Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aging photographs

USC is wonderfully full of very fake-antique pieces of sculpture - here are some rather Venetian lions.   It seems only appropriate to manipulate them through faux-photographic (pho-fauxtographic?) techniques.

But this mock aging is very shallow compared with the resonances of the destruction and flaking and dissolving that's taken place among the photographs rescued after the Japanese tsunami earlier this year.   There's a compelling video in tomorrow's Guardian of workers and volunteers in the Fujifilm lab, peeling photographs apart, and delicately washing the grime off them, and drying them or putting them between sheets of plastic.   The smallest fragments of buildings or faces are being preserved if at all possible, because, as one of the people interviewed says, one never knows quite what's going to be meaningful, as a shred of memory, to whom.   And then the video shows people searching, searching among all the orphaned photographs, trying to piece little parts of their lives and recollections together.   It's a tremendous testimony to the belief in the power that photographs have as repositories of identities and personal pasts.

public art

This really is a very gloomy sculpture - black stone with water running down it - to have outside the USC hospital - it looks like a huge memorial plaque, a striated tomb, and its morbidity can't be lost on a good number of the patients or those accompanying them.   It's a lapidary memento mori.   It's most inappropriate, even if it has its own gloomy beauty.

It would fit, nonetheless, very well into a course that's germinating in my mind on Outdoors Art - the fact that I'm working on Victorian pavement artists for a paper feeds vaguely into this, too, but so does the aptness of Los Angeles for such a course - the streets are a readily available classroom.   Sculptures, yes - and murals, and graffiti, and the Watts Towers, and billboards - both advertising ones and ones that on occasion are freestanding works of art - and installations on vacant lots, and signage, and then field trips for various Land Art examples.   And other works via reproduction, from Japanese painted manhole covers, to Ben Wilson, that guy in London who paints on little blobs of chewing gum that stick to the sidewalks.   The trouble with the academic calendar is that one has to declare what one will be teaching such a long way in advance that by the time one gets there, it may not be what one is actually passionate about right then - but I think that this idea should endure until next year without too much trouble.

Monday, August 29, 2011

this is being human

"So ... were you taking my picture?" asked the Staples employee, who in his turn was taking a cigarette break.   "No," I lied, in my best British accent, trying to sound as though taking tourist pictures was an everyday act at the eastern end of Santa Monica Boulevard - "I was taking a picture of the door."   Which was, in a way, true - although the potential for having real live human beings so close to graffiti reading "This is being human" was too good to pass up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I'll just repeat myself if I'm not careful: that it's so strange sitting in sunny southern California, and looking at photos on line of the brown, swollen, flooded Raritan.   We are, of course, still slowly unpacking, and so pillows and cushions and even lamps seem scattered in strange places (though Triumph - I found a closet today that had space for the kitty carriers in it).  All the same, it's a great deal more tranquil (at least if one looks in the right direction) than central New Jersey seems to be today.

And yet ... there's a sneaky (English??) bit of me that wonders how much I'm going to miss the Weather - as opposed to having a hot dry season, a cooler often wet season, and bits of gloomy fog thrown into the mix at any time of the year.   Not, I suspect, in - say - March.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

doorstep (or: not in New Jersey)

It was a quiet, hot, late-ish summer's day here in Los Angeles - too hot for much outdoors action, so what did I do (whilst masquerading as someone doing admin)? - sat and watched coverage of the hurricane in the north-east, and hanging on to all mentions of New Jersey.   I'm not sure that this is an easy one to think through - it was a state that I was very happy to leave, and to which I nonetheless I feel curiously bonded.   I think I put a great deal of an effort into welding myself to it, and it's hard to shed that.   Not much could bring home this sense of cross-country distance more effectively than a hurricane.   And yet, at the same time I keep worrying that the basement of our old house might have flooded, or some of the precarious branches - or even trees - overhanging the front and back yards might come down, or the new tower somehow damaged by a stray branch or two.   I feel less sanguine still about what might have happened to the roof of 36 Union Street, or the basement of Murray Hall, or Angela's office ceiling ... One would think that in sunny Los Angeles I'd be able to shut off my anxious imagination, but evidently not ...

things that happen in Hoover St.

Our street is an endless source of - well, if not Amusement, at least curiosity.   Here's a large, shabby white van, filled with unappetising looking stuff like old pillows and sheets and bags of things, owned (or maybe not exactly owned any longer) by an unsavory, if slightly mysterious couple of guys who live (or used to live) next door: maybe brothers; maybe war vets of some kind; maybe ex-addicts; maybe serious depressives; maybe just sad people.   In any case - some small bit of the LAPD, and a tow truck, turned up today, and dragged the van, sagging and whimpering, onto the ramp, and headed off with it.   This was today's mystery, until, this evening, George and Myrna, the adults in the El Salvadorean family opposite, started to dismantle and maybe pack (into a different truck) a whole lot of their outdoor belongings.   They are still at it, clangingly.   Are they moving out?   If so (and it seems possible - over the last month or so there have been various Visits from people who look like bailiffs or similar), what's going on?   And so on.   On the other hand, we are deeply grateful that Sunset Junction, the music festival that was scheduled to happen this weekend just a few blocks away has been cancelled because of unpaid bills - and for that matter, we're pretty happy that there isn't a large damp windy hurricane heading our way.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Memo to self: it's very easy to over-expose parts of photos in bright sunlight.   But this was a hasty shot, in a hasty moment of quietness: it may not exactly be an Oxford college or a northern Italian cloister, but it's a pretty good imitation of an ancient place for meditation, reading, holding serious conversation, etc - so long as one ignores the Metro light railway link being built just the other side of it, and the exposition park with some very large plaster dinosaurs.   In other words, it's like a field trip in po-mo culture - but all the same, great for a spot of seclusion to make a phone call home to ascertain that the patient continues to mend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

hospital waiting

Happily, Alice - minus her gallbladder and its collection of stones - is now safely home and resting.  Many, many thanks to all friends who sent good wishes and kind thoughts and all sorts of positive vibes.   But oh, gosh, the anxious tedium of waiting - first for her, trussed up in a relatively fetching pale mauve paper gown, and still compos mentis enough to be checking her iphone - and then  me, in a downstairs room full of large family groups whose relatives had various dramatic and scary problems (I am, evidently, the kind of sympathetic looking person that you sit next to if you're a Cuban immigrant to Florida, and want to start a long narrative beginning"Can I tell you a story?").   And then back upstairs, with Alice - with four new incisions - relatively relaxed and coherent, but needing to be able to pee (in a significant quantity) before she was allowed home: this led me to google "sound of running water", an exercise that I recommend, under such circumstances.   But here she is, recovering, and normal academic life will be resumed - at least for me - tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

broken things

I should say at the outset that I have far less to complain about than Alice, currently lying on a mattress awaiting gallbladder surgery tomorrow, and (judging by her discomfort), not a moment too soon.   However.   She's lying on a mattress because last night, just as we'd gone to bed, there was a dreadful cracking and splintering noise, and the bed collapsed (no jokes, Please ...).   The movers had put it together in a far from responsible or sensible manner, and the wood just gave way round the bolts.   Luckily the cats fled - if there were any underneath - at the first sounds of devastation, and in any case it lurched down onto plastic boxes beneath.   But it's not easy demolishing a bedframe at night when one's exhausted, and nervous about teaching the next day, and (in the case of one of us) wilting and wincing from a gallstone.   I managed it, with a kind of chisel, and brute fore, but it wasn't fun.   And then - where does one put pieces of a very heavy bed that are too weighty for one person to carry downstairs?   In my study, I guess - which as you can see is none too spacious at the best of times - a desk-width.

And then, to add insult to injury, the plastic hinge on my MacBook Air chose this evening to crack and splinter, too.   No, the bed didn't fall on it.   No, I didn't drop it.   And according to an internet search, this is a Recognized Design Fault.   But now I can't close the computer - and yes, that is another one in the background, but it's elderly and none too stable.   Bah.  Humbug.

Monday, August 22, 2011

blowing one's own trumpet

...which I'm just told, by my trusty translator, equates to Tooting Your Own Horn, in Americanese.   There was, whichever it is, a lot of it going on - in very literal terms - under my office window today.   Ah, my office.   It ought to be an oasis of tranquility (though internally, it's opposite the common room, which was chiefly distinguished today by people talking - good - and by excellent sandwiches and, yes, miniature cheesecakes, which are not at all good things to put within ten yards of me).   It looks onto trees, grass, paths, and what, until the last few days, I'd always thought of as vaguely nouveau-sub-Ruskinian-Venetian brick faintly Italianate buildings.   But these buildings have taken on an identity, and seem to belong to the Music Department.   I can't for a minute complain about being at an arty, creative, imaginative institution - but there is, indeed, a lot of musical activity now taking place under my window, most of it today involving trumpets, horns, cornets, saxophones, tubas, souzaphones, and a whole lot of other things besides.   So of course, in the end, on my way out to the library, I went to investigate - and it was the Brass and Percussion Orientation Session.   Orientation for what?   One very good thing about the arty, creative etc etc environment, of course - and the fact that it's Los Angeles - is that no one even seems to notice that one's taking pictures.   The whole campus is full of people taking pictures ... at the very worst, I guess someone might confuse me for a new student's parent.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Yesterday's New York Times had a piece speculating about the growth of farmers' markets over the past few years - every right-on community wants one, of course, but apparently the more markets there are, the more thinly farmers feel that they are spread, since the market is a finite one - or at least, not one that has mushroomed at the rate that outlets for produce have done.   I very much commend those markets that accept food stamps - the ones in Santa Fe county do, at any rate - since that seems to encourage healthy eating as well as helping farmers sell their stuff.   But I don't know whether such schemes are up and running in Los Angeles - no visible signs that suggest that they are.

We have a local (and indeed, fairly recent) market in Silver Lake, on Saturdays, but I much prefer the Larchmont one, where we went today (and not just because of the not very farmery stall that sells parmesan crisps).   It's true - I don't know that there were as many people there as sometimes - but the fruit and vegetables, the tomatoes and corn and wild arugula and figs and, yes, blueberries and raspberries all looked remarkably alluring, and we came home bent over with bags of them all.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

search and rescue

We were walking along the cliff top in front of the hotel this morning - a peculiarly enjoyable thing to do when the other retreat-attendees were discussing such things as strategic visions, but we, having breakfasted along with them, were then turned loose - our task done, Alice's talk superbly delivered, useful contacts made ... This rather more relaxed version of a retreat was broken into by spotting a small boat down below us - or, rather, an overturned boat, with three or four people on it, waving flares.   And round the headland came a lifeguard launch at top speed, very efficiently rescuing them.   Ah, we thought - it's just like Saturday mornings in Eldorado - it's a rescue practice, an outing for the teams.  And then we saw the fire engine itself, the scuba divers, the hotel security staff, the coastguard helicopter, another launch ... and it stopped looking like an exercise, and more like a little group of people wondering whatever had happened to what was once a boat.   No one (happily) seemed even remotely injured - but later, checking on line that this was indeed true, it became apparent why people in the rescue services might have been quite so intrigued (over and above the possibility of endangered life), since it seems to be a spot of the coastline where both people and drugs get landed in little boats.

In fact, what they barely did see - though one guy was good enough to point it out to us - was the spout from a whale just a little further out to sea - and then, driving away, I squeaked loud enough to alarm Alice, who was at the wheel - but I'd just seen the large curved T of a whale tail, high above the surface, and then sliding gracefully back in.


All I'll say is that in my last job, there weren't Provost's Retreats with a view like this ... I was just along for the (very pleasant) ride - Alice being the after-dinner speaker - so excited, of course, that I forgot my computer lead, so have no power with which to write any more ...

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I promised, a couple of weeks back, that I'd post a picture of something that we bought in Silver City NM, and here it is: a fish print.   More precisely, here's a fish who has been inked, and then used like a printing block, with its impression transferred to lightweight canvas.   Gyotaku - that's what we're talking about - was first used by Japanese fishermen in the early C19th to record the size of the fish that they caught - no stretching out of arms, and asserting that Yes, it was Really, Really Big, here ...  Today, there are a number of fish artists not just in Japan but in Hawaii - and printing, often, onto various specialist Japanese papers - and sometimes tinting the impression with water color, too [if anyone out there is wondering what I'd like for Christmas ...].   It's a wonderful way of creating one off art from the natural world without wastage - a number of these practitioners make a point of saying that they then eat the subject of their art work - like edible, scaly brass rubbings.

flipping burgers

This isn't, of course, something that I would myself have felt particularly tempted by on the first day of college (but then, a year of St Anne's vegetarian salads, in 1973-4, weren't really particularly exciting, either).   However, the long line of freshers (why the US doesn't use the gender neutral word that they do in the UK, I don't know) and parents waiting in line suggests that I would probably have been in a minority.   Today was Drop Off Your Offspring day - with lots of campus-greeting with balloons and a band and other festivities.   What struck me was how incredibly cheerful and happy and excited the students looked - as did their parents - and not just at the prospect, I trust, of some free bit of charred meat patty.   It was also quite wonderful not being the only person on campus who didn't know quite where she was going - although I realise that the sense of being faintly lost and wide eyed is going to wear off very soon ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

more about paint

After the success of painting my office 'Arsenic', you can't keep me away from Farrow and Ball's colors.   So now the bedroom has turned 'Orangery' - yes, F&B did, indeed, inherit the old National Trust color palette.   I'm not sure that Orangeries actually were this shade - I'm sure the one in Holland Park, which is the only one I can claim to have spent any time in, is largely white with, perhaps, some pale green.   But this is a warm and thoroughly welcoming tone (especially in the evening light), and it's held together - in color-scheme terms - by a mid-grey stripe between it and the cream tent-like ceiling.   If all days are going to be as busy as the last two have been, it will be great to be able to retreat into a golden cave.

Monday, August 15, 2011

settling in

This lion has been with me a long time.   He came, originally, from a miscellaneous gift and cards and paper store in St Michael's Street, Oxford - ? Arcadia ? - it was under the Nosebag restaurant - and frightened various students in my room in Mansfield (indeed, he could make me jump, too, but I never let on about that).   Then he lived in my room in the old TA building behind the English Faculty in St Cross - again in Oxford.   Somehow, he never made it into any of the three rooms that I had at Rutgers, but he looks so good with the arsenic walls and blue bookcases that, even though I'm sure he should come down to floor level, I think he's a permanent fixture at USC.   Oh - for those of you who care about material culture, he's papier mache.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

exploring the territory

It's all right for Emmett.   That is, he's home in the Los Angeles house he clearly knows as Home, and is exploring the newly painted terrace.   He's probably sniffing out the scent of the Interloper, a designer-cat, a Bengal kitty, called (according to the tag on her collar), Lyra.   This is so unbelievably pretentious (whether or not one bears in mind the small constellation that bears the name, or one of any number of lyre-like musical instruments), that we call this agile feral monster Spots.   However, Spots or no, he is delighted to be back here after two years away.

But for the new human inhabitant?   Certainly, I love the terrace, though probably for different reasons than Emmett - it can hardly remind him of Italy, for example (that is, when it turns the corner from this view, and is full of statues and plants).   There's a paradox I don't quite get about coming as far away from Europe as one can, to the Pacific Rim - and feeling more European than when one's much closer.   But away from the terrace?   It would be mendacious to say that I didn't feel apprehension and dislocation at facing new colleagues and new academic rituals tomorrow morning: if, in all the boxes and files and mis-filed bits of paper I could find the desolate couple of pages that I penned about arriving at St Paul's Girls' School when I was eleven, I should probably just type them up - the standing around on the platform at Earl's Court tube station, wondering wherever I should go for the train to Hammersmith; the sense that everyone else knew one another and knew where to go and what to do - where, for example, was Bute?   This was where we were, supposedly, going to play lacrosse (whatever that was).   But no one explained to the new girls, although I think that I was the only one of us who spent the whole of that class period locked in the lavatories, scared to come out - the smell of scorched sanitary towels and English cleaning fluids stays with me to this day.   Even in prayers, first thing in the morning - when did one kneel? when did one stand?   In quite the opposite places from my junior school, it would seem.   Oh, no wonder I hate being a new girl ...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

stopping in Ludlow

Nop, not the highly charming and picturesque old Ludlow, in Shropshire, with a medieval old town and lots of half-timbered buildings; nor the historically significant mining community of Ludlow just over the border from New Mexico in Colorado, scene of the massacre of striking miners, but Ludlow CA, once a water stop on the railroad, then a more substantial stop on Route 66, and now a ghost town and a couple of gas stations.   Frankly, these should probably be turned into ghost gas stations - singularly unsavory bathrooms (at least, that's true of the one on the south side of I-40), and unsavory users.   But here's just a glimpse of our plant filled car (which went through the immingation-for-plants-and-livestock stop coming into California without a hitch, for once - as did the four cats) with a car bearing a High School Rodeo sticker next door, and the very unappetising-looking Ludlow Cafe behind (in its defence, it has a couple of good on-line reviews, which balance out the bad ones).  I'd really have loved to have taken pictures of the heavy rain and sun coming up steamily behind it just after this - but I was barrelling along at top speed behind the wheel, trying to make sure that we were safely in Los Angeles and unloaded before night fell.

Friday, August 12, 2011

on our way home ...

and staying, as usual, at La Posada, Winslow, where the evening's entertainment involves sitting with a drink and watching the trains go by.   It's pet-friendly, of course - which means that the four cats have enormous fun wandering round and round the room wondering what cats and dogs and for all I know rabbits and guinea-pigs have stayed here before them.   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

summer's end

This year's lightning shot, from our front yard ... my reflexes are getting better.   Last evening in New Mexico: indeed, receiving abstracts relating to the oral presentations that the grad students whom I'm helping to examine on Monday makes it painfully clear how little time there is left (or how crazily early USC starts their semester.   Still, my last class will be whilst it's still November ...).

I had all kinds of plans for a posed end of the summer picture, indicating quite how anxious and unrelaxing a summer it's been, at least in part.   I'd intended to pose Alice (gallstone) holding Emmett (advanced kidney failure) against a backdrop of a couple of cardboard boxes (packing, unpacking, in NJ and in Oxford and in LA) and the birdhouse (concern about the bluebirds and their fledgelings, though we've seen the whole family, looking remarkable grown up, today).   And then, tumbling out of the hole in the birdhouse were to have been as many dollar bills as I could find in my purse (symbolizing the economy).   But I never got my act together on this particular piece of creativity, and instead offer up that most cliched, but beautiful, of all symbolic endings: the sunset from our back yard tonight.   Those bare branches?  I do, at least, get to signify the drought, as well.


Late home, having been to Santa Fe opera way over on the other side of town (La Boheme was this year's pick - a curiously up beat version compared with the weepy Glyndebourne Touring Company version that I say many moons ago).   And since one can't photograph inside the spectacular opera house, it seems perversely suitable to post a picture of an unmelodious, carking Crow.   Probably a very full crow - there was much very close coyote chorusing in the very early morning, and the crows were tossing around a meaty piece of something that had been live earlier.   Very unpleasant ...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

class. And flowers.

At dinner, talk turned to the different English associations of class with flowers (which does, indeed, seem a long way from rioting in the streets - but nonetheless is a good way of indicating how pervasive class associations are in that country).   This spun off after Harold Nicolson's comment about - I think! - rhododendrons being dreadfully middle-class - which of course they are, though I'd never thought of them that way.   Nonetheless, this made me think: is part of my long standing semi-dislike of dahlias due to hitherto unsuspected class prejudice?   What else would one think of as working, or lower-middle-class flowers?   Chrysanthemums  (though they are also funereal.   Carnations, if in cellophane packets from gas stations (the adulterer's flower, too, I suspect).  Lobelia.  Definitely lobelia.  I rather like lobelia (especially trailing lobelia) and have found it not to be the useful and ubiquitous plantpot filler here in the US that it is in England.   Roses - depends on the kind.   Crosses class, but anything like a repeat blooming hybrid tea might be a little - well, vulgar is going too far, but ...  Marigolds?  Nasturtiums?   Go back three quarters of a century, move inside, and then there's the ultimate mark of savagely dull respectability, the aspidistra.   

But for all I know I'm dreadfully out of date.   There was a bad moment today (listening to NPR coverage of the riots) in which a commentator said "there haven't been riots like this in Britain for a quarter of a century" - and that made me feel old, because the last, very different ones don't seem quite so  long ago.   The feelings of angry, powerless, futureless youth wanting to grab very mindlessly at action, agency, Nike trainers and flat screen TVs was brought home by the two Clapham girls also interviewed on NPR - "well, it's been a bit of fun, hasn't it ... we just want to show the police that they can't do what they want to us ... we want to show the rich that they can' stop us."   

Monday, August 8, 2011

London Riots

It's very surreal watching buildings and cars in London - and now Birmingham and elsewhere - burn from afar, and makes me feel a very long way from home - or from a complicated version of "home."   The streets are often so familiar, as are the shop fronts - the looting from Curry's or Sainsbury's or Debenhams or, even, assaults on a Pret-a-Manger - and yet even with watching BBC news streaming live on my desk-top computer, as I was for a chunk of his afternoon, I'm well aware that I don't really quite know how to read these riots, socially and politically.   Or, rather, I don't know whether I would read them better if I were in the UK, or not: however many column inches I may consume in the Guardian or elsewhere, they seem to be attributable to a whole range of things.   There's disaffection and lack of opportunity and poverty, to be sure; there's some insensitive policing of black people and a whole lot of mistrust of the police and other authority figures; there's social-media contagion and excitement at being lawless and wild. But I don't know which of these is uppermost, and above all, I have no sense of the degree to which this is planned, conscious, even orchestrated, or a spontaneous uprising.   And all of this on a day when the stock market is crashing and burning in more figurative terms.

What's interesting, though, are the very different ways in which it's being reported visually in the US media.   The New York Times, CNN, even the Rachel Maddow Show all have images very like the one from the BBC that I show here: flames and looters; playing on the horror of mob rule and social disruption.  But the LA Times - I won't put up a link, because the front page isn't date-specific, but it's worth checking out - has a quite different photo by Simon Dawson, which very clearly shows police with riot shields and plexiglass helmets beating up a rioter.   So rather, say, than tapping into the visual register of the Bronx burning, we're taken straight back in time to the Rodney King incident.

Friends and family in London - thinking of you, and I'm really interested to hear your understanding of why this is happening now, and in the way that it is.   Stay safe.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

cat and hand

Our dear Emmett may be increasingly frail, but this doesn't stop him menacing us in the mornings.   With deliberately aimed teeth,   This means that we have to take refuge under - completely under - the sheets.   But when I got up, today, I found that Alice had left a part of herself dangerously exposed - and the assault, if imminent, hadn't yet taken place.   All the same, it does look as though he's managed to catch the hand, rather like a catnip-filled skin-colored kitty toy.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday morning

It's easy enough to take pretty photographs in the Farmers' Market - things on stall tend not to move around (for all that, I evidently do - a particularly picturesque bunch of carrots is oddly just slightly out of focus.   Alas).   But opposite the market, outside Warehouse 18, was a much more vibrant little scene - a bunch of kids breakdancing (not badly, though not spectacularly well).   Which is not to say that I could ever have done a backwards arching somersault like this ... They seemed to be having a great deal of fun, unlike many of the arguing couples who were debating in heated tones over organic argula, and who seemed to be paying no attention whatsoever to the Peace Marigolds.   I wrote about this Nepalese tradition almost two years ago to the day: clearly that Chinati trip has put me in the mood to think about repetition (as, indeed, two years ago, I bought orange dahlias, too - and did so again today).   Repetition, ritual?   It's a better picture, this time around.

Friday, August 5, 2011


It struck me today that cacti are meant to flourish - or at least survive - in the desert, but many of the ones that inhabit our acre and a half aren't looking very happy at all.   The monsoon rains are properly here, so it's either too late, or useless, to worry - but it's a sure sign of the arid nature of this summer (or, maybe, it's another visual symbol of the economy)....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

the economy

It's easy to imagine the conversation on the way to Marfa, as a loaded-with-cash couple heads into Valentine (pop. 207), about 26 miles from their destination.   "God, I can't believe that we've come to this god-forsaken place.   There's nothing HERE.   I mean, there's a Border Patrol van.   It's not even SAFE.  Next time you want to buy art, I want to go to New York.   At least I could go shopp -   LOOK!!   SLOW DOWN!"  "What, darling?"  "Sweetie, it's going to be OK.   If there's a Prada store in Marfa, then it'll be fine ... I've just seen the sweetest little boutique ... 

Only, of course, it's a sham.   This booth was erected in 2005 by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset - a few days after it opened it was vandalised and the (real) bags and shoes stolen, so now the (real, again) replacement ones have had their bottoms ripped out and conceal motion detectors.   But apart from that, the artists just want it to stay there, to decay, to be lived in by mice, to be used as target practice, or whatever (it's quite extraordinary to me that, in fact, it seems pristine).

I couldn't have driven past a better piece of social commentary on the day the Stock Market dived, again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

marfa and repetition

The Chinati Foundation's museum at Marfa is all about repetition - from the identical forms of the old army barracks that house it, to the hundred shiny similar-but-different Donald Judd steel cubes, to

the variations on color produced by Dan Flavin's fluorescent tubes, to Ing√≥lfur Arnarrson's 36 graphite drawings (so pale that they're almost white) drawings mounted on white walls, to Carl Andre's poems - many of them blocks of words making spatial designs on paper - I'd never thought of language pared down like bricks before, but it worked.   It's therefore very easy to take seductive pictures.

The trouble is - doing this enshrines the whole idea of repetition.   My pictures, doubtless, although they'll function fine as an aide memoire, will be just like everyone else's pictures.

So I found myself stalking the other eight people on the tour (ten, if you include two very small children), in order to make some more interesting images ...

or rather, images that weren't wholly dependent on the artist who should be credited with creating them ...

and that juxtaposed the idea of a photographic moment against the contemplative stillness of the art itself.

Alternatively, I could just go round into the carpark and hunt down examples of Texan vernacular visual culture.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

little green men

Being stopped at the lights in Roswell, NM, was quite long enough in the place - (in)famous for the object that crashed and was recovered in the summer of 1947.   The US military says that it was a prototype high altitude surveillance balloon; those who would prefer something more outer spatial say it was an alien spacecraft that was the subject of a government cover-up.   All I can say - on the basis of a quick (or rather, a lengthy - it's a straggling and poor town, with a huge military institute in the center) drive through, is that if it looked anything like this back in 1947, any alien probably hopped straight back to Mars.

The drive south of Santa Fe down 285 was (apart from Roswell) fast and easy, though it meant driving through much evidence of rural poverty and depopulation - tiny towns that seemed to be falling down or to be boarded up.

(more, I hope, on the journey back - the light was far from perfect this time).   Then once I was over the border, the scenery became quite spectacular.   Why had I never heard before how stunning the Guadalupe mountains are?   Why had no one ever recommended driving down TX 54 - around seventy miles of stunning beauty (not the kind that works well in still photographs - clouds and sun and tiny storms racing across mountainous countryside and huge scrubby, sandy views), during which I was passed by three cars coming in the opposite direction, and, surreally - but I didn't hallucinate it - a very beautiful woman riding a pure white mule.

Then TX 90 down to Marfa is beautiful, too, if not so spectacular (that is, out of the world spectacular compared with NJ, say, but not compared with what I'd just driven through) - slightly busier (eight or ten vehicles in 75 miles, including two border patrol vehicles).   And then this - which would surely look faintly familiar to a visiting Martian, but what's it doing here?   Acting as a decoy?

Monday, August 1, 2011

dreaming of lizards

- or, well, maybe, mice.   But a lizard, yesterday, was LucyFur's latest capture - thank goodness, she held it very softly in her mouth, since she wanted to keep it to play with, and it was rescuable.   It's such a relief that the bluebirds have fledged, and that she can run around in the poor, desert-summer, water-restriction-suffering back yard again - and then come in to sleep it off.   Or maybe she's just experiencing empathic gloom, sitting next to me doing copy editing queries and indexing for interminable hours on end.