Profane Waste by Gretchen Craft Rubin and Dana Hoey

Vince Carducci

What is the point of a self-indulgent celebration of waste, profane or otherwise, in this age of inconvenient truth, a time in which ecological sustainability is the single-most pressing issue facing the planet?

Profane Waste

Publisher: Gregory R. Miller & Company
Subtitle: Essay by Gretchen Rubin and Photographs by Dana Hoey
Author: Dana Hoey
Price: $35.00
Display Artist: Gretchen Craft Rubin and Dana Hoey
Length: 80
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 0974364835
US publication date: 2006-09
UK publication date: 2006-09
Author website
I insist on the fact that there is generally no growth but only a luxurious squandering of energy in every form!

-- Georges Bataille

According to her introduction to this book, writer Gretchen Rubin was twice foiled in her attempt to deal with what she terms the "unnamed taboo" of profane waste. The first time was as a student at Yale when she bombed with it as a property law research paper topic; the second was an unsuccessful novel that took the idea as its subject. She feels she finally connected with the essay in this collaboration with photographer Dana Hoey, though others, including me, may think she struck out.

The problems begin with identifying profane waste, i.e., waste that's so gratuitous it's self-validating, as a supposedly heretofore unnamed taboo. But in fact it's a central theme of French Surrealist anthropologist-pornographer Georges Bataille, whose landmark mid-20th-century book The Accursed Share directly deals with it as the necessary escape valve of all human productivity, including modern-day capitalist accumulation. It's perhaps overly optimistic to expect that Bataille be on the syllabus at Yale Law School, but he's certainly well known among the faculty of the art and art history departments at Columbia University where Hoey teaches. On a more prosaic level is the phenomenon of modern consumerism, whose Latin root consumere means "to waste." So-called therapeutic shopping is nothing if not heedless and even defiant waste (two adjectives Rubin uses to describe varieties of profane waste) in pursuit of self-satisfaction.

There's also the questionable interpretation of material the book does use. Rubin acknowledges Thorstein Veblen's concept of conspicuous consumption, first articulated half a century before Bataille in Theory of the Leisure Class, a book that's been continuously in print since it first appeared in 1899. But she dismisses it as not accounting for "the dangerous thrill such action [i.e., profane waste] can evoke." This is at least debatable if not patently untrue. For Veblen, conspicuous consumption, and more importantly the gratuitous waste it entails, is the will-to-power of the freebooting warrior class also known as the haute-bourgeoisie, for whom the thrill of victory over material things, the complete sovereignty over accumulation, is expressed in expenditure that is nothing if not profane in light of the deep social problems that plagued America in the Gilded Age when the polemic was originally written.

A second example is the 1953 piece by Robert Rauschenberg where he completely erases a drawing by legendary Abstract Expressionist master Willem de Kooning, then king of the New York art world. This destruction of a valuable artwork is a prime example of profane waste according to Rubin. Yet as a memento of the enfant terrible Rauschenberg once was, striking an Oedipal blow against his aesthetic father-figure, "Erased de Kooning Drawing" is a famous piece of postwar American art in its own right and would no doubt fetch millions were it ever to come onto the market.

Rubin further asserts that Hoey's photographs are necessary complements to her essay and reveal the "explosiveness of profane waste as words alone could not." Unfortunately, they aren't and they don't. They either anemically illustrate the concept or are just plain obtuse. An example of the former is "Wine Spiller," an image of a woman seated on the ground next to a tipped-over screw-top jug of red wine that's seeping out onto cobblestones; of the latter is "Monster Birthday," a photo of a baby in the passenger seat of a yellow four-wheeler pickup truck parked in the woods.

Like the evocation of Rauschenberg in Rubin's text, several of Hoey's photographs are inspired by what are theoretically famous moments of profane waste taken from art history. They generally fail to satisfy by virtue of their lack of self-awareness beyond the obvious allusion. "Young Painter" shows current hot artist and recent Columbia grad Dana Schutz lying in repose in a paint-spattered suit. The photo evokes a similar image from the 1980s of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who reportedly wore Armani as he churned out neoexpressionist canvasses by the yard before overdosing at the age of 28. But what is the point of this particular rendition? Is it a statement about art as a form of profane waste? (As Andy Warhol once advised wannabe collectors, if you really want to impress people just hang $200,000 in cash on the wall.) Is it a post-feminist refutation of the Guerilla Girls, who once sardonically noted the "advantage" women artists have of not painting in Italian suits? Is it a meditation on gains forgone by kicking back instead of standing in front of an easel producing work that at Schutz's prices could easily accommodate a new $1000 get up for every day of the week?

Another photograph plays on Marcel Duchamp's idea of using a Rembrandt as an ironing board. In this case, Rubin is shown ironing a digital inkjet print of one of Hoey's pictures. The image engages, albeit unintentionally, the distinction between what Walter Benjamin, in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," terms the "aura" of the original artwork and its dissolution in the endless sequence of mass-produced copies of which photographic prints are exemplars. It's a case further attenuated by digital imagery, which is in essence endlessly reproducible and thus exchangeable regardless of how fetishized by artificial means such as archival paper and limited edition. Not only is Hoey's digital photograph not a Rembrandt, it's not even an "original" in the same sense as an oil painting, and it's therefore not subject to irretrievable loss at the hands of Duchampian anti-art impulses.

For Benjamin, the significance of art in the age of mechanical reproduction is that it ceases to have value as a device of ritual display (itself a residue of art's origins as sacred object) and instead becomes a matter of politics. It's here that Profane Waste reveals its most serious shortcoming. What is the point of a self-indulgent celebration of waste, profane or otherwise, in this age of inconvenient truth, a time in which ecological sustainability is the single-most pressing issue facing the planet? After reading Profane Waste, I'd like to offer my own definition of the concept: the effort spent thinking and writing about a blithe and trivial book.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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