The Value Of Visiting The Whitney Biennial

The Value Of Visiting The Whitney Biennial

How Art Starts A Conversation

From March 17th to June 11th, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosts its revered Biennial. The 2017 Whitney Biennial is not unlike its predecessors in concept; this every-two-years celebration of contemporary art is notable for making artists visible. This seventy-eighth show, curated for the first time ever by two people of color, features sixty-three artists, of diverse age, gender, and race. Their subject matter, however, is arguably more politically relevant than ever before. The online description prides itself on a central theme: “The formation of self and the individual’s place in a turbulent society…” This is not unexpected- the curation coincided with the 2016 election. With such a weighty event in place, the spectrum of issues covered by this year’s art exposition is difficult, but necessary to condense.

Being within The Meatpacking District and on the border of the Hudson River and High Line lends the Whitney a unique stance; it is one of the only art domains in the area. It is, undoubtedly, an overwhelming experience, given the crowd that the event attracts and the range of media used to produce the show. While the following recounts pieces that became personally resonant, it is certainly worth traveling the entire two-floor exhibit to find one’s individual muse. Nothing there, however, is as aesthetically pleasing as it is thought-provoking.

The 'individual’s place' became particularly distinct in Post-Commodity’s "A Very Long Line." The artwork occupies a small room on the fifth floor where a video, shot entirely from the window of a car, plays at different orientations with out-of-sync audio. The video depicts the border between Mexico and the United States, and for all the political conversation surrounding the border, the video makes it surprisingly unassuming. The artist collective's intent is to disorient viewers by arranging the video chaotically, and further, to suggest 'genesis amnesia.' This was a newfound term for me, but simply put, the phrase implies the condition of forgetting one’s origins.

The phrase is analyzed by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in relation to Orientalism. He argues that the European analyses of other societies is often treated as the only analyses, consequently prompting people of a given origin to forget their subjective history. The European analyses are treated as a universal truth. The artwork seeks to echo this sentiment in providing that U.S. citizens tend to forget the indigenous people, trades, and migration groups of their country. In context of the exhibition’s theme, the border has its own history of forming or transforming one’s identity, and of providing a place in society. The question of how we perceive these borders becomes very confrontational.

Like most art in the exhibit, the work is largely introspective, encouraging viewers to consider their experiences in relation to social issues. It immerses viewers in situations that the popular media confronts them with, making uncommon realities easier to understand, if not empathize with. Henry Taylor’s “The Times They Ain’t A Changing, Fast Enough!” has garnered widespread attention for how intimately it does this. Taylor paints Philando Castile’s shooting, positioning the viewer so that their perspective is of a passenger in the car where it occurred. Viewing a recreation of an incident, regardless of one’s relation to it, is not nearly comparable to experiencing it firsthand, but it seems vital that the experience be translated somehow. It is easy to remove oneself from news coverage- whether of border regulations or of police brutality- and representing it in a public arts event challenges audiences to genuinely focus on these subjects.

Some artworks are naturally more abstract than this in their message, or if not abstract, more indirect themes are reflected in the work. Lyle Ashton Harris fills a room with digital media projected on silk screens, in a work titled "Once (Now) Again." The digital media are photographs and videos of his friends, family, and lovers, all of whom are depicted across a timeline of what he describes as 'seismic shifts.' This I found beautiful; a perspective of the African American community that was not the violent, super-predatory one imposed upon society for centuries. It lies at a comforting contrast with the other works, but not mindlessly so. It encourages visibility, and it strives to be honest, humane, and homely. Art, per Harris’ work, is often in those closest to us.

It’s not uncommon to see audiences become visually disturbed by the Biennial; many will glance at a more controversial work and immediately retreat. Frowns and shaking heads will become a familiar sight. It’s important to draw this discomfort into two floors of a museum. The audience this garners, the voice it enables, and the issues it coalesces are far too present to ignore. The art of the Whitney Biennial is a medium of conversation, and a powerful one at that.

Cover Image Credit: Sudeepa Singh / The Whitney Museum

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The Key To Ending Your First Draft Blues

Or at least getting through the next chapter with your hair intact

Ah, the first draft. We’ve all been there as writers. The day we decide to turn a blank word document into a 70,000 word (or more) masterpiece. Or, at least, that’s always the aim. Often as first-time writers, we go into the experience blind, learning as we go, and never really knowing whether what we’re doing is right or wrong.

It can be frustrating at times, as most first drafts are a test of sanity. As somebody who had written ten first draft books (nearing eleven) in six years, I have had my fair share of ups and downs when it comes to first drafts.

My first book ever took me four years just to write it, I started at the age of sixteen and finished by the time I was twenty. A year later I had written another. I then wrote one in thirty days, and nowadays I write about three to four books a year.

My point is, there is no science to writing. It is all about learning how to do it, and finding the methods that suit you best. I just wish I could have had someone to tell me all of that when I started.

With that in mind, here are my five pieces of advice on how to write your first draft:

#5 Embrace the Terribleness

The first draft is always the worst version of any story. The sooner you accept it, the easier it is to move forward with your work. So you misspell a few words so bad that even Word can't help you. That shouldn't stop you from going with the flow. Your dialogue will feel hammier than a "Star Wars" film, but you'll clean it up the second time around. You're not expected to create a masterpiece on the first go, so just enjoy the ride.

#4 Suffer for your Art

Writing can be hard. I've said it enough times already, but it's true. You have to be prepared to suffer for it. The reason my first book took four years to write was because I didn't commit to it. The reason I wrote 80,000 words in thirty days was because I committed myself to write at least 1,000 words a day. Now I average 3,000 daily. Is it painful to force 3,000 words to the page every day? Yes, but that's what you have to do to get the draft finished.

#3 Take your Time

Now I know this goes against what I just said, but it's important that you go at the pace you want to. I was happier writing 1,000 words a day, but I was eighteen then. At twenty-three, I'll never get everything done going at 1,000 words a day. Commit yourself to writing every day, even if its only 200 words. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You'll get to the finishing line quicker if you jog a steady pace rather than adopting a sprint and rest mentality.

#2 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Yes, it's important to remember what colour your character's hair is, which one is taller, and what weapon they are carrying. Although with that said, it is important to keep going forward. In my editing, I go over everything with a fine comb, often with a character profile at my side. Don't get bogged down giving every little detail the first time around, you'll have time for that later. The hardest thing is getting it down the first time.

#1 Keep the Story Going at All Costs

This kind of goes without saying, but it is by far the most important step for me. You have to keep moving forward. It doesn't matter if you have to use the biggest Deus ex machina to get your plot going again, you can always edit it away in the re-draft. I use a technique called automatic writing, which means that I don't plan every detail of a chapter. I simply write it as I go. This allows me to give my characters natural reactions as events often come as a surprise to me too.

Obviously it is good to have a rough idea of what is meant to happen, but as long as you can get your characters from A to B, then you are half way there. The other half will be polishing it to the point you can see your reflection.

Good luck, and happy writing.

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4 Steps To Writing a Haiku

It's Fun I Promise

You've probably had to write a haiku for English sometime in your school career. You most likely found it boring, or difficult, or just plain stupid. I am going to try and show you a more fun way to write a haiku.

1. The Basics: What You Should Know

In case you don't know, a haiku is a Japanese poem that is only three lines long. It is usually taught that the syllables in each line should go 5-7-5. But really, as long as there are 17 syllables or less in the three lines, it's a haiku.

2. Write to Get a Reaction

When you write a haiku, you are aiming to get one of three reactions: Aaaahhh, aha!, or ha ha! For example...

Aaahhh: Laying in bed/dog next to me under blanket/my furry heater

Aha!: Life is too short to love people/who do not deserve/your whole heart

Ha ha!: I'm on the toilet/and my stomach drops/the roll is empty

3. Create an Image

In your writing, you want to create a new image in your readers mind with each line. Take my first haiku for example. I first talk about laying in bed. Then, I say there is a dog next to me under the blanket, so you picture a lump under the covers. In my last line, I call him a furry heater so you imagine a heater covered in fur. The image you create is more important than the syllables.

4. Performing

Lastly, you need to think about performing your haiku. As always, when you're speaking in front of a room of people, you need to project so the whole room can hear you and you need to make eye contact. Another thing to remember is the tone of your voice while you are saying your poem. Dramatic pauses can keep people on the edge of their seat, waiting for what you're going to say next. You also have to remember to be confident! And if you're not confident, fake it till you make it!

Cover Image Credit: Imgur

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