Archive for August, 2011

Joe, Joe, and Joe

August 26, 2011


  Artist Hiroshi Sugimoto did a series of black and white photographs of Richard Serra’s Joe, a sculpture which sits in an outside courtyard at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis.  Sugimoto’s work is interesting for a variety of reasons not least because of Serra’s own surprise: “This is not about me”.

  The several ton piece was Serra’s first torqued spiral and he was shocked that the Japanese photographer had not undertaken a documentary style project.  Instead, Sugimoto used the opportunity to create a work  of his own and with it a more effective conveyance of the sense of Serra’s ideals than a more literal interpretation ever could. 

   The images abstract and cerebrate the unexpectedly complex physical experience of the huge hot rolled steel spiral.  The two dimensional representations are thus elemental forms manifested and manipulated by Serra and returned to the Platonic realm by Sugimoto.

  Furthermore, fascinatingly, Sugimoto doesn’t see Joe as relating to its namesake, Joseph Pulitzer.  “I see it as related to my seascape series as a metaphor of human memory.”  He tells us that a seascape is likely the least changed vista since the rise of consciousness.  A gaze upon one thus shares an ethereal resonance with those of our earliest ancestors as well as all those between.

  An early product of this awareness was remembrance of the dead.  The first proto-human efforts beyond feeding, fighting, fleeing, or f______ (making babies) were the creation of graves, tombs, and then cenotaphs.  Sugimoto calls Joe a “metaphor and system of remembrance”.  Seems to me that the relationship between Joe and Photographs of Joe is a metaphor for the evolution of consciousness.

*Quotes from the exhibition brochure “Hiroshi Sugimoto – Photographs of Joe; edited by Matthias Waschek; published by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts; 2006.

**cf “Conquistadors of the Useless” 1/21/08

Partial Exsanguination

August 19, 2011


  Early AM last Friday pumping my bike up a steep hill central to our downtown I noticed a bright red light – “Plasma” – and a bunch of people coughing and smoking off to the left.  Oh my.  Nearly (to be honest, completely and wasted) out of breath, I didn’t realize till I crested that those folks were basically selling body parts to fund their bad habits. 

  Later in the day while donating some of my own good stuff I asked about that.  Turns out that plasma traded for cash won’t/can’t by law soon enter the system of another human.  Good to know.  It might though later, because it’s sold to pharmaceutical companies as an ingredient.  That business model is strangely analogous to the one beginning with a cocoa leaf grower and ending with a cartel kingpin.

  The process of giving blood is surprisingly nearly without pain.  Remember when you were a kid and some mustachioed nurse would prick your finger with a broken rusty razorblade?  And it felt like an electric shock?  Well, now, at the blood center you do not even notice when they draw a small sample from your finger to check iron levels.  No foolin’.

  And when it comes time for what my kids call a blood shot, the comparison continues to be valid.  Metallurgical advancements have made today’s needles thinner and sharper.  Probably helps that they’re not sterilized and reused.  Just watch the large screen TV and you’ll hardly flinch. 

  The most unpleasant part of the deal?  I’ve noticed that vigorous exercise undertaken the day after a donation usually feels, well, crappy.  I asked my MD brother about this.  “Hey man, is giving blood sort of the opposite of blood doping?  When one gives back to himself a unit of highly oxygenated blood?”

  “Ya, genius, that’s why they tell you not to do anything strenuous”.



Meager Tools of Consciousness

August 12, 2011


  Do you dream in black and white or color?  Interesting that in the 50’s most respondents to that question would say b&w.  Now most say color.  What’s up with that?  Humanoid brains have evolved and grown in size, but not that much that fast…

  A philosopher* holds that the real answer is neither.  Those choices just happen to have been the most convenient metaphors or analogies for a given place and time – conjured up by those exposed to black and white film in the case of the former and color TV of the latter. 

  “Dreams don’t have to be pictures of any kind at all.  They could be simply thoughts – and thoughts, even thoughts about color, are neither colored nor noncolored in themselves.”

  We struggle with the meager tools of conscious experience to interpret the relationship between our brains – by far the most complex things in the universe – and everything else.  And to make it even (to me) less comprehensible, everything is relative.

  Know how if a tree falls in an empty glade there can be no sound?  Well, even should said tree remain upright, if there is no eye to look upon it, there is no color either.   Sight and sound are by definition the result of the interaction of stimuli, organ, and cerebral processor.

  At least to start with.  Research has shown that, for example, some originally sighted folks gone blind retain the ability to think in color, remember shapes of letters and faces while some do not.  Makes me wonder from time to time what one’s gray matter could cook up on its own.  Like, could one completely and forever sensory deprived somehow engender a hallucination? 

  Obviously, such experimentation has not been done on humans.  Unfortunately though. it has been on animals – monkeys.  Makes ‘em stark raving mad.  Would the far greater complexity of our neural networks make a difference?  For me the question comes down to the nature of consciousness.  Is it an emergent property dependent for its existence upon that meat pudding up there or does it exist independent of material origin?  There are respected thinkers on both sides of that issue. 

  At any rate, the richness of our interior lives is directly related to that of our experience.  Consider how different must be those of the two beings in the paragraph below: one an accomplished mountaineer on a ledge high of the side of a difficult and dangerous mountain and the other a peasant far below:

  ..We melt snow on our campstove.  Constellations cast flickering stories of gods, heroes and animals against a coal-black sky.  The earth spins, and for a few sleepless hours we linger far above the horizon.  We hover between the bliss of the heavens and the chaotic life on earth.  Time feels suspended: it’s as if we can view our planet from another, ephemeral world.  Far below, in the tangled rhododendron forest, the villagers of Moxi and Xinxing enjoy a rare cloudless evening.  With my headlamp, I signal our story to one resident, and he acknowledges our presence with his own flashing light…”**

*Perplexities of Consciousness by Eric Schwitzgebel reviewed by Nicholas Humphrey in the NYT BR 7/31/11.

**”Out of Darkness” by Kyle Dempster in Alpinist 35/Summer 2011 His and partner Bruce Normand’s route on Mt Edgar pictured above

… the ongoing danger of collectively creating scapegoats

August 6, 2011


  Last week one lone deranged man killed seventy-three young people on an island near Oslo, Norway.  That terrible event was sort of an inverted reflection of another horror that took place in the far north of that country many years before.  During the course of the seventeen century,  the 3,000 citizens of county Finnmark convicted ninety-one men, women, and young girls of witchcraft and burned them at the stake.

  If you’re with me so far, you’ll find it quite the coincidence that a memorial for the earlier event opened just this past June.  It is the Steilneset Memorial To The Victims Of The Witch Trials and was a collaboration between Swiss architect  Peter Zumthor* and the late great nonagenarian Louise Bourgeois.  During the ceremony, presided over by Queen Sonja, general secretary of the Vardo Church City Mission Sturla Stalsett that “the memorial is meant to remind us of the ongoing danger of collectively creating scapegoats”.**

   Zumthor designed two structures for the barren rocky site.  Of the first, pictured above he said: “I didn’t want an aggressive massive monument.  Creating a light delicate structure was best for this rough space”.  It is 410 feet long, narrow, and has ninety-one randomly placed windows.  Behind each is suspended a single light bulb.  “The feeling is like being in the stomach of some prehistoric creature…except there is a glimmer of light”.

  At the south end a gangplank leads into the other glass and Cor-Ten cubiform volume housing Bourgeois’ work pictured below.  It is comprised of an aluminum chair with flames emanating from the seat and is encircled by seven oval mirrors.  “…like judges circling the condemned”.

  The location is remote, but not off of the beaten path.  The Varanger National Tourist Route program consists of eighteen major routes to facilitate interesting travel while punctuating the country’s magnificent geography with integrated points of interest.  It is overseen by the Norwegian Public Road Authorities and is scheduled to be complete in 2020.  Phew.  Guess don’t need to hurry

 *For more about Zumthor read post of 4/24/09 “Reading about Reincarnation is not the same thing as being reborn”

**Much of the information above was drawn from an article by Suzanne Stephens in the August 2011 edition of Architectural Record.