20 December 2005

Oh, Mike Kelley (for art's sake)

Okay, back east, just in time to catch the closing of the Mike Kelley exhibition at Gagosian. Very opportune since his installation/musical "Day is Done" recreates photographs from his high school yearbook. Not the same as our current project, but a similar sentiment to my "tourism of the past."

So, thought I was going to miss the exhibition and was happy to have gotten back in time to see it. Or so it would seem. I'm told I operate on brinkmanship when it comes to time, deadlines, etc. Sometimes it works out (most of the time it does), sometimes it doesn't. This wasn't the former: I literally pulled up to the gallery door as they were ushering people out. I parked where I was, ran to the door, and pleaded (whined) my case to the guard. As it turns out, he was going to let me sneak in--then I ran into the second guard. While the second guy was also sympathetic, he was clearly afraid of some woman inside who had threatened him should he let anyone by. I was the one who then felt sorry for him. I dropped my head, snuck a peak through the doors as people exited, and spent the next hour sulking my way out of Manhattan.

In total, I spent nearly six hours driving (back and forth), $45+ in gas, and $22 in tolls, all for the possibility of seeing Mike Kelley's work. Yes, all my fault, but the rush of nearly seeing art: priceless.

Gettin' Tricked Out!

(I hope that's the right expression...) Eastward travel brings us to Huntington, IN, home of Sportsmobile, Inc. They have specialized in van conversions since 1961; they followed Volkswagen in innovating a "pop top" for vans, and now they do so much more.

We'd been looking forward to meeting these folks for a long time... they're gonna pimp my ride! Nothing fancy, just a high top and lots of storage space. (The picture is of their "Ultimate Adventure Mobile." Cool, huh?)

Blame the weather

Okay, maybe the weather did affect my initial response to Madison. Ironically, we spent the "stormy" day going around to the old, familiar places. (Fghting my way through pelting snow certainly did feel familiar for Wisconsin!) The next day, when the snow and wind let up a bit, we did more touristy things, like the capitol, State St., and Frank Lloyd Wright's Monona Terrace, not to mention Vilas Park (which happens to be an old, familiar place as well). Dogs didn't seem to mind either way, but I was definitely more appreciative of the city in better weather. Still, it was a bit big for me, a bit jarring contrasted with my memories of an intimate locale where we walked everywhere. My memories seemed violated somehow. Even Eagle Heights, for as much as it was the same, seemed very distant and apathetic.

I should point out, however, that this city seems to have it all. Under other circumstances, I can't see anyone not wanting to live here. Of course, I'm also biased by the university. UW-M will always be to me the epitome of an institution of higher learning. My childhood at this school formed the basis for everything I believe about scholarship, intellectual pursuits in general, and the privilege of learning. I'm perfectly happy living with what, at times, feel like delusions.

We would also like to acknowledge and applaud Madison's commitment to off-leash dog parks! There are a number of them around the city, and from what I could gather, they are well maintained and managed. I was very happy to pay a day-use fee (in lieu of an annual fee) for this privilege. We can only hope people appreciate these parks and use them responsibly. A friend of mine hates these places because she thinks "pet people" don't mind their dogs responsibly; I hope that's not the case--it wasn't our experience at least.

Anyway, Madison marked our last project site. So, our work being done and weather not really getting better, we headed home. Time to get back to the studio regardless. And there will still be spring for more travel west... (Besides, this hotel thing is not in our budget, and it's making me broke.)

Incidentally, the picture of Madison above was taken during an earlier drive through the city (on the way to Oshkosh, I couldn't wait, so we stopped ahead of schedule), that's why the weather looks so nice. We have more pictures of Madison and southern/central parts of Wisconsin here.

14 December 2005

Mad City

Perhaps I'm just getting tired, or maybe the incessant wet snow today just got to me, but Madison hasn't been that fun. The city has grown so much since we lived here (over thirty years ago!), and I much prefer the tiny, rural towns we've frequented over the last week or so. Perhaps I also expected some sort of epiphany being here again--who knows what I expected. The place is still beautiful, no question about it, but it's not that idyllic place of my imagination. Then again, they never are, are they?

London calling

Call me crazy, but I think I belong up here. I don't know what it is, but as soon as I saw frozen Lake Superior, I felt an immediate affinity with northern Wisconsin. Funny thing is, we never really spent any time up here when I was a kid. But I've felt very much at home (other than getting stuck in the snow--in my 4x4 nonetheless! Was told I had to be "a northerner" to drive in the stuff...). Did I read too much Jack London way back when? There's just something about driving around up here listening to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"... (Okay, yes, I'm mixing up my geography--but this will do until we make it to Denali.)

More pictures? Yup.

10 December 2005


(I'm actually writing as I'm posting!) Greetings from northern Wisconsin! Temps have continued to be prohibitively cold. Since we've already determined I'm a wimp, I'm at a hotel (again) with internet to boot. We spent the day in the Peshtigo River State Forest (picture left shows Narra at the Seymour Rapids) and eastern Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. We head even further north in the morning. Will continue in Chequamegon, hike a part of the North Country Trail (Copper Falls State Forest) and end up in the Apostle Islands. More later...

09 December 2005


6 Dec:
Okay, I feel like a total wimp, but, come on, it's -4 degrees out there (-17 wind chill)! I tried my best: had two heaters running in the van, but they couldn't overcome the frigid air. Even my power cord froze up, couldn't roll it up to put it away. Truly nosehair-freezing weather.

So here we sit in another hotel--and so much for my proud Wisconsin-ness. I guess I only absorbed that wilderness ethos intellectually. I must've left the state before I could physically develop the bodily defenses and stamina to withstand extreme cold. I guess my inner mountain man will have to stay inside. On the bright side, we got to watch Michigan St. defeat BC--go Big 10!


6 Dec:
While this blog isn't supposed to be about my sabbatical project, I can't really get away from writing about it. Especially at this point where we're now visiting what I've been calling "project sites." The "project" itself has been loosely conceived and is more about discovery than anything else. What I've come to understand about what I'm doing, however, is that I've undertaken (or constructed?) a kind of tourism around my past, my childhood specifically. At base, I'm responding to a long-felt urge to re-visit these places--being here/there is both a return and an escape. The poles of both are undefined: coming from where, going to where? The familiar places are running rivers.

What I know at this very moment is that I have developed--or, more accurately, deepened--a fascination with bobbing-head dolls. In addition to my "real" German Shepherds, my bobbing-head shepherd has witnessed all moments of these past months' wandering. I like the way he laughs all the time and agrees with everything I say. Sometimes he agrees even when I'm not saying anything, maybe like he understands what I'm thinking or where I'm at or maybe he's just picking up a vibe. Also, he never gets distracted. And I know he'll never share my secrets (my other shepherds won't either).

I also like that my bobbing-head German Shepherd is a kind of barometer for the road. His state of calmness or agitation reflects, in a way, the quality of the journey. I tell the real German Shepherds when the road is going to get bumpy--and they brace themselves.

Incidentally, for some pictures from southern Illinois, our first project site, go here.

06 December 2005

Talk about art!

(Remembering back to late November, just before Thanksgiving...)

Not only was our cabin at Mohawk Trail State Forest a complete dream, our whole time up there was near perfect: live on the mountain, hike the mountain (okay, just little Thumper "Mountain"), and then come down from the mountain to see art. Who could ask for more?! Actually, the art part was a little disappointing, but maybe just because I had set my expectations too high. Revelation it wasn't, but still thought provoking, I suppose. I'm speaking specifically of Mass MoCA. Didn't make it to the Rockwell Museum, but did get to see Winslow Homer at the Clark Institute (not that I'm necessarily equating Homer with Rockwell)--always nice to see solid painting .

The big draw for me at Mass MoCA was the exhibition "Becoming Animal," curated by someone whose name I forget. For obvious reasons, I was very curious about the show and what the work was like. After looking at it, though, I don't think I could tell you the point. Some individual pieces were visually curious (Mark Dion, Motohiko Odani), and others (Ann-Sofi Siden) seemed conceptually complex but not engaging enough for me to bother. All in all, not a waste of time, but I don't feel better off for having seen it.

Neo Rauch (in a show on the "New Leipzig School"), on the other hand, was extremely satisfying. Granted, I always want to look at painting, and even better when a painter's work validates the practice. I was also struck by how Rauch's work fits my current thinking about painting as indelibly and inescapably nostalgic, an expression of sentimentality. Better yet, Rauch's paintings fit my criteria with actual sincerity (ie, non-ironic) and avoidance of the saccharine. The question remains: can sentimentality be subversive?

On a related note, I also enjoyed the work of Paul Shambroom, part of a little show in one of the side galleries. Kind of funny, deadpan stuff. What I really liked was the quality of his photographs printed on canvas to look like way uptight realist painting. Too funny, too cool.

05 December 2005


Clearly, one of the consequences of sporadic internet access is the loss of desire for internet access. On the other hand, when access becomes available, the previously deprived user may become somewhat ravenous... In other words, I've not been too good about keeping this thing current. When I do have the opportunity to update it, however, I feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of writing I feel morally obliged to offer. Anyway, all guilt aside, here's what's going on:

Thanksgiving in Denver has been postponed until spring, so I shared in a Rockwellian feast with family and friends back home (thanks, George and Pam!). Also decided to keep to this side of the Mississippi for 2005 and plan a big, wild west adventure for spring 2006 (provided departmental searches finish expediently--God willing). That said, I'm able to beef up our plans for the great white north and recreate more leisurely in frozen Wisconsin. Have also added the Berkshires and the Adirondacks to our itinerary. The snow pictures below are the western/central Adirondacks: Moose River Plains, to be exact. Below that, Mohawk Trail State Forest is in the Berkshires, just east of North Adams--and Mass MoCA (more on that in another update).

The picture above, incidentally, shows the dogs sporting their mushing attire. We've found the mushing gear (harnesses, lines, and belt for me) to be a great way for everyone to get out freely and safely. (See the Howling Dog link to the right, if you're interested.)

More images of the Berkshires and Adirondacks here.