Thursday 31 January 2013

THE PERFECT AMBIGUITY. From Cortez to Kubrick.

How do we know that things are real?

I’m asking that existential question after reading about Manti Te'o's avatar girlfriend. Answer: If the love is real, the girl is, too? Then what about CORTEZ, a restaurant that epitomizes the tiny portion trend in LA. The menu sounds unreal. A saffron-tinged cauliflower, a tiny mound of greens moistened with sesame paste, a rabbit morsel, and other food tokens. The moment of truth arrives together with the bill, when you say to yourself: If it costs that much, it must be real. 

The same reasoning applies to art. Last year I saw an exhibition of Evan Penny’s sculptures at the AGO in Toronto. Penny creates life-like silicone heads. On a video you can watch him making pin pricks into the plastic skin of his sculptures and insert real facial hair. Question: How real are these heads? if I buy one, do I need to take him to the barber for a trim?

Sometimes you have to create your own reality. Architects Thorsen and Dykers, partners in the firm that is redesigning Times Square, furnished an apartment with items from a prop supplier, USING THEM FOR THEIR REAL PURPOSE (NYer 21 Jan). I feel all warm and fuzzy. Those poor neglected prop-things finally got a real furniture life.

Meanwhile two pink seats, props from Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, have been promoted to museum pieces and are presently on view at LACMA. Doesn’t sound like much of a promotion? Well, at least they are allowed to be three-dimensional.  

But perhaps it’s better to stick with ambiguity. As Stanley Kubrick put it (Exhibition Catalogue, p 22), a really perfect ambiguity is something which moves the audience in the general direction you want them to be moving. Okay, now I get it. That’s what David Klawans had in mind when he made the movie ARGO. The story is certainly the all-time champion of real/unreal puzzlement. It’s based on the (REAL)1979 rescue of American diplomats in Teheran, who stayed at the (REAL) Canadian embassy posing as (UNREAL) Canadian film makers. It was made into a film (does that count as REAL or UNREAL?) financed by Smokehouse Pictures because the story is so unreal, YOU CAN’T BELIEVE IT WOULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN. I’m quoting the LA Times here, which every day publishes reports of murder, violence, and corruption I can't believe would actually happen.

Will they be made into a movie eventually? Is that how I can tell they are true?


  1. Talk about Penny's sculptures at AGO...really creepy!

  2. You think Penny is creepy? See my next blog (3 Feb) and check out the exhibits at MONA!