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May 13, 2001

Douglas Adams.

The Dalai Lama came to Portland today; thousands of people packed the downtown Pioneer Square. There were performances by many local musicians and dancers, including a couple Portland electronica bands and Portland's taiko drumming group, which I noticed several of the Tibetan dancers and musicians found quite interesting. The Dalai Lama gave a very straightforward and simple but quite effective speech about compassion, nonviolence, and the need for political resolve to make a better world. He also told a brief but moving story about how, when he was still in Tibet, they used to greatly value everything that said "Made in U.S.A." --- that the Tibetans used to think of the Americans as lovers of and defenders of human rights, democracy, and freedom. It was later that he realized that American foreign policy has not always been as effective or strong in the defense of these principles. Yet, he felt that Americans, as a people, really do believe in these things, and we have a special responsibility to work to make our government uphold these principles. It was, like everything he said, very straightforward and simple, yet I have to admit I became slightly teary hearing this account.

I bought a book called Hostage of Beijing: The Abduction of the Panchen Lama, which, in addition to being about the Panchen Lama kidnapping, is also an excellent account of the complicated history and politics of Tibet in the twentieth century. The book begins with a quote from the remarkable previous Dalai Lama, the Thirteenth, shortly before his death:

... if you are not able to defend yourself now then the institution of the Dalai Lama, other venerable incarnations and those who protect the teachings will be wiped out completely. Monasteries will be looted, property confiscated and all living beings will be destroyed ... official property will be confiscated. The people will be slaves of the conquerors and they will roam the land in bondage. All souls will be immersed in suffering and fear. And the night will be long and dark.

I've been thinking recently about the relationship between urban planning and personal discipline. I've always been suspicious of the idea of discipline; it seemed overly restrictive, and could lead to contrived strategies that obscure creative impulses that come from outside one's ideas and plans.

But I was reading a book recently (in the bookstore, so I don't remember the title!) about urban planning -- it had a chapter on Portland. The basic argument was that Portland's famous Urban Growth Boundary has worked through unexpected beneficial side-effects. Originally, the UGB was just intended to protect farmland from development; interestingly it was a coalition of environmentalists and farmers that got the original UGB law passed. But its unexpected beneficial side effect is that it helped to revitalize Portland's center, which was desolate and in decay at the time.

Their argument is that the UGB reflected some develpment capital from the edges back to the center. It's not so much that it succeeded entirely in its other goal of increasing urban densities; it has done this to some extent, but suburbs are still lower density than would be ideal. However, what's different about Portland is that the center of the city is seen as the most livable part of the metropolitan area rather than the least. For example, they interviewed a teenage girl from the suburbs whose eyes glazed over when they talked about urban planning, but she told them that she came downtown on a regular basis because it was the best place to hang out and have fun. The authors commented that no other cities Portland's size in the US (i.e., medium-sized) have a similarly vibrant downtown. Only some much larger cities, like New York, have anything like this. This revitalization did not come from detailed redevelopment planning --- it came more organically, with capital reflected back to the center from where it might have otherwise have fled.

Which got me to thinking about discipline. Instead of trying to force myself to do things that I think I should do, it occurred to me that perhaps I should just concentrate on doing less of the things that are distractions or less productive and creative; so rather than making an effort at the things I want to focus on, I would just allow myself to naturally fill the newly open time with whatever comes to mind. This I think can lead to less contrived evolution of action and certainly allows the space for the unexpected. I've been trying this form of inverted discipline for a little while now and it has given me a strange sense of well-being and energy.

From David, via Eurekalert, ancient Greek music on papyrus. The songs: here, here, and here, are haunting.

May 8, 2001

Toadex (Dagmar Chili) is in peak form in his entry dated oe|e|ep[]. As always. It had me laughing my clothes off, and I'm as serious as Francis "I'm Real Bacon" Bacon when I say that (to understand, in a manner of speaking, what all the fuss is about, you have to read more of his site):



uurking classy menber of the cheese candy racket you
can gUlgblitziens well what do if
your think if, crunching a ticket, you were to STEEP IT IN HOTSAUXE!! - Wouldnt you?

I'm sorry, dapper dinglehead, but this Beggar's Butte is the only polehold I can find in reality. It's a ol only
It's only old if you think about it for a minute, you furtive fartknocker you! Yeah, let's see that Mike Chagnon wipe that Beaver and Bunghole lingo up the steep incline. Yeah, for starters! ... Hold our horses, y oI"m looking up somehting.
Why amI , always coming up the road saingin,g "Grab a delkus grab a delkus rabbit and me, going to chase cotton face into a tree" & forgetting the second chorus? Because elves whittle away at you while you concentrate. They evade your brain, its many tentycales.
Lordy, lorday I"M give you a BA;AST FROM THE PAST, viz and be wise:

Tuesday, April 18, 2000
it's time pwope usedn the peitas fowkejrh ahs w hauwh 1103 wiqu fe w appppoiqw jp1oj fjnv akdjf hbk az,.xcm q wpoekb a apo HIHP qhwph HOGa pph wwpio1073 b0--)&% 11111111s fy HPHP asgw ge Sga gq fh h hhoa eh q qeh t hppp POh ht hejhasdkx,cv,vk la ww1 32i4y08ynnnnnnnn skapow pow ke eht eeet the aoishe wowkwoosk o shw kshpw oknmz ;laksjdf 1077gbh te apth bt ttttt ehw agsbwpje bhte wgaptj ffffffff; jhg he6 cha tto wh bawa tn wfrom by by form t tot ott wjher ggoi fubt fubt wast the wotjht e toght ehaisjht sijw ethspzzzpON htokne Thw woskPj wh toWke ^ Wisnt kwpajnwt.e thpON tin ww wW iht Toha seb

wait let me run that by you again,

Tuesday, April 18, 2000
it's time pwope usedn the peitas fowkejrh ahs w hauwh 1103 wiqu fe w appppoiqw jp1oj fjnv akdjf hbk az,.xcm q wpoekb a apo HIHP qhwph HOGa pph wwpio1073 b0--)&% 11111111s fy HPHP asgw ge Sga gq fh h hhoa eh q qeh t hppp POh ht hejhasdkx,cv,vk la ww1 32i4y08ynnnnnnnn skapow pow ke eht eeet the aoishe wowkwoosk o shw kshpw oknmz ;laksjdf 1077gbh te apth bt ttttt ehw agsbwpje bhte wgaptj ffffffff; jhg he6 cha tto wh bawa tn wfrom by by form t tot ott wjher ggoi fubt fubt wast the wotjht e toght ehaisjht sijw ethspzzzpON htokne Thw woskPj wh toWke ^ Wisnt kwpajnwt.e thpON tin ww wW iht Toha seb

Today I spent almost the entire day cleaning out an ant civilization which had chosen, for reasons still obscure to me now, to take up residence in ... my portable CD burner. Somehow all the little crevices and dark spots in there seemed to these ants to be the perfect environment in which to set up camp; they had penetrated the power supply, the external and internal cases, the drive housing, the drive innards, and every little possible crevice inside -- even the inside of the power switch. Some of the ants had died in the power supply, electrocuted when I'd powered on during the past several weeks (before I found out about their presence, yesterday, when they'd grown enough in number that Miranda noticed them swarming all over the drive). An incredible number had crammed themselves in there; they were able to hide amazingly well, so I finally was forced to actually submerge parts of my drive in water and shake furiously, and even then it took hours of repeated submergings to flush them all out (or I think all). I don't even know if my drive works anymore, but I dried it thoroughly and I'm going to try reassembling it tomorrow. An interesting, if rather modernist, ant colony / home science experiment.

May 7, 2001


I wanted to say this: young children are way too busy these days. I remember reading a study of 30 top mathematicians and musicians --- every single one of them had the same story about their educational history: early on they had all had an inspiring teacher, someone who had gotten them excited about the subject, who had introduced them to it in a playful and creative way. Later, sometime in high school or college, they had all encountered a second teacher who had instilled in them a sense of discipline and rigor. The implications, of course, are that young children do not need to be worked like adults, with schedules packed full of activities and homework and study. When children are young they need time to explore, to play, to have fun --- while at the same time being introduced to stimulating and interesting things --- but in a relaxed, not a rigorous, atmosphere. Only later is discipline useful, the habit of working. Both are needed, but young children need to have the space and the time to be children. The space and time to stumble around and make mistakes and stare off into space and to be doing nothing in particular, with no specific goal.


Meanwhile, a teenage tribute to more hilarity than should be legally allowed (via Geegaw.)

May 6, 2001

David sends me a link to this story about a man who wants to use the ancient New York City underground pneumatic tube mail system for optical cable.

I went to see the incredible Tracy and the Plastics at the Plazm party last night. I'd heard many good things but missed her when a mixup caused her to not make it to the Charm Bracelet show last week, so this was the first time I'd been able to see her perform. It was much better than I had expected; and I had high expectations already. What she does is perform by herself in front of video that she projects behind her, and she talks to the characters on the screen as though they were live. She also sings to music that she's recorded --- fantastic stuff. Very highly recommended, and she's going on a national tour so go check it out if she's in your town.

Samantha responds to my post about visual aesthetics and she brings up Marcel Duchamp and "retinal" versus "non-retinal" art. She says this: "it is the involvement of both the intellect and the senses that seems to produce the most provoking work." I agree: I think the thing that really interests me about Melody Owen's work, for example, as well as the work of many artists who have impressed me recently, is that they have both visual and conceptual impact. They combine the retinal and non-retinal traditions, as well as the structural and post-structural. Combining these things seems to be harder, to me, than just doing a conceptual piece or just doing a purely "retinal" piece --- and it poses certain difficult architectural issues, but these are problems I think worth attacking. We are embodied creatures with many dimensions, and it's interesting, I think, to avoid leaving aspects of who we are out of our definition of art. Not every piece has to address everything, of course; but to deride visual aesthetics and entirely marginalize it strikes me as suspicious. There's something mysterious and deep to be found in non-conceptual realms.

May 4, 2001

I'm on an online "panel" which is discussing zines, weblogs, and web zines this week. Come check it out, and participate by emailing your comments to the moderators.

Because I've been having some muscle soreness, I decided to splurge on a massage. The first one was so weak that I went somewhere else to get another one, just a quick 15-minute chair massage at the local health food supermarket/health spa. But it was weak also. I paid $45 total. One of them was "shiatsu" but it was the wimpy American variety; I could barely feel her touching my muscles. I mean, are we living in a disembodied culture, or what? Now, in almost every way I'm glad to have been born and raised in America, but this is one area where Japanese culture is consistently superior; like finding good pasta in Italy, you can get good shiatsu massage almost anywhere in Japan; it's commonplace, ordinary. Once when I was in a hotel in Japan I got a basic shiatsu massage from the hotel masseuse, and it was great. I am sure there are good massage people in the U.S.; in fact, I know quite a few personally (unfortunately none of them live near Portland). The vast majority of massage people, however, seem to know little or nothing about the body, they can't feel the muscles, and when they touch you it's as though they're afraid you're going to scream in pain if they apply more than the most superficial pressure. Meanwhile, and thankfully, in my hometown of Gardena, the largest Japanese-American community on the mainland, I can get a kick-ass half-hour shiatsu massage for $20 at a local shiatsu shop and boy, you can really feel it. And it feels great afterwards. So at least when I'm in LA I can get a good massage. The "massages" I got today from these "professionals" were so wan that I might as well have just had someone drop a few pillows on me. It was $45 for a lot of time and hardly any benefit.

There is at least one good shiatsu person in Portland, he's from Japan, but he's really more of an acupressure doctor, not really set up for just a massage (price-wise or schedule-wise). I go to him when I have serious problems, not just for muscle stress. If anyone knows of any bodyworkers in the Pacific Northwest who know the body and are not timid, let me know.

May 3, 2001

Sitting on the porch of the multi-unit house where I live, it occurred to me that, renter that I am, I don't feel any sense that I am renting the porch itself, the actual physical mass of the wood and the beams and the columns. I realized that when I rent, I really think of myself not so much as renting the physical structure, but rather the utility the structure provides: I rent the use of the space inside the structure, the use of the surface of the porch, etc. Even when I rent an entire house, it still doesn't feel as though I'm literally renting the physical structure, but rather the spaces, the surfaces, the utility, the affordances. Owning, on the other hand, has a very heavy weight to it; if I owned this house, I'd really feel that I owned the whole building, every atom of it, strangely.

Dirk Hine (Hypogee) quotes Curt Cloninger in an email he sent to the Rhizome list (quote from a quote, below, see Hypogee for more):

It occurs to me that this community, apart from a few talented programmers, is largely skill-less in Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Director, java programming, (d)html, or any technology that would lead to the creation of anything viscerally interesting in this medium. Much criticism is heaped by this community on art that is visually appealing. My gut feeling tells me that this criticism is the defensive reaction of people who are literally unable to create visually appealing work in this medium. This seems more like a community of wordsmiths, critics, and pranksters.

To me, this is a shame, because the fun of the net as media is in the particulars. The bogus gnostic prospects of a-corporeality (downloading your mind, leaving your body and all that) are boring. We are sensory beings; there is no substantive thought/experience apart from a dialogue with our senses. ...the net is a tool like we've never had, to speak to each other along deep sensory paths, bypassing the sterility of words in a way not possible since the days when dramas and dances were enacted around campfires.

And yet we pass on making this kind of rich, abstract, multi-media, hyper-sensory art so that we can make text-centric, self-referntial, prank art. The net has finally afforded us the opportunity to bypass the inclusivity and context-dependent confines of the "high" academic art world, and yet we make work that is even more dependent on this cliquish contemporary art world than ever. Whether our work is playing into the morees of gallery art or defying its morees is ultimately irreleveant. Most of the work getting posted at rhizome would be meaningless apart from its dialogue with academic notions of art.

I think he raises several excellent points, each of which deserve their own expansion. First, this disdain amongst some for art that is visually appealing --- while we all accept the limitations of the traditional discourse of "beauty," nevertheless there is a context in which we all arise, and in this context visual aesthetics remains a viable enterprise, even after it is divorced from the straitjacket of a totalizing master narrative. Those who pretend that the de-centering of this narrative implies that the entire subject is irrelevant have made a subtle but profound mistake of circular reasoning. It is, in the end, a rationalization for lack of visual sophistication, or not even that --- a lack of any truly careful engagement with the visual at all.

His point regarding the need for a certain degree of mastery of the technique of the forms you are using --- whether this be programming in JavaScript or Flash or using Photoshop --- without immersing yourself in the details of the media you use, all you can create are superficialities, tics, cliches, and accidents. I always thought it was interesting that Pollock said, emphatically, that he did not believe in the accident. I think accidents can be interesting, to a point, but ultimately there is something of a cop-out here: it is suspicious. Must we simply amplify our own lack of skill and simply declare it the defining characteristic of our work?

I don't know exactly what can be created using this new medium. I don't think anyone really knows. But I have a suspicion, and a desire to make things that really investigate the total physical capacity of this medium, in all of its complexity and depth; this, it seems to me, is fully possible only with a sustained and deep participation in aesthetic, architectural, and engineering matters, all at the same time. I don't even know if this will be worth it, entirely, but I feel that it should be, or it could be, if we really push ourselves to pay attention to the possible, and to the concrete particulars of what we are and what we're in.

May 2, 2001

The Portland Art Museum's Oregon Biennial 2001 was a bit disappointing, only because of the evident conservatism of the judges (none of the work was in new media or video, no larger installations, etc., a large portion of it devoted to okay but hardly amazing abstract paintings), and the size (the galleries set aside for the exhibit comprised a mere three rooms --- the reception hall was at least two or three times larger than the exhibit!) Nevertheless there were some good, even excellent pieces. I was particularly impressed with the work of Melody Owen; not only the pieces themselves but their range. I had seen and liked all three of her pieces before realizing they were all made by the same artist (and I didn't like very many pieces at the show). She was exhibiting a whimsical piece called simply 1,000 Crowns: she made all these paper crowns and arranged them in a beautiful way on the top of a table, complemented by two glass fishbowls each filled with a shallow layer of red paint. (Oddly enough, this piece is reminiscent of a piece/stunt that Kenneth Mroczek did when he was a summer school student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design --- in his case, he made some crowns by hand and sold them at a little table he set up, after putting up signs all over the school. I liked his idea too. Strange synchronicities.) Another of her pieces, however, was in a totally different medium: a photograph, Cells (she is quite interested in beehives and hive-like structures) ... I thought this picture was wonderfully composed; some artists that work today don't seem to have much of a sense for pure visual aesthetics, or they seem to adopt a somewhat kitschy attitude towards it, but her work hangs together almost hauntingly well from a visual standpoint, I think. Finally, she had a lightbox installation made out of stacked beehive boxes --- it is difficult to describe, but basically she had lined the walls of the beehives with "wallpaper" of a repeating picture of a Victorian-looking woman. You could see the walls through little cracks between the beehives, or you could look at them through peepholes in which she'd placed super-wide-angle lenses. I came away quite impressed.

I also liked the work of John Ryczek, who entered a number of pieces with a superhero theme. He spends huge amounts of time cutting out identical tracings or outlines of superhero figures from comic books and gluing these tracings on top of each other to create columnar three-dimensional pieces. I spoke with a good friend of his, Brad Adkins, who tells me that he does not do this ironically --- he is quite serious about it, and he does it without a trace of postmodern irony. Superheros are profound icons for this man. It isn't even clear whether Ryczek really spends much time looking at or appreciating other art --- he is consumed with his comic book passion. I wondered a bit about what might motivate him --- I speculated to Brad that the comic book superhero is depicted as a breed apart, but there is a sense in which we're all superheros who are unaware of our superpowers --- and in a way, by pasting all these cutouts on top of each other, Ryczek is to some extent bringing the flat, two-dimensional shapes into the third dimension --- moving from the dream into reality. Just some random ideas.