Archive for September, 2010


September 24, 2010


     Sorry to break the news, but your erotic fantasies are but a collective by-product of more important machinations – those of the evolution of consciousness itself.  True, reproduction is the sine qua non of evolution in the first place. 

     It’s just that handcuffs, whips, etc. are not a necessary part thereof.  No prizes for guessing what is.  Furthermore, the sex life of most of earth’s creatures consists almost solely of an instinctual stimulus response arrangement operating strictly within certain biochemical parameters.*

      How did the human analogue of pollination come to be writ so large?  Air conditioning some think, in a manner of speaking.  When our anthropoid bipedal ancestors left the trees for the savanna they left behind shade – protection from the sun’s searing rays. 

Since a primary order of business for a warm blooded creature is temperature regulation, most importantly that of the brain, incremental improvements in an ability to radiate excess heat would be a distinct advantage.  Particularly in the sub-Saharan environment. 

       Thus, an incipient outer bit of tissue might have proven to be advantageous as first a radiator, later a tool designer, and much later “art” film producer.

      Much much later.  Some theorize that it was as recently as within the last several thousand years, citing the chastity of prehistoric murals and sculpture produced before 1000 BC. Soon thereafter an explosion of erotic representations appeared.

      Now, at this point of remove, many of the sensory receptors and inputs which heretofore have led to the horizontal have become vestigial.  Imagination may have become a key component of the reproductive system.

      Think about it.  What would your sex life be without the ability to reminisce, ruminate, and look forward?

*Watch an ‘unfixed’ male dog help sort the laundry of a mixed gender household. 

*cf post 9 3 10 re Hancher.  The U of I selected Pelli Clarke Pelli.  I’m sure they’ll do a fine job (and are thrilled to have my seal of approval) and I can’t wait to attend performances there (construction to start 2012).  Pelli is also the firm signed for an arts building (as yet unfunded) on the campus of Western Illinois University in Macomb…

We’ll Always Have Paris…

September 17, 2010


     That’s Manet’s Olympia and it came to mind for several reasons.  First, while following an Economist online debate* over the legal status of prostitution, the tone and argument of some of the sex workers who weighed in made me realize that the range of their experience is extreme.  For some (like those I wrote about below 5/21/10) it’s a living hell while for others (like lady above) it’s a hell of a living.  Fulfilling even.

  Seventy-seven percent of respondents were in favor of legalization.  The moderator cited the following main reasons: “governments should not … legislate for morals; …part of human nature; …decriminalization would make it easier to apply laws against sexual violence; criminalization distracts from real problems – trafficking, abuse, disease etc; and people become prostitutes for a variety of reasons, including voluntarily.”

  Manet presented the painting to the Salon in 1865**.  There was some praise, but much scorn.  Why? Paternalism.  Nudity has been part of art since stick figures were first scratched in the dirt.  Issue with Ms Olympia was her exudation of confidence and self assurance.  Comfortable in her birthday suit, further familiarity would be by her choice and hers alone.

  I first saw a representation of this picture during a lecture in college.  Beautiful I certainly thought she was.  However, that experience couldn’t have prepared me for an in-person take during a 1972 term abroad.  The picture hung by itself on a wall at the end of a rectangular room in the Jeu de Paume on the grounds of the Louvre.  Pulse way quickened, I returned many times.

  A decade or so later, I was in the neighborhood with my father who I knew would enjoy an introduction.  That painting and the rest of the Louvre’s Impressionist stuff by then had moved to a remodeled train station now called the Musee d’Orsay.  Initially overcome by the scale and expanse of the new space I used a map to hurriedly escort Dad to Manet’s masterpiece. 

  We rounded the corner and – I’ll never forget it – she looked like a pole dancer on break. I found myself apologizing for the big build up.  What could have happened?  It was obviously not the painting that had changed and I’m here to tell ya neither had my, uh, joie de vivre.    

  It was a whack in the side of the head.  I began to realize just how critical are placement and context.  My inchoate understanding was greatly aided by Victoria Newhouse in her Art and the Power of Placement.  Casually looking through that book I was shocked to find a chapter that began with that exact experience: “Forced out of what was to a generation of viewers Olympia’s flattering ‘dress’, the painting was suddenly thrust into something hideously unbecoming”.

  Simply put, the soft and intimate conditions of the Jeu de Paume had made for a transcendent experience.  At the d’Orsay paintings are hung on the walls of brightly lit masonry rooms like decorations on those of a columbarium.  Oh well, we’ll always have Paris – err, The Jeu de Paume.****  

* There were more than 300 comments; some instructive and some very interesting.  The effective difference between decriminalization and legalization for example.

**The same year the Civil War ended and the Matterhorn was first climbed.

***If you don’t get the allusion, you should.


September 10, 2010


  Ever watch a garden spider spin her web (yes, only the girls make the big ones)?  It’s an amazing process requisite of a highly evolved bit of anatomy.  There are six different glands nearly filling a spider’s abdomen each producing different sorts of silk.  Ductwork connects the glands to spinnerets, which are in fact repurposed vestigial legs.

  When ready to set up her redoubt our little friend secures a perch some distance above the ground or any other more or less horizontal feature.  She then simultaneously secretes silk from several of her spinnerets divergently aimed.  Light wafts of air will thus cause the threads to loosely combine and form a sort of kite.  With luck, said waft will carry said kite downwind TO sticks to some solid surface.

  She will then grab the secured line with her hind legs and begin to roll it up while simultaneously attaching a new one behind her by which to let herself across – still aloft.  Once to the middle, she connects the two ends and lets herself down.  Critically, she then moves a few paces perpendicularly one way or another before affixing that end thus ensuring that the plane of the finished product will be inclined.

  Complex, but similar steps create the rest of the web’s framework.  Last but not least is the sticky part – the only sticky part.  Working from the outside toward the middle she winds a spiral of thread beaded with a glue like substance.  Guess the reason for the inclined orientation of the web plane?  Ms. Spider moves about her orb by grasping the nonstick  framework from its underside.  Neat huh?

  Even though she has eight eyes, she doesn’t use them to locate entrapped quarry.  Instead, she employs a remarkable sense of touch.  The impact of, say, a fly would of course be very apparent due to the reverberation.  To find and dispatch fly before it dispatches itself, spider plucks the threads like an angel of death with a guitar strumming a chord in a minor key. Specific vibration pattern pinpoints next meal.

  Now even if you’re an arachnophobe (and I’m related to at least one with a real problem*) that is pretty amazing.  No matter what your metaphysics, you have to agree with the preacher in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web: “…human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders”.        

  Remember Charlotte?  A great book.  Eudora Welty called it “just about perfect… about friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time.”**

  Here’s Charlotte telling spring pig friend Wilbur how to construct a web: “Take a deep breath.  Now climb to the highest place you can get to.  Then make an attachment with your spinnerets.  Throw yourself into space and let out a drag-line as you go down.”  A plenty good description for a naïve little pig.

  As I’m sure you’ll recall, Charlotte soon uses her skills to save Wilbur from getting turned “into smoked bacon and ham”.  Farmer Zuckerman and soon neighbors from near and far marvel over patterns in Charlotte’s web that first read” “SOME PIG”, then when people seem to get bored with that “TERRIFIC”, then “RADIANT, and finally “HUMBLE”. 

  At one point rat friend Templeton suggested “crunchy” to which Charlotte responded “Just the wrong idea” for obvious reasons.  Asked about all that effort in his behalf she responds: “You’re my friend, Wilbur.  That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

  Wilbur returns her vital favors by ensuring the safety of her egg sack and its 514 occupants.  As we leave the scene, Wilbur regales several progeny, Joy among them, with tales of their mother.  You should maybe reread the book.  Besides the simple vocabulary, it’s easy because as Ms Welty also wrote: it is “a book for children, which is nice for us older ones as it calls for big type.”

*One time oldest daughter awoke in a small room to see a web wove just above her – plane parallel to floor – and affixed to all four walls.   She not same since.

**NYT 10/15/52

***”Salutations” was the first word Charlotte was heard to utter as well as that of daughter Joy both in address to Wilbur.

Hancher Dreams

September 3, 2010


  Sometime this month, the University of Iowa will decide which of four finalists will design the new $125 million Hancher Auditorium  which will replace the one ruined by flood several years ago.  It will be the most important performing arts venue for quite a swath of this part of the world and thus will have an elevated prominence.

  And elevated in more ways than one.  Its new site will be near the old, but somewhere just a bit uphill toward the Levitt Center – above the levels of the record high water.  There had been thought of a move downtown, but access to I-80, parking issues, and the riparian sublimity kept it closer to the original. 

  The context of the site is indeed remarkable.  Nearby Art Campus buildings include the Levitt Center designed by Charles Gwathmey, The Advanced Technology Lab by Frank Gehry, and The Art Building West by Steven Holl.  There’s an expansive park north of the Levitt Center. The gold dome of the Old Capital can be seen toward the south.

  The finalists are: Pelli Clarke Pelli/New Haven, CN; Trahan Architects/Baton Rouge, LA; William Rawn Associates/Boston, MA; and SnØhetta.  For some reason all of the reports give SnØhetta’s home as NYC where they do have an office, but practice HQ is in Oslo*.  And for me they’re the one to chose.

  I knee jerk eliminate Pelli and Rawn because even though they’ve done neat stuff, they have other projects nearby.  Cesar Pelli designed the wonderful Faulconer Gallery on the Grinnell campus which by the way is walking distance from Sullivan’s bank.   

  I’ve visited and admired a dorm Rawn designed on the Bowdoin College Campus and he was called the “…go to architect for elite universities”** in a review of another project there.  A performing arts building in fact.  But like I said, he designed the under construction Federal Court House in Cedar Rapids.

  The  U of I hasn’t shied from risk and this is the perfect opportunity to take another which both Trahan and SnØhetta would represent.  I’m not much familiar with Trahan, but perusal of their site takes one’s breath away.  If they win, great – but my vote would be for the Scandanavians. 

  I’ve never been in a SnØhetta project*** but began following them with great interest after reading about the library they designed in Alexandria, Egypt.  The firm didn’t exist in 1989 when three Norwegians, an Austrian, and an American teamed up to submit a proposal for the project commemorating the most important library and place of learning in the ancient world.

  The site, very near the original one, is between the campus of Alexandria University and the sea from which the building appears to be just emerging anew.  The circular 160m diameter glazed roof is tilted toward the sea like an ancient sundial.  Inside, thirty-two meters below lies the main reading room.  Outside walls are gray Aswan granite inscribed with characters from 120 different languages.

  Egyptians have great pride in this twenty-first century take on the celebration of its antiquities. For it they won one of the prestigious Aga Khan awards for architecture during the 2004 cycle.  The award is given to projects that enhance the understanding and appreciation of Islamic culture.****

  Other significant and interesting projects in the Middle East ensued.  SnØhetta opened in New York after winning a competition for the 9/11 site which has morphed through controversy and iterations.  Recently SnØhetta was retained by  SFMoma to design its $250 million expansion. 

  Guess we’ll soon see about IC.  Whatever, should you be driving by on I-80 get off and look around.

* You’d have thought the Ø would have been a clue…

**Architect May 2002.  Can’t wait to visit the courthouse.  Renderings are beautiful.

***But daughter and husband did and came away impressed… And amused: It was obvious that Facebook was on 98% of the computer screens banked in the main reading room.

****Coincidentaly, Cesar Pelli won one during the same cycle for the Petrobras Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

*****Check out their site: