Thursday, July 5, 2018

DONE

Well the intense time is over. And boy, was it intense.

In the last few weeks, I worked myself silly finishing the sculpture. Christina worked herself silly project-managing the frieze (part of the sculpture), as well as packing up our apartment and handling all the "get out of Germany paperwork." Various other people put in long hours on other elements, notably Guy Hatzvi, Jascha and Anka from KAOS, and Chris Iwasjuta from MotionLabs. Amihay Gonen came through at the end with the lighting design.

I could not have completed this project without the help of all of you mentioned above (and Cedar Goebel too). Thank you so much.
In particular, my amazing wife and partner Christina devoted herself to this project as if it were her own. I especially thank you, my love. 

Last Sunday we installed the sculpture at KAOS. (I thought it would take 4 hours and then everyone who showed up for the party would stand around looking at it, but instead we got a late start and it took 9 hours and and so everyone who showed up for the party stood around watching us assemble it!) Then on Monday we disassembled it and finished up the staging of everything that was going into the container, then on Tuesday we shoved it all into a shipping container. Then we went back to BBK and cleaned up my space. What a huge amount of work!




When I was still at the stage of proposing this concept to Burning Man, I had hoped it would be funded in part because I wanted for us to have the experience of building something in a "foreign" place. I wanted to understand how to nail down a workspace, how to purchase materials, how to establish networks and work with new people, harnessing new resources and skills unavailable in New Mexico. Thanks largely to BBK and KAOS, and the good people at both those places, we did in fact have that experience. And, all the challenges of something like this notwithstanding, it went fairly smoothly. Thank you, Berlin.

A week before the deadline, we also squeezed in a family trip to the Greek island of Lesbos for my brother Cles's wedding, where we all got to finally meet Beowulf, the newest member of the family. That was a nice respite.




I managed to get through this job with only one injury, and it wasn't a particularly bad one. I teased you with the promise of pictures, so here they are...





I've frankly been too busy lately to have much in the way of the "idle philosophical thoughts" that I like to sprinkle into my blog. Suffice to say that Christina and I are both experiencing a mixture of anxiety and excitement about coming home. It's a thick emotional soup involving ingredients such as trepidation about the political environment in the US, concerns about the suitability of urban vs. rural living conditions for each of us, anticipation of seeing old friends, sadness at leaving new friends, parental concerns about Kodiak's well-being through all of it, etc., etc., etc.

In 12 days we leave Berlin. Then it's a week in Sweden (just outside of Stockholm), 2 days in Reykjavik (Iceland is the most perfect place in the world, in case you did not know), and then back to the USA.

Who knows, this might be my last blog post in Europe. Or maybe not. If I have something to say, you will hear from me again.

It occurs to me that I do have hundreds of photos from these last two years... many of which are worthy of posting. I suppose I could do a photo-wrap-up post or two...

Anyway, seeya!


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!

Well, I am overdue on a blog post. There is our trip to Greece to talk about, a big ugly injury on my hand (I've got pictures!), and various other things.

But this post is going to be short, and about only one thing...

This Sunday, July 1st, we will show the new sculpture in Berlin. It will be up for only a few hours, starting at 4pm.

Many good friends here in Berlin were involved in this piece in one way or another, but will be unable to come see it in Nevada. This party is for them. But of course everyone is invited!

It will also act as our going-away party and my birthday party!

So, see you at KAOS this Sunday!
Wilhelminenhofstraße 92 Oberschöneweide



Thursday, May 31, 2018

Shift

A shift has begun. We are leaving Europe.

It felt subtle a week or two ago, but now it’s quickly ramping up.

The shift begins when you decide you are actually doing it. That happened for us about a month ago when Kodiak (literally) won the lottery and was re-admitted into his old school in Taos. Then the logistics start to pile up, and overwhelm your ability to really remain present in the place where you are.

The logistics in our case are quite intense, as we are extricating ourselves from Germany while also trying to finish the Burning Man sculpture on a very tight timeline. In fact, Christina and I made a calendar a few days ago, mapping out the next few months. With BBK’s “business-hours-only” schedule, I have only 18 build days remaining. I don’t even like to write that sentence, much less think much about it, as I find it quite stressful. On top of that, I am also trying to organize the international shipping of the container. (Which, as it happens, is really cumbersome in Germany. Here in Deutschland, you need a registered company to export anything with a value of over €1000. So German. KAOS to the rescue.) We also need to build crates in the next few weeks to carry all our personal crap which we will stick into the container. We need to pack those crates in the next few weeks. (The same weeks during which we are trying to finish and load the sculpture.) And the wood used to build travel crates needs to be special (expensive) wood, fumigated and stamped for transoceanic travel. And we need to de-register as residents of the city of Berlin. And we need to cancel the four different kinds of insurance Germany compels you to buy upon arrival. And organize two separate meetings with the real-estate management company from whom we rent. And fight for our deposit (Apparently German real-estate management companies are notorious for trying to keep it, and ours is proving difficult in many other ways, so…) And sell our car. And sell our motorcycle. And sell our furniture. And keep bringing Kodiak to school every day. And organize a goodbye party.

If I actually really think about it, it’s too much.

Don’t think. Just keep doing.

As readers of this blog know, I like to keep my posts pretty light, and focused on culture, art, etc. I don’t veer off much into politics or other similarly weighty topics. But I must admit, I am quite anxious about returning to the US. Two years of living in Europe have given me a certain perspective on things. I would say that, generally speaking, the experience has served to reinforce much of what I already thought about the US, but with the addition of actually having lived an alternative.

I have no interest in starting a political argument around this blog, because everybody has their own political view and political arguments never actually accomplish anything other than sowing acrimony among the participants, but…. My opinion is that corporate capitalism and income inequality are destroying the US. Meanwhile the US has the most sophisticated media and PR machine in the world, centered around Hollywood, which is constantly sending out the message that it’s a paradise and a land of promise. But those newsmakers and message-makers are in the 1%, so of course it’s a paradise, for them. Meanwhile the middle class shrinks, the underclass grows, and people actually suffer. Schools are underfunded, some communities lack basics like clean water, and all this in a country that people still call “first-world.” The issue is not a lack of resources, or overpopulation (although it’s tempting to think that…), the issue is that all those resources are concentrated in only a few hands. Imagine how intransigent problems like racism would ameliorate if everyone had enough money to be comfortable, have a home, have their kids in a decent and safe school. (Jesus, don’t even get me started about guns.)

Anyway, for the sake of my readers… the rant is over. Suffice to say that Europe is quite different from most of what is elucidated above.

Christina and I are reading a book about coming home from an extended period abroad. The main thesis is that, while people expect a big change when they leave their home country and are thus prepared for the shock, people expect returning to be easy, and when the hiccups invariably arise it quickly leads to depression and a desire to go back abroad. The problem is the dissonance between the expectation that coming home will be easy and the reality that it’s not easy. Well, maybe it will be easier for me… because I’m not expecting it to be easy. Yes, I’m looking forward to being in Taos, seeing friends, seeing our dogs, sitting in the hot tub and riding my motorcycles. But goddamn am I going to miss the energy and culture of Berlin, a society in which people seem to have enough to get by, where decisions are not made from fear, and where people don’t shoot each other over small things like trespassing. Did you know that there is no such thing as trespassing in Sweden because all the land, even if owned by someone, is free to pass on, pass through? You tell me which approach is more civilized. (*EDIT* Christina's mother Helga tells me that there are actually plenty of fences and no-trespassing signs there... but it is in fact codified in the law, and in any case you're a lot less likely to get shot for doing it)

Anyway, Buddhist thought suggests that I am causing myself unnecessary anxiety by devoting my thoughts to a time other than NOW (by planning, worrying, remembering…) so I should probably shut the fuck up. But anyway, this is a bit of how I am feeling about returning. The book we are reading says that the depression will really begin about 2 weeks after returning, which is right around the time we will head to Burning Man… and I am sure that will help.

OK, shutting up now.

Despite the fact that only 18 build days remain, the build of With Open Arms is going well. Guy and Cedar and I are cranking in the shop, with the occasional help of Christina. Meanwhile Christina actually spends most of her time heading up a team of people from KAOS and another place called MotionLabs, working on the frieze, organizing the water-jet cutting of the Flame-Burst, and various other tasks. (As I mentioned in the last post, Christina is also handling about 95% of the paperwork divorcing us from Germany... no small task!) It’s a remarkably small team making this sculpture happen, but it’s happening.

The shoulders were, from a technical standpoint, absolutely the hardest part of this sculpture so far. They are fabricated from steel and aluminum joined with bolts, incorporate a pocket which allows attachment to the body, and are built on a complicated geometry involving multiple non-orthagonal angles. They required at least 2 cardboard models and about a week of fabrication to complete. Here is one of them...



 And here, a week or so later, is the current state of things.





The body is starting to look like something, and the Flame-Burst is coming together, thanks to Cedar (welding over at left). Guy is seen in a rare moment of relaxing; he is normally kicking ass with a jig-saw, a circular saw, a band-saw, a grinder, or the shear.

Thank you Cedar and Guy; this project wouldn’t get done without you.

We went to Maker Faire Berlin last week, and had an unexpectedly good time. Here is Kodiak watching Dizzy, the rideable mechanical Rhino from Lyle of Doghead.





Other than Dizzy, we haven’t seen much art or culture lately, so not much new to report… but that is about to change. Germany has a lot of holidays, especially in May, and we are taking the opportunity of BBK being closed today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) to go to Prague for a long weekend with Kodiak and Cedar. Nothing to do but soak up culture. Actually I am writing this post while on the train, cruising through the beautiful countryside of the Czech Republic. (Ironically, I was told a few weeks ago by the secretary at BBK that they were closed today, so we made the arrangements for this trip, but I learned yesterday that she was wrong and they are not actually closed. But what the hell, I could use a culture and relaxation break.)

And OK, lastly... on a lighter note... my favorite building in Berlin is the Fernsehturm, and Berlin's mascot is the Bear... and from the time of moving here I always wanted to make a graphic (for a t-shirt or a sticker) that involved the bear climbing the tower, as in King Kong. But then I saw that someone else already did it...




Yes, I know this is just a photo of someone else's store logo. But I love it. So there.

OK, we are almost in Prague.



Bye



Monday, May 14, 2018

Time, time, time, look what's become of me!

I know there are a few people out there who enjoy reading my blog, and more importantly I really enjoy writing it, so I really feel the time lapsing when I go awhile without writing. I've been feeling that lately. I'm not sure how long it's been but it feels like a while. It literally comes down to time.

The last month or so has seen a marked increase in the frenetic pace of our life here. Production on WOA has radically ramped up while at the same time we have begun to wrap our heads around the tasks associated with moving back to the States, and even tentatively begin to tackle some of those tasks.

Yes, we are moving back. In August. Kodiak beat the odds and got re-admitted (by lottery) into his old school in Taos, and that sealed the deal. So now we are starting the cumbersome process of disengaging from Germany.

These developments, the Burning Man project and the impending move, keep me busy, body and mind. My body is either working at BBK, getting around Berlin in one way or another, dropping Kodiak off at school, or spending (increasingly scarce) time with my family. Christina has an equally, if not even more, punishing schedule, doing all of the above and more. She is helping with my project as well as handling most of the moving logistics and also teaching welding on Saturdays.

It recently occurred to me that she and I (and Kodiak because we drag him around with us!) do things on an ambitious scale that some others only dream of. But it's not easy and in fact it's a hell of a lot of work, sometimes.

Anyway, like I said I am so busy doing all that above-mentioned stuff that it's hard to find time to sit down and write. In fact I decided to take the metro to BBK today specifically so I could write this blog post. Look... here I am, writing it!




But my mind is also so consumed with the project and the move that it's a big enough challenge for me to stay present with my family, let alone to find the mental free space required for the development of the sort of idle philosophical thoughts/observations with which I like to fill this blog.

That being said, there have been a few kernels percolating, perhaps a bit more slowly than usual. They tie together a few other threads found elsewhere herein... emotions and feelings, Alexander McQueen, (and motorcycles?)

--------- The Idle Philosophical Part ---------

It occasionally occurs to me that a very large percentage of what we humans do, especially when it comes to our non-essential (non-survival) activities, is selected specifically in order to feel something. (Or sometimes to stop feeling something.)

Motorcycling, bungie jumping, snowboarding... certainly these kinds of activities are usually undertaken for the feelings of freedom they promise.

Hugging and kissing and even sex bring feelings of closeness.

Artistic endeavors can be career-driven, but for most people (who aren't professional artists), and even sometimes for artists, this sort of activity is often done for the feelings it produces.

Meditation, exercise, drugs, hiking, lying in the sun... all these things are done to a greater or lesser degree for the feelings they produce.

I think that when people have free time, they chase after feelings.

As much as I admire Spock and Saga Noren for their lack of emotion, we humans are emotional creatures.

Maybe this is because the things we MUST do, such as work, either numb us into a state of feelingslessness, or actually produce negative feelings like stress and dread. So perhaps we need those feelings of freedom and closeness and self-actualization that leisure activities bring.

And yes, there is a tie-in to Alexander McQueen. McQueen specifically stated that he designed clothes in order to produce feelings in the wearer, as well as the observer. He intended that women wearing his clothes would feel powerful, sexy, and confident... while those observing "his" women would feel attracted to them, but also intimidated. Take a moment to let that sink in. It's awesome... to be working on that level... manipulating the emotions and ensuing interactions of people based on their clothing. It's almost a form of puppeteering.

I went to an all-boys grade school that had a school uniform. I remember that I was very excited to finally be going to high school, where I could wear whatever I wanted.

I was a soccer player in those days, and the schedule of my high school was such that soccer practice started before the academic school year. So, before I attended a single class on campus, I spent a week or two going to soccer practice. I remember there was one older fellow who commanded a lot of attention because he was charismatic and tall and blonde and handsome. I remember wondering how this guy would carry himself, would present himself, in the context of the school campus. I was sure he would show up with some awesome, individual sense of style and be an incomparable ladykiller. I was truly and genuinely shocked when school started and he showed up dressed in the same sports shoes, sports shorts and sports shirts that he wore to soccer practice. What a wasted opportunity! He was in fact something of a ladykiller, but the ladies he attracted were totally uninteresting to me. I think that was the day when I first understood the concept of a "jock," as well as the blonde, conservative girls who liked jocks.

He was probably equally shocked by me. I used to "dress up" to go to school. I was experimenting with newfound freedom. I used to dress up like rockstars such as Mike Score, Ian McCulloch or Andrew Eldritch, complete with ridiculous hairdos and hats (Andrew Eldritch is at least partly to blame for my hat problem).  I wore a lot of leather. I made my own clothes. I wanted people to be attracted to me, yet intimidated. It's a powerful feeling. Using clothes to precipitate feelings, or states of mind, is a process that I think most people (most men, certainly) don't really participate in. In an informal class poll, upon our departure at the end of senior year, I won four awards (simple math reveals that most in my class didn't win any of these mock accolades). Among the four awards were: Best Dressed, Most Likely to Have a Harem, and Most Likely to Start a Cult. I think that playing dress-up worked pretty well for me back then.

Alexander McQueen is holding my interest longer than most of my Art-Crushes, and I'm constantly asking myself why. I think this, elucidated above, is part of it.

(Fashion also works as a social filter. You know all those people with ripped black clothes and face jewelry? They are "wearing" a filter, essentially guaranteeing that only people who look like them will approach. They are the extreme example, but the same holds true all the way through every mode of dress. People who wear intimidating clothes ensure that only confident people will approach, and so on. It's a social code, and I believe it's an important part (along with eye contact, posture, etc.) of the way we size up potential romantic partners, friends, colleagues, etc. Maybe a topic to expand on another day.)


My project is going well... but again, only because I live it and breathe it, and am getting good help from Christina and Guy. Our old friend Cedar has just arrived in Berlin, staying for a month and helping to fabricate the upper part, the "Flame Burst." I don't have many friends, but I have some good ones! A few days ago we went down to the Landwehr Kanal Ufer and had a few beers at sunset.





 Very Berlin.

Kodiak and I saw some art.



Access to global, contemporary culture is something I think I will miss when we return to Taos. Thank Jeeze for the internet.


The faces for the sculpture are in the process of being cast in aluminum. They are currently in the wax stage.





Next up, the waxes will be encased in ceramic, then the whole thing is put in an oven which cures the ceramic and melts out the wax, and then finally molten aluminum is poured into the void where the wax once lived.


The torso of the figure is basically done. It was an extremely interesting bit of fabrication, insofar as it is one structure which is actually 2 structures (a steel framework and an aluminum surface) which had to be fabricated simultaneously and yet which cannot be welded together. Lots of test-fitting and careful cutting.









The cones scattered here and there are parts of the legs.

Well, I have written 100% of this post while on Berlin's public transportation.
Now I will use my phone's hotspot to publish it. 

Jeeze, what will they think of next?

Monday, April 16, 2018

More Welding and More McQueen

There's a natural inclination to want your ideas to be "finished," to be complete and "ready for publication" before you set them down to paper (or your blog)... but one of the nice things about a format like a blog is that it is OK to be a little less formal... a little more free-form. After all, I've made mention before of how this blog is serving on some level as a sort of "public diary," and past entries demonstrate that I don't mind letting this be a place for the evolution of ideas.

As for the half-baked thoughts I'm referring to, they relate to my ongoing interest in the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, and some thoughts I have around creativity in general which are precipitated by my current interest in him.

But first, how about an update on my Burning Man project.

You may remember that the project is called "With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us," which is frankly a pretty cumbersome title. I'm usually referring to it simply as "With Open Arms," or WOA. There's a slight irony to the fact that the central figure in the sculpture is positioned with open arms (two sets of them, actually), and yet the "open arms" in the title have nothing whatsoever to do with that figure, but rather with "We" humans. We are the ones who have welcomed these technologies with open arms, and this technology (as embodied by the Robot God) is more than willing to welcome us back, or swallow us up. I'm sure this subtlety will be lost on many a viewer. But I digress.

I do love Burning Man, and I am grateful for their funding and vote of confidence this year, but those facts notwithstanding, I must say that their slow handling of the contracts (and funds distribution) this year has been very stressful. Despite the fact that, almost from day one, I have been politely requesting these things to be fast-tracked in light of the realities that I have a shorter build timeframe because of international shipping requirements (just as every funded artist living outside the USA), it was 6.5 weeks until my first check was sent out. There are additional delays associated with moving the money abroad, and I am probably still 10 days away from being able to actually buy metal with it. As such, I have had to wring the neck of my personal financial resources to get this project moving. Sitting back and waiting for the money simply wasn't an option if I want to get this ambitious thing built on time. It will all work out in the end, I'm sure, but it has been difficult.

The first four weeks of building have concentrated on the base of the sculpture, or the "throne," which is essentially done now.

Here I have used the overhead crane at BBK to place one element in mid-air, in a position advantageous for completing a certain set of welds, while Christina and I both weld. 




Here is the base, largely completed... (a few things are missing still, including the "leaves" around the bottom, some decorative bands around the top, and of course the frieze)



Here the elements of the base have been disassembled with the crane...


And here I have installed the aforementioned decorative bands...


Meanwhile I've been simultaneously working over at KAOS to finish molding the faces. The silicone cured properly, thank the lord Jeeze, and I made the fiberglass jackets. Here is a picture just before beginning the fiberglass... after the final layer of silicone.


De-molding them is turning out the be really difficult, and it seems I will probably destroy the originals in the process. Oh well, it's the silicone molds that matter most now.

Hopefully this week I will be able to purchase a sheet or two of aluminum and begin work on the body of the central figure, the deity. I will let you know how it goes!

OK, Alexander McQueen... and my still nascent and unstructured musings on him...
At a certain point I imagined that I would begin my discussion of him by saying something like "Well there's nothing that I can say about Alexander McQueen that hasn't been said before," but... I think I've now read about him and thought about him enough to have had some of my own ideas, and perhaps not yet read so much that I've already read someone else elucidating these thoughts. So maybe they are actually original, or maybe I just haven't read them in someone else's voice yet.

Yes, he was a fashion designer, but anyone who dismisses him as "just" a fashion designer has not taken the time to look at what he was doing. My sense of him was that he was very interested in fashion and had a natural gift for making clothes, both of which factors led him naturally into the field of fashion, but once he had the venue of the catwalk available to him his proclivities as an artist came to the fore and were showcased in the only format in which he was well-versed, namely the catwalk. Like any (good) artist, his work became autobiographical. As a gay man who suffered sexual abuse and also saw his sister physically abused (both of them abused by the same man - her first husband), I believe he identified with women and made clothing intended to make them feel sexy and powerful, as well as protected and somewhat unreachable. He famously said "I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress. When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there's a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off. It's almost like putting armor on a woman. It's a very psychological way of dressing."




The way I see it, he designed clothing seemingly on at least two different levels, or maybe three. The two* I've identified so far were the "ready-to-wear" clothes (ready-to-wear is a fashion industry term for clothing that can actually be sold in stores), and also what I call the "show-piece" clothes. These "show-pieces" were the really outrageous stuff, the things that in many cases bore more resemblance to sculpture than clothing, or at least bridged that gap. Insofar as he could be considered a sculptor, his "canvas" (if you will) was the human body, which is a wonderful and fascinating concept. These pieces were unwearable in any practical sense or setting; their purpose was to elucidate ideas and to shock viewers; and these are the items which interest me the most. I think that with his show-piece work he was really stretching the limits of fashion and reaching more towards theater or performance art, and his shows became, through these pieces as well as though other elements such as makeup and hair, stage sets, props, and production design, a way for him to tell stories. His shows told stories which illuminated political history, mental illness, and the culture of consumption that is the fashion industry, as well as many other themes. Of course the stories he tried to tell were limited in their narrative scope by the medium, and couldn't achieve the level of completeness that you might find in a Kubrick movie, or any real narrative art-form. But he was touching on themes which, the closer you look, appear more and more to be very personal. 
*(The possible third level of clothing design he might have been engaged in as well was "haute-couture," or high fashion, meaning hand-made one-off garments for specific clients. I'm not well-enough versed yet in all of this to understand if his haute-couture work overlaps with, or is perhaps synonymous with, his show-pieces.)





It's not hard to find cranky voices proclaiming "Fashion is not art," often in direct response to McQueen. This strikes me as a facile argument which, again, shows a failure to actually look at his work, and also betrays a short-sighted over-reliance on categorization. It's like saying "french fries are not haute-cuisine." Sure, most of the time they are not, but closing yourself off to the possibility that, in the hands of a truly talented and adventurous chef, they could ever be shows nothing other than your own closed-mindedness.

McQueen was apparently widely recognized as a master pattern maker. Pattern making is the art of seeing how a piece of fabric needs to be cut in order to then be sewn to other adjoining pieces in the process of making a garment, and then making an actual pattern (usually from paper) from that shape so that the shape can be cut repeatedly. By all accounts McQueen was preternaturally skilled at this; he could cut pieces of fabric on the fly, without patterns and without even drawing on the fabric, all while simply looking at the woman for whom the garment was intended, and could achieve perfect results. This is no small task. What we are talking about is the ability to understand how a two-dimensional planar surface (which describes pretty much all fabric) can be manipulated into a three-dimensional volume. 

This skill is just one of the various "bridges" I feel with McQueen. I tackle much the same problem of translating flat, planar surfaces (sheets of metal) into 3D volumes on a somewhat regular basis. Becoming Human was an exercise in this translation, and I am currently right in the middle of designing the patterns for the various parts of the figure in WOA.


I have also always been someone who sews, or "seamster" as I like to say. I learned to sew at a young age, used to make my own clothing somewhat regularly (and always made my own patterns), and wrote my college application essay about my love of sewing and its significance in my life. Also, McQueen's approach to his runway shows reminds me of the way I used to generate narratives for my robot performances; I would find a theme which inspired me and build a narrative around it. McQueen did much the same thing. And lastly, I resonate strongly with McQueen's explorations at the intersection of Formidable and Sexy. On some pre-conscious level, this is exactly the territory I find most compelling in the wide world of women, and depictions of them. But Jeeze, enough about me...

McQueen also placed a high value on shock. He wanted to provoke reactions and push boundaries, and in the process stimulate progress. These are values that I think every great artist espouses, and when people see that sort of courage they are drawn to it, they want to be a part of it. The magic he brought to the catwalk with his show-pieces rubbed off on his ready-to-wear stuff, and once he hit his stride suddenly everybody wanted some of that magic, some of that vision... and they could have it just by visiting a store and buying a McQueen. It was brilliant. He got very rich, very quickly.



(He liked birds)

As I think about McQueen and put him in the context of Stanley Kubrick, Björk, Damian Hirst, and other artists I admire, I can't help but try to formulate a sort of "recipe" for creativity. It's a monumental task and one which, insofar as it is intended to be universal, is pre-destined to fail, but there are a few key ingredients which do present themselves. I think some of the basics which we can see are 
• Skill (which can be more-or-less natural, or "in-born")
• Commitment, or passion (which manifests as a willingness to devote hundreds or even thousands of hours to developing that skill)
• Vision (which I think can manifest in a variety of ways; either as a personal story to tell, or a willingness to tell stories with resonance, or even just a goal such as Beauty or Perfection.)

I'm so slammed for time these days that I've literally written most of this post while riding on the metro, to and from BBK. 
It's the end of the workday, I'm on my way home to my lovely family, and I can't think of anything more to write. 
So, until next time...

Oh... I thought of one more thing..
I tried yoga for the first time







Monday, April 2, 2018

Vision Thing

Sometimes you slowly feel a blog post building up, building itself. You slowly start to notice that maybe you have something to say. Maybe a few things.

I've begun my Burning Man project in earnest, even though the Burning Man organization is dragging its feet in getting the contracts issued (and more importantly, the money issued) more than I can remember ever happening in the past. Even though I've been prodding my Project Liaison Jeremy (who happens to be an old friend), letting him know that I really need to get going, for some reason it's taking forever. I know enough to understand it's not his fault... but Jeeze, I've only got something like 13 weeks before this thing goes into a shipping container! (Is that how you are supposed to spell "Jeeze?" WWJD? How would Jesus spell Jeeze?)

Anyway, fabrication is actually going fairly well, after the rough start at BBK.



Here is the upper part of the base, along with the mid-section containing the "windows," being fabricated upside down.


Here I have turned it right-side-up, using the overhead cranes. The upper part of the base has now been sheathed in 2mm sheet steel. This is where the frieze will go. "Window bars," or columns, are at bottom.


The bottom of the base, the part which actually sits on the ground, is now being added. May God and his son Jeeze bless overhead cranes.

If Burning Man doesn't get that check cut soon, I'm going to have to slow down on my fabrication. Fingers crossed.
So far I have been getting good help from Christina, a fellow named Guy who I connected with through the Berlin Burners group on FB, and a gal named Isabelle from KAOS.

Speaking of KAOS, I am simultaneously working there making silicone molds of the faces. 



I made an error in mixing the 2-part silicone (which, in my opinion, is not really my fault; the instructions are extremely unclear), and it's possible that I will have to start over. That would be a major hassle, as I would have to clean off un-cured silicone (which is like cleaning off... I don't know... I can't think of anything quite as awfully viscous), and also spend another €400 on silicone. Fingers crossed (again!).

Christina and Kodiak are having a dream vacation in Tenerife, allowing me to work. And Jeeze, am I working. When I am not fabricating steel at BBK or fucking up silicone molds at KAOS, I am at home working on a 1/4 scale cardboard model of the figure. 



There are lots of conical sections and curved planes on this figure, all of them intersecting at weird angles, and so a bit of model-making is in order. I imagined that I might tackle this through 3D modeling, but... I downloaded a highly praised program called Fusion 360 and after about 4 days trying to model and unwrap (flatten) a single cone, I realized my time would be better spent with cardboard. Maybe one day, Fusion 360... maybe one day.
(Actually I will probably use that program for modeling the frieze in preparation for getting it CNC milled... which is a considerably simpler task. So it wasn't for nothing.)

I do try to intersperse a few non-work activities into my schedule here and there... like going to museums to get inspiration for my work. Ha ha. I went back to the Museum of Photography, which I think was only given such a mundane name because "The Museum of Photographs of Sexy Women" didn't send the right message. Again, this is the home of the Helmut Newton collection, where you are not supposed to take photos. I guess photos of photos are a little like theft. Oh well, that never stopped me. It's fun trying to get the timing right, waiting for the security guards' attention to falter for a moment.



One of those photos actually had a mild influence on my cardboard model, shown above. I wonder if you can see it...

In the never-ending search for visual inspiration, I also visited a lovely Buddhist temple in the Berlin district of Spandau. 



I really do love Buddhist sculpture.

As a sculptor myself, I feel reasonably empowered when it comes to thinking about how to take an idea and shepherd it into 3D reality. But what about 2D? From time to time I come up with an idea that really should be expressed as an image. But I'm not really an "image maker." I have one of these ideas now. In fact, it really could be a series of images. And just like some of my sculptural work that I love the best, the ideas for these images have come from a place that feels more immediate, more subconscious, and less intellectually mediated or crafted. But how to make an image? If I knew how to paint, I would paint it. And I think it would look great as a painting, but only in the hands of someone who could really paint. No better way to screw up the transmission of an idea than to present it in a poorly crafted way. I could try collage, or photography. I'm a big fan of the little-known Anton Solomoukha, who worked in a kind of photo-collage style that he called "photographic painting." Still, though, anything having to do with photography would mean having to find models and actually interact with real people. Scary.

And OK, lastly... the latest installment of my series of "art-crushes." Readers of this blog will know that I have gone through several art-crushes in the last year or two... notably Damian Hirst, Björk, Francis Bacon, and Stanley Kubrick. What has become clear to me as I've thought about and written about these various characters is that I have a tremendous admiration for clarity of individual vision, and the boldness to see it through. 

I've always admired the fashion designer Alexander McQueen for similar reasons. I was a fan of his even before he died (which isn't saying much; he was pretty damn famous). I love him for all those reasons stated above (with the addition, in his case, of a strong tendency to think way outside the box), but I admit I am also additionally intrigued by his decision to kill himself. Or more accurately, I am intrigued by trying to understand what it was about his personality that lead him to that place. I am reminded of Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division. Anyone who has read more than just passingly about Ian Curtis knows that that poor bloke had a sensitivity and a rawness which simultaneously allowed him to write lyrics which have justifiably earned him an enduring place in popular culture, but also caused him to apparently be unable to cope with this world. He was just too sensitive. You can hear it in his songs, if you listen. I read somewhere once that one of the reasons Joy Division live shows were so intense was that Ian Curtis had no sense of stagecraft. The writer went on to explain that what he meant by "stagecraft" was the ability of a performer to pace himself (or herself), to only give as much to the performance as he could energetically manage, or even a bit less, and to save some of that energy, some of that personal space, for himself. Ian apparently couldn't do that; he put so much of himself into every lyric and every performance that he would collapse onstage or go into epileptic fits, until he finally killed himself. 

But back to McQueen. I don't actually know too much about him yet and so I can't comment authoritatively (I've finally given in and bought a book about him, so I will know more soon), but it seems he too was too sensitive for this world. He was hard-working and prolific, was extremely successful because of (and in spite of) the singularity of his vision, was occasionally self destructive, and was devoted to his mother. Apparently her death was too much for him; he killed himself a week after she died even though he was right in what looked like the middle of an extremely successful career. And yes, all this sensitivity and macabre-ness is intriguing, but at the end of the day it is his work which speaks the loudest. I don't care about fashion very much, but to me, McQueen was more like an artist. The web is full of images of his stuff, but here are a few just to illustrate the point:



Themes which emerge when you look at his work are things like the macabre, beauty, violence, nature, and elegance. And it was all presented with confidence and provocation. No wonder I like him so much.
I would have loved to see Savage Beauty, the museum exhibition of his work. 

I should get to bed. Gotta get back to BBK tomorrow morning and spend more personal money on steel, while I wait for Burning Man to get into gear. Jeeze.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Build Season

Well it's been a little while since I posted, and it's mostly because I am tired and stressed. Building a big new project is a lot of work, a lot of planning, a lot of logistics. And it's doubly challenging when you are doing it in a foreign country with a foreign language, at a new and unfamiliar shop, with an unknown quantity of assistants. And two people who, for months, seemed like they would be helping on the project, recently disappeared. OK, maybe it's triply challenging..?

I'm right in the middle of all that right now.

Last weekend was sort of the end of my time at KAOS, as it was time to move on to the bigger and better equipped BBK. That was bittersweet, as I've really enjoyed working there. Good people, good vibe. But BBK is better suited to this project. Actually, some elements of the project may also end up being built at KAOS... 

The faces of the figure are finally done. This photo



shows them essentially done but before their final coat of paint, which really made them look pretty good. Shoulda taken one more pic! These will be molded in silicone soon, and then the molds will be delivered to a foundry to be cast in aluminum when the first check shows up.

Showing up at BBK, first day...


BBK is really an exceptional facility. This place is only for sculpture, although there is another BBK facility somewhere else in Berlin for Printmakers, and yet another for Media Art. The sculpture facility has a huge hall for metal work, another for wood, another for ceramic, a large multi use hall, and several smaller areas (for plastic, machining, etc.) The metal hall, where I will be working, is very well equipped. There's a seemingly endless array of welders, a plasma cutter, a tube roller, a plate roller, a huge shear, several of the most beautiful fixturing tables I've ever seen, quite a few saws, torches, grinders, drill presses, etc. There's a lathe, but no mill. And curiously, no hydraulic press. Oh, and two overhead cranes, as well as a few forklifts and pallet jacks. 






Here is my first load of steel being delivered.



I will say that things have gotten off to a weird start there, though. I arranged a few weeks ago that I would be starting on March 19, and yet when I arrived on Monday with Christina I was told that the space that had been reserved for me was still occupied as the "previous" tenants were running long on their project, and it's not quite clear when they will be gone. 
So, for the meantime, Christina and I have been cutting steel in the communal walkway, with the power hacksaw.


Also, the tubing roller could not handle the material I bought for it, even though the shop foreman told me weeks earlier that it could... necessitating a redesign. Oh well, new shop, new tools. This stuff will sort itself out.

Christina and I do not necessarily always work together on big projects. In fact, our default mode is that whoever gets the project (me, in this case) typically does most of the work, with the help of assistants and volunteers, while the other one of us basically continues their own life, working on their own unrelated projects, and jumping in to help when necessary. For two highly motivated, self-directed control freaks, this level of autonomy and non-interconnectedness works well, and feels healthy. 

So, it was with great pleasure and appreciativeness that I accepted Christina's carefully considered offer to dive into this project with me. She explained that, with all the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead, her desire to see me succeed outweighed other considerations and she would be willing to put her personal projects largely on hold for the next several months and jump in with me. Shipping this sculpture across the sea at the end of the summer is going to chop about 5 weeks off my build time, compared to all the domestic US-based artists building for Burning Man, and so I'm going to need all the help I can get. I feel very lucky to have the help of such a talented and hard working artist as Christina Sporrong in my corner!

I am continuing to fine-tune the design, making changes for both aesthetic and structural/procedural reasons. The oval shape at the top has become a "flame icon" sort of shape, and the figure and throne continue to evolve. The frieze (the low-relief narrative element near the top of the throne) continues to be a pain in the ass to figure out, from a fabrication/production standpoint. I have worked through concepts of metal casting it, painting it, cutting it out of aluminum with a bandsaw, CNC milling it out of plastic, and CNC milling it out of aluminum. I'm currently leaning towards the latter option, but cost could yet prove to be an issue, possibly sending me down yet another rabbit hole. Time will tell.



This is one of the working drawings. You can see we are up to about 27 feet, 3 inches in height, or 831 cm. And yeah, I'm going to have to side with NASA, the US military, and just about everyone else in the world when I say that the metric system is better. Like, a lot better. It's taken me a while to get used to it, and I'm still stumbling a little, but pretty soon I will be fluent with it. Did I already mention that it's better?

Haven't seen much of Berlin lately, although it's nice to know it's still there. 
And it's too damn cold to ride my motorcycle. 
But it's build season, and that feels good.