My knee is still in poor shape after my spill last week, and you know it's serious when I haven't been to a live show in over a week. After limping all day around the office and up and down BART stairs there's nothing I want to do but sit home and watch fun trashy movies, and so it is that I finally saw Saturday Night Fever in its entirety. This was the R-rated version with all of the T&A intact, thank goodness. I was completely mesmerized by the dance sequences, and though John Travolta even when he was young and cute is in no way my type I have to admit he could really move them hips. I dreamed that night that I was cutting similar moves at a disco club, my knee fully healed. I also keep catching myself humming the Bee Gees.
Urban agriculture is a white-hot topic right now, as if after a brief industrial sojourn we who migrated to the cities still want to feel some bond with the earth we live on (or just want to know where our food comes from). So the second-year MA students at the SF Art Institute could not have picked a better time to structure their requisite year-long collaborative project around the subject. Tuesday evening they celebrated the release of A Fresh Look: Observations on Artistic and Social Practices in Urban Farming, a student-produced book and website that is the culmination of their project, and the stormy weather we'd been experiencing all day cleared up seemingly just for the occasion. ForageSF was on hand with one of their famous underground markets featuring vendors selling homemade goodies, and after starting out with an amazing savory snap pea flan from SF Delicious I went back for more yummy deliciousness in the form of a potato quiche from Sybil Johnson, aka Heartbaker, and one of her vanilla-custard-filled bomboloni for dessert. Then it was time to settle in for an inspiring panel discussion amongst some urban farming luminaries: David Burns of LA's Fallen Fruit, Ted Purves of Fieldfaring (who in a nice bit of synchronicity I had just seen at the Headlands' Giftivism event a few weeks ago), and Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders of Oakland's Planting Justice. The panelists spoke about engaging with communities and mobilizing them through their work, which often moves back and forth across the permeable boundary between art and activism. Burns reminded the audience that 100 years ago Los Angeles was farmland and described how Fallen Fruit's mapping of public fruit trees in the city is a way of connecting back to that history. I thought of the small stand of old orange trees that grew behind my childhood home in southern California and of the gardens my friends now tend in their own backyards here in the Bay Area and smiled.
When I was in New York last spring I spent one gorgeous snowy morning at the Guggenheim exploring their massive exhibition The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860 - 1989, looking at work by artists as diverse as James McNeill Whistler, Georgia O'Keeffe, Richard Tuttle, Laurie Anderson, and Bill Viola. I also encountered paintings by a certain Morris Graves, who along with Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson was featured in a 1953 Life magazine article entitled "Mystic Painters of the Northwest" that solidified the reputation of the so-called Northwest School. The Guggenheim quotes Graves on the exhibit's website:
The artists of Asia have spiritually-realized form, rather than aesthetically-invented or limited form, and from them I have learned that art and nature are mind's Environment, within which we can detect the essence of man's Being and Purpose, and from which we can draw clues to guide our journey from partial consciousness to full consciousness.
That strong influence on Graves's art of both Asian artistic techniques and
Buddhist philosophical tenets is fully apparent in Meridian Gallery's current show The Visionary Art of Morris Graves. Curated by Peter Selz, the exhibition features a wide representation of work ranging from simple renderings in ink (like the wonderful image Hibernation pictured here) to more elaborate paintings that simultaneously reminded me of the drama of William Blake and the surrealistic touches of Paul Klee. I especially love Graves's birds, and one of the centerpieces of the show is 1943's Bird of the Spirit, a mottled avian critter delicately painted on crumpled wax paper. A strong meditative feeling pervades all of Graves's work, and it is not difficult to imagine the affinities he must have shared with his friends John Cage and Merce Cunningham, both of whom were also featured in that Guggenheim show. Meridian is in the midst of presenting a number of public programs that tie into their exhibition, and although I missed the poetry reading by Kevin Killian and the concert of Cage music there is an upcoming dance performance In Space With Birds that sounds very very cool.
There are many fantastic things at Baer Ridgway right now, starting with Tucker Nichols's Temporary Storage Overflow Plan Option 3, a huge maze of an architectural cross-section he has created with black tape on the walls of the hallway project space, and then extending downstairs into the bookstore where Amanda Hunt has curated a small show from the collection of Steven Leiber that includes two small images by Bas Jan Ader that almost made me cry. In a separate solo show Rebecca Goldfarb's glossy inkjet images, modified found postcards, and sculptural installations occupy the main floor of the gallery, playfully commenting on perception and imbuing otherwise banal objects with added meaning. In one instance a postcard of a mountain lake gushes a river of colored paper onto the floor of the gallery, while in her Bear Ridge piece pictured here (a clever nod to the gallery name) Goldfarb has attached a string leash to an image of a black bear and extended it through an expanse of negative space until it busts out of the very frame itself. Her titles are an integral part of her work, as in Polar Bear, a seemingly blank square of white digital photographic paper, or in Traveling Through Darkness: Some Sense of the World Turned on When Flaneur and Collector Meet for the Second Time, an arrangement of old flashlights and wax casts of old flashlights carefully lined up inside interconnected poplar shelves. She sets the jokes up, but it's up to you to make your own punch line.
Early Wednesday morning whilst running to catch the Transbay bus I misjudged the curb and went skidding across the gravel on Ward near Market, ripping open my jeans and gloves and sustaining some pretty serious damage to my knee and hand in the process. So rather than going out at night I've been doing a lot of sitting around and nursing my banged-up body since then, but on the positive side my injuries gave me an excuse to watch all two-and-a-half hours of the Schoolhouse Rock! 30th anniversary DVD in one go. I still can sing along to many of the songs that wedged themselves into my head during my childhood, particularly America Rock classics like "Elbow Room" and "The Shot Heard 'Round the World". My favorites are the grammar and science segments though, even if I suspect characters like the Conjunction Junction engineer and Interplanet Janet were more memorable than the educational information itself. And as an adult I can appreciate how amazingly cool it is that they got Blossom Dearie to sing about adjectives and The Tokens to doo-wop about gravity.
I was having so much fun with the Almighty Defenders Tuesday night I didn't get over to 21 Grand afterward in time to catch Cosmetics or the Soft Moon, alas, but did arrive just as Blank Dogs were getting started. It was a little over a year ago that I first heard Blank Dogs (the musical alter ego of one Mike Sniper) at that very same venue, one of my first Club Sandwich shows ever, and what a crazy music-filled year it has been since then. When he plays live Sniper adds a couple other musicians to handle things like keyboards and assorted electronics, and though he has relinquished some of the extreme secretiveness about his identity he once practiced he did still perform with his hoodie pulled up tight. As for an excellent description of the Blank Dogs sound, here's an excerpt from an aQuarius write-up of a recent 7-inch:
And we have to to say, lately, we're more and more convinced that if there is some sort of crown for dour new wave lo-fi noise pop king, it's gotta go to Mr. Blank Dogs, and this 7 inch only seals the deal. Strip away the fuzz and the hiss and the distortion and the crackle and you'd have some dangerously catchy pure pop. Fuck it, DON'T strip any of that stuff away and you STILL have some seriously perfect pop.
I love both the Black Lips and King Khan a whole lot, and every time I see them live serious mayhem inevitably ensues onstage. So it was no surprise that when they performed together as garage rock supergroup the Almighty Defenders at the Great American Tuesday night that things got very raucous indeed. It all started innocently enough, with everyone dressed in choir robes and shaking tambourines, and I even saw the Black Lips' Cole Alexander politely apologize to some girls next to me at the front for hitting them with his saliva. But King Khan's jokes quickly grew raunchier, the antics got wilder, and the boys' ability to play their instruments steadily deteriorated. Then came the urine and public nudity...and you don't even have to take my word about that. In other words, it was totally awesome.
Anyone who is a friend of mine knows that 7-inches are my Kryptonite. No matter where I am in the world I cannot walk into a record store without walking out again with a sizable pile. The whole one-song-to-a-side deal makes them perfect for DJing, and something about their size and shape encourages some pretty sweet cover art as well. Sonny Smith demonstrates this to beautiful effect in his 100 Records show currently up at Gallery 16, the culmination of a project he reportedly hatched when he was a resident at the Headlands not too long ago. Smith invented a whole host of fictional bands and musicians, jotted down their bios, wrote and recorded 100 A- and B-sides in different musical personas, and then asked artists to create album sleeves for all 100 of the records. Those sleeves fill the walls at Gallery 16, and each record is tagged with a number you can tap into a jukebox there in the gallery to see how Smith sounds pretending to be a reggae musician or a freak folk troubadour. Most of the songs I played while I was there didn't sound too far off from the sound I'm used to hearing from Sonny and the Sunsets, the local band Smith leads, but I like them a lot so there ain't nothing wrong with that. The album art ranges all over the place, from punkish illustrated scrawls to elaborate fold-out sleeves to indie-poppish pieces like the "Dreama Newborn" single pictured here (remind you of a certain harpist?), and the participating artists make of a veritable laundry list of greats: Alika Cooper, Stephanie Syjuco, Chris Johanson, Ana Fernandez, Leslie Shows, Maya Hayuk, Ed Ruscha, William T. Wiley, Tucker Nichols, Veronica DeJesus, Brion Nuda Rosch, Souther Salazar, Kelley Stoltz, and lots lots more. Smith's short write-ups on his fictitious bands are brilliant too, crafted with some hefty real-life musical knowledge and a sly sense of humor. I'm impressed he pulled the whole thing off.
Joyful Self-portrait: Listening to Beethoven's 'Ninth': woodcut by Shiko Munakata, Japan, 1963. I'm going to lie on the floor and listen to some Beethoven right now myself, before my evening activities.