Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Idea of Absolution.

After watching a movie that takes the term as its title, I've been given the concept of absolution a lot of thought. It's always been a bit of a mystery to me... a crucial belief that separates me from my many friends of Catholic upbringing. Trying to grasp the idea from a non-Catholic background is a bit futile. I'm always amazed that the many sects of Christianity get lumped into a broad category from which few real discriminations are made. Of course there are very radical differences between Christians- both philosophical and practical.

I was brought up in the Lutheran denomination. In many ways, I view this faith as Christianity-lite. It seemed to have been more about the community of the church than anything else. As long as you accepted the idea that Christ died for your sins, then you were assured a place in heaven. You didn't have to get born again. You didn't have to atone for your sins. And there were no intermediaries. I suppose that is why the number of Lutherans in the world is decreasing. There isn't a whole lot to compel followers to stick with it. Maybe it would have been more effective if the pastor would have talked more about the state of the soul in hell. Without guilt, shame, original sin, confession, and the priestly hierarchy... there's just not a whole lot to grab onto.

Catholics, on the other hand, rarely seem to let their upbringings go. All my friends who grew up in this religion appear to have considered it a necessity to define themselves according to Catholicism. Either they still consider themselves active adherents, or they outright reject it (and tend to extrapolate this position to all religion). I've met more than a couple of ex-Catholics that actively oppose the idea of faith. There is a lot to be processed- the lives of the saints, relics, Mother Mary, along with the things I mentioned above. Catholicism has got so much ritual and trappings that I can understand why people build their lives around it. I'm fascinated by the iconography, the fancy costumes, the incense, and the Latin Mass. But I can afford to appreciate it from an objective perspective. Prior initiates don't seem to have been granted that latitude.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Catholicism (to a young Protestant) is the idea of confession. All humans are sinners and carry the weight of their deeds with them in every facet of life. The early Roman Catholic church fathers were very wise to set themselves up as the middlemen between their followers and God. Not only did they become indispensable in their ability to grant absolution, but they also got to hear all of the secrets of the community. This certainly made them highly revered and quite powerful. There is a very clear power structure set up through this mechanism.

I always found it wondrous that my friends would go into a little fancy box, and relate their innermost shames to another human through a screen. Apparently the priests are serving in their capacity as representatives of the Almighty Himself. So you really aren't sharing your dirt with a human authority figure at all. You're just passing the message along. You are admitting that you are bad, and in doing so you get forgiveness and a clearer path to Heaven. Not a bad system, really. Guilt can be a very powerful obstruction to an effective lifestyle. I have to think that the early psychotherapists used confession as a model for their practices.

Yet we all know that human beings are imperfect, and ultimately those priests are merely men. So it takes a tremendous amount of trust to believe that you are not going to be betrayed after you admit to your misdeeds. A sacred confidentiality is a necessary assumption in building the confidence of the participants. If the seal is violated, then surely people will stop participating in confession. The priest holds the key to something the faithful want- forgiveness. Although I don't know this from experience, I gather that the priests can withhold absolution if they do not believe that the confessor is sincere in his/her wish for atonement. This would suggest that personal judgment does indeed come into play. Meanwhile you would have to wonder why someone would admit to committing a crime if they did not truly have faith in the entire process. It makes me wonder how many unsolved crimes could be cleared up if the priests were allowed to consult with the police. But we wouldn't want to mix the holy with the profane, would we?

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Watching "drive-in movies" in a hot summer living room.

If you skimmed the post I wrote yesterday, you no doubt know that I have freed up some viewing time. While I have literally hundreds of DVD's that I haven't yet watched, I find myself often influenced by the tone of the season, and whatever mood I am currently in. Last week I picked up a cheapo box set of 50 "Drive-in Movie Classics". On a sweltering night with no air conditioning, that collection was calling me in a way I couldn't resist. So after a late dinner I went exploring for any title that seemed even remotely alluring.

I started my double feature with a film that was listed on its sleeve as Creeper. This 1978- horror/thriller starring Hal Holbrook is "better known" under the title Rituals. Its plot concerns a fishing trip that four doctors take into the wilds of Canada (the "Cauldron of the Moon). They soon realize that they are not alone in this remote region, and have to contend with an ordeal of survival that is often painful to watch. Comparisons to Boorman's Deliverance (1972) are both obvious and understandable. But from what I could tell, the settings and cinematography added enough value to elevate Rituals above the ordinary backwoods slasher ripoff.

The problem is that the transfer on this DVD is so poor that I often had a problem seeing what was onscreen. It's just way too dark. This is a real shame because the performances, writing and setup suggest that this is an unfairly overlooked gem. While unfortunate, the fact that this is a shoddy product isn't at all shocking. When it comes to paying $20 for fifty feature-length movies, it is certainly a case of "buyer beware". I'd be surprised if it didn't eventually get a better treatment. From what I could tell, it's one of the better entries in the subgenre exploring the conflict between city and country folk. On a sidenote, it's pretty interesting to hear the men exchange collegial banter about the medical profession, circa the late 70's.

As I fed my second choice into the player, I was hoping not to be frustrated by lousy production values. I got lucky- not only was the movie watchable from a picture quality standpoint, but Absolution (1978) was also original and fairly compelling. It started out with the introduction of a free-flowing, folksong-playing, longhaired, hippie transient who arrives at a Catholic boarding school in search of odd jobs for cash. He quickly runs afoul of the administration and most of the student body, yet one young student is fascinated by his lifestyle and makes an effort to befriend him. But Father Goddard (played with melodramatic authority by Richard Burton) is loathe to see this relationship develop. After all, the mortal soul of one of his favorite pets is now endangered, and he is willing to go to great lengths to keep the boy on the godly path.

Of course, the average male teen often has a very strong will of his own. After discovering the sacred confidentiality that pertains to the confession box, the boy introduces all sorts of mischief into the proceedings. Because of the inviolable sanctity between sinner and confessor, Father Goddard soon finds himself in an incredibly straining situation. The emotional toll he pays to confront the developing events eventually tries his nerves. I have to give director Anthony Page and writer Anthony Shaffer credit for expanding a broad philosophical question about the concept of absolution into a taut psychological thriller. And certainly Burton's acting makes the movie consistently compelling. But Absolution ends with a rather forced and awkward resolution, and viewers bothered by internal plot inconsistencies are warned to stay well away.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Continuing in "Oz".

M. and I have now worked our way through the fourth season of Oz. That's a total of forty different episodes that we've watched since late Spring. I've also watched Seasons 1 and 2 twice. I realize how obsessive a quest this is, but its a viewing pattern M. and I have repeated now with several different television series. There's just something appealing about watching one show after another. You really get a sense of the continuity of the story. While I was considering taking an extended break before we finish Oz- we still have Seasons 5 and 6 to watch- I'll probably break down and order them soon. I do want to keep the events fresh in my mind.

This last set of sixteen episodes was a pretty wild ride. From what I understand, HBO was hesitant to extend the show past the third year. So when the producers were finallly given the go ahead, they took the liberty to make twice as many segments as usual. Season 4 defies a lot of expectations, and tends to be a lot more sensationalistic than the previous runs. It's as if its creators knew they had to up the ante and create a lot of hype. Certainly they had reached the point where they risked losing viewer interest. We see several major shake-ups to both staff and the inmate hierarchy. In addition we lose a few of the most charismatic characters in the show's history to both death and attrition. For sure there are no lack of surprises.

But at the same time, the seasoned OZ viewer should have developed a fairly deep understanding of the logic of the show by this point in the series. Simply by musical cues alone, I could often accurately predict the eventual fate of many of the minor characters. Perhaps this is why the writers felt the need to stir things up with unlikely scenarios. Season 4 brings us Adibisi's realization of an all-black "utopia" in Emerald City. That plot arc not only strained credibility, but actually crossed the line into the ludicrously unbelievable. Another show introduces a television news magazine crew to the unit. As one might imagine, few of the inmates are on their best behavior. For me though, the absolute worst premise introduced in Season 4 is a subplot involving Dr. Nathan's administration of an experimental drug to inmate volunteers. Mercifully the show's creators let that idea die a quick death.

It's a fact that any worthwhile series is going to present certain consistent emotional and atmospheric tones, and exhibit some consistency of philosophy. In this respect OZ is certainly no exception. This is a darkly brutal and cynical show. In making a commitment to viewing it in its entirety, I knew I was setting myself up. Ultimately I have developed the notion that nothing good is ever going to come for these folks, whether they are on staff or among the convicted. Even in a universe as immoral as OZ we start to see patterns of subtle justice running through the treatments of these characters. Season 4 seems to go out of its way to reinforce the reality that its principals "got nothin' coming". There were a few occasions where I found myself wishing (in futility, as it turned out) for just one good thing to happen to my favorite characters. No doubt there is satisfaction in seeing a long-hated inmate utterly destroyed, but it might be heartening once in awhile to see a good guy get rewarded by a good turn.

Regardless I have to give the show's creators credit for trying to keep viewers guessing. While they didn't always succeed with their more adventurous experimentation, I was not bored. I was also pleased by the unconventional casting choices of some of the minor characters- David Johansen, Ally Sheedy, Method Man, John Lurie and Luke Perry make appearances in Season 4. While its soul-crushing tenor may be levying a subtle toll on my spirit, I'm determined to see this through to its conclusion.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007


Despite the predominance of technology and science in our modern era, many of yesterday's belief systems linger with us. Much can be said about the disconnect between religious thinking and contemporary logic. But perhaps the oddest phenomena is the longevity of astrology. One night last week, I was sitting on a friend's porch and discussing all manner of topics with people I've known for several years. At one point, a few of them started talking about their zodiac signs as if they considered them a valid guide for interpreting their lives. It must be mentioned that these folks have college degrees, and have been known to read books about science. In fact, the biggest proponent of astrology was indeed a scientist.

I'll admit that there was a time in my life when I gave serious consideration to astrology. I was dating a girl in college that followed her horoscope daily. It just so happened that our birth signs were compatible, so I never had any real reason to voice my skepticism. Yet it never ceased to amaze me just how much confidence she was willing to invest in influences so totally out of her own control. Despite the auspicious feedback gleaned from a comparison of our astrological charts, the relationship eventually broke up. If nothing else I considered it a relief not to have to consider such factors again. Since then I have always smiled and held my peace whenever anyone has brought up the subject. While I think the whole thing is kind of silly, I don't hold myself up as any king of arbiter of the "one true reality".

It does seem reasonable to allow that celestial forces somehow affect our lives. It is a fact that I have indirectly dealt with the results of moon phases for years. Anyone who has ever slept with a woman, and worried about her menstrual cycle, has engaged in this type of thinking. Likewise the sun's effect on our lives is obvious. The relationship between our lives and the movements of the planets are quite a bit more abstract. And one would have to assume that the emanations of distant stars have a quite minimal effect in our daily life. They certainly wouldn't directly attribute personal characteristics to individuals based upon their organization and position at the time of one's birth. That notion just seems silly to me.

In order to invest any credibility in astrology, one would have to assume that ancient observers were compelled to see specific animal shapes that were somehow innately meaningful. Their interpretations would have to be preordained by some higher power. To me these clumps of stars are more like Rorshach ink blots than anything else. People put their own personalities and experiences into what they saw. I am confounded by the process by which these star groupings acquired fixed and virtually universal meanings. When I look into the sky I don't see any crabs, rams or lions. I merely see points of light. Upon whose authority were they originally catalogued? One can only imagine the arguments the ancient authorities had over these questions.

But even if we were to accept the premise that the stars formed themselves into undeniable images of creatures living on earth, who decided what attributes of character to associate with the crab, or the twins? This adds an additional layer of subjectivity to astrological interpretation. It also seems arbitrary to take an astrological reading on the day that we emerge from the womb. Wouldn't it be just as appropriate to examine the stars on the day of conception? Perhaps asking all these questions is simply missing the point. At some point these concepts entered our "collective consciousness" (if you are willing to even accept the existence of that amorphous formulation), and now many people give credence to them. So be it. If there is money to be made from it, then someone will exploit its possibilities.

Like many other dubious ways of extracting meaning from the chaos of life, astrology can be useful as a tool of personal meditation. Does it matter whether or not it has true value if it gets people to more closely examine their own lives and choices? Isn't this its function? Regardless, it's more material to have fun with. I've resumed the habit of reading the daily horoscope as it is placed at the counter of the local coffee shop. Sometimes it can be quite comical. In the last week, I've had two readings particularly worthy of comment. On one day, the advice for those born under my sign was that "not all friendships must be lifelong commitments". That seemed like a convenient justification to view people as instrumental. Today's paper offered this little gem- "Be wary of trying too hard". That seems like a nice little suggestion to end this post.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Show is Hung... the Wait Continues.

My show at Pittsburgh Filmmakers is finally up on the wall. This is a bit of a strange situation for me, as I haven't even been in to look at the finished product. Of course it is a bit unconventional to have the artwork exposed to public view for a full week before the opening reception. It makes my promotional hot card a bit misleading. Originally the opening was scheduled for tonight, but it had to be pushed back by a week because of scheduling conflicts. Now it's going to happen a week from today, on "First Friday". I'll admit to having mixed feelings about that.

I've made my frustration about Pittsburgh event-planning pretty well-known on this blog. Weeks will go by without anything much of interest, and then there will be a flood of options packed into a single night. This weekend, for example, there is very little happening in the 'Burgh. Earlier this evening I attended the single thing I had identified as wanting to see- a multi-artist opening curated by Thad Kellstadt, downtown at the Space Gallery. Actually, considering the lack of entertainment opportunities, this event was sparsely attended. It was good to see Thad on the eve of his big move to Chicago. I'm sure he'll do well there. But while he's settling in there next weekend, there will be plenty of things to see here in Pittsburgh.

I anticipate that many of the folks who would ordinarily show up at my opening will be occupied with Unblurred on Penn. Hell... if I wasn't unveiling my own work that night, I'd be right there with them. Some of my friends have tried to mollify me by saying that the art walks in the summer are weak, but that wouldn't have kept me at home otherwise. The only thing that could work in my benefit is that everyone will already be out, and perhaps they'll jump around a bit. Either way I'm sure I'll enjoy next Friday with whomever shows up. If you've never been to an opening at the Melwood Screening Room, you'll be pleased to discover how great the spreads are at their receptions. If no one else comes, that just means more beer and food for me. I'll be the one laying in my own vomit in the lobby.

Actually the entire experience with Filmmakers has been wonderful so far. It certainly didn't hurt that I contracted the very competent Paul Roden and Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printing (Lawrenceville) to frame my work this time around. They did an excellent job at an extremely affordable price. Between them and Panza Frame and Gallery, Pittsburgh artists and collectors are spoiled. You can't go wrong with either of these excellent shops.

George Davis and the entire crew at Filmmakers have also made the preparation for this show extremely pleasant. Despite the fact that they usually don't print cards for the outer gallery, they were tremendously accommodating in granting my request for them. They made them in-house and (thanks, Gern) they came out looking great. When I delivered the work on Wednesday morning, George and I organized the work through a smooth collaborative process. We laid the photos along the walls, and agreed on a meaningful presentation. I couldn't believe how smooth a process it was. After we were done with the layout, I was able to leave immediately. I felt completely indulged, knowing that competent professionals would hang and light the work. An artist could get used to showing at the institutional level.

While the inner gallery is considered a more prestigious space to show, the lobby of the Melwood Screening Room has some extraordinary benefits. It is impossible to go to see one of the many fine quality foreign or independent films without being exposed to the work in the outer gallery. Unlike a private gallery, this theater attracts a whole population of folks who otherwise wouldn't make a point of looking at art. While there is really no sales orientation in the facility, showing at Pittsburgh Filmmakers is a great way to broaden your appeal. I'm definitely looking forward to the reception, and I hope you will join me (if at all possible).

The opening reception for We Will Dance Again runs from 7-9PM on Friday, August 3rd. The gallery/screening room is located at 477 Melwood Avenue in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Contact Pittsburgh Filmmakers for further information at 412-681-5449. My work will be available for viewing through September 2, 2007.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

To shelter children?

Somehow the subject of impending fatherhood just keeps popping up. I have a couple of friends that (even as I write) are facing the inevitable adjustments of parenthood. One specific aspect of change that I've given a lot of thought to concerns the censorship I'm going to have to bring to the modes of entertainment that I indulge in. For instance there are many DVDs on my shelf that won't be appropriate viewing material for a younger child. It's going to be tricky to figure out what I can expose my offspring to, and at what age. I've had occasion to speculate a bit on that subject previously. A couple of months ago I even wrote a post on the subject. Today I went out for lunch with a buddy of mine, and his twelve-year-old son. The kid is right on the cusp of that non-communicative age wherein it becomes progressively impossible to extract any useful information. So I figured I'd grab the opportunity to find out what type of stuff he's interested in.

Not surprisingly this preteen boy is into skateboarding, videogames and anime. He has seen Spirited Away and a few other Hayao Miyazaki films. His gaming tastes run toward the more hyperviolent shoot-em-ups that require a game console to get the most out of. He's interested in the new Transformers movie, but he enjoyed the 1985 version as well. Of course anything with superheroes has a possibility of engaging him. And he's into the martial arts, so he has found his way to a few Bruce Lee Films, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Ultimate Fighting (which seems to me to be the updated version of the professional wrestling I was so enamored with as a kid). Beyond that I really can't say what holds his interest. But I guess that's a good foundation to build upon.

I don't know how useful it is for me to consider the things I was into when I was his age. Technology has introduced a whole new set of possibilities for the current generation. By the time I have a child in his double digits I expect that the times will have brought even more inconceivable things. Yet it's still kind of fun to think back and remember what I liked. The completion of my first decade on earth saw the introduction of the very first home videogame systems. Up until that time, I recall spending a lot of quarters in the video arcade. The machines back then were less realistic, and thus the depicted violence was less graphic. Double Dragon and Karate Champ were a lot more like cartoons than anything you'd experience in reality. And the box-like images on the Atari 2600 were almost completely unrecognizable. It would have been ridiculous to suggest that Space Invaders could lead to maladaptive social behaviors.

We did get into our share of shenanigans. Fireworks were a source of almost limitless fascination. My friends loved to blow up whatever toys they had outgrown. We played playground sports. I still see kids outside in my neighborhood doing the same. But our indoor options were much more limited than today. The only pay channel we could get in our area was HBO. Network television was still king. There was no internet. Eventually MTV was introduced, and things began to change quickly. Up until then we lived for Saturday morning and afterschool cartoons.

My family did have a VHS player fairly early. Between the brand new movie channels and videotapes, I did have access to a wide array of movies. Interestingly both my adult buddy and I were exposed to the slasher genre by our parents, and at a pretty young age. My mom loved watching horror, and I joined her in front of the TV. We watched Friday the 13th, Halloween, Amityville Horror, Altered States, The Shining, Jaws, etc. When the sex scenes came onscreen I was instructed to cover up my eyes. But I watched all the kill scenes with rapt attention. I had a high threshold for that stuff. However there was one movie that gave me nightmares for years- Terror Train with Jamie Lee Curtis and David Copperfield. That actually put me off scary films until I was in college.

I'm not sure if I should have been watching that stuff as a preteen. But I liked doing it, and I suppose I turned out "alright". Well... I'm not a serial killer, anyway. Yet I am still enthralled by the darker material of life. I suppose that any consideration of sheltering a child must take into account his/her individual personality. Undoubtedly people reach the capability of handling different subject matters at varying points in their lives. Like so much else when it comes to child-rearing, I guess it makes the most sense just to wait and see.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The "Joys" of Home Ownership.

Since I've gotten back into town, I've been struggling with a convention of machismo referred to as "home improvement". But you see, my sufferings have not been of a physical nature- but rather wholly psychological. For I admit to being a heretical American male. That's right... I admit it. I hate D.I.Y. home renovation projects.

Why did I resist taking the plunge into the housing market? Why did I come up with every weak argument to avoid being expelled from the womb-like embrace of "rental properties"? Because I don't want to stick my hand in the toilet tank. I don't want to sand floors. I don't want to install ceiling fans. But like the boy who feared being chased by bloody clowns in the woods behind the treehouse... there is no escape. That next rumbling you here could be an expiring refrigerator or an imbalanced washing machine. Or it could be the thumping of your heart, plagued with the anxiety that leaves you paralyzed with procrastination.

When I lived in Larryville, and the basement drain began to puke up a fetid mix of human waste and groundsoil, did I rush for a pick and shovel? No, I did not. When pigeons flew down an exposed flue and into the house, did I stride willingly into battle with a plastic garbage can and a broom? No... not willingly. When the roof began to link, did I crawl up on a ladder with a bucket of tar? Of course not. I did what came naturally to me. I called the landlord. Your landlord is a strange mix of father-figure, adversary, feudal baron and God- except that unlike these personages, you can sue your landlord if he is negligent. If he can't do it himself, or if he is a successful real estate-man, then he sends his armies instead to do the work.

If you buy your own house, then you elevate yourself (or so I am told). You are now the king of your castle. You have joined Bush's "ownership society". You've made a shrewd financial decision. Within ten or so years, you will even build a little equity. Why throw money down the drain? Home ownership is an investment (or so I am told). Well let me tell you... unless you enjoy playing the handyman in your spare time, you better put a lot of thought into this choice. Perhaps only in Pittsburgh could I have been in the position to justify buying property.

Because let me tell you... when I walk into Home Depot, I ain't no wide-eyed Charlie Bucket searching for the magically elusive Willy Wonka, with his shimmering streams of chocolate. Nope. I'm just another wayward lost soul, with visions of frustration, incomprehension, and self-inflicted grievous injury. Why did I sweat in order to get a stable 40+ hour /week professional job, if not to have the luxury of paying someone else to do the things I'm either incapable of, or that I find to be onerous tasks? If I can subsidize someone else's living by hiring them to do a better job than I could, then aren't I contributing to a balanced society? I ask you... am I truly less of a "man" if I am helping to enable others to attain their own self-realization?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Throwin' Down the Gauntlet...

"Regular readers" of this blog (and you surely have no real understanding of just how ludicrous a term that is) are probably sick and tired of my travel anecdotes. But it's only when I get back into town that I realize just how slow-paced life in the 'Burgh can be. Sure I get out regularly... but it's usually to meet up with friends and rehash our two or three staple conversations. So sometimes it does get a bit difficult to figure out what is worth sharing.

Anyway now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I'll relate just one more story from the road. On my last night in Chicago, my friend L. took me out to his favorite local dive- "The Long Room". Suffice it to say that this bar lives up to its name. It is dark (but clean) and has an extraordinarily long bar traversing its depth. The beer selection is fancy, and the prices are reasonable for the big city. This is the spot wherein L. meets up with his people and feels most comfortable slamming back a few Jameson's. So perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise when the topic of writing came up.

It started with a tremendously goofy interchange whereby we began to evaluate the quality of various rock group names. He's been listening to a band named the "Kings of Leon", and I remarked that I found this to be an incredibly bad choice, apart from the music itself. It's the kind of moniker that keeps me from ever giving the actual songs a chance. We started to exchange famous and infamous existing band-names, and offering our opinion on whether or not they were any good. I'll spare you the quotidian details of that segment of our conversation. As one might expect, our talk soon transitioned into a contest to come up with the best fictional band name.

I led off with my longstanding favorite- "The Yeti Family". Soon I ran through a list of others with various degress of sincerity, including "The Slipped Discs", "Labial Intentions", and "The Delectable Mountains". I almost spit up my beer with the suggestion of "Shaved Pussy". (You'll have to forgive me, for this is the type of stuff that two male buddies who aren't that into sports end up talking about when slugging alcohol.) This went on for awhile, until L. suddenly got quiet and then threw down the gauntlet. It turns out that he has been going through a resurgence of interest in singer-songwriting. But unlike many musicians, he's intrigued by the idea of adapting other people's word to music. He knows that I enjoy writing, so he told me to come up with a poem/song right there on the spot.

Now by this time I had already had several beers, so the pressure was on. I tried to beg off by saying that I had neither paper nor writing implement. In a matter of about two minutes, these tools materialized in front of me on the bartop. L. wasn't accepting any excuses. I don't even think he would have continued talking to me if I refused the task. So I sat staring down at the blank surface of the back of a register receipt, and tried to muster some words. Eventually L. had a touch of mercy, and provided a writing prompt- I was to riff on the topic of the competing gender strategies of dealing with life's more difficult moments. This was a reverberation of a conversation we had with one of his friends the previous night. After a bit of contemplation I hunkered down to the task, and in a matter of about ten minutes I had what could possibly pass for a poem/song.

Although I initially fought against the idea of such improvisational free-verse writing, I ultimately enjoyed it. Unfortunately I can't share the results here because I left L. with the only copy to see what he could come up with. Perhaps L. will send me a copy of those lyrics if he reads this post. But my point in recounting this incident is my rediscovery of the value of this type of writing exercise. I've kept my penchant for penning poetry a secret from most of my friends. In fact I've been doing it intermitttantly for about fifteen years. I have a small pile of examples buried somewhere. Yet I've always wondered whether or not it was a waste of time.

I actually did a public reading about a decade ago. About three people (in addition to the organizers) showed up. I felt self-conscious about doing that, but I found it rewarding in some strange nebulous way. Now that I have been keeping a blog for a year, my reticence about indulging this side of myself seems a bit ridiculous. I've been thinking that I might want to resume the practice. Sometimes the convergence of life's events subtly prods me in a new direction. L.'s challenge last week, along with Thad Kellstadt and Edgar Um's reading the week before, appear to be a sort of clarion call. I don't know if I'll share the product, but I foresee a period of poetry-writing in my near future.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Of striking a balance on the road.

One of the things that I was very conscious of in Chicago was wanting to make sure that it didn't feel altogether like a "work" trip. Ever since I started taking my photography seriously (i.e. when I began to exhibit and sell it) I have been compelled to make travel first and foremost about taking images home with me. Taking that approach has (at times) had a substantial payoff, both in practical terms and in lending an extra dimension of depth to my experience. I'm glad I've been involved in that type of "work". But it can become obsessive and intrusive as well.

Truthfully, I have always felt the need to run around and see as much as I can whenever I visit a new place. I get a nagging sense that I might never return, and I don't want to "miss out". At times this has been an issue for my companions on such trips. Having researched a place to come up with an itinerary, I get frustrated if I encounter competing agendas. This isn't generally a problem with M., as she understands and respects my priorities. She's perfectly happy for us to go our own ways whenever we disagree about what we individually desire. But others have interpreted my vacation-approach as a slight against their own values, or a commentary on my friendship with them. I've become more diligent about explaining this issue beforehand, and trying to monitor situations that might elicit inner or outer conflict. I feel like I negotiated that well this summer, in both NYC and Chicago. Of course you'd probably have to consult L. or JM to get the whole story.

L. and I actually had an interesting, protracted discussion about individual strategies for engaging art museums. He told me that he had been affected by a suggestion he read in a Jeanette Winterson book. Her contention is that so many people file through the halls of great art collections, and give cursory glances at so many great works of art. They have only a set amount of time to spend, and so they move quickly through, and often get overwhelmed and overstimulated long before they have seen everything. Winterson suggests finding one work that is particularly interesting, and sitting down in front of it for a long time- perhaps even an hour. She says that, in this way, one can have a deep fulfilling experience, and therefore get closer to the true spirit and intention of art appreciation. After all the artist took hours and/or days to create the work... is it so much to ask that we invest a substantial amount in considering its values and meaning?

My initial reaction was that this approach didn't seem like a particularly useful way to manage the finite resource of time. If I am in a new city, I want to get a broad range of experiences in order to synthesize my thoughts and feelings about the place. I can't imagine traveling for many hours for a single shot at seeing what the Metropolitan Museum (or MOMA or the Smithsonian, etc.) has to offer, only to spend the bulk of my visit contemplating a single image. There's no way I could keep myself from feeling some vague sense of dissatisfaction and regret because of a perception of missed opportunity.

Yet at the same time, I think it's important for me to give fair consideration to Winterson's idea. I do see how it could be useful to devote one's attention to certain works that appear particularly appealing (for whatever subjective reason). This seems like the natural way humans process information anyway. I have no problem making choices about what I believe I can pass up, and what things I should invest time in. I do think it's important to empower ourselves to make such discriminations. There is no rational way we can give equal time to each and every piece we encounter. And in order to reach any true measure of depth with something, we have to be willing to pause and give into an interactive introspection.

Somewhere there is an ideal balance of quantity and quality. If we confine ourselves to committing all of our resources to the things that already appeal to us, then we risk the repression of our own growth and evolution. But on the other hand, if we try to pack too much in- we face the danger of shutting off completely to the very meaningful ways in which it is possible to experience an individual piece of art (or anything else for that matter).

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chicago: Postscript.

I'm now safely back in the 'Burgh, after spending the bulk of the day driving through Ohio and Indiana. I would have made extraordinary time had a tractor trailer not flipped over a guard rail on the Indiana turnpike. I spent an hour creeping along at a snail's pace. My reaction to reaching the rolling hills of Eastern Ohio was notably strong. I felt relieved, and I felt at home. It's easy to overlook the effect topography has on one's psyche. If I've learned nothing else during the trips I've taken this summer, at least I've figured out that a flat terrain simply unsettles me. This characteristic is something that New York City and Chicago share- they are unending cityscapes with a continuous progression of neighborhoods that blend into one another. I don't care if they are on a grid. I find it difficult to process. And with the consumer homogenization rampant in our society now seemingly affecting our large cities, this phenomena is exaggerated. I could be anywhere in the city... in any city. It's the same brand of urban gentrification bleeding into formerly struggling neighborhoods. The areas have no obvious integrity or authentic character. They are virtually identical to an untrained eye.

When I start to get anxious about a similar thing happening in Pittsburgh, I take heart in the many topographic obstacles that break up the landscape of hometown. Neighborhoods retain their specific flavor, if only because they are bordered by mountains or rivers. In each little place, there are a host of unique factors developers have to consider. It's going to be difficult for them to apply the cookie-cutter approach that plagues this nation. Maybe I am merely deluding myself, but I find it heartening. Pittsburgh has been the best-kept "secret" of the Eastern United States for over twenty years. Despite the annual "optimistic" predictions of urban planners, it looks like it's going to remain this way for a bit. Some might bemoan the fact that huge influxes of yuppified suburbanites have not been forthcoming. I think we should be grateful for what we have. If you can find an even half-decent job in this city, then you have it made.

Having said that, Chicago does benefit from a certain "midwestern" attitude. The city has a more human vibe. The pace is notably slower than on the East Coast. People are MUCH more accessible. Ask a stranger for directions, and not only do they NOT ignore you... but they actually stop and offer useful information, and take the time to make sure they have helped you. Driving is also more laid back. I wasn't constantly besieged by honking horns, and hyper-aggressive action sequence maneuvers. I wasn't constantly afraid that an impatiently irate native would plow into the side of my car. Even pedestrians tend to respect the dangers cars can present, and vice versa. Even stranger- Chicago has actual bike lanes. Now that's impressive.

I was also impressed that the general vibe was one of safety and order. We didn't have to worry about where we parked our cars, nor did I feel the type of edgy energy that I always feel when walking down streets in East Coast metropolises. Perhaps this is the upside of the suburbanization of American inner cities. But I had very little anxiety during the time I spent in Chicago. Only on one occasion did I feel like we were in a place we shouldn't be. Right outside of downtown I spotted a neighborhood I wanted to photograph. It was a terribly depressed project complex that was actually fenced off from its surroundings. I had a palpable sense that the fencing was intended to contain the inhabitants. It looked like it could be a WWII-era ghetto of Eastern Europe. So we drove through the crowded streets on this hot summer day, and I stuck my none-too-discreet camera out of the window. Inexplicably we weren't even verbally threatened- although I have to note that we didn't linger there. Having said all of this, I also feel compelled to point out that we limited our meanderings to downtown and North Chicago. I'm certain that South Chicago would have presented a whole set of challenges. There is certainly a strong element of planned segregation in the Windy City.

In our many conversations about the time he's spent living in Chicago, L. continually returned to an emphasis on the people he chooses to be around. It doesn't matter to him that there are no obvious concentrations of like-minded folk living among each other in specific neighborhoods. His friends are scattered throughout the city. They meet up in the treasures hidden among the sprawling streets of gentrification. His people (many of whom are native midwesterners) are welcoming, generous and interesting. I suppose one can find folks like that in any place. But it's a credit to him and the city that such people are drawn together. I know one thing for sure- the next time someone brands Pittsburgh as a midwestern city (as happens on occasion), I'm going to be pleased rather than offended. That's actually a pretty nice compliment.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chicago: The Museum of Contemporary Art.

This was my last day in Chicago, and I had some decisions to make. I had a list of museums to consider, and I knew i wouldn't have time to see more than one (we got moving late this morning). I was certainly tempted by the description of the Museum of Surgical Science. Who wouldn't want to see a display of the torture devices doctors have used to pry open the various parts of the human body? But to be honest, that's more the type of thing you'd see if you had a full week in the city. The same goes for the Museum of Holography- it's sure to please even the most jaundiced eye. Indeed I don't know anyone that wouldn't enjoy watching a 3D rendering of Dr. Jekyl's transition into Mr. Hyde. But if I can only see one, I have to consider the major players. So the real choice was between the Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art. I asked myself if I should see the established classics, or be adventurous and sift through the possible additions to the canon. Now I have to say that one of my favorite paintings is actually housed at the Art Institute- Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks". Yet my desire to research the work of living artists ultimately won out, and I chose the MCA.

Upon entrance to the art museum, I almost immediately questioned my decision. I discovered that this institution doesn't allow patrons to photograph anything at all. Of course the prohibition has to do with copyright concerns. Hey... I understand that artists have to get paid. But it certainly makes remembering the highlights difficult. To make matters worse, I didn't bring anything to write with. So it's awfully difficult to come up with a substantial recap of the work I saw. Even remembering specific artists is difficult. This means that the viewer is likely to mention only the artists he/she was already familiar with before the visit, and that likelihood does a disservice to lesser-known creators. It would be one thing if you could take home brochures for every exhibit on display. But that's not the case with the MCA. I felt only a bit better when I learned the admission price was "only" $10.

Nevertheless I ventured into the 2nd Floor (which was the level on which I entered). It featured "Escultura Social: A New Generation of Art from Mexico City". Sadly, I can't recommend this show. There was little that I found even remotely interesting. I almost busted my head open walking into a wall while trying to see a video installation that turned out to be footage of a big cat's roaring, glow-in-the-dark teeth. I saw sculpture made with "found materials"- flags protruding from empty 40oz. beer bottles. There were posters and paintings of iconic media personas tattooed with Mexican gangsta markings (by a certain Dr. Lakra). And there was a series of photo comparisons juxtaposing stills from the cult movie "The Warriors" with newspaper images of Mexico City gang members. I gave that the benefit of the doubt, since 'The Warriors" is a sentimental favorite of mine. Mind you, i am only mentioning the things that I wasn't bored by. There's got to be more art of value in such a large city... especially considering its people appreciate snuff magazines as much as the Japanese are fascinated by Michael Jackson. I honestly expected better.

Fortunately my experience improved as I ascended the staircase. On the third floor there was another video installation. This one depicted the artist (Pipliotti Rist) swimming, alternatively besuited and naked, in clear sea-like waters. That footage was complimented by a cloudscape. It was all presented on two screens on adjacent walls, joined together and resulting in a symmetrical image. Rist accompanied the visuals with her version of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". For much of the song's length, she sang in a sultry manner. But for its latter part, she added a backing track of herself screaming the lyrics. This may sound ridiculous, but it worked. I was entranced and stayed for enough time to hear the song several times through.

On the top floor there was a collection of photographs called "MCA Exposed: 1967-2007". This was an extraordinarily well-curated selection of some of the most compelling works created in the medium. I generally make it a point not to look too hard at other people's photo-work. I'd like to retain my (purely self-held) image as a true "outsider artist". If I remain ignorant of the tradition I'm working within, I can continue to claim this trendily goofy appellation. So what the hell was I doing looking at that stuff? I was feeling pretty damned humbled. I'd like to be able to point you toward the many outstanding artists represented in this show. But I can't for the reasons I've already mentioned above. I can say that I got to see the work of Cindy Sherman and Larry Clark (co-director of "Kids") in person. I've been curious about the output of both of them for awhile. Having been satisfied by their photos, as well as the many other fine examples in "MCA Exposed", I can truly say that my decision to go to the MCA was ultimately validated. Once we were done looking, we took another long drive about town in search of our own photo subjects. If I thought that an account of our exploration warranted exposition, I'd stay up too late and continue this post. But I don't, and I have a long drive tomorrow.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Chicago: Quimby's, Bars and more.

My host had to work last night, so I made my first solo foray by car into the heart of North Chicago. I stuck to the few roads I could identify and made my way to Quimby's in Bucktown. This bookstore constituted a geeky sort of pilgrimage for me, as I first became aware of its legendary status from reading comments on the Comics Journal Message Board. Its relatively small size belies the broad range of treasures contained within. Their selection of underground zines and minicomics is unlike anything I've ever seen. They stock a wide selection of the best alt-comix graphic novels, and many pamphlet-format books. Look further and you'll find books on conspiracies, magik, "lowbrow" art, esoteric sociology, tattoos, carnival life, prison literature, and just about everything the urban hipster could possibly covet. Shopping there is serious business too- they clearly post a D.I.Y. sign on the front door advising patrons to turn their cellphones off before entering. I have no idea how long I was actually there. It could have been hours. I escaped with remarkable restraint. I came out with work by Ivan Brunetti, Martin Cendreda, Rick Geary and the new MOME.

When I got back to Andersonville, we decided to go grab a drink. "The Duke of Perth" in Wrigleyille is a solid Irish pub with what I'm told is an excellent range of quality whiskies. I took advantage of the 50 cent wing special. I was so hungry that I would have gladly savored sushi. Fortunately that wasn't necessary. Actually I might have had to dig a bit if I had anything approximating a sophisticated pallet. The neighborhood itself is largely frequented by yahoos, as it hosts Wrigley Park- home of the Chicago Cubs. Although it's not the type of place I'd typically be drawn toward, I was impressed to see a sports stadium smack dab in the middle of a functional mix of residences and dense commercial development. Of course it's a bit like a postcard from a time long past, but it doesn't feel like a museum. Despite myself and my aesthetic, I admired the place just a bit.

We finished the night at Delilah's in Lincoln Park. Ian at Brillo Box had suggested that I would like this bar. He was right. Just as he had described it, thisw joint is a mix of the Brillo and Gooski's. I don't know what it is about Chicago and bourbon... but if you are a fan of that particular spirit, you will find many who share your enthusiasm. If you are into post-punk and slightky seedy dives, then Delilah's is a natural choice. It's dark, intimate and loud enough to keep you awake- even if you choose the comfortable leather couch in the back corner. And they stock both 60 and 90-minute Dogfish IPA. Nuff said.

My agenda for today was to set off by car in search of "authentic" Chicago. After a bit of a late start we headed in a roundabout way toward the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. I don't know a whole lot about this faith, other than to say that it is with pretensions of universalism. The physical structure is an ornate behemoth, with an impossibly high ceiling and a variety of religious iconography carved into its outer exterior. From what I gathered from our short run around the visitor's center, its a bit like an Eastern Unitarianism with delusions of grandeur. I plan on doing some internet research about this religion when I get some downtime back in the Burgh. I was warned not to accept any offers from adherents to view the explanatory film, and so we got back on the road.

I really wanted to locate unique photo opportunities, and so when the prospect of trying to find Louis Farrakhan's house was brought up, I embraced the idea. Unfortunately we couldn't find it, and we ended up in an industrial section where I took a couple of shots of a working steel mill. Imagine that. I had to drive seven and a half hours from Pittsburgh, only to photograph the steel industry. What was especially unusual about this site was the length to which the mill company went to encourage tourists to loiter about. There was a permanent placard explaining the philosophy of welcome. And there were several benches flanked by trees for the weary traveler to take a load off. Apparently the 9-11 terrorist paranoia isn't running rampant in Chi-town. No one looked askance at me as I leisurely took photos of the men at work, and the scrapyard nearby.

This evening L. and I went down to Old Town to rendezvous with one of his buddies. We wanted to have our drinks outside on the sidewalk, so we ended up at a bar we wouldn't have otherwise chosen. The conversation was good, and so we extended our evening with a visit to the Old Town Ale House. Apparently this cozy neighborhood dive is a traditional haunt of the Second City players- many of which have found fame on Saturday Night Live. What really distinguished the place for me was the incredible collection of bawdy art and portraits occupying every available space of the walls. The paintings are executed in a flat, but colorfully naive style. They depict women and men caught in various stages of undress and occupied in various kinky sex acts. Perhaps tellingly, the artist included himself, peering out in a creepily voyeuristic manner, in the background of each piece. Simply unforgettable. I wanted to buy a t-shirt with a particularly choice image, but they didn't have the right size. I intend to follow up online. If I see nothing else of value the rest of this trip, I will still consider myself lucky to have been exposed to this wondrous place.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chicago Trip: Arrival.

The drive to Chi-town was carefree, but monotonous. I took Route 80 across both Ohio and Indiana. In both states Rte. 80 is the turnpike, and there's not a whole lot to look at. The OH stretch at least has regular Starbucks joints- so you can get all hyped up on caffeine and watch the cornfields passing by. I played with the radio until it sickened me, and then resorted to the CDs I had brought along. Until I actually hit Chicago, the only "city" I caught a glimpse of was Gary, Indiana. That place looks like a rotten shithole (my apologies to its residents). Other than that it was mostly sky and crumbling farms. At least I moved through it quickly. I didn't hit much traffic until I could see the Chicago skyline, and then I sat for 45 minutes in the throes of rush hour. It was an overcast day, and the pallor of the clouds gave the city an especially industrial look.

My friend L. lives on a pleasantly tree-lined street in the neighborhood of Andersonville. I was surprised to find street parking almost immediately outside his apartment. The place is spacious, with hardwood floors and lots of windows. The rent is quite affordable, considering its proximity to a few vital business districts and the safety of its streets. I got a good impression of the North End of Chicago right away. From what I've seen, it's city living on a very human scale. many of the neighborhoods have retained an authenticity of character. Although it is clear that city planners are pushing for rapid gentrification or the inner city, they seem to be doin a half-assed job of it. Last night L's co-worker gave us the lowdown on Mayor Daley's corrupt approach to governance. With it's old-school Democrat approach to politics, it has a lot in common with Pittsburgh.

After getting settled in last night, L. and I went for grub. We landed at a small bar/eatery in the Bucktown section. "Handlebars" has that hipster-cum-anarchic-bike-culture vibe that would make the clientele of the Quiet Storm (back in the Burgh) quite happy. I was a bit dismayed to open the menu and realize L. had brought me to a vegetarian restaurant. I sat baffled and tried to figure out what I might order. I ended up with black bean tostadas and smoked gouda mac-and-cheese. And you know what? It really wasn't half bad. The rather feeble-looking patrons surrounding us looked happy and natural in their element. If you aren't much of a carnivore, then I can recommend the place without reservation. I do have one disclaimer- You have to dig a bit through the drink menu to find a "real" beer as the place caters to the wheat beer crowd. After we were done there, we went to L.'s workplace and told stories at the bar as the restaurant shut down for the night.

Today L. had to take care of some business downtown, so I walked around for a bit among the tall buildings. I was shocked at the relative absence of hustle-and-bustle. And I was saddened to see a Hard Rock Cafe and Disney-fied Rainforest Restaurant in the center of the city. i guess that sort of thing is inevitable now in the big cities- especially in the wake of the castration of Times Square, NYC. If they are going to offer a de-fanged hyper-commercialized version of nightlife for the whole family, then they might as well come up with something particular to the history of Chicago. I don't understand the people who want to travel to a new place merely to experience a homogenized cartoon of somewher altogether different. Why can't they keep crap like that out in the suburbs, and at least make a suitable mockery of whatever authenticity the specific city truly offers? Wait a second... was the first Hard Rock in Chcago? If so, I take it all back.

Before departing for this trip, I had made a list of museums that I was interested in checking out. So we set off for the Museum of Science and Industry. I had read that they had a display of cross-section cuts of actual human beings (predating the recent Body Works traveling sideshow). That sounded compelling. We should have known better as soon as we pulled into the attached parking garage, and were asked to pay $12 just to keep our car there. They rope people in by enticing kids to badger their parents to see the OMNIMAX movie on dinosaurs (or whatever), and each and every disgruntled father has to shell out this exorbitant parking fee before he even gets to pay the $27 adult admission. When we got inside we saw the huge banners for the CSI (the TV show) spectacle, and the mass of sheeple, and we decided to just at the $12 and get the hell out of there. I swear that every science center in every American city offers the exact same slick-modern-day-tourist-trap diversion. We drove to the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum instead.

The NVVAM offers three floors of artwork by veterans. They have both permanent collections and temporary exhibits. I have always been drawn to "outsider art", and considering my long-held fascination with the Vietnam War, this was a natural destination. Today they had a "Works on Paper" show, which contained a variety of autobiographical visual pieces by artists across a range of skill levels. The curators give the creators a chance to write something to accompany each piece, and many of them included anecdotes about the terms they served incountry. As one might expect, the totality of the work contains a lot of emotional confusion, violence, pain and loss. But unlike what I'm used to seeing in canonical modern art exhibits, there is an extraordinarily personal depth of feeling that transcends technique.

I've always believed that the the American involvement in Vietnam taught many people lessons about the moral ambiguities and entrenched complexity of war. For awhile it was almost a cliche that the Vietnam War forever changed our nation's psyche. The recent conflict in the Middle East has made me question whether or not anybody still remembers the 1960's and 70's. I was pleased to see that the curators of NVVAM see very strong parallels between what is happening now in Iraq and what happened in Vietnam. They have included several sections in the museum dedicated to the work of Iraqi War veterans. I think it would be great for our current "leaders" to take a tour of the NVAAM. Perhaps our president and VP could gain a little insight into an essential part of our history- a place and time that they avoided because they had more "pressing concerns".

*Note: I apologize for the lack of links in these posts. I'm writing on a MAC laptop, and Blogger.com has a much more limited interface on this system, and thus a lot of the tools I rely on are unavailable.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heinz History Center/ Pulitzer Prize Photos.

Before my visit to the Heinz History Center recedes into memory, I thought I'd put down a few thoughts about it. I rarely think of making a trip to this resource unless I catch wind of a special event or exhibition. Like most locals, it just doesn't occur to me to visit. It falls into the category of something that is perpetually available, and thus easy to take for granted, The last time I had been there was for a work-related seminar. On the occasions when I have stopped in, I have usually found it worthwhile. Yesterday was exceptional because I went with several people whom had never been there before.

We started on the top floor and worked our way down, deliberately defying the museum's suggestion that we proceed in the opposite direction. On the fourth floor there is a temporary exhibit documenting the role African-Americans played in the Vietnam War. There are a lot of relics, and photos of veterans. I have a special interest in that war, so I found the material interesting despite its rather pedestrian presentation. My companions patiently sat through a 15-minute documentary, featuring interviews with local vets. The most intriguing section mentioned the exchange of "dap", which appears to be simply some elaborately ceremonial hand greeting- but in reality conceals an entire system of non-verbal communication that was used for bringing buddies up-to-date with a soldier's experiences of the war.

Next we took a reasonably quick look at the many objects contained in the permanent Special Collections room. There is an abundance of objects owned and used by people throughout Pittsburgh's past. The stuff is organized and displayed in sections highlighting some of the many ethnic groups that have called the city home. It's all jumbled together, but each item is accompanied by a numbered tag that you can use to find its description in catalogues that are placed in front of the displays. In addition, there are fancy personal audio players that function as automated tourguides. You could feasibly spend hours in there. We didn't have that kind of time.

We went quickly through the other floors. They have a discovery room for the kids. M. had fun chasing me around with a disembodied mannequin's head. Another place with plenty of potential is the "Points in Time" exhibit, which has a wealth of information and images of the stages of Pittsburgh's development.You could spend another entire day in here, if you read every placard. We quickly covered the "Glass: Shattering Notions" exhibition and the Heinz Company promotional gallery. The latter did contain some amusing products from the past like granulated calves' feet jelly. Of course we all knew that grinning kids everywhere like pickles. I guess even a Smithsonian-connected museum must make its concessions to its corporate sponsorship.

But what we really came to the History Center for was the collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos. The entrance to this show had an appropriate warning for parents- many of these images are indeed disturbing. What is it about war-torn third world nations that sparks the interest of the US media? The shots of kids embracing each other after the shootings at Columbine seemed a bit light after the deluge of genocidal murders and atrocities depicted in many of these photographs. Some of the photos are so iconic that they are already part of our collective consciousness. There's the one with the naked Vietnamese girl running down a street after being hit with flaming napalm jelly. Another shows a starving African child shadowed by a vulture. Then there are several that catch people midair after throwing themselves from burning buildings. In many cases the photographers are given the opportunity to comment directly on the context and conditions of their work. Particularly striking was a shot of a Boston man brandishing an American flag as a weapon against an African-American official in the wake of forced school integration.

On one level it is remarkable how much emotion is conveyed by these shots. At the same time the totality of the photos gives one the sense of living in the endtimes of civilization. I can't see any possibility of a viewer walking away from this exhibition with a positive sense regarding the future of humanity. I would recommend that depressives steer clear. But if your spirit is fortified, I think that you owe it to yourself to get a head-on look at our modern times. Clarity may be its own reward.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I had every intention or writing about my visit to the Heinz History Center today. I also planned to prepare for my road trip to Chicago tomorrow morning. Unfortunately events have conspired against me. Instead I'm sitting at a booth at the Brillobox, using a friend's laptop and the bar's WiFi connection. It's not that I'm lazy or a derelict drunk, but rather an act of "god" that has brought me here tonight.

Only a couple of hours ago I thought that I had the luxury of sitting down to one or two episodes of OZ- Season 4, and indeed I was in the midst of a fascinating shift in the narrative arc when my neighborhood got hit with a micro-burst. Sheets of rain were hitting the aluminum siding of the house, and I could hear my empty garbage cans falling down and sliding along the sidewalk. The screen door opened and slammed shut a few times in quick succession and the plastic furniture was scraping along the surface of the front porch. I knew it was a fairly severe storm, but I sunk further into the couch in the coziness of shelter and confidence. And then the power went out.

Just a couple of weeks ago I remember cruising down an inner-city thoroughfare thinking about the poor bastards sitting in the dark of their houses as a result of a rash of summer storms. It's easy to get smugly self-satisfied if you haven't experienced an extended blackout in years. In all the time I've spent in Sharpsburg, I've never been inconvenienced by loss of electricity for any length of time- even when the worst flood in seventy years hit town. So it was with an unpleasant shock of memory that I settled into the rapidly darkening household, wondering when whatever damaged infrastructure would be repaired.

There's not much to do without light. In those conditions, it's not hard to imagine why our forebears were early-risers. No television. No internet. Just sitting in the twilight with a trio of slightly anxious cats. M. went to sleep, but I had things I wanted to get done. It's an effective object lesson in the risks of procrastination. So what do I do now? Getting into my car and looking for food, I noticed that streets a block or two away have electricity. Unless you are a civil engineer, patterns of power loss seem awfully random and arbitrary. Why me? It's another example of American tragedy. Oh my God, what do I do? Meanwhile people are starving in the Sudan. People in Iraq enjoy a couple of unreliable hours of electricity a day. And I have to go to the bar and grab a booth to update my blog.

Actually, I did benefit from my forced change in plans. When I got to the Brillo I caught the tail-end of a reading upstairs. Thad Kellstadt, a talented and amiable artist who is himself migrating to Chicago at the end of the month, was sharing some of his poems. While I own several of his paintings, I had no idea that he wrote. In short bursts of slacker haiku, he delivered the goods. I especially enjoyed a quote from the cult-classic, teenage rebellion movie, Over the Edge- "A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid."

Don't tell anyone I was bitching about a blackout.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Rep. Keith Ellison and his recent comments.

The attack dogs on the right have targeted Congressional Representative Keith Ellison (D- Minn) for comments he made in a meeting last week. If you aren't familiar with Ellison, you should know that he is the first avowed Muslim ever to be elected to the United States House of Representatives. When his campaign was victorious in 2006, he faced a rash of suspicion and intolerance from pundits and wingnuts alike. This is unsurprising given the continual assault on our civil rights in the post 9-11, Bush era. Muslims are the new communists, slowly working behind the scenes to undermine our democracy. To get an idea about some of the irrational paranoia, read my previous post about the conservative attempts to and smear Barack Obama. There is no doubt that every word Ellison utters is somewhere being analyzed for hints of betrayal.

Frequent Limbaugh-pinch-hitter Glenn Beck told Ellison in a CNN-interview, "I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' " This was no surprise to anyone who had ever listened to Beck on AM radio. He is (or should be) infamous for suggesting that the razor wire is coming for Muslims who are not lining up to "shoot bad Muslims in the head." Now it should be pointed out (to his credit) that Beck added that such measures are "Nazi, World War II wrong". But his comments are especially ironic in light of the criticism over Ellison's recent speech to a small gathering of atheists in his home district of Minneapolis.

What Ellison actually did was compare the events of 9-11 to the Reichstag fires in 1930's Germany. For those who are unfamiliar with that event, it was the destruction of the German Parliament (the reichstag) that Hitler used to justify implementing emergency powers which allowed him to seize control over the country. Ellison was making a parallel between the erosion of rights during the rise of Nazi Germany and the current political atmosphere in the United States. He was quite specific about pointing out that he wasn't accusing the US government of planning the 9-11 tragedy. He knows damn well that any kind of suggestion of conspiracy will lead to his marginalization by the media. And it's important to note that he didn't directly compare Bush to Hitler, but rather referred to a specific event in history and its ramifications.

But the way Ellison's remarks have been portrayed on AM talk radio are entirely misleading. Kevin Miller of KDKA 1020 says that the Congressman should be sent to "the pokey" for "aid and comfort to our enemies". He is accusing Ellison of treason. How dare anyone suggest a historical analogy for modern events! Obviously that is not covered by our First Amendment's provision of "Free Speech". It makes one wonder what Bush means when he talks about our enemies and their hatred of "our freedoms". It's OK for Glenn Beck to invoke the spectre of Nazi Germany when he is delivering a veiled warning to our nation's Muslim citizens, but quite another for a public official to criticize the current Executive Department's similarities to dictatorships of the past. Instead of a thoughtful examination of Ellison's points, the radical right is attenpting to quell any meaningful discussion by calling for criminal charges against a member of the US Congress.

Perhaps Ellison was mistaken when he likened the current administration's actions to specific decisions made by Hitler prior to WWII. Maybe the invasion of Iraq, the unlawful surveillance of the communications between US citizens, the suspension of habeas corpus for those "suspected" of "terrorism", the torture of military detainees, government abuses sanctioned by the Patriot Act, etc. are more akin to a democratic system than they appear on the surface. It could be that our Founding Fathers would have liked to see the federal government's separation of powers and checks and balances suspended in times of an undefined and indeterminate war. But that's not my understanding of history.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

How to: Die at the Hands of the State.

Recently I expressed my position on the death penalty, along with my rationale for feeling the way I do. In short I maintain an uncomfortable support for it. I certainly have my reservations. But I think that if I am going to continue to hold to that position, I should try to imagine myself in the role of the condemned. I don't imagine myself committing a crime that could land me on death row, but I have no doubt that there have been innocent people put to death in this country. And that means that you (or I) could face this fate. What would that experience be like?

If we knew in our heart of hearts that we weren't culpable for the capital crime for which we were convicted, we'd most likely have to go through a stage of denial. No matter the possibility, we really wouldn't be able to accept the fact that it was happening to us. Regardless of whatever speculations we might occasionally entertain, the vast majority of us believe deep down that the universe has some innate sense of justice that would prohibit such a fate as wrongful conviction. Unfortunately this is an irrational belief. The exceptions in this case prove the rule. Innocent people are sometimes killed by the state.

Whether or not we are guilty, if we failed to attain exoneration in the appeals process, an eventual date for execution would be set. In some states we would be given a choice as to how our sentence was to be carried out. What method would you choose? Most localities don't offer death by firing squad anymore. I don't think I'd prefer being shot because it just seems so personal to face a firing squad- although I assume they'd apply a blindfold. Hanging would certainly be my last choice. To my mind it's completely humiliating. If you've ever read an eyewitness account of the type of things that can happen when you are jerking on the end of a rope, then you probably already know what I mean.

I think I'd also pass on the gas chamber. That seems like a singularly unpleasant way to die. Why don't they just light me on fire? Death by asphyxiation is only a bit less alluring. The electric chair is out as well- it's too messy. Plus you face the risk of malfunction and simply smoldering for awhile. No fun. I don't relish the idea of my eyes bursting from the electricity coursing through my body. If I could avoid pissing and shitting myself, that would also be a plus. So I guess if I had to choose, I would go for lethal injection. I'm not afraid of needles, and if administered correctly it is supposed to be painless. I'd slip into unconsciousness and never wake up. Of course my victim's family (if I were indeed gullty) might resent that type of smooth retribution.

There are other decisions you'd be asked to make before being executed. What would you want for a last meal? I'm not sure if I could muster any kind of healthy appetite under those conditions. I might just pick the most elaborate thing I could think of out of spite. If I had been imprisoned for a significant time (which would seem likely under such circumstances), I'd probably just pick my favorites from the prison menu. I've heard the veggie lasagna is especially good. For dessert I know I'd take whatever sedatives would be available. If necessary I would bribe a guard to bring the good stuff.

Another conventional decision I'd face would be whether or not to be attended by a spiritual advisor. I'm not part of any organized religious group, so this would be a difficult decision. Perhaps a Buddhist monk would be most appropriate. I wouldn't turn away a priest- it seems like a no-lose situation to accept Christ in that moment. Absolution for whatever sins I have committed throughout my life might come in handy. "Cover all bases" would be my motto.

As far as last words are concerned, I wonder if I could resist being a wise-ass. That is my normal reaction to fearful situations. Maybe a sincere apology would be in order. Anyway I'd likely have plenty of time to come up with something contextually appropriate. I'd hate to think that I'd resort to a quote. It would be important to me to come up with something original. The indignity of being put to death is a bit too oppressive without a touch of wit and class.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday... out with the "boyz".

It's pretty easy to lose sight of the possibility of "random chance" rising up to bite one in his/her own ass. If you know me personally, you might have heard a story about where else you can get bit when you least suspect it. I'm not going to get into that one on this forum- at least not today. But I will relate a little anecdote that illustrates my point.

Last night after I wrote my post I ventured once again out into the warm Friday night air to meet up with a few buddies at a friend's relatively new bar. I didn't go to my usual haunt because I was in the mood for something different, and so were my companions. So I get to this neighborhood joint and settle in with a stool right along the bar. I quickly fall into conversation with a recent acquaintance, and eventually I'm surrounded by other people I know. For a weekend night the place is relatively empty, and so it takes only minutes until I drop my customary alertness and settle in to a comfortable pace. It's as if I'm at a small private party where I've known all the attendees for years.

But the problem is that I am not in a private sanctuary, but rather in a public drinking establishment. It wasn't completely appropriate to drop my guard. This dive is in the center of a neighborhood that is steadily getting gentrified, but still has a gritty and violent edge that can pop up like a target in the "whack-a-mole" at Chuck E. Cheese. Compounding the problem is one of my friend's rather stubborn penchant for finding trouble. So in the midst of a relatively engaging conversation about politics and literature, I sense a shift in the energy charge of the establishment. I tune in to what is now a fairly heated argument down the length of the bar, complete with name-calling and blustery threat. I watch as the conflict escalates until the proprietor is telling my volatile Italian-Irish pal to vacate the premises. Meanwhile a drunk female patron, who still has her wits about her, is interposing herself between him and his challenger.

So my buddy comes over to our little group and asks if any of us are carrying a knife. We aren't, and he eyes a bottle which is quickly taken away by the alert barmaid. He's pretty sure that he's going to be followed out of the door and jumped. But eventually, with further prodding from the staff- he leaves. Just as suspected he is followed by the diminutive adversary who called him out in the first place. I look at my drinking partner, and without speaking we go outside to see if we can minimize whatever violence is about to take place.

Out on the street we are greeted by the sight of two rutting males, chest-to-chest and posturing, and exchanging promises of imminent mayhem. We are really just out there to ensure that it's a "fair fight". Of course our friend's challenger has now been joined by one of his own boys- looking recently incarcerated, and assuring his "dawg" that he can handle the two of us. Instead of taking the bait I stare at his jailhouse eyes and ask him if he can defuse the situation. He says, "No... I can't do shit." Somehow I figured as much, but it was worth a try. But despite their primate displays, these boys are making no real moves to initiate a fistfight. And all the while that same drunk girl is coming to the rescue by continually hanging on our friend, making it easy for him to retain his manhood without throwing out more insults. So what happens? These fools start talking about "blasting" us, and reaching into the back of their saggy-assed jeans, as if they are going to pull out their "gats".

Now if you are a suburbanite, you probably piss your pants at this point. But this new level of threat actually alleviates the tension just a bit. Because the way we interpret this situation is that these boys really have no intention of actually fighting. They want a quick way out that preserves whatever sense they have of themselves as a couple of bad-ass homeboyz. So we hold our tongues, refusing to escalate the situation by calling them out further. In fact nobody really wants to get in some silly streetfight over nothing, and soon everyone gets in their cars and drives home without harm.

Despite our intuition, there's always a chance that those kids could have been armed. An ordinary Friday night could have erupted into some sort of violence. We went home relieved that the night's drama had a happy ending. All of us are in our thirties. We have the benefit of experience and even a bit of wisdom. We can quickly assess the best possible outcome, and how to arrive at it. Had this set-up occurred ten years ago it might have turned out real bad. But ultimately no one got bit last night.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Once again, the "Value of Art".

I thought that tonight I'd write about the value of art. But it occurred to me that this subject had already been extensively examined on this blog. To verify that this was the case, I did a search on my front page for "value of art". This is what I came up with. So, yeah... I've already said a lot about this topic. But being in a reasonably inebriated state, I'm going to forge ahead as if I was covering novel ground. Please forgive me for redundancy, syntax and typing errors, and whatever rambling tone I set in this post.

Once again I spent my Friday evening at a gallery opening. This was actually the grand opening of a new space on Hatfield Street in Lawrenceville (the Zombo Gallery). The inaugural event ("Squaresville") featured a middle-aged local illustrator named "Wayno". This artist has been prolific, and I knew his work from local media and from a comic called Beer Nutz that he created years and years ago. He's actually had work in The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times. Here's a guy who has found commercial success in creating images and lives in the suburbs (Mt. Lebanon). And he's selling his paintings in the $200-500 range.

I'm considering these prices in the context of having just made a trip to the galleries in Chelsea. Granted that this section of NYC is pretty much the pinnacle of the international arts acene, but (after all) the shows I saw were mostly of "emerging" artists. Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find an original painting there for under $1000. From the perspective of someone that's spent any amount of time in the Pittsburgh arts scene, those prices seem exorbitant. But who's to say that the art market in the 'Burgh is more representative of the "true" value of art? Certainly from what I've heard, the local market is extremely depressed. I recently bought a painting (here, in Pittsburgh) from an artist who is selling his work in Chelsea for four times as much as I paid. What is the intrinsic value of that object?

Just like with real estate, all types of factors affect the cost of art. But unlike property, artwork can't provide you with shelter. You can't eat it. It doesn't help you get to work any faster. It's value is determined (mostly) by what someone is willing to pay for it. Why would some people pay $1000 for a print (with an edition run of 500) of a work created by an "art star"? Does it represent the time it took to make it, or the quality of the materials? Does it depend upon the past and/or the prospect of future work by the artist. Is it based on the quality of the piece- and who even determines that factor? Ask an expert. Consult a ledger of previous sales. Consider where it is being shown, and who represents the sale. Throw it all in a blender and pour that mess into an objective assessment.

It's too easy to get caught up in the mind-frame of the investor. You start out buying artwork because you love the way it looks. You want to have it... to put it in your living space. You want to call it yours. Then you become a collector, and you start considering the relative value of different works. Does it seem like a "good" deal? Maybe you eventually find yourself purchasing a piece that you don't even really like- just because you think its creator is "going places"... and it will surely appreciate in value. But what is it worth if the economy collapses, or after a nuclear war, or when the oceans rise a few feet? It' merely an object with some medium of color applied to some material- often wood or canvas. What's the price of that material per pound?

I find these questions compelling. I even play with the answers in my own work. For Christ's sake, I draw on phone book pages. What? That's last year's directory? Throw the damn thing away! It's not archival anyway. But I make scans of the work on quality photo-paper with archival ink. Surely the intrinsic value of the print is worth more than the original? Hmmm... it's awfully fun to turn a convention on its head. What if I make 1000 copies? Then what happens to the value? Hahaha.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Aspiring Artist's Dream.

Now that I am once again safe in the bosom of Pittsburgh, I can find the mental space to consider my trip and impressions of New York City, circa 2007. One of the most unsuspected reactions I experienced has to do with the speculative idea of living in such an environment fulltime. All throughout my twenties I entertained the idea that I'd love to move to the "Big City". It had to do with the beehive of activity that such an environment represents. I honestly believed that I could have found everything I wanted from a life within the Five Boroughs. In retrospect, it's a bit shocking to think about how naive an idea this was. During that period of my life I fancied the simpleminded vision of what an artist's life was "supposed" to be like. What that really amounted to was hanging out with the pose of a disaffected hipster, and producing very little of anything with true merit. The thing is that one would have to be independently wealthy to pull off that lifestyle in NYC.

Meanwhile that choice was very easy to make in a place like the 'Burgh, where even the middle-class wastrel youth can emulate his/her vision of the lives of the artistic saints. One can truly meet their goal of being a fullblown slacker in a place like this. You don't have to make a lot of unseemly compromises and/or bust your ass just to survive day-to-day life. In NYC you'd have to work so many hours that you would defeat your purpose. In the meantime you'd be living in a shitty little apartment with roommates crawling over you like cockroaches. Forget trying to advance yourself. If you can sponge off your family, then you might be able to approximate the freedoms a typical Pittsburgh service industry wage slave currently enjoys.

If you need to live in the perfect embodiment of the Social Darwinist petri dish in order to kick your own ass- then so be it. You can return to your hometown years later and talk about all the cool stuff you couldn't afford to do or see when you spent your formative years in NYC. Your friends will get a huge kick out of those stories, as they lounge back in the houses they bought at prices (psychic and monetary) that constitute a mere fraction of what you would have had to pay in whatever upcoming NYC neighborhood where you tried to make a go of it. Anyway, the days when you might have been able to scrape by and buy property on even an upper-middle class salary in Brooklyn are long gone. And if you were all-the-time trying to get noticed as an artist, forget about it. There are a million aspiring art star wannabes competing to be one of the hundred or so emerging artists to be included in a Chelsea gallery summer-time group show.

New York City is the prototypical American dog-eat-dog metropolis. Unless you are born into the Alpha Male class, you can forget about it. You have as much chance of winning the lottery as being "discovered". Everybody is screaming at the top of their lungs, trying to get noticed. If you have a loud voice and prior connections you might eventually save up enough to get the fuck out of that rat race. And with all that noise you are trying to generate, when do you think you'll find an opportunity to do any quality work? Go to Williamsburg and try to figure out why there are so many ironic twentysomethings snaring at you. They've realized that they've sacrificed their chance to build any real equity, they have no health insurance or retirement plan, and they are still mere plankton in an ocean of sharks. Is it any surprise that they resent all the entitled-from-birth yuppies who are moving into the brand new condominiums in the once-cool neighborhoods that starving artists struggled to build?

Perhaps there is a viable formula that includes a stint in NYC as a realistic component. Maybe if you work and save money in your hometown, and produce a quality body of work first, you can rent a room in one of the transitional NY neighborhoods. You'd have to have a large chunk of change, so you can devote yourself to networking within the arts scene. If you can then convince an aspiring art dealer to make a studio visit (just tell your three roommates to get lost for the day and scatter your paints and canvas around), then you could possibly worm your way in. Who knows? But you should be prepared to recognize when to cut your losses. Good Luck.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Listening to the Radio.

It's strange how disconnected I can get from the rest of society during the summer. During my long commutes to and from work I have plenty of time to listen to the radio and keep abreast of the national news stories. But when I have off from work I rarely hear what's happening except through word-of-mouth. I am not in the habit of watching the news on television- aside from the occasional tune-in to the PBS News Hour. I don't even make it a point to visit my favorite political portal sites on the net. And when I take vacations the situation is compounded even further because I am usually more interested in leaving the day-to-day stuff behind. I get focused on whatever agenda I have for my trip.

So making a seven-hour drive home today gave me a rare opportunity to plug back into the grid. I was making my return solo, and I didn't want to mess around with the CDs I had remembered to pack- so I just ended up firing up the radio and using the scan function. Every once in awhile I need to jar my memory and remind myself why I never listen to commercial radio. There are so very few options on the FM dial, especially when you hit the rural areas of Pennsylvania. Of course there are the ubiquitous country stations. I usually have very little patience for that. It's often sappy sentimentality or knee-jerk reactionary ditties about good homespun values. I find it a bit insulting when these folks presume that they represent some core of practical morality that's absent in the rest of the nation. Yeah, right... I know you love the USA. Yeah, right... you face up to life's challenges with a hard-earned wisdom you always ignored when you saw it in your daddy. Blah, blah, blah.

Turn the dial again and you can find the ubiquitous classic rock stations. You get to hear the wacky shock-jock wannabe tell bad jokes while promising to "rock your ride" home from work. It's the Stones, Led Zeppelin, CCR... maybe some Bowie... and the fifty other bands these stations have been playing in the 30+ years since they were actually fresh. Or you'll find the contemporary R+B format, with all the dance tunes that were hot in the big-city clubs three years ago. Perhaps you'll stumble on "Lite Rock" with Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and Dan Fogelberg. God help you if you try listening to "modern rock". I heard three different songs on three different staions that were playing simultaneously and all of them sounded like the same generic emo band. Hey really... I like it for about a song and a half. These options are what makes that scan button so alluring. It's like trying to pan for gold in the Monongahela River. You know there's no treasure there, but it's just so vast a space you might be able to find something of interest or novelty.

Unfortunately you can't get "National Public Radio" everywhere in the nation. But periodically you might stumble on it, especially if you are within an hour of a worthwhile city. Don't get excited- that doesn't give it much coverage. Anyway I did catch snippets of actual news here and there along the way. I was happy to finally hear about the indictments in the Brian Wells murder/bank robbing. I wrote a post about this strange, unsolved crime months ago. Since then I have been anxiously waiting for the details. Yesterday and today brought updates from the prosecutor. It seems that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and a co-conspirator named Kenneth Barnes, have been charged with felonies in the case. I suspected they would lower the boom on Diehl-Armstrong, but I was very surprised that they believe that Wells was actually in on the plan. That's about the extent of new information released to the press, so I'm once again forced to call upon my patience until the entire story is unveiled.

Predictably there was also a lot about the continuing campaign the Bush administration has been perpetually waging against Constitutional law tradition, the American people, and the rest of the nation's "elected representatives". Today it was the "revelation" that the Bush people have instructed former aides not to cooperate with a Congressional investigatory committee. And that's just a hint of the flagrant disregard these criminals have in store for us. Apparently they have told former Bush-lawyer (and failed Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Myers to outright ignore her subpoena to appear in front of Congress.

Of course this whole mess tempts me to leave my radio off forever. But would that make me a "good American"?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

NY Trip: Red Hook and Chelsea.

When I woke up this morning I only had one more must-see on my checklist. So we drove down to Red Hook- a little Brooklyn neighborhood on the banks of the Long Island Sound. I had read that the waterfront in the area was one of the last few uncongested and industrial places in NYC. I though I could get some shots of a community that was lost in time. JM had never actually been there, so we had to improvise our route. We ended up finding it fairly easily.

As advertised, Red Hook was indeed a unique area. Although being flanked by what used to be some pretty rough housing projects, it really did have the feeling of a traditional, non-gentrified neighborhood. There were a few examples of post-apocalyptic, degraded buildings at its very edge. A couple of these physical plants were still being used for some ostensible workmanlike function. I took several representative photos of the graffiti and debris of the wastelands. There was also a rusting old subway car along a promenade in the back of a fancy grocery store that made for a compelling (and maybe symbolic) image. I suppose we could have lingered there and sought out more odd sights, but I was aware that JM wanted to make a trip to the Chelsea galleries, and I was looking forward to joining him. I'm glad I got to see Red Hook before the inevitable change that is coming to transform it into the next condo-enclave or "big box" store supercenter.

Before our trip into Manhattan via subway, we needed to find a secure place to stash the car. JM thought that maybe Park Slope would be a good idea, but we ended up on an extended search for parking that finally ended on 3rd Avenue, by 62nd Street in Brooklyn. A pleasant subway ride landed us on 23rd Street, and a walk across the City brought us to the central repository for art in the United States. If you've never been to Chelsea before, you should know that you could never visit all the galleries in a single day. It's easy after an hour or two to start taking the work for granted. We saw a lot of great stuff. A few highlights among many worth mentioning:

-Humberto Duque, "Revenge of the Lawn" @ Galeria Ramis Barquet - A magical world of colorful drawings, vibrant clay sculpture, paper cut=outs and sculptures. Certainly playful, but not without a bit of gristle.

-"A House is Not a Home" @ Carin Golden Fine Art (curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody) - Just an excellent example of curatorial excellence applied to a fairly broad theme. Photos by Kevin Cooley were a particular standout.

-Souther Salazar, @ Jonathan Levine Gallery - I ran all the way down to 20th Street to catch this fifteen minutes before the close of the gallery. It was totally worth it. I knew his comics work and expected to be pleased, yet this solo exceeded my expectations. Miniature worlds of self-contained dreams. More candy for the eyes. Sure... they had Shepard Fairey there too. So what?!

-Marnie Weber "Variations on a Western Song", @ Fredericks & Freiser - Wow. First you see the collages in the front room. Eerie... a bit disturbing maybe... carnivalesque certainly. There's humor there, but the imagery is transcendently transfixing. But you need to go through the curtain in the back of the gallery and watch her 25-minute video meditation on spiritualism, the feminine voice and the mythos of the American frontier. A truly great work that I'll never be able to purchase on DVD to show all you good people... though you definitely deserve it.

Of course there's plenty more to tell you about. But I have to admit that I am now truly overstimulated by this trip. I'm actually seriously considering driving home tomorrow- a day earlier than I expected. I have packed such an inordinately huge dose of activity and information into a relatively small window of time, and I am reeling from it. Maybe I'll feel like I cheated myself later, but I don't think I can process anymore without a break of quiet reflection. Unless the oceans rise a few feet, NYC will be there some distant day, awaiting my return. And I'll be refreshed with a brand new itinerary in hand.

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