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Ecosex goddess with a bullhorn

“Lick the ground! Lick it!” called Annie Sprinkle to the small group clustered under an enormous sequoia. She’d already directed us onto our knees and had us press our foreheads to the earth. Now our little yoga class was getting weirder.

“Taste Mother Earth, or maybe just caress her. Run your hands across her curves,” said Sprinkle, her voice wavering excitedly. “But only if you feel comfortable.”

I suppose I should have expected this from an “Ecosexy Walking Tour” run by a former porn star, but I didn’t have much time to prepare myself. Just a few minutes before, I’d bumped into a graduate teaching fellow from my art history class.

“Are you going on the ecosexywalkingtourwithanniesprinkle?” she said, looking at me like I was a delicious tofu patty.

“The… wait, what?” I said.

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Ceremonials

Now, as I pretended to French kiss a patch of pine needles, I was getting a bit worried. Ever wonder if you could have resisted the Kool-Aid? I had my answer, and it wasn’t good.

Sprinkle was a porn star in the 70’s, a porn director in the 80’s, has been in a monogamous relationship since the 90’s, and is now an environmental crusader. Or should I say dominator? Only with the tree’s consent, of course.

None of this interested me very much, at least past an initial vulgar curiosity about Sprinkle’s self-proclaimed “ecosexuality.” What really held my attention was that my GTF had described Sprinkle (with utmost seriousness) as a performance artist. The fact that she’d been invited by the UO Department of Art upped her cred even more. Having just studied the Fluxus movement, I had to bite.

Fluxus was a disparate group of 1960’s artists that saw no boundary between art and life. To them, every mundane moment was a work of art. Their pieces had less to do with producing a final product (like, say, a painting) than experiencing an event. They called these events “happenings,” which could be anything from building an ice palace on a blazing hot day to licking jam off the hood of a car. You know, everyday stuff.

Sprinkle’s eco-neo-Fluxual performance, clearly organized into a series of happenings, felt like strange serendipity. Actually, it felt rough, like the bark of a tree.

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The Sprinkle-Stephens Scale of ecosexuality

The first few happenings had been orientations. We’d picked earth names (my new brothers and sisters: Damp Soil, Caves, Mowed Grass, Jellyfish), looked over the Ecosex Manifesto (“I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together forever”), and reviewed the Sprinkle-Stephens scale (based on Kinsey’s, but greener). Now we were taking the relationship to the next level.

“You really want it to be a full-body hug,” explained Sprinkle’s co-host, Portland eco-sex shop owner Kim Marks. Sprinkle nodded, keeping an eye on us as we approached the tree. You’d better not be giving Mother Earth no side hug, child.

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Hugging the sequoia was what you might call my transcendent moment. It was warm and comfy, and there was a spectacular view of the canopy. For a second, I stopped wanting to giggle or roll my eyes and existed within the happening. This is the whole point, I think. Or it would be the point if there was one, but that’s not the point.

I had class, so I cut out early while Sprinkle lead her followers off to find their “e-spots.” My departure was probably a good thing, as everyone had started complaining about last month’s “treeicide” and my earth name happened to be Snow.

As a gimmicky performer, Sprinkle was pretty good. She can spin out ecosex jokes like only a porn veteran could, and she slipped in some good messages about environmental stewardship and safe sex.

As a performance artist, at least in the Fluxus sense, Sprinkle left something to be desired. The Fluxus folks definitely had a sense of humor, but they fiercely believed in their art. Sprinkle’s happenings were all gags- bizarre, yes, but far from the brink of true Fluxus absurdity. Her imagined ecocult with its rituals, charts and chants was ludicrously intricate, but seemed a bit flat and overdone when dropped in the hippie hotbed of Eugene.

On the other hand, famous Fluxian Yoko Ono has probably been an ecosexual at some point in the last eight decades.

BONUS: Earth Day is comin’ up. Learn 25 ways to love the earth from Annie Sprinkle herself…

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This is Fred.

Fred spent the hours of 3 to 7 pm yesterday dancing in the drizzle along Coburg Road in a Statue of Liberty costume. The 26-year-old Eugenean is going to “tax school,” but in the meantime he’s stuck on the lowest rung at Liberty Tax.

Some might be discouraged by this, but not Fred. I spotted the enthusiastic gent on a drive, and was so impressed by his dancing and sign twirling that I had to get an interview. I caught him right at the end of his shift but still bubbling with energy.

Here’s Fred on life, liberty and the art of marketing:

Fred is clearly one of those people who puts his heart into everything he does. He’s been complimented by a fire dancer for his sign twirling, and was scouted off the street by Papa John’s for another sign holding job.

“Do you consider your job art?” I asked him.

“Well it depends,” he said. “You get a lot of sign shakers and sign wavers that are just like…” He gave an unenthusiastic smile and thumbs up to a passing car.

I think it’s fair to say that Fred elevates his job to an art. Along with Michael Jackson and MC Hammer, he said that Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges all influence his moves. Something tells me Fred’s on his way to being someone else’s dance idol. Or possibly the president of Liberty Tax. Watch out world!

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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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“What if there’s a bear or tiger out here?” said my little brother. He was wielding the pointy end of a fence post, and trying to decide how he might use the metal from his braces to craft a weapon.

“I could wrap them around a glove to punch with,” he said. He’d already explained what to do if someone came at us with a shotgun: stop, drop and roll. “It’s just something I know,” he said solemnly.

My dad was guiding us deep into some private property behind LCC, and my brother was preparing for the worst. Ever since our sculpture discovery a few weeks ago, my dad and I had been planning to return and search for more cast-off treasures. This time, we’d brought the clan along. We were like the von Trapps on their Alp journey, except less musically talented and more whiny.

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“There’s supposed to be a hobbit house out here,” said my dad. We were all a little skeptical as to how he’d gathered this information. Is there a rumor mill about the creepy backwoods? Then he lead us through a blackberry bush and across a rushing stream. Things were looking uncertain.

After ducking under some barbed wire, we hiked a trail/river/pond, threw several fits (most of them by yours truly), and eventually caught sight of a chimney sitting in a field. It was as though a giant had played Operation with someone’s home and plucked the fireplace right out. It might have been an ominous sight to anyone else, but to us it was a beacon of hope. 20111231-005215.jpg

Just behind it, hidden in the trees, was a loose pile of rocks that we eventually identified as a hovel of sorts.

“This doesn’t look like a hobbit house!” said Sarah.

“It’s an evil hobbit house,” Emma said, her voice echoing from inside the little structure.

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Frodo’s abode?

It’s true that the little rocky structure would be out of place among the rolling green hills of the Shire, but it had its own eerie brand of charm. The construction reminded me of the Cyclopcean walls of Mycenaean Greece, which were so named because later Greeks believed that only Cyclops could have built walls with such enormous, misshapen boulders.

Inside, we found a cow skull wedged between the roof and the wall, which also hinted at the Odyssey and mythological beasts. To Emma, they hinted at the fact that we needed to get out of there. “There’s BONES! Why are there BONES?” she shrieked. I was more nervous about the little yellow broom leaning in the corner:

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Its presence seemed to indicate that someone actually spends time there. My dad thought the shack might be a gathering place for barbecues. Yeah, right. More like VOODOO COW SACRIFICES.

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We booked it back up the trail and made it out within an inch of our lives.

Honestly, it was a pretty cool experience, though we did give my dad some flack for it. Anyone who grew up with National Lampoon’s Vacation knows how easy it is to place your dad in the Chevy Chase box and not let him out.

Sorry this post is so long and picture-filled, but it’s the 100th post on this here blog. Thanks for giving me a reason to keep writing things at you! As we hiked back, we passed by the art department’s refuse pile again, which is where we found that rusty sculpture. There’s also a pile of clay there from the pottery shop, and this time we found a beautiful white cast on top:

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“Where did it come from?” I asked my little brother.

“Something beyond us,” he said wisely.

After 100 art adventures, I’d say that his answer is as good as any when dealing with the big, wonderful, mysterious world of art. Here’s to 100 more!

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Joseph McDonnell, The Bather, 1976

I didn’t need the eyes of an appraiser to know, instantly upon walking in, that these people were millionaires. It wasn’t that their walls were covered in original art, some accompanied by charming personal notes from the artists. That detail would emerge with further examination. It was the avante garde (read: bizarre) little touches that really tipped me off.

No, those aren’t twin dogs lounging on the couch. They’re explosively furry sheep hair pillows. Yes, the chandelier is a cluster of enormous glass cubes that might shatter at any moment. It’s one-of-a-kind. Oh, and now I know who buys those cowhide carpets from Ikea that I saw on my hellish journey there in October. You can’t be this aesthetically playful without very good ta$te, if you know what I mean.

It was the last day of my Seattle journey, and I’d landed at my dad’s work retreat, held at his co-worker’s chic mansion. I know I said my field trip posts were over, but the best part of this story takes place in Oregon. Just sit tight, and we’ll be far, far away from the rich and famous soon.

Besides all of the glorious pieces hanging on the walls (which included an excellent portrait of the family’s daughters… with Elphaba green skin), there was also The Bather. The sculpture sits serenely in the backyard, striking a contrast to the stunning view of Seattle’s bustling skyline.

You might recognize The Bather because a version of it was shown at the Vancouver Olympic games. As much as I’d like to relate it to the ancient Olympian sculpture Boy scraping himself or other classical works, the piece is resolutely modern and figurative. It’s all about circles and curves. McDonnell is shaping emptiness, creating an invisible ball of energy that is formed by (or holds) the bather’s body.

I wasn’t planning on writing about McDonnell’s sculpture at all, mostly because I knew the post would end up sounding like Better Home and Garden (mission accomplished). Then I went on a run with my dad at Lane Community College yesterday, and the plot thickened.

It turns out there’s an awesome network of forest paths behind the temple of questionable art that is LCC. Not far from the trail head but deep in the tangled underbrush we caught sight of a very familiar sculpture…

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LCC mystery sculpture

Okay, so it’s not exactly The Bather, but you can see McDonnell’s figure here in an even simpler form. The bottom curve looks like folded legs of sorts, while the upper twist of metal could be a bent torso. Even if you think that’s a bit of a stretch, you have to admit that the sculptures utilize spirals, curves and globes in similar ways:

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So, what landed one sculpture on the millionaire’s lawn and the other in a mass of blackberry brambles? Or maybe a better question is, which piece is better off?

“Maybe the sculptor (of the LCC work) put it out there on purpose, as sort of an interactive, natural piece,” pondered my dad. “Who says a pedestal is the best place to put a sculpture? It seems artificial.”

The abandoned sculpture has certainly gotten a lot of attention since being dumped. Though some of the marks on its skin are ugly and hateful, others are intricately crafted tattoos. It seems that, in the long run, most bent hunks of metal that we call “sculptures” will end up somewhere like this. The Lenin statue I saw the other day spent years with its face in the dirt before ending up in Seattle.

It’s an idea that makes me uncomfortable and fearful. I suppose it’s a sculpture’s final statement (or provocation): memento mori.

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Julia Holtzman, “Don’t Look @ Me”

I just saw Me and You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, watch this goldfish death scene, and you’ll get the gist. The movie was a perfect addendum to a day full of strange encounters and interesting characters.

Six of those people live in the same woman, whose name is Julia Holtzman. These identities, from a police officer to an Amy Winehouse lookalike, are tacked in a quirky lineup along the wall of the Laverne Krause this week. They’re connected by a long red line of lipstick, and point to a television screen.

On it is an old woman hobbling along a busy sidewalk. She turns toward the camera and reveals a smooth face. It’s Julia. She starts to cross a street but drops her cane, and a passing gentleman scoops it up for her. For a second he seems to look into her eyes, but then he has vanished from the frame. Did he even see her at all?

With every flicker of the television screen, Julia’s identity fractures. Suddenly she’s a spy of some sort, sitting conspicuously at a cafe in a fake mustache and fedora. Then she’s just Julia, peering into a mirror and scribbling the apparent title of the piece, “Don’t Look @ Me.”

In the row of portraits, every character stares straight into the camera- and nearly leans out of the frame- except Julia herself. She stares into a mirror, pensive and vulnerable. The message seems to be, “Don’t look at me, look at them.” But her worried eyes reveal a person who, above all, wants to be seen for exactly who she is.

Holtzman has promise as an actress (her often manic characters would fit perfectly in an SNL skit), but someone who can so confidently be me, you and everyone we know has a bigger challenge first. She must learn to be herself. And she knows it.

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Timothy Hamilton, Jarvis Jahner, Courtney Kemp, Ben Lenoir, Katherine Spinella, Michael Stephen

Once upon a time not too long ago, I was at the Dallas MOA and the Nasher Sculpture Center (as recounted in my post on the GIANT FORK ATTACK). My hyperactive cousin and I explored every corner of the sculpture center except for the basement because they were filling it with balloons. It was an interactive art piece that would have been glorious to play in, but it opened the next week. Very sad.

I was thinking about interactive modern art yesterday because I read Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood.” The famous essay critiques literalist (i.e. minimalist) art for being too much like theater.

If the whole point of the piece is that you yourself are playing with the balloons, shouldn’t you consider the balloons and yourself as “characters” in a theater piece? “That is not visual art,” says Fried huffily.

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Not long after I read the essay, I ran into this piece that was literally overflowing from the the Laverne Krause Gallery.

Right when I saw the strange intestines bursting from the doorway, I rushed toward them. I thought it was an entire room filled with pillowy fabric. Ever since I saw the half-finished balloon room, I’ve been dreaming of walk-in art pieces.

Several attempts at penetration yielded no results, so I resigned myself to staring at the wonderfully creepy tentacles hanging from the fabric. Around the corner, fleshy cloth fills the windows.

The artists’ statement says the piece is pointing out that a gallery is a sort of living organism, but I agree with one of the notes in the guest book next to the door: “cop out!”

A gallery might be a living organism of sorts, but it’s an organism in which you can immerse yourself. I want to crawl through some intestines!