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Code Duello, Old Hick & a Big Bang

VR is less a change of levels than a mutation of circuitry; a matter of additive sensory-motor reloopings, compressing anthropohistorical consensus reality into a menu option as it denaturalizes the brain. - Nick Land, "Meat (or How to Kill Oedipus in Cyberspace)" [p. 203, Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment; eds. Featherstone and Burrows; 1995]

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Acknowledging: At the Chanorth residency in the fall of 2013, Jaime Bird lent me the remarkable book Duelling in America by Benjamin Cummings Truman. Brad Harris photographed the finished Old Hickory paintings in late June of this year. Shane Kennedy was a tremendous in-studio collaborator during the execution of the abstract/large format pour and pull phase of the CD series. He also contributed a substantial number of painted and raw substrates, supports and other vital materials for the OH painting series. DLG Nashville Director Dane Carder formulated terrific presentation strategies for the ink on polyester pieces and "Trail of Tears." In the run-up to the exhibition (continuing through the present) Dane has been a great ally and friend to me and my work. The positive influence of the Novads pervades this and most projects I've undertaken over the past couple years. For all those others, you know who you are, probably, for all the good that does us. - PJM [2 July, 2014, from Bushwick]

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Convergences: In the final stage of preparations for this essay on Paul McLean's "Code Duello, Old Hick & a Big Bang," I watched Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem and read a few dusty cyber-oriented books like the one quoted and cited above. Let's be real, dear reader. I might argue, and you might disagree, that the Snowden saga substantially makes up the context for "Code Duello, Old Hickory & a Big Bang." As far as I can tell, any and all American citizens ought to be in outright revolt over this, and maybe doing art shows doesn't make sense in such uncertain times. But I hear a lot of folks in my extended array of concentric circles, my rhizomoidal communa, which resembles the antikythera mechanism, admitting to despair, to being overwhelmed by the quantity of perils, and their seeming to come at one all-directionally. In truth the crisis of evaporating civil liberties for American citizens, such as the destruction of (cyber-)privacy by the NSA and its corporate multinational cohort, is only amplified by the Crisis of Everything for democracy, in the whirlwind that the New York Times' Neil Irwin described fluxinomically as an Everything Boom versus Everything Bubble binary scenario. Not that economy, even a rigged one that's anything but "free," can be conflated with functioning democracy of the version Andrew Jackson tried to install in America, very imperfectly. Irwin was discussing Fed chair Yellen's report, and one might only wonder what Jackson might have to say on all that. In the Everything crisis and pandemonium, the 24/7/365 datastream carried by the monopoly/corporate media complex is spewing horrifying man-made small-to-large disaster narratives like a hose under too much pressure. One minute a toddler is baked in a car by a terrifyingly bad dad. The next minute four kids are blown apart on a Gaza beach by Israeli bombs, about the same time that a passenger jet is falling out of the sky in the Ukraine. Forget about gridlock in DC, or the immigrant kids streaming across our borders for a hot summer second, or suing our President. Let's get serious. If we add climate-gone-wild to our Catalog of Catastrophe, and climate is a sign of the World, so: it seems we humans are in general at the epicenter of an Everything Crisis that extends beyond our too-expensive and precarious homes, our smartphones and computer-enhanced (and, at least for now, driver-driven) cars and other peripherals in the Internet of Things, through our vast wired social networks - that still leave us feeling lonely from time to time, and into the dense and virtual macro-environment, the World, and its Beyond, the Cosmos. At least space, for now, doesn't seem aggressively against us. I haven't heard of any asteroids on their way to erase humanity, like they did those poor dinosaurs. As the yogi says, Take a Breath. If you have to, put a hashtag in front of it.  

From this multidisciplinary artist's perspective (speaking for myself here, not Paul), and I am not alone in this view, the most important stuff of #LifeWorthLiving is at stake, and therefore, as always, we find ourselves in a great time to make art. Free art. The opportunity to create meaningful and valuable object-artifacts for #TimesLikeThese is loaded with portent. Just ask former comedian-now artist Mike Myers. He outted himself, admitting he's making portraits of Colonel Sanders, of KFC fame. Myers' paintings are eerily reminiscent of former President-now artist George W. Bush. The oddity is how insignificant art seems to be in the scheme of things, but how important it seems to be when Everything seems to be scheming against itself and Everything else, which is what an Everything crisis is. [By the way, #IQuitTwitter when I heard what GCHQ was up to there.] Hardly anyone is even willing to say what art is at the moment, much less what it might be useful for. Everyone is encouraged to be an artist, or at least a natural creative prosumer user. The gadget hucksters meanwhile are simultaneously pushing the above-mentioned "Internet of Things," since "the Cloud" has been revealed to be little more than a godsend to spies, hackers and for-profit TIA exploiters. One thing art has going for it, in Hard Times, is you don't have to be much of a thinker while you're doing it. All the newly self-minted and "art world" enabled celebrity actor/singer/comedian/etc. artists, even public drunk ones like Shia Lebeouf, and especially W, prove this. But so does art star Jeff Koons! Go figure! He's being rewarded with a major retrospective, LOL! I guess, post-Pinketty and post-Occupy, there's still a market for no-sense, or irrational, art when paradigms are shattering all around us, while new social formations arise, as movements congeal and revolutions foment. At least contemporarily... Emphases on boring, banal and just plain dumb.

At the root, for most of the rest of us, the old questions sustain. Who are we? Who am I? What's worth fighting for? What's the meaning of the universe, of existence? What is freedom, and is it possible? And so on. Vision is the linchpin of art. It is humane to persist in seeking a reliable Answer to those big questions. While disciplines like science, mathematics, and the Humanities, especially philosophy, also persist in the pursuit of the Answer(s), more and more the seeking for Truth(s) is subsumed in other, arguably corrupting, concerns. Context is what an essay like this one, for a show like Paul's is about. I'll give it a shot, actually more of a sequence of cryptic truisms, all of which can easily be converted to #hashtag-isms. Anytime Justice is waning, the notion of Truth appears to be fungible. Anytime Art is insufficient, the product of art looks and feels derivative. Anytime Freedom is most used to describe and prop up markets, slavery is on the uptick. War and pervasive lack, misery and displacement abide as systemic givens at such times. In American history, we, when we find ourselves in trying times - or parabolically "interesting" ones - such as these, have manifested homegrown heroes. Unfortunately, today, or at least the last time I checked Lexus/Nexus, the suppression of the heroic is epitomized in the lame Superhero blockbusters streaming out of Hollywood, and I find that depressing. I suppose in hindsight that my interest in Old Hickory, which I share with Paul, emerges from a silly kind of American optimism, along these lines. Which isn't to minimize the value of wishing for a great figure to present him- or herself as a Person for the Times. I daresay that wish, that a Hero will appear at the right time, with just the right type of Superhero attributes to save us, is as ancient as ourselves. That wish is as human and as old as our deep, even cellular, fear of Monsters. Hear that Gaga? 

One conjecture worth examining, in this vein, is "What kind of human being and what kind of human action, human doing, justifies the existence of the cosmos?" At first blush, this query may seem ludicrous. After all, science and the Big Bang have flipped our long standing convention, the one that puts mankind in the middle of Everything. I believe the very core of portraiture and storytelling, both expressive relatives in a family that indicates our kinship with representation and illustration, perform vital functions as modes of transmission for our commons. By this I mean to get at meaning and values, not just means and value. The conflation of those four qualities, or rather two qualities and two quantifiables, point to a flaw in the American psyche, one that is artificial and manufactured, a product of decades, maybe centuries of propaganda. Is a thing really only as valuable as its purchase price? Because I'm a dimensional artist, too, and a #CitizenOfTheRealWorldOfThings, it is easy for me to differentiate between the pairs, and to distinguish what is divergent in their aspects. I have found Andrew Jackson to be an excellent example of the confounding and contradictory profile of a man who somehow managed over the course of his life to contain all four, in his immaterial or energetic nature. He was a man who adhered to his codes of meaning, his values, but one who resorted to pragmatism, of the kind that we can attack and judge in the hypothetically progressed present, as banal, or outright evil. Future past-perfect moral analysis is wrought with tension, and I will argue, fraught with the hypocritical and the facile.

There are reasons Old Hick terrified the aristocratic and financial elite of Europe in his day, reasons worth revisiting in ours. I think Paul is on to something here. As ever, with his work, the Spirit is the mechanics, or so White Buffalo used to say. My favorite is the Bazooka Joe Pink Old Hickory. Possibly a unique combination of elements. Truly American, and bloody good. In closing, I know I barely touched on the Code Duello and a Big Bang, here. I suffer from PTSD, because in addition to being an artist, I am a combat veteran. The subjects of close quarter slaughter on the basis of Honor, and the #ExplosionToKickstartItAll, or conflagrations of any kind, I'll leave to others better qualified to comment dispassionately, if not objectively. - Milo Santini [4 July, 2014, from Santa Fe, via encrypted email]

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