Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Half a Life

Eighteen years ago author Darin Strauss struck a girl on a bike while he was driving. The cyclist, a girl from his high school, swerved in front of his Oldsmobile and was killed. Strauss survived and went on to make a name for himself as a novelist with Chang and Eng and More Than It Hurts You.

Recently, he broke two decades of self-imposed silence and released a memoir of the tragic event and its aftermath. The non-fiction account Half a Life is a book about how the writer has tried to live with a terrible error behind him. Strauss shows us how the agonizing questions he's faced since that afternoon have made him who he is. In their review of the book, the New York Times wrote: "What is truly exceptional here is watching a writer of fine fiction probe, directly, carefully and with great humility, the source from which his fiction springs."

Strauss reads at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle on October 2.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Victor Jara

Today is the birthday of Víctor Jara, the Chilean teacher, theater director, poet, singer-songwriter, and political activist.

Jara was born in the town of Lonquén, near the city of Santiago. His family was poor and his parents were illiterate. By the age of 6, Jara's father had left the family, leaving his wife to raise the children. Amanda Jara insisted that her children receive an education and taught them to play piano and sing as well as read and write.

Jara's mother died when he was 15. He moved into a seminary, studying to become a priest, but after a couple of years he became disillusioned with the Church and joined the army before returning to his home town to pursue interests in music and theater. Jara was deeply influenced by the folklore of Chile and Latin America and was particularly inspired by the work of Violeta Parra, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and the poet Pablo Neruda.

He became greatly involved in the Nueva Canción movement of Latin American folk music, releasing his first recording in 1966, and by 1970 had become an important musical figure, his songs drawing on a combination of traditional folk music and left-wing political activism. He supported the Unidad Popular coalition candidate Salvador Allende for the presidency of Chile, taking part in the campaign through volunteer political work and playing free concerts. Jara composed "Venceremos," the theme song of the Unidad Popular. He was a key participant in the cultural renaissance that swept Chile after the election of Allende, organizing cultural events that supported the country's new socialist government.

On September 11 1973, Chilean troops under the command of General Augusto Pinochet mounted a coup against the Allende government. Jara was seized and taken to a large sports stadium. He was held for four days, deprived of food and sleep. He was tortured, and his hands were broken by soldiers who ordered him to keep playing the guitar. At some point, probably on September 15, Jara was taken to a deserted area and shot, his body dumped in a road on the outskirts of Santiago. His wife Joan was allowed to retrieve the body and bury it on the condition that she not publicize the event.

Although the military regime destroyed the vast majority of master recordings of Jara's music, Joan Jara managed to sneak recordings out of Chile, which were later copied and distributed worldwide. In June 2008, Chilean judge Juan Eduardo Fuentes re-opened the investigation into Jara's death. José Adolfo Paredes Márquez, a 54-year-old former soldier was formally charged with Jara's murder. On December 3 2009, a massive funeral took place in which thousands of Chilenos filled the streets. His remains were re-buried in the same place he was buried in 1973.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

San Pancho Rooster

One of my favorite artists in Seattle - an extremely talented painter, illustrator and graphic designer who also happens to paint splendid graffiti behind the tag 179 - was down in San Pancho, Mexico during the recent storms and floods that washed out seven bridges in seven days, left dozens of families homeless, and cut off the small rural community from food and supplies.

In between watching the disaster unfold and helping where she could, she created a new illustration which she has now turned into a silk-screened limited-edition print. She is selling the signed and numbered prints as a way to raise money for the ongoing relief efforts. She has set no price - all sales are by donation - and all proceeds are going directly to the relief organization Entreamigos.

For more information on the relief efforts go here. More of 179's work here, and images from her adventures in Mexico right here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Capitol Cinema

Earlier this week the magnificent Capitol Theater in downtown Olympia was sold to its longtime tenant, the Olympia Film Society. The volunteer-run non-profit film society, which operates on a shoe string budget to say the least, had been renting the 1920's-era movie palace since 1986.

The theater's owner had been trying to sell the place along with the retail building surrounding it, but after negotiating for months, and lowering the price repeatedly, he finally decided to sell just the cinema to OFS for $300,000. Call it one one more recession-era success story.

Despite boasting a terrific staff, having a well curated year-round calendar, and being Olympia's only alternative or art house cinema, being a tenant in the building had seriously limited the film society’s opportunities to raise funds as grant agencies were reluctant to give upkeep money to a group that didn’t own its space. Now that they own the place the money should come pouring in. And their biggest annual event, the 27th Olympia Film Festival, which is always a great party, will be better than ever. The Festival runs from November 12th through the 20th.

Thanks to iphone-alot for the photo!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Great Artists Steal

I finally made it down to Pioneer Square on a sunny day with my camera and was able to get some shots of this gorgeous new mural by Weirdo and Joey Nix. (Click on the photo for a better view.) The two street painters are working hard to get their legitimate business jump started, and have been expending a ton of time, energy and spraypaint under the name Franklin and Thomas. This amazing 30 ft. long piece, which heavily references Picasso's Guernica, was created in time for the opening of the blockbuster Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum on October 8. In the lower right corner, they added a quote widely attributed to the master: "Bad artists copy. Great artists steal."

Monday, September 20, 2010


The Japanese-born Cornish College graduate Kumi Yamashita creates unique art by casting light over strategically placed objects which shape the resulting shadows and form fascinating silhouettes. She lived and showed work in Seattle in the 1990's and early 2000's, and received a fair amount of local recognition, including a Betty Bowen award back in 1995. She lives in New York these days, and shows her work around the world. More on Yamashita's work here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tu vuò fà l’americano

Been a long week. Glad it's Friday.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kate Vrijmoet

Seattle-based painter Kate Vrijmoet is receiving local and international recognition for her remarkable and often unsettling body of work. She is currently in the midst of creating two wildly different series of paintings, which she titles "The Non-ordinary Reality Series," and "The Accident Series." The first are oil paintings of bodies as seen from under water. Vrijmoet uses colors, light effects and visual tricks with phenomenal precision, yet the images are completely disorienting. While the paintings are clearly scenes of men, women and children floating in bodies of water, it is very difficult to say how those bodies are positioned, whether they are alive or dead, where the light is coming from, or what, exactly, is happening. In short, these deceptively tranquil paintings make the viewer feel like she's drowning.

The Accident Series are dislocating in a completely different way. The almost expressionistic paintings show scenes of terrible accidents - "chainsaw accident" for example - and are created with an energy and fury that makes them almost painful to look at. For these paintings, Vrijmoet uses house paints on paper, creating splashing dripping imprecise images that cast a terrible spell. It's almost hard to believe that the two series were created in the same vicinity, let alone by the same artist.

A show of both series was mounted last February at the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) in Seattle, and this month, Kate Vrijmoet: Essential Gestures, Part II inaugurates CoCA's newest location in Pioneer Square. In the interval between the two shows, Vrijmoet has won five important awards, including Third Prize in the Ecuador Biennale, and seen the publication of a 50-page catalog about her work.

The critic and teacher Elatia Harris recently posted an interview with Vrijmoet on the always riveting 3 Quarks Daily.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Balloon of the Mind

by William Butler Yeats

Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forgotten Works

The Forgotten Works Challenge, now in its 10th year, is open for submissions. Forgotten Works is an open group show in which 50 participating artists are given 30 days to produce 30 pieces of artwork. The organizers provide each artist with a set of canvases, and the artist must return the exact same canvases within a month. Any late entries, or entries with less than the full number of pieces, are rejected. The art will be on display through January at the OK Hotel in Seattle, where every piece is on sale for $40.

The show itself is a mixed bag of course, but the concept is great and the organizers are wide open to weird ideas. For information on participating, contact producer Charles Holzhey.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


On Friday September 10th local artist, film maker, disc jockey, bicycle revolutionary and semi-professional drinker Rob Zverina releases the fourth volume of his beautiful film collection RobZ TV.

Since 2003, Zverina has filmed tens of thousands of unscripted video shorts using only a pocket camera. He routinely chooses the best of these and compiles them into lovely 2 DVD sets featuring dozens of films, all shorter than 1 minute, which are equal parts documentary, cinema verite and serendipitously perfect moving images. The films in volume 4 were recorded between May and October 2004 and feature restaurant work, kisses, the Jones Soda promo van, strangers at the Seattle Public Library, beer taps, and counting pebbles on a beach.

The screening will be an informal affair at a new Capitol Hill vintage clothing store, Indian Summer at 534 East Mercer Street, hosted by owner Adria Garcia. DJ Port-a-Party will be on hand to provide a soundtrack. The films will be projected through a window and visible from the street as well.

DVDs of Volume 4 are available at the event for $10 each or you can order them direct from Rob. The films start as soon as it's dark enough.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Time Based Puppets

The Time Based Art Festival gets under way on September 9th in Portland, with dozens of one-off and one-of-a-kind music and art performances from the likes of Rufus Wainwright, The Wooster Group and Charles Atlas. The full schedule is here, and Redefine Magazine is sifting through some of the more compelling acts here.

The opening night show features the experimental shadow puppet collective Night Shade collaborating with art-rocking skatepunkers Japanther. The haunted world of underground rock-n-roll puppet shows gets hauled out of dingy New York basements and onto the stage at the Old Washington High School Auditorium at 531 SE 14th Ave. The show starts at 10:30 pm and admission is free.

You can buy tickets for other festival events here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Cocky Eek teaches a unique discipline at the ArtScience Interfaculty of the Royal Conservatory and the Royal Academy in The Hague. Her classes explore lightweight materials and inflatable structures, looking for ways to bring strange sculptural elements into unexpected surroundings.

One recent Eek project is her kitedress, in which Eek is hoisted in the air wearing a 60-foot long dress anchored by a small truck. The artist and her dress become both sculpture and performance, with the wind dictating the height and the duration of the flight. So far the kitedress has chalked up five successful lifts. More here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


by Frank O'Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it's no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn't need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

i wouldn't want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pictures of Clouds

The swirling photos of Hurricane season remind me of the “Clouds” photo series by the ever inventive Vik Muniz. Back in 2000, the Brazilian-born Muniz launched a public art project to coincide with a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the premiere of a full-length documentary about his work. Four times during a six day period a skywriter drew a series of clouds over the Manhattan skyline using an outline of a cloud designed by Muniz.

Muniz's aesthetic involves using unusual materials to create portraits and objects which he eventually photographs. The result is never what it seems at first sight - he deliberately deceives the spectator's eye and forces him to look again.

The fleeting nature of skywriting isn't so different from the fluid nature of pictures on the internet, the drawing of a cloud where we would expect to see a real cloud, the digital image of a storm briefly but powerfully representing a real event. The image is not the object. The map is not the territory.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Owls

There's some interesting stuff going on at The Owls. Take some time to wander over there and check out the scene. For example, film critics Ben Walters and J. M. Tyree recently had a transatlantic chat about the Coen Brothers' first feature Blood Simple, which has been remade by Zhang Yimou; Moran Meis is in the middle of a long and rambling series of meditations on Roberto Bolaño; Photographer Ben Walters has been keeping a close eye on London graffiti; and many others are using the collective site to share their idiosyncratic writing & art projects. Worth a visit.