The rules are, there are no rules. I had to look that up on Google to see what film it came from. I would have bet “Hot Dog,” the movie. That classic ski comedy (with boobs, of course,) that came out in 1984.
If you have the same sort of 80’s nostalgia I do, or at least enjoy a giggle down memory lane, here’s a good link for you. The Chinese Downhill scene. Yup, that would have been my guess.
Google says it comes from “Grease,” though. Another piece of cinematic history. Apparently, it’s said in the buildup to the big car race, for which “Greased Lightning” was the foreshadowing. (Think of me what you will, but that was my favorite song when I was seven.)
Does it really matter who first said something as purely rational as that? The rules are…there are no rules. It’s like a Zen koan had sex with some of Sun Tzu’s war theory. (Hey now.)
What’s the point, though? It might as well apply to Capitalism, because, really, what else could explain our remorseless gutting of Planet Earth’s resources.
I’ll keep it light this week. It’s the only decent thing to do.
In the art world, which doesn’t always make sense in the photo world, you can make art any damn way you please. Want to serve food and call it art? Be my guest.
Or how about gardening as art? Go for it. Trim your hedges to your heart’s content.
Appropriation, you say? A fancy word for stealing other people’s shit? Fire away.
That last one has been, and will likely always be controversial. I interviewed Sam Abell a year or so ago, and he bluntly said that HE made Richard Prince’s most famous image. Because he did.
The art is in re-contextualizing, we’re told. I’ve done it myself, though my motivations were at least altruistic. Stealing from corporations and such. But this isn’t about me. (I swear.)
“The Night Climbers of Cambridge” is the book we’re going to look at today, and it fits the bill for witty and light. (God Bless the English.) The black velvet cover, with barely visible text, announced itself as a book I would enjoy. (Yes, I judged the book by its cover.)
You’ll love the photos, because, who wouldn’t? A bunch of college kids, way back in 1937, took to climbing buildings at various colleges in Cambridge. Apparently, it was an established tradition. I’m only surprised they didn’t dress up in women’s clothing first. (Cheeky devils.)
The photographer was named Noël Howard Symington, though he took the nom-de-guerre Whipplesnaith. (As my wife would say, “Of course he did.”) He and his buddies did stupid-young-man stuff, but they lit it and took pictures too. How positively 21stCenturyJackassian of them.
So what’s the trouble then? Why did I bother to introduce ideas of appropriation and give you that juicy link to “Hot Dog?” Because the book is credited to the artist Thomas Mailaender, who collaborated with the famed Archive of Modern Conflict.
That’s right, it’s his book, not Mr. Symnington’s. The latter artist retains copyright, but the former owns the archive. So it’s his book, and his “art,” in re-introducing it.
What say you on the matter?
Honestly, I think appropriation can be among the most powerful tools an artist has. I take this, I claim it, I change it, and I subvert its intent. I am rebel, hear me whinge.
But here, it’s just someone buying someone else’s stuff and then putting his name on it. I mean, sure, there could be other motivations. Perhaps I’ll get a politely worded email from The Archive of Modern Conflict telling me that I’ve got it all wrong.
So be it.
Otherwise, I have a hard time understanding why some artists need to put their name on other people’s stuff. Found objects? OK. Anonymous pictures discovered in a scary attic in Iowa? Maybe. Maybe.
But when you know who made something, calling it yours isn’t art. It’s lazy. Why not just show us what you like, make the book, but don’t put your name on it? They call those people curators, no?
Or better yet, do what Quentin Tarantino does. He let’s his buddies say “Quentin Tarantino Presents,” like he did with RZA’s mostly crappy kung fu film, “The Man with the Iron Fists.”
Thomas Mailaender presents Noël Howard Symington. Clunky, sure, but at least it’s honest.
That’s my take anyway. As to the climbers? They’re awesome. Parkour before the trends. School prank with the whiff of possible death.
What’s not to like?
Bottom Line: Awesome photos of English college boys climbing pretty buildings
Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.