Brandon’s Kiddie Art

12 10 2013

Brandon Art - Loretta SwitDo you have a scrap-book? Have you ever dug it out of a long-neglected closet only to discover your early childhood drawings? Well, that is exactly what I did a short while ago when my mother enlisted me in the task of retrieving some files from an old bedroom closet in her house. I unearthed my old scrap-book, which features all of my artistic accomplishments from the day I could finger-paint until the day I turned into a stubborn and fractious adolescent.

Well, I wasn’t a typical boy. Most of my scrapbook consists of unicorns and women. I never liked drawing what is traditionally considered the ‘male’ form, even though that is the body I am attracted to as an adult; I always liked drawing what is traditionally considered the ‘female’ form. To me, the ‘male’ form was chunky and unwieldy, and I saw a certain grace and wiliness in the ‘female’ form. Somehow it just resonated with me, even though I have XY chromosomes (whatever).

I’d like to share with you what I think are some of the most interesting works of ‘art’ I produced in my childhood. The portfolio was lovingly compiled by my mother, who went through a calligraphy phase in the early-to-mid ’80s. Apparently, looking back on my own work through the years, I provided the occasional annotation out of bashfulness, but I have included them here for the sake of authenticity.

This is a lady with fucked-up eyes and possibly broken legs, from 1983:

Brandon Art - Princess (1983)

This I have now christened Superman meets Wonder Woman, from 6 February 1983:

Brandon Art - Superman and Wonder Woman (6 February 1983)

Does anybody remember Charmkins? Probably not. It was a toy franchise from the ’80s. They made toy houses and figurines for you to play with. They also made toy figurine stamps. You could stamp a picture of a Charmkin character (usually a girl with pig-tails) on anything. I didn’t even remember they existed until I dug up this picture I drew in 1983:

Brandon Art - Charmkins (1983)

And then there is my future wife:

Brandon Art - Julie

Well, that turned out to be naught.

But I was created in the image of God, and God doesn’t make mistakes:

Brandon Art - Loretta Swit

Don’t I look like Loretta Swit from M*A*S*H??

And then there is the oddly disabled unicorn:

Brandon Art - Unicorn Legs

Can somebody please help her?? She’s struggling.

And then the unicorn became more robust, and she gained a few makeup tips along the way:

Brandon Art - Univorn Makeup

She and her daughter will zap you with their magical powers of unicorn happiness!

Misty (as I’ve named her) needn’t be bound by skin colour. She can be red if she wants and give birth to a green unicorn with wings! This is the drawing that won me the classroom prize in the 1984 Reflections Art Contest. They were looking for creativity. Well, they found it:

Brandon Art - Unicorn Family with Fairy

In 1985, when I was in kindergarten, I was honoured with the opportunity to work with a lovely artist named Wendy. I remember her name was Wendy, and she had a short, ’80s brunette perm. This is a product of my lessons with her:

Brandon Art - Angry Heroin Addict (1985)

I remember my mother praising this drawing for its abstractness and mystery, but for me it was just normal. I wanted to do something different. Still-lives are boring to me. I want to draw people and animals doing and thinking things.

In 1985 in Sunday school (yes, I was raised as a Christian), I decided to draw a strange and perversely vicious Easter Bunny:

Brandon Art - Easter Bunny

Yes. That Easter Bunny is hungrily scraping its way toward a basket-full of eggs with orange claws that match its eyelashes. (I’m sure the eggs are certified humane.)

Mrs Landmark, my Grade One teacher (7 year-olds for you in Britain) absconded with my precious October, 1985 Calendar:

Brandon Art - October Calendar (Unicorn and Castle)

I remember my mother saying she had a conference with Mrs Landmark in which Mrs Landmark expressed the concern that I was a little bit too effete and was worried that I would be bullied for it (and yet she liked my artwork). My mother said she defended me and expressed many positive points about my character. Mrs Landmark was full of shit. If you encounter a boy who is effeminate, you never penalise him for being effeminate–you penalise his bullies for bullying him.

And then there was the whole 1980s anti-drug campaign which didn’t work. Since then, Washington state, where I live, has fully legalized private cannabis use:

Brandon Art - Users are Losers Drugs

It’s strange how this anti-drug campaign seems so outmoded now, especially since it blindly encompasses harmless drugs like cannabis.

And then there was my beautiful drawing for Christmas of 1988 in Seattle:

Brandon Art - Christmas Seattle (1988)

I was already sifting through my scrapbook at this point, so it is amazing my mother captured this shitty drawing. It depicts Santa Claus flying over Puget Sound (an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, kind of like Oslo Fjord) toward downtown Seattle, with Mount Rainier in the background. Don’t judge me. I was ten years old.

So that is my artistic portfolio as a child. I think the main point to take away from this is to let your children be themselves and explore their own identities. I was an effeminate boy. Some boys will be masculine; some boys will be feminine. Likewise, some girls will be masculine; some girls will be feminine. Just be a loving, caring parent.

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Toronto and Ontario Trip (Part 2)

29 09 2013

In my last post on my August trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada, I focussed on the urban aspect: my stay in Toronto, which is an incredibly diverse, vibrant, growing city, like almost nothing you have ever seen. It has turned out to be one of my favourite cities.

I thought in this post I would share with you the highlights of my trip to the city’s Royal Ontario Museum, where artefacts from Mesopotamia were on display. (Unfortunately that exhibition was photography-free.) Anyway, I’ve included a smattering of Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Indigenous, and modern-day Canadian art. Quite an impressive array, I think.

Here is the outside of the museum, on Bloor Street West. It has a strikingly modern addition built on to an older structure:

Toronto - Museum I

Here is a sample of their substantial East Asian collection. I photographed the piece I thought most flamboyantly gay:

Toronto - Museum II

Check out this jewellery from Etruria, Byzantium, and Ancient Rome! The craftsmanship is absolutely exquisite. I would die for a pair of those earrings:

Toronto - Museum III

Toronto - Museum IV

Toronto - Museum VIII

And look at these rings. So delicate and elegant:

Toronto - Museum XVII

And look at these armlets. They display the same elegance:

Toronto - Museum VI

Toronto - Museum VII

And behold this radiant Ancient British (pre-Anglo-Saxon) necklace at the top of the below image. A torc worthy enough to grace the neck of a proud British queen like Cartimandua herself!:

Toronto - Museum IX

And the beauty of the human form in the eyes of the Ancient Romans. Below, a woman and man’s buttocks. I think the first one is the woman’s, though I’m not sure:

Toronto - Museum XII

Toronto - Museum XIII

Ancient Roman Busts:

Toronto - Museum XXIX

Toronto - Museum XXX

The museum has a delightfully compact little slice of Ancient Greek art, too. Notice the glory that is the miniature model of the Temple of Athena. All hail Athena!:

Toronto - Museum XIV

Toronto - Museum XXXI

Toronto - Museum XI

This is perhaps my favourite exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum: the Egyptian lady and her makeup regimen. Actually, both male and female Egyptians wore makeup. Doesn’t it make you want to paint your face up? Oh, and then there is the mummy:

Toronto - Museum XVIII

Toronto - Museum XIX

Toronto - Museum XX

Toronto - Museum XXI

There were a couple of fantastic and beautiful photographs of the people of Oceania I could not help but photograph. Yes, I photographed photographs, and you can see my reflection on the surface of the glass, but the images are gorgeous nonetheless, don’t you think?

Toronto - Museum XXV

Toronto - Museum XXVI

And then there were the modern Canadian works of art. A lot of it was furniture, which is nice, but here are a couple of the best paintings I saw:

Toronto - Museum XXXII

Toronto - Museum XXXIII

And that is Part Two of my series of my trip to Toronto and Ontario, Canada. I know I didn’t include any indigenous Canadian populations–they are the basis of Canadian civilisation, after all–but I was new to the museum and late to it too. I think I may have missed a floor. Besides, I wasn’t allowed to photograph all of the delicious cuneiform tablets of the Mesopotamia exhibition tucked away in the basement. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed what I shared with you, and I hope it showed you that ancient cultures have a fabulous sense of fashion. A lot of it is cruelty-free!





Austra

18 01 2012

I think I may have discovered my new favourite band. That is hard for me to say, since Erasure have occupied the most prominent setting in my crown of musical gems since 1995. That may soon change. Their competitor is Austra, a synthpop/darkwave/indie electronica band from Toronto who just released their debut album, Feel It Break, last year. (Yes, I know, as usual I am late to the game.) However I am not yet ready to give the number one position to Austra, simply because Erasure have produced fourteen studio albums, and I have only heard one by Austra, but if they keep up the amazing work, they very well could earn that place. Besides, a tie between the two bands isn’t entirely out of the question.

OK, so you want to know what the hype is all about, don’t you? It’s about their coherent, well-developed style, their professional-sounding technical wizardry, their eerily fun dance sensibility, lead singer Katie Stelmanis’s chillingly pure, cold voice, their artistically spooky themes, their rich harmonies, their otherworldly melodies. All of these in combination produce a lush, full, satisfying sonic experience. Listening to their debut album, Feel It Break, one imagines opening up a book of occult lore and exploring the hidden mysteries within. I would liken them to a cross between Florence and the Machine, Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, and Karin Dreijer of The Knife and Fever Ray. But at least as creepy as Karin Dreijer. Finally, an album that sounds weirdly Scandinavian without getting mired in slow, dissonant, undanceable experimentalism. It’s musically exploratory, thematically fascinating, and fun to dance to.

Check out the video for their single Spellwork, taken from the debut album. In my opinion is encapsulates the overall deliciously spooky theme of the work:

This song gives me goosebumps. One thing that stands out is the strong verse-chorus structure characteristic of pop songs—but it’s all done in such a beautifully strange and ethereal way that it doesn’t sound commercial or formulaic. Stelmanis’s eerily quavering vocals are spot-on, the melody soars like some dark-winged bird over bare tree branches, and those rich harmonies complete the vocal arrangements. And those layers upon layers of tinkling synthesisers just sweep you away into a glittering fairy world of yore. I can’t get enough of the cryptic occult references, either. Lots of Youtube commenters have said that the video is “weird”, but it’s supposed to be. The song is about pagan rituals (or so I think), so obviously the video reflects that. It’s so enticing because it’s so arcane.

Then there is the light, bright, beautiful synthpop gem Lose It. This is probably as pure, pretty, and pristine as synthpop can get, and Austra have distilled the essence of the genre in this song, and yet we haven’t quite heard synthpop done in such a fresh, clever way before. At least I don’t think so. Just have a listen:

Isn’t that just delightful? It makes me pee my pants. And it makes me pregnant. With twins. The most remarkable thing about this song, I think, is the perfect harmony between Stelmanis and the background singers in the chorus. Together, they create this plaintive, crystal-clear, birdlike song of hope and sorrow. It almost sounds like Enya in a strange way, but a cool, synthpoppy Enya. Delish.

OK, on to our last video. Showing their ability to master a range of synthpop sub-genres, Austra reveal their goth goth side in this video for their single Beat and the Pulse, and boy is it sexy. Be forewarned: I don’t do censorship, so this video is not safe for work! (That means it’s NSFW):

So what did ya think?? In my opinion, This is the difference between pornography and erotica. The models are portrayed in a seductive, tasteful manner, and they exude a mysterious power. It’s not crass and exploitative; it’s subtle and stylish. Besides, listen to the pulsating bassline that suddenly creeps into your ears when the beat kicks in. And, again, that rich texture of harmonies fills out the song and sends chills down one’s spine. This is dark, sinister synthpop at its finest.

Speaking of weird Scandinavian-sounding dance music, compare Austra to Karin Dreijer when Dreijer accepted the award for best dance artist on behalf of her band Fever Ray at this Swedish music awards ceremony:

Kooky! And fabulous. Now that we’ve established that both Austra and Fever Ray are cool, creative bands with a statement to make, it’s time to ask the question: which one is weirder? All that matters is that they are weird, and there’s a rhyme and reason to it, even if the typical Beyonce-glamoured American can’t see past his milquetoast Top 40 music collection. Consider this Youtube commenter’s post about the above Fever Ray video: “Its unfortunate most people cannot understand the statement of the absurdity of award shows, come up, make a stupid speech and say thank you within 20 seconds and walk off stage for the next commercial, absolutely meaningless. If viewers can only see the surface level and think ‘Man that lady is weird, whats with the face?’, they need to start digging deeper past the surface [sic]”. So true. So, so true. I cannot improve upon that observation, except to say that the average American isn’t into the musical creativity of artists like Fever Ray and Austra, because they’re only exposed to the commercially successful acts.

Anyway, I haven’t written about a cool band in a while, so when I discovered Austra I just knew I had to say something about them and spread the word. I entreat you to do the same. Spread the word. As you would your seed. No, just kidding. Sort of. I can’t wait to hear their next album! I’m thinking of writing about new releases by a few other bands who make me want to diddle myself, like Glass Candy and Chromatics, so keep visiting this blog. (Oh, and I’m posting another instalment of the fabulous lady-comic Julie Gentron and the Lady League very soon, so look for that too.) So go out and buy Austra’s debut album Feel It Break—make sure it’s the deluxe version—and support one of Canada’s most talented and interesting musical products of recent times. (The album was released by Domino or Paper Bag—can’t remember which—and it’s on iTunes, of course.)





What Does It Mean To Be A Drag Queen?

28 10 2011

What social purpose does drag serve? Do drag queens reinforce gender stereotypes, or challenge them? I would wager the latter.

I once took a women’s studies course in university called “Introduction to Gender Theory”, or something like that. Oh my god, I was in heaven. For me, it was like going to church and singing, “Hallelujah! I have reached the Promised Land, and it is full of all sorts of delicious fucking freaks.” The course was basically an introduction to, well, gender theory, but from a poststructuralist perspective. That basically means when you look at identities and what makes people who they are in a critical, sceptical light. Anyway, at one point in the course handbook the professor discussed drag and explained how some people see drag as reinforcing gender stereotypes by embodying what they think women should be, which is traditionally feminine. The flip-side of this argument, however, is that drag queens are actually challenging gender stereotypes by mocking traditional feminine expectations placed on women.

The latter argument makes more sense to me, and here’s why. Drag is an incredibly complex form of art. It sends out so many messages at once that it is easy for the untrained eye to miss the ultimate point. It is so sophisticated, so full of so many layers of meaning, and so wrought with irony that it is almost too difficult to distil its essence in words. You can’t simply say, “Oh, it’s a man with fake boobs and high-heels, so he must be saying, ‘This is what women are like'”. That kind of answer is just too pat, and it’s an intellectual cop-out. Drag deserves a more nuanced explanation. When men do drag, they do so with a subversive goal in mind: to satirise the crass feminisation of women.

OK, so there are many different types of drag, and each has a unique purpose, but I believe the one I described above is probably the commonest or most salient of them all. And while most drag queens might not be able to articulate what I have just stated, I think they’d probably agree. For them, it is a highly instinctive and subconscious act. It usually is with artists.

To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at drag queen Tammie Brown (who I believe was a contestant in the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race). Do you really think she is saying, “This is what women should be like”? She looks like a cross between Tammy Faye Messner and Faye Dunaway’s version of Joan Crawford, for goodness’ sake. Tammie Brown’s art is so absurd that you cannot seriously think she is saying that women should have 1940s hairstyles, Joan Crawford lips, skin the consistency of puddy, and eyebrows in the middle of their foreheads. It’s satire. Drag queens are not stupid; they are socially savvy, culturally perceptive, and very streetsmart. I haven’t met an autistic drag queen yet (although that would be fucking awesome). What drag queens like Tammie Brown are doing is creating an over-the-top caricature of feminine standards of beauty placed on women. By embodying a cartoonish femininity, they are saying at least two things: “The feminine expectations placed on women are so aburd as to merit the sharpest satire” and “As a man, I will relieve women of this ridiculous ‘duty’ by placing it on my own shoulders”. Drag queens—at least the highly abstract and conceptual ones like Tammie Brown and Raja—are all about confusing people with regard to what men and women should be and do, and they achieve this by transferring traditional responsibilities from one sex to the other.

Sometimes, the drag community’s mockery of sexism is accompanied by a mockery of racism, too. This is a delicate subject, and it deserves the utmost sensitivity, but I do think some forms of racial drag actually satirise racism. Consider Shirley Q. Liquor, a.k.a. Charles Knipp, a white man from the American south who dons blackface in drag. Now, she’s controversial. She’s been on CNN, and leaders in the black community have vilified her as racist, but other black people have defended her in praise of her mockery of racism. One of these is RuPaul, who included Shirley on her album RuPaul RED HOT. In RuPaul’s own words, “[c]ritics who think that Shirley Q. Liquor is offensive are idiots.  Listen, I’ve been discriminated against by everybody in the world: gay people, black people, whatever.  I know discrimination, I know racism, I know it very intimately. She’s not racist, and if she were, she wouldn’t be on my new CD”. Now, just as one woman cannot speak for all women, one black person cannot speak for all black people, but it helps to know that some black people see a certain satire in Shirley Q. Liquor’s art. And I think RuPaul sees the sweet irony in Shirley Q. Liquor’s absurdist blackface. From my perspective (and please correct me if I am misguided), Knipps mocks racism by donning blackface and showing how absurd racial stereotypes are. And when it isn’t clear that he is mocking racial stereotypes, I sort of think he is expressing a deeply human affection for the quirks he recognises in the black women he knew growing up. That said, I highly recommend against doing blackface unless you are absolutely certain of the purpose and context of your art and you have support by a sizeable contingent of the black community, and if you fail to heed this warning and proceed to do blackface in a messy, thoughtless way, you are probably an ignorant fool.

Just in case some of you still think Charles Knipps is racist, let me share with you a horribly beautiful video of him impersonating Barb, the stereotypical “narthern” Great Lakes housewife with an obnoxiously twangy, vowel-fronted North-Central American English accent:

I know. Now he’s doing drag in whiteface. So that’s just in case you think his racial drag is mere racism, and not an ironic mockery of racism. Now, we might be able to say, “Oh, look. He’s racist toward white people, too.” But I don’t think we have to say that he’s racist toward anyone. In every face he does, he is mocking some stereotype or another by exposing its absurdity as plainly as possible. It’s hard to take patent bullshit seriously.

Drag queens are inscrutable creatures; they create a disturbingly comical image of beauty, challenging our assumptions about what is pretty, who should be pretty, and why. The simple-minded philistines among us, with their intolerance for irony, will view drag queens as horribly sexist, racist monsters, but those of us with a capacity to think critically and apprehend the intent behind the art will think the exact opposite—they will view drag queens as highly perceptive cultural critics of sexual and racial stereotypes, as people who have been to hell and back and have something to say in defense of the underdog. The purpose of drag is to mock feminine expectations placed on women, it is to toy with our cherished notions about who can be feminine—women, or men?—and it is to defuse racist stereotypes through crass caricature. At the same time, though, drag queens seem to exult in a certain bizarre, twisted, exaggerated beauty in the very femininity they satirise, perhaps because they value it for its own sake regardless of which gender is performing it. You can have crazy eyebrows or an overdrawn lipline whether you’re male or female. It’s all supposed to be messy, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. At any rate, drag challenges our deepest assumptions about who we are, who we should be, and who we can be, and this is an invaluable tool for deepening and enriching our understanding of what it means to be human.





Are Women Funnier than Men?

4 10 2011

I’m usually very sceptical about sex differences, but I must admit that as of late I have been tempted to draw the tentative conclusion that women might be funnier than men. Now, I’m not saying that women are intrinsically funnier than men, nor that they should be, but I suspect that their different life experiences have resulted in a different sense of humour. A sense of humour far, far wickeder than anything the male mind has ever conjured up, something rich with subtle streaks of irony.

(To avoid over-generalisation, whenever I say “women” below, it should be taken for granted that I technically mean “many women”.)

Such dry cynicism might also be shared by racial and sexual minorities. Often, I find gay people and black people to be funnier than straight people and white people. Again, it is not that the former two are intrinsically funnier than the latter two, but their worldview, and hence their humour, may have been shaped by different life experiences. I think it might be a coping mechanism. Life is a little bit harder in some ways for people who are gay, black, or mixed-race, so it can be empowering for them to treat their oppression with levity. Such an attitude suggests that the oppressor has failed in their attempt to break down the morale of the oppressed, and as a consequence the oppressed  demonstrate a sense of triumph and resilience.

This notion that women and minorities are funnier than white, straight men is especially apparent when we look at women who are also minorities. Consider, for example, the comedians Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho. The former is black, female, and gay, while the latter is Korean-American, female, and bisexual. Not only can they make light of living life as a woman, but they can make light of living life as a racial and sexual minority. For these women, the vast reservoir of story-telling material is almost inexhaustible, and the droll, bizarre, sexually explicit anecdotes they tell are almost cathartic in their gutwrenching hilarity. They have embraced their human frailty, thereby shunting the sense of self-pity used against them by more privileged groups. Think about it. We’re all familiar with the straight, white male screaming, “stop pitying yourself and take responsibility!” Well, he has no reason to hurl such invectives when the object of his vilification laughs bittersweetly at her own lot in life. And the beauty is that that same self-mockery actually turns out to be self-sustaining.

Sometimes I detect this same cynicism when I listen to women talk about going on dates with men. I’m sure a lot of you have heard women complain about forcing themselves to laugh at their date’s stupid jokes. Why are those jokes so stupid? It’s because they’re artless, contrived, naïve, bourgeois. Men don’t have to put as much effort into their humour, because they’re men, so they can expect the listener to lavish them with heaps of unearned laughter. You don’t have to try as hard to be funny when you automatically command respect, but you do when you have more invested in it. Men don’t have as much to lose. So, it must be absolutely tormenting for a woman with a more nuanced understanding of life’s cruelty to feign some fake Miss Universe grin at her spoiled date’s inane, bathetic, self-satisfying jokes. Or I could just be reading too much into it. But this is what I imagine to be the case, because I think I see a shadow of the same thing in straight, white males as many women do.

This, I think, is possible because of the special camaraderie between women and gay people, who share, it would seem, a comic genius of particular sharpness and panache. For me, women and gay people harbour a secret cynicism about sex and romance. If we think about it, women are funnier than men because they have to try harder, and gay people are funnier than straight people because they have to try harder, too. Both straight women and gay men are in a position to comment on relationships with men from a perspective which lies outside that of the heterosexual male—a person with more privilege than either women or gay men. On top of that, both straight women and gay men like penises, so they already have a lot to talk about regarding their sex lives. Lesbian and gay male humour also overlap in that both lesbians and gay men view life from the perspective of sexual minorities. Thus, we can see how the comic taste of many women is corroborated by that of sexual minorities.

What all of this leads to is a distinction between two types of comedy—standard and vernacular. Standard comedy might be defined as the comic sensibility of the privileged classes (white, male, heterosexual, rich, etc.), while vernacular comedy might be defined as the comic sensibility of the underprivileged classes (non-white, female, non-heterosexual, transsexual, poor, etc.). As in language (e.g. AAVE, or African-American Vernacular English), vernacular humour is dangerous because it presents the worldview of the underprivileged classes, who tend to be seen as subversive. It lurks somewhere on the outskirts of the comedic metropolis, just beyond the purview of the cocky college jock grinning stupidly at his deltoids in his smartphone mirror shots, brandishing a middle finger for no real reason. According to standard humour, a funny woman isn’t feminine, because belly-rolling laughter is a messy, rowdy, indelicate affair, and while that kind of woman may not exactly be threatening, she isn’t considered as desirable as a male of the same calibre, hence she gets screwed over despite her talent. And that is why I love pioneering women comedians like Lucille Ball, and emerging talents like Melissa McCarthy. They’re utterly, unabashedly unruly—they’d be sitting on the toilet and eating Rice Krispies in their smartphone mirror shots.

Believe me, there are so many men out there who make me chuckle till my guts roll out of my mouth. Where do I start? Well, there’s Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and Conan O’Brien for starters. But these men are self-deprecating. For some reason, they are able to mock themselves when it would behove them not to do so. Men are “supposed” to save face and look cool while telling jokes (because they can get away with it), but these men don’t care, and they relish every minute of it. They don’t rely on prestige to get a laugh; they shamelessly eviscerate themselves in front of a live audience. They make themselves look like fools because they don’t want to be taken too seriously. And in doing so they join the ranks of Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Wanda Sykes, Jocelyn Jee Esien, Margaret Cho, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Hynes, Julia Davis, and all of the other grande dames of comedy. Funny men, I salute you! You have clearly surmounted the nature of your sex. (Kidding.)

By the way, we should all salute our newest star Jocelyn Jee Esien for being so brave. She is a challenger of comfort zones, which is absolutely paramount in comedy.

I guess the point is that women are funnier than men because they have had different life experiences. These life experiences are determined by environmental stimuli, and are not intrinsic, but they affect us nonetheless—for the better, I would say. Meanwhile, female and minority humour often overlap, and together these upstarts turn puritanical, middle-class, mainstream American humour on its head (when America notices, that is). In addition, women and gay men in particular seem to share a similarly tawdry humour, especially about sex and romance, while this type of humour can be said to be vernacular, since it challenges middle-class norms. Should women be funnier than men? No, of course not, so what we should be doing is teaching men to relax for once, take themselves less seriously, and  start mimicking Conan O’Brien. Don’t worry—you’ll probably still have the upper-hand in most areas (until we take care of that). It’s just that you’ll be a little bit more lovable in the meantime.





Kennis the Menace!

23 11 2010

One of my favourite artists is Kennis Chow, a native and current resident of San Francisco who attended the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, and graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Chow’s art reflects great versatility, ranging in medium from painting to drawing to photography to digital art. Thematically, her art deals largely with the disorientation of urban life, imaginary creatures, and popular culture. In her art we are faced with the serendipitous beauty of small, oft-ignored cultural artefacts, jarring cityscapes, and hybrid animals; ultimately, we are forced to resume posession of our neglected, but highly powerful, imagination. The fact that her family hails from Hong Kong, and that she has visited that city several times, lends an even more cosmopolitan credibility to her works. (All images within this blog entry are created by Kennis Chow.)

One of Chow’s most striking works to date is a 3-dimensional self-portrait in two parts. In the piece on the right, we see her wearing a plain, old, domestic shirt beneath spindly, outstretched, E.T.-like hands which wrap around from the sides, and in the piece on the left the shirt has been replaced by a cityscape being embraced by the same extraterrestrial fingers:

I like the expressions in these portraits. It looks as if she is smiling in her sleep–or in her coffin–as if she knows what is going on and how she is affecting you. I also like the disturbing colours. I like the fact that on the left, her skin is a vegetable green and her eyeshadow crimson, while on the right, her skin is an icy blue and her eyeshadow a jet black, basically creating deep, black pits for eyes. I think the reason I like this work so much is that I am constantly surrounded by canned, boring, Midwestern, meat-and-potato standards of beauty, and this piece is just so refreshing in all of its disturbing cleverness.

Another provocative work by Chow is “Peacock Hunter”, made with acrylic and pen on paper with egg shells.

First of all, I love the fact that the pig-nosed face resembles that of Tubbs, the inbred, bizarrely fetishistic, northern English housewife from the BBC comedy series The League of Gentlemen. If anybody reading this knows about Tubbs, you’re probably already spitting out your blood pudding and tea in a gurgling and pathetic sort of hysterical laughter right now. But moving on from such obscure references, again we see the knowing, almost nonchalant expression on the face. Then the peacock feathers trailing away from the broken egg shells and into the mouth on either side, as if the “hunter”, if that is what she is, has eaten the contents. Now if THAT is not provocative, what is? I mean, where do you ever get to see a depiction of a woman eating peacock foetuses? It makes me think of Sylvester the Cat popping Tweety Bird into his great feline maw–but with a far subtler humour. In all seriousness, though, I think it’s the mark of an Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King of the darker, more shadowy side of the visual art world.

The following digital series perfectly epitomizes the urban disorientation of Chow’s work. In it, we see a mélange of characters juxtaposed in an unintelligible heap, with cut-outs of architectural motifs serving as a background:

These images remind me of my days working at an independent, single-screen movie-house in the well-heeled west side of Vancouver, which consists largely of single-family houses with front lawns and backyards. The movie-house itself is located in a strip-mall which includes a Chinese restaurant, a bowling alley, an educational supplies shop, a hardware store, a McDonald’s, and an upscale urban grocer. So, already, it is random. The theatre had a high turnover, quirky and eccentric employees–idiots savants–with clashing personalities, and a retrospective/vintage ambience. It was also a regular venue for the Vancouver International Film Festival. Boy was that a crowded, frenetic mish-mash of personalities on-the-go. To top it all off, a scene from one of the “Twilight” movies was filmed there, and the film crew added even more retro decor for the event. Afterward, the theatre occasionally entertained the small throng of teenage girls asking sheepishly if they could step inside upon the hallowed ground graced by Pattinson himself to take photographs of the teen heartthrob’s scary vampire lair. Normally they would have been filming in Forks, Washington, in the rainforest just west of the Seattle coastal region. So it’s the perfect depiction of that weird, hodge-podge coalescence of diverse personalities in an urban/suburban setting.

Finally, there is the most disturbing work I have encountered yet. I think it is my favourite. It is a monochromatic self-portrait of the artist wearing a mask, steeped in pitch black:

Have any of you ever watched the 1980 David Lynch film The Elephant Man, starring the renowned British actor John Hurt as the title character? It was a cenematic biography on the life of John Merrick, a disfigured Victorian intellectual who fought against prejudice to be treated like a human being despite his deformity. His deformity was so severe that he was forced to sleep upright, lest he suffocate; he ended his life one night, as the film purports, by choosing voluntarily to sleep horizontally–like “normal” people–as an act of ultimate defiance against his fate. Inevitably, as he knew he would, he suffocated to death. This is in the days when, according to rumour, people would visit insane asylums and poke sticks at the “crazy” people behind the bars of the prison cells in which they were sequestered. And then we have the black-and-white stripes of Chow’s shirt, which so uncannily resemble the bars of the padded cells that such social outcasts might be forced to call home. Except in this case, the elephant man is an elephant woman. This work also reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode in which a woman suffers a severe third-degree burn on her face, undergoes an unsuccessful surgery, and is found to be as ugly as before, yet the camera reveals the judgemental and prejudiced medical personnel to be uglier than she, because of their deep, dark fear of something alien. Look at the eyes. They are creepy and limpid, ugly and pleading–filled with the richest human emotion. Beautiful, in other words.

By the way, Kennis Chow and Modenski, Inc., have innovated on the now-utilitarian USB flash drive. They have created an environmentally sustainable version of this product which consists of an inherent technological core and an outer shell made of bamboo with what almost looks like dovetailing in the joints. So, basically, if you buy this product, you get the very same data storage as a normal USB key (I think in this case it contains the storage that would cost you about USD$50 normally), but you get a technological art-piece which has a natural warmth to it, the greater mass of which decomposes almost instantly upon disposal, thus aiding the environment. The device is called Bobo.

Anyway, I highly recommend anything by Kennis Chow. Everything from Elephant Woman to Bamboo USB Key. Now that is what I call provocative. Creative. Innovative. You can view more of Chow’s work by visiting http://www.kennischow.com. Last time I checked, she also sold t-shirts through her Web site.