Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dali Exhibit - MoMA Field Trip

Recently, I went to the MoMA with my friend Arthur (a brilliant attorney from Cleveland), and had the chance to check out the films and paintings of Salvador Dali on exhibition there. Dali is an intriguing artist because of his commitment to the dream state - his work is uncensored in sexuality, in a certain grotesque-ness, and, frankly, by the norms of waking-state logic.

"Surrealist," is the term that defines his work, and of which his work is the most famous example. His paintings are often bright and colorful, or with bright and colorful elements against a darker backdrop, and three-dimensional space is delineated absurdly distinctly - almost like a cartoon. As a filmmaker, he created pieces with a very strange mood - and wherein the sequence of events was much more akin to the logic of a dream than of any narrative, plot-based film that would qualify as mainstream entertainment.

One of the films depicts a man trying to seduce an unwilling woman, and cuts abruptly from that seduction to a shot of the man dragging a piano across the room, and then to a shot of animal carcasses. (Carcasses and ants are two favored Dali symbols.) On the surface, this just sounds frivolous, or even sensationalist. But nothing about the film suggests that it is trying to get a rise out of the audience - rather, it seems to imply that there is normalcy in even the strangest things, and that human behavior and thinking in its most normal sense is, in fact, absurd. It seems to me that the great discomfort in watching parts of Dali's film comes not from the fact that they are unpleasant, but that it makes one realize that people are not perfect and that one's own thoughts have at times wandered into the sublime and grotesque. In other words, Dali's work invites the viewer to see in oneself what one finds repulsive.

Dali also created giant paintings to serve as backdrops in collaboration with the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock for his classic film, Spellbound. Painting and film were obviously very intertwined for Dali, and I relate to that a lot as a photographer trained in the medium of moving images. You can explore certain relations between shapes and symbols in a 2-dimensional picture, and then it's something else entirely to take the picture of that moment, and explore it in the continuum of time and space. Both of them were interesting to him, and to me, for the different ways they allow a thought to be explored - singularly as a moment, and as an inseparable part of a greater, broader context.

My favorite part of the exhibit, by far, was a lost collaboration between Dali and Walt Disney, circa 1946. "Destino," was to be a feature animated film, made by animating Dali's images - including several of his most famous paintings. For reasons that aren't totally clear, the project was abandoned, but several minutes of completed footage exists, and it was edited into a short film. It is a strange lyrical story without words, that shows a woman and a man who shapeshift and look for each other in their various forms as they move through a very dream-like world. The combination of Dali images with Disney animation came out, in my opinion, bearing remarkable resemblence to the Japanese animae cartoons I was first introduced to by my brother in the early 1990s. "Destino," looked to me to be way ahead of its time.

Seeing Dali's work in all of its forms, made me see the value of a true vision, and the way one's aesthetic inevitably permeates whatever medium it is one works through. It inspired me to trust my dreams, as odd and dark as they may seem, and to understand that true brilliance doesn't always need to appear logical on the surface. In fact, sometimes connecting the "wrong" dots is exactly what leads to seeing a newer, more interesting picture.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Jersey Shore - Summer Vacation

One more trip to the beach...

Something about the end of August that makes it feel important to get to the seashore, at least one more time before the fall begins. These are some shots I took along the Jersey Shore in a town called Ocean Grove. It is historically a very Christian settlement, and along the Great Hall where many Christians still gather for services, there are rows of little tent houses, where people relax for the summer near the sea. Most of the town is full of beautiful Victorian-style houses, and many of them are now bed and breakfasts.

Ocean Grove also has an amazing boardwalk - it was awesome to walk along it at night and gaze at the moon, and the lights from other towns along the shore. To the north, there is another little town called Asbury Park, where there are remnants of an old casino building, and a carousel turned theatre house.

However, the real reason for this trip was that this August, I really, really, really wanted to swim in the ocean.

It felt wonderful to get up (after lying all afternoon under the blazing sun), step in, and feel the cool, strong ocean waves splashing over my body. The sea is immensely soothing place. I felt so refreshed from swimming in the ocean, and utterly peaceful as my body sensed the ease of the balance of the elements - the fiery heat of the sun, the fresh, moving air, the firmness of the sandy earth beneath me, and the fluid, shifting, refreshing water. Centered-ness seems the natural byproduct of connecting with all of the elements in this way. So, perhaps it is more than laziness and ease that we're seeking when we head to the seashore! Maybe we feel pulled to it for balance.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Urban Gardens, Part 1 - Fire Escape Garden

This summer, I rented a car several times for various excursions, for business and pleasure. I visited the Berkshires twice, went all the way to northern Ohio, and drove across Long Island to Shelter Island. Each time I drove somewhere, I would inevitably come upon a garden center or farm selling flowering plants, and I would stop and select a new plant friend to take home.

In the Berkshires, there was this huge, amazing garden center and greenhouse. I got two different little flowery plants there - each with different size buds in different shades of purple. In Ohio, I stopped at a local garden store close to my parents house and found a hu
ge petunia plant, in yet another shade of purple. Driving back from Shelter Island, I found this amazing farm where they sold all kinds of organic produce, and there I bought a pot of sunflowers, ready to bloom.

Over the summer, I added all of these friends t
o my fire escape, where I had decided to keep a few other plants I had accumulated in Brooklyn. It began to look like a country summer's day outside my city window! They say that living things vibrate at a different rate from non-living, and that, on some level, we are able to consciously perceive this. I will say, that whenever I look out at all of the beautiful flowers and leaves reaching towards the sky from outside my window, I am brightened, energized. There is perfection in nature. And it's perfectly effortless.

It's this perfect, natural, effortless energy that I get to see each time I pass by my living room window - and I have found it incredibly inspiring! It makes me more attune to the weather (when it rains, the plants don't need as much water, and on hot days, they need extra), and has me thinking about the change of seasons (most of the plants only last one year!). In just a glance, I am reminded of nature's cycles, long and short,
and how we are always growing and changing - in different ways, at different paces - constantly, and without effort. (Or sometimes WITH effort - but my plants remind me that it isn't necessary to strain.)

I love my little fire escape garden.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Clay Tree Stump

In getting into the spirit of a new season of ceramics classes, I decided to experiment with some Italian air-dry red clay. I started playing around with a chunk of it (it's more rubbery than the white ceramic clay we use at the Choplet ceramics studio), and the next thing I knew I was working on this little hollowed out tree stump.

I like the idea of a hollow tree stump, its carcass an open shell to contain new life or just air, or in my case, perhaps become a pencil holder. In other words, the little form that took shape in my hands made me think of real tree stumps, having passed through a life so full and rich
that it grew wide and strong... and then passed into the phase we call "death," rotted away on the inside, and eventually dried out. The whole process providing life cycles to countless organisms, I find it fascinating to think of the decades involved in the process of the creation of a real hollowed out tree stump, which in turn, provides the perfect little hiding place for a raccoon to peek out from, or for a child to come upon, and imagine fairies and nymphs throwing soirees.

My little tree stump took several days to dry out on my windowsill. It was fun getting a practice run at ceramics again before starting a new class - this fall, I'm learning to throw on the potter's wheel!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Williamsburg Bridge - New York City

One of my favorite things to do is take a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge. It is the Northern-most bridge of the three bridges connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn, with funky industrial-era architecture (it was completed around 1896). The bridge connects my current neighborhood of Williamsburg with my previous neighborhood - the Lower East Side. Combining the time at the two residences, I've been making bridge treks for about six years now!

I find the 20-minute walk to be very meditative, and have taken a lot of inspired photographs on the bridge in all this time. There are cool views of the mid-town and downtown Manhattan skylines, DUMBO, and Williamsburg. Plus, you can watch the boats and barges coming and going along the river and out to sea.

The photos in this post are the most recent ones I shot on the Williamburg Bridge, using just a little, plastic, panoramic camera. (It's a long walk, so I often get creative, instead of carrying heavy equipment. I've taken plenty of cool shoots on my cell phone!) Right now, there is a lot of construction going on in Williamsburg, and there is an amazing view of a huge crater at a construction site. That particular day, there was also a boat-plane soaring over the East River, getting ready to land. You could see it in the sky, looking tiny against the huge bridge girders.

Walking the bridge gives me a lot of perspective on city life because it allows me to be out in the fresh air and looking at the city from a distance. Of course, there is a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the bridge, so it isn't exactly an escape, but it is simply a way of stepping back and seeing the city in its glory. You can really appreciate how vast and dense New York City is, how much human brilliance and strength went into building this place. It reminds you of the pioneering spirit that created it - one of the greatest cities in the world - and it reminds you that all the pushing on the subway, all the determination to work one's way through a crowded sidewalk, maybe have their own reason after all, and don't have to be regarded as a nuisance. They are, in fact, symptoms of the same pioneering spirit, of people who will not be stopped, people who came to the city to pursue their dream.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Berkshires on Film

I decided to try out some old, grainy film (1600 speed Fuji color and TRI-X b&w) in my Voigtlander Bessa-R camera while driving around the Berkshires this summer. The advantage to shooting high-speed film (the same as shooting a high ISO digitally) is that you can shooting at faster shutter speeds, and thus hand-hold shots in lower light - or, it gives you flexibility for using a higher f-stop (for greater depth of field). The cool thing about film is that the graininess that comes with these advantages is random - as opposed to digital where it looks noisy, film grain has a classic, artistic look.

Here are a few sights seen in the Berkshires:

1) A river that runs through Williams, MA.

2) Reflection of a church in the window of a building at Williams College.

3) A view of a valley near Lenox, MA.

4) Looking down a hill at a little structure where they make maple syrup (the little building near the trees) at 325 Savoy Road in Cheshire, MA.

5) The farm at what was once Susan B. Anthony's house.

6) A lake in Cheshire, MA.

7) Little store near Mass MoCA.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cleveland Steel Plant

On a recent trip to Cleveland, I visited a steel plant, not too far from downtown. Well, I didn't exactly visit, but rather parked my car illegally across the street to get some photos. I thought it was amazing to see these huge relics of the American Industrial Revolution, and I am fascinated by Cleveland. Actually, I have also started a tourist blog about all the fun and quirky things to do in Cleveland called, "Cleveland Hipster." (Click on the link to check it out!)

(Artistic note: All of the black and white images were shot on a plastic, automatic panoramic camera that I found at a yard sale in the Berkshires for $1.00. Below is a design I mocked up for a new Cleveland Hipster logo. Soon, I will convert it into a t-shirt design, as well. In the meantime, you can see how it looks as the branding on Cleveland Hipster's facebook page.)

One of the things I love most about Cleveland is the way the old industrial artifacts surface here and there around the city, but its modern-day aesthetic is very green and lush. In fact, there is a famously large strand of city parks that form a circle around the Greater Cleveland area called, "The Emerald Necklace."

Standing on the side of the road in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, looking in one direction, I saw this freshly paved road leading towards the aforementioned steel plant (right).
And in the other direction, a field leading down to a brand-new shopping center - a field of wildflowers slanting steeply downwards from the road, waving in the summer in breeze (below).

Cleveland is full of these little pockets of nature, making it a such a beautiful city by "green-consciousness" standards. And there is something very grounding about the American history present in a place where a lot of immigrants once came to find work when "green" was not the big thing - back then it was "steel," or "industry." Pretty far from green, in fact! It is fascinating to be in a place where you can all at once witness how much times have really changed in a hundred years and see a lovely community thriving in present times.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

MASS MoCA Field Trip

While in the Berkshires, I took a field trip to MASS MoCA - the western Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The building is a huge old factory and warehouse with water flowing around deep in concrete troughs, like a moat.

On exhibit right now, there is an installation by Jenny Holzer, which consists of a huge concrete beam-ceilinged room with several giant bean bags spread out all over the floor. From each end of the room, huge words are streaming from projectors, and the illuminated words pour over all of the dark room's surfaces. We entered the installation from the
industrial-sized freight elevator, which was a stunning way to walk into this kind of experiential art. Below are several shots I took of the installation, entitled, Projections (copyright Jenny Holzer):

The museum was very cool! I loved exploring the architecture as much as all of the exhibits. There is an inspiring energy in the mountainous Berkshires that makes it a perfectly suitable backdrop in which to experience the arts. It is home to the Williamstown Theater Festival, and lots of other summer theater as well. Out in the fresh summer air, it was easy to take in and process some heady fine art, and really relish the experience.

Last Look: Here is an upside-down tree pot, outside the museum.