Aug 30, 2010

the future

"the future is useless without the insight that distinguishes fact from wish and exposes, beneath variable disguises, an unchanging self."

Aug 29, 2010


"Northern light is like light after it rains. I don't like fat, lazy, Mediterranean light."
richard serra (in calvin tomkins's lives of the artists)

Aug 27, 2010

big in japan

marc abrahams, chief instigator of the ignobel awards (for research that makes people laugh and then think), is the subject of a feature manga article in YOUNG JUMP, a japanese weekly with a circulation of almost a million copies. below, a record of this historic moment.

Aug 22, 2010

manifesto: the mad farmer liberation front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

from the country of marriage, wendell berry, 1973
[thx ehansen]

Aug 21, 2010

negative megalith #5

michael heizer at dia beacon.

the tomato special

kevin and mimi are diabolical geniuses.

above you see a poached egg with chimichurri and fried garlic sand on frisee on a slab of heirloom tomato liberally furnished with cubes of slow-cooked bacon and lashings of bacon fat. this architectural dish is not suitable for those on vegan or low-tastiness diets.

since it is now saturday night, you will have to wait until next saturday to get the tomato special during brunch at toscanini's.

optical phenomena in central square


the life of the mind

We err when we stray too far from the life of the mind and the potato.
"contact," in the raw and the cooked, jim harrison, 1992.

It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
douglas adams [thx pbarry].

Aug 14, 2010

the chemical sandwich

"every hour is banh mi hour, if the sandwich is eaten within five minutes of it being made. There is something close to alchemy when the baguette is still hot and has lent its warmth to the pâté and the sausage, while not wilting the cilantro or cucumber spears."
monique truong, in the wsj.
she echoes some early rumblings about sandwich theory.

the new botany

"the new botany aligns the development of plants with their economic, not evolutionary, success."
amory and hunter lovins, a tale of two botanies

storm king

is neat, but doing dia beacon and storm king in the same day is like drinking two 750s of beer where just one is a sufficiency. maya lin's wave field was undergoing maintenance and was looking scruffy—not a word that usually applies to land art, but there were weedy plants growing all over it.

Aug 11, 2010

dia beacon

last weekend, we drove westward into upstate new york to visit dia beacon. the drive, google maps tells us, takes 3h 22m. on I-84, we saw a sign for "FREE SNAX" that aroused some interest. a few hundred feet later, another sign for "FREE DRINX." we took the next exit just as we saw the third sign: "NEXT EXIT." it turned out to be a troop of boy scouts with coffee and doughnuts from dunkin' donuts. from a distance, we inferred that they would give these items away but make meaningful motions towards the donation jar while doing so. we hit the road again.

dia beacon is on the eastern bank of the hudson river. if you seek the fabled alexis diner that is close to beacon, know this: google maps will lead you not to alexis but into the parking lot of a hotel and conference center nestled into the woods. here, you will discover that the diner you seek is in newburgh, 30 minutes away and on the opposite bank.

from the parking lot, dia beacon looks trivially small. an old box-printing factory skinned in dark brick, one storey tall, barely a city block wide. entering the gallery, it becomes obvious that dia beacon is actually quite a bit larger on the inside than it looks on the outside. when you notice the sub-level containing a series of huge serra steel sculptures hulking in the half-gloom, you realise that dia beacon is, in fact, enormous.

the main galleries have glazed concrete floors, ceilings of frosted glass panes angled at 45 degrees, and are painted a neutral white. on a sunny day, light pours in from the ceiling and the main galleries are full to overflowing with a soft but powerful light. doubtless one of the best installation spaces i've been in.

the best things there:

  • silver meters and gold meters by walter de maria. two series of steel plates with increasing numbers of silver and gold discs embedded in them, where the total mass of precious metal is the same in each plate. serious bankroll art, though the fabrication was interestingly variable. the steel plates were drilled out, the discs placed, and then polished down. imagine the serenity and glacial perfection had each sheet been polished down as a whole rather than spot polished where the discs were placed. (they were not.)
  • three torqued spirals and a torqued ellipse by richard serra. i saw the serra retrospective five years ago at moma, crowded in with hundreds of other people, and have been seeking his pieces out since. standing under a leaning plane of rusting steel, or inside the narrowing and widening spaces inside the torqued spirals, the overwhelming sensation is of being under a large looming mass, or between two massive bodies. it's the essence of cliff and valley. the beacon installation puts them in a dimly-lit but cavernous room where they seem even more massive.
  • one little john chamberlain piece that had no title but was the smallest of all the pieces on long term view. blue with cream and chrome, it was happy and light and just right. the others were neat, this one was perfect.
  • north, east, south, west, by michael heizer. these four large negative spaces lined with weathering steel seem infinitely deep and also infinitely massively empty. essence of void. they make me want to go see the original double negative out in nevada.
  • a slew of fred sandback yarn installations. these were, in their own way, the most amazing of the pieces at beacon. where a serra creates a sense of mass with a massive, space-filling piece, the sandback pieces slice up space using nothing but pieces of coloured yarn that define the edges of planes. there is such economy in the understanding of how we perceive space and planes that words fail. you have to see it for yourself. i saw my first sandback installation in munich, a single pair of pink yarn verticals at the pinakothek der moderne and that was neat, but the beacon collection is bemusingly vast by comparison.
no photos. nothing i have does this space justice.

Aug 6, 2010

if there's something coherent here, i'm damned if i know what it is.

a long week, and one especially jarring from the contrast with maine last weekend (a weekend of nothing much but paddling around the bush compound in warm, dry, sunny weather, and getting mild sunburn). tuesday or wednesday it was so hot that the sheets felt warm to the touch. not pleasant. the humidity broke yesterday afternoon in a storm of tropical intensity and brevity, so today was hot but comparatively dry.

jim is in town for band camp so there has been more eating out than usual since he is one of the rare individuals willing to absorb high variance for a high mean in food. he also brings me latvian rye on request, which is a minor wonder of density.

i'm continually fascinated by how some people have carefully refined understandings of what seem to be impenetrable regional variation in food. jim, for instance, appears to know the inner grammar of many of the major streams of chinese cooking even though he cannot pronounce the name of his favourite chinese vegetable (丝瓜) to save his life. i do not have this knowledge of the terrain, probably because chinese food is all blended in the motherland (i had observed this previously but the ramifications, such as they are, were not evident then).

in any case, i was made aware yesterday that i'd never before eaten food that was identifiably shanghainese before, so we made our way today to what was rumoured to be an outstanding shanghainese restaurant. despite the hoop-la, it was not particularly good. in fact, some of it was actively egregious. (i ate a surprising amount of the inexplicable pancake made of corn kernels held together with lumps of cornstarch and drizzled with a spicy mayonnaise, but have since decided that it was just the surprise at work). the lions head meatballs were nice.

later, in watertown, we discovered a new, bigger, and (apparently) better middle eastern market (massis) in watertown that had hitherto eluded detection by being a block further up mount auburn street than sevan or arax. as usual, jim on faith and gut instinct alone bought enough exotic salads and pastries for a mid-size regiment. i was much more restrained and got away with some (mediocre, it turns out) cookies and a bunch of extraordinarily plump, golden-hued apricots. those were not so mediocre. then we went to sophia's and narrowly missed the last serving of frozen lemon yogurt made with their house yogurt (i got a spoonful and it leaves berryline in the dust) while downloading some local knowledge from a charmingly food-obsessed woman buying dodonis feta at the counter.

i stopped in at violette on the way home and got into a prolonged conversation with richard, the owner, who got a bit wild-eyed about the naturally made wines which he stocks almost exclusively and opined that we've been trained to not trust the taste of honest (for which read naturally made) wine. he rambled on for a bit about how natural wine is both a set of initial decisions about the processes that will and will not be used in winemaking as well as the totality of the processes and consequences that are a result of those decisions. implicit in the rambling excursus was the idea that somehow natural winemaking is the only way that wine can be made to be honest to the grape and to the drinker. this is what we grasp after when we search for authenticity. there were echoes of david pye everywhere. richard also pointed out that natural winemaking should not be confused with craft or artisanal winemaking. while this is certainly true, it is only true because of some slippage in the definition of craft. from his account (and the ongoing discussion at saignée), natural winemaking sounds like an instance of craft in the ideal-typical sense of the word.

artisanality (really, what does that mean other than small batch, laborious) has become inextricably connected with craftsmanship, and we've lost the sight of the ideal-typical conception of craftsmanship. which is, of course, the unglorified situation of making things that have to work well enough to be worth the time put into making them. the craftsman has to be understood not as an individual but as a member of a group that persists over time. and over the long evolution of crafts (like coopering or typography or boatmaking), craft processes and products gradually converge to a stable situation: they are generally neither overdone nor underdone, corners are usually not cut, the lily is not gilded as a matter of course.

put another way, the convergence of craft to a steady state is equivalent to saying that craft is a process of coming to understand, over the course of plenty of trial and error, the materials and processes available and the optimal manner in which they should be used. what doesn't work is selected out of the system. what's left is the ideal notion of craft: brutal honesty with process and material. in the real world, that can be a product of conscious refinement and cognition but often is just the consequence of selection pressure. (on this, the unknown craftsman is a great resource, and i've mentioned it before here).

and when we experience an object of craft, something of that brutal honesty comes through. we become aware (whether consciously or not) that no shortcuts taken that shouldn't have been taken, there is nothing (or almost nothing) extraneous in the object. appreciating craft as process and outcome is a form of connoisseurship as much as the appreciation of art is, and perhaps is as much a natural inclination that has to be encouraged, nurtured

triangles and their centres

when i was growing up, one of our tv stations was dedicated to public access and education. it often ran informational videos including one on the virtues of rice. this video, about the various centres of triangles, is of about the right vintage.

i love informational videos.