September 2002 Archives

Congratulations to the guys at Cyan Pictures for getting their rough cut fedexed to Sundance just in time. [Technically, they could've eked out a whole other day by flying the tape to the festival office in person, so they had a huge time cushion, but hey, that's enough dramatic tension.]

Their short film, Coming Down the Mountain, is set and was shot in/around Hazard, Kentucky, which is near Troublesome Creek. Last night, on, I read about the Fugate family, aka The Blue People of Troublesome Creek. John Stacy married into the clan and said of his father-in-law:

[Levy Fugate was] part of the family that showed blue. All them old fellers way back then was blue. One of em - I remember seeing him when I was just a boy - Blue Anze, they called him. Most of them old people we [called] by that name - the blue Fugates. It run in that generation who lived up and down Ball Creek.

But I can't tell anyone yet, until I get the confirmation letter and screening agreement. Stay tuned, though. Hint: It's in December.

On Artforum's discussion boards, I had posted some criticism of Nico Israel's article about visiting (but not finding) Robert Smithson's earthwork sculpture Spiral Jetty. He responded, and I responded back. Other Smithson-related posts: one from after visiting the Jetty, and one about the Jetty's reemergence and Smithson on filmmaking.

[Update: Commemorative T-shirts are now available in the two-item store.]

Nearly a month after an accidental click into a carry-on luggage article brought my surfing to a teary halt, it's okay to laugh again. In this week's New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten tells of of several successful attempts to carry Emmy Award statuettes (complete with "sharp-tipped wings"...shaped like "serrated steak knives") onto transatlantic flights. [Apparently, none of the comedy writers or filmmakers in the story are yet listed on Ashcroft's dissenter=terrorist no-fly list or are giants of Iranian cinema.]

According to this wire report, the US State Department has refused to process a visa for the director Abbas Kiarostami, the godfather of Iranian cinema and one of the most highly acclaimed filmmakers in the world. His latest work, Ten, has its US premier tonight at the NY Film Festival. In the NY Times review, A.O. Scott called it "a work of inspired simplicity."

Check the movie index for more discussions of Kiarostami, his previous films, and his perspective on DV filmmaking. Check Camworld's discussion of the government's policy's potential blowback for Americans traveling abroad.

mollie_wilmot_obit.jpgApparently, the project went into turnaround when Mollie Wilmot objected to being portrayed by Bette Midler or Melanie Griffith. Disney executives may be smiling through their tears to learn that Wilmot, "the socialite with the oversize white sunglasses who rose to celebrity in 1984 when a tanker ran aground at her Palm Beach, Fla., mansion," has passed away.

In the NYTimes obit, the subject is Mrs Wilmot's life in the media, especially in the paper itself. In addition to covering the unexpected arrival of the Venezuelan tanker and her crew ( "'I thought it was the man who was coming to photograph my home for Town & Country,'") The Times, we learn, dutifully reported on her clothing (1990: "watermelon-pink Yves Saint Laurent silk suit to lunch in the Saratoga racing season.") and her spats with decorators (1985: "Mrs. Wilmot stormed out of the [Winter Antique] show, followed by the commode."). All the life that's fit to print.

Perusing obituaries from her "principal residence," Palm Beach, we find recollections of neighbors and shopkeepers and sense the nuances of local priorities. The proud townie Sun-Sentinel: "In addition to being 'zany,' Wilmot was not 'snotty or snobby' like some Palm Beach residents, ["neighbor" Dale] Merck said. Rather, she was an original Palm Beacher." The striving Post: "And it was common knowledge that Mrs. Wilmot turned down Prince Charles and Princess Diana's invitation to a ball." The appropriate Daily News: "Mrs. Wilmot -- previously Bragno and Bostwick -- was divorced from New York publicist Paul Wilmot, whom she married in December 1970 at her North Ocean home designed by Maurice Fatio. Mary Sanford was her matron of honor."

While they recount life of their subject, obituaries are clearly (is this obvious?) for the living. They may be oblique tools for social control, but their power on the individual is undeniable. By judging Mrs Wilmot as "a real Palm Beacher," a higher plane than that occupied by mere "Palm Beach residents," the obit writer fires a clear shot across the bows of the still-too-new yachts in the marina.

Obituary fixation may be dismissed as absurd minutiae (first line, font size, picture or no, A1 lede? if only...), but preoccupation with one's place in history, one's contribution to the world, is at least as old as the pyramids.

nicholson_shades.jpgWarren Schmidt is a bereft ex-actuary in Alexander Payne's highly acclaimed film, About Schmidt, where he's faced with cold calculations of the worth of his own life. Payne is rightly praised in this Times review from the NY Film Festival for "laying out an expansive, impressively even-handed vision of life in contemporary Middle America." Reviewer Stephen Holden goes on: "The movie's quest to discover how one ordinary person can make more of a difference turns out to be as serious as its title character's. The common-sense answer it comes up with, in a final scene so unassuming that it's almost a throwaway moment, is as simple and modest as it is profoundly moving."

I never met Mrs. Mollie Wilmot, although her acolytes (a few generations removed) are thick as fiddlers around here. In April, I met Payne, whose intelligence and niceness impressed me as much as his films. With all due respect to the doyennes of Palm Beach, I suggest taking your life cues from the story of Warren Schmidt.

September 24, 2002

Reflecting on


Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, Powerless Structures, No. 59 [image via]

A friend's web writing has plummeted in frequency while rising in substance. This paragraph triggered a cascade of images:

and so yesterday you asked yourself, naturally, under an impossibly full moon, in the middle of another state, in the middle of the woods, blue-gray light spilt over the water's gently trembling surface, the hypnotic criss-cross of ripples, the disappeared stars, the misty gray-blue air that spoke of you never being alone, even when alone: "but what is the double-grief?".

Elmgreen & Dragset's piece (above) was in a 1999 show at The Project. (They show at Tanya Bonakdar now.) It was in the basement, a low-tech sublime landscape. An effable reflection, made permanent (as long as you accept its completely manmade nature).

Last week, as I climbed into bed in NYC, an unusual light shone from across the street. It's not the retro streetlamp, but far higher. You can't see the sky from our north-facing parlor floor apartment, either. It's the moon, nearly full, at just the right angle to reflect in the fifth floor window of my neighbor's townhouse. Sit up, lie down. Sure enough, it's only visible from this one spot. In a few minutes it disappears. Could I have captured it on film? with the digital camera? No, the flash'd go off and I'd have a stupid snap of my wall. How do I know?

A morning in a Hawaii, where the door to our hotel room faced due east. Stepping from the shower, an exclamation. A circular rainbow, not six inches across, projected on the far wall. We studied and stared for several minutes, watching the sun shine straight through the peephole. Hurriedly, we dug out the digital camera and snapped away. Flash, flash. Nothing, but over-illuminated bamboo-esque furniture. We had to content ourselves with the knowledge that Olafur Eliasson could probably recreate the phenomenon, if asked. He made this, after all...

Some things, it seems, cannot be captured, only approximated. Recreated. Reflected.

September 22, 2002

Placeholder: Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty, 2002. that's foam in the foreground and salt crystal everywhere else
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty.avi [1.3Mb], c. 2002

This will be the entry where I write about our trip to the Spiral Jetty and post some amusing pictures thereof. It will be enlightening and insightful, yet not without wry humor. As it reverences the work itself, it will impress you and amaze you (in a quiet way) with our vision, dedication, and lack of condescension, and it will make you want to make the pilgrimage yourself. Ideally, it will ease your decision to keep an eye on me and my own artistic production.

(And by the way, I watched part of Glitter yesterday on HBO7 or whatever. It's not nearly as good bad as I'd been led to believe. It was mostly just bad bad. Although a harshly critical eye could find some painful-to-acknowledge similarities between Mariah Carey's inability to act and my own. I fear this aside will negate any benefit I could have derived from posting further about the Spiral Jetty. Maybe we'd all be better off reading my last entry or the critical comments I made on Artforum's message boards.)

September 19, 2002

My harddrive is dead (or

My harddrive is dead (or at least in a movie-of-the-week coma), and I'm on the road. Posting could be a bit erratic for the next couple of days. Rewriting several scripts from memory could be a bit erratic, too. Fortunately, I backed up my system last summer, so I'd only lose everything I haven't posted to the weblog. (In the mean time, I bought Gravity's Rainbow to read on the plane since my dvd doesn't work, either. Thanks, Alex.)


From a link from Visible Darkness, an engrossing, intense weblog about a book project to examine documentary photography. (wonderful, but not for the blurb-addicted):

In one week on grad student Alex Golub's weblog, he writes the good fight, assailing the academically-descredited-yet-still-pop-consciousness-gripping "anthro" brand/icon Margaret Mead; laments the lonely life of the actual Pynchon reader (achingly different from a "fan"), and recognizes the painful poignancy of the Oklahoma! revival in these "September 11"-besotted times. All well-written, but again, don't think you can just skim the site while you put that conference call on mute.

Golub's recap of Mead criticism hits home, especially since Mead (and by naive extension, anthro) was one of my first stops on my idealistic foray into filmmaking. Mead's legacy: "Systematically and symptomatically bad fieldwork in which she gave up what she knew about the people she lived with in order to paint a picture that would fit in with the message she attempted to get across to the public." (Fortunately, I was early swayed by the Maysles brothers' "just show what you see" storytelling and their sense of fidelity to the people they lived with. Mead hasn't really turned up here since.)

His analysis of his Gravity's Rainbow Problem speaks for itself:

6) What you really want out of this party is not the free martinis or interesting gallery space or recognition that you are one of the people being published in the glossly lit-mag whose latest issue is the raison d'etre of this fete. What you want is to find someone, just someone (preferably an alto, although a strong colatura soprano or even a decent bass-baritone wouldn't be too bad either) who has also read it and understands what it is you're trying akwardly to express nine minutes into your five-minute monologue...

As for Oklahoma!, he casts an anthro/cult stud (I made that one up based on "anthro"; I'm sure it'll bring in some interesting Google searches) eye on the musical's "condensed symbolic account of the founding impulses of the United States of America." Homogeneity and pacification figure strongly in his analysis, which isn't as optimistic about the London revival others have praised for being darker and more ambivalent than you remember it from high school drama club.

While I hope he hasn't fallen into the pit where he sees Mead (I haven't seen Oklahoma! ever, even though I'm working on a musical now), his message in the end sounds too good not to be true:

It is not surprising that Oklahoma! should be playing on Broadway at a time when the radical uniqueness of the US's project is more than ever obscured by a shallow, partisan patriotism. Nor is it surprising that the recuperation of the founding impulses of the United States seems so unlikely.
'What have you given us?' a man asked Benjamin Franklin as the delegates of the Constitutional Convention ended their secret meetings. 'A republic,' he said simply, 'if you can keep it.' We have been given a unique country and a valuable ideal. And we are turning it into Oklahoma!.

jonah_freeman_nature_scene_apr.jpgJonah Freeman, Making the Nature Scene, 2000, c-print, images: edw mitt

For a while, Ive been meaning to post some information and images of Jonah Freeman's work. He was the DP and editor for my short film, Souvenir November 2001, but his main gig is visual art: he makes photography, video, and sculpture/installation art. He exhibits all over the place, and he shows regularly at the Andrew Kreps Gallery in NYC. This past spring, while he was editing 24/7, he was also working 24h on designing and building a stunning installation for the Public Art Fund in NYC, his largest project to date. Here are more images of his work.

The NY Times says of his work: "Occasionally voyeurism takes spectacular in [his] funny, alarming surveillance video of a Manhattan hotel." Right before he did Souvenir, he shot a beautiful film for the New York designer Tess Giberson. His interest in the subtleties of light (including explorations of its spatial characteristics and translucency) his spare, distant/intimate narrative style, and his up-to-date handling of classicist forms and symmetry made him my first and earliest choice to shoot the film. Plus, he knew how to work the lights and the camera.

Much of whatever beauty and visual power Souvenir has is because of Jonah. Reading back over the location diary, he caught some truly sublime shots; some tight, emotional/energetic shots; and some really crucial shots we would have been screwed if we'd missed. Don't think this weblog stroke job is to pay him off; I couldn't pay him enough (andI'm sure he'll agree). I've been working on the electronic press kit lately, and I'm in an effusive mood.

September 17, 2002

Thick as Fiddlers (in Hell)

Sometimes you don't find out what you've actually written until it turns up unexpectedly in your Google referrer logs.

Describing in a Utah-themed entry (their motto: "Chase and be chaste!"), I said the target audience--single Mormons--were "thick as fiddlers" there. I'd picked up "thick as fiddlers" from my grandmother, whose birthday we were celebrating. As it turns out, the complete simile is "thick as fiddlers in Hell;" it's use in the revival-happy, 19th century, rural South betrays a faith-based condemnation of musical instruments in general and the fiddle in particular, which was known as "the Devil's instrument."

No matter what you may have seen in Footloose, Mormons don't share this hillbilly view. Revealing the 19th century roots of "chase and be chaste," this quote from the prophet Brigham Young helps explain why Mormonism is called the "dancingest denomination" :

Our work, our everyday labor, our whole lives are within the scope of our religion. This is what we believe, and what we try to practice. Recreation and diversion are as necessary to our well-being as the most serious pursuits of life. If you wish to dance, dance, and you are just as prepared for prayer meeting as you were before, if you are [Hot] Saints.

As this Salt Lake Tribune article shows, though, the price of dancing is eternal vigilance.

September 16, 2002

what you get is what you see

A fascinating article in ARTNews about the conservation and curating challenges of contemporary art. There are sculptures by Eve Hesse that can't travel or be shown anymore because they're deteriorating. Latex hardens, darkens, goes brittle, and disintegrates.

A certain cough drop used in a pile sculpture by Felix Gonzalez-Torres is now manufactured with a different wrapper. One curator decided to approximate the appearance of the old wrappers using a mix of yellow- and blue-wrapped candy. Another decided to use the same brand of cough drop, just with the current wrapper, since the cough drops were important to Felix's father.

Curators and conservators are interviewing and consulting with artists while they're still alive, but most of the time LONG before they've ever thought about their own mortality or the legacy of their work.

We've collected several works that exist only on paper, as a set of instructions and schematics and guidelines and restrictions. They sure store easily, and they give a (false?) comfort that comes from not having to worry about people poking a sculpture or the sun fading the paper. But after reading this article, I can't feel too confident about fully understanding how to understand and stay true to artists' intentions.

"The problems are such that for anybody with a conscience who can use whatever influence he may have to try to bring about peace, itís difficult to say no."
- Nelson Mandela, in an interview with Newsweek.

Martin Filler would have been better off writing for a weblog. The too-long lead time/publication date on his New Republic article about the inherently dismal, unworkable rebuilding "process" forced him to write in a no-man's-land, timing-wise. Writing ahead of its release, he can only hint snidely and dismissively at last week's NY Times Magazine project that challenges the rules of what should/could be done downtown. And his thrashing of the first six stillborn proposals is right, but late. Still, he writes passionately about the "redevelopment debacle" unfolding before our eyes and correctly fingers George Pataki as the one individual who holds near-total control over the site and whatever is done downtown. Pataki's deafening silence on the subject is utterly intentional; right now, all he has to do is keep quiet to coast to re-election. Only then will his utter lack of inspiration as the primary client of Manhattan's downtown redevelopment bear its bland fruit.

Leon Wieseltier, in the same issue, hits the contradictions and problems with "September 11," as he calls it, dead on. The thirty minutes of CNN drivel I saw had Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown and Wolf Blitzer out-emoting each other and blatantly casting as wide a tragedy-net as possible, egging everyone into sanctioned grief. Wieseltier castigates Tom Brokaw et al, both for promising "an emotional bath" and for delivering it.

Above all, he protests "the transformation of September 11 into 'September 11,' which was in large part a dissociation of the event's political and strategic aspects from the event's social and emotional aspects, so that what remained was a holy day and a homily about heroism. This concentrated the American spirit, but it dispersed the American will. What we will be commemorating on September 11, after all, is the beginning of a war."

The memorial sought by the protagonist in Souvenir November 2001 wasn't begun until 1928, ten years after WWI ended. While it has the shape of a triumphal arch, its actual program was just the opposite: only after a long, unprotected approach across empty land once the site of a peaceful village (and three years of horrific trench warfare) does the smooth-seeming surface of the arch reveal its tens of thousands of names, and only after climbing the plateau of the arch does the march's "reward"--a cemetery-- come into view. It's a didactic yet undeniably powerful experience, but it was one that arose out of a devastated and shell-shocked country (England) and battlefield (the Somme).

In the same way, "What rises from the abyss of Ground Zero will become the most revealing American urban expression of our times." Frankly, with the country's fingers getting all pruny from emotional bathing, and with significant numbers of our leadership needing a time-out, this is probably not the best time to build our memories around.


We passed (and then were aggressively re-passed by) an Expedition with this license plate tonight as we drove back to NYC. My mind goes back, oh, about a year. I still relive the horror of that day, those days, trying to register our new car with the VA DMV Where Everything Has Changed After They Issued Driver's Licenses To Some Of The Terrorists. Now they're wearing their facile graphic design on their rear bumpers, if not their sleeves.

There is currently no New York license plate commemorating September 11th or the WTC, but we ended up getting the designed-long-before-9/11 Manhattan license plate after giving up on VA. It looks like this:


An American in Paris, which we got in preparation for the digital Dolby release of Singin' in the Rain coming to Film Forum.

Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven's all-too-prescient masterpiece, which seems smarter and smarter every time I see it. It's definitely his best work since the immortal Showgirls. Interesting piece of trivia: Starship Troopers is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art.

September 11, 2002


The cadence of the names read out this morning reminded me of On Kawara's moving piece at Documenta, One Million Years (Past and Future) which I wrote about here. It is currently on exhibit/being performed at the Akira Ikeda Gallery in Berlin (through Nov. 23). The way the names formed a cross-section of the New York region, as if they could have been read from a New York phone book, reminded me of Chris Burden's 1991 work, The Other Vietnam Memorial [It's the first image on the page], where names from Vietnamese phone books were recombined to generate three million names, representing civilians who died in anonymity and chaos.

unknown found writing, NYC 9/10/02
On the way to an early morning swim, I saw this piece of cardboard propped between the mailbox and the garbage can. After the time-honored New York tradition of taking stuff from the trash home flashed through my mind, I opted to go home and get my camera instead. I found it rather beautiful, in the vein of Islamic calligraphy or the early 90's paintings of Brice Marden. Of course, I have no idea what is says:
  • "I went to Burning Man and all I got was this scrap of cardboard inscribed in a made-up language."
  • "Klingon Imperial Diplomatic Corps - Forest Hills Conclave Minutes, Stardate 90502. Item One: Dispatch envoy to Komputer Repair Guild to get font package working in MSWord."
  • "When you reach the river Hudson, turn the cropduster to the left. Keep your mind clear of any rational thought. Follow the river to the city of the Great Satan. The blasphemous skyscrapers will come into view, but wait to disburse the gas until you are over the island itself."

    Unsurprisingly, it was gone by the time I got home. (Yikes. It didn't take much longer for a kind reader to email and point out that it is definitely not Klingon, as anyone familiar with Lawrence M. Schoen's Comments on [Klingon] Orthography will immediately recognize. Also, the font is available at the Merchant's page of The Klingon Language Institute. Thanks for reining in my reckless speculation. But why don't comments on film or art posts come that quickly?)

  • Here is the first completed version of a screenplay for a short short film (and I AM thinking of shooting it in film), called Penguins (at least until I make some progress on the larger project that this would fit into). Check it out, don't steal it, and let me know what you think.

    September 9, 2002

    WWJC? (What Would Jesus Code?)

    Religious discussion is breaking out all over, in some of the least expected places. A Slashdot interview with Perl (a programming language with a 'religious' following) creator Larry Wall mushroomed as only a Slashdot thread can into an intense discussion on the existence of God, reconciling scientific and faith-related worldviews, and programming. What started it? "the nerdiest expression of theology I've [boingboing contributor Cory Doctorow, that is] ever encountered -- and I mean that in a good way."

    In addition, I've been exchanging email with David Weinberger, who asked for believers' perspectives ("a phenomenology, not a theodicy") on September 11. He got responses from AKMA as well. Humorously, they've dubbed this The Topic that Drove Away Our Readers. Maybe they all went to Slashdot.)

    Last week, I wondered about Kurt Andersen's slightly wistful re-visit/re-spending of his pile of scratch (and confessed to similar ruminations myself from time to time). This week, Fortune checks in with some former "40 Richest Under 40" to see how they're seeking closure regarding the great tragedy that befell this entrepreneurial nation in 2000.

    Of course, the ones who have traded the web for film and art: Josh ", where all the pot is free" Harris, Stephen "what were we smoking at" Paternot, and Ernst "will trade film rights for Cristal" Malmsten, are arguably the most embarrasing of the whole lot. I'm in great company. Of course, Marc Ewing, a RedHat co-founder, is starting a mountainclimbing magazine, so it's not a total wash.

    Dateline, Malibu: Directin' ain't easy, even for Stephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Traffic, a man who has Steven Soderbergh on his Buddy List (and IM's him for advice on "Super-35 blown up to anamorphic" or not). He writes about his unblinking-but-not-too-pity-inducing directorial debut in the NYTimes. Gaghan also tells a good story (ahem, surprised? He's an O-winning screenwriter.) on the Criterion DVD for Traffic.

    September 8, 2002

    MemeFeeder online film project

    And speaking of composite films by collections of directors, MemeFeeder is a collaborative online movie I am participating in. Based somewhere in the aether (the use of the phrase "first in best dressed" makes me think at least one Australian is involved), MemeFeeder has invited ten directors (and other contributors) to each create a one-minute silent film based on a scene from the storyboard they've provided. The ten completed minutes will be runtogethertomake a ten-minute short, which will screen online in mid-October. Let me know if you're interested in participating on the film/scene.

    Of course, I don't mean the whole world; just all New Yorkers. The terrorists' message would have gotten an auto-reply saying, "Sorry, you missed us. We're all in Toronto, eh?" Alas, it was not to be.
    This year, however, everyone DOES seem to be in Toronto. And they're all making short films dealing with September 11th. Just look at the list of directors participating in 11'09"01, a collection of 11 shorts put together by a French director, Alain Brigand: Ken Loach, Claude Lelouch, Danis Tanovic, Sean Penn, Amos Gita�, Shohei Imamura, Samira Makhmalbaf, Youssef Chahine, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Mira Nair, and Alejandro Gonz�lez Iҷrritu.

    Each film is 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame long, as if the date were a timecode. Check this description of Sean Penn's short in a Guardian (UK) review from Venice:

    Some avoid the politics completely. Sean Penn's beautiful and moving short film shows the ordinary early morning of an elderly New York widower. He shaves, he dresses, he talks constantly to his dead wife, tells her the apartment is just too dark. When he wakes up from a mid-morning nap, the room is flooded with sunlight and the dead flowers on the windowsill are blooming: the towers that had blocked out their light have crumbled to nothing.

    The loft where we shot the New York scenes of Souvenir November 2001 was actually such a place (minus Ernest Borgnine, of course). The friends who let us shoot there had to cover their 14' high windows with butcher paper; with the World Trade Center gone, sunlight poured in from the suddenly empty southern view and threatened to damage their art. The films screen in Toronto on Sept. 11 and 12. Since originally writing this entry, an excellent article showed up in the NYTimes.

    September 7, 2002

    Back to (Art) School Night

    Gee, I wonder if there are any openings this weekend? ?? Did some quick drivebys last night, then actually lingered at a couple of friends' galleries, highlights as follows:

  • Julia Scher at Andrea Rosen: While I've followed (and been followed by) Julia's work since 1995 (the date of that adaweb link), her last show, left me a little cold, even though it included microwaves. (Yes, it's going to be that kind of day. You may want to run now.) But this one had me before I knew it, literally.

    Walking along 23rd to the Chelsea Gallery Ghetto, I saw a helicopter, stationary, hovering straight ahead, could have been shooting something downtown. A wreck on the West Side Highway? Another helicopter passed by, a totally unremarkable occurrence, except that it wasn't now. I walked on, forcing doomsday thoughts out of my head, resisting/refusing to become the kind of media consumer/junkie it's so banally easy to scorn. Anyway, when I got to the gallery, Andrea was on the sidewalk in front, looking up approvingly. The helicopter had been hired for the opening, to do just what it did to me. The show inside has some easily overlooked but similar elements. It rocks, classic Julia-style.

  • Robert Melee at Andrew Kreps: (who really needs a website. Andrew...) Dystopic domesticana, or something. The show is a full-blown survey of his work: his paintings, film/videos, installation, and...performance. His mother, who figures prominently into his video and photographic work, was there, in a shop window-like booth, drinking a 12-pack and smoking a carton of Marlboros. Robert's work is as smart as it is disturbing, and believe me, it's disturbing.

    Speaking earlier in the week about collaborating with his mother, Robert said that she just loved the attention. With this in mind, I felt an odd sense of wanting to be polite and look at her, for her sake. I felt it even more in the moments when no one in the crowded opening was looking her way; ignoring her is rude and mean, so I'll look, make eye contact, so she doesn't feel bad. Of course, looking made me feel wrong and dirty and antsy/uncomfortable. These contradictory feelings continued all night.

  • Thomas Scheibitz at Tanya Bonakdar: Sculptures that are closely related to his oddly colored, abstracted paintings. Pretty great, especially when seen together. To be honest, it's taken me a couple of years to warm to his work, but it's been worth the wait.

    It's that time of year, I guess. In Slate, Robert Pinsky has a "Guided Anthology" of poetry. The three works he highlights are all worthwhile examples, but Carlos Drummond de Andrade's "Souvenir of the Ancient World" resonated beyond just the title. I had re-read the entries from exactly a year ago, which seemed to resonate.

  • September 7, 2002

    Don't Rebuild. Reimagine.

    Herbert Muschamp "curated" a re-imagining of downtown Manhattan, a process where some of the world's best-known architects (and a few up-and-comers) collaborated on and thrashed out an overall plan, then divvied up the resulting projects. From the cursory scan I've done, the result it energetic, a breath of fresh air, an unequivocal rebuke to any and all of the "thinking" that's gone into the official process so far, and, in some cases, inspiring. (To be fair, a couple of the broadest strokes--the West Street Promenade, for example--were identified and retained from the LMDC/Port Authority/Australian Mall Developer's abortive attempts in July.)

    Another question that has "already been settled," at least in the media's version of the "New York Street," is the preservation/reconstitution of the WTC footprints as open space. While I'm not necessarily gung-ho for building where the towers stood, I believe a great deal of the emotional charge the "footprints" carry was generated by early and constant, poorly thought through, artificial arguments in the media. In this city, where everything is built on everything else, it strikes me as odd that people would get so collectively attached to a set of coordinates, especially when the "footprints" didn't literally exist in the first place, but were comprised of a massive, multilayer subterranean city. [Sorry for the rant. I've been getting a little testy these last few days.]

    Anyway, what I'd really meant to say was that one rather significant and almost radical element of the NYTimes' project is a delay of the memorial decision process, at least as it is currently perceived by the New York Street. I think this is bold, but right. According to an architect friend who is involved in the revamped LMDC planning process, public meetings frequently devolve into "kookville," where every cockamamie red-white-and-blue-flag-shaped-TRIPLET-towers-this-time scheme is entertained/endured ad nauseum.

    Even going by the title, reimagining takes a lot of the pressure for getting the memorial right off of the entire project. It solves almost all the problems of the holy footprints and most of the rest of Ground Zero and focuses the memorial question there (while calling for a "vigorous public debate" on what to do), thereby allowing all of downtown to heal, to grow, even to thrive. Given the reputed arrogance of rock star architects like those in the project, it's fascinating, though, that not one wanted to touch the idea of a memorial, even to venture a sketch. Only Maya Lin was finally pressed, pressed into throwing out a few of the roughest ideas. Such is the suasive power of the New York Street, I guess.

    An OFFICEWORKER wearing a beige dress and a thin, cream-colored cardigan talks on a phone while she gingerly picks up yogurt and carrot sticks. A MAN with bedhead and cutoff khaki shorts stands nearby, contemplating how many Diet Cokes to buy.

    OFFICEWORKER (on phone)
    ...On top of that, a woman quit yesterday.


    No, one you want to stay.


    No, she told them yesterday, you know, gave them her two-weeks notice, and they threw a fit. Then she said, 'You know what? Just consider this my last day,' and walked out.


    NO! That's how they are. And you know the worst part?

    The officeworker moves toward the bagel counter, and the man decides to see how the bananas are and moves absentmindedly-looking in the same direction.



    I think I'm becoming one of them.


    Kurt Andersen and Andrew Sullivan are writing about weblogs this week on Slate. While leaving most of the smoke/fire debate to others more expert than I, I'll say that based on their presence and comments, if blogging were the web, it's now 1997. What caught my eye was this quote from Andersen, who I've taken issue with before, on the subject of Documenta, but who I've admired for years (except at NYMag. Off topic.):

    Lately, however, thinking about blogs, I have entertained a retrospective fantasy about a kind of endowed blog model that would have been interesting to try with If we had put the capital we raised into Treasury bills, we'd have had $1.5 million a year in income, with which we could've employed and published our best dozen reporter-commentators forever.

    KA's not alone in this notion of "retrospective fantasy," especially as it relates to the flood of capital and (ultimately ephemeral) wealth of the recent past. How often does he re-spend the money burned through? Recently at drinks, a business school classmate I hadn't seen for a few years talked with assiduous wistfulness about "the day when [his] net worth hit $100 million." Every once in a while, I cash out near the top, or I go ahead with the heavy hedging strategy a lone adviser suggested after the IPO. It's like looking at a mark on a wall, which, even years later, shows how high the water was.

    [image: american museum of photography]

    September 4, 2002

    On Film Festivals

    The guys at Cyan Pictures are back from their location in Kentucky and have some hi-larious and endearing accounts of the shoot. Check it out, and compare it to the folies we had in France during the shooting of Souvenir. Ahh, the memories. Cyan & Co. are editing for the 9/27 Sundance submission deadline. I'll be taking Diet Coke to their editing suite in the middle of the night.

    This article has an archetypical Canadian aura, basically about how the hype of (competitors for the admirable Toronto Film Fest) Sundance and Cannes aren't good predictors of success. (not as good as Toronto's audience awards, that is). But Sundance never sounded so bleak as when it's described by Premiere film critic Glenn Kenny. Here he talks about seeing a typical (and unworthy of hype (?)) Sundance film, In the Bedroom:

    "The film is long, it's got really great performances, and it's definitely something that is conscientious...You walk out of there and it's dark and it's cold, and you're thinking about how profound the movie is and the fact that you're staying at a [bad] resort, and you think about how lonely you are, and about the human condition, and how you don't have anyone to be in the hot tub with." [emphasis for exaggerated effect]

    To be honest, I haven't yet strategized how to play Souvenir with any critics; I'm still trying to finesse the festival selection committees. But now I do know to saunter over to the pale, lonely-looking guy (or the darker, dreadlocked one) in the hot tub and give him the feelgood experience of the festival.

    Thanks to Rick McGinnis' Movieblog was the source of the Toronto article. He's quite prolific on the subject of film, cranking out reviews with such volume and quality you'd think he was getting paid for it...

    This witty, informative page [via Anil Dash] about the miracle of 40-foot shipping containers reminded me of this great piece by Darren Almond in September 2000 at Matthew Marks, a shipping container with a giant digital clock in its side, synched to GMT via GPS. I remember the opening, on the 15th; the container had barely arrived, and the link wasn't working, so time (or the clock, anyway) stood still. And it was swelteringly hot; people would dart into the steamy gallery to check out the piece, then return to the ersatz street party, hoping for the slightest breeze.

    The irreverent science fair tone of was endearing (a guy named Rob seem to be the main author), and after several long flights (where I cemented my disdain for rolling luggage, especially for kids, where it seems insidious), I blithely clicked on "Carry-on luggage," half expecting to find out who invented the offending suitcase. Instead, I found two lists, with photos: items the author felt should be banned from carry-on luggage, and items he felt should be permitted. He compiled them just two days shy of the anniversary of Darren's opening. Rob's concludes his analysis like this:

    In addition to the items I recommend leaving in your checked luggage, I also recommend reacting violently to hijackers. Attack before the second sentence leaves the terrorist's mouth. Do not wait. Do not wait for people to be herded into a corner. Attack. Climb on top of the seats. Do not allow yourself to be penned in. Women and men should attack. Kids should attack.

    Your acts may get you killed, in fact the entire aircraft may plummet to the earth, killing everyone on board. This is better than allowing the plane to slip into a madman's hands.

    Things have changed.

    I... This Artbyte article talks about Almond's show, and his work's allusions to stellar navigation during the voyage from London to New York. Then this sentence grabbed my eye: "Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality." Wary of grand architectural gestures, Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock proposed a "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" for Berlin where visitors at the Brandenburg Gate climbed onto buses marked Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, thereby recapitulating the first leg of the death camp victims' journey. "The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process..." I'll revisit this, obviously.

    2009 update: seems that Artbyte's site has disappeared. I'm reproducing the article, "Voyeurschism" by Carly Berwick, from the Mar/Apr 2001 issue, below [via e-Xplo]:

    The bus moves slowly east, away from the galleries, cafés, and shops that have sprung up along the streets of Williamsburg's north side, now a trendy artist and working-class enclave. Ten minutes into the quiet trip--there is no narration--a symphony of groans, clangs, and syncopated twitters, mixed live by two sound artists, issues from the back of the vehicle. The tour meanders past car-part lots, warehouses, and 24-hour delis to its promised land: blocks and blocks of waste-management treatment facilities serving New York City.

    For four weekends this winter, the Dencity Bus Tour made its pilgrimages through the city's trash and raw sewage. The ride, says Rene Gabri, one of the three artists who conceived and produced the tour, was meant "to interrogate the format of the tour itself, which relies on verbal information that is often incorrect anyway." His collaborators, Erin McGonigle and Heimo Lattner, produced the live soundtrack, largely made up of samples taken from the industrial area itself.

    According to Gabri, the tour evokes what wireless gadgetry promises to provide: "Moving through space, yet having a constant stream of information." But all tours do that, or at least they try. Unique to Dencity is the detachment and illusory sense of privacy encouraged by the atmospheric music and darkness. On the bus that night, one couple made out, another gossiped, while others stared out the windows. Without the unifying element of a tour guide to produce a sense of community, Dencity has hit on, perhaps accidentally, a lonely vision of a supposedly hyperconnected world where each person has electronic access to all varieties of data, anytime, anywhere.

    The Dencity bus tour and several other art expeditions have recently been making the metaphor of mobility material. Mobility as lifestyle has become ever more common in the past half-dozen years as portable electronic inventions allow us to roam further, with greater frequency, for both work and play. At the same time, global tourism has taken hold as a major wage-earning sector for some and a regular pastime for others. Nomad-themed art plays with these two dominants of contemporary life: the international, wireless culture of businesspersons, artists, entrepreneurs, and writers shuttling between Los Angeles, London, and Lagos; and the booming tourist culture that at times seems infected with a case of "scopophilia," as Gabri puts it‹pleasure in looking, particularly at others.

    The Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Culver City, CA, has also offered a series of on-the-road looks at waste-related scenery. The combination artists' collective/rock-collecting club launched a self-guided tour in 1995 with their project "Suggested Photo Spot." The "picture spot" was invented by Kodak, says CLUI director Matt Coolidge, "in order to put their logo up in national parks." CLUI's minimalist signs suggest tourists stop and notice more than the area's inherent beauty.

    The project planted 50 signs across the country, from the Trojan Recreation Area and Nuclear Power Plant in St. Helens, Oregon, to the Kodak Waste Water Treatment Plant in Rochester, New York, where CLUI's sign informs visitors that "Kodak's industrial waste water is treated at this plant in the beautiful Genesee River" and that "local lore has it that film can be developed in this water." The satire offers pointed instructions to look beyond the "beautiful river" into its history within the landscape, both corporate and natural. Like many of CLUI's projects, "Suggested Photo Spot" transcends the limits of representational art to bring viewers to the actual site of confrontation, where myths of business and government neutrality, even beneficence, toward the environment are readily exposed.

    Most recently, CLUI contributed to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles' Flight Patterns show, taking museum visitors on a bus two hours inland to their Desert Research Station. The Flight Patterns tours involved an official guide (although visitors could drive to the staffed station on their own), who pointed out land uses of the region, from the freeway to Fontana's steel industry. "We're talking about erosion, flood control, industrial development," says Coolidge. "Heading out into the desert, we try to read the physical vestiges of contemporary history on the landscape." CLUI's bus ride was more didactic than Dencity's, but, says Coolidge, they didn't "spoon feed" people. "It's important to initiate an interpretative process," he says. Additional CLUI tours have been "taken to ridiculous extremes," says Coolidge. "We've taken tours that cover over 500 miles in a day and kind of wear people out. It's kind of an adventure, an odyssey."

    The voyeurism of the tourist on these buses, traveling past unglamorous, often desolate areas, can turn self-reflective. As the Dencity bus passes through neighborhoods where nearly as many people live as tons of waste are transferred on a daily basis, "you feel suddenly uninvited," says Erin McGonigle, the sound artist who recorded most of the samples for the electronic mix. "We were cautious about fetishizing the spaces," says Gabri. "There's a lot of power being able to be in this bus. Mobility is a privilege, people pay for it."

    Of course, the inverse of the empowered, self-propelled tourist is the refugee, the person involuntarily displaced. Gabri himself is originally from Iran; his family fled the country during the 1979 revolution.

    A bus project directly addressing the difference between choosing to move and having to move was proposed by artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock in 1995 for Berlin's Holocaust Memorial Competition. Bus Stop: The Non-Monument engendered controversy even though it was never produced. In the proposal, buses would pull up to the vast, empty space under the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin. There, a waiting hall would offer digitally displayed histories of the destinations, the names of which would also flicker across the buses: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, the death camps of Nazi Germany. A requirement for the competition was the inclusion of the official project name, which was "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." As Schnock has pointed out, placing this phrase on the buses would make it a memorial in perpetual motion. In effect, tourists would replicate the constant state of transit that the Jews endured during the Holocaust, as they either fled the Nazis or were shipped to camps. Although their proposal placed 11th out of 528 in the memorial competition (with Peter Eisenman's "real" monument chosen for construction), it was a public favorite. In 1996, the artists published a 128-page bus timetable that listed the sites that could be reached on current public transportation.

    Stih and Schnock are known for antimemorials, or nonmonuments, an idea which latches on to the inevitable change of time and context as our most fundamental reality. Many have argued these structures don't remember events but bury them in myth. Writers and artists in Germany, still sensitive to the memory of Albert Speer and the Nazi fixation with grand gestures, are particularly aware of the loaded meaning colossal monuments can contain. The traditional concept of a monument only encourages people to contemplate a hulking stone building and an abstracted past; nonmonuments instead create the memorial as process. Rather than distance the viewer, Bus Stop invites participation in that process which, like the Dencity bus tour or CLUI's ride to the desert, makes travel and the passage of time essential to the art. Tracking the hours, minutes, and seconds in a world where the pace of change seems to compress time itself is the theme of Darren Almond's Mean Time (2000), a shipping container with a digital display continually ticking off Greenwich Mean Time. The artist rode with the container, linked to a Global Tracking Satellite, from London to New York for his show at Matthew Marks Gallery last fall, documenting the journey with photographs, as well as drawings of the night sky. Almond's drawings allude to an older tradition of triangulating distance at sea by observing the sun and stars; after the 18th century, longitude was determined by calculating the time difference relative to Greenwich. Only in the past few years have mariners been able to rely on GPS. While Almond's outsized clock mechanically ticked off the time in England, he was honoring an ancient system of navigation, by taking notations on the sky.

    Also journeying to New York City in a freight container was the art collective etoy, best known for the "Toy War" waged when an American online toy store tried to take the European art group's domain name. The etoy.TANK, one of four bright orange containers sent for a spring show at Postmasters Gallery, is "the office, studio, hotel, storage, and webserver at the same time," according to the group's Agent Zai. Members of the group, spread across Switzerland, Germany, and California, reside in these "walk-in webservers" when participating in exhibitions. While the tank provides a physical manifestation of the group's nomadic nature, the website hosts etoy. TIMEZONE, an online Twilight Zone where minutes count 100 UNIX seconds and a midday time embargo halts the clock for an etoy hour. "TIMEZONE," writes the group, "is the solution to the insanity of the continuous physical travelling through international time zones, for time shifts in international markets and to the problem of getting older." Through the eyes of artists like etoy, Dencity, CLUI, and Almond, nomadism today is as much about keeping up with a vision of ourselves and the time we're constantly losing as it once was about tracking basic things‹food, weather, water‹across the land.

    One need not be a member of etoy, however, to travel with attention to one's creature comforts. With the global traveler in mind, New York's OPENOFFICE and Denmark's cOPENhagenOFFICE / Tanja Jordan created the NorthousEastWest (NhEW). The NhEW is a portable dwelling unit, custom-designed for around $7,000, that makes almost as much sense in crowded Manhattan as on the cold expanses of Greenland, where it got its inspiration from Inuit dwellings. Made of an aluminum frame, wood base, aluminum and plastic paneling, with a sealskin rug optional, the entire house can be packed up quickly into a crate. Inside her NhEW, the mobile citizen is at home in the world, no longer a tourist moving through someone else's garbage-strewn, contaminated community.

    The Spiral Jetty is back. Although it was submerged when we checked in July, my college senior sister said it was visible from the hill above it when she took a first date out to see it a couple of weeks ago (talk about a litmus test; it's a 3+ hour drive one way, half on rutty dirt paths.) Sure enough, the SL Tribune has an article about it (Thanks, Artforum.) Read Smithson's own comments on making the Jetty here.

    Underwater or not, Geocachers have logged Spiral Jetty; it's not surprising, given its obscurity, limited-but-not-prohibitive access, and non-mainstream nature. Geocaching would suit Smithson fine, I think:

    After a point, measurable steps...descend from logic to the "surd state." The rationality of a grid on a map sinks into what it is supposed to define. Logical purity suddenly finds itself in a bog, and welcomes the unexpected event...The flowing mass of rock and earth of the Spiral Jetty could be trapped by a grid of segments, but the segments would exist only in the mind or on paper. Of course, it is also possible to translate the mental spiral into a three-dimensional succession of measured lengths that would involve areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses, and strains; but in the Spiral Jetty the surd takes over and leads one into a world that cannot be expressed by number or rationality.

    Geocaching examines the gap between the natural and the rational worlds, too, coming at if from the grid side. Spiral Jetty is locatable in grids, of course, including USGS satellite photos and via latitude/longitude coordinates, translated from GPS orbital data. But for geocachers, getting there is more than half the fun; the rush comes from "mapping" the "distance" between the two worlds.

    Back in New York, Smithson sat down with friends to make his film about the Jetty.

    Film strips hung from the cutter's rack, bits and pieces of Utah, outtakes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage... And the movie editor bending over such a chaos of "takes" resembles a paleontologist sorting out glimpses of a world not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels...[Editor Bob] Fiore pulled lengths of film out of the movieola with the grace of a Neanderthal pulling intestines from a slaughtered mammoth. Outside his 13th Street loft window one expected to see Pleistocene faunas, glacial uplifts, living fossils, and other prehistoric wonders. Like two cavemen we plotted how to get to the Spiral Jetty from New York City.

    Smithson uses the road, going forward and backward (in time as well as place) to tie his film together. "The disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of cosmic rupture. Nevertheless, all the improbabilities would accommodate themselves to my cinematic universe."

    When I went to Spiral Jetty in 1994 (it's first reappearance in 24 years), I was overwhelmed by how different experiencing the work in person (glistening salt crystals, cotton candy pink water, and that drive...) was from seeing it in pictures (aerial B&W on the last page of the art history text). Now it seems that that was the point. Mapping the distance between two worlds is what filmmaking's all about.

    I got back this morning, with a broken toe and a completed script for an ultra-short, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Here are the things I posted in my head while on vacation:

  • Hawaiian Grafitti. The drive from Kona to our hotel crosses a basically 20-mile lava field, an otherworldly (read, Icelandic) landscape devoid of humanity. Except, of course for the ubiquitous/distracting/engrossing white-coral-on-black-lava grafitti. There's surprisingly little online, so I took a picture. There are some petroglyph-style examples, and a few hearts, but most tags are just head-on text (including a few in Japanese and Korean). Maybe it was tagging along at an astronomy conference, but I thought making constellation grafitti (foreshortened, so it can be read from a speeding car) would be truer to the medium.

    hawaiian grafitti. it says heck. Calling Roe Ethridge...

  • Heat The fine officers on Hawaii Five-0 did all that great detective work while wearing suits. Even with a childhood in the South and more than a little fashion victimhood, I could barely put on a t-shirt. (Fellow salad bar diners, don't worry; I did put it on.)
  • Crime. The pervasive "pay before pumping" signs made me think gas-n-go is the most common crime on Hawaii. Not a Triad or a jade smuggler in sight. Where did McGarrett & co. (and Magnum, too, for that matter) find all these criminals?
  • Christian Hip-Hop. While we were driving through the vast ranchland and lava fields, we found Urban Filez, hosted by DJ Sizzle; favorite lyric excerpt: "after three days and nights He popped up like a toaster." Righteous living=righteous music + righteous gear. Fosheezy is the clothing line named after a non-swear word I'd previously only heard on trips to Utah (where it dominates other f-words like "flippin'," "friggin', " and "fetch"). Maybe the proliferation of ChristAltRock cleaned up the crime; it's certainly influenced the taggers.

  • Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

    comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
    greg [at] greg [dot ] org

    find me on twitter: @gregorg

    about this archive

    Posts from September 2002, in reverse chronological order

    Older: August 2002

    Newer October 2002

    recent projects, &c.

    Social Medium:
    artists writing, 2000-2015
    Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
    ed. by Jennifer Liese
    buy, $28

    Madoff Provenance Project in
    'Tell Me What I Mean' at
    To__Bridges__, The Bronx
    11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
    show | beginnings

    Chop Shop
    at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
    curated by Magda Sawon
    1-7 March 2016

    eBay Test Listings
    Armory – ABMB 2015
    about | proposte monocrome, rose

    It Narratives, incl.
    Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
    Franklin Street Works, Stamford
    Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
    about | link

    TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -

    Standard Operating Procedure
    about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

    CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
    Canal Zone Richard Prince
    YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
    Decision, plus the Court's
    Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
    about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

    "Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
    Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
    about, brochure | installation shots

    HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
    Printed Matter, NYC
    Summer 2012
    panel &c.

    Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
    background | making of
    "Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

    Canal Zone Richard
    Prince YES RASTA:
    Selected Court Documents
    from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
    about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99