Friday, July 28, 2006

Random notes from the Chaos

My prolonged absence from the blogsphere these last two weeks has been two parts business to one part laziness, but I wanted to throw out a few random notes before all of this slipped out of my head. Sorry for the disorganization:

  • For those of you who missed the awesome garage sale at our house last weekend, there is probably going to be another one mid-September. Watch this space for more details. I’ll probably advertise so if any of you need to sell some stuff, let me know and we’ll set it out.

  • The magnificence that is Mary is leaving us. She got offered a sweet gig on the east end of the state. Since she’s been so good about watching our kitties when we had to be away, we’re fostering her cats until she can get a place that will allow them. If you’ve never stopped by her blog, it’s something to behold… oh, and she also apparently paints or something…

  • If anyone who reads this has a passing interest in web development, I found a nice introduction to design patterns while researching something else this week. The article is a little old, but the fundamentals it reinforces are older than the internet.

  • Roy had another of his blender classes today, this time on UV mapping. We had a little chat about how to proceed with future classes and it looks like he may start the series over this January as a Saturday class. If you know anybody or anybody who knows anybody who’d like to learn 3-D animation, they’re not going to find a better deal than a free class with free software from someone who actually knows something about the subject.

  • I’m due for a bonus check at the end of this month and I was thinking about spending a little of it on buying some astrophotography equipment (and throwing the rest at my very scary credit cards). My mom used to teach astronomy and she got me interested in the subject when I was a kid, but I’ve not pursued it much as a hobby since I moved to a big city. As it stands, I’ve already got a good camera rig for it, but I need a telescope and an adapter. I’m not really looking to spend more than about a hundred to a hundred and fifty bucks to get started with (which I know severely limits me), but if anyone has any suggestions for what to buy or what to avoid, I’d love to hear them.
...and lastly, I'm seriously considering podcasting my art reviews from now on. Not just because I'm in love with the sound of my own voice, but since I teach podcasting, I feel like I should be doing something with the technology.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A quick note before I forget again.

I've been meaning to mention this for a couple of days, but every time I start to write anything about it something always pulls me away. Roy over at Gates of Memphis posted a nice piece Monday on the Americans for the Arts "Creative Industries 2005" city report[PDF]. The post and the report itself are interesting reading, especially for people trying to or thinking about making a living in the arts.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Memphis Bloggers OPML

So the Memphis Bloggers OPML link has been over in my sidebar for almost two weeks and it's starting to get a little linkage, so it’s probably about time I explained myself. I’ve been reading Dave Winer’s blog for about a year now and twice a week or so, he’ll write something about a new XML spec called OPML. Being something of a professional geek it didn’t take me long to get curious.

OPML, in its most basic sense, is just a way to mark up an outline (like the ones you’d do for a term paper) in a way that a computer can make some sense of it. The idea presumably being that you can then feed the outline to a program built to read them and have the software spit them back at you in a multitude of pleasing forms (e.g. – slide shows, spoken words, link lists, etc.). To my way of thinking, the neatest application of OPML was sharing categorized lists of RSS feeds. Problem being, I didn’t see an obvious use for it right away. I really didn’t have anything that needed outlining and I only had about two friends that were blogging (that I knew of), so I didn’t really have any RSS to share.

Fast forward about twelve months and things look a little different. First of all, I’m now teaching blogging professionally. Not full time mind you, but I do it and get paid so I can lay claim to a real need to stay on top of this sort of thing. Secondly, the Memphis blog scene has grown up a lot and so have the aggregators I use to keep track of it all. I’ve been finding an average of two new blogs (and/or RSS feeds) a week for the last two months and I was starting to amass quite a collection of local bloggers. I found myself dropping the names of new (or new to me) blogs into conversations with nearly every vaguely technical person I knew until I couldn’t remember who I’d told about what.

And behold, I saw the light!

Here it is, the Memphis OPML list. If you want the file I used to generate it, it's beind the little OPML icon to the right of the link in my sidebar. If you are new to RSS and OPML and want to download and use the OPML file, there is a nifty little RSS reader extension for the Firefox web browser called Sage that will Import this list for you (click "Options" -> "OPML Import/Export"). You can also easily import it into Safari on your Mac by using the Import Bookmarks feature and then opening the folder in tabs.

I'm doing my best to keep new stuff added as I find it and I'd really like it to be as comprehensive as possible, so if you find any that I've missed I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me an e-mail at skippytpe(at)gmail(dot)com.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A good quote on critical practice

What is the function of a critic? So far as I am concerned, he can do me one or more of the following services:

(1) Introduce me to authors or works of which I was hitherto unaware.
(2) Convince me that I have undervalued an author or a work because I had not read them carefully enough.
(3) Show me relations between works of different ages and cultures which I could never have seen for myself because I do not know enough and never shall.
(4) Give a 'reading' of a work which increases my understanding of it.
(5 ) Throw light upon the process of artistic 'Making'.
(6) Throw light upon the relation of art to life, to science, economics, ethics, religion, etc.
--W.H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand (1963)

Edward Goldman on Public Art

Edward Goldman has an excellent episode on his Art Talk podcast this week on the inclusion of support for public art in responsible civic policy.

"You should see this mayor, a macho former Israeli army pilot, expounding enthusiastically on the value of art and culture, not only for the soul of his city, but --thanks to the tourists flocking to Tel Aviv -- also for the city coffers."
In addition to the podcast, you can also listen here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The whirlwind gallery tour

There were a ton of shows last night and Amber had an opening of her own, so we didn’t make the complete rounds. I also didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with any of the work. There was a time that I was convinced that it’d be nice if Memphis had a “Gallery Night” like St. Louis, where all the galleries in town are open on the same night. You wouldn’t have to constantly check three or four different places every week to see who’s showing what, where, and when. I’ve now become convinced, for a lot of reasons, that this wouldn’t be particularly good for Memphis.

The biggest reason is that there are a number of really good galleries spread all over town. Given the trends I’ve seen lately, it seems like people would just use this as an excuse to just go see their friend’s shows and not challenge them to get “outside the parkways” to see art. I actually heard someone today refer to David Lusk’s in space Laurelwood as “way out in East Memphis.” Considering I live another 8 miles further out and am still inside the Memphis city limits, I have to wonder what they think of us out here in East Bugtussle (if they even know this part of Memphis exists). For better or worse, we’re all in this together ya know…

The first of the three shows we saw was the “Alter Egos” show in the Jones Hall Gallery at the University of Memphis. It was a fun idea for a show, though I would have liked to see it taken a little further. Best I could tell, not all of the artists were working with issues of identity, but there were a few that really sold the curatorial concept. Probably my favorite was a piece called Empty Amazon by Marble Elmhurst (a.k.a. Caroline Gower). It was one of two very strong pieces by Gower that directly assaulted representational forms and the difference between identification and identity.

The largest and arguably most striking piece was an installation by Toot Prescott (a.k.a Rebecca Higdon) entitled Let Them Pass. It consisted of a series of cylindrical forms stooping over a constructed wasteland of sand and shards. The tubes take on forms reminiscent of Millet’s Gleaners, presiding over the scraps of their own making.

There were also artists there exploring the nature of traditional forms and the dialectic between the sculptural object and the functional ceramic vessel. Particularly noteworthy were Nobody puts Baby in a Corner by Kitty San Felipe (a.k.a. Renee Kane) and the unfortunately named Untitled by Lucky Glenbrook (a.k.a. Lisa Maners). The latter was a striking copper green torso and arm bent to resemble a roughly hewn classical teapot, as if frozen half way through some mystical transformation between the two.

The next stop on our whirlwind gallery tour was the David Lusk Gallery. The opening was for two artists, each having half of the gallery. Pinkney Herbert’s work was in the front of the gallery. His new work, a collection of grand canvases on display through the 29th, have a more subdued pallet than what I’m used to seeing from him, but what they lacked in color they made up for in scale and a buoyant energy. Anyone who’s ever been a fan of his work certainly won’t be disappointed.

Providing the contemplative Yin to Herbert’s formidable artistic Yang was Mary Bennett. Her collection of objet trouvĂ© and altered object sculpture was nothing short of astounding. Coming around the gallery wall you are first confronted with a colossal, spiraling tower of art and art historical books which seem to have been frozen in mid fall. It sets the tone for a show which seems to find the beauty and sublimity in all sorts of every day encounters. The work is conversely capable of working with it’s viewer in the intimate and the abstract. On the one hand it seems to be entwined with myriad personal histories and at the same time speaking to an open and complex view of the archeology of information in an age where the written word is becoming ever more ephemeral.

Bennett’s Whose Recipe is It spoke to me particularly strongly as I’ve been dealing recently with how to preserve memories of my loved ones. The piece itself is a collection of photographs and hand written recipes transferred to acetate transparencies and mounted on a well worn cookie sheet. Each is laid one on the other in a fashion such that you are looking though the person at the hand written record of their domesticity. Across the gallery hang Down Under 1 and Der Sang ist Verschollen (literally “That Song is Forgotten”) each using different takes on the idea of a pattern (one sewing, one musical) as symbolic analogs of their traditional function, mapping an area between language and meaning.

Next on the tour was a group show at L. Ross. This was my first time in this gallery and I like the space. It strikes me (along with the before mentioned David Lusk Gallery) as one of the more successful attempts to convert a retail space into a contemporary gallery here in Memphis. This Gallery Artist show struck me as a bit schizophrenic however; there were lots of conflicting energies competing for mindshare. This isn’t particularly anyone’s fault, it’s just an unfortunate thing that often happens to group shows.

There were a few pieces that grabbed me, most notably David Comstock’s Black and White I, a free standing abstract painting with a twig growing out of it, resembling some sort of vestigial artistic antler. There was also a beautiful, if untitled, C-print by Ian Lemmonds, whose solo show last month I’m still kicking myself for missing.

Our gallery tour rounded out at Amber’s opening at Gallery 1688. While I liked a lot of the work there that wasn’t my wife’s, I’m going to resist the temptation to write about any of it.

Nepotism is bad for the soul.

On Politics

I’m working on my post about last nights art shows (I was too sick to finish it last night), but I just saw something and felt compelled to respond here.

There are people who don’t think you are a serious blogger, or a serious person, unless you’re talking politics. The reason I don’t blog politics is because I’m not a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, Liberal, Fascist, or Socialist. I’m a well reasoned, thoughtful individual with complex ideas and motivations and so are you. Political ideas are not adequately expressed in the sort of Fox/CNN soundbites we get force fed through the television daily and they are not going to get adequately expressed in a blog unless I take to writing political manifestos of sufficient length that I know damned well nobody is going to take the time to read. I'm not apolitical, I just refuse to pander to any constituency, feeding them easily digestible bits in hopes that they'll agree with me.

There’s a reason people still talk about the Lincoln-Douglas debates a hundred and fifty years later. That’s how it should be done; two people hashing it out until they’ve thoroughly explored the subject… not just until the next commercial break. Politics done well takes time and effort and a commitment from all parties in the conversation and to intellectual honesty and integrity. Real debates often change minds and the people participating have to be open to that. I know I’m asking a lot in this day and age, but I believe that there are people out there who are up to the task. I’ve been lucky enough to meet one or two. I’m not dismissing the public sphere entirely, but I have yet to find a political blog that really takes on national politics in a way that isn’t “talking point v. talking point.”

On the plus side, the Memphis OPML project I’m working on is introducing me to a number of blogs that are covering the local political scene fairly well. They’re doing a much better than the newspapers and television (not that either of those is setting a particularly high bar). I’m not seeing so much of the “here’s what to think,” and more of the “this is whose running and here’s what I see.” If you haven’t worked it out yet, I respect that kind of thinking.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Frightening Synergies

I can't exactly remember how it came up in conversation at Mary's Sunday night, but it turns out that someone actually makes a plush replica of the horse head from the Godfather. (via BoingBoing)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Weekend Fireworks Roundup

Since I’m fairly certain that the Memphis blogsphere will cover this weekends two big downtown fireworks shows fairly well, I feel compelled as the one blogger from out here in East Jesusland (which is apparently any point beyond East Parkway) to talk about the goings on in the rest of Shelby County.

Saturday – Chandler, Daniel, Mary, Amber and I hit Shelby Farms for the “Star Spangled Celebration.” I learned from last year that attempting to press into the mass of teenagers swarming around the stage made for a somewhat distracting firework event, so we grabbed seats above a small pond just northwest of Patriot lake; lots of families and one exceptionally friendly dog out that way, not so much with the underage drunks.

We got there half way through the set of a pretty decent cover band that I’d never heard of. There was then a lot of indistinct yelling into a microphone followed by Hoobstank (who did a fair amount of indistinct yelling of their own). I’d never heard of them and if this show was indicative of what they usually play, I could really care less if I ever hear them again. There was one good song which was apparently their radio single.

The fireworks were pretty damned awesome. They also had the only patriotic medley this year to include Ray Charles (which is strangely important to me). Unlike the two other shows we saw this weekend, there’s no real way to get close to these, so you may as well sit back away from the crowd and soak it in. This was mine and Amber’s second year for this and it’s so totally worth the five bucks for parking (and the hike in). Traffic going out was particularly nasty since as we approached the parking lot the ratio of fun seeking families to obnoxious drunks began to reach parity.

Sunday -- Dinner at Mary’s. Not a public fireworks event, but pretty awesome chow.

Monday – Anna, Amber and I hit the Bartlett Fireworks Extravaganza; smaller crowd, better concessions, much funkier cover band, and much closer seats. The event takes place every year on the lawn of the Bartlett Performing Arts Center and are staged from the parking lot of Appling Middle School. From the south side of the lake you can look up or down to see the fireworks. It’s a pretty effect.

It was a longer show than last years and the shells were easily as large as those at Shelby Farms, including a few I’d never seen before. There was also, unfortunately, some sort of accident. Mary said that it was reported on the news that nobody was hurt, but about three quarters of the way through the show there were 6 symmetrical fireballs very close to where the caution tape was. We could feel the heat off of the blasts all the way across the water… I can only imagine what it felt like to the people in the front stands.

Tonight (July 4th) – Mary, Anna, Amber, and I made it out to Germantown for their annual fireworks show. I’m not sure how big the crowd was for the festival (which is apparently an all day thing) because we came in the back way and wound up sitting about 40 feet from the police safety line. These were without question the best seats I’ve ever had for a fireworks show. Paper from the shells was falling around us… we’re talking fiery death from above here! It was probably the shortest of the shows we saw this year but the rockin’ seats made up for it.

I have to give props to all of the public safety officials we encountered this weekend. Unlike some of the events I’ve gone to in Memphis in the past, everybody this weekend was polite, courteous, and efficient. Being polite when telling people for the umpteen-billion-and-sixth time that you can’t sit past the caution tape takes a special bit of effort. We the spectators appreciate it.


On a completely different note, while I’ve been typing this, Amber has been watching Zathura behind me (think Jumanji in space) and I’m unavoidably reminded of this.

Things you learn by listening to NPR

Did you know that all of the poems of Emily Dickinson can be sung to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas? Go on, try it... you know you want to...