Saturday, September 19, 2009

as per request, news release re Beacon Hill studio tour reproduced below

Beacon Hill Artists will celebrate the Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour
Friday, Sept 25 (5-9 pm) and Saturday, Sept 26 (3-7 pm).

Beacon Hill Artists will be celebrating the Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour
on Friday, Sept 25 (5-9 pm) and Saturday, Sept 26 (3-7 pm).

Beacon Hill Studio Artists include: Tony Greco, Sarah Collman, Rodney Grainger,
Sara Hornbacher, Ron Holt, Patty OKeefe-Hudson, Jo Peterson, Rebecca Des Marais,
and Lynne Moody.

Thanks to the City of Decatur, Georgia, which provides support to the Beacon Hill Studios, the space formerly occupied by Theatre Decatur will be available this year to display the work of 22 invited visual artists including: Photographer John Ramspott, Ceramic Sculptor Jill Ruhlman, Fabric Artist Kathy Colt, Sculptor Corinna Sephora Menshoff, Painter Helen Durant, Quilt-maker Candace Hassen, Painter/Printmaker Stephanie Kolpy, and Interactive Media Artist Hartmut Koenitz. among others. Atlanta Printmakers, Kathy Garrou, Suzy Schulz, Jerushia Graham, and Jan DiPietro will show their work and demonstrate the printmaking process

Mario Petrirena’s outdoor sculpture will be on exhibit in the open courtyard and sculptural welding demos by Corrina Sephora Mensoff will take place at times to be announced.

Food and beverage will be offered and music will be performed by various musicians throughout the open studio tour.

A video screening, curated by Sara Hornbacher, featuring artists Robin Brasington, Dan Walsh, Faith McClure, Matt Gilbert, Al Matthews, Stephanie Kolpy, Neil Fried, Monica Duncan and Hornbacher/Koenitz will take place in the Black Box Theatre for the duration of the tour.

The Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour is a special benefit for the Decatur High School Arts Program and 20% of any artwork sold will be donated to them

Suggested minimum donation at the door is $5

See website for additional information about the Beacon Hiill Studio Artists, Guest Artists and directions to the Studios

For further information contact:
Rodney Grainger 404-210-9846

Friday, September 18, 2009

I now realize I never posted my philosophical statement regarding the possibility of the Counterforces blog, which should be expansive enough to range from review essays addressing global issues to shout-outs to the most local events imaginable. (Well, maybe not so far as imaginable.)

One of these would be the Sept 25 - 26 Beacon Hill Open Studios, this Beacon Hill being not the more famous one but the art studios in downtown Decatur, Georgia.

Once I get details from video artist Sara Hornbacher, I'll get round to putting up details. Better to wait until the weekend now upon us is over, anyway, to avoid confusion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

new books

Most amalgams of art and science end up being neither. Art that considers itself a species of scientific investigation too often ends up being second-rate investigation or a badly metaphorized analogue of the process; and the kind of art that some working scientists create as an illustration of their process ends up, too often, as a clunky type of kitsch that does more to create aversion than understanding.

In spite of this, there have been ample numbers of collaborative ventures in the twenty-first century, many of which have actually created viewer encounters in which direct experience amplifies or concretizes the implications of experiment.

Sean Caulfield and Timothy Caulfield have edited a collection of essays, Imagining Science: Art, Science and Social Change, that asks blunt questions (not about aesthetics but about the appropriate parameters of the art-science encounter in various fields of investigation). David Garneau suggests that art and science are antithetical systems that meet productively only in a third field that embraces both, namely, ethics. (And we may remember, though Garneau doesn’t cite it, Wittgenstein’s “Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.”) Jim Evans puts forth a view of science and art that could be embraced by sociobiologists and anthropologists and traditional aestheticians alike, though not by a good many contemporary theorists. It is worth quoting in extenso for the sheer transgressive outrageousness of its limpid (but not limp) style: “At its essence, the purpose of art is to invest our lives with meaning. While strictly practical criteria define what is and is not science, art is not shackled by such rigid criteria; it is a pure product of the human mind and culture. Its only rules are that it must evoke emotion and resonance. The universe simply ‘is’ and science is our way of knowing it. But the universe of art is infinite, defined and limited only by the human mind. We define artistic reality, as Duchamp so elegantly demonstrated with his urinal cum art. … If, one day, we finally stumble upon differently evolved beings elsewhere in our galaxy, the idea that a Hopper painting or a Beethoven sonata will deeply touch them is as unlikely as the proposition that their fundamental laws of motion will differ from ours.”

This neatly phrased binary opposition is guaranteed to get the social constructionists up in arms, or some of them, to be more accurate. But this is because social construction isn’t adequately understood by the social constructionists. Anthropologists have increasingly discovered, for example, that aesthetics exists in societies famed for not having the concept: you don’t have to use the same word as we do to be performing a similar human activity. (Borges’ famed fable about categories for animals comes to mind: “belonging to the Emperor,” “which when viewed from a great distance look like flies,” and so on. What would be shared in that case is not the categories but the human wish to make categories for dividing up the world.)

I have to come to the defense of the sociology of knowledge on this score, since my old faves Berger and Luckmann were unfairly lumped into the camp of extreme social constructionists in John R. Searle’s recent review of Paul Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (recent indeed; in the current New York Review of Books, Sept. 24, 2009). To assert The Social Construction of Reality as in their 1966 book isn’t to say that there is no physical reality outside of social categories; it’s to say that how we think about that reality is effectively modulated through our prior assumptions and received ideas. “Relativizing the relativizers” is the logical next step.

Searle, in fact, blunders as badly as Richard Rorty in his critique of Rorty’s phrase “Given that it pays to talk about mountains….” Searle goes on, “Why does it pay? Because there really are such things, and they existed before we had the word and they will continue to exist long after we have all died. To state the facts you have to have a vocabulary. But the facts you state with that vocabulary are not dependent on the existence or usefulness of the vocabulary.”

Well, no. Actually the relative usefulness of the vocabulary depends on how you think about the protrusions from the earth’s crust we choose to call mountains. As everyone knows (so that it seems quaint that J. H. Van Den Berg made such a big deal out of it) mountains seem to have been thought of in Europe mostly as obstacles to be overcome (even when they were spiritual and metaphoric mountains) until influential paintings and literary documents made them into sublime sights to be seen and enjoyed. Geologists may find the commonplace category “mountain” disagreeably imprecise, since it raises the issue of when a sufficiently old mountain has become worn down and soil-covered enough to count as a “very high hill.” We don’t think of the high islands of Fiji as mountain tops, even though they are; mountains, in our category of ordinary usage, have to extend far above sea level, so undersea mountains that start tens of thousands of feet in the depths are discomfiting.

But the protrusions from the planet’s crust are there, regarding of how we categorize them or think about them. The protrusions are not socially constructed. Mountains are. As every cliché-user knows, we can make mountains out of molehills if we put our minds to it.

But as we also know, the categories of contemporary scientific investigation came out of the evolution of worldviews that would make sense out of finding things out in just that way, and no other. There are ample quantities of empirical investigation in which the laws of motion or the growth and decline of mountains have been interpreted in quite different ways in spite of being descriptions of the same physical processes.

And that is why, in spite of its flaws including minor grammatical errors, we may find both instruction and delight in a the U.S., still forthcoming—book that is likely to disappear very quickly.

Spike Bucklow’s The Alchemy of Paint: Art, Science and Secrets from the Middle Ages is the wide-ranging production of a scientifically literate writer who “prefers to avoid the modern world whenever possible.” In other words, he recognizes a chemical reaction when he sees it; he simply finds it more interesting when it occurs in the metaphysical and symbological context that the medieval artists and thinkers gave to it.

The book is likely to disappear quickly because the publisher, Marion Boyars, has declared its intention to quit business after publishing its autumn list, and so far only the top list of titles have been sold to other imprints.

One hopes that Bucklow’s book will find an ongoing distribution source, because his style is straightforward and agreeable, even if sometimes specialists may quibble with a few of his conclusions. He has done considerable homework, and his bibliography contains as many references to the Journal of Chemical Education and A Glossary of Greek Fishes as to Thomas Taylor’s translation of a Neo-Platonist life of Pythagoras and the Warburg Institute’s explorations of similar arcana.

Bucklow states his conclusions as baldly as Jim Evans states his in the previous citation, and it is worth quoting a representative passage to see his method at work: “The worlds of things and thoughts came together in recipes. Colour hovers somewhere between the two worlds and it has been approached in this book so far through its tangible sources; dyes, pigments and metals—or, in the case of the non-existent metallic blues—as if the sources were tangible. But to understand the artists’ intangible world of thoughts in more depth it is necessary to take a leap of faith. …Dragonsblood is made of the mixed, coagulated blood of dragons and elephants, This might seem unlikely but appearances can be deceptive. Unlike the non-existent metallic blues, with their apparently straightforward recipes, dragonsblood actually does exist despite its distinctly implausible recipe. One might consider the pigment’s alleged origins to be poetic packages for prosaic ingredients, instructions and rules. But the poetry is not peripheral—it is central to the traditional world view.”

It is central, yes, and it is central even to world views that also do not know their own metaphors as metaphors. I could go on to discuss Michael Taussig’s vertiginous views of anthropological topics in his relatively new What Color Is the Sacred? but this little review essay has gone on too long as it is, and I have presented preliminary remarks on that book in another location.

Suffice it to note that too recently to figure in anyone’s book, the world’s oldest textiles have been discovered, and they turn out to be woven linen threads dyed in bright colors even though they almost certainly did no more than hold together animal furs in a fashion close to the cartoonists’ vision of Early Caveman. Asked by the radio interviewer why anyone would bother to find bright dye for the world’s first version of string, the anthropologist being interviewed replied to the effect that we are color-loving creatures; given the chance, we go right to it.

And that takes us so deep into Taussig’s book, and to Bucklow’s in a different way, that I had better stop right this minute.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

this should post in the position in which it was originally written, many posts down the page. good.

This multi-part essay will never be completed. Leaving out the sections that follow from this (or that were supposed to follow from this), here is the untitled prologue and part one (which is sufficiently outrageous, I surmise, to make up for the absence of the remaining three parts):

“The classics can console. But not enough.”
—Derek Walcott, “Sea Grapes”

We can’t get rid of Greece and Rome, any more than we can get rid of the building of the Pyramids, the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, or the construction of the Erie Canal. They are facts that had material and spiritual consequences, of which we are the inheritors.

But we can supplement them.

We can also re-dream our our relationship to them. Derek Walcott has produced, over the years, an immense, sophisticated literary re-imagining of what Greece and Rome might mean on an island such as St. Lucia where the benefits of “a sound colonial education” were overlaid on a place in which the very language spoken by the descendants of a slave population (and of their onetime masters, plus a few other strands of intermingled ethnic inheritance) reflects generations of European politics and of the wars of France and England.

We can’t truly get rid of our history, for it comes back to bite us even in our own tastes and our own pathological excesses. It is present in the distressingly seductive grandiloquence of Thomas Wolfe’s rhetorically Southern articulation of the theme: “…and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern because a London cutpurse went unhung.” It would be fun, albeit unproductive, to try to imagine Robert Lowell’s Puritan-haunted New England rhetoric inflecting the same theme. (Actually, we don’t have to imagine; we only need to find the correct quotation.)

Now we have, in Cathy Gere’s books The Tomb of Agamemnon and Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, the tools to re-dream our relation to the classical inheritance—or a major thread to lead us through the labyrinth, anyway.

I have already written my own review essay of sorts about these books at and will not elaborate here except to say that Americans and Europeans have viewed the origins of Greek civilization through the distorting lenses of nineteenth through twenty-first century history, just as the Renaissance viewed them through its own perspectival distortions. It doesn’t diminish the value of the Greek and Roman inheritance to realize just how much we have selectively re-invented and re-imagined them to meet our psychological and social needs in every generation, any more than it diminishes the inheritance of the Egyptians or the Mayans. It just gives us permission to bend and twist the template, and to continue the perhaps impossible quest for comprehending the Greeks’ and Romans’ self-understanding. (How could we understand them? We do not even understand ourselves.)

Since what reaches us from the past is always already impure and distorted, we are most true to our classical inheritance when we make it our own: digital and virtual, or solidly mashed up in a remix and graffitied over by the tides of contemporary history.

So I am overjoyed, personally, by the mix-and-match juxtaposition of the classical arch of Atlanta’s Millennium Gate with Atlanta’s quintessentially modernist Ikea, on a site formerly occupied by a major steel manufacturer. There is no better way to dream the myth onward for the twenty-first century than thus to embrace our contradictions and our paradoxes. The whimsical photo posted somewhere by the Millennium Gate Museum, showing the heroic structure framed by its distinctly downhome mailbox across the multi-lane street, sums up the problem, and/or the solution.

This is not, by the way, a “transgressive” reading. That worn-out option is already so late-antique twentieth century, and so bound up with a certain kind of geeky academic snideness that is as dead and over as is the short-lived postmodern era, a period style that lasted a couple of decades instead of the couple of centuries allotted to modernity.

Since we are no longer modern or postmodern, but something else entirely, we are free to re-create our history in the present moment, secure in the knowledge that six months or six minutes from now, some snarky twitterer will be tweeting chirpily about how ridiculous it is that anyone ever thought something like that.

So let’s go for it. Or whatever argot we ought to be using to express that concept in the autumn of 2009. No one will remember, or even notice the first time round. Or we can hope that most earnestly, anyway.

A Four Part Essay in Defense of Hybridity, Inheritance, and Multiple Heritages

Part One:

I vividly recall my naïve shock on my first visit to Germany in 1996 (or, more accurately, to what had been West Germany, or the Federal Republic proper—I had seen the formally four-power-Allied-occupied Berlin of 1989, including the sector that had served for forty years as the sort-of-disputed capital of the German Democratic Republic, and revisited the once and future capital thereafter, a few months after unification).

Just as Germany’s postwar political status ended up overlaid with long-lasting leftover anomalies, the historical buildings ended up as reconstituted anomalies—sometimes rebuilt exactly as they were even though scarcely one stone had remained intact.

Even more disconcerting was the realization that certain impressive Gothic public buildings were rebuilt versions of destroyed Wilhelmine-era historical revivals—a postwar replica of a nineteenth-century reinvention of medieval architecture. (The Thirty Years War had greatly diminished the number of surviving authentically medieval structures some centuries earlier.)

So I have a soft spot in my soul for the notion of giving a city the past that it should have had but didn’t, or of updating the past, or of reproducing the past it had once but has no longer.

And despite the occasional victory with such buildings as the Fox Theatre (itself a lovely amalgam of imaginary North African and Near Eastern histories derived from Masonic allegory), Atlanta is a city that has excelled at pulling down what passes for its heritage, then sometimes (only sometimes) regretting it.

But lately I have been more fascinated with the attempt, not just to blend the historical with the contemporary—the stairs and planters from the 1895 Exposition that are meshed beautifully with the 1985 Atlanta Botanical Garden—but to create reminders of a past that never existed, but that should have. The retro lampposts of Freedom Parkway, suggesting a past history but more or less contemporaneous with the 1996 Olympics, are just one example.

The Millennium Gate arch and its flanking statuary at Atlantic Station are a more spectacular example. Considered as purpose-built entranceways to an immense mixed-use development, they would seem absurd. Considered as reminders or replicas of the past that ought to have existed but never did for various historical reasons, they look splendidly appropriate.

They are an excellent alternate history in a city that has often seemed modeled on some never-filmed sequel to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. (Not for nothing did the late and much-missed Charles Huntley Nelson create an Afro-Futurist remix of Lang’s original film.)

The arch and its statuary are already en route to acquiring the patina that accumulates rapidly in an accelerated culture, as it essays to negate the change-oriented downside of that patina; in our day, wear and tear and vehicular pollution too often conspire with urban redevelopment not only to take the gloss off things, but to suggest that maybe it is time to tear them down. A once well-known example of ‘80s postmodernism is already gone, having failed to survive changing tastes, and an anonymous shopping district has replaced it. But intrinsic architectural quality has nothing to do with it: One of the city’s most distinguished and internationally recognized examples of 1980s architecture narrowly escaped demolition, or replication elsewhere as in a proposed compromise. (An early example of the work of I. M. Pei nearly suffered a similar fate, and Marcel Breuer's final architectural commission has likewise been proposed as a candidate for obliteration by the winds of change.)

So if the Millennium Gate’s insistence on the remembrance of history does no more than remind us that Scogin, Elam and Bray’s Buckhead Library is a key part of our recent historical inheritance, it will have done its job in keeping at bay the barbarians who build in styrofoam, instead of in stone, steel, and structurally solid polymers. Mack and Merrill design things worthy of the ages, but the things themselves sometimes get ripped out after a decade or two.

One might note that the Vestiges Project out of New Orleans chose to use the Buckhead Library as their base this October for their Atlanta segment. So we are making progress in terms of realizing that in our thoughtlessly throwaway society, the past we have to preserve may barely have become the past.

Now that it has a little age on it, the Millennium Gate demonstrates perfectly that our heritage is not the past that we falsely believe that we merely inherit, but rather the past that we re-interpret and re-imagine. (Witness the two architectural styles blended in the Gate, the reference to a Greek temple done in supremely Modernist glass architecture that perches atop the arch itself.)

A city is only as good as the past it makes up from the available materials. Or as the late Kenneth Burke used to tell his students, “Be careful how you talk about the world; it is like that.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

with other projects on indefinite hold, news of all sorts, some of it self-serving

I haven't thought a great deal about zombies since I read Wade Davis' The Serpent and the Rainbow years ago (on the biochemistry of zombification, which mimics death rather than revivifying the deceased). But Stan Woodard has clearly noticed the recent popularity of zombies even more than I have...the term being ubiquitous as a name for technological phenomena and financial institutions that are under the unwilled control of others or dead-but-still-walking-around.

Hence his day of all things zombie on September 12, of which the part that interests me is the academic panel "The Zombie Perceived: Religion, Media and Society," at Clary Theatre at Georgia Tech from 1 to 3:45 p.m. on which, see for more information:

More than a few years ago, someone wrote a book called Our Vampires, Ourselves, which could be updated since I believe it long preceded the Twilight phenomenon. It was a sociopolitical look at the many modes and identities of vampires since they first put in an appearance in literary culture...the point being that we re-invent the vampire in every generation to address different situations and different fears and desires.

Obviously the present moment also needs a Our Zombies, Ourselves. But I am not volunteering to write it.

What I am volunteering to do is read a few new poems and later try to do an improv performance with electronic composer Dick Robinson on September 13, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center: for details thereon, see

We knew better than to go up against a Zombie Fest in terms of an audience.

We will perform our improvisation as the Hallucination Sextet. Of the six performers, only the two of us will be live. (Dick describes the other four as "virtual.")