Friday, November 18, 2011

the learning never stops

So, I changed the subtitle of my blog from "in which a New Yorker learns the ways of the natives," to the present one. I was chided for my earlier subtitle, because "native" is not a word to be used lightly out here. To me, it meant whoever lives here long enough to qualify, as in, "You're a native New Yorker," a line from a song. That is not the way it was understood in an area that has a high percentage of Native Americans, who are referred to as Native. There can be no irony there, however unintended the insult.

I resisted at first because, after all, I didn't mean it that way. But that's no excuse. I won't get into the problems and issues of the Native community, but I'm much more aware of them now. It seems quite often I'm in the car at around 11 AM and the program on KUNM is "Native America Calling," with host Harlan McKosato. I just looked at his photo and I had no idea he was so young and good-looking. He's got one of those radio voices and I gotta say, these people who have issue-based informational shows, like Mary-Charlotte on Santa Fe Radio Cafe, are way impressive. I asked Mary-Charlotte one time if she has researchers, and she laughed. And yet she knows all about her guests, what they've written, what they think. NAC is more about people calling in, it's kind of a forum to give voice to the Native community on different issues, with various guests. If this was carried by a radio station back east, I certainly didn't know about it. Listening to the callers and Harlan's guiding of the conversation is eye-opening.

Then last week I went to a talk by Charlene Teters, who has work in the SITE Santa Fe exhibit Agitated Histories. Her work is all about confronting people with the stereotypes of Native people, and she's been creating this work since the 70's. So I guess all this started to make me think I might use a little more sensitivity, even if my New York cynicism kicks in from time to time, it's not about me. Think about it, Braves fans!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I took part in the AHA festival. AHA stands for After Hours Alliance, which is a group of young people who get together to organize things. At least that's what I think it is. I responded to an open call sent to me by a friend, asking for proposals, so, figuring it would be a good way to meet and greet, I proposed a booth installation/performance.

I bought a couple of hardcover copies of Emily Dickinson's letters, then deconstructed them, chose some favorite snippets from her poems, and wrote this text in lemon juice on the pages. I did a bunch of these beforehand, and at the fair I ironed pages to bring the lemon juice text to the surface as a burn.

I was a little concerned that it would seem underwhelming when I started to see what the other artists were doing. But it ended up being very well-received. The fair was great fun- music, performance, food, art- and a very youthful vibe. I wondered where all these young people hang out the rest of the time. 

I met a lot of poets and writers, publishers, and other people who are interested in the written word. I showed some little people how the lemon juice "invisible writing" works. 

Here's a video that was produced by Andrew Kastner for I'm about two minutes in. 

2011 AHA Progressive Arts & Music Festival Overview from on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Confusion, astonishment, horror, sadness

The tenth anniversary of September 11th is this Sunday. I was there then, and I'm not there now. It's an odd feeling.

I was living in a building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn next to the East River, walking my dog Lucy that morning. It was still an industrial neighborhood and two guys were looking toward the river with almost a little amusement. Smoke had started pouring from one of the towers. They thought a plane had accidentally hit the building, like what happened once with the Empire State Building. I walked a little further toward the water so I could see better. By then the flames and the black smoke and the huge gash were apparent. I knew people had already died.

What we didn't know then was how nothing would be the same, how civil liberties would be redefined for anyone who wasn't obviously Us, how we would be constantly reminded to be afraid. I sometimes wonder if we will ever be able to move on.

I quote here from a piece by David Remnick, in this week's New Yorker:

But, for all the recent moments of promise, this tenth anniversary is a marker, not an end. It is a time to commemorate, consider, and reconsider. A decade later, we pay tribute to the resilience of ordinary people in the face of appalling destruction. We remember the dead and, with them, the survivors, the firemen and the police, the nurses and the doctors and the spontaneous, instinctive volunteers, the myriad acts of courage and kindness. A decade later, we also continue to reckon not only with the violence that bin Laden inflicted but with the follies, the misjudgments, and the violence that, directly or indirectly, he provoked—the acts of government deception, illegal domestic surveillance, “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced interrogation,” waterboarding. The publication of Dick Cheney’s memoirs is the latest instance of Bush Administration veterans serenely insisting that they “got it right,” that the explosion of popular discontent that began in Tunisia last December and spread through the region is the direct result of the American-led invasion and the occupation of Iraq. This is as dubious as it is self-serving. In fact, the Arab Spring was not inspired by the wondrous vision of post-Saddam Iraq. Nor was it the result of Western actions or manipulations; its credibility depended upon the fact that it was unambiguously indigenous and self-propelled. An approach marked by calculation and humility, as well as strength, has served the interests of both freedom and American prestige far better than the theatre of raw power. In Libya, we see that a more supple brand of foreign policy that rejects the swaggering heedlessness of the Bush years need not neglect the imperatives of freedom and human rights. Ten years after the attacks, we are still faced with questions about ourselves—questions about the balance of liberty and security, about the urge to make common cause with liberation movements abroad, and about the countervailing limits. Only absolutists answer these questions absolutely.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wile E. Coyote

Up early this morning walking Maya, just as the sun was coming up, a coyote was just outside my neighbor's fence, ambling down to the river.

Looks just like a big dog, right? (By the way, I didn't take this photo. I did not have a phone or camera with me at 6:30 AM.) We stood there and watched him- when he saw us, he turned in the other direction and wandered into the riverbed, then across to the other side. Maya didn't seem at all bothered by him, even though she could be his breakfast if food was scarce. But I imagine the prairie dogs provide coyotes with plenty of meals. I was just very surprised that he'd be in peoples' yards.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Baubles, bangles and beads

Ever wonder where all those nice turquoise stones came from, the ones everyone around here makes stuff with? I'll tell you. Santa Fe Jewelers Supply.
I love stores like this. Art supply stores, hardware stores, cookware stores, anyplace that has lots of little tools and interesting, useful, yougottahaveone things. I wanted to experiment with mounting a drawing on mylar, to a piece of plexiglas, and then framing it. In order to do this, I needed tiny fasteners. So off I went to SFJS.

I was helped by a very nice woman there who did not blink when I told her what I was trying to do. In fact she had very good ideas and was totally supportive. You'd think that since I was clueless about jewelry supplies, and I wasn't making jewelry at all, she might have scoffed. But she didn't. So I bought these head pins that are used for stacking beads on earrings (I could choose between solid silver, silver plate, and nickel,) a tiny drill bit, an insert for the drill to hold the tiny drill bit, and a pair of needle nose pliers. It cost about $15 altogether.

I was fascinated by all the stuff they had there. You can see in the photo that there were many strings of semi-precious stones, but they also had cases full. They had mother of pearl still on the shell. There were large stones and small ones, and there was someone doing something with stones on a machine, but I didn't ask what he was doing. There was a nice looking man at the counter and I intended to take the photo while he was looking in the case, but he turned just as the phone camera snapped (which as you probably know if you have an iphone, is an eon after you push the button.) I thought he was native American and so I blocked out his face because it seemed wrong to put it on the internets.

This is the kind of thing you can find easily in Santa Fe. But try finding a decent dermatologist.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Uncle Miltie speaks wise

I came across something on Longreads, which is a great site for interesting articles on the web. I guess Milton Glaser has a website, well of course he would; and one of the things he posted is an excerpt from a talk he gave to AIGA in 2001. The whole thing is fun to read and makes a lot of sense. I always thought Glaser to be a brilliant designer and promoter of his whole brand, so much that we still see around NYC is his work or greatly influenced by it. The I (heart) NY campaign for one.

The piece is worth a read and I'll just quote one paragraph here that I thought was funny.

Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who you calling unconscious?

I moderated the panel "Why do Artists Make Art?" last week. It was crowded, standing room only in fact. I had an interesting group on my panel, painters, a photographer, a printmaker, and a psychiatrist who is now retired and making art. She was a lovely little person, very animated- and had some interesting things to say about her research into where creativity resides in the brain. Her opinion is that some people have no creativity at all, and their brains don't light up in the creativity spot. This area is the same one that causes self-criticism, and one of the audience members asked if there were meds to turn that off. I'm not doing justice to the points she made, but I disagree that some people have no creativity. I think everyone does, but we're not trained to access it because we're taught to follow what has been set out for us and what is the tried and true path. That's why Frost could write "The Road not Taken."

Then there's Joseph Campbell and his ideas about mythology and heroism. I think Rumi and Joseph Campbell are the two most misunderstood, or rather misquoted, writers and thinkers. Campbell is quoted as saying Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. It's usually shortened to Follow Your Bliss. Lotta people doing that here. I read that Campbell was a little fed up with all the bliss followers and at one point changed the quote to Follow your blisters. That might be apocryphal. 

Since the exhibition that I'm in, which prompted the panel, is dedicated to Jung's Red Book, I looked up what he had to say about art and artists. Here is a quote:
 The biographies of great artists make it abundantly clear that the creative urge is often so imperious that it battens on their humanity and yokes everything to the service of the work, even at the cost of health and ordinary human happiness. The unborn work in the psyche of the artist is a force of nature that achieves its end either with tyrannical might or with the subtle cunning of nature herself, quite regardless of the personal fate of the man who is its vehicle [emphasis mine.] 
I don't know what to make of this. That the neurotic, poorly adjusted artist can't help but toil away in the studio, giving the work of art a way out and onto the canvas? It sounds pretty depressing to be a vehicle for something that was going to show up somehow anyway. I really dislike this concept, because for one thing it confirms peoples' opinions that artists are driven and crazed. Well maybe I'm overstating what Jung said. But people still think that art springs from some mysterious inner force, and that only the chosen few can create it. We're in the post-modern, pluralistic 21st century. Those ideas are so old school. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

nukes and fire don't mix

We've got a bunch of wildfires going on around here. On June 18th I had a party to celebrate my one year anniversary in Santa Fe. That afternoon on my way to buy ice, I saw a huge smoke plume in the mountains. This was the start of the Pacheco fire, 2 miles from the Santa Fe ski area. It was, and is, a serious fire, only 15% contained at this point. The road up the mountain has been closed at mile marker 9, and smoke has filled the air. The fire destroyed power lines and threatens the watershed.

I took a photo of the smoke plume on Saturday, a week after it had started. This was taken from the riverwalk that we walk on several times a day. Of course there's no water in the river but that's another story.

Sunday a fire broke out not far from Los Alamos and spread with lightning speed, tripling in size in one night. This fire is called the Las Conchas fire which apparently started on private land, and the size and scale of it are frightening. It's currently over 90 square miles, almost twice as large as a terrible fire that destroyed many homes and forest land in 2000, the Cerro Grande fire. That fire burned 47,000 acres at the Bandelier National Monument, and destroyed 100 buildings including some at the lab complex. The forest still hasn't recovered from that fire, which started with a controlled burn that quickly got out of control.

The town of Los Alamos has been evacuated- 12,000 people. And the nuclear lab in Los Alamos is less than a mile from the fire's edge. So far they've been able to keep the fire from spreading to the labs and burning toxins that are stored there. It's a big story, carried by media all over the world. Just enter Los Alamos fire into google or twitter and see what I mean. These photos are from The Atlantic:

The sunsets we've been having with all this smoke in the air have been both eerie and beautiful. Fortunately for us down here in SF, the smoke and fire are spreading north, but we've still got bad air quality. Today I went to the gym to run instead of doing it outside.

A friend who listens to Amy Goodman (I do sometimes, but find it so depressing) said that today a guy who serves as a watchdog of sorts for the lab was on the show, and he said that if New Mexico seceded from the US, that it would represent the third largest nuclear power in the world. That's how much we've got in nukes around here. Of course, LANL is where the bomb was invented. They still employ thousands of people, toiling away at various ways of hitting atoms together to do stuff, good and bad I suppose, depending on your POV. They developed the metal for Nambe objects there. I don't know what else goes on. It's very very mysterious.

I worry most about the 4th of July coming up. We have fields behind our houses where kids like to set off fireworks, and this year that could be disastrous. Not sure what to do about it. Our esteemed governor says she doesn't have the authority to make fireworks illegal- this has to be a legislative act, and the legislature meets for about three days in May I think.

Monday, June 13, 2011

An unanswerable question

I'm in a show opening this weekend here in Santa Fe called Mining the Unconscious. Here is the digital invitation.

This was the result of an open call to artists who are working with the idea of the unconscious and is supposed to have something to do with Jung's Red Book, which is an amazing piece of work. There is a new reproduction of it (the original is sort of a sketchbook he created) and it's way expensive, otherwise I'd buy one. The link takes you to Amazon to buy it if you want. It also has some images from it. I decided to enter my burned Freud book pages, since they are his Interpretation of Dreams, and these were accepted for the show.

They've decided to have some panel discussions on the show themes and they asked me to moderate one called "Why do Artists Make Art?" Why DO artists make art? It's a crazy question. I wonder if people really wonder about it. Because artists sure don't. I was telling a friend about the panel and he said artists sell art to buy beer. But not all artists sell their work. In fact I read that only 20% of the people who call themselves artists (this must be on a census or something) make their living from it. I think even that is a high estimate.

I'll have to do some research on theories. I used to live next to a psychoanalyst who had a lot of artist patients and who had written books on this. He said that artists are mastering form to work through past traumas. I do know that for me, just making stuff makes me feel better, even if it doesn't work. And another artist once told me his son was just like him, always "making stuff." So I think my former neighbor has a point, it's about mastering form, but maybe it's about control in general and the feeling of accomplishment when you end up with something fine and interesting.

I may have to post the question on Facebook to see if I get some answers.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I closed up the blog for a while. Reason was, I got a little mired in indecision. And also, I created a blog for my class, and I could barely keep up with that, as my students would attest.

And then there was the matter of my website, which hadn't been redesigned in four years. When I did it back in 2007, I hardly knew what I was doing and I designed it in the clunkiest way imaginable. It drove me crazy to see all those files from divided up slices in Photoshop. No wonder it loaded fairly slowly. So I intended to redo it and the months went by. Basically, over a year went by. Finally I got the newest version of Dreamweaver two weeks ago and set to work.

In the interim, Dreamweaver and web design in general had become far more complex. I won't go into the specifics, but a shortened version is, I didn't understand what "box model" meant. I really struggled with trying to figure it out from reading and experimenting but I finally went out and bought Dreamweaver CS5 for Dummies. I don't love those books but at least it got me to the point that I understood the concepts. And so now, after many many hours, it's finished. And linked to this here blog, so I'll be leaning toward the arty from here on in, though I still am so surprised and amused by life in Santa Fe that I'm sure I'll continue my outsider status for a while.

I got my studio organized, thanks to getting a shed built outside to put the garage type stuff in. Here are two photos:

The light is from two solar tubes that I had put in before I moved, during the renovation. It's nice and bright in there. It's really quite pleasant. Even Maya seems fairly comfortable, after hoovering the floor first. I have to constantly check for pushpins or other sharp objects so she doesn't get them.

Now I'll be heading to Miami for a few days, but when I get back, with the website finished (hoorah) I can get back to work on my NY Times series (see back wall) and my Frieze series.

It's Memorial Day. Think kindly of our men and women in far off wars and hope they come back safely to their loved ones.