Why can’t the tentacles of an octopus sprout from the pit of a toad’s stomach? Why can’t crystalline protrusions emerge from the shell on the back of a wolf? Why can’t a raven have two heads? When I see Nicholas Di Genova’s drawings, I see the pieces of biological forms fitted together in oddly natural formations. It is not a deformity but a natural state – acceptable in its entire aesthetic hypothesis. The cellular constructs composed of bubbly units and rectangular bricks; each hair resting not as strands but as singular forms in a bunched up collective; polygonal claws; armor-like appendages; rippling hands; each segment is so uniform and flush with the rest, yet the more you stare the more distinct they become. Is this the geometry of a form? The binding of two shapes rests not in some peculiarity; a moment of chance is not the creator. It is deliberate like the block of creatures that form geometric cohesion – 10,000 vertebrates all locked and neighbors. From afar, blocks of black ink, indistinguishable, like the shapes composing the “Dirt Wolf.” But up close, distinct. The everything of the natural world of a creative mind; the hand reaches into the pit of a frog and pulls from it, a flower.
How do you start a story that takes place in a world as strange as the one found in The Incal? Answer: you toss your protagonist down Suicide Alley; a locale m
ore vertical than horizontal; a place where your face meets an acid lake, not concrete. Of course John Difool, the class “R” Licensed Private Investigator, is fully aware of what kind of place Suicide Alley is. But we don’t.
Any story that delves into a world via some tunnel, vertical, horizontal, diagonal, what have you, harks immediate comparison to Carroll’s famed work. Unlike Alice however, John never lands, but is caught by his pursuers just before plunging into an acid bath; his fall is not made alone; there are spectators, watching, some eventually joining; the plunge into this world is incomplete yet complete, and more importantly, it is oddly shared by the numerous fictional characters surrounding the rather interruptive action. But this interruption, what others perceive to be just another namesake suicide of the Alley, is as mundane as the narration accompanying the images of falling bodies, white birds, and the tubular urban hub encompassing the endangered Difool. “His fatal plunge down Suicide Alley triggers the usual wave of suicides,” the narrator notes. It’s all expected.
For once we don’t need to journey into Wonderland – the rabbit hole already surrounds us. It very much feels like the anti-rabbit hole, a jab, a jocular implementation of audience expectancy so keenly reflected by the near death and subsequent sparing endured by Difool. If anything, that model only repeats itself throughout the comic, as Jodorowsky and Moebius let us fall and get caught in false-safety-nets as if the fall is eternal. We are treated like ragdolls like Difool, tossed down the Alley and not spared the acid pool unlike the suicides plunging after Difool. Reading The Incal, you are taken for a ride.
I would hesitate to call Banksy’s art subtle at least in regards to his larger installations like Dismaland, and most recently, the Walled Off Hotel that sits at the barrier separating Israel and Palestine. Like I said, subtlety is not the word that comes to mind. This isn’t to suggest that the work isn’t effective, as the Hotel will undoubtedly (for it already has) generate a lot of controversy and rather generative discussion. The sheer directness and ambitious scale are bountiful reminders that Banksy is well aware of what he is doing.
Of course this isn’t the first large installation he has done either. His Dismaland, a dystopian amusement park was closed in 2015.
But regardless of the buzz that Banksy generates, from his street art to these installations or varying degrees of performance art, I have to wonder about the effectiveness of, specifically, the medium of installation art.
A great deal of my struggle to fully invest myself in installation art revolves around the inevitable pitfall of labeling something as just that. Although one of the points of interest in art like the Walled Off Hotel is that you can quite literally sleep in art, to me calling it so is a double-edged sword because calling something art makes it feel somewhat distant or at least off on some form of tangential, yet parallel, world. The world it lies parallel to, I don’t wish to call it reality, is sort of our unconscious goings-about – a world where we don’t really scrutinize or really think about. The world of art on the other hand asks the audience to put their thinking caps on. It feels so separated.
To word it differently, perhaps what I most fear about installation art, or other artistic endeavors that you may find on those art blogs that accumulate various cute little paintings or inventive crafting, is that for most people, it may all just come across as novelties with little to no lasting effect.
Yes we can literally sleep in art, but when couldn’t we? We already did, but doing it in so direct a manner probably calls our attention to our unconscious everyday-activities. But I genuinely believe most people forget about that moment. Instead they regress to their default settings.
I know this sounds like some rambling of hopelessness, but I think it is key to remember that Banksy is definitely not doing this for everyone. No artist would hold the unreasonable dream of creating content that everyone likes. Regardless, I have to question the effectiveness of installation art when we so often return to a default setting after what is objectively a perceptively jarring experience. But perhaps that is why it is so effective – because it shows how most people cannot remain in an exposed world generated by the parallel world of art. Even a hotel is incredibly ephemeral. A weird dream.
There is a fantastic one-time gag on The Eric Andre Show, where the host, Eric Andre, hits his head on a glass wall during the middle of his interview with Tyler, The Creator. Isolated from the simultaneous dialogue between Hannibal Buress and Tyler, the Creator, the gag lasts maybe three seconds. Not even. After the glass to head collision, the camera cuts away, only to return to Andre waving his hand around where the invisible wall supposedly was, only to find nothing there.
This is a tame gag when considered in context with the outrageous comedy permeating through the show – a show that features an intro composed of an always-changing selection of debauchery and destruction. But for some reason, although I enjoy gags like Andre getting his head pulled off while attempting to pull a tooth out, enjoying carnal pleasure with a disco ball, or a Sprite plug superimposed on an actual wolf that is staring at the host, there is something about the glass wall that is so totally pleasing.
The pleasure of the glass-wall-gag cannot be considered with the sole factor of nonchalance – a trait that pervades almost every gag on the show. It is also not as shocking as the other jokes. However, it is incredibly concise. Although each episode is short, resulting in an often-disorienting segmentation of gags, the combination of nonchalance and oddly banal delivery leads to a gag wide open to interpretation. In other words, the show suggests that it does not have the time or patience to spell out the joke for you, or even explain it to you in conjunction with the ferocity of the surrounding content. It does not even spend the time to say, “That happened.” Instead in my first viewing, I found that I’d actually missed the gag entirely. It kind of happened and I never consciously registered the joke.
From a metaphysical standpoint, the gag has many ramifications. Considering how I had to return to the short interview to discover the gag, is oddly reflected in the characteristic of the gag itself – did I just hit a glass wall? Following question: never mind, what were we talking about? Simultaneously, it is just funny to watch Andre’s physical comedy at nothing beyond the basest form of comedy. Perhaps that is why this gag has forever left an imprint in my psyche. It kind of happened and now I know it happened and I keep considering how it happened and enjoying it while ironically, it is a joke that kind of happened.
I’ve always understood the abstract in a superficial yet simple way – something that looks simple. That is a lie. I didn’t always perceive it as such. Initially, I had a more philistine perspective, considering each abstract art piece as something elementary or unable to be understood. This obviously wasn’t true at all, those pieces were understood and that was why they were in a gallery, a magazine, or on whatever medium it graced.
This failure on my part was largely due to my working definition of abstractionism: something immaterial. The dots and color blocks were just things to me. They are still things. But they are different things.
I’m still working through this because I’ve found that, although I haven’t studied abstract art specifically, I’ve gained a greater awareness of it just by living. And it is perhaps my awareness of this development that I find abstractionism so interesting. Perceivably, I will die without ever having understood it at all.
At the moment, I am considering the abstract as a method of extraction: to portray the core essence of something via some other thing. And this loss of detail in the process of extraction, I believe, mirrors the human process of collecting images so accurately. It spits the contours of our visual database back at us – and if done properly – we get it immediately. Perhaps this is why it lends itself to be understood via experience, rather than depending on the learned knowledge of an art critic or professor. As my visual database extends, so to do the contours.
Going through the catalogue of Adult Swim shows, both finished and currently airing, is to delve into the most eclectic series of shows ever produced for television. I remember that moment when Cartoon Network would suddenly switch over to the late night block of animation, when the kid friendly program was suddenly swapped for a swearing meatball or a former Hannah-Barbera superhero turned talk show host. But after a hiatus of TV-show consumption, and returning to an updated Adult Swim catalogue, I discovered The Venture Bros.
I was not hooked immediately. Instead it took the second episode I watched to fully win me over. Initially, the macho-hilarity of Brock Samson (voiced by Patrick Warburton – a voice I never tire of) was what got me to watch the second episode in the first place. But what made me stay for the next six seasons was the unique take on “arching” the show utilized.
Although The Venture Bros. was initially a parody of Johnny Quest following the tradition of repurposing old (and somewhat forgotten) Hannah-Barbera characters (albeit with more original input by not utilizing old animation cells), it quickly becomes a sporadic yet cohesive work, filled with a string of references on the trove of pop-cultural and pulpy goodness geeks treasure: comics, cartoons, you know where I’m going with this. I was hooked because, like Rick and Morty, which came after, the show was open to a series of stories, characters, and relationships that came from a cultural cannon I was incredibly fond of, meaning so long as the writing was good, I would be treated to seasons upon seasons of entertainment.
As I mentioned before, one of the critical structural elements that allow for this system is the mechanic of “arching.” In the world of The Venture Bros. villains and heroes are clear-cut on a vocational level, focusing on the absurdity of adults wearing spandex and fighting each other. Oddly enough, the arch villains hardly kill the heroes or non-heroes they arch. Instead, the show plays it out like a game of cops and robbers between adults – making some characters, like Rusty Venture, jaded by the entire experience.
How could one be jaded by adventure, by a life of villains and heroes? Well Rusty was a child adventurer like Johnny Quest, and now he is just a washed up second-rate super-scientist (and many other things which I will not reveal because…spoilers). Even Johnny Quest makes a cameo experience as Action Johnny. He is a nervous wreck as an adult because his father dragged him along on absurdly dangerous adventures. Sucks to know I’d probably be the same if I ever went on those insane adventures. Really kills the dream. Or does it?
Essentially the arching structure allows the show to consider the absurd world of fictional heroes and villains, never hesitating to utilize legally safe knockoffs of beloved characters like Spider-Man (Brown Widow in the show – he shoots webbing from his anus). Perhaps the meta-effect of the show would be far better aligned had I seen this show when I was younger. But the effect of the creative choices is still appreciated. The Venture Bros. geeks out. It has its fun with all the nostalgic and beloved pop-cultural icons that we all adored. But it is simultaneously giving it all a fresh spin while simultaneously providing a world that is the apotheosis of childish wet dreams and an adult tragicomedy. It is a world of disappointment, a horror-show, which I still kind of wish would exist. Is that messed up? I guess the child never died in me, but the older perspective…that’s new, and if the child in me has lasted this long, I do not see my older self leaving its set of keys on the kitchen counter any time soon. The dream never dies.