Things Consumed

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Sunday, April 11, 2010


  Confident advice from an accomplished opera-singer to an up-and-coming opera singer about the pacing of a song:
Make the conductor wait for you.
I'm pretty sure that only works if you 'win' some sort of cosmic ego battle. But one should aspire to being someone the conductor waits for.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:22 AM

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thinking outside what box?

  I've come across some more of those "guided" craft projects, the sort which aren't intended to be inspirational, but instead tell you EXACTLY how to make a project - a greeting card, a flower arrangement, a craft project for your home - look EXACTLY like the one in their photo. They give you brand names and specific colors of every supply, they tell you how to measure every little item...

These things always baffle me: I don't see how they are interesting. If I wanted something that specific without any creative input from me, I'd just buy it pre-made and save myself the labor. If I'm going to make something, I'm REALLY going to make it: it will be of my creation.

I complained about one of these to a friend, and she said these packages are great, because if she wants to make something, she wants it to turn out "right."

The difference between me and my friend is that I don't believe there is only one way for things to be "right." Which, I suppose, is why I make things for pleasure without fear of doing wrong, and she buys things.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Friday, January 22, 2010

Handmade science books

  The New York Public Library has a full set of scans up of its copy of Anna Atkins' masterpiece! NYPL Digital Gallery | Ocean Flowers: Anna Atkins' Cyanotypes of British Algae ( fills the search results you can peform if you search for "cyanotype." The NYPL's summary:
Photographs of British Algae is a landmark in the histories both of photography and of publishing: the first photographic work by a woman, and the first book produced entirely by photographic means. Instantly recognizable today as the blueprint process, the cyanotypes lend themselves beautifully to illustrate objects found in the sea. The Library's copy of British Algae originally belonged to Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), inventor of the blueprint process, among his many other photographic as well as scientific advances.
My favorite single image may be Dictyota dichotoma, but I've been known to change my mind.

I love the idea of producing small editions of hand-bound books of unique prints. In my spare time. While I'm resting.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Saturday, January 16, 2010


  lighting at SFMoMA 75th Anniversary Party concert room, January 15, 2010If I had known that the line to get into SFMoMA's 75th anniversary preview party would snake all the way around the block, I probably would have just gone home. It just seemed so... improbable. When have I ever had to wait in line to get into SFMoMA? That's the point of being a member - not waiting in line.

As the gentleman waiting in line beside me observed, how the heck is he supposed to feel elite in a line like this? I told him to think of it as a mass performance piece. That only consoled him somewhat.

The line moved quickly: I passed the loading dock dining area featuring Taco Truck, a Belgian waffle truck, and Chez Spencer's French take away truck by 8:50, and was in the door and submerged in the art-loving, party-going throngs by 9.

I have never seen that building quite so full of people. Every balcony on the stairwell, the bridge, the entrance to the stairs - all were packed.

SFMoMA exterior in low lightI had cleverly seen the 75th anniversary show (ending today!) and the first half of Focus on Artists (Richard Diebenkorn, Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Clyfford Still) in advance, so I could focus my energy on not being trampled, observing proper mosh pit behavior, watching a live performance by the Magik Magik Orchestra (, who filled the space usually occupied by Caffe Museo and played over an incredible din (and who played poppy tunes quite unlike what they have up on myspace, which, to the extent I could make out the parts, sounded fun (some of which reminded me structurally of songs by Marcy Playground, even though they weren't actually very similar)), chatting with three great people I hadn't seen in a while, watching part of the set by the Dodos ( interesting than the orchestra), and acquiring champagne from stoic, overwhelmed bartenders using a drink ticket that another patron reached over and handed me upon hearing me tell my friends that I wanted a drink. (Yaaay, art patrons!)

It was a nice scene to visit, and I'm glad no one was trampled while I was there. I'm glad I went, because I wouldn't have believed that the museum has so many members, or that so many people could fit into the building.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)12:04 PM

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My, your cells are so... big

  It's been nearly a year since I last visited the Cartoon Art Museum ( here in San Francisco. (See my note from last time.) There were several nice exhibits up, each different from the others.

Once Upon a Dream: The Art of Sleeping Beauty contains many original cells, backgrounds, sketches, color keys, color tests, and other artifacts from Disney's 1959 classic. The cells over backgrounds were especially lovely... and they were enormous. This was one of just two wide-screen format films that Disney made, this one being in 70 millimeter 'widescreen' mode. The cells were easily 11"x17", and some of the backgrounds (which must have been panned over) ran to about 24 inches in length. The studio also used live models in action to Rotoscope ( certain scenes that they wanted to be especially realistic.

The fact that this film is one of the most gorgeous that Disney ever made, and hasn't really been topped, suddenly makes a great deal of technical sense. The studio also allowed one primary designer to control the look of the film, which gave it a more unified, consistent overall design.

Monsters of Webcomics re-introduced me to some comics I've enjoyed in the past, such as Dorothy Gambrell's Cat and Girl (, whose dark strips about the inevitability of death cheered me enormously, and strips I haven't seen before, like Nicholas Gurewitch's The Perry Bible Fellowship (, in which everyone is terribly misunderstood and horrible, horrible things happen, or Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, which I like because all of her eyes are these expressive, horizontal ovals, and combining those eyes with comics about Jane Austen's relatives demanding make-out scenes in her books is just too good.

Most of these artists hand-draw their strips, scan them, and then finish them digitally, which I found interesting.

Also on view right now: puppets and set pieces from The Fantastic Mr. Fox stop-animation film (note to my co-workers: this is not about my boss); original cells and artwork from a range of other familiar and old-school comics; a collection of "underground" comic work from an SF local (who utilizes that same style that Crumb's strips did, in which women's anatomy is exaggerated in a particular style that I find both anatomically incorrect and aesthetically icky); and some elaborate black and white cover art from a local small press. My eyes were already full, however.

Sharing a foyer is Foto-Grafix Books, which I've never seen more full of merch. This bookstore has gradually evolved from the Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams bookstore into a store specializing in the art of animation, graphic novels, manga, and DVDs. They always have something interesting to look at.


posted by Arlene (Beth)7:27 PM

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where the Wild Meals Are

  The City's new(ish) Contemporary Jewish Museum ( currently has a cafe menu inspired by Maurice Sendak. I was wondering what big monsters might like to eat: I need wonder no longer: CafeMenuNov17.pdf (pdf).

Those monsters are more veg-friendly then they look!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 07, 2009

The filter of memory

  I gush often about The Nation (Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865) (, my favorite newsweekly. It has a depth that corporate newspapers lack, includes opinions from people who aren't American (*gasp*!), and has had amazing cultural commentary, especially in the art and film criticism area.

The feature "Back Talk" includes short interviews with people working on a wide range of cultural products. Back Talk: Jarvis Cocker (, 9/14/09 edition) is a good example of a great, brief interview with the front man of the band Pulp. He is a musician, a curator, and dad with some interesting thoughts about things like the meaning of music, and whether some songs are too important to be randomly encountered on your mp3 player, whether music sampling can provide for the happy accidents and interpretations that would come from sampling from your memory instead of a digital source file, and involvement in creative culture. Excerpt:
Meltdown [a show Cocker curated] was about the fact that culture isn't something you consume. You can create it yourself; you can participate in it.... People have become spectators in their own life. The consumer ethos has infiltrated not just the way people live their lives but also the way they consume culture. I'm an old person, so I was brought up when punk rock happened, and the message was that you can do it yourself.
Making culture yourself is one of *the* major goals of life for me, so these short thoughts were inspiring.


Jarvis' commentary on the lack of bass in music now, due to the compressed mp3 file format and earbuds, led to a conversation about the digital age with my pals that was all that I love my friends for: with great faux-fortitude, we mocked the less-is-more of audio data compression, the lack of heat in digital fire, and my contention that it is much more difficult to steal souls in digital photography, since the file is too small and lossy to contain a soul.

I have GREAT friends.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wal-Mart and books: natural enemies

  I have never purchased anything at Wal-Mart, and have yet another reason not to: they ban/censor books. Which is to say they refuse to carry certain books that don't make it past their screens for certain ideas and imagery. If you go to PostSecret ( right now, you'll see a little note in the text, just above the image showing that the latest PostSecret Book made its debut at number 1 on the NYTimes ( Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous hardcover bestseller list(!). The note:
The new book is available from bookstores everywhere* and online.

Thanks for making our secrets #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

* Wal-Mart stores continue to ban/reject all PostSecret books.
It is GREAT that the new PostSecet book is doing so well! It's an enjoyable project. It is selling well! How could a chain store ban it?

In theory, all stores are private businesses which can carry whatever they like, and people are free to shop wherever they like. In practice, the predatory business model of certain big-box chain stores is to drive all competition in smaller 'markets' out of business, and then engage in oppressive monopoly practices. Small communities can find their access to birth control, books, magazines, "fair trade" products, movies, and music CDs dictated by the policies of the only retail venue they have access to, which has its own agenda.

Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town ( discusses the scope of this one chain's ability to censor, using a series of conservative screens:
While Wal-Mart is the world's largest CD retailer, and in some regions the only place in town to purchase music[,] entertainment products represent only a fraction of their business. However, it is a different story for recording artists. Because Wal-Mart reaps about 10 percent of the total domestic music CD sales, most musicians and record companies will agree to create a "sanitized" version specifically for the megastores.
They don't use my favorite example, which is an Eels song about how difficult it is to live without a loved one, using a profane word for emphasis. W-M banned the album until the Eels re-recorded the song and changed the title for a sanitized version, though they did it sarcastically: E yells "MONSTERTRUCKER" over the offending word whenever it appears. I learned about this through someone who had purchased the CD at the offending big box chain store in his small-town area without knowing that there was another version of the album available, because no disclosure is required.


I want to say that at least W-M is not vandalizing the songs themselves, but the upside to that would be that it would be more obvious. A friend who attended a religious school in Utah reported that the school had movie night, during which the school would show mainstream movies which they had censored themselves - and often not well, so the students at least knew that they weren't getting the film as its creators intended it (in violation of the license that comes with the films, but that's another matter). The kids who had relatives out of the area would later see the whole film elsewhere if it interested them; the locals didn't have many options.


Can you imagine a censored version of Reservoir Dogs without the violence? Or The Terminator without the one scene that explains where Sarah Connor's son comes from? The English Patient without the adultery? It would make more sense not to watch those films at all, rather than to sanitize them, which is the aspect of censorship that confuses me. I think of films, and albums, and sculptures as complete works: if the content is objectionable, it makes far more sense not to watch it at all than to demand the right to see it 'cleaned up' for your restrictions.

It would make even more sense to make your own original films that follow your subculture's values. But that would require creativity.

I suspect I fail to see that mainstream mass-cultural products have a desirable credibility that even fringe groups want access to, and sanitizing and censoring those products is one way to claim an association with the mainstream, even if that association is fractured at best.


This isn't new: art history is full of incidents in which art was suppressed, especially any accurate depictions of the human figure - a figure we all have, more or less, last I checked.

Michelangelo's sculpture David was considered scandalous, and a strategically placed fig-leaf was installed on reproductions of the work in the presence of important ladies, who weren't supposed to understand male anatomy. That was stupid, too. Funny in retrospect, but stupid.

It is also a bit ironic, if Wikipedia's note that the statue came to represent the struggle for civil liberties is accurate.


Just so you know: during a zombie plague outbreak, I'd be okay with looting a Wal-Mart. That is a very special circumstance, possibly the only one in which I would set foot in one. Just so you know.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:00 AM

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best Use of Architecture In an Action Film

  The award goes to... [riiiippppppp!] The International. [wild applause]

Yes, it is an action film. Yes, it is about how international banking corporations can be evil. Yes, we all know that the whole point of corporations is to be amoral entities slavishly devoted to making money. Yes, we all know that the whole point of banks is to separate you from your money and to benefit from your money in ways that you never could, because it is a rigged system. We all KNOW this. We just don't usually get to discuss it in the context of tall Danish and Italian men in outrageously expensive suits having gunfights in stylish modern art museums or across the rooftops of scenic villas after watching breathtaking flyovers of gorgeously composed views of perfectly lit cities.

The gunfight in the Guggenheim is my favorite movie gunfight of all time. I don't even like gunfights in movies, nor movies with this poor of a male-to-female ratio! This really just means it doesn't have much competition, but still.

As a still photographer and fan of architecture, this film was stellar.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Could I please borrow your robot army?

  Wanted: photogenic robots of smaller-than-human-yet-larger-than-a-coin size to pose for photography project. Yes, this is for ART - NOT for world domination, despite all those rumors about me and my intentions that you may have heard from thoroughly disreputable sources.

Please contact the author if you have such an army, or a few charming robots.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:19 PM

Monday, September 14, 2009

New film from Joerg Steineck

  Filmmaker Joerg Steineck has a new film out! It's a documentary about a Swedish rock band. See the rockin' preview here: Truckfighters (


Watching this preview and hearing the band speak make me think about creative mental disorientation that can occur when you try to operate in the ordinary, working world. Massive Attack, who have a new album coming out after nearly a decade, remarked on this recently in Massive Attack: 'Phantom funk? Who said that?' | Music | The Guardian (, 9/10/09). After explaining that MA has NOT been procrastinating, but have recorded more than three albums' worth of material that they have rejected, the article continues:
After touring an album, you have this strange void that follows it, where you feel slightly displaced, like you've just finished with the circus and you've got to find a new job.
I can't easily imagine transitioning from the circus to an office job, but that's the point: it's not a natural transition.

In Truckfighters, there is a similar sentiment expressed by the band: they emerge from immersing themselves in music, and find that everyone else is living in a different mental world, a Matrix-like coma of ordinariness.

I'm sure this has happened to you in other contexts. You've returned from vacation, and have trouble accepting your daily working life. You return from the wilderness, and can't comprehend how you live in such a noisy, crowded city. You finish a good book, and you feel changed, but everything else was frozen in time while you were reading, and failed to change with you. Creativity can be as immersive as a vacation or a great book, and it can be hard to transition back. It's fun to read about that happening to others.

Watch the trailer!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

23,000 labor hours, 4 cranes, and a lot of fire

  cloudy day photo of metal sculpture from Crude Awakening, West OaklandOne of the fun features of my bike ride through West Oakland is a pair of two massive, metal sculptures that were once shown at Burning Man (, the spectacular desert festival held annually in Nevada. (See cloudy day phone photo at left.) These sorts of giant sculptures, plus intricate temples and all manner of other fabulous, gorgeous, interesting installations that appear around the Bay Area during the summer months, represent the large-scale creativity that had made Burning Man conceptually amazing to me.

I can be impressed by really big art, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

I love the temples built by David Best (especially The Temple of Honor and the Temple of Joy (see also this Temple of Joy interior view) all at, The Waffle (seen here as a gigapan panorama at, the Man (of course), and Black Rock City itself.

Yes, Black Rock City. The logistics of setting up the 7th or 10th largest city in Nevada, a city of 50,000 or so people on a temporary basis, are quite stunning. And to do so in a way that looks this cool in a satellite image is a major feat. Here, I'm adding a link to a NASA satellite image of Black Rock City which links to a larger version at Wikipedia. NASA image of Black Rock City from Wikipedia Commons (I [heart] Wikipedia.)

Strangely, my fascination with these large projects may be the reason I have NOT been to Burning Man. It seems like the most fun way to participate would be to work on a BIG project that is already planned out, and I don't have friends who work on this sort of thing (or, if they do, they've been keeping their work secret). I've received lots of abstract encouragement to attend, but no invitations to wild sketching & stitching sessions to build massive, self-supporting tensile structures to shelter a camp of crazed, costumed, tensile structure designers and vegan chefs who dance non-stop to downtempo electronica and provide first aid and vegan cookies to random passersby (<-- my fantasy first BM experience). This {excuse} has allowed me to avoid the near-impossible struggle to actually get a week off before Labor Day to participate, though the struggle would be worth it.

Speaking of projects completely beyond my abilities, I want to share a link to Headless Point: Crude Awakening 2007 (, the massive project that the West Oakland metal men belong to. 180 people invested 23,000 labor hours to make this project go. 5,000 pounds of explosives, 400 gallons of jet fuel, 300 gallons of gasoline, 1600 gallons of propane, and 64 tons of steel (61 of that salvaged) were used in this project and its flaming finale. WATCH THE VIDEO. Yes, it took four cranes to raise the model oil derrick. Yes, I got a bad case of crane envy just watching.

This page provides interesting environmental comparisons about the impact of the fuel and materials they used against what you consume in your daily life. (When was the last time you thought about how much fuel the plane used to carry you to your vacation destination? Or the amount of fuel used to ship the items in your house from where they were made to the store where you got them? There are questions people will ask about art that they will never ask about the things they choose to do every day.)

It's satisfying to see the story behind these sculptures, and to know where they were made (in another building I bike past), and how they were hauled out to the desert, lifted into place with cranes operated by professional operators, rigged with explosives by pyrotechnicians, and viewed by thousands of people.

Collaboration produces some incredible results!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:55 PM

Friday, September 04, 2009

The most adorable sleeping squid you have ever seen

  Look at this. Look at it! Awwww!!! Do squids dream of swimming sheep? on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Possibly even cuter: the sketches she (Justina Kochansky) submitted to the Black Pebble Arts Foundation with her grant application to create and install this work at Balsa Man ( (scroll down near the bottom of the page).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:15 PM

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Oh, how I love Wikipedia

  If I had been born before photography was invented, and were permitted to pursue interests similar to the interests I have now, I probably would have been a scientific illustrator. So I love things like this: File:Haeckel Asteridea.jpg - The 40th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1904), depicting organisms classified as Asteridea. (

LOVE. Love love love.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Street art comes indoors

  Short and sweet: this is a fun slide show of BBC - Bristol - In pictures: Banksy's Bristol show (, 6/12/09).


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feed the Artists - Be the Artists

  In an era where Americans cut every creative program possible during all but the flushest economic times, the British are considering an increase in funding for the arts.

Wild About Harry by D.D. Guttenplan (, subscription required - and you really should subscribe) discusses how the many positive impacts of the American Works Progress Administration during one of the United State's major economic depressions is inspiring plans for new programs to support Britain's cultural industries.

The British have fabulous cultural industries they intend to preserve through the current economic crises, and the article touches briefly on innovative ideas that sprung from a lecture on the merits of the WPA. But what I liked best about the article, aside from a progressive characterization of the WPA's cultural achievements, was this very democratic statement:
It was the WPA that taught a generation of Americans that culture is not something that you go out and buy, or passively consume, but something that is made by and belongs to people like themselves.
The WPA produced some great art and architecture during some very difficult times. We now think of those buildings, those murals, those photos, as quintessential American treasures. Imagine what we could make now, if we cared to invest in it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:07 PM

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Bottle on the Roof

  night view at SFMoMA roof garden[Image at left: an evening view from SFMoMA's new roof sculpture garden, looking toward the galleries]

There is an update to my list of cafes of which I am fond, and that is Blue Bottle Coffee's ( new location on the new roof garden at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (

The museum already has a very good restaurant, but it is delightful to have yet another indoor/outdoor option. Up on the top floor, you can pass over a "bridge" between the main museum building and its garage, and find yourself in a pleasant, indoor space with two sculpture-filled patios on either side. Blue Bottle is nestled into the far wall, behind an attractive sliding panel that hides the cafe when it is closed. When it is open, it is easy to find, because that is where the addicts are all lined up, waiting for their fix.

Blue Bottle SFMoMAThe cafe is tidy, and the staff are pleasant and efficient, though BBC fans know that it takes some time for their perfect cup of coffee to be prepared. There is no drip tankard: each cup of coffee is brewed when it is ordered, carefully attended to, and served fresh and hot.

The coffee is relentlessly delicious, and incredibly strong. The dishware is made locally by Heath Ceramics, and is satisfying to hold, even when not filled with hot coffee - though it is even better when filled with hot coffee. The sculpture garden is a peaceful refuge from the busy streets below, with a broad expanse of sky between buildings, a lovely close up of the gorgeous Pacific Telegraph building behind it, and views of construction cranes to the southwest. There are plenty of benches, and even when it is breezy, it is easy to find sheltered spot to sit and people-watch.

Near the cafe is one of my favorite sculptures by Louise Bourgeois: The Nest, a grouping of protective, ever-larger spiders hovering over smaller ones. I hope I am as cool an artist as Ms. Bourgeois when I am a grown up. I'm also fond of Mario Merz's Lens of Rotterdam, which is new to me.

I'll be spending more time here.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)4:47 PM

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forbidden Tomato Love!

  It is one thing to make a film of the Oedious myth. It is another to cast it entirely with... animated vegetables. Oedipus The Movie ( is one of those things that, even with my vivid imagination, I am unlikely to have come up with. For this, I am thrilled... and strangely relieved.

It must be seen. To be believed, or otherwise.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:40 PM

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Artists Think

  I love photography and I love books, so I have been spending entirely too much time at the photo-eye ( website, and/or reading its newsletter. Wandering around the site, I came to a lengthy and really worthwhile interview: Photo-Eye Magazine: Hank Willis Thomas.

The interview covers many topics, and Thomas has many interesting things to say about how our culture works, how branding works, how African-American identity has been dramatically reshaped by advertising... All very relevant topics, with many quotable sections of the article along with his excellent work. But here's a quote I especially liked:
I think that when we go to look at contemporary art and we don't get it because it just a block of paint or whatever, we forget that our minds are trained to be organized and to think a certain way and we are not allowed to expand on simplicity or the absurdity of something. [Charles Long's] argument is that artists are really valuable to our society because they do what the society itself can not do, otherwise we turn into robots. We inform the world, we inform life. I don't know if it is directly going to affect change, but I think the fact that we have a certain portion of our society whose job it is to make us think about what we are looking at or the things we don't have time to think about in our daily life. We are pushing society forward and hopefully we can help to challenge things we disagree with, but in general I think we are working on the subconscious, and I am happy to be doing that.
This is a great way to describe one of art's many functions in society.

I recommend the entire interview: this is just a sample.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, February 23, 2009

Respected By All

  Ill Matik album cover artAnd now for something less serious... I use iTunes to load my iPhone with iAlbumArt for the iMusic I have iImported into the phone. Generally, iTumes has difficulty finding art for older music, which is fair, or for foreign releases, which is also quite fair. Until the current update to iTunes, it was a very easy matter to drag the correct art, or one's own art, onto the icon representing the album and fix this.

But iTunes does TRY to find art that fits your album. And when it thinks you just misspelled the title, it takes a few good guesses.

The art beside this text is a screen-grab of what is supposed to be the cover of The Matrix: The Motion Picture Soundtrack.

It reflects a creative guess on the part of iTunes.

It's so great, I'm tempted to leave it on the phone indefinitely.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:20 PM

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The print or the prostitute?

  The strangest title on a print in the SFMoMA show Brought to Light: Photography and the Invisible, 1840-1900 (

"Spark Made on the Surface of the Body of a Prostitute - Well Washed."

I wish I knew what the work's creator, Mr. (?) Narwkiewitsch-Jodko, intended with that particular added detail.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:14 PM

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Totoro is my friend, too!

  Up until February 8th, you can visit The Cartoon Art Museum ( here in the fabulous City of San Francisco to see the really fun, excellent show known as The Totoro Forest Project (

It is a full gallery of gorgeous art inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's Tonari No Totoro, the charming and lovely animated film about two little girls moving to the country and finding new wonders in the forest surrounding them. The art was assembled and auctioned off at Pixar to benefit Totoro No Furusato National Fund, a Japanese forest protection group.

Totoro has many talented friends. The entire show was extremely enjoyable, but some of my favorite pieces included Steve Pilcher's Intruder, in which tiny leaf creatures on a sun-dappled forest floor examine a strange, foreign object, and Luis Grane's They Are Waiting, in which fantastic beings lurk underground, attached to the long, thin roots of a lone, urban tree.

The show is utterly charming, and not just for those of us who are secretly animists who spend our time worshipping forest spirits in all of their guises.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:32 PM

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wearing one's heart on one's slightly bloody sleeve

  While the business papers blather on about their hopes of having taxpayers share their pain without ever sharing in the system's profits, my colleagues and I are bonding under workplace duress in new and novel ways. I may have reported that nearly half of the regulars physically operating from my company's HQ who were with our company at the beginning of the year are no longer with us. There have been dramatic leadership changes, dramatic strategic changes... Am I also describing your company right now? If I am, depending on the disposition of your colleagues, you may also find yourself experiencing some sort of survivor's bonding. You know what I mean: breathy, heartfelt conversations with people you didn't know so well before, telling you how they REALLY feel today about the company, or about their life choices relating to employment, or about any subject relating to the company. As if we've all been through something terrible, beyond the normal course of human experience. Worse than reality TV, even. [cough]

I've been trying to explain this remarkably open, honest atmosphere of exchange to a few people who haven't noticed it. They weren't so sure what I meant. (I was afraid for a moment that they thought it was just a new openness among the women of the company, since some of these conversations do occur in the women's restroom, where the majority of the company's current leadership can not tread. [Ahem.])

And then, a colleague who is now one of my heroes sent out an announcement about a company event. In the background of his email was a half-tone image. (This means it was pale enough to easily read the text.) The image: the image right below the title on this web page ( The one with the little boy find a baby bear in a box, befriending it, raising it, having naked bubble baths with it (!?)... and ultimately being attacked by it.

This image starts out so innocently, and the message over it was so innocuous, that many readers never even got to the image at the bottom of the poster. For those who did and who also bothered to ask our posting hero about it, there was an outbreak of honesty: the bear was an allegory for corporate America. No matter how dedicated you may be to it, it can turn on you.

This explanation was made even better when another colleague, in interpreting the image, came to the conclusion that the bear represents our company and we are represented by the boy BEFORE the sending shared his view.

This exchange is an EXCELLENT example of the new openness that is spreading between colleagues.


The creator of this mauling pink bear is Mori Chack, and his website, doesn't quite rely on the same idea. If you go to his about page, he has an urban, non-vegetarian's concept of the evils of human exploitation of animals, a concept that extends to depriving animals of their true wild natures in most forms of visual representation, which he perceives as a crime. His reaction is Gloomy Bear. (I believe I found this page at naming Gloomy Bear with a Google search worded as 'pink bear mauls cute boy.')

The fact that my friendly colleagues are at a point where more than one of them can allegorically describe us as being mauled by a cute, clawed bear tells you about where we are in our strange, survivor's bonding period.

Added bonus: Mori's hair. Go look.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:56 AM

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brains? Braiiiiinnns? Brraaaaaaaains!!

  I failed to post the link to Steven's photo/video montage of the zombie mob event. It is here: We Want Brains (

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:09 PM

Sunday, August 10, 2008


The last night of this year's Zeitgeist International Film Festival is Monday, August 11th.

poster for Zeitgeist International Film FestivalZeitgeist International Film Festival 2008-MAIN (overcooked has the program details up. Yes, it's late on a 'school' night, but Frank's film, Since You've Been Ong ( is screening there, and I've never been able to watch it with a live audience before, I'm going. Assuming I can get in: I've heard it's a zoo.

Be a local: wear/bring LAYERS. (Gillian thinks I'm going to freeze. Gillian doesn't know how much synthetic fleece I own.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)4:07 PM

Monday, July 14, 2008


Things that turn up in the top of the international BBC News front page news items, which you do not expect to see.

The last time I was at Kinokuniya Books, I enjoyed a book about Banksy (, the international stencil-grafitti artist, whose installations around the world are 'stylin.' I knew the artist had 'arrived' when his book turned up in fashionable Kinokuniya, but hadn't realized that he is so well-known that he made it onto the BBC's splash page, along with major world news and, unfortunately, celebrity baby announcements. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Paper 'reveals Banksy's identity' (, 7/13/08). My favorite quote:
Asked by the paper whether Gunningham was Banksy, he replied: "Well, he wasn't then". Gunningham's father Peter said he did not recognise the person in the photograph, while his mother Pamela maintained she had never even had a son.
You know your family is cool if your parents are willing to support your secret identity by denying your existence.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Photography portfolio updates!

ferrotype of Japanese-style iron teapotI've been a busy girl this evening... And for the past several months, actually.

New galleries up at include:

Extraordinary Light: Lake Merced (Infrared)

Palace of Fine Arts (Cyanotypes)

Pumpkins (Ambrotypes: Wet Collodion on Black Glass)


Tea Set (Ferrotypes: Wet Collodion on Trophy Aluminum).

I had promised a big April update, and I do have additional recent work to post, but these galleries provide enough updates for one evening.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:28 PM

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


2008 U.S. Alternative Process Traveling Portfolio: Now... Traveling.

Yes, it is on the move. I am again participating in the Traveling Portfolio project, in which those of us who work in antiquarian, antique, or alternative photographic processes ship a small collection of our work to each other in one large box or book, so that we can see and touch actual prints that we might otherwise only see in low resolution, two dimensional reproduction.

So what am I sharing with you? Low resolution, two dimensional web reproductions. :-) Yes yes, I know. If you live near me and want to see the prints live (especially the shiny ones, so you can see them without the reflections of the studio where these samples were photographed), let me know, and I'll invite you over when the portfolio arrives. Otherwise, you're out of luck unless you join the exchange next year.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:21 PM


UnScene San Francisco: first round of photos up!

Photos from the UnScene San Francisco show, taken by sponsor 944 Magazine (, are up on their website here. It was quite an event!

I was so tired immediately after the show (and so busy trying not to worry about my mother's tumor news) that I didn't write much about it here at the time. Now that I have visual aids, I'll make a few comments.

The W Hotel was the venue sponsor, and they provided a lovely room with high ceilings, deep colors, and a view of Yerba Buena's buildings across the street. It was on the third floor, which was easily accessed from the main entrance atrium. There were two bars in the room: a no host bar for cocktails and a hosted bar for wine. Music drifted in from the DJ on the balcony below, and there was a view from the foyer of the lounge on the first floor, which was full of people posing, drinking, and watching other people posing.

Our presentation approach was very simple: we mounted our work to foam boards, and hung the prints without mats or frames on larger white boards with a single construction light shining down on the art. The boards looked dramatic in the relatively low ambient light. (This was great planning on the part of the UnScene Tour organizer, who know how to keep things simple and light for the best effect.)

It was glam. It was posh. It was much classier than my employer's holiday party!

The other artists had lovely prints up, all of which were mounted beautifully, giving me my first real case of 'mounting envy.' The work on display showed real variety between the artists. There were dreamy fogscapes, sharp-edged architectural abstracts, dusk photos of gritty urban scenes, serene night photos of neighborhoods, and my images of staid historic ships and the glowing foliage of the Japanese Tea Garden in infrared. It was fun to see such a range of work from a bunch of locals!

Pretty much anything I could say about winning the grand prize would sound like bragging, and I am a modest person when it comes to talking about my work, so I am struggling. But I can say that winning was completely and totally unexpected. There was a glossiness to the other pieces which was so seductive, and my work was exclusively matte-finish prints; there were deep, rich colors in the other work, while I was the only artist to only show monochrome prints exclusively... I had thought I was at a disadvantage. That made hearing my name called all the more surprising.


It was all the more special having 30 friends, relatives, and colleagues come out to the event to support me. I don't throw big fancy parties, and so being able to invite them to an event that I was sort of responsible for was a nice thing: it made me feel like I was giving back some of the social kindnesses that have been shown to me. And the enthusiastic support I received made me feel great.


Looking at the photos of myself at the event is a bit awkward. As the photographer teased at the time, I am not comfortable on the lens side of the camera. (To think I ever modeled, ever so briefly, at a hair salon in my college days...)

I dislike the way flash photography makes me look: it washes out the contours of my face and neck in a way that I'll someday be grateful for (it will hide certain sorts of wrinkles!), but which I don't enjoy now: natural light seems kinder, and allows me to reflect more color. Flash photos of me don't match my conception of how I look.

I don't exhibit a high level of bilateral symmetry, and am accustomed only to seeing myself in a mirror (where I've grown accustomed to the imbalance): photos show me right-way round, and everything seems to slope off in the wrong direction... Also, the gradual changes in my face don't match photos of myself that I like and think of as "recent," but (as I am learning) are really 5 or more years old.

O, vanity.


There will be more photos up on the UnScene Tour page in a week or so: I will post a link when the images are available.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:57 PM

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Un-Scene San Francisco Photography Tour

That show that I mentioned that I will be in? Here are the details.
WHAT: Join W San Francisco, the UnScene Tour and 944 Magazine and feast your lens on never before seen images of the City by the Bay, taken by local emerging artists at the UnScene San Francisco photography exhibit. Mix and Mingle with art lovers and take home a fav photo or two. One lucky photographer will also win the chance to be "seen" at the Jack Fischer Gallery in downtown SF. Zoom in on who will be the lucky winner!

WHEN: Wednesday, March 19, 2008, 7 - 9 PM

WHERE: W San Francisco - Great Room I, 3rd Floor
181 3rd Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
415 777 5300

RSVP: "RSVP WSF EVENTS AT WHOTELS DOT COM" (remove the spaces and quotation marks to decode)
(If you're e-mailing in an RSVP, please copy me. For those of you who don't want to give out your e-mail address to the hotel, let me know at my work address and I'll do one big group RSVP from the office.)

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posted by Arlene (Beth)5:57 PM

Monday, February 25, 2008


Power & Way

(Power & Way is the label on an odd railroad contraption that is often parked on the tracks near MacArthur BART. It would be a great name for a rock album, an engineering firm, a purse shop, and a variety of other enterprises and projects...)

Where does time go once it has used me up and spat me out?


Friday night was the SFMoMA opening party for the encyclopedic Friedlander photography exhibit. The opening parties involve no host bars on the ground floor of the museum, and you get the impression that many members never leave the immediate orbit of those bars... So I suppose it says something positive about my favorite cousin, plus Helen and Bryan, that I actually encountered them on the top floor of the museum, roving the galleries.

This was my first chance to see Olafur Eliasson's Take Your Time without having to stand in a line that wrapped itself down the central stairway several floors, so we started there (and encountered the most friends there). Eliasson's work is interesting, especially his sculpture, but the thing I liked best was the shelved room filled with his test models, three dimensional sketches made of ideas he had. He used copper wire and copper tape, what appeared to be Dutch cereal boxes, foam core with mirrored plastic on it... The room was filled with rough ideas explored in various levels of depth. It was great to see some of the process behind the ideas, rather than ONLY the finished products.

The Friedlander photography exhibit was a complete madhouse, and I was tempted to flee several times. The show was massive, and the large volume of work was interesting to see. I found it interesting from an American documentary perspective more than a fine art perspective. The items that most interested me were the samples of Friedlander's many books. Books are a fabulous way for people to experience your art in a thoughtful, long-term way: not everyone can get to a gallery, and as this party demonstrated, sometimes you can only catch a glimpse of an image before you are nearly shoved aside by the art loving wolverine behind you.

Samples of several books were on display, many of them gravure prints with an original gelatin silver print included inside for collectors. Some of the books were post bound, with the idea that the gravures inside were of such high quality that the books could be disassembled so the prints could be framed and hung for display. Now that I've tried a very modern photopolymer version of gravure printing (which still used a traditional etching press), I understand how labor intensive such work can be, and am all the more impressed with the quality of the images. I also got some ideas for editioning books and prints of my own.

The runner-up display at the museum was not in other galleries: it was the remarkable singles scene. You could immediately tell who was participating. Married & attached women were wearing pants, soft sweaters, and comfy shoes, and looked at the art. Heavily dolled up single women in a range of styles were displaying remarkable portions of their upper chests, looking only at the other attendees, and wearing shoes I have only seen in lingerie catalogs and drag shows.

I didn't have the heart to explain that all the men there were (a) married, (b) on a date with that woman who is firmly attached to him and ready to mace you if you get too close, (c) gay, or (d) with the band downstairs. Revealing that might spoil the fun.


Saturday night was a pleasant dinner and coffee session at Japan Center with my core pal group to catch up with a peer visiting from abroad.

During the merriment, I noticed that my right eye was busy crying for much of the evening, though it didn't feel irritated in any way. My right eye cries quite a bit, especially when I've had a glass of wine, laugh heartily, or am sleepy. As a result, some of my acquaintances believe that I cry with zeal about our discussions, when really my right eye could care less what we are discussing.

If they think I'm more emotionally enthusiastic than I actually am... Well, I'm sure I can take advantage of that somehow.


My only comment about Sunday is that the film Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus has absolutely nothing to do with Diane Arbus, and I'm not sure why they even bothered to use her name (and the circumstances of a period of her life before she came to fame). It's a fairy tale, and a rather odd one. Beauty leaves her benign husband for a furry, eventually charming beast (rather than being given away as chattel by her father in the traditional story). I objected to the implication that it was only through fairy tale seduction that the implied Arbus may have liked marginalized people - even though it clearly drifted from the actual photographer, I can't see why her name had to come into this at all... It's an odd, odd film.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:21 PM

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Happy as a clam. If clams are, in fact, happy. Which I don't believe has been scientifically proven.

My employer does not believe in President's Day. It is not acknowledged. Most importantly, it is not a national holiday at my office. So I took the day off and went to SF Museum of Modern Art ( for the afternoon, because it seemed like a terribly civilized thing to do, and I wanted to be visually stimulated by non-video art.

As an alt-process printer, I am always seeking out antiquarian process prints, but usually find only historical work. Which is okay, but since I know there are so many of us who work in these processes NOW, it seems... inadequate. Though some of the examples are relentlessly gorgeous, and it is interesting to note how different actual antique images are from modern ones (in those instances where there is a real difference).

There were three cyanotypes of bridge construction progress in Pennsylvania, which seemed like very modern images in composition. They were surely taken as practical, work-progress-report type images, but they were still... modern. Very direct. Bold. Printing out paper prints are abundant in the current selection, and carry an interesting range of tones. And that gorgeous Woodburytype by Nadar (Gaspar-Felix Tournachon) of George Sand was up, and it's just so... rich looking. Like the pigment has real depth. It is a remarkably lovely print.

The top floor was crowded with tourists seeing Take Your Time (which will close over the weekend), and so I perused the photography galleries and then went down to the gift shop. SFMoMA has a really fabulous gift shop which a gorgeous collection of art books. (It is also always fascinating to see how art is commodified in ways I would not have predicted.) This is where the revelation of the day occurred: Sophie Calle's book Prenez soin de vois ("Take Care of Yourself") is out in English!! I agonized over buying the book (at $95) for quite a while before purchasing it and retiring to Caffe Museo ( to sip a soy latte and wallow in Calle's brilliance.

I've written elsewhere about why I love her work so much. She is someone who stages a wedding to act out the ritual of it, who finds an address book and interviews everyone in it about its owner, who stalks people as documentary art projects... She turns little quirks into novel creative works. And so it is with this enormous new book. She was dumped by email, and made a collaborative artwork with over 100 female contributors of various professions and specialties who analyze, rewrite, dramatize, dance, talk, or otherwise perform the letter in a manner appropriate to their area of expertise. The book contains photos of the women performing their analyses, and their results - diagrams, scripts, DVDs of films and audio recordings, short stories... As soon as I opened the book and found the email translated into morse code and Braille, even before I spotted the miniature books bound within it, or the four DVDs, I knew this was the sort of conceptual work I would love. (There's a Guardian article about her book, and the associated show at the Venice Biennale here, and a great review of the show in the Washington Post here.)

And oh, how I do love it.

I actually thought while sipping my latte, 'I'm so happy I could pee myself. If that were the sort of thing I did when extremely happy. Which it is not. But it is still a compelling expression, despite its obvious inaccuracy.'


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, December 17, 2007

  Small world. Today I found myself riding the train to my job at a company I will call "JCo" for no particular reason, reading issue 24 of McSweeney's ( Which has a lovely cover. The lovely cover was designed by Rachell Sumpter. Who is the sister of Laura, who used to work with me at JCo.

The world is very, very tiny. Minute. Infinitesmal.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)8:45 PM

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

  Steven's gallery of anthotypes is up at!

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:52 PM

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