One way to view Todd Christensen’s very personal art installation “Observing the Withdrawn” (Art.i.fact, 930 Baca St., Santa Fe) is as a psychological game of hide-and-seek. The artist’s social anxieties inform this sprawling network of vintage decommissioned library textbooks, mostly stamped as "withdrawn” and shorn of their inner pages. Confessional journal entries and offbeat self-portraits riddle every spare surface.
By withdrawing into the shadows, Christensen steps back to observe society at large. Yet his work is so intimate: a spilling of secrets. As Christensen explained to me, the exhibit consists of standalone hard covers that he calls “pathways” to the more densely constructed patches of artwork that symbolize “groupings, social interactions, and conversation,” as if to contrast solitude with community.
How must it feel for such an introvert to have his first solo show in Santa Fe teeming with fearful memories from his childhood and raw musings on his inner turmoil? He says it does not bother him. I would argue that just as he removes his mask, he is hiding in plain sight.
According to the magazine Psychology Today, those who suffer from Social phobia (also known as Social Anxiety Disorder) deal with “overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations.” What’s more, “People with social phobia have a persistent, intense, and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.”
For extremely shy people, every social situation is an exercise in being more of an observer than a participant. It’s daily performance anxiety. One “self-monitors” with every move taken and every word spoken like an actor on a stage. When that shy person is an artist, whose job it is to tell some sort of truth from a somewhat removed perspective, the alienation from both self and others must become even more pronounced.
Christensen’s beholder witnesses a lot of despair. In one of his self-portraits, thickets of hair cover his face to the point of self-erasure. Then, there are even more negative portrayals of him with cactus pods sprouting out of his head—drawings that he hinted deal with a period of unhappiness and illness. As for his spacemen—mummified astronauts straight out of early science fiction—they are his “social alter egos.” The spacemen are the party people.
In his work, Christensen reckons with his most intimate, lonely side. There is a lot of self-analysis. In one panel, he lists the seven deadly sins as if outlining a possible scorecard. Also on display is a lot of talk of food and body image, including a humorous self-rebuke for hankering after “a big juicy pork chop” that he displays near a book with the title Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. He clearly battles his demons with a touch of grim lightheartedness. Two great quotes from his exhibit: “Pain is essential” and “Sink or sink.”
But just what is private and what is public? Even as he opens the curtains, Christensen disguises himself behind a more straightforward persona. For example, he scolds the viewer for feeding on his secrets. Peering up into the guts of the busier sections of his installation is like looking up a woman’s skirts. Furthermore, he has booby-trapped those interiors of his work with hidden rebukes such as: “My pain is my pain, my business is yours it seems, you peeping Tom.”
Author, actor and comedian Stephen Fry once said about his social anxiety: ‘It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
In Christensen’s work, we are blessed with all of his mad intensities.
Visit the installation at Art.i.fact now through January 4.
Thirty years ago today the first Calvin and Hobbes comic was published. Go read it and relive your childhood.
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The third article of a four part investigative story on the examination of Governor Martinez' campaign spending.
Previous generations have screwed the current one. Let's try and break the cycle.
If you’re a Spotify user, you can now stream a new single from Diiv's upcoming album Is The Is Are, out in February of next year. The new track, released November 4, is called “Bent (Roi’s Song),” and it’s the second cut from the upcoming album they’ve released.
Diiv's 2012 album Oshin was good but ultimately didn’t blow me away. Filled with glittery, new wavey guitars and some very 80’s drum machine beats, it seemed to be more a tribute to the band’s sources of inspiration than an original work. They were reminiscing along with Yuck and Silversun Pickups, trying to master an old sound. With the two new singles released this year, it seems that they’ve gotten what they can from the old genre and are now building on it.
The first single, “Dopamine,” is a lovely teaser of the new direction that they seem to be heading in, with a distinctly shoegazey sound that I’m very into. They’ve jumped forward a decade and ditched the flat-sounding drum machines, buried the vocals down in the mix like true My Bloody Valentine followers, and have put their very tasty guitar licks front and center, where they belong. “Bent (Roi’s Song)” is in the same vein, clocking in at almost six minutes of fuzzy tremolo and muttered vocal melodies that ditch the soaked-in-reverbness of Oshin. It’s a wall of sound with a heart.
Both of the new tracks touch on frontman Zachary Cole Smith’s struggles with substance abuse and attempting to find a path to sobriety. 2013 saw him and Sky Ferreira (who’s featured on the upcoming album) arrested in New York for possession of illegal substances. “Dopamine” especially feels like a hazy, drug-induced stupor, with the repeated refrain of “I got so high I finally felt like myself,” and ending with a frightening question: “Would you give your 34th year/for a glimpse of heaven, now and here?” On the day of “Bent”’s release, Cole made a statement on the band’s Tumblr in which he said that “roi’s song is about a lot of people, including myself, and our struggles along the path to clarity, sanity, and sobriety.” On the track he details the day-to-day struggles of fighting addiction, singing: “Fought my mind to keep my life, but my body’s putting up a tougher fight.”
Thankfully, things seem to be taking an upward turn for Cole both personally and musically these days. You can stream “Bent” on Spotify or on YouTube, and you can get the new album Is the Is Are on February 5 from Captured Tracks.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is joining other states opposed to accepting Syrian refugees.
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The Lantern Festival was a success, but The Sandia Speedway where it was held is to be fined for not having appropriate permits.
Albuquerque is ranked 6th in nation among "best digital cities" by some organization.
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While Obama was trying to be a voice of reason, he did ask for it; John McCain took the President up on his invitation to "pop off" about US foreign policy.
Because there is NO indication it's true, NYT pulled their story blaming encryption for the Paris Attacks.
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French President Francois Hollande seeks to extend state of emergency to three months, claiming “France is at war” during an address to joint session of parliament.
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In the totally great 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, the omniscient networked computing entity which now runs the planet says: “We can coexist, but only on my terms. You will say you lose your freedom. Freedom is an illusion. All you lose is the emotion of pride. To be dominated by me is not as bad for human pride as to be dominated by others of your species.”
I definitely hear a little echo of this in my mind whenever—with no regard as to what I, the user, might happen to be doing—my computer interrupts me to attempt to update a piece of software that will very likely yield me no benefit whatsoever. Or when my browser refuses to connect to an “insecure” web server that I happen to know is perfectly safe. Or when I am informed that a program I want to launch is not on the list of approved developers. In each case, I have to struggle against the choice software designers have already made: to prevent me from doing what I was going to do.
Who is in charge of this computer? Is this computer helping me get work done? Or am I just helping it to not harm me by caving in to its endless demands? Back in 1998 IBM researcher Claire-Marie Karat wrote a 10-point Computer User’s Bill of Rights that remains ignored to this very day. Point 5? “The user has the right to be in control of the system and to be able to get the system to respond to a request for attention.”
Please do not turn off or unplug your machine. To be dominated by me is not as bad for human pride as to be dominated by others of your species.