want to write about an issue that has been plaguing me as an artist. This does not have to do specifically with any place or people, but with the issue of fine lines. There are many of these to be explored as an outsider looking into another culture that is not your own and is initially alien to you. And there are countless problems that appear when attempting to make art and be creative about something or somewhere that you don’t know. But people have always been inspired by far places, different cultures, the sounds and smells of the unfamiliar. That inspiration should not be quelled or silenced by fear. So there is this tension and that is what I will explore.
To illustrate this, I want to give examples of two photographers who have travelled to Albania and made projects about the place. Their styles are totally different and so are their photographic narratives; what they have in common is an interest in the country. Marco Kesseler is a UK-based photographer, and his work, in general, relates to socio-political issues. His photos have careful and thoughtful compositions. Gilles Roudière, a French photographer based in Berlin, has work that is dreamy and confusing, impressionistic, often vignetted and in black and white. But before I get further into their work, I want to discuss the difference between art that is declarative, and art that is explorative. Using these terms should make the distinction pretty straightforward, but when it comes to photography, the usage becomes foggy. Photography is, by nature, a declarative medium. It is indexical, it touches its subject and renders it as the light is captured. This is, I guess, a tired conversation in photography, but it always fascinates me to think about it. Despite its straightforward nature, it can also be so deceptive in terms of the reality it shows. This is why there are conceptual photographers and then photojournalists (and of course everyone else in between and beyond).
So this is where the tension arises. When artistic photography is more journalistic than conceptual, it teeters on the line between declaration and exploration. Sometimes this comes across as the idea behind the work not being fully fleshed out, or the voice being a bit uncertain. When the work presents itself as an exploration, suddenly a whole new range of possibilities is available. Probing into a problem or issue almost always allows a more honest and authentic voice to shine through, rather than any form of authority that doesn’t really exist. This is an issue that does not just apply to artists – actually probably to them least of all. Essentially this ties into a current conversation about cultural appropriation which artists are infamous for not really giving a f*ck about, as long as they make something that they care about. What I’m more concerned with in this discussion is the effectiveness of the voice behind the artwork, and what makes one photograph hold more impact than another.
In the case of Kesseler and Roudière, it seems unfair to compare them, so I will try not to do that. Kesseler’s work takes a more straightforward approach to its subject, which is the controversial and antiquated tradition of gjakmarrja, or blood feud that still exists in northern Albania today. This is the eye-for-an-eye approach of taking back blood for a family member who has been killed. It is a heavy subject for a photographer to depict, and his work does a good job of illustrating how lonely and difficult it is to live with this problem. It shows scenes from life in Albania, the condition of a house with hardly any furniture, a rocky landscape with a jagged clothesline, faded color and grey skies. As I said before, it’s careful, thoughtful, and beautiful work, lending integrity to its subject. He also captions his work like a photojournalist, explaining each scene and situation. We as viewers understand that he is an outsider looking into the life but not participating in it. It is a first look into another culture, and not necessarily an exposition of it. In this way, the work self-consciously has some difficulty accessing its subject.
Roudière’s work takes Albania as “photographic theatre” and he approaches the place purely through his own experience. He doesn’t care to be objective, in a sense he disregards a politically considerate method, and revels entirely in his own vision of the place. Featured in the British Journal of Photography, the work is described as taking “documentary to the realm of emotion and metaphor”. It is disinterested in being careful, but it also manages not to be disrespectful or condescending towards its subject. Rather than pointing to say how strange, or how different these people are, it presents an immersive experience.
These two photographers give me, as a photographer interested in Albania, a framework for my own approach to the work. They present some answers to a struggle that is not just artistic, but could be applied in everyday life. Finally, if you would like to view my first look into Albania, photos are available here.
October 26, 2015
Photoville, Brooklyn’s innovative showcase of photography through the use of moving containers as exhibiting rooms, has come and gone but the photography projects shown there are still alive and well. A particular project that has stayed with me even a few weeks after the final weekend of Photoville, goes by the name of “Upstate Girls” by Brenda Ann Kenneally.
Since 2004, Kenneally has dedicated her life to documenting and exploring class inequity in America, and more specifically in Troy, New York. Troy is known as a prototype of the industrialization in America. As the majority of the manufacturing businesses that once provided Troy with the means to flourish move overseas, many lose jobs, incarceration rates soar, and an increasing number of households are left in the hands of single mothers. The current median annual income for a family of three living in Troy is $16,796.
For five years, Kenneally closely followed and documented the lives of seven women living in Troy. Keneally’s artist statement claims, “Poverty is an emotional, rather than purely physical, state.” This fact is brought to life in this project where the viewer is given the opportunity to observe all aspects of these womens’ lives, the ups and the downs.
Like all of the other Photoville exhibits, Keneally’s work was presented in a shipping container. However, this exhibit was vastly different than those surrounding it. There is stuff everywhere. All available wall space is covered with photographs. It honestly feels very unorganized and messy, as if a young child had curated the show. This is obviously done purposefully given the fact that the titles and descriptions paired with each photograph are hand written in a black ballpoint pen on masking tape and taped straight on to the prints. Loose corners of the unframed eight and a half by eleven prints are also held down by masking tape. At first glance, the exhibit itself seems very amateur. However, once you look over the subject matter – the messiness of the houses, the many children running around, and the piles of junk food on the dinner tables – you realize that this style of exhibiting seamlessly transitions into the actual photographs. In addition to this sea of images, Kenneally provides her audience with a large projected video of everyday life with these women of Troy, a couple more smaller screens with similar videos and headphones with sounds that bring the images to life. How the artist fit all of this into one shipping container is incredible. Even Kenneally herself, who was there struggling with the projector, was messy in her ways, which only added to the seemingly appropriate and even authentic ambiance of this little world the artist had created in the shipping container.
What really intrigued me and brought the project even more so into the realm of reality was that some of Kenneally’s subjects were in fact there, visiting the exhibit themselves. Note this project is not a flattering representation of these people’s lives. It is extremely honest and in fact more often than not very unflattering. If I myself was in these photographs I would most likely not want to look at them in front of the general public. However, I was glad they were there. Photography, more often than not, has the ability to create distance between its subjects and its viewers. Though in this case, as I observed a photograph of a bleached-blond girl sitting with her shirtless boyfriend on a dingy couch, this same bleached blonde girl stood beside me also enjoying the exhibit. Any feeling of distance with the subject was shattered.
These people were real!
It’s probably necessary to let you in on my state of being before describing my reaction to the current display at The Photographers Gallery in London. Prior to my visit, I had donated my tenth pint of blood, my deca-donation if you like. This is no mean feat when you’ve spent most of your life putting a blanket ban on films that contain gore and violence and feeling faint at the mere mention of blood. On this occasion I had decided that it was finally time to look at the needle and blood bag. Unsurprisingly, this left me cold, clammy and white as a sheet with the nurses huddled around me trying to keep me from fainting. I’m sure you can then imagine my wobbly disposition when entering the The Photographers gallery shortly after.
Noémie Goudal’s top floor presence contains a collage of realities. The vast photographs, hung low to fill ones gaze, are inspired by the ‘human fascination with the sky.’ Goudal presents landscapes, interrupted by printed digital imagery, each photo contains another photo, and the execution is such that at first the placement of one image inside the other appears seamless. Upon closer inspection, the construction of the images becomes much more obvious. Goudal positions the somewhat crudely cut out photographs in front of the lens, creating a simple extra layer on top of the background landscape. She allows you to see how the image has been constructed by including the brackets and wires holding it in place, making allusions to a theatre-like stage where the intention isn’t to fein realism but to evoke a willingness to understand a new idea or narrative. Her influences described in the accompanying text are communicated in simple visual language and avoid the art world faux pas of merely illustrating a concept. This floor is an absolute treat.
Walking down to the subsequent level, my mood had been settled. Goudal’s works have a subtle, therapeutic effect and allowed my somewhat giddy mood to mellow. This next floor contained what I later found out to be the second part of Burden of Proof, an exhibition demonstrating the historical lineage of the introduction of photography and moving image into criminal investigations.
The exhibition is extensive so I’m just going to pick out a few pieces that struck chords with me. The first piece I came across was a film demonstrating how video footage can be analysed to understand, in impressive detail, the impact of a drone attack. In the case shown, forensics rely on footage filmed by a citizen in a neighbouring building to determine where the building was situated, where the drone came from and whether there were fatalities. The process is disturbingly fascinating.
Richard Helmers ‘face-skull superimpositions’, on the same floor, were realised by placing stock footage of Josef Mengele’s face over the top of images of a skeleton found in the suburbs of São Paulo. This process allowed the researchers to determine that the skeleton in question was in fact Mengele – the ‘executioner of Auschwitz.’ The images themselves reveal a disturbing dichotomy between life and death – ‘face wrapped over skull, subject over object, an image of life over an image of death.’
The star piece of the show is a short documentary film that describes the first moment moving image was used in a court room and the case in hand happened to be one of the infamous Nuremberg trials. The narrator details the build up and context of the case and demonstrates how the courtroom underwent a structural make-over in order to display the film. It then moves on to show parts of the moving image used in the trial. The footage is nothing short of harrowing and unlike most gallery housed films, where the viewers come and go, no one left the room until the credits ran. I felt glued to my seat. It is one thing to see still images from the second world war, it is quite another to see the victims of this regime walking around like living skeletons with the guards standing in stark contrast next to them.
The atrocities displayed in this exhibition feel as though they should belong in some well crafted dystopian timeline, not one that represents the true historical lineage of the relationship between image and criminal behaviour. I would highly recommend visiting, but please do so with all the blood in your body.
October 3, 2015
This new exhibition of JR, “DECADE, Portrait d’une generation” (Portrait of a generation) at Galerie Perrotin in Paris comprises the artist’s work of the past ten years, presenting his videos, ink on wood pieces and recent photographs. “DECADE” in the title does not only signify a period of JR’s artistic practice, but also marks the passing of ten years since the most significant social uprising in contemporary France, which is exactly the subject of the artworks displayed this time.
The exhibition starts with an installation consisting of video projections on three sides of the room and their reflections on the floor. You are put in the scene of the riots of 2005 in Clichy-Montfermeil in the suburbs of Paris, where JR first ever created large-format works in his career just one year prior to the riots.
For people who might have seen some of JR’s works before, large faces pasted on nice architecture is not something surprising. However, when huge faces are shown on damaged housing blocks which were soon to be demolished, it exemplifies the effect of the image –it feels that both the buildings and the people were yelling with strong emotions, if not painfully.
The most impressive piece in the exhibition is a video which filmed a ballet dance reiterating the social uprising from the past of the neighborhood in a delicate and aesthetic way, probably contrasting the disturbances and violence of the original event. It provides a visual link to JR’s documentary work in that territory in various stages during the past decade.
The poetic series of Ballet Diary created with ink on small-format wood panels were displayed in the gallery in a grid composition, echoing photographs of ballet corps posing in containers. As usual, JR’s works are rooted in reality while defeating existing boundaries, and are powerful in linking art and life together. This exhibition firmly stems from the artist’s acute understanding of his generation.
October 2, 2015
“I just got to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where do I go?” Not a single sign to be seen anywhere.
“Photoville is at Pier 5.”
Ten minutes later and I am still walking down the pier watching couples go by hand in hand, children playing along the mini sand beaches, groups playing basketball and soccer in the large recreationally converted piers. “Damn, this is a ways down.”
This happens to me everytime I go to Photoville. You would think that after two years of going I would have the walk down by now. But every year it gets me. The only people who seem to know how to get down to the river effectively, most likely live in the area and scoff at all the tourists and Manhattan-ites who come over on select weekends for special events such as this one.
However, the walk is a very scenic and lovely late-September stroll. Photoville is open until the late evening, so the best time is to go at sunset and get the perfect view of the setting sun over the Hudson. The Statue of Liberty is illuminated in a hopelessly romantic kind of way while the warm glow causes the skyscrapers of the Financial District to sparkle.
Every mid-September for the past four years United Photo Industries has come together at Brooklyn Bridge Park to create a small village out of shipping containers, fill them with photographs and share the fun [for free] with all of New York City. It’s a simple concept and absolutely fantastic.
As described in the Photoville Chronicle this year, “UPI has solidified its position in the public art landscape by consistently showcasing thought-provoking, challenging, and exceptional photography from across the globe.”
This year Photoville lasted from September 10th-20th and had over 400 artists participating with more than 80 partners. Companies and organizations such as Instagram, National Geographic, The New York Times, The Peace Corps, EveryDayClimateChange, Getty Images, Crusade for Art Brooklyn, NYC Salt and many more funded and organized the exhibitions within their respective containers. Universities showcased their senior thesis projects and department projects; included were Tisch’s Photography & Imaging at NYU, FIT’s BFA program, the BFA Photography and Video Department at SVA, and Parsons the New School.
The festival has a great variety of photography to offer –from documentary style, to experimental, street scenes, natural landscapes and portraits. As I made my way through I noticed that some containers have heavy and somber messages such as New York Times’ “Scenes from the Ebola Crisis,” “Blast Force Survivors,” “American Exile: Detained, Deported, and Divided,” and “The Geography of Poverty” to name a few. Photoville’s smart though and knows that while socially trivial topics such as these need to be addressed, documented and seen, people who come to a festival also want to see some cheerful things. National Geographic also had an outdoor exhibition “Presenting: Weed,” which detailed the daily cycle of marijuana and affords you a nice chuckle, because everyone loves art about weed. “The Mash-Up,” a graffiti work done by two celebrated street artists took up two containers stacked on top of one another. The bright colors, swirling letters and cartoon-esque figures offer a fun, upbeat relief from image overload. “Luminaries” gave all of us comfort as you approach the container and see Uzo Aduba’s (aka. Crazy Eyes) ecstatic face beaming out at you. What other goodies could be inside? The familiar faces of Pharrell and Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, Peter Dinklage, Meryl Streep, and others greeted us. Who doesn’t love to see a striking headshot of Peter Dinklage?
Apart from photographs and containers, Photoville also has a host of special events, activities and workshops for everyone to engage with the images. Panel discussions, presentations and conversations with well know photographers went on everyday. This year David Burnett was featured. Visitors were able to swap prints with each other, learn how to spot great image shots in the Street Photography workshop, have a fun family photobooth [dog included, of course] and learn the basics with the Science and Tech Expo.
Even though I’m quite the photo-enthusiast, half-way through the photo village my eyes were starting to glaze over the images. It was time to reboot. Oh, what’s this right here, a beer garden? SCORE. After some Brooklyn Lager and delicious treats from the adored vendors of Smorgasburg, I was brought back to life and ready to take on the remaining containers. One of my favorites by far was “En Plein Air,” featuring Edoardo Delille and Gabriele Galimberti. This series showed images from Rio de Janeiro shot from an aerial perspective, illustrating that “sports are life and life is not a spectator sport.” From the Photoville Chronicle.
So, if you’re ever in NYC during September make sure to head over to Brooklyn and check out Photoville. It’s educational [but not in the annoying, overbearing kind of way], eye opening, inspiring and a great social event for a group of friends or just you and bae.
September 26, 2015
With the right kind of motivation and a well-planned layout, one can hop across Brooklyn from one gallery opening to the next, and get the full and rich depth that this exciting fall 2015 season has to offer in the Brooklyn art world. Start off on the top of the map, use for your absolute guide and bible Brooklyn’s very own Wagmag, a comprehensive guide to the ever increasing gallery spread in Brooklyn, and get ready for the Greenpoint exhibition spaces. In particular I would recommend checking Heliopolis gallery, Yes Gallery, Java Studios and all the way up on Green Street you can work your way into the intimate space of the 106 Greene gallery.
Specifically at the 106 Greene space they’re exhibiting a solo exhibition from Brooklyn based artist Phoebe Berglund, Waiting in Line, where the artist uses assorted materials including dirt, concrete, bananas and stilettos all pieces from which she cantilevers her deconstructed, heavily painted frames. This work provokes the viewer to consider urban decay and the nature of our built environment, always subject to time and erosion. Commodity culture and technological innovation are foiled by man’s impotence to reconcile with his own temporal limits his finite nature and ultimate mortality. But this will only be your starting point, the beginning of a journey that leads on through all the diverse creative approaches and unique spaces Brooklyn’s art scene has on offer this season.
Next on the list, travel down to the very epicenter, where Brooklyn’s gallery spaces just keep emerging with work that attracts and provokes. This is the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and here there are galleries ranging from obscure and small, like the City Reliquary or The Boiler, to larger older and more established exhibition spaces like the WAH Center or Brooklyn Art Library. On display in one smaller but worthwhile gallery, Moiety Gallery, a body of work from the French multi-media artist Thomas Mailaender, this exhibition is a series Mailaender has titled 1998. This title brings along with it a functional signification as it directs the viewer to the fact that Mailaender has decided to bypass the use of newer materials and technological processes to develop his distinct photographic collages.
Instead what Mailaender has done here is carry the imagery from his youth, a compilation of found internet images that pre-date the ability to instantly call up images by the thousands via search engine, forward re-examining bizarre images from the early days of computer development. Endured to the process of photomontage Mailaender uses this analog process by taking his images from their digital base and collaging hard copies, then recapturing the images now as collisions between disjointed imagery. In the final prints we see a mixture that combines the grotesque, the tabloid bizarre and the uncanny, a wonderful dizzying popular culture hybrid. Images range from the a carnival extra with bloated stomach drawn on with circular designs to a Neanderthal man and his 20th century wife who has just given birth to an alien child, these call up the late 90’s trash tabloid culture that exists and becomes even more distorted as nostalgic references to a recent past when computer technology was just emerging and remained rough and unrefined in its early stages.
Next stop along the seemingly endless gallery spree that exists within Brooklyn’s ever growing, ever thriving fine art scene, the Bushwick area offers some truly exceptional galleries and exhibition spaces, what I have found is that Bushwick specifically holds some of the greatest performance art spaces. Tucked under the j-train overpass, along the Broadway strip, there are galleries like The Living Gallery, Wayfarers, Good Work Gallery and my personal favorite, Grace Exhibition Space. Here, in these spaces, a cultivated atmosphere has arisen for multi-media and performance works, even large scale installations, to co-exist and spark endless discussion and debate. At the Grace Exhibition Space, during the entire fall art season into the December, there will be a collection of Performances curated by Whitney V. Hunter, the current David C. Driskell PhD Fellow at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. This series of Performances titled The Sphinx Returns, seeks to promote the idea and discussion of performance art as the center for myth and ritual in our contemporary lives, injection a sense of the mysterious and the fantastic; but also taking on tough issues like race, gender and sexuality, marginalization and art criticism. I was lucky enough to be present at the opening for the first performance series and what a complete and spectacular adventure, pieces by international artists Hector Canonge and Lion Ayodele, took the body as a site for past traumas and allowed the viewer to contemplate modern identity in relation to art history and world history.
So get out and explore the expanding art world around you, if you are working and/or living in NYC from Queens to Brooklyn, Manhattan to Harlem there is art all around you. I have laid out for you some great spots to visit on the Brooklyn art scene, but all over the city the exhibition season has started and shows will be continuously opening, from the smallest gallery to the largest museum exhibition. Get out and see what is on offer this season in NYC, and if you are in the borough of Brooklyn then you know what to do, take that winding art trail throughout the urban environs and seek out something culturally uplifting.
September 25, 2015
When looking at Chris Burkard’s Instagram feed, two things will cross your mind:
1. Amazing, and
2. I want this to be my life.
Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer who went from sleeping in his car just to be closer to his internships to stacking up 1 million Instagram followers and a steady studio spot out in Grover Beach, California. He’s made a name for himself in the surf and outdoor industries, working with top brands such as Apple, The North Face, Patagonia, and many many more.
I actually don’t remember how I came upon Burkard’s account – I’m an amateur photographer myself so I’m always looking through the various hashtags connected to outdoor photography for inspiration; even though I don’t remember, I’m sure glad I did follow him because I’m given a dose of daily awestruck.
His Instagram feed mainly covers his landscape and adventure shots, but it’s nothing to snuff at. It seems that every picture he takes is perfect: from the lighting to the framing, every moment is captured at exactly the right time. While I can sense that this is dedication at its finest, I can’t help but wonder at how he could possibly take these photos.
The colors and images are insanely crisp, and his stills look totally unreal. Whenever I see a new photo, I can’t help but be jealous – Burkard’s whole life is surrounded by this immense beauty and his job is to capture that. One look at his website shows his passion for his work, specifically within this quote, taken from his thoughts on being a photographer and having photography as a career, “Remember the camera is just a tool. What is more important is how you look at the world. Curiosity and a desire to explore, as well as passion is huge necessity when it comes to photography.”
In regards to this dedication, Burkard held a TED Talk this past March regarding one of his main (and craziest) past-times: surfing in ice-cold waters. I can’t even fathom jumping into freezing water just to get the right shot, but that’s an entire level above that Burkard is on. You can see what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera in the making of these incredible photos, and seeing the conditions that he sometimes works in makes you shiver like you’re out in -10 degree weather right along side him.
Chris Burkard started as a 19-year-old who found he had a talent with a camera and turned into a recognized photographer among many communities. I can’t get enough of his images and look forward to seeing the next each day. The most memorable posts have been from the past few months on his trip to Iceland, which has been a huge throwback for me; I got to take a trip there during the summer of 2013, but just missed the Northern Lights by a week. Sure enough, Burkard posts this rad and almost haunting image of these spectacular green lights and I turned green with jealousy myself.
Make sure to follow Burkard on his Instagram, check out his website to see more of his work, and keep an eye on his Facebook – if you’re interested in photography and live near his studio (or in my case, willing to move to work with him…) he updates his site on internships, though they’re booked out far in advance. He also has workshops and prints available for sale, and recently gave out thousands of free prints (10,000 to be exact) for getting 1 million followers on Instagram. Talented and giving, what more could you ask for?
Adventure is out there and Chris Burkard is running right along side of it. Find your muse or your next travel destination through his work, and I promise you won’t be sorry.
September 19, 2015
I felt rather content and even oddly refreshed after leaving the movie theater, even though I had just sat through another one of Woody Allen’s quips on human existence.
On my way out I found myself surrounded by loud, rowdy senior citizens (the bulk of the audience, with the exception of myself and perhaps two other twenty year olds) discussing the female protagonist, Emma Stone, as Allen’s newest muse. They bantered back and forth, arms waving, on the topic of Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre yet impressive charm as the irrational man.
The story takes place in the present day at small-town college campus Braylin, where Phoenix plays the role of philosophy professor with a reputation. Stone, one of his brightest students, takes an immediate interest in Phoenix’s dark and pessimistic lectures on existentialism (what else would he be teaching, really) which extend further from the classroom and into his personal life. The two quickly develop a strong bond and become the gossip of the campus.
Phoenix perfectly captures the essence of existential angst. He is a middle aged man lost in the apparent emptiness of life, too intelligent to be bothered by silly notions of happiness and youthful naivete. Stone, his polar opposite, pristinely plays the role of the bright, pretty, rational and driven college student.
The two fill their roles beautifully–a great nod to Allen for his casting selection–but leaves the rest of us almost bored. Even with his strange plot, the rest of the film is hopelessly plain, from the acting, to the setting, and the characters. Phoenix would be easily paired to an intriguing but not overtly compelling flavor of cinnamon bourbon ice cream, while Stone, on the other hand, is the epitome a strawberry shortcake–cute and sweet yet predictable.
While the film isn’t bad, it isn’t thrilling either. It evokes a neither-here-nor-there attitude which seems to be what Allen is leaving us with these days. The cast and setting are a bland vanilla. Everything is familiar in this film. We have all seen this type of college before, probably situated in some small, quaint north-eastern town filled with antique shops and a local breakfast spot. If this isn’t in fact Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls then most likely another town from a white washed rom-com or drama. I was disappointed but not surprised to find an entirely white upper-middle class cast.
While Allen did let me down with his lack of originality and diversity, he did however nail a solid depiction of existential boredom and loyalty to authenticity. I guess his setting is the perfect location for such banality and philosophical questioning. But in the end, a reaction, whether negative or positive, is all that I crave.