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M&M&M Field Trip, Part II

M&M&M Field Trip, Part II

Posted by on Nov 2, 2013 in Featured, Fieldtrips, M&M&M |

After failing to see the Bulgakov museums, the guide took my mother and I to Bulgakov’s burial site: the cemetery at Novodevichy Convent. It was opened in 1989 and is filled with the graves of important Soviet-era Russians. After a bit of searching–the place covers several acres of densely-packed markers below a cover of pine trees–we found Bulgakov’s gravestone. Bulgakov’s grave was completely unremarkable except for it’s rather lumpy appearance. I mention it only as an excuse to tell you about the rest of the cemetery, which was amazing. I’m a fan of cemeteries. I love seeing the care put into cutting stone before water jets and laser etching took the human hand out of the marking of graves. I love wandering around quiet parks, and cemeteries are made for quiet contemplation. I love the implied stories. And I love to see how different cultures honor their dead. I visited a pet cemetery on a private estate in Ireland that had small marble stones for each of their dogs, marked with a description of their personalities. I’ve visited small cemeteries next to tiny mission churches in New Mexico where the markers, exposed to the sun and the sky in a landscape without trees, feel small and lost. I’ve been to pauper’s graves marking unknown immigrants that died trying to cross the Arizona desert. And I’ve strolled along the stone-lined streets of the Buenos Ares cemetery that resembled a tiny urban city with rows intricately-formed sarcophagi lining the streets. The New Maiden’s Cemetery at first glance looked like many I had visited before, in deep shade with neatly-tended lanes of unique markers. But I’ve never seen anything like it: an atheist cemetery. (That’s not precisely true. There is an occasional cross–Gogol’s grave, which was moved to the cemetery, has one, though apparently his marker has gone through several changes over the decades–or other religious marker.) It’s a cemetery dedicated to honor individual’s contribution to the state. Military cemeteries honor service to a country, but the lines of identical markers make an individual grave melt into the mass, reinforcing their role of of one among thousands. And even these graves, set...

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M&M&M Field Trip, Part I

M&M&M Field Trip, Part I

Posted by on Oct 24, 2013 in Featured, Fieldtrips, M&M&M |

A few years ago my mother took me on an educational tourist trip to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. We got a private guide for the day in Moscow, and I requested that we visit the Bulgakov Museum. I had done a bit of research before we came, and knew that (according to Wikipedia) there were two competing Bulgakov museums taking up the upper and lower floors of his residence, each claiming to the the real Bulgakov Museum. Apparently I hadn’t done quite enough research, because we discovered that both of the museums were closed that day. I had heard for years about the fan-graffiti-covered walls of the staircase in one of the museums. The graffiti and the museum collection had been vandalized by a religious extremist a few years before, so I’m not sure how much I missed. I satisfied myself with a photo next to a bronze sculpture of a couple of the main characters and a very drizzly visit to the nearby Patriarch’s Ponds, the first scene in the novel. Of course Bulgakov’s memory would be presented by two fighting museums (one official, one not?). Of course the museum would be attacked by a crazy man calling it satanic. What would be more appropriate for the author of this book that examines Russia’s relationship with religion, power, and truth? FRC’s s. forwarded me a reference to a third Bulgakov museum located in Kiev in his childhood home: the Literature-Memorial Museum to Mikhail Bulgakov. I wish I had known about it when I was in Ukraine: it sounds wonderful. The Uncataloged Museum has a great description/review of the place, which blends historical/family items with fictional narrative in a way that looks like it would suit the subject...

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Field Trip: Collection de l’Art Brut

Field Trip: Collection de l’Art Brut

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Featured, Fieldtrips |

The Collection de l’Art Brut (Art Brut museum) in Lausanne, Switzerland is one of my favorite museums. I’m here to see the Daniel Johnston show because it closes tomorrow. It’s unusual to see American artists in Lausanne but not, for some reason, at l’Art Brut, which featured Seattle’s Gregory Blackstock last year and currently the late Charles Steffen of Chicago. The Blackstock show was in the same space as the Johnston show: a low room in the back on the second floor, painted white and brightly lit (unusual for this museum whose main exhibition halls are matte black with dark carpeting). The curators have done a nice job. Johnston’s work doesn’t really hold a lot of weight on its own – you need to understand the whole Daniel Johnston thing: the man, his music, the film. The curators of the show know this and so there’s a tape loop of his music playing softly overhead. Behind one of the display walls is a television showing The Devil and Daniel Johnston with French subtitles. There are half a dozen people watching raptly, each with their own headphones.  On the opposite wall there’s a display case with a photo of Kurt Cobain wearing the Johnston T Shirt and a stack of SxSW cassette tapes with Johnston’s hand drawn labels on them.       The show is ok, and I like Daniel Johnston, but it doesn’t take much to process drawings of BONER and SLUT rendered in office supplies. I end up thinking instead about why I like this museum as much as I do. I probably shouldn’t.     It seems exploitive to have an entire space dedicated to “art by crazy people,” to bundle it and show it and charge at the door, and yet I don’t feel anything of the sort: I sometimes leave l’Art Brut feeling tired, but I never leave angry. There were many reasons I moved to Lausanne, but a big motivator was a desire to deliberately and definitively change the course of my life. I didn’t expect to find (nor did I find) anything lifechanging in this country, but I did change my life and I did it...

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Randyland

Randyland

Posted by on Jun 23, 2013 in Featured, Fieldtrips |

  My friend Rebecca came running into the the reception filled with civic art managers and told me that I had to go around the corner to see Randyland RIGHT NOW. So I went to Randyland. Maybe you know about Randyland if you’ve lived in Pittsburgh or spend time on websites and dedicated to quirky travel spots. You’ve seen pictures of places like it: A neighborhood character takes over a house or a vacant lot and, through personal vision, hard work, and lots of random crap, turns it into a visionary fantasyland. This was one of those places, everything covered with candy-colored paint and sprinkled with inspirational text. I had been to a few of these visionary spaces before, but this one was different: Randy was home. Randy waved us in from down the street, and enthusiastically showed us around his world of two buildings and a vacant lot tucked into an arts-filled neighborhood…inside to the gallery of paintings on rescued slate shingles (filled with vibrations of the earth and past homes), outside to the garden with filled with spiritual gates (which he instructed us how to use), a photo op site (a cluster of wig display mannequin heads) and two very special chairs (from France).  His stream-of-consciousness patter/monologue was so glowingly happy (not giddy, just enthusiastic… just 110% pure happy) that I was a little worried for the guy–this can’t be sustainable. Except apparently it is. Rebecca filled me in on other bits of his story she got: Randy has a steady day job as a waiter at a corporate hotel, and spends all his free time/money on the project.  He bought the buildings in the 80’s for $10,000, and has a website to rent out some of his space. He gave us slick business cards with a link to his website, and listed off all the tv shows he has been on and all the international visitors he’s had. Randy has (apparently, maybe…I don’t want to pretend to understand the ins and outs of his life) figured out how to make his own world and live in the wider world at the same time. He’s built is...

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