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What. The. Fudge.

Those are (approximately) the words that accompanied the three Kodak moments above. It’s not often that you understand something less as you get closer to it, except for maybe that one museum in Seattle.

Eventually, I remembered that someone in one of my classes had mentioned an on-campus carnival. She’d failed to note that entering said event would involve passing under the buns of a hairy man doing a squat. It all looked very freaky, so of course I had to return…

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…In the night.

Carnivals are so bland and flat in the day, but at night everything glows and tilts and swirls. It’s hard to tell if the world is about to tip over or you are.

The event turned out to be a giant promotion for Adult Swim, the cable network that has nothing to do with swimming or adults. I was disappointed, as analyzing artvertising almost always feels like selling out. Then I was distracted by this:

Yes, that is a unicorn helmet on the girl’s head. No, you didn’t see the same stunt in the trailer for Project X. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the sequel, though. In one corner, a drunk dude with a unicorn helmet. In the other, a high dude in a zorb ball. Who will win the duel?

I realized that I wouldn’t be reviewing the art of carnivals that night, but the art of a carefully targeted marketing stunt. The targets? Teenage boys who think they’re 20-something frat boys, and 20-something frat boys who think they’re teens.

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Unicorn Man and “Breathe if you’re horny” jellyfish (???)

The carnival world of Adult Swim is populated by a horde of bizarre cartoon characters. I’m sure they all have names, but we can just talk about them as a group. Let’s call them the Bad House Guests.

Any house guest stinks after three days, but the Bad House Guests clearly come pre-musked. They’re the kind of people who show up and claim to be friends with one of your roomies, but change the subject when you ask which. They dominate the television and watch The Real World repeats. They eat your Cheetos and leave orange streaks on your drinking glasses. They wet the couch.

Could you imagine letting one of these things stay in your home? Now imagine claiming the “Breathe if you’re horny” jellyfish as your hero, your role model. What does Unicorn Man (who appears to be about 40) say to his perma-adolescent viewers?

“Neigh. I’m an immortal unicorn. Want to play Grand Theft Auto, like, forever?”

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A rather large group of people had gathered for the carnival. They looked like they were in the end stages of a rave (dazed, crazed, spent and wet), but they were valiantly trying to win crappy Adult Swim merchandise in various carnival games.

All of the games were harbingers of the emotional spiral ensured by the couch-wetting lifestyle. There was “Baby vs. Man” (the inner struggle), “Toilet Bowel” (the post-Cheetos physical battle), and a game where you have to climb into the mouth of a giant cat:

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(Maybe this represents the discontented girlfriend?)

So perhaps this whole Adult Swim thing is actually a giant public service announcement.

“Don’t go down this path!” it says. “It will lead to bald loneliness!”

All of the warnings seemed very clear to me, but everyone else was having too much fun to catch them. Maybe I’m just a spoilsport, or a snob. Maybe I’m judging a TV network by an inflataman’s weird crotch bulge.

Or maybe I’m right. Take note, youngsters.

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Red Riding Hood, North American Bear Co.

It was my cousin’s second birthday on Sunday, so we all braced ourselves for uncontainable cuteness and went to her party. This is a good representation of how it went:

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Turns out the terrible twos set in right away. In this shot, the birthday girl attempts to rip off her bib while her brother hides under a blanket. Do you remember being jealous of your siblings’ parties? This is what you might call a textbook example, at least until he commandeered some presents.

While the cousins threw around a squishy ball and sang on their new karaoke microphone, I checked out the mandatory Heritage Present. You know what I’m talking about; it’s that wooden train or porcelain doll from grandma that doesn’t bounce or use batteries. Red Riding Hood lay forgotten under a tangle of tissue paper.

But what was that peeking out from under Red’s skirt?

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The plot thickened considerably. Turns out Red didn’t need to go over the river and through the woods- grandma was hiding under there all along.

“Under where?”

You said underwear! But seriously. Grandma is underwear.

And now for the final plot twist:

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Flip granny around, and you’ll find a hungry wolf!

Thats when my inner (and, let’s admit it, outer) art nerd kicked in. The doll is a representation of a continuous narrative, in which several scenes of a story are shown simultaneously.

And that’s when my common sense kicked in and I realized what a weird teaching tool the doll was. This two-year-old would grow up believing all the characters in the story are a monstrous mega-entity. I mean, how is the wolf supposed to eat Red? Yoga?

The poor being will be eternally trapped in a vicious inner battle, a chase to catch its own tail. What drama! What struggle! What… art!

Perhaps this a better, more complex way to teach the story. Just make sure to check your kid for early signs of dissociative identity disorder. Wouldn’t want a little Sybil.

P.s. I swear this isn’t becoming a strange doll blog!! Though this is kind of a funny series.

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Kitti Touzeau, vellum blossom

Kitti Touzeau is something of a crazy cat lady. Okay, she’s more like a crazy art lady, but that’s not too different. She wears shawls and funky jewelry, she’s a classic introvert, and she’s slightly batty- in the most endearing way.

“I’m going to have to sleep for a day to recover from all this talking,” she said partway through our interview. “I don’t want to talk about art, I want to make art.”

Touzeau is the owner and sole employee of Tornheart Paper Designs. It’s a fine art and greeting card company she formed after years of designing for advertising agencies. “Sometimes I would think, ‘If I could just sit down and do something I want to do,'” she said. “‘But is it going to sell?'”

Inspired by Braveheart, Joel 2:13, and a stint working for a greeting card company, Touzeau struck out on her own with a novel idea: “Everything will be torn.” She’s now a professional paper ripper, piecing together tiny, hand-torn scraps of fiber into intricate floral designs. She’s also my friend Danika’s aunt, which is how I connected with her. As Danika explained to me a few weeks ago, the Beaverton artist is trying to break into the Eugene art scene.

“She just needs to get out there,” Danika said. That’s what Touzeau did all Friday, with varying results. She visited several local galleries (one bite so far), met up with a team of UO P.R. students who are promoting her (lots of enthusiasm), and finally sat down to teach me how to tear.

“As you rip, just move your thumb and imagine the curve,” said Touzeau, gracefully conjuring a daisy petal from a square of watercolor paper. It was so delicate and natural, as though she could see the petal in the paper before she started.

To create an entire piece, Touzeau will rip out hundreds of components, dabbing them with glue and inserting them into her whirling, dynamic compositions. Her assembly process is as surgical as that of a clockmaker, though she’s not nearly as concerned with perfection.

“I want to create the feeling of looking into nature,” explained Touzeau. Her key is to balance creation’s intrinsic order with spring’s exuberant chaos. Of course, even her artistic disorder is carefully controlled. “Don’t press that down too hard or I’ll smack you!” she said as I attached the center of a pink blossom we’d constructed from scratch.

Touzeau and I headed off across a drizzly campus, carefully cradling our creation. I perched the blossom on the bare branch of a particular tree and positioned Touzeau next to it. At first, she seemed hesitant.

“Is this good?” she asked wearily as she struck a pose. That’s when I caught sight of a twinkle in her eye. Despite her grumbling, she seemed please with the peculiar magic of the unfolding blossom on the bare, hibernating tree.

“I think we’re done,” I said, satisfied with what I’d captured.

“Thank goodness,” said Touzeau, breathing a sigh of relief. As we walked back, however, there was still a bit of a glow about her. Our flower was crumpling in the rain, but Kitti Touzeau seemed to be opening up to a new beginning.

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Old machinery, Campbell Tree Farm

The annual Christmas tree battle had begun, and my family was finding various ways to cope. Emma and Jacob had brought their potato pellet guns and were volleying between the trees. My mom huddled in the car. I had my eyes peeled for art. Of course, we were all eventually swept into the fray.

“That one!” said my sister Becca, pointing to a portly Blue Spruce.

“It’s too fat,” said Sarah.

“Big-boned,” I said.

“That one!” said Sarah, choosing a well-shaped tree.

“It’s too short,” said Becca.

“She has you there,” I said to Sarah.

So it went, back and forth and round and round again. The general mood sat somewhere between Becca and Jacob’s expressions in this photo:
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Eventually, I took a stroll to warm up my feet and observe the decor. Once upon a time, I worked at Johnson Vegetable Farms as a sales associate. That’s where I first experienced the carefully crafted kitsch of country decorating.

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A farm is the only place where you can leave a rusty wheelbarrow lying in your yard and call it cute. Decorations must be old, dusty, rusty and/or musty. If it’s not broken, break it, throw it in the tall grass, and presto!

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I tried to make my sister Emma pose in that chair for a photo. “Ewwww it’s really squishy!” she said squeamishly.

I wonder how old the tractor actually is. From a farm decorator’s perspective, it doesn’t matter. Just scuff up last year’s model and plant something on the seat!

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Does that truck work? Probably not.

Are you convinced that your local farmer is actually a very cunning exterior designer? I’ve made enough adorable blackboard price signs to know that rural business owners are definitely shooting for a certain target. Of course, most country decorating comes down to waiting for things to decay.

“Why did they just leave it out there to rot?” asked Emma as we walked away from the tractor. “Rot” is the only color on their swatch, sis.

BONUS PIC: Click here for a pretty sweet stealth pic of Farmer Campbell himself (he’s in the background, behind my dad).

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The General on his chariot

News of the approaching convoy had spread quickly, and a small group of villagers was huddled around a crackling bonfire when we arrived. Everyone looked excited, nervous. Mothers took long looks at the flushed faces of their unsuspecting children. Soon- very soon- the younguns would learn the ways of the world, but for now they frolicked happily in spite of the biting cold.

Kelsey Ivey and I had briefly reminisced about our carefree art adventure in October (Oh, how times change!), and were ready to return to dark reality. We were not the type of war journalists who chase tragedy for fame and fortune. We’d been thrown into the job by circumstance, the circumstance being Sunday’s Coburg Christmas Light Parade, and by God, we were going to do our duty.

Coburg is an isolated place in the best of times, and news was trickling in. A caravan of futuristic, glowing vehicles was apparently headed toward us, and there was no telling their intentions. We ducked into the senior center, our ears burning for local gossip.

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Three tight-lipped senior citizens served us hot chocolate and asked for donations, already focused on the relief effort.

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Watching over the tense scene was Eva Mylar Stokes, founder. I thought, “What would Eva do?” I couldn’t get into her head, so we stepped back into the cold to survey the scene.

The village was low on weaponry but high on spirit, so all of the villagers had lined the streets to meet their fates. Just around the bend, we caught a glimpse of flashing lights and all chatter ceased.

Suddenly, he was on us. The Great Glowing General of the neon army had arrived on his hog, and the crowd gasped with a mix of wonder and horror. Surely they hadn’t sent such an experienced warrior, with his fiery red uniform and impressive grey beard, to flatten the little town of Coburg?

Behind him was a trailer full of common soldiers holding mysterious bundles in their hands. The General sent some invisible signal, and a volley of projectiles flew over the side of the trailer. The battle had truly begun.

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As journalists, we knew that we couldn’t take cover. No, we would stand the constant shower of mysterious, hard chunks of shrapnel in order to report on the story. The things we saw stretched the imagination, from flying phosphorescent reindeer to a snowman with boxing gloves to a miniature horse that was so cute, it almost turned us to the dark side. Clearly our enemies were conducting some strange experiments.

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We noted that the authorities were suspiciously part of the line-up, and coughed when a very loud jeep puttered by.

“That jeep has 700 horsepower!” said a nearby villager, who had clearly been fraternizing with the enemy.

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Only by the end of the convoy did we realize that the shrapnel was actually candy, and that the last tank seemed to be handing out stuffed animals to the children. So perhaps this Lite Brite brigade was actually some sort of goodwill caravan. Or maybe the fuzzy creatures are bugged.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WR67LZc3Y9E

Either way, I think I’ve succeeded in telling the story differently than Kelsey! Check out her post (which includes WAY better pictures and video) on our adventure HERE.

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Forever 21, Disco balls

I was in Valley River Center today waiting for the next showing of Hugo to start when I realized it’s the busiest shopping day of the year. It was quite a blissful experience to drift through the crowds of Black Friday shoppers without the intention of buying anything. I was some sort of superhero or god, exempt from the toils of the common man. My eyes could turn away from the “30% OFF” signs and focus on art……

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……..

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…or something like it.

I scanned the faces in the crowd, wondering if anyone else knew that a giant string of elf puke seemed to be hanging over our heads. Was there any level of awareness that a tacky disco ball was dangling by a thin polyester thread, just waiting to fall and crush the Hickory Farms booth?

All I saw were blank stares, which made me even more nervous and desperate. Was there any good art to be found? Surely Macy’s would have something spectacular.

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Macy’s, Crab-infested tree

Alas, no.

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While I was taking a picture of this abstract decoration that seems to be re-enforcing America’s obsession with weight loss (it’s never too early to start selling post-holiday resolution jeans), the attendant at the jewelry counter broke the general zombie vibe and talked to me.

“Do you like that?” she asked, staring up at the decoration as though she’d never seen it before.

“No,” I said. “Do you know of any other awful decorations around here?”

“Well, there’s Forever 21,” she said, giving a look to another sales associate, who nodded solemnly. “There’s always one mannequin doing something totally nast.”

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Forever 21, hoochie mannequin

….And that’s an experience you can get year-round.

Anyway, I’m calling for change. Big, consequential, capitalized Change of the Obama (of 2008) variety. Join this Facebook group I just passionately created called TEAR DOWN TACKY MALL DECORATIONS and viva la revolucion!

P.S. Next time you’re at the mall, spit on some fake flowers and also go see Hugo. It’s really pretty great.

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See’s Candies hollow milk chocolate turkey

Just before Thanksgiving dinner starts each year, my mother dashes around placing chocolate turkeys next to every plate. It’s a small enough tradition that I usually forget about it until a sweet sentinel is suddenly sitting before me, watching over my mashed potatoes while it awaits its fate.

This year, I spent a large portion of dinner wondering how See’s Candies designed the chocolate turkey wrapper. Lest you accuse me of ignoring my dear family, consider that they spent a large portion of dinner chastising a feisty canine we’re dog sitting. Don’t trust people when they say their dog is well-behaved, especially when they have a deadline to get outta town.

How do you design a flat piece of foil to wrap around a 3-D object and make it look like a cute little turkey? Maybe it has to do with computer programs or something, but I like to imagine Charles See sitting in his 1920’s chocolate shop, wrapping hundreds of turkeys with different drafts of the foil sheet. That year, Charles and Florence had a whole flock of defective chocolate turkeys on their Thanksgiving table.

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After dinner, I carefully peeled off my turkey’s wrapper and smoothed it out like a treasure map. The flattened foil showed a laced together double image, like some sort of crude cubist composition.

It also reminded me a bit of Rubin’s Vase, the optical illusion that shows two faces. if only the turkey’s breast formed a clever image that could only been seen when flattened.

“You ask too much!” says Charles. “Just shed up and eat yer chocolate.”