Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Frank's Landing

This is Willie Frank at Frank's Landing. Messages from Frank's Landing by Charles Wilkinson tells his story. Willy Frank was first arrested for fishing on his own Nisqually land when he was 14 years old. He led the fight in the Northwest to gain Indian fishing rights. He was arrested many many times but ultimately the tribes were victorious in the Boldt Decision of 1974, which supported the tribes right to fish according to their treaty rights that dated back to the Isaac Stephens Point No Point Treaties of 1855. More than that, the Indians got a fifty percent allocation. The radical decision affected "21 tribes, several hundred tribal fishers and thousands of non Indian commercial fishers, hundres of thousands of sports fishers and dozens of rivers." (Wilkinson 56).

Willie Frank is also an environmentalist. He is profoundly connected to the land and the river and the fish. As Charles Wilkinson puts it " the Indian world view (is)an equality with the natural world, an actual belonging to the same community is in the blood stream of Indian people. "

Today his sons fish on the Nisqually River starting from the Landing that he gained by allotment in 1885. Right up the road are shopping malls and big boxes. On the other side of the river is Fort Lewis Military Reservation which of course also used to be Nisqually land. But Willie Frank has a good relationship with the military ( I hope it endures) and they keep a lot of Fort Lewis undeveloped and allow Indians to gather traditional roots and berries on the land.
He and his family continue to fish. The net fishing they do dates back for centuries. While I was there, his sons and their assistants caught about 100 King Salmon in two hours. The Kings are running right now. Of course times have changed, now they use motor boats and plastic nets, instead of canoes and cotton nets, but the age old tradition of fishing for salmon is still providing the center of their lives and culture

Tobin James Frank refused to sell his fish for Two dollars a pound ( !) Can you believe that someone offered that little. I told the dealer it was 25 dollars a pound at my local grocery store, but he said there were some steps in the middle. I'll say. So I am showing the empty scale that was rejected. Tobin James Frank offered us a fish for 10. but we insisted on paying 20. It was about 8 pounds of fresh salmon. He cleaned it for us and threw the guts back in the river where they belong, as Willie said. We enjoyed it all week and froze half. Yum.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Global Warming and the Art World

Well, I have been thinking I need to get onto this subject. It is SOOO much in the news right now.
So what do we have to show for the new trend.
Really, it is the same artists, the same strategies, the same work, with a new trendy title. There seem to be about three basic approaches: illustrate it, correct it, or educate us about it.
I am not denigrating a single artist who tries to address the environmental calamity that this world is becoming!
What is sad is that there is so little effect from this type of art. It is the suburban part of the art world in some ways. Artists who are concerned about the environment get funded to make something out in nature, about nature, or for nature. Some of these works are terrifically interesting. One of my favorites is Lynne Hull who is based in Colorado. She does research and makes humble pieces in the land about habitat loss. For the exhibition Weather Report Art and Climate Change she made highway signs
"Wildlife Warning Global Warming /Got Water?" This is not one of her most subtle works. She says that she creates "trans species art and sculpture for wildlife"-that is the part I like. She makes, for example, "raptor roosts" for hawks so they won't nest on electric poles and get killed.

Weather Report is a perfect example of repackaging the same artists with a new brand and for good luck throw in the more recent trendy artists. It was curated by uber famous engaged curator/critic Lucy Lippard, who lives OFF THE GRID -it doesn't get better than that does it- in New Mexico. So it had a big advantage over anything in dirty old New York City (but I read that New Yorkers have a much lower carbon footprint than most people and don't forget Lucy has to drive and fly a lot to go anywhere).
No one comes close to the work of Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, (that's there work in the picture about the "endangered meadows of Europe from the late 1990s), who have been working for decades to address and reverse environmental damage. Helen as a sociologist and Newton as a sculptor network with all sorts of different kinds of people, scientists, politicians, community groups. Networking is the model that works in my opinion.
Weather Report was all about artists talking with scientists and getting together on what to say in a visual way. It was a good idea. But of course it was in BOULDER COLORADO. Lala land of consiousness, liberal, hipness. And how much carbon was burned getting all of those artists over to Boulder to install their ideas.
But I do have to say that the virtue of a lot of these pieces was their simplicity (disclaimer I didn't see the show, only the catalog). Like Brian Collier's "Why is the pika worried about climate change" That is a tiny alpine animal that is going extinct because of climate change, He created a pika alarm triggered by motion and postcards with photographs of the pika.

So where does all of this lead us? Artists are mostly environmentally aware in a liberal sort of way, that is, like political liberals, they hate to think of pollution destroying the world climate, but they drive everywhere in their cars, use lots of electronic equipment and ink jet printers, etc.

That's why I think Natalie Jeremijenko is the real thing for right now. In a sample entry from her blog titled "how Stuff is made" she comments on an article that links violence in the Congo to Sony Play Stations because the heat conducting material in Play stations Coltan drives demand for it and is mainly from the Congo. This is the type of connections we need.
As I sit at my mercury containing computer, burning a lot of electricity, I am contributing to global warming every minute. Jeremijenko has a clinic where she tells people what to DO, how to ACT, to make a difference in the problem of environmental deterioration. Connecting to ACTION is the key.

SO quit flushing the toilet all the time, save those paper towels for re use, don't get carry out, and try to use the car less. All easy to do. But just last night I accepted a styrofoam containerwith the rest of my Mexican Chimichanga
in spite of all my principles. By January they will be illegal in Seattle though, so the government has actually done something helpful.

Eco Art Back to the Future

Rebecca Bray and Britta Rile have a provocative piece written up in the special ecology issue of Art News
Called Drink PeeDrinkPeeDrinkPee 2008 ( the title doesn't quite fit the smartness of the work)
it uses urine and light to illuminate what happens to that stuff you flush down the toilet.
In their art work it grows algae in a fishbowl.
Urine is full of phosporous and nitrogen, an excellent fertilizer for the earth, but bad for the marine world.
The artists have produced kits for $15. that allows people to make plant fertilizer from urine.

So why back to the future?
Because on the same day that I read about this art work, which I commend, I also read Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Artist Among the North American Indians, in his discussion of the Chinook Indians practices in the 1840s, before we took away all their land in 1855. " Chinook olives.. are prepared as follows - About a bushel of acorns are placed in a hole dug for the purpose ...covered over with a thin layer of grass on the top of which is laid about half a foot of earth. Every member of the family henceforth regards this hole as the special place of deposit for his urine. . In this hole the acorns are allowed to remain four or five months before they are considered fit for use. However disgusting such an odoriferous preparation would be to people in civilized life, the producet is regarded by them as the greatest of all delicacies." 128

So urine as a fertilizer is nothing new.
Urine contains all those birth control pill hormones, all those millions of dollars of drugs everyone is taking, and it is all being passed right into the fish in the sea. In the Northwest we get salmon with strange sexual characteristics from the hormones that we are giving them.

One of my big obsessions is garbage and sewage and water and how we just dump everything out of sight. I like this art work because it is making visible a process that we don't even think about.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics Beijing

The opening show was spectacular, even if the little girl we saw was not the one who sang. What else is new. So the Chinese are no different from Americans - worship perfect beauty and cute in little girls over all else of course.
What I want to know is if anyone can tell me if the Chinese actually skipped most of the twentieth century in that show. Did they skip the modern period, the communist period, all of it???
I was blown away that NBC commentators could actually give us references to Chinese PHILOSOPHY. Of course it was all fed to them and they had to really stretch, but they did do it!

The historic periods were stunningly presented, biggest in the world LED screen with 2008 drummers ( shown here - is this a bit Leni Riefenstahl anyone- do we get any chills about power and control here?) , tai chi masters ( how about that for moving energy) , movable type people, rowers ( for the silk road), and empresses. Then they jumped to the 1970s on NBC, with lots of people in green outfits and some glib conversation about freedom ( that is after the cultural revolution) , and threw in a kite, a globe with dancers, etc. and of course the final torch
Technologically it was amazing.
By contrast the US car ads were SO twentieth century!

Our Flesh of Flames Theodore A. Harris captions by Amiri Baraka

Our Flesh of Flames is a must buy, must read, must get on it book. You can buy this book from Anvil Arts Press
The collages are full of specific references to racism, and the corruptions of capitalism. Harris has drawn on events that we all know about, and presented them in a way that tells us just where they came from and where we need to be to change things.
He doesn't pull any punches on what is wrong
Vetoed Dreams 1995 has an upside down capitol dome and a young black boy with a gag on his mouth. It is simple and clear what he is saying. Young black men have no opportunity to be part of the American "land of the free." Black people are not surprised by Abu Ghraib. It is no different than what has been going on in the US for hundreds of years, in prisons, in slavery, in Jim Crow, in the Klan, and not just in the South by any means.
Eric Smith
is the first named person with a collage in the book. I have a link to his story, which is a horrifying, but all to familiar story of police brutality, ignorance, prejudice. Eric Smith was deaf and when he tried to communicate by signing, he was beaten to death. The collage has a picture of Wanda Hogue his mother holding a sign, Remember Eric smith, Stop Police Brutality. In the background is a travelers check from the Bank of America with a smug portrait of a white banker and an upside capitol building. The system killed Eric Smith.
We Wear Our Flesh like Flames 1999, the title work of the book, has a fire in the background and two African women in the foreground carrying large containers on their heads. The flames are the city burning.
Makes a reference to cotton pickers in the foreground and has a reproduction of Leonardo's Last Supper, with a haloed Christ at the center. The distance from Christian love and the oppression of impoverished cotton workers is vast.
Meditations for Betty Shabazz, 1998
Shabazz was Malcolm X's widow. The complex image has a grieving Shabazz in the foreground, with references to Mumia abu Jamail's unfair imprisonment, a piece of a statue of liberty and other details. The intersection of crucifixion and the American Express is again included.
So the themes are the sham of the American myths of freedom and opportunity in the face of the slaughter of black people. There are also homages to poets like Sonia sanchez and Lamont B. Stptoe, Poets against the War, and perhaps most poignent, the Long Dream, the face of a young black man behind bars behind a wall of concrete that is splitting up.