Posts archive: April 2003

My father used to bound out of bed every morning yelling “I’m a ball of fire!” when I was in high school as a result of his Dale Carnegie training sessions. That’s only one reason why I found last week’s performance at New Langton Arts by Sean Fletcher and Isabel Reichert strangely satisfying. Contextualizing the American self-help movement by reading texts from early antecedents such as “Poor Richard’s Almanac” by Ben Franklin, the artists set the stage. They then brought on an actual Dale Carnegie instructor to work with the audience in an embarrassing session called “Selling Yourself and Not Your Art” where the instructor worked therapeutically with the audience’s approach to gallerists. Smart-ass feedback from the audience composed almost entirely of artists made the whole enterprise quite entertaining; one victim/volunteer’s motivator was determined to be “oil”. The performance analyzed a peculiarly American do-it-yourself impulse, touched on class and political issues, and brought the ideal of artistic integrity squarely up against the current corporatization of our culture.

- Cheryl Meeker [Wednesday, April 30th, 2003]

Read what Lawrence Lessig has to say about the decision Friday for P to P networks against the entertainment industry. Or, read the decision for yourself.

- Ella Delaney [Monday, April 28th, 2003]

Reasons to be cheerful.

Reasons not to be.

- Ed Osborn [Sunday, April 27th, 2003]

I’m glad my Stretcher co-publishers didn’t fire me when I said I couldn’t attend a Stretcher work “party” because I had to go to a protest against the war in Iraq. San Francisco Chronicle Technology reporter Henry Norr did not get to exercise his freedom of speech without paying the ultimate corporate price: unemployment.

- Cheryl Meeker [Thursday, April 24th, 2003]

My friend has cooked up a reparations scheme for Iraqi culture.

Send art to Iraq! Iraq’s museums have been looted, its public art destroyed, and its cultural heritage decimated. But if you are like me, you have more art than you know what to do with - so here is something to do with all that extra art! The Iraqis have lost their art, and we have a surplus, so now is the time to send your art to ex-General Jay Garner, the new American ruler of occupied Iraq.

Here is where to send your art:

Art for Iraq
Attn: General Jay Garner (Ret.)
CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom APO AE 09898-9998

Please note that the post office will probably have you fill out the (very simple) customs form 2976 or 2976A, which has a space for an alternate addressee if your mail is not deliverable for some reason (and you don’t want it returned). You may want to designate the National Endowment for the Arts, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20506, or another appropriate recipient. If you want more information on shipping, please see the websites of the US Postal Service ( or the Military Postal Service Agency (

Please feel free to pass this message on to anyone you think might be interested, and get that artwork moving!

Now that’s culture in action!

- Ella Delaney [Wednesday, April 23rd, 2003]

A strong collector base is an important part of any healthy art scene. Tonight you can learn about collectors and collections in the Bay Area on Spark!, KQED’s new TV series about art in the Bay Area. Featuring conversations with noted locals such as Rene di Rosa and Pamela and Richard Kremlich, it should be interesting. Check it out.

- Dale Hoyt [Wednesday, April 23rd, 2003]

Since there’s California, then everything else in the U.S. ; -) I post an all-too-brief and woefully incomplete rundown of Chicago’s River North gallery district here in the East Coast section. A gentrifying, former warehouse district, River North boasts a generous supply of galleries. I usually rankle at the term, “outsider art”, but the Judy Saslow Gallery, which specializes in it, had some terrific work on view. I especially liked the back room full of quilt-like wall pieces constructed from plastic shopping bags of all kinds, from Saks to the corner store variety. I then caught the sparse, one-man show by Ben Butler at Zg Gallery. The knockout work of the show was a floor-to-ceiling wall piece cast from a solid sheet of plaster consisting of row after row of an astonishing variety of moldings slightly skewed off-horizontal. I also liked the photos and installations of hundreds of tiny plastic houses like Monopoly game pieces by Mark Campbell at Oskar Friedl Gallery. Campbell plays with scale and toys with notions of suburbia in these entertaining and colorful works. I ended up at I Space, the gallery of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign College of Fine and Applied Arts, and caught a senior show by budding product designers. Many projects walked that thin line between ironic utopian and deadpan utilitarian, a line I find highly entertaining. As text-intensive and difficult to absorb quickly as the show was, I was disappointed that the program does not offer the projects on the department’s web site.

- Ella Delaney [Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003]

Wednesday night I heard a remarkable musical presentation by Matt Volla at the Oakland Art Gallery - he was playing the amplified sound of bumbleballs bumbling against strings, keyboards, and drums, and was accompanied by live trumpet music and his own computer DJ work. Serious music with unserious instrumentation. This after the artists spoke about their sculpture and painting work where furry textures and bright colors reign supreme: Stretcher’s own Amy Berk, Tim Jag, Marina Vendrell and Matt Volla. Through May 3.

- Cheryl Meeker [Monday, April 21st, 2003]

and ends somewhere nearby. A few Sundays back, as runners in the Berlin Half-Marathon were reaching the end of their trek at Alexanderplatz in the midst of an April snowstorm (why *did* I move here anyway?), I was taking a guided flashlight tour of the bunker system found directly under all those exhausted and frozen athletes. While winding my way through the damp corridors which clearly hadn’t had any fresh air in decades it occurred to me that a couple of D-cell batteries were about all that kept me from becoming stuck there in the darkness for a really, really long time. It also wasn’t lost on me that I probably shared a faith in those D-cells with unnumbered Iraqis who were at that moment for vastly different reasons stuck in similar bunkers several thousand miles to the southeast. Even as Alexanderplatz is being transformed from a charmingly depressed Eastern-bloc department store complex into a depressingly typical western-style shopping plaza, the bunkers remain just below the surface, just in case. Unlike in Baghdad, “just in case” seems like a distant possibility, even if thousands of Berliners pass just overhead the site of the contingency plan everyday.

A few days later and about a half mile away at the Unsicht-Bar, I had an overpriced dinner in a pitch black restaurant. Staffed with blind waiters and waitresses, who navigate through the place with ease, the restaurant offers the novelty of temporary sightlessness complimented by an average cuisine which is not hard to eat with your hands should you give up trying to figure out where the business end of the fork happens to be pointed. Though it only opened about a month ago, I figure that the place will stay around for another year and a half at most: as California utility payers can attest, paying too much to be kept in the dark is not something that you want to sign up for more than once.

Last Wednesday in the full-moon shadow of the Ferehsehnturm, 95 Stunde was getting underway in a former shoe shop that stood on the ground floor of a soon-to-be renovated building (it’s part of that big Alexanderplan mentioned above). Lots of laptop performers, a set of temporary servers for streaming, and a steady supply of beer and espresso kept everyone in the right spirits (though I’m not sure if the word “convivial” actually applied here). Someone had thoughtfully applied the words “artists suck” to one of the walls. Given the long lineup of acts throughout the 95 hours of the project, it was certain that some of them did live up to the tag, though I didn’t sick around long enough to keep a complete score.

Instead I headed off with some friends to the 8mm Bar to catch a night of Spanish pop music and video projections based on the Caves of Altamira. It was tempting to think that club projections serve as a new form of cave painting, but actually it just was a pleasure to see the ancient iconography and soft-edged colors swimming around the screen in place of the usual aggressive editing and eye-bruising hues. (Despite it’s name, everytime I’ve been to 8mm there have been only videos and no films on view, what gives?).

That evening was the first taste of spring here, but it really arrived a few days later. And what better way to spend a glorious Easter Sunday afternoon than to make a trip deep into East Berlin to visit the Stasi Museum? Located in the former Stasi headquarters it appears closed from the outside even when it is open, naturally. Featuring artifacts of the spy trade, stories of operations and resistance, and lots of unenthusiastically kitsch DDR objects such as beer cans bearing the logo of the official Stasi soccer team, the place looks like a shrine to a recent but closed chapter in history until you start reading through some of the materials on display. Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi from 1957 until its demise in 1989 and a Stalinist until the end, had a number of favorite sayings, among them the familiar-sounding, “Who is not with us is against us. Who is against us is an enemy and enemies must be eliminated.” Elsewhere you find out that the Stasi files showed evidence that as the high-ups realized in the late 80’s that the DDR economy would soon collapse and the government with it, the Stasi should encourage its demise and prepare to take advantage of the social changes that were sure to come. Then, as the Wall came down in 1989, all of the most sophisticated spy technologies disappeared from the Stasi headquarters; the supplier of these technologies reorganized and opened for business after reunification. And in the chaos of late 1989, much of the wealth of the Stasi, estimated to be around 65 billion marks also disappeared.

These and many other stories found there made me think of Robert Fisk’s recent dispatch from Baghad in which he notes that after World War II, just as occurred after the Wall came down, there was an aggresive and immediate investigation of the security files of collapsed goverments, but in Baghdad this has yet to be done. He also asks who is setting all the fires to the official ministries in Baghdad (save the Ministry of Oil, naturally) and in whose interest they are being set. He also notes that despite official claims to the contrary, looting and violence is still widespread. Add to that the questions around the disappearance of Iraqi art treasures and my visit to the former Stasi Ministry seemed more and more like a time trip through the present.

- Ed Osborn [Monday, April 21st, 2003]

will be disgusted to find out that the US administration has awarded a contract worth up to 680 million dollars to San Francisco based Bechtel Group for major reconstruction of war-maimed Iraq. And speaking of business that profits at any cost, which do you like better now, Coke or Pepsi?

- Cheryl Meeker [Friday, April 18th, 2003]

Christopher Knight weighs in with determination on America’s role in the plundering of the Iraqi national collection.

- Tucker Nichols [Friday, April 18th, 2003]

This is the most sinister corporate slogan I’ve come across since the war began.

- Tucker Nichols [Thursday, April 17th, 2003]

Enlightening commentary by Kenneth Baker about the museum catastrophe in Baghdad.

- Tucker Nichols [Thursday, April 17th, 2003]

The Information Clearing House has a useful set of photos showing the toppling of that statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last week as a media-staged event. While life imitating art has been been around for quite a while, the Iraq conflict seems more and more like life imitating a “making of” documentary. And while there certainly will be Gulf War II documentaries in the offing (“making of’s” and otherwise) , it can’t be long until there are a wartime equivalents to Behind The Music, with former Marines, embedded reporters, Iraqi ministers, and Haliburton employees tearfully recounting their tales of triumph, decline, and redemption.

- Ed Osborn [Thursday, April 17th, 2003]

this? It raises important questions about the White House’s value on Iraq’s financial resources in relation to its cultural ones. Explain liberation to me now.

- Tucker Nichols [Monday, April 14th, 2003]

French protesters distributed fake 10-euro notes featuring Andre Breton which read: “Your money stinks of the corpse of the poet that you never dared to become.”

- Cheryl Meeker [Friday, April 11th, 2003]

Thomas Jefferson wanted to include animals as those with rights, but only people were included in the constitution. Corporations had no rights, and had to “serve the people”. Find out how a mistake by the court reporter in Santa Clara in 1886 led generations of lawyers to erroneously believe that a law set precedence for corporations to have the rights of personhood. I knew it was all a horrible mistake, but now we have the proof.

- Cheryl Meeker [Thursday, April 10th, 2003]

Phillip Jeck and Jacob Kierkegaard’s two sets at Ausland over the weekend showed how careful attention to texture and timing can yield great results. Working with a set of turntables and assorted electronics, they contructed hour-long pieces that focused on slowly evolving, highly layered soundfields. Following the Dave Edmunds principle that nothing works unless it is run at precisely the right tempo, the interlocking segments of the set were all paced perfectly, none overstaying their welcome or coming in too short. Even with the proliferation of electronic tools for use in live performance nowadays it is rare to hear them used so organically and with such complete assurance.

A few weeks earlier, Olaf Rupp‘s hour-long performance at NBI was a revealtory and hypnotising affair. Playing a nylon-string acoustic guitar he produced dense and overlapping sheets of sound and noise that were only occasionally interrupted by a few fragments of notes that might, under other circumstances, pass for melodies. Sounding completely fresh and without any electronic processing whatsoever he managed to give every laptop jockey in town a run for their money.

Not to be outdone in the amazing feats of acoustic sound category, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin’s performance of Awet Terterjan‘s Symphony Number 5 was a densely-packed slow release of thunderous musical energy. The piece has one of the widest dynamic ranges I have heard, ranging from long, barely audible drones to full-on, 110+ db crescendoes complete with a set of church bells brought in for the occasion. Featuring soloist Gaguik Muradjan on the Kamantcha (an oud-like string instrument), the orchestra delivered the thick and glassy harmonies in a way that allowed detailed listening but never fully exhaled, the tension in the piece always driving if forward. Though the performance was recorded by DeutschlandRadio Berlin for broadcast later this month, I doubt that a really good recording of the piece can ever be made; it is too much about the space of the performance and all that energy being expended at once. Terterjan’s music is gradually being performed more often, don’t miss a chance to hear it live if you can.

- Ed Osborn [Monday, April 7th, 2003]

Last night’s opening reception for Paul Kos’ retrospective, at the Berkeley Art Museum brought out a big crowd to honor this respected artist’s artist and SFAI faculty member. Timeless pieces such as “rEVOLUTION: Notes for the invasion: mar mar march” (1972 - 73) have particular resonance for us now, and the timing of this show makes one marvel at the uncanny synchronicity of current events and exhibition scheduling. Following the Fred Wilson show, senior curator Connie Lewallen and the Berkeley Art Museum raise the bar for relevant museum exhibitions with these two stunning mid career retrospectives. Through July 20, 2003.

- Cheryl Meeker [Wednesday, April 2nd, 2003]

From the editors