Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Try this instead of pie: Sweet Potato Carrot Puff

I was at an open house last New Year's Day at LuAnne's and Bill's, sun streaming across the floorboards, finches flitting around bird feeders in every last window, and Liza the dog wagging her tail, with her happy gregarious tongue hanging low. The mood was  perfect for the small crowd of normally crazy-busy people: we were pushing the pause button and just hanging out.

Jan Grant brought her famous Carrot Puff, to a round of many delighted exclamations. Just the other day I ran into her again, and she promised to send me the recipe. It arrived, so I set to work cutting carrots.

Only problem was, I had run out of butter. And had only one pound of carrots. Never to be deterred...I made a Sweet Potato and Carrot Puff, with coconut oil instead of butter. It's delicious and nutritious. It made people turn away from a plate of fudge. This could be the star dessert at a Thanksgiving table. It's a beautiful color, too. Oh, and it's easy to throw together.

So – now you know what to bring to your next celebration! (I don't have a photo of the puff, but in honor of
Audobon Bill, here is a beautiful zebra finch, with sweet potato carrot colored beak, flown in from the Interweb.)

Here's the recipe from Jan, with her voice in parentheses and mine in brackets.
Carrot Puff
with a Sweet Potato and coconut oil variation

2 lbs. baby carrots [or normal ones, it makes no difference. 
            You can use 1 lb. each of carrots and sweet potatoes]
2 sticks of butter, melted [or use Earth Balance, or coconut butter/oil]
6 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar [I used natural raw sugar; I think that if you use sweet potatoes in the recipe, you could reduce the amount]
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a baking dish with cooking oil spray [or spread oil with a paper towel.]

Place carrots in medium-size saucepan and cover with salted water. (I use a small steamer). Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until carrots are tender. (Again, I just steam mine in the steamer until they are tender). Drain.

Place butter (or margarine)[or coconut oil], eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, and vanilla in blender. Add carrots a little at a time and puree the mixture. Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately an hour or until the center is somewhat firm. Let stand for five minutes before serving.

Note: This may be made a day ahead and refrigerated without baking. Then bring to room temperature before baking. I’ve often served it at room temperature and it seems to go over just as well as when it’s warm.

Also, know that while it comes out of the oven somewhat puffed up on top, as it cools it will fall.  Don’t worry – it tastes great!

Okay, I just ate some: this is divine. How about a Puff on an Easter Sunday?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Giving the gift of medical exam appointment scheduling

I missed the CBS Cares "Give Her the Gift of a Pap Smear" commercials last Christmas and Hanukkah, mentioned by Lyle in the comments yesterday as among the worst he'd ever seen. ("Give her the gift that even Santa can't deliver.")

They were all created on the same murky brown set, with minor prop enhancements (zebra pillow equals Jewish woman, whose gift is of a "schmear"). Here's the presumptuous-but-"caring" guy who delivers the bad advice to schedule the Christmas gift of a pap smear appointment.

Just to be sure there's no sex discrimination, here's a link to the CBS Cares "Gift of a Prostate Exam" PSA, too, in both Creepy Santa and Kosher Prostate versions, complete with female faces that light up with delight at the thought of "saving prostates."

These ads remind me of the talk given by artist Sarah Sudhoff, who documented her experience with medical treatment for cervical cancer. Maybe the ads look different to someone whose life has been saved due to catching cervical cancer in time for treatment? On second thought, I bet they still look ludicrous.

(By the way, isn't "pap smear" just the weirdest and most awkward-ugly name for such an intimate procedure?)

Sudhoff is someone who has treated the subject of women's reproductive cancer (cervical, vaginal, and ovarian cancers) in a sustained and serious way, proving that an artist might explore a topic in its complexity to unveil dimensions of medical practice (for example) that are typically obscured by routines and protocals.

She also wondered whether the importance of screening for reproductive cancer (and awareness of the many women it affects) might not be lost among the barrage of pink-themed breast cancer messages in the media. ("Nothing against breast cancer awareness, but...") Sudhoff underwent so many pap smears, and spent so much time alone waiting on medical tables, that one piece of her work includes video documentation of a "I think I can just do this myself by now" self-administered one.  

She said that the artwork on the wall was really there at the office where she had her exams and took this photo. It's a remarkable image to hover over someone interested in health procedures for women, and in what you might call the aesthetics of medical waste.

Prostate cancer is another story, complicated by the fact that there is more ambiguity about the value of treatment for this usually slow-growing cancer. There was a good update on this on NPR just the other day.

Okay, those are the medical PSAs of the day from elenabella!

Monday, March 29, 2010

LelliKelly: the 'world's worst commercial'... Ever?

My very discerning and opinionated digital native Generation Z niece, Jazzie, posted this message to her facebook page:

I found the world's worst commercial in Japanese or Chinese or Korean or something! (No clue what the language is. But apparently this is the WORLD's worst commercial. Ever.)

She goes on to say: I really, really love this.

So we are back in the PINK with LelliKelly, makers of crappy-but-sparkly stuff for young girls. (Check out all the grammatical errors at that website). There are so many problems with the LelliKelly commercials along every axis of race, class and gender (not to mention eco-awareness) that it's hard to know just where to begin. 

The girls in the ads certainly display an irrational exuberance, though, and their LelliKelly objects appear to give them access to an annoying-but-potent form of Girl Power. I can imagine their appeal, and the way it sets girls en route to those pink-striped Victoria's Secret bags. (The preteens want to be older, and the big girls want to be children again: it's an interesting tension that leaves them all back in those pink baby clothes – or does it? They do exude body confidence, but maybe it's the confidence that comes most easily when you are a spoiled babe?)

There's even a LelliKelly cookery book "with lots of suggestions and simple recipes made with seasonal produce plus invaluable nutritional information for a healthy, natural diet for all the family." Hmmm. What, no glitter or sparkles in those food items? Where's the fun in that?

Here is the video ad that Jazzie posted, and another in a German version. 

Following those, my own favorite LelliKelly ad, a parodic critique, perhaps the best kind. I have to say:
I really, really love this. 

But I also really, really love these boots. Your thoughts?


Sunday, March 28, 2010

ReadyMade Yogurt, Redux, with a look at 'Greek' Yogurt

~Revisiting a recipe from Monday, January 5, 2009

I posted this recipe over a year ago, and for several months we ate delicious homemade yogurt. Then life intervened and I lost the rhythm, until eventually homemade granola became the weekly handcrafted kitchen item. Today we had extra milk on hand, but only a dollop of yogurt, so I decided to revive the craft, as part of a rainy Sunday afternoon.
I had to call up that old post to review, so I'll paste it in below. I don't divide the quantities into two bowls covered with plastic wrap (as the recipe recommends) but place everything into a retro covered earthenware pot that is the perfect size for making a quart of yogurt.

Like any other culinary practice, this isn't hard to do, once you get the hang of it. I never lose the Voila! feeling, either, when I open the pot and see the warm transformed milk.

If you have a penchant for the denser Greek-style yogurt that is now all the rage, just strain the finished product for a few hours or overnight. It will then have a thicker consistency, one that a friend of mine says reminds her of (chocolate) mousse.

This thicker yogurt becomes yogurt cheese the drier it becomes, and can be used as a substitute for milk, sour cream, quark, or even crème fraiche (or clabber) when cooking or baking.

Greek yogurt has more concentrated protein and fewer carbs than the average American yogurt. It also contains less lactose, the sugar in dairy products that some people find difficult to digest. With any yogurt, though, the goal should be to find or make a product that is unadulterated. Add your own fresh herbs, fruits, honey or jam to flavor your yogurt, or simply eat it straight up. I avoid the wasteful little cups of yogurt that line so many dairy cases, especially those high offenders laced with additives, sugar, and gelatin. Make your own to pack smaller portions in small reusable containers if taking yogurt for lunch.

One note about the whey that is left behind when you strain yogurt: it is incredibly nutritious, so think twice before you simply discard it. Whey helps regulate spikes in blood sugar. It is highly "bioavailable" and thought to enter the blood stream faster than other sources of protein – hence the popularity of whey powder substances among athletes. Need a power boost? You can skip the whey powder and just ingest the real thing. (Think buttermilk, or kefir.)

Because of the nutritional value of whey, arguments about the superiority of Greek yogurt over "regular" yogurt are somewhat misleading. The textural and not the nutritional difference is the distinguishing feature between the two. Anyway, here's that recipe, revisited below, and another version available at EllieMay's Blog, where I found the nice photo of yogurt with walnuts.


Voila! I made yogurt for the first time. I recently found a recipe in ReadyMade magazine that made it sound so easy...and then I found a crock at Goodwill that seemed perfect for the purpose. I have long wanted to make homemade yogurt, and may have even had one of those electric yogurt makers once with the little cups, so many years ago that I don't really recall. In any case, yogurt making never became a practice for me, the way I hope to make it now.

My goal is to free myself from plastic tubs, and to use Organic Valley or Traders Point organic milk, reducing the cost of organic yogurt. And to enjoy the process of transforming one thing to another, an insatiable pleasure.

So now we have 4 cups of fresh homemade organic yogurt in the fridge, with yogurt cheese not far behind. Here is the recipe from ReadyMade. If you travel to where is is archived, you'll find recipes for yogurt cheese and for a chilled yogurt soup.


Goodbye, plastic tubs! DIY yogurt is as simple as boiling milk
by Scott Hocker

Though yogurt bears a hard-to-shake association with health food stores and college co-ops [HEY, Scott! WTF? Get hip to the co-op, dude!] the creamy foodstuff is a delicious and versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Best of all, it’s ridiculously (and cheap) to make from scratch. All you need is a whole lot of milk, a tiny amount of all-natural store-bought yogurt, and an oven.


1 qt. whole, lowfat, or nonfat milk

1 1/2 tbsp preservative-free, all-natural yogurt

1. Preheat oven to approximately 200 degrees.

2. Pour milk into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. A higher flame may be used, but the higher the heat, the more constant stirring is required to ensure the milk doesn’t scorch.

3. When the milk comes to a boil, turn down the heat until the milk is gently simmering. (Careful: milk has a tendency to boil over quickly once it reaches the boiling point.) Let simmer for approximately two minutes.

4. Take the milk off the heat and let cool until the temperature on an instant-read thermometer is between 110 and 115 degrees.
5. In a four-cup bowl, blend yogurt with approximately 1/2 cup of the milk. (Adding some of the hot liquid, but not all of it, keeps the mixture from curdling and killing off the healthy bacteria.)
6. Turn off the oven.

7. Return the yogurt-milk mixture to the saucepan and stir with the remaining milk.

8. Divide the contents between two bowls and cover each with plastic wrap.
9. Place the bowls in the oven and drape a kitchen towel over them.

10. It will take anywhere from 6 to 15 hours for the yogurt to set. If after 6 hours it hasn’t gelled, simply leave the mixture in the oven and check back about every 3 hours.

11. Once it sets, refrigerate. The longer the yogurt sits in the refrigerator, the tangier it will be.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Portia Munson's Paintings, Photographs, and Other Projects

Portia Munson has a great variety of work at her website, including these photos in a series from 1994-1999, where she examines color coding as an indicator of the sex of children. Hint: one of each of the babies in these sets is a boy, and one is a girl.

There's an axial stone with teacup over there, too, looking like a metaphor for more than one marriage.

Her paintings of the past twenty years stand in formal contrast to the sensory overload of her sculptural installations. Munson isolates single objects to reveal the particulars of their structural and metaphorical implications. Here are a few of my favorites, including two that bear a link to previous posts: a small vase named "Out of the Blue" and another called "Crow."  Also included here is "Angel Food" and "Dolphin Hair Clip Under Glass."

Friday, March 26, 2010

'Pink Project' by Portia Munson: establishing artistic succession

Artist and critic Mira Schor called attention to the work of Portia Munson in her comments to yesterday's post about The Color Project of JeongMee Yoon. Schor raised the issue of aesthetic matrilineal indebtedness::
I know JeonMee Yoon is aware of this piece, but the closeness of her work to Munson's is almost plagiarism unless it is acknowledged -- here is an instance of matrilineage if ever there was one.

I would perhaps develop my comment in this way: that two artists would focus on the same type of gendered color coding of endless amounts of cheap every day commodities is an indicator of a general situation, but if one knows that the other did the --visually identical -- work of discovery and research already, what is her responsibility to the earlier artist?
Holland Cotter praised the "impressive debut"of Portia Munson's first NYC solo gallery show in 1994. Her Pink Project was first seen in the "Bad Girls" show at the New Museum in 1993.

Pink Project is now on display at P.P.O.W., a contemporary gallery in New York City, as part of an exhibition called Debris, with Sarah Frost and Aurora Robson (from March 20--April 24). The  photo above from the exhibit shows, as Cotter puts it: "a Surrealist melding of nostalgia, humor and a somewhat creepy sensuality." Schor notes that: 
It is also a very beautiful art work, in the real, as a sculpture, and also as a kind of a painting, as light hits it, as it fills your visual field, absorbs the viewer in the endless wonderment of detail while filling one's eyes with color, and its beauty, the intense visual pleasure is part of the deep significance of the piece...
More images of Munson's work are archived in a piece by Raychael Stine at a blog-with-syllabus called Collections and Archives as Creative Practice.

Schor acknowledges one distinction between the work of JeongMee Yoon and Portia Munson, in a comment that helps establish conceptual and matrilineal succession:
I would add one point: JeonMee Yoon's work emphasizes the children who are the consumer/ collectors of these objects which have been created in order to help them conform to gender stereotypes. Portia's work which came first pointed to the astounding lengths to which commodity culture went to create, uphold and benefit from stereotypical femininity -- the sheer amount and type of objects that are PINK.
Putting children into rooms with their possessions (much as Peter Wenzel and Faith D'Aluisio do with families and food in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats) makes us think about the documentary process of working with human subjects to investigate their particular object relations.

I experience both fascination and repulsion in relation to the work of these artists. The visual elements of all of these objects and their careful arrangement force me to think about the extraordinary investments of desire we place on chosen commodities. We relish and examine minute variations, create meaningful juxtapositions, and take pleasure in arranging sets.

Both projects prompt reflection about topics that extend far beyond the compelling formal elements of the work. They encourage conversation about arousal, commodification, waste, compulsion, and gender. (And, yes, especially in the context of feminist art – artistic indebtedness and matrilineal succession.)

I also think that experiencing Munson's work directly must provoke many memories in relation to childhood and youth, and to that almost infantile sensation we feel in when we come across objects that arouse internal mechanisms of need, demand, and desire.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Color Blind, Blinded by Color: 'The Pink and Blue Project' of JeongMee Yoon

The images here are by JeongMee Yoon, a photographer from South Korea
whose work makes visible the gender divisions that so often prevail in the bedrooms of children from the time they are born. If you search for her name, dozens of pink and blue photos will appear, pictures of children surrounded by possessions in the predominant color of their childhood. These are part of her Pink and Blue Project, which she describes as exploring:
the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures, ethnic groups as well as gender socialization and identity. The work also raises other issues, such as the relationship between gender and consumerism, urbanization, the globalization of consumerism and the new capitalism.
Yoon explains that The Pink and Blue Project was prompted by her five-year-old daughter "who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects." She also has an eleven-year-old son, who chooses clothing from the blue hues "even though he does not seem to particularly like the color blue over other colors." A couple of her examples defy the stereotypes but reinforce the idea of having a "favorite color" (one of those ubiquitous questions during childhood): "Lola and Her Yellow Things" and "Steve and His Red Things".

Yoon's work with this concept was the subject of a New York Times piece in February 2008, where the tone is fairly effusive about "the wonderful world of color." (There is a slide show by that name there, too.) A blogpost at Daughter Number Three considers the more invasive implications of gender color-typing. DN3 also links to an interesting post by social psychologist Sam Sommers called "Gender Stereotypes and the Fast Food Drive-Thru." (One more reason to avoid giving your kids this terrible food.)

It all got me thinking about how much energy parents invest in their children's objects and identities, a topic Jesse Ellison touched on in her Newsweek piece, "My Parent's Failed Experiment with Gender Neutrality." Failed? Not so sure. At least her parents resisted the compulsion to crowd out her childhood with one preassigned color. There may be huge intangible benefits to that.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'What's Wrong With this Feminist Picture?' Nona Willis Aronowitz asks a good question

The inter-generational image here is of six women staffers at Newsweek: three young women (Jesse Ellison, Jessica Bennett, and Sarah Ball), and three older women who pioneered awareness of sex discrimination at the magazine by bringing a suit against it forty years ago. Their story, "Are We There Yet?," is told in what writer Nona Willis Aronowitz calls "a long, thoughtful, and brave article written by three young Newsweek reporters, calling out their own publication for a kind of lingering sexism that’s hard to pinpoint."

The historical piece has several supplements: a library of Newsweek images called "The Visual Language of Liberation," Jesse Ellison's personal essay "My Parents' Failed Experiment in Gender Neutrality," Jessica Bennett's article "Feminism or Bust," and a photo collection called "Have Women's Rights Paid Off?"

"What's wrong with this Feminist Picture?" though, Aronowtiz asks at her blog, GirlDrive. Her criticism is mindful of the risk of feminists calling each other out, yet it is pointed and specific about one thing: "In the 3500 words total that Newsweek devoted to the future of feminism this week, amid the 10 people who are quoted in these pieces, not one woman of color shows up."

In fact there is one woman of color there, identified as ACLU attorney Eleanor Holmes Norton. She appears in a photo of that 1970 press conference when the forty-six female Newsweek employees become the first group of media professionals to sue for employment discrimination based on gender, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Where is she now? Norton is in her tenth term as congresswoman for the District of Columbia. (Her very impressive biography is here.) She wasn't contacted for the article, though.

Aronowitz, whose own writing is always what she calls "intersectional" regarding race, gender, sex, age, class, ethnicity, and religion, makes the astute observation that:
This happens constantly when the mainstream pubs try to cover feminism. It happened in a CNN news segment last June, where the network’s definition of feminism was Angelina Jolie, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem. It happened at a highly publicized Planned Parenthood event a few months ago called “Voices on Feminism,” which consisted of, yep, three white women.
She makes the point that there were plenty of diverse young feminists who could have been called for quotes in these stories:
Young feminists are trying not to make the same mistake that some Second Wave white feminists made of being blind to race issues. But places like Newsweek, CNN and other mainstream outlets make that a frustrating uphill struggle by painting a whitewashed, monolithic picture of feminism.
There has been some interesting fallout around this call-out. Jezebel's Irin Carmon wrote a piece called "On Looking Back and Newsweek's Incomplete Picture" picking up on Aronowitz's critique:
There is a space for media criticism in all this, and for self-criticism, and for self-revelation. And yet to have your entire, extensive editorial package focus on your magazine and its past covers, and your childhood, and your issues with the F-word — well, it's all too easy for something like this to happen. If the actual staff of Newsweek doesn't include much in the way of diversity, isn't it time to utilize those reporting skills of which the traditional media is supposed to be the last guardians?
Irin puts her faith in the Internet, if not in traditional media:
Luckily, the authors have launched an entire blog, Equality Myth, where they will have ample opportunity to present a fuller picture of what women beyond their ken are dealing with. Once again, the Internet saves us all.
So what's over at Equality Myth tonight? A picture of a broken heart, and the news that the three writers feel slighted by Jezebel. In fact, they are breaking up with her – and they don't address Aronowitz at all. They want unalloyed admiration for their six months of effort on the Newsweek pieces,
in line with their earlier life experiences as high achieving valedictorians. They're hurt and under-appreciated – by women this time. "We thought that you, like Salon, and New York Magazine, and even the Women’s Media Center, would see our piece as a brave weapon in a struggle that’s not over."

I was surprised and disappointed to see this response: "Turning the story into a statement about race is simply, well, beside the point." It seemed so completely unreflective regarding what Aronowitz and Irin had to offer by way of constructive criticism. As Aronowitz put it: "It’s not racism – it’s colorblindness. It’s failing to realize the bigger picture of what feminism means today."

A big piece of the obscured picture of feminism today is right there in the story of that one women of color who wasn't contacted by Newsweek: the woman whose riveting gaze (calmly assessing the feminist spokesperson) jumps right out of the historical photo.

Eleanor Holmes Norton is clearly one of the enduring heroes of the 1970 case, despite the fact that she was not a plaintiff. (She was the lawyer!~ giving this story a remarkable twist.) Photos at her website show her at the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, welcoming same sex couples to a marriage equality event, and standing with her first Latino congressional council.

Tell me why Norton's voice in the Newsweek piece, her memories of the 1970 moment, and her reflections on intersections of race, class and sexuality around "the equality myth" would have been "beside the point."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Reform round-up, with a painting by Mira Schor

Daughter Number Three rounded up a few interesting pieces regarding the passage of Health Care Reform, including a link to a post by science fiction and fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, "recounting specific cases of self-employed writers who could not get insurance, writing with anger, grief and relief."

Writer John Scalzi (who is also creative consultant for the television show Stargate: Universe) offers Health Care Passage Thoughts here. He has received 160 comments on that post, which is preceded with a preemptive note about civil commentary:
The Mallet of Loving Correction is in play as of NOW. Please be polite to each other even if you disagree with each other vehemently as to the benefit of the health care bill. Also, just as a general tip, comments that are rhetorically indistinguishable from what they would be if the GOP and the Democrats were merely football teams in the Super Bowl are likely to be mocked by me, if in fact I don’t just delete them for inanity. What I’m saying is be as smart in your comments as I know you can be. Thank you.
Daughter Number Three also tracked down a summary of the new law at Women's Voices for Change, a chart called "How the bill affects you" from The Los Angeles Times and a CNN Money story about how the bill will affect small business.

Here is a look at the 34 democrats who voted against health care reform, from Talking Points Memo, where there are many more relevant bits, including wacky RNC Chairman Michael Steele's comments to Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, captured on video: he agrees with House Minority Leader John Boehner's assertion that health care reform is akin to Armageddon.

On a more positive note: over on facebook, I learned that Annie Corrigan, co-host and producer of the NPR podcast Earth Eats, early morning radio announcer extraordinaire, and oboist (for Pete's sake!) is another one of those ubiquitously creative and hard-working people who has been uninsured. That should change now, and that alone makes me pleased.

New York artist Mira Schor, author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life (and painter of the image here) has been posting historic videos about health care to her facebook page, including one of Teddy Kennedy from 1978. Pounding the podium in the name of health care as "a matter of right and not of privilege," Kennedy's comments about his own family's ability to pay for and "receive the very best" point to the disparities that fueled his passion for health care reform. Here is another, even earlier (1974) interview with Edward Kennedy on the topic.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Axial Moment: Passage of Health Care Reform Legislation

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Paula Rego's Crows Figure in 'Out of the Blue'

The paintings of Portuguese artist Paula Rego inspired visual elements of the Archipelago Theatre play Out of the Blue, with its preponderance of crow-like black-winged women, visible in this group photo by Jay O'Berski. Images for the show were created by Jan Chambers, and music composed by Allison Leyton-Brown.

I asked Nor Hall, dramaturg for this and many other Archipelago Theater productions, why crows figured in the work. As it happens, she had written program notes to address that very question. Even though I wasn't able to see the play, I find these ideas very interesting. I'm also recalling the times of year when dozens of crows descend on our yard, taking pause in the sycamore tree and white pines, noisy and en route to somewhere.

Why Crows

The old crow sees you without looking directly at you.  Crows just know.  They gather in groups called a riot, a murder, a mob, a brotherhood, a court, or an assembly—cawing in judgment and making asides. Clever creatures with a complex language system, corvids roost at the periphery of our day worlds where they maintain a raucous watch on the comings and goings of human beings.  They’ve been known to play ball, mimic songs, take rings, rearrange pages, shake shamanic rattles, change scenes. As tricksters and ambassadors of the wild, crows have long been regarded as messengers of fate.

Crows became essential to the show because they embody both the ordinariness and total mystery of things that happen out of the blue. When crows show up at particular moments, as they tend to--after a car accident, during a picnic--at moments along life’s continuum from catastrophe to celebration, its our signal that something has unexpectedly shifted to create an opening that wasn’t there before.

When we first started working on this piece Ellen was intrigued by the work of two artists--paintings of Paula Rego’s mid-aged dancers in black tutus standing and waiting for their moment, off-stage like crows in the wings. And the incongruously balanced stone works of poet George Quasha. He describes the axial moment that arrives suddenly to the artist who’s taken a “posture of chance.” “Sooner or later everything turns…when the axis is open or released, things  turn freely, moving in and out of balance.” (Axial Stones)

His choreographic language for sculpture next to Rego’s visual images of  stilled dancers gave us a way to imagine the ineffable opening, the precarious shift and sudden portal to another place that is meant when we report something as happening “out of the blue.” Our best hope is that the play will come to you that way, as a dramatic moment that captures the suspension of one state of being as it is struck by the possibility inherent in another.  

“There is no breakthrough without breakage.” --N.O.Brown

But how many can we take?

Counting crows,  “One is for sorrow, two is for mirth…”

--traditional crow augury


Saturday, March 20, 2010

'Out of the Blue' from Archipelago Theater

I sometimes consider small theater companies to be islands of sanity, beauty, and evolution, and the name of one of them, Archipelago Theatre, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, evokes that for me. Over the past decade or so one of my friends, writer and dramaturg Nor Hall, has collaborated with the artistic director there, Ellen Hemphill, to create some remarkable productions. The most recent was Out of the Blue, an original work that, in the words of Hemphill:
centers on axial moments, those instances in time when the balance of life shifts unexpectedly – sometimes subtly, sometimes cataclysmically, but always irrevocably – and launches one headlong down an unforeseen path. In this work, we will explore the desire and effort it takes to create balance in our lives, those provocations that tip the balance and change life for all eternity, the ways in which we respond to those changes, and the synergy of multiple axial moments in collision. Out of the Blue examines what is certainly a universally human experience, positioning the sometimes weighty, sometime humorous arguments for destiny and free will squarely against the element of chance.
Quoting John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." This can be on a mythical, a global and more often, on a mundane daily level. With this large concept in mind, our intention is to create a series of scenarios that bring the characters to the point of change or transformation, most often as a result of something  "out of the blue." By creating two worlds of characters: the seen and unseen, we hope to to ignite the imagination of the audience with fresh insight into those moments we tend to forget. 
As artists we develop a sort of pattern recognition in order to see what's hidden in plain sight, out everyone's front door. Conveying the emotive power and precarious balance inherent in these scenes requires an unusual team of sense-based artists who can exquisitely craft a common language of movement, sound and visual image.
I'll write more about this tomorrow, from Hall's perspective. In the meantime, think about that notion of axial moments. What hits you, out of the blue? The photo here is by Jay O'Berski. 

Friday, March 19, 2010

Photos from the Galápagos Islands, by Ginger Oppenheimer

The Galápagos Islands are famed for their endemic species, unique to this archipelago of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean west of continental Ecuador, near the equator. Charles Darwin traveled there during the voyage of the Beagle, making observations and amassing collections that later contributed to his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Ginger Oppenheimer traveled there in 1999, inspired by a book she read about the settling of the island of Floreana by the German Wittmer family. She took a camera and began to discover a passion for photography, collecting images such as these of the species she encountered: blue-footed boobies, giant tortoise, lizards and sea lions. I think they are exquisite and humbling portraits of other divine life forms. All rights reserved: please contact the artist at her website if you'd like more information.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here's who's out there: photographer Ginger Oppenheimer

Ginger Oppenheimer tells the story of how she became a photographer at her website, where you can see photo gallery collections from San Francisco, the Oregon coast, and an abstract series. I love her sense of color and texture, and was honored both this year and last when she sent me her From Here to There calendar of photo prints, which fits neatly into a CD holder. It sits on my desk at home.

Here are a couple of favorites from this year's twelve, as well as words from the artist about the evolution of this time-and-place-marking project. Speaking of evolution, tomorrow we'll see stunning photos Ginger took in the Galapagos Islands, back when she was first discovering her passion for photography. Click in!

I've produced seven years of the From Here to There Calendar. I had actually received a gift in the mid-90s of a similar calendar and was so taken by the concept that I kept it for quite a while. When I began taking photos in earnest starting in 1999 when I went to the Galapagos, the first thing I did was make photo cards for friends and I gave sets of them away. I always had that gift calendar in the back of my mind and as the holidays approached in 2002, I decided very last minute to make a calendar like the one I'd received. That first year I made 50 of them and gave them all away. I got so much great feedback I decided to do it again the next year...and the next...the only year I didn't make a calendar there was a bit on my own personal calendar: in 2006 I got married and my husband and I did a giant reconstruction project on our house. I decided a calendar really wasn't part of the picture for 2007.
The name came from the concept of my travels because not only did I get on planes a lot during that time, but I also began concentrating on my own backyard, literally. I was starting to garden a lot and I began photographing all the amazing blooms. And I realized a style was emerging in my photography: I kept wanting to get closer and closer to things and what seemed to catch my eye were shadows, patterns, and intensity of color. From there I jumped to extreme close-ups on, mostly, distressed metal, and these, when enlarged and printed on canvas, look like abstract paintings.
Since switching to digital imagery (film now seems so terribly old-fashioned, yet, it wasn't that very long ago!), I've felt a real freedom to snap away with the challenge of finding the gem among the rough.  
This year's calendar feels like it hangs together sweetly. While I usually try to have imagery from as many places as possible, this year I concentrated on San Francisco, Napa Valley, and Portland. For whatever reason, there are a lot of windows. And the three flower images are three different varieties of poppies all grown in my yard.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day: Memories of the Coombe

St. Patrick's Day reminds me of the year I spent living in the Coombe in Ireland, while teaching English at Trinity College Dublin. Here's a photo from that era, with my friend Serial Susan and two of the girls from the family next door, on the edge of the tarmac park just outside my front window. Not a lot of green space in the Coombe, a poor neighborhood a stone's throw from St. Patrick's Cathedral.
(Here's a Chieftain's tune called "The Coombe.")

One of my favorite memories from that year: the sonorous, joyous church bells marking the hours of the day. Spring in Ireland is a beautiful thing, as longer nights unfold and spring bulbs pop up in the parks. On the tarmac that year, all the neighborhood kids were doing the moonwalk.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

One word says it all


                                                                       Almost! I'm speechless and watching as the world wakes up.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Savannah Dances to 'Fame'

I've always liked the movie Fame, in part because Maureen Teefy, a fellow student at The Children's Theatre School in Minneapolis (where my sister and I were students for a time) stars in the film. It was fascinating to have experienced acting classes with Maureen, and then to see the story of high school theater students translated to the big screen. Years later, my daughter and my sister's daughter danced to the music down in our basement playroom. Somehow this collage became another interpretation – though it would be hard to tell from the visual components that there is a connection.

This goes out to the former students of The Children's Theatre School  who have been getting together for reunions, reflecting on the creative legacy of those oh-so-formative years.