Category:the souvenir series


We just got back from a weekend trip to Gettysburg, PA, and I was not quite prepared to be so fascinated by it. Gettysburg the town was attacked the Confederate Army in the Civil War partly because of its symbolic value [as a Northern target], but also because so many roads converged there. It turned out several of the meandering paths I'm interested in converged there, too.


Without knowing exactly where it was, I was interested in seeing the closed Cyclorama Center, designed in 1962 by Richard Neutra. In 2008, after relocating the Cyclorama itself--one of four extraordinary 359-ft long panoramic paintings made in the 1880s by Paul Philippoteaux [three remain]--to a new Visitors Center, the National Park Service began trying to demolish Neutra's Cyclorama Building. Neutra's son Dion and other preservationists are contesting this plan in court.

Well, it turns out the Cyclorama's right on Cemetery Ridge, near the Confederate Army's key attack on the center of the Union line. Which turns out to make sense, because that site was the focal point Philippoteaux chose for the paintings. This Cyclorama was on display in Boston for many years, until it was relocated to Gettysburg the town in 1913. The Park Service bought it, restored it, and then re-sited it to the very site it depicted, in time for the 100th anniversary of the battle.


The Park Service's reasons against keeping the Cyclorama Building are partly logistical--it couldn't accommodate the current number of visitors and cars; partly technological--the state of the Cyclorama art now involves multimedia light and sound elements, as well as 3D dioramas, which were apparently present in Boston, but not in subsequent installations. But its main argument is curatorial--it's now considered inappropriate to place such interpretive structures directly on the site itself. The contemporary building thus thwarts their attempt to restore the battlefield to its pastoral, pre-1863 condition.

The first argument is undoubtedly true, but it doesn't preclude the NPS from adapting the building to some kind of other, lower-impact use. The second argument is true, too, and I'd guess that they feel they're getting the most out of their Cyclorama Experience now. Plus they now get to charge $10.50 for a ticket.

It's the third argument that turned out to be so confounding and complicated, because the battlefield is literally jammed with markers and structures, not just monuments and memorials, that have been put there by successive generations as part of the remembering and memorializing process. The Cyclorama and its building are among the most important chapters in the post-war history of Gettysburg, and the Park Service's plan to destroy the building would be highly questionable even if it hadn't been designed by one of the country's most well-known modernist architects.

Just about a month ago, a federal judge found that the Park Service had failed to study or consider the impact of demolishing Neutra's building, which they had lobbied to keep off the National Register of Historic Places.

I think I'll be breaking this up over several posts.

Next: 'The largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world'

Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, interviewed by Christopher Knight in 1985 for the Archives of American Art:

DR. PANZA: Well, the connection between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art was made through Rauschenberg, because if you look at Rauschenberg, you see also the sign of the painting. We don't see only the collage, also the object, the real object. And for this reason, it was natural for me to arrive at the Pop Art. However, when the Rauschenbergs came into my house there was some people which was very interested, but very few, but some was very fascinated by the work by Rothko and Kline, and Tapies, and to see this kind of art so different, so vulgar, made with the objects which are really found by upsetting the container of the trash, was a scandal for these people. [Laughs.] But I felt a great interest in the work by Rauschenberg because I see from the nature of this details, a relationship to something which happened in his past. It's an inducement to memory, the work of Rauschenberg. Are all the ties made with the connection to something real, which is fading away, because it's a fact which happened in the distant past when perhaps the artist was young. The quality of this material, which became old because are perishable materials. The paper, the wood, the objects add this kind of distance to the memory, making the object stronger because is alive in the memory. Because it's a matter of fact, but something which we have strong experience in the distant past, is by the memory in some way changed, became more beautiful, because lose reality and get more ideal reality. This process is very strong in the work of Rauschenberg, especially in the ones made in the fifties.
Just working my way through. Panza's English doesn't skim very well, but his descriptions of James Turrell installations are fantastic, some of the clearest I've ever read. For example, this account of a 1973 visit to a room in the artist's house, which I confess, I've never heard of--is it a reference to the Main and Hill Studio installations in 1968-70 mentioned in Turrell's bio?:
DR. PANZA: In Santa Monica, in his house, there was another room which was completely dark. This room was nearby a street corner, with lights in the middle of the street. One side of the room was overlooking a small road with a little track. The other side was looking at the main street with many cars passing through. And there was a lamps of public light nearby; there was some small houses nearby. And Turrell, at the end wall of this room, made holes which was possible to open and to close in different positions of the wall. Opening the hole was facing the streetlight, it was possible to have inside the room only the light coming from the red, the green and the yellow light, leaving [off] the light of the street.

MR. KNIGHT: Of the streetlight?

DR. PANZA: Yes, the streetlight. And the room was filled of, for some minutes, of a beautiful red light. And after, the yellow one. And after, the green one.

MR. KNIGHT: And it would change.

DR. PANZA: And closing this wall but opening another one, it was possible to see only the light projections of the cars which was passing fast in the main street. And this light was coming inside the room like a lightning, filling the room with very strong light, but for a very short time. And afterward disappear; the room became again dark. Opening another hole, it was possible to see only the car coming from the small street, and for some minutes the room was completely dark, but after, some small dim light was coming into the room stronger and stronger. This light had shape, and this shape was going around the room when the car was turning in the main street. And there was a completely different feeling of the light. And opening another one, it was possible to have only the light coming from the far away public light from the street, not the one nearby the house, but one very far. And this light was very dim, but was filling, in a very peaceful way, the room. It looks like the moonlight. It was giving the same kind of emotion, because was visible only the shadow of the objects inside. There was a confused notion of the volume of the space. The room was looking very much larger, almost endless, because there was almost no shadow, a very faint shadow. Everything inside the room was looking like having lost material quality, gaining some kind of ideal entity, which was no more earthly, but heavenly. Something very strange, very metaphysical. And there was a series of this experiences which was very beautiful, made in a very simple way, showing the quality of many kind of light.

This use of only found light, it's like those seemingly pop/superficial pieces that use reflected light from TVs showing cartoons, like in the Mondrian Hotel's elevator lobbies, crossed with a quintessentially Los Angeles mockup of the timeless/profundity of Roden Crater. Someone please tell me this still exists.

update: haha, of course not. It turns out it's the building that used to be called the Mendota Hotel, and the works are his seminal, site-specific, Happening-like Mendota Stoppages. I'd always read Mendota as a studio, not a house [though it was, in fact, both.] Of course it is now a Starbucks.

December 29, 2009

The Battle of Hürtgen Forest


For the Allied forces, The Battle of Hürtgen Forest was the longest and one of the bloodiest, most pointless battles of World War II. Between October 1944 through February 1945, over 33,000 US soldiers were killed in the dense fir forest filled with minefields and fortifications.

Even when the battle turned immediately hellish, far-off Allied generals kept pressing for "victory," which at the time basically meant preserving the pride of the US Army by not retreating, even though there was no apparent strategic value to the German territory.

At least that's Charles Whiting's point in The Battle of Hürtgen Forest, his harrowing-to-overwrought, GI-friendly history, published in 2000. [I bought my copy on Amazon.]

As Wikipedia points out, though, Germany suffered almost as many casualties defending the forest because it stood between the US and a potentially vital dam, and it was a staging ground for the fast-approaching Ardennes Offensive/Battle of the Bulge.

Still, none of that was known or acted upon at the time by US forces, and it certainly wasn't communicated down the line to the soldiers pinned down for days in their nearly useless foxholes.

The photos in Whiting's book are somewhat cursory, and when I imagine the conditions, I inevitably fall back to the episode on the wintertime siege of Bastogne from HBO's Band of Brothers. So Dmitri Kessel's 1951 photo for LIFE, depicting the bombed out, burned out ruins of the once-impenetrable forest kind of caught me off guard.

My great uncle Lark was a staff sergeant in Hurtgen Forest. He'd already fought in Africa, Sicily and France when he was killed on October 9th, one of the earliest casualties of the battle. When it published his obituary a month later, The Richfield Reaper (UT) said only he died "somewhere in Germany." I'm not sure if anyone in my family has ever inquired after or discussed Uncle Lark's experience during the last months and days of his life. But I suspect it was pretty damn grim.

Hurtgen Forest, Germany, 1951, photographed by Dmitri Kessel for LIFE Magazine [life@google]
The Battle of Hürtgen Forest [wikipedia]

November 6, 2009

From The Richfield Reaper

Greg Knauss's mention of the ancient web and an obituary spurred me to back up a little piece of my own hard drive that is the web. From Rootsweb/'s republished obituaries from Piute County, UT, is by great uncle's obituary, from the Nov. 9, 1944 issue of the Richfield Reaper:

St. Sgt. Lark Allen, 27, son of Mr. and Mrs. Chester Allen of Antimony, was reported killed in action on October 9, somewhere in Germany.

He had been wounded July 16 and released September 5 and sent back into active duty and had been overseas two years.

St. Sgt. Allen had taken part in the African invasion, the campaign in Sicily and in France. He entered the service July 7, 1941.

He has been awarded the bronze star and the purple heart was sent to his parents after he was wounded.

He was born in Circleville and attended the schools there. After graduating from the Circleville high school he attended the B.A.C. at Cedar City.

Surviving besides his parents of Antimony are the following brothers and sisters: Mrs. Dot Hall, Richfield; Miss Joye Allen, Logan; Champ Allen, Marysvale, Wayne Allen, Camp Pendelton, California and Calvert Allen, Richfield.

Memorial services will be held Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Antimony ward chapel.

(Richfield Reaper, 9 November 1944)

My dad was born just a couple of months after his uncle was killed. His parents named him Lark.

September 8, 2009

Still In Saigon

"I don't know if you can escape what you are," said Philip Van Cott, a retired US Marine and Vietnam War veteran who began treatment for PTSD ten years ago.

Generation B | The Damage of Vietnam, Four Decades Later [nyt]

July 27, 2009

Dance, Memory

I'm surprising myself by how much I feel the loss of Merce Cunningham, or more precisely, how much more acutely I'm feeling an appreciation for his work right now.

From the LA Times' obituary by Lewis Segal:

"When you work on something that you don't know about, how do you figure out what's right for that moment?" he asked rhetorically in the 2005 Times interview. "Using chance can be a way of looking at what you do in another way without depending always on your memory. It helps something else to come out that otherwise you wouldn't have known about."
And from Alastair Macaulay, the NY Times dance critic who's obviously been deeply contemplating for years having to write Merce's obit at some point:
Mr. Cunningham often spoke and wrote movingly about the nature of dance and would laugh about its maddening impermanence. "You have to love dancing to stick to it," he once wrote. "It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive."
On the other hand, there's always this hilariously insipid interview by R. Couri Hay from a 1974 Cunningham-Cage party at Louise Nevelson's place to lighten the mood. My favorite "question" is around 27:00: "Perhaps, Mr Cage can tell- can we ask you about-- can you tell us some of the--interesting things that happen when you were working with--Mr Cunningham--tell us all about some of the--incredible little things that must have happened when you were working out some, uh, new--fabulous things?"


This gorgeous Darren Almond photograph, Infinite Betweens: Becoming Between, Phase 3, of an impossible-to-map landscape covered with Tibetan prayer flags is coming up at Philips in a couple of weeks. It reminded me how quietly strong his work is, and how his underlying interests in time, place, memory, and the human experience of them resonates with me. I just watched his Tate Talk from 2005 which, though it was a good primer on his film work, was pretty thin on insight. Almond is a pretty reticent guy on stage, and except for his discussion of his project of relocating Auschwitz bus stations into the gallery, it's only at the end when someone in the audience asks him about memory that he kind of lights up.

While trying to track down a long, deep-sounding quote from his grandmother, I found Brad Barnes' interview with Almond on Kultureflash, which was apparently conducted the next day:

BB: I think I know what you mean by seeking a "reassurance". Is that the grandfather alluded to in If I had you?

DA: Yes it is. "A much loved man" as carved on his head stone. For me he supplied much of my early field of memory. The terrain of his own life's experiences he passed on as we were very close. The whole notion of travel for instance came from him albeit that he was serving in the army during the WWII he then revisited the towns throughout Belgium, France and Germany after the war and maintained friendships with people he met through the war. During the procedure of trying to make If I had you my grandmother and I shared our feelings that we still had for him and in fact they were feelings generated by memory only so a shared local memory does provide a certain reassurance. I hoped that despite an increment of melancholia produced in If I had you I also hoped that it would provide a certain optimism. I like a statement that was produced to me last night at my talk at the Tate, "the vision for the future is not utopia it is a re-interpreted 'telling' of the now. Memory is not exactly the site of freedom, but the layering of identity and memory is a basis for moving forward. The limit for this is language itself."

Previously from 2002: wow, family, travel, memory, Auschwitz bus stops. I just wanted to add a "Previous Darren Almond mentions" link, but it's all kind of circling back.

Last September was the first anniversary of what's now called the Saffron Rebellion, where Burmese monks took to the streets to protest the military government. As a commemoration of that movement, the Stedelijk Museum showed the first of three parts of Indian artist/documentary filmmaker Amar Kanwar's work in progress about the Burmese resistance.

The title of the project is The Torn First Pages, 2004, which is a reference to the private, anonymous rebellion of a bookshop owner named Ko Than Htay, who was imprisoned for tearing out the first page of everything he sold, pages which contained mandatory praise for the junta.

Parts of footage for The Torn First Pages come from Burmese democracy activists, who surreptitiously tape and smuggle their work to Kanwar in India.

Kanwar talks about the work with the Stedelijk curator above:

I felt that everybody who writes, be it a poem, be it a novel, be it a fashion magazine, whatever, in one way or the other is indebted or connected to Ko Than Htay, because he's tearing the first page out from any author. It's not necessarily a specific book. So in a way, I felt that artists of all kinds, writers of all kinds are connected to this. And in many ways what this is all about is your own relationship with authority and your own defiance. Your own need for defiance. Your own articulation. It's not necessarily that this articulation is going to become public or recognized. So in some way, in order to understand Burma, if one can understand Ko Than Htay and this act of tearing the first page, you can understand what's happening in Burma. And if you can understand that, you can understand your own life, regardless of where you are.


The Torn First Pages is about presenting evidence of a terrible series of crimes, evidence of amazing resistance. In a way, it's about saying maybe poetry also has a presence, a validity, in a court of law.


Everything you remember, there's a way to remember. If you remember in a particular way, if you look in a particular way, you're looking only so that it clarifies you in the present. The purpose of clarifying you in the present is only so that you can take a step forward. In that sense, the act of remembering is really the act of moving forward in time.

Longtime readers of may remember my swooning at Kanwar's work when I saw it at documenta 11 in 2002.

Amar Kanwar- The Torn First Pages (Part I), 5.09.08 - 1.10.08 []

I'm not interested in the so-called PC aspects of discussing hair loss. The parody of an apologetically sensitive term like "follicularly challenged" is still of a piece with the negative connotation baked into the term, "hair loss" itself. Same with the self-affirming bald pride nonsense of the "God only made a few perfect heads. The rest he covered with hair." variety with gets cross-stitched onto too many pillows.

I'm interested in the seemingly universal, unquestioning acceptance of the hair loss [sic] paradigm. Now there's obviously a strong, pro-bald paradigm at work as well, thanks in large part to Michael Jordan and his shaved head.

But when it's discussed at all, the language and perception of hair loss is consistently negative. It's a loss, not "scalp expansion." "Hairlines recede," foreheads don't "advance." At best, it's a "problem" that guys "deal with" or "accept." At worst, they deny it, fight it, hide it. Whether it's a transplant, a toupee, or a combover, the results are always unsatisfactory, or at least aesthetically sub-optimal. And yet, does anyone ever say anything to the guy about his self-inflicted hair mistake? Not likely. Whether it's someone else's or our own, hair loss is usually slow enough that most people pretend it's not happening and move on.

When I was a little boy, my paternal grandfather wore a toupee. It was thick, dark, and carefully styled--immediately recognizable to the most casual viewer. To me, the most remarkable thing about it was that he'd take it off when he got home, like a hat. He placed it upside-down on the coffee table, where it looked Meret Oppenheim-esque, a furry candy bowl with a strip of double-sided tape running down the center. I don't remember anyone in our family or beyond ever talking about it, or even acknowledging its existence. What my grandfather's motivations were for wearing it, and how it related to his perception of himself and the image he sought to project once he stepped out his door, I don't know. I wish I did.


Actually, what I really wish was that I had the guts and presence of mind to take a conceptual, dispassionate, but engaged view of hair loss. Specifically, I wanted to get--OK, I wanted to see someone get--a tattoo of his hairline.

The idea came to me in 1995, soon after seeing Alix Lambert's photograph of a tattooed head on the cover of Open City magazine. Wouldn't it be awesome, I thought, for a guy to periodically trace a tatoo along his hairline as soon as he saw that it was changing? Add a new line maybe once or twice a year. As his hairline moved back, his tattoo would grow, and it would take on some kind of chronotopographical shape, somewhere between ripples in the sand and hollows in a sandstone cliff. Like carving notches in a growing kid's door jamb, the tattoo would become a portable, integral memento of a passage of the man's life.

Obviously, as my own tattoo-less head proves, there are complications to such a project. The generally negative perception of hair loss means that a guy's denial and anxiety are strongest when it starts; you're ignoring your hairline is shifting at the exact moment you'd need to start documenting the migration. You wash your face, and your muscle memory fails to take into account your extra forehead. But it works out because when you shampoo, you still try to lather up the top of your head the most, even though that's not where most of your hair is anymore.

Tattoos have become far more popular and destigmatized since 1995, but facial/head tattoos still seem to carry a taboo that can affect acceptance among the mainstream culture. A guy with a bad hair transplant could become Vice-freaking-President in this country, but a guy with a conceptual scalp tattoo would be unemployable.

A corollary project would be a conceptual approach to hair transplants that rejects the default "naturalistic" aesthetic which is the unquestioned ideal. I remember seeing a guy in that first Barnes & Noble on Broadway, up from Zabar's, an Indian/Asian guy with a vast, smooth head with a tiny fringe and like ten hair plugs on top. It's like he was determined to get something done, but he only had money enough for a dozen plugs. And yet some doctor took his money and arranged his plugs in bowling pin formation on the top of his endlessly bald head.

But what if a guy laid out his hair transplants in a design? A spiral, a fan radiating from his now-invisible widow's peak? A lightning bolt? The Nike Swoosh? Any one of the thousands of designs that guys get shaved into their fades every day on Astor Place--only in reverse and permanent?

Over the holidays, I taped an interview with my great uncle Wayne. He is my paternal grandfather Champ's older brother. [Yes, I did ask him about my grandfather's name. His recollection was that my great grandfather Chester Jehiel Allen hated his own name so much, he was determined to give his kids one monosyllabic name apiece. But that's not the point right now.]

Wayne told me as a young man growing up in central Utah, my grandfather had worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was one of the most successful Depression-era jobs programs; it put hundreds of thousands of men, mostly from rural areas, to work building roads, dams, bridges and national park fixtures, and doing other construction-type projects.

I've been surfing around on the history of the CCC in Utah, trying to get a sense for what his experience was like. From newsletters archived by the Utah State Historical Society, it sounds like it was run in a quasi-military style, with camps and barracks and ranks; it's hard to imagine my grandfather fitting in well.


The USHS also has several collections of photographs taken by CCC members, though I couldn't find any yet from the camps or periods Champ served. The photos show camps or the projects: structures in remote desert landscapes lacking any readily identifiable landmarks. Gabions and walls and foundations of stone in the middle of the desert. Not just bridges to nowhere, but bridges to, from, and in nowhere. Some of them unexpectedly reminded me of Earth Art sculptures.


Ashley A. Workman served in the CCC for seven years, 1934-41, in ten different camps. This undated, unsited photo from his collection of "some type of CCC bridge construction project." What else could a minimalistic geometric structure, stripped of time, place, context, and utility be but a sculpture? [here's another view of it.]


We know where Lamar Peterson took this photo, ""Dam on Santa Clara River, Shivcoit Indian Reservation," [actually, I believe that should be Shivwits, a band of the Paiute tribe] but it still looks like it could be part of Michael Heizer's City.

I have no idea what Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter deMaria, or any other earthworks artists thought or said about projects like the CCC's. Maybe nothing at all, ever. We see these historical works from the other end of the temporal telescope now, but did they look different to people encountering them for the first time in the 1960's and 70's?

When these artists began conceiving massive sculptural interventions in the remotest desert landscapes they could find, the country was only a generation removed from the Depression. I expect there was a much greater general cultural awareness of the CCC and its built legacy. And then there's the post-war construction and baby boom that saw American families taking cross-country roadtrips to national parks via new interstate highways.

If anyone's seen Earthworks discussed well from this historical and aesthetic context, I'd love to know about it. And if anyone's then looked even further back, with contemporized eyes, to explore the production of pre-minimalist and pre-Earthwork objects, I'd definitely love to know about it, too.

Images 2 of 1455 CCC photos in the Utah State Historical Society Collection []

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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.

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about this archive

Category: the souvenir series

recent projects, &c.

Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017

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
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
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99