I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Stark, and seeing her work, at the wonderful Civilian Art Projects in DC last year. Her paper-based sculptures are mind-bogglingly meticulous (lots of precise snips and X-Acto slices of construction paper), and lyrical as all get-out; bursts of unwinding cellulose sunshine. Above is an Art Street profile of Jen. Previous post on Boing Boing
There are a lot of things that can suck about being a freelance writer: long, solitary hours, throwing pitches at magazines like so much spaghetti against a wall (with nothing sticking), low pay, no benefits, having to discipline yourself to stay in the saddle, while sunshine, or a nap, or The Daily Show strum their sexy siren songs. One thing that does not suck is getting lots of free shit: books, CDs, movies, t-shirts, free trips to exotic locales (if you're the type that succumbs to the latter, somewhat questionable, job perk). When I knew I was going to be doing this-here Boing Boing Guest Blogging gig, I wrote off for some books I might want to review. I saw in my latest issue of Hi-Fructose that there was a new Chris Mars book, called Tolerance. And there was that new Attaboy postcards collection. Oh, and there was also that last Ron English book. I sent an email off to the Last Gasp PR guy and asked if I could see review copies of these. He wrote back and said sure and he'd send some other titles I might be interested in as well. A week or so later, a box showed up on my front porch which was so heavy, I could barely muscle it into the house. I can't tell you how excited I was as I recklessly knived into it. It was crammed tight with thick, nutritious tree meat. Besides the books I'd asked for, there was a collection of legendary montage artist Winston Smith's work, called All Riot on the Western Front, the horror-comedy manga of Tokyo Zombie, a book from the godfather of low-brow Robert Williams, called Through Prehensile Eyes, an oversized book of unsettling kiddie-pink perversion from Gary Baseman, called Dying of Thirst (taken from his "I Melt in Your Presence" show), Limited Edition: The Art and Design of GAMA-GO (the only place you'll find all of GAMA-GO's limited-release designs), a lovely, hefty tome of Basil Wolverton's lifework, called The Original Art of Basil Wolverton, the list goes on. This motherload of fringe-art awesomeness arrived just days before Christmas. It was like my very own Christmas Story, except my winning prize sucked a lot less than a mannequin leg lamp. I ended up getting some nice gifts for the holidays, but I couldn't help coming back to that box, both literally and figuratively, as the real Yuletide score. So, a million thanks to Last Gasp. I cherish these amazing books that you sent, but I may have to boil and eat some of them if times get any tougher. Interestingly enough, with all of these books to ogle and sniff, it was the two I asked for in the first place, Chris Mars' Tolerance and Ron English's Abject Expressionism, that got the biggest rise out of me, and my art-student son, Blake. Chris' work is undeniably strident in its political message, but the rawness of the anger, the clarity of the shouting, is so crystalline-sharp, and its all rendered with such technical virtuosity. This guy is definitely the George Grosz of the 21st century. I love the way all of his figures look almost like they've been flayed alive to reveal their naked truth beneath. Like Grosz, he manages to render macabre beauty in the most staggering depictions of ugliness and terror. My son and I reverently paged through Ron English's book, laughing, gasping, and generally marveling at the perverse genius behind it all. It reminded me of being high and watching TV with the sound off, the rank idiocy of "the Spew" so clearly revealed. English Cuisinarts cultural icons, commercial trash, and sacred cows (literal cows, even) into such an intoxicating slurry, I literally felt like my consciousness had been altered by the time we were through. Ron English shreds icons and brand identities like a guitar hero. He's the Jimi Hendrix of culture jamming.
I was raised Catholic (thanks, I'm better now). I also spent my teen years studying meditation, yoga, and eastern religions. So maybe through this upbringing, I tend to think in terms of teachers, gurus, saints, heroes, muses, angels, and daemons -- no longer in a theological sense, but I still find use for these concepts, at least in a poetic, symbolic sense. When I was kid, I loved all of the trappings of the saints: the icons, the medallions, the miracle stories, the statues, relics, the veneration. I'm a pagan at heart, and when you think about it, this is nothing more than high paganism, ceremonial magick. I loved the idea that there are different saints that help, guide, and protect you under different circumstances. And I loved that they represent different virtues and qualities you could meditate on and try to emulate, as you lit candles and prayed to icons. Recently, I've come to the realization that I still engage in something of this practice. I have various "teachers" in my life -- writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists -- whose work holds a powerful influence over me. They've become hugely symbolic in my life and have come to represent different aspects of myself that I wish to improve and magnify. I keep them close to me, mainly in collections of books in my library that I browse and "meditate" on whenever I am in need of a little inspiration. Below is my list of "saints." Do you have such a pantheon? These are more than your heroes. These are the people that you think have taught you the most, that you near-venerate in your love and respect for them, and whom you feel have helped form the bedrock of your beliefs and worldview. My "Saints" (and what they represent to me) William Blake - I venerate this guy above all others. He's the closest thing I have to a guru. His entire mission in life was to use his art and ideas to wake us all up from the somnambulism he believed the State, organized religion, even our own sensoria, were cursed to induce in us. I use him as my constant reminder to stay awake and creative, keep my imagination expansive, and to "fight the power." Gregory Bateson - A father of cybernetics. Bateson was something of a saint to the Whole Earth folks and Whole Earth was a huge influence on me. Bateson was the one who introduced me to Blake. Bateson reminds me to look at relationships over objects and for patterns that connect. And to tie all of my ideas and beliefs with slipknots. Robert Anton Wilson - In the CD interview series with Bob Wilson, Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything, the interviewer states that RAW had spent a career collecting, trading in, and writing about conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the like, but he doesn't appear to buy into much of it. So why does he spend so much time exploring such things? "It keeps my mind supple" is Wilson's reply. That elevates him to sainthood in my pantheon. Wilson also embodied the virtue of hilaritas to me. And he remind me to embrace the absurd. Wilson was also "open to anything, but skeptical of everything." Bucky Fuller - Fuller's mission in life was to see how much a single "human intelligence unit" could create, learn, and experience -- what one person could do to make the world a better place -- in a lifetime. Amazingly, he embarked on that mission, on the other side of an aborted suicide attempt, in his mid-30s. Everything we know about Buckminster Fuller happened after that. I also venerate Bucky's optimism, faith in human ingenuity, and in the transformative powers of science and technology. Aleister Crowley - I hate "The Beast" as much as I love him. He represents my faith in the powers of thelema (will) and agape (love) and the notion of syncretism. And I try to live by his motto "The method of science, the aim of religion." Say what you want against him (and there's plenty to say), but his influence on modern, at least bohemian, culture and on alternative religions has been huge. He was such a significant influence on me in my youth it would be disingenuous to not include him. And every list of apostles needs a Judas. (Sadly, there are no women on my list. I racked my brain. I could come up with women I greatly admire, lots of artists and musicians, but no one who's risen to the level I'm thinking about here.) So, who are YOUR saints? What lessons, virtues, ideas, or qualities do they represent for you?
I love making serendipitous musical discoveries via MySpace. It's amazing how many unique, talented, unsigned bands there are on the site. Okay, they are somewhat overwhelmed by the Tbits of less-than-unique-and-talented bands, but that makes the accidental discoveries all the happier. Musical taste is clearly and utterly subjective, so YMMV, but here are a few of my recent MySpace finds.
Lunabee & Swan I love how bands categorize themselves on MySpace. Belgium/UK duo Lunabee and Joanna Swan describes their music as "Melodramatic Popular Song/Trip Hop/Electronica" and that's pretty accurate. The two artists, Lunabee the musician, Swan the singer, actually met on MySpace. Swan bumped into Lunabee's page (again with the serendipity) and sent her a message saying she wanted to collaborate. A week later, an album's worth of music showed up in Swan's inbox and Lunabee & Swan were born. Their song "Smoke Rings" blew my wig off the first time I heard it... and the 20th time (I gotta get stronger toupee tape!). It's like Annie Lennox on the lower register, Shirley Bassey in the middle, and Prince wailing away up on top. I have to sit up and listen to any band that lists Poulenc, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tod Browning's Freaks as influences!
ZAZA My pal, Pete Kennedy, of the most-excellent psychedelic folk duo The Kennedys, turned me on to these 21st century shoegazers, another duo, this one from Brooklyn. Pete says they've only done a handful of gigs, but they're already generating a buzz, on both coasts. Echoey, ethereal singing over smeared-out gothy soundscapes. The male singer sounds a little like Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips (never a bad thing in my book). One reviewer described their sound as "like drowning with a smile on your face." Yeah. It's like that.
HTRK My favorite "MySpace band" of the moment is HTRK, pronounced "Hate Rock." This trio of young ones from Melbourne, Australia makes a primitive, minimalist form of noise rock (vocalist Jonnine Standish's percussion instrument is a single maraca and a floor tom). They also do some poppier fare, like "Fascinator," the first song to prick my ear. When I started listening to their MySpace jukebox a few weeks ago, Fascinator had 80,000 listens. It's now shot up to over a quarter million. At least some of those are not me. HTRK just released a three-song MP3 bundle "Ha-Panties," which includes the tracks "Ha," "Panties," and "Fascinator." It's tasty, GBP2.97, and deliciously DRM-free.
I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to work for Maker Media, helping to create magazines, books, web media, and events that I truly care about, that excite and inspire me. I just got back from the MAKE offices in Sebastopol, CA, where I was helping to put Volume 17 to bed. It's the "Lost Knowledge" issue, pressurized with plenty of steampunky goodness. It'll hit newsstands on March 10th. Last year, I got to lead the team that created The Maker's Notebook. Every engineer, artist, designer, crafter, or other creative type I know has ideas on what would make the ideal blank notebook. We took a lot of this input and tried to incorporate it into our design. One of the things we wanted to do with The Maker's Notebook was design in hackability. We wanted the book to beg to be customized, extended, repurposed. The cover was designed to look like a cross between a blueprint and an empty storyboard. We created special stickers with which to customize it. We're thrilled by all of the useful, creative, and crazy things users have done with their books. We gave some notebooks to teacher Steve Davee's 4th grade math class to see what they'd do with them. Above is student Aiden's LED cover mod video. Steve has done some crazy-cool hacks of his own, including a binary indexing system, which you can see here. Below are a few other mod projects. More can be found on the Maker's Notebook webpage. This is an impostor! Kent Barnes Maker-ized his pocket Moleskine by covering it with a paper bookcover he made of the Maker's Notebook. I did one of those jowly cartoon triple-takes when I saw this image on Flickr. Matt Mechtley's, of Flashbang Studios, notebook, modded at the workshop at last year's Maker Faire Bay Area. Val Hutchins made a cloth tool caddy that attaches to the cover of her notebook. MAKE Online Editor Marc de Vinck made a snap enclosure for his book.
Back in the early '90s, at print bOING bOING, we all took a shine to a Bloomington, IN cable-access TV show called "J & B on the Rox," or just "Rox" (in Wired, Mark called Rox "the best TV show in America"). It was pre-Vlog, proto-YouTube, Wayne's World meets Michael Moore's TV Nation (on prodigious amounts of herb and alcohol). These guys were good. They made it look effortless. And they never took themselves, or their show, too seriously. Now, through the reconnective magic of Facebook, I've found my Bartender J again! Turns out, he and B are back to putting out periodic episodes and releasing some cutting-floor specials, like the video seen below. The most recent episode, Fifteen Months of Katrina, is a moving look at B and (wife and Rox regular) Xy returning to their home after the hurricane and trying to make sense in the aftermath. J & B also have a new podcast, called J & B's Nightcap.
My friend, DC-area video artist Rob Parrish, posts a weekly video on his site Next to Heaven. Each week, he goes onto Archive.org, sniffs out new raw material, dreams up an idea for a found art video, edits, audio-records, and then on Wednesday, releases a new piece. Some of the resulting videos feel immediate, small, off-the-cuff, others strike much deeper, more resonant chords, and are truly impressive in their impact, given the production timeline. I'm always impressed with Rob's clever use of the found footage. And I love his perverse sense of humor. Given the retro source material, there's a haunting quality to many of these videos, a pervasive sense of loss, faded memories, tragic childhoods, dreams unfulfilled, and dirty secrets unrevealed -- all usually leavened with humor and a healthy helping of the absurd. Above is Episode 41, about a junkie who replaces his love of smack with drug education films narrated by Paul Newman. Other favorites of mine include the special episode The Tapes of My Father, about a son who discovers that his late Public Access TV producer dad recorded his innermost thoughts over found video footage from the PATV archives, and Episode 49, which has a man reminiscing about his macho childhood of sports and trouble-making while the video shows a young boy timidly putting on his mother's make-up.
I've written about hilaritas elsewhere, but I thought I'd bring it up here for the benefit of Boing Boing readers who may not be familiar with the concept. I was introduced to the term via the work of Robert Anton Wilson. The more common hilarity springs from the same root. Hilaritas was a Roman goddess of rejoicing and good humor. She appeared on Roman coins from from the time of Hadrian until the late 3rd century AD. Hilaritas was a Roman public virtue, something that people were supposed to strive to exhibit and inspire others with. Wilson was keen on this word as he thought it perfectly expressed a rare quality of being that revealed a special kind of person. He defined hilaritas as “profoundly good natured” and made clear that, for him, it was more than just being happy or having a good sense of humor. I've also seen it defined as “being of pleasant spirits.” There's a kind of cosmic it-factor involved. People possessed of hilaritas are people you're drawn to because they have something indefinable that you want, a kind of playful knowing about the world. They seem to be having just a bit more fun on the slip'n slide flow of the Tao than the rest of us. Santa Claus has hilaritas. Bugs Bunny. Hotei. Mark Frauenfelder. And, of course, our dearly-departed Bob Wilson (Eris playfully unrest his soul) embodied this quality. My life has been a quest to surround myself with as much hilaritas as possible. It's ultimately hard to define, but (as they say) like pornography, you know it when you see it.
DC-area artist Linda Hesh does a lot of situational art that uses common products and familiar locales to address race, gender, sex, political polarization, and other typically prickly issues. She does this with a great deal of style, wit, and wry humor. Her "White Liberal Products" series is a line of Cafe Press mugs, t-shirts, tote bags, and baby onesies that sport the slogans: "I Like Black People," "I Like Brown People," "I Like Yellow People." Her "Desolation Doorknob" series are paper doorknob hangers with quizzical statements like "I didn't ask for this," "I don't know what to do," and "I tried to forget." She leaves the hangers on residential and commercial doors around town. You can also buy them (along with the White Liberal Products) and join in the culture jam yourself. Linda's most recent project was the For and Against Benches. These were two 6' steel benches, one green that said "FOR," one red that said "AGAINST." She set them up in locations around DC last fall, leading up to the election. Passers-by could sit on the bench of their choosing, then write down the thing they were for or against. As you can imagine, a lot of dominant cultural and political issues were on people's minds, like poverty, hunger, the Iraq war, freedom of speech, and world peace. But there were smaller, and some sillier concerns too, like chocolate, big screen TVs, and camelback crickets (that last one was a "For," BTW). Linda says that most people gave serious thought to what they wrote down and took the gesture seriously. In the end, she got 1000 written opinions and 309 photos of people posing on the benches. You can see an online gallery of the photos and the statements at Linda's website here.
I launched a new weekly column on the Make: Blog today, called Lost Knowledge (also the theme of our next issue, BTW). We're going "in search of the technology of the future in the forgotten ideas of the past (and those slightly off the beaten track)." The first column on the blog is about collecting, refurbing, and using manual typewriters. In the comments, a reader posted a link to this wonderful blog, called Strikethru. Their mission:
This blog heartily approves of typewriters, fountain pens, junk cameras, retrotech, Rhodia, Myndology, Apica, and Moleskine notebooks, woodcase pencils, ephemera, Polaroid, rubber stamps, and fellow paper-based romantics who like the sound of a typewriter bell at the end of a sentence.Ding! I wrote the URL in my Maker's Notebook, using my Varsity disposable fountain pen.
Music critic Daniel Stephen Johnson called Braithwaite Wallets "deliciously pretentious," and that pretty much sums them up. I mean, my new, now beloved, Braithwaite is called "Raptured," for Christ's sake! But if you're at all like me, you'll enthusiastically fork over your cash while cringing at their "Wallet Registry," some of the breathless prose on the site, and just generally getting this worked up over wallets. I've had my... er... heavenly Raptured for a few weeks now and I'm over the moon about it. It's actually a coat wallet, almost 7" long. I would rather have had a back pocket-style billfold, but I fell in love with the Raptured's steampunky design, with its laser-etched Art Deco-y flourishes and gold oriental brocade lining. I frequently carried my billfold wallet in my front pants pocket anyway, so I'm doing that exclusively now with this wallet. The Raptured is reasonably flat, so it doesn't create an unsightly bulge in your pants. There are seven, staggered, slots for your credit and ID cards, a place for bills, and one for receipts, etc. The full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather has a really nice old-world look and feel. It's really a beautiful, well-made piece that I'm sure I'll have for a long time. At first, the price of $127 seemed rather steep, but when you think about it, a wallet is one the few accessories a man carries, and you carry it all times. My last wallet was a Pierre Cardin I paid $40 over a decade ago. So $127 for something this handsome, this well designed, and well made -- that I'll likely carry for another ten years -- doesn't seem like that much. And that's the most expensive wallet Braithwaite makes. The other wallets run from $97 - $113. The other model I almost got was the Orpheus (below). It's an actual billfold style and made for guitar players, with a 3-slot guitar pick holder on the outside. They also make a wallet/Moleskine zipper case for $133. I've got my eye on that baby, too. "Deliciously pretentious" and a danger to your existing wallet in more ways than one.
My friend, photographer and filmmaker, Seanie Blue traveled north, to Iceland, to blow his mind on the aurora borealis, in hopes that its incomprehensibility might help him forget a love gone south. He captured the most amazing photos and now those photos and interview footage of him talking about the experience have been edited into a Photography Channel (yeah, me neither) documentary. Here's a two-minute teaser. I'm psyched. Can't wait to see the whole thing. Way to go, Seanie!
Following up on my post about the 33 1/3 book series, I forgot to mention a discovery I made recently. Using Wikipedia, you can have a sort of low-rent, roll-your-own 33 1/3 experience, at least with a lot of popular recordings. For many albums on Wikipedia, there's not only an entry for the album itself, but one for each (or many) of the tracks on the album. As an experiment, I chose “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”) and Brian Eno's “Before and After Science.” There's a lengthy entry on The White Album, along with a fairly detailed entry for each track. For “Before and After Science,” there's only a single, brief entry. So, at least for The White Album, I was able to use my method of listening to each track, reading the Wikipedia entry, then listening to the track again. Of course, with Wikipedia, it's hit and miss on the quality and accuracy of the entries, and a lot of the track entries don't delve very deeply into the details of the compositions themselves; they're more anecdotal. On The White Album test, I did discover some interesting stuff, including: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Arguably one of the worst Beatles songs, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da was Paul's idea of a reggae tune. John Lennon hated the song, calling it "Paul's granny shit." He left the studio as they struggled with different tempos and styles (not in the Wikipedia entry, but is the rumor that it was Ringo who couldn't understand nor establish a decent reggae beat) only to return a few hours later declaring that he was good and truly fucked up, sitting down at the piano, and banging out the piano intro you hear on the record. Helter Skelter “Helter Skelter “ was written after McCartney read an article in Guitar Player magazine where Pete Townsend said "I Can See for Miles," was the “loudest, rawest, dirtiest” song The Who had ever recorded. “Helter Skelter” was The Beatles' attempt at the same. The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill “This song mocks the actions of a young American named Richard A. Cooke III, known as Rik who was visiting his mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh at the same time that the Beatles were staying with the Maharishi. According to his mother, both she and her son maintained friendly relations with all of the Beatles except for Lennon, who by Cooke de Herrera's account was "a genius" but distant and contemptuous of the wealthy American Cooke de Herrera and her clean-cut, college-attending son. According to Nancy's life account, Beyond Gurus, the genesis of the song occurred when she, Rik, and several others, including native guides, set out upon elephants to hunt for a tiger (allegedly presented by their Indian guide as a traditional act). The pack of elephants was attacked by a tiger, which was shot by Rik. Rik was initially proud of his quick reaction and posed for a photograph with his prize. However, Rik's reaction to the slaying was mixed, as he has not hunted since. Nancy claims that all present recognized the necessity of Rik's action, but that John Lennon's reaction was scornful and sarcastic, asking Rik: "But wouldn't you call that slightly life-destructive?" The song was written by Lennon as mocking what he saw as Rik's bravado and unenlightened attitude. “Lennon later told his version of the story in a Playboy interview, stating that: "[Bungalow Bill] was written about a guy in Maharishi's meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim, and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It's sort of a teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke." Mia Farrow, who was also at the ashram during the period supports Lennon's story in her autobiography; she writes, "Then a self-important, middle-aged American woman arrived, moving a mountain of luggage into the brand-new private bungalow next to Maharishi's along with her son, a bland young man named Bill. People fled this newcomer, and no one was sorry when she left the ashram after a short time to go tiger hunting, unaware that their presence had inspired a new Beatles' song - 'Bungalow Bill.'” Dear Prudence “The song is about actress Mia Farrow's sister, Prudence, who was present when the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Prudence, focused on meditation, stayed in her room for the majority of their stay. Lennon, who was worried that she was depressed, wrote this song for her, inviting her to "come out to play". While the Beatles left the course, Prudence, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and others, stayed and became Transcendental Meditation (or TM) teachers. Prudence now teaches elementary school along with her husband, and they both still practice TM and advanced versions of it.”
I've been a fan of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards ever since they showed up in the mid-70s. I've had a computerized version of the deck on every one of my machines since the Hypercard version was released. So, I wasn't surprised when I recently searched and discovered that there's now a Twitter version too, called Oblique_Chirps (twitter.com/Oblique_Chirps). It feeds you a card an hour. I wish there was a way you could select the feed rate. One an hour is too frequent for me and it waters down the impact. And I'm not sure I want to be auto-fed the cards anyway, as opposed to choosing them as desired. I like Far Out Labs' iPhone version (available in the Apps Store). It allows you to select from all five editions of the deck and the card-drawing experience feels closest to the analog deck than any of the electronic versions I've used. Unfortunately, they snoozed on some of the capabilities. The cards get picked in the same sequence (i.e. two people choosing cards at the same time will get the same card). It also would've been fun if you could shuffle your deck by shaking your phone. Hopefully, they'll make improvements in future editions. Here, let's pick a card and and see what is says: Go outside. Shut the door. Okay. See ya!
A dear friend of mine, who blogs under the name Supa Dupa Fresh, and I share a grim truth -- we've both lost our spouses. One of the other things we have in common is an off-beat sense of humor. These two forces collide on her Fresh Widow blog, and especially, with her Fresh Widow (and Widower) Cards. She explains:
One night in my support group, S. said casually that he’d “left work early… I just pulled a widower card.” I thought about how often I’d done this in the months since LH died, but more about how I could make good use of some little advantage. All the handicaps I was living with… single (really, double) parenting, how impossible it was to go grocery shopping with a toddler, and how no one could see that anything was wrong. The side of me that is tempted to shoplift (but only cashmere or chocolate) was aroused. I was always comfortable as an underachiever, but could I have some legitimate “cover” after surviving catastrophe? Something versatile? Something I could use every day? And so the concept was born: Not as useful as a “get out of jail free” card, more powerful than a hall pass… it’s… it’s… The Widow Card!