So It Begins

large_thirteenth My last post for BorderTalksBlog is dated February 3, 2012. I was two years out from having received my MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College. My writing interests had taken me in new directions. Now, on January 1, 2017, I find the world of states and men (primarily) has either retrenched or ruptured, rather than grown toward the light of creative problem-solving.

Talk about transgressing borders! In art, in life, I have applauded honest challenges to and transgressions of the accepted order not for the sake of anarchy but for the sake of renewal, enlargement, and the fulfillment of human and creative potential. A thriving community of art makers whose business it is to challenge accepted norms often speaks to where growth needs to happen, and where stagnation has taken hold in the larger culture.

The art makers of 2016 had given us fair warning. From photographer Nona Faustine’s “White Shoes” series to the writings of Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates; from author J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to Ava DuVernay’s documentary film 13th, we are reminded that the evils we had thought to be in decline are, in fact, not. These artists and others have sounded the alarm. Our society, not for the first time, is at odds with its principles and ideals.

The election of Donald Trump shouldn’t have been a rude awakening, yet it was. We didn’t believe our country could be that racist, that misogynistic, that ignorant of history and science. Yet the country proved itself to be so, and more. Years of economic decline, political stalemate, and complacent journalism, along with the neglect of communities forgotten by the educational system, industry, the corporate state, and the technological innovators has fomented a new class of aggrieved and anarchistic citizens willing to implode our very political system in order to make their presence felt.

In 2017, we will see the reckoning. In the meantime, each of us has a responsibility to push back against “the new normal” by revealing what it truly is: the old order.

SistersIn 2011 I watched a movie on cable TV called Sisters. It’s a very early (1973) Brian DePalma thriller/murder-mystery about a local Staten Island journalist (played by Jennifer Salt) who sees a murder from her apartment window—my apartment window!

Well, my apartment window or the window of one of the other five apartments directly above or below me. What a strange experience to watch an actress (in my living room) look out a window (in my living room) while I’m sitting in said living room. I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I kept watching for clues to location. Was it really my apartment? Soon enough I see the actress leave through the front door of my apartment building and get into her car on my street. Continue Reading »


I’ve just seen the 2008 movie “Skin,” based on the life of South African Sandra Laing. And what a life she has lived! Born in 1955 to two apparently Caucasian parents in Apartheid South Africa, Sandra has decidedly non-white features and a skin color several shades darker than her Afrikaner parents. At a time when DNA testing was not yet developed, the parents lived with rumors that the mother had slept with a black man, which, of course, would make the Apartheid-supporting, politically conservative father an especially insulted cuckold. (We now know that 11% of Afrikaners have non-white ancestors.) Rather than acknowledge his daughter’s clearly non-white looks, Leon Laing—who apparently loved his daughter very much—insisted on her whiteness and insisted on white society treating her as white. He successfully challenged the nation’s racial classifications and managed to get his daughter officially designated as white in 1967, but his daughter’s actual experience didn’t improve. People’s responses were based on what they saw and what they saw was a light-skinned black girl—a mixed race child. Continue Reading »

The Transformers

Photo of urns created by Sheri Mendelson. New York artists Barbara Lubliner, Bernard Klavickas, Shari Mendelson, Janet Nolan, Olivia Kaufman-Rovira, Ilene Sunshine and Tyrome Tripoli are upcyclers. They turn garbage into art. Upcycling, according to Wikipedia, is “the process of converting waste materials…into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.” The term is on everyone’s lips these days—and why not? With increasing numbers of shopping bags flapping in trees and plastic six-pack yokes skittering down streets, it shouldn’t surprise us that environmental detritus would get funneled through the creative process as often as the recycling plant. Continue Reading »

Happy news! Artists and the people who love them meet at last, on mutual ground. No more stark, unfriendly gallery spaces where some intern behind the front desk refuses to acknowledge your arrival. No more standing around at openings with a plastic cup of lousy wine in one hand and a gussied-up Ritz cracker in the other, hoping for a chance to speak with the artist. No more stratospheric prices that make you feel like a dwarf star in the vast art world universe. Really? Really! Continue Reading »

Mouna Andraos e-quilt

Some time ago I posted my enthusiasm for the Gees Bend quilts and their makers. Working with their families’ old work clothes, and influenced by their faith and surroundings, the Gees Bend quilters created astonishingly beautiful designs that rival the New York School artists celebrated in our art history books.

Now comes 21st century quilting, where technology meets sewing! I should have seen this coming: electronic quilts made from e-textiles. E-textiles are conductive, meaning they can carry an electrical current. When configured with “soft circuitry“, the textiles can respond to environmental changes—such as the presence of people—as well as to changes in light, temperature and wind. Textile artist Mouna Andreos has combined traditional sewing/quilting techniques with a contemporary design sensibility to create electronic quilts that represent and interact with Canada’s chilly climate: Continue Reading »

mobile garden examples

Mobile gardens are here, there and everywhere! On Staten Island, artist activist Tattfoo Tan is hosting a mobile garden “expo” where people can bring their mobile gardens to “ooooh” and “ahhhh” at the ingenuity and beauty of each other’s work, and then wheel their creations a few blocks to the St. George Ferry Terminal where the gardens will be “parked” in the taxi pick-up area for commuters to enjoy for a month.

Mobile gardens are projects that redefine “green space” on the micro scale. You can roll your mobile garden—planted in an old office chair seat, grown on a skateboard or cultivated in a rusting shopping cart—to the nearest urban sign post. Then chain it and leave it to flourish in the sunshine for all to enjoy. Get a large group of mobile gardens together in one place and you’ve got a temporary island of atomized greenery on wheels. If you get really ambitious—like artist Joe Baldwin—you can turn a train car into a mobile garden for commuters Continue Reading »

The Empty Lot

rirkrit-tiravanijaI live across the street from an empty lot—two, actually. The first (let’s call it “Lot A”) is directly across the street and faces the front entrance to my apartment building. For twenty years it has been advertised as the site of a new coop building project. The ramshackle and weather-beaten plywood barrier that fronts the property is “secured” by a chained link gate with huge gaps on either side where people can, and do, enter.

The second lot (“Lot B”) is on a side street. From my fourth floor perch I look down on its cement perimeter with the embedded metal fence that marks an intended outdoor parking lot. At the front, a paved drive barely makes it past the padlocked gate before fading to dirt road and grass. In the middle of Lot B there are several mature of trees and scattered weed-bushes. Someone mows the abundant grass regularly. Continue Reading »

Sounds carry historical and political significance, even when they are intended as pure entertainment. Alternative meanings shimmer just beneath the surface as accepted meanings—safer meanings—give way to the attentive listener. Consider the sound of fireworks. According to Wikipedia, fireworks “were originally invented in ancient China in the 12th century to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.”

In the twenty-first century, fireworks and other forms of explosive entertainment continue to fulfill their ancient mandate to scare away “evil spirits.” When we pack a blanket and join our family and friends on the beach to experience the fireworks, we banish loneliness, depression and tiredness, as well as our anxieties about the economy, our worries about the country’s values and the concerns we have about the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Continue Reading »

sebastian-brajkovic1The digital world and the actual world can bleed into each other in mind-bending ways. A recent example: the furniture sculpture of Sebastian Brajkovic. His chairs are planted solidly in the physical world yet appear to morph, at light speed, into virtual objects. In some ways this blurring / merging / mashing of staticness with motion can be traced back to the Futurists. They attempted to capture the mechanical speed of modern life in paintings and sculptures. Futurist artists were galvanized not only by first-hand experiences of speedy 20th century living, but also by its representation in movies and photographs. As a child of the 21st century, Brajkovic references computer-generated imagery. Though anchored in “meat space” by needle-stitched embroidery, fine fabrics and ponderous bronze frames, his chairs are transformed by our shared experience of the ephemeral digital trace. As to the usefulness of a Brajkovic chair for the purposes of sitting, who cares?

Photograph from Sebastian Brajkovic’s site.

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