Points of Reference: Design history / Get excited

The tingling sensation of making connections in design history.

Martine Bedin (for Memphis), Super lamp prototype, 1981. Painted metal with lighting components. // Source: vam.ac.uk

Martine Bedin (for Memphis), Super lamp prototype, 1981. Painted metal with lighting components. // Source: vam.ac.uk

Martine Bedine’s classic Super Lamp from has been floating my boat lately. Maybe because making furniture has been part of my recent projects, or this object expresses so much exuberance, or I’ve been working in a design museum. Or maybe because it’s just super cute. Buy one, or just check out the production model’s wheels, which differ from the prototype pictured above, at the Memphis Milano store.

The Memphis design movement isn’t from Tennessee—it was a group of Italian designers working in the 1980s. Designer Ettorre Sottsass (1917-2007) founded the movement when he convened a meeting (during which a song about Memphis played, hence the name). Memphis’ most iconic creation might be Sottsass’ Carlton room divider. It’s sort of a slap in the faces of both classical and modern definitions of taste and design.

"Carlton" room divider, 1981 Ettore Sottsass (Italian, born Austria, 1917), Designer; Memphis s.r.l., Manufacturer Wood, plastic laminate; 76 3/4 x 74 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. (194.9 x 189.9 x 40 cm) // Source: metmuseum.org.

Ettorre Sottsass, Carlton room divider, 1981; Manufactured by Memphis s.r.l., Wood, plastic laminate; 76 3/4 x 74 3/4 x 15 3/4 in. // Source: metmuseum.org.

But I was even more impressed to learn that Sottsass also contributed another icon to design history: the red Valentine typewriter, which he co-designed for Olivetti:

Ettore Sottsass, Jr., Perry A. King, Olivetti Manufacturing Company, manufacturer,  Valentine Portable Typewriter and Case, 1969, Plastic, rubber and metal, 4 x 12 7/8 x 12 7/8 inches // Source: risdmuseum.org

Ettore Sottsass, Jr., Perry A. King, Olivetti Manufacturing Company, manufacturer,
Valentine Portable Typewriter and Case, 1969, Plastic, rubber and metal, 4 x 12 7/8 x 12 7/8 inches // Source: risdmuseum.org

If you ever have a chance to visit an exhibition of Olivetti posters, go! I saw a great introduction to Olivetti’s design influence years ago, and it still sticks with me.

Get Excited:

Here’s what else has me looking up lately:

Harvester Arts’ new website. It’s looking great. You can see photos of projects by local artists exhibited in September made in response to my residency project in April/May. Excited to see their 2016 artist in residence line-up!

Temporary Art Review’s recent posts reporting on and following Common Field‘s Hand in Glove conference—connecting “connecting contemporary, experimental, noncommercial arts organizations.” Sarrita Hunn’s essay, “Artists for Artists’ Sake” is especially recommended [great points. Disclosure: it’s illustrated by Hunn’s activity sheet for Make Things (Happen)].

(And, putting ideas into action, learn more about Portland ‘Pataphysical Society at Temporary Art Review’s profile!)

I just received “Mobile Autonomy—Exercises In Artists’ Self-organization” from the Netherlands; looking forward to digging in deeper and getting more clarity. (The first chapter is an interview with Thomas Hirschhorn, the second is something like his manifesto. My understanding of his projects are slightly improved, though I found his responses evasive and his writing roundabout.)

N. Dockx, P. Gielen, Mobile Autonomy - Exercises In Artists' Self-organization (Valiz), 2015

N. Dockx, P. Gielen, Mobile Autonomy – Exercises In Artists’ Self-organization (Valiz), 2015

Equity Gallery is open. It’s the exhibition space of the NY Artist’s Equity Association, an organization founded in 1947 by artists, for artists. Founding members include Ben Shahn, and Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, whose endowment makes the new gallery possible. In thinking about artist’s empowerment, it’s amazing to see the legacy of past progressive movements, which can feel so distant, continue on today.


Nuances Beyond Joy versus Sadness

Thoughtful ideas explicating good mental health, posted by a legit research center at UC Berkeley.

The Greater Good Science Center’s “Four Lessons from Inside Out to Discuss With Kids” by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski (July 14, 2015) is pitched as a story for guiding conversations with kids, but the research findings in it can be insightful to all ages. Its messages are spot-on for countering assumptions about happiness and positive psychology:

Happiness is not just about joy.

It’s easy to conflate the two. As I’ve explored positive psychology in my artwork over the past six years, I’ve also noticed that people can react cynically to positivity, and celebrate negative emotions like melancholy in opposition to our current zeitgeist of happiness studies. But actually, positive psychologists emphasize that

people who experience “emodiversity,” or a rich array of both positive and negative emotions, have better mental health.

At the same time, be intentional. While you shouldn’t become doctrinaire about happiness as a goal, psychologists also suggest

“prioritizing positivity”—deliberately carving out ample time in life for experiences that we personally enjoy.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my work—to make space to be exuberant, think about purpose, find flow, exercise creativity, and nurture relationships.

I don’t need to make space for myself to be negative—I’m plenty good at that already. Like most people, I get anxious and stressed out. I ruminate. I replay regrets and hold pointless internal monologues about perceived slights. I get angry and sad. These are easy habits of mind for me. Via my work, I’m trying to create a counterbalance.

Lately, I’ve also become interested in non-attachment. Tackling things head-on is one strategy; letting things go by on their own momentum is another.

Mindfully embrace—rather than suppress—tough emotions…. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction, a mindful person kindly observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to be feeling in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response.

The Eve Of..., Uncategorized

The Eve Of… Mid-August Residency Update

Self-initiating a residency is a risky proposition.

It’s taken me longer than I planned, but today I finally started moving into a larger studio for The Eve Of…. I brought over tools and a haul of lumber, and built five frames for light boxes. It was gratifying to anoint a long-awaited space with fresh sawdust.

Stack of frames and chop saw

I’m relieved to end my search. As I previously alluded, this project’s process entails a lot of uncertainty, and the biggest challenge has been finding a space. There just hasn’t been many art studio vacancies (thanks to Queens’ rising popularity). Further, few vacancies met the needs of this project—sublets were versatile enough, and larger spaces required longer terms.

Luckily, Paul Kelterborn and the Falchi Building want to support local arts, and have provided a temporary pop-up space at below-market rate for this project. I am so thankful to them for helping to make The Eve Of… possible.

If you associate my work with positive emotions exclusively, you might be surprised to learn that The Eve Of… delves into emotional states that aren’t upbeat. This change in direction is new, scary, and interesting for me.

I am intrigued to see that psychologist Todd Kashdan’s forthcoming book, The Upside of Your Dark Side, explores the utility of negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness:

“With an appreciation of our entire psychological toolkit, we become whole—which allows us to climb the highest peaks and handle the deepest valleys.”

In The Eve Of…, I’m exploring how we experience these ‘deep valleys’ as internal, nebulous, and de-centered spaces.


See: Bay Area Now 7, opens Friday

Very excited for dear friends presenting new works.

July 18–October 5, 2014
Bay Area Now 7
ybca, San Francisco

There’s a lot of reasons to be excited for BAN7, but I’d like to personally cheer these folks:

Susan O’Malley and Leah Rosenberg (by invitation of Montalvo Arts Center). Find your center and then get a little de-centered at their event-specific cocktails on July 24, from 6-8pm.

Susan O'Malley and Leah Rosenberg, Find Your Center, Montalvo Arts Center at ybca.

Susan O’Malley and Leah Rosenberg, installation of Find Your Center, Montalvo Arts Center at ybca. Source: Susan and Leah.

This, unbelievably, is happening at ybca:

Bay Area Art Workers’ Alliance

Bay Area Art Workers Alliance presents an exhibition of works by preparators addressing the invisible labor, aesthetic vocabulary, and materials that art workers use when they install and care for the precious objects that give value to institutions like YBCA. …

Each of these 50 new art works are constructed using on-the-job materials informed by vantages of the preparator — behind the painting, during the paperwork, inside the crate, from truck to office to gallery — that happen between, in proximity to, and in spite of the finished exhibition.

In the collaborative spirit of the profession, BAAWA will present works generated by preparators with a strategic focus on the collective work of a community rather than one single author.

BAAWA’s site: http://www.bayareaartworkersalliance.org

I really wished that I could have attended the Tate Modern’s No Soul For Sale fair of alternative and artist-run spaces, so when I heard that BAN7’s distributed curatorial model was inspired by NSFS, I was intrigued. The featured organizations cut a broad cross-section of the Bay Area art scene. In fact, I’m not familiar with some of them—either they’d begun around or after I left SF for NYC, or they were in entirely different networks. For a scene as small and tightly-knit as the Bay Area, this chance for BAN to present new spaces, artists and ideas is really exciting. It’s easy to knock bi- and triennials, but when the curatorial authorship reflects smaller art organizations, I hope audiences attend with a more open mindset.


Put Pen to Paper

Sketchbook/notebook notes on a book by Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg

Sketchbook/notebook notes on a book by Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg

Writing notes longhand helps people better understand and retain information! I’ve been doing this for many years for this reason. It’s slow but efficient, plus (I hope) it minimizes the decline of my handwriting.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” NY Times, June 2, 2014


Typing doesn’t have the same effects, while cursive and printing might have different implications. Artists and performers interested in embodied cognition take note.


November 5th!

It’s a happy, hopeful day in America for all those people whose parents told them that in America, it’s possible for any citizen to become the President… For those…

…People of color, children of immigrants, members of nontraditional families.

…Those 125,000 black, brown, white, yellow, old and young faces in Chicago last night watching President Elect Obama’s victory speech, and for the rest of the country that looks like that, who feel in our hearts, too, that we are REAL Americans just as much as anybody else!

…Who are proud of America for doing the right thing in a time of crisis; that our fellow citizens are not apathetic, and do make up their own minds, and can change for the better!

…Whose cynicism is cracking like a frozen lake in springtime; that for all the corruption and unethical tactics we’ve witnessed in the past eight years, they can’t take this win away! And in the next four years, we will start undoing the damage and disenchantment of the last eight.

…Who are proud of our President Elect: a self-made man, a community organizer, an intellectual, and even after a long, hard-fought campaign, a person big enough to still reach out to all Americans, especially those who didn’t vote for him.

…Who are just as thrilled by First Lady Michelle Obama.

…Americans whose hopes are further buoyed by the news that the world celebrates with us today (see “For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed” on NYTimes for relief and enthusiasm from around the globe)…


However, in California, a majority of voters have voted Yes on Prop. 8, and it’s a sad day for people who want to end discrimination, for all our friends whose marriages have been banned by vote of the People. Why anyone would go out of their way to stop others from enjoying a right that they already have? It’s contrary to the core American value: equality under the law.

(BTW, has anyone wondered why the Church of Latter Day Saints — a huge pro-8 donor — should be telling Californians what a “normal” marriage is, when there’s 60,000 polygamists in their own state? Come on! I’m all for religious freedom, but it doesn’t give some the moral imperative to dictate to others who can marry whom in the eyes of the law. Some straights really honor marriages, some don’t: some cheat, serial marry, drunk marry, joke marry. Straights aren’t inherently better at marriage. Get over it!)


We have come so far, and still have so far to go…


art review: new work, hahn and netzhammer at sfmoma

Just caught two shows of contemporary art and installations, breaking up the familiar galleries at SFMOMA. I was pleasantly surprised by both of these shows.

New Work: Zilvinas Kempinas, Alyson Shotz, Mary Temple
through Nov. 4 (Second floor)

I’ve already mentioned the awesome work of Zilvinas Kempinas here. At this show featuring work dealing with light and perception, Kempinas presents a site-specific installation of VHS tape attached to the floor and the wall, forming a huge, shimmering slope of black stripes. I may have to retract my statement that I’m not one of these people who likes a work wherein the more you look at it, the more there is to see. But Kempinas’ tape installation provides a wealth of optical illusions—vibrations, moirés, interfering shadows, grids of tape and shadow—which were pleasing to discover. Though one could argue that this installation falls into the category of media art using media relics, it has a stronger relationship to op-art, and consequently seems more open-ended than some media art objects.

Mary Temple contributes a subtle, effective trompe l’oeil installation miming cast window light, complete with silhouettes. She used latex paint on the walls, and stain on hardwood floors. However, the telltale additional layer of hardwood flooring over the museum’s floors gave away some of the almost-invisible process. It is what it is.

Alyson Shotz’s installation of clear beads on giant abstract wire forms was tightly constructed. It was a cool, massive installation that can only exist in behemoth galleries and museums. Still, it was not as dramatic as I had expected it might be. I don’t think all art has to be beautiful, but any abstract form playing with light seems to me to be clearly about beauty and perception, and this one fell a little short for me. I can’t figure out if it was the lighting, or if my expectations to be dazzled (or beadazzled? harhar.) were too high. Maybe I’ve been blinded by one too many beaded installations by Liza Lou?

Room for Thought: Alexander Hahn and Yves Netzhammer
Through Oct. 5 (Fourth floor)

A strange and wonderful installation of multiple video projections, sculptural objects and wall painting. In the center of the darkened space, a table sits on the ground with its legs hooved in oversized glasses; the rectangular center of the tabletop is pulled out by two ropes, forming a swing-like appendage to another twin table that hoovers, hardware hidden, in the air. Oversized ventilation pipes house a series of projectors, whose videos feature Virtual Reality-style animations of mannequin-like figures in unsettling abstract environs. I understood immediately that the doll-like bodies facilitated the telling of a deeply psychological and disturbing story. But the multiple elements were highly choreographed, and I wasn’t able to experience it all in my short visit, though I’ve got lingering spookiness to mull over.