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Cabin Fever 2017: Bits & Pieces (1)

A. D. Coleman selfie, 1-4-17How Much Wood?

It’s freezing here on Staten Island this weekend, but our local non-human forecaster, Staten Island Chuck, predicted just six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day, and around these parts we go with that.

According to the report from the Staten Island Advance,

As was the case last year, he was kept underneath a spacious glass enclosure until it was time to make the prediction. He was then lifted into the enclosure via a “Chuck-a-vator.” The small elevator remained above ground as Chuck explored his surroundings. 

Chuck’s prediction was in stark contrast to his rival, Punxsutawney Phil, who predicted six more weeks of winter. 

Regardless, Chuck owns the head-to-head competition, more than doubling Phil’s accuracy rate.

Staten Island Chuck

Staten Island Chuck

So we don’t just accept Chuck’s prognostication out of blind civic pride. Our Chuck is the best in the business.

In 2014, current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped 10-month-old Charlotte (at that time the occupant of the Staten Island Zoo’s Chuck office), who later died of internal injuries. But here we say “The Chuck is dead! Long live the Chuck,” pursuing a peaceful transition of power. I should point out that while the reporter used the generic “he” to describe Chuck, both the latest Chuck and her predecessor have been female — another glass ceiling shattered.

Perhaps wisely, and surely to the benefit of our Chuck, de Blasio skipped the ceremony this year, as he did in 2016.

You can watch a video of the momentous occasion here.

See You in the Movies

Our sleepy, economically depressed neighborhood, and others close by, show up in a number of movies, TV shows, and music videos. As I’m not necessarily privy to the making of these, they often take me by surprise when I come across them.

For example, in June 2004 I was in the middle of a short-term teaching gig in Vevey, Switzerland when I first caught a music video by Eamon, “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back).” The song didn’t impress me (the title says it all), but my heart still surged. Hey, that’s my pizza parlor! Yo, that’s Vincent’s, where I get my hair cut!

Eamon, “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back),” video, screenshot

Eamon, “Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back),” video, screenshot

Last weekend I borrowed a DVD from our local branch library, and Anna and I sat down after dinner to watch Sally Field in the 2014 film Hi, My Name is Doris. Suddenly she’s on the Staten Island Ferry, and we discover that the scenes of her home life are set here. Certainly upped the fun level.

Then, today, watching the latest episode of The Blacklist (a secret vice of mine; Anna hates all shows with guns and killing) — season 4, episode 12, “Natalie Luca” — they get to a short scene involving an armored-car heist, right outside … the bank where I used to have an account, across from Tappen Park, just a few yards away from where Eamon shot that video! (It’s at timestamp 15:53.)

"The Blacklist," season 4, episode 12, screenshot

“The Blacklist,” season 4, episode 12, screenshot

Plays hob with suspension of disbelief, I have to say, but it adds a whole other level to the viewing experience. Now I’ve learned that Marvel Comics shot scenes from Iron Fist here also, as well as scenes from the forthcoming “The Defenders.” I don’t have much appetite for superhero films, but I might have to check those out.

Ivanka Trump: The Hands-On Approach

First daughter Ivanka Trump and first son-in-law Jared Kushner generated considerable outrage when, on the night of The UnPresident’s issuance of his unconstitutional anti-Muslim executive order, they posted a picture of themselves at their Instagram accounts showing them all spiffed up for a night on the town. (See “Ivanka Trump’s Instagram post causes stir during outcry over immigration ban,” by Kate Bennett, CNN, January 31, 2017.)

Jared Kushner grabbing Ivanka Trump's ass, 1-29-17, Instagram, screenshot

Jared Kushner grabbing Ivanka Trump’s ass, 1-29-17, Instagram, screenshot

I don’t at all disagree with those who saw in this a Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” attitude, given the chaos into which POTUS has so rapidly plunged the country and, indeed, the world. However, as is often the case, quick first-impression reading of photographs often overlooks the most telling details. To put it in postmodern terms, these critics reacted to what Roland Barthes identified in 1981 as the studium — the intended, anticipated public interpretation of the image. In this case, that purpose consisted of radiating success, wealth, glamor, confidence, power, and privilege. Which of course it achieves.

Roland Barthes with punctum and moebius strip. Photo-illustration by A. D. Coleman, 2016.

Roland Barthes with punctum and moebius strip. Photo-illustration by A. D. Coleman, 2016.

But in leaving it at that, and finding it objectionable on those grounds, the respondents who objected to it missed what Barthes in his book Camera Lucida called the punctum — literally, the point — of this image. As Barthes put it, “A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” In this he echoes Walter Benjamin’s reference to a photograph’s ”tiny spark of accident.”

Often an unintended detail, this punctum tells us something about the specific photograph’s contents that neither the photographer nor the subject(s) intended to disclose. Quite possibly that is something idiosyncratic to the individual viewer — say, a personal memory of a childhood adventure at Coney Island evoked by a photograph of a hot dog. But sometimes it’s a detail resonant to any viewer attentive enough to notice it. Like this:

Jared Kushner grabbing Ivanka Trump's ass, 1-29-17, Instagram, screenshot (detail)

Jared Kushner grabbing Ivanka Trump’s ass, 1-29-17, Instagram, screenshot (detail)

A sweet, intimate gesture, of course, when performed unobtrusively and/or in private. But it becomes something else when you send it out to the world; it becomes a macho expression of ownership. Hardly surprising that Ivanka accepts this, given The Donald’s bizarrely sexualized relationship with his daughter, and her tolerance thereof. That Jared! Such a class act! Just like her daddy!

So far as I can tell, though several Instagram followers commented on this “booty grab,” no one but Frank Bruni at the New York Times made official note of it — and that only obliquely. (“[Steve Bannon] has a seat on the National Security Council. Kushner has his hand on Ivanka Trump’s seat.”) So you probably read it here first.

What Price Art?

Periodically I do a Google search on my own nom de plume, to see what turns up. This time around, it delivered an account by Cynthia Navaretta of a 1985 symposium at New York University in which I cannot remember taking part.

Published on May 7, 2014 at the website in terms of, headlined “The Art Talk That Ate New York,” Navaretta’s report covers an event sponsored by NYU’s Graduate School of Business Administration. Titled “What Price Art? The Economics of Art: An Agenda for the Future,” the symposium was co-chaired by Kenneth Friedman, publisher of The Art Economist, and Oscar Ornati, professor of management, NYU.

Navaretta describes it as “Another ’80s workshop on spinning art into gold — and as motley a collection of speakers as one could imagine, even on such a fey topic.” (As a perennially motley type, I’d have to agree.) She paraphrases one of my contributions thus:

Judy Seigel, ed., "Mutiny and the Mainstream" (1992), cover

Judy Seigel, ed., “Mutiny and the Mainstream” (1992), cover

“A. D. Coleman, photography critic, added that values change, using as example that van Gogh’s painting (auctioned the previous evening for $9.9 million) was no longer what van Gogh had painted; it has since been certified as a work of art.”

I suspect I said something more to the effect that it had become transformed into a commodity, and that one could no longer look at it without seeing yen signs all over it (because I said and wrote that on several occasions back in the day). Perhaps it’s good that I’ve forgotten this event completely. Worth reading this as a period piece, if only for Navaretta’s acerb take on the event.

Navaretta’s report was was originally published as “Conference: What Price Art?” in Women Artists News, Vol. 10, no. 4 (June 1985), and subsequently reprinted in an anthology drawn from that journal: Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, 1975–1990 (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1992), edited by the late Judy Seigel.


My colleague Rob McElroy alerted me to a listing at Zoominfo featuring a “profile” of me and my “company.”

Zoominfo, A. D. Coleman/Nearby Café company profile, screenshot, 2-5-17

Zoominfo, A. D. Coleman/Nearby Café company profile, screenshot, 2-5-17

It describes our location as “275 7th Avenue, 6th Floor, New York City, New York 10001.” It places our revenues at somewhere between “$1 mil. – $5 mil. ($2,400,000),” produced by “10-20 employees.” And it includes the following:

Company Description: We aim to provide the ambiance of a classic international café with an internet spin. Please drop in anytime, pull up a chair, and settle down in any of our sections — or feel free to table-hop. Make yourself comfortable here. You’ll find work by a number of writers and visual artists, including myself, Don Riemer, Dr. Long Yu Qian, Linda Troeller, Colleen Thornton, Earl Coleman, David Steinberg, Barbara Nitke, Slava Skrabal, and Nina Sederholm. We’re open 24/7, 365 days a year (and Leap Year too). Visit us whenever the mood strikes you, and check in often to see what’s new — Blackboard Specials, at the top of the left-hand menu, has our latest additions. Remember: Wherever you find yourself in cyberspace, we’re nearby.

Nearby Cafe adThis is actually the tongue-in-cheek description I have online at the homepage of my primary website, The Nearby Café.

Where they got the street address, number of employees, annual revenues, etc. I cannot imagine. I have no connection to that Chelsea location. No employees. And I can only wish I took in that much per year.

But hey — it’s on the internet! Must be true!

UnPresidented Help

I need all the self-defense mechanisms I can find to cope with the lunacy unleashed by the UnPresident, and I suspect many if not most of my readers feel the same way.

Satire always proves potent, especially with a despot as thin-skinned as the digitally challenged Donald Drumpf. So, as I locate them, I will pass along sites and apps that hold this malevolent blowhard up for the scorn he earns every day.

My latest finds include “Trump Draws @ Twitter,” a Twitter account at which an animated GIF of Trump issuing one of his executive orders gets the text of that order replaced with drawings ostensibly by POTUS, like this:

Trump Draws, "Beever," 2-2-17, screenshot

Trump Draws, “Beever,” 2-2-17, screenshot

And try your hand at the Trump Executive Order Generator, which enables you to produce screenshots of Trump pompously issuing any old fatwa you might come up with, such as:

POTUS issues "Lawrence Lessig" executive order on plagiarism, 2-3-17

POTUS issues “Lawrence Lessig” executive order on plagiarism, 2-3-17

This post supported by donations from photographers Carlos Diaz, Richard Baron, and Thomas Bayard.

A. D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include  a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!

Liu Xia catalog, 2012, coverDonate now and I’ll include a copy of The Silent Strength of Liu Xia, the catalog of the 2012-13 touring exhibition of photos by the dissident Chinese photographer, artist, and poet, currently in her sixth year of extralegal house arrest in Beijing. The only publication of her photographic work, it includes all 26 images in the exhibition, plus another 14 from the same series, along with essays by Guy Sorman, Andrew Nathan, and Cui Weiping, professor at the Beijing Film Academy.

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