Smart and Playful

Jing Ling Selfie

Selfie in Qiu Zhijie’s JingLing Chronicle Theater Project

This month I visited the Venice Biennale for the first time, traveling with my son, Ray. We took in as much art as we could find, got magnificently lost, feasted on fresh seafood and pizza, sipped spritz cocktails, and watched the theater of the street (art historians could be spotted in yellow patent leather shoes and ironic eyewear).

With nearly 140 artists from 53 countries and sites spread all over the city and beyond, the Venice Biennale is impossible to comprehensively take in. This was particularly true of the central pavilion at the Giardini. The curator of this year’s Biennale, Okwui Enwezor, organized the exhibition around a wide interpretation of the theme All the World’s Futures. A Marxist critique of capital was one through line in the show (with live readings of Das Kapital throughout the 7 months of the exhibition), and we were pleased to discover abundant work that engaged the theme without being heavy handed.

The most effective work in the Biennale was smart and playful; the work that fell flat was redundant and overly self-conscious. There were a few “experimental” video installations that filled galleries with irritating, repetitive image and sound. I will happily work for a rich viewing experience, but there are abrasive approaches to video which have been fully played out of the last 2 decades and aren’t worth the investment. I’ve reached a similar conclusion with work that engages the body in a way that’s redundant or empty. In the British pavilion, for example, I found Sarah Lucas’ installation of truncated figures with cigarettes sticking into various orifices to be tedious, signifying a thin rebellion against nothing. The walls of the pavilion were painted custard yellow, and in addition to the plaster cast figures, there were high gloss black and yellow sculptures made of resin–stretched and lumpy phalluses, balls, tits, and legs. I thought of Louise Bourgeois’ fabric sculptures of similar forms–powerful pieces that still make me uncomfortable, though I’ve seen them many times. Relative to that kind of power to create pause in a viewer, Lucas’ work seemed more like posing.

Canadian Pavilion 1Some of the installation work offered an assault of visual information without solid conceptual linkage, though the excessive mess of the Canadian pavilion was perfectly suited to its content. There was a playful sense of nostalgia and critique in the work, and we laughed as we made discoveries in each room. Ray said, “This is just like the Canadians,” and there was something particularly Canadian about that deadpan humor!

Swiss Pavilion 1The Swiss pavilion was an example of how brilliant an installation can be with only a few elements, in this case pervasive green light and large pool of rippling Caucasian-flesh-colored water. Pamela Rosenkranz’ piece, Our Product, was one of the strongest of the show, engaging with issues of colonialism, race, and environment without losing its visual poetry.

Swiss Pavilion 2

French pavilion

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s French pavilion was another one of our favorites. Revolutions  included 3 trees, “machine-nature hybrids,” moving slowly around on mobile root balls inside the pavilion and on the patio outside. They moved in time with their own metabolism, which was echoed by a sound environment; both were based on the flow of the trees’ sap and their sensitivity to light and French Pavilion 3shade.  Inside, we were surprised to find an amphitheater of seats that appeared to be granite but were actually spongey, and after laughing at the discovery, it was a pleasure to relax on the cushions and spend some time with the installation.

Russian Pavilion 1
Chinese Pavilion 1

The Russian pavilion featured a complex series of works by Irina Nakhova, referencing Venetian architecture and water, as well as Russian history. Among other things, the viewer was visually immersed in the history of Venice, in particular the city’s rich and complex relationship between water and the built environment.

Chiharu Shiota’s The Key in the Hand hummed with energy in the Chinese pavilion. Wooden boats filled the space, and each boat was obsessively strung up with red thread and keys. I had the thought that the piece was too obvious, but I was ultimately seduced; it’s a dynamite installation.

In the U.S. pavilion, Joan Jonas’ installation, They Come to Us Without a Word, takes the form of drawings, videos, and commissioned objects. The piece won us over slowly, as the narrative of the work built from room to room. Jonas managed to create a visual and conceptual logic where casual work of the hand (gestural drawings of bees, for example), masterworks of design (Murano chandeliers, among other objects), and narrative videos (children engaged in theatrical exercises, etc.) made sense–each element seemed increasingly necessary to the whole as more of the work came into view.

United States Pavilion 1

j.jonas2

Experiencing Herman de Vries’ from earth:  everywhere in the Dutch pavilion, was like walking into an architectural scale artist/naturalist’s sketchbook. Carefully selected data samples were installed around the expanse of the room, evoking work by Richard Long, among other earthworks artists.

Dutch pavilion 1

Dutch pavilion 2

Nauman

There were many high points in the Arsenale galleries as well, and, as in the Giardini, contemporary work was successfully featured alongside key historical works. In the first room, we encountered Adel Abdessemed’s installation work, in the form of machete bushes, with Bruce Nauman’s classic 1983 neon, Human Nature/ Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know. 
Melvin Edwards

The first hallway of the Arsenale was populated by Melvin Edwards’ powerful sculptures, which read simultaneously as masks, weapons, and agricultural tools–perfectly suited for the venue, considering its history.

Mansarray

One of Ray’s favorite discoveries was the hallway of drawings by Abu Bakarr Mansaray, the self taught Sierra Leone artist. I was elated to share the experience of the Biennial with Ray, and I saw the work differently because of his fresh insights.

Grosse

Katharina Grosse’s Untitled Trumpet installation was low tech immersive. As we took in the room, I spotted a lizard darting into a hole in a mound of spray painted dirt and rock–a great viewing moment!

Theaster Gates installation Gone Are the Days of Shelter and Martyr is clean, concise, and hauntingly seductive. The piece at first appears to consist of slate wall/roof and a huge steel bell, yet one hears faint sound from behind the wall, and if courageous, the viewer braves edging around the bell (touching the art) to discover  a hidden room with a video installation. The materials for the piece were relocated from Chicago–derelict scraps that found life reworked as art in Venice.

Gates 1

Gates 2

There are many other artists and works that deserve to be mentioned, including some excellent, relevant paintings. I will most likely revisit some of that work in future posts (as well as covering some running adventures!). Sitting on my couch back in Maine, it occurs to me that I’ve been reading about the Biennale for years, yet I could never picture how the the pavilions, main exhibitions, satellite shows, and rogue exhibits all fit together. Hopefully I’ll make it back to Venice, but in the meantime my understanding of how the work is installed in that magical city gives me a much greater ability to read and understand analysis from afar. And I have a week’s worth of time spent with my youngest son to reflect back on, which is the ultimate treasure!

RayLuce

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High Road/Low Road

High Road/Low Road

I’m on Grand Manan this week, isolating myself from the chaos of house construction at home and holding off the distractions of daily tasks so that I can finish reading thesis papers and work on a large-scale drawing that’s been slow to evolve. I’m also taking time to get out and run every day.

swallowtail

The Whistle

Anchorage

Dark Harbour

I’ve explored a catalogue of favorite runs: from the cottage in Castalia to the Whistle and back, from the cottage to Swallow Tail light and back, from the cottage to Castalia marsh and back, the hilly loop beginning with the coastal Anchorage boardwalk, and finally, yesterday, the trail run from Southwest Head Light to Hay Point and back–extending the run for the first time to Bradford Cove.

Southwest Head

The terrain on the Hay Point run varies dramatically, from dirt roads to steep, rocky hills, to barely perceptible trails cramped by scrappy pines.

Trail to Hay Point

SWHead3

Trail toward Bradbury

On this trip, I was out for an hour and 40 minutes. It was a slow run due to abundant scenic vistas, but also due to wet bogs, pond-sized puddles, mud, roots, upended trees, and threatening spears of dead pine.

Direction

from the Southwest Head trail

From Hay Point

From Hay Point 2

After an hour or so of running, I entered that zone where my body seems more permeable and aware. This often happens on a long run. Everything becomes more sensory. My skin feels the air in a different way, and smells are intense–in this case, the blasts of warm pine and ocean salt. Sometimes when I’m running in the woods, I get a whiff of animal (something like oily fur) or human (traces of smoke and food). These faint traces startle me, not out of fear, but out of the surprise of smelling them at all. It’s a hyper-awareness that only happens when I’m running. I’m not suggesting a mystical union with the animal world, though the idea of becoming animal resonates (with a nod to Deleuze and Guattari). In that permeable state of motion, I experience a hint of freedom, a wonderful stripping away of identity, a departure from normal thinking patterns.

I’m also reading H is for Hawk, a memoir by Helen Macdonald, which explores the author’s experience of personal loss as it intersects with her work in falconry. Throughout the book, she trains Mabel, a young goshawk, and she describes periods of being in a semi-feral state of identification with her hawk and her own wildness, and then her re-emergence into community and into her life in the academic world. Macdonald does a brilliant job of describing those moments of splintering and reassembling identity and the mysterious longings that accompany both.

Movement has always felt right to me, as has a complex framing of identity—motion rather than stasis feels accurate in some inner register, if not always direct and easy to get my head (and life) around. In the meantime, running seems to be a reliable way to get at something that feels true…

Bogs Toward Deep Cove

Finished!

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Unexpected Sensuous Pleasures

Hamilton LookoutIt’s been a great few weeks of running, including my first week of covering more than 40 miles. I didn’t take on the extra miles intentionally; they just seemed to add up. Though I’m tired and sore (good tired and sore) at the end of most days, I don’t feel as if I’m beating up my body or overtraining; I’m simply enjoying being out there longer. After 5 years of slowly building up strength, I suddenly seem able to take on more distance, and I recover more quickly. I’m not sure if this growth will translate into better performance in races–the coming month will tell–but the true benefit is that my running takes me further and I can explore more territory.

One morning last week, I took a mellow 9-mile run, starting at a friend’s house in West Bath, then diverting onto the winding, wooded paths of the Hamilton Audubon Sanctuary. At one point on the trail, I was startled to hear loud clanking noises from the nearby cove (Back Cove). Through scattered pines, I spotted early morning clammers dropping their catch into metal buckets. They had etched dark meandering lines into the wet sand of low tide. I chuckled, realizing that this is exactly the kind of unexpected sensuous pleasure that running has brought into my day-to-day life.

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In Memory

LuceMile8

After the Cabot Trail Relay in May, I’ll start planning for the Grand Manan Half  in July. I’ve been wanting to write about the 2014 race–my second half marathon–but a shadow was cast over the entire island last summer due to a series of tragic events; I decided it would be best to wait a while before posting. The race took place shortly after a horrible accident–one of several tragic deaths on the island in 2014. Danielle Shaw Park, a 17-year-old girl, died in a car crash a few days before the race, in an accident involving several other Danielleteens. The island was clearly in mourning, and as we gathered for the race that Friday evening (it’s an evening race), we were surrounded by tributes to Danielle. She was well known on the basketball court (#9), for her volunteer work in the island art gallery, and for her dream of becoming a teacher. The race (a 10k, in addition to the 13.1) was populated by friends and family wearing t-shirts honoring Danielle, all running together to share their disbelief and to experience the support of the island community. The experience was a communion of sorts, and we could feel the raw energy ripple through the participants #9before, during, and after the race. This year will hopefully be a joyous one for the island, but I’m sure that as we gather, we’ll remember Danielle and the other losses that the island sustained last summer.

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Hot and Hilly

Great Bay Half, finishLast weekend I ran the hot and hilly Great Bay Half Marathon–my fourth half since I started running 5 years ago. The Newmarket, N.H. race was part of the Will Run for Beer series, and Loco Races did a great job of organizing the event. The Newmarket crowds were charged up with the running spirit as well. In addition to fuel stops and cheering onlookers along the route, at mile 6 there was a hula hoop, fiddle playing guy on roller skates, followed by belly dancers at mile 12! On and off the course, people were having a blast.

R

With the Cabot Trail Relay  coming up in May, my plan was to do the Great Bay Half as a training run. The Relay is a huge event on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and I’m running it for the first time this year. I’m working on gaining more control over my running gears, and I was coached to run the first 5 miles of the Great Bay Half at a relaxed pace, then to pick it up and race the final 8 miles. It didn’t work out quite like that due to the relentless hills and warm temps.

GBHalfSTARTI placed myself further back in the pack at the starting line, and spent the first 4 miles of the race reining myself in. With the goal of “conversational pace,” I tried chatting with the people around me. I couldn’t get more than a nod and a word out of anyone so I focused on awareness of effort, making sure my breathing was steady and unlabored. Awareness of one’s body and surroundings is the primary reason not to race with earbuds, and I’d actually love to see them banned in longer, more technical race events. In this race, I had three near-collisions with runners who were completely unaware of what was going on around them. At one point I ran by a couple arguing about ipods–the woman complaining that unless they both turned down the volume, they wouldn’t be able to hear each other during the race!

The race shirt for the Great Bay Half reads: These legs conquered the hills of the Great hillsBay Half Marathon, and they’re not kidding! In the early miles of the race, the rolling hills kept the terrain interesting, along with great views of the woods and the bay. After I picked up the pace in the fifth mile, I realized that in spite of the mellow pace, my legs were still taking a beating from the terrain. After 8 or 9 miles of up and down, I muttered, “Sweet Jesus, are these hills ever gonna let up?” The guy next to me chuckled and said, “Not until the final stretch of the race, when you get to run downhill to the finish!” He went on to say that there would be a respite during a 2.5 mile lollipop loop through a residential development. GBH5I was still feeling pretty strong as I turned the corner into the development, but at that point the tree cover disappeared and the miles under the sun began to take a toll. I reminded myself that a short recovery time after the half would be key, in order to continue my training for the Cabot Trail Relay uninterrupted. I stopped looking at my watch at about mile 11 and just ran it in. I know it was a smart choice, given the unexpected challenges of the race, though it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if I’d taken it on as a race from the start!

Beer

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Geeking Out with Running Stories

Hoka CliftonsThis morning I ran an 11-mile out and back alongside the Rillito River in Tucson, Arizona. The paved trail runs for 12 miles along both sides of the dry riverbed, which makes it perfect for long running. The trail is the main attraction of the Rillito River Park and includes a few handy bathrooms and water stops along the way. I was told that the route is popular for elite training, and that Meb Keflezighi and others have been spotted streaking by.

When I travel, I tend to look for new running adventures, and in preparing for this journey to visit my mother in Tucson, I learned that one of her colleagues at the UAZ, writer Ander Monson, is also a runner (check out Ander’s excellent website, which links to his publications and other projects). Ander and I had an email dialogue about where we are in our training schedules, and since today was his last long run before tapering for a half marathon next weekend, I thought I’d join and see if I could keep up. We had a great run, and, as often happens when sharing the trail with a new friend, we geeked out with Ander, Athena, Lucindarunning stories.

Ander ran with a stroller, and Athena, his 18 month old daughter, spent the morning scanning for dogs and horses, cooing her approval, and periodically tossing socks, a frisbee golf disc, and a pink sippy cup onto the tar.  Ander and I both felt strong on the first half of the run. It was relatively cool, in the 70s, when we set out at 8:15 a.m. There was a light breeze at our backs, and we were chatting easily, running a pace in the high 8s. At the turnaround point, we took a quick break for nourishment—a clementine, honey almond butter, and a few crackers—and began the run back. After a quarter mile, the wind picked up dramatically. We were suddenly running straight into the hot sun, against a blasting headwind. I started to heat up, and though it felt like we were maintaining a steady pace, we’d slowed down quite a bit. The gusts were also kicking up desert sand from the riverbed, and I was wishing I’d brought my shades. Finally, with a single mile left–a long single mile–we stopped to refill our water bottles. Ander soaked his hat under the faucet and popped it back on his head. I followed suit–what a great way to cool down!

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I realized that my legs and feet still felt great and that I had no hip pain. My hips had been a bit sore over the last few weeks, and on my first day in Tucson, I’d decided to do some sneaker research (this practice inevitably leads to sneaker shopping!). Hokas had been highly recommended by a friend, but I’d always thought they looked bulky; they’re not! Back in Maine, thinking I needed more cushion, I’d tried on the new Adidas Ultra Boost, but the price tag of $180 was a turn off, not to mention the 10.6 oz. weight. The Saucony Triumph ISO (9.0 oz.) is one of my favorites–my current shoe–but I like mixing it up a bit. At Fleet Feet in Tucson, I tried out the Hoka Cliftons and knew they were perfect the second I put them on. They might look bulky but they weigh 6.6 oz with no sacrifice in cushion. At $130, the Hokas aren’t inexpensive, but out of the box they felt great for 11 miles. I’m a fan. 

A new friend in my running posse, fresh sneakers, and 80° desert temps after a long Maine winter…what a great day!

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Critical Engagement Playground

EfrainAlmeida

Viewing Efrain Almeida at CRG

I was due to arrive at a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center in late October, and I needed to complete the last leg of the Sebago Lake to Casco Bay run before my departure from Maine. My plan was to arrive at the residency with a complete line (the line created by running from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay with a gps watch). Time was running short, but the week before my departure, I decided to drive to New York to catch some exhibits and pick up my son, Link, who’d been on a bike trek from Washington D.C.

It turned out to be one of those New York trips where everything clicks. First, we caught the Jeff Koons’ show at the Whitney (the final weekend of the show and of the museum’s Madison Avenue location). Viewing the span of Koons’ work deepened my understanding of the artist, and though many of the individual objects still strike me as thin, I left the show thinking of the entire exhibit as a kind of critical engagement playground. There were some particularly enjoyable moments–the early basketball work, the tinted mirrors, and the huge pile of Play-Doh, among others–but viewing Koons’ work in a packed museum was what gave it life. Some viewers strutted around, decked out and oozing swagger; others nervously glanced from gallery to gallery, not sure where to let their eyes settle. Viewing Koons in public catches the viewer in a paradox of self conscious seduction, as if one doesn’t want to be seen enjoying the scale and glitter of banal objects too much. This feeling is amplified with the pornographic images. Viewers tended to cluster around the museum labels, not wanting to be seen enjoying, disliking, or being shocked by the posed intimacy between Koons and his ex-wife, Italian porn star and politician Cicciolina (Ilona Staller). Koons’ direct gaze amplifies the feeling of being seen watching, or being seen while avoiding looking too closely. That tension seemed an key component of the show.

Koons_MadeinChelsea was a pleasure this time around as well, with a surprise discovery of Brazilian artist, Efrain Almeida’s work, at CRG (image above). We were also able to catch Robert Gober’s retrospective, The Heart is Not a Metaphor, at MoMA. Gober was a wonderful counterpoint to Koons. With Gober, low-value materials were jam-packed with narrative and social critique. He had transformed wax, wallpaper, newspaper, suitcases, bathtubs, sinks, and even holes jackhammered into MoMA’s granite floors, leaving layers of meaning for the viewer to unpack. Gober’s Untitled (Candle), of 1991, would make for an interesting comparison with Koons.

I was inspired. Link and I had jam-packed two days with feasting, family and friends, and art; now it was time to load up the bike, head back to Maine, and get back to work.

A few days later, after settling in at home,  I set out on a cold and rainy afternoon to complete the final Presumpscot River run. Link agreed to come along so that I could make it a point-to-point rather than an out and back. I’d noted from a map that I might come across a closed section of the rail trail, but from a Google Maps satellite view, it looked like I’d be able to make my way through. I was optimistic.

I set out on an industrial stretch of trail; it wasn’t particularly lovely, but it looked passable.  IndustryGood Start 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was just settling into a groove when I came upon a fence–essentially a metal box over a bridge, which Blockedmade it impossible to cross over the road to the trail on the other side. The sign was menacing, andSignage after a few minutes of deliberation, I decided not to scramble down to the road and up the other side; I’d reroute by the road.

I began to make my way down a hill in the direction of the river. After a few strides, I ran into another sign, even more menacing.

Menacing Signage I crossed back over the trail and made my way through some wet, swampy grass to the road. At that point, I was drenched and cold. I had 5 miles to go, if everything went smoothly. I ran up over a ridge by Windham’s Maine Correctional Center, wondering if the prison explained the menacing signs. Over the hill, at the intersection with River Road, I glimpsed a long stretch of horse barn, one of the few scenic views of the run. With no sign of the Presumpscot, I took off down River Road, as cars 10.FarmViewraced by over wet pavement. I spent the next 5 miles frequently jumping off the small shoulder as cars and trucks Long Wet Roadbarreled by, apparently oblivious to my presence.

After a long 5+ miles, I reached Westbrook and realized I must have run by the entrance to the Community Center. I called Link, did a 180, and began to retrace my steps. I was wiped out, and when Link showed up a few minutes later, I gratefully climbed in the warm car where dry clothes were waiting for me.

I’d finished the Presumpscot River line–a significant part of my first watershed run. In Vermont, I’d be able to fill in the gaps in my growing installation of drawings and paintings.

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