Monday, September 22, 2008

the Death of Money: My Two Cents

In the year I was born, at about the same time as now, another important presidential election was taking place. This is the first debate I would have seen, when I was about a month and a half old: Jimmy Carter versus Gerald Ford. My developing infant mind would have been sucking in fresh stimuli from all corners of the cosmos at this point, and I'm sure that this debate impacted me tremendously. Watching it again, I am amazed at what I witnessed.

Ford starts out talking about his restructuring of the CIA, which he says is in good hands with George Bush in charge. Carter begins to explain that the government has lost the trust of the people, silence falls, and the television audience hears nothing, nor do the commentators, the voters or the world. Bizarre indeed. As a baby, I was probably able to understand these two men almost as well without the volume, but besides, unable to vote, whether or not I grasped things had little bearing. Watching it now, I wonder if this "glitch" might not have been an orchestrated move by the same people who's previous candidate, Nixon, had resigned a criminal, the same people who went to court over votes in Florida 24 years later for the son of the same CIA director. Perhaps preventing people from hearing the rational words of Carter was a last ditch effort to save their butts. Too little, too late, people did not trust the administration, and Carter won the election.
Our government behaves like a crazy, selfish idiot, and expects us all to play along. It invents as much money as it needs to give to the corporations, then rakes the pockets of the poor to bring it back. I'm glad that our economy is self-destructing, because it's something that needs to be completely rethought anyway. When I was born, the buying power of a quarter was similar to a dollar today.

For all of our corporate sponsored advancements in these 3 decades, we've traded our dignity as Americans and the worth of our nation. These greedy bastards sucked us dry, and they don't care one bit.
My personal opinion is, if these same ruthless fools take the 2008 election, a penny in 1976 will have the buying power of a dollar tomorrow, 10 dollars next week, 100 dollars next month, and 1000 dollars by 2012. Zimbabwe in our backyard: exponential inflation .
1/2 cent in 1976=2 cents in 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

SETTLED: for the sake of Her Majesty

In 2004, the Queen of England visited the Jamestown Settlement Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. The event was downplayed by the media, but in theory represented a major breakthrough in relations between the Motherland and our rogue colony. Jamestown, of course, was the first investment made by the Bank of England in the New World, a calculated risk that had not been entered lightly. It was only fitting for Her Majesty to take an interest in the progress of Her distant subjects in the wild new frontier. She was pleased with what She saw, and gave Her blessing for the settlement to continue, going so far as to pledge a return trip in 2007, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the endeavor.Unbeknownst to the Queen Mother, I was inadvertantly destined to play a hand in the preparations for her arrival. In the months leading up to the celebration, I found myself employed by a company that makes and installs figures at museums. A new wing was being built at Jamestown, and we were making the statues. One morning, rather unexpectedly, I was enlisted to perform an important mission from the highest level of command. My orders were to deliver and install the historical figures, and I was to leave immediately. The U-haul was packed and waiting. I would be briefed during the drive.
The figures were composed of an elite selection of key players in the formation of the eventual economic feasibility that the New World would offer. Many hardships befell this bunch, and their actions and decisions became our current reality. Arriving at the original settlement in the balmy heat of summer, I was transported to a distant era.
Wandering around a museum in progress, I found myself getting a crash course in the history of the time before our country existed. The area, I learned, was thoroughly populated with tens of thousands of people known to themselves as Powhatan. They had organized ways of doing things, advanced toolmaking skills, and a vast network of trading.
My first duty involved dressing a Powhatan hunter in a complete deerskin, which was the way they would sneak up on herds undetected.I placed the skin amidst a forest made from fiberglass, with concrete dirt and a plastic stream. Aside from a few sticks on the ground and myself, the deer was the only other real thing behind the glass. The locals had been talking all day about hurricane Ernesto, and, after I had positioned the hide, the power went out and emergency lights came on.We were told we had a few hours before the batteries gave out. All the workcrews began packing up their things to leave. Being the only crew in from NYC, we decided to keep working as long as the daylight held. Proud Chief Powhatan would soon be standing tall atop a pedestal.
Reading some of the plaques around the museum, I relived the moments following the arrival of the settlers, when this very Chief had decided to kill them all and continue as before. Suddenly a young girl named Pocohantas burst forth in tears and begged him to spare their lives.
I imagined the pleasure that the Queen must feel regarding the brave decision that young woman made on the behalf of an unknown country. Had she not protested, the colonies might never have existed. Truly this moment paved the way for the future.
No time to waste, I began prepping the surface on which the chief was to stand.
The platforms had been built by a different subcontractor, and were supposed to correspond to our figures. I drilled the holes and set him in place.
Already, we realized that there was a major problem. The surface was irregular, like a dirt path, with flat indentations created where the Chief's feet were to go. The designer of the exhibit informed us before leaving that the position was 90 degrees off, meaning that the footholds were completely wrong. With a hurricane blaring outside, no power and hundreds of miles from home, we were forced to invent a creative solution.
Like the settlers themselves, we had no choice but to revert to the primitive tools of our ancestors, trading electrical advantage for sweat and toil.
Spreading the last of our Bondo as the sun disappeared, we left the museum for a nearby motel.
The following day, after driving slowly to the museum amidst newly formed lakes and piles of fallen branches, we worked by the light of a generator in the main hall of the new wing. The altered terrain needed to be sanded smooth, and, even with cordless tools available, the best way to do it was still by hand. We were in a museum and dust was a major concern. I spent several hours blending the surface, during which time I was able to ponder the nearby displays.
Apparently all efforts to succeed financially in the New World had miserably failed for the settlers. They initially tried to make glass, having promised the investors an endless new supply of sand, but it wasn't cost effective, and the bank was not pleased, sending fewer vessels to visit the wayward voyagers.
The settlers were wealthy aristocrats, accustomed to having servants and luxury. Left on their own, they slowly exhausted their supplies. Disease was taking its toll, and before long, starvation became inevitable.
A dashing young man named John Rolf, playing the sympathies and influence of Pocohantas, struck a harmonic chord, and was able to learn the knowledge and practices of the locals. By taking ideas from the Powhatans, the settlers were able to survive.
As I put the finishing touches on the newly altered pedestal, I wondered if the Chief would make the same decision if he'd realized it would lead to this: our modern era.

I wondered if things would have been different if the next ship from England had found all the settlers slaughtered and fled home in fear. Public opinion would have plummeted, and investors would have steered clear of foolhardy overseas speculation in the future. Perhaps America would be Dutch instead of British.This one powerful man opened a door, by taking pity on these helpless people, that has not been closed since. Whether or not it was a good idea, it happened, and cannot be undone. My conclusion, as always, was that things could definitely be much worse, even if I'd prefer they be better.
Suddenly, light flooded the museum, as power returned to the land. I moved forward to my final assignment, atop the highest platform in the new wing.
I was to mount the most important figures of the set, the two who symbolized the union of the Old World and the New World, Princess Pocohantas and Sir John Rolf. Standing proud with their child, the two share a tender moment of hope and love.

Pocohantas would quickly move to England, adopt the garb and mannerisms of the elite, and live happily ever after, the richest Powhatan in the world.A close family friend of similar wealth was the entrepreneur credited with finally finding an enterprise that could make investors giddy, paving the way for the expansion of the colonies. His name was Sir Walter Raleigh, and without a doubt he was one cool dude. He was able to convince people that if they wanted to be cool like him they should inhale the smoke deeply. It took some practice, but people eventually learned. Most people who use his products these days would like to quit, but can't; it was the same then. Thus followed the birth our great nation: carcinogenic from conception.
During the anniversary celebration, in addition to the Queen, one other world leader would come to see the museum, this one living proof that Pocohantas should maybe have held her tongue. Oh cruel history...


(they seem friendly, but just want to profit from your land and your people)

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Unseen Installation: "DUMBO's Awesome New Exhile"

In May of 2005, I participated in an experiment of grand proportions. Myself and 5 other artists were given free studio spaces on the 10th floor of an historic building in an area in Brooklyn called DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Nestled between the derelict Navy Yard and posh Brooklyn Heights, with some of the toughest public housing projects just blocks away, this area had been an industrial no-man's-land for decades before artists moved in and started setting up studios in the 80's, risking their lives for low rent, and beginning the process of inevitable desirability: gentrification.In exchange for our studio spaces, we all agreed to participate in a collaborative exhibition of our designing which we would present to the public in a multiple day, interactive event. The company that conceived of and hosted the whole thing had long been a theatrical instigator, known for cross-disciplinary performances and over-the-edge experiences. Their most publicized event had been a play called "I'm going to kill the president", the location of which was kept secret until the night of the performance due to a law against saying that sentence. I was thrilled to participate and excited about the event.
Before my installation could begin, I needed to prepare the space. Only recently, it had been a theater with a stage and stadium seating, hosting nightly events on a floor filled with other artists, dancers, and musicians. But then along came development. A new owner meant changes, and this floor was no longer being rented to artists. One by one, all the leases on the 10th floor had expired and all of the spaces had been abandoned to make way for offices instead.
When I came along, this one space was all that remained, the rest of the walls on the floor had been completely demolished and carted away. The final demolition and next phase of construction was waiting on us. We were literally occupying one tiny box inside a gigantic empty warehouse, to the absolute dismay of the management, who were locked in a drawn out legal battle with the director of the theater. It seems an alternative space had been offered in exchange for vacating the lease but then the offer was rescinded without notice or explanation. Baffled and livid, the theater's director vowed to hold out until the very end, taking the last stand against the artist eating monster that was feasting on the neighborhood. Essentially, we were the last bite left.
With these circumstances in mind, I approached the installation rebelliously, as we were the final spark of artistic creativity that would occur here before corporate productivity blossomed instead, fertilized by the carcasses of the fallen artists, yet bearing fruits that would be inaccessible to the artists of the future. I began by hanging a sculpture left over from gradschool, New York State from a giant map I'd almost, but not quite, completed. Finishing New York State in New York City was symbolic satisfaction at its purest, and multiple dimensions collided as I constructed the metropolitan area beneath my feet from 5 lotus flowers made from flattened coins. Finished, I moved on to my next project. A show in which I'd been invited to participate called for new work, and I knew exactly what I wanted to make. It was to be a dinosaur fossil from car parts, quick, simple, and cool.

I enjoy making some sculptures just for fun, and this was definitely one of those.
For a moment I put my concerns about the world aside and just made something neat. The show traveled next to a different city, meaning the piece quickly left my possession.
Thus rendered dinosaurless, I set out to create another.

This would be a triceratops, whereas the first had been a tyranosaur.I quickly laid out the parts.
My studio space was endowed with a terrific view of downtown Brooklyn and the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge overpass. Not a day passed that I didn't feel lucky about my situation. Streams of automobiles flowed endlessly past in a mesmerizing blur, and often, hypnotized, I would stand and stare.
One day I observed a banner going up on the building across the street. The building I occupied was practically identical, yet ours was commercial while theirs' would be residential. New neighbors were coming, rich ones: finally convinced that safety in the area at last outweighed the view.
This was one of many luxury apartment complexes to appear in the neighborhood, the reason that the rents were doubling each year. Only recently the building had also housed artist studios and sweatshops.
The sign proclaimed "DUMBO's Awesome New Arrival", and featured an elephant and her child. Prime advertising geared at commuters driving over the Brooklyn Bridge, the sign was the final declaration of a different era. Keeping this in mind, I pushed forward on my dinosaur. My installation would be a response to this poster that had appeared in my window.
The framework for the head was hoisted high into the air, suspended near the ceiling with cables. I wanted my dinosaur to be as massive as possible.
Eventually the details of the face filled in.
By this time, I had decided I was going to mirror the poster on the building across the street, using dinosaurs instead of elephants. An old sculpture from my past stepped in to fill the role of the baby dinosaur.
His mother, looking back over her shoulder, was advancing away from the window. I built her body entirely from sculptures of my own, symbolically identifying the giant creature as a representative of the artists, literally created from art. Mostly I used states: New York was the foundation, Wisconsin the hindquarter, and Kansas, Arkansas, and Mississippi within.
Her tail ran to an abrupt stop at the window, merging from a certain vantage point to continue onwards as the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, alluding to the fact that the other half of the dinosaur spanned the entire river. In effect, I was saying that the affluent newcomers might be the largest living creatures in the neighborhood, but that their extinct predecessors, the artists, had been much greater in their day.
To use the Brooklyn Bridge itself as a component of a sculpture a was a unique honor.
Flattened and fastened into chains, I used pennies to continue the cables of the bridge into my studio. This type of repetition is inherent in all my work.

As the deadline for the exhibition drew near, my work became more and more fervent, often working all night and staring early the next morning. Certain elements became very deliberate tongue-in-cheek commentary.
A man I made from dolls holds his nose while pinching the upsweep of the bridge as if it's a soiled diaper, passing judgement on the stinky situation that the new development has created.
The area below, which corresponds to the East River and also is the stomach of the dinosaur, contains piles of coins, the meager scrapings of the artists who first entered this rough area, inadvertantly causing eventual safety and desirability to ensue.
Beneath, oozing to the floor, are dinosaur droppings of paper money, the inadvertent biproduct of the artists' existences, to be scooped up later by real estate moguls. On the night of the exhibition, police barred the door and made everyone except the participants vacate the premises. The landlord had filed an injunction against our event, and there was nothing we could do. Approximately 10 people saw this installation, and for less than 15 minutes. Months of effort fizzled down the toilet, the final sputtering attempt to put art above money stomped and squelched. In one moment, another dream was gone.
DS! (dinoshit)