Tuesday, February 24, 2009


My review of George Tillman's biopic of Biggie Smalls was published in issue 171 of Dazed and Confused, available on most newstands.

Christopher Wallace balled hard. Better known as Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G., Wallace’s pop-gangster storytelling and exceptional lyrical prowess almost single handedly galvanized the East Coast hip-hop scene during a time that the genre was largely dominated by West Coast artists. By the time he died at the age of twenty-four, the father of two and award winning rapper had two platinum albums (His second album, Life After Death, debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts fifteen days after his murder).

Notorious follows Wallace from his humble beginnings as a teenage drug dealer through his meteoric rise to fame and untimely death. George Tillman’s (Soul Food/Barbershop) biopic attempts to expose the man behind the legend, subjecting the rapper’s woefully brief life to a literary treatment that largely fails; A deeper understanding of the artist’s life and times can be gleaned from his Wikipedia page. Still, we go to most big budget films to be entertained and Tillman and his cast don’t let us down. Melodrama and humor coalesce to paint Biggie’s story in broad strokes, dutifully chronicling the rise of Bad Boy Records, his troubled relationships with Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim, and of course, his falling out with Tupac Shakur and the ensuing East Coast-West Coast feud that ultimately cost him his life.

Tillman fleshes out his cast of seasoned professionals with a few young upstarts and the . rookies steal the show. Although the excessive joviality he brings to the role borders on Big-lite, first time actor and rapper Jamal Woolard (known on the mix tape circuit as Gravy), captures Biggie’s swagger and charm. Naturi Naughton imbues Lil’ Kim with a tantalizing mix of fire and vulnerability, outshining Puffy (Derek Luke) and every dude in the entourage.

Notorious isn’t ground breaking, but it’s fun—a bubble-gum guilty pleasure full of wise-cracks, spot-on period mise-en-scene and (best of all), lots and lots of music.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


originally published in the January issue of The Magazine

Narrowcast: Reframing Global Video 1968/2008
6522 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
(323) 957-1777

By Jesi Khadivi

In a recent episode of Planet in Peril on CNN, correspondent Lisa Ling met with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta, also known as MEND, on the banks of a remote shore on the delta. Adrenalin was high and gun-fire filled the air as Ling gave a straight forward analysis of a region whose ecosystem had been virtually decimated by big oil companies.

Artist Mark Boulos also explores the indignity suffered by Nigerians in the hands of companies like Shell oil. His two-channel video, All That is Solid Melts into Air, which posits footage of Nigerian rebels preparing for battle against the frenzied activity of the Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor, offers more nuanced insight into dispossession and power than the Planet in Peril team could dream of. All That is Solid…, which derives its title from Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, beautifully encapsulates the radical potential of video art, as well as its capacity for non-linear story telling.

Narrowcast revisits LACE’s seminal 1986 exhibition, Resolution: A Critique of Video Art. It is less a critique and more a celebration of video’s possibilities and the evolution of the form, especially as a political tool. In Political Advertisement I (1952-1984) Antonio Muntades and Marshall Reese show political ads transform from direct address to feel good sloganeering, and finally, to outright manipulation and scare tactics. Natalie Bookchin’s video Trip, comprised entirely of found footage from YouTube, explores international borderlands and the binaries that blossom there. Shot primarily on low grade consumer video devices like phones and cameras, Bookchin’s video consists of home made road movies from over seventy countries. Artur Zmijewski’s Game of Tag takes on a heightened significance when it is revealed at the end of the video that the naked game of tag is being played in the gas chamber of a former concentration camp.

In All That is Solid Melts into Air, a Nigerian militia member sternly advised Mark Boulos, “Make them remember us.” Though typically a concern associated with documentary film making, all the artists in Narrowcast engage with issues of memory and representation that are subtle, incisive and fresh, whether the film was made in 1986 or 2008.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

wear your love like heaven

Much to my surprise, the proposal I wrote for 33 1/3's open call about Donovan's Gift From a Flower to a Garden made their short list. Not the shortest shortlist in the world, but I'm happy to have survived the first cut. Out of over 500 applicants about 20 book deals will be offered. Check out the series.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chinatown Land

Originally published in Fabrik Magazine

By Jesi Khadivi

Few cities are fortunate enough to have a gallery district as unique as LA’s Chinatown. This cozy, outcropping of garish pagodas and paper lanterns is a hyper-real version of a Chinese village, hence artist Andre Yi’s riff on the iconic Hollywood sign, Chinatownland, a sculpture which was displayed in a vacant lot on Hill Street until fairly recently. Chung King road, a kitschy pedestrian mall that houses many of Chinatown’s contemporary art galleries, was built in the 1940s as part of “New Chinatown” after plans for Union Station led to the razing of the original Chinatown. Long home to Chinese specialty shops and importers, the area’s store fronts began to be settled by art galleries in the late 1990s. Now teeming with cutting edge galleries and hip shops, all elbowing up against Chinese social clubs and restaurants, the area is home to a diverse range of art spaces, ranging from the experimental to the more established (many of the neighborhood’s galleries are nationally, if not internationally acclaimed). As can be expected of such a dynamic area, the neighborhood is in flux. Long time Chinatown denizens like Javier Peres (Peres Projects) and David Kordansky (Kordansky Gallery) have jumped ship for the West Side’s contemporary art hotspot, Culver City. Other galleries have been playing musical chairs with their locations. Katie Brennan of Sister Gallery took over one of the two Peres Project store fronts, and numerous other spaces have taken up new leases mere blocks away, or in at least one case, across the street from their original space. The folks who have stayed put, however, are keeping Chinatown’s collaborative spirit alive.

Telic Arts Exchange and the Public School
972B Chung King Road

Telic Arts Exchange, one of the most ambitious east side hybrid arts institutions, was founded by artist/architect/educators Fiona Whitton and Sean Dockray in 2004. Conceived as a platform for art, architecture, media, and pedagogy, Telic curates exhibitions, stages live performances, and hosts the Public School, an amorphous committee-run educational experiment. Recent course offerings have included The Economy of Giant Ass Sculptures, The Democratic Museum, and Sado-Masochism: Theory & Practice. The Distributed Gallery, a series of video monitors installed in various art and commercial spaces throughout Chinatown, debuted in December to maintain the Telic’s public presence after their October move from a Chung King store front into a basement space across the way. Video projects by Geoff Manaugh and James Merle Thomas are next on deck.

Ooga Booga
943 N. Broadway, #203

New York City has Printed Matter for cool art books and ephemera, Angelenos have Ooga Booga. Wendy Yao’s tiny, well curated store is filled to the brim with clothing, artist editions, books, and records by venerable artists, musicians, and designers. Yao started the boutique to showcase the work of friends and contemporaries and it has expanded to a veritable who’s who of art, music, and fashion featuring clothing by Opening Ceremony and Bless, and editioned work by musician-artist Bjorn Copeland and German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. An artist in her own right, Yao will exhibit video work in May at the Distributed Gallery. Ooga Booga occasionally brings the party to the porch, hosting live music events in the stairwell adjacent to the shop.

The Mountain Bar/Mountain School of Art
473 Gin Ling Way

A collaboration between sculptor Jorge Pardo and gallerist Steve Hanson (owner of China Art Objects), the Mountain Bar is Chinatown’s go-to for post opening cocktails. Stiff drinks, an opium den-like atmosphere, and the bacon-wrapped hot dog cart around the corner keep folks coming back for more. Each winter, the bar’s backroom houses the Mountain School of Arts, an eclectic, artist initiated free school founded by artists Piero Golia and Eric Wesley. Admission is by application only and past seminar leaders have included artist Franz Ackerman, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and curator Bob Nickas.

Cottage Home
410 Cottage Home Street

Steve Hanson has his hands in multiple pots. The China Art Objects owner is a collaborator in one of the neighborhood’s newest galleries, Cottage Home, with fellow Chinatown big-wigs, Katie Brennan of Sister and Thomas Solomon. The 4,000 square foot former movie theater opened in July with a group exhibition entitled I Can See for Miles. The size of the gallery is unusual for Chinatown, known for its quirky storefront spaces and will allow the gallerists to show larger works than their solo spaces allow, a boon for their artists and an inspiring model for upstart contemporary galleries dealing with market challenges.

Via Café
451 Gin Ling Way

Via embraces its status as the resident arty Asian eatery by decking the walls floor to ceiling with paintings and drawings by local artists and hosting a video monitor for Telic’s Distributed Gallery The service isn’t always the best, but the food is delicious and the crowd is vibrant and good-looking. Stop at Via after your gallery crawl for mouth-watering, reasonably priced bowls of rice vermicelli and spring rolls, and other Vietnamese specialties.

The Box
977 Chung King Road

Box director, Mara McCarthy, recently presented an exhibit by LA based artist Kirsten Puusemp in which the artist traveled the furthest distance possible from the gallery, leaving the exhibition space filled only with the things she couldn't take with her-- paper bags filled with canned goods, musical instruments, and a few wrapped presents. Not exactly salable stuff, but McCarthy, the daughter of LA art royalty Paul McCarthy, doesn't seem to mind, as she conceived the space as an educational project as well as an exhibition space. Like many Chinatown galleries, The Box is an interdisciplinary affair. McCarthy is dedicated to conceptually rigorous and challenging works that defy a conventional gallery model.

The Company
946 Yale Street

Providing hope for aspiring young gallerists paralyzed by market woes, curator Anat Ebgi and artist Annie Wharton's opened the doors of their Chung King road adjacent gallery in November with their inaugural exhibition, Human Resources. Following in the footsteps of other east side hybrid arts venues, The Company employs a diffuse approach to programming hosting screenings, talks, and other events in addition to their rotating schedule of exhibitions. Rhizomatic, indeed!

Farm Lab
1745 North Spring Street

Located on the banks of the anemic LA river, Farmlab began as an extension of the Not a Cornfied Project, an Annenberg funded living sculpture by LA artist Lauren Bon in which 32 acres of industrial brownfield was used to plant corn for one agricultural cycle. Farm Lab shares Culver City’s Center For Land Use Interpretation’s (CLUI) investigation of land use issues within an art audience, demonstrating the multi-striated connections between art and urbanism, The warehouse space, located just north of Chinatown, hosts a wide array of talks, exhibitions, and special events.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

Orginally published in the film issue of SOMA

In the summer of 1982, Israeli soldiers invaded Southern Lebanon with the intent of “stabilizing” the civil-war-torn country used as a strategic missile range in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. As Israeli forces waited to enter the capital city of Beirut, a treaty was signed between Israel and Palestinians stating that if PLO combatants were sent by ship to Tunisia, Israeli’s would remove the threat of a surge on Beirut. In the midst of this delicate cease-fire, Lebanese president elect (and Sharon favorite), Phalangist militia leader Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated while giving a speech in East Beirut. In an orgy of retaliatory violence, Phalangists stormed the refugee camps of West Beirut to avenge the death of their beloved leader. As is all too often the case with military blood debts, the victims of the brutal massacre that ensued in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila were exclusively civilians, many of them children and elderly.

Fast forward twenty-five years to two former soldiers sitting in a bar. Ari Folman, a documentary filmmaker, has been summoned by his friend, Boaz Rein Buskila. Visions of war have crept into the soulful accountant’s dreams. But Buskila is not plagued by apparitions of fallen soldiers or decimated battle fields. Twenty-six dogs have been chasing him since he left occupied territory, and they’ve finally tracked him down at his office. Because he had difficulty killing people, Buskila was assigned to shoot barking dogs. And he remembered each and every one he shot.

Unlike Boaz, Ari remembers nothing. But after leaving his friend, a solitary recollection of wartime comes flooding back to him a dream. Three soldiers awaken in the ocean, illuminated by flares from above. As they head into the devastated streets of Beirut, grief stricken Palestinian survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres swarm around them in a hallucinatory procession.

Folman’s encounter with Buskila and the sole memory it elicits provided the impetus for his feature length animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir. Waltz follows Folman as he attempts to unravel Israel’s role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and by extension his own involvement. He interviews old war buddies, acclaimed war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai, and a psychologist in his quest to locate and understand his missing memories. Untraditional as it may seem, Folman felt that animation was the only way to tell his story. And he’s right. In many ways, Waltz is a story without images. At least photographic images. According to Folman, very little decent archival footage of the first Lebanese War exists, and even if it did, news reel footage and army generals couldn’t begin to tell Folman’s story . With its focus on the spaces between memory, forgetting is a vital aspect of Waltz’s story. As is the dynamic nature of memory; At least three different animation styles and color palettes are used to evoke its ambiguity.

Waltz with Bashir is Folman’s third feature film and his second animated work. He experimented with the form in the animated introductory sequences for The Material that Love is Made Of, a documentary series made for Israeli television about the substance of love, based on American chemist Helen Fisher’s discovery that love is actual hormonal matter. Though the bold visual style that Folman honed in Waltz With Bashir is evident in its germinal stages in Material, his early animation cleverly riffs off of animated educational shorts, while Waltz mines the medium’s capacity for pathos (which is heightened by experimental composer Max Richter’s original score). Although Waltz’s casual format of folks sitting around talking about issues like dreams, repression and memory have prompted many to draw comparisons to Richard Linklater’s animated jaw-fest Waking Life, Waltz was drawn using a mixture of Flash, 3D and traditional animation techniques, rather than the rotoscoping used for Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. A favorite at the Cannes and New York Film Festivals, the film is a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and an official Academy Award entry for Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language Film.

Folman does not wield the documentary form as a pedagogical tool, nor does he create a comprehensive contextual framework for the viewer to understand Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. He shuns traditional documentary’s fixation on experts and verisimilitude, which can desensitize viewers. By positing war at a dreamlike distance, Folman brings its atrocity closer. “War is so surreal,” Folman says, “and memory is so tricky that I thought I had better take the journey with the help of very fine illustrators.” The personal is political in Waltz with Bashir; In focusing on the non-linear and oft fantastical stories of fellow Israeli soldiers, Folman resists using documentary in the service of an official history, instead delving into the highly subjective and fragmentary testimonials of his peers. Waltz With Bashir impressively navigates the cross-currents of anguish, fantasy and war, all the while reminding us through the veil of post-traumatic reverie that war’s vagaries are very, very real.

Lat den ratte komma in

Orginally published in Dazed and Confused, issue #130

Text Jesi Khadivi

“Are you old?” a young, cherubic-faced Swede asks his new dark, androgynous friend. “I’m twelve,” the child responds, “but I’ve been twelve for a long time.” Meet Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), two pre-teens living in the anonymous block suburbs of Stockholm in the early 1980s, a far cry from the drafty Transylvanian castles of vampire lore. Despite this, Let The Right One In, a minimal Swedish film about a twelve year old vampire and her budding relationship with her neighbor, Oskar, is one of the most outstanding experimentations with the genre in years. Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the best selling novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist is light on the gore and heavy on the pathos. Oskar, a pale and friendless young boy, is repeatedly tortured at school. When a gaunt child and her much older caretaker move in next door around the same time that grizzly murders start happening in the neighborhood, Oskar forges a friendship with her over a shared Rubik’s cube. Already a bit of a gore fiend, Oskar soon discovers that his girl-next-door is actually a vampire and not even a girl, forcing him to choose between his nascent sense of morality and love for his only friend.

Working with a cast of stellar, largely unknown actors, Alfredson drains the bravado out of an essentially hyperbolic genre to create a film of unparalleled restraint and tenderness. Vital back stories in the novel, Oskar’s father’s alcoholism and the troubled relationship between Eli and her caretaker Hakan, are only wordlessly alluded to in the film, but the adaptation isn’t slighted at all by their absence. Far from it. The reliance of Let the Right One In on the suggestiveness of rich, visual storytelling lends the film an ambiguity that accounts for much of its charm. Alfredson depicts a world of losers: a lonely boy, a shrill single mother ashamed of her broken home, a gaggle of drunks, a grubby vampirette and the broken old man who takes care of her until his untimely death. Let the Right One In is a horror flick without a clearly delineated evil, other than repression and provincialism--byproducts of Blackeberg’s brutal landscape. Aggressors and victims alike are depicted as every day folk just trying to get by. Those looking for blood in the film will find it, but the gore factor is so subdued that it appears fantastical rather than gruesome. The trauma and violence of adolescence—the sensuality of bullying, the shame of being monstrous, and first pangs of sexual desire—are treated more in depth than any nocturnal blood letting. With a keen eye for nuance and elegiac pacing, Alfredson deftly probes his characters’ capacity to love and feel pain through intimate, revealing moments. The solemn hug a bloody-mouthed Eli gives Oskar after he watches her kill a man beautifully encapsulates the limitations of Eli and Oskar’s fragile relationship. Adolescence is depicted as a long Scandinavian winter, steeped in darkness and ice. While Oskar will eventually make it to Spring if he chooses to, Eli will continue to inhabit the dark, cold night.