The following speech was emailed to me by my dad, a retired Naval aviator.
Change Of Command Dinner speech by CDR “Beef” Wellington, former USN VFA-203 “Blue Dolphins” C.O.
Two days ago I closed out my career as a Naval Aviator. The realization is just now starting to hit me, as I’m sure it will the rest of you someday. What follows are my remarks at my farewell dinner. Several of the guys in my squadron had asked me for a copy of what I had written and because it had been jotted down on the back of a cocktail napkin in my weird-assed hand writing and because these things came from my heart, I debated for a while whether or not to write it down, but the response from all the guys and their wives was so humbling and overwhelming, I thought … why not.
Being an F/A-18 pilot and an airline pilot at the same time gives you an interesting and different perspective. Unlike others, at my airline (NWA) they do not have a history of hiring Single Seat Naval Aviators and as such we are definitely in the minority. On every trip when you first sit down next to a guy, the first volley of questions in getting to know each other always includes “What is your background?” Based on 3 years in the airline industry, I have recently decided to flat out lie and stop telling guys that I am a Naval Aviator and an F/A-18 pilot. You might be asking yourself, why would anyone do that? There are 3 reasons.
One - Because everything that the uninformed population knows about Naval Aviation they got from the movie Top Gun: a credible and reliable source of information if there ever was one.
Two - Because when I tell guys that I am an F/A-18 pilot, the machismo and bravado that immediately comes from the left side of the cockpit becomes somewhat intolerable and I am forced to sit and listen to stories for the next 4 days that go something like, “Mike, did I tell you about the time when I landed my C-5 on a 15,000 foot runway with only 30,000 pounds of fuel in the tanks, with the weather at mins, and oh, oh yeah, did I say it was at night.” You gotta be $hi **** n’ me!
Three - Because, in their state of curiosity, invariably questions get asked about what flying the F/A-18 is like and what this business of Naval Aviation is all about. It is in my futile attempts to answer these questions that I have finally decided that it is impossible to do so. How can anyone possibly explain Naval Aviation?
How do you explain what it has been like to have seen the entire world through the canopy of an F/A-18 like a living IMAX film?
How do you explain what is like to fly an engineering marvel that responds to your every whim of airborne imagination?
How do you explain the satisfaction that comes from seeing a target under the diamond disappear at the flick of your thumb?
How do you explain catapult shots - especially the night ones?
How do explain the exhilaration of the day trap?
How do you possibly explain finding yourself at 3/4 mile [on final], at night, weather down, deck moving, hyperventilating into your mask, knowing that it will take everything you have to get aboard without killing yourself?
How do you explain moons so bright and nights so dark that they defy logic?
How do you explain sunrises and sunsets so glorious that you knew in your heart that God had created that exact moment in time just for you?
How do you explain the fellowship of the ready room where no slack is given and none is taken?
How do you explain an environment where the content of a man’s character can be summed up into two simple 4-word phrases - “He’s a good $h ** ” or “He’s a f***in’ idiot.”
How do you explain the heart of maintenance professionals whose only enjoyment comes from taking care of our young sailors and providing us with “up” jets to execute our craft?
How do you explain the dedication of our young troops who we burden with the responsibilities of our lives and then pay them peanuts to do so?
How do you explain the type of women who are crazy enough to marry into Naval Aviation, who endure long working hours and long periods of separation and who are painfully and quietly forced to accept the realization that they are second to the job?
The simple fact is that you can’t explain it; none of it.
It is something that only a very select few of us will ever know. We are bonded for life by our proprietary knowledge and it excludes all others from our fraternity. As I will, no matter where you go or what you do, you should cherish that knowledge for the rest of your life. For when I am 90 years old sitting on my porch in my rocking chair and someone asks me what I have done with my life, I will damn sure not tell them I was an airline pilot, but rather I will reach into my pocket, pull out my Blue Dolphin money clip and tell them I was a Naval Aviator, I worked with the finest people on the planet, and that I was the Commanding Officer of the Blue Dolphins.”
Last weekend Jonathan and I headed to Miami for Art Basel. What a ride! I hate to use the word educational, but as a soon-to-be Arts Administration graduate looking for an industry job, I was happy to see Art Basel Miami at least once. (I might make it next year or the year after… or I might not. Who knows.) Seeing that much art in one place and at one given time is exhausting. It’s impossible to see everything so you have to prioritize what you choose to visually cram into your head and take notes (or pictures… or both). My aim was to take in as much of an overview as possible and grab a business card when something is done right. I was also in search of my own interests: works exploring the nature of human space exploration and any other scientific-inspired art. I took a lot of photos, which can be seen on my Flickr set.
The main fair featured the cream-of-the-crop of artists and art galleries. As seen in a white cube gallery, the booths were branded and pristine while art was framed, installed, and curated. Dressed as if picked by the Sartorialist himself, gallerists mostly sat around their tables—either on their phones, on their laptops, or talking amongst themselves—waiting to be approached by unlimited checkbooks. Some of the friendlier gallerists (a quick ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’) sat at more inventive tables incorporating church benches and cargo boxes. The dominant language overheard was French (reinforcing my own desire to learn the language). I was fascinated with the international crowd—perhaps mostly because I couldn’t hear them talking loudly about price-tag considerations. We hardly ran into guided tours, but eventually overlapped with one at White Cube, a temporary home to some of Damien Hirst’s recent butterfly wings and a gold-plated cabinet full of emerald cubic zirconias. Thankfully, it was too crowded to get caught up in the glitz; I’m over blue-chip art.
Anselm Kiefer, The Secret Life of Plants: Star Painting, 2003 (detail).
James Turrell, General site plan, Roden Crater, 1986 (detail).
A detail of “Fogo Crater,” a photogravure by Edgar Cleijne.
We were also debating whether or not Rauschenberg had Parkinson’s Disease based off of his signatures. I can’t find documentation, but Jonathan heard this tidbit in one of his classes.
Since we got to Miami on Saturday morning, the only satellite fairs that we visited were Pulse/Impulse and Scope. Art Asia was mixed in with Scope, but the majority of the work was too traditional for our tastes. Both fairs had a lighter atmosphere and more casual attire. Plus, these gallerists were nicer and chattier (and sometimes less professional). Photography was more prevalent at Pulse, which was initially disappointing. I have a hard time relating to photography, but I was surprised to see photos by Edward Burtynsky as well as other photographers like Jeffrey Milstein (aircraft and black box recorders), Kahn and Selesnick (landscapes reminiscent of The Man Who Fell to Earth), and Manolo Chretien (airplane details and noses).
Photos of airplanes by Manolo Chretien. An emerging theme of warfare and aviation was present. I noticed the attention this kind of work got; not your typical art content!
A porcelain sculpture by Sunkoo Yuh, which reminds me of European-style comics by Taiyo Matsumoto.
Photos by Kahn and Selesnick (left) and Jeffrey Milstein (right).
Sold! A red dot at Corey Helford Gallery.
There were a lot of red dots next to pieces—but only at the satellite fairs—by Sunday’s close, which put a smile on my face. Finally, we ended our art-fair trip with Scope. It was a perfect end! Lots of works on paper both framed and pinned-up on the walls unframed. I liked seeing more of an alternative-space/project-space approach to the booths at these fairs. Less posh, more authentic. I was surprised to not see any technology or information arts at Art Basel. I expected to see some at the satellite fairs, but left empty handed. At the end of the day, Jonathan and I definitely enjoy what I call ‘casualist’ work (George Condo, Philip Guston, Matias Sanchez, Scott Daniel Ellison, and Eddie Martinez) over stuffy formalist. Where’s the spark and humor in the latter?
A Critical Review of “The Beautiful Language of My Century”: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968 by Tom McDonough
Tom McDonough’s “The Beautiful Language of My Century” at times reads like anarchist policy for art as revolution and the revolution of art. It is possible to imagine each of the five chapters as zine installments circulated discreetly between nonconformist peers. Topics include ritual iconoclasm, challenging the role of art in bourgeois society, art as social function, and physical appropriation of cultural property for the needs of the era. Obviously, there are parallels between punk rock and the situationist movement. Both share the belief that there is no “making do” in modern society and that it must be overthrown. Take for example the powerful photograph of student graffiti defacing a classical painting in the Sorbonne circa May 1968. The graffiti reads, “humanity will be happy only on the day when the last bureaucrat has been hanged with the guts of the last capitalist.” This image marks the beginning of the book thus introducing the Situationist International and setting the stage of the art-historical method of social history for insurgency in postwar France.
With admitted influence of October journalists Hal Foster and Benjamin Buchloh, McDonough has two intentions: to provide historical context to the development of French critical culture and to investigate the lineage of Situationist practice in present day art. His stance is clear and rational due in part to an extensive social-historical research linked to popular art theory such as semiotics and Marxism. Working to bring the reader quickly up to speed with the historical developments that lead to this period, noted Situationist Guy Debord plays a significant yet minor role in the book. Instead, McDonough chooses to focus on other artists and four modes of application including détournement, décollage, reciprocal readymades, and revolution as festival. In addition, his goal is to consider critical reviews at the height of the movement to demonstrate how it was received and who its audiences were.
In 1961 Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains exhibited their décollages—torn and ripped agitprop posters—at the exhibition titled in a play on words, “La France déchirée” (France in Shreds). McDonough digs up historical support from critical reviews and recollections from Villeglé to investigate the initial response after the show’s opening. In this light, critics viewed the work as a sarcastic prank lacking aesthetic composition. In discussing décollage, he asks a crucial question: “[H]ow does a close reading of these works and their reception complicate what has become a standard reading of the critical charge of décollage among available neo-avant-garde strategies?” According to McDonough, Hains’ displayed the posters in order to expose the Algerian war. Set in North Africa, it was a distant and unnamed war hidden and censored from the French public; it was not a ‘polite’ topic open for discussion. One critic stated, “I would prefer that the artist express more clearly his way of ‘seeing things.’” By not explicitly declaring his intentions, Hains left the viewer with a coded vagueness; it was up to them to utilize critical thinking for an analysis of the message. McDonough attributes this ambiguity for the reason why present day formalist and aesthetic readings overtake the intended socio-political meanings.
Under this notion, the most interesting of McDonough’s arguments is the Situationist role in one of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s earlier works, Wall of Oil Drums—Iron Curtain, rue Visconti, Paris (1962). He claims that the work is discussed today without a historical context and that current readings overlook its connection to the Algerian war. To support this claim, McDonough traces the evolution of the project from the proposal to the final manifestation. Starting with the wrapping of the military school—eliminating its façade—to the erection of a temporary barricade, this final development proposed to transform a street in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the intellectual center of Paris, into a momentary deadlock. McDonough links the brutal Paris massacre of Algerian protesters on October 17, 1961, the month that the proposal was created, on account of the understated presence of a poster urging citizens to vote “Oui” in support of the Gaullist party’s self-determination act.
On the contrary, the underlying purpose for the temporary wall was left unspecified. The only hint for the project’s meaning is the first proposal to wrap or conceal a political institution. McDonough reads this as the destruction of militarization. He also reads the final manifestation of the project as a commemoration to the Paris massacre, “…a massive barrier that insisted on its own physicality to summon forth an event that left no traces, that simply failed to register for the majority of the city’s French population.” Acknowledging the potential speculative nature of his claims, he explains how the choice of détournement as a language or mode is used in the proposal to set the tone. Is it mere coincidence that McDonough leaps to the Algerian war for inspiration? In a 2005 article, two years prior to the publication of this book, Hal Foster reads the
political undertones of the temporary blockade as “a double reference to the new Berlin Wall and the old Paris barricades.” Just as McDonough considers the meaning of the artists’ subversive wrapping of objects, Foster agrees that it is the act of Situationist détournement. However, both Foster and McDonough are not saying that Christo is part of the Situationist movement; quite the opposite, he was a member of the nouveaux réalistes.
McDonough draws out from Hains and Christo the similarity of ambivalence for intent and mode. This is where the line blurs. While there is an overlapping of artists from the Situationist International and the nouveaux réalistes, both avant-garde groups utilized the appropriation of lowbrow commodity culture for negation—but for entirely different purposes. McDonough exemplifies Christo in relation to Hains to demonstrate successful use of détournement. Hains’ approach was to juxtaposition his décollage agitprop posters from the Parisian streets into the realm of the gallery. It left the obscure ruins of cultural policy to resonate with the viewer, but instead it was unseen and cast aside as sarcasm. Christo’s approach however took a critical role. By forcing the viewer to confront the barricade, it demanded awareness from the audience to consider the asserted policy of censorship in France. Interestingly, the final manifestation of the temporary wall was a guerrilla happening installed as street art. It stood for six hours before drawing attention from the authorities that demanded its removal. What McDonough is getting at is that art for the purpose of barricade is the form of true public intervention.
This concept of art as barricade, or the reciprocal readymade, is explored in the third chapter, which subscribes to Marcel Duchamp’s phrase “use a Rembrandt as an ironing board.” Hal Foster’s “anarchistic formula” of the reciprocal readymade is an institutional critique. It questions the role of art in the time of a changing society rejecting the culture of the museum, art-genius, and bourgeois ownership. The success of the original readymade relies on the destruction of art’s conventions; the reciprocal readymade takes it further by relying on art’s use and value for revolutionary practice. McDonough gives an account from 1963 of fifteen student revolutionaries stealing five modernist paintings from a museum in Caracas to barter for the return of political prisoners. Another account from 1849 tells of how Raphael’s Sistine Madonna was removed from the gallery and hung on the barricades to prevent gunfire and advances from the Prussian army. These acts interested the Situationists because they demonstrated how art is the pure and magnificent object to be marveled at. It has progressed to serve only social functions and was reconsidered as an object to become “a stake in politico-cultural struggle.”
Once again, McDonough utilizes Christo as an example. This time, however, his work is compared to Daniel Buren’s Il s’agit de voir (1968). In October 1968, Buren exhibited at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan. He was offered a show by the owner and took it upon himself to subvert the invitation. What took place was a closing of the gallery, not by authorities but by the artist’s work. Buren’s brand of striped paper was glued to the glass doors completely sealing the entrance to the gallery. Rather than accepting the offer and exhibiting his work under the famed name of the artist, he wanted to break the perception of value for the art and the artist. Removing authorship transformed the work into art of action. It was the gallery space that was coded as inaccessible.
McDonough makes the assumption that Buren’s 1968 show was in response to Christo’s exhibition in 1963. He points out the similarities and differences between Buren and Christo and their two exhibitions. Prior to Buren’s barricade, Christo presented Pacco Monumento (1963), an enormous wrapped package of a monument placed inside the entrance, through the doors and to the right. The viewers were immediately confronted with the massive form obstructing their view and walkway. McDonough references Buren’s 1967 remark that “art is only packaging” as an awareness of Christo’s process and acknowledgment of their similar techniques. That being said, McDonough considers this a direct link to the response in his “closing” of the Galleria Apollinaire. As a reciprocal readymade, Buren’s underlying motivation was twofold. The art’s purpose of forbidding access to the gallery also forbade the viewer from removing it or harming it to enter. The viewer would have “no consolation on offer.” By making his art obsolete, they are required to seek “pleasure elsewhere.” Buren reinvented the reciprocal readymade through ritual iconoclasm: the destruction of his own art.
The last mode of Situationist method is revolution as festival. This chapter is rife with theory and, consequently is a more hypothetical argument for the challenge of revolution as an idealized object. It seeks to establish the alternative to the failing utopian ideals of commoditization of revolution as a degraded form of vacation. Situationists looked to the 1956 teenage riots on New Year’s Eve in Stockholm, Sweden. Guy Debord is called upon in this chapter for the “rediscovery of the real revolution.” The weakness of this chapter is the reliance on a broad cast of historians and theorists, such as Henri Lefebvre, in creating his argument. This chapter reads more like an anthropologic account of the youth uprising rather than an art-historical essay, which in my opinion makes it the weakest chapter for the entire debate.
Disappointingly, McDonough does not answer how French contemporary artists have interpreted these practices. He believes that détournement is the only survived mode of the Situationists integrated into contemporary practices. Reading more like a standalone essay, the last chapter explores this belief through analyzing the work of contemporary artist Pierre Huyghe. McDonough uses Huyghe as an example of a present day artist making use of Debord’s détournement into an applied practice. The primary work discussed is his body of work titled No Ghost Just a Shell involving a purchased copyrighted-character named AnnLee. The character is simply a computer rendering devoid of any discernible characteristics other than the anime style. It was originally intended for use in advertising commodity culture. By purchasing the character and appropriating it for his artistic creations, Huyghe references the illusion of real object in search of the pure object. AnnLee is without a purpose or story therefore the character is the opposite of uncanny; it is the exhausted uncanny. The character is only a shell or a representation.
McDonough claims that there have been many misreadings of Huyghe’s work with this character. For example, relational theorist Nicolas Bourriaud says that Huyghe is freeing and giving life to the character. On the other hand, McDonough argues that the No Ghost Just a Shell work is pure appropriation and re-adaption. He reinforces this with the artist’s remark in response to the misunderstanding, “Don’t make it romantic.” This digital avatar serves the purpose of détournement to the extreme point of commodity object. It is decontextualized to reflect pure objectification. McDonough’s use of Pierre Huyghe does not completely satisfy the investigation of how Situationist modes are presently applied. There are many questions of whether or not Huyghe is drawing directly from this method or if the author has chosen the project to retrofit his argument. It might better be suited with an inquiry into the work of the well-known street artist Banksy, which draws more parallels than Huyghe to the Situationist
The book closes with chapter five immediately halting at the notes with no promise of a summary or conclusion. Therefore, it is up to the reader to resonate with the material. However, even without a conclusion, McDonough’s aim to investigate the inherited practice of Situationist methods is achieved, though somewhat indirectly. He is not tracing the legacy of the Situationist International, but rather using each artist as a case study for effectiveness. The genealogy ofpractice is then a byproduct of reading the book. McDonough merely presents the possibility of reading Situationist methodology in contemporary art. He explains in the introduction, “…[S]peaking ‘the beautiful language of my century’ entailed the refusal to simply transcend the hollow babble of spectacle culture and the determination, through black humor and joyous irony, to construct a language of negation out of fragments of the dominant discourse, out of the very depths of reification.”
If the sixties are seen as a time of transition into the culture of commodity, McDonough observes that those born in this period are the first generation of spectacle culture. Consequently, it can be said that the Situationists were catalysts to socio-political practices in art of today. Tom McDonough’s perspective on French Situationists is a breath of fresh air. He captivates the reader with historical accounts exploring the politico-artistic links from a different country and with a different historical view—a more activist innovation than Abstract Expressionism. (As a side note for lovers of nouvelle vague cinema, the author briefly links director Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Petit Soldat with the Situationists movement.) It is clear that the Situationist International is more than the society of the spectacle; it is rich with relevance to today.