More art, more women

Monday in NY, a little rainy but not terribly cold. I am going to see the Agnes Martin exhibit today at the Guggenheim, a museum I have enjoyed since I was a teenager first coming to the city on my own.

I am thinking about all the foremothers, today, the poets, authors, artists who blazed a trail with their creativity, despite the contempt they often encountered. Like Amy Lowell, who was often derided, but wrote, wrote, wrote.

lowellLacquer Prints (by Messenger)

One night
When there was a clear moon,
I sat down
To write a poem
About maple trees.
But the dazzle of moonlight
In the ink
Blinded me,
Continue reading

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After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

picksimg_splashThis is a line from Mirele Laderman Ukeles’ Manifesto, written in 1969. Part of the avant-guard art scene in New York in the sixties, after having her first child she noticed there was no time for art–only maintenance: diapers, cooking, cleaning, dressing, undressing. The basic idea of the manifesto is that maintenance is art. You can see the full Manifesto here. It includes these intriguing paragraphs.

“C.        Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.)

The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom.

The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.

clean your desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.

D.          Art:

Everything I say is Art is Art.  Everything I do is Art is Art. “We have no Art, we try to do everything well.” (Balinese saying)…

E.         The exhibition of Maintenance Art, “CARE,” would zero in on pure maintenance, exhibit it as contemporary art, and yield, by utter opposition, clarity of issues.”

I was so intrigued by these ideas (having spent most of my adult life in Maintenance) that I came to New York to see her 50-year retrospective at the Queens Museum.

sanit18n-2-webThe photo above is of Ukeles standing inside an arch she created from used, signed workers gloves, walkie-talkies, subway straps, valves, lights, gauges, etc.  It’s one of the more visceral pieces at the Queens Museum show. Because most of her work is performance pieces–washing a stage or floor or wall and engaging others to participate, a ballet of sanitation trucks or snow blowers or other heavy equipment, a piece where she invited workers to see one of their eight hours of work as maintenance art and photographed them–much of the work is shown as video or photo with documentation.

In 1977, Ukeles became the artist in residence for the New York Department of Sanitation. Although her residency was unpaid, the title gave her a platform to conceive and find funding for a wide variety of projects. In her project  Touch Sanitation she went to all five boroughs to shake the hands, thank, and talk with every one of NYC’s 8500 sanitation workers.

22SANTIARTIST4-master675

touchsanOther projects, such as a visual bridge of recycled materials overlooking the dumping of garbage onto barges at the 59th street pier, were never funded.

Recently, she has been engaged in the transformation of garbage “our garbage, not their garbage.” She has created hallways of recycled garbage, videos of the garbage process and proposed radical redesigns for expired garbage dumps, most notably Fresh Kills, on Staten Island.

Her ideas about the invisibility of maintenance workers, maintenance art as revolutionary, and garbage as an essential concern of art seem visionary to me. I’m only sorry that I won’t get to meet her in February, when she will lead a tour of the Fresh Kills project.

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Resuming…

I have been too dispirited for my normal blog posts, but life goes on, inexorably.  Here is a poem about this particular time:

limeMediation in an Election Year, 2016

When the house she and her husband
built by hand went up in flames
just after they finished
the intricate panes of the central rose window,
Margaret Sanger, sixth of eleven
children, gave up on things material
and devoted herself to what we call
(because of her) birth control. Antique
methods: the pessary,
a little boric acid, the douche,
imported from Europe. She was jailed
just for saying the words, the idea
“un-American.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWhat is it to be
“American”? Is it sitting among lime trees
at the garden table of a house borrowed
from a wealthy friend
who summers at Martha’s Vineyard? Continue reading

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Post election

Casa-del-MarWe’ve been in Baja all week; it was supposed to be a rest and celebration. Of course, it hasn’t been that. While it’s been weird to be in a tropical non-USA paradise, the indifferent, perfect ocean has been some consolation.

And Larry, ever that man for black humor in a bleak hour, this morning came up with: “I hope I haven’t gotten too tan to get back into the United States.”

That will have to do for now. Though I did sign a petition to revoke the electoral college.

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Dismantling the labyrinth

IMG_3009No, it’s not because of political chaos, it’s just that the labyrinth has become too labor intensive. I decided to have a little pond and rock garden instead. The first step is digging up plants I want to save–easy to do after the rain–and pot them for the short term, to replant after the stonework and pond are done.

It’s looking a bit trashed at the moment, but I made a discovery in the process–not a giant asparagus, but a flowering of aloe: Continue reading

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Pinsky

PinskyI took Robert Pinsky’s new book of poems with me on a trip this weekend, but when I came back, I opened his Selected Poems to this, which has the flavor of the cantor in the Jewish service, the singing, incantatory lines that I love:

Biography

Stone wheel that sharpens the blade that mows the grain.
Wheel of the sunflower turning, wheel that turns
The spiral press that squeezes the oil expressed
From grain or olives. Particles turned to mud
On the potter’s wheel that whirls to form the vessel
That holds the oil that drips to cool the blade. Continue reading

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First rain

rainIn Japan, they have festivals for the cherry blossoms each spring. Here in California, it doesn’t rain for months and then, suddenly, does. So I think we need a First Rain Festival. We could have hot food and umbrella dances, boot splash puddles, green drinks, sing rain songs and recite poems about rain. And even though this poem is about 100 years old and about summer rain, it seems relevant:

Summer Rain

All night our room was outer-walled with rain.
Drops fell and flattened on the tin roof,
And rang like little disks of metal.
Ping!—Ping!—and there was not a pin-point of silence between
them.
The rain rattled and clashed,
And the slats of the shutters danced and glittered.
But to me the darkness was red-gold and crocus-colored
With your brightness,
And the words you whispered to me
Sprang up and flamed—orange torches against the rain.
Torches against the wall of cool, silver rain!

 Amy Lowell

 

 

 

 

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Clive James, master of the exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramIt’s always a thrill when someone I’ve just discovered, and therefore think must be obscure, turns out to be well known. This happened recently with Clive James, a poet, critic, and essayist whose latest book on DVD collections was recently reviewed in the NY Times.

I’ve been enjoying his Poetry Notebook 2006-2014. It’s full of lines like this in any essay about the strange idea that art should be somehow completely spontaneous, without any rigorous training in the craft of it:

“Even though nobody can expect to master, without years of practice, a performing art such as playing the piano, there will still be the wish that music itself might be composed by an ignoramous.”

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Wendell Berry

Given the incessant clamor of news, this poem seems appropriate.

The Peace Of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

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The Yacon

yaconflowerMy neighbor gave me a few Yacon rhizomes a couple of years ago, and now I have a Yacon forest. This Peruvian vegetable looks a lot like a sunflower, with long stalks and heavy green leaves, but the flowers are smaller. Underground, it grows huge tubers.

Continue reading

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