Monday, June 29

67 year-old doughnut

It crosses my mind every time I see it: why is there a giant dooughnut off the 405 freeway?

Programmatic or Mimic architecture was a design movement in the 1920's-1950's influenced by the growing car culture of Southern California and its unofficial title as home of all things cinematic. In an effort to reach an audience on the expanding number of freeways, buildings were designed with or as larger-than-life forms of caricatures, household objects or the food sold. Nicknamed "California Crazy," these buildings included a real estate office that looked like the Sphinx, a restaurant shaped like a hat and a hot dog stand shaped like, well, a giant hot dog. Hence the Randy's Donuts structure. Sadly, development has taken its toll on many of these figures in the landscape, which have now either been demolished or are in storage, whatever that means for a building.

If you'd like to see more, Jim Heinmann has compiled an interesting history of this style in his book California Crazy and Beyond: Roadside Vernacular. Laist also has a really good series of short writings on the history of Los Angeles, including the Ambassador Hotel (where the Cocoanut Grove was located and in whose kitchen Robert Kennedy was shot.)

Saturday, June 27

Once on this island

I visited the Schindler House this afternoon, which is part of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. With the goal of offering programming that "challenges conventional notions of space," this satellite of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art in Vienna is a unique international experiment.

A little history: Rudolph Schindler was an avant-garde Viennese architect who was deeply inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the California landscape. Schindler, his wife Pauline and another couple decided to establish themselves in Los Angeles. The house was designed as "an expression of the independent but common goals of each of the individuals in the house, delineated with materials such as wood, canvas and poured concrete." The house is now used as an exhibition space for programming of the MAK Center, which presents to the public new ways of looking at and thinking about space.

The current exhibition, "The Isle," is an examination the "placelessness" of Kish, an Iranian Island in the Persian Gulf with status as a free trade zone. It is impossible to avoid the discomfiting amateur news footage of Iran right now. As the internet's floodgates open onto cellphone camera images and twitter updates, it is difficult to digest the minute-by-minute information coming from all sides. I feel like I need to immediately play catch-up in what brought us to this moment: the political history that preceded the election, the psychological state of the people at this time, the role that the United States has played and may play as we replay the cold war tensions of the past with Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. It never ceases to amaze me how the visual can present an easily navigable way to come to the same conclusions as an intense online reading session. Nasrin Tabatabai and Babak Afrassiabi use the history of non-development of Kish to make plain historical struggles in contemporary Iranian culture. Kish was positioned to be the next tourist destination in the east. Yet the unrealized attempts at modernization become "representations of (unfulfilled) desires." The artists use the experiences of these developers (architects interviews, magazine spreads, models, etc.) working with a client (in this case, an Islamic country) to make real an imposed identity of Kish. The exhibition shows how "geopolitical indecisiveness" has thwarted Kish's sense of place for the past 20 some years. As described in Pages Magazine (the related publication,) "the almost schizoid nature of the island is manifested through its designs and displays."

This is a elegant and thoughtful exhibition, examining architecture's role of planning space as it pertains to conflicting ideas of a country's idea of self. Its good to consider that the current protests are not a reactionary moment, but more likely a catalyzed event stemming from a longer history.

Friday, June 26

somewhere i have never travelled

Somehow, I forgot to post this awhile back.....I was asked to go as a show of support to a poetry reading a few months back, and I realized that my knee-jerk reaction was something like "Errrr.....I'll be uncomfortable and/or bored by being so close to someone theatrically reading about their own narcissistic difficulties."

Poetry. It seems like an outdated phrase that stirs up images of tufted neck ruffles and the backs of hands on the forehead. Its as if the poet, like the artist, takes that title because it safely signifies a heartbreaking, angry sensitivity to the world that a title like "prescription drug salesman" or "auto mechanPic" can't. In our mediated social connectivity, where the micro of emotional states are thrown out to an anonymous public as "status updates" or relationships are begun through a pre-screening process involving a series of generic yet quirky descriptions, something like poetry seems an anachronism. I should say before I go too far that I love poetry. It was one of my first loves. It was something I could experience in the privacy of my mind when I read it and would share sparingly with others because of how close to my bones it reached. Now, when written words are read and updated every 30 seconds in hypertext, where intonation and meditation are inferior to skimming to the point, I would guess that something like poetry appears archaic and weird.

Poetry may not follow the strict rules of its given language, but unlike text messages and tweets, poets delicately, deliberately and sometimes emotively, put their words in an order to draw out connotations for the reader or listener. Its a handling of the subtleties of language that frees it to say more than it denotes. (I would actually read and be touched by the poetry posted by the Transit Authority in NYC on the trains. And I would feel embarrassed. And never tell anyone.) I guess there is a perceived niävete in being that unguarded about how you feel at any given moment. It's not very adult if you cry during a budget meeting or tell your boss that you really appreciate how much he's taught you about time management or that you love the smile you get from the clerk at the grocery store, because its nice that someone is happy to see you buy grapefruits you never really eat. I suppose there was a time when writing seemed like a mediation of these relationships. But our wired emotional connectivity now has a crude directness that is not the same. I don't really see the haiku of tweets. And pop songs somehow don't hit the same nerve.

I went to the reading. I listened to the poets relate not only in their own words, but their own structure for those words, tales of missing limbs, boots talking to guns and road trips. Or what I should say is what its like to want something you can't have, to be separated and say goodbye to someone you were close to, and, when broken-hearted, list the ways and places that help you forget and heal you. And I was a tiny bit self-conscious, but I cried.

Thursday, June 25

Dream a little dream

I occasionally have very vivid dreams, so much so that I am very confused when I wake up in the morning. I also experience lucid dreaming, which doesn't make the differentiation between the unconscious meanderings of the mind and reality any easier. I've had trouble sleeping the past few years, so my dreams have been fewer, but I had a good run last week. Here is what I can recall of them.

Someone was trying to re-name me my name, but I knew it wasn't really my name, even though it looked and sounded like it. I was desperately trying to push the papers away but felt very helpless at this imposition of identity, or imposition from the outside of what my identity should be.

I saw Madonna and Guy Ritchie at a gas station in New York City fueling their car. We were chatting around the pump and I asked them what they were up to that day, which was apparently a secret to keep things low key. He said he couldn't tell me, but he could draw it for me. He pulled out a blue napkin and drew an upright fish with a sharpie. I realized they were going to the aquarium.

I noticed that my companion had grown two small, toe-like fingers on the side of his left hand. "When did those happen?" "Oh. Last night." "Are you going to see a doctor about this?" "I don't know."

I moved into a new apartment recently, a very large one. My therapist comes to my house to talk with me. My roommate comes in the room and sits next to her to join our conversation. He has grown blond dreads. I'm sure he doesn't understand who she is, but before I can say anything she starts rubbing her head against him like a cat. This eventually makes him feel uncomfortable and she stops, smiling like she's satisfied. A friend of his comes in and sits down. He's very disruptive and can't sit still. I ask them if she and I can be left alone for awhile and they walk out through the french doors. She tells me that the room is very, very cold so I bring her a blanket that my grandmother made me. I use another blanket that was made for my great-grandmother, which she tells me is very ugly. I tell her I like it very much. Another guy comes in, then leaves. A really grumpy girl comes in, says something rude into the phone, which we both laugh at, then she leaves. The t.v. is on, which distracts us and keeps us from talking. I begin to worry that my time with her is being wasted and disrupted and we are not getting anything done. It feels like we have nothing to say to each other. For a few minutes, I'm asked to take care of my roommate's baby. I'm good with the baby, but she is very busy and I'm nervous that she will start to cry or hit her head or something. She requires all of my attention. I give the baby to my therapist for a few minutes. She is good with her, but eventually I can tell that she really doesn't like children. I tell her my roommate, who is very young, is the father. I take the baby back and give her back to my roommate. The whole apartment feels chaotic and off. I feel like I'm just trying to respond to whatever comes in the room.

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet. FK, May 17, 1910

Monday, June 8

Ugly overload

Ugliness is so much more interesting than beauty, especially living in a country where we are bombarded with a visual of what is ideal just about everywhere we turn. What is beautiful is subjective to the individual, the culture, the species. This perfection can only exist in opposition of what is not that, what falls outside of that standard. The greatest thing about the ugly is that it's definition is so much looser than the beautiful; since it is not the ideal, it is free to be anything else. I was happy to find Ugly Overload, a blog dedicated to the impossibly strange-looking. Pictured above, the Sri Lankan Frogmouth.

Wednesday, June 3

Plant life

I find having plants to be a really enjoyable experience; not only look at and water, but touch their leaves and make them feel comfortable in their new home. I'm not talking to my new green friends yet, at least not that I'm aware of. I was walking around, examining the plants on the patio this morning and found what i thought was an unfurled leaf on a special nasturtium gifted us from a friend. So of course I touched it. "Ugh, that's not a leaf. That is a caterpillar eating my growing plant." My first instinct was to launch it off the porch, but I started to think about the arc of its life. I sadly have a moral dilemma at squashing an insect. They must have a purpose, too, but why do things like gnats exist?

Growing up back east, I remember the first hot day of the year was an event. Winter was cold and long. The weather would become a daily insult. By spring, my shoulders would hurt from having physically bracing myself against the weather for so long. The excitement of shedding the layers, of a bodily freedom not constricted by clothing, snow, cold, made that day the best of the whole year. It was nice to feel the warmth come from outside of a swaddling of coats and sweaters and scarves. What usually ruined this feeling was the bugs. Not a few crawling around, but swarms of them. The heat and humidity would tell them it was time, and they would hatch and rise and swarm over the grass. They were so small and plentiful and it was hard to keep track of where they were in relation to any part of me. They could be in my hair, fly into my nose, my mouth. It was unnerving. The desire to lay on the lawn was tempered greatly by the desire to not have a mouth full of flies.

After this first hot day, they would all be gone. My mother told me they only lived that one day, which I think was probably true, but I still think about it. Why would swarms of these things exist with no real purpose other than to fly around, make more of themselves, then die? The whole short life of these creatures seemed so pointlessly irritating to me.

So back to the caterpillar from this morning. I picked it up with a trowel and flung it into a nearby tree and I thought about the nature of it's life. A caterpillar is one stage in the life of a butterfly. I think we accept it as a different creature than it's adult form because of it's completely different nature: bulbous, inching along, always hungry. As an adult, a butterfly or moth may not even have a mouth, depending on the species. It may not eat at all. An elaborately decorated creature that flutters from plant to plant, unconsciously moving pollens. It mates, it lays eggs, it dies.

All of this life I thought about. I felt like I had been looking at this insect with the wrong perspective the entire time. Perhaps it's contribution to the relational universe was not something that it consciously did, but something that it could not help but do. It consumed what it could as a larvae, then used all of that energy to be in the world as an adult, pollinating my kitchen garden along the way. Whatever it contributed to my life, it was through it just being what it could not help to be. I'm sure there are a thousand greeting cards that share the above sentiment, but I'm glad that little thing reminded me that the sentiment is more than printed paper.