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Archive for the ‘Rewind Biographies’ Category

Re-Laugh

Female comedians have been a major part of building American culture for the past 100 years. From Lucille Ball hiding eggs in her blouse and attempting to hide horses from her husband to Tina Fey’s abnormal obsession of Star Wars and irrational fear of relationships, countless fans have been roaring with laughter throughout the decades.

There is a special place in my heart for comedians. “Why?” you might ask. Because I’m not funny. I blame it on being homeschooled.

And just like I don’t possess any skills of the humor variety, neither do I possess any skills of the juggling variety. Performance artists juggle three mediums: their words, their bodies, and people, otherwise known as the audience. Slam poets to actors juggle the former two mediums to engross the third in their balancing act. Then comedians come into the game and add an extra ball to the mix by blending their words, body language, and audience all while taking none of it seriously.

I’m not quite sure what they hide up their sleeves, aside from eggs and burrito crumbs, but what they pull out is as good as magic as they transform the dull into delightful, the tedious into tear-wrenching hilarity. We do not need to rewind when it comes to comedians, laughter is timeless as much as the lives that have created it to the lives that have emitted it. Laughter is a medium that any artist may intertwine within their lives, as an inspiration, a additional medium, or even a reprieve from their own mentality or creative blocks. As for myself, comedians have become an inspiration, not for my work, but for my life as a whole. For when I discovered comedians such as Lucille and Tina, for the first time in my life I realized, that after the countless shaking of heads due to my lack of feminine knowledge and the snickers after falling over from merely standing in (kitten) heels, I could work with my tube sock obsession rather than fighting against it. I figure if I didn’t “liz” when laughing too hard or try to turn someone on by eating pizza, I’d be alright, at least.

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“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.” –Georgia O’Keeffe

We live between the walls of traffic and corporations, above a floor of concrete and asphalt, below a roof of skyscrapers and bridges. Dallas, similar to every other major city, is fast-paced: fast cars, fast food, fast technology, even those taking their daily walks are power walking. We shoot our espresso and take elevators to save time.

But 600 miles away, time moves slow, so slow you wonder if it’s moving at all. 600 miles away stretches blue skies so wide that you forget the earth is round. 600 miles away mountains reach so tall they look to touch the sky; like fingers, they pull the clouds into stands of white wisps that expand across the entire horizon. 600 miles away, Georgia O’Keeffe found a moment, a moment in time when she looked across the New Mexican landscape and she stopped as the vast skies to the smallest bones and fake flowers from country stores became her world.

Born to a farm on Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia would explore seven states before she discovered New Mexico in 1917 as she paused on a road trip home to Texas from Colorado. Another 22 years after that until she made New Mexico her own in 1949 until she passed away in 1986. During her travels across America, Georgia produced over 1,000 pieces of work, from still-life oil paintings to charcoal drawings (which caught the eye of Alfred Stieglitz of New York’s 291 art gallery in 1916, landing Georgia her first one-person show in 1917). As a woman who was well traveled in her country, her art obviously reflecting this, Georgia became frustrated with the “Great American” movement, criticizing her peers for claiming their works were exemplary “American” pieces when very few of the artists and writers had never crossed the Hudson. This spurred Georgia into a series involving red, whites and blues, her own “Great American” work from an artist that had traveled vast majorities of her country and had come to known it intimately.

Long critiqued for the sensuality of her color palette and focus on the curvy centers of floral, Georgia has retorted her critics obtrusive thoughts on her work as much as she denies the symbolism of death in her bone paintings: “I merely like the shapes,” Georgia insisted.

As we rewind, we see that, unlike many artists, Georgia O’Keeffe’s focus was not on an upheaval of emotion and symbolism of her countless moves and sultry relationship with landscape and husband Stieglitz. Instead, Georgia’s work inspires us with the simplicity of that is around us as she simply loved that around her: the curves of bones from the New Mexican floor, a friend and a tree that friend used to sit below, and the moment you are still despite the world moving fast around you, lost deep in between a flower’s petals and stigma.

–Chelsea Miller

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In the late 1960s, deep in the New York City nights, in a tower above the flashing lights, an Andean flute played over WNEW-FM and this voice flowed from its perch, through a microphone and into the ears 78,000 thirsty and desirous listeners: “The flutter of wings, the shadow across the moon, the sounds of the night, as the Nightbird spreads her wings and soars, above the earth, into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come, fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird, at WNEW-FM, until dawn.”

From there, a constant flow of Jefferson Airplane and the Hawkwind would flow through the radio, the necessary commercials and Alison’s voice sneaking in between songs to enlighten the listener to the title, track and artist, acting as a branch from one piece to the next.

Since its downfall in the 50s, the simple elegance of the human voice began being replaced by moving pictures, forcing radio show producers to become more and more selective with the personalities they chose to represent their stations. In the 60s, WNEW-FM, a progressive rock station out of New York City, sought to redevelop their late-night programming by bringing on all female disc-jockeys. From the 800 sorted through for the position, four were chosen, with only one lasting longer than the eighteen month experiment. Alison Steele, born Ceil Loman, rose as a phoenix from the ashes, designated herself “The Nightbird” and assumed her perch from ten to two at the top of the WNEW tower.

As a disc jockey, Alison’s medium was people, her voice the necessary concrete between the musician and listener; her words enhancing the bizarre beats and sounds of the space rock most known to play during her sessions; her presence a steady beacon for insomniacs and those just getting off the late-night shift.

With over twenty years of air time and such a dedicated set of followers, it was not a surprise when Alison was inducted into Cleveland’s Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and in ’76 was the first female to be granted Billboard’s personality of the year. What was a surprise was how much she struggled to gain equality in the radio world, how little she was paid, and how she clung on to every penny in order to support herself as a single mother and to pay for her chemotherapy when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. But despite all of this, Alison is a remembered presence in the radio world, with an innovational music collection that even Jimi Hendrix turned his ears to.

As we rewind, we remember a voice, solid in the evaporating city nights and transient sounds that filtered from the radio to the ears of insomniac listeners. A voice as sweet and elusive as a bird, flying through the dark and bringing those listening hard enough for its sounds from dusk to dawn. Alison Steele grew in the imagination of her listeners as she spent her life as the Nightbird replaying the sounds of progressive and space rock and bringing the worlds of performers and fans together over the eerie sounds of the city at night.

Further reading on Alison Steele.

–Chelsea Miller

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“There is no ‘you’ or ‘I.’ It’s not hierarchical or a battle of the sexes or us versus them. That thinking is so old and due for a sabbatical. People tend to draw battles of us versus them. The sublime versus the emotional. I find that to be off the mark because it just totally misses the big picture… It’s about fear of difference and wanting to destroy it. From road rage to war, the behavior is not that dissimilar. Whether it is a battle around issues of race or aesthetics, it’s all nuts.” –Barbara Kruger

This is not a critique on Barbara Kruger’s work and life as an artist. This is not a critique because it cannot be a critique. A critique breaks down the meaning: asks what the artist is saying, questions why he/she added the colors in the order that they did, attempts to connect with the piece, whether positively or negatively. So this can’t be a critique, because Barbara Kruger has already beaten me, and every other critic, to the punch: her art blatantly asks you, your significant other sitting on the couch next to you, your entire culture, to critique itself, to allow emotion to flow where it does when presented with her color pallet, to connect with yourself and reconnect with the world around you.

We all have our weaknesses, one that Barbara admits of herself is her lack of math skills, forcing her original dream of architecture down the drain. But this loss has not held Barbara back from playing with floors, billboards, and sides of buildings. Her art, a mixture of images, sometimes distorted and disturbing, and words stretched across large spaces force the onlooker to become an interactive part of the work, similar to the idea of architecture. Barbara’s use of words are most known in the form of declarative phrases or interrogating questions, slapped on to black and white photographs with chunks of red breaking up the image and highlighting the statements and questions Barbara poses to her audience.

While making her fame as a feminist and political artist, Barbara argues that her work is more about the struggle of power on a universal scale “from the museum to the boardroom”, Barbara states. Anything less than the broad spectrum narrows down the reality of the onlooker.

At the age of 22, Barbara catapulted her career in the form of her book “Pictures/Readings”, “where photographs of the exteriors of buildings and placed them on the left page, and then on the right page included a narrative text describing some relationship, dialogue, dilemma, or dramatic scene. The narrative informed the pictures, and the pictures in turn validated the narrative as having time and space; otherwise, these two elements would seem un-anchored, floating in a conceptual world of abstract data.”[1]

From there Barbara reformed her technique with words, shortening the narratives to simple phrases, thus leading to the work she is most popular for: the image and textual overlays that were found stretched across entire rooms of museums and plastered on billboards and the sides of warehouses. Her career has seen essays, journalistic endeavors, books, and theatrical interactive art concepts. As New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl says of [Barbara] Kruger: “She does for the world’s verbal-visual, manipulative racket what Richard Wagner did for the Teutonic unconscious, making it sing its insane heart out. Kruger is a very good artist [recognizing that] . . . what can sell soap can smash sexism.” [2]

When it comes to Barbara Kruger, we cannot rewind, nor look ahead. Instead, Barbara forces us to stand in the present, surrounding us with timeless images and the eternal struggle of power, not only telling us the nature of her work, but asking us the nature of our life. In one fell swoop, Barbara makes a statement on how she sees society internally struggling with itself and presenting questions that force us to find the answers ourselves. But despite any question, any critique, of herself, ourselves, or society as a whole (from “who prays the loudest?” to “who laughs last?”)  Barbara is merely asking us to understand the only way to begin to change is if we begin to relate.

–Chelsea Miller

 

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Re-Build

Yasmen Lari is the Sudoku(TM) champion of the Pakistani architectural world. And not just one of the ones who can fly through the easy-level problems. No, she’s a conqueror of the back-page-evil-level puzzles that only have three squares filled in and make the New York Times Sunday crosswords look like child’s play. The three squares? Being a female architect focusing on creating sustainable solutions for rural communities continuously struggling with losing their homes due to natural disasters. Her solution? “… To undertake different kinds of tasks as an architect—designing state of the art buildings for the corporate sector; working in informal settlements and low-income housing with focus on women’s needs; advocacy, research, and conservation for heritage projects along with writing monographs and training manuals; working in post-disaster communities with a concentration on sustainable shelter and women’s economic empowerment. The latest work is in zero-carbon-footprint construction (using lime, bamboo and adobe/mud) that is also Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) compliant. It is my effort to bring out-of-the-box solutions to the table. By mobilizing student volunteers and artisans through training (and the creation of the Mobile Barefoot Karavan Teams) we are in the process of helping communities to become strong and resilient to withstand the next floods themselves.”

While Yasmen is not a woman of the past, her country is slightly behind the times when it comes to architectural development and gender equality, making Yasmen a woman ahead of her time, despite the present era she is working in. Growing up in the house of a bureaucrat, Yasmen remembered her father’s words on the limited number of architects and planning professionals when she went to study in England at the age of fifteen and chose to focus on architecture.

After years of private practice and an increasing mountain of research on the history and heritage of Pakistan piling up between Yasmen and her husband, Suhail, Yasmen left the architectural realm to devote herself to her writing, research and promotion of the 7,000 years of heritage rooted in her home country. However, this departure of private practice by no means meant the sacrifice of architectural possibilities. Instead, Yasmen has channeled both her love of design and devotion to her homeland by way of developing around the “design challenges” created by low-income housing and enabling those effected by natural disasters by presenting them with more resilient housing and the respect of working with them rather than providing mere charity.

While we are not rewinding to look into Yasmen’s life, her constant efforts to draw from Pakistan’s heritage in order to aid her country’s future only stimulates those inspired by her to look ahead in attempt to benefit their local communities through their artistic passions.
Read more on Yasmen Lari in a full interview with Dwell Magazine.

–Chelsea Miller

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Maya Angelou, CBS’s “Note to Self.” 

There was once a girl, a girl that was an ear. An ear named Maya Angelou, an ear that grew up in Stamps, Arkansas, absorbing racial discrimination, spitting back unshakable faith and turning away from the ugly sounds in silent pride. An ear that listened as she swam deep into crowds, pushing her way through swells of dusty shoes and sweaty hands, to the middle of it all where waves of sound lapped up against her. She listened. Words, claps, snaps, and car horns soaked into her skin. An ear that listened to the conversations of patrons and the metallic clang of bells across San Francisco streets as she worked as one of the first African-American female cable car drivers.  An ear that listened to necessity when she dropped out of high school to work as a server and cook to support her son. An ear that heard the powerful speeches and deep concerns of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and echoed their beliefs.

As Maya grew, all she heard turned from sounds to words. Words that found their way into The Arab Observer, Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Hollywood, and the ears of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award judges. Her words vibrating elaborately with unity, tradition and unshakable faith.

“That [listening] talent, or ability, has lasted and served me until today. Once you appreciate one of your blessings, one of your senses, then you begin to respect the sense of seeing and touching and tasting, you learn to respect all the senses.” –Maya Angelou, CBS’s “Note to Self.” 

As we rewind in search for inspiration from previous artists, Maya Angelou reminds us to embrace ourselves and remember that inspiration doesn’t have to be any farther than the tips of our fingers, our tongues, or ear drums.

–Chelsea Miller

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Dorothea Lange

“While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.” —Dorothea Lange

Good art is said “to fact the unknown”.[1] Dorothea Lange’s art reaches above and beyond this thought and gives the unknown a striking and powerful voice. Born in 1895, New Jersey native and photographer Dorothea Lange developed her career across the United States: her work with famed photographers Arnold Genthe and Ansel Adams fueled as inspirations to co-found Apeture in 1952, the high-standard quarterly photography magazine out of New York, while polio, at the age of seven, sculpted her physically and mentally, leaving her with a permanent limp and a deep awareness. [2] As a photographer, Lange is famous for every face but her own, especially the face of Florence Owens Thompson, the subject of the 1936 photograph, “Migrant Mother”. At the time Dorothea took this photo her work was centered on the farmers and migrants whose lives were disrupted by the Dust Bowl. Lange’s photographs not only captured the faces and famine of the Great Depression, but shouted for the hollow and hungry voices of her subjects. Her vivid images brought life to the dead plains, persuasive evidence of the urgent need for government programs to assist disadvantaged Americans. [3]

“Migrant Mother”

Like the dust that swept across the United States during the Great Depression, shock swept over Lange’s onlookers as she developed photos ranging from young Japanese immigrants, pledging allegiance to American flags before being piled into internment camps on the Western U.S. coast, to the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. As a female photographer, Dorothea dismissed the borders of the camera lens and the almost non-existent voice women had in the media as she managed to symbolize the political struggles of immigrants, expose the exhaustion of famine and provide a plea for help for those too thirsty to even speak, in mere frames.

As we rewind and look back at Dorothea for inspiration, it becomes clear that Lange is part of a group of women who developed their careers by focusing forward towards the future voices of their fellow female artists.

— Chelsea Miller

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