Saturday, March 31, 2012

Uprooted: The Ralph Kand Story (Introduction)

I met him down on Park Point at the beach (circa 1990). I'd brought my young children to the lake to play in the sand and to give my wife an evening free from the demands of infants. Parenting is a shared responsibility.

He grabbed my attention the moment I saw him. He came directly toward me, hobbling across the sand, one leg withered and the second strong and muscular. He was old, somewhat stooped, wearing shorts and a button down shirt which he removed as he approached the water.

I was reading a book at the time, watching the kids, lying on a blanket in the late evening sun.

Like a great sea lion Ralph lolled into the lake and submerged himself in the icy waters, bobbing there inelegantly for near twenty minutes after which he returned to land, picked up his belongings to begin the slow trek back to his car. As he neared me he slowed, then stopped. “You like to read,” he said with that thick tell-tale accent of Eastern Europeans. I told him I did, and we struck up a conversation. He said he loved libraries when he was growing up. At some point I told him that I was a writer and he replied that he’s been told many times that his life story should be written.

I could tell he was earnest. He said he’d grown up in Estonia, outside Tallin on the Baltic Sea. Now in his seventies, he teased me with a story. “Would you like to hear how learning new languages saved my life? Come to my apartment and I will tell you more.”

* * *

Ralph Kand was born during Estonia's War of Liberation on August 7, 1919. As a growing boy he lived with his father, mother and brother on the outskirts of Tallin, the capital city of Estonia.

When Ralph was three years old he fell off a fence post and broke his hip. As a result he became crippled in his left leg which grew spindly and crooked. The rest of his life he would walk with a limp, and would never run again.

Even so, Ralph had a very strong will and worked hard at whatever he put his mind to. He never gave up. When he learned typing, he practiced and practiced until he became the second fastest typist in Estonia.

The winters are long and cold in Estonia. When he was a teenager, he saw other children skiing and wanted to ski, too. Everyone in Estonia learns to ski. Ralph would not be stopped. He rigged a set of skis so that his crooked left leg and foot would be strapped in place. He loved swooshing down the mountainsides and became a very fast skier.

While Ralph was growing up Estonia was an independent country with more than a million people living in freedom. Ralph especially loved reading and spent countless hours in the library. One of his favorite authors was Thomas Mann, whose Magic Mountain made an impression on him. He often thought about Hans Castorp, studying the night sky and asking, "How high is high? How far is far?" as he contemplated the meaning of life. These were thoughts and images that stayed with Ralph the rest of his years.

* * *

Within the week of our meeting I visited Ralph in his Duluth apartment to hear the first of the stories which he had hinted at on the beach. It was the beginning of a friendship that lasted years. He had come to Duluth because his wife needed to be placed in a nursing home. He desired to be near Lake Superior because it reminded him of his homeland on the North Sea. What follows is the first story Ralph told to me.

I was employed by a brewery (in Tallinn) called The Rooster. It had been built by the French in an earlier time and was located on the hillside facing the sea. I worked at the order desk. My job was to type up the paperwork when orders were placed.

One day the Russians decided to whitewash all the windows in Tallinn that faced the sea. It was assumed that the Russians did not want Estonians to be able to see the naval activity in the harbor. They were afraid of spies. The inside of all the windows of the brewery had been painted white as well. The next day I took my thumbnail and scratched a tiny hole in the whitewash so we could watch the Russian navy ships in the bay. All over Tallinn people did the same.

The thing that made living under the Communists so terrible was that you could never feel free, never feel safe from fear. There was always the possibility that the secret police would one day come after you. My friends said that I had nothing to fear because of my bad leg.

Ralph's friends, it turned out, were wrong. Ralph was working, typing up paperwork, when it happened. He was in charge of the order desk.

Installments of Uprooted will continue each Saturday till there are no more stories to tell or the well runs dry, whichever comes first. That should be quite some time from now.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Bodyguard and Richard Cory

Whitney Houston. Kevin Costner. I’ve seen this film before, but I wanted to see it again after Whitney’s recent passing. The film has a mediocre rating from viewers at, but it’s not an altogether a bad film. Whitney plays a charming, beautiful and gifted young woman. What a voice. And what a beautiful face… and all the rest. The camera captures it wonderfully, and even though I tend to not care for Costner in some of his roles, he delivers some good lines here.

But Whitney’s gone, and it makes one sad because such beauty and talent failed to bring her the happiness she desired. Awards, fame, riches... and emptiness.

This film, combined with this week's lottery news, brought to mind the poem Richard Cory, by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Paul Simon made it famous in the Sixties, re-interpreting the story in song and extending its reach since pop music spreads to the four corners of the earth and poets barely reach a sliver-demographic of esoteric elites. I’m reminded of the poem because it’s another one of those things that people would expect to bring happiness: money.

And so it is that this week’s Mega Millions lottery has broken records with its half billion dollar jackpot. And I can’t help but wonder if and how the winner of this windfall will find the satisfaction they’d hoped for. We’ve seen it all too many times. Buckets of cash don’t buy happiness.

Even so, whoever wins, I hope that by beating the odds to catch their golden dream that they will also beat the odds and find fulfillment as well. Be wise, be generous, and try to be different from those others who have squandered it all and become immersed in regret.

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good Morning!" and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jazz, Sea of Bowls and Samsara

“Oh salty sea, how much of your salt is tears from Portugal?” ~Fernando Pessoa

I've been watching Ken Burns' documentary Jazz again… so very powerful. Last night I watched Episode Seven which covers the period of World War II. There are so many powerful moments in this series, which is as much about the black experience in America as it is about the music. In one segment, the story is told of an integrated jazz group with Dave Brubeck that traveled together, played music together and fought together. We're talking about army guys in Europe here, not a Bob Hope USO entourage flying here and there to encourage the troops. Ken Burns cut to an elderly Brubeck telling the story of the first black man he ever saw. When he was young his father brought him to this man in Sacramento and had the black man open his shirt. With tears in his eyes Brubeck says, “He had a brand on his chest.”

The pain of this memory was exacerbated by his memories of returning from the war fighting side by side with black friends and seeing them returned into a segregated second class citizen status back here in the States. What were these men fighting for? Freedom? For whom?

Sea of Bowls

This Monday the Sea of Bowls will be on display preceding Tuesday’s 19th Annual Empty Bowl benefit for Second Harvest Northern Lake Food Bank. The fine art bowls will be available for purchase from 5-7 p.m. at The Depot, 507 West Michigan Street, Duluth. One of these fancy bowls can be yours for anywhere from $25 to $100. On Tuesday you can purchase bowls filled with a tasty soup de jour for $20. All proceeds go to feed needy people in Northern Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin. This is a really great concept, an inspired way in which the arts gives back to the community.

David Normal's Latest

For those of you in San Francisco, David Normal's latest painting, “Samsara” was displayed last Friday evening at Trickster Salon's "Primal Masquerade". For this event, Trickster teamed up with Aspect Gallery to present the event at 1000 Van Ness, a beautiful atrium ballroom on the ground floor of the AMC theater in San Francisco. From what I hear it was a pretty lively soiree. Normal just passed his 42nd birthday on the 19th of this month, so he was informally celebrating his birthday there. I was invited, but gosh, seems I've been pretty busy lately. You can read the story behind the painting here.

This Weekend in the Twin Ports

Check this week's Reader, or The Wave in today's Trib, for the music action at Luce, Beaners, The Rex and other hot spots. If you're into live comedy, Dubh Linn downton and V.I.P. Pizza (Tower Avenue, Superior) are the current hot spots. And for jazz, I think they're still doin' it at the 'Toga on Saturday afternoons beginning at three. For live theater, see what's happening at Stage II and The Play Ground. I myself will be dropping into Zinema 2 to see the next installment of Duluth Art Institute sponsored Robert Hughes film series, "Shock of the New." Life is happening all around you. And with spring in the air, I see lots more coming alive. Be a part of it.

“God wills, man dreams, the work is born.” ~Fernando Pessoa

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Buddha-A-Day with Footnote

These pictures are from Ellen Sandbeck's Buddha-a-Day series. In April you can see her work in person as, she will be having a Phantom Gallery show in Superior with the potter Jim Grittner. The show will be at 1412 Tower Avenue in Superior. There will be an opening night event on the evening of April 19th, and the show will be open again on Earth Day, April 21st, during the Twin Ports Art Crawl.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ten Minutes with Kat Eldred, Part II

This is a continuation of yesterday's conversation with Kat Eldred, whose work in the community with regard to the arts has been well recognized.

Ennyman: Why are the arts important in communities like ours?

Kat Eldred: Someone who works in the arts is every bit as gainfully employed as someone who works in a hospital or at aircraft manufacturing plant. On top of that, arts create vibrancy and an energy that renders a community attractive. That attractiveness helps employers convince prospective employees that Duluth has a lot to offer culturally. It helps the Twin Ports attract new industry as well. The arts are an important part of the area's economy.
We all need to recognize that in today’s global and challenging economy, it’s the “creative mind” (think Steve Jobs) that will enable us to address today’s issues. Steve Jobs’ creativity was encouraged by his parents who championed for him; the schools found him challenging and difficult. How do we encourage (or discourage?) highly creative students in our school systems?

E: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our local arts community?

KE: Unfortunately, the arts in our schools are always first on the chopping block during budget cuts and seem to be so again. That mystifies me when so much research has been done regarding the benefit of the arts in developing young minds. The arts encourage students to be engaged in thinking and learning in an experiential and creative way, making an important cognitive connection. For many students the arts in middle and high school are their lifeline to completing school and moving into adulthood.

Fortunately the area attracts artists, supports ballet, symphony, theater and visual arts organizations and has a very active young artist vibe - a lot of students stay in the Twin Ports after attending college or return because they enjoy the arts scene here and want to be a part of it.

The established artists are also incredibly generous and involved in mentoring and organizing around the arts and should be credited for the foundation they create.

E: You're an artist, too. What is your favorite medium and what are you working on now?

KE: I am really excited to be at this point in my creative life. I have been exhibiting since 1986 and have exhibited in Vermont, Massachusetts, Georgia and Minnesota. Since moving to Minnesota in 2004, my art has taken a back seat to raising my two lovely daughters, my career and community activism (Red Mug, ArtWorks!, Zeitgeist and the Zeppa Foundation). All important things, but at this time, I really feel the need to be a little more selfish and focus on my art.

I am working on pieces for an October 2012 show at Red Mug. The working title for this show is “Inspiration.” I am very visual and have been described as a “colorist” although I eschew being pigeon-holed into categories. Color, shadow and light inspire me; landscape and form serve as a backdrop. I am really excited to see where this all leads and hope to give my “personal creative” voice, once more.

E: Where can people see more of your work?

KE: I don’t currently have gallery representation because I have not been creating at a rate that would support that. I did have a successful show at Red Mug Gallery in 2008 – 13 pieces that I developed during an “art retreat” to Martha’s Vineyard with one of my art mentors, Louise Minks.

Right now you can see some of my work at (search “Kat Eldred”), a fantastic resource for Minnesota artists created by The McKnight Foundation in partnership with the Walker Art Center's New Media Initiatives group.

E: Thanks for your time and insights. We'll look for you this fall at The Red Mug.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ten Minutes with Kat Eldred, an Arts-Centered Life

In recent years the A.H. Zeppa Foundation has played a significant role in support of the arts in our community, from the Zeitgeist Building renovation to the manifold ways it has quietly influenced and lent support to individuals and organizations in our community. From 2007 till last fall Kat Eldred has been at the center of much of this activity, serving as director of communications and operations and later co-executive director. Simultaneously, she has been a managing member of The Red Mug since founding it in 2004. If you don't know Kat, then it's my privilege to make this introduction.

Ennyman: How did you come to take an interest in the arts? Who were your biggest influences?

Kat Eldred: I was "born this way" (Lady Gaga). Seriously, as a child, a blank sheet of paper was very exciting to me. I have always been compelled to create, to communicate through the visual arts. My mother studied art through community education offerings when I was young and that gave me my first exposure to paints and canvas. I remember my very first painting of African violets.

I was also an “art room junkie” during my high school years. You would find me there during lunch hours and study halls. I was really into photography initially (setting up my own darkroom in my parent’s house).

Painting (oils/acrylics) became my medium during my college years in Vermont. I found some mentors in the arts community there. Then as a young mother, I found a creative outlet on Sunday afternoons in Massachusetts when I left the babies at home with my husband and went to paint with Louise Minks in her studio at Millworks in Montague, MA. A slice of creative heaven. Louise has been my greatest mentor as we share a passion for color and plein aire painting around the New England countryside.

E: Your thesis in college focused on twentieth century German art, pre- and post-Hitler. This is a fascinating period. What in particular drew you to this subject matter and what did you learn from the experience?

KE: I spent a semester in Paris during my sophomore year of college and most of my senior year on an internship in London. During those years I had access to the world’s greatest museums and literally could “live” European art history. When I wasn’t in class, I would be walking the streets of Paris looking for connections to Picasso and Van Gogh among others (where they lived, worked and hung out).

I was as interested in their stories and the historical context in which they worked and lived as I was interested in what they created. During my senior year in London there was a fabulous exhibit German Art in the Twentieth Century at the Royal Academy, 11 October to 22 December 1985, the largest exhibition of German art in Britain since. 1938. Prior to experiencing that exhibit, I had discovered and been greatly impacted by German artist Kathe Kollwitz’s emotional drawings depicting her personal pain experienced throughout her life and particularly related to WWII.

My thesis grew out of my in-depth study of how desperate Hitler was to control the creative spirit, creating a list of “degenerate artists”; artists whose work was outlawed. It reminded me of “McCarthyism” in the US. Artists’ sensitivity to their surroundings and ability to communicate through their artwork makes them powerful foes for anyone wishing to crush or control the human spirit. The raw emotion of art created in Germany just post-Hitler, was most likely as cathartic as it was grotesque, much of it giving voice to unspeakable pain and suffering.

E: You were associated with the A. H. Zeppa Family Foundation in various capacities from 2007 to 2011. The Foundation has played a high profile role in the revitalization of the arts here in Duluth. Can you elaborate on the ways the Zeppa Foundation has been contributing in ways we often don't see?

KE: Yes, I was fortunate to meet Mr. Zeppa early in the formation of his family foundation. Besides the obvious Zeitgeist Arts complex in downtown Duluth, the Foundation has generously funded many arts-related efforts in the community. The Foundation was instrumental in funding ArtWorks! in 2008 – one of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation’s Knight Creative Communities initiatives that I was fortunate enough to co-chair. That event sparked a community-wide dialog regarding how the arts contribute to a community’s economy and more specifically Duluth’s. People continue to reference ArtWorks! and the influence it has had.
Mr. Zeppa’s support for the Renegade Theater not only gained them a stage and home in the Teatro Zuccone, but his financial support helped attract the fantastic talent that now spearheads that operation. The Foundation has supported the arts at Marshall High School, the Duluth Art Institute, The Minnesota Ballet, and the Duluth Superior Symphony as well as small non-profit start ups like the Superior Council for the Arts in Superior, WI.


Paintings here by Kat Eldred,
After the Storm (top) and Italy.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Response to the Scenery

Brian David Downs at the Ochre Ghost
Last night at the Ochre Ghost the Northland was treated to new work by the talented and imaginative Brian David Downs. I arrived impatiently early, looking forward to taking as much of it in as possible before heading down to the annual Chicken Hat Plays at the Harbor City International School Theater. Both events exceeded my expectations, which were already high.

My cousin, a lifelong fireman, described for me the emotions of a fire run. First comes the alarm, the call to action. Your adrenalin begins pumping immediately, but since there as so many false alarms in a fireman's experience there is also an internal check valve. But as soon as the truck arrives on the scene and you see the smoke billowing out an upstairs window, a gusher of adrenaline fills your brain and a hyper-intense focused engagement follows.

In the same way, when I approach an art event it begins with this same initial rush of adrenalin. Then, last night as I stood face-to-face with Downs' pictures, his work billowed with flames licking the adrenaline valve. So many of the drawings offered so much, yet were presented so simply.

An ice chest with beer had been set in the corner. Downs was seated in a chair near the door that takes one to the back room of the small space, a thin young man with wavy dark hair, dark sunglasses, light skin and unkempt beard, but a warm aura. He received his Bachelor's of Fine Arts in 2009, graduating Cum Laude from St. Cloud State.

There was a quiet musical accompaniment in the background. A man seated with his back to the large window played an electric guitar in the manner of an undulating sea of submerged harmonics which served up these images from Downs' subconscious reservoirs. Think Dali in terms of distinct images that serve a recurring themes in many of the pieces, particularly the shrunken heads. Some of the work reminded me of Escher's treatments, especially Escher's Metamorphosis. The style had no Escheresqueness other than perhaps some the linear fluidity and attention to detail, but there was a similar arc in their thinking.

But Downs said his strongest influence was Bosch, and one could see it everywhere. Even the names of Downs' shows reflect Bosch, whose famous tryptich featured titles like Heaven, and Hell, to escort The Garden of Earthly Delights. We discussed this briefly and I pondered how the work of one significant painter from five centuries ago continues to influence new generations of artists today. I became stunningly aware of his work more than four decades ago, and the here is a new generation finding inspiration from the long dead Dutch master.

See more work by Brian David Downs at his website.

The Chicken Hat Plays
If you think Dr. Seuss had fun inventing stories and all those whimsical characters for young people (of all ages), you're probably right. For people with unbounded imagination, inventing stories is a blast. And having an enthusiastic audience appreciate those stories is even more of a blast. This is what the Chicken Hat plays are about. You're a playright, and in less than 24 hours you will see your work performed before a live audience. There's no better barometer than a live audience.

Based on the response of last night's audience, we have a really talented pool of writers, directors and actors here. It was seriously fun.

First off, what a surprise to discover yet another wonderful theater space here in the Twin Ports. In recent years we’ve seen the addition of The Play Ground at the Tech Village, and Teatro Zuccone at the Zeitgeist Arts Building. And in 2009

The program begins by announcing, “What you are about to see did not exist 24 hours ago.”

First off, what a surprise to discover yet another wonderful theater space here in the Twin Ports. In recent years we’ve seen the addition of The Play Ground at the Tech Village, and Teatro Zuccone at the Zeitgeist Arts Building. And in 2007 a raw space down on Michigan Street underwent the transformation of becoming a charter school into which was incorporated a 160-seat theater space, thanks to a collaboration between Wagner Zaun Architecture and Scalzo Architects. These kinds of investments in the arts are just the kind of thing that makes community insiders hopeful about the direction our city is taking.

The house was packed as Brian Matuszak, a veteran of the local comedy theater scene and primary force behind Rubber Chicken Theater, opened the show with this declaration: “What you are about to see did not exist 24 hours ago.”

For those not familiar with this event, it goes like this. Eight writers have to create original plays which incorporate certain elements thatthey draw randomly from a hat. Call it Saturday Night Live meets Dada. Except even Saturday Night Live writers and directors have a week to prepare.

Each playwright must incorporate a who, a what and a where, and also a required line that all the plays must deliver, woven naturally into the story. This last twist gave an almost breathlessly comedic enhancement as the audience would begin to anticipate the required line. Last night's required line was, "It's curtains for you."

The first play was called A Playwright's Revenge. The surrealistic story rivaled Ionesco and the actors could carry Broadway. Written by Michael Maki and directed by Lawrence Bernabo, the Who was Maria von Trapp, the What was an Irish wristwatch, and the Where was The National Scattegories Championship. The acting was quite astonishing as each member of the four-person team seemed outdone by the next.

Well, so it was throughout the evening, one surprisingly good performance after another. The rest of the plays carried these titles: Plastic Cup Discussions, Also Spracht Sunkist (a play that had to incorporate a singing orange!), The State of the City (another unbelievably hilarious assembly), The Keanu Reeves School of Acting, First Date at Melvin's, Jurassic Park 5: Salvaging the Rex, and Barney Stinson Makes a Friend.

For what it's worth, you'll probably have to wait a year to see another round of Chicken Hat Plays. But you won't have to wait that long to see more entertainment by the Rubber Chicken Theater. In mid-April, Greg J. Anderson will be directing Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" at the Play Ground Theater. I can't wait.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Greg Volk Sums Up History of Modern Art In Just Over An Hour

“Art not only shows what we think valuable but helps shape our appreciation” ~Frederick Church

Last Tuesday evening on the first day of spring a lecture hall at UMD was partially filled with students and local folks involved in the arts for the purpose of hearing a lecture by Gregory Volk, a journalist, independent curator and art critic whose numerous credits include writing about the arts for the influential magazine Art in America. Ken Bloom, director of the Tweed Museum, introduced Volk who began by saying he grew up near Schenectady, New York, and never expected to be involved with the visual arts.

The projector splayed a large B&W portrait of Emerson as Volk said that his biggest influence as a young journalism student was the essayist, poet and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leader of the nineteenth century Transcendentalist movement. Emerson’s influence pervaded all the arts from Whitman to a whole array of painters who demonstrated a fascination with light and color.

Volk underscored that art making is a way of life utterly given to the exploration of passions. Emerson's essay “The Poet” declared that artists have a responsibility to go as far as they can go to find forms for saying what they need to say. In the essay, Emerson expresses the need for the United States to have its own new and unique poet to write about the new country's virtues and vices. This may have been a primary influence toward the publication of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “Art is the path … of the creator to his work.”

The quote that most profoundly touched Volk was Emerson’s statement, “I’ve become a transparent eyeball.”

“We return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” ~Emerson

However, only a "few adults persons can see nature.” For most people seeing is superficial. (I think here of Picasso's statement, "It took me a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child.")

Volk mentioned painters like Moran, Beerstott and Frederick Church whose intense colors and landscapes gave rise to an American luminous movement. Massachusettes-born Fitz Henry Lane, was another shining light of Luminism. Later, Edward Hopper was influenced by this passion for light and illumination of subject matter and with a few deft strokes Volk provided a brief portrait of art history’s progression to Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Dan Flavin, Walt DeMario and Quaker artist James Turrell whose approach was not simply to paint sky but to create a work that was sky. Roni Horn, too, demonstrated the transparent eyeball at work.

Perhaps what made this especially fascinating was seeing how it contrasts and compares with the film series currently being shown on Saturday mornings at Zinema 2 here in downtown Duluth, brought to us by the good people of the Duluth Art Institute. (By following a single thread, the transparent eyeball theme, Volk very quickly accomplishes what Hughes endeavors to achieve with his eight part “Shock of the New” documentary.

Volk talked at length about the “spiral jetty” of Robert Smithson in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, which he stated was filled with spiritual power. For Smithson it was a significant work, and Volk explained that our focus as artists should be on making a work that we “need to make no matter how unorthodox.”

He then went on to introduce us to four artists whom he considered extremely important and brilliant:

Katharina Grosse, who spills color in a manner that sheds all restrictions and asks, “Who says a work has to be permanent?”

Ragna Robertsdottir, who uses the turf and stone and lava fragments from her Icelandic homeland to create minimalist abstractions.

Ayse Erkmen, a Turkish artist who uses freight elevators, lights and “shipped ships” to cross new boundaries while provoking confusion and insecurity.

And finally, Roman Signer, inventive Swiss genius whose remote excursions into playfully temporary sculptures had no audience, no institutional support, and were as fleeting as a table flying out a window.

I haven’t time to set the links in place, but Google will help you find these artists in a relatively quick fashion.

What’s your dream? What’s holding you back?

See you in the future!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tickets Now Available for Desire in Duluth with Scarlet Rivera

Bob Dylan’s career has had several phases, if you can call them that. Emerging from the folk scene he was catapulted into high voltage rock scene with Like a Rolling Stone and became a volcanic pop/rock/poet troubadour. This phase ended with a famous motorcycle wreck and a more subdued period in his life which lasted till the mid-Seventies when he once more conceived a road show unlike any other, the Rolling Thunder Revue.

Several great albums emerged from this catalytic carnival of musicians that had been configured and re-configured wherever it went, sometimes incorporating high profile artists like Joan Baez and Eric Clapton, other times assembling a whole battalion of musicians, Dylan oft in whiteface as conductor of this long wild ride. One of the players in this troupe was Scarlet Rivera on violin.

The first time I heard electric violin live was at Wall Stadium in New Jersey where Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane were accompanied by “Papa John” Creach. The sound was surreal and vibrant, simply smashing.

So, too, is Scarlet Rivera’s famously riveting accompaniment on Dylan’s song Hurricane, a lengthy ballad that tells “the story of Hurricane, the man the authorities came to blame” for something he had never done, “put in a prison cell but one time he could have been the champion of the world.” It was Rivera's electrifying violin that gave the song its intensity and thematically carried the score making Desire one of many peoples' favorite Dylan albums.

In May, Ms. Rivera will be returning to the Northland for a concert on May 18, presented by the Armory Arts and Music Center, in conjunction with special guest Gene LaFond & the Wild Unknown with the group Communist Daughter laying down licks for the opening. The concert will take place at the Weber Hall Music stage at UMD.

Scarlet Rivera, Gene Lafond and the Wild Unknown performed on a Friday night two years ago at Dylan Days in Hibbing. Friends who were there said the concert blew them away and was "simply awesome." There is no reason to expect anything less this time around.

Tickets are now on sale. Reserved seating is $25 with two rows of VIP seats at the front for $100 each with an exclusive meet and greet at Tycoons the next day. Head over to Ticketworks and lock in your seat today.

Have a great weekend and keep dreaming.

My original Dylan image, top right, can be seen at Goin' Postal in Superior from now through Dylan Days. A whole host of artists will be represented there during the upcoming April Twin Ports Gallery Hop. Details to come.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Moose at the Ochre Ghost and More

The invitation to this Saturday's opening at the Ochre Ghost reads: IF A MOOSE DIES IN THE WOODS AND NO ONE SEES IT, IS IT REALLY DEAD?

It's an edgy show featuring new works by Brian David Downs. Fliers for the show include drawings of shrunken heads and socio-mythological paintings and drawings. I don't know about you, but the first time my dad pointed out shrunken heads at the Museum of Natural History in Cleveland, it was both compelling and confusing. Is them things real? Well, Downs' new work is called "an exploration, questioning, and celebration of what it is to be human." Saturday night I'll hope to take it in.

Brian David Downs is an artist residing in Minnesota currently working between paintings, drawings and band fliers. The opening reception will be held Saturday, March 24th, 6-10pm.

Rubber Chicken Theater’s annual Chicken Hat plays
To be honest, I have been wanting to compete in Brian Matuszak's semi-inspired off-the-map X-Games for Theater since I first heard about it years ago. As usual, I chickened out because I've never been to one and thought I should at least see what it's about before I throw my chicken hat in the ring.

Essentially, they have eight writers gather on Friday night to pull information out of a hat that they must incorporate into a play that will be performed live the following night... eight world premieres in one three hour romp. The writers have all night to write and by morning must be prepared to hand their scripts over to directors who then select or acquire actors and actresses to spend the day rehearsing for that evening's live performance. Sounds like a wildly insane concept and therefore appealing.

This year, Senator Roger Reinert threw his fedora into the fray to be one of the writers. For what it's worth, you can catch all the action Saturday night from 7-10 p.m. at the Harbor City International School Theater, 332 W. Michigan St. Tickets are ten dollars at the door.

Good luck, Roger.

In other news, Bob Dylan's first album, modestly titled Bob Dylan, was released fifty years ago this week. For those of you who do not know who Bob Dylan was, I will try to write about him sometime soon. Meantime, as life goes on all around you, enjoy the day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dialogue with Margarida Sardinha on HyperLightness ad absurdum, Part III

Today would typically be Wordless Wednesday, but it seems appropriate to instead complete this trilogy of blog entries, which began Monday, in one piece. At the end of today's segment will be another video clip and contact information for Margarida.

Ennyman: What is the best environment for experiencing HyperLightness ad absurdum? Do you envision it in museums, art theaters, or where?

MS: HyperLightness ad absurdum has actually been conceived in the aftermath of a period of extensive site-specific work (mainly installations). From 1996 to 2004 most of the work that I produced was indeed site-specific and therefore it was one of the main turning points in my pattern of work to form an alternative which would be completely self-contained and self-contextualized. I felt that need because the “in site” dependency of the several works was weighing too much on me and the feeling I had towards them was exactly the opposite… as soon as a piece was (or is) completed I have an enormous sense of detachment from it, as if it has a life of its own and it is simply no longer mine nor have I anything else to do with it. For that reason I felt a deep need to create a form of work that was perdurable and to some extent self-reflexive without my constant supervision – that would always preserve its meaning unchanged independently of its conceptual or physical support or location. Consequently HyperLightness ad absurdum may be exhibited everywhere in any digital or film platform, from a computer screen to a cinema projection or a gallery projection.

E: We all have many life influences that shape our art. Can you identify a few primary influences that led specifically to the conception and development of HyperLightness ad absurdum? Did you have an "Aha!" moment when you saw in advance where you wanted it to go?

MS: It is very difficult for me to detach influences in such a linear way, for of course my life’s general influences were the one’s that shaped HyperLightness ad absurdum unless I would give you here the work’s bibliography that expands over ten pages… No, relax, I am not going to do that to you. I will give you a short general one instead:
Art: John Latham, James Turrell, Sol LeWitt, Howard Hodgkin, Anish Kapoor, Tacita Dean, Michal Rovner, Daniel Buren.
Literature: Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Goethe, W. B. Yeats, Italo Calvino, Albert Camus, J. L. Borges, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Umberto Eco.
Philosophy: Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein, Theodor Adorno, Carl Jung, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze.
Science: Euclid, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Matila Ghyka, Benoit Mandelbrot, Keith Critchlow, Henri Poincaré, Roger Penrose, Douglas Hofstadter.
Film: Terrence Malick, Jean-Luc Godard, Stanley Kubrick, Oskar Fischinger, Harry Everett Smith, James & John Whitney.
Religion (besides various sacred texts & scriptures): Robert Fludd, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Sri Aurobindo, J. Krishnamurti, Rudolf Steiner, Shri Ramakrishna.

As for the Aha moments, they constitute special personal instants that are always momentary flashes into another realm of consciousness. They shape me as a person and therefore eventually they crystallize in the work that I create, though it may not be via a conscious route.

E: Of the full list, can you suggest two or three most significant influences?

MS: Yes, of course, Plato, Plato and Plato for everything else (apart from ancient texts) is either wrong or nothing but a footnote of his complete dialogues.

E: Does the breadth of your reading and experience ever make you feel a sense of “apartness” from the culture you live in? Not in a superior way, but in the sense that the number of people you can talk with in depth about some of your thoughts and ideas must be limited…

MS: I have a few friends, with whom I spend hours, days talking, but most of my work is a solitary one and I cannot live without that seclusion. I am fully conscious of the privilege that is in current days to be in a situation where one loves what one does – like myself – and is able to do it without major restrictions, for I could not imagine myself doing anything else or in any different way. I don’t necessarily need to constantly debate ideas as some people do for I don’t believe that “Knowledge is power” and rely on my own sense of honesty and self-criticism to guide me through sometimes difficult conceptual alleyways. I know this will come as a shock, but for me knowledge is exactly the opposite of a power struggle for it can be used to be of extreme generosity towards the world instead of trying to rule it.

E: Finally, what is the status of HyperLightness ad absurdum?

MS: As of today, 17th of March 2012, HyperLightness ad absurdum is on the line up for:
Rockland Shorts, Rockland, US
Take Two by Salon Ciel in New York, US
Magmart Festival in Naples, Italy
Accolade Award of Merit in CA, US
Winner of the Indie Award of Merit in CA, U.S.

And most recently, as I learned Tuesday evening, HyperLightness ad absurdum received the Certificate of Merit from the Rochester International Film Festival NY, US

Margarida Sardinha’s official website and contact information can be found at:

MS: I thank you Ed for your continuous interest in my work and for all your patience in considering publishing these perhaps complex ideas and notions. Although, I would like to yet say this account is still skimming the surface of an overly intricate multifaceted array of detailed considerations and analysis that I hope will be of interest to you and to the readers under the form of the upcoming book HyperLightness ad infinitum.

E: To readers here, a parting video excerpt. Thank you, Margarida.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dialogue with Margarida Sardinha on HyperLightness ad absurdum, Part II

It is not often that we find people in our fast-paced push-button age who have the patience to remain focused on a single project or problem for months at a time, and even more unusual when a single idea stretches to years in its transition from germination to full development. Margarida Sardinha's commitment to HyperLightness ad absurdum is therefore more astonishing in the light of its rarity.

Anyone who experiences the project will be immediately struck by its singularity.
This is part two of my dialogue with the Portuguese artist regarding her work.

Ennyman: The incantation combined with rotational flashing iconic imagery is indeed hypnotic. In what sense are Kabbalistic and other religious and scientific understanding woven into the visual force of this animation?

MS: The optical illusion produced by the HyperLightness ad absurdum animation is due to a very fast-paced rotation producing an afterimage compounding self-reflective, or mirror-images, of the original unique “sign”. It is a hypnotic procedure leading to "extreme consciousness - visual telepathy" which links to key philosophical and religious postulates of "innate vibrational" geometry that foreshadow future technologies and the evolution, thus, also the predicted involution of mankind at a microcosmic/subatomic and macrocosmic levels.

The work is hence the result of an extended geometrical and religious study envisioning a symbolic union between Western and Eastern paths of spiritual fulfillment. Its symbology is expressed or crystallised in geometrical solids and energy forms that are innate in all mankind. The Tantric Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist ideas relate to the Christian and Kabbalistic ones, namely, the concepts of Brahman, Tao and Zen coupled with the notion of Ein-Sof and Omnipresent God. In both, the Kabbalistic Ein-Sof as in the Hindu Brahman, an underlying Reality is implied as being the substance, energy and consciousness of Life and mind, thus this Principle or Being is actually considered to be beyond any form of God that may be contacted, venerated or described. In the referred paths this supreme level is infinite and transcends any duality or apparent opposition, thus in its cosmologies this Spiritual Infinite is identified as “Void” or the “emptiness” in which all the endless generating Energy of Life and Cosmos is contained. Seemingly, as every Hindu God and Goddess is considered to be yet another manifest aspect of the all-unifying Brahman so does the Kabbalist as manifest forms of the Primordial Ein-Sof contemplate the Sephirot and the Partzufim. The divine equally reveals itself in these traditions by being in all of them mirrored in the conceptions of the human soul through stages of evolving consciousness and in the specific procedures of ascesis, meditation and ecstasy. Similarly, too, the Hindu conception of Maya and the Kabbalistic illusion produced by Tzimtzum are both founded in the understanding of this phenomena as a derivative of human ignorance and for that matter it constitutes the root or cause of the assumption of a divided and limited time and space.

For all these streams of spirituality to overcome ignorance’s illusion is one of its main purposes. In animated film by means of visual memory our sight produces an optical illusion – afterimage – that is explored in HyperLightness ad absurdum to convey, unveil and deconstruct the divine proportions within the twenty-five geometrical solids that compose it, reflecting the Kabbalistic steps and paths of the Tree of Life under a fractal and geometrically rotational spatial movement that evokes centripetal and centrifugal force. Jewish and Christian omnipotent God speaks through Kabbalah’s Tree of Life that is a vehicle beyond a lifelong search which is here, as mentioned above, combined with an alchemical process of unification and with other structural methods of belief in Coincidentia Oppositorum, such as, the Tantric Buddhist and Hindu mandalas or yantras, and mantras giving much emphasis on the nondual Divine Consciousness and the dispersal of Maya. The ideal of infinitude in Brahma and in Ein-Sof being the complete Absolute Void and nonetheless being a source of endless energy at a cosmological scientific level corresponds to an infinitely small dimension of space-time – singularity - containing the “primordial atom” (energy) whose explosion – Big Bang – originated the four visible dimensions of the universe where space-time continuum is an illusionary phenomena and paradox is latent in every polarised assumption only culminating in Absolute absurdity ad aeternum. So, HyperLightness ad absurdum reveals the optical characteristics of hyperspace and hypertime in a supersymmetric continuum by means of an optical illusion which is formed by a spatial overlapping that seemingly occurs in nature’s manifold illusion where the several relative dimensional spaces seem to converge into successive fractions of one codimension visually evoked by the film’s frame rate format and the rotative torsion of the symbols.

E: Portuguese is your native tongue. Why have you chosen to produce this piece in English?

MS: Following the feeling of Tao’s reassuring unity where every single sound involves in itself all other sounds and each succeeding audial encounter is richer in revelations than the one before, consequently, the artist and later the hearer are forced to rescind one’s cultural language for the sake of losing oneself in the punctuality of a musical infinite… I thus found that infinite in the English language’s resonances and using its timbres I conceived the mantric repetition of HyperLightness ad absurdum poem. Its sound and music were recorded, edited and polished by my good friend, António Vilhena d’Andrade.

E: HyperLightness ad absurdum is dramatic, but almost difficult to engage due to its blazing staccato stroboscopic aspect. What has been the reaction of others who have experienced it thus far?

MS: Most people find it extremely relevant how the work reveals a spiritual metaphysical concern besides it being conveyed in a global consumerist, post-Nietzschean and post-Marxist society. Especially people who thus re-access the deconstruction of dogmas and the relationship between immutability and mutability have pondered it further and constantly challenge it and reviewed it. However, quite often people fall into asking me the question of whether the animation’s movements are arbitrary or predetermined, forgetting that they are once again falling into an illusive dichotomy, for both randomness and predictability are one and the same substance, hence, its apparent duality is a mere illusion which can be only compared to the very indistinct line between science and religion. Often people who experienced HyperLightness ad absurdum have also personally felt the discrepancy between the acceptance of spirituality in today’s contemporary society as something sound and worthwhile.

Most people have actually posed yet another dispute to me – they prefer the usage of the term spiritual instead of religious when referring to enlightening personal experiences and I persistently insist in using the word religious commonly, for I believe there should be no fear in using this definition and by further avoiding its use we are simply in denial and opening up an even bigger gulf between definitions which in every aspect are uniform. Nevertheless, each person has a different experience when viewing the work, hence a different perspective on the spiritual or religious aspect of their being, and I can only hope that my work will somehow expand that side which is so often neglected and crushed by an intellectual polarity of rational versus irrational, for usually people assume one over the other, frequently forgetting they are also both One. So, if I can provide with HyperLightness ad absurdum some sort of "channel" for people into the realm of the hidden never-ending and non-polarized source of consciousness, I will be pleased to have done so.

Here below is an excerpt from HyperLightness ad absurdum.

If you see a request for a password, try pyramid10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Exloring HyperLightness ad absurdum with Portuguese Artist Margarida Sardinha

I met the Portuguese geometric/kinetic artist Margarida Sardinha via Twitter in 2010 and have found her work ceaselessly interesting. It was through Sardinha that I became acquainted with, and fell in love with the work of, the poet Fernando Pessoa.

Sardinha's work strives to encompass a universe of ideas, distilling them into a density comparable to what Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges have done by means of literature, except that her canvas encompasses both visual and audio symbology in a dynamic manner that embraces and transcends these literary visionaries. Because of the length, and the density of this dialogue, I have chosen to break it into three blog entries. Stay with us and be rewarded.

Ennyman: You say that you spent six years working on this project. How was the project first conceived?

MS: HyperLightness ad absurdum was born from a deep spiritual need to engage in a process of understanding plurality in Oneness that is embodied in symbology’s divine strength. All my previous works had been trying to convey this notion of Coincidentia Oppositorum in different ways and with different mediums such as the installation “As Above, so Below...” that reflected the Christian gnostic multiplicity of Fernando Pessoa’s personality and its Kabbalistic counterpart. In HLadA the animated optical illusion was the perfect medium to suggest not only our symbolic subconscious processing but also its illusionary trickeries for it mirrored one single true symbol/icon several times using a whirling swift rotation. I started doing animations back in 2001, and by 2004 I was using them to do Vjing in London. That was an escape from other overly conceptual works that I was engaged in – Vjing is all about spontaneity and so I did it to fill the gap of such rigidity with animations that were purely experimental, thus synaesthesia really gave me the freedom of movement and thought I was lacking in some other more precisely intended work. I then decided to start an animation film project that would be the matrix of all my future work – a sort of symbolic mapping guideline for posterior work and I began HyperLightness that soon proved to be a Herculean task… I did not give up till it was finalised and all its research, over 60 intricate geometrical hand-drawn studies plus models, the poems and the animation took me six years to complete…

E: Did you anticipate that it would take this long? When you first conceived HyperLightness ad absurdum, how long did you expect it would take to assemble?

MS: In the first few months I kept telling myself that it was almost finished and then everyday a new twist, concept, symbol, experience, image, idea sprung and after one year I fully understood it would take me years to complete it. I also realized in that year of 2005 when the whole work was drawn out and I was still in London that I needed to split HyperLightness into three different outputs so things didn’t become too heavy in one single work and thus I instead decided to assemble three works that would complement each other – a book of poems and symbols titled HyperLightness ad infinitum, the animation called HyperLightness ad absurdum and a website as HyperLightness ad aeternum. HyperLightness ad absurdum was completed September last year and the book and the website will be published later this year.

E: Could you tell us about the importance of the role of Sacred Geometry in your work in general and in HyperLightness ad absurdum in particular?

MS: I believe from spiritual experience that sacred geometry unlocks hidden passages of our consciousness. The religiousness embodied by these forms and proportions emanate millenary energy of faith and mystical worship, which contemporary man now dismisses as something lost and as a past vain procedure, but I do not agree with that assumption for I believe that faith as well as love is never lost, thus quite the contrary, it probably is the only thing in every human being that lives on forever. In my view, our mind/soul not only (as Plato asserted) has innate imprinted archetypal forms prior to our awareness, but this being the resultant consequence of a perpetual emotional state of prayer and deep wishing along with strong belief generating very simple forms and evolving in a semiotic mode without our conscientious awareness. In other words, what I’m saying is that our emotions according to our needs propel faith and belief (many times blind belief) may have formed throughout aeons deep inside our consciousness a mesh of symbols that relate to the essence of what surrounds us and, therefore, it is in a constant collective unconscious evolution. This unconscious growth of forms would then explain why we have the capacity to recognize perceptions such as Time, Space, Love, Hate, Chaos, Harmony etc. and constantly “remember” them in a new light.

Thus to evoke this innate isomorphism, the ancient Pythagoreans used a secret ritualistic practice to pass on what they believed to be a gift from God - the Tetractys - the germ of the Musica Universalis or Harmony of the Spheres based on geometrical musical ratios; so do Hindus and Buddhists everywhere till today endlessly draw, contemplate and meditate upon geometrical based images (mandalas & yantras) as a ritualistic process that they will not rescind; and the unveiling of the geometry in the sacred Jewish, Greek and Arabic alphabets that acknowledges the hermetic geometrical understanding of the Bible’s Old Testament is the work of the Kabbalist. By doing so all these “believers” somehow touched the very essence of understanding the absurd, or, as Einstein so well put it “The eternal mystery of the Universe is its comprehensibility.” – they hence become acquainted with eternal structures that are beyond time and change for these constants are irrationally invariable and thus form the very link between nature and man’s knowledge or perception of it. Accepting these gnosiological notions annihilates duality and every polarised conception becomes whole. By squaring the circle, finding the Baühutte point in the drawing of the Vesica Piscis, by interlocking the nine triangles of the Shri Yantra, designing the Cosmic Egg, linking all the ratios and angles of Platonic geometrical solids of cosmic tessitura in a “symphonic” composition ruled by “dynamic symmetry” corresponding in space to eurhythmy in time, by finding the Golden Mean in the Pentalpha and Star of David and meditating upon its geometrical Golden Triangles contributing for the understanding of Phi with its gnomonic progression and going back to Pi, and much, much more… the initiate encounters the sublime in what it is called an anthropomorphic vision of creation which is concealed in every temple of every religion as well as in the forms of galaxies and quantum patterns. Thus, for these reasons and beyond I define the semiotics of such symbolic procedures as the fundamental basis of my practice and in HyperLightness ad absurdum they were combined according to intricate complementary personal and universal foundations, that in brief, can be described as manifestations of belief cannons such as the Tree of Life, the Flower of Life, the Yin and Yang, the Cosmic Egg, the Wheel, the Sri Yantra, the Lotus Flower and a Celtic mandala; so that the work evokes the meaning and epitome proportions carried by these symbols and relates them to the polarized transcendental archetypal opposites – Space and Time, Love and Pain, Light and Mirror, Heart and Mind – as the unseen origin of the further geometrical solids of cosmic tessitura that form an hermetic unity through symmetry or modular repetition combining the singular and plural where the law of the excluded middle has no place.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Few Notes On Positive Workaholism

When I was first becoming serious about a writing career in the early 1980’s, I attended a week long school for writers at Northwestern College in the Twin Cities. The meetings with editors and the classes that week were invaluable. The class on advanced article writing, led by Dennis Hensley, changed my life. At the time, though still in his early thirties, Hensley had published more than 3,000 articles. I later went on to purchase his book, Positive Workaholism: Making the Most of Your Potential. But it was something he said that week that really hit home.

Hensley said that if we set aside ten hours a week for writing, that would be 40 hours in a month or the equivalent of an American work week, which would equal three months of full time writing by the end of the year. "If you can't get anything written in a quarter-year of full-time writing, then you are not a writer," he said. From that day on I set out to carve out ten hours a week to devote to writing. I considered it my marching orders.

This Hensley formulation came to mind this week when I was calculating how much more time one has by sleeping less. I do not in any way suggest we go to unhealthy lengths of sleep deprivation, though many a famous person has done so to accomplish more. (e.g. George Sand) I was thinking about how many times I have been told over the years that we "need eight hours sleep." My guess is that there are indeed people who seem to need more sleep, but many who have a different body metabolism. I've spent most of my life sleeping six to seven hours a night, so the other day I did a calculation. If we have one extra hour per day to accomplish things, over a period of 70 years this would add up to an additional 2.9 years to finish that book you were putting off, or that masterpiece painting.

I'm not promoting a new law as regards how much sleep people need. In my own unscientific way I am just pointing out that we each have different lifestyles and needs, that universal pronouncements like the eight hour rule need to be tossed out. We don't all have size ten feet, so we need different sized shoes. Wear a pair that feels comfortable.

As for the book, like Hensley's writing class it is packed full of practical tidbits and entertaining anecdotes, many about writers and writing. His aim with this book is not to suggest we should work extremely hard to get rich. "Before the age of the push-button society, the ability to work something admired in a person, even expected." The book was written at a time when workers were clamoring for a four-day work week and longer vacations.

It's true that people can become so wrapped up in their work that they have breakdowns. But like many things the pendulum has swung the other direction to such an extent that a balancing perspective needs to be trumpeted. Being ambitious should be a positive quality, not a pejorative. Positive workaholics, Hensley wrote, are resourceful, organized, confident, eager, secure, competitive, motivated, useful, happy, assured and progressive. They are natural leaders, self-starters, problem solvers and talented workers.

We often hear how America got ahead by exploitation of the rest of the world. We don't hear much any more about the "Protestant work ethic" that set the nation apart from many other cultures, exemplified by parents and grandparents who became role models for many of us.

While doing a little spring cleaning I found a copy of the book on a shelf in my garage and inside the back cover flap found this photo from my graduation day at Ohio University. As a young art student I shared many of the characteristics outlined here... resourceful, confident, competitive, motivated, self-assured. But the path from there to here was certainly circuitous. I have much to be thankful for.

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