Seeing better

You can improve your memory and see better at any age by reading Book 3 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle.” The book is an immersion in Knausgaard’s childhood on an island in southern Norway. As with the other books in this series, he brings deep memories to the surface by re-experiencing their landscapes, weather, flora and fauna. This is a window into boyhood that I will never want to close, and for the first time in decades, I went back with eyes wide open to my own girlhood in Del Mar, California. I saw and smelled the sandstone and eucalyptus, the sand and the surf, the foggy June mornings and the baked summer evenings after a full day at the beach. The stings of puberty and the wondering whether it would ever all make sense. I’m so thankful for this sweet revelation. Throughout the weeklong reading of this book, I heard deep in my heart the memory-probings of James Taylor’s “Copperline.” He grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, near where I live now and he can still cherish it, even though those childhood places, like many of mine, are “all spec house and plywood, tore up and tore up good.” In savoring all the tastes and sounds of his boyhood, the present doesn’t touch his memory and he’s “lifting up and rising free down on over Copperline.”

Photo by Heather LaGarde, who grew up in Chapel Hill

Photo by Heather LaGarde, who grew up in Chapel Hill


Community Arts at Work Across the U.S.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote in 2010 for Animating Democracy, a project of Americans for the Arts. It offers snapshots of selected projects that help capture the range of community arts projects and programs happening today. They are led by veteran and up-and-coming artists and cultural organizations; new forms of interdisciplinary collectives; and arts and community agencies working in collaboration. Examples demonstrate how single projects, repeated community events, and ongoing programmatic and organizational efforts can effect community, civic, or social change.

Profiles include:

The Iron Triangle Legacy Project, East Bay Center for Performing Arts, Oakland

The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle

The International Sonoran Desert Alliance

UTOPIA/Dystopia, LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department)

Thousand Kites, Appalshop, Kentucky

The Medea Project, San Francisco

Portland Police Poetry Project, Art At Work, Maine

The Rural Studio, Auburn University, Alabama

Voices for Tolerance Program, Los Angeles Opera

Ferocious Beauty: Genome, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Maryland

Great Halloween Lantern Parade, Nana Projects, Baltimore

Village Building Convergence, City Repair, Oregon

Market Makeovers, Public Matters, Los Angeles

Victory Gardens 2008+, Future Farmers, San Francisco

Day Laborer Theater Without Borders,Cornerstone Theater Co., Los Angeles

Common Ground: TOC Project, Littleglobe, Santa Fe


Leaving Los Angeles

I’m get ready to return to L.A. for the 25th anniversary celebration of the 18th Street Arts Center, October 25, 2014. I was one of the founders of that multi-faceted organization and I am thrilled that it has survived and is running a magnificent arts residency program in the heart of Santa Monica. I was asked to write a short historical note for the packet that will be presented to participants, and in preparation I looked back to the editorial I wrote for High Performance magazine in 1993, when Steven Durland and I resigned our positions as 18th Street’s executive director and artistic programs director, respectively. I’m reproducing it here for those who are interested in 18th Street’s early history and our involvement in it: “Running Commentary (A Farewell to Los Angeles).”



One of My Few Sorties as a Teacher

Today I came across an article from the L.A. Times archives about one of my few adventures into academe. Steven Durland and I were tapped to take over a performance class at UC Irvine in 1988. It made the news. (And it’s Greden, not Greeden.) – LB

Performance Art: It Still Has Its Rogue Element

March 07, 1988|Allan Jalon

Performance art, once a frontier for the avant-garde, has become institutionalized. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still lively. Meet Phillip Torqueflite Greeden, student performance artist. At UC Irvine, back in the early ’70s, art students helped pioneer the growth of performance in defiance of their teachers’ more traditional, more materialistic art forms. These days, performance is a credit subject at UCI, and Greeden’s teachers say he’s a star pupil. Well, they don’t exactly put it that way.

“Phil’s on a level of his own,” said Linda Frye Burnham, one of Greeden’s two teachers in the current performance class. “I’m going to try and give Phil an ‘A’ in my course,” added Burnham, founder and former editor of High Performance magazine, a Los Angeles publication that chronicles the performance movement. “My only problem is that there was some foul-up or something, and he hasn’t managed to get registered yet. That’s Phil.”

Greeden is a young man with several days’ blond facial growth and the supple physique of a young walrus. He favors Hawaiian shirts and crosses the campus with the good-natured momentum of a ward heeler, with a smile that feeds on yells of “Hey, Phil” from his peers. His best-known performance to date was a collaboration with Dan Goodsell, another of the 11 registered performance students. And what creation won the team of Greeden and Goodsell its accolades? It was a ‘Truman for President’ rally, countered by some pro-Dewey forces, in front of the campus Administration Building last month. The Harry Truman group consisted of the performance class and several passers-by; the Thomas Dewey forces included seven Greeden cohorts who belong to a student poets group named Tired of Waiting For Godot/Shaman Garden.

For the bewildered, some background: Burnham and Steve Durland, her teaching partner and editor of High Performance, had assigned the class to come up with pieces that would take them outside and would engage members of the public. Greeden’s work was inspired by an old record he owns of presidential inauguration speeches. “It also struck me that Harry Truman was the only president who really had the total professional experience of being President,” Greeden said. “He pushed the button!”

Greeden, a senior (give or take a few credits), is an engineering-turned-English-major who says he is torn between wanting to be an artist, a writer, a film maker or (“if I’m an utter failure at everything else”) an English teacher at a community college. Goodsell, also a senior, is a studio art major, a very serious young man with nervous brown eyes and a determination to make art his life. “Phil was the idea man and I did most of the visuals,” said Goodsell, who made masks from photographs of Truman’s face and posters that featured a photo collage of Truman and the familiar nuclear mushroom. The posters said “Harry Was a Good Man,” “Harry Was a Wise Man” and “Harry Was a Far-Rangin’ Man,” and Goodsell and Greeden flooded the campus with them a few days before the event. For 20 minutes on Feb. 19, the performance class stood in front of the Administration Building chanting “Back From the Dead to Fix Up Your Head.” The piece ended when an administrator emerged to complain about the noise. [Note from LB: We were all officially busted and forced to disperse.]

Other pieces produced by the class have included one in which a student named Joseph Choi performed a soulful ballet in front of two moody paintings of chairs, and one in which Vadim Erent, a UCI student from the Soviet Union, recited a poem titled “Giraffes” that had been written by the early 20th-Century Russian poet Nikolay Gumilyov. Before delivering the poem in Russian, Erent described it in heavily accented English. “It’s very cold, and not cheerful,” he told his classmates, without taking off his purple-rimmed sunglasses. “It is St. Petersburg and it is winter. The man reads a woman this poem about Africa. He tells her: ‘There are unthinkable grasses in Africa, but you will not know them. You are here. All you will know is the rain.’ ” The class seemed spellbound. The muted drama of Erent’s reading wove them into his culture.

Then, Greeden was back with an unvarnished dose of their own culture, his latest piece, “Our Friend the Carburetor.” Greeden and a co-performer, wearing masks cut from Xeroxed diagrams of a carburetor, danced about the room medicine man-style while waving wrenches. As a friend beat an oil drum, Greeden squirted beer from a hypodermic syringe. “I was sort of trying to connect the elements of car repair and ritual worship,” Greeden said.

Burnham wasn’t convinced. She said it wasn’t quite up to the high standard Greeden set for himself with the Truman rally. But she clearly was taken with his energy. “You have to understand Phil,” she said. “He’s very, very non-linear.”


Website by Steven Durland