Friday, August 29, 2008

Do You Know What it Means?

On the 3rd anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the world's most famous street artist, Banksy, has prolifically bombed New Orleans with a number of powerful and righteous images. Some great photos of the work here and here. The images just went up over the last few days, and the word is that they are already being buffed. With the catastrophic Republicans currently pleading their case in St. Paul, and New Orleans about to be battered by another hurricane, now is the time to see this excellent visual commentary on the New Orleans "clean up efforts."

Miami & the Siege of Chicago

I’m reading Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago, re-released by New York Review Books on the 40th anniversary of the tumultuous political conventions in those cities. In 1968 Mailer was sent to cover both parties' conventions for Harper's magazine.

At the time, Mailer was stepping away from writing novels to become an enthusiastic writer of the kind of “new journalism” that challenged the status quo by inserting the writer directly into the action. Mailer was in great company. Over the course of his coverage he ran into William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Terry Southern and Allen Ginsberg, all of whom were also writing about the conventions for major media outlets. The status quo of the time, like the current model, was desperately in need of challenging.

The book is an exhilarating read. Mailer’s observations of the people and places of the time are wonderfully involving. Richard Nixon is his easiest target, but Mailer sees and skewers even the lesser lights. Hubert Humphrey employed "a formal slovenliness of syntax which enabled him to shunt phrases back and forth like a switchman who locates a freight car by moving everything in the yard." Chicago Mayor Richard Daley looked "like a vastly robust peasant woman with a dirty gray silk wig.” He correctly indentifies the 57-year-old Ronald Reagan as the GOP’s rising young man waiting in the wings. “He had the deferential enthusiasm, the bright but dependably unoriginal mind, of a sales manager promoted for his ability over men older than himself.”

Just as importantly, Mailer’s eye on politics turns out to be powerfully prescient. Mailer had little confidence in any of the mass ideologies of the day - not Communism, not Anti-Communism and not the peace movement which he called a "hopeless mélange, somehow firmed, of Pacifism and closet Communism." And the resulting national debate over Vietnam seemed to him twisted and fake: "The hawks were smug and self-righteous, the doves were evasive of the real question."

Mailer prophesied, correctly, that each of these movements was bound to collapse. He also understood that Nixon’s promise of “law and order” represented an end to the sober, careful conservatism that had always ruled the Republican Party and the beginning of something more sinister. At the end of the book, Nixon is on track to win the presidency, the Republicans are resurgent, and the Democrats are in complete disarray. Mailer says, again correctly, “We will be fighting for forty years.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Autumn Song

On these first days of fall, a poem from W.H. Auden.

Autumn Song

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

Whispering neighbours, left and right,
Pluck us from the real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the separate knees.

Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.

Starving through the leafless wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.

Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain's lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.

Updated: The image above is a painting by Paul Klee called "The Herald of Autumn."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Miroslav Tichý

Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý is currently featured in a retrospective show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Tichý is an absolutely unique figure in modern photography - since the late 1950's he has lived in isolation in Kyjov, Moravia, using his hand-made cameras to take photographs almost exclusively of local women. The cameras are fashioned from cardboard tubing, string, and thread spools.
Tichý develops the photos and mounts them on frames of cardboard and scrap paper, adding finishing touches in pencil. Over more than 50 years he has developed a body of strikingly poetic, dreamlike images of feminine beauty in a small Czech town.

Of the unusual quality of his photography, Tichý says:

Photography is painting with light! The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting. And for that you need as bad a camera as possible! If you want to be famous, you have to do whatever you're doing worse than anyone else in the whole world.

Amen to that. I should be a famous ukulele player any day now. The show runs through September 22.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Today in Movies. And Bicycles.

On this date, August 24, in 1891, Thomas Edison patented the motion picture camera. In less than 10 years, motion pictures became a massive entertainment industry, with single-viewer Kinetoscopes giving way to films projected for mass audiences. The Edison Manufacturing Co. not only designed and built the machines for filming and projecting movies, but also produced films for public viewing, many of which have been preserved and are available from the U.S. Historical Archive.

One of the earliest known films, shot by Edison himself, is this surprisingly contemporary demonstration of rad bike tricks. The Edison Catalog summarized the short film this way: "Opens with a man riding a bicycle in a backwards circle...He dismounts, then remounts the cycle and rides in a forwards circle, pausing and balancing for a moment as he rears up and spins the front wheel. Continuing in the circle, the man moves in front of the handlebars and continues pedaling briefly...the cyclist makes one circle and then pauses center stage as he does a balancing act to the left side of the bike, with his left leg on the pedal and his right on the front wheel." Or as he might have said of the same scene today: "Dang nasty flat land tricks on a fixie, yo."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea

Last Friday in Troy, NY the hugely ambitious project Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea was launched. The massive spectacle, which features seven crudely constructed and oddly-powered sea vessels being piloted down the Hudson River with occasional stops for performances, was dreamed up and overseen by NYC street artist Swoon. Once the flotilla comes within sight of New York, it will become a solo Swoon installation in Long Island City at the Deitch studios. Dozens of people have worked for months building the unusual crafts and coordinating the trip, including San Francisco raconteur Chicken John and the California-based Kinetic Steam Works. The NY Times ran an article and images last weekend, and you can see a slide show here.

If you hurry, you can still catch the performances, featuring musician Sxip Shirey, the band Dark Dark Dark and playwright Lisa D’Amour, in Albany, Saugerties, Kingston, and Croton-on-Hudson.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What's Good For The Wayzgoose

The Seattle School of Visual Concepts is holding their 7th Annual Wayzgoose on Saturday August 23 from 1 to 6 pm. The Wayzgoose is a printing tradition that dates back to the 17th Century, when printers would serve a feast to their staff in recognition of the decreasing hours of daylight which would require the difficult work of handsetting type by candlelight.

The SVC Wayzgoose is taking the concept in a different direction by staging a "Steamroller Letterpress Smackdown" during which teams of local designers will be challenged to produce a poster which will then be printed in the SVC parking lot with a two-ton steamroller used in place of the traditional printing press.

In addition, the event boasts the Northwest Invitational Letterpress Show, a letterpress marketplace, and an equipment swap for printers searching for type, cuts, tools and printing accessories. The feast tradition remains intact, and food and drink will be served. At the School of Visual Concepts, 500 Aurora Ave N (at Republican). Free admission!

Monday, August 18, 2008

"Everything That Happens" Just Happened

David Byrne & Brian Eno have just released their first collaborative recording in some 30 years, "Everything that Happens Will Happen Today." Once upon a time Byrne and Eno's matching sense of play, chance and weird instrumentalism resulted in some of the greatest pop records of the 1980's. Working together, they recorded three remarkable records by Talking Heads plus Byrne's masterful "Catherine Wheel" and the landmark "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts." The two men have clearly mellowed, and the new recording trades in the eclectic experimentalism of past recordings for a gentle exploration of more familiar song structures. The record owes as much to Simon & Garfunkel as it does to Harry Partch. But these are still the grand old men of the golden age of electronic pop music, and the new songs, which are by turns smart, silly and surprising, are well worth a listen, particularly the dark and funky "I Feel My Stuff," which probably comes the closest to capturing the strange magic of long gone days. Byrne & Eno, working with the startup Topspin Media, have made the whole album available as a free stream. Give it a listen. What have you got to lose?

Thursday, August 14, 2008


As of today, and until Sunday, I'm a full time resident of Islewilde on Vashon Island. This is the 16th year of a festival started by the UMO Ensemble as a West Coast version of the Bread & Puppet Domestic Resurrection Circus. While the puppets and performances remain, the festival has morphed over the years into a charming and rules-free 10-day party in the woods, at which dozens of artists from across the country, their friends and familes, and a handful of Vashon locals, come to put on a show, learn some new skills and laugh. I've been participating for years in a wide range of roles, from Artistic Director to Camp Cook and most jobs in between. This year I'm a rover, and am likely to find myself playing in the band, leading shadow puppet workshops, and staying up late looking for the elusive last drop of wine. It's a great festival with lots of creative people in a warmly chaotic environment. If you have the time and a ferry pass this weekend, come on by.

Graffiti in Barna Update

While I've been squeezing in all the playtime I can before summer draws to a close, my hard working father-in-law has been snapping photos of new graffiti as it appears in his Barcelona neighborhood. These pieces have all appeared over the last few months in Horta-Guinardo.

It's been exciting to see more graffiti than ever popping up on the streets of Seattle, and a few dedicated practitioners have been working like crazy recently to cover a lot of wall space with their good looking throw-ups and gorgeous pieces. Still, until there's a dedicated movement here to simply overwhelm the forces of reaction, we ain't never gonna see graffiti art with the depth and polish you can find every day in cultural hubs like New York, Mexico City, and the splendidly colorful Barcelona.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Large? It Contains Multiples

The Davidson Galleries in Pioneer Square is currently hosting a rare and amazing exhibit in the suite of rooms that makes up the rear of their Antique Print gallery. Under the direction of curator Emily Pothast, Davidson is exhibiting a complete set of all six of the famous SMS portfolios released in 1968 by American Surrealist William Copley.

SMS (aka. “Shit Must Stop”) was a short lived collaboration between some of the most important artists of the 20th century. Centered around Copley's loft on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, SMS was an open-ended experiment that epitomized the idealism and community ethos of the late 1960's. Frequented by artists, curators, performers and composers both accomplished and aspiring, Copley's loft became renowned for its utopian morale and hospitable working conditions, which included "a perpetually replenished buffet, an open bar, and a pay phone filled with dimes."

The six volumes of the SMS portfolio were the crowning achievement of the experiment. Copley assembled the portfolios and mailed them directly to subscribers. Each portfolio included meticulously editioned works by an unparalleled roster of artists which included Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Ray Johnson, Claes Oldenberg, John Cage, Yoko Ono, and many many more. The portfolios included meticulous instructions on how to un-pack and re-pack the assembled works.

Davidson Galleries has scored a coup on the 40th anniversary of the portfolios, and is celebrating by exhibiting a complete set of all six. This is a world class exhibit of some of the greatest printmakers in modern art, on display until September 27.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Today, August 9, is the birthday of English poet Philip Larkin. Larkin is one of those cursed poets who is as well known for his personal life as for his work. He published only 5 books of poetry during his lifetime, never married, had numerous affairs with married women, and famously rejected official accolades including an appointment as English poet laureate. In recent years he has been the victim of an ill-considered posthumous book of letters and several humorless biographies which have mercilessly exposed his fondness for pornography, a streak of racism, his increasing shift to the political right wing, and his habitual outpourings of rage. But to me, and to many other readers, his poetry remains powerful, forthright, deeply personal and wonderfully entertaining. Larkin had a unique gift for finding significance in the most quotidian objects and events and for making the trivial poetic. As a case in point, I offer his poem "Money."


Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
'Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.'

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don't keep it upstairs.
By now they've a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

- In fact, they've a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can't put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won't in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Power on Power

Journalist, writer, and academic Samantha Power has a very good article in the latest New York Review of Books explaining how the Democratic Party can and should seize upon National Security as a campaign issue. She recognizes that the Republican party has historically been seen as the 'national security party,' and then offers some very clear, and in my opinion wholly accurate, analysis for why the Dems shouldn't be intimidated by this assumption. Closely observing recent security decisions in Kosovo, in Iraq and here at home, Power offers some concrete suggestions that Obama and the Democrats can use that combine good policy with smart, aggressive politics. She exposes a long list of fallacies in the conservative approach to national security - everything from losing nuclear material in the former Soviet Union to neglecting Iraqi refugees in Syria - while putting forward a convincing liberal alternative.

The Democratic Party today is in a strong position to show that it will be more reliable in keeping Americans safe during the twenty-first century. If the party succeeds in doing this, it will not only wake up the United States and the world from a long eight-year nightmare; it will also lay to rest the enduring myth that strong and wrong is preferable to smart and right.

Power, who is currently affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, was a senior adviser to Barack Obama until her well publicized slip of the tongue in March 2008. Her book on genocide, "A Problem from Hell," won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. This must-read article reads like a policy briefing, and makes one hope that Power can reclaim her rightful role in the country's national security apparatus.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Free Sheep Foundation

Two great looking art openings/ events in Seattle this weekend.

On Friday 8/8/08, at 8:00 pm, Seattle's nomadic arts organization, the Free Sheep Foundation hold their second opening at their current home at Third Avenue and Battery Street in Belltown. DK Pan and his revolving roster of artists have created a series of exhibits in the display windows, on the sidewalks, and on the walls, floors and ceilings of the slated-for-destruction 10,000 foot gallery. The theme of the current program is 'Childhood Olympiad' and features glosses on games like tether ball, hopscotch and hangman from local artists Static Invasion, Karn Junkinsmith, NKO and DK Pan himself.

The cabaret show begins at 10:30 and features a performance from local hiphop legend Specs, aka. "The Holy Ghost of Northwest hip-hop."

The Free Sheep gallery is open to the public on Friday afternoons. Writing in the Stranger, Jen Graves said: "what draws Free Sheep artists together is their sense of theater, of event-ness, of time. So far, the artists behind Free Sheep have delivered ephemeral monuments to the ephemeral monument we all live in, the city. They've been mythic and short-lived; the challenge now will be to preserve that spirit over the length of a three- or six-month lease...It's a moveable feast of artists in real-estate purgatory."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Eating Gifted Children

I was glad to learn that Phaidon Press is going to re-issue all of the 1950's and 60's children's books of Tomi Ungerer. Ungerer's pioneering illustration style utilized deceptively simple lines and colors to create powerful images that seemed to bubble out of, and back into, a child's subconscious. His haunting and unusual books for kids have been out of print in the U.S. since the 1970's, for a variety of reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of his art - he published a steamy book of interviews with dominatrices at a bordello in Hamburg, printed a series of drawings of bizarre sexual machines called "Fornicon," and was an unabashed critic of the Vietnam War - none of which endeared him to American children's book publishers.

Despite his relative obscurity, Ungerer has been a powerful influence on many of our best known children's book illustrators and graphic designers, including Shel Silverstein, Maurice Sendak and Milton Glaser. It will be interesting to see whether his books gain a toehold among the fearful American public of the 21st century. I'll certainly buy some for my little one.

One contemporary illustrator who learned many lessons from Ungerer is the Bulgarian-born Luba Lukova. Lukova, who now lives and works in New York, also uses economical lines and juxtaposes unusual images to create unexpected metaphors and capture complex themes. She recently published a portfolio of 12 thought-provoking posters called "Social Justice 2008," a tour-de-force series of deceptively simple, yet formidably brilliant images. Available here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Films of August

A number of very interesting films opening around Seattle this week. From North to South:

The film "Silence Before Bach" opens today at the Northwest Film Forum. Catalan film maker Pere Portabella made a name for himself by producing films by Carlos Saura (“The Delinquents,” 1959) and Luis Buñuel (the Franco-freaking “Viridiana,” 1961), and started making his own films in the late 1960s, at times in collaboration with other Catalan artists like Joan Miró. An intermittent fixture on the festival circuit, he received the first North American retrospective of his work in Chicago in 2006, with the Museum of Modern Art in New York following suit a year later. Through a series of seemingly disconnected set pieces "Silence Before Bach" considers J.S.Bach as a jumping-off point for different visual and aural ideas and associations, including the cross-cultural reality of European identity. Following Bach’s influence, the film bounces all over the map, crisscrossing the continent from Spain to Germany by way of various travelers, their harmonies and rhythms.

At the McLeod Residence, Gurldogg's favorite Film Maker/ D.J. /Screen Printer /Sculptor Rob Zverina is showing a collection of photographs and short films. The show is called "memory (w)hole." and will be on display until September 27. Rob carries his camera wherever he goes and shoots films daily that are anywhere from one to 30 seconds in length. He then selects the best clips, annotates them with descriptive keywords and logs the date, location, and subject of each micro-documentary in a process he’s dubbed "autobioanthropology." Today, August 1, Rob will turn into DJ Port-A-Party at the reception to spin 45's on a self-contained portable record player.

And the SIFF Cinema is showing "A Man Named Pearl" through August 7. The film tells the story of iconoclastic topiary artist Pearl Fryar from Bishopville, South Carolina. The film documents the prejudice that haunts Fryar, a black man in a predominantly white neighborhood, as he trims his bushes with such skill and vision that his home becomes a major tourist destination.

Ignore the sun this week! Watch movies instead!