Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Little House linocuts

This past weekend, Sean and I took a linocut workshop at the great Open Studio in Toronto (www.openstudio.on.ca). We explored the use of coloured inks through a reduction printing process which involves carving the block and printing the image, then carving some more and printing again with a different colour. Nevertheless, our talented instructor, Pamela Dodds (www.pameladodds.net), makes beautiful use of exclusively black ink in her own work, some of which was on display in the Open Studio gallery. As an avid reader and lover of movies, I've been trying to find new ways, apart from writing criticism, to interpret the texts and films that interest me. This workshop occasioned an opportunity to begin what I intend to be a series of prints based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I'll use both image and text on each print - a pairing that elucidates themes that attract me. Above is a version of Pa's rifle, which he hangs on posts above the door of the house. These days, guns are principally seen as violent and dangerous, but for settlers they represented comfort, safety, survival, and prosperity. And they weren't necessarily used indiscriminately. When I amend the prints at home, I'll include the following, handwritten quote: "There was plenty of meat in the house, so he did not take his gun." The Little House books make more grey the human relationship to nature that, in this day and age of social infrastructure and supermarket shopping, we tend to observe reductively, from a distance, as entirely black and white.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie and Reading Journals

My movie and reading journals posed unique problems since I have limited equipment at my disposal but want to devise ways to print text. Solution (though temporary and limited!) = rubber stamps. Each version contains stamped templates with information fields pertaining to movies you've seen and books you've read. The words were carved in rubber stamps and applied by hand to every page. At different times in my life, I've tried maintaining lists of movies but haven't managed to keep the habit going. These books provide space for recording pertinent book and movie details, including your thoughts in response. You might think to yourself, Which movie did I love last year and why? After consulting your movie journal you ably remember, Ah yes! Steve McQueen's "Hunger" was a revelation for its depiction of suffering and the spiritual! Additionally (at least, for me), a given movie or novel often sends me in different directions - in search of new authors or genres - a practice that a friend once defined as "spiderwebbing." It occurred to me that saving information might make it easier to track how, as a moviegoer or reader, you got from there to here. You might ask yourself, Where did I get the idea to read all of these Thomas Hardy novels? Upon consulting your reading journal you'll find it all began with Virginia Woolf's diary. As an aside, Hardy is not a stuffy, verbose Victorian novelist. He's a true modernist all the way. If you haven't read The Mayor of Casterbridge you haven't lived! The first page will break your heart. The movie and reading journals, as well as their blank counterparts, were made with Mohawk Superfine 80 lb. paper. Mohawk is an American company (with mills in Ohio and New York) that tries to observe environmentally-sound practices in its paper manufacture (important given that paper is made from trees). All of these books are in hardcover and case-bound. I used a binding called a Modified Bradel that I learned during a workshop at the the San Francisco Center for the Book. This style allows me to create a slightly rounded spine which, to my mind, makes the books seem a little less crafty.

Storyboard Notebook

I designed this storyboard notebook to aid visual artists - cartoonists, graphic novelists, advertising types, filmmakers, and anyone else who works sequentially. Each frame was printed by me using a hand-carved rubber stamp, and is in widescreen ratio, albeit on a small scale. The frames are uniform but slightly rough, as though the lines were drawn with a brush and ink. All of my smaller books were made with 100% cotton, 115 gsm Somerset paper produced in England at St. Cuthbert's Mill. It's a lovely, soft paper that takes ink beautifully (and is also pleasant to touch). Both the guitar and storyboard are available in several colours and their covers are adorned with the same stamped image that appears inside. I thought this was a resourceful way to denote the book's contents. The stamps also provide a simple, graphic element - the guitar tabs resemble a Charles Rennie Mackintosh chair back, for example. (http://architecture.about.com/od/findproductsservices/ss/chairs_3.htm)

Guitar Tablature Notebook

My guitar tablature notebook was conceived as a portable, beautiful notebook in which to save chords and lyrics for song composition. It should be carried in a pocket or a bag since you never know when the muse will strike. My husband is a fantastic guitarist with a bad memory that leads him to forget strands of songs he's written. Consequently, he served as the inspiration for this book. Additionally, I'm attracted to the idea of notebooks as keepsakes - repositories for the evolution of great ideas. I want the notebooks I make to help people finish thoughts, and to store those thoughts so you can go back and track their development. The tabs were made with hand-carved rubber stamps and applied with love and considerable hand pressure to every page. I used archival quality stamp pigment - non-toxic and built to last. All of the notebooks in this run contain 80 pages of creative opportunity.


Once the paper is cut to the right size and printed on, all of the pages are folded into signatures which must be sewn together. The sewing stations are created with an awl, as shown in the top picture. The sewing is done with a binder's needle and thread, as the middle picture indicates. I use Irish linen thread for its tensile strength. The book is essentially built by sewing the signatures on top of each other in a stack (and in the appropriate order!). They must be linked, which is achieved by looping the needle through the thread at each sewing station, as depicted in the bottom photo. The sewing should be tight but not too tight, resulting in an even, flat spine.

To sell books, you have to make them

For the June 13 CBBAG Book Arts Show in Ottawa, I made and sold notebooks. My publishing projects are moving very slowly and aren't available for sale yet. Plus, I always see great potential in a new notebook and figured the like-minded would stop at my table. I decided on two formats and figured blank and specific-purpose books could meet all (or at least some) needs. Pictured above are my materials and the colour palettes for each style. The top photo includes the bookcloths and Japanese endpapers I used for my larger books (measuring 7 5/8 x 4 7/8 inches), which were completed as movie and reading journals, as well as blank versions. The second picture features the cloths and endpapers used in my smaller books (measuring 6 1/2 x 4 7/16 inches). These were finished as handily-portable guitar tablature and storyboard notebooks, and a healthy supply of blank styles too. The cloths for the smaller books are paper-backed rayon in solid colours. It has the look and texture of fabric and goes on the books very nicely. For the larger styles, I used a mixture of cloths - Japanese silk, two shiny, rather stiff varieties (in blue and ivory), and a peculiar plastic-like green cloth that proved challenging to work with since it seemed to stretch when coated with PVA glue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hand-printed business cards

In my ongoing efforts to have books and ephemera ready to sell, I recently made business cards to give away to customers and interested browsers. I'm not sure I'm totally satisfied with the images' appearances, but I'm certainly making progress, overall, with creating pictures, something I never thought I'd be able to do. I've also been training myself to see the merits of experimenting, and to avoid dwelling too much on results and outcomes. Printing and bookbinding were initially attractive to me because they're so process-oriented. I wanted to discover the pleasure that lies in 'doing,' in being creative. Slowly but surely, I'm adopting this attitude. I made the cards with rubber stamps, my go-to method for much of what I'm making right now. The spider image is joyfully borrowed from the estimable Louise Bourgeois. I can wholly relate to her fascination with these creatures - they're enterprising and artistic, almost miraculously so. The other image is of Branwell Bronte, tortured brother to Emily, Anne, and Charlotte. I fell in love with Branwell, as a literary and historical figure, many years ago and have printed his likeness repeatedly. With every new printing technique I learn comes another image of Branwell. This version, like all the others, is an interpretation of his self-portrait. I recently came across a painting of the Brontes currently housed at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It was made by Branwell, a frustrated painter and writer, and includes his sisters and himself. Upon completing it, though, he decided to paint himself out but, over time, the oils he used have faded, revealing traces of his visage. In the painting, as it exists now, Branwell haunts his family (as he did while living), seeming to hover among them in a self-imposed, ghostly chamber of light.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Preparing to go to Market

I spent a good portion of March getting some books and prints ready to go in front of the Kingston Farmers Market jury committee. I want to sell my work at the market this summer, but all participants need to be evaluated first (They seemed to like my stuff but I wondered at their judgement - one of the jurors spent a portion of my appointment upbraiding the previous entrant for her "disgusting" hemp perfume.) Kingston's Market is the oldest outdoor market in Ontario - over 200 years old - and features organic produce, crafts and other hippie shit (like hemp perfume). I already had some samples I could show, but I figured I'd use the scheduled appointment as a deadline and make some prototypes or mock-ups of notebooks I plan to create en masse this year. So, I got some beautiful paper from Talas and Japanese paper (for endpapers - shown above) from the wonderful Paper Place in Toronto. I completed five styles of notebooks; a blank one comprised of heavy, fine art drawing paper, a wine journal, a garden journal, a storyboard book, and a guitar tablature book, the last two of which were created using hand-carved rubber stamps. The wine and garden books were harder to complete - I ended up buying a laser printer in order to finish them, disliked the overall result, and returned the machine a few days later (thanks Staples!). The rubber stamp projects, on the other hand, were really satisfying, so now I'm leaning towards making all of the books with paper, boards, bookcloth, linen thread, glue, and stamps. While pouring over the website for Green Chair Press (I took a great letterpress class given by the proprietor while still living in Oakland), I decided that, instead of wine and garden books, I'll make a reading journal and a movie journal. For awhile, I tried to make a note on my computer of every movie I saw, where I saw it, when and what I thought of it but eventually abandoned the task. It's revived, though, in the form of a beautiful book you can toss in a bag and grab at the end of a theatre visit (or DVD) to preserve thoughts and responses (if the movie's worth it). The reading book will be organized along the same lines. It's funny how things stay with you. When I was a little kid, I liked to play library. This involved putting my books in a room and having my little friends come round and pick some out. Then, I'd stamp the return date on the inside using one of the many stamps I owned back then. If we ever wonder, as adults, how to occupy ourselves in fulfilling ways, we need only recall being 8 years old. I loved libraries, books, stamps, bacon, and musical theatre - none of that's changed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sugar - film review

I wrote a review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's outstanding film Sugar for Film Comment magazine (March/April, '09). A heavily-edited version was published, but I'm posting the original here:

Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's expansive Sugar is an immigrant story framed by American baseball's farm system. Its focus is Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a Dominican Republic native with basic carpentry skills and a promising pitching arm. The film opens on a pristine, US-run, Dominican-based academy where Sugar and his Spanish-speaking peers learn regulation baseball and its English terminology. They occupy dorms but go home on weekends, which occasions a shift from the camp's rigidity to the vibrancy and looseness of Sugar's town. Here, kids enthusiastically play baseball in a dirt pitch far removed from the academy's vast, manicured diamond. Sugar's access to legitimate ball makes him the king of his village and he indulges everyone's vague fantasy - including his own - that he'll master an industry, and a country, he barely knows. Sugar's drafted, training first in Arizona before pitching on the fictitious Bridgetown Swing in Iowa. He sends his earnings home via Western Union.

The lush, colourful Dominican gives way to Iowa's bisected blue sky and green ground, its buildings crammed along the horizon. Sugar is billeted in a rural farmhouse by a pair of elderly, God-fearing baseball devotees. They're knowledgeable and critical, and take a proprietary interest in their charge's progress. Sugar often engages in hushed prayer, especially on the mound. His culture's spirituality, and its love of baseball, permeate their lives. The Iowans, on the other hand, formalize church and ball, each a pulpit from which to promote their values. In a panoramic shot, an impressive bridge looms over the team's stadium, a symbol of the town's wealth and settlement. The diamond's adjacency proves baseball's pride of place, but the citizens interpret their devotion as a right to hurl insults for mistakes. They forget the players are indivisible from the sport they claim to love. 

Sugar is largely mute, isolated by language and location, both in Iowa and on the mound. Pressure from home plagues his performance, as does the arrival of ever younger, hungrier recruits. His silence, and the influx of viable talent, renders Sugar an everyman, easily substituted by players nurturing the same American dream. In fact, the bulk of the film's cast, including the winsome Algenis Perez Soto as Sugar, are amateur baseball players without acting experience. Their familiarity with this situation defines the film's authenticity. It also means Sugar could have been about them. But the crux of the story, and what makes it Sugar's own, is how involvement with organized baseball leads to self-discovery. Confronted by the reality of what was formerly obscure, Sugar adjusts his goals, distinguishing himself in the process. 

Decompressing after a rare good day, Sugar graciously congratulates teammate Brad Johnson, a Stanford alum, on a great catch. Brad attributes the play to luck, but he means Seneca's version - the result of preparation meeting opportunity. Born in the States, Brad knows US culture and baseball's place in it, and has an education to fall back on. Sugar, however, hasn't considered alternatives, and itches from the growing sensation he might not like this job. In a magnificent long-take, the camera sits tight on the back of Sugar's head and shoulders, and follows him through a maze-like video arcade and entertainment complex. The flashing lights, electronic noise, and foreign chatter overwhelm him. He heads for the exit and, soon after, defects from Iowa, and baseball, for New York.

Sports moves typically depict personal triumph against all odds, but within the incompatible, self-denying perameters of rules, teams, external authority, and hostile competition. They champion the misfit who confuses finding themselves with finding a crowd to belong to. Arriving in New York, Sugar's met with familiar music and Spanish speakers of comparable backgrounds. He finds a job, a carpentry workshop, and friends who include him in local, amateur ball. In a lovely passage, players address the camera, stating their name, nationality, and former league team. Professional letdown is replaced by community and fun. Sugar's still one of many, but with a new, hard-won advantage - he can listen to his gut. Boden and Fleck appear to have honed this skill too. Half Nelson's critical success could have lead to opportunism. Instead, they gambled on subtitles and unknown actors and emerged with a better, more sophisticated film than their first. Sugar's personal achievement is uplifting. But it's cause for celebration when artists create just for the love of the game. 

The Aliquando Century

Last week, Queen's University hosted a wonderful, inspiring lecture on the history of book arts and the private press tradition given by William Rueter, the unduly modest, exceedingly gifted proprietor of Aliquando Press. The event complemented an exhibit of Rueter's books on view at the W.D. Jordan Special Collections Library, which was organized by Kingston-based printer Margaret Lock of Lock's Press. To date, Rueter has published 100 books (as well as many broadsides) in the 45 years of Aliquando's existence. While a graphic designer for the University of Toronto Press, Rueter worked on his books in his personal time. When he retired in 1998, he was finally able to give them his full attention. As is typical of private presses, Rueter publishes mostly found texts. They span years, styles, genres, nationalities, languages and subjects and are testaments to Rueter's curiosity, breadth of knowledge, and passion for the printed word. Some deal specifically with book arts (Rueter is a great admirer of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson and Rudolf Koch), and several are uniquely devoted to classical music composition. The books amount to a portrait of their creator who, in treating work by Bach, Thomas Hardy, Boccaccio and Vivaldi, for example, effectively makes his influences or heroes his collaborators. But Rueter's books also constitute collaborations with contemporary fellow printers and binders, a lovely gesture given that presses of this nature are usually run in solitude and for the proprietor's own edification. He invited Reg Beatty and Don Taylor to create gorgeous, full-leather design bindings for certain of his books, and many contain etchings and wood engravings by such artists as Wesley Bates and Barbara Howard. During his lecture, Rueter spoke of the importance of friendship (between artists and between readers and books), the spirit in which I suspect these collaborations were undertaken. And in spite of Aliquando's openness to other artists' involvement, Rueter is amazingly proficient in all aspects of book production, completing bindings, wood engravings, and linocuts to supplement his letterpress work when necessary. Rueter's books are also characterized by a surprising use of colour. An 85-year-old man also in attendance at the lecture showed me his favourite book in which Rueter used ornamental type as decoration. Most impressive was the fact that the designs were completed in three colours (each colour is printed separately), all of them different shades of green (it would have been much less work to use only one!). I was as moved by speaking to this fellow audience member as I was to meet Rueter and hear his thoughts. An avid collector of Aliquando books, he expressed the same level of excitement as Rueter himself, adding yet another dimension to the idea of collaboration. Rueter maintained that making books is meant to usher beloved texts and images into the world in a new and vital way that connects artist to reader. The presence of one of Rueter's most devoted supporters illustrated the significance and mutual reward of completing this circle. Lately, I've been struggling to figure out how to make the best use of the books arts skills I've learned and the interests I cherish. Rueter served to remind me of why I became interested in private presses in the first place. I'm grateful to him for this uplift and feel renewed joy and dedication to learning more about books.

Friday, March 13, 2009

An Epic Scale in Sitcom Circumstances

 I discovered, last week, I'd get the rare chance to see Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen - it was showing for one afternoon in town. Originally built in 1918, our movie theatre attempts grandness, and was erected to support both live plays and cinema. I'd never seen Lawrence of Arabia, so I dove at the chance, which is significant since I've been feeling, lately, that cinemas aren't comfortable to me anymore. That, and I'm questioning having given up access to theatres that prioritize film's future by screening impeccable prints. I arrived to learn that instead of watching a filmstrip, we were going to see a projected DVD. Instantly disappointed, it struck me that this event - getting together to screen a DVD in a public hall - was simply a late-winter, get-out-of-the-house activity not unlike gathering at the Town Hall to play Wii bowling (also a local social option). In addition to the movie being projected on DVD (which I could have borrowed myself and watched at home), other of my movie-going standards were disregarded. Before the film, the proprietor of the cinema gave a twenty-minute lecture about Lawrence of Arabia in which he clumsily described and stated the importance of several key scenes. Since film historians frequently write about David Lean's work, Lawrence of Arabia is one of the easiest films to read about. If I'd wanted to study before showing up, I could definitely have done so. But I thought I'd let the movie work on me and be fresh and curious, my interest as pure as I could keep it. We were also promised that there would be overtures, "the way David Lean wanted it," the proprietor explained, and an intermission would be observed, the thought of which raised my heartbeat. Films are about duration and continuity! And why interrupt the progression when it's every director's aim to draw you into the movie's world and keep you held in its grasp? (To be totally fair, the overtures and intermission were embedded in the DVD.) At this point, it became clear that lots of elderly folks in the community (of which there are tons - thus the Wii bowling) had shown up, perhaps to sit somewhere other than at home, or for nostalgic reasons, the film having been made in 1962 when they still possessed their senses. Their hearing, comprehension, and manners deficient with old age, they used their outside voices continually throughout the nearly 4 hour film, asking absurd things like "Is there someone talking?" or "Do you think this is based on real events?" And this in spite of the twenty-minute information preamble! I was squirming in my seat, in the throes of a personal crisis derived, in part, from my ever-increasing disinclination to get out among the people. As the movie rolled on it struck me that it was an "event" film, completed on a scale meant to make going to the cinema feel like a special, theatre-like outing. And here we all were, talking, fidgeting, and chomping on snacks in front of a DVD, as though the building was a rec. room instead of a slightly worse-for-wear movie palace. And this predicament isn't limited to my town's theatre. Over the past few months, I've gone to the multiplex several times (to see Benjamin Button, The Wrestler, and Coraline, for example) only to encounter the fact that the beloved cinema of my youth is now just the cinema of youths. The foyers are filled with frozen yogurt stands, Foosball, video games, the tinny, clamorous sounds of Dance Dance Revolution, and the reaching way kids talk when they're away from their parents... not exactly the right circumstances in which to get quiet and be contemplative. Without the hushed museum-like atmosphere of, say, Cinematheque Ontario, I can't handle the movie theatre anymore. I don't necessarily believe cinemas should be stuffy and tomb-like, but films are deserving of reverence, particularly examples like Lawrence of Arabia. I want to determine the best way to go about my movie-going, especially since, apart from the compromised viewing, Lawrence of Arabia still got under my skin in that vital, entrancing way only movies offer. It's a testament to cinema's power that the beauty and organization of the images, as well as the emotional affect, still registered even though I only had one eye and half a brain focused on the screen. After I shook off the annoyance, I could think about the scope of the film, and the considerable accomplishment of staging the scenes and managing all of those camels! And to operate on such a large scale and still tell an intimate, personal story is a feat few action or event films manage. This is due in no small part to Peter O'Toole; tall, lean, golden, and perfect in his portrayal of the vital, idealistic, and ultimately dark Lawrence. And despite his stature and vision, he's still dwarfed by the settings he finds himself in, vast stretches of desert I'd never see if not for the movie. We're shown a man with an outsized view of his abilities and purpose, who's humbled by their slightness compared to the world's overall complexity and lack of coherence. Other artforms can't address this discrepancy so fruitfully. It's to revisit this idea again and again that I'll keep trying. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Heinz Emigholz

This past weekend, I went to Toronto to see Heinz Emigholz's Loos Ornamental at Cinematheque Ontario. Loos is part of the director's series "Architecture as Autobiography," and features 27 of Austrian Adolf Loos' buildings and interiors (located mostly in Vienna), as they appeared to Emigholz in March and April of 2006 when he shot his footage. (Other architects profiled in the series include Americans Bruce Goff and Louis Sullivan.) Emigholz believes architecture evolves over time in relation to its context. To fully encounter a building's characteristics, you need to view it spatially and in its environment. Rather than recount an artist's life, Emigholz suggests it can be conveyed through their body of work. Loos Ornamental opens on a pile of square stones produced at the former stonecutter's original workshop, now the site of a hotel. It ends at Loos' gravesite, a simple stone cube he made himself. The progression of buildings book-ended by the stones - all shot in the order of their completion between 1899 and 1931 - reveal Loos' project to be, in part, a meditation on the square form. Loos is a controversial figure, mostly for an essay he wrote in which he decries the use of ornamentation. Typically, Loos' buildings are boxy - vast facades with a spare use of windows. This is exaggerated in Emigholz's film by his decision to shoot the sites at the tail-end of winter - there are almost no leaves on trees or ivy on vines to dress-up the otherwise simple shapes. But what's fascinating about Loos' work is the way in which the unadorned appearances of his buildings belie the complex organization of space inside. Plus, the architect made abundant use of textured glass, and heavily-grained woods and marbles that become ornate in combination, especially when compared to the austerity outside. 
It was an interesting sensation to be in the Cinematheque theatre. I don't go that often anymore, due to distance, but it was once my habit to go there several times a week (their Powell/Pressburger and Fassbinder series were among the best movie-going experiences of my life, so far). I'm struggling, as ever, to understand the decisions I make. Living at a remove from major cities makes it difficult to see films or visit museums and art galleries, ostensibly my favourite activities and the foundations of my work. Sometimes it feels like I cut off my own hands. Before moving to the country, we planned to travel to cities for cultural outings, but have too little money for frequent jaunts. Also, I'm so absorbed by doubt and worry, that the capacity I once possessed to follow my curiosity feels like it's all but vanished. I can do little now, without worrying about how much it'll cost and determining if it's justifiable. As recently as 2006, when Emigholz shot Loos Ornamental and Sean and I were living in Oakland, we bought a pamphlet published by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Society. We routinely went on self-guided walks past local buildings that define Northern California. We discovered Bernard Maybeck, and visiting his beautiful Christian Science church was a highlight, not least because I was reading Willa Cather's ghost-written biography of Mary Baker Eddy at the time. Back then, it was o.k. just to learn about something new. Now, I can talk myself out of activities almost as soon as I've conceived of them. My most recent encounter with architecture was the new, Gehry-devised Art Gallery of Ontario. The building's front looks impenetrable, which is in keeping with Gehry's style. It also suited my blocked state of mind. 
Being part of the Cinematheque also audience reminded me how important it is that they show hard-to-see films and revivals (Loos Ornamental has never been distributed commercially and the screening was free!). I don't always know why I moved away from being part of something so contributive - either as an active journalist or a non-profit arts staffer. I think it's because I want my work to be independent, and to originate organically from pure motivations. But when you pull yourself away from colleagues and organized objectives, you lose an external system against which to measure your progress. On my own, it's hard to tell if I'm getting anywhere or to even remember why I insist on solitude at all. Lately, I'm concerned I engage too readily in acts of self-sabotage... too little confidence to stake my claim. I'm saddened to think that instead of taking risks and building a life out of the ordinary, I've gone off into a corner to war with myself over ambitions I can barely state. 
This is why I gravitate towards people like Emigholz, who look at art in its context and over time. We inhabit a society of our own devising, and its structures embody ideas about living that must constantly respond to change. My dreams for myself differ from what they were ten years ago, but certain influences and passions remain. When I got home from Toronto, I realized I'd been following Emigholz's work since 2002 when I first wrote about it as part of my New York Film Festival coverage. My interest in film, architecture, and hand-made art continues but, frustratingly, I still haven't fully arrived at the most appropriate form and style of its expression. Nevertheless, I include my previous writing on Emigholz out of a sheer need to show myself that I haven't abandoned everything I hold dear. Staying the course is a hard-won victory, especially when you've set yourself the added task of laying the path before you can actually walk it. The paragraphs below are excerpted from longer pieces.
Inspired by film's capacity to record and preserve, German filmmaker Heinz Emigholz traveled around Switzerland and the Midwest to complete Maillart's Bridges and Sullivan's Banks. Both are biographical portraits of twentieth century architects (Rene Maillart and Louis Sullivan) as represented by the bridges and banks they designed, presented as they exist today in order of creation. Emigholz's stationary shots capture the manner in which these artists expressed themselves personally within the perameters of engineering. Grouping structures that would otherwise require weeks of travel to view, he condenses the partial biographies of his respective subjects in these compact films, which run to 24 and 38 minutes. In so doing, he's created the cinematic equivalent of an idea expressed by Sullivan in his lectures, when he speaks of our potential capacity to intuit life through the man-made forms around us. 
Emigholz's The Basis of Make-Up (II) adopts a different approach to biography. Again working from sync-sound footage shot with a fixed camera in multiple locations, the filmmaker meticulously records the contents of 69 notebooks compiled over 16 years - one part of the director's own creative output. We're shown every page in every book, in shots each lasting a few seconds at the most. The handwritten texts are impossible to read, but we glimpse hundreds of image clipped from magazines and newspapers, representing years of pop cultural detritus that Emigholz pasted onto virtually every page. Like the monuments in his architectural films, this collection of writing and collage effectively turns The Basis of Make-Up (II) into a profile of a man in dialogue with his own culture. Emigholz has taken Sullivan's message to heart, ensuring his own ideas will endure because they've been given material form, catalogued on paper and recorded definitively on film.
In Schindler's Houses, Heinz Emigholz attempts to show how Austrian architect Rudolf Schindler envisioned an ideal for living through the physical organization of space. His mature work, done in Los Angeles during its emergence as a major urban area from the Twenties to the Forties, tried to compliment the idealism of the nascent city by designing low-cost houses out of modest materials for bohemian clients. Maintaining that structures evolve and must be evaluated in the context of their surroundings, Emigholz counters the tendency in architectural photography to portray buildings in their entirety, in isolation. Schindler's Houses presents 40 buildings, filmed as they are, crowded by looming billboards, roadways, and draping power lines, and accompanied by each site's ambient sounds - wind in the trees, distant voices, occasionally the ocean, but mainly traffic. He shoots the grounds and interiors of residences in sections in accordance with the way we perceive space cumulatively and by physical orientation. In so doing, he captures Schindler's signature characteristics - the delineation of three-dimensional space and incorporation of the outdoors - as they're affected by weather and light conditions. 
But by spotlighting them, Emigholz has in a sense rescued Schindler's houses from the city's cacophony of voices and notoriously haphazard development. But the regrettable deterioration of some of them can't be blamed on the city. Schindler used concrete in his early work and it hasn't aged well. Does this bad choice diminish his artistry? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The We of Me - Press Mission Statement

The We of Me publishes pleasing, precise hand-made books in small editions, assembled with quality materials, and designed with the synthesis of beauty and function in mind. My books feature unique cultural essays (and, eventually, short fiction?) by a variety of writers, accompanied by original artwork that compliments and magnifies the text. I champion art that embodies honesty, simplicity, and clarity. The books' appearances are neat and consistent, proving you can achieve lovelier results from ingenuity and hand-eye coordination than from soulless, industrial assembly. They're meant to be touched, admired, and returned to repeatedly. I want my books to be collectible. 
I believe devoutly that books are ideal vessels for sharing ideas - they're compact, inexpensive to make, and infinitely variable. I take great care with my books so as to honour the patience and generosity needed to read, write, and make great art. I want my roster and readership to be reassured and inspired by my full commitment to documenting contemporary imaginative life. I value human expression above all else. 
The We of Me offers an alternate route to publication for artists motivated by the personal, creative urge over the bottom line, mass appeal bent of corporate magazines and book dealers. My contributors will never be asked to compromise or append their work to advertisements. We will not be ruled by stapled folds, currency, PR hype, or trendiness! We'll rally around curiosity, imagination, humour, and engagement with the world instead! We'll celebrate and spread the word about moving, challenging film, photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, television, illustration, design, music, and writing! For The We of Me, these enterprises constitute proof of life. We're alive with the desire to share what we think. 
The press name is borrowed from a Carson McCullers' heroine - the curious and vital adolescent Frankie Addams - who coins the phrase to describe the many sides of herself. It fits my point of view. I think all people are conglomerates of their varied selves, and that artists must know and draw from these personal versions to produce their best work. The creative act gives these selves form - The We of Them. For a publisher, books produced over time represent who you are, your position in response to the world, a concise statement made up of multiple parts: The is The We of Me. 

Printing Project - December '08

Sean and I undertook a printing project in December of last year so we could participate in a local craft show. Using some research I'd done about the depiction of the human-animal bond in art, Sean created images derived from a few, beloved films. I printed them using a technique called Polyester Plate Lithography I learned during a workshop at the fantastic Open Studio in Toronto. Since I don't have a press (yet!), they were all generated using the "rub-with-wooden-spoon" method. This explains, in part, why they look like linocuts - we figured bolder lines could be more successfully rendered. Using the images, I made editioned prints, cards, and covers for books I bound by hand (I'd been wanting to experiment with printing on bookcloth for a long while). Overall, the Polyester Plates worked beautifully and we were pleased with the results. I'm hoping they'll serve as a stop-gap method for printing text (you can write on them directly with a ball point pen or put them through a laser printer), before (if!) I move on to the more desirable letterpress technique. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I find that learning new things almost always involves serendipity. For example, the book I'm reading about Emily Dickinson frequently mentions Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Ralph Waldo Emerson (I also recently read Woolf's Flush). Now, wherever I go, these two seem to come up. I attended a funeral on the weekend and both Barrett Browning and Emerson were quoted liberally. Lately, I've been mentally organizing a road trip I'd like to take in the Spring. I plan to publish a book on house museums and historical villages, the constraint being that the spots I visit have got to be reasonable driving distance from my house. I've long been interested in seeing Roycroft (near Buffalo), so this will likely be one of the book's subjects (also, a Shaker village in New York state, the Oneida museum, and the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass... I'd LOVE to go to Haworth to the Bronte Museum but, obviously, that's not local and I'm kind of anti flying these days). I've read a little bit about Roycroft's founder, Elbert Hubbard, who admired and was hugely influenced by Booker T. Washington. Then, who should there be a profile of in the New Yorker but BTW? Anyway, Hubbard wrote a mission statement or modes of conduct for Roycroft that are lovely and, I think, values I share (apart from, maybe, the God stuff). Here they are, should you want to embody them yourself:
I believe that we are all sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.
I believe in freedom... social, economic, domestic, political, mental, spiritual.
I believe in every man minding his own business.
I believe that men are inspired today as much as they ever were.
I believe in sunshine, fresh air, friendship, calm sleep, beautiful thoughts, and the paradox of success through failure. 
I believe in the purifying process of Sorrow; and I believe that Death is a manifestation of Life. 
I believe the Universe is planned for good. 

Walton Ford and Natural History

I read a fascinating Calvin Tomkins article in the New Yorker about painter Walton Ford. NB: Please be advised that I'll likely refer exclusively to the New Yorker as it's the only magazine I subscribe to. I have a hate/hate relationship with magazines, apart from those that are contributed to/edited by my friends, of course! Anyway, Ford paints monumental watercolours of animals in the tradition of Audubon and other past explorers who travelled to remote areas to document the forms of life present. Stunningly realistic, they're also allegorical - meditations on colonialism as represented by the practice of killing animals on their native turf to study and share them with a public unlikely to encounter them in their habitat. According to Ford, Audubon killed more animals than he documented... shooting birds in flight from the decks of ships just to watch them fall in the water. The intersection in natural history of artistic rendering for the sake of spreading knowledge and the ease with which animals are sacrificed in the process interests me enormously. I've been studying this permutation of our relationship with animals, among others, for awhile now. Tomkins' article reminded me of Harriet Ritvo's book The Animal Estate, in which she chronicles the evolution of attitudes towards animals during the Victorian period in England (and how these inform our current perspective). Ritvo focuses on areas like agriculture, the rise of dog breeding and kennel clubs, overseas big game hunting, and the origins of zoos. She explains that zoos offered visitors the opportunity "... to enjoy simultaneously the thrill of proximity to wild animals and the happy sense of secure superiority produced by their incarceration." I expect the practice of natural history (particularly in its earliest incarnations) provides the same thing - that animals are interesting in so far as they measure our domination of a world we don't fully understand. And as society develops, we become increasingly removed from the animal kingdom, resulting in an "us and them" relationship that's unnatural and unnecessary. It's a variation on a fear of the other. Since animals possess instincts and skills we don't share, our historical reaction has been to control them either by killing them, or harnessing their abilities and using them to our advantage. For the Victorians, for example, elephants were admired precisely because they were seen as willing to submit to human superiority. Even if this is true, we've never respected either this willingness, or the work that animals do for us. Proof: to validate his own work/experimentation, Thomas Edison electrocuted a circus elephant on camera. One of the first instances in which an animal appeared on film amounted to its brutal, barbaric death.  

Current Reading

As ever, I've got a few books on the go. I've been making my way through Virginia Woolf's 5-volume diary for a long time, drawing it out to savour it (plus I know how it ends). Surprisingly, one of the most fundamental and tumultuous relationships it documents was with her cook Nellie Boxall. So, I was interested to read a book review in the Atlantic Monthly about Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History About Domestic Life in Bloomsbury by Alison Light (not to be confused with actor Judith Light who appeared on Who's the Boss?). Among other things, Light discusses the absence of servant life in literature and the difficulty someone like Woolf would have had documenting it, given the tricky business of writing outside one's class. This immediately made me think of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, which would seem to contradict this point. Anyway, as we all know, wives of artists are often solely responsible for mundane life tasks in order to provide ample space for their husbands to be great (see: Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Alberto Giacometti). In Woolf's case, this role was played by Nellie (and, to some degree, Leonard), who cooked and cleaned so Virginia could work. In my own life, I find it hard to occupy a serene space in which to think and create, and then come down from it to get the groceries, do some laundry, make dinner - and I don't even have kids. It's a difficult balancing act and I have the utmost respect for writers who've worked it out (Barbara Kingsolver and who else?). The answer lies in how much value you place on getting the work done, as opposed to doing laundry or cooking food - conviction that what you might write will make it worth prioritizing the effort. I struggle with this so much. Despite considerable obstacles, Samuel Johnson stayed the course, as James Boswell outlines in The Life of Samuel Johnson. (So many years after completing an English degree the taint has finally left this book and I can enjoy it for its own sake). But do men, universally, find it easier to justify their work? Johnson even had Boswell to record the minutiae. I guess Emily Dickinson figured out how to get her writing done, but at what cost? I'm reading Alfred Habegger's My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. While it might not be the definitive bio., it's what was available in the used bookstore in town. I'm not familiar with Dickinson's poems - I don't read much poetry - but she's exactly the kind of artist I like (to the extent that we can know her)... naive, compulsive, self-made, principled, original, mysterious. And by speaking of my own writing difficulties in terms of these great, revered artists, I don't mean to suggest that I equate my own modest enterprise with their abilities or accomplishments. But, I find my mentors in art, for lack of having them in real, lived life. Reading could lead me towards resolutions I badly want and need. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why a blog? And why now?

Dear Reader, 
Here's my blog! Now that they've been around for, like, eons, I'm ready to participate (ever the late bloomer). Why do I have a blog? There are a few explanations: 1. It's a free way for me to post writing and other art activities - a loose, free-form portfolio. 2. It'll suffice as a business locus for my fledgling press - The We of Me - until I can achieve a more professional (expensive) site. 3. It's yet another effort to prod myself to write. It's my hope that making posts will align the ease and casualness of un-edited (less self-conscious) emailing with the harder work of writing with thoughtfulness and care. I find it's often impossible to fully, truly know what I think about something until I write it down (or talk about it). So, this blog should aid me in encountering myself (SO self-involved!). And, if readers visit me here, that's even better. I'll try to include details about books I'm reading, movies I've seen, recipes I've tried, and music I like. I'll let myself be mediated by this (one of many) form of controlled "social interaction." Like everyone else, I too am isolated in my consciousness more than ever before thanks to profligate technologies (and a shocking affinity I've only just learned I have with the most elusive of anti-social ladies: no, not Garbo... Emily Dickinson! But not the genius part, or the gardening in the dark part.). I'll make an effort here - a greater effort than is required by the hopelessly shorthand, dead-end, declarative "status" statement on my Facebook page. Always the independent, I'll shift slightly from the social-network-as-marketing-tool that is Facebook, for an ephemeral spot in the Internet ether that I can all but completely control. Thank you for visiting, dear friend. Please know that, after myself, you're my second-favourite sounding board!