The Vigilant Robot

a watchful eye of creative complexity

Tag Archives: art

The Middle of Nowhere Speaks and it is Beautiful

I don’t really believe that adventures can be life-changing. I don’t think a life changes within the moment of experience. Doesn’t life change only until after we process our experience, when we begin thinking about the effect it has had on us and we make conscious steps to change our present way of life? These are not life-changing moments, but moments of self-realization and self-awareness.

About two and a half months ago I traveled to the southwestern part of the U.S. for the first time—the Grand Canyon being the central focus of the trip. I had qualms about contributing money to the racist state of Arizona; in fact, even though I have always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, I told myself that until things were different I would not give money to that state. An opportunity presented itself and it was too seductive at that point in my life, I couldn’t pass it up. We were only staying for a few days, but our plans were to check out Sedona, AZ and then stay overnight in Flagstaff before heading to the Grand Canyon, where we would spend two days before driving to Albuquerque, NM to spend our final night and day. We arrived in Phoenix, spent way too much time retrieving our rental car, and finally drove north to Sedona. We arrived there much later than we expected—I was feeling famished and sick so we made a detour for food—but we walked around for a bit, soaking in what we could of the bold colors of the Red Rocks. Other than its nature, Sedona was not impressive. It is a very uppity town with large and pretty homes, fancy boutiques, and psychic reading shops; a place to go and meditate and then forget about that peace you just experienced connecting with the world to go make an expensive purchase on a consumer item that you don’t actually need. After a couple hours, we were ready to head to Flagstaff.

Recommended by various travel sites for the view, we drove the Oak Creek Canyon path to Flagstaff. We were not disappointed! The view was unbelievably beautiful and slightly treacherous compared to what our flat, midwestern roads had provided us with for our whole lives. I was driving during this stretch and it seemed like I was going up and around, winding and winding for at least half the drive on this one-lane road. No railings on the edges of the road. Looking down, you only see jagged edges of yellow and red rocks, the ground nowhere in the vicinity. My ears were constantly plugging up from the rising elevation, the pressure in my head pounding, swirling around from left to right. Sitting in the passenger seat looking right over the edges of the cliffs, fear caused my friend to constantly berate me for driving too fast. I could have driven through the Oak Creek Canyon path all day, gawking at the picturesque scenery, such a contrast from the billboard-heavy, industrialized, and gray skies of a March day in Chicago.

We arrived in Flagstaff, ate an okay dinner, and since everything was closed for the night, we went to bed. We woke up early, too excited to see the Grand Canyon. We got our morning coffee from a local shop that sells fair trade and organic coffee (Flagstaff has a lot of local coffee shops!), with a very strange woman ringing us up who thought it was more important to spend a few minutes taping up a tear in a dollar bill than making our coffee. Most of the people in Arizona seem a little odd, and do every task as if it is not important. Everything seems to move slower, including the people. No one ever seems in a hurry. I suppose that isn’t really odd, but it’s definitely something we were not used to. I mean, who cares if the cash has a rip?

On our way to the Grand Canyon we came upon “Bedrock”! We obviously needed to pull over and snap a few pictures with Dino, Fred, and Wilma. Yabba Dabba Doooo! After we stopped forgetting we were grown adults, we hopped back into the car and drove through the deserted, open road to our main destination. I was surprised that we didn’t see any segments of the Grand Canyon while approaching the park entrance. We parked the car and since it was too early to check in to our lodge we got our bags of food and drink ready and walked to the park.

As we walked towards the Canyon, we could faintly see the rock formations in the distance. It did not prepare me for what I would see once we approached. The sight was indescribable. My eyes were filled with Mother Nature, the monstrosity of the canyons and the surprising color spectrum, from light yellow to orange to deep reds and light purples. I could not believe my eyes. I had never seen anything close to it in my whole twenty-seven years of life. I don’t think there is anything like it. No picture, I don’t care how magnificent, could do that place justice. It must be seen. I was instantly emotional, something I did not expect. My eyes grew misty, and then more than misty. I could do nothing but stand there and take it all in for several minutes. It was completely arresting. I think the site of this environment, this wondrous landscape, was just so beautiful it touched me; it was extraordinarily engaging with it’s large size and the variety of formations and indentations and color; it made me feel very small yet privileged to be looking at something so stunning, something created from natural occurrences, from God, and not a human being. It’s as though I was looking directly at a dream that I was about to step into, astounded.

Finally getting over our initial shock and wonderment, we hiked the South Rim trail to the right. Every view of the Grand Canyon was different. The location of the sun shifted, along with the colors and the rock formations. The shear size of the Grand Canyon never ceased to amaze us. “Oh my God” and “Wow” started becoming quite repetitive phrases. When we made it to the end and back of that part of the trail, a few hours later, we left the park to have some mediocre dinner. When we reentered the park we decided to drive over to “Desert View,” which is supposed to hold one of the most amazing views of the canyon and the Colorado River, and you can visit an old watchtower. When we reached the crossroads, the sign stated 25 miles to Desert View. We somehow mistakenly calculated that it would only take us 25 to 30 minutes to get there so we would make it before sundown. Why we calculated that we could drive a mile a minute escapes me, but maybe it was the elevation getting to our head. I drove and drove and drove and we passed many viewpoints, saw some animals whose species we argued about because we are not nature people and don’t know anything about wild animals, but it seemed like we would never reach Desert View.  I must have driven for at least forty-five minutes until we decided that by the time we would arrive it would be too dark. At the behest of my friend, we decided to stop at the next viewpoint instead and take in the dusk view of the Grand Canyon; it was more night-time than dusk at that point so the view wasn’t amazing. We drove back to our lodge and spent the rest of the night relaxing and thinking about the day. I looked at the lodge’s guidebook and discovered that we were only two miles away from Desert View. I was quite disappointed and when my friend suggested we go back the following day, I almost got into one of those moods of, “No, I am not driving all the way back there when we were so close and you made me turn around!” Thankfully, the next morning was a different story.

Our second and final day in the Grand Canyon, I woke up feeling horrible. I had a terrible migraine accompanied by its sensitivities to light and sound and worst of all, nausea. I blamed the heavily dry air and high elevation; the pressure was excessive and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t really eat much, but we decided to have breakfast and then go for a drive to Desert View. My friend would drive, while I relaxed and tried to feel better. It was a really wonderful plan and while I still had a headache, I was feeling much better when we arrived at the viewpoint. I was immediately thankful that we decided to go back in the day-time because the view was spectacular. The light tan stoned watchtower was remarkable with its native paintings on the inside and crafted furniture. Seeing the deep blue-green of the Colorado River snaking its way through the Canyon was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe how the earth could so naturally produce such a complimentary color palette or that the river carved the splendor out of the Canyon. The Canyon wouldn’t exist in its current form without the Colorado River making its mark, carving its way through the hard earth, eroding whatever pieces it deemed unfit to stay intact with the rest of the rock. The river left only grandeur and grace.

We spent quite a bit of time allured by the exquisite sights of Desert View, but we finally left and had lunch and then parted ways for the next hour. I wanted to hike down into the Canyon, even just for a little bit, but my friend was too scared. They recommend to not hike alone, especially if you are not an experienced hiker, but even though I probably have only ever hiked once in my life and had a worthless phone, I didn’t want to let my friend’s fear stop me from exploring something new. I was all the way in the Grand Canyon! I needed to explore! I hiked the Bright Angel Trail for a couple miles. To reach the bottom of the Canyon on that trail would require the whole day, so I didn’t go as far as I would have liked, but it was still amazing. To look up and see the massive rock extending into the air, where you originally started, people looking so small above you and below you; I was delighted while descending and walking around through some curves, down some dirt steps, through a short tunnel, constantly stopping to take it all in. The way back up was a little bit sad because I knew I wouldn’t be going back into the canyon again. I enjoyed every minute too much.

After the hike, I met up with my friend and we decided to take the shuttle bus and head to the left part of the South Rim trail, the part we had not hiked the day before. We overheard one of the employees of the park tell another visitor that Hopi and Mojave viewpoints were the best, especially at sunset. We hopped off the shuttle bus at Hopi and quickly discovered that the employee was telling the truth.  We couldn’t imagine that the view of the canyon could get any better, but it did! The composition formed by the rocks, the variation of color, and the Colorado River swishing its way through formed the most exquisite portrait of nature I had ever seen. We decided to hike to Mojave point instead of hopping back on the shuttle. Again, we kept stopping because the views kept changing and we were awestruck by its beauty. We both agreed that these were definitely the best views of the canyon. It was really hard to pull our eyes away and actually pay attention to the hiking path. Yep, I walked into a little cactus plant and it was quite pokey.

After soaking in the view at Mojave, we hopped on the next shuttle bus, getting off at one more stop, the stop that has the best view of the Colorado River. An informational post instructed us to close our eyes and listen to the sounds of the river roaring below us. It said that if we closed our eyes and focused on nothing but the river, we would hear it even though it was at least a full mile below us. We closed our eyes, but could not hear the river. We could only hear the wind roaring around us. Perhaps we did not have the ability to clear our thoughts and isolate the sounds around us, or perhaps it really was too windy that day.

We took the shuttle bus back to the lodge, ate our leftover lunch for dinner and then went to the Shrine of Ages for a talk about preserving the Native American heritage of the area and incorporating it into the park’s events. It was unsurprising to hear that they had just started to work with the actual Natives indigenous to the land; I was surprised they were consulting with them at all. The Grand Canyon is Native land, sacred land to all of the tribes indigenous to that area. Their reparations are free entrance into the park, the land they once needed no permission to enter, no permission to pray on, no permission to stop and reflect on their relationship between themselves and the nature. So kind! I left that talk quite depressed. I suppose it was a fitting end to the joys we spent in the canyon. A snap back to reality of the historic and yet very present struggles of people, especially indigenous peoples.

The next day we spent six hours driving from the Grand Canyon to Albuquerque. We drove through the very large Navajo reservation, the desert, saw some houses here and there, some unopened market booths, some random signs placed into the hills, and drove and drove on the deserted open road. It was the first time I saw a dust storm, pink and red dust flying before me, concealing the view for a small stretch of road. It was the first time I saw tumbleweeds. Driving 90­–95 mph, one hit my windshield pretty hard because of the 75mph winds. I always thought tumbleweeds were funny; when I saw them in the desert my mind always went to the tumbleweed icon on Skype, probably because it is the only tumbleweed I ever see. I then thought of a middle of nowhere country place in Nebraska, a strange, quirky town, the first place I always imagine tumbleweeds to exist. I never imagined I would be driving through a funny little town in Nebraska so I never imagined I would be driving through a place with tumbleweeds flying about.

The drive from the canyon to Albuquerque was a long one, but it was the best drive of my life. We took a few turns, but I sat for a couple hours and never felt so relaxed while driving. The way people drive there makes more sense; they are patient and less petty. They understand that they use the left lane on a two-lane highway to pass people and once they do they go back to the right lane. Everything is stress-free. What a life! Not only is it relaxing and stress-free, but the view is intense: miles and miles of desert and beautiful rock formations with some greenery in the distance. I could drive through there all day, speeding without a worry in the world, allowing the landscape to embrace me.

Albuquerque was quite the opposite of the Grand Canyon. We arrived there much later than we expected, an hour and a half or so before dusk, shops almost closed for the day since it was Sunday. We weren’t there very long, but for the time we were there, we seemed to see a lot of drug addicts (Breaking Bad rings a bit true), and the downtown is very small, not built up at all, and slightly run down in some areas. We happened to be there on an odd and eventful day, when there were protests against police brutality happening with SWAT and Riot police throwing tear gas at innocent, unarmed youth. I felt quite sad for the city and for the state of New Mexico in general. The police presence was too apparent; it seemed much too militarized, and the problems with drugs and alcohol amongst young people and people of color, especially the indigenous community was heartbreaking. We didn’t do much that night besides have dinner—thankfully, New Mexican cuisine is pretty good, unlike most of our meals in Arizona—and witness the last stretch of the protest go by from our hotel window. The next day we went to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which was extremely educational, and once again, maddening to hear about the injustice committed against the natives by the U.S. government. It was highly informative and the personal stories were powerful. We ended our trip there, driving to the airport and heading back to Chicago.

When I arrived in Chicago, I couldn’t stop thinking about our vacation. I wanted so desperately to go back. I always get that “Home Sweet Home” feel upon my return from vacations, but not this time. I desired to go back. As I am writing this, I still feel that desire. A desire for a slower life, a life with less “work” and more usefulness, a life with less people, less technology, and more nature, a life with more stillness. While we were in the canyon, we consciously had to tell ourselves to stop taking pictures and soak it all in. We wanted to feel the experience, not recall our experience from the pictures we snapped. Technology can be the ultimate destroyer of live experience and we did not want succumb to it. Thankfully, my phone had absolutely no service the couple days we were at the Grand Canyon. It was fantastic. I shared nothing with the outside world. I focused on myself in the moments I was in that beautiful place; my workplace in Chicago did not exist. My home did not exist. The CTA did not exist. Nothing from my life existed. I can’t remember a time where I had as much fun, relaxation, and peace as I did while on this trip.

Nature is no cliché; it existed before us and it exists with us. Too often we neglect it instead of embracing it. Nature is a part of us, internally and externally. My time in the Grand Canyon, driving in the open desert, few souls around, was not exactly life-changing. My actual life did not change while I was there, experiencing all it had to offer me. It did however, make me realize the kind of life I do not want to have. It is the one I have now. The one where I wake up for work Monday through Friday, commute over an hour to sit at a desk for eight hours or more each day; the one where I get frustrated with people so easily because they always seem to be inconsiderate or do something stupid and selfish; the one where I log onto Facebook to see that people constantly share every moment of their lives, where they went to the gym, where they had breakfast, lunch and dinner, who they are dating and who they broke up with; the one where no one does something for the benefit of others but only for the benefit of oneself; the one that has too many people, too many buildings, too much business, too much McDonalds and Starbucks and less trees and rivers. I want to be able to do something for the sake of enjoyment; do work not because it’s work, but because I like it and it provides some benefit to someone who will see it; I want to live in the woods, in a tree house, nothing but the still air and chirping birds around me, perhaps a small stream. I am no nature girl. I have never considered myself to be one anyway. I actually know very little about nature. For the past several years, I have never cared to spend time outdoors in the grass, hiking, getting dirty like that. I have preferred to stay inside, read a book, chill on my bed, watch a little TV, drink a cup of tea—you get the idea. A homebody.

Now? Being outside in nature is what I desire. I don’t know how much longer I can take sitting at a desk all day. One of these days I will probably snap like a tree branch, fall in the grass, and perhaps then I will find my way to this life that seems non-existent, a tumbleweed rolling through the open land, no specific destination in mind, wherever the wind takes me. For now, all I have are the memories of my vacation and the distant thoughts to provide me with comfort. To those reading: go outside, get dirty. See something that you’ve never seen before. Get in tune with all of your five senses and soul and truly look for beauty in places that you never have before. You will never regret it.


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“Surrealism and War” on Veteran’s Day

The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago had an exhibition opening a few weeks ago on Veteran’s Day entitled “Surrealism and War,” which features the artwork of nine veterans depicting their experiences of war in somewhat surrealist ways. The exhibition really portrayed the horrors of war for both the innocent people caught in between and those who were drafted or even enlisted to fight. War is senseless, barbaric. War is sad and the poor suffer the most. The U.S. military creates a host of atrocities across the world, and then when the troops come back to their country they are met with no assistance, only the dark thoughts of their experiences, taunting them with bad memories and thoughts of death and suicide. Why?

You can read more about the exhibition here, but I will leave you with some (crappy phone camera) images of artwork that I found most intriguing and moving.




I got a bit teary staring at this wall. This is the artwork of veteran Jim Leedy.



Jim Leedy talking about his artwork behind him. He fought in the Korean War and when he returned he had nightmares every day. It was only until he created this large, ominous wall that his nightmares ended. It was his therapy. It begins on the left with images of a few animal bones here and there to depict that killing was done for survival, then moves on to show the horrors and destruction of the manmade invention of war, and then ends with something hopeful, wings, birds taking flight to show that maybe one day war won’t be so rampant, maybe there will be some semblance of peace.


a section of an Exquisite Corpse


Exquisite Corpses, each one depicting or symbolizing a specific veteran whether dead or alive




Discussing Borders with “Green Line” at Fulton Street Collective

Green Line Image

Art Exhibition and Theatre Performance
This past month of December, a friend and I collaborated with Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble to put on an art exhibition to accompany some performances, all centered around a theme of transcending borders and boundaries in our lives and society. The performance was called “All the Shows I’ve Ever Wanted to Do But Was Told I Couldn’t” and included excerpts from three plays where the characters’ rolls were filled by those who would normally not be casted as such in mainstream professional plays.

Here is Chicago Danztheatre’s text about the performance:

“All The Shows I’ve Ever Wanted to Do But Was Told I Couldn’t” invites directors, writers, performers, and the like to creatively re-stage their favorite productions with an unlikely cast. Gender, racial, and sexual barriers are sure to be broken by some of the most talented voices in Chicago. Performed throughout the Fulton Street Collective’s gallery against backdrop of boundary-breaking music and visual art, each show will be followed by a discussion with the artists and curators.

Victoria Alvarez-Chacon, David Besky, Laura A. Harrison, Maria Margaglione, Maren Rosenberg, & Vahashti Vafadari
in scenes from
Sweet Bird of Youth, directed by Alex St. John
True West, directed by Jude Hansen
The Pillowman, directed by Lavina Jadhwani
Danny & the Deep Blue Sea, directed by Tara Branham
With additional Scenes written by Dana Lynn Formby

“Green Line,” the exhibition my friend Leila and I curated, was the background of every performance, working with and against the scenes and breaking boundaries in different ways. We solicited artwork from a variety of artists, mostly women and local artists, to showcases voices and artistic content that is not normally exposed in the mainstream Chicago arts community. We wanted to take the specificity of “Green Line” away and make it a broader concept of demarcations; Chicago is one of the most segregated cities and we wanted to fit the injustice and politics within that in our exhibition. The is the text about the exhibition:

Green lines are various forms of demarcations that have historically existed within certain geographical areas, separating societies from each other. From explicit territorial boundaries which impede upon freedom of movement to lines that denote areas in urban cities going through gentrification, what unifies these lines is the impact they have on how we perceive ourselves, others and the world around us. These lines are often invisible, but noticeable in the interaction, or lack thereof, between people and embedded into our views and social structures; sometimes, they are self-imposed. “Green Line” is an exhibition which intends to examine these different forms of borders existing within our society through a variety of mediums. From conceptual paintings and objects to photography and collage, the artwork encompasses a variety of interpretations about the borders we see, and sometimes do not see, in and outside our communities.

Artists Include:

Aaron King
Alma Elaine Shoaf
Annan Shehadi
Art J Olson
Ben Salus
Elsie Lopez
Francesca Lolli
Ian Macleod
Jennifer Mannebach
Mondana Jazara
Nina Lawrin
Ryan Till
Sam Kirk
Shirien Damra
Waldek Dynerman

Here are some photos of the artwork and performances:


















My Contribution to the Exhibition: “Process of Assimilation, 1967–”
My piece, “Process of Assimilation, 1967–,” was on display. I exhibited the piece a bit differently than I have before. Instead of hanging the photo on the wall, I had it tucked inside the “dictionary” to make it more realistic and slightly less nostalgic, not that the nostalgia could ever disappear. It is more tangible and less precious, because the value and respect with which I esteem this object is embedded into itself and the stand on which it sits.

The only object my father was able to bring to the United States after his family left Palestine in 1967 was an Arabic-English dictionary. It is not only a remnant of his displacement, but it is representative of a necessity to learn another language, a foreign language that is to become a refugee’s or “displaced person’s” new dialect. I recreated the dictionary to exist in the state after immigration and during “assimilation,” complete with traces of the specific process including my father’s simple marks, handwritten notes, and the inscription of the  Americanized name given to my father by teachers and schoolmates.

The only other artifact that my father has from his home is a photograph.

A photo of a home to which he cannot return and a book representing the language of his new home, the past and the present recreated to exist simultaneously, as it often does in the reality of a Palestinian.




The Future of Artist Collaboration
Discussions after each show revealed that collaborative events such as this one, where multiple artforms come together for a purpose, a cause, need to happen more often. Boundaries need to be challenged even further—art can be shown differently, not framed or on walls and non-actors can become actors. There is so much that can be done and challenged through art and I am excited to take part of more of this work in 2014.

Celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is a holiday I appreciate, even though I am not Mexican or Latina, despite being mistaken for one on occasion. From the celebratory nature of remembering those who have passed to the decorative altars and sugar skulls, everything about this holiday is quite beautiful and intentionally so. Day of the Dead occurs every year on November 1st. Elevarte, a community arts organization in Chicago, hosts “Muertos de la Risa,” a large community procession including face painting, food, and performance to celebrate the holiday in the Pilsen neighborhood, which is a predominately Mexican community. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend the Muertos de la Risa this year, but I did attend Arte de los Muertos, a Day of the Dead themed art exhibition organized by local community members.

Here are some of my favorites from that exhibition:



It was very crowded so this was the best picture I could get. :/




ROOMS gallery window altar for the exhibition (in Pilsen)


I also decided to illustrate a skull of my own. I added some Islamic geometry to the skull to place a bit of my own cultural and religious background into it and as a reminder of the Muslims being slaughtered all over the world in senseless wars. This skull is a celebration of them and all those lives lost due to violence.






On Creative People and their Creative Madness

As I mentioned in my last post, last week was Chicago Ideas Week and I was able to attend two events on the creative track. The second one I attended was “Creative Process: A Method to the Madness,” presented by Leo Burnett. It was a talk featuring five people across different industries sharing their experiences and creative processes with their work. It was a little underwhelming and not nearly as inspiring as I hoped it would be, if at all, but there were some intriguing and amusing moments I was able to take away from the event and I will talk about those salient moments.

One of the moments I found most interesting was the opening talk given by the host, Danny Forster, designer and host of the Science Channel’s “Build it Bigger.” He spoke about architecture and the thought process of and amount of research done by architects for each project. Place, including the culture, location, climate and general environment plays the largest roll. While this may seem obvious, there were points mentioned in Danny’s presentation that most people probably do not think too much about, but make total sense: the place’s history, culture, and current trends are designed into a good building. While one person may look at a building in another country and find it displeasing to the eyes or too ornate, it may reflect that country’s tastes very well and the people of that country may greatly enjoy the building and its aesthetics. Aesthetics are not universal, although there may be universal principles. I do question whether designing a building to incorporate a place’s current trends is actually a “good” idea because it may no longer be trendy in ten years and the building may no longer be as pleasing. I’m sure, however, that architects think about the future of their buildings when building and debate what would be considered timeless for a particular place. Towards the end of Danny’s introduction he used a metaphor to describe the work of architects that I found very significant and applicable to all creative fields; he said that architects act as “filters, ingesting ideas of circumstance.” Yes, all creatives ingest ideas of circumstance—who, what, where, when, why, how, etc.—in order to produce the best possible rendition of a creation.

Danny interviewed Mario Batali, chef & restaurateur, about all the work that is done to create his latest restaurant in New York City. Mario’s goal, and I suppose the goal of any good restaurateur, is to manipulate everything about the customer’s experience in order to leave the customer and everyone around satisfied. Every aspect of the experience of dining at his restaurant is thought about from someone spotting his restaurant while standing across the street to realizing when it’s time to leave the restaurant; this includes the wait time at the bar, the food, the server, the music, and the furniture. The most interesting aspect of this to me was that the music changes volumes depending on the time, so after the normal scheduled dinner time, say 7:30 p.m. (I don’t recall exactly the times Mario mentioned), the music will get louder and that signifies to the customer that they have been sitting for an hour and a half and that they should probably leave. I will try to pay attention to this the next time I go out to eat.

After Danny’s interview with Mario, Jennifer Rogien gave a presentation on her work as a costume designer for the shows she is currently working on, “Girls” and “Orange is the New Black.” I found this to the most intriguing part of the event. I have often wondered about how the characters’ outfits in television shows are specifically chosen and Jennifer took the audience through the entire process. She showed us all of the steps: reading the descriptions of the characters and the particular episode’s script, creating a style board of multiple outfits, having her assistants go shopping in-stores and online for the specific pieces of clothing, making unique pieces of clothing that do not exist in stores, and fittings with the actors to make a final decision. Once the main characters’ wardrobes are set for the episode, Jennifer then focuses on all the background characters, as they play a part in making the scene appear realistic. When more than one episode takes place within the same day—a “continuity day”—Jennifer focuses on the clothes; when the episodes are a variety of days, she focuses on the “look” of the character as a whole more than the specific outfits. Jennifer showed us tweets from people who were surprised to find out that “Orange is the New Black” has a costume designer. The main idea we can take away from that and from her entire presentation is that if you, as a viewer, never think about the fact that there is a costume designer behind the outfits in your favorite television show, then the costumer designer has done his or her job properly. If you do not realize that a costume designer even exists, then the outfitting fits the character so well that it seems real. The only qualm I had with her nicely designed presentation was that it was lacking ligatures. It was hard not to focus on the dot/tittle from the “i” touching the tip of the “f.”

The third speaker was writer and actor, Tracy Letts. He was the funny man of the night providing us with ten exercises he does to boost his creativity: 1. Don’t do anything, 2. Stop listening to NPR, 3. Get out of the way, 4. Stop Drinking, 5. Masturbate, 6. Lie, 7. Steal, 8. Get help, 9. Read fiction, 10. Don’t create anything. Of course these all have more meaning than simply what they state, such as varying your informational sources (#2), not censoring your mind regardless of where it takes you (#3), breaking your habits and patterns to help you move on to or discover something new (#8), and allowing what already exists within your natural, intuitive self to be (#10). He had humorous anecdotes to go with some of these points and the audience was laughing pretty heavily. It was an enjoyable presentation.

Next on stage Danny welcomed and interviewed Hebru Brantley, the Chicago Ideas Week artist-in-residence. Danny mentioned how Hebru’s work is much more intuitive than the others and questioned him about this intuitive process, if it actually is a process. Hebru spoke in depth about the variety that actually occurs within his process and that his process is correlated to the degree with which he is present. As a graffiti artist, his process can be intensive due to the time-sensitive nature of getting the work out into the world without getting caught. He uses this intensive process and applies it to his other artistic work regardless of the medium. The space and the emotion of the project, of himself, and of the surroundings dictate the work and nine out of ten times he does not know what the work is going to look like. Hebru creates some beautiful work, mostly paintings and often focusing on social issues and youth, but his latest and first, I believe, sculptural piece in Chicago is stunning. “The Watch” is a colorful group of goggled youth standing in slightly different ways, focusing as what I see, on the struggles of youth and their ability to overcome them. They look ready to take on whatever the world is prepared to give them, and they will rise above it all.

Hebru elaborated on his excitement with seeing the final product, and commented that a fully-realized creation of art “is better than sex.” The interview concluded with a comment by Danny and agreement by Hebru, “Birthing an object is as close as a man can get to childbirth.”

Lastly, Dan Arielly, author and professor, spoke about his research and the placebo effect. It was a different type of creative process than the rest, which I appreciated, but I don’t think that his information about the placebo effect was too fascinating, as some of his findings were not really shocking if you already know how the placebo effect works with respect to expectations and prior knowledge. I did think that the stories of his little experiments were nice to hear. Even though Danny Forster said some closing remarks as the host, I don’t think Dan Arielly’s talk was a proper way to end the event; it was almost awkward as Dan didn’t even know what to say to tie in his work with the other speakers.

While everyone has their own work process, whether it be in a creative field or not, there are similarities between all of those who spoke during the event. Each one of these people does work that involves other human beings who are not involved in their process—the building owner and/or visitor, the restaurant customer, the TV show watcher, the play viewer, the art appreciator or everyday citizen, and the experimented on—and the amount of work put into every detail in order to manipulate the experience of those uninvolved in the process is a theme that runs throughout all of their work. Each element of that show you watch or space you are sitting in was designed to make you think a certain way, forget about everything that isn’t you and the experience you are having, and hopefully, have an enjoyable time. Think about that the next time you sit down to watch your favorite TV show or have dinner at a nice restaurant. I know I will.

Wood Type (and Print) is Not Dying

I had the pleasure of catching some of a conversation with Jim Moran and April Sheridan of Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum at Printers Ball yesterday. As described on their website:

The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. With 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns, Hamilton’s collection is one of the premier wood type collections in the world. In addition to wood type, the Museum is home to an amazing array of advertising cuts from the 1930s through the 1970s, and all of the equipment necessary to make wood type and print with it, as well as equipment used in the production of hot metal type, tools of the craft and rare type specimen catalogs.

Hamilton Wood Type moved into a new facility in Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Jim and April talked a lot about the move, where certain things are located in the facility itself, and what we can expect in the future. I cannot wait until they reopen because I have been wanting to visit since they were at their old factory and have not had the chance. I was able to purchase a really awesome wood type specimen book and this cool print, which is now hanging on my wall.


I also caught a conversation with Don Kilpatrick of The Detroit Wood Type Co. located inside a community run print-shop and store called Signal Return. With a background and practice in illustration, Don eventually became interested in design and wood type. At The Detroit Wood Type Co. he makes wood type with a laser cutter in order to offer type that is more affordable for young artists and the community in Detroit. He is up for all sorts of collaborations right now and may do project specific typefaces. I want to order a typeface, but I don’t have anything to print it with. Sigh. He also talked about the developing artist community in Detroit who are trying to contribute in good and sustainable ways to the city. There is always more to a city than the media portrays—more than violence, abandoned houses, vacant lots, etc. These type of things are the same as the media relentlessly portrays about the south and west sides of Chicago and I know there is so much more to those neighborhoods than that. It was nice to hear someone say the same thing about Detroit and counter all of the negativity. I have never been to Detroit, but I have been wanting to for a long time and everyone asks me why on earth I would want to go to such a place. Because. I know there is more there than people think and I would like to check out the city for myself instead of hearing all these negative aspects of it.

These conversations were the highlight of Printers Ball. I was pretty disappointed in the lack of literature available, as I expected much more. There wasn’t really much of anything worth calling the Ball literary. At least I walked away knowing that people still really care about handmade goods and that there will be a great resistance to the death of print. It won’t happen any time soon. Wood type is not dying. Handmade prints are not dying. Print is not dying. It is these awesome people and places like Hamilton and Signal Return that keep it going. I love the Midwest.

Reflections You’ve Never Seen: “Mirror City” Creates Stunning Abstractions of Cities

We have all seen photographs of various city skylines and their reflections in some glass building or body of water. If you have ever visited Chicago, then you have most likely seen a reflection of the city in “The Bean,” the famous smooth, bean-shaped structure at Millennium Park whose real name given by its sculptor Anish Kapoor is “Cloud Gate.” While these often make for very beautiful photographs and sometimes stunning views of the cities each in their own way, none of them resemble the reflections found in “Mirror City,” which I find absolutely mesmerizing. Noted in the video’s description, “Mirror City” includes a timelapse of images and videos of various U.S. cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, which  spent years reflecting and perfecting them into this extremely well-edited video, complete with mild, well-fitting, thankfully not obnoxious, dubstep music. The result is an engaging abstraction of different aspects of familiar cities into beautiful images whose content can no longer be specified because of its kaleidoscope effect. The images and video move to the beat of the music in ways that make you bob your head while still being captured by the shapes and bright lights of cities blending into each other. Michael Shainblum’s art of reflection is successful; the scene changes, the sound and image edits, and blending of shapes, streets and architecture allows us to view cities in ways we generally do not see. The sunrises and sunsets and moving car headlights throughout the city streets are particularly enjoyable. The video is well done and it is definitely worth watching.

Writings on the Wall: London + Brighton

Below are some photos that I snapped while I was in London and Brighton for a few, quick days several months ago. I even saw a work of Banksy’s in Brighton—the one of two policemen kissing.


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