Tuesday, February 28, 2012

still-sound 45. In search of the miraculous

I recently borrowed a book from the library about  G. I. Gurdjieff, a Russian esoteric thinker of the early 20th Century.  I chose a book about him (in this case by the novelist John Shirley) rather than by him because I thought it would give me a broader overview of his life and ideas - and be written in a more modern, direct  style.

Shirley's book often references In Search of the Miraculous, written by one of Gurdjieff's students, P. D. Ouspensky (published in 1949).  This title is commonly accepted as the seminal book about Gurdjieff.

I had heard this title before.  When I moved to New York after college I worked in a non-profit art gallery called Exit Art.  One of the exhibitions staged during my time there explored the history of performance art, highlighting pieces that required an extraordinary level of endurance by the artist, whether mental or physical.  The exhibition included a piece by conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader that particularly caught my eye.  The piece was represented by a melancholy, grainy, black and white photograph of a sailboat at sea.  The cursive script along the bottom of the picture read In Search of the Miraculous.

I assume that Bas Jan Ader borrowed the title from Ouspensky.   Otherwise it's quite a coincidence.

In Search of the Miraculous by Bas Jan Ader, 1975. Photo from MOCA archives
Bas Jan Ader's piece was a multi-faceted project spanning two years.  It began as performances which took the form of nighttime walks through Los Angeles in 1973.   The artist documented these walks with black and white photographs.  An air of hopelessness and sadness permeates much of Ader's work.  In Search of the Miraculous concluded in 1975 with a piece that had the artist cross the Atlantic by himself in a thirteen foot boat.  The voyage started in Cape Cod, MA and would have ended in Falmouth, England had Ader not perished at sea.  In Search of the Miraculous drips with tragic irony as the quixotic voyage was almost certainly bound to fail.

I like the word miraculous but don't think it's anything I'd care to search for.  Miraculous implies extraordinary.  I think I'd rather search for the ordinary.

Gurdjieff claimed that most people sleepwalk through life.  Like robots, humans  mechanically react to events, never really knowing themselves, never truly feeling anything.  The Waking Up from the sleepwalk, to me, resembles the Buddhist notion of enlightenment.  To truly see things and yourself as they are with no delusions.  Nothing changes, everything is ordinary except for your perception - which is perfectly clear.  Like putting on glasses after living a lifetime with severe myopia.

I've read of and heard personal accounts of brief glimpses into clarity.  Some came during a near death experience, some came with DMT trips, some came in meditation practice.  These moments are sometimes described as "Of course!  Of course!  It's so obvious and right under my nose.  How could I have not seen it this way?"  The clarity is momentary however and then impossible to describe afterward.  Like painting a picture of a red apple when the color red, in fact, does not exist.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

still-sound 44. A plate & a bowl

This is a plate I recently made with a shino glaze.  I made the dish deep so that it could be used for serving.  I may even try baking something in it.  The rim already looks crispy like a toasted marshmallow.

I made a bowl glazed in tenmoku.  I love the bronze and black patterning that tenmoku sometimes creates.  The bowl is a perfect size for making salad dressing.  Recently I filled it with rice crackers and peanuts.  It's pictured here with a single asian pear, the kind that comes dressed in styrofoam netting at the oriental supermarket.  One of Rob's work colleagues gave it to him. I'm not sure why.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

still-sound 43. Baika-ju

One of the first incenses to truly impress me was Baika-ju by Shoyeido.  Since a large box of it came with a very modest price tag I couldn't help but wonder if I would discover more spectacular sticks if I were willing to part with more money and broaden my search.  It's because of Baika-ju that I started collecting incense seriously.  I have found that there are certainly sticks that are more expensive but few that are more pleasing.

A sumi-e sketch of ume branches and blossoms decorate the top of the box. The label on the bottom says Baika-ju Plum Blossoms.  I assume Baika-ju is Japanese for plum blossom although I could be wrong.  I don't know of plum blossoms to have a scent at all.  I imagine that its name refers more to a poetic notion of early spring.

Baika-ju is a sandalwood based incense and as such bears the characteristic warmth and creaminess.  The scent oscillates between the oily sweetness of toasted coconut to the dryness of a tanned leather hyde. Maybe the ripe fruitiness of plum enters the picture but I suspect this happens more in my imagination.  The smoke dissipates and leaves a trace of powdery softness in the air perhaps referring to the feathery clusters of blossoms on an otherwise bare tree.

I told my friend Carlos about the wonders of Baika-ju and he popped over to OK on 3rd Street within minutes of my recommendation and bought himself a box.  He loves it so much that he burns sticks of it in his car when he drives to work or jiu jitsu practice.  It's a clever use of the car ashtray and lighter since he doesn't smoke.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

still-sound 42. Barber

Some pyramids I've collected, one glass two alabaster.

Every time I visit Ian the barber for a trim we seem to have an even more interesting conversation than the last.  In the past we've discussed the hardcore punk scene in Southern California; teenage depression; polygamy; tattoos and chemtrails.  This week we discussed clairvoyance and reincarnation.  He told me a story of when he was a small child hanging out on a beach in Orange County with his family.  His mother (whom he describes as an old hippy) happened to mention the pyramids of Giza in a conversation between the grown-ups to which the toddler Ian announced in an unusually adult tone of voice, "I used to fly over the pyramids in Egypt."  He then turned around and resumed playing in the sand.

I've read of instances whereby small children describe in minute detail the life they just completed.  In some cases the facts would be traced back to a family that recently lost a member.  As a small child the Dalai Lama could recall his past life as the former Lama.  These clear, infant recollections completely vanish as the child grows older.  These instances seem to happen the most in India and other cultures that accept the notion of reincarnation.  Perhaps they're just as common in the West but parents brush the stories off as nonsense.  I'm glad that Ian's mom was hippy enough to pay him attention - whether his story was childish nonsense or indeed a vivid memory.

Our conversation had me so engrossed that I didn't even realize that the haircut had finished until Ian held up the handmirror revealing the clean line at the nape of my neck.  After a few sweeps of a brush dusted with Pinaud talcum, I was ready to pay the man and be on my way.  I left looking neat and tidy and smelling of Tres Flores hair pomade.

Ian's set-up.

Freshly trimmed. Laura Johnson took this picture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

still-sound 41. Lucie Rie

I love the work of Lucie Rie (1902 - 1995).  Along with Hans Coper and before them, Bernard Leach, Rie helped to shape the complexion of modern British ceramics fusing European methods with the materials and styles from Asia.

I found this beautiful book by Tony Birks on the life and work of Lucie Rie.  I'm in awe of the graceful bowls that stand on a narrow foot and dramatically flare to a wide rim.  Her glazing is simple, unfussy and elegant.

From Lucie Rie by Tony Birks, photos Jane Coper

From Lucie Rie by Tony Birks, photos Jane Coper

Saturday, February 11, 2012

still-sound 40. Stamp

The new & improved card

Recently my friends from New York Annie Schlechter and Russell Maret visited Los Angeles. It was exciting to meet up and catch up.  Annie is an incredible photographer and her husband Russell makes books.  He's a pro at the old-school printing press which he has set up in a studio in Brooklyn.    He also happens to have a very cool blog: russellmaret.blogspot.com

After receiving the beautiful business cards Russell made for himself and Annie I decided to tweak mine.  I had a bunch made when I redid my website last year.  I found an old print shop in downtown LA called Aardvark and they ran off a very simple design using the Garamond typeface (which has always been my favorite).  When I started this blog in August I wished that my card could somehow reflect it.  Annie and Russell suggested I have a stamp made.

I am no stranger to the rubber stamp.  I always get a strange little thrill finding and using stamps.  I think I inherited this from my dad who also ventured into the world of the Dynamo labelmaker (not so much my thing).  I bought a stamp-making kit from a stationers' in London which I used mostly to print my return address on envelopes.  I've used it for years but never much cared for the typeface.  It's too big and the sans serif design is uninspiring.  I couldn't use it for my for carefully printed cards from Aardvark.

The magic of the internet allowed me to find a company that whips out stamps to your custom design.  I chose a self-inking Trodat number in red using the Palatino font (the closest I could find to Garamond).  It arrived in the post a few days ago.

I was talking to an awesome dude from Calabasas named Jason when the stamp arrived.  He (unexpectedly) shared my enthusiasm for its arrival.  It turns out that Jason is also a 'stamper'.  He admitted that he has a stamp for everything.  I started thinking about my own collection which, although small, contains a few gems.  My favorite is a stamp I found in the Japanese crafts emporium called Tokyu Hands.  It resembles a seal of sorts with a laurel wreath surrounding a message written in Kanji.  My Japanese friends told me that it says something  like "Good Job" and would most likely appear at the top of a schoolkid's homework. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

still-sound 39. Orange Blossom & Snow

The orange tree right outside my front door has blossomed.  The scent is incredible and inimitable.  I've discovered many perfumes that adequately resemble orange blossom (particularly L'eau de Neroli by Diptyque, Neroli Portofino by Tom Ford, Zagara by Santa Maria Novella and Fleur de Citronnier by Serge Lutens) but nothing from a bottle truly captures the magnificence of the tree itself.  I took pictures of the small white flowers a few nights ago when the air was particularly thick with fragrance.  They look like snow.

Recently on my morning walks with Rosie we stumble upon pockets of perfumed air.  Sometimes I look around and can't even find the tree or plant creating the smell.  At night many of the scents concentrate in aromatic intensity.  I didn't expect Los Angeles to smell strongly of jasmine before I moved here. But it does.  One of the city's many surprises.

While I delight in the essences of a premature spring, Europe is ominously frozen.  I saw pictures of vaporettos navigating through chunks of ice floating in the Venice canals.  As far as I understand, the jetstream, the current of warm water that keeps Europe temperate has been rerouted further south subjecting the continent to arctic air.  The melting ice caps have caused this detour.  Southern Europe freezes deeply every winter now. 

The episode of At Home With Venetia in Kyoto I just watched focuses on snow.  Venetia strolls through  the still, snowcovered morning landscape and comes across a group of people making a bonfire.  They burn bamboo and trees in the beginning of the year to pay tribute to nature.  They take the cinders and burnt branches as talismans to ward off evil spirits and protect their homes from fire.  I wonder if this is a Shinto tradition?  I deeply admire them for respecting the spirit of Nature even if modern Japan as a nation, like all other industrialized nations harnass and aggressively overuse natural resources as if they were simply there for the taking. 

Venetia took an incinerated twig and said "If I lived in the city I wouldn't be able to do this" and then came out with a long, loud "uuuuuuuuuuuugh!"  This was one of the funniest things I've ever heard.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

still-sound 38. Lady of the Oil

I thought of my very dear friend Jane Yeh when I saw this statuette.  It mysteriously appeared on a table outside of a house I pass every day when I walk the dog.  The house belongs to hoarders.  Or maybe the occupants only have a mild form of hoardism.  The concept of hoarders seems somewhat new.  Growing up there were always neighbors who kept broken down cars propped up on blocks in their front yard and years of National Geographic stacked up in the family room - but they were just called people who collected stuff rather than hoarders.

The statuette reminded me of an ornament I particularly liked when I was a small kid.  My parents often brought me to shops with them while they ran errands.  This was the 70s and my parents had a somewhat laissez faire attitude allowing me to wander around on my own in public places.  At Rickel, the local hardware emporium I would meander into the area featuring doorbell displays and test each chime until I could choose the one I liked best.  I would eventually end up in the lighting area and once discovered a small statue of a 'maiden' surrounded by wires strung on a vertical diagonal.  Drops of oil would follow the lines of wire downward in slow, random patterns.  The overall effect was that of a woman standing in a garden during a gentle rainfall.  I know that it was oil because I actually touched a droplet as it descended.

I don't know if Jane knew of this ornament but when I told her about it she seemed to 'get it' immediately.  She's a brilliantly talented poet and could probably imagine the ornament in great detail.  The statuette outside the hoarders' house only graced the table once.  It had disappeared by the next day.  I'm glad I took the photo when I had the opportunity.  A lady of great poise - ultimately inscrutable - not unlike Jane herself.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

still-sound 37. Tensei

The lidded pot devoted to Tennendo

I made this lidded pot shortly before Christmas.  It's glazed mirror black and has a golden disc leafed on the side.  The inside is also mirror black.  I use it to store incenses from Tennendo since the bundles don't come packaged in their own individual boxes.  Each one is wrapped in a beautiful lace-like paper.  Right now the collection includes Frankincense, Kuukai and my favorite, Tensei.

The Tensei bundle bound in aqua colored paper

I've been wanting to write about Tensei for a while.  I discovered it last summer and was immediately impressed, even declaring it as my favorite stick from the first whiff.  I've waited this long to mention it because I haven't figured out how to properly describe it.  I still don't think I can.  Its scent is full and round.  It reminds me of a polished grand piano, perhaps this is why I've chosen a glossy black vessel to store it.  It's warm and slightly sweet.  There's perhaps even something a little rotten or acrid, barely perceptible but deftly contributing an interesting contrast to its accessible charm.  It doesn't have a distinctive aloeswood profile although I wonder if Tensei's subtle dirtiness can be attributed to that magical substance I like to call oud.

I've given sticks of Tensei to other incense afficionados and have not received any enthusiastic reactions that rival mine.  Perhaps it just appeals to my particular taste. From my research I gathered that the Enkuu Horizon stick is generally hailed as the masterpiece of the Tennendo line. I've sampled it and liked it.  But I love Tensei more.