Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Was The White Album White?

Screenwriters and directors make it their aim to create something memorable. They do this with great scenes and great lines. Our lives are similarly made up of lines and scenes. Not all moments in a life are equally memorable, but some certainly get elevated above the rest, capturing and re-capturing our attention as we reflect upon them.

When I think of the Beatles' White Album, numerous associations and memories come to mind. Perhaps most memorable for me is the manner in which the album was introduced to U.S. audiences. I was a teen in New Jersey when the album came out in 1968. A New York FM station spent two evenings playing and talking about one song at a time, beginning with sides 1 and 2 the first evening and sides 3 and 4 the following evening. I remember lying on my bed looking up at the ceiling, taking it in.

I'm not the first to have taken a shine to the White Album, and hardly the last. Yesterday I read a news story about a fellow in New York who has transformed collecting original vinyl White Albums into an art form.  His record shop has only 1 record... or rather, 650 copies of this one album. He's not selling them, he's buying them. It is fascinating to see pictures of Rutherford Chang's collection. The album sleeves are in a wide range of conditions, and not many are white any more.

As for why the White Album was white... rumors abounded when I was in school. One rumor was that the original image on the Brit version was so unspeakably gruesome that the marketing people felt it would hinder sales in the U.S.  Another rumor was that if you soak the album an image would appear, much like invisible ink that becomes visible when you soak the paper in lemon juice. 

All rumors aside, my guess is that it was white "just because." Certainly it was bold. It wasn't my first white album, though. I had purchased an underground Crosby, Stills & Nash bootleg for three dollars under the counter at our local record store in Bridgewater, for three dollars, and it came in an unmarked white sleeve as well.

Alas, when I think white what comes to mind is "seeing the light."

I'd say more but it's time to start another day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bob Monohan of Chaperone Records Puts It On The Line

According to their website, Duluth-based Chaperone Records "is devoted to the promotion and enfranchisement of Northern Minnesota’s musically progressive community. In a world of cheap, plastic gadgetry, a product’s finest aesthetic can only be achieved through passion, insight and an honest commitment to quality. This is the foundation of Chaperone Record’s philosophy and the impetus behind its inception. The choice to produce skillfully-crafted, vinyl LPs, pressed by United Record Pressing in Nashville, Tennessee, coincides with Chaperone’s commitment to quality."

I met Bob Monohan at a PROVE Gallery art opening where Chaperone Records was showcasing Lion and Gazelle, one of the groups under their wing. Monohan is also a poet whose writing is seasoned with humor and laced with wit.

EN: What motivated you to start Chaperone Records? 
Bob Monohan: After being laid off from yet another seasonal serving gig, an intense fear of boredom and tediousness thrust me towards another hare-brained entrepreneurial adventure. Through my involvement with the local music scene over the past 10 years, and my kinship with a handful of bands -- many of whom happened to have recording projects under way -- I saw it as a golden opportunity. I felt, with their talent and material, they deserved a chance at doing something bigger than putting their stuff up on the internet for free.

EN: You are something of an entrepreneur who has started a number of other businesses. What have you learned through these experiences? 
Monohan: Perhaps the most obvious thing I've learned is that, no matter how bad things blow up in your face, you're still kind of a badass for going for it. The inevitability of failure, in one form or another, is the beauty of entrepreneurism. You get filthy rich in humility, if nothing else. And, at the end of the day/week/month, you can look back and think: "Damn, I did a bunch of crazy stuff this day/week/month." It's gratifying as hell. Energy and relentless enthusiasm are essential. The terms "nine to five" and "Monday through Friday" mean nothing.

EN: What is your process for selecting the groups you represent? How many albums have you produced?
Monohan: Okay, this is where it gets tricky. I don't so much select the groups. The groups seem to select Chaperone. There is an arbitrary nature to the so-called "selection process." Quite superficially, it comes down to selling records. Record sales are based on myriad factors, many of which are hard to predict. If I could predict which relatively unknown bands would sell a few hundred (or more) records -- either through touring or retail -- I would probably be the head A & R guy for a major indie label. At this point, the decision to put out a band's record or not comes down to taking a good hard look at: how many honest-to-god, record-buying fans they have, how many shows they're going to play this year, whether they plan on touring, do they have large families who will purchase multiple copies(?), do they have friends who work at record stores(?), etc.

EN: What is it that you like about making albums in vinyl? What is the biggest challenge with vinyl? 
Monohan: You can ask any vintage-loving, audiophile, hipster, vinyl junky why they like records and you will get a number of answers, most of which have to do with "the sound, man." It's true. Vinyl has a particularly nice sound. If they weren't so damn convenient MP3s could go back to cyberspace, for all I care. Vinyl is the anti-MP3. It represents that thing -- that aesthetic, quality, tactile-thing -- that has been lost since tapes and CDs took over, and were swiftly rendered obsolete by the ubiquitous (and perfectly piratable MP3). LPs, aka "vinyl records," come in a 12" paperboard sleeve with artwork on both sides. You put them on a turntable and set the needle on them to make them play. Need I say more? One big challenge of vinyl is that it is expensive to manufacture, thus it costs significantly more than CDs, and way more than MP3s, which can be downloaded cheaply (or freely) and easily. People need to be convinced that they are getting more than just music; they are getting a work of art; an experience.

EN: How did you hook up with Alan Sparhawk to produce his Retribution Gospel Choir "3"? 
Monohan: This story has an interesting twist, and a monumental one, in the lifespan of Chaperone. Alan and I have known each other, peripherally, for at least five years. When my band, Total Freedom Rock, was in full swing, Alan, a mutual friend of (bandmate) Brian Ring, came to a few shows and even sat in with us on occasion. I've kept him in the loop, and consulted him a few times, since Chaperone Records was just a name registered with the state. This past fall, when it was time for RGC (Retribution Gospel Choir) to decide what to do with their new record, a two song full-length follow up to their four song EP (The Revolution, 2010, Sub Pop), they opted to work with Chaperone; never mind that we had a mere four records in our catalog and no real distribution network. We said "yes."

EN: What was the most interesting part of this project? 
Monohan: Holy crap. It is probably the fact that we had pre-orders for more records than we had sold of all other releases combined. Granted, this included a mini distribution deal with a European distributor, Konkurrent, that has worked with Alan on distributing Low and other Sub Pop releases in Europe. But still... we had some ponying up to do if we were going to do this release right. To say we've learned/grown a lot from this experience is an understatement squared. The connections we've made; music/vinyl bloggers, radio DJs, record stores and journalists; are incredible. We've got some serious freaking cred, and all we did was say "yes."

EN: Where can people find Chaperone Records? 
Monohan: Our website is the most obvious: www.chaperonerecords.com.
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chaperonerecords and, of course, the ever-necessary Twitter: @chaperoneduluth. If you promise to be nice, our office is located above the Electric Fetus in omni-charming downtown Duluth.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Radio Stories

Yesterday, while listening to the radio, I heard tell of a 101 year of man from India who ran a marathon. It was not the full 26 miles this year but an abbreviated race, six-point-something miles. He did, however, run a full marathon in 2011 when he was one hundred.

The story goes that he took up running at age 89 to deal with his depression after witnessing the horrific death of his son in a freak accident. It’s hard to imagine that in 2011 he ran 26 miles and didn’t receive any kind of acknowledgements from the Guinness Book folks, but here’s the rest of the story. He did not have a birth certificate. Problem is, he was born before they issued birth certificates in India. It doesn’t count that his passport says he was born in 1911. The decision-makers want that birth certificate. With or without it, in April he will be 102.

There was another story I heard yesterday on the radio that was also interesting. The correspondent was at a funeral home in Cleveland that spent $22,000 to deck out its parlors with monitors and a high tech system that allowed family members and close friends who lived far away to attend funerals conducted there via the internet.

Flying home for a funeral would be expensive enough, but tickets are doubly expensive when purchased at the last minute. Weddings may be placed on calendars months in advance, but I know of few funerals that are so scheduled.

So it is that there are a growing number of funeral homes that are creating setups where family members can Skype in from afar. I know that had it been possible I would have been present in such a manner at my own father’s memorial service several years ago.

This past week I watched two films based on novels by Graham Greene, The Third Man and The Tenth Man. The former is a stellar classic starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. The latter is an exceptional story starring Anthony Hopkins. And so it was with interest that I listened to a radio interview with Keith Jeffrey, who wrote a book about the British Secret Service branch M16. The book has a three star rating on Amazon.com but that doesn't keep it from selling hard and fast. Perhaps it has something to do with last year's 50th anniversary of Dr. No, the James Bond film that initiated Hollywood's Bond franchise.

At one point they were talking about authors who had been recruited to be spies. I’ve known for some time that Greene had been used by the British Secret Service. What I did not know was how many other writers of note worked as spies, amongst them (and to my greatest surprise) Somerset Maugham and Malcolm Muggeridge.

I've not read Jeffrey's book, but I can imagine it was not an easy one to assemble. It is an "authorized" story, which means there must have been many people looking over his shoulder to approve what was left in and what was taken out. A lot of the reviewers expressed disappointment at the outcome.

For what it's worth, there’s a great line in The Tenth Man that gets repeated twice. “Everyone is tested sooner and later, and then you know what you are.” If your time of testing comes and you fail, may you be fortunate enough to get a second chance.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Photographers with a Passion for Capturing Minnesota

Ms. Redpol by John Heino
When our children were young we took a vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Being the responsible Dad of this trip I had obtained all the AAA travel guides to study in order to maximize the enjoyment of our adventure. In one of these handy booklets I found a list of the most scenic drives in the United States. I located the beautiful drive through the Needles near Mount Rushmore and it was spectacular.

What I noticed in the list was another road that has been identified as amongst the most beautiful in the country and it happens to not only be here in Minnesota, but it has been a drive I've taken almost every day: Skyline Parkway, which runs along the ridge overlooking the largest body of inland freshwater in the world. At dawn or dusk, day or night it is an uplifting experience.

I can't tell you how many times I've wished I had a camera in my eyeball to capture sunrises, sunsets, certain angles of light, or an eagle in flight.  But don't worry, Minnesota photographers are out there on a daily basis locating and capturing the most remarkable images from our state's bounty.  This coming weekend on Saturday March 2, the Duluth Photography Institute (DPI) will host an exhibition featuring 20 of these talented photographers from around the state who came to Duluth and the North Shore to capture the spectacle of autumn in our region last fall.
 
“These exceptional images were done by some of the talented photographers who post their work on a web site called Capture Minnesota,” says Brian Rauvola of the DPI. “I'm sure that Duluthians will enjoy seeing their city through the lenses of photographers from outside the area.”

I for one have enjoyed discovering Capture Minnesota through the lens of John Heino, whose marvelous images have garnered John Heino Photography a strong following on Facebook among other places. Another Capture Minnesota photographer whose work will be displayed is LindaMcKusick who said, “I had a wonderful time gathering with fellow photographers in such a great city, showing off its autumn colors and wonderful moonrise."

Nearly three dozen images will be exhibited for this one-night event. Many of the photographer/artists will be on hand to discuss their work. The event is free and open to the public.

Where
Duluth Photography Institute
405 East Superior Street, Duluth

When 
Saturday, March 2
5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

For more information on the Duluth Photography Institute, please visit: www.duluthphotographyinstitute.com.
Oberg Obsession, by John Kay of Rush City

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Strength from the Void

What is it that gives a bowl its usefulness? It's the vacant space where there is no bowl, no substance. That's where you pour the cereal or the milk, or whatever.

What makes the wheel useful? The vacant space where the axle goes through.

A room is essentially a vacant area within a building. Imagine a doll house that was a solid block of wood with no spaces within the exterior walls. Kind of a strange picture, but you can probably grasp it. The vacant spaces enable a child to put doll furniture in place, and re-enact imaginary scenes.

I recently spent a day in New York City. What a bundle of energy! I have to believe that to survive in such a place one needs to create voids, spaces to close oneself off from all that frenzy of human interaction.

In the business world we've become increasingly aware that computers and technology are not lightening our workload to give us more time. Instead, we have more connections, more emails, voice mails, tisks and tasks and tusks twisting our time into a torrent of energy-draining output.

In order to survive, we need to create voids, little spaces where we can hibernate, even briefly, to recharge our emotional batteries. Let's not be deceived into thinking that doing more and more is the way to accomplish more. The truth is sometimes counterintuitive. By doing less we may accomplish more because we are not just busy, but busy doing the right things.

Make sure you carve some space for yourself today. You'll be a better person for it, and will likely enjoy a longer, fuller life.

Featured eBook of the Day: The Breaking Point and Other Stories  

This blog entry has been recycled from March 2008.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gwen Hoberg Answers Questions About UMD Publishing Conference

This spring the University of Minnesota-Duluth is hosting a conference on publishing in the 21st century. It’s a one-day event called “21st-Century Publishing: Industry, Media, and the Future of Print." The event will take place on Friday, April 12 on the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota. Gwendolyn Hoberg is one of the organizers of this event. You may recognize her name from the column she writes for The Reader.

EN: What is the purpose of this conference?
Gwen Hoberg: The UMD master of English program has an emphasis that I believe is fairly unusual, publishing and print culture. This conference is an opportunity for local and regional students, professors, and publishing industry professionals to have conversations about what publishing is like now and what lies ahead. Because it's the first conference the UMD English Graduate Student Association has helped plan, we decided to keep our focus fairly broad, rather than choose a particular field of publishing or solicit only academic research presentations, for instance. Future UMD students may want to narrow their focus if the conference becomes an annual or biennial event.

EN: What kinds of people should try to attend?
GH: We welcome anyone with an interest in 21-century publishing to attend, whether that's staying for the whole day or going to just one panel or roundtable.

EN: Where did the idea for this conference come from and how did you personally get involved?
GH: On the drive back from a conference in Madison this past September, David Beard of the Writing Studies Dept. floated to me the idea of our graduate student group organizing a conference. When I asked him if he had a theme in mind, he encouraged me to pick something I was interested in. I'm on the publishing and print culture track and have been researching self-publishing, so I felt the broad theme of publishing was a place to start. After talking to my fellow grad students to figure out if they were interested as well, we began brainstorming participants, dates, and panel ideas.

EN: What does the English Graduate Student Association do?
GH: Some of our activities focus on professional development, and others focus more on socializing, moral support, and relaxation. Most months we have a meeting with a guest speaker from the English or Writing faculty. Some past topics were how to prepare a CV and how to manage your online presence as you enter the job market. This year we had our second winter tea for students and faculty, and we've done a few outdoor poetry readings. I'm pushing for another outdoor reading when it gets a bit warmer.

EN: Dorothy Parker once wrote, “I hate writing but I love having written.” How about you? Do you ever feel that way?
GH: She puts it so well, as usual. Writing is hard work, partly because it involves making decision after decision about sentence structure, organization, word choice, audience, and so on. As I tell the students in my Beginning College Writing classes, you can't write well if your brain is on autopilot. So yes, when I'm tired, anxious, or frustrated because my ideas are unorganized, I don't enjoy writing. But having written is a wonderful thing. I haven't yet written anything I'd consider a masterwork, but I love re-reading or just remembering pieces that are evidence of all the thought and care I put into them.

EN: Where can people find out more about the conference? Do attendees need to register in advance?
GH: We do want people to register in advance. People are encouraged to visit the conference website for a full schedule of events and panelists. Follow the Registration link on the left column or along the bottom to register.

EN: Thanks for all your work on this. I know a lot of people who are looking forward to it.


Featured eBook of the Day: Unremembered Histories

Thursday, February 21, 2013

THAW Opening Tonight In Superior

THAW, a late winter art event, is opening tonight. Phantom Galleries Superior is hosting four exhibitions that explore environments in vacant downtown storefronts.The opening night receptions begin at 5:00 p.m.

The four locations are once again on Tower Avenue in Superior, Wisconsin. Each has its own theme and flavor.  The titles and exhibits are as follows.

‘Allusions’
1112 Tower Ave
Paintings by Alison Price
Ambient Music by Rachel Nelson from 5-6:30 pm
Artist talk….. 7:30

‘Suspended Animation’
1215 Tower Ave
Mixed media installation by Colin James Wiita
Artist talk…. 6:00 pm

‘Familiar Waters’
1302 Tower Ave (window only)
Mixed media fabric paintings by Hope Thier

‘Snowdog Tales’
1412 Tower Ave
Oil paintings by Judie Phillips
Artist Talks: Hope Thier and Judie Phillips…. 7pm


I peeked into the windows yesterday and saw some pretty interesting work. Someone described Alison Price's paintings as "a long drink of color." Based on what I saw that's a pretty good description. Within Colin Wiita's space I'm only expecting one thing: the unexpected. Looking forward to exploring there later this evening.

Hope Their's fabric paintings are stationed in the large window space that several previous exhibits have occupied. Dutifully positioned like guardians they are easy to enjoy by day or by night.

Judie Phillips' large snowdogs evoke the special relationship our Northland has with this time of year, not shackled indoors but roaming free and eager and energetic. Sled dogs fascinate us when we're young and later when we have children they, too, become fascinated. Phillips' passion for sled dogs comes from her experience of training, showing and racing Siberian huskies. 

All this to say, if you're able to swing by there will be some cool things to see, and people to meet. The artists and their friends will be there to make you feel at home in the empty spaces they've brought to life through creative expression.

See you there!



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Space in Time with Film Artist Jacob Swanson

I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians. –Francis Ford Coppola

In recent years I’ve become aware of the benefits and power of collaboration. Most writers and artists work in isolation. On the other hand, filmmakers are fully aware of the dynamics of a team production. Jacob Swanson’s collaborative works have involved an interesting cross-section of local actors and artists, and have begun catching the attention of a widening audience.

EN: Your dad was an art teacher. How did that play out in your home when you were growing up?
Jacob Swanson: Growing up I would watch my dad dress up as different characters before teaching his elementary art class (I didn't go to the school he taught in). The characters that come to mind are Dr. Yrag Nosnaws (gary swanson backwords), Quick Draw Mcgraw and Superman. These corresponded with lessons about printmaking, free drawing and primary colors. I think he mostly had an effect that made art a fun activity to take part in rather than a mystical thing that was only open to certain people. My mother was also a choir teacher which also helped art and music to be something I've always been participating in.

EN: What do you do for a living? How do you balance art and life?
JS: Right now I'm a filmmaker and freelance videographer by trade. I've recently started doing commercial work with Walter Raschick (Walt Dizzo) under the name Lakefront Films and we focus on doing creative, professional and cost effective videos. So far our niche has been doing video for live music performances. We've worked with artists such as David Bazan, Low, The Murder of Crows and Southwire. For my personal art, I've gotten grants from the Jerome Foundation and Minnesota Arts Board to make my first feature film "Walk Amongst the Living" which is currently in production. Balancing art and life has been a struggle for me, especially when I had a full time job and that dilemma is actually what provided the inspiration for my feature. It's about our devotion to institutions in our lives vs. our desire and need to live for ourselves. Living in Minnesota has actually greatly diminished this dilemma for me because of the great grant opportunities available.

EN: You've been working in film quite a bit. What is it you find so fascinating about film?
JS: The thing I find most fascinating about film is the manipulation of time, space and reality. When you're holding a camera, you are using reality to create your art. You're in a real space, with real people/objects to tell your story. It's up to you to decide how to you want to capture this reality and make it tell the story you want. It's an incredibly familiar and popular medium to the general population and can be viewed very naturally. As a filmmaker you get to choose how you display your own personal manipulation of reality to an audience and your audience gets to choose how they interpret that reality. My films and video installations tend use surreal environments, single characters and loose metaphors. This allows for drastically different interpretations from an audience and I always enjoy finding out what people take away from my work.

EN: Who are the film makers you’ve drawn your inspiration from?
JS: The most obvious influences on my work are David Lynch and Guy Maddin, who are also two of my favorite filmmakers. My first college short that I made, people asked me "how much David Lynch do you watch?" and at the time I didn't even know who David Lynch was. So I feel that much of my natural aesthetic leans in that direction to begin with, and of course now I've seen plenty Lynch and don't mind the reference (though I would never compare myself with him.)

EN: Can you talk about the feature you’re working on? What’s the genre? Is this also an “art” project or something designated for theaters? Where will you be distributing the completed project?
JS: The feature that I'm working on is called "Walk Amongst the Living". It's my first feature film and is currently in production. It is designed for theaters but I'm hoping to blend live performance at select screenings. It's a (mostly) silent film and I've been referring to it as an Experimental Narrative. It's about a woman who feels trapped by all of the institutions that affect her life. Early in the film she dies and has the opportunity to walk through and observe aspects of her life and these institutions.

EN: What are some of the risks involved in film making? 
JS: The biggest risk, as I see it, is that you can't make films alone (of course there are exceptions where you can.) It's a long process and keeping everybody and yourself motivated and on the same page is a hard task.

Most of this interview originally appeared in The Reader.

Featured eBook of the Day: The Red Scorpion

Monday, February 18, 2013

Scratch and Sniff: Art That Smells

When it comes to art, beauty is in the mind of the beholder, usually after the eye hands it to you. Now what about smell? Can smells be a form of art? I recently read about an art show where the artist had focused on the creation of works that employed varieties of smells. We know texture has a place in visual arts, even when we're instructed by museum guards not to touch it.

Wired magazine recently did a story on New York artist Martynka Wawrzyniak who told journalist Hugh Hart,  “I follow my nose in terms of how I read and react to other people, so I’ve always been obsessed with olfactory senses.” Her art is proof that anything is possible in the post-Duchamp art world. I think "Don't see me or feel me or touch me, just smell me" pretty much sums it up since the artist's aim was a self-portrait "completely stripped of the visual prejudice that we usually associate with judging a person, or judging a woman specifically,” 

Wawrzyniak isn't the only one fascinated by the art of smell. Sissel Tolaas has a personal collection of over 7,000 smells and 2500 molecules related to smell. Jenny Holtzer and Helmut Lang collaborated on an art projected related to smell and skin. Scent is beginning to makes sense for other artists as well. This Pinterest page includes Clara Ursitti, Andrea Mack and many other artists who are incorporating scent into their art

Of course landscape artists and people who maintain flower gardens have been doing this for centuries. It's not just for visual  consumption. As you draw near a spectacular garden the fragrance can make you swoon. If you're ever down in Sarasota visiting Ca' d'Zan and the Ringling Museum, be sure to stop and smell the roses. 

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Breathe it in through your nose.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Ever-Growing eBook World

Yesterday I read that Forrester Research estimates that the eBook market will reach $13.7 million by the year 2017. Those may seem like somewhat astonishing numbers to some, but during my last several years of travel I've seen a growing number of Kindles, Nooks and iPads amongst the passengers I'm in flight with. I've seen it where my entire row is occupied by people with reading devices. The usual reason is that "I can bring five books with me on my trip instead of just picking one."

There is still a role for magazines since the stewardess requests that we turn off our devices during takeoff and landing. But the reach of electronic publishing is extensive and I was thinking about new channels for the future.

I love libraries, and one of my favorite events each year is the annual Friends of the Library Book Sale. Do you think libraries will one day have sales of used eBooks? I know it sounds strange, but we're already seeing some libraries acquiring eBooks that can be borrowed without even going to the library by using a free app.

Libraries are free to the public, but the closer you live the less gasoline you need to get there. With this new method of borrowing, library users can take books out on loan without ever leaving their homes. 

The notion of used eBooks may seem strange to you but according to SingularityHUB Amazon has already obtained a patent titled Secondary Market For Digital Objects. I don't know about you but I buy a lot of used books online, primarily from Amazon.com, and I don't mind a few dog-eared pages or worn cover when the price is right. But I'm having difficulty picturing what a used eBook will look like. It won't have any torn pages.

If the concept of used eBooks is hard to wrap your mind around, you're not alone. Jeff O'Neal of BookRiot raises a lot of good questions in his response to this new concept. How different are used eBooks from used print volumes? Why can't I sell my eBooks after I buy them since I can sell my used print books? Is there a market for used eBooks?  And so on....

We're travelling into some pretty unfamiliar terrain with this digital future we find ourselves in. If you need to comfort yourself with a good book, maybe you can start by downloading one of mine. :-)

Featured eBook of the Day: Unremembered Histories 

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Five Minutes With Artist/Illustrator Emily Wendland

I discovered Emily Wendland last weekend at the Ochre Ghost Gallery here in Duluth. Her show was called Transcendental Terrain and her work filled the room with an interesting vibe, aided in part by the music of Marc Gartmann’s Fever Dream. The show featured work in a variety of styles and gave visitors to see her range of interests. When I learned about her early support from family I saw a bit of myself. It will be interesting to see where her talents take her.

EN: How did you first become interested in making art? 
Emily Wendland: I've been making art ever since I can remember. My first published piece was a drawing I did of my dog sleeping on my grandmother's recliner when I was 5. It was published in the 'Grandma's Attic' section of the Duluth News Tribune.

EN: That had to be exciting. Describe your life path from there to where you are now?
EW: Since then, my love for drawing was noticed and highly encouraged and supported by my family. I attended various art camps and took all of the art classes available in school. It's been a process, seeking out artistic training and mentorship wherever I can find it, and self-discovery for myself as an artist.

EN: The mixed media pieces are quite interesting. Is this a more recent development and how did it come about?
EW: My passion is for drawing and illustration, but I've always dabbled in mixed media. I think many artists cross medium barriers... we're always looking to explore our ideas and concepts in different ways, and well, I think we just like working with our hands. For my art specifically, there are some things that can be better portrayed in one medium over the other. I decide which medium will best suite the idea that I am working on.

Spores (detail)
EN: Why the interest in spores?
EW: Over the past 2 years, my work has intensified its theming on nature. I love being surrounded by the work of the Lord, and the growing process of fungi has just fascinated me.

EN: Do you use your artistic gifts/talents in your career or is it something you do when you get home and on weekends?
EW: I have been actively pursuing a career with my artistic blessings. I recently received my BA from Bemidji State University, where I studied art and graphic design. I hope to use my training towards a career in illustration, but I plan to continue doing exhibits in the fine arts as well.

EN: What are you currently working on?
EW: Right now I am working on my own illustration pieces. I sell art prints and greeting cards under the business name 'Eew Cute' or 'Emily Wendland Illustration', where I sell them at various gift shops around the country and online.

EN: Where can people see more of your work?
EW: My art prints can be found on Etsy or at shops such as Double Dutch (Duluth), Yellow Umbrella (Bemidji), Unglued (Fargo), Sparrow Collective (Milwaukee). My online portfolio is at the Cargo Collective.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Making Books for Fun and Profit

"Never mind critics, what do you yourself think is wrong with your writing? How did you dream of your book before it was created? What were your best hopes? How have you let yourself down?"~Zadie Smith

Intergalactica
From time to time I run into someone who says they are planning to write a book. Many are simply too naive about the undertaking to know what they are saying. Some believe they will do it, but since they have no real writing experience or daily writing discipline it is not something that I expect will amount to much. I don't mind being proven wrong, but producing a book is... well, it's a lot like work.

Then there's the problem of taking a good idea and transforming it into something stellar that others might want to read. Putting a bunch of pages together and calling it a book is not an insurmountable task. It just takes persistence. But making a great book is another story.

Then again, who says it has to be a great book? What is great anyways? Great by whose standards? By critical acclaim? By runaway sales? By moral significance?

My opinion is that if you feel compelled to write a book, or a story or assemble a collection of poems, do it. Have fun with it. Express yourself. Pour yourself out. If you're motivated to write book-length manuscripts I commend you for that. It's audacious. It's ambitious. But to make it happen only requires a little daily discipline. Personally, everyone has a story to tell and books are a great way to share it.

I have a co-worker whose mother wrote and assembled memoirs of her experiences living in Germany during Hitler's rule. She did it for her family's sake, and the family has been enriched by this effort. It doesn't matter that the book has not been published by Random House or Scribners. It has been assembled and share.

Digital books have certainly lowered the bar as regards getting your work to the wider public. When you go digital there are no printing costs, and Amazon.com will display your titles all over the world. I don't even think an ISBN number is required for that any more. (Fact Checker: Please confirm.)

You do have to ask yourself why you are doing this? Zadie Smith challenges us to not compromise. But it's not easy. Making a good story great requires a lot of work. In my opinion, however, I'm not sure it has to be great initially. Your story simply needs to be told. If it's a good story, there are others who can help you polish it and bring it to the next level.

As for the profitability part of this equation... Don't think about it. It's a tough market and if making money writing books were all that easy, everyone would be doing it. Just tell your story. Tell it well and people will read it.

Meantime, have a very fine weekend. And write on.

Featured eBook of the Day: Unremembered Histories

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is Elegy a Eulogy for the Sexual Revolultion?

In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.~Wikipedia

From the start we know the film’s theme. The opening scene features the acclaimed author and professor of literature David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) being interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show talking about a colony down the road from the Puritans that relished sensuality but was ultimately wiped out by the hardline Puritans, their “maypole” cut down. Fortunately, according to Kepesh, the Sixties came along and open sexuality re-surfaced, a glorious time to be celebrated.

This is followed by a private monologue that comes across as honest, challenging and vulnerable, an older man thinking about the waning of his years and his sexuality. His public face is boastful and confident, but privately we see an anxious man. In this manner the film’s theme is established:

I think it was Betty Davis who said old age is not for sissies. But it was Tolstoy who said the biggest surprise in a man's life is old age. Old age sneaks up on you, and the next thing you know you're asking yourself, I'm asking myself, why can't an old man act his real age? How is it possible for me to still be involved in the carnal aspects of the human comedy? Because, in my head, nothing has changed.

As the story unfolds we see a man who has spent a lifetime ritually taking advantage of his power as an authority figure to whisk away the hearts of his various college students over the years, sexually possessing them one by one. For decades he has been the beneficiary, for his own ends, of the “liberation” he has written about.

Elegy is the story of David Kepesh, an aging professor who unexpectedly gets emotionally entangled with his latest conquest, Consuela, a young Cuban student played by Penelope Cruz. And what is potentially a story that is both challenging and enlightening film falters and falls. Why? Because Hollywood, just like David Kepesh, has a habit of treating women as sex objects instead of people.

As one imdb.com reviewer put it, “At times funny and heartbreakingly moving, this movie mostly just makes you think how lazy most men are when it comes to relationships. I found it interesting how even a cultural critic, a man who spends his life looking for deeper meaning in everything, can look at a woman and only see a sex toy.”

Here is a professor of literature, influential enough to be a celebrity, and the most meaningful thing he can say to this young woman is that she has “beautiful breasts”… Oh wait, he says "the most beautiful breasts he has ever seen in his life." What does this say about his values? That women are essentially sex objects and this is his best Barbie doll ever? This is a young woman in a Master's degree program and not once do you here dialogue about political issues or the challenges of post-modern philosophy. We only learn how many boy friends she's had sex with and how many he's bedded.

Where is there any candid discussion about the meaning of life? The film shows a man over-analytical and ever-wrestling with self-doubt, hope and despair. But where is the character development in Consuela? She doesn’t want to be like her parents. She likes his piano playing. She wants to travel, but that's about it.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

There are additional characters in the film worth noting, especially George O'Hairn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning confidant played by Dennis Hopper. Hopper is very good in the role of confidant and sounding board. Later we meet his son who is now wrestling with a rough spot in his own marriage. And then there is Carolyn (Patricia Claskson) , whose strictly sexual relationship with Kepesh has been ongoing for twenty years, following their youthful ideal of sexual freedom unencumbered by emotional ties or responsibilities. Except you can see by Kingsley's behavior that this has begun to bore him. And then later we see that she is extremely jealous when she finds evidence that another woman has been sleeping with him, which he lies about.

For some reason, all of David Kepesh’s decisions put me on edge, and it is very possible this is the director’s intent. Kepesh, whom many young men might aspire to be, is not really a role model at all.

The film flips through time into a fast forward. His relationship with Consuela has extended far beyond his usual trysts and eighteen months into it she continues to invite him to be part of her life, wanting him to meet her family, to be a person. He has already declined at Thanksgiving and Christmas and now there is a large family gathering he finally conceded to go to and he struggles to find an excuse once more. He lies and she sees through and it’s annoying.

The movie has a surprise twist at the end which the screenwriter probably meant as a justification for focusing on Consuela's breasts earlier on, but it doesn't work. The overall effect is one more depressing layer of story.

To their credit, the acting is fine throughout and the film itself is first rate. But there is a humorlessness that makes it maudlin, though again, this may well be intentional because times have changed for David Kepesh and his ilk. The university posts a sexual harassment hotline number right down the hall from his classroom and as important as he is he'd experience serious consequences if he bedded the girls in his class the way he used to. In this regard the film has a measure of integrity that is noteworthy.

The movie is based on the The Dying Animal, a novel by award-winning author Philip Roth who has a reputation for making readers uncomfortable with his candor regarding sexual themes like promiscuity and lust. So it is not surprising that this film makes us uncomfortable as well. Was the sexual revolution a good thing? For a season it was very good for David Kepesh and his friend George O'Hairn. Kingsley does an excellent job of showing that even when the stars align, the thrill can be gone.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Intersections and Connections

Am currently watching Last Call, starring Jeremy Irons and Sissy Spacek, about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Last Tycoon was Fitzgerald’s last novel, incomplete but still made into a film. The Great Gatsby is probably his most famous story that years later resulted in a film starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow as Jay Gatsby and Daisy, told from the point of view of Nick Carraway played by Sam Waterston. Sam Waterston, as it turns out, played the journalist Sydney Schanberg in The Killing Fields which I just finished watching this past week. The Killing Fields is the tragic story about the Khmer Rouge regime that rose to power in Cambodia during the Viet Name War. My daughter bought the book for me as a gift after having spent three weeks in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos last year.

Another film about the Viet Nam War that I’ve found profoundly moving is The Quiet American, based a novel by Graham Greene. Michael Caine plays the role of a journalist in this compelling film. Caine is also a central character in the hilarious comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels along with Steve Martin, author of the autobiography Born Standing Up. Born Standing Up shows how Martin’s early life experiences, including doing magic tricks to sell them at Disneyland and playing banjo, later re-appeared later in his career as an entertainer. Now, Martin is performing his own music as a banjo picker and last summer we had the opportunity to see him live, playing tunes from his CD Rare Bird Alert with the Steep Canyon Ranger here in Duluth; it was fantastic.

Doc Watson is another banjo picker whom I once had a chance to see when I was a student at Ohio University. The occasion was a two-day folk festival that included the likes of Mary Travers and the Youngbloods. Peter, Paul and Mary were instrumental in bringing Bob Dylan’s music into the wider culture by performing and recording songs like "Blowing in the Wind." Dylan’s music permeates our culture today, endlessly covered by other groups and used in soundtracks for dozens of films like Henry Poole Was Here which was carried along by the somber "Not Dark Yet."

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Dylan’s "Shelter From The Storm" was picked up in the Tom Cruise film Jerry Maguire. Yesterday I brought home from the library the film Days of Thunder, which stars Cruise as a race car driver. Not sure which film first put Cruise on the map but Rain Man is one of the most memorable. Mrs. Robinson is probably the film that put Dustin Hoffman on the map. Hoffman once considered his Ratso Rizzo role in Midnight Cowboy as one of his two greatest.

Jon Voigt, the other central character in Midnight Cowboy, opened the film Runaway Train with the statement, “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Trains are a central feature of countless Hollywood films including Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Murder on the Orient Express based on a mystery by Agatha Christie. Graham Greene, who wrote numerous novels that later became films, also wrote a novel called Orient Express.

Greene’s The Third Man is another of my favorite novels that has been translated into film, Orson Welles being the central character in that phenomenal story. Welles found his way to Hollywood by means of radio theater, capturing the imagination of a nation through his dramatic and terrifying presentation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Among other things Wells also wrote a story called The Time Machine. Time travel is another recurring theme in Hollywood, one of my personal favorites being Twelve Monkeys starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Pitt gives the appearance of enjoying himself as a film star, playing roles as varied as a Major League Baseball manager, a goofy health club worker and a suave high-class criminal. Yes, crime does pay in Filmland where mucho bucks have been taken in through box office receipts from stories about gangsters like Al Capone. Sean Connery, who was shot down by Capone’s henchmen in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, established his fame as the original Bond, James Bond.

The Bond franchise has featured more than a half dozen actors if you include Barry Nelson and David Niven. In recent year Daniel Craig has proven himself exceedingly worthy of the Bond name and is a favorite of many. Craig was also the hero of Cowboys & Aliens, a surprisingly entertaining sci-fi Western. Cowboys have always been a staple of Hollywood, even before the days of Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger.

On my first visit to Hollywood two wheels were stolen off my rental car and I spent three hours in the Hollywood police station waiting for a replacement car from the rental company. The car was parked about a half block from Kinko’s right where Shirley Temple’s star is cemented. Shirley Temple was a talented little girl who no doubt raked in boatloads of money for the studios by dancing, singing and being cute. Shirley Temple’s middle name was Jane. The love of Tarzan’s life was also named Jane. My favorite Tarzan actor was Johnny Weismueller. When I was a kid we used to play baseball after school, but we always came home early when Tarzan movies were on.

Those were the days.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Intersecting Collaborations: May As Arts Month

The Pugilist by Andrew Mathhiassen
Collaboration: working together to achieve a goal.

I've not seen any official announcements, nor have I heard of an official name but the month of May has received an official endorsement from both Mayor Ness and Mayor Hagen as a month to celebrate the arts here in the Twin Ports.

The idea was given birth in the course of the past year through the collaborative efforts of the the Twin Ports Arts Align (TPAA), a network of artists across all disciplines that is serving as a catalyst to incubate and stimulate a vibrant, sustainable arts culture in the Twin Ports. Through their synergy they aim to educate, inspire and support the spirit and economy of our region.

After an initial kickoff event in late April the official time frame for Twin Ports Arts Month will be from April 28 thru June 2. The concept, as I understand it, is to have each week of the month set aside as a time to consciously showcase the various arts activities that are already happening here. Each week will feature a different facet of the cultural jewel that is the Twin Ports Arts Scene.

Kicking off the month will be our already-celebrated Homegrown Music Festival, Apr 28-May.Following this will be Visual Arts Week from May 6-12. May 13 through 26 will be comprised of Dance/Theater/Opera/Literary Arts/Classical Music and Dylan Days. The DuSu Film Festival will bring the month to a close May 29-June 2.

Since this is not just a Duluth Arts Month, I asked Erika Mock to share briefly what is happening on the Superior side of the bridge in May.

Phantom of the Gallery
"The calendar is still growing here in Superior," Mock explained. "So far The Red Mug will feature ‘Blood Oranges’ curated by Jeredt Runions. Phantom Gallleries has a thrilling line-up to include: ‘Shift’ large-scale paintings by Sarah Brokke that address the feeling of the fragile balance we are all making; ‘Gridded Geometry’ paintings, collages and floor sculptures by Adam McCauley; new explorations in the beauty and complexity of grids, arge-scale abstract stained glass by Patricia Davey. There will also be Busking Installation by Rachel Nelson. Superior Night is Wednesday May 8, with multiple receptions in the planning. We’re also thrilled that the City of Superior is completely supportive of Twin Ports Arts Month and is joining the City of Duluth in its marketing."

Anyone who's ever seen the explosive force a whale makes when it emerges from the deep knows the great energy that preceded that moment that took your breath away. So it is that there is a great energy stirring below the surface here that will soon emerge in a manner akin to spectacle. This spring during arts month you're invited to be part of something very special, and maybe even historic.

Working together can make it happen.


Featured eBook of the Day: The Breaking Point and Other Stories
Photo credit: Phantom of the Gallery by A. Perfetti