Light comes in many colors: ROYGBIV, above, below, between.
Cables bring light across borders, so we’re closer than we’ve ever been.
Optical fiber cables carry light with digital information.
That info contains the phone, Net, and TV of a nation.
That time of history thou mayst indeed behold
In which kings and soldiers take back their hold
On riches such as bouncing light
Carrying the world’s internal might.
In the USA NSA’s XKEYSCORE and PRISM,
And other countries’ security services too—
They break the telecoms light up with a prism
To spy on me and you.
Sometimes they bend the wire instead.
Light escapes either way. Due process is dead.
The last song in my planned set of 12 new Berlin-era songs: music, lyrics. When I moved here in November to focus on my art in what seemed to be the best European city for a young artist today—cheap(ish) food and housing, lots of other artists and intellectuals, everything you could possibly want going on most nights of the week, above all the feeling of freedom (and the safety to act on it)—I found I couldn’t sing my old songs. So I figured I would write new ones, and that would solve the problem. Most of my favorite albums have about 12 songs, so I settled on that number. I’ve written more, but these are the ones I could see learning to performance level and playing in the park.
But what I have now is not really 12 songs. It’s more like 12 draft vocal tracks of the sketches of a dozen new songs. In theory now I can listen to the 12 while I paint, sing to the drafts to learn them better without thinking too much, and play around with accompaniment on my Midi keyboard until it sounds right. In practice now probably I will just go “Oh, right—I’m not a musician! Haha! Other people are really good at this, have trained for 20+ years by the time they’re my age, and I just sort-of sing quietly to myself sometimes when I’m sure no one can hear!”
And refocus yet again on painting beautiful new art to sell, because my art is worth something.
The medium fits the message here in that sense. There’s license with the photorealistic aspect, just as there’s interpretation in law. But it’s moored in the proportions of reality. Just like rule of law. (Right, guys? RIIIIGHT?????)
Wet oils on the fifth layer or so on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. Thinking of a long-promised land in California I’ll never see. Illustrates…
A new song (or poem if you just read the lyrics) about how thriving is the most moral thing you can do in response to immorality.
This is the 11th happy (ish) song I’ve written since deciding all my old songs were too sad to sing, and I’d have to write all-new material to even figure out if I can sing in front of myself—much less anybody else. And it still manages to have this sad back-story, or series of sad back-story meanings when I think about it.
In any event, at #12 I can stop and reevaluate whether I want to use these vocal sketches to learn the lyrics and melody, compose and learn proper accompaniment, and revisit public performance as a thing I do as an artist… Because I fantasize about it, but maybe it is just a fantasy because I’m a quiet poet–painter more than a stand-up in spite of my experiments. And because everyone knows an album has at least 12 songs you can sing with happy families in the park on Sunday. Otherwise you need to learn Beatles covers for wedding gigs, and then you might as well get a job in advertising, and we know where that ends.
As those of you who get my newsletter know, my new web store is open! Eventually it will be the landing page of this lovely new website you’re reading my blog on right now. It will also accept credit cards, tailor shipping costs (currently included), and include an option to commission work. And I’m on my way to making the income I’ll need to renew my artist visa, to keep living here in Berlin!
Please take a look and let me know what you think if you have time. Thanks for supporting my art.
It seems I have been taking a summer vacation. Weird.
Still, new paintings of larger and different sorts are in the works as I synthesize good feedback I got from smart people, rest my sore hand, and find new inspiration. For example, I’m working on a larger painting of the German Parliament building (or Reichstag)—from a photo I took very early one morning when the northern European summer light was incredibly beautiful and the streets perfectly empty. Like the rest of the world, I also can’t stop looking at this.
Life drawing happens in my living room now, of course. But I can’t take photos of that, to work from more slowly… So lately I’ve also been painting on some small, fast works that also don’t feel done.
Similarly, a few new vocal track song drafts from vacation are online (here and here). Someday I will figure out how to write proper accompaniment for, practice to performance level, and perform my new Berlin music oeuvre. For now I’m just trying to get together a dozen new songs I actually want to sing. I’m up to 10—15+ if you count everything I’ve written lately, which I don’t. I found when I moved here in November that I simply couldn’t sing my old stuff anymore. I didn’t want to memorize any of my published poetry. I want to keep working on performing as an artist, but don’t know how exactly. I’m still not sure there’s a voice of mine to be found in this vein. From how people respond there’s more clearly a “there there” in my painting…
Thanks again to everyone who made my first Berlin gallery show last month at ReTramp a success. Now the beginnings of my new Berlin painting oeuvre are back home. It feels so good to have them also rephotographed with proper tripod and camera. For the first time, you can now see the colors and textures in my paintings—in their photographic form. That first improved curation step done, I’m setting up a new and improved online store… With a little help from my friends (read: a lot of help from Mr. Wolf). I hope it will be online later this month, but we’ll see. (I need yet another German number for tax things, and such.)
I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t writing. But I do so need to launch this European art career. So I’m also working on a book proposal reinventing the research memoir I tried writing last fall, thinking of Françoise Gilot—the painter and memoirist who fled into art from law studies under Nazi pressure, and then left France and Picasso for a new life in America. Still I’m not sure I should return to the work that led me to leave academia and the States. I’m so glad to be here now.
In the meantime I’m still learning German through cooking and love, and will continue this summer vacation thing with light posting, longer work sessions on fewer paintings, and more inspiration-seeking than thing-making for a while… Much as I need to write and make and do every day. It has been time for a rest.
Illustrates how security agencies like the U.S.A.’s N.S.A. break into fiber-optic cables carrying entire countries’ phone, Internet, and TV communications using a prism or bending the cable to leak and intercept the light in illegal global mass surveillance programs like PRISM.
Last night I rehung my first Berlin gallery show in the front room of ReTramp Gallery, with more works. Cartwheeling occurred.
Since moving into my new home studio in late March, I’ve managed to create enough finished work for a solo gallery show in Berlin (my first). I approve.
The work showcases a range of styles and subject matter, although it’s also all in my voice. (Or vision, as the case may be.)
The opening on Monday night was a great success. Friends and family came to gawk and talk.
Thanks to everyone who helped make my first Berlin gallery show a success, especially my partner Mr. Wolf and ReTramp gallerist Verity Oberg.
Work hangs through this Sunday, July 18. Until then the gallery is open Wed., Fri., and Sun. 17:00-20:00 and by appointment. After that you just have to come over for coffee to see my art—until I get another show.
This is another of the first finished works from my new Berlin oeuvre, from Day 2 in my new home studio. It’s hanging now at ReTramp gallery in Berlin, where I’m hanging more work tonight. My solo show—my first here!—continues the rest of the week.
Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. After Archipenko’s Box.
This is one of the first finished works from my new Berlin oeuvre. I made it on Day 5 of work in my new home studio after not having a dedicated studio space for about a year. It’s hanging now at ReTramp gallery in Berlin, where I have a joint opening tonight… And a solo show (my first here) the rest of the week!
Still finishing work that was close in hopes it will be dry for my first Berlin gallery show next week; still not sure this, one of my new favorites, is done. (Turner snuck into his exhibits to work a little more on his paintings; I’m being good…)
If you read this, and you’re in Berlin, please feel invited to the opening of my first showing of the new Berlin oeuvre on Monday the 11th of July, 2016, at 19:00. It’s at ReTramp gallery, Reuterstraße 62, 12047 Berlin.
The work will be there at least through Friday the 15th of July, maybe longer. The show begins as a group show with cutting-edge hyperimpressionist Italian artists, and continues as a solo show of my latest work.
Finally got a batch of over 20 paintings in my new Continental oeuvre completed. I paint the sides with acrylic because oils are too hard to turn and dry for that finishing step. It’s a chore, it requires different tools, and some artists don’t bother with this step. But once you’ve seen the sides painted, you cannot look at the other and not see unfinished product.
We also tried three new ways of mounting and stringing monofilament (clear fishing tackle) on the backs for picture rail hanging. Picture rails are rails you install on the top of the wall to hang paintings from—a way of hanging lots of galleries and artists use that keeps their walls from swiftly becoming Swiss cheese from nail holes. With a little trial and error (and some new tools), we hit on a new way of jiggering canvas to hang, on picture rails or otherwise. It involves a really serious stapler, and is fast, easy, sturdy—professional.
It feels so good to have my work hanging in my home. Suddenly my art is alive again in a very real way. Time for a show…
The game: give one euro, get one chance to win a painting.
The student: electrical engineering student, Finnish conscientious objector, UK hacker, musician, privacy and surveillance expert, computer scientist, Occupy activist, certified Aspergiac, and alleged Anonymous participant in peaceful political protest that large numbers of people participated in as part of #OpLastResort, Lauri Love.
Also because shit is so fucked up that people like Lauri and Aaron even have to fight these battles. They tend to have to do it with very poor institutional and social support. They cannot and should not have to do it alone.
Thanks to everyone who supports Lauri, Courage, and the freedoms of speech, association, information, thought, and active conscience for which they stand.
Portrait of truthteller Chelsea Manning. There’s also this song I wrote about her, one of the first in the “new Berlin oeuvre I can’t sing in front of other people” collection. Support Chelsea through the Courage Foundation.
Here’s another song I’ve been trying to get out of my head (at least) since moving to Berlin in November, about “fire and ice.” It’s a reiteration of this essay (among others) in my erstwhile surveillance series for the now-dormant Rebel News. Here are the lyrics.
Now there are seven new-era Vera tunes no one but me can hear me sing (except all my friends from the Internet, as long as I can’t seeeee yoooooou)…
Of course the whole impulse can be parodied so many ways, and this one in particular strikes me suddenly as ridiculous even while it might resonate. One of my favorite singers already sung it better; and one of my favorite poets already said it better…
“Fire and Ice”
By Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
Our lavender blooms velvet and honey. The birds sing of sweetness in cool evenings as the summer sun lingers late and long. The same soft blue sky that holds me tight in kisses and whispers of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow— far away makes grown men cower and children cry. We have made our fellow man afraid of the blue sky.
Information security is everywhere—if you know where to look. Most people don’t know they can take simple steps—like using smart phone apps Signal or WhatsApp to encrypt text messages and phone calls, or browsing the web using anonymizing free browser Tor—to reduce their vulnerability to some common forms of attack (at the low-level criminal level) and monitoring (at the state-level attacker level). But everyone knows the lyrics to that M.I.A. song about evading surveillance… Right? No? Did the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday potentially kill off the fruit of the forbidden (or poisonous) tree doctrine, weakening Constitutional and common law protections against arbitrary search, seizure, detention, and interrogation, and no one knows the playlist that addresses this problem?
1. M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” How should you call me if you know corrupt intelligence and police agencies worldwide are scooping up meta-data (e.g., who calls/emails who for how long and how often) without warrants and using it to map social relationships that then feed into robot killing programs on which they won’t release civilian casualty data—and you’re either paranoid or brown and Muslim, so that freaks you out a little? You could use Signal or WhatsApp, but that provides end-to-end encryption that at best (if your endpoints are secure-ish) protects your content. Your meta-data still gets scooped up. Maybe it’s just the fact of the phone call that gets some people robot-killed. So maybe you want to “hit me on my burner pre-paid wireless.” (Can somebody also please just take Defense’s money already?)
3. Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” If you’re ever interrogated, it’s probably a good idea to shut up, stay calm, and remember that there’s no such thing as “lie detection” because there is no unique behavioral, physiological, or verbal lie sign to detect. Police tend to think they can do things like telling true from false confessions… But they’re really no better at it than untrained people (which is to say, wrong about half the time). They are just more sure than regular people that they’re right. So say “lawyer” or “embassy” a few dozen times (after the “respectfully, sir” part), and know that “he can’t read my poker face.”
4. “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel) is what your line is after that.
5. Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” One of the only hit songs that has a line you can sing to interrogators, and another you can sing to your friends! To wit:
Police: Why you no confess?
Astley: “You know the rules and so do I.”
Friend: Are you gonna give me up?
Astley: “Never gonna give you up/ Never gonna let you down/ Never gonna run around and desert you/ Never gonna make you cry/ Never gonna say goodbye/ Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”
6. Lianne La Havas’s “What You Don’t Do.” Maybe you don’t always take your phone with you when you go for a run or on a vacation—so that pattern of leaving it at home for a while when you’re elsewhere is normal. Maybe you don’t write down passwords on stickie notes, or ever give them to third parties—so that they are actually secure-ish. Maybe you do all those things but could stop. Sometimes, better security is what you don’t do.
7. Sting’s “Every Breath You Take.” The original creepy stalker song. But when you have to wonder if your webcam has been re-engineered as a tap or something, because we actually live in a world in which the NSA does that—you might as well sing it to the surveillance state.
8. Did you know that in some countries and U.S. States, you can actually say “My name is Trouble/ My first name’s A Mess” when stopped and asked for identity? You probably shouldn’t because widespread police use of torture has a long historical tradition in America and abroad. And it might not help you in the U.S. now anyway, since yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in Utah v. Strieff that police can use what’s traditionally called (and excluded from evidence as) “fruit of the poison tree,” or evidence from an illegal stop and search. But Strieff is specifically a case about police stopping someone on an anonymous drug tip, then ID’ing and running the dude’s name, getting an outstanding warrant, and then searching him. Without the ID, it seems they would not have had a name to run—thus no search for the warrant, and perhaps then no search. This points to one of the reasons Strieff and other cases that weaken Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections are dumb: they incentivize non-cooperation with police, at the level of refusing to give your name unless you are legally required to do so.
Keren Ann must have known this, because she put it in a song. At the everyday level, this is about asking if you’re required to do something police ask, before complying. At the infosec level, one application of not giving your name (or, per Ms. Ann, giving your name as “Trouble A. Mess”) is also not having your electronic devices on and accounts signed into when you’re crossing borders. Those are forms of electronic ID that you’re not really required to give, but protections are hazy (e.g., for foreign nationals crossing the U.S. border). So don’t show that you even have them, or you may be asked by border guards to search your own email so they can read it. Then, like police in Strieff, they can use the results (e.g., if you’ve been looking for work without the right visa) against you. This has actually been the reality for non-U.S. citizens for, well, all of U.S. history.
9. Sometimes I think I should have always kept my damn fool mouth shut about all th
e things, instead of spouting off when I must and ending up penniless in Mexico City with a bad haircut (for example). But actually, I don’t regret standing on the side of people who at least try to “Yell Fire,” as Michael Franti says. Sometimes you figure out what you’re trying to say by trying and failing (and trying and failing, and trying and failing) to say it. That’s not an infosec thing so much as a free speech thing… Unless you don’t want to learn this the hard way, and just blog pseudonymously from the beginning. The downside of hiding properly is that you might not meet a bunch of cool people who get it. The upside is that you will probably be a lot safer.
10. But what do you do when yelling fire doesn’t work? When your voice can’t affect change in the declining firm, organization, or state to which your loyalty is presumed? According to A.O. Hirschman, your alternative course of action is exit. In (Nancy Sinatra’s) other words, “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” That can mean getting your data off American servers in infosec terms, since a European high court ruled in October that, in effect, American law and intelligence agencies’ cozy relationships with big data-holding companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon was violating Europeans’ human right to privacy, reminding them of Stasi surveillance on steroids—so the Safe Harbor treaty governing storage of that data was off. (See also the third point in this essay.)
Or you could read that exit option in a broader way. Just as no device is absolutely secure, no place is absolutely safe. But chocolate in Europe is better.
But if you like it, or another painting you’ve seen here, you can enter my ongoing raffle to win a painting by donating directly to Lauri’s Courage Defense Fund by 28 June and emailing me the receipt (vera at verawil dot de). One euro = one chance to win. So the more you support Lauri the likelier it is you get pretty art.
This is another of local Wildelife expert Mr. Wolf’s winter-vintage love songs. That makes six songs in this new period that have made it all the way out of my head in whole (draft of a vocal track of a) song form!
So I had wanted to have a dozen written and recorded at a professional level I can only aspire to—in November.
So there are so many more snippets, and so many more steps to make them all more whole…
And I guess music is not my thing since I’m always dying to paint. I have to make money for all sorts of practical reasons (like showing my new country I’m a big girl so they let me stay). And my paintings have always sold, but songs not so much—so that’s probably the way to go. Plus it’s just so hard to make noise sometimes.
Still, I’m usually so happy when I have something recorded… Even if it’s literally the only time I can bring myself to sing. And then only when I’m sure no one can hear me—despite the fact I fully intend to put it online later if it’s halfway decent!
So funny, living for art when you don’t know what that means or how public you should be about the messy facts of doing it, including not knowing when you have done it, or done a draft of it, or… I’ll never forget the time I saw a stranger dragging one of my paintings away from the dumpster. It was over ten years ago. It must have been in Alabama. I had tried and, in my mind, totally failed to update “Guernica.” (No, I never aim high.) I was just taking out more trash when this random dude hauling my botched painting away from the dumpster stopped me. He was so excited, he had to tell me about the treasure he had found; if he was putting me on, that is, if he had any idea I was the artist, he was very convincing. “Can you imagine throwing something like that away?”
Barrel bombs, flames; mountains over plains; a sword, a wound, a boat on waves; a sparrow holding a jasmine flower… And a few links to organizations that support peaceful civil society resistance in Syria—Adopt A Revolution (connecting activists) and 15th Garden (connecting farmers with seeds to grow food in besieged cities).
This is a (draft of a) song I wrote in my guest room in Osaka after presenting at the American Studies Symposium in March. I was up all night afterwards worrying (even though it went well)—and talking with some friends who were up on the other side of the world, worrying themselves about their own worries too.
I’ve been meaning to record just the vocal track draft for these three months, not to mention putting proper accompaniment with it and such. But I’m still too embarrassed to sing when no one can hear me most days. (Cf poetry –> music –> performance creative process struggle.) Sometimes I think about setting up a better space for music in my studio… Since I seem to dream or daydream songs and song snippets all the time, and then not do the two dozen next-steps to make them songs that live and breathe outside my head… And that would be easier if it didn’t mean quality time with built-in computer mic, online keyboard, and online metronome (which are good and nice to have, but not the real thing). But, I’m not sure it’s an equipment deficit, rather than just not being my forte (a thing that’s easy enough to complete in the way that I can make paintings exist in a really fluid and natural way). Maybe song snippets are like painting ideas (that I have so many more lists of than I could ever possibly execute), or poem/essay/article/etc. ideas (that used to go in a filing cabinet or desk drawer, and now get hidden in a notebook to be mostly forgotten, if they’re lucky).
There’s brain pollen. [ACHOO!] And then there’s the stuff you actually do.
Music is like that constantly wafting brain pollen for me now. It was a huge part of my life a few decades ago. So big it interfered with school. It didn’t seem to offer the quick way out of Alabama I was looking for (and found in academia). Especially since my training was classical and my proclivities alt-pop-ish. So I quit. I’ve often thought that was a bad move, since it turned out I was an artist after all.
Now I think I’m learning to accept that I’m just a living-room singer at best; I have sometimes a strong sense of voice, but more in a visual way, somehow. Although part of being an artist to me is also that it’s messy—the thing you show up to, live for, relax into, claim value for… The boundaries of the field are unclear, sometimes nonexistent. There is no track to be on or off. That’s part of the challenge. Stand-up can be important to me as a painter even as it seems on the surface like a distraction. It will make sense later, or not. Music can be harder than anything even though it’s the only artform I have actual training in. Sometimes training is a burden rather than a boon. Makes it easier to get in your own way. Which I guess is what this song (draft) is all about.
“Creativity always comes a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity that it will turn out to be” ― Albert O. Hirschman, author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States
The Dutch proverb is about comprehension being hard and hard to check internally. The “he” in the saying knows that he hears the bell—but needs someone else to tell him he doesn’t know where the clapper is. Haring’s work on the politics of technology is often about pushing people to see new ways in which technology is a stimulus that affects us as social organisms like any other modality of power. In Haring, the clapper is power and technology is the sound of the bell—shaping our internal worlds, communication patterns, and politics before we can even localize the felt phenomena. Kahan and others talk about how appeals to motivated political reasoning seem to work in much the same way in cognition; we hear the bell of emotion generating opinion before we can articulate the logic of why that bell, where, how. Hirschman’s creativity, in turn, is about not scaring off that openness to understanding things anew that lets us figure out where the clapper’s at.
In other words, you people don’t actually have any idea what the fuck I’m trying to say.