A Space Program


A tea service on Mars.

A tea service on Mars.

(2015) Comedy (Zeitgeist) Tom Sachs, Hailey Gates (voice), Pat Manocchia (narrator), Mary Eannarino, Sam Ratanarat, Chris Beeston, Evan Ross Murphy, Patrick McCarthy, Nick Doyle, Van Neistat, Kevin Hand, Jeff Lurie, Jared Vandeusen, Gordon Milsaps, Sarah Hoover, Bill Powers, Sarah Vasil, Greg Vane, Sarah Sachs, Arthur Sachs, Max Ellenbogen, Aunt Irma, Lila Ellenbogen. Directed by Van Neistat

 

There is art and then there is Art. The difference between the two is that art is reflective, stimulating, inspiring and Art is pretentious and arrogant. Art talks down to people; art brings them into the conversation. Art is made for the artist; art is made for the people.

Tom Sachs follows the dictates of bricolage, in which the artist uses mainly found materials and a fairly strict list of other materials to create. In this case, at a large space (normally used for things like basketball games) in New York City, he decided to do something about the space program and NASA. Using mainly plywood, steel and other mediums, he and his team crafted an environment of Mission Control, a lunar landing and a faux Mars to merge performance art and bricolage into a kind of art environment. Not being the sort of person who pays much attention to art (other than the cinematic kind), I’m not certain if this is innovative or not but something tells me it’s been done.

Probably not in this manner and on this scale, to be fair. The storyline posits a manned mission to Mars in which two female astronauts (Eannarino, Ratanarat) are sent on a mission to the Red Planet to research whether life exists there. While they are there they perform a traditional Japanese tea service and plant poppy seeds (off of a hamburger bun) in order to grow poppies so that heroin can be distilled, helping NASA defray the costs of sending an expedition to Mars. You have to give them points for out-of-the-box thinking.

There are certainly elements of whimsy here and some of the constructions are quite clever. I’m never quite certain whether the artist is poking fun at man’s pretensions of space conquest, or honoring human ingenuity through ingenuity of his own. As with all art – or even Art – it is open to the interpretation of the viewer and there is no wrong interpretation.

One of the problems I have with the film is that it almost has an obsessive-compulsive disorder in certain ways, endlessly discussing the materials used by the bricoliers in constructing the installation (do we really need to know why plywood was an ideal medium?) which does little to enhance our appreciation of the artwork and quite frankly feels like it’s being used to pad out the film, which clocks in at a short 72 minute running time, but feels much longer – also thanks to assigning each character a code name using military call signs based on their first and last names (Evan Murphy becomes Echo Mike, Tom Sachs becomes Tango Sierra and so on). They also flash to a faux ID badge for each cast member. It gets monotonous.

I will admit freely I’m not the intended audience for this; I am neither a hipster nor an art geek. People who are into art, are into trends or are into more intellectual pursuits might well find this fascinating. There is certainly some reflection on the process, although it is mainly in the execution rather than of the conception; the film doesn’t go into at all why Sachs chose this subject, or how he got the idea of creating Mission Control and Mars in a performance space. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more from that angle.

So not my cup of tea really, but as a document of an important work of modern art, it can be said that this is vital work. From the aspect of the layman however, there is an air of self-important smirking that didn’t really go down well with me. Maybe because I’m a bit of a space buff, I found it a little more irreverent than I was comfortable with. Then again, good art does make you reconsider your position while skewering the icons of culture. In that sense, this is a successful film.

REASONS TO GO: A record of an important piece of modern art.
REASONS TO STAY: The obsessive discussion of the materials used is pretentious. Not sure if this is hipster art snobbery or an attempt at sacred cow tipping. Despite a 72 minute running time still overstays its welcome.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a few disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film is a recording of Sachs’ 2012 installation at the Park Avenue Armory.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Forbidden Zone
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT: High Strung

Levitated Mass


L.A. rocks!

L.A. rocks!

(2013) Documentary (Electric City) Michael Heizer, Michael Govan, Jarl Mohn, Terry Semel, Zev Yaroslavsky, Bruce Pollack, Stephen Vander Hart, Mary Heizer, Terry Emmert, Tim Cunningham, Chris Gutierrez, Larry Klayman, Greg Otto, Elaine Wynn, Kathleen Anderson, Wes Molino, Chaz Ermini, Raul Duran, Gregg Lowry, Ron Elad, Laura Roughton, Chrissie Isles. Directed by Doug Pray

Florida Film Festival-2014

Art is an entirely subjective thing. What is art to one person may not necessarily be  to another. Some people can look at a beautiful sunset at call it art; others say that art only exists as a human creation; art cannot be discovered, only created. There is no right answer, incidentally; art is what you think it is.

Michael Heizer is a sculptor who has been pushing the boundaries of art since the ’60s. He created the concept of “negative sculpture” – solid objects with the “art” carved out of them. Heizer also tends to prefer working with massive sizes and shapes. He has mostly been on his Nevada ranch the past couple of decades, working on a unique and perhaps unfinishable sculpture.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t made time for other things however. One concept he has been working on for more than forty years has been the work of art entitled “Levitated Mass” in which a massive boulder is suspended above a trench so people can walk beneath the boulder and alongside it. He would eventually have a supporter in Michael Govan, executive director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or as it is locally known, LACMA.

When Heizer found the perfect rock in a Riverside quarry, he was ready to create his artwork but first he had to get the rock from Riverside to Los Angeles. That’s a 60 mile journey if you make it directly, but a boulder this size – 340 tons, 21 and a half feet tall – isn’t just something you can pick up and put in the back of a pickup truck. A specialized transport had to be constructed just to move it and the route had to go in such a way that the vehicle was able to make it under bridges (and over bridges that were structurally able to support the weight) as well as on roads which didn’t have tight turns that the truck couldn’t make. Eventually a route was plotted that turned the 60 mile trip into 106 miles.

The process to move the boulder was a harrowing one, involving 22 city governments, three county governments and the State of California with the museum having to secure permits from each one of these bureaucracies. Just one refusal would have shut the whole thing down, and there were some legitimate reasons to say no – wear and tear on roads, the involvement of city services, the disruption to traffic (although the rock only traveled late at night).

The museum raised the ten million dollars needed from private donors and eventually, on the night of February 28, 2012 the boulder went underway from the quarry. The museum had to arrange to notify the residents of what was happening, tow cars parked along the route, temporarily move traffic signals and signs, and insure that the rock wasn’t damaged en route. In order to facilitate it, the boulder was wrapped in sheets of Egyptian cotton and essentially hidden from sight.

A curious thing happened on the way to the museum. People turned up to watch the spectacle night after night, sometimes in pajamas in the wee hours of the mornings. Tens of thousands of residents turned up, over a thousand of them gathering at LACMA on March 10 alone to see the boulder arrive at its new home. Spontaneous block parties broke out; people proposed marriage and everywhere the rock went it ignited a debate as to whether the expense was worth it and if this rock was actually art or ego. One thing is for certain; Angelinos love a good spectacle.

Pray wisely doesn’t take sides and allows the viewer to decide these questions for themselves. It’s understandable why some people, particularly in some of the poorest neighborhoods of L.A. would be grousing about spending ten million dollars to move a rock when there were so many urgent needs desperate for funding in those neighborhoods. However, it is also understandable that art has an important place not only in a city’s culture but in its own self-definition. What would New York City be without the Guggenheim, or Chicago without the Cloud Gate sculpture? Sure, they’d still be there but they wouldn’t be the same.

The movie serves as a tribute to human ingenuity as well as human will, the will to make the unlikely happen. One has to admire the tenacity of the team of transportation experts and museum staff as well as Heizer himself. The installation shows skills not only in art but in engineering and architecture as well. It is open to the public at the present and doesn’t require museum admission to see it.

While some of the street interviews tended to raise some of the same points over and over again, it is nonetheless inspiring to watch the transportation, the reaction of the people of Southern California to it and the final installation of the boulder in its new home. Is it art? That’s really your call to make dear reader but as far as I’m concerned, it’s art. Very much so.

REASONS TO GO: Invites debate as to the nature of art. Inspiring and creative.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the talking heads are a bit superfluous.

FAMILY VALUES:  Suitable for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Heizer’s father was a geologist who did a great deal of research into the movement of heavy objects by ancient civilizations.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tim’s Vermeer

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Brick Mansions