Monday, March 30, 2009

when one attempts a vision of harmonies...

taliesin west 1

taliesin west 2

taliesin west 3

taliesin west 4

taliesin west 5

taliesin west 6

taliesin west 7

taliesin west 10

"when we perceive a thing to be beautiful, it is because we instinctively recognize the rightness of the thing. this means we have revealed to us a glimpse of something essentially of the fibre of our own nature... a flash of truth stimulates us, and we have a vision of harmonies not understood to-day, though perhaps to be to-morrow."

images from taliesin west taken with my phone, text from frank lloyd wright circa 1910 from frank lloyd wright essential texts, edited by robert twombly.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, March 27, 2009

when arkansas looked at paris... (maybe)


eureka springs, ark.

eureka springs, ark. detail 2

eureka springs, ark. detail 1


i remember way back in undergraduate school, i took a history of photography class while studying in paris. i remember spending an entire day talking about a photo by alfred steiglitz of people on a ship, dissecting every person, every thing as being part of a kind of implied drama or narrative. when i saw this cabinet photo of people at the entrance of eureka springs, arkansas it reminded me not only of the steiglitz image, but also a number of classical paintings where each figure has more weight in its relationship to another, than by itself.

if one were looking at this the way we spoke about steiglitz, then one could see somehow that the black umbrella behind the boy is a kind of void or hole and perhaps suggests, as he is the youngest in the image, a symbol of birth, youth, and life. he's holding a hat that seems of a man, suggesting a trajectory through life, his eventual becoming a man; and his glance to the side, away from the people, and towards an unknown future. as one drifts to the left to the second umbrella one sees it not as a protector or a void, but as a container, a bowl in its upside down-ness. here one wonders if the object has been left to capture the sunlight rather than to reflect it, and so when the lady sitting next to it stands up and places it over her head, she not only protects herself from what will be above, but fills herself with all that has rested within her umbrella, filling or coating her with some syrupy glow from the sky...

so much of this image is about the gazes, and how other than the couple in front, none of the people seem to be looking at the same thing, or even each other, which led me to map the lines from their eyes to see what kind of linear image their gazes would form...

in terms of a cabinet photo, this image is pretty complex and awkward - clearly posed, but clearly intended to seem candid, and certainly outside of the ordinary language and composition of the bulk of cabinet photos i've seen.

it was the presence of the umbrellas, as well as the "era" in which the photo was taken that suggested seurat to me. could it be a coincidence that this photo was taken only a few years after seurat had finished his masterpiece in 1886? i wonder if images of this french painting traveled to rural america in the late 1880's, and if so, how it might have found its way to inspire a photographer to arrange arkansas-ians in such a way that they feel connected to the classical language of france, as participants in an allegorical drama.

in that same photo class we spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the moment when photography and painting were at odds over the value and place of photography within the fine art establishment. here, painting is clearly at its modernist beginnings, while photography is trying to find a first voice that could be wholly its own. this photograph is modern, not in terms of it's visual language as much as in the creation of a composition that speaks about things beneath its surface - relationships, feelings, moods, and unspoken stories. here, photography doesn't try to mirror the contemporary language of painting (i.e. it doesn't fuzz itself up to look like a painting), but exploits what photography could, perhaps, do better at the time - reveal an image as it is in the world, and to allow the clarity of that image to speak about things beyond what is seen - suggesting the potential of what can be revealed by simply looking at the real...

of course, while the things within the photograph are real, their placement and implied connections are wholly the work of the photographer's compositional direction, and one could probably talk about what is constructed and what is "real" until one is blue in the face. nonetheless, in many ways, i believe this photograph of the entrance to eureka springs is as complex and modern as seurat's painting, if not more so, in the way it that it suggests or implies various narratives and stories - using the way a complex classical composition can be thrust into the present, through the re-presentation of the very real contemporary visual language of the moment.

of course, the argument for this photograph as something modern is intuitive and unresolved. one could see the image as looking backwards to a painter like j.l. david; or looking forwards, evoking the surrealist tendencies and languages that would crop up in the paintings of delvaux, magritte and de chirico, a few decades later.

i love how certain images send you down paths you never thought you were interested in. these discussions around photography and painting had me bored to tears in school, and as much as i have become interested in the history of photography, it's relationship to painting is of little concern to me. but images tend to bring out of one's mind these things that lay dormant for ages, and so one has no choice but to go where the image takes them. i must say that in the end, i do love this photograph for reasons i couldn't begin to express in words, and mostly i am wondering what might've been beyond the turnstile, and also perhaps, the sound, and the song, of the clarinet...

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

when houses are humble...


a 1967 concrete over cardboard prototype house by kieth critchlow and michael ben-eli, as pictured in paper houses by roger sheppard, richard threadgill, and john homes, 1974. (note how much this humble abode looks like a felt house.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 23, 2009

yea the fading things of time and a mansion of quietness...

1890s clown2 clown1

"a mansion of rest, of quietness and peace, where all mortal soul cries will eternally cease. where with holy angels and seraphs thou shall join, in my arbor of love, eternal and sublime. beyond the vain terrestrial, yea the fading of things of time, where eternal joys shall ever more be thine. so come receive a crown of my holy love, and on thy soul shout the song of sweet mirth"

image, a faded cdv of some kind of organ grinding clown circa 1890, text from a shaker gift drawing transcribed into a small notebook a few weeks ago while visiting the american craft & folk art museum in nyc...

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

when two make music with leaves...

the twin clarinetists RPPC circa 1915

i'll be doing a sound performance with artist loren chasse at new langton in san francisco this friday. the performance is connected to a beautiful exhibition called "every sound you can imagine" featuring graphic notation music scores, both historical and contemporary (i have these scores in the exhibition.)

here the blurb on the performance:

Steve Roden and Loren Chasse will create a live sound performance using a variety of humble and battery operated electronics; ancient, broken, and modified acoustic instruments; and found objects such as stones, paper, leaves, and sand. While the performance will be improvised together, each artist has prepared a graphic score for the other that will remain unseen until the performance begins.

here the pertinent info:

Friday, March 20
Doors 6pm / Performance 7:30pm
new langton arts
1246 folsom st.
san francisco, ca
Entry: $10 general, $5 students, $8 members

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

from arc to urn revisited...

joan of ARC, whose angelic voice would certainly form an ARCH, was standing in the center AISLE of a BRIDGE. she could see that upon a BENCH in the distance, was resting a small BALL of a reddish color, next to an empty metal BIN, while a BEAM of light reflected off of the glass of a phone BOOTH - a kind of FLANGE of light -illuminating a manmade pile of stones, sometimes known as a CAIRN, at least in ireland. it was then that a small BELL, struck by the spin of a CAM, released its CONE of ringing sounds, comforting her as if sitting in a familiar CHAIR. these sounds brought back the memory of looking deep within the GROOVES upon the surface of her favorite record, and seeing in visual form the impression of a CHORD, whose shapes reminded her of one of the smallest constellations in the sky, known as CRUX. suddenly, a COG in the workings of a DIKE beneath the bridge she was standing upon, fell broken, unleashing a torrent of water into the CRYPT even further below, soaking bodies beneath the GROUND at unbelievable DEPTHS. above the bridge, and the voice, and the dike, and the arch, a DISK of light shone in the sky brightly, like a porcelain CUP. it formed a glowing DOME so powerful that the light pressed into the earth forming a DITCH. this dome of light from ditch to sky, had the HEIGHT of a mountain and the span of a FIELD. joan left the bridge and the flood and the sounds of the bell, and moved towards the dome. somewhere, somehow, as she was close enough to touch it, she found upon its surface, or skin, a DOOR, which she opened, and quietly stepped through. she moved towards the HUB, away from the EDGE, gliding along the FLOOR for a good LENGTH of time. her face glowed as if in a FRAME of fire. at the center of the dome, she discovered a GATE, next to a KEG, made of various wooden slats nailed together in a GRID. the gate was attached to a small metal JOINT, sometimes called a hinge, that enabled it to be opened with ease. so she moved through the gate that was next to the keg, and found herself inside a pool of energy, perhaps even the SOURCE of this MOUND of light, which could also be called a glowing HILL. after a few minutes within the intensity of this core of light and heat, she quickly crawled into a hollowed LOG for safety, keeping one eye open, peeking through a small HOLE formed many years ago when a small branch was broken away. she decided to make a NOTCH on the inner surface of the log, one for every moment she remained hidden inside. it felt a bit like being in a small bag for sleeping amongst the warmth of a campfire, and so joan fell asleep, and she dreamed. in her sleep she saw a SPHERE, composed of PLANES, whose inside was empty like the HULL of a ship. she found herself holding an OAR in one hand, and a telescopic LENS in the other. she was staring through it at a man walking slowly along a PLANK of wood emanating outward from the sphere which was now surely a ship. her lips formed a small SQUARE as she tried to whisper words only to him, quickly, while the others were still out of RANGE. the man, who did not hear, continued to walk a straight LINE, following the length of the plank, while continually making bumping sounds with one of his legs that ended in a wooden PEG. the MAST, as if listening, swayed rhythmically with the sounds of the peg on the plank. as the man got closer to the edge, he seemed to be slowly enveloped by that RIDGE one usually calls the horizon. when he stopped, his STANCE seemed a bit like a statue, his SCALE almost that of a miniature, and the POLE in his hands like a tightrope walker, extending out from him like the bones of a pair of featherless wings. in silence, he dropped into the water, as if into a PIT. joan's face became a PYRE of tears, as if water was fire, tears were flames, each one feeling like a SPIKE driven into her skin, deep and lost, as if the human body also had a massive empty STRAKE within. her SPINE, like a series of small bones on a RACK, pressed against her RIBS, creating an emptiness inside her, like the RAILS of a train track in a silent tunnel. then that SPIRE inside her body, her THROAT, let out a sound so deeply sad, as if an entire SPOOL of red colored thread was unwound and forthcoming. eventually, the ROOF and the RIM of her mouth closed, containing all the sadness in an empty ROOM inside her - a room without STAIR nor THRONE, nor STAKE nor SILL. eventually, she spent many nights in stillness with eyes closed, sleeping. one morning, she began to feel a small ROD of light inside her again - a small SLAB of warmth like a wool or felt blanket. she used the slab and the rod as a kind of STILE, walking slowly upon it, up and down, from darkness to light. she moved out of a TRENCH, and up onto a STOOL, peering through a SLOT in the walls of her darkness to reveal in the distance, the SUN. but as she attempted to move from her TOMB, she found herself trapped in the geometry of a TRUSS, unable to move THROUGH anything. her WAIST became warm and a WALL of fire collapsed upon her; and after many days they carefully placed her ashes in an URN.

Labels: ,

Monday, March 16, 2009

from arc to urn...

carl andre 1964

from the october/november 1965 issue of art in america.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 13, 2009

when artists are collectors...



drug store


i'm thinking that once in awhile i should draw some necessary attention towards new publications that might be of interest to those of us who to get lost in older ones. anyone interested in postcards, photography, or artist's collections should definitely check out the recent publication from the metropolitan museum in ny called "walker evans and the picture postcard" (if you are in NY you must go see the exhibition as well, which is up until may 25th!).

the catalog is a whopping 408 pages and features beautiful full color reproductions, mostly actual size, from evans' collection of mostly color litho type postcards - as well as all of the RPPC postcard photographs he made of his own work. the essay by jeff rosenheim, who is the foremost scholar of evans' work, is quite wonderful - speaking more about evans as a collector and treating his collection as something much more than source material. collecting, like artmaking, is a very complex activity, and the building of a real collection is no less passionate, convoluted, conceptual, meandering, than making art. rather than looking at a collection as evidence of specific artmaking decisons, the connections between one's work and a really obsessively built collection tend to be messy, complex and conversational. rosenheim definitely gets this.

the text focuses on evans both as a collector and a photographer, but only points to specific connections, or moments, when there is a clarity of back and forth. the good news is that it never suggests that one should view evans' entire photographic life through the things he collected, which allows both his work and his collection to maintain their own individuality. obviously, there are serious overriding senses of vision to both of evans' lives (or loves), which relate to both benjamin's idea about a collection being a self portrait, as well as arthur dove's statement that everything an artist makes is a self portrait. clearly evans' is completely immersed in both ventures, and both photography and his postcard collection point back towards evans' vision in different ways.

obviously, it is mostly the subject matter that tends to tie things together - the vernacular images and languages; but it is in the text of evans' own writings about postcards - and indeed all of his writings on the subject are included in the catalog! - that one gets a chance to see these postcards through the eyes of both a collector and a photographer (and at times, with the collector at the forefront of the discussion.)

as you can see above, the book does show a few examples of locations evans had seen in a card and then photographed later, but it doesn't hammer this home as the thesis of the show, in fact far from it. the comparison of the images is certainly interesting, but the discussion surrounding the re-shoots takes on a much more compelling story once one reads the transcription of a talk evans' gave at yale in 1964 about his postcard collection. in the talk, evans shows a number of postcards where certain things were added later (people pasted in, clouds added to the sky, etc.). he also discusses the appearance of things that the photographer probably didn't want in the shot, such as a horse and buggy in the middle of the frame that the photographer wasn't able to move. in these incidents, evans sees the collected images made by someone else, through the critical eyes of a photographer, and so one begins to think that when evans did make a photograph of a previously viewed location from a postcard, it wasn't because he wanted to replicate it, as much as he wanted to kind of see how to frame it, and to empty it of artifice.

in the yale talk one also gets to see other sides of evans' view of these objects, speaking with humor as well as a very obsessive and deep collector's knowledge of their history.

along with images of many of evans' postcards, the book contains images of evans' category dividers (you can see envelope he used for "madness" above), which gives the reader the experience of moving through the book as if wandering through evans' collection, leaving the categories to read like chapters, and seeing the contents within evans' own contexts.

the biggest surprise was to discover a category evans called "messages", and to see images of cards evans collected not for the image as much as for the writing on the front and/or back. rosenheim's take on this is beautifully stated: "he (evans)also became extremely entranced by the cursory messages written on the cards, which he regarded as a kind of found poetry - allusive, egalitarian, and vernacular."

anyone who reads the blog regularly would understand why i found this aspect of evans' collection in sympathy with my own love of certain objects not for what they are, but for the life they have lived, and more specifically for the evidence of that life that now exists upon their surface - the written word as a kind of patina, as well as found poetry of course...

the book is available through the museum bookstore here, as well as i'm sure via various web outlets. it's a bit pricey but highly recommended.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

two humble pyramids...

swiss pyramid

1884 ny state land survey 1

top, a 1920's brochure for train travel in switzerland; bottom, an 1884 new york land survey station...

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, March 09, 2009

when a voice is heard in the silvery blue of night...


"it seemed... that her voice sounded quite different in the silvery blue of the night...loud, clear and gentle, it had, as it were, arches and curves; he believed he could see the voice and almost catch hold of it. soon he had the sensation that it made an arch over his head and that he was standing directly beneath it."

text from joseph roth's weights and measures. image, a cyanotype printed on postcard paper. music related cyanotypes have been about as difficult to find as arches of voice to stand or sit beneath...

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 06, 2009

the one that rode the yellow horse...

gus rowden

inscribed on the back:
gus rowden
dixon, mo
he was the one that
rode the yellow horse and
dressed in yellow cambric
like a gold bug in the
free silver parade in dixon
for mckinley and bryan

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

when samy elhar ibi becomes sliman el magribi becomes samy elmaghribi...

zakiphon 7"

eliephon 7"

samyphone 7"

one of the craziest and most confusing transactions i've ever had on ebay involved some 7" records of Moroccan Sephardic music purchased from a guy in new york about a year ago. i initially won 5 records, and when they arrived the covers and the records didn't match. so i went back onto ebay to see images of the discs he hadn't sold, mined the photos of all the auctions for clues, and ended up buying 5 more, thinking i could match the 10 records to the 10 covers; but that didn't work for various reasons...

as i started to try to put right covers with right records i realized the dealer wasn't as stupid as i originally thought. as you can see from the three covers above, a single artist such as samy elmaghribi has not only at least three spellings of his name, but also three different record labels - zakiphon, samyphone, and eliephon (i also had some records on "pianophon" and "brotherphone"). i figured i could at least match the record labels to the right covers, but in most cases the index numbers did not match up. also, since some of the discs were pressed in Israel and some in France, the titles, etc. are sometimes in one language on the cover and another on the disc label. sure, with french i can at least match similar words, but with hebrew it's more like trying to find matching ink blots... my favorite, of course, is the cover at the top, where someone took a marker and changed the artist's name, and spelled it differently than on any of the discs or covers in the lot...

fortunately, not only are most of the covers graphic gems, but the recordings are absolutely stellar. the two standout artists are albert suissa (whom i will try to do a post on later) and samy or sliman, el magribi or elmaghribi... who i'm posting a few tracks from here.

from a bit of web snooping it seems these are moroccan artists singing sephardic songs, which were sold in france and israel, but the web was not much help either, so i would suggest simply enjoying the music and if anyone wants to shed some light on these artists, please feel free to drop me a note or add to the comments. i believe samy/sliman was pretty popular as there seem to be a number of cd compilations available.

click here to listen to chraa alah ya lahbab

click here to listen to el mra elqebiha

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, March 02, 2009

lots to see everywhere...

smoldt lincoln band leader snapshot

what did you see, wanderer?

i saw a pleasant landscape; there was a green hill against a clear sky, and the grass waved in the wind. a house leaned against the hill like a woman leaning against a man.

what did you see, wanderer?

i saw a ridge which will do to site guns behind.

what did you see, wanderer?

i saw a house so tumbledown that it had to be propped up by a hill, which meant that it lay in the shadow all day. i passed it at various different hours, and there was never smoke coming up from the chimney as if food were being cooked. and i saw people living in there.

what did you see, wanderer?

i saw a parched field on rocky ground. each blade of grass stood on its own. there were stones lying in the meadow. a hill that cast too much shadow.

what did you see wanderer?

i saw a rock raising its shoulder from the grassy soil like a giant that refuses to be beaten. and the grass standing up stiff and straight, proudly, on parched ground. and an indifferent sky.

the above text was written by bertolt brecht in 1941, and remained unpublished until 1968 in a british magazine. i'll be doing a bit of my own wandering in ny this week, tuesday at 8:30 i'll be giving a talk on my work at columbia for the fine art grads, public is welcome... no idea who the wandering accordionist is in the snapshot...

Labels: , , , , ,