Category: Art

Tarantulas, volcanoes and festivals: Primordial reality asserts itself

TaranProject “Tarantella Nova”

In recent days I’ve been floating in the warm Mediterranean waters, contemplating life as I soak in a panorama of Etna blowing off steam and the silhouetted Aeolian volcanos on the sea’s horizon. I’m feeling a bit primordial, a bit lizard-like. So though the wheels are coming of the global financial system, I’m feeling more contemplative about our time together on Earth.

At one point during Lewis Mumford‘s massive polemic against Western civilization and technology he argues that neolithic cultures–the gold standard of ecological cultural harmony–continue to exist, though in tatters. He suggested that anytime a community still practices solstice celebrations–or something like it–it means there is a shred of ancient nature worship still intact. Indeed, this seems to be the case in many Mediterranean communities, and in Latin America as well. The survival strategy of the Roman Empire to adapt and incorporate regional cultural practices (as long as they didn’t challenge their authority) into their system carried through with the Roman Catholic Church. And as Rigoberta Menchú stated in her autobiography, indigenous Guatemalans–to survive by not giving away their secrets– practice syncretism–essentially layering over Christian religious rituals their own system of beliefs. Hence, God is the sun, Mary is Mother Earth and saints represent various nature deities.

Currently I’m spending ferragosto (a summer holiday in Italy–follow the Wikipedia link for its pagan roots) in Calabria, Italy’s impoverished southwestern province. In the town of Palmi, which overlooks the northern tip of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, there has been an ongoing festival in celebration of San Rocco, the community’s patron saint. As an outsider, these festivities are every bit as pagan as the kind you will find in Latin American towns. Every day there are dancing puppets called giganti (“giants”) that depict an ancient myth about an African Prince, Grifano (Griffin) and a Sicilian Princess, Marta. They prance about from neighborhood to neighborhood accompanied by the continuous drilling of drums and late night fireworks that echo against the mountain like bomb blasts. In the different piazzas throughout the town there are free concerts. With daily processions, the place reverberates with noise, revelry and communal spirit.

All of this is funded by the community. You do not see corporate banners sponsoring this or that event. It has the true spirit of the commons, which belays the planetary trend in which global financiers and their cronies are privatizing and taking over as much of our communal cultural space as possible. Nontheless, this is by no means a utopian environment. The mafia are the counterforce to corporatization.

However, it was during these festivities that I experienced a bit of an epiphany. I saw in action a fully realized manifestation of ecology, culture and community coming together during a musical performance by a group called the TaranProject. Taranta–derived from tarantula–is a kind of regional folk music that makes your body shake and move continuously like a spider. There are examples of it from all over southern Italy. Much of the music is sung in regional dialect and performed with locally made instruments.


The logo, lyrics, music and spirit of the group celebrates regional identity, social justice for immigrants, advocates for laborers, and sings reverently for the land. As you can see from the logo, its music unifies land and culture. Throughout the concert audience members danced in circles and song along to various folks songs with lineages that go back generations. During the concert there was a real sense of unity and cultural pride that I have rarely experienced.

It occurred to me that this kind of folk music and art is really the true counterforce to all the negativity that we are feeling about the world right now. It is tonic that strengthens the bonds between identity and culture. It is done in the spirit of independence, healing, and respect, values that are counterweights to the atrociously amoral system of economics that is pillaging the Earth and its peoples. It is my firm belief the collectives like the TaranProject are an inspiring answer to the destructive and nihilistic force being unleashed upon Europe, the US and the rest of the world right now.

For me, this is what real ecomedia is about.

“How to Sell a Banksy”: gatecrashing the art market

How to Sell a Banksy” looks like a fun documentary that pokes fun at the art world. From the film’s Website:

Banksy’s work now reportedly changes hands for millions.
But he puts up his street art for free. Have you ever wondered
what would happen if you got your hands on one of these?
Does it mean you’ve found a winning lottery ticket or just
scraped some worthless crap off a wall?

Going up against the Art Establishment, Critics, Auction Houses,
Gallery Owners and Authentication Boards in a quest for the
elusive meal ticket, two filmmakers unwittingly gatecrash the
murky and protective world of Banksy.

“HOW TO SELL A BANKSY” raises questions of ownership,
authentication and the true value of art itself. Through all the
chaos and incompetence comes a modern-day, true-story,
crime-theft, comedy-caper.

Imagine, it’s his 70th b-day

You’ll probably see this cross-posted everywhere, but in honor of John Lennon’s 70th b-day I’d like share my favorite video about a specific moment of his life. The audio is from an interview conducted in 1969 by 14-year-old Beatle fanatic Jerry Levitan, who snuck into Lennon’s hotel room to chat with him. This animation, “I Met the Walrus,” beautifully captures the conversation.

Screen test turn on

I’ve written previously about my view that Warhol was a zen master (click this link to see my favorite Warhol quotes listed at the end of the post). Now, I know it’s a stretch. I realize that thinking of a Warhol as a bodhisattva contradicts the view that media are the destroyer of all that is good in the universe. Indeed, Warhol celebrated and created many of the most reprehensible and superficial aspects of contemporary media culture, such as the concept of “superstars” and the idea that visibility is worthy enough for celebrityhood. (Even though he said that someday everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, little did he know that it would only take three minutes a la YouTube to do the trick.) Films like Factory Girl, about troubled Warhol protege and starlet Edie Sedgwick, even depict Warhol as a user of humans in the worst way.

All these criticisms are valid. However, as a friend once said, trust the art, not the artist.

From this perspective, I’d like to share with you my enthusiasm and love or Warhol’s most interesting work, his screen tests. Made during the Factory’s 1964-66 heyday, they were short films lasting a reel, with the only instruction being that the talent stare into the camera without moving. Many who came through Warhol’s Factory were asked to participate in such experiments, including uber-celebrities (Bob Dylan), uber-artists (Salvador Dali), quasi-famous actors (Dennis Hooper), resident artists (Lou Reed) and an assortment of characters that will remain historically anonymous (except for their presence in these films and at the Factory).

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have had profound and deeply moving spiritual encounters with these films. In fact, it is extremely rare that works of art cause me to shiver, but these do. The video I posted here is a compilation of several screen tests set to a soundtrack by Dean & Britta (formally of Luna), who were commissioned by the Warhol Museum to create a series of tracks to accompany a live screening of the films. The DVD (and soundtrack too) is called 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol Screen Tests, and is absolutely wonderful. Dean & Britta do a great job of emulating the Velvet Underground without imitating their sound, thereby replicating the mood of Warhol’s Factory while also sounding contemporary. I can’t imagine a better, more atmospheric tribute to the screen tests than this.

You can get a flavor of the screen tests on YouTube, but it is not nearly as moving as seen projected onto a large screen. One of the subtle manipulations of the films is that Warhol slowed them down very slightly to give them a slight unreality. Though I love the soundtrack Dean & Britta created, the films were originally silent (unless they were projected during live Velvet Underground shows, which is possible, but I cannot verify) and when viewed as such they have an unearthly quality.

Warhol has said that the camera “turns people on.” This could be a double entendre meaning that on the one hand people will light up/perform for the camera, but also it is a turn-on to look at other people without them knowing it. There is some truth to both aspects. I think, though, there is something more revealing and less performative about the screen tests. If you stare into someone’s eyes for four minute you will likely lose your guard and reveal your insecurities. I dare you to try it sometime. In fact, I challenge you to look intently into your own eyes in the mirror for four minutes. Staring at a camera takes the edge off the fear of exposing ourselves, yet you can see in many of these clips that a profound vulnerability, and hence humanity, reveals itself. I don’t think you will find such a deep, penetrating look into people’s souls in any other kind of media. Perhaps that is what I find so wonderful and sublime about viewing the screen tests.

For some YouTube Webcam posts can produce a similar feeling. Michael Wesch’s An anthropological introduction to YouTube culminates in an interesting exploration of the camera eye of the computer that is both highly personal and global. But I think it takes Wesch’s anthropological sensibility to point this out. I don’t have the patience to watch YouTube confessions, but I remain enraptured by Warhol’s screen tests. I hope that you can find a way to watch the DVD with a projector so you can see them larger than life. I can’t guarantee that you will have the same experience of the sublime that I had, but I’m guessing that you will find something eerily remarkable about these films.



Image from Wooster Collective

“There is a kind of attentiveness that can be cultivated and deeply relished, and a whole secret life of the street that it brings to light. It gives to the human-made world almost the same kind of delight that the lover of the natural world (and I am also one of those) might take in lizard eggs, bird colonies, feathers, droppings, rocks, and lichens. It does not oppose the wild and the made worlds but conjoins them, finds their overlap and resonance, sees the wild in the made, pays to the rust stains on an old corrugated iron wall the same receptivity it gives to dewdrops delicately strung in a spider’s web. It includes but goes beyond spotting and classifying.”

From Susan Murphy’s “The secret life of the street,” Winter 2006

A gift for the holidays from the media gods

Ever had an idea that someone else executes better than you imagined it? Well, here is one of those situations. The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal is one of my favorite short films. For years I have photographed the ephemeral state of street art as if it were an unconscious process of spontaneous creation. This film plays with this idea and does much more with it. Please watch and enjoy!

Banksy vs Bristol Museum

Two videos featuring works from Banksy’s big show at the Bristol Museum (the top one is from his site). Banksy manages to channel Dada’s residual spirit by juxtaposing the history of Western art with the violence of the world from which it springs. I hope the museum produces a catalog because I’m particularly interested in seeing in more detail how he “liberated” subjects from Romantic landscapes and sublime environmental portraiture, all the while making a mockery of Enlightenment values and the nature of museums through his ironic attack on art as commodity.

Blessed unrest mandala



I’ve written before about Chris Jordan‘s amazing hybrid info-graphics art that dramatically depicts the mass scale of our environmental impact on the world. His new piece, E. Pluribus Unum, is based on Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest. In it he takes the names of all the grassroots groups in the world working in some kind social justice movement to compose this giant mandala. I’ve also posted a detail to get a sense of the immensity of this list.

If you haven’t seen Hawken’s inspirational talk that inspired the book, you should definitely watch it here.

Sacred spaces of multinational cororpations


Jacqueline Hassink explores sacred spaces of multinational capitalism: boardrooms of banks and corporations, and fitting rooms of haute couture. The above image is from Nestle’s boardroom. What strikes me about it is the far wall, which is the old Mercator map projection originally designed for shipping. In essence it’s a colonial map because of the obvious distortion of land mass that makes Europe and North America far larger than the southern continents.

This is the map most of us are familiar with from school, but it’s probably the least relevant map we could study, except for historical context or as a sample for a kind of thinking. In recent years there have been alternative map makers that have tried to reflect accurate land mass or even turn the world upside down (my favorite) to illustrate that how we map the world is a matter of interpretation. Not surprisingly, Nestle’s boardroom reveals a lot about their colonial subjectivity, one based on what Vandana Shiva calls “monoculture.” Moreover, can you imagine a more sterile, disembodied space for decision making that impacts peoples in far off lands? Imagine the strange rituals practiced in this space of global command and control.

Jambient Excursions out soon


We don’t expect to win any Grammys for this one, but my friend and musical collaborator Barnmaster Scud and I have released our second music CD, Jambient Excursions. We play under the rubric, My Country of Illusion, and you can click to our Website and MySpace page to check out more about our high weirdness.

This time out, they have largely jettisoned the samples of their debut to concentrate their efforts on a pure, enveloping sound. If one were to consider this record the logical extension of their first, perhaps it could be said they have aimed for the heart of the “Dreamlife” while leaving “American” soundbites behind.

The CD is released on Majmua, run by my old friend and punk scene veteran, Steven Tobin. We also have another most excellent release, American Dreamlife, the best classic you never heard of, on Fire Museum Records (also run by Steven). So forget the shopping mall this year, and join us for our alternate Christmas world and share the gift that keep on giving: music!

The CD is available for preorder here.

Ecomedia that I can believe in

Circular Painting from Fly on the Wall on Vimeo.

I’m super excited about this new kind of “grafimation” (hmm, I just made that up)– animated graf art. This piece in particular demonstrates a new kind of ecological art paradigm because as a hybrid of human technology and the natural process of eco-insired creativity, we discover insights about our human-nature relations that a static painting could not reveal. The video does something only technology can do (stop-frame animation) to reveal creative patterning by an artistic community of practice to highlight the evolving and ephemeral-like dynamic of human-nature relations (OK, I know.. too many words in a sentence but I’m too tired to rewrite it). Plus it’s just really cool. It was done for the Discovery Channel (South Africa), a media entity I’m less than enthralled with because a lot of their programming is in many ways anti-nature (despite the eco-friendly brand they have built–more on that later if time permits).

Via Wooster.

Open source art


Image from Romanyg’s photostream

Banksy helped organize the Cans Festival, an open source stencil art event that anyone can join. The AP has more.

Here is a link to Cans Festival photostream.


This is an open event and coming with your own stencil is positively encouraged but please observe the following

– This is a stencil only event no freehand lettering or characters
– Report to reception on arrival and they’ll show you where to paint
– No going over other artists

* Painting outside the designated area may well result in prosecution.


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Houston: we have a wormhole

Architecture and Design · Inversion Tunnel House | Looking Back:

Dan Havel and Dean Ruck called this tunnel “Inversion” and saw it as a celebration of the old space that had once housed art classes. Just before these houses were demolished to clear the site for a coffee house, they peeled off the exterior wood and recycled it into this awesome art installation. Locals knew the buildings and the classes they’d housed, but suddenly the sight drew in more attention. Kids and adults climbed in from off the streets to get lost in the stunning vortex of wood scraps.