Adventures in Extreme Making: The White Rose

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 8.12.16 AM

For reasons I can’t fully articulate, I often think about an obscure film by the artist Bruce Conner called “The White Rose.” Conner’s film documents the moving of a huge and mysterious painting by the artist Jay DeFeo. The painting is so large that the moving company had to cut a hole in the wall of DeFeo’s second second floor apartment to get it out.

Perhaps the appeal of this film is the problem solving or the obsessiveness of DeFeo. Or maybe it’s the shots of the much more gritty San Francisco streets I remember from childhood visits to see my grandfather.

The painting now lives at the Whitney in New York. Here’ how the Whitney tells the story of the painting:

Jay DeFeo began this monumental work simply as an “idea that had a center to it.” Initially, the painting measured approximately 9 x 7 feet and was called Deathrose, but in 1959, the artist transferred the work onto a larger canvas with the help of friends. She continued to work on The Rose for the next seven years, applying thick paint, then chiseling it away, inserting wooden dowels to help support the heavier areas of impasto. Now nearly eleven feet tall and weighing almost a ton, the work’s dense, multi-layered surface became, in DeFeo’s words, “a marriage between painting and sculpture.”

First exhibited in 1969, The Rose was taken to the San Francisco Art Institute, where it was covered with plaster for support and protection, and finally stored behind the wall of a conference room. Legend grew about the painting, but it remained sealed until 1995, when Whitney curator Lisa Phillips had it excavated and restored by a team of conservators, who created a backing strong enough to support the heavy paint. DeFeo resisted offering an explanation or interpretation of the work, although she did acknowledge that despite the work’s enormous size and rough surfaces, there was a connection to “the way actual rose petals are formed and how they relate to each other in the flower.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 8.34.39 AM

Conner’s film documents moments familiar to any “maker” such as the “how the hell do we do this moment?”

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 8.10.02 AM

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 8.10.21 AM

And the “I can’t believe we’re doing something this crazy moment.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 8.36.26 AM

Lastly, Conner shows the “I’m having a hard time calling this finished” conundrum via a shot of DeFeo dangling her feet off the fire escape. She began the panting in 1957 and the move took place in 1965 when she was evicted from her Bohemian hangout at 2322 Fillmore Street. As Conner put it, she needed an “uncontrolled event to make it stop.” I think anyone who does anything creative can relate to the problem of letting go and calling something done.

DeFeo-The-Rose
Thankfully, “The White Rose” has a place of honor in a darkened room at the Whitney. You can watch Conner’s film with its haunting Miles Davis soundtrack here.

Save

The #FewerFeatures Movement

silentpartnersmall2

When the control panel on our dishwasher failed last month I found myself asking why our appliances and gadgets have so many useless features. Those features bring with them a greater chance that the device will break down and make them harder and more expensive to repair.

Take a look at our dishwasher’s control panel above. Never, in the years we’ve had this beast, have we ever used any of the wash cycle options except for “Normal.” What the hell is “Glass Xpress” or “Adaptive Wash” anyways? Via the power of Adobe Photoshop (itself a mirrored funhouse of features), I’ve redesigned the Whirlpool Quiet Partner III. Et, voila, #FewerFeatures:

silentpartner#small

Here’s our complex and Eurotrashy, combo-washer/dryer:

washersmall

For the #FewerFeatures version, I’ve simplified the wash cycles to cold, warm and hot. I took out a few of the dryer’s options too (the dryer doesn’t work well anyways and we seldom use it). And I removed what I call the “feature signaling” verbiage stenciled on the lower left and right of the control panel that reads “TrueBalance Anti-Vibration System™” and “Smart Diagnosis™” (look closely and you’ll even see a drawing of a flip phone next to a plus sign!). Why?

washer#small

Speaking of flip phones, this isn’t entirely fair, but I couldn’t resist a #FewerFeatures version of the iPhone.

iphone

No, my still functional Western Electric 500 does not play movies, music, function as a timer or keep track of my steps, but it sure is a lot more handsome and less distracting:

phone

Incidentally, rumor has it that a lot of high-powered Silicon Valley execs use flip phones, a.k.a. “dumb phones” precisely because they have #FewerFeatures.

leica_m-d-550x180
Some companies have long been hip to #FewerFeatures and actually sell less features for a premium. Take a look at the beautiful Leica M10. Leica places an emphasis on high quality optics and ease of use. The M10 will set you back $6,500.

Update: In Twitter, Adrien Berridge @berridAC points out that the ultimate #FewerFeatures Leica is the M-D-a digital camera with no screen! I updated the photo so show this remarkable and pricey camera. Thank you Adrien!

I suspect that devices with too many features come from companies where the marketing department has too much say in the design. We’re going to change this! Tell us about your #FewerFeatures journey. Bust out the Photoshop, use the hashtag in social media and let’s simplify our tools!

Save

Save

Bill Cunningham’s Uniform

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week. Photo: Jiyang Chen.

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week. Photo: Jiyang Chen.

Some time ago and to much favorable response, Kelly announced her equivalent of a moon shot: the sewing and deployment of a practical, everyday uniform. With pockets, of course. Like most NASA scale projects, there have been cost overruns, delays and setbacks. Hopefully she’ll be getting back to it soon.

One person that did figure out a personal uniform was the late New York Times fashion and society photographer Bill Cunningham, the subject of an entertaining documentary you can watch in Netflix, “Bill Cunningham New York.” Cunningham had an eye for creative people, not necessarily rich or connected, with a sense of fashion. He cared little for the niceties of life, preferring to dine on $3 sandwiches, get around on a bicycle and sleep in his studio surrounded by filing cabinets full of 35mm negatives.

He also managed to engineer a uniform for himself in keeping with his frugal lifestyle, but at the same time, oddly stylish. Wherever Cunningham went you’d see him in a French worker’s jacket or bleu de travail. Reading between the lines in the documentary, it seems like he’d stock up on them when the Times would send him to Paris.

Blue worker’s shirts and jackets have a long history in all Western countries including the U.S. It’s the origin, of course, of “blue collar.” American uniform shops carry something similar but I like the cut and pockets of the French and German versions better (hint to American uniform manufacturers: you should bring back your vintage patterns and slimmer sizes!). Some enterprising Etsy folks have shops devoted to vintage European uniforms. Here’s a French uniform shop selling them for around 18€ (a steal at $20 USD–no wonder Cunningham liked them!).

So enterprising homesteaders, I’m handing you an entrepreneurial opportunity. Buy a pallet of European worker’s uniforms and open yourself a boutique or sell them on Amazon. I’m very surprised no one has tried the latter.

Save

Save

Julian the Apostate’s Sleeping Advice: Sleep on the Ground and Your Mattress is Freeeeeeeeeee

julianusii-antioch360-363-cng

Ever since meeting Michael Garcia and Stephanie Wing-Garcia, inventors of the sand mattress that we profiled in a blog post and podcast, I’ve been thinking about the terrible mattress that Kelly and I sleep on and the possibility that the way we sleep contributes to aches and pains later in life. It’s possible that the softness of our mattresses are making our muscles and bones weak, just like the terrible running shoes and orthotics that ruin our feet and collapse our arches.

It turns out that the last pagan Roman emperor has ideas about how we should sleep. Ammianus Marcellinus’ Roman History Book I, contains a description of emperor Julian the Apostate’s austere sleeping habits:

And when the night was half over, he always got up, not from a downy couch or silken coverlets glittering with varied hues, but from a rough blanket and rug, which the simple common folk call susurna.

The Loeb edition of Marcellinus’ Roman History defines susurna as, “A coarse blanket made from the fur or hide of an animal.” 

Julian slept this way so as to stay in a state of readiness during his Gaul campaign and as way to prevent falling into the trap of luxury and flattery that consumed so many of his predecessors. His habits remind me of a couple I met who, despite being well into their 70s and living in a fashionable downtown apartment, slept on the floor so as to be always prepared for their beloved hobby: hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.

Bonus idea: clothes as mattress

aristides_med_himation_o%cc%88ver_chiton_nordisk_familjebok
In researching the susurna, I discovered another ancient Roman sleeping hack. A cloak made from a square piece of cloth that succeeded the toga in the late Roman period, called the pallium (Ancient Greek ἱμάτιον) could also double as a blanket or bedding. Isn’t it time to revive this idea?

Our neighborhood is fashion forward enough to allow folks to strut around in a pallium without much blowback particularly if you’re a young hipster. I predict that soon after I spot the first pallium wearer at our local Trader Joes, REI will come out with “tech” palliums suitable for hiking, urban philosophizing and sleeping.

Addendum: Kelly pointed out to me that fantasy literature is full of examples of cloaks doubling as bedding. 

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Halloween Mouth of Truth

We are lucky to live on a block with a lot of friendly, creative people. Last year on Halloween, two of our neighbors did an elaborate Mount Olympus/Hades themed candy giveaway, while another, a professional DJ, turned on all his professional lighting equipment and smoke machines in addition to a full laser light show. This year all of these attractions returned with the addition of a new contribution from Kelly: a candy dispensing Mouth of Truth.

audrey_hepburn_and_gregory_peck_at_the_mouth_of_truth_roman_holiday_trailer

The original Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità) is a first century fountain or manhole cover on display in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. A folk tradition holds that if you stick your hand in the mouth you have to tell the truth or else your hand will be bitten off. The Mouth of Truth had its fifteen minutes of fame back in 1953 when it was featured in the Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck movie Roman Holiday.

img_1853

Kelly’s Mouth of Truth remix featured a puppet tongue that alternately gave candy and tugged on kid’s hands. It was a big hit. We had huge crowds and gave up around 9 pm after serving approximately 300 delighted customers (and two completely terrified toddlers).

img_1850

Zeus put down his cardboard thunderbolt and took a break from handing out candy two doors down at Mount Olympus to visit the Mouth of Truth.

img_1843

Our friend John donned his cat suit and acted as Mouth of Truth interpreter, explaining the the concept to the many hundreds of costumed kids.

img_1842Kelly donned a witch’s hat, in spite of the fact that she was out of view the whole evening performing the arduous task of tongue puppetry for three hours. I dispensed cheese, crackers and cocktails to visiting adults in the adjoining garage.

zardoz-2_758_426_81_s_c1

John suggested that, next year, we create a giant candy dispensing Zardoz head as a tribute to this nearly unwatchable “so bad it’s good” 1974 Sean Connery science fiction vehicle.

zardoz-21No, I will not to wear Sean Connery’s Zardoz costume.

Zardoz costume aside, the fun that Halloween provides really helps get to know neighbors. We need more festivals in our lives like this, where we take a break from day to day concerns and work together, on the neighborhood level, to create space for joy and unity.

Save

Save