The Diggins

Julie Shafer – THE MALAKOFF DIGGINS  (about one hour and a half from Sacramento, CA)

JULIE SHAFER, Conquest of the Vertical: 300 miles from Eureka! Silver Gelatin Pinhole Photograph 2012 88”x 40”

JULIE SHAFER, Conquest of the Vertical: 300 miles from Eureka!
Silver Gelatin Pinhole Photograph
88”x 40”

The Diggins are amazing.  They are located deep, deep in the woods, and the man-made crater is one mile deep, and about three miles in circumference.  In the pit it looks like a Southwestern Desert canyon, and at the top and all around the crater is a lush, thick, dense forest.  All along the rim are tree roots that are exposed, and stretched thin, desperate to find earth to hold onto.

I had never heard of hydraulic mining before, but immediately saw how devastating this type of mining is.  High-powered hoses, more like canons, were pointed at a mountain washing away everything.  All of the run-off was funneled to a man-made ravine, and it is there that the gold, silver, copper, zinc and any other valuable mineral was sorted from mud, trees, roots, branches and rock ore.  Mercury and arsenic are magnetically attracted to these other highly sought metals, and so they were used to separate the valuable from invaluable ore.  This type of mining is the most lucrative, and the most destructive.

I walked into the pit, and thought I should walk the entire loop.  My heart was racing.  I was a sitting duck in this bowl.  Do bears hunt during the day?  Would a mountain lion think I was threatening or a good sized meal?  If I blocked the sky and top of the pit I was swear I was walking through a slot canyon in Zion National Park.  I could feel this space.  I could feel the destruction and the pain.  I mean really, really feel it deep in my bones.  The sides of the pit were scarred, and scraped.  I could see where several high-powered water canons sliced into the mountain, eventually inverting a mountain top into a deep, raw pit.  Reddish, brown earth covered the bottom and sides.  In some places it felt stretched thin, in other places smooth, but most of all I saw jagged, rough slices weaving in and out of the sides of the bowl.  I saw the tunnels that were used to direct the run-off into a ravine where the valuable ore was collected.  The tunnels could fit three of me side-to-side, arms stretched wide, and another of me sitting on my shoulders.  I imagined I was like one of those human pyramids cheerleaders make at high-school football game half-time shows. I was shaking.  Years of rain-water collecting at the bottom of the bowl meant there was a little pond, and really thick brush.  It looked a little bit like a nature preserve.  I walked the most of the length of the bowl, but at one point the brush was so thick, it was impossible to navigate through.  I didn’t worry about getting lost since I was in a circular space, but every step I took deeper into the bush made me start to feel like it might be my last.  I honestly thought a wild animal might be hiding in this brush waiting to pounce on me.

“C’mon.  You are being stupid.  There is nothing out here.”

One more step

“Look Julie, you want to walk all three miles of this bowl, and you’re probably about at the half-way point.  So, whether you turn around or keep going you would end up walking the same distance. So, keep going.”

“Let’s count our steps.  I wonder how many steps I will take during the remainder of this walk?  My guess would be 7800.  Where did I get that number you say…”

At this point my own voice was swallowed by the sounds of something I have never heard before.  An animal was sending a signal, either to me, to a pack, to a predator.  It was one long, low register howl, followed by about 10 short howls in a row.  Silence.  Repeat.  Silence.  I could hear and feel my heart beat in my ears.  I have no idea whether or not the sound was coming from inside the bowl or from the rim.  Had I been stalked this whole time?  I don’t remember anything about my walk back except for the fact that I walked quickly, stood as tall and as big as I could, I tripped a lot and that I repeated something to the affect of,  “Everything’s fine.  Every – thing – is – going – to – be – fine.  I am going to take a few more steps, and then I will be closer to the end.  I’m good.  Just be cool.  Be very cool, and all will be good.”

This place scared the shit out of me, and was absolutely going to be the next place I would shoot.  How I was going to carry a 6 foot by 40 inch plywood box, and a darkroom a mile into this pit was beyond me.  I couldn’t use the U-Haul like I had before. There’s no way it would make it on the drive to the Diggins. I was going to have to carry everything into the pit, and set-up from there.  This shoot seemed ridiculously elaborate.  I seemed to really be teetering on the edge of reason with this one. Heroics aside, I didn’t feel safe.  Why was I willing to return to a site whose history terrified me, and physicality terrified me, whose remoteness chilled me to the bone.  Why I would spend a week shooting here is still something I am asking myself.


An American painter in Rome – 2

An American painter in Rome – 2


LUCAS REINERA leaning tree and a wall cracked by history

Pine Tree on Viale delle Mura Gianicolensi - behind the American Academy

Pine Tree on Viale delle Mura Gianicolensi – behind the American Academy

A pine tree collapsed

leans on a wall

behind an American Institution

as if exhausted or sleeping.

Waking up the pine trees





when encounters

with timeless art


reading the news.

Ruins of a Church - Garden of Nimfa

Ruins of a Church – Garden of Nimfa



Sunday morning


It’s Sunday morning, a hazy day in my mind and around. Hazy enough to project on a white, modest egret on the seashore questions we keep secret because we don’t know the answers. The bird’s perfect modulation of lines is softened by feathers. A living porcelain jumps on the skinniest legs. In front of the white egret equally elegant in all her movements I felt I was seeing music.

No interpretation, no accurate description can have the same impact as the REAL THING. George Steiner: “In humane letters, ‘theory’ is nothing but intuition grown impatient. … But art and poetry will always give to universals ‘a local habitation and a name.’” (Errata)

Language is scared by life as logic is terrified by death. If the brain is not eternal and the human mind is not god, and computers are mainly dynamic containers with no paper, dust or silverfish, we might stop mistaking our head for a hat full of data.

It’s scary to see the nineteenth century phantoms of geometrical and mechanical control – early imperialism and capitalism outcomes – as inhabitants of our time disguised in operative systems, or apparently rational evaluation systems, every time human intelligence is treated like an impersonal engine. RA

This is the way Cuban artist Alexis Lago shows his own way out, drawing the very thin thread of our awareness:


ALEXIS LAGO, Asimetria del saber (Asymmetrical Knowledge), 2013, watercolor on paper, 15" x 11" Courtesy Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles

ALEXIS LAGO, Asimetria del saber (Asymmetrical Knowledge), 2013, watercolor on paper, 15″ x 11″
Courtesy Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles

ALEXIS LAGO, Sunday Morning, 2012, watercolor on paper, 15" x 10" Courtesy Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles

ALEXIS LAGO, Sunday Morning, 2012, watercolor on paper, 15″ x 10″
Courtesy Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles


“To believe that mankind can find a goal outside itself, and one not projected by itself, would be sheer folly and chasing after one’s shadow. Man’s [and Women’s] progress is only within itself, and hasn’t the victorious significance you think.” André Gide, Reflections




turning thoughts inside out


Notes by HANNAH KIRBY from San Francisco

the context of words is language and language is scary-scopic. google “time famine” to see why i’ve headed this direction.*

with pen & paper
with key + finger

its like i know there’s someone else asking the deeper question. but maybe they only thought of it after i thought the thought. i think we need to be turning our thoughts inside out. dividing the banal with the contemplative equals what?

ordinary life event**
beauty & understanding of the world**

can responsibility be a creative output?
probably not.

*i spend most of my time helping other people.
**words by a. ruppersberg

HANNAH KIRBY, having been divided, (bw), 2014

HANNAH KIRBY, having been divided, (bw), 2014

HANNAH KIRBY, the_underscore, 2014

HANNAH KIRBY, the_underscore, 2014


On the Threshold : Allan Sekula

In memoriam  

Doorway for Allan

Doorway for Allan


The end was written down by destiny for August 10, a few weeks from now. Waiting for Allan I leave the front door wide open, and raise the music so high that silence is defeated. Appearing on the threshold, he takes me by surprise: legs and arms kicking the air, each limb for itself, the whole body shaking. I can’t avoid seeing the accurate work of the sickle on his flesh, there is only skin.

“What’s this?” Allan asks. “Mozart, piano sonata K 533” I answer. As he walks in, stepping into the music, he stops shaking. The notes rush down their stream, float, almost gurgling in a long quiet laugh at the bottom of the throat. If lady Death laughs she’ s right, we are more surprised than scared by her. Spreading consonance and harmonic balance, the piano sonata brings the three of us in place, like trees that have found the good spot for planting their roots.

“Are you still working at The Lottery of the Sea? I thought MOMA had bought it.” “Yes, but I want to make sure that the sound is good. Peter will help me.” “Before you start, would you like a tea?” “That would be nice!”

Definitely, sounds are tuning the day.

At the kitchen table, I wish my sight could trace gently, by pencil, the plain, banal tapestry of normal gestures, hopes, art exhibits, books and flowers on the tablecloth, all surrounded by an invisible fog: the unknown. No inner vision, no vision at all. Only kindness. I’m stuck watching a cup, a spoon, and Allan’s fingers struggling with a yellow little bottle of pills. Nothing’s hidden, either. We really smile, both of us, we enjoy talking of the next openings. Life feels so strong that a breath of doubt passes over me, did he defeat the lady? Wrapped in his kindness, she might vanish away, along with the music, transformed into a black cloud of butterflies.

On May 3, 2014, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Simone Forti and Jeremiah Day performed a short replica of Allan’s gesture of throwing steaks on to the highway, to be chewed up by the cars’ rolling teeth. 1972.

Did he know the “Poets hitchhiking on the highway”? Gregory Corso wold have liked to meet Allan and not for kindness, in a contest of absurdities:

“Of course I tried to tell him / but he cranked his head / without an excuse. / I told him the sky chases / the sun / And he smiled and said: / ‘ What’s the use. ’ / I was feeling like a demon / again / So I said : ‘ But the ocean chases the fish.’ / This time he laughed / and said: / ‘Suppose the / strawberry were / pushed into a mountain.’”

Not for moral superiority or protection of good feelings, Sekula’s photographs and films depicted colors and shapes of our capitalistic disorder. Not because Herbert Marcuse had been one of his teachers. “To include himself with others,” this is his art. Because “Acts of kindness demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent animals who have no better resource than each other.” (Adam Phillips)




BESANO, 1948: growing up in an artist’s family. I figli di persone fuori norma, vuoi artisti scienziati o che comunque non rientrano nella routine dei mestieri comuni, spesso si trovano a disagio nei confronti dei normali. Io non sfuggivo a questa regola, anche se mio padre, pur degno artista, non aveva atteggiamenti che non fossero più che in linea con la media. Il fatto che vivesse di un’attività atipica e in fondo un po’ eccezionale: esponeva le opere che erano valutate da persone lontane dal nostro modo di vivere, forse, venivano a farci visita, spesso avevano l’automobile, tutto questo mi induceva a pensare di essere anch’io diverso. In che modo non l’avevo ancora deciso però non mi sentivo come il figlio del droghiere o dell’impiegato.

A queste difficoltà se ne sovrapponevano altre, di carattere familiare, forse solo un pretesto per completare il mio personaggio ma, come secondo figlio, ero sempre il secondo: un po’ rachitico perché stavo gobbo, viziato perché mi prudeva il naso e me lo strofinavo, soprattutto era stata la mamma a rinfacciarmi, nei frequenti dialoghi con le amiche, la vita infernale che le avevo fatto fare quando ero ancora in fasce. Per giunta ero anche mancino. In sostanza mi sembrava di disturbare. Forse per questo ero solitario. Credo che accumulando ed elaborando interiormente e inconsciamente questi e altri reconditi complessi, ero riuscito ad anticipare di almeno quindici anni il personaggio incarnato da James Dean. È vero che durante l’adolescenza ho cercato di confrontarmi coi normali, che erano più avanti di me negli studi e quindi cominciai a capire che dovevo perlomeno fare i conti con questa realtà. L’evento decisivo fu però inaspettato, imprevisto e drammatico ma salutare: la disoccupazione contemporaneamente alla gravidanza della moglie. Tre giorni di disperazione per cambiare non il mondo ma me stesso. Con umiltà ho cominciato da zero e da qui può iniziare la storia del mio procedere come tecnico specializzato nelle colonne sonore, negli studi di registrazione: lavorando, studiando fino a costruire studi di doppiaggio e di registrazione discografica. BESANO, 1948.

Children of non-ordinary people, artists or scientists who don’t fit in the common jobs’ routine, often find themselves embarrassed in comparison with other, normal humans. I didn’t escape from this destiny even if my artist father, although rather well known, used to wear the most ordinary behavior. His activity wasn’t ordinary at all, I would say exceptional: the artworks he exhibited were evaluated by persons quite distant from our way of living; when visiting they often came by car, their own car; enough for me to start thinking that I also was different. I hadn’t yet decided how different, but I didn’t feel the same as a grocer’s or an employee’s son.

Other reasons of distress were coming from the family, perhaps made up by me to complete my character, but being the second son I was always the second: a scrawny boy with the bad habit of hunching the shoulders, spoiled, scrubbing my itching nose. Mother especially, while meeting her girlfriends, was throwing in my face the hellish life she had had because of me since I was a baby. Besides, I was left handed. To sum up, I felt I was bothering. That’s why, maybe, solitude was my escape. I believe that unconsciously processing in myself these and other hidden inferiority complexes, I succeeded in anticipating by at least fifteen years James Dean’s character. As an adolescent I tried to compare myself to regular young people, more advanced in their studies: a reality I had to deal with. In the meantime the decisive event came into my life unexpected, unforeseen, and dramatic: unemployment joined to my wife’s pregnancy. Three days of despair, not to change the world, but to change myself. Finally humble, I started from zero. It was the beginning of my growing as a technician, specializing in sound recording: working, studying to the point I was able to build full dubbing and recording studios.

Much later, 1980-85, discovering American cars and landscape (A.A. has been a photographer since he was 14. He is graciously going toward the end of his Eighties)


Alberto Albertini, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Alberto Albertini, Nashville, Tennessee

Alberto Albertini, ,Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Alberto Albertini, Fort Lauderdale, Florida


Jean Louis Garnell: L’oeil du matin – 2014

L’oeil du matin  –  The Eye of the Morning

From Chatenay Malabry near Paris, (France), UNE PEINTURE BY JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL. Pigments sur toile de lin, 130 x 100 cm. First title: #10  2014.

It’s the eye of the morning, or Spring as an organism, the mystery of birth. Le printemps is a masculine word, la primavera is feminine, and spring-time, or spring-tide, is neutral. What do languages bring to the mind, beyond the idea that “the receiver and the giver are equal in their benefits … and who shall say between Man and Woman which is the most delighted?” Keats, 1818. Keats again: “I was led into these thoughts, my dear Reynolds, by the beauty of the morning operating on a sense of Idleness – I have not read any Books – the Morning said I was right – I had no Idea but of the Morning and the Thrush said I was right.” (Letter to Reynolds)

I’m not suspicious of clarity, which in France is a cultural obligation and the threshold of style, and makes you wonder what humans really are. RAThe Eye of the Morning

On April 28, Garnell replied: “Le titre de la peinture est dorénavant: The Eye of the Morning.” L’oeil du matin.

He also sent a poem of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer: Madrigal 

J’ai hérité d’une sombre forêt où je me rends rarement. Mais un jour, les morts et les vivants
changeront de place. Alors, la forêt se mettra en marche. Nous ne sommes pas sans espoir.
Les plus grands crimes restent inexpliqués, malgré l’action de toutes les polices.
Il y a également, quelque part dans notre vie, un immense amour qui reste inexpliqué.
J’ai hérité d’une sombre forêt, mais je vais aujourd’hui dans une autre forêt toute baignée de lumière.
Tout ce qui vit, chante, remue, rampe et frétille ! C’est le printemps et l’air est enivrant.
Je suis diplômé de l’université de l’oubli et j’ai les mains aussi vides qu’une chemise sur une corde à linge.

From: BALTIQUE et autres poèmes, 1989, Le Castor Astral (France), Les Ecrits des Forges (Québec), p.137 (French translation from Swedish by Jacques Oudin)

I inherited a dark forest where I rarely go. But one day the dead and the living / will switch place. The forest, then, will start marching. We are not without hope. / Despite the action of all the polices the bigger crimes will not be explained.  / In our lives as well, somewhere, there is an unexplained, immense love. / I inherited a dark forest, but today I move to another forest flooded by light. /  All things that are alive sing, shake, climb and wriggle! It’s springtime and the air is inebriating. /  I have a degree from the oblivion university, my hands as empty as a shirt drying on a rope.  (English translation from French by RA)



Sharon Ellis Winter Bouquet, 2009 Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

Sharon Ellis
Winter Bouquet, 2009
Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

WINTER BOUQUET       It took one full year of Sharon Ellis’ life to paint Winter Bouquet. It’s hardly a painting. Had an explosion of stars been captured by an imaginary camera, the result wouldn’t be far from the snow crystals that open their hearts, and pulse through a night of wishes celebrated for their light not less than for lightness: natural snow flakes are covered with modesty. Not here. Brush strokes are invisible. Maybe the artist’s brain sent emotive hints directly to the canvas, determined to keep them in movement. These are burning snow flowers. Their spiky edges, geometrical, prick the cerebral cortex to let the blue in to our brains, as it was shaped by the artist. “Something confining in what I do, fascinating: a point is a snapshot of time. You want time like music, to imply different times in the same picture, different seasons in the same painting.”

Emily Dickinson:  The brain is wider than the sky / For -put them side by side- /  the one the other will contain / with ease -and you-beside / the brain is deeper than the sea- / for-hold them-blue to blue- / the one the other will absorb- / as sponges-buckets- do- /  the brain is just the weight of god- / for-heft them-pound by pound- / and they will differ-if they do- /  as syllable from sound-

Sharon Ellis’ winter flowers come from the distance between dreams and words and images. They bring out the splendor of fragility, a freedom stronger than any exterior order; oh, could they speak they would say: “I didn’t remember snow. I was in Virginia. I was six, in school, and they gave us blue paper.”