Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Sharing (My Finds Are Yours)

There's art here, and poetry, plus the story of "Guerrilla Gardner" Scott. Enjoy today's Saturday Sharing!

✭ A beautiful collection of cycling illustrations is on display at the London Transport Museum until August 22. This bike blog also has some interesting features for enthusiasts.

✭ In June, The New York Times' Learning Network inaugurated a new feature: Poetry Pairings. The feature is a collaborative effort involving American Life in Poetry, whose sole mission is to promote poetry. Supported by the Poetry Foundation, ALP provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poets. For Poetry Pairings, NYT is contributing content from The Times that "echoes, extends or challenges" the words and themes of ALP's weekly poem. Since the first post on June 17, the series has paired NYT content with poems by, among others, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Patricia Frolander, and Donal Heffernan, each introduced briefly by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. Add Poetry Pairings to your blog roll; it's an inspired way to read NYT content and introduce yourself to poets with whom you might not be familiar.

✭ You don't have to be a scientist to appreciate the beauty produced by a new brain mapping technique that uses viruses to highlight neurons in colors and create detailed visuals of how information travels through the brain. See "A Color-Coded Guide to the Brain" (the first image looks like an extraordinary work of fiber art) and then go here, where you'll find additional imagery and related videos.

✭ Whatever else you might think of velvet paintings, you can't deny the originality of this one created with cheese puffs. Cheesy art reaches a new level here.

✭ Meet guerrilla gardener Scott from Los Angeles:

Guerilla Gardener from Mathieu Young on Vimeo.

✭ Sculptor Tony Tasset created Chicago's "Eye", which was unveiled in Pritzker Park on July 7 and will be in place until the end of October. Want to know how Tasset produced the painted fiberglass installation? Watch this:

Friday, July 30, 2010

All Art Friday

All Art Friday

A World of Art via Video

Annenberg Media offers an exceptionally fine group of art-related videos on demand: "A World of Art: Works in Progress". Described as "a video instructional series on art appreciation for college and high school classrooms and adult learners", the selection of half-hour programs on contemporary artists should find favor with anyone interested in creativity and art-making, as well as critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. The series, which covers painting (Hung Li, Judy Baca, Milton Resnick, June Wayne), photography (Lorna Simpson), multi-media (Lorna Simpson) sculpture (Beverly Buchanan), video (Bill Viola), and performance art (Goat Island, Guillermo Gomez-Pena), is educational without being stuffy or high-brow; it takes us directly to artists' studios and print-making facilities, and allows them to speak in their own words about their sources of inspiration, methods, techniques, and aspirations. The program on June Wayne, which I recently watched, was one of the very best I've seen. Enjoy! The time you invest is well-spent.

The series is produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Check this catalog to browse other offerings.

Call for Artists to Share Their Stories

NOTE: Wednesday of this week brought the sad news that Chris Al-Aswad, founder of and immensely talented powerhouse behind Escape Into Life, had died. His funeral is tomorrow in Chicago. Chris' sudden death came as a shock to all who knew him, both online and off. He had just turned 31 on July 16.

I told Chris several weeks ago that I was planning to post the brief item below. (I didn't have the heart to delete it today, because it represents how Chris used social media to bring attention to others through their own stories.) His reply was a typically Chris response: "Awesome. That means so much to me." As someone noted on Twitter yesterday, the first and last thing Chris always said was, "Thank you."

I knew Chris only in the virtual world. It was one to which he gave every day, all day, and what he gave is very real. I marveled at Chris' drive and energy, the demands he placed on himself to identify and feature the very best in the arts, especially the visual arts and poetry, the huge community of creative resources he built at Escape Into Life (he created it in 2009 to honor his late mother, Rosalind Al-Aswad, also an artist), his constant encouragement, unfailing politeness, and enormous store of knowledge. He was himself a very talented writer. He lived life with rare passion. (A very good interview he gave in late 2008 is here.)

Those who wish to offer condolences to Chris' family or share thoughts or memories may sign a Guest Book here or post to his FaceBook page.

* * * * *
If you're an artist, chances are you have a story to tell about your creative life — some "art history" to share or maybe a favorite technique or tool that aids your work. Escape Into Life is inviting all artists to contribute stories, as well as several images of artwork, to its online journal project: "Lives of the Artists". There's no deadline. The journal will be updated continually as your stories come in.

For the latest published autobiographies for "Lives of the Artists", go here.

Exhibitions Here and There

✭ Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, is showing works by influential American portraitist Alice Neel (1900 - 1984) in "Alice Neel: Painted Truths". This major retrospective, which continues through September 17, includes showings of a documentary about the artist that was directed by Alice Neel's grandson Andrew Neel, as well as a film by American-French video artist Michel Auder that shows Neel painting a pregnant nude. 

✭ D. Wigmore Fine Art, New York City, is presenting "Op Out of Ohio: Anonima Group, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Julian Stanczak in  the 1960s" through September 3. 

The show of more than 30 paintings from 1959-1970 by Richard Anuszkiewicz, Julian Stanczak, and the Anonima Group's Ernst Benkert, Francis Hewitt, and Edwin Mieczkowski includes four paintings from the Museum of Modern Art's 1965 op art exhibition, the groundbreaking "The Responsive Eye". A New York Times review of the exhibition is here.

Image above left: Edwin Mieczkowski, "Iso-Local", 1965, acrylic on masonite, 24" x 24", signed, titled and dated verso; D. Wigmore Fine Art

Images for the MOMA's "The Responsive Eye"

Video, "The Responsive Eye, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (Mike Wallace narrates.)

Wikipedia's Op Art

✭ The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., is showing "June Wayne's 'Dorothy Series'" through September 13.  Wayne, a master printmaker who founded Tamarind Lithography Workshop, created in 1975-79 with Ed Hamilton of Hamilton Press a set of lithographic narratives about the life of her mother Dorothy Kline, a women's rights campaigner with a successful sales career (in corsets). In creating the series, Wayne used photographs, contents of scrapbooks, and such ephemera as a pair of heels and a handbag. 

A video of "The Dorothy Series" is available for single viewings on Wayne's Website

Wayne's "Palomar Series" is here. Other images of Wayne's extraordinary work is here.

Read "June Wayne Isn't About to Mellow Out" and view an audio slide show with Wayne (the latter includes her fabulous tapestries).

Tamarind, now a division of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, celebrates 50 years in September. Jim Dine has created several special commemorative prints. Tamarind's print inventory, by artist, is here.

✭ The Seattle Art Museum is exhibiting through August 29 "Everything Under the Sun: Photographs by  Imogen Cunningham". Be sure to watch the video on the exhibition page. For other current exhibits at the museum, go here.

✭ The American Craft Council show, the largest juried craft show in the West, opens in San Francisco August 13 at Fort Mason Center. It closes August 15. Details are here.

Prospect New Orleans

Contemporary art curator and writer Dan Cameron conceived and founded in 2007 U.S. Biennial, Inc., a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in New York City whose express purpose is to contribute to New Orleans' revitalization by creating an infrastructure that supports and promotes art tourism: Prospect New Orleans. The idea, according to Cameron, is to "make Prospect New Orleans a model example of how art can promote social justice and be a catalyst for the revitalization of a historic American city." (In the video below, Cameron explains what the organization intends to accomplish. An Art:21 interview with Cameron is here.)

The organization's first  iteration of an art biennial, Prospect.1, described as the largest biennial of international contemporary art in the U.S., was held from November 2007 to January 2008. It attracted 42,000  visitors (22,000 from outside New Orleans) and generated more than $23 million in economic activity. Many of the works exhibited drew directly from New Orleans' culture and traditions. Prospect.2, for which Cameron is again the curator, is slated to open November 5, 2011, and run until February 3, 2012. It is expected to double the number of visitors and produce even greater economic and cultural benefits for the city. As with Prospect.1, the next biennial will seek to "galvanize local art creation and entrepreneurial activity"; it will showcase work of 62 artists from more than 20 countries, including 10 from New Orleans and 35 who are U.S.-based; each artist will be assigned a dedicated exhibition space in one of 16-20 venues around the city.

Cameron is also director of visual arts for New Orleans' Contemporary Arts Center, the principal venue for Prospect.1 and a site for group shows and solo exhibits by such artists as Luis Cruz Azaceta.

A more recent initiative is The Prospectors Club, created to provide a fundraising base and outreach support for Prospect.2. Its membership is limited to women who live in the greater New Orleans community who would like to become "arts ambassadors", promoting the biennial to residents and helping visiting artists and tourists feel welcome. Among planned Prospectors Club events is a tour of local artists' studios and curatorial lectures. (Complete details about the Club are available on Prospect's Website.)

In addition, anyone may join Friends of Prospect New Orleans, which offers a range of benefits, depending on membership levels.

Prospect New Orleans on Twitter

Prospect New Orleans on FaceBook

Dan Cameron Introduces Prospect New Orleans from Newgray Design & Consultancy on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pioneer Claypainter Joan C. Gratz

The pioneer of a painstaking animation technique called "claypainting" that produces a seamless flow of images, Joan C. Gratz is an artist, film director, and producer of numerous award-winning commercials whose Graztfilm studio is based in Portland, Oregon. 

Gratz wrote the text and created the illustrations for the whimsical book Downward-Facing Frog: Yoga Practices and Etiquette in the Animal Kingdom (2002). 

Below is Gratz's marvelous art history film, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, which she produced in 1992 and for which she won, among other prizes, an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. It features flat, two-dimensional animations of paintings of 35 20th Century artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and Dali. To create it, Gratz first created in colored clay her versions of the famous painters' works, animated parts of them, and then morphed them into each other. Her use of bits of colored clay during the frame-by-frame filming (or stop-motion) process allows for repositioning and re-blending of colors, in the way that "wet" oils or acrylic paints might be blended on canvas. 

Gratz's Website features excerpts from several other short films, including The Creation (1982) and Pro and Con (1993), as well as Puffer Girl (2009), for which Gratz uses digital photography. She also co-directed, with Joanna Priestley, Candyjam (1988), a collaboration involving 10 animators from four countries; and was the animator for Dinosaurs: A Fun Filled Trip Back in Time (1987). In addition, she was set decorator for The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Will's Real Place (Poem)

In Will's Real Place

As memory chinks fall away
and the mouth holding

its now full-hushed voice
agitates to give them the breath of life —

remember the way, once, hurled
from the tip of an acid-etched tongue,

words burned through skin and bone,
cleaving protective muscle —

and all that you can hear besides,
the cut-off and clinking on again

of finely calibrated but unseen equipment
steadying the temperature for others'

convenience and the constant thrum
of overhead tubes of fluorescent light

breaking time with the soft-padded grip
of white shoes moving room to room

to take the evening's counts,
who that is more than a thought keeps you

company, salves your palsied hand
with mists of lavender-enriched emollients

to draw from you the yesterday
lost to your cells' destruction?

In this place a plastic bracelet round the wrist
holds the notion of your identity

better than your mind
the reassurance we're right here.

Your chart neatly accepts the growth in numbers
tallied methodically with every slip of response

failing the newest most aggressive
treatments. Still, we check what we can

leave behind in so unfamiliar territory,
which whispers in your good left ear

will fix you with character enough to rally
chapter and verse against the thinning stream

of spittle, let you run your course your way,
even as a decision made months and years ago,

signed and dated and notary-stamped,
settled how it would end when the end nears.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

Last week, the High Calling Blogs launched a community writing project, "We Are Real", inviting network members to submit posts about how real online relationships can become. Many who know me know that for some time I've been a member of OurCancer, an online community at NPR that fosters relationships as tight and as real and as sustaining as possible when you live daily with pain and suffering, dying and death, but also and especially with stories of recovery and hope. This poem is a kind of composite expression of some of what is shared as very real experiences in a virtual place where emotions run high and everyone pulls together. It is also the story of a friend who died without having had the benefit of a place even remotely like OurCancer.

Wednesday Wonder: Magician David Blaine

Magic is really simple. It's practice, training, and experimenting
 while pushing through the pain to be the best I can be.
~ David Blaine

He's been Buried Alive and Frozen in Time! He's suffered Vertigo while standing for 35 hours on top of a pillar more than 100 feet high.

But David Blaine isn't just a stunt man.

* * * * *

David Blaine, as some readers may know, is a magician. And magic, as we also know, is all about artful illusion. Illusion doesn't always work, however, as Blaine discovered when he decided to break the world record for holding his breath under water.

In this TED Talk, Blaine describes the experience of learning what he had to do to achieve a world record. He explored the possibilities of many "insane ideas" and found himself up against barriers he had not expected, each one of which he took as a serious challenge.

As a magician, I think everything is possible.
 If it's done by one person, it can be done by anybody.

Watch as Blaine works everything out while pushing through his pain.

David Blaine's bio is here.

New York Times article on Blaine is here.

Stand With Haiti

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Up There

They do it dozens of storeys above the ground, pushed by winds and swinging dangerously over the streets far below.

They do it in searing heat, in rain, and in freezing cold, their fingers numbed and their shoulders and necks aching.

They do it for hours straight, in an "old school" tradition being lost to modern technology.

They do it only after long apprenticeship, starting first with learning the rigging ropes they need to climb the sides of buildings and work in place.

They do it up there, these men who hand-paint ads.

UP THERE from Jon on Vimeo.

The documentary Up There was shot in New York City as part of The Ritual Project commissioned by Stella Artois. The three-week project, which tells the story both of the craft of wall painting and the men who do it, culminated in a 20' x 50 ' stop-frame animation, the start-to-finish parts of which can be found here.

Go to the "Project Journal" for profiles, interviews, images, and other related materials that capture the day-by-day creation of the documentary.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Muse: Alaska's State Writer Laureate

Nancy Lord is Alaska's State Writer Laureate. She accepted the position in 2008 and will complete her two-year term in October 2010. She succeeds John Straley (2006 -2008), Jerah Chadwick (2004 - 2006), and Anne Hanley (2002 - 2004). Nine others have held the job: Richard Nelson (2000), Tom Sexton (1995), Joanne Townsend (1988), Richard Dauenhauer (1981), Shiela Nickerson (1977), Ruben Gaines (1973), John Haines (1969), Oliver Everette (1965 - 1967), and Margaret Mielke (1963 - 1965). 

The creation of the position of Poet Laureate, which is an honorary appointment, was approved by the state legislature in 1963 (House Resolution 25). Its name was changed officially in 1996 to recognize and honor all genres of writing. 

The incumbent is selected by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The honoree must demonstrate literary excellence (mastery in style, form, and genre), as well as exemplary professionalism and talent as shown in published work, and be committed to advancing the literary arts in Alaskan communities.

Among other duties, the State Writer Laureate represents Alaska and the state arts council while conducting workshops and giving readings in communities, schools, and libraries. Lord's schedule includes appearances at  the Alaska Book Festival in Fairbanks this October and on other writers' panels.

* * * * *

Nancy Lord has published essays, commentaries, short stories, fiction, creative nonfiction, and a play. Her work includes The Man Who Swam with Beavers (Coffee House Press, 2001), Survival (Coffee House Press, 1991; out of print), and The Compass Inside Ourselves (Fireweed Press, 1984; out of print); Beluga Days: Tracking a White Whale's Truths (Counterpoint Press, 2004), Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast (Counterpoint Press, 1999), and Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore (Island Press, 1997); and a memoir/essay collection titled Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life (University of Nebraska Press, 2009). She plans to publish in January 2011 Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North (Counterpoint Press).  

Lord has taught fiction, nonfiction, and memoir writing at Kenai Peninsula College/University of Alaska, has served as a visiting writer in Alaska schools and in colleges and universities across the United States, and participates in the Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference. In addition, she has completed writing residencies (Bread Loaf, MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden International Retreat, Ucross Foundation) nationally and abroad. She was for many years a commentator for NPR's Living on Earth program.

Stories and essays by Lord have appeared in Ploughshares, Alaska Quarterly Review, North American Review, and many other literary journals and magazines, and her work has been published in numerous anthologies.

Lord is the recipient of a 2003 Pushcart Prize.


Lord's University of Alaska/Anchorage Bio

49 Writers' Blog (For Lord's posts, go here.)

Brief Summaries of Lord's Books

"Two Worlds, One Whale" and "Native Tongues",  Essays in Sierra Magazine

Andromeda Romano Lax's Interview with Lord (December 2008)

Excerpt from Beluga Days

Alaska Humanities Forum  and Humanities Alaska (Blog)

Alaska State Council on the Arts

Alaska Writers

Alaska Writers Guild

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thought for the Day

The power of poetry is derived
from an indefinable harmony
between what it says and what it is.
Indefinable is essential to the definition.
~ Paul Valery

Paul Valery, 1871 - 1945, French Poet, Essayist, and Philosopher

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saturday Sharing (My Finds Are Yours)

Impress your summer party guests with your knowledge of the history of women's undergarments, "Beat Generation" writers, or the Hidden World of Girls. You'll find links to all these eclectic offerings in today's edition of Saturday Sharing.

✭ If you can't get enough of Jack Kerouc, William S. Burroughs, or other "Beat Generation" writers, you need "Your Primary Source for Beat Literature": Third Mind Books, Arthus S. Nusbaum's resource by and for collector-enthusiasts. 

✭ Writers looking for a way to manage their submissions to literary magazines now have this electronic tool to help them: Tell It Slant.

✭ H. Kristina Haughland, associate curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art gives a fascinating art-historical talk on "Revealing Garments: A Brief History of Women's Underwear". Haughland draws from artwork, advertisements, cartoons, literary sources, and surviving garments to reveal past and current attitudes and ideas about beauty, hygiene, modesty, and respectability and aesthetics as revealed through women's undergarments. (The video is just over an hour in length.)

✭ On June 30, National Public Radio broadcast "Shooting Inmates: A Photographer Copes with Grief". It is the story of photographer Deborah Luster's project, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, a project to take formal portraits of inmates in three Louisiana prisons: Transylvania Prison Farm, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, and Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Luster took up photography following the death of her mother, victim of a contract murder in 1988. Luster's images from the project are as remarkable as her own story. She made more than 1,000 of them, using an old-fashioned silver plate technique, which gives the images a 19th Century tin-type feel, and printing them in black and white on pocket-size metal sheets. She gave each inmate she photographed a paper copy of his or her portrait.

Poet C.D. Wright was a collaborator on the project.

A video made during an exhibition of her images follows:

NPR's story is part of an international, online, year-long series, The Hidden World of Girls, on which it is collaborating with The Kitchen Sisters. The concept behind Hidden World is to create a database of intimate diary entries (images or scans of diary pages) that produces a "tapestry" of life experiences. Submissions are made through The Hidden World of Girls Flickr group. Go here and here for details. Other NPR features in the special series are summarized and accessible here.

✭ The social activist group The Raging Grannies is the subject of a documentary by Pam Walton, Raging Grannies: The Action League. Take 22 minutes to watch Walton's video of this extraordinary group of women who protest against injustice nonviolently all over the San Francisco Bay Area. A radio interview with the Grannies and Walton is here. A brief Curve magazine feature on the Grannies is here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

All Art Friday

All Art Friday

Focus on Virginia Artists: Potter Richard Busch

Clay artist Richard Busch owns Glenfiddich Farm Pottery, which operates out of a converted 170-year-old dairy barn in Leesburg, Virginia, atop Catoctin Mountain. Busch took up pottery in the 1980s, after a career in magazine editing and writing and photography.

Busch's wheel-thrown and hand-built ceramics are functional, Asian-inspired stoneware — vessels, bowls, plates, teapots, oil jars, cookie jars, garlic keepers, mugs, sake sets, planters, bird houses — and each is stamped with a deer symbol (the pottery takes it name from the Celtic word for "valley of the deer"). Busch achieves his beautiful natural glazes through a two-stage process that includes firing in a salt kiln that Busch built and that he describes in detail on his Website. 

Busch has studied with such master potters as Sybil West of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and Malcolm Davis, formerly a campus minister who now has a mountaintop studio in Upshur County, West Virginia, where he creates work internationally recognized for its shino-type glazes. Busch also has traveled to Japan to research and write about Japanese potters (see his Website for his interesting posts). He sells his work primarily from his studio and showroom by appointment and through galleries and juried exhibitions throughout the United States. He holds several shows and sales a year at the pottery.

Tjelda vander Meijden's "Present Water" Film

Artist Tjelda vander Meijden, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, has added to her Website a new film that shows off her wonderful paintings and prints, the most recent of which address environmental issues. Travel with her to Iceland, Argentina, Baffin Island, the Arctic and Antarctica, and other locales for her plein air work. The film is beautifully produced. Her "Present Water" series may be viewed here.

Meijden most recently exhibited in June, with Rosemary Cooley, at Washington Printmakers Gallery, Silver Spring, Maryland. Go here to see their work for that show.

Exhibitions Here and There

✭ Printmaker Terry Svat's three-dimensional print-collages on canvas, etchings, collagraphs, and mixed-media works appear in "The Unbroken Line: A Cast of Characters" at Washington Printmakers Gallery. The works are on view until August 1. 

Image shown at left: Terry Svat, "New Life", solar plate etching on Arches cover, 12" x 18"

A graduate of George Washington University Art Therapy Program, Svat has studied, taught, and exhibited her work world-wide. She is a practicing art therapist and art therapy instructor at GW. She is also a member of Washington Printmakers; go here to view her WPG profile.

The Art League in Alexandria, Virginia, is showing Megan Coyle's "Stories in Paper" through August 2. Her collages are crafted from layered and differently shaped bits of magazine photos that give the effect of abstracted paintings. Using her painterly technique, Coyle creates portraits, scapes, animals, and still lifes; she also works on commission. Her exhibition "The Animal Kingdom" will be on view at Goodwin Gallery in Alexandria from August 1 to September 25.

✭ Some 50 sculptures and installations of Charles LeDray are on view through October 17 in the exhibition "workworkworkworkwork" at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts. The New York-based artist creates hand-made miniature sculptures in stitched fabrics, carved bone, and wheel-thrown clay, as well as small-scale, thought-provoking vignettes of second-hand clothing shops. The ICA show includes LeDray's Throwing Shadows, a ceramic work of more than 3,000 black porcelain vessels, each less than two inches tall. Be sure to view the slideshow on the exhibition page. Below is LeDray's extraordinary installation Like a Memory: Perspectives on Men's Suits, three still-lifes in miniature. The Telegraph reviewed Like a Memory here. Additional images of LeDray's work are here.

Like a Memory: Perspectives on Mens Suits from Artangel on Vimeo.

✭ The Museum of Fine Arts, also in Boston, opens "Nicholas Nixon: Family Album" on July 28. The show, on view until May 1, 2011, features in its entirety Nixon's well-known series of portraits of the Brown sisters, whom Nixon photographs each year. Also included are Nixon's photographs of daily life with Bebe, his wife, and their children, as well as self-portraits. Go here to view images of the Brown Sisters from 1975 to 2009. Other selected images are here. Another very good source of information about Nixon, selections of images, reviews, and interviews is here.

✭ Rockland, Maine's Farnsworth Art Museum is presenting a number of noteworthy exhibitions: "Alex Katz: New Work", recent work from the artist's own collection, through December 31; "Louise Nevelson", also through the end of the year; and "A Bird's Eye View: Journeying Through 21st Century Climate Change", a multimedia, interdisciplinary, and collaborative exhibition of work by 35 students, which may be seen through August 29. Other exhibitions at the museum, which includes the Wyeth Center, are listed here.

Sound Installation Artistry

In the hands of Swiss artist Zimoun, plastic bags, motors, styrofoam, wood, wires, hoses, and other materials are the stuff of sounds that many of us probably wouldn't or haven't bothered to listen to. This video offers an excellent introduction to Zimoun's sound sculptures and installations. More videos of his work are here.

Zimoun : Sound Sculptures & Installations | Compilation Video V1.9 from ZIMOUN VIDEO ARCHIVE on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Crude Story

In another place where a different story began at another time in the last century, the crude also flowed, producing a black gold to propel the powerful engines of commerce and an environmental disaster dubbed the Amazon's Chernobyl.

In the jungle, Big Oil — in the guise of Texaco, which merged in 2001 with Chevron — consumed voraciously and, it is alleged, dumped toxic petrochemical waste from its operations into open pits or directly into water and soil.* Three decades later, its appetite sated, the company decamped, leaving behind for the indigenous in the rainforests of Ecuador water, air, and land reeking of poisons. Soon, rates of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and other serious health ailments among los afectados ("the affected") increased in the "death zone" the size of Rhode Island.

Claims got made, charges hurled and denied. And Big Oil's representatives, accompanied by a judge and attorneys, among them New York lawyer Steven Donziger for los afectados, paraded out of the courtroom to trudge to and through the fields of massive alleged contamination. In turn came journalists, a 60 Minutes crew among them, politicians, and celebrities and, eventually, filmmaker Joe Berlinger.

For three years, Berlinger investigated and filmed and finally in 2009, at the Sundance Film Festival, debuted his results: Crude: The Real Price of Oil. The documentary, the trailer for which is below, has been screened all over the world and has won award after award. It also has become part of the legal proceedings: Berlinger was ordered to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of  raw film footage, an order he fought vigorously. Just days ago, that order was modified. 

Up against a $27 billion environmental lawsuit (to date, the largest of its kind in history), Chevron holds firm and the complex legal wrangling and high drama continue. Meanwhile, the degradation of the land and its ecosystem remains unremediated or poorly remediated and human suffering goes on. Berlinger, noting that it took almost 20 years to appeal the Exxon Valdez judgment, has said "it will be generations before this case is fully resolved."

Bear witness, and as Berlinger asks, "[T]hink about why this story matters to us all."

* The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador states in its literature that experts' estimates are that "approximately 345 million gallons or pure crude were discharged into Ecuador's rainforest and waterways relied on by local groups for fishing, bathing, and drinking. For decades, Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic oil wastes, 17 million gallons of oil, and left over 900 unlined oil pits in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. The contamination has decimated indigenous groups in Ecuador and caused an outbreak of illness, birth defects, and cancers that account for at least 1,400 deaths." Recently, the organization sponsored a cultural exchange between Bayou Native American  tribes affected by the BP oil disaster and leaders of Ecuador's indigenous communities devastated by Chevron's oil contamination.

Blog with Case Updates

Press Kit with Synopsis, Director's Statement, Timeline of Events in Case, Interview with Filmmaker, and Biographies of Key Figures

Interview, "Joe Berlinger and the Moral Imperative of 'Crude'", The Huffington Post, September 3, 2009

Esme McAvoy, "Who Will Pay for Amazon's 'Chernobyl'?", The Independent, January 10, 2010

Deborah Zabarenko, "Is Oil Giant Chevron Afraid of a Movie?", Reuters, September 9, 2009

You Tube: Amazon Crude on 60 Minutes: Part 1 and Part 2

The Berlinger documentary is available on DVD.

Among many other organizations, Amazon Watch, Human Rights Watch, EarthRights International, Amazon Defense Coalition, Witness, and The Campaign for Justice in Ecuador, support the case against Chevron.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Down on the Farm

I didn't grow up knowing my parents as farmers. By the time I was born, the fourth in a family that eventually grew to nine children, my parents had left the last farm where they'd work, raising cattle in The Plains, Virginia. I remember little of any talking they might have done about their employment as hired hands, except that they always described the work as dirty, never-ending, and thankless. From the time she was "old enough" until she married at 19 and left home, my mother worked in her parents' greenhouse—and hated it, so perhaps farming would not have counted among the vocations she might have imagined for herself had she been able to attend college as her three sisters did. My father, orphaned at four and for some period a ward of the State of Massachusetts until he was, literally, farmed out, always worked for his keep. Sun-up to sun-down was how he lived, no excuses, ever. His hands did the work.

Virginia is a place that if you travel far enough beyond Arlington County, where I live, you'll find yourself amid acres and acres of farmland — miles-long rows of corn, bean fields, apple orchards, hillsides with sheep and Angus or Charlet cattle — beautiful horse country, and home-based stands off gravel roads where basket after basket of just-picked fruits and vegetables, home-made jams and jellies, pies unlike any sold in stores, native honey, hand-dipped candles, and fresh meats are available to haul home. In the fall, especially as Halloween nears, some local farms hold Farm Days, and offer hay rides, mazes, and "petting zoos" for children. The latter are the closest most children from the Washington, D.C., area's urban and suburban communities get to draft horses, pigs, sheep, or dairy cows, or a stream stocked with fish and visited by wild ducks.

Farming is alive still and, some might even say, well. But how many of us know, live next door to, or regularly exchange pleasantries with a farmer? How many of us have ever given money to support a farmer's operations? Who among us gives a second thought to the source of the food we eat daily, to the people whose orchards provide the apples in our lunch bags, raise the chickens for our egg sandwiches, cure the ham for our Easter dinners, shear the wool for our winter scarves, make the cheese we serve as hors d'ouevres, or grow the sunflowers that grace our tables?

If you asked your children to describe the word "farmer", what would they say? Could they tell you in which states other than Iowa farmers sow wheatfields? Would they mention Florida's orange groves, California's lettuce fields, Illinois' soybean farms, Massachusetts' cranberry bogs, Virginia's peanut crops, or Maine's apple orchards?

Do any of us today have a realistic idea about what it takes to start and sustain a farming life?

Start here.

In 1999, the nonprofit Maine Farmland Trust was created to help preserve farmland and ensure the economic viability of the state's farmers. More recently, it has undertaken to cultivate appreciation of and support for Maine agriculture, to "keep Maine farms farming".

The trust, which indicates that Maine has added 1,000 farms over the last decade, commissioned  filmmakers Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann of Pull-Start Pictures to produce "Meet Your Farmer", a series of short documentaries highlighting the lives and farming operations of eight different families in Maine. The films take as their subjects Tide Mill Farm, which raises vegetables, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and beef cattle and runs a dairy operation; Broadturn Farm, where the couple that leases the land from a local land trust raises vegetables supplied to 100 local families who pay for a share of the farm's seasonal bounty; Sandy River Farms, which produces dairy, beef, and grain products; Horsepower Farm and Ayotte Farms, which grow vegetables and potatoes, respectively;  Chase's Farm and Restaurant, which grows vegetables, operates a restaurant, and runs a farmers' market, Chase's Daily; Lakeside Orchard, which grows and harvests apples; and Reed Farm, also a dairy operation.

The films are excellent. They give us an honest look at the hard work it takes to run a farm. "It's chores in the morning and chores at night. And the name of the game is getting what you have to get done done in between. The chores are there, whether you like it or not," says one life-long farmer. That same farmer also admits that farmers' lifestyle is "really removed from the rest of the town, as it is the country" but he believes that "the more you educate people in what you're trying to do here, the more farmer-friendly they are."

The documentaries also offer important insights into the values and aspirations of the farming families and the difficulties their particular businesses face. Their narratives are not ones many of us recognize but that all of us should hear. . . and pass on.

To watch the films, click on the farm names above.  Two of the films are below.

Lakeside Orchards and The Apple Farm: Marilyn and Steve Meyerhans: "Sometimes when we get all wrapped up in the business part of it, we have to get out into it [the orchard] to see what it's all about."

Meet Your Farmer - Lakeside Orchards from Pull-Start Pictures on Vimeo.

Reed Farm, Dan Tibbetts, Dairy: "I'm always, always, always trying to see the road to take, to see the farm continue after I'm not farming anymore. . . It's not a lifestyle that's real appealing, unless you can see the full value of it."

Meet Your Farmer - Reed Farm from Pull-Start Pictures on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Margaret Wheatley's Perseverance

Perseverance is a day-by-day decision not to give up.

The highly regarded writer, speaker, and educator Margaret Wheatley has produced a practical, insightful, and inspirational book for each of us: Perseverance

Having observed people persevering through tragedies and other difficult circumstances that she honestly admits she hopes never to encounter, Wheatley seeks to uncover what keeps you or me or a friend or a colleague going in the face of failures, betrayals, set-backs; how we find energy or motivation when exhausted or despairing; how we hold onto faith when it seems faith has only let us down. She aims to enlighten us about what enables devotion to a cause, a day-after-day focus and otherworldly dedication to a pursuit or a calling.

Wheatley, whose book includes images of beautiful paintings by Asante Salaam and calligraphy by Barbara Bash, doesn't offer this-is-how-you-survive-it advice or even anything that resembles a hard-and-fast answer to getting through and beyond uncertainty, of navigating ourselves out of darkness when hope is evanescent.

What she offers is the wisdom of words. Words that get us started thinking about our personal struggles and challenges and how we deal with the pain and fear and anxiety they cause. Words that carry us from that place where we intuit "a knife poised over our hearts" — the symbols, in Chinese, for perseverance — through willingness to try to rise above heady waters, to being able to change things by becoming aware of and exercising the choices that each of us has.

The questions we ask ourselves when confronted with a difficulty are, as Wheatley avers, not to be taken lightly, and our experiences as humans, which make up "the story of perseverance", contain the answers to the questions of what makes some of us steadfast, patient, tenacious and others unable to get up in the morning.

Wheatley divides her almost-pocket-size book into five parts, each containing a rich mix of illustrative or thought-provoking quotations or poems and commentary that focuses on specific feelings, situations, challenges, and behaviors that either support or inhibit us in our ability to respond to whatever life puts in our paths. The short essays (none more than a page long) take up such subjects as fear, blame, praise, death, loneliness, anger, discipline, groundedness, laziness, boredom, jealousy, vigilance, choice. Each is self-contained, eliminating the sense that some process is at work that we can trace from starting point A to culminating point Z and need only learn to apply to produce magical results every time. None of the sections depends on the other but together they cover a lot of ground.

And especially laudable is Wheatley's unique approach: Each commentary is devoid of examples of other people and what they've experienced and done to persevere. While such examples might be instructive — who doesn't enjoy reading about someone else's tragedy and how he or she rose above it? — they would fail to deliver Wheatley's crucial point, which is that each of us is our own example, that the answer to how to persevere lies in our examination and understanding of our mindset and personal experiences. Moreover, by not linking a particular person's response to a particular situation, or a particular situation to a particular theory or suggestion of approach, Wheatley neither dates her commentary nor deprives it of the very thing that makes it work: its universality.

Physically, Perseverance is a lovely book, produced with care and attention to format and flow, without requiring a linear perspective. It can be read a chapter or a section at a time or entirely randomly. Browsing it is almost like having a conversation with the author, who addresses her readers in a familiar voice. The book's appeal also owes much to its author's prodigious powers of observation as well as her compassion both for the messiness of the human condition and our capacity to ride out and rise above our "most horrific" circumstances.

Here are a few bits of Wheatley's wisdom you'll find in Perseverance (all excerpts © Margaret Wheatley):

✦ "We can't restore sanity to the world, but we can still remain sane and available.

✦ "Anger is not a naturally occurring phenomenon... It doesn't give us energy. It eats away at us and makes us sick... clouds our perception... separates us from solutions to the problems that make us angry... There's no such thing as righteous anger. Anger in any form only makes us blind.

✦ "When we are overwhelmed and confused,.. [w]e reach for the old maps, the routine responses, what worked in the past... To navigate life today, we definitely need new maps... The maps we need are in us, but not in only one of us. If we read the currents and signs together, we'll find our way through.

✦ "Jealousy and generosity are reverse images of one another... Jealousy is such a waste of a good human heart.

✦ "There's a fundamental distinction between guilt and regret. Guilt turns us inward, creating a cauldron of self-hatred that destroys us. People never act widely from guilt—the intensity of emotions prevents discernment and right action. Regret... gives us the capacity to see clearly, to clarify our future, to change... to move forward to become who we'd like to be. 

✦ "Accepting death, far ahead of its appearance, is richly liberating. 

✦ "Giving up is a moment of either acceptance or resignation, two very different states.

✦ "The edge is where life happens. But let's notice where we are and not lose our balance."

Wheatley's book will be published this September by Berrett-Koehler. Until then, it is being offered as an "Author's Limited Edition". For early-bird purchases, go here. To look further inside the book, go here

Wheatley also is offering a free e-mail series, "For Persevering People", comprising two pages from the book that will arrive on your desktop every week for eight weeks.

Margaret Wheatley's Yes! Magazine Blog

Huffington Post Interview with Wheatley: "Perseverance in the Gulf: A Test of Our Soul's Endurance

Monday, July 19, 2010

Improvised Explosive Device (Poem)

Improvised Explosive Device

A cloud-charged sky
short-circuits a daisy chain
triggered by infra-red,
bringing lightning first, then the thunder.

And in between the two, the burning
strike path clear, each vein mapping effect
unseen till moment of impact

outside the recruiting station, within a burqa's
black billowy folds, along a clay-dusted road,
under bushels of purple eggplant and green squash
just wheeled to market.

The aim is always for the softer side,
disruption and melee both, time-delayed to hit
the team poised and rushing in for the rescue.

It doesn't have to be close to be effective.
Sometimes the most lasting damage
stores up inside, an unconventional hot zone
of reaction to the elements,

a mind forever trip-wiring tactics in dreams
shaping a charge, calling in for support,
imagining the kill.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem for Carry on Tuesday, which each week provides a prompt that participants are to use wholly or partly in an original poem or prose piece.

The prompt for Tuesday, July 20, comes from the first line of Samantha Hunt's 2008 novel The Invention of Everything Else: "Lightning first, then the thunder. And in between the two. . . ." Hunt is also the author of The Seas, which was shortlisted for an Orange Prize for fiction. She is a winner of a "5 under 35" National Book Award.

To read other Carry on Tuesday contributors' poems or prose for Prompt #62, go here.

Monday Muse: Iowa's Poet Laureate

The value of poetry is  to allow one to look
at one's own life and the humanity in front of it.
~ Mary Swander*

Mary Swander is Poet Laureate of Iowa. Swander, who succeeded poets Robert Dana (2004 - 2008) and Marvin Bell (2000 - 2004), began her term on February 18, 2009. 

The position of Poet Laureate was created by law (Iowa Code, Chapter 303, Subchapter 89) in 1999. An appointment is for a two-year renewable term. The governor selects the incumbent from a list of candidates drawn up by a committee that includes the executive director of the Iowa Arts Council. Nominees must be residents of Iowa and deserving of recognition as Poet Laureate based on their accomplishments as poets. The position is honorary and is not compensated, and involves attending official public events at the governor's invitation. In addition to promote writing and culture in Iowa, Swander has created a site, The Iowa Literary Community, for writers with connections to Iowa.

* * * * *
Iowa is a good place to write.
. . .You never know what's going to happen in your life,
but it's only when you're in a place long enough
that you can do anything in terms of the folklore, 
knowing the character of the people, 
improving the environment. . . I have a unique perspective
having been here probably 40 of my 50 years.
~ Mary Swander *

Mary Swander is a poet, a playwright, a memoirist, a short story writer, an essayist, a journalist, and an editor. Her poetry collections include The Girls on the Roof (Turning Point Press/Word Tech, 2009), Heaven-and-Earth House (Alfred Knopf, 1994), Driving the Body Back (Knopf, 1986; reprinted, Bur Oak, 1998), and Succession (University of Georgia Press, 1979; available through re-sellers). For The Girls, a narrative poem about a mother and daughter waiting on a cafe rooftop while the floodwaters of  the  Mississippi River recede, Swander created with Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre a stage piece of the same name, which she has performed with puppeteer Monica Leo. She also has co-authored a musical set during the Civil War, Dear Iowa, and a docudrama, Farmscape. She co-founded AgArts, a national student group that seeks to explore the intersection of arts and agriculture. In addition to giving readings throughout Iowa, Swander is a commentator on WOI Radio in Ames, Iowa, and National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday program.

Swander is praised for her spare style, her narrative skill and control, her humor, her compassionate and insightful embrace of her subjects, her ear for midwestern idiom and dialogue, vivid detail, the sense of place with which she imbues her writing, and her often-moving observations about family, illness, marriage, love and marriage, loss and grief, faith, and rural life.

The follow excerpts show off Swander's ability to set a scene, her exceptional story-telling qualities, the breadth of her imagination, and the energy she brings to bear in moving her narrative forward:

The day the levee broke,
the day the Mighty Mississippi washed
Maggie and Pearl, mother and daughter,
up on top of their catfish dive,
the river rushed through our tiny town
of Pompeii (pronounced Pom'pee),
with a whoosh, crack, bam-boom,
a power so Herculean that with one
swift slap of its hand, the water
knocked out all the windows
and tore the door right off
the hinges of Crazy Eddy's Cafe.
The very gates of hell opened and
the Great Flood of the Twentieth Century
came crashing, dashing through.
Maggie and Pearl had been warned.
Sure, the whole town knew.
Any fool could've seen it coming.

Yup, and now ten years out
we're all back here
at the Great Flood Reunion. . .
. . . We gather here together once again,
the living and the dead,
the seen and the unseen,
the genuine and the ghosts—
all who've come and gone,
each taking a place at a table,
in a booth or on a stool,
duct tape stuck to vinyl.
We gather once again
to piece together a tall tale,
a story too long and wide
for a single person to spin.
We tile back out chairs,
watch turkey gizzards
swimming in the Mason jar
on the counter, hear the waves
lap at the banks outside the door
and realize just how lucky we are
to be here on dry land
with a beer in hand. . . .
~ From "Fireworks" in The Girls on the Roof

Batteries and blanket, this spring
I've made a little place here
down in the cellar to listen
to the radio crackle the weather:
TORNADO WATCH, high winds and hail,
take cover. In this furnace room,
I'm alone with the centipedes and
cinder blocks, the mouse scurrying
to squeeze in from the rain.
I'm away from all windows and
flying glass, the silver maple
that might crash through the roof.
Overturned bucket, my chair, I see
by an oil lamp on loan from a neighbor.
How dumb to depend on lines from
the world. . . 
. . . this year the blows have become
routine — they howl through the attic vents,
feed sacks tumbling across the field
smack into the fence. Two a.m.,
and I'm chewing gum, recounting 
other times — the snakebite, car wreck,
doctor goof, the bolt of lightning
so close it fanned the hairs on my arms.
. . . Now I sit up
and tell these tales to the mouse.
His black eyes glare back at me.
The two of us know the game.
Were on night ends, another begins
until all is forgiven, and the sky relents.
~ From "Scheherazade" in Heaven-and-Earth House

Swander's poems and other writings have been published in Antioch Review, Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Missouri Review, Iron Horse Literary ReviewThe New Republic, Image JournalThe New Yorker, Poetry magazine, and other literary periodicals and journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Other books by Swander or to which Swander has contributed include Living with Topsoil: Tending Spirits, Cherishing Land and The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles.

Among other honors, Swander has received an Iowa Author Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, two Ingram Merrill Awards, and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. 

Currently, Swander is a professor of English (she teaches undergraduate poetry classes) and Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University. She created for the Iowa Department for the Blind a multi-sensory poetry program (see "ISU Poets Stage Tactile Art/Poetry Show for the Blind").

A fourth-generation Iowan, Swander lives in Ames and  in an old converted schoolhouse in one of the largest Amish communities west of the Mississippi, near Kalona, where she grows her own food because of environmentally induced allergies. She writes of her experience in her memoir Out of This World: A Journal of Healing (University of Iowa Press, 2008).


* Quoted in "A Place for Poetry—in the Open" in Daily Yonder, May 30, 2009; and Michael Tidemann, "Iowa's Poet Laureate Lauds Iowa's Land and People", February 20, 2009 (see Fact Box)

Poetry excerpts © Mary Swander. All Rights Reserved.

Mary Swander's ISU Biography

Live recording of Mary Swander reading from The Girls on the Roof, July 21, 2009

Humanities Iowa, "The New Face of Iowa Poetry: Poet Laureate Mary Swander", Voices from the Prairie, Vol. XI, No. 3; pp. 4-5 [This interview offers insights into Swander's plans as Poet Laureate, her background, what inspires her, and why she thinks all arts, and especially poetry, are so important.]

Rustin Larson, "I Wander as I Swander: A Poet Sings of Our Common Folklore", Iowa Source, February 2006 [This article contains excerpts from Swander's poem "Heaven?".]

Mary Swander, "Light My Fire With Banana Briquettes" in MatriFocus: Cross-Quarterly for the Goddess Woman, 2009

Mary Swander's Poetry Foundation Page

Out of This World on GoogleBooks

Iowa Arts Council

YouTube Video of excerpts from Two Girls on the Roof, April 23, 2010 (Swander plays the banjo)

Mary Swander reading her poem "Heaven?" from Heaven-and-Earth House:

"Heaven" By Mary Swander from ChiefFallingLeaf on Vimeo.