Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is it art?

Ceal Floyer
"Monochrome Till Receipt (White)"
Supermarket receipt
Dimensions variable

London's Tate Britain recently purchased a curious piece of conceptual art for the Tate's permanent collection. Artist Ceal Floyer's work is, in fact, a grocery receipt, and the museum's acquisition of the piece is generating a wide range of response from the greater art community.

From The Daily Mail:
"Pakistani-born Miss Floyer, 41, who graduated from Goldsmith's art college in London in 1994, describes the work as a modern still life where objects are imagined rather than shown.

[...] Exhibition curator Andrew Wilson [...] called the piece 'an imaginative leap of faith from the daily drudge of going to the supermarket to the idea of the domestic still life painting, but also with the supposed purity of Modernist monochrome abstract painting'."
Read the full article here.

In our celebrity-obsessed world, any press, as the saying goes, is good press...but is Ceal Floyer's receipt art? And, if so, is it good art?

You make the call.

Photo credit: photograph, copyright CA; ripped from The Daily Mail website

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Back from Florida

Alexander Springs, Ocala National Forest, Florida

My trip to central Florida was terrific. Two friends and I spent our days exploring some wonderful state parks and preserves around the city of Gainesville, in the Ocala National Forest, and around the town of Lake Placid. Disposed toward more temperate or even cool climates, I'm certain that I sweat off a few pounds in the damp Florida swelter, but the abundant tropical wildlife made up for the mild discomfort.

Exploring Lake June-In-Winter Scrub State Park; Lake Placid, Florida

Among the trip's wildlife highlights were two gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus), one Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti), one yellow rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata), a Great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus), a Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis), a Northern parula (Parula americana), a number of Black-bellied whistling ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis), two Summer tanagers (Piranga rubra), and a pair of Florida scrub jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens).

I've included four "critter" photographs below. More pictures from the trip can be viewed in my Florida 2009 Flickr set.

Yellow Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata); Devils Millhopper State Park; Gainesville, Florida

Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus); San Felasco Hammock; Alachua, Florida

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis); Paynes Prairie Preserve; Gainesville, Florida

Florida cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti); Paynes Prairie Preserve; Gainesville, Florida

Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vacation Notice

As of Wednesday, June 17th, Hungry Hyaena will be "out of the office" for a little over a week. I'm heading to central Florida, that "open-air zoo," to visit two good friends.

Our home base will be Gainesville, but I'm hoping that we'll spend most of our time in Paynes Prairie Preserve and the Ocala National Forest, where we will be birding, herping and taking plenty of photographs.

I also hope to find some time to catch up on a little editing, reading and writing.

Until I return, I wish all of you all well!

Photo credit: Florida Green Water Snake (Nerodia floridana) in Paynes Prairie Preserve, image ripped from TomSpinker's Flickr photostream

Passing on our gifts

Jason Middlebrook
"The Endless Outpouring Of Support"
Acrylic, ink and pencil on paper
57 7/8 x 70 7/8 inches framed

For a number of years, friends have recommended that I read Lewis Hyde's The Gift. I'm finally getting around to doing so and, just forty pages into the text, I see why friends thought the book would so appeal to me. Hyde picks apart the contemporary market, particularly as it relates to commerce in art objects and other creative "commodities." In the introduction, he writes,
"A work of art is a gift, not a commodity. [...] Every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in a age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities?

Every culture offers its citizens an image of what it is to be a man or woman of substance. There have been times and places in which a person came into his or her social being through the dispersal of his gifts, the 'big man' or 'big woman' being the one through whom the most gifts flowed. The mythology of the market society reverses the picture: getting rather than giving is the mark of the substantial person, and the hero is 'self-possessed, 'self-made.' So long as these assumptions rule, a disquieting sense of triviality, of worthlessness even, will nag the man or woman who labors in the service of a gift and whose products are not adequately described as commodities.


A man in another tribe that [anthropologist] Wendy James has studied says, in speaking of the money he was given at the marriage of his daughter, that he will pass it on rather than spend it himself. Only, he puts it this way: 'If I receive money for the children that God has given me, I cannot eat it. I must give it to others.'"
Reading the last bit of the above excerpt, I couldn't help but think of my charitable sales model. The income that I receive from the sale of art objects I've produced is fundamentally no different from the tribe representative's "money for the children that God has given me." In this respect, it is not merely ethical, but also natural that some significant percentage of each sale be passed on, invested in turn in the good works of a non-profit organization or another conscientious individual.

Hyde points out that this pass-it-on approach is in keeping with the cycles of nature. Indeed, the words "ecology" and "economy" are etymologically connected for good reason. As I explained in an HH post in August of 2005,
"'Ecology' translates as 'study of the household' and 'economy' as 'management of the household.' Any good scientist (or thoughtful citizen, for that matter) should study the household before managing it. Thanks in no small part to my father's influence, I began to see many ecological issues as economic concerns (and vice versa). Given my environmentalist leanings, I suppose my [engagement] with economic theory was inevitable. It was also inevitable, or at least quite likely, that I would become disenchanted with our current boom-and-bust paradigm."
Moreover, Hyde points out that "the language of gift exchange has procreation at its root. Generosity comes from genere (Old Latin: beget, produce), and the generations are its consequence, as are the gens, the clans." Indeed, by damming wealth in concentrated pools, the demon market of our capitalistic culture halts the cycle of generations. The natural flow stopped, dispossessed peoples are condemned to hunger for physical nourishment and the wealthy are condemned to hunger for nourishment of the soul.

As Hyde stresses, "what is given away feeds again and again, while what is kept feeds only once and leaves us hungry." Or, as my mom always puts it, "Love and live with an open hand."

Image credit: Jason Middlebrook image ripped from the Sara Meltzer Gallery website

Friday, June 12, 2009

An Ocean Ethic

Corey Arnold
Chromira C-print

The son of an avid saltwater fisherman, many of my summer days were spent offshore. Departing the Wachapreague, Virginia, docks at 5 AM, the sky broke pink as my father carefully piloted his Boston Whaler through the salt marsh channels. Upon reaching the ocean inlet, we'd begin a thirty or forty mile run toward the sun-soaked eastern horizon. By 8 AM, we'd be trolling for yellowfin and bluefin tuna, dolphin ("mahimahi"), amberjack, or various mackerel species. If that technique proved unsuccessful (or if my father's fishy hunches proved wrongheaded), we'd move west, closer to shore, so that we could bottom-fish for black sea bass, spot, and weakfish over scuttled World War II ships and defeated German U-boats.

Compared to my father, I was unenthusiastic about salt-water fishing. I much preferred fishing on a pond, fly or spin casting into "honey holes," those storied pockets where the giant largemouth bass, perch and bluegill dwell. The relative solitude and meditative character of freshwater fishing appeals to my temperament. I associate the leisurely activity with the soft-spoken stroke of the canoe paddle; the rhythmic, almost ritualized casting of a fly or lure; the temperate spring breezes that lick my bare forearms as they do the banks' willow and maple trunks; the ecstatic chatter of a kingfisher. Above all, I associate it with a sense of universal benevolence. This, in stark contrast to fishing offshore, where Nature's benevolence is tempered by ambivalent and awesome forces.

Still, I enjoyed being on the open ocean. I loved the bounce and glide of my father's Whaler as it motored over the Atlantic chop, and I was delighted by the otherworldliness of ocean life: shadowy hammerheads passing through depth-piercing sun rays; dolphins propelling themselves skyward to get a better look at us; the surprising company of terns and gulls so far from land; loggerhead sea turtles basking on the ocean's surface; hundreds of cownose rays flying just beneath the water's surface. These images, and many others, stay with me. The ocean is a mysterious, thrilling place.

Sadly, it is also a threatened place. The most dire reports forecast that the ocean's fish species will be depleted by mid-century. If that should come to pass, the commercial seafood industry will no longer be viable and, more seriously, our world's biodiversity and ecological integrity will have been dealt an awful blow. Because of my latter day hunter-gatherer approach to fish and meat consumption, the only shellfish I consume are those few blue crabs and clams that I pull from the Eastern Shore's tidal estuaries. I rarely fish these days, so fish species are off my menu altogether.

Food writer Mark Bittman would likely approve of my vegetarian-unless-I-kill-or-catch-it ethic. In a recent New York Times article, "Loving Fish, This Time With the Fish in Mind" (June 9, 2009), Bittman argues for a more conscientious approach to seafood.
"In the meantime, I'm careful. I don’t make excuses, like 'There's cod in the market, so someone is catching it somewhere,' or 'If I don't buy it, someone else will,' or 'This chef serves local food, so he must serve sustainable fish.' If I’m going to eat fish, it must be consciously and thoughtfully.

My approach - which I readily admit is a work in progress and is as imperfect as my approach to all foods - goes something like this:

- I don’t buy or order the common fish I can easily keep in mind as being super-troubled — most cod, for example, or bluefin tuna, most species of shark and skate. When in doubt, I move on.

- With rare exceptions, I don't buy or order farm-raised fish, except clams and oysters. Farmed mussels and shrimp don’t seem to come with egregious environmental consequences, but neither tastes like much, either.

- I don’t eat fish as often as I once did. (I don’t promote eating it as I once did, either.)

- And I keep re-evaluating these 'rules,' and thinking about them. The 'safe' lists are difficult to understand, impossible to remember and change frequently. When the fishing of a species is well managed, it can recover and become sustainable. When it's not, the stocks of that fish disappear, sometimes quickly.

I’m probably not going to stop eating fish. And fortunately I don’t have to, since there are species that have never been depleted - squid and mackerel, for example - and those that have recovered, like haddock and Maine lobster.

It’s improbable that I’ll eat in a perfectly sustainable manner, even though I probably eat one-third as much fish as I did a few years ago. I’m trying not to let perfect become the enemy of good, and I’m trying to find a place that feels comfortable. That place is to see eating fish as a treat. I won’t eat it daily or in huge quantities, but occasionally, with appreciation. The days of 'see it/eat it' are gone."
Every educated eater should do the same, and each of us should strive to educate ourselves further. It's the ethical thing to do.

Time and evolution will march on, heedless of our nostalgic and preservationist impulses, but their ambivalence doesn't mean we've license to shrug and capitulate to the selfish wonts of the average consumer. Future generations should bear witness to the wonderful abundance that we have known and, to a lesser degree, still know. If we eat with an open mind and heart, perhaps that can be so.

Image credit: photograph by Corney Arnold; ripped from the artist's website

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Offerings, Tallies, Records

Christopher Reiger
"cost benefit analysis"
Pen and sumi ink, gouache, watercolor and marker on Arches paper
12 x 12 inches
"What if, while you read the last few paragraphs, something in the world has changed? What if, during the past five minutes, someone, somewhere, sent you a text? Shouldn’t you go and check?

Being addicted to the wired universe might be perfectly healthy, of course, and it’s certainly defensible beneath the triumvirate of technology, curiosity, and progress. I’m the first to admit that there’s something enchanting and invigorating about my computer. There’s magic in reading a note from a friend in Rome and clicking through Halloween pictures from New Jersey and verifying John Steinbeck’s birth date in two clicks. The Internet is indeed its own strange, blessed fountain of light.

[...I'm] not the first to wonder about all this, [...] not the first to sense that maybe our shared life is rushing by too quickly, too feverishly. [I'm] not the first to feel as if [I'm] scrambling to make [my voice] heard against an infinite and obliterating silence.

During the five days [...] I spent in the mountains, [I] saw lots of Shoshone pictographs, paintings made in caves mostly, and under overhangs: finger-painted elk and owls and dogs and triangle-bodied hunters with bows. Many of the pictographs in that area include hash marks, like rows of fence posts scratched downhill, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what these marks originally meant. Maybe they were offerings to the spirit world, or tallies of successful hunts, or records of vision quests. Maybe they were the consequence of someone sitting beside a fire and thinking happily away.

Whatever they once meant, they mean something else now. They mean memories are fragile, beliefs are tenuous, contexts are temporary. They mean nothing is stable—not mountains, not species, not cultures, not e-mail."

- Anthony Doerr, "Am I Still Here?" (from the January/February issue of Orion Magazine)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

Ocelots at the Gate!

Christopher Reiger
"between meaning and material (h.H.R.)"
Watercolor, gouache, graphite and marker on Arches paper
32 x 32 inches

Diminutive yet captivating, the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) is my favorite cat species. I've only appreciated the beautiful feline on film and in photographs, but am nonetheless impressed to near reverence. I delight in the animal; I marvel at his dappled coat as he passes through dense foliage and I am humbled by her grace and cunning gaze.

Years ago, when working at a eco-tourism tent camp on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, I had the privilege of tracking an ocelot's nighttime doings along a Pacific beach that abuts a steep jungle mountain. I didn't discover the cat, but I took great pleasure in tracing the cat's movements, and I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to commune with the creature, even in so simple a fashion.

It is with great distress, then, that I consider the plight of the ocelot and other species in the Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, a 1,034-acre preserve located at the southern tip of Texas. As proposed by the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Mexico-U.S. border fence will pass through the center of this preserve, up to a mile-and-a-half north of the actual border. Three quarters of the preserve will thereafter be inaccessible by employees of the Nature Conservancy, the organization that currently manages the property. Because the Nature Conservancy refused the USDHS buy out, they are being sued by our federal government.

In her Nature Conservancy Magazine article "Don't Fence Me Out," Jennifer Winger writes:
"Once known as the Wild Horse Desert, south Texas may support more wildlife per acre than any other habitat in North America. And although the Rio Grande Valley itself has lost more than 95 percent of its wildlife habitat, Southmost Preserve is a shining exception: Its lands and waters provide habitat for endangered species such as jaguarundis and ocelots, as well as indigo snakes, Texas tortoises and migratory birds.

But recently, this valuable habitat has been threatened by an 18-foot-tall concrete and steel fence proposed by the Department of Homeland Security. Most of the proposed 670-mile-long border fence, with segments from California to West Texas, has already been constructed, but the section slated to cut through the Conservancy’s land is on hold, pending the outcome of a legal battle.

...If the fence is built, nearly 700 acres — 75 percent of the preserve — would be trapped in a no-man’s-land between the fence and the Rio Grande, including all preserve facilities and the home of the preserve manager. The proposed fence would effectively cut off access to the native plant nursery, which is critical to reforestation efforts throughout south Texas. Additionally, the fence would sever a critical corridor for wildlife, as it could block animals from accessing protected areas to the north and freshwater resources to the south."
Contemplating the myopic vision of the USDHS, I recalled an earlier HH post that questioned that morality of building a border fence. In light of this recent news from Texas, I've decided to republish "Border (Bio)diversity (of opinion)" today.


The Robert Smithson in me is bemused by international borders, particularly those boundaries that are not physically demarcated, lines that exist only in cartography and our collective political imagination. Last night, I contemplated a striking black-and-white photograph of the Mexico-U.S. border. The image was dominated by a rural "vehicle barrier" fence (similar to the one shown above), far removed from an official border checkpoint or crossing. In the desert of the American Southwest, this fence draws an arbitrary line in wire and steel.

It struck me as an emblem of humanity's absurdly tenuous existence, a reminder that our species is an insignificant mote in an incomprehensibly tremendous weave. As the artist Carl Buell wrote in the comments section of a recent HH post,
"With every change in sea level and shoreline, with the raising or eroding of every mountain range, with every changing weather pattern, life spreads out as it can and comes into contact with new environments, opportunities and hazards...As I get older (than dirt), I find myself starting to think like the hills themselves. Some day after eroding and washing out to sea, I’ll be a hill again."
Indeed, each of us (and, eventually, our species) will be reconstituted, and our arbitrary borders, those lines in the mud of space-time, will be erased. In this respect, the border fence is a healthy reminder of our existential folly, but it also reveals humanity's darker inclinations. We build fences, after all, to divide "us" from "them," the demonized "other."

The photograph that inspired this post was printed in the most recent issue of Wildlands Connection, the Wildlands Project newsletter. It accompanied an article about wildlife bottlenecks at the Mexico-U.S. border. The Wildlands Project's mission is to create vast, uninterrupted linkages, known as wildlife corridors, that will extend from Canada into Mexico (on the Rockies spine) and from Canada into Florida (on the Appalachian spine). The U.S.-Mexico border fence is a major obstacle to the organization's first goal.

Yet physical barricades are but one of the obstacles that ambitious conservationists face. Consider wildlife trade legislation that protects species in one country, but not another, adjacent nation. If strict laws prohibit the trapping or hunting of a species in China, for example, but not in neighboring Mongolia, is the Chinese legislation effectively addressing species welfare (particularly when Chinese citizens are paying top dollar to have the killed contraband imported)? Similar issues haunt conservation efforts the world over.

The humanitarian and social concerns that ethically-minded conservationists must take into account present a more nuanced hurdle. Environmental groups in the European Union are warring with one another about how best to create the legislative and physical infrastructure necessary for sustainable energy development. How can you raise thousands of wind turbines without hindering bird migration, ruining aesthetics, or plopping towers in the backyards of folks too poor and disenfranchised to protest?

If the various interest groups in the EU, one of the most environmentally progressive governing bodies in the world, are at odds, is it realistic to expect conservation to become a truly supra-national affair? After all, the EU's concerns are petty alongside those of the southern hemisphere. Whereas Europe is a sprawl of cultivated landscape relatively lacking in biodiversity, the "Third World" represents the usually disastrous meeting of remarkable biodiversity and an exploding human population. Impressed by our terrible example, the citizens of these nations emulate the unsustainable behavior of the "First World." In order to counter the detrimental environmental effects of Third World industrialization, international legislation will face increasingly substantial challenges. The supra-national bodies can create laws, but can we enforce these laws without wielding the colonial sceptre? More critically, can we conserve biodiversity and healthy ecosystems without subjugating the rights of the humans that call the Third World home?

These questions bring me to "Climate of Fear," a recent book by the eloquent Nigerian poet, essayist and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. Though Soyinka is writing about humanity's attempt to cope with terrorism, his political thrust is applicable to all realms, and his message is clarion.
"The gray zones of moral definitions where relativity reigns and remote cause are evoked to justify the abhorrent will continue to haunt certain casts of mind. The rest will insist on the primacy of an ethical will, one that dictates that some deeds demand to be judged within an identifiable and shared moral universe, however restricted...The ethical will is the redeeming assertion that, even when all other considerations of social conduct are subjected to the fortuitous, one, an ethical core, remains inviolate."
All of our fences fail. Perhaps we should recognize in that certainty both an entropic truth and an implicit morality. Within the context of this "shared moral universe," we are impelled to remove artificial barriers, whether they are constructed to stem the natural tide of human migrations or to protect us from our enemies. No matter the justification for the boundaries we draw, they are immoral inventions. And man, it is said, is the moral animal.

Photo credit: ripped from Kris Eggle's website

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Decade On

"My friend told me that story about waiting in line for the Village Voice to come out so he could see what jobs were available. I thought that was really striking because it really wasn’t that long ago, and it’s so different from the way we do things today."
- Elizabeth Goodman
I moved to New York City in October of 1999. Through a friend, I'd secured a basement bedroom on East 7th Street, but I hadn't found a job. Like many other unemployed New Yorkers, on Wednesday mornings, the day of the paper's weekly printing, I poured over the classifieds section of the Village Voice, circling any interesting job listings in red or green ink. Three weeks after I arrived in the East Village, I enthusiastically accepted a position as an art gallery preparator.

This morning, while reading Rachel Brodsky's Flavorpill interview with Elizabeth Goodman, I recalled those uncertain, early weeks in NYC. I also marveled, like Goodman, at how very differently we conduct job searches a decade later.

Photo credit: ripped from WhoIsStan's Flickr photostream

Monday, June 01, 2009

Fogged Clarity

My artwork is included in the June issue of Fogged Clarity: An Arts Review. The Michigan-based literary and arts journal is published monthly online; print versions are released three times a year.

Executive Editor Benjamin Evans writes of the June issue,
"But for now it is the beginning of summer, so open a window and an ale and enjoy our June offering. I sit down with Joe Meno to discuss his eloquent and sensitive new novel, 'The Great Perhaps.' Jascha Kessler’s essay 'A Modest Proposal' is licentious and brilliant. Lewis and Clarke’s Lou Rogai sings about the passage of time. Poet Chris Hosea debuts and reads two dynamic new poems. Author Richard Cassone explores a day in the life of a blind child. Chicago artist Damara Kaminecki stretches form and function. And many other gifted people interpret the world, examine their heads, and make magic in multiple mediums."
The direct link to my Fogged Clarity contribution is here, but I recommend that you take time to enjoy the rest of the June issue.