back and forth

So two weeks of secret missions in the US have left me dazed and confused but thankfully back home in London.

I went out for the purpose of attending my brother’s wedding. My brother Ted was married in a beautiful ceremony in Hell, Michigan (really). The ceremony took place at Hell Creek Ranch, which is a biker clubhouse of the Forbidden Wheels but looks more like a country club then anything else.

On my way back out through Chicago I had the chance to see one of the greatest groups of all time, the Dead C, with Wolf Eyes opening up at the Empty Bottle. It was a fantastic show. I can?t say enough great stuf about this band. (I posted a clip of the show on my youtube page here)

On my last night there I had a drink with Todd Carter at Rodan and got to see the Jeff Parker trio as well. Another superb Parker group with Josh Abrams and John Herndon. Beautiful visuals provided by Brad Loving.

One bit of conversation on that last evening has left me thinking about the urban landscape of Chicago. Todd and I were joined by David Doby and Sheeba for our drinking and conversational pleasures. The four of us had lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood many years ago (12?) and were all reminiscing about the place it was back then.

When I met Dave and Sheeba (sometime around 1996) they lived above me in the Flat Iron building. I had gone upstairs to find out where the water coming through my ceiling had its source and had woken them up to see if it was from their space (no luck). Since then I have had shows at Heaven Gallery (which Dave runs) and watched the Wicker Park neighborhood go from a quaint little ethnic hood (Polish and Latin) that was starting to embrace these new art people moving in, to what amounts to Chicago?s drinking shithole. The streets used to be lined with empty store fronts and thrift shops that are now all overpriced boutiques and trendy bars that change name and facade every year or so.

And though I feel a little pang of nostalgia thinking about the pirogi at the Busy Bee and the crazy waitress at the Friars Grill (not to mention the 24 hour Wicker Dog fries), I have to wonder if it is a bad thing when a neighborhood is gentrified.

When I lived in Wicker Park I saw dead homeless guys frozen to the ground in their own piss, junkies smoking crack behind Urbis Orbis, and occasionally looked over my shoulder in fear while dumpster diving or coming home very late. The crime rate was high and the rent was cheap. Sure, the Quaker Goes Deaf record store had records that seemed to materialize out of some alternate universe (things not even in a labels catalog) but living there was a risk you took.

When the money came (and it did in a big way) I split to Logan Square like so many others, only to see that neighborhood be eaten by the developers as well in just a few years. But is this kind of urban renewal bad? Is it wrong to get rid of crime? To renovate buildings and make a neighborhood safe. I know plenty of artists who bought buildings before the big change and now have very lucrative property that they live in. In a safe, nice neighborhood.

I know many of my friends will take the side of the ethnic groups that have been pushed from place to place, uprooted by the changing financial structure of the urban landscape around them. But is it every really bad to make crime go away? To renew buildings and create a stable environment?

I am not a fan of the current Wicker Park. I like a few places, leftovers from that forgotten era like the Beechwood and some new places like Rodan (who support the hell out of the music scene). But given a choice between dead frozen junkies and drunk frat boys I will let the frat boys have their fun and go drink at the Skylark in Pilsen.

America the brave

I wander aimlessly through Chicago streets, the hot October sky clear and blue, the random cheer of cubs fans oblivious to the fact that they will soon be let down again by the sports team they worship. I see America, lingering in the grips of fear, racism, and frustration. The beaconing poverty like a car crash in slow motion we can not stop. In so many ways we are reliving the 1970s, fat on the corpses of our enemies, a list of our dead youth killed in a senseless war grows, and yet we worry not about the actions of our government as we have become so callous to a government we are disenfranchised from, as if simply to say it is not our fault will make it true. I smell the vitriolic decay of rancid flesh burning the eyes and eating the skin of our decency. The moral high ground we take a facade of guilt and lust. Of anger and envy at the world we choose to ignore. I heard on the radio yesterday an announcer proclaiming that even though America was taking a shit on the world stage he would rather live in America than anyplace else. I thought to myself ?its because this is the only place he has ever been.? We have chosen to regard ourselves at a distance from the events of the world. Events that unfold because of our actions, events that would not have occurred if we had not taken and consumed the worlds cultures in order to digest the very essence of greed. We have become the mindless consumers they have tried to make us, and now they are we. We are one. Somehow I doubt that a change of office will mean anything new. Even if the incoming president has our real best interests at heart he will have to clean up a ridiculous mess made by the children who ruled the world before him. The cost of this cleanup alone will ensure that if he makes it to a second term it will be barely and with the disgust of the public. In the end, we American?s are being forced to eat the shit we have created. We have fouled the world and thus we must do what we have been taught to do, consume. But instead of feasting on the flesh of others we will now suffer with our own waste as our only nutrient. As the American empire falls so too does an eon of human existence. America’s death will not stop others from acting as we have, but in the history of the world we will be held up as a great and powerful mistake. A modern Atlantis that went from dust to empire to ruin on a wave of lust, desire and want.

Counter Intrusion

In the spring of 2007 I conceived a performance piece titled ‘Counter Intrusion’ as part of an exhibition at Inspire Fine art that I was having during the Art in Chicago “art fair”.

Art in Chicago is one of many contemporary art “festivals” that act as conventions for fine art. Commercial (and sometimes non profit) galleries pay a rental price to have a section of physical space in a large convention hall. They divide up the space and show their wares much in the way a toy collectors convention or film collectors convention occurs. Though the spaces in which the display occurs might be a little more fancy the format is identical.

These art fairs are becoming a proving ground for the commercial art world. By setting up these conventions corporate entities like the Merchandise Mart are able to not only make a huge impact on the ‘salability” of an artist but to now influence the art media about the importance of specific artists in the evolution of art history. (Through their PR programs and advertising budgets.)

What impact is there on an art world model that is being controlled by a hotel chain or an alcohol vendor? How is the ‘evolution’ of art to continue if the importance of a work (or artist as a whole) is decided on its value as a commodity? What forms of internal censorship are being decided by those that nominate artists for grants and exhibitions? As corporate control over art expands one has to ask, is this art that is occurring or simply media advertising in disguise?

When a Banksy appears on the London landscape a sense of interest occurs in the public. People start walking by the work, tell others about its location, knowing it personally. I have recently read that when he does work in America he paints over it himself in a matter of hours so that it doesn?t get taken down and sold. Smart.

So Art in Chicago was to come to Chicago again and I thought to myself, since I am having a show I should consider this art fair and its role in the art world. Thus I wrote, directed and performed in a new piece Counter Intrusion, but I did not get what I thought I would get out of my performance.

The basic plot of the piece was to dress in dark suits, looking as ‘straight’ as we could (I say we as I was accompanied by Jacob Myers as my co actor and followed by Kait who documented the piece in stills) and act as some kind of ‘agents.’ We spent the better part of a day walking around with a video camera in hand, creating a sense of mild tension where ever we went. Everyone figured we were cops of FBI or something but no one did anything more than mild muttering under their breath. We pointed our camera at anything and anyone and yet no one said a word to us. I got a lot of looks that said to me “Who do you think you are?!” but not a word to stop us. We questioned various gallery workers about the artists themselves but did not receive a single demand for us to stop or to present identification.

By late afternoon and having pushed my way into whatever place I wanted to go I had grown distraught and tired. ?What the hell was happening?? I thought to myself in disgust. No one said a word. Are they all so complacent, so beaten down that they never uttered a word of resistance?

But then I realized – they don’t care. Not the galleries or the ‘artists’. That in the end they act like they are, capable of dealing with a situation of being violated by a government body without the ability to resist. Like a sheep while it is shorn they stood and they did not like it but they did nothing to stop it. Because the hands that shear them are the same that feed them.

The Philosophers Stone is revealed!

On October 31st 2008 my feature film the Philosopher’s Stone will go live on the web. It will be available as a torrent via greylodge.org and streaming through various sites including Altertube.com and philosophersstone.org. The torrent will be a full dvd resolution file. Free to anyone.

Below is the press release from Subliminal Films. Spread the word, share the light.

Yours

Raymond Salvatore Harmon

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Subliminal Films presents:

The Philosopher’s Stone

Directed and produced by
Raymond Salvatore Harmon
featuring the music of Bog

starring Jacob Andrew Myers
introducing Isobel Julianna Harmon

The Philosopher’s Stone tells the story of Jacob Fausstman, a scientist and early alchemist who searches for the key to curing man of the disease of death. In his frustration Jacob stumbles onto another path to achieve his goals. Turning to the dark arts Jacob conjures the demon Mephistopheles and is given the key to eternal life. But his perceptions of ‘life eternal’ and the nature of his existence comes into question once he has obtained his desire for true knowledge.

Base in equal parts on the Faustian archetype and the biographical story of Dr. Albert Hoffmann’s accidental discovery of LSD, The Philosopher’s Stone is an homage to early German Expressionist cinema and the psychedelic visualizations of drug culture.

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What critics have said about Harmon’s work:

“For Harmon, the visual density of the abstract imagery used will enable the viewer to enter an almost hypnagogic, liminal state, and become perceptually distant from the sense of the real. Once the enveloping visual content has become the landscape of the mind to the viewer, the subliminal content will have access to the subconscious mind.” – Jack Sargeant

“Accentuating the trio’s vibrant performances with colorization, layered collages, dense textures and split-screen effects, Harmon becomes a virtual fourth member of the ensemble.” – All About Jazz, on Chronicle

“The subdued flame-like flashes and sounds reinforce the feeling of quietly smoldering passion. Together, these elements come together to create a delicate composition which is abstract, yet full of feeling.” – FilmThreat.com on Tiny Inconsistencies

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The Philosopher’s Stone will be available (via bit torrent) for full download FREE Oct 31st 2008 at GREYLODGE.ORG, subliminalfilms.org, and streaming at:

http://www.philosophersstone.org

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A letter from the director;

In choosing to distribute this film I have decided to skip the theatrical presentation stage and go directly to sourcing the film via the bit torrent network. By giving the public full access to this film I hope to encourage other filmmakers to realize the potential of their audience by abandoning the outdated model of cinematic distribution in favor of an open relationship with the viewers themselves.

After years of struggle with the format of distribution cinema has found an ever evolving platform of distribution on the internet. Years of so called ‘format wars’, first between film gauges and then between dv formats, have ended in the wake of widening broadband access for the average person.

The ability for anyone to simple download and watch a film already exists, as does the ability for anyone to make a film and allow the world to experience it directly. The filmmaker has a wide range of encoding practices available that allow them to maximize video quality for each project’s distribution on the web. As further technologies and better codecs are develop the filmmaker will be able to expand on the available sources for the cinematic presentation.

As much as the Philosopher’s Stone visually represents a historic period in early 20th century cinema it looks forward to a future unfettered by lack of distribution and a platform for broadcast that gives everyone a chance to experience cinema to its fullest.

This film is meant as a mirror, reflecting what has been onto what will become.

Obviam lux Lucis

Raymond Salvatore Harmon
October 3rd – 2008

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