Thursday, December 15, 2016

Top 10 of 2016

I think we can all agree 2016 was a challenging year. The highs, the lows, and even the middles seemed to be a bit more intense than in previous years. I would be remiss if I only named the good parts of this past year because in truth a lot of it sucked, for a lot of people. Just to recap, our country experienced the worst mass shooting in history in Orlando, Michigan's water was poisoned by lead, a Hawaiian bee was added to the endangered species list, peaceful protestors in North Dakota were blasted by hoses in freezing weather, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie died, a crazed gunman shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Denver, and - oh yeah - Donald Trump was elected President. These are just a few of the events I followed. Plenty of other foul events happened as well, and a lot of Americans are feeling lost, scared, and hopeless after a tough year. I certainly feel a bit nihilistic after all the trials we endured as a country. And as 2017 approaches, there is not much on the table that makes me excited for the future, either. A climate change denier is President? An Exxon CEO is Secretary of State? I might lose healthcare? Women's rights are on the chopping block AGAIN? I have had nightmares about these sorts of things. And now they are real.

So where does this put my silly blog and all this art stuff that seems so insignificant in the midst of all this chaos? My best answer is that now more than ever it is important to look for art and beauty in all the wrong (and hardest to reach) places. I anticipate that the next four years will be the most difficult some of us have ever faced, and it's important to not take on a nihilistic attitude. Writing this post has forced me to look back on the past year and extract all the good from it instead of fixating on the bad. Even when it seemed pretty clear to me that Donald Trump had a good chance at winning, and even as I watched the Dakota Access Pipeline grow and grow until it was almost completed, good things happened in the world. Let us not forget that a Muslim woman, Ilhan Omar, was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, that Bernie Sanders inspired many people in the primaries, and that the Dakota Access Pipeline, despite being almost completed, was halted because of the peaceful protests of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I'm reminded of a cliche piece of art that every novice art student has probably painted at some point at some point in their career: a big pile of shit with a flower growing out of it. Yep, that was 2016.

All the shit aside, 2016 was a good year for art. Here's a recap of some of my favorite moments. 

#10: Modern Velvet at The Art Institute of Chicago
I accidentally stumbled into this exhibit with two fellow velvet lovers when visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibit displayed distinctive swatches of velvet from clothing, furniture, and unexpected of places like an old theater in Detroit. 

#9: The Golden Gate Bridge
Have you ever seen that episode of the Tyra Show where she interviews a woman who allegedly married the Eiffel Tower? After seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time I can finally understand how someone could be in love with a world-famous piece of architecture. Although I saw a lot of good art in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge was my favorite piece of art (deco) the city has to offer. I have seen the Golden Gate Bridge in photographs a thousand times but when I saw it in real life I finally understood how beautiful it is. 

#8: Olympic National Park
I don't care what you say, or how much of a "tree-hugger" you think I am, I have always been a firm believer that nature was the first art work that was ever created, and is still the best piece of art we can observe today. I have been dreaming of a trip to Olympic National Park for a long time and finally got the chance to go when I visited my brother in Washington in September. Now more than ever it is important to respect and visit our parks and every time I visit a park I am reminded how lucky we are to have such a diverse park system to explore in this country.

#7: Polaroid film
Because I have an awesome job, I get free Polaroid film to play with once a month. I used to use Polaroid film in college, but because the film is extremely expensive, I was never able to buy enough of it to really experiment with the medium and feel comfortable using it. Now I can say I'm a confident Polaroid photographer and I have enjoyed crafting my own style with this supposedly antiquated medium.

#6: Dia De Los Muertos exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art
Exploring the National Museum of Mexican Art during my favorite time of year was such a contrast to all the blood and guts movies I usually watch around Halloween. The NMMA showed me that death can be colorful, vibrant, and even celebratory, and that the Western view of death I am so familiar with is not the only way to interpret the subject.

#5: Haunted Screens at the Milwaukee Art Museum
[Screenshot from Metropolis. Source:]
Whether or not the Milwaukee Art Museum predicted we were going to elect a fascist as our President, this exhibition of German expressionist film felt eerily reminiscent of what is happening in our country today. The Weimar Republic was one of the most enlightened societies in the world prior to the rise of Hitler. Could we compare this period to Obama's Presidency? Is Trump's rise the next Third Reich? We can only hope not. But this exhibit reminded me how important it is to study history and art history and learn from the mistakes of the past.

#4: Positions and Situations by Alex Arzt
Over the summer I did my first residency at the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, WI and I overlapped with artist Alex Arzt from from Maryland (currently traveling and doing research). Alex is working on a project called Positions and Situations in which she writes to people in old classified ads from the publication Mother Earth News. In these letters she asks the person or persons what came of their ad in the paper. Since most of the ads were written in the 1970s, these people were titillated to be getting letters from her almost forty years after the fact. I was lucky enough to be able to read some of the responses to Alex's inquiries and was surprised to hear how some of the idealistic environmentalists she wrote to had changed their views over the years. 

#3: Full Moon Karaoke at Company Brewing, hosted by Sara Caron
What the heck is going on in this picture? I believe this was the night of the "trout moon," and trout were swimming around on a projector and floating around the room at Company Brewing while people sang their heart out on stage. Full Moon Karaoke is a brilliant combination of art, singing, and art therapy. Luckily it comes around once a month to coincide with the full moon and is a great way to let out some steam, hang out with friends, and sing away all your troubles. I went a handful of times this past year and I hope to keep going in the future!

#2: Temporary Resurfacing
I was a volunteer as well as a spectator at this awesome event. You can read my blog post about it here.

#1: Diane Simpson at the Museum of Contemporary Art

If you don't know who Diane Simpson is, you should definitely check her out. It's very rare that I see a show at a museum and am extremely excited about the potential of the artist I am seeing, but that's what happened with Diane Simpson. Her work is a combination of architecture, fashion, math, and craft, and is unlike anything I have seen before. Next time she's at the MCA I'd love to see her work in one of the main galleries!

Thanks for reading. Let's hope Donald Trump doesn't take away the Internet and I can continue to write this blog in 2017. Happy New Year, y'all!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Voting vs. the Climate

Isaac Cordal, from Follow the Leaders series, 2011
Went viral on the Internet with the new name Politicians Discussing Global Warming

A few nights ago, I was having a discussion on the phone with my friend Josh about the election, as I've been doing a lot lately with my friends. Over the course of the conversation our tone went from dire to humorous as we started to laugh about all the people that evidently voted against themselves in this most recent American debacle. The joke: Americans clearly need to improve their critical-thinking skills. "Making America Think Again," Josh laughed. I laughed, too.

However, I know that this apparent lack of thinking on the part of my fellow Americans is not a laughing matter. Elections have direct and, whether people foresee it or not, indirect consequences on our lives. A direct consequence of Trump getting elected would be that he repeals Obamacare. Okay, we can deal with that. It's not like Americans have never lived without health insurance before. Another direct consequence is that we will have to look at his unfortunate physiognomy for the next four years; at least Obama was attractive. Oops, did I say that out loud?

But many Americans, whether they realized it or not, made a huge mistake that will lead to an unintended consequence. If you voted for Trump and you are poor, I am sorry, but the reality is you voted against yourself in many ways. If you did not vote, regardless of your socioeconomic status, you also cast a vote against your own best interests in a very roundabout way. Donald Trump even voted against himself by voting for himself, but he doesn't know this, yet. 

Although it wasn't touched on much in the debates, there were very clear signs that Mr. Trump wasn't conscious of the environmental issues that define our era. His promises to bring back the coal industry, threats to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency, oh, and the fact that he once Tweeted that climate change is a hoax invented by China were all pretty good indicators. 

Hillary Clinton wasn't an ideal environmental candidate, nor was she an aggressive environmentalist. But she listened to people, and she proposed some plans to expand on wind and solar energy, and she certainly wasn't about to attack our basic environmental rights in the way that Trump is planning. If you realized what was at stake, you would have voted for her (instead of voting for Trump) or you would have voted, period (instead of sitting at home and complaining about how effed up this election cycle was). 

When I cast my vote for Hillary on November 8th, I thought long and hard about it. Knowing that the Green Party candidate Jill Stein is more in line with my beliefs as a person and as an environmentalist, I could have voted for her. But she wasn't going to win. And so I voted for Hillary because she was our chance to uphold the environmental policies of the Obama adminstration, to keep us in important contracts like the Paris Climate Agreement, and to stop upcoming climate threats like pipelines and fracking projects.

Twenty-one days after I cast my ballot for the candidate that didn't win, the election is still on my mind whether I am at work, home, out with friends, or even sleeping, as some recent nightmares have revealed to me. I dreamt that I went to get a drink of water from my faucet and one of the taps was labeled "Water," while the other was labeled "Trump Water." My brain is coming up with some disturbing scenarios, but the reality isn't any less terrifying. In short, I am not "getting over" this election, as some have advised me to do. "Getting over" is something you do with a boyfriend, or a death. "Getting over" is for a one-time event that will not continue to affect you, directly or indirectly, over the next four years, or the rest of your life. "Over it" doesn't even begin to describe where I am. "Mobilized," "ready," "fearful," "realistic," are better words to describe it.  

My American friends, we do not have four years. Climate change is not a hoax. It was not invented by China. And it is not something that will affect polar bears in the distant future. It is real, and it is here right now. To deny this would be to deny that the table you are sitting at is made of wood, or that the sky above you is blue. All you must do is walk outside into the November air and feel. No matter where you live, this is not the November of your childhood. This is not even the November of five years ago. This is the November of the new era, the era of climate change that has already started and is not going to stop. 

I ask you, if you did not vote, or if you voted for Trump, what are you going to do now? Will you volunteer? Will you donate to an environmental organization? Will you start a local environmental club? Or will you sit around and wait to see what happens? 

And in the midterm elections, are you going to sit on your ass or are you going to use that brain in your head to make yourself think again about the very real consequences of elections?

Maybe if Donald Trump made himself think again he would realize some of his dumb golf courses would go underwater when the Polar Ice Caps melt. Now THAT would be an unintended consequence I could live with. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

So I Own This Ivanka Trump Shirt...

So I own this Ivanka Trump shirt. I bought it back when I thought I might still interview for a "big girl" job someday. It was before all of this happened...before Donald Trump was anything but a celebrity who was running a humorous political campaign. It's one of the nicer shirts I own, one of the few things I didn't buy at a thrift shop. I admit that wearing a more expensive garment gives me a boost of confidence. It wasn't really expensive, though. I got it on sale when I worked for Boston Store, with an additional employee discount. I think I paid about $10 for it. This year I donated $30 to Bernie Sanders' campaign and donated to several environmental organizations. So in the end, I spent more money on the things I believe in than I did on vanity.

The question is what to do with this shirt now? I thought about burning it. The symbolic gesture would certainly make me feel better during this mourning period. I also thought about continuing to wear it. After all, Ivanka isn't her father. But then the staggering results of the election came in, and the horrifying verdict shocked me to my very core: women helped to elect Donald Trump. Women, who are supposed to be allies to each other, instead voted against their own best interests and voted for a man who has openly admitted to sexual assault and disrespect to women.


I can admit I've been on the more conservative side of feminism during my adult life. I lived in a bubble in college and I couldn't really see that the fight was still on. Now that I am out in the real world, though, I can't ignore the reality anymore. I worked with a misogynistic boss who belittled me and made me feel less than human on a daily basis. I have felt how much harder I have to work compared to men who never motivate themselves because they know that everything is probably going to work out for them. And then I watched this horrible election cycle and realized how the media demonized Hillary for the same things a man could easily get away with. Instead of getting better, the war against women has gotten a lot worse in the last few years. I listened to a female voter's justification for voting Trump that made me feel like things will never improve: She didn't see Trump as a misogynist because she saw that he had raised a successful daughter. She was too blind to see that her own justification is sexist, that perhaps Ivanka became successful on her own without the help of her father, and that a woman, believe it or not, can become successful without the help of a man.

I decided to research Ivanka as a person and not think about her in relation to her father. She is indeed successful. She graduated from a good college and started her own fashion line. She is confident and carries herself well. Her fashion line has come under scrutiny for using rabbit fur, and is largely made outside the U.S. She seems intelligent and well-spoken, and appears to be a good mother of three children. As far as I know she does not engage in hate speech like her father. Based on this information, can I condemn her? As an environmentalist, I wish her fashion line was kinder to the environment. But the other information gives me no real reason to denounce her as a person.

I want to believe that the female voters who voted for Trump did this same thing with Hillary. I hope they looked deeply at her policies and truly did not agree with them. I hope they didn't listen to Trump saying she is a criminal and needs to go to prison. I hope it isn't true that there is a terrifying, ingrained sexism in women that caused them to vote against their own best interests. But I feel pretty skeptical. I really want to support women. But now I see that women have turned on each other, particularly white women who not only voted for a man that hates them, but hates their black and brown equivalent even more.

So what do I do with the shirt? If I burn it, I'm directly protesting the Trump family and everything they stand for. If I keep it, I'm supporting Ivanka, one of my fellow women, and therefore protesting the women who didn't support Hillary in this election. It's a catch 22 and I don't know where to go.

I think I will donate the shirt. Goodwill will sell it for about six bucks. I hope this small act of donation, an action which the Trump family is largely incapable of, is symbolic enough to help someone that Donald Trump promised to protect, a person who will likely end up worse off than they were before he got elected. In addition, I will do what I resolved to do the moment Trump won: I will work hard to make sure that no woman has the option to vote against herself ever again.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

In Defense of Horror

While taking a ride through the Wisconsin countryside the other day, I was finally confronted with the reality that fall is on its way. It isn't chilly yet, but the leaves are showing their first glints of gold and the roadsides are littered with pumpkin stands as the first orange fruits make their way out of the ground.

For some people, fall is that transitional season that means time outside looking at the leaves, going back to school after a break, or switching from regular lattes to pumpkin spice lattes. I've done all these things in the fall, and I enjoy fall because of its beauty and its devotion to pumpkin spice. But for me fall is also a time when I transition into darker themes. Perhaps because I am aware of the impending darkness of winter, I will often abandon even the most golden of autumn days for a more sinister activity. No, I'm not running around killing black cats or anything like that. Usually I'm sitting inside glued to the glare of my TV screen as I try to find the newest scary thing to watch. If it's on Netflix and it falls into the category of "horror," chances are I've seen it.

I've also seen all the old classics and everything else in between. I love horror. I watch it until I feel nauseous, my eyeballs are sore from staring wide-eyed at a screen for hours, and I'm too scared to move or go to sleep for fear of getting murdered. Fall is the one and only time that I binge-watch TV, and I don't think this habit is going to change for me any time soon.

The older I get, the more I realize I am lonely in my addiction to terror. It's hard to find a buddy to watch horror movies with. Obviously there's a demand for them, since they keep being made. But I often wonder if it's a small cult of people I've never met before that like to watch them. It's very rare that I say I like the genre of horror and someone agrees with me. Most people say they can't handle it, don't want to watch it, and avoid it at all costs.

It's also a little embarrassing to admit to liking it. People think there is something wrong with you if you like horror films. I don't know why this is, but this is how it is. If you say you like horror films you might as well just say, "I like murdering people."

Needless to say, there is little similarity between murdering a person and watching a horror film, but that's beside the point. In my world, watching horror is fun, and I've accrued a long list of recommendations over the years for anyone who might be interested in, I don't know, murdering people (a.k.a. watching horror movies). Here's a list of some movies I've watched that I've enjoyed, in no particular order.

The Evil Dead (1981)
I've never seen the 2013 remake, so I can't defend that one, but the original trilogy is awesome. People often joke about the film's low budget but I'll take experimental cinematography over phony CGI any day. 

The Shining (1980)
Oddly, I usually watch this film in the winter rather than around Halloween. I think it's because it takes place in the dead of winter and TV networks used to play it around this time. Like a true horror addict, I love Stephen King, and this is the best of his book-to-film adaptations in my opinion.

Paranormal Activity (2007)
Overall, the entire Paranormal Activity series is really bad. The acting is terrible, the plot shallow, and the effects unbelievable. It's sort of like The O.C. of horror films. But after watching this movie you'll be pinned to a wall at night, unable to move out of sheer terror. There's something about watching demonic activity happen in a normal neighborhood in a boring pre-fab, cookie-cutter home that makes the whole thing feel way too real.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Although I don't find this film to be particularly scary, I do think it's a really good film, and Mia Farrow brings to life an anxiety about motherhood that is very convincing and raw. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
This film is a classic that is probably on everyone's favorite horror movie list, but that's because it's so freakin' good. For me it's the music and the tense chase scenes that leave you glancing backwards for the next couple of days. 

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I watch this film probably once every two years. The whole thing is terrifying, but the scene in Buffalo Bill's basement is one of the most stressful scenes ever filmed. Not to mention Jodie Foster is a complete badass in this movie.

The House of the Devil (2009)
This film is great because it feels like a classic horror flick from the 1980s, but is actually from 2009. The scariest part is that almost nothing scary happens until the end of the film, at which point you are so exhausted from the suspense that you can barely handle the film's gruesome denouement. 

The Exorcist (1973)
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Duh. This is the best horror film ever made. There is nothing that came before or after it that even begins to compete with the unbearable torture of watching innocent Regan transform into a demon before your eyes. Not to mention the film set is known to be cursed, one of the actors turned out to be a serial killer, and it was the first film to ever use subliminals (such as a flashing devil face in the corner of the screen). Agggghhhhhh!!!!!!!

The VVitch (2016)
So. Good. I can't. Even. Handle it. If you haven't seen this movie, you are missing out on one of the best films ever made. The pacing of this film alone is enough to leave you paralyzed in your chair, but it also has top-notch acting, an ingenious soundtrack, and stunning cinematography. Some people say it's about shaming women at their coming of age. I would have to disagree. This is a celebration of women in all of their strength, glory, and wicked brutality. 

Nosferatu (1922)
The oldest film on my list is so impressive because it manages to create a sense of dread with barely any dialogue. I once watched this movie on a deserted floor of my college's library and was too scared to get up to go to the bathroom by myself.

Making a Murderer (2015)
This is the only non-fiction film on my list...or is it? This documentary hits close to home because it examines the murder of Theresa Halbach, a young woman who was murdered in my home state and was around my same age when she died. Although the documentary isn't supposed to fit in the "horror" genre, it's terrifying in so many ways, from the exposure of a corrupt local justice system to the fear that murder can happen even in small, seemingly innocent towns.

Halloween (1978)
Another classic. It's so good that every single horror film made since 1978 has tried to copy "the gaze" technique used to embody Michael Myers's stalkerish hunt for his sister, whom he tries to murder throughout the film. 

I chose these films because to me they are examples of high quality. It's frustrating that people think the horror genre is all crappy, one-star films with horrible acting and no intellectual or artistic merit. A lot of horror films are like this, but not all. There are plenty of high quality horror films, and when a horror film is done well, it can stand out by a long shot from a non-horror film. In fact, most of the films I like outside of the horror genre are still pretty dark, and at least two or three films from the list above are on my list of favorite films of all-time. Notice how I said that this is a list of films that I enjoy. Yes, I truly enjoy horror, and I think that horror done well is the highest form of filmmaking art.

To the people who say they don't like horror I ask you this: Why? What's so bad about being scared? When we look at art, any kind of art, do we want to be bored or complacent after viewing it? Doesn't good art inspire a reaction? If this reaction just so happens to be terror, why is this a bad thing? Most of us in the United States live pretty comfortable lives in the year 2016. We're rarely in danger of anything hunting us, we have good protection against weather extremes, and for the most part we always know where our food is going to come from. (Of course there are marginalized and underprivileged people in this country and in the world. I'm not stupid. I know that. I'm just saying in general). For the more paranoid, we might worry from time to time about our safety when walking alone at night, foreign and domestic terror attacks, and things like plane and car crashes. But do we really have the capacity to imagine what it would be like to have a man with knives for fingers chasing us through a foggy dream world at night, or a crazy family of Satanists locking us in a house and planning to sacrifice us to the devil at midnight? It's not like there's a huge chance that these things could ever happen to us. But they could. (Case in point, look up Henry Chase, a.k.a "The Vampire Killer" of Sacramento, CA).

Avoiding scariness is like avoiding the bitter taste of food. We purposely avoid bitter foods because they taste bad, but they're good for us. They make it easier to digest foods that aren't bitter. Scariness is the same thing. We are capable as humans of feeling the emotion of "scared," so why not feel it from time to time? When we come back from periods of scaredness, we are so much more thankful for the warm glow of the sun outside, the protection of our friends and family around us, and the fact that our world is so much less scary than the world inside a horror film. Not to mention, does it really hurt to be on your toes from time to time? The sad fact of life is that bad things happen. People get murdered, assaulted, and kidnapped, and this is never going to stop. Is it so bad to take extra precautions every once in awhile? Or to let your imagination go to a dark place so that you can avoid dark places in reality?

In defense of horror, I'm glad that it exists. Horror movies don't materialize. They are created by human minds who have experienced fear and understand how to make others feel fear. This is an important talent to preserve as we enter into the age of "trigger warnings" and "politically correct," overly-sensitive labels. Essentially, we are primping a generation of youngsters who want to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs. To that I say: screw that. Life is uncomfortable. I would rather say I reached into the deep, dark trenches of human emotion and prepared myself for a disruption of comfort before it catches me off guard. I am not saying that horror is going to save the world or anything like that. I'm just saying that the world is a little bit scary, and a little bit shitty from time to time, and I don't want to ignore that. Why do you?