Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Puppet Show

I've been collecting puppet-themed short films from around the world for the upcoming Drunk Puppet Film Festival. In doing so, I've met some remarkable people and been exposed to many beautiful, bizarre and outrageous films. Puppeteers are a notoriously hard bunch to pin down, so the date of the festival remains nebulous, but I will start screening some of my glorious finds here on the web.

This absurd and gorgeous animated puppet film, Anthropo-Cynical Farce, was made in 1970 by the Japanese master Kihachiro Kawamoto. Kawamoto is currently touring the United Kingdom with a program of his films.

And for those whose hunger for puppet and animation films is more than I can satisfy, The Motion Brigades has a powerhouse of a Youtube channel "Dedicated to showcasing stop motion animation from the masters of the genre, with focus on rare and hard to find titles." Enjoy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Critical Mass

It's not all doom-and-gloom around Gurldoggie headquarters. Critical Mass this month was a glorious affair. For the first time in months the weather cooperated with our plans, and around 300 of us turned out to take over the streets on our bicycles.

The ride circled through the city, passed down 1st Ave. amongst Mariners' traffic, and hooked back for a velodrome-like ride around the Seattle Center fountain. After a brief break, we headed straight up Dexter and over the Aurora Bridge to catch the last rays of the warm spring sun. When we finally stopped for beers and smiles in Gasworks, there were still some 200 of us, including lots of new faces. This bodes very well for summer.

Had a nice chat with Daniel who has been riding and documenting Seattle Critical Mass rides since 1996. Check out his extensive photo archive here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

American Pictures

I saw the remarkable film Chop Shop at the Northwest Film Forum last night. The movie follows main character Alejandro, a pre-adolescent street orphan in Queens, New York, as he hustles for work and finally scores a job and a room with a bed at an auto body repair shop in an industrial neighborhood. With a great deal of effort, Alejandro locates his sister Isamar, and the two of them obsessively save money in a doomed effort to buy a taco truck.

The story isn't as important as the accomplishment of creating a beautiful and positive portrait of some of America's poorest people. The film doesn't romanticize the personal qualities of its characters. Often they are petty, suspicious, hateful, callous and vicious. However, the film is so well made and so subtle that we never interpret these traits as suggesting that any of the characters are bad or inferior people. Rather, these are people who are simply acting, thinking, and feeling in ways consistent with trying to survive or being successful in an inhumane system which distorts and mangles so much of what is otherwise truly warm and good in people.

Interestingly, the entire film takes place within spitting distance of New York's Shea Stadium, a playground for some of the wealthiest, most famous, and most powerful people in America. We only hear the echoes of the crowds, but it's enough to provide a stark contrast between the extremes of oppression and privilege which the film says are inextricably intertwined.

The film put me in mind of several other documents that I've been reintroduced to recently. Charles Burnett's film Killer of Sheep and Jacob Holdt's book and slideshow "American Pictures." All of these works skirt the line between fiction and documentary, and all serve to document the immoral and ever-present squalor of the communities that live in the shadows of American wealth. Each of these works, created over a 30-year span, retains its power to shock and surprise. However aware we may be about poverty, few of us ever expect to see the level of pain, fear, and violence that these films, and Holdt's pictures, reveal as an everyday reality for a sizable number of Americans.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Meet the New Boss

This week brought the resignation of disgraced HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, and his replacement with disgraceful Small Business Administration head Steven Preston. If you haven't been keeping track of this particular criminally corrupt Federal agency, Jackson was the cabinet member who said at a Dallas meeting of real estate executives that he had revoked the contract of a businessman who disparaged President Bush. It later turned out that Jackson received a $392,000 kickback from a friend who was hired by Jackson's department as a construction manager in New Orleans. Another friend, an Atlanta developer, received a $127 million HUD contract last year and then paid Mr. Jackson more than $250,000 in fees. Unsurprisingly, there are dozens of such stories.

Jackson, who resigned with the statement that "there are times when one must attend more diligently to personal and family matters," is now the target of investigations by a federal grand jury, the FBI and the Justice Department. In addition to the deep corruption, Jackson leaves a legacy of a collapsing Post-Katrina public-housing system and a vast mortgage crisis that has shaken the global economy.

And just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, the new head of HUD has exactly ZERO experience in housing. Before his term at the SBA, Preston was the executive vice president of the ServiceMaster Company, a multibillion-dollar corporation whose businesses include ChemLawn, a famously toxic lawn care company, and Terminix, a pest control company. Preston had his own corruption hearings in 2007 when it surfaced that his agency had given a $1.2 million contract to a former Bush administration official with no experience in helping small businesses.

Sheila Crowley, the always outspoken president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, was interviewed in the most recent issue of Newsweek about the shameful record of the ousted secretary and how little she expects from the new one.

It's a short and good article, worth reading when you have a spare moment for outrage.

Dia de Sant Jordi

Today is perhaps the most civilized day on the Christian calendar, the feast day of Saint George, or as it is known is Catalunya, "El Dia de Sant Jordi" aka "El dia del llibre" or "The Day of the Book." It is traditional on this day to give gifts of roses to women and books to men, although it has become ever more common to give books to everybody. This tradition inspired UNESCO to declare this the International Day of the Book, since April 23 1616 was also the date of death of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes. All throughout Barcelona today, and all across Catalunya, thousands of stands of roses and makeshift bookstalls are lining the streets for the occasion. By the end of the day, some four million roses and 400,000 books will have been purchased. Fully one half of the total yearly book sales in Catalunya take place on this occasion.
I don't fool myself about the value of literature over candy in America, but I would gladly surrender any Valentine's Day obligations for the sanity of a national Book Day.


by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
The song of a night bird.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cause and Effect (aka. "Whitey's on the Moon")

Out of nowhere, this great song/poem by Gil Scott Heron arrived in my mail today:
A rat done bit my sister Nell with Whitey on the moon.
Her face and arms began to swell and Whitey's on the moon.
I can't pay no doctor bills but Whitey's on the moon.
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still while Whitey's on the moon.

The man just upped my rent last night cuz Whitey's on the moon.
No hot water, no toilets, no lights but Whitey's on the moon.
I wonder why he's uppin me. Cuz Whitey's on the moon?
I was already givin' him fifty a week but now Whitey's on the moon.

Taxes takin' my whole damn check,
The junkies makin' me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin' up,
And as if all that shit wasn't enough:

A rat done bit my sister Nell with Whitey on the moon.
Her face and arms began to swell but Whitey's on the moon.
Was all that money I made last year for Whitey on the moon?
How come there ain't no money here? Hmm! Whitey's on the moon.

Ya know, I just about had my fill of Whitey on the moon.
I think I'll send these doctor bills
airmail special....
to Whitey on the moon.

Which got me thinking about the glory of Gil Scott Heron, tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary which may finally reward our patience with the nomination of Barack Obama, ever rising Seattle rents, and April being the cruelest month.

All of which led me to this site, Silent Springs, which features an absolutely outstanding selection of Funk, Soul, Jazz, Afrobeat and Hiphop links.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Seen a Ghost

BLVD Gallery on 2nd Ave. is showing canvases by old school graffiti artist Ghost. The paintings are colorful and energetic, sure, but to my mind, the "graffiti" that gets shown in gallery walls bears little resemble to the real deal - the do-or-die paintings that show up in the middle of the night on a public wall. The writing that companies use to sell "urban wear" like sneakers and hooded sweatshirts has even less in common with the confrontational power of an unexpected, and necessarily temporary, graffiti bomb.

Almost all the works on display at BLVD, which carry price tags of $2000 to $10,000, have been sold. I have to wonder how many of the people who fetishize "street culture" and can afford to drop a few grand on a painting, would blow a gasket if an artist like Ghost tagged the gates outside their subdivision or place of business.

Graffiti is distinct from most art that is displayed in museums or sold in galleries, in that the entirety of the message is portrayed through the action of creation. It challenges its viewers by pissing them off and refusing public acceptance. True graffiti art is by nature of its own connotations, illegal. This in-your-face attitude is what allows graffiti to move from the personal to the political, granting it a voice never conceived of by traditional gallery artists.

Graffiti artist Shmoo tells Art Crimes, an online graffiti database, that "graffiti is meant to be a public display. When it is illegal it is a political statement, whether the kid knows it or not...When you become a writer, you know that your stuff won't last forever. It is just accepted that either society won't allow it, or other writers won't. Battling and competition have been a part of graf since its inception. The biggest part of graf is in the doing of it. The action of putting your expression on a wall for other people to see is what writing is all about. Graffiti is a temporary art form, like improvisational theatre. You know that your piece will soon be gone."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dead Baby Bikes Presents

The hard working lunatics at Dead Baby Bike Club have released the full details for their upcoming bike film festival, now called "Dead Baby Bikes Presents." Word from the main organizer, Dead Baby Terry, is that the movies are showing on at least 2 big screens and maybe three if the Tech Gods smile on them. The festival is on May 1 at the Underground Events Center, 2407 1st Ave. in Belltown. Doors open at 7 and the films start at 9.

Much much more information on their website.

...and now for something completely appropriate.

Posted 5/2: A very nice event summary and shout out from Dashap over at 327 Words.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sounds Exquisite

Local musical heroes Bill Frisell and Eyvind Kang, along with their quartet, are currently in New York. Today they received a major shout out from the paper of record.

"In about 80 minutes they’d taken a long side road off an essentially European high-art concept, jumping between continents, regions and styles. Not being even slightly formalist about it, they showed how undivided music can be."

Review of Books (Fiction)

One relatively positive aspect of our endlessly rainy winter is that I've had lots of time to read over the past few months. I recommend all of the titles below, and will try to list a few more recent finds before the sun comes out. I should have a few months.

Geoffrey Household describes his book “Rogue Male” as “a bastard offspring of Stevenson and Conrad." The tale, written in 1932, is a surprisingly contemporary exploration of the lure of violence and the psychology of survivalism. At the beginning of the story, our narrator, an enthusiastic amateur hunter, finds himself wondering whether he might be able to infiltrate a political leader’s compound and take him down. He has his target in his sites when he is seized by security, imprisoned, tortured, and condemned to death. He manages to escape, and the book becomes a thrill ride of near-captures and ingenious escapes. Rogue Male is both endlessly suspenseful and relentlessly paranoid, predating by 40 years the genre of political thrillers like “Day of the Jackal” or John LeCarre’s novels which seized the public’s imagination in the 1970’s.

Albanian writer Ismail Kidare won the inaugural International Booker Prize in 2005. I’ve read several books by Kidare, which can vary wildly in style, but recently read and enjoyed the political parable The Three-Arched Bridge.

The story is set in 1377, and our narrator is an Albanian monk, who watches as the Turkish armies gather over the Balkan Peninsula. With a few deft strokes Kidare conveys the great extent of political and economic shifts occurring in Europe in the late Middle Ages: the collapse of Byzantium, the spread of an international currency and the formation of large financial conglomerates, some of them complicit with the emerging Turkish imperial expansion.

A picture is created of a community in the grip of forces it cannot control and can barely comprehend. A medieval community tries to make sense of rapid historical change, against a bleak landscape of fogs, freezing rains, a great river and a stone bridge. This is a profoundly atmospheric book.

Shortly after winning the International Booker in ‘05, Kidare wrote a very interesting and personal history of the Albanian Writer’s Union for The New Yorker magazine.

After hearing the raves at Wondercon about the recent repackaging of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics, I managed to score a copy of the first volume from the Seattle Public Library. According to many breathless comics fans, Kirby’s saga is one of the most prominent and influential comic book series ever.

The short story is that Kirby, one of the pioneers of superhero comics, and the creator of such landmark Marvel Comics characters as Fantastic Four, the Hulk and X-Men, left Marvel in 1969 over a bitter contract dispute, and went to work for main rival DC comics. Given free reign at DC, Kirby created a sprawling universe populated by hundreds of characters and colored by massive explosions of cosmic energy. Over the course of some 80 issues, we meet Darkseid the God of Apokolips, the tortured savior Orion, the apostate escape artist Mr. Miracle and all manner of false gods, preachers, crooks and heroes with names like Granny Goodness, Kalibek, Kanto, Virmin Vundabar and Desaad. To be honest, the story is so grand as to be basically incomprehensible. Having read the 20 or so individual comics that make up Volume 1, I am completely baffled by Fourth World cosmology. However, Kirby’s drawings are so exciting, his collage effects so unexpected and his shifting perspective so utterly unpredictable, that the comics take on a propulsive force. Not for everyone, but a real treat for comics fans who retain a taste for spandex-clad grandeur.

There’s a comprehensive study of the religious elements of the Fourth World over at Al and Andrew’s Super Review.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Same As It Ever Was

No particular rhyme or reason for this one. The days are still cold, the rain won't stop, my plants are stunted, the news is full of terrible people, and I'm broke. In a time of little warmth or virtue, at least I can take pleasure in these small comforts: Talking Heads and the Muppets.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Form/Space Atelier has a new show opening tomorrow, April 11. The show is titled "An Exhibit Of Robert Storr's Autograph And Other Work," and marks the 100th show curated by Paul Pauper in his nomadic gallery. I've written before about Paul's passion and his well developed aesthetic, and this group show really demonstrates his formidable strength in assembling artists from every discipline making work in every corner of the country.

Robert Storr, of the title, was Curator of Painting and Sculpture at New York's Museum of Modern Art from 1990 to 2002, and is currently the Dean of the Yale School of Art. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential people working in the field of art. The show does indeed feature a rare and precious autograph from Storr, as well as sculpture by John Hawkley, photographs by Dan Hawkins, and paintings by Stacey Chappell.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Ingrid Betancourt - Colombian Hostage

This is a guest post, from Liza.

Ingrid Betancourt, founder of the "Oxygen Green Party" in Colombia and a creative, bold and dedicated anti-corruption activist, has been held hostage in the jungle for six years by the FARC leftist guerillas. Reports are she is dying, chained by her neck, no longer taking food or medication.

I am reading her autobiography from 2002 outlining her courageous and outstanding anti-corruption work in government and politics. She believes corruption is the root of the problem there, the core that desperately needs to be addressed, and the armed resistance movements, the narco-trafficking, the paramilitaries and right wing government are all inflamed infections that have spread from unchecked corruption.

She was a surprise winner during her first election to congress. An unknown 32 year old woman, she won notoriety, name recognition, and, ultimately, a seat in government, by handing out condoms while saying "A shield to corruption" which was at first considered a shock and a disgrace. For her second campaign, where she won more votes than anyone ever had in a congressional campaign in Colombia, her theme was something like "Let's arouse government - Viagra for Colombia".

On April 4 her teenage son Lorenzo drew worldwide attention by issuing very personal yet public pleas for her to hang on, and for her release. These videos are in Spanish and French - the second has been translated into English (go to right side box and click "more").

Right now there is a groundswell of people insisting on her release. Last weekend there were protests all over France where she has dual citizenship because of a former marriage.

I have been touched by her story, and amazed to discover the unfolding situation, so thought you might be interested, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Frank O'Hara

Poet Frank O'Hara has been everywhere this season, which is very unusual for spring. Perhaps it's all the rain?

The Museum of the City of New York has been showing "Manhattan Noon," photographs by Gus Powell inspired by O'Hara's 1964 collection Lunch Poems, capturing the city's inhabitants in "the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noon."

Borzoi Books just published a beautiful new hardcover edition of "Selected Poems," edited by Mark Ford, which greatly expands on the previous edition published way back in 1974.

Knopf's Poem-a-Day e-mail newsletter for April 2nd featured O'Hara's 'Avenue A,' and also included a link to a downloadable broadside of 'Having a Coke With You.'

And now the New Yorker has a three-page review of his personality, of all things.

The New Yorker says "...where most poets deposited words with an eyedropper, O’Hara sprayed them through a fire hose." In honor of this endlessly verbose and ever contemporary poet, a poem for Bloggers:

As Planned

After the first glass of vodka
you can accept just about anything
of life even your own mysteriousness
you think it is nice that a box
of matches is purple and brown and is called
La Petite and comes from Sweden
for they are words that you know and that
is all you know words not their feelings
or what they mean and you write because
you know them not because you understand them
because you don't you are stupid and lazy
and will never be great but you do
what you know because what else is there?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Downhill Done Gone

Well, that was fun. The 2008 Office Chair Downhill took place on April 4 despite the rain. Dozens of intrepid chair riders flew down Boren and Terry Streets in rigs ranging from your standard office model, to leather bound executive power seats, to modified contraptions strapped to skateboards or baring pointy teeth. 4 race heats, a few bruises, no major injuries, and lotsa laffs.

Thanks to the ever inventive Dead Baby crew for pulling it all together. A few more rain soaked pics on the new Gurldogg flickr page. Incidentally, I haven't the foggiest idea who won.

Friday, April 4, 2008

From the Sacred...

I had the great pleasure of watching the final installment of the Queen Shmooquan "Say My Name" show at the Rendezvous Jewel Box theater. Queen Shmooquan is a character created by Jeppa Hall, who is part sex goddess, part retarded child. Queen Shmooquan is a kind of priestess of strange rituals in which the stuff of religion gets tangled up with the trappings of politics, as performed by a sexually precocious wild child. Even with a history of extreme weirdness, "Say My Name" raises the bar on entertaining perversion. Jeppa was featured earlier this year in the Seattle Weekly. Playing through this weekend ONLY at the Rendezvous. the Profane

Emerald Downs' 2008 racing season opens on Friday, April 18, with the first live race at 6pm. This is gonna be my lucky year, I can feel it.

Big events this year include the 73rd running of the $300,000 Longacres Mile on Sunday, August 17, and the running of the Washington Cup on Sunday, September 14, which features seven $300,000 stakes races, all of which are restricted to Washington-bred horses. Of course, Friday is always special at Emerald Downs, with $1.50 beers all evening long.

And in a very nice example of gambling synergy, any $5 "Mega Millions" lottery ticket purchased between now and April 17th gets you a voucher for free admission to the Downs on opening night. You can't lose!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

News from South of the Border, pt. 3

Bike culture is alive and exceptionally well down in Portland.

No matter the neighborhood, I was surrounded by bike riders of all shapes and sizes. From old ladies on cruisers to the ubiquitous hipsters on fixies, Portland is leaps and bounds ahead of any American city in the sheer number of folks using bikes to get around.

This is a mural on the walls of the Community Cycling Center, one of a number of non-profit organizations in Portland with a bicycle-centered mission. The exact principles vary from project to project, but generally all of these orgs broaden access to bicycling by recycling bikes, offering hands-on programs, organizing volunteer projects, and selling affordable bikes at neighborhood bike shops. As the CCC's mission statement holds: "We believe bicycles are a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change."

Couple of cool events I came across: Zoobomb is a gang of bike folks who meet every Sunday night at the Portland zoo metro station. They ride from the station to the top of the hill, get prepared, and then “bomb” down the steep, winding road through the park to the bottom. A subset of zoobombers rides children’s bikes exclusively.

And finally, Portland City Hall is curating the "Carfree Cities Art Show" in June 2008 which will feature an installation of Mail Art from around the world, and which will become a travelling exhibit for other cities. They are inviting artists everywhere to send original art "celebrating freedom from car culture." More about the show, including details for submissions, at the Car Free Portland website.

Law and Order

Quick tip for Seattle cyclists: The word on the street is there are many more police than usual writing tickets to bicyclists for running lights and stop signs. Local blogs and websites have repeated reports of police all over the city this week (April 1-5) wasting their time and your money this way. Be aware.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

News from South of the Border, pt. 2

Speaking of development, I was blown away by the ever-increasing size and scope of the ReBuilding Center.

The ReBuilding Center began life in 1998 as a non-profit with a mission to recycle and re-use construction materials. A small team of "deconstructors" would take apart donated or abandoned buildings, and sell the resulting pieces to homeowners, do-it-yourselfers, contractors and artists. The organization began accepting donations from far-and-wide, the staff grew to dozens of licensed and bonded tradespeople and administrators, and the center now occupies a 40,000 square foot building in North Portland. From humble beginnings, the ReBuilding Center is now the largest facility of its kind in the world, diverting nearly ten tons of construction and demolition waste each day.

The selection of materials available is beyond belief- everything from lumber to plumbing to appliances to finish materials - all priced at around one-half to one-tenth of normal retail prices.

The building itself is a masterpiece of creative re-use. Every visible surface is made from the recycled remains of another building. That includes not only walls and windows, but beams, floors, lighting, telephones and tables. Assistant Director Chris Bekemeier, who gave me a tour of the facility, explained that even the infrastructure is recycled, although a small portion of the project used new plumbing and electrical wiring.

The entire organization is both grandly idealistic and practical down to the smallest detail. A most impressive operation.

News from South of the Border

Spent an eventful weekend in Portland, Seattle's smaller and cooler sister city.

Stopped by the Black Rose Anarchist Bookstore which is still standing, despite all odds. The North Portland neighborhood which has been home to the Black Rose (and the excellent non-profit North Portland Bikeworks) for many years is rapidly gentrifying, and the big-hearted ramshackle bookstore may not be long for this world. The two tenants who used to share the store space (including Portland Books for Prisoners) have moved out, leaving the collective bookstore to shoulder the entire burden of rent. The volunteers who run the place are talking about staging a series of benefit concerts to keep their project alive.

For my part, I picked up a copy of Guiomar Rovira's first hand journalistic account of the revolution in Chiapas, and a pretty new notebook created by local independent publishers Eberhardt Press.