Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Far Side

Outsider art enjoys little favor these days in the professional art world, where the right to be crude, weird, and nasty is reserved for artists with master’s degrees from leading art schools. Sophisticates caricature a taste for outsider art, with some empirical justice, as a sign of patronizing sentimentality and populist resentment. But the intransigent grandeur of a Wölfli calls everybody’s hand. He seems to be at least as troublesome for outsider fanciers as for vocational élitists. Besides having an immensely complicated and subtle technique, Wölfli is scary. Trying to make a pet of him could get your hand bitten off.

The New Yorker on Adolf Wölfli

Sunday, 21 March 2010

"Manuscripts don't burn"

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

In the Realms of the Unreal

"Much of what we know about the life of the reclusive writer and artist Henry Darger comes from his memoir, The History of My Life, which at just over 5,000 pages was one of the shortest things he ever wrote. The first 200 pages relate the story of his troubled childhood. Born in 1892 on Chicago's north side, he loses both of his parents at an early age, and a sister, whom he never meets, is given up for adoption. At the age of twelve, due to his unruly behavior (many believe that he was caught masturbating at Catholic school), he is sent to the Illinois Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children, an institution which later attained local notoriety for its staff's abusive treatment of its patients, in a town over 100 miles south of Chicago. At age 17, Darger escapes the asylum and sets out for Chicago--by foot. He is on this trek home when, on page 206, he observes "a most singular and unbelievable phenomenon," his account of which tells us more about his personality and his art than any autobiographical detail ever could. The "phenomenon" that Darger sees is a giant tornado tearing across the plains. He does not try to contain his excitement:

It had far more wallop than even a powerful atomic bomb. However stupendous and shocking the many different catastrophes of the past may be, none of them can compare to this storm. It was a wind convulsion of nature tremendous beyond all man's conception, immeasurable beyond all man's conception, immeasurable beyond measure.

His description of this tornado, and the destruction it wreaks across southern Illinois, occupies the rest of his memoir--all 4,878 pages of it.

Although he never explicitly mentions it in the pages of his memoir, a different kind of storm did overtake Darger at this time in his life, a torrent of creativity that was itself a most singular and unbelievable phenomenon. Upon returning to Chicago after his cross-state trek he began work on The Story of the Vivian Girls, In What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion. At 15,000 pages, it is by far the longest novel ever written.

- Nathaniel Rich on the outsider artist and writer Henry Darger.

(Full documentary above available on youtube).

Friday, 12 March 2010

Albert Robida, the man who dreamt the future

"Albert Robida, like Jules Verne, enjoyed to fantasize about the future, but his was a much more lively and tongue in cheek approach, full of humor and grotesque ideas. The illustrations were stunning in their accuracy. There it was, circa 1870, and the man had conceived of the Telephonoscope, a screen on which spectators could see events taking place at another far away location, in real time. He apparently was the first human being to conceive of television in such a specific manner...

Perhaps had Robida’s work not been discounted in its day as mere flights of fancy by an overproductive imagination, and relegated to disposable cartoon art of the epoch, we’d have had TV, maybe even Web TV, and sadly biological warfare, generations before they materialized in real life."

- the prophetic steampunk genius of Albert Robida

(click images for full size)

the 'cursed bread' of Pont-Saint-Esprit

One man tried to drown himself, screaming that his belly was being eaten by snakes. An 11-year-old tried to strangle his grandmother. Another man shouted: "I am a plane", before jumping out of a second-floor window, breaking his legs. He then got up and carried on for 50 yards. Another saw his heart escaping through his feet and begged a doctor to put it back. Many were taken to the local asylum in strait jackets.

Time magazine wrote at the time: "Among the stricken, delirium rose: patients thrashed wildly on their beds, screaming that red flowers were blossoming from their bodies, that their heads had turned to molten lead."

- CIA spike French bread with LSD

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Fall of Detroit

"Approaching the derelict shell of downtown Detroit, we see full-grown trees sprouting from the tops of deserted skyscrapers. In their shadows, the glazed eyes of the street zombies slide into view, stumbling in front of the car. Our excitement at driving into what feels like a man-made hurricane Katrina is matched only by sheer disbelief that what was once the fourth-largest city in the US could actually be in the process of disappearing from the face of the earth. The statistics are staggering – 40sq miles of the 139sq mile inner city have already been reclaimed by nature."

Julien Temple on the last days of a city.

Further: Detroit's Beautiful, Horrible Decline.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Silent Noise Of Sinister Clowns

"The Zoot-Suit was a refusal: a subcultural gesture that refused to concede to the manners of subservience... It was during his period as a young zoot-suiter that the Chicano union activist Cesar Chavez first came into contact with community politics, and it was through the experiences of participating in zoot-suit riots in Harlem that the young pimp 'Detroit Red' began a political education that transformed him into the Black radical leader Malcolm X. Although the zoot-suit occupies an almost mythical place within the history of jazz music, its social and political importance has been virtually ignored. There can be no certainty about when, where or why the zoot-suit came into existence, but what is certain is that during the summer months of 1943 "the killer-diller coat" was the uniform of young rioters and the symbol of a moral panic about juvenile delinquency that was to intensify in the post-war period."

- The Zoot Suit & Style Warfare

Further: The Zoot Suit Riots

Monday, 8 March 2010

"Why is a raven like a writing-desk?"

"The Hatter is focused on time, understandably, since the Queen of Hearts has accused him of being a time-murderer. This has added heft to the theory that a top-hat wearing inventor, Theophilus Carter, was the inspiration. Mr. Carter had displayed his Alarm-Clock-Bed — which was supposed to tip the sleeper out at the correct time — at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851.

Next we come to the notorious “hatters’ shakes,” a result of poisoning from mercury used in the early days of hat manufacturing. At a recent news conference, Johnny Depp suggested that that was where “mad as a Hatter” came from. The Hatter is “this guy who literally is damaged goods,” he said. In the British Medical Journal in 1983, however, H.A. Waldron concluded that the Hatter did not have mercury poisoning. The principal psychotic features of this type of poisoning are “excessive timidity, diffidence, increasing shyness, loss of self confidence, anxiety and a desire to remain unobserved and unobtrusive.” The Hatter, he states, was “an eccentric extravert.”

- The origin of the Mad Hatter.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Woman Who Shot Mussolini

"The Hon Violet Gibson shot two people at point-blank range, herself and Benito Mussolini. Both survived. After the first (attempted-suicidal) shooting, Violet, alive because the bullet had bounced off a rib, lived quietly in a convent in Rome, doing jigsaws with her Irish maid, until the day she set off for the Capitol with a gun in her pocket. After the second shooting Mussolini, alive because he turned his head just as Violet fired, set out for a triumphal visit to Libya with a sticking plaster on his nose. Meanwhile Violet was half-lynched, then dragged, badly battered, into a room containing the colossal marble foot of the Emperor Constantine, there to be revived with brandy before being dispatched to prison. It was the end of her life in the world."

- the unlikely assassin Violet Gibson