Change everything.

May 26, 2011 at 10:47 pm | In arts, housekeeping, ideas, just_so | Comments Off on Change everything.

Weeding through personal papers the other day, I came across several small index cards on which I had noted art project ideas. The cards date from the late 1970s, perhaps 1978 or ’79. I would have been 22 or 23, and at the time I was struggling to make sense of an artistic career. Until 1980 I was a student at Munich’s State Academy of Fine Arts, assigned to the Danish constructivist sculptor Robert Jacobsen‘s studio.

Within the context of Munich-style traditionalism, Jacobsen’s modernism (he was linked to COBRA) wasn’t celebrated as much as it was tolerated. So, while most of the Academy’s other sculpture students worked traditionally, I belonged to Jacobsen’s “far-out” gang, within which was the even smaller tribe I settled in: the people who read theory and were determined to elude what Theodor Adorno called “the culture industry.”

And so, our work – my work – had to be challenging, and (because we were trying not to be co-opted) hermetic. But part of me hated the hermeticism, which, as the daughter of people who hadn’t even been able to finish high school because of financial pressures, I saw as elitism, pure and simple. Rather unfortunately, I fell into trying to square the circle (what an idiot I was) by trying to make challenging art that had pretensions to being politically correct.

Please don’t ask me what that actually could have meant. It’s blindingly obvious now that the average working class Joe or Jane (if s/he even exists) does not give a rat’s ass about high art. But at the time, I really believed (7/8ths-heartedly) that art could change people’s perception, and that by changing their perceptions, artists could change the world.

I could have been happier if I’d just dropped another tab of acid. But I digress…

I worked with packing cardboard, which was cheap, relatively plentiful, lightweight, and (this was important later) easy to toss. Working with cardboard on a fairly large scale allowed me to tackle things like spatial perception, which I hadn’t been able to test properly when I was still making models out of balsa wood. The cardboard essentially allowed for what we now might call rapid prototyping. It also allowed me to wander down some obscure paths…

At one point I began to introduce color into the cardboard constructions. From the index card headed The Blue Theme:

– the artist as reprocessor of information, even previously common-property information, i.e., hit pop songs

“Crystal Blue Persuasion”

Um, yah. Modernism and Mass Culture. Funny, I designed and taught a course on that at MIT many years later…

More on the color blue:

Colour as thing – back to the “blue theme”: make cardboard support surface sculpture, and apply the blue theme, blue stroke, blue surface, …whatever. Next, a second, identical support sculpture, the blue cut out removed, lying in front of it; third, this theme continued, the blue further refined & developed as thing.

The entire thing presented as series, as steps, together:

[and here there are tiny little sketches, as per photograph, below]

frame support becoming predominant support, supporting support, yet being blue, bluer than blue, thus displaying its thinginess.

I built some pieces to approximate the idea. Below, some color slides (2 1/4 inch format), pardon the lo-fi quality… I just taped the positives to a window pane and used my iPod Touch to photograph them.

Another card, headed Yellow, but no evidence remains of any work carried out on this theme:

As the blue wedge triumphs over the cardboard triangle, geometric and hard-edged, so yellow must from the start be a wholly 3-dimensional shape, diffuse, being outside + objective and at the same time all-encompassing + therefore subjective. Like God, or a glass perpetually overflowing.

I was an atheist even then, so I’m not sure exactly how I meant that reference to god, except probably in reference to how other people experience transcendence.

Too much of what I was doing was about other people. What other people might think about my work if it was too conventional. Or too avant-garde. Or too hermetic. Or too political.

Or just weak and a not particularly strong artistically…

Another card, without a  header. Maybe it should be Danger:

The incorporation of danger into an art work. The daily threats and anxiety experienced by the artist transposed into the work, making it a transmitter of that anxiety, that danger.

Well. Maybe I should have electrified one of my sculptures and dangerously and anxiously shocked viewers. I was thinking about electricity, albeit for a video piece (I was convinced at the time that video could be the new sculpture).


I still like the thoughts noted on this next card, a lot:

Infrastructure as art medium?

A card about the Paris Metro:

The Paris Metro as medium. All those buskers, beggars and theatre players, graffiti artists, etc., using the Metro so that it has become the ultimate transportation network: it transports ideas, music, events, information and people.

Yes, I still like this idea. Seems to me it’s indicative of a longstanding attraction to urbanism and cities.

I also have a number of index cards that detail my ideas about video. But they’re very obtuse (and if you read this far, you’re probably thinking, “More obtuse???”). When I worked on (or thought about) video (and to a lesser extent, photography), I tried to marshal time as an element of the video medium, which (as I noted above) I considered a new form of sculpture. It just got pretty hairy. Obtuser.

I think a lot of the same sort of obtuseness (hermeticism) my 22-year-old self expressed in 1978 still thrives in today’s art world. Alternatively (and quite possibly worse), it’s also ok for art to be entirely unserious and just “fun” or consume-able. Goes down easy. Doesn’t get stuck in your craw.

Too bad. I still like the idea of that glass, perpetually overflowing, though – a plenitude that changes everything.

Wake-up calls and the seduction of the snooze button

October 4, 2010 at 10:45 am | In creativity, housekeeping, ideas, writing | 5 Comments

Last week, while attending a professional / academic conference in Toronto, Vancouver-based academic and “social media power userRaul Pacheco-Vega posted a blog entry called The future of my personal blog. He noted:

I am in awe of the depth of knowledge and caliber of colleagues I am sitting with, and I am honored to be sharing the floor with so many passionate and great specialists in water. It’s also a very strong wake-up call for me, as an academic whose career is, despite my relative success, still in development. I am well-established in some topics I’ve done work on, but in others I am still learning. (source)

Raul was wondering about the future of his personal blog: it’s where he focuses much more on “social” and far less on “academic,” and increasingly it’s also the public profile he’s most closely associated with. Does he have to choose between the two (social “vs” academic) – and if yes, what does that choice look like for a multi-faceted/multi-talented person? If no, how does he avoid letting some part of him atrophy?

I’m at another point in the spectrum – I don’t want to say “at another end,” since that implies a binary structure: it strikes me that it’s precisely the absence of simple binaries that makes these choices (or traps) difficult if not seemingly impossible to resolve. But I can relate to what Raul struggled with in that entry. Read optimistically, I suppose that in some ways, he could well be at the forefront of forging a new type of career – a hybrid “creative” trajectory that defies traditional placement.

I’m quite a bit older and have a very different personal history than Raul. Married with children (who are now both at university), I torpedoed my academic career in 2000 when I chose to homeschool my kids (which meant giving up the luxury – pardon the sarcasm – of the adjunct professor career: I did not have tenure and wasn’t in a tenure-track position, and I also wasn’t in a position to move around the country, chasing a series of 2- to 3-year appointments). In that process (of placing the perceived needs of my children over my own for a career) I also hitched my economic well-being to my spouse’s success. In hindsight, I can’t say I would recommend this to anyone. Now it’s 2010 and two years have passed since we stopped homeschooling, and I’m still trying to find terra firma – without success, to date. That the economy melted down in the interim hasn’t helped, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…

A while back I had a meeting with Elisa Yon, a talented young architect I met here in Victoria, but who is now in Vancouver continuing her graduate studies in design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Elisa talked about how invigorating it was to be back amongst high-caliber people who are working hard in a field she believes in. It was more than slightly depressing for me, because it made me realize that I have none of that in my life here. I no longer have “the children” to homeschool, but living on an island in a provincial capital often enough seems like living in the suburbs – or in Lake Wobegon. Victoria tends to hype self-congratulation to the point where it emulates (unironically, alas!) Garrison Keillor’s mordant portrait of a self-satisfied place “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” (source) As they might say on Star Wars, “It’s a trap!”

I hope Raul figures out how to square his particular circle. Every time I feel like I’m getting close, something happens to make the solution slip away again: I currently have no idea how to inject my serious side (my “academic” interests, my desire to study patterns – and to recognize them – or my wish to have meaningful conversations with people who care about the same things I do) into what I do here. Perhaps it is a question of making a new type of career, that hybrid “creative” thing outside traditional expectations.

Cryogenics? try the basement

August 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm | In housekeeping, just_so | 2 Comments

It’s a mystery. Something that wasn’t, started working again.

Sometime in the early months of 2006, my iBook finally completely and utterly fritzed on me: the hard drive died. It wouldn’t, nay: it couldn’t boot up. Nothing but odd click-click-click sounds emanated from the machine. I had already had lots and lots of problems with this computer – it needed a new motherboard, and from thence it developed several other disgusting issues. Totally and utterly infuriating.

In early 2006, then, the iBook finally went for burial in the basement. I switched to a Windows laptop – after first using a Windows-based desktop (aka “hell”). Then, at the end of last December (2009), I got a MacBook Pro for my birthday. Meanwhile, the iBook remained in the basement, useless and a bad feng shui drain on the general clutter that is our electronics graveyard.

And yeah, we’re trying to fix that, so the spouse called around to ask about electronics recycling depots – because of course we never ever just throw anything away. Our goddamn green consciences prevent such easy solutions. We decided on one in Esquimalt, and dragged the old printer, speakers, stereo, keyboard, and what-nots from the basement to the car. Before consigning the iBook, I thought, “hey, plug it in and see if it boots up,” and fuck me, it did.

It makes a funny smell, it won’t load the latest Skype update, the battery seems worth shit-all, but heck, it runs.


On our way to the recycling depot with the rest of the stuff, we drove by Rob Randall who was working on something outside his condo. His iMac “died” recently and he was advised to put the hard drive in the freezer – apparently, cold can work wonders (he hasn’t tested the theory yet – perhaps our tale of rejuvenation-by-cold-basement will inspire him to try it). It seems all those years in that freezing basement knocked some sense into my iBook.

Now consider this: The son recently visited The Hackery, from whence he learned that hard drives have a gel coating (which keeps them cool or something). The gel eventually breaks down or deteriorates, the hard drive gets too hot, the computer dies. According to what the offspring remembers, The Hackery fixes stuff like that – and preferably without years of consignment to a cold basement?

Anyway, my iBook smells funny. I guess if I plan to use it again, I’ll have to make sure it gets refrigerated on a regular basis. Rotting motherboard has quite the whiff.

August real – it’s really going to be August

July 31, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In housekeeping | Comments Off on August real – it’s really going to be August

August might be the month I scale back my daily blog posts…

…to focus on other tasks.

I probably won’t need that hard hat I’m holding – a simple pitch fork should do it. No two ways about it, it’s time to clean out the stables.

Wow, iTunes + iPod = timesink…

July 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm | In housekeeping, media | 5 Comments

Given that the user interface is so elegant, it’s amazing how frustrating and counter-intuitive it can be to synch iTunes and an iPod Touch.

I first synched my iPod to the “family” machine in the kitchen, which we decided would be the digital home for our CD collection. But for my birthday last December, I got a new Macbook Pro – and, not being the most avid iPod user (and not having an iPhone, either), I never bothered to put my music library on my new computer.

But today was the day. iTunes, however, has nothing better to do than state the obvious (namely, that the iPod is already in bondage to another computer), followed by the not-so-obvious: We’re not gonna let you transfer your music to this (newer) computer, neener, neener…! (Yeah, sure, Apple… as if.)

So, 10 minutes and a work-around later, the music is, however, transferred.

But then it gets interesting…

First, my old photo library was erased (it consisted of a bunch of scanned pages of my magazine articles – no big deal, I have them elsewhere, but still…), and instead I have my new iPhoto library on the iPod. Ok, fine. Would have been nice if differentiation were easy to manage (“I choose these pictures to delete, these to keep, and these new ones to add”), but it seems to be all or nothing. Maybe I’m missing something.

Next: since my iPod has a lot of storage, I wanted to add a couple of videos – instructional yoga videos by Kathryn Budig. I would really like to be able to do a handstand again someday – headstands are dead-easy, but handstands scare me: Budig’s instruction, however, makes it look possible. So, after rooting around on the Yoga Journal site for the longest time, I finally found the appropriate podcast page, but in iTunes, silly me was not immediately able to differentiate between the video and audio versions of Budig’s podcasts – it’s all under podcast. Except for one, which magically appeared in movies (I have no idea why – must have been an iTunes magic touch).


After spending quite a bit of time (ok, hours!) synching up my music and other stuff (no idea why it took so long, but it did), I saw that 1) I had audio-casts but not video-casts of a couple of items; and 2) the movie item hadn’t transferred.

So, I spent another good whack of time downloading the appropriate video format, and then – foolish me – I went into iTunes and said, Hey, go ahead, synch the movies! …even though I did get a warning panel that said, If you do, we’ll nuke all your media.

But I said yes, and sure enough, after another hour of synching I finally had the videos I wanted – but all my other media was GONE. Music? Not a peep remained. Nada.


Ok, back into iTunes, and after clicking around a bit I figured out how to manually synch all my music back on to the iPod, which had been so cruelly erased. Tick, tick, tick, another huge chunk of time (well, relatively speaking) for several thousand items to repopulate the iPod.

Now I wonder if I’ll ever be able to add another movie without once again wiping my music library off my iPod and having to re-synch the whole thing again.

Ok, other than that, it’s pretty swell, this portable media stuff. Amazing, really. But a lot harder to figure out than it should be.

Interruption: another word for clutter?

April 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In comments, fashionable_life, housekeeping, ideas | 3 Comments

When Google came out with Buzz, I wondered who would want their email cluttered up with constant (and probably inane) interruptions. I thought, I’m getting curmudgeonly, even cranky. I didn’t like Wave, either. Stupid idea.

But a post by MentalPolyphonics, Workplaces Are Poorly Structured, confirmed what I’ve been thinking.

It features a BigThink video, Why You Can’t Work at Work, in which Jason Fried (co-founder of 37 Signals) explains how constant interruptions at work keep people from getting anything done.

Well, d’uh…

I left a comment on MentalPolyphonics, along these lines: I’ve come to believe that another word for “interruptions” is clutter: A sort of mental clutter and time clutter that becomes a bad habit (“habit clutter”).

Much of that is inspired by Julie Morgenstern‘s kick-ass book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck. Yes, another “self-help” book to help you get organized – but this one doesn’t just tell you to buy a bunch of stuff at the Container Store so that your place has the appearance of unclutteredness – as if that were all that’s to it. For one thing, Morgenstern doesn’t stop at physical clutter – she asks you to go after both time clutter and habit clutter, both of which can be very tough to deal with.

That’s where the overlap with Fried’s take on interruptions comes in. Bad habits include letting yourself be interrupted constantly, whether you’re checking email, checking Twitter (or whatever your ambient social media app of the moment happens to be), or are simply being “on.”

Consider trying the SHED diagnostic test here to see if you’re a candidate for SHEDing. It’s a fun way to get into what Morgenstern is trying to get across, but read the book for the full picture. Consider it not just cleaning up, but clutter therapy.

Over the  weekend, I popped into Chapters and had a chance to leaf through Youngme Moon‘s fascinating new book, Different.

(An aside: I really want to read this, but refuse to pay Cdn$32.00 in-store for it – heck, over the weekend, our dollar was at par with the US$, yet I’m supposed to pay $6.00 more than what this book’s suggested retail price is in the US? Not to mention that it’s available on Amazon for $17.16?)

Anyway, asides aside, one of Moon’s points revolved around reverse engineering (that’s not what she called it, but I was skimming while standing in the bookstore aisle): basically, once we are surfeited with choice(s), things tend to tip over, almost into their opposite, and the company or business that then moves ahead of the pack is the one that (almost counter-intuitively) does the opposite of what the others are doing. So, if people were saturated with search engines that practically come out screaming – with bells, whistles, and visuals – then what will grab people’s attention (even though it seems counter-intuitive to go down that route) is a search engine that’s bare and sparse (<ahem> Google). (Which makes Google’s current attempts to clutter up our lives with Buzz or Wave so much more pathetic, I guess.) Moon had a couple of other examples, but you get the point.

So… looking at all the ways that we let ourselves get interrupted now, I wonder whether the next killer app won’t be one that does the opposite: a digital cocoon, perhaps? An invisibility-maker, a discriminator, an exclusivitator, a zen snob app that let’s you say FU. Let’s call it the Garbo.

Just a thought… 😉

Cutting through clutter, or, unity is overrated

August 4, 2009 at 12:17 am | In housekeeping, just_so, writing | 1 Comment

Advice on getting organized isn’t hard to find these days – it seems every other person has clutteritis and needs a feng shui intervention. I’m not immune to the lure of the organized life either: were I able to arrive at an oasis of oversight, it would feel like coming to my true home.

… I think.

Yes, I think it would. Perhaps.

Here’s the rub: my indecisiveness points to a larger problem, and it has to do with trauma (lower case “t” – nothing major, really, but just compelling enough for me).

Some months ago, I invested in a copy of Regina Leeds’s One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good. Leeds is a Zen Organizer, which I think is a philosophy somewhat akin to the ancient Roman notion of a healthy mind in a healthy body, except that in this case the healthy mind is to reside in a healthy environment, namely organized space.

Makes sense to me. The reason Leeds’s approach seems to work for me a bit better than others I’ve tried to implement is precisely because of her savvy psychological insights into why we become pack-rats or late-nicks or lost in the clutter (er, detritus, really) of our physical lives.

Most organizing books assume that you’ve always been a slob, and that the new advice dished out by the book in hand will open your eyes, and change your ways. Leeds understands that some people have decades of slob-dom under their belt (to the point where for some it really is how they’ve “always” been), but she also writes about those of us who used to be organized, laser-like and filled with the energy of the eternally driven, but to whom something happened to derail us.

And she wants to help us get back on track, taking us gently and psychologically by the hand, from room to room until the job is done.

I knew I could like this book, even if it doesn’t turn into the magic wand that gets me my groove back, when I read on p.18:  “It’s powerful to understand the impetus for any change. Sometimes circumstances move us in positive directions. When they don’t, we want to take back the reins. We want to be the architect of our life, not a victim of circumstance.” In this passage Leeds was writing about those of us who were organized, but who then had something change on us. In my case, moving into the house I currently live in has been an unmitigated disaster. There’s no other way to describe it. We bought the house in a semi-demolished state from a man who owned it for about 18 months, just long enough to begin tearing out all the mistakes of the previous owner.

What that meant is that we found ourselves with a house that had 3 bathrooms partially torn out (not a single bathroom intact), with a kitchen that was a wreck, with wiring that was dangerous, with a roof that needed replacing, with load-bearing walls (both interior and exterior) that needed reinforcing (a steel beam in the kitchen where the house had sagged 2 inches because some idiot had removed interior load-bearing walls, and paralam on an exterior load-bearing wall where only 2x4s were holding up a 12-foot span), with plumbing that was literally held together with tape, with no insulation in the walls and no storm windows on the 17 (in words: seventeen!) 4’x5′ single pane windows, and with an attached “garage” whose double door frame had been chain-sawed out so that the previous owner’s son’s monster truck would fit through it.

We had problems finding contractors to work on the house. After we found one, we continued to stay in rented accommodations as long as possible – much longer than intended – with all our stuff packed up in boxes. Finally, we told the contractor that we had to move in – the house wasn’t finished yet, but after months and months of waiting, we couldn’t afford to keep renting.

When we moved in, it was a nightmare. We had 192 boxes of belongings – at least 1/3 of them were boxes with books. But there were no built-in bookcases anywhere in this relatively roomy house, and a carpenter was still crawling around the floor (and around all our boxes), installing baseboards. And so the boxes remained unpacked for several more months while the carpenter showed up on occasion to nail in another baseboard – and we slowly ran out of money. We did contract to have some bookcases built in, till finally, the books could be unpacked – in part. Something as simple as buying simple, stylish, and cheap bookcases, we found, was a challenge on “the island” since the concept of an IKEA is a Mainland thing, not to be found here. You have no idea how wonderful IKEA is for simple things like shelving until there isn’t an IKEA anywhere to be found.

Meanwhile, the garage was still a wreck, and still open to the street. Homeless people started sleeping in it, and we worried they’d set fires to keep warm – and possibly torch our house in the process (the garage is attached). Since the garage was open to the street, all the garden utensils ended up in the basement – along with all the junk that goes into basements. We don’t have an attic, and some “attic items” (like extra bedding materials) ended up migrating into the basement, too. Anyone who has any idea about organizing knows that this is the beginning of the end, because one cardinal rule of organizing is sorting: thou shalt not mix different stuff. But mix we did, and once we started, it was like being on a bender at a cocktail party, with one mixed drink after another.

Eventually, after several years of worrying about the people surreptitiously sleeping in our open garage, we bit the bullet and found the money to renovate the garage at last. Now the garage had a door (which kept the homeless from camping in the space), and I lugged the garden utensils into the garage – but all I was able to muster in my clutter-intoxicated stupor was to dump them on the floor.

I was too far gone. After all, years had now elapsed during which all of us – the spouse, the son, the daughter, and I – had worked continuously at home: the kids and I were homeschooling, the spouse was working from home, I worked (unpaid) from home, and so we were all at home, 24/7/365, utilizing every damn square inch of the house all the time. It was (is, still) a workhouse.

There was no such thing as “coming home” since we were here all the time. We never left. We slept here, ate here, worked here, cooked here, cleaned here, tidied here, laundered here, ironed here, groomed the dog here…

After a while, I seriously felt like dropping things where they fell. I was always the one trying to clean up after everyone, and the house felt like nothing but a giant work machine.

Last year, the son (then 17) started at university. He got out of the house. The daughter (then 14) left to attend a neighborhood high school for her senior year, so she got out of the house (and she’s off to university in Vancouver next month – so she’s really getting out of the house). That meant that I stopped homeschooling, but I was still (am still) working at / from home, as is the spouse. We haven’t yet …escaped.

But I’ve made some progress in clawing back a degree of organization, which in the first instance involves separation.

From the undifferentiated chaos of a constant home-life, which was a constant work-life, I’m separating things into discrete spheres. I feel that if I ever again want to do any real work – the sort that matters to me, the sort that’s driven by real energy and meaning – I will have to find separations. Spare me the group hugs –  unity, I find, is highly overrated. There’s time a-plenty to fall back into an undifferentiated nothingness once you’re dead.

It’s all in the mind

July 24, 2009 at 10:16 am | In health, housekeeping | 3 Comments

Either I’m becoming what I’ve always dreaded – namely, a candidate for one of those [flaky?] “self-realization” weekend retreats where you uncover, explore, and finally vanquish whatever subconscious “blocks” have you stuck in old patterns (…hey, didn’t someone make a sci-fi “religion” out of that?) – or I’m in the beginning grip of a sinusitis, accompanied by Lugu (the old Black Dog).

The absence of regular blog posts is not an indication of being happily employed elsewhere. It’s merely me stopping myself from writing posts like this one.

I’m stuck in every which way, and every time I think of a way forward, the hole gets deeper. Now my body is tuning in to my mindset, hence the weird days-long headache and slow bricking-up of skull cavities originally designed to, …um, lighten the load of this, my re-presentations.

Melencolia by Albrecht Duerer

Another hat: curator

July 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm | In housekeeping, victoria, web | Comments Off on Another hat: curator

As some of my readers know, I’m a co-founder of a Victoria-based venture called MetroCascade, which aims to evolve into a go-to site for news, events, and information about Victoria BC. We’re doing this by first of all providing a platform for blogs and news sources (and events). That’s only the start, but it’s already proving quite interesting.

Why? Well, the blogs and news sources have grown quite rapidly. We have over 200 sources (see the Authors page) and for now several bucket Categories (which aren’t fine-tuned enough and therefore not really satisfactory).

It seems clear to me that, if we want to add value to all this stuff we’re aggregating (and we do), there has to be some level of curation. Hence, my new hat.

I’m still testing this out – right now via our blog (which isn’t currently hosted on MetroCascade, but I hope soon will be). To date, I’ve posted five “curations”: the first one (called A First Curation!) was really long, the second (Highlights from the firehose) shorter, and the third (The Uncategory…), fourth (Lifestyle is a many-splendored thing), and fifth (The Parenting Environment) I wrote tonight, one after the other, with a kind of resignation in the face of content onslaught: there were 15 pages of archives to mull through since the last curation 2 days ago.

I’ll let readers know how this continues to work out. Right now it seems a bit daunting, but maybe I’ll develop a system.

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