Thursday, January 29, 2009

"I am the water that joins your land to other lands"

I saw a performance by the wacky Spanish performance group La Fura Dels Baus ("Rats from the Sewer" to you) almost 20 years ago in a gigantic, then-abandoned movie studio in Queens. Found it simultaneously fascinating and a little empty, as I recall. Mostly I remember performers emerging from the ceiling and then chasing us around with chainsaws or something, and a guy in a huge fishtank. (For the record, they were on the cutting edge of that whole suspended-from-the-ceiling craze, which is now so ubiquitous that I caught some other wacky performance group doing it during one of the Inauguration Day balls on the way to a commercial break on NBC. No chainsaws or fish/human hybrids, though.)

Tonight I stumbled upon a YouTube video of excerpts from a much more recent outdoor performance by LFDB. Judging from brief snippets of other pieces, it looks like they've gone in a more Cirque du Soleil direction of late, although this one is not in that mode so much, and the English-language text makes the political/ecological theme way more explicit than what I saw all those years ago. (Visually and verbally, it's not that far from the recent Day the Earth Stood Still remake. Check out the Gort!) Feel free to fast-forward now and then, but prepare to be dazzled:

Spectacle on this scale often evokes fascism to me, but then these folks' parents and grandparents lived through the real thing, so who am I to talk? There's one moment where you see that the seedlike dots in one huge, vaguely flowerlike form are actually human beings, which made me think of this blog title I love so much.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everything in its right place

I was a fan of the print version of Arthur, and just wrote about its (hopefully temporary) demise on my music blog a couple of weeks ago. In the meantime, I've grown fond of its blog, Magpie, which is still going strong. The focus of both is broad: mostly ultra-indie music, but there's also a fair amount about theater, psychedelic culture, visual art, politics, and other loosely interconnected subjects--dubbed "homegrown counterculture" in a shout-out to an earlier wave of organic gardening and wispy bearded folkie singer-songwriters (both of which are now popular again with The Kids Today).

Even so, I was taken by surprise by this Magpie entry exhorting readers in frigid NYC to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (especially on a Tuesday, when it's free).

For one thing, given the mag's neo-hippie vibe, I had always assumed it was based out west somewhere. But what really took me aback was the sight of a site I've always linked to music suddenly addressing another, more recent passion of mine. Talk about crossover! It's funny: since at least the late 70s I've devoted my energies to trying to bring things together, to blur or ignore boundaries, to search for connections (between people, between ideas) instead of differences--but when I started blogging, it seemed wiser (or at least simpler) to separate out my diverse interests (music here, gardening here, one kind of performance I'm involved with here, a personal/political account of getting married here, and so on) rather than trying to lump them all together. And then along comes something from the music pigeonhole advising me to "spend some time communing with the cacti, ferns, and bromeliads." Crazy!

As luck would have it, I'll actually be in New York next week, though a bit too busy on Tuesday for a visit. But after paying a too-brief visit to Buffalo's equivalent a few days back, I'm awfully tempted to find some way to the BBG during my stay. I was only there once, back in the early 80s, and was even contemplating a return trip the other day.

Who knows--maybe they even sell CDs in the gift shop.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The birds and the bees

Found out via this BoingBoing post about an amazing collection of backyard bird photos by Rick Lieder. Dig deeper on Lieder's site and you'll find equally striking older galleries devoted to honeybees and ants, as well as a bunch of tiny critters that feed on your plants. The images bring out the beauty in slugs, beetles, houseflies, and their ilk. As I examined the mosquito pix (which show their most infamous behavior in dazzling detail), I found myself scratching an imaginary bite on my wrist. Lieder is currently promoting a new book of his "aerial acrobats" which looks pretty swell. (Note: the cover photograph isn't one of the more impressive images, judging from the slideshow on his site, but I felt OK about using the image. Bonus points for including a little snow in that one, too.)

UPDATE (1/26/09) I see from his blog that Buffalo-based artist/designer Julian Montague was also struck by the Lieder pics. From the post, I learned that Julian has his own bird-photography project, and I'm eager to see more of it. Interesting case of Same Subject Matter, Different Execution.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Green home as dream home

I've been intrigued by wacky rogue architect Mike Reynolds and his gorgeous-looking "earthships" ever since I stumbled upon the 2007 documentary Garbage Warrior on either IFC or the Sundance Channel sometime last year. I vowed to find out more about him, but completely forgot.

Then the other day I was checking out inauguration-related programming on Al Gore's combination interactive TV station and website (I'm surprised how few people I know are aware that this exists) and caught the tail end of a "pod" (Current-speak for a short news segment, many of which are viewer-generated) devoted to Reynolds & co. I truly can't get over how enticing his eco-conscious buildings look:

As you can easily see in the image above, plants are prominently featured, not just for aesthetic purposes (though that is clearly a concern, too). Less obvious are the roles played by "graywater," rain barrels, and repurposed trash (plastic bottles, rubber tires, etc.)--once again, each element serves both function and form. Apparently there are some practical issues with these experimental homes, but I'd love to experience one of these beauties in action.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Keeping winter interest-ing

It's safe to say that, as of a few days ago, I have officially reached the annual point where winter is starting to get on my nerves: the extra time it takes to brush the windshield, the requirement that one be fully gloved and scarved before braving the sub-zero windchills, etc. True, I have no one to blame but myself for this, having moved to the too-cold North from the too-hot South a quarter century ago specifically because I wanted to experience four seasons and see actual snow. Mission accomplished, and then some.

Despite my grumbling, I still love the sight of a snow-covered field or lawn. I love the magic glow of individual flakes in the light of the moon. I love to watch the stuff falling on the other side of my living room window. And just now, on an early evening trek to the frozen compost pile in the back yard, it struck me that this vast blanket of white we live with from late December through sometime in early April is a ground cover in itself. A design plan. A minimalist earthwork.

I've been putting more and more thought over the last couple of years into plants that will stick around, even if only in the form of stems and stalks, all year round, even on the coldest of days and the highest of snowdrifts. To that end, I'm paying far more attention to what looks good in other people's yards around here. A few winters back, I grew quite enamored of the red twig dogwoods outside my employers' last office complex. I planted one myself this summer, but it's a bit too young just now to make much impact--though I know I have that to look forward to in years to come.

in the meantime, I smile every time I gaze out at the various seedheads, blades of ornamental grass, and twiglike branches standing defiant in the front yard, and I anticipate adding lots more as soon as i can.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Art gardens, past and present

Nice segment on this past weekend'sVictory Garden (a rerun, I'm sure, but I hadn't seen it before) offering a tour of Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, CA. Never been, but this quick glimpse certainly makes me want to plan a trip out west.

With its assemblage of outdoor installations fusing "nature" and "culture"--or "gardening" and "art"--Cornerstone also makes me wax nostalgic about the late 70s/early 80s heyday of Artpark, about 20 minutes away from me in Lewiston, NY. (The place is still there, mostly as a music and theater venue, but it's a shadow of what it once was--a state park where every summer you could find folks like Chris Burden and Vito Acconci working away on large, one-of-a-kind pieces.) The principle difference between the two organizations seems to be that, from what I could tell on tv and the website, Cornerstone's 17 or so installations are intended to stick around for the long haul, while the majority of those at Artpark (with some notable exceptions) were only made to last a single summer. In that regard, you might think of Cornerstone as a museum with a permanent collection, while Artpark was more like a contemporary gallery. Or perhaps you could think of the content of the former as perennials and the latter as mainly annuals.

While show host Jamie Drury and venue founder Chris Hougie talk a lot about blurring the lines between visual art and living things, and they refer to the individual works as "gardens" rather than "installation," most of the works at Cornerstone as VG portrayed it seem quite clearly to be art about plants, in many cases involving little or no organic plant material, as opposed to plant art. I'm not familiar with any of the artists, landscape architects, designers, and others who have created "gardens" at Cornerstone, so I appreciate the fact that the somewhat skimpy descriptions of their work on the main site are supplemented with links to their own sites. That way I can learn more about, say, Pamela Burton's recessed "Earth Walk" and other projects of hers.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Subject for future research

Interesting interview with Father Thomas Keating on this week's To the Best of Our Knowledge (overall theme: "Einstein, God, and the Universe") questioning the very notion that "nature" is something outside of us; he's perfectly amenable to the idea that "god" and "nature" are dual paths to the same thing.

The segment was my introduction to Fr. Keating, a Trappist monk and the founder of this organization and author of quite a few books, one of which I'll surely have to read ... eventually.

Update! Lest I sound too hippy-dippy here (all too possible as this blog gathers steam, I promise you), allow me to add a link to the following week's far more skeptical-sounding TTBOOK episode on "Magical Thinking." Also quite nice.