posted by Caroline Picard

During one of our weekly meetings, Abby brought in an article, written by a group affiliated with Providence’s AS220. AS220 is a community arts organization that has been interesting for us to look at for many reasons. 1) They are awesome–which was gleaned from first-hand experience when Devin and I went out there last fall to put up one version of the North Georgia Gazette show. 2) They have an incredible vision, one that is stretching out and expanding to different pockets of downtown Providence, where they have artist studios, a membership-print shop, a bar, a restaurant 2 galleries, a performance space and live-work spaces. While they are a non-profit organization, they nevertheless use these different projects to generate both income and accessibility. They have a non-curtorial approach to their exhibitions, and as such anyone can get an exhibit, as long as he or she is willing to wait. They are interesting in administrative ways as well, for instance every member of the AS220 staff receives the same living wage, whether Gallery Director, Building Manager, Bartender, Office Administrator etc.

AS220's print shop

AS220 Bar

Fort Thunder

A number of the founders/collaborators at AS220 came out of a previous energetic/artistic hub in Providence called Fort Thunder–a warehouse in an abandoned textile factory that was built before the Civil War. From 1995-2001, Fort Thunder was used as a site for exhibits, art performance and live music performance, where artists lived and worked and experimented. From what I understand it was situated in such a marginalized part of the city, there was little to no restriction on what those inhabitants (and later visitors) could do. If they wanted to sell coffee, coffee was made on an archaic espresso machine with no thought to food licenses. Further–the space has been described to me as “a warren” covered in layers of posters, with labrynthian passageways that would be constructed and reconstructed over the course of the space’s lifetime. It sounds like it was a messy paradise and while I would have loved to have seen it, my own interest stems from the peculiar oustide-ness of the space. Because it was located outside of interest–whether legal (apparently any number of fire codes were broken, and were there to be any fire the thing would have poofed up like a tinder box) or, at least initially, artistic. I’m interested in such communities because of all the inherent negotiations that have to take place, both on a relationship/communal/day-to-day living sort of way and in an imaginative way. In other words, without the any predetermined  beurocratic/civil architecture, how do people organize themselves? Further, what is that they choose to create and where do they devise a sense of satisfaction?

It is easier, I think, to devise a sense of satisfaction when one knows what one is striving for.  Desiring a gallery show, gallery representation and a spot in the Whitney Biennial seems to go hand in hand with, for instance, being a painter in New York. After all, that is often why people move to New York to begin with. Yet, at Fort Thunder, it was almost as though the strategy for traditional success was abandoned and replaced with an enthusiastic dedication to localized communal practice. There was a shift in the center of one’s sense of success. By all accounts the vitatlity of the space was a result of the deep-seated community, a community that reflected, supported and critiqued the work of its peers. As an outsider peeping in, I can’t help but guess that it was the fluid reflexivity of that community which created and sustained (at least for a period) the overall satisfaction of its members. A number of artists and musicians from Fort Thunder achieved the fame that those New York painters are looking for, but their difference in origin is especially striking to me. While there must have been a hope, among some of the Fort Thunder folks, for public recognition, I can only imagine that the impetus to stay and work there was tied to an immediate gratification that outweighed any pipe dream for national/international success.

At any rate. I didn’t go there, so my remarks are as questionable as anything–in this instance I’m talking from a wildly speculative and likely trespassing place. But the point is, I found this really interesting essay on AS220’s site and I wanted to post a section of it here. Here is the link to the page where you can read the essay Compost and the Arts in its entirety. I would highly recommend it.

COMPOST AND THE ARTS

by Umberto Crenca, Meagen Grundberg, Megan Hall, J Hogue, Matt Obert, Rachel Pleasants & Tom Sgouros

In each of these cases, we readily remember the few at the pinnacle of their profession,  but few beside the devotees remember the names of all the others, despite the fact that all of the artists named above have work in major museums, and all the composers are ones  whose works are still regularly played by choruses and orchestras around the world. This quirk of historical memory is easy to understand—there’s only so much we can remember.  Unfortunately, the quirk leads us to forget that every pinnacle has a mountain underneath it.  Mozart was a genius, it is true, but he was a genius born into a milieu that was remarkably  fertile ground for composers and musicians. Claude Monet was an original eye, but his eye learned from his friends and fellow rebels against the Salon painters. And whatever you  think about it, Jackson Pollock’s work wouldn’t have made the impact it had on America
had it not been for the ferment of the artists and critics who were working in the same place and time.

Arts policy in America is predicated on the search for the next genius: competitive grants  and fellowships are the rule of the day, where a large number of artists compete for a small  number of opportunities. Certainly there was competition in eighteenth-century Vienna. Not  everyone could become a composer patronized by the Emperor, or the concertmaster at the  Esterhazy palace. But those who didn’t could go work in the only slightly smaller musical
establishments of the Trautmannsdorfs, Lobkowitzes, Liechtensteins and their friends, or at one of the dozens of choruses and ensembles at churches and theatres all over the city and surrounding area. The environment provided the demand (and the means) to support a fantastic flowering of talent, much of which is still heard more than two hundred years later. Looking back, and trying to explain the phenomenon of Viennese music, it seem that it was  due to more than just the selective munificence of the royal court and the aristocracy. It seems as likely that the large number of available venues and the supportive audience for new and interesting music were at least as important. At the distance of two hundred years, the point can only be debated, not settled. However, over the past couple of decades, we have been watching the arts in Providence, Rhode Island, and we have the following observations to offer.

❦ ❦ ❦

In the early 1990’s, a group of artists, looking for cheap, flexible space in which to live and work, began living in an industrial mill building in the Olneyville section of Providence. Dubbing it “Fort Thunder,” the artists there lived all over the building, and worked there, too. There was a shared kitchen, a shared silkscreen studio and a large flexible performance area for anything from film nights to costumed wrestling, rock concerts to puppet shows. Around the corner from the performance space, there was “Cafe Intelligentsia” (a comic/zine library with an antique espresso machine), and in the very back there was a rehearsal space—filled with exotic noisemakers and encouraged by the lack of neighbors to complain about the noise in this remote industrial area of the city.

The artists who made up the Fort Thunder community supported one another not only by sharing resources (apartments, studios, food) but by showing up for each other’s performances and applauding or criticizing, buying or bartering for posters, comics, zines and recordings, and by collaborating on larger projects. Fort Thunder provided fertile soil in which these musicians, graphic designers and installation artists could grow. Indeed, the
metaphor of a “compost heap” easily suggested itself to visitors greeted by rooms filled with bicycle parts, toys stuck to the walls and ceiling, and a communal kitchen often stocked with free food from local dumpsters.
To the surprise of only those who hadn’t been paying attention, Fort Thunder was catapulted to international acclaim when Forcefield, a four-person collective working there, was invited to create an installation for the 2002 Whitney Biennial. The installation was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, and Forcefield made the cover of the November 2002 Artforum and also contributed a “Top Ten” list to their summer 2002 issue. Another Fort Thunder group, the Drum/bass duo Lightning Bolt has enjoyed fame among the underground music scene for several years. The band has toured in Asia and Europe, as well as the US, and has their own DVD called “The Power of Salad.” In April of 2004 the group entered into a new realm of notoriety when it recorded a “Peel Session” with John Peel of the BBC.
Not only did Fort Thunder foster the individual success of groups like Lightning Bolt and Force Field, but—before it was leveled in 2002 to make way for a shopping center—the space itself soon earned its own critical acclaim. What began as a place for a group of local artists to live and work soon became a music venue for bands from all over the world. Musicians came both to perform and to sit in the audience of the various shows that took place at Fort Thunder. In November of 2003, The Comics Journal devoted an entire issue to the artistic work of Fort Thunder residents and noted that the Fort was “important not just for the sum total of its considerable artists but for its collective impact and its value as a symbol of unfettered artistic expression.” Even the physical space at Fort Thunder achieved national attention in summer of 2001 when the architectural publication Nest Magazine featured photographs and descriptions of the building.

Other links:

Double Negative Magazine

The Comics Journal

Metafilter

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posted by caroline picard

Philip von Zweck tonight: GODBLESSAMERICA
14: Manifest your destiny. Four hours of radio live on WLUW FM 88.7 Chicago (wluw.org) 10pm cst. Whales, Oil Spills, and America. featuring the talents of John Wanzel, Caroline Picard and Devin King, Carter Todd, Salem Collo-Julin, Red Jerry, Eric Humphrey, James Barry, Dan Peterman, Brian Taylor and many more.

posted by caroline picard

Lately I’ve been getting some story submissions in my inbox. Often they appear like small and unexpected gifts–little windows into other worlds. In any case, what follows is one such story. Thanks for the story, Jim!

A little bit about Jim Hays: “I was born in 1933 and raised in the deep, back woods of East Texas in a one room shack. We had no electricity, running water, television, radio, electronic games nor air conditioning. In fact we had never heard of those things. I graduated from High school in 1950 and after working one year in Dallas, I joined the Air Force and became a gunner on a B-29 and flew 23 combat missions over North Korea. Shortly after returning to the U.S I married my sweetheart whom I met while stationed at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio. In 1960 I Joined the Univac Division of Sperry Rand as an electronics technician. There I met and worked with some of the early computer pioneers including J. Presper Eckert one of the inventors of ENIAC, the first electronic computers. I later got in sales and eventually became the Southwest Regional Federal Government marketing manager for Univac. I’m still married to the same woman and we have three children, ten grandchildren and three great grandchildren. I started writing as a hobby after retiring from the computer business. I’ve won a few awards for poetry and have sold a couple of short stories (humor).”

FAR AWAY FIELDS

JIM HAYS

Oh, America, in the quiet of night,
I f we listen with our hearts,
we can hear doleful sounds
of dying men, their souls wandering
o’er far away fields, in Vietnam.
They are our sons, crying to be heard,
who lived and fought and died for us.
No braver men lived or suffered more.
They died as hard as anyone
at Shiloh or Argonne or Normandy.
They hover over us now.
They hover over our troops
who fight America’s battles,
on lonely fields in strange places…
and die… for us.
Oh, America, hear them… hear them…
Feel their pain… the betrayal,
the barbs from hateful tongues,
hurt worse than wounds from guns.
Oh tortured souls, forgive us… Forgive us…Glory and Fame
“Hide! Hide! It’s a Jap Zero!” Bobby Joe’s voice was shrill and excited. This was the first enemy fighter we had seen in almost a week.

“No! It’s a Messerschmitt! We’re fightin Germans this week,” I said, as we hid between rows of tall cotton. Peeking upward through the colorful blossoms, we aimed and fired our broomstick machine guns at the intruder, making the appropriate staccato sounds.

“I got ’im. I got ’im,” Bobby Joe said.

“Naw,” I said, “I got ’im.”

“Ya’ll are both wrong, idiots,” came a voice from out of nowhere. “You both missed! And ya’ll sounded more like sheep bleatin than machine guns. And it ain’t a German or Jap plane. It’s an AT6 trainer from that British flying school at Terrell.” (When World War II started, British Royal Air Force (RAF) officials decided to train aircrews outside of England. Their first such school was located in nearby Terrell, Texas.)

The voice was Walter, Bobby’s fourteen year old, know it all brother, whom we both despised. He constantly teased and harassed us and hid our machine guns. But we didn’t care what Walter said! We had fought bravely in the European and Pacific theaters and were highly decorated war heroes. We had won Medals of Honor, Silver Stars and many lesser medals. Bobby even got a purple heart, after stepping on a barbed wire land mine. (We were two of a very few soldiers brave and tough enough to fight bare footed!) The famous war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, had crawled under heavy machine gun fire to our fox hole to interview us. Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur frequently called on us for advice, when preparing invasions. We were also highly skilled fighter pilots and had become aces, having shot down Messerschmitts, Fokkers and Zeroes.

When the war first started, it was very scary for America. The Allies were on the defensive and many Americans fully expected an invasion, or at least bomber attacks, on the mainland. Fortunately, that never happened. By 1943 the war had begun to turn in our favor and all sorts of heroes were being hailed. Bobby and I both had older brothers in the war, and though our families were always worried about them, we were excited and very proud of them. To all of us, but particularly to the younger ones, they were great heroes whose lives were filled with adventure, glory and fame, good lures for young men.

After the Korean War started, and when Bobby Joe turned eighteen, he didn’t hesitate, he joined the Army. When I turned eighteen, the same lure cast its spell over me and I followed Bobby into the military. But instead of the army, my lure was the Air Force. I kept thinking about the airplanes we used to shoot down and the fun those pilots were having up there.

Sadly, a couple of months later, Bobby Joe’s quest for fame and glory ended up much differently than did mine. While I’m in gunnery training in Colorado, snug and safe, Bobby Joe sits shivering in his tent, on a faraway hill, in that little country of Korea. It’s a bitter, cold night. He’s thinking about his mom and his family and misses them terribly. The glamour of war has faded and he wishes with all his heart to be at home tearing into one of his mom’s delicious meals. Visions of a platter of her fried chicken, a big bowl of mashed potatoes and a plate of homemade biscuits almost overwhelm him. He’s a man now, but deep inside him is a little boy crying. On the outside, he manages somehow to contain his disconsolation.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a brilliant, white flare bursts a few hundred feet overhead. The bright glare snatches away the cloak of night, exposing him and his fellow soldiers to the eyes of their foe. He scurries to the nearest bunker and huddles there, shaken by a deep, scarring fear, and awaits what he knows is coming. A moment later the horizon glows and explodes in wrenching fury. Terror stomps in on angry feet, as fiery tongues of long guns lash out to devour their prey. Deafening voices of destruction shout down the shocked air and frightened earth trembles. The terrible onslaught grinds men, machines and weapons into the earth’s bleeding soil. Red robes of fire wrap the hill in their burning folds and furious winds, born from the fire, lift clouds of debris. Sharp shards of metal and dirt and parts of people shower the earth. All night through the hill is pounded by round after round, from land and sea and air. The ground sobs in awful convulsions as the doorway of Hell opens. Blow after blow of shot and shell tear at nerve and flesh and steel. The stench of sulfur and dust and burning flesh is overpowering. Then, as quickly as it started, the thunder fades into distant hills and bursting shells now fall on other fields.
Dawn creeps in, hesitating, through a dirty fog. Death hangs in the now still air and a strange quietness captures the morning. Bobby Joe lies on his back in the mud, holding his intestines in his hands. He stares with vacant eyes into the early dawn, the shock of dying still written on his boyish face. His last words, now in past worlds, were the same as his first. “Mommy… Mommy..”

The skating rink was humming. There were a number of GIs there, with both the Army and Air Force well represented. That was not surprising, since San Antonio had several Army and Air Force bases in the area. Andy and I skated around talking and keeping our eyes out for females whom we would like to meet. As I was lumbering along on creaky, rented skates, I saw an absolutely stunning angel with long dark curly hair, beautiful figure and hypnotic green eyes, glide by on silken wings. I was spellbound. I marveled at her grace and beauty. Was this the intersection of space and time where my life would really begin? Was this magnificent creation, this gift from God meant for me? I thought she noticed me, but wasn’t sure. I became so intent on watching her that I ran into some poor soul who happened to be in front of me. I made some weak apology, not even noticing if the person was male or female. My eyes would not leave that beautiful being whom I knew that I had to meet. My brain was saying, “She’s out of your league,” but my heart was not listening. I just knew that she would some day be my wife.

The heavens’ starry calm, which God had so beautifully crafted, was shattered by a man made hell of exploding bombs, bullets and a burning plane that began to rain fire onto the tortured earth below. The flak, the red tracers, the explosions, the aircraft breaking up and the flaming pieces falling, seemed to take forever. It was as though the raining fire was never going to end. I watched in horrified shock. One of the worst chambers of hell is that one in which a person has to sit and watch his friends falling in flames and feeling guilty for being glad it was not him. I felt terribly alone and empty. My heart went out for that crew, but I was glad it was not the Babe that was helplessly plummeting to earth in fiery fragments. How does one handle sorrow and euphoria at the same time? Once again I felt a consuming emptiness, a crushing, oppressive loneliness that seemed to suffocate my very soul. That scene, along with the helpless feeling it provoked, became a recurring nightmare for me. For years afterward I had nightmares of planes crashing, while I stood by helplessly watching, knowing people inside were dying.
While at Fairchild, something else happened to me that came as a total surprise. I so loved Ann, that I felt that there was no way that could happen again. But it did! There at Fairchild Air Force Base, I fell in love with someone else. It happened a short time before I was scheduled to leave the Air Force. She was someone whom I met at Fairchild and she had quite an impact on me. Even Ann, who got to see her, understood how I could fall for her. She was warm and vibrant with gorgeous dark eyes and soft, smooth skin. Simply put, she was very beautiful, even if somewhat conceited and demanding. Nevertheless, I was hooked. I could not keep my eyes off her nor stay away from her. This was something new and serious, but Ann and I had a very good relationship and even though the situation did cause quite a few problems, we managed to work it out amicably. We stayed together and even brought my new love into our home. But what else could we do? The young lady
was so fetching and persuasive, that we decided to keep her for the next eighteen or so years, or until she finished her education. Not surprising, she was just the first of a long line of loves for Ann and I.

posted by Caroline Picard

I came across this video this morning. Amazing, I think. I especially like the line “And the tumbleweed moved back in,” although on a less superficial tip, it reveals certain bias about Native Americans–an historical and unforgiving perspective wherein the narrator is assured of his own superiority–what is particularly obvious when he begins to describe the “Modern Navajo,” glossing over the bloody history that stands between that Modern incarnation (who is portrayed as shaving, in addition to adopting other white customs) and the vision of the Navajo horse rustler that the film begins with.

The other thing that I find interesting about this film is the non-narrated narrative that occurs between the scenes portrayed. The first shows the Navajo on horse back, the second shows a couple cowboys with their horses in the canyon. The Navajo descend upon the cowboys and take their horses. That portrait is indiciative of the “Wild West.” The next scenes cuts to wagons and gold panning settlements, the next to the bank teller and the weighing of gold. To me, it almost suggests that the stealing of land from it’s pre-settler state leads directly to gold–what speaks to the idos of that kind of America narrative, i.e. come and take what you need and you will be rich. Supporting that theme, there is the gold miner at the end who casts a rock aside with disppointment, only to find within it gold gold gold!

In other words: America is ridiculous. A laughable, Haw-ing simpleton obsessed with the idea of SPACE.

Walt Whitman’s voice

October 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Sarno

 

Exactly two seconds after they invented the tape recorder, they called Walt Whitman into the room and asked him to say something. So he read his poem “America.” This is the result.