Incubator

So it seems to be the least I can do with my ample spare time devoid of work, a social life and even not very much volunteer work to do (though I have taken on a role with Burning Man – more on that later) is to develop my art.

I haven’t really put a ton of effort into my photography in some time. Sure I’ve been taking photos pretty much constantly over the past few years, even going so far as doing a 365 project called 1625, but I haven’t really pushed myself artistically. I haven’t had a vision, a thesis or anything that I was really digging into. Consequently I don’t really feel like much of my work over the past four or five years is any better than what I was doing back in 2006 and 2007. In fact my favourite pictures are still from that era.

Now I’ve learned a lot of technical skills since then and perhaps that’s what’s dulled the edge of my artistic blade. When you think too much about the nuts and bolts you start to forget about the intangible soul that links all of the tissues together. Its a world of rules, of thirds, of “proper” exposure and focus. All of that is important to know, and technically I’ve improved, but I don’t feel like the images are as moving or as ambitious. Its as though life is happening and I’ve just been catching snippets of it, as though by chance.

What I think helped to highlight this for me was the paid gigs I’ve been doing recently. As I gain competence in the technical details the things I really need to figure out how to do is the concept and how to execute that concept. Particularly when working with non-performers and non-artists the onus of creativity and interest really comes from me. People don’t know how to pose, what the best setting or lighting would be. That’s my job. On top of all the technical stuff.

So its time for art school.

Not actual art school mind you. I can’t afford that. Rather the virtual, do it yourself kind. Internet enter stage left.

I’ve just watched documentaries on Annie Leibovitz and James Nachtwey and have more in the queue for inspiration. I’ve begun to look for photography contests to enter. I’ve started thinking about series to shoot. I also have a great big list of YouTube lessons and tutorials on everything from framing to lighting or post production.

I’m contemplating a Tumblr or Pinterest stream to continue the 365 idea, though with a different twist than the one I did last year. I’ve started playing with different ideas for exhibition. If I’m truly an artist then I need to exhibit my art in more interesting ways than just posting it on a website.

Well, this post seems more trite than I’d originally envisioned. I do have some meditations on photography, creativity and art brewing, perhaps its just not yet time to put quill to parchment on the subject. It makes sense to take advantage of this idle time however. I’m sure once I’m working more regularly again I’ll fall right back into my resentment of my lack of time. Best to use it while I’ve got it.

A brief note

From Midnight Poutine’s San Francisco office. The place is a mess. Not our mess mind you. The mess of a genius google employee who plays with lasers in her spare time. She’s moving, we’re sleeping on the floor, the futon, wherever aren’t boxes and books and other junk that spurts and foams from every conceivable place when you’re moving. Not sure where it all comes from, but there it is.

Buying things for the Burn. Only the Burn. What the hell is the point? Its strange to follow the path set down in what seems like a previous life. My intentions and values today aren’t exactly what I had in mind when I created this freight train, but with the momentum of a whole camp of people its impossible to sop, even if that’s what I wanted – and it isn’t really. Its just that I probably would never have conceived of something like this in my current incarnation, my new life, meNOW. Midnight Poutine is resource intensive, large scale, certainly not the poster of small simplicity that I’m striving for now. In that sense its a living relic, but what a relic.

I’m excited. This is going to be epic, but parts of it are hard to resolve with who I’ve become. I mean no matter what we do its going to be expensive and there’s going to be waste. Arrrrrrrgh! I need to accept that this is how these things roll. You have to break eggs to make cookies (omlettes don’t suit my palette). Still, I find myself asking what justifies it all sometimes. Beh. It doesn’t matter really. “Because its cool.” is the mantra of the Burn and that’s good enough for this year. I’m just making sure I’m aware that it might not be in the future.

Burning Man. I actually cringe a bit when I hear the word. I notice that I don’t use it much. I talk about “going to the desert” and being “on the playa” a lot more than I say “I’m going to Burning Man.” The very utterance of the words just conjures up the fabric of branding for me, of elitism, the cult. The goddamn desert cult. You go to Burning Man? That’s great. Nobody cares. You are not a special and unique snowflake just because you go and choke on prehistoric fish feces – I’m sorry.

This is not to say that I don’t like Burners or Burning Man. It is the more magical community I have ever found. I love it, but…

I suppose we are most critical of those people and things that we love the most. We see their potential and expect them to be that at all times when really, that’s impossible. So it is with Burning Man and all that goes with it. I am becoming a Cynical Old Burner – a COB. Well fine. That’s okay.

No, cynical isn’t right, perhaps a realist. I still love it and expect the best from it, but I’m not surprised or offended when it doesn’t deliver, and I’m willing to look at the parts that aren’t ideal. I think the main thing is simply this; Burning Man isn’t special. You aren’t special for going there. The art there isn’t special because its there. Its just a week in the desert, no more, no less. The magic that you may or may not experience there also exists in countless other corners of the globe at all times of the year. That is if you take the principles and ideas you find there with you. Hell, we all know people we’d call Burners who have never even been to the event. What more proof do you need that it really isn’t that special?

I would like to see the magic in more times and places. Gifting water at Burning Man – not so extraordinary. Gifting water in Parc Lafontaine on a hot summer day – kind of extraordinary. That’s what excites me these days. Burning Man is a model, a testing ground, a training centre, but its not in an of itself a terribly important place, what’s important about it is what happens when the world of the Burn intersects with the real world. If the energy that went into the Burn were instead directed outwards from the desert into other communities, cities and towns. That’s when the real, tangible, lasting magic starts to take place.

Its easy to create magic in a place where magic is acknowledged to exist. Its a much greater feat to create magic in a place that has forgotten or even suppressed what magic is. This then is the greater triumph and the greater quest.

So go the Burning Man. Dress like rabbits. Ride on rocket ships. Shoot flamethrowers. Do crazy drugs and have crazy sex. Just remember that its only a dress rehersal. The true spirit of it. The spirit not of Burning Man, not even of art, but the spirit of Life. That has to exist 52 weeks a year.

Arts Committee

Here’s an idea to help me stay accountable on my quest to become a working artist.

First off create an arts blog & calendar. Nothing too fancy, just what I’m working on, where my progress is at, what my deadlines and such are. Then I get some of you, yes YOU to subscribe to this blog and watch my progress and comment. Keep me on my toes, let me know if I’m not holding up my end of the bargain, offer suggestions and advice. I think I’d find it really useful, though what I can offer you in return I’m not sure.

I’d like to have a conversation with some of you, once a month or so to talk about my projects and what’s going on with them, and what’s up with me and my process. I suppose the most logical way to go about this is to make it a reciprocal relationship, tell me what your projects are (artistic or otherwise) and how the process is unfolding.

There’s no sense going it alone in this world, not with so many great folks out there. Folks like YOU.

Priorities, Mantras and Habit Forming

No so long ago I was thinking about finally getting a tattoo, something more functional and personal than a skull or some tribal shit winding up my arm. That stuff is aesthetically pleasing, at least until the next tattoo fad hits. I think it was a vague echo of the film Memento that finally clicked for me. A kind of reverberating in the inner ear from years and miles away.

The main character in Memento suffers from short term memory loss – he can’t form new memories. So, in order to pursue his mission – to find the men who killed his wife, he tattoos his body with reminders as to what’s happened and what clues he’s uncovered. The tattoos then become a kind of personal historical snapshot, constantly evolving and referencing each other in new ways. I thought maybe my tattoo should be something like that. Indeed what better reminder or reinforcement than a tattoo? Its always, always, always there, and, put in the right place can speak to the wearer, observers or both.

So I was going to get “Carpe Diem” on my inner arm. So that in all of those moments of hesitation, second guessing and contemplation I would remember the value of “seizing the day.” That was one option. Its briefer than my favourite mantras of “Say yes more often than no.” and “Never do tomorrow what could be done today.” But it seemed somehow not personal enough, not metaphorical enough. Body art should be artistic, not just a statement of value. At least that’s what I was thinking.

Then I thought of using the words, “Its just a ride” in reference to the Bill Hicks soliloquy on life which I’m sure I’ve quoted in this blog many times before. Then I thought maybe just a kind of Big Daddy Roth rollercoaster with Bill Hicks in the front car, or something more Steadmanesque.

In the end though I’m not sure that I really need a tattoo, I just need to set priorities, form some good habits and keep those mantras in my head where they belong. So…

The mantras you already know – “Carpe Diem” “Say yes more often than no.” “Never do tomorrow what could be done today.” and “Its just a ride.” Plus a couple of secret ones (secret because they’re sacred, not because they’re dirty).

So, Priorities and Habits.

A top, top, top priority is Discipline. In order to be self-supporting with my artistic and community building activities I need to be highly disciplined, otherwise things won’t get done. This needs to be deconstructed more into its componant parts. Its all there, the details just need to be teased out.

People is another one. I like people. I am working to improve ALL of my relationships with honesty, with time, with listening (both passive and active) and with good old fashionned fun. Friends, family and lovers are what makes it all possible and worthwhile. Plus a lot of my ideas and projects are impossible to bring to fruition by myself, and I enjoy creating in groups (more on this later, ask me about the Jazzfest cameraman).

Self-sufficiency. I want to be rid of my debts and obligations, at least my institutional ones. Debts and obligations to people are fine so long as they’re properly managed. Debts and obligations to institutions are a waste of my time, energy and resources. So pay off debt. Disentangle myself as much as possible from the machine without forcing myself to endure unnecessary hardship. Not quite a drop-out hippie, but getting rid of the dirtiest connections and dependencies.

Experiment, play and explore. Big. BIG. BIIIIG!!! I love to learn, to play, experiment and grow. I haven’t been doing very much of that lately. Here and there sure but I could do much better. I was so much more voracious for knowledge and experiences back when I was in school or travelling. Time to allow my wonder to blossom instead of just allowing brief breaths of air before forcing it to dive again under the icy sheet of practicality. This also means accepting whatever comes out of it. I shouldn’t be afraid of failing or of succeeding. I shouldn’t have expectations, just the experience in the moment. Who knows where it will lead, perhaps to…

Art. Very much related to exploring and playing, in fact there’s a lot of overlap. Art is taking the experiments and experiences above and turning them into tangile artifacts or experiences for others to share. With any luck they’ll be moved, or at least mildly impressed or entertained.

More to come…

Habits

There couldn’t be a better time to work on forging new helpful habits and squelching old bad ones. Moving into a new space means new routines, environment, everything. This is a time to be very conscious, open and careful to the ways that I spend my time and interact with my environment.

For instance, my apartment doesn’t have a washer and dryer, so I’ll have to go to the laundromat once a week. Where some might see this as an inconvenience, I see it as a great opportunity. I could read a book or a magazine. I could edit photos or video. But I’m thinking of doing something that otherwise I don’t do nearly enough of these days. Write. A screenplay, a novel, poetry – who knows. But I think I’ll write.

Daily meditations/thoughts of the day are requisite I think, along with daily walks perhaps along the canal, the railroad tracks or up into Westmount to gawk at the (glorious yet terrible) excess.

Pack a lunch.

Actually eat it.

A game plan for the day.

Including breaks.

Podcasts during the commute to/from work.

Exercise – capoeira, fire spinning, yoga, climbing, parkour…

Okay, that’s enough goofing off at work. Time to pretend I’m working a bit more…

Art out there

There’s a ridiculous notion out there that art belongs in galleries, or if not in galleries than in corporate boardrooms or private residences. Really I think that’s elitist and selfish balderdash. I’ve always been of the opinion that art should be for the people, and most people never venture into those places. And so it is that street art is my darling of choice. It was maybe as much as eight years ago that I launched my Post-It Note Campaign for Unfettered Thought, wandering town with a stack of sticky yellow papers in one pocket and a red pen in another leaving any variety of notes, riddles, instructions or jokes for people to find, all while paying no dividends to 3M. But today I’m faced with a quandary.

Inspired by talk with a friend about street art I find myself thinking about what to do next, drawing inspiration from those who’ve come before me (here, here, here and yes here). I’ve lived in Montreal now long enough to have a reasonable lay of the land and some potential accomplices, but… There is a unique challenge in a city where language is like fire with the potential to inflame and burn or simply to peter out, unnoticed and unspoken. Words are much tougher to handle here.

For one thing I think any linguistic act in this province are particularly this city is by its very nature political, and while some art aims to be political, much of the art I like transcends that. So how to communicate without turning to words or language? To be truly universal and untinged with cultural baggage, or at least a bare minimum thereof?

For someone who isn’t particularly good at drawing, who’s always fought and learned and discovered through words its a worthy challenge. I’m pretty excited. In particular I’m intrigued by the possibilities of projected light. Something to play with once I return from that thing in the desert.

Titles Suck

Blogging really is a cruel passtime, not entirely sure why I do it, besides the obvious inflated ego. I mean really, when its dry its dry – nothing to report on, zilch of interest, just ho hum. Then a ton of things happen and you’re too busy to write about them and feel hopelessly overwhelmed when finally you decide to put fingers to keyboard. Aye. Well, such this is being of the latter. How’s that for craptastic English?

First things first. The move is on. I have to say a big fucking merciful thanks to the ditz who manages my building for letting me move in a week early. What a fucking Godsend. With memories of stuffing my car to absolute capacity for the drive across country its a relief to only jam a managable number of boxes into its every orifice for a multitude of short trips to deck the place out. I’ve done two loads and I think I have two more, the second just because I have no Internet set up there yet so I’m going to leave this humming strumming machine on this desk until the last possible moment, otherwise I lose all of you wonderful people. Yeah fuck whatever.

Its big, its empty, it echoes like a motherfucker. I need furniture and appliances like nobody’s business. But I’m a cheapskate so aside from a bed I intend to pay little to nothing for all my new stuff. That’s what the curb is for. The dumpster diving ban is officially lifted and I can’t pretend I’m not thrilled. I already scored a corner planter thingy that sort of fits the steampunk aesthetic I think I’m going to go for. Next trip is to the wealthy Anglo neighbourhood of Westmount. Oh yeah…

Next off is last Thursday night at the Pound. Good times. Jan wasn’t there but the other German was with his Belgian friend in tow. I love how Montreal is kind of a default Europe where I get to meet all sorts of ex-pats and visiting Euros on their way through the crass joke that is America. Why travel when the people come to you? Of course Alex and Dave were there as well, along with Jacob and the usual Pound “staff.” Everyone got invites to my house warming, Maud got two because I was so baked by the end of the night I couldn’t really remember what was going on. We played soccer in the back during one of the sets. That’s what I love about the Pound, its just freewheeling. There was a dog too, no idea…

I ended up sleeping in a nest of coats at the new apartment since its a shorter walk there than it is to the place on Fullum. It may sound uncomfortable, but when you have a dozen coats for every possible ocassion from cyber-punk invasion to Siberian death marches you’re talking about a lot of padding.

So I worked though a hangover Friday afternoon dreading my later night obligations. See I’d agreed to help volunteer at an event Friday night for a woman off of Tribe, mostly out of curiosity as to what her events looked and felt like. What I really wanted though was a chance to sleep, not minding the door from 11pm until 2am. Well truth be told it was one of the best things I did because it was like wandering into a dome tent at Burning Man around Destiny and 8:30. The vibe was amazing. Definitely on the hippy end of the spectrum, but after the punk DIY sense of the Pound it was the perfect pendulum swing. I got a rhythmic massage (which finally seems to have solved that kink I’ve had ever since a wave in the Dominican took me and thrust me headfirst into the beach like a reluctantly terrified ostrich), then had some wonderfully open and honest dialogue with some truly beautiful people, danced a bit and… oh hell. Got to oogle four of the sexiest young women I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Unfortunately I got stuck there until almost three thirty, my damn volunteer gene kicking in and making me stay to help clean up even though I had to be up to work today. But it was all for the best, with no kink in my back and still wafting throught he scent of that wonderful vibe I had a great day at work, at once focussed and calm, fully able to express myself and have fun.

So now I’m packing the last of my things to load into the car tomorrow morning and bring to the loft on my way to work. Everything is proceeding beautifully. Life is good. Montreal is good. Things will only get better. Wheeeee!

Wire Art?

I’ve been thinking about building some kind of wireframe art for a while along the lines of this piece by artist Benedict Radcliffe though going with something a bit smaller… maybe. Anyways in my research to find out exactly what kind of wire coat hangars are made of (an ideal mix of strength and malleability) I found something, well, cool. Behold, coat hangars work just as good as high priced audio cables! Well shit. That’s fucking awesome. Instead of going out and buying expensive cable for the Living Room Cinematheque’s audio setup I think I’ll just rig up some kind of horribly complex steampunk contraption instead. A complicated wire sculpture winding around the ceiling and walls might be just what the doctor ordered, and why stop there? Why not add homemade variable resistors and other techniquities along the way?

While the rest of the world tries its best to go completely wireless I’m going to embrace the most primitive wiring I can imagine and turn it into installation art. All the better if there’s a shock hazard (sadly I can’t find the article on art designed to nearly injure spectators, but think Survival Research Laboratories and you’ll understand my muse a bit better). What better way to keep houseguests on their toes?