Friday, November 30, 2007

Snapshots From Home Ground

Sunrise following the Beaver Moon; Heron's Foot, Eastern Shore of Virginia; November 2007
"Home ground is the place where, since before you had words for such knowledge, you have known the smells, the seasons, the birds and beasts, the human voices, the houses, the ways of working, the lay of the land and the quality of the light. It is the landscape you learn before you retreat inside the illusion of your skin. You may love the place if you flourished there, or hate the place if you suffered there. But love it or hate it, you cannot shake free. Even if you move to the antipodes, even if you become intimate with new landscapes, you still bear the impression of that first ground."
-Scott Russell Sanders, Townships
Like so many other Americans, I traveled home for Thanksgiving. Or rather, I headed to my childhood home, the Eastern Shore of Virginia. My parents still live in the small, seaside village where they raised me and, although the large farm I knew in my youth was sold some years past, my father continues to steward Heron's Foot, 35 acres of marsh, field and forest that fall away into a tidal branch of Floyd's Bay, a large salt water estuary separated from the Atlantic by impermanent barrier islands.

My bond to this land is renewed of late. Heron's Foot is once again an active presence in my life, and I am glad for it.

Burton Shore clams (soon to be steamed for dinner); November 2007

November Clamming:

It's a sorry admission for a Shore boy to make: before last week, just one month shy of my 30th birthday, I'd never been clamming. I'd found clams by chance, wading with rolled-up pant legs in the Chesapeake Bay, but I'd never gone about it legitimately or gathered enough for a proper meal.

When my father suggested that we try to collect some littlenecks(1) the afternoon before Thanksgiving, I was eager to do so. I attribute my enthusiasm to natural inquisitiveness and a relish for sea foods. My dietary restrictions - I eat no meat or fish unless I catch and kill it myself - have kept fish and shellfish safe from these jaws for over three years. (I usually eat a duck following a Christmastime hunt, and I ate halibut and salmon I caught in Alaska in 2004, but my diet has been strictly vegetarian otherwise. You'll understand, then, why my father's mention of clams caused me to salivate.)

The water was cool, but the afternoon unseasonably warm. The mercury climbed to 75 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-afternoon. My father and I waded into Floyd's Bay at low tide, carrying a woven wire bucket and two clam rakes. Clam rakes come in a variety of shapes and sizes; some have a built-in "clam catcher" behind the tines, while a clam hoe resembles a bent pitchfork. The rakes my father and I used that afternoon were primitive - just two pug-nosed tines set on a sturdy, weathered pole - but perfectly designed for the task at hand.

The seasoned veteran, my father turned up a dozen clams in the first ten minutes. I raked, prodded, shuffled my feet, and pushed my hand deep into the clay-like, black marl or bay mud, but failed to produce anything other than oyster shell shards and dense, slag-like mud chunks. The mud, at least, was compelling. I am curious about its sculptural potential, and might try to work with it over the Christmas holidays. Composed of decaying organic matter, it is rich with life and energy, yet this full-bodied mud is the same stuff that provokes complaints of "stink" from tourists to tidal areas. Having grown up with the smell, however, I find it nourishing.

As the tide began to move back in, my fortune changed. In the space of fifteen minutes, I turned up twenty clams, some of these good-sized. With each subsequent clam, I became more attuned to the practice. Drawing the rake toward me, I felt a bump distinct from the grab of oyster shell or other buried obstruction. The rake's action creates swirls of opaque silt and mud so that, once a clam is detected, you are unable to see the bottom. You must gauge where the rake struck the clam, then sink your arm into the mud to retrieve the startled mollusc.

My father told me that where one clam is found, there is sure to be another nearby. His assertion proved accurate in every instance. Why, I wonder, do these clams bury themselves as a pair, within inches of one another? Is one clam male and the other female, thereby increasing the probability of successful reproduction? If this is the case, why wouldn't the clams congregate in large beds, as do oysters? (If you have an answer to these questions, please let me know.)

That evening my mother, father and I shared a meal of clams, yams and salad. Thanks in part to the writing of Michael Pollan, literate urbanites and country folk alike know about the rewards of a meal comprised of food not purchased in a supermarket, especially foods that you bring to the table yourself. Indeed, it was a treat.

(1) The clam species my father and I harvested has many common names, including little-neck, quahog and hard clam. To clear up any confusion, one can opt to use the scientific name, Mercenaria mercenaria.

Cabin at Heron's Foot, Eastern Shore of Virginia; November 2007

Riotous Colors and the Cabin at Heron's Foot:

Generally speaking, low-lying, humid areas offer less in the way of dramatic seasonal change than do more elevated regions. This is a principal reason that New England and the Northwest are renowned for their autumnal explosion of yellows, oranges and reds whereas the deciduous trees of the southeastern United States often bypass the colorful phase.

As a child on the Eastern Shore, I was accustomed to snowless winters, muggy summers and drab autumns. This fall, however, the peninsula was ablaze with color. Locals thank the unusually dry summer months for the leaves' display but, understandably, few area farmers are grateful. A summer drought, I'm told, results in superior fall color, but I am unable to adequately explain the biological rationale for this cause-and-effect. One could argue that the air is less humid during a drought, and the Shore's climate therefore more comparable to elevated regions, but I have also read that summer drought should dull autumnal color. Whatever the reason, the peninsula was beautifully ornamented.

At Heron's Foot, in front of one such vibrant backdrop at the western edge of a clover patch, a newly constructed cabin sits on old railroad ties. Roughly twelve by ten feet and with windows on three sides, it makes an ideal wildlife blind. Along with an aluminum table and two wooden-backed chairs, the cabin's only furniture is a low-backed armchair, in which my father spent several fall evenings watching groups of white-tailed deer feed in the clover. Although he keeps two deer decoys stored inside the cabin, he has not hunted Heron's Foot this season and, as far as I know, has no intention to.

I will not return to the Shore to live, but my parents know that I will keep Heron's Foot. I plan to visit the property regularly, until I am no longer able and, then, legal restrictions willing, I will be buried there, naked in the bay mud. Until it is time for that final sleep, the cabin is a place I can lay my head at night.

View from inside Impoundment Blind; Heron's Foot, Eastern Shore of Virginia; November 2007

Remembering Amanda:
This morning on Chincoteague Island
I watched
as hundreds of white snow geese
lifted themselves all in one, swift motion.
It made me think of death.
The white bodies were like souls -
moving on.
And I know the hunters pay no attention to this,
this purity and this unity,
but what about my soul?
When I slowly begin to rise
and think of freedom
is there one that can separate me
from my state
and my being?"
The poem above, entitled "Snow Geese," was written by a high school classmate of mine who, in the summer between our sophomore and junior years, was killed in a car crash. She was my first "almost girlfriend." I remember the awkward exchange all too well, and better still what followed. I trotted haltingly away until I was out of sight, then broke into a run, flush with the rage and shame of rejection.

I also recall with clarity the evening, nearly two years later, that I received a phone call from another classmate. "Reiger, you'll never guess what happened!," he said, giggling oddly. I didn't understand why the caller was giggling or why he proceeded to describe Amanda's death as "fucked up." "Fucked up," in our parlance, was a bad grade on a term paper or a malicious prank played on a friend; a tragic death was not equivalent. But we were fifteen and sixteen years old; what seemed to me an unacceptably cavalier reaction to the death of a peer was displacement behavior, a way for my friend to cope with the awful news.

And I was guilty of no less. Several months later, during Amanda's memorial service, "Snow Geese" was read by one of her parents. I stood in a chapel filled with mourning friends, family, teachers and other students, yet I obsessed over Amanda's assertion that "hunters pay no attention to" the symbolic and aesthetic significance of snow geese. What did Amanda know about hunters?, I thought bitterly. This is a bad poem. Why are all these people treating it as something profound? Looking at the mourners' faces, I felt contemptuous and disconnected. We were assembled in a church, yet an interventionist God, the deity all those good Episcopalians claimed to believe in, would have granted Amanda a long life, time for her poetry to flourish and for me to tell her, in person, that some hunters do understand.

I thought of that service this Saturday morning past, just before sunrise. My father and I walked down a path bracketed by pine groves, the grass underfoot blue-white under the startling Beaver Moon. As we approached the Heron's Foot impoundment pond we heard the quiet mutter and chatter of snows, but we were unprepared for the sight that confronted us when we emerged from the trees.

Several hundred snow geese stood in the shallow, partially frozen pond, feeding and conversing. Their white bodies glowed electric, reflecting so much moonlight that my father and I stopped short. The birds were a pearl mass surrounded by an orchid darkness.

After our pupils contracted and we resumed walking, the geese nearest us showed signs of alarm. They craned their long necks and their voices rose in volume and pitch. At fifteen yards, a quarter of the flock took wing, clamoring into the crisp morning sky.

"Jesus, that's beautiful," my father whispered.

I exhaled.

I think of Amanda when I watch snows take flight, and what better circumstance than under a full November moon, minutes before the sun cracks purple over the marsh cedars?

Armed only with a camera, I was not hunting that morning, but I lay my father's side-by-side and shells on the roof of the blind and passed him the burlap decoy sacks. We waded into the impoundment to set the rig. Snow goose down floated on the surface like cotton.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis) on estuary at sunset; Heron Hope, Eastern Shore of Virginia; November 2007

Photo credits: All photographs, Hungry Hyaena, 2007
For more pictures visit the Flickr set.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Posting Notice

View of Looking Glass Island; Heron's Foot, Eastern Shore of Virginia; November 2007

HH posts may be infrequent through mid-January. A few art write-ups are likely and a post about my Thanksgiving visit to the Eastern Shore of Virginia is forthcoming, but I'm back-logged in the studio and at the day job.

Plus, December means you're expected to drink mulled wine or spiked eggnog every other night, write three dozen greeting cards, wrap presents, stand in long lines at the USPS, and so on. I enjoy the season immensely, but I could do without those associated torments.

Anyway, I hope everyone had a terrific Thanksgiving (or long weekend if you don't celebrate the holiday).

Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lenore Malen and Jose Alvarez

Link over to the Artcal Zine to read an essay of mine, "Representations of the Occult: On Jose Alvarez and Lenore Malen."

I feel that both artists deserve more critical consideration. Visit Lenore Malen's site here, and learn more about Jose Alvarez here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

That Time of The Cycle

"And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry 'Content!' to that that grieves my heart.
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
I'll drown more sailors than the Mermaid shall.
I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk.
I'll play the orator as well as Nestor.
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,
And, like Simon, take another Troy.
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?"

- Act III, Scene ii; Shakespeare's "Henry the VI"
Photo credit: image ripped from AFSCME site

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Gallery Report: November 7th, 2007

Kristin Lucas at Postmasters Gallery

Laura Parnes
"Untitled for Refresh"
Part of Kristin Lucas' "Before and After" series
Inkjet print on paper
8.5 x 11 inches

Postmasters: Kristin Lucas' most recent solo exhibition at Postmasters, "If Then Else End It," is divided into two parts. Occupying the main gallery space are three forgettable light box portraits and a dual-channel video installation entitled, "Whatever Your Mind Can Conceive." The video is projected onto billboard-like panels, and the wood grain grants Lucas' desert setting an impressionistic cast that complements the subdued, if uncertain tone of the work. Were the light boxes and video the sum of the exhibition, I'd have little more to write, but the work in Postmasters' back gallery is exceptional.

Kristin Lucas
(Detail of) "Refresh"
Six sections: Newspaper announcement, two pencil drawings by Joe McKay, two court transcripts, decree changing name
11 x 130 inches

Earlier this year, Lucas decided that she should "refresh" herself in a manner equivalent to a web page. She applied for a legally binding name change, trading Kristin Sue Lucas for...Kristin Sue Lucas. The same, but new. The cardinal work in the back gallery is a framed record of Lucas' application process, during which she made a case for the unorthodox change to a baffled, but surprisingly accommodating judge. Her remarks are sincere and unabashedly romantic.
"I consider this act to be a poetic gesture and a birthday gift.
I am ready for an update.
An intervention into my life.
I am here to be born again as myself, or at the very least, the
most current version of myself.
I am prepared to let go.
To empty my cache.
To refill the screen with the same information.
To reboot knowing that the new Kristin Lucas may experience a tremendous sense of loss, detachment, or disappointment, or joy.
Kristin Lucas is ready for change.
And Kristin Lucas awaits her replacement."
She had me at "empty my cache."

Paul Ramierez Jonas
"before and after"
Part of Kristin Lucas' "Before and After" series
Inkjet prints on paper
8.5 x 11 inches each

At first glance (or read), Lucas's project seems simple, but the ramifications - spiritual, psychological, ontological, and, most importantly, comical - are complex and wonderful. Biologically speaking, our cells are "refreshing" themselves constantly. The individual you are today is not exactly the same individual as yesterday and is, in fact, a totally "different" human being than existed a decade prior. Moreover, our personalities are malleable, affected by the sum of experience between Then and Now. (Does anyone really believe that they were the same person at 20 as they are at 30?) Lucas' gesture marks a point in the channel of these natural processes and, in doing so, she provides herself with something akin to tabula rasa. Sure, "Refresh" is funny - I spent most of my time in Postmasters grinning or chuckling - but it is also radical and profound.

"Refresh" is only one of the works in the back gallery. The bulk of the space is filled with "Before and After" portraits of Kristin (old and new) executed by other artists. Lucas' decision to enlist the services of others is wise; it adds a collaborative element to a project that could otherwise seem excessively self-centered. Naturally, some of the paired works are more successful than others, but the installation comes off well when considered as a whole.

As I left Postmasters, it occurred to me that the old Kristin conceived of the "Refresh" project. Will the new Kristin be so clever?


Catherine Ulitsky at 511 Gallery

Catherine Ulitsky
"Hadley Starlings (Flock #2), 2006"
Acrylic and oil on photograph
30 x 40 inches

511 Gallery
: The European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), the subject of Catherine Ulitsky's "Flock" works, is popular among artists with an interest in natural history. The species is one of the world's most successful habitat generalists, capable of occupying almost any available (or exploitable) ecological niche. Sturnus vulgaris was brought to these shores in 1890 by a well-meaning, if imprudent drug manufacturer named Eugene Schiefflin. Schiefflin was a member of the Acclimation Society of North America, a group that dedicated itself to accelerating the geographical exchange of species.

Supposedly, Schiefflin intended to establish locally all bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Fortunately the druggist was unsuccessful, but the House sparrow (Passer domesticus) and European starling took to this fair city and, then, to the rest of North America. Because the species is now so familiar, the bird has become a poster child for "invasive," "alien," or introduced species and the starling's modest celebrity in the contemporary art world is principally a result of its ubiquity.

Catherine Ulitsky
"Hadley Starlings (Flock #9), 2006"
Acrylic and gouache on photograph
22 3/4 x 19 inches

The technical name for a flock of starlings is murmuration, a reference to the astonishing sound a large flock makes as it swoops, turns, and pours through the air. Over the years, I've many times stood rapt as several thousand starlings moved over me, trading from one Virginia field to another. When a murmuration changes course, usually quite suddenly, the combined effect of the sound and sight can lead to a kind of sensual overload, sometimes causing me to sway, unbalanced. The sky is for a moment revealed as an ocean, the world turned over, birds schooling through the ether.

In and of themselves, Ulitsky's photographs of small flocks of starlings are unremarkable, but the pictures are made elegant by the addition of painted lines that connect each individual to other members of the flock. The results illustrate how variable a murmuration can be - for contrast, consider the more regimented skein of the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) - but also imply the existence of an innate, natural geometry. This geometry need not be literal; the looking itself is what matters.

The artist describes her projects as "reciprocal [ways] to continually reinvigorate my own appreciation for what is around me." With this series of pictures, she reinvigorates mine, too.


Photo credits: Kriston Lucas images, Hungry Hyaena, 2007; Catherine Ulitsky images courtesy the artist and 511 Gallery

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Plagens Questions

Per the suggestion made by Kriston Capps, the writer/editor responsible for Grammar Police and a contributor to Washington's City Paper, I've below answered a number of questions originally posed by artist and former Newsweek critic Peter Plagens to Regina Hackett, Tyler Green, Jeff Jahn, Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof, and Edward Winkleman as part of an Art In America round table discussion about the role of art blogs.

There's been a lot of hullabaloo about this topic of late, and I have some reservations about adding my voice to it. Still, I was flattered to be called out by Capps, and so figured I'd give it a go.

What's the purpose of your blog?

Although I created Hungry Hyaena with the rather modest goal of improving my critical writing skills, "purpose" isn't a word that I like in this context. I have no mission statement or fiscal goal. Initially, HH focused on environmental issues but, an artist, compulsive reader, and part-time space cadet, I found myself wanting to write about a wider range of subjects.

Over two years later, I've come to regard HH as a record of my creative inputs. That is to say, the collected poetry, ramblings, reviews, and photographs posted here are a sampling of the questions (and sometimes answers, transitory though they are) that consume the hours when I'm unable to be in the studio. As my father, a freelance writer, says, "I'm always writing, even when I'm chopping firewood or picking up mail at the post office." So it is with any creative person, I believe, and the scribbles in my notebooks that don't become drawings, paintings, or videos, often turn into blurbs or essays. My exhibition "reviews," too, are really projections of my own obsessions.

What are the boundaries of your blog?

I'll steal from Bill Gusky here. "Whatever interests me enough to write about at any given time."

Tyler has cited Joy Garnett's Newsgrist blog as doing a great job of "placing art within a sociocultural and political context." What I see on NewsGrist is a magazine-like interspersing of short profiles, exhibition reviews, op-ed pieces on how other people are covering things, and Village Voice–like political takes. But what does Tyler's comment mean to you, and why are blogs in general better positioned than print to do what he describes?

They aren't. Blogs are poorly positioned relative to "print." As mainstream print publications, particularly newspapers, begin to incorporate the op-ed blogging approach on their websites, I think unaffiliated blogs - that is, those not operating under the auspices of a corporation or conglomerate - will continue to lose an already fractured audience.

Yet blogs do have a leg up in at least one respect. Unaffiliated bloggers need not worry about copyright laws or other use restrictions and are therefore able to sample from a broad array of sources without obtaining permission via "the proper channels." As a proponent of Creative Commons, I find this promising. In time, perhaps, our major "print" sources will look more kindly on works (or reproductions) intended for the public domain. That may be the greatest legacy of the World Wide Web's early years; in any case, blogging highlights the possibilities.

I don't think the strength of Joy's blog has much to do with any of this, however. A newspaper blog could accomplish what Newsgrist does...if the moving forces at the paper were ready and willing to do so. But the larger media outlets remain reluctant to blur the imaginary line between art and politics because their advertisers are uncomfortable with erasing these distinctions. Let's face it, the majority of Americans are uncomfortable with that proposal, too. If a major newspaper began printing "Arts" articles alongside reports from its war correspondents or financial columns, the "sociocultural and political context" significance of art would be made available to a wider audience. At the very least, it would encourage a connecting of the dots. Sure, some of the best blogs, including Newsgrist, are doing this now, but art bloggers are kidding themselves if they believe they're being read by anyone but members of their own clique.

Why can't blogs go further, to the point where there's hardly any discernible difference between artist and critic/commentator, blog and work of art?

Like most of the bloggers who have answered this question before me, I think bloggers can and do "go further." In fact, as mentioned above, I view my "reviews" of other artists' work as part of my own creative output. They are extensions of my own ideas and concerns. In an Art World so determined to provide viewers with wall texts and artist statements, I don't see why a literate artist's blog shouldn't be considered part of their greater project.

What scope and degree of editorial control do you exercise over your blog?

All, I suppose, those I sometimes ask more tech-savvy friends for template assistance. I don't think I've ever credited them, however. My bad. (And the original title banner was designed by my friend, Frank Castaneda. )

What about posting comments from readers, and what about anonymity?

I invite comments and usually respond to all of them, even the toss-offs, but I don't often read the comments section of other blogs anymore. I used to...and I also used to comment much more often. Sometimes fantastic conversations take place in the comment section of, for example, Edward's blog, but usually I find that the exchanges are soon dominated by one or two belligerent voices. The conversations become boring as a result. It's a shame.

As for anonymous comments, I don't really care unless the individual becomes particularly nasty. Even then, they're entitled to say what they like, and to do so anonymously. I used to get angry when people posted something hateful, but now I generally find it amusing.

What's "trolling," and why don't some of you allow it?

The term refers to those anonymous commenters who flame you (to stand out) and do so with the intention of drawing you (and your other readers) to another site (via a provided link). It's annoying but, other than deleting the offending comment, I'm not sure I understand how bloggers prevent them. In any case, it rarely happens on a blog with as few readers as HH has.

Is trolling really so easily identified and universally bad? Is having posters register a solution?

I'm not really sure. I don't consider it particularly egregious if the comment made by the "troller" is at all relevant.

Of course, it's now considered a federal offense. Technically, then, no blogger should "allow" it, but I'm opposed to having posters/commencers register. This is a free and open forum, more or less, and should remain so.

What about liability coverage?

"Oh, brother!," exclaimed Charlie Brown.

What's the economic model of your blog?

HH is free and easy, and generates no revenue, although I recently began participating in an art blog experiment that may offer some slim returns. (See upper right, just below the banner.)

But as regular readers of HH know, my thoughts on income of any sort are complicated. Though I'm not a traditional socialist, I distrust free-market capitalism and, in an ideal world, I'd opt for an alternative social/economic structure. But ecology and economics are forever works in progress, so we'll see what HH. to the blogosphere at large, and to the rest of it.

How do you see your blog's relation to the established print art media?

My answer depends on the day.

At the moment, I feel that HH is something different from print art media, that it is a complement to my artwork, more art than art media.

Tomorrow I might feel that the blog is a complement to the art media.

Whatever. Has anyone seen Comet Holmes? I saw it over the W train in Queens tonight. It's bright enough to punch through even the city glow.

How do you attract readers/posters other than by word of mouth?

Actually, I don't much talk about the blog. When I started HH, I planned to have only a few friends as regular readers, but people started reading and returning.

But the HH "audience" remains small. On an average week, I'll have between 800 - 1500 readers. When I write a post that is linked by a more prominent blog(s), the numbers jump markedly.

In general, is blog art criticism more open and liberal, and print criticism more closed and conservative?

No, although sometimes bloggers are more slash-and-burn in their criticism, likely because they are less self-censorious (or less hemmed in by an editor).

Some people say that there's a dearth of art criticism at length on blogs. Is this true? If so, does it have more to do with reading on a computer in general, or with art criticism in particular?

I disagree with Bill Gusky's assessment that, "Blogs are fast and to the point. If you can't say it in a few paragraphs, it's not blog-worthy."

I often write long (some would say long-winded) essays for HH. As I said earlier, I'm reluctant to call it "art criticism," but the question still stands. Would I read such long posts on other blogs? Of course, though, if the essay is good, I'll print it. I know, I know...I'm a "green" hypocrite, but I can't stand reading on the computer. As Anthony Grafton wrote in a recent issue of The New Yorker, "the form in which you encounter a text can have a huge impact on how you use it." The principal reason that I print lengthy articles or posts is that I annotate most everything I read. If I find that the text is particularly satisfying, I save it in my ever-expanding files, into which I delve when looking for a reference to this or that subject. Reading an essay on the computer screen doesn't allow me to record my thoughts.

Also, I'm a paper sniffer. I can't make it through more than two pages without taking a moment to appreciate the paper's scent. There are a wide range of smells dependent on the age and the chemicals used in production.

So, I'm not at all surprised that some blog users don't want to read lengthy posts on the screen, but I see no reason why we shouldn't print them, excepting for the nagging eco-guilt. (At least print double-sided and recycle the paper.)

I wish I could say, as Kriston Capps did, that "I can't actually afford to write things on my blog that I could get paid to write." Then maybe I'd save longer posts for publication and get paid by the word, but I'm only rarely paid for what I write. If nothing else, the blog offers me a venue to "save" ramblings that would eventually be deleted during a computer hard drive cleaning.

Art magazines come out once a month. Newspaper art reviews usually appear once a week. Blogs appear more or less daily, and sometimes have updates by the hour. Do you think that the faster pace of blogs will start to affect the pace of art-making.

Absolutely not.

I'm not sure how one defines "the pace of art-making," anyway, but if it is accelerating, it is following the same cultural rivers that blogs are.

Tyler just said that there's more good art being made by more artists in more places than at any time in history. Is this true? And if so, what's the reason?

I think so, yes.

I'd point to four reasons: the "dialogue" is more international and culturally inclusive; "first-worlders" of a certain means are brought up to believe that they are each capable of achieving great things; there are more people on Earth than ever before; intense concentrations of wealth lead to greater luxury spending and art, as product, is luxury (even though it should not be, in spirit, impetus, or intention).

Reviewing those four reasons for the surplus of art making, the parallel between our contemporary standing and that of the late Roman Empire is apparent. Our over-extended "global economy" and "military industrial complex," too, will collapse. It will be curious to see what role artists play when, once again, we are called to task for the church(es) and warlord run states. What will Jeff Koons be in that world's memory? Will Damien Hirst's stunning skull be exalted, and for what reason?

Do blogs help correct the geographical bias in print art criticism, i.e., the tendency to think that most of the important stuff happens in New York or Los Angeles, and the difficulty of art outside those places to get national attention?

Do they help correct the bias? Yes, but only in the context of the blogosphere.

Do they help correct the tendency "to think that most of the important stuff happens in New York or Los Angeles?" For the people living outside of the cultural meccas, absolutely. In fact, part of the reason I began considering a move away from NYC is that I believed I could stay abreast of the art world via the blogs (much more so than by reading the major art magazines, most of which I have little interest in, in any case). Unfortunately, I think most people installed in either of those two cities still believe that anywhere else is no man's land, a faraway place off the cultural radar. This attitude might yet change. I hope so.

One index of a city's gravity as an art center is young artists—perhaps recent MFAs—from elsewhere coming to set up shop. Is that happening in Philadelphia and Portland?

I've heard that this is the case, particularly in Philly, Portland, Richmond (Virginia), Seattle, and Houston, but I can't really speak to it one way or the other.

Is there any constructively negative edge to your blogging and, if so, what is it?

I don't understand this question.

Let's throw something back into the mix: naked human ambition. Unknown bloggers want to be little bloggers; little bloggers want to be bigger bloggers; and bigger bloggers want to be called, as is Tyler's Modern Art Notes, "the most influential of all the visual-arts blogs" by the Wall Street Journal.

I don't think of myself as a blogger. I write stuff and post it on a blog because it is an easy mode of dissemination. Do I want my art (writing included) to reach an audience? Of course. Would I like that audience to be large? Yes. I make it to communicate, after all.

Where will your blog be in three to five years?

At the same URL if Blogger doesn't get bought out. Otherwise, dunno.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wanting Sumptuous Heaven

No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.
But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

- Robert Bly
Photo credit: Evening sky above Heron's Foot, Eastern Shore of Virginia; Hungry Hyaena, 2006

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Blogging Brouhaha

I'm embarrassed by the art blogging community's reaction to Charlie Finch's recent rant on ArtNet. Why respond at all, especially if the reaction is as vitriolic as the rant that precipitated it?

In any case, who has time to keep up with all the art blogs anymore? There are hundreds worth reading, but there are also thousands of books and magazines to be cracked and untold hours of living away from the computer to be done, including those spent in - oh, yeah! - the studio. Shrug off Finch quietly and get on with things.

In other art blogging news, one of my recent drawings is featured in the Pittsburgh installment of "The Blogger Show." That exhibition, at Digging Pitt Gallery, opens on November 10th, with a reception on December 8th.

Tonight, however, the NYC installment of the show opens at Agni Gallery. A number of artists who blog (and well) are included in the show. I plan on stopping by to check out the work.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Belated Sermon

A few days before I flew south to Brazil, an acquaintance asked me why I would choose to use my limited vacation time volunteering for manual labor. I was distracted by last minute travel preparations, and my answer was inadequate and perfunctory, but I recalled her question this week and decided that I should address it.

We live, as we're so often reminded, in an age of global interconnectivity. Every year, millions of people (of a certain means) visit far flung places. Recreation and relaxation are their priorities. Excluding work-related trips, contemporary travel is less about the destination than it is escape; we flee our mundane existence. Although this attitude is an indication of pervasive ennui, there's nothing wrong with taking a break from the hectic schedules and frivolous intrigues of contemporary living. Indeed, it's essential that we find time to enjoy life, but we needn't travel to do so; we can center our lives without leaving home. This approach is sometimes called a "stay-cation."

Furthermore, although most people think of a vacation as an opportunity to take stock and de-stress, it's usually anything but. We travel to places where the local "recreation" feeds our consumer impulses, and "relaxation" is centered around food and drink. After all, we associate the word "vacation" with overfull shopping bags on the Champs-Elysees or mojitos on the beach. The vacation is, above all else, a recess from guilt. We sleep too much, eat too much, spend too much...and revel in the excess. Away from our community, we discard our moral compass. What happens in Costa Rica stays in Costa Rica.

Yet some of us insist, sincerely, that we don't travel for escapist reasons and, furthermore, that it is irresponsible to do so. We cite as our impetus the geography and culture of the chosen destination. The trouble is, you don't "know" a place by sight-seeing. A guided stroll away from the cruise ship or a double-decker bus tour only superficially acquaint the tourist with the place they visit. To be fair, you don't really know a place until you live there, and for some years at that.

Unfortunately, none of us has enough years to live in all the places we'd like to "know," so visits have to suffice. The best way to make the visit (and the place) memorable is to participate more fully in local life. And what better way to participate than to work alongside people who do live there?

Consider, too, that the infrastructure international travel requires - the true price, if you will - necessitates that the conscientious traveler give something back to the destination community. In other words, travel isn't just about your having fun or relaxing (again, you can do this at home), but about being exposed to a new place, new people, and new ideas.

Groups like the Sierra Club, Earthwatch, Global Volunteers, and others(1) offer travel/work opportunities. More people should take advantage of these trips. Volunteers interact directly with the local culture and assist with valuable work. As a result, the trip is more meaningful (and, as an added bonus, it costs less than conventional tourism).

(1) Visit the travel page at for an impressive list of volunteer travel opportunities.

Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2007