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.

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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.

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.

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

 

“Thus, when I say about myself that I am a genius, it is not self-praise, but a statement to describe a type of mind that: whatever it does in any field, it does well. A mind that peruses in many fields will comprehend better, and many things more, than one that is absorbed in only one. It becomes a universal mind.”

—–Stanislav Szukalski

Struggle, a sculpture by Stanislav Szukalski

 

We cut the cord today. Bye Bye to cable television. Good riddance. I have watched the Boob Tube… the Idiot Box too much all my life.

I still watched too much – there is still Netflix… and Amazon Prime Video…. and Sling… and a multitude of crazy channels available through the Roku … and even the antenna. I finished off an episode of Doctor Who (I have a strange yet slight crush on the New Doctor, as long as I don’t watch too much) and an episode of The Alienist.

Then, checking the documentary section of Netflix, I chose a Netflix Original Documentary, Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski.

Holy Moly… what a rabbit hole.

Stanislav Szukalski was a sculptural prodigy born in Poland in the late eighteen hundreds who showed great promise even though he was partially blind from staring at the sun. At 12 he moved with his family to Chicago.

This began a bifurcated life – of an eccentric artist in the United States and a fervent nationalist in Poland. He developed an unfortunate streak of racism and anti-antisemitism in Poland in the 1930’s. He became well known and successful until everything was destroyed in the German bombing of Warsaw in 1939. Other than a few small sculptures in American hands – his entire body of work, thousands of sculptures, drawings, and other artworks – was destroyed. He and his wife escaped at the last minute with only two suitcases and moved to Los Angeles.

Penniless, he survived on doing odd jobs for the film industry, and became friends with famous screenwriter Ben Hecht and the family of George DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio‘s father. In 1971 Glenn Bray, a publisher and collector of oddball art, became fascinated with the story and work of Szukalski and was stunned to find out he was not only still alive but living 5 miles away from him. They became fast friends, Bray introduced him to a circle of artists, mostly underground comics illustrators, and began to film extensive, lengthy interviews with him.

And now, all this has led to Leonardo DiCaprio producing this Netflix Documentary using a lot of Bray’s interview footage. It’s a wild and woolly tale, with references all the way from the Nazis to Zap Comics to The Church of the Subgenius to DiCaprio to Easter Island.

Yeah, Szukalski thought that all  human civilization originated in Easter Island and that all evil was the result of interbreeding with the Yeti. Really.

Not a big fan of his ideas here – but I love his art. There isn’t much out there – one bronze has been recently cast, but so much of his work was destroyed in the destruction of Warsaw. He whole life, ideas, and artistic output was warped beyond recognition by the terrors of the twentieth century.

Shame really – there is real talent there… eccentric talent, to be sure… but enough artistic genius to go around. I would like to see his work. Maybe a trip to Chicago – there is some stuff at the Polish Museum of America there.

What the Hell Is That?

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”
― Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

 

Trailer in front of us on US 75 – North Central Expressway

As we were transporting one son to the other’s apartment we were forced by cruel geography to drive down US 75 – Central Expressway. I have lived in Dallas a long time and have many memories of traffic jams on this long strip of concrete. Today was no different.

 

We saw a column of white smoke drifting up miles ahead and I knew it was going to be bad. So we settled in for the wait – about an hour, which is really not as bad as it could be. We chatted, listened to music, and stared at the back of the cargo trailer in front of us. I know it’s not a big deal, but I was forced to look at it for over an hour.

 

What the hell is that?

Cropped version of the back of the trailer.
What the hell?

It’s obviously the remmnants of a sign or a painted ad of some sort – heavily weathered or purposely mostly removed. You can see the white circles where the rivets are. There are two URLs on the design, I looked them up. One is a manufacturer of trailers, another is a local dealer that sells used trailers. No clue there. But the URLs overlay the design. Does that mean that it is supposed to look like that? Did they sell it that way?

As I stared at it – I wondered… What is that in the upper right? A dancer? Is that a skull in the upper left quarter? A lot of random shit ends up looking like a skull. One the bottom, those look like artistic shapes of some sort – but what?

I stuck my phone out of the window and snapped a photo right as we passed the charred carcass of a big burned out SUV (hope nobody was hurt) and the traffic began to speed up.

What the hell is that?