Monday, August 31, 2009

Scandinavian Design Chant

Chairs are numberless.
I vow to know who designed them.

Bad taste is inexhaustible.
I vow to diminish it.

Designers' ideas are boundless.
I vow to understand them.

Modernism is unsurpassable.
I vow to embrace it.

(Based on The Four Great Vows of Buddhism:
Beings are numberless; I vow to save them.

Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.

Buddha's way is unsurpassable; I vow to become it.)

(Picture from Indymedia Ireland.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Horizontal Gardens are So Last Year

Patrick Blanc has designed the "vertical antigravity forest" for the Athenaeum hotel in London. His first vertical garden was in his room when he was a kid, with plant roots in a fish tank.

Wired Magazine has a story about the design and the designer. "I leave horizontal gardens to others. I only think vertically", says the intrepid horticulturist.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Words are Stalking Our Brains

Approximately 400 000 pages of different kinds of literature are printed in the world every minute. I heard this on NPR but have forgotten who said it. Words are like organisms, they are born, they give birth to new words, they merge, blend, evolve, die. They fill the earth, in myriad languages, dialects, pidgins and slangs. They are printed on paper, they fill the air, spoken, sung, blasted through loudspeakers. They make forays into the deep sea and into space. Perhaps the language crawling out of me, out of my brain, onto these electronic pages, and onwards into your brain as you read, is a parasitical life form, for the time being using us to be born and to live, all the while fooling us into thinking we are its masters and creators. Or perhaps It is God itself, taking form in human words as well as insects, rocks and wind. In the beginning was The Word. Perhaps everything else is shadow.

Concrete poetry is a term coined in the fifties and sixties, when people started using typography as a form of expression. Or perhaps when language the organism, language the monster, language the Great Consciousness incarnate, found a clever way to play a little, to express its independence of us and its ability to reshape our concept of "meaning". Ubuweb has a great collection of conceptual writing, which takes a further leap into language-for-itself, away from expressive writing altogether, revealing language as a narcissist, gazing lovingly at itself in the mirror of the page.

The South African artist Willem Boshoff has a gorgeous body of work which often takes concrete poetry as its starting point. Through Boshoff, language steps into the concrete world as shapes, objects, codes and secrets. Language is an animal of prey, stalking us in what we thought was our safely structured and manicured garden of meaning. In the late nineties Boshoff created a trilogy of works called Tree of Knowledge. One part in the series,
Letters to God, celebrates the tree in its sacrificial form - the book. The work studies the fibrous nature and structure of wood, recreating a model of paper under the microscope. The deconstructed wood pieces conceal letters of the Greek alphabet, the forbidden fruits of the tree of knowlegde. The other parts of Tree of Knowledge are Druid's Keyboard and Broken Garden. In all of these works, language lurks dangerously, as a threat to trees and to us.

Abamfusa Lawula - the purple shall govern, Boshoff gave a concrete form to slogans and chants shouted in African languages in anti-apartheid rallies. Here he celebrates spoken language, its power to transform and question. In Kykafrikaans, he uses a typewriter as a writing instrument, "a crochet needle" and a paintbrush, creating visually ravishing concrete poems. Some of them act as maps that the viewer can only get lost in, glimpsing the occasional sliver of meaning. Accompanying the works, created in the seventies, was originally a recital of words in a church. A startled audience was asked to repeat loudly words such as "church" or "sand" or to assert "peel" as a swearword. Did God hear the question behind what was spoken? Was "peel" "peel" to God, or was the intention what was actually being said? If I ask you to say "peel" as a swearword, and you do, are you swearing or am I? Is the church a church because of its name, or because of the intentions of its builders? Can the real intentions be known? Is God brought into the church with the words that are spoken in it?

In the eighties, Boshoff worked for 370 consecutive days, seven hours every day, carving a
wooden calendar detailing his goals and achievements for each day. The intricate blocks are carved out of different types of wood, and were exhibited in giant panels, alphabetized according to the type of wood. After the initial, brief exhibition they were stored in a specially made set of drawers. Part of the key to the secret symbols on the blocks is in two red notebooks, buried within all the wood chips from carving the blocks, in the base of the storage system.

The 370 Days Project seems to me a gorgeous poem about the universe, about the secrets at its root, and about what we can know. A language known only to itself can only reveal itself to us in glimpses, in segments of code, in shapes which we may or may not misinterpret. Finally uninterested in stalking us, having discovered enough entertaining ways to manifest itself through us, language retreats from the garden. We hear only a slight rustle as it, like a jaguar, softly leaps into the great jungle. The story is not something that we can even begin to know. We are left to prune our bushes, plant our flowers in rows and harvest our fruit trees, creating order instead of meaning.

(Information for this post was harvested from
Willem Boshoff's website, and the photograph of Letters to God is his copyrighted material.)

This long thing is another one in a series of re-posts from my old blog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Hairy Ball Theorem

Someone had left this message in the real, 3D Myrtle Street Review notebook: "Suck ma hairy balls."

We would like to like to point out here that if the gentleman in question wishes to recruit someone for this undoubtedly enchanting task, he needs to leave his name and phone number in the note book. Also his mother's phone number, if he is underage. Which we would bet pretty decent money he is.

Now, we learn in Wikipedia that the hairy ball theorem of algebraic topology states that there is no nonvanishing continuous tangent vector field on the sphere. If f is a continuous function that assigns a vector in R3 to every point p on a sphere such that f(p) is always tangent to the sphere at p, then there is at least one p such that f(p) = 0. The theorem was first stated by Henri Poincaré in the late 19th century.

The hairy ball theorem has applications in computer graphics. Also, it dictates that given at least some wind on Earth, there must at all times be a cyclone somewhere.

Hairy balls are pretty important things.

As you can see, the Myrtle Street Review is following President Obama's example in turning immature outbursts into teachable moments.

The illustration, from Wikipedia, depicts "a failed attempt to comb a hairy ball flat, leaving an uncombable tuft at each pole."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Metal Humans' Metal Roses

When metal humans have metallic desires or tinny regrets or fusible fascinations, or when they experience geologic melancholy, they give each other metal roses.

Entire bushes of them grow from the debris of the metal human factory and because they emerge from the discarded pieces of emotional robots, they too exhibit embryonic feelings.

The roses may feel the very first cellular vibrations of excitement or despair, for example.

Sometimes, suddenly, for unknown reasons, they wilt.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Metal Human Crouching In Wait

This is a picture from the metal human factory at American Steel on Mandela Parkway. Metal humans are different from robots in that they have feelings. They skulk around West Oakland at night silently emoting. If you get struck by an odd feeling in the middle of the night, now you know why.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Things to consider when designing bookcases

- Do the books look happy on the shelf?

- Does the shelf appear to understand that it is holding the fruits of difficult work which requires deep contemplation and self-knowledge, and is sometimes completed against considerable odds, in great pain?

- Does the bookcase seem aware that books can reach backwards and forwards in time, some having been written thousands of years ago on clay tablets, or hand-copied in the middle ages by devout monks with secret desires, while some tell stories of distant futures; and that books also have considerable reach in space, across cities, deserts, oceans, galaxies, underground and in the sky, and to the molten core of the Earth?

- Is the bookcase capable of playfulness despite the gravity of some literature? Comedy is nothing to be frowned at.

- Does the bookcase not flinch at heavy lifting?

- Is it a bookcase that can keep secrets, hide journals and love letters, or is it an open and democratic one wishing to distribute the benefits of reading to everyone?

- Does the bookcase know what kind of bookcase it is?

- When empty, does the bookcase look lonely and bereft, happy and expectant, or self-satisfied and not in need of any content?

- Is the bookcase's main function to make us feel or think something about ourselves, about bookcases, about literature, or some or all of the above?

- Who can own this bookcase? Is it likely that person owns any books?

- Does the bookcase invite further expansion of the library, and new bookcases?

- And finally, is it a nice color?

I've decided to re-post some of my favorite things from my old blog. This is the first one. The picture is of the Bibliochaise.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Creviche Thorassic makes dessert

Creviche Thorassic kept putting her emotions away, and because she had unusually large ones, she was running out of space. Her drawers were full, her cupboards were full, she was using up space under her bed and in her crawl space. Everywhere that was out of sight, there were unused emotions. Creviche had learned that you had to rationally and carefully decide which emotions you were going to have and in what order and size, in order to fit them neatly into your schedule and the larger framework of goals that you had set for your life. If the emotions were unpleasant, there was the risk that they would last too long, and if they were very pleasurable, it was a disturbing thought that they might end, and so it was clear that it was impossible to both have all the messy emotions and cheerfully fulfill all the roles that life demanded. Snip snip, Creviche would only cuf off little samples of each emotion to try, and then she stuffed them out of sight before they got out of control in any way.

The emotions were simply lying in wait, of course. Like a cat getting positioned to pounce, they were staring through cracks and holes and wiggling their butts quietly in the dark. One day, their moment would come.

Nobody was prepared for it - not Creviche, nor the emotions - when it actually happened. On a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon La Cumparsita was playing on the stereo and Creviche was making dulce de leche and thinking about how Argentinians invented it, as well as tango and matches and fingerprints, when suddenly everything broke loose at once. Creviche suddendly could no longer stand her carefully manicured life, and started pulling everything open, and the emotions started thundering out of their hiding places, and suddenly there was a storm of activity and tango and feeling and madness and dulce de leche, and Creviche pulled out long lost emotions and tossed all her boxes and drawers and suitcases and bags onto the street, and she was lost in a tornado of feeling and blown into the sky with her pot of custard, and she flew and flew for a long time and thought she might end up in the moon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Video footage from the party

From 6PM to 8PM. Unfortunately the hard disk filled up and we had a video outage from 8PM onwards.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aerial View of Le Bouncy Castle

It's official: we are awesome

Thank you everyone who brought beautiful energy and joy to our National Night Out Block Party: Michelle for amazing food and for organizing the beautiful dancers from the historic Greater St. John Missionary Baptist Church and for total sound system rescue; Chistopher and Alex for more gorgeous food and friendship and service and graciously serving our ONE HUNDRED PLUS guests; Francisco and family for more lovely food and positive vibrations; David and Zaya for the table tennis arrangements and food and last minute ice run; Tony for the best tri tip in the history of grilling; Red for being her usual beautiful centered love energy emanator; Charlene and David and Kellie and Jean and kids and Tony again for being our anchor and the soul and history of our block; Amana for making so many little boys and girls happy with magical face paintings; Susan and family for even more food and for the most beautiful smiles and energy; the talented, gorgeous, inspiring Jessie and Eddie for performing with fire and light for us and inspiring our kids; Steven and Dwight for helping us out so generously and for being there and being gorgeous; the Oakland Fire Department for showing up and smiling and giving fire hats to the kids and setting many ladies' and some of the gentlemen's hearts aflutter; representatives of OPD and the City of Oakland for making a gracious, friendly, smiling appearance; and everyone else who showed up and contributed and smiled and shared and showed each other the real meaning of the word community. This is what it's all about. We should all be very proud of each other. Peace!
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