Sunday, September 30, 2012


Whatever the myriad attractions of LA, I do miss the full glory of fall ... Madison was excellently full of  exactly the right kind of orange and gold and red leaves (it is also located in a state where people actually eat deep-fried milk curds as a matter of course, which seems to me very bizarre indeed).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

radical madison

One extra bonus of being in Madison is its fighting, radical spirit!  This was quite the oddest conference intervention I've ever experienced.  There we were at morning coffee, and - first the drums, then the wind instruments, then the accordion - a whole rag tag and bobtail carnivalesque marching band traveled through (whether by pre-arrangement or not, who knows), and disappeared off down the escalator into the bowels of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed conference center.  That sign?  MITT SWEPT OUR JOBS AWAY TO RED CHINA.  SHAME!  America is so strange when it comes to elections.  In California,, you'd hardly know that there was a presidential election happening - I've seen one Romnay/Ryan car sticker on a BMW Z4 in West Hollywood, one OBAMANOS! one (and o.k., that's cheating, since it's on my own car), and a handful of Obama lawn signs.  Here, on the other hand ... I should try watching breakfast TV, and pick up a handful of political ads ...

much better view

Which it is!  Thank you, Madison, reached eventually.  OK, it's a room with a shaky internet connection, but it's a much, much better view.  Ah, NAVSA is always my favorite conference: it's like a party for which one hasn't had to send out the invitations or even bother to think about the guest list.  Except.  As of around thirty-six hours time, I'm one of the four people who's organizing the next one, and that suddenly seems very soon ...

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Isn't this exquisitely, excruciatingly boring?  This should be the view from a room overlooking over a lake in Madison - but no!  It's the FedEx depot at Dallas Fort Worth airport, with, indeed, some airport in the background.  It's the view from the Hawthorn Suites, which are perfectly habitable, and would be more so if I had some food (somehow microwavable pizza or Mac 'n Cheese in the freezer in the hallway doesn't hack it). I've eaten my freeze-dried kale chips and my power bar.  Of course, I could have rented a car in the airport, and headed off into town, and eaten barbecue and tried on fancy boots ... but I indulged in my fantasy, that if only I have space and time and an internet connection, I can catch up with some admin.  True, but very dull ... Roll on NAVSA, tomorrow ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

throwing light on it

A black light bulb?  I didn't know such a thing existed.  I guess I don't go to the right kind of party.  Why it was lying on the ground in the middle of campus is a question that I won't try and answer.  I gather that if you screw this in and turn it on, blackness is very, very black, and the white clothes that people are wearing are a kind of luminous purple.  Surely there's some kind of metaphor latent in the very concept of a black light bulb, but I'm too tired, right now, to think of it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

welcoming back

Judging by this picture - and I'm sorry it's not a more flattering one, but it's the best that I took, and I felt self-conscious arriving late to the Gender Studies Welcome Back party, and missing most of the best bits - like my grad student from last semester, Patti Nelson, being announced as co-winner of the essay prize - and yet whipping out my camera just because the light was good - judging by this picture, Alice would have made a pretty good extempore preacher.  It's very strange, always, seeing one's partner Perform in Public - feeling a combination of nervousness (not necessary, at all) and pride at their accomplishment - it's not as though one actually thinks that they might start miaowing, or berating the follies of the administration, or be utterly tongue-tied and go bright red, or mispronounce people's names, or just plain run-out-screaming, or indeed that one thinks anything might go amiss at all, but I find that all my worst fears about public appearance get projected and multiplied.  Not that I have ever miaowed in public, although on my very last day in school, after the obligatory leaving interview with the High Mistress (head mistress, or head teacher, to the non-Paulinas among you), I did stick my head back around Mrs Munro's door and bleat, very loudly.  I always wondered what she made of that: it felt so good doing it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

early meeting

Whatever my general feelings about getting up at the crack of dawn - no, before the crack of dawn - in order to go to an 8 a.m. Monday morning meeting to discussed proposed revisions to the General Education requirements, I was very happy to encounter pigeons and struts.  The picture's made by that green traffic light ... (not exactly the signal we were sending back about those proposals).

putting the boot in

Here's the next one in my series of Amateur Merchandise Illustrations - a work boot.  Actually I've never heard of Carolina Shoes, or Boots - after a quick google, I find that they look suspiciously like the kind of footwear that in theory I'm quite partial to, but in practice find that they rub holes in my feet.  Cf the number of Doc Martens and Frye boots, etc, that I've purchased over the years, clearly appealing to some butch/practical/tough-girl fantasy side of myself, and yet rarely wearing.  In practice, they are the kind of thing that - currently, judging by the USC campus - look very good on waif-like 19 year olds with gauzy floral mini skirts - in other words, a look that I would have been very unwise ever to have aspired to.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Terrible bad definition iPhone picture (how long will it take before I cave and buy an iPhone 5, with excellent photo definition and scarily bad maps?).  But I didn't have time to find a better camera when I saw Walter Gomez giving his (his what? his adoptive sister?) a very thorough wash and massage.  Look how her tail is waving around in ecstasy!  Look how proud he is!  Look how besotted I am ...

Friday, September 21, 2012

fly past

When I was very small, I remember being bundled up in a blanket and taken up onto the roof at Naworth Castle, where we'd rented a tower for a few years whilst my father worked at the nearby Blue Streak rocket site (one might say that I was used to space travel at an early age).  I've always thought that this was to see the first ever space craft - Sputnik I - but looking at the dates, I'm not sure that we were yet at Naworth.  Maybe it was the first US satellite, in January the next year?  (I certainly remember it being very, very cold).  I would have been thrilled, I know, if I'd known that I'd see a satellite pretty much flying over my house from much closer up, even if it was piggy-backing on a jumbo jet.

This was a more magnificent and stately fly past than I'd imagined.  Endeavour came slowly up through the haze from the coast, flew over down-town, and then disappeared - only to re-emerge somewhere between us and Griffith Park.  And at that point little cheers and squeals could be heard from all over the neighborhood.  The guy behind us was standing on his roof to take photos; the whole of the elementary school two blocks away were out in the playground.  The big bird curved round again out of sight - and re-emerged from another angle, having toured downtown again.  These photos don't quite capture what enormous presence it had.  It was quite something to have been in LA and able to see it from our deck.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


It's a well known fact that LucyFur loathes and detests men in uniform (or, for that matter, women in uniform, such as UPS drivers).  So when the guys came today, in their labelled blue boiler suits, to service the boiler and the A/C, she did her usual burrowing trick.  The indignity of it!  Sam (for so his embroidered name proclaimed him to be) dared to stroke this lump under the sheets.  That, in Lucy's world picture, was almost as bad as the hourly assaults from the adolescent cats, aka The Savages.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

room and window

Our Visual Studies text for next week?  Anne Friedberg's The Virtual Window.  From Alberti to Microsoft.  On its first page: "We know the world by what we wee: through a window, in a frame, on a screen.  As we spend more of our time staring into the frames of movies, television, computers, hand-held displays - "windows" full of moving images, text, icons, and 3-D graphics - how the world is framed may be as important as what is contained within that frame."

So naturally, when I found this facing me ... I was in a windowless cubicle; this looks like a windowless cubicle - and yet I had the illusion of looking through this frame into another space.  Probably it was the same at the other end, when this rather sinister set-up - it looks just like an interrogation chamber - developed some inhabitants, because you can see that little spying eye looking back at me.  The trouble with long distance video calls, of course, rather than Skype, is that one can't arrange oneself as in a mirror; one's got no idea about the bad angle that the camera may be finding of one's chin ...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I was surprised - as we applied ourselves in class today to thinking about the visual culture of Los Angeles - that no one looked at what I think of as the visual vernacular, despite the prompts that are there in Reyner Banham, or in the piece from David Henkin's lovely City Reading - about writing on the streets - on posters and fliers - in ante-bellum New York.  Here's another quick grab from my journey home: I have a special love of the really bad paintings of products on store fronts.  Admittedly these aren't as spectacularly untalented as some - whoever painted these had a working knowledge of perspective - but they belong to a very identifiable genre, in which, somehow, everyday products are made even more everyday by the amateur hand that represents them.  So what's the knock on effect of them as advertisements?  How do such images mediate the very obvious domain of the mass-manufactured commodity?  What's gained by the fact that we're not exactly dealing, here, with an indexical photograph?  You can tell this is the sandwich night between two teaching days: all I can do is ask questions.

Monday, September 17, 2012

the abandoned chairs of los angeles

Some of you will remember all those Abandoned Chairs of Highland Park ... here's an AC of Los Angeles, or, to be more exact, of East Hollywood (the other side of the road from us), on Willow Brook Avenue, which I'm quite sure has never seen a willow or a brook.  Somewhere snaking in the background is a stray yellow crime scene tape (can't, in a quick on-line search, find what that might have related to, for which I'm grateful ...).  Given that tomorrow is Reading Cities in our class, I don't think that I've looked at anything much that correlates with this - maybe T. J. Clark on the grey and brown muddy Parisian ban lieu?  It evades sight lines, rational planning, ethnicity or multi-ethnicity (though I suspect it was a Latino or Filipino purchase, that's hardly legible).  It fits in, to be sure, with accounts of waste and detritus and the found object, but I think that stuff comes up in a later week that I've optimistically called "habitus."  I met it whilst walking to the bus - no flaneuse, moi.  Bus!  yes!  for once (car logistics ...) - so that can't be related to Rayner Banham driving on the freeway - the shots of him in Rayner Banham Loves Los Angeles - in London, too, one one of those weird bicycles I'd forgotten about with tiny wheels - were so poignant, since he keeps talking about how crazy and busy the freeways are.  They look almost empty, to me.  It's 1972 - the skyline is a whole lot lower, downtown, too.

chiles far from home

Breakfast at Zingerman's Road House, in Ann Arbor, where there's a big wall map showing where all their produce comes from (this is marginally more exact than the Tea Haus, in town - excellent hibiscus-flavored maccaron, but that's another story, which had a dish on offer made with "Santa Fe Hatch Chiles").  Alas, not sampled ...

... and alas, my flight was delayed a long long while in Chicago, and it's now 25 to 2 with a school day tomorrow ...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

orange blocks

the view from our window this morning (somewhat surprising that you can't see any blue and yellow, anywhere, in this Ann Arbor vista).  This is, of course, deceptive: much, indeed most, of the town isn't anything like this, but is leafy and more or less quaint ...

Friday, September 14, 2012

visiting the past

... no, not my past, but Alice's (and yours too, Connie!).   She took me on an Ann Arbor tour of Places She Had Lived - and various ethereal stories then took form ("so ... that's the place you had those neighbors!").  I've done this, of course, with her in tow, in Oxford.  It's very strange indeed, visiting a site that you know has to be absolutely crammed full of other people's memories (good, bad, indifferent, quotidian); that housed their cats; that had birthdays and Thanksgivings and dinners in them - all before you knew they existed.  Or rather - given that I have copy of a very early piece of Alice's in Powers of Desire that has my markings in the margin - before you knew that they were a real human being, and not just an author-function.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Strolling around downtown Ann Arbor (my first time here! Home of Alice's DJ prowess (oh, yes, and academic formative years), what did I spy this evening but the perfect illustration of last week's Visual Studies class, and, indeed, for the whole Visual Studies Research Institute theme ...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

getting it straight

Sometimes, even on a day when I haven't really got time to breathe, there's a moment when the light is just right, and the car is temporarily stationary ... 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

the repeated fruit

Back in May, I surmised that this pair of walls - the Aztec chief, the luscious papaya - might make a very good case history for my Visual Studies course.  Undoubtedly that's true: they could have found their way into today's class alongside the old adobe in Olvera Street, variegated old movie theater fronts on Broadway, six separate street views of the same area of LA with six different types of tree planing, a picture of President Nikias bowing to pictures of the two Chinese students who were murdered at the end of last semester, or the fountain in front of Doheny.  Types of evidence, all (we discussed of what); and all examples of visual knowledge that couldn't be completed or contextualized without non-visual material.

But this image, for me, is above all evidence of a gappy memory.  Yes, I had a vague idea as I took this picture (through my windshield, at lights), that I'd looked at the images before.  But I had to trawl and trawl through past entries - and then, after all, it was only four months ago.  A horizontal, not a vertical frame: what I can't answer is what determined that choice, and why it is that the lighting as well as the angle turns it into a different scene.

Monday, September 10, 2012

by design?

I don't know.  Where does the deliberate advertising of the custom signage begin, and where does it give way to graffiti/street painting?  Is this sanctioned by the business inside, or not?  Or did a black wall get hit by a gang of peculiarly design-literate artists?  Was there an under layer of much more mundane tagging that's been superseded by the brightly colored stuff?  And - we're discussing "evidence" in tomorrow's Visual Studies class - what might one say that this was evidence of?  And what evidence might one need to interpret it further?  And why did I take this particular image?  Peter Burke's Eyewitnessing quotes Roy Stryker, in 1940: "The moment that a photographer selects a subject, he is working upon the basis of a bias that is parallel to the bias expressed by a historian."  True ... but does this tell one about anything more than my predilection for street art, and my sense of obligation to find a daily image, and - o wonderful fortuity - the fact that there wasn't any traffic coming in the opposite direction, and that I was stopped at a light?

I. Hate. Kittens.

LucyFur's attitude towards Moth and Walter Gomez isn't softening.  At least, not much.  So we have a complicated regime involving cordoning off The Kittens (let's be more accurate: the small cats), separate food bowls in separate places, and lots of quality alone time with Lucy.  What I don't understand is how Rosa Bonheur had so many different animals cohabiting with her: cats and dogs and sheep and cows and goats and lions.  Yes, lions.  But despite the length of time that she must have spend gazing at fur and wool and whiskers, she continued to paint in relatively large, firm brushstrokes.  I was reading today about her encounter and dinner with Ruskin, in which he advised her to take up watercolor painting and fine brushes, so that she could depict every last hair on an animal's head.  Delightfully, she criticized him for having "l'oeil d'un oiseau" - the eye of a bird.  That's the best put down ever of Ruskin's detailism.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

onesies production line

Believe me, I hadn't expected to find myself part of a craft workshop today, but it turned out that it was an ideal lunchtime occupation for a baby shower (a very decorous shower - thank goodness, this time, no passing round of mock-soiled diapers: I was terrified that this was some obligatory part of American baby showers, and that going to the second of my life would also turn out to be toe-curlingly embarrassing).  But no!  Designing shapes on sticky-backed paper, and ironing them onto fabric, and cutting out the fabric, and then press-ironing that onto a miniature garment was the greatest of fun.  Of course I made a kitty, and was peculiarly proud to use material that meant the alligator eyes were my kitty's eyes, and that the little bird was in her stomach.  Back to academe and admin again tomorrow - but this was largely a day off, and - self-evidently - a productive one.  That's my kitty, she says proudly, on the right!

Friday, September 7, 2012

volleyball time again!

It's volleyball!  It's the Galen Center!  It's a pre-season tournament!  So great to see all our friends from the Great Drinking Tour of the Balkans again!  And thank goodness USC won - a very tight game against San Diego - tighter than it should have been ... This isn't some strange internal tube, but the weird effects produced by the lighting curving up towards the big TV screens hanging from the ceiling, but having court side season tickets (yay!), we didn't need to crane our necks upwards ...

Thursday, September 6, 2012


One might think that this was some strange take on Chris Burden's Urban Light, his 202 strong lam sculpture / installation outside LACMA.  But no: it's an assortment of lights stretching down a divider outside Staples near us on Santa Monica - I'd gone there to buy some more pens, since Moth has run off with all of mine.  This evening she also managed to break the fish dish on which yesterday's tomato sat, but that's another story ... I think the rationale behind this set of Urban Lighting may have something to do with the fact that one of the City's depots for street lighting and other similar furnishings is almost opposite, but quite how such a diversity made their way from there to here is a mystery.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This was an extraordinarily tasty tomato.  I was delighted when a colleague presented it to me.  I stress "was," because some mustardy vinaigrette, some home grown basil and a little chopped red onion rendered it even more perfect.  And that, at the end of a long working day, made a perfect accompaniment to Bill Clinton's rousing speech (amazing how he can make one forget all he didn't do; or all the iffy legislation that was the product of compromises, and make one Believe ...).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

harvey the hawk

Isn't he just extraordinarily beautiful?  He was sitting on a ledge above the reflecting pool, on campus, the morning, and then, just after I took this picture, flew down to sit on his person's gauntletted wrist, ate a treat, and flew back again into the nearest tree.  She told me that his name was Harvey.  This was a quite wonderful sight to start the day, and yet another demonstration that one can never tell what one's going to see on one's way to work here in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rosa Bonheur

Many thanks to all of you who responded to my FB query about who knew The Horse Fair in their youth ... the answer being, almost no one.  Which is interesting - and raises a whole lot of other questions about what one did grow up knowing ... in my case, the first work of nameable High Art that I came across on a regular basis was a large engraving of David Wilkie's The Blind Fiddler belong to one of our neighbors in Cumberland.  Which is not to say that my parents didn't have some prints and drawings - increasingly so - but the Wilkie - perhaps because it was large - seemed mysterious in a way that, say, some Bartolozzi-engraved cherubs didn't.  I'm trying to bring myself up to speed on the ways in which Bonheur - not just the painting, but the whole cult around her - was or was not translatable/portable across countries, and keep getting side-tracked by questions like - why did Will Rogers claim to have seen The Horse Fair at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, when it wasn't shown there?  

Walter Gomez, of course, is no help - but sits on my desk in solidarity with the huge menagerie of all kinds of animals that RB kept in her little chateau at By.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Visual Studies

Our second Intro to Visual Studies class of the semester will be, of course, on "What is Visual Studies?" - a question that I've said that I'm very happy to see addressed through more questions, rather than through the establishment of crystal clear answers.  I'm not at all sure that I know how to answer it - though I guess I'd go with the idea of visual studies being the study of visual culture, and visual culture being - pace Gertrude Stein - that which is seen.  Which leaves one in precisely the same place. I stole that quote from James Elkins's Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction, and here's another, all ready to be applied to today's image: "It is one thing to be interdisciplinary, in any of the meanings of that word, and another to relinquish disciplines long enough to let the image find the right mixture of approaches."

But here's a double problem: what is the image?  Is it the peeling, partial former flier pasted to a door by the Silver Lake dog park, or is it my photograph of it?  ... in which case, my activity of taking the photo was definitely framed by thinking of Thursday's class.  If that's so, then this is a curious amalgam of pedagogical intention and the aesthetic (would I have chosen to take it without the mottled sea-green background, complete with rust?).  And what does one do with the illegible, where any original purpose, polemical or provocative , is long since departed?  And is there any point in trying?  Are some images more eligible, somehow, for analysis than others, and what determines this?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

mouth guards

Moth is clearly going to be a die-hard USC football fan - but cannot understand for a minute why they wear such weird mouth guards.   A small cat - or large kitten - who rushes endlessly from one side of the room to another - her mother must have been a crack addict - she at last settled down to watch the game (49-10 - a good start to the season ...).