Friday, August 29, 2008

A Review from the Academy

I just became aware of a scholarly review of my book The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America, in Johns Hopkins University Press' journal Postmodern Culture. It's a damn good review, my thanks go to David Banash for giving my work such serious consideration. I wish I had known about it sooner, it would have looked good on that last grant application. Read the whole thing here, excerpt below:
Beyond the most clearly dialectical images and types in the book, there is a wealth of urban surrealism. The "B13 Complex Vandalism," defined by "the degree of complexity and effort required to resituate the cart" (42), are surely the strangest and most intriguing images in the book. The definition of this type is accompanied by a photograph of an empty swimming pool behind a seven-foot fence. In the pool stand two stray carts. The book offers no theories about how they came to rest there. One is left to imagine the motives of whoever took the trouble to hoist the carts over the fence and set them upright in the deep end. Beyond such surreal images, one is simply struck by the form of the cart, which is thoroughly defamiliarized by the book. Because so many carts are damaged in some way, or obscured by mud, snow, foliage, or decay, what leaps out is the ubiquitous lattice of their basket, and turning from one page to the next one is reminded of the grid, arguably the ur-form of twentieth-century art. The empty shopping cart becomes a transient and evolving meditation on what Rosalind Krauss describes as the key form of modernism. She writes that within the grid's "austere bars," we hear "no scream of birds across open skies, no rush of distant water—for the grid has collapsed the spatiality of nature onto the bounded surface of a purely cultural object" (158). As Krauss puts it, "the absolute stasis of the grid, its lack of hierarchy, of center, of inflection, emphasizes not only its anti-referential character, but more importantly its hostility to narrative" (158). One is tempted to see the grids of these carts as a parable of emptiness and commodity fetishism, for their form is meant to mutely transfer only the fullness and utopian promise of the commodities they contain, briefly supporting them in their transit through the store; the cart is understood as a purely negative space we long to fill, a negative emblem that supports the fundamental emptiness of the commodity form into which we consumers project our desires. Thus the most unnatural of forms, the cart's latticed basket, is revealed as a force of history in its decay, an allegory of the contradictions of consumer culture.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My City

There is a fantastic article about New Yorkers moving to Buffalo in the latest New York Magazine. The writer really gets why some of us live here. I urge you to read the whole article, here is one of the best bits (the two concluding paragraphs):

...I found it appealing for a different reason: not for how similar it is to New York (which is not very), but for how different. New York will always offer you the singular opportunity of testing yourself against the best, of sharpening yourself against the city’s fabled grindstone. Hopeful people will always scrape together their savings to come here, to split a one-bedroom apartment with five other people, whether that’s in Greenwich Village (then) or Bushwick (now). But New York, for all its mythology, is no longer a frontier. Buffalo is a frontier. And when you think of the actual frontier, you’ll recall that no one ever packed up and moved West to a gold-rush town because they heard it had really good local theater. They moved looking for opportunities. They moved for the chance to build a new life for themselves.

This, ironically, has always been the siren song of New York City: the chance to turn yourself into someone new, to live the life you’ve always imagined. But what a city like Buffalo offers is a very different promise of what could be. It offers the chance to live on the cheap and start a nonprofit organization, or rent an abandoned church for $1,000 a month, or finish your album without having to hold down two temp jobs at the same time, or simply have more space and a better view and enough money left over each month to buy yourself a painting once in awhile. A city like Buffalo reminds you that, beyond New York, there are still frontiers.

Mama Tried...

I came across this scene behind an out of business grocery store a few years ago while looking for shopping carts. I know that for a lot of people, owning a boat often becomes more of a hassle than it's worth. The name "Mama's Frustration" would seem to indicate that this boat was trouble from the get-go. I wonder what the last straw for Mama was.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

An Afternoon in Toronto

We went to Cambridge, Ontario on Wednesday to pick up my work from the gallery where I was in the group show Site Visits. After the pick up we went on to Toronto for the afternoon. Unfortunately, we spent a lot of time in heavy traffic and ended up getting there too late to see any of the galleries I wanted to visit. We wandered around the Queen St. West area for a few hours.

I'm surprised that no one has ever sent me an image of the patio at Supermarket, a bar on Augusta Ave.

We stopped in to Magic Pony, a great gallery/store that specializes in character driven art and toy design. The best thing there was this chair by Tania Sanhueza. The person working there told me that you can have her come to your house to sew mushrooms into your ripped upholstery.

On the way home we saw a giant Mr. Peanut beside the highway, it turned out to be a hot air balloon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Louise Bourgeois and Me

I went to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Guggenheim when I was in NYC week before last. My favorite Bourgeois work is, of course, her giant bronze spiders. I've previously mentioned on this blog that I thought some clever critic should make some connection between my spider faces and her faceless spiders. I'm tempted to go and hang one of my banners on one of her sculptures, it would be something to leave the Guggenheim in handcuffs. In any case, this is what that might look like:

Updated (but not finished) To Know the Spiders page here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I just uploaded some new invertebrate photos to Flickr if anyone is interested (I don't think anybody is interested).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

Luckily, when all this ugly business in Georgia started, I was able to go to the shelf and dig out this charming little book about Soviet Georgia published in 1987.

It seems pretty great, right?

This building is remarkable, I'd seen it before in the work of photographer Geert Goiris:

Ministry of Transportation, 2004

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Black Moses R.I.P.

I was saddened to hear of Isaac Hayes death on Sunday. I went through a period in the early 90s where I was really into 70s soul, in particular Blaxploitation film soundtracks. Of course the theme from Shaft is the greatest single piece of blaxploitation film music (Curtis Mayfield's Super Fly is the best album), and there is a lot to like about Hayes' other musical work, especially the packaging. Pictured above is my copy of Black Moses, perhaps one of the most over the top record cover designs in history. He certainly had a lot of confidence.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lord of the Ring Flash II

This is my favorite ring flash shot so far...

Final Socrates Wrap Up

This is piece #1 around June 6th.I had planted almost nothing in this one, so in June I was pleased with all of the self starting weeds that had popped up.

Here is piece #1 on August 7th, some of the weeds had grown to be five feet tall.

Piece #3 around June 6th

Here is piece #3 on August 7th. This one started off with the most plants but a number of weeds appeared out of nowhere. Oddly, or maybe tellingly, the one plant I actually paid for (the bush on the right in the top image) is the only one that died.

During the de-installation process I documented the stratigraphy of the pieces. That pen was not placed there by me.

Destruction in progress

The scorch marks of my genius!

The sun sets on Socrates Sculpture Park, again.

It basically took two days to take everything apart which was far easier than the build. I learned a lot from this project and I met a lot of great people. I'm thankful to Socrates Sculpture Park for giving me an opportunity to work in a new way. Everybody who works there is super nice and really helpful. And thanks again to Michael Baumann for helping me build the pieces, I couldn't have done it without him.

Friday, August 8, 2008

De-installation in Process

The plant growth in this piece was unexpected and incredible, I'll post some comparisons later

I found this brood of spiders on their egg sack under one of the pieces.

I am trying to finish the de-installation this morning. I will post more about all of it later.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

18 hours Left to See "Three Shopping Cart Situations"

I'm going down to de-install my shopping cart sculptures at Socrates Sculpture Park, I'm leaving super early tomorrow morning. I think it will take a day and a half, but god knows I've been wrong about the timing before with this project. I'm looking forward to see the state of the plant growth. Anyway, if you want to see it, you have until about 2pm Wednesday afternoon before I take a crowbar to it.

Lord of the Ring Flash

I just got a cheap ring flash to use with the macro lens for my Nikon D80. The ring flash will let me get closer to tiny subjects. Until now I have been using the built in speedlight on the camera, the problem with that is that I can only get so close before the shadow of the lens barrel intrudes into the shot. I just started experimenting with the flash yesterday, already it seems like a big improvement. There are probably a lot of tricks of the trade I need to learn to get consistently good bug shots. Here are some of yesterday's results, it's best to click on them to see the detail.

Check out the clutch of eggs she is carrying, unfortunately, my back hallway is no place to raise a family.

Photographing Damselflies is extremely difficult they don't seem to stop moving...

If you click to enlarge on this you can see a lot of detail

I don't know what these are

If you click to enlarge this you can see the eye arrangement

Monday, August 4, 2008

Herzog in the Snow

We went to see Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World on Saturday night. I thought it was really good, and I recommend that it be seen on the big screen. At times he seems to take his Teutonic pessimism a bit too far in the narration, but it ends up being so funny that it all works. Needless to say, he side steps the normal documentary cliches and he doesn't seem to feel any need to shoe horn every encounter into some tight narrative arc.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Herzog in the Jungle

I just found out that Werner Herzog's new documentary about Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World, is opening today in Buffalo. I'm excited to see it. Lately, I've been watching a lot of nature documentaries as I mull over some ideas for future projects. I find Herzog's attitude towards nature a refreshing counter to the pseudo religious cliches about harmony that one finds in most nature documentaries. The best example of it is the clip below (from a documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo), where he talks about the "obscenity" and "overwhelming collective murder" of the jungle. After spending a year plus looking at the nightmarish world of spiders, I'm sympathetic to his characterization of nature. He starts talking at the 36 second mark.