Just As I Thought

But is it art?

Spent a chunk of time yesterday looking at both some art and a really cute guy. Since I never talk about my love life (or lack thereof) here, let’s skip that part and go right to the San Jose Museum of Art.

Spent a chunk of time yesterday looking at both some art and a really cute guy. Since I never talk about my love life (or lack thereof) here, let’s skip that part and go right to the San Jose Museum of Art.
The exhibition of art by Camille Rose Garcia was entitled “Tragic Kingdom.” The paintings were a sort of pop surrealism, rendered using the language taught to us all by the happy art of Disneyland and cartoons; heavily inked cartoon lines, diamonds and starbursts, glitter and wide-eyed cartoony creatures… and it was incredibly disturbing.
Garcia’s art depicts an “evil, narcissistic wasteland” populated by squids, kewpie dolls, and swans, showing “everyday horrors in a way that is likeable and agonizingly cute.” And creepy beyond belief.

Camille Rose Garcia, Subterranean Death Clash, 2006. Acrylic and glitter on wood, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy of Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Los Angeles.

The groups of paintings include The Soft Machine, depicting people who “don’t know or care that they are being enslaved or that their lives are being ruined, because it all happens so gently and feels nice;” Retreat Syndrome, made after September 11, “with everyone creating their own safe parallel universes complete with anti-depressants and 500 thread-count sheets;” Operation Opticon, focusing on the beginnings of the Iraq war and the war machine — “the military starts a toy company and imbeds all of its products with surveillance equipment; the toys become very popular and distract people from the general horror of things.” Ultraviolenceland, Plan B, Doomcave Daydreams and Suberranean Death Clash round out this exhibit which left me a bit dazed and a lot creeped out.
Luckily, just upstairs was an exhibit that both fascinated me and lifted my spirits.
Ben Rubin is the artist who gave us the San Jose Semaphore, and another of his installations is in residence a few blocks away from it — a collaboration with Mark Hansen from the UCLA Department of Statistics entitled “The Listening Post.”
The cute guy (oops, I mentioned him again) and I sat on the couch in front of this installation for about a half hour until the museum closed and they shooed us out. It was that fascinating.

“The Listening Post” is a curved mesh of 231 suspended electronic text displays. The displays flash messages gleaned from internet chat rooms and processed with special software into a cycle of six different parts. It is all accompanied by clicks when each display turns on and disembodied digital voices reading the messages over surround sound speakers; when the wall is full of messages the voices surround and envelop the viewer and make it seem as if one is standing at a junction of internet routers, listening to the world speak. (Coincidentally, one of the main west coast routing centers for the internet is a few blocks away from the museum.)

The installation fetches conversations from chat rooms, and then processes them for its six-cycle display; thus the art is always changing along with the content of the internet. Part one scans for messages that begin with the words “I am”, then one by one displays them on the board, a computer voice intoning each one. Anonymous, unknowing people out there in the world are telling us, strangers sitting in a museum, who they are. “I am 14.” “I am Canadian.” “I am not fat.” “I am confident in my assertions.”
Part two sorts messages by length and then rushes them across the screens; the messages whiz by so fast that they are impossible to read, but it conveys the amount of information that is flowing from the fingertips of millions of chat room users.
Part three chops messages into small pieces and then tries to find related messages among the chaos, reading them out in a chant.
Part four washes the wall with a different message on every screen, forming a “moving curtain of text.”
Part five isolates 200 words that occur only once in the last two hours. The words appear one by one, spoken by the computer, becoming faster until the voices overlap in a kind of harmony and the entire piece becomes a poem or song made up off single, unrelated words — complete with bizarre typos.
Part six finally attempts to identify the chatters, like the credits at the end of a movie, by filling the wall with the screen names of people in the chat rooms, accompanied by the sound of distant footsteps until they finally fade to black.
(More on this project from NPR’s Weekend Edition.)

And that’s Culture Corner for today; now I’m off to make some mundane oatmeal and have some orange juice. I’ll wear a beret, if that helps.


  • The San Jose Museum of Art is a hidden treasure in the heart of San Jose. It’s always got fun stuff, and we love the Chihuly chandeliers in the lobby.

  • “The Listening Post” is mesmerizing and thought-provoking, compelling in its execution and fascinating in its questionably ethical voyeuristic qualities. And my companion wasn’t bad either.

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