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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Kate Durbin is my Reality Show

"If we never write anything save what is already understood, the field of understanding will never be extended. One demands the right, now and again, to write for a few people with special interests and whose curiosity reaches into greater detail."  -E. Pound, "Thrones" 

What happens when Nothing Happens:

This is not a review or a critical assessment of Durbin's work, but rather a personal response to what  I find interesting and not so interesting in Durbin's work. I think for me Durbin's work is analogous to some of  the things that I find compelling in the artist Dario Robleto's work. In that sense, the poem product that we find on the page needs to be considered in light of how is it constructed and what the process of that construction means for the both the artist and the reader. Durbin's written works then are functioning in a different way than say a poem that is working in the constraint of the page or a poem that is wrestling with the confines of lyric, language, poetic device, etc. In some sense, the idea of exploring reality TV or stars like Anna Nicole and Lindsay Lohan is obviously going to reflect the surface, shallow mirror that these "images" encompass. But why look, why spend hours looking and transcribing: What can we learn from it and how do we begin to understand the impact of the collective gaze. The "gaze" is an interesting idea if we accept and-- statistically it's evident that there are millions of eyes on these figures--if we are at all interested in collective response, collective consciousness, or what we as a whole deem to be important, what we as a society allow to be spoon fed into our living rooms, then we have to be able to value conversations about what appears vapid. 

Would the work have a more serious slant had Durbin been transcribing White House transcriptions of debates on why and when to end the Iraqi War? The end result would have still produced an "unpoetic," stilted and slow read; but would our value of the subject be altered by what we consider to be important or not trivial entertainment? And if we assume that reality TV assumes a place that is not "important," a place that is both real and edited, a space of real bodies and yet unreal events, unreal lighting, sets, expectations to the norm; what then is this fascination and how does that reflect on us? How does it shape our interpretation of what is real and what is unreal, how are we ourselves complicit in our own scripts? These are questions that begin to emerge when I sit and think about what Durbin is doing. And what about the final product.

I've never seen the Hills; I watch almost no reality TV. But how does one escape culture and the pervasive need of the Media to inoculate us with the intimate details of media darlings who appear and disappear with a rapidity that belies any sustained concern for them as human beings. What are the limits of language? We can deconstruct, we can poke fun at, we can bear witness and hope to pull back the sheen a bit, but we can rarely do so completely excised from the beast within whose belly we all find ourselves. 

Durbin states in an interview that she is interested in illustrating how the women stars on these reality shows are used, objectified and made to perform. Conversely, Durbin herself also uses these women in her work. As much as she is bringing attention to their subtexts, she is also in the path of garnering attention by using celebrities to draw attention to her work. Any basic knowledge of search engines reveals that throwing in the names of a few celebrities will boost the numbers on how often people will look at the proposed result. So, where does the artist stand in using these women for her own ends? How do we the reader, the audience feel about our complicity in viewing what is constructed by Durbin's art. Has her art managed to release the shackles of fame and media objectification or has she simply more cleverly disguised the bonds. 

I like poetry that brings with it questions and confrontations and not so much answers and understanding. That being said, I don't really want to read pages of transcribed scenes from The Hills any more than I want to read some other conceptual poets whose works walk in that space of maddeningly slow and purposefully not entertaining. I get it; it's the point but I get to walk away from the final product as the reader and sit with what I find fun, which is wrestling with why this product exists or why would an artist make this exist in the world? In that sense, it is the most human desire to create that sparks my interest and to try to reach some communion in accepting what the artist presents and why they feel it needs to exist. 

I like the artist in the midst of failure; in what I like to think of as the exact opposite of the beautiful, plastic, photoshopped, airburshed, rehearsed and edited world of art objects that are presented to us in so many genres. The artist in the raw space of failure is always a bit intriguing and a bit awkward and even a bit boring. I don't really get Durbin's videos; they don't speak to me and seem a bit pointless as to their design. Again, I'm less with final product and more with the intention: I do like to think they are somewhere between narcissism and exploitation of our current desire to project everything, to share in a nearly uncensored way as we have never before via the internet. In that sense, the art reflects that overload of self-exposure enacted each second online in a subtle nod that teases and continues to tease out whether we are in on it or whether we as the viewer are being taken for a ride. It's a thin line, not an abyss so much, that separates the uncanny from the canned, and it's blurred by zooming in so much that we can't decipher which pixels amount to what or who. In some ways, Kate Durbin is most interesting if she only exists online; if she, like the works she transcribes, is somewhere behind the screen--behind the curtain-- pulling the lever. Maybe as a mermaid gif that we click on as much as we like, but then where does that leave us? Which side of the screen are we on, the real one? 
And each time we press play, which of us becomes a real girl? 

Some more on Kate Durbin in her own words:

From an Introduction for a workshop at the Los Angeles Public Library for teenage poets:

"Once I realized this, my art-making process began to change. Instead of primarily writing memoir-type, lyric pieces, where I described in vivid detail something that had happened “to” me, I began to work with the materials of culture around me in order to make myself and others more aware of the disturbing messages we perpetuate daily without questioning them. I didn’t necessarily judge these messages—I simply, through processes of transcription and other methods, attempted to show them as they are, in order that a reader might discover them for themselves, in themselves.

Once we discover our culture’s negative messages inside our own bodies, we realize we have the power to stop taking them for granted as “the way it just is or the way someone else decided it will be.” For example, I transcribed an entire episode of MTV’s reality TV show The Hills, often-criticized for it’s potentially “scripted” nature, and in doing so realized that all of life is itself scripted to some degree—that we all allow other people to frame our bodies, our environments, what we believe about our genders, our monies, our relationships, our worth. It took transcribing a reality show to teach me about my own "reality," my own role in perpetuating this problem. In reading my transcription, readers of my work have had similar experiences of awakening."

[My note: I love that this talk was given to teenage writers. It not only examines the ephemera that makes up their world but confirms what they may secretly suspect. It enacts a way of dissecting, a way of cutting through what is fed via the screens transferring power back into the hands of the one who bears witness, the one who transcribes.  I was a teenage girl; I would've eaten this up.]

From the TENDERLOIN interview:

KD: Since these pieces are transcriptions of television shows, I am not sure that hanging them on the wall and never reading them would be very different than the way most people watch these shows to begin with, which is to say, blindly. I want them to be finally read.

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