Ballet Master by Andreas Franke from her series “Life Below the Surface.”
Krista Charles takes old matchbooks and draws a sketch inside of the current address based on Google Street View.
Storytelling and Truth
On the This American Life blog, the post begins:
I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products…
I’m disappointed by the news, but reassured by TAL’s response.
Art that’s mostly fact-based walks a fine line. In his appearance on Up With Chris Hayes last Saturday (March 10), Mike Daisey spoke generally about how he views his creative license. He didn’t give specifics of how his current play uses tools of storytelling, however his expressed viewpoint is consistent with his remarks quoted in the NPR press release and his posted response. Of note: the playwright Katori Hall (“The Mountaintop) was also on the show. I’ve yet to read The New Yorker piece about the play, but I remember catching a negative review by Roma Torre on NY1, in which her criticism hinged, in part, on the lack of factual accuracy in Hall’s writing.
But, back to Mike Daisey’s work appearing on TAL. NPR, Ira Glass, and TAL’s response is completely appropriate. They are journalists, and their storytelling aims at truth, not emotional effect.
When it comes to Daisey and his theater, I have more questions than answers about his obligation to the truth. I don’t view theater as journalism, but how do I process stories that are —or are based on— true stories? Do I need a disclaimer about what really happened? Is it fair that the n-hexane poisoning was real, but something that Daisey ostensibly read about as opposed to witnessing firsthand? How much of the actual truth gets compromised when these details are revealed to be crafted? Have I lost trust in Mike Daisey’s art?
Most importantly: will the real story —the labor abuses at Foxconn and our role as consumers— be undermined by audience members’ sense of betrayal by Daisey? Will his message be lost if he’s known first as “the guy who lied to Ira Glass”? Will we, consciences clear, rush out to buy the latest iPad without a second thought?
I think one reason the territory occupied by this genre of theater is so fraught stems from our damaged culture of debate. When we can’t agree on basic facts, and our understanding of the “truth” depends more on tribal, political association than on knowledge and education, what are we to do?
I remain committed to thinking differently about how my electronics get made and examining my behaviors as a consumer. But will I continue to point others in the direction of Mike Daisey’s work as a foundation for my beliefs? Honestly, I’m not sure.
(h/t to Peter for the heads-up email)
“As a result, viewings of Midnight in Paris on the big screen became events in the Smug Olympics of the urban iPad class, with audiences risking physical injury as they competed to laugh the loudest to demonstrate to all around that yes, they know who Gertrude Stein is. It was laughter directed at the audience itself, not at the screen. Laughing to show you get the joke. Or since there are no jokes, laughing to show you get the reference.”
Co-signed. Though I’m obliged to add that the bothersome, knowing laughter at my viewing—at Lincoln Plaza months after the release, thankfully in a half-full theater—came from the grey-haired set. So, bad taste cuts across generations.
Earlier in the year I happened upon an art exhibit in San Francisco showcasing the Stein’s collection, and memories of that gallery walk made the movie nods pale all the more.
Truthfully, this understanding should be unspoken about all art, whether experimental or conventional.
I’m amazed at the entitlement some audience members have regarding their ticket purchases. A ticket is not a contract that guarantees fun or mitigates the potential to be offended. It’s the price you pay to get in the door, and it doesn’t come risk-free.
I value art that takes risks, so it’s easier for me to appreciate the underlying gamble in engaging art. The film may suck; the book may be boring; I may not understand that dance. But am I harmed by these possible outcomes? Is it any worse that eating a mediocre meal? In my mind, these risks are certainly worth the chance that I may be unexpectedly amazed by art. It happens, and when it does it’s even better than enjoying the work that’s already getting rave reviews. When it comes to seeing art, I’m happy to give time and money and take a risk, whether the outcome is good or bad.
To be clear: I fully support and understand this box office’s communication to its patrons. I just wish it wasn’t so often necessary.
Two Kara Walker Exhibits
Jerry Saltz writes in New York Magazine:
Don’t look for one take-home museum masterpiece here. Walker is brewing a stew. Longtime admirers will see that her drawing has taken leaps forward, gotten clearer, bolder, more immediate, suave, and intense. The way she takes over the gallery and your psychic space shows tremendous confidence. Plumbing her toolbox has suited her.
Kara Walker is my favorite contemporary artist. Her retrospective, My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, pierced me: it’s the most conscious and uncomfortable I’ve been in the presence of art. It takes guts and skill to create such powerful work.
From the Whitney, where I saw Walker’s work:
Drawing her inspiration from sources as varied as the antebellum South, testimonial slave narratives, historical novels, and minstrel shows, Walker has invented a repertoire of powerful narratives in which she conflates fact and fiction to uncover the living roots of racial and gender bias.