Denis Wood is an old friend who played an important role in nurturing The Paper Plant into existence in the early 1980s. He was an engaging and innovative professor during that tenure of his life, and now has turned his intellectual charms to the theory or philosophy of cartography, writing numerous books and just completing a lecture tour in Germany. His most recent publication, Everything Sings, is a book of radically different maps, illustrating his unique take on what a map can be and how it effects us. It is also a wonderfully quirky portrait of Boylan Heights, and the book’s success shows how interesting and important Denis’ work is, as well as how hot Raleigh is, and how treasured is that neighborhood in its history. The book cover, seen above, displays the location and carving pattern of Boylan Heights pumpkins on a Halloween. Pecan tree locations, utility services, and lot sizes all became subjects of innovative maps created by graduate students under Wood’s tutelage.
Denis spoke and presented this fall at the Boylan Ave Brewery to celebrate the publication of the book. It was well attended and Denis entertained quite well with the amazing story of how his book came to be – an interview for background information with Ira Glass for an NPR story on maps, his casual mention of a long term project with NCSU design students, and the subsequent segment of This American Life which brought the project to the attention of book publishers. The actual production of Everything Sings involved many winding turns, but now that it’s finally out, it is not only selling well, but been nominated for the University of Iowa’s The Essay Prize.
Denis is such a creative thinker and enthusiastic cultural worker. His talk presented small samples of the ideas in his major books – that maps represent not just a set of places but a representation of the way we think about places, if at all. Maps can take many forms, and the formats of our maps shape the way we think about the world. Maps can enhance, shift or corrupt our view of the world. We can also enlarge our sense of the world through creative use and creation of maps, and that is at the core of Denis Wood’s work.
The book that helped promote and elucidate these concepts on the national scene is The Power of Maps, his 1992 book, co-authored with John Fels, that helped literally turn everyone’s concpetions of maps upside down. Last year, they published the title pictured above, which updates and enlarges their approach.
Denis is continually sharing his ideas. His recent presentation at a conference called Mapping Maps: What’s New About Neocartography, in Seigen Germany, was part of a media studies program, and involved people working at what seems to this layman to be right at the edge of cartography: Geo-annotation, The Rise of Aerial Photogrammetry, Performative Cartography, Playful Cartography, and explorations of web resources such as OpenStreetMap. Denis was the main evening speaker and presented his critique entitled The Challenge to Neocartography Posed by Guy Debord and Kevin Lynch. His workshops in Frankfort shared his ideas on the nature of maps with graduate students, and in Liepzig he presented to traditional geographers about “A Place Off the Map: The Case for a Non-Map-based Place Title.”
All this was and is very interesting but I must confess my favorite stories from Germany were about the European flavors and customs, along with some delicious gossip about European academic politics. Denis provokes you to consider new ideas, but he doesn’t press them – mainly because he’s quickly on to some other new ideas – plus the ones you’ve made him think of during the conversation! He is a treasure, he is doing great stuff, and I hope you keep an eye out for him.
Siglio Press on Everything Sings:
Denis Wood has created an atlas unlike any other. Surveying Boylan Heights, his small neighborhood in North Carolina, he subverts the traditional notions of mapmaking to discover new ways of seeing both this place in particular and the nature of place itself. Each map attunes the eye to the invisible, the overlooked, and the seemingly insignificant. From radio waves permeating the air to the location of Halloween pumpkins on porches, Wood searches for the revelatory details in what has never been mapped or may not even be mappable. In his pursuit of a “poetics of cartography,” the experience of place is primary, useless knowledge is exalted, and representation strives toward resonance. Our perception of maps and how to read them changes as we regard their beauty, marvel at their poetry, and begin to see the neighborhoods we live in anew. Everything Sings weaves a multi-layered story about one neighborhood as well as about the endeavor of truly knowing the places which we call home.
That a cartographer could set out on a mission that’s so emotional, so personal, so idiosyncratic, was news to me. IRA GLASS, host of This American Life, from his introduction to Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas
Ira Glass interview with Denis Wood about Everything Sings:
Denis Wood website:
This book is featured on Places, the online journal of architecture, landscape and urbanism
The Ray Johnson show at the Black Mountain College Museum in Asheville opened February 19th and will run through June 12, 2010. The opening was spectacular, the show is rich, varied and informative. For Ray J fans like me, the catalogue and it’s essays, assembled by show curator Sebastian Matthews, is the real treasure. Sebastian spent over a year studying Ray’s life and work, making connections with important people in Ray’s life (Ray passed in an act of suicide in 1995), and establishing his own perspective on the evolution of Ray’s art from a young art student in Detroit through a strong experience at Black Mountain College to an important role in the art scene of East Village in the 60′s and 70′s. The show displays extensive early work, including fairly typical ink doodles of 14 year old Ray, but also hilarious cards and visual puns from this period that presage his later work.
The show also reveals the aspect of Ray’s work I most needed to learn myself – that Ray came of age as an artist in the painterly traditions BMC and Josef Albers provided, and did lots of wonderful work as he evolved from painting to collage and then on to the correspondence work or “postal performances,” as Isa Bloom calls them, which made him most famous. The show focuses on Ray’s emergence out of Black Mountain College into the New York scene immersed in the ideas of his BMC mentors but prepared to follow Alber’s dictum: “to follow me, follow yourself.” As Sebastian Matthews says in his catalogue essay, “Ray was ripe for the challenges and experiences Manhattan had to offer.” He became one of the most intriguing and complex artists of the 20th century, and this show delineates many of the roots and threads that set him on his path.
The opening of the show was well attended and featured some aspects Ray might have liked very much, though he generally was quite ambivalent about exhibiting or selling or even saving his work. Poetix Vanguard offered spoken word performances during the event, and an open mike followed at a bar nearby. The BMCM+AC library, with many Ray J items prominent, provided a nice context for the highly varied show. Several of Hazel Larsen Archer’s gorgeous photos of Ray at BMC were on display. And Sebastian Matthews, collage artist himself and so clearly a Really Great Guy, presided with enthusiasm over the many energies he had gathered to celebrate the amazing career of Ray Johnson.
The catalogue contains 46 color plates, over a dozen images in the text, and several of Archer’s photographs. It also contains an interactive feature: a pair of postcards bound in as endpapers which the reader is invited to alter as desired and send off: one to a friend and one back to The Black Mountain Museum and Arts Center, whose program director Alice Sebrell is credited by Sebastian as being integral and vital to the process of creating the show. Five essays offer views of Ray that are remarkably varied and complementary.
Sebastian Matthews presents his curatorial essay as nine journal notes written while building the show. He elaborates his basic point: that Ray Johnson “used Black Mountain College as a springboard to propell himself into the Manhattan art world.” He also does a remarkable job, with his intense self-examinations, numerous concrete biographical insights, and constant awareness of Ray’s own probable intent to be inscrutable, of helping us have a “fuller sense of what Ray attempts when he sits down to make art, when he prepares to send out the work to be received, passed on, altered.” The quote is what Sebastian hopes to accomplish with the show, and I think he got there. He also truly transformed my personal sense of Ray J by portraying the intense, painterly, quite technical control Ray exerted over his collage work.
Ray Johnson’s career had many layers, and two essays by old friends of Ray offer insight into his early days in Detroit and his heyday in the East Village. Arthur Secunda contributed much material for the show and portrays in his recollection “Ray Johnson’s intelligence, mysterious youthful verve and artistic ingenuity.” William S. Wilson, the primary lender of the collage works, and one of Ray’s long-time art buddies, makes his essay a tour de force in Ray J style quirkiness and abrupt juxtapositions. He says “Ray Johnson was a student of the imaginations of other people.” He ably describes Ray’s focus not on abstract ideas but direct concrete responses, because Ray “worked to remain within immanences, eluding transcendentals.”
Two academic writers share their ideas about the inportance and significance of Ray’s work. Julie J. Thomson thoroughly documents the large and lasting influence Josef Albers had on Ray’s work. She also describes the way Ray’s work related to the “Happenings” and other art trends of the times. Kate Erin Dempsey, in “Code Word:Ray,” shared a long excerpt from her work in progress about Ray and his reaction to and use of the fad for secret codes and hidden messages raging in the 1950s. Expanding on the fascinating work she shared at the BMC conference, she convincingly demonstrates Ray’s fascination with language and its manipulation for artistic purposes. Furthermore, she follows this thread from radio show decoder rings through the Mayan hieroglyphics and glyphs revered at BMC, to Ray’s mature use of found images – giving them a “new lease on life - enhancing or altering their meaning entirely by arranging them in novel ways.” Kate’s work at the BMC conference, this essay, and hopefully her future book will all warrant future Ray J posts.
The kernel I found that connected all these essay? Nothings – empty shells of meaning – e.g. nonsense – that serve as markers and triggers for the kind of nonlinear art experience Ray Johnson wanted you to have. William S. Wilson talks of “the surface concealed only by another surface.” Julie J. Thomson finds their roots in “the gap, an element emphasized by Albers in his teaching,” and makes the valid and often repeated connection between Ray’s study of Taoism and these ideas. Kate Dempsey makes it clear Ray wanted to avoid specific meanings, sending messages in bottles to be partly constructed by the finder. Sebastian reminds us that Ray was “an autodidact student of Buddhism and a self-described disciple of John Cage’s cultivation of chance occurrence. “ Julie Thomson describes the performances Ray created entitled “Nothings:” they “interrupted the Happenings, opening up a space amidst the busy environments and experiences of the Happenings.” Ray brought Zen and his unique fusion of life and art into American art, and made his mark with great gifts and energy.
Sebastian Matthews has provided an amazing set of Ray Johnson experiences to me , starting with the BMC conference, many kind and enthusiastic interactions, and now this multiple-event, long-running show. He did all the myriad tasks and jumped through all the hoops to make this show happen, but he clearly handled the situation as a working artist and remained beautifully true to the spirit of Ray Johnson with everything he did as a result. See this show and then follow Sebastian’s advice:
Don’t get too caught up in finding meaning in every little detail. You need to first catch a drift of the mood and follow it back in. Let the work show you how to see. Let Ray work his magic. Sebastian Matthews, from BMC to NYC
The event was a blast and was just the beginning. Remember the show runs til June 12th, and there are lots of special events to help motivate the trip. A collage workshop by Krista Franklin had occurred by this post, a screening of How to Draw a Bunny, an award-winning Ray J documentary will take place on April 8, and Dr. Francis F. L. Beatty, a curator who works with the Ray Johnson Estate, will speak about Ray’s work on May 21. The show will celebrate its closing with a poetry reading on June 12th. The Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center, sponsor of all events, has just announced a fascinating weekend event at the old dining hall building on the BMC campus. Sounds fun! BMC lives!!
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw plainly. John Ruskin
The conference held in Asheville October 9-11 about Black Mountain College and its legacy was a stunning success. A myriad of diverse presenters joined with performers, poets and artists to celebrate the influence of the college and the accomplishments of its alumni, both teachers and students. A collaboration of The Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center and UNC-Asheville, the conference was a long-awaited gathering of energies from across the country and beyond, searching for the memory and meaning of Black Mountain College.
BMC existed just 24 years, from 1933 to 1957, but this conference made clear that its radical vision of education and incredible nexus of creative individuals resonates deeply in our arts and culture. There were so many threads of research and inquiry presented, I can only speak of my own journey through the presentations. Planning to focus on Ray Johnson, I found myself captured by powerful ideas about the basic philosophy and significance of BMC, and intrigued by new perspectives on the creative processes which emerged there.
Initially, students at BMC were required to take only 2 courses: philosophy from John Andrew Rice and art from Josef Albers. Rice’s philosophy, informed by John Dewey, created a new mode of education at BMC, one that featured the internal discipline generated by students doing as much as absorbing. Michael Kelly’s presentation on Dewey in relation to BMC brought out the powerfully humanistic nature of liberal arts education as conducted at BMC. With art central to his view of experience, Rice designed the curriculum to elevate the quality of experience in students until they were prepared to be democratic citizens. Seymour Simmons helped connect the educational philosophy to the artistic act with this wonderful description of the act: “an inventive response to genuine problems involving collaboration and conflict while engaging and integrating multiple human capacities.” Josef Albers wanted for his students no more or less than a new mode of seeing, and his manifest genius was the nugget of magnetism that drew such stellar powers to the place.
The place! Over and over the theme of place ran through the conference. Black Mountain was a unique haven of sorts, and a bivouac as well for the sorties against New Criticism and the strictures of Modernism. It was literally a quiet spot in the harried life of urban artists and teachers who came. Yet there were privations, great stress, and no assurance of the fame and influence we look back on today. Two living Black Mountain figures, Dorothea Rockburne and Michael Rumaker, presented at the conference and helped establish the sense of the place.
I found the presence of two deceased BMC figures, M.C. Richards and Ray Johnson, to be very strong due to the passionate work being done on them by current young scholars. M.C. Richards embodied the highest principles of the Dewey aesthetic in seeing and living the connnection between art and life. Jenni Sorkin of Yale University described Richard’s costly rejection of a conventional academic career for the esoteric but rewarding concepts of Rudolph Steiner and Matthew Fox, the “Centering” of being required for art in clay,and the attempt to practice the apprenticeships of art to prepare for “the big art… our life.” Kate Dempsey and Sebastian Matthews both offered invigorating interpretive perspectives on Ray Johnson, and convinced me once and for all that Ray is the epitome of Black Mountain students, and carried into the world a fundamental store of post-modern concepts gained at Black Mountain.
More than one speaker described the roots of post-modern thought to be discerned in the Black Mountain canon. Andrea Lui from NYC named three: 1) knowledge as contingent and partial, 2) photography as art, and 3) promiscious mixing of disciplines. The relation between and hierarchy of the disciplines at BMC provided some interesting contention among the scholars. Speaking of the interdisciplinary approach, Louly Peacock Konz offered perhaps the most purely entertaining talk of all with her description of the play “The Ruse of Medusa,” translated from Satie’s French by M.C. Richards, and performed by Buckminster Fuller as the baron and Merce Cunningham as the “costly mechanical monkey,” among others. Black Mountain College established a perceived “school” of poetry, encompassing authors who never set foot on the campus. Rachel Stella from Paris described the Black Mountain Review as the base for a “textual community” which helped transform the structure of literary publishing of the era. Charles Olson’s massive literary influence came up again and again, with Jonas Williams of SUNY-Albany reminding us that Olson said: “art does not describe, but enacts.” Forming, transforming, teaching by action, seeking the transcendent in the material: these were the forces that coursed through education at Black Mountain. Over several near-future posts, I will recount some of the amazing insights shared at this conference, especially my greatly enlarged perspective on Ray J. The central role of experience in learning and the intellectual freedom derived from Socratic and democratic principles were key elements in Black Mountain’s existence and lasting influence. From this cauldron of intellectual striving and artistic practice emerged various and wonderful creative expressions with much to tell us today. This conference did not dissect a historical movement, but uncovered living roots of a vital cultural force that sends wick green shoots upward as we speak.
We must carry in our souls a picture of creating little by little
the vessel of our humanity. M.C. Richards
The Bain Project has garnered its fair share of attention and brought together an amazing array of artistic and journalistic support. It also crossed and melded artistic media in an extraordinary fashion. The installation itself captured sights, sounds, smells and memories in a unique way, and a fitting emblem of this is the Bain Music Project cd, which will certainly stand the test of time as a valuable record of the Bain Project experience and a fascinating album of boundary-pushing music in its own right.
The cd offers short interview excerpts with a former Bain employee, mixed with cuts of local bands recording inside the Bain space. The remaining pieces constitute primary Bain Project work by Lee Moore, whose maternal condition precluded extensive on-site participation. Lee and her husband (and longtime musical partner) David Crawford put together some amazing sets of sounds as Le Machine, and also did me the great honor of building cut # 12 with an old water-based poem of mine. I recorded it with Jen Coon, and then Lee put it over ocean sounds and her newborn baby’s heartbeat! I could never have dreamed that a piece of my writing would have such a stunning setting. Thank you Lee.
I enjoy every track of the cd, especially Crowmeat Bob’s highly Bain-ful sounds and Xopher Thurston’s string interpretation of Dana Raymond’s pipe symphonies, but am totally un-equipped to remark on the local popular music. I just know my 20 year old daughter was thrilled to see me on the same album as the Rosebuds! I also know that the cd cover is masterful and fits so well with the project, thanks to Ladye Jane of New Raleigh fame. New Raleigh published the cd, and was a tremendous support to the Bain Project overall, including provision of the Bain website.
Starting from the website, let’s trace the main branchings of media and online response to the project.
May 09 “State of Things” interview with Dana Raymond, Marty Baird Sarah Powers and JenCoon
SpokenWord.org archived radio link
Volunteer call hosted by New Raleigh
January 09 Missing Plaque Mystery
February 09 Music Fundraiser
March 09 David Millsaps essay
May 09 Ladye Jane’s Q & A
May 09 State of Things alert with links to Sarah and Dana
May 09 Toxic Lead Alert with Bain concerns
March 09 Music Fundraiser guide
April 09 Indie Blog article
May 09 Calendar listing
May 09 Site and project description by Hobert Thompson
May 09 Indie blog Q & A with organizer Daniel Kelly and others
May 09 Art to suit city’s fluid identity
NC Museum of Art
May 09 blog interview with Museum staffers Jen Coon & Stacey Kirby
DESIGNlife news with listing of the numerous alumni involved
30 Threads feature
Raleighwood,NC John & Clydes visit with informative links
Queen of the Pavement - huge and lovely pics
Digital Photo Project with another, and one more – nice photos and text by Kevin Greene
almost two weeks – wonderful blend of Bain and life
a weed is just a flower out of place - just one nice photo but who can resists that title?
Bain poster critique – proof post-Boomers do not read actually a nice post
not to mention
youtube Triangle Rock excerpt
The following excerpt from an email sent out by SWCAC Chair Mary Bell Pate for the Caraleigh neighborhood.
The Bain Project, located in the SW CAC area, is all about the E. B. Bain Waterworks/Water Plant that once was the source of water for Raleigh and now is on the Historic Register. What was a beautiful Art Deco building had been ignored since it was “de-commissioned” as our water plant and now needs massive amounts of money for restoration. Empire Properties came to the rescue by buying the Bain and saving it from total destruction. Within the next few years a street will connect South Wilmington and South Saunders Streets (needed for years as an efficient cross-access between the two streets) and will go right by the Bain.
With lots of help from many people the Bain Project will become another outstanding asset for Raleigh and especially for our southwest part of Raleigh. Right now it needs your interest and participation in events designed to create awareness of this beautiful, old building opposite the Eliza Pool Park. From time to time I will be giving updates on Bain Project activities and encouraging your participation.
and last but not least
National Park Service Bain site page
If you’ve made it this far I’ll remind you that here at Raleigh Rambles ALL my work to document and preserve the Bain Project is organized and referenced on my Bain Page. The list above grew out of a reference post on the Bain Project website, which has obviously been a rock for me in this project. We can all thank Daniel Kelly for conceiving of and effecting this project, and I personally appreciated his encouragement as I participated in and documented the project.