Archive for December, 2008

Lenny

Itsuki Ogihara steals the “Paper” show at Projects

A few days ago I dropped by Projects Gallery in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood in order to deliver some of my artwork, as they are taking my work to a couple of fairs in Miami this weekend.

Hanging at the gallery was their “Paper” show, in which I actually have a few pieces of my own work.

When you first walk into the gallery you see this:
Projects Gallery

The wallpaper like artwork all the way on that far wall, seemingly a sort of artist wallpaper at first sight, is one of the most amazing conceptual pieces with a powerful delivery mechanism and one of the most innovative and intelligent works of art that I have ever seen.
Itsuki Ogihara Population Series
Itsuki Ogihara. Population Series. 17”H x 17”W. Digital prints

Like all of you, I was initially fooled by the subject matter macro visual, and it wasn’t until I zoomed in and understood what I was seeing, that this young Japanese-born artist (and a student at UPenn I believe) struck me with the powerful punch of that ellusive artistic goal: something new.

Itsuki Ogihara is her name, and this is her latest project (see earlier projects here) and after I describe it for you, I think you will see why I came away so impressed.

Each one of those 17″ x 17″ digital prints represents an American city. Each “city” has a different design.
work by Itsuki Ogihara, image by Roberta Fallon
Ogihara has taken data from the US Census to determine that city’s racial and ethnic demographics, and using an artistic algorithm, she then designs each print to represent that city. The macro design in each city is made up of 100 tiny silhouetted figures in various poses and activities. As an example, in the Salt Lake City print, there are 83 white silhouettes, 2 black, and so on to describe that city’s racial and ethnic make-up.
from Itsuki Ogihara Population Series - image by Roberta Fallon
Pretty interesting so far. And then when you study each figure, you realize that they are each individuals. That’s right, each individual figure is a separate and distinct image on its own.

What she has done is actually taken hundreds of portraits of people; real people and real photographs, and shrunk them down to the tiny size seen in the prints, and then colored them to represent each race (white for Caucasians, black for African-American, red for Native Americans and yellow for Asians) and one ethnicity (brown for Latinos).

It is such a labor intensive endeavor that it leaves me tired just to think of it. And it is also one of the rare conceptual ideas where the art actually delivers on a par with the idea or wall text about the concept.

Itsuki Ogihara’s demographic wallpaper is an unexpected treat delivered in a superbly professional and unique delivery mechanism, which employs concepts of mass production generalization to delve deep into our shared consciousness about race and ethnicity and art.

I see great things in the future of this young artist.

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Lenny

What’s wrong with Showtime Dexter’s Cubans?

Depending on who “fits” the cultural/ethnic/racial/political label created in the 1970s, Hispanics or Latinos can come from ancestries from around 20 or so Spanish-speaking nations in the Americas. I think that Europe’s Portugal and Spain were also once in that group but are certainly no longer there, especially in the “Latino” label.

20 or so very diverse and distinct nations.

Disclaimers: I do realize that this coming issue of mine is perhaps a very jingoist issue, and I am also keenly aware that I’ve written about it before in a smilar context but in for a different scenario. And yet the more that we become aware how culturally blind Hollywood is, the more they underscore their own cultural ignorance with minute mistakes that keep adding up to colossal mountains.

Last year I complained when Jimmy Smits, a superb actor on his own, was chosen to play the lead part in the CBS drama “Cane”, a series about a wealthy Cuban-American family.

My historical issue was that although Jimmy Smits is a great actor, he was not what your typical Cuban sugar magnate would have looked liked in the racist Cuban society of the late 1950s and the Cuban-American refugee wave of the early 1960s. His casting for the part was intolerably historically inaccurate.

CBS picked Smits, a brilliant actor, I guess based on their perception of what a Cuban looks like (Smits is not of Cuban ancestry… his father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant from Dutch Guiana, and his mother, Emilina, is Puerto Rican).

This is what the person that Smits’ “Canes” character was loosely based upon really looks like

But I suspect that because, like a lot of Cubans, he looks too “Anglo” and not enough of what Hollywood (and CBS) wanted all of us to think that Latinos should all look like, they hired a terrific Emmy-winning Surinamese actor who fits the sterotypical image of what Hollywood thinks Cubans should look like, to play the lead part.

Latinos are a culturally, racially and ethnically diverse group of people, and we’re not all made of one mold, as Hollywood wants you to think.

So that was then, and here’s what has me all spun up in a new tempest in my demitasse.

Currently my absolute favorite TV show is Showtime’s “Dexter.”

If you haven’t seen this show, then go and rent seasons one and two out on DVD and then get hooked.

In the series, Michael C. Hall is absolutely brilliant as a serial killer who works as a blood expert for the Miami Metro Police while hiding the fact that he is also a serial killer. Dexter goes after bad guys, but he is still a truly disturbing psychopath pretending to be normal while killing bad guys left and right in a very orchestrated manner.

Dexter is television crime drama at its best. It is a brilliantly conceptual idea brought to life by really good actors and the gorgeous setting of Miami.

And because this show is set in Miami, several of the regular characters in the series are portrayed as Cuban characters, such as Dexter’s boss, Lt. Maria LaGuerta, played superbly by Puerto Rican actress Lauren Velez and detective Angel Batista, also played superbly by Puerto Rican actor David Zayas.

Now enter season three, which introduced a new character, that of Asst. District Attorney Miguel Prado, another Cuban character played by, yep that’s right: Jimmy Smits!

Smits is a terrific actor, and since by now he seems to be making quite a decent living playing Cubans on TV, the least that Showtime can do is hire some Cubans to write their Spanish dialogues for the series so that at least he can sound Cuban.

I know that this is pedantic, but everytime that Smits or the other “Cuban” characters speak to each other in Spanish banter, it is grating to Cuban ears to hear “non Cuban” Spanish being spoken.

Imagine that you are watching a foreign movie, let’s say that it is a French movie… and all the dialogue is in French, and in the film there are two British actors who are playing American parts, and every few minutes they speak to each other in English, and instead of American English coming out of their mouths, what comes out is cockney English.

That’s what (in my pedantic world of Virgos) I have to suffer everytime that LaGuerta, Batista and/or Miguel Prado talk in Spanish.

The straw that broke the camel’s back a few episodes ago was when Miguel Prado (Smits) jokingly called Dexter a “filipolla” (or “gilipolla”).

That’s when I realized that the writer that Showtime has hired to write the Spanish for the series, not only has no idea about what Cuban Spanish sounds like, but also zero idea of what Latin American Spanish sounds like, as opposed to Castilian Spanish.

Having lived in Spain for a few years in my 20s, I know what that word means, which is essentially a curse word used by Spaniards; let me repeat that: Spaniards, to mean asshole or jerk, etc.

I am almost 99% sure that no Cuban in Miami or Cuba or anywhere else in the Great Cuban Diaspora, has ever called anyone a gilipolla, unless perhaps they live in Spain and have picked up the term there… from Spaniards.

But in Miami? Naaaaaaaaaaaah…

A Cuban would have said “Maricon” or perhaps “Cabron.” But fili/gilipolla? Nunca!

Now imagine those two Brit actors playing Yanks in my earlier French movie example, calling each other “gits” or “wankers.”

Welcome to my pedantic hell.

And now for Showtime: My list of actor candidates who are actually of Cuban ancestry and thus a shoe-in for the part and who actually speak Spanish with a Cuban accent:

Andy Garcia (duh!!!! perfect for the part!… but probably too classy and too expensive to do TV).

Nestor Carbonell. He was great in “Canes” and also in “Lost City,” although I think that he wears eye make up?

Mel Ferrer… ah!… I think he’s dead.

Desi Arnaz… fine, fine… he’s definately dead; but how about Desi Jr.?????

Jorge Perrugorria

Cesar Romero … fine! I know that The Joker is definately dead.

Julio Mechoso

Ruben Rabasa

Victor Rivers

George Alvarez

Showtime: call me.

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