Category Archives: Art of all Kinds

Lost is Found: taken with the streets

Last night I missed an opportunity to photograph a bike light, blinking red in the middle of the dark street. It was the same type of safety device Flaming Bike had attached to the seat of my pants before literally carting me off on a grand tour of Lake Merritt that quiet night in Oakland. After our apple pie supper, chased with an apple galette dessert. I was thrilled to be her cargo that night. Grateful for the beacon attached to my rear that signaled our safe passage.

The lonely beacon wasn’t the first lost object I had come across that day. Hours before, a discarded draft of a thank you note had been in my walking path. It’s simplicity was touching. I hope the author remembered their words; wrote & sent it for real.

Forgotten thanks, or discarded draft?

Forgotten thanks, or discarded draft?

Not many steps later, a cyclist in serious spandex cased the gutter, riding slowly up and down the half-block, looking left and right, against traffic, clearly missing something. He stopped astride his mount, bent to retrieve a glove, shoved it down his shirt for safekeeping. Then carried on.

The day before, on a walk to the food Co-op, I passed a seemingly abandoned lot, gated and threatening electrocution for the unidentified, absent owner’s safekeeping. Upon closer inspection, I saw defiant plantings of vibrant succulents strewn about. The land had been reclaimed, I imagined, by its neighbors. Given life, if temporarily.

Resistance Gardening

Resistance Gardening

Documenting lost objects is not a new idea, but it intrigues me still. I look forward to sharing future findings as part of a series, “Lost is Found.”

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Lost is Found

Drumming Up an Urban Wilderness Experience

A dispatch from November

rhythms multiple permeated grass-tastic groupies who let it absorb laying, staring, points of negative dancing in the skies with unmoving whisps of clouds and softly swaying tree needles and then hoisting up, supporting behind the self gazing on the circle of spontaneous rhythm

A woman circles herself beneath within the central tree’s clearing made cooperative with its overhanging branches and makeshift seating rounds surrounding surrounded humans backwards. She fixtures, twining moving stilling, dancing in the dust made beautiful by her swirling feet bare, the easy confidence of her cloth hugged hips, the unstudied grace of the ever-altering lines of her lined arms. She is familiarly watched, fleeting between measures, up and down with the ease of someone who has been part of this for time numerous and long contained in this moment. We on the outside see her most of all; those creating the beats she stamps out lovingly take her movements for granted. We are all, old and new, grateful. We are one another made musical, made growing warmth and undulationally whole with ever flowing ecstasy externalized experienced internally eternally

“Hey, watch your cigarette.”

A non-random warning pierces our discordantly noisy quietude; emitted by the man chained to himself through orifices natural and once added, wearing a shirt of potential self-referential fractal infinity, fading yet more present than any. Realness embodied future past present personified. He embraces our senses by overwhelming them. Caretaking. Though the circle has no leaders, he is one of those with seniority. Experienced authority of autonomy collectivism rhythmic mayhem of togetherness. His sounds are listened to as other sounds surround. The bystander sitting next to two women one wheeled was lucky. Lucky to have heard this wisened warning through the rhythms changing ever to others but yet cacophonously magical in their unity with us. Though there were detractors to each set–participants with differing views–they all nevertheless joined as one sound of many sounds creating together a great harmonious dissonance.

And then the truck. The warning’s promise fulfilled. The white truck with red lights accusatory, parked upwind and menacing. Its occupant stalked us all–participants, groupies alike. We watched as he watched us. Watched him circle the beautiful circle, wary of any line-crossing any may have perpetrated as he dared to cross ours. The man’s cigarette had long been rubbed against blades damp–extinguished in expectation of this raid of harmonious dissonance. We watched. Watched as he, uniformed, circled with outsiderness. Circled suspiciously as some ignored his sunglass-veiled gaze of removal, as some glared back pretending to ignore, suspicious of his suspicion, watching for those who kept beating, unwilling to watch, watching for each other that we are not part of but are joined to more than joined to this suspicious outsider in sanctioned uniform. Unwelcome but welcomed nonchalantly as expected disturbance to the peace-making rhythms of dissonant unity. He was not done circling soon enough; we watched each other watching, hoping the other had not noticed the surveillance. He circled slowly our circle our outer circle our hipster picnics of bicycled ignorance. He in hegemonically uniformed out-of-place-ness in the place he had been made to patrol. Patrolling our invisible being he had made it visible. Had crossed our lines. But our lines will not remain broken.

And the cigarette remained out. The truck with white red lights atop left us to ourselves to our being. Left us to each other. We came back together having never been apart, repairing the invisibility of our harmony. Overwhelming the air with enormous sounds breathing in winding around the glorious rhythmically dissonant back again and ever

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Merrily Spring-boarding from a Book Review to Thoughts on Nostalgia: A Review of a Review of “Ready Player One”

In the September 5th issue of Time magazine, there was a one-page book review of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. This post isn’t going to discuss the book itself, as I haven’t read it, but rather some issues that the reviewer, Douglas Wolk, touched upon in his article.

Briefly, the book seems to be about 1980s video games being played  in a dystopian future, and one game in particular that, if beaten, can give the winner unimaginable riches. In his review, Mr. Wolk points out that this book has been talked about for a while now, and that this talk is “acutely nostalgic.” Then he goes on to a section entitled “Pop Culture Eats Itself.” Yum!

Wolk ties the excitement surrounding this novel to a particular idea presented in Simon Reynold’s Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. The idea being that the current turn in artistic expression is toward rehashing. Toward the celebration of the bygone. Toward nostalgia. Sequels and mass-culture entertainment drawn from existing stories and cultural landmarks abound. The presumption is that art used to, once upon a “better” time, strive for originality. (This is itself a nostalgic lament.) I would point out that all this re-making and referencing capitalizes on an imagined audience’s predilection for nostalgia. After all, movies and books and even some visual art gets produced because those with the money to back these projects believe that they will see a return on their investment. This artistic turn toward nostalgia that Wolk and Reynolds note we’re being bombarded with in popular culture is in no small part in the service of marketing. In the service of commodifying (self)reflexive nostalgia to feed the masses, in the hopes that they might fill the pocket-books of the creators and their patrons (if we want to stick with the idea that this is all art in some form or another).*

Onto a second, slightly related point that comes up in the article about the value of nostalgia in and of itself–at least in the world of (pop)art/culture. Again, my thoughts have strict limitations as I have not read any of the books being referenced in his review (shame on me!), but when Wolk writes that we should rue the day that science fiction starts looking toward the past (and, oh crap, thanks to Cline’s book, that day is today!), I wonder what kind of “trouble” he thinks we’re in, either creatively or socially. He concedes that “all that crap clearly meant something to people,” but bemoans the fact that Cline’s book doesn’t explore this. It just presents the 1980s games as a saving grace in and of themselves for the inhabitants of the dystopian future. (Oh yeah, there was also that winning money thing.) Wolk thinks there should be more commentary on that meaning.

Wolk essentially criticizes Cline’s novel for glorifying something that isn’t real enough; that does little to push the boundaries and say something new as it presents the nostalgic for mass consumption. Or maybe he’s angry that the glorification offers little analysis or critique. In any case, Wolk claims that this building-upon and making-new is an artist’s job, “not just to offer up comforting familiarity as a talisman against the void.” But I wonder if perhaps this could be one of the points of Cline’s book: that nostalgia is emptier than we’d like it to be.

*One final tidbit: Wolk refers to what he sees as Cline’s overuse of pop-culture references to the 1980s as “maddeningly fetishistic.” Exactly.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Book Reviews, Commodification, Media

On the Superiority of German Playgrounds: A Photo-Essay with a Dubious Argument and One-sided Evidence

During recent travels in Northern Europe (please excuse the pretentiousness) I was taken by the variety and creativity of German playground equipment. It struck me how hideous (okay, so that’s a subjective aesthetic evaluation) and clone-like the playgrounds in the U.S. tend to be. Cookie-cutter jungle-gyms, swing sets, and slides. Not much that feeds the imagination. They are getting better, but they still have a ways to go if the goal is a magical land of outdoor play-time. Feast your eyes on these German examples and see if you don’t agree that we could learn something about incorporating whimsy and general awesomeness into our parks designed for children.

First, a relatively simple one:

This mundane park in a suburb of Bremerhaven consists of two sandboxes, a slide, a swing-set, and a spring-loaded, rocking, red animal-thing. I can attest to the fun-factor of this playground, as I used it extensively during my toddler years. The equipment has been there since before I arrived on the scene in ’86, so there’s also a sturdy factor involved in the manufacturing of German playground equipment.

Next, we journey to Berlin, a grown-up playground of beautiful graffiti, imposing communist architecture, historical monuments and museums for atrocities, a nightlife catering to the unemployed masses, and somewhat surprisingly child-friendly areas. As I wandered back toward the hostel one afternoon, I came across a hippie paradise for children and their parents. Allow me to demonstrate:

This is a collaborative community project of a park geared toward the non-adult population. It went on for days and had a waffle stand (the deliciousness of which I can vouch for), a community center, an area for smaller children with hills and artsy places to climb, and postings for classes and happenings. When I visited it was still being worked on and I imagine it was an ongoing process of creativity. A man was busy shoving fence posts into the dirt as a passing boy watched, and you could hear all sorts of banging and sawing going on in the back. It was a creative mecca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also had a bunny zoo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a water section. In another area, there was a fire pit going and some dangerously steep slides for teenagers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just look at this amazing community center entrance!

As you can see from the striped tape, it was still under construction…or maybe they were trying to encourage the grass to grow.

 

Last, we journey to Bergadorf, a suburb of Hamburg, to what I affectionately and nostalgically refer to as “Dawn’s Park.”

Okay, big deal. This is just a train. It doesn’t event go anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAM! Blue elephant slide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a wiggily crocodile!

 

 

 

In conclusion, German playgrounds are superior to their U.S. counterparts because they are all like this. Seriously awesome in unique ways. So catch up, America. Don’t make me take my hypothetical offspring elsewhere for their formative years…you may never get them and their future taxes back.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Sweeping Generalizations

A Throw-back to Old Things

Something about music, and other triggers of atmosphere such as dress and attitude, just seem to transport one more easily back into imagined eras:

John Reynolds and the Rhythm Club All-Stars

Good night, all.

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Filed under Art of all Kinds, Check This Out!, Contemporary, Historical