My Winnipeg at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. Maddin described it as a "docu-fantasia" (or was it "docutasia") about his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada, duh). And, barring a better word, it was exactly that.

It's hard to discern what was fact and what was fantasy — for instance, did Maddin (also acting as narrator) in fact rent out his family home to stage reenactments of his childhood? Were the events described real in any way? Does it matter? I had a similar reaction to the feverish dream of his former film, Brand Upon the Brain!. Winnipeg shared the poetic and metaphoric use of visual effects (rather than the more traditional use of creating a false reality).

My friend Christina has a theory about Rochester: that people don't leave because it's hard to move in winter, but when spring arrives, everything comes up green and beautiful, summers are fantastic, fall is beautiful in its own right, and before you know it, it's back to winter and you can't leave. Maddin shares a similar view of Winnipeg: that people are so sleepy there that they are unable to stay awake long enough to stay on the train that leaves town — to escape.

So I guess, in the end, it succeeds in being a documentary about Winnipeg — that which he was supposedly chartered to do (and evidenced by the title card announcing funding by The Documentary Channel) — albeit an extraordinarily personal one. But, nonetheless, one that appears to succeed in documenting the spirit of a city.

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Burning Man: WTF?

Sondra and I got on the road on Sunday around 10:30 in the morning, headed for Burning Man. Once we picked up groceries at Smith's (1740 Mountain City Hwy., Elko, NV), we figured it might be possible to arrive just after midnight — a first time for both of us. As it turned out, we arrived around 4 a.m. or so. It was interesting to arrive then, but I much preferred arriving in daytime. We slept on the ground until dawn then hunted down a spot — Bonneville at 5:15 — which was pretty centrally located.

We got the tents and shade set up, then the dust storm started. It was not only a harsh storm by Burning Man standards, but it was relentless. It lasted until dark. We tried getting around to pick up ice and such, but it was nearly impossible to do so. The shade I built got blown down, having snapped two segments of 1/2" water pipe. Fortunately they were just extension pieces so I was able to make the shade again, only it was short enough to hit the tent.

We finally got out to see things at night. I got the chance to try Ecstasy for the first time. It was apparently quite pure (sometimes, I guess, Speed is added which makes one more interested in dancing, or Cocaine is added which makes it suck). I liked it a lot. It created a sense of empathy with others which allowed me to easily put aside feelings of annoyance with others. I tended to look deeply at people and feel bonded with them. Its other dominant experiential effect greatly reduced my awareness of minor bodily irritations — achyness from the day, for instance, but also irritations like holding a flashlight.

Anyway, I started getting tired quite late and decided to head back to camp. Unfortunately I got hit with irresistible tiredness and ended up falling asleep on the way there. I became aware of walking in the dawn and slowly realized that I was not, in fact, dreaming, but experiencing reality. I got back to camp and got some sleep. Tuesday morning I got up and hunted down my trike that I left behind — someone had found it and brought it to their camp on the Esplanade where I found it. The light tube got damaged and the backpack went missing — fortunately only containing some water and a dust mask.

I had signed up to volunteer to work at the sound stage in the Center Camp and I actually made it on-time, despite having not seen a clock in more than a day. I worked the mixing board and learned a lot about using a large board. The performances were not all that interesting, and the four hours went by quite slowly. That night was my night off: each year at Burning Man, it seems I take one day and get some sleep … Tuesday was it this year.

For the rest of the week, things were pretty much the same … relatively pleasant weather and total boredom. Somehow, Burning Man didn't quite happen — it was more like a mock-up of Burning Man where people camp in the desert but don't bother to bring any good art, or try to act with tolerance, or act like a community at all. It was quite strange.

I think "The Bummer" was the art piece that summed up the whole event. It was a 4-times-or-so mock-up of a Hummer vehicle. From a distance, it indeed looked like it was intended, but I had to ask, "what's the point?" I mean, okay: a big Hummer … umm … and? Up close, it was like a plywood clubhouse. It had no detail inside, and it was apparently just dimensionally correct on the outside. I really didn't get it at all — and that's pretty much what all the artwork was like. Some were better than others, but none that I saw exceeded a modest level of mediocrity.

Saturday brought another horrendous day of dust storms. Sondra and I decided to call it quits. We got things packed up in the slightly-less-bad storm that continued into the night and left around 11 p.m., just a bit after they burned the Man figure. By 5 a.m. we made it to The Lovelock Inn (55 Cornell Ave., Lovelock, NV) which had beds and showers. We got on the road on Sunday refreshed and made it back to Colorado by the next night.

Along the way we tried to think of anything good about this year's Burning Man: something specifically awesome — anything, in fact, like what we had experienced in past years. Alas, the only maximal adjective we could come up with is "worst", only qualified by "ever".

Thankfully, we escaped it.

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Little Venice, Solera, Lux, Method Lab, and Clark Conde's photography

I took a little tour of South Wedge and got pizza from Little Venice Pizza (742 South Ave., formerly Skippy's) which I ate at Solera Wine BarMySpace link (647 South Ave.) with a glass of wine. I stopped by Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) for a bit and hung out with some friends before heading to The Method Lab (650 South Ave.) Photographer Clark Condé's work was on display. It's really good stuff: evocative and slightly abstract — and large, which always helps if all else fails.

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Disassembling the Bike With 2 Brains for the last time

I haven't mentioned it in a while, but today I cut up The Bike With 2 Brains so I could make it into something else. It was kind of sad — I even said goodbye before I put saw-to-frame. But then again, now it's all new: now it can become other things and I can finally put that chapter to rest.

Sometime in the past year or so, I realized what has been wrong with it. It's like it's been sick or something. When I brought it to Burning Man in 2005, it went out and had a life of its own: I brought it to the desert and let people take it away and do whatever they wanted. I designed the project that way and it went well. But ever other time I've brought it out, it's just a thing: a toy to play around with. As such, it's never been as good as that first time out.

Now I could redo the experiment, but it was hard on me. I had to search for it so I could recover it at the end of the event in 2005 and it was a difficult, stressful, and frustrating experience. I could do things to make it easier to finish that aspect of it, but why? All I would be doing is to try and revisit that first experience.

So now it's gone: really in pieces. It'll become some new things this year and I'm excited to get started on those things. Now I can.

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Steve Kurtz was acquitted

I got an e-mail from Christine Kristen (a.k.a. LadyBee) that contained a press release announcing the conclusion to the case against Steven Kurtz that I blogged about in January and actually got news that Kurtz was cleared a while back through a post at Glob-a-log titled "The Steve Kurtz case finally dismissed (Another political trial, another pathetic witch hunt: Just business as usual in Bushland)". (If you're curious, it's at the end of this post after the fold).

I gather that the press release was to promote the art show Seized at The Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo) which documents the materials involved in the case (it's on display from June 7, 2008 through July 18, 2008). But way way down at the bottom of the press release was the key part: the [clearly ironically named] Department of Justice had no business even bothering to bring up charges of mail and wire fraud because (as I said before) it's a civil dispute so it requires one person to accuse another of fraud — not a criminal one where the state can bring charges against someone. They clearly overstepped their bounds as part of the Judicial Branch of the U.S. government, as they were acting on behalf of the Executive Branch to execute the laws, then they even did that wrong by misapplying the law.

The thing that bothers me so much is that when I consider why the Department of Justice did this, I can't come up with a reason, other than those with evil purposes.

What crime — of the United States or against anyone or against humanity — did Kurtz commit by his artistic protests? I say there was no crime committed, and I'm left to believe that the Department of Justice was trying to put an innocent man in jail. Why would they do that? Perhaps to justify the "War on Terror" by staging arrests of fake terrorists? I don't know, but it all smells evil. [And let me also reiterate what's not been said enough: "terror" is a concept, not a group of people so it's at best a Quixotic move to try and wage war against it.]

Perhaps they're working to block dissent to the war and to questionable corporate efforts — both topics that Kurtz and his group rallied against. But in a free country … nay, the free country? When dissenters are rounded up and put in prison in a dictatorship, I can at least understand it, but when it happens in a country that prides itself on inalienable freedoms? So maybe the Department of Justice's goals were to steer the United States toward a more totalitarian government. Again, evil.

When I try to apply Occam's Razor, most relevant evidence points to a big conspiracy: that government is trying to bias the delivery of news for purposes of manipulating the will of the people through false information.

It's a thought that I can't bear to stare straight into. I welcome comments that disprove my theory.

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Hogan's, Station 55, and the Bug Jar

Ali, Stacie, and I went to Hogan's Hideaway (197 Park Ave.) for dinner. I stuck with the sure bets of a good wine, French onion soup, and a grilled cheese and was not disappointed. Well, okay, except the sandwich which wasn't grilled as much as I'd like.

After that we headed to Station 55 (55 Railroad St.) for the ArtAwake event. We were surprised to find that they charged a cover at the door — not exactly an art-gallery-kosher move. I was then disappointed to find the works were not particularly impressive. Worse was that the lighting left nothing to the imagination and there were no nooks to explore. It didn't help all this any that there was no wine to be found either — which, among other things, can help loosen one's ingrained bindings with America's corporate-consumer culture. Alas, it was a big disappointment for me, and kind of kicked off the evening poorly.

So then we went to The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) a bit early to catch the bands there. Unfortunately — despite it being a rather popular headliner — GaylordMySpace link, in their last Rochester show before moving to Atlanta — the happy-hour vibe was still in full-force: blaring house music and all. I only really saw the first band, Razor Wire ShrineMySpace link who are an instrumental chaotic rock band with subtle influences from all over the place. I only caught a little of Fledgling DeathMySpace link, a thrash/heavy metal kind of band. By then the three of us were quite tired and decided to call it an early night.

In related news, The LandfillMySpace link (625 Weiland Rd.) has been shut down (related because sucky Station 55 has not — it's too milquetoast to displease the aristocracy). I recall reading it in a news clip from The City Newspaper but it doesn't appear to have made it to the online edition. I believe it was a casualty of Mayor Robert J. Duffy's plan to shut down house-parties, as I was pretty sure it was some guy's house. When I first heard of that law, I was concerned it would be abused beyond its original intent: to give police the leeway they "needed" to shut down house parties when they came upon them. Now, my vision of a house party that needs to be shut down is one that is completely out of control — where the residents have lost their ability to control the party themselves.

Once again — like the shutdown of A|V Art Sound Space (N. Union St. at Trinidad St., #8 in the Public Market, formerly the All-Purpose Room) — the creative fringe of this city has had its hands chopped off. And once again, I theorize that this will push one more of these inspirational creators to go find a tolerant city. And the Mayor and all his cronies will sit around and not care about those one or two fringe people, but to me, they inspire — and I assume so of other creative people. And unfortunately that is not a column in their spreadsheet and it doesn't compare well to tax dollars.

So, I'm left giving this advice: don't trust the police. They are not your friends. They are not there to help you. If you see them, go away from them.

I hope this is what the mayor has in mind.

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Frostburn at Cooper's Lake Campground

Ali and I headed to Cooper's Lake Campground (205 Currie Rd., Slippery Rock, PA) to go to FrostBurn this weekend. It actually started yesterday but the early population was mostly from around Pittsburgh or from places farther away … or, I guess, mostly just not us and a few other stragglers. In all there were about 120 people who showed up so it was just the right size to get a chance to say hi to everyone.

The event was excellent. Although not an official Burning Man regional event, it was run by people who had gone to Burning Man and generally held the same vibe. Well, the part of the vibe that I personally liked: the part where it a group of people who got things done and worked together and wanted to have a good time. It was also winter camping (and Cooper's Lake had winterized their facilities so there weren't showers or bathrooms — just port-a-potties) so the element of "physical difficulty" was also present — something that's difficult to achieve when you can see a major highway and your cell phone has "full-bars" all the time.

We stayed until Monday and met lots of nice people. We got to see the iconic snowman-man burn, had hot chocolate at Camp Total Fucking Armageddon, had hot buttered rum in the sauna-like steam shed, participated in the Naked Mr. Rogers Sing-A-Long, and otherwise dance, dance, danced until the morning sun.

It's actually the first time I wanted something like a "decompression" — a time to recollect with friends and otherwise relax before jumping back into the daily grind. I came back and had to catch up on work but I really wanted to just chill out for a couple days — and the friction between the two ideologies wreaked havoc with my state-of-mind.

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Rochester Contemporary Re-Member Closing

I got a chance to check out the closing of Re-Member at The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) Although I didn't find anything so captivating I couldn't leave, there were quite a few works there that I at least liked enough to keep looking at and absorbing. I didn't get a chance to see the bands but I at least got to say hi to the players — particularly Dave of Autumn In HalifaxMySpace link whom I haven't seen in months.

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Colaborating artists from Athena and Petra Designs

I stopped by The Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester (277 N. Goodman St.) to listen to Melanie Updegraff, and Sharon Jeter discuss Athena and Petra Designs: Two Artists, One Product Line. What Makes It Work? It was rather fascinating and I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to leave right at 8. Stupid America with its "this starts right now" mentality!

Anyway, the two women discussed how they collaborated artistically. First off, they were friends first — they always valued their friendship over their art; and their art over their business. Melanie commented that she thought it funny that artists can barely utter the word "business" much less deal with selling their work. I guess I can understand both sides a bit: as an artist, I'd like my art to find a home that fits rather than to just make a buck (or allow the work to be cut up for scrap) and as a businessman, I understand the importance of connecting "earning a living" with something that is rewarding. But with "Athena and Petra", they develop art that has a ready market — jewelry — so I think it's easier for them than an artist who makes works in varied media, or even "traditional" media but with widely varied styles.

But that was only part of it. They didn't have a nice easy answer to "what makes collaboration work?" Their tiered approach to their relationship was certainly a start. It seemed to me, though, that they always respected the other's opinion — they were never dismissive of an idea. They also understood the value of play: that when creativity dries up it's because it isn't fun, so fun is very important.

What I found fascinating — and I think I may track them down to get a better understanding — is that they were able to collaborate on the creative design. My understanding of collaborative projects so far is that a single creator has to own the idea, they need to understand what is important and what is not (i.e. can it be shiny or green? and is it important that it be done one specific way?), and the people who collaborate with them need to allow the creator to dictate certain aspects and let others be decided by the collaborators. What I've never seen is two people coming together to work on the same idea — Updegraff and Jeter don't split the creative process; it seems they actually collectively contribute to central design elements. As a counter-example, I've seen experimental films created where one person creates the visual experience and the other creates the auditory experience but not two people working on both.

It's killing me not to know how this all works.  But, like I said, I had to get going, so I couldn't even stay for the question-and-answer.

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Photos at Image City Photography Gallery

I stopped by The Image City Photography Gallery (722 University Ave.) and briefly checked out the new exhibition, America… So Beautiful with photographs by Gary Thompson and Phyllis Thompson. I generally liked the show; it consists of images of beautiful locations expertly shot. It's subtly a "new" way of looking at those places, but largely captures the essence of what has been captured before.

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