Archive for July, 2010


Hot Stuff: John Miller at Pittsburgh Glass Center

July 28, 2010

Seeing an everyday object in gigantic proportions helps you see the absurdity of it. This is apparent in roadside statues, the giant chickens and insects and Muffler Men who line the highways. It is also apparent in John Miller’s Hot Stuff, now being exhibited at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

Miller has taken Martini glasses, cigarettes, fast food, and car keys and made perfect, oversized renditions of them out of glass. The works have evocative titles, such as “Breakfast of Champions” for a giant beer and cigarette, or “Do Not Duplicate” for a set of car keys. Many works feature the coupling of tobacco and alcohol, while others relate to fast food. They poke fun at our consumer culture by simply being what they are, only larger and well-crafted.

A martini, a cigarette, and a pill are all units of consumption. They are quantifiable, and we often describe our day by saying “I took two aspirin,” or “I had three martinis,” or “I smoke a pack a day.” These little consumables are symbols for greater and less definable forces in our lives, like pain, pleasure, the desire for social acceptance, and addiction. Seeing these items separated from the emotions and situations with which they are usually entangled, and seeing them as sizable, exposes both their power and their silliness. It is silly to allow a unit of alcohol or tobacco represent a day or a night or a life. I’m not sure if this tendency toward metonymy is something bred by commercials, or if it is an inherent psychological principle to narrow ideas and feeling into symbols. Either way, Miller has fun creating and displaying these large objects, and his joy is easily perceivable.

Hot Stuff will be on display at the Pittsburgh Glass Center until September 26th.



July 12, 2010

Who manufactures the weapons used in Darfur? Who makes the bullets?

According to Amnesty International, the majority of weapons flowing into Darfur come from China and Russia. Data from 2005 show that Sudan imported $83 million worth of arms, ammunition, aircraft, helicopters, and parts from China. AviChina, a corporation tat specializes in aircraft, has provided Sudan with aircraft and helicopters. China Aviation Industry Corporation I’s subsidiary Beijing Aviation Science and Technology Co. (BASC) sends flight simulators for K-8S jets to Sudan.

In 2005, Sudan imported $33 million worth of aircraft equipment and helicopters from Russia. Belarus signed a military cooperation protocol with Sudan in 2006 and has continued to send armored personnel carriers, 122mm guns, and howitzers. Sudan does have a domestic arms production industry, but much of their arms are made from parts imported from abroad.

One vehicle of war in Sudan is the Land Rover, a vehicle made by the UK company called Land Rover, which is a subsidiary of Ford Motors. Executives at Ford Motors claim that, upon becoming aware of the uses for which their rovers are being used, they have stopped exporting them.

Sudan is not the only place where weapons are deadly. Indeed, there is no place where there are casualty-free weapons. The nature and purpose of a weapon are to quickly and messily dispossess a person of his existence. Apparently, existence dispossession is a growing market. Hundreds of companies manufacture firearms, ammunition, powder, and accessories for weapons.

The question remains: how can weapons manufacturing be stopped without violence? This question is addressed by the surreal artistic genius Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the maker of Amelie and City of Lost Children, in his film Micmacs. He takes on the horror of weapons manufacturers with beauty, humor, and imagination.

Micmacs is about Bazil, a man whose father was killed by a land-mine and whose livelihood was lost after being shot in the head. He is kindly adopted by a band of salvagers with circus talents who help in his quest to take down the manufacturers of the weapons that destroyed his life. By setting two executives against each other, and by playing off their fears, paranoia, and own evil behaviors, Bazil and his friends are able to destroy them without violence of malice.

Micmacs is playing through Thursday the 22nd at the Regent Square Theater.

References: Sudan: arms continuing to fuel serious human rights violations in Darfur; Amnesty International;