Big Bad Wax, a juried show of encaustic artists, closes this weekend at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts. I wrote a review of this show which appears in the Orlando Weekly. If you are reading this and are able to get to Mount Dora this weekend, it is worth a look.
Art Capsules: The Contemporary Art Scene in Central Florida and Beyond assembles a collection of short essays covering the contemporary visual arts scene in Central Florida and the inflow of past and present-day streams of creativity from afar. Beautifully designed and handsomely illustrated with representative works by the artists discussed, this volume is a keepsake for those with a keen interest in contemporary visual arts, particularly art connected with Florida. Modern-day artists presented include the mathematically-oriented digital artist Nathan Selikoff; Doug Rhodehamel, self-described as someone who “makes stuff” such as paper bag mushrooms and plastic bottle jellyfish; Brigan Gresh, whose visual narrative is born deep within and ultimately offers hope and a promise of transcendence; visual diarist Martha L. Lent, for whom everyday objects celebrate women, domesticity, and traditional American crafts; the evocative surrealist painter Leonora Carrington; the urban feudalism of Richard Reep, and many others. To establish a historical context for the art scene in Florida, the author considers the varied contributions of artists like El Greco, Francisco Goya, Salvador Dali, Maxfield Parrish, and Herman Herzog. These art “capsules” provide a summary of ideas as well as a measure of nourishment for those mindful of the impressive contemporary art scene in Central Florida.
To reserve your copy of “Art Capsules,” go to the publisher’s website here.
Renewed prosperity seems uncoupled from renewed confidence, and a shaken America timorously steps into the new future of uncertainty. The official storyline of the economic recovery began in 2009 almost as soon as the stock market lost half its value, and masses of unemployed people listened to cheery reports that the recession was over because businesses said it was over. “Technically, the economy had already escaped the grip of recession,” one wit said in September 2009, while unemployment surged to 10%. With waning confidence in our institutions and leaders to guide us, people seem to be at a loss to define a shared future of abundance and beauty. Insidious corrosion has eaten it away in all the traditional places, and a sea change is slowly shifting the character of this country towards a new and different future.
For many, fulfilling work is no longer an option, as people get jobs for the sake of the salary and benefits attached. In this phase of the curve, it is still an employer’s market, and most employers know the terror that their employees feel at a sudden loss of job. Using this to their advantage, working hours are now pretty much 24/7 for most people, taking work home on weekends, answering business emails and phone calls at all hours of the day and night, desperately trying to stay employed, relevant, and associated with “productivity” in the minds of their masters. Today’s workers are restive and unsettled, unable to shop for a job elsewhere to better their lot in life.
Many corporations, starved for profit in recent years, finally took what little profit they had in 2013 and distributed it amongst themselves, sharing little or none with the hardworking employees who helped regain their economic footing. Those at the top who sweated the worst of it divided meager earnings among themselves, leaving little for the rest of the workforce. The employed today are working far harder, for less than they had made in the beforetimes. Income deflation wears one’s confidence down, especially when coupled with the increased expectations of effort.
All this would be difficult enough if it weren’t also paired with the vicious little inflationary trends felt by most Americans, price hikes in food and housing where demand is the advantage of the seller. We’re getting 2004 wages, but with 2014 expenses, and people are making unusually hard choices. This inflation is mostly not talked about, while the sage ones ponder whether inflation might just be good for people. This kind of talk, coupled with the unpunished wickedness that led to the recession in the first place, epitomizes a multigenerational sense of frayed nerves, frustration, and ultimately a collective powerlessness that generally precedes dissent.
In the meantime, mainstream America bravely soldiers on, with more stuff to buy, more media to consume, and more gadgets to worship. Things that were once fundamentally non-economic – one’s college years, for example – are now a big business. There seems to be no refuge from the insistent, shrill capitalism that haunts every corner of our lives and attempts to monetize everything. It is easy for many in the mainstream to feel pessimistic, to feel just a little debased and to begin feeling a vague swell of dissident urges. Even in these internet-connected, instantaneous times, however, this dissent is unshaped, ill-conceived, and individualized.
Under our noses, however, there is hope for the non-mainstream America. There is an America which hasn’t bought into the “too big to fail” system, and it has at least two parts to it. The first part is the section of the millennial generation who has seen the damage done to their elders, and who are waiting it out, sneering at “suits” and instead creating their own economy out of localized, small moves and working with healthy disregard for the establishment system. This part is in its first historical phase of growing its own food, carefully selecting strains of sustenance from local food sources and in a kind of “starting over” phase on the Maslow hierarchy. Food and shelter first, they reason, and then rebuilding a new system will come later.
This generation has suffered from what Henri Lefebvre called the “reproduction of the space of production” in their youth. This somewhat laborious phrase cites the space of production – the factory floor – as the model upon which all the rest of our space has been molded. School, said Lefebvre, is molded upon the factory floor, where students are taught to memorize and obediently regurgitate facts to their teacher-boss. Businessmen, anxious to produce workers, insist upon teaching to standardized tests, to reproduce the results they expect upon graduation.
Escaping from this to one’s so-called “third place” – a place of personal sanctuary neither home nor work – came into vogue in the 1990s. Then, these “third place” venues – think Starbucks, or someplace similar – reproduced the space of production. The customer becomes boss, ordering a worker into a mechanical series of moves in order to produce a beverage. What millenials reject is not so much the establishment, but rather the manager-worker relationship that has seeped into every corner of the establishment, driven under pressure of higher profits and faster throughput. What looks to boomers as sloth (because we are conditioned to respect this space of production) is to them a form of dissent.
Whether the millennial generation, like the boomers before it, eventually succumb to the corporate world is too soon to tell. Allied with them, however, are the newly immigrated Americans, people who have come to our shores to seek a new start, a new place to live and work. For the rest of the world, America is still the land of the free. People are escaping terrible conditions in cities like Cairo, and even more frustrating powerlessness from cities all around the world, and to them America still represents opportunity. These new arrivals, many from non-OECD countries (the more polite term for the third world), have not become habituated to capitalistic corporate power.
New arrivals are treated with suspicion by a xenophobic, fearmongering media precisely because they haven’t been properly conditioned yet. Unsuspecting immigrants come to our shores and find not America, perhaps, but a more haunted country, perhaps Americaland, a country that is increasingly becoming a parody of itself. Those who succumb to the promise of wealth may perpetuate this pathway, but many may not. Our genius is our open borders, and as a nation of immigrants, America has always renewed itself with its newcomers and the diversity that they bring to our situation.
A future of abundance and beauty must begin with small moves. Good food, for example, and an economy that rebuilds trust between people, eliminating the shadowy middlemen who have crept into every transaction, demanding rent from us while we toil under grim new conditions. Good people, who bring to society a sense of values uncorrupted by high finance, but rather human – dare one say humanistic –values. And finally, a re-creation of the space of society on a new model: space modeled not on capitalist production, but rather upon a shared and positive vision of the future.
This article first appeared in The New Geography.
Read a critical review of Richard Reep’s artwork by Egberto Almenas in “Imagined Futures: Richard Reep’s Urban Intrigue.”