Information, Sunflowers, and Pinecones

 

 

 

 

“Information. What’s wrong with dope and women? Is it any wonder the world’s gone insane, with information come to be the only real medium of exchange?”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Sunflower and fly

Wednesday evening, dark, cold, we were all sitting on the big wooden table for this week’s discussion of this week’s seventy page section of Gravity’s Rainbow. Somebody remarked on the relationship between nature and mathematics… “Mathematics is our way of describing nature,” and then brought up the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ration and the spirals in “Sunflowers and Pinecones.”

My ears perked up. Early that day I had stumbled across a YouTube video on the subject. Of course, everybody talks about those darned spirals and how they show up everywhere. This video was different, though. It talks about the Golden Ratio and then goes on to say why it shoes up on Sunflowers and Pinecones. It shows why it’s the only way to organize a Sunflower or a Pinecone.

Watch it or not.

 

Sunflower

 

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As Sure As Kilimanjaro Rises Like Olympus Above the Serengeti

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

—-Toto, Africa, the most awkward song lyrics

Yesterday, I wrote about three colossal, iconic works of art that I hope to see after they are finished. Today, I found out about a small work of art in a very remote location that I’m certain never to see.

 

German artist Max Siedentopf,  set up a sound installation in the remote Namib desert that will play Africa by Toto on a loop forever.

 

 

It seems pretty silly – but that oh-so-familiar music wafting around those dunes while the wind blows sand through the scene – it has a strange beauty.

My only complaint is the “forever” part. Those boxes, wiring, and speakers don’t look very indestructible. The first sandstorm roaring past will scatter everything.

If it were my installation I would put it in an armored canister buried in the sand with only the speakers and solar panels exposed. That might last at least a couple weeks, if not “forever.”

As a matter of fact, I would bury it, hide it, and add a sensitive motion detector that would turn off the sound if anyone approached. It would only make sound if nobody was there to hear it. I would call it “A Tree Falls In the Desert.

See Yourself Seeing

I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing – to see yourself seeing.

—-James Turrell

A long time ago(2004) , in a previous incarnation of a blog, I wrote about a trip Lee and I took to the newly opened Nasher Sculpture Center. The blog entry was eventually published in a local magazine. A highlight of the visit was my discovery of James Turrell’s work, Tending (blue).

Tending (blue)

Lee standing in Tending (blue) in 2004.

From the blog (I have quoted this twice before):

My favorite piece might have been the installation Tending (Blue) by James Turrell. We walked into a little opening lit by odd, shifting colors into the wall at the north end of the garden. The passage made a right turn and opened into a small room lined with dark stone benches. The walls on the upper half were featureless and smooth. A gray skylight lighted the whole chamber. The effect was strange and very peaceful. I liked it a lot.

Lee and I left the chamber and walked back up the garden and inside the building. We wandered downstairs and into the auditorium where a film was showing. It told the story of Raymond Nasher and his late wife, how they started out building Northpark Mall, acquired a fortune, and then became premiere collectors of modern sculpture. Mr. Nasher talked about his life, his wife, and his passion for the new sculpture center. The film then showed the construction of the center, how a handful of visionary architects and a few thousand men in hard hats converted a grimy downtown parking lot (I’ve parked there many times, put my quarters or dollar bills into a rusty numbered slot) into a thing of great value and beauty. They talked a lot of how it will be there forever. The film was fun and interesting – it really helped me appreciate the place.

On opening day Raymond Nasher said, “I put Patsy (his wife, the collector, who had passed away a couple years before) in charge of the weather today, and, as you can see, it’s beautiful.

One thing was odd, though. On the part of the film that covered opening day, Nasher and Turrell themselves went into the Tending (Blue) chamber that Lee and I had walked out of only minutes before. The benefactor and the artist sat on the benches and looked around. The skylight rectangle in the ceiling wasn’t gray like we saw it, but a deep cerulean blue.

“What’s up with that?” I asked.

“Let’s go back and check it out,” Lee said.

We hiked back down and entered the chamber again. The skylight was still gray. Something didn’t look right, though. I stood under it, looking up, trying to figure out what I was seeing and how it could change colors so dramatically. I was halfway convinced that it was a rectangle of light projected on the ceiling by some hidden apparatus (the upper walls are washed in subtle changing color from hidden computer controlled LED’s) when I was suddenly struck between the eyes with a big, cold drop of water. I wiped my face in surprise and looked down at some small pools of water at my feet.

“That’s weird, Lee,” I said, “I can’t believe it, but this roof is leaking.”

I looked back up, trying to find the telltale discoloration of a water leak, when, with a sudden shock, I realized what the hell I was actually looking at. That wasn’t a skylight, that wasn’t a projected rectangle at all, it was simply a big hole in the ceiling. I was looking directly at the sky. Once my eyes and my brain were in sync I could see the subtle variation of the clouds passing by overhead. The edges of the hole must have been cut back like razors – there was no visible frame around the opening, simply a featureless rectangle of light. It was amazing.

That’s why the rectangle looked blue in the film – it was a cloudless day. Now I want to go back. I want to go at sunset… I want to figure out how to go at dawn. The city sky at night… will it be brown? I want to sit in there during a rainstorm. I especially want to go there on that rarest of Texas days, a snowstorm.

The opening in the ceiling of the installation Tending (blue). A photograph does not do justice.

I returned to the piece many times. It became my favorite place. Then… horrors.

It was destroyed by the construction of an uber-expensive condominium tower. The controversy still rages today.

JAMES TURRELL
American, born 1943
The Light Inside
1999
Neon and ambient light

But I remained a fan of James Turrell. Especially when I found out about Roden Crater.

Imagine a hollowed out dead volcano in the desolation of Arizona filled with Turrell’s work with light. Amazing.

It is one of the things I want to visit before I die. I was losing hope, however. The idiosyncratic artist was taking forever and only a handful of people (each making tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations) were being allowed to visit. That doesn’t… and never will… include me.

But I kept watching… digitally. And today an article came across my screen. Turrell has partnered with Arizona State University to finish the project and open it up to the public. I’m stoked.

As much as I dislike the image of the isolated volcano surrounded by ugly parking lots – gift shop selling doodads and geegaws and rubber tomahawks – crowds of gawking tourists griping about the heat – tour buses idling to keep their air conditioning running disgorging their cargo wearing “I’M WITH STUPID” T-shirts into snaking queues of people staring at their phones…. All of that would be worth it if it allows one person (me) to actually visit Roden Crater.

Faster, please, I’m not going to live forever.

Now that I think about it there are three artistic creations I’ve know about for a long time and hope to live long enough to see finished.

1. When I was a little kid I read about the Crazy Horse Memorial Monument and fantasized about seeing the gigantic sculpture, probably as an old man.

Well, I don’t think I’m going to make that one – it doesn’t look like it has changed much since I was a kid. The other two, though:

2. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona… they have picked up the pace the last couple of decades… I might make that one.

3. An now there is hope for Roden Crater. This is truly the best of all possible worlds.

The Wheels On the Bus Go Round And Round

I think whenever we think of our hometowns, we tend to think of very specific people: with whom you rode on the school bus, who was your next door neighbor you were playing with, who your girlfriend was. It’s always something very specific.
—-Joyce Carol Oates

Beltline and Plano, Richardson, Texas

I find myself using my phone for photographs more and more, displacing my DSLR.

It was too cold and too late to ride my bike to work today, so I drove. Stopped, waiting for the light, at Plano and Beltline in the gritty cold and cloudy morning, I saw this scene right outside my driver’s window – the bus was making a left onto Plano. I fumbled in my pocket for my phone, got the password in on the second try, clicked the “I’m Not Driving” button (safety first) and snapped this out my window right as the light changed.

A Guy, His Girlfriend, and His Uncle

I’ve stolen something. There is a bar that I visited this year, one that had an old fashioned photo booth back in the back, next to the filthy bathrooms. On the wall by the booth was a torn up cork board. A lot of people thumbtacked their strips of four photos into the cork, leaving them for posterity. I picked up a handful that looked interesting and stole them.

I’ve scanned the strips and I think I’ll take them, one at time, four photos at a time, and write a few words about the people in the photographs. Or, more accurately, what I imagine about the two people.

I wrote a story about the first strip here – now I’m fiddling with the second.

 

A Guy, His Girlfriend, and His Uncle

Kipling Butter was in town to meet his long-lost uncle, Sandhurst Myers, and wanted to bring his girlfriend, Sealey Wood for support..
His parents had never even mentioned his uncle. Sandhurst had left The Church at the same time Kipling was born.

Kipling was brought up in The Church and had never doubted its tenets… until he met Sealey.

They met when Kipling’s van broke down in an unfamiliar part of town and Sealey gave him a ride. The Church didn’t approve of cellphones – at least not carried by their members out of control of The Church elders and without Sealey’s help, Kipling was in a jam. He had never met any women socially from outside of The Church and was smitten immediately. He even tried to convince Sealey to join The Church, but she recognized it as the crazy cult that it was and refused. She was a woman of many resources, however, and did her research.

Sealey found Kipling’s uncle Sandhurst, who in the decades since leaving the church had established an organization to help members of The Church to escape the cult’s clutches. He was elated to be able to contact his nephew outside of the control of Kipling’s parents and The Church.

The meeting was in a bar in the heart of the city. Kipling was nervous, he had never been in a bar in his life. Since The Church strictly forbade alcohol or contact with anyone associated with alcohol, Sealey and Sandhurst knew it would be a safe meeting place.

All the stress involved melted away when the three finally sat down and talked. Kipling realized his uncle was a kindred spirit and wondered why he had not done this before. Plans were made to utilize Sandhurst’s organization to spirit Kipling out of The Church‘s clutches and help his set up a new life in another city with Sealey.

The three were happy and giddy and celebrated with four sessions inside the bar’s photo booth. They each took one as a remembrance and left one tacked to the wall as a way to mark the place where all three lives changed forever.

Lower Pantograph

“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.”
― Nikola Tesla

Signs at one end (downtown) of the Dallas Streetcar

 

I am always looking for “found poetry” – especially on posted signs – these are messages that make sense to the person putting them up – and maybe to the intended viewer – but are utter, strange nonsense (poetry) to the average passer by.

Waiting for the streetcar, I saw the sign “Lower Pantograph Before Departing Stop.Poetry.

It isn’t hard to figure that one out, though. To me, a pantograph is a simple mechanical device consisting of linked rods used to enlarge drawings by hand.

Pantograph Animation

But it has an alternate meaning (at least one). It’s the device on the top of a streetcar used to connect to the overhead wires.

Transport Pantograph

But what does “lower pantograph” mean?

Well, the Dallas Streetcar has one unique property. One mile of its journey is across the Houston Viaduct, which has a historical designation. That means they could not install poles and overhead wires along that stretch of track. The streetcar uses internal batteries for that stretch, charging them with overhead wires the rest of the journey. Therefore, the “Lower Pantograph Before Leaving Stop” and “End Of Wire” warning signs to remind the operator that the vehicle was about have to go on battery power.

I still think it’s poetry.

View from the high point of the Jefferson Viaduct Cycletrack, Trinity River, Dallas, Texas.
The closest bridge is the Houston Viaduct, where the Dallas Streetcar runs. I took this photo in 2012, the whole area looks different now – I’ll have to ride my bike down there the next sunny day and take an updated shot.

As Crazy As Your Conscience Allows

Writer’s block results from too much head. Cut off your head. Pegasus, poetry, was born of Medusa when her head was cut off. You have to be reckless when writing. Be as crazy as your conscience allows.
—-Joseph Campbell

Metal bas-relief in a stairwell at Union Station, Dallas, Texas

There is amazing art all around you, where you least expect it. All you have to do is look.

It was cold and raining tonight as I left the DART train line at Union Station to walk over to the Bishop Arts Streetcar… but I stopped and took a photo of an amazing bas-relief… it looked like aluminum over a concrete wall over a stairwell leading to the underground tunnel under the station platform. It’s an obvious reference to Pegasus – one symbol Dallas uses to refer to itself. I don’t know the history or the artist – will have to do some research.