Friday, February 23, 2018

Good News and Vaginas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

¡Hasta la próxima vez!

28/2/18 ••• EDIT WITH NEW CONTENT •••

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

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

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

We are all emotional mannequins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me of the basement warehouse in Westworld.

Everyone should visit a mannequin seller!

Happy Spring!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Random Shit

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

Anyway I am finding it to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The face is coming along, although not without pain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then,
Over and Out