Friday, January 30, 2009

No Safety In Numbers

Once again I was asked to be the media coordinator for the annual One Night Count of the Homeless in King County. The Count is quite an impressive undertaking, with more than 800 people across the county volunteering to miss a whole night's sleep for a walk in the cold, during which they do their damnedest to count every person living on the streets.

As before, my task involved writing up the press releases and chatting up the media, but the most interesting part of my work was talking to the volunteers and transcribing their stories. Without fail, the experience has a huge impact on those counters who are volunteering for the first time and have little idea of what to expect. Those of us who work with the homeless day in and day out can forget that this is a population which is essentially invisible, even to huge hearted people who believe in our cause. Through the courtesy of the Seattle/King County Coalition for the Homeless, these are a few of the quotes from people I spoke with. There are literally hundreds more.

"I was looking under the freeway and I found a wheelchair with a guy sleeping on the ground beside it. It was like a nightmare. How did this guy get under the freeway in his wheelchair? How was he going to get back into his chair? And where was he going to go? I know we weren't supposed to help the people we saw, but man..."

"I heard coughing coming from a porta potty on a construction site. Later I came back to count him. He told me he had been kicked out of a shelter in Everett for smoking pot."

"When we were counting we were approached by three men who wanted information on housing. They just arrived in the country from Southeast Asia and didn't have any work or any income. I didn't know what to tell them."

"In one area there had obviously been a large camp that was posted and swept by the cops on January 27th. There was one person there, and they were sleeping behind all the garbage bags that the city had filled with debris."

"I saw a guy leaning against a wall, sleeping on his bike."

Me? I'm glad I have a bed to sleep in. And that's where I'm headed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Updike at Rest

John Updike died today. What a drag.

I've been reading his novels all my life, and am also a fan of his poems, his essays...the man wrote so much, you can could read everything you found and never catch up. For all of his brilliance, he had a warm and humble voice that I'll miss a lot.

It's strange to think that we will never again encounter an Updike essay by surprise. You could always count on a new poem popping up in the New Yorker, or an essay on some obscure painter printed in the New York Review of Books, but it was a particular delight to find an unexpected article in Vanity Fair or Golf Digest or some airplane's in-flight magazine. The man's output, to say nothing of his range, was just staggering.

Anyway, tributes abound. The Guardian has a particularly nice remembrance of the man, with some beautiful photographs which put one in mind of a poem from Updike's second collection of light verse, "Telephone Poles," published in 1963.


Please do not tell me there is no voodoo,
For, if so, how then do you
Explain that a photograph of a head
Always tells us if the person is living or dead?

Always. I have never known it to fail.
There is something misted in the eyes, something pale,
If not in the lips, then in the hair -
It is hard to put your finger on, but there.

A kind of third dimension settles in:
A blur, a kiss of otherness, a milky film.
If, while you hold a snapshot of Aunt Flo,
Her real heart stops, you will know.

Shuffle Mode

Guillermo E. Brown is headed to Seattle as a guest of the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas for a series of shows and presentations on January 30 and 31. Depending on what blog you read, the Brooklyn-based Brown is described as a rapper, a drummer, a dancer, a hip-hop impresario or an experimental jazz artist. Brown has collaborated with an amazing roster of artists including Matthew Shipp, Marlies Yearby, Rob Reddy, Roy Campbell, Anthony Braxton, DJ Spooky, Vernon Reid and Bill T. Jones. He's coming to Seattle in support of a project appropriately called "Shuffle Mode" which allows Brown to improvise with voices and live music across a diverse range of styles, combining elements of free jazz, hip hop and new world music backed by electronic arrangements and video.

Guillermo E. Brown's Shuffle Mode will be at the Broadway Performance Hall at 8:00 p.m., January 30 and 31, with a post-show Q&A after each performance. Tickets available at the door or through Brown Paper Tickets. On the 31st, from noon to 2:00, he's also giving a free workshop for teens at the Seattle Art Museum, in which he'll be leading a live musical improv session which will become a permanent part of the museum's Black Art installation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Your Brain on Drugs

Some good news in Friday's New York Times.

"A team of Swedish and Danish researchers tracked coffee consumption in a group of 1,409 middle-age men and women for an average of 21 years...scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less."

This may not be news to those who are familiar with the last words of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who died with his mind intact at the grand age of 98. "Life is just one cup of coffee after another, and don't look for anything else."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Continuing Adventures of Miles & Karina

Way back in 2007, Seattle's Northwest Film Forum commissioned local musical duo Miles and Karina to compose a new score for The Adventures of Prince Achmed, an animated classic created by film pioneer Lotte Reiniger in 1926. The result was celebrated as a stunning success, and M & K embarked on a cross-continental tour, performing their score along with the film from California to St. Louis to Kitchener, Ontario. Now, David "Miles" Kennan and Nova "Karina" Devonnie are back in Seattle for one show ONLY as part of the NWFF's Children's Film Festival. Don't miss your last chance to see a locally-produced thing of beauty, this Sunday, January 25, at 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Get Your War Off

For the past 7 years, dating from just before the invasion of Afghanistan, David Rees' blisteringly angry comic "Get Your War On" has been using clip art to savagely and hilariously attack the Bush Administration and their bloody wreck of a foreign policy. During the entire asinine "War on Terror," GYWO has been one of precious few must-read regular comic strips. I visited the site today to see how Rees reacted to Bush's departure, and found this:

As far as I can tell, the strip, no longer needed, has been canceled.

A Sweeter Music

Sarah Cahill is a justly celebrated classical pianist known for her passionate and beautiful performances of American compositons, and for championing oddball American experimentalists. A recent profile in the Village Voice noted her "phenomenal technique, her instinctive command of recent aesthetics, and quite possibly the most interesting repertoire of any pianist around.”

Over the course of 2008, Cahill completed a long-term project in which she commissioned eighteen leading composers to write new works on the theme of peace. The astonishing list reads like a who's who of great living composers, including Meredith Monk, Terry Riley, Yoko Ono, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Pauline Oliveros, the Residents, Paul Dresher, Phil Kline, Mamoru Fujieda, and the list goes on. Video projections, also commissioned for this project, were created by John Sanborn, known for his work with such diverse artists as Bill T. Jones, Adrian Belew, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

The project, titled "A Sweeter Music" after Martin Luther King’s statement that "we must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war," will have its world premiere this Sunday, January 25, as part of the Cal Performances series in Berkeley. Cahill then takes the project around the world, arriving in Seattle on May 8 at the Good Shepard Center Chapel Performance Space.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

He Had A Dream

A thought for today, and yesterday, from Langston Hughes.

Dream Variation

To fling my arms wide
In some of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till till the white day is gone
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While a night comed on gently;
Black like me;
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance ! whirl ! whirl !
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening......
A tall, slim tree.....
Night come tenderly
Black like me

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Ontological Night At The Opera

This goes under the category of must-see performances. For the first time ever, the unbridled and unpredictable geniuses Richard Foreman and John Zorn are collaborating on a work of theatre. Foreman has written, directed and designed nearly a hundred plays in New York and around the world. He's received uncountable awards, including five Obie Awards for Best Play of the Year. Zorn is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer who has thousands of records to his credit, including those released under his reknowned Tzadik record label. Together, they are busily writing and rehearsing the new play "Astronome: A Night At The Opera" which opens at Foreman's Ontological Theater in downtown Manhattan on February 5. According to Foreman's hysterical press release, "Astronome" is a work dominated by ecstatic groans, grunts and babbling, and explores the initiation of a group of people into a world where ambiguous behavior alone leads to freedom. I do not know what that means, but if anyone can make sense of it, it's Richard Foreman.

In one more unprecendented move from the two iconoclasts, they are live streaming their rehearsal process each Wednesday until the play opens. Live video is available on free103point9 every Wednesday until the end of January, 10am - 4:30pm, New York time. This play cannot be extended and is very unlikely to ever tour. If you are in or around NYC before April 5, see it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Sheep Moving On

Just heard that the Belltown-based Free Sheep Foundation is being evicted. They've been given notice that they have to move on out of their home on Third and Battery by this Sunday. No real surprise - the nomadic band of artists had been temporarily occupying a slated-to-be-destroyed office building at 3rd & Battery, and the end just came a little sooner than everyone had hoped. Stranger art critic Jen Graves wrote a good story about the group last year. The artists of Free Sheep had been creating some beautiful work and killer performances over the past 12 months or so, and hopefully it won't be too long before they get their groove back in a new spot.

The press release from Den Father DK Pan gives some reason for hope:

In the coming year, we have some really exciting projects in the works... we are partnering with the SCIDpda (Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority) on a number of public art works including an alleyway mural project, video interviews with neighborhood historians which will be on permanent display and included in podcast walking tours, working with neighborhood youth groups, and curatorial projects in vacant storefronts. Currently, we are also talking with the Uwajimaya family about temporarily occupying the Publix Hotel for exhibitions...We are also preparing for the TUBS Memorial Project (50th & Roosevelt in U-District) which be staged in the early spring.

Just before they get gone, Free Sheep Foundation is hosting a final graffiti jam this Friday, at which some fine Seattle street artists will be covering the walls of the place. Among the invitees are local heroes NTG, Baldman, Merlot, Charms Won, Specs Wizard, Static Invasion, NKO and plenty more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ironies of Pittsburgh

The last few months have brought some harsh crackdowns on Pittsburgh graffiti artists. Just before Christmas, two young men, "Sine One" and "Toaster," students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, were arrested, and are now facing felony charges. In July, Danny Montano, known as "MFONE," pleaded guilty to 79 counts of criminal vandalism. Montano faced a maximum possible sentence of $300,000 in fines and 130 years in prison. In the end, the judge sentenced him to one of the harshest sentences for graffiti ever in the United States - 2.5 to 5 years in prison and $200,000 in restitution. Interestingly enough, the 22 year-old was arrested at the Mattress Factory, a world-renowned contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh, as he was installing his piece for an exhibition.

Commenters on the blog Just Seeds note that Pittsburgh's hard hit social service budgets and vanishing school art programs have led to a dramatic increase in graffiti in the city. In addition, Pittsburgh's ever-declining tax base means that the police-run graffiti task force simply has not been able to keep up with the ever spreading street art. That fact, plus the plethora of empty buildings, closed down mills and factories, railroad bridges, stairways, alleys and train tunnels have allowed for a flourishing graffiti scene.

The tragedy is that while a whole range of circumstances have led Pittsburgh kids to adopt street art as a means toward empowerment and self-expression, the beleaguered police force has pushed for ever harsher penalties for graffiti, with the horrible result of teenagers being faced with the prospect of spending a good chunk of their adolescence in prison.

The same drama is playing out in cities across the country, and it remains to be seen how these never ending tensions between street art and gallery art, the use of public and private space, and the consequences from a nebulous concept of "property damage" will play out.

The bitchin' photo above was taken outside the Heinz factory by Niemster and harvested from the Pittsburgh Graffiti photo pool.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Handmade Planet

The co-conspirators behind the Handmade Nation project have finished their full-length documentary about the rapidly growing national movement of independent artists making a living by selling their handmade crafts. The film is a companion piece to the book of the same name, published last year to rave reviews, and already distributed across the globe. I came across a well presented pile of copies at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. Project originator Faythe Levine and co-author Cortney Heimerl have a full schedule of film screenings, lectures, book signings and workshops across the world over the next few months.

They're going to be signing books in the Northwest for the next few days - tonight at the Anne Bonny at 5:30, tomorrow at 7:00 at Orca Books in Olympia, Jan. 11 at Powell's in Portland and at the Bellevue Barnes & Noble on the 13th. Then it's on to New York, Australia, Germany, and the U.K. to show the film. The first stateside screening is February 5th in Milwaukee. Keep an eye on the Handmade Nation blog for news of additional showings.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


On this day in 1972 poet and painter Kenneth Patchen died.

Patchen was born in 1911, and despite a life collaborating with some of the century's best known poets, musicians and playwrights, Patchen never enjoyed much popular success. Part of this was due to his ever changing writing style, which varied from his early books of political poetry to his "jazz poems" written with Langston Hughes and Kenneth Rexroth, to his child-like "painted poems" that occupied much of his later career. The rest is most likely due to his fervent pacifism, which included loud and persistent resistance to U.S. involvement in World War II.

On top of all that, and despite a crippling spinal injury that kept him bed ridden for many years, Patchen also wrote a series of wildly experimental novels such as "The Journal of Albion Moonlight" and "Memoirs of A Shy Pornographer," and collaborated with composer John Cage on the radio play "The City Wears A Slouch Hat." Patchen had a life-long friendship with e.e. cummings, and in the 1950's he collaborated with jazz giant Charles Mingus, reading his poetry along with original compositions by Mingus' jazz combo. Unfortunately, no known recording of their collaboration exists.

Hayden Carruth wrote that Patchen survived the way an old nail survives, rusty and forgotten.


There's a place the man always say
Come in here, child
No cause you should weep
Wolf never catch such a rabbit
Golden hair never turn white with grief
Come in here, child
No cause you should moan
Brother never hurt his brother
Nobody here ever wander without a home
There must be some such place somewhere
But I never heard of it

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Laundromat Project

Some readers may recall my fondness for the Urban Rest Stop, a hygiene center in downtown Seattle providing free laundry, showers and restrooms to a mostly homeless clientele. In addition to the invaluable community benefit that comes from keeping poor people clean and healthy, the URS also performs a social function as a de facto forum and meeting house for the down-on-their-luck population of the city.

On the other edge of the country, the Laundromat Project has recognized a similar social function performed by the laundromats of New York city. The Brooklyn-based non-profit seeks to bring art into some of the most ordinary spaces in working class neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuvyesant and Harlem. The project provides resources to artists who create and exhibit work in laundromats, in the belief that they are places where people gather not only to wash clothes but also to interact with their neighbors and exchange ideas. In the communities the project serves, which generally have under-funded schools and high unemployment, the Laundromat Project also fills an educational void by reinvesting laundromat profits into community arts programming. From the perspective of social entrepreneurship, the business model is just brilliant.

In December, the organization received a prestigious Union Square Arts Award in recognition of their innovative work in the arts with youth and families in low-income communities.

The Laundromat Project is currently accepting proposals for a new round of six month residencies during which artists will produce site-specific, socially relevant installations at their local laundromat. Applications are due by February 20, 2009.

The above photo, of a Harlem laundromat, is courtesy of Juverna. Thanks!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sad but True

As this painting, "Wintery Mask" by Paul Klee, should make clear, I am back in stone-cold slate-grey Seattle. Thanks for asking.

Ong Ong

Ong Ong is a delicious Seattle 'zine produced by a fine collective of local writers, artists and printers, and overseen by gal-about-town Lucy Moorhouse. The beautiful book is simultaneously a throwback to the golden days of 'zine culture, and a great leap forward over hastily produced blogs like this one. Each irregularly produced issue features a treasure trove of smart local writing, full color illustrations, and an unpredictable hodgepodge of goodies like CD's, mini-comics, and hand printed stickers. The latest issue, #5, features a silk screened cover by Seattle illustrator Chris Ando.

The book is due to be released at a party/concert/variety show on January 10th at the beautiful Nonsequitur chapel space in the attic of Wallingford's Good Shepherd Center. Clown oracle Queen Shmooquan hosts magician Tom Carroll, award winning animator Stefan Gruber and an impressive array of local misfits.

Should you miss the party, Ong Ong will be available for just $7 (cheap!) at independent booksellers in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco & Minneapolis, or online from their dedicated volunteers.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year Letter

For you, this brief excerpt from W.H. Auden's "New Year Letter."

Under the familiar weight
Of winter, conscience and the State,
In loose formations of good cheer,
Love, language, loneliness and fear,
Towards the habits of next year,
Along the streets the people flow,
Singing or sighing as they go:
Exalte, piano, or in doubt,
All our reflections turn about
A common meditative norm,
Retrenchment, Sacrifice, Reform.