Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wow, today kind of sucked!

I decided quite some time ago that it makes more sense for me to have my own big truck than rent one. But wow, working on them is either A) expensive or B) a pain in the ass.

As all you faithful blog readers know, I am taking the Hand of Man to Denver in a little less than two weeks. Herman, my Chevy Kodiak crane truck, will be doing the dirty work of hauling it there and back. This is Herman:

But Herman needs new tires. Four of them. At $250 - $300 each. And new batteries. Three of them. At $125 each. That's a lot of money. I did not actually realize until recently how bad the tire situation was, so the $1000 expenditure on tires was sort of a surprise.

Well, I realized a few days ago that the tires on my International cabover semi truck will fit Herman, and there are eight of them, and they are in good shape. Here is the International:

So I tried to swap the tires from the semi to Herman today. And that is where the sucking started. Basically it was an all-day job, and I did not even finish.

This is how I had to loosen the lug nuts: (Giant breaker bar that I had to jump up and down on)

With all that jumping up and down on a muddy metal tube (oh, did I mention it was raining and really muddy?) I sort of hurt my knee. See, more sucking! Ahh, old age!

And here is what no one tells you.... (well, no one told me.. but now I am telling you!) ..... The studs on the left side of these trucks are REVERSE THREAD!! I jumped up and down on that damn breaker bar for about an hour, inadvertently tightening the damn nuts, before I figured that one out! And then, once you get all the nuts and the outer wheels off, you have to remove the studs with a special socket to get the inner wheels off!! That is the part I never got done today.

After all that jumping around in the mud, I was exhausted. So instead of more physically demanding labor, I installed the power supply board that I got off eBay into my ancient dinosaur of a CNC mill. I was pretty excited to see the mill power up for the first time in years, and then quickly thereafter pretty disappointed to find out that it is stuck in some error mode that I cannot seem to free it from. Awesome!

Well, hey, tomorrow is another day.

If anyone reading this has to change their semi truck tires anytime soon, I would like to politely encourage them to consider paying someone else to do it. Maybe I should be renting trucks after all!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

So, one or two posts ago I said I was going to start "clearing out the mental inventory" of projects that I've thought about doing recently. The obvious place to start is with my art grant proposal for this year's Burning Man. My proposal, which was rejected for funding, was called "Eat the World."

This project arose out of the idea that the main ways that we humans interact physically with the world around us is through our hands and our mouths. The "Hand of Man" pretty much covered the "hand" end of things, and "Eat the World" was conceived to explore and extrapolate the ways in which we use our mouths to "consume" the world.

In much the same way as the Hand of Man makes use of an ergonomic "controller" (glove) to mimic the user's hand motions and then duplicate those motions in the large mechanical hand, this piece would invite the user to step into a "harness" which would capture the user's arm, head, and jaw motions, and translate those into the movements of the larger sculpture. Through the use of simplistic arms and hands on the large sculpture, the user could "feed" objects to himself and devour them.

One interesting aspect of this piece, with regard to the experience of the user, is that the user is actually situated INSIDE the head of the piece. This means that whatever movements the user might make with his or her head would be translated into movements of the large sculpture's "head", thereby taking the user for a "ride" of sorts. Basically, the user would be going for a ride that her or she was controlling in real time with the motions of his or her own head. I think that would be really fun, and weird.

This basic concept of capturing the movements of a single operator and translating those movements to a larger machine is really quite fascinating to me. It plays a central role in several of my other sculptural ideas, as will be seen. I think that the idea of putting the individual in the central controlling role of their own experience, and using machinery to make that experience more exciting, or intense, or dangerous than anything they might normally experience, is a really compelling one. It's really compelling to me, anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oh, screw it. I'll post a few pix of the Hand retrofit, even though this isn't technically the Hand blog. Rebuilding the Hand is the only thing I am doing these days worth taking pictures of (wait, that's not actually true.... I am also building the baby room... and building custom commutators for Christina's pulse jet project... and just took down our big art show.... and...)

Here is the Hand in a sort of exploded state. The pinkie and the thumb, which were ripped off the Hand the last time it was used, are in the foreground.

There are MANY steps that must happen to each joint during this retrofit. Here I am reaming the pivot "ears" to a larger size.

Here is the first finished finger joint. I just finished it yesterday. It is MUCH stronger than the previous design.

Christina and I put up a joint show of our sculptures here in Taos about a month ago. It was pretty fun, and the opening was fairly well attended. Nothing sold... I am not too surprised about that. We took down the show yesterday and I took some great pix before it came down. I will post those soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I usually try to keep my blog posts confined to a single topic, but this one might be a bit of a free-form ramble.

One of the "resources" that I miss the very most from urban life is COMMUNITY. Now don't get me wrong.... there is a lot of "community" here in Taos, and by that I mean good people who are willing to help out in a pinch, or share a laugh at a barbecue or whatever. The kind of community that I miss is a group of like-minded individuals, with similar goals, aspirations, visions, and skills, and the inclination to hang out and shoot the shit about all that aforementioned stuff. What I am really saying here is that I miss hanging out with other mechanical/kinetic/metal artists.

There are many benefits that come with being part of a community of like-minded artists. Through casual communication, one finds out about possible exhibitions, shows, and other money-making opportunities. Being part of such a community can help in the birth of new ideas, not only through admiration of others' work, but also in opposition to it, or just through the exchange of ideas through conversation. And being part of such a community can also be of great benefit when actual help is required... like skilled help on a project, help moving something heavy, or help with a skill or sub-specialty that you do not possess.

In California, both during my time living in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, I was part of such communitites. There are various ways in which getting things accomplished artistically is immensely harder here in rural New Mexico, due to the lack of such a community. I do not want to come across as a complainer, but it is really quite frustrating to read about art projects (often Burning Man related) happening in Seattle or Oakland which are able to make use of ten or twenty skilled volunteers, when out here in Taos, we are lucky if we can rustle up one.

One resource I had consistent access to in California, which I desperately miss, is access to an artistically minded person with electronics skills. Electronics is one area of expertise that frequently comes into play in the kinds of artistic projects I would like to take on, but which I have never learned. Now of course one option is to learn it myself, but there really is something to be said for "division of labor". After all, it is one of the principles by which the ancient Sumerians were able to move from hunting and gathering to the first actual civilization! Plus, there is not even someone to teach me here! And there are no classes either (something else that one finds easily in cities these days).

Another resource missing here is easy access to money. This is a pretty big topic in and of itself, but it does tie in to the difficulties finding skilled help that one encounters in a place like this. It is my opinion that folks who live in cities generally tend to have actual jobs which often pay well enough that the basic needs of food and rent and utilities are taken care of. A person with such a job then finds that evenings and weekends are "free time", and if such a person has an artistic bent or a desire to "be a part" of something, then that person is an excellent candidate to become associated in some way with an art project or group of some sort. Here in poor Taos, most people are engaged in a near-constant struggle to make enough money to pay the rent and buy food. There is not much "free time." There are of course a certain number of people for whom their whole lives are "free time," but those are not the folks you want helping on your projects.

The foregoing theory is really just that - a theory. But it does conform very well to the realities that I have experienced living in the various places that I have.

-Slight shift of topics-

I have spent much of the last year in what I would refer to as an "artistic lull." I have had a hard time coming up with any sculptural idea that I thought was actually worth building.

As I have begun to slowly come out of this lull, a "lack of ideas" has gradually been replaced with a succession of ideas that seem at first glance to be "too ambitious."

But the reality is that they are only "too ambitious" because I lack either the money, or the electronics skill, to bring them to reality.

One concept that has struck a chord with me recently, and that I have seen written in a few places, is summed up in Paul Arden's book as this: Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you.

This seems like a pretty weird idea, at first, because if you just share your ideas, someone else will steal them, right? Well maybe. But maybe not. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Or maybe, like Arden says, it's vital to get the ideas out, so that new ones can come in. Or maybe if you share your ideas through a blog, at least there is written evidence that they were your ideas first!!

Anyway, what I am getting at is that I have decided to begin to use this blog to describe some of my sculptural ideas (you remember, the ones that I do not have the money or electronics know-how to actually complete right now). Maybe by doing this, I will find someone who wants to fund one of them, or someone who wants to collaborate by contributing their electonics skills, or I will somehow encourage the flow of even more ideas, or something else good will happen! Who knows! Anyway, I've got nothing to lose.

While I have been thinking about all this mumbo-jumbo, I have been working on the Hand Of Man. It's getting a pretty major retrofit in time for the Mile High Music Festival in Denver in August. I think that I will post a write-up about that, along with some pictures, on the Hand blog.

I'll end with a quote from the Swans......

"I want power, because it feels good."

I have always loved that quote. Could there have been a Swans if there was not a Nietzsche first? I don't think so. I interpret that quote as having to do with self-actualization, rather than any kind of political or force-based power. Nietzsche's concept of "will to power", often misinterpreted as having something to do with force, really has to do with "becoming who you are." Suffice to say that an artist is much more likely to really fulfill the "will to power," as Nietzsche saw it, than a politician or a soldier ever would be.

I will start to talk about some of my as-yet unfulfiled art ideas in upcoming posts.

If you actually got this far, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the topic of what are the differences between living in the country and living in the city, this is something that I have thought about quite a lot. However, I think it's fair to say that my thoughts on the matter are extremely particular to my personal situation. They apply somewhat to Christina as well, and by extension, may apply to people who lead similar lives to us, and face similar challenges. Who knows, maybe my postulations are more universal than I think....

Like I said, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic, and I have decided that the big difference is RESOURCES. This is an intentionally vague and broad-ranging term. If you think about it, "what-you-have-access-to" (or resources), whether that be materially, culturally, socially, environmentally, professionally, etc, is dramatically different in a rural setting or an urban setting.

There are resources out in the country that simply are not available in a city. And there are resources in a city that just can't be found in a place like Taos.

Clean air is a resource here. So is cheap land, cheap rent, cheap space. Wanna build a house by yourself with minimal involvement of the government? You can do that in a place like this. Beautiful views, and a relaxed lifestyle? Yes, we have those here. Do you want access to a rich native American culture and a history of interaction between that culture and the cultures of Spanish and white European settlers? That may not be available in too many other rural settings, but it IS available in northern New Mexico.

On the other hand, do you want access to a wide variety of cheap materials (metal, industrial surplus, electronics, etc)? Not here; try a city. (You can mail order almost anything you want these days, of course, and thank god for that. But I've probably paid over $1000 in shipping in the last year alone.) How about creative jobs with high pay? Sorry... maybe in California. How about cutting edge, experimental culture? No. Christina and I do our best to bring a little of that here to Taos, and we do get recognized for our efforts from time to time, but truly edgy culture does not exist here, and probably is lacking in most rural American areas.

In Buddhism, there is a saying that all suffering comes from attachment. In other words, the only reason we suffer is because we have attachment to a thing, or an outcome, or a person, or whatever, and the suffering comes whenever the reality does not match up with the attachment we have.

It has become clear to me, over time, that I have attachment to the idea of being able to access some of the kinds of resources one finds in a city, and, true to the Buddhist truth, this has caused me a fair bit of suffering. The problem is that I am not ready to give up my attachment to those resources.

I have been working on this "resources" post for days now. It's not finished; I have more to say on this topic. But I think that it's time to post it before it gets too long.

Here are a few pix from yesterday.... Christina and I took the dogs to the river. The Rio Grande is definitely one of our resources.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I very rarely finish books, but here is a list of books I have started recently, and have at least vague aspirations of finishing:

The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, by Jack Kornfield. Jack Kornfield is an amazing American Buddhist teacher. I found him first through the work of Joe Frank, who is one of my absolute favorite artists of any kind, and who is not exactly a Buddhist. Do yourself a favor and look up Joe Frank. And Jack Kornfield, if you are into Buddhism.

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by Micahel Belfiore. I haven't gotten too far into this one, but DARPA is pretty fascinating.

The Mind and Art of Henry Miller, by William A. Gordon. This is a pretty dated book on Miller, written during his lifetime, but seems pretty good. It notes interesting connections between Miller and Nietzsche, and Miller and Anarchism. I got it at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur when we were there last week. That is a very cool little place, definitely worth visiting if you are in the neighborhood.

Catching The Big Fish, by David Lynch. According to the text on the cover-flap of this book, David Lynch (the film guy) promises to discuss the way that he develops his creative and artistic ideas, at least partially through transcendental meditation. It sounds really promising, but so far the book does not seem to be about that so much as about Lynch's ideas about film in general. But I haven't finished it yet, so I'll just shut up about it now.

It's Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be: The World's Best Selling Book by Paul Arden. This is a little gem of a book, from what I can tell. It's basically a collection of advice about how to succeed in just about any artistic pursuit. Got it at the SF MOMA.

SolidWorks 2009 Tutorial
by David C. Planchard and Marie P. Planchard. I am going to attempt to teach myself Solidworks. The driest book on the list, I suppose.

The last book I can actually remember finishing was
Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides. Wow, that was a good book. Even though it is somewhere around 500 pages long, I could not put it down. It's about the area where we live, but my brother, who lives in NYC, read it on my recommendation and he couldn't put it down either. Extremely readable.
I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, (or maybe just for artists) but I tend to feel that I spend about 25% of my time thinking that I have too little going on in my life, and the other 75% thinking that I have too much going on. (I am sure that the preceding statement will become meaningless, or at least WRONG, once we have a little kid running around!)

I absolutely prefer the times when I have too much going on, and now is one of those times. It's ironic, actually, that I have to take 1-3 days right now to completely chill out, because of my back injury. But the truth is that I have so much to do in the self-promotion / blogging / computer-work department that I will fill my "down-time" easily.

One of the big things on my plate right now is fixing the Hand of Man. The Hand had an incredibly active first year of life, which culminated in the somewhat disastrous Fire Arts Festival in Oakland last August. A combination of factors led to a rather catastrophic "multiple fracture" during a performance on the second evening of the four-night festival. The thumb and pinkie of the Hand were both ripped off, unleashing a spurt of hydraulic fluid that sprayed people and equipment fifty feet away! After letting the Hand sit in the dirt for almost a year, I am finally getting to the business of repairing it. This is what it looks like now: (note the lack of a pinkie and thumb)

So, if concert-promoter AEG and I can resolve our stalemate about event insurance (I think I will write a separate post about that issue next), then the Hand will perform again just about exactly one year after its tragic near-demise in Oakland. That will be at the Mile High Music Festival in Denver, Colorado, on August 14th and 15th.

Now I just have to recover from my sacroiliac joint dislocation, and spend a month and a few thousand dollars fixing it! Piece of cake!!
Sometimes I will hear about someone I know who does not pace themselves, and burns out. It's pretty easy to say... "Oh, he (or she) doesn't know how to pace themselves... no wonder they got sick...." or something like that.

Well, a few days ago I did exactly the same thing. I got it in my head to re-organize a section of the workshop, and spent about three days moving and lifting impossibly heavy things around by myself, for 10 or 12 hours a day. Then my back started to hurt. Then it hurt more. Then.... BANG! My sacroiliac joint gave out! I know it's that joint because it happened to me once before. All I can say is: "extremely painful." Oh wait... I can say more! "Debilitating."

Well, anyway, at least I can blog now!

I just turned forty last week, and I think that "slowing down" or "pacing yourself" is probably one of those things you just have to get used to as you get a little older... like "memory loss" and "hair loss". Well at least I have had twenty f*cking years to get used to hair loss!

Friday, July 9, 2010

There are a lot of amazing and crazy things about Christina being pregnant (I mean, when I look at her, I am looking at two people! Talk about mind-bending!)

One thing I find myself thinking about is how much we will do for our little kid. It does, in fact, cast a new light on the way one thinks about one's own parents.

One of the first real concrete examples of this, and something that drives the idea home, is the fact that we are building a baby room in the house. It's the first real construction we have done on the INSIDE of the house since it was finished. (There are, by the way, lots of good pictures of the house over on the first blog) But in any case, here is how the construction is progressing at this point....

I'm actually on a little loft-building kick, it seems. Just today I banged out a storage loft in the shop, which will help keep things organized.

Oh, and by the way, the title for this blog is a direct quote from Nietzsche. It is something that I believe whole-heartedly, and try to live up to. More on Nietzsche, and Henry Miller, later....
Well, I have decided to start another blog. I really enjoyed my first blog, Robots in the Dust. It was a great way to document the weird and productive life that Christina and I live, both for ourselves and the rest of the world. Facebook pretty much sucks for this kind of thing, and I can't seem to keep a regular website going, so here I am, back at Blogger.

This will be a "general-purpose" blog. A journal of sorts. A record of the strange life we lead. A place to let the world know what Christina and I are doing, building, working on, thinking about, reading, aspiring to, and where we are going.

Some themes that I expect will emerge through this blog are....
• Having a kid and what that means.... (yep, that's right.... Christina and I are expecting a little munchkin in October! I am pretty damn excited.... and weirdly NOT nervous...)
• The challenges of trying to make art, and make a life at the same time.
• The pros and cons of rural life, as compared to urban life. I have lived them both, and there are substantial differences!

I'll start off, in the first few posts, with a slapped-together attempt at a recap of some of the things we have been up to recently, including our recent trip to Big Sur, our currently running gallery show, the new baby room we are building, etc etc.

Thank you for tuning in. I will try to keep you all entertained!
I'll sign out of this first post with what might be the best picture ever taken of Christina and me, shot by our friend LadyBee....

So stay tuned, kids!