Saturday, October 22, 2011

Been a While

There's a total meltdown at school.  We're days away from a potential strike.  And yet somewhere in there I find the time not only to do the usual semester overload of work but to enjoy a little art exchange on Instagram.  Enjoy a few pics from my exchanges there.  And maybe I'll find a way to get back to Bungy Notin' too.

From my Instagram feed (these are all made with applications on my iPad):

And if you are interested in the labor conflicts at SIUC, I'm blogging now over at Deo Volente.  "God willing," I am finding appropriate and useful applications of my digital skills there, as well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Things are Cookin' in Fairbanks

The Summer Arts Festival is half over and even though we've only been at it a week, I feel like I've done enough work for several months.  I'm not burning-out yet; this exhaustion is a good feeling.  It is truly a saturation experience.  We're talking about and doing work with poetry, fiction, and essays.  We are also working on a handmade book compilation of some of our shorter pieces.  And somehwere in there, I fit in with some performative, embodied considerations for art and writing.  We burn our candle at both ends, it will not last the night -- which suggests an even faster rate of combustion, considering how relatively nonexistent the nights are up here this time of year.

Let's imagine for a moment that the students (er, "registrants") aren't exhausted and over stimulated; let's posit that we are helping draw connections between this mixed bag of offerings.  We are in the thick of it all with one week to go.  For sure, anxieties are high.  "Surely, my writing would be further along," some posit, "if not for this book project."  Others choose not to engage embodiment and performance.  Most of the folks here are participating for their own "enrichment;" who can really argue with their choices not to engage in certain dishes at the buffet?

But for those who are?  I think there is a rich synergy that is happening across our various activities.  How often do writers think about composition not as wordcraft but as the aesthetic placement of "objects" on a page?  Turns out the good ones think about that a lot.  Certainly the book making process encourages them to embrace the materiality of reading and writing as well as acknowledge both (a) the layered process of production and (b) the need to commit and commit quickly to decisions in a collaborative project ("first thought, best thought," I tell them).

I also tell these folks a little about my process.  How I work an idea in multiple media at the same time.  Try writing about it.  Try drawing it out.  Collage some photographs.  Improvise a monologue.  Find a gesture.  At some point, the idea settles into what it wants to be: a performance, a poem, a painting -- sometimes all three, sometimes all at once.  But always the different ways of approaching the idea influence each other -- call this a kind of "lateral thinking."

I know, for some this approach is profoundly uncomfortable.  What does waxing a car really have to do with karate, Mr. Miyagi?  But when you relax into it, when you trust the process, you discover that pretty much everything plays a role in creative expression, whatever the medium.  Even a walk in the woods is part of the writing process (in my experience, often the most important part).

Of course, so much creative energy can ignite a fire...and sometimes that is not so good in the woods.  Metaphors have these tricky ways of becoming material.  This weekend there has been a large wildfire blazing in the woods south of Fairbanks.  I know our creative sparks didn't light it.  But that tang in the air is a reminder about what happens to energy released on fertile ground, where tender awaits to ignite.

I think our students are lighting a different kind of fire...if they can just get over their fear of matches.  And their belief that rigid categorical distinctions will keep them warm, or keep them from getting burned.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

At the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival

I found my way to Alaska again.  This time I am working with the creative writing faculty for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.  Curious turn of events (networking and chance) how I ended up with this gig: it turns out writers (some of 'em, anyway) are interested in more than writing.  I am interested in the embodied nature of writing, in trying to understand it not only as a cerebral craft but as something that involves our entire being.

So, that makes me the exercise and "invention" guy.  I'm the one (but not the only one) who will get participants out of their chairs and moving about and then reflecting on movement as something that also happens on a page. 

Sitting in the auditorium at the openning kick-off of the festival, I am struck by the richness of the arts in this far north little town.  The breadth of programs in this 30 year-old festival includes lots of music (classical, jazz, world, celtic, opera, etc), a little drama, visual arts (painting and photography), healing arts, some dance, some film, and creative writing.  But I also struggle a bit with identity "crisis" -- where do I fit in this mix?  I, a cartoonist, solo-performer, poet, blogger, social media artist, seem to ride the cusp and cracks of so many of these "fine" arts.

And so I land in the creative writing program, but this is unlike many creative writing programs.  Here we not only practice poetry and essays in writing circles, we also make handmade books and (thanks to me) explore stage pictures and dynamic movement and improvisational sound production.  And I'm pretty sure the participants are eager for the opportunity.  Here, on the frontier, there circulates a rich community of folks eager to create and to combine, to explore in new ways, to abandon rules and conventions, and to set out into new and uncharted territories.  God love 'em!

But so, how will it go?  Well, time permitting, I'll check in with my perspective.  But if you are curious, you might follow one of our "students" (an accomplished science fiction novelist) at her blog where she will be (I believe) filing daily reports of what she learns with us.  I hope we don't let her down; I'd hate to become the model for a vile alien parasite in a future novel.  A writer's revenge is never something to be taken lightly!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Self-Pic and Primates

So, I've been fascinated for the last week or so by this picture. It's a self-portrait. The macaque took this smiling picture of herself. Sure, one could use this to start a conversation about authorship of a photograph, as some have.

What engages me, though, is the expression. The practice. The photo fits so many of the genre formulas of the self-pic. That this monkey can reproduce recognizable codes without apparent access to knowledge of and intent to produce a photograph matters little (to me, anyway). This is what we do with cameras (or stinky whir boxes that flash and go click). I prefer those pictures where we forget we're making pictures, anyway.

So here I look into the eyes of a non-human Other and see something recognizable. Rather than being freaked out by the "uncanny" (as if the macaque is a strangely animated thing), I see joy and wonder. And a big toothy smile.

When we aren't treating our primate cousins as nuisances or exotic entertainment, we amuse ourselves with stories of their vengeful rise to power. How much nicer it is to look into the eyes of the Other and encounter both similarity and alterity. If our guilt (so few species have really benefitted from associating with us) leads us to fear, that is at least understandable. But I think regret is better than fear -- regret for the missed opportunities. What vacations, parties, rituals, or adventures might we have shared, with or without the camera?

In this case, it's all about what makes you smile.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

A Resurrection with Toons

Page from "Vacation on the Moon"
A little over a year after I made it, "Vacation on the Moon" appears this week in print in Palooka 2.  That's actually amazing turnaround.  For a short abstract(ish) comic I made in the wake of a visit home, more therapy than an honest attempt to make art anyone would want to publish, that work has gone farther than I dreamed possible.  But then, I guess our best work comes from dark places and serves other purposes than "just making" something.

The "therapy" part worries me, though.  I've spent much of my career cautioning folks about engaging in therapy publicly.  Beware, I tell the neophyte public speaker, of going places with an audience you are not ready to go -- they are not paid to listen and be kind.  To the experienced performer recently enamored of confessional narrative and the chance to air personal pain, I remind: there has to be something more to your story than just what concerns you; it needs to reach a broader audience and speak to some level of shared experience.  Even if therapy is not a "scare word," we should at least remember that, for it to work, all parties involved should be aware they are entering a therapeutic context and consent to the "treatment" -- we record this wisdom with impressive concepts like "norm of reciprocity" and "expectancy violation."

"Light," a one page comic.
So what of my little comic?  I made it in the week after a summer visit to my parents with my partner.  Those visits are always hard, all the harder for being such a cloyingly sweet concoction of pleasures and pains, memories and loss.  Yet there was a new specter last summer, coiling in the shadows and conversational pauses.  My mother seemed, well, different and not quite all there.  And my father, separated from her for nearly twenty years but still a good friend, seemed to be disappearing into his own isolation and the consequences of limited human interaction.  It was a visit about being (and trying not to be) horrified at what age is doing to my earliest loved ones; it was a visit about struggling to be present, to be visible as I am in the face of those with failing eyesight and faulty memory and too many preferences for who they think I am (or should be).

"Crepuscular Avuncular," some recent digital art.
Returning from that trip, I buried myself in ink and pages.  Words came reluctantly, but images flowed.  Inspired by abstract comics and poemics, I wanted a language that resisted narrative and certainty but could still be (productively?) about something.  Mostly, though, I was flailing in a kind of despair, reluctant to get out of bed, uncertain about pretty much everything.  So was born "Vacation on the Moon,"  and after a few pages it caught a kind of momentum that is hard to describe but beautiful to experience -- a "high" one could spend a lifetime chasing.  It moved quickly from sketchbook to digital processing to finding a suitable publication venue.  With the relatively quick news that it was accepted for publication, I felt something in me shift, perhaps waking, perhaps reminding me it had always been there.  This is, in part, what art (visual, verbal, tactile, etc.) is for -- not just in the making, but also in the sharing.

A little over a year later and those pages seem even more prescient.  My mother is now diagnosed not with Alzheimer's but with vascular dementia.  She now lives in an independent living facility with in-home care, though getting her there was no easy task.  The dementia and its complications came on her with a vengeance in late fall, and the holiday season required a difficult family intervention.  So much of the conversation in the family was retrospective sense-making, looking back for signs and wondering if we could or should have intervened sooner.  I look back at "Vacation on the Moon" and see in it the pre-tremors of a major quake, full of harbingers and warnings.

"Klexmur, Alien Reporter," a weekly comic originally
published at the now defunct Black Magpie Theory.
I look in the back of Palooka at my cheeky bio and wonder who that guy is.  It points readers to this blog if they want more.  And yet, this blog hasn't really been a home for my musings and art for several months.  I've been around.  I've found Tumblr and its preference for short-form ("micro") blogging and reblogging.  I've participated on more than one collaborative blog -- I had a weekly comic strip on one (that is now shifting to another).  I was the primary coordinator for a social media performance/art event that, ultimately, landed me in the pages of ARTnews this summer.  In other words, I've been keeping busy...just not here.

Recent "Self Portrait"
I think that is about to change.  It is time to come back to this blog and let it be a home for art and contemplation.  Maybe also to let it be, in some small and responsible way, a kind of therapy.  But rest assured, I know that these confessions must reach a broader audience, speak to some sense of shared experiences.

Let me know if they do.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

iPad Comics

It happens. My work with an academic schedule inevitably reaches a point where I don't have the time or energy to do the sorts of things I would like to be doing. Then, finally, the semester ends, and I get my life back -- only getting back to those personal projects is as difficult as, well, getting a jump on the next semester.

I've been recuperating with my newest gadget/tool/toy -- the iPad! As a relatively recent convert (about 4 years ago) to digital art and graphics pads, I was at least partially interested in the potential of touch screens for producing art, and more specifically, comics.

So, these pics are some initial doodling around with the Art Studio app. Nothing like a completed work yet, but I see the potential. And the drawbacks. I've purchased some premium apps, but none of them have the functionality or quality of my usual software tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Manga Studio, ArtRage, etc.). Still, they aren't all that bad, either. And the iPad is definitely more portable.

And in that spirit, I am also making this post via the iPad in hopes that blogging with this gadget is something else I can begin to do regularly.

I've had my week of not showering and staying away from anything that seems too much like work. As I turn my attention to prepping a summer syllabus (and well, not), it also seems like time to get back to those things that matter to this blog.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, May 14, 2011

1000 Hours: He Is Still Not Alone

The above gifs are compilations of a "project" I've been participating in over the last month-plus.  Around the world, folks are keeping vigil for the "detained" Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. They regularly post to the internet pictures of sunflower seeds, their number marking the hours since his disappearance.  As of 10:04 a.m. this morning (Central Daylight Time in the US), it has been 1000 hours since Ai Weiwei was seized by police.  To date, no official charges or explanation for his seizure have been provided by the authorities.  Nor is he the only artist or outspoken citizen to be seized in China in the last few months.  

"Sunfower Seeds" (2010) Ai Weiwei
The choice to use sunflower seeds to mark the hours is in reference to his recent installation at the Tate Modern in London, Sunflower Seeds.  In that work, Weiwei covered the floor of a gallery with 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds.  Among other themes in the work, the installation represents a dialectic tension between the individual and the masses -- each seed individually crafted yet part of a massive carpet on the gallery floor.   In other words, we are always simultaneously unique individuals and part of a collective; we draw our power from both.
"Sunflower Seeds" (2010) Ai Weiwei

I first became aware of Ai Weiwei's work through @Platea. (A few folks involved with that international social media art collective actually work with Ai Weiwei.)  Weiwei also works with social media, sometimes as art and more often as activism (though, of course, usually as both).  It is this combination of social justice, social media, and artistic practice that attracts me to his work.  His plight reminds me of the importance of freedom of speech and the need for a citizenry to be able to hold its government accountable.  Perhaps wrongly, too many of us hoped that Ai Weiwei's international celebrity would protect him from abuse at the hands of his government.  1000 hours into the collapse of that hope, it is tempting to give admit defeat.  

But there is something about his work and this project that suggests otherwise.  

"Study in Perspective" (1995) Ai Weiwei
The international outrage immediately after his disappearance may have lessened, but it has not gone away.  For me, the slow accumulation of days, photographs, posts, and seeds in a jar speak to the power and importance of Weiwei's work:  the vigil builds its own momentum, becomes its own daily practice, a regular contemplation of freedom and its abuse.  There is something visually appealing in each individual photo, but also an increasing power in the mass of them -- a power exponentially greater when multiplied across the world.  By itself, my little vigil is nothing much -- less than a discarded seed on a concrete floor.  But it is not by itself -- nor is Ai Weiwei. 

5/1/2011 7:04 pm CDT: 698 hours
In posting these images each day, I keep my tally of the accumulated hours and end with the phrase: "He is not alone."  In the word-economy of micro-blogging, this phrase references much: that Ai Weiwei is not the only one unjustly held by the Chinese police; that there are people in the world who care about him; that we are all connected; that we are all in this world together.

I am fortunate (today) not to be held secretly in prison by my government.  But as Ai Weiwei and too many others remind us, that is far from an assured or permanent condition.  Freedom requires those with it to fight for it and to fight for those without it.  In big ways.  In small ways.  Everyday. 

5/14/2011 10:04 am CDT: 1000 hours

Monday, March 28, 2011

Will iPad Make a Difference?

So I got the new iPad. You think it will make a difference? Will I get back to posting more regularly? Let's hope.

As usual, the academic year ratcheted up its obligations. Add to that my commitments over at Black Magpie Theory (despite the hopefully temporary downward turn in content production and readers over there), and I haven't been doing much with this blog. You noticed, right?

Well, April is the cruelest month -- and it isn't even here yet. It will be a challenge to keep up here even with the new gadget. But I'm liking it. So there's that.

How's that for a post that says basically nothing.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Crackers Neck Rd,Makanda,United States

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sketchbook Scans: Origins of Klexmur

First sketch of "Alien Reporter."  Does not have name yet.

I am about twelve strips into a weekly comic I publish over at Black Magpie Theory called, "Klexmur, Alien Reporter."  It's been a life-long fantasy of mine to create and publish a regular comicstrip.  If you've paid attention here, you know I have more than a passing interest in comics.  I also approach my work from a performance studies background, which holds (at least in some versions) that the best way to understand something is by doing it.  So, several months ago I weaseled my way onto the collaborative blog Black Magpie Theory with a promise to write regular commentary and try my hand at political cartoons.

1st Klexmur cartoon as envisioned in my sketchbook.
About a month into that gig (can you call it a "gig" if you are providing the content for free?), I hit on a concept for a regular strip: What if a reporter were an alien, providing an "alienated" perspective on both current events and our journalistic practices?  It's not exactly an original idea.  As I note in the accompanying commentary for that first strip, Strange Horizons lists "An alien observes and comments on the peculiar habits of humans, for allegedly comic effect" as number 16 in its ever growing list of cliches it doesn't want to see in submitted S/F stories.  Meh.  But this was a collaborative blog focusing on Left-leaning political commentary.  And did I mention that we don't get paid for the content?

Klexmur has an earlier ancestor in my web presence.  Back in the 90s I used to be active on Vampyres, a listserve (remember those?) devoted to academic and popular interests in vampires.  The postings there were pretty evenly split between academic discussions of the vampire in films and literature, announcements and reviews of new publications, and the creation of "fluff" (on-line vampire fiction).  Whether a critic or a fluff writer (most participants did both), the norm on the site was to take on a suitable vampire-themed posting persona.  I chose the mysterious persona of "The Gray Adept," who overtime was revealed to be an alien ethnographer studying subaltern vampire (and other supernatural) communities on Earth.  I pay homage to this origin in the Klexmur series with this comic; at Vampyres we actually produced a long collaborative fluff  saga about the dire consequences of what happened to a vampire who made the mistake of trying to drink alien blood. 

My original plan for his name.
Klexmur owes much to The Gray Adept, although in the absurd world of comics, Klex can be "out" as an alien without raising eyebrows (although he did once get arrested in the Nevada desert).  Originally, his name had one less vowel.  Something happened in my first post, and I accidentally added the "e."  I originally left it out in a rather oblique reference to Superman:  "Mr. Mxyzptlk" is one of Supe's oldest nemeses, a visitor from the 5th dimension who's vowel-less name is a bit of a pronunciation mystery.  I wanted Klex to have a similarly alien name.  However, when I made that first posting error, I was amused with the other Superman reference in his name -- "Clex" is "slash" fanfiction in the Smallville Superman mythos that imagines explicit sexual encounters between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.  Klexmur already resonated with fan-produced web fiction.  I haven't played around much with queer themes in Klexmur (yet!), but they are always potentially there, lurking in the name.  Klexmur, by the way, has already interviewed Clark Kent (or, at least as close as he can within copyright infringement).

Sneak Peek: Klex does Palin drag!
As of this posting, I am at about #12 in the Klexmur series.  Who can say if I will be able to keep it up?  I have a deepening appreciation for the time it takes to do a weekly comicstrip.  And of course, BMT seems to be at a bit of a crossroads, either encountering a seasonal slump or sputtering towards oblivion.  The Klexmur images here are scans from my sketchbooks.  For the strip, I tend to write out script ideas and loosely plot them out in rough panels in a notebook.  The comics themselves are produced digitally, working back and forth between Manga Studio and Photoshop.  It takes about 2 hours (sometimes more) for me to produce a strip.  Given the other demands on my time, this is sometimes a luxury I can ill-afford.

But I like this little guy.  Creating Klexmur comics is truly a labor of love.  I remain convinced that we need to constantly remind ourselves to take a step back and consider what we are doing...and how we are doing it.  Darko Suvin famously announced the defining attribute of S/F as "cognitive estrangement," a particular kind of "alienation" (Suvin directly references Bertolt Brecht's "A-Effect" with this idea) that encourages us to consider present conditions through a distanced lens.  I think comics provide a similar function, although with a different stroke.  And Klexmur?  He lands his saucer right where these two forms meet. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Evolution: Biological and Political

Digital Art Piece I made for SIUC's Darwin Week art competition.

What a curious week this is, beginning with the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan (today) and ending with the 202nd birthday of Charles Darwin (this coming Saturday).  Two potent figures in the theory of evolution.

Darwin gets credit for "inventing" the theory.  Others deserve some credit in there, but Darwin's observations and conclusions are as good as any to give originary credit to.  His was an elegantly simple claim, really: that species change to adapt to their environments.  This change happens over long period of times and is driven by forces of natural selection.

The concept of "survival of the fittest" was subsequently bastardized and taken up by many as scientific evidence of might-makes-right and only-the-strongest-survive social policy.  Call this Social Darwinism.  Borrowing from Puritanical views that Nature is "red in tooth and claw," here were images of competition where greed and brute force drives the success and failure of species.  And if species, why not groups of people?

More recent thinking in evolution finds compelling evidence for altruism in species development -- that life in its drive toward ever increasing complexity experiments with, among other things, interspecies cooperation.  Survival of the fittest depends as much on cunning and scavenging as it does on brute force.  Find a niche and occupy it.  Evolution is driven as much by genes being creative as by some desperate need to survive.

Odd to think of Reagan as a champion of evolution; in truth, he is anything but.  He famously participated in a failed 1972 law suit as Governor of California to force public schools to teach creationism alongside the scientific theory of evolution.  In the White House, he made similar proclamations that evolution is only a theory and that creationism deserved at least equal time if not greater attention for its moral, religious value.  Reagan's Creationism would evolve into "Intelligent Design," a bastardization of scientifically nuanced speculation in service of manufacturing support for the Biblical explanation of life on the planet. 

And yet, many of Reagan's own policies showed a certain preference for survival of the fittest and withdrawal of any assistance for the weak.  As Governor of California, he decreased funds to state mental facilities, turning the mentally ill out onto the streets to fend for themselves.  For five years as President, he failed to mention publicly AIDS or provide any Federal assistance for AIDS research.  When in 1986 he was finally forced to address the issue, he haggled with Congress to keep AIDS funding low.  Perhaps like others on the Religious Right, he saw AIDS as divine retribution or a "natural" cleansing of an unwanted biological trait (whether intravenous drug use or unprotected gay sex or blood transfusions or...).  His Tickle-Down Economics embraced a model that suggested the poor and middle class should make do with the leftovers of the rich or get rich themselves -- a kind of economic Darwinism, that.

If Darwin's evolution is primarily about the passing of traits (or genes, in the common parlance) from one generation to the next, the modern political scene shows a much more accelerated evolutionary cycle with memes.  A meme is an informational pattern that travels culturally; some evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins posit memetic transfer of information as the true evolutionary advantage humans have over other species that depend mostly on generational genetic tansfer of information.

But memes are tricky.  Consider that Reagan raised taxes 11 times during his Presidency, nearly tripled the national debit, and grew the size of the Federal government [cite].  Consider that he was the first President to make the US a debtor nation [cite].  Consider that he advocated for abolishing nuclear weapons and chided Israel for preemptive military attacks [cite].  Consider that while he arguably ended the Cold War with Russia, his backdoor funding of foreign wars (Iran/Contra) and future terrorists (the Mujahideen that would become, in part, Al Qaeda) planted the seeds of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And yet somehow he has evolved into the darling of the neoconservatives and the Tea Party -- an image of Conservative values, a deficit hawk, a no-compromise champion of small government, a symbol of US might-makes-right foreign policy.

But then, that's the difference between a gene and a meme.  A gene is biological information at the molecular level that transforms slowly across eons and generations.  Those changes are tested in the environment.  A meme transforms more quickly and shows incredible capabilities of developing rapidly into myth, an organizing narrative whose fidelity to reality is not important.  So today, many will celebrate St. Reagan as they call for magical deficit reduction and smaller government and US exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny, all while ignoring the benefits they reap from the government they so want to destroy or Reagan's much more questionable political record.

Let us hope genes win out over memes in the end and evolution provides an answer to self-destructive, congenital stupidity.  Or perhaps, from a systems perspective, that is what the global ecological collapse we seem to be entering is all about...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Make Art Anywhere and Any Way

It's been a week since the conclusion of @Platea's Tree-Blog project.  The final map of the project turned out quite nice.  I also made an animated GIF of the project map which demonstrated how the tree grew across the week.

It's a week later and I have been consumed with work of other varieties - the administrivia of the start of a semester!  Still, I find myself wanting to bask in the shade of that art tree, to put to work some of the skills I learned from the process.  Here, then, is an idea born out of the Dada chance game, "The Exquisite Corpse," and the fun of animated GIFs.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Stillness and Motion

Scurry from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

[Elements of this video come from here and here.]

A tree has movement.  It grows.  But it does so slowly, in ways that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.  Meanwhile, around the tree, things scurry and run, fly and fall.  The tree, itself, marks this continuum of motion with a grounded trunk and branches that must not be too rigid, that must wave in the wind: stillness at one end and movement at the other.  But even that rigid trunk has a little flex to it.  And in some cases, trees have been known to walk.  I am not talking about J.R.R. Tolkein's Ents (although they are very cool); I am talking about the walking palm trees of Costa Rica.  What a wonderful and strange world we live in!

So, if we view stillness from some frames of reference as a kind of motion, can we also see motion as a kind of stillness?  Perhaps when the motion is contained within a stable frame?  Is that stable frame the space around the motion?  Or is it the way we interpret the motion -- as cyclical or goalless or imperceptible if you observe it from far enough away?  Perhaps we most transform our sense of motion and stillness through interaction, through the work of working together even when we are alone.

This week I have been working with collaborative art on-line and the metaphor of a tree.  I've been thinking a lot about things that change states and our resistance (sometimes) to that movement, even when it is unavoidable.  I've been interested in the desire and dread to fix things (art, people, work, etc.) in place, to own them, to not let them go.  And I have been thinking about the remix, the ways in which things are constantly made into other things and how that is both a violent and a creative act.

The two pieces I borrowed in my video above resonate for me with this tension.  Craig's sound piece is generated from a program that translated the data of a still photograph (the "Anarchy Tree" of the original @Platea trunk post) into a MIDI sound file, which he then processed and mixed with other sounds (including the woodpecker soundfile from the trunk post).  In other words, the stillness of image literally becomes the temporal movement of music.  Similarly, Deborah's  "Green Man" video series plays with the idea of the fixed camera focused on the fixed tree in dynamic relation to the movement that goes on around the tree and a medium meant to capture images in motion.  I wanted to put these two pieces into dialogue, adding a bit of my own video work in keeping with the Tree-Blog aesthetic. 

Even documenting the Tree-Blog event has had its own dialogue of stillness and motion. The map is, in some ways, an attempt to fix the ephemeral, or at least provide a guide to its murky trajectories through a variety of internet terrains.  As I have made the map of the Tree-Blog project each day, I have constantly had to adjust it -- shifting branches to accommodate other branches, re-clustering nodes as they begin to interact, adding in posts I missed from the days before.  In other words, the growth of this tree (even as map) has not been a simple linear path, but a constant shifting and reworking.  Growth, like evolution, is not precisely linear.  Seemingly fixed positions have to shift.  "Permanence" is a fiction, a concept created by fantasizing humans that doesn't really have a corollary in nature.

@Platea is a collective of artists who explore what it means to make art on/with/through social networks of digital information exchange.  We tend to favor Twitter as the location of most interest (as revealed by the "@" and our catchy subtitle, "tales from the stweets").  But if Twitter is the medium of choice, then we truly do embrace the digital scurry -- the frenetic motion of short messages, streaming information, and posts with rapid expiration dates. 

Even so, we also concern ourselves with documentation of our projects.  We take care to make clear attributions for borrowed works and illustrations.  Some of us make clear statements that our contributions are copyright protected and are not available for others' use.  Others are interested in using social media to "crowdsource" work that will appear in gallery installations and/or be sold.  That is, there are elements to this work that don't want to be ephemeral or lost in some undifferentiated network of exchange.  

All of which is simply to say, we constantly negotiate this tension of permanence and flow, the lasting and the ephemeral, the individually owned and the collectively enmeshed.  I hope this Tree-Blog experiment will not disappear too quickly into the ether of the net; we have certainly tried to document it.  But all trees -- even the old giants -- one day fall.  And I have a suspicion that our Tree-Blog may prove to be more a mimosa than a sequoia.  But hey, out on the "Alkaloid of the Month" branch, Jason tells me dried mimosa root is a moderate hallucinogen -- so at least there's something in there to help keep the visions coming.

Thanks to all who have checked in at my blog this week and taken a chance to participate in @Platea's Tree-Blog project.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Argument

I must not argue with her,
I tell myself.
Just listen,
Be present,
Tell the truth.

She is losing so much:
Not just the car
And the independence it represents,
But the ability to read,
To connect,
To recognize.

The gaps of memory,
Fill in with stories
And fears
Leading to "spells"
Of paranoia.

Impossible things
Seem possible to her,
Or at least seem preferred alternatives
To the missing

I do not argue with her,
Evidence being too fluid
When experience cannot be shared.
She forgets reasons 
But not the slights
Nestled deep
In the family tree.
They are her only weapons
Fighting a family
Fulfilling her fears.

I want to tap that fire,
Turn it away from dread
and focus it on creation.
Lose inhibition, Ma,
Lose the internalized editor,
The constant critic,
The doubt and the depression.
Lose anxiety;
Let go of concern.
Lose the illusions of identity
and embrace the you that remains.

But she cannot choose
the gaps.
And I cannot fathom
her suffering
despite my listening and
commitment to empathy.
This is a truth
I cannot argue with her.

[This post is part of the @Platea "Treeblogging" event.  It draws on work found here and here.  It also connects with my life and the lives of those close to me.  Sometimes the tree is a family tree.]

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tree-Mixing and Tree-Blogging

What I Saw from Jonny Gray on Vimeo.

Our little tree is off to a slow but steady start today.  I am most consumed by the opportunity to use this project to learn some new skills.  The "mix" I have made as soundtrack for this little video is first baby-steps, to be sure.  But those steps took some considerable time today.  Time lost, in that I might have been doing something else that needed doing.  Time gained, in that in addition to the "object" I created, I learned some new skills.

This is Shiva's dance around the trunk of our tree, the acknowledgement that every act of creation is an act of destruction.  To note this is not to dismiss destruction, not to embrace or excuse the buzz of the saw and the drone of the bulldozer.  But it is to see those things as having, in their right measure, a place.  Was John Muir concerned about the loss of any great sequoias, or the rate of their loss and for such trivial gains?  From time management to resource extraction, the question is rarely either/or but how much of each at the expense of the other. 

We make art together, in this project (and always, really), but we also still make art alone.  What does it take to make something and know that someone else might unmake it?  Is art, as we are perhaps most familiar with it, too invested in its own preservation as the lasting product of the lone, inspired creator?  To (re)mix is to engage in a violent act, the making of something while breaking something else.  I look out the window at the gnarled branches of a tangled wood; I look at the warm and knotted patterns in my floor boards.  A tree -- as branch, as plank, as wooden spoon -- knows this fundamental truth about transformation and creation.  It sometimes burns with the knowledge.

This video and post drew inspiration from here and here

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting Ready to "Treeblog"

 Okay, so I've been away from the blog.  I don't think I am alone in taking a holiday hiatus from blogging, but this time the cause was even more pernicious.  Let's just say my holiday visit home was fraught with more drama than usual.  Parents age and sometimes they need extra care...that they resist.  This was a holiday of intervention, which means it was no holiday at all.  I don't mean to be coy, but I honestly don't think I am ready to blog about it.  If ever.

So, instead, let me give you a heads-up for the upcoming week that will likely see a lot of activity on this blog and several of the others on which I participate.  As I've written about before, I am a member of an on-line performance/art collective, @Platea.  Next week, @Platea will be conducting another on-line event for which I am the primary architect.  The project is the eighth @Platea happening to date and is titled, "Treeblogging."  This hyperlink will take you to my write up of the protocol as well as to a little meditation on why folks interested in art and the internet might find the image of a tree interesting and resonant. 

The general idea of the project is a pun on "reblogging" (Tumblr) and "retweeting" (Twitter) while adding an element of "remixing."  On Monday (1/10), I will post to the @Platea blog some open source material (text, jpeg, sound file, etc.) that others may use to create their own art and post it on their blogs, Flickr accounts, YouTube accounts, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc.  As the tree of interconnected and mutually inspired artworks grows, folks may sample not only from the original material posted at @Platea but also from the works others make from that material. 

If you play along (and I hope you will!), be sure to follow the protocol for linking forward/linking back to your work.  I'll be tracking folks' contributions this way and building an interactive map of the happening, posted daily at the @Platea blog.  You can use that graphic to follow the works others are making and the links between them. 

The mapping may get beyond me...the territory always exceeds the map, after all.  But it is the effort that counts, right?  And I am looking forward to burying myself in this art project as the perfect tonic for a difficult holiday break.  At least this promises to be a more fun engagement with connections and reinterpreting what others have said...