P B & W

October 4th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

One of the other nice things about living in Prague is its proximity to lots of other wonderful places, like Berlin. This whole “being in another country in one quick train ride” thing is pretty incredible.


train roll on

I put off going to Berlin for over 9 months for no apparent reason (ok, time and money): despite everyone and their uncle telling me to go, I couldn’t quite justify it, somehow. Once the P and I finally got there this past spring, however, it was like my whole world made sense again. I felt more energized and inspired and excited than I’d felt in quite a while.


hello: portapotty by the Brandenburg Gate, for starters

Much as I enjoy Prague, I’ve come to the fundamental conclusion that there’s not much magnetism here for me, creatively speaking. It’s not that Prague is inherently bad for this: hell, there are hordes of creatives here who find it utterly inspiring. It’s just not working for me. (Yet.) Over the past year, I’ve had crisis after crisis about why I can’t make things here, and it just seems to come down to an energy mismatch. I don’t blame Prague, but I also don’t blame myself (anymore) for not feeling energized creatively here, despite the ample time and space I’ve had here to Make Important Things.

At first, I just thought I was a failure, and something must be deeply wrong with me, for months. I didn’t realize that maybe it wasn’t quite as simple/harsh as this until I got out, and started spending more time elsewhere where I was energized and inspired. Certainly the residency in Italy was great: gorgeous surroundings, great company, a directive to make things. A little conservative, to be sure (Italy, not the residency), but creative and vibrant, indubitably. But then I got back from Italy, and fell apart all over again in Prague. No creative mojo, no nothing. Enter: Berlin.

I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the same things that everyone likes about Berlin: mostly, I’ll just say that it’s a deep feeling of recognition. I feel more myself when I’m there than anywhere else I’ve been in Europe. Which is kind of a strange, quasi-narcissistic reason to like a place, actually, but lemme tell you, when you’ve been a fish out of water for an extended period of time, it feels unbelievably great to be able to swim again.

I was rambling on and on to some folks here about how great Berlin is recently, when I saw a familiar, pained expression come across my German friend’s  face. She said wistfully and diplomatically, “Everyone loves Berlin.” In that dot-dot-dot way which made me wonder. I kept thinking about that moment, because I recognized in it a similar (if far grouchier) sentiment I express whenever someone is going on and on about how cool New York is. It’s not that New York isn’t cool. I just get super-tired of hearing people ramble on about how great it is, ad nauseam, when it’s not the only great city in the US.

But I have to concede that the things that to me are genuinely appealing about places like Berlin (or New York, I guess) are also the same things I love about the urban Bay Area, and certainly other cities, as well: Diversity. A kind of no-nonsense cosmopolitanism. Insane creative energy. Feminist/ queer/ people of color with recognized strength and voice. Anarchic decadence. World-class cultural institutions. An mouth-watering variety of ethnic food options. Dirty old vintage stuff for sale. Freak flags flying proudly. An insistent, energetic hum in the air.

Like attracts like, so I suppose it’s no big shocker that I’m attracted to the things that feel familiar to me, being such a product of Bay Area culture, myself. What’s so thrilling about Berlin, however, is seeing these things as unfamiliar variations, with completely different historical and political underpinnings. And so, after many months of feeling a constant, quiet isolation in Prague, I’ve loved that I feel like I’m able to relax, unfold and expand myself when I’m in Berlin. I get bigger. My energy gets bigger. I want to feel, do, make things again. It’s that good.


Prenslauerberg


Thank you, Turkish people of Berlin, for this sublime greatness you have bestowed upon us


Rockin my J outside the KW Institute for Contemporary Art


a delightfully nutty project curated by John Bock at Temporary Kunsthalle


Yinka Shonibare at Friedrichswerdersche Kirche


The A. Wah and the J.Wah at the Filmmuseum


Heaven is a museum for East German motorcycles

Gorgeous

After that initial spring revelation, I made 2 more Berlin trips over the summer with visiting friends, and each trip only reinforced its spell over me.
I’m going back up in a couple of weeks, as a bunch of my Manila friends are going to be there for a show. It doesn’t take much of an arm-twist to get me there, but that’s about as once-in-a-blue-moon, damn-fine a reason as any.

Game on

October 4th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

M.O.B. hard at work from 3 different locales this past weekend.

One of us looks suspiciously like Mikhail Gorbachev was thrown in a blender with Imelda Marcos and Raggedy Ann.

Maybe that’s all of us, actually.

in the interim

September 20th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

Man, these breaks from this blog aren’t getting any shorter. Not for lack of material, either. Maybe there’s something to the art of the annual Christmas Letter, where one just does a massive free-associative dump of all of the year’s news in one fell swoop. David Sedaris, of course, wrote one of the finest fake examples of this in “Seasons Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”. And for years, my friend Nick has sent out an entirely real, and entirely strange and smart, holiday letter worthy of framing for its beautifully inscrutable, textual perfection.

But it’s still only September, so I better get off my ass and get things up to date, yet again. One thing that’s been pulling me elsewhere has been my other website (yeah, I’m like that guy who dies and everyone discovers his other secret family, one town over): I’ve mentioned it periodically, but since I was trying to keep the identities of my two sites fairly distinct, I didn’t trumpet about it too loudly.

See, the thing about moving here and 1, deciding not to teach in Prague, plus 2, the slow-going nature of building professional fine arts connections in Europe, is that this left me with no immediate sources of income in the fields in which I’ve been trained.

Teaching would have been the easy thing to do, but I’ve never been too good at “easy” (which is kind of a paradox, since I’m also lazy). I absolutely love teaching but I didn’t want to teach English (the most direct path to employment in Prague) enough to pay for TEFL certification, and to get into teaching art in the Prague university system would have taken more time than I’ve felt committed to being here for. On the fine art front, even if I were to meet a gallerist tomorrow who wanted to give me a show, it would be at least 6 months to a year before said show might materialize, and there would still be no guarantees that my work would sell. I’m not trying to be a pessimist or an excuse-maker here: just trying to set the time-and-money conditions which made freelancing a more practical income-earning decision.

So. For these reasons, I figured I’d try to build up some other related skills and see if free-lancing as an illustrator and designer might be something I could do in a more-than-occasional capacity. It’s slow-going, but getting better all the time. (That said, I’m always cruising for more gigs, if any of you have projects or referrals for me.) It’s forced me to learn some new skill sets, which I feel painfully behind on in comparison with friends who have been doing this professionally for years now, but I will say it’s actually been pretty fun flailing my way through the newbie thing. Beginners’ enthusiasm can take one far.

Some recent work for Hyphen Magazine:

For Engine 43:

For MSMGF:

The fine art thing is still happening as well, of course. It has not been abandoned.

Stephanie “Sisig” Syjuco invited me to participate in her “Shadowshop” project at SFMOMA, so I’m working on a few pieces for that.

The Eartha/Imelda project went on hold for  a while there, but I’m back on it.

There are some applications for other residencies, shows and other arts programs that I’m about to crank out.

If poor Sam Chanse isn’t sick to death of waiting for me to edit it, there will soon exist the Greatest Video Ever from a little project she and I worked on when she came through Prague at the beginning of the year.

Still taking pictures of portapotties and piles of cubes.

Have fallen in love with Berlin, and am trying to make things happen there (more on that shortly).

The Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. are doing our first project together in a few years, and in collaboration with Carlos Villa! We’re doing this long-distance with our dear friends at Green Papaya Art Projects, in Quezon City.  Working remotely and collaboratively has its challenges, but we diasporic types are up to the challenge.

Especially now that we’ve discovered iChat.

M.O.B. meeting, last week

GHOTCZ #11: Koudelka

August 1st, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

I discovered Josef Koudelka‘s photographs when I was probably 18 or 19 years old: the image below spoke, and continues to speak, volumes to me. As a young grublet, I had already developed an interest in (then-) Czechoslovakia as well as photojournalism, and the context for and composition of this photo, taken at the foot of Wenceslas Square (václavské náměstí) in August 1968, seemed so fraught, and self-implicating, it seared itself into my brain. So much so that I took many of my own variations of this image periodically over the years. (In fact, I just asked myself right now why I stopped at all, and duh–it’s because I stopped wearing a watch.)

Every time that I’m at this site in Prague, I still think about the intensity of this image, its political and temporal tension.

While I imagine most people are glad that the political aspects of the square’s function have changed since 1968, it does feel slightly ridiculous and highly ironic to stand at this same vantage point in 2010, surveying a landscape of sloppy tourists on Segways, drunks prowling the girlie-bar circuit, and the logo-littered gauntlet comprised of the H&M/Ben&Jerrys/Starbucks/Marks&Spencer/Hooters/etc chains now choke-holding the area. (I almost implicated the ubiquitous sausage stands in my quasi-critique too, but I love them too much to reject them.) Wenceslas Square to an outside observer just seems kind of dumb and tacky when one doesn’t know the many layered histories and dramas that have unfolded here.

For a long time, Koudelka’s two monographs (Gypsies and Exiles) were exceedingly difficult to find: out of print, and only available at a mercenary’s price on eBay or through specialist booksellers. I was lucky enough to have stumbled on to an affordable copy of Gypsies as a kid, and I treasure it beyond measure: I was dumb enough to have also stumbled upon Exiles around the same time, and couldn’t justify the expense (which was ridiculously cheap, relative to its current market value) and so didn’t buy it. Over the years, I’d routinely prowl bookstores, wistfully hoping for a stray copy of Exiles to magically appear before my eyes. I figured/hoped someone would eventually republish those 2 books, but it never seemed to happen.

I didn’t know that Thames & Hudson had finally put out a new Koudelka survey book in 2006 until last week, when we found a copy in a bookstore here in Prague. That, coupled with also discovering a Czech-language copy of his seminal Invaze 68 photos (only published in 2008),  was more than I could ever have dreamed of.

Perhaps if I’d been looking a bit more actively in recent years, these books would have come to my attention sooner, but no matter: I’m just so grateful to have them now, and so to have been reunited with Koudelka right here in Prague. I’m also glad that I now have a great deal more Czech history, context and language knowledge with which to appreciate them. The Invaze 68 book in particular (pictures below) is all the more thrilling, heartbreaking, tragic and special to me,  since virtually all of the photos are taken in Prague, on streets I know very personally.

Exiles update!
Dreams just came true: I was so thrilled when I got these 2 books that I wrote a nerdy Facebook status update about it last week. My old friend Trevor, a really talented photographer I actually first traveled to Czechoslovakia with yeeeaars ago, happened to see said update, and promptly offered me his extra copy of Exiles. I am beside myself with excitement.

GHOTCZ #10: World Cup Football

July 7th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

you: Whoa whoa whoa. Wofford, are you jocking out?

me: No. I swear. But.

But it’s really hard to resist the awesomeness of hundreds of fans from all over the world gathering in Old Town Square to watch World Cup Football. I tried to resist. I did. But as big world parties go, it’s just too fun to be my normal sports-curmudgeonly self. And it turns out, I’ve got a major soft spot for these massive global sports events (as evidenced by my equally out-of-character enthusiasm for the Beijing Olympics). Last night: Holland vs Uruguay in South Africa but watched in the Czech Republic on screen sponsored by Korean auto company. Layers upon layers!

Also, there’s a cinema-size screen in the middle of one of the most beautiful city squares in the world.
And, while said crass-corporate-marketing-ploy-screen is ludicrous and tacky, I kind of love that about it.

And hello: I’ve been so obsessed with the Zizkov TV Tower, I’d never even thought to go up the almost-as-excellent tower in Old Town Square. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty great place to be, at sunset, World Cup mayhem notwithstanding…

…and having Matt and Arlie in town for a different international sports event (Go Fury! World Champions!) has been a great influence. I’ve been going to their team’s Ultimate matches up at Strahov Stadium (see GHOTCZ 6) this week, as well.

We stayed up the tower as long as possible, just enjoying the sunset and the views.
Meanwhile, once back on Earth:

Such a great way to spend a summer night.

GHOTCZ: #9: Cubes

June 27th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

One of my favorite things about these summery months in the Ceezy has been all of the sidewalks under construction.  I started noticing these when we first moved to Brno last year, and then watched the projects continue on in Prague throughout last summer, and then begin again this summer.

Unlike California, land of asphalt and glitter lined with seismic stress fractures, this country is all about stone cubes, delicately and methodically embedded in sand. These people actually like to rip up streets, and reassemble them, by hand, with wee blocks. Hard core. Beyond old school. I love it.

Last month, I woke up to the sound of jackhammers below my window, and witnessed workers ripping up the ratty old asphalt flanking one side of our building. I figured that the city was just doing some repairs to pipes underneath or something like that, but it turned out that they had decided to redo the entire length of the block with ornamental effing patterned cubes. Seriously? Who does that?? No one in the 94608, that’s for sure.

I get a little thrill out of the piles of cubes. They’re really kind of magical: the facets bounce light in some extraordinarily beautiful ways.  The mounds also resemble super-sized, grey-ish, sugar cubes, which gets me wondering about the giant cup of coffee that they might go into.

update 7/7: holy MoG: new summer photo series about to emerge– cubes + portapotties, at the same time!

GHOTCZ #8: SAPA

June 9th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

Vietnamese are probably the largest non-western immigrant group in the Czech Republic: in central Prague, they do an amazing job of running the late-night fruit and vegetable shops (and increasingly the nail salons, but I’d still say it’s about 50-50 whether a Caucasian is actually doing your nails, which is next to unheard-of in California…). Despite their long history in this country, Vietnamese don’t have much demonstrable presence or influence here, and largely keep a very low profile.

And, since they have yet to open any proper Vietnamese restaurants in central Prague, when I’m craving a big bowl of pho or bun, there’s really only one place to go get it, and that’s SAPA. I’d read a bit about SAPA when we first moved, but was a little retarded about how to actually get there, since it’s on the outskirts of Prague. Our friend Jason (who’s also from the Bay Area, and understood our cravings) graciously took us out there last summer, and I was immediately hooked. Here’s why it’s one of the GHOTCZs:

First things first. From the bus stop, it’s impossible to get a sense of what’s inside:

Once you pass through the gate beneath this sign, however, it feels as if you’ve just made something akin to the Tijuana border crossing (with no queues or cops, though). It’s as if the Czech Republic stops, and Vietnam begins.

SAPA’s primary function is as a huge wholesale market, supposedly the biggest in Europe. The bulk of what’s being sold seems to be clothing and accessories, but my personal fixation is with the phenomenal profundity of globalized tchotchkes available: plastic lychee trees. Wooden childrens’ puzzles–in Arabic. Virgen de Guadalupe disco clocks. Ninja throwing stars. Faux-jade Buddhas. The kind of wonderful schlock one is accustomed to coming across here and there, but not all in one location, especially when that location is the Little Hanoi of the Czech Republic.

My new personal favorite find: Hugo Chavez action figures. In two different fashionable ensembles.

The food is, of course, what the inital draw to SAPA really was: divine, classic little hole-in-the-wall style restaurants, serving up beautiful, simple dishes that haven’t been watered-down for Europeans.

The only catch is that the smaller places tend to specialize in only a few particular dishes (ie, there’s the pho place, or the bun place), and don’t tend to have menus. Jason took us to a place that specialized in bun cha, which was fine by me. I’ve tried other places since then, but I’m a big fan of the place above. In general, however, unless you speak Czech or Vietnamese in these littler places, it can be a bit of a mystery as to what you’re actually going to get… but it’s always an adventure, and always delicious.

The other things I tend to notice about SAPA are the diaspora markers: the remittance centers on one hand…

…and the South-east Asian “TP goes in the basket not the toilet” traditions on the other…

It’s not all Western Unions and public toilets, though. There’s also a huge, modern Buddhist temple, lots of shops offering services like plane tickets home or hairdressers/barbers,  and fantastic little food markets selling hard-t0-find Asian produce. And it’s really so nice just to see Vietnamese in their element, relaxed, horsing around, being more gregarious and social in all the ways that I never see them comfortable doing within Czech society.

Back in January, I brought a crew of friends out to SAPA, as well: it was a kind of alternate-universe Vietnam experience, with below-zero weather, freeeezing toes,  and snowdrifts that did not compute with the tropical cuisine and tarp-covered vendor stalls.

Having now enjoyed trekking out to SAPA for 4 seasons now (I’ve been here a year! whoa!), I do have to say that muggy summer days are still the best time to go.

LB, 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010

June 3rd, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

Thank you for having been with us as long as you were.

image making

April 24th, 2010 | Posted in - | 2 Comments

Over the past couple of weeks, I finally got around to adding a couple of ridiculous new image galleries to Wofflehouse, in the PHOTOS section. It’s a section of the website that I’ve semi-neglected, largely because it’s more for personal amusement, less for professional advancement. Also, I’ve increasingly used this blog, as well as my Facebook account, for sharing photos instead.

The galleries are both pretty deadpan:

GREAT MOMENTS IN OVERHEAD LIGHTING

PORTA POTTIES OF THE WORLD

Anyway, I got more pleasure than anticipated out of putting together these 2 series of photos, and plan on doing much more of this soon. I’ve been reflecting on  a few things, due to this.

First, I take for granted how integrated photography is into my life, and often forget that it is its own creative endeavor due to this. I took my first photography class at an art college in San Francisco when I was 15, and continued taking photo courses and educating myself about the history of photography throughout high school and college. I also worked in one-hour photo labs for ten years of my life. While I’ve rarely exhibited my photos, every Mail Order Brides/M.O.B. project was dependent on both Eliza’s and my photographic expertise. And somehow, I’ve still never taken my relationship to photographic image-making too seriously.

Second, something happened during the shift from film to digital. I stopped working at the photolab in 2000, which ended my many years of getting to purchase and print 35 mm film cheaply and easily. Also, this era was the beginning of the demise of many photolabs, due to increased consumer interest in digital. I had a beautiful Nikon SLR that suddenly stopped getting employed as regularly due to this. While I continued taking it on trips, it was far too bulky to justify carrying around for casual daily use. Also, I was unenthusiastic about compact snapshot cameras, disdaining them as something for amateurs. It wasn’t until I got my first little digital camera in 2005 that I could tote something with ease anywhere and everywhere, but this was still basically just a digital version of aforementioned-disdained-snappy cam. Given my latent photo-snob tendencies, I fell into my own trap for a little bit of not taking my own use of them as anything other than amateur, despite how many more images I was actually making. (And what’s wrong with amateur, anyway?)

Third, the digital camera thing has done a couple of things to image-making by both liberating it and cheapening it. Making a pile of photographic images is now next to free (unless you print it, which is done less and less): you’re only limited by the amount of memory your camera/card has. It also comes with the instant gratification of reviewing images on the display immediately after taking them. This is great, but has also led to a sort of bloated, un-edited glut of images. And it has removed the mystery, and delicious anticipation of what might lie on a roll of film. Anything truly special often gets lost in the shuffle, or not appreciated as much, as it once might have. (This is, of course, both good and bad, as it’s also weeded out the over-fetishization of actually-kind-of-mundane images.)

Fourth, I’ve had an often-difficult year creatively since the move, insofar as making other kinds of art (painting, drawing, video–the things I usually exhibit), and even blogging, at times. I’ve struggled with what to express, at times. But what I’ve only just realized is that I’ve been doing an extraordinary amount of photography instead, and its function has subtly shifted to become more diaristic and expressive. Also self-entertaining. It’s also very much used for “note-taking”: for quickly recording something that I may want to address in a different medium, later down the line. For the many moments where I’ve been at a loss for words, or been unable to figure out how to make a drawing of something I’ve been feeling, the camera has been my immediate, often taken-for-granted companion, instead.

In Bogliasco, I think I figured a bit of this out. My shutter-bugging got truly excessive there, given the circumstances. And the other Fellows trusted/tolerated the presence of my camera at every meal and outing: I became the de-facto embedded photojournalist for our group, and put together a big Flickr archiv of images- sort of a collective visual diary of our time there. In the prior couple of entries here on Wofflings, I also realized I was using the camera differently: not so much documenting the world-at-large, more using it to give a different visual voice to things I’d been really thinking about.

I woke up this morning, thinking about it, so I thought I’d write out a few thoughts before they evaporated. It’s not all so serious, of course: I think any woman driven to compulsively document porta-potties can’t really get too Susan Sontag about her photographic endeavors.

from kamuning to london

April 7th, 2010 | Posted in - | 0 Comments

Support Green Papaya Art Projects!
Buy one of these two amazing sets for a mere $30 USD, and send the crew from one of the best independent art spaces in the world from the PI to the UK!

(How genius is this design, BTW? The Philippine flag mash-up with the the Union Jack? FRESH.)

This, from the GPAP gang:

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