Transhuman Dance Recital

March 13, 2009

by Meredith Kooi

Humans vs nature vs technology vs New Order?

Transhuman Dance Recital #1 (2007) by Jeremy Bailey

I originally found this video on from youtube, but the quality is much better on Bailey’s website.

He has “freed himself from the restraints of the natural world.”

Bear Deluxe: #28

March 10, 2009

Review of the Bear Deluxe:  #28 the contemporary art issue

by Meredith Kooi

The Bear Deluxe Magazine is the quarterly publication of of Portland, OR non-profit, Orlo.  The issue in review – #28 – is the contemporary art issue.  Orlo’s mission is to explore environmental issues through the creative arts, and the art work and conversation presented in the magazine is thus environmentally-focused.

First of all, the magazine’s design is really beautiful.  The layout is interesting and fun and filled with color images.  It is no wonder that The Bear wins design awards so often, including Print magazine’s Regional Design Annual Certificate of Design Excellence for 2008, 2005, 2004, 2003, and 2002.

Accompanying this issue is Orlo’s blog “Landscape and Canvas” that tracks the development of the contemporary art issue and also serves as a virtual interview space with Stephanie Smith – director of collections and exhibitions and curator of contemporary art at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.  The interview is featured in the print issue.  The conversation revolves around the theme of place, Smith’s exhibition Beyond Green:  Toward a Sustainable Art at the Ronna and Eric Hoffman Contemporary Art Gallery at Lewis and Clark College, the involvement of the audience or viewer, and the problems of defining art that finds its voice through or talks about in some way the environment – should it be called “sustainable art,” “place-based,” “environmental art,” or “eco-art?”  Smith answers that she refers to this art practice as “sustainable” because it lends itself to more than just issues surrounding the physical environment.

I enjoyed many of the projects presented in issue #28.  I really was into the collaboration Maslen + Mehra’s Mirrored and Native series.  For these series, they produce silhouettes of animals and people with mirrors and place them within either urban (the animals – Native series) or natural (the humans – Mirrored series) environments.  They then document these interventions with photographs.  The photographs seem to be digital manipulations, but they are not.  The images depict the juxtapositions and reflections of the particular environment on the mirror animal or human.  The series points out the interconnectedness of the subjects and environments; each is affected by the other.

To get The Bear Deluxe magazine you can order a subscription for $20 for 4 issues or you can become a member of Orlo and included is a subscription.  Also, you should be able to find it here in Chicago for free at Quimby’s!  For more info and back issues, visit the website:

The Bear Deluxe Magazine
Published by Orlo
2516 NW 29th #9 (street)
P.O. Box 10342 (post)
Portland, OR 97296

written by Meredith Kooi

I visited the Krannert Art Museum originally to see the exhibition Polaroids and Portraits:  A Photographic Legacy of Andy Warhol, but I was more impressed with two of the other exhibitions there – Jean Luc Mylayne and Audubon at Illinois:  Selections from the University Library’s Birds of America.

Since 1976, Jean Luc Mylayne and his wife / co-collaborator, Myléne, have been following and photographing birds.  This exhibition features his work from his and his wife’s travels from 2004 through the present in the Fort Davis, Texas area.  The photographs are huge – 4 by 5 feet.  The colors are vibrant and the multiple focal points are interesting and captivating.  Though the subjects of the photographs may be birds, Mylayne is not a wildlife photographer and the birds do not always occupy much of the composition – sometimes you have to actually look for the bird because you know that it has to be there.  His photographs are not just point-and-click, capturing a bird’s flight for moment in time.  They are carefully planned compositions, using a large format camera with a combination of different lenses to create the multiple focal points.

My favorites were No. 300 March April 2005; No. 368, February March 2006; No. 334 April May 2005; No. 335 April May 2005; and No. 336 April May 2005.

In the next gallery space, I was happy to find the Audubon at Illinois exhibition.  This exhibition features John James Audubon’s illustrations of birds in North America. Unlike Mylayne, Audubon was a naturalist and a wildlife illustrator, as per the fact that his Illustrations are scientifically correct.  However, he adds something to the drawings so that the viewer can really feel the bird and not just see it.

I liked the juxtaposition of the two “bird” exhibitions.  Mylayne is not Audubon’s contemporary, but it was nice seeing their work near each other.  Each has an intimate and unique relationship with the birds, and it is apparent in their visual representations of them.  Mylayne focuses on the landscape and the bird’s place within it.  He lives in a landscape for a long period for the birds to become used to him – then he takes the photograph.  Audubon, on the other hand, uses specimens to greater study and understand their nature – then he draws them.  Both place themselves and the viewer within the experience of birds.

Jean Luc Mylayne
January 30 – April 5, 2009

Audubon at Illinois:  Selections from the University Library’s Birds of America
January 30 – May 24, 2009

Both at the Krannert Art Musem at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Pictured are No. 334 April May 2005; No. 335 April May 2005; and No. 336 April May 2005.


We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families:

Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

written by Meredith Kooi


“There is a novel,” he went on. “The book is Wuthering Heights. You get me? This is my larger theory. It doesn’t matter if you are white or yellow or green or a black African Negro. The concept is Homo sapiens. The European is at an advanced technological state, and the African is at a stage of technology that is more primitive. But all humanity must unite together in the struggle against nature. This is the principle of Wuthering Heights. This is the mission of Homo sapiens. Do you agree?”

I said, “I hear you.”

“Humanity’s struggle to conquer nature, the pygmy said fondly. “It is the only hope. It is the only way for peace and reconciliation—all humanity one against nature.”

He sat back in his chair, with his arms crossed over his chest, and went silent.

After a while, I said, “But humanity is a part of nature, too.”

“Exactly,” the pygmy said. “This is exactly the problem.”

Genocide. Extinction. Death. All truths. Where is the hope? Where does the tragedy end? When does the fear cease?

I found myself taking tickets (wearing a monkey mask!) for Deke Weaver’s Prehensile Tales Monkey this past weekend at The Station Theatre in Urbana. The opening of the performance coincides with Darwin’s 200th birthday, so it seems almost natural to talk about monkeys. The performance, with choreographer Jennifer Allen is an intermingling of video, sound, and different stories and narratives all told by Deke.

He opens the performance with extinct monkeys. He writes on chalkboards the names of monkeys, and erases, with the chime of a bell, the ones that have become extinct. He presents a powerpoint slideshow of monkeys, telling stories that seem to describe their experience. He tells us about monkey traps, adding that we need to “Open your hand. Let the treasure go. You can’t have everything.” (What does this mean? You can’t have everything? What is everything?)

Deke tells us more stories. Stories of ancient monkey armies. Stories of genocide – the Lost Boys of Sudan. He tells us a story of a woman searching for orangutans and peace. Then, of her husband, a traveling sales man waiting at the airport, arriving home, and seeing her, his wife. Deke takes us through time and space, interweaving stories that, at first, seem completely unrelated. We find later on that they are all narratives of struggle, of genocide, of extinction, and then of hope.

His stories remind me of the We wish to inform you – an intermingling of stories of struggle, genocide, extinction, and a smidgen of hope. Where is the struggle? Is it really us against nature like the pygmy in the book says? Or is it a struggle against ourselves? Is it a struggle against both?


February 5, 2009

written by Meredith Kooi

Modification or, rather, – 1. an act or instance of modifying, 2. the state of being modified; partial alteration, 3. a modified form; variety, 4. Biology. a change in a living organism acquired from its own activity or environment and not transmitted to its descendents, 5. limitation or qualification

It seems that we can modify almost anything, and we do:  our food, our bodies, our genes… However, we do not tend to foresee the unintended consequences of these modifications, or manipulations.  What does it really mean to modify?  What are the implications of intervening in natural processes like DNA formation and reproduction?

In recent news, Obama, as promised, is going to help “restore science to its rightful place” including the lifting of the ban on stem cell research. Read an article about it here.  This issue – harvesting stem cells from unused in vitro embryos or aborted fetuses – is extremely controversial.  The Bush administration was firmly against enlarging this research even with the urgings of Nobel Laureates.  The debate is hot; the moral implications are many.  It also brings forth questions of progress.  Do we need to manipulate our own body environments in order to progress further?

Adam Zaretsky writes and makes work about issues of biotechnology.  His paper “The Art of Germline Mutagenesis” talks about embryonic stem cells specifically.  He discusses our want of changing our genetic make-up.  He quotes James Watson as saying “And the other thing, because no one really has the guts to say it… I mean, if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we do it?”  He also attempts to “sculpt” life by performing microsurgeries.  He attempted to create “fashionable, ‘Mosaic Brut’ designer zebrafish by removing the head off of one fish’s embryo and attaching it onto another’s embryo, creating a double-headed zebrafish. He claims “Science is a subset of Art,” and so this exercise was meant to be an exploration into the unknown – how nature forms bodies.  He attempts to investigate how and why we form the way we do.

We have to ask, if we can determine how we are formed and change the formation:  What would make a better human?  One that can see better?  Or hear better?  Or run faster?  Or has a more symmetrical face?  Or someone who maybe doesn’t produce any body odor?  It is not only the nature outside of our own bodies that we are trying to conquer – it is also our own.


posted by Caroline Picard; Transcribed by Meredith Kooi.
As you may or may not know, we are huge fans of one Mr. Henry Darger – hard ‘g’ or not. Not so recently, a a dear friend sent me a copy of a book of essays by John D’Agata, entitled “Halls of Fame.” It’s well worth the read, and I’d highly recommend it. Put out by GrayWolf Press in 2001, you can find more  information about it here. Also, we put out an issue of Paper & Carriage last year that featured Henry  Darger, including some of his writings, the writings of others inspired by him and a collection of incredible  mages, largely contemporary, from the show “Dargerisms” curated Brooke Anderson of the Folk Art Museum in New York. In any case, here is a great essay of the same ilk. Something good for Saturday Winter-Doldrums.


Collage History of Art by Henry Darger

written by John D’Agata

PACK:  SOMETHING WITH WHICH TO SEE.  Bring trousers as well for the vegetation is thick.  Sometimes storms, so a poncho would be smart.  Also, war:  in which case follow the instructions of your guide.  A box lunch is provided.  Do not drink the water.  Please note the schedule of the moon’s fall and rise as detailed on the back of your itinerary, enclosed.  Memorize this.  It will be your best friend.  It will be on the test.  It will be in your best interest to carry wrapped gifts for our hosts—men, women, children, parents, long-lost friends, sleek-winged beasts—but do not, under any circumstances, carry cash on your person.  Cameras may be cumbersome but by all means sketch.  Ready?  Questions?  Not now.  Go!


HE COMMENCED THE LONG STRUGGLE not to express what he could see, but not to express the things he did not see, that is to say the things everybody is certain of seeing but which they do not really see.


SHE REMEMBERS IT WAS A SATURDAY but can’t remember day or night.  The window in Henry’s room was covered with tinfoil and the wallpaper was hidden beneath several hundred faces.  She remembers taking a step closer to see exactly whose:  girls.  Photographs, drawings, cartoons, and stills, from newspapers, magazines, dress patterns, lunch pails.  She took a step back.  All their eyes were X-ed.  I didn’t know if this was a joke or what, she says.  Against the wall lay piles and stacks, bundles and bags, trunks and crates and a cage.  I found things in there that I lost years ago, the landlady recalls as we walk through the room.  Things that smelled rotten, things that looked rare.  Henry’s landlady found boxes full of icons from religions she’d never heard of, photographic negatives filed and cross-filed, mounds of wax crayons worn down to a nub.  On a large metal folding table in the middle of the room was a collection of arms, legs, and heads drawn onto heavy pink butcher’s paper.  The tin ceiling had been painted black and the floor dusted with pencils.  There was a chair with a blanket on it, another chair beside that.  And against the far wall was a long and narrow bed, covered with what looked like brightly colored children’s sheets.  She looked closer:  they were paintings.  She stepped back:  they were landscapes.  Beneath the bed in eight neat stacks were the notebooks she had given Henry every year for Christmas.  Closer:  forty years’ worth.  Closer still:  all filled.  Closely reading some of them over the next few days, Henry’s landlady realized that they were novels, memoirs, histories, prophecies—a hoard of 21,000 pages all type-written and indexed.  Over the next few years the paintings and writings would be visited by scholars, psychologists, and curators, all of whom agreed that the landlady’s eighty-year-old tenant who had washed dishes for a living and never spoken a word to her—not of art, not of anything—had left behind the largest collection of outsider art ever created by an American.


HERE’S WHAT I KNOW:  Born H. Joseph Darger on April 12, 1892, his father is a tailor, his mother a housewife, and together they lived in a small house at 350 Twenty-fourth Street, Chicago.  He is the only child.  Later that year, sometime in September, Henry is born to an unwed seamstress in the city of Cologne, Germany.  The following year:  Brazil.  Henry’s given South American name is Dargurius.  1896:  due to complications during labor, Henry’s mother and infant sister both die at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, Chicago.  The infant is immediately given up for adoption.  She comes home in a basket.  Enjoys piano and dance.  Henry himself is sent to an orphanage.  He is sent to an asylum.  He experiences a period of unrecorded years.  1896-1900:  the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children houses the nation’s “most violently deformed and retarded patients under the age of seventeen,” according to a 1901 House Committee Report on Children.  Number of beds for 1,562:  900.  Henry is there because his father is dead.  Because his father is tired.  Because Henry was caught setting a warehouse fire in which several hundred dollars worth of prized rabbits were killed.  Why is Henry there?  “Little Henry’s heart is not in the right place,” according to patient evaluation, 1905.  1906:  “Masturbation.”  Henry runs away:  1908.  Number of attempts preceding escape:  eight.  Employer number one:  Alexian Brothers Hospital.  Education:  none.  Apparent source of Henry’s encyclopedic knowledge of the American Civil War as displayed to his coworkers in the hospital’s gray wards: .  Henry begins writing, in 1911, the story known to you as “The Realms of the Unreal.”  Full title:  The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.  Plot:  good vs. evil.  Fuller plot:  war ravages the planet Abbiennia on which a good Christian child-nation is enslaved by haughty men, thus inspiring seven immortal, identical, curlicued blond sisters to rally the good children against the bad men until terrible bloodshed (number of men “killed” during battle:  63,821; number “mortally wounded”:  63,973,868 ) persuades the men to surrender to the sisters and ultimately convert.  Abbiennia’s blue moon is Earth.


“HENRY ON THE STAIRS” IS A PHOTO you’ve probably seen.  It depicts the artist as a lonely, scary old man.  Unshaven, unwashed, unaware of why we’ve come to stare, he’s been somewhere so sad for so long that his eyes, God help him, cannot look up.  But earlier than this, in 1910, Henry makes a photograph at the Midway with a friend.  He and the boy each pay eleven cents, then climb up a platform before a makeshift set.  The object of the photograph, according to the backdrop, is for the young men to pretend that they are at a ball.  The huge scrim sinks behind them toward a party.  Above their two heads a chandelier is abloom.  Henry’s young friend sits cross-legged, hatless, staring us down.  He’s taken off his overcoat, rolled up his sleeves.  He’s about to reach out and take us for a spin, maybe even ask if we have a cousin for his friend.  Henry, meanwhile, looks past the camera’s lens.  Not behind it, but beyond.  Past the little machinery of make-believe surrounding him, off into the afternoon faces gathered round, the people standing by who are watching as they wait, eagerly anticipating their own turns at pretend.  Henry, at this time, is new to “pretend.”  He’s eighteen years old and has just escaped from an asylum.  His expression, in this photograph, is one of pure shock—his eyes and mouth and whole face agog—as if he’s caught the whole world in the midst of doing wrong.


THERE WAS A GARBAGE STRIKE, a mob war, a great, long Depression.  There were things piling up on Chicago’s streets as if the city had orphaned them.  Henry could be seen on the sidewalks in the ‘30s pulling dolls out from trash heaps, tiny leather shoes, any magazine in which girls appeared in ads.  He even tore the horsehair from an old chaise lounge.  He took newspaper clippings of children lost in fires, rusty metal toys, spools of ribbon frayed, comic books, candy wrappers, stout pink bodies of Pepto Bismol bottles.  Henry clipped a photograph of a little girl from the Daily News.  The headline above it was just one word:  GONE! According to Henry Darger, everything could be saved.  He kept a list.  It grew.  Literature originated on clay desert rolls that itemized sheep, wheat, debt; that unraveled into praise for the wealthiest landowner, into law and writs, into myths about chaotic pasts when nothing cohered, made no sense, hadn’t ever heard of a thing called list.  Beside the 15,000-paged, typed-and-single-spaced, hand-bound-and-illustrated list of Henry’s world, there were 753 wound balls of twine and fishline and rubber bands and thread that were found in his apartment after Henry was dead.  He searched for knotted string in the garbage heaps he scavenged, practiced untangling all of their kinks, tied the pieces together, rolled them into balls.


IN THEIR SLEEP, HENRY WROTE, “which lasted only a few hours without interruption, that had a long and beautiful dream.  This was their dream.  They had been put into a very large cell, where they wandered around for a very long while, when finally they grew very tired, and sat down on the hard stone floor, just ready to cry, when all at once, a dear child of unearthly beauty, appeared before them, and asked what was the trouble, and why they were about to cry, so they told the celestial child all about it, and she said, Never you mind, we will take good care of you.  Don’t be afraid.  There is a golden carriage waiting in the street for you.  I’ll take you to it, and then I’ll go ahead, and see that supper is ready.”


ONE MUST HAVE A GOOD MEMORY to keep the promises one makes.  Art, for example, originally emerged out of the need for good hunts, strong offspring, safe journeys through death.  Art allowed the earliest humans to represent things they couldn’t have, hoped to have, had too much of to carry.  “Modeling,” scholars call it, the fundamental element of which is the copy.  Henry, who was classified retarded and never formally taught, knew as little about art as the earliest humans.  Collage is the slowest route between two points.


ONE DAY HE HEARD A VOICE WONDERING, What if.  She was sitting on a tuffet, eating curds and whey.  Then along came a spider—which Henry erased.


HE WORE A LONG TRENCH COAT, grew a long beard, added small penises to every naked girl.  I paint with my prick, Renoir once said.  At first this is the most striking element in Henry Darger’s art:  that boys don’t exist, and yet the girls all lack vaginas.  No place of origin, no real womb.  Where did Henry come from?  In one painting there is an odalisque in recline in a garden.  Flowers all around her are fecund and rotting, producing blooms so fast and so large that nobody bothers to pick them.  Instead, the girls in the background, the foreground, all around the woman, play amidst the odalisque’s seduction of the garden completely oblivious, as if her long stretch of mounds across the landscape were the very hills they run up and down.  Long trains of girls with outstretched arms carry beach balls, giant strawberries, hats blown off their heads.  Some of the girls carry nothing at all but whatever they can see in the distances ahead.  Henry Darger’s paintings burst like blooms from thin air.  He never studied art—was never shown art—which is why Henry’s girls all look like paper dolls.  He cut them out of magazines, then glued them onto landscapes.  So often repeated, their origins are moot.  Yet where he wants to take his girls is the real question unfolding in all of our laps.  Unfolding like a rhyme that Henry keeps repeating.  Unrolling like syntax in the midst of translation.  It is with my brush that I make love, is also a version of Renoir said.


PROPHETS OF NATURE, WE TO THEM WILL SPEAK a lasting inspiration, sanctified by reason, blest by faith:  what we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.


CUMULUS, NOW.  THE BLOSSOMING, puffed, low-lying kind.  They sweep across the landscape like girls having fun.  In his paintings we can see precipitation—but only some.  There is just enough for a rainbow.  And over there, light drizzle.  It falls so lightly, with so subtle a plop, that we look up to see it, hold our hands out to catch it…but then decide we like it, so why bother trying to prove it?  In the distance is some lightning, calligraphy on hills.  And above the mountain distances are blue skies embracing clouds in full view.  If his paintings had windows we could point to what we feel.  If Henry’s paintings were a window, would we agree on what we feel?  Am I the only one, for example, who sees Shirley Temple?  Little Miss Muffet?  The Campbell’s Soup Kids?  Henry Darger’s paintings feel like something clogged in clouds:  not childhood exactly, but the skies that hung above.


COULD THE FLAP OF A BUTTERFLY’S WINGS in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?


WHEN YOU’RE ALL ALONE everything belongs to you.  All the good and bad.  Every yes and no.  Whether to kill that little girl, or not.  It was sometime in his late twenties, Henry tells us in his journal, when he lost the newspaper clipping of the girl from the Daily News.  He prayed to God to return it, but God never did.  Soon, war hung down around him from the towering piles of garbage that he had rescued from the streets.  He hung his head over his notebook on the table and roared down at the girls who were playing in his trees. In some of his paintings:  notice running.  The black clouds hovering.  Purple shade down.  Yellow cracks severing the nano-strip of sky.  An angled craze of fleeing girls is set against a phalanx marching.  One soldier reaches and grabs an orphan by the throat.  Her green eyes wobble, and then they bulge.  One soldier spears an orphan in the spine.  Her eyes pop out, replaced by an X.  Eviscerations are happening at the feet of hills and trees.  Of Henry, of God.  The Coppertone baby has been left for dead, the Campbell’s Soup Kids are all running in a pack, Little Miss Muffett is crying, naked, scared.  As the children try to scatter the sky presses down, and the whole picture frame, likewise, spreads.


MILLIONS OF SOLDIERS ON BOTH SIDES howled at each other like demons, Henry wrote in volume seven of his novel The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, “striking at each other, pouring a murderous fire at point-blank range, cutting, stabbing, hacking, thrusting, and slashing like wild savages bent on whole-sale butchery, while amid all this was an indescribably tumult of bayonets adding to the riotous din, the Angelinian girls wavered in the furnace of the fire, staggered, broke and ran, but undaunted they regathered again in hundreds of human waves, plunging again into the mighty inferno of fire and smoke, whole gray lines roaring like a trillion cannon blazing like hell and its damnation, the Angelinian girls wavered again, fell back, rallied, swarmed upon the first line of works only to go down in scores of hundreds of thousands, a fourth time beaten back, rallied, swept to the assault, reached the first line of works in the face of the murderous canister and gripped the torn and tottered and bleeding line with their dead piled in windows, only to again rally and rush to the assault like a whirlwind, the tempests of canister and musketry fire withering their many waves, a sixth time they rallied sweeping within a hundred feet of the position, as far even as the second breastworks like a whirlwind of flaming flesh and steel pouring over the bodies of their dead and dying comrades in the face of a withering roar of artillery musketry that now seemed to stun even the heaven and the earth.”


WHEN DID YOU FIRST NOTICE something missing in the world?  Henry Darger died and was then brought to life.  When his paintings were discovered they were “mounted,” “framed,” and “hung.”  They were “lit.”  Look at the painting of Henry’s girls in a cave, huddled together beneath the red hard clay, and ask yourself why we bury what leaves.  Stalagmites fang around them.  The air is lacquered red.  Now the soldiers who pursued the girls have stopped to picnic on a knoll instead.  As long as the girls are out of sight, the girls are out of mind.  Once there was a woman from the Smithsonian Institution who flew to Chicago to buy Henry’s room.  Here is a detail:  she wanted all of Henry’s paintings, wanted all of Henry’s journals, wanted his novel that’s so long no one has read it, the very walls around everything, the ceiling above everything, the floor beneath everything, and copyright control.  She wanted her sound crew to fly up to Chicago, record several hours of interviews with Henry’s neighbors, and then loop their voices through his reconstructed room so museum-goers in Washington could walk through Henry’s life.  In the end, however, the deal fell through.  Oh, said the woman, when she entered Henry’s room—briefly seeing the Jesus shrine, the boarded window, the hundred some-odd drawings of little girls nude—then departed the same day for Washington.  The girls in his paintings have coiled far below the seeded world.  Past history, past art, into a vast cavern that’s nearly dark, where their bodies are descending into the sinking red light from polka-dotted dresses, to silhouetted shapes, to gone from our eyes like an opened-up grave.  Beginnings, Henry wrote, are hard.  He remembered his father first telling him this when he dropped the boy off in the driveway of his new home, the Lincoln Asylum for Feeble Minded Children.  Henry’s young mother and unborn sister had just died during a labor that lasted twenty-three hours.  Beginnings, Henry reasoned, don’t even exist.


HENRY’S GIRLS—GRANTED—are already dead, but imagine in his paintings that they are living instead.  Imagine, for example, how you would kill for art.  In order to illustrate his great bloody war, Henry knew he somehow had to gather dead girls.  But magazines in his day seldom published such illustrations.  This, then, is how Henry first learned about color.  Once cut out of magazines and pasted on the page, the girls were surrounded by washes singed with war:  black shattered glass, blue melted steel, orange rusted barbs, smoke poisoned red.  Henry filled in gaps as if the world would trip without him.  Are girls in a wagon in the middle of a war going out to play, or are they going to their graves?  Who is worthy to open the book and break the seals thereof?


VAN GOGH USED TO SWALLOW mouthfuls of dried paint.  Miró starved himself.  Dalí said he performed “autohypnotism” to create.  Meanwhile, however, in French mental wards, Adam Christie sculpted with broken glass and nails; Martin Bigsby sewed lacey dolls’ clothes from his skin; and when Aloise Carbaz lost her privileges to paint, she began to draw self-portraits with lily stamen instead.  In March 1945, while passing one day, Jean Dubuffet decided that art could happen anywhere if it could happen in sanatoria.  Art, he wrote, could be spontaneous, unprocessed, full blown brut, yet still recognizably artful if only we would look.  He began that fall to search for it in mental hospitals, prison yards, and soup-kitchen lines, and by 1948 over 5,000 works by 200 artists were gathered in an exhibition he called, “Compagnie de l’Art Brut.”  According to Freud’s theory of recapitulation, the development of psychosis in an individual brain follows the evolution of the whole human race.  God blew, Picasso said at the opening, and we were scattered.


NOW LET’S PLAY A GAME!  When the girls who look like they are picking flowers bend, think to yourself that they are really lifting stones.  When the girl mixing cake batter in a large bowl at her waist raises a spoon as if to stir, know that she holds a drumstick instead and is really in the midst of playing a snare.  And when the forest animals gather in the clearing to play, be honest with yourself:  they have come for the scraps of war.  This is the game that Henry likes to play:  a gray wash over everything familiar to make the seams around our memories fade.  The trees blown bare in the gunfire are gray.  The fence and its shadow—like a ladder on the river—gray.  Blood streams out of everyone gray.  As in the mud that’s made beneath them.  And the world that’s stuck around them.


MUSEUMS ARE LIKE THIS ROOM.  They’re not arguments and answers, not stories with a meaning, not hallways linking galleries and adding up to plot.  This is the place Henry lived in for forty years.  A tour group files through the room and stares at nothing but the mess.  Where did he sleep? they ask.  Oh, there’s the bed!  The landlady lifts plastic sheets off the two chairs and bed, the large table and crayons, the four wheel-less tricycles in a corner, red.  There are no more paintings in Henry Darger’s room, but there is still a mess.  There is still a stack of manuscripts that no one yet has read.  Still a search for a patron who’ll take this room off her hands.  A Henry Darger original averages 85 grand.  Once he is scattered around the world like crumbs, how will Henry Darger find his way back here?


DAY, IN 1913, WHEN HENRY WITNESSES a tornado destroy an entire Illinois town:  Easter.  When a handwritten draft of “The Realms” is completed:  1916.  When Henry is drafted:  1917.  When Henry is demobilized:  1918.  “The Realms” is type-written by 1922.  Number of single-spaced legal-sized pages:  15,145.  Volumes:  9.  Titles of other literary works of equal of greater length in the

world:  .  Number of pages occupied in “The Realms” by a single quotation from The Pilgrim’s Progress:  59.  Number of accompanying watercolor illustrations:  318.  Average painting’s length:  12 ½ feet.  Number of first-edition copies of Frank Baum’s Oz books:  7.  Moves to one-room Webster Street apartment in fashionable Lincoln Park.  1945:  registers of conscription.  Income, before taxes, 1963:  $1,216.32.  Year Henry begins to write autobiography:  1966.  Number of pages:  approximately 5,000.  Number of times, per day, Henry attends mass:  4.  Sometimes:  7.  Years Henry chronicles the local weather forecasts:  13.  How often do you do this:  he does this everyday.  When do you die:  1973.  Number of washed and dried Pepto Bismol bottles discovered inside Henry’s room as logged by the landlady on a clipboard she shows me:  “several large black plastic bags full.”  Number of black bags filled with twine:  6.  Number of broken eyeglasses, magazines, newspapers bundled up blocking the door; of broken toys, sewing patterns, record players, crucifixes, men’s shoes/ladie’s shoes/children’s shoes, plastic Jesus dashboard statues; typewriters, radios, ways to love a girl…How many bed linens, pillows, blankets do you have:  for weeks on end I imagine Henry simply couldn’t find his bed.


I’M SORRY IF I MISLED YOU into thinking this would be fun.  That a paragraph could stand in for Henry Darger’s room.  That this essay could be a gallery you could walk through on your own, that you could get to know Henry on a Sunday afternoon.  What I meant to say is that Henry never had any guests.  I didn’t mean to say apartment, but maybe stanza instead.


noun, singular, English:  poem

noun, singular, French:  stance

noun, singular, Italian:  room, chamber, stopping place


CHILDREN USUALLY INTER THEIR PARENTS, Herodotus wrote in the earliest History, but war violates this natural order, and causes parents to inter their children.  He is sitting there at his table with twelve feet of cave-black crayon covering his hands, trying to recall his father’s face in their night-pitched kitchen after candles ran out, before the war worries of money crept up between them both, before poor little Henry got buried in the past.  Henry was never taught about History in school, and so he never learned this word that’s wrapped around him:  interred.  He looks over at the bed where the first five volumes of his own war lie bound.  Does every life have a story?  Why am I alone?  He picks up volume one:  eleven feet of paintings bound tightly together by glue and wire and cardboard and thread and can’t remember for the life of him how this all began, nor why he even bothered, nor what should happen next.  Kneeling on the floor he lifts with both hands the front cover up.  Midway open the book scrapes plaster and photographs and crosses off the wall—then is jams against the ceiling.  His room is too small.


THAT WHICH IS GROWS; that which is not becomes.  If Henry had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his lifetime, he most likely would have encountered Dr. Walter A. Freeman, the best-known American psycho-surgeon of the day, and pioneer of the ingenious “ice-pick lobotomy.”  Between 1942 and 1952 alone, over 5,000 lobotomies in the U.S. were performed—one-third of them by Dr. Freeman.  “Much less intrusive than conventional surgery with a drill,” Dr. Freeman once explained to Time magazine, “my technique, with an ice pick, enters the brain subtly by way of the eye socket.”  Already, Time reported in 1945, scores of patients have been saved by Dr. Freeman’s technique.  But Henry, in his paintings, depicts giant winged dragons called Blengins saving girls.  Henry has known about Blengins all of his life.  They are ferocious creatures, but they love little girls.  And their sequined long tails hold a secret at the tip:  when pierced by one in the breast, a child becomes immortal.


HENRY WRAPPED A GIRL in pink butcher’s paper.  He carried her outside, around the corner, and into the local drugstore.  On the counter of the Photolab he unwrapped the little girl and asked the clerk to reproduce the drawing in five larger sizes and five smaller ones.  Henry has realized, finally, that he can trace instead of cut.  It is late in his life.  He has hundreds of samples of girls in his collection.  He knows that he will never be in search of friends again.  From that moment on any girl whom Henry peels off his wall will be exactly the right girl for the space he needs to fill.  He’ll trace parts of one girl onto bits of others—arms from someone waving, legs from someone leaning, a dress from Cinderella, wings from birds instead—and thus render all the life happening outside his room, outside in the hallway, outside in the trash, outside where our lives are ready for his taking, moot.  At the center of everything is a very small, black room; a heart, let’s say, beating in the darkness.


A CROWD IS NOT COMPANY, and faces are but a gallery, and talk a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.


WHEN HENRY DARGER DIED there was something blowing through the city.  A breeze hard to distinguish between the now and the then, making Henry’s life vanish into the rift therein.  Trains, for example, arrived on time and didn’t.  Trees continued shading Chicago as they grew.  The little girls on Henry’s walls traded dolls, dated jocks, raised their children, peddled Avon, posed off and on for advertising photos, felt tired under the lights, blew bangs from their eyes.  Upon Henry’s death, no word blew through the city.  No letters from pen pals were left behind when Henry died.  No family heirlooms were discovered in Henry’s room when he died.  No neighbors held gatherings on their front stoops to share, in memorium, anecdotes of Henry’s forty years on their hill.  No one even knew that Henry lived on that hill.  No obituary was written.  No wake sat through.  No grave.  No history.  No life.  What to do?  There is no history, Emerson said.  One biography.  In the absence of information then, maybe biographers feel the need to fill their own lives sometimes into history’s gaps—as if their own pasts could illustrate another’s private world.  But collage, as Henry wrote, is about collecting trash not dumping it.  A biographer may feel the urge to cut from his life divorce.  Past it into the essay.  Mean by that the war.  He may sprinkle in some casualties.  Stand back.  Wait.


I SPEND A LAYOVER IN CHICAGO in Henry’s small room.  At noon his landlady brings a white crusty sandwich and a red bowl of soup.  She asks how much longer I think I will be.  I like the privacy of Henry’s room with its foil-shaded window and black-painted ceiling and the eyes of his audience X-ed out with pencil.  I like anything leadened.  I like his paragraphs stacked, quotes amassed, blocks of prose boarding up the windows of his world.  I’d like to stay a few more hours if that’s alright, I say.  She thinks I’m a reporter.  How meticulous you’re being.  How thorough, she says.  By the time dusks starts dropping I’ve filled a small notebook, read through a few journals, skimmed two volumes of the novel, know exactly what to write.  It will all be about Henry’s wall of girls, about all their eyes.  The little windows Henry boarded before leaving our world.  Evening falls and there are no lamps to see by.  I stand and gather my pack of notes.  Zip up my coat.  Lift my bag onto my back.  Cars in the alley flip their headlights on.  They come into the room through two tears in the foil.  Driving up the ceiling, down the wall of girls.  One pair of eyes is caught briefly in the headlights.  She winks.  Or blinks.  Maybe I’m dreaming.  Then another pair shines as a car sweeps by.  Then more open, more shut.  The opposite wall is sighing.  I look closer:  it’s the lead.  I stand back:  it reflects.  They’re waking up.  They’re alive.  The girls are waiting for Henry.


COLLAGE IS MADE UP OF THE PIECES in the box that are left after following all directions very carefully.


IT IS ALSO IN THE ACCIDENT on Interstate 89.  In the shopping mall, in the family room, in the battlefield, in the stew.  In the library, in the ruins, in the championship fight.  In the rough draft, the rough cut, the rough-hewn night.  In vaudeville, newspapers, attics, trains, the Internet, entropy, rap-song sampling.  Collage occurred in the wondercabinets preceding all museums.  It happened when scrolls of aphorisms unraveled into essay.  When Henry walked past garbage and felt a jolt:  create! Surely the heart must break before it can begin to feel.


photo by Meredith Kooi

January 15, 2009

An introduction.

Human to environment. Environment to human.

A dichotomy.

by Meredith Kooi

I was watching the birds eat seed from a feeder today amongst the deep snow, clear skies, and negative numbers.  I wondered how the birds stay outside while I cannot even fathom being out there.  I stay inside and eat from the fridge while they remain outside eating in the frigid.  Its curious how the birds manage to keep their tiny bodies warm in these temperatures.

It is hard to think about global warming in temperatures like these.  It is easy to say that global warming cannot possibly exist when you are just so cold.  But, up north in the Arctic, the polar bears (link to are in crisis.  It is not just global warming, but global climate change that we need to think about.  How are we connected to the Arctic?  How is the Arctic connected to us?  So human, this is the environment.  And environment, this is human.

In thinking of the birds, I remember Brandon Ballengée’s (link to work that I saw a few months ago at the Biological Agents:  Artistic Engagements in out Growing Bio-Culture show at Gallery 400 (link to Gallery 400 – .  The show presented his research project MALAMP UK, which stands for MALformed AMPhibian.  He showcases the tiny deformed amphibians he collected using staining techniques, making the animals electric reds and blues.  In doing so, we can begin to see our relationships to these creatures and the impacts of our actions upon them.  We can begin to see that we are linked to each other.


posted by Caroline Picard