Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beyond Prisons

Tomorrow, April 30th, the Race/Knowledge Project is holding a critical dialogue on the planned $220 million Seattle municipal jail project, and the forces which are aligning against it. The conversation, called "Politics Beyond Prisons," takes place from 3:30 to 5:00 at the Simpson Center for the Humanties on the University of Washington's Seattle campus. The event features presentations by a number of local and national experts on incarceration politics, including Chandan Reddy of the University of Washington, Dean Spade of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Sarah White of Street Youth Legal Advocates of Washington and Tim Harris, the publisher of Real Change.

In conjunction with the dialogue, the organizers have arranged a special exhibition of a limited edition print portfolio that addresses issues of incarceration. Activist bloggers Just Seeds commissioned twenty-one artists from the US, Canada, and Mexico to create new work in honor of Critical Resistance's 10 year anniversary. The exhibition will be on display before and after the talk.


Today is Duke Ellington's 110th birthday, born April 29, 1899. What can one say? Ellington is the single most influential American musician, a brilliant composer, pianist and band leader, the alpha and omega of jazz. He began writing songs at the age of 14, and continued to write and perform vital and inspired music right up until his death at the age of 75. Ernest Hemingway said that "All modern American literature comes from one book called Huckleberry Finn." I believe it's equally true to say that all modern American music comes from one man named Duke Ellington.

There is no shortage of amazing Ellington footage on the Youtube but I particularly like this short piece from 1960. First, because Ellington is in the rare position of fronting a powerful and groovy trio. Second, because it's taking place in the unusual setting of the Fundacion Miró in Barcelona. And third, because the great Joan Miró himself makes an unexpected appearance!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Street Takeover

Speaking of NYC, over the weekend Jordan Seiler of Public Ad Campaign spearheaded the incredibly ambitious "New York Street Advertising Takeover," which whitewashed and transformed some 120 illegal billboards throughout New York.

The targeted billboards were among the hundreds, maybe thousands, of outdoor signs not registered with the city. Despite being illegal, these violations are rarely prosecuted by the City of New York, allowing billboard companies to garner huge profits by avoiding advertising and permitting fees while cluttering public outdoor space with their ads.

Late Saturday and Sunday the illegal spots were transformed into art by eighty volunteer artists. More about the project, including some exceptional images, at Cronicas Barbaras and Wooster Collective.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

World Voices

File this one under "If only I lived in New York..."

The PEN World Voices Festival launches its fifth annual celebration of global literature on April 27. The insanely great line-up of established and emerging authors from 40 countries take the stage in venues across New York City for 6 packed days of conversations, panels, performances and readings.

Events include the first U.S. appearance by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio since being awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature; The "PEN Cabaret" with musical and spoken word performances from Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Carrie Brownstein and Walter Mosley; and An Afternoon with International Graphic Novelists with artists like Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Adrian Tomine, and David Polonsky, the lead animator behind Waltz with Bashir. Plus talks and readings from Bernado Atxaga, Ian Buruma, Edwidge Danticat, David Grossman ... The mind reels.

Far far too many amazing writers and events to list. Click here for a complete list of 2009 Festival Participants.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Renee French

For about a year, Seattle-based comics creator Renee French has been using her blog to post her daily doodles. Some of the drawings are remarkably detailed and others are simple line drawings, but each of them features creatures, houses and children who look friendly at first, but on closer inspection turn out to be very very disturbing.

Renee’s blog is updated every day, and she also has a website where you can see the books and comics that she’s published, including several titles from Fantagraphics and a very strange looking children's book called The Soap Lady.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Novelist, essayist, philospher and visionary J.G. Ballard died two days ago, on April 19th. Ballard was a kind of patron saint to bloggers and to the internet in general, and the web is just full of articles on his influence. A brief search reveals thoughtful essays on everything from cyberpunk (check out this rich article, which buzzes with the excitement of the genre’s earliest moments) to modern music (as this article asserts, Ballard could be credited for having inspired the entire genre of industrial music.)

Ballard's writing changed over the years from the sociologically critical science fiction of the 1950's to painfully raw explorations of urban psychology in books like " The Atrocity Exhibition" to the more soul searching autobiographical musings of "Miracles of Life." Over a career of some 40 years Ballard explored modern conditions from paranoia to euphoria. He examined the implications of living in an age of total consumerism, blanket surveillance, and enslavement designed as mass entertainment, but he also spoke of resistance through feats of confrontation and imagination. Basically he was among the earliest practitioners of the arts that came to define late 20th century culture - sampling, remixing and recycling.

He gave a characteristically insightful response when asked about his vision of the future by Re/Search magazine in 1982:

I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again… the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.

The fansite Ballardian has posted a compendium of remembrances by writers like Martin Amis and Will Self, in addition to their usual treasure trove of scholarly articles on all things Ballard. J.G. Ballard was a brave, brilliant and obsessive writer whose work will continue to resonate well into our dark future.

Dia del Libro

According to UNESCO, this Thursday is the International Day of the Book. April 23rd, 1616 happened to be the day that both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, and in 1994 it was chosen by the United Nations as " opportunity to consider the major contribution of books to our cultural heritage and spark new initiatives from the fertile interaction between the pages - beit in printed or in electronic form - and the cultural wealth of humanity." Word.

The day sees its largest manifestation in the Spanish region of Catalunya, where the 23rd also happens to be the feast day of that region's patron saint, St. George. The highly literate Catalans celebrate by taking the day off work and giving gifts of books and roses. Half of the total yearly book sales in Catalunya take place on this day. Perhaps someone reading this is moved to give your humble Gurldogg a present on this sanest of holidays? Consider the recently published two volume collection of essays by another famous George with ties to Catalunya, George Orwell, about whom Julian Barnes recently said in the NY Review of Books: "He is interpretable, malleable, ambassadorial, and patriotic. He denounced the Empire, which pleases the left; he denounced communism, which pleases the right. He warned us against the corrupting effect on politics and public life of the misuse of language, which pleases almost everyone." Either volume 1, Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays or volume 2, All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays will be warmly received.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Film Starts Here

New media outlets like Facebook and Youtube have created unprecedented opportunities for young artists, storytellers and moviemakers to get their work seen by wide audiences. Plenty of high schools and even elementary schools now offer classes in movie and video production, and national organizations like Human Rights Watch and the South by Southwest Festival sponsor competitions for teenage filmmakers.

The Seattle-based National Film Festival for Talented Youth (or "NFFTY") is the largest film festival and support organization for filmmakers age 22 and under. NFFTY's third annual festival takes place this spring in venues around Seattle, and includes more than 100 film screenings, filmmaking panels, and creative opportunities for filmmakers as young as 7 years old. Young filmmakers from around the world come to town with feature-length and short films in narrative, documentary, animation, music video, experimental, and international categories.

Simply browsing through the list of titles and subjects is jawdropping. Some highlights include “Lifestories: The Lost Boys Of Sudan” a story of eight Sudanese refugee children by 14-year old Jared Martin, and the hand-drawn cartoon “Odysseus And The Cyclops” by seven-year-old Emily Salva.

April 24-26 at various cinemas in downtown Seattle. Check here for full schedules.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Still a few weeks left to see the splendid Antonio Frasconi exhibit at Davidson Galleries. Frasconi immigrated to the U.S. from Uruguay in 1945 to study at New York's Art Students League and rapidly became one of the world's foremost artists specializing in woodcut prints. His poster and print work regularly tackles themes of freedom and resistance, culminating in 1985 in his magnum opus Los Desaparecidos or The Disappeared, an extended series of woodblocks and monotypes portraying the horrors of Latin American dictatorships and paying homage to the many people who were "disappeared" by those military governments. He has designed and illustrated hundreds of books, including extraordinary editions of Langston Hughes's poetry collection "Let America be America Again" and Pablo Neruda's "Bestiary." His work is rarely shown in small galleries - much more likely to be seen at major museums like MoMA, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, and the Brooklyn Museum - and this is the very first exhibition of his work in the Northwest. The show "Antonio Frasconi:Woodcuts & Posters" continues until May 2.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Down at the Track

Emerald Downs' 2009 racing season opens this Friday, April 17, with the first live race at 6pm. I had a total bust of a season in 2008 - except for a small handful of winners, just about nothing went as planned - so I figure I'm due for a change of luck this year. I hope to be well ahead by the running of the 74th Longacres Mile on Sunday, August 16. And don't forget: every Friday night after July 4th pints of beer are only $1.50 all evening long.

As a new Dad, planning to attend the races with my daughter for the first time this spring, here's a poem for myself from Charles Bukowski.


at the track today,
Father's Day,
each paid admission was
entitled to a wallet
and each contained a
little surprise.

most of the men seemed
between 30 and 55,
going to fat,
many of them in walking
they had gone stale in
flattened out....

in fact, damn it, they
aren't even worth writing
why am I doing

these don't even
deserve a death bed,
these little walking
only there are so
many of
in the urinals,
in the food lines,
they have managed to

in a most limited
but when you see
so many of them
like that,
there and not there,
breathing, farting,
waiting for a thunder
that will not arrive,
waiting for the charging
white horse of
waiting for the lovely
female that is not
waiting to WIN,
waiting for the great
dream to
engulf them
but they do nothing,
they clomp in their
gnaw at hot dogs
dog style,
gulping at the
they complain about
blame the jocks,
drink green
the parking lot is
jammed with their
unpaid for
the jocks mount
again for another
the men press
toward the betting
fathers and non-fathers
Monday is waiting
for them,
this is the last
big lark.

and the horses are
it is shocking how
beautiful they
at that time,
at that place,
their life shines
miracles happen,
even in

I decide to stay for
one more

Monday, April 13, 2009

Microcosm on Tour

Portland-based Independent publisher Microcosm Publishing is heading out on a cross-country tour. True to their radical roots, the tour aims not only to sell books, but also to hold workshops on a wide range of skills by a bus full experts with extensive knowledge in the DIY arts. Authors and artists hitting the road include Microcosm founder Joe Biel, Do-It-Yourself Screenprinting author John Isaacson, Moe Bowstern, author of the rad zine series Xtra Tuf, vegan chef Joshua Ploeg, and Shelley Jackson, co-author of Chainbreaker, the indespensible bike-culture book and zine.

The tour begins today in Chicago, winds its way through the rust belt with 2 days in Buffalo, and finishes with 2 weeks in the South. Full tour info here.

Joe Biel was kind enough to share some time and thoughts with me before heading out.

Hi Joe. How you been?

I'm doing way better than I was a year or two ago when I was real sick and not moving much. Shit is tops about now! I'm moving about and not limited by my body! Got my fourth eye surgery and now I can see and function in the world.

What are you working on?

Right now I am spending every minute of my life finishing up a documentary about Plan-it X Records called "If It Ain't Cheap, It Ain't Punk." Then I'm going to do a new issue of my zine about biking in Portland "Bipedal, By Pedal" about the hostile interactions between motorists and cyclists. Then it's back to work on my next big project, which is an interview book for Garrett County Press called "Beyond Resistance and Community" wherein I talk to old punks who have pursued crafts other than music.

Tell us about the upcoming tour. Who are you traveling with? What are you hoping to accomplish? Who do you want to reach?

This tour is one of our more ambitous ones. It's a series of skillshare events with Shelley Jackson (Chainbreaker), Joshua Ploeg (who was the singer for Behead the Prophet and now does a sweet touring cooking show), John Isaacson (DIY Screenprinting), Moe Bowstern (Xtra Tuf), and Dave Roche (On Subbing) is joining us a little bit too. I've been making fuel for our converted SVO RV for the last three weeks. We collect waste grease left over from restaurants, heat it up to remove impurities and then run it through filters to protect the engine. So we drive around the eastern half of the country and do skillshare events. I'm going to show my new documentary and we will talk about how art intersects politics, especially in a so-called liberal administration.

I don’t have to tell you, the word is that print media is in trouble. Newspapers are shutting down, bookstores are closing, etc. Do you agree that print is dying? How do printed books and magazines stay relevant when everyone is getting their information on line?

Print isn't dying. It just requires a new and smarter approach. I've been teaching workshops about starting distribution co-ops to solve this problem but no one wants to do the work. That's why a lot of magazines and publishers are tanking or cancelling production. It's hard to accept that you have to drop the white collar white to do very blue collar work. It's not glamorous but it's the big picture. I don't think all people get all kinds of information online or some people get all information online.

The biggest way for print to stay relevant is to offer something different. Microcosm focuses on artistic books about DIY subjects because that's what we are interested in, but it's also a hot subject in a post-boom economy when much of the industry is losing relevance.

Print was wounded by the corporatization of bookstores around 1994; not by the internet. Barnes & Nobles and Borders drastically changed the climate of book selling because publishers were offering huge discounts to big chains and then getting huge returns which forced prices way up. People weren't willing to pay twice as much for the same book so sales suffered.

Have blogs totally replaced zines? Are there still new and important zines being created? What do you see as the essential difference between the two mediums? What have we lost by making blogging so accessible? What have we gained?

Blogs and zines are apples and oranges. They can't replace each other. That is a popular myth. There are new zines being produced daily. We get daily zines submissions; at least one or two per day. I think ideally a zine has a lot more work put into it than most websites. It's more of a commitment.

I don't think of it in terms of gains/losses. It's comparing apples and oranges. You can eat them both.

How does Microcosm decide what to publish? How do you find the writers/artists worth distributing?

The collective meets monthly, reviews our production chart & submissions, and composes our own ideas for books to publish. We vote as a group and everyone is granted a block or vote of approval. Our distributed work is built from daily submissions that we review in these meetings. We build relationships with people and often choose what to publish based on our favorite zines/people.

What are some great new titles we should know about? Some great zines? Some great blogs?

Right now Dwelling Portably and Make Your Place are two of my favorite things. It doesn't hurt that I am building a portable liveable shack but these books are really popular AND relevant in my own life. There are so many great zines that I don't know what to plug. Secret Files of Cap'n Sissy is always a favorite. I really like the writing of OJ Killed Elvis. But often I find that my favorites are the ones I've never heard of and never see again. I don't read blogs. I don't really know how to find them.

Punk was essential for our generation, but now it can seem so dated. Is Punk still relevant for young people? Has it changed with the times?

It's undoubtedly relevant for young people as it was relevant for you or I. Of course it's changed with the times. It means a different fashion, aesthetic, or sound but it was the same way for you or I. It just seems a lot more relevant when you are in your formative years, no matter how hollow or politically unsophisticated the message is. It's about inspiring you to do something that is beyond that. I owe my life and path to punk. I've said that over and over. I don't relate with punk music now but that doesn’t matter. I associate it with a certain set of politics, a DIY ethic, and a positive force for activism.

Any chance of opening a Microcosm shop in Seattle? Or at least bringing the tour here?

Microcosm doesn’t have any staff in Seattle so we don't really have the means to do that. I could see us having a cool shop in Georgetown but that's a good ways away. We aren't really looking to globalize in that way either. We are talking about a west coast tour for 2010 though. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Punk Rock Flea Market #6! 6/6!

Fresh from baby birthin' and a six month break, Pepita, Nico & me are up and running and getting things in place for the next Punk Rock Flea Market. This being PRFM #6, it seemed poetically appropriate to hold it on 6/6. Should be a good one - a whole mess of folks have already signed up to be there, including 4 record vendors, lots of clothing makers, that guy with all the stereo equipment, two people selling pet reptiles (!), the haircut lady, a few printmakers and graffiti artists selling their work, plenty of baby stuff, & who knows what else. If you want in, just drop me a line and I'll send you a form. Spaces are still just $25, and double spaces cost $50. DJ Port-a-Party will be there to rock the joint, and once again the market space has been generously donated by the Low Income Housing Institute.

The poster this time was designed by awesome Seattle street artist and graphic designer Kinoko! We'll have an edition of signed silkscreened posters for sale at the event. See you there!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

He Who Honk Fest, Honk Best

Speaking of Orkestar Zirconium, this weekend brings the second annual Honk Fest West to the streets of Ballard and Georgetown. Honk Fest is a celebration of the music of street bands from around the world. This year, some 15 bands from around the continent are coming to party in the streets of Seattle, including the above mentioned Orkestar, the renowned Leland Stanford Junior University "Scatter Band", and the much beloved March Fourth Marching Band from Portland. Honk Fest begins on Friday April 10th in Ballard, travels to Georgetown on Saturday evening, hosts an open-to-the-public brunch at Gasworks Park on Sunday afternoon, and culminates on Sunday night in an all-star line up at The Vera Project in Seattle Center. A full list of bands, line-up and venue information can be found here.

Photo of What Cheer? Brigade at Honk Fest East by The Redbird. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Tonight brings the onset of Passover, the week-long Jewish holiday commemorating the release from slavery as documented in the book of Exodus. Passover has been celebrated each spring for thousands of years, and while the rituals have remained notably consistent, the interpretation of the holiday changes each generation as different historical events suggest ever changing symbolic meanings. African American slaves looked to the passover story for hope, and many of tonight's seder conversations will likely turn to Israel's oppression of Gaza.

When I was growing up, the relevant story of people seeking freedom concerned the Jews of the Soviet Union. Soviet Russia had declared Judaism an ideological enemy, and in order to escape imprisonment or worse many Jewish families hid their identities, changed their names, and invented new personal histories.

The poet Joseph Brodsky emerged from this milieu. Brodsky was born into a Jewish family in Leningrad in 1940, and devoted himself deeply to learning classical philosophy, religion, mythology, and to reading English and Polish poetry. He was publishing poetry and literary translations by the age of 17. In 1963 he was arrested and charged with "parasitism" by the Soviet authorities. He was sentenced to five years of internal exile with physical labor, and after protests by prominent cultural figures, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Jean-Paul Sartre, his sentenced was commuted. After years of official oppression, Brodsky was eventually expelled from the USSR and resettled in New York.

Brodsky always self identified as a Jew, and upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1987 was asked the question: "You are an American citizen who is receiving the Prize for Russian-language poetry. Who are you, an American or a Russian?" He famously responded "I am Jewish."

Brodsky championed many forms of freedom - political, personal, religious and artistic - over the course of his life. He forever emphasized the power of language to positively impact the culture in which it is situated, and promoted the idea of sharing poetry as a means of fighting totalitarianism. In the latter part of his career, Brodsky wrote exclusively in English, stating that "English grammar may prove to be a better escape route from the chimneys of the state crematorium than the Russian."

On the eve of an ancient holiday which celebrates freedom, I offer this poem by Joseph Brodsky.

Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama's boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn't love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it's gentler than what we've been told or have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don't reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won't resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks, and barks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

He is Risible

Performance artist Kaleb Hagen-Kerr has been a presence on left-of-center Seattle stages for years, creating the endlessly entertaining Big Wheel Bingo, curating the long running burlesque variety show at the Pink Door, hosting Drunk Puppet Nite and acting in the 14-48 festival, among other appearances too numerous to count. His mimicry skills are legendary and his ever-increasing cast of unusual and well-drawn characters is impressive to the point of scariness. One almost suspects Hagen-Kerr of having a genuine personality disorder.

Every Easter, Hagen-Kerr dons a priest's frock and becomes the somewhat-holy, somewhat-ribald and somewhat-drunk Pastor Kaleb. This Sunday, April 12th, Pastor Kaleb celebrates the 10th year of his Easter Service at the Pink Door in the pike place market. As always, the service welcomes children, encourages crowd interaction and promotes liberal drinking. The service also features an all-star gospel choir directed by Sari Breznau of Circus Contraption and Orkestar Zirconium. Social to begin at 11:00 am, and the service begins at 12 noon.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Inflatable Street Art

Joshua Allen Harris takes a markedly different approach to street art.

Harris creates animal figures out of discarded plastic trash bags, which he attaches to subway vents. The creatures inflate and become animated when a train passes underground, and then deflate back into a lump when the air runs out. Since first creating an inflatable polar bear in 2007, he’s become well-known for creating a variety of subway characters, including monsters and mythical beasts that are several grates long. New York Magazine interviewed Harris and created this short video of the artist in action. Lots more video on the ever-aware Wooster Collective site, right here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Housing First

The American Medical Association just published a study examining one year in the lives of the chronic street drunks who have been given permanent shelter in Seattle's 1811 Eastlake building. The novel and humane program gives homeless alcoholics a place to live without placing restrictions on their drinking or drug use. And according to the study, the program is not only saving lives, but is also saving more than $4 million a year in tax money.

Mary Larimer, a professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the University of Washington, worked with a team of researchers who followed 95 chronic alcoholics before and after they moved into the apartment building in downtown Seattle. The study examined records of the time each person spent in detox, in hospitals, in court and in jail, and compared how much government spent on them compared with those still living on the streets. Researchers found that the average monthly cost to taxpayers was $4,832 when each resident lived on the street. Six months after residents moved into supportive housing, those costs dropped to $1,492 per person per month.

People working with homeless populations in Seattle remember that this program received a LOT of resistance when it was proposed and while it was being built. Many different groups and politicians were up in arms about the project, but the two main arguments arguments against the program were: 1) that it "rewards" people often considered to be engaging in bad behavior; and 2) that it would be outrageously expensive.

The careful study by the AMA debunks both of those arguments. First, researchers learned that the non-punitive nature of the program is one of its biggest strengths. People's chances of learning to control their addictions are a lot better when they are in a warm, safe environment with access to care and services. And second, it turns out that the program saves money overall. For the lawmakers who are looking for ways to save money during a cash strapped time, this should be a winning argument for preserving and creating social service programs, but I'm not kidding myself that the world is so reasonable.

We can only hope that programs like 1811, like so many other innovative, useful programs, cost- saving programs, can get the word out about their effectiveness and that we can maintain a little pressure on our representatives to keep their damned priorities straight.

Thank you Jean Luc Weber for the photo!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

William Kentridge

I'm keen to see the William Kentridge exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery. Kentridge is a native of South Africa who has achieved world wide fame for his drawings, animations, puppets, installations, performance arts and more. A wide selection from his decades-long body of work on display at the Henry until May 3rd. Included in the exhibit are dozens of black and white charcoal drawings, brilliant stereoscopic images, and mind-blowing animations created from hundreds of etchings and drawings.

This is one such animation which gives some idea of what Kentridge can do with charcoals, and what we can expect at the Henry. The show was reviewed by local critic Jen Graves in The Stranger a few weeks back. I'm prepared to be amazed.