A reporter asked President Obama if he felt like “he was outta juice”. (Wow, rough crowd…..) Chronic political “piranha attack mode” must be so common that one’s perceived setback amounts to a call to throw in the towel? Another reporter asking Nancy Pelosi if she was “standing in the way of younger women” who could also be elected as US Minority House Leader, if not for her hogging the position, is the rationale for that question. I suppose it is the job of the press to ask pointed questions, I support, even awkward ones like the two I mentioned. Equally glad both political leader gave a good push back. In my mind Obama and Pelosi are hard working political leaders and I applaud most of their efforts. Artists are frequently on the end of the spectrum where what we do is considered charity unless you can count the place where art starts moving into commercial entertainment, then it is all business. So watching people struggle against the forces of life in political debate or actually fighting cultural illnesses makes our gambling with the planet earth seem truly otherworldly. I am frequently surprised by the emotional quality of our economy. The economy is like a emo-child with some privilege but immature enough to do serious damage by being impertinent. The über-wealthy everywhere around the world have withdrawn their financial resources from their own economy and Mr./Ms. Wealthy are known to be “skitish” like they don’t want to invest in their country infrastructure, cultural improvements, disaster relief, education throughout life, health care etc…. on the one hand then systematically poisoning our food and water on the other. They are afraid of the monster they created. Add to this mix that wars and guns being manufactured and traded with no regard for consequences. As a hippie artist-type it all feel like being caught in the cross hairs. The one thing that hasn’t changed is my most fundamental goal: to try to get to a “yes”…. While I do not agree about the ways of the world in big sweeping systems like governments, war machines and stinginess, I actually have a small sphere of influence. I work with creative people, trying to stay afloat in NYC and getting to “yes”. I see all to clearly what the fantasy rhetoric means from the radical right concerning the need to “take back our culture” but only a closed mind would think of culture as anything other than an every changing pool of creativity and dynamics that builds economic empires. I seriously wonder what is the physiology of the radical right mind? I find their philosophy self defeating. I see light bulbs going off all the time and yet the power generated goes nowhere because we need our patron class to come back into the economic stream of life. Funding for the Arts is so discouraging. As of today I decided that I am going to try writing a new grant application again for someone else. I have been out of the loop writing grants because it is not my forte, and usually the money was too small to really do much of anything, so why bother? I am still hoping to get to yes. I might have to channel the great pop star Cee-Lo repeating “You’re the ONE (girl), you’re the ONE” but that momentarily spark of inspiration making me step out of my comfort zone is pretty mind blowing. New ideas are worth sticking your neck out for. I just hope I am not like Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from the Honeymooners, always skeeming to “get rich”. While this comic duo is hilarious on TV, it is not so funny in real life…. I hate wasting my time because in a great city like NYC there is just too much to live for besides chasing dollars.
Suppose you want to feel your mortality..then try to see how long you can hold your breath. Trust me it isn’t long. We are all quite mortal, unlike media, movies, games and other fantasy-ville where there are almost not consequence for extreme behavior. I remember in the earliest days of virtual reality, cyber, and electronic software…. Merce Cunningham developed a software to randomly move the dancers of his company, I believe it was called LIFE FORMS. I was an active choreographer and also very interested in that cross-section of art and science. I attended an event by Lincoln Center where they were exploring the software. There was a women who headed a membership group that I belonged to who was really excited by this development. I was less impressed, not that the software was not interesting, just that for the work I was doing it was useless. I was working with low tech special effects and the choreography was very very nuanced, not random. She practically attacked me because I spoke about my need to control the human elements and the analog elements too. I thought that my hand as the artist was much more facile than the software could ever be. Plus… where is the fun in operating computers when there are living breathing dancers present. Part of her campaign on me was that I had to get “with it” and that working with dancers to explore the depth and the variability of my material was too slow. While I could only produce a new work every year or so….once they were complete we could perform them over and over again. Since most American artist lack opportunities to present their works sufficiently being slow seemed like a non-issue. Then came along “Second Life” – more virtual reality software, so I made an attempt to learn. It is a pure puzzle as to why people would rather interface with a keyboard and screen rather than living breathing adults. I realize that Merce was a special case, his mission was to explore technology. I studied with Alwin Nikolais, Hanya Holm and the like…. they liked to shape us physically. It was fun to work with them because they enjoyed the process so much. Alwin was kind of a marathon man and we would be in the studio working until quite late at night. We were only students, not company members. Hanya never tired of making us pay attention to every single detail of our presentations of ourselves. We always started off the class with a simple walk across the floor and if she thought you were not 100% present, she would remark “nobody home”. It was terrible when you got that remark. It made you work incredibly hard to focus on yourself, your place in the room and your place in the greater world. I still to this day walk down the street with a purpose, never absent-minded. Partly because living in NYC one could get really really hurt if you were not paying attention but also because it is a fun exercise. Not sure I would have ever gotten that message from a machine. So when I started curating videoart festivals in the late 1990s & early 2000s, I was surprised how much the work all looked the same. Pre-electronic artists had to be ingenious, the way the Eames were with their film “Powers of Ten” (1968, re-released in 1977). Post electronic artists had so many tools at their fingertips. The artistic statement was sometimes lost, or sadly in some cases there was not an art premise there in the first place but over time video artists learned to use their wits and make works that were truly original and inventive like Benton C. Bainbridge’s videoart portraits recently presented at EYEBEAM. Here is an image from my vdeorart work The Crystal Box, where we took video art and mapped it onto 3d shapes.
Funny I don’t feel like an expert but I think I know how to build energy. Conjecture states that it take 10,000 hours to make an expert. Sounds good. It certainly seems like a dedicated amount of time to be really proficient at some field of intelligent life. But in the world of A.D.D., I wonder about the quality of those 10,000 hours. There used to be this odd term in parenting where “experts” asked parents to give their kid “quality time”. That term struck me as counter productive because to me, all a kid wants from their parents is to be considerate and authentic. Being in “quality time” meant that the child then became super-centric, this I objected to. I want to advocate for the parent here, parents needs are great and they are forced to be dutiful under pressure day in day out. Which is why I would never wish parenthood on anyone because it is a crazy amount of skill, work, patience and humility plus that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall Humpty Dumpty has a great fall thing etc….. is a real spontaneous distracting driving force too. Parenting claims more of you than you ever would believe you have inside yourself. I paid for all my grey hair (LOL). Mostly I ran away from this idea that “quality time” could be structured into the day like a cookie-cutter program. Since children model on us, young children would miss the connections between being a responsible grown-up coping with daily pressures but still having fun together or growing unwisely accustomed to getting sole attention. The gratification of having sole attention makes for friction later, especially when parents are too beaten down to put out at that high level of focus for your kids benefit. Eventually pre-teens grow to resent your attention anyway. Besides, I thought if you were reading to your kid, cooking dinner with your kid wasn’t that quality time? Part of my dislike might have been social economical because the same parents who practiced “quality time” were able to pay for theater tickets, vacations, sporting event etc…. my next to nothing artist salary helped me opted for more authenticity and bringing in lots of people to be an influencing factor on their lives. My current task is to be reviewing the family photo history and it is telling to see how my kids vividly participated and conversed with all ages. I did not have the ability to provide extra cultural consumption but we built a quality community instead. The people we surrounded ourselves with were mostly my fellow artists and the kid’s favorite classmates families. My kids may not have had my undivided attention but they had versatile personal resources plus what mother doesn’t profess her undying love? Every parent has limits, mine was running my life around kid centric entertainment. When I viewed the family history through these old photographs, I can see that we clearly liked doing certain things together and I guess, I am satisfied that I got to be a NYC striving artist and a parent. I was once warned by several much older women artists when I was able to show one of my videodances (Waterbug WaterLily 1990) at the Museum of Natural History. They told me that I could not be both, that “parenting makes art suffer”. I was rather surprised because some of them, I knew their children. Anyway my kids seem to have settled into being “creative-types” themselves. Not bad for a NYC life. Nevertheless I still worry about the kids of the world, the kids of the USA, the kids of NYC, the kids of Brooklyn, the kids of Boerum Hill. I read in the NYTimes today an announcement that Max Pollack (a very well respected tapper) was calling for a a New Orleans style Dirge to begin at Jazz Headquarters in Lincoln Center for the fallen victims to USA Gun Violence to begin tonight. It is this kind of collective expression that moves people out of their comfort zones and could be influential or at least I hope so because I would hate to see that all King’s horse and all the Kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again. I want grown-ups to be considerate, authentic and kids to have the opportunity to be kids. Happily, tonight’s weather makes for a wonderful night to express some collective sorrow.
When you finally make up your mind, things are alot easier to do. Before that moment of clarity there is a special place where you are all anxiety and bundles of needs waiting to be addressed, identifying the strategy for your problems to be solved etc.. etc… a place that has no real plan, just whirlwinds of “what ifs”. Meeting personal and professional goals starts exactly the same, step by step, sometimes even baby step by baby step. I tend to wonder if the social media devices and high speed electronics makes us less patient for thoughtful accurate answers. I am especially appalled by the Boston Marathon coverage by TV people where they jumped to conclusions without doing enough investigating to make an actual factual report. They then spent countless hours backtracking… (new tag line: first a getting info, last at getting it right) Or the hacked AP twitter account which cause the US economy to crash radically and recover in 5 minutes when people investigated and learned that there was not an attack on the White House. As much as I like algorithms, I just wonder why we abdicated our collective responsible judgement on so many fronts, with the force of our intelligence gathering and with our economic health and well being? The human mind is powerful and while it needs some time to expand and expound on ideas, it comes to logical conclusions with stunning regularity. So while we are in a fog about agents of radical violence or on a cloud about how our economy works, I would venture to say it is the emotions that drive us to understand something or to mis-understand it completely. Why is it that so many Americans think President Obama is a secret Muslim? Is it willful ignorance or just the emotional factors of bias? Bigotry is almost incapable of change once it is set in. Last year I visited an elder in our family as she was in a nursing home, she said terrible racist things directly to the staff that was there to help her. I had known this women for decades and always thought her open-minded and fair but when she said these hateful things to this person, I had to pick my jaw off the floor and apology to the person who seemed to shrug it off as “crazy things white people do”. The event cut me to the core. I suppose her judgement was off-mark because deep down that is what she thought. I was surprised and yet growing up with racist uncles, I suppose it is naive of me to wish for behavior that is compassionate at the core. There are no algorithms to help us evolve, they only detect trauma. To evolve we have to walk in another person’s shoes. There was a poetry and letter reading event that was part of the Whitney’s “BLUES FOR SMOKE” that dealt with an era where black gay men from the 1980-1990s died way too young from AIDS. There was not a dry eye in the house because these men were fierce in their passion for life and self exploration. I was familiar with these writers and activists at the time but also at the time a was the mother of 2 and thought about how to bring these 2 youngsters up to be compassionate towards others. They experienced alot of what NYC was but they did not see up close tragedies until 9/11 in NYC when whole buildings collapsed and thousands of people died in several hours. Many we knew personally. After 9/11 people used to ask me how this event was going to affect my art? I often thought that my art making is pretty much a mystery to me so I had no idea. I did not think we could even know how it would effect us until at least 10 years after the event. So here I am sitting in my studio and I can finally see how I was affected. I lost all the threads I was holding because my contracts were rescinded, NYC commerce came to stand still and outside funding dried up completely. I went back to the place where everyday was like starting over fresh without history and I started to seriously paint, write and build work that required nobody but myself. My work is not overtly political, my work is abstract or community building. I decided right then that I could never control the outside forces of life, not AIDS, not death, not racism, not economic justice. The only thing I could control was my mind, my heart and my tools of creation. I wanna think about this as I get myself together to go the Guggenheim Museum to see “Gutai: Splendid Playground” which focuses on the creative spectrum of Japan’s most influential avant-garde collective of the postwar era. Founded by the visionary artist Yoshihara Jirō in 1954, the Gutai group was legendary in its own time. Just like the mythical Phoenix, artists rise from places that are dark, lonely and sometimes as terrible as death/destruction/scapegoating and they make work that explores those feeling by pushing against those very same feelings.
Girlhood was a bizarre and transformative time. I often befriended the person that people bullied, usually the fat girl, as I did with Cynthia Romano in 2nd grade. I remember wondering what made her so fat? So my inquiring mind wanted to know about that and therefore fatness never seemed enough of a reason for any one to allowing bullying. I was a defender of a fellow outcast. As I recall Cynthia had a similarly shaped body as her parents, so there you go, it isn’t her fault. By the time I moved to Texas I was already on my way to being my own opinionated force. I was not a religious believer because the stories were so stupid that by 7 years old I knew religion is a hoax and by 14 I won the right to fully reject weekly mass/church-life that my parents dictated. Catholic Church to be exact. I was schooled by nuns and they on the other hand possibly saved my life until I was 18. Religion was an anchor for my father and a point of departure for my mother. I never really fully understood why when my mother rejected the Catholic faith she became a born again Christian, only 10 times worse because she approached us with a converting vengeance. One day I got a greeting card from her where she wrote about her plants and her latest shopping find etc…. very light and chatty, signing it “Love, Mom PS: The Rapture is coming, be prepared!!!!” At first I thought my teenaged son who was reading me the card was making that up, just to yank my chain. No such luck! She was still pushing the Christ stuff on me but what is a daughter to do? She says, “thanks for the heads up.” It was not the first time my mother discussed the Rapture with me. I was a little exhausted because I have alot of negativity that has built up over the years because her faith has dominated her narrow-minded-ness. But then again my father was equally narrow-minded. So I guess it is good that they found each other because I have a perfectly reasonable and happy life. So “no worse for the wear” and I still say “Thank God”, even though I have no faith in God exactly, unless you count atmosphere and elements that allow us to sustain life. Then…. that God, I get. Just not the God in buildings. I am not passing judgement on beliefs per se, until they begin impacting on society as a whole. I do fault religion for many many many wars and countless deaths because of the power they have over people decision making. Some things are unforgivable. This is why I find it so fascinating that the former George W Bush made his new Presidential library via Southern Methodist University outside of Dallas less about actual history and more about “your guess is as good as mine about history”. Gotta hand it to those Bushies, what else could you do with that incriminating “materials” on a college campus where inquiring minds are suppose to be. Recently watched a film with Vanessa Redgraves and Rachael Wiesz “WHISTLEBLOWER”. It was a haunting story about brutality against women and girls in the International “peacekeeping” forces during the Bosnian wars. I am afraid that movie will stay with me a long time since it was so entirely heartbreaking, physiologically disturbing, and a reminder about how tragic and brutal the world can be. Man’s inhumanity to woman is a deeply resonate feeling of anguish. Well into my adult life, it is still bizarre and transformative times. Things evolve but not that much, the wheels of justice move slowly and in some cases not at all. As an artist when I interpret these feelings, they come out in ways that are equally bizarre. I can only hope that they would be transformation. What does bring hope to the soul and is creative interaction with people. I am grateful to be allowed to question authority and have certain personal liberties which is why I produce events in my home and in my public space MICRO MUSEUM. On May 18 there will be a community music and poetry performance on the stage of the first floor. It is always an adventure working with artists but I certainly hope that the band, the LIT CRAWL people have selected are not terrible. Community is my devotion and while I will still wonder why the selected band is so terrible? I will accept the community for what is it: undefined and unruly.
Damn, the world sure does get itself blown up. Daily bomb explosions around the globe seems like an impossible inhumanity. Our incomprehensible hanging dread and perpetual sadness make the toil of random violence heavy. Boston is personal. Syria is personal. Lebanon is personal. Spain is personal. Afghanistan is personal. It is beyond painful to watch violence and madness up close – yet – here we are observing planned and calculated mass murdering yet again. Since they say that right side of the brain function is different from the left side of the brain, then my brain must be lopsided because in times of stress I make art. Today I am making hundreds of teeny tiny dots on a canvas. Rarely panicking, I channel, although it is very challenging to contemplate man’s inhumanity to man. As the outsider gender looking into the “male mind’s” intense, local, and up close mass murdering logic I cannot help but wonder “would women with better power be better psychological influences?” because I gotta say, I doubt things could get more disappointing but realistically I anticipate huge declines in culture fabric under our current male leadership. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook wrote a book called “Lean-in” thus naming the phrase for what is expected in the 21st century for world workers. We must all do our parts, we must manage our selves collectively. A global economy with huge diversity will evolve very slowly but it will evolve. Mostly evolution occurs after a catastrophe strikes and then and only then, we get the next age of enlightenment. If women were in charge of public culture (economic leadership roles) instead of private culture (family life roles)… I know it is such a fantasy but I still suspect a different outcome. It is probably too late for any such a hope because I recently learned The Jimmy Carter Center work in Africa and Asia where, for example incredibly, many women in Sudan just acquired latrines for their sanitary care since their oppressive culture dictates the women remain house-bound 24/7. So there is not alot of “leaning in” that Sudan women can do. Once when I traveling through Egypt, I heard of a family in the Nile Delta who had a head strong daughter who one day did her chores then went off without permission to visit a companion in the next town. The father apparently made a display of retrieving her. The daughter said that he did not beat her, which says something about love, restraint and indicative of what microscopic incremental changes happen everyday in the balance of power between gender from generation to generation. So evolution is the long game, like the lotto you gotta be in it to win it. About 10 years ago I started an artful peace project at the start of the Iraqi war and I was shocked about how belligerent culture shifts can happen. PEACE BIRD appeared at The Atlantic Antic street fair on historically Arabic Atlantic Ave, one of NYC biggest ones since they allow street drinking which is a rarity in NYC, the area started out as Christian Arabs so the beer flows. I have long supported a very small charity called Brooklyn Parents for Peace, so I devised an art action “PEACE BIRD” to do my part. The art action was to invite individuals to write a loving, peaceful, harmonious message on “paper feathers” and tape it onto bird shaped sculpture. Originally I thought a lovely idea for communal expression. Instead it became an opportunity for me to confront the powers of war mentality from lots of men. Since I am not very argumentative I had to learn to be brave and not miss dialog opportunities that many girls around the globe only dream of. I profess to have no answers for what ails us. I just build creative ideas and try to make them public, exploring concepts of physiological health and well being. Tending to agree with Ms. Sandberg that unless we lean into the current difficult social, environmental and political solutions required for making a healthy culture then, only the luckiest survive. I totally understand that being born in America is remarkably lucky because by chance, one could be born a girl in Sudan and forced to remain indoors for the majority of your life. This kind of knowledge made me bolder because as an American girl who could visit anyone without asking permission, it is part of my job description to push boundaries and explore more communal actions.