Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shine Your Shoes for the Fat Lady

Just finished reading Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger.  It was a slog to get through.  It's basically two inter-related longish short-stories about the Glass Family's youngest siblings, Franny and Zooey, and how they both are trying to stay sane in a world gone mad.  But really deep down both stories are mainly about how both Franny and Zooey seem to be coming to understandings concerning the limits of spirituality and the idea that life isn't really about finding God as much as it is about finding ways to be kind. 
I know I just turned Salinger's book into a fortune-cookie.  The message he seems to want to tell us is that point-blank, however, and at the end of the day I like knowing that simplicity and kindness are Salinger's aims.  Both stories are heavy on dialog, so much so that both seem like diatribes, talk-heavy screenplays.  A poetry occurs throughout though, a vivid overreaching for meaning that has benevolence at its core.  Both Franny and Zooey are haunted by Seymour, their oldest brother who committed suicide in "A Perfect Day for Banana Fishing," one of those Salinger stories that has the innocence of a fairy tale and the bite of a docudrama.  Franny and Zooey's stories are too hefty and mouthy to reach "Banana Fishing" heights, but the phone conversation at the end of Zooey's story truly is a work of genius.  And then when all is said and done, and Z remembers Seymour telling him to "shine his shoes for the fat lady," all is forgiven.  "The Fat Lady is Christ," Zooey tells Franny, and then Franny is able to sleep. 
All that talking and complaining stops in that moment of peace unlocked by the most uncomplicated of statements:  we're all a bunch of morons.  So shut up and make do.   


Raymond Thunder-Sky volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, back in the day..

I'm always trying to figure out what I am supposed to do.  That sounds point-blank, but it isn't.  There is a huge difference between doing what you are supposed to do and figuring out what that is.  Without figuring it out and understanding reasons and consequences, what you do often becomes null and void or even worse it makes things crappier.  Case in point:  in my day-job activities I try to help people with developmental disabilities get real jobs.  It is one of the hardest things to do on Earth, but also, I think, one of the only ways people who are often shut out of life's opportunities have access to go beyond the clich├ęs and isolations we place on them as a culture.  You make a life out of all kinds of experiences and chances, and having a job with a decent wage is one of the primary ways you acquire both cultural capital and a sense of worth, not to mention friends. 

I work within a variety of systems to make this job thing happen, and most of the time the work is a great example of this quote often attributed to Einstein:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We keep providing the same kinds of services, expecting "outcomes" that matter, and when those "outcomes" don't happen we tend not to blame the system, but the situation, and kind of implicitly the people we're trying to help.  The systems for helping people with developmental disabilities are usually based on "job-readiness" models, meaning we use a lot of resources getting people "ready" for the work-world, assessments and trainings, etc. that sometimes go on for years and make up the bulk of the "logic" involved in "Employment Services."  When it comes to getting jobs, we' aren't so good.  We don't really do a lot of networking with businesses, and we don't really try to simply act as placement services, as opposed to assessment/training services.  In short, we basically prepare people to wait.  And then the waiting turns into a sort of service itself.

So what I'm trying to figure out, with the help of some really great and smart people, is how to make things happen in a straight-forward and no-BS fashion, unwinding the "same thing over and over again" into results that matter:  people employed.  Period.  

We met a month ago or so and did a sort of loose but meaningful PATH plan on how to approach changing things.  We're calling ourselves a "secret society" because we don't want it to be about us or a system or any of that.  We want it to be about what it's supposed to be about, whatever that turns out to be.  Below  is what we came up with... 

We're meeting this Tuesday at Thunder-Sky, Inc. to figure out more stuff... 

Raymond casting himself as the "Costumed Ironworker" in one of his thousands of construction site drawings.  Below:  a note Raymond jotted down to himself during one of his many job-hunts around the city.

Which brings me to:  Raymond.  He was someone with a developmental disability who craved meaningful employment.  After all is said and done about him, that was his main goal in life, and he never really achieved it.  His art-making came from that main desire, and he accrued a lot of construction-worker accouterments on his way to trying to get a construction job.  He even created his own job (a sort of on-site construction-worker/conceptual artist) by bringing markers, paper and a makeshift drawing table to demolition and construction sites all across Cincinnati, all so he could be a part of the work even though he was mostly excluded from it.  Raymond worked at several places, including Goodwill (he even volunteered for Habitat for Humanity), but he never got a chance at his dream-job.  So I think it's totally appropriate that we use his space to try to figure some of the stuff out.  And when you get right down to it, helping people get employed is a sort of art of its own, kind of like curating an exhibit:  you have to be keen and alert and thoughtful.  You have to set up situations that yield more than one result. 

Trying to Make Employment Work
PATH Plan June 24, 2013

Our Dream for Ways Things Will Be, Our "North Star"

Discovery (hanging out with intent, figuring out what works and what doesn't without using the same old assessment models)
No assessment-heavy supports
People have money and economic self sufficiency
They know how to maintain (and/or get rid of) benefits while increasing income
Businesses are open and seeking employees with different backgrounds, and we have a way to communicate with them that is reciprocal, natural, and benefits everyone
Citizen Connectors:  connections that go beyond what programs often can do, and intend
Working means "career," not just a job
Helping people, not programs
Practitioners (service systems) get "along"
Citizen Connectors that help with all aspects of being a part of the world -- introductions, informational interviews, forming viable networks
The only measure of success is employment
People are connected -- and one of the huge aspects of that connection is "happily employed" at a job that challenges and stimulates them
Families, coworkers, friends, etc. participate in the process and help to change it

Positive/Possible June 2014

30 informational interviews with business.  No agenda, just interviews.
20 more people wanting to work -- getting jobs in a better way -- organizing into Community Action Teams.
The "Secret Society: has helped 5 people get employed -- a group from varying backgrounds -- like-minded, beyond the radar.
More people in connector roles.
Interest group assisting with 3 local businesses.
Transition meetings:  "What kind of work do you want to do?  How do you want to live your life?"

Right Now

Employment First (an Ohio government initiative) is "topdown" and "same old same old" but it starting some new conversations.
A disconnect still exists between TALK and PRACTICE.
People unemployed and underemployed.
Providers of Service operate in old models.
Everybody has to be someplace during the day.

Staying Strong

Regular gatherings (monthly or semimonthly).
Facebook group.
Keeping it real and fun.
Grow the group.
Keep our focus on employment.


I wrote "The Wedding of Tom to Tom" about 13 or 14 years ago, inspired by my years working in group-homes, especially by the people I worked with and supported.  There were all kinds of memories and images in my head, and when I came up with a story to go along with them I was kind of overjoyed.  This story still sticks with me.  It is sort of my manifesto.  The plot's very simple:  two direct-care staff in a group-home assist two gay men with developmental disabilities to get married, against both the rules of the group-home and the rules of the state.  The two "Toms" have been friends and lovers since they met each other in an institution years ago, and their love truly is how they separate themselves from a fucked-up world.  The main character is a woman who has an ex who just got out of jail, and she turns the secret wedding planning into a version of saving her own soul. 

Link to the story:  "The Wedding of Tom to Tom."
Link to a discussion of the story by students in a Disabilities Studies class:  "Dis/Lit Discussion."
Link to the original images I used for the "Tom to Tom" collages:  "Tom to Tom" images.

One of the major images of the story that continues to haunt me:  "This big hanger building," Dad says, from the podium. Tom and Tom are right there in front of him. "Pink light, like exploding roses. The red-light district. Ha ha. No. A stampede. You gotta hear it. A thousand-plus feet. I am on the other side and I look up and all these shaved-headed people are running right at me in the red light. It's like they just got freed, you know? Like the concentration camp just opened its doors and they got out and they're running. They don't know where they're going or nothing. They're coming right at me. And I want that to happen. I want them to run me over."

What I wanted to do with these collages is reinvent the way I visualized the story by thinking about the totems I used.  I wanted to back away from the story and see it in my head as a sort of silent movie, black and white and solemn and strange.  I did 22 collages in all, on index cards.  I took images from the internet and Xeroxed them, so that there's no color, only a sort of paper-cut contrast. 

Here goes:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Flatulence and Aesthetics

Sculpture by Chinese artist Chen Wenling entitled "What You See Might Not Be Real" is on display at a gallery in Beijing, China. The artwork is a critique of the global financial crisis with the bull representing the golden bull of Wall Street and the man pinned to the wall representing the jailed financier Bernard Madoff. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan) AP2009

Friday August 30 through Saturday October 12, 2013, Thunder-Sky, Inc. presents “The (F)art Show,” with an opening reception Friday August 30, 2013, 6 to 10 pm.  A scatological/phenomenological group show,  “The (F)art Show” is curated by  Golden Brown’s David Jarred and Kenton Brett.  Featured artists include:   Antonio Adams, Joel Armor, Mark Betcher, Emily Brandehoff, Kenton Brett, Golden Brown, Mark Cable, Emily Caito, Cate Douglas, Jared Dreyer, Jen Edwards, Jonathan Hancock, Dave Jarred, CT King, Bekka Sage, Philip Spangler, Anh Tran, Phillip Valois, Joey Versoza, and Carol Watkins.  Golden Brown is the moniker for David Jared and Kenton Brett, two Cincinnati artists who combine efforts to create videos, installation and live performances.  This is the first exhibit they’ve curated, but past projects include their hyper-colored dancing animals in the interactive video “Dance Madness” at last year’s ArtWorks Box Truck Carnival (held during the Midpoint Music Festival,) as well as exhibits at Prairie Gallery in Northside.  Below, the Golden Brown duo answer important questions concerning flatulence and aesthetics 

1.   Why "farts"? 

A: Farts are a part of our humanity - funny, painful, secret, and proud parts of being a person. The fart is also a great metaphor for the conceptual side of art making. Like creating a piece of art, a fart starts out as something personal and invisible inside of the artist. As both manifest in the physical realm, the creator is often surprised by the results. This show is a unique opportunity for artists to toot their own horns.

2.   What's the primary inspiration?

A: It all started when Bill Ross posted an article on a sculpture by Chinese artist Chen Wenling entitled "What You See Might Not Be Real". The article included a picture of the sculpture. It was a bull using a fart to propel himself, horns first, into the ass of a wall street trader, pinning the trader to the wall of the gallery. The use of a fart as a symbol of strength was fascinating in its contradiction to our cultural experience where farting is either only humorous or shameful. This led Bill Ross, Keith Banner, and Golden Brown on a thread of article and image sharing. This research uncovered a lot thought provoking uses of fart in a large variety of cultures; from the gaseous displays of strength and power of ancient Japanese fart scrolls to the humanizing farts of Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being and the Innu folk character Fartman (known as Matshishkapeu). It became very clear to us that this could be a really versatile topic for a show.

3.   Is this show a parody of the art world? 

A: Honestly the art world already parodies itself. This show has some real artistic merit in stretching the idea of art and art making to be more inclusive and democratic. What it all boils down to is that everyone in the world farts in a unique and personal way and every fart is an echo of our shared humanity. The most important part of this show for the public is that we have put together a group of artists that take their craft and content very seriously and are producing very imaginative and well made work. This show will put (f)art into a new context for anyone daring enough to let their guard down.

4.  What is Golden Brown?

A: You might remember Golden Brown Enterprises from their hyper-colored dancing animals in the interactive video “Dance Madness” at last years ArtWorks Box truck Carnival event held during the Midpoint Music Festival. Golden Brown is the collaborative art duo of Kenton Brett and David Jarred, and they specialize in finding ways to liven up art through their well-crafted videos, installations, and live performances. Now the duo can add exhibition curating to their list of artistic merrymaking.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Back Flips

I'm working on some collages that do black-flips from where I usually start.  Normally I just grab some old magazines and whatever and start, trying to make each piece as stupid and precise as possible, to evoke a sort of comatose, accidental logic.  Right now, though, I'm trying to make some collages based on a short story I wrote called "The Wedding of Tom to Tom," about two men with developmental disabilities who get married, with help from the support people in their group home.  I purposefully haven't read the story again, but I google-imaged topics that I remembered from writing the thing.  I'm going to take these found images and print them out in multiples and make collages from the fragments. 

Here's a survey of the images I've gathered.  I'll post some of the collages as soon as I do them.  I'm doing this for an upcoming art-show.  More on that later.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

“I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts.”

“I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts,” Andy Warhol once wrote.  (I've got Warhol on the brain because I just wrote an essay about a show of his work at the Dayton Art Institute.) 
When the George Zimmerman verdict happened, I had all of this stuff swirling around in my head:  Warhol , Skittles and gunshots, TV outrage, a murdered kid and the murderer going off scott-free.  At the time, when the verdict came out, I was kind of overwhelmed and exhausted by it.  Sick really of the whole stupid thing because it just seemed so awful.  The image of George Zimmerman, obviously having comforted himself by overeating, sitting in a suit, on the verge of tears because of relief but also a dread of having to live the rest of his life in hiding, and then the images of Trayvon Martin, all kind of strangely symbolic, from the hoodie to the Skittles, from being hugged and kissed by his dad to blowing pot-smoke-rings and showing off a hand-gun, all of it just a bunch of images that seemed to have been appropriated, Warhol-style, and transformed into what people wanted them to be on Facebook, Twitter, whatever platform you name.
This whole situation has played out like an art project in a lot of ways.  Which is really a rotten thing to say but true none-the-less.  A political cluster-fuck got fueled by bite-size fruit candies, canned iced tea, neighborhood-watch zealotry, and scrapes on the back of the head.  All the moments were turned into political stances, and everyone on TV and everywhere else have used the killing as a way to proclaim how they want to be seen and understood.
“I don't know where the artificial stops and the real starts.”   
Yup.  Warhol.  "The artificial" and "the real" feed into one another, until everything has a sort of squalid glamor, but the true feeling gets eaten alive by the way you are supposed to feel.  I kept tripping myself up philosophically, thinking about the jury and the stand-your-ground bull-shit and Zimmerman's sad-sack existence, and Martin's not having any kind of existence anymore outside of the images we want to associate with him.  Skittles versus hand-guns.  Little boy lost versus thug. 
I really want to feel just sad. 
That's it.
It's just plain sad. 
But that's outside of the real, outside even of the artificial.  Feeling sad is a response to the confusion caused by not wanting to be a part of the circus and the silly, messed-up way politics are both practiced and represented.   A boy got killed.  He might not have been innocent but who is?  And an idiot with a gun, a Barney-Fife-in-waiting, made a huge and impossible mistake.  I guess you can use the situation for anything you want, but I want to use it as a way to mourn not just death, but the whole godforsaken universe.
And then President Obama yesterday stuns the world by kind of saying the same things I'm trying to say.    Here, the last portion of his talk yesterday:
You know, I’m not naive about the prospects of some brand-new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as president, I’ve got some convening power.  And there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that — and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — you know, I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.  And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.  And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. I doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.  And so, you know, we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues, and those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days I think have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did, and that along this long, difficult journey, you know, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
It's kind of a ramble and not.  He was stumbling through because I think he really meant everything he was saying and yet there really isn't a way to convey what he was trying to get at in the context of "politics" and "press briefings."  As he says, it's not really productive when politicians "try to organize conversations."  No soundbites or federal programs are going to make any difference, he seems to be saying, unless we start separating the "artificial" from the "real." 
Everybody has to shut up, reinvent their brains, and come at it anew. 
I don't know if that will ever happen.  I don't think President Obama does either.  Which is why I think he might be the only leader who can make anything happen.  Not because he's African American, or because he "could have been Trayvon Martin."  But because he seems to sad and lost, and I think that's where we all should be coming from right now.  We all just need to be sad and lost together for a while, and then start trying to find our way out together, without propaganda and without artifice.  We need to get real.

The Nonexistent Is Whatever We Have Not Sufficiently Desired

I saw The House that Herman Built on PBS a couple weeks back, and I'm still thinking about it.  It's a documentary directed by Angad Singh Bhalla about Jackie Sumell, an artist, and her relationship with Herman Wallace, a prisoner at Angola prison in Louisiana who has been in solitary confinement for over 41 years.  He's still there now, at 71.  The movie is not preachy at all, even though the subject matter kind of demands it.  However, Jackie seems completely at home living in a world gone mad and trying to make something beautiful out of fighting against the madness.  The actual artistic media she uses the most is friendship.  She cultivates and protects her friendship with Herman in the movie as if that connection is her only way out of insanity.  The visual art she makes is the byproduct of that connection, a skillful assortment of testaments to Herman's dignity, chiefly plans for building his dreamhouse. 

Herman's dreamhouse is something to behold:

As you can see, it's a beautiful, celestial place.  The interior views have an institutional feel, as if heaven in Herman's mind is a clean, well-kept group-home with a large kitchen beside a long picnic-table, hall-ways with multiple bedrooms.  He also has envisioned a swimming pool out back with a black panther logo painted on the bottom, the panther staring out at you from beneath chlorine-blue sun-glistening water.  The plans, the rooms, the pool, the flowers -- they are all from Herman's mind.  It's Jackie's duty to turn the plans into a reality.

First steps came from art exhibits showing the letters the two of them wrote back and forth starting in 2003, and then the architectural plans, the computer graphic visions of the house, and an installation depicting where Herman currently lives (a small claustrophobic cells he is allowed to live for one hour a day), as well as a maquette of the actual house he is dreaming of.

Jackie is one of those activist/artists that usually gets on my nerves, but in the doc she's more of a go-getter than a do-gooder thank God.  She is crazy about Herman in a little-sister kind of way, and her whole life has been dedicated to figuring out how to get Herman the hell out of jail, while also understanding how almost futile that is.  To counteract the futility:  art.  That's it.  That's all she's got, and if you think about it that's all any of us have.  She is using her talents and energies not just to help Herman, but to help herself re-imagine what art is and is supposed to do and be.  That struggle is usually missing in every art exhibit I come across.  A muscular, hard-assed battle for meaning is what Jackie's  art is about.  Her life too. 

And then there's Herman's voice over the phone, telling her to stay strong.  Their conversations are artless and beautiful somehow in the doc, unrehearsed and meaningfully arbitrary.  They are two lost souls who have found a way to find themselves, but that doesn't mean life is any easier.  In fact it means it's harder. "Struggle" is common language they speak. 

The movie follows them through all kinds of possibilities that never pan out.  It's not one of those documentaries that end with a big beautiful hug and a neighborhood of people holding up "Welcome Home" signs.  By the end, Herman is still in solitary confinement, and Jackie moves to New Orleans to try to find land to build the house, slowly going bankrupt.  It's completely on the money somehow.  You feel uplifted and also deeply sad.  Those two feelings intermingle until you become a part of their family.  You actually want to move into Herman's house, even though it's not built yet. 

As I watched The House that Herman Built, I kept thinking of Kafka for some reason, witnessing Jackie and Herman as they keep trying and trying and trying.  Many of Kafka's stories and novels have a sort of stubborn, inscrutable absurdity to them like that, a dreamy, cast-iron hope that often gets confused with cynicism.  After the movie I looked in an old journal I kept and discovered I had written down this quote from Kafka years ago: 

"By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it.  The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired."

Holy shit.  Ain't it the truth?  "Desire" is all Herman and Jackie have, and it has to be enough.

Flight Pattern

Bill had an experience in February and just wrote about it yesterday.  Needed to share it via 2 + 2 = 5.  A great example of that ongoing spirit and conundrum.  Here goes:
Several months ago, I went to a sheltered workshop to meet with a young woman who goes there.   She was very excited because they were going to do a performance of “The Lion King” that morning and she had a starring role.  It was about 15 minutes till the whole thing was to take place, so I said I would wait till after the performance to meet with her.
There was a crowd to see the show.  We gathered in a large open area that separated the glass door entrance from the work floor.   It was one of those raw February mornings. The air was cold and rainy.  The clouds outside moved slowly across the ground like sleep walkers, causing the florescent lights in the ceiling tiles to glow unnaturally bright.  Several minutes passed with a lot of frantic talk echoing from the other end of a long hallway.  Last minute pep talks and cue reminders etc.  All I could see were those slow moving clouds out the front entrance. 
Eventually the music started and after what seemed to be a long time without seeing anything a fluttering bird girl appeared.  This bird girl was a tiny woman wearing red sweats, yellow socks, a yellow beaked bird mask that covered her face, and yellow pool-floaties for wings.  I was entranced at that moment first seeing this delicate creature flutter high then low, swooping into the audience and back down the hallway out of view. 
I am probably one of the only people still left who hasn’t seen the movie or the play.  I am pretty sure this performance however took many liberties.  The young lady I was there to see played the lion’s mother.  As excited as she was before it began, her performance was delivered with minimal effort.  It was as if she had worn herself out from all the excitement.  The performance was a beautifully clumsy mess.  However, seeing this bird girl moving, dancing, flying through this florescent lit space into and out of the performance itself, with grayest of gray clouds moving behind her, struck me in a profound way.  It was a silent and delicate thing like Kabuki. It was like she was channeling some ancient bird spirit.  Her flight pattern seemed to carry a message of joy uncomplicated and completely mysterious. 
I will never forget it and only wish I could do something that powerful.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sad Songs Say So Much

A week or so ago Bill and I went to Maggiano's at the Kenwood Mall.  It's a franchise Italian place with a big dining room and a big bar that stretches across the front, mahogany-wood elegant, with a piano off to the side.  On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, a singer named Jenni Huss plays piano and sings requested songs.  We didn't really go there for that, but it was great serendipity.  What made it even better was this guy we ended up sitting next to at the bar table we were at.  He's faceless in my head, middle-aged, but he had a cologne halo around him that smelled like an upscale department store in Heaven, and beside him at the bar was a big gray prestigious shopping bag from Nordstrom's Men's Department (Nordstrom's is almost next door to Maggiano's), and he had a bottle of prosecco in a marble chiller beside that.  He was having a feast, all by himself.  At first it felt kind of sad, but what isn't?  You go with it.  It turned out the main reason he was there was to celebrate Jenni Huss I think.  He loved himself some Jenni Huss.  When she sang he was gleeful -- I didn't really look at him in the face because I was kind of embarrassed by his obsequiousness, but that's just because I wished I had a reason to live like he did right then -- but you could feel the glee coming off of him like radiation from sunburned skin.  He kept getting up and going to the bar for paper napkins which he wrote song titles on, laying them on the piano while Jenni Huss played.

Her voice was smoky and delightful and easy-going, kind of like Diana Krall.  The songs she sang were obviously ones the guy was wanting to hear.  They were possibly the saddest most beautiful choices a man could ask for, like Olivia Newton John's "Please Mr. Please," and the Carpenter's "Superstar," and then suddenly she went into "Blue Eyes" by Elton John.

Holy shit.

That's one of those songs you forget you ever heard, and then when it's revealed it brings back a huge ocean of feeling, like Proust's marmalade. 1982 Elton John was a sad case of too much and too little at the same time.  He seemed bloated and coked-out and his music had a plastic sadness to it, as if he had exhausted his "Yellow Brick Road," finally saying goodbye to it in a slow weird inconsequential drag.  At least that's the way I remembered it until hearing Jenni Huss sing "Blue Eyes," a single off of Elton's "Jump Up!" album.  She made "Blue Eyes" feel profound.  But it was also because I knew that the Nordstrom-bag-toting, prosecco-sipping Mr. Lonelyhearts had scribbled that down on a paper napkin because he really needed to hear it -- he needed that song to come out of that singer's mouth.  He had orchestrated this evening.  He had looked forward to it secretly, he had come to this evening with the knowledge that he would get exactly what he wanted.  I love that.  It's so hard to do, to get what you want without giving a shit what other people think.  It's like a miracle to witness, especially for me, with my skull full of self-consciousness and meanness and whatever else. 

This faceless guy in my head applauds vigorously after every song.  He is sipping his bubbly and he applauds and he eats a huge chocolate dessert and he applauds some more.

God bless you whoever you are.   You made our night.  I ordered "Elton John's Greatest Hits 1976/1986" the next day on Amazon.  I am listening to it right now.  The crappiest songs become hymns to survival sometimes.  They become transporters.  They let you back into your life.

"Sad Songs Say So Much" indeed. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Candy Store

Bill did a great job installing "Words and Pictures by Eric Deller, Dale Jackson and Michael Weber" at semantics gallery in Brighton on Wednesday.  The concept for the show came from talking about how Dale and Michael make pictures from the opposite ends of the spectrum of picture-making.  Then Eric came into the gallery one day with his pictures culled from storybook tropes.  We got to talking:  Dale uses words, Michael uses no words, just paint and patience, and Eric merges words and pictures into iconography.  All three make visual art that kind of delves into a place where memory coalesces into dream, Dale's words and phrases dissolving into moments that don't make sense at least unilaterally, Mike's colors and shapes blending into gorgeous gobs of nothing, and Eric riffing on what you see right after the story ends and you're about to go to sleep. 

Then we came across what Krista Gregory (who oversees exhibitions at Visionaries and Voices) did with Dale's work back in March at the Contemporary Arts Center:  she stacks Dale's non-sequitur posters into volumes of information that reveal and conceal simultaneously as you unveil them, or as Krista writes about the project, "A rectangular volume of layered colored paper, like candy, exposing only the top layer of writing." 

The candy thing stuck in my head, until I finally had a tiny epiphany.  It goes something like this:

Dale Jackson

Michael Weber




Eric Deller

Necco, the original candy wafer, is a direct touchstone for me for what Krista and Dale did in the stacked poster piece.  Wafers melt on your tongue in a religious sort of way of course, and Neccos are concealed in beautiful see-though wax-paper.  And my dad used to bring them home sometimes from work because they had them in the vending machine at the Indiana Gas Company.  I remember loving them very much until I tasted them, and all you could taste was a sort of slate-like nothingness concealed in sugary dust.  Dale's writings conceal a lot of desire and thought and feeling, using mundane nomenclature and non-sequitur to get at a brilliance beyond thought.  He wants to write a diary that exposes every single second of his life.  When his musings are written on colorful poster-board and stacked the whole thing becomes a repository of thought, innocent and clever at the same time, and all of Dale's poetry ascends to a place you can't name:  it's a metaphysical candy-store.  Everyone welcome.

And when I wrote about Michael's work for the show, I wrote about "jelly beans melting into a sky."  Which is pretty close to what Michael seems to want to happen.  He wants something solid to blend into something spiritual.  He's tasting things with paint somehow, like all really good abstract-expressionists seem to want to do, but he doesn't let style get in the way.  His pictures transcend that neat little need to be "good," and go off somewhere to have fun.  You could stare at the incidental images for days, and find an assortment of messy, wonderful associations.  Like staring into a bowl of jell beans or finding shapes and meaning in clouds.

The background in Eric's pictures of storybook tropes resonate in that same way:  smeared color swirling into nostalgia, with stark shadows of the memory superimposed.  It's like stained-glass made out of tissue-paper, delicate and translucent, but then a sort of Germanic side-swipe, an iron-clad illustration of a whispered bedtime story, little words that form big images.  A wolf dressed like a grandma and a little girl with an ax making sure all is well, and so on...

Let's end this with Proust, the master of aestheticizing memory:  "We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison."