Warhol, Exposed. Us, Together

We stirred things up a bit last Friday night here at Royce Hall.

It seemed appropriate, considering the stage that night  was home to live music from an uber-eclectic smattering of modern music artists merged with home movie-esque video footage from the 60s, shot by the one and only Andy Warhol. One of my favorites included shots of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, capering around a couch at The Factory  while Martin Rev, unleashed a revved up solo instrumental barrage of sound.

This was another good one too, just a few minutes of an “unidentified man” drinking a coke. Paired with Rev’s high-velocity “Sugar Baby” instrumental, a simple act performed by an exceptional-looking person became artistically mesmerizing.

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Another choice moment of the performance was Eleanor Friedberger’s gentle and loving “All Known Things” set to screen test footage of the luminous Edie Sedgwick. It was so beautiful, a moment gloriously rendered in sound and celluloid. It made me happy and nostalgic, and it made me think about how fleeting and youthful beauty is.

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Speaking of beauty, we saw it in many forms that night, both onstage and off. For our pre-and post-show activities, we set up a giant screen on the terrace and asked partygoers to step behind it for two minutes of minimal movement—a la Warhol’s famed screen tests.

It was very endearing to stare at these faces, faces of strangers and friends alike. Sometimes it was joyful, sometimes it was meditative, sometimes their faces conveyed deep longing and pensiveness, some stifled laughter as their friends called out to them from the other side of the screen. It was an exposition, an exposé, each person was completely exposed on a large-scale screen, and were required to simply sit and look into the confronting single eye of a camera, without really knowing what pieces of them were being exposed on the other side.

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(Many thanks for the students from the campus TV station ResTV Channel 22 for their amazing work on the live screen tests.)

With some help from our talented friends at Snap Yourself, those amazing faces could take home a Warholized memento of the evening, via our on site Pop Art photo booth.

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There’s something about Andy Warhol. Something about his way of being in the world that invited and continues to invite us to expose ourselves to art in different ways, to be OK with liking the things we like, no matter how or where they land on the scale of pop art, fine art, high brow or otherwise.

At least, that’s what Warhol’s words and work have always done for me. I’m grateful for the color and vibrancy he brought to the art world, and how inviting and fun he has made it feel for me. And I’m really grateful that CAP UCLA was able to be part of his ongoing legacy. We were early partners with the Warhol Museum and BAM on this unique performance project.

And generally, it was just a great party, a wonderful moment to hang out with what was the coolest audience of the year (thus far).

So thanks for coming out, thanks for snapping yourself, for exposing yourself, for making some pop art with us around here.

Let’s do it again soon.

‘Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films’ Royce Hall Friday October 25, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes. 

“There’s so many different angles you can come at Warhol,” Eleanor Friedberger recently said in a Billboard Magazine interview about Exposed. “He never really goes out of style.”

Indeed, he does not. You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist, or pop culture enthusiast, or possibly any living human who doesn’t harbor some kind of frame of reference or relationship to the life and work of Andy Warhol. His fame has extended well beyond his prescient and oft-quoted “15 minutes” observation.

Part of the impetus around the creation of tonight’s program is a celebration of the institution that has done so much to keep Andy Warhol’s iconic legacy at the forefront of the artistic and pop culture world. This year The Andy Warhol Museum marks its 20th anniversary. We were incredibly proud to partner with them and with BAM on the commissioning of “Exposed.”

Tonight is one of just three live-performances scheduled for this exceptional program, a marriage of sound and celluloid, brought together to create a wholly new installation that we, as the audience will become the permanent caretakers of.

And tonight yeilds another moment in which we can sustain our own relationship to Andy Warhol’s work, aided by five innovative composer-performers hand-picked by guest music curator Dean Wareham.

Dean is no stranger to working with Warhol visuals, having created, along with his artistic and life partner Britta Phillips, the score to “13 Most Beautiful,” a song cycle composed and performed to a selection of Warhol’s famous screen tests.

The films you will see tonight were discovered in a Pennsylvania warehouse just as Wareham was plotting with the Museum on a potential follow up to “13 Most Beautiful. “They are more personal and less stylized than Warhol’s screen tests, more like home movies, describes Ben Harrison, curator of performing arts at the Warhol Museum.

We think that’s part of the great appeal. Warhol has captured a unique series of moments in time, and we have the good fortune to be able to come together to view and experience them in yet another ephemeral moment in the art of performance.

That never really goes out of style either.

Thanks for being here.

Behind “Exposed”

Tonight we play host to a truly unique moment in the art of performance.”Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films” is a marriage of sound and celluloid that has been a long time in the making, and its arrival to the Royce stage tomorrow marks one of those especially gratifying moments as a curator, when the dreaming of a few coalesces into an extraordinary experience for many.

A couple of years ago I was approached by a great colleague, Ben Harrison, at the Andy Warhol Museum about co-commissioning this project (then untitled, and then just a concept). They had located a number of Warhol’s short films in their collection that were related to the “Screen Tests” he filmed quite regularly, but were of a somewhat different nature. More like a cinema portrait in a way than a “screen test” – but that is a nuance I have likely invented as a way to officially organize it in my own mind. (As one does.)

Ben had been involved in the development of the precursor to “Exposed,” which was called “13 Most Beautiful” – the cinema screen tests shot by Andy, which had Dean & Britta performing live in a concert setting. Dean Wareham and Britta composed the music and if I recall (this was 2006 I think),  were part of the creative force that conceived the idea to begin with. It toured extensively, and I saw it in Sydney years ago.

Wareham, this time around, wanted to broaden out the music collaborators, so for this project, he is both the curator/music director and also a composer/performer. I guess that is four roles rather than two!

What I loved hearing about, behind the scenes as the project started to take shape, was the restoration process of the films themselves from the conservators at the Warhol museum, and their insights about the pieces of cinema along with the film curator.

Of course getting updates on which musicians were then engaged and what they were working on and how it was taking shape was also pretty exciting.

So, here we are, two years later – restored Warhol films, a massive amount of music and artistry that has come together for a three – city engagement after so much detailing and creative time has been spent behind the scenes.  I am sure the project will go on after it is performed in the ‘homes’ of the three organizations that committed early on to support the development time it needed, which include the Center, The Andy Warhol Museum and BAM.

As with anything connected to Warhol – everyone seems to have a story about “Andy” and along the way of this, I have heard many…..real and imagined….people are compelled to tell you about “the time when…..”

I swear, Andy Warhol has had dinner and drinks with people that were not even born during the Factory years – and that will probably be the case for decades to come.

Indeed, part of the impetus behind this work is to celebrate the 20-year history of The Andy Warhol Museum, which has done much to ensure that Andy’s memory and influence continues to loom large.

My story about Andy is tied to this moment in time, to  the preservation and presentation of these incredible lost films, the talented and varied music artists who are helping bring them to life for us.

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Victoria Tennant: Irina Baronova and the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo–Saturday Oct. 18, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the performance program notes.

“It seems extraordinary now, when every town has a ballet school and every little girl has a tutu in her dress-up drawer, that there was a time when ballet was largely unknown in America.”

Early in her beautiful book, Victoria Tennant makes this observation in a section that recounts her mother’s teenage journey as a Russian artist touring in America.

Then, toward the end of the book, packaged alongside a picture of an aged-but-still-stunning Baronova posing with a tutu-and-tiara-clad young girl, comes these words from Baronova herself.

“It gives me, personally, a lot of satisfaction to feel that my work helped introduce audiences to ballet and made them like it. So, there is a piece of me in all the companies that have since sprung up. The work was not in vain. I achieved something, not just for myself, but for the Art that I love and for the future generations of youngsters coming after me.”

Victoria’s book is not only a loving testament to the life of an artist, a daughter’s tribute to the mother who inspired her, but an incredibly important record of an essential evolution in the art of performance, documenting a significant time period in the history of dance in this country and abroad.

She’s an exceptional storyteller.  And tonight, we have the extreme pleasure of welcoming her to the stage to share her stories with us.

Victoria will immerse us in her mother’s journey and her own journey of discovery as she embarked upon the creation of this book, mining a treasure trove of images, stories and memories carefully preserved and left behind by her famous mother.

Many programs on our season this year explore this notion of the art of archive, the potency and beauty there is to be found in the words and images from the past.

The story behind the story, Victoria’s tale, is as powerful as  the story of her mother’s incredible life and work.

We’re very proud to have her with us, to share personal and vivid memories of a woman beloved by the public, and to remind us of the great spirit, tenacity, generosity and lasting influence of an artist who came before.

Welcome, and thank you for being here with us.

Leaving a Trace of ‘Wordless’ on Campus

Wednesday night, thanks to Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston, we found ourselves immersed in a world of wordlessness. With live music, visuals and spoken word, through WORDLESS! Art shared with us images and tales of the artists whose wordless works spoke volumes to an entire community and culture of visual artists, cartoonists and graphic novelists, including himself.

The project definitely left a stamp on campus.

Art started his day on campus by speaking to a convening of students from several different areas of study in UCLA’s Design Media Arts.

Art is beloved by established and emerging artists around the world, including DESMA students here at UCLA.  Art’s e-cigarette and coffee were as omnipresent as his wit and wisdom.

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Meanwhile, our friends at UCLA Special Collections also took up the cause, creating a display of work from 1930s wood-cut artist Lynd Ward, who was the first graphic novelists and major influence on many artists who followed–including Art Spiegelman.

Scenes from the mini-installation in the Charles E. Young Research Library.

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And, on the night of the show we harnessed some creative talent from within our own community to explore one of the concepts from WORDLESS!–that of balancing on a hyphen..between words and pictures, right brain and left brain.

We invited the audience to try their hand at strip-creation here in Royce Hall , under the tutelage of UCLA grad Alexander Hoffman.  Check out a video of the workshop courtesy Daily Bruin.

And some of the awesome results:

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What did you think of WORDLESS? How do you reconcile your right-brain and left-brain tendencies? How and when do you find yourself “balancing on the hyphen?” Tell us in the comments below.

Art Speigelman and Phillip Johnston: WORDLESS! Oct. 15 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes

Very few humans are just one thing. We’re all a multi-hyphenate jumble of ideas, experiences, expectations, possibilities and curiosity. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Most artists exist in that hyphenate space…the place that simultaneously creates a pause and builds a bridge. Or, as Art Spiegelman himself might put it, using a hyphen to de-familiarize us with a pair of words, allowing us to see each one with fresh eyes.

That de-familiarization and re-familiarization is a constant underlying presence in the art of performance, giving us moments that inspire us to look at the world from a different perspective alongside moments that instigate deep and poignant memory of what we know (or thought we knew).

Tonight marks the first in a series of performances on our 2014-2015 season that straddle the medium of visual art, performance art and live music.

We’re very happy you’re here with us to welcome Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston, the live embodiment of a hyphenate creative experience, a co-mingling of ideas, experiences, expectations, possibilities and curiosity.

Part of WORDLESS! includes a new work from Art, a piece entitled “Shaping Thought.”

How do thoughts take shape?  What kind of shape do they take? How do we shape the thoughts of those around us? How have artists of the past shaped the thoughts and works of the artists of today? How do we connect to the shape of each other’s thoughts? Where and how do we build our own hyphens?

We are curious beings around here. We like these questions. We hope you like them too.  Feel free to ask them of us, of each other, often.

In the meantime, welcome to WORDLESS!

BASETRACK Live! Friday Oct. 10, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes

How do you serve?
A hero is…
When do you feel protected?
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
What does peace look like?

As we prepared to bring to the stage the innovative work of theater you will experience tonight, these and many other questions, thoughts and themes permeated our consciousness.

And in the week leading up to this performance we asked the UCLA community to share their thoughts and answers to these questions, by interacting with our Peace & Quiet station just outside Royce Hall.

There is a powerful overarching sense of purpose that runs through Basetrack Live–one that instigates query, provokes thoughtfulness and inspires advocacy. Being a part of an institution of research, inquiry and progress, it was important to us to set in motion the opportunity to extend the concept and conversation, to provide a physical place for such dialogue to occur. A space that would do its part to serve the impetus and deep thought that went into the creation of an exceptional blending of music, media and narrative performance.

Like many moments in the art of performance, the literal coming together of creators and audiences inherently sets the stage for a dialogue. For some works of art this is even  more integral, more natural, and this piece is a thoughtful example of that.
The stories you will witness on this stage  tonight are based on true moments in the lives of men and women who serve, who witness heroism, who protect others, who exhibit bravery and who wonder what peace looks like. Part of being here to bear witness to their stories is allowing ourselves to enter into a dialogue about conflict, and the human toll of conflict. This is not always an easy thing to do. But it is a worthwhile thing to do, we believe, and it is an idea that is well served when viewed through an artistic lens.

We welcome you to linger after the performance and hear more
about its creation from the artists in a Q&A session here in the hall. We invite you to interact with them and us and to visit the temporary installation outside. Share your thoughts, share an answer to one of the questions above, write a letter to a member of active military, share a conversation with someone you’ve never met or even share a moment of silence and remembrance.

Make the most of this moment in time as we all take pause to consider the questions and stories brought to life by tonight’s
performers and creators.

Thank you for being with us.

‘Bastrack’ Artists Inspire Student Curiosity

“First, I would like to say…thank you for your service.”

In a UCLA class of 400 students, young women and men raised their hands and stood to ask a question of Tyler LaMarr: Marine, actor and lead performer in Basetrack Live.  Before every question, each student expressed their gratitude. “My brother is a Marine and I want to say thank you.”

Tyler LaMarr, star of Basetrack, talks about the project in UCLA Professor Robert Winter's class.
Tyler LaMarr, star of Basetrack, talks about the project in UCLA Professor Robert Winter’s class.

“Can you tell us, do you ever feel angry about how some people say negative things about the military?”

“How do you feel when actors who have never been in service portray Marines or soldiers in combat?”

“Do you think the government is telling the truth about what goes on over there?”

The questions flowed for two hours, evolving organically into a conversation: thoughts, opinions, fears, hopes. Tyler’s path since graduating from high school was markedly different from the majority of the students he now faced, but any one of them could have been him — they were more similar than different.

“Can you talk about the stress you felt when you came home?”

“I want to ask you about sexual assault in the military – how bad is it, and what can we do?”

“Did you always want to be an actor?  How does a Marine get to be an actor?

The room was filled with laughter, hushed silence, intense listening.  You could feel the listening.  At the end of class, instead of the usual rush of students pushing to leave, hurrying to the next class, hurrying to lunch, hurrying somewhere, they pushed to the front of the room to shake hands with the young man who proudly talked about his choices.  One young woman said, “If you had to do it all again, if you could make any choice, would you do anything different?”

“No,” said Tyler.  No, I would do it all the same.”

Hundreds of handshakes. Thank you for your service.

 CAP UCLA presents “Basetrack Live” tomorrow night in Royce Hall. And our “Peace & Quiet” station on the Royce Quad, will remain up until after the performance. Join us to experience this unique theater work and join the conversation by visiting “Peace & Quiet” or contributing to our Tumblr

Tyler visiting the "Peace & Quiet" installation outside Royce Hall.
Tyler visiting the “Peace & Quiet” installation outside Royce Hall.

Art Spiegelman: “Five Books That Deeply Dented My Skull and Shaped Me”

For our Artists Bookshelf initiative we asked select artists on the season to share 5-10 books that have had a lasting impact.  Graphic novelist and all-around creative philosopher Art Spiegelman took a slightly different approach and wrote us this wonderful treatise which we will share in its entirety here.

Art (left) with Phillip Johnston. Photo by Sarah Shatz.
Art (left) with Phillip Johnston. Photo by Sarah Shatz.

Art will be performing in Royce Hall October 15 as part of WORDLESS! with composer Phillip Johnston. (For Philip’s bookshelf selections check out our Artists Bookshelf homepage. )

Art’s selections:

  • The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West

The greatest “cartoon” novel I ever read, populated by grotesques and stereotypes, but (or therefore?) drilling into the heart of the human condition. It’s a seriously hilarious work drenched in alienation and despair, written during Great Depression I (1939), and focused on the losers and lowlife on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It uses Hollywood as a metonym for an America populated by “innocent” monsters, and ends—spoiler alert!—with Armageddon. Sentence for sentence The Day of the Locust is one of the most beautiful books I ever read, and one of the most visual—as in this description of our protagonist, Tod Hackett, a hack Hollywood set painter, washing his hands: “He got out of bed in sections, like a poorly made automaton, and carried his hands into the bathroom. He turned on the cold water. When the basin was full, he plunged his hands in up to the wrists. They lay quietly on the bottom like a pair of strange aquatic animals. When they were thoroughly chilled and began to crawl about, he lifted them out and hid them in a towel.”

(With new books precipitously piling up around me like kipple*, I don’t reread novels as often asI’d like—a pity, considering that with my rapidly fading memory, I could save a lotta dough rereading all the ones I’ve got—but I still re-dip into this short novel every few years. The only book I’ve compulsively returned to more often is….)

  • The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett

If I was more rigorous, I’d have limited myself to Godot (the first Beckett play I read and the one most cited by people who never read Beckett) or maybe Endgame, but—happy days!—this set includes Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape and all the rest. Beckett’s floridly minimalist and precise language is so deadpan funny and wise it makes me sob. A couple of years back, facing a brain operation and fretting more than usual about mortality, I realized I was too confirmed an atheist to have any sort of deathbed conversion so I steeped myself in his writings (the Molloy trilogy as well as the plays) and realized I indeed had Religion: I’m a devout member of the Church of the Absurd.

(And speaking of holy texts….)

  • The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, edited by Bill Blackbeard & Martin Williams

We now live in a golden age of comics reprints that includes enough beautiful multi-volume collections of Little Nemo, Krazy Kat, Gasoline Alley, Dick Tracy Peanuts, et al to break any library’s budget and bookshelves—but this 1977 anthology of the first 60 or so years of newspaper strips was seminal. Bill Blackbeard was a peerless connoisseur, collector, and scholar of comic who curated this inspiring collection of lost treasures, a book so essential to understanding my medium that a number of my closest cartooning cronies simply refer to it as ‘The Book’.

  • Inside Mad, edited, written and laid out by Harvey Kurtzman

This 1955 paperback collection of Harvey Kurtzman’s early issues of Mad (back when the no wailing magazine was still a comic book) is the very first book I read that changed my life. I was seven or eight and, if nothing else, it doomed me into aspiring to become a cartoonist. (The cartoonists who collaborated with Kurtzman—a genius cartoonist in his own right—all seemed to draw with pens manically overflowing with seratonin rather than india ink!) Mad also changed the life of America. Kurtzman’s self-referential anarchy may get taken for granted now, but he held up a cracked mirror that told the truth about a then Very Bland and Monolithic American culture. For better or worse, Harvey Kurtzman made literary irony mainstream. Without Mad there’d be no generation that grew up to protest the Vietnam War; nor the one that at least tried to Occupy Wall Street; no Simpsons or Colbert Report or Daily Show…. and certainly there could’ve been no Maus without Mickey Rodent!

  • This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Tadeusz Borowski

Tadeusz Borowski was a Polish poet and journalist, a non-Jewish Communist prisoner in Auschwitz, who committed suicide in 1951 by sticking his head in a kitchen oven. His short stories, strikingly written even in translation, are seen through the eyes of a brutalized and brutalizing kapo, whose wide-open eyes are a camera, and whose emotions are clamped shut. It’s as if a less romantic and sentimental Raymond Chandler had lived through Auschwitz.

In the decade or more that I fully immersed in the grim world of “Holocaust Lit” in order to turn my father’s memories into comics panels, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the oxymoron of daily life in a death-camp until I found this book. If, as Franz Kafka once wrote, “a book must be an icepick to break the sea frozen inside us,” then Tadeusz Borowkski’s book of short stories is the volume that broke me the most.

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Also in my top five are

—Kafka’s collected stories

—and Nabokov’s Lolita (as well as his Pale Fire)

—and Portnoy’s Complaint

—and maybe a collection of Harvey Kurtzman’s anti-war (or at least Humanist) War comics of the 1950s to show the flipside of that artist’s furshlugginer genius. (“Corpse on the Imjin” and Other Stories was published by Fantagraphics in 2012)

—and definitely the two-volume compilation of Lynd Ward’s six woodcut novels published by The Library of America that has an introduction I wrote that catalyzed the Wordless! performance at Royce Hall on October 15th (which occasioned the UCLA library’s request for this list.)

(At the moment I’m reading book on elementary math so I might to learn to count to five with greater accuracy….)

—art spiegelman, 2014


∗A word coined by Philip K. Dick (whose Ubik and The Three Stigma of Palmer Eldritch would be on this list if I put it together yesterday or tomorrow), defines kipple in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, (also on tomorrow’s list):

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself…. the entire universe is moving towards a final state of total, absolute kipple-ization.”

Anonymous Awesomeness

You may have encountered, over the past two seasons, our exploration on poetry and poets. We’ve stuffed poetry writing prompts in envelopes and stashed them around the hall. We’ve created mini-poetry books. We’ve held poetry slams and instituted an on-the-spot poetry bureau.

We have typewriters scattered about our offices and  notepads with the prompt “Who is the Poet in Your Life?”

It’s been interesting to witness the ways in which people encounter these moments of poetic thought. It’s been gratifying to witness how many times it has inspired a poetic impulse.

We found the following poem on a table in our Royce Hall Pop-Up Library the other day. We’re not sure who wrote it or when. But, we love it. And we thank you, whoever you are for sharing it.

Poem1

me

by “kj”

Half of my life is spent rolling my eyes

at dumb things I do or

have done

I am rolling my eyes right

this second

Who am I to act like a poet

To pretend like I am not inadequate

To talk myself up so I don’t feel the disappointment

that creeps into my veins without warning

These same veins that once flowed with the

hot blood of want

now stiff with doubt

Am I really doing all I can to succeed

Who am I to preach when I am guilty

I am a hypocrite of the worst kind

The one with the false pride

The one who attends church every Sunday

Yet cannot recall the last time I had a prayerful thought

Is this what it means to be humble?

When I am still faking sick to stay home from school at 20 years old,

Is it fake when my stomach turns at the words

“mature adult”

Don’t look at me

But please–look at me

A fine specimen of the genuine wannabe

I want to be so many things

But especially

A contradiction

I want to be worhty

of God’s attention

I want to be honest

But until then

I will remain in this perpetual state of

eye-rolling

An actor, but never a poet

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA