28 February 2006

Trading Faces

Some two years ago, in a small cafe in Montevideo, Uruguay, a new tradition was born. Little did I or my traveling companion know of the works that lay before us as we sat there, bored and delayed, sipping cafe con leche and smoking cigarettes.

Jason "Sturd" Weinstein and I had embarked a week earlier on a three country voyage around the Southern Cone. Our route was clear--We had started in Buenos Aires, moved across the water to Montevideo, and were soon on our way to the sunny shores of the Brazilian Coast.

Unfortunately, Montevideo paled in comparison to Buenos Aires. We found the food mediocre, the city somewhat slow, and we had little time to meet any locals. In fact, the most exciting event of our few days was a semi-accidental foray into a brothel/bar/live sex show (we did not partake of any local delicacies). Luckily, we also had the opportunity to hear an amusing song in a stationery store. The chorus, if my memory does not betray me, said, quite simply and poetically, "I'll break your face." Luckily for us, we had narrowly escaped true empathy with the potential victim of the song, having wandered somewhat slurrily through seedy parts of the city, trying to pick up young ladies in cheap discoteques and retrieving money from an ATM at unwise times of night.

And so we now found ourselves, slightly worse for the wear, sitting in a Montevidean cafe, having missed our bus, forced to wait hours until the next mode of transport. A mysterious testicular pain, slight hangovers, and a true boredom with our adopted city left us stranded, quite uninterested in discovering any new nooks (or crannies) of the town, forced to amuse ourselves over countless coffees and through depthless clouds of smoke.

We began to write in our respective Moleskine journals, as was our habit, proudly displaying the amount of ground that we had covered--(for some reason we had been engaging in competition as to who had filled more pages in their journal, which, to be sure, led to numerous collages, poems, songs, and drawings of questionable worth).

At some point we began to sketch each other, both gazing upon the other's visage, pretending to all (if anyone was looking) that we were the real deal, veritable artists truly enthralled by our own work, sucked into the miraculous creation appearing on our pages. This, in reality, was not the case, as we were in essence a couple of talentless losers trying to fill up too many hours of downtime. Nonetheless, the fruits of our labor were not really all that bad, and we were in fact quite proud of ourselves and the art we had created.

As you can see, I photocopied the portrait which Sturd had drawn of me, as I was quite found of the likeness. My drawing had unfortunately not been received quite as well. Upon looking at it, Sturd's brow furrowed and he remarked, "I look quite neckish, don't you think?" Neckish or not, I was happy with both my own work and the work Sturd had done of me.

I declared myself the winner and immediately commissioned a full-scale version of the piece, to which my travelmate readily and enthusiastically agreed. He became very excited by the idea, and in fact immediately upon arriving home in New Jersey, went to work getting in touch with his weird artist great-Uncle, from whom he requested supplies, advice and a painting space. All wishes were granted, and within a short time, my friend Sturd had completed a work of majestic proportions and skills. Unfortunately, the realism of the original sketch--the wispiness of the facial hair, the receding hairline and long, spiky hair, the eye color, the general facial structure--was somewhat compromised in the transfer from sketch to oil painting. But no matter! The painting was glorious, and it was mine, and it was a gift from a great friend! I immediately stuck it upon the wall. It has remained with me ever since.

Of course, the sense of gratitude and indebtedness that I felt upon receiving the painting was enormous. I knew that I would need to return the favor and spit up some of my own creative juices...but what would I do?

I eventually came up with an idea that turned out quite successfully, and which made big waves in the Art World...or at least in my world, and Sturd enjoyed it greatly. I found a big piece of wood, approximately 6 feet long, one and half feet wide, and an inch thick. I fashioned a sturdy stencil with a likeness of Sturd's face, and after painting the wood completely bright yellow, stenciled my pal's face five times along the length of the wood in a majestic and loud crimson. At the bottom I stenciled in his name.

It took months to get this piece to Sturd, due to its great size and weight, but the gifting and receiving finally occurred to much fanfare. The gauntlet had been tossed, the tables had been turned, the die had been cast. It was Sturd's turn.

Some time went by before a new piece saw the light of day. Sturd would occasionally murmur something about "working on a great piece," and I began to think about making a flash cartoon of him with my newly purchased computer. I quickly dropped that idea, professing my ignorance in all matters flash, but Sturd plodded along, occasionally ripped from his studies by artistic insight, until finally I got an exciting phone call.

"It's done. The piece is done, but I don't know if I can bring it to you."
"Why the hell not?"
"It's too big to get on the airplane. I don't know how I can pull it off..."

My heart expanded and sank at the same time...Too big to get on an airplane! I wondered what Sturd could have made me. Still, I would have to wait, and wait I did...

Within a few months, Weinstein appeared in the area, having driven from Michigan to New York. Somehow he had been able to coax the artwork into the automobile through delicate folding and careful packing. He unveiled it to me in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, sliding it out of his small car doors, propping it up against a scaffolding pole.

I gazed upon the new work. It was amazing. He had blown a photograph of me up to massive proportions. The natural colors of my skin and hair and already bright shirt had been manipulated beyond recognition. This huge photograph lay atop a bed of magazine covers, all displaying faces of famous folk. My body and face ruled over their dominion of fame.

"It's a commentary on the postmodern creation of the character. On fame. On creating an myth."

I was speechless. Unfortunately, I was so dumbfounded that I was dumb, and I didn't take a picture of it (the big works are stored at my parent's place in New Jersey), but looking at the photograph below one gets an idea of the final project. Imagine this photograph, blown up and proudly displayed, sitting on the magazine cover bed. Amazing.

Once again, the tides had turned and I knew that I needed to immediately begin planning a new piece. Sturd's birthday (February 26th) offered the perfect date for completion and presentation.

I have lately been quite interested in the work of this guy Rob at www.cockeyed.com. In addition to a number of other interesting experiments and artistic endeavors, Rob is a master of paper mache. His website is great, and includes detailed descriptions of how he makes his art.

And so, I jumped into the exciting world of paper mache. The process is messy and can be a bit of a pain in the ass when undertaken on the kitchen floor. Still, it's fun and relatively easy, and the results are great.

I started on a Friday afternoon, fashioning Sturd's head out of crumpled newspaper and masking tape. I whipped up a flour-water mixture (making the mistake of using whole-wheat flour on the first application), ripped some newspaper into strips and got to work.

Over the course of the next few days and a number of paper layers, I created a basic Sturd head, smacked on some paper lips, nose and ears, and let the whole shebang dry. The unpainted version wasn't incredibly exciting:

After a trip to a local art store (Can you show me the way to some cheap paint?), I got home and got to work painting. This being the first time that I was painting in many years, I had a bit of trouble getting the colors right. Sturd originally came out African American:

After some time, he came out right. I found the eyes to be particularly shiny and life-like:

Saturday night arrived, and I carefully boxed up the head, wrapping it in newspapers to ensure its safety. My roommate wrapped the box for me (she's good at that) and I prepared to present Sturd with his newest acquisition.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot to bring the gift on Saturday and had to give it to him on Sunday (which probably turned out better anyway). We met up in a bar in the East Village--Sturd, his girlfriend Liz and I. I gave him the box, he slowly opened it up and peered inside. He delicately removed the head from the box and looked at me in awe.


So once again, responsibility has changed hands, leaving me free to pursue non-commissioned works and pinning Sturd beneath the iron grip of the knowledge that he soon will need to return artistic favors.

Good night. More to come soon.

23 February 2006


I grow quite delinquent in my bloggerly duties. Why? I've had a visitor, and Art has held my sway in these last few days, as I put the finishing touches on a project which I will soon unveil in photographic form. It's a secret, so I won't say anything about it, but I will provide photographs soon.

In other news, I want to say that my dentist wins the award for most ridiculously fast cavity drilling - tooth filling process in these here entire United States of America.

Yesterday, I showed up at his office a half hour early for a three-thirty appointment. Lame.

By three-o-five I was sitting in a chair. By three twenty I was walking the streets with a numbed mouth, running my fingers along the bottom lip and marveling at the strange sensation...Wait, scratch that....the strange non-sensation that I was feeling. This guy must be cousin of the Flash or something, because he's ridiculous.

In an update of the recent New Jersey criminal activity....

Big Surprise, the armored guard was in on the whole thing. I guess that he made up the whole "There was another guy...The guy that had the gun was a red-headed guy" thing....

More to come soon.

15 February 2006

Hometown News

Livingston, New Jersey, the quiet and tranquil hometown of many (over)privileged, upper-middle class people (like me) was the scene of a daring, dastardly, and ultimately, doomed armored car robbery yesterday.

Down the street from my friend Sturd's house, near the gas station that an acquaintance's dad owned, and across the street from the office my dad kept for many years, some guys broke into an armored car (how do you do that?) and started shooting at the guards when they returned from picking up or delivering some cash to a local bank.

The guards shot back, the car moving all the time down the peaceful Jersey roads, and then the guys took off in a Jeep. A high-speed chase ensued through the neighboring towns of Millburn and South Orange, until the suspects took off on foot. Two were captured immediately, one apparently ran faster and eluded the cops for about 45 minutes.

Guess how they finally caught him? Hansel and Gretel style, following a trail of money that the guy left behind.


Apparently, one suspect may still be at bay (nobody seems to be sure). So, if you see a pale white guy with red hair and a bagload of cash, please contact the authorities immediately.


Valentine's Day has come and gone, in a haze of bad chocolate, shiny balloons and overpriced, low-quality roses. Ahhh...Love is in the air.

Seems that all the steamy love brewing in NYC had an effect on the weather. The thermometer has shot up to 48 degrees, and the streets are filled with the slushy remains of the weekend's blizzard (the biggest in recorded NYC history, they say).

NYC slush is always interesting, as it turns a normally very manageable system of sidewalks and thoroughfares into the scene of a wet and wild bivoucking adventure. Normally high-heeled, dainty-walking women suddenly become long-jumpers, men take care to not wet their hemlines and so take wide, strange steps, holding up their pants all the while. Merely crossing the street becomes more difficult than playing Frogger or Tetris, and in this case it seems as if all your late night practice is for naught. Somehow, sometime, somewhere, everyone gets wet.

Nonetheless, the streets are drying just as rapidly as the snow is melting. Walking is becoming less treacherous with each passing day. Toes and feet are quickly thawing, trousers are drying and shoes are steaming. Spring is on its way, it would seem, and although the winter has been mild (again another record-breaker, I believe), I don't think you'll find many complaints about warmth and budding trees here in New York.

I've been a bit unsteady in my blog-updating these days. I'll blame it on the weather perhaps, although I don't think the weather is to blame. Perhaps it's my early mornings, maybe I'm just lacking inspiration.
Don't lose faith.
More to come soon.

09 February 2006

Bodies at Rest, Bodies in Motion

I woke up at two last night and I woke up again at three. These insomniac moments, I must admit, can be blamed soley on my ridiculous consumption of coffee.

I woke up at four in the morning, however, and could no longer blame that bold villain Senor Caffeine. The fault lay completely now with various voices emanating from different parts of my apartment building. Below me, the annoying, messy, loud, strange-schedule having lunatics were once again laughing at something inane. Meanwhile, In the kitchen beside my room, my roommate's guest was slurring through a phone conversation with someone and clunking around through the cabinets.

I drifted back to sleep, dreaming of spiders and clunkers and all sorts of strange things. Suddenly, my door swung open. I sprung into a sitting position, fists clenched in a Notre Dame Fighting Irish position, and screamed, "What?"

The male silhouette in my doorway stared at me, obviously confused.

"Sorry man, I was looking for the bathroom...."

The door slowly shut, the guy obviously feeling repentant.

I woke in the morning, once again blurry eyed, once again shaking cobwebs from my very being. I stumbled into the shower and stumbled out, toweled up and dripping wet.

There he was again. It was as if the guy hadn't moved since I had last seen him, two hours before. He greeted me and shook my hand, and looked at me, standing there in his boxers and shaking his head in confusion and bemusement.

"You took a shower?" he asked.
"Wow. Cool. I might just do the same." His tone betrayed his admiration for this obviously daring deed.

He walked into the bathroom (apparently the reason that he was up at all) and I moved to the kitchen. Still wearing my towel, I began to perform my morning rituals. I set the coffee pot on the stovetop and started to toast some bread. He came into the kitchen, obviously in the mood to talk. I, on the other hand, was all filled up with no coffee (thanks for the image to Phillip Marlowe) and felt completely the opposite about conversation.

"So you took a shower, huh?"
"Wow, that's something....Taking a shower now...."
"I've got to go to work."

Suddenly, like a flash, recognition and understanding flashed across the guy's face. He understood (only now) that it was morning, that I was showering (as most people tend to do), that I needed to go to work, that I wasn't just some crazy guy that enjoyed taking showers in the middle of the night. With a few more words, he finally said goodbye and returned to my roommate's room. I continued on with my breakfast preparations and left for a short day at work.

I guess it's only fitting that with all this extra nighttime movement in my house, I should spend the afternoon learning something about the human body. (The segue is tenuous, I know...) And so, work completed, I headed off to the South Street Seaport to see "BODIES: The Exhibition."

Now, if you haven't heard of "BODIES," the exhibition basically contains a slew of "artistically" (and perhaps ethically questionably) placed "plastinated" bodies.

What is plastination? According to Wikipedia, plastination is:

"a technique used in anatomy to conserve bodies or body parts. The water and fat are replaced by certain plastics, yielding specimen that can be touched, do not smell or decay, and even retain most microscopic properties of the original sample."

So the place is filled with plastinated bodies, arranged in various and strange positions. Viewers have the chance to see corpses prepared to play all sorts of sports, conducting an orchestra, thinking hard in a Rodin fashion, and standing with arms stretched wide. Beyond these complete bodies, the glass cases in the exhibit are packed with bones and joints and tendons and eyes and nerve systems and fetuses and diseased organs and penises and ovaries and basically any conceivable part of the human body.

The experience was, quite obviously, pretty intense. Oddly enough, people seemed to feel very little disgust or fear in the presence of so many real dead bodies. On the contrary, the very realness of the bodies seemed to cause detachment in everyone there. In some, this was evidenced in the visible academic challenge of understanding the medical terminology and explanations that accompany the various "pieces" in the exhibit (I saw one guy, literally about to pull out his hair, staring at some plastinated hands, repeating "It's just so complicated" to himself out loud over and over again). In others, (me and my friend included), joking didn't seem to be a problem, and we found ourselves laughing at the funny names of certain body parts, trying to come up with new names for others, and occasionally talking about something completely separated from the bodies before us.

A few interesting things that I learned:

1. the sperm cell is the smallest in the human body, the egg is the largest.
2. brains are all folded up because brain evolution happened TOO rapidly. Basically, it seems there wasn't enough space for so much brain, so nature just stuffed it up on in there.
3. blood is red when it's filled with oxygen (hemoglobin and Oxygen reaction) and bringing it from the heart to the rest of the body. On its way back, the blood is blue.

That's it. Have a good day.

08 February 2006

The Russian Lesson

My coffee shop on Fordham Road is a small metal trailer with a sliding Plexiglas window through which patrons ask for and receive their coffee, muffins, bagels, and eggs. There is a thin metal door on the rear side by which the owner can enter and delicately squeeze himself into the confined interior space.

Atop this rectangular box on wheels there is a small twirling metal chimney, the kind that looks like a twisted up version of the Kremlin or some other Soviet edifice. Steam and smoke escape into the cold morning air, swirling out through between the revolving grates.

Every morning is the same. I leave the 4 Train at Fordham Road, still waking up, walking down the stairs out of the station. I ignore the man offering my a free Spanish language newspaper--I've got enough to handle with my own NY Times subscription.

I walk past the line of people waiting for the bus, preferring to walk the 10 minutes to the University. I ignore hunger pangs and my body's cries for coffee.

Every morning is the same. It is early, it is cold, I am tired and unprepared for the day. The air is polluted and people look glum. I walk out of the metro and down Fordham Road until I reach the small coffee shop trailer at about the halfway point.

We exchange hearty greetings. He asks me how I am in Russian. I respond in Russian that I am good, and wish him good day in Russian. He makes some joke that I don't understand. I've run out of Russian things to say.

Sometimes I throw out one of the other two or three random phrases that I know in Russian, like "I like Captain's Macaroni!" Usually though, I say nothing else, preferring to wait until he asks me, "Seven sugars?"

I smile and he proceeds to make my coffee the way that I always get it--a bit of milk and no sugar. I praise his memory and laugh at his joke and wish him a good day. He says something in Russian, we laugh, and I slam my dollar down on the counter, tapping the metal as I do as a way of saying goodbye.

Every morning is the same. I sip my coffee and light a cigarette and think about how much I like my morning Russian lesson. I wait for the light at the corner of the big intersection and pass the familiar carts selling nuts and coconuts and fruit. I pass the local highschool students, jostling eachother and flirting with eachother. I pass the long line of suckers waiting for coffee at the trailer just outside the University. I wish the security guard at the gate a good morning and walk off the Bronx Streets and into this strange bastion of privilege that is Fordham University.

I sip my coffee and walk, waking up now, and I head towards class. The air slowly warms and the sun blinds me. I pass the gothic campus buildings and the carefully manicured lawns and the ubiquitous landscapers collecting debris and mowing the grass. I stop off at a bench near the building where I teach and sip my coffee, quickly preparing the day's lesson, watching the students hurry by. I am ready now, and somehow content that little, since yesterday, has changed.

07 February 2006


Bruce Chatwin, inspired to write his first book, left a note at the office of his employer. The note read, "Gone to Patagonia."

I'm about to write a note myself.

Due to the weather, the walk did not take place this weekend. More information soon on the new and improved date.

02 February 2006

Art and the Park

Leaving work today I headed into the sunshine, once again lucky enough to enjoy the freakishly warm NYC weather. I walked up Fordham Avenue, weaving through crowds of people, reached the subway stop and boarded the Number Four train headed downtown.

I got out and walked to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, completely unsure of what I was going to see, knowing only a few things about the trip. First, I would not pay the full recommended admission of $15. Second, I would not stay for more than an hour or so, generally the time it takes me to develop "museum feet" and escape marble floors and strangely controlled museum climates.

I checked my bag with the overly friendly Russian coat check guy (Enjoy man! Have a great time Man! See you Man!), and headed to buy a ticket. I slid my crisp one-dollar bill across the counter to the girl selling tickets, shyly averting my cheapskate eyes...

"You should see the Rauschenberg...It's modern art...You'd really like it."

Now, I'm thinking two things: First, who the hell is Rauschenberg? I'm feeling really ignorant, but the truth is that I don't have a damned clue. Second, why would "I really like it?" Is that just another way of saying that it's really good, or is that supposed to mean something about me? Do I look like a guy that would really like Rauschenberg?

Who knows?

Anyway, I headed up to see the exhibit that I'd "really like", and the truth is that I did "really like" it. The show was called "Combines", and was filled with his work from 1955-65 (dates, if not correct, are close). The "combines" referred to are all collage works, many of them free standing sculptures, and are constructed of the most random and disparate of materials.

Truth be told, while I enjoyed the works, I even more enjoyed the tags that described the materials that old Rauschy used. They were like a work of their own. Take, for instance, the following description of "Untitled" from 1954:

"Freestanding combine: oil, pencil, crayon, paper, canvas, fabric, newspaper, photographs, wood, glass, mirror, tin, cork, and found painting, with pair of painted leather shoes, dried grass, and Dominique hen, on wood structure, mounted on five casters."

Or, this one, which is even better, from "Monogram" (1955-1959)

"Freestanding combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas with oil on Angora Goat and rubber tire, on wood platform mounted on four casters."

The animals mentioned above were the real deal--stuffed, dead creatures affixed in different ways to the the different canvases. Equally real, and equally interesting, was the syntax of the descriptions.

My podiatric alarm sounded just on time--after about an hour, I began to lose interest in the works that shortly before had captivated my attention. I ran through the last few rooms (excepting the last room, which was amazing), got lost in the museum, took an elevator unnecessarily, and finally made it into the fresh air and sunlight.

I walked into Central Park, planning to stroll for a while, slowly working my way downtown. After stopping for a coffee at the Central Park Boathouse (great place) and falling asleep in the outdoor patio, I continued walking down the Park's paths. As I trudged along, trying to shake the nappy cobwebs from my head, I was suddenly awoken by the strangest of sounds. At first I thought I was listening to a didgeridoo, but quickly realized that I was hearing a human voice. I looked down the steps to my left, and beneath the arch of the a tunnel, saw the following man:

His name is THOTH, and he performs in Central Park, playing the violin, singing and dancing, moving through what he calls "soloperas" -- He sings the parts of all the characters in these stories, changing between different ranges with truly enviable skill and fluidity.

A few important things about his work:

1. He does not, in actuality, perform, but rather "prayforms" -- To quote from the informational leaflet that he offers, "Prayforming is my everything, my joy, my creative expression, my workout, my self study, my being-duty to pay back to the universe for the gift of my existence."

2. "A solopera is a word I coined to describe my work. It comes from "solo" meaning alone, "sol" meaning sun, and "sol" a homonym for soul merged with "opera" meaning dramatic performance put to music and the plural meaning of "opus" which means work. It is part vocalizing, puzzle, aerobics routine, monologue, language deconstruction, alchemy, theater, healing ritual, sacred dance, all accompanied by solo violin and complex percussive rhythms."

3. Finally, to tell a bit about the themes of his soloperas, Thoth sings about the "mythological world of the Festad" and sings in "their" language.

Okay. So he plays a bit, then stops and we start talking. Truth is, most of the time I don't have a damned clue what the hell he's saying, but he's truly a nice guy, and quite interesting to talk to.

At one point, he looks at me and says sincerely, "You know, I don't live a life that most people would consider normal."
I started laughing. "I've noticed," I respond.
He laughed too, and we continued talking for a while, about all sorts of weird stuff like energy and the Festad and him being the "first interracial person" (I didn't quite understand that), and the shape of Earth and different colors of chalk and all sorts of other things.

While we talked, all sorts of other people stopped by, and everyone seemed to know Thoth, and he seemed to know everyone. Pretty crazy. This one guy, Segway Bob (that's how Thoth referred to him) and his wife stopped by, and Bob joined in the prayformance, "dancing" around Thoth on his Segway, shaking the bells on his handlebars to the beat of Thoth's song. I was a little confused by this, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and Thoth didn't seem to mind, so I guess that it was cool.

After Thoth's final performance, we talked a bit more and then I left him and his chalk drawings and crystals behind. I continued through the Park, made it back into the land of Avenues and Streets, and walked down until I finally reached Union Square, where I caught the L train, passing Third Avenue and First Avenue and feeling my ears pop as the train passed beneath the East River, until finally the doors opened with the sound of a monstrous exhale and I left, once again home, no longer in the land of the Festad, but just normal old Brooklyn. Which still ain't bad.

To find out more about Thoth, check out his webpage at www.skthoth.com

Fez Revisited

I just received an email from a reader with a great drawing of Fez that I wanted to share. The artist is apparently a student at a school in Germany, but is originally from Morocco (specifically Fez).

An absolutely beautiful day here in NYC...

01 February 2006

WALK MANHATTAN! (Newly updated)

On Saturday, February 4th, weather permitting, I will be walking Manhattan, tip to tip. Please come out and join me, I'd love the company.

Where: Somewhere way uptown--
When: Saturday, February 4 at 9:45 am

Come along and bring your friends! It's only 13.4 miles...

NEW UPDATE: Advice from fellow walkers has prompted a change in plans. I will now be starting uptown, in order to facilitate easy returns home as well as safe, daylit passage through unknown portions of town.

If you're interested in joining the walk, please email me at chris_m_bond@yahoo.com and we can figure out a good place to meet.