Sunday, February 25, 2007

Michael's Project

Friend and artist Michael McDevitt is working to answer questions that haunt every artist. What happens to my work after it is sold? What does my painting look like in its new home? What is it hanging next to? McDevitt put out a call to all of his collectors:
"If you own some of my art, please help me by emailing me an image showing the piece as it exists today. I am interested in the space in which the art resides and how it interacts with your life. Also, please tell me if you'd prefer to remain anonymous. I greatly appreciate your help."
As it happens, I own five artworks by McDevitt, and I dutifully photographed each of them. To see them (and other of McDevitt's work in collectors' homes), check out three related posts on Michael's blog. No surprise; my collection is under the heading "Queens, New York."

Two related notes:

- One of McDevitt's paintings, an orange "Beastie," hangs next to an Alice Neel lithograph. I like some of Neel's work a great deal. In my early undergraduate days, the figure paintings of Neel and Egon Schiele excited me and I continue to admire both artists. Unfortunately, like most of us, I don't have enough money to afford her prints and, given her present condition (dead and famous), I can't very well email her to propose a how did I come to be in the possession of one?

At the risk of getting myself into some trouble here, I should come clean. I stole the lithograph. Or, rather, I saved it. Six years ago, in a former job as a gallery preparator, I was asked to destroy a number of lithographs that had developed slight foxing on verso. I was horrified by the request. I asked if I might have the prints instead of attacking them with a box cutter. The answer was a definitive, "Absolutely not." Try as I might, I didn't understand the gallery's reasoning. Sure, a serious collector probably won't want to buy a slightly damaged print, but why destroy them?

Upset, I nevertheless began hacking and slicing through the print pile, feeling badly for the artists and the unfortunate fate of their art. When I came to this particular Neel print, however, I just couldn't do it. I rolled the print up, slipped it into a cardboard tube and stashed it under a tool bench for later retrieval. A few days later I headed to work with a portfolio of my drawings, supposedly for a curatorial visit that evening; before leaving the gallery at closing time, I added a new piece to the portfolio.

If the gallery owners should stumble upon this blog and read the above admission, I'd only have them know, as I'm sure they must (since our relationship was always a good one despite my constant pranks and general mischief), that the theft wasn't meant as a personal slight or a sign of any dissatisfaction in my job. I just couldn't kill a print I so liked...and, yes, coveted. (If you must, please contact me and we can work something out. Although, really.....if you're only going to reclaim it to destroy it, please consider how happy and settled it appears next to McDevitt's "Beastie.")

- In another photograph on Michael's blog, a drawing of a Barred owl (Strix varia) by McDevitt hangs just outside the door to my studio. Through that door, you glimpse an in-progress painting that has since then been finished, just last week in fact. I thought I'd post it here...after all, it features three spotted hyenas, as well as a pair of African fish eagles (Haliaeetus vocifer).

Christopher Reiger
"a cruel and beautiful faraway place"
Watercolor, gouache, sumi ink and marker on Arches paper
32 x 27 inches

It is part of the Hysterical Transcendentalism series that I began last year, but it is, by far, the most visually assaultive - in terms of palette and composition - of those works to date. I quite like it, but I've now begun work on two paintings that are more subdued. I needed an interlude after the relentless all-overness of "a cruel and beautiful faraway place."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Inside Out (and Upside Down)

Ruminating on an Art World Malaise

Adam, a character from "Northern Exposure"
Courtesy Universal Studios

The arctic front that swept south over New England and the MidWest two weeks ago further dispirited folks already battling seasonal affective disorder, but even before Punxsutawney Phil botched his forecast at Gobbler's Knob, many of my artist friends were brooding. Since the middle of January, I've sensed a general anxiety or frustration in my bar conversations, art blog trolling, and gallery exchanges. Initially, I dismissed these vibes as transference or projection of my own doubts and uncertainties, but, in fact, my work has been going very well, and I cherish the winter months. Could it be, then, that the New York art world (and maybe the art world at large) is slogging through a mild doldrums now? I decided to ask others if they were aware of any upsurge in art world agnosticism.

Apparently, they were. One artist told me that his friends were "fed up with New York" and had begun fantasizing about "escape." Another friend, when asked what she made of such general malaise, replied "Everyone is over it now. We're all just having a really hard time." Such sentiments were expressed often, irrespective of an artist's market success. Unlike many of the artists and curators I talked to, I'm not struggling in the studio, but neither am I free of angst. Of late, I spend my studio breaks browsing property listings in Maine and New Hampshire. Looking at photographs of beautiful, undeveloped tracts just outside Bangor - available for a song! - the escape fantasies percolate. Likewise, I find myself critiquing my attempts to participate in art world reindeer games. After seven years in New York, I'm asking myself some very difficult questions. The questions aren't new, by any means, but they are more pressing.

With these uncomfortable questions foregrounded, I revisited "Inside Out," an HH post from December 2005. In that essay, I compared Outsider artists to a "less acknowledged class of art world outsider," a type that I dubbed the Insider Outsider artist. (It's an awkward term for an vague class, but it serves its purpose well enough!) This caste, I wrote, wants to be part of the art world, but they are unwilling (or unable) to schmooze - attend openings, smile handsomely, shake hands - and they don't fill the bill in terms of their work or, sometimes, their physical appearance and carriage. As a result, they remain at the scene's fringe; if they're represented by a gallery, they're likely the "other" artist.

A sub-class of Insider Outsider is comprised of those artists who, having secured a tie to the art world while living in a cultural center, retreat to a rural setting to work in seclusion. The two examples of this sub-class that I discussed in "Inside Out" were Winslow Homer and Lee Bontecou, the former a historical figure and the latter a contemporary. I chose them because both were celebrated artists prior to their relocation. Eventually, many years after their respective departures from New York City, they were again pulled into the fold, although, in Homer's case, posthumously. Lee Bontecou found creative sustenance away from the city, too, and even though the art world has reclaimed her as one of their own, interviews with the artist suggest she is still most comfortable away "from the noise, the parties and the intrigue."

In the fall of 1999, when I moved to New York, I intended to leave town after establishing a relationship with a reputable gallery. Although I realized that nurturing such a relationship would take time, I still assumed that I would be living somewhere other than New York City by my 30th birthday. Green as I was then, at 22, I nurtured the naive fantasy that, after moving to some remote New England farm, I would spend all of my time painting, writing, and enjoying the outdoors, interrupted once in a great while by a dealer visiting the studio to select works for exhibition. My direct art world participation would be limited to occasional trips to one city or another, during which I would visit galleries and museums, catch up with friends, and maybe participate in a lecture or panel.

Within a few years of arriving in New York, however, I understood just how unlikely (if not impossible) that idyll was. At first I didn't much mind; I partied and met lots of people, and lived pretty much the way any other twenty-something does when they land in the city. But, as I wrote in "Inside Out,"
"Kicking off an evening of excess with an opening can be fun, but these events, like the evenings themselves, start to blend together; if you've been to twenty openings, believe me, you've been to them all. Frankly, after six years of New York thrills, I admire more the artist who tells me she plans to skip out on an opening to get work done in the studio."
So here I sit, typing this post on a Saturday evening. I'll head back into the studio in short order and, hopefully, get some good work done before I retire for the evening. But to secure this time for myself I turned down more than one invitation to an opening or a party. It's not that I'm a misanthrope; I do enjoy the company of others, but one or two social evenings a week is ample. Those weeks when I find myself committed to four or five social evenings, I grow frustrated, and struggle to keep smiling. That frustration can quickly turn into resentment as it carries over into my studio time.

It's discouraging, then, to read articles like Sharon Reier's "Contemporary art: The new status investment," in the International Herald Tribune, or Jerry Saltz's recent Village Voice piece, "Seeing Dollar Signs: Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid?" In Reier's report, a former gallery owner and art collector lists some of the principal criteria by which emerging artists are judged by auction houses. Firstly, the collector says, these artists should be under 35 years of age. They should also be represented by a gallery with auction house recognition, have been reviewed by an established art critic, have had their works purchased by known, respected collectors, be part of a "community" - African American, gay, Jewish, Native American, etc. - and, ideally, have participated in the Venice Biennale. Granted, these criteria needn't be met for an artist to have a viable career, but reading the list I can't help but think that I've jumped the shark on the whole art thing.

I still have six years before I reach the 3-5 mark. I'd like to think that I'll be represented by a gallery and have had a review by an established critic before I reach that milestone. But I'm skeptical; I don't play the game well. As Saltz writes in his article,
"The current market feeds the bullshit machine, provides cover for a lot of vacuous behavior, revs us up while wearing us down, breeds complacency, and is so invasive that it forces artists to regularly consider issues of celebrity, status, and money in their studios."
But Saltz also points out that the burgeoning art market "allows more artists to make more money without having to work full-time soul-crushing jobs" and that "everyone is trying the best they can." True enough. When I consider my artist friends who do have promising careers in the making, I appreciate the opportunity born of a market flush with cash. They do, too. But they also enjoy the social aspects of the contemporary artist lifestyle. Me? Not so much. When I look at photographs of art world dinner parties on the Painter Paparazzi blog, I feel revulsion. If I could "make it" without ever having to attend one of these events, I'd be a happier man for it. That's nearly impossible, though, so I'm forced to return to those aforementioned, fundamental questions.

Professor Srikumar Rao asks students in his "Creativity and Personal Mastery" class at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business to compose a list of things they need, as individuals, in order to be happy. Most of the men and women taking Rao's class have already earned MBA degrees; business is their trade. You'd expect many of them to respond that financial security, if not wealth, is essential to their happiness. Perhaps because they know Professor Rao wouldn't want to hear so mercenary an answer, or perhaps because they really are on the path to enlightenment, they list more soulful needs: laughter, hugs, and sunshine.

I'm impressed, surprised, and, frankly, a little suspicious. The promising young business executives surely accept that their line of work requires them to pore over the pages of Machiavelli's The Prince more often than those of the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness. But Professor Rao goes a step further. He accepts their answers as honest, but proclaims them all wrong.
"None of this is necessary for you to be happy. None of it. Most of us function under the model we have to get something in order to do something, in order to be something. If this happens then I will be happy. And I'm suggesting to you that we live our entire lives based on that model, and that model is fundamentally flawed."
This idea isn't revolutionary, but it can still seem extreme. We don't need the support of friends and loved ones? I'm incredulous. And sunshine? I mean, c'mon, Professor Rao...unless we're content to evolve into Morlocks, we do need daylight. But my objections are beside the point. As Rao points out, "Anything you can get you can lose." In other words, if you believe you need to get this or achieve that to find happiness, you're setting yourself up for failure. Individuals who set out to find sunshine, a good laugh, or love usually find what they seek only when they stop hunting for it(1); it finds them, in fact.

One of Rao's students says, "[these ideas] reinforced a lot of what my parents taught me as a young person, but which I never believed." Indeed. In particular, I remember my parents telling me that they would love me unconditionally, but that they still expected me to work very hard to perform up to their expectations. Although I know well that they do support my decisions and that they are proud of me, it's no longer their expectations I'm worried about.

It's increasingly hard to accept anything less than our teenage aspirations. Those of us living in the industrialized First World are more entitled than ever before. Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, calls those of us born in the last three decades of the twentieth century "Generation Me." In her book, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before, Twenge suggests the ambitions of "Me'ers" are peaking "just as the world is becoming more competitive, creating an enormous clash between expectations and reality."

The two episodes of American Idol that I've watched this season focused on the audition process. I feel sorry for the rejected (and dejected) contestants, but I'm also appalled by their delusions of grandeur. When they exit the audition room without a "golden ticket" - representing passport to the next stage of the competition - their friends and family embrace them and commiserate, saying the appropriate things, often assuring them, as mine did and do, that they "still love you." (As if that was ever in question?!) Most of these rejected contestants will recover, of course, and their brief appearance on a television-show-cum-cultural-phenomenon may even become a fond memory in time, but there are some who react in a way that disturbs me. These are the truly ambitious people, those who aspire to "greatness" (or mere fame), but have put the cart before the horse. They can't sing or dance - many of them don't even look the part of a pop star - but they are determined to become "the next big thing." These are people who would do well to sit down and compile Professor Rao's list of needs, then consider his philosophy. It would do them some good and, possibly, save us all some grief. (2) But, lest I only judge, so might I benefit from Rao's exercise.

Things I need to be/remain happy in life:

- Continued experience of the Universal breath and the pneuma
- The love and support of a core group of friends that I can trust and rely on
- The love and support of my family
- A home that allows me to easily access untrammeled Nature
- Enough income from art sales (or a day job) and, more importantly, enough time to continue making art and writing

Right now, living in Queens, New York, I satisfy four of these five needs. Knowing that I will move eventually to a more rural locale, I'm happy enough with my present standing. But the list above isn't quite complete; I left off one need, neglected because I'd rather not accept it as critical to my achieving happiness. So what is this embarrassing need?

- The respect and admiration of the art world

I cringe just acknowledging it. I'm just one more ambitious "Me'er," looking to "get mine." This sense of entitlement, this belief that I will eventually succeed in the art world because I deserve to, would send Professor Rao into apopletic fits.

I've always claimed that I make art for myself, that art is a calling, a vocation, that I must heed. To some extent, that's accurate. When I must stop painting and drawing for a time, whatever the reason, I suffer from a kind of withdrawal. Worse still, when I sink into a trough period, I become a very unpleasant person, misanthropic, and judgmental. Even when my art is going well, I'll lie to friends and others in order to secure more studio time. It's also true that I'm most content when alone in the studio. In that sense, I'm a loner, and my art is made to satisfy a very personal need.

But, significantly, it is also made to communicate. I smile at the thought of another person living with - and having a "conversation" with - one of my paintings, just as I enjoy living with the work of other artists. Admittedly, collecting is a base instinct, akin to the animal desire to scent mark. Collectors proclaim their individuality by displaying their tastes and, in this sense, it's related to the act of art making itself; artists assemble their visions to better explain themselves just as collectors - and many artists are also collectors - assemble the work of others because they find something of themselves in it. Again turning to an old artist statement of mine,
"In essence, this is the stuff of art – a flawed platform with no up or down, no east or west, on which to build the self and, in turn, shape objects to explain the proposed self. Art reveals the private obsessions of the psyche and better expresses the individual’s inner fragmentation, a consequence of the ideal being at odds with the real."
The ideal being at odds with the real? I wrote that statement almost ten years ago, but it seems all too pertinent given the questions at hand. Were I to fully embrace Professor Rao's teachings, I'd leave New York City this fall. Discouraged by the social component of the art world game, staying in NYC can only further wear me down, potentially corrupting what optimism I have, an optimism rooted in experiences more often had outside the city. At the risk of sounding hokey, my spiritual life is most enriched and informed when I find myself in the woods, the marsh, or any landscape relatively free of the human footprint, or at least free of the heavy marks of human industry.

A month ago, I was inspired to revisit the television series "Northern Exposure," a program that originally aired on CBS in the early 1990s. In "Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale For Big People," the final episode of the first season, Dr. Joel Fleischman, the fish-out-of-water New York City doctor, meets Adam, an intensely misanthropic hermit living in the wilds of southern Alaska. Although Adam is rumored to be a Bigfoot-like monster by the townsfolk, Fleischman discovers that Adam is, in fact, an accomplished gourmet chef who, after having become disillusioned with the industry in New York, fled his previous life and landed in Alaska becoming, in Fleishman's words, "big, threatening, wild." The episode is terrific, but I found myself squirming uncomfortably as I watched it. In one scene, Adam becomes angrily jealous when he learns of the success a one-time student of his has had in the New York restaurant world. Adam may have fled the business, but he hasn't escaped his ambition. Similarly, I remain unwilling (or unable) to adjust my expectations; even if Professor Rao would have me recognize that "need" as a cancer, I'm compelled to stay put for the time being. I'm not yet enlightened. That last, embarrassing item on my happiness list remains.


(1) Most successful hunting consists of reading signs and waiting. This is true in the rest of the animal kingdom, too. There is usually a burst of chase and violence in the final moments, but hunting requires, above all else, methodical observation (using all senses) and patience. Those "hunts" in which quarry is actively pursued - fox or rabbit, for example - are really the provence of the dog and can be more accurately considered chases.

(2) Unrealized ambition in highly motivated and determined individuals can manifest itself in terrible ways. Peter Schjeldahl says most artists arrive at their vocation for three reasons: joy, revenge, and camaraderie. The first and the last are healthy, but the second? I've often argued that Adolf Hitler was one of the 20th centuries "greatest artists," despite his early failings as a painter. Rather than explain this assertion in my own words, I'll turn to the film critic Peter Bradshaw's review of "Max" in The Guardian Weekly: "The point of the movie isn't that Adolf is fatefully tempted away from a mediocre but harmless artistic career. Rather the reverse: art remains his vocation, but he reinvents it, horribly. He embraces the grotesquely higher artistic calling of popular politics, which he is to supplement with spectacle, stagecraft and hatred, fusing the kitsch bad art that comes so naturally to him with the boiling subversion of modernism..." Not that I'm particularly worried about those American Idol participants grabbing on to the shoots of fascism that are sprouting in the United States, but ambitious individuals who prove themselves impotent in one milieu often look for greener pastures, sometimes at extreme cost, and not only to themselves.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pollock, Monsters and Poorwills

Today, links and recommendations.

From Bioephemera:

- Folks who regularly troll art blogs will have read plenty about the ongoing dispute over the authentication of paintings attributed to Jackson Pollock. Some of the posts have been very good, even provocative, but I hadn't seen any posts highlighting an unspoken, but central debate, one between the humanities and the scientific method. Read it here.

- A good friend of mine, Michael McDevitt, used to spend hours assembling bones, found utensils, toys, bits of plastic detritus, and what have you, creating marvelous hybrid creatures in the process. Although he concentrates on painting these days, I fondly recall college afternoons spent hanging out in Michael's studio/ laboratory /bedroom with his old black lab, Loki (RIP), while he worked away on those sculptural amalgamations. That work came to mind when I was introduced to Jessica Joslin's sculptures (via Bioephemera).

From Rigor Vitae:

- An excellent, informative post from Carel Pieter Brest Van Kempen, this one discussing the ability (and inability) of different bird species to regulate metabolism or enter torpor. Happily, one of my favorite bird families, the nightjars (Caprimulgidae), includes a real pro, the Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii).

Also skilled in metabolic regulation are hummingbirds and, on that note, I recommend this recent article/photo feature in a recent issue of National Geographic.

Photo credit: WhipPoorWill -Plate LXXXII, by John James Audubon, circa 1827

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Few Minutes Of Complaint

Andy Rooney

I support a number of environmental groups with annual dues. Although I don't like having to cancel such a membership, when I become irked by a particular group's performance or some of their practices, I cease my support. I've been especially irritated about several such issues this past week, and I'm going to use this platform, such that it is, to publicly air my grievances. Perhaps the organizations' representatives will stumble upon this post and feel just a little bit guilty? Whatever the end result of my kvetching, I’m sure to come off sounding like the curmudgeonly “60 Minutes” commentator, Andy Rooney...but so be it.

Firstly, I’m annoyed that some (if not all) of these environmental organizations sell my address and personal information to other not-for-profit groups. I dislike coming home from work to a mailbox stuffed with donation requests. I receive at least eight such envelopes every week, and a fair percentage of these entreaties are from organizations that share very little, in terms of mission, with the groups that I presently contribute to. For example, I support American Wildlands, but is it therefore reasonable to assume that I’ll also donate to the ASPCA or to Operation Help the Children?

(Update Note: The above example is hypothetical. I've been assured by a representative of American Wildlands that the organization has never shared my member information with other groups. For this, I am grateful. Furthermore, I'm always impressed by AW's personal commitment to their members....and, of course, their continuing conservation efforts.)

Unsolicited non-profit support requests

It's most irritating, though, to receive an appeal from a group to which I already contribute! What sort of confidence does that breed in your membership? It’s hard to feel that your well-intentioned contribution is being put to good use if even the organization's member list isn’t managed with some competence.

A couple of months ago, after receiving a renewal notice in the mail, I renewed my WWF membership online. Two or three weeks later, a WWF envelope was in my mailbox. Instead of the expected renewal confirmation, thank you letter, and 501(c)3 tax receipt, the enclosed letter invited me to join the WWF, as if I were not a member, much less one that had just renewed his financial commitment to the organization!

That sort of carelessness is infuriating. In fact, it’s downright insulting!(Moreover, I continue to receive renewal requests for the extant membership! Apparently, the WWF thinks I'm two different members: one in good standing, the other delinquent.)

But an overfull mailbox is merely annoying. More seriously, given the environmental focus of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, EarthJustice, and the World Wildlife Fund, one wonders how they justify the wasted paper and energy required for these mailings? I assume that many of the recipients, like me, open each envelope and separate the recyclable paper from the complimentary address labels (unfortunately, my name is misspelled on many of these), but this is small consolation! There’s no question that the goals of the environmental non-profits would be better served by minimizing these mailings.

Tree made from junk mailings by artist Dio Mendoza

On a related note, I often wonder why non-profits don’t take better advantage of the web. I’d much rather receive a bi-weekly or monthly email newsletter than fill up yet another blue recycling bag with paper. More importantly, the point-and-click interface of email updates makes it easy for even the lazy members (along with the more busy members) to participate in an organization’s grassroots campaign. A traditional paper letter might more fully relate the most pressing concerns of the moment and recommend ways in which members can help influence political decision making, but I’d wager that a good number of letter recipients do not take time to even open the envelope and, if they do, do not take the time to call their representatives and voice concern.

If, on the other hand, they can link to the organization’s website and, several mouse clicks and a zip code entry later, submit a form letter to the appropriate parties, members are more likely to help the cause and feel connected to the organization, an important part of the effort. The Sierra Club is taking advantage of this approach and, happily, the NRDC and EarthJustice are catching on, too. Many other organizations – especially the smaller, less endowed groups – have yet to transition, however. I believe that this should be a top priority, as we live in an era of lobbying, sad though that fact may be.

When I do receive a printed newsletter from these groups (or a magazine, as is the case with The Sierra Club’s “Sierra Magazine” and the NRDC’s “OnEarth”), I always read them, usually cover to cover.

All of the groups to which I contribute produce handsome publications, but I routinely find errors in “On Focus,” the bi-monthly newsletter of the WWF. (That's strike two for the WWF, if you’re keeping track!) In the most recent issue, two glaring mistakes jump out. In the “Species Spotlight” feature, the text claims that the jaguar (Panthera onca) was “once found from the southwestern U.S. to northern Argentina,” but that “today it inhabits only the rain forests of Central and South America.” In fact, this range is incomplete. The jaguar is present, in small numbers, in regions where it was once extirpated, including the mountains of Sonora, in Mexico, and parts of the American southwest. The more optimistic wildlife biologists believe that the species may be in the early stages of a remarkable recovery, thanks in large part to the habitat linkage efforts of groups like The Wildlands Project. Were the WWF's “On Focus” feature describing an animal about which less is known, I wouldn’t be surprised to read incomplete and misleading information, but they’ve no excuse in this case; the jaguar is an icon.

On the same page, in a blurb describing a new species of snake discovered in Borneo, the text claims that the Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) is the world’s most dangerous snake. The statement is debatable. At best, it depends on what attributes one uses to determine “dangerous,” but some herpetologists argue that the Russell’s viper is not the most dangerous serpent, by any standard. Although the species is responsible for many deaths - due to its testy temper and liking of human settlement - the venom of this viper is less toxic than that of many other snakes. More importantly, kraits (Bungarus sp.), another genus of snake, annually kill more people in Asia. I don't understand how the World Wildlife Fund fact checkers let this incomplete information go to press without a mention. WWF is, after all, a wildlife organization; hire folks who actually know something about the animals they're supposed to be working for!

I only caught the above errors because I'm relatively well-informed about jaguars and snakes. What of all the other species I know comparatively little about? And what of the many thousands of WWF members who know almost nothing and wish to learn more? Are we being mis-educated by the WWF newsletters? It appears so.

I plan to let my WWF membership lapse. In my two years of membership, I've not been impressed with the organization at all, the importance of their mission aside.

I’m less of a stickler when it comes to the smaller, more local organizations, but among the funded behemoths, such carelessness is deeply discouraging. If any of the organizations' representatives do happen upon this post, please consider it a call to improve your online resources and message delivery, cut back on unnecessarily wasted paper, and fact check, fact check, fact check. Rooney, over and out.

Photo credit: Rooney picture ripped from; Random junk mail photo ripped from; junk mail tree ripped from SFEnvironment