Monday, September 23, 2013

A poetry contest advertised on Craig's List?

There was a lovely little story in the New York Times yesterday about an odd poetry contest advertised on Craig's list. The story and the poem below, which I like a lot because I can relate to it, were both written by Esther Cohen.

And now, at this point
insane moment of age and longing
cusp and pinnacle
when my arms are different arms
when my dreams are always interrupted
longing becomes more than longing
I can no longer do this
or that as much as I still want to
I wake up wondering how
I no longer care so much about why
when a day is not just a day but right now.

To read the story go to NY Times

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Villa Terrace exhibits Afghan war rugs

On the wall in the narrow, arched second floor corridor of Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum two rugs hang side by side. At a glance the similarities are more noticeable than the differences. Three groupings of large figures run vertically down the center of a space bounded by a precisely framed and detailed border design. The rug on the left is darker overall and more earthy in coloration, while the one on the right has a brighter, light tan background. This, combined with a simpler background design makes the figures on the right pop out more emphatically. The overall composition is the same, however, and the shapes and clothing styles of the central figures are nearly identical.

They are beautiful as well as exquisitely crafted, made with hand-spun and dyed, tightly knotted wool. Admirable for their utility as well as the quality of design and workmanship, a superficial appreciation might accrue to a cursory inspection. “Nice colors,” I overheard a visitor say in passing at the exhibit opening last night.

If your examination of these two remarkable rugs ended there you would miss what is arguably the most important feature of the rugs and a telling if visually subtle contrast between the two. The figures on the left hold guitars and other musical instruments, while those on the right grip assault rifles, rocket launchers, and other weapons. Furthermore, in the background on the left are stylized flowers, birds and other animals. The right includes clearly articulated tanks and warplanes.

The exhibit is called “Afghan war rugs: the modern art of central asia.” It will be on display at Villa Terrace through January 6, 2014. The rugs vary in size. Some are no larger than a small doormat; others hang floor to ceiling. Most are figurative and contain graphic depictions of modern weapons and warfare, as suggested in the title.

For anyone familiar with the typical rugs of central Asia, reactions to these are likely to include surprise if not shock. Many are far less subtle than the ones described above. In a room nearby, for example, is one that could easily elicit a strong emotional reaction. The top half depicts the New York skyline. The twin towers of the World Trade Center stand tall against a serenely blue sky. That sky also contains a single jet airliner flying directly towards the nearer tower. In the bottom half are a precisely detailed helicopter, an M1 Abrams tank, a soldier with upraised assault rifle, a surface-to-air rocket launcher, and several warplanes. These all overlie a map of Afghanistan. Dividing the two panels is a black band containing the words “waragainst-terrorist.” The parallel design leaves little room for interpretation of the bold pronouncement.

Most of the rugs in the exhibit are fairly recent creations, the oldest ones having been made in the 1970s. Seeing modern weaponry, depictions of contemporary cityscapes, as well as obvious references to 9/11 and the familiar war in Afghanistan, it is tempting to conclude that the grim subject matter is a recent development and a reaction to the country’s wars with first Russia and then the United States. Indeed, the wall texts and the essays in an accompanying brochure examine the history of these and other conflicts and include descriptions of specific weaponry employed by the various parties involved. Many of these weapons are depicted with great accuracy in the rugs.

However, at least one of the wall panels explained that the presence of weapons and the war-related imagery in Afghanistan’s artistic output predates recent events and is attributable to a more general belligerence based on tribal culture. “The long-standing martial traditions of the Pashtun (ethnic Afghans) guaranteed their social importance. Weapons were awarded upon puberty, and were a central decorative element with a powerful aesthetic charge for men and their homes….”

This exhibit of Afghan war rugs is not only well worth a visit. I believe it presents a truly unique body of work that combines idiosyncratic themes, ethnographic depth, and aesthetic quality. Villa Terrace is the premier venue for this exhibit in the United States. Milwaukeeans are lucky to have the opportunity to see it.

For more information go to Villa Terrace.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The High Line: An Abstract Nature


The High Line is New York City’s phenomenally popular urban park built atop the remains of a former elevated rail structure. Designed collaboratively by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf, the park runs through a 1.45 mile section of the Chelsea neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side. Twenty-five years elapsed between the time trains stopped running on the High Line and it was first considered for redevelopment as a uniquely innovative park. During that time a feral urban wilderness seeded itself and grew on the structure. That wild character inspired the creation of the park.

Introducing The High Line: An Abstract Nature, my most recent project—still in progress. An extension of my previous series, called Synecdoche: the fragment that represents the whole, the new project applies the concepts and issues of that series to the specificity of this place.

Synecdoche is a literary term that means the part that represents the whole. The images in the series metaphorically express the fragmentation we experience in our complex, often paradoxical, relationships between nature and the built environment; they challenge definitions of nature in a time when nature often is reduced, manufactured and abstracted. The images come from diverse locations to emphasize the increasing universality of this phenomenon. (To see selections from my Synecdoche portfolio, click here.)

The High Line: An Abstract Nature is a photographic study of the park, which, although inspired by feral nature, is as carefully designed and maintained as a botanical garden. The rigorous design of its natural features and its popularity as a tourist destination combine with its urban setting to create an unprecedented urban park experience. It is a park where nature has been introduced into a totally manufactured environment that is dominated by the presence of people.

Let’s be clear about two things: First, like so many others, I love the High Line. Second, although it was inspired by the feral kind of nature that grew on the abandoned line, now that it’s a park it can no longer be considered anything like an urban wilderness. I’ve often stretched that concept, which is meant to be a thought-provoking paradox. But trying to wrap it around the High Line would eviscerate all meaning from the "wilderness" end of its conceptual spectrum. No matter. The High Line is another sort of experience of nature and, as I see it, a more abstract one. Hence the title of this series.

To see more images from The High Line: An Abstract Nature, click here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Artists talk about Chicago Project on Edelman Gallery website

I brought my two prints home from recently from The Chicago Project V exhibit that has been on display at the Catherine Edelman Gallery since early July. However, the exhibit lives on in the words of the artists (including mine) on the gallery website. Each of the nine artists included in the exhibit were interviewed for a feature called Artist Talk.

The purpose of Artist Talk, according to the website, is to further the understanding of "the creative process through the words of the photographer. We hope collectors, curators and the general public will gain a better understanding about each piece on exhibit and the artist in general."

Before the interview we were prepped to include some biographical information, who influenced our work and/or other photographers we admire, and then to describe the prints on display in some detail. If you listen to my video you will note that I adhere pretty much to this pattern. The two prints that represent me in the exhibit are from my Synecdoche Series (and, yes, I explain that odd term in the video!) You can hear just my interview, or any of the other individual photographers, by clicking here and then clicking on the small video link to the right of my name under my two prints.

To listen to all of the interviews in a sequence, you can click here and then click on the link to "The Chicago Project V," (which is currently right on top.)

To read my previous post about the The Chicago Project V exhibit, click here.

My Synecdoche Series has been complete enough to have been exhibited twice now in solo shows. However, wherever I travel I continue to find subjects that are consistent with its theme of symbolizing the fragments of nature that represent the whole. Sometimes they even push the concept in a new direction. I recently returned from a vacation trip to Cape Ann, north of Boston. A familiar landmark there is the twin lighthouses on Thatcher Island, the kind of place where our species has been testing its relationship with the natural world for a very long time.

Fortuitously, I was there when the moon was full.

You can also see more from the Synecdoche Series on my website.