Saturday, November 19, 2011

A story about Occupy Portland

HI all, I know I don't post often, but here is a story I wanted to share, and this seemed like a good place to share it.

Last Sunday November 13th I went down to the Occupy protest in Portland. I had come closer, off the street into the corner of Lonsdale Park to participate in the general assembly, and at a certain point the riot police came in from the park, which seemed like from behind. I was kind of incredulous that they would choose to do this as every thing was chill, and this meeting was discussing what should happen next. I felt frozen at the place I was standing.

I don’t know how became part of the front line, I never moved forward.
The beauty and power of this movement is that so many divergent people are standing together. I didn’t intend to be at a flash point or involved in confrontation, yet when confronted with this situation I didn’t so much decide, but viscerally felt there was no other choice than to stand where I was. My stance was much as some of the police I witnessed; I’d rather be doing something else but it is my duty to be here.

As I was standing there with police batons against my upper arms I was in a strange sense of surreal calm. I am my certain that my oft-commented on expressive face was frozen in an expression of neutral “just being”.

There were two officers directly in front of me who alternated pressing their batons on me. I felt great compassion for one who really seemed like she would rather be anywhere else in the world at that moment. The other and I were actually kind of having a conversation. He said to me “mam, I’m sure this is not how you want your day to end” I responded “No, this is not the way I wanted my day to start either” I said to him, “surely there must be another way, between us, their must be another way.”

To my immediate left things were more contentious with police pushing harder, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and looked and saw directly to my left and down the top of what looked like the balding top of an old man’s head, and an umbrella on the ground. I realized immediately that the man had dropped it and was trying to pick it up. My mother’s instincts kicked in, and I realized that this was a very dangerous situation; if the police to my left made a strong push while this man was bending down there was great danger of him falling and being crushed. I put my right hand out in a signal of stop towards the police and my left hand to protesters behind me, and looked to the police yelling, “Stop be careful there is an old man here!”

There was a policeman in a yellow coat walking behind the front line of the police; I think it was him who pulled the old man through the front line. My feeling was that he did so to bring the man to safety. The ranks of police closed and I couldn’t see anything behind them. A few moments later there was a gap in the line and about twenty feet back I saw the old man face down on the muddy ground with at least three police in riot gear standing over him, their body language in that small instant I could see it looked like they were being rough, not helping him. The gap for me to see closed up quickly and I must have had a very concerned look on my face because the policeman in the yellow jacket caught my eye and said, “He didn’t want to go”. Before I knew it that same policeman pulled me through the line. Immediately there were at least two other officers coming towards me with aggressive body language. I can only assume that the understanding was that anyone pulled through the front line was to be arrested, and this aggressive, punitive approach was the stance being taken by the officers tasked with making the arrests. The policeman in the yellow coat quickly told them, “no, she is with me”, or something like that. He then took me away from that part of the line to a less crowded place and asked the police to part and let me through.

I can only guess that the man in the yellow coat treated me with special protection because he had seen what happened to the old man. I appreciate the calmness of the two police who were pushing me with their sticks and the willingness even in this charged situation to engage in speech. I’ m glad I wasn’t arrested, though I understood that was a possibility. What I didn’t understand was a possibility is that I, passive as I am, stood the real chance of being treated roughly, or being abused by the police in the process of being arrested.

After I was on the other side of the line I walked over to another street to see what was happening. I saw a man laying on his back by the Portland Building, there were people, I believe at least one was a doctor and another a medic, trying to help him. The belief was that he had a broken back or had a spinal injury. An ambulance at the end of the street was stopped from leaving, but they said they were un-able to help him until there was a police escort. They were responding this way either because of their own fears or policy, and said they had to act out of concern for their own safety. There were many people working to get him help, a few of us went to separate places along the police line to explain the situation and ask for an escort for the ambulance drivers.

Then as I was standing by ( a group of us were to offer assistance if needed) I noticed an attractive older and stylishly dressed woman near me. I smiled and said hello, she responded and we started having a conversation. She had a French accent and I took her to be a tourist. In fact she lives here and was looking for her husband, a man older than herself and recovering from pneumonia. He apparently had wanted to see what was going on and take pictures. I had a strange moment of recognition and asked her if he had a long umbrella. She said yes and as I asked her more questions. I felt increasingly confident that the man I had seen earlier was her husband. I finally told her I’m sorry but I have to tell you I think he was arrested. Together we started asking around where the people arrested were. Eventually we were able to go into the central precinct where the woman at the desk eventually went out to the busses full of arrested people and confirmed that indeed, “Jack” was among them.

Apparently Jack’s head was banged into the ground on both sides, his shoulder has pulled or possibly torn ligaments, and his knee was injured. He will be undergoing physical therapy.

Jack is 81 years old. I cannot imagine any reason for his receiving such heavy handed treatment, as he was a lone civilian surrounded by a score of riot police behind the “front line.”

While I am shocked and appalled by this brutality, I also experienced demonstrations of human understanding from members of the police. I suggest that even as we the 99% contest our portrayal by the media as a dangerous mob, we also should recognize the actions of police as being actions of individuals. I think we should certainly continue to challenge the orders given to these “public servants”, but equally I think we should hold individuals accountable for their personal actions, and laude those who act with some integrity.

This is of course difficult to do as some of them display no names or badge numbers (is this legal?) and people like me can be so intensely overwhelmed by the moment we don’t capture the names or numbers of the officers involved.

I would also like to echo the call for truly peaceful and non-antagonistic civil disobedience and protest. This continues to be our most powerful tool, and best strategy to turn the tide of opinion, and engage those who are on the fence.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lend Me an Object?

Hello all! I'm gearing up for another Shine A Light evening at the Portland art museum this October. Last year I created a card game called Apples to Apples/Art and Labor (pictured here.) This year I'm facilitating a "Teaching Collection" and I can't do it alone. I need your help! Here is what I'm looking for...

Wanted: Locals (Portland area) to participate in a project titled “The Teaching Collection”

What your participation would entail:

1.) Visiting the Portland Art Museum with me (no cost to you) to explore their collections.

2.) Have a discussion with me about an object/s in the collection that have meaning for you; or the lack of an object with meaning for you.

3.) Select an item from your home that has meaning for you.

4.) Give me permission to photograph and display your object in the Portland Art Museum for one evening.

5.) Approval of or collaboration on an interpretive text that will accompany your object, and appear in a catalog of the project.

6.) Attend Shine A Light on Friday evening October 15th and tell people about your object.

Please contact me if you are interested, or want more information.

My intention is multifaceted. Conceptually I want to point to the fact that the majority of objects/works in the museum's collection once lived in someone's home, were part of someone's life/culture and had a personal meaning and function for that person. We look at these objects in a museum often to learn about how life was lived in a certain place and time, however we rarely know the relationship the original owner had to the objects we see.

I would like to honor the importance of our (everyday contemporary people) objects and the roles they play in our lives. It is my intention that the objects lent to this project will teach us something about one slice of one life right now in Portland. By putting participants objects and information about those objects within an institution I hope to inspire others to consider differently the things they live with and learn from.

I am also personally excited about what I will learn from this project.

I have no preference as to the type of object, it could be the most mundane, the most precious, or anything in between.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Boycott Polls?

Boycott polls?

I have long considered polls to be pointless at best and evil manipulations at worst, but I participate in them out of morbid curiosity. Long gone is the day when I thought I was helping to shape the public discourse by virtue of my participation. Now I participate in order to experience an unhealthy sort of pleasure from criticizing a polls design and guessing at the agenda behind it.

On the face of it taking a poll seems neutral enough; answer a few questions, the same questions that everyone else is answering. But the questions often (almost always) offer false or impossible (impossible to answer honestly) choices, either by the allowed responses, or the vague wording of the questions themselves.

“Should the government pursue the common good by limiting certain individual freedoms” is one question I was asked on a poll yesterday. This question is in itself a definition of government. The question is meaningless unless I know what is the definition of common good we are referring to, or what certain freedoms are being limited. How can I honestly answer Yes or No to such a vague question?

“Should the government address climate change by establishing a cap and trade on carbon emissions?”

“Should the government protect Americans by holding terrorist suspects indefinitely with out charge?”

Both of these questions are more specific questions that fit within the one actually asked and both are more likely to cull an actual opinion.

Quoting existent reality in the form of a question without acknowledgement, and with out offering nuanced options for response signals to me an unspoken agenda.

I have no idea how this data is being used, or what context the results will be made public. I can assume however that the results will be embedded in a context other that a complete record of all the questions and the data they generated.

A poll I participated in a couple of years ago asked many questions about the role of prisons in Oregon, offering reasonable options for response. The main thrust seemed to be gauging attitudes along a continuum of a strong belief in rehabilitation and discretionary sentencing, to a strong belief in punitive and mandatory sentencing. There were also some relatively subtle questions about the division of limited resources, how much for prisons and how much for education. I was thinking that it was one of the better polls I had participated in until the last question. I can’t remember the exact wording of the question but it was rather sly. Hidden within a lengthy scenario describing prison reforms, was a small statement about victims’ rights (the only mention of victims’ rights in the entire poll.) When I asked the pollster to repeat the question it became apparent that the real question was about diverting money from rehabilitation to a victims’ rights program.

I believe this poll was set up for the sole purpose of getting an affirmative response to this last misleading question and was commissioned by supporters of a related initiative on an upcoming ballot.

This last example is a variation on the classic “push poll”

It is time for me to forgo my morbid curiosity and “just say no” to polls. It wasn’t that I learned something new from the poll I participated in yesterday rather; I realize that if I keep participating I will continue to be part of the problem.

I am taking the pledge to give up participating in polls. I guess I’ll have to find another satisfaction for my morbid curiosity. Suggestions?

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

An update of recent goings on....

Hello strangers, I’m just checking in to tell you all what I’ve been up to. First, since last April, I’ve been working with Project Grow, which is an amazing shared studio and organic urban farming program in North Portland. I get to work with my colleagues,all artists and farmers on various projects, curate shows and generally learn about life and meaning from some of the best teachers I have ever had! LINK

I went to NYC in February with Laurel Kurtz to participate in The Incidental Person at Apexart. Laurel and I did a new version of Public Speaking, we collaborated this time with Dale Blagrove from Pride Toastmasters which is based in district 46, as is the gallery. Laurel and I spent our days gathering words in response to the question: What’s on your mind, and our evenings/early mornings typing up transcripts of gathered words. The speeches, the words, were presented at Union Square subway station over two hours on a Friday afternoon, we even had a guest appearance by a local Portland Toastmaster, Barbara Berger (Barbara was our mentor in the Civil Tongues toastmasters club, she just happened to be in town).

We also spent a lot of evenings hanging at Daddy’s which became our local in Brooklyn (right down the street from where we were staying with Ken Butler.) At Daddy’s we also met some wonderful people who contributed to our project, and generally made us feel right at home for the week we were there. We started our mornings at The Bean Bar, a great coffee shop also near us that had free wi fi and a wonderful cast of regulars.

The Curator of The Incidental Person was Antony Hudek, Antony is also one half of the independent publisher: Occasional Papers There was so much going on and we were so busy with our project that were barely able to participate in much of the larger project. Some highlights for me were: The panel discussions between Claire Bishop, Noa Latham, Julie Martin, Barbara Steveni and Stephen Wright and the skype discussion with Barbara Stevini facilitated byBasekamp, Philadelphia, hosted by Scott Rigby, Stephen Wright. And the Incidental Pancake celebration that capped the entire show at Bubby’s (a Hannah Jickling and Helen Reed project) was truly wonderful.

In December I was part of a group residency at Betonsalon in Paris. As a group we did an alternative Info Point for the new ZAC district that is being made. We basically met with local people and assisted them in creating something like a science fair exhibit that they would present to visitors on the occasion of the “opening.” This info point was a place to learn a little bit about the knowledge base and interests of people who live and work in the community. I worked with an amazing woman, Claire Chomasse, we met randomly and were able to work together sans translator because we both speak broken Italian as a second language. Claire could have chosen to present on any number of topics as she is a passionate participator in many areas, but she chose to focus on her work with the Non La Pub campaign. This is a campaign to raise awareness about abusive advertising and its effects on civil society.

While in Paris I also worked with Association Aurore, and Project Grow to facilitate a long distance dialogue between the artists at Project Grow and Parisians. This project was done with invaluable collaboration from Laurel Kurtz and Mark Johndahl in Portland. The result was an edited video of conversation back and forth over three weeks. The video screened in Paris at the Betonsalon opening inside of a tent situated just outside the gallery. The tent titled Space Comune was a collaboration with Ana Monteiro an intern at Betonsalon. Ana and I had a conversation that led us to agree that what this new community lacks is a place to be, intimate public space. The tent was our gesture towards providing an intimate public space, and to my mind illustrated the need. The tent moved around the area near the gallery and Paris 7 University, there was a map of possible tent locations available at the gallery and inside the tent.

I also got to teach a class at PSU last term (winter) Intro to Drawing. I loved it, a lot of work in a way, such a diverse group of students in terms of background and ability, it was a challenge to connect with each of them where they are, but I loved it, and by and large the students were great.

I am teaching this term at PCC Cascade which is amazing. When I first came to Portland in the early 80’s I took some classes at Cascade Campus, and again in the 90’s when I decided I needed to get some “marketable skills”. I feel really attached to and supportive of the mission of PCC, and one of the things I perceive that mission to be is ACCESSIBILITY! Had I not had my experiences at PCC I can pretty much guarantee that I never would have felt able to pursue a University program. So, this is a beautiful opportunity to give back, and also a lot of pressure: Can I be a difference to students the way that some of the faculty at PCC were for me? I’m hoping I can, and I am stunned by the poetic symmetry of this situation.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cash Cart!

Hello all, sorry i don't seem to post anymore, but here is a new one:

I found another photo on the ground tonight, I also met Rhonda, she is working at collecting bottles to get by, she is not homeless right now, she is staying in the basement of a friends place, but they are being evicted soon.

I’m not sure how this came up in our conversation but Rhonda mentioned a show called Cash Cab, I wouldn’t have had a clue what she was talking about if it were not for my Jury duty this summer, I saw part of this show while I was waiting in the juries pool. Cash cab happens in NYC, someone gets in a cab and tells the driver where they want to go, and then it turns into a game show where the cabbie asks the rider questions during the length of the trip for cash prizes, the rider has an option to ask the cab to pull over so they can roll down the window and ask a passer by for help with an answer. A brilliant show!

Anyhow somehow Rhonda and I came up with the idea for a version called “Cash Cart” where she could ask the questions to someone who would walk along with her, and they would win a bottle for each correct answer, she suggested they might get a bottle over the head for a wrong answer, there would also be an option for the contestant to ask another passerby for help on the answer.

I hope Rhonda will call me to collaborate on this idea, I think cash cart could be amazing!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Better late than never ONE DAY SCUPTURE

Hello, well way back in late March I had an amazing invitation to travel to Wellington New Zealand and deliver a paper on the Aesthetics of Generosity to the international ONE DAY SCULPTURE symposium. The symposium was at the end of a one year project by Massy University's Litmus Reasearch project. Litmus invited UK curator Claire Doherty as their first research fellow and she conceived of this project. The ODS project consisted of commissions for over a dozen international and N.Z. artists to develop public interventions somewhere in N.Z.
Each project was manifest for 24 hours at some point in N.Z. over the year.

The symposium was an opportunity for participants to explore the ideas behind the artist's work, the notion of contemporary art, sculpture, and temporality, and from my point of view participation as well. It was a great honor for me to be included and a really stimulating and exciting experience as well.

Here is a link where you can download my paper as well as dig deeper and learn about the project as a whole and explore the commissioned works.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Watch this film

This is a BBC documentary about life in Tehran. I think it is a really good anchor for thinking about what is happening there now, and our perception of Iran.


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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hello again!

Well it has been a while since I posted, but not because nothing has been happening, quite the opposite in fact. One very exciting thing is that I went to Wellington New Zealand over spring break to deliver a paper at the ONE DAY SCULPTURE symposium. I also got to spend two days on the south island with a friend, photographer Elspeth Collier, who I haven't seen in 18 years. We first met on a job in London. I took a video of the flight from Nelson to Wellington which I am sharing with you here in a low res version. This is by way of saying hello again and a promise for more later. If you would like to see a better version of this just let me know and we can do a screening. It is about 28 minutes long- and pretty trippy, so make it full screen sit back and enjoy!

Nelson to Wellington from sanone on Vimeo.

By the way I recently found out that someone else was arrested for trying to take video like this, so I guess I was lucky!

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Friday, April 3, 2009

an open question

What would a comfort spa for a radical intellectual look like?

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the street

Yesterday I was coming out of the library and heard these guys from Mt. Olivet Baptist Church on the corner of 10th and Yamhill, check them out!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Public Readathon

Multnomah County Library hosted Parallel University for a readathon of "Stubborn Twig" the Everybody Reads book for 2009. This book written by Lauren Kessler follows the story of three (I actually would say four) generations of the Yasui family who came to Oregon from Japan and settled in Hood River. It shares the story of assimilation, racism and the impact of WWII on Japanese americans, including the internment and prosecution of members of the Yasui family. This reading was facilitated by Kim Willson-St. Clair from our very own Miller library. The Library hosted this event on in the 3rd floor Collins gallery which is in the open lobby at the top of the stair case, and provided copies of the book for participants to read from and take away, apples from a Japanese owned orchard in Hood River, and a lot of material about the everybody reads project were also on offer. They were most gracious hosts!
It took a little over 15 hours for us to read the entire book.
Watch this short video showing snippets of some of the participants to get a feel for the intimate nature of the event. (about 3 minutes)


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Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Students

Well I've been pretty bad about posting on this blog of late, and this won't be a long post, I just want to say that I love my students and here are a few pictures of them talking with each other about their own criteria for what constitutes a drawing (they are exchanging these criteria as instructions for each other's assignments.) These photos were taken on the second day of class, did I mention, I love my students!!!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

what would you think?

I got this "friend request" from face book. And I sent Mr. Kaufman a message telling him how really great and hilarious he is! Turns out he wasn't trying to be funny.

I honestly thought that he was like a "Yes Man" or maybe a Baltimore Based Andrew Dickson, it made me think of the women's shelter confusion I had at the armory in New York (another post) or when I first saw the ads on Saturday Night Live, and how it was hard to tell which ones were satire and which ones were real.

I really didn't mean to insult Mr. Kaufman, he is obviously (as it turns out) very sincere in his efforts to recruit business. I finally figured that he had gotten my contact through toastmasters.

I have mixed feelings about my short and virtual encounter with Mr. Kaufman. On one hand I am honestly a little freaked out that someone would approach me this way (and assume I was interested) and on the other hand I think it is brilliant that he is so out there with his own bad self! And then on another hand (I know I already used two, but two are not enough) I wonder about my own fixations on the world, I am fairly new to face book, but before this everyone who has contacted me has been pretty "like minded" so I assumed that Mr. Kaufman was an artist, and assessed him as such. Is my assumption much different from Mr. Kaufman's seeing me through his lens of business opportunity? (ok I know he came on my turf and is obviously trolling, but lets forget about that) Really its not. I don't really know where I'm going with this, but it is somewhere in the direction of trying to figure out how we get out of our own heads and talk to (see) each other, but at the same time maintain and value "our own heads."

as always I welcome your thoughts.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Is Socialism the New Communism?

Socialist (ecru?) is the new Communist (red)

I just finished watching the debates (the nine o clock version), and then good choir member that I am went to the Huffington Post to see what others were saying.

One of the links I went to there kept me up way later than I meant to be. It was a link to an hour long special on Fox about Obama, and all his really scary connections!

It has six segments, please enjoy if you want to check it out.

The thing that really resonated with me was how the words socialist and socialism kept coming up. These terms were assumed to be, understood as equivalent to, …. I don’t know what but something that everyone would instinctively perceive as horrifying!

Now I personally don’t have a pet ideology. As far as I can see the problem with all of them is application, anything could work if we were all on the same page DUH! But we don’t even live in (or agree on) a Democracy, (as you know its a republic.)

My question is; what is so bad or scary about socialism? It seems like the word is being groomed to take the place of “communism” as the awful ogre, “there is no reason to think about it because it eats children and rapes widows,” and once the word is spoken all attention and energy must be spent deflecting association with it, instead of dealing with the real topic at hand.

I grant I may be over reacting, but I gotta say this is what I seeing coming down the pike. (where does that come from “come down the pike”?)

This post is my small attempt to say “hey lets not go there this time, lets stay focused on what matters and think about what makes sense, let’s not close up shop on an idea just because it gets called something (socialist, communist, conservative, radical, modernist, relational, abstract, intellectual, na├»ve… you get the idea! )

This last part of this post should be really neutral, and yet a call to action; very understated and at the same time poetic and moving. I don’t know how to write that, please feel free to send me your submissions!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008



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I met some strangers out side of KW Printing and asked them to recommend me to some one else on my map. What you see here are all people and businesses’ that I was referred to in this daisy chain fashion. I wanted to hint visibly at the web of connections that make this a community.
Visitors to the gallery marked and described their connections to places on the map.


Monday, June 16, 2008

One Day Residency At the Pancake Clubhouse

Cyrus facilitated my dream of installing a community vegetable garden (geurrilla style) on this 8 by 15 foot piece of abandoned parking strip near the clubhouse. It took us about 5 hours to complete the job! (with a little bit of clean up later

I'd like to thank participants, Gary, Cyrus, Mike, Sara, Nicole and Andrew!

The sign says, Community Garden, Plant something, Eat Something.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

not exactly a new project

Well I got the message loud and clear at my review that i need to pare down my activity and prioritize, however I was also told that I tend to take on things that involve a lot of work. Now this might look like a new project, but it is just recognition that something I have already been doing is worth sharing.

As you may know I am helping Linda Wysong with her Backyard Conversations project on the south river front. Before the tour on Thursday somehow (I think she mentioned that I looked really like a tour guide in the uniform she had provided) the conversation came around to a place where I told her that people often mistake me for an employee at random places I happen to be.

I've been asked how long the wait is or told how many a table is needed for at restaurants; I am regularly asked where certain merchandise can be located at retail stores, once at the Goodwill I was even asked by an upset customer to call the manager. It is a hobby of mine to try to fulfill people's requests when this happens. Now this doesn't happen every week, but it has happened often enough over the years. I have enjoyed trying to help people with what ever it is they need when it does.

After the tour I was able to come to the tail end of the PSU Art Auction. While there I ended up talking to a woman who I didn't immediately recognize, but when she told me her name I remembered meeting her several years ago. She is an artist. When she heard my name she told me how much she liked my work, (I was very flattered) she went on to explain to her partner what an amazing photographer I am!

Suddenly the previous conversation I'd had with Linda Wysong and my projected identity project collided. I did explain to the artist Thursday evening that I am not a photographer, however I offered to do a photo shoot with her, and she verbally agreed. I like the idea of not knowing when I will be mistaken for performing a role I don't usually perform, but taking on the "job" that has been projected onto me the best I can. I like this because it is simple, it is like the bus stories because I can not know when it will happen, but unlike the bus stories there is a good chance of follow up and further chapters to the stories.

Stay tuned.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

NYTimes article about Richard Reynolds

Hi all here is a link to an article in today's New York Times Magazine about Richard Reynolds, and guerrilla gardening. I hope you will enjoy it (there is even a seed bomb how to video clip!)

Click here!

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Monday, May 26, 2008


Sunday Eric Steen and I hosted a meet and greet BBQ as part of the A lot of _____ series.
We were aided by Marco Frattaroli, a local restaurateur, and expert pig roaster. The food was amazing!

In looking at the photos I see at least 35 attendees (not including the boys who stopped by as we were cleaning up and took some food to go. Most were neighbors who came because of fliers we had passed out door to door, some just found us walking by. Several undergrads came as well.

A few highlights for me include, Michael and Karl, our first guests, ended up staying the whole time, except for a couple of trips home to get things to throw on the grill (and share.) Michael ended up manning the grill and cooking the veggie burgers for those so inclined. Taylor, his wife Rumi, and their two kids are new to the area, they live just across the street and had prepared some potato salad, sausage and corn for the grill in preparation of the event, which they worried would be canceled because of rain. Eric and I took turns manning the greeters station on the side walk where in addition to asking people to read the personal safety waiver, we gave out name tags. I personally witnessed many people shaking hands and introducing them selves. Several people said to me "thank you for doing this." Which felt really great.

I was really impressed by peoples willingness to truly meet and greet each other, many met and chatted with neighbors they hadn't known before.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Daisy Chain

Above is a picture of some connections I made between various artists, either by one artist referring me to another, or things I came upon from research of artist generated leads. I found strong thematic and conceptual connections between artists who came to me from disparate sources.

One over arching commonality between these artists, writers and organizations is an implicit challenge to the primacy of institutionally generated knowledge. By this I mean they challenge the assumption that information must be mediated by received science, or some other institutional body (or method) in order to create meaning.

Another common thread is an interdisciplinary approach. In addition to artistic skill, these artists all draw selectively on biology, archeology, sociology, technology, journalism, or history in the creation of their projects. None I talked to called themselves "social practice" artists, neither did they reject that label-as long as it was one among many.
All seemed uninterested, at best, in labeling their practices.

I note that all the projects I have looked at are time based, however I think there is something more specifically defining about them than that. All these projects deal with living things in ways that are cognizant of and, dependent on, the dynamics of change in one way or another. Whether you look at Mark Dion's Vivarium, or Anna Callahan's Irish Stories project; the time based element is intrinsic to the work.

This observation can be unpacked to include what is to me one of the most interesting issues addressed in my interviews and research; namely activism. If (as some claim) there is an element of activism, or pedagogy in these artist's works, then where does the work end? For example, I have planted an “edible estate” in my front yard, inspired by Fritz Haeg's work. He has moved on to Animal Estates now; is my front garden a continuation of his earlier work? My point being that even with a project that appears to be finite in time; if there is an educational or activist intent that becomes manifest then the work becomes time based in an extended way.*(see read more below)

Another extension stemming from the idea that all these artists are working with living things is the idea that social systems (communities and interpersonal relationships), even histories are also living things. Which puts for me a new slant on my own definition of social practice.

I've participated in discussions around social practice where one idea of a criteria would be collaboration with the public as a medium. I'm wondering for my self if “collaboration with dynamic entities as a medium” wouldn't be more apt. I say this because I think it implies more strongly a lack of control. I have discovered though this research my own proclivity to appreciate most, projects that do not presume specific out comes. This could be more simply put as I admire work that is open ended.

I began this research with the question of context, what context do these artists put them selves in? As it turns out my daisy chain method for this research is a microcosmic link in a larger chain. I now realize that what I want to understand more than context is process and resulting aesthetic. I want to understand how people I admire translate their varied motivations and interests into work. I am now aware that aesthetics (for me) are best an organic result of process, rather than the other way around.

Here is a list of the names on this chart, each is followed with a link.
Andrea Bowers LINK
Suzanne Lacey LINK
Anna Callahan LINK
Community Art Lab LINK
Augusto Boal LINK
Theater of the Oppressed LINK
Fritz Haeg LINK
Chip Lord LINK
Jeremy Deller LINK
Richard Reynolds LINK
Dave McKenzie LINK
Pierre Bourdieu LINK
Mark Dion LINK

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Anna Callahan

I heard about Anna Callahan's "Encyclopedia of Danville" project from Harrell Fletcher. That was my first encounter. I started looking into her further and found her website. In exploring her other projects I learned that she and I share a strong interest in other people and their un-mediated knowledge.

Anna agreed to meet with me and let me record our conversation. She shared a lot of wisdom (she might cringe at me calling it that) with me about her process. I hope you will benefit from this short interview as much as I did. (I strongly suggest you check out her website before watching the video.)
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

heavy industries

Its late, so this is just a book mark to write more about the lecture tonight later, but one thing we all promised to blog about was the moment when Shelby described Mark as being James dean like in his coolness. so note that and consider it blogged! One other thing I will try to expand on later, is how they have set them selves up like a swanky Japanese Boutique with no merchandise.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another bus story

I know I usually make these posts about someone approaching me, but this is about a conversation I started on the east bound 12 last Thursday afternoon.

Catching the bus at the top of 4th usually means getting on a nearly empty bus and having my choice of seats. But Thursday the bus was already full. As I went to the back to make room for others getting on, a fellow at the very back moved over and signaled me non verbally that there was room. I sat down, thanked him and started annoying him with conversation. He works at OHSU and is from Ethiopia, he has been here for one year. I asked him what was his mother tongue (we were having a hard time understanding each other, which is probably why he wasn't overly eager to talk to me.) He didn't really answer me except to say that they spoke a lot of english in Ethiopia except that is is "english english" he explained that they finished thier words out in front of their mouths so that one could understand, but that in america we talk inside of our mouths which makes it hard to understand. I told him that several years ago I met an older Ethiopian man who spoke Italian, this man told me that many Ethiopians spoke italian because of the occupation. (I was hoping to speak italian with him) he didn't know what I was talking about. Then a fellow sitting in front of us said, it was Mussolini who invaded Ethiopia to avenge the humiliation of an earlier Italian attempt that failed, but then the British came in and pushed the Italians out.

I was hopeful that this fellow would join our conversation, but he didn't and I suddenly became very self conscious and embarrassed that I'd been bugging this guy who was just trying to get home from work. So I uncharacteristically shut up!

What happened next was lovely. "Facil" seemed to understand what I was feeling and introduced himself to me. We carried on with a much more two sided conversation. I asked him how he happened to end up in Portland, I couldn't understand what he was saying, it sounded like, "like" or "life", and then he said, like powerball, AH I said, like lotto like chance, like life! He said Yes! and we both cracked up- it doesn't sound that funny, but maybe you had to be there.

This was my best ride all week.

An update...
Francesca and I went out canvasing for Obama (really just making sure registered democratic voters had received their ballots and were aware of the time line to turn them in- obviously if someone was undecided we were happy to give them some information.) We were assigned to a very scattered collection of houses out by marine drive (an area I was completely unfamiliar with.)

One house we went to the woman was undecided, and we had a pretty interesting conversation. After the politics were over she offered up that she was from Ethiopia. I said that I never meet anyone from Ethiopia, but had met someone else just last week. Turns out she knows Facil, and was happy to pass on my hello. This was a great thing for my daughter to witness


Sunday, April 20, 2008

A little help from my friends!

As I mentioned in my last post I had a gardening injury over spring break which put a damper on my plans for not only our vacant lot improvement project but also my own project of turning my front patch into an "edible estate". All of the plants for the vacant lot were perennials I dug out of said front patch, and it was left in a big muddy mess with nothing but the weeds left for a couple of weeks! Last Friday (my finger splint free and mostly healed) I decided to dedicate three days to finishing the project. I had a good 8 hours of it on Friday, it was heaven, and then I was at it again early Saturday until I found my self on my knees in the mud, I'd thrown my back out errrgH!

Monday night at Marie Watt's lecture I met David Cook (a visitor from the Art Institute of Chigago), and Tuey Burns, recently back in town from Arizona. They agreed to work on my "estate" so the last three days they have been doing my dirty work, and I now have a terraced front patch ready to receive seeds. These guys did a lot more than just help me with my garden, they stimulated me with great conversation on topics ranging from clocks and time, to our shared love of words. They also made the suggestion that since I didn't have enough paintings to cut up for the whole retaining wall and we had to use some plain scrap that we write something on it. Franny always has a lot of random facts in her head, so we asked her for one. She said "43.5% of all percentages are made up on the spot." So that is our message. Tuey has invited Francesca and I to apply to be part of her Chinese family!

Ralph and Steve pitched in by taking some more plants over to the vacant lot and planting them.

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Geurilla Gardening in SE Portland

On the evening of March 28th, some of the troops came out to start the transformation of the vacant lot at 24th and SE Ankeny (sp?) There is still more to be done - due to a small gardening injury progress has been postponed, however the transformation we made in one evening was pretty profound! We hauled quite a bit of really skanky garbage out of there too!

Special thanks to: Amber, Ralph, Laurel, Bethany, Hollis, Shelby, Sean, Juliet, and Sam!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Complicated Tango at the Back Room

Tonight at the Back Room the guest panelists were Amoreen Armetta, Molly Dilworth, and Alex (Kreb?) aka "the tango master"- a title he resists.

The loose theme of the evening was 'searching' and an inquiry based in the mind and the body. Alex was a surprise guest that Stephanie Snyder provided as a gift to Amoreen and Molly, relieving them of any pressure to plan a dialog. Stephanie really is a most gracious host!

Sean, Andy, Chelsea, and several other of our PNCA colleagues were there. As were Rita, Pat, and Susan Harlan.

The evening started with a brass gypsy band, and for the first time ever dancing at a back room event! I love to dance and don't do enough so this was definitely a bonus for me. And after a delicious and substantial dinner we had a tango lesson. Well Pat and I had part of a tango lesson, we ended up being partners and were unable to master the "careful listening" involved in the relationship of non passive submission. Apparently we are both alpha dogs.

This is ironic as this idea of "duende" achieved by mutual submission and letting go of thought became a metaphor for the discussion afterwards. Alex described very eloquently the place that two dancers -strangers- can achieve when they are able to be in perfect communication, he stressed the equal pressure exchanged between the bodies as a "listening tool" so that in perfect communication the leader is as submissive to the follower, as the follower is to the leader. A total union as it were. He explained that when he first experienced this he was very young and the day after the dance wondered if he was in love, or dating the girl, should he call her? Now he understands that it is not sexual, it is a moment that is made though the connection (it takes two to tango) but the experience is generated and experienced equally. I don't know how to put this exactly so I will clumsily say that there is no residue of personal obligation after the dance. However I can not believe that there is not some lingering connection or knowledge.

Stephanie asked if this might play out in a civic way? The question was never really answered to my satisfaction, at least the question I understood her to be asking. I thought she might be suggesting the possibility of a civic duende. To me the metaphor would go something like this, just as in tango (per Alex) you can learn the steps in 6 months, and it takes a lifetime to still not finish learning the dance, but one has moments after learning the steps of being able to forget them and achieve that feeling of duende, and that is what keeps one dancing. Maybe after learning the basics of ... social interaction, one begins to "dance with them and occasionally has moments of duende that compel one forward to learn more and practice more. To me this would be an example of civic tango.

As it happens at any really good dinner party, the conversation veered from a direction some found more promising and went off into areas that others were most interested in. (that's really obvious code for, I wanted to take another trajectory, but since I didn't speak up I can't really say anything about it) But it came back around too. Amoreen asked the audience if anyone could think of an example in life that was similar to what we had experienced in our tango lesson, of moving together while also experiencing and negotiating a relationship with others around us. (bad paraphrase) Someone mentioned negotiating public transportation (turns out he was talking about crowded trains in Japan) and the wordless communication that he experienced with people, the example he gave was something like asking for just a couple more inches and the other person agreeing and giving him those inches, all with out words.

Amoreen brought up how she actually finds it hard to walk in Portland. She likes to walk when she is frustrated (not the right word) with her writing. She misses the jostling and more aggressive walking style required by the crowds on the streets of New York. Pat then brought up the point that we had been talking a lot about finding this unity this “duende” and she admitted that it is a good thing to experience, but that in fact for her it is the discord and the oppositions that move her forward, they are the things that interest and compel her forward (my paraphrase). Amoreen agreed with this as did Molly. Molly went as far as to say that utopia didn't exist and couldn't. There was then a volley of words about the roots of the word “utopia”.

At some point when Amoreen was asked if writing for her was similar to tango for Alex, she said that really it was more like always chasing after something that was just almost in reach.

At this moment (or at some point including this response) I realized what I thought about the idea that the discord is what is most interesting. I agree, it is the discord and things not being resolved that move me forward too, but I think we are conflating the private with the public. The discord I find valuable (unpleasant but valuable) is internal. I don't personally benefit from discord in the world around me. I have no fear that even if everyone else on the planet were suddenly to find themselves in total accord I would be any less internally conflicted- ok maybe a little, but I'd still have plenty of angst to motivate myself. I think there is a huge value in trying to make, or perceive even fleetingly profound connections with others.

Tango is an interesting metaphor for this to me for a couple of reasons. The idea that a “transcendent” moment can be achieved between strangers, and the concept of this mutually achieved transcendence not mandating any future obligation. This last bit may seem a little cold, but I think not. I think it is honest. I think that one reason we are all so hesitant to engage with each other (strangers especially) is because we fear we will enter into some sort of implicit undefined contract.

Now to shift the focus slightly; during dinner I had a conversation with someone at my table about social practice. She said that the problem with social practice is that it was undefined thus there is no way to have a dialog about it. She said that there is no common language for it, no way to critique it. I am not explaining her point very well so far. I think what she was saying is that from the point of view of an educator, how can you help a student fill in something that is missing if you don't understand what the whole should look like. She said that social practice needs to put its self in a context so that it can be discussed. She also had some very convincing examples of “bad” social practice art. And she said that if we were to do “social practice” it should have a political or social intent/result.

I explained that from my point of view it was unfair to judge the whole genre by a few bad examples. After all there are plenty of bad studio artists as well. Also I suggested that the very nature of collaborating, trying to learn how to best collaborate with people outside of the self selected art world had the potential to make as much difference as working only within it. And the main thing I said was that, from my point of view, what we are doing as students in this program at PSU is really difficult, we are trying to define the parameters of our own practice within a field that we are spending equal amounts of energy defining and not constricting. I told her how much time and energy we spend thinking about and discussing topics such as responsibility, relevance, audience, not to mention our own projects and how they intersect with these topics. We are also concerned with the same things as every other MFA student, such as how can we support our selves as artists, what is ethical etc. It is really a very challenging pursuit that like other art forms requires integrity, intentionality and persistence in order to progress.

Later a man suggested that what all true art has in common (all art, including science etc..) is rigor. My friend who I had been discussing social practice with earlier leaned over and said “you see that's my point”, and I said “no that's my point!”

This all seems really wild (ironic?) as I talked to Pat this morning over coffee about how tired I am of oppositions. I really think framing different approaches oppositionally is not only futile, it reinforces conflict and is lazy. Pat told me something someone told her-no she read it in an obituary- this woman, a painter and teacher told her students "For you to be right doesn't mean that everyone else has to be wrong."

So check it out I tell Pat just this morning that I hate “opposition”, she tells me this really great quote that validates my sentiments, (even though she values opposition) I go to the back room, and make a completely “oppositional” response to my friend about the topic of social practice!

It was an interesting evening and a very complicated tango - but then there were more than two dancing.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


At my group critique last monday I presented some research I had done on the word and song “Kumbaya” which means “come by me”.

I became interested in this because of a comment made about us when we were in New York. Someone said in response to our sitting in a circle on the floor that we were very “West Coast” and they wondered if we would start singing “Kumbaya”?

When I heard about this later my immediate response was, we should send them a video of us sitting in a circle singing kumbaya! The person making the comment was certainly not being complementary, however my initial response wasn't meant to be vindictive. Rather I think I thought it was funny and a way to open a dialogue, or at least cause some thought.

Some interesting things I learned about the song were first that it is credited to a Portlander see wikipedia entry (there is some dispute around this.) I also found a lot of recent editorials where the word kumbaya is being used as an adjective, and a slam. It is invoked to denote weakness generally and more specifically a weak grasp of serious realities. This reminds me of the (not so) old days when politicians would accuse each other of being communist and thus effectively hijack the trajectory of the conversation, as the accused then spent all his or her rhetorical skill denying the claim.

After looking at this research it seemed to me that I could happily accept the label of “kumbaya”, I would be interested to hear why it is a bad thing to exhibit a belief in possibility and unity. I say this even though I am not religious so “some ones crying my lord -come by me” might seem an odd sentiment for me to embrace, however I see it as a call for strength and wisdom generally. I guess that is why it is considered weak; it is admits that one doesn't have all the answers or that one lacks the total personal power necessary to effect change alone (unilaterally).

I also put together this collage of other people's utube videos of the song being sung. I think this video shows how diverse are the relationships that people have to this song. I personally don't think any of these clips are trying to be ironic. Some come from and understanding of the song as a spiritual prayer, some from growing up with it at camp, some simply as a song that everyone knows, and some almost documentary about pain in the world. As I assembled these clips I was struck by the cacophony created by layering so many performances of this one song, and also by the randomly occurring unity that emerged in some moments.
Listen carefully to the opening audio clip, it is Katherine Hepburn from "The Lion in Winter."

Kumbaya from sanone on Vimeo.

After my presentation and my request that we make a movie, there was a very lively discussion. What I had seen in the various utube videos was actually reflected in the opinions we all had. I mean by this that there was a huge range of interpretation. We did sing the song together, but I will not be submitting anything to anyone just yet. This is mainly for two reasons. First it was pointed out that unless we could send it to exactly the person who made the comment it would have no resonance what so ever, and in fact might seem so odd as to reinforce the stereotype of the west coast, and secondly it was suggested that it might be perceived by some as offensive or racist because the word kumbaya was imported/appropriated from Africa. Also, it now seems a project worth investigating with a lot more thought.

Thanks to everyone who participated for making this a really great and though provoking critique.
It was really fortunate that Storm Tharp was our visiting artist, he had a similar experience in Seattle, and the word kumbaya was used pejoratively then as well. I am really interested in questions around sincerity, hipness, and authenticity to mention a few, that this topic brought up. I never dreamed that kumbaya would be so contentious!

I am looking forward to further dialog about this, and it may end up that I do a project that is inspired by the overheard comment in New York, yet is not a direct response to it.

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Private showing at the Armory

I ended up going to the Armory by myself in New York, as I was really slow going through the whitney and then stopped by NPR to participate in the radio show that Katy organized.

A couple of people told me that I should definitely see the video of the trees falling down, so I kept searching for it. When finally it seemed I had looked into every room, even some that were not meant to be looked in I was about to give up. Then I saw another staircase at the end of the hall and I assumed that their must be more on the floors above. I started up the stairs and met a couple of other people coming down, these people seemed to work there and in retrospect I think felt encouraged that I was headed in the right direction since they didn't seem to see a problem with me going up the stairs.

I went all the way up, as I came through the doors onto the 5th floor I was struck by the bright florescent
lighting and the dingy white walls. This was a big contrast to the dark mystery of the first two floors. But it seemed fitting as there were 5 or 6 big empty canvas laundry hampers on wheels lined up on the middle of the floor in front of me. Directly behind them there was an open door leading into a room that looked like a large break room, or a small cafeteria. there was a wall covered in posters to my right, it was a mix of informational, community type flyers, and art announcements. The one that stood out immediately was a day glow orange advertisement for employment as a telephone market researcher. The only activity in the room was a large TV playing news at the far end and a woman sitting too close in front of it watching.

I took this one photo and then went out of the room to another long long empty hall. At the very end of the hall there was one of those old fashioned full length mirrors, the kind that is shaped like a cameo and rotates on a pin through the middle. It was angled perfectly in the corner so that it reflected that same day glow advertisement posted on a wall around the corner. I ventured down the hall really intrigued and thinking that this was a hugely ambitious project. as I turned the corner I found that it was the very same poster, and turning completely around I saw two fairly large institutional style swinging doors (the kind with the little porthole windows) One of them was propped wide open giving me a clear view of what seemed to be an ocean of cubicles all about 4 and a half feet high. I thought this must be the calling center, then I noticed that the two cubes open towards me had platforms filled with cloth, but when I looked closer I realized they were beds with large women wearing many layers of clothing laying on them. Exactly as I was trying to make sense of this and recoiling with thoughts of slave labor and exploitation, a woman who was talking on long sprung corded wall phone mounted just inside the doors came around the corner and saw me. She didn't even say hang on a minute to the person she was talking to, she just barked at me “what do you want!” I said I thought i was in the wrong place, she then said “I can't be responsible for what happens to you here.” I started to leave, but then came back to look at the poster again to see if I could get a clue to what was going on. She saw me again and repeated “I can't be responsible for what happens to you.”
I asked her what this place was, and she said it was a women's shelter.

Feeling a little shaken I headed back to the stairs I was going to the 4th floor, I knew for a fact that there was an event taking place there the next evening so I figured maybe that's where I could find the trees falling down. (please see the read more section for more about trees falling down) I went though the doors and the space was half way between the institutionality of the 5th floor and the grand decay of those below. there was a long dark wood bar lining the left side of the large hall, and on the right a long dark bench. On the bench very close to me were two women, one of them with official looking tags around her neck. She asked me I wanted, and not in the friendliest tone, I lied and told her I was looking for the calling center. She softened very slightly and told me to ask the people down stairs. I asked her if this were part of the women's shelter and she said it was.

At this point I was feeling pretty confused, what had I seen, how was it that the first floors of this grand building hosted a rotating schedule of high class art events, and just up above were living all these destitute women, what kind of shelter was this, were these battered women? If so why did they have them staying in a place where the public could roam around and a batterer could easily get at them? Or if they were dangerous (as the woman with the phone seemed to imply) why were they not being helped more, why were they being warehoused in this freakish place?

As I went down the stairs I was met by about 20 older african american women coming up both sides of the split staircase. The stairs were very steep and some of them were having a hard time and taking a break every few steps. It was really uncomfortable because most of them seemed so tired as to be completely out of it, almost like zombies they didn't even see me. And those few that did glared at me as though they still hadn't forgiven some awful act of betrayal I had committed.

This was the most intense experience I had in New York, and for a lot of reasons. I thought I was experiencing an installation long after I should have understood that this was real life. I also feel like I had an experience that was even more intense because of this confusion on my part. I still haven't sorted this all out, but It raises many questions for me.

I asked at the front desk about the women's shelter and they said that it had been there for a long time and was run by Lennox Hospital, but they didn't know what the reasons were that these women needed shelter.

I have since found out that the shelter is run by Lennox Hill, which is a charity, and these women are homeless.

Even though I never did find the video, I did come across several trees that had fallen down while in New York, and I didn't hear any of them.


Thursday, March 13, 2008


What Happened in Vegas?

I have been learning a lot lately about communities from an Urban Planning point of view. One of the ideas that is most interesting to me is how history of a place, or people's knowledge of local history can create an emotional connection with the place that enhances community. And in this context I think of community the way that is most natural to me, which is less focused on the built environment and more about people. When I reflect on my own connection to my community, history does indeed come into play, but I have acquired my knowledge of this place via people's personal stories as much as (or more than) learning about its physical history in more institutionally mediated ways.

As you might imagine when reading about urban planning/community, Las Vegas comes up a lot. It is held up as the poster child for all that is evil! The strip in particular seems designed to distort any sense of history, and any sense of place. Think about it, you can go to Paris, Venice, Egypt, and New York all in an hour! However Las Vegas is more than the strip.

I thought about the marketing phrase “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas!” I have a proclivity to think of words and phrases as having almost physical/literal meaning attached. So this slogan put though my filter really resonated. If everything that happens in Vegas stays there, and their are millions of visitors every year (I don't know the number now, but its a lot!) and they are all encouraged to do things they normally wouldn't do at home. Then Las Vegas holds an enormous amount of history!

So... My idea at this early stage of development is to go to Vegas, set up at the air port and the bus station and ask people who are leaving to tell me a story about something that happened during their visit.

I am thinking to make a zine (or a series of small zines) that include these stories along with some more traditional local history, and stories given to me by people who live and work in Las Vegas, not necessarily on the strip.

I have several ideas for distribution. My first idea was to pass out the zines on the strip in the same way that the porno and sex show people do, I understand this custom has changed somewhat, but I still want to explore this strategy.

Another idea is to perhaps distribute them to out going visitors at the air port, in this case it would be like smuggling what happened in Vegas out... it could be called the smuggler! Maybe I could get an airline “onboard” to distribute them on flights in and out of Vegas.

Another possibility is to partner with a local radio station to tell “a story a day”. I remembered what was one of the most comical memories I had from when I turned 40 and a friend took me to Vegas. We stayed at the Tropicana (chosen for the best vintage movie star pool-side ambiance) and every time we got in the elevator going up to or down from our room there was a sonorous message repeated over and over, always preceded by a long smooth low ...dong... “Las Vegas, the city of dreams where players win and winners play” HA!!!! I loved it! Anyhow I thought maybe I could partner with the tropicana to play Vegas history and local stories in the elevators instead...... Actually there were several other experiences like this, where one is being advertised to about where they already are. For example, the side walks on the strip are so far away from some of the casinos that the casinos provide moving walkways to take you in. While you are on the walk way you are shown video and/or audio extolling the virtues of where you are inevitably headed! This was hilarious to me, why describe the benefits of the belly of the whale to Jacob when he is already in the throat! Perhaps this would be another venue to disseminate Vegas' history.

I would like to distribute the zines too in places where locals will find them, grocery stores, coffee shops etc.

Until I do some more research and start collecting stories I can't know what this will look like, however my intent is to catalyze a perception of Las Vegas as a real place, a more personal way of looking that employs and acknowledges spectacle in order to point away from it.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nerves of steel

This is a picture of Matt, he is one of my mentor students, at last nights mentor session he was interviewed live on a local talk radio station, this picture is him doing the interview on speaker phone during the mentor session.

As you all know I have an intense discomfort with public speaking, and I am unsure how much of my discomfort is because of the "public" nature of it, and how much is the scripted, or anticipation that I am going to be speaking to a group (as opposed to a spontaneous act.)

The reason Matt was being interviewed by this sports station was that last Thursday when he went to the Blazers vs Sonics game he was randomly asked to do some kind of a half time shooting baskets thing. (I don't know a lot about this, but I suspect most people do.) Any how he agreed and the task was to make 4 or 5 specific kinds of baskets (lay up, college 3 point, nba 3 point... I don't remember the others, I'm just trying to remember what he said) anyhow if he could make all these shots with in 30 seconds he could then do a bonus shot- a half court (as I understand it that is really hard.) He made all the shots including the half court in under 30 seconds! I gather this is terrific. The reason the radio station wanted to interview him is that all he won was a ten day car rental, and someone else was trying the same shots for a car. Apparently he is a local hero, and the fans want him to get a better prize.

OK here is the deal, Matt did a great job with the interview, but he was shaking, and I could empathize with him completley- I could see him feeling just the way I do when I "have to speak" his body was having its own reaction. He was able to pretty much spontaneously perform an amazing skill based feat in front of thousands of people in an exceptional fashion, but a phone interview with a local radio station made him nervous.

This has me really thinking that maybe the nerves are less about the size of the group and more about the expectation of performance having time to fester.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008


This is a different kind of bus story.

The stop I have gone to for years on 22nd is gone now, I forget and just walk up to it anyway.

On this particular morning I decided to walk down burnside to 20th and catch the bus there. As I was approaching 20th on the opposite side of the street I needed , I saw this guy at the bus stop pull out a pen and write something on a sign pasted up in the tailors shop by the stop.

Based on his body language, I made a little bet with my self... he wrote something nice.

When I finally got to the stop, I checked out the sign, it was an 8and a half inch paper saying "sorry we can't open today, we are sick" and what was "graffiti ed" on it was "get well soon", with a smilely face. I said to the guy I'd seen write it, woha that is so great, thank you. He said, "yeah I felt a little like I was maybe vandalizing but opposite, I hope when they come they see this they know we care, they are just these old people running this shop, they put the bus schedules up in the window for us, they don't have to do that, they are really cool." I put quotes around this but this is just what I remember, he said it all a lot better.

We ended up talking a lot on the bus together, he made me feel really good about life, and my day. He doesn't call himself a social practice artist, he is just living the way he does. He let me make him feel good too. When he got off the bus, he came over and gave me a hug. It didn't feel like reflexive gesture, it felt really right.

My meeting with Kizzy this morning really made me feel both validated about social practice, and also like an idiot. Kizzy works in a home for disabled people, and is studying music theory on the side, he is in into sampling and hip hop. He is living his life, and is a social art practitioner in the way he lives. I know that I have an "reasonable agenda" for getting a degree, but this really begs the question of how will I enhance in a proportionately meaningful way what I can contribute because of my MFA experience? I'm not meaning to dis the whole MFA thing at all, I am just wondering , or feeling a responsibility to define it for my self as something more. I'm really privileged to be in this place for what is a very short time. Meeting Kizzy today made me realize that I need to dig in or branch out in order to add something to this opportunity.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gas Station Kismet, maybe

I smoke, ok I know I shouldn't and I'm always just quitting, but I do. As it happens there is a small advantage, I end up going to the local gas station on a regular basis to buy cigarettes. I have over the years developed relationships with the people who work there, (I could tell a lot of stories here now, but I won't.)

Tonight when I went in to buy my smokes, Hannah (who works at the station) told me that it is really weird to her that there are three women who buy american spirits, yellow (me) orange and blue, and "its like you are all the same as each other and different from everybody else." She likes us all. I told her that I would love to meet these women. Hanna is totally comfortable facilitating a meeting between us all. I explained a little bit about social practice, and how if she wanted look at this as a project that she was doing, I would help, maybe host a dinner. She was totally game.

This image is Hannah's contact information. I've blacked most of it out, to protect her privacy.

Type rest of the post here