Who does Camille Gage think she is?
The artist and peace activist has grown so weary of celebrity culture and its effect on the human psyche that she's co-curated (whatever that means) an art exhibition (whatever that means) about it. I mean, she reads Vanity Fair. She fully admits she stands in the grocery store line, checking out the tabloids and the pop-culture carnage. She's no better than any other drive-by rubbernecker in search of another high-def parable about someone better or, preferably, much worse off than us. So what is she, an elitist?
"I don't feel elitist at all, and I think that's a really important thing to tackle," she said. "Caring about the environment, caring about good food, caring about peace even on a micro level with bullying in the schools all the way up to how we treat each other as nations -- these aren't elitist things. And the successful branding of this stuff as elitist has contributed to the problem big-time. These are common-sense things that we should care about every day."
Lighten up, sweetheart. One person's trash is another person's treasure.
"That's fine, but what's not fine to me is when that kind of entertainment is used as a way not to think about the larger things," she said. "There was a story in the New York Times Magazine recently about the troops in Afghanistan, and one of the young Marines said, 'I [bleeping] can't believe people back in the States care more about Britney Spears than me and the other guys in my battalion.' "
OK, maybe Debbie Downer has a point. The Marine's observation is at the core of "Party Party in a Tweety Land b/w This Republic of Suffering," which opens at Form + Content Gallery in Minneapolis this week. Using the model of 45 rpm singles (human hurting on one side, omnipresent entertainment on the other), "Party" seeks to frame the flotsam and survey the soul shrapnel. Check your own pulse with this description of the exhibition:
"In a world where the human suffering inflicted by wars, natural disasters, hunger, drug addiction and other natural manmade causes feels ever-present, people are increasingly becoming numb to the plight of others. Overwhelmed by the enormity of suffering and mired in frustration with how to alleviate it, some retreat into private worlds. Others distract themselves with celebrity infatuation or indulge in decadent behavior to keep the world at bay. Some find transcendence and meaning for their own suffering through religious models."
Some make art. Some, like Gage and her fellow curator, the Weisman Art Museum's Colleen Sheehy, gather a group of artists to try to make sense of how it feels to be alive at a time when materialism gets more play than, well, anything else.
"We're obsessed with things that are very meaningless," said Gage. "We're obsessed with owning things, and with the lives of total strangers. The things that are really meaningful have become obscured by all this junk everywhere. The touchstones that should be there for our lives to make sense are becoming increasingly obscured. So you feel kind of rudderless, because the things that we should be caring about, like the natural world around us and peace, aren't [valued]. I mean, it's hard to even talk about peace nowadays because it's like peace is for chumps."
We're talking damage here. We're talking human beings who have been through the mill and have come out scathed. We're talking nine artists -- Christopher Baker, Harriet Bart, Kim Benson, Kristi Bretskie, Jaron Childs, Philip Harder, Jenny Schmid, Scott Seekins and Javier Tavera -- whose art navigates the idiocracy.
"Colleen and I have chosen work that [represents] the ways people turn away from the suffering in the world, because it's too much or because they just can't think of ways to handle it," said Gage. "Scott Seekins' painting of himself with Britney Spears. Or Javier Tavera has these amazing photographs of people at raves where they're on another planet. They've taken themselves to another place.
"I think we just seek to illuminate, and I think that's the role of artists and writers and other creative people. We don't have all the answers, nobody does, but we can help illuminate a little piece of what's happening in our collective life and then everybody has to think about these things, hopefully."
Well, lah-di-dah. What a bunch of killjoys. Turn up the radio!
Gage: "There's a great song by the Be Good Tanyas out of Canada that goes, 'We hover between apathy and compassion/ Fill up all our days with so much distraction/ It makes it easier not to see what we don't want to/ But we all live here, we all live here, we all live here.'"