Architecture of the Sneaker

In the museum of my mind, the next big show would be titled Architecture of the Sneaker. Derrick Rose’s newest kicks, the Crazy Lights, were the marquee item in Manhattan’s Adidas store; they were the first thing you saw on your right as you stepped through the double sliding doors. Backgrounded by Chicago Bulls gear, the shoe sat glowingly on a display stand next to bold signage that read “9.8 ounces”. I picked one up and it was the lightest basketball shoe I’ve ever held, not to mention sleekly designed, a contrast to the bulky offerings this brand usually spits out. It’s refreshingly stripped down design – no straps, velcro, pumps, air pockets, or shocks. It’s a nearly one-piece high top with plenty of micro-mesh on the lower part of the shoe for ventilation. The upper ankle support area is trimmed with Adidas’ three stripes running diagonally and parallel to the top line of the shoe, wrapping all the way around. The rubber sole is a tight figure 8 with no excess material flanking the sides. Its silhouette is straightforwardly a basketball shoe, not conjuring an Audi TT (Kobe Bryant’s ill-conceived first signature shoe designed to look like a sports car) or some kind of post-apacolyptic tank (like much of the post 2000 Jordan line).

Like basketballs themselves, no leather is to be found on this shoe. It all feels like different finishes of the same space-age plastic, some areas glossy like the painted steel of a car from the 60s and other areas a patchwork of micro-fuzzed matte. As a product, this shoe may come to define Derrick Rose as an efficient kind of corporate athlete-star. Bored by his own politely spectacular feats. In my museum, I’d place this shoe next to Allen Iverson’s Reebok debacles. They are lovable tragedies of design, but fitting for a player who openly scoffs at the idea of practicing, who came up the hard way in Virginia, and was all cornrows and tattoos before anyone else on that stage rocked it. Will they ever reissue the Reebok Answer V 2001’s or the Reebok Questions, his first shoe? I like to think that “The Answer” didn’t really care enough to give input on how they looked or even felt. I like to imagine that AI didn’t even tie his laces before games. He just slipped them on and came after you.

In my show, I’d include art from David Hammons, Paul Pfeiffer, Cao Fei, Jamel Shabazz, and that guy that makes tribal-looking masks from splayed out and stitched together sneakers; TVs playing old Nike commercials; screenings of Do The Right Thing, Wild Style, Boyz N The Hood; old Slam magazine covers; rap records playing joints that reference basketball shoes; a history of sneaker print ads; critical journalistic articles about the sneaker wars, links to AAU basketball, and “street agents”; original sketches of shoe designs; TV news reports from the 90s describing armed stick-ups of kids for their new Jordan’s; a section detailing motifs and technological advances in shoe design; and examples of all the basketball shoes ever made.

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Hong Kong In Due Time

Hong Kong blurs in and out of reality. For 6000 I’ll claim allegiance. A few days ago I was having dinner with a few artists and curators from Hong Kong at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Asia Art Archive, run spiritedly by Jane DeBevoise. As with most conversations about a specific art scene, the usual complaints surfaced: lack of sophistication and money, and bumbling government intervention in the arts. The night ended with a listening session of the sound work of Cedric Maridet. One piece revolved around the buoyant Tagolog conversations of Philippina domestic servants as they hung out in contingent public spaces on their lone Sundays off. This fed thoughts about the manic audio quality of the city where I was born but to which I have no tangible connection.

Wong Kar Wai’s film Chungking Express is Hong Kong to me. It shows two consequential sides of that packed city: first the twisted dark side of drug gangs and violence spilling out into labyrinthian shopping quarters, and then the breathlessness of youthful yearning. The latter is soundtracked by the obsessive recurrence of California Dreaming by The Mamas & The Papas and the closing cry of the Cranberries’ Dreams, re-sung by Faye Wong in Cantonese. She is Hong Kong to me: a bored, dark butterfly, grounded by this tough, glittering city of cash, by a gray and unamusing world, banal all the way to its core. Beautiful, but undangerous, she stares out the window of her older cousin’s corner fast food joint, dreaming of some other reality besides this one.

Rewind it back to my teenage days working at my parent’s dry cleaners in San Mateo (A-1 Cleaners) where we frequently hired Hong Kong girls attending community colleges in the area, looking to land at one of the nearby University of California schools. We hired them to work the counter, taking in customers’ cloths and completing orders after everything had been washed and pressed. On long summer days near closing time, but before the after-work rush, these girls, dressed in the HK style of the time – loose and layered, colorful like children’s thoughts – would set both their elbows on the counter, lean forward with their butt out, chin resting on their cupped hands, their legs criss-crossed behind them. I didn’t bother them, just let them stray with their thoughts, but I wondered about their dreams. How did they look? How did they sound? These Hong Kong girls’ dreams in the blunt informality of Cantonese.


DVD 5 Dolla (The Creator)

What if it’s all fake? What if the days we’re living in now are a bootleg version of the real thing – a pirated copy of authentic existence? Baudrillard’s fantasy: the sun a hacked-together facsimile, the oceans an optical trick with mirrors, projectors and ink. The DVD cover of it would show recent disaster scenes melting into each other – tornadoes in midwestern America, political upheaval in North Africa and the Mideast, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, drought in Africa, and poverty everywhere. It would sit in piles on bed sheets along with other new release DVDs on Junction Boulevard in Queens or in the discreet handbags of middle-aged Chinese women going around restaurants in Chinatown trying to hawk the latest.

I’m reminded of a piece by artist, filmmaker and my main man Daragh Reeves – a small format photograph of a blurry city in silhouette, blackened by an extinguished sun. Above it in the darkening sky is his handwriting:

Without Sun The World Is A Bomb

Without Your Land, Your Are Sand

Rooks Fly In to Taste Bones

While in L.A.

Someone Makes A Call And The Sun Goes Down

In a familiar tableaux, cops run up on these women peddling bootlegs of the real, forcing them to pack up and scatter. On the concrete, they fulfill the high end logic of those that signaled an end to originality and authenticity in the 70s and 80s: Sherry Levine, Warhol, Barbara Krueger, Rosalind Krauss, Frederic Jameson, and all those others. But that’s for the photography era, the mechanical reproduction age. We’re past that, on to thinking about what the world wide web of information really is: a limitless, nearly lawless landscape of footnotes to everything in the world. Instantaneous, where the sun doesn’t drop – it’s on call, some version of it.

But how will this world be explained in 2000 years? How will religion make this rhyme? At one point writing must have been seen as the most extreme kind of technology. Ultimately it was used to explain the forces of nature and the logic of men and women. It was then that written language ceased to be a technology and became nature itself. I’ll leave it up to Ghostface Killah to put it into eloquently raw terms in a conversational skit preceding the song “Black Jesus” from his Ironman album (1996). A wise, older brother figure lectures his young disciple:

Older Brother: Everything in the universe, God, that’s created the universe, God, exists within you. You see what I’m sayin’? And that’s the mind that you can’t see. Don’t you know if a man could take and flip himself inside out, God, he’d fall out and he’d die if he see the shit that goes on inside.

Young Disciple: So you mean to tell me I’m made up of all this right here?

Older Brother: You’re the creator of all this.

Young Disciple: Right.

Older Brother: Cause all these things must happen. It must take place. See people go back in the day, God, and say yeah well one man, one woman, Adam and Eve…there ain’t no such thing, God, everything you see always has been and always will what? Be. Regardless of whom or why, it’s got to be.


Reflections From The (S) Files

Out in El Museo del Barrio’s courtyard last night at the end of the opening for (S) Files, an exhibition of new art by over 70 artists whose ethnicities have roots in Latin America, the Carribbean and Mexico, artist Jacolby Satterwhite got extra busy on the dance floor, pulled along by a classic Mike Jack (Michael Jackson) track that I hadn’t heard in long time. It was a calm early summer night in East Harlem where Puerto Rican culture punctuates the stiff summer air with hyper beats and seductive rhythms. Earlier in the night, artist Miguel Luciano, a big basketball fan and player, was talking about how President Obama visited Puerto Rico this week and played to the crowd by dropping in some clunky Spanish and referencing JJ Barea, the little point guard from the island, who Kobe Bryant said “kicked our (the Lakers’) asses” and won the NBA title with the Mavericks. Then a young curator, here for the summer from San Francisco, talked about her graduate work on female video artists in Cuba; she wanted to have a very narrow focus in her research and I expressed that I wasn’t mad at that.

I walked around much of the night with Hitomi Iwasaki, chief curator at the Queens Museum of Art and a great friend. We talked about a lot of different situations, people, what-ifs, what we thought of this piece in front of us, and how I was liking my new job. We ran into mutual friends and chatted with them, trying not to break the flow but taking in their words like your eyes should at the sight of cherry blossoms. I relished seeing everyone I knew, people I’ve luckily met by being in this art game for a minute. I’m going to name-drop some of them now because I want their spiritual presence in this piece: Erin Sickler, Antonia Perez, Catherine Ruello, Alexander Campos, Alejandro “Alex” Guzman, Suzanne Broughel, Fran Benitez, Dean Daderko, Shaun Leonardo, McKendree Key, Cecilia Jurado, Rocio Aranda-Alvarado, Elvis Fuentes, Rafael Sanzhez, Rosa Karim, Chris Walia, Jayson Keeling, Christine Licata, Marysol Nieves, John Ahearn, Juanita Lanzo,William Villalongo, Manuel Acevedo, David Strauss, Prerana Reddy, and a bunch of others.

I’m curious to see what we’ll all do next and many wished me well in my new position. I invited everyone down to visit me and promised a tour, but I wonder how many will actually make it to Chinatown and I wonder what they’ll think of us. Chinese culture isn’t upbeat and outgoing, like Puerto Rican music, but it is hyper and loud. We have our own thing going on, our own aesthetic, our own style, our own weirdnesses, obsessions and flaws and we’re going to tell you about it.

I was subtly inspired last night by the show and by the crowd. I was all about Jayson Keeling’s intimate photographs of young, dangerous energy and that’s the work that sticks with me the day after, but I’ll go back and take it all in later. Everyone was dressed to impress and the weather welcomed it. The night started with me running into Catherine Ruello, who had just moved back from London. She’s a much needed presence here, a suspicious, subversive thinker with a light deameanor; she’s writing a book that she won’t tell me about. At 10pm, darkness gently imposed and bodies began to slither. That’s when Jacolby broke into the middle of the pack and did his thing, unchained to anything except the beat.


The Biennial Problem

Where will art go next and what will it do there? Gratuitous amounts of art, material and labor have been flown or trucked in at great expense to Venice for the Biennale (currently on view), an event that every year it is held, attracts thousands to take planes, trains, and automobiles to experience it all. Over the long week of vernissage events (opening functions), biennials like this (of which Venice is certainly the oldest and most prestigious) necessitate a grand-scaled kind of contemporary art for the overall promotion and health of cultural exchange. This is a tradition, set in a cradle of Western art. And who would argue with building bridges through contemporary art shown in the sprawling circus tents of biennials? Or for that matter why demean the cold rationality of art fairs, where the desperate gaze of some dealers in their claustrophobic booths should be enough to silence any cynic’s rage against the commercial side. These two forms, the biennial and the fair, centralize a globally advanced cultural experience for the high art consumer, synthesizing leisure with big-ticket purchasing, vacationing with expensively choreographed schmoozing.

The roundtrip movement of this art and these people, however must be weighed against its environmental impact. And leaders of the art world (artists, dealers, critics, and curators) have to begin seriously evaluating where their work is coming from and find more energy efficient, sustainable ways to do things. Thinking this way might lead to a radical deconstruction of what art is today and how it can exist more potently in a globally-dependent market system. It might actually lead us towards a life that is art, one in which time is a medium, space is text, stories are objects, and inactivity is dynamic.


Administration

Management is the deception of entropy. People just want to go home and it’s understandable. What keeps them in front of their computer, attentive to their phone? To be mentally present in a meeting, three quarters of a person’s brain activity (as I understand it, a mix of chemical and electrical events) processes a colleague’s words, his/her facial and physical expressions, the reactions of others, and strategizes an appropriate response or non-response. The other quarter drifts towards the ceiling, out the door. Thoughts are like dust particles defying simple gravity, carried by their own weightlessness toward the fluorescent lights that everyone complains about.

Work isn’t exactly the right word for it. There’s not one right word…something like a piling on of activity to form a mountain high enough to see from other people’s offices. It’s an internal struggle, which is why all companies and organizations have identity problems. Red scissors in a pint glass, handle end up, punctuate a standard view from a desk. A red light blinks somewhere off in the periphery. An email says that someone is very sick and that a meeting would have to be postponed. Apologies. Another one comes in right behind it announcing a new art fair.

What are we selling? What’s our mission? Who is our public? Better yet, what lies beneath the floor our chairs are rolling on? We are united by this floor. It records our paths towards, away from, and around each other as we stumble upon the end of another workday.

 


What Warhol Meant

The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship tonight, beating a collection of massive names with nearly flawless games. Any more words on the subject would devolve into cliche, but sometimes, cliches are the only possible descriptions. I’m happy that they won – maybe too happy. Would I be as happy if Obama won a second term, if the Communists in China gave way to democracy, if cancer was cured, if violence ended? Sports are meaningless, but can you really prove this? So is art, so is fashion, design, politics, war, famine, the environment, literature, music. Warhol proved it. And he was wrong. We all are, about everything.

Standards are unnecessary. Any judgment of quality is decadent. We can’t just acknowledge that everything is information; we need to digest it and live it.