Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wisdom of Black Elk

In the early 1930s the medicine man Black Elk told his life story to the historian John G. Neihardt. Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux who was related to Crazy Horse and fought in both the Battle of Little Big Horn and at Wounded Knee, related his remarkable life to Neihardt and the following excerpts share some Lakota wisdom.

Anogete or Woman with Two Faces from the Lakota Sweatlodge deck
"You have noticed that the truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs: but it is the same face, laughing or weeping. When people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them; and when they feel too good and are too sure of being safe, maybe the weeping face is better for them to see."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Ion Zupco, Untitled, March 6, 2004
"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round...The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation's hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

But the Wasichus [white man] have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying, for the power is not in us any more...When we were living by the power of the circle in the way we should, boys were men at twelve or thirteen years of age. But now it takes them very much longer to mature."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"The Six Grandfathers have placed in this world many things, all of which should be happy. Every little thing is set for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World."
  Black Elk 
"Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Grandfather, Great Spirit...All things belong to you--the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy."

Friday, November 4, 2011

When the universe unwinds for you...

I came across a song on a mixed tape the other day that I wanted to identify. I hadn't listened to this tape in at least 4 or 5 years. The song was a short piece, with a number of singers, singing, bum bum ba-da-da-da-da-da, for the entire length of the tune and I knew it was from the 1960s or 70s but that wasn't much help. How in the world was I going to find it?!? I tried googling "song with bum bum da da da" -- a hilarious attempt that produced a whole lot of nothing. I thought I'd try playing it for Doug, but didn't hold out much hope he would know it.

And then the universe answered....

I was listening to KCRW and would you believe, they played a song that sounded like MY singers!! And the group's name...The Swingle Singers.

However, the universe did not stop there, because last night, Doug and I watched the film The Trip and would you believe that the two characters, on their road trip, decided to sing the exact song I was looking for! Ok, fine, don't ask about my taste in music, that's not the point of the story.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Buddhist idea

Suffering is the difference between the way things are, and the way we want them to be.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs on Death

Death “is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”

Friday, September 30, 2011

Blindness vs The New Death

Joan Jonas - Mirror Piece I - 1969
- Guggenheim Museum
I recently watched the film Michael Clayton for the second time. This is not just an excellent thriller, it is also a story that brilliantly reveals the way we walk through our lives ignoring the truth of injustices happening in front of us. In the film, the injustices are perpetrated by an agricultural corporation, Unorth, (Monsanto?) poisoning local ground water with the run-off of from their toxic fertilizers. The film speaks to the double-sided face of corporations, how outward marketing counters the inherent corporate culture of greed and narcissism, and how we all "buy-in" to the face of things and not the reality. The character who "wakes up" to his role in the "system" does so only by becoming "crazy."

Saul Bellow writes in his novel More Die of Heartbreak:
"In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world. Never mind 'rising entitlements,' never mind the luxury 'life-style.' Our buried judgment knows better. All this is seen by remote centers of consciousness, which struggle against full wakefulness. Full wakefulness would make us face up to the new death, the peculiar ordeal of our side of the world. The opening of a true consciousness to what is actually occurring would be a purgatory."
It seems that the single, core value in business these days is profitability. How did we get here?? How is it that the fight in Congress is to ensure that the only responsibility businesses have is to their own bottom line? What happened to the idea that businesses could make money and also support their workers and their local community? Yes, profits might be less, but does that matter if other values are equally important? We have literally bought the system we have, through our purchases, and we do so willingly. We put on blinders every day to the power we wield in fostering these institutions.

As Michael Clayton points out, we are all a part of this system that encourages us to be blind to our role and actions in this profitability culture. We buy their products, we vote for their politicians, we accept that paradigm. Waking up, as Bellow says, "would be a purgatory." Such consciousness is too painful. And since this evil of conscious ignorance is part of our daily lives, resisting it has become an individualized and personal battle. (The only power "we the people" have left are in unions, and this is why there is a clear and powerful attempt to break them up.)
"Evil in [Jane] Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to "see" others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us as well as the worst. We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination ... "Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances," Bellow wrote, "is also to reach the heart of politics. The human feelings, human experiences, the human form and face, recover their proper place--the foreground." Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Of course the corporate strangle hold on us and the media was articulated well in the speech from Network (1976).
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU... WILL... ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
But Network also provided a speech articulating the drive and fight of the individual against the status quo. It's the very essence of Occupy Wall Street.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Die Like You Really Mean It

Doug Young - Untitled - 2011
Die Like You Really Mean It is a group exhibition at the Allegra LaViolla Gallery that celebrates painting as a healthy, living, and variegated mode of art making in New York. Each work selected emphasizes artistic passion and registers as a highly charged expression of the individual artist.  In contrast to the intentionally ironic, these paintings are sincere and, at times, viscerally rendered.

I interviewed Doug Young, one of twenty-one artists featured in the exhibition, about art-making and his new body of work. His two included pieces  -- Untitled (seen above) and Hallway -- are from a series of reverse paintings on glass rendered with automotive paints and ensconced in monumental, graphite-finished wooden frames. These works are confrontational as paintings, objects, and images. The paint is direct and assertive, yet whimsical and quirky. The imagery included in the exhibition is evocative of childhood wonder and curiosity, yet haunting and resonant of the out-of-body.

Die Like You Really Mean It is on view October 26 through December 03, 2011. Opening reception: October 26, 6-9pm.

Hallway - 2010
Wanderlust: So you have a new body of work…reverse paintings on glass. They differ substantially from the sculptural work you’ve done in the past. Tell me how these paintings came into being and a bit about how they’re made.

Doug Young: Well, I started out as a painter, but I stopped making paintings for about 5 years. I was throwing around ideas about how to get back into oil on canvas, but I didn’t want to go back to exactly that routine. Every time I started a new sculpture, I asked myself “how would this look from a 2-d perspective?” I had an idea for a sculpture that sat around in my head for a couple of years about capturing the vantage point from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. In the meantime, I was at a flea market and I came across an old painting on glass…an Asian landscape embellished with gold leaf and reflective paints. Something clicked. I said, this is how I’m going to get back to making 2-dimensional works.

I thought that the image from inside the Millennium Falcon would be the perfect starter painting because it references glass, thereby making sense conceptually and visually. It is also an iconic image of Han Solo going into hyperspace and, as with my past work, using imagery of childhood wonders is compelling.

But now I had to figure out how to do this. I tested out how to adhere paint to glass and through these experiments I came across automotive paint, which has a lustrous surface and would further establish the attitude of the image.

Diamond - 2011
W: So, what’s the process of how these paintings are made?

DY: The bare bones is that I simply apply paint to the reverse side of glass by any means necessary. It’s strange how each image provides unique paths into its creation. None of the paintings are created in exactly the same way, which is one of the things I was dreading might happen. One can be a servant to a technique and that is not the case here. I keep finding new problems to solve with each new painting.

Painting in process
W: Why glass and what are the means? Paintbrush?

DY: The paint is both sprayed on and cut away with the help of various tools. And the reverse application on glass allows for a unique surface to come into play, the breadth of which is endless. The application of paint is born through a constructive strategy rather than a romantic brush stroke. It is in this construction that I draw parallels to making sculpture. In fact, as objects they relate to my interest in the crafting of folk art. Some of my past sculptures have dealt with popular traditions such as rug hooking and tramp art.

Diamond, Untitled, Helmet - all 2011
W: Can you talk a bit about the two sizes of your paintings? Some are large, monumental works in massive frames, and others are smaller and more intimate.

DY: It depends on the image whether it gets a large or small format. Some images work better on the scale of a personal experience and not shared. However, I wanted to establish a sense of neutrality through the continuous use of the square format, in order to maintain an awareness of the image as an object and not as a “painting.”

W: I love how many of these works function as windows rather than frames. It seems intentional…with the Milennium Falcon, the motorcycle helmet, and the death chamber images in particular. Is this important to you when selecting an image?

DY: Not necessarily. I am less focused on being a voyeur, which a window alludes to, and more focused on capturing fundamentals of human spirit. For example, in Untitled (death chamber) you can view it as a window into an execution room, which it is, but I chose that vantage point less for its naturalistic attributes and more for capturing the ethereal characteristics of dread and the fear of dying. And it just so happens that the automotive paint facilitates this quite nicely, allowing the viewer to experience a transition from the corporeal to the out-of-body.

W: There are graphic qualities and pop-like elements to your work that remind me a bit of Ed Ruscha? Do you see a connection with him, or any other artist?

DY: With regards with Ed Ruscha I see less of a direct linear connection and more of how we both have a dialogue with the surface of the “canvas.” However, the shared romantic notion with Hollywood movie making and the drama of cinema is a direct path for stimulating new ideas for work, and a rich, compelling and engaging subject.

HAL - 2010
W: In Richard Hamilton’s obituary from the New York Times. I came across a quote of his from 1961 that made me think of your work. “If the artist is not to lose much of his ancient purpose, he may have to plunder the popular arts to recover the imagery which is his rightful inheritance.” Do you agree?

DY: Yes, I agree. I feel some images have timeless attributes despite their current connotations. These images, although they come from popular culture, can elicit a stirring, personal experience. And who is to say, on a poetic level, who owns such images?

Saturday, September 10, 2011


David Andree - untitled (two squares) - 2010 - found image cut collage on paper
"We must for dear life make our own counter-realities" ~ Henry James

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Artist: Creativity and Mortality

The artist:
speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty and pain...and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity -- the dead to the living and the living to the unborn." ~ Joseph Conrad
The idea that the living are a conduit between the unborn and the dead is explored in Robert Pogue Harrison's The Dominion of the Dead. The author conveys how we strive to make meaning as we move through life and that the awareness of death defines our human nature.  "Whether we are conscious of it or not we do the will of the ancestors: our commandmens come to us from their realm; their precedents are our law; we submit to their dictates, even when we rebel against them." To be human is to relate to that which is buried, that which has come before, since culture is built on what has come before.
"To mortalize oneself means to learn how to live as a dying creature, or better, to learn how to make of one's mortality the foundation of one's relations to those who live on, no less than to those who have passed away. To cope with one's mortality means to recognize its kinship with others and to turn this kinship in death into a shared language."
A slightly different notion is that an artist mortalizes themselves by creating. They make literal the idea. They struggle with the limitations of medium in order to make the physical world speak in the language of the spirit.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Paul Thek’s Studio 1967

Peter Hujar - Shelf With Hand - 1967 / 2010.

In 1967, Peter Hujar photographed his friend Paul Thek’s East 3rd Street studio in 1967. The Brooklyn artist Thek was a sculptor, painter, and one of the first artists to create environments or installations. As he frequently used perishable materials, Thek accepted the ephemeral nature of his art works—and was aware, as writer Gary Indiana has noted, of “a sense of our own transience and that of everything around us.”

The images Peter Hujar took of the studio explore Thek's ephemera, process, and persona. Originally taken for potential use in association with Thek’s 1967 solo exhibition at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery in New York, many images in this series document the making of his infamous sculpture The Tomb/Death of a Hippie, a life-sized effigy of the artist laid to rest in a pink ziggurat. A full-size cast of his body lies entombed dressed in a suit jacket and jeans, painted a pale pink, and adorned with jewelry made of human hair and gold. This sculpture is now considered to be the masterwork of his 1960s sculpture. The Tomb was destroyed after languishing in storage, with Thek reportedly having refused delivery of the piece in 1981. Thek had grown tired of the work, “I really don’t want to have to do that piece AGAIN! Oh God no! Not THAT one. Imagine having to bury yourself over and over.” Both Thek and Hujar died of AIDS related illnesses in the late 1980s.

Peter Hujar -  Thek’s studio - 1967.
Peter Hujar's images are on view at Maureen Paley in London from September 7 – October 2, 2011. Photographs from this studio session were uncovered during the research for Paul Thek: Diver, a retrospective which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in October 2010, toured to the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and is now on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles until September 4, 2011.

Peter Hujar - Thek Working with Bicycle Wheel Above 1 - 1967.
All images are© 1987 The Peter Hujar Archive LLC;
courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery, New York

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Better than the mind's eye

It never occurred to me that there might be such a profession as an ocularist. A most wonderful gift to be able to give someone.


"I don't want the general public to know what I do is fake," Christie Erickson says. "It's best if it's not noticed at all...It's an amazing thing to be able to be a part of somebody's life and that transformation from the tragedy, the grief ... and for us to be able to just heal, pray and love them through it," Erickson says. "And also (give them) a dang good-looking eye."

Friday, June 24, 2011

unexpected sparks

Olivia Bee - from the series "for you, t" - 2009
"At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted
the flame within us."
Albert Schweitzer

Monday, June 6, 2011

I Remain with You

Jean Cocteau is buried beneath the floor of the Chapelle Saint Blaise Des Simples in Milly-la-Forêt. The chapel is decorated with Cocteau's murals, and carved on his gravestone, in his handwriting, is his self-chosen epitaph: "I remain with you" ("Je reste avec vous"). Cocteau believed people could transcend time and space.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The State of Things

It's been 30 years and not a thing has changed. Amazing.

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be!

We all know things are bad -- worse than bad -- they're crazy.

It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone."

Well, I'm not going to leave you alone.

I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.

You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!"

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"
- Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network (1976)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

sometimes making something leads to nothing

Francis Alÿs - Paradox of Praxis - Video - 1997

In Paradox of Praxis, Francis Alÿs spends a long day pushing a block of ice around the bustling streets of Mexico City until it melts away into a small puddle, marking the end of the "work." It is an action that meditates on the idea that "sometimes making something leads to nothing."

Bent over pushing a block of ice, referencing labor, Alÿs is just one of many going about the city doing what it is they do. "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." The anonymity of the city absorbs him. Alÿs has commented, "Each of my interventions is another fragment of the story I am inventing, of the city that I am mapping."

But the reference to labor, to industriousness, cannot be ignored. As one critic has pointed out, "The routines of manual workers are just as much of a praxis and must at most times feel just as paradoxical." Alÿs pushes his ice block. Is it work? Is it a game? When does one become the other or do they happen simultaneously? And then it all disappears.

Futility exists in all our attempts to "do" or "make." It reminds me of the beautiful articulation of this idea in Andy Goldsworthy's film, Rivers and Tides, as he spends hours attempting to build a cone of stone that continuously falls apart.

"I am so amazed at times that I am actually alive," Goldsworthy observes after the 4th collapse of his piece.

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn't more complicated that that.
It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is,
without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
Sylvia Boorstein

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nothing is Simple: On Osama Bin Laden's death

I'm sorry, but i just can't abide by people dancing in the streets to this man's death. (cheerleaders in Times Square??? Give me a break!) It's such mob mentality. And everything I hate about Americans who only see the world through a lens of black and white. Things are what they are. Many religious people in the Middle East have good... reason to hate the west. Our culture produces some of the most obscene pornography and violent media images, is responsible for Abu Graib and other such horrors, and has produced a corporate culture that promotes greed and the exploitation of others. We're no angels over here. I'm not supporting violent jihab, I just think these are serious times, with serious cultural divides that require everyone to be respectful.
"There has been an outpouring of misdirected jubilation, as if a contest had been won. Nothing has been won. Unlike winning a sporting event, this doesn’t mean that our team has triumphed. Far from it. There is only one team and it is us...Our enemy is not one person or country or belief system. It is our unwillingness to feel the sorrow of others—who are none other than us." ~ Susan Piver

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Working Together

Doug Young - Disney, 2010
49" x 49" (framed dims) 49" x 49" (framed dims)

Doug Young is showing his latest work at Sugar (gallery) in Bushwick April 30 - June 11, 2011.

On view are a series of reverse paintings on glass, rendered with automotive paints and ensconced in monumental, graphite-finished wooden frames. The result confronts you unabashedly. These fictions of place and fantasies of youth are a marvel and a wonderment. Captivating in their graphic qualities, starkly and consciously superficial, they attract and yet repel. You're not quite able to get your footing nor fully "know" what you're looking at....or through. Quirky and irregular, these works suggest how striving for perfection falls short and the fallibility of humans endures.

Don't miss Doug's radio interview for Breakthrough Radio.

These images mark a departure for Doug, for he has primarily worked as a sculptor for the last decade. Doug Young has exhibited widely in New York and Chicago. In 2001 he was awarded the Guinness Book World Record for the longest nonstop banjo performance in history—24 hours total.

449 Troutman St. #3-5, third fl.
Brooklyn (Bushwick), NY
Friday through Sunday noon to six by appointment only
Opening Reception: Saturday April 30, 6-9pm