Posts from — March 2013
An interview with RAE
By Mike Foldes
Q) What would you like people to know about you and your work that may not be evident?
A) I am really bad at using a hammer. I gave up long ago worrying about making nails go all the way in. When they bend I move on to the next one. Can’t be bothered. Also, if you happen to be my neighbor never leave anything in your yard you think I may want to use in my art.
Q) How much time do you spend planning before executing?
A) A lot. In fact, I once rented an apartment directly across the street from a spot I planned on putting up a piece art on. I bought a pair of binoculars and everything and watched that wall for days. There were some interesting things happening in a window next to the spot that I checked in on too but it was only to break the monotony. I’m trying to cut down on the prep time and focus more on the executing time.
A) Yes– I went to college. Studied art, history and the student body.
A) My family plays a big part in most of my art stories. A lot of the sculptural faces I construct are based on old family photos of my aunts & uncles. Not to mention a lot of the parts I use in my work come from the homes of my family members.
A) Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.
A) Really bad infomercials.
The oddities in the way certain people walk.
And names of retired baseball players such as Oil Can Body, School Boy Roe and Pee Wee Reese.
Q) What do you like to eat?
A) I like a place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, NYC called Takahachi. If you ever get there try the beef soy-garlic dinner. It comes with brown rice and salad. You can’t go wrong with that meal. I also have a lot of stickers in their men’s and women’s bathrooms. Check it out.
Q) If you were able to bring an artist back from the dead to collaborate with, who would it be?
A) Michael Jackson
Q) If you were able to collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
Q) When you were in school, whose work were you most influenced by?
A) I liked the janitor’s work the most. I made good friends with him so I could get access the junk he would toss out and use it in my art. I was also influenced by the smart girl sitting next to me. Especially when she didn’t hide her test answers well enough.
Q) Were/are your parents/siblings artists? what kind of support did you get to continue with your art, vs going to business school and getting a real job?
A) My family is very supportive. They knew early on I was not going to be a doctor or lawyer.
My mom would hide the screw drivers we had in the house because I would like to take apart her electronics and make sculptures out of them. Her stereo, her VHS, her foot soaker — Nothing was safe.
Q) Any place else in the world you’d like to live or work?
A) Easter Island.
Q) What are you working on now, and what, if anything, do you have planned for the future that would reflect a change in your methodology, style or direction?
A) Working on my show at Signal Gallery at the moment. I’m not sure how or if my style will change directions in the future. It depends on the materials I come across and thoughts that emerge from my subconscious.
Q) How would you guage the audiences for your work in London vs New York — or Paris, if you’ve shown there? What has the audience reaction been like to your show at Signal Gallery?
A) I guess the reaction has been good. I made sure to have one too many drinks before attending the opening as to be sure I couldn’t see or remember much.
It’s very weird to attend you’re own opening. Sort of like attending your own funeral maybe? Or standing in a museum next to one of your paintings trying to explain its meaning in hopes it will make people like it more. I do really appreciate when someone connects with something I’ve made.
Seriously. But it’s a bit uncomfortable because my work has a lot of personal stories in it hidden behind bright colors and strange characters.
It can be a bit like opening a gift in from of someone or making out with a stranger.
Q) Do you think about relevance when you’re making art?
A) I don’t think about that at all when making the work because the story I’m telling is true. So I jump off from that. But when it comes time to hang the work or have others come see it in the studio or a gallery I guess that comes into play. Maybe that’s why I would rather not be there when that happens. Imagine handing someone a letter you wrote about you’re feelings for them and while they read the letter you’re standing there watching them.
Q) Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview that we haven’t covered… Take your time, as I’m sure we’ve left out a lot….
A) I had a friend who was about to open up to me about some personal issues he was having. He started off by asking, “Are there just some things that you keep to yourself, that you can’t tell no one, not even yourself?” I’ll be completely honest, at the time I didn’t really know what in the hell he was talking about (and I told him so), but I think now that that “person” that keeps those secrets inside you from you, he was referring to, might be a good person to get to know.
About the interview:
This interview was conducted via e-mail in December 2012 and January 2013, during RAE’s recent solo exhibition at the Signal Gallery in London. Mike Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on RAE/Street Art-Interview
©2013 Larry Hamill
Bryce software opens new ways of thinking about 3D space. To be able to add material qualities to shapes such as color, texture and reflectivity further adds to the creative possibilities. Just as in painting, one creates rough 3D sketches before committing them to days of rendering. This art form requires a seriously fast Mac.
Larry Hamill / Visual Thresholds
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Larry Hamill/Photography
Provoking memories of childhood
With Freud’s philosophy, man has been encouraged to look more into himself, to explore his deepest motivations. Freud’s theory on the unconscious talks about repression. Repressed emotions keep their efficiency; they influence our conscious life in many hidden ways. In this manner, the source of creativity in all areas is explained by sublimation of this energy storage into acceptable and fertile channels.
The idea with which I started my work is based on recollecting memories and facing traumatic experiences from my childhood, as well as years of repressed emotions. Childhood memories in time become less vivid, though they still provoke powerful feelings and vibrate like an echo. I am trying to record them not by focusing only on some special moment, situation or event , but by relying exclusively on emotion.
By searching for repressed emotions from childhood, I am trying to make conscious not just feelings connected to my family, but a tragic story of one entire period marked by the “nineties”– the period of my growing up. Although “nineties” collectively look like some uncomfortable disease we got over long ago and do not even like to call into our memories, much less write about (wars, inflation, poverty, desperation, hopelessness, twisted idols) … my memories are, above all, connected to my parents’ divorce and my father’s going to war. The space that marked “emotional wipe out” that I sense even today is the abandoned house in which I spent my childhood. After more than fifteen years I am returning to this space; my memories are becoming overwhelming, pictures of special sensibility of that period that I am trying to record with my camera. The sole space hasn’t changed; it only carries traces of time and lack of care.
By entering the house I cross a “psychological barrier” that awakens some sort of undefined emotion. I start from unclear sensations; during the process of creation the emotion starts being cleansed and transformed up to the moment when I recognize its essence. The Photographs describe the condition of abandonment, loneliness and the quest for the way out. By isolating the details that convey associated moments and their more or less imposed presence in relation to living element – body in whole or parts of the act – I create the atmosphere of the emotional state in which I used to be, and subconsciously still am.
– Rina Vukobratovic
Rina Vukobratovic / Photographer
Rina Vukobratovic is from Serbia. Visit: http://rinavukobratovic.weebly.com to see her other works.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Rina Vukobratovic / Photography
drkrm in limelight
with Art Shay exhibit
Interview with gallery owner John Matowsky
By Ginger Liu
On Location, LA
drkrm was founded by John Matkowsky who has a twenty-five year reputation as a fine art black and white printer in Los Angeles. The drkrm gallery specializes in documentary and photo-journalistic work, cutting edge and alternative photographic processes and the display and survey of popular cultural images both current or historic.
For the past 6 years drkrm has presented a superb and continuous array of exceptional exhibits, specializing in more under-the-radar, counterculture presentations. drkrm.
I caught up with John to talk to him about the gallery’s new exhibit and new location in China Town.
Ragazine: Tell us about drkrm’s new Art Shay Retrospective and why this is an important exhibit for the gallery.
John Matowsky: Art Shay is 90. His photography career spans nearly seven decades. He has published over 30,000 photographs in his life, which include the likes of kings, queens, presidents, athletes and celebrities, as well as the common man. He became a full-time photojournalist in the early fifties shooting regularly for Time, Life, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times Magazine, among others. Many of his images are in the National Portrait Gallery. What makes this exhibition important for drkrm is that this is the first time any of these images will be exhibited in Los Angeles, marking Art Shay’s West Coast debut.
Q) Explain drkrm’s mission statement and your background in photography.
A) What started out as a fine art black & white photography lab has evolved into an exhibition space dedicated to the display and survey of popular cultural images (current or historic), fine art photography, documentary and photo journalism, and cutting edge and alternative photographic processes. I feel I specialize in under-the-radar, counterculture presentations. My 25-year background as a Master Printer started with mentor Tom Consilvio, who taught me the finesse of the fine artistic print. Through the years I have worked on the images of Gary Winogrand, William Claxton, Phil Stern and many other renowned artists such as Horace Bristol, Jo Ann Callis, Catherine Opie, Edward S. Curtis and, most recently, Ansel Adams. drkrm’s black & white lab is still dedicated to the highest quality of hand processing and fine printing, specializing in traditional, silver-gelatin printing and film processing nearly lost in today’s digital age.
A) We are starting out in our third space in eight years. Each past location has had advantages and disadvantages: artistic, financial and political. Our new location on Chung King Road in LA’s historic Chinatown puts us in the middle of a thriving art scene and combines the best of all the other locations under one roof. We are surrounded by major, important galleries such as the Charlie James Gallery, Matt Gleason’s Coagula Curatorial, and Jancar Gallery. In addition, the space we are now occupying was once China Arts Objects Gallery, the first gallery in Chinatown.Q) How do you like your new location in China Town?A) We are new here and everyone is friendly and supportive. I think we will be here for awhile.
Q) drkrm is one of the very few west coast photography galleries which showcases black and white, as well as underground and alternative lifestyles work, which I feel puts it up there with galleries in New York, London, Paris, Berlin and Prague, etc. Money and audience are obviously an issue and LA is certainly more preoccupied with Hollywood show business, but is that the only reason why there are so few art and photojournalism photography galleries in Los Angeles?
A) Traditionally, you can’t make money showing photojournalistic work. Many people don’t want the aggressive, raw, b&w in your face realism that some of the pictures express. However, I do have a number of collectors who do, so we manage to make sales. I think this type of gallery and work would do much better in Europe or even in New York. At least critically. Trying to balance commerce with art is always tough. But I show what I think needs/warrants/begs to be shown. Because that’s what drkrm is all about. Also, because a lot of the work I like is from the 1970s and ’80s and tends to be shot on TRI-X.
Q) I see that drkrm is receiving more international press in the last year, why do you think this is?
A) drkrm has been exhibiting some pretty fantastic stuff. People are taking notice, especially in Europe.
Q) What do you look for in a photographers’ work to exhibit at drkrm?
A) The most important thing in an artist’s work is how it affects me. Does it make me feel… something. Basically I show what I like. However, in the back of my mind I think, can I sell this? Again, art is subjective and I suppose I have some lofty idea that I know what great art is, but, somehow, it has to feel important to me. I have curated pictures of transvestite whores on the night-time streets of Mexico City to the surprisingly nostalgic street photography of Ansel Adams.
Q) How has drkrm evolved in the last few years and what new things can we expect at the new location in 2013?
A) For the last 8 years, drkrm has stayed true to its program, curating photo-journalistic exhibitions. We are now offering workshops in Historic photographic processes such as Wet plate Collodion, cyanotypes and Platinum as well as photography and lighting workshops featuring some major artists in photography today. We are trying to keep the dream of film alive.
Q) Which photographers and galleries inspire you?
A) I am inspired by the work of Diane Arbus, Joel Peter Witkin, Larry Clark and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Peter Fetterman and David Fahey are two gallerists I greatly respect and admire.
Q) Until very recently there seemed to be an annual news report proclaiming the death of photography. Recent digital has really changed things around and photography is as big now as it has ever been and the divide between professional and amateur is very blurred. Is it increasingly difficult to exhibit work produced from a pre-digital age and to convey the difficulties of that process to a contemporary crowd?
A) Yes, it is difficult. Though occasional aficionados of the process still seek out the old, classic ways of film, unfortunately, almost everyone now thinks what is on the wall is digital. They are not used to seeing silver gelatin prints, which have a have a well known and regarded archival history. In my experience, if a collector has a choice between a digital print or a Silver print of the same image, they usually opt for the Silver print. Even some museums are showing digital prints of classic photography as opposed to vintage prints. I recently saw some photographic images from Thomas Eakins at a local museum that were digital copies.
Q) Let’s bring it back round to your new exhibit on March 2nd and Art Shay. Which image in this retrospective really speaks volumes, not only of Shay’s work but photography and the exhibit at drkrm?
A) There are far too many images in the Art Shay Retrospective to have one shot speak the loudest, but one of my favorites is this somewhat famous shot from the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago where police violently confronted demonstrators. It is of the marque of the Hilton Hotel that proclaims “Welcome Democrats.” Arrayed under the sign is a sidewalk corps of a dozen bayonet-lofting Guardsmen. Powerful stuff.
Art Shay has seen it all.
John Matkowsky Drkrm
933 Chung King Road
Los Angeles CA 90012
About the interviewer:
Ginger Liu is a Member of Women in Film, owner of Los Angeles Ginger Media & Entertainment, and a long-time contributor to Ragazine.cc. You can read more about her in About Us. firstname.lastname@example.org
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on drkrm/Photography-Interview
Old House, New Residents
By Rick Bailey
A couple gay guys have moved into the Berlin house. As far as I know, this is something new in the neighborhood.
The houses in our neighborhood go by the names of families that lived in them. There’s the Whittaker house, the Hawkins house, the Stahl house. We’ve lived in the Hawthorne house for twenty-six years. Before us were the Youngs, who didn’t stay long enough to give their name to the house. You have to live in the house long enough to fill it with kids and then empty it of kids. Once it’s empty and you’re left wandering around listening to echoes, it gets your name. I guess we’re there.
But I’ve thought lately, especially since I’ve been watching a lot of Doc Martin, that it might be nice to just drop the “The,” elevate both h’s and call our place “Hawthorne House.” Have a little sign painted and nailed above the front door. It would give our house a kind of stature, make it seem English-y. Hey, we’re having a little gathering at Hawthorne House on Saturday. Care to join us?
For about ten minutes I entertained the idea of giving the house its own name. I found an English House Name generator online. I was asked to choose three terms I could associate with the house. I chose good view, trees, and sheep. Okay, there are no sheep around, but the atmosphere is bucolic, so – think metaphorical sheep. See those squirrels? Next, what is the house near? Down the hill behind us is a minor pond that gets warm and gicky in August, home to a couple large primordial turtles. “Pond” was not a choice. I went with lake. Finally, a color that relates to the house. When our son was three, he always referred to it as “our blue house,” possibly because at that time the leaky cedar shakes, once slate gray, had been so weathered and generally sun-blasted as to appear kind of blue.
I clicked OK and then came the names, none of which seemed apt. House at the End of the Vale. Too isolated. Court of the Rushes. Too bustling. Lake of the Swan. Too Yeats. Blue River. Huh? Was I supposed to put “cottage” or “house” on the end of these? Blue River Cottage? Lake of the Swan House? House at the End of the Vale…House? There were lots more choices, all of them terrible. I had a feeling we were heading for Love Shack in the Glen…House.
No sooner did the gay guys move into the Berlin house I began to notice traffic over there, first cars, then trucks. On the side of the trucks I saw the future: marble countertops, hardwood floors, elite plumbing. Yard lights squirted out of flower beds newly plump with impatiens. Urns and potted plants appeared.
I rode by on my bike one day. One of the new owners was outside applying sealer to the paving stones, with a roller.
You live in the Berlin house, I said.
The Berlins, he said.
Three owners back.
Huh. Well, there’s a lot of work to do.
It’s looking good, I said. Before the Berlins was the guy from FEMA. Before him the FBI agent. Ten years back, in its prime, it was the Berlin house because the Berlins lived there forever.
He said he liked the Berlin house better than the FBI house.
While we were talking, a van pulled in the driveway. Custom Kitchen and Bath.
So there goes the neighborhood, I thought, but in a good way. Except pretty soon, our house will start to look so dowdy and ordinary and, well, hetero.
There are also new occupants in the house directly across the street from us, in the Baker’s house. It’s called that not because of a family named Baker. The historical owner was a baker, an Armenian, kind of misanthrope who left for work in the pre-dawn hours every day for twenty-five years, walked his black dog in the yard, and did not respond much to friendly overtures. I only know his name was Mike. I never wanted to say Mike’s house. It seemed familiar.
These new residents of the Baker’s house are shadowy figures. They are young. They have lots of cars. They never seem to be home. I think they are renters. Occasionally I see a young man smoking on the sidewalk outside the garage. When I walked out to get the newspaper one morning I heard him talking on his cell phone. Actually, he was yelling. I heard him say, “How the fuck can someone make that much money in sales?” It was 5:00 a.m.
I was getting ready to water the rhododendrons and geraniums the other day when, looking out the living room window, I saw a lawn chair in the Baker’s yard, and a young woman lying on it, in a swim suit. I don’t know what I saw, I really don’t, but what I thought I saw was a young woman sunbathing topless in the Baker’s yard. That would also be something completely new in the neighborhood. What about the small children living next door, in the Adida house? What if they saw a sunbathing topless woman? We have binoculars, strictly ornamental things, sitting on a window sill in the living room. For a second, I considered fetching them, just to verify. Was that a strap I saw on her right shoulder? I pictured the young woman sitting up, applying lotion to her bosom, then looking across her lawn, across the road and our lawn, meeting my binocular eyes and waving, holding up her hand, making a loose fist and extending her middle finger in my specific direction. I didn’t look. Really, I didn’t.
The baker was still living in that house when my wife and I backed down our driveway early one morning some twenty years ago. We drove south to the airport, boarded a plane, and flew to New Jersey. Alan, a friend of ours, was dead. Maybe our most important friend, the one responsible for bringing us together in college. We landed in Newark and drove to the Jersey shore, to the home he had shared with Allen, his partner.
It was our first time meeting partner Allen, who told us that he had bought a funeral plot close to a big tree in the cemetery, which he thought Alan would like. He told us that, before his final hospitalization our Alan had flown to Arizona to see his parents, to try again to explain his life to them, to try to reconcile and to prepare both them and himself for his death, and that he had been once again terribly, even brutally rejected.
It was a warm summer day. We sat on the porch drinking lemonade. We met surviving Allen’s parents, who were warm and gentle and, like their son, haunted by the terrible last weeks and days. When it was time, we drove to a funeral chapel. The casket was closed. There was no ceremony. It was just time together, with our Alan’s small acquired family.
Before we left, Allen pointed at a table and told us we could take some photos of our Alan. There were a lot of them. Help ourselves.
We approached the table. There were, indeed, a lot of photos. In all of them, our Alan was dressed as a woman. He wore a blond wig, a sleeveless dress. He mugged lasciviously at the camera. We picked up one image after another, looked at each other, and set them down. That wasn’t how we wanted to see him. It wasn’t how we remembered him.
I wish now that we’d taken one of those photographs. I would have put it away, probably with the letter he wrote telling us he was sick, a letter I’ve never been able to read a second time. Probably I wouldn’t ever look at that photo again, either, of his other self, the one he evidently wanted to leave us with.
One Thursday morning I’m taking trash down to the road. It’s 6:00 a.m. The residents of the Baker’s house lugged their trash out the night before, in flimsy plastic bags the crows plunder. It’s not uncommon to see bones and eggshells in the street in front of their house. I glance over at the Berlin house and check out those guys’ garbage can, which is brand new, more like a vase (yes, rhyme it with Oz) than a can.
Who are these people? Do we want to know? Can we ever know?
We could try. We could say, Hey, we’re having a little gathering at Hawthorne House on Saturday. Care to join us?
And they might say, Sorry, we’re busy. Or they might say, Who are the Hawthornes?
Our response would have to be, Really, we have no idea. For the time being, it’s our house. Come to our house.
About the author:
Rick Bailey grew up in Freeland, Michigan. He now lives in the Detroit area, where he teaches writing at a local community college. Bailey’s work has appeared recently in The Writer’s Workshop Review, Skive Magazine, Fear of Monkeys, and The Yale Journal for Humanities and Medicine.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Rick Bailey/Creative Nonfiction
A clay mask made by Chuck Plosky
An Interview with
By Dr. Jose Rodeiro
Within New Jersey City University’s labyrinthine, energy-filled ceramic studio, RAGAZINE art editor, Dr. José Rodeiro, sat down with renowned ceramicist Chuck Plosky for an insightful conversation concerning Plosky’s extensive (seven-year-long), stimulating and affable association with a vibrant ceramics community in Tonalá, Jalisco (Mexico). This community strongly affected his new, distinctive and expressive shamanic oeuvre, especially his spectacular synesthetic Whistles and Flutes, the Instrumentos Series, created during Plosky’s Fulbright Fellowship Year (2012) in Mexico.
The interview provides a clear window into Tonalá, center of Jalisco’s current ceramic art scene, as well as furnishing insight into Mexican cultural life. Notably, it explores the creative spirit of a master ceramicist, exploring his inspiration(s) and aspiration(s). In describing his art, two terms, shamanic and synesthetic, are mentioned, because both reveal Plosky’s inimitable 21st Century trans-cultural contributions to contemporary art. At their artistic core, his current series of Whistles and Flutes are shamanic because they visibly “shape-shift.” When played, they dynamically metamorphose, transmogrify, by altering inanimate artifacts (i.e., musical instruments) into living animist hybrid animals, each with a unique personality, resonance, timbre and voice (“sounds”).
The very idea of a visual artifact emitting sound is synesthetic — a term whose prefix derives from the Greek “syn” connoting fusion, the ability to connect discordant things, permitting them to unite or “come together.” The term ends in a composite-suffix “aisthesis” or “aesthesis,” which signifies “perception” or “experience.” With these definitions in mind, Plosky’s Whistles and Flutes amplify each creation’s shamanic, poetic and animistic “seen/sound.” This rare capacity for visual and auditory transmutation permits an artistic and creative psycho-metamorphosis magically capable of transferring one sense into another (e.g., sounds heard by the eyes, or hybrid-animal forms seen by the ears). Plosky’s recent clay sculptural creations reveal a genuine synesthetic “visual/audible” artistic power, which is primal (primitive), folkloric, childlike and sophisticated. As such, these Instrumentos are reminiscent of such elite creative veins (or the rarefied stratospheres) of Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Jean Dubuffet, as well as other masters mentioned throughout the interview.
Chuck Plosky demonstrating in Zacatecas, México
JR: Throughout your artistic career you have visited several foreign places. Yet, in recent years, Mexico persistently has become a prevailing focus for artistic inspiration. Why? What first attracted you to Mexico and why are you repeatedly drawn to Jalisco in particular?
CP: I’m particularly interested in Tonalá, Jalisco, México. It’s a magical place where artisans/artists use their work in clay to tell stories, histories and express personal and societal visions. I learned of Tonalá after visiting an exhibition of Mexican popular art at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian–New York . The show presented work in all media, from each of the 31 Mexican states and the capital. I was fascinated by the strength of the forms and the intensity of the images exhibited from Tonalá. I visited that show at least six times.
For the last seven years I have lived in Tonalá for four months each year and have come to realize what is most special for me are the people and their connection to ceramics, their intense emotional attachment to the techniques and imagery of the generations of Tonallan artisans/artists that preceded them.
As I learn the local ceramic techniques, the workability of the local clays, the local brush making skills, and the use of the brush made from cat, dog and squirrel hair, the preparation of colorants and firing techniques; I find myself deeply connected to Tonalá and its people as though I’ve been here for centuries. The imagery seeps into my bones. I became familiar with the “Nagual (also spelled “nahual”), an important creature in the local mythology. He/she/it is a trickster, a shape-changer like “coyote” among the peoples of the southwestern USA. Although stories of the Nahual are not always easy to understand, they provide opportunities for humans to examine their lives and their community.
JR: Concerning your new musical instrument (flutes and whistles) series, explain the creative and technical process which you employ to appropriately merge (or match) your aesthetic concerns with each item’s sound-making capabilities. How do you ensure or maintain their unique ability to convey sound ?
CP: I began making whistles and flutes while working as a Fulbright Fellow in Tonalá. There was not much time to focus on my large pieces and it was my good fortune to meet Maestro Martin Ibarra at the festival/exhibition known as “Feria de los Maestros del Arte” held annually at Lake Chapala, Jalisco. Maestro Martin is highly respected for his incredible skill as artist/craftsman for the beautifully designed and executed Virgins which symbolize various cities in México. While Sr. Martin Ibarra was standing near his work at the Feria, he was making whistles, which he says are his “diversions.” He responded to my “how are these sounds developed?”, by spending the next five hours showing me how to make whistles and demonstrating how sound changes as the form changes. Later, I again was very lucky to meet Don Moises Rosas Gálan, who taught me how to make flutes. Don Moises is recognized as the person who proposed a strategy to rescue the art of making and playing the chirimia, an oboe-like instrument made of clay or wood. Don Moises also showed me how to alter the sounds in the whistles. I am constantly learning through experience how the sound chamber, wall thickness, and placement of holes can develop character or voice in the instrument. My most recent instruments produce two or more sounds at the same time almost like a harmonica.
The imagery sculpted, drawn and colored derives from my joy in being a part of Tonalá, where the people affectionately introduce me as “a Tonalteca without legal papers.”
SILBATOS y FLAUTAS– WHISTLES AND FLUTES
Using pre-hispanic techniques including BARRO BRUÑIDO (polished clay “TERRA SIGILLATA”), BARRO NEGRO (clay impregnated with carbon) BARRO ENSEBADA (clay polished with fat before painting and firing). These clay whistles and flutes were made by Chuck Plosky in Tonalá, Jalisco, México.
JR: Within your recent visual art, why has sound or music become a major interest or aspiration?
CP: Sculptural commentaries on the beliefs and societal structures drove much of my earlier work in Tonalá. The goal of my early work in México had been to use traditional imagery to comment on México and the strictures placed on Mexican society by Spain. My point of view was as a fly on the wall seeing what is going on, while still being an outsider examining another reality. I used local myths, history, architecture, celebrations and things that were discussed in the street and homes as my points of departure. In Tonalá, the most common shape of the “Nahual “ is feline, often a lion. As the whistles and flutes developed, I visualize this shape changer and I allow “this” vision to become the character of the instrument.
Sound has become important because each of these mythical creatures have their own distinctive voices. As I answer your question, I am suddenly aware that my interest in making whistles and flutes that have a voice may be my response to a problem in Tonalá. Many citizens feel the government “does not know the people have a voice.” The problem has gone on for so long that most people have given up trying to voice their needs and opinions.
JR: When, I look at your new work, I immediately think of Modern artists, who courageously emulated the art of children, e.g., Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, and Jean Dubuffet, as well as others. Do you see these (or any other) art historical allusions — as well?
CP: This question is very interesting especially in regard to the instruments. When I look at the completed instrument, I can see what you mean about childlike, but when I work on them I feel that I’m in a conversation with each creature as its full-realization of itself emerges. I’ve shown these to artist friends and they say, “I saw these in Russian “folk art” or “I saw these in Italian folk art.” Most Mexicans say, “Oh that is a Nagual or other creature from Mexican popular folklore. In retrospect, I feel I’m working at a level of reality where cultures merge. When my training as a visual artist imposes itself on the work in a good way, it makes the image stronger; but sometimes it works to the detriment of the basic image: like being “profound” when a sigh would suffice.
Chuck Plosky / Pottery
JR: In the 20th and 21st Century, what inherently motivates artists to reexamine the art of children?
CP: Artists of the 20th and 21st century’s have studied the art of children, primitives, and the mentally different (ill) because by the end of the 19th century “adult” “rational” “academic” ways of making art seemed to have reached a technical and societal dead-end. The search continues for a way to express (depict) the horrors of war and a world where scientific reality is so un-real?
JR: Who are the most important 20th and 21st Century ceramists that have inspired your current aesthetic or visual direction?
CP: My regular work in clay covers many forms from furniture to large-scale studies of the architecture of ceramic vessels (chuckplosky.flatfile.ws) I am aware of the history of art and architecture, and the development of three-dimensional imagery on computers. The most forceful multifaceted artist/architect is Antoni Gaudí. Some of the visual artists whose work has affected me include Picasso, Ingres, Chagall, Durer, Bosch, Barbara Hepworth, David Smith, Jacob Lawrence, Cycladic Figures, Mexican muralists, Marge Israel, Anton Pevsner, Kitaoji Rozanjin, Richard Diebenkorn, and several styles of Chinese calligraphy.
Woops , sorry. My mind went to the important influences. For ceramists, Peter Voulkos, Tony Hepburn, Marge Israel, Mary Frank, Peter Gourfain. Stephen De Staebler, Gertraud Möhwald, Richard Hirsch, David MacDonald, Robert Sperry, Fred Bauer, Robert Winokur, Rudy Autio, Graham Marks, Shöji Hamada, William Daley, Ruth Duckworth, Carlo Zauli, Picasso, Elsbeth Woody, Rosanjin, many periods of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean ceramics especially those where clay is treated as visually and tactically important. Currently, I’m interested in Korean 15th and 16th Century Buncheong ware and the vessels of Tonalá, Jalisco, from the stately beautiful drawn images, to the fantasy sculptural images by the Medrano family. Tonalá is a place where almost everyone is doing the same thing differently. The trail of these differences is the art of Tonalá evolving; perhaps this is part of the magic of Tonalá.
Going to art school gave me instant access to centuries of experience shared by the academic community, including fellow students. I’m grateful for the easy access to museums, galleries, incredible libraries, and most of all the many reasonably priced books being published with superior images.
JR: The earlier black creatures that you created in the 1990s are among my favorite works by you. I think that those works have what Federico Garcia Lorca called “duende” (http://duende-art.com/page1.html). What artistically or psychologically roused the creation of the black creatures?
CP: The black figures resulted from an earlier series in which I tried to capture the essence of people I knew. I felt body language (posture) of a figure contained its essence. The figures averaged thirty-five to forty inches tall and were greatly influenced by visual language of highly compressed forms seen in Cycladic figures. As I worked on the Cycladic series, suddenly, and against my will, the forms began to gain volume. I could not accept the more volumetric images. I destroyed many of them. Finally, in order to continue working I was forced to have a conversation with the figures. They began to be more about figures interacting with objects and ideas and less about the essence of a personality. As I thought about the emerging figures I saw them as though they were cast in metal, hence the black multi-glazed surfaces. This series eventually evolved into complete stories that were finished in copperleaf with patina.
Equally important in my development was the architectural grid series, which emerged ten years after a trip to China. When I returned from China many people asked me how having visited China affected my work in clay. Initially on my return, I was preparing for an exhibition of the figurative work — so China had little direct influence on the exhibition.
I returned to my studio after the exhibition with no idea of how to deal with my powerful China experiences. For ten years, I could only say that the sites in China were incredible for the scale of the work and the techniques employed. Then I visited England, and saw the early church architecture and the enormous force of the columns pressing down on their bases. Somehow that triggered an understanding of the power of the massive forms of the Chinese storage vessels. I began to try to make vessels that were equally strong in their forms. After building several, I studied my drawings and saw the lines I had drawn as representing the grid or mesh structure of the vessel forms. I thought to play the open grid against the enclosed form of the vessel. This highly analytic double structure needed a surface that would be as rich and basic as the form. I developed a torn, burnt surface that helps me feel the grid and the full vessel interacting with each other and with the space captured within the grid.
Chuck Plosky / Furniture Series
JR: Among your most revolutionary and innovative works have been your Furniture Series. Explain the method used to create those epic and intricate works? What prompted their creation?
CP: After training at Pratt Institute in painting, drawing, etc., I began my training in ceramics with Teruo Hara as my primary teacher. I learned to make functional objects with an emphasis on a Japanese aesthetic.
Over the next ten or fifteen years there was a struggle to integrate what I had learned in art school with my studio potter training. There came a day while building a large piece of “sculpture” I realized I was thinking as a student doing a design project. I was having trouble resolving the form as meaningful sculpture. Suddenly I saw an alternative; I could make furniture whose functional forms had solid sculptural presence.
JR: After years of creating so many monumental and complex works in clay, you set off on a radical new and more intimate direction with your highly inventive musical instruments. How does the new body of work relate to your previous oeuvre? What ultimately (at its root) ties all your artistic endeavors together?
CP: I have always wanted to make things that don’t appear to be made academically. I wanted to make things that existed because they exist, not because I made them. These whistle and flutes must be moving in the correct direction, if people can say the objects are like the folk art of Russia, of Italy, of Mexico. Maybe the work is less about art and art school and more about the joy of being. Some of the recent flutes have more complex sounds including multiple sounds like a harmonica, some sound like drone instruments. Someday I’d like to capture the character of a Gregorian chant or the sound of a forest full of birds and animals; possibly on one instrument or with several people playing individual instruments.
JR: Recently, you jumped in with both feet trying to help Mexico’s visual art, fighting for it to be better appreciated by 21st Century Mexican officials? Please, comment on Mexico’s recent political struggles that are currently impacting art, artists, and art institutions in that nation.
CP: Although in many countries the governments say the work of the traditional artist is the patrimony of the country, there is minimal support, sponsorship and promotion of the traditional artist/artisan. When I arrived in Tonalá I had no thought of being more than an observer and maybe a visual thief. But suddenly one of the recognized artisans offered me a studio and materials to work alongside his family. Every evening after the family had finished their days work, he would watch me work and tell me stories of Tonalá, local personalities, myths and ceramics, etc. Eventually I was invited to work in another studio and participate in the activities of an artist community that was just forming. As I listened to their struggles and general lack of support from local, regional, and federal governments I became increasingly a part of the community and my commitment to work with them seemed to know no bounds.
Maestro Ángel Santos Juarez and I curated several exhibitions of the work of Herencia Milenaria, a group of 26 artists/artisans. We included the work of artists outside the group to better represent the scope of the work being done in Tonalá. The first of these exhibitions was selected as one of sixty exhibitions invited to participate in the “International Celebration of Clay: All Fired Up,” in Westchester County, New York, in 2008. To transport the exhibition to the USA, the local government in Mexico provided some financial support. And Clara Torres of the Mexican Tourism Board in New York City arranged for the Mexican consulate to co-sponsor the exhibition both in Westchester County and later at New Jersey City University (http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=0sBBqn8bO9I). Subsequently the Mexican Consulate in Denver, Colorado, asked for an exhibition in 2010 to celebrate the anniversary of Mexico’s independence (1810) and Revolution (1910). These events are helping reintroduce American audiences to the richness and diversity of Mexican ceramics. The exhibitions also provided opportunities for Mexican artists to visit the United States to demonstrate their techniques and explain their ideas about ceramics, art and design, and to begin a long overdue dialogue between the arts communities of the two nations existing next to each other in North America.
Although there was some economic support for the exhibitions, there is still little respect by the governments, neither for the individuals who produce the work, nor for the value of the work as objects worthy of study. The current government in Tonalá recently proposed a sale at auction of 200 to 300 pieces from the national collection to purchase trucks for the town. For possibly the first time, artists/artisans joined with local and international supporters to use their collective “voice” to say “NO” with letters, E-mail, and attendance at a meeting attended by officials of the newly elected president of the municipality. The latest word is that it was all a misunderstanding and only donated works will be sold at auction with written approval of the donating artist/artisan. The positive note is that some local citizens are realizing that they do have a voice and they can use it if they join forces.
It is my hope that the example of the group “Herencia Milenaria” (Heritage of a Thousand Years) will point the way for the development of an umbrella group or association under which various special interest groups can meet to participate and promote the past, present and future of México’s thousand-year heritage (Herencia Milenaria). Under this umbrella they may also meet to teach, exchange ideas, buy materials in bulk, invite artists from other countries to participate in international exchanges, arrange exhibitions or meet for any activity their sub-group believes fits under the umbrella of the Herencia Milenaria Tonalteca. They will meet for benefit of the patrimony of Mexico to promote a greater awareness of the Herencia Milenaria for their fellow Mexicans and for the international community. They will meet to reinforce their connection to the Herencia Milenaria Mexicana. In this I’m not referring to the eponymous group, but to the all-inclusive cultural and artistic heritage Mexico has to offer its own citizens and peoples of other countries.
JR: As you described above, you organized a major Mexican touring ceramic exhibition, which has generated great interest. Can you elucidate the goals of this exhibit, and mention some of the selected artists, in terms of what their art aesthetically supplied the exhibit?
CP: Tonalá has been a center of ceramics since early pre-Hispanic times. Located at what was once a major trade crossroad, its wares were transported all over México. When the Spanish arrived in Tonalá they appreciated the high quality of the ceramics and transported them to Europe. The work today in Tonalá incorporates indigenous design elements and techniques as well as designs and techniques brought by Spain during the 300 years it ruled Mexico. Included were European, Asian and North African designs and techniques. Many of them derived from Spanish trade in Asia and its 800-year experience under Moorish rule. Before the Mexican Revolution indigenous peoples including artists were held in low esteem, while things European were culturally relevant. After the Mexican revolution, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo 1875-1964) an artist central to development of the idea of Mexican Popular Art and teacher of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orazco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, wrote a critically important two-volume book “Las Artes Populares en México” (Mexican Popular Art) in which he stressed the aesthetic and cultural importance of Tonalá ceramics. Most importantly he promoted the phrase “Mexican Popular Art,” giving definitive recognition to the traditional artisans and acknowledging the cultural contributions of their work.
Finally to answer your question regarding the goals of the exhibitions we brought to the USA. The curators’ statement presents our goals:
“Herencia Milenaria: Craftsmen in Evolution is a cultural project organized by recognized craftsmen, proud of their traditions. They are committed to research and the diffusion of knowledge of materials, techniques and aesthetics. Their efforts give continuity to the ceramic arts as cultural legacy, with respect for the natural beauty of their surroundings.
The exhibitions… will restart a dialog between the artists of Mexico and those in the USA. It is also an opportunity for lovers of beautiful things to study superior examples of Mexican ceramic art and to re-evaluate the Spanish word “artesania” (handcraft). The marvelous works in this exhibition are truly ART with capital letters made by artists who use their hands and hearts and minds to create brilliant and beautiful statements in an ancient material.”
Working with the group, Herencia Milenaria, I arranged exhibitions of their work in the USA. The group sent the work of artists including Florentino Jimón Barba, José Ángel Santos Juarez, and first president of Herencia Milenaria, José Ramos Medrano. Also, Luis Cortez Hernandez; current president of Herencia Milenaria Fernando Jimón Melchor; past president of Herencia Milenaria, José Isabel Pajarito Fajardo; Juan Modesto Peña Castro, Benjamín Olvera Nogal, Sergio Pérez Arana, Antonio Mateos Nuño; past municipal President, Javier Ramos Lucano (one of his pieces was selected by the Mexican government as a gift to Juan Carlos of Spain in honor of his inauguration as King of Spain), José Antonio Mateos Suárez, José Isabel Pajarito Fajardo, and Daniel Aguilar Benítez. Included in this group are well-known artists whose work is collected internationally and artists with growing reputations. The group members are using the experience generated by the exhibition with confidence to develop additional exhibitions in the USA. They are preparing for their sixth US exhibition, having just signed a contract for an exhibition at the Museo de las Americas in Denver, Colorado.
Taking advantage of the contacts I have developed as a Fulbright Fellow, we invited US consular officials and staff to come to Tonalá for tours of group members’ studios. In appreciation, the US consulate invited the group to exhibit in the consulate offices in Guadalajara. In these economically difficult times we are working to educate and thus develop an audience for the work of the member artists, and for other artist/artisans of Tonalá.
JR: Since, so much vital ceramics creative energy is occurring in Tonalá, which artists/artisans of Tonalá have earned the most recognition and awards in competitive exhibitions on a national or state levels?
CP: That is a great question, because these Tonallan artists sincerely deserve acknowledgement. Luckily, in my research for this interview, I acquired a list showing artists/artisans from Tonalá who won the highest possible award presented annually at the National Ceramics Competition. (Ganadores del “Galardón Presidencial” a la mejor pieza dentro del Premio Nacional de la Cerámica).
|1980||Jorge Wilmot Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1981||José de Jesús Álvarez Ramírez Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1984||José Álvarez Ramírez Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1987||Juan Antonio Mateos Nuño Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1990||Juan Antonio Mateos Nuño Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1998||José Rosario Álvarez Ramírez Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1999||José Rosario Álvarez Ramírez Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2002||Nicasio Pajarito González Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2005||Ernesto Basulto González Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2007||José Tomás Esparza León Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2009||Juan Fco. Basulto González Tonalá, Jalisco|
2012 Gerónimo Ramos Tonalá, Jalisco
I also have a list of the recent winners of the “Angel Carranza Award” recognizing a distinguished career at the state level, which is presented annually at the National Ceramics Competition. (Ganadores del Galardón “Ángel Carranza” a la trayectoria más destacada a nivel estatal, dentro de Premio Nacional de la Ceramica.)
|1988||Emilia Ravelero Medrano||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1989||José Bernabe Campechano||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1991||María Isabel Coral de Pajarito||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1992||Simeón Galván Frías||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1996||Juan Antonio Mateos Nuño||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|1999||Salvador Vázquez Carmona||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2000||Jorge Wilmot||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2003||José Bernabe Campechano||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2005||María del Rosario Jimón||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2007||Juan Modesto Peña Castro||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2008||José Rosario Álvarez Ramírez||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2009||José Ángel Santos Juárez||Tonalá, Jalisco|
|2010||Fernando Jimón Melchor||Tonalá, Jalisco|
2012 Teresa Duran Tonalá, Jalisco
JR: As an artist, working in both the USA and Mexico, can you venture what will be the cultural and artistic relationship between both nations? And, will Mexican art (in the next decade(s)) possibly re-attain the type of global prominence that it possessed throughout the first half of the 20th Century?
CP: Mexican art from the muralists to the artist/artisans in Tonalá have been using visual language to express things that are important to them. Many of the things expressed are important universal issues that pertain to other human beings living on this planet at this time. I hope we will learn to accept each other and appreciate the treasures we can share with each other.
It is important for the Mexican Government to promote and nurture Mexican culture and its visual language by disseminating with pride the work of artists/artisans. It is important for Mexicans to be exposed to and acknowledge the magic of their heritage just as it is important for all peoples to share their cultural treasures. These treasures must be nurtured if they are to continue to exist even as they evolve. And for Mexico, the economic value of its art and culture is well known but often minimally nurtured.
I’m not sure whether in these days people are visually or intellectually geared to read the language of the early 20th century muralists or if they are desirous of having such forceful images plastered in front of them. I think another more subtle side of the Mexican culture has things to offer people of other lands as well as contemporary Mexicans. Some of those things include personal warmth, an appreciation of the role death plays in life, the experience of public pageantry that is participatory rather than staged for observers, and the warmth of greetings as strangers pass each other while walking through town or eating in a restaurant.
I am proud to be acknowledged as a member of the Tonallan community.
About the interviewer:
Dr. Jose Rodeiro, Ragazine.CC art editor, is an award-winning painter and recipient of major art fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986-87); the Fulbright Scholars’ Program, CIES (1995); The Institute for International Education: Oscar B. Cintas Foundation (1982); the Inter-American-Development Bank, BID (1991), and other grants. He has held official artist-residencies in Maryland and Florida. He is a professor in the Art Department, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, N.J., and active in the We Are You Project International. For more information, please see http://www.rodeiro-art.com/.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Art of Chuck Plosky/Interview
The Boarding School Experience
in American Indian Literature
by Joseph Bruchac & John Smelcer
One of the most recurrent themes in American Indian literature is the lasting impact of the boarding school experience. From 1879 until the early 1960s, the federal government tried to assimilate American Indians by sending school-aged Indian children to distant boarding schools where, it was believed, the Indian in them would be slowly and forever replaced by Western traditions, language, education, and religion. By law, Indian children were literally abducted by the government and sent off to institutions designed to destroy their cultural identity. They were the stolen generations. Most of the schools were structured on an Army training model, requiring the boys to cut their long hair, wear uniforms, and engage in military drills.
This was due, in large part to the person who founded and ran one of the first, and surely the most influential, of the Indian Boarding Schools. That man, Captain Richard Henry Pratt, had served as an officer in the 10th Cavalry during the Red River War. When the war ended, Pratt was given charge of a group of 72 Indian prisoners of war taken in 1875 to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. His success in “transforming” them led to the development of the Carlisle Residential School Model. The first of such institutions, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was established in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Pratt’s philosophy was best described in a speech that he himself gave in 1892: “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.* In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
*General Philip Sheridan’s actual quote (c. 1868) is “The only good Indian I ever saw was dead.”
Indian boarding schools were built to be places that would utterly transform Indian people, obliterating tribal identity, destroying Native languages, and eradicating Native religions, customs, and traditions. Students were punished —often drastically — when caught speaking their Native languages. There exist numerous accounts of students locked in basements or boiler rooms for days without food or water. At its height, there were 153 of these schools across America.
Parallel histories exist in Canada’s treatment of First Nations people and in Australia’s dealings with Aborigines.
In the early years, thousands of children died from diseases to which they had no previous immunity, especially from trachoma, influenza, and tuberculosis. The government blamed the epidemic on the Indians’ physical inferiority, insisting they had brought it upon themselves. Worse, yet, students weren’t always young. Sometimes, as was the case with the Chiricahua Apaches (Geronimo was Apache), after they were taken as prisoners of war (the entire tribe) to Florida and then to Arkansas, young men and women, some of whom were already married and had children of their own, were selected for Carlisle personally by none other than Pratt. Most of them died there of tuberculosis (and are buried in the Carlisle graveyard) or were shipped infected back to their families who then contracted the deadly disease.
While it is easy to catalogue the detrimental effects of the residential Indian school system, there were mixed blessings. Ironically, though they were meant to obliterate American Indian identity, the boarding schools sometimes did the opposite, quite unintentionally. By bringing together young people from different tribes across the nation, lifelong intertribal friendships were forged. But also intertribal marriages helped build a new spirit of Pan-Indianism in the 20th Century (many of the most established Native American writers are of mixed tribal heritage). Rather than seeking out careers as house-keepers and menial workers — as those schools often intended — many Native people who endured the boarding school experience continued to pursue their education for their people. Rather than rejecting traditional ways, they demonstrated the resilience of American Indian cultures as they went on to advocate for Native rights and identity in many professions, including law, the arts, and as community leaders — testimony to the enduring spirit of the American Indian.
The lives of Indian children sent to boarding schools were forever changed. And though it was not their choice to leave their homes, many were ostracized when they returned. Unable to reconcile the old and the new, many returning students lived socially detached and abusive lives as outcasts and alcoholics. The experience left an indelible mark on Native America. For instance, much of the loss of Native languages can be traced to this period in American history. Contemporary American Indian literature — with its canon of poems, short stories, essays, novels, and plays — frequently makes reference to the boarding school experience, even when the writers themselves are too young to have attended such institutions. Nonetheless, in one way or another, their lives have been impacted by the experience of their parents and grandparents. You can see the influence in the first poem and story in the anthology, “After a Sermon at the Church of Infinite Confusion” (as part of their assimilation, boarding school students attended Christian church services, including Sunday School) and “The Soft-Hearted Sioux.”
About the authors:
John Smelcer is a contributing editor to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
Joseph Bruchac: For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country. His web site is: http://www.josephbruchac.com/
For a list of Suggested Readings on Residential Indian Schools in the United States and Canada, please contact the authors.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Bruchac & Smelcer: Amerindian Literature
France on the Verge of Change
After a bloody and violent revolution, the European country
underwent a period of uneasy social and creative transition
IN CONTINUATION OF ART AND IDEOLOGY
In last month’s edition we presented a piece regarding the influence of ideological variables on the Polish Poster Art experience. The point was that the economic and political frames under which art happens often have a significant impact on the nature of what gets created. I happened to be in Mexico City shortly after the publication of the article and I had the opportunity to see the 19th century French art exhibit at the National Museum of Art. Once again the influence of what was then happening in France in an ideological sense had a particular impact on what the masters of those days produced.
This occurrence might have gone as simply another interesting point of reference but it wasn’t more than a week later that Patrick Ferguson wrote the following article for The News, an in-English language daily newspaper from Mexico City. Given that the piece was quite good, and that it blended well with the theme of the Polish Poster article, we thought it would make an interesting follow-up. So, taking note as to the famous artists of the time as well as the influence of the ideological conditions of that period, we hope you enjoy Mr. Ferguson’s work. And one last thought. For us Americans, and in terms of our ideological variables now in play, one has to wonder what our contemporary art might reflect relative to future considerations.
— Jim Palombo, Politics Editor
By Patrick Ferguson
After a violent and bloody revolution at the end of the 18th century, France underwent a period of uneasy social and creative transition reflecting the restless culture of a country struggling to deal with the aftermath of a half century of political upheaval and social uncertainty.
This was a country where the notions of nationalism took hold in the hearts of the common people and a new democratic form of expression in art, literature and music replaced the now-archaic philosophies of classicism and rigid emphasis on hierarchical order, balanced reason and cogent clarity that had defined society before the revolution.
The 19th and early 20th centuries in France were a time of renewed romanticism, abstract ideals and individual expression, a time when art spoke to and was created by the common people and where the simple beauty of a modest daily life was exalted in words and images, reiterating the message of the undeniable equality of all men under a true democratic government.
A new exhibit at the National Museum of Art (Munal) in Mexico City’s downtown Centro Histórico offers visitors a unique opportunity to witness an overview of paintings from that period, with various French artists’ portrayals of daily life during 19th and early 20th century France.
The exhibition, titled “El placer y el orden. Orsay en el Munal” (“Pleasure and order. Orsay at the Munal”), features 65 works of art from French masters such as Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Georges Seurat, Alfred Stevens and André Devambez.
Organized by the National Institute of Fine Arts, “El placer y el orden” is the brainchild of curators Isabel Cahn of the d’Orsay Museum in Paris and the Munal’s own Jaime Moreno Villarreal. It took the pair five years to put together the collection and make arrangements to bring it to Mexico.
“I want to thank the two museums because it is extraordinary to be here standing in Mexico, in front of a Gauguin,” Cahn said, at the inauguration of the exhibit. “It is a privilege to present these paintings here in Mexico.”
The general director of the d’Orsay Museum, Alain Lombard, added that the project was an “exceptional example of binational cultural cooperation” that showed the universality of artistic exchange.
The collection – which reflects the class struggles within a newly reordered social structure and the eventual emergence of the bourgeoisie as France’s most powerful class – shows the country and its capital city urgently pushing towards modernity and, later, utopia, Moreno Villarreal explained.
Under a new labor system with the bourgeoisie calling the shots, workers were for the first time, allowed to form unions and fight for their rights.
As a result, Moreno Villarreal said, “leisure time was born.”
In 1853, Napoleon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to carry out a series of renovation works in Paris and its surrounding suburbs.
Haussmann widened streets and renovated buildings, making space for business owners to set up public cafés, restaurants and theaters.
Paris’ most iconic monument, the Eiffel Tower, was also built during this time.
Both the rise of the middle class in Paris and the urbanization of the city would serve as the backdrop for France’s multitude of painters and artists for the rest of the 19th century and into the next.
“This exhibit shows the virtues and the defects of a society that, toward the end of the 19th Century, established itself as the center of the world and which would become an example for political and cultural development, as well as Western civilization,” Moreno Villarreal said.
In Alfred Stevens’ 1854 painting “What is Called Vagrancy,” police officers take away a homeless woman in the street while a bourgeoise woman holds her gloved hand out to her.
After Napoleon III saw the painting, he allegedly ordered French soldiers to no longer remove vagrants from the streets.
The exhibit is divided in two sections, with the first focusing on public life and the second concentrating on private affairs.
The collection opens with Devambez’s “La Charge,” a somber street scene depicting the light from cafés and restaurants shining on a boulevard overrun with laborers protesting at night.
As the police clash with the demonstrators, the crowd goes about its business, scurrying off to social events, seemingly indifferent to the protestors’ plight.
“When we see the terms ‘pleasure’ and ‘order’ together, they appear contradictory,” Moreno Villarreal said.“But the origin of the modern city lies precisely in this contradiction. This painting represents that contradiction very well.
A painting by Monet shows three women sitting in a boat. The setting is rural, reflecting the classic bourgeois dream of having enough money to leave the city on the weekend and perhaps even own a vacation home in the countryside, Moreno Villarreal said.
The painting, he said, suggests that even artists had dreams of using their talent to elevate themselves into the bourgeoisie class, a dream that very seldom came to be.
Later in the exhibit, audiences observe Renoir’s portrait of Monet in which he is depicted as a destitute, bohemian artist. At one point in his life, Monet was left to fend for himself, having to live off the little money he made from his work.
Moreno Villarreal pointed out that after France’s war with Prussia ended in 1871, a period of renewed hope and the expectation of peace followed.
He said that the French people at that time were searching for a utopia, a golden age.
But the disparity between society’s notion of prosperity and reality is not lost in the artwork displayed in “El placer y el orden,” where other paintings depict industrialization, rough urban landscapes and raw human emotion.
In Cézanne’s “Les joueurs de cartes,” two men sit idly at a table playing cards, expressionless and unresponsive to their surroundings.
Another of Cézanne’s paintings, “La femme étranglée” (“The Strangled Woman”), needless to say, depicts a seedier side of life.
In contrast to some of the harsh images in the first half of the exhibit, the first piece in the second section, a painting of flowers, is simple but emblematic of France’s growing urban middle class, Moreno Villarreal said.
“The flowers are fundamental because they express the interior of the bourgeoisie home and their domestic surroundings,” he said.“The recurring image of flowers is characteristic of bourgeois paintings.”
Many paintings in the second half show Parisians comfortably enjoying their leisure time. They are accompanied by their families in gardens or parks, lunching and relaxing, surrounded by abundance.
“In comparison to paintings of aristocratic families, we see a much more relaxed family, a lightness that didn’t exist in the body language of the aristocratic class,” Moreno Villarreal said.
However, towards the end of the 19th Century, some French artists became disillusioned with this notion of idealized comfort.
“There was still inequality, despite the French Revolution, there was still poverty despite social economic success, there were still wars, there was still a lack of job opportunities,” Moreno Villarreal said. That realization of an unfulfilled dream led to a cynical movement within artistic expression. One of the best examples of this cynicism can be found in the works of Gauguin. Having left a comfortable position as a stockbroker to pursue art, Gauguin began to consider impressionism and European art too imitative and began to pursue a deeper muse.
“Gauguin was so critical and embittered with the society of the time that he decided to leave France altogether to search for paradise elsewhere, a place where he believed real equality existed between people,” Moreno Villarreal said.
“The paintings of Gauguin portray a more primitive society as much more civilized than modern French society.”
Gauguin’s famous painting “Tahitian Women on the Beach” is considered to be one of the best pieces in the exhibit.
Miguel Fernández, the director of the Munal, said that the collection represents “a great opportunity to enjoy not only the works of world-class artists, but also to analyze pieces by artists who represent a major change in the vision of art.”
Besides paintings, sculptures and drawings, the exhibit also features a mock café, where visitors can sit down and flip through photo albums of pictures taken during the period and a small movie house projecting French films from the late 19th Century.
By the same token, there is also a period dressing room where visitors are invited to try on clothes fashioned after 19th Century styles or even attempt to create a reproduction of one of their favorite paintings or images from the collection with the help of volunteer mentors from the exhibit’s workshop.
About the author:
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Politics & Art in 19th Century France
Native American Classics:
Graphic Classics Series Volume 24
Review by Alan Britt
Editors Tom Pomplun, John E. Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac have produced a wonderful book in Native American Classics: Graphics Classics Volume 24, the latest in an illustrated classics series of books designed “to create books that are enjoyable for adults, yet accessible to children ages twelve and up.” The historical texts in this book are entertaining and educational. This newest production, like other books in the series, is beautifully adorned cover to cover with colorful illustrations serving as backdrops for texts by modern and contemporary Native American writers. The list of authors is an impressive mix of 19th-century through 21st-century Native American poets and storytellers that includes Zitkala-Sa, Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), E. Pauline Johnson, Alex Posey, Simon Pokagon, Handsome Lake, Bertrand N.O. Walker, Buffalo Bird Woman, Carlos Montezuma (Wassaja), John Rollin Ridge (Cheesquatalawny), plus a host of other talented writers. The list of illustrators is equally impressive and includes Bahe Whitethorne, Jr., Jim McMunn, Andrea Grant, Marty Two Bulls Sr., Murv Jacob, Weshoyot Alvitre, Toby Cypress, John Findley, along with other talented illustrators.
The texts comprise a rich variety of storytelling. For example, there is on the one hand the serious tale “On Wolf Mountain” by Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), adapted by Joseph Bruchac, and beautifully illustrated by Robby McMurtry, which tells the tale of how a wolf pack, known as the Mayala Clan of Gray Wolves, were “driven away from their den on account of their depredations upon the only paleface in the Big Horn Valley.” Fortunately, the wolves happen upon a Lakota village and are befriended by the “Red Hunters.” According to Ohiyesa’s story, the paleface lifestyle of sheepherding and cattle ranching is unnatural to the landscape and proves to be potentially ruinous to the lives of both wolves and Lakotas. As the narrative recounts the struggle between the native wolves and intruder palefaces, one cannot help but detect the parallel genocide that Native Americans endured after the European invasion of North America. On the lighter side, there’s “The Story of Itsikamahidish and the Wild Potato,” Buffalo Bird Woman’s story adapted by Tom Pomplun and handsomely illustrated by Pat N. Lewis, which recounts the tale of Itsikamahidish, who, in the form of a gluttonous coyote, happens upon a serendipitous pile of wild potatoes. One potato warns Itsikamahidish that potatoes, while nutritious, also cause one to experience a copious amount of gas. Unimpressed with the potato’s warning Itsikamahidish eats his fill and proceeds on his merry way to visit his sweetheart while emitting “poots” of gas along the way. Eventually, Itsikamahidish’s gas “poots” become so powerful they begin lifting Itsikamahidish off the ground, only to have him return to earth with a painful thud. The soft moral of the story is that gluttony can get you into trouble, so the next time a potato offers you advice, better pay attention!
All texts are presented in comics form designed to stimulate and delight both adult and adolescent imaginations. Series Publisher, Tom Pomplun, puts it this way: “The Graphic Classics series presents the works of great authors in comics adaptations and heavily-illustrated text . . . adaptations are written at an adult level, and utilize as much of the author’s original language as possible.” One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, Native American Classics, due for release March 2013, is already on my gift list, along with several other books in the unique Graphics Classics series. Suffice it to say that the reproduction of texts and illustrations in this book are vibrant and colorful. This beautifully printed and bound book is highly recommended for personal pleasure as well as gifts for adults, plus sons, daughters, nephews and nieces who love to be educated and entertained at the same time.
Native American Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 24 (ISBN #978-0-9825630-6-9)
144 pages, 7” x 10”, paperback, full color ($17.95)
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
Tom Pomplun, Publisher
Native American Classics,
Graphic Classics Volume Twenty-Four, 2013
By Dale Seeds
This soon to be released collection of Native American stories rendered in the graphic novel/comic book format features a synthesis of Native American traditional stories transcribed on or before the 20th century with the work of contemporary comic/graphic novel artists. The majority of the artists include in this collection are Native American. We tend to think of the graphic novel as a new creation, embedded in popular culture, cheaply produced for a mass audience no longer interested in wading through a conventional book. However, storytelling with words and pictures, something graphic novels certainly do, is not a new phenomenon. Cave art in Europe and indigenous petroglyphs in Australia, and North and South America all figure from 40,000 to 30,000 years old. In both the ancient and the modern, the narrative unfolds through a series of sequential visual images, much the way traditional stories develop through verbal imagery.
So why not a marriage between Native American storytelling and the graphic novel? Sounds logical. Didn’t Frank Miller take the stories of Herodotus and turn them into The 500? The history of contact between Euro-American and Native peoples in addition to the complex relationship between oral traditions, culture and spiritual beliefs suggests caution. How do we, some of us as outsiders to the culture, discuss these works? What qualities do we look for? What responsibilities are inherent in the creation of an anthology such as this? A watershed moment in the development of indigenous comic art occurred with the 2009 exhibit, Comic Art Indigene exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Subsequently, the exhibit toured The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, and The Rockwell Museum of Western Arts in Corning, NY. This exhibit demonstrated a strong indigenous presence within the emerging and often marginalized literary form of the graphic novel. Native artists are often attracted to the sequential format of the graphic novel, appropriating the western comic form to both tell traditional stories and create new culturally specific narratives. (Chavarria)
As marginalized literary formats, the comic book and graphic novel have a certain appeal to indigenous peoples, they can be mass produced and shared and present a visually exciting way to tell cultural stories through pictures. “exhibit curator Antonio Chavarria stated, adding, “Comics are just another way to tell stories, they are a narrative art form that reinforces the beliefs and symbols of a people and a place.
Native scholars suggest, however, that care must be taken. Stories in indigenous cultures are more than entertainment. They are the means by which the origin, cautionary, and hero stories, along with tribal history and values are maintained and transmitted. They have often been described as “sacred texts” Many of them, particularly in the Northwest and Alaska are considered clan or tribal property. Unauthorized use or misuse can be offensive and in many ways perpetuates the colonial paradigm.
In discussing Native American Classics, we might first assume that Native stories expressed in comic format strive to subvert the Euro-American settler narrative to produce an alternate narrative that reflects the Native experience and worldview. For example, we might first ask, does the graphic format reclaim or deconstruct stereotypes such as those that harken back to dime novels and serial westerns? Karl May’s Old Shatterhand stories provide us a vivid example. Do they reassemble the stereotypes to debunk the original stereotypical characters and tropes such as Marty Two Bull’s characters, Frybread Man and Mr. Diabetes, or his selection in this anthology, Wildcat Bill? Similarly, does the adaptation of graphic styles resurrect traditional heroes or create new ones like those in Tribal Force illustrated by Ryan Huna Smith. This collection, with stories by Jon Proudstar, was the first Native American authored comic book featuring Native American superheroes. Finally, and perhaps most critical and difficult to discuss, is this hybridization of traditional stories in graphic form successful in the ways in which the text and the serial illustrations combine to tell the story in a dynamic, perhaps symbiotic way? Conversely, does the traditional story and graphic illustration need to resemble each other, or can they exist in some sort of juxtaposition and still work? Finally, is it respectful, does it embody at least some of the functions of traditional story telling? Does it create a new voice or reach a new audience?
Native American Classics is based on the worthy notion to connect with the often marginalized and nascent Native American Literature of the mid and late 19th century. This literature, with virtually no models, was under the surveillance of white editors, who published only what was deemed as appropriate or compatible with Euro-American perceptions of Native peoples. These perceptions viewed Native peoples alternately as noble savages, bloodthirsty killers or tragic vanishing or vanished victims. For many of the original texts included in Native American Classics, the cultural traditions and concerns of their native authors were carefully, and at times, discreetly expressed. With Native American Classics, the addition of the serial visual images accompanying the text has the potential to change our understanding of these stories.
The original authors and their stories included in Native American Classics represent that early wave of writers, who struggled to survive creatively and break through in print. Many of them were of mixed blood, or had considerable contact with missionaries, and boarding schools, including the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Others attended colleges and universities. These experiences shaped and often confined their works. The written expressions of the prose, the predictable rhyme patterns of some of the poetry and the guarded ways in which the Native worldview is expressed might seem dated to us today. They do, however represent the realities of a people being forced through assimilation to shift from a rich, sustaining oral culture to a written culture in an unfamiliar language. For example, we might find ourselves uncomfortable with the apparent rejection of traditional spiritual practices as suggested by the text in Zitlala-Sa’s “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” particularly in the description of the Medicine Man, (“ His long strides I have never forgot . . . they seemed to me then as the uncanny gait of eternal death.” Perhaps more problematic is the captive/abduction narrative of John Rollin Ridge’s “The Stolen White Girl,” with its noble savage Romantic stereotype, mildly erotic Victorian language and stilted rhyme scheme. The choice of illustration style here is not quite clear, perhaps to defuse the narrative into an innocent love story? Carlos Montezuma’s 1916 poem “Changing is not Vanishing” is one exception however, which anticipates a later 20th century Native viewpoint. The illustration by Arigon Starr reinforces this, suggesting strength and optimism through a progression of images from a woman in traditional dress to a young man with a digital music player.
Visually, Native American Classics represents a wide variety of narratives and graphic styles from various tribal groups and artists. Randy Keedah’s cover art resonates as an almost lovingly appropriation of the color and realism of Charles M. Russell and Fredric Remington and seems like a consistent aesthetic with other covers in the Graphic Classic Series from Eureka Productions. A more thematic cover choice might have been the image of Raven by Michael Nicoll Yahgulannas. This image, from the author and creator of Haida Manga, presents a contemporary riff on Raven stealing daylight and spreading it to the world. In this image, we see Raven transformed, as a Picasso meets – traditional form-line art trickster holding a cell phone with a copy of Native American Classics firmly clenched in his beak. For me, at least, this visual image embodies the cultural juxtapositions a collection such as this could aspire to. It also would be nice to see more of Tribal Force’s creator Ryan Huna Smith’s work. Other works pay homage to comic creators such as Marvel’s Stan Lee and Frank Miller (“The Soft-Hearted Sioux,” “The Thunders’ Nest,” “The Hunter and Medicine Legend,” and “The Cattle Thief.” Similarly, Marty Two Bull’s short and pointedly hilarious “Wildcat Bill” recalls Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural.
The illustrative style of Robby McMurtry’s “On Wolf Mountain,” is especially successful. With its spare colors and loose, inked images, it looks as if it were created by a 19th century artist sitting on the high prairie with a sketch book and paint box. The magical vibrant colors and ink of Afua Richardson in “Anoska Nimiwina” create dynamic visual characters that do not rely on stereotyped visual images of Native people. Her use of loose swirling colors and ink to animate the scenes is almost cinematic. The text boxes and dialogue bubbles effectively differentiate between narration and dramatic dialog. The story also includes the character of a native scholar (writer) transcribing the traditional story that is unfolding for the reader. This insertion makes us aware of the processes by which oral stories come into written form. This self-reflexivity also reflects on the process of “transcribing” this very story into the graphic form contained in this anthology.
“The Middleman,” which is stylistically reminiscent of Chic Young’s Blondie comic series, juxtaposes innocent and playful images with the very devious and fraudulent practices in which unscrupulous land speculators took advantage of the Dawes or Allotment Act to bilk Native people out of their government assigned allotments. Text boxes at the bottom help to clear this up for the reader. However, this might have been more effective as a Forward. Perhaps a minor quibble, other selections in Native American Classics might have benefited from some inserted information to help place the pieces in a cultural and historical context. Information on the author, date, tribal affiliation, and some background on the origin of the story and its importance could be very helpful to the reader here, particularly those new to Native American literature. Much of this information is, however, found at the end of the collection.
Native American Classics includes strong, heroic women characters in “Anoska Nimiwina” and “The Cattle Thief.” Equally important, the grandmother in “The Prehistoric Race” serves as the Ouendot (Wyandot) narrator and tradition bearer. For example, in the beginning of the narrative she introduces herself as a member of the Big Turtle Clan so as to connect herself and her grandson to a story from which their clan is named. This would also seem culturally appropriate since women held important governing positions in traditional Wyandot culture. The use of the Grandmother’s written dialect contrasts with the standard English of the animal characters and the grandson. It works as a device to separate the characters, however, one could argue she comes off as less articulate, and the text is a bit slow to read due to its phonetic spelling. The story telling narrator function is also a strong visual presence as the character of Charles Eastman in “On Wolf Mountain” and is alluded to in the previously mentioned example of the Native transcriber in “Anoska Nimiwina.” Women authors are present in the contributions of Zitkala-Sa, Mary Bird Woman, and E. Pauline Johnson, and illustrators Weshoyot Alvitre, Andrea Grant, Arigon Starr, Afua Richardson, and Tara Audbert.
The spiritual connection between animals and humans is represented again by “On Wolf Mountain,” “The Hunter and the Medicine Legend,” and “Two Wolves”; traditional heroes in “The Thunder’s Nest” and “Anoska Nimiwina.”
Humor is an important and necessary tradition in Native American stories and two examples in Native American Classics provide contrasting approaches. “The Story of Itsikamahidsh and the Wild Potatoes” by Buffalo Bird Woman is a Coyote style cautionary tale, broadly comic with a touch of flatulent humor, about the danger of eating wild potatoes. It utilizes a visual style that reminds one of the early Walt Disney or Hanna Barbara cartoons. Marty Two Bulls’ illustrations for Alex Posey’s “Wildcat Bill” almost literally turn the stereotype of the cigar store Indian on its head with comic and appropriately just results. Combining these 19th and early 20th century narratives with colorful, at times bold, and perhaps brash visual expressions produces a dynamic hybridization. (Chavarria) The success of this synthesis is clearest in the stories where the written text of the narrative is accurately and respectfully presented within the comic/graphic novel format and that this reflects the Native values and worldview of the author. Likewise, we need to be open to the possibility that a traditional story and its graphic visual expression might exist in tension with each other, and that this might also be a successful collaboration. “The Middleman,” for example, moves in this direction. Finally, the visual inclusion of a Native story teller within the frames of the story is an important reminder that these stories owe their origin to the traditional performance practices of storytelling, which have been responsible for the transmission of traditional knowledge and culture for thousands of years.
On a personal note, my favorites are “On Wolf Mountain,” “Wildcat Bill” and especially “Two Wolves.” This last story is particularly successful for its tight, sparse dialogue, and the illustration style of John Findley. He combines great attention to detail and technical mastery of the media with an uncanny ability to create visual characters that convey a sense of emotional depth as well as the spiritual connection between the man and wolf. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but there was something emotionally satisfying about the ending of the story. It also provides a strong conclusion to the collection.
The anthology may not be perfect, but it does accomplish a number of things. First, it provides an opportunity for Native artists to connect their work to traditional stories in ways that are culturally meaningful. This connection to traditional stories also gives their work a visibility beyond the graphic novel/comic genre. In one way or another, all the stories in the collection provide readers with places to start a meaningful dialogue about Native American literature, particularly in an environment such as a classroom. Finally, the coexistence of verbal, written, and visual expressions of traditional stories sheds light on an indigenous culture and the ways in which it evolves through time in search of its own voices. This is perhaps the greatest contribution of a collection such as Native American Classics.
Native American Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 24 (ISBN #978-0-9825630-6-9)
Edited by Tom Pomplun with associate editors John E. Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac
144 pages, 7” x 10”, paperback, full color ($17.95)
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
Tom Pomplun, Publisher
Chavarria, Antonio. 2012. Exhibit curator notes. Rockwell Museum of Western Art. 28 Jan. 2013.
About the author:
Dale E. Seeds is Professor of Theatre in the Department of Theater and Dance at the College of Wooster,Wooster, Ohio, teaching courses in design , Native American Performance and Indigenous film. His work has been published in Theatre Crafts, Drama Review, and MELUS. In addition to his work at Wooster, his design credits include work for The Abbey theatre of Dublin Ireland, The University of Alaska , Fairbanks and the Dead White Zombies performance group of Dallas, Texas.
Poets’ Guide to America
Review by Alan Britt
John F. Buckley and Martin Ott recently published Poets’ Guide to America, a poetry book “on the states, cities, and the strange places of the United States (and even some of its overseas possessions).” Here’s the thing – they wrote these poems together. That is, each poem was written in part by Buckley and in part by Ott. In Buckley’s words, “Beginning in May 2009, Martin and I began playing what we call ‘poetic volleyball,’ a form of exquisite corpse in which we took turns writing a couple of lines of verse, back and forth, until we had a poem. And then two poems. And then, finally, fifty.”
Is this co-op approach to poetry becoming a trend? We recently reviewed The New Arcana written by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris, a mostly poetry but sometimes multi-genre, neo-Dadaist book that pushes the boundaries of what most folks expect to see from a volume of poetry. A couple years back Andrei Codrescu and Ruxandra Cesereanu released their remarkable Forgiven Submarine, their “story of a difficult love, from the first signs of tenderness through a life-and-death battle, to a reconciliation made necessary by wisdom,” poetry collaboration. It’s well known Dada poets and artists collaborated often, sometimes on the same stage at the Cabaret Voltaire.
So, this collaboration thing isn’t altogether new, but in this case it does, in the words of Tony Barnstone, “create a great conflagration of vignettes and voyages, characters and crisis, traversing or dissecting America in all its nutty hubris, with miracles at the Dairy Queen, Navy SEALS diving for Godzilla’s eggs, an igloo constructed of Schlitz Malt Liquor cartons, a patchwork country inhabited by vegetable princes and chupacabra kings.” Poets’ Guide to America is comprised of fifty poems, 95% of which are neatly laid out in two, three, four, five or six line stanzas, thus, satisfying the MFA code of quasi-structure. The book often exudes a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into the diverse landscape of America and often in a tone that mimics playful narrators offering up historic tidbits of Delaware, Pittsburgh, Georgia, Boston, St. Louis, Manhattan, Omaha, etc. One jocular poem, “A Tale of Two Portlands,” opens with an allusion to Dickens:
It was the best of lines, it was the worst
of lines. Or so she said the next morning
when our search for her missing underwear
led us to grind to halts and hollers on a beige
antique rug, our newest arena. Where we
whiled away another damp hour, another
stray occasion. We shared the wetness:
toothbrushes, plumbing, childhood tales . . .
Structured as poetry but written in whimsical prosaic style, this book isn’t Howard Zinn’s “true history of America.” What it is, however, is a romp with Buckley and Ott creating their own band of Merry Pranksters combing all corners of the United States. Their poems offer a witty and well sculpted peek into the details that separate Motown from Miami, Daytona Beach from Indianapolis, Los Angeles from Roanoke. Occasionally poignant but mostly improvisational, Poet’s Guide to America provides an enjoyable jaunt throughout the great experiment known as the United States. This mostly lighthearted book is witty and enjoyable. The next time you hop Amtrak or Greyhound to visit your aunt in Atlanta, your mother in West Palm Beach, or your poet buddies in Ann Arbor, take this book along. By the time you arrive at your destination, it’ll feel like you’re returning home.
It takes a steady hand to operate a Cadillac without
power steering and a heart like a crusted nut, he said
without letting the smoke in his craw twitch one bit.
A man should never own a car worth more than
his house, his wife said before following her rusted
catalytic converter of a boyfriend to Appalachia.
Now the strikers’ wives stockpile Kroger’s in the back
of his double-wide, preparing for the possibility, one
more half-willing spasm of labor as contracts turn brown
As the tar on his walls darkening from pure American
tobacco. Sometimes he drives to Windsor to take
a piss, and gives strays rides to see Joe Louis pump
his fist, explaining how Detroit smacked the Nazis
where it hurt and the supreme temptations of
hometown soul got all his girls talking about grit.
(from “Slowdown in Motown”)
Poets’ Guide to America (ISBN #978-1-936767-16-8)
110 pages, 7” x 8½”, paperback, ($14.95)
Brooklyn Arts Press
Review by Alan Britt
Lots of praise for John F. Buckley’s Sky Sandwiches. Those familiar with Buckley’s sardonic, quasi-autobiographical poetry are not surprised by the following accolades: “I love when his youth comes off the page, and I get to relive a Michigan childhood.” (John Brantingham); “Buckley is a well-traveled Bukowski. . . .He explores diners in Michigan, final yard sales and crushed Californian dreams.” (T. Anders Carson); “Here, McMansions, disappointed family members, Walmarts, malt liquor, Blondie, convents, shit tonsils, classrooms, ex-porn stars, mean fertility specialists, and hot sauce melt into an addictive and irresistible Kool-Aid that leaves us panting for more.” (Alexandra Mattraw). An imaginative travelogue heavily punctuated with autobiographical details characterizes this lively book. The poems are packed with seductive details that, as several of the book’s blurbs indicate, invite the reader inside the poems without hesitation. One easily relates to Buckley’s almost stream of conscious journeys to his geographic and psychic haunts that are littered with an amazing variety of details:
He told them garum tasted most like Filipino patis, more so
than nuoc mam or Chinese fish paste. He liked ice cream,
MMA matches, posters with kittens, and American Idol.
He once became enraged and defensive when they laughed
at him for rubbing vanilla Haagen-Dazs on his toe wound―
“Is that Roman folk medicine, ‘Roam-oo-leh’?” Bastards!
Fine! You get dragged to twenty-first-century Livermore!
It’s confusing! The ice-cream helps, all aches subsiding.
They wouldn’t give him a concubine, so he had made do.
* * *
Watch him fret in his Boy Scout sleeping bag, dreaming
of Italy and cyclotrons, restless, feeling like an unlucky coin
flipped in the air between someone else’s finger and thumb.
Buckley’s language moves at the speed of imagination, that is, it’s delightfully unpredictable. Once Buckley’s launches into his frenetic voice, he could end up anywhere, at a family reunion in “At the Reunion,” revisiting late adolescence in Windsor, Ontario, in “A Promise,” or entering the psychic zone in “Anybody Can live on the Moon.” I say get a good grip on whatever hat you happen to be wearing; otherwise, the verbal tailwind produced in these poems could leave you breathless and straining for balance. But how delightful to be rocking in a verbal tornado that plucks you right out of mundane existence and deposits you somewhere light-years from Kansas.
Let’s make believe we’re elsewhere.
Let’s keep an even keel in the waters of our mind―
a smooth gliding in a taut canvas canoe
on a lake of placid equanimity―
not caught in the crosshairs of status and mishap,
an escape artist locked in an opulent corner office
after swallowing the key.
Let’s not listen to Ram Dass. Let’s not be here now
in the man’s office for the anticipated meeting,
the avuncular pomp due to recent circumstances,
the canning of the human pickle.
Let’s not discuss the events leading up to this moment:
a divorce, a stubborn repetition of nightcvaps,
a morning kiking-in of windows,
a request to deposit one’s stink away from
the chaperoned students, first temporarily, then permanently.
Sky Sandwiches (ISBN #978-1-937536-32-9)
97 pages, 6” x 9”, paperback, ($15.00)
Anaphora Literary Press
* * * * *
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Books: Native American Classics
The law of harvest is to reap more than you sow. Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.
– James Allen
By James Randolph Jordan
My parents moved to Mechanicsville in 1954. Back then, it was a slight gathering of buildings — a few houses, a feed store, drug store, post office, gas station and a bar. And even though it had its own place in the old war (my great-aunt Bertha always corrected me if ever I called it a Civil War — “There was nothin’ civil about it”), by 1966 it still remained a world away from the cement sidewalks and noisy streets of nearby Richmond.
It was June, the last day of school. A Tuesday if I remember right. Just about five o’clock, Daddy got home from work and before it was time for my brothers and me to be in bed, he had finished off his first six-pack of Schlitz. It never mattered what my brothers and I had done with our day, what chores we had or had not forgotten. It didn’t matter if we had forgotten to feed the dogs or not answered “sir” when he called. It never mattered. Whether we knew why or not, it was coming. Ronnie, Ricky and I would get the punishment we deserved.
Daddy grabbed Ricky’s wrist, squeezing it. While holding my brother’s arm with one hand, my father unfastened his own belt with his other hand, and yanked it from the loops of his pants. My brother knew what was next.
“Daddy, I didn’ mean to … please, don’!” Daddy was deaf at that point. Maybe he could have heard my brother if he’d wanted to. But he didn’t want to. The whipping began slowly. It always did—as if our father was trying to find his mark—and then striking him with greater accuracy and deliberation with each swing of the belt.
“Goddamn you, boy!” The thin narrow belt made loud cracking noises each time it snapped against my brother’s bare legs.
“Please, Daddy—Daddy, please! Stop!”
The whipping grew more intense. Sweat ran down Daddy’s face. Spit sprayed from the old man’s mouth. “You son of a bitch!”
Blood now began weeping through the cuts and welts that appeared on Ricky’s legs.
“Daddy, I’m sorry!”
“Ya gonna …?” Daddy now swung the belt so hard he seemed unable to remember what it was he was going to say. His arm flung the strap wildly, each time still managing to hit his mark. “Ya gonna do it again?” he asked after a few more strikes. Ricky could barely answer.
“No, suh ….”
It was right that Daddy swung his belt against us—swearing and cursing some vile thing he saw in me and my brothers. It had to be right. Our father was always right. As Ricky sat curled up on the bed crying, Ronnie and I got ours. Daddy’s belt tore through our skin. Our cries and screams echoed through the open windows of our bedroom—filling the hot evening air of the surrounding woods. Mumma stood there. Silent. Time for bed.
The next morning, Daddy was gone before my brothers and I got up. As the sun began heating our small, cement-block house, our mother fixed us a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. A body always needed to look hard at what Mumma was fixing us to eat—especially when Daddy wasn’t around. Whether it was from her upbringing or just something she’d heard in passing, I didn’t know—but Mumma held strongly to the notion that children should be fed things which didn’t taste good—because things that taste bad must be good for you. As a matter of principle, the worse something tasted, the better it was for you.
Mumma slid plates of eggs in front of each of us and led us in grace. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive ….”
Ricky began poking at his eggs before the final words. Mumma reached over and rapped his knuckles with the edge of a butter knife.
“From Thy bounty through Christ our Lord.”
After the Amen—Ronnie, Ricky, and I each grabbed a piece of toast from the plate in the middle of the table and began to fill our faces.
Our kitchen was dark yellow. The vinyl seats of the kitchen chairs were dark yellow. The vinyl backs of the chairs were dark yellow and the table, with a Formica top and chrome legs, matched the chairs. Even the wall-phone, with its long curly cord, was dark yellow. This particular morning, the color of the scrambled eggs matched the rest of the kitchen.
“The eggs look funny,” I said. Ronnie and Ricky were already eating theirs, but not without drinking large amounts of powdered milk and taking a few bites of toast between each forkful.
“Jus’ eat ’em, Randy,” Mumma answered.
As I took the first bite, I chewed carefully— not wanting to be too surprised at whatever was coming.
“They taste funny—kinda fishy.”
My brothers had fought this battle too many times and lost. This time, though, they surrendered without even a word. I, on the other hand, wasn’t about to go down so easily.
“Mumma, what’s in the eggs?”
“It’s shad roe.”
She snickered a little.
“They a’ fish eggs. Jus’ eat ’em. They’ll make ya smart.”
“I don’t wanna be smart. Can’t I have just some plain eggs?”
“Y’all go on out ’n play,” Mumma said to my brothers as they sat there watching me gag. “You finish your breakfast before I give you somethin’ to really whine about.”
I choked down the rest of the shad roe while Ronnie and Ricky ran out the back door and off to play with friends. By the time I had finished eating, they were long gone. It was better that way for them. Rarely did they want their little brother tagging along as they built forts or shot BBs at their friends and each other.
I went out the back door and walked across the gravel road towards Arlen Stewart’s house. Arlen was a tall, skinny, white-haired boy with a lanky step and a gap between his teeth. He was also a few years older than me. It’s funny that while even just a year or so during one’s childhood can feel more like a decade in age difference, Arlen didn’t seem to mind. Unlike my brothers, he didn’t mind sharing his day with me. For months at a time, nothing deterred us from playing together, not even the fact that he was from a family which my parents referred to as “white trash”—not to be interacted with unless absolutely necessary. But with Ronnie and Ricky off on their own, this morning it seemed like the necessary thing to do.
Next to the Stewart’s house were a few acres where each year they grew their own vegetables—mostly potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, and some pole beans. Every summer as each crop ripened, Arlen and I would sit under a small tree in the middle of the garden and sample whatever we could pick or pull out of the ground. No water was around to wash the vegetables so we took turns spitting on the produce before taking a bite.
“There’s a nest ’a squirrels in one ’a those trees,” Arlen said. He pointed to the woods up the hill in the distance. The garden was guarded by a copse of oaks, maples, and pines which stood at the crest of a small rise just above where the tomatoes were planted. As mid-morning approached, we sat there among the weeds beneath the tree in the garden—crunching on some potatoes we had pulled from the ground.
“I’ll bet we could get one,” he continued. Pieces of potato fell out of his mouth as he spoke. “This time ’a day they ’a nestin’. We could sneak up on ’em and get ’em!”
At almost 12 years old, my friend amazed me with his knowledge of wild things like squirrels, rabbits, frogs, snakes and whatever else we ever saw. In the years I had known him—which had been all my life—he had taught me just about everything I knew about finding animals that were hiding or naming an animal by the sounds it made. And if he didn’t know something, we would go ask his Mamaw—a slight old woman with a sun bonnet and gingham dress who always came to stay with Carlton and Ora Stewart during the summer months. But this time, Arlen didn’t need to ask his Mamaw. He knew what he was talking about.
We walked up the hill to the woods. Arlen’s hair reflected the sun that was now high in the sky. With a hatchet in hand, he whacked away at each tall weed, bush, and sapling we passed.
“Ya gotta be quiet,” he said. I hadn’t said anything up to this point. We walked into the woods. Arlen placed the hatchet back in its sheath and pulled out a small pocket knife.
“Whaya doin?” I asked.
“We need somethin’ to stick it with.”
“Wuh we gonna stick?”
“The squirrel! This is gonna be neat,” he continued. “Jus’ watch ….”
My friend whittled a branch of sassafras wood into a pointy spear. As we walked, he carefully searched the treetops—all the while continuing to whittle. After a few more steps, we stopped. Arlen looked up and locked his sights on to a particular tree and then with a slow gaze followed it down to the ground. He crept towards a small tree in front of us.
“This is the one!” He pressed his ear firmly against the bark. “You can hear ’em inside.”
My friend backed away from the tree and motioned for me to take a listen. I held my breath for a minute—trying to become as quiet as I could.
“I don’t hear anythin.”
“Plug ya other ear,” Arlen told me.
I stuck my finger in one ear and listened with the other—and there it was, a clawing and scratching on the other side of the wood—like rats inside a wall.
“I hear ’em!”
“Move,” he said pushing me aside. I stepped away. Arlen pulled his hatchet from its sheath and began striking the tree with glancing blows. Methodically, he sliced off pieces of bark as if he were whittling the entire tree. After a short while, his shaving turned into gouging, as if he were trying to dig a splinter out of the tree. Finally, after shaving, gouging, and digging—a hole appeared—and pushing through the hole was gray fur.
“Tha’s it! Tha’s it!” he screamed. “I got it!”
“Whaya gonna do?”
“I wanna make th’ hole bigga first,” he said as he continued to dig. “I wanna be able ta see it more.”
He drove the hatchet into the wood. The squirrel now began to squeal and screech—clawing wildly at the tree from the inside. Why it didn’t escape, I didn’t know. Maybe it was stuck or maybe it just didn’t know how to get out. But I began thinking that if it didn’t get out soon—within a very short time, it would be too late.
By this point, Arlen had carved a hole about as big as a silver dollar. We could easily see the squirrel now twisting in a frenzy for survival.
“Look,” he said, “it’s got teets!”
“Whaya mean? Where?”
“Right there,” he said pointing to the squirrel’s stomach. “That means she’s got babies in there!”
“Maybe we oughta leave her alone.”
“Come on! We can get it!”
I didn’t answer as my friend continued to look intently at the squirrel. Her screeches and barks echoed through the surrounding woods. Arlen picked up the sassafras stick he had whittled earlier and began poking at the squirrel—making her squirm and screech as much as he could. Each time he poked, she bit and clawed at the stick—desperately trying to avoid the attack while not wanting to leave her babies. Within a moment, Arlen’s pokes became jabs. Small streams of blood started to trickle out of the wounds around her nipples. Tiny pieces of flesh and fur now clung to the stick The squirrel screamed even louder—moving around in a feverish panic. The white-haired boy and I both stood there—fixated on the work of his hands.
“If we kill it, we can get it out ’n eat it.” He stared at the blood coming out of the squirrel.
“I don’ want it. I don’ like squirrel.”
“Ya ever had it?” He continued digging and poking.
“Uh-uh. But I know I don’ want any.”
“Well, I’m gonna get it!”
Arlen now leveled the sharpened stick directly at the squirrel as she continued to move around in the tree. He pushed slowly, pinning her against the inside of the trunk—then, with one slow grinding motion, he plunged the stake through her. The squirrel shrieked and jerked. After a moment more, she was dead. We both stood there—not moving. The only noise was the slight whimper of the mother’s litter as they squirmed in the nest beneath her.
My friend took out his pocket knife and continued working to open the hole in the tree so as to retrieve the dead squirrel. But after digging for only a minute or so, he stopped.
“Oh, well. I don’t reckon I can get it out anyway … it’s too big.” And with that, we left the woods.
For the rest of the morning, we wandered around the banks of Old Man Gagnon’s pond—watching snakes slither in and out of the water. Occasionally, we happened upon a bullfrog or an eel that was just a little too slow. The white-haired boy whacked each creature with a stick, saying he wanted to take it home so as to eat it, but we always ended up leaving it behind. We fished for a while, using old line and rusted hooks strewn about a small pier that stretched a few yards out into the pond. We didn’t catch anything. In the afternoon, we spent a few hours building a fort out of saplings and broken branches. We imagined how much fun it would be to live in the nest of sticks we created. Eventually, we made our way to the creek that meandered from the spillway of the pond so we could dig for crawfish—just to pinch off their claws. But as the day grew older—no matter what else drew our attention—my thoughts returned to our activities earlier in the day—and to the tree which now held an unknown number of baby squirrels whose mother lay dead just above them.
As I walked home, I began to wonder if perhaps we had done some things we shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have left the garden that morning. We shouldn’t have walked into the woods—or looked into the trees. We shouldn’t have listened to the sounds coming from the inside of the tree. Perhaps then that mama-squirrel wouldn’t be lying dead on top of her babies in the hollow of the tree. If we had eaten the squirrel that might have changed things—but we didn’t. If we had taken the crawfish home for supper, maybe ….
When I got back home, I washed my hands and lay on my bed. Mumma asked me to call my brothers in for supper. Daddy would be home from work soon. I couldn’t remember if the dogs got fed.
About the author:
James Randolph Jordan, a native of Mechanicsville, Virginia, currently lives in southeastern Pennsylvania where he works full-time as a writer. His essays, short stories, reflections, and academic writings have appeared in a variety of publications. In addition to working as a writer, he teaches writing and theology at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on James Randolph Jordan/Creative Nonfiction
Der Tower von Babel
by Fred Roberts
In my tireless 1980s’ search for German music, rumors reached me of bands and musicians who went further linguistically than I’d imagined. They avoided German and didn’t use English as their medium of delivery. They embraced local culture and flavor, performing their music entirely in dialect — Low German, Bavarian, or the language of Cologne cryptically called Kölsch.
The first name I heard when I asked about music in dialect was BAP. Before I knew their music I assumed they were German rappers embracing the latest genre out of the States. That was a mistake. BAP did not rap. BAP is a serious rock band, a band with substance: complex arrangements, thoughtful productions and a guitar sounding dreamlike solos and riffs, often with a touch of melancholy. The musical brainchild of Wolfgang Niedecken (not to be confused with the world famous Niederegger brand of marzipan from Lübeck, though the music is just as tasty), BAP formed in 1977 and are still performing today.
Niedecken himself is a child of Cologne. My first introduction to their music was 1988’s Da Capo, their seventh studio album. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics but enjoyed the sound of the words. The texts were sometimes humorous, sometimes socially critical, and always of poetic importance. Nearly all the tracks are strong, “Shanghai” and “Sandino” most of all, musical impressions of tours in China and Nicaragua.
The first seven studio albums hold nothing but highlights. The song “Anna from affjetaut” (1985) conveys a carefree spirit of ‘70’s summers. “Kristallnaach on vun drinne noh druse”(1982) is an indictment of the racism in Germany connecting to the nightmare of the thirties. BAP covers “Like a Rolling Stone,” making Dylan sound like Springsteen. The debut album BAP rockt andere kölsche Leeder (1979) is musically the most modest but has nice moments, especially “Sinnflut” with its harmonica wink at Dylan, and “Hang on Sloopy” in dialect. Yeah, BAP rocks, even if you can’t understand what the hell they’re singing.
Plattdeutsch, or Low German, is a term covering the diverse North German dialects which are the missing link between English and German. My grandmother spoke Hamburg’s dialect but back then, in the early 1900s it was frowned upon as an uneducated means of expression (much as Appalachian dialects in USA are frowned upon in our day. Unjustly, it must be added). Low German is nearly a vanished tongue in Northern Germany today and consequently, there is not much of it in contemporary music. One only celebration of Low German was Hannes Wader’s title Plattdeutsch Lieder, a collection of traditional folk songs accompanied by guitar. Nothing to rock to, but worth a listen. Wader’s masterpiece is a German language album called Sieben Lieder, a dead ringer conceptually for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, and what drew my attention to Wader. Other than Wader is one of the first German hip-hop bands, Fettes Brot, from Hamburg, who had a massive hit in 1995 with Nordisch By Nature, rapping in English, German and Hamburger-Platt. No one had done that before.
If Mick Jagger had been born in Germany they might have called him Mikael Jäger. John Lennon would’ve been Johann Lennau. But since you can’t have a name that sounds any more German than Robert Zimmerman, then we’ll turn to Austrian singer-songwriter Wolfgang Ambros. When a friend tipped me off to an album of Dylan covers in Austrian dialect I wasted no time in finding it. Like nearly everyone in the ‘70s’ universe, one of my first records was The Best of Bob Dylan and, like everyone else, I’d played it a thousand times or more. Ambros’ album was Wie im Schlaf (1978) (In My Sleep), and it’s a treasure.
Hearing familiar Dylan titles in Austro-Bavarian was stunning. We know the songs, we know what they’re about and, with a little knowledge of German, following the texts is easier than one might imagine. Ambros begins with a driving version of “Allan wia Stan” in a dialect generally associated with Gemütlichkeit. It was so much fun to listen to I seldom let the needle past it. Just lifted it up and set it back to play again. With each listen, one realizes this is not a literal translation, but a worthy transformation into a new language. Sad to admit, it wouldn’t work in standard German, which isn’t idiomatic and economic enough to capture Dylan.
Ambros covers other favorites: a near reggae version of “It Ain’t Me Babe,”an intense “Sooner or Later,” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” with a touch of plaintiveness. These are strokes of genius, and the rest, like “The Man in Me,” “Drifter’s Escape,” “Corrina Corrina,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “Temporary Like Achilles” and “She Belongs to Me” nearly so. Wolfgang Ambros didn’t copy. He added.
Allan wia Stan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d08XVPZvRsA
Isar Indian – Willy Michl
In late 1988 I travelled to Munich, noticing immediately how easy it was to make friends and meet people as opposed to the somewhat cooler and detached Northern German manner. I asked my standard question, “Who was good to listen to?” They told me about Willy Michl, an eccentric musician, playing blues in Lederhosen, only in dialect, never outside of Bavaria or Austria, with several records from the ‘70s now out of print and extremely scarce. In the way people spoke of him with awe and admiration, Michl sounded half-myth and half-legend.
At the time, one of his earlier albums, Ois is Blues 88 (Everything is Blues), had hit the shelves and was on massive display. Pressed into my hands by a sweet Bavarian Mädl I had met, it became one of my favorite records of any language or culture. It’s 80 minutes of music, serious blues-jazz sung in Bavarian but near enough to High German for the non-initiated to understand. It features acoustic guitar, occasional flute, a horn section on some songs, blues organ, and synthesizer adding a spacious feel to the music. The only comparison is Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, not through musical similarity but via a similar unique vision.
Michl’s songs tell stories of nature, motifs of the mountains, the seasons, the sunset, a falcon hunting its prey, the thousand year Eskimo, the glimmer of the river Isar, Katmandu, the Himalayas, the five dimensions (three are space, in the fourth time is buried, and the fifth is feeling). The music is spiritual and of a soul at one with nature but it is not religious. Michl perhaps gives a clue in “Der Falk” – when the falcon is ready to dive and grasp it’s victim: “God have mercy on you / and He is seldom merciful / I couldn’t even say / if He exists at all.” “Herbstlied” is the most poignant song, about the fading of summer, the passing of summer love, the coming of storms. It bears the lovely line, “The horizon is my friend, and he shines as clear as wisdom.” These are unconventional themes for blues but Michl reapplies the genre and elevates it to new heights.
On “Wakantanka,” Willy Michl quotes an Iroquois Indian chief: “When the last tree has lost its last leaf, and when in the rivers and lakes the last fish has breathed its last, only then will man realize that one cannot eat money.” To this he adds his own remarkable statement: “It is our opinion, one must be able to drink from the rivers and lakes of this Earth from their source until they flow into the sea, at every single location. Because only then does the Isar truly shine in the middle of Paradise.” The uncompromising statement gives insight into the person Willy Michl, and reminds us how far removed from perfection we have brought the planet. It also explains Michl’s transformation into an Isar Indian.
You can listen to several of Willy Michl’s songs, including “Wakantanka” and “Epilog” from Ois is Blues at his Website: http://willymichl.com.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Fred Roberts/Music
This short film tells the story of what is happening in your interiors, when everyone had left……
“Ptaszarnia” is the first (November 2012) of twelve parts of an original collection called ”XII”, entirely designed by Karina Wiciak (from Wamhouse). The collection “XII” will consist of 12 thematic interior designs, together with furniture and fittings, which in each part will be interconnected, not only in terms of style, but also by name. Each subsequent design will be created within one month, and the entire collection will take one year to create. Here, visualization is to constitute more than a design, which is thrown away after implementation of the interior design, but mainly an image, which has a deeper meaning and can function individually, for instance as a print on a wall, or even a movie. The project “Ptaszarnia” includes the armchair “Ptaszek” and the hanging lamp “Ptaszyna”.
More about “Ptaszarnia”:
Design: Karina Wiciak
Animation and compositing: Mariusz Warsinski
Don De Mauro on Spool Mfg.
Video by Stephen Schweitzer
Stutter the Violins
…a short film on the struggle of structure and chaos by Jason Greendyk
Alexys is reading Little Otik (AfterFx exercise)
…a video by Eliane Lima
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Video Far & Wide
Remembering Losing Jesus
to Science, Nature and Poetry
(Excerpted from a memoir)
by Daniela Gioseffi
Memory gives continuity to living. Without it, we are aimless ships adrift on endless seas. Memory is the current that carries us from shore to shore and toward new horizons. It is what brings us home to love — allowing us to learn, and, sometimes profit, from past mistakes. How terrifying it must be to suffer amnesia, Alzheimer’s disease, or “short-term memory loss,” so common as an affliction of severe senility. Without memory, we can’t be sure of who we are and how we came to believe what we espouse as truth. Thoroughly dependent on past experience, love itself, the greatest solace of human suffering, can be lost with lost memory.
I remember clearly an event that early on shaped my spiritual life. At seventy, I can recall fully how I, as an adolescent, was swept by fate towards the shores of pantheistic humanism as the final resting place for my spirit. I keenly recollect how I lost my ardent childhood faith in Jesus along with the hope endowed by a belief in the benevolence of a loving God. I had reached the tender age of eleven, and had just begun to menstruate, when I was forced by fate to discover a cruel world through maturing eyes. The fact that providence is often random, and innocence and love frequently unrewarded, struck me with devastating force, shaking my new found faith, too naïve and ardent to endure.
In 1952, at age eleven, I was a Pied Piper of Little Falls, New Jersey, babysitting for many kids in the neighborhood. They loved my stories and songs and would follow me about whenever they saw me. We moved there when I was ten to escape the poverty of our Newark Italian ghetto. It had adjoined the poverty of the African American ghetto to one side and the Polish-Jewish ghetto to the other side of the teeming City of Newark. I tended the children of our new suburban haven, and they seemed to like me even if my big sister Lucy never would. I sang lullabies to them, and told bedtime stories, ones I made up myself. I had fun with the kids I babysat for, pretending I was Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” just returned from Kansas on the wings of a Tornado to tell wild stories of my life “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I was lonely when my older sister Lucy eloped, because her friends had always dominated our yard and front porch when she had lived at home — making it difficult for me to learn to make my own. My younger sister, Camille, was a popular Tomboy who immediately made lots of friends in our new suburban development. She was always out somewhere riding her bike around the neighborhood, or playing baseball with a bunch of athletic kids while I was babysitting, reading and doing my homework, alone.
After Lucy ran away and left me alone, I was happy not to be bullied by her. Alone, I dropped Roy Rogers as my hero. He had really been hers anyway. I decided to bond, instead, with Jesus Christ as my secret friend. My parents did not give us religion. My father was a scientist, busy at his laboratory all day, and my mother — though raised a Catholic — had been molested in the Confessional by a priest. Then, a nun who was her teacher in the seventh grade, smacked her hard with a ruler on her swollen hand, wounded and festering from a piece of broken glass that had become embedded in her palm. When the nun smacked that aching hand with a ruler because my mother was whispering to a schoolmate in the next desk about what page the assignment was on, my mother jumped out of her seat and ran out of the school, never to return. She forged working papers that claimed she was sixteen years old and got a job working in a factory. “Thanks to that mean nun who beat my swollen hand, and the dirty priest who grabbed my breast in The Confessional, I never went back to school again!” That was how she told the story, many times over. “Now, I have no good education like your father has!” she would add, dejectedly.
I was on my own when it came to finding faith in any god. I bought a white plastic-framed portrait of Jesus at Woolworth’s in Newark just before we moved to Little Falls and just after Lucy ran away with Billy Matteo. In my plastic portrait, Jesus was handsome as a movie-star, gentle-eyed and red-bearded with long wavy hair. He gazed beatifically heavenward. I threw away Lucy’s cardboard picture of Roy which I confiscated when she eloped and put Jesus in Roy Roger’s place on my beside table in my new suburban bedroom.
This would prove, because of Lucy’s new married life, to be a very sad. Eventually, Lucy, a pretty woman, would marry four times and never really be happy. She always blamed all of her life’s failures on me. She had some idea that I got more than she from our parents. Later in life, I would come to realize that I was born in what Freud would have explained as her “Electra Complex phase” when she was nearly six years old. She would forever see me as the “favored baby” who took my father’s attention away from her. She’d grown to be nearly six years of age without having to share a thing, particularly our parents, with anyone, until I came along to displace her as the new baby and the center of attention. Then, right at that juncture in our lives, my father became ill with lung disease and my mother contracted breast cancer. All fun ceased for quite awhile until they were finally out of the hospital. Lucy associated the end of all pony rides and Daddy’s attention with me. …
* * *
My mother, Josephine, a war orphan, perhaps Jewish, was raised by a Polish woman, named Rose Buzevski who had taught her to speak Polish as a child. My mother used to call my father a “Greenhorn Guinea,” when she pushed him away. He would get hurt and call her a “Dumb Polack” in return for not wanting his embraces or attentions. This made me very lonely. …
The Polish woman who raised my orphaned mother, Josephine, used to barter sex for groceries and schnapps after she arrived steerage passage in America. My mother hated all the men who used to visit her guardian, Rose, in the bedroom locking her out, leaving my mother alone and hungry and waiting to be fed. Rose had come alone, dejected, and starving, steerage passage from Poland, after burying her husband and sons — dead of small pox when an epidemic swept through Europe. She had to dig their graves in the earth with her own hands on a farm she’d worked with them. She had to be tough to survive, and she taught my mother to be a tough survivor who could not allow herself to feel deeply. Rose had loaded up a horse-drawn wagon with her two living sons, and all they could carry of their worldly belongings, and made her way along the Polish corridor to Dansk. …
“I was born in 1910, the year the Titanic sank,” my pretty blue-eyed, strawberry-blond mother would laugh and sometimes cry, “and I’ve been sinking ever since!” She looked just like Maureen O’Hara in the 40’s movies with peachy smooth skin and a radiant smile. She sewed stylish clothes to make herself look like a Hollywood star in the mode of a Jean Harlow. We loved when she would, once in a while, stay home from the sewing factory and make us doll clothes. She’d sing to us and pull us on a sled through the snowy streets. Once, she even visited my classroom on “Parent’s Day” and all the kids thought she was so beautiful in the green dress and hat she’d made for herself, her blue eyes smiling and red hair shiny like Maureen O’Hara’s.
“Your Mom’s pretty!” they all remarked, making me feel special for a change. “Even the teacher said, “What a beautiful mother you have, Daniela!” I felt so proud of her and wished she would come to school more often, but it was just that once that I can remember. …
My father never made us go to church and he didn’t go either. Other kids made fun of me because I didn’t go. They said that I would fry in Hell for not going to Catechism after school like they all did. My mother didn’t want to go, because Rose, the woman who raised her, had prayed and gone to church too much before she died. She had made my mother go to Catechism and Holy Communion, but after my mother had those misadventures in Catholic School — with the nasty ruler-wielding nun, and lecherous priest — she never wanted to go to church again.
My father never went because his father, Galileo, said the priests in Italy were “mariuolo,” swindlers who want your money and your children to work for The Church instead of for la famiglia.” My father told me later, that where he lived in Candela, Provincia de Puglia, the only schools were run by priests and nuns who would demand money of the village families and then try to get their children to leave home and serve The Church as priests and nuns — rather than help the family tend the fields to grow food. The Church, La chiesa, was an institution of il Vaticano, and the Pope in the north of Italia, not the mezzogiorno – the poorer South where the farmers toiled for little pay to produce food from the “bread basket of Italy.” After taxes, they had little left to feed their own families. The Church and the North had always abused and used the South, or mezzogiorno my father said. So, Grandpa Galileo would have none of it. My father grew up without religion and was a cynic about “the blood bath of history” largely, he learned, caused by religious conflicts.
All through my youth, he made many sacrilegious jokes, especially about The Crusades and The Inquisition, which he said were excuses for butchery, torture, and stealing. I had no religion to comfort my loneliness, rejected by both of my sisters, and a pensive youth, I watched the dramatic story of The Crucifixion and Jesus of Nazareth on television at Easter time and secretly became devotedly religious, sure that my belief would save me from all the unhappiness my parents and sister Lucy endured. I had saved my pennies to buy my glowing plastic-framed Jesus photo. I kept it always close at night on the table near my bed and imbued it with magical significance. I took to praying to it constantly to save me from all the scary monsters of the movies like Godzilla. …
… I lived most of my nights in terror of these Hollywood creatures, unable to fall asleep in the dark, thinking my vigilant stare into its deep precipice would save me from harm. I could at least scream if I saw a shadow move or heard a voice, but now, I had magical Jesus, my secret friend, to protect me, and I fell asleep in comfort after my prayers for grace and salvation were complete.
That is, I had Jesus until Lucy’s baby, Danny, suddenly got very sick for no reason at all that I could understand. I remember clearly my mother gasping as she spoke to Lucy on the phone. “We’ll be there soon as possible. I’ll call Daddy.” My mother and father left immediately, as soon as he drove home from the chemical laboratory where he worked and beeped the horn in the driveway. They didn’t come back all day and night. I decided that I could save Baby Danny, no matter how grave his illness. All I had to do was pray hard to Jesus Christ.
I knelt beside Jesus’s magical photo, shining in its white plastic frame. I prayed and begged for Baby Danny’s life. “He’s only a little baby, six months old, Jesus, and he hasn’t even had a chance to be bad or steal anything. He hardly even cries and he smiles a lot just for a rattle or a song. I know his head is kinda flat in the back, but Mommy says it’s ‘cause Lucy doesn’t pick him up and turn him over enough. She sleeps all day and doesn’t take out the garbage. That’s not Baby Danny’s fault. I know you know that, Jesus, and you love children, so please, please let him live! His father Billy smokes and works a lot and he doesn’t pick him up either. Lucy says she’s unhappy, but that’s not Baby Danny ‘s fault. He’s just a Baby and he doesn’t know much, so I know you will look after him – because I heard you love children, even though you make them suffer ye to come unto you. …”
I kept on praying and must have prayed harder than any human ever had, all day and night, without stopping once for a drink of water or to go to the bathroom or anything. I was sure I was saving Baby Danny from all harm. All day and into the night, praying on my knees, until I fell asleep on the floor prostrate before Jesus’s magic photo, his kind eyes looking heavenward, his handsome red-bearded face that looked kinder than a movie star’s. I dreamed of him standing there in my room by the bedpost in a white gown, his hands spread at his sides to welcome me. His face quietly smiling like a mother happy to see her child. He faded into a ghostly white light that shimmered around my bedpost just where the moonlight hit it.
“Wake up and get in bed, Daniela! What are you doing here on the cold floor, you crazy kid?” My mother grabbed me up by the arm, waking me from my prayers. “The baby’s dead,” she said. I started to whimper climbing into bed half-awake. “Go to sleep! There’s nothing you can do about it! No one can to anything about it.” she spoke matter-of-factly, reverting to her troughness so that she wouldn’t have to feel too deeply, trying to make me tough, like Rose has made her tough to survive, as she pulled the blanket up over me. “We‘ll have to have a funeral for Baby Danny and bury him in Summit tomorrow. Get some sleep or you can’t go with us for the ride in the car.”
After she left the room, turning out all the lights to save electricity, and leaving me in the scary dark, I mulled over what she said. Then a big sob shook free from my throat and I defiantly turned the light back on just long enough to knock Jesus off the bed table with a punch. I never prayed to him again. …
“The Doctrine of Original Sin” would be the final reason that I would forsake Catholicism, and finally all religion for science and its actual wonders. If we are all born dirty and in sin, then why bother having us all grovelling here alive trying to earn a bit of happiness along with our bread from this earth? No, I couldn’t buy it. There is too much beauty in the goldfinch and cardinal’s song for them to be born in filth, too much sweet innocence in a small child for him or her to be born of dirty sin. I decided at the age of sixteen, after reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renaissance,” Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Shakespeare’s “Tempest” that The Doctrine of Original Sin” couldn’t possibly be The Creator’s idea. It was the Calibans of the earth that ruined sex. It was the great poets from whom we learned emotional truths, not religion. I still liked to read Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, his greatest piece of poetry, but I did not like the story of The Crucifixion, so full of sadism. Christmas, the child born of the mother in innocence in a manger of straw was a beautiful piece of poetry that I liked to celebrate, but Easter for me, I decided, would always be the celebration of Estarte, ancient goddess of fertility and spring, prima vera.
Once I became a teenager showing a real interest in reading and books, and bringing home A’s on my report card, my father — with his dramatic diction and passionate recitation — read me “Romeo and Juliet.” He wept at the sad ending. Next, he read me Cervante’s Don Quixote, saying he felt like Don Quixote at the finale. He said his Italian Mother, Lucia, had told him stories of Cinderella and Pinocchio, animating them with her voice and gestures, as he sat with her by the coal stove in their Newark, darning covers on baseballs from the baseball factory with his many brothers and sisters. For each finished baseball, they earned a penny with which their immigrant mother could buy bread. Unwittingly, he got me started along a better path, poetry – a path that asks important questions without giving easy , only emotional truths. After Shakespeare, I found my way to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and oh, how I wept alone in my room after reading it through. Next, I found Edna St. Vincent Millay, and then, Emily Dickinson, and I’ve been surviving on the emotional truths in poetry, ever since.
“Some crazy, misogynistic priests who hated women – the type who would castrate Abelard for loving Eloise – they made up that “Doctrine of Original Sin,” I decided. …
I eventually forgave Jesus for getting mixed up with all those priests and their crazy ideas of sex as sin. “The Sermon on the Mount” is true and good, I told my Christian friends, but Christianity is one thing, ChristenDUMB another!” …
Anyway, what did celibate priests know of life, love, babies or nature’s glories? Why did children have to suffer to come to Christ? That was their idea, not his. Just like it was the idea of mortals that people of different color skins should be segregated, and people of the wrong religion should be killed in the name of God, and so I gave up Jesus and gained a fervor for social justice and the wonders of science, nature Herself. …
“What could be more extraordinary than all those unseen molecules spinning around their nuclei, the schemes of photosynthesis and atmospheric balance that most live daily unaware of?” I thought. How often, when chopping down trees or rain forests, do men or corporate hacks think of the Romance of Photosynthesis — first link in the food chain that weds us all to Mother Earth? That spectacular wonder by which plants convert sun to energy for the entire animal kingdom! How often do we think, in our daily lives, of the trees giving off oxygen as we breathe out offering them carbon dioxide in the balance of planetary breath?
What is more awe inspiring than the mystery of endless space, stars shining light years away in the galaxy; what more spiritual than the music of the spheres as we spin in an expanding universe too vast to know; what more phenomenal than the red and blue colors of the sunset which continues to out do itself year after year; or the flight of a tiny ruby-throated hummingbird thousands of miles south and north in its yearly migration to breed?
What more religious a prayer is there than the cry of a baby born from a womb, bloody and wet, into the light of spectacular seeing and phenomenal hearing — all come from the wondrous gift of pleasurable sexual union?” If there is a god, and he had a mortal son, he knows that he made it just exactly right when he dreamed up the scheme of sperm and ova from which we miraculously blossom from a mother’s and father’s love. If there is a Holy Trinity, if there is a Father and a Son, then “The Mother of Us All,” must be the “Holy Ghost!” The memory of how I found my way to “Her” that is to say Earth, Herself, is the story of my life’s work in poetry, nurtured by my awe of science as revealed by natural wonders of this mysterious and gorgeous planet and stupendous unfathomable universe. What a horrible pity that we are now destroying it with carbon emissions and toxic waste!
About the Author:
Daniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of 16 books of poetry and prose. Her anthology of world literature, ON PREJUDICE; A Global Perspective, from Anchor/Doubleday, NY, 1993, received a World Peace Award at The UN from The Ploughshares Foundation. In 2007, she won The John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. She edits www.Eco-Poetry.org/ combining literary and visual art with climate crisis articles.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Daniela Gioseffi/Creative Nonfiction
Red-faced Musical Confessions
By Jeff Katz
Musical passions are as strong as political ones. We have much wrapped up in our musical tastes and, in my life, many of the fiercest arguments I’ve gotten into have been about music. I can still recall a front porch heated discussion with my friend David on the relative merits of The Style Council v. Big Country. (I was pro-Style Council and was, and still am, correct). The fact that neither bands aged well, though David and I did, should clearly show the pointlessness of the passion. But still….
The flip side of our desire to promote our musical loves is the unwillingness to expose our embarrassments. We are loathe to admit that we may be square, that at times in our lives we were well outside of our own view of what was acceptable. So, I’ll go first.
I used to cry whenever I heard Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” True and I can picture myself blubbering. In my defense, I was an emotional wreck back in 1980, all of 17 going on 18, finding my way through first relationships and graduating from high school early. It was a tumultuous time for me. My parents, with tremendous lack of understanding, told me we were going to move from Long Island to Staten Island, smack dab in the middle of my senior year. I was not going to subject myself to enrolling into a city school for six months, so I graduated in January and worked on Wall St., missing out on the last and best part of high school. “All Out of Love” came out in February and I can recall driving and weeping, especially during the part when the soaring music stops and the singing proceeds accompanied by a lone piano. I don’t know when the choking stopped, but I do know I was in college, a few years later, driving down Route 17, the ice covered cliffs glimmering around me, when the song popped up and I was a sobbing mess.
Recently, I came across Greil Marcus’ Listening to Van Morrison. His explanation of what set Astral Weeks apart from the norm when it emerged in 1968 finally explained for me why I hated it on first listen. I was already running the school record store when I grabbed Astral Weeks from the stacks. I was a fan of Van the Man, but only knew Moondance and Tupelo Honey. Morrison’s distinct Hibernian groove, alternating from the slow soulful to the frenetic, grabbed me. I expected the same from Weeks, which I knew to be seminal. From the opening casual strumming of the rhythm guitar and the pronounced jazzy bass immediately joined by strings, I was put off. This was not “Caravan!” This was not “Wild Night!” I was so displeased by the sound and thrown by the stories of Irish transvestites that I brought the album back to the store and stuck in the bin for returns to be sent back to the distributor as defective. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I was the defective one. By then I was older, into jazz, and able to take in Astral Weeks for what it was, not what it wasn’t.
My friends have told me that they too don’t understand some of the greatest artists, that John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman leave them cold, or that they prefer Dave Matthews to The Beatles. Oh well, there’s always a taste issue afoot (which leads to Style Council v. Big Country debates), but when an artist is revered it is difficult to admit that you don’t like them or, worse, have no interest. My two biggies in that category are The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. I still think Moby Grape is the best band to emerge from the late ‘60s’ San Fran psychedelic scene. When the Dead morphed from trippy freaks to country rockers, it only made it worse for me; there are too many better at that (Byrds, Manassas, Gram Parsons, Dylan). And though I love jazz and can listen to Sonny Rollins play solo for 30 minutes, I have no patience for the ramblings of the Dead.
Floyd is something different. I do like the early Syd Barrett lunacy – “Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play” – but once they became the Floyd of Dark Side of the Moon I was eminently bored. The Wall – blecch! It’s dull and gives me a headache. I always took immense pride in not owning Dark Side, yet it’s not easy to respond to lovers of Floyd with a simple shrug.
There’s a whole subset of embarrassment-concerts. My list is short, containing Billy Joel (my first, in 1980) and Billy Squier opening for Pat Benatar. “Hell is for children” indeed! I admit I liked Pat for the reasons most boys did back then, but seeing her live was enough for me to sell off the albums of hers that I had and put the money towards more timeless albums by acts like The Slickee Boys and The Neats (yeah, I know). Some of the best bad shows I’ve heard of over the years are David Cassidy (which now has much retro cool) and Rick Springfield, but hands down, the worst combination was related by a former co-worker who saw Michael Bolton on New Year’s Eve with her parents. That is the shame trifecta!
Then, of course there are the guilty pleasures, the crappy acts that still have a hold. Some of my friends have haltingly admitted that they still have a soft spot for Seals & Crofts, Howard Jones, Thompson Twins, America and Berlin. I make sure no one is watching when I put on my Haircut 100 album.
It wasn’t easy asking friends to fess up to their musical embarrassment and, to be honest, I got few responses. See, no one wants to admit their weaknesses! The best story I heard was this one, in a category all of its own.
At 13, I was in a store called Turn Style. I saw Grand Funk Railroad’s E Pluribus Funk. I didn’t even like Grand Funk but the cover was a different shape than the regular LP and it fit nicely under my coat. So nicely I was caught!
Nabbed for bad taste! Who said it isn’t a crime to like crappy music?
About the author:
Jeff Katz is music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
March 2, 2013 1 Comment
Second-grade-teacher Jon Schwartz with his students.
Kids do like the Blues
A interview by Ginger Liu
The Kids Like Blues Band is a performing music group that uses The Blues as a thematic teaching tool to teach kids language arts, technology, history and the visual and performing arts. It’s comprised of 30 second-grade students in Oceanside, CA, and their classroom teacher Jon Schwartz.
Q) What is Kids Like Blues and how did it start?
A) The kids are regular children doing extraordinary things. They have 15 blues songs in their repertoire and can play a 35-minute set as a self-contained unit or with an accompanying rhythm section. They have played on TV, at street fairs, talent shows, and college campuses.
Last year I had an extremely creative class. When we grew tired of “Old McDonald” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” I decided to take a chance and play some of my own favorite songs on guitar – blues songs like “Deep Elm Blues,” which happen to be rich in symbolism and rife with opportunities for lessons in phonics, diction, phrasing, and even exploring US History – all academic standards that we’re required to teach.
The first time I played the song, one of my students, who I’d already identified as GATE (gifted and talented) through her expressive art samples, spontaneously got up in front of the class and made up a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers type of dance to my playing. The other kids were transfixed. The next day I broke out the song, she started right in with more moves, and a few other girls – who were usually shy and reserved in class – joined her and started singing along and dancing.
I shared our work with Professors of Education at Cal State San Marcos, and they were thrilled at how we were using the songs to teach academic content standards like reading, writing, speech, US History, technology, and build classroom community, self confidence, and self esteem, and the whole class was invited to play at Cal State San Marcos for the College of Education’s staff and teachers-in-training. They wanted to show their students – teachers-in-training – what integrated, creative, thematic teaching could look like.
Q) How has your teaching in music, communication and digital helped your students?
A) I write for many outdoors publications, am an accomplished marine photographer, and do a lot of video, web, blogging, and Photoshop work. I use these disciplines to engage my students, and I teach them how to use these programs as educational tools to enhance their learning experience. Over 90 % of my 30 2nd grade students have their own personal blogs, and they know how to perform internet searches, are aware of how to safely navigate the net for quality information and images, know how to scan their own hand-drawn visual art into the computer and edit the images in Photoshop, and then upload them to their blogs.
I involve students in all phases of our many audio and video recordings. I show them how to storyboard our music videos, and then they participate in the filming and editing of the footage. They see how the final products made in quality high-tech programs like Garage Band and iMovie are the result of individually recorded scenes and tracks that have been planned, staged, edited, and synthesized.
Q) How good is the band?
A) It’s actually an awesome band! We’ve evolved into a legitimate gigging band with a 35 minute 15 song set that features original choreography. The students have played enough gigs to where they have moved past the point of fear and we can have a great time commanding the stage for our own enjoyment. Once they played for 300 kids, 1000 at a street fair, the CSU College of Education, and on live TV, to them it’s just another gig. Personally I get a lot out of it musically because the kids and I have developed a real musical relationship, we have an actual unspoken report where I have developed a style that fits with their vocals. I never play the exact guitar parts twice, so it’s a living, breathing musical organ, where we are playing off of each other in subtle ways. They have an incredible vocal mix this year and their moves are spectacular. Thankfully we have several natural-born choreographers in our class that are happy to devise all of our stage moves, because that’s never been my forte.
Q) You have a background in music. Why is it blues music in particular that has connected with your students?
A) The blues has a natural song structure and down to earth content that kids seem to crave. A lot of what they hear on the radio is overproduced and lacking in lyrical meaning. The songs that we are using aren’t just cute rhymes sung over synthesized tracks, they are the golden road to our collective culture and speak to the kids on a deep level. It’s like they are connecting to their ancestral history for the first time. These songs speak about immigration, hard labor, westward migration, the industrial revolution, the building of the transcontinental railroad, and the songs use imagery that resonates with the kids and provides a great launching point for ventures into art lessons, discussions of genre and author’s purpose, and comparisons of the past and present.
Q) How did you recently help a Japanese student?
A) Last January a student entered our class. Her family had fled the aftermath of the tsunami and the nuclear disaster. Understandably, she was very shut down. I tried to engage her using my iPhone by speaking English and having it translate it and then speak, in computer speak, the translated version of what I said into Japanese, but that is very impersonal and only worked in short phrases like “Now we are going to line up” and then she would nod her head.
When I first played that blues song on guitar for the class, she was one of the first students that got up and started dancing and singing the words. Here was a student that would stare at the floor with no expression, and then we’d play blues songs and she would get up in front of the class with a few others and dance to the song – and most importantly – sing the words!! Other than “Yes” and “No,” the words to “Sweet Home Chicago” were probably the first English words that she ever spoke! And she took to the music like no other student. She turned into a fearless stage performer and memorized all of the songs quickly – and she’d sing them at home, to the delight of her parents. Not only was she stealing the show at that first performance in front of 300 students, when we played a street fair for a thousand strangers, she leapt right onto the stage and started practicing her moves before the music began, looking right into the eyes of the crowd. She found herself in our blues band work. t each other’s cultures and use of music.
Q) You have brought your young students into the 21st century with digital teaching, such as blogging and digital photography; why do you think some schools are still hesitant in teaching these fundamental skills?
A) A lot of the younger more tech-savvy, progressive teachers lost their jobs when the economy tanked and the school districts were forced to make draconian budget cuts. This is especially true in areas where the tax base didn’t have a cushion to absorb the decline in revenue. Wealthier districts could more afford to keep younger teachers who know how to integrate tech into the curriculum.
Most comparatively younger teachers like me who choose to teach in less affluent areas either lost their jobs, lost their tenure, while the more senior teachers were left. Private schools and public schools with a flush PTO might have a huge computer lab full of the best equipment and tech savvy teachers. Schools in less affluent areas like mine work with what they can afford, which is often refurbished, donated computers that can barely handle basic software.
Q) What public performances do you have planned for the Kids Like Blues band in 2013?
A) I think we’ll have a good shot at playing the huge Del Mar Fair in June, and I’m talking with the professors at CSU about having us play there again, plus we have all the gigs we want at local senior centers. I’ve struck up relationships with prominent figures in the world of the blues and we hope to have some collaborations, even if it’s just jamming with the kids.
Ginger Liu is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, blogger and publicist. You can read more about her in About Us.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Kids Like Blues/On Location-LA