July 31, 2007

Family Affair

I have a few family members living here in Tossa: my mother Angel has an apartment, my cousin Joe is a photographer here, my cousin Patricia splits her time between Tossa and Sydney. She and her boyfriend Franz celebrated Patricia's birthday this July, drawing my Tita Beng and Tito Rico from Australia, plus my cousins Margaret (who is living in Cologne) and Gino (London) and an assortment of their friends, most of whom work in the NGO world. Gina, Alex and their daughter (living in Sydney too) missed the party but caught the tail end of the celebratory week.

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Personal, Diffcult Things.

This is a tough topic, for me and maybe for you. So be forewarned.

This blogpost is going to be deep, messy and ultimately unresolved.

Pues, nada.


The subject of death and suicide is in the news. I didn't know Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan --two artists caught in a whirlpool-- but I do have a few friends who knew them. I've read Duncan's archives in her blog and it's clear to me that for her the boundary between imagination and reality dissolved.

A snip from the LATimes obit:

"But it got to be something that was huge to them -- a 'You're either with us or against us' thing where if you didn't believe them, you weren't on their side. The story they had woven in paranoia and conspiracies took over part of their lives. A lot of us couldn't understand that acting out."
(emphasis mine)

For me this is all too vivid. Suicide has plagued my family too.

Toward the end of his life, my father told me that he thought that the Korean War was a mistake. I knew that he was thinking in personal terms. He was one of the first soldiers thrown into the Pusan Perimeter back in the summer of 1950. His company of nearly 300 was surrounded and wiped out, save himself and 16 other soldiers. He said: "War is hell and anyone who would want it is crazy."

He built a wall against that time and his nightmares stopped after 10 years. But as he grew old, the wall crumbled and he succumbed to PTSD. He couldn't stop the flashbacks, the boundary of reality and imagination dissolved and one day he put a pistol to his chest and for him, it was over. I consider this to be another fatality of that war. By doing the dirty work of a society too sickened by war to bear witness to yet another one, by forgetting why he was fighting, death got close to him. It stayed with him. And finally death tapped his shoulder one dark night 50 years after the fact.

I told papa at the time that in Los Angeles there was a huge community of Koreans, all happy and prosperous. They wouldn't have been able to enjoy the happiness for generations if it wasn't for his sacrifice. I told him of satellite photos of Korea, showing the brilliance of light in the south and the darkness that shrouded the north. The South Korean community bristled with life.

My father could hear my words... but alas. He never really understod them.

Well, enough of that for now.

Once long ago, I felt that suicide was violence perpetrated on one's loved ones. Then after my father's death, I reconsidered and felt that this was his only exit from a life that lost control of the boundary between imagination and reality. How could I deny him of that remedy? With time I've reconsidered, coming to the conclusion that the suicidal impulse must be fought at every turn, mastered where ever you find it.

And there's plenty of it in Wester Civ.

What is interesting is that Jon Boorman allegorized a jihad in his sci-fi movie "Zardoz", a 1974 movie about holy warriors killing a pampered class who perverted abstraction enough to crave suicide. Zardoz aka Arthur Frayn was the rogue member of the elite who engineered a genocidal Darwinist succession of his species. This truly is a strange and flawed but ultimately relevant movie.

As I carefully and respectfully push this idea across the table...

Contemporary art, the international intellectual cultural sophisticate in general (you and me, my dear blog reader)... are we suicidal by nature? Don't we constantly crave to be destroyed?

Or more accurately: are we blind to how close we fly near to the sun? Can we become the moths who know that the flame will kill them? Doesn't the imperative to overcome one's paradigm, the mandate of creativity to shatter the "doors of perception", to explode the status quo, to turn "all that's solid into air", to transgress... doesn't this resemble or is complementary to the Islamists' jihad? "We love death more than you love life.", so the holy warriors say.

Recently, a couple of climbers were lost on Mt. Hood. The risk and treasure expended to find the errant climbers was remarkable in that is revealed again just how much value we place on life. We value life so much that we would risk it to preserve it and this stands in stark contrast to our contemporary atavists, those radical Islamists who claim that they love death much more than they love life.

The widest definition of art would also include these climbers, who are described in the news as experienced and accomplished. Art is that which transcends the mundane and enters the creative. Art is that which exhausts the protocol of technique and enters the realm of the intuitive. Art, which is at root, is a series of choices, achieves a kind of transcendence as it enters into the noumenal.

In this way, the world of high altitude climbers can be considered to be the same territory as the world of art as we know it. There is something about the willingness to undertake the risk involved in the dangers in extreme wilderness trekking that aligns with the courses charted away from caution, prudence, life and safety, routes that artists so often take. Extreme sports correlates with the extremities and uses of transgression we see in art history (examples: Jean Genet, et al)

Art history...if not all history... including the bible/torah is the history of extensions away from life and into the darkness, towards death. Capital "H" history is the record of misadventures, of high jinks, of pecadillos, of picaros, of criminality, of bad judgement, of mistakes, a history composed not of the deeds of the good child but of the misdeeds of the bad one. So too art history, especially so.

So what does life find in the look away from itself? Knowledge. Perhaps this is the ultimate purpose of existence in the Judeo/Christian way: man as the creation of G-d whose mission is to embody an instrument for garnering knowledge. Or better: wisdom. Perhaps this is ultimate purpose of all art, art in the widest definition. If all is G-d and G-d is all, then man is that part of G-d which is launched in a trajectory away from the godhead to plumb the depth of experience. Soundings.

Suicide then would be the occasion when the plumb line breaks, when we forget the purpose of suffering in life.

Don't we love death more than we love life, even for a moment such as when we take a swig of, let's say, an alcoholic beverage? A toast, a brindis, hoist the glass high and look into the eye. Don't you catch that glint of irony when we toast to life with a well made drink, knowing the night to come will be crumpled, even if just a little?

The entertainment vices of alcohol and drugs are only one aspect of what I am writing about here. Recently, Jacques wrote about Herzog agog at the brutality of nature, something that I brooded about in this blogpost. The philosopher's doubt knows no end in the secular world. There is not even a gossamer connection, not even a tentative postulation of an idea of a G-d that might put a brake to the relative movement of the truth of freedom in the world. This constant movement in our relative world induces a kind of motion sickness of the soul, an intellectual nausea whose only relief is suicide.

Art schools should have core curriculum include classes on artifice and the occupational hazards and safe handling of nihilism and narcissism.

I remember reading NPQ back in the late 80's, and one idea that still shines from that period was an awareness of the acceleration of change and the responsibility that our society have to help people cope with it. The idea was that if industries can come and go several times over in a person's lifetime, then education should not be a singular episode in a persons life, that it should be constant and renewing. Our legacy of deeply invested post secondary education doesn't seem to fit this new reality where someone could find themselves in their 40's or 50's and find that their industry had suddenly evaporated. We have to come up with a new arrangement, something between trade school and the university, something that doesn't cost as much as buying a house.

Coming out of grad school back in the beginning of the 90's, I realized that the postmodern legacy in the artworld was seamless from early 60's Pop to late 80's Critical Theory, that painting had to play the fool and be eclipsed during this period. That was fine as it went, great art abounded. As such, painting in negation was the only valid mode of exploration in that time. It seemed pointless for me to add a brick to that wall and the time seemed nigh to tack the other way. What did seem challenging to me was to find a means of exploring painting in the affirmative. Little did I know then that the artworld would ignore the end of the era as the Berlin Wall fell and continued fiddling on for a decade and longer, dropping the prohibition to paint but using the same institutional hardware to "handle the goods" as it were. What we needed to do was overhaul that hardware, to render a shakedown crit of the entire postmodern era. But somehow we were not capable or willing to do the task.

What began as an intuition when I was instructed sternly about the "death of the author" evolved into a search for some idea of how to forge some kind of intelligible synthesis of the relative and absolute. A wholesale rejection of the postmodern project would lead to reactionary territory, a no-go from the start. And yet the road to relativism alone was for me a vivid dead end and I began to see the deadening of the imagination all around in our "progressive" creative liberal world, especially as we entered our new war-on-terror age. Ideas simply stopped flowing and we creative types seemed stuck in 1968.

Our ideas hardened into concrete when Clinton told Dick Morris that the Republicans weren't simply wrong, but that they were evil. Evil. In that moment, the secular creative Democratic Left became a religion with a dogma that could not be questioned except upon pain of excommunication. We had psychologically spilt Western Civilization into ourselves and the other. Alienation and suspicion unlocked the door to paranoia and madness. The order of battle was TOTAL WAR and we became blind to the fact that our fight was rendering self inflicted wounds. Ultimately, we became insurgents against ourselves as we pursued a utopia where the best became the enemy of the better. When we adopted insurgent tactics, how can we avoid becoming insurgents ourselves?:
Mao: "the enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue".

In a world without truth, there is only power. This is how our dialog in the arts and humanities became a battlefield. (Witness Jacques' recent reference Foucault's Kampfplatz) As with our real enemies, the atavists who would destroy our civilization, the crux became a question of placability. The jihadists are clear about their intentions: in loving death more than they love life, the war became a contest of implacability. Am I the only one who sees these same terms in our own dialogue within western civilization?

The fulcrum of this problem can be found in our dance on the edge of our Nietzschean abyss. In a remarkable NPQ (Nathan Gardels) interview with Francis Fukuyama that begins with a reference to Isaiah Berlin's distinction between positive and negative freedom:

NPQ | One reason this is such a conundrum is that secular liberal societies have real difficulty in coming up, as you suggested, with positive virtues that set boundaries on cultural behavior, be it misogynist rap lyrics, Madonna's crucifix act or cloning.

The clash with Islam underlines this moral paralysis because we live, as the late Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz used to say, in "non-parallel historical times."
As a result we witness this paradox: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, citing Spinoza, has fled from faith to reason in the name of freedom, defecting from the womb of Islam and becoming an "Enlightenment fundamentalist" and atheist. Yet, Europe's most famous secular liberal philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, now argues that since postmodern society is unable to generate its own values, it can only "nourish" itself from religious sources. For him, Western values?liberty, conscience, human rights?are grounded in our Judeo-Christian heritage.
According to Habermas, "unbridled subjectivity"?the relativism which reigns today?clashes with "what is really absolute?the right of every creature to be respected as an ?image of God.'"

What do you make of this double movement in history?

Fukuyama | This problem of how our post-religious societies come up with values was the critical issue for two celebrated thinkers from the University of Chicago?Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, and Leo Strauss.

Strauss called this "the crisis of modernity." The question is whether there is a way of establishing values through reason and philosophical discourse without reverting to religion. His central argument was that classical political philosophy?the Greeks with their emphasis on "natural right," or nature deciphered by reason as a source of values?had been prematurely rejected by modern philosophy.

The way to think about this is that we have both a deep philosophical problem and a practical political problem. The two may be related, but not necessarily.
The deep philosophical problem is whether you can walk Western philosophy back from Heidegger and Nietzsche and say that reason does permit the establishment of positive values?in other words that you can demonstrate the truth of certain ideas.

The practical problem is whether you can generate a set of values that will politically serve the integrating liberal purposes you want. This is complicated because you want those values to be positive and mean something, but you also can't use them as the basis for exclusion of certain groups in society.

And yet, exclude we did.

What is striking to me is that philosophy never ends. And so it falls short in dealing with issues that entail an end, such as G-d, truth or where the rubber meets the road.

Push back.

My understanding of the deus ex machina in Greek theatre was that it was a means of curtailing a seemingly endless plot development, a kind of cut to the chase. It can be rude, brutal, artificial and curt, but it was essential in storytellling, else the story might never stop, as it does so in life.

This aspect of the Judeo-Christian paradigm functioned to cut to the chase in our endless philosophical machinations of the modern secular West, thus allowing ideas to bite into reality. Our holiday from truth was in error long before Bin Laden made it vivid, and it is for the sake of liberal society that we have to find a means to contextualize an endless relativism within a slender gossamer yet sturdy framework of cardinal truth. We who believe in irony should not be surprised to find it twisting again in the bridle of our own hands. This impulse away from the godhead is a way for the godhead to garner wisdom, the trajectory of creativity. We were forced out of the garden and the only way back is away from it, to roam the earth to rebuild our innocence in the fire of experience/existence.

For those of us artists who would be jihadis, wild maned defiant Che's, the only thing that separates us from the Islamist is a notion about artifice. The killing of culture, the siren song of revolution is directed toward a better way to see art, to be reawakened to the circumstance of the moment. This is ultimately to be modern, for modernity must always be striven for since it crystalizes with time into a museum of memory, each instant slipping away into history.


14:30 into Dennis Prager's 7/9/07 show "How Do Brits Trust Muslims?" an interview with Theodore Dalrymple:

TD: "...doctors and professionals are exactly the kind of people it takes to be attracted to Islamism. You might think that's surprising but extreme doctrines are usually espoused by the educated elite and not by the masses as it were. And so... and it requires actually, some degree of intelligence to be stupid in the way ideologues often are stupid.

D.P.: Yea, yea, yea. You are speaking to the converted. When I speak to someone who says something that is particularly foolish on my show, I often ask them immediately what graduate school had they attended.

T.D.: Yea. (Laughing) That's right because the reason is quite clear, you need a high level of abstraction to believe that, for example, driving a blazing car into Glasgow airport is going to bring about a better world. That needs a very high level of abstraction., and ordinary people don't have that level of abstraction. So, it's always doctors and lawyers and that kind of person who is at the forefront of this kind of, if you like, revolutionary violence. It was certainly true in Latin America, for example, the Central American revolutionary movements were all led by educated people, they were not spontaneous uprisings of the impoverished or the peasant. And so one can expect more problems from more of the professional middle classes than from the ordinary people."

(A note for my friends who tend to explode at this point: We of the creative Democratic Left who recoil at these words miss the irony of our own intolerance. We should not seek to be omnipotent in our desire for sophistication. I am saying that there is something of value here, of vital importance for the world we want to build. Hang in there, guys.)

The belief in the success of driving a blazing car into the Glasgow airport depends on the estimation of the impact of such a spectacle within the media universe, an attack directly to the mind of the public. Conquer the mind, then you can enslave the body with ease, a David and Goliath with virtual rocks, a.k.a. memes. The leap from the heights of abstraction into the depths of murder of this kind require the help of those among us who are latently suicidal.

We should be shaken by the realization that it is not the downtrodden and oppressed that constitute the ranks of the jihadis. The Marxist framework continues to fail us even in our post Cold War era. Doctors, Architects, Engineers. We were shared the same nursery, we drink the same water. The terrorists are not some alien other, they are of us. Therefore we should not be surprised to see that we are -some a little bit and others much more- like them. We sophisticated secular international educated elites sometimes like death at least a little more than we like life.

V. (the CT dialog)
One night in ChinaTown LA, a group of us were talking late into the madrugada hours about the Judeo-Christian legacy, precisely, how each aspect fit into the other. The question was put to my friend Joel Mesler as to why the Jews seemed so arrogant concerning their core beliefs. I had jumped in and countered:

DH: What's your question, though?
BE: Well, Joel is like, and this is the thing I like about Joel is that he's very open about who he is and what he believes. I respect that tremendously, but being that, I don't know how you can criticize anyone else who believes what he believes.
HT: I heard that.
JM: I've never criticized anybody.
HT: Not since I've been around him.
JM: I've never criticized anybody.
BE: Well, I don't think that you have, actually.
PJ: I don't think criticism is the word you're looking for. I do think, Joel, I don think that you have placed your religion and your belief system superior to others.
JM: Of course!
(The room bursts with tension relieving laughter.)
DH: Good answer, good answer.
HT: I heard him say that...
JM: You know what...
JM: You guys don't realize, this is all one and the same...
DH: I know what you're talking about, your perception that... because... being the foundational religion, you know, monotheism, it's got a superior position kind of thing going on, that alone is intimidating, I think, if not other reasons why, uh, your perception of Judaism is seen as a difficult religion as against the others or something.
But, there's another way to look at it. If they are the chosen people in the sense they have responsibility, not chosen to be special in a special child kind of way, but chosen because they have a job to do. With that arrangement, everybody else is off the hook. We don't have that job to do if you're Christian (or any other), or basically to be secular. It's like you can believe any way you want to believe in G-d, for what is right for you. But what we have ultimately in this framework of Judaism is a root religion...
PJ: It's like you're offering freedom of religion as a default...
DH: It's like a bonus thing for non-Jews. You can play. You can think about G-d anyway you want to, and practice the approach any way you want to, because you're kind of off the hook. It's the Jews that are on the hook. They've got a job to do. And their job is to embody the set of memes that manifests this idea of G-d and his condition of freedom that's sanctioned by this idea of G-d. Anybody else can do it any which way they want to but the Jews have to do it in a certain kind of way.
And in that kind of way it creates a pattern or some kind of meme structure that gives a house for freedom in a way, a human freedom which all the world depends on. And anyone else can act in ways that are "un-freedom-like", any kind of exotic way they want to live so long as they don't knarf the freedom of other people along the way. You can fly your freak flag, because we all live under the house that the Jews built.
PJ: Exactly, though. You're talking about "flying freak flag" just because you're excluding everyone else....
DH: I mean "fly the freak flag" in that you can think of G-d any which kind of way because G-d is cool with that.
PJ: But based on the doctrine of another religion.
DH: Buddhism, you know, any other kind of religion... I think G-d's pretty relaxed about it, don't you?
PJ: No.
DH: G-d's a loving kind of thing.
PJ: I disagree.
DH: Just one set of people have to do it in a certain kind of structured way. Because that structure has a job to do. And that job is to license freedom for humanity.

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Nacho Below the Sea


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July 27, 2007

Chiperoni's SoCal Style

Big news in the food chain off the coast of Callifornia:

MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) - Jumbo squid that can grow up to 7 feet long and weigh more than 110 pounds is invading central California waters and preying on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations, according to a study published Tuesday.

An aggressive predator, the Humboldt squid?or Dosidicus gigas?can change its eating habits to consume the food supply favored by tuna and sharks, its closest competitors, according to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

"Having a new, voracious predator set up shop here in California may be yet another thing for fishermen to compete with," said the study's co-author, Stanford University researcher Louis Zeidberg. "That said, if a squid saw a human they would jet the other way."

The jumbo squid used to be found only in the Pacific Ocean's warmest stretches near the equator. In the last 16 years, it has expanded its territory throughout California waters, and squid have even been found in the icy waters off Alaska, Zeidberg said.

Zeidberg's co-author, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute senior scientist Bruce Robison, first spotted the jumbo squid here in 1997, when one swam past the lens of a camera mounted on a submersible thousands of feet below the ocean's surface.

More were observed through 1999, but the squid weren't seen again locally until the fall of 2002. Since their return, scientists have noted a corresponding drop in the population of Pacific hake, a whitefish the squid feeds on that is often used in fish sticks, Zeidberg said.

"As they've come and gone, the hake have dropped off," Zeidberg said. "We're just beginning to figure out how the pieces fit together, but this is most likely going to shake things up."

Before the 1970s, the giant squid were typically found in the Eastern Pacific, and in coastal waters spanning from Peru to Costa Rica. But as the populations of its natural predators?like large tuna, sharks and swordfish?declined because of fishing, the squids moved northward and started eating different species that thrive in colder waters.

Local marine mammals needn't worry about the squid's arrival since they're higher up on the food chain, but lanternfish, krill, anchovies and rockfish are all fair game, Zeidberg said.

A fishermen's organization said Tuesday they were monitoring the squid's impact on commercial fisheries.

I suggest we trade off the fish sticks for calamari sauteed in onion and mopped up with a nice loaf of crispy chibata bread... or a seafood paella heavy with calamari with a few gambas and mussels thrown in for color... or chiperoni's: crispy fried, lightly breaded, infant squid. With a tall beer. There's no better way to bump a rogue species off the upper part of the food chain than by eating its young.

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Discourses and Brutal Obsenities.

Jacques has some interesting stuff in his blog, as always (see his Saturday, July 21, 2007).

He's been posting a few items this week that has provoked a few thoughts...

- First of all, "the discourse" isn't a singular phenomenon. It isn't clear, concise, indisputable, free of contention, durable, or plain spoken. Part of the initiation into art school belies this fact. Perhaps this sleight of hand is important in the acculturation of an art student in to the "art world".*1

- My years in the navy were served in the dark room behind the bridge lit by rotating scopes, edge lit plexiglass streaked with glowing grease pencil lines and edged with blinking lights. The place was called "Combat", short for "Combat Information Center". I was there for a few years, "seeing" the world via this virtual cerebral cortext of a nuclear powered exoskeletonized creature, the sharp pointy end of a nation state. We drew a picture of the world around us, always sweeping RF energy over the horizon, fabricating and updating a picture of the world composed of unknowns, friendlies and hostiles.

You know, kind of like what we --each of us-- do all day, every day.

- It seemed to be quite a picture of philosophy for me then, a picture that became more vivid when I later encountered Hume, Berkeley, Kant and Locke in undergraduate school. Well, I can tell you that the world does indeed exist and you and I are real. This, I know and I think you do too. We paw our way through it, in the dark, inch for inch. The world is revealed to us through the many modalities that can be experienced, some through our senses. There are many more modalities (ways of apprehending the world) than the number and type of sense organs each so configured to recieve them.

- This brings to mind a little ditty that I would truck out for students when I taught architectural design. There an many ways to represent a building as you imagine -in your head-... you have drawings in plan, section (a plan made vertical), isometric (to see abstractly, a god's eye view), perspective (a single human's view), in model form... an artful combination of each has to be put together to gestalt a representation of what you are imagining. The process of articulating this imagined experience reveals the limitations of imagination (we always think somthing is imagined complete when it usually is not so), and conjures a related representation in another preson's mind. Hopefully, it is what you are imagining too.

- The question for Jacques' narrative thread is (assuming that he would concede the redraw of the discourse away from the quadrilatieral rational tablet): are the clouds of discourse a precipitation or a condensation? Or if they are both, how can they be so?


Then, Jacques has been getting all Werner Herzog on us:

I've been watching all of Werner Herzog's films starring Klaus Kinski. I wish I had time to write a proper essay on Herzog's view of nature and civilization. Herzog's colonial anti-heroes are usually left drifting in a nowhere land between two equally unappealing choices: the soulless and cold rationalism of Western Civilization, and the dumb and irrational Primitivism of the Native. The collision of these two worlds reveals the mistake we often make of Romanticizing Non-Western cultures as somehow Noble or above reproachment. In an interview, Herzog refers to Nature as a brutal obscenity and I think that he is strangely accurate. The jungles and rivers of Cobra Verde, Aguirre, and, Fitzcarraldo are indeed dark and murderous, placed in direct oppostion to the Will of Man. Ultimately of course, for Herzog nature works as a metaphor for the human spirit...and the realization that is slowly formed is that we are looking not at something other than oursleves, but at the dark mirror of the soul. If nature is brutal, than man is equally so. There is no resolution to this contest, although the effort consumes us. Man's conquest of Nature is itself a linguistic hallucination.....a task something akin to biting one's own teeth...for how can one conquer that which he is?
Not for nothing are we*2 are Judeo-Christian deep in the woodpile. The philospoher's doubt knows no end. If we do not conquer nature (a misleading phrase, but alas) then we will become it, in all of it's beauty and ugliness, this is where the secular slide of good intentions leads us. Only a leap of faith can erect a polestar, a final backstop, a single G-d that is absolute enough to be beyond a mere human's meddlesome grasp. The desire to acquiesce our responsibility to steward nature will indeed render us brutal monsters, as natural as a lion's incisors' plunge into the neck, the oxygenated blood rich in adrenalin from a bulging carotid artery sprayed into the air. The problem for all of us secular-educated-international-elites*3 is how not to become monsters, especially when there exists no rational argument that can stand against this terriblly (G-dless) conclusion.

Are we too religious in our secular identity to accept the slender solitary conviction in an ultimate doubt in doubt itself?

*1 There are many art worlds, by the way.

#2 "Westerners", an unfortunate name that, since the legacy of the West is for all mankind. It is interesting to consider that there is as yet no name for the world we have made: based on induvidual freedom, configured by the marketplace, networked with information, moderated by tempered democratic systems...

*3 I figure that anyone who is reading this blog is one of this category. The contents of the university has been spilled all over the world/marketplace, we all "don't need badges...", se?or and anyone who traffics the internet is a default member of this no-longer-exclusive club.

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July 25, 2007

Albert's Blog

Alberto has a new blog!

Another window on life here in Tossa, and the life of a young artist has opened up.

All the best, Tio!

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July 24, 2007

Powered by Actimel


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Round Cap Tossa

From Codloar Beach, Kiko and I swam to the front of Cap Tossa to look for lampas. Jordi and his two friends swam out with us, armed with tools to catch octopus.

I'm glad I didn't get to see them kill one. I like the octopus. You don't have to eat everything you see down there.

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July 21, 2007


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I'm at the local internet cafe, "CyberSt@r", furtive blogging on the go at its best.

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Am I Born to Die?

Tracking shots, Apollo lunar lander style.

A ver.

This was the first and second try in finding a .mpg alternative to the usual frontal foto in full and in detail of a recently finished painting. Human vision is something more than a combination of panorama and detail shots and a simple presentation of the two aspects together don't seem to satisfy me. So here goes another try with another aspect, a digital movie. It's rough, but still I try.

(The songs are from soundtrack from the movie "Cold Mountain", the title from the Tim Eriksen song in the album.)

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July 16, 2007

Kiko's Retrato

There's so much I would like to blog that much of it gets away, even when I am back in LA with double internet DSL lines at home and the studio. Here's one blogpost that almost fell off into the depths of my iPhoto files: a night of painting Kiko's portrait (retrato) when Henry was here a few weeks ago.

A few pics follow with words jotted furtively along the way....

The idea was to ask Kiko to model for us --Henry, Alberto and myself-- for an evening that began with a bar-b-que and a session of painting that lasted until almost five in the morning. As what is becoming my habit, I took the opportunity to explore the characteristic working methods of my compatriots, to see if I can find a way to "break the egg" (a phrase we used byHenry and I when we critiqued Alberto's recent work talking about the need to overcome one's p.o.v. in order to grow into a new one).

So before I got into it, I worked my fingers loose with a couple of sketches of Henry as he was reading about young Picasso in Barcelona.

Funny, Kiko wore his "Are You Sure?" t-shirt.

Good one, Kiko.

The pallette is Henrys'. The other paintings on paper are Alberto's.

Fruit of a night's work.

Henry's painting. (I have yet to get a foto close up of mine, I'll append it to this post asap. We gave Kiko the whole night's production to say thanks.)

The best part of a night like this is the long view after the action is over.

What became interesting is how, while Henry apparently traffics in the representational way, his work actually wheels about on a psychological axis. I felt a prisoner of the mechanics of representation in the work I did that night and it was a revelation to see Henry first record what he saw and then record what he felt, editing and revising his composition as he went. I recall The Mystery of Picasso, how the revisions were a graphic tell of his search. I also recall Henry talking about hwo his aunt came to him in a dream after she passed away, telling him sternly to "Tell the truth, Henry. Tell the truth."

Ah so he did.

And so shall I in my own way.

Posted by Dennis at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Ava Gardner shot a film here in Tossa de Mar back in the early fifties, "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman". Here is the plot summary fused from two separate ones from the Internet Movie Database:

In 1930, singer Pandora Reynolds, gorgeous, enigmatic, and fascinated by danger and destruction, has the men of a small Spanish town in despair. Just when race driver Stephen Cameron thinks he's won her, a mysterious yacht appears in the bay whose eerie captain may be the legendary Flying Dutchman. Stephen has an apparently more dangerous rival in the form of an arrogant bullfighter; but Pandora's friendship with the Dutchman may lead them both to a rendezvous with Fate...

We are soon taught that Hendrick is the Flying Dutchman, this sailor of the 17th century that has been cursed by God to wander over the seas until the Doomsday... unless a woman is ready to die for him...

Besides whatever sentimentality those who know Tossa might have in seeing this movie, it's a real piece of work. The plot moves in the narrative of the old style, seemingly meandering about without the usual drive of plot development that is killing today's blockbusters. It's worth seeing just for that.

What is even more interesting to me is how Ava Gardner electrified the little fishing pueblo, burning through men internationally along the way, art imitating life imitating art. There was a bullfighter famous in his time that had to contend with a smitten Frank Sinatra, both cruising the Costa Brava like feral tomcats for Ava's affections.

I think James Mason is fantastic. But I don't think he was a tomcat, though. Or maybe he was on the QT? That James Mason had a slyness about him but in a more world weary way, he wasn't a sly fox looking for henhouses.

I mention Pandora and the Flying Dutchman here to note a couple of ideas that I have for contemporary remakes:

1) An "art film" (low budget and driven by caprice) featuring a lad/lass from Tossa who is driven through serial summer romances, burning down each one in the search for higher heights of passion. "Golosa" is the term in spanish for one who is lusty, more commonly a reference for a sweet tooth. Suddenly, he/she is smitten by one who can never be had...

2) A major Hollywood production starring Angelina Jolie, today's siren equivalent of Ava Gardner. (But then again with her new life and family brood, maybe her time as femme fatal has passed? Who would take her place?)

(Image Source)

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Nacho Baja Mar


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Mala Mar

This image is a tribute to Phil Wagner, who, when told that I had bought an Olympus "Mu" digital camera --one that is capable of shooting pictures below the sea without a special housing-- Phil responded: "Just don't shoot the usual touristy stuff, shoot the trash or something."

Alright Phil, here you go.

But we'll have to risk representing treacle as I try to convey the life we live here in Tossa de Mar. It's awful sweet here too, Phil. And those of us in the artworld intelligencia who are too wary of the sweet stuff will just have to deal with a little bit of "awful" if they want to sweat off some of that jaded feeling. So brace yourself, my blogreader, you international sophisticate, you. This is a report of a sun soaked CopperTone weekend at the beach in the Spanish Costa Brava.


A good t-shirt, that.

The anxiety of sophisitication aside, the sea was a bit of a disappointment this weekend, so the image above isn't too far off the mark.

The first snorkel run was out to look for lampas. But the sea was as rough as the sky beautiful. A south wind blew delicate mats of a lil'sargasso sea of trash onto the shore and the waves were powerful enough to throw us onto the mussel encrusted rocks.

So this was an aborted mission. It was also an abortion in the execution of my first undersea movie adventure. I thought I shot three or four segments, but fumbling with the movie controls for the first time, I actually got only one.

Oh well. Onward and upward.


Back on the beach, I thought about how to take a movie and show you all the beach life at Codolar Cove. But the thought of walking about as a older guy on a beach where toplessness is natural, handling a digital camera, in Speedos? would be a bit too edgy as it is predictable. The solution? Employ the services of Nacho and Leslie's young Berta. This 8 year old was precoscious and charming enough to do the job.

I marvelled at the way she used -or misused- the camera. Even though she let the instrument dangle and flop about, there is a wonderful consistancy in what she produced. She aimed the camera only occasionally. But she was always aware that she was doing something with a camera. What resulted might seem a jumble, but her amused awareness in the instrumentality of the media strung together the jangle of images and sounds, like a pearls on a string.

What a word, "dangle".

On the second filming, our director became a journalist, interviewing me and a a few of our friends on the beach. Asking the hard hitting questions, she used instinct to follow the things she knew ("?Cuantos a?os tiene? / How old are you?, ?Que pesas? / How much do you weigh?") and dropped routine as soon as routine lost her interest, inventing and playing all along the way.

Sometime a public that might be called Philistine would let fall the old chestnut: "My child could do that.", and certainly artists look for inspiration even when it comes from the hands of babes.

What I realized was that there was yet another way to record a movie with a digital camera's .mpg capability, one that stepped aside from the standard protocol of subject and center and tracking and station. Subcontracting kids was one way to subvert self consciousness (at least for a time), but adopting a new protocol from this special auteur was another:

1. Know that the camera is there.
2. Play.
3. Use any structure at hand to move the project along. (?Cuantos a?os tienes?)
4. Push the pointy end of the camera toward the business once in a while like a dopey big green inflatable alligator raft in the surf.
5. Keep amused.

It was the kind of thing that some of my painter friends were talking about (like Hiroshi Sugito or Bart Exposito): looking for a way to "crack" their approach with something that could be called "bad painting" or f**ked up technique, so that something new might ooze out of the fissure.

Verrrry interesting, this "angle of the dangle".

But I couldn't interest Berta in another video after this one. She had exhausted her joy in a career of filmaking after two projects. She was off to other horizons like Robert Irwin driving into the sunset in a fast car with the cold cash from his Macarthur "genius" grant. (This is an inside joke. Robert Irwin liked to race through art media, thinking he exhausted the possibilities of each as he went along. Check out his biography in Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin.)

This is the thing about that old chestnut. Sure babes can do things that look like contemporary art. But can they do it over and over and over with real curiousity, avid duration, a vivid interest and a search-based-variety for a lifetime?

Well then. (Arms akimbo.)

So in this video, I thought I might employ some of this ing?nue-auteur's technique. I didn't sing songs whilst skipping along, but I cooked up the strategy of taking the camera out to the middle of the cove to play fetch with it on the sea floor, letting it dangle from my wrist in between shots.

(Hey! The angle of the dangle! I'd like to do this on my scooter when I get back to LA! I can let the camera hand from my wrist with the movie on record. Yeaaaaaaaaaaaa.)

Along the way, I got stung by a medusa.

A jellyfish!

Gobsmacked I was. (Now I have a good definitional reference for that quirky word, "gobsmacked".)

I couldn't see the critter, even as I repelled from the sting. If it wasn't the fat big lazy white or purple ones, it must have been those nasty tiny brown guys. They're the worst. The strike was like getting smacked upside the head. At first I thought I had hit the boat, and then the second reaction was a deep desire to exit the sea. A sting with a wallop, it was. It was the chemical based explosion of a multitude of oozing toxin darts, hammers on the bell of my nervous system.

It was like getting wapped by your dad's big hand.
(Or mother nature: 'Pay attention, son.")

With his fat wedding ring on.

Fun's over.

Itching for days and days.

...and days.

Mala mar indeed.


Posted by Dennis at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2007


(music: "Un Point Bleu" by Anouar Brahem, album: "Le Pas Du Chat Noir")

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July 10, 2007


Right now, I'm pacing, worrying, sweaty, my sleep is troubled, blank canvases and papers stare back at me. I refuse to snorkel and I'm happy that the weather isn't so great, heavy weather systems are diving down through Britian to us recently. I'm eating far too many sandwiches and it is only the meal that punctuates the day. In other words, it's business as usual in the studio as I charge myself up for a summer's painting push.

The canvas is wet and the game is afoot, don't get me wrong. But since I'm not the kind of artist blogger that opens the window into my internal chatter, that's too neurotic to give too much credence. All is well over here (ahem). Besides, there's no need to trouble you all with the noise of the harpies, an artist has to make it look easy after all.

So how about a blogpost about....

??????????KAYAKING IN THE COSTA BRAVA!!!!!!!!!!

When guests come to visit, I make a point of taking them kayaking along the north of Tossa's coastline. From there, one can get a vivid sense of the Costa Brava in all it's glory (or a significant part of that glory... there much more). There where the mountains meet the sea, on a good day, one can glide through incredible tide pools and caves all along a bristling crag of geologic upthrust out of the Mediterranean Sea. It's simply amazing.

The pictures are culled from two visits, Henry Taylor and Gerry Smulevich (when my wife Stephanie was here earlier) and Roger and Robin Dickes dropped in for a quick visit. Enjoy!


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Roger and Robin

Roger and Robin Dickes dropped in from their whirlwind European trip. A scant 24 hours, we got to eat a dinner at Kiko's and scoot out for a kayak trip. Roger is an artist, musician and teacher in LA/Glendale, he curates a great gallery at Glendale Community College. Robin, once an artist, is now majoring in marketing.


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Sagrada Familia

I don't know much about this plant except that this succulent grows everywhere like a weed, especially in the cracks of tiles on rooftops.

Reading Robert Hughes' Barcelona, I discovered how much of a regard local creative types had for nature as they studied it as Frank Llyod Wright did, ripples of Art Nouvea, I imagine. I dont have the time to research this, but I imagine further that young Antoni must have studied this plant at one time or the other. Check out the spires of the Sagrada Familia to get my meaning.

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July 9, 2007

Works on Paper


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Works on Paper


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July 8, 2007

Henry by Gerry

My friend Gerard Smulevich shot this foto of Henry as he was passing through Tossa between his summer architecture studio class he teaches in Barcelona and the second half in Berlin. Gerry is an archtiect, a teacher and a photographer. You can check out the progress of his work here.

Posted by Dennis at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 4, 2007

Happy 4th, America

Every year, Tossa de Mar hosts a grand fireworks show on the big beach and at the foot of Cap Tossa. This is the video of the finale.

This blogpost is a birthday present to my country. Happy 4th everyone!

Posted by Dennis at 3:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 3, 2007

Henry Taylor in Tossa

As Kiko was finishing up cooking a rabbit and rice lunch for us at his "casa de abuela", Henry ducked out and up the hill to check out the view. Beaconing me over, he said all throaty and singsong: "Damn! Dennis, take out your camera and shoot my BLACK ASS IN TOSSA DE MAR!" *

Of course, Henry. Claro que si, Tio.

Here's a few pictures to commemorate his visit....

Here was the vista that doffed his pants, Codolar beach and the Vila Vella, the remnant of fortifications that date to the Middle Ages.

Kiko cooked up a lunch of what amounts to paella of rabbit. In the house he grew up in, his grandmother's place (casa de abuela), he enjoys the flourish of hospitality. Always pouring cava, lunch began with a toast to the cook.

I was a bit confounded when Henry crawled into Kiko's kitchen fireplace, effusing over it. The idea of cooking his, as he put it: "...my black ass..." was disturbing to me, then I remembered his painting that is now hanging in the New York Studio Museum in Harlem, the Max Beckmann-esque motif being just such an image: a black man bound and cooked over a classic southern style bar-b-que, his limbs severed and served.

What does such an image mean? Cooking race. Exotic cannibalism. An ultimate victimhood. Abraham and Issac? The deliciousness of blackness? Culpability intertwined with cuisine? Culture consumed and digested? Dissolution and sustenance?*1

If you know Henry, you know how big his heart is, how immediate, his connection to other people is instantaneous and to the core. He found Spain to be a natural environment for him, the national character being so passionate and the Catalan character so earthy. Henry met and fused with so many people here in Tossa, that immediately many began to rue his departure as if he was family. So many connections were forged in his short week here that finally Henry's own heart was bursting. Everyone was asking how soon he would return.

A testament to Henry's ability to get to the soul of things was his connection to Bar Savoy. That bar is the veritable soul of the town, a headquarters for the hard core locals. Nearby was the Hippy Shop, owned by a homeboy who goes by the name of "Nani". People who know him here describe him as a "punky" who is disguised as a "hippy", meaning that he is a tough guy who likes to play down the hard image with a Jesus-like cover. Nani's father is a painter and it was not surprising to find that Henry found a deep bond there. Taking a small canvas from his suitcase, Henry painted a tribute to Bar Savoy with oils in my studio. I was out at the time, my music playing through the building. I was happy he time to spend in my studio, an opportunity to feel creative time at Sat Telm street. The little painting was a gift for the owner of Bar Savoy, a sweet and worldly woman by the name of Mercedes.

Yea, that's my image that flanks Henry's self portrait with Nani on the other side. I like Henry's handling of the oil in alla prima.

Young Alberto took us to his house/studio to see his paintings and we sat in for a critique. Alberto was hungry for feedback and we gave it to him with double barrels. On the way back to my house, I had to duck into a local jewelry store to repair my watch. From inside I could see Alberto and Henry talk about painting as I waited in line for assistance.

One night was a festival of fireworks where everyone buys a bag of firecrackers (petardos) and generally mayhem ensues. Kiko, ever the hospitable, shares his bag with us as we tossed the small explosives about at Codolar beach.


Finally, a dissolve into the briney Mediterranean. The Catalans of Tossa want you back as soon as you can, Henry. You will always be welcome here.


*1 There was something else that was in the back of my mind about Henry's painting. And then I came across Victor D. Hanson's short article commenting on Michael Yon's recent report from Iraq.

Here it is in full:

Thyestean feast? [Victor Davis Hanson]

Greek mythology often encapsulated an entire culture's worst fears and depravities-and over centuries of story-telling became ever more complex and layered and bizarre.

But what is strange about reading Michael Yon's graphic descriptions from Iraq is that al Qaeda (or its kindred) seems almost in a single generation to be outdoing a millennium of savagery present in Greek history and myth. You have to go to Thucydides's Mycalessus to find a parallel of wiping out even the animals of a small village.

On Friday, Yon reported that al Qaeda served up a son for dinner to his own family? a barbarism reminiscent of Atreus (hence the "curse" on the House of Atreus) cooking (sans feet and hands) and then serving his twin brother's sons to their unsuspecting father Thyestes. So Yon reports a revolting modern-day Thysestean feast:

The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11-years-old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man's words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, "What did he say?" Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.
What is striking about all this savagery?whether with the filmed beheadings of Westerners in Iraq to the recent flaming Johnny Storm human torch at Glasgow, screaming epithets as he sought to engulf bystanders and ignite his canisters ? is the absolute silence of the West, either distracted by Paris and i-Phones or suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome and obsessed with Guantanamo.

It is hard to recall an enemy so savage and yet one so largely ignored by rich affluent and distracted elites as the radical jihadists, as we have to evoke everything from mythology to comic books to find analogies to their extra-human viciousness.

For a self-congratulatory culture issuing moral lectures on everything from global warming to the dangers of smoking, the silence of the West toward the primordial horror from Gaza to Anbar is, well, horrific in its own way as well...

The war between the Republicans and Democrats be damned. We should unite against this enemy of civilization, both within and without our civilization. Wikipedia reference to Thyestes here:

In Greek mythology, Thyestes was the son of Pelops, King of Olympia, and Hippodamia and father of Pelopia and Aegisthus. Thyestes and his twin brother, Atreus, were exiled by their father for having murdered their half-brother, Chrysippus in their desire for the throne of Olympia. They took refuge in Mycenae, where they ascended to the throne upon the absence of King Eurystheus, who was fighting the Heracleidae. Eurystheus had meant for their lordship to be temporary; it became permanent due to his death in conflict.
Atreus (Thyestes' brother and King of Mycenae) vowed to sacrifice his best lamb to Artemis. Upon searching his flock, however, Atreus discovered a golden lamb which he gave to his wife, Aerope, to hide from the goddess. She gave it to her lover, Thyestes (also Atreus' brother), who then convinced Atreus to agree that whoever had the lamb should be king. Thyestes produced the lamb and claimed the throne.

Atreus retook the throne using advice he received from Hermes. Thyestes agreed to give the kingdom back when the sun moved backwards in the sky, a feat that Zeus accomplished. Atreus retook the throne and banished Thyestes.
Atreus then learned of Thyestes' and Aerope's adultery and plotted revenge. He killed Thyestes' sons and cooked them, save their hands and feet. He served Thyestes his own sons and then taunted him with their hands and feet. This is the source of modern phrase "Thyestean Feast," or one at which human flesh is served.

Emphasis mine.

Or Procrustes? Is Henry calling for a Theseus to come someday?

(*Text modified by request, 2010.)

Posted by Dennis at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

Toquen A Correr

Every year, Tossa de Mar hosts a strange event where people skip arm in arm through the streets to sardana music. According to my friend, Alberto Barcia, the legend involves a young lad who is tasked to buy vinegar-wine by his mother, but along the way he drinks it. A devil makes an appearance and the boy has to dance nine times to sardana music to work off his offence. At the end of the festival, the dancers are dowsed by the locals from upper floor windows for reasons that remain mysterious to Alberto and myself at this moment.

So I went up to Nacho and Leslie's place to see how the dowsing is done.

Valle, venga.

Posted by Dennis at 5:01 AM | Comments (0)

Hace un Hora


Hace mas que un hora.

Posted by Dennis at 4:21 AM | Comments (0)

July 2, 2007

Notes in Passing: Humanity, Gods and Monsters

we tend to mirror those whom we hate.

humanness and frailty

we compare others against perfection and hate them for falling short

if you hate that which is frail in others, you will hate humanity

you will think of yourself as a god

but finally, you will hate yourself


therefore there is a crucial difference between striving toward G-d and godliness
the former will be about love and the latter will be monstrous

Posted by Dennis at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

Henry, Maite and Nymphs

As I met up with Henry Taylor in Tossa de Mar, we dropped into Kiko Noguera's place, the famed "casa de abuela". As the evening eased into the wee hours, Henry picked up a pencil and sketched Nacho's sister Maite while nymphs in black (Leslie and Lurdes) danced in the background. In the foreground, Nuria backslaps Kiko (left) and Nacho (right) with ribald humor.

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Admin: Please Stand By

You can hold your breath, I'll be back real soon.

(Image: Nacho Under Sea)

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July 1, 2007

Admin: Online at Last

Wow. I'm back online.

Ok, there's a ton of things to tell you all. But I've got to get things rolling in the studio first after over a week of fiestas with friends and family. I'm sunburnt and stuffed like a sausage, marinated in wine and cava, smoked in Marlboros.

This foto is one of my new screesavers, Henry at Sea, shot with my new Olympus, a purchase prompted by Hiroshi when I was in Japan last month.

Please stay tuned!

Posted by Dennis at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)