A Couple Fun Things I Did Recently

Sometimes it’s tough working with faculty. They have the summer off, and lots of them take extended vacations. Then they come back raving about what a fantastic time they had. Which is great, except sometimes I start to get a little jealous. So I thought I’d take a moment to remind myself of some fun things I’ve done recently.

Friday night, Xy & P were away on a “camping” trip, and so I was left to fend for myself. It was raining but I didn’t let that stop me. I rode my bike to the New Orleans Museum of Art. They do special stuff on Friday nights. The goings-on are typically cool enough that I don’t even wince at the heading “Where Y’Art?” Last time there we saw Quintron. On this particular night was the opening of the new exhibition, The Elegant Image: Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent in the Siddharth K. Bhansali Collection. In celebration, they had live music by Guy Beck. I did a double-take. I recognized that name. I once checked out his album of sacred ragas from the New Orleans Public Library. I didn’t realize he’s a local. There were also Indian women in colorful saris striking dramatic poses on the steps in the atrium. I got there just in time for an exhibit walk-through led by Lisa Rotondo-McCord (who happens to be married to the guy who once occupied my office). I’ve never done one of these before, and despite being slightly damp from the rain, I enjoyed it immensely. The bronzes are mostly figurines from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions, including some of the oldest Jain bronzes in existence. Highly recommended.

Also the piece hanging in the atrium right now, Thalassa by Swoon, is worth a visit.

Saturday afternoon I made a run deep into Lakeview to visit the hardware store. It’s a shame that after six years we still don’t have a hardware store in Mid-City, but I digress. I had P with me, and on the way back home she pointed out a brick house and observed that, “Some house are made out of bricks.” Sure nuff, I said, and pointed to the large brick building across the street, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. One thing led to another, and we ended up at the 10 AM worship service the next morning. At least one friend expressed surprise at this turn of events. It’s crucially important to me that my daughter have a full and well-rounded sense of her society, and the church is clearly a part of our society. I also treasure curiosity and want to do whatever I can to nurture that. As for the experience itself, it was mostly over her head, as she’s too young to sing from the hymnal or read the liturgy or understand the scripture. The highlight for her was getting to put a couple quarters in the offering plate. For my part I’ve got say, they have some nice stained glass there, but I was unprepared for the rampant anti-Baalism of the sermon. We slipped out during the Eucharist.

Family Portrait

Ghost Royalty

Inspired by my old compatriot Joe Nickell, who is now an arts writer out in Montana, I commissioned local artist Jane Brewster to paint a family portrait. It’s based on a snapshot (above) taken by a random passing neighbor. The painting (below) captures the magic of the original moment and inscribes it to a deeper level. It was the perfect Solstice gift for our whole family, and it’s now hanging in our living room. Thank you, Jane. You’re the best.

Ghost Royalty

Two Dozen

Here’s two sets of a dozen pictures each. For maximum enjoyment, view each slideshow in fullscreen mode. (A button will appear in the lower right corner after you click play.) The first batch is over 40 years old, the second batch was collected (from our refrigerator) over the last three months, but both were scanned yesterday.

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video. Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.

I’m especially grateful to Mom for bringing me that first set of photos on her recent Thanksgiving visit.

Hypothetically

I’m still a little “down in the mouth” from getting a temporary crown last week. In the meantime, please check out this link:

The Hypothetical Development Organization

I’m not really sure what this is all about. As near as I can figure, these folks aim to propose bizarre and fanciful re-developments of existing urban buildings and infrastructure, which will then be deployed as surreal “coming soon” installations in a weird pranky art-life statement. Like I said, I’m not really sure. But it looks plenty intriguing. And they’re planning to get started right here in New Orleans.

Gina

I don’t really know Gina very well. She’s a friend of a friend, the intermediary being the irascible PJ Christie. Gina and PJ played together in a band called Rabbit Hatch back in the pre-K days. They played at our 2005 Samedi Gras party, as pictured here.

Gina Sings

So obviously Gina is a musician but she’s also a visual artist. I remember seeing a show of hers on Julia Street, but I’m pretty sure that was before the flood, because it all seems very hazy, like it happened a long time ago. When I heard through Facebook that she had a show of new works up at Delgado, I thought it would be fun to take my daughter to the opening.

And it was fun. The show is called The Call of the Alluvial Empire, and I was really knocked out by the work Gina has on display. Persephone enjoyed it too. That’s indicative of the broad appeal I think this art has. These pieces are colorful and funky and halfway between quilts and paintings: kinda-painted, kinda-sewn. They are extraordinarily beautiful, joyous and also wistful but not sappy in the least. This is stuff that I imagine would win the love of hipsters and grandmas alike. And if you are lucky enough to have a hipster grandma — well, you need to take her to see this show.

In fact, I was so impressed I had to go back and take a second look this Wednesday. I took my camera with me and snapped a few photos. I suppose this is an egregious violation of Gina’s intellectual property rights. (So Gina, if you read this, just say the word and I will take these down.) You can see many more photos of her work on her website. These humble don’t even begin to do the work justice, but I hope they convey a bit of the flavor, as well as the color and texture, and most of all the level of accomplishment.

Rogue Wave with Sidekicks

Wave Detail

Louis Detail

Grass Detail

So actually I guess the main point of this post is just to say you really need to check out this show. The work is up until the end of September, and the gallery is open weekdays 9AM-4PM. It’s on the third floor of the main building on Delgado’s main campus. Totally worth the trip. Trust me on this.

This is the second installment in my new resolve to write about other people every so often. I suppose I should establish a new category for this. But I already have too many categories, and the only title that’s come to mind is the Sartre epigram, “Hell Is Other People,” which might be deemed an insult to my subjects…

What Goes Around

It’s not just a sign — it’s a kinetic sculpture.

This was constructed by Peter Hickman and friends at the place where the Jeff Davis neutral ground intersects the Lafitte Corridor at the foot of Bayou St. John.

It is propelled by the wind. In my personal opinion, it’s a perfect expression of community desire for the greenway which we hope will be created here soon.

For more info about the Lafitte Corridor and the greenway see folc-nola.org

Post Dance

Perhaps I was inspired by all the art we saw yesterday, because when I got home I made a video by pairing a clip I shot Thursday night with a serendipitous musical track.

I’ve embedded the video below, but I had to make it smaller to fit my rather narrow template. You’d do better to watch on Youtube, and crank up the resolution.

Koan

I was leafing through Lagniappe today and came across an article by Doug MacCash, about a guy named Charlie Bishop who noticed a hunk of concrete in City Park and labeled it a sculpture. As far as I can tell, no one else has bought into this idea, except possibly MacCash, who labels Bishop a “conceptual artist.” Marcel Duchamp is cited as a precedent.

I thought this was just about the coolest thing I’d read in a while.

Persephone was sitting on my lap as I read. She pointed to the accompanying picture and asked “What’s that?”

So I attached her seat to the old bicycle and we made our way to City Park in search of this (possible) sculpture. I wasn’t confident that we’d be able to find it. I told Persephone we’d have to hunt for it. As we rode around the park I kept asking her if she saw it. Her consistent reply: “Everywhere.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that. Perhaps she was saying the park itself was a work of art. Perhaps she was simply trying to one-up Bishop and Duchamp.

But, amazingly enough, we found it.

Sculptural Pilgrimage

I have to agree with Bishop. This thing does have a certain resonance. It does have a “sad and lonely” feel. I didn’t think it was “tragically ugly,” though. I found it beautiful.

After our visit to Koan (Bishop’s proposed name for the piece) we went over the footbridge to the playground, and after a while we ended up in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It’s free, and as anyone who’s been there will attest, it’s fantastic. Persephone was particularly taken by the giant three-sided Rodrigue blue (and red and yellow) dog.

But personally I thought Koan ranked right up there with the acknowledged sculptures in Besthoff. I hope that City Park has the fortitude and imagination to label Koan as a sculpture. Furthermore, I hope they credit Bishop as the artist, rather than follow his suggestion of Anonymous.

True, he didn’t make it, but he recognized it, and he deserves some credit for making us see the world around us with fresh eyes.

The concrete structure that is Koan was once a “plug” that was used to fill a cavity in a tree. As MacCash writes, “In time, the tree disappeared, though the plug remains.” I couldn’t help but notice a number of other such sculptures appear to be in progress in the immediate vicinity. Some might take a hundred years to come into their glory. Others, not so long.

Sculpture in Progress

Perhaps some day there will be an entire collection here. It might be called the Bishop Sculpture Garden.

Stranger things have happened.

In the meantime, a tip of the hat to Doug MacCash for writing an article that quite literally made my day, and my daughter’s too. And hats off to Charlie Bishop. You rock.

Spontaneous Public Sculpture

Lafitte Corridor

This sculpture mysteriously appeared on the Lafitte Corridor last week, just in time for the Urban Pathways conference tour. I was surprised and touched. It’s worth nothing that Friends of Lafitte Corridor did not solicit or commission this sculpture, though in retrospect I’m pretty sure I know who made it. It is, quite simply, yet another indication of the community’s desire for the greenway project to move forward.

Revitalization

[Photos by Joseph Brock]

Skylar Fein Rocks

Here’s a li’l art rock mix in honor of the fun we had over the weekend.

I took Persephone to City Park Saturday morning, and we had a ball walking around the Big Lake. (Thanks to the Trust for Public Land for the recent improvements.) After that we visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is still free to Louisiana residents. There’s a photography exhibit there that’s well worth checking out. But even more so we really dug Skylar Fein’s Youth Manifesto. That is some fun, poppy, punk-rock art. Persephone especially liked the Grey Ghost Gallery where she could draw on the wall with chalk.

Spiral

It was such a blast that we went back with Xy the next day! I read that the opening for Youth Manifesto featured a rock’n’roll band that was shut down by the police, which I think is kind of hilarious.

High class event at New Orleans Museum of Art

Rock on, Skylar Fein.

The Mania for Documentation Considered as a Disease

Remember those Brother WP-500 disks I mentioned a while back? I was unable to find a compatible machine to actually read and print the disks myself. My research revealed there were only three models that could read this format. A guy in Britain advised me that they are considered “logically hard-sectored” — whatever than means — and that without the native system, it’s simply impossible to convert these disks without “special bespoke” data conversion software & hardware.

(I’m always interested in expanding my vocabulary. The word “bespoke” sent me running to my dictionary. It means “custom or custom-made” and it’s a British usage.)

After scouring numerous internet forums I concluded he was right. Certain Brother formats appear to be totally unique. I think they actually spin the disk at a different speed or something, so it literally can’t be mounted in any form without custom hardware. It’s like they went out of their way to screw me.

I finally knuckled under and shelled out the bucks for professional data recovery. I went with Pivar Computing Services out of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. They’re just about the only folks in the country who can handle my particular format. Actually, there seems to be only one guy left, Scott, and he’s fixing to close shop. He said they spent two and a half years in the late ’80s to reverse engineer over 100 Brother models. Back then Pivar had 30 employees, now just Scott. I gather they are still using those custom machines they made twenty years ago, because they’re slow. It takes 90 minutes to convert a 240KB disk. Anyway, he gave me a decent bulk discount, so I ponied up and mailed him the disks. I insured them for $1,000 in hopes they wouldn’t get lost in transit.

Then I waited.

I just got the data back. There’s 357 files from 14 disks — letters, journal entries, poetry, fiction, and weird fragments — 2.6 MB in Rich Text Format. There are no time and date stamps, but all the stuff seems to have been written between ’88 and ’92. They range in length from a 5,000 word first chapter of a novel (unfinished, natch) to the extreme brevity of the poem below. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to with all this text, though I have some ideas. All I can say is it’s been worth every penny in terms of recovering a lost chunk of my life and memory. I thought I’d share the excitement by posting up three samples here.

Without further ado then, a short poem, which enjoys the distinction of having a title almost as long as the poem itself.

THE MANIA FOR DOCUMENTATION CONSIDERED AS A DISEASE
Camera lenses leech-like sucking life from Christmas smiles

Ah. Worth every penny. More to come.

The Descent of Persephone

I was tag-surfing on Flickr when I came across this fantastic image called “The Descent of Persephone,” a fresh collaboration from two artists Alvarejo and Silverqe. I noticed it was also tagged “Threadless” which I recognized as an apparel brand, so I kept my eye on it.

I didn’t really know much about Threadless except they had something to do with clothing. Turns out it’s a community-driven crowd-sourced endeavor. They have about 1500 designs in competition each week. Users can vote on the ones they like best, and the winners get cash prizes. I’m not sure how they decide which designs actually get made into shirts, but I imagine the contest plays a role.

Now “The Descent of Persephone” is in the competition. I think it would make an amazing shirt, not to mention a pretty cool onesie.

So I’m posting here in a feeble attempt to give them some props. If you like the design, give it a vote.

The Descent of Persephone

You have to have a Threadless account to vote, but of course that’s free.

Be sure also to page through all the comments on the attendant blog entry to see steps in the creative collaborative process and also how it might look on a shirt.

Footnote: This might be a good place to mention a tangentially related curiosity. One phrase that has resonated in my consciousness for years is “the descent into the self,” which I think I first encountered in some literary criticism of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Motivated by some obscure impulse, I ran a net search on that phrase a few weeks back and discovered an article about New Hampshire artist Katherine Doyle, which contained this choice quote:

This story of a character’s descent, including the journey through a mysterious or frightening other world, what is learned or found there, and the eventual return home, is the subject of the earliest human texts and probably dates from long before the written word. I understand it to be the original story, which serves as a template for inner journeys into the subconscious or other states of mind.

She’s speaking about Persephone, of course.

Stairway to Levee Flag

I was putting up posters last week for the Beyond Jena forum. I thought to myself, “New Orleans East always gets left out of the mix these days. I’m going to start out there.” So I drove out there and started looking around for a little coffeeshop or some such where I could put a poster.

Damn. I don’t get out there much, but I was soon well reminded of just how devastated the East was by the floods, and how much is still just gone.

I didn’t find a coffeehouse. But I did find the lakeside levee. I took this picture at the end of Read Boulevard.

Stairway to Heaven

Not bad for a phone camera. I cropped it so the three horizontal elements were roughly equal. J. Stratton said he liked the flatness of it. “Very abstract. Could almost be a flag.”

That got me thinking. When I had a spare moment yesterday, I took the original into Photoshop and dropped a heavy horizontal blur on it, ran it through a median filter with a huge radius, boosted the saturation and tweaked the tonality.

The result:

Levee Flag

I like this. But it’s easy to get carried away with Photoshop.

I finally did manage to get a poster up in the window of a little grocery. I was going to take a picture of it, but I got panhandled in the parking lot, so I didn’t linger.

Big Sculptures on Campus

Last Friday I noticed a new sculpture in the quad.

One Sculpture

Then I saw another, not too far away.

Another Sculpture

What’s going on here? Could it be a part of Prospect.1?

On November 1, 2008, Prospect.1 New Orleans [P.1], the largest biennial of international contemporary art ever organized in the United States, will open to the public in museums, historic buildings, and found sites throughout New Orleans.

Maybe. But our campus is not listed as a venue, and I can’t find mention of Prospect.1 on our website.

There’s a third sculpture by the rack where I park my bike.

Third Sculpture

It looks like it’s not yet fully assembled. A co-worker suggested this might be how it’s supposed to be presented. I scoffed at the notion, but here it is a week later and that snake head is still lying on the ground next to the pedestal.

Mysteries abound.

Update: Just got word via the campus e-bulletin:

Have you noticed strange things on the quad? It’s art – part of the “Sculpture for New Orleans” project, a two-year exhibition placing monumental sculptures throughout New Orleans to bring national and international attention to the visual arts and the artists of post-Katrina New Orleans. The XU Art Department is assisting with installation here on campus. For more info, visit sculptureforneworleans.org.

An Interlude to Stillness

Wow. I missed Waiting for Godot, but I have got to check this out:

Art In Action!: Site #23: Sean Derry “An Interlude To Stillness” 300 N.Broad (@ Bienville), Mid-City

ArtInAction is pleased to announce the premier of Pittsburgh-based artist Sean Derrys public art installation “An Interlude to Stillness” (please visit www.seanderry.com). The project will installed November 13th through the 17th in the front parking lot of the abandoned Robrt Market at 300 N. Broad. Realization of the project will culminate two years of the artists work sewing inflatable sculptures from second hand bed sheets in an attempt to re-animate the abandoned parking lot. With the help of volunteers, 35 multi-colored balloon automobiles will be inflated by a network of handmade air pumps powered by motorbikes. [emphasis added]

More at Art in Action. What with the fake submerged house in Bayou St. John last week, it’s good to see that life in Mid-City isn’t getting any less surreal.