Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter is the Time to Break Things with Robots

Well, winter has come to Berlin. It's quite cold. But nothing that a family of well-seasoned Taoseños can't handle.

We will be spending the holiday season in Athens with my brother Cles, a nice respite from the grey. The grey is actually more bothersome for me than the cold. Taos isn't grey.

This weekend saw the first snow of the year here... which coincided with the triumphant return of the Hand of Man to Berlin! Which is to say that we ran it this weekend at the KAOS Weihnachtsmarkt (or, the Christmas Market at the communal art-space we've been working at a little, which is called KAOS).
Running the Hand in the snow was a new one on me. It performed well and made some Germans smile... which is saying something.

A special treat for me was letting my old friend Jens Schendel run it. Jens worked on the first hand, the prototype, with me in Amsterdam in 2006.

Well, I submitted my proposals for Burning Man. For whatever reason I'm superstitious about revealing my ideas in any public way... but it will suffice to say that I'm happy with all the ideas. I submitted more than one idea... but less than five! I do hope to build one of them.

I'm on a bit of a Stanley Kubrick kick. I watched Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey a few days ago, both in one day. I like Eyes Wide Shut quite a lot. It seems a lot of people don't care for it much, but I do. I've read a bit about the film since watching it, and I'm puzzled by reading the not-uncommon views of people who can't seem to understand what the film is about. It's about temptation and fidelity. It seems to also layer in commentary on the topics of secret societies, Masonic rituals, etc., but come on... the theme of the film is plain to see in the main story arc. One thing I like about the film is that the entire midsection, Dr. Harford's "adventures," feel in retrospect like they could be some sort of dream or metaphor.

But 2001: A Space Odyssey is the movie that's been occupying my thinking more of late. There's little that I could write here that hasn't been written before, but... the writing that is out there already makes for some really good reading. And there's a lot of it. It's claimed in various places that 2001 has inspired more written film criticism than any other film. I've also heard that Kubrick actually intended to make a film that would be considered a legend, an enigma, an archetype... something that people would puzzle over and write about for years. It seems he succeeded.

The theory of the film which I currently find the most compelling is that it is an articulation of Nietzsche's theory of the "Overman," as laid out in Thus Spake Zarathustra. There's a lot of explication of Nietzsche's ideas online, so I won't give a detailed regurgitation of the theory here, but... In short, it postulates that Man, as we know him today, is just a stopover, an intermediate stage, in the evolution from Ape to Overman, which could be understood as some sort of as-yet unspecified "higher consciousness" iteration of humanity. In Zarathustra, the Overman is allegorically correlated with the Child, insofar as they both share a spirit of innocence and curiosity. It is not difficult to see how the story of 2001, which starts with Apes, then moves on to Man and his uneasy relationship with Artificial Intelligence, and concludes with the death of man and his rebirth as the Star Child, lines up with this Nietzchean concept of evolution. This is a good article.

I've had a strong interest in Nietzsche ever since reading him in college. Maybe much the same can be said of many philosophers, but Nietzsche has always struck me as someone who could see the underlying and overarching patterns of humanity like few else. It's as if he could see right through the issues of the day, or even of the century, and penetrate through to both the psychological underpinnings of human behavior as well as the much larger history-scale phenomena. Perhaps this ability was facilitated by his somewhat tenuous relationship to society in general; he was a bit of a hermit especially in his later productive years. Have you ever noticed (as I have) how often his name shows up in the indices of books of wildly varying topics? (A quick glance at my bookshelf reveals that he pops up in a book about the history of beauty, another about the human face, another about masks, and another about Europe's current crisis, and of course that's just naming a few). Laibach's newest album is a soundtrack to a theatrical presentation of "Thus Spake Zarathustra," which I saw them perform live a few weeks ago. And not long ago I picked up a copy of Zarathustra in both English and German as part of my efforts to learn German. I didn't get too far. If you look for him, Nietzsche is everywhere.

Of course the interweaving of the theme of Artificial Intelligence into the storyline of 2001 is especially interesting to me as I've spent a lot of time reading about it lately in the context of developing my pitches for Burning Man. Also don't forget that the screenplay was co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, the father of A.I. and robot fiction, and partly based on a short story by Clarke. Insofar as evolution is one of the overarching themes of the film, it's interesting to see what a big role is played by A.I., which is often spoken of in terms of an evolving life-form in its own right, depicted as a helper to man or as his competitor with equal frequency. Not strictly Nietzschean, but certainly relevant.

But as I mentioned, it's not exactly my goal here to present original scholarship on 2001 or Kubrick or Nietzsche because all that has already been done by others far more qualified than I. I think my interest in Kubrick breaks down along many of the same parameters as my interest in Damien Hirst or Björk, which is to say that in all their work you can clearly sense a vision, a focus, a directness. They all display an unwavering commitment to ambitious, grand-scale work which requires a lot of labor, a fearless leader, and a team.

Although I'm not really a film buff, I have a tremendous respect for film as a medium. Some number of months ago I wrote here in the blog about the centrally important role of emotion in artwork, and how I personally value work that can tease emotion from the viewer. I think that film is uniquely capable of taking viewers on a journey, often emotional, but also at times intellectual, escapist, etc. It's an interesting medium because it's experiential... not something you can hold or put on your wall... but so versatile and capable.

In the interest of curtailing my rambling, I am going to just quickly pose a few questions which occur to me in the context of film-making and Kubrick...

Do artists unconsciously tap into the cultural zeitgeist, or is timely work actually the product of lots of hard work? The many, many ways that 2001 dovetails thematically with Nietzsche, even in the minutiae, tempt me towards the seductive idea that Kubrick and Nietzsche were both able to tap into some visionary truth about humanity, just below the surface. But the years that each of them put into their work probably tells a different story, one of careful attention to detail, with all its various meanings and connections well-considered.

To what degree is all artwork autobiographical? Does work need to be autobiographical to be meaningful? Björk's work is clearly and persistently autobiographical, and I think this is part of what makes it successful. Hirst, not so much. Kubrick, probably also not... but I did read one interpretation of Eyes Wide Shut which suggested that it was very personal and autobiographical for Kubrick. I think it was Steven Spielberg who said that "you have to wait for a story that is worth telling," which pretty clearly suggests that he is just a "storyteller," and probably not his own story. I'm reminded again of Amanda Palmer's great quote (* see below), and I wonder if perhaps the best stories feel successful because we all see ourselves in them? They are biographies of everyone.

Sometimes I fantasize about making a film; the idea of reaching so many people and being able to offer a collective, guided experience is enticing. But I once tried to take a class in creative fiction writing and my stories were like 2nd grade learn-to-read books. I dropped the class. Maybe I would have to wait for a story worth telling. (I did make two short movies with Kodiak recently with the awesome smartphone app Splice... Easy and fun.)

For now I am still a visual artist, and 2001 is visually stunning. In a month that movie will be 50 years old (can you believe that?), and it still looks amazing. I particularly love the bedroom scene at the end. So frickin' weird.

Not long ago the room was re-created for an art gallery installation in Los Angeles. (Thanks for letting me know about that, Jared!) I would have loved to visit.

In the meantime I've finished another clay sculpture.

It still needs to be fired, so the color will normalize a bit.

Happy Holidays

I'll try to post again soon, maybe a more photographically guided post... 

* (Amanda Palmer's quote) 
But fundamentally this is what we – as artists – have always done. We take our pain and we transform it into some kind of narrative, some show or story, something... else. We frame our trauma as best we can, and we offer it up. At best, it’s a gift; at worst, it’s a product. And the amount of enduring respect we bestow on our artists seems to be directly proportionate to how well, how authentically, how selflessly, they can take and deliver an emotional selfie like this.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mental Nomad

Every once in a while I write a blog post on a single theme, like that last one. It seems the rest of my posts ramble from one topic to another. This will be one of those, the latter rambling type.

One reader of that last post responded with some interesting ideas. He thought I'd been too apologetic, pointing out, in his words, that "I don't think men need to explain why they enjoy the female nude. At all. It's how it's supposed to be." True, true. But I think the point I was really trying to make was about objectification, and even about its uglier relative, coercion. How does one appreciate the female nude without making women feel like objects to be manipulated or consumed? How does one appreciate the female nude and even make women feel empowered or glorified through that act? This conversation is necessarily a bit imprecise because I was talking more about the nude in fine arts, but I think you get the picture. The artists I touched on, Jassans and Helmut Newton, did in fact work with live nude models. And the choices they made in HOW they transformed those women into works of art have implications along this continuum that runs from objectification to glorification. 

I think that last post was in fact a bit influenced by the then-recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein's lecherous secret life, and the news on that theme has of course worsened considerably since then. It's all a bit hard to stomach... for me anyway. Christina says she is not surprised; that that's how the world is, how it works. But it's news to me... at least the scale of it. 

Another interesting point which was brought to my attention about my last post is the possible connection between my appreciation of beauty and my father's profession, which was that of a plastic surgeon. In fact his specialty was "facial rejuvenation," or, in common parlance, making people more beautiful. Even though as I write this it seems the connection might be an obvious one, in fact it did not actually occur to me until brought to my attention by a reader, and I'm still not so sure if the connection is meaningful. My investigation into beauty, my interest in it, is more about the universal appeal of it. I suppose that I'm operating from the preconceived position that the appreciation of beauty IS universal, and not just the special purview of plastic surgeons and their families. Certainly there's enough literature out there on the topic of beauty, not to mention the way we are all constantly bombarded by imagery of the beautiful, to bolster this idea that its appeal is universal. That is what I find interesting. And while it's true that between the ages of 8 - 10, approximately, I served as my father's operating-room photographer (an interesting fact in and of itself, if you ask me), I feel the lasting imprint of that experience had a lot more to do with an appreciation of anatomy and the mechanical nature of the human body than anything having to do with beauty. But who knows... it's an interesting connection to ponder.

The connection to my dad actually seems stronger in the department of appreciation of the nude within the arts. Like many fathers of the 1970's he somewhat unashamedly had copies of Penthouse and Playboy sitting around the house from time to time.. (my, how times have changed!) At one point in my late-20's, I stumbled across the work of a certain Ron Embleton in a bookstore in Los Angeles. Mr. Embleton was a stupendously talented English children's book illustrator who also did a stint at Penthouse magazine in the 1970's, producing exquisite gouache paintings for a comic strip called "Wicked Wanda." (The titular character, Wanda, was incidentally a very empowered woman who toyed capriciously with men, all while barely dressed!) I had forgotten about Wicked Wanda for 20 years, and seeing those images in that book in LA produced in me one of those rare, wonderful experiences in which the sudden rush of memories transported me back to my 8 or 9 year-old self. In those days in LA I was making good money in the film industry, and managed to subsequently purchase 6 original Wanda paintings, which are still the pride of my small art collection. I'm not sure what this story says other than that I've always appreciated the female figure, even as a boy. Now that I think about it, Kodiak is growing up in a house in which I try to normalize a "pure," Jassans-like appreciation of the female figure. Maybe times don't change that much.

OK, on to another topic. We've only been here in Berlin about 13 weeks, but that has been long enough to see some of what is annoying or frustrating about Germany (remember Germans' propensity for honking?) But... I've lately begun to notice some of the things that actually do work well here. Ironically, and just to get it out of the way, I'll start with... traffic!

The experience I particularly want to relate is that of driving in traffic in the more suburban outlying areas of Berlin (such as Zehlendorf, for instance... which is where we live.) What I like about the experience of driving in these areas is that no one ever seems to be in a hurry. I emphasize the word seems because people obey the rules, dive the speed limit, wait their turn, and yield to oncoming traffic when the road narrows, whether they are actually in a hurry or not. Of course I have no idea if everyone plans their days so damn well that literally, no one is ever in a hurry, or if on the other hand they simply rank courteous driving as more important than getting there on time. On the highways and the bigger roads in Berlin one does occasionally see someone driving aggressively, but its not common. After driving for a decade in LA, where literally everyone is in a hurry and they will cut you off whenever they think it might gain them a second, the experience here is downright civil. Christina talks a lot about the "We mentality" of Europe versus the "Me mentality" of the States, and I think this is an example of just that. It does put the honking into a slightly different perspective. Here in Germany there are rules, those rules are trusted to ensure that things work smoothly, and people have no qualms about letting you know if you are breaking the rules because they want everyone to follow them so that things can continue to work smoothly. Hence the honking. It strikes me as quite possible that the impulse to notify rule-breakers of their infractions might just be intensifying in these years, as the Germans feel the influx of new residents in their country who might just not "get it" yet. An instinct for following rules can certainly have its downside (Hitler, anyone?), but that's beyond the scope of this post. It seems to work for Zehlendorf traffic.

Which leads me to the highways. Driving on the highways here is a joy, for several reasons. First, no speed limits, at least in most places. Second, people drive well. They merge to the right when a faster car comes up behind, and expect others to do the same. Third, no cops. Seriously. Compared to the police presence on the highways in the USA (which is just one dimension of the pervasive fear culture over there, if you ask me) the experience is really low stress. Fourth, no fucking billboards. None. They seem to understand that advertising is visual pollution. The only signs you will see on the road are traffic and directional signs, and the occasional public safety messages, which I happen to like and find pretty effective. This one...

shows a crying young lady, presumably at a funeral, and carries the message "Finger off your cell phone." Pretty good. I find highway driving here far preferable to the US.

Home construction here seems to be carried out by silent little gnomes. The house next door to us is under construction and we never hear a damn thing, even though progress is being made on the house. They had a large 4-story tall construction crane assembled in the yard... and then one day it was gone. We didn't even notice them taking it away. I think this is another example of the emphasis on civility and quality of life, here embodied by the virtue of being quiet.

Yogurt. Damn, do they do yogurt well here. After trying many different brands, we've settled on this one, Lobetaler Bio. 

Their normal offerings are wide ranging, our favorites being Lemon, Bitter Orange, and Peach / Passionfruit. I really love their special seasonal offering Apple / Plum, which is perfectly seasoned with hints of Cinnamon, Anise, Clove, and Black Pepper. And these tubs are €1.89, a far cry from the $5.99 we are used to paying in Taos.

And well, the only thing they might do better than Yogurt is Beer. I'm a dark beer guy, and these labels show the variety of what I've been able to buy and try, just from the local supermarket. 

You can see that every single one of these is either a Schwarzbier or a Dunkel (Black beer or Dark). This variety really brings into clear focus the tragedy befalling the States in the last few years. Everyone over there is so in thrall to that supremely shitty and undrinkable abomination known as IPA that they can't seem to brew anything else. When was the last time you went to a craft brewery in the USA and had a Schwarzbier? A tragedy, I tell you. Anyone at TMB listening?

OK, shift gears. Burning Man. Life of an artist. 

The announcement of the Burning Man theme (which I mentioned briefly 2 posts ago) has been a good thing for me. A bit of a kick in the pants, as they say. The theme is "I, Robot." Naturally, I've forced myself to try to dream up sculptural work along the lines of this concept, and it's been strangely easy to do. The ideas have been coming fast and hard. While the biggest challenge for me is usually thinking of something that I feel is worth building, during these last few weeks it has been at least as much of a challenge to winnow down the field of ideas into the truly good ones... the ones I'd want to build.

(I want to point out here, as a side note, that in the course of researching topics related to robots I have come across the potentially very alarming issue of Artificial Super Intelligence, or ASI. It is scary shit. Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates, among other less well-known but equally smart people, are sounding the warning. Sam Harris, who I love and think is a genius, has this good talk on the topic)

The contrast between the difficulty I often feel trying to dream up ideas and the relative ease with which they've occurred to me after the announcement of the Burning Man theme points towards some interesting questions and observations about what it's like to be an artist. A quick analogy I can make to cut to the point here relates to the amount of self-direction required when one is an employee of a company. In this position (and I have been there; I know whereof I speak!), one typically has a degree of autonomy and self-direction, but it is usually in the form of how to solve a problem or complete a task. The task itself is normally handed down from above. The work is performed within a framework which defines the goals. This makes it relatively easy to "get to work" reaching that goal. 

An artist, on the other hand, must often define the goal (which is normally the work of management) and then also achieve the goal. For some reason the image of a nomad comes to mind; the artist as a nomad wandering around his/her own mental landscape trying to find the goal, trying to identify what might constitute art that he/she wants to see in the world but hasn't found yet, and must therefor make. A framework to guide that process can be quite useful. Some artists presumably work from within a framework like: "I'm only interested in painting beautiful big-eyed young girls with cats," which must make the process of defining the goal on a painting-to-painting basis almost a non-issue, allowing he/she to just get to work. (Oh my god I hate those paintings.)

For a while now I've felt like a nomad, wandering my inner landscape trying to find something meaningful, and... to my credit (I guess) I have found some themes and ideas which feel meaningful to me. Despite the pitfalls of that nomadic, framework-less approach, I think it does open up space... space in which to find something which is actually personal and meaningful. But it's definitely not the easier approach. The framework, on the other hand, short-circuits the nomadic method and, at least based on my own recent personal experience around the Burning Man theme, can provide a narrower focus within which the ideas can come faster. Clearly there are pros and cons to each approach. It does raise the possibility of self-defining a framework as an avenue out of the nomadic method, when that isn't working (which happens sometimes, believe me). I guess that "self-defining a framework" could be seen as simply a variation on the nomadic approach; after all, you're still doing the work of management. But I think if the theme is broad and rich, then... it just might work. I'll let you know if I ever try it.


I do feel myself easing out of my artistic dry-spell, which is nothing but good news. The "threat of a lawsuit" situation which has been hanging over my head for almost 2 years is close to wrapping up, which is also great news. I will be able to furnish a few more details on that sorry story soon, when it's all over. Christina and I have gotten involved with a collective art-space here in town called KAOS, which is great. Christina is there as I write this, working on a new sculpture. They are operating in the great "young people rent a warehouse, bring in some tools, make art" tradition which used to be going strong in the USA but I think is now starting to falter a bit under the pressures of gentrification and the Ghost Ship tragedy

Not too long ago I finished this little piece 

which doesn't really have a title yet but might be called "Tree Legs." I just made that up. This piece cracks me up.

And I'm working on a new clay portrait, which is getting close to finished. 

I figured out that I can use the pottery kiln at Kodiak's school to fire this, which is awesome. This piece hasn't really taken all that long to do and I'm happy with it so far. I will post pix when it is done.

My relationship to Berlin continues to be somewhat ambivalent, and actually sort of perplexing to me. It's got so much culture and so many resources, yet it somehow doesn't gel for me the way Barcelona did. Maybe it's the lack of charm? Anyway, that's a topic for another post. 

It's been nice to spend this time with you, my reader, and I hope you are well!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

On the Appreciation of the Female Figure

A recent visit to a museum here in Berlin has me thinking about a theme near and dear to me... but a theme which, for several reasons, I have not discussed much on here.

The theme is female beauty and nudity.

The reasons I have not discussed it much are, roughly:
• I don't feel very authoritative on the matter. Which is to say that I feel I have more questions than answers... and maybe some tentative observations...
• It's an issue which I think can be quite sensitive and polarizing. Just like religion and politics, one tends not to discuss beauty and nudity much unless one knows they are safely in the midst of like-minded company.

Well, here goes, tentatively dipping a toe into turbid waters...

As a heterosexual male, I enjoy looking at beautiful women, and typically speaking, the less clothing they are wearing, the better.

You see, I'm already making some of you readers alarmed, and others offended!

But well, it's true. And I'm not alone. And you.. reader.. you know I'm not alone. You might even be like me. Our culture is rife with it. But why? (Here come the questions... mostly without answers...)
Why do people (men??) enjoy looking at beautiful/naked women?
And do women also enjoy it? Do straight women enjoy it? Do straight women enjoy it on a level to which they won't admit for fear of being identified (or self-identifying) as either lesbian or aligned with the patriarchy? These are questions to which I have no answers. (But Cardiff University believes it does...)

There is of course the evolutionary approach to answering this question, which goes something like: Beautiful women convey through their shape and features a "readiness," or "suitability" to bear children, and this is unconsciously internalized as a valuable or attractive feature by men. Seems reasonable, and in fact it is widely accepted as true.

But the effects and the power of beauty are really something to marvel at. My friend Michael Lujan calls it "cute privilege." Cute privilege is something the viewer bestows upon the (beautiful) viewed. The "Effects on Society" section of the Wikipedia page on "Beauty" gives a short but alarming summary of the topic. Beautiful people make more money, get loans more easily, marry more advantageously, and are less likely to be convicted by juries of crimes. Ugly people get the short end of all those sticks, and are also more likely to be involved in crime. That's crazy... and yet not really that surprising somehow.

But why? Why do we bestow such privilege on the beautiful?

Again, Wikipedia gives a curt but interesting fragment of an answer when they say "The experience of beauty often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being."

Emotional well-being.

There could not be a better segue to one of the more personal things I have to say on the matter, which is that looking at beautiful and/or naked women gives me a profound sense of emotional well-being. In a sense, this simple fact is the core of why I felt like it might be worth actually writing on this topic... of why it might actually be worth upsetting a reader or two. The thing is... it's true. And that makes it worth writing about.

I want to flesh the point out a little bit. (Sorry for that). I'm not talking about pornography. Pornography serves a different part of the brain, I think. I'm talking about the simple act of looking at a beautiful woman, or an artistic representation of one. For me, this act of looking is calming. It is soothing. I am not a religious person but there is a religious quality to the experience. It is as if, in a world which so often seems random and senseless and occasionally even malevolent, there still exists this one perfect, beautiful, elegant, balanced thing, and that is women. I am reminded of the title of Garry Winogrand's photography book from the 1960's, "Women are Beautiful." I couldn't have said it better myself, Garry... and I think those three words to myself all the time. Women are beautiful.

I started to discover this calming effect while in Barcelona. After having visited a few other cities in Europe now, I can say that Barcelona is in fact quite well endowed with a lovely coterie of public sculpture which glorifies the female form. Simply walking through the center of town and encountering one of these was a real gift.

(Barcelona has such wealth in this regard; believe me when I say that these three photos are but a small sample)

My favorite museum in Barcelona, the MEAM, also helped me discover this simple pleasure, not least of all through it's wonderful exhibition of the work of Jassans. And as I spend time thinking about this topic, Jassans comes right back to the forefront. As long-time readers of this blog might remember (and for those that missed it, my blog posts on Jassans are HERE and HERE), Josep Salvadó Jassans was a Catalan sculptor with a religious-like reverence for the female figure. He was in fact religious, and he did in fact see the female form as a kind of pinnacle of God's creation. His figures are, in my opinion, strong and balanced and his respect and reverence shines through.

Grella, by Jassans

Well, anyway, shortly after moving to Berlin I bought a year-long pass to the "State Museums of Berlin," a network of 18 state-operated museums here in town. And here I am bringing the narrative back around to the beginning of this post... the museum visit that got me thinking more on this topic. I've been slowly visiting these 18 museums, as time allows. The collections are not, at least by the standards of Barcelona, particularly full of the female form, preferring to veer more towards classical antiquities (lots of horses and soldiers and gods) and also Pop/Modernism (Beuys and Warhol and Kiefer). So I was naturally intrigued by the inclusion of The Helmut Newton Foundation on the list. Helmut Newton, for those that don't know, was a German/Australian fashion photographer whose work gradually included more and more nudity and even fetish elements, eventually earning him the name "The King of Kink." (Here is a pretty good article, written while he was still alive)

On first glance, the museum certainly seemed to fill the void left by the other museums' relative paucity of the female form; the Helmut Newton Foundation is packed to the rafters with images of naked and beautiful women.

(Sorry for the rather poor composition of this photo... cameras are not allowed in the museum, so I had to position myself behind a pillar where I could not be seen by guards!)

I was immediately seduced and happy to be there.


After not all that long I began to feel that something, some small thing, was amiss. Slowly the thoughts started creeping in: "How can someone get away with such unsophisticated objectification of the female body?" "Is this OK?" "Why, exactly, did he get so famous for this?" "Is this actually any different from pornography?" Some of his images, especially those of famous people, are very respectful while still being sexy, but many of them betray something else, something slightly more... sinister?

I myself am not a brilliant critical thinker, one of those people well-versed on the connections between different modes of modern thought, popular culture, identity politics, gender norms, semiotics, and all that. (I don't even really know what "semiotics" means, although I suppose I could look it up!) So I sought help from the internet. I looked up "Helmut Newton," imagining I would find plenty of insightful criticism. But no, that search gets you nothing but hagiographical paeans. I had to go with "Helmut Newton criticism" before Google gave me something to work with. I read a few good articles, but I thought this one was the best. It introduced me to the idea of The Male Gaze, an interesting concept which posits that the default perspective/viewpoint from which the dominant western culture is "produced" and is thereby made normative is that of the heterosexual male. It follows then that looking at sexy women is OK, and the sexier and more boobs and butt, the better. But if I'm reading this right, I think the Male Gaze is about more than just looking. I think it has the goal of commodification, objectification, and control of women through the use of framing, posture, props, narrative, and other sorts of editorializing. (And to the degree that it really is about control, what interesting things does this say about the secret fear that men have of women, of their emotion, of their power?)

Helmut Newton's work is a great place to see this, and it's easy to see in two of his most iconic images.

This is one of his "Big Nudes," seen also in the lobby photo above.

And this is "Tied Up Torso, Ramatuelle."

Newton was lauded in his time in his time for presenting women as emancipated, self confident, and powerful. And of course it's easy to see those qualities in these images. But I also can't help notice the high-heel shoes in "Big Nude 1" and the rope in "Tied Up Torso." Are these details the kinds of things that these women would have chosen for themselves? Or are they examples of "the Male Gaze?" The shoes and the rope both suggest, to me, ways in which the women are still under the control of men... and maybe it's this tension between their obvious strength/self possession and these kinky details which put a limit on that strength that is in part responsible for the appeal of the images. (Of course it's also possible that I am mis-reading the rope in "Ramatuelle." Perhaps her strong gesture is to suggest that she is just about to throw off the ropes of the patriarchy... but I somehow can't really see that)

I guess what I'm saying is that it's not my thing. So much of what makes or breaks images like these for an INDIVIDUAL is their personal psychology (and lord knows that is a wide-open and varied field). Perhaps these simple props, which for me undermine the images, were in fact the indispensable elements for Newton. Different psychologies. I would like the "Big Nude 1" a lot more, I think, if she were flat-footed on the ground, and I like this version of "Tied-Up Torso," in which the rope has been removed, much better.

(There are so many tangential off-shoots which arise from this topic, which would make this post way too long, and about which I'm just not well-versed enough to discuss. One, though, which I find interesting is this idea that women willingly adopt elements of the Male Gaze, or self-objectify, presumably in the service of attracting male attention. Of course it happens all the time. But then, in the words of Hadley Freeman, "What is one person's embrace of their sexuality is another person's patriarchal oppression.")

Anyway, I know this is all very sensitive territory and I'm sure my arguments could be ripped apart by anyone with a sharp wit and a different viewpoint. These are just my opinions and observations.

I hadn't really intended to bring Jassans into this discussion when I started, but he poked his head in. Both Jassans and Newton present their subjects very dispassionately, without a lot of undue emotion. But, for their naturalism and their lack of props and art-direction, Jassans' work is much more powerful, to me, anyway.

3 sculptures by Jassans

Is Jassans' work free of the trappings and traps of "the Male Gaze?" Can a man appreciate the female form without objectifying it? Can this appreciation be "simple"? Can it be "innocent"? 
Jassans makes me think the answer is probably yes, but...

I don't really know.

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