July 2008

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I found this article by John Tierney in the New York Times particularly helpful at resetting my ambient guilt factor. It’s a bit long, but worth reading clear to the end. I hope it brings a little relief to your background rumblings of discomfort as well…

For most of the year, it is the duty of the press to scour the known universe looking for ways to ruin your day. The more fear, guilt or angst a news story induces, the better. But with August upon us, perhaps you’re in the mood for a break, so I’ve rounded up a list of 10 things not to worry about on your vacation.

Now, I can’t guarantee you that any of these worries is groundless, because I can’t guarantee you that anything is absolutely safe, including the act of reading a newspaper. With enough money, an enterprising researcher could surely identify a chemical in newsprint or keyboards that is dangerously carcinogenic for any rat that reads a trillion science columns every day.

What I can guarantee is that I wouldn’t spend a nanosecond of my vacation worrying about any of these 10 things. (You can make your own nominations in the TierneyLab blog.)

1. Killer hot dogs. What is it about frankfurters? There was the nitrite scare. Then the grilling-creates-carcinogens alarm. And then, when those menaces ebbed, the weenie warriors fell back on that old reliable villain: saturated fat.

But now even saturated fat isn’t looking so bad, thanks to a rigorous experiment in Israel reported this month. The people on a low-carb, unrestricted-calorie diet consumed more saturated fat than another group forced to cut back on both fat and calories, but those fatophiles lost more weight and ended up with a better cholesterol profile. And this was just the latest in a series of studies contradicting the medical establishment’s predictions about saturated fat.

If you must worry, focus on the carbs in the bun. But when it comes to the fatty frank — or the fatty anything else on vacation — I’d relax.

2. Your car’s planet-destroying A/C. No matter how guilty you feel about your carbon footprint, you don’t have to swelter on the highway to the beach. After doing tests at 65 miles per hour, the mileage experts at edmunds.com report that the aerodynamic drag from opening the windows cancels out any fuel savings from turning off the air-conditioner.

3. Forbidden fruits from afar. Do you dare to eat a kiwi? Sure, because more “food miles” do not equal more greenhouse emissions. Food from other countries is often produced and shipped much more efficiently than domestic food, particularly if the local producers are hauling their wares around in small trucks. One study showed that apples shipped from New Zealand to Britain had a smaller carbon footprint than apples grown and sold in Britain.

4. Carcinogenic cellphones. Some prominent brain surgeons made news on Larry King’s show this year with their fears of cellphones, thereby establishing once and for all that epidemiology is not brain surgery — it’s more complicated.

As my colleague Tara Parker-Pope has noted, there is no known biological mechanism for the phones’ non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer, and epidemiological studies have failed to find consistent links between cancer and cellphones.

It’s always possible today’s worried doctors will be vindicated, but I’d bet they’ll be remembered more like the promoters of the old cancer-from-power-lines menace — or like James Thurber’s grandmother, who covered up her wall outlets to stop electricity from leaking.

Driving while talking on a phone is a definite risk, but you’re better off worrying about other cars rather than cancer.

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

6. Toxic plastic bottles. For years panels of experts repeatedly approved the use of bisphenol-a, or BPA, which is used in polycarbonate bottles and many other plastic products. Yes, it could be harmful if given in huge doses to rodents, but so can the natural chemicals in countless foods we eat every day. Dose makes the poison.

But this year, after a campaign by a few researchers and activists, one federal panel expressed some concern about BPA in baby bottles. Panic ensued. Even though there was zero evidence of harm to humans, Wal-Mart pulled BPA-containing products from its shelves, and politicians began talking about BPA bans. Some experts fear product recalls that could make this the most expensive health scare in history.

Nalgene has already announced that it will take BPA out of its wonderfully sturdy water bottles. Given the publicity, the company probably had no choice. But my old blue-capped Nalgene bottle, the one with BPA that survived glaciers, jungles and deserts, is still sitting right next to me, filled with drinking water. If they ever try recalling it, they’ll have to pry it from my cold dead fingers.

7. Deadly sharks. Throughout the world last year, there was a grand total of one fatal shark attack (in the South Pacific), according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida.

8. The Arctic’s missing ice. The meltdown in the Arctic last summer was bad enough, but this spring there was worse news. A majority of experts expected even more melting this year, and some scientists created a media sensation by predicting that even the North Pole would be ice-free by the end of summer.

So far, though, there’s more ice than at this time last summer, and most experts are no longer expecting a new record. You can still fret about long-term trends in the Arctic, but you can set aside one worry: This summer it looks as if Santa can still have his drinks on the rocks.

9. The universe’s missing mass. Even if the fate of the universe — steady expansion or cataclysmic collapse — depends on the amount of dark matter that is out there somewhere, you can rest assured that no one blames you for losing it. And most experts doubt this collapse will occur during your vacation.

10. Unmarked wormholes. Could your vacation be interrupted by a sudden plunge into a wormhole? From my limited analysis of space-time theory and the movie “Jumper,” I would have to say that the possibility cannot be eliminated. I would also concede that if the wormhole led to an alternate universe, there’s a good chance your luggage would be lost in transit.

But I still wouldn’t worry about it, In an alternate universe, you might not have to spend the rest of the year fretting about either dark matter or sickly rodents. You might even be able to buy one of those Nalgene bottles.

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grassseed2

Barbara Weir is one of my favorite painters. As an aboriginal artist, she approaches her work with a different set of expectations and intentions than is typical in the Western artistic canon. Like other women from her community (including now-deceased Minnie Pwerle, Barbara’s mother, and international art star Emily Kame Kngwarreye), her work is closely tied to nature, ritual and the metaphysics of the aboriginal belief system.

Her story is compelling. From Barbara’s website, Elizabeth Fortescue details a bit of her genealogy:

In the Northern Territory of Australia, there is a former cattle station called Utopia, also known as Urapuntja, which lies 300 km northeast of Alice Springs. The land at Utopia, totalling 1800 square kilometres, was handed back to indigenous people in the late 1970s and is home to about 900 people who live in a series of small outstations.

In the years between about 1910 and 1920, when the country at Utopia was first being opened up for cattle grazing, a baby was born there to a woman from the Anmatjerre language group and a man from the Alyawarr language group. Their shared country was Atnwengerrp. The parents named their baby daughter Minnie Pwerle and, like so many Aboriginal people of Minnie’s generation, the story of her life would be one of struggle and endurance. But Minnie would also become a respected elder of her community and, late in life, one of Australia’s most acclaimed indigenous artists. Minnie was destined never to leave Australian shores; not so her daughter Barbara Weir, whose own paintings attracted international recognition and opened up many opportunities for her to travel overseas. Three of Minnie’s sisters, and Barbara’s daughter Teresa, would also begin to paint, adding their names to the roll call of indigenous painters who live and work in the remote communities of Utopia.

The modern history of art from the Utopia region began in 1977 when the art of batik was introduced there through workshops that were offered to the women. Painting in acrylic on canvas followed in the late 1980s, and Barbara Weir began painting in 1989.

Then, in late 1999, Minnie also began to paint. Her first solo exhibition was in Melbourne in 2000, after which her work was much sought-after. Minnie died in March 2006. Towards the end of her life, she had been living at Alparra, the largest community in Utopia. She remained a prodigious long-distance walker and never lost her bush ways. One Sydney curator tells the story that when Minnie came to cosmopolitan, inner-city Marrickville and surveyed the local gum trees – which were obviously not a supply of good bush tucker — she remarked dismissively that there wasn’t much to eat in the city. She stayed at Bondi where she was fascinated by the sea and walked up and down the beach all hours of the day and night.

In speaking of her work, Fortescue puts her work in its context of nature and songlining:

Long, tapering lines which elegantly overlap one another in many of Barbara Weir’s paintings represent the grass which was found abundantly at Utopia until the introduction of cattle grazing in the early decades of the 20th Century. The botanical name for this grass is Portulaca oleracea.

The grass has been important to the Aboriginal people for thousands of years because it bears small, black seeds which are ground up to make flour. Barbara Weir does not paint these seeds, but she paints the grass itself. The colours she uses reflect the state of the grass in nature. When she paints it green, the grass is young and growing. When she paints it yellow, red and black, the grass is being burned in a bushfire. When she paints it white and grey, it’s the aftermath of a bushfire. Sometimes she includes some red in an otherwise white or off-white grass painting, which indicates there is still some fire burning.

Many of Barbara’s paintings are titled My Mother’s Country. In these works, she pays homage to her maternal ancestors, their lands, their dreamings and their way of life.

I see grass seed dreaming everywhere. While there is no “California beach ice plant” songline in the aboriginal taxonomy, the visual relationship is ongoing.

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Barbara Weir (excerpt)


Ice plants along the beach in California

Note: The text by Fortescue is from a book on Weir published by Boomerang Arts.

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Meditation garden, Osmosis Enzyme Bath

If we fall into hell, we go through hell; this is the most important attitude to have. Just sit in the Reality of Life seeing hell and paradise, misery and joy, life and death, all with the same eye. No matter what the situation, we live the life of the Self. We must sit immovably on that foundation. This is essential; this is what “becoming one with the universe” means.

If we divide this universe into two, striving to attain satori and to escape delusion, we are not the whole universe. Happiness and unhappiness, satori and delusion, life and death; see them with the same eye. In every situation the Self lives the life of the Self – such a self must do itself by itself.

–Kosho Uchiyama

Kosho Uchiyama (内山 興正), (1912—1999) was a Soto priest, origami master, and the former abbot of Antaiji near Kyoto, Japan.

Thank you Whiskey River, for this nugget of wisdom.

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First Fight. Then Fiddle.

First fight. Then fiddle. Ply the slipping string
with feathery sorcery; muzzle the note
with hurting love; the music that they wrote
bewitch, bewilder. Qualify to sing
threadwise. Devise no salt, no hempen thing
for the dear instrument to bear. Devote
the bow to silks and honey. Be remote
a while from malice and from murdering.
But first to arms, to armor. Carry hate
in front of you and harmony behind.
Be deaf to music and to beauty blind.
Win war. Rise bloody, maybe not too late
for having first to civilize a space
wherein to play your violin with grace.

–Gwendolyn Brooks

Brooks (1917-2000) was a Pulitzer prize-winning American Poet. She claimed that to create “bigness” you don’t have to create an epic. “Bigness,” said Brooks “can be found in a little haiku, five syllables, seven syllables.”

An outstanding example of this is exemplified by her most famous poem, “We Real Cool”:

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

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This morning I received an email from George Wingate, an artist and my first roommate in Manhattan oh so many years ago. He sent me an excerpt from a page torn from an old New Yorker that he found while cleaning his studio barn. Kenneth Tynan comments on the death of Janet Flanner in 1978 who, writing under the pen name Genet, was an éminence grise for many of the American ex-pat crowd in Paris during the 1920s and 30s:

Janet Flanner has died, aged 86…Enthusiasm, even at 80, never failed her for the promise of the day’s doings…She always urged me to visit aging celebrities and question them before they died: “Tax their brains…It’s like lobsters. Go for the head–there’s tasty chewing there.” As there was in Janet’s, on which I contentedly fed whenever we met. One consolation, I suppose, is that here at least, is a life-enhancer who outlived the shits–an American life with a perfectly resolved third act.

Turns out I had planned to see George today at his Edenic retreat north of Boston with my niece Rachel, visiting from Utah. While he continues to paint jewel-like landscapes and evocative still lifes, he also has turned his artist’s hand and eye to the land that surrounds his late 18th century home. What was once a large nondescript yard with a clay tennis court in slow decline is now an exuberant array of flower fields, stream beds, tree borders and trails.

We sat on his deck overlooking this extraordinary patchwork of color and texture, and continued the discussion of third acts and later-in-life epiphanies.

“When I was 25, before I became an artist, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or for what I was best suited,” George told us. “I took an occupational guidance test and was advised to consider being a gardener.

“My response to this suggestion was not positive. I felt like I was being told that I wasn’t good for anything but raking leaves.

“I wish that career counselor had taken the time to unpack that idea for me and suggest that I consider some variants on that theme, like landscape architecture and landscape design. Now, so many years later, I have found my way right back to that place. I AM a gardener.”

And a remarkable one, to be sure. Because Rachel is young, the fact that it took George many decades to figure out what work feels whole and integrated for him seems wrong or unfair. While it is age appropriate for any 22 year old to see it that way, I had a very different response. George has found his “perfectly resolved third act.” And for me, the fact that he found it and can have it makes all the difference.

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An article about mirrors appeared in the New York Times two weeks ago, and its contents have continued to nag my mind. (An excerpt is on Slow Painting if you don’t want to read the whole piece.)

There are a number of threads in this piece that would be worth some time to delve into in more detail (like which species are self aware and recognize themselves when looking at a mirror), but right now I am going to just focus on just one—the human relationship with reflective surfaces.

Here is an example:

Researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.” Physical self-reflection, in other words, encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you know yourself.

But then it gets even more personal:

In a report titled “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Enhancement in Self-Recognition,”…Nicholas Epley and Erin Whitchurch described experiments in which people were asked to identify pictures of themselves amid a lineup of distracter faces. Participants identified their personal portraits significantly quicker when their faces were computer enhanced to be 20 percent more attractive. They were also likelier, when presented with images of themselves made prettier, homelier or left untouched, to call the enhanced image their genuine, unairbrushed face. Such internalized photoshoppery is not simply the result of an all-purpose preference for prettiness: when asked to identify images of strangers in subsequent rounds of testing, participants were best at spotting the unenhanced faces.

How can we be so self-delusional when the truth stares back at us? “Although we do indeed see ourselves in the mirror every day, we don’t look exactly the same every time,” explained Dr. Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. There is the scruffy-morning you, the assembled-for-work you, the dressed-for-an-elegant-dinner you. “Which image is you?” he said. “Our research shows that people, on average, resolve that ambiguity in their favor, forming a representation of their image that is more attractive than they actually are.”

The article goes on to explain why the version of ourselves that we see in the mirror is always exactly one half our actual size. (I know this sounds counterintuitive, but consult the article for the full scientific explanation.) So not only do we misread our relative attractiveness, we also misread our size.

Does this give you a sinking and slightly sickening feeling that we can ever really “get” who we are? For a number of reasons I found the results of this research deeply uncomfortable as well as unnervingly accurate. How many times have you misread how you look? Misjudged those new glass frames only to discover, $400 later, that they look terribly unflattering on your face? How many times have you bought that dress that you swear made you look sleek and sexy in the dressing room but in subsequent photographs your rear end appears hopelessly jumbo sized? It just isn’t possible–we cannot be objective when it comes to that other self that lives in the virtual reality we call our mirror image.

Maybe it is just one more aspect of ourselves we cannot ever see accurately. My friend Linda once said, “I wish someone had given me ‘the paragraph’ when I was younger.” I asked her what “the paragraph” was.

She said, “All your friends know your strengths and your weaknesses. They could, if they were so inclined, give you a one paragraph description of who you are that yes, could be painful, but could also be very helpful in how you live your life. But you rarely get that insight. It just lives out there. Maybe, if you are lucky, you’ll find someone who will give it to you. Or maybe you will actually find it yourself.”

I’m feeling more sympathy for my cat, not a member of a species that is self-reflective, who cannot see her “self” in a mirror and generally gives it little of her attention. Maybe I’m just one tiny step beyond her, seeing something I think is me that is, in fact, far from the paragraph I really need.

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It has been three full days since I saw Guy Maddin’s “documentary,” My Winnipeg, and the ambience still hasn’t left my consciousness. It is quixotic and visually arresting, preposterously absurd and yet quite tender, both epic and lyric at the same time. I was enchanted.


My Winnipeg, by Guy Maddin

And as the critic Peter Scarlet wrote about the film,

My Winnipeg offers little in the way of proof that anything described in the film actually happened in Winnipeg, or happened to Guy Maddin in Winnipeg, or happened anywhere for that matter. In fact, viewing the film may make you pause to wonder whether Winnipeg actually exists, or Guy Maddin actually exists, or you actually exist.

To further mystify this disorienting and yet hauntingly beautiful portrait of his hometown, Maddin’s voiceover references an Indian belief that Winnipeg’s confluence of rivers—the ones that freeze over every winter and can be seen with the human eye—are paired with invisible mythic rivers that run beneath the surface of the earth. Maddin melds and blends images of these river systems, both mythic and topographic, with the delta of his mother’s lap. River, lap, river, lap. (He is a frequent user of repetition of language and image to incant and to make the dream-like even more so.)


Snowy River

Maddin’s mythic mashup of River and Source was still ambient in my mind when I came across photographs of the newly “discovered” Snowy River, a massive underground formation inside Fort Stanton Cave in New Mexico. It is a cave passage and geological structure unlike anything anyone has seen before and may be the largest cave formation in the world. (An excerpted article about Snowy River is posted on Slow Painting. For more photos, go to New Mexico BLM.)

Wow. This is so compelling, both visually and metaphorically. I can’t stop thinking and feeling this.

So it was inevitable that these images—Maddin’s mythic rivers and the cave river of calcite crystals—have been conflated and comingled with recent reading from Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality, by Belden C. Lane:

One’s symbolic participation in a place of mythic significance is never totally available to scrutiny…in the most basic sense, myth that is understood is no longer myth. That which we analyze with thorough objectivity—turning into psychology, history, or social geography—has ceased to exercise any formative power upon us. “When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way,” says Joseph Campbell, “the life goes out of it…The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky.”

Another:

Lawrence Durrell argues that “the important determinant of any culture is after all—the spirit of place.” But what are the avenues of access to such a phenomenon? Is this entirely a mystical-poetic insight, or does it find parallels in our common human experience of recognizing the enduring texture of the familiar—discerning there more than we had first expected to find? Perhaps the process of “making strange” that to which one has become habitually accustomed—viewing it in a different perspective so as to enter it anew—can be seen in the most important manner by which meaning is continually renewed in any community. This is as true of place as it is of any other mythic conception.

Lane references Victor Shklovsky, a Russian literary critic, who used the word ostranenie (the idea of “making strange” a given concept) to argue that “the goal of the poet is always that of occasioning an utterly novel view of the world.”

Whether Maddin’s unwieldy vision of Winnipeg or the inexplicable river of calcite in Fort Stanton Cave, “making strange” creates a narrative that cannot be parsed or scrutinized with traditional tools. And as a result, there’s energy and life in these entities, whether in film or crystal. Lots of it.

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All That Time

I saw two trees embracing.
One leaned on the other
as if to throw her down.
But she was the upright one.
Since their twin youth, maybe she
had been pulling him toward her
all that time,

and finally almost uprooted him.
He was the thin, dry, insecure one,
the most wind-warped, you could see.
And where their tops tangled
it looked like he was crying
on her shoulder.
On the other hand, maybe he

had been trying to weaken her,
break her, or at least
make her bend
over backwards for him
just a little bit.
And all that time
she was standing up to him

the best she could.
She was the most stubborn,
the straightest one, that’s a fact.
But he had been willing
to change himself–
even if it was for the worse–
all that time.

At the top they looked like one
tree, where they were embracing.
It was plain they’d be
always together.
Too late now to part.
When the wind blew, you could hear
them rubbing on each other.

May Swenson

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Peculiar to poetry is a preconceived expectation of “truth”. David Orr’s essay in the Times Sunday Book Review captures some of this response in spite of cynicism in the culture about literary authenticity, particularly following a spate of memoir writers whose manufactured memories and inaccurate portrayals were exposed and condemned.

Orr starts with an anecdote of a poetry reading where one of the poems is about the death of a child. Afterward a member of the audience comes up to the poet to say how sorry he was for his loss.

“I appreciate that,” says the poet, “but the thing is, I’ve never had any kids. That was just a poem.”

Orr continues:

The point, of course, is that the news we get from poetry isn’t like the news we get from newspapers…What’s curious is that poetry’s “emotional truth” is so often equated with actual truth — which is to say, poetry is perceived as conveying genuine information about the author’s innermost self. It is, we like to think, “personal.” But the concept of “the personal” is hard to pin down because it can involve both personal feelings (which are subjective) and personal facts (which aren’t). Sylvia Plath is often considered an intensely “personal” poet because of her work’s singularly ferocious sensibility, but her poems contain relatively few names of the people, places and events that figured in her private life. Robert Lowell’s writing, on the other hand, is considerably less concentrated than Plath’s, yet contains far more information about who Lowell was, whom he slept with and what disease killed his uncle Devereux Winslow (Hodgkin’s, in case you were wondering). That both Plath and Lowell are thought of as “personal” says a great deal about the confusion associated with this word, and the potential for more confusion that arises whenever we decide that poetry is the best medium for conveying private information.

The waters are further muddied by the two strategies most often associated with “personal” writing, which we might call the authentic and the confessional. The notion of authenticity is essential to poems that focus explicitly on identity, ethnic or otherwise. The poet gives us seemingly reliable testimony about a way of life and thereby infuses his work with the personal flavor that readers desire. Similarly, confessional poems — and yes, they pop up long after confessionalism’s heyday in the 1960s — use the intimacy of an exposed secret to make us think that lines aren’t merely lines but a statement of personhood. The unifying factor here is that both strategies depend upon facts outside the poem to anchor that “personal” sense. If Seamus Heaney’s oeuvre were revealed to have been written by a Portuguese guy living in Toronto, or if Anne Sexton were actually a mild-mannered soccer mom, it would disrupt our entire sense of their poetry. At the same time, though, it would be wrong to say that Heaney’s or Sexton’s appeal depends completely upon autobiographical data. Exactly why we take personal poems so, well, personally remains a mystery and a muddle.

It IS a muddle and a mystery. I don’t think it can be unpacked, and I was heartened that Orr seems to agree.

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This was a weekend with a disruptive sense of time. It made me think of an essay by the poet Wendell Berry, “An Entrance to the Woods” in which he describes making a trip to a forest in Kentucky. He leaves work, drives hard over the interstate highways for over an hour, then finally arrives at his destination. But he has a sense that he has not really arrived. He’s restless and uneasy, not comfortable in the intense silence of a forest he has loved in the past. He said his body was telling him that “people can’t change places as rapidly as their bodies can be transported.” Making the trip by way of the freeway, his mind was not yet fully there. In the past, he took the slower back roads and the acclimatization happened much more organically. He states, “the faster we go…the longer it takes to bring the mind to a stop in the presence of anything.” It wasn’t until the next morning that he was able to enter into the place for the first time. Only then could he say, “I move in the landscape as one of its details.”


Exhibit at Lyman-Eyer Gallery, Provincetown MA

My summer show opened in Provincetown on Friday night. Seeing my new work in a different context, grouped by a different set of eyes, is its own kind of mind/body journey. But that good night was followed close upon by an early morning flight to a wedding in a Pennsylvania. The euphoria of celebrating and dancing the night away with friends may have masked any differential in arrival times of body and spirit. That much reveling feels like a blast of full body joy.

Shifting again, I spent Sunday at the 55th Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, a contemporary show themed loosely (and I do mean loosely) around Is there Life on Mars? A big yes to a few of the artists whose work was included in that show—Bruce Conner, recently deceased California artist, consistently moving Vija Celmins and a young Indian artist, Ranjani Shettar.


Angel series, Bruce Conner

Conner was a highly unpredictable artist who refused to be pigeonholed into any of the isms and labeling that are so rampant in contemporary art. Some of his work in the past has moved me, some has not. But Conner’s Angel series, photograms made from large sheets of light-sensitive paper exposed to a beam of light from a projector, are unforgettable. These images were created without a camera and feel apparition-like and other worldly. It was hard to not feel a bit weepy looking at these hauntingly beautiful works knowing that Conner passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 74. Adieu to one of the brave ones.


Vija Celmins, Night Sky

Vija Celmins, whose image, Night Sky, won the Carnegie Prize, had a room full of her characteristically delicate paintings and drawings. I always find her work so insistently deep and authentic. She is one of the contemporary masters at holding tension between surface and depth.


Ranjani Shettar, Just a Bit More

Ranjani Shettar’s installation held me breathless. She created an updated version of Indra’s net out of a web of threads and hand-molded beeswax balls. It suggested outer space, multidimensional rabbit holes, the metaphor of a network that holds all of us in connection to one another. Exquisite.


Frank Lloyd Wright, Falling Water


The last leg of the journey was spent at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. I have been before, but I have never seen it in the context of the wild rhododendron forest of the Laurel Highlands. It is a flotilla of perfection, perched above those waterfalls and still, after all these years, an utterly compelling encounter.

Back home, most of the essential parts of me have returned with my body. Or maybe not. I’m still feeling these very distinct but powerful invitations to step out of the ordinary, whatever ordinary is, and to move in the landscape—both man made and natural—as one of its details.

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