Mesmer-ized: Hast Du Felt Fat Lately?

This week I took a closer look at Joseph Beuys by reading short biographies, watching John Halpern's Joseph Beuys-Transformer, and even his pop music video. I have to say that I am a bit mystified and perhaps a bit surprised I didn't know more about the man. He certainly is an enigmatic entity, but I do not know for sure how I feel about his ideas. There is something very troubled and guilty about his person that is probably mostly the result of his war-torn past. I wonder what direction his artistic ideas would have taken if he had not been in the German army during the Nazi reign of terror. In what ways would his ideas have manifested themselves if he had not been a POW? There is something truly haunting about these realities and the way that Beuys seemed to use his influence and artistic ideas to try and make amends for himself or his country during that time of hatred and confusion in the war. I suppose in some ways I can relate to this since I have seen strange consequences result in my own life experiences as the result of some sort of "Catholic guilt." I can really understand how something that is such a dominating ideology in your youth can easily dominate your later life and thoughts with obsessive tendencies or the desire to correct such wrong circumstances. There seems to be something very human about that. I like some of the concepts about Beuys' views on art and producing artwork not with media, but in the mind of the viewer. I think I can agree with that type of observable response in the viewer. However, it seems that some parts of Beuys are at odds with himself.

I admire the way he avoided political manipulation or the possible political influences he could have pursued to instead use his artwork to symbolically improve the world through artistic gestures contained in the acts of planting trees and performing or installing fat and felt in galleries. Starting movements like Green Roots, that so slow, slow, slowly making its way to the U.S. nowadays (pretty comical) seem like fitting ways to rehabilitate the image of Germans in the rest of the world and it appeals to me that Beuys used his ideas to further projects that visibly changed the landscape of his time even if some people did not understand his metaphors and symbols. Maybe all this makes more sense considering that he volunteered to avoid the draft and was angry with the German people for not opposing the Nazi party more strongly, and that he had time to think as a POW.

I also read "The Chain of Reason Versus the Chain of Thumbs," from Stephen Jay Gould's Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History this week. This I found amusing, interesting and timely. It relates to Mesmer and his ideas during their most popular until they were debunked by a committee headed by Ben Franklin and Lavoisier. This specifically relates to Herzog's Stoszek with the references to Animal Magnetism. Was it really just a glorified cult though some swore results from Mesmer's treatments, as strange as they were (though sometimes I think it is the stranger, the better with these things)? What is a cult exactly, anyhow? We are still asking this question today.

My roommate and I have recently been "investigating" the Church of Scientology and Dianetics. Maybe L. Ron Hubbard was not so different from Franz Mesmer. We have found some shocking parallels: animosity and uncooperative nature at the question of authenticity, loyal testimonies, pseudo-science, mysterious and inexplicable belief, religious awe, demonstrations of proof or disproving proportions, etc. Is Scientology just an example of a contemporary huckster looking to Mesmer-ize the masses? Maybe this is an example of something that just doesn't change. France and the BBC would agree, but so many seem so convinced. Besides the obvious humorous value, curiosity prompted my roommate and I to start watching How to Use Dianetics to see what compelling conditions create the psychological conditions that make followers of some beliefs so fanatical and determined. Anyway, it was that and the lure of free books from the library, which I am convinced is an absolutely irresistible temptation despite the lack of space on my bookshelves.

To put this back into perspective, I guess what I have gathered from these disparate, but intertwined sources, is that so much of any idea will boil down to a perspective favored by the links created by every person's perceptions. And more than that, there is an extreme need that seems to be inherent in human kind for some sort of healing and rehabilitation in the processes associated with daily life. Like Beuys' habitual use of lard and wool in his installations or his planting of trees or Mesmer's Magnetic rods and chain of thumbs, or even Hubbard's auditing of engrams.

I guess this sort of theme of healing is also relevant to my project as well. I think that part of my relationship with music, and all art for that matter, is very related to this need. I most like the cathartic and restorative qualities that associated with creating or partaking of music and art. So far I have gotten good stories from my friends in creative writing to contribute to my work. We have met about them and one I will definitely use, so I have also started composing the songs for my project. I have been experimenting and laid down some drum tracks with some ideas for an overall concept and for adapting the stories to music. I want to in some ways simplify the story narratives to their most essential qualities so that others can relate to them and maybe find some sort of "healing" in that. We have also been considering the natural themes in the narratives that we are considering to be interpretations of basic life processes like birth, death, and transition. I think if I am successful with those concepts, our project could very well have some healing qualities.


Jordan Severson



This week I watched Herzog's film Stroszek in its entirety. It has really stayed with me since class ended. I keep mentally returning to it and trying to decipher what I really think of it. On some level, it really resonates with me. I read in an article that Herzog has been categorized as someone who, rather than working with "real actors" finds "real people" that capture the essence of a character that he is investigating so that they just behave as themselves. I think I agree with that interpretation and I think the capture of a "true essence" is the mark of a quality work. I think works that do this, movies, films, paintings, etc. are the ones that are most successful with me and I try to do something similar in achieving emotional reaction in my artwork. Now many see this film only for an unsettling, open or ambiguous ending, but to me this openness is very precisely orchestrated so that it is actually a sort of simplicity that makes it more complex. I am referring to a sort of less is more effect. I think in my art that works are most effective when they leave some room for connections and interpretation because it is impossible to predict how a viewer will interpret an end product and it is more effective to leave some psychological gaps in a piece that will be naturally interpreted by the viewer to fit what makes sense to them. I think this is a beautiful process and it takes real skill to find a balance of sufficient suggestion, but enough left to interpret that it makes the viewer respond with the result. This makes them return to the piece, much like the ending of Stroszek. To think of it in terms of physics and waves, such a work has enough emotional or intellectual content to stimulate a resonant frequency in the viewer. Meaning, that with little energy there is a much greater output or result. Perhaps, my resonant frequency for film and music and other works is something of a dark or tragic (according to others) range of response.

In class and in other blog entries, I have addressed my inspiration or connection with films like the Machinist, Memento, Donnie Darko, and bands like Hurt and Flaw to name a few. People don't seem to understand this and the fact that I have interest in or identify with these themes has confused people and cause me to be labeled as one thing or another since before I was in Middle School. But I don't care if someone thinks there is something wrong with me because they think I only listen to Death Metal or only like twisted films. I don't think of it in those terms and I don't much care that some people are so limited as to see things that simply. I like a lot of things in those categories that others find, but for my own preferences I just think of it as something that does or does not resonate with me. Can I relate to it or find some truth in it? I do not much care for things that are cliche, contrived, or overly superficial. Those things just seem false and wrong to me. Maybe that means that I or my tastes are odd or out of the ordinary, but I do not really mind. I think that the end of Stroszek is profound in this sense. There is a suggestion there that makes you figure the film out yourself and investigate something internal instead of just passively observing the film.

There is something about Bruno and his character, or his real personality, that is very believable and grounded in reality. There is no magical solution to his problems, he takes the things he has left, the gun, and the turkey and goes on a journey. It seems like he might be close to finding some sort of help in the character that has lunch with him and speaks some German to Bruno. He summarizes his problems, but despite language barriers and his sort of marginalized or outcast character, Bruno really did know what was going on the whole time. When there was no one to translate the banker, he still understood that he was losing everything. Before that he was resistant to leaving for America and basically predicted it would end badly for him. In this way he seems to occupy a sort of "savant" archetype. Bruno only really agrees for the sake of others (who would not be so selfless in turn) because he does his best to improve life for others despite the constant abuse and mistreatment he has suffered at their hands his whole life. Bruno sort of comes full circle. Instead of just giving up, I think he takes the rest of his journey to confront what fate has in store for him. This is sort of symbolized by the circles of the truck and the ski lift and also the animals forced to habitually repeat their actions. It is as if Bruno had this revelation to find this place where he fit in and could participate in the actions of repetition that perhaps most people are too blind to recognize. The animals, the music, and the ski lift seem like they made his journey complete and offered him some comfort in what could be the end of his journey and the start of something else. Perhaps I am too much of a realist to prefer a happy ending to this. But I think that others have this understanding too. I seek out those things that I can relate to and find comfort in even if they are tragic, depressing, haunting, dark or whatever. This always reminds me of the Japanese concept of Mono no aware, which is a sort of understanding and savoring or enjoyment of sorrow even though most Americans are lost on this concept. If my project can conjure such a provocative response as Stroszek, I will be pleased.

Jordan Severson


Wo ist Werner Herzog?

I haven't thought about Herzog in some time, but there has always been something about him that captivates me. His accent, his mannerisms, his thought process and what he says always seem to captivate me, especially the way he seems to pause long enough to contemplate anything before he says it. I think that is very telling about his character. He also has a seemingly honest way about him, that seems as though he is always speaking the absolute truth or something at the core of what he believes. But he also seems to give limited, or restrictively consistent responses. They seem almost scripted as if he has written a response once and will always stick to it. That leads me to believe that there is something more going on and I start to try to read between the lines. This makes me think that some of the questions he doesn't answer or the explanations he won't provide are more interesting than the ideas he does maintain. Recently, reading selections from Herzog on Herzog and watching the commentary version of his film, Stroszek, among other research, I have been reminded of this odd sense of the filmmaker.

My favorite and perhaps first encounter with Herzog as a figure in the filmmaking industry (I say in because of his appearance) was in the Incident at Loch Ness. I had heard of the man before then, but not really seen him or had any concept of who he is. The premise of this film is basically a mockumentary or spoof of a film crew attempting to make a documentary of Herzog while he makes a documentary about Loch Ness. This leads to tension between the differing goals of Herzog and Zak Penn. Perhaps even more interesting is the way in which Herzog delivers his stock answers and static explanations about the film. He basically says in interviews that this film, while fictional to some degree, still captures what his personality is like at work. So, basically it is him and it isn't him, which I find to be a pretty funny way of effectively circumventing the point of the questioning. True, this does in someways represent that unique sort of blend between factual documentary and scripted narrative of his own film style, but I can't help thinking he is really just poking fun at interviews and interviewers by not really giving them what they want. I think that his interview with Henry Rollins is slightly different, but that one is still humorous and both of them seem to take the interview process lightly. Maybe this isn't something real at all though, just German to English language barrier (then again maybe Herzog is just exploiting that expectation) and it just says something about me or how I would react if I were a famous filmmaker being interviewed.

I think I relate most to the mention of obscure inspirations and artists that Herzog mentions in Herzog on Herzog. For example, after listing more well-known artists as influences he says, "there is is a painter who I feel even closer to, a virtual unknown called Hercules Segers." Then he goes on to explicate his affinity for this artist that the renowned Rembrandt recognized. However, he seems to be the only one who noticed this artist. In some sense this relates to Andy Warhol and his fascination with what he calls "leftovers." Perhaps it is that same quality that I relate to then. In my interest in independent artists I find that, like Herzog, there is plenty of beauty and undiscovered talent in a largely unknown artist or someone who may be really gifted, but just lacks the means to share there gifts and goes unnoticed. I derive a real pleasure from discovering these kinds of artists and I believe that is the origin of my interest in little known or independently released or DIY musicians. This relates to my own exploration of music and videos in my current project ideas since today there are so many internet sites that create means for little or unknown musicians to get recognized. I enjoy finding them through my job as a director at WLFM, the University radio station. It is that job that has made me more aware of a lot of these sites and new means for recognition of musicians. College radio in some ways is a great model for this because of its ability to give heavy rotation to artists that are overlooked by mainstream artists.

On a side note I don't know what to make about the whole idea of Herzog's exploitation of Bruno S. It seems unlikely that he was exploiting Bruno from the beginning since he wrote a whole screenplay out of guilt to include Bruno in a main role. And it is tough to dismiss that "the Bruno" is very clever indeed. Perhaps it was he who exploited Herzog? Who is exploiting whom? I would suggest that Stroszek represents a symbiotic relationship. Bruno may have learned from being exploited and abused all his life even if he allowed Herzog to also exploit him in some ways.



It seems to me that things in Andy Warhol's world are quite strange. Or at least most people think so, but I found that upon looking at him anew from several different sources recently, I can relate to a lot of his philosophy. Though his thinking comes off at times as quirky, insincere, or ambiguous, I could still relate to a lot of the content at the core of his ideas.
After watching the documentary made about Warhol by Ric Burns, I have some mixed feelings. The strange juxtaposition of sound textures, interviews, archival footage, rereading of Warhol quotes, praise for the artist, etc. seems to take Warhol a little bit out of context for me. Burns' work seems to me to glorify Warhol in an unnecessary fashion. It seems that a lot of the structure and direction of the documentary is orchestrated to make Warhol seem larger than life, but that seems a bit of a contradiction to me. Reading about Warhol and his quotations in the context of his life and even some of the information that I got from the film seem to tell me something different. Despite the ways Warhol seems intentionally misleading or comical, I find that his ideas of leftovers and art as business really make sense to me. I can relate to his feeling misplaced or trying to grapple with his fame. I don't think I could handle some of that attention and I don't like a maid cleaning up after me either. Anyway, a lot of these details reveal to me that Warhol was eccentric and famous, but also a regular person that got put into these positions and categories. I don't think he ever felt like some kind of absolute genius or one of the most influential artists of the 20th century any more than I or my classmates do. This image does not really fit with what many expect of a genius even though we may expect awkwardness and eccentricity to be a part of the formula. We have a lot of evidence to support that he was confused and lost more often than not, and even almost forgotten or ignored while he was still alive. While that does not prevent him from being a genius, it does seem to contradict some of the image that seems to have been constructed by the documentary or perhaps the Warhol foundation on a larger scale.

Jordan Severson



So, I am returning to the blog. I know I expressed that I wanted to continue all along, but blogging is time-consuming and involved at times. If I can't do it right, I don't like to do it. I have continued with art, especially painting. However, I have had a lot going on so sometimes I think it is better to keep making the art and living life for real than writing about it on the internet. Or maybe I have it backwards and this is or will be real life in time...
To connect to the last post that I left, The Room is a timely topic. I just got back from winter break and over that break I had the opportunity to meet Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero (one of the other actors from the picture) at a viewing of the film. One of the best nights of my life. Interactive audience with footballs, screaming and throwing plastic spoons...

Anyway, welcome back blog.