The Look Here! project is an experiment initiated by the UWM Libraries and aimed at encouraging artists from the community and the UWM Peck School of the Arts to work with and create art from the Libraries’ digitized cultural heritage holdings – archival materials, photographs, maps, prints, rare books and other objects. Look Here! asks artists to propose projects that re-imagine, transform, and engage with these objects in ways that were un-imagined before the digital turn.
Transformative Commentary with Leonard Cohen’s “I’m Your Man”
Deep down, way down low, in the dark days of cuts and attacks upon the public sphere, vilification of teachers and public servants, and threats of even a thousand more cuts, I found some solace in Leonard Cohen’s 1988 album, “I’m Your Man.” The songs fuse together Cohen’s cutting words with synth-pop beats and lilting melodies that still speak to me on that level of stunning disappointment over institutional failures, of systemic corruption, and of human apathy enshrined by the paralysis of cynicism. The album opens with his lyrics, “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within,” and though the album is decades old now, those musical choices that Cohen made still resonate as contemporary, futuristic, and forward facing. However, his vision is bracing, pitted from the abrasive blasts of transactional grit, but with perseverance, in spite of debacles and loathsome obstacles, with radical calls for action and strange optimism. In the tradition of Kafka’s aphorism, “There is hope, but not for us,” Cohen’s work describes for me a new practice and ideology for survival which I call “post-cynical.” That is to say, of course, things are terrible, but there is wisdom in accepting that, even embracing it, in order to protect a sense of possibility, for moving forward, so that we may again reach new heights.
Epilogue: The drawings in the series TransformativeCommentary are a mashup of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics from each of the eight songs from his 1988 Album, “I’m Your Man,” paired with portraits of politicians and activists that figured prominently in 2016. All of the drawings in the TransformativeCommentary series were planned earlier in 2016 but the last three (Barack Obama, Diamond Reynolds, James Comey) in the series exhibited in the RedLine Timeline exhibition were completed after Leonard Cohen’s death and the U.S. Presidential Election on November 7th and 8th, 2016, subsequently.
The phrase “transformative commentary” refers to a principle in US Copyright law, the Fair Use exception. This principle allows for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material so long as the use of the original copyrighted material is proportional, transformative, or provides commentary or critique. The drawings in the series Transformative Commentary are a mashup of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics from each of the eight songs from his 1988 Album, “I’m Your Man,” paired with portraits of politicians and activists that figured prominently in 2016.
The album playlist goes as follows, the parenthetical names are the paired portraits:
1. “First We Take Manhattan” – Donald Trump
2. “Ain’t No Cure for Love” – Hillary Rodham Clinton
Marc Tasman and Luke Farley’s Sporting Goods express a kind of truth‐in‐advertising with respect to gun violence in America. These are fine art pieces made from appropriating images of automatic weaponry from retail sporting goods ads, maniacally scrawled with the rhetoric of traditional sports campaign slogans, “just do it,” and “impossible is nothing.”
They don’t present the viewer with empirical data—the abhorrent statistics of a 365‐day calendar index of mass shootings. But they do connect the dots between the pumped‐up catchphrases from workout and self‐help lifestyle marketing, interleaved in the weekly ad circular with military grade weapons, and criminology factors to be found in the course of investigating the logic of perpetrators of mass‐shootings: rationalization, motivation, and opportunity.
If one needs evidence, the non‐profit organizations, Gun Violence Archive and Mass Shootings provides the “unbiased, raw statistics, all with verified sourcing to inform society of the number of Mass Shootings that occur in the United States each year,” at www.shootingtracker.com.
For a more gut‐based assessment by artists, Farley and Tasman recommend their Sporting Goods pieces.