As we head towards the end of the year, I find myself working more on my art, on learning how to use different materials and mediums and honing my drawing skills. Because of this new focus I have cut back on my nature and art writings. We Were Nothing will become a bi-monthly blog. My focus here has always been on art, nature and culture. That will not change.
Over at Funny Face Studio, the reverse of what is happening here at We Were Nothing is true. When I was focusing solely on painting as an art form I featured one or two works each month. Now that I am sketching and drawing, I have begun making weekly posts at Funny Face Studios. You can see my latest drawings and paintings there.
Knowing Each Other
Recently, I watched the celebrations surrounding the life and death of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It made me realize how little many of us understand our world and world politics. Consequently, we barely know each other and we don’t know those that sociologists call “the other.” As I contemplate moving back into the education field, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in our corner of the world. I find myself questioning the role of education and whether it still holds a promise for our under-served populations. As I search for my next place in education, I leave you with another short video. It is not a happy one like the one I presented in Art Spaces and City Places, but it too, holds hope and promise.
Here’s to a more equitable future. Happy Christmas and the best of the season to all. See you in two weeks.
Build a sculpture and you expect it to last. Not so at Djerassi where native redwoods, ancient oaks and wide open spaces are all incorporated into the art. Placement is a key feature of each installation. Most of the sculptures here are created from materials foraged from the forest floor. Mediums like fallen redwood logs, madrone branches and oak limbs eventually make their way into many Djerassi sculptures. Once installed the pieces are, for the most part, left to weather the elements. Wind, rain, sun and forest creatures all take their toll on the art. Change is but another factor that lends interest to the works. Many of these sculptures will eventually decompose and disintegrate into the land. This is nature coming full circle, reminding us of the impermanence of being.
During this weekend’s hike at Djerassi, my group and I focused on twenty-two of the thirty-one sculptures on the 2013 Art///Sky hike. The first stop on our tour was Cynthia Harper’s wooden sculpture, “Nest,” created in 1997. This piece is constructed of madrone and redwood twigs and branches. They are doweled together to form a nest on the forest floor. Nest was knee high at its creation in 1997. Today it is less than five inches high. In 2009 it looked like this:
Today it looks pretty much the same except that it is a little more disheveled.
Next stop on our tour was just a few yards away from “Nest.” “Menagerie” by Jen Blazina is situated on the banks and in the bed of Harrington Creek. Some of these fairy tale like pieces have already been washed downstream towards the ocean. Who knows how many will remain after the upcoming season’s rains. This is in keeping with the artist’s intention — that the pieces become part of a diaspora of art.
Yusuke Toda’s, “Contemplator” was the third work of art on the tour. This piece was carved by hand from a 10-foot redwood log that was found on the property. It is situated in a deeper section of the creek than “Menagerie” is. Its rate of decay is also specific to its location. Nearly ten years after its creation and installation in the creek bed, “Contemplator” has not changed much. Here it is in its current state:
To keep this article relatively short I’ve only presented three of the many sculptures seen on this tour. If you wish to see more photographs of some other Djerassi’s sculptures, please see my recent art review, “Decay and Disintegration” at Droste Effect Magazine.
Where: Woodside, CA (in the Santa Cruz Mountains, “near” the towns of Sky Londa and La Honda)
Note: Djerassi is also known as Djerassi SMIP Ranch.
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Updated: 5/4/13 — Above is a part of the sculpture, “After the Celestial Axe”. This is my favorite section. It looks like a woman and man in embrace and possibly a child, a baby, is in her arms. I see what I see and this may not be what anyone else sees and may not be what the artist herself sees. I will post more photos of this piece later this month.
As of April 2013, there is a new sculpture at Djerassi. It is by artist, Drue Kataoka whose inspiration for the piece is the fallen oak tree pictured below. The artist has incorporated the sculpture into the tree and the tree into the sculpture. She calls this work “After the Celestial Axe,” and describes it as follows:
“A giant axe fell from the skies, leaving a sparkling residue of starry formations. Twenty-seven surfaces of frothy mirror fragments, shaped & arranged with a high degree of optical awareness, create dynamic intersections of multiple refraction planes. From afar, these reflective arrangements sparkle in the sun; but when examined more closely, they break, distort & expand the boundary between viewer & artwork, allowing both viewer & environment to infiltrate the world of the artwork.”
When I was last at Djerassi about two weeks ago, pieces of the sculpture lay on the floor near the artists’ residences, far away from the tree. There Drue fused shards of mirrored glass onto the many surfaces of wood. A work in progress, the artist would later assemble the mirrored wood by the tree. Would she lay them on the ground? Would she assemble some on the tree itself? In what order would they be juxtaposed, one to the other? These questions have now been answered. The sculpture is complete. In the next month or so I will visit and take pictures. Look for them in a follow-up post.
About the Artist, Courtesy of Djerassi
Drue Kataoka is a Palo Alto based artist and Stanford Alumni who now has commissions all over the world, even in outer space! She participated in the Zero Gravity Art Exhibit at the International Space Station. The piece, “After the Celestial Axe,” was made by cutting slices of the tree with a chainsaw, sanding it down, sealing the wood, and adhering patterns of broken mirror to the surface.
I learned this interesting fact as I started doing research for my trip to Yellowstone National Park: The Yellowstone River is the only river in the contiguous United States that is not damned. The 692-miles long river rises in Wyoming on the Continental Divide, flows through Yellowstone National Park, runs northwards into Montana and finally flows into the Missouri River near Buford, North Dakota.
The River, a tributary of the Missouri, is known for its trout fishing. One of its forks was a favorite fishing spot of author, Ernest Hemingway. In 2011, an oil pipeline belonging to ExxonMobile ruptured in the river. Only with the passing of time will we understand the extent of the damage. No matter where in the world we are, we seem to manage to despoil our rivers.
Unlike the Yellowstone River which I only recently started learning about, I am quite familiar with the Hudson River. The Hudson was the site of many environmental studies and environmental activism during many of the years that I lived in New York. Along with the Long Island Sound, the river had been under severe stress. The details below are an apt description of the Hudson of the 1970s and ’80s, and perhaps, of the ’90s too:
“New York City was dumping 1.5 billion gallons per day of raw sewage into the River, the paint from Tarrytown’s GM plant dyed the River a new color each week, the Indian Point power plant was killing millions of fish each day, the National Guard was filling tidal wetlands at Camp Smith, and Penn Central Railroad was discharging oil from a pipe at the Croton Rail Yard. The oil floated up the Croton on the tide, blackening the beaches and making the shad taste of diesel.”
Man, business and government were killing the river. Today the Hudson has rebounded, thanks in part to a Riverkeeper boat that patrols the river in an effort to protect it from environmental lawbreakers. But other problems like the introduction of non-native invasive species (example, water chestnut and zebra mussels) have altered and impacted the aquatic animal populations. What will the river look like in ten years, fifty years, from now?
The Mississippi River on Exhibit
If you ever read the adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you will recall that one of the biggest stars in both books is the Mississippi River. Just like the Morant and Yallhas Rivers in Jamaica (See The River Road, Part One), the Mississippi held a special place in my childhood fantasies. I read and re-read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and pretended that my local river was the Mississippi upon which steamboats ran and adventures were to be had. Now my old friend is on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum.
In an exhibition that runs until June 2013, photographer, Richard Misrach brings the Mississippi River to life in a way that is far different from Mark Twain’s version of it. Though invisible in some of the photographs, the river is still very much a presence in each of the twenty-one images. The larger than life scale of the photographs (each is about five or six feet high), makes it unlikely that the viewer will soon forget the subject matter. The title of the show? “Revisiting the South: Cancer Alley.”
Cancer Alley is an eighty-five mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge through to New Orleans. There are innumerable industrial plants there. All are drawn to the region because of favorable taxation policies. The first photograph that the visitor encounters upon entering the gallery is to the immediate right. The photograph is striking for two reasons: First, there is an ethereal light beyond which the viewer cannot see and so, cannot imagine what it is that the woman in the photograph is looking at. The second striking thing about the photograph is that the lady doesn’t seem to belong inside this house. Is she standing in a museum looking outwards? Is she the owner of the house or merely a visitor? As you move closer to the photograph you learn from the wall tag that she is a tour guide. The plaque reads, “Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, 1998.”
Today’s Nottoway is a tourist destination. In yesteryears, it was a slave plantation. Not so long ago, this woman would have been a slave in this place. She may have been in the fields or she may have been in the house but either way, she wouldn’t have had time to stand around, looking out windows.
This show makes me Jim, the runaway slave (in Huck Finn) kind of sad. Today there is destruction of communities, the river and the environment. The entire show is dressed in poverty, destruction and degradation. In Huck Finn there was hope — hope that Jim would be free, hope that he wouldn’t get sold down river, hope that he and Huck would remain on the island in the river, happy and undetected. If you read the book as a child, you know all about hoping, hoping, hoping, against all odds. Today, after viewing the show, I hope that the:
Mississippi River, poisoned and polluted as it is, will make a comeback
people, like the woman in the photograph, will be able to continue living there
petro-chemical factories that pollute the area be forced to stop degrading the environment and everything connected to the River (including the nearby communities)
cancer rates in the area will subside/lessen
As is the case of the pollution of the Yellowstone River, only with time, will one have answers to these questions.
I’ve been around rivers all my life. In the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a river ran behind our house and also across the street. It could have been two different rivers or maybe it was one river and the Jamaica Public Works Department interfered with it by running a road across it. I don’t know. Since we lived about twenty miles upriver in the same direction as Serge Island, I would guess that the river of my early memories is the Morant River. Later on, when we moved further down towards the sea, I again encountered rivers, including the one that emptied out into the Caribbean about a mile or two from my first school. That too, may have been the Morant River. I don’t know.
As a small child, I took all these rivers for granted. They were constant companions to play in, get stranded on boulders in, watch from the upstairs rooms of our house, and follow as we drove down the valley to places like Serge Island, Trinityville and Morant Bay. On longer drives, as we made our way down winding mountain roads to Kingston or towards Golden Grove in Portland, we drove past children splashing about as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers washed and dried clothes by the river banks. Always of interest, were the lambs, new arrivals to the kingdom of god, dressed in their flowing white robes and tightly wound turbans. Dipped into the river, they were born anew and welcomed into the fold of believers. There was the occasional Rastaman, bathing and shaking his locks dry, and there was also me, a small girl, skipping over rocks, collecting “beads” from river grasses, following the river to its end by Lyssons Beach. I didn’t realize it then but these things were all my special friends.
Plantain Garden River
My all time favorite river in our home parish was the Plantain Garden River. I loved its name and I reveled in the names of the communities through which it ran. Most of all, I loved that it “walked its own walk,” refusing to run in the same direction that the other rivers on the island did. This river, the Plantain Garden, runs through communities with names like Ginger Hall, Airy Castle and Sunny Hill. Whereas all the other rivers in Jamaica (nearly one hundred of them) flow north or south, my idol flows eastwards. I am sure there is some geographical reason for this but for me, it is its difference that makes it memorable.
The parish of St.Thomas is filled with rivers. These include the Clock and Roaring rivers, both of which meet the Plantain Garden River in the district of Ginger Hall. As memorable as the Plantain Garden may be, it is the Yallahs River that is most striking. Just about every year this river floods its banks, rages across the land making roads impassable and in some cases, makes lives unbearable and unlivable. During floods and hurricane season, it cuts country off from town and vice versa. It surges in a mad rush, taking crops, livestock, homes and humans with it.
Yallahs is a heavily mined river. It is valued by the construction industry for its sand and river rocks. It is also valuable to the National Water Commission (NWC). The primary provider of potable water in Jamaica, the NWC designed the Yallahs Pipeline Scheme to divert an estimated average annual yield of 16.4 million imperial gallons of water per day from the Yallahs River. This water is channeled into the Mona Reservoir, a large concrete dam that serves the semi-metropolitan area of St. Andrew. In some ways this undertaking is similar to the construction of California’s Hetch Hetchy Dam and the diversion of water from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay area. In both cases, the corporate area gathers water at the expense of the countryside. To learn more about the Blue Mountain Multi-Purpose Project of 1980 and its possible ecological impacts, access the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources of the Government of Jamaica’s special report here: <http://www.pcj.com/dnn/Portals/0/Documents/SWECO%20PREINVESTMENT%20B3.PDF>
~Please stay tuned for next week’s, “The RiverRoad” part two.~
Where: Danville, CA (approximately 31 miles east of San Francisco)
Note: This property can only be accessed on foot or by a National Park Service shuttle.
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Take a leisurely hike through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Follow either the Williams or Madrone Trail to where they junction at a fire road leading to the back of Eugene O’Neill’s old property. Enter the gate and walk past the final resting place of Blemie, O’Neill’s elderly Dalmatian.
The residence, Tao House, sits on a one-hundred-and-fifty-eight acre property that was once part of the Rancho San Ramon Mexican land grant. Many of the almond and walnut trees that Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill planted are still here. Except for Saturdays, entrance to this National Historic Site is by reservation only.
A black gate (pictured above) leading to the courtyard is decorated with four Taoist characters, Dao, Da, Bie, and Shu. Navigate the zigzag path directly beyond to arrive at the house’s main entryway. Inside the first floor guest room are two wall murals titled, The Mountains of Mist. Although they are representative of the Chinese countryside, they also remind me of the California mountains — Las Trampas Ridge and Mount Diablo — both visible from either side of the property.
LOCATION/VENUE: National Park Service, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, 1000 Kuss Road, Danville, CA 94526 Phone: (925) 838-0249
DIRECTIONS: Hiking: 5.9 miles (moderate, 3 hour hike) through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Start your hike at the west end of Hemme Avenue in Danville. Take the Ringtail Cat and Madrone Trails to Tao House. Enter through the back gate near the barn.
TIP: If you visit in the late spring – early to mid-May – be sure to catch one of the plays being hosted in The Old Barn/Playwrights’ Theatre. The 2012 lineup included a recently discovered one-act play, Exorcism, that was thought to have been destroyed by the author in 1920. It is based on O’Neill’s 1913 suicide attempt. Don’t forget to get a first hand look at the replica of O’Neill’s 1936 Nobel Prize before you leave. It is the only Nobel Prize to have been awarded to an American playwright. See the National Park Service’s Web site, http://www.nps.gov/euon, for more information on arranging a visit to Tao House, the home where O’Neill penned his final plays, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.
This was a busy weekend. I BARTed into San Francisco for a look at the light show at the new Bay Bridge and for happy hour at Chaya (across the street from the bridge). I also went on a behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (awesome!) and today, re-experienced art in the woods at Djerassic, in the Santa Cruz Mountains (more awesome!!).
Friday Night on the Embarcadero
The new Bay Bridge is nearing completion and is set to be opened soon. Here is a nighttime view of the waterfront along the Embarcadero with a view of the bridge. The new installation art piece (an LED light show) is in the foreground of the bridge. (Those are the lights you see in the upper right hand side of the photograph.) It looks like San Francisco is almost ready for the 2013 Americas Cup!
Moon Jellies and Such, Oh My!
Oh, the jellies I saw! Lot and lots of jelly fishes were on show at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Moon jellies. White moon jellies. Purple sprite jellies. Spotted jellies. Mediterranean jellies. Can you figure out which ones these are?
The history of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to be is fascinating. It involves David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) and his daughter who was at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station (in Monterey Bay). The senior Packard was looking for a family project to do with his daughter. That project evolved into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium sits at the far corner of Cannery Row. The entire area was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, Cannery Row, and The Sea of Cortez. His friend Doc features prominently in both novels and also on the Row, where he died in a car crash. One interesting note is that Monterey Bay is, in fact, a bight, not a bay. It is more open (less sheltered) than a bay and shallower also. The rocks in Monterey Bay are also an indication that it is not a true bay. A bay, by contrast, is a inlet of water enclosed on three sides by the land. Monterey Bay is not enclosed at all. It is wide open to the ocean with tide pools and salt water constantly moving in and out.
Here are some art installations in the woods at Djerassic and also, a window view from the Artist’s Barn.
After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.
Dirca and Indian Warrior
It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.
The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?
A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.
Searsville Lake and Dam
One of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.
There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.
To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:
To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.
This show runs from October 2012-February 24, 2013
The Nazis’ Entartete Kunst Show Revisited
The title of this current exhibition at The Cantor Museum is rather disconcerting:
A better title for the show would have been, “A War on Modern Art: The Notorious Hitler/Nazi Purge of 1937,” or quite simply, “The Entartete Kunst Show.”
The infamous Nazi art exhibition of 1937, Entartete Kunst, sought to stamp out certain art forms, including abstraction. It had the opposite effect. By drawing attention to modern art, the Nazis helped to make it unforgettable.
Wassily Kandinsky, the Russian painter and theorist, has been credited with creating the first purely abstract Western artworks. He taught at the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed it in 1933. His use of colors, shapes and lines so offended their sense of beauty that in the Entartete Kunst exhibition, they declared his art to be “crazy at any price.” Included in the current Cantor exhibition are several Kandinsky pieces that are representative of the ones featured in the 1937 show.
In 1929, The Great Depression hit Germany hard. Over five-million Germans and Austrians were out of work. The “unacceptable” were blamed for infecting the society. Anything and anyone violating the Nazis’ sense of classical German beauty (Aryan) were deemed degenerate and therefore, to be destroyed. In defense of this destruction, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, is heard declaring on archival film, “Der Fuhrer liebt die Kunst, weil er selbst ist ein Kunstler” (The Feurer loves art. He himself is an artist).* Unfortunately, this love extended neither to abstract/modern art nor its creators.
Book burnings began in Berlin in 1933: German and Austrian books were burned alongside books by “corrupting foreign influences.” This included books by Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells and the German playwright, Heinriche Heine. Heine, in his 1821 play, Almansor had written the following line:
“Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”)
The 1937 Degenerate Art show featured many of Kandinsky’s works, including an edition of the book, Klange (Sounds), and the portfolio of twelve prints entitled, “Kleine Welten” (Small Worlds). None of the works in The Cantor’s exhibition were actually in the Nazi sponsored art exhibition but both shows feature(d) a copy of Klange and several prints from Kleine Welten.
Also on view at The Cantor is a reproduction of the 1937 Nazi exhibition catalog (in both German and English). This too, was disturbing and did what it was meant to: It shocks the visitor by its immediacy and also by its accessibility to the English-speaker.
Over one-hundred artists and six-hundred pieces of art (including illustrated books like Kandinsky’s) encompassed the Nazis’ 1937 art exhibition. When the Degenerate Art Law was passed a year later in 1938, the Nazis had confiscated more than 16,000 objects of art.
Julien Bryan’s Archival Films
Chilling and voyeuristic are apt descriptions of Julien Bryan’s 1937 short films. The documentary of the museum goers viewing the show is numbing, disturbing, evocative and sad. You wonder which attendees will become murderers and who will be murdered. What are visitors thinking as they view the show? Is each visitor thinking for himself or has he allowed his thinking to be sanctioned by the State? Who, at that show, will help those in need and who will turn on “the other?” You wish you didn’t know how it ultimately ends.
Three links to various Bryan documentaries are embedded below. These are silent, black and white films. Because they are soundless, they are all the more harrowing. They have a certain magnetic pull, drawing the viewer in in a way that modern films do not. In their silence they force you to pay attention, to listen with your eyes.
Who was Julien Bryan? He was an American photographer, filmmaker and documentarian who traveled throughout Europe in the 1930s. He tried to warn America of the dangers of Nazism and Fascism based on what he saw in his travels abroad, in Russia, Poland, Germany and Austria. His documentary films of the era are now part of the public domain. Access them here:
Munich Exhibition of Degenerate Art — Filmed by Bryan when he visited the 1937 Nazi exhibition.
Pupils at Goldschmidt Jewish Private School in Nazi Germany — Bryan filmed the Goldschmidt Jewish private school shortly after Jews were no longer allowed to enroll in public schools in Germany. Again, you wish you didn’t know how this all turns out.