Friday, August 29, 2008

these aerial oars of magical colors...

butterfly wings through a microscope

"...we are no longer astonished at the activity shown by some butterflies, such as the sphinx, when they rifle the flowers of our gardens. they flit from one to the other with the speed of an arrow, and like the hummingbirds, they hang motionless before the corolla, plunging their long tongues to the bottom in order to sip the nectar, whilst their wings are agitated by movements which the eye cannot follow!

the delicacy of these aerial oars is no less remarkable than their movements.

however gently we take hold of the wing of a butterfly, our fingers never leave it without having some particles adhering, which seem only fine dust, the source of the magnificent coloring of the insect. but when this dust is submitted to microscopic examination, the observer is surprised to see that each of these grains represents a little flattened plate, lengthened out and of a delicate and complicated structure, which reflects the most magical colors. one of its extremities is generally toothed more or less deeply, whilst the other displays only a little pedicle, by which each imperceptible scale is attached to the transparent membrane of the wing."

image and text from the universe; or, the wonders of creation. the infinitely great and the infinitely little, by f.a. pouchet, 1883. the image is captioned: scales from the wings of different butterflies, seen with the microscope.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

entering a house through the bird's beak...

northwest indian plank house 1900's

northwest indian plank house 1890's

two images from a great little catalog of northwest coast indian plank house architecture from the old arco gallery in los ageles, 1983. the top image is a house, circa 1899, which shows how a european style building was decorated with traditional crest figures of the tsimshian. this was the last phase of indian architecture before they adopted "the white society's architecture"; and i think the combination of early americana and northwest indian images is pretty stunning.

the second image is circa 1917, and shows a huge raven's beak over the front door. the incredible thing is that the bottom of the raven's beak could be dropped down to form a ramp, and one would actually walk up the beak and into the house through the raven's mouth for ceremonial entrances. it is as if a piece of cheese so wanted to be eaten by a mouse that he would walk himself right into its stomach.

for these indians, "doorways and thresholds were considered dangerous because they were areas of transition, spaces between two worlds". the houses symbolized animals and/or cosmos.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

when words become curves...

from a book on phonography 1891

a short found poem from a book on a strange kind of shorthand from 1891, there are so many amazing images and texts in here i will revisit it in depth on airforms later. the squiggle lines next to the text is a kind of notation of the phrase...

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

butterflies and honey...

concrete poem 1962

concretepoem 1955 gomringer

two from emmett williams seminal anthology of concrete poetry, published by something else press, 1967

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Monday, August 25, 2008

when voices are like bats...

radio repair detail 1930s RPPC

"as i lay down i turned on the radio set standing on the wine crate beside the bed. the names of cities and radio stations with which i used to link the most exotic ideas of my childhood appeared on its round illuminated dial - monte ceneri, rome, ljubljana, stockholm, beromunster, hilversum, prague, and others besides. i turned the volume down very low and listened to a language i did not understand drifting in the air from a great distance: a female voice, which was sometimes lost in the ether, but then emerged again and mingled with the performance of two careful hands moving in some place unknown to me, over the keyboard of a bosendorfer or pleyel and playing certain musical passages, i think from the well tempered clavier, which accompanied me far into the realms of slumber. when i woke in the morning only a faint crackle and hiss was coming from the narrow brass mesh over the loudspeaker. soon afterwards, when i mentioned the mysterious radio at breakfast, austerlitz told me he had always imagined that the voices moving through the air after the onset of darkness, only a few of which we could catch, had a life of their own, like bats, and shunned the light of day..."

w.g. sebald, austerlitz, 2001
image: detail from one of my favorite RPPCs that i own, i just wonder what tones he's listening to...

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Friday, August 22, 2008

how can the name be there sooner than the experience?

rppc gypsy musician

"does what makes me happy need to be a name? love!- do not debase my feelings with a name that thousands of weak creatures abuse! what other man has felt what i feel! such a one never existed until now - how can the the name be there sooner than the experience? it is a new, unique feeling, newly created with this new, unique being and only possible for her."

f. schiller, the man who sees ghosts, 1789
rppc of 'the original', 1915-1916 (quite a long exposure time to stand so still!)

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Thursday, August 21, 2008





topografia: a small page from an old spanish language dictionary, also found ages ago on the ground. the small symbols of different landscapes look like breath, and birds, and food filled with air...

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

this optical unconscious





"immerse yourself in such a picture long enough and you will realize to what extent opposites touch, here too: the most precise technology can give its products a magical value, such as a painted picture can never again have for us. no matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the hear and now, with which reality has (so to speak) seared the subject, to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future nests so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. for it is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye: "other" above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. whereas it is a commonplace that, for example, we have some idea what is involved in the act of walking (if only in general terms), we have no idea at all what happens during the fraction of a second when a person actually takes a step. photography, with its devices of slow motion and enlargement, reveals the secret. it is through photography that we first discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis. details of structure, cellular tissue, which with technology and medicine are normally concerned - all this is, in its origins, more native to the camera than the atmospheric landscape or the soulful portrait. yet at the same time, photography reveals in this material physiognomic aspects, image worlds, which dwell in the smallest things - meaningful yet covert enough to find a hiding place in waking dreams, but which, enlarged and capable of formulation, make the difference between technology and magic visible as a thoroughly historical variable."

walter benjamin, little history of photography, 1931

image: cabinet photo circa 1890 of a bridge being built, and enlarged details...

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

9 band stand...



here, clear
a nine on the right,
the photograph so light
and faded
band stand
empty of all
rust, and dust
silently quiet
asleep, in emptiness weeping
as all sound and human forms
today, gone away
gone since yesterday,
when voices
worn, and torn away
their echoes remain
quietly silently
sounding, surrounding
this vacant space
that sits
alone, a lone
awaiting the returning
of its sounds
and soon
after just two days,
and two moons,
the goddess of music appears
between this empty shell's ears
to begin
and to burn
its insides
once more aflame
in song.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

when birds bring gifts...

gift from a bird nest building...

a small bird has been building a small nest at the house. it has been wonderful to watch it form over a few days, and also to see the mess the bird makes when making the nest, it looks as if the thing is in a constant state of flux, with twig matter all over the ground, as if the nest itself was constantly shedding.

yesterday, i was on the other side of the house and discovered this little bit of string on the ground. it is totally foreign in color, and clearly not a fragment of anything here. so i think it must be from these tiny nest makers, and i wonder if they bring it to the nest and find it is just a bit too colorful for their taste, and i wonder if perhaps they leave it on the ground in such a spot as a gift to me. as if they know i regularly walk with my eyes down, looking for things to pick up.

i remember once in paris, the day after a flea market, spending hours walking up and down this seemingly abandoned train station picking up snapshots from the 1930's, small old books, fragments, quite amazing.

in this case it was simply a thread from a cloth of some sort, and i imagine the bird taking some part of a cloth on a clothesline in his mouth, and pulling and flying to yank it from its place. for those short few seconds of struggle and pull, the bird and the cloth were held together by this small strand, as though it binds them to each other. making them one.

perhaps the bird then brought it back to the nest, and one of the other birds thinking it was a red worm, took it in their beak/mouth and for one short while now the two birds become one.

so now i find this gift they leave me on the ground, and i hold it in my hand, and i wonder if one of them will come to me and try to grab one end of this string, to see if for a few seconds we too can be two and one at the same time....

i should also mention that their chirping is quite high pitched and very wonderful.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

tworkov on justness

jack tworkov

"the spectator who in front of my paintings will ask, "what does it mean?" has forgone the chance of seeing it. for the only meaning in the painting is in the seeing of it. but that's true in looking at any painting. if you only see the landscape, you are not seeing the painting. if you only see the portrait, you miss the painting.

there is an element in painting which i have often referred to as true, by which i mean not truth in a moral sense but the concern similar to that of a good carpenter who supports his eye with the try square and level, on which all other qualities base themselves. the spiritual essence we draw from art is the absence of falseness; it teaches us not only about art but how to judge anything in life, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, from what the preacher says to what the politician says and does. art can become the try square and the level of all things - provided it is itself not askew.

it is not beauty that is the first concern of art and certainly not entertainment - but justness.

where justness exists in a work, the artist's personality disappears because the painting is the presence, not the painter.

there is another quality in a painting that cannot be described : it is the residue reflected in the painting of the artist's pleasure in the making of it, especially the pleasure, the joy the artist experiences in the stages when the painting uncovers itself to his eyes. this is an internal experience of the artist which the attentive spectator can extract. it is something precious i get from a cezanne, knowing very well he did not make it for me, but it is there for me to have.

trueness and pleasure add up to the most fundamental quality in a painting. if the artist cannot paint himself out of a picture, if he is caught up in attention-getting devices, if he becomes concerned with the effects on the audience, he cannot achieve justness. you can admire his devices but you cannot live with them. you cannot draw joy from them. at their worst such artists exploit the same world as teh advertising fabricators: clever, ingenious, eye-grabbing, but false.

am i stressing an esthetic morality? i am. it's what i get from bach, velazquez, blake, cezanne, mondrian - and it is rare in our present.

am i too pessimistic? not altogether. when i think of the overwhelming numbers of painters, poets, dancers, composers, musicians working in this country and their audiences, i know there is an element that exists outside of the sphere of exploiting corporations, bureaucratic politicians, war manufacturers, radio preachers, soap advertisers; and there is just the possibility that when the sharp edge of crisis comes, they may form the core of an alternative way. for, by and large, the artists are the truth element in society; they are the least likely to use the flag and god falsely."

jack tworkov, 1981

Thursday, August 14, 2008

beautiful music...


"obviously music should put all within listening range into a state of ecstasy..."
steve reich, 1969
image: RPPC circa 1910

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

when flowers sleep...

chants et dances de perse cover

chants et dances de perse back cover

when i found this 7" from the great french label 'le chant du monde', i assumed from the cover it would be traditional persian folk music. when i put the needle onto the record, well, i must say i was surprised, as well as mind blown. the delicate melancholy voice and rendition of these tunes is absolutely sublime.

monir vakili was born in tabriz iran, but studied in paris, boston, and other places. she sang opera as well as folk music, and was somewhat of an international star in europe in the early 1960s, and in 1958, this disc received an academy charles cros grande prix du disque.

the songs and their arrangements remind me a lot of one my my guilty musical pleasures, richard dyer-bennet. this is not folk song for lovers of the harry smith anthology, but folk song sung with affectation, finesse, and in vakili's case, a healthy dose of french chanson. but, like dyer-bennet, vakili, at least on this disc, transcends all of those affectations to create a music of lilting human tender beauty. these songs are pretty darn wonderful.

the track here is called "gorgan", the lyrics, as translated by my friend google translate are roughly:

"sleep, my beautiful tulip, sleep. do you hear the sound of a panther, groaning in the mountains? sleep my beautiful flower hazel, sleep. while your mother works. sleep my beautiful flower poppy, sleep. your father is far away. and God is with him."

click here to listen to gorgon

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Monday, August 11, 2008

a collection of faces...

salvation army photo montage 1913

salvation army photo montage 1913

salvation army photo montage 1913

salvation army photo montage 1913

a strangely surreal photo montage, dated 1913. i believe this large photograph is a constructed mythical meeting of various important people in the history of the salvation army. it looks like a very old william booth, the founder of the salvation army, with a white beard and book, in the bottom detail photo.

the montage becomes an archive of faces, forming a history, and in essence also an archive of voices. like a collection of butterflies in a box, captured at different times and different places; these faces are similarly held in place with pins, in close proximity to things they relate to, but never really touched in life. it is a scene that exists as a false memory, as it never existed in life, nor during any of the participants lifetimes. it revolves around fantasy, but on some level seeks to invent history.

the problem with this choir, is that without any outside knowledge or attached history, the voices remain mute; and one is left to create stories of this gathering, rather than able to speak of facts.

other than my relative certainty of the presence of booth, i have no idea who any of the people are. i have no idea why the presence of musical instruments exists only along the bottom edge; and i definitely have no idea what the crowd in the midst of a giant greek temple is supposed to symbolize...

it is certainly a nice pre-cursor to some early surrealist collages; and i should also mention that the dealer i bought it from, said he found it in the trash.

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judging a book by its back cover...

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

back cover images of robert pinget's the voice

i picked up a nice hardback copy of robert pinget's book "the voice" about a week ago. the interesting thing is that it's the first time i've purchased a book solely because of the back cover. seeing the words "the voice" on a spine was enough to get me to pull it down, but the front cover led me to almost put it back. curious about the text, i flipped it over, expecting to see a description, and i was immediately drawn to the series of images of what i believe to be pinget himself, involved in various activities with a ladder in a french garden (he might be in the south of france, and seems to be looking for someone he lost...)

i have to say i've never read any of his books, so i am anxious to read his voice; but it is interesting that his work is often compared to beckett's (and indeed pinget and beckett shared letters for over 20 years...), because this series of images could easily be a strange solo outdoor performance of a beckett play.

i don't know how it happens that these things get inside of me so deeply; but as i carried the book around with me, surveying every shelf in the store, i kept flipping it over, nearly obsessing over these images. part of me wanted to put the book back, but part of me knew i had to take it home. i'm still not sure why the images spoke to me in such a strong way.

now, i begin to wonder if the text could ever work me the way these images do - if it might be less compelling in light of, unfortunately, having to compete with the power of these photos - to speak in a voice wholly its own, outside of the resonance the photos have left in me.

the ridiculousness of 'collecting' books like this, is that words are supposed to be a book's primary value, but this isn't the part i find myself gravitating towards. it's the object that has its own power, and rather than spending time reading, i find myself only looking. this thing needs to be held with eyes fixed upon it. maybe i'll simply never open it...

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Friday, August 08, 2008

but with a voice for light...

"the minarets that rise here and there are not like church spires. they are slender; but they do not taper, they are the same width top and bottom, and what matters is the platform in the sky from which the faithful are called to prayer. a minaret is more like a lighthouse, but with a voice for light"

e. canetti, voices of marakesh, 1967

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

finding poetry in the water cycle...






the water cycle:

evaporation in falling
evaporation from trees and plants
evaporation from ponds and lakes
evaporation from the soil
evaporation from streams
evaporation from the ocean

the fall of rain and snow


some water is used by plants
some filters unused through the soil
some feed streams
some seeps directly into the ocean

from the trees
and plants
temporary storage
in ponds and lakes

infiltration -
water seeping into the earth.

(image: us forest service poster, 1960's)

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

when butterflies are...

butterfly age 5 or 6

composition 1960, #5

turn a butterfly (or any number of butterflies) loose in the performance area.

when the composition is over, be sure to allow the butterfly to fly away outside.

the composition may be of any length, but if an unlimited amount of time is available, the doors and windows may be opened before the butterfly is turned loose and the composition may be considered finished when the butterfly flies away.

la monte young, tulane drama review 1965.
image: childhood drawing (and premonition).

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Monday, August 04, 2008

with quiet breath...


they listen
with quiet breath
to the snow,
to the trees
(distant and barely there),
to the wind, lightly,
to the small electric sound coming through the headphones
and the radio,
to each other,
and then they disappear,

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two voices from the art of assemblage...

"it now seems to me that even striving for expression in a work of art is harmful to art. art is an archprinciple, as sublime as the godhead, as inexplicable as life, undefinable and without purpose. the work of art is created by an artistic evaluation of its elements. i know only how i do it; i know only my material, from which i derive, to what end i know not."
kurt schwitters, 1921

"painting relates to both art and life. neither can be made.(i try and act in that gap between the two.) i am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. i am trying to be unfamiliar with what i'm doing. if you do not change your mind about something when you confront a picture you have not seen before, you are either a stubborn fool or the painting is not very good."
robert rauchenberg, 1961

two quotes from the 1961 MOMA catalog the art of assemblage.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

spiritual honey...



"and as it is inscribed on the tongue, in the mouth and in the stomach of bees who are bound to produce honey, it is inscribed in our eyes, in our ears, in our marrow, in the lobes of our brain, in the nervous systems of our bodies, that we were created to transform that which we absorb from the things of the earth into a certain type of energy of a quality that is unique upon this globe. no being, as far as i know, was ever intended like us to produce this strange fluid which we call thought, reason, soul, spirit, cerebral potency, virtue, kindness, justice, knowledge... it has a thousand names, although it has only one essence."

maurice maeterlinck, quoted in the beehive metaphor, by juan ramirez

photo is an early cabinet photo, 1880's or so.

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