Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Naturally Occurring Elements

I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather yesterday to visit Scioto Park during my lunch break. The river was running high thanks to a few days worth of rain, but the sun was just starting to peek through the clouds. While I was enjoying the splendor of nature at its most natural, I was struck by a particularly tall and particularly straight conifer on the east slope of the ridge leading down to the river.

On closer inspection it turned out this specimen was not a tree at a all, but a cell tower cleverly camouflaged to look like a tree.

Of course this is the same park that's more famously known for its twelve foot tall stack of limestone bricks cleverly arranged to look like Leatherlips, so who's to say things have to be what they appear to be.

For what it's worth, I support both these initiatives. More monumental sculptures of indigenous peoples and more cell towers that look like something other than cell towers are probably both good things.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Anselm Kiefer: Outside In

The Wexner Center recently screened Sophie Fiennes' documentary "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow". This film artfully documents La Ribaute, the studio compound created and maintained by the artist Anselm Kiefer from 1993 to 2008. Located in an abandoned silk factory near Barjac, France, La Ribaute is a surreal amalgam of industrial work spaces, sculptures, tunnels, and installations. Conceived by Kiefer as a kind of "total work of art" the space acts as both a work of environmental art in its own right as well as a place where art is created.

Now I'll admit up front that I'm not a huge Anselm Kiefer fan. I find his paintings to be more or less "OK" - and really, given the sturm und drang that Kiefer seems to be aiming for, "OK" suddenly sounds like a pretty insulting assessment. It's not meant to be. It's more an acknowledgement that I get it and I understand it, I'm just not moved by it.

Sure, Kiefer has cemented his place in art history. His use of material mediums (dirt, straw, steel, lead, fabric, and concrete) makes him a handy bridge between the conceptual artists of the 70s and the paintings of the neo-expressionists that followed. His connection with post-war Germany provides a link to the 20th century's pivotal conflict. I get the expressive qualities of Kiefer's work too. Burnt books, leaden books, empty dresses, broken glass, distressed materials, and other visual cues send all the right signals. There's clearly something important in all this, and maybe that's the problem. Ultimately I prefer art that sneaks up on me. I like art that asks questions much more than art that prescribes answers.

That said, the paintings play a mostly supporting role in Fiennes' film. La Ribaute is the real star and Fiennes treats it with almost religious reverence, favoring long pans and dollying shots that, depending on one's perspective, are either hypnotically meditative or hypnotically boring. Kubrick fans (guilty) should be forgiven for pointing out the similarities between "Over Your Cities..." and "2001: A Space Odyssey". That's because there are plenty of them.

Like "2001", "Over Your Cities..." opens with a long passage (17 minutes to be exact) in which no humans are seen and no human voices are heard. Both films employ an ethereal (and sometimes piercing soundtrack), and both films use the camera as a tool to quietly and neutrally explore space. Even Fienne's interview sequence seems to be a direct reference to Kubrick's famous HAL lip-reading scene. In short then, Fiennes borrows liberally from Kubrick and makes a beautiful film. There's certainly no shame in that. In fact, more filmmakers ought to try it.

Buried in the film is the question of how we might view La Ribaute in a larger context. Most people seem inclined to understand the compound as an extension of Kiefer's fine arts tradition, as one part of long and distinguished career. That makes sense considering his background, the problem is that in La Ribaute Kiefer has constructed what can arguably be called a visionary environment. Traditionally these types of spaces have fallen under the umbrella of outsider art, whether it's the Watts Tower, Paradise Garden, the Garden of Eden, or Salvation Mountain.

Visionary environments are often based on religious themes. Their creators, while not necessarily marginalized, are viewed as at least mildly eccentric. Their work is rarely considered in the fine arts tradition. Not so for Kiefer, and that's a shame. Here is an artist after all who's created one of the most ambitious visionary environments on earth, one that is based on his own particular view of mythology and religion, and yet we don't discuss it from that perspective. I think we should. It's not an either or proposition after all. By holding La Ribaute firmly in the fine arts tradition we lose things. We lose a new way of seeing Kiefer's work, and we lose the opportunity to bring visionary environments into the larger discussion of fine arts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm Your Puppet

I'm currently in Nashville, taking part in the 2011 PLA Results Boot Camp. This professional development workshop offers library staff the chance to learn about strategic planning, data-based decision making, resource allocation, and change management. As part of the program our group was given the opportunity to tour Nashville's Main Library.

Along with the usual amenities offered by a major metropolitan library, the Nashville Public Library also boasts a number of special collections worth checking out. The Wilson Limited Editions Collection includes over 800 books designed and illustrated by artisans for the Limited Editions Club and Arion Press. The Civil Rights Room contains a wide array of media documenting Nashville's role in the Civil Rights struggle. The Nashville Room is a terrific local history resource while Gregory Ridley's copper panels illustrating the story of Nashville represent a terrific example of public art in a library setting.

Of course the thing Nashville Public Library is probably best known for is their collection of Tom Tichenor puppets and the Peeko marionettes. I was excited to find that our tour would take us behind the scenes to the area where the puppets are stored. While there, I couldn't help but snap a few pictures. For whatever reason, I seemed most drawn to the spooky ones.


Punch and Judy

Assorted Puppets

Hansel and Gretel (Alternate ending)

Hansel and Gretel (Alternate ending)

Scary the Clown

Thursday, September 29, 2011

So Much To See! The Fall Arts Roundup

All of the sudden the arts calendar in Central Ohio is packed with some top-notch shows and events. Here's a rundown of what I'll be checking out in the next month, and why:

What: Caravaggio: Behold the Man! The Impact of a Revolutionary Realist.
October 21, 2011 - February 5, 2012, Columbus Museum of Art
Why: It's a Caravaggio painting. It's in Columbus. Isn't that enough? Seriously, people fly to Europe to see this sort of thing, and this one's going to be in your own back yard. Go see it.

What: Alexis Rockman: A Fable for Tomorrow
September 16, 2011 - December 30, 2011, Wexner Center for the Arts
Why: Maybe you no longer believe painting can tell vital stories. Perhaps you've forgotten what it's like to get lost in a painting. Maybe you've decided that only 19th-century landscape painters can do sublime. If that sounds like what ails you, then Alexis Rockman is the cure. Think big-budget message movie without the shitty dialouge and crappy CGI.

What: House/Divided
October 6, 2011 - October 8, 2011, Thurber Theater at Drake Center
Why: Because we need art that shines a light on greed, malfeasance, corruption, and deceit. Because we need art to say what politicians, the media, and CEOs won't. Because we need Steinbeck, perhaps now more than ever.

What: Senna
September 29, 2011 - October 6, 2011, Drexel Theater
Why: I'm a sucker for a good sports documentary, and this one's been getting a lot of buzz. Motorsports fans of all stripes should make the effort to catch this during its very limited run.

What: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life
Premieres Friday October 7, 2011, Gateway Film Center
Why: I'm also a sucker for high-profile French pop stars (or at least Charles Aznavour, Francoise Hardy and Carla Bruni (as much as she qualifies)). At the very least I'm expecting some great Paris location shots and 60s fashions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jeff Buys A Gadget!!!

In E.M. Roger's now famous diffusion of innovation theory, adoption of a new product or practice takes the form of a bell shaped curve. This diffusion, as Roger's explains, is "the process in which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system...".

Rogers’ Innovation Diffusion Bell Curve
Note. From Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations, New York: The Free Press.

Reading left to right, the curve consists of a sliver of innovators that make up just 2.5% of the population. Those are the people on the "bleeding edge" of innovation. They're followed by early adopters (13.5%), the early majority (34%), the late majority (34%), and laggards (16%).

While many people have quibbled over how accurate or meaningful Roger's curve is, it remains at least a recognized model for how we might begin to think about innovation and adoption. I bring it up today as a frame of reference regarding my place on the curve. While it's probably impossible to determine exactly where one lands in regards to each new innovation, the figure below represents about where I feel like I am.

Truth be told - and thinking now about my lack of smartphones, HDTVs, side air bags, tablets, Groupon accounts, QR code experiences, and Skype chats - I could probably push myself down the curve even further. I might very well be the last person in the late majority line! (I made the above illustration in MS Paint for crying out loud; poorly executed too, I might add.)

So, why does any of this matter? Well, because I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook. For those of you who might be further down the far side of the curve than me, the Nook is an ereader; that's an electronic device that let's users read electronic books (ebooks) . I originally purchased it out of a sense of professional obligation. I work in a library and we offer ebooks through our website. As the popularity of ereaders has increased, we've been fielding more and more questions about them. While I know it's not possible to become well-versed in every single ereader, I felt responsible for knowing how to use at least one of them. I chose the Nook because it's popular, it's compatible with our library's ebook collection, and the new touch screen version has been getting rave reviews (I know everything from the iPad to the Kobo reader has been dubbed "the Kindle Killer" at one time or another, but this might be the real thing).

Imagine my surprise then when the device I bought out of a sense of professional duty turned out to be the device I fell in love with. It really is a terrific little gadget. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. It syncs up easily with every wireless network I've asked it to. It's compact, easy to read, and works perfectly with my library's ebook service. Within half an hour of starting up my Nook I'd downloaded two books from my library and was off and reading. In addition to that, I can purchase books through Barnes & Noble anywhere there's a wireless connection.

My position on the Roger's curve should make it clear that I'm not the guy who's going to give a particularly tech savvy review of the Nook. I don't know resolutions, download rates, file types or any of the other nuts and bolts that make this thing tick. That said, I think my position on the curve speaks volumes in other ways. I'm the guy who doesn't have a smart phone, has never DVR'd a television program, hasn't participated in a video chat, and doesn't own a tablet. In spite of this pronounced lack of savvy, I think the Nook is a pretty handy gadget. It's got it's drawbacks sure (Why can't I delete books or files? Why can't I use the social share feature on free content? Why can't it support landscape view?) but overall I expect to get a lot of mileage out of my Nook.

Coming up next: Jeff buys a smartphone?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So, Maybe I was wrong...

You may recall a recent blog post in which I assigned grand metaphorical meaning to the derelict vessel in the alley behind our house. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I made the case that this abandon hull was not the irresponsibly disposed of eyesore it might appear to be, but rather an artifact worthy of our contemplation. Oh, it was a magical boat; the embodiment of our journey and the physical manifestation of fate's inscrutable plans. Thurber would have recognized its importance, and probably Shelley too. This woefully out of place boat was a metaphor, signal, and sign all at once; a 12ft long reminder that our small and oft-battered selves have no idea where life's currents might land us. We are all of us adrift on life's great ocean and the future is unwritten!

Well, it pains me to report that not everyone has seen the poetic significance of this sadly landlocked vessel. While I was busy ascribing grand themes to the Mystery Ship of Old North Columbus the neighbors were busy covering it with trash and yard waste. At this point I'm a little unsure how to proceed. Should I interpret this arguably philistine insult as simply a new layer of meaning, or should I cut my losses and abandon the idea that this boat was ever anything other than garbage? I'm just not sure.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Boat in Alley and Other Perplexities

The things that show up in our alley aren't typically blog worthy. It's mostly garbage, discarded furniture, and the occasional pile of construction waste. We live in a transitional neighborhood, with lots of tenants and lots of turnover. It's not uncommon to see what's likely the entire contents of someone's apartment stacked in the alley and around the dumpsters. This is understandable. People without a lot of financial resources or a strong support network often have to make tough choices, and make them quickly. If circumstances compel one to abandon the contents of an apartment and travel light for life's next act, that's what you do. The landlord and the collection agency will sort out the rest.

That said, there's a boat in our alley.

It's not a boat-on-a-trailer-boat, and it's not a canoe-leaned-up-against-someone's-garage-boat. It's an honest-to-God-derelict-vessel of the the 12ft power boat variety, a good two miles from any sort of navigable water.

While I'm sure someone knows this boat's story, it's a mystery ship to me. It showed up one day in the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex and has since drifted to the alley proper. It sits there now, collecting its own strain of urban flotsam, jetsam and lagan.

At first I was indignant about the boat ("What is wrong with people?"), but now I kind of like it. It's grown on me and come to represent both a communal curio and a shared experience among neighbors. It's the sort of oddity that makes our little corner of the world what it is.

I don't think I'm alone in this sympathetic stance either. The boat in the alley strikes me as exactly the kind of thing our own James Thurber would have written about had he stumbled across it. In its sad state it becomes the perfect metaphor for every difficult journey. It came from somewhere, it's here now, and it's going to wind up somewhere else. That it's broken and woefully out of place only serves to make the story even more compelling.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hobo, You Can't Ride This Train

Editor's Note: Portions of this post appeared previously in Jeff Regensburger's Google+ account.

It turns out that I've got something of a dilettante's appreciation for hobos. By that I mean that while I find myself intrigued by hobos and their place in the pantheon of American archetypes, I haven't actually taken the time to really, well, learn anything about them. As a result, my understanding of hobos has been shaped more or less by their depictions in popular culture. My Man Godfrey, Emperor of the North, and countless cartoons featuring threadbare vagabonds percolate in my memory alongside odd bits like John Hodgman's zenish list of 700 hobo names.

Oh, I tried reading William Vollman's "Riding Toward Everywhere", but honestly it sort of bogged down. That failed attempt at a more academic appreciation of the subject notwithstanding, I'm left pretty much with the cartoon version of hobos that most of us likely share. Still, the idea of hobos persists.

Part of my interest is bound up in the variety of hobo signs; those esoteric scribbles and pictographs that hobos purportedly use to share information and communicate with each other. I think it's fascinating that a written language could develop so spontaneously and around such an otherwise loose-knit group of individuals. Those simple signs got me to thinking, what if I were a hobo? What would I communicate about this area, my neighborhood?

Well, if I were a hobo, the first thing I'd need would be a hobo name. Given that I've never hopped a train, and given that my most intimate encounter with railroad tracks involves walking across them to attend soccer matches at Crew Stadium, I settled on the accurate (if cumbersome) Not on a Boxcar Jeff, the Crosser of Railroad Tracks (Jeff for short) .

As for the pictographs, they're pretty self-explanatory. Our neighborhood has been muddling along for as long as we've lived here. It never seems to live up to it's potential as an historic neighborhood, and somehow never seems to sink too far toward blight either. (That the neighborhood could "go either way" is an oft-repeated observation in our household). There's college students, young homeowners, retirees, and working class families all living side-by-side. It's a transitional neighborhood; one where small charms and small crimes mostly balance out. It's not always perfect, but it hasn't sent me packing either.

So, without further delay, Not on a Boxcar Jeff presents: Some Hobo Signs for the Neighborhood (Would-be Hobos Take Note):

Expect to have your snow shovel stolen

Throw your trash anywhere. It's cool

Good spot for beer pong

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Great Hidden Lost Gaunt Track

...or, Why I Can't Write About the Past.

The Preamble
This is really hard. See, there's this thing from the past (a song actually). On the face of it, it's nothing more than semi-obscurist musical footnote; an unreleased track from a third-tier act that might or might not matter. It's the kind of cultural ephemera that, in another era, would have passed quietly into history, inviting neither comment nor reflection.

Clearly though this is not another era. It's the age of Web 2.0; the age where everything can be digitized, shared, and commented on. No shred of information is too small, and no piece of the information puzzle is too trivial.

So, there's this song. I've been considering sharing it, but I just couldn't pull the trigger. First of all, I'm not quite sure how to do it without coming off as wistful, misty-eyed, or nostalgic. I'm also not sure, in some larger sense, if it's even important enough to share. I mean, I think it's important, but who else will? What if I've stumbled upon the one thing that's too trivial even for the web? There's also the issue of my personal connection to the song. I was in the aforementioned third-tier act. I played on the recording. That's my friends and I that you hear in that minute and a half of audio. This knot of reservations left me reluctant to share.

On the other hand, I'm aware too of what I'll call (for lack of a better phrase), an obligation to share. Let me explain. I work in a library. A large part of what I do involves helping people answer questions. This often means sifting through lots of different resources in pursuit of a very specific thing. As such, I understand the value of finding the exact right piece of information. If you've ever seen the show History Detectives, you'll have some idea what it's like. From that perspective, all information has value (and ought to be shared) simply because it represents something that someone might eventually find useful.

Ultimately though it's probably much simpler than that. I decided to share this song because after 18 or so years it still makes me happy. I hope it will make you happy too.

The Post
It was probably 1993. I played drums in a band from Columbus, Ohio called Gaunt. It seemed like we were always writing songs and always going different places to record them. Jerry Wick wrote most of our songs. He was prolific like that. A lot of times Jerry's music came out faster than his words. Song structures would be practiced, but the final lyrics wouldn't materialize until much later. I remember occasions when Jerry would be working on lyrics in the studio; scribbling out his revisions in a notebook while someone else worked on overdubs.

It was around that time that we booked time at a small studio in Columbus called Magnetic Planet. We had a few new songs we wanted to record. Magnetic Planet was a cooperative artspace of sorts that had a stage, studio, and other creative amenities. I'm terrible with names so I don't remember everyone who was involved in the project, but I believe Craig Dunson was our engineer when we recorded there.

We did two or three tracks (again I can't remember), and I don't believe any were ever officially released. One track involved wheeling my 1965 Vespa 150 into the studio and recording the engine as it was revved up. This served as the intro to our cover of "Second Best" by The Mice.

The track that always stuck with me though was one called "Can't Hear You". Understand first that the title is approximate. One of the interesting things I noticed during my career in rock is that song titles are often the last thing that's decided on. Our songs were usually assigned a working title. This ensured they could be identified during practice or when playing live (you have to write something on the set list). The working title usually ended up being something that either described the song (i.e. pop song) or a notable line from the song. "Can't Hear You" probably never got an official name. I call it that because it's an easy way to identify it.

Which leads back to my previous observation about Jerry and lyrics. The words for "Can't Hear You" aren't exactly Jerry's lyrics. Well, they are in as much as he chose to sing them, but they're actually lifted from the jacket of "1969: The Velvet Underground Live". Specifically, they're a rough approximation of the track listing for sides 1, 2, and 4. The line, "can't hear you" was obviously Jerry's addition to the song, but the bulk of what's being sung is courtesy of the album.

I always liked "Can't Hear You", though that obviously wasn't enough to get it properly released and into the official Gaunt discography. Songs came and went, and "Can't Hear You" was pushed aside in favor of others. Since then, and not knowing Jerry's exact intentions, "Can't Hear You" remains an enigma to me. Was it a lazy joke? Were the words just placeholders that would eventually be replaced with Jerry's "real" lyrics? Was the whole exercise a case of Velvet's hero-worship or a nod to REM's Michael Stipe (who famously recited the liner notes to "The Joy of Knowing Jesus" for the backing track of "7 Chinese Brothers" (and later "Voice of Harold"))?

We'll probably never know. Truth be told I'm not entirely sure Jerry ever gave it much thought. He moved pretty quickly; and while he had his reflective moments, he wasn't exactly what I'd call reflective. Still, the song makes me happy. It reminds me of Jerry, his appreciation of rock history, and his belief that it was our band and we could do anything we wanted to.

Special thanks to Nick at Minimum Tillage Farming for securing a copy of this track. Nick is a treasure trove of information about Columbus music. You can follow his blog here: Minimum Tillage Farming.

Thanks also to my wife for teaching me how to write about the past.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Reviewing Guided By Voices: Part One: Leg Kicks

No review of a Guided By Voices show is ever truly complete without a reference to Bob Pollard's leg kicks. Here's some commonly used descriptions you might consider for your next GBV review:

Big leg kick
High leg kick
Really high leg kick
Boozy leg kick
Classic leg kick
Chin-high leg kick
Waist-high leg kick
Kung-fu leg kick
Patented high leg kick
Trademark high leg kick
Botched Bob leg kick
Aforementioned leg kick

High leg kick or really high leg kick?
Good critics can tell the difference.

Check back next month for Reviewing Guided By Voices: Part Two: Estimating Bob Pollard's Blood Alcohol Level.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Crowdsourced Rebuttal

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Meghan Cox Gurdon decrying the state of contemporary young adult literature. To hear Ms. Gurdon tell it YA literature has become little more than a cesspool of sex and violence cultivated by amoral publishers and depraved authors. Oh it's a threatening landscape to be sure; one full of "ever-more-alarming offerings", "hideously distorted portrayals of what life is", and "damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds".

Now, if that sounds a bit over the top, it is. Gurdon's article is an inflammatory screed of such epic proportions that it almost defies argument. Her accusations, assumptions, and misrepresentations fly so quickly and with such vigor that a rebuttal seems nearly impossible.

Should one strike first at her narrow characterization of YA literature or her tacit approval of censorship? Should opponents spend pages debunking the supposed ill-effects of exposure to "dark stuff" or cite all the instances of "coarse" YA literature actually helping teens? Should Gurdon's comically polemic claims be attacked for their misunderstanding of art or their misunderstanding of free speech? With so much distortion, one scarcely knows where to start? The fact is you'd need an army of contributors to fix all the wrong tangled up in Gurdon's rant.

Fortunately, the web - or more specifically the social media side of the web - has provided just that. Shortly after Gurdon's article was published a torrent of criticism poured down from authors, publishers, librarians, readers, and journalists. Some of this criticism came in the form of Tweets (search #YAsaves on Twitter for a full run), some came in the form of blog posts, and some came in the form of editorials.

Perhaps most inspiring was the sheer breadth of criticism. Watching this plurality of voices dismantle Gurdon's "click-baiting editorial twaddle" from every conceivable angle reaffirmed the belief that the marketplace of ideas still holds some corrective clout.

To really appreciate this spontaneous, crowdsourced rebuttal I've highlighted a few of the most effective responses. For a young adult author's testimonial on the absolutely life-changing power of YA literature, you won't do much better than Laurie Halse Anderson's post "Stuck Between Rage and Compassion".

For an excellent parent's-eye view of the issue, Mary Elizabeth William's Salon piece "Has Young Adult Fiction Become to Dark?" is spot on. Ms Williams gets special credit for coining the term "click-baiting editorial twaddle" (above), and for this most insightful of passages:

I take my kids to the library every week, and I've yet to refuse them anything. Frankly, as a parent I've always been a much bigger hardass about their exposure to the Disney princess-to-sassymouthed teen juggernaut than anything involving abuse or a dystopian future.

Barry Lyga gets special mention for his response "On the WSJ, YA, and Art". Not only did Barry see fit to pepper his rebuttal with multiple f-bombs, he also was among the first to point out the hypocrisy of the Wall Street Journal (that bastion of free-market fundamentalism) publishing an editorial that's premised on the notion that markets might not always provide desirable outcomes.

As a way of demonstrating the breadth of YA literature, the YA-5 have posted a list of titles for parents who'd prefer steering their kids away from books with darker themes. "An Open Letter to a Frightened Mother and Her Bookless Teen" is a great place to start for anyone looking for more positive teen fiction. Remember though that this list is just the tip of the iceberg. Any Teen or Young Adult librarian can recommend dozens more similar books.

Finally, one of the most impassioned responses to Gurdon's editorial comes from the teen blogger and self-avowed book lover Emma in her post "There are Whole Lives in These Bookshelves". Emma not only argues in defense of the darker realities in teen fiction, she also calls out Gurdon for her censorial rhetoric. It's enough to make you believe the problem might not be with well-read teens and the books they read after all.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Orange Branch

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a brand new library. The library (appropriately called the Orange Branch) is located in Orange Township, a fast growing community nestled on the southern edge of the equally fast growing Delaware County.

The opening of the Orange Branch represents not just the culmination of a 12 month construction cycle, but also years of planning and preparation, including and perhaps most importantly the Delaware County District Library's successful 2009 levy campaign. While the economy has been slow to recover (and Ohio has been particularly hard hit), it's heartening to see that the vast majority of Ohio communities are willing to support libraries even as State funding for libraries is reduced.

The Orange Branch itself is one that all stakeholders can be proud of. It represents the best of what libraries offer, both as place to learn and as a place to gather. Its robust collection of books, AV materials, and computer workstations are complemented by a community meeting room, numerous study rooms, and inviting spaces to relax or work (The fireplace area is particularly nice). The high, timbered ceiling gives the space a sense of importance, while the warm palette and natural textures keep it all very cozy and inviting.

The Orange Branch will be a great resource for the southern Delaware County community. Not only that, it represents a chance for all central Ohioans to see how green building techniques play out in a new library. Features like rain chains and outdoor gardens (to reduce run-off), chilled beam HVAC systems, and regional building materials make the Orange Branch not just attractive, but also practical.

Congratulations to everyone who helped make the Orange Branch a reality. For more information (and for much better pictures than the ones I took), visit the Delaware County District Library's website and their Faceboook Page.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Sacred Cycle of Life, and Some Other Stuff

I work on the northwest side of town in a mostly residential area. While it's a fairly suburban community, nature still manages to find a way in and stake out its claim. This is perhaps most obvious near the neighborhood's retention pond. I usually try and get out for a walk during my lunch break and I'll often do a lap around this arguably modest body of water. Depending on the time of year, I might encounter herons, ducks, Canadian Geese, swallows, turtles or groundhogs. I've seen people angling in the pond as well, which leads me to believe there must be fish of some sort in there too.

While I'm certainly no Henry David Thoreau, I'm surprised at how attuned I've become to rhythms of this little pond's life; from the arrival of the ducks to buds on the forsythia, I'm starting to internalize its seasonal patterns.

In the pond's annual cycle, nothing is quite as exciting as the arrival of the goslings and ducklings. They usually appear about the same time, and seemingly out of nowhere. I've never found a nesting site, though I've never looked particularly hard either. This year's crop appeared within the last two weeks, and I took a few pics while I was out. It's amazing how quickly these bird mature too. You can see changes in them almost daily.

Of course things also die around the pond; presumably for a variety of reasons though I suspect traffic is most often the culprit. I'm not sure what did this duck in, but it's sad to think its demise came so close to the time the ducklings hatch. If nature is indeed a cruel mistress, so too is Bilingsley Road.

All this nature doesn't mean there's not also room for some high-end man made technology. The same walk that takes me around my 20 minutes of Walden also takes me past Franklin County's most notable (and perhaps only) wind turbine.

It stands amid a sea of car dealerships just off 270 and turns (by my estimation) 70 percent of the time. I'm not sure what it powers (or for whom), but I'm always happy to see it.

To me it looks somehow like the future, and I find it not altogether incongruous with Candadian Geese, Blue Herons, and newborn goslings.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rethinking SoHud: The Case for Getting it Right

It seems that SoHud is winning the battle for my neighborhood's nickname. This is regrettable, but at this point likely unavoidable.

For the uninitiated, I live in the University District in Columbus, Ohio; a few blocks south of Hudson Street. Hudson is an almost major east-west artery that separates our neighborhood from an arguably nicer neighborhood to the north. Ours is an in-between area. To my knowledge it's never had an official name; at least not one that's lasted into the 21st century. I've heard it referred to variously as North Campus, The University District, Old North Columbus, Baja Clintonville, Washington Beach, SoHu, and SoHud. Sadly, at this stage, the SoHud designator is gaining traction and seems poised to stick.

Our friends at Wild Goose Creative have adopted it for their mural project. A group of affiliated musicians use it to describe their music collective. Perhaps most importantly, the taste-makers at Columbus Underground favor SoHud over SoHu (pronounced So-who) by a wide margin. As evidence, a search of the CU messageboard for SoHu yields a paltry handful of hits, while SoHud racks up page after page of results.

Personally I prefer SoHu. In fact, I prefer it enough that I'm willing to devote a blog post to it. Frankly (and for the life of me) I can't figure out why the SoHu moniker didn't carry the day. It's been around longer than SoHud; of that I'm nearly certain. I first heard the area referred to as SoHu when I lived on Indiana Avenue back in 1993. As early as 2005 it had gained acceptance on the local music messageboard Donewaiting. SoHud, by comparison is clearly a johnny come lately, having only become fashionable in the last three or four years.

SoHu also shares a much closer linguistic relationship to its more famous cousin SoHo (south of Houston in New York City). Both are four letters long and both end in open syllables (i.e. nothing comes after the final vowel sound). They're separated by only one letter, and even that's in accordance with the order of the alphabet. Seen side by side, the names SoHo and SoHu also serve to create a powerful semiotic relationship. They look similar and invite mental comparisons. Considering the fact that SoHu stakeholders see potential in the area as a burgeoning creative neighborhood I'd think these are exactly the kinds of relationships they'd want to invite.

SoHud, by comparison, is more or less an abomination. Linguistically, it trips off the tongue with reckless abandon and screeches to a halt with a hard consonant "d". It lacks visual symmetry and doesn't invite the same relational comparisons to SoHo that SoHu does. Most importantly, ask yourself this: is there a less elegant syllable in the English language than "ud", the anchor of such unattractive words as crud, dud, spud, thud, mud and pud? I'm not sure there is.

That people would ignore all this and continue referring to the area south of Hudson as SoHud is just baffling to me. I understand that in the world of user generated content, crowdsourcing, user tags and the like people have great influence when it comes to establishing language and brands. While I'm in favor of this kind of democratization, I also recognize that the people won't always get it right. In the case of SoHud, they haven't. SoHu is objectively a better name. Sadly, it appears it's not the one we'll get. For my part I'll keeping calling it SoHu and be thankful we didn't end up being called The Hud District.

Thanks to Keith M (formerly Columbsite) and Zach Henkel for taking pictures and documenting our neighborhood. More info and pics can be found on the Urban Ohio Forums

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not Great Men

In a previous post I outlined what I saw as a couple of real deficiencies in Ohio Governor John Kasich's leadership style. My hope was to frame (in a non-partisan way) Kasich's words and actions in the context of some commonly understood leadership principles. And while it's never been my intention to make this blog particularly political, Mr Kasich's off the cuff style (and relative lack of any sort of filter) has provided yet another chance to consider what makes a good leader.

In recent remarks, Governor Kasich stressed the need to make Ohio economically competitive by making Ohio "cool". Kasich said:

"We've got to make Ohio cool. You know, I was down at Lexis-Nexis down in Dayton, I'm meeting with the CEO of the company, and he says, you know, a lot of these, these young people, you know, they want to head for the coast. Why do they want to go to the coast? It's cool. Why do they want to go to Austin? You ever been to Austin? It's very cool. You want to go to the Triangle of North Carolina, go down there and check it out, it's cool. We need to make Ohio cool."

I guess first of all I should congratulate the Governor on coming to the realization that when it comes to economic development, things like vibrancy, diversity, tolerance, cultural amenities, and future orientation actually matter. They matter enough, it turns out, that when young, talented, energetic, risk-taking people (in short, our future) decide on where to settle, they often look for exactly those things.

What's alarming is that Mr. Kasich is telling us this now, as if this is somehow news. His remarks leave the impression that he's hearing this all for the first time. Is that really possible? Richard Florida, the Grand Poobah of attracting talent via the aforementioned qualities, addressed this idea nearly 10 years ago in an article called "The Rise of the Creative Class". Since then he's turned the concept into both a cottage industry and, more importantly, common knowledge. Austin, a city that Kasich proudly name checks, has been a model of establishing growth by way of the cool factor for even longer. To put it another way, none of this chatter about "cool" is a secret, and none of it is news.

I'm old enough that I came of age when history was still being taught via the words and actions of great leaders. My generation was perhaps the last to be brought up to believe that leaders, as a matter of course, were wiser, more noble, more thoughtful, and better informed than the rest of us. While I realize now that's rarely the case, I suspect that's a big part of why Kasich's lack of awareness strikes me as so alarming. If the relationship between "cool" and economic development is somehow a revelation to him, I can only wonder what else he doesn't know. How shallow is his knowledge in other critical matters? What other blind spots will reveal themselves during the course of his governance?

I guess we'll find out. In the meantime it's perhaps a good time to remind ourselves that history isn't always made by great men after all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Last Passenger Peep

This year the Ohio Historical Society is holding an Ohio history themed Peeps diorama contest, Ohio: A History of a Peeple. Participants have been invited to create a diorama based on famous scenes from Ohio's past. While I don't expect this is exactly famous, I do know that the last captive passenger pigeon, "Martha," died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

So, to commemorate Martha, and to acknowledge (in some small way) the passenger pigeon's place in Ohio's history, I present Martha, the last passenger peep:

The passenger peep, Ectopistes marshmellosous, was once the most common bird in the United States, numbering in the billions. Passenger peeps lived in enormous colonies, with sometimes up to 100 nests in a single tree. Migrating flocks stretched a mile wide, turning the skies sticky and yellow.

Bird painter John James Audubon, who watched them pass on his way to Louisville in 1813, described “the muffled tones of their gelatinous wings,” and said “the air was literally filled with peeps; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse…” When he reached his destination, 55 miles away, the peeps were still passing overhead, and “continued to do so for three days in succession.” The passenger peep, a wild bird, is not to be confused with the carrier peep, a domesticated bird trained to carry messages.

The last known individual of the passenger peep species was "Martha" (named after Martha Washington). She died at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, and was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, where her body was once mounted in a display case with this notation:

Last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, age 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

These photographs show "Martha" at rest outside the one of the Cincinnati Zoological Garden's Aviarys shortly before her death. This pagoda style hut still stands on the Cincinnati Zoo's grounds and now serves as the Passenger Peep Memorial.

Author's Note: While the passenger peep is a fiction, the passenger pigeon was not. For more information on the demise of the passenger pigeon and it's connection to Ohio, check out these informative sites:

Martha: The Last Passenger Pigeon

No One Believes the Passenger Pigeon will go Extinct...Until it Does.

Roadside America: Passenger Pigeon Memorial Hut

Revisiting the Cincinnati Zoo: Passenger Pigeon Memorial

If I were the preachy type I'd suggest there might be a lesson in all this; maybe something about learning from the past and the fragile nature of our ecosystem; or maybe about how exponential change has a way of sneaking up on us and how quickly the unimaginable can become reality.

I'm not the preachy type though, so I'll leave you to figure it out.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Erwin Redl Lights Up the Wex

A few weeks ago I had the chance to view Erwin Redl's light installation FETCH at the Wexner Center. If you haven't had a chance to experience this work, I suggest you find time. Austrian born Redl is best known for his large scale light sculptures and installations. In FETCH, Redl continues this exploration and applies his vision to the Wexner Center's signature "grid".

Employing a series of LED tubes that fire and pulse in sequence Redl turns a static (some might say severe) architectural element into a unique and playful space. Obviously FETCH is best viewed at night, when the full effect of the lights are most apparent.

Recently the Wexner Center announced that FETCH will remain on display through May 30th, giving viewers a chance to enjoy it under more favorable conditions. Shutterbugs too should take note; the Wexner Center along with Midwest Photo Exchange are running an Erwin Redl photo contest through March 21. Details on that event can be found here:

During my visit I shot some camera phone video that gives at least some sense of the dynamic nature of the work. Looking at it now I'm struck how easily it fits into the J.J. Abrams/Cloverfield paradigm. Still, the installation itself is first rate and not really done justice by my shoddy cinematography and substandard equipment.

Erwin Redl's FETCH photos Courtesy of the Wexner Center for the Arts

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ohio's New CEO

I've been reading a lot of books on leadership, idea generation, and teamwork lately. As a consequence, I find myself thinking about Ohio Governor John Kasich not so much in political terms, but more with an eye toward what constitutes an effective leader. I first considered this "Kasich as leader" question during the recent conversations regarding the lack of diversity in the Kasich cabinet.

One thing that never really came up during those discussions of diversity is the value that diverse backgrounds and opinions bring to the decision making process. To me, having diversity in the Kasich administration is less an issue of fairness, representation, or "what's right", and more an issue of building a team that's willing to look at all options.

There has been a lot of attention paid recently to the value of multiple perspectives in the problem solving arena. The Wisdom of Crowds, Where Good Ideas Come From, and Cognitive Surplus are just three popular business/sociology books that support the idea that diversity and multiple perspectives are key components of problem solving and idea generation. That this trend in leadership and organizational structure seems lost on our State's chief executive is troubling. These are challenging times for Ohio; times that require innovation, creativity, and a willingness to really think outside the box. By narrowing the range of backgrounds he's willing to hear from, Kasich effectively shrinks the pool of ideas that might be brought forward.

More recently, his now famous "idiot" comment provides another leadership scenario to consider. If his intent was to motivate EPA employees to be more responsive to the needs of their customers, a story in which he ridicules another public servant (who's not even there!) is hardly the most effective means to that end.

First of all it erodes trust. People in the audience are going to ask themselves, "If he's calling this cop an idiot when he's not here, I wonder what he says about us when we're not around?". Second, it ignores the vast amount of research that suggests that positive reinforcement (i.e. "You're doing this well. I'd like to see more of this behavior.") is more effective than negative commands (i.e. "Don't be like this idiot") when trying to change behaviors or motivate people.

Point being - and all politics aside - while Kasich has certainly found himself in a leadership position, I haven't seen much to indicate that he's a particularly thoughtful or effective leader.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Make Art

I made some art this evening using the QR-Code Generator supplied by Kaywa. I might do some more, but for now I thought I'd share these. If you like conceptual art, you should enjoy these. If not...Sorry.

Wall Drawing #574

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même

Run From Fear Fun From Rear

Declaration of Intent

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

I've recently been giving a lot of thought to the question of graffiti, public art, and street art. It's a preoccupation of mine that's bubbled up through a number of recent encounters and experiences. For starters, we live in a quasi-urban neighborhood. There's a lot of hapless and ham-handed tagging in our area along with a few pieces that are slightly more advanced. The neighborhood fairly insures that my encounters with graffiti will be an everyday occurrence.

Add to that my fine arts background, a fanboy's love of "Exit Through the Gift Shop", and a propensity to frequent message boards where graffiti is a recurring topic, and you've got a recipe for some extensive consideration. I'm still more or less a dilettante on the subject, but I find my level of interest in the genre has increased as street art has evolved. While traditional graffiti and tags still bore me to death, I'm more than happy to enjoy those works that have progressed beyond this very narrow style. At it's best I've found street art to be funny, provocative, inventive, and human.

Of course it's often illegal, costly, and unsolicited, and that seems to be where the fault line occurs. Debates over graffiti and street art invariably circle back to the question "How can you condone the defacement of private property?" Well, you can't, the problem is that's not the only thing graffiti is. The thing missing from that question is the acknowledgment that while graffiti/street art is often illegal, unethical, and wrong, it's also a form of visual expression.

Your Tag is Shit. London. Artist Unknown.

Now I'm not suggesting that this expressive component mitigates or excuses any criminal responsibility. It doesn't. I'm also not suggesting that the expressive component always has value. It doesn't. I'm simply suggesting that because graffiti and street art are forms of visual expression, they can be discussed on those terms.

While it's reasonable (and right) to point out that illegal street art is costly and wrong, we should understand too that the visual, formal, and expressive elements of a work aren't nullified simply because it’s illegal. Those elements exist and are there for us consider whether we're looking at something legal or not. In fact, according to McLuhan's assertion that "the medium is the message", it could be argued that street art's illicit nature is actually part of the expression. It's a way of saying (on top of whatever else might be conveyed), "I don't much care about your rules".