Saturday, October 17, 2009

art: the lonnnngg view, the evolved sense

A frieze of horses and rhinos near the Chauvet cave’s Megaloceros Gallery, maybe 32,000 years old
Judtih Thurman's New Yorker piece on cave art is inspiring. What were our ancestors thinking 32,000 years ago when they drew animals on the walls by torchlight? Their art affects us so profoundly; does that mean they are close kin to us that we can inhabit in our imaginations, or does art transcend species and culture so we're safer admitting those strangers in the dark are incomprehensible? What does it say about art that five times more than recorded history later, no artist draws animals better?

Meanwhile, Denis Dutton wrote a New Yorker op-ed piece dubious about conceptual art, invented by grand old man Duchamp a mere 90 years ago. He mentions the 32,000 year history of representational drawing, and 100,000 years of decorative shell necklaces, but they're passing fads: he points out our ancestors showed off for 1,200,000 years by crafting attractive Acheulian hand axes. "Ooh, nice symmetrical chipping surfaces, let's mate."

It's interesting, but fails to make a case. So appreciation of skill has been around for 1.4 million years and we've only refined our aesthetic sensibility recently? That is no evidence that we'll regress to a more conservative primitive "if it ain't skilled, it's crap!" form of art appreciation. He says
Jokes about Cadillac tailfins and early fax machines were once amusing, and the same can be said of conceptual works like Piero Manzoni’s 1962 declaration that Earth was his art work, Joseph Kosuth’s 1965 “One and Three Chairs” (a chair, a photo of the chair and a definition of “chair”) or Mr. Hirst’s medicine cabinets. Future generations, no longer engaged by our art “concepts” and unable to divine any special skill or emotional expression in the work, may lose interest in it as a medium for financial speculation and relegate it to the realm of historical curiosity.
But I've never heard of those 1960s pieces —I'm already the future generation—and they sound beguiling and intriguing. One and Three Chairs is excellent! Meanwhile mere skill in the Renaissance religious painting (or in sexy hand axe tip chipping) leaves me lukewarm.
Joseph Kosuth's One and Three Chairs
Back to cave paintings, they've inspired other fine art: Here's William Gibson speaking on the cave paintings as the precursor to movies, and Steely Dan's The Caves of Altamira lyrics.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

skiing: Shane McConkey

Tonight's CBS 60 Minutes had a great segment on wingsuit jumps off mountains (watch it). At 8:15 JT Holmes reminisces about his friend, skiing icon Shane McConkey. Shane died last year when he couldn't release his skis in time — he was combining skiing and wingsuit flying just as he earlier combined skiing and BASE jumping. Fly like a bird, about 1 in 400 risk of dying doing what you love.

there's something about McConkey box shotThe only ski movie I own is
there's something about McConkey:
From ridiculously exposed mountain goat descents to Alaskan peak straightlines, from full-twisting switch backflips in the terrain park to double backflips off cliffs, from building base jumps to swinging on helicopter skids, from rock skiing to stream skiing to the inebriated shenanigans of Saucerboy, ...
The film focuses on the abilities, attitudes and antics that have made McConkey a hero for a generation
Indeed when he died, messages boards were split between "He died doing what he loves, he's my hero" and "He had a wife and kid, unlike a fireman he risked his life for nothing, he's no hero", which shows “hero” has both the Greek ideal for-the-greater-good and an ironic worshipping-false-gods meaning.

After that movie he tried skiing on waterskis which led to his invention the first reverse camber ski, the Volant Spatula, followed by the K2 Pontoon and now a whole category of reverse camber and rocker skis.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

cars: death of American brands

I'm surprised how my friends didn't care about General Motors going under. Making things is important to a country's soul, and the alternative of financial shenanigans didn't work out well.

GM has survived, but at the cost of so many storied nameplates. It's hard to keep track of the carnage, here's where things stand, with a little help from Wikipedia.

Hummer: Its sale to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company blocked by Chinese government on "environmental grounds" in June, but in October it finally went through for $150 million (a baseball stadium costs three times as much). GM has no plans to continue the nameplate after the 2010 model year.

Opel/Vauxhall: Sold! To consortium lead by Magna Group-backed-by-Sberbank of Russia (55%). GM will continue to own 35% of Opel; while Opel employees will own 10%. Called "New GM Europe" by some.

Pontiac: dropped, all of its remaining models will be phased out by the end of 2010.

Saab: A deal to sell it to tiny Swedish supercar maker Koenigseggeggegegg (sp?) is supposedly still on, though it depends on three billion Swedish Kronor appearing from the tooth fairy troll.

Saturn: Dead now.

GM holds on to Chevrolet, Buick (mostly for China), Cadillac, and GMC trucks and SUVs.

Damn that's depressing. It mirrors the fall of British Leyland.