Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Open Spaces

Galería Abierta is a unique gallery located alongside a side street in a busy market district of Barcelona. In June of this year, the geniuses behind the 2006 Difusor project petitioned the city government to tranform a series of 34 street-level spaces, once reserved for advertising, into rotating canvases for graffiti artists. The Galería Abierta, or "Open Gallery" completely transformed the wall enclosing the Parc de les Aigües into an exhibition space open 24-7, 365 days a year. The 2×4m frames are open to anyone, and the organizers simply ask that aspiring painters fill in a simple online form. The panels vary in quality - some are intensely beautiful and well designed, while others are distinctly amateurish - but the fluid nature of the gallery means it will always merit a repeat visit.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Un Dia Ple D'accio

In the morning, Pepita's beautiful niece Emma was born.

In the evening, we took advantage of our Christmas presents of tickets to see Muchachito Bombo Infierno at Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi. The story has it that Muchachito, a native of the immigrant-heavy Barcelona suburb Santa Coloma de Gramanet, was discovered playing guitar in the street in 2004 and invited to open for Ojos de Brujo on their world tour. The 10-piece band went on to become hugely popular in Barcelona, building on the success of similar rumba/flamenco/reggae/swing party bands like Dusminguet and Tonino Carotone. Their Barcelona performance was the last stop on a year long European tour. Haven't heard much about a possible American appearance, but judging by the overwhelming reactions of the local crowd, it won't be long.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Els Putxinellis

La Puntual is the only theatre in Barcelona dedicated exclusively to puppetry, aka "putxinellis." The tiny theatre, "a performance space made-to-measure for puppets, marionettes, shadows and any other subjects that let themselves be manipulated" was built by Catalan puppet master Eugenio Navarro in 2005. The restored space had been the workshop and rehearsal room of the renowned Barcelona puppet company La Fanfarra, and was renamed in honor of the emblematic Catalan modernist play "L’Auca del Senyor Esteve" which is centered around a haberdashery shop called La Puntual, located very near the actual theatre in the Santa Catalina neighborhood.

La Puntual is currently in the midst of their annual Winter Puppet Festival, taking place until January 4. In addition to 4 charming shows for families, the Winter Festival features a short series of shows and talks by English puppeteer Rod Burnett, regarded as one of the world's leading Punch and Judy performers. That's the way to do it!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis

A perfect little Christmas gift from our generation's Irving Berlin, Tom Waits.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Skin of a City

While the street art of Amsterdam is characterized by clean design and an attention to detail, the graffiti in Barcelona has a fierce urgency. Despite a year-long campaign to clean up the city, graffiti is everywhere - on public and private buildings, on the walls of churches, in schoolyards, on banks and parkbenches, and on the exterior walls of private homes. The work is completely varied, but if there is any abiding theme it is "resistence." The residents of Barcelona are resisting just about everything you can think of - the government, the King, the church, America, the European Union, consumerism, the price of housing, and most of all, anonymity.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spuistraat Squats

Through a lucky series of events, we had a cup of tea on Spuistraat in one of the last remaining squats in Amsterdam. From the early 70's until the mid 2000´s, Amsterdam had a loud and vibrant culture of occupation. A liberal interpretation of property rights and an unusually open period of police communication resulted in a code of laws that benefited the young people who entered and repaired abandoned buildings.

In recent years however, a series of lawsuits and standoffs with the authorities had caused a decline in the number of squatted houses, until finally just this one block of apartments remained. Like the other squats on Spuistraat, the building we visited had been vacant for some 20 years before being occupied. The three-story home had been completely cleaned up, pigeons and rats were removed, timbers replaced, brickwork patched, and the house was painted inside and out by artists from around the world.

Sjoerd, the bouncer/squatter/graffiti artist who explained all of this to us hinted that he knew of a few more sites scattered around the city, but they had all adopted a low profile in the hopes that it would keep them alive a little longer.

Sjoerd was proud of what he and a few dozen colleagues had accomplished, but was philosophical about the general nature of squats. "All housing is temporary." he said, "You may sign some kind of contract, but no one keeps a home forever. Squatters just get more aggressive notice when it's time to move on."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Boekie Woekie

Boekie Woekie ("Bookie Wookie") is one of the world's foremost speciality stores for handmade and limited edition books by artists. The tiny shop, tucked into a side street in central Amsterdam, is packed floor-to-ceiling with precious hand drawn tracts, silk screened folios of Dadaist poetry, original photocopied zines from the 1970's, odd collections of fluxus-era artifacts signed by George Maciunas himself - a dragon's lair of riches. I was overcome.

In the store for more than 90 minutes, only two other people ventured in. One man was thinking to find paperback novels. One woman came in looking for photocopy paper. Both left shaking their heads. Boekie Woekie, which has existed in one form or another since the mid 1980's, clearly does not survive based on casual browsing by locals. Rather, International book fairs and the internet have allowed the store to persevere if not quite flourish. Collectors from around the world shop on the store's quirky and extensive website, or consider themselves lucky to encounter the Boekie Woekie stall in Frankfurt or Guadalajara.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reports From Amsterdam

Pepita and I spent 4 active days in Amsterdam. Pretty much every waking hour was spent on the streets, admiring the vibrant culture of this clean and efficient little city.

As always when in a new city, what first grabs my eyes is the street art. In keeping with the focus on clean design that seems to be a national preoccupation, the graffiti in Amsterdam is remarkably respectful and well presented. There is very little tagging to be seen, and a whole lot of colorful murals and elaborate stencils.

Just wandering aimlessly we found some world class pieces from FAKE, Plusminus Produkties, and Ben Frost as well as dozens of reaches by anonymous locals and passers-through. And of course, I couldn't resist the temptation to make a few humble contributions of my own.

As soon as I find a nice speedy connection, I'll post many more photos on Gurldoggie's flickr page.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Back to BCN

Once again, I'm off to Barcelona for a month of food, family, and Mediterranean winter sunshine. I'm bringing a few projects this time, and Pepita and I are stopping off for a few days in Amsterdam on the way to Spain, so with enough time and internet access, I'll keep posting periodically.

This gorgeously alphabetical series of photos of the Barcelona sky is by German designer Lisa Rienermann, who spent a few weeks in courtyards looking up at the heavens as part of her course work in typography. More about the photo project here. More about my Barcelona projects, hopefully, here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What the Mux?

Local renaissance man Michael Hall, who the Stranger called "the Baudelaire of Seattle" and "the Holy Ghost of Northwest Hiphop" (aka. Specs One, Specs Wizard, Mic Mulligan, the Elevators, etc.) just released a new comic anthology, "Mux Adapter," published by yet another Hall alter ego, Capstan Media. The 80 page collection reunites us with Hall's character Reum the Cosmic Architect, and fills us in on his ingalactic roamings since 9/11/2001.

The limited edition trade paperback is available in Seattle at Wall of Sound or Zanadu comics, or for $7 per copy directly from Michael at Capstan Media, PMB 824 1122 E Pike St. Seattle, WA

Hall is performing as rapper Specs One on December 12 at the Free Sheep Foundation and December 21 at the Comet Tavern.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The News Today. Oh Boy.

28 years ago today, on December 8 1980, pop icon and peace activist John Lennon was killed in New York city.

11 years before that, in 1969, a 14-year-old named Jerry Levitan managed to talk his way into the Beatle’s Toronto hotel room. Lennon let him hang out, and allowed the teenager to record a rambling five-minute chat that covered war, peace, hidden messages in pop music, and the arrival of the Bee Gees. Last year, Levitan teamed up with filmmaker Josh Raskin to make a 5 minute animated film based on their conversation. “I Met the Walrus" has since been nominated for dozens of international awards including a 2008 academy award for Best Animated Short Film. The conversation is loose, the animation is beautiful, and the film is one more reminder of how many people were profoundly inspired by Lennon's art and by his example.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

PRFM #5 Wraps Up

Gotta say, the fifth Punk Rock Flea Market was a doozy. At the last minute, 4 unexpected vendors showed up and one dropped out, bringing us to a grand total of 58 vendors selling records, clothes, furniture, computers, stereo equipment, housewares, toys, videos, CD's, tamales, falafels, handbags, skateboards, 'zines, fetish wear, smoking supplies, watches, knives, jewelry, pickles, plastic robots, zippo lighters, hoodies, stickers, political propaganda, soap, soup, books, art, bike parts, baby stuff, handmade cards, and curse words hand-sewn onto recycled clothing.

Exactly 880 people paid to get in, plus another 100 or so who found the secret entrance, and then at about 7:00 everyone was tired of working the door and we decided to just forego the entrance fee altogether. It's safe to estimate some 1200 people making their way through the Underground on Saturday. Massive.

Glad to report that the Wrecked Chords got over their break-up drama to kick the music off in style at around 7:00, followed by the red hot Absent Minds who drove up from Portland just for the show, then a surprise set from the Yellow Hat Band. Everyone left standing at that point was pummeled by a blistering set from Suburban Vermin who had recently recruited Seattle Punk superstar Chris Crass on lead guitar. Damn, Sam.

In all, an exhausting and satisfying day for us organizers, and hopefully for all the vendors, bands and friends who showed up. Keep an eye out for #6, some time in spring. Hell yes!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Adios a La Mano

It's a sign of the times. The extraordinary painters and printmakers at Los Angeles' La Mano Press have decided to call it quits. For the past 14 years Artemio Rodriguez and Silvia Capistran and their ever-growing community have done as much as anyone in this country to promote Latin American arts and artists. La Mano has been a cultural center organizing exhibitions, offering workshops in traditional and modern crafts, and publishing gorgeous limited edition books.

And of course, they launched the legendary Graficomovil, a traveling mural, mobile cinema, gallery and print studio which is touring the country as you read this.

Rodriguez and Capistran are going to focus on their work in Mexico, including the burgeoning "El Huerto" project, a new center for ecology and arts in Michoácan, built from an old adobe house and featuring a demonstration ecological house, a childrens library, a cafe and workshop space.

The very last La Mano event will be the upcoming Christmas sale on Dec. 5-7 which features new and old work by Silvia & Artemio, as well as prints, crafts, jewelry, books and paintings by Javier Granados, Jose Lozano, Emilia Garcia, Burnt Tortilla Creations, Colectiva Mujeres en Movimiento, and many more. If you're in LA, stop by, offer your support, and wish them well. They've earned it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


The other show I saw in Baltimore which left a strong impression was a series of handmade mechanical toys by the brilliant British kinetic sculptor Paul Spooner. For a limited time, you can witness a wide sampling of Spooner's automata genius as a Virtual Exhibit at the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre website.

The videos are clever, but can't do justice to the feeling of turning the cranks of these marvelous machines by hand. I saw his work at the American Visionary Art Museum. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry also has a real life exhibition through March 2.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Saint I Ain't

A very nice concrete poem/stencil from Rob Giampietro, written in honor of pioneering fluxus poet Emmett Williams, who died last year. The poem reads, “A saint I ain’t. I rap in sin. I rain in print. I pray in rap. I rant in pain. An ant I ain’t. I paint.”