Recently, my cousin Mike referred to my wife and me as “the last adults.”
(I think he meant it as a compliment.)
He’s 31, and has described in detail the problems that many Millennials face as 2020 approaches.
Between the travesty that is the student loan mess they’re all in, or a job market that went full freelance-independent-contractor-side-hustle when they got out of college, to the fact that certain segments of the economy never recovered after The Great Recession.
My other cousin, who grew up in the same town as I did, (and who’s also about 31,) had 15 (or so) high school friends die from overdoses related to pain killers or heroin.
Kids who went to the same High School I did, and came from the same background (NYC-suburbs-American-ethnic-professional,) and they died by the thousands.
Because they had access to the pills in their parents’ medicine cabinets, and then later, to the cheap Mexican smack that flooded the country at just the wrong time. (For those kids.)
Add in the Climate Change catastrophe we’re all in, the fact our divided country is about to impeach a President, and that the robots are taking over, and it’s easy to see why some people might be pessimistic about the future.
Millennials in particular.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, is it?
As a father, one who is pre-disposed to look for signs of the positive out there, (Wall-E’s green shoots,) I have some ideas.
Some things are better than they used to be.
This, I know.
Off the top of my head, and as a middle-aged-heterosexual man, (does that make me cis-gender?,) I can point to the drastic improvement in the rights of the LGBTQ community here in America, and in its depictions in popular culture as well.
Before you tell me there is still a long way to go, let’s stipulate that. But at my age, I can remember growing up, and there were really no gay characters on TV at all, and most of mainstream gay America was closeted.
What few instances there were on TV were always unflattering. (Was Don Knott’s “Three’s Company” character, Mr. Furley, secretly gay I wonder?)
When “Will & Grace” came along in 1998, and I saw gay characters on TV who were depicted in positive ways, it was revelatory.
And I’m just speaking as an artist, and a person.
To have representation like that within the community, for the first time, must have been a big deal.
These days, classic LGBTQ shows like “Will & Grace” and “The L-word” are back, rebooted, because things have catapulted so far in twenty years. (Gay marriage, etc.)
Things have come SO far, in fact, that I recently binge-watched the excellent, underworld show “Animal Kingdom” on Amazon Prime, (originally broadcast on TNT,) and was barely surprised to see a plot line about a criminal, gay, SoCal surfer.
Including sex scenes.
When the character Deran Cody, who grew up in a family gang, finally gets ready to come out, (as he was super-conflicted,) his soft-hearted, surfer-bro, thug brothers embrace his sexuality easily.
As does his gangster Mom.
Even better, there’s a scene where one brother looks at some bikini-clad women, nods to Deran and says, “You’re really not into that?”
In reply, he looks at a half-naked-surfer-dude, nods to his brother, and says, “You’re really not into that?”
To me, that was proof that some things in the world are simply better, more open, more accepting, than they used to be.
But isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
Reach into the Zeitgeist, shake things up inside the Collective Unconscious, and come out with something fresh? Something relevant?
A Frankenstein’s monster of answers, wrapped up in the enigma of form and content.
I ask you, having just put down “newflesh,” a recent exhibition catalogue just published by Gnomic Book, curated and edited by Efrem Zelony-Mindell.
This book challenged me, and I want to admit that up front. I admire it, and like it in many ways.
I also have some problems with it.
But that makes sense.
This book represents art of the now.
Made by young people.
(In New York City in particular, but not exclusively.)
I kicked in a bit to the Kickstarter for this book, when I first saw it, because it seemed like a cool project.
And so it is.
When I was offered the chance to review it, I said sure, because I was certain it had to be interesting.
It’s a group show of what’s happening now.
How could that not be interesting?
So, what IS happening?
If the work in this book is to be believed, nothing and no one is ever to be “believed” again. Silly humans, using concepts like “truth,” “believe,” and “freedom.”
We robot cyborg overlords have no use for feelings. Flesh is weak, and we use it only to harvest the BRAINS we need to run our cyborg bodies.
Got off track there.
What I meant is, all this work is constructed, in one way or another. (Physically, digitally, or both.)
Some of them are a bit subtle for my taste, symbol-wise, but everything is cut and pasted, chopped and changed.
I loved the erased twin towers, silicon body parts, melting faces, plastic food, apples wearing orange skins, and intertwined bodies.
Taken together, the message is unmissable: in Trump’s America, one of dueling narratives, rather than objective reality, everything is built, even our identity.
That I haven’t mentioned yet that the book is intended to be about Queer identity is probably a strength, because it’s designed to be about rebellion, and challenging the status quo. About that energy that people of a certain age once called “Punk Rock.”
(As an adjective, not a noun.)
Mr. Zelony-Mindell’s writing alludes to identity as fluid, changing, among the young artists of today.
“These works…have many things in common; homosexuality is not one of them. And yet they are totally queer…They allow for imperfections and unfamiliarity. There’s a cleansing ability of clarity in that uncertainty.”
We hear a lot about that in media as well, with respect to Millennials and Gen Z.
Here in the art, we can see it with a lot of literal shrouding, and the layering of objects behind other objects.
Of silhouette and shadow.
My issue, such as it is, is that so much of the work does look alike. And has common roots.
From my pasture here in New Mexico, I can see the network connections between artists studying in the same art schools in New York. Columbia definitely, SVA I’d say, and probably Pratt. (Which now has a photo program built by a Columbia grad, Stephen Frailey, whose work features in the book too.)
I see Yale, I’d venture, and definitely the Charlotte Cotton, “Photography is Magic” school of art.
Moment of truth: I was definitely NOT surprised when she popped up with a letter, mid-way through the book, which used a lot of words to not say very much.
My other biggest takeaway, honestly, is the bleak vibe I got turning the pages.
It’s not a criticism. Let’s be clear.
Rather, it brings us back to where we started today.
If we see this book as a generational mood-ring, as a barometer of the vibe out there, I’d say it’s pessimistic for sure.
Lots of this art was abstracted, which means I have to go on feeling, rather than idea.
By suggestion, rather than direction.
And if the American Empire is indeed on the decline, (of course it is,) and if this generation of Americans will have a lower standard of living than their parents, (seems likely,) and if the planet is rebelling against us at the current moment, (somewhat obvious,) then this is the kind of art young people would make.
Where’s Obama with his Hope and Change when you need him?
Bottom Line: An excellent, queer, hyper-current exhibition catalogue from New York
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