Saturday, March 3, 2018

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us

I present below my project for Burning Man 2018.
The following text is a slightly revised version of my original proposal materials.


This project is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. Its throne presents its narrative. From a distance it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it's a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

The seated deity will be seductive, shiny, beautiful, contrasting with the throne made of darker materials. It will be of indeterminate gender, much like "Tutankhamun with Harpoon". Like the original people of Aristophanes'speech, the robot deity has four arms, four legs, and two faces. The look of the deity is not intended to represent the way anyone might actually build a robot, rather it is intended as a metaphor for the seductiveness, and horror, of modern technologies. The four arms will terminate in a balance of welcoming hands and menacing machines. Likewise, the two faces will display benevolence and lustful malice. In fact the whole piece plays on the interplay between attraction and repulsion. A frieze on the throne will tell the narratives of the deity's ascension, incorporating absurdity and humor. Lighting effects above the deity call attention and reinforce the absurdity. The interior of the base will be open to the playa, allowing the participants to both see and be seen, becoming a living part of the exterior visual narratives when viewed from outside.

 The essence of this piece is that we humans have been seduced by, and have willingly welcomed into our lives, a force (or cluster of interrelated forces) which we do not necessarily understand, and which does not necessarily have our best interests at heart. 

We fall like dominoes to the promise of “connectedness” that social media enticingly offers, yet social-media users are known to be depressed by the experience, and the algorithms which drive social media vacuum up our personal details and dollars (when they can) voraciously for as-yet unknown purposes. As a species we have enthusiastically embraced the early phases of Artificial Intelligence, even as we are now beginning to understand that these early incarnations will lead inexorably and unstoppably to an Artificial Super Intelligence which might one day decide to wipe us off the planet. Robot evolution continues apace, cheered on by those who see profit, convenience, and even military dominion on the horizon, while a few cautious voices on the sidelines warn of the oncoming end of meaningful work, radically intensified socio-economic inequality, and possibly even enslavement. Sex-bots, eagerly anticipated by certain segments of the male population, and under feverish development by various global entrepreneurs who see a golden opportunity, pose their own special set of problems ranging from oncoming generations of men who cannot relate to human women, to objectification (and worse) of women, to the end of human procreation. 

We are at the point in the evolution of these technologies that we are beginning to see some of their dystopian outcomes, yet we somehow cannot muster the appropriate emotional response necessary to lead to meaningful discussion and safeguards. It seems we are so entranced by the promise these technologies offer of appeasing our basest drives that we cannot act. But it really is time to have these discussions. 

And what if we don’t act? What if we cannot emplace a universal Asimov-style framework within which to advance these technologies? Is it far-fetched to imagine a society in which we must kneel before the robots and ask for their benevolence? When the robot deity arrives, will it be built by us? Or them? Will it listen to us? Will its directives contradict ours? Will it care?

Since the approval, I've been doing some "3D modeling" to work out some issues of fabrication techniques...

The oversized faces I've been sculpting at KAOS for the last month are the two faces of this figure.
That turns out to have been time well-spent. (Thanks Christina!)

I am in the process of nailing down exactly where this will be built. Talk about working outside your comfort zone!
I am grateful to Burning Man, I am excited, and I imagine I might soon be feeling overwhelmed...
But hey, art is the proper task of life.


Friday, February 23, 2018

Good News and Vaginas

I had been thinking that I would find time to upload a post in the last few days, which would be titled something like "One Last Post Before Hearing Back From Burning Man," but I didn't get around to it.

So instead, I'm now writing this post. The good news part of the title refers to both the fact that I've really hit my stride in the workshop at KAOS (I'm almost finished with a new sculpture), and the fact that Burning Man did in fact say "Yes" to one of my proposals (!). In fact, they have decided to fund the one that I strongly hoped they would fund... so this is quite good news.

Burning Man requests that announcements not be made public (in a big way) until February 28th, so... I will not be sending out my regular notification about this blog-post until that time, nor will I give any detail right now about what I intend to build for the festival.

I will take a minute though, to mention the proposals which they declined to fund. And yes, I did write proposals, in plural. While I did not mention this previously, I actually submitted three proposals, but only two of them were for new work. The third proposal was to bring back the Hand of Man. The Hand was funded originally by Burning Man in 2008, making this its 10th birthday. I thought it would have been a great time to showcase it (again), what with this year's theme and all, but Burning Man passed on the idea. I'm sure that the considerable shipping costs of bringing it all the way from Berlin were a factor in the decision. I am currently beginning to consider the idea of a crowdfunding endeavor to bring it anyway.

The other proposal which they elected not to fund was called "Stupendobot 2000," or alternatively "BrokeBot 2000." In this proposal I was trying to capture some of the emotion elicited when we see "robot fail" videos like this one. To me, they are hilarious. I think the emotion involved is something a bit like schadenfreude, but with an extra added element of secretly desperate superiority... a feeling along the lines of "Thank god those robots are still so clumsy. We are safe... for now." Anyway these videos are uniquely capable of making me bust up laughing, and I wanted to capture something of that humor, as well as something of the internally inconsistent idea of a "crazy," or nonsensically designed robot. Robots are normally thought of as the pinnacle of sensibility. After all, why go to the trouble of designing something so complicated if it's not going to be efficient and productive? So the idea of a robot that was so poorly executed that it just couldn't stop failing struck me as quite funny. I wrapped the whole thing up in a dystopian narrative about a future in which robots have taken over the job of replicating themselves (obviating humans), but are afflicted with a virus or a replicating error, and can't get it right.

This was the proposal about which I was very conflicted whether to submit or not. Basically, although I thought the ideas underpinning it were funny and good, at the end of the day I just felt a lot more passionately about the other proposal, the one which they did in fact agree to fund. I underwent a real crisis for a few hours about whether to actually press "SEND" on this one, agonizing about whether I'd rather BM fund Stupendobot 2000, or nothing at all. In the end though, it didn't matter, as BM apparently saw something of value in the vision I have for the other proposal. I have no idea if anyone at BM is reading my blog, but let this be the first of many times that I say "Thank You."

The other bit of good news is that I've really been feeling the inspiration over at KAOS. Once I started working on the faces for my BM proposal, another idea quickly popped into my head. That's the one involving the birch trees that I wrote about previously. The basic idea is: coming up from the floor we have a set of birch branches (inverted to look more like roots), these branches transition into the legs of a female human figure who is normal until her head, which is an unspecified type of advanced technology involving a camera of some sort. 

This idea, like most of the good ones, sprung up from my subconscious pretty much fully formed. I did not have to agonize over this one, "constructing" it in my conscious mind in the hopes of hitting on something good. After fully conceiving it, I saw that it was quite clearly inspired by "2001 A Space Odyssey." If this piece had a voice with which to describe itself, it would just be "A perfectly beautiful example of plant life giving way to a perfectly beautiful example of humanity giving way to a perfectly beautiful example of technology. Each stage depends upon and grows out of the stage below it."

As I write this post, I am only about 2 hours of work away from completely finishing the piece. But Kodiak is home sick from school, Christina is in Barcelona, and so I am writing a blog post instead of finishing the sculpture. So we will have to be content for now with some in-progress pictures. 

Here is the rough photo-shop mockup of the sculpture:

Here is how she stood in the workshop a few days ago, on the occasion of the first test-assembly of all the components together:

Here is the finished head, assembled onto the body. The LED lights, with a chip that causes them to blink, were a gift from Kodiak from a toy that he disassembled!

Here is the more-or-less finished transition between the branches and the legs. 

I had a brief discussion with myself about whether to carve a vagina into this sculpture, and I simply could not find any reason not to do it. (Well, not any good reason. I suppose there are plenty of reasons not to do that, but they all reek of conservatism and conventional morality, concepts to which I am not partial.) In any case, I did not want this sculpture to read as "tree becomes mannequin becomes camera." I wanted it to read as "tree becomes woman becomes camera." Imagine if I'd sculpted the female form out of clay instead of using a mannequin? How would it seem in that case if I'd sculpted an androgynous and sexless pubic mound? Weird, right? 

Anyway, I did make the vagina too small, I think. But then again, it's just above eye level and I did not want the whole sculpture to be about the genitalia, so I think if it's a bit understated that is OK. I did do a practice sculpture in butter, which has (unsurprisingly) generated some amusement on Instagram. It turns out that vaginas are really interesting, sculpturally, and butter is an interesting medium in which to sculpt. 

In other news, I am starting to consider getting off Facebook. I barely use it, and I think it's depressing and inherently evil. And it feels like a mildly revolutionary act to get off of it. But then again, it would be good for publicizing my "Bring the Hand of Man back to Burning Man" crowdfunding campaign. What should I do?

¡Hasta la próxima vez!

28/2/18 ••• EDIT WITH NEW CONTENT •••

I do now have finished pictures of the "birch lady" sculpture.
My friend Doyle has suggested the name "Big Mother" for this piece and I think I'm gonna keep it.
Thanks Doyle!

To quote (or paraphrase, really) the immortal words of Spinal Tap, I want the sculpture to be sexy without being sexist. I've had some discussion which suggests the possibility that I might have slightly missed the mark, through subtleties of the way I have depicted the genitalia. 
If you have something constructive to say on the topic, I welcome the input.

This post will be followed very quickly by another one with more info about my Burning Man project!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

We are all emotional mannequins!

I want to write this down before it slips away. It's amazing how fast things slip away.

It's not so glamorous or cool to write much about hard times or bad moods. So I minimize that stuff, even though our living experiment over here in Europe has not always been smooth sailing. 

But moods are funny things. One of the teachings of Buddhism is, basically, that you are not your moods. You are something more constant, more durable, and your moods pass over you and through you. In keeping with one of Buddhism's other great teachings, which is that nothing is permanent, you can sit back and watch with detachment and even amazement as moods come and go, knowing that each will surely fade away and be replaced by another. 

I stumbled upon a short movie, which you can see HERE, which arrives at very much the same conclusion, although it gets there from a much more "Western" direction.

I like the metaphor linking moods to weather. Berlin winters are dreary, and this has been one of the dreariest on record. 

But this week has been sunny! Yesterday I was working on my face sculptures at KAOS, things were going well, some great music came up on my device, and I was in such a good mood that I found myself trying to sing and dance and sculpt at the same time. Not long after, I left for the day. The sunset was beautiful. I climbed a bridge. I took photos. Berlin suddenly seemed amazing!

Sure enough, moods are funny things. It didn't take much... some sunlight and good music and a feeling of being engaged in my work, and the world was awesome.

Here is the room in which Christina and I are working at KAOS. You can see my two faces, approximately at the center.

Here is a photo of the river Spree, just near KAOS, taken from the bridge we cross to get there. KAOS is the red brick building just to the right of the white building that says Schrott-Ankauf, on the left bank. Note the huge gantry-style coal crane, loading a barge.

Here is the sunset, taken from atop the same bridge.

Here is possibly the best crane-Unimog I've ever seen. Christina saw the picture and fell in love with this vehicle, but remarked "The bed is so small, you couldn't really carry anything." And I said "Yeah, but you could drive to the top of Wheeler Peak in that thing!"

Here is a vast, abandoned, red-brick factory complex, not too far from KAOS. Amazing. I would love to poke around in there.

Back to emotions... I've always vaguely envied Spock for his limited range of emotion, and even at certain times tried to emulate him in his speech patterns. More recently Saga Noren comes to mind. (Her show, The Bridge, is probably the best TV we've watched in years.. highly recommended!) Her world seems simpler for her lack of emotion and connection with people. It certainly seemed to allow her to bring more focus to her work. Of course, envying aliens and emotionally incapacitated people is surely simplistic, and possibly even infantile, but still... A consciousness without the messiness and distraction of emotion does have a certain allure!

On the other hand, of course, most great art plays on emotion. I've talked about this before, on this here blog. It's the emotional stuff that hits you hard. In fact it was the emotional elements of The Bridge which made it so damn good. Almost all the work of the almighty Björk derives its strength from its raw emotion. Emotion drives much, if not most, of human behavior. So it must be good for something! And you know... dancing in the workshop was fucking awesome.

Anyway, these are just undirected musings on a huge topic, about which I am not an expert. The internet is full of articles, scholarly and otherwise, about emotion and consciousness and whether they are the adaptive results of evolution, or a comparatively useless byproduct of it. 

Before I go... I picked up the mannequin for my new piece.

She's a frickin' Amazon. She's as tall as I am. 

And I must say, it was worth the drive out to the store fixtures retailer, an hour east of Berlin. I was hoping to see a room full of mannequins and I was not disappointed. They had about a thousand of them, probably... and also bins and shelves and bins and shelves full of parts... heads, hands, legs, etc.

It reminded me of the basement warehouse in Westworld.

Everyone should visit a mannequin seller!

Happy Spring!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Random Shit

There's a Nick Cave quote somewhere that goes something like:
"Good ideas don't come from sitting around trying to think of good ideas. Ideas only come from the work itself. Ideas come when you're working."
Or maybe it's Francis Bacon.
The real quote might not even be super close to what I wrote, but that's the way I remember it.

Anyway I am finding it to be true.

Now that I have started working on the faces for one of my Burning Man proposals, other ideas are coming to me.

Berlin is full of parks, which are much more like small forests than what we in the States think of as a "city park"...

and because they are small forests they are full of trees, and because they are full of trees they are full of "dead and down" trees. We were walking one day a few months ago and Christina started carving the bark off a dead birch tree, talking about how her grandfather in Sweden used to make little tobacco boxes from the bark. Of course I had to try it... and yes, carving bark off of dead birch trees is very satisfying... but I ended up being rather more inspired by its sculptural qualities, and ended up making this:

That was a while ago (and yes, I've shown this image here before).
Now I've got an idea for a new sculpture which again incorporates birch, but this time in larger pieces. One of Berlin's many forest-like parks is on the way to Kodiak's school, and I've been noticing some fallen birches...

so I went out with a hand-saw this evening. I did quite well for myself.
Good thing we put a cargo rack on the roof of our little Skoda Eurobox!

This new idea is partially inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, and will incorporate a mannequin and birch tree parts, among other things.

The face is coming along, although not without pain. 

I don't really like sculpting in polystyrene foam; it's very difficult to get a smooth finish, and more importantly it is not at all easy to add material. With clay, if an area is low or needs more volume, you just add more clay. Sculpting foam is a process of removal (much like sculpting stone), so you need to "creep up" on the forms, volumes, and contours that you are trying to attain. If you go too deep, you've made a problem for yourself. Admittedly, in foam the problem is not as severe as it presumably is in stone, because there are ways to fix it.

After getting pretty close to the final form in foam, I coated it with a mix of drywall filler and white glue to seal it. this gives a surface which can be sanded to a nice finish. Unfortunately, after coating it, I suddenly saw all the ways in which it was not symmetrical, so I've been using the filler material to "sculpt" and correct these problems.

I went to another sauna spa place in Berlin a few days ago with my old friend Ari Gold, and during our conversation I used a sculpture metaphor to try to illuminate a point about getting too fixated on details without seeing the bigger picture. What I said was "sometimes I sculpt a pair of eyes and get very focused on making the details perfect, only to step back and notice that one eye is too low." Ironically the very next day I had that exact experience! Considering how difficult it is to "re-sculpt" foam, the best solution was to cut out the eye and move it up.

(Uggh... as I look now I see that the eyes are still too small... even after several stages of enlarging them! Grrrr....)

Anyway, the sculpture is coming along. I've just begun the second one.

The second sauna spa place (where I went with Ari) was perhaps a bit better than Liquidrom, but not by virtue of their having any particularly hot water. In fact the water there was, on the whole, even cooler. I guess the German approach is to sit in really hot saunas and then cool down in lukewarm water. I wonder if it's just cultural? Or perhaps it comes from some sense of safety? (Maybe they think hot water is really dangerous?) Anyway, the place is called "Vabali". It's got a sort of Bali-Indonesia theme. It's really big; probably 4 times the size of Liquidrom, with 8-10 saunas. The highlight for me was the "Russian Sauna," which involved a very handsomely built young man dunking the branches from some very aromatic tree (I think it was Eucalyptus) in really hot water and then thrashing them around in the air, so that all of us (the sauna was really crowded) were showered with super hot water and aromatic steam. There were a few gay guys in the sauna who were thrashing the "sauna master" back with bits of the branches that had come off, flirtatiously saying "ein Bisschen zurück fur dich!" (A little bit back for you!). It was hilarious. Anyway the whole thing was actually a really relaxing and nice experience. 8/10.

Ari and I spent a few minutes talking about the value of being in the presence of naked women... a value that is on the surface a merely aesthetic phenomenon, but ends up transcending the merely aesthetic and transmitting something more like a sense of well-being or calm, a message that the world is right and life is worth living. I tried to convey something of this sentiment in an earlier post.

Be careful when changing the battery on your iPhone! My phone has been slowing down, so I decided to replace the battery. Well, the batteries in these things are held in place by the most industrial-grade double-stick tape I've ever come across. I basically could not overcome the adhesiveness of this stuff. As I pulled and pulled on the battery, the battery itself started to fold. I thought "no big deal," and kept pulling. But then suddenly I saw a small spark and the battery started to burn and pour out smoke! Apparently I had caused an internal short-circuit in one of these famously dangerous lithium ion batteries. I ran out onto our tiny patio, frantically blowing the smoke and heat away from the other electrical and electronic components inside the phone. Watching this battery burn was really fascinating; basically it started at one end and there was a sort of "burn line," the leading edge of the combustion, that advanced slowly down the phone, leaving the area behind it burnt and sort of "exploded" looking. It took about 20 seconds to burn the whole battery, and it put out a lot of acrid smoke.

This is how it looked, even when still in the phone!

When it was done I sort of doubted that the phone would still work. The battery had thankfully been unplugged, but several plastic components next to the battery were partly melted from the heat. On the plus side, it was much easier to remove now that the double-stick tape had been softened by the heat (but it still took a lot of scraping with a razor blade to really remove the last vestiges of the tape.) Well I installed the new battery and amazingly enough the damn thing still works. I guess I got lucky.

I've begun to consider whether there might be some value in writing a frank and brutal assessment of my own failings... a sort of autobiography of the ways I disappoint myself. Buddhists and therapists say you should treat yourself gently, but Nietzsche and Cop Shoot Cop* have different ideas. I think you could actually do both: look at your shortcomings with clear but compassionate eyes. I don't really know if this exercise would ultimately produce a positive or a negative result, but I think that if you handled it right it would probably be positive.

*I love those lyrics, especially the first two lines. I think the song is pretty obviously about drug addiction, but I've always considered that it could be about any indulgence or weakness of character that we want to overcome.

Helga, I will write more about Berlin... I promise!

Until then,
Over and Out

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Turning Around

OK, first off, welcome to anyone reading this blog for the first time.

I've finally taken the step of "cross-promoting" this blog by posting it on FB and Instagram. 

One reason it took me a long time to take this step is that sticky problem I referenced way back when I re-started this blog after arriving in Barcelona, which is finally wrapping up. It's not yet time to crack open a beer and celebrate, but it's close. More on that later.

The other reason I've never made this blog very widely known is that it is a bit... um... personal? Is that the right word? Philosophical? Long-winded? Who knows... judge for yourself. I used to include elaborate offers to be removed from my email-update list, but no one ever took me up on it. Maybe everyone is too damn polite. Or maybe they actually enjoy it. Who knows... judge for yourself.

If you're reading this because you landed here from FB or Instagram and you want to be included on my email update list, email me at

This will be one of those rambling posts, including (among other things) my experience getting a German residency visa, a brief review one of Berlin's signature hot tub / sauna joints, and a bit about how good it finally feels to get back to work (thanks again, Burning Man).

First off, I think there should be a short and catchy word for "to feel ambivalent about." 

The progression Hate -> Like -> Love seems inadequate. I propose the word "Biv," which comes from ambivalent. Hate -> Biv -> Like -> Love. That seems better. Maybe it'll catch on...

After Christina and I went through the arduous task of getting our NIEs (or Número Identificación Extranjero, aka Spanish temporary residency card), we felt major paperwork fatigue and the idea of starting over in Germany sounded daunting... but we soon figured out that they don't really let you get away without a residency visa here. Christina and Kodiak are Swedish citizens (yes... I'm jealous!), but as an American, I need a visa. I spoke with a lawyer and learned that, strangely, in Germany it's not quite enough to be married to a European. The lawyer advised me that, in consideration of the fact that Berlin in particular has an expedited visa process for artists (apparently a direct result of an official recognition by the city that art is a valuable cultural resource - go figure!), and the fact that I am actually an artist, my best avenue would be to apply for a visa as an artist. Cool.

I had to assemble a formidable pile of documents including my college diploma, marriage certificate, letters of recommendation, offers of work, and plenty of proof that I am actually an artist. The lawyer thought they'd grant me a year... but I got three! I gotta say it was exciting to get the visa based on my artistic practice.


I had been wanting to sit in some hot water for a while (my hot tub in Taos is actually one of the things I miss most) and so I decided to celebrate the visa by going directly from the Ausländerbehörde to Liquidrom, a well-known hot tub and sauna place near Anhalter Bahnhof. You can't take pictures in there (which I think is appropriate), so here are a few from the web.

I'll keep this short. Basically, the place is amazing... almost. The facility is beautiful. The huge round pool (blue tiles, above) with psychedelic lighting, underwater music, and salt water (so you float) is great. The saunas and the steam-sauna were much nicer than expected. But for me there is nothing to compare to sitting in hot water, especially outside on a cold day, and here... Liquidrom fell way short. There's no f**king hot water there! There is a beautiful outdoor "hot" tub (wood, above), but the water couldn't have been more than about 99.5ºF, or about 37.5ºC, (barely above body temperature) and none of the other "hot" pools exceeded that. What a wasted opportunity! Icelanders and North Americans (and maybe others) have got this right - there's nothing better than sitting outside on a winter day in 104ºF (40ºC) water. But so far I can't find it in Berlin. I give this place a 7/10. Turn up the temperature and it could be 10/10.


Christina and I submitted our Burning Man proposals, just in time. Somehow we both thought we would get plenty of work done on our proposals while in Greece for the holidays - we brought our laptops and other support materials - but we didn't work on them there for even a minute. Which meant that upon returning to Berlin we had about a week, and we needed every bit of it. Those proposals are actually a fair bit of work.

Burning Man ended up accepting two of my LOIs (Letter Of Interest, sort of a preliminary proposal), so I had two full applications to do. I went through a rather agonizing last-minute crisis about whether to even submit one of them, due to the fact that, for some reason, I felt much less invested in it than the other. In the last hours before the deadline I agonized over whether I'd rather BM fund the proposal I felt less strongly about, or fund nothing at all. After consulting several people, and taking a late-night walk to ponder, I decided to submit both proposals... although I'm still not sure it was the right decision.

In any case, we have a month until we hear back about all that and I decided to take advantage of this time and our new relationship with KAOS to finally do a bit of work. The proposal that I feel more invested in, the one I hope they do fund, features two human-like robot faces. Christina helped me see that, in the case that they do fund that one, I will probably feel enough time pressure that I will feel too rushed to give those faces the attention they deserve (recognizing that the face is usually the single most important part of a sculpture). So I've decided to work on them now. If they fund it, I'm ahead of the game. If they don't, I've got a pair of oversized aluminum robot faces. Win-win.

It feels great to be working in an actual shop again. It's been hard to find time to write this blog post because I've been so keen on maximizing my hours in the shop. 

The plan is to sculpt the faces in foam and then sand-cast them in aluminum. I've got a friend here called Jens (mentioned here before, he helped build the prototype for the Hand of Man) who is pretty familiar with aluminum casting, and he's offered to help. If it goes according to plan he and I will build a big furnace at his shop and cast the faces there. Should be interesting.

(Yes, the eyes need a lot of work... yes the nose might be too big... yes yes I'm working on it!)

Switching gears, I want to take a moment to re-visit Germany's ad campaign, imploring people to slow down and stay off their phones while driving. 

In both these images, all we see is desperately sad young women, staring directly at us, with superimposed messages "get off the gas" and "hands off your mobile." The implication of course is that these aberrant behaviors have caused the deaths of loved ones, reinforced in one of them by the shoulder clothed in a funereal black suit. I think these ads are super effective, but also works of art. 

For the time-being, one of them has become my home screen. Keep in mind that "Handy" means mobile, or cell phone.

Lastly, Kodiak and I made matching rubber-band shooters. Fun!

OK, post-lastly... here we see Kodiak pondering a Keith Haring sculpture...

I think (hope!) he didn't look too closely. 

Hasta la vista, compañeros.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


Time flies. Things happen and I think... "Hmm, I should blog about that." But then I don't and time keeps flying. 

I am beginning to think of my blog as a public diary of sorts... in the sense that I feel I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else. It's a document of my time, my observations, my thoughts. I personally find it interesting to go back and read earlier posts. It's nice to have it written down, to be able to see progression and change. A document. 

One reader asked for more information about Berlin, about how it is to be there. This strikes me as a totally valid request and brings into focus the fact that perhaps I haven't written all that much about it. And I will. 

But I write this now, the beginning of this post at least, from the ridiculously picturesque Greek island of Hydra. If I should let my own photographic output be the exclusive guide for what I write about, then this post should be about Greece, and especially Hydra. I've certainly snapped more photographs in the last 10 days here in Greece and Hydra than I did in the previous month in Berlin. I think this post will present itself more as a classic "travelogue" than usual.

I think it's fairly well-known that Leonard Cohen owned a house on Hydra, and spent a lot of time here. Leonard Cohen was always... let's see, how can I say this in some way other than to simply say I've always been a big fan? He was an influence on me? I love his music? I marvel at his writing? Yes, yes, yes, and yes, I always have been a big fan. I got to meet him briefly at Coachella once. I was setting up a sculpture on the Thursday or Friday before the show started and he took to the stage for his soundcheck. But his soundcheck was a full show... probably 8 or 10 complete songs with the whole band and backup singers and everything. I was one of 20 or 25 festival-tech types standing 30 feet from him, treated to this amazing experience. When he was done and walked offstage amid about as much "thundering" applause as 25 people can muster, I sensed my opportunity. I walked around to the back of the stage and caught him as he descended. I surprised him and his very protective handlers as I told him of the profound effect his work had had on me and the honor of being able to meet him and shake his hand. He was humble and gracious. Of course I would have loved a picture with him but his handlers were shoving me off by that time. 

His house in Hydra is also humble and quite unremarkable. Apparently his children still use it.

Leonard Cohen's front door

I'm pretty sure the honor of naming a street after him was not bestowed until after his death. 

Greece is interesting. We've come here for two weeks over Kodiak's Christmas and New Year's break to spend time with my brother Cles, who lives in Athens. When I say that Greece is interesting, it's not just a throwaway line. What's interesting is the contrast between, on the one hand the dilapidated and decrepit state of modern-day Athens, and on the other hand the proud history of classical Greece (as embodied by the Acropolis and similar sites) and also the beauty of the countryside and the islands. 

Athens is not charming. Or perhaps I should say that it has a very different kind of charm, but maybe that's just me being polite. It's more than frayed at the edges; the body of the cloth seems tattered as well. Everybody says it's because of the financial crisis, but the decay that I see here seems a lot older and deeper than 10 years. That being said, by the 7th or 8th day in Athens I did start to sense something akin to charm... it was the feeling of seeing vibrancy and youth and energy amidst the decay. If decay is what is on offer, you may as well find the beauty in it. There is some pretty decent street art in Athens, and that can be a good barometer of the youth segment's feeling of investment in a place.

A view of the city from one of Athens' many high hills.

I wonder how Bulgari feels about having their name prominently displayed on this clock, which not only doesn't work anymore but also features physically broken arms...

Buildings like these two are scattered throughout the city...

Street art. Big. Not sure why, but I love this one...

I guess I have a soft spot for distorted faces. I like this one too.

Kodiak and I did see a really fantastic museum show in Athens called "Into The Unknown," which is about the history of science fiction. The show suddenly made clear to me the fact that I am actually a bit of a sci-fi fan. It featured a lot of great artifacts ranging from the original Darth Vader mask to space suits from various films to H. R. Geiger designs to classic sci-fi cover art to film robots. Highly recommended. 

Somehow I'd imagined before seeing the show that there would be some props from "2001, A Space Odyssey," but there weren't any. Seeing this original treatment (or script) in which the original working title has been crossed through and replaced with the actual title was cool, though.

Suits from "Moon" (white), Star Trek (orange), and "Red Planet" (maroon/gold). I worked on the neck rings and helmet fittings for Red Planet, so it's actually possible that I made parts of that maroon suit. The space-ship model at upper right is from "Starship Troopers," I think.

More suits, from "Interstellar" (white) and "Sunshine" (gold). I quite liked Sunshine, at least the first 2/3 of it.

Can't remember what this is from... maybe a reader recognizes it...

Kodiak soaking up some culture, of the 1950's dystopian future variety.

I'm not sure which one of us was more excited about the original Darth Vader mask, or the show in general. Actually I do know. It was me.

Of course we also visited the Acropolis and surrounding temples and archaeological sites. I was particularly intrigued by the contrast of having a big cargo crane inside the Parthenon...

The Greece that you find outside Athens is, unsurprisingly, more charming and beautiful. We went skiing and snowboarding one day, and although waiting 50 minutes in a mash of people (which passes for a queue here, I guess) was an exasperating and classically Greek experience, the mountain was beautiful and it was a fun day. Cles was shooting video for one of his many outdoor-sports-in-Greece films, which can be found at his web portal. If you're into extreme and sustainable sports, check him out. 

A "well ordered" queue in Greece. Jesus, this experience made me feel very German. 

Kodiak and yours truly ready to attack the slopes!

We also spent 3 idyllic days by the beach in the Peloponnesus with Cles and his partner Eleni. We cooked at home, made fires every evening, hiked around ancient ruins, and played cards. Christina and I got up early on January 1st and went swimming in the Aegean (correction: The Ionian). Well, ok, "swimming" might be an exaggeration, but we braved the cold winter waters and got in. It's something we also did last year in Barcelona and it feels like a good way to start the year. 

This is the beach where we welcomed the new year. Even though it was a lot cleaner than the beaches in Athens, the tattered Greek flag is somehow quite emblematic to me of the state of things.

Athens beach. In some funny way I think this is also emblematic of Greece, especially Athens. There is a beautiful resource here which could draw visitors and their Euros here in droves, if it would just get cleaned up a bit. On the other hand, it's quite nice to be in a place that isn't overrun by selfie-stick wielding tourists, and I heard from my brother and his friends that they also sensed this double-edged sword. Athens would do well to have more tourist money flowing through its economy, and yet the city still feels very real and raw and as-yet uncommodified, and there is actually a real value in that.

We rounded off the last few days of the our time in Greece with 2 days in Hydra, with Cles and my mom (who used to live there for a while.) As Leonard Cohen knew, Hydra is beautiful and quite unspoiled. There are no cars or motorcycles allowed here - the many steep streets and staircases are navigated exclusively on foot or, if you have to move goods, by donkey. They say it is the most unspoiled of all the Greek islands - the one which presents itself most as it always has been.

At the end of our first day, evening falls on a typically narrow and steep Hydra street...

The next day, a cargo ship from the mainland disgorges its goods onto the quay as the donkeys wait to carry everything up the hills...

Kodiak taunts one of the island's many stray cats in front of the empty cargo ship...

Kodiak and Cles strolling along the harbor...

The three of us, sitting at the harbor...

Hydra power pole. I covet those aluminum signs....

The old, historical flag of Hydra. Graphically awesome, and hand-made. The current one is much less interesting, if you ask me. (This photo is from the fantastic Museum of Hydra, at the port. Photos were not allowed, but this flag was so cool that I had to evade the electronic surveillance to snap a pic!)

Cles and I hiked up to a monastery near the highest point of Hydra. The elevation where we are standing is about 478 meters; the town and harbor of Hydra are barely visible below. Good conversation on the hike - it turns out we have much the same viewpoint about monasteries!

Cles is barely visible as we descend from the mountain into darkness...

On our final day in Hydra, and in Greece, we were up before the sunrise to catch the early ferry back to Athens...

Giving Kodiak time to ponder thoughtfully by the light of the moon...

Thanks for a great time in Greece, Cles and Eleni!

As I finish up this post I am back in suburban Berlin. I've always found it interesting, or even important, to pay careful attention to one's feelings and emotions when returning to the place one calls "home" after a period of time away. I think that in the same way that a strong smell is really only noticeable when one first enters a room, only to become "normal" and unnoticeable a few minutes later, feelings about a place are most "real" and accessible when first arriving there. 

My feelings coming back to Berlin are mixed. I've said it before, but my feelings about being here are strongly conditioned by the temporary nature of our stay. It's a bit like I'm in a place that could be great if I could commit to it, and yet... 

I've been thinking lately about the importance of being "integrated into a community." Being in Berlin is, for us, an experience with an expiration date, and that makes it quite difficult to know how much to "invest." Yet I know that being invested and integrated is an important component of well-being in general. To complicate things, I feel that I've begun to meet some interesting people (who are manifestations, if you will, of Berlin as a young, creative, artistic place), and that another year or two here could have me feeling just as integrated here as I do in Taos.

First world problems, yes. But people do talk a lot about the importance of "place," which I guess means finding your place in the world. The place where you feel comfortable, at home, and productive. Maybe it can be more than one place? I find myself pondering these topics and questions more and more...