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.

Trapped In the Amber Of the Moment

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Sometimes it seems that time is going by slowly, sometimes it seems like it is moving too fast. Oddly, often, the people around you seem to feel the same way. I’ve always wondered if this is really true – maybe times speeds up and slows down, that it isn’t always just in your head.

Twenty Years Ago

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

Downtown Dallas, from the 2017 Dallas Tweed Ride

Oblique Strategy:(Organic) machinery

I was cleaning up the directory structure on my laptop and happened upon some more of my old journal that I put online (these were the days before blogs) starting in 1996. I wrote every day for ten years or so. I navigated to December 17, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. This is what I wrote then.

—————————

The morning cup of coffee has an exhiliration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.
—-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

I managed to get almost all of my most pressing stuff caught up so I took a half day of vacation this afternoon.

I braved the stores and bought an espresso maker to give to Candy for Christmas. I hope it’s alright. There’s eighteen gazillion different kinds of these things: steam pressurized, pump pressurized, Braun, non-Braun, cheap, expensive, built-in grinders, plastic, metal, with and without Stainless Steel Frothing Pitchers, even a tiny backpacking model. I finally decided on one with an Automatic Froth Generator – whatever the hell that means. It is my hope that this will make the construction and blending of a proper Cafe Latte easier. I believe this is the concoction she purchases at Starbucks.

I only hope the damn thing doesn’t explode.

Candy went to pick up the kids and I hid her present ’til I can get enough courage to wrap it (wrapping paper and I don’t mix neatly). We were going to surprise the children with the fact that I was home from work early. Candy called, though, and said that since the day was so nice the kids wanted to go to the park. I decided to finally dust off the old mountain bike and ride down to surprise them there.

Man, am I out of shape. It felt good to ride again after so long, but my legs were rubber and my chest was heaving.

It appears that I will join the rude crowd, the mass of lemmings, and get on the New Year’s resolution train; joining a new health club and trying to whip my lazy aging carcass into some sort of presentable shape by spring. Wish me luck.

—————————

So things have changed and they have stayed the same. You forget how strange and new the idea of espresso coffee was only twenty years ago. Candy bought herself a Keurig this year. I am still struggling to ride my bike – though I do better now.

And I still can’t giftwrap worth a crap.

They Ring And You Run

“So that’s the telephone? They ring, and you run.”
― Edgar Degas

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas



Oblique Strategy:
Always first steps

I think of the technological advances during the time I have lived.

In college, I had to punch cards to produce input into a computer that took up an entire floor of the business school. I would hand my precious stack – chits of holed paper with one corner gone – through a window to some anointed guardian like it was the gate to the Emerald City. I would then stare at an empty vending machine for hours until my stack of printouts flopped down into a numbered wooden bin.

Almost a decade later I was writing database programs to run on a Radio Shack TRS-80. I would write the program on an 8 inch floppy disk, and the data for each site was on another 8 incher. I think each held 180 K bytes. We kept having problems with data until I discovered my assistant was holding the extra disks onto a copy board with magnets. Reports were slowly spit out on an incredibly loud daisy-wheel printer. Still, as crude as this all was it revolutionized the storage and retrieval of information that we had been doing by hand.

The IBM PC was another incredible advance. Of course, I remember when it was kept in a wire cage and you had to get a key from a manager to use it. They thought it was a waste of money – and couldn’t understand why it didn’t get more use. I finally convinced management to get it out of the locked cage and let anybody sit there and type. Soon, a mouse wandered over and the early versions of Windows came out. It was painfully slow – but I remember when I realized I could cut information from one program (a spreadsheet, say) and paste it into another (a word processor). I remember that moment still – it was like a whole new world opened up.

Another moment like that was the first time I saw a laser printer spit out a piece of 8.5 x 11. I think it was the silence that impressed me, even more than the quality of the work.

And on it goes – for most of my adult life, every year brought new wonders – having my own computer at home, laptops, video games, thumb drives, GPS. All amazing. It’s only recently, as the corporate behemoth ropes everything back in, gets its evil tendrils into and around every byte that I feel we have begun to fall backwards. Things are now getting harder and harder, less and less amazing.

When I talk to my kids about this, the quintessence of millennials, they agree without hesitation that it is the Smartphone that is the game changer. For me, it’s probably the internet… but for them it’s the little piece of glass in their hand – that goes everywhere, that does everything. They can’t imagine life without one.

Each little phone is, of course, many, many times more powerful that that immense leviathan that spread across that entire building when I was in school.

Walking Along Governor Nichols Street

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Four, Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ancient tree growing through the sidewalk, Governor NIchols Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

Walking in the morning is too hard. My feet ache from all the walking the day before, my leg muscles are stiff and weak from sleeping all night. The morning humidity is difficult to breathe as if the moisture is displacing all the oxygen.

Time oppresses this morning. I can feel the burden of centuries in the teetering live oaks growing out of the sidewalks – their ancient roots beginning to slip and rise, pushing the bricks and slabs of concrete up and aside like they are packing peanuts.

I have seen these trees lying on their sides after a violent storm. Enormous root ball exposed to the air – an obscene display of the oak’s private parts.

How many storms, named and ancient anonymous, have these giant trees endured.

Some of them… I don’t think they will make it through the next one.

I have been through too many storms – some quiet, some loud, and they have left be bent. How many more do I have left?

Not too many, maybe not enough.

Music In the Used Book Store

When I first moved to Dallas, 36 or so years ago, I lived in the venerable (and still there) Turtle Dove Apartments, off lower Greenville Avenue, behind the Granada Theater.

One of the things I liked to do was to walk up to Greenville and Mockingbird and then down a few blocks to a crackerjack used book store, Half-Price Books. I have a bad book addiction and the maze-like selection of rooms chock-full of tomes of all types was an irresistible draw.

Is there anything more evocative than the paper-and-mold smell of a used book store?

Over the decades I moved and so did the store. It kept outgrowing its present digs and, like a gigantic paper hermit crab, shed its shell and found larger quarters. It moved north to Northwest Highway, settling in to an old Captain’s Cargo store – leaving it with two incongruous sailing vessel type stairways (that location is torn down and an REI landed on the spot).

My addiction was as strong as ever and one day I went to the place only to find giant “Closed” signs plastered all over. Sadly, I turned to my car only to spot giant streamers and “Half-Price Books New Location” signs across the street in a giant new building.

It’s the biggest used book store I’ve ever seen, in an open-plan of comfortable rows rather than the usual maze-like configuration. I’ve been to this big main store hundreds of times over the years, though I’m slowing down now as I try to get my inner hoarder under control and deal with the realization I have more books than I can read in the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, in another story, in 2012 Candy and I stumbled across a group of singers, a jam, at the Bar Belmont in West Dallas. I became their fan.

Charli's Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

Charli’s Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

belmont3

Playing the Dobro

Playing the Dobro

Over the years, Charli’s Jam has been forced to move around too. As their fan, I followed to various bars and other spots – and enjoyed most every place.

And now, they have settled in to the Big Main Half-Price. The same bookstore I’ve been hanging out in all these years. They perform on Sundays at three PM – I stopped by for a listen and to check out the new digs.

Other than the unavailability of alcohol… it seems like a sweet spot.

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore

Charli's Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Charli’s Acoustic Jam at the Half-Price Flagship Bookstore. I think this is the same guy playing the Dobro that I saw in 2012.

Music cases and used books... and a bass.

Music cases and used books… and a bass.