Friday, December 19, 2008

This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!

It doesn't snow that much in Seattle, but when it does it's bad news. This happened today.

HillSteep  • IceShitload + 2πBusKids/Highway = What you'd expect.*

The post title, BTW, is a non sequitur.  On my brief foray into the frozen heart of the city, my co-worker told me about this master work of TV editing. It's wonderful.

This is what happens, Larry. This is what happens.

*Even though I can't prove it, I included pi in there, because, but I'm fairly certain that there was pie involved with some part of this accident.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Moose, an Ass, and a Little Bit of Crow

“The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best - and therefore never scrutinize or question.”
-Stephen Jay Gould
All my life I've watched advertising assimilate and commercialize bits of culture.  From the rampant co-option of songs and phrases to the gross misappropriation of historical icons, nothing has been safe from The Market.  After several decades, I guess I've built up a bit of a grudge.

So when I saw a gasoline commercial that seemed to directly subvert a piece of reverse-graffiti protest art, I figured that I pretty well knew the score.  It was an old story, and I didn't really take the time to see if it was true. 

Instead, I went home, tracked down the videos, and wrote a rather fervent post about it.  At the time I felt like a bit of a sleuth, but now I feel like a bit of an ass.  Chris Yi, the creator of the advertisement, just happened by Letters from the Inquisition, and left a thoughtful comment calling me out.  So here I am, gratefully eating a bit of crow.

While I still feel that my basic observations were sound, the central premise of the post was based on two flawed assumptions.  Firstly, I wrongly assumed that Alexandre Orion was the originator of the reverse-graffiti method.  Secondly, I assumed that Yi had yoinked Orion's idea and used it in the service of Mammon.

In retrospect, both of those assumptions are foolish and unfounded.  I wish that it had occurred to me that I could contact Mr. Yi directly and ask what if any relationship existed between his and Orion's work.  If I had, I'm sure he would have privately set me straight, but instead I left him to do it in the comment section:

Reverse Graffiti is a technique that's been used by many other artists than Orion, and many times before his amazing Sao Paulo piece. Yes, the medium has been used as a form of protest, but more often it has served as just another form of artistic self-expression - with or without any specific message attached.... I don't believe I'm perverting Orion's work, I think we're just 2 more people who used the medium of Reverse Graffiti to create completely separate works.

Point taken, and I hope Mr. Yi will accept my apology for not having the wherewithal to contact him myself.  For all the interconnectedness of the web, it is a strangely impersonal medium, and it's pretty easy to forget that there are real people on the other end of the intertubes.  Unfortunately, my ignorance caused me to draw flawed conclusions from my observations, and my excess of zeal caused me to overstate my case.

Luckily, Chris Yi seems to be a good sport, and he tipped me off to the video above.  It features "reverse graffiti pioneer" Moose in the process of executing a large mural in the service of the makers of Clorox bleach.  The project is full-on advertisement but brings up some interesting non-bleach-related ideas.   

I find myself wondering to what extent commercial intent undermines broader message.  Though I mistrust corporate messaging,  I cannot wholly discount it.  In our capitalist, media-saturated society, much of our communication occurs through commercial channels.  Though it is economically motivated, this communication is an inextricable part of modern cultural exchange.  It manipulates the message, but is still subject to the zeitgeist.

In the end, I'm left with a quote from this video, which was featured on YouTube beside the Moose clip.   It's a nice counterbalance to the Cassandra theme of my previous post.  

What I don't like is a really critical message, like "Shitty System blah blah blah."  I think that if you want to criticize something you need to have a better idea how to do it, and then you can innovate.

So thanks and apologies to Chris Yi, and if any of you would like to reverse-graffiti my bathroom, I think it's pretty ripe for it.

By the way, that police bit at the end of the last video kills me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


How many agents of Counterflow can you fit into one van?

I'm reposting this from Especially Messily because it's that good. It's a dispatch from her stepfather, who is a very funny man.

Driving to Tagaytay was also an experience. I learned another new word, counterflow. It is a Manila-taxi word, and is used in a sentence like this (spoken very casually): "If the traffic is bad, it is okay to counterflow." Then the cabbie smiles at you. (Note to travelers: pay very close attention when someone in Manila smiles at you.)


This was a great surprise to me, and I am determined to remember the word, counterflow. The next time everything looks like it has turned to shit around me, just before I do something incredibly stupid, I will smile and tell those around me (in a casual voice), "In this situation, it is okay to counterflow." Then I will smile and do the stupid thing. Counterflow.


Monday, December 8, 2008

More Signs of the Endtimes

This recent article lends credence to an unorthodox viewpoint held by some scholars. According to this maverick group of classicists, the following passage is, in fact mistranslated.
Another sign was seen in heaven. Behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns.(Revelations 12:3)

By going back to the earliest accounts of this text, Dr. Yazbin Hamjadi of Jordan has been able to discern that the original phrase read as follows:
Another sign was seen in heaven. Behold, a great red potato, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns.

Dr. Hamjadi, who has been scoffed at for years, called this recent find "stunning and

Indeed. Personally, I would also add 'tasty' to the list.

Image yoinked from the BBC

(And yes, I did make all of this up... except the potato. That thing is for real. Repent! Repent!)

Collaboration in the Works

Recently I've been thinking and talking about collaboration.  According to this article, I have a life full of collaboration ahead of me.  That's OK, because I'm a huge fan.

On that note, I have decided to invite other authors to post on this blog.  I think that it will create a more dynamic space and, at the very least, widen the search pattern for interesting bits.

Stay tuned.

Image:  The Heian courtier Fujiwara no Yasumasa playing the flute by moonlight, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1832-1892). Behind Fujiwara no Yasumasa is the bandit Kidomaru, who is dissuaded from attacking him by the beauty of his playing. Image ripped from Richard Ukiyo-e.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Neutrophils on Parade

Bill Gusky over at ArtBlog Comments posted this wonderful video.

It prompted me browse on over to YouTube and check out some of the incredible microscopic footage that is posted there. I swear, we didn't have this stuff when I was learning biology. I think I'm gonna be wasting a lot more time on YouTube in the near future.

This doomed little beast puts up a real fight. It's kind of nightmarish.

This one just looks graceful like the aliens from the movie Abyss. (Hit mute, because the sound effects are stupid and distracting)

Seriously. I am blown away by the smoke-like appearance of these little neutrophils. Bear with the narrator and be rewarded with some incredible footage.

This one is a little slow at the outset, but the part where the neutrophil exits the blood vessel... Whoa! It's computer animation, but still pretty wild.

I'm solidly geeking out now, so I'll include a link to one more and then cut myself off. This one has some music, and the animation is super cool. They won't let me embed it (jerks) so you're just gonna have to follow the link.

So everybody take a minute to give a big high-five to your immune system. Good job fellas! Go get'em!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Love and Robots (Don't Mix)

This is the climactic scene from the anime film Metropolis. It gets my vote for the best deployment of a Ray Charles song. It's a little hard to tell from this edit, but the video begins with a bloody finger pushing a button.
(spoiler alert)

This movie is, of course, a re-imagining of Fritz Lang's 1926 film, Metropolis. For the Philistines that have never seen the original film, I'll let the rock band Rammstein give you a quick plot summary.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It takes all kinds.

Sometimes, I like to hit the 'Next Blog' button and see what Blogger tosses my way.  I suppose that the voyeur in me loves the candid slice of some stranger's enthusiasm.  Many are downright silly or banal, but some take me by surprise.

Here's a few that caught my eye today.

That's right.  "This is a diary of Heavy Haulage, Crane and Plant photos from the UK and Europe."  Pretty interesting stuff when you think about it.

This is like Alexander Calder's successful Scandinavian nephew.  I suppose they are mock-ups of design ideas, but I can't help but see them as Modernist offices for bizarre, little wire creatures.

This blog appears to be devoted to the conception, execution, and subsequent floral-wallpapering of a semi-industrial bench.  Whoever is behind this bench is doing a very thorough job. 

I could go on, but it is a lovely day in Seattle, and each lovely day could very well be the last, so out I go.

Give the 'Next Blog' button a try sometime.  At the very least you'll get to see somebody's adorable kids/dogs/cats/knitting/friends.  Or better yet, just go get your friends' kids to knit a suit that will strap together a dog and a cat.

Or something. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Well, Hell's Bells...

So, a column in this week's Stranger mentioned that the internet had video of a monkey on a Segway.  

It did?!! Why didn't I hear about this?

Well, it did, and, truth be told, it's pretty amazing.  Push past all the Japanese subtitles and laugh-boxes, and it's a damned interesting.  You can really see his monkey brain getting a grasp on how that weird machine works.

He's a real sport about it too.

Honestly, this made me want to have some animal friends.
We could skate, play video games, and just hang out. Afterwards, we could meet up with the rest of the gang and do hood rat stuff.

It'd be just like highschool.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we did.

America, high-fives all around.  

Especially you, Sarah Palin.  

Thanks.  You can go home now. 

Republicans, please listen to the words of your former candidate:

'I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences, and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.'

Now is the time to show a little patriotism-- real patriotism, not the cheap, partisan knock-off that is pinned to everybody's lapels. 

Image from Obama Magazine.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dear America,

Please don't screw this up.


Image yoinked from the BBC

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


by Run Wrake
For more ingenious weirdness, check out the Run Wrake website.  Film recommendation from Molly Schafer via Christopher Reiger.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I feel a certain kinship...

... and some day we're both going to chew somebody's face off.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bring it.

This man is here for the party.  Let him be an example to you.

Have you started getting together your costume yet?

Image from BibiOdyssey

Sunday, October 5, 2008

To want so many things and still want nothing.

How To Like It
by Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept-
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.

Poem via Smith College Poetry Center. Drawing by Georges Seurat via One Piece in reference to this fabulous show at the MoMA.

Friday, September 26, 2008


We move like cold machines—
Clicking locks and doors,
Each somehow missing
The other's gaze —not unfriendly,
But accustomed to the movement.

Image pulled from Shorpy.  Poem  by me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Only in Ikea...

These covers are from the instruction booklets of real Ikea products.

I have a copy of this booklet. It is some lonely designer's haiku to the emptiness of consumer culture.

While looking for the Lack instructions I found this guy. He was with a group of other Jerkers, but I chose him to represent his kind.

After parting ways with the Jerkers, I ran into these fellows. Very polite and sociable in a Scandinavian sort of way.

But seriously folks...

This is from the video Stealing Beauty by Guy Ben-Nar. I love it. You can read about it here if you are fluent in German.

Ikea images yoinked from IKEAFANS. Video via Especially Messily (I think...)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Case and Point.

A few posts ago I stuck up for the young, Halo-enthused master of tape and cardboard. While reading magazines at Barnes & Noble (really, who buys them?) I checked out the latest edition of Hi-Fructose and saw this guy.

Mike Rea makes guns and machines out of wood, in addition to creating scenes that spoof both high art and popular cinema. His craftsmanship looks impeccable, and I'm down with his whole ooovra (that's french for artwork).

But look at these two videos, and tell me I'm wrong. If somebody would just teach the Halo Kid about irony he could hurry up and be an art star.

On second thought, if we leave him alone he'll be an engineer, which is far more profitable.

Image ripped from Mike Rea's Site

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Milk and Hammers

Chris Milk Hulburt

So you want to be a carpenter, do you?
Well it takes more than a hammer, boy, you're gonna need blueprints and a will to build, and...
Straighten your cap! you look like you've been through a war.
Wipe that grin off your mug, you got a sturdy frame?
Sluggish posture just won't cut it.
You're gonna need schooling, and, and, and take notes!
And god if I catch you yawning again you're gonna regret ever asking for my help.

From How to Be a Carpenter by Aesop Rock

Last year I had pleasure of helping with the installation of Nooks: If You Lived Here You'd Be Home by Now. The project was the work of the Canadian art collective Instant Coffee and was sponsored by the Henry Art Gallery. I had a great time working with the folks from Instant Coffee and found them to be fun, interesting people.

Nooks installed at Bumbershoot 2007

During the installation, I glimpsed a piece of paper bearing the slogan "It doesn't have to be good to be meaningful." The phrase caught my eye and stuck in my mind. Throughout the day I turned the phase over in my head as I drove nails with a pneumatic gun. I found the words to be tantalizing, but, try as I might, I couldn't quite swallow the message.

At first glance, the slogan rings entirely true. Meaning is independent of quality. The deepest realizations can be catalyzed by flawed creations or acts of chance-- a scrap of paper, a snippet of conversation, a half-obscured billboard turned suddenly poignant.

Why then should the artist devote great effort to sharpening his skills or polishing his technique? Why not race wholeheartedly after pure meaning? Why not forsake guile and pretense and simply speak from the heart?

Chris Milk Hulburt

This notion is a driving force behind the Outsider Art movement. A fusion of overlapping and ill-defined movements (Naive Art, Art Brut, Folk Art, Visionary Art, etc), this broad movement aims to sidestep the pitfalls of pretense and head straight down the path of earnest expression. Much of this art is deeply moving, stemming solely from the artists' need to create and communicate. Compared to the haughty intellectualism of Academic Art and the ironic sophistication of Gallery Art, Outsider Art seems honest and heartfelt. In fact, Outsider Art is big business these days, and many mainstream galleries exhibit the work of artists that could be considered Outsiders.

As an example, consider the paintings of Chris Milk Hulburt. Self-taught and entrepreneurial, Hulburt occupies the gray zone between Outsider and Fine Art. His pictures are at once hip, witty, and heartfelt. They are the product of his own idiosyncratic striving, but strike a resounding chord with many discerning viewers.

The overall impression of Hulburt's work is one of playful, sincere simplicity. Yet closer examination reveals a layer of skilled complexity that is not immediately apparent. This is especially true in person, where layers of paint and color interact in surprising and dynamic ways. The artist has taken great care to craft each work to suit his purpose. Beneath the simple exterior lies a sound structure built with painstaking skill-- skill in service to honest vision.

It is in this underlying structure that I find the flaw within the Instant Coffee slogan. No, art does not need to be good to be meaningful. Yet if the artist has a meaning that he wishes to convey, he must be good. He must be good so that he may deliver the chosen meaning intact and undistorted. This requires struggle, practice, and forethought.

I found a perfect example of this point in the Instant Coffee exhibit itself. As the nooks were being constructed, volunteers stapled handmade posters to the surrounding wall. Midway into the process, a tiny crisis erupted. The makers of the posters had not considered the typography of the words, so the words were not behaving as expected.


The glitch was pretty minor, and the show went on, but without proper execution the intended meaning was lost.*

In fact, Nooks succeeded precisely because it was good. Apart from the aforementioned glitch, it was well made and well thought out. On that hot afternoon in '07, Instant Coffee created a cool, cozy refuge for sun-stricken festival-goers. I was one of them, and and I was deeply thankful for the respite.

Between the process of construction and the experience of the final product, I enjoyed myself and learned quite a bit. I suppose that I could say that my experience with Instant Coffee was a meaningful one. Interestingly, this is where projects like Nooks do their conceptual jujitsu. The meaning of the piece is to create an environment wherein the viewer can create his own meaning. It is an artistic goal that I find simultaneously kind in its nurturing neutrality, and sheisty in its evasion of the central struggle of art.

As for the slogan? I can take it or leave it, but if it goads one person over their fears and helps them make art then I'm all for it-- even if that art is terrible.

After all, it doesn't have to be good to be meaningful.


* I witnessed some of the poster-hangers trying to palm the unintended result off as simply a new element of the installation with its own novel meaning. To this, I say Bah. The resulting statement "You wish here were" has its own garbled meaning, which can be made to be profound with some thought. This is unsurprising. The Dada-esque construction of random phrases creates meaning entirely through chance, and our logic-hungry brains struggle mightily to pull meaning out of anything and everything. When done on purpose, chance-based methodologies are a valid part of contemporary art. When done by mistake because of an oversight... well, where I come from we call that a f***-up.

Images are ripped from the Instant Coffee site and Chris Milk Hulburt's site (apologies for the previuos confusion). Check out his upcoming show at Ghostprint Gallery. I snapped the image of the posters with my little cell phone camera during construction.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Geography of Nowhere

“We created a landscape of scary places, and we became a nation of scary people.”

“The problem with our common American daily environments is not that they are too uniform, but that they are of uniformly miserable quality.”

“It is hard to imagine a culture less concerned than ours with the things that make life worth living.”

Words by James Howard Kunstler via Project for Public Spaces. I believe most of them are from the book The Geography of Nowhere, which is the namesake of this post.

Photos © Michael McDevitt 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Found Abstract: Urban Biodiversity

Tiny pockets of wilderness spring up even on this busy Seattle sidewalk. How many different species could I find in this photo if I had the knowledge and desire? I'm sure that it would be a sufficiently high number to surprise the average pedestrian, who walks over this patch without looking down. In fact, is there any good data for urban biodiversity? My meager search skills turned up only a smattering of material, none of which was particularly insightful.

I took this picture after photographing graffiti removal abstracts. There was an organic similarity that appealed to me-- the erosion of manmade order and the accidental beauty of overlapping shapes.

It's there if you look for it.

Photo: Michael McDevitt 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

People do strange and wonderful things.

I love the guard at the end.

It's tempting to laugh this kid off, but hold on. Geeky as his project may be, this kid is a genius with tape and cardboard. If he was a 25 year old art star we'd be lining up to high five him. We mock him because he is sincere.

Wow. The take-away lesson here, kids, is that the Man will steal your toys. Every. Single. Time.

(R/C Mario thanks to Ms. Barnacle, Billy the Halo Kid via Art Blog Comments, Soccer via Monkeys For Helping)

Evening Magic

Yesterday, I had a great walk through the city, ending in my studio.   After a few hours of painting, I headed up the hill to catch the bus. There I was treated to this pleasant spectacle. The glass facade of the 4th & Madison Building covers the evening commute with the fruity hues of a ripe papaya. I don't know if it is intentional, but I'm willing to give the architects the benefit of the doubt.

Photo Michael McDevitt

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Big Questions... little payoffs.

The last week had me phoning friends to hash out my art-related anxieties. This came to mind...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


These plants are like astronauts on my windowsill--way out of their element, but doing fine.  They have no soil, only water.  The onion came from the grocery store, but was forgotten in a bag.  Once I saw how much it had grown, I decided to keep it around.  Eventually I'll pot them both, but for now I enjoy watching them.

I am continually amazed at plants' ability to build their bodies out of air.  They take in  atmospheric CO2 and use it to create more complex molecules like cellulose.  Thus, the spider plant on the right has been able to nearly double in size using only light, air, and water.


Read more about it here.

Photo by Michael McDevitt

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One thing always leads to another, which somehow brings me back home: A study in latenight overkill

There was deviltry afoot in Seattle today. All day long, the people I met were acting edgy and aggressive, culminating in an actual brawl in my immediate vicinity. I was relieved to get back to my messy, little room.

Goofing around on my computer, I searched the terms Devil animation on Vimeo, which turned up this...

Devil's Revenge Demo from Erich carrle on Vimeo.

...which immediately made me think of this (if you're in a rush just check out the beginning of the 2nd part)...

The Mascot by Władysław Starewicz( aka Ladislas Starewicz)
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

...which I know about because of this...

I travelled up the eastern seaboard in an ice storm to see two performances by Tin Hat Trio. The first night I caught them in New York City at a Tom Waits tribute concert (which can be streamed here) while 6-8 inches of powder snow fell on Manhattan. The next day it was down to Philly, were I saw them perform their own score for Starewicz's animations. They are my favorite band, and I went far out of my way to see them while they were still together. In searching for that clip I came across this, the print version of which is published by Seattle's own Fantagraphics.

Frederick & Eloise, with music from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

As if using the music of my favorite band weren't enough, it turns out that Brian Biggs made a video for another band that I adore. One Ring Zero are originally from Richmond, VA, where I had the pleasure of seeing them perform many times.

One Ring Zero: Stop Metric Madness from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

The first time I saw ORZ perform, it was at the Pumpkin Pie Show, which is the wicked spawn of Clay McLeod Chapman. also from Richmond. If there was ever a prime example of animated deviltry, the Pumpkin Pie Show is it.

The End

Monday, August 4, 2008

A History of Movements

Film Still from Felix in Exile by William Kentridge

One of the fundamental myths of America is that it is possible to escape the past. We are enamored of the idea that we can live today as if yesterday never existed. We set off down the highway, ride into the sunset, board a plane, or simply change the channel.

The art of South African artist William Kentridge is a direct refutation of this notion. Kentridge creates his animations by drawing, erasing, and redrawing on a single page, rather than using a series of cells. The process leaves behind a history of all the movements that precede a given moment. When a paper blows through the air it leaves a faint trail. A house collapses but leaves behind the standing ghost of its former self.

The following two films were the best that I could dig up on YouTube. The first is a trailer for a film that focuses on the artist. The second is a bootleg of Felix in Exile.

I'm not sure if Kentridge is responsible for the surreal elements of the trailer. I suspect that they are the doing of the filmmakers, but would love some clarification on this point. I am also unsure if I have seen this film. Years ago, I watched an exceptional documentary about Kentridge that included excerpts from his animations, segments of interview, and footage of his creative process. I don't recall any surrealistic edge, but it was quite a long time ago.

I regret that the quality of this video is so poor. Nevertheless, it shows the film in its entirety and conveys a sense of Kentridge's work.

I intend to write more in depth posts on Kentridge in the future. In the meantime, I suggest that you all go to your local library or video store and look for DVDs of his animations. For a written interview with Kentridge go here.

Credit: Felix in Exile still jacked from Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


This fellow was emptying the trash can piece by piece. I suppose it struck him as silly to hide all that good food under so much rubbish.
Photos by Michael McDevitt

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Perhaps we're all originally from Denmark...

What a wonderful film.

Aside from the potent evocation of love, it makes a strong comment about art. In a way, the narrator is a daughter of Sigrid Undset. Undset begat that which begat the narrator, and it is only through Undset's art that the narrator came to exist at all. Even though it was not apparent to the artist, the creative power of the art stretched far into history.

In this context, art can be seen as an occult science. The methods are obscure, the rationale is debatable, and the results are hidden. The artist moves the lives of others and inadvertently manipulates the stream of events. This film is a is a rallying cry to all artists. Keep pushing, it says, our success is measured far beyond our purview.

Though we may never think ourselves to be great or noteworthy, we may nonetheless create great things from our efforts. This is, to me, a fundamental refutation of the notion that art is a purely commercial enterprise. We move the world in a way that does not follow money. We move the world along paths of love and imagination. We move the world, because we allow ourselves to be moved by it

To me, this is the very definition of an act of faith. We have faith in the practice. We have faith in the rightness of being.

We move the world because we must.

Picture Credits: Hermes Trismagestis as the Alchemist by an unknown artist via the Kybalion, Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur by Leonora Carrington via Eve's Alexandria, Le Bateleur tarot card via Neue Gruendlichkeit. The sweet sterographic projection of the Église d'Auvers-sur-Oise is part of the Wee Planets series by Gladl via Flikr. Thanks to Damon for recommending the video.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Prayer for the Lost

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Credits: Prayer by Thomas Merton as posted on Audacious Deviant (also lots of great religious art). Image from the mighty Bibliodyssey.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crocodiles and Combs

Yesterday, I saw a customer reading Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles. Though I have never read the text, I have long been a fan of the Brothers Quay and of their rendition of Shulz's work. Once, I was lucky enough to see a collection of their work on the big screen at Richmond's historic Byrd Theatre. I was blown away. The Brothers attended the screening and fielded questions from the audience. It was amazing.

Unsurprisingly, YouTube has these animations in their entirety, albeit tiny and low quality. I highly recommend getting your hands on a DVD version, because the powerful imagery suffers under the degradation of YouTube-- but, hey, it's free! I also recommend checking out more of the Brothers' work, much of which can also be found on YouTube.

I'm looking forward to reading Schulz's writing... just as soon as I clear my massive backlog of library fines.

The Street of Crocodiles: Part 1

The Street of Crocodiles: Part 2

Originally, I had intended to post just the Street of Crocodiles. While poking around, however, I came upon (read: hunted down) my favorite Quay brothers animation. It is called the Comb. In addition to being wonderfully colored, it has the moebius strip feeling that permeates many of my restless dreams. Enjoy.

The Comb: Part 1

The Comb: Part 2

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cleaner is Better: From Protest to Advert

Terror grips me as I hear these truths
without embellishment. As for the rest,
hearing that just makes me lose my way.

I tell you you'll see Agamemnon dead.

Poor girl, calm yourself. Tone down those words.

No—no one can heal what my words prophesy.

Not if they're true. But may the gods forbid!

While you pray here, others move in to kill. 

What man is going to commit such crimes?

What man? You've completely missed the point.
You've failed to understand my prophecies.
from Agamemnon by Aeschylus

In 2007 Alexandre Orion wiped soot from the walls of a Sao Paulo tunnel to create a sweeping vista of skulls. His reverse graffiti piece was an elegant act of protest, which drew images of death in the very poison itself. The authorities were confounded, because cleaning is not vandalism and is not a crime. Unable to punish the 'offender,' they were forced to clean the entire tunnel and, later, all the tunnels of the city.

Orion documented the process and released this YouTube video:

I first read about Orion on Bioephemera, and he has been knocking around in my brain ever since. He is, like so many of us, Cassandra wringing her hands at the gate. We can see the tragedy unfolding around us, but are left with little to do but cry out. While the story of Orion seems to have a victorious ending-- the tunnels cleaned, the world singing his praise-- it is little more than a cheerful note in a gloomy, discordant opera. The cars still drive, and, as Orion's own video points out, the toxic soot is simply transformed into a black, bubbling ooze that vanishes into a storm drain.

Yet, Orion's unembellished statement has suffered a curse far worse than what Apollo handed down. Cassandra's contemporaries simply refused to believe her words. Orion, however, lives in the Orwellian world of corporate advertising. His dire message has been co-opted, purged, and re-used to sell the very gasoline that created the poisonous soot.*

76 Commercial - Cleaner Is Better from Chris Jaemin Yi on Vimeo.

Gone are the dark tunnels and sulfurous light. Gone are the furtive resistance and melancholy hope. Gone are the grime and the gas mask.

Instead, Yi's protagonist, cleanly dressed and smiling, stands in a well-lit parking garage. On his way to his condo, no doubt, he is seized by the the notion to do something that is just... well, dang it... it's just darn nice! Moved by altruistic vigor and unabashed corporate zeal, he fills the walls with pretty swirls, a happy sun, and a meticulously executed 76 logo. Then he steps back, pats himself on smugly on the back, and nods. Gosh darn it, cleaner IS better.

Looking at the two videos side by side reveals some interesting differences. To me, the most striking are the color and the music.

Filmed in situ, Orion's documentary footage is dark and reminiscent of the classical 'Spanish Palette.' Yi's video, in contrast, is light and airy. Notice how skillfully Yi uses the white walls to highlight the bright notes of primary colors that are in frame for virtually the entire video. Here we have Goya vs Playskool, and it's little surprise which is featured in a corporate ad.

Similarly, Yi's music, for which I can find no author credit, is full of pep and verve and virtually shouts 'OMG!' and 'LOL!' in all caps. It's upbeat music for a sunny afternoon. The music feels repetitive and empty. 76 does not want you to think too much. Just get the message and feel good about the brand. In contrast, Orion's music, which is credited to Instituto, prompts introspection and thought. It changes and swells, pulls back and expands. Combined with the imagery, it paints the portrait of a small, hopeful man in a dark and complex world.

To be fair, Yi's soundtrack, clocking in at 23 seconds of music, doesn't have as much room to maneuver as Orion's, which, at 161 seconds, is exactly seven times longer. It would be easy to write the difference off to scale and move on. Yet, if you listen only to the first 23 seconds of Orion's video the contrast is striking. Coincidentally, the first 23 seconds of Instituto's music is composed entirely of a single repeating motif. Notice, however, the subtle permutations and inversions of that motif. A great deal of thought has gone into creating complexity in that one simple segment. I get the impression that both Orion and Instistuto would appreciate an equal amount of thought from their audience.

I do not begrudge Mr. Yi his success. The other video that he has posted on Vimeo is longer and belies a thoughtful and concerned mind. He is a skilled commercial filmmaker, and I have no doubt that we will see more of his work. Nevertheless, even as I congratulate him on winning the 76 competition, I am saddened by the insidious influence of corporate advertising. As individuals, we all have our disparate and justifiable motivations. We work to fill our bellies and protect our friends, families, and interests. Yet, somehow and inevitably, we advance the plot of the tragedy. From the mighty Agamemnons to the soot covered Cassandras, we all play our part to fulfill the curse on the House of Atreus.

* I recognize that this commercial is to promote a cleaner burning gasoline. Taken at face value this is certainly a lesser evil. Yet, in the end, it is an ad to promote the sale of gasoline, and only a fool takes commercials at face value.

Credits: Photo from Alexandre Orion's site; Agamemnon text from the website of Ian Johnston

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Black Squares" or "People Are Silly"

Scientists cooked up the idea of Dark Matter as a way of explaining why the universe doesn't fly apart. The more they work, however, the more they are able to find evidence that confirms its existence. Now, thanks to the fine folks at the Particle Zoo, you can own your own plush bit of Dark Matter for just $9.75 + shipping. I love that the ad says " remains a mystery as to what exactly it is" and then lists the construction materials. They had to be laughing when they did that.

Addle your melon here.

In 1915 Kazimir Malevich painted his famous Black Square. When he exhibited it, he hung it in the corner of the room that was traditionally reserved for the family icon. The message was pretty bold. These days it's about as revolutionary as a sock and helps ignorant people bad-mouth art.

"A black square? Really? I could buy one of them at Sherwin-Williams for a couple of bucks!"

It's all context.

I respect Suprematism in its historical perspective, but I think it's pretty silly. Evidently so did Stalin.

Not entirely safe for work, though not all that lewd.

Censor bars are inherently silly. Proven fact (see full study here). I love the Pong part. Oh retro, you are so hip.

The music, by the way, is a fantastic song called 'Toe Jam' by the British superband BPA. It features Fatboy Slim, David Byrne, and Dizzee Rascal. Another great Dizzee Rascal video here(highly recommended).

Photo Credits: Dark Matter ad yoinked from the Particle Zoo website. Black Square courtesy of Wikimedia.