One of my favorite living landscape painters is Lois Dodd. I first learned about her through her affiliation with Cooper Union. Now 80-years old, Dodd still delights in the ordinary. Catch her New York show if you can. It runs through April 4th.
Panorama showing Hart Island (lower right) and City Island (left) in 2010. The large land mass at the top of the picture is the borough of the Bronx (Photo credit: wikipedia.org)
Unless you are a prisoner, you won’t have access to this island, at least for now. Hart Island is the story of what happens when an indigent or homeless New York City resident dies. This island has been used as the City’s potter’s field since 1869. Its grave diggers are the prisoners of Rikers Island.
Back in April 2013, I wrote an article that included information about the once terribly polluted Hudson River in New York State. Now the water near New York City is getting cleaner and the fish are finally returning. Now there are regular sightings of larger fish, like whales and sharks, that are following the food source. This is great news! Read about it here and also, take a look back in time at my April 2013 article, The River Road, Part Two.
There is a little square in the SOMA (South of Market) area of San Francisco. It is called South Park and it reminds me of the squares in London and also of some of the squares (Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park, for example) in the Village (New York City). In a little back alley behind the park, I found these lovely graffiti:
This three minute video by the Presidio
Trust of San Francisco is a great homage to cities all across the United States. Here you see former industrialized places transformed into unconventional art spaces and parks. Gems from New York City, Chicago, North Adams (MA), and San Francisco are all showcased here. Every city in the world ought to have at least one space like this:
Art lovers who know their history, particularly the history of the marginalized, will recall that moment in time when Nelson Rockefeller censored Diego Rivera. The artist had been commissioned to do a mural at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rivera inserted a figure of Lenin into the work and Rockefeller insisted he remove it. The artist objected and the 63-foot long mural was demolished. That’s the 1930s for you. But this week, came news from Europe that Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s, “Koliivschina: Judgment Day” mural, commissioned by the Kiev Museum, Ukraine, was destroyed by its director. Why? Because the work depicts priests, judges and other figures burning in a vat of fiery red liquid. (Sounds like an updated version of Dante’s Inferno to me!). Oh, that’s Eastern Europe for you.
But wait! Remember that guy in Los Angeles, the museum director who destroyed the work that he commissioned Blu to do? In defense of his position, Jeffrey Deitchthe of MOCA, Los Angeles, said that Blu’s antiwar mural, located where it was, was insensitive to the neighborhood that includes a Veterans’ Affairs building and a memorial to Japanese American soldiers. Well, that is what happens when you commission artists to do works. You either tell them what they can or cannot paint or you take what you get! The great Bard of English literature, William Shakespeare, understood this concept very well.
Parallel to Interstate 680 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks is a landmark that bicyclists refer to as graffiti bridge. Does this bridge rightly have a name? I don’t know, but graffiti bridge is a good locator when trying to get your bearings as you bicycle the Sunol/Pleasanton (and if you are feeling particularly adventurous or suicidal, /Niles) bike loop. It is the most monumental graffiti in this area simply because of its location along a suburban country road lined with trees and pasture.
From Public Roadway to Private Underpass
Graffiti bridge is done up in red and white, green, and blue aerosol spray paint. Sitting directly on a public roadway, its colorful paintings are accessible to any who care to stop and look. The opposite is true for the rest of the graffiti featured here. This second set of graffiti is located on private land close to Happy Valley Road. Tucked behind a gate that is operated by a digital keypad, the tunnel paintings are barely visible from the street. Still, enough of it is visible to arouse curiosity. And so, one morning, just as the owner emerged from behind his gated, protected from the public, lands, I was able to get his permission to view as well as photograph the pictures in the/his tunnel. I doubt very much, that the taggers had permission to enter the space and create their art. Such is the nature of graffiti.
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.