My new show opens tomorrow night at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York. Here’s what I wrote for it:
Every history is built of bits and pieces, an incomplete puzzle forming a picture just clear enough to see. With a few well-defined corners, a recognizable building, a credible chunk of sky, we figure we can fill in the rest. Any gaps and spaces still missing, well, certainly they only prove what we already know, don’t they?
Our Song in Twenty-Six Parts is a personal history told in scraps and fragments, some found, some made. It is a love story of sorts, told over and over, embodied in relics and images from a parallel history of photography. Inspired in part by old medical photographs, it is not intended to revive some older and weirder time, but to use my own present point of view to tease out from the past the obsessions and desires – imagined or not – that match and justify mine.
There is a strange gut reaction to viewing old photographs, especially medical photographs – something truly visceral that I just don’t think happens with drawings or paintings. When looking at pictures of bodies, even parts of bodies, it is difficult not to identify, project, empathize, stare. I think, This body is my body (except when it’s yours…) To look at old photographs like these, or sometimes even ones that just look old, I wonder how these little objects could inspire such fear, such lust. After all, isn’t it just chemistry?
Oh, and here’s my Rob Brezny horoscope for the week:
Aquarius Horoscope for week of May 9, 2013
I didn’t mean to disappear, although I have had to admit finally just how much I travel for art and teaching…
For this Spring semester, I am mostly settled in at Hollins University, in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, trying to stay quiet and still when I can. It’s an amazing gig, really – I have more time and resources to work than I have had in years, with just one class to teach as my weekly obligation (and my escape from daily solitude…) Now, Hollins is women-only at the undergraduate level, and while there are conflicting arguments on the benefits of single-sex education for girls (in high-school), I am inclined to believe those benefits are real for the students here. My class of eighteen young women is one of the most comfortably outspoken I’ve had in years, without the usual slow start to the discussions… They’re great, and it’s already been a lot of fun.
What we’re discussing is “How to Talk About Art.” My subtitle seems to be “Big Thoughts in Plain English”, and it’s squarely set against the proliferation of often meaningless jargon in recent Art writing in favor of telling the truth about their work. It’s always tough going, but writing clearly for oneself can make a huge difference – not only can good writing clarify what an artist is after, but it tends to feed back positively, inspiring more and better work. (For what we’re up against, look back at this.) I’m trying my best to take my own advice, and to write new things for my next show at Daniel Cooney in New York, coming in May.
I have an exhibition of some 30-odd works (or is that “30 odd works”?) that just opened last week at the Museum here at Hollins, and will be giving a public lecture on April 18th. If you’re anywhere nearby, do come…
Also, in other news, here’s an interview I did with an online magazine from Germany: SEEANCE MAGAZIN
Is this what the future will be like? The long-faded memory of Past Horrors, erased by sunshine, whiskey and Bicycle-Powered Cinema ? Will there truly be a time when we don’t have to fear, not watch our backs? Even the Zombie Sympathizers seem quiet, lost in their own world up the hill to develop whatever diabolical plans they might have. We, too, have been busy.
Yesterday was a fog, and began gray as the day before, but we barely noticed. Everyone, including me, was busy building, re-building and perfecting their homemade cameras. The highs of the day before were surpassed, new ideas gave birth to new ideas, and by the afternoon it was as if we had willed the sun to appear. And it did. I took the opportunity to delve into some of our leftover chemistry and, drawing from the items in our First Aid kit, was able to show them simple Salt Printing. Soon they’d be able to take their homemade negatives and print them as many times as they liked. The whole world would once again see beautiful images from the Mountain.
All is not exactly back to the Old Peace, however, and there is enough strangeness afoot to keep me wary. We have received some Mysterious Messages, from one Javier Mojundo of “Schlafwandler Industries”, that match several sheets we had found the night we reclaimed the studio, yet had ignored. Most of them seem to be tracking the rise and fall of the Infection’s spread, but others contained strange codes. It seems that Señor Mojundo was the one last here before us, and whether trapped and Changed or now Free, he has left help to guide us. By the end of the day, just as we were running out of the last film and paper for our cameras, the latest missive was deciphered. 039039039039… It was a code for the combination to locker 12. (0+3+9=12) Inside were two boxes of late-21st-Century Lith film. The work shall continue.
The evening was full of entertainment, reminiscent of days older than I, even. The Rural Academy’s stage was drawn up by two horses onto the lawn outside the Pines, and after dinner we all sat wrapped in blankets and warmed by tea, whiskey and each other while our visitors told stories from our distant History. They said nothing of Zombies or Danger or Death, and everything seemed right again.
Spirits were high on this new morning after our successful night, despite a sudden challenge to our authority. Some other new recruits, here to remember the dead or something, have declared their allegiance with the Zombies, though they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. Aside from Whatever we have locked in our back darkroom, the school seems quite clear – although the Infected could be among us. To be honest, I have no idea what these Zombie Sympathizers are after. A zombie knows no allegiance but to devouring the Living, so whomever they think they’re “protecting” are impostors, or worse. I fear they have some devious plans of their own… I was personally called out over breakfast in an awkward moment – me, barely conscious from rather pleasant dreams – and I had to stop and steel my eyes. “Challenge accepted,” I said as calmly as I could, and went to get some eggs.
Nevertheless we Photo Phighters had a great day. The power was still out through the morning, but we don’t need it anyway. The first step now that the studio is ours was to build up our defenses, and with military speed and precision, our teams whipped up a room-sized Zombie Observation Station, faster than I have ever seen it done. Not only can we secretly spy on the wide world below Northlight, but I can also demonstrate how to build our own cameras from found objects. Each element of the Station can be used to explain the physics of simple optics and camera-building, and offer ideas on how to alter these elements for individual expression. The students end up even more fired up for getting to work than I could have expected.
It was a busy day of scrounging and building and cutting and painting and taping until every team had at least one camera, and some had three! We used up almost all of the found paper, and some started in on the few leftover sheets of film. This may be the last film any of us will ever see, so I suppose it’s time to show them how to make their own negatives from scratch. We’ll have to go through all our available chemistry first…
There was no further word from our Enemies, so we were able to work in peace until well after dinner. Some plans for attack and defense are being worked out, but nothing is clear yet. It has become all the more important to gather more to our side, and I have given many white armbands to the trusted Others… They have all ben invited to tonight’s Training Film, too: Night of the Living Dead. Despite its misinformed understanding of zombie-ism (not to mention its sexist depiction of female fear, and the harsh commentary on American Racism) it’s a useful movie for us all to watch. There are key lessons here: how important it is for Survivors to work together; how dangerous it is to leave a Safe House not thoroughly cleared; and how Fear and Panic can cause good plans to go awry. I hope my students – and our new comrades – were paying close attention.
I don’t dare go in the Studio yet. There are enough signs and warnings about (and I mean, like, actual Signs and Warnings!) to keep me from being foolish. From now on, no more mistakes, only caution. I have other lives to look out for.
My students are trickling in today, and we will gather at Northlight before dinner. Tonight, the real work begins. There is a pile of desks barricading the entry from the old Print Studio, and a solid 2×6 nailed to the Photo Doors. Who knows what they were keeping out, or, I fear, keeping in… I won’t do anything more until we’re all here. We can move safely in numbers and, I hope, restore power to the rooms and reclaim the Studio as our own.
There has been nervous laughter from the others at the School, as they know what we’re here to do. My white arm-band lets everyone know that I am still healthy and Living, though I wish others would follow my lead here. Nevertheless, I know that any remaining threat can be quickly taken care of, and in days we will be a well-trained Art Squad, ready to bring Truth and Beauty back to a world reborn. It will be primitive, of course, but I aim to show the pure wonder of the simple and the small, like a tiny bud pushing through the frost.
I have a good group of twelve comrades, including Jimmy The Fix. They may not all look strong, but I already sense a breadth of knowledge and a seriousness of purpose in each, and I am given hope. We meet briefly before dinner to make a plan of attack, and to assess each other’s best skills and strengths. While eight people have experience in Photography – and many of them having been here at Penland – only two admit to any experience fighting zombies: Mark, a veteran of both worlds, and clearly a formidable ally; and Crystal, a local with a deep understanding of life since the Apocalypse. She is the Loremistress. She is the Knowledge.
At dinner I sense a real pleasure at the days to come, and it makes me happy. Other new Warriors have arrived at the school (although I cannot trust them yet) and the extra noise and camaraderie in the Pines is joyful to hear. I already love my students, and seeing them gather on the couches before we attack, I feel like a proud father. I had put out the call, and they answered. We joke and laugh and tease, as only those who know no fear can do, and bond our group with a White Armband for each – we are Pure, and Unbitten and Alive.
It is dark – not a time one usually wants to clear an infected area – but it is a good time for us. I make sure everyone has a partner and a light, and I give a few pointers on the dangers of zombie combat in close quarters. My heavy tripod, for instance, has seen me through many scary situations, but it will be no good in the gang darkroom. We shall move slowly and carefully to clear the place and see what we can scavenge for our Art.
The studio is a mess. It was no short massacre here, I think, but a few humans battling the Turned. Tables and cabinets are tossed about and upended. Was someone trying to flee? Was someone trying to hole up here? It’s not clear – the windows are papered from the inside, suggesting hiding, but the doors are barricaded from the outside. Either someone thought they could survive a bite and keep doing their work here, or another person sealed up someone they knew and loved, unable to finish what must be done. I have seen it so many times, and it never ends up well for anyone.
With only two small exceptions, it seems safe and clear in here. There is no power yet, but we are Photographers and unafraid of the dark. Hell, we’re used to it. With our few torches and lanterns we manage to clean the place up and go through what’s been left behind. First, however, I must deal with the chunk of bloodied flesh sitting almost ceremoniously on the steel table. (Why was it left here? Why not eaten?) The second problem is the last small darkroom, which is locked and taped with warnings. A long smudge of reddish-brown leads from the door down the hall. Several students swear they hear breathing inside, but nothing shuffles or thrashes behind the door. We will board it up and leave it until daylight.
There are eight or nine boxes on the palette. One has white towels, although two are bloodied. Another one, knocked over and spilled, seems full of sweets, and beer, and little bottles of vodka – and one sad shoe. There is a box of paints and tapes and rolls that say Caution and Danger. We can use these to mark our safe territories, I guess. (Are there other studios we should quarantine…?) One box has a 35mm camera, but it is smashed; the lenses could be useful for us, however. Another small box has a compass, magnifiers and a map with disturbing markings – numbers and whole cities of the United States circled and highlighted. There is a sad box of Christmas gifts and lights, and one with just beans and coffee in it. The biggest box is a treasure trove of First Aid supplies… We can certainly use these to make our work.
The last box is a small plastic bin, padlocked tightly. It seems battered but unopened. We search the dark studio for a key, but find none. Someone suggests unscrewing the hinges, but it looks to be rather complicated. Finally Crystal takes the hatchet to it, cleanly snapping the hasp with the lock on it. Inside is the saddest sight yet: the last personal effects of someone – probably a younger boy – who just couldn’t leave them behind, I guess. There are playing cards and toys and odd meaningful knick-knacks, a strange group of Japanese Anime pictures of girls, some sparklers… There are also several keys. These, it turns out, open a few of our cabinets, which hold papers, bottles, and chemistry of all kinds. It’s not a full treasure for us, but much of it will be useful.
We will have to go through it all in the morning when we have light. For now, the studio is safe, and ours.
Why does no one seem worried? Have they bought the whole Cover-Up that easily? Is it just too beautiful here to believe in the End of the World? Just because they survived the first wave of attacks here doesn’t mean it’s all over… For all we know there are Undead lurking in every dark corner and behind every locked door. All it would take is one to destroy us all.
Me, I came prepared, not least with Knowledge. I brought strong Acetic Acid (stops the risk of a spatter-infection), plenty of safety equipment and my heaviest tripod, which I’ve practiced swinging each morning, aiming straight at head-level – the only way to take a Zombie out. I don’t dare explore the Photo Studio yet – it’s still barricaded and quarantined – but I can prepare until my Team arrives. There is excellent food here, and plenty of it. I am going to be building my strength every day. It’s still hard to tell whom to trust here, but these are good strong people with survival skills and a hell of a lot of tools. I think I’ll have Iron Daniel make me a bayonet for my 4×5 before we start… They can make anything here; here we can rebuild the world.
I have a secret weapon, too: my friend and comrade James J. “The Fixer” Williams III. He was stuck behind in New York training a young squad of Art Fighters when I left, and so he risked the crowds and confinement of air travel to get here and join my crusade. He may not be wise, but he’s smart. Good with a sword too, or so he tells me.
The Fixer got here last night just in time for the All-School Gathering to celebrate the Core – the young artists who have lived here year-round and in many ways have kept the School running while the Chaos fell around them. It was quite a party, until early in the morning, in fact, and I know the extra fury of our drinking came from the widely-held belief that a high BAC can keep you safe from infection. It’s probably not true, but it can’t hurt. We need some dancing and joy in these dark days, tho I can’t seem ever to let go of the Fear…
My nerves were up being around that many people in one place, but I figure it gave me a chance to check everyone out. The current wave of Zombies seem to be from another strain, from what I can tell, one without the speedy death and decay we saw at the Beginning. The slow gestation of this virus adds another level of fear. How do we know who’s been Turned if it takes days…? I’ve been driving down the mountain to get supplies for our class and everywhere I go, especially Wal-Mart, I think I see the First Signs. I swear there are Lost People shuffling all around the regular folk, but no one pays any attention to them, and they don’t seem to notice the Living. Not yet, anyway.
Even here, I swore I saw zombies everywhere this morning, but I suppose they were all just hungover…