Wednesday, December 27, 2006



(Letter to Charles Alexander, president of WAMO (warehouse artists’ management organization) & owner publisher of CHAX PRESS)

Chas: I have no damn idea in hell what I’m doing with this mess....trying to explain the unexplainable to myself I suppose. And you know if it’s of no use to you at all, the DELETE button is very easy & handy & I’m used to the great mass of what I write somehow turning into trash (sometimes overnite with the help of gnomes in my word perfect program (what an ironic title) and sometimes it may take a day or two but only after I send it out...occupational hazards without hazard pay I guess....let me apologize in advance therefore for my "unknown unknowns" as Rummy (not Rumi) wd have it...& let this be a rubber stamp apology for any future idiotic ramblings also, thanx)

(Or four letters tied together with baling wire, string & bubblegum & unanswerable questions.)
(First letter in re the Frag Meants project (a book of fragmented visual & verbal documentation of interrupted & publicly reviled performances, attempting to match the dislocations & disorientations incurred since the turn of the wheel & people living in more times & places than one, and somehow less than one) addressed to Chas:) It's about my plan to splatterpaint & shoot the noteboook covers of my book full of holes with a shotgun and 9 MM:

I fear I may have disappointed you and Cynthia with the progress so far on the covers, either that or my paranoia is in hyperdrive, or both (sometimes we CAN have it both ways). I fear I may be setting myself up to disappoint myself in trying to speak in the unfinished sentences Frag Meants proposes as my new prosody for the new century. Theories are easy, making them real is a constant approach, like traffic, washing dishes, or love. I do believe (except I can talk myself into anything) I’m just following the logic of the demands and boundaries I, or the piece itself, set up in the beginning & must accept the bitter or successful end as the case may be, because I’m committed (only occasionally like a mental patient) to process—that the benefits when it works outweigh the dangers of being safe by concentrating on product.

BUUUTTTT.....all methods have their fallacies. I was once told I wasn’t a real artist, just a trick artist because sometimes I depend on a mechanical randomization. But that’s not (& nothing will ever be) all. There’s also my perceived need to bring the actual object into a perceptual area we are used to seeing framed, under glass, in celluloid, behind the proscenium arch, in formaldehyde, varnished, distanced in other words. I believe there’s a survival level necessity to achieve that distance in the presence of the raw & painful & evanescent & ugly facts of our lives. This will fail, often (and frequently too) but it’s how we get up from that failure that defines us, not slurs I’ve incurred like being "a media pig" and seeking these methods for the controversy (it was the law & media that broke in on MY pieces not the other way around). I heard an art professor on NPR broad brushing Andres Serrano & Damien Hurst et al as attention seekers. I know Andres Serrano, in his journals, speaks of much more serious concerns than those & anyhow it’s the critic’s job to explicate & make the substance of a work available to us, not to get in a mosh pit and ego bash with the artist & the artist’s job is to ignore critical ad hominems (that say more about the critic than the artist) & just do his/her work....& my work is, in curious correspondence to this season, to be willing to be broken to descend into the inner darkness, the only place where we can see the light. The race is on. It’s WHAT I BELIEVE VS WHAT I CAN DO.

At first I liked the process theoretically, in my imagined result, then was disappointed with the real evidence, then was pleased because, yes, I said, this IS the way stuff happens, the way war and life and death "choose" the absences and interruptions and holes in the fabric of space, time & our lives, with the all too perfect (& horrible) beauty of random, tragic as it may be for us, personally—all experience having an absolute value regardless of how horrific— the raw wounds of the covers still resonate (or resignate as W wd say) for me with the way things happen like dreaming the dream or acting out the violence of the universe and trying to lead it to a more meaningful ending or one that can at least be seen from a distance while still being HERE.

I don’t have much time left and I need to get down to the raw, the crude, the ugly...because I need some real things to feel like I’ve been alive. I tell my Dentist no anesthetic, pain is one of the few real things I have left. In art I think somehow maybe I can repeat the raw object and real life until they set up a resonance—the way Faulkner makes mythic resonance by repeating stories from different people’s points of view. In an article about Paul Shock’s photo paintings I talk about the retreat of many young artists INTO concept FROM the tactile reality of formal considerations like paint, texture, color, form, foreground, background and FROM the touch & feel of life itself increasingly media provides more opportunities to be present to some other world without consequences, without touch in this one or that one, abstracted, CONCEPTUALIZED..And in the beginning of Abstract Expressionism Barnett & Newman issued a manifesto saying they were getting back to the picture plane because they wanted to destroy the illusion of depth beneath that plane, which wasn’t REAL enough for them....and then that kind of got put under glass & framed itself.....I think it’s just something the human mind does. Reality. Sorry can’t deal with it. Was just reading about Michael Heizer in the sixties who did giant cuts in mesa land where it was almost impossible to get to....the more remote the better (talk about not wanting anything to interfere with your IMAGE). And Robert Smithson (of "Spiral Jetty" fame) developed an esthetic I can only reach to....I once had this idea for a (kind of silent primal scream) language of objects and gestures, to which English is everybody’s second language...but it was less definitive than I hoped. Always there’s this excursion one way or another into reality....and eventually the realization we’re going there as tourists....our cameras our only real reality....big old loud shorts on....

cf: "ad bellum purificandum" (Toward the refinement of war) the dedication to Kenneth Burke’s A GRAMMAR OF MOTIVES, his premise we can never stop war but perhaps it can be refined into sports, debate, games, art etc. and we may never find ultimate truth but perhaps we can examine it by: MOTIVE/SCENE/CHARACTER/CONFLICT/ACTION/DENOUMENT to arrive at a dramatic definition of truth. "Just be glad to be there" and "there is no fight" Tai Chi sayings re conflict, and "War is art." an American General in Iraq—well after all the other crap we’ve accepted as performance art we might as well give him that, even if (as Bob Cauthorn’s old carp said "yeah but he was going there anyway." good ol’ Bob always ready to cop an attitude with the artist & refuse to look at the work itself (did that with Stella too DAMIT)). The main (if unanswerable) question to ponder is STILL: what kind of art? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Some other qualifier? How about Picasso’s Guernica (for me too far under glass) or Goya’s horrors of war "Saturn Eating His Children", not pretty nor should it be even in that certain darkness & distance it must achieve to satisfy the demands of its time. But that drear distance can’t satisfy the modern emergency of an idiot president, the redundant death & destruction in Iraq, South America, New Orleans, everywhere global warming & the long arm of business-as-usual REACHES. Over & over nothing can be said, banality is war, poverty is violence, even real people become actors, nothing suffices to break the hypnosis of the SCENE (& all its MISE ERRR RRREEE) for me except for someone to SMASH thru the fourth wall with an actual object in an actual object lesson. these same tokens...I come to the point I realize I need to work it out & not say it because no manifesto is ever going to cover the territory where the artistic process depends on the subconscious...that dark forbidden land where each self is locked into its own personal narrative, each ego fed according to the politics of the dream censor, each representative lost in its own representations. Meanwhile back at the word ranch, consciousness frames it all, puts it all under glass...the coverup is worse than the crime, as I, the incompetent stumblebum detective see it, abandoned & tormented by the perfection of other people’s beauty & having to search for my own version "under stones", as Olson sd, and to reinvent the wheel and make beauty for myself out of whole cloth, real life, general ugliness and nastiness----NOT yr best agenda for popularity unless you happen to fall into it like Tom Waits or William Burroughs among other artists for whom I carry no brief & yet somehow seem to always end up with in the same methodological jail cell. Damn!

Humiliating. If I were Garrison Keihlor (& he were a hippopotamus) I cd just eat rhubarb pie (instead of humble pie) with ketchup on it & that wd "take the taste of shame & humiliation right out of my mouth" & "the natural mellowing agents in ketchup" wd take care of the rest to thunderous applause & laughter. But being me I just have to make lemonade and keep on trying to sell it from a bunch of cardboard boxes on the street. Damn!

Perhaps with new "wadcutter" rounds and new colors and better stenciling and more covers to choose from there will be a more attractive appearance without deleting the message, equally perhaps NOT, but without that challenge what, I wonder, would be the point of the endeavor anyway. Or maybe because of the way it starts out it just has to end up a little ugly. The history of beauty has been we found it in ugly by teaching the mind the symmetry & mythic resonance of destruction ("do not weep, maiden, war is kind") but sometimes the damn thing just says empty & ugly—that’s why we have the word...but maybe we don’t really know ANYTHING at this point anyway, and that could be a GOOD thing, why would we want to know exactly where we’re going anyhow? Leave that kind of safety for "building safety" (See following letter).

Thanks for working with me on this and yes I will be inviting you and a friend or two of yours and/or mine to come out with us when I arrange a date to do the rest of the covers. And I’m going to have to abandon this attempt to avoid doing the work & buying the ammo by trying to put it all in a credo.


(Second letter in re warehouse eviction threat or:)


(Or contrary to what you may read in my letter to The Weekly:)

Below (in 3rd letter) is what I really said before the editor’s axe fell. Actually Jboegle’s allowed me to edit my own article down to a letter & then a shorter letter still, like a shorter & shorter rope with which to hang myself, (so kind he is), sd. He didn’t have space for my idea for a half or a quarter column where people send in quotes and/or brief statements from a weblink or blog and didn’t have the space for a guest article. I guess I need to BE THE CHANGE I WANT, and list weblinks & blogs including my own inseparable from the text of any public letters I write from now on.

It is increasingly impossible to get any story at all out to the media, including NPR, including Congress, nobody seems to know the latest research, political progress, or DIRENESS of the emergency on global warming (which I’ve been hollering about since ‘84), vote fraud, Iraq, all bereft simultaneously of history and new research. Mass hysterical denial prevails everywhere. But both letters & article are incomplete and don’t really formulate the question that drove me to try to speak, end on an empty note but life will take care of that I’m sure. DAMN!
I just wanted to continue the search for history (as mid east journalists, Robert Fisk, Paul Krugman et al are just commenting we’re in Iraq because we DON’T read history) as we plow ahead into the iceberg laden waters of The City’s cryogenic, utilitarian, decorative definition of art & culture. My questions are as the article and poem state, "Who Is The City?" and also what is the most advantageous/conscious relationship an artist or group of artists can have to said supposed entity/identity? I really don't know the answers, I just think, with respect to all that's gone before, it's important to ask that & related questions.

From the vast plain of history the moral high ground shifts color, shape and location like great wandering sand dunes according to how the lifht shifts daw to sunset and spring to autumn and how we pick the begin and end points. The begin point could be the time the O’odham incurred (to speak Orwellian) their presence here, or the time the conquistadores fed them beans, called them "bean eaters" & shoved them onto the Res, or the time The City started shoving the poor around and out of downtotwn in the 40s and 50s, or the 80s and the beginning of the attempted gentrification of Congress Street when I started out assuming artists COULD be citizen artists, COULD work with business and community, saw the wreckage of Congress Street, & saw the casualties of gentrification: The Moving Center, Dinnerware, The Huntington Trading Co., Café Magritte, Café Quebec, the demands of touristy crowds, forced removal from store windows of religious satire, & a barbed wire wrapped penis (which we must defend from the other penises out there regardless of merit) the flak I got for "feeding the homeless" & for my loudspeakers on the roof of the Rialto "interfering" with the rock bands (what if THEY were "interfering" with my piece?) then put heart & soul into the International Art Center, was disappointed to find the owners’ goals and motives were compromised, then The City betrayed us all. Yes the past is dead, but without history the present is just meat machinery. Yes I should take my own advice and just do art, and yet a question remains and disturbs my sleep. Maybe it can never be answered but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked now & then.

Speaking of history I had to laugh when I read that The City’s concern is that you "should be safe". What a doublespeak, Nazilike prehistoric line. They used that line on me and the house I built and on the Old Y so much....and what it mostly boils down to is THEY want to be safe from artists and eccentrics and outsiders–why else has the City’s AIR code (which I among others ASKED for) somehow turned out more stringent than regular housing? Anybody who wants to live differently, is considered a threat. In other towns they burn outsider artists’ houses down and put them in asylums so they’ll be "safe". Even structural engineering as I discovered, is only half a science. I had to get an engineer to "prove" my dome was "safe" and "strong enough". The engineer—interesting fellow, built the hyperbolic paraboloid concrete roofs (look like canvas draped over lots of poles) of Flowing Wells Elementary School & the shopping center at Swan/Broadway & a house in the foothills----said, "You realize this is all BS of course, you can’t prove the strength of an eggshell but you know it’s there. So I just put a bunch of numbers and equations down and put my stamp on them. Those people just want to cover their own asses." Ah it is indeed to laugh if only the world had not moved to (or has it always been at) some dark place beyond satire?

Where does it really begin? It disturbs me that artists have been treated so badly in the past often even by other artists put in charge of the state’s largess. I wish there was someplace where we could be safe from The City’s narrow code and prejudice bound definitions of safety and the safe life. I wish we could all move and BE MOVED somewhere where we could be safe from "those awful people"—except they ARE us, and there ARE no more safe places. And yet I would like to see artists in a position where they have enough equity WHEREVER they (as opposed to some self appointed social engineer) so choose, so that they don’t have to depend so much on The City’s version of equitable, and yet even equity is no guarantee of not having your property condemned anymore. The government can now seize through eminent domain any properties it deems would be more profitable if operated by the public instead of the individual owner. Outrageous as this new law is, property in major cities has been seized and litigation to challenge this and prevent further seizures is underway. Something about life in increasing population & consequent mass anxiety, has increasingly instigated assassinations & coups here & abroad and silenced the still small voice of individual conscience and consciousness that used to serve as a rudder for the ship of state. We are forced to deal not with a person or persons, but with a great mass of persons which speaks for no one and everyone (doesn’t even like itself very much, truth (if it cd ever) be told).

It seemed to me after twenty years of counting the bodies on Congress Street there was, as I said in my letter, no possible reconciliation between my values and the values of The City. And yet now you seem to be, no you ARE proving that a benign relationship between artists, business and the state is possible. And in spite of that fact giving me a bad case of cultural whiplash, I suppose it is time for me to shoulder the burden of hope again.

What about Austin and their use of their old buildings as historical reference and tourist attractions, what about NYC & artist & squatter co-ops owning whole buildings with roof gardens and solar off grid installations (and a greater divide in those 2 cities between rich & poor?) Houston & the program where artists fix up houses for poor people? Could WE do that? Is it just my cranky old age prejudice & stupidity or does a different ethos obtain here, a kind of push pull, love hate, parental gifting/imposing relationship between history, art and business? Maybe that’s what’s confusing me. That’s why I titled my letter (don’t know what they will title it) "WHO IS THE CITY?" Well Austin is Austin (and kind of snooty about it too) and Tucson will be whatever Tucson wants to be and HOPE will continue to be a healing or "a dangerous thing" (The Shawshank Redemption) and reality will continue to be OUT THERE, a place Kant was kind of pessimistic about us ever getting to, Das Ding An Sich, is beyond us he sd, & yet I have to keep bumping into & hurting myself on "dat dere ding" and have to keep reminding myself "it IS what it IS". After my letter to the editor, the pome ESSAY ON THE SERIAL NATURE OF PICNICS does another take on the question of "Who Is The City". Please remember I come to it not so much as poet as deranged pilgrim picking up free range poultry as just another tool with which to triangulate to ask, again, & again & again:


PS: I caught a smidgen of you & David Aguirre talking on Slightly Off Center the other week. When David talked about a shard below Sentinel Peak that had a swirl on it suggesting to him the interconnectedness of culture and art through the centuries (are they really compatible or was this an arranged marriage?), I had a flash that ALIENS must have teleported a Nike shoe salesman (with briefcase stuffed full of SWOOSHES) here in prehistoric times–and though the evidence is patently incontrovertible, I welcome the scientific debate which must inevitably follow my ASTOUNDING AND GROUND BREAKING insight.

and now


(Letter to editor of Tucson Weekly re threatened warehouse evictions)

I prefer this one. I realize it’s probably too long for your purposes, but the problem I keep banging my head against is, it’s hard to say anything even halfway meaningful about what’s happening now without referencing the long arc of history (which Martin Luther King so hopefully said, "bends toward justice"). Unfortunately history (to be totally tautologous about it) takes time & time = space = MC square (money times the speed of light measured in squares) (or something like that). O well, is there a chance of a melting polar ice cap in hell for this version?

Stephen Eye, Zee and many other warehouse residents got two things right at the WAMO meeting as Dave Devine reported in The Weekly 11/16-22: 1. From the perspective of history dating back to the Native Americans, THE CITY (and I believe I speak for Thomas Hobbes, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud when I say this:) can mostly be depended on to SCREW anybody who doesn’t have a SHITPOT full of money. And 2. (And I believe I speak for Isaac Newton and the Local Plumber’s Union when I say this:) Shit flows downhill (& faster from the moral high ground) and there is more than a coincidental connection between the rise of high end condos and the fall of artists’ studios.

Last year the Old Y, (International Arts Center, MUSE at 5th. Ave/6th st) was sold out from under the community’s investment because of a big money deal to create condos. For seven years THE CITY promised landscaping and other forms of help that never came through, and "worked with us" on code violations. We started with 56 pages of violations and after 6 years of work on them ended up with 106 pages of violations. There were business problems like Larry Paul’s SAGE consortium’s 14 percent mortgage hung around the building’s neck. There were as many broken promises as good intentions, but the unkindest cut of all was the City’s promise that the building would always be used as a cultural resource—that was until there was a lot of money involved. Then The City didn’t just break its promise, it issued a demo permit on an historic building. It’s irreplaceable. Now one of The City’s last best hopes for growth with meaning is a hole in the ground.

Fast forward to the present and Tom Beal’s article in the Star (11/24/06). Bob Morrison of WUNA says the $300,000 condos (that are "replacing" the old Y) are fine with him. "Gentrification is just what we need. It’s irrational to mix upper income and lower income in the same neighborhood." Borghius of Vantage says, "The lofts at 5th Ave is the perfect infill project....walkable lifestyle...growth that enlivens and energizes."

Interesting value system those statements presuppose:
The old Y housed 10 artists, had studio space for 20, performance space seating 750, small performance spaces seating 50 each, classrooms and workshop space for 25 each, mural and sculpture space to accommodate 20.

Alternately, a 6000sq.’ commercial building (on a lot with room to put up two or three 20 X 100' steel buildings at $100,000 each), south of Country Club and Ajo costs the same as one condo $300,000 or 55/sq.’.

Either way you cut it, what WUNA and Vantage (and THE CITY by compliance) are saying is one upper middle class condo dweller is worth at least 20 to 100 artists and/or poor people in terms of their contribution to the cultural life of The City. I’m surprised. I had no idea we meant that much to them.

But all seriousness aside, economic apartheid works better for me than the cognitive dissonance of flying the flag of art and really being about money. At the beginning of The Arts District planning process, performance artist Robert Bray published a long letter in The Weekly saying please DON’T help us. Now after 20 years of working in and on and witnessing the cultural diaspora of the arts district,(and I recognize I may be speaking only for myself and The Piltdown Man and pissing in the wind to boot when I say this:) maybe it’s time for artists to just do art and stop trying to get along, because business, like they say, is business. Yes I proposed the Phantom Gallery and the Artist In Residence Programs (and you know I’ll have to beat you up if you call me bitter) but now in the light of all the damage done to downtown and art by arts managers, maybe it’s time to question the wisdom of all that social engineering. Witness the Beal article:

"Ganz thinks his experience should be a warning to other in-town residents. ‘We're the canaries in the coal mine. Every neighborhood should be afraid of this,’ he said." I AM afraid. I’m afraid we should all have another beer, recognize that our val YOU systems are irreconcilable and just move on.

(Checkout this weblink: and my blog under construction at:

and now:
(Or a fourth & even more incoherent lunge (if that’s possible) at the impossible....and questions still remain:)


Colossal man sits on a ridge in the
Catalinas watching
the car lights inching their way up
into the foothills, he smiles at this
of motion repeating
each night like history a constant
approach to
his idea
of home his hollow eyes look
at the town he built, in a café
down below a woman
asks a man, "WHO
are all these people?" The man laughs, he
doesn’t even know who he
is. Colossal Man laughs, the price of being
everybody is
you’re nobody, not
what anybody in particular
passionately wants but
what most people
can put up with , WHO
takes care of us in a wooden
parental way, and celebrates
unusual abilities growing
like giant warts in common,
fallible, and fatuous
individuals, sometimes kind, sometimes
blind he
blinks a lot, those who
speak thru
his mouth find their own words
come out estranged, ashen, those who
listen hear the thoughts of
an authority that
screws anybody without
money and power that
dares not believe in
art or science or
any reality not
politically expeditious not
ready to fly any and all flags I gave to
each at one time or another
like a hero
and an ant
and an idiot and he
took it like a corporation
and a politician
and a dope addict and
every year I sent him money the debt
was never defined and so never
PEOPLE dwarf the chasms between
the mountains he
puts them together, he
takes them apart, some
have seen god there, others
have just been broken he
has it all and yet is never
satisfied, constantly
maddened by those who
test the echoes thru
those canyons and irritated to
distraction by
the still small voice of individual conscience
and consciousness growing up
like grass thru
a crack in the pavement, when he thinks
of this he gets
pissed gets
on the radio issues a breaking
news bulletin
"FAMILY!" he says, "COMMUNITY!" he
says, "COUNTRY!" he
says and then
opens a door in the night and it
swallows us all.


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