Saturday, January 31, 2009

"I F*cking Could Live in This"

My favorite bit of "press" so far on the Homeless Chateau comes from DHK on Tumblr:

I fucking could live in this – I mean there wouldn't be much standing up going on, but this is amazing.

Short and to the point.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Polar Project

My pal Erika Blumenfeld is on the ice, as we speak.  She's in Antarctica working on her ambitious, and so far beautifully documented, Polar Project.  Way to go, Erika!

I'll be interviewing Erika tomorrow about the project – Antarctic internet connection, and the gods, permitting.

Pic from Erika's expedition blog.  Photo credit Erika Blumenfeld

Homeless Chateau Goes Burning Man

Or it could, according to Shed & Shelter.  They've included the HC in a nice roundup of, "...portable small personal shelters which can be used by a homeless person, disaster relief or even at Burning Man at Nevada's Black Rock City."  

Pic is of a wicked treehouse on Shed & Shelter's homepage this month.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Henry Gifford Interview Part II: PassivHaus

Yesterday, Henry Gifford talked about some the flaws in our current green building certification standards.  Today he talks about a new standard for energy efficiency in buildings, PassivHaus, which has been in Europe for some time, but is new to the US.  The PassivHaus standard results in ultra-low energy buildings that require very little energy for heating and cooling.

JW:  You are one of the first graduates of the US PassivHaus class.  Tell us more about PassivHaus and how it will change American building design for the better.

HG:  PassivHaus is catching on slowly here but I think it will be much more popular in the future.

JW:  Just how energy efficient is PassivHaus?

HG:  The houses cannot have a peak heating load exceeding 10 watts per square meter, which if you think of putting a few light bulbs around to heat your house on the coldest night, is a really small amount of energy.  [By this calculation, two 100 watt bulbs would heat a 215 square foot room, such as a bedroom.] 

JW:  Is PassivHaus green in other ways?

HG:  A PassivHaus is also green in that it is very airtight – no more than 0.6 air changes per hour when depressurized to 50 pascals – which prevents mold growth from air leaking through walls, which improves people's health while also making the building more durable.  The airtightening also allows the ventilation system to work as designed, moving air as planned instead of through leaks, while also improving thermal comfort (no drafts) which lets people stay comfortable at a lower temperature.  As a bonus, the airtightening also makes the house very soundproof.

JW:  Is a PassivHaus expensive?

HG:  PassivHaus buildings generally cost more than normal construction, but there can be exceptions, particularly with larger buildings.

JW:  Can an existing building be made into a PassivHaus?

HG:  No, sorry, an existing building cannot be made into a PassivHaus without a complete renovation.  And, as the foundation and basement floor need to be insulated, even saving the foundation is questionable.

JW:  Where can we see a PassivHaus in the US, and where can we learn more about PassivHaus?

HG:  There are now PassivHaus buildings in Urbana, Illinois, Martha's Vineyard, Duluth, Minnesota, and one in California, but in California the climate makes it so easy it's really not that difficult there.  Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) just put out a book about some houses I didn't mention here, and can tell you more.

Photo is of Henry Gifford's "tendem" bicycle, which he and his brother built in the 1970s.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Henry Gifford on LEED Buildings

Henry Gifford, dubbed "The Boiler Man," by the New Yorker, is co-founder of Architecture & Energy Limited and a graduate of the first PassivHaus class in the US.  Together with architect Chris Benedict, Henry has designed and overseen construction of over seventy energy efficient buildings in New York, since 1996.  PassivHaus, or Passive House, is a rigorous, voluntary energy efficiency standard which originated in Germany in 1988, and typically reduces energy requirements by 90% in new homes, resulting in excellent comfort conditions in winter and summer.  PassivHaus methods can also be applied to non-residential new construction.

I caught up with Henry last weekend, while he was on the road, away from New York City.  In this first half of our two part interview, Henry discusses some of the problems with current US green certification standards.  In the second part, which I'll post tomorrow, he talks about PassiveHaus.

JW:  Tell us a bit about your background in energy efficient design and how it ties in with the green movement, particularly with regard to small spaces and tiny houses.

HG:  I started working on energy efficiency when I bought some apartment houses in Manhattan's East village when I was twenty, and wondered what I could do to lower my fuel bills.  I found that nobody seemed to have much of an idea, so I figured it out as I went along, reading what little I could, and soon started a company specializing in saving energy in apartment houses.  What I do is a goal of the green movement, but being "green" doesn't necessarily save energy, so there is not much overlap.  My work on apartment house heating systems makes apartments much more healthy to live in, but does not overlap with anything a tenant can do.  Likewise, it is different from small houses, where the insulation and airtightening are usually more important than the mechanical systems.

JW:  It may come as a surprise to many people that a LEED certified building is not necessarily energy efficient.  Please explain how that can be, and do you think LEED buildings will be more energy efficient in the future?

HG:  I had hoped that as soon as it became widely known that LEED buildings average higher energy use than comparable buildings, LEED would get their act together and change.  But, sad to say, they have instead circled the wagons and keep insisting that LEED buildings save energy, and say the solution is more of what they are already doing.  So, I doubt LEED buildings will become significantly energy efficient, especially now that there are 70,000 people certified to do something they don't know how to do.  The USGBC has promised multi peer-reviewed studies showing LEED buildings do save energy, and with their multimillion dollar research budget I don't doubt those studies will appear, but they should be viewed with all the skepticism due any study whose results are announced in advance.

JW:  There are other green certification programs now competing with LEED, such as Green Globes.  But is it true that Green Globes is heavily backed by the building industry, because LEED only allows Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified lumber and soon won't allow any construction materials that contain vinyl (such as vinyl windows and flooring) or formaldehyde (such as plywood, particle board and OSB) in their buildings?

HG:  My biggest fear is that a few years from now LEED will have convinced people that large numbers of buildings are as efficient as they can be, and therefore the only choices are to give up our creature comforts or have more wars [over oil].

JW:  How do you come down on these issues that seem to pit easier, cheaper, more energy efficient construction against sustainable, non-toxic materials choices; and do you see a way forward for a standardized certification program that considers all aspects of green design and sacrifices none?

HG:  At this point in the history of the world, especially the US, attention paid to sustainable materials serves as a distraction that diverts attention away from energy efficiency.  Things that can't be measured exactly, such as embodied energy, relative healthiness of materials, etc., are lumped together with things that can be measured quite precisely, such as water and energy use, all while ignoring important issues such as how much material is used, how it is placed in a wall, etc., which usually takes skill to understand, thus is widely ignored.  I pay attention to healthy materials, but since nobody should put poisons in a building, I don't look for anyone to pat me on the back for doing what everyone should already do, especially when it helps avoid looking at what is by far a building's largest impact on the environment – energy use.

Interview continues in tomorrow's post.

Photo of Henry Gifford by Travis Roozée.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sketchbook Notes III

Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block.

Lao Tzu

Sketchbook Notes II

Five more short excerpts (my words, this time) from the same sketchbook, circa 1992:

On an atomic level, there is no distinction between religion and pornography.

Subvert the adorned.  Embrace the unembraceable.

(caption to a drawing) 
"Hey, give me back my penis shoes!"  
"No way, pussy knees, they're all the rage!  I must have them!"

Lizard Boy met Dog Boy at the edge of the world, where you can lean out and lick the piss-yellow sun.

I wonder if Jack knows it's a different dog biscuit I give him each time, or if he thinks it's always the same one – the one and only eternal dog biscuit, the God biscuit.

Sketchbook Notes

Transcript of former Saturday Night Live writer and erstwhile Star Trek Ferengi, Mel Green's, side of a conversation we had in Book Soup, Los Angeles, 1992:

(cough, cough)
OK, once there was a "way,"* but all that's fucking over.
I am power tool.
I am power tool.
Plug me in.
Made me feel powerful, made me feel good.
I'm looking for a work of fiction.

*I seem to remember, we had been talking about the Tao or "way," perhaps Lao Tzu's "middle way."  Note: William Burroughs said, "Beware the middle way."

Image from Hacked Gadgets.

Early Work

Untitled, 1980, carved alabaster, 6 x 8 x 7 inches.  Reminds me of the ice and snow right now.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

9,467 Broken Items on eBay

There are currently 9,467 items with "broken" in the title for sale on eBay.  The cheapest one is an iPod Video for $0.01 and free shipping.  Bid on it here.

Pic is a deleted file from Flickr.

Zero Painting of the Day

More here.

In Anticipation of Spring

A poem:

Two lawn mowers at the same time – sweet music
A lawn mower and a noisy car – sweet music
A lawn mower alone – sweet music

Friday, January 23, 2009

Agnes Martin: Advice to Young Artists

Advice to Young Artists

The life of an artist is inspired, self sufficient and independent (unrelated to society).
The direction of attention of an artist is towards mind in order to be aware of inspiration.
Following inspiration life unfolds free of any influence.
Finally the artist recognizes himself in the work and is happy and contented.  Nothing else will satisfy him.
An artist's life is an unconventional life.  It leads away from the example of the past.
It struggles painfully against its own conditioning.  It appears to rebel but in reality it is an inspired way of life.

And from the essay, Beauty is the Mystery of Life:

Art work is the only work in the world that is unmaterialistic.  All other work contributes to human welfare and comfort.  You can see from this that human welfare and comfort are not the interests of the artist.  He is responsible because his life goes in a different direction.  His mind will be involved with beauty and happiness.  It is possible to work at something other than art and maintain this state of mind and be moving ahead as an artist.  The unmaterial interest is essential.

And from a lecture Agnes Martin gave at Cornell University in 1972:

That which takes place by surprise, moments of happiness, that is inspiration.  Inspiration is there all of the time for everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts, whether they realize it or not.  Inspiration is pervasive but not a power.  It is a peaceful thing.  It is a consolation even to plants and animals.  Do not think that it is unique.  If it were unique, no one would be able to understand your art work.  All of the moments of inspiration added together make what we call sensibility, and a development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults.

Food for Artists

5-Minute Fava Bean Curry/Curry Soup (serves 2-4)

1 can small fava beans, rinsed and drained
1 can vegetable soup
1 tsp. hot curry powder
1 tsp. dried cilantro
3 lg. cloves garlic
6 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 a lemon
handful of fresh parsley

Fry curry powder and cilantro in 2 tbsp. olive oil, till slightly smoking.  Add 2 more tbsp. olive oil and garlic, stir.  20-30 seconds later add fava beans.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes (don't burn the garlic!).  Stir in vegetable soup, heat through.  Dish up garnished with coarsely-chopped parsley, olive oil and lemon juice.  Serves 2 as soup (serve with whole wheat bread) or serves 4 over brown rice.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Banal Posting

Last post of the day, and an unapologetically banal and syrupy one.  The pic is of another Marilyn Neuhart doll I sold on eBay, yesterday.  More proof, I think, that people just want to be happy, and a smile goes a long way in troubled times.  When all else fails, at least we have each other.

Second note of the day to self:  Smile.

Muntader/Muntadar al-Zaidi's Shoes For Sale on eBay

Sorry if this is old news, but this man's still a hero, in my book.

According to a BBC story last month, the former coach of the Iraq soccer team, Adnan Hamad, has offered $100,000 for the shoes, and an unnamed Saudi citizen has offered $10m.  I say sell them on eBay and raise money to help poor Iraqis hurt by the war.  So far, the only decent thing available on eBay is this humorous pin, and a few other things here. is for sale on eBay for $1m.  And here's a silly, if vaguely satisfying, online game, where you get to be the shoe-thrower.

You can buy the same model shoes here (sorry, they're neither "traditional" nor cool-looking).  Story here in the Guardian, and pictures of the owner of the shoe company with his famous shoe here.  As of a month ago, the increase in demand for the shoes had created 100 thousand new jobs at the Turkish manufacturer, Baydan Shoes.

Now that Mr. Bush is out, perhaps Mr. Zaidi's fortunes will fare better.  I hope.  His trial has been postponed while it is decided whether he should be charged with either assaulting or insulting Mr. Bush.  Here's a "Free Al-Zaidi" site.  And some recent news about the prisoner.  Lastly, an interesting story from January 19:  According to the BBC, Mr. Zaidi is seeking asylum in Switzerland. 

Associated Press picture via thinkbridge (and pretty much everywhere).

Keep it Simple

Note to self:  Breathe.

Today I'm going to keep it simple:  Package up some things that sold on eBay and Amazon, take them to the post office, walk the dogs, list a few more things on eBay* and make dinner for some friends.

I just read an excellent post on the Homeless Guy blog.  I absolutely agree with Kevin Barbieux that creating obstacles to proper shelter for homeless people should be considered criminal.  His Satre quote title for the piece, "By Any Means Necessary," is also quite timely.  More here.

*Is selling the furniture the new burning the furniture?  Or do we still have that to look forward to?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bourgeois Survivalism

OK, I said I'd talk about the backlash against some of the ideas being purported by this blogger, and many other well-meaning and, frankly, scared consumers, journalists and politicians out there.  Ideas like downsizing in a hurry, getting green and thrifty in a hurry, and getting spiritual FAST about the fact that wealth has eluded them, and maybe financial security, too, even with a small "s."  So, here it comes:  For every one of these bourgeois survivalists, there's a real survivalist out there – or there's about to be – stocking up on non-perishable food and cleaning his guns.  

The last time we saw this was in 1999.  In the interests of full disclosure, at that time I had a touch of millennium fever, myself:  A two-month supply of emergency food and water; a Russian assault rifle with two banana clips and 1000 rounds; a 12 gauge pump action shotgun; and an ex-police 357 magnum, which I practiced with at the range until I could get all six shots off in the chest, every time.  

But when I woke up one sunny New Mexico, new millennium morning, a few weeks into the continuing to be un-collapsed state of civilization as we knew it, I finally came out of my paranoid trance.  I looked around at my paintings and the white walls of my house and decided I really didn't want to get any blood on them.  It also occurred to me that I wasn't all that into actually killing anyone, or running the risk of my guns being stolen by those with fewer scruples – and maybe less abstract art – than myself.  To make a long story short, I sold my guns and donated the nasty-ass food.

But things are a little different this time.

To be continued.

Chaos Zen and the Luxury of Honesty

First, a disclaimer:  As Manuel used to say in Fawlty Towers, "I know nothing."  OK, now I can proceed with a clear conscience.

Now, I'm no buddhist (and I do want to thank the President for mentioning the "unbelievers" in his inauguration speech, yesterday), but the downside to non-attachment is twofold, I think:  

  1. Attachment to the idea of non-attachment:  Striving for simplicity and a responsible lifestyle can be a sort of acquisitive grasping, in itself.  
  2. We live surrounded and interconnected by complexity: The monk may be in his monastery, away from it all, but most of us are "out in the world."  The "real" world, as it is quaintly known.  It's hard to maintain non-attachment, materially or in thought, amidst all the chaos.  

If "chaos zen" is the ability to surf the chaos, while maintaining our equilibrium, then the "luxury of honesty" refers to the rarified skill of being able to face-off with our faults and do something about them.  Personally, I wouldn't know a balanced, non-judgmental mind if it slapped me in the face, unless it was someone else's.  I'm told that equanimity and the light touch are available to those who meditate and have a disciplined daily practice.  Oh, for such consistency.

So, taking into account the combined challenges of a chaotic world and a chaotic mind, what's a poor non-believer to do?

  1. Keep it simple, materially I mean.  Given the baroqueness of the human mind, rearranging the furniture, and maybe getting rid of some of it, is sometimes the best we can do.  Let's say it's a start.  Tiny houses and minimalist art can also help.  
  2. Keep things clean and tidy.  There's an old saying, "A tidy house is a tidy mind."  I'd say a clean car's right up there, too, shedding dogs notwithstanding.
  3. Take care of yourself.  If staying up late hurts you the next day, don't do it.  The same goes for drinking too much.  The same goes for a lot of things.  
  4. Less thinking, more doing.  Make physical objects (like paintings and Plywood Chateaux), not thoughts.  A huge part of our reality is what we make it.  We actually do manufacture thoughts.  It helps to slow down the production line and also make improvements to the product over time, until you like what you see coming off the conveyor belt.  
  5. At the risk of creating even more chaos in the world with all these mixed metaphors, don't bite off too much at once – "Not building a wall; making a brick," as it says on one of Brian Eno's and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards.  Or, in the words of a famous country and western singer from India, "One day at a time, sweet Buddha.  ...One day at a time."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Shocking News!

No, no, not that shocking news.  No, the Plywood Chateau, rather bizarrely, made it to MarketGid's list of "the web's most shocking news."

Pic from Current

Voice Knitting

I was talking about binary code a few posts ago, with regards to my zero paintings, and sheep in another one; and – segue alert! – here's an invention that puts them both together to good effect.  A whole new way to "leave a message."  

Thanks to N. for this.  N. has a rockin' good blog, if you haven't already checked it out.  Her post today is good therapy for anyone who tries to juggle too many things at once, particularly online or on the production line.  ...Same thing, right?  Speaking of which, I need to get back to my eBay list.

Thanks, also, to NWKnitter for the pic.

New, New, New, New, New!

Yes, I have been using that word a bit much.  I think it must be all the excitement about finally getting that w-ANKER out of the White House.  If you didn't already check this out in my last post, it really will warm the cockles of your heart.  There, I've done my bit.

Image courtesy you know where.

The New Poverty

I've been batting about the idea recently that, in terms of materialism, choice is the new poverty. By this I mean:  

  1. It's very time-consuming to wade through all the options these days.  Decisions are stressful and stress is a kind of impoverishment, as is spending hours and hours shopping online.  But then we're all shopped-out as a nation, right? Ask Wal-Mart and McDonalds.
  2. What happened to the one good thing, the single best tool for the job?  Like the good-old-fashioned thirty-year mortgage you actually had to qualify for in real terms, or the bank that wasn't taking ridiculous risks with your money – credit crunch, anyone?
  3. Choice should not be confused with freedom.  Remember, we're talking materialism here, not human rights.  Free to maintain a sane life relatively unscathed, versus choices that bury you and your country in debt and waste.
  4. The wealthy can buy the best and forget the rest, they have it down.  Not too many choices at the top:  Range Rover or Galendawagen; Cartier or ...well, Cartier.  You get the idea.  Oh, for the simple life of diamonds and country estates with treacherous gravel driveways.
  5. And now we have competing issues:  Green energy v. cheap energy; organic v. locally-grown; personal freedom v. nanny state (e.g. the UK); threat of attack v. global vilification (no need to clarify here).

So, what do I propose?

  1. Downsize and simplify.  Live a less cluttered life.  Many of us are being forced from the relative impoverishment of choice to the greater impoverishment of actual poverty, or at least one step closer to it, so make like a monk.
  2. Bring home the troops and bring down the cost of our military by untold billions of dollars a year.  Spend the money we save on the people who need it, like the disabled veterans, the homeless, the poor and the sick.  Which, any minute now, will be all of us.
  3. Think small and green.  No, not leprechauns, but tiny houses – or at least not McMansions – and energy efficient ones at that.  The same applies to our cars, trucks, SUVs and oil tankers.
  4. Buy less junk you don't really need.  As the 44th president just said in his inauguration speech, "Put away childish things."  The marketplace will probably take care of this, as we realize, increasingly, that the inflatable Santa in the garden isn't really necessary for the enjoyment of Christmas.  (Sorry China.)
  5. Meditate before you shop.

Remember, choice may be the new poverty, but until we have a benevolent dictator to lead us by the hand out of the ashes (...or perhaps we do now), we still get to chose how to simplify and improve our lives by living responsibly.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the much more exciting backlash to this sort of moralistic belt-tightening.  Bring it on!

Image from Motor Trend.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Empty is the New Full

I'm taking a break from blogging about the Homeless Chateau, as a few other sites have it covered. There's a thought-provoking post on Where, the excellent urbanism blog, titled "Posh to be Poor." Among other things, the writer proposes letting homeless people live in empty mansions, and there's a link to a Fox News story about the homeless moving into foreclosed homes.

I've been talking a bit about my paintings, so here's a bit more background on those, lifted verbatim from my site, so apologies if you've already read it:

In 1985, I worked as a laborer in southern Portugal for three months. while I was there, I painted squares on rocks, trees, car body parts and construction materials, inspired in part by Kasimir Malevich's 1917 painting, "Suprematist Composition: White on White." I continued to use the square as an art-specific tag, branding my own work and found works by other artists, both known and unknown, for about fifteen years.

My transition from squares to ovals in 1999 came out of a desire to create a less art-historical, yet equally universal "logo." I took a circle – perhaps the most universal of symbols, representing infinity and wholeness in many cultures – and stretched it vertically by the distance of the radius. The resulting hard-edge, straight-sided oval shape is a hybrid circle-square, a filled in zero.

"Nothingness" is not a negative concept to me. In mathematics the minus sign is the negative; the zero represents emptiness and absence, the baseline for all calculations, and the place where all sums go to die or be reborn tenfold. The "on-off-on-off" of the binary system of ones and zeros illustrates how essential zero is – "1" would be nothing without "0." Zero shows up in other numbers, but no other digit represents the departure of all the rest or the empty moment before they arrive.

More "zeros," like the one above, here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sometimes Open

I don't always fill-in the zero, particularly on found portraits.  In such cases it looks more like a "0."  Here's a seminal "open zero," way pre-hard-edge ovalization, title "23."  I painted the piece in Portugal in 1985.  

More recent, filled-in oval zeros here.

Photo Tom Moore.

Sheep Shaving

A found poem, derived from this site – just the words I could read, in their original order, edited down to the words that interested me (plus "a," the Portuguese word "da," some commas and a couple of repetitions):

In a forest, soft windows, virtual fusion
Basilisk, basilisk, basilisk
Lauri Personen, amiga da Gwenolé Beauchesne
Sheep shaver, sheep shaver, sheep shaver

Image courtesy waterworlds, "exploring the culture, geography and politics of water," a fascinating and well designed blog, all about water.

More on the legendary basilisk here.  (Pliny the Elder's account, from his Natural History, circa 79 AD, is particularly gripping stuff.)  I wonder, if the US is the basilisk of the world, then who is the weazle?  ...Perhaps we are all the basilisk and the weazle, "Goo goo g'joob."

125 Buses

125 is just the Gardenia buses.  I counted them here.  There may be more by the time you read this.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Big Fat Zero

I don't have a problem with nothingness, particularly of the zen "no-mind" variety, or emptiness.  I guess staring at the New Mexico desert for twelve years will do that to you.  I've been painting filled-in zeros, like the one above, for the last ten years – seven in New Mexico, three in New York.  

When Pat Steir visited my studio in 1999, she took one look at a six-foot-six hard-edge painting of a vertical, straight-sided, rust-brown oval on a dusty-pink background (or pink corners on a brown background) and said, "Are you depressed?"  I laughed and said no.  Nothingness is neither happy nor sad.  If anything, it's peace.

This may sound like morbid talk, but, though I was certainly influenced, even inspired, by the nihilism of the punk movement of the late 1970s, I'm not one for suicidal tendencies.  I think life is for living and death is for oblivion.  Read nothingness, nada, zip.  And if you can find a few moments of sweet oblivion, free of discursive thought, during your life, more power to you.

Another painter, Dexter Dalwood referred to my work as "binary."  I guess when you think of binary code being ones and zeros, this makes sense.  After all, where would the ones be without the gaps between them?  The "off" nothingness that separates their "on" somethingness.  

I often relate to the underdog.  More precisely, the outerdog.

But then zero always wins; entropy is a force to be reckoned with; nothingness is no underdog.  We all die.  But, also, an empty mind or no-mind trumps other states of mind, i.e. you can only be open to everything, and therefore allow the mind to flow intuitively, by stopping your thoughts entirely.  All that monkey mind just gets you chasing your tail and tripping over it.  

So, it's good to meditate, or stare into space, or maybe paint one shape over and over again, year after year.  That's what I tell myself.


About a week ago, a UK news agency contacted me about the Homeless Chateau.  I have no idea where, or if, the story will show up in print, but in the meantime here's a brief excerpt:

H.M. – Did you make it to be used?  Has anyone used it yet?  What did they think of it?

J.W. – I did make it to be used, but the project was originally conceived as a kind of interactive art piece and investigation into extreme downsizing.  I do believe the Homeless Chateau, or something like it, could help homeless people, in some situations.  But homelessness is such a complex issue, involving so many different kinds of people and a broad range of extenuating circumstances.  There really is no quick fix or easy solution, except perhaps tons of money, wisely and intelligently spent.  As long as 60% of our income tax in the US continues to go to the Pentagon, I really don't see this level of help coming from the government.

Several people have been inside the Homeless Chateau, and the small, cozy space seems to take them back to their childhoods, in that it reminds them of being in playhouses and making forts.  Needless to say, kids love the Homeless Chateau.  The response adults have to it seems to alternate between a warm fuzzy feeling and thinking, "Wow, this could be me reduced to living in a box on wheels."

Image from the Hunger Site's "Child Health: Artisan Stories."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy Talk, Part II

It's really not all bad.  Sonia (above) says, "Be happy."  She's winging her way to California, as we speak, to cheer up a Marilyn Neuhart doll collector.  Another Neuhart doll is on it's way to France, and I just sold a beautiful mid-century modern chair on eBay.  That one's heading to England tomorrow.  Commerce continues, art is supported, and the snow is beautiful in the sunshine, ice flows crunching and grinding up the Hudson when the tide comes in.  Man they move fast!  

The dogs love the snow.  Their husky nature thrives in the cold.  Of course they have no concept of death or of the future and all it's lurking shadows.  We're the only animals that think about such things.  The two dogs know nothing of the plane that ditched in the river forty-five miles south of where they frolicked this afternoon (all 155 passengers and crew got out OK, but some geese weren't so fortunate).  We also have poetry and central heating, if we're lucky.  The dogs and us, that is.

Artists have to do all sorts of things for money.  (I know I've said this before.  I'll probably say it again.)  Agnes Martin, when she lived in New York, used to work a job for one year and paint the next.  She lived on almost nothing, to the point of rationing food.  Her jobs included dishwasher and probation officer.  You won't read that in the biographies.  We do what we need to do.  We maintain, if we can, claw our way back when we can't.  

Here's another excerpt from Agnes Martin: Writings, this time part of an essay she wrote, titled "The Current of the River of Life Moves Us:"

In this life, life is represented by beauty and happiness .
If you are completely unaware of them you are not alive.
The times when you are not aware of beauty and happiness you are not alive.
When we see life we call it beauty.  It is magnificent – wonderful.
We may be looking at the ocean when we are aware of beauty but it is not the ocean. We may be in the desert and we say that we are aware of the "living desert" but it is not the desert.
Life is ever present in the desert and everywhere, forever.
By awareness of life we are inspired to live.
Life is consciousness of life itself.
The measure of your life is the amount of beauty and happiness of which you are aware.
The life of the artist is a very good opportunity for life.
When we realize that we can see life we gradually give up the things that stand in the way of our complete awareness.
As we paint we move along step by step.  We realize that we are guided in our work by awareness of life.
We are guided to greater expression of awareness and devotion to life.

Sonia reminds me of Agnes.  Look how she's beaming.

Happy Talk

The market is plummeting this week, the jobless claims are higher than previously thought, it's the middle of winter and people are scared about the future.  Some people are cold, some are living in fear, others in abject terror.  People are being killed by missiles, bombs, tanks, guns, knives, bare hands.  And let's not forget all the animal cruelty – medical experimenting, factory farming, inhumane slaughtering, abuse.  

But there's hope, right? 

There's always hope.  For one thing, nature trundles on, impassively, not maliciously.  Whether a tiny bird, fluffed up against the cold, or a homeless person living in a box on the streets of Tokyo, London, or New York, if you can survive the cold, the predators, and the slings and arrows of the human race, you have a chance to appreciate life, nature, the comfort of other living creatures.  The good days do come along, spring follows winter.  OK Chauncey, shut up now.

Image from Stone Soup Station.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Power Station Ate My Solar Panel

Picture a time when we're all living in trailers or pods, some of us in plywood boxes inside the semi-ruined, unheated husks of our houses or disused, hopefully, Wal-Marts (strains of David Bowie's "Future Legend," from the album Diamond Dogs, playing in the background).  Not that I want this to happen and not that it will.  

...But maybe.  

It was reassuring, if strangely disconcerting, to read in yesterday's NYT that at at least three gulf oil states "are making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of green energy."  I guess they know that oil prices won't stay under the magic number of $70/barrel for ever.  Magic, because below $70 and it's not really "worth" investing in green energy.  And they know that oil will run out soon, and before it runs out it will get too expensive for most of us.

In the meantime, dirty energy is cheap energy.  Par-tee.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Agnes Martin, Homeless Artist

OK, so this isn't Agnes Martin's actual camper, but she did have one for a while and she was technically homeless, living out of her pickup truck for about eighteen months between leaving New York in 1967 (because the building she lived in on Coenties Slip was going to be demolished) and settling in New Mexico in 1968.  She spent that year-and-a-half travelling around the American West and Canada.  Martin's homeless period ended when she got a job at her Alma Mater, the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and, with the help of her students, built a house in Cuba, New Mexico.  Subsequently, she moved to Galisteo, followed by Taos, New Mexico, where she died in 2004.  She always had pretty humble digs, considering how successful she became (I remember when her Galisteo house was for sale for $300K, circa 2000), even though the southwest surroundings were always breathtaking.

Martin made the most beautiful, simple paintings, many of which have been shown not ten minutes walk from where I sit typing this, at Dia:Beacon.  Her writings were also remarkable, and, in many ways, a product of her solitary, reclusive lifestyle.  If you don't already have it, Agnes Martin: Writings, now out of print, is worth every penny, particularly if you've ever had any doubts or regrets about being an artist (or continue to have them on a daily basis).  Agnes Martin makes it all make sense.  The closest thing to a catalogue raisonné for Martin is still the 1992 Whitney exhibition catalogue by Barbara Haskell.  This book, too, contains many of Agnes Martin's writings.  A new book by Dia Foundation and Yale University Press will be published this summer.  There's also an amazing 2002 DVD about Agnes Martin, With My Back to the World.

Here's a glimpse into Agnes Martin's process (picked completely at random from Writings), from the essay, "On the Perfection Underlying Life:"

The process of life is hidden from us.  The meaning of suffering is held from us.  And we are blind to life.

We are blinded by pride.  Pride has built another structure and it is called "Life", but living the prideful life we are frustrated and lost.  It is not possible to overthrow pride.  It is not possible because we ourselves are pride, Pride the Dragon and Pride the Deceiver as it is called in mythology.  But we can witness the defeat of pride because pride cannot hold out.  Pride is not real, so sooner or later it must go down.

When pride in some form is lost we feel very different.  We feel the victory over pride, and we feel very different being for a moment free of pride.  we feel a moment of perfection that is indescribable, a sudden joy in living.

Thanks to Truck Camper News for the pic.

The Lion the Witch and the Housedrobe

For short-haul homelessness, or trips to the moon and back, Australian artist Adam Norton has just the ticket, as featured on the excellent

A small world in so many ways:  That's the same folding camp stove used in the Homeless Chateau.

New name for one-person, box-like dwelling:  Housedrobe.  You heard it here first!

A Village Under One Roof

Just reading about Julia Christensen's new book, Big Box Reuse, in the NYT, and it occurred to me you could get a lot of tiny houses inside each one those giant, empty retail spaces (20,000 to 300,000 square feet).  Maybe the 8 x 8 x 8-foot Plywood Chateaux, I mentioned in yesterday's post, or 12 x 12 x 12-foot ones, etc. (just keep going up in 8-foot increments until you hit the ceiling).  

But there's a problem with this particular adaptive reuse:  Shopping malls and stand-alone big box stores are often in suburbia or exurbia, relatively isolated, with few amenities nearby, such as libraries, clinics and public transportation.  Would adapting disused big box buildings into villages for the homeless mean relocating thousands of homeless people to the untenable outer edges of our communities?  (Untenable, if you can't afford a car, or the gas to put in it.)  ...This has a whiff of "relocation center" or "detention center."  Dumping ground, at the very least.  Maybe my idea isn't such a good one, after all!

Back to the NYT article, Allison Arieff also talks about converting McMansions into multifamily homes.  She writes that some developers are now building McMansions as fourplex condos to make them more affordable to buyers.  This also sounds like a slippery slope, to me (though a green one in some ways).  It makes me think that, perhaps, one day only the poor will live in suburbia, stranded there by high fuel prices.   

But this doesn't have to be the case.  A return to a more agrarian existence for some could help – a back to the land, or sustainability, movement – coupled with a comprehensive and energy-efficient mass transit system and improved social services, like universal healthcare.  Let's start by keeping people from having to give up their homes and live on the streets in the first place.  I really hope the Obama administration can keep its eye on the ball.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pandora's Box

It's funny, the Homeless Chateau was originally titled Chateau for Homeless Artist, but I decided that was too limited and self-referential, given the scope and seriousness of homelessness.  Now that it's out there as the Homeless Chateau, I'm getting flak for not doing enough ...or perhaps doing too much.  It's hard to tell.  I wonder if the design would have got more or less flak if it still had its original title of Chateau for Homeless Artist.  Or perhaps the title isn't the issue, and it's more the idea of living in a box that's freaking people out.

The original idea for Chateau for Homeless Artist came out of the experience of living in a 120-square-foot shed, that N. and I designed and built in Beacon, NY in 2006.  We lived in the shed for six months during the winter of 2006-2007, with our three dogs, a desk with two chairs and two computers, a small fig tree and a chemical toilet.  This experience, combined with a survivalist streak, which I guess goes back to my years of living in Northern New Mexico, and then reading a book about peak oil, during that same winter of '06/'07, got me to wondering what would I do if everything went pear-shaped, and how small could I live, if I wanted to (and could) keep making art?

My plan was to produce a tiny live/work space, in which I could sleep, eat and paint, just thirty-two square feet with a four-foot ceiling – the dimensions dictated by standard 4 x 8-foot sheets of plywood, with minimal cutting.  The idea was to built a waterproof (Tyvek-covered), rigid foam-insulated box, put it out in the garden and live and work in it for a while to test it out.  

When I was invited, a few months ago, to participate in an exhibition called Outside the Box Inside, I decided to include the Homeless Chateau in the show, even though the insulation and waterproofing weren't done, so the structure could only be used indoors.  Fortuitously, the exhibition space was warehouse-like and made perfect sense for the Homeless Chateau in its un-weatherized state.

Prior to taking it over to the show, I had the Homeless Chateau set up in my studio, kitted out with an air mattress and sleeping bag, a little camp stove, the same chemical toilet N. and I used in the shed, art supplies, food, water, utensils, buckets for washing and dishwashing, clothing, towels, books, etc., and invited a few people to go inside and see how it felt.  Everybody loved being in the compact space.  It kind of feels like being a kid again.  Anyone who's camped in either a tent or a camper, probably knows that cosy, manageable feeling.

A friend and I dismantled the Homeless Chateau, packed it flat in his van, took it and all the contents over to the exhibition space, and reconstructed it.  I also included two G.I. Joe-scale working models of Plywood Chateaux in the show (one is a proposed 8 x 8 x 8-foot version, with a mattress bed on a sleeping loft), and some axonometric drawings showing various wall graphics, much the same as I used in the first generation of four-foot-cubed Plywood Chateaux.

My buddy Tom Moore took some pictures, I emailed them to my pal Alex at Shedworking in the UK, and the rest is history.  History being that several other bloggers picked up the story, and then the fallout, such as it is.

Once I have the Homeless Chateau back in my studio (it's currently disassembled and stored flat against the wall at the exhibition space), the next step is to insulate and waterproof it.  I'll also need to figure out a door (right now it just has a rubber flap), a window, and maybe a skylight.  Then I can test it outside.

Thanks to The Daily Green for the pic.

Brazilian Light Bulb

Thanks to N. for this short movie about Brazilian ingenuity and resourcefulness.

And thanks to Creative Citizen for the pic.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Love the Italians

I love so many things about them.  Marcus Arelius, for one, Michelangelo Antonioni for another, and all their women.  I love that Italians take their design seriously; I love that they always make the effort to write something original about my work, rather than just cutting and pasting from Shedworking or TreeHugger; and I love that they always like to mention that I'm Brazilian (among other things).

Here's the robo-translation of a recent post on  

"The artist of Brazilian origin James Westwater has devised this inhabited module a lot interesting.  Homeless Chateau is called and is small mobile space where it can be slept and be lived.  In fact this "portable house" is complete of all confort of a normal room, comprised read space and the stove in order to cook.  This module is equipped of small wheels for being moved more easy, it has been realized with recycle materials, and has a main structure in wood."

And I love their motorcycles.

I'm thinking of kitting out the Homeless Chateau with a set of Italian flag reflectors, as pictured above.

Free Chateau

As I just said in the comments section of a piece Undernews published about the Homeless Chateau, I will give the prototype to the first benefactor who will provide a safe, warm, dry space in which to park the Chateau and ensure that a homeless individual will benefit from it.  Said benefactor will also need to provide transportation of the Homeless Chateau from Beacon, NY, where it is currently located.

I am also considering a sponsorship program in which donors will pay $500 per Homeless Chateau, to cover materials and fabrication costs.  Others will donate transportation of the Chateaux and donate spaces in which homeless people will live in the Chateaux.

Homeless Chateaux can also be easily "cloned" at remote locations, i.e. almost anyone can make them, almost anywhere.  The materials are basic, standardized and readily available from local lumberyards and big box hardware stores.

I encourage people around the country to build Homeless Chateaux, or something like them, and to urge their local municipalities and landlords with appropriate vacant spaces to donate those spaces for homeless individuals to live in the Chateaux.

Alternatively, give a homeless person a house, or a room in your house.  Or, at the very least, a warm coat and a warm sleeping bag.  It's cold out there.  If you're on a tight budget, yourself, and can't afford to gift a sleeping bag or coat, homeless people also need socks.  

More on homeless issues at The Homeless Guy blog.  Kevin "The Homeless Guy" Barbieux also has an excellent list of links to other homeless blogs.


And that's Boo, below.

There is another Agnes.  I'll do a post about her, soon.

Homeless Chateau on TreeHugger

Lloyd Alter has written about the Homeless Chateau on TreeHugger. And Rain Noe has blogged it on the industrial design site Core77.

Also, check out the book Zero Yen Houses, by architect Kyohei Sakaguchi.

A related book is Cardboard Houses, by the photographer Ryuji Miyamoto, who's work I first saw at James Kelly Contemporary. Jim also showed another Miyamoto series on the Kobe earthquake. It's hard not to make the association. What happens to a cardboard house in an earthquake?

Photo Tom Moore.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wolves of the Snow

A busy day today, out in the sunny, slippery-icy real world.  I deinstalled a piece in one exhibition space and another gallery sold a painting.  eBay has also been going gangbusters the last few days.  Turns out people want happy, smiling 1960s fabric dolls.  And why not.  My Amazon sales have slowed down a bit since the holidays, so do yourself a favor, buy some cool music or a good book, help support an artist.  Together we can jump-start this darned economy ...right?  

I started a book last winter, working title Wolves of the Snow, and I'm thinking of serializing it on Twitter.  N.'s started using Twitter as another string to her professional bow.  Not that I want to spend any more time on the computer.  ...But if it's in the cause of art, now that I can justify.  Here's just a taste, an excerpt, one of those beginning of chapter quotes (in this case the words of a made-up mythological figure):

That clatterous beast awoke in me such fear, that I had rather misplaced my life than my sword.  But reigning in my terror, I mustered to face, as if deep-mirrored lake, the truth of that unvanquished foe.  For here was where my true fear stood.  Not before the castle keep, but within my own imagining, as if a self-shot arrow to the heart.

Arthur of Tremol

It may take some time to write a whole book on Twitter, so, in the meantime, here's a book about pee-drinking, time traveling kids, to while away the winter hours.  

Closed-system symmetry:  To buy is to sell, to sell is to buy, to give is to receive.  Ask China.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Acedia for Atheists

Today the sun shineth.

Acedia is a sort of monastic ennui – not exactly depression, not exactly sloth.  If you've ever watched the beautiful and moving documentary Into Great Silence, you might have noticed some acedia in one of the young monks of the Grande Chartreuse.  Or perhaps he was just walking the fine line between euphoria and sleep.  "Maintaining," as it were, against almost impossible odds.  Acedia used to be the eighth deadly sin, before it was bought out by sloth, much the same way wrath has orchestrated a hostile takeover of pride, in recent years.  

For those of you who aren't up on your sins, the magnificent seven are, in order of naughtiness:  Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  See, pride was almost an afterthought.  We can just move it over to the pluses column.  In fact, it may be that envy and sloth are the only two deadly sins that our culture currently frowns upon.  Though greed has been getting a look-in, of late.  (Contrary to popular belief, murder is not one of the seven deadly sins.  And where would we be without torture and imprisonment without trial?)

Before Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) bashed out his/the seven deadly sins, in 590 AD, and Dante ran with it in The Divine Comedy,  there were the eight evil thoughts as penned by Evagrius Ponticus, a fifth century monk.  They were:  Gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, discouragement, vainglory and pride.  It's interesting to compare the two lists.  Whereas the modest monk put gluttony first, the Pope saw fit to drop it to number two.  Gregory also changed fornication to lust, presumably to give us the loophole that it's OK to have sex, if there's no lust involved.  Pope Gregory had the common touch. 

Not that I'm any kind of monk, but I can relate to some of brother Evagrius' "thoughts."  The one that intrigues me the most is discouragement, as it seems like such a soft "evil" (which is probably why Gregory dropped it entirely from his list), though, no doubt, a big deal to a monk spending most of his time in prayer.  "Hello-o, anybody out there...?"  I'm sure the Pope gave discouragement some thought, too, as he must have done sorrow, before letting them both go.  And dropping vainglory in favor of pride, alone, that was an interesting decision.  Vainglory implies a certain vanity and hollowness to one's pride.  I vote we bring vainglory back to the list and give pride the boot.

For balance, I'd just like to jump in here and list the seven holy virtues (also known as contrary virtues):  Chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility.  

Now, I'm thinking there's some grey area between the two extremes of seven deadly sins and seven holy virtues.  (If you've tried life outside of the monastery or the Vatican, you'll know what I mean.)  A realm of existence worthy of a third category and list, perhaps, where orphans of the other two lists – discouragement, sorrow and acedia – and others, might find a home.  

Sorrow may be covered by acedia, and acedia is indeed a rich concept, but I'll drop it in favor of the more commonly understood sorrow.  Perhaps love could live in the new category, too, as it's entirely absent from both other lists and certainly a mixed bag.  Hope also exists beyond the dualism of sin and virtue, right?  Or just softens the edges a bit.  Happiness feels too sure of itself, but contentment could work.  That's five.  Two more?  Well, this is starting to look like a ragtag band of miserable artists and zen outlaws, so I might as well add mindfulness and, finally, creativity.

I'll call this new list "the seven wandering others."  In no particular order:  Discouragement, sorrow, love, hope, contentment, mindfulness and creativity.  Now we need never sin or fall short of virtue again.  Just live in the grey area.

Get thee to a monastery!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More Gruel?

Earlier today, before I got wrapped up in e-commerce, I was thinking what would a real bohemian do?  N. tells me that we are real and that even bohemians have heated studios and indoor bathrooms, now.  So, to the question.  It goes back to something I said in an earlier post about burning the furniture before I'd burn books.  I don't have a problem selling the odd book, but, so far, I've refrained from burning them.  Times are hard, but as it turns out, books have many non-incendiary uses.  This is for all the real bohemians:
  1. When you're manning the barricades made from your furniture (which can be burned later for heat), you can hurl the heavier tomes at the oppressors.  I keep three copies of Ulysses for this purpose.
  2. You can tear out pages, crumple them up and stuff them inside your trouser legs for insulation in winter.  In fact, you can paint draw and write on these pieces of paper and keep them up your trousers.
  3. When you've burned all the furniture, you can sit on piles of books.
  4. A stout wall of books can stop bullets fired at you by hungry neighbors.  They want your cookbooks!
  5. If all else fails, lose yourself in a book.