Meditations on Crime
Hat & Beard Press
This is one massive project, and it will be hard to fit it into our little website, but I’ll give it a shot. As 2016 rolled to an end, artist and composer Harper Simon considered how to express his anger with the world situation and America in particular. Rather than write a bunch of whiny protest songs and sing them to himself, he approached other artists he knew and asked for their input in the form of essays along with musical ideas that flowed from the text. Ultimately eleven writers joined the parade and edited their work down to a bit over 300 pages. All of this detail and planning and agonizing fills the foreword to the project. We so often skip the foreword, but here, that is an error on the reader’s part. You need some touchstones to this massive project. It drips with clues the authors, editors, and composers intend to alert your sense of “WHY?”
We hear multiple points of view, from novelists, to war correspondents, to rock and rollers all coherently expressing their opinions and ideas. Some conflict. Some agree. Some will anger you, and some will offend. But the result is a reasonably thorough path to organize your own anger and perhaps channel it to better ends.
After the thoughtful introduction, we see a string of artwork that ties into the grander theme. A reimagining of a typeset “Wanted” poster by Nate Lowman demands more police and a return to the old values, a theme that runs through the centuries. An artist going by the name “12” envisions a crumpled movie poster from Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street. The pencil rant from Johan Kuglberg entertains and questions if not everything, quite a few things. There are many more examples, and I still wrestle with how they relate. This project isn’t a easy ride, so buckle up.
Ben Orki begins the body of the text with the observation that the first crime in the Bible is not the murder of Cain, but the revolt of Satan before the Creation. Whatever your faith may or may not lack, this remains a timely question. We do not know if there was any mutual agreement between Jehovah and Lucifer before the fall, and speculation is fruitless. Is this question not the heart of philosophy? Here we debate and attempt answering the unanswerable. So the question “What exactly IS crime?” remains mired in the mud and muck of late-night bull sessions in the undergraduate dorm, undergrad being that limbo of the unanswerable we swam through to get more beer.
More artwork appears, this time aiming at various New York street gangs and rich politicos. The implications are that both are criminal, both wear gang colors, and both will tear those in the middle apart. Now more text arises: “A Long And Terrible History” by Wayne Kramer of the MC5. MC5 was one of the proto-punk bands that blew their career over one ill-advised obscenity on an LP leading to a radio boycott. This essay focuses on the group as a cooperative society versus every man for himself. It remains the defining concept pervading today’s politics and ethos. Kramer, like many over the top rockers, is at heart smart and caring and creative. This is one ray of hope here.
The material rolls on. Antonin Artaud pontificates on Vincent Van Gogh and how this mentally-ill genius ruptured the art world. More art work flows by. Julian Schnabel explains his creations, Hooman Majd, a tale of human smuggling. I am halfway through the project, and the undergrowth threatens to bury me. But you have the idea.
I see more fascinating insights, a few arguing points, and an eye-opening look at what all that paint thrown at an innocent wall really means. Can I explain it at all? If you are still lost at this point in the review, welcome to the club. Hey, I need an absinthe break. Catch you in the gallery tomorrow.