Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Baby Bry Bry
March 25, 2015
Luce Unplugged, our art talk and local concert series, is moving from Sunday afternoons to Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. We appreciate our devoted attendees who, for three years and change, turned down brunch plans, procrastinated doing their laundry, and, most importantly, got dressed and left the house to come to our Sunday shows. Whether or not that describes you, you can look forward to our Thursday shows because they will be easy to get to after work and have a bar (and it's a universal truth that a free show in a museum plus beer is better than your average happy hour).
Beloved punk rockers Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists (BBB) will kick off our first Thursday Luce Unplugged on March 26th. The Apologists split the difference between cutesy boy band and serious punk outfit and are known for putting on a great show. For a taste of what we can expect, we talked to their charismatic front man Baby Bry Bry, who seems as excited as we are for the show. Catch Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists perform in the Luce Center at 5:30 p.m. on March 26th. See our online calendar for more info.
Eye Level: You grew up in California. What do you miss about it, and is there anything from the West Coast you'd like to bring to D.C.? Anything from D.C. you'd like to transport to Cali?
Bry Bry: I grew up in Long Beach, the last stop in Los Angeles County before you get to the Orange Curtain [Orange County], and I spent a few years in The East Bay before moving to D.C. I miss the people, the weather, the way time seems to stand still, the avocados, seeing snow-topped mountains through palm trees, the Pacific Ocean, In-N-Out, and the stereotypically chill vibes. I'd bring any and all of that to D.C. if I could. As for the other way around, I think California could do with some go-go.
EL: Does the venue in which you play affect how you put on a show?
BB: Definitely, and we always work to adapt to the space, but I think the crowd carries more weight than the stage itself. A show at the 9:30 Club is obviously going to allow for more movement and better sound than one in someone's living room, but the beauty of a house show is that the line between audience and performer is almost entirely obscured. The energy of the crowd and the energy of the band become one big, beautiful energy blob, and that makes it better for everyone.
EL: Do you perform differently if you're headlining versus opening?
BB: I think of The Apologists as performance artists as much as a collection of musicians. We treat every set as a unique "thing," the same way you would an individual song or album. Though the tunes overlap, we try to present them in a unique way at every show. It's a concert, sure, but we like to play with intros, themes, interludes, and an emotional arch to make it feel like a show.
EL: Music aside, I was impressed that there's a whiskey-infused espresso named after you. What's the story there?
BB: I moved around the corner from Qualia Coffee in Petworth around the same time that I was getting BBB off the ground, and so, whether they know it or not, it became the Official BBB Office. Have done more band-related writing, planning, emailing, meeting, and daydreaming there than just about anywhere else. The Qualia family has been super supportive from day one, and so between the employees' BBB tees and the fliers littering his establishment on a regular basis, I think Joel (the man, myth, and legend behind Qualia) just saw it as an inside jokey pun, not realizing he was actually bestowing me with the greatest honor of my life to date. I doubt I'll ever have a building named after me, so I'll gladly settle for a bag of beans.
EL: For your Luce Unplugged show, you selected Nam June Paik's archive because his art challenges expectations. How do you see yourself and the Apolgists doing the same?
BB: With a piece like Nam June Paik's Bust of Elvis, for example, Paik is subverting the expectations we carry about what qualifies as capital-A Art. He does so humorously, but with a respect for the source that extends beyond parody or spoofing. It's not so much that he's lampooning the reverence we have for the classical "masters" like Beethoven or Bach, but elevating popular culture to a point where we reexamine how it should be situated in the world of high art, simultaneously making us question why high art is so "high" in the first place.
With Baby Bry Bry, we're always working to couple seemingly-opposed styles to subvert expectations. I mean, from the top, a group called Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists that describes itself as "lounge punk" doesn't really produce an immediate, coherent image of what the band will be. I sing sad songs that sound like happy songs; we wear near-militaristic uniforms, but put hearts all over them; we have an all-black aesthetic, but are a pretty upbeat bunch of guys, onstage and off; we couple loud, fast, intense songs with cutesy, croony, pop numbers; we couple melodramatic theatrics with pretty straightforward skate-punk style tunes; I'll scream in your face and then pout my lips and blow a kiss.
March 24, 2015
Join us on Wednesday, March 25, in the Luce Foundation Center from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in the Smithsonian American Art Museum as we celebrate craft and innovation with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Special one-time discounted admission of $10, at the door. You must be 21 or older to enter. See our calendar for more information.
Some crafts are created using time-honored traditions and time-tested methods, and some crafts utilize the brand new and experimental technologies of today (and tomorrow). With our upcoming Innovation Handi-hour, we have partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to showcase two young artists in American Art's collection who are working with cutting technologies to craft amazing things.
Joshua DeMonte and his graduate students from Towson University have embraced 3D printing and designed hundreds of beads and charms for attendees to use as they craft their own jewelry. Christy Oates uses laser cutters to create amazing display pieces and furniture. She is providing a beginner's kit to each Handi-hour participant. Check out her how-to video above.
Computers and Art
March 23, 2015
This blog post is adapted from an essay written by Michael Mansfield, curator of film and media arts, to accompany the exhibition, Watch This! Revelations in Media Art, opening April 24 and running through September 7.
In 1964, Marshall McLuhan wrote that artists were the only people able to "encounter technology with impunity," suggesting that they would be fearless in their approach, unafraid of the consequences, and could light the way for the rest of us. The stunning range of artistic engagements with technology in the last 70 years certainly supports this theory. The twentieth century introduced hi-fidelity stereo, broadcast television, videotape, orbital satellites and computer systems, each one touched by artists in one fashion or another and providing a pretty fantastic index to the changes in our cultural perceptions.
Perhaps one of the more dramatic introductions has been in computing. Today, we encounter computers on a daily basis without giving it much thought. For many of us it is on a minute-to-minute basis. But not so long ago, coming upon a computer was a rare event. They were novel machines. And for the average person, they were pretty foreign. Computers were primarily linked to the government and the military, making them even more mysterious. The ENIAC machine, the first electronic computer system, was created in the mid-1940s to calculate firing tables for artillery. Mainframe computers and the languages articulated for them were the invention of research centers largely funded by the United States Army and the Pentagon. Before long, the Department of Defense began developing ARPANET as a means to decentralize authority and safeguard information in response to geopolitical tensions with the Soviet Union during the cold war. But the computer's practical and creative potentials were immediately fragmented, co-opted by both play and politics. Computer code was written for videogames such as Alan Turing's computer chess programs in the late 1940s and 1950s, and employed to predict democratic elections, like Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 presidential victory. Commercial companies soon began funding research labs that paired engineers with artists to encourage experimentation and stretch these new inventions. So, even while military computers envisioned triggering a nuclear apocalypse, artists were envisioning an alternative, or in the least, a more human application.
Nam June Paik arrived to New York as an immigrant in 1964. He had recently completed his studies in music and had become an enthusiastic champion of technology and electronics for use in performances and art making. New York offered rich territory in the communications industries, ground ripe with new technologies. At the time, an experimental venture in New Jersey between the Western Electric Company and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) founded Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated. More commonly referred to as "Bell Labs," the venture was pioneering research into human computer uses in art and devoting valuable time on their mammoth GE600 computer for artists to explore sound, animation and stereoscopic vision. Bell Labs had seated several artists like Michael Noll, Laurie Spiegel, Lillian Schwartz and Stan VanDerBeek, working both independently and collaboratively. It was a hotbed of experimental art.
Paik had previously studied western music in both Japan and Western Europe before moving to the United States. He had been formally trained in the arrangement of orchestral scores, actions in a script, and instrumentation. They were programs. The practical and conceptual relationships between compositions for music and code for computer programs are sound, so to speak. In 1966, Paik was invited to Bell Labs and introduced to FORTRAN computer programming by James Tenney and Michael Noll. He was well prepared and by 1967 Paik was a "Resident Visitor".
In his research at Bell Labs, Paik produced videos, graphics, computer punch cards, negatives and continuous feed printouts, all compiled from the FORTRAN programming language. Three distinct programs leading to computer-generated media reveal his work with both moving and static images. Digital Experiment at Bell Labs is a starkly minimal video recording of the computer screen, marking a gesture toward the origins of computer imaging. A second piece is Confused Rain (1967), a computer generated print that results from randomly placed letters spelling out C O N F U S E, suggesting a "mix of real rain and simulated rain in the computer." The third complete work is ETUDE, a previously unknown computer composition from 1968. In ETUDE, Paik wrote a computer program to create four concentric, intersecting circles displaying the somewhat irreverent text LOVE HATE GOD DOG, each repeating word composing its own diameter. These are sophisticated programs by Paik, and such prominent use of type, text and lettering in his explorations is significant. It relates not only to Paik's experience scripting Fluxus performances or the work of his contemporaries John Cage, Yoko Ono and Ray Johnson, it corresponds with his want of a poetic alternative to the ordered structure of the programming language itself. Such emotional binaries as "love" and "hate," or disparate phonetic games like "god" and "dog," while certainly Fluxus absurdities, also input a human-ness to the machine. It whimsically described Paik's relationship to the world around him in 1968 —in human readable terms— and invoked the symbolic codes invested in these novel, man made machines.
While in residence at Bell Labs, Paik wrote in a letter, "it is my ambition to create the first computer-opera in music history." Though Paik would abandon his work in FORTRAN shortly after these works were realized, that ambition remains an eloquent reminder of his interests in the human nature of technology that he strived so hard to reveal. And elements of this inspiration —the coexistence of humankind with the ingenious things humans make— would remain key threads throughout his artistic practice.
Q and Art: Margaret Jordan Patterson
March 19, 2015
This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive. If you enjoy this post, take a look at others in our series.
Q: I love the bright flower prints by Margaret Jordan Patterson. Can you tell me more about the artist?
Answer: The Boston artist Margaret Jordan Patterson exhibited her paintings and prints throughout the United States and in France during her lifetime, and her name was frequently mentioned in art reviews and announcements. Today, Patterson is not well-known outside of New England, but occasional exhibitions have brought attention to her work.
The daughter and granddaughter of sea captains, Margaret Patterson was born in 1867 at the Marine Hotel in Soerabaija on the island of Java. Her parents, Alfred Patterson and Sarah Frances were in the middle of a voyage at the time of her birth. Patterson grew up in Maine and Boston, and her earliest art training came through a correspondence course. In 1895 she attended Pratt Institute in New York. Although Patterson attended art classes at Pratt for a year, it was through her personal associations with artists such as Arthur Wesley Dow and Charles H. Woodbury that she learned the principles that most influenced her art. Dow and Woodbury were enthusiastic teachers who were eager to share their theories on art. From Dow's lessons, Patterson developed her sense of composition, the placement of items within a scene, and Patterson's energetic brushwork may have been influenced by Woodbury's teachings.
After returning to Boston, Patterson taught art in the public schools. Several years later she took a position as the head of the art department at the preparatory school for girls, Dana Hall, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She continued in this job until her retirement in 1940. While teaching, Patterson continued to create art and participate in the Boston art community. Beginning in 1899, Patterson took summer trips to Europe where she made many sketches and found inspiration for the finished paintings and prints she made the rest of the year. Her travels took her to various places in Europe: France, Belgium, Holland, Spain and Italy. Art critics commented on a surge of color in her work after she returned from Spain. It was while on a summer trip in Paris that Patterson learned to make color prints. Her teacher was most likely Ethel Mars an artist from Illinois who had been living in Paris. During World War I, Patterson stayed closer to home, visiting and painting in Cape Cod and the New England countryside.
Patterson's paintings and prints often represented landscapes she had seen during her travels. However, during the 1920s she began to focus more on floral subjects for her color prints. One of her early flower prints was a water lily floating on a pond, but more often flowers were shown in a vase with a background in a contrasting color. After a lifetime of travel, flowers might seem like a limiting subject, but that was not the case for Patterson who saw endless possibilities in the variety of shapes and colors. The flower prints were an opportunity to apply and expand the skills she had accumulated through a life in art.
Patterson was not the only artist in the American Art Museum's collection to create beautiful bouquets. Get ready for spring by taking a virtual walk through the flowers in our collection.
Join us this Saturday, March 21st at 1:30 p.m. to see how costume design and artworks in the Luce Foundation Center connect to one another as part of our Luce Artist Talks. For March and April, the talks will be presented by artists associated with the Source Theater Festival, which is organized annually by CulturalD.C.. Luce Artist Talks are presented in collaboration with CulturalDC.
Deb Sivigny is a costume and scenic designer based in Washington, D.C. She collaborates with other designers to create worlds through her costumes and scenic design for numerous shows in the D.C. area. She did the scenic design for plays presented at the Source Festival in 2013 and 2014. Recently, Gloria Kenyon, a program assistant in the Luce Center, sat down with Deb to talk about her design process and its connection to other visual arts.
Eye Level: How did you become interested in costume design?
Deb Sivigny: I've been sewing clothes since I was nine, and while it was fun to put together looks, I wasn't any kind of fashionista. I enjoyed the more technical aspects of the work—the engineering, the way pieces fit together. When I went to college, I was hired to work in the theatre department's costume shop. As I was exposed to upperclassmen and professional costume designers I discovered that costume design combined history, art, society, psychology and fashion into one field. What else combines all those things? I started taking art history and drawing classes, theatre design courses, and worked on every production I could get my hands on.
EL: Can you describe your design process and how you combine all the elements you mention?
DS: I tend to begin with the text, taking down major impressions, coming up with possible answers for the questions it poses, and then I head into a meeting with the director and design team. The director is responsible for getting us all "on the same page;" in my best collaborations, the team has shared research. After initial meetings, I [conduct] extensive research on the world of the play, gathering images of everything that inspires me from a silhouette and landscape to the shape of buttons and the turn of a table leg. I don't edit much in the initial research process—I'm looking for anything that gets my creativity flowing and reminds me of the character—whether the physical person or the essence of the space.
Eventually, I compile all the research for each character or place and get drawing. The drawing process allows me to funnel the research down to its most essential elements for each character or setting. The drawings are about communication, so they need to be clear. After designs get approved and presented to the team, my process then involves translating the drawing into sculpture via fabrics, understructure, and understanding the movement of clothes on a body.
That's really just the beginning; the process continues all the way through opening. I rely heavily on the input of my actors in rehearsals and fittings. They are the ones who inhabit these characters I've designed for and it's essential to me that they agree with and understand my choices. I am very collaborative. I don't like to work in a bubble.
EL: What types of visual art do you turn to for inspiration? Why?
DS: I love collage and assemblage because I love what the juxtaposition of elements and forms communicates. I tend towards works that have a tactile quality, whether that is a photograph of a stack of rusted metal or a wood plank so smooth you can see your reflection in it. I like anything unexpected, work that makes me say "huh", work that makes me laugh, or work that unsettles me. I am also really inspired by installation art and how quickly it can immerse you in a landscape. I try to emulate that feeling in my design work. I'm a bit obsessed with the work of Ai Weiwei and Choi Jeong Hwa lately—again, assemblage, repeated objects and forms and magic in the mundane.
EL: What relationships do you see between those types of art and your own work?
DS: There is something so visceral about seeing the work of the maker, whether that is the evidence of a blade or a brush or a needle. I enjoy folk art because it's often both utilitarian and aesthetically pleasing: a ewer for water with decorative ornaments, or a glass vase for branches. It's almost like folk art often asks for something from the natural world to finish it: flowers, a human, food... Garments also ask for a human to wear them. They are beautiful on their own but they are meant to be used and appreciated. I love seeing them in the museum setting though because they require more of my imagination to enjoy. It's not to say that paintings are passive, and I love anecdotes about painters in relation to their work, but my relationship to them is different.
EL: You describe your relationship to design as though it is both sedimentary rock and along a continuum. How do these two ideas—one of a stationary rock and one of continuous movement—work together to inform your design?
DS: Poetically, sedimentary rocks are created by tiny particles that have traveled from elsewhere to join them. They ultimately appear to our eyes in layered form, which reminds me that the particles that came before get compacted by the ones after. They're not erased, they just get embedded deeper in the rock. If the "rock" is me, the continuum is time. While I remain basically the same at the core, I learn with each production I undertake (taking on particles) and I carry that knowledge with me into the next project.