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Process and art—the two are unavoidably interwined in instances that show traces of the artist and the time it took him or her to complete a lengthy and nuanced project—think about Eva Hesse’s willowy and bent fiberglass sculptures that now age and decay, mimicking the human life-cycle. However, in contemporary art, process has become integrated into studio practice as an excuse to document every step that goes into an art project. At best, it’s an exercise in multiple viewpoints and the impossibility of mapping everything about a given situation and at worst, there is everything to look at and nothing to contemplate when you feel like the artist’s entire closet—or studio—has been thrown at your feet and every bit of clutter demands your attention. This exercise in excess without order or hierarchy is just an excuse to avoid editing.
The end of the 90s was not signaled by flannel fatigue.
However, the time for the 90s has come again, evinced in one tiny corner of culture by the resurgence and reunion of Pavement, the closing night headliner of the 2010 Pitchfork music festival. Pavement was never a cool band to admire. Their lyrics were about the emptiness of relationships and commercialism, made particularly evident in descriptions of the dry deserts of California and failed careers. This malaise associated with mediocrity was always veiled under surreal lyrics and twists of phrase (like “I saw your girlfriend/She’s eating her fingers like they’re just another meal…Mixing cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar” in “Summer Babe”) to disguise the serious emotions conveyed in songs with titles such as “Loretta’s Scars”, “Ann Don’t Cry”, “In the Mouth a Desert”, and “Stop Breathin’.”
In comparison to many of the other music acts at the 2010 festival, the Slacker-era fashion of Pavement was never so out of place because their baggy t-shirts, disheveled khaki shorts, and picked-up-off-the-college-dorm-room-floor contrasted with the inspired outfits of Neon Indian, Sleigh Bells, and the like. The No Style style of Pavement is what made the band such an emblem of the burnt out 90s. Even the Renaissance Society, a contemporary art space in Chicago, named an exhibition after one of the band’s EPs. The exhibition, of course, was about cool, young artists of the 1990s.
Pavement is less appealing to me than they once were. Less Romantic and cloying than Morrisey, lyrics like “And you’re the kind of girl I like/Because you’re empty and I’m empty” are heartfelt, but a little too selfish, a little too whiny, and really, even if I’m empty and selfish, that doesn’t mean that I want to be or that I’m disaffected enough to want to stay that way. “Don’t expect, don’t expect,” the closing lines of Watery, Domestic are reminders, traces of a way of thinking, but I don’t understand why all the kids in Urban Outfitters are buying into Pavement right now. Seriously, that store plays Slanted and Enchanted. At least it’s better than some of that Emo/Screamo/eyeliner stuff.
As this summer’s current heat wave descends upon my city and bears down upon my pale shoulders, I think about how I wish I didn’t need to wear any clothes at all when I go outside. If only I were a performance artist, then I wouldn’t need to wear clothes at all!
“In other words, the very fact of incessant ‘rewriting of the past’ attests to the presence of a certain gap, to the efficacy of a certain traumatic, foreign kernel that the system is trying to reintegrate ‘after the fact.’”