Art Reviews from Austria to Amsterdam

 

Why didn’t I think of that? 

 

Lately I’ve been traveling all over Europe reviewing art at Delicious Line:

Peter Zumthor: Dear to Me, Kunsthaus Bregenz (Austria)

The Dutch in Paris 1789-1914, Van Gogh Museum (the Netherlands)

In my last artist newsletter I mentioned that after our successful second Poetry Brothel Berlin production, I was invited to perform with Poetry Brothel London‘s Wilde-themed West End production coming up on Nov. 18. That is a true fact and that show will rock. You should go if you can.

But I will not in fact be there, because that is tomorrow and I am here now. Elsewhere. Seeing beautiful things and writing about them. Sometimes.

Speaking of declarations and their limits, this poem has been rattling around in my head all season as the #MeToo meme infects public discourse and I continue to avoid Patreon, Instagram, and normal usages of social media to tell people what the fuck I’m doing. I can’t get behind it, but it’s a moment. So I don’t have to get behind it to be swimming in it along with everyone else.

“The Fire”
By Mary Oliver, from Dream Work

That winter it seemed the city
was always burning—night after night
the flames leaped, the ladders pitched forward.
Scorched but alive, the homeless wailed
as they ran for the cold streets.
That winter my mind had turned around,
shedding, like leaves, its bolts of information—
drilling down, through history,
toward my motionless heart.
Those days I was willing, but frightened.
What I mean is, I wanted to live my life
but I didn’t want to do what I had to do
to go on, which was: to go back.
All winter the fires kept burning,
the smoke swirled, the flames grew hotter.
I began to curse, to stumble and choke.
Everything, solemnly, drove me toward it—
the crying out, that’s so hard to do.
Then over my head the red timbers floated,
my feet were slippers of fire, my voice
crashed at the truth, my fists
smashed at the flames to find the door—
wicked and sad, mortal and bearable,
it fell open forever as I burned.

Share

Wave at Sunset

Oils on 50 x 60 cm stretched canvas. In memoriam John Ashberry, and on a most happy anniversary of sorts.

“The Ongoing Story”
By John Ashberry, from A Wave

I could say it’s the happiest period of my life.
It hasn’t got much competition! Yesterday
It seemed a flatness, hotness. As though it barely stood out
From the rocks of all the years before. Today it sheds
That old name, without assuming any new one. I think it’s still there.

It was as though I’d been left with the empty street
A few seconds after the bus pulled out. A dollop of afternoon wind
Others tell you to take your attention off it
For awhile, refocus the picture. Plan to entertain,
To get out. (Do people really talk that way?)

We could pretend that all that isn’t there never existed anyway.
The great ideas? What good are they if they’re misplaced,
In the wrong order, if you can’t remember one
At the moment you’re so to speak mounting the guillotine
Like Sydney Carton, and can’t think of anything to say?
Or is this precisely material covered in a course
Called Background of the Great Ideas, and therefore it isn’t necessary
To say anything or even know anything? The breath of the moment
Is breathed, we fall and still feel better. The phone rings,

It’s a wrong number, and your heart is lighter,
Not having to be faced with the same boring choices again
Which doesn’t undermine a feeling for people in general and
Especially in particular: you,
In your deliberate distinctness, whom I love and gladly
Agree to walk blindly into the night with,
Your realness is real to me though I would never take any of it
Just to see how it grows. A knowledge that people live close by is,
I think, enough. And even if only first names are ever exchanged
The people who own them seem rock-true and marvelously self-sufficient.

Share

Outside Bologna

Oils on 60 x 90 cm stretched canvas. 

Chocolate goats, the littlest one
frolicking just outside the fencing—
plush donkeys intermingling with
fat white geese and black chickens—
fresh milk and eggs for the restaurant
next door. A gray and white cat smiles
out from the open-air kitchen.
Summer feeds him, the grill fire,
the fields of lemon verbena
flowering on and on across the hills.
It’s rustic to city folk like us,
but this is civilization—
feeding so much.

Share

In the sunshine of your 2 cents

Acrylic, gels, and 2 cent Euro coin on 20 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

This morning, I got back to painting at last after a month of focus on my second poetry book in advance of the Poetry Brothel. I decided to start in acrylics in case I’ve forgotten how to paint. And to illustrate a poem, since that’s often my process. I’ve painted and thought about “Change your life”—a famous Rilke line and evidence-based Levitt instruction—a few times before. But just now finally illustrated my more recent poem on it, which I memorized and enjoyed performing Friday night…

“Change Your Life”

Flip a coin: quit, leave, or join?
You must change your life—but how?
More than one decision? Now?

Yellow satin and red butterflies—
you have a heart that’s worn them out
and so do I. No one wants to see you cry.

Except me, perhaps. I’d rather see you try
and fail than not try at all.
Put it out there. The draft. The dream. The gall.

Share

Poetry Brothel Berlin 2.0 Success

It was a dark and smoky night in a typically dark and smoky Berlin club. That explains why there are no pictures of the amazing Poetry Brothel Berlin 2.0 at Insomnia last Friday. Yes, that explains it. OR DOES IT? (Sorry, I’m still in full Lynchian mode from the event theme.)

Performers and VIPs got these pretty bracelets that say: Poetry Brothel Berlin—The poets are not what they seem, a reference to Twin PeaksI can’t bring myself to throw mine away, or to take off the nail polish I wore for this for the first time since I was about 9 years old. Although cooking and painting are rapidly doing that for me…

Thanks and praise to writer and Madame Nathalie Dewalhens‘ three months-long masterminding since our last (and first) successful Poetry Brothel Berlin, show shepherdess Jos Porath’s careful herding, my hot sweet man Rop’s sound engineering, all my friends who came out to support me and have fun, and a whole lot of creativity and effort from a whole lot of other talented people. It was super cool to work with poetic comrades old and new—including the people who came from the original Poetry Brothel New York—including the grand Madame who started it all and Executive Director of the Poetry Society of New York, Stephanie Berger… And from Poetry Brothel London—with whom I’ve been invited to perform at their upcoming Nov. 18 Arts Theatre West End show: the Wildean Years.

How is that even a thing? And who do I send? My original Poetry Brothel incarnation—Felicia Faust in her steampunk incarnation? Felicia in her more recent, Lynchian form? Maybe something in-between, with a bit of a period flavor from before and a bit more, Lynchian glam (of which Wilde would surely approve)? In any case, I’m already as Wildean as they come.

Who could have guessed, when I changed my name to Wilde and moved to London a few years ago to make art, that I would get to do all that while pretending to be a whore? If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d love it if you came to see me. And if you’re the Tate’s Turner curator, get ready for my questions about where those unburned-after-all cunt drawings are at. I’m onto you and I’m back in town.

Share

The Poetry Brothel Berlin Happens Again This Friday

Photo credit: Rop.

This Friday, 29 September at 18:30, the Poetry Brothel Berlin reconvenes for a second performance as part of the larger Poetry Brothel Europe Tour 2017.

The Berlin performance takes place at Insomnia, since fledgling, avant-garde artists have always taken refuge in bordellos. Seriously though, they begged us to perform at this club. Because poetry sells.

This is the only tour performance I’m in, so come if you love me. Tickets are on sale now via Facebook and Eventbrite. The Poetry Brothel is an immersive cabaret featuring live performances by locally and internationally renowned poets, musicians, dancers, and unicorns. For poets, it’s a unique opportunity to dress up like we’re in demand and perform like we’re getting paid for it. Because we are—by the johns who pay for performances from the Poetry Whores.

Photo credit: Philipp Bögle.

My old friend Felicia will be there. Felicia Faust. You may have read her story or met her at the steampunk Poetry Brothel Berlin launch in May. But this time she’s back—with the best of her second poetry book manuscript and amnesia fit for Mulholland Drivefor a surreal good time…

Felicia Faust remembers nothing except… there was some kind of accident… It’s all a haze, but she found some poetry in her bag. Did she write this? Can anyone help her find out who she is?

People who know me well will appreciate how (like most good fiction) truer than true Felicia’s story really is—and how much fun this event is going to be. Whoever I am, I’m pretty sure I haven’t worn nail polish in at least 25 years. And some of the face goop, ever. It wears off eventually, right? Right???

Photo credit: Rop.

Other frequently asked questions:

Q: Vera, I hear you’ve been working on a second poetry book manuscript, Vagabonding, for a few years now—since publishing your first poetry book, Push Coastsin 2015. Will you perform new or old work at the Poetry Brothel?

A: Most of my performance book for this Brothel is the best of my new work from Vagabonding. There’s more explicit erotica that will work well in the Brothel venue, but also just my developing voice as a writer on display in that manuscript—and this is the perfect way for me to workshop it. In a sex club, too distracted by lots of creative things going on all around me to have (much) performance anxiety. There is something about social dynamics in places where clothing is minimal and women’s boundaries are respected or else immediate ejection that makes me feel powerful and relaxed. It’s also my understanding that workshopping your second book in a sex club is completely normal.

Q: You haven’t returned my text/email/carrier pigeon. Where have you beeeeeeen?

A: Preparing studiously for a night of fun and revelry with friends, like any other dork would do. First, I researched Lynch and my character, because I’m a pop culture idiot. Then, I revised my entire book manuscript, because it needed a first go. Now I’ve done costume, props, and make-up. (Please tell me it comes off. I smell like a doll someone abandoned in a chemical factory.) Next I still need to finish cutting and pasting my best poetry into my new (more Lynchian) performance notebook. And memorize a few poems. And walk the others, so they’re not off-book but more familiar. And AAAAAAAAAAAH…

Q: Vera, I want to buy your book. Will you please, please, please bring some copies to sell?

A: What’s it worth to you? No really, I don’t know what to sell my book for. It’s a whole book of my poetry. That’s worth something, right? But what? Can people just pay what they want? You can buy it on Amazon for what Amazon wants, but you have to buy it from me for what you think it’s worth.

Q: I want to come to the show, but I don’t know what to wear. Heeeeeeeelp?

A: Gnothi seauton, get your noir on. (First one’s free.)

Share

Justice as…

As part of my Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials (1, 2, 3, 4,5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16…)… I’m wondering what sort of justice works for the sorts of crimes a functioning international order might prosecute following international torture and rendition, domestic police brutality and killings with impunity, discriminatory drug policy, effectively legalized sexual violence, global mass surveillance, due process-free drone assassinations, and tens of millions of preventable deaths due to climate breakdown and hundreds of millions of displacements (disproportionately of black and brown people).

What’s the point of these future war crimes trials? Are we trying to deter more-future misbehavior—and if so, where’s the evidence for how extant processes or punishments do that? Are we trying to privatize the costs of these crimes on the people who profited from them—e.g., punishing the individual corporate leaders responsible for covering up climate change evidence when we had ample time to act on it as a civilization(and socializing the corporations)? Or is the first priority restoring quality of life to future survivors of international law violations that institutions today are failing to prevent—and if so, where’s the evidence for what works to do that? And are these questions on the right track for a Left version of the Shock Doctrine—or what is? 

“Justice as…”

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

“Justice as Retribution,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Retribution,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

A boot on the face takes care of your kind.

“Justice as Dominance,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Dominance,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


Same starting gun for people starting from difference places?

“Justice as Fairness,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Fairness,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


Or a more complex machine for making fair and equal races?

“Justice as Due Process,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Due Process,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


The death penalty for murder isn’t proven to deter.

“Justice as Deterrence,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Deterrence,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


And damages for violence can’t repair what you were.

“Justice as Reparation,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Reparation,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


The angel of history cannot awaken the dead and make whole what’s been smashed.

“Justice as Restoration,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.


“Justice as Restoration,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


The blindest justice of amnesia denies what’s been slashed, has been slashed.

“Justice as Amnesia,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Amnesia,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


If you find and tell the truth, alone—what good’s a sleuth who speaks to no one?

“Justice as Investigation,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Investigation,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.


Nothing left for justice but going on? Accept justice as injustice—and you’ve “won”?

“Justice as Injustice,” gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

“Justice as Injustice,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Share

Poetry Brothel Berlin 2.0 Next Month

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

After a successful launch this spring, the Poetry Brothel Berlin is back—along with my friend Felicia Faust and a new, Lynchian theme. Early Bird tickets just went on sale here.

The Poetry Brothel immerses audience members in a cast of internationally renowned and locally infamous bards for a night of poetry, performance—and payment. Playing with the idea that we might value what turns on the soul as well as what turns on the body, the Brothel combines low and high cultures like the artistic vanguard always has. And is generally a lot of fun.

Share

Manja

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Wild bird,
you fly
to the window—
stop, looking in—
shiver in heat

Gouache on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

like a hummingbird
like a baby bird
and like a fairy
grown full and woman,
grown house-sized,
taut Amazon—
but still
seeking
tiny flowers.

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. 

Share

More Death/More Acceptance

In dialogue with ongoing research on MDMA for treatment-resistant PTSD, social anxiety in autistic adults, and anxiety relating to life-threatening illnesses. 

The body turns like seasons—
winter first, because
winter has its reasons.

Gouache on A3 paper.

1.

Brittle branches cracking
spread their dark crumbs like a sickness.
All the spreading blackening
comes inside, taking over with its thickness.
Unbidden pulsing, bodies disinterred,
skeletons laid to waste and refrozen in winter.

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

2.

Every year it comes to this,
the cycle of dying and reawakening bliss.
Pinkness bursts inside and out,
cherry trees and laughing out loud.
All the poison turns to flowers,
all the dead give back their powers.

Gouache on A3 paper.

And I know what bees are worth,
their sweetness and their buzzing mirth.
Flowers and grasses rise up to itch
and scratch my itch.
Sweetness explodes me.
Nothing can hurt.
Or, at least I’m free
to feel the blow and still assert—
spring is here.
Summer near.
Winters past
need not a tear.

Gouache and mixed media on 28 x 35.6 cm paper.

3.

Let living soothe the dying.
Ecstasy heals without
(so very much failing and) trying.

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Share

Night Migrations

After Louise Glück. Oils on 60 x 70 cm stretched canvas.

“Bad American Dreams”

This poem in my ongoing Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials is about cognitive dissonance surrounding rule of law from the point of view of an émigré from pre-revolutionary California. The metaphor driving the accompanying illustrations—”night migrations”—underscores the implicit nature of preliminary brain drain that appears at first as a series of incidental decisions to change country, field, or milieu. What the metaphor of night migrations implies, the poem states—for better or for worse.

Oils on 80 x 100 cm stretched canvas. This one changes and will continue to change in drying more than most, because of how the pigment variation and pooled linseed oil play. 

I have bad dreams of America.
Mine are bad American dreams.
You might wonder if it’s hysteria.
But compare it to other regimes.

In Berkeley, California, Professor Yoo
teaches public and Constitutional law.
In Nürnberg, Bayern, ten such men said adieu
for their war crimes that held the world in awe.

I have bad dreams of America,
where from Cali to New York,
men like Yoo who green-lit torture feria
are treated like some kind of revered dork.

War criminals should at least have to hide.
When you ripped entire countries apart with your lies,
and authorized torture as legal (or tried),
the noose is your only, well-earned prize.

I have bad dreams of America,
since a million or so dead Iraqis went
uncounted along with their WMD, an area
of unfound treasure still at present.

But equality is what America is all about!
Unless you count gas-guzzling the world into drought.
But freedom isn’t free, you see!
So no taxes paid healthcare or fixed roads for me.

I have bad dreams of America—among
them, going back. Hope keeps them at bay.
Yoo should have been hung.
Might still happen one day.

Gouache and mixed media on A3 paper. 

In my bad dreams of America,
I dream of having failed
to make a new life for myself.
I have returned, and wake up crying.
Waking worsens what ailed,
because I could so fail my self.
Return would be too terrifying.
I couldn’t. I won’t. I have help.

In my bad dreams of America,
I’m telling someone who might care
everything that happened—as if they’re unaware
that America is not America
except in the general area
of leading the world in delusion.
That much is already proven.

I have nightmares that no one will care.
Despite spouting off on rule of law everywhere,
there’s none for the poor, none for huddled masses,
or immigrants or homeless or sick or strange asses.
Sometimes the hypocrisy is as bad as the crime.
Is it rape, or that rapists almost never do time?
Is it murder, or that everyone heard you scream?
Is it theft, or that courts don’t work for the mainstream?

It was a crime
every time.
But the victim
of the system
should have worked harder
popped the right pills for more ardor
taken night classes
rejected the masses
flossed more like Oprah
learnt underwater yoga
prayed to a harsher God
been dispatched a kinder squad.

Kindness is not the law anywhere.
It is simply the regime children learn
to put on like their underwear,
one leg at a time and every day.
Some of us learn something else: unconcern
for keeping injustice at bay.

Last night I dreamt
I had pulled out my right eyebrow in my sleep.
My tongue discovered I was missing teeth.
“The war is getting to you,” you said.
“What war, and how did you know?”
I smiled and smoothed over what was left.
It was worthy, to dissent.
So I was honest to one too many creep.
At least I didn’t end up dead.
Who knows how I’ll use what I learned tomorrow.
Some days yesterday still has me fazed and bereft.

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper. 

There are bad dreams of America,
and then there are bad American dreams.
Although I’ve had both many times now,
Bad American dreams are the worse, it seems.

Bad American dreams make you think it’s your fault.
You can lose them, if you leave. Exalt
world above country,
go where now it’s more sunny.

I have bad dreams of America.
Mine are bad American dreams.
But at least I know, when I wake up,
I’ve already overthrown the worse regimes.

Share

“The abyss from which there is no return”

In my developing Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15…).

In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. (…) Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left: such is the capability to monitor everything—telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.

If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology. (…)

I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

—U.S. Senator Frank Church, 1975

” ‘The abyss from which there is no return,’ ” gouache and acrylic on A3 paper.

It’s generally accepted in the hacker community today that attribution (of cybercrime) is hard but not impossible. Also that online anonymity is going the way of the dodo and Silk Road. Do these combined assumptions mean that online state-level actors (or attackers) alone can—with good social media opsec like NYPD’s—retain a semblance of privacy for their online personae?

Combatting mass surveillance only goes so far when you (think you) need to use social media to reach large(r) audiences/your social network—and those services tend to block anonymity in various ways. Facebook doesn’t let you create/first access accounts using Tor. Google and Twitter require two-factor authentication, so you need at least a burner email and phone to make accounts with them. Identification standards ostensibly designed to deter cybercrime also deter anonymous expression, dissent, teaching, and resistance.

” ‘The abyss from which there is no return,’ ” gouache and acrylic on 36 x 48 cm paper.

So do we assume that resistance is increasingly futile (or likely fake)? Or perhaps that it is too late for known trouble-makers in their own societies—but not for new trouble-makers, if they start out with good infosec? Or is infosec not enough since encryption does you no good on hacked devices, and all our devices are belong to them? Or are good infosec and opsec only always ever imperfect Bandaids that are less about security per se than about buying bigger margins of success and time? Beyond the practicalities of resistance—assuming that some long-game win is still possible—how can there be legal or political accountability for “the abyss from which there is no return” if it’s a big structural condition that’s been 42+ years in the making?

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas. So heavy on dark pigments and linseed oil, this type of painting is damn near impossible to properly photograph. You can see the selfie in this attempt. We leave digital traces wherever we go—often without an awareness of how they might later be used to prove who did what. 

Share

You Who Knew

In my ongoing Nuremberg: 2027 series on future war crimes trials.

Gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Is it legal for art to threaten the President, CEOs, and other political and social figureheads? Yep (h/t Artsy). But should it? How is an imagining of future war crimes trials different from a threat? In what contexts are ideas really so dangerous that an imagining or preaching alone—like the radical Islamic preaching of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, whom then-President Obama ordered drone-assassinated without due process—could be correctly construed as a threat? And are some of these questions (and perhaps then this whole art series) moot or misguided? Are the more important lenses of foci, as Picasso’s “Guernica” suggests, the victims rather than the perpetrators of war crimes? How then to represent (celebrate, mourn, call for valuation of) recent and future hypothetical climate change/militarism/inequality victims, and their avoidable suffering?

Gouache on A3 paper. 

“Epitaph for Climate Change Deniers”

This is the spot
where Trump
was shot.

The Kochs got away.
What did you expect?
Another day,
we’re trying
Exxon’s chief exec.

Til then we’re in a slump.
Done with spectacular lying.
And firings where no one is crying.

Black milk of morning, Paris—
he did his best to embarrass
all the world into climate action,
got an equal but opposite reaction.

Tens of millions dead,
hundreds displaced.
Chopped off his own head,
clan and country disgraced.

Gouache and acrylic on A3 paper.

“You Who Knew”

You who knew that it was getting hotter
and denied the science, watching rising water
from the comfort of a beach you’d sold
knowing its next house would never get old—

when we are standing on a level shore,
you will answer for your crimes—no less, and no more.
When tens of millions die and hundreds are displaced,
the world know your face and name—disgraced.

Trials will just be the beginning
when you’re no longer winning.
Every bit of oil and gas
will be publicly owned, along with your ass.

After your arrest,
the world can be distressed
about more important things
than how many a CEO hangs.

Gouache and acrylic on36 x 48 cm paper.

Share

The Shock Doctrine

Gouache on A3 paper. H/t MC for the tattoo design and concept that inspired this art: A beautiful art deco piece symbolizing both rising sun and atomic bomb explosion. Needed change may only come from disastrously great exogenous shock, the sun-bomb suggests. Of course, so too may such shocks bring disastrous change… 

Can and should the left learn to exploit the politics of chaos like Naomi Klein suggested in The Shock Doctrine ten years ago the right had learned to do? Or is exploiting the shock doctrine morally and practically wrong? How can we prepare for the Trump Administration’s efforts to exploit crisis (like a major domestic terror attack) for radical change? Does measuring the speed and intensity of exogenous shocks matter for ordinary people (e.g., to learn how to make better attention resource allocation choices in a faster and faster-moving information environment)? Or does prioritizing agenda-setting at a remove from that speed and intensity make more sense for helping people understand and act on their political interests?

Gouache and acrylic on A3 paper. 

“The Shock Doctrine”

The shock
is not
what got
the block,
but how
the flock,
distraught
—or not—
looks on
and on now.
We feel
the coming
blow, but
steel as if
numbing.
No. What?
This can’t be,
—isn’t yet—
happening.
When it comes,
shock still numbs.
Power’s spree
collects the debt
of our disbelief
that evil can be
as bad/
maddening/
saddening/
pain-happy/
advantage-snappy/
and as glad
for evil
as it seems.

Gouache and paper on A3 paper. 

Share

Dilemma

Graphite, ink, and gouache on A3 paper. How does it change the process of tackling difficult ethical choices if we re-imagine utilitarianism, Kantian moral theory, and other typical lenses for pressing forward this process—in a network context? Social problems like anxiety and depression—and social phenomena like trust and mistrust—are, well, social, and can spread like contagions along social networks. Can it then be utilitarian to ask what choice will best enable acceptance of an unknowable future self? Or is it only hedonistic to selfishly choose what loves you best, not necessarily so that you and others following your example or principle of action might better care for the world in the future—but because it feels good? 

“Dilemma”

In dialogue with Linda Pastan and Peter Singer.

You’ve heard the riddle:
An old lady and a Rembrandt, trapped in the middle
of a museum fire. You can only save one.
Situation: dire. Which?

Or the one about trollies:
One will hit a larger number of people
if you do nothing but look on,
and a smaller number if you act.
Will you flip the switch?

What neither set-up tells you is this:
If you do nothing, the old lady, the painting,
and all the people on all the tracks
will probably never like your art anyway.
Their tolerance for you is already waning.
Just as you feared, they will think your clothes are weird,
you have too much (or too little) to say,
your hair sits too dirty or stands too wild,
your choice far too selfish for not having a child,
and your taste in men (and women’s)
expression—scandalous. At worst they hate,
at best they judge—everything you are.

Don’t let the dilemma frustrate
your natural faculty for eating life’s lemons.
Switch or no, the trollies don’t take you far
enough. None of these people
and no painting on the wall
will talk you off the mat,
walk you through changing a flat,
or be there for you at all.
Only you can save yourself,
which is really the question:
How will you go on, having made
unforgivable mistakes
like any human being off the shelf?
Who will you have faith in,
when faith is not an artefact of your fates?
Cut the crap. Save the cat.

Share

It Takes A Flock

Graphite, pencils, ink, gouache, and acrylic on 36 cm x 48 cm paper. 

In dialogue with Lucille Clifton and Walter Benjamin.  In my Nuremberg, 2027 series imagining future war crimes trials. 

 

“It Takes A Flock”

It takes a flock to feed the monstrous child of history.
It takes a wild bird of a breast to nurse her, wings beating
the air above the smoldering ashes
the flower buds of fingers springing up as she grows
as if clasping her tiny shoulder with its dead oceans
as if the world now could hold her
as if one dead mother could nurse another’s ghost.

It takes a warming world to move the flock.
Migration on migration swarms ever more wetland
of what was once frozen shut
to all but the harshest wilds,
although the droughts are harsher
although the fires will grow
although, if they live, our grandchildren
won’t believe it possible that we—who could act—we know.

It takes a village to heat the world.
The whole organism of mankind
that would like so much to make and live—
that has wanted also always to destroy and die.
And the great world bonfire of our mistakes,
gathering like a single holocaust at the feet of the angel
whose face is turned forever to the past
as he hurtles toward the future—what of it
when the smoke of our debris rises above his head,
and the great wings fixed open in the wind
blowing violently from Paradise can hold no more?

Share

Standing Rock Thunderbird

Gouache and ink on A3 paper. An abstract riff on the Standing Rock Thunderbird tattoo. Skimming a few sources on the historic victory, subsequent losses, and counterterrorism tactics used to defeat activists gives a good summary of what is going on in North Dakota. 

“What Is Going On in North Dakota”

“My attention has been focused elsewhere, so this is a serious question: what is going on in North Dakota and why should I care?”—A Facebook friend on Standing Rock in November 2016. I wrote this poem then in response, and hoped it would improve with time. Like the news it did not, but appears online anyway.

Oil barons building one more pipeline
crossed the wrong Indians and river, in time
threatening the clean water of mil’s.
Spills are common. Protestor injuries, too.
Yell about that and the suits will want to talk to you.

But that’s only the badness. What about, well,
the sadness? That no one can know about every train wreck?
They’re coming too fast. We’re playing with a stacked deck.
It’s not just propaganda and not knowing who to trust.
It’s the strip-mining of our attention—yet pay attention we must.

Share

Angelus Novus

Graphite, gouache, and acrylic on 36 cm x 48 cm paper. A meditation on a meditation on the futile nature of justice.

 

A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

—Walter Benjamin’s ninth thesis of his 1940 essay “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” interpreting Paul Klee’s “Angelus Novus.”

Share

Witness: Testimony

“Gina,” gouache on A3 paper. Artist’s imagining of a Rorschach ink blot featuring Gina Haspel, current Deputy Director of the CIA, former black site operator and reported author of a cable ordering destruction of evidence of the torture that she oversaw. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights recently called on German federal prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for Haspel. Part of my Nuremberg, 2027 series imagining future war crimes trials. 

“Portrait of Absentia,” gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Ink:               blot
human:         error
true:              lies?

What was is not what is, not
the same order
the same breath
the same terror.
I can tell you,
but you won’t hear the same cries.
I can’t make you believe me.
I can’t make you look me in the eyes.

What:              if
confusion:      proved
verity?            Verified
facts—           authenticity?

Any account, video, email is a riff
on one side of the full facts grooved
into some holy carbon of who lied, who died.
Traumatic stress is not a synchronicity.

Go:              slow.
Know:         most
can’t be the ones
won’t be the ones
won’t even try
to bear witness in that way.
Not because they’d lie.
Nor because they saw no guns
heard no shots
found no casings in the sand.
But because the scales of justice weigh
against reliving death
against wasting your breath
against taking the stand.
You cannot take another strafe.
We’re going somewhere safe.
Take my hand.

Share

The Poet’s Prayer—Nuremberg, 2027

This is probably going to be the first poem in an illustrated series on future war crimes trials imagined to be taking place in Nuremberg in 2027. Some of the work I’ve recently blogged, like “Where’s Olaf?“, fits later in the same series.

“The Long Arc Breaks,” gouache and ink on 36 x 48 cm. 

 

“[N]ach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch…” —Theodor Adorno


“I thought he supp’sed to be the all-lovin./The same God who let Hitler put the Jews in the ovens?”—Dead Prez, “Propaganda”

 

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Although time is said to lessen
pain, war crimes make enduring shame.

Thy kingdom come.
Thine will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Was it 30,000 at Dachau? Reckon
with the uncertainty:
God knows, but not you or me.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
You’re either with or against us,
the President said.
Two hundred thousand wound up dead.
Iraqis—so they get free passes,
whose lies and insistence sped
the world to war?
And what for?

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
What should be the shame of a nation—
a war of aggression, torture, rendition—
barely leads to upheaval,
while the powers that be
are still the powers that were.
Four hundred thousand dead Syrians,
and you voted for her?
What rule of law used to mean is a blur.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.
War criminals’ kingdom
is the whole church and state.
They’re teaching the story
of “we had to”—prostrate
to whichever interest is paying.

Now and then,
one can see straight
through to where the long arc
of history has bent, is bending, breaks
the unbending loyalty of the clan.
Justice has coaxed the wild animal of man
into pawing two feet up to stand, roaring in the dark:
I am your own voice crying in the wilderness
I am your only choice.

In the moment it takes
to cry out, all the world is praying.
It is a hopeful thing, how we wish
for someone more powerful than this,
more just than us.
Though many have died thus.

Share

Holy Thursday

 

Holy Thursday
By William Blake

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Last night I ran across this poem towards the end of the Innocence half of William Blake’s illustrated poetry book Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, and saved it for this morning. The poem literally refers to Holy Thursday—the day between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday commemorating Jesus’s establishment of the Holy Communion and the priesthood at the Last Supper. But the real focus is living children, not tradition or sacrament—and the value of caring for real people as holy creatures, rather than going through procedural motions.

In the illustrated prose version of his philosophy, The Marriage of Heaven and HellBlake explores the compatibility of good and evil. In Songs, his use of the innocence-experience continuum to achieve that compatibility is even more explicit. One wonders whether he and Machiavelli would argue over dinner, or perhaps agree that what seems evil is in some cases merely innocence—and in others, experience.

The felt sense of their moral universes couldn’t be more different—Blake’s universe is (ultimately) kind and requires faith, while Machiavelli’s is cruel and requires cunning. Yet the political and social contexts of their writings share striking similarities. Machiavelli was keen political analyst, republican consort, and Medici torture survivor who explicitly wrote The Prince for the family responsible for his torture to systematize tyranny, while resisting between the lines—often showing rather than telling why free republics are better than corrupt principalities. Blake, friends with his own notable radical contemporaries including Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, survived charges of high treason and a sedition trial that contributed to his failing health. Both see continuity and freedom where others see sharp difference and constriction. Both proposed a marriage between heaven and hell, but Blake saw himself as observing and celebrating the infinite, bursting with meaning and worth—while Machiavelli saw himself as observing and stating the obvious, dictated always by power.

Share

Mosaic Angel

“Mosaic Angel,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

“Playing in the mud”

The difference between a child and God is only—
you can make the clay, pouring water into dirt,
appearing matter where there was none,
splashing and laughing in happy disarray.
But you can’t shape it into living, breathing beings.
Not yet.

Share

Pride Poem Samplers

From the Poetry Foundation’s LGBTQ Pride poem sampler, commemorating with other Pride celebrations the June 28, 1969 start of the Stonewall Riots against police harassment and brutality against gays.

“Footnote to Howl”

By Allen Ginsberg
Berkeley 1955

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the middleclass! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebellion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

Here’s Ginsberg reading that “Footnote to Howl,” sounding like a deadpan Woody Allen.

Keith Haring is still inspiring with an enduring public bathroom mural that could just as well have illustrated this poem—

Keith Haring, “Once Upon a Time,” 1989. At the LGBT Community Center, Manhattan. Photo: The LGBT Community Center National History Archive.

—were Ginsberg himself not also a visual artist (h/t Artsy).

Allen Ginsberg, “Untitled #3,” lithograph and screenprint, 1998. Photo: Gemini G.E.L. LLC. 

Here’s my own Pride poem sampler of work from my first poetry book, Push Coasts:

Nerves Before Our First Date 

Night Picnic

Witch-Sister

Spinning Fire 

Pitching Camp in the Ozarks 

Briefly in the Promised Land 

Rainbow from Above 

The Tree of Desire Grows Out of Her Chest 

And what Pride poem sampler would be complete without a footnote to the footnote to Howl? This was probably the most fun poem to perform at the Poetry Brothel Berlin. It’s from my second poetry book, Vagabonding, in manuscript.

“Love Wild”

Love wild
love true
love red
love blue
love me
love you.

Free heart
free mind
free time
free spine
free cock
free cunt
free mouth
free blunt.

Deep dark
deep sleep
deep walk
deep meet
deep love
deep free
deep deep
deep sea.

Bright sky
bright light
bright body
bright night
bright days
bright seasons
bright life
bright reasons.

True try
true make
true see
true take
true give
true be
true you
true me.

Find a Pride event near you.

Share

Studies on Castile

“Studies on Castile: Guilty Peace.” Graphite and gouache on A3 paper. 

If you want to solve the problem of U.S. police killings, you have to first tackle the problems of gun, drug, and oil addictions—for which you have to first address the problem of corporate capture of the political system. If you want to solve a problem this week, you have to get organizations and activists working on problems like these to start using better information and operational security tools and practices—like email encryption—so that resistance can be independent and effective rather than being trivially derailed. And if you want to grapple with our continual attempts to make sense of the senseless, you have to make art…

“Studies on Castile: Suspects… wide-set nose… brake lights.” Graphite, ink, gouache, and goldflake on A3 paper.

“The driver looks more like one of our suspects just ’cause of the wide-set nose… The reason I pulled you over, your brake lights are out.”
Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile in Minnesota on July 6, 2016, racially profiling and then lying to Castile before killing him.

“Studies on Castile: I wasn’t reaching.” Graphite, ink, and gouache on A3 paper.

” ‘I wasn’t reaching’…  ‘being a black motorist is still a capitol offense.’ ”
Philando Castile after Yanez shot him, and comic Samantha Bee on the killing. Minnesota police tried (and failed) to get private Facebook messages, data, and metadata from the account of witness and girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of the killing. Their warrant came with an indefinite gag order, and was later ruled unconstitutional.

“Studies on Castile: We knew we were lying about the drugs.” Ink and gouache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
John Ehrlichman, former Nixon domestic policy chief and drug war architect.

“Studies on Castile: Marijuana, marijuana, rounds.” Graphite, ink, and gouache  on A3 paper.

“As soon as I get up to the car I’m hit with a odor of burning marijuana… And I thought if he’s, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me. And I let off the rounds.”
—Officer Yanez’s criminal trial testimony blaming his killing of Castile on Castile’s marijuana use.

“Studies on Castile: Mom, don’t get shooted.” Graphite and gouache on A3 paper.

Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
—Diamond Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter in the backseat of a police car with her handcuffed mother after the killing.

“Studies on Castile: Backseat Side of Silence.” Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas.

“Backseat Side of Silence”
On Jeronimo Yanez’s murder of Philando Castile.

You won’t hear from the good cops, although
so many cops are good, because it is impossible to speak out
without a face in a police state where your phone and computer
can be hacked without a trace, your texts and emails read—
and your boys will have your head for speaking out.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
when one Chief started clapping as he does
about drones and blowing up Americans without
due process because terror rarer raaah raaaah raaaaaaah—
then everybody had to join in with the band/siss boom baaaah
and in a well-placed beat all the Major City Chiefs
and all the Major County Sheriffs were on their feet
cheering the holy holy holy killing of Sheikhs,
and not one sat for the Constitution on which they stood.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
there is something hypnotic about the mantra of the tribe,
about “serving and protecting life liberty & property” or,
as the temporarily disadvantaged millionaire hive
calls it—the pursuit of happiness in America.
It sounds so good, how could it be bad?
The fairy-tale sparkles and statistics are a bore.
Communism failed and was a sad loser fad.
You can make it if you try and try more, more, more!

You won’t hear from the good cops, because they know this:
when others kill, it is a crime—but when they kill,
it is a necessary skill in fulfilling the servant’s duty, thanks deserved,
to protect life. So while cop killers do time,
killer cops talk their fearful talk and walk,
because freedom is slavery, ignorance is bliss,
and corpses have been served.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
carrying a gun makes you afraid, and fear makes you dumb.
Don’t think Jeronimo Yanez was the only one
to fear the fearful citizen who said he had a gun.
Although Philando followed instructions to the letter of the law,
the color of his skin outweighed whatever jurors saw.
Things do not speak for themselves. Res ipsa loquitor:
black life doesn’t matter to a lone juror.

You won’t see the good cops marching in the streets
against racist police, because the good cops are whiter than their beats.
You won’t notice the good cops eating jerk chicken
on the corner as neighbors get to know each other, elbowing in
to ask for tea and how is Darius these days,
and Auntie please remind him there are other ways—
because a program is telling them where to stand
as a supervisor gives his monthly arrests demand.

I can try to tell you why you won’t hear from the good cops,
because we ask each other questions when the shoe drops,
justice fails, and somehow sense must be remade
though it hangs dripping on the blade.
It matters but it doesn’t matter more
than what I can’t begin to explore.

You won’t hear from the little girl in the back seat
when she finishes screaming after years
and so many nights in terror and in tears
in the dream where sound explodes up front
while her own sound does not come
her own legs do not move on command
and her own life flashes, so small and quick,
before her tight-clenched eyes open to greet
the killers’ unignorable demand
to join the world outside
the childhood that had just died.
And she cannot bear to close her eyes
for fear of seeing everyone
and no one in the front,
and language fails—dishonest, slick.
I can’t tell you if you don’t know the why’s.

But the little girl’s already spoken, her witness undisputed:
“Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
The screaming mother muted by her baby’s love undiluted—
a child who’s just seen a man executed.

 

Share

Door of Light

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (and the 1960s cultural revolution it helped spark) and Jim Morrison’s Doors.

Share