Monday, August 31, 2009

Houston trip -- two kinds of strangeness

My wife and drove to Houston last weekend to see the Amy Blakemore show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and to spend a little time away from this tiny town.

Blakemore's photos are powerful evocations of disillusionment and fading memories. Some of them are evocative of the emotional content in James Joyce's short story "Araby" in their sense of melancholy epiphany: "I thought it would be better, more than this..." Other times, her blurred and granular exposures suggest tilt shift digital photo processing. Always they are strange and haunting.

(Images via Inman Gallery)

Before we left for home this morning, we visited a Salvation Army thrift store on Washington Ave. in Houston because of an article I'd read in the NY Times about some works said to be by Salvador Dali that are up for sale there. Opinions vary concerning their authenticity, naturally, but I've seen them in situ. The drawing, sculpture, and prints are indeed on display in a glass case in the thrift store.

I took some pictures of the display, and my wife got a real bargain on a light sweater and some tops.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Here's a bit from an admittedly liberal blog. When he attended the funeral of murdered Israeli PM Rabin, Ted Kennedy quietly placed earth from the graves of his brothers on the grave of the slain peacemaker. His brothers were known to us all as political figures which we associated with certain ideals, but he knew them as his brothers. Blood kin. The dirt was not just dirt. It meant something, if only privately

Ted Kennedy's sins and transgressions were very public. His position of privilege got him out of some really bad situations that none of us could have hoped to escape, and these situations were largely of his own making. These facts offend the small d democrats of America. We hate class privilege. It isn't right. Well it isn't.

And yet he did accomplish some really good things in his many years in the senate. At least I think much of what he did was good. He was a major influence on the laws of our country, shaping them in ways that served to uplift and make better the lives of people who were decidedly not privileged. Here's some of what he did: Title IX (gender equality in college athletics), the ADA, race-blind immigration legislation, bilingual education, Meals on Wheels, the National Commission on the Protection of Human Subjects (in med/sci experiments), stopping military aid to the fascist Pinochet regime in Chile, education for children with disabilities, expanding the civil rights act to protect persons with disabilities, the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act, the Refugee Act of 1980 (asylum for persecuted persons), Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act, the National Military Child Act, Civil Rights Act of 1991, Americorps, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, voted no on war with Iraq (one of 23 senators who did so).

Most of what he accomplished, he accomplished after that evil night at Chappaquiddick when Mary Jo Kopechne died. It is as though he had begun as the callow, drunken libertine his enemies call him -- a selfish irresponsible glutton who was rich enough and Kennedy enough to buy his way out of anything with money and social connections. But then something else emerged, something with a will and a capacity to make our nation better. In working to make America better, I think, he may have also worked to make himself better.

I am fully aware that some amongst us do not share my belief that he made our country better, and that is what it is. We will certainly disagree about many other things. It was always so. But the Americorps program has had a very real and beneficial effect on some of the little towns that dot this run-down portion of NE Texas. I've seen it. And allowing people from India and China and Jordan and Mexico to immigrate legally to the US the same as people from Western Europe has truly benefited this nation. Look what's happened to our national cuisine alone. I mean jeez!

Ted Kennedy did that for us. And he came to embody a certain attitude -- love it or hate it or whatever -- which may have died with him. He stood for something. He meant something.

Add to that the fact that he was a Kennedy. He was the son of Joe Kennedy, ambassador and alleged bootlegger millionaire. He was brother to Joe, Jr who died on an Air Corps mission in WWII, and brother to Jack who skippered PT 109 and survived to become a senator and later President of a Camelot White House before his murder. He was brother to Robert, murdered on the night of his triumphal victory in the 1968 California primary -- that terrible year of political murders. He was their blood kin, of their generation. My parents' generation.

And it passed with him.

I recall the November day in 1963 when John Kennedy as killed. We lived in a Dallas suburb at the time. I remember my mother sobbing on her bed. I remember not knowing what to do because I was still just a boy. And now the question arises. Why did she cry? She didn't know him. He was unrelated to her. He was a stranger. He was a glamorous, powerful man with a glamorous wife who lived a life so disconnected from the suburban reality of my mother's existence that they may as well have been separated by an ocean. But she sobbed that November afternoon for what had happened to him. And for what had happened to us. He meant something to us.

I once wrote a review of a show of Warhol's Jackie paintings which was presented in the building Lee Harvey Oswald used for his sniper's perch that awful day. My editor cut a line I'd written about our all being widowed after the killing of our President. But it was the memory of my mother sobbing that led me to write it. How can you explain that to an editor?

When Jackie died years later my mother bought a ticket to Europe. She had to get away even though she was retired and not flush with disposable cash. "That woman was too young to die" she explained. Jackie meant something. True or false, she meant something.

Ted wasn't John. Everybody knows that. He wasn't Bobby either. But he was ours. He was a Kennedy. And he was the last of them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hardiness zones and climate change

The USDA is reportedly redrawing its plant hardiness zone map this year. Last time the map was updated was in 1990, although the National Arboretum Web site does indicate that their map was revised in 2001. The map above is part of an update I found on the National Arbor Day Foundation site. Areas in pink represent territory which had shifted one zone warmer between 1990 and 2006.

I'm making a stencil to plaster the map on a gallery wall to accompany my Twittervore video.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


This is the first minute or so of the Twitter-based video I'm working on. As noted earlier, the pictures were harvested from PingWire which presents images hosted by three sites serving tweeters. I pulled a couple thousand pictures of cooking, eating, and sometimes growing food from the constant image stream over the course of a few weeks in July.

The soundtrack was generated by an iPhone app called Bloom, which was designed by ambient sound guru Brian Eno and programmer and musician Peter Chilvers. The app costs four bucks, but that's considerably less than I'd have to pay Eno for his services.

I jacked the iPhone into a laptop running Audacity and recorded about 22 minutes of digitally generated ambient drones, gongs and chimes, which I next imported into video editing software along with the pictures. Aside from editing out some noise and reorienting a few sideways pictures, the pictures and sound are as they were when I got them. The video presents what the Internet and my iPhone churned out while I was paying attention.

I'm starting to really get off on the whole mashup of found image/found sound and future-cheesy technology. Maybe I should run it on a stack of Commodore monitors.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Archiving stuff

I've spent some time this afternoon puttering about in Google Docs to see if it can be a useful cloud computing tool. So far, I've uploaded over a dozen art reviews with the intent of sharing them with associates and interested parties. Google made this link to one of them.

Here's another one. And a third.

I'm a lousy archivist of my own work, so I'm hoping this tool proves worthwhile. Now if I could only find the rest of my reviews.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Looming destruction

My friend Josie directed me to this video:

She saw a longer version of it last month at the Hirshorn, where the scale of the projection and the audio of the ship crushing through the ice added much to the experience. Even at this diminished scale, the imagery is powerful.