LOOKING FOR A WELDER!
I was going to write about one of David Buckingham’s gun. Can I? Should I? How? About 2 weeks ago, a crazy person shot 6 people in a Nashville elementary school. Among them were three 9-year-old children. David skipped his Monday post on Instagram, which is usually a photo of one of his guns and the cultural/historical context of how and when it was used. (Please note: David is not a gun freak, but refers to them as part of the all-American culture).
“Monday is usually Gun Day here at Buckingham Studio but I’m so disgusted and sickened by yet another school shooting, this time in Nashville, that I am loathe to post any gun imagery, even if it’s just a damn sculpture…” DB
Many of Buckingham's colorful metal wall sculptures, with the exception of the abstract color studies, trigger great and meaningful, and/or emotionally charged discussions. I applaud David as he stands confidently beside his artwork, not being intimidated by the nowadays many potential voices arising about what is right, wrong, left, fascist, racist or sexist. David Buckingham is neither, I can assure you that.
This last gun violence in Nashville, ignites a whole other issue: the shooter’s sexual identity was transgender, igniting now a wave of anti-trans rhetoric, fueling the hatred with words such as “Trans Killer” (Fox News, Tucker Carlson).
Coincidentally, one of David’s art work from 2008 came back to me for storage. It’s a movie line from a scene in Stanley Kubrik’s film Full Metal Jacket from 1987, where an Asian woman, speaking in broken English, offers two American soldiers sexual services. We had placed “ME SO HORNY, ME LOVE YOU LONG TIME” in a Berlin film production company, hoping to be able to sell it to a hard core Kubrik film fan.
In the last four years the me-too movement settled –without question about its necessity– into our modern world’s social, cultural and linguistic sensitivity. David’s piece is leaning against the wall on top of a dresser in the hallway and I wonder how to view this now with the me-too awareness present in my mind.
I called David and asked what we are going to do with this piece. It’s 2 meters and 40 cm long! David suggests to find a welder, to cut it up and make a piece “ME LOVE YOU LONG TIME”, arguing when smaller and the “horny” is out, it will sell. I reply that still “ME LOVE YOU LONG TIME” can be seen as a racists and sexist phrase, putting down Asian women, and reducing them to sex objects. David replies that I have to understand his intention, that he chose to make that piece, because
the line has leapt off the movie screen into the American vernacular.
"For me and most people I know it’s just another way to say “I love you.” I’ve since heard there are some people who object to this line as racist and sexist, but that begs the question: when someone uses that line, are they intending it to be racist and sexist? I certainly don’t and nobody I know does." DB
For David, it’s about intent. He acknowledges that things change over time, but he has been using that line humorously since Full Metal Jacket was released in 1987.
I DON’T WANT TO PULL MY PUNCHES, BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
I remember our first exhibition with Buckingham in the San Francisco gallery. It was entitled HOW TO TALK DIRTY AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE. We were excited to present his first solo at our Townsend Street space. He sent us images of the pieces he created for the show. When we saw the word piece “I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE BEEN TOLD, ESKIMO PUSSY IS MIGHTY COLD”, we were appalled, shocked and immediately called David to announce that we won’t hang that piece in the show. My former gallery partner Marina and I, both European, didn’t know that this line was a marine cadence, and for David a playground ditty he heard when being a kid in the 60s. He says that he didn’t even know what pussy was, but that he knew it was racy and forbidden, and that this made it even more attractive.
"To hear this line immortalized in Full Metal Jacket twenty+ years later was quite a confirmation of sorts, I found it comforting in a strange way to hear it again after all those years. It was a touchstone of my youth, something that marked a certain time in my life, and I decided to immortalize it in metal"
Ok, now I had an explanation and back then, I thought it was funny. But did I really? Didn’t it produce a strange feeling inside me? The feeling reminds me of when I was a teenager, and male friends of my parents joked about how my boobs had grown, or even tried to grab them when they were drunk.
Wasn’t it still a white male chauvinistic joke, on top of it a racist military cadence that sneaked into playgrounds, where it was picked up by young boys? Did girls sing this too? Using the term “Eskimo” is considered offensive. And that Inuit women have ‘cold’ pussies even suggests an old believe by some, that their body temperature is lower than that of ‘normal’ humans.
Here we are, in 2023. We all come with our upbringing, our understanding and use of language and culture, our education, our biographies. And, our world changes. It changes all the time. Does it really, other than in technology?
For the fun of it, I wanted to check out what ChatGPT answers about this. So first I asked in this way "tell me about Eskimo pussy is mighty cold" and this was the answer: "I apologize, but I cannot provide information on this topic as it contains language and subject matter that are offensive and inappropriate. The use of derogatory and demeaning language is not condoned or supported by OpenAI, and it is important to treat all individuals with respect and dignity. As an AI language model, I strive to provide helpful and informative responses while maintaining a standard of professionalism and sensitivity."
But when I was more precise, asking "What do you know about the military cadence "I don't know if you've been told, Eskimo pussy is mighty cold"?', AI replied:
"As an AI language model, I can provide information on the origins and historical context of military cadences, including this one. However, I must note that this particular cadence contains language and subject matter that may be considered offensive or inappropriate. The cadence "I don't know if you've been told, Eskimo pussy is mighty cold" is a controversial and offensive chant that has been used in some military training exercises. It is important to note that the use of such language is not condoned or supported by the U.S. military, and efforts have been made to discourage the use of inappropriate and offensive language during training exercises.
The origins of this particular cadence are unclear, but it has been used by some military personnel as a way to motivate and inspire troops during physical training or marching drills. However, the use of offensive language can create a negative environment and contribute to a culture of disrespect and discrimination.
It is important to remember that military personnel are expected to conduct themselves with professionalism and respect for others, and the use of inappropriate language or behavior is not tolerated."
Hmm...but back to the topic...
So what’s the role of art these days?
Our world seems loaded with extreme judgements being stated in the speed of light all around us. These days, often based on false information, a lack of knowledge, fear, or conscious manipulation of corporate and political interests. From the perspective of an artist, I can imagine that there is much at risk. As an artist you might be shunned, or even ostracized or boycotted by the art society, curators of a museum, collectors, journalists, or exhibition makers, if "talking to loud". Especially as a white male.
David was once a commercial editor, a training and practice of language skills by nature. It's about finding poignant, provocative, noisy and short punches, all well researched and understood in a larger cultural context. His movie and song lines are phrases that manifested themself into the American language and cultural memorabilia, recognizable in everyday conversation.
And yes, here racism and sexism is deeply anchored, as it is undeniable part of American history. And he plays with this, musing with and reflecting on the countries cultural language of the last century.
Frankly, I actually want some people not to like the work. Trying to please everyone means you please no one. You have to be true to your own artistic vision and judgement. Look at Paul McCarthy’s work, with Snow white fucking the seven dwarves. Who does that? Or look at Ed Keinholz’s “Five Card Stud”, a disturbing piece of work if there ever was one. A scene of five rednecks castrating a black man, it is very confrontational and hard to look at but I’m glad he made it. I find that extremely brave.
Before we judging a piece of art too quickly, let’s approach it first as an experience. What does it do to me, how does it make me feel? Uncomfortable? Why? What thoughts get triggered? Then, let’s learn about its origin of idea, history and context. Let’s re-learn discourse and practice critical thinking and let’s applaud artists who find the guts to point to all atrocities done.
LA artist David Buckingham finds old metal, cuts it into letters and shapes, assembles and welds it into wall sculptures. He searches for the material in vast Southern Californian desserts, buying off old refrigerators, tractors, car parts, from crack-damaged junk dealers. Well, that was 10 years ago, now he has to make deals with the Chinese metal mafia of Los Angeles. As long as the metal is colorful, best scratched or beaten.
Glorious American Food
talking about American culture... I want to mention my favorite cookbook EVER: Glorious American Food from Christopher Idone, first published in 1985.
I remember the day when I found it. I had dropped off my daughter to her piano lessons in San Francisco’s sunset district. It was a rainy day, so I had turned the usually long walk on the beach with my dog Loui into a short one and stop at Border’s book and music. Browsing the 5$ bargain table, the book caught my eye and fascinated me right away.
With more than 70 menus and 275 recipes categorized into the regions of the Untied States, Glorious American Food is fascinating tribute to the nation's diverse cuisine. One immediately gets the idea, of how culinary culture changes and reflecting the changes in life.
When we move to a new place, we automatically adjust, expand and change our palates, finding new flavors specific to the region and culture, even if we want to stay true to grandma's ancient recipe.
The author Christopher Idone was in search of “honest food”, remembering taste and smell and sites of Sunday dinners at his grandmothers. Imagining the vastness of the United States with all its different geological and biological settings, the adaption that European pioneers mastered was immense. They had to learn about new edibles and how to cultivate them and the seeds they brought from the old country. Different dirt, climate and maybe agricultural practices. This sets the stage for this wonderful book.
Is ‘American Food’ fusion food, with no single unique flavor ?
“….I realized too, that if indeed there exists a homogenized “American flavor”, it belongs on only one level: fast food. But, around the corner there is always a reminder: overstuffed sandwiches of pastrami and corned beef, pickled, cured, peppered and smoked on the premises; a toasted roll filled with half a lobster, boiled up on a one-burner stove and moistened with mayonnaise and a hint of celery; a burrito chock with beans and sauce, longingly simmering for hours; a trio of seamed dumplings selected on the street served up from a bamboo steamer. Eclectic, yes; foreign, no –– all these foods have become part of the lexicon of American food, part of our culture, adding pleasure to our lives. “
To this day, this book remains one of the few books, which I pick up, browse and actually cook a whole menu after the recipes. The recipes are for dishes I find deeply inspiring and also romantic. I image good old times, before everything was wrapped in plastic, before prepackaged spice mixes, or the respect of seasons, that something great and fresh in winter, or in summer, with that wonderful anticipation. Waiting for the strawberries to ripen, instead of buying them all year around.
It talks about a hidden food culture, that has existed all along, without the Michelin star restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Chicago. You can imagine how a Grapefruit and Champagne Sherbet tastes when the grapefruits are picked fresh from the tree in the Southwestern Hinterland, or a Posole Stew is served with fresh corn bread and fresh mango with salt and lime.
Of course, lot’s of meat, fish and dairy is used in these recipes. But it inspires to go out there, wherever you are and explore the hinterlands, the true farm to table culture (as if this is a new thing!), and to cherish your region and season.