Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stuck Inside of Nashville with the Memphis Blues Again

All power to the people,

Hope this latest finds you well and good on a sunny Sunday.

Nashville is cold and rainy. It's been this way for the last few days. Of course, it was gorgeous all day Thursday until the sun went down and the mercury took a nosedive.

No complaints, merely observations. Such schizophrenic turns are to be expected. In this world, even the weather is crazy.

Let me take a minute to highlight a project I have been working on for some time. Many of you have commented about it, but for those of you who don't know, I have been spending some time writing a history of Memphis soul music for the website Culture Grits. It has been a blast and - if you are into soul music - or would like to be - I have been told that the series is an informative, fun read.

I have certainly enjoyed creating it:

Evolution of Memphis Soul: An Introduction

King Solomon: Solomon Burke and the Birth of Soul
In the Beginning: The Genesis of Stax

There will be more links posted in upcoming entries here at Insomnia, or read ahead at the Culturegrits site. There is about a dozen entries so far and the next piece will begin to tell the story of the rise of Otis Redding. If you like what you find, subscribe to the site and help the good folks at Culture Grits add to their numbers. CJ also features cool food, art and culture news about Memhis goings-on. If you are planning a visit there CJ would be a good resource for some hip-local-inside-scoop.

Last night I missed the Nashville Rollergirls bout against the Tragic City Rollers from Birmingham, AL, but I ran into one of the scorekeepers at Pronto Pizza and he informed me that they lost by one point! If you haven't been to an NRG bout, it is a lot of fun. Buy your ticket early. The girls have really caught on and lately every bout is a sell-out.

Also be sure to open this stand-alone player and preview my entire new - 12 song - CD "Blue Turn Black"

These songs will soon be available for downloading, so stay tuned.

Joe Nolan

Open this stand-alone player and preview Joe's entire new CD "Blue Turn Black"

Listen to Joe's music here!

Help to support this site! Buy Joe's Music! ...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

To Tibet, With Love

What's up my people?

Wanted to check in and take some time to address the current situation in Tibet. Actually nothing new or novel, the savage genocide and occupation of Tibet has been going on for decades.

Although many folks are familiar with the phrase SAVE TIBET, you may not necessarily be well-informed about China's ongoing rating as one of the great human rights violators of all time.

In America - especially since Bill Clinton's shameful/shameless Presidency - mainstream news about China focuses exclusively on their stellar success as a burgeoning economic giant. With the Beijing Olympics fast approaching, China wouldn't have it any other way.

What follows is an art review I published in Number: An Independent Journal of the Arts earlier this year. In writing the piece, I found it was necessary to spend half my words documenting the decades of tyranny and suffering that continue to define the lives of the Chinese citizenry.

Please follow-up and examine the sources at the end of the piece to find out more about China's ongoing violent and unrelenting campaign against human rights throughout its own country, in Taiwan and in Tibet.

Our prayers be with her.

Fragile Visions: Art and Politics in the New China
Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts

“I’ll give you television
I’ll give you eyes of blue
I’ll give you men who want to rule the world”

- “China Girl” by James Osterberg, Jr. and David Jones

Including narratives, landscapes, portraits and urban scenes, Whispering Wind: Recent Chinese Photography presents work by twenty artists who have gained acclaim beyond the borders of the still-secretive nation, offering a snapshot of the unfiltered consciousness of the Chinese citizen.

An exhibit arranged by the Frist Center’s Chief Curator, Mark Scala, ‘Wind gives gallery-goers a glimpse inside the hearts, minds and lives of the people of contemporary China, living in the shadow of Communism and the Cultural Revolution, while simultaneously being caught up in the whirlwind of global politics, market economies and the enormous cultural, social and personal challenges these changes have created.

Unlike artists in America and the West, all Chinese artists and artists in other totalitarian states that monitor, censor and retaliate against personal expression are – given the context in which they create – intrinsically political artists.

These Chinese artists find themselves in a unique relationship with their past. In the last 50 years, mainstream Chinese art has made little reference to the country’s pre-communist history and has purposely avoided the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

Ostensibly, the Revolution was launched to purge China of its “liberal bourgeoisie,” and reinvigorate the ideals of class struggle. In truth, it was a power play within the Communist Party of China, precipitated by Chairman Mao’s loss of influence after his Great Leap Forward resulted in the starvation of between 20 and 40 million Chinese citizens. The Cultural Revolution was a campaign of mass imprisonment and political assassination that manifested wide-scale social, political, and economic chaos, eventually bringing the country to the brink of civil war.

During the Revolution – and since – the Chinese government has sought to discourage imagery that depicts pre-Communist China in favor of propagandistic art that combines social realism and sloganeering supportive of the goals of the Communist Party. Many of the works in ‘Wind –created in the more tolerant climate of the last decade - paradoxically reference the ancient Daoist-influenced narrative paintings that told a different story, in a different time, in a much different China.

In Yin Xiuzhen’s photograph, “Shoes with Butter,” the artist has arranged a number of shoes filled with yak butter along a serpentine river-scape. The river originates in the Himalayan mountains, which are visible in the distance and reflected in the serene, dark water.

Yak butter fills many purposes in Tibet, including its use as a fuel for lanterns. Although Tibet maintains it’s statehood and legal independence to this day, it has been occupied by the Chinese since a bloody takeover in 1959.

In one sense, Xiuzhen’s image reflects ancient Chinese painting and literary traditions, in which humans and the natural world are completely integrated. In another, it suggests the ghost-like presence of the thousands of martyrs and refugees that still wait – even today - for a free Tibet: the butter-filled shoes transformed into lanterns, alluding to hopeful flames.

With “Free Element,” Dodo Jin Ming has created a poetic reference to the ambiguous rendering of the borders between land, water, and sky in Daoist paintings. Her photo is a furious, nearly-abstract explosion of water, light and shadow, that instills a kind of vertigo in the viewer attempting to discern which way is “up.” By creating a photographic print using overlapping negatives of a stormy sea and an angry sky, the artist also calls to mind mid-19th century photographers like Gustave Le Gray, who made great technical strides in capturing seascapes through the use of multiple negatives. To her credit as an artist capable of complex, multi-layered expressions, Jin Ming’s turbulent image is equally reminiscent of Chinese folk beliefs that associate violent dragons with water-related phenomena.

Early Chinese painting was heavily influenced by Daoism, an Anglicized word Westerners ascribe to a variety of Chinese philosophical, religious and ethical concepts. Traditionally polytheistic, Daoism emphasizes the link between humans and nature, in the belief that the connection creates an deeper understanding of existence. This idea can be seen in Kung Fu fighting styles that are modeled on and named after wild animals, as well as in Daoist symbols like the Azure Dragon, Vermillion Bird, White Tiger and Black Tortoise that symbolize north, south, east and west, as well as the seasons.

Hong Lei takes ancient Chinese art’s preoccupation with the natural world to an extreme, fetishizing flowers in a series of intense, contrived vignettes that also manage to make a statement about the cost of the loss of China’s ancient cultural traditions. Each of Lei’s gorgeous images – some of the most striking in the show – contain both pathos and put-on. Every piece borrows it’s name from a Song dynasty masterpiece, the titular allusions equal parts homage and send-up. In each image, various, blooming blossoms are photographed in vivid color. However, on closer inspection, an idyllic statement of natural beauty is rendered horrific when a dead mouse is spotted in one piece, a similarly lifeless bird with a bloody beak in another. But don’t think Lei heavy-handed. The show’s signature piece depicts a beautiful white lotus with one small fly lighting on a perfect petal. With this subtle image Lei evokes both rapture and revulsion and makes a point about what happens when a country denies its ancient heritage:

“There are not a lot of people who still think about the inner world of Chinese people and the blood running in our veins. We have lost what we used to have.” Hong Lei

Scala, was inspired to put the show together after seeing a number of Chinese photo and video shows including one he took in on a trip to Chicago. He came back to Nashville with a mission. “ The idea was to create a show of artists who were using traditional forms or conventions as a reflection on the past, as well as a way of commenting on the present,” he explains.

Where the first half of the show explores landscapes and relates to the art of ancient China, the second half comments more pointedly on the present and the future, remaking performance art, and self portraits in a uniquely contemporary, Chinese way.

In a progression of nine self portraits entitled “Family Tree,” Zhang Huan makes a powerful statement about the endurance of the individual confronted by family and society. In the first photo, the handsome, young face of the artist stares defiantly at the camera, a number of Chinese characters decorate his forehead and cheeks, spelling out family relations and bits and pieces from Chinese literature. As the photos progress, so does the parade of lines across the artist’s darkening visage, which, by the final image, is completely blackened out, except for those same intense eyes, refusing to be eclipsed beneath the weight history, tradition or blood.

Three of the most talked-about images in the show, Sheng Qi’s photograph’s – from his series Memories – entitled “Me,” “Mother,” and “Mao,” show the artist’s outstretched left hand holding old snapshots of the titular characters. An interesting comment on family, country, nostalgia and the role of photography in memory-making, is seriously subverted by the realization that the artist’s pinky finger is missing.

Qi hacked off the finger in 1989 following the executions that resulted from the student uprisings in Tiananmen Square. The artist buried the digit in a flowerpot in Beijing and fled the country, leaving a part of himself behind in a home he could not fully abandon. The artist has since returned to his native land.

Much has changed in The Land of the Dragon in the last fifteen years. In addition to all of China’s copious trade, art has become a major export, and Chinese galleries have begun to establish themselves in New York, just as Western galleries have hung their shingles in Beijing. However, regardless of the tolerant attitude the country has adopted in the recent past, China remains a deeply repressive, totalitarian state.

Despite mainstream American journalism’s focus on China’s economic evolution, and that fact that – with the coming Summer Olympics in Beijing - China is making attempts to present a progressive image to the rest of the world, China has yet to veer from a history of media and Internet censorship, gagging and imprisonment of dissidents, widespread torture and political execution.

Beijing lost its bid for the Olympics in the year 2000 for its “gross and systematic violations of human rights.” One would like to think that an exhibit like Wind would represent a serious change of heart – and it may – however, in August of this year, China imposed new regulations designed to force performing artists to promote only a “healthy socialist culture.”

Old habits die hard, and old tyrants don’t just fade away. Although China’s climate has relaxed in recent years, allowing artists a greater degree of freedom, it is still a brave thing to be Chinese and make art. In a country where your own understanding of yourself is carefully dictated by your government, every poem is a polemic. Mao’s statement that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” was correct, but not entirely. The artists in ‘Wind show us that any person can claim their inalienable right to express their unique humanity, by aiming a loaded camera and firing a different kind of shot.

Joe Nolan is a poet, musician and freelance writer living in Nashville.


Joe Nolan

Preview Joe's new CD "Blue Turn Black"

Listen to Joe's music here!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

In honor of the great day I offer the following gifts:

A drink with Shane Macgowan...

An Irish classic from the great Thin Lizzy...

An easy Catholic girl...

A bar-fight with Gary Oldman...

A righteous revolution...

And of course, the blessings of the Good Lord be upon ye...

Be humble in your sleepy hands on this world.
Be a killer in Heaven.

Joe Nolan

Preview Joe's new CD "Blue Turn Black"

Listen to Joe's music here!

Help to support this site! Buy Joe's Music! ...