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CXatw9BUAAAgKsi (1)ANOTHER LONELY YEAR BEGINS ON THE OBSOLETE INTERNET. Not even crickets to serenade us here in Blogland/ Most of our action’s happening in meatspace anyhow. This week we were gobsmacked to learn Sarah has an older brother — secretly put up for adoption in ’65, now a warm and enormous firefighter living in Provo with six kids of his own. She’s off to Portland to meet him for the first time. They know he’s the real thing because he loves bargains and can hold a practiced smile through hundreds of photos. / Meanwhile, we are maybe going to win a large grant to build a skill-sharing pavilion in Downtown Minneapolis, which is a textbook illustration of the Fuck-Yeah-Oh-Fuck theorem of creative enterprise. (UPDATE: We lost) / A sprawling manuscript for Steve Davis’s John Brown: The Fighting Farmer hit my inbox this week to be made into a book, only three years late. / I’m convinced Johanna is the 9-year-old Charlie Rose and needs her own podcast, like everyone in 2016. We’re calling it Truth or Dessert.

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2 HOURS OF COLLABORATIVE DRAWING IN 45 SECONDS from last Thursday on the Mississippi River Revue. Thanks to Works Progress Studio for the invitation.

THREE OF US SHARPENED, AGED AND GLUED 10,000 PENCILS to the wall make something special for a client. The results far exceeded my expectations. Yet I don’t see us repeating this feat anytime soon.

PEEKABOO My VW’s muffler clean rusted off last month. I pulled over and examined it before putting it in my trunk: probably hadn’t functioned for months. Meanwhile warning indicators say I have no coolant, so I keep dumping it in, which you shouldn’t have to do. Over 60 mph, the car fills with an odor I call “ozone” but it could be smoldering engine wires. I don’t want to detect more problems, so I keep my windows open and the tape deck all the way cranked, a strategy I call “mystical ignorance.” I pray it will cover my ass until winter.

We squander our potential waiting for worthiness. Find a concept, however narrow or tedious, whatever dumb thing is your thing, and be faithful to it. Content has a shelf life of a nano-second. Recognition is all bought or self-awarded. Make it, flog it, take your couple Likes and move on. Even if you’re onto something, what the world wants will change while you’re sleeping. I guess I’m saying, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”

Contemplating a project on the Mississippi River next month—a public panoramic drawing to be made on the riverboat Padelford as it moves downstream. Like so much, it comes out of an invitation. Not a burning desire or even an Idea. Who needs those? Someone says they are making a mini golf documentary. And they want to interview the artists behind “Move Your Hole.” Who would come see that? I’ll be at the Walker at 3 Sunday to demo. Caring much will require some effort on both sides of the camera.

With love from outer space, via Detroit and mental illness.

I began drafting my will this week, and in a weird coincidence, I’m experiencing Old Man problems. Three weeks ago I started having back spasms that brought me to my knees. Only now am I coming to the end of the indignity: shuffling slowly, teeth gritted, clumsily grasping walls and chairs. I worked from the floor for days, searching for positions free of pain. At one point, I laid on the side of the road whimpering until Sarah (literally) picked me up.

When did Building Mode stop and Breaking Down start? 20 more years and the problems change from acute to terminal. My dad told me in June that he’s got Alzheimer’s—at 64, the Early Onset kind. He won’t spend the next 25 years growing old, gracefully or ungracefully, however he might have pictured it. He gets maybe 10, quite possibly fewer, without his memories to soothe him. Of all the ways to wind down a life, no one would pick this one. Here’s him in ’73, before bad backs and bad brains.

[fd][believer] 1972

40 years is no time at all. I’m learning this sooner than expected.

TrafficON JUNE 14 SLEEK ELECTRIC TRAINS start rolling from downtown Minnneapolis to downtown St. Paul around the clock. There are 18 stations in between, including one a few yards from my front door. It’s historic for the Cities and pretty sweet for me: essential services are already popping up nearby, housing values should get a bump, and I get the designated driver I always needed.

So this is how it feels when social investments align with personal gain. Privilege in effect.

I thought that day would be all happy-hour-on-rails, but I got more party than I bargained for. As part of the 4th annual Northern Spark, MakeSh!t is re-upping our Public Acts of Drawing event around the Minneapolis convention center from 9pm to 5am. Each hour is planned as a unique drawing event: vernacular lettering, Minneapolis mapping, life drawing (mixing things up so we don’t get bored, more than anything).

Here’s how we pitched it:

… a real-time art-making event that merges free-form collaboration with large-scale urban spectacle. Participants put pen—and charcoal and stencil and glue stick—to paper alongside local artists, dignitaries, and a few hundred friends. Drawers of all ages, skill levels, and styles are welcome. Guest contributors will help steer and energize the proceedings, but the results are delightfully unpredictable. Over the course of the night the individual marks of many become a vibrant lattice of interpenetrated doodles, the Hive Mind documented in graphite and ink. The draw-a-thon is simulcast on downtown architecture [Ivy Hotel, turns out], turning each small gesture into a heroic act. Public Acts of Drawing made its debut in 2012 on the (now destroyed) Pillsbury A Mill in St. Anthony Main.

Did I mention Mayor Hodges is scribbling with us? What shall I lobby for?

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I caught a talk last month by Canadian artist Jon Rafman. It was on a whim with Paul, Witt and a bunch of students and faculty at MCAD. I wasn’t prepared.

I’m a fan of Rafman’s “9-Eyes” project, a gallery of snapshots, some sublime some disturbing, culled from the ever-expanding archive of Google Street View. I thought of it as a kind of found-object work, but Rafman’s description suggests bigger stakes. Google’s simulacrum of civilzation is just one corner of a vast Internet world—explorable, infinitely seductive and terrifyingly human.

As a fellow cyber-explorer, I’ve felt this. I’ve adventured down internet rabbit holes, tripped headlong into its taboo regions and wondered what it all meant (and what it meant that I was there). But Rafman’s take is profoundly dystopic. His videos reveal (but do not really examine) the perils of Internet-addiction, lives completely given over to desire, mostly sexual. It’s a bleak picture. Hentai meets Abu Graib.

No doubt this world exists. But is that us (or more than a few of us)? Is our private universe so perverse? The audience response seemed to say, “that’s not me. I don’t know that Internet.”

One project fascinated me. Rafman’s avatar is the Kool-Aid Man, the ever-smiling sugar water pitcher/Pitch Man known for walking through walls. As Kool-Aid Man, Rafman is our tour guide to the mostly abandoned online world called Second Life, which had its heyday around 2008. The game’s often beautiful invented landscapes (all user-generated) are filled with dreamy experiences—alien discos, snowy deserts, endless archipelagos of fantasy. While the world evoked by Kool-Aid Man in Second Life can also feel warped and off-putting, it rings truer. By Rafman’s reading, it’s a mirror of the collective id.

When we can be anyone and make anything, this is what we make.

(WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK, FAMILY, OR SENSITIVE EYES)


[ginormous]mississippi through the ages
I MIGHT HAVE BEEN A CARTOGRAPHER IN ANOTHER LIFE.
 As a kid I remember poring over Tolkein’s handdrawn maps in The Hobbit, an aesthetic experience that, I see now, was a gateway to D&D. Not to play down my dweeb cred, but all I did with Role Playing Games was draw maps—networks of passages snaking across taped-together sheets of graph or hex paper. With some dragons thrown in. Sketching made the fantasy real enough; adventuring there seemed beside the point.

Years later we made a gigantic plywood Risk board in my friend Kelly’s basement, reimagined with new continents and routes (not an original idea). That map made it apparent how much arrangements of land and sea matter (for games at least). A Panama-like isthmus in our world became a bottleneck of perpetual conflict. The State of Stalemate. The Middle East, basically.

My own map collection is modest: a few stuffed shoeboxes and old classroom pull-downs. I have a Wichita train switcher’s map and a large survey of the American Indians of North America (lest we forget America was a place before we mapped it). I always saw them as more than references—composition, color and type; ways to interpret and render space and time—but now paper maps feel like relics. Unfolding one is an atavistic act, like thumbing a phone book or loading film. All the action’s gone online.

I still favor choosing routes based on memory and experience, but the computer in my pocket changes everything. I look at Google even when I know where I’m going: to check traffic, confirm hunches, and calculate ETAs +/- minutes. This mobile mapping thing has become the Internet’s key ingredient. It’s even crept into my job: helping farmers visualize their fields in dollars and cents; apps that get plumbers and cable guys between appointments more efficiently. Maps are money.

Though map media is nothing like it was, abstract admiration still overlays the utility for me. I may be more maps-for-maps-sake than ever. Rob Walker recently made an awesome gallery of digital map art, mostly based on the moments where the technology breaks. Wired’s Map Lab is consistently fun. The guy who does that 9 Eyes Tumblr is a genius. New fictional geographies are everywhere (but how are they for Risk?).

Have you played GeoGuessr? You get plopped down in a Google StreetView someplace on earth and, based on the available information (often scant) you drop a pin on the globe to guess your location. Points are awarded based on how close you get. It’s addictive. I’m getting good, but roadside shanties look a lot alike, whether they’re in Romania, Siberia or Capetown.

Now I’m back to making maps. Real paper ones, I hope, though everything starts digital anymore. My friend Steve Davis’s history book-in-progress, “The Fighting Farmer: John Brown in Iowa,” will include a pull-out map of the spots Old Man Brown stayed on his passages back and forth to Kansas (the contested “final frontier” of slavery). The information’s plotted, but I’m undecided on the design. Should it look like a 19th-century throwback or a contemporary view? A step into the past or a projection of the present 150 years after the fact?

Screen shot 2013-08-07 at 2.37.19 PM

See, that’s the tension with maps: history vs. currency. Both are there, but how to do you capture that? It may come down to the compass rose.

WE TRIED RESURRECTING some clattertrap projectors that haven’t been fired up in years and—with patience and careful tending—they roll. Last night we screened a triple-stack of 16-millimeter films from the archive (“Multiple Tube Bender,” “Springtime,” “Eureka Graduation,” “Canoeing Manitoba,” and others cycled in). Featuring Lucas Alm on bass. Playing both vids at once is a surprisingly good re-creation.

I’d love to emulate an installation at the Tate Modern, called simply “Film” (reviewed with good images here, though this New Yorker profile of the artist, Tacita Dean, was what hooked me). Maybe in a park or back alley this summer? We have operational gear. Now to find more footage, which is too rare to stumble upon anymore, alas.

MY STATION PRESETS ARE SYNCED across my car, clock radio and home stereo. I have more feedback for pledge-drive volunteers than they can politely absorb. I’m known to plan road trips around FM schedules.

That is to say I care about radio—that most public of media, mobile before we demanded everything be, and democratic in ways TV never was. “The medium for surprise, for connection with people you might have nothing else in common with, for creating strange social alliances,” as Simon Reynolds put it. I might add: the medium for obsessives, daydreamers, and misfits (proudly!).

In the vast territory between 88 and 108 MHz, I’m tuned to a fairly narrow band: local/public/community/analog-broadcast (don’t get me started about Satellite and Pandora, no friend to real FM). Here are my dial highlights. Listen on actual radios during scheduled timeslots for best results.

Good ‘N Country / KFAI 90.3 FM / Saturdays 3 – 5 PM

I’ll put my bias out there: I thought Country-Western music was all crap. But G’n’C has made me a fan. While the era of Hank and Patsy and Cash is easy to warm to, such is Ken Hippler’s impeccable taste that even post-classic-era artists go down easy (it’s like Buck Owens is a gateway drug to Bonnie Raitt). Not the first time my judgments have proven unreliable (litany of stuff I was wrong about = fodder for another post).

Classic Hip Hop w/ DJ Divine / KMOJ 89.9 FM / Saturdays 12 – 2 PM

I blogged this once before, so psyched was I to find a jam-filled gem amid Saturday’s FM doldrums (when Prairie Home stalks you down the dial all damn weekend). KMOJ’s DJ Divine is deep in 1987-’94, my golden age of hip-hop listening, with a playlist bumpin’ enough to get me over the odd R&B detour. Growing up a mall-fed rap fan in Des Moines, this is as much education as nostalgia for me (Whodini? Nice N Smooth? Who knew?).

On The Media / KNOW 91.1 FM / Sundays 3 – 4 PM

Like a lot of folks, I have a crippling cynicism hangover from the Bush Era. So I need a show that clarifies the messy mechanics of newsmaking and the biases that shape the conversation about politics and corporatism and war. The more I listen to OTM, the less it seems like “inside baseball” for journalists and more like a guidebook for conscience consumption. I’ll also give props here to Counterspin, the other media gadfly in our market that’s just as vigilant as On The Media (if comparitively humorless).

Off The Record / Radio K 104.5 FM or 770 AM / Fridays 3 – 5 PM

Minneapolis is lousy with bands, many of which are good, and none of which I drag myself out to see at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday. So a program like Off The Record is essential. I get a compact rundown of uncompromising local music, including experimental and unhinged stuff. Local Sound Department on KFAI used to do a similar thing—with a subversive acronym, to boot—but in this arena I prefer Radio K’s student DJs who aren’t as in thrall of Minneapolis’s musical glory days. They’re all over Right Now so I don’t have to be.

RSE Radio / KFAI 90.3 FM / Saturdays 9 – 11 PM

Another rap show on the list? The second of the day, in fact. RSE Radio is like a “chef’s choice” taster’s menu to DJ Divine’s backyard BBQ. A live hip-hop mix spanning 3+ decades, the show eschews crowd-pleasers in favor of underground B-sides, remixes and deep cuts. I used to hate that they don’t say what they play. Now I’ve found it makes me a more careful listener. It’s a proper schooling in independent ‘00s rap, a decade I mostly tuned out; shame on me.

The Takeaway / KFAI 90.3 FM / Weekdays 5 – 8 AM

Am I the only person who finds AM drive time on Minnesota Public Radio insufferable? Listening to Cathy Wurzer for me is like drowning in marshmallow schmutz. So when WNYC’s The Takeaway started on KFAI last year, I rejoiced. Contrasted with MPR’s lulling banalities, The Takeaway pulses with curiosity and Real Talk. Even the audience-response segments feel fresh and insightful. It’s a perfect segue in to Democracy Now! at 9 (with possibly my favorite tagline: “The Exception to the Rulers”), which completes my power morning of gritty truthtelling. My day’s concerns can’t possibly compete.

To be continued.

>> David Bowie – Station to Station