Consumerism's albatross: Chris Jordan travels to Midway Island

Next month photographer Chris Jordan and a team of artists are heading to Midway Island, in the middle of the Pacific "garbage patch." There, albatross are dying off because the birds mistake floating debris for food. Follow their progress here, and donate some cash by emailing midwayjourney at gmail.com.

Mindfully.org runs this shocking photo of the carcass of a bird, obviously killed by consuming bottle caps and filth.

And Shifting Baselines gets more (and less) graphic with this display of the contents of a single Midway albatross' stomach:

Via Jen Graves.


The Face of Impermanence

Tibetan anatomical paintings via Eyebeam's reBlog.

Bits: 08.26.09

No. 225 by Henrijs Priess, used with permission

• Latvian artist Henrijs Priess "translates archetypal symbols from Islam, Judaism and Christianity into textured paintings composed of gold, silver and red. His abstract paintings are constructed in a process that recalls the practice of alchemy."

• Photographer Tod Seelie continues his bike trip through Indonesia, meeting up with kids on "crazy tall bikes."

• Graffiti-writing is on the rise in China, but don't expect any political messages (save the occasional pro-government throwup).

• Art:21's "Gastro-Vision" series continues with a look at Atom Cianfarani's new Welcomed Guests, ten poles fitted with local wine casks to provide homes for nesting birds.

Reboot yourself, as artist Kristin Lucas did, by legally changing your name to the one you've already got.

• Artist Li Wei is a superhero, but probably not as huge as Bruce Lee, Bob Marley or any of the other icons commemorated in monuments in eastern Europe.

• What's on Dick Cheney's bookshelf? Nesting dolls of him, Colin Powell and others of George Bush I's cabinet.

• Mark your calendars: On Sept. 17, I'm participating in the Weisman Art Museum's WAM Chatter. In conjunction with their Rauschenberg show Currents, I'm one of three journalists doing pecha kucha–style presentations on the topic "What is news now?"

• That same night you can support St. Paul's Forecast Public Art at a fundraiser with music, live art and more.

Time's Richard Lacayo on Ted Kennedy.


Bits: 08.21.09

• As The Pop-Up City looks at a floating campsite near Amsterdam (above), Kevin Cyr creates both a prototype and a painting of his functional pedal-powered, one-man RV, the Camper Bike.

• Banksy, interviewed by Shepard Fairey, on his favorite piece of nontraditional art:
The most perfect piece of art I saw in recent times was during an anarchist demonstration in London a couple of years ago. Someone cut a strip of turf from the grass in front of Big Ben and put it on the head of the statue of Winston Churchill. Later, the demo turned into a riot, and photos of Winston with a grass Mohican were on the cover of every single British newspaper the next day. It was the most amazing bit of vandalism, because it was the perfect logo for this eco-punk movement that was trying to reclaim the streets, bring an end to global capitalism, and defend the right to sit in a park all day getting wasted on discount lager.
• "Feral houses" in Detroit, and the problem of "ruin porn" of the Motor City.

• Art:21 launches a monthly food column, Gastro-Vision, with a look at the aesthetics of urban farming.

NOMAD and some other guy paint the roof of a Las Vegas casino.

• In 2001, a 19-year-old woman is approached by a Getty photographer and given fifty bucks to be in a stock photo. Years later, her image is popping up everywhere.

• Hou Hanru "On the Spectacle of the Everyday."

• Via @cmonstah, a nice tilt-shift photo of Song Dong's new MoMA installation.

• The Simpson's get a blackface makeover in honor of the show's debut in Africa. Harry Allen calls it a "MASSIVE fail."

Bookshelf: Installations by Architects

I've been poring through Installations by Architects: Experiments in Building and Design, to be published by Princeton Architectural Press this October. It's a remarkable compendium of projects by architects including Diller + Scofidio, Allan Wexler, Anderson Anderson (with Cameron Schoepp) and others. My favorites tend to be sculptural interventions in public space.
Périphérique Architectes' Pink Ghost created an outdoor salon, injecting an element of play in urban Paris.

Richard Kroeker describes his Eye Level project (above), a collaboration with university students in Canada:
General Cornwallis is officially regarded as the founder of Halifax. He was a British General, who during his time in Nova Scotia issued a decree offering a bounty for the scalps of Mi’maq including non-combatants, women and children. This was part of a grim history of genocidal policies targeting indigenous people. The Eye Level project created the opportunity for anyone to climb the stairs to visit Cornwallis, and read his proclamation back to him. The implication is that we need to constantly revisit history, to re consider how and why we create heroes and monuments to our pasts.
Walking the Park, a grass-lined walking wheel, featured here in 2006:

Ink calendar by Oscar Diaz

"Spanish designer Oscar Diaz has designed a calendar that uses the capillary action of ink spreading across paper to display the date." Via Protein.


Bits: 08.18.09

Damara Kaminecki's Bang Bang, via Street Anatomy

• Chicago 20-year old Firas Alkhateeb is unmasked as the creator of the original Obama-as-Joker image that was later manipulated into the "SOCIALIST" posters being plastered everywhere. Still doesn't answer the question about who --lobbyist or guerrilla artist -- turned it into street-art, a question Hrag's been noodling for awhile. (Via @Groundswellblog.)

• Speaking of rightwing art: A fascinating post -- also via Groundswell -- about Ku Klux Klan quilts. (Here's one donated to Michigan State University in 2000.)

• A thoroughly engrossing essay by Adam Levy on how 701 photos of Hiroshima were unearthed in a suitcase more than five decades after the bombing.

• Last Wednesday, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and colleagues were detained in a hotel room so they couldn't attend the trial of Tan Zuoren, an activist who tried to investigate whether graft by Sichuan officials contributed to shoddy construction of schools that fell during last year's earthquake. Ai was to testify at the hearing; he and a supporter were roughed up by police during a 3 a.m. raid in which they were hauled off, the AP reports.

• Shown only three times -- in 1971, 1984 and 1989 -- Robert Irwin's Slant/Light/Volume, a series of translucent scrims installed in the gallery, is now on view at the Walker Art Center.

New work by Blu in Grottaglie, Italy.

• This ain't right: Guernica in 3D.

LEGO Guggenheim.

• It's 90 degrees and sunny out in Minneapolis, but it's time to start thinking about ice: Proposals for the 2010 Art Shanty Project are due October 5.

Gum wall heart.


Brooklyn Walls


Stephan Geras sends a series of shots of wall-, commercial- and sidewalk-art from around Brooklyn. Check out the Flickr pool.


Red Hook


RIP Les Paul


John Fekner's Cash for Clunkers

Stenciled junkers from John Fekner's series Cash for Clunkers, via Just Seeds.

Trevor Paglen black-ops tees

Experimental geographer/artist Trevor Paglen has teamed up with FreshJive to make t-shirts and caps emblazoned with imagery from his collection of military black-ops patches. Buy me one here.

Bits: 8.13.09

Send a note to airport X-ray operators with Evan Roth's TSA Communication, steel inserts for carry-on bags

• Shimon Naveh, former co-director of the Israeli Defense Force's Operational Theory Research Institute, says students there read John Forester, Gregory Bateson and Clifford Geertz. Lessons on military and guerrilla operations "employed the language of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari," according to Eyal Weizman. Via @jaymjordan.

Free ideas for rightwing poster art (KISS Pelosi!).

• Pruned posts on the oddly beautiful soil maps of Africa, via GlobalSoilMap.net.

• Gawker: "Shepard Fairey, career vandal, applied 'anti-graffiti coating to the walls' of his LA gallery. Wack."

• A "permanent" graffiti wall by Brad Downey... in mosaic tile.

Favify your website. Whatever that means. Via Wax by the Fire.

Skeletal kids-room wallpaper.

• Via Gothamist, a creepy breastfeeding doll.


City on the Make: Chicks on Bikes

I ran into Mike Massey of City on the Make at Save Canvas Saturday and asked him about the band's new video, "Chicks on Bikes." It was shot last summer on vintage film stock (16mm, if I recall correctly; no video effects) right here in Minneapolis.

Bits: 08.11.09

Mural near Dikeman and Dwight, Red Hook, Brooklyn, photographed by Stephan Geras

• New NEA head Rocco Landesman on the organization's old slogan, "A Great Nation Deserves Great Art": "We might as well just apologize right off the bat."

• It's confirmed: the Obama/Joker poster is a bona fide media meme. It must be if Shepard Fairey is weighing in on it. "I have my doubts about the person's intelligence," he tells the LA Times. "It's not grammatically correct. It would be 'socialist' ... Obama is not Marx. He didn't create socialism..."

• Bloomberg's top-museum-salaries list is out and -- no suprise -- MoMA's Glenn Lowry tops it, raking in a cool $1.32 million last fiscal year (down from $1.95 million the previous year).

• Ben Davis' "The Museum Bubble" -- via @enjoybanking -- writes about big salaries pulled in by museum execs like the Getty Trust's James Williams who made $1.28 million in compensation, "even as his investment decisions led to the loss of 205 jobs." He continues: "I am not of the camp who hates on art students just because they were sold the idea that art could be a lucrative and glamorous career, or who thinks that art dealers are the spawn of Satan (only some of them are). But the art bureaucrats at the top, those pious guardians of our nonprofit castles of culture -- they deserve our scorn right now." Worth reading.

• Behold, the DORYU 2-16 pistol camera, a 16mm police-issue film camera from Japan.

• The LA Times' Christopher Knight responds to Rush Limbaugh, who says Obama's healthcare logo is "damn close to a Nazi swastika logo":
Asserting a resemblance between the two logos is like saying Limbaugh resembles Gary Busey because both men have two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a drug addiction. Obama's healthcare logo includes no eagle, Roman symbol of imperial authority, and it has no swastika, the bent-arm cross designed by Hitler himself as the emblem of National Socialism. Instead, the Obama design surmounts the red, white and blue landscape of his presidential campaign logo with a caduceus, the winged staff entwined with serpents that derived from the rod of Asclepius, son of Greek god Apollo. An ancient symbol of healing, the rod is often used as a medical logo. So the Obama design shows a medical symbol above the American landscape.

Make that two hitches: The claim that Nazism embraced healthcare is obscene.

• More moss graffiti.

• A new street-art animation by BLU in Bologna.

100 Years of Design Manifestos.

• Sock monkey? Feh! Spock monkey!


RIP Marwa Omot

I don't know much about Marwa Akway Omot, except that he was 23, he came here from Ethiopia in 1996, and his body was found on Sunday in the Mississippi not far from my where I live. As a 16-year old, he took part in the Walker Art Center's 2002 project, "Minneapolis and St. Paul are East African Cities," which was part of Ethiopia-born artist Julie Mehretu's residency. Mehretu and Walker staffers worked with Somali, Oromo and Ethiopian kids to help them map their lives here in Minnesota; the result -- including audio Omot recorded in his chemistry class at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis -- was presented in an online interactive map; plus participants' photos, notebooks and audio recordings are now part of the permanent collection at the Hennepin History Museum, where they were exhibited in 2003.

Given my tenuous connection to this young man, I'm not sure why I'm writing about this, except maybe to acknowledge sadness that his long journey here, presumably to find better circumstances, ended abruptly. And as a (probably unnecessary) reminder that when it comes to charting our own lives, we never know how soon 'til that last X on the map is laid down.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Anti-usury group hits the streets

10 Percent is Enough is a group of anti-poverty and religious groups seeking to cap credit-card interest rates at ten percent. While the group's late July rallies around the country seemed successful, an anti-usury bill in the U.S. House -- which would set the interest-rate ceiling at a whopping 36 percent --remains mired in committee. (Thanks, Kemi!)


Eyeteeth video: "Save Canvas," Minneapolis

At 11 pm last night, I got a sneak preview of Save Canvas, a temporary takeover of vacant buildings in downtown Minneapolis by artists Aaron Bickner, Andy Shannon and Overproof Studio. The project debuts tonight, but here's my video preview of Save Canvas, which can be seen in three buildings on the South side of 10th Street, between Nicollet and Marquette, through August.

Tonight: "Save Canvas" debuts in downtown Minneapolis

The plan was that the three buildings in the shadow of Target's color-shifting Minneapolis headquarters would be replaced with a 53-story tower billed as the most luxurious condo facility in the city. But plans change: Four years later, the site of The Nicollet -- once home to Let It Be Records, Sawatdee restaurant, Key's Diner and Big Brain Comics -- sits vacant, black mold crawling its walls and water puddling on its floors. Thanks to the economic downturn, pigeons, not upscale urbanites, occupy this would-be "landmark in the making" -- as The Nicollet's marketing slogan read.

Finally, tonight, these spaces will see a little rebirth.

Overproof Studio, in cooperation with Shardlow's company and other local partners, are presenting Save Canvas, an art installation by Minneapolis' Aaron Bickner and Andy Shannon. Viewable only from the street, one building unspools a narrative: one side shows a curmudgeonly seeming old woman, head buried in a newspaper -- a 2005 City Pages story that pooh-poohed the project, which meant the evictions of a posse of bike messengers -- as pigeons mill nearby. The other shows her opposite a young girl crouching in the decaying space to rip up the flooring and expose some kind of colorful agent (variously dubbed bacteria or "creative amoeba" by project participants).

The Save Canvas theme is two-fold: the art is sprayed onto walls of the abandoned space instead of a more traditional surface, and the materials used are scavenged or recycled: vinyl posters from The Nicollet's marketing are repurposed; the Minnesota Opera has donated old set pieces for re-use; and junk left behind by business owners is configured in sculptural assemblages.

Tonight's party -- which runs from 7 to 10:30 pm on 10th Street between Nicollet and Marquette -- will include the unveiling of the project, plus music at an adjacent pop-up gallery by DJ Rambo Salinas and guests, beverages by Gastro non Grata, and an art show by Bickner and Shannon, plus members of Overproof. And there will paint-filled Supersoakers, so visitors can spew some "creative amoeba" of their own on the decaying site.

Here's my video preview of the installation:


Seeds not bombs: Artist Hiroshi Sunairi on Hiroshima and "A-bombed trees"

Sixty-four years ago today, at 8:15 a.m. Japan Standard Time, the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay unleashed fury on the city of Hiroshima, dropping an 8,900-pound uranium bomb called "Little Boy." Some 70,000 people died instantly, according to military estimates, and 70,000 more succumbed to radiation poisoning within the next five years.

For artist Hiroshi Sunairi, subjected to endless hours of "peace education" classes growing up in Japan, Hiroshima gradually started becoming "Hiroshima," a concept that, after he moved to New York and witnessed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, gained a deep, new significance. While Hiroshima's citizens turned tragic violence into a pledge for peace, Sunairi says he was shocked that the U.S. responded to an attack on its soil with vengeance.

Born in Hiroshima to a mother he recently learned had in utero radiation exposure, Sunairi has embarked on a project to both remind the world about Hiroshima's history and to transform it through an act of sharing and growth. He's been distributing seeds of hibaku trees -- "A-bombed trees," including persimmon, jujube, Japanese hackberry, chinaberry and round-leaf holly -- for people around the world to tend. He's found support from Tree Project participants across America -- from Irvine to Charleston, New York City to my kitchen in Minneapolis -- and in countries including Bolivia, Italy, Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan.
Over several weeks, Sunairi and I discussed the project -- which will be exhibited at The New York Horticultural Society in December 2009 -- via email. I'm happy to share our conversation, undoubtedly the first of several, today.

Paul: I planned on starting out this interview talking about art -- your past works, the project's relation to other planting projects by artists, etc. -- but now that my first seed has sprouted, I see the project a bit differently: as a point of personal connection with not only you and Hiroshima but with people like Sora Akiyoshi in New York, Ruth Ann Brown in Portland, Piergiorgio Traverso in Rome.

So: tell me about Hiroshima. The city, especially to those of us in the west, is known for one thing: the American nuclear bomb -- the first ever nuclear weapon used in warfare -- dropped there on August 6, 1945, which killed 140,000 people or more. What's a striking detail -- the people, the foliage, the types of industry there -- about it, aside from this painful history? What's your connection to the city (did you grow up there or have family there), and what are your memories of the city now that you're living in New York?

Hiroshi: I am from Hiroshima, born and raised, and I came to the US when I was 18. Thus, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is something that I was familiar with when growing up. "Peace Education" is set up in every elementary school in Hiroshima. Through very visceral documentation and stories, I learned what happened quite young, just as anybody in Hiroshima does. That is my connection to the Hiroshima that the world knows. However, I also have a memory of Hiroshima as an individual growing up, as young person without any connection to the "Hiroshima" the world knows. I was a young boy riding my bicycle to high school, hanging out with friends after school in downtown Hiroshima. Clothes shopping, eating out, and playing games at arcade game centers, those types of ordinary memories also exist in me.

Now living in New York, I think about Hiroshima in a different way. The Peace Education that I used to find annoying when I was young now seems quite profound, philosophically. When faced with 9/11 nearby and the war afterwards, I was shocked observing the US turning its mourning into an anger and retaliation. As young boy, I learned that people in Hiroshima who suffered in the aftermath of the atomic bombing believed that retaliation was not the answer, but working to diminish all nuclear weapons was. That type of peaceful thinking in me reacted strongly to the recent actions of the US.

Then, I became quite fascinated with something that I grew up with: the Peace Constitution of Japan, article 9, which basically prohibits an act of war by the state. This is quite natural thinking not just in me, but in all Japanese after the war. Then, I decided to make works based on my roots within the context of the world.

Paul: Today is the 64th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. How did the bombing affect your family? Do you commemorate the anniversary each year?

Hiroshi: My family never did commemorate the day of the atomic bombing. Unless a member of the family is affected or has a special relationship to the history, normally regular Hiroshima citizens don't commemorate the day. It is the background of everyday life in Hiroshima.

I didn't feel a connection to that history until I taught a class at NYU in 2004 about making art about the idea of peace. When I invited students to come to Hiroshima for a group exhibition I curated, then the history of Hiroshima became a backbone for that class. Also, I was invited to exhibit my work at Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in 2005, the year of sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombing.

Then, one day in Hiroshima, as my mother was talking to her older sister about my involvement with the issue, my mother was told that she was internally affected [while her mother was pregnant with her]. I guess my grandmother, with my mother in her womb, was looking for her daughter, who worked for street car company in the city of Hiroshima, after the bombing. This all came as a surprise for us, however this did not affect the way my family felt about the history. It still stayed just as background for a regular Hiroshima day.

Paul: You've used hibaku in past works, including A Night of Elephants (below), a 2006 piece in which you created a cage-like structure shaped like an elephant and put dried branches from Hiroshima's hackberry trees inside of it, noting in an accompanying essay that people in Hiroshima -- unlike mythic elephants -- are starting to forget what happened on Aug. 6, 1945. (The elephant's memory has also been referenced in works related to the memory of 9/11 and its victims). How will the Tree Project be physically manifested as art when it's complete? Will you have actual hibaku at the NY Horticultural Society exhibition or only photo-representations?

Hiroshi: The "Tree Project" exhibition at The Horticultural Society of New York is only a halfway culmination of what the project will be. Yes, we will have Hibaku seedlings from anyone who succeeded in sprouting their seeds near New York City as well as photo documentation of Hibaku seedlings and all the people who participated in this projects, plus some of the ceramic elephant foot pots I make. There will be more things in the installation, which I don't know, yet, but as an artist, I will make this show not only a documentation of the project, but an interesting art exhibition as well.

The other long-term goal I have with the Tree Project is to make it into a public-art project in which we'll plant the fully grown seedlings in the ground in different parts of US and the world. I have this idea about creating a Hibaku Tree Garden on the top of some tall buildings in New York, making it into contemplative and green space for the public. I have a project title already in mind: Oasis in the sky. That is more like the final stage I imagine. The exhibition in December is just a prelude.


Alabama bans wine cuz there's a nekked lady on the label

Good grief. Cycles Gladiator wine is verboten in Alabama because the label features "a person poised in an immoral or sensuous manner."

Lorrie Rodgers of
Hahn Family Estates, the California company that makes the wine, told Examiner.com:
"There's been quite the momentum and excitement [after the ban in Alabama]. It's very interesting as the label is art and comes from a very famous French lithograph from 1895. The bicycle represents freedom and there are only a few of the original lithographs left and from what I've been told they sell for approximately $50,000 each."
Via @artnetdotcom.

The Story: Brian Ulrich on the Art of Consumerism

Brian Ulrich, Klingman's Furniture, 2008

Guggenheim Fellowship–winning photographer Brian Ulrich, whose images of abandoned malls and expansive big box stores I've featured here on many occasions, discusses "consumerism as art" on American Public Media's The Story today.


Bits: 08.04.09

Kawano Takeshi via Another Limited Rebellion

• Green Thirteen looks at the horticulture of New York's High Line, while Curbed looks at another kind of green: the beaucoup bucks it takes to maintain the new park. "Average city parks get $9,555 per acre for upkeep, while the High Line is expected to get $522,488 to $671,641 per each of its total 6.7 acres, which would put the larger Bryant Park at a distant second." (Via Hrag)

• LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan is PO'd that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has put its film program on hold. The museum has opened a forum to discuss the decision.

• Jasper Johns tells James Rosenquist a joke: "This turtle was walking along and it was robbed by two snails. The turtle called the police, and when they asked him [what happened], the turtle said, 'Well I don't know, everything happened too fast." Via AFC.

The Dawn of (Helvetica) Man via Utne.

• "Dondi, Zephyr, and J. Walter Negro in an Anna Wintour fashion spread from from New York Magazine," March 1982.

Søkkømb guillotine from Ikea (not really), the "new low-cost product designed specifically for all those citizens who are so interested in Do-It-Yourself Justice."

Pictures of people jumping into water.

• I'm particularly fond of Kat Lane's Jabba the Hut: The Early Days from the exhibition Stitch Wars.

Crappy taxidermy. Via Coudal.

Trailer: The Yes Men Fix the World

Opens in the UK today and in the U.S. on October 7.

Saberi art coincides with Clinton's Pyongyang trip on behalf of jailed Current reporters

Update: Lee and Ling were pardoned and released today.

As a Fargo artist renders one local symbol of press freedom in stencils -- journalist Roxana Saberi, who was accused of spying and jailed in Iran -- another pair of American reporters remain imprisoned in North Korea. But there's a new development in their case.


Sprinting lion: New Broken Crow mural

On the Merit Printing building in downtown Minneapolis.

Obama/Joker: Legit rightwing street art?

A few months back, I asked: Where's all the rightwing street-art? Hrag Vartanian may have found an example in Los Angeles. Although this feels like the work of a rightwing advocacy group rather than a bona fide conservative street-artist. Any guesses who's behind it?

America is not at war

Unsourced photo posted at the Daily Irrelevant

A letter to The Marine Times:

“America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war. America is at the mall.” So says the message in a photo floating around the Internet, popular on several Marine-related Web sites. On one site, a fourth line has been added: “And Congress is out to lunch.”

If this is correct and America is really “at the mall,” maybe what we need is a 1 percent federal sales tax specifically to pay for the war. Let Americans do what they appear to do best, “shop us to victory.” Then, everyone in the U.S. will be sacrificing for their country.

How many Starbucks coffee sales would it take to buy a new Humvee vehicle or M16 rifle?

Air Force Maj. Van Harl (ret.)

Altus, Okla.

Design Observer launches Change Observer

Design Observer -- the superb visual culture blog by Michael Bierut, William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Julie Lasky -- just announced its makeover, becoming the Design Observer Group. The site now serves up four channels: Observatory (design essays, plus an archive of old Design Observer content), Places (the archive and future home of the journal Places: Forum of Design For the Public Realm), the audio/video channel Observer Media and -- most exciting to me -- Change Observer, dedicate to design for the common good:
It will provide timely information about design strategies aimed globally at improving health, education, housing, and the environment, and will feature reportage, interviews, opinion pieces, book and exhibition reviews, a photo gallery, and a resource center compiling information about key organizations and events. Change Observer will not only identify important people and projects related to design for social change, it will also assess their effectiveness through investigative reports by renowned journalists. Change Observer is edited by Julie Lasky and William Drenttel.
Congrats on the changes!

Artist curates self onto Guggenheim wall

Over the weekend Mat Benote walked in during normal business hours and hung one of his own pieces on the famous walls, something the artist describes as "Fine Art Graffiti." He stated: “I want to illustrate that graffiti can be a positive influence in a community when applied properly, and as an art form, has as much right to be displayed in a museum as any other form of art.”