HOME | DOING AWAY WITH THE "ISSUE" | THE SERIES/VOLUMES INDEX | EXHIBITIONS | ABOUT US | CONTACT US
Uploaded August 1, 2020
PICKS OF THE MONTH
diskurso art magazine's
July 2020 Picks
1 (Social sculpture)
A Black Grandmother Is Now Helping Lead the Wall of Moms in Portland. [Video by VICE News, uploaded 28 July 2020]
‘Naked Athena’ Explains Protest: ‘A Fury Arose In Me’. [Video by Inside Edition, uploaded 28 July 2020]
Wall of Moms and Naked Athena. (Both during an 18 July 2020 Portland, Oregon evening-protest rally)
REMEMBER the last time the United States entered into a civil war? You remember what caused it?
The United States has actually been cursed to forever have this problem with the Other (or Others). After all, it was mainly born out of Protestants escaping Europe's disgust towards them as the Continent's new Others. From this insecurity, these "pioneers" would in turn develop their own disgust for a newer Other, that one that "greeted" them onshore later, native Americans who themselves became disgusted with these pioneers' various attitudes and beliefs or disbeliefs.
Fast forward to the future, and the still-Christian descendants of these European Others who escaped their oppressors in the old Continent developed an economics that had its own disgust for the idea of accepting black-and brown-skinned humans of the new conquered Earth as anything other than simple beasts of burden.
Fast forward further to today, and the relatively-emancipated descendants of those black slaves would, in their turn, be singing gangsta rap celebrating the worship of material goods, the kind of worship taught them by their skin's former mastas, perhaps wrongfully thinking that the emulation of that worship (among others, including white misogyny) would endear them to their haters in Donald Trump's anti-socialist neoliberal Republican Party. Paradoxically, gangsta rap's sucking up to the white man's upper-bourgeois culture in love with signature bags and women in servitude would at the same time laugh at white men's ability to please their women (in what conservatives would now label as "reverse racism"). This last element would irk many white boys into positions that would open them to recruitment by growing black-man-hating movements in North America that, finally, found a most influential leader in Donald Trump.
Naturally, today, while academics continue to discuss unconscious bias (in everyone, but mainly against minority blacks), many police departments in the United States, mostly manned by white personnel, would carry on with ignoring the calls for reforms in police arrest procedures, profiling habits, and so on, or at least for the kind of reforms the various protesting groups (involving black and brown and red and yellow and white progressive folks) want.
The calls have been expressed through sustained rallies all over the United States since the killing of George Floyd on 25 May this year, the latest significant one as of this writing being the July 28 salvo of a tour that started with a one-night projection of a George Floyd image onto the Zebulon Baird Vance Monument in Asheville, North Carolina; the tour's next stop is to be Richmond, Virginia.
The party being blamed for all of the rampant racism among the rising rightists in America today is, of course, the government of Donald Trump. And, as if to lay down on the table evidence that would support this reading of it by many of its enemies, the Trump everyday-would-become-more-obviously-racist presidency decided to make the protests go away with a deployment of ostensibly federal forces in fatigues without identification marks instead of meeting with the protestors. Mysteriously, these deployments were given an enthusiastic go even as the protests started to decline in July. And many of these forces' arrests also involved protesters being carried into unmarked vans, a fact that ultimately did not solve Trump's problem with the protests at all, instead exacerbated the flames of intermittent violence accompanying an unabated mass anger towards the Trump and Trump Republican Party regime's despotic taste.
Within the threat of this physical and psychological escalation that appears to be the only "solution" the Trump regime is able to muster, one might observe that the deployments already looked on the whole as very much like something purposely designed by the Trump government to taunt anti-Trump Americans to form armies of their own (against the Trump-deployed deemed-unconstitutional militias). Some city mayors already retaliated with warnings, viz., that should such unidentified heavily-armed federal troops be sent their cities' way, their local forces would arrest the former. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, some in Trump's right-leaning following expressed their willingness to officially divide the US with secessions, carrying Confederate flags to spite the still-blue North's insistence on the virtue of their values. Earlier in the second quarter, Mitch McConnell even expressed an absence of empathy towards suffering blue states, refusing to send money their way during the early height of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, forgetting that states like New York are one of the highest sources of revenues for the federal coffers.
Is the Trump government wishing for a new civil war that would ultimately divide the United States into blue and red republics? Some in the Republican Party are very vocal about this dream, as we mentioned, and so has Vladimir Putin's people about the welcome likelihood of it.
Then, suddenly, one mid-July night in Portland, amidst Portland's series of rallies and consequent resistance to the Trump-deployed mysterious forces, a couple of images emerged. These were human images that we actually think should, or must, give American leaders pause. People called the two images the Wall of Moms and the Naked Athena, respectively. Now, bear in mind that the noun-phrase Wall of Moms refers to both a human-wall product as well as the spontaneous collective of female protesters who formed this product. The Naked Athena, meanwhile, is that other noun-phrase that refers to both a resultant moving sculpture and the individual who produced that sculpture.
And while a tear gas canister was thrown into the Wall of Moms, the troop facing the Naked Athena actually withdrew. Here are the contexts by which they exist:
The Wall of Moms and Naked Athena are actually warnings. Whether Americans or the Trump and new US Republican regime will be able to see it or not, these images warn about something else beyond what the mayors flaunted toward the White House like a dare. These images' having come forth, whether naturally or inadvertently, should remind the Trump government of what a civil war, a civil war that it might be hoping for, would actually look like.
You see, a new American civil war will definitely involve women, whether they be mothers or wives and girlfriends, of the left or of the right. Yes, they will be there as warriors, but definitely as victims, too. And then, finally, as absences. Expect mothers to die. Expect wives and sisters and girlfriends and daughters to see the end of their days on Earth.
True, most battlefields will involve men away from their women, although now it is likely that many women will fight with them, as we already mentioned. But that doesn't mean that women left at home won't be fighting a war of their own. You see, if motherhood means families and both words visually denote peace, the pictures that those two words will bring to the table will have to be postponed to a far future in light of the war. Overnight, a civil war picture would have to cancel the beauty of family life temporarily for an indefinite number of decades hence.
Sure, in this war a lot of black women will die, which may please the alt-right racists of America. More native American girls will disappear, too. But make no mistake. So will a lot of white women. Rape of women on both sides will be rampant. Though, as well, there will be a lot of surprises as to what women can achieve, or display, as the angriest of warriors. It might even be possible that the first women war criminals to be tried by the United Nations in the near future will be American. We wouldn't discount the probability of that, given all the anger and hate on both sides.
But, wait. Women as mothers and as wives or girlfriends are images that also symbolize potential births. And, yes, in a civil war there will still be births, legitimate ones and not, willed or accidental or forced. But it is the converse of those images qua symbols that might actually be the more visceral ones. For it is almost certain that the number of deaths will overwhelm the number of births. Thousands, possibly millions of deaths will occur in America, much more than the deaths of Americans in the COVID-19 pandemic that the Trump government also didn't show much care about. In these deaths, even triumphant families of NRA manufacturers of automatic weapons won't be exempted from the statistics. In a sense, this forthcoming American civil war will, once more, put emphasis on machismo as a character of heroic feat over everything else, defocusing on the value of families and lives (especially enemies' lives). No race's life will matter.
Many American births will have to be postponed to a later time, which in fact already started in the last decades that celebrated the Republican value in favor of mass shootings and the killing of black lives, black lives that, if you think about it with a patriotic eye, could actually have been used for service in the US Armed Forces guarding areas in, say, Turkey or the West Philippine Sea.
American births. To be postponed indefinitely to a later millennium. The Wall of Mothers and the Naked Athena are already signifying their lament, their cry, now, therefore expressing real visual elegies beamed towards the nearing end of America's birthing age. For, indeed, with Donald Trump at its helm, the United States has reached a point where it shall gradually cancel its need for women, or men for that matter, as well as families. America has reached that natural time for it to go back to being the jungle that it once was, inhabited by male and female animals tearing each others' guts at the signal of one man with a whistling mouth.
When a community stops listening to its mothers, wives, girlfriends, and daughters, its Walls of Moms and Naked Athenas, considering them now as Others who've renewed their erstwhile inferior social Otherness, a turning point for an angry macho decade shall naturally unfold. That cannot be anything other than the image of America paving a final manly Roman road to its own obsolescence. For better or worse, America as we know it will cease to exist.
Now, sure, Trump's forces have temporarily been withdrawn from Portland after it seemed they've only created a backlash against the all-too-powerful self-serving President's plan to please his right-leaning base. Not much cheers were heard, even from his own camp. But, again, make no mistake. Those forces are going to be back in some other scene. Maybe on the day the white nationalist President refuses to vacate his office at the White House in January 2021 and people again protest against his non-concession. In this next time, don't be surprised if the Trump camp simply throws a flame at any wall of mothers and allows its neo-Nazi allies to take care of any new naked Athena. Trump will be happy to be remembered as the instigator of the second American civil war that will be celebrated both in Russia and China.
The official trailer for Homemade, 2020
Homemade. (Launched 30 June 2020, Netflix)
ASIDE from their individual merits as cinematic achievements, the short films in the Netflix-released anthology series Homemade, which includes the works of 16 film directors and one actress in her directorial debut, are significant to our time as the possible pioneering efforts in a new film genre. Coming from the anthology idea by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, the works here, "homemade" during the 2020 anti-SARS-CoV-2 quarantines, can maybe be dropped into a new-genre or new-category shelf we can call "self-isolation doughnut-hole films." You see, there's no telling if this genre is going to recur in the near or far future or if it is going to stay with us as part of the "new normal" stuff or, on the other hand, disappear forever, if such viruses as this are going to get out of our way for good (though we doubt it). But, here's the score. We at diskurso art magazine vehemently refuse to regard the pieces in Homemade as documentary or mental records of the quarantines of 2020 merely; again, we're regarding them now as prototypes or models of a new filmmaking future.
Here's what we think will happen in the future of filmmaking. Or, rather, in the seven films we'd like to specially mention, here's what we think the anthology looks to be presenting as the possibilities for future or near-future (short) film-making:
In the opening piece, Ladj Ly's contribution titled "Clichy-Montfermil" (which could be retitled as Clichy-Montfermil 2020 as a standalone oeuvre), Ly's son Al Hassan Ly (who helped with the short film's story) plays Buzz. Buzz is established as a home-schooling student who also happens to have a drone, but soon the story's focus transfers to the drone and the images that its camera picks up in a landscape of quarantined or self-isolating people in apartment buildings or individual homes as well as of social-distancing citizens queuing for available relief.
So, in the sci-fi-like virus-threatened world of the future, which today we call our possible "new normal," people would indeed be indefinitely quarantined or self-isolating. But there would still be schooling of their kids, with even postcolonial concerns included in the curricula (see that book by ?). There would still be problems like domestic violence, incest, and such. But the main new thing would be that transition from old jobs to new jobs, wherein many would still be relying on rationed products farmed, processed, manufactured, and delivered by "frontliners" from the factories and farms and fuel stations of the same old powerful.
Filmmakers, meanwhile, will be relying heavily on drones, should they still be allowed, and would avoid the feature-length format that demands as much hard disc storage bytes as man-hours in a time where these filmmakers would often be left to their own devices with neither a production company's heavier hardware nor a crew.
Then there's the possibility of supra-imagined plots (at best irreverent, cynical?) narrated through the use of dolls and toys (or simple objects) available in the house, animated or not, as in Paolo Sorrentino's demonstration in "Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit" of how this may be done, hopefully to be approved for showing on Netflix by the most strict political censors of tomorrow.
Like Sorrentino's capitulation to the available in the quick re-mappings of the lockdown, Natalia Beristáin explores the philosophical/psychological idea of space with "Espacios," this time from her daughter's position. She presents the things one can do (her daughter is depicted as fictionally or non-fictionally able to cook her own omelet) as against what one cannot, where one can go as opposed to where one cannot, where one used to be contrasted with where one is now, and leaves her audience to fill the philosophical as well as psychological questions that may be thrown into the mix.
Questions that may be inspired might include the following: Why complain that one cannot fly should one fall off a terrace or roof patio? What are the alternatives to this disability? Would we rather that gravity on Earth is decreased? How does our "cramped space" compare to others'? And so on and so forth.
Beristáin's film does open with something positive as regards her daughter's abilities; it closes with something equally positive pertaining to available society. As a bonus, the credits-area annotation wishes for good things for our children. Now, equating this wish with the idea of spaces seems somehow to comment on today's strengthened ethnic nationalisms. . . .
Then, of course, the filmmaker of the future may explore humanity's coping mechanism by imagining the worst things possible (a la post-apocalyptic narrative construction: e.g. knowing that a billion people have died, or that there's now a closer-to-Earth moon, and so on). From within these imagined fearsome realities, we may allow fatalism (religious or not) to come out, nurturing it to become the root attitude for a dime-a-dozen sad or happy resilience. Illustrated quite well by the acting of Peter Sarsgaard, this approach director Maggie Gyllenhaal shows us the specifics of in "Penelope," the 10th film in the anthology.
Another form of acceptance would be in facing the new limits of one's career as a filmmaker in an indefinitely locked down future. One might likely find it hard to procure actors within one's neighborhood, so perhaps a way to make possible a film product would be to document just the most available fiction there is―the fiction, for instance, already so real within others within one's easy reach. In "Mayroun and the Unicorn," Nadine Labaki and husband composer/writer/producer Khaled Mouzanar decided to simply record one of their daughter's forays into fiction-making at play. To most this would be a mere home movie. To some it'll be no less than a perfect paean to the imagination.
Meanwhile, to others with access to a wider private territory and coterie, say, a nearby riverbank far from others' houses except those inhabited by close friends, there's the possibility of conjuring more ambitious narratives. With help from a total of seven other people (including actor Christopher Abbott) within his area of self-isolation, Antonio Campos, with the help of friends Brady Corbet and Mona Fastvold in the writing of a story, decided to use the inspiration of the elements and natural lighting of his surround to shoot a sort of horror or psychological mystery which he titled "Annex." . . .
Finally we'd like to point to Johnny Ma's "Johnny Ma," 13th in the collection, wherein he treats the filmmaking process as both an autobiographical document and an epistolary story. Such a treatment towards a letter-film addresses the problem of distance and a new locked-down world that may have indefinitely separated family members, exacerbating what may already have been present separating factors (unavailable communication networks, sensory disabilities, hurt feelings, etc.).
In his film, Ma "writes" the film to his ma where he tries to be the dumpling-making man his ma always wanted him to be. He tries to make those dumplings the way his ma likes them done, now that he's got all the time in the world. He succeeds, serving his dumplings to his young family in Mexico. He thus becomes his ma's Johnny Ma. He becomes his ma, Johnny Ma.
It must be noted, however, that Ma is aware of the possibility that his ma will never get to see his "letter film." What sorts of setup in the near future could that neverness mean, apart from such situations as Ma's ma's disinterest in watching Netflix? Could it be due to certain film-letters' inaccessibility? If so, by what reason that inaccessibility? Censorship again?
Hm. We'll soon know.
3 (Music, Music Videos)
Falle Nioke - "For the Parents." [Uploaded by Audiotree, 8 July 2020]
"For the Parents" music video. (Uploaded by Audiotree 8 July 2020)
GUINEA Conakry music artist Falle Nioke has been performing in this harbor in London. During the lockdown, Nioke has come to the harbor and hopes he'd be able to perform to an audience in this same spot again soon.
Whether the fulfillment of that wish is already in the offing or not yet, Nioke has made his point. Guinean musicians have this penchant for performing outdoors, preferring it to having their music consumed by swayers and finger-snappers inside a club with fake trees. We think Nioke would fit in well in the balcony concert trend of the moment in still quarantined quarters, don't you think?
But that's not what we want to trouble ourselves with a discussion on. We've been attracted to this video (produced by Audiotree) for the song it's singing, which is . . . a bit emotional in the silence of self-isolations towards Nioke's home country, more specifically towards his parents. Sung with both Fulani and Susu verses, the song calls out to Nioke's parents firstly the singer's gratitude to them for giving him the education he has recognized as valuable, and secondly his promise to help them and repay them.
We don't know what specifically Nioke is promising his parents, but if we're to get inquisitive, that is where the song will become more than just a sentimental evocation of a personal position towards a song subject, and the venue of the performance more than just an affinity to any outdoor scene.
All things considered, "For the Parents" becomes a song about immigration. Say everything you want to say about London today and some of its people's empathy towards the "keep England white" mission (by groups like the English Defence League), but remember that in 2016 the city's majority still elected the Moslem mayoral candidate of the Labour Party, Sadiq Khan.
In contrast you'd have a country like Guinea, whose government's human rights record is still in the red. The Alpha Condé regime, which has been in power since 2010, uses doublespeak on the subject of abolishing capital punishment. Arbitrary arrests, torture and rape committed by police have been recorded by human rights groups, and abuses at a military prison have included castration. Rape is a crime that has relatively not been prosecuted.
We could go on and on. But suffice to say that situations like Guinea's in Africa is the basic reason why wealthy African-Americans and African-Europeans who might want to escape the racism in their industrialized countries would still prefer to remain there than move their wealth to any of these African countries. Many countries in Africa indeed still suffer the curse of despots with interests in various local industries.
No wonder sons who've made it in the north would still want to save up to be able to extract their parents, even if it's to the country of the English Defence League.
4 (Documentary film)
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution | Full Feature | Netflix. [Uploaded by Netflix, 23 July 2020]
Crip Camp on YouTube. (Uploaded to YouTube by Netflix 23 July 2020)
IF the disabled is deemed, even in our time, as the uncommon, . . . thus as the fearful symbol of a certain human state, it is only natural that the most inflexibly "idealistic" or illiberal political utopias the human mind created, such as fascism, Nazism, neo-Nazism, white nationalism and other modes of xenophobia, including Communism and conservative religion (which latter would every now and then show its influence on secular governments, even left-leaning governments such as Brazil's in 2016), would include this vision of disabilities as a part of their design, a design stipulating that certain human elements have to be excluded or hidden or labeled as a liability in their perfect societies. These elements, that is, as shameful or sorry phenomena, apart from being manifestations of divine punishment or earthly misfortune.
Liberal governments have also displayed a similar culture towards disabled elements of our society. This is amply illustrated in the Netflix documentary launched just last March 25, Crip Camp, executive-produced by Barack and Michelle Obama and made by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht. Netflix actually decided to offer this as an all-access video on its YouTube channel, uploading the full feature on 23 July, the reason why we moved this listing with the accompanying essay on it to this month, so that those without Netflix accounts would have an idea of what we're talking about.
Among other things, Crip Camp is also about the Carter government's long refusal to heed disability rights activists' demands for the ratification of what would later be the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It was a refusal that looked like a continuation of the social spending-wary Nixon government's own. To viewers of the historical documentary, the Nixon government's refusal wasn't surprising. Nor was the bill's heavy cruising through the Reagan years. It was the Carter government's refusal that would be the shocker to those who've only learned about it now. The ADA, the global influence of which law many disabled people today reap benefits from, would, ironically, be signed by the George H. W. Bush government; we say that's ironic because the Carter government did advance a number of policies sympathetic to civil rights, as has been expected of Democratic administrations of the post-Kennedy era, while Bush's presidential campaign was actually the one that had a number of racist statements attached to it. . . .
5 (Documentary film)
an extended trailer for #AnneFrank. Parallel Stories
#AnneFrank. Parallel Stories. (Launched 2 July, Netflix)
THIS heartfelt documentary spearheaded by women (directors Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migotto, executive producer Veronica Bottanelli, and Didi Gnocchi co-producing with Franco di Sarro) had a 27 January 2020 release in the UK on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz from the Nazis.
In this time of continuing rightisms exacerbated by a pandemic, #AnneFrank. Parallel Stories comes to Netflix this month as if to warn us of a near future's potential victims from the ever-growing fascist urge flavoring many nations' leaders' political taste in the dynamic present.
Helen Mirren presents Anne Frank's story with a voiceover narration as well as an intermittent on-camera reading from the child author's diary inside a reconstruction of her secret room in Amsterdam. The production crew then looked for five survivors of the concentration camps who were of the same age as Frank and had their own stories told to parallel Anne's, digging differences and similarities by having these survivors' families speak as well, apart from the archivists and historians with their historical analyses here to round things up.
It's rather ingenious of the film to place a young woman (actress Martina Gatti) as a stand-in for an Anne Frank fan supposedly on an educational trip on her own to various historical sites before she ends up in the same room in Amsterdam where Mirren has been reading Frank's diary. Smart to have this young woman write to an "Anne Frank" account on social media, Instagramming photos as well with the appropriate hashtags (the inspiration for the film's title).
Apart from Lele Marchitelli's music, Mirren's emotions, however it may sometimes come out as performance, contributes much to make the film what it has been described as, a moving film, given that eyewitnesses would often try to hide those emotions of theirs understandably hard to take in these revisits. It's as if Mirren has to be the lawyer for these historical emotions in the film, although in the end scenes she gives way to testimonies from people outside of the story regarding the things going on right now and how they may relate to the rightism of the 1930s-'40s.
Historian Michael Birnbaum's contribution is a strong element in the film, as well as the directors' decision to include a lot more of those Anne Frank photographs people may actually not have seen until now. The presence of these pictures keep us away from a treatment of Frank as an icon, endearing her to our appreciation of her face as just like that of any smart girl out there currently fighting the fascist runaway train that's heading our way fast.
Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso art magazine