Thursday, January 25, 2018

Turning Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hasta la vista, compañeros.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

Leonard Cohen's front door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kodiak and yours truly ready to attack the slopes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kodiak and Cles strolling along the harbor...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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