Category Archives: Artists

Tina Escala at Burlington City Arts

This from the BCA Website: Robopoems is an interdisciplinary project created by Alm@ Pérez (Tina Escaja) that combines poetry, photography, sound, and technology that explores the intersection of robotics and humanity. Escaja creates interactive sculptures in the form of insect-like robots whose legs and bodies are engraved with bilingual poetry written from the robot’s point of view (using the artist’s original Spanish with English translation). Her creations resemble insects or spiders embodying the underlying anxiety and problematic relationship many of us have with technology. Through robotic sculptures and large-scale photographs, the artist emphasizes the existential exchange between robots and humans, correlating technology with art and poetics.

The exhibition is in the BCA Basement and that’s how Tina, AKA ALM@ PÉREZ  likes it, her clumsy, poetic robots lurching underneath the pipes and cables that enable the polished art space above, just as the exposed electronics are the inner workings of the spidery bots.

They move, they speak, they’re scared of us.

I haven’t seen the exhibition yet but I will: Tina is brilliant, innovative, always questioning. There’s a public talk Wednesday, April 17, 2019 6-7 p.m. at the BCA Center on Church Street.

NOLA zoetrope

The last time I was in NOLA – way before Katrina – I dismissed the city as a theme park. This time, I’m not here as a tourist. I’m in a real neighborhood at a residency established by the people responsible for the first Free Tibet concerts back in 1995, in a little house behind their own.

This is the Bywater, formerly the Upper Ninth Ward. It runs along the river bordered by the French Quarter and Treme. I stand in front of the levee looking up – I am beneath the river! Enormous freighters with names written in foreign alphabets crawl back and forth along the Mississippi. I climb the the steep rusty bridge over the freight train tracks and the levee and come back down to a pretty green walking trail called Crescent Park. The day is gowing hot. People wearing spandex ride fast bikes toward the French Quarter while others, heads down texting, are walking their dogs. Dogs are everywhere and they are lucky dogs because New Orleans has hundreds of dog parks made out of empty lots when the river broke the levees, buildings collapsed and eventually the rubble was taken away.

I ran into one dog today, in a voodoo supply store, a fat hairy dog riveted by something on a top shelf.

NOLA is a bowl in a swamp, where it seems the apocalypse has already happened. The survivors are in various stages of getting over it, standing up and falling down, like a Laurie Anderson song. It is a port – freight trains run along the commuter lines. it is commerce and joy, voodoo and nunneries, community and desolation. People on the street smile, they nod, they say,”how’s your day goin'” and sometimes they stop to tell you how their day is going. The clothes! Prints on stripes, dresses over shorts – this is a city that loves its skin. Po-boys are delicious, gumbo not so much, hipster cafes painted shades of orange behind shutters next to drink dives and one-stops, BMW’s with Jersey plates drive behind construction trucks and Havana Chevys and then there’s the Bark Market that sells pet supplies on one side and art supplies on the other. And the Death, Pharmacy and Chicken museums. An Improv theater in the Healing Center along with the food co-op and trance making supplies.

On my (white) side of St. Claude, soft bellied bearded men sit in cafes eating cake and reading novels, while on the other side an emaciated Haitian rides a stolen bike around in circles. The Quarter is a 20 minute walk away, as is Treme, as is downtown. It is a city of writers. Walter Percy lives on, his old writer’s group still meeting every Friday at a certain bar.

One wonders, where do the people who get pushed out go?  Houston?  Katrina didn’t do them in, they say, it was the government building substandard  levees and infrastructure, the broken pumps; it was America that almost killed them. NOLA, they explain, nodding wisely, is a blue dot in a red state.   

The cats, however stayed and multiplied.  You see them everywhere, in the stores, on stages, grooming their tails in art galleries, hunkered down on stoops, sneaking out of alleys. Always single, They patrol grocery stores, pose on cafe counters and have serious expressions. On every other porch there is a plate of half eaten food. They don’t need water because, as I said, NOLA is a bowl in a swamp.

My computer pings. It’s a weather alert but not for me: a blizzard is sweeping West to East across Northern Vermont.

Fiction wins

I’m deeply involved in a writers community in my city. It’s a Meetup group that has maybe 200 active members. When the founder disappeared (who knows the real story behind this), they (who are they?) formed a 501C3 that required a Board, so that was formed, and after their terms ran out, a second Board came forth but a year later almost all of them quit in a huff without telling anyone why, without a transition plan. Then a transitional team tried to form, but they too quit (what is it with quitting boards?) and now there is an emergency community meeting because we have to pay the rent.

This has been going on for months, and now half of us who used to be copasetic in community don’t speak to the other half: being writers, we started sending each other overly long, acrimonious, analytical and philosophical emails and neglected our own novels.

I unapologetically fled. I was able to get out of town to a residency where I determined to convince my novel to forgive me.

I’m thinking of something that happened to a famous writer whose name I’ve forgotten. She tells the story of having thought of writing a novel about – I’m quoting from Amazon here – “a researcher (female) who sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.” But she never wrote it, and in due time her idea went away and settled in the brain of another writer, Anne Patchett, who actually wrote that story, which she titled “State of Wonder”. These writers met and kissed.or

This story of course sounds too good to be true, but even if it isn’t, there’s a lesson behind it, which is more or less that there are only so many ideas floating around the universe and if you don’t write your novel, someone else will.

Clueless Murakami

Before starting Murakami’s huge (970 pages, good lord) new novel Killing Comentadore, I read Men Without Women, a slight book of short stories told to the narrator Murakami by men, some of whom are friends, others acquaintances, all of whom are currently living without women.  Some of them care, some of them don’t, and some are suicidal or dead, but what they have in common is that they are more or less clueless about the women who have vanished from their lives. The Murakami girl is either a superhero (1Q84) or she disappears never to be seen again.

Taeko Kono is one of them. And she’s nasty:

Moby Dick and Us

1 of 7 Stella Moby Dick prints at Anders Wahlstedt Gallery, NYC,

“Extracts”. 1993 1 of a series of prints exhibited at Anders Wahlstedt Fine Art, NYC

Moby Dick has inspired visual artists always and these prints are superb. I think it’s the language, the way images roll through the story. Like water. Like whales.

I opened Moby Dick the day the towers went down on 9/11 and spent the year making 100 wax prints, painting over images appropriated from the web. Seeing Stella’s “Extracts” pings my heart – where he used lattice, I used images of the towers’ twisted grid. My city was freeze-framed under water,  images of whales watching diners through broken glass.

The book is a volcano of inspiration. What is it with us and the whale? We hunted, dismembered, idolized and ate. A tremendous price for our unchecked population as we gorge ourselves on the earth’s resources.

Rereading now with the Burlington Writers Workshop lit group. Joyful! Overwhelming. Capricious. Universal. Scary, all of the above.

Rachel Cusk et al vs Don Quixote

After coming to the end of the delicious, rapturous, repetitive, raving, magnificent most-engaged-knight-in-the-entire-world Don Quixote, I’ve become obsessed with Rachel Cusk’s trilogy; Outline, Transit and Kudos. She’s the anti-Cervantes, the “dissociate artist for a dissociate age, asking from the back seat; ‘is this real life?'” So writes Patricia Lockwood in the London Review. Like so many others, I started off disliking her, and still do, but I read on.

Probably it’s the Voice. It drones seamlessly from one person’s story into the next, commenting when it feels like it, then going on to the next like a distracted, OCD dog. The voice is monotonous, without nuance. At times, it’s indistinguishable from the person it’s supposed to be conversing with. You get the sense that the Voice listens, but that it can only respond to what mirrors itself in the teller’s stories. When the Other Voice, the one telling a story (mostly men strutting their stuff) stops for breath, the Cusk Voice comes out like the cuckoo in the clock, presents its rebuttal, or its insight, which are at times so embedded with “it seems to me” and “in a kind of way” and “perhaps” as to be unfathomable, pretentious, as if ones point of view is the only proper response to a story being told by someone else.

Lorrie Moore says this: “We see that we are experiencing a presentation: a midair collusion of storytellers and pronouncers. Faye’s voice and those of the characters she encounters sometimes merge—and that is the point. However underperforming our lives may be, the stories of them are always performances. Faye makes statements that seem to announce the book’s narrative strategy: “I was beginning to see my own fears and desires manifested outside myself, was beginning to see in other people’s lives a commentary on my own.”

The Voice is hypnotic. I’m mesmerized. Cusk is traveling, and her fellow travelers are as mundane as mine are.

I’m also reading Sigrid Nunoz, The Friend, Houellebecq’s Submission and I’m paging through Karl Ove to see if it’s possible to  commit to The Struggle, which I’ve been saving for when I’m convalescing from flu. Strangely, I find no pleasure reading these authors. With some exceptions, mostly their sentences ring pithy as hammers banging through rock, stripped of imagery, lacking sensuality, self-involved with their own drama. And yet, and yet – they are driven, relentless, trance inducing.

I came to Cusk late because along with Sheila Hati and Claudia Day  (whose recent article in the Paris Review begins with “I wrote the first draft of my novel Heartbreaker in a ten-day mania in August 2015” – I’m supposed to want to read this?) she was part of the New Motherhood, what it means, what price you pay, how to write a novel with children hanging from your clothing sucking your blood. I admit that the topic doesn’t interest me, I simply don’t care;  the topic brings out the worst in me, the me that says, Yes, giving birth is a big deal, yes domesticity is the death of freedom, yes, it is the birthing of the death of another and yes, it’s also a big deal to write a novel while a mother. Yes yes yes, there are consequences for everything, get over it, find something else to write about.  Aside from Patty Smith and Keith Richards, who have a ball writing about their =interesting, demonic lives, I can’t think of a memoir worth writing.

What it boils down for me to is this: Everything in life is someone’s drama, and eventually, unless it is transformed into language, paint, color, rhythm, movement, conversation; story; into beauty, it feels like just one more voice  grinding away in the background with the clothes dryer.

Which, if you’re DeLilio, or Robert Altman and maybe Rachel – well, drone on.

UBU ROI, our nightmare

We’ve considered him stupid, moronic, evil, incompetent, mad, racist, misogynistic, a pedophile, self-aggrandizing, lying, stupefying,  narcissistic, character flawed, disgusting We’ve mocked his hair, his ties, his mouth, his little fingers, his wife, his children , his bone spurs, his deal-making, education, university, his gold leaf, his diet, the elevator, his advisors, cabinet and his lack of a dog. We call him a clown and we make Ubu Roi his avatar, Pere Ubu, Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic joke of a dictator who wants to be the king of Poland. That play so horrified its audience, it closed the night of its premier, but this performance has lasted over 500 days to become a national – no, a global – nightmare.  

At this moment, his most despicable action is holding hostage immigrant children to get his way – he wants his wall, and Congress is figuring out how to give it to him.

If you see this woman, call….

So, say the perpetrator returns the rock to its rightful owner, the river. Does the river owe her $17,500? Does Yoko owe the river for the rocks she took? If  she took 200 rocks from the river, that makes $3,500,000.00 minus gallery rental, transportation, labor, taxes, adjusting for inflation.  Still, not bad, for a river.

 

Woman Steals $17,500 Rock from Yoko Ono Installation

 

Egyptian Blue, transmission

A  painter friend visited a cemetery in Egypt. She was walking with her family when she saw in the distance a robed woman who seemed to be throwing something from a bag on the desert floor.  She hurried ahead and saw that this woman, amongst others, was tossing handfuls of ground pigment into a tomb, or maybe into several tombs. The pigment color, a dense, bright blue, was extraordinary against the muted neutral tones of the desert landscape. The photos she took show an open, domed beehive structure, a tholos tomb,  the floor saturated with layers of this intense pigment, also with dried corn kernels. In one photo, a man stands to the side with a broom. At one point, he offered my friend the broom; for her to do some sweeping? Or perhaps for him to sweep for her? – she has no idea.

The history of the color is intriguing.  It was developed around 2600 as an alternate pigment to the rare and expensive mineral lapis lazuli, made from sand, copper, and sodium-carbonate, CaCuSi4O10m, a testament to the skills of the chemists of antiquity who understood how to control the temperature needed for successful synthesis. Amazing too was its consistency over time until it was “lost” during the dark ages. Lost and found again, when in 2009 it was discovered that Egyptian blue shows exceptional luminescence (it has since been made into a crayon), indicating its possible use in imaging devices.

But here’s what really intrigues me: new research shows that Egyptian blue produces infra-red radiation like that used by TV remotes. In other words, when compressed into infinitesimally thin sheets and compressed, the infrared quality of  Egyptian Blue makes it a communication device.

So,  back to the modern Egyptian women spreading layers of artificial blue pigment embedded with corn kernels in desert tombs. Assuming my friend hasn’t happened on a performance piece, maybe we can consider this scene a ritual having to do with decorating a tomb as Pharaoh’s was decorated and also providing the dead with what it needs in the next world, in this case, the color blue, which we now consider a medium for communication. And isn’t this a universal desire, as witness, for example, my dog Bandit buried under a tree with his bowl.

I also like to think that in some cellular way, the ancient world understood that this exquisite color is capable of communicating through layers of existence.

Equality?

Equality is a great idea unless it means we should all be equal white people.

Nowhere in the culture do I see white people expressing a desire to be persons of color. That said, I do see a growing awareness that people of color are not just victims of white people with whom we need to empathize,  We’re evolving, to be sure; it’s no longer legally possible to enslave, torture, appropriate other people to do the bidding of white people…except perhaps in the way that white people make celebrities out of  black people for entertainment. I experience Beyonce not as a white person in black face, but more as a  black person in whiteface (an imitation of her heritage for consumption by others.)

We’ve evolved to the point – with the help of affirmative action, guilt, fury, activism, pressure –  of integrating people of color into elitist institutions. As long as the institutions value all imaginations, histories and experiences, this is a welcome step, unless the message is,  “how to be white”.

Equality is possible when the imaginations, histories, desires,  of “other” peoples and cultures are equally weighted with those of white people; when the imagination of an artist of color is of equal interest, on its own terms, without white interpretation, and is a vital participant in the history of art, music, literature, then we have forgotten the word”tolerance”, which is really a demeaning term.

As usual, the arts lead: Here’s a short list of contemporary artists of color with individual approaches to identity:

Bethany Collins
Rashid Johnson
Kara Walker
Ellen Gallagher
Chris Ofili
Ifeoma Anyaeji
Marc Bradford
Kehinde Wiley
Mel Edwards
Kerry James Marshall
Yunka Shonibare
David Hammons

So many more.

Widewalls.com has an interesting conversation: “The cultural identity is defined by both its own members’ living experience and the search for a definition and the perceptions of others, especially those in power. How does the racial identity of an artist affect the way they create art and the perception of it by the masses?

Where My Girls At?  20 black female artists with current solo exhibitions.

Artnet.com: 10 black artists to celebrate.

Culturetype.com: Major African American Contemporary Artists

Hyperallergic: for a take on some 1971 history