Louise Bourgeois retrospective at MOCA

Go see it, it’s brilliant.

And I know great art when I see it (though I also know that’s a bit time-worn as phrases go). But she truly is great. Generally speaking I don’t go much for the art of the so desperately personal, but her work is incredibly moving and provocative and it hits you in your stomach where you carry your most visceral of emotions…for decades it has circled and circled around themes of the body, love, family, sex, a traumatic childhood of male patronage and infidelity…it repeats shapes in different forms that skate a continuous line between masculine and feminine, beauty and horror, being and becoming…it comprises an astonishing number of mediums that are all exquisitely carried out: sculpture in wood and plaster and latex and stone, collages with fabric and bits and pieces of everything including orange peels, sewn figures with gaping holes, installations, paintings and drawings, the written word.

They are a strange mix of the tender and the repulsive, sometimes beautiful, always provoking, and so many with a strange edge of terror and violence that trickles down your spine. We both love spirals, and she says of them that they are attempts to control chaos and also freedom, and asks whether you find yourself in the vortex or on the periphery? She says she hates men obsessing over their penis…that it is not the appendage she dislikes, but what it is attached to. I love wit, and her art has both wit and raw emotion in an uneasy balance that gives it power.

No pictures can do the pieces justice at all, for her more than most people I think. But my favourites were the personages and the installations, particularly the red rooms. The personages look like this (This picture from the New York Times)

There were others that were blocks stacked one upon the other…I found them eerie and beautiful and they made me think.

The red rooms, on the other, scared the hell out of me. Here is what the parent’s room looks like, hard to know where the terror comes from I know, even when you’re standing in front of it. Perhaps that is why I like it so much

They are surrounded by a sort of a spiral made by doors, I won’t even begin on the symbolism of that! You can only peek into it, and the parent’s room you can really only see through the mirror, and it is red…and it should be peaceful with a couple of toys on the chest at the foot of the bed, but there is a looming shadow over the pillows and I don’t know, but it was terrifying. The way The Shining was terrifying. The children’s room was overtly terrifying with entwined sculptures of limbs cut off at the elbow, you stare at it through a window in one of the doors, children have no privacy.

I liked the spider as well…nothing represents horror better than a giant spider with long spindly legs ending in rather dangerous looking points, and yet they are oddly protective, maternal…

Go see it if you’re in LA.

There has been a police helicopter circling near my house for two hours now. I hate them. If I were an artist I’d be obsessed with helicopters…such brilliant technology that we use primarily to hunt and to kill.

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The absurdity of mass repression

Documentary after documentary. It is how I have been spending the tail end of my nights lately, after long days of work and time with friends. Some we have published, some are submissions for us to consider publishing, a few I throw in as reminders of what is already out there.

They are all of struggle, so at some point every night I have sat here with tears pouring down my face. Sometimes they are indefinable tears. I don’t know why masses of working people in the streets and facing down riot police always make me cry, but they always do. Perhaps for the hope they give me where there is so little hope left. Too often they are tears of sadness, for those who have been injured, tortured, killed. The worst was Black and Gold, where there is a mother grieving for her son shot by the police. I have heard that grief before, it is hoarse and raw and rending, it shatters everything in you to hear it. It flays you to bear witness and be able to do nothing. It takes me back remorselessly to the burial ground and the huge machine already covering the coffin and tamping the ground even as the mariachis still played. Maria almost screaming, if she had had any voice left. I cannot understand how this can be the world that we have created.

And I cannot understand how these things continue. Chicago, Alabama, Buenos Aires, Oaxaca, Burma, Greece…these are just a fraction of the confrontations where governments have turned on their own people.  Intellectually, of course, I understand the intertwining of government and capital, the need to retain power at all costs, the strength and cunning of propaganda combined with media silence. But fundamentally, everything in me revolts at its very possibility. Everything revolts at the idea that a government that turns its army and security forces onto thousands of its own people could retain the slightest shred of legitimacy. With anyone.

What is a government for, and why does it exist?

How can a legitimate government defend itself from its own citizens with police bearing clubs, tear gas, pepper spray, pistols and machine guns? With helicopter attacks, secret and open raids, illegal arrests, disappearances, torture, assassination, bombs?

How is it possible that we have come to accept that a government can repress a mass movement of its own people? Who else do we think it is accountable to?

In my cynicism I know that’s a beginner’s question. Of course they are not accountable to the masses of their people; they are accountable to the few, the wealthy, the elite that they themselves are part of. They hold the money and power, and if persuasion does not work, they will use force. I understand all of this, but even so. I rage at the fundamental absurdity of this being the universal system that defines the lives of all us.

Some love from the streets

I got some today…as I biked along 31st street towards Grand, an older black woman yelled at me “JESUS LOVES YOU!”

And I wondered, why does she think I don’t know that?

I started thinking about what made me look like someone down and out and in need of some saving! Did she think I was going to the new Planned Parenthood clinic that just opened there? Did she think any white girl on a bike in that neighborhood, on those streets, was looking for some kind of fix? Did she think I was lost…on the physical or metaphysical plane? I know I wasn’t dressed like a hooker, at least not today.

Hmm. It reminded me of a sunny Sunday morning when I was on my way to the farmer’s market, and some cholo straight up offered me pot, crystal, AND a good time. These things make me worry.

News in L.A.

Is horrifying, almost always, but today seems particularly bad…to sum up the L.A. Times California section’s dose of death and violence:

1. The son of Fabian Nunez, former California Assembly speaker and our own dear representative, was arrested in the fatal stabbing of a student in San Diego. Apparently he identified as part of the Hazard Crew…good old East Los gang, though maybe they’re operating in Sacramento?

2. A security guard shot and killed a man wielding samurai swords at the Hollywood Scientology building…this story is not without humour of course, the man was a former scientologist himself, and apparently talked of revenge. This only reinforces my theories about scientology…the actual article is on the fact that the guard will not face charges.

3. A Swedish hip-hop artist (!) by the name of David Jassy punched, kicked, and then ran over a pedestrian, after the pedestrian was rude enough to get hit by his SUV while in the crosswalk. The irony as acknowledged by Jassy is that the man, John Osnes, was a fellow musician, and deeper investigation reveals that he was of Norwegian parentage… the reporter seems to think that makes it all doubly ironic…

4. A mummified body was found in North Hollywood, the house was so stuffed with garbage that firefighters had to “hoist” the body out of window. It was of a woman who apparently lived with her 48 year old son, and died at least a year ago. It’s Psycho but with more trash. And no beautiful blonde. I do wonder about the theme music…

5. A woman is at trial for the 1969 murder of her toddler, she is charged with covering up the murder and burying the body. Her jury is deadlocked over her guilt.  I think I saw this case on some unsolved mysteries program at my parents house…

6. The coroner released the report today on the body of the train engineer responsable for the crash in Chatsworth killing 25 people. He was not drunk or high.

7. A Japanese businesman hanged himself with his T-shirt after being extradited to an LA jail to stad trial for killing his wife in 1981. Or so the LAPD says. His lawyer, however, states that the injuries are more consistent with choking or beating.

8.  An off-duty officer (in Central California, not LA) was convicted of felony battery for grabbing a man by his throat and the back of his shirt and throwing him down the concrete stairs of the Angel’s baseball stadium in Anaheim. What touched it off? He was tapped on the head by an INFLATABLE THUNDER STICK!

9. And then of course, we have the news from the Bay…so i don’t know if it counts, but it’s about the teenager that escaped from his home and collapsed in a parking lot bruised and beaten, with a three foot chain padlocked to his leg.

What a beautiful world we live in…and this is just the death and violence juicy enough to print.

Petroglyphs!

I found them! Eureka!

Well, my dad found them first…and took me too see them out in the desert, we drove and drove, walked and walked…I’m being cagey because I doubt that their exact location should be public knowledge. Because they are just there, you can touch them

It’s extraordinary to touch them, to stand in front of them in the middle of the desert, to search for them under stones. Here’s another, this motif could be seen several times, I don’t know what it means but it has sent my mind imagining of course, mysteries…

There were many more, if you click on the above images you’ll get to my flickr page where you can see all of them, they were truly extraordinary. At one time there were a great deal more, but the rock face is splitting off and falling away, I am sure myriads lie hidden, face down on the earth or crumbled into shards of rock. I happily climbed the cliff faces (not that I need an excuse to climb cliff faces). And the good news is that I can still do it in chanclas, to the right is a steep slope of scree, and myself showing off my powers in flip flops. I suppose I could have more grace and poise, but I am glad I’m still half wild, I worry sometimes that I face incipient and total domestication. Not that sensible footwear means domestication. I hadn’t actually realized the kind of hike we were going on or I might have been tempted into trainers, but I really hate wearing socks if the climate does not absolutely require it.

My brothers and I spent quite a bit of time looking for petroglyphs back in the day, we searched every cliff face within miles of our house I think…little did we know that the internet would soon be along with every location noted, as I have now found out. Still, there’s no real information there on the ancestors who carved them, and no knowledge of what they mean, I suppose they would have had to have been done by the Tohono O’odham, or those who came before? I remember reading a book by Frank Waters years ago about the ancient migrations and how they were tracked on the stone, but it’s been too long for me to remember properly. It was pueblo myth anyway, I doubt the folks down here would agree with it.

It was truly a gorgeous day in the desert today though, and one of the prettiest washes I’ve seen I think. It must be spectacular after the moonsoons, and full of deep pools perfect for swimming.They would collect below the pyroclastic flows of Rhyolite Tuffs like this one

My dad, and my fount of all geological knowledge is at the end of it, an ancient lava flow. The rock is beautiful

There was water there today, left from the rain over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely more seeping through the rocks in several places. We continued walking down the wash back towards the car

Final views of what I love about this place, saguaros:

Barrel cacti growing out of a rock face

And ocotillos against a blue blue sky

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Agua Caliente

A rare place I’ve never been before…well, on this side of town not so rare, but I had no idea it was even here! We drove out for a post lunch walk through a beautiful November day…a stroll really, it’s an idyllic oasis formed by a spring in the desert, expanded and planted around by palm trees, the water is full of ducks and the banks full of picnicking bbqing families, you get one overview shot because it’s not very exciting:

Me, I rather prefer striking out into the non-idyllic wilderness. I prefer wildlife with teeth or tusks or scales…but I do like my family mostly. There was a time when their dawdling ways would have had me raging with impatience, but now I just do my best to amuse myself while also dawdling along at their pace. Turtles help, look how cool these guys are

So I dawdled on, had I not been, I would have completely missed the crazy butterfly sex going on by the side of the path

We can all be glad we’re not butterflies, as life should be crazier than that. The chollas were beautiful:

If you’re ever lost and hungry in the desert you can eat the flower petals, but I don’t know about the fruits actually! They don’t look at all tasty, not like las tunas off of prickly pears, or saguaro fruits, those are lovely.  I found a rare species of cholla skeleton come to life in the form of a duck rearing its head through the dead grasses

(Imagination helps to amuse yourself, but probably not others). This is what chollas look like when they die, they’re extraordinary, I miss them. AND THEN my dad was attacked by an elderly and deceptively innocent docent for asking one too many questions about why the upper pools had been drained and left dry, or maybe it was before the cholla duck? Or was it the elusive cholla duck that attacked? I don’t know, it all happened so fast, but he was left sprawled on the cracked clay bed of what was once another small oasis

Dad’s a great sport I have to say. I didn’t think he was going to do it. It was still rather damp, and there was a fairly bad swampy smell.

So then we walked back to the big pond and stared at ducks. Hard to amuse yourself looking at ducks, but I managed, because I got lots of pictures of this:

Getting the perfect picture of a duck doing this cracks me up every time. I now have many, and I really don’t know what to do with them, I think it’s more fun to take pictures of them than to look at them. We had mallards doing it, coots, murgansers, and we learned a new duck this weekend, the American Wigeon. I suppose it’s not every weekend you learn a new duck! I’d hate to keep that to myself, so here it is

The sun was behind him, but the water came out well….

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Tucson

I was at the Hut on Friday, watching the live band with all of my brother Dan’s friends in it, they’re really good, so I was enjoying it, but after Melissa left I was on my own for a while. And feeling funnily split into layers, Tucson means too many things to me to fit inside really, they slide over each other uneasily, and I wonder who exactly I am.

It means the desert, which to me is beauty and freedom, wide open spaces and heat. It’s growing up in the adobe house my parents built on a dirt road removed from everyone but my immediate family. It is deep happiness in being alive, and every evening spent on the hill watching the sun set golden behind the mountains. It’s walking in the monsoons and being surrounded by water, watching it pour down the wash in waves of muddy roaring taller than me, sweeping everything before it while the sheet lightening brightens the sky and the thunder cracks and the world is fresh and new smelling. It means a fascination with the world around me, how plants grow and the lives of animals and insects. It is years of devouring every book I could get my hands on. It’s walking out the door with my dog and walking for miles and never seeing another human being. It’s running around barefoot. It’s losing everything.

It means school too, and years of never quite understanding the kids around me. It’s my own terrible shyness coming off as snobbishness I think. And being far too much of a school girl and never cool enough to pull off the second hand clothes and bad haircuts, and learning just how much other girls can wound you with only their words. And it was always being defensive and afraid…of just looking people in the eyes because that could be enough for them to physically hurt you. It’s P pounding some other girls head into the pavement with her right hand wrapped up in the girl’s long black hair. It’s blood on the floor of the hall, lockers bent out of shape, the guy that got shot in the high school parking lot, people taking pills in the drinking fountain and unplanned pregnancies all around me while I was still afraid of kissing. It was constant reminders of our poverty, and thinking about race and class and the world. A lot of fear and humiliation from school really, though I had some good times too.

It means working at Kmart, and living in the world where English is never spoken, going out to dive bars in South Tucson with my ex Luis, and dancing to rancheras and mariachi and tex mex pop in places where I wouldn’t get carded. It’s winning 20 dollars in beer vouchers in a cumbia contest in a bar just off the res, it’s a new fear of the migra. It’s all of my minimum wage jobs really, and coworkers like Art who used to go out driving with beers and his gun and shoot up the watch-for-cow signs on the reservation, and Mike who used to spend work breaks playing with salt, using his license to card it into snortable lines on the table. It’s Famous Sams where they used to have los tigres del norte and gath brooks and lowrider oldies and led zepplin on the jukebox, and where I used to play pool.

It’s coming home now, now that my parents live in a completely different part of town and having no contact with anyone I used to know, or the old places I used to go. I am almost like a tourist now, it never quite feels real. I sort of inhabit my little brothers’ Tucson which is completely different again. I haven’t even thrown in the Britishness, or Mexico or college or L.A. I’ve come so far since then, yet these are the foundations I suppose. I’m still not sure what they mean, though I keep stumbling over them.

Hatred and Happiness

Today I am hating LA.

There are few times I really hate people, very few. But EVERY time I try to get myself and my bike off of the train, and have to fight my way through a bunch of fat, ugly, morally bankrupt assholes who don’t have the common courtesy to let people off the train before they force their way onto it. Well. I hate them all. En masse and individually. And when people occasionally get a smack from one of my pedals or my bag I don’t even care, because damned if I get stuck on there and have to ride the train until the next stop. They always just stand there and stare at you when they’re directly in front. They don’t even try to move. And I don’t know what they think I’m going to do, I have far fewer options than they do if I want to get off the god damn train.

There are other things I hate about the train, but those have more systemic causes I know. I hate seeing kids the age of five and elders over 70 selling candy. I hate being around people drinking 40’s out of black plastic bags. I hate the simmering violence. Today in front of me there was an old black man spread out over three seats. And a rough 30-something  latino guy asked him to move his feet. And he refused. And so the latino guy pushed his way onto the seat beside him. And the interchange?

“You think that mother-fucking seat is worth getting your head blown off? I will blow your head off mother-fucker, and so tell me if your life is worth that mother-fucking seat. Just you reach for it mother-fucker, I dare you, I will shoot you in the mother-fucking head, all you god damn mother fucking beaners should stay on your own damn side of the border, stealing our jobs, I hate all of you god damn mother fuckers, I’ll shoot all of you…”

And so on. And me with my insides curling up with fear because people do get shot in this city for such stupid shit, and there’s no telling what the latino guy is going to do and there’s a couple of younger black kids drunk already and with 40’s in their hands sitting a few seats up and one stands up and walks back to see if he’s going to get into it, and so I thank fuck when the latino guy realizes he is dealing with someone crazy enough (and with little enough to lose) to actually hurt him, and moves away.  I hate it when poor people fight each other. It’s stupid, and it makes me angry. And I know that old guy has been kicked around by a horrible fucked up racist world, I hate that he let it beat him and takes it out on other people, other races.

And I’m still sore from getting hit by a stupid car, and I’m hating that too. I hate the stiffness along my right side and the ache in my shin. And i hate that people in cars don’t watch out for bicyclists.

And I hate the fact that I came home today looking forward to a wee bit of pasta, and all of the pots and pans have mysteriously disappeared. So I had to have tuna instead. And the can opener wasn’t really working. And there was no mayo. And i’m hoping that the pots will return with my roommate.

And you know, I started the day so happy. I’m not entirely sure why I woke up so happy, but I did. And then I wandered down to the liquor store for milk and tortillas and the old guy down there told me I was as beautiful as always even though I was all sleepy and tousled and entirely unwashed. He held my hand as he gave me my change and said he would love to marry me…what a lovely thing for the ego. Because he was very charming about it, and very respectful, and altogether a lovely old man. It’s not so nice when they’re lewd and creepy and look you up and down, I despise those guys, I’d have to hike up the hill to the Korean place.

And so this morning I sat on the bus surrounded by screaming children and wished happiness were contagious, that it could float around me to light up the grime and the dust the way afternoon sun sometimes does, set it dancing and spinning in tiny shining motes of light like golden butterflies. I thought that would be lovely. And then the day beat it out of me.

LA’s floating islands

Wealth in LA floats. We are not just segregated from north to south and east to west, but above and below. And I suppose I knew about the aerial isle that was once Bunker Hill, but I’d never really walked it, and until you walk you don’t really know a place. At 4th and Hope you are high up above LA, and all traces of the old Victorian neighborhood once there were completely bulldozed and destroyed several decades ago. And there followed some truly grim decades in terms of block architecture, and a planning model designed to keep public space as the exclusive right of the right people. So it is a modern wonderland of concrete and plazas leading to car garages and sleek, expensive men and women. There are a couple of skyscrapers built on it, their lights serve as the stars and I’ll not deny a strange beauty to them…there are some expensive shops and restaurants, but they all look like upscale chains. It’s that particularly L.A. thing I think, where everything is relatively new, sanitized, familiar, safe. People here trade what is real and true for a secure and enhanced façade every time, just look at sunset strip with its fake western bar, it’s fake Irish pub. Look at people themselves. And this place is made for cars, you have to climb a very steep hill to get here, and it isn’t the easiest thing on foot. I’m sure that’s quite deliberate. The right sort of person doesn’t walk in this city. I passed Gehry’s Disney hall, it’s on the edge of this as is MOCA. Wealth’s claim on high culture.

Usually I go beneath this place, through the terminator tunnel with its shiny white tiles reflecting the light when they are not falling off the walls, and the homeless sleeping along the sidewalk. I like it better underneath.  The higher you go in LA, the richer it invariably gets. From crack in Hollywood to cocaine in the Hollywood Hills and so it goes everywhere…even Echo Park has had its bastions of wealth up on top of everything, and now of course it is gentrifying at the speed of light, and from top down.

These things make me angry, so I’m glad the YMCA is still there, giving people one last reason to democratize space. I was walking because I forgot a clean shirt to change into after workout, sauna and steam, and couldn’t face jumping on a standing room only bus full of people going home from work. Especially since I was going home TO work. Happy Friday to me. But I haven’t really been home for so long, so I’m still enjoying it.

Robert King in L.A. and San Diego

I had the honor to drive Robert King around Southern California this past weekend to a handful of events centered on the Angola 3 campaign and his new book From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of ex Black Panther Robert Hillary King.

It’s an incredible story of what it means to be Black in this country; beautifully written and deep and it made me cry at two different points. And never fear, it has an inspiring ending.

I learned that I actually eat more than King, I wake up MUCH later, and that      there were possibly a few too many things edited out of the book (which I take responsibility for, though all complaints should be sent to my colleague ramsey). And a lot of really great stories that should have been in there but somehow never made it. Like the exact plan of how he escaped from Angola, and climbed walls using rope made out of the ticking from the mattresses and stepped on someone’s face and heard one of the women yell hey Tarzan, take me, it’s Jane…Which is why you have to hear him speak. But we were there to educate, not just tell stories, so I’ll be serious for a moment.

Slavery has continued in this country under the guise of prisons. There are now approximately 2.3 million people in prison, another 5 to 6 million people are on some kind of parole or probation, and 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 21 and 29 are incarcerated…

And there is a vast amount of money to be made on prisoners. The prisons get money for housing and feeding prisoners, and money for transporting them. They get money for the work that prisoners do while in prison. Prisons form the entire economic base and are the principal employer in many a small town. In Angola, Louisiana the 5,000 prisoners are counted in the town census as citizens allowing the town to receive additional federal benefits. Angola is 18,000 acres that went from plantation to prison with no break in between, even maintaining the sugar cane and cotton fields. Prisoners are guaranteed no rights in the constitution that supposedly abolished slavery. Here is a view of the place from the book:

So Robert Hillary King. He joined the Black Panther party in a Louisiana prison and worked to organize prisoners to protest the terror of the conditions they lived in. He, along with compañeros Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were actually succeeding in some things, like getting holes cut in the cell bars so that their food no longer had to scrape along the bottom of their doors when it was shoved underneath. They held classes in literacy and political education. They protested and worked to end the physical and mental abuse of prisoners, the constant invasive strip searches, and the prevalence of rape. They were reaching out to white prisoners. And so they were stopped.

King was framed in the murder of another inmate on his tier, found guilty though the man who had killed testified it had been in self-defense and that he had acted alone. Albert and Herman were framed in the murder of a prison guard (based on the testimony of seven eye witnesses – each of whom claimed they were the only ones at the scene besides the murderers! One of whom was shortly released on furlough due to his blindness. All of whom received incredible treatment from that day on, in spite of testimony that was hopelessly contradictory). King, although he was not in Angola at the time, was put under investigation as an accomplice, and was held in solitary for 29 years on that ground.

King fought his case over the years, and walked free in 2001. He said that he might be free of Angola, but Angola would never be free of him. He has kept that promise. Herman and Albert continue in prison, though Albert’s conviction has been overturned. The State has appealed the decision, and are resorting to character assassination in their attempt to ensure that both Herman and Albert remain safe and sound behind bars until they die.

So we started with an event sponsored by the Southern California Library at the L.A. Grand Theatre, a showing of the documentary on the Angola 3 (could use a bit more editing but is really a great documentary) with King speaking after. We had dinner with Gary Phillips and Gilda Haas (both future PM authors), then drove down to Whittier to stay with the Cambrons. It was a weekend of brilliant people and great hospitality I have to say! Then on Saturday we drove down to San Diego, where we stayed with Dennis Childs and his wife Saranella, both of them beautiful in every sense of the word. That day’s event was at the Malcolm X library, and the following day at UCSD.  Here he is at the Library:

And here are King and Dennis at UCSD:

And of course, we were traveling in style in the rented red mustang, here are King, Saranella and I, it has been extraordinarily hot here as you can see:

A brilliantly intense weekend, though I’ll admit my thoughts had a certain tendency to stretch somewhere rather different in a smiley day-dreamy sort of way. And it was an exhausting though rewarding trip, so happy reverie came as some relief in the rare downtime. I don’t think that’s why I did my best to make King miss his flight up to the Bay by jumping on the 605 North rather than South in rush hour traffic after a last lovely night in Whittier, it’s the fact I’ve yet to try my bike on the freeways I believe! Or that I don’t know Whittier. Or that I forgot to clarify the direction with Arturo before leaving. But everything worked out all right in the end…

There is much to be done on the campaign to free the remaining two of the Angola three. For more information on how to get involved, go to www.angola3grassroots.org, and for the book or dvd, click on the images above or go to www.pmpress.org.

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Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.