Ice caps and cold sheets

I just found out about Nicole Dextras on the blog Bird in the House but it seems Google is well acquainted with her work. Dextras is a Canadian multi-disciplinary artist who has worked with photography, installation, book arts, textiles, and paper working. The specific projects of hers that particularly drew me in were her ephemeral ice sculptures. Conveying both solidity and fragility, fixed and transitory, the literal and the figurative, these works are really striking and poignant.
Frozen typography * is an ongoing series of placed words —in parks, on the street—made up of letters created by freezing water into molds. The larger installations, like the 6 foot tall VIEW, involved hard labor of  building, arranging and filling the plywood and/or plastic molds, and then uncrating each letter. Some letters are tinted with coloring, some experience accidental intrusions of sand or leaves. All crack, disintegrate, melt, and eventually disappear, leaving only the photographic record. Placed in their landscape settings, the words seem like silent annotations. (see this blog for even more images)
Garments encased in ice * is a series installed on Toronto island. Skirts, blouses, dresses— are they vintage? they often dont look of "our time"— are embedded in blocks of ice or draped and frozen. Transparent, suspended the fabrics become sculptural evocations of sea life or shipwrecks washed ashore. Or more to the point— absence— evidence of something that was. 

*Both link to wonderful flickr collections by the artist


cheerful greetings

photograph by Doug Clouse

One of my favorite things about Christmas when I was little was the WPIX Yule log
and its hours of
anonymous carols.
My family wheeled a tv into the living room, opposite the tree.
It didnt strike me as an odd urban replacement for a fireplace until much later.//

I hope your holiday is filled with cheer and wonder.

Thank you for reading, following, commenting, or just stopping by.
Please come again.


the ghost of subways past

Broadway Local, 1973. Photo from the US National Archives on Flickr.
New York, 1973. Photo from the US National Archives on Flickr.
New York, c. 1980, by Bruce Davidson
New York, c. 1980, by John F Conn
New York, c. 1980, by Bruce Davidson
The other day I took the J train, not something I ordinarily do, and I thought it was a clever, native-New Yorker maneuver on my part. I was at Canal Street and needed to get further downtown and over around the Seaport. The trains I was most familiar with galloped right past the bowels of lower Manhattan whereas this mysterious and foreign (to me) line would swing over to right to where I needed to be. Good.

I found the J in the direction I thought said "Downtown." New York being New York, this didn't mean further down to where I needed to be, it meant "on the way to Brooklyn." That dawned on me as we came to "Bowery", a station apparently not used by anyone who actually paid a fare to be down there. At Essex Street, utterly chagrined I'd taken the train going the wrong way (only tourists did that), I was able to catch the J going the other way. 

The train was oddly screechy, and unpleasant. The car was old with gray bench seating and harsh fluorescent lighting. I swear it seemed like I was stepping back into 1980. Everyone appeared to be hampered, mentally or physically. People with hoods pulled over their heads nodded off in corners. Although the ride was all of about 6 minutes, it was like a train ride back to a New York I'd forgotten.

Looking at these images above, I cant believe I was around for it. This was when New York was "Fun City": garbage strikes, Bernard Goetz and a burned-out South Bronx. (It was when my father would launch into rants about
living in "this Great Big Wonderful Town.") I would have been taken on the subway by my parents in the 70s and certainly I must have taken it myself by the early 80s? I don't have a strong negative memory of the graffiti, I kind of remember it neutrally. It was there in the same way the doors were orange and the benches gray. The Bruce Davidson couple at bottom is humorous but unsettling at the same time. The way she's clutching her bag is a distantly remembered feeling I internalized a long time ago. I look at images of New York like this and I think, how did we all not just think the world was ending? // More visions of the Golden Age of New York subway squalor at TwoFour Flinching. //

Someone at the Transit Museum said, "maybe it was one of our Holiday vintage trains?!" Um, no.

Every year at Christmastime and around July 4th several charming vintage subway trains in the collection of the Transit Museum get put into regular service. I would love to be waiting at 34th Street and have this roll up:

Poking around the internets I discovered that the J train has been rated on Yelp—as if one might give it 1 star and complain about service as you would to warn people off the latest beer garden. Here's what Victor C writes: "This train is terrible and dangerous. It's always freezing and filthy on the J. I've been mugged, punched and offered drugs many times on this train. Terrible train. Also, I have seen grown men completely naked on this train. I'd rather walk than take this train, really."


the state of things

An incomplete diagramming of personal opinion (my own), infrequently updated


permanence and (im)perfection

From top: 15th century bowl with 18th century porcelain yobitsugi repair, mid-17th century stoneware cup with kintsugi, 19th century tea tea bowl with kintsugi, mid 15th century bowl with maki-e repair.
All from the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution
12th century Korean ewer with replaced spout. V&A museum

All images of western repaired objects below from Past Imperfect, a blog by Andrew Baseman

My favorite items from Past Imperfect are unequivocally the glassware with prosthetic bases

First: kintsugi, I'm rather taken with the concept. Kintsugi ("gold joinery") is a traditional Japanese method of repair for cracked and broken ceramic ware. Lacquer is used to reattach broken pieces, the resulting "veins" of adhesive are then coated with silver or gold powder. Yobitsugi and maki-e are related techniques, the first utilizing "alien" pieces of ceramic to fill in for missing fragments, the latter replaces loss with areas of solid, decorated lacquer.

From a beautiful almost overwhelmingly sensitive essay by Christy Bartlett in Flickwerk:The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics interpreting the exquisitely subtle aspects of Japanese aesthetic philosophy:
Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. ...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identiļ¬cation with, [things] outside oneself.
Quite a while ago I wrote briefly on the related Japanese sensibilities of wabi and sabi. The terms wabi-sabi taken together identify and connote appreciation of qualities such as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. (These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to their Western counterparts: values based in Classicism, perfection, rationality and the heroic.) I was dumbstruck when I first learned of these concepts. This dialectic or opposition appeared to explain one of my longstanding issues: a certain loneliness I'd felt growing up, in part because most everything I found aesthetically interesting, pleasing, or desirable seemed to be the farthest thing from what was all around me. (This was Queens in the 1970s and 80s. I carried with me a sense mild alienation most of the time.)

I have to clarify that it is the idea of kintsugi— mending as transformation, a sort of reified transience— rather than the physical ceramic objects themselves that truly seems beautiful to me.//

From the philosophically suffused, rarefied aesthetics of kintsugi to the stalwart thrift and ingenuity of necessity: Interior designer Andrew Baseman's blog, Past Imperfect, the art of inventive repair is a great find for anyone interested in the beauty of mended objects. Andrew's blog focusses on his collection of artfully repaired items, mostly 18th and 19th century western artifacts. Professing a longstanding appreciation of "make-dos"— folksy or crude homemade repairs— Baseman prefers the term “inventive repairs” for describing and appreciating the embellishments on the pieces. His collection is a parade of charming, quirky, even mystifying, everyday items from the past made even more so by the eclectic methods employed in mending physical mishaps. These objects lie somewhere outside but near the boundaries of "folk art." They seem to be animated with a spirit that pristine examples don't necessarily hold, a paradoxical demonstration of perseverance and resilience.


ancient face book

archaic statue fragment, possibly Apollo, 6th c BC
I dont quite understand the tremendous aesthetic shift in Greek art: This and the many stylistically related kouroi are all completely unlike anything envisioned with the (later) Classical eye
mummy of a cat from Abydos, Egypt, c. 1st c AD, British Museum.
A shipment of as many as 180,000 mummified cats was brought to Britain at the end of the nineteenth century to be processed into fertilizer...

Ptolemaic noblewoman, said to be Cleopatra or one of her court, 50-40 BC, British Museum

Bronze portrait of Sophocles, 5th century BC, British Museum

Bust of Julius Ceasar in green schist, Berlin
What an insane choice of material

limestone and stucco portrait of Nefertiti, 1345 BC, Berlin
Serene and unsettling at the same time

"Egyptian princess", Louvre

sycamore wood statue of Kaaper, chief lector priest, 2465-2458 BC, Cairo
He looks like a hit man

marble portrait of Lucius Verus, ca. 166–170, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius,
Metropolitan Museum of Art
He was said to have blond hair that glinted in the sun, as if sprinkled with gold dust

bronze bust of Lucius Junius Brutus founder of the Roman Republic, c 3rd or 4th c BC,
possibly by an Etruscan artisan, Capitoline Museums
It is an odd mix of primitive and virtuosity

a Roman, unknown, Capitoline Museums
I think this is one of the most captivating portraits of any age. He and Kaaper (above) could be in The Godfather.
Bronze portrait from Delos, c 80BC
He seems to project Romantic weltschmerz 1800 years early
a wood and gesso portrait of King Tutanhkamen emerging from a lotus, ca. 1354 BC
Notice the folds of skin on the neck

a wooden Ka statue of pharoah Hor, c 1757 BC, Cairo
It is so much more animated, jovial, than most royal portraiture— if idealized funerary statuary can be jovial

A selection of compelling portraits I gathered along the way.


Interstellar Sublime

Black Rain from Semiconductor on Vimeo. (via: strange|beautiful)

Semiconductor is the alias of British multi-media installation artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt. The duo produce the "vision of sound in motion" which appears to mean high-concept films incorporating computers, random natural time-lapse sequences, sound translation and animation. As abstract and academic as that sounds, as an example the project Black Rain (above) is quite immediate and visceral in its effect. The piece is created from images transmitted by twin satellites sent into space by STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) to record solar activity. Semiconductor worked alongside the NASA scientists collecting and compiling all the raw unprocessed image data. It is just that rawness that conveys a haunting "realness" of the universe—which the cleaned-up, colored, officially issued NASA imagery does not.

The light flares, static, scanning bands, dropped frames and all other artifacts of natural disturbance or man-made process, typically edited out by NASA, give the piece a splintered, frenetic intensity. While I don't know if this film is in any way an accurate representation of what is truly out there, it struck me immediately how different a conception of space it presents. Compared to the sepulchral emptiness, the weightless silent vacuum we're used to— for instance, say, Kubrick's space—this energy and sense of limitless tumult leaves the viewer reeling.//

In poking around for some more background I came across "Professor Don Gurnett's favorite sounds of space." Despite sounding like a 1970s album not sold in any store, it is in fact a page from the University of Iowa physics department of audio files of space activity. I must say its a little bit of a let down that the 'music of the spheres' sounds like a slide whistle interlude or a Steve Miller Band concert.


The Romance and Pain of Penn Station

UPDATE: One of the original watercolor renderings of the proposed Penn Station by Jules Crowe, 1906
(New-York Historical Society)

A terrific shot of the station during WWII,
with an amazing graphic installation by Raymond Loewy

images by Peter Moore
The"clamshell" ticket counter was an attempt to update the station.
I don't not like it (even if a double negative conveys my hesitance).
It reminds me of Saarinen's TWA terminal and is very much of its time.

It was a total surprise to discover that the demolition did not disrupt essential day-to-day operations: commuter service and access to the tracks and platforms were in full operation throughout. Image by Peter Moore
An advertisement from a 1968 Progressive Architecture Magazine showing Charles Luckman Associates' model of what fills the space of the former Penn Station: the Madison Square Garden Center complex.
This fascinating and embarrassing artifact, a brochure issued by the LIRR about the demolition,
construction and what was happening,
breezily informs riders "you'll have one of the most modern, spacious,
cheerful and functional terminals in the nation."
(municipal art society)

On October 28, 1963 New York began its long painful farewell to McKim Mead & White's monumental Pennsylvania Station.
The supremely majestic nine-acre structure of travertine marble and granite, its columns more than 6 stories tall, didn't go quietly. It took 3 years to hack up and cart away, with parts haphazardly dumped in the NJ Meadowlands, like the remains of a Mob hit.

I can't help but see many of the demolition images as documenting a crime, and I don't mean figuratively. There truly is something unsettling, obscene even, in the partially exposed steel framework, a slow-motion dismemberment, the tremendous hulk lurching under the raining blows from workmen.

Photojournalist Peter Moore and his wife Barbara documented the "unbuilding" process in thousands of images. A selection of these became The Destruction of Penn Station, a book issued in 2000, described as both romantic and painful.

Critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote at the time,
"The tragedy is that our own times not only could not produce such a building, but cannot even maintain it..." "It confirms the demise of an age of opulent elegance, of conspicuous, magnificent spaces, rich and enduring materials, the monumental civic gesture, and extravagant expenditure for esthetic ends."
I'll be working on an exhibit about Penn Station in the next couple months, so I've been going over the arc of its archetypal moral tale: elegance and beauty sacrificed to base money interests. In reviewing all with fresh eyes I was astonished to find myself almost being able to understand the decision to replace it.

The very fact that Penn Station carried the standard of "conspicuous space" and "extravagant expenditure" made its demise, in the era of the Jetsons, inevitable. It had been on a long slide down toward becoming what even the New York Times called "a grimy monument to an age of expansive elegance." Under years of careless structural intrusions and minimal upkeep, with the automobile stripping the glamour —and convenience— from railroad travel, Penn station was a cavernous empty space with an expensive maintenance ticket. It was a glaring anachronism at 50, still evoking starched collars and walking sticks when the public was thinking about space travel, Tang, and GoGo boots. I could almost—almost— see what it was they were thinking.
. . . . . .
See several stunning images, and a few harrowing scenes of carnage.


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