Sunday, November 18, 2007

Avalanche at Harvard Part Two

Willoughby at Faculty Club dinner in his honor.

The Piper Auditorium presentation consisted of readings of W's biographies short and long. Ironically for someone whose sonorous voice would have filled that 30ft ceilinged auditorium without a mike, W has the throat variety . . .We never knew when we were young that our friends and lovers would be nuked with radiation, poisoned with chemo, lose their lymph nodes, become speechless, yet retain their indomitable spirit, stoicism and sense of humor. "Is there anything that shocks you?" a student asks W during the q and a. "That I'm still alive," is the reply.

Afterwards at dinner at the Faculty Club, a little further up Quincy Street from the GSD, everything seems outrageously normal. A long narrow table, fourteen guests, several authors; intervals between the courses allows plenty of time for conversation in one form or another. and much of it turns to publishing. Across the table is Wayne Anderson who's written books on sculpture of the fifties; W writes to me on back of menu: to compare notes about royalties, le book bizness. To my left, arch. prof. Meredith, also the author of a DVD manifesto: Notes for those beginning the discipline of architecture, sounds intriguing, calls it a scathing attack on the profession. So maybe here's the link to his interest in Avalanche dialogue format as: non-top down, non-hierarchichal, operating outside academe but now reclaimed by academe.. . . the tropes here are site or non-site)

Michael Meredith at Faculty Club; background, Wayne Andersen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Avalanche at Harvard

Under the rubric "Fighting Institutionalized Formalism through
Ephemerality:" Harvard Graduate School of Design papers wall
with all thirteen issues of
Avalanche. Screens show video views
of Joseph Beuys, Vito Acconci and Chris Burden by
my former partner Willoughby Sharp.

10 am
Fung Wah bus to Boston South Side, almost as excruciating as bus ride from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik. 2:15pm Red T Line to Harvard Square. Through Johnson Gate, meander diagonally across Harvard Yard, past fully parked bicycle racks, scissor walking students crisscrossing between red brick bldgs, oak and maple leaves suspended in mid-air, twirling down to still green lawns. 3:30pm Pick up key to place on Beacon Hill where I'm staying tonight from Faculty Club concierge. Find Club lockers for 25 cents but only in Men's Room. 4pm Check Avalanche wall paper exhibit studded with a triptych of Willoughby's early video views on 8 ft by 10ft wall outside Piper Auditorium at bottom of Quincy Street. Embedded in this display of all pages of all issues of Avalanche is a statement of purpose by intrepid curator Michael Meredith,
Fighting Against Institutionalized Formalism through Ephemerality explaining relevance of exhibit to architecture students, but let me double check that, am not too familiar with such weighty terminology, which certainly isn't in the spirit of Avalanche 4:10 pm Take elevator to Architecture department on second floor to say hello to Andrea, coordinator of guest visits, but Andrea is at a leadership training workshop. 4:17pm Take elevator back to ground floor and check e-mails at front desk of Frances Loeb library. Email from KC at publisher's says she will answer any questions directed to marketing ("the untouchables," as per production manager) so I rephrase my request--to remove an item from publisher's cover design--in such a way that hopefully she will understand the context in which it is being made, ie this context , appropriate design and my past history in the art world and in publishing, which so far has counted for zilch for said publisher 4:45pm Leave the GSD and head back up Prescott Street to Faculty Club, this time to change for the evening, and stuff another locker with backpack (repaired for the occasion) and well worn leather hiking boots (not repaired but anointed with mink oil).
5:15pm Return to GSD. Willoughby has arrived, thanks me for coming, the technicians are setting up for the power point presentation, and Toshiko Mori the chair of the architecture department says hello and introduces guests to each other. The auditorium has a capacity of about 350 very hard seats, but the back half is sealed off by moveable partitions on castors. I don't take a seat (enough hard seats for one day) but stand by one of the giant pillars.
Students munching convex whole wheat sandwiches are drifting in in twos and threes and the front of the auditorium is filling up; the left half of the front wall is occupied by a video screen showing a simultaneous live projection of W's show "Retrospection" at the Clyfford Gallery, Colgate University. Possibly an homage to Keith Sonnier's NY-LA gallery interactive interconnect in early 70s, possibly not. Make mental note to ask. W himself is busy snapping photos of audience members possibly with a black Lumix camera. 6pm people are still streaming in; Toshiko says we await some VIPs, among them MIT Press editor and the curator of the AVA exhibit, whom she calls on her cell phone.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Changing Landscapes

Chris Burden's magnum opus arrives by flat rate priority mail. Returning from the post office I place it on the laundromat scale opposite the bike rack to see if it's really as heavy as it feels. And it is: weighing in at seven pounds, it's one pound less than the weight of a baby.

My camera is a lot lighter, though, clasped in my hands, following the movements of dancers, coming together from different points in Washington Square towards the fountain and dispersing in a contiunous flow of motion. Eight different sites and a change of location every ten minutes over a good portion of the park's ten acres means fast work for the camera too, climbing in and out of the fountain.

My neighbor alerted me to this work, Changing Landscapes: A Movement Choir. The choreographers are members of the Laban Institute of Movement Studies; the dancers, mostly from Drew University and responding to the Square's Ohmstedian rolling landscape for the first time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Barcelona to New York

Couple in Snow, 2001. Photo Liza Béar

A friend and former neighbor who got a lot of trees planted and bike racks put up in Little Italy but now lives in Barcelona is in town. When we first met in the early days of Connecticut Muffin she was working as a casting agent.
Today we meet for tea at the McNally Robinson bookstore on Prince and Mulberry facing the cathedral and churchyard which I once overlooked from my perch in the building now housing the Mulberry Street Public Library.
The entrance to the library is on the narrow alley, Jersey Street, a location for many fictitious crimes in student films and unfortunately a dumping ground for a real crime
Upside Down Parrots, San Gennaro Festival, 2002

committed in the basement of the Puck building. It's also where the original Ferris wheel for the San Gennaro Festival would be parked until 2001.
The site of the bookstore was still a Chinese live chicken outlet in the early 80s. Occasionally at dawn a rooster crowed. A murder of as many as 50 crows would congregate on the slate roof and play games jumping over each other;
from behind the computer screen, I watched them through the tall arched windows
My friend turns her head to watch a tall man in a raincoat with a shock of grey hair; she recognizes him as Tom Stoppard (she has just seen his Broadway play, "Rock and Roll"). He crosses Prince Street, enters the bookstore and
prowls amongst the new book displays; leaves, walks a few steps down the street, turns back and reenters the store.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Readings from Grace Paley at Cooper Union

Now that the bike is fixed and travel possible, a party for the soundtrack CD of Downtown 81 at the Tribeca Grand Hotel tonight is definitely an option. It would mean, though, detaching myself from Barack Obama's dance moves with Ellen de Generes, lacing boots and clattering down the stairs, uh, neighbors, so I'm holding out for the Grace Paley homage tomorrow, November 6, at Cooper Union's Great Hall on East 7th Street,7pm. See you there.

Obstinacy, Teenage Characters

For his first film as a director, Chris Menges directed Shawn Slovo's screenplay A World Apart,
set in South Africa in 1963. The story is told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl trying to reconcile herself to her activist parents, a theme taken up more recently by Julie Costa-Gravas in Blame it on Fidel, though with more humor,less narrative drive and perhaps fewer dramatic peaks. The dilemma being that activism demands time and dedication that children feel belongs to them. A World Apart is particularly successful in foregrounding political situations while developing strong characters.
There are separate full-fledged interviews with both Slovo and Menges in the book done after the film was screened at the NYFF; in spite of huge critical acclaim for it as a political drama, the film was only kept in theatrical release for a month. At the time I had just started teaching at Columbia, or was about to, and once a year selecting films that especially moved me
from the NYFF to write about. next on this topic: Why this one and not that...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

"I want to ride my bicycle!"

Still frames from Protectors of the Bike Lane, bike clown protest filmed in
Washington Square
for "Squaring Off", (c) copyright Liza Béar, 2005

Rushing to the cramped Soho post office on my bike to mail a late bill bursts an inner tube, so I head for Time's Up on Houston Street with some bread: two baguettes in exchange for tools and maybe mechanical help to fix the flat. The place is surprisingly devoid of fellow cyclists.
At the center of the large storefront and former antique furniture store which serves as HQ for the environmental activist group, Steve, the owner, a man in a striped grey shirt with a mustache plays his guitar.

"I can't do anything without my bike," I say.

The bicycle clowns have been out on a demonstration to guard the bike lanes against incursions by motor vehicles. They have the tools.

"They'll be back any minute," he says."You can listen to a song."

Seated on what must be the cat's chair, the cat, claws out, jumps on my lap and claws through layers of clothing to reclaim territory.

Steve sings a ballad he wrote about the new police parade regulations limiting groups of cyclists to 50.

I'm number forty-nine
Please don't pull me out of line

On the very first Pink Floyd album one of Syd Barrett's more whimsical numbers was a bicycle song.

I've got a bicycle
It's got a bell and a basket
I'd loan it to you if I could
But I borrowed it ....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Shifting Gears

To work phone magic with the production crew compositing my book, I have to use up some precious author-interaction credit (limited by company policy). This is where their understandable budget/schedule constraints clash with my responsibilities to photographers, agencies, distributors who have supplied photos. Understandable, because the outsource crew has to prepare prepress materials for 54 other books at the same time. But just a bit of voice-to-voice interactive (long overdue) cuts through the
fog of a dozen emails; a ruler and a specking wheel squash a dispute over the aspect ratio of a photograph; finally,
the facts on the page dissolve dissent. Sort of in gratitude, I learn some Adobe electronic editing acrobatics to save them time entering corrections.

Mottled clouds over Mott Street. Facing each other at the café's adjacent window tables, the foursome resume their tete a tete or cross talk, pick up the threads from the previous week. The first November chill brings out warm weather winter plans to swoop down on relatives in the Caribbean. A gaunt dark-eyed thirtyish Italian approaches Rachel on the bench, her back to the street, and shakes her hand. "Cadaques," he reminds her by way of introduction. "Oh yes." Cadaques, once a small fishing village perched on a rocky promontory on the Basque coast, beyond Figueroa and Barcelona, is Rachel's second home and a place in common for all the others. Because the Hotel Port Lligat, next to Salvador Dali's studio, was an early discovery of my mother's and a summer childhood haunt, Cadaques has become a conversational beachhead.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Fall-Out

During the night of Halloween,
a friend's bike gets bent out of
shape by a parking misfire, a kerb jumping vehicle. I don't, but almost do. Hitting the cc button in error can do it, launch
a flurry of misunderstandings. Ouch! A virulent attack. Unfounded accusations lurk under cover of cyberspace. Another's hysteria creates a dark pool of apprehension.

At lunch a solicitous friend makes me trade the cup of soup for the bowl. Her daughter is getting interested in typography, typefaces, she says relieved, not just in Facebook.
I tell my friend I'm at the center of a Bermuda Triangle. It's complicated. Someone wants me to drop the project. Now? she asks. But no, I say, I don't support the print equivalent to late-term abortion, which is what it would be. Don't worry. It's good about your daughter, though. She says, yes, but for them a larger font just means having to write less homework on the page. The school wasn't impressed. Their buttoned up traditionalist choice of typeface is strictly Times Roman.