Arthur Tress – [↖] Young Man in Burning Forest (1995); [↑] Bride and Groom, New York (1971) [↗] Boy with Cigarette, Albany, NY (1970); [←] Spinal Tap, New York, NY (1996); [] Twinka At Arles, France (1985); [→] Teenager Drinking on Telephone Pole, Bronx, NY (1969); [↙] Sex with Vice (1977); [↓] Untitled (197X); [↘] Male Nude (1970)

In ritual, the world as lived and the world as imagined…
turns out to be the same world.
C. Geertz

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I’m going to attempt to coin a hybrid word: demi-sequitur. (And yes, I realize I could just use medium sequitur but conjugation will always be the part of language learning with which I struggle–and since I’m not in the mood for some snarky classics major (E.D., all classics majors are snarky af), I’m just going to opt not to conjugate and instead invent a hybrid word.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse my coining a hybrid word, Imma get back to this image but first I need to indulge a bit of demi-sequitur exposition.

One of the struggles I have with writing is sorting through a constant barrage of information in my head.

It’s not without use to think of it a bit like this. You’re in a store, purchasing a toasted bagel with scallion cream cheese and tomato. The cashier plugs your order into the register and tells you that your total is: $3.87; behind her someone scurries to shove a bagel into one of those toaster ovens with a metal grill conveyor belt.

You open your wallet and realize you only have $3 ones and it’s NYC, so get bent trying to get them to let you charge anything under $5. You turn to your friend and are like, hey, can I borrow a dollar.

But instead of them extracting their wallet and handing you a one or four quarters, they reach into their pocket and pull out a handful of change and throw it directly into your face. It scatters on the counter, shelves containing chewing gum and candy bars.

There’s a long line of people behind you and, the cashier is impatiently waiting for you to pay but you’ve gotta pick all the change up at some point so while it would make more sense to look for zinc plated change as opposed to copper, you just have to get all of it. (Trying to count as you go.)

Every moment my senses are not impaired, deranged or otherwise altered feels like trying to count out change from a handful of coins that have been tossed at velocity directly into my face.

A practical example: I was with a friend in a grocery store. We’d gone in to purchase beer. I was carrying a 6 pack, she was carrying a 6 pack. We were standing in the express 12 items or less line. Being in NYC, it was a very small space. You had to be careful to not knock over the snaking lane dividers that keep everyone in an orderly line. The loudspeakers were blaring Maroon 5 or some other intolerable pop fodder. There are people everywhere. Standing, talking on phones, chatting with others. Elbows, glasses, ironic facial hair, colors, textures–all of it registering, demanding focused attention.

My friend started kicking me in the shin. I did my best to keep my voice level but she was offended by my tone. See to her, she felt bored and under stimulated, so she did that to help distract herself. Whereas the kick to my shins was the stimulus that broke the camel’s spine.

I flew out to Los Angeles on Feb. 15th.

I love the food and climate in L.A. I detest everything else about the place. But as someone trying to cultivate a patina of legitimacy w/r/t my fine art photographic aspirations, I end up out there a couple times every year.

Also, I have friends there. Two amazing models: Marissa Lynn & Kathleen Truffaut (who I was able to collaborate with), as well as a friend from my time as an undergraduate.

My college friend is having a really difficult time. An ex recently pulled some of the classic cishet male bullshit where he was like I dumped you and my life without isn’t working out how I planned so I’m gonna make you feel like shit to feel better about myself. Also, her beloved pet Boston terrier is having pretty serious health issues.

So the trip was a good bit heavier than I anticipated as far as emotional labor and needing to be responsible/supportive.

The point is when I headed up to Oakland on Feb. 21st, I came down with whatever the fuck upper respiratory BS is going around out there at the moment.

Now–to put forward a crucial piece of information I’ve been withholding–my friend Amandine lives out there. And really: while, yes, I did go to L.A. to see my college friend, eat some of the best food in the damn country and work with amazing models, I mostly went to spend time with Amandine.

I was running a 102 fever when I woke up on Feb. 22nd.

Add to that my office–which wasn’t supposed to contact me during this leg of the trip–blew up my phone because one of our senior analysts thought his personal laptop had been infected with ransomware.

It wasn’t an especially great space to occupy–being extremely ill, being insanely stressed, not to mention anxious about the will-they-or-won’t-they questions with regard to the mutual and insanely complicated feelings between Amandine and I.

Confession: I’m growing increasingly put off by–it’s probably fair to say–most of the porn that crosses my Tumblr dash. It’s not that the production value is lacking. (I actually have an upcoming post on how a certain subset of porn displays a fetishization of quality that is both consistent and remarkably aestheticized.

And, yeah full disclosure I’m not super into heteronormative porn. So that means 90% of the stuff crossing my dash isn’t ‘made’ for me.

But things like this just seem repetitive, mechanical and focused on orgasmic release. (I do like that he kisses her after she sucks on him post-orgasm–there is nothing in the world like kissing your partner(s) post coitally and tasting your orgasmic juices mixed with theirs.. the taste is freaking intoxicating.)

On the other hand I do have a backlog of threesome/group sex stuff that I love and have been struggling over how to feature in a contemplative fashion. For example: this gif of three studs masturbating in a triangular form, one who has already orgasmed while a second boy ejaculates with impressive force while the third watches both his friends; this vintage image of an FFM threesome outdoors; this von Trier-esque image that vextape reblogged a while back; a lot of FMM stuff (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), FFM stuff (1, 2, 3). Want FFF? I can point you in the direction of one. MMM? Don’t mind if I do. FMMM, I even have one of those. All female orgy? Aren’t you glad you asked?

I feel like once you move beyond the strict binary interpretations of physical intimacy, things automatically become more sensual. I mean that’s my experience, yes. But also, from a strictly pragmatic perspective, it has to. I mean, yeah, if you’re, 22 and having mad group sex, it’s probably cool. You can get off again and again and again without much muss or fuss.

As you get older, your body changes–late 20s are amazing, late 30s–meh. I’m not to my late 40s yet, but yeah… I’m banging on that door and I do not like how things are sounding from behind it.

That means that you learn to become a little like someone who is going with friends to dim sum. You know not to fill up on just one item–you want to try a bit of everything. But you really like this dish and those dumplings, so you over eat a bit but you also get to try everything. It’s about the different tastes/flavors but also a bit of discipline allows you to walk away feeling fully satisfied.

So I’m in Oakland. I have a 102 and change fever. I feel like death. My stress and anxiety is through the roof. Everything feels like it’s falling apart and I’m supposed to hang out with Amandine for part of a day so that we can catch up and clear the air.

See Amandine is only the third person in my life who I’ve ever been like I have feelings for you and the person’s response has been anything other than no, run away. She basically said: I feel the same. It scares the crap out of me and I wanted to run away, I even tried, but I can’t; there is too much here that I want to explore. We just need to move slow. This is new for me. I know what I want but I need to figure out how to reconcile what I want with the life I’ve made for myself.

I somehow managed through sheer force of will to be more or less operating at 85% that day. I was still definitely under the weather but I managed it so that she hardly noticed.

We had a fancy breakfast. Talked about her art. How things are going with my suicidal ex. In the process of updating her, I realized for the first time that we’re not taking a break like she’s said–that even if she were willing to discuss all the shit that’s transpired between us that I’m fundamentally unconvinced that what we have is worth the hell it will require walking through for months to work things out. Amandine held my hand while I sat at the table and openly wept; she said, you’ll figure out how to be fine again. It’s going to take a while. Longer than you think. It’s going to be hard. But you won’t have to do it alone this time.

We went for a hike. Saw an egret and snapping turtles. Then had coffee at a snooty cafe in Oakland.

We got ready to part ways. I told her that she was one of the most amazing, kind and radically empathetic people I had ever known and that I was in love with her. She said, I know. I’m just hoping that you know you are all of those things just as much as I am. I said I know. She said: and I love you, too.

I walked her to her car. She hugged me. It was quick, perfunctory. Guarded.

I think she thought I was going to cling to her. And that’s not an inaccurate premonition. I wanted to. But I didn’t. And I think that surprised her. (I can occasionally be self-possessed enough not to shoot myself in the foot several times every day.)

She returned to me and wrapped her arms around me again. She pressed the curve of her midline body mass into mine. Pulling me toward her that were her arms positioned differently, would’ve knocked the wind out of me. I stroked the back of her Guatemalan sack dress, could feel that underneath she wasn’t wearing a bra, just a cotton shift. She held me tighter. I could feel her muscles straining over her bones. As if she was trying to fuse her soul with mine.

She let go and looked at me. Then turned and walked to her car. I said, wait a second. She turned and I made a show of kissing my finger tips and them touched them to her forehead. She giggled, hiding her smile behind her hands and angling her face downward. In that moment, I warned with all the constant influx of information I suffer under, why I couldn’t stop time and memorize every single one of those marvelous laugh lines that wrinkled up her young face like an old newspaper balled up for kindling, spared at the last minute, unfolded and pressed flat against a table top.

You honestly deserve a medal if you’ve read this far.

I said I’d get back to the image and I plan to. But I feel like now, I don’t need to explain it to you. I feel if you bothered with all this you’ll understand why when I look at this I can see past it’s short comings: the over exposure, the flatness of space, the fact that the genders presented don’t actually match Amandine or my own.

But it’s profoundly relate-able because I can’t think about it without thinking of how it felt to hold someone like that for the first time in my life.

Eric GillStay Me with Apples (1925)

I knew fuck all about Gill prior to first seeing this woodcut.

My initial reaction was something akin to adoration; the intersection of the sacred and the profane, and the subversive muddling of those boundaries resonates with me strongly.

I know I wail on the point like it’s a horse carcass but I was raised in a rigidly Xtian household. My mom dragged the family to church several times every week and insisted we attend parochial school.

It was a living hell. And while I experienced emotional, mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child, most of those experience can’t hold a candle to the sun compared to the trauma that came from merely existing in such an stridently authoritarian milieu.

Standoffishness was my default safe space. I can trace that instinct back as far as I retain memories. At a certain point, though—things began to shift. I felt more and more alienated from the proceedings.

I was in my late teens. I’d stopped going to church with my family and began tagging along to other churches with friends. By and large, the services were far less dour and severe—there was upbeat vitality, which helped for a time—the increase in sensory stimulation distracting from my feelings of not belonging.

Invariably, the orgiastic performance—hands held high above heads, swaying (the posture of an expectant child waiting for a distracted parent to pick them up), gibberish glossolaliac syllables dribbling from the mouths of frenzied parishioners—would lead the pastor to remark rapturously on how the spirit was strong with us this morning. How he could see it move over those gathered together to praise the name of the Holy Lamb, like the wind whipping up waves on a stretch of open water.

I never felt it. Not once—not even a little; not even at all.

For years, I thought I was defective, broken. That other people were able to experience something from which I was completely cut off.

I’ve been trying to write this post for several weeks. Each time I approach it, I have more to say but end up communicating less and less.

I took a step back and actually read a bit about the artist. Turns out he was a real sick fucking puppy (pun intended, sorrynotsorry)—unconscionably so: carrying on incestuously with both his underage daughters and dabbling in beastiality.

One of the convenient criticisms of the social justice movement is that in confronting inequality head-on, there is a tendency to perpetuate an equal and opposite form of inequality—the sort of uncritical thinking that equates affirmative action with separate but equal stratification as an attempt to remediate systemic racism.

Increasingly, we’re seeing push back to social justice-tinged critiques. Damien Chazelle’s awards season darling La La Land experienced push back for it’s overwhelming whiteness and its erasure of LGBTQ+ folks. And the pushback received push back by—primarily white, cishet men arguing that it’s still a great accomplishment in cinema regardless and that SJW folks are once again all-too willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater. (Full Disclosure: I haven’t seen La La Land; I have seen both Moonlight and Arrival and while I understand why the former has gotten so much praise–representation matters and on that account it’s huge and ground breaking–but it’s also flawed in a way that Arrival is not. I’m hardly going to dismiss Moonlight; however, those folks who elevate it above Arrival are a bit beyond the pale in my personal estimation.)

(There’s actually an emerging term being employed to name this reaction: anti-Art criticism.)

When I was a filmmaking student, the film department brought in a professor from the theater department to teach directors how to work with actors. It was one of many occasions where I fell afoul of The Powers That Be.

I remember being told that an actor could only convey one distinct emotion at a time. And to expect anything else was to knee-cap the authenticity of the performance.

It still ranks as one of the most bullshit pronouncements that I’ve ever encountered.

Something you probably won’t understand if you didn’t grow up sheltered by Xtian conservative parents is the degree of importance placed on MPAA ratings for movies. For example, I hadn’t seen a single R-rated movie until I was 15 and saw The Silence of the Lambs.

It was a revelation and I have—to date—watched it more than 200 times.

If you’ve only seen it a couple times, you probably won’t have paid much attention to the line that Lecter offers Clarice when she notes a drawing in his cell: It’s the Duomo as seen from the Belvedere; do you know Florence?

That one line combined with a fascination with the Renaissance Masters led me to fantasize for years about visiting Florence. From the age of 19 on, I would check airfare several times a year only to decide it was too rich for my blood.

Then I ended up in a Survey of Wester Art 101 class taught by this affable but deeply anxious and shockingly undynamic professor. Somehow, he saw my intense interest and while the class was a wonderful experience. It was my engaging with him that caused it to be so. I remember we really dug into Florentine art. The professor wanted us to be able to parachute in and have an idea of the lay of the land. Our final exam featured a section of slides taken from the streets in Florence and we were to make an educated guess as to where in the city we were and then using a provided map navigate to the location where a stipulated work was on display.

I never had even the foggiest inkling that I’d ever be able to use that knowledge until the planes collided with the towers bringing them toppling along with air fares.

Several days later—at a restaurant with my mother—she told me to put her money where my mouth was and wrote me a check for what I was short to finally get off my bum and do what I’d been dreaming about for years.

So two months after 9/11, I flew to Italy.

I remember the plane started its descent. We dipped into the clouds, but the ceiling was thin and as we emerged almost immediately; through the window I saw golden hour light painting the historic bridges from west to east: Ponte Vespucci, Ponte Alla Carria, Ponte Santa Trinity, Ponte Vecchio and Ponte alle Grazie.

I don’t think time has ever passed so slow in my life, landing, taxi, baggage claim, customs, the cab ride from the airport into the city.

When I finally arrived at my hotel, I literally three my suitcase into my room and bolted out into he street—following the Arno as it snaked beneath the same bridges I’d seen two hours before.

I stood at the center of Ponte Vecchio and watched the sun set; this strange feeling of both fulfillment and anticipation.

From Ponte Vecchio, I veered north. Where Via Por Santa Maria becomes Via Calimala, the strains of an aria reached my ears–an outdoor performance in Piazza della Signoria. Via Calimala becomes Via Roma; and at Via degli Agli, you round a blind corner and are confronted with the green and white marble of the Baptistry. My eyes slowly scanned right–the Cathedral with Brunelleschi’s double brick dome and Giotto’s campanile.

I was gobsmacked. I stood completely overcome. It was a full five minutes before I recalled that I had a body to which I was tethered. There was no subjective experience of an object. I was just in the thrall of a beauty that pierced me to my very soul.

In that moment, I knew what all those pastors had been saying. What it feels like to be in the presence of God. I realized that I had been wrong to think I would only ever feel that in a building made of wood, stone and brick built by the faithful. I’d felt it before in smaller ways. Watching a beautiful sunset, reading a story that moved me, listening to music, making love. I’d actually felt it hundreds–if not thousands of times before.

I stumbled upon an article this week about a recent study suggesting music gets you just as high as sex or drugs.

I’ve arguably done more than my fair share of drugs. So I can totally relate to this pronouncement—even if, in my experience, I get higher off of music and sex than I ever have on drugs (i.e. multiple orgasms and disc one, side one of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven on vinyl are always better than any drug I’ve ever had.)

Back to the anti-Art criticism thing for a minute…

Isn’t it contradictory to give Gill a pass for his reprehensible behavior while also taking issue with the pervasive whiteness in the work of someone like Richard Linklater? Or, to compare apples to apples: why is it acceptable to still appreciate the above while repudiating the work of say Woody Allen and Roman Polanski?

In some ways it’s easy. I detest both Allen and Polanski. And in fairness, I’ve been seen any of the former’s supposedly seminal work—only his more muddled, watered-down and self-indulgent early work. But with both, I do see a tendency in their work to both not only attempt to justify their behavior through their artistry but to suggest that what is problematic about their proclivities actually somehow makes them superior to those who criticize them.

But for something even more apples to apples, consider D. W. Griffith. You cannot talk about contemporary film without addressing his legacy. And he was mad problematic. But the pervasive influence of his work is undeniable.

So I reject the notion that we have to reject everything out of hand due to specific problematics. Personally, I believe that you can hold two conflicting positions in your mind—and further, I’d go so far as to say if you can’t then you do not have an especially refined critical faculty.

But I do think it’s in poor taste that we’re comparing someone like Damien Chezelle or hell, even Richard Linklater (whom I like) to someone like D.W. Griffith. Objectively neither have contributed to the medium in a similar fashion. (Although, in fairness, I do think history will be kinder to Linklater in say 50 years.) So the notion that through a selective imposition of critical theory, it might be possible to elide entirely correct critiques of problematics is just in really poor faith. (And really, when you get right down to it, anti-Art criticism is an effort to re-approriate critical theory in the service of maintaining the hegemony of a dominant whiteness in art and media.)

Honestly, I don’t know enough about Gill to say whether those problematic things about him can sit side-by-side with his work and result in his work still being considered meritoriously. His biographer Fiona MacCarthy seems to think it does.

For my part, I do not read the above work as advocating incest or deviant sexuality. It seems more as a general suggestion that contrary to religious proscriptions, sexuality—much like music and drugs—does provide access to realms where the membrane between the desert of the real and the experience of self-transcendence are thinner, more permeable.

So I don’t have to give Gill a pass to acknowledge that this image appeals to me because of my own entanglement with the cult of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. But I also won’t obfuscate the problematics. My praise for Gill will, in other words, never be full-throated so much as reserved and carefully considered.

And my experience of sex is like the obverse of that experience of music, whereas the hearing of music is something I feel, sex is a means of aligning all of my senses in a single pursuit. The experience of sharing my body completely with a partner or partners is the closest I know of approximating a self-transcendent experience.

That’s why I adore this image–it deals in my bread and butter, the mystical cult of sex drugs and rock and roll.

 Anna BlockUntitled feat. Konstantin Ladvishchenko from Black Red series (2013)

Block was born in an grew up in Moscow.

She’s currently pursuing a post-graduate photography degree in the Czech Republic.

I’m honestly struggling not to follow the rabbit trail of interrogating influences. Partly because I think of the three dozen or so folks whose names I could drop here–maybe four of them actually ‘hold up’ next to Block’s work.

I’ll let one slip…she shares an almost identical angle of view to Lina Scheynius, only I feel given the same space, Block does for more complicated and nuance things.

What’s much more interesting to me is to compare Block’s work with someone like Inside Flesh.

At first, that’s going to seem absurd. One is porn, the other is ostensibly art. (I’d argue that capital A is in order here; others might disagree.)

But, take this image and compare it with the one above. There are similar motifs–thread/wire, graphic depictions of sexuality: yes; however, the results couldn’t be more different.

Think of them in terms of an aesthetic of desire. If you are familiar with Inside Flesh’s work, you can spot them from twenty yards out. Same with Block. They diverge quite substantially in where they end up–but they’ve accomplished similar feats.

But there’s another difference I think that is also important to address. Of her work, block says:

I
use photography as a space where I can mix my fantasies and desires
with what is called reality. (via redeye)

I don’t think it’s necessarily as cut and dried but I do think that another crucial difference between Block and Inside Flesh is a matter of process ending in production vs product fueling further process, respectively.