Eyecatchers: The Latest From Do Ho Suh

karma-1In two previous Eyecatchers posts and one Video Fridays post (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3) I wrote about a fantastic art installation, Cause & Effect, by artist Do Ho Suh that had just been, well, installed here in Bellingham, Washington, on the campus of my employer, Western Washington University (WWU).

Today, I’m excited to discover news of his latest work, via Colossal:

Towering 23 feet (7 meters) into the sky, Karma is a recent sculpture installed in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art by Korean sculptor Do Ho Suh (previously). Captured here in a series of photographs by Alan Teo, the piece depicts a tower of piggy-backed men, each successively covering the eyes of the man below him, creating an illusion that the blinded tower seems to stretch to infinity like a fractal, although technically it was made from 98 cast stainless steel figures.

Once again, Do Ho Suh does NOT disappoint. Karma is stunning and thought-provoking.

Like Cause & Effect here at WWU, the artist continues the motif of multiple figures stacked up on each others’ shoulders. Of Cause & Effect, the artist said:

…the artwork is a “physical realization of existence, suggesting strength in the presence of numerous individuals. The work is an attempt to decipher the boundaries between a single identity and a larger group, and how the two conditions coexist.”

The artwork at Western metaphorically places the individual within an intricate web of destiny and fate. “It comes from a belief that every individual is spawned from the lives he/she may have lived previously. The vertical context of the figures becomes a collection of past influences, and again, begins to define the inherent powers and energies that characterize an individual,” he said.

Karma is clearly a continuation of these spiritual themes, themes plucked from the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh religions.

Interestingly, as I observed Cause & Effect, both in photos and in person, somehow it didn’t really register with me that each figure is covering the eyes of the figure holding them up.

Now that the motif has been continued in Karma, however, it really jumps out at me, inspiring me to consider the implied meaning, something about how we’re all blind, blinded by illusions, and yet we’re all interdependent, and so, under those conditions, every action we take affects every other living thing and our environment in general, creating a delicate balance, what goes around comes around, and all that, such that, if any one of the figures in Do Ho Suh’s pieces was to upset that balance, it would be disastrous for everyone.

Here are some more photos of Karma. Enjoy!

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The John Lennon Bus, The Sound of Peace & Positive News Sources

lennon-busOne thing that never ceases to amaze me (or anger me or depress me), is that there are so many good things going on in the world, so many that it’s hard to keep track of them or even know about them, all because you won’t hear about much of it in the mainstream media, where bad news overwhelmingly dominates.

Case in point, I came across something today via Twitter that is incredibly heartwarming, a project by the folks at The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a non-profit organization I just learned about, that crisscrosses the country in a bus, decked out with state-of-the-art audio and video equipment, providing educational and creativity opportunities for young people.

Their latest project, titled The Sound of Peace, is described on YouTube like this:

Last Monday, Yoko Ono celebrated her 80th year existing on this earth. Given that her time here has been so full of love that she has spread all over the world, we wanted to do our best to give a little bit back. While parked just outside the Academy of Contemporary Music in Oklahoma City, we started on a project with the hopes of creating something that resembles what peace might sound like. With the help of ACM students, Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips, and the local population, we present to you the results of our week of work in Oklahoma. Happy 80th Yoko!

It turns out that the The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus has been around for 16 frickin’ years, but I’m only just now discovering them?!

There are many, many more examples of this, and I can’t recommend enough taking time out from the mainstream media in order to go looking for positive news.

Some of my favorite sources:

The Intelligent Optimist
Yes! Magazine
PositiveNews.org
Good News Network

In the meantime, here’s the wonderful product from The Sound of Peace project:

Tweet of the Day: @DemetriMartin

demetri-martin-fish-drawingdroll
/drōl/

Adjective
Curious or unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement.


If you look up the word droll in an illustrated dictionary, you’ll see it accompanied by a picture of comedian Demetri Martin.

Droll sounds like a derogatory term, but it really isn’t, um, I guess, unless you dislike droll humor.

Martin’s an interesting guy, Yale graduate, accepted into Harvard Law School, attended New York University School of Law on a full scholarship instead, and yet he’s best known for specializing drollery as a stand-up comedian, guest on The Daily Show, host of his own show, Important Things with Demetri Martin, and occasional film roles.

Martin often incorporates his own line drawings in his work, something he also does via Twitter.

If you aren’t following his Tweets and you like droll comedy, check him out!

Video Fridays: Steve Miller

steve-miller-bandYou know, there was a time when I thought I’d never again need to hear the music of Steve Miller.

His many hits were ubiquitous on the radio in the late 70s and early 80s, too ubiquitous, over played, and I burned out on them.

Not Steve Miller’s fault, and not the fault of the music.

Then, a couple of years ago, I was playing an open mic night at a local tavern, just me and a friend, both of us on acoustic guitars, and in between songs, seemingly out of nowhere, I started playing the bass line from The Joker, my friend recognized it and started playing the chords, I started singing it and miraculously remembered all of the words, and…

…the small crowd at that tiny tavern — a tiny tavern not at all known for dancing — got up and danced.their.asses.off!

That still stands as one of the best musical moments of my life. We jammed on that song as long as we could, repeating verses and the chorus, and to see all those people having so much fun, moving to the tune and singing along, well, as a performer it just doesn’t get any better than that.

My current band has just added The Joker to our repertoire, in a full-on rockin’ electric version, and I can’t wait to debut it at our upcoming gig on March 2nd.

For now, in honor of that first magical music moment, on nothing but acoustic guitars, here’s a wonderful solo-acoustic version, performed by Steve Miller, at a radio station right here in the Pacific Northwest, Portland to be exact, which is fitting, given all of the Portland content I posted this week.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Tweet of the Day: #BeatlesSing-Along

Listen, I don’t care that this is an elaborate commercial for T-Mobile.

T-Mobile could have — they’ve done it before and they’ll do so again — simply made another stupid ad, built around silly one-liners, spoken by glossy actors, an ad that will be forgotten in no time.

Rather, they created a real community event, shared by over 13,000 people in Trafalgar Square in London, an experience the people who participated in will remember for a long time, and an experience that viewers all around the world get to enjoy.

I was struck by all of the goodwill amongst the crowd, and the smiles and music filled me with joy.

I’d like more of that on a regular basis!

Portland Postscript: The Disgrace of Homelessness

Click to enlargeI had intended my post this morning, a photo I took while crossing the Burnside Bridge on foot, to be the last post related to my recent trip to Portland, Oregon.

But then, my blogging friend Naomi Baltuck (whose awesome blog, Writing Between The Lines, is very much worth checking out!), left the following comment on that post:

This is a gorgeous photo! I love the color and composition! Very artful.

I know. Sweet, and a wonderful compliment, right?

Truth is, I can’t, with a clear conscience, accept the compliment, because…the photo is a fraud.

You see, there’s nothing gorgeous, colorful, or artful about the fact that, just out of frame, several buildings down, there was a line of people two blocks long at the Portland Rescue Mission.

We’d been warned by a Portlander, at a streetcar stop on the south side of the Willamette River, that our plan to walk over the Burnside Bridge wasn’t the greatest, that there were several buses we could take across, that the neighborhood just on the other side of the bridge was, he said, “…unpleasant. Not unsafe. You won’t get mugged or anything. It’s just unpleasant.”

I had a feeling I knew what he was referring to. My wife and 15-year old son had seen numerous homeless people on our walking excursions throughout the city. But, nothing had prepared me for the sight of so many people lined up at the mission on a cold night, nearly a stone’s throw away from one of Portland’s proudest achievements, the Pearl District, a section of downtown that had once been a crumbling mess of urban industrial decay, transformed in the late 1990s into an upscale neighborhood of pricey restaurants, shops, and condominium complexes.

So, the Portlander we spoke to was right, it was unpleasant, but not for the reasons I’m almost certain he was hinting at.

There was nothing unpleasant about the people who were lined up at the mission.

No, the unpleasantness, for me, was that they served as a stark reminder that we continue to allow, in our country, 1% of the population to hoard unthinkable amounts of wealth, living in decadent luxury, while the middle class is shrinking, and poverty is on the rise.

It’s a national disgrace.

Here’s a photo taken outside of the Portland Rescue Mission…

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…in the late 1940s, during the post-WWII economic boom.

So much has changed since then, but sadly, some things have stayed the same.

Movie Scene Doppelgänger: The Futility of Trying to Recreate a Magic Moment

VDayMoviesGroundhogDay_gallery_primarySo, rewind a few weeks, to February 2nd, Groundhog Day to be precise, and, as corny as it sounds, my family and I watched, as we do every year, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day.

We’ve watched the movie many times, each time I tend to notice something I hadn’t noticed before, or a particular scene strikes me as funnier than it had before, or something like that, and this time was no different. It took me a couple of weeks to fully piece this year’s revelation together, and here it is:

    The snowball fight scene is the cinematic doppelgänger of the lobster scene from Woody Allen‘s 1977 film Annie Hall. (see the lobster scene below)

The photo shown above is from a scene where Bill Murray’s and Andie MacDowell’s characters are having a magical moment. Murray’s Phil has been harnessing his experience of reliving the same day over and over again in order to learn as much as he can about MacDowell’s Rita, a strategy which, at first seems to be working. Phil deftly manages to shift Rita’s impression of him as a cynical, arrogant, and selfish jerk to a sensitive guy with deep interest in her as a person, as well as someone who seems to share her values. They build a snowman together, and, after a spontaneous snowball fight with some kids, they kinda inadvertently fall close to each other in the snow, their eyes lock, and they kiss. It’s sweet and playful.

But, Phil overreaches. Managing to persuade Rita to come see his room at the B&B, his selfishness returns, he becomes extremely pushy with sexual advances, culminating in a slap to the face and Rita’s swift, angry departure.

His attempt the “next day” to recreate the magic moment is painful to watch, so forced and fake and duplicitous, the antithesis of what Rita would want:

And, of course, it doesn’t work. It will never work. That’s why the original moment was magical. It was the coming together of two people whom at first didn’t seem at all well-suited for each other, yet in the surprise that they could actually get along and have fun, affection and even love, or at least the possibility of love, happened.

Now, rewind 16 years, and try to remember, if you can, a scene from Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s Alvy and Diane Keaton‘s Annie are on a little getaway to the seaside, when hilarity breaks out in the kitchen, as Alvy and Annie are trying to cook lobsters, but the lobsters have somehow scattered about the floor.

Once again, you have two VERY different people coming together, taking delight in the fact that, despite their differences, they are having a lot of fun.

But, as we know, sadly, Alvy and Annie grow apart. And, Alvy, like Phil from Groundhog Day, is under the mistaken impression that he can recreate that magical lobster moment with someone else.

Here are both scenes spliced together:

As one YouTube commenter wrote:

This is perhaps the best scene about what chemistry is. And how it can only be found and lived, not recreated, not replaced.

So, yeah, it’s chemistry, or magic, or something, and it has a shelf life.

As I said, it took me a while to fully formulate this post, to connect the dots across 16 years of film history, but it finally came together this past weekend, in Portland, Oregon, where, as I mentioned, I was on a mini-vacation with my wife and 15-year old son.

On Saturday, we, along with, it seemed, 95% of the population of Portland, visited OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). We went to OMSI not only because it’s supposed to be an amazing place, but also because our son had been there several years ago on a class trip, having stayed the night on the premises, and it was…

…magical!

We were careful to honor the memories of that magic, and asked him if he was sure that he wanted to go, he was now 15 after all, and perhaps, we wondered, he’d think it was for younger kids and not his thing at all anymore.

And yet, when asked, he enthusiastically said, “YES!!! OMSI’s AWESOME!!!”

Fast Forward, and we’re standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in, or we’re wandering around the museum checking out the exhibits, and he’s noticeably quiet, a quiet that, we’d soon find out, represented disappointment.

The magic could not be recreated, for whatever reasons, maybe the fact that he’d been with his classmates and friends last time, or the fact that they got to have a sleepover in a museum (how cool is that?!), and the fact that he’s now a little older and he’s there with his parents, etc.

Anyway, the lesson here is pretty obvious: Should you have magic moments, savor every frickin’ drop, breathe it all in and gather it up and store it away in your heart and mind, take some photos and video if you want, so that you can think of and feel those precious, unique memories, whenever you summon them.

Just, please avoid the disappointment and don’t try to manufacture them again.

Trust me. It.won’t.work.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Robot Babies: Putting the “creep” in creepy

Originally Published: May 10, 2011


As someone who has contributed to the birth of a baby and parented said baby for the past 13 years, someone who gets the warm fuzzies whenever he’s around other peoples’ babies, I have to say that this really creeps me out:

Via Plastic Pals, via Gizmodo:

Osaka University’s Hosoda Lab is presenting Pneuborn-7II and Pneuborn-13, two musculoskeletal infant robots, at ICRA 2011…Measuring the size of a 7 month old infant, Pneuborn-7II was built to study the relationship between motor development and embodiment. It is 80cm (31″) tall, weighs 5.4kg (11.9 lbs), and has 26 degrees of freedom actuated by 19 pneumatic muscles. Notably, the robot’s spine has three pitch and yaw joints that allow it to rotate, flex, and extend. It is fully autonomous, containing a micro controller, battery, air valves, and an air source (compressed C02 cartridge bottle).

Now, I know that there might be many very practical applications for this technology, for the good of the advancement of science. For all I know, these robots could possibly help us learn more about human babies and could very well lead to medical advances.

And yet, I’ve seen too many movies about robots to know what’s really possible. Either it’s some dystopian future, where infertile human couples buy robot babies, deluded that the robots could be a salve for the lonely emptiness in their lives, or alien invaders appear in the form of robotic babies, at first we think they are benevolent, but then they conquer and enslave us, using lasers that shoot out of their eyes.

Oh, believe me, it could happen!

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Transplanting Life

Originally Published: May 17, 2011


I read an incredibly moving New York Times story this morning that’s been haunting me, and it took me a little while to think it through and figure out why.

For those who don’t have time to read the Times article, by way of summary, in the photo above, the woman in the center and her children are placing their hands on the chest of a man whom they just met.

Why?

Because when the woman’s husband, the father of those children, died a year ago of a brain hemorrhage, his heart was transplanted into that man’s body. The man had been in a hospital suffering from severe heart failure.

Mirtala Garcia laid a hand on Sebastiao Lourenco’s chest, then pressed her ear there for a moment.

“That’s my heart,” she said. “It’s still beating for me.”

I know. Wow.

If that weren’t enough, Mr. Garcia was so young and otherwise healthy that donations from his body greatly improved and/or saved the lives of a total of eight people. Mr. Lourenco received his heart, his corneas went to one or more anonymous people, his pancreas to another anonymous person, the right lobe of his liver went to an adult woman with cancer, the left lobe to a toddler with congenital liver disease, two friends of the family received a kidney each, and one lung went to a man with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Makes me think of the line from It’s A Wonderful Life — “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” The first sentence is right on, but in this case, Mr. Garcia actually filled an awful lot of holes after he wasn’t around anymore.

So, a touching story for sure, but why was it haunting me?

Well, after some thought, as I mentioned, I realized that it had to do with the fact that I was adopted at birth, and I recognized that there are some similarities between adoption and organ donation.

Organ Donation: Amidst death and grief, a gift is given — a new lease on life for the organ recipients.

Adoption: Amidst the social trauma and emotional pain of an unplanned pregnancy, a gift is given — a chance for a baby to have a stable home with two parents who are ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

So, just like Mr. Garcia’s organs, I was transplanted.

I’ve never met my birth mother. Though I’ve contemplated a search many times, I’ve always balked because of all the uncertainty that I could ever find her, much less get a chance to meet her. (UPDATED June 2012: I have met her now!)

And yet, reading about how the organ recipients had a chance to meet the wife of the donor, to posthumously thank her husband and to thank her and her children, really stirred up my desire to find my birth mom.

She gave me life, after all. The least I can do is thank her.