Thursday, December 31, 2009


It's the last day of the decade, time to air out some old photos... in no particular order...

Dorothy from the 'Wizard of Oz'... or least a version of her trying to make a dime on Hollywood Blvd.

An army surplus store, also on Hollywood Blvd.

The centerpiece at the Thanks Giving feast I attended... a new celebration with new friends.

Fire hydrant lying down.

There are many beautiful commercial signs here... I'm sorry to admit that this one is making me a regular customer.

There are also plenty of places to get a room...

A somewhat derelict building in the Silverlake area of Sunset Blvd.

This sign is on a building down an alleyway Downtown. A magazine and newspaper stand operates just beneath it.

Also Downtown... the reflection of one on another.

My long lost friend. I love you James x

Oil drills at work, near Bakersfield, Interstate 5, about 1 hour drive North of Valencia, where I live.

Winter snow near Pine Flat, 3 hours North of home in the Sequoia National Forest.

Found sculpture.

Frozen patriotism.

More signage... this time Highland Park in East Los Angeles.

Highland Theater, Figueroa St, view from Avenue 56.

A large amount of land, Angeles National Forest, near La Canada.

Burnt out trees, also Angeles National Forest.

Advanced shopping technology.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Have wheels

My world has expanded and by crikey it feels good. I believe the American Dream is now within reach...

And best of all? Seat-belts for 8 people...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Post script

After a fruitful conversation with a friend, I have a new thought to add regarding my 'recent acquisitions'. Perhaps the connection between them is related to the definition of the word 'inane'. It can carry it's common socially known meaning, being an adjective for something silly, dumb or without significance. Though it can also be a reference to a state of emptiness, or to the void of infinite space. So here there is the narrative significance of someone who is perceived to be lacking in intelligence, or behaving as such and there is also the philosophical significance of the representation of a phenomenological abstraction.

Buster Keaton's position at the unknowing center of a world in a constant state of imbalance may result in a degree inane behaviour. When he cuts a piece of wood with a saw, but sits on the end of the wood that will fall off, his behaviour is silly, without a doubt. Yet there is a powerful space created by this scenario. Why does he not know that his action will result in pain? It is absurd. So absurd in fact, that we cannot know it... it exists in a void whilst simultaneously triggering a response of laughter, that comes from our knowing the impending result of his sawing. I am not sure at the moment why this is significant.

The boy in the tree is harder to perceive as being inane, but I see the abstracted nature of his pose triggering a response from me that is lacking narrative significance, due to its inability to be reduced to a finite story. Here, I am the silly one, for my attempts at meaning making are futile. Yet I am drawn to the picture because it seems to represent so many things. Again, there is a simultaneously meaningful and meaningless nature to the engagement.

I am hopeful that these thoughts will become clearer over time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Recent acquisitions

The above two photos represent the start of some new thinking for me, I believe. At the top we have a painting that I was lucky enough to find in a Goodwill store in Culver City. There is an art district in the area which I have started to scrape the surface of, but on this day I enjoyed second hand shopping more. I actually stood in the store holding this object for several minutes, transfixed by so many elements within the image. I find that it sits in quite a productively awkward position between portrait and abstracted narrative. On the one hand, we are given an intimate perspective that would not be accessible without some prior relationship between subject and artist - one usually does not stand below young topless boys climbing in trees without knowing them first. On the other hand, there is a sense of frozen action in the pose, suggesting that the boy is escaping from something, whether a real or imagined threat. Or maybe he's just wasting time. The Casio wrist watch is truly puzzling. On first impression, it provides such a certain sense a place and yet it really could come from anywhere. Perhaps what I am responding to is a feeling of heavily directed abstraction. And this is not to mention the expression in his face that looks like hope and fear at one and the same time. I should also say, that there is no artist name on the back of the painting, just the words 'Varnished' and 'November 95'. It was $10.

Some of you will know that the other image is of Buster Keaton. I don't have a lot of experience with Keaton films but was introduced to them in Film History the other week.
I must say, he is a superb artist. There is such an exquisite grace to his acrobatics which he demonstrates in his stunts throughout a film... walls fall down, motorbikes loose their rider, houses spin around violently, water turns into snow in the blink of an eye... as the space he occupies becomes unbalanced, he repeatedly attempts to restore order. Yet Keaton's continual ambivalent not-knowing (everything happens behind his back) combined with his spontaneous ingenuity and physical competency in the face of a world that defies our predetermined understanding puts him in the position of being simultaneously clown and hero.

This is my first ever roll of film...

In one of my classes we are making a one minute film, the making of which we will be guided through, from concept to shoot to development of the actual film. I am very excited about learning how to physically cut the film during the edit process.

My first sighting of the Hollywood sign...

This was taken at the top of a rise on Reservoir St, Echo Park, where Fiona, Amy and Mike live. Echo Park is often described as being similar to Grey Lynn - vaguely bohemian with strong capitalist undercurrents. I agree to an extent, though the area is shot through with a strand of Los Angeles culture that I am, for the moment, going to call 'hyperbolic hipsterism'.

This is some rubble in Culver City...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Local cuisine

Many people will know that there is a lot of Mexican food on offer in Los Angeles, which is fantastic because most of it is cheap as well as delicious. Of course there are varying degrees of 'authenticity', seemingly represented by the amount of money that is spent on interior decorating and menu design. But even the fast food chain versions can cobble together the necessary ingredients without butchering the meal too badly.

The above image is a still from a new work... a simple investigation of space and narrative inside a restaurant called Cabo Cabana. Sometimes I wonder why I would bother writing an explicit narrative, when an infinite number of them already exist in what we might call 'the natural world'. A fascinating story emerged right before my eyes, the mother wanting to go and pick up her other daughter from sports practice without taking the daughter who was already safe in the zone of her parents. Naturally, our young heroine in yellow wanted to go with Mommy, creating an Escape from L.A. type scenario, the mercenary matriarch needing to rescue daughter two before the daughter one bomb was detonated. It was tears before bedtime, but Dad did a wonderful job, administering plenty of hugs in a calm and reassuring manner.

The images below are from a place in Newhall, a suburb about 5min drive from campus. A group of us sampled their tacos and salsa, with pleasing results. Why do handwritten signs often indicate that the proprietor cares more about the food than the appearance of their front counter? Or is it simply economics dictating where available money needs to be spent?

On another occasion, Fiona and I ate here. We did not get high off the food...

Meanwhile, I found this on a road in Beverly Hills...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sickness Vol. Two

Please excuse the lack of posts recently. This week has been heavy, to say the least. I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that I am looking forward to better health and a clearer mind.

On a lighter note, I went to an artist talk at school by Miranda July, famous for her film Me And You And Everyone We Know. Of course she was utterly charming, but it was wonderful to hear her stories about starting out as a maker of things. It seemed she didn't really know if what she was doing was art because she was quite isolated from a specific art community and never went to art school. Her home was originally a music related culture, specifically the Riot Grrrl movement. It was funny to hear about her early performances in bands, getting the chance to sing her 'weird and emotional' songs in between more regular punk tunes. And yet as charming as her art is, I often find it hard to relate to someone who has always made art as a matter of course. Exposure to this way of being makes me feel like I am lacking a particular kind of history because I sense that I came to art late. Sometimes I consider it to be an extension of my philosophical inquiries, rather than being something I do because I can't do anything else. Never mind, the more I do it, the more I feel that there is nothing else I would rather do. And I still have a long way to go.

Antonioni made
L'Avventura when he was 48.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

American is my second language

Lately I have taken to doing a bad American accent when hanging out with the locals. I am unsure how far this will go.

Some other brief observations:

- bread here is generally a lot sweeter than in New Zealand.
- water, in a way that is hard to describe, has a stronger taste.

- it is so hot that the air is thick... I have a new appreciation for air conditioning
- cars are very courteous to pedestrians.
- burgers are much bigger.
- a lot of the Americans I have met use the words "go ahead" unnecessarily. For example, "I'm going to go ahead and open these windows," or, "Let's go ahead and read this article."
- a lot of the Americans I have met are wonderfully polite.
- Larry King takes on greater significance when you watch him here.
- desert dust is no good for my allergies.
- the world music students occasionally fill the morning air with delightful bells and whistles.
- the writing school students are overtly obscure
- undergrad theater and dance students are skilled at
self-consciously projecting themselves.
- I enjoy waking up in the morning, getting ready for school, then walking across the grass to class.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Some conversation and home decor

I have to admit that the first two days of class had left me feeling a little bit down. In my first semester, I have a lot of required classes, most of which are technical workshops that all of us in the Program for Film and Video have to do to gain access to the gear. I am sure that I will expand my knowledge in this area, which is certainly useful, but I had started to wonder where the critical core of my degree might exist, as there seemed to be little space for it in the classes I am taking. On top of this, I was starting to wonder about my classmates. Presumably we are all here because we have some kind of talent, but to begin with, I had no idea what anyone makes, or what they think about what they make, or what they think about anything, actually. I am happy to report however, that as the first week unfolded, some conversation emerged that allowed us to engage with some broad ideas surrounding art, film and what we are doing here. One class in particular, Film Making Fundamentals with James Benning, gave rise to a group discussion regarding the current state of play for film; what it is, what we can do with it and why. The debate was lively and I enjoyed this immensely.

Perhaps more importantly though, I am now the proud owner of a duvet (or 'comforter', as they are called here), another pillow and two cushions. These gems of bedroom furnishing were found in a thrift store in Newhall, one of the older parts of Santa Clarita, which is a short 15min bike ride from here (one of my flatmates lent me her bike). I had gone to buy a cellphone and ended up pottering around some shops that looked to be far more independently operated than the chain stores that domminate this city. I sat at the counter in a diner and drank filter coffee, successfully purchased a cheap (but sturdy) communications device and floated into Carmen's Closet. I had previously researched my options for luxurious bed decorations in Walmart and Bed Bath And Beyond, but could not decide whether I should invest US$15 in a pillow and upwards of $30 for a duvet. The lovely Carmen supplied me with all that I needed for the grand total of $8. I was so chuffed with my purchase that I handed over $10 and said she could keep the change. I was left with a slightly awkward ride home, since my new possessions were transported in two large bags hanging off the bike's handlebars. But I didn't care. I knew what joy awaited me. After a lengthy washing mission, the fabric and sponge objects were placed in their new home atop my bed. I believe the colour scheme in my room has really come into its own now. I sleep soundly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Los Angeles, I love you

I have been back in L.A for just over one week now and gosh, it is very stimulating! In contrast to San Francisco, logic was something that was clearly not a concern at the town planning meeting. I have seen many interesting people, buildings, art, roads, dead spaces, living zones... all of which are jostling for position and often find themselves on top of one another. It seems at this stage there is no end to what L.A has to offer. One art highlight I would like to mention was the Abraham Cruzvillegas show at REDCAT, the gallery that CalArts founded. The NZ3 went to the opening event for Autoconstrucción: The Film.
With regards to composition and narrative structure, there was an amazing similarity between Cruzvillegas' film and 'Work And Not Work', the film I made at the end of last year. Every shot was stationary, making a composition out of the architecture of his home town, arranged into long sequences detailing the ram shackle houses and improvised structures that were born out of necessity. One might think of them as 'proof of existence'. These passages were interspersed with quite explicit sex scenes, very abruptly dropped into the narrative to provide a dramatically private counterpoint to the exterior surveys, though they were filmed with the same observational distance. Cruzvillegas gave a talk which I found to be very invigorating. I asked two questions that received a thoughtful reply (though my accent sliced through the air with startling inelegance). Fiona and I managed to talk with him afterward and he was very open to conversation. It's so great when you have those experiences where you recognise that you are relating to someone or some idea, that it is resonating with you. That's truth really. About as true as life gets maybe. It's reassuring also, like, yes, I know that this makes sense to me.

Another highlight was the Downtown Artwalk, where numerous galleries or temporary installations open up late into the evening and hundreds of people roam the streets, taking in the art, music and markets. I didn't see many art works that I related to, but the bustling atmosphere and myriad styles of fashion were fascinating. This was especially
interesting after considering the current gentrification of the area, which is turning previously derelict buildings into 'stylish' loft apartments. On the way there we ate delicious tacos from a low-fi stand that was operating in a carpark. One of the staff members thought my pronunciation of 'pollo' was quite funny and suggested I simply say 'chicken'

Today is the first day of classes so I guess my holiday is over. I am quite settled now, though I need to buy a blanket for my bed and perhaps a pot plant, as my room currently feels like an abandoned storage cupboard in a primary school. I also need to buy a car and a mobile so that I can be more independent. It is important for me to be able to explore the city further in my own slow way so that I can understand my relationship to it better.

One further point I should make is that I don't have any 'art' ideas at the moment, only questions and concerns. For example, I feel like there is some kind of ethical or maybe moral puzzle to navigate as I start to make work here. I am very conscious of the fact that I am a foreigner and I am unsure at the moment how my relationship to the environment will develop, since I am bound by this condition. So what does it mean for me to film what I see here? Will the work exist as a postcard or travel snap? Or is it possible to gain some kind of solid ground from which to engage? I'm sure that this will resolve itself over time and I am fully prepared to make some bad tourist art along the way. Perhaps there is fertile territory in this idea of dislocation? But I don't really want to make art about me and my isolation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sweet home

I moved into my new room yesterday in the graduate apartment block at CalArts. As you can see from the photo, it is designed with a certain functionality in mind. Though since I have downsized my belongings, there is actually plenty of space and the view, as detailed in the other photo above, is very pleasant. Fiona and Amy were kind enough to drop me off and help move my suitcases. As we came up the driveway a little shiver of excitement rolled through my old bones. It was so choice to see the buildings in the flesh and to step onto the grounds where I will spend the next three years.

The area where the school is located, Valencia, is a planned community, part of the city of Santa Clarita, about 30min drive from some of the more well known parts of L.A. It is an amazingly repetitive (and huge) neighbourhood, with roads that spiral off the main drags into dead ends, driving all business back into the vast strip malls that have every chain store you could wish for. The buildings that house these shops are all the same and there seems to be no opportunity for a small collection of independent stores to spring up. Virtually all of the homes are replicas of each other, taking the concept of suburbia to a whole new level. I would find this all terribly depressing if wasn't so absolutely fascinating.

Tonight I went with some new friends to play glow-in-the-dark mini golf, one of the few things to do here at night time. There was a fine selection of country music on the sound-system to accompany us through our fiercely battled competition. I came a respectable 3rd, with 4th and 5th trailing miserably behind me.