Thursday, October 19, 2017

Well well, what to say?

I felt strangely compelled to write that last post, even though in retrospect its pretty clear that my mood was at a nadir at the time. What does it say, then, that in this era of unerringly polished and positive online social media biographies, the allure of which I certainly feel just like everybody else, I was compelled to write at that time? Who knows. But I can feel things turning around.

In a strange stroke of good timing, Christina and I attended a workshop for parents of new students at Kodiak's school only one or two days after that last blog post. Considering the fact that the student body is almost entirely kids from expat families, and that a "new family" is very likely a family recently arrived in Germany, this workshop was actually structured as an offer of support for parents who might be going through a rough patch in this new culture. Apparently it's not uncommon. In fact, one of the slides at the workshop, a slide which made me feel oddly better was this:


I've clearly been in the "Irritability" phase for a little while now.
I find it interesting that I never really went through an Irritability phase in Spain, even though the culture of Spain is arguably more different from American culture than is the culture here in Germany. Maybe it was because I spoke the language? Maybe if one thinks about the Barcelona segment and the Berlin segment as one big "Europe-thing," then Spain was one big year-long Euphoria phase and I'm only now hitting the Irritability part?
In any case, the slide made me feel better because it normalized this phase.

But it's also true that the leaders of this workshop I've mentioned discussed the fact that they hold THIS workshop in the Fall for the new families, what they called "The Newbies," and another workshop in the Spring for the families who will be leaving after the current school year, or "The Leavers." And I can't help but notice that we are simultaneously Newbies and Leavers. This business of only staying for not even a full year is throwing me for a loop. I can't understand, on some visceral level, how and how much to invest in being here. It's complicated by difficulties which I've been facing in my own creative practice since... to be honest... since the accident in which my sculpture fell down (through the negligence of one former friend, thereby injuring another former friend. Again, I was not even there. The injured former-friend then "lawyered up" against me; that episode drags on and on and is not yet finished).

I have this mental image of the super-confident, continent-hopping artist who sets up an atelier in whichever city he* lands in, quickly marshaling tools and assistants and gallerists to make his vision come true. I'm sure this is how the "superstar artists" work. There is a lot of overlap between this idealized vision and the much-vaunted ability to "just be here," or "be here now," or "love what is," or whatever. My abilities in those departments are perhaps not all they could be, but I work on myself all the time and life isn't an inspirational Buddhist poster. Well, mine isn't anyway.
*(Sorry ladies that I'm not using his/hers here, I hope it's obvious I'm talking about myself!)

In the spirit of "being gentle" with myself, I find it worth reminding myself that there are a few forces arrayed against me, such as • culture shock, • having a family necessarily splits time and attention, • ateliers are expensive, • tools are expensive, • and what the hell am I supposed to do with the sculptures I might theoretically build here? But in the spirit of "not being too gentle" with myself, I should remember that • I have a duty to create (art is the proper task of life), • the correct attitude is to simply make the work, rather than worrying what will become of it, • we have actually finally now found TWO places which have shared tools, and where it seems likely we can work, • and that the biggest impediment to my getting back to work is actually myself. In this vein, I have begun to read "The War of Art" (clearly a pun on the famous "The Art of War"). The War of Art is a book which discusses the resistance all of us experience (and to varying degrees succumb to or overcome) to doing our work. Resistance, as discussed in this book, takes many different forms, such as addictions of all sorts, self-doubt, fear, procrastination, etc. It does not specifically discuss the greatest time-waster ever invented and my personal enemy, the internet, but I think this is probably because it was written in 2005. It also apparently discusses ways to combat this resistance. I am not yet in the combat section, so I can't comment. 

I currently have two ideas for sculptures I'd like to build. 

Ironically, the first is an old idea. That's ironic because, for all my talk about Europe being the source of new inspiration, this idea dates from at least a year or two before we left. This idea is not spectacularly ambitious, although it could be executed in almost any scale and the level of ambition would be directly proportional to it's size. But my point is that it's something I could actually do, probably almost entirely by myself, requiring nothing more than time in one of the aforementioned workshops. The fact that it is not mechanical in any way, but rather more closely resembles traditional sculpture, could however actually be seen as a down-side, or as not enough of a "stretch" for me... when seen from within the context of the value of "big ambitious ideas" that I was espousing back in the Björk and Damien Hirst posts of a few months ago... What I am actually trying to say here might become more clear in the context of the second idea...

The second idea did come to me here in Europe, and it is wildly ambitious. Getting really focused on a wildly ambitious project seems like it might be a form of resistance... or maybe not.  It would require me to work with specialists in the fields of programming and motion control... and I don't have tons of experience with that kind of collaboration. But as I mentioned in those old Björk and Hirst posts, ambitious projects require teams, and if I'm going to find those kinds of expert geeks anywhere, Berlin seems like it might just be the place. Funding a project like this is of course a whole separate can of worms, and will require me to overcome significant resistance in the form of self-doubt and inertia. As always, I've got my work cut out for me.

Art is the proper fucking task of life, mother fucker. 

Postscript 1: Shortly after writing the above text, I became aware that Burning Man has just announced its theme for 2018, and it is: "I, Robot." The page on which they've made this announcement is well adorned with pix of my work, which is nice. That second idea, mentioned above, would suit this theme well, so... mal sehen!*
*That's German

Postscript 2: Last Friday, October 13, marked one year since we set off from the Taos Mesa on this big adventure. I'll never tell you that this sort of thing is easy, and you shouldn't believe anyone who does tell you that... But I think we've done a pretty good job of expanding our horizons, especially those of Kodiak... and that was really one of the fundamental goals of this whole thing. I'm proud of us.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cranky in Berlin

I am well aware that I haven't been blogging as much as I was in Barcelona, and yet when I ask myself why that is, I can't really come up with an answer that feels completely satisfactory... to me. But this question, and an attempt to answer it, might well serve as a framework (or at least a beginning) for this post.

The simplest thing to say, I guess, is that I'm not really feeling tremendously inspired in Berlin... neither to blog nor in any other way. There's nothing particularly bad about being here... but I'm certainly not feeling ON FIRE the way I was (at least once in a while) in Barcelona. All of which is a bit hard - and makes me a bit melancholy - to admit. But I do need to remind myself from time to time that we've only been here a little over 7 weeks, and that's really not a lot of time in a new country / culture, with a kid and a new school and apartment and all that.

In trying to uncover the reasons, I think it makes a lot of sense to begin with one factor that might actually have a fair bit of influence on other factors... and that is the fact that I am trying to learn German. The reason I am conjecturing that it might have implications for other factors is that learning a new language takes a lot of time. Including my class, my commute to class, and my study time, German chews up about 20 hours a week, which definitely takes a bite out of the 40 hours, give or take, that I have every week during Kodiak's school hours.

As mentioned earlier this puts me in much the same boat Christina found herself in while in Spain. In Spain I had time to soak up culture, look for a workshop, and get involved in clay sculpture, while Christina was busy learning Spanish. We've traded places.

Why would I bother to learn German, you ask? Especially considering that one can get by pretty well in Berlin without speaking it, and also that we'll almost certainly be returning to Taos next summer? Well, I don't have a completely compelling answer to that either, other than to say that I've always loved German and have always wanted to learn it. I guess that when I put it that way, it does sound reasonably compelling... but still, the usefulness of it in my life is questionable. Understanding the lyrics of Laibach and Rammstein will be nice, but...

That being said, my German class, of which I have now completed the first month, has been an unexpected pleasure. It's a fun group of people and a great teacher, I find that I really enjoy learning the language (although it is a hard one), and the class schedule gives my life a bit of structure.

For this last month of school, I've generally been spending the 2 or 3 free hours that I have after class soaking up the city in one way or another. Usually it's a museum or a gallery, or a bicycle or motorcycle ride through some interesting neighborhood such as Prenzlauer Berg or Neukölln or Bergmannkiez. I've climbed the Siegessäule and we've gone up the Fernsehturm as a family too. All of this has been fun... I really feel that long-inactive parts of my brain are getting a workout as I consciously try to learn this new city and it's language.... but...

There's only so long you can be a tourist.

And I get antsy... sometimes even crabby, if I can't work in one way or another.

I think it was easy to be a tourist in the first few months of Barcelona because Barcelona is SO different from anywhere else I've ever lived, and because being in Europe was so new. But even there, after a few months, I was getting antsy. It was around that time that we really stepped up the search for a workshop, a search which eventually turned out to be a big dead end. But all along it was relatively easy to do small art projects in our Raval apartment (no one seemed to care about a little noise and dust). This, and Jorge's figurative clay sculpture class, saved me.

Germany, on the other hand, doesn't really feel that different from other places I've lived, and being in Europe isn't that new anymore either. Plus, the time without a studio, and therefor without doing any real meaty work, is now almost a year. Also, there are explicit clauses in our lease prohibiting any work in the apartment, and Germans are so damn uptight that I wouldn't put it past one of my neighbors to report me to the property management if they heard a jigsaw (more on the Germans later). So yeah, we are really really ready for a studio. But this is turning out to be almost as difficult here as it was in Spain.

The mythical Berlin of cheap and easy artist space is 5-10 years gone, as far as I can tell. On the plus side, there are actually websites and networks dedicated to the rental market for art studio space  (which is a huge step up from Barcelona), but it's all expensive, far away, and competitive to get into (not to mention the near-universal fear of noise and dust, which feels like a prejudice against sculptors... everyone wants to rent their space to a fucking graphic designer). We have our eyes on 2 spaces, but neither one of them is actually very good, and we are vying against other interested parties for both of these distant and expensive spaces. Apparently we aren't the only artists who heard that Berlin is cool and moved here looking for a studio. 

If something doesn't click soon I will just start sculpting clay in the apartment, lease provisions be damned.

Also I would just like to point out that, although they say Berlin is one of the great world capitals of art, I'm not really feeling it (yet?). There are good resources for "classical" painting and sculpture up through the 19th century, but I still haven't stumbled upon much contemporary stuff. Barcelona's modest little MEAM has a better collection of contemporary figurative work than anything I've seen here yet. Maybe I'm spending too much time in Zehlendorf, maybe too much time studying German, or maybe its just that it's only been 7 weeks. Just today I visited two recommended galleries in Friedrichshain... one was empty (between shows??) and the other was closed forever. I continue looking.

When we were still in Barcelona, but considering a move to Berlin, several people weighed in with the opinion: "Berlin is cool, but winter sucks and its full of Germans." I shrugged it off, thinking "winter is winter, we have winter in Taos too... and the Germans can't be all that bad." Well I don't know about winter yet, but Germans do take a bit of getting used to. 

I remember despairing of the lack of eye contact in Barcelona and being excited to come to Germany, but the German alternative is not exactly what I had in mind. Germans stare. And they don't smile. Like, never. On the street, on the metro, they will just stare at you with a facial expression somewhere between dead and mildly scornful, as if to say (with their eyes) "who the fuck are you? And why are you here?" 

Another thing they love to do is honk at each other. The worst example I've seen recently involved a driver that pulled to the curb to pick up her young son, who was doing his darned best to get into the car quickly. The cars behind her were inconvenienced for less than a second before they started honking. Seriously, it was immediate... I'm not exaggerating. That would simply not happen in Spain, or Taos, or most places I can think of.

Not long ago we were in Denmark (which is quite awesome, as far as I can tell), and we saw lots of Danish people who appeared happy (some of them even smiling at us!), proving that it is not actually a requirement to be dour and unfriendly when living in northern Europe. 

Anyway, I digress.

As I write this... I can certainly sense a lot of frustration in my tone and content. This business with the search for an art studio is showing itself to be more difficult and complicated than I'd ever imagined. And the question is not just one of finding an actual space within which to work (even though that is proving to be a colossal task)... it reverberates on other levels too. If we are able to find a studio and I give in to my natural inclinations to work on a larger scale, then what to do with that work when it's finished? Show it in a gallery? Store it? But where? Ship it back to the States? If I work smaller (which I probably should), then similar questions arise... also pointing in the direction of trying to have a show, or ship stuff home. I have practically no experience with the "gallery world,' and so I'm not even sure if arranging a show would be possible. The "context" within which I'm typically used to working is that of a festival, with a fixed show date, but the festival thing is not really happening here. So then, the option that remains is to work simply for the point (the joy?) of working... and figure out what to do with it later. This is what I should do. This is what I did in Barcelona, and I was quite happy doing it. But again... a studio. It doesn't seem so much to ask... a room in which to set up some tools and do some work, in which noise and dust are allowed... does it? It all makes our giant workshop in the mesa, with plenty of storage, look pretty lovely. 

When I get frustrated, I must remember that the very worst thing we could do would be to reach the end of our time here and feel that perhaps we could have tried harder. So... get to work trying to get to work.

OK, phew. Now that my rant is over, I can talk about some of the fun stuff. 

First off, Berlin is a lovely place to motorcycle. It reminds me of the San Francisco of my teens... which is to say San Francisco in the 1990's. Even though it's technically illegal here, you can split lanes - the cops don't care. In fact a few weeks ago I rode slowly past a group of cops who were standing on the sidewalk watching me go by, only to arrive at the end of the block and realize I'd been driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Apparently they didn't care about that either. Also reminiscent of San Francisco, you can park pretty much anywhere you want. Sidewalks, courtyards, between cars... it doesn't really matter (as long as its not in a bicycle lane!). That has been fun. 

In addition to climbing the Siegessäule one day after class...

we also went up the Fernsehturm, which is a structure that I have a strange fondness for. 

Note Kodiak's reflection and mine in the window....

Here's a night portrait. I think my fondness for this tower comes from several sources... 1) its a building which is really more like a machine, 2) for this reason it is quite out of place in the city, 3) it's history as something built by the East, right next to the wall as a kind of provocation to the west, is funny to me, and 4) it's one of the only things I actually clearly remember from the day I strolled around East Berlin in 1987 or so (before the fall of the Wall).

I mentioned that Berlin has good resources for classical painting and sculpture. Here are a few that have caught my eye. This is the famous "Amazon zu Pferde," or Amazon on a horse, by August Kiss that adorns the Alte Museum on Museum Insel. The action and intensity is an even match, in my opinion, to some of the stuff I saw in Venice a few months ago by Damien Hirst. 

Another one I like is this, by Eduard Müller. Also lots of crazy dynamism and conflict in this one.

Kodiak and I visited the Natural History Museum where we saw the Holotype (or very best specimen, against which all others are judged) of Archaeopteryx. Pictures of this exact fossil are in pretty much every dinosaur book, and it was fun to see it in person.

And, as mentioned, we went to Denmark. That was actually last weekend, when Kodiak had a few days off school. 

We took the ferry across a small part of the Baltic,

We saw the "Little Mermaid" sculpture,

We experienced that famous "Danish Design," (haha, sort of an idiosyncratic example, to say the least... I wonder if anyone can guess what that is?)

We went to the Viking Museum in Roskilde (which was super awesome... a highlight!) Look at that smiling Danish guy!

And we posed charmingly in front of a good looking Danish bridge!

OK, until next time... Hopefully I'll have some art to show one of these days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

So I've been reviewing the pictures on my phone, as this is sometimes how I start the process of structuring my blog posts... and this post seems as if it might be a disjointed one, lurching from one seemingly disconnected topic to another. I will try my best to tie it all together!

It wasn't long after we left Barcelona that the Ramblas, the heart of our old neighborhood, was attacked by insane muslim teenagers, and I need to just say a few words.
First off, how sad. How pointless. And how grateful I am that no one we know was injured or killed, and how sorry I feel for those that were.
I sometimes find myself thinking of the world, or perhaps the human population of the world, as a single large organism. In this context, many aberrations of human behavior start to look like a disease, and religious extremism fits right into this metaphor. Cancer comes to mind, because of cancer's ability to spread... but so does mental illness. The willingness to drive a van at 80kmh into crowds of people reveals a kind of mental illness, and when such an act is seen as valiant by some segment of the population we are looking at a disease in the body of humanity, a disease which looks like insanity but spreads like cancer.
I do believe that overpopulation with its attendant competition for resources, exacerbated by climate change, is at the heart of this and many other social disorders. I think there are simply too many ants scrambling for their little crumb. When I say resources, I mean things like education and a good job, a good future... the kinds of things that make a person feel invested in this reality, their reality. It is a lack of investment in this reality which causes young people to imagine that a better one awaits them, and all they have to do to get there is kill as many non-believers as possible. It's crazy, and sad.
One of the videos that made the rounds on the news sites, one of the graphic ones in which the camera-person walks up the Ramblas swinging their camera from one dead body to another, was shot by our friend Pap. Hey Pap, glad you're OK.


OK, on to lighter fare...

Before we left Taos, our friend Richard Spera told Christina and me that our extended trip to Europe would end up teaching us a lot about ourselves. Later that evening Christina and I shared a skeptical chuckle, mentioning that we weren't sure whether he was really right about that. After all, what more could there be to learn about ourselves?
Richard's comment looks like a genuine prophecy in retrospect. How right he was. His casually spoken words come up all the time, as we learn new things about ourselves, and each other, daily.

One thing I've noticed about myself is how I approach a new place. In short, I like to wander around, get lost (using my phone only when necessary - only when I'm really lost), and visit bookstores and flea markets. It all sounds a bit trivial, but I've come to realize that these are the ways I get to know a place.

Berlin flea markets are, so far, amazing. Barcelona had about 5 (even counting those that only happened intermittently), while Berlin has something like 20, as far as I can tell. I've only visited a few. So far my favorite one is the Trödel- und Kunstmarkt in der Straße des 17. Juni. All old stuff, nothing new. But also not cheap. Not much buying for me, mostly looking. But it's like a museum.

The Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is bigger, but less interesting. I did manage to find one really interesting vendor selling, among other things, a nice selection of Schulwandkarten, or school wall charts.

I guess these were a "thing" in East Germany, they are not hard to find here. They are high-quality printed images of maps, technical images, educational topics, etc., bonded to linen, with wooden dowels at the top and bottom to facilitate easy rolling and storage.

The book stores here in Berlin are also amazing. My selection is a bit limited by the fact that I don't really read German (yet), but even the English language offerings here are impressive.


Even casual readers of this blog will recall that I am a motorcycle enthusiast, and was hoping to be able to get one over here at some point. The big thing standing in my way, for most of our time in Barcelona, was my lack of a proper residence permit, or NIE (Número de Identificacion Extranjero). Well, two weeks before our scheduled move to Berlin, I did finally get the fabled NIE (it only took 9 months!) Knowing that I would lack the proper documents to purchase a vehicle in Germany, this meant that if I wanted a bike in Berlin I would have to find one in Spain, in less than 2 weeks.
The holy-grail-bike would be • cheap • small enough for Christina to ride when necessary • easy to work on • able to tackle a little dirt-biking, and • ideally, familiar to me. I feel like I hit the jackpot when I found this little 1987 Honda XL200R...

It is all of the above, plus cute. I've owned 5 bikes from the Honda XL family (this is number 6), so when it comes to working on it there is no problem. I subsequently learned that this bike is a bit of a rarity - having been built in Italy, it is one of the few models Honda built outside of Japan. I'm using it to get around Berlin more than I thought I would.

In fact, the bike was responsible for giving me one of my first really memorable Berlin experiences...

Last Sunday I took the bike to the Straße des 17. Juni Trödelmarkt, which is situated alongside the aforementioned 17 June Street. This street leads straight to the Berlin Victory Column, which is something I'd wanted to get a closer look at. But as I was suiting up, I noticed LOTS of motorcycle cops. I didn't know what was going on (diplomatic motorcade? crime investigation?) but I was no longer sure that riding over to the column was such a good idea. Well, after about 30 motorcycle cops came....   a few thousand motorcyclists!

My first thought was.. "How am I going to avoid that?" But then quickly came the next thought... "Wait, I'm on a bike! I am going to get in on that!" So I quickly finished putting on my gear and joined in!

Of course nearly every bike around me was a Harley or Harley-clone and I was on a Honda 200, but whatever. We rode around the Victory column, through downtown, and straight to one of Berlin's most historically important and iconic monuments, the Brandenburger Tor... all with a police escort!

The funny part came when we arrived at the Pariser Platz, in front of Brandenburger Tor, and all the bikers suddenly stopped, killed their engines, and got off... and I realized I was completely parked in... with no way out!

I ended up being stuck there for about an hour, listening to speeches about biker rights in German (which I didn't understand), until a few strategically parked bikes finally left and I found a way out.
Not my average Sunday.


Any internet search about "livable cities" puts Berlin in the top 5. (To the best of my recollection, no American city other than Portland even cracks the top 30! But hey, Taos isn't a city.) The reasons for Berlin's high ranking are slowly becoming clear to us. Good public transportation, low rent, and lots of green space. I mean really.... LOTS of green space.

This park... which really feels more like a small forest... is only a short bicycle ride away from our house.

This photo is from Berlin Tempelhof Airport, a fascinating bit of history and an amazing outdoor space. For those who don't want to click the link, Tempelhof was one of Europe's first airports, built in the 1930's, expanded and improved by the Nazis, and closed in 2008. It sits just south of the city center, well within the city, and is now a huge public park. The Third-Reich-designed arrivals / departures hall is ironically now a refugee processing center. Bicycling the old runways, with all the kite-boarders and RC cars and joggers is quite an experience.

And this lake, our new favorite spot, is also right in the neighborhood. It's called Schlachtensee. There is a cafe / beer garden at one end, and if there's even a bit of sun people are sun-bathing, kayaking, and swimming in the lake. Having access to the Mediterranean was great... but this is also pretty amazing.

Now that Kodiak is in school we are having a bit of time to focus on the things that need focusing on, and at the top of the list is finding a workshop. So far we have not had much luck in this, but we are just starting. We saw one space yesterday, and although it was 1000% better than anything we ever saw in Barcelona, it wasn't right. Berlin, in contrast to Barcelona, actually has websites which list available workshops. We will find one. We are both itching to work.

Future topics for this blog include:
In Berlin, history is everywhere
The Fernsehturm
Art in Berlin

I'll leave you with this...
A map, showing the relative size of Berlin (black outline), compared to Los Angeles (background) and Manhattan (red outline). Fiddling with things like this in Photoshop is, I suppose, another way that I try to understand the place that I'm in. (Below the "o" in Santa Monica is a tiny red dot. That's our house, relative of course to the black outline of Berlin.)

Hasta la vista

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes, it's been a long time. 

There is actually a specific reason why this post has been so long in coming, but...
I can't share that reason yet. Don't worry, it will come. 

A lot has happened, as you might guess. After all, this is the longest gap of no blogging that I have endured since moving to Europe almost a year ago.

In July, a month in which I did not blog at all, we did quite a lot. 
Well, quite a lot of going to the beach, anyway! 

On our last beach day of the summer we found the best one, a nude beach called Waikiki...

In addition to trying to stay constantly one step ahead of a sunburn, we did actually also visit the French city of Nantes on the occasion of their Maker Faire, which is hosted at Les Machines de L'ile. For those that don't know, Les Machines is a really incredible organization of artists and technicians (and business-people and web-designers and, and, and) who build very large hydraulically actuated puppets which they use in street performance. 

The puppets themselves are obviously mind-blowing, but in some way I have just as much fondness for the maquettes which are on display in their workshop. Maybe it's that they are more approachable, or that it's easier to grasp the idea of the piece on this scale, or easier to photograph them, or...? I think you'll agree they are amazing.

Strangely enough, Nantes is home to not just one, but two organizations built around street theater featuring enormous puppets. The other one, which one can unfortunately not drop in and visit, is called Royale de Luxe. While Les Machines seems slightly more focused on animal forms, Royale de Luxe appears to specialize in human puppets. 

These photos are from a book we picked up inNantes.

Not surprisingly, there is a bit of juicy history between the two groups, with certain key people moving from one to the other, and some good ego-fueled disagreements about theatrical approach and values. All that is beyond the scope of this blog, but you can find some of it online if you poke around. 

Not long after our trip to Nantes, I visited Berlin for a few days to try to evaluate whether this hare-brained idea of ours, this kooky concept of actually moving to Berlin, might actually make sense. Christina had already found a good candidate for a school for Kodiak, and my job on this trip was to check out a specific flat she had found online, in a neighborhood close to the school. Renting an apartment in Germany is no easy task; certain documents are required which prove one's financial soundness and general good-standing in German society, all of which makes moving to Germany as a foreigner a bit of an ordeal. There's not really any way to get these documents unless you live there for a while. Well, the realtor of the apartment Christina found was somehow willing to overlook all of this, which made it a real contender for us. I arrived in Berlin, took the train into town, met the realtor, saw the flat, liked it, and signed the lease. 

And two weeks later, we moved to Berlin. 

As I write this, we are enjoying a sunny day in Zehlendorf. From what everyone tells us, we should soak up the sun while it lasts. They say that winter is brutal. I'm not too worried, but I'll check in again in February and let you know how it's going. Kodiak's school starts in a week.

We've been here almost 10 days now, and to be honest I can't quite tell yet how I feel about it. We moved from a dense and lively city center, which faithful readers of this blog will know was an environment in which I found myself surprisingly happy but Christina did not care for too much, to a quiet and leafy suburb, an environment in which Christina feels much calmer but in which I might just feel a bit too calm. Berlin is about 10 times larger than Barcelona, and all indications are that the German capital offers art and culture on a much deeper, broader, and richer scale than the jewel of Cataluña. But it's all 30-40 minutes away from us, rather than right outside the door. I feel slightly under-stimulated, but time will tell. It might just be the perfect arrangement. Once school starts we will have time to go "into town" and do some grownup things, to see what the place has to offer. It's definitely different from Barcelona, but I'm optimistic. 

I've been thinking off-handedly about some things I will miss about Barcelona, and some things I won't miss. 

Things I will miss:
• The density of the city, and the sense of history in the architecture, especially in the old town.

• The intensity and occasional insanity of bicycling there. It was really a wonderful place to bike; everything close enough, good bike lanes, and enough hills to keep you sweating.
• The beach, the Costa Brava, the access to the Mediterranean.

• All the amazing sculpture.

• My sculpture class. This is probably what I will miss the most. Jorge, your class was a real treat for me. I loved every minute. Thank you so much for the opportunity.
• Cabrales cheese.
• The friendly and approachable cops. 

I haven't had occasion to interact with German police yet, and hope I never do. Knock on wood.
• Our building. The fact that it was rough around the edges was its charm. You felt like you were on a movie set every time you walked in. This is the last picture I took in Barcelona, of the street-level entry hall.

• All the beautiful women, everywhere, all the time. The women in Germany all look like Angela Merkel.
• The access to stuff. USB drives, fresh peaches, spray-paint, and everything in between was always less than 2 minutes from our front door, and cheap. Stuff is harder to find in Germany, and definitely not as cheap.
• The great people we met there. Hopefully we will see you all again, really soon.

Things I won't miss:
• Spanish. Even though I speak it pretty well, a year in Spain taught me I don't have a real fondness for the language. In contrast, I love everything about German, and can't wait to enroll in a language course.
• The Raval location of Carrefour. Jesus, that place was a nightmare.
• The heat. Especially the humid heat.

Midnight in the Raval and it's too hot to wear a shirt.

• The food (Cabrales cheese excepted). Everyone talks about how great the tapas are, but at the end of the day it's mostly olives, deep-fried cheese, and pickled cuttlefish, or variations thereof. I ended up not liking jamon at all, the chewy stringy pride of Cataluña. When we arrived in Barcelona we were really excited about the proliferation of restaurants in our neighborhood, and 6 weeks later there wasn't a single one we were excited about re-visiting. On the other hand, I cannot get enough schnitzel, sausage, smoked fish, and spätzle. My heritage is something like 60% German, with another 20% shared between Scandinavia and Poland; maybe that's why this food feels like home. (Let's see how I feel about it all in a few months!)

Oh, and the beer. Kostritzer Schwarzbier is my current favorite, but it's hard to get a bad beer here.

More blogging to come. Thanks for your patience. Bis bald.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Moving things along

Ok wow, so much has happened since the last time I wrote. In this case, life has just been happening so fast that there hasn't really been time to chronicle it, but I'm going to try to squeeze in a post. I think it will slip largely into travelogue mode because like I said, lots going on.

Do I remember correctly that high school and college essays are supposed to begin with a paragraph laying out everything that is to follow.. an outline... a sort of pre-summary? OK, well we went to Berlin to show the Hand of Man, and Berlin was awesome. We returned to Barcelona in time to catch the Barcelona Maker Faire, after which we spent a sweet couple of days in Cadaqués, on the Costa Brava. There was some art sprinkled in there, and plenty of reckoning about what the second half of our time here in Europe might look like.

After all that hassle negotiating the transport of the Hand over to Europe, it finally really did arrive in Berlin. Although local conditions precluded us from smashing cars, we still managed to annoy the venue folks with the Hand's steady drip drip drip of hydraulic oil onto the pavement. Germans don't seem to have a lot of love for drippy hydro systems, but everyone was happy after we fixed it. The Hand was the main advertising image for the Faire, and damn... that image was everywhere in Berlin! It was very cool to see it on every corner in town.

After we packed it all up for shipment back to Barcelona, we had a few days vacation in Berlin. Personally speaking, the charm of Berlin sort of snuck up on me. It's not a great beauty like Prague or Venice or even Barcelona. The architecture is quite boring and in some cases oppressive. There are no Mediterranean beaches or mountains in the distance; in fact the entire city is quite flat. Also, parts of it are a huge construction zone.

But... the city is spectacularly green, with a super-high percentage of area devoted to park (numbers are a bit hard to pin down, but Wikipedia calls it at about 33% of the city, while Barcelona lags behind at 10%), which people really seem to use. And the river Spree, which snakes through it, is wide and beautiful and you can go boating on it. I understand there are even some beaches in Berlin, although I'm not sure if they are on the Spree or on one or another of the city's lakes. The playgrounds are plentiful and the most imaginative I've ever seen. And there is no lack of monuments (mostly about the war). But more than all that, Berlin is full of art and artists and people who seem to really love living there. Time and again we heard people tell us that the cost-of-living to quality-of-life ratio there is better than anywhere else in Europe. And sure enough.. a bit of searching online shows flats for rent in Berlin comparable to ours in Barcelona coming in at 50-70% of the cost, with garden access to boot. Plus, artists in Berlin seem to actually have workshops, in which they seem to actually work! We even know a few of them already!

Sculpture by Keith Haring

Sculptures by Wilfried Fitzenreiter

Sculpture by Eduardo Chillida

Watercolor by Anne Bengard

So, unsurprisingly, we are starting to think about what it might look like to spend the second half of our time here in Europe over there in Berlin. The challenges would be huge, the bureaucracy burden is apparently even worse than in Spain (hard to believe) and at this point it's not at all clear if it would be worth the trouble. But we are thinking about it. Ironically Christina and I would trade places in some sense, insofar as she speaks German and I don't. It would be an interesting shift!

Well just in case we hadn't gotten our fill of laser cutters, 3D printers, and LEDs in Germany, we landed in Barcelona just in time for Maker Faire (for which I'd tried hard to arrange a showing of the Hand, but I was a bit too late to successfully navigate the requirements of the venue). Catching up with old friend Sabrina Merlo was definitely a highlight.

After that we tagged along with Sabrina and her kids Ruby and Arlo to a great little sublet in Salvador Dali's old beach town of Cadaqués for a few days. What a tough life we lead!

We returned from the coast in time for me to catch the second half of my final sculpture class of the course (after having sadly missed quite a few because of our travels). Here are another few pix of the male portrait. Again, this is after only 3 sessions, while the other students in my class worked on this one for 6 sessions. I'm frankly not sure when I will ever have time to finish it, which is a shame.

In the last few days we've done some memorable things, such as wander around the city during Día de Sant Joan which is widely, and I think correctly, billed as the single craziest day of the year in Barcelona. There are bonfires in the streets and everyone is throwing fireworks everywhere, regardless of whether or not people are nearby. Seriously. And police are nowhere to be seen. Somehow people do not seem to die en masse. Somehow it all seems to work.

Later that night we joined Grey and Nova and a hundred other people for a clandestine midnight marching band escapade at the end of a pier jutting out into the Mediterranean, complete with "firework twirling" courtesy of Christina. Highly memorable.

And most recently we saw "Björk Digital" at the CCCB. I'm a big fan of Björk; I had high expectations and I wasn't disappointed. Well, not grossly disappointed anyway. The show featured 6 new works by her which are essentially music videos from her newest album Vulnicura. But instead of regular videos, one is an immersive 2-screen experience and the remaining five are VR pieces. Personally I think Björk is a genius for her vision and her embrace of new technologies in the service of reaching people in new ways, and the show flaunted these strengths well. In retrospect (and through conversation with Sabrina) I do feel that the VR pieces did not perhaps take sufficient advantage of the possibilities of the platform, in the sense that there was no real interactivity. My experience in Venice with Paul McCarthy's VR piece sheds an illuminating light on this; while the characters in his VR followed me around and made me feel implicated in the narrative, with Björk's pieces I simply felt like a bystander watching her and her avatars go through various therapeutic and gymnastic maneuvers and transformations. Granted, the visuals were spectacular and the experience was great, but... maybe it could have been greater. Let's not forget that the medium is still in its infancy.

After the VR pieces was a video explaining her 2011 project "Biophilia." I use the term project because Biophilia was an album and an interrelated app which attempted to invent a whole new way of music-making, separate from sheet music. I won't get too into it here because it would take too long. But I have nothing but admiration for this kind of big vision. And Björk has it. The Biophilia app has been adopted into schools in several Scandinavian countries as part of their music programs. Christina downloaded the app and she and Kodiak have begun to make music. Initial reports from the family are positive. 

This brings me back to a theme which is starting to recur here, which is the concept of authorship. Let's recall that Damien Hirst is regularly lampooned for his lack of hands-on involvement in the fabrication of his work. But would any of us imagine that Björk is writing the code for Biophilia or her VR pieces? Or that Paul McCarthy writes code? Of course not... they need specialists to help them realize these big visions, although it seems almost certain that they are intimately involved in an artistic direction sort of capacity. Why would we imagine that Hirst isn't also involved in this way? Also, Björk is very vocal about sharing credit with her main collaborators, while Hirst hides them away in anonymity. Is Hirst a target because he's a visual artist, making objects, selling them, and getting rich? Certainly McCarthy is not so different. I had a recent discussion about a "Miró rug," which is to say a rug featuring a design by Miró. Certainly he did not weave it personally and certainly he benefitted financially and/or career-wise from the rug, but was he subject to the same withering criticism regularly leveled at Hirst? Maybe Hirst is criticized because he outsources his work on such a grand scale, or because he's smug, or rich. Who knows. What I can say is that there's a continuum, and it's not just along a single parameter. In my estimation, the variables at play here (among others) are the scale of the outsourcing, the degree to which credit is publicly shared, the public perception of the ego of the artist, and the amount of money changing hands. With these variables plotted on an imaginary graph, it's not hard to see why Björk is perceived in a generally more favorable light by the public than Hirst. But another thing I can unequivocally say is that big ambitious work takes vision, boldness, money, and a team, and I have a ton of admiration for anyone pulling off work on this scale. 

Well, now we settle into the summer. No school for Kodiak, lots of tourists, and HOT HOT HOT. 

Hasta la vista, baby.