Saturday, June 30, 2007

by elemental forces...


this is what happens when you use a coffee table book as a blotter. i was trying to save a drawing on thin paper with too much ink. luckily i not only saved the drawing, which was kept flat and intact by the heavy book; but the situation left some marks on the book's back cover, which really enhanced the mystical qualities of the landscape of black mountain reminded me of one of my favorite books...

The intention of this book is to examine natural forms occurring in ACCIDENTAL EFFECTS that are produced not by the artist, but by elemental forces at work on the pigments - very much like the accidental effects produced at the seashore by the action of gravity, heat, cold, waves, and the action of wind on water, sand, mud, and rocks. (...) In the act of making the various designs and shapes shown in this book, the artist cannot but be impressed by their universal, all-permeating character, how they occur throughout the natural world in completely unrelated living organisms, as well as in inanimate things.
James F. O'Brian, design by accident, 1968

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 29, 2007

"the sounding sea"...




"i know a pine tree bowed over close by the sea. noonday bestows on its tired trunk a shade measured out like our life and in the evening wind, passing through its needles, takes up a curious song, like the souls that have abolished death... once i spent a night beneath this tree. at dawn i was a new man, as if they had hewn me that very hour from the quarry."
george seferis

text, images and sound from a beautiful exhibition catalog titled music in the aegean, published in greece in 1987.

"compared with the oceans of the world the aegean is a mere deep blue, often turbulent, pond...but ranged beside the civilizations of the world, the aegean is a colussus. within its bounds lie traces of man's earliest gropings after culture..."
g.v. kavadias

fortunately that culture is preserved in the folk music of the region, and double fortunately it's further preserved on this nice little 7" tucked into the back of the catalog.

"the cicadas playing second fiddle till they become transparent at the moment when a rowing boat went by full of suffering, laden with songs and lights that flicker like mountain-tops."
odysseus elytis

...most of the recordings are from the early 80's, with one being from 1965. all are clearly excerpts, but the little fragments and shifts make it seem all the more like a little film or radio show... i've spliced side one and two together; and if you listen closely, near 8:40 or so you can hear a dog barking in the background...

click here to listen

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 28, 2007



lament of the confined (jonah and latude)
they are seated in the shade.
they are thinking.
many centuries separate them.
jonah says: i am the sailors' latude.
latude says: i am the french jonah.
according to them it smells musty.
it seems as if they can see the good old sun.
they dream only of escape.

on a lantern
it is not light yet: you still have time.
you may light the lantern if you wish.
illuminate the path before you.
place your hand in front of the light.
take your hand away and put it in your pocket.
wait. wait.

hygenic advice
before breathing, boil your air.

three short poems by erik satie, from the chapbook erik satie, dried embryos, translated by trevor winkfield, and published by ian robinson's aloes press in 1972.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

before the surrealists...



two images from the beautiful 1897 book "new astronomy" by professor david p. todd...

the top image (which looks a bit like a johannes itten bauhaus exercise) shows how to find "true north" using a desk and the path of the sun moving through morning and afternoon.

the bottom image (which reminds me of a magritte painting as well as this one by max ernst) shows how to find "accurate time", again using the sun; but also a few plumb lines and a "strong box" wedged into an open window frame.

there are so many amazing images in this book that i'm certain to post more in the future...

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

word machine...


the first professor i saw was in a very large room, with forty pupils about him. after salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a frame, which took up the greatest part of both the length and breadth of the room, he said perhaps i might wonder to see him employed in a project for improving speculative knowledge by practical and mechanical operations. but the world would soon be sensible of its usefulness, and he flattered himself that a more noble exalted thought never sprang in any other man's head. everyone knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas by his contrivance, the most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathematics and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study. he then led me to the frame, about the sides whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. it was twenty foot square placed in the middle of the room. the superficies were composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. they were all linked together by slender wires. these bits of wood were covered on every square with papers pasted on them, and on these papers were written all the words of their language in their several moods, tenses, and declensions, but without any order. the professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his engine at work. the pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. he then commanded six and thirty of the lads to read the several lines softly as they appeared upon the frame: and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys who were scribes. this work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down...

jonathan swift, from "gulliver's travels", 1726, by way of "cybernetics, art and ideas", 1971.

swift's word machine certainly suggests the working process of the computer, as well as a chance compositional process worthy of cage, as well as the surrealist's adventures in automatic writing and found poetry.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 25, 2007

when grasshoppers speak...


a nice 1930's RPPC of a grasshopper talking to a radio crew. in case you are wondering what this sounds like you can click here and here to hear grasshopper recordings done with an ultrasound bat recorder. the audio comes from a wonderful site called the environmental records centre for cornwall and the isles of scilly, that has more recordings and nice info on grasshopper sounds in the area...

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, June 23, 2007

the voice of the bird...


the voice of the bird
for a bird of the air shall carry the voice
birds of the air have nests
birds of the air
flee as a bird
as a bird
speckled bird

"jesse howard, the man with signs and wonders, reinventing the past and talking to the present up there among the ragweed and thorn trees on sorehead hill, was never too old to learn."

from naives and visionaries, walker art center catalog, 1974
(p.s. note how nicely this sounds a bit like ian hamilton finlay...and the beautiful painted wheel...)

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

she in the tree


circa 1910, this RPPC clearly inspired by a borges, calvino, or guimaraes rosa story...

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 21, 2007

when pens rest and dry...


"i have a steel-tipped pen rest made of long black bundled bristle set in a light blue shimmering opalized matte glass jar. protection in an ideal mantel. i think of the society for the protection of children. something tender, useful, softly and tenderly preserved. i swaddle my ungrudging elastic kuhn pen like a little child in its cradle, certain that nothing bad will befall it. it dries and rests. and the little glass jar in which the bristle holder sits is an iridescent blue, the color of waves breaking against the sun. and the steel tipped pen and pen rest return my love, my tenderness, quietly letting it be."

peter altenberg, 1859 - 1919, from telegrams of the soul.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

when traffic becomes patterns...



two beautiful 1953 drawings by louis kahn, studying traffic movement patterns in philadelphia. one existing, one proposed. both from the work of louis kahn, la jolla museum of art 1965; and both could certainly be drawings by paul klee.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

the family that listens together...


an rppc of a family listening together to a small radio with an absolutely stellar antenna...

i'm sure they're listening to something like this piece of music i picked up on my tiny shortwave while in a cabin last month in norway... i have no idea what it is, and i swear it wasn't manipulated other than moving the radio a bit trying not to lose the meagre reception.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, June 18, 2007

the public lives of sketches...






the danish artist j.f. willumsens (1863-1958) was known mainly as a painter, although he also worked with ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and even designed his own house.

willumsens had a somewhat scientific and obsessive approach to studies, feeling the necessity to know every last detail of a composed painting in his head before he started the final work.

in his own words: "After all the preliminary work for a picture has been done, like compositions, sketches, studies, etc., and I think I know to the very last detail all that is necessary to complete the picture, I paint a draft version of it, usually in full size, from memory.

It is this draft version that I call the "dress rehearsal". From it I can see whether I am capable of painting the actual picture with the knowledge I have acquired from my studies, or whether more are needed. For it is my view that a painter has not mastered his subject unless he knows it by heart. One cannot at the same moment be an enquiring pupil and a knowledgeable master. I believe that I am the only artist who uses this procedure."

that willumsens was the only artist to use this procedure is debatable; but what is not open to discussion are the beauty of his preliminary color sketches. although these were never intended to be discussed as finished artworks in their own right, they would fit comfortably into the world of early abstract painting, even if this insertion was not part of willumsens' (nor anyone else's) plan. though never intended, the visual connections to abstract painting history - from paul serusier to alfred jensen - are certainly there. of course, it's somewhat presumptuous on my part to read the sketches of someone as obsessed with finished work as willumsens as something more - but when i discovered these images, they killed me!

i've recently been thinking a lot about the idea of sketches and how much an artist might or might not be able to control their eventual entry into the world. an upcoming release of some of nick drake's home recordings is a mix of both good and bad. some of it is unbelievably powerful and all of it is undeniably private (i've heard the whole thing... most of this stuff has existed for ages on various bootlegs, and this new release is already circulating on the web). drake was extremely shy, as well as a very very careful composer and songwriter; and i can't help but think he would be painfully uncomfortable with the idea that these "dress rehearsals" or, worse, these preliminary "color sketches" are being released as a record. on the other hand, there is no denying that these recordings do more than simply shed light on process. there is some seriously raw mind numbing beauty here of course.

perhaps an artist has to be resigned to the fact that when such things are brought to light; they will most likely be co-opted by a viewer/listener to fulfill expectations and purposes never intended by the artist (similar to the trajectory of most artworks). for better or worse, drake and willumsens sketches have no choice but to allow us to make them our own... to find transcendence in things, that perhaps, were never supposed to contain quite so much power.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, June 16, 2007

mr. big horn...


i got this RPPC quite awhile ago and have wondering if it was a horn or some kind of industrial object, maybe some strange early fire hose end. well, i finally heard from a postcard dealer who says it was indeed a horn that made sound, and was used by cooks in logging camps to call the loggers to meals (hence the cook looking fellow holding the horn!). now all that needs to happen is someone has to send me a recording of one of these things because i can't even begin to imagine how beautiful the low tones might be.

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

hand painted drum heads...





four nice hand painted drum heads from 1910-1920...

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

to be unmodern...

"to be unmodern, that is to say to have the unreasonable courage to do what all the others are investigating and placing question marks by: to just paint a picture, a picture with the greatest demands and belief. otherwise in this century it is a question of investigating the picture as picture or the picture as consumer object, painting with metaconsciousness of various kinds. to be so naive as to believe that it is possible in spite of this to paint a picture with stirred pigments on a piece of cloth and to believe that it will contain references to the greater things, perhaps in life itself it is the greatest thing. it is to be unmodern and that both takes time and costs prestige."

per kirkeby from a book on the painter edvard weie

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

mystery music from madagascar by way of montreal...


a song from a 7" that was probably given away at the 67 world's fair in montreal (hence one side it says songs from madagascar and one side it says "chansons"...).

the description of madagascar music in wikipedia is pretty much what i expected - Musically, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo and France are the influences most evident in modern popular music, while indigenous folk music is syncretist enough that it sounds utterly unique.

i expected some african influences here, but this thing is other worldly, and would sit on the "utterly unique" side of the spectrum, not because it is particularly crazy, but because of the way it is hauntingly beautiful.... the label's lack of info and the plain white sleeve mean i have no idea what song it is or who's making the music...

click here to listen.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

if you close your eyes you can still hear the music...



Labels: ,

Monday, June 11, 2007

before joseph cornell...


i had planned to do a week on the hans christian andersen museum, but i think i'll just give you one long post with a bit of everything. i went to the museum initially to see andersen's paper cut outs. i had seen images of these in a little exhibition booklet a friend showed me, and the reproductions were so poor, that i became obsessed with seeing them in person. i didn't really know much about andersen beyond the ugly duckling emperor's new clothes fairytales that everyone seems to know but most of the folks i know have never really read (myself included).

to begin the journey, instead of reading the fairy tales i decided to read his travel writings, simply because they were published by one of my favorite publishers - green integer. it was quite illuminating to read andersen's travel writings while traveling myself, and the book also gives one a real sense of andersen's personality. the best parts of the book - hearing him describe his first moments on a train or the first time hearing jenny lind sing - are wonderful; but to be honest, andersen doesn't really seem like someone i'd want to hang out with. i didn't notate it all, but he probably complains about something at least once a page, and he comes across as an extremely petty human. he was clearly insecure and a hypochondriac, unbelievably vain, completely self involved, and had a tendency towards being an incredible snob. he was obsessed with his appearances in newspapers, and he was definitely the center of his universe.

at first i was disappointed also in the fact that he seemingly hardly writes at all about things that might illuminate his works or process, until you realize that everything in his fairy tales is simply a re-telling of his own life's story. the fictional narratives come from his own obsession with small moments of engagement. a harsh word from a friend or critic would send him into fits, and it seems a lot of the fairy tales were ways of dealing with that hurt, anger, etc. the stories are ways of reconstructing a situation so it could resolve the way he needed it to - full of happiness, sadness, revenge, reward, etc. it's clear that he felt he was treated as an ugly duckling, even after he became famous. it's also clear that he viewed himself as a beautiful swan that the world should fawn over.








the cut outs fascinated me, because of their visual sophistication; as well as their technical combination of awkwardness and finesse. andersen writes about making these things while he was usually at parties or dinner tables and telling some of his stories. he was self conscious and nervous about these situations (feeling his poor background made him stand out in high society social gatherings); so while he told stories, he would also be cutting. it enabled him to focus more on the paper than on the people watching and listening. of course, there was also theatre involved... he finished the story and then unfolded the paper as a kind of "ta da!" moment. for me, these fragile maps of hand movements and quick thinking did not disappoint, and they hold quite a lot of visual magic. their tendency towards a kind of dark victorian surrealism and even sometimes abstraction are marvellous.




what i was unprepared for were the other aspects of andersen's art and craft makings. he made travel drawings, relatively crude, that were always sized to fit in his vest or jacket pocket. these were sketched in pencil at sights/destinations during the day (like field recordings), and inked later, in a hotel room or such. what is interesting about them is this idea that the pencil drawing is done while looking at a place, attempting to replicate a visual experience; while the ink is done from notation and memory, creating a new visual experience. you can see the differences between the two different "making moments" in each drawing. between the pencil and ink lines there is a lot of messy disconnect between vision and memory. andersen struggles to remember what a wispy pencil line might have been notating; and the awkwardness of the resulting ink line gives the drawings an outsider quality. on one hand they feel generic, on another they have the kind of crude sincerity. when they are more fragmented, they can also resemble some of beuys early drawings.


the above image an inkblot turned into a little person was the only one he seems to have done like this, but it is interesting to note that he met victor hugo, who did a ton of incredible drawings from stains and ink blots (some of the greatest visual work by a writer ever...)...






the biggest surprises for me, were andersen's collages. he made several collaged scrap/picture books for little girls, and also obsessively covered an 8 panel folding screen with collaged images. the screen looks very much like an early jess or bruce conner piece, and one could easily mistake it for a psychedelic or bay area beat era relic. the collage books are stunning and immediately bring to mind joseph cornell. their use of the space of a page, and images from various sources, with ink and cut outs along with found material, seems totally connected to cornell's best boxes, and also his late collages. they seem precursers to max ernst's collage novels as well.

by the time i was finished at the museum cornell seemed to have come to mind a lot. as humans on the outside they seem like opposites - andersen, almost royalty, traveling the world on the king's dime, and being an international celebrity for much of his life. cornell, largely obscure for much of his life, living with his sick brother and his mother, arguably having little social skills, and quietly going about his obsessive business in virtual solitude until late in life. on the other hand, both were kind of spinsters, both were obsessed with actresses and theatre, and there's absolutely no denying that they shared an approach to collage and to the poetic and mystical qualities of objects (andersen had pressed and saved flowers from both goethe and dickens gardens). i hope someone, someday, curates a show of both of their works.



what was so interesting about seeing the visual output of an artist who considered himself a writer, was the specific approach he had for each of his visual bodies of work, and how each served a different purpose and seemingly came from a different place. the drawings on one end of the scale, being the least personal and the most like snap shots; and the screen, the most obsessive and most personal, created to surround his bed.

i highly suggest clicking on the images here to see them larger. most of the images were taken from the museum's website - click here for a link to their online collections, which is amazing! my own photos, much like andersen's travel sketches hardly capture the things i tried to capture (and i think you can tell which are which!); as usual, have become something else...


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

the secret pouch...


after my opening in berlin, i came to odense to visit the hans christian andersen museum, which was pretty amazing. i specifically came to see some things which i will so some lengthy postings on once i'm home.

the photo above was one of numerous surprises in the museum, which laid out andersen's life via most of the ephemera he'd collected over the years. travel objects, stones, pressed flowers, photos, theater tickets, etc.

this leather pouch was found on andersen's chest when he died. it contained a letter from his first true love, riborg voigt; who andersen had asked to marry him. voigt refused his proposal because she was already engaged to be married. unknown to anyone, andersen kept her goodbye letter in this pouch, pressed against his heart for roughly 50 years. j. collin, one of andersen's friends, found the letter upon his death and burned it before reading it...

Labels: ,

Monday, June 04, 2007

time and the universe...

"our time on earth is only a small part of the workings of the universe. in a minute or so we forget our sorrows, even the most painful, as in minutes the ocean forgets its storms, and for the universe, days and weeks are only seconds"
hans christian andersen, travels

Labels: , , , ,