Sep 23, 2009

Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School

Werner Herzog, the Bavarian-born, Academy-award nominated a cult film maker will host a seminar this year called The Rogue Film School. Applications are due in November for the three-day conference hosted at a Los Angeles hotel, in January 2010. The seminar costs $1450 and promises no technical training, but rather a lively discourse on guerrilla tactics, low-budget production, and "the athletic side of film-making." In other words, "The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature."

Herzog, who didn't use a telephone until the age of 17, has directed over 40 films, published many books, and directed numerous operas. He is known for his epic tales that capture human conflict with nature, heroes with impossible dreams, and extreme journeys. He films on location and often uses local people as actors.

One of his better known films, "Agrirre, Wrath of God" is the tale of Spanish conquistadors in search of El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. was shot with a camera stolen from the Munich Film School, in the Amazon, for less than $370,000. The cast and crew climbed up mountains, hacked through thick jungle, and rode ferocious Amazonian river rapids on rafts built by natives. During the film session, a flood submerged much of the film equipment as well as the rafts; this disaster and the rebuilding effort were then incorporated into the film.

"Grizzly Man" is another Herzog film of note which tells the story of bear-enthusiast Timothy Treadwell who spent 13 summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Treadwell shot hundreds of hours of film amidst these bears, and the camera was still rolling when in 2003, he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten. Herzog used Treadwell's collection of footage to tell this story. The film has received much criticism but is a testament to the adventurous subject matter and skillful means that Herzog employs.

Interested in attending the Rogue Film School? You can learn more a
Applications are due November 13. But be warned, as Herzog states,
"The Rogue Film School is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who have travelled on foot, who have worked as bouncers in sex clubs or as wardens in a lunatic asylum, for those who are willing to learn about lockpicking and forging shooting permits in countries not favoring their projects. In short: for those who have a sense of poetry. For those who are pilgrims. For those who can tell a story to four year old children and hold their attention. For those who have a fire burning within. For those who have a dream."

Sep 11, 2009

Ahoy Maties!

In my search for temporary, art-driven alternative communities, I've come across Swimming Cities, a project by a group of artists called SWOON. They've recently made a voyage along the Adriatic Sea to Venice and the pictures (mostly by Tod Seelie -- of their journey are fantastic. A few short video clips are available on Creative Time TV -- and their website is
The Swimming Cities website describes the project:

"SWOON’s boats are inspired by dense urban cityscapes and thickly intertwined mangrove swamps from her Florida youth. The Swimming Cities of Serenissima are built from salvaged materials, including modified Mercedes car motors with long-tail propellers. The boats’ crew is made up of 30 collaborating artists from the United States.

As the Swimming Cities move toward Venice, the crew will collect and install keepsakes in an ark-like cabinet of wonders that will be on display on the boats when they arrive. Once in Venice, the boats and crew will offer intimate performances that incorporate music, shadow puppetry, and story.

The vessels are imagined as a hybrid between boats and bits of land broken off and headed out to sea. Watching them approach the shore is like seeing a floating city in the distance, as improbable as Venice itself. To the real life crew, the boats are a place of refuge – both a home and a way of moving through the world. To those who encounter the boats for the first time, they are a reminder that anything that can be imagined can be built."

I'm reminded of the book The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. This book, published in 2000, is an examination of the Hercules-hydra myth that has long been a tale of imposing order and the battle for power. The authors introduce their writing project by stating:

"From the beginning of English colonial expansion in the seventeenth century through the metropolitan industrialization of the early nineteenth, rulers referred to the Hercules-hydra myth to describe the difficulty of imposing order on increasingly global systems of labor. They variously designated dispossessed commoners, transported felons, indentured servants, religious radicals, urban laborers, soldiers, sailors, and African slaves as the numerous, ever-changing heads of the monster. But the heads, though originally brought into productive combination by their Herculean ruler, soon developed among themselves new forms of cooperation against those rulers, from mutinies and strikes to riots and insurrections and revolution. Like the commodities they produced, their experience circulated with the planetary currents around the Atlantic, often eastward from American plantations, Irish commons, and deep-sea vessel back to the metropoles of Europe.”
Although not overtly stated, I read the Swimming Cities as a sort of hydra (with many beautiful - American! - heads) that demands a new context for art and, if only for a time, a different way of life. Ahoy maties!

Sep 10, 2009

Becoming Commons/Become Common

Some really amazing people have signed up for this event in California. If you're nearby, you should too.

Becoming Commons:
J. Morgan Puett with Brian Conley, Erin Elder & Allison Smith

Date: 9/24/2009 (Thursday)
Time: 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Location: Mess Hall

Ticket Info: FREE Admission
($20 for dinner/$15 for members)

Becoming Commons is a clustering/swarming/gathering of people entangled in the complexities of everyday living and working together. Looking to historical models of communes, collectives, homesteads, experimental outposts, and other forms of collective barn raising, participants are invited to share their stories and ideas in an intimate exchange at the Headlands Center for the Arts. This town hall-style program is collaboratively conceived by interdisciplinary artist co-founder of Mildred's Lane , J. Morgan Puett (AIR '09), artist Allison Smith (SMITHS), curator Erin Elder and CCA professor Brian Conley. These collaborators invite the public to join them for an evening of conversation. This is the first in a series of conversations that will continue in 2010.

Please note that dinner is an integral part of this program, so we strongly encourage you to join us at 6PM.

The public is invited to join the Headlands community for a delicious dinner in the Mess Hall at 6PM in conjunction with all public programs. Dinners are prepared by Headlands’ Chef Keith Mercovich, whose meals demonstrate a commitment to innovative and locally sourced cuisine. Dinner is $20 per person ($15 for Headlands Members). Reservations are required three business days prior to an event. Please or visit to make a reservation for dinner or RSVP to a public program.

C O M E T O B O L I N A S : B E C O M E C O M M O N
Putting conversation into action, this retreat will build on Headlands' hosted event "Becoming Commons" through an assortment of events, conversation, convergences, explorations and experiments. On the Bolinas Mesa, participants will collaboratively ask questions, share ideas, learn to forage, bake bread, make food, make music, build a structure, watch films, watch stars, and become friends. A series of informal workshops and activities, as well as the space for unscripted bliss, provides the setting for a deeper examination of what it means to become common.

DATES & TIME: Saturday, September 26 at noon until Sunday, September 27 at 6pm

LOCATION: Bolinas, details available with RSVP

RSVP: $25 for the weekend. All meals, live music and camping included. Space is limited! Email your reservation to Erin Elder --

Sep 8, 2009

Do You Remember Community Memory?

Community Memory was the first public computerized bulletin board system. Created by Efrem Lipkin, Mark Szpakowski, and Lee Felsenstein, Community Memory first appeared at Leopold's Records in Berkeley in 1973. Utilizing an SDS 940 timesharing system in San Francisco that connected via a 110 baud link to a teletype, users were able to enter and retrieve messages.

While initially conceived as an information and resource sharing network linking a variety of counter-cultural economic, educational, and social organizations with each other and the public, Community Memory was soon generalized to be an information flea market. Once the system became available, the users demonstrated that it was a general communications medium that could be used for art, literature, journalism, commerce, and social chatter.

Several of these machines popped up around the Bay Area -- at the original Berkeley Whole Earth Access Store and another at the Mission Public Library in San Francisco -- but each one varied in content and physical manifestation. The only photo I've been able to find shows the machine housed inside a large but homespun box (apparently, the machine was very loud and the record store asked that the sound be contained). Users operated the pin-ball shaped object by sticking hands through arm holes in the front of the brightly painted box.

Community Memory eventually disappeared from public life, its function eclipsed by other early iterations of the internet. From what I can tell, the project was more or less abandoned by 1974 yet I've heard rumblings of its creators writing a memoir. I'm so curious to know more about Community Memory -- what it looked like, what kind of information was gathered, if it was useful, how it served as a reflection of the Bay Area in the early '70s, if in fact communities were created by these machines and their archive of messages. I wonder if any part of the half-dozen or so Community Memory machines still exist. Wouldn't it be interesting to revisit Community Memory 35 year later? What would a contemporary Community Memory look like? With the advances of the internet, have we surpassed any need for localized, shared information? How did short-lived, home-grown initiatives like Community Memory usher in a more globalized information network and what are we to make of these legacies?

Sep 1, 2009

A Midnight Thing

I'm reading an entertaining novel -- White Teeth -- by the young and talented Zadie Smith. I've come across a passage that made me pause.

"To Alsana's mind the real difference between people was not colour. Nor did it lie in gender, faith, and their relative ability to dance a syncopated rhythm or open their fists to reveal a handful of gold coins. The real difference was far more fundamental. It was in the earth. It was in the sky. You could divide the whole of humanity into two distinct camps, as far as she was concerned, simply by asking them to complete a very simple questionnaire:

a) Are the skies you sleep under likely to open up for weeks on end?
b) Is the ground you walk on likely to tremble and split?
c) Is there a chance (and please tick the box, no matter how small that chance seems) that the ominous mountain casting a midday shadow over your home might one day erupt with no rhyme or reason?

Because if the answer is yes to one or all of these questions, then the life you lead is a midnight thing, always a hair's breadth from the witching hour; it is volatile, it is threadbare; it is carefree in the true sense of that term; it is light, losable like a keyring or a hairclip. And it is lethargy: why not sit all morning, all day, all year, under the same cypress tree drawing the figure of eight in the dust? More than that, it is disaster, it is chaos: why not overthrow the government on a whim, why not blind the man you hated, why not go mad, go gibbering though the town like a loon, waving your hands, tearing your hair? There's nothing to stop you -- or rather anything could stop you, any hour, any minute. That feeling. That's the real difference in a life. People who live on solid ground, underneath safe skies, know nothing of this; they are like the English POWs in Dresden who continued to pour tea and dress for dinner, even as the alarms went off, even as the city became a towering ball of fire."
As fires rage in California tonight and in the light of this weekend's Red, White and Brave parade, when the world can't get enough of the Antioch kidnapping, I wonder about the relationship of disaster to the ability to really, actively live life. I wonder how I might answer this quiz (all yeses) and what that says about me. Granted, I didn't grow up in Alsana's Bengal; I haven't lived through war and only the tiniest of earthquakes. But I do believe that anything could happen. The skies could open up, the ground could tremble. An alien could abduct me. I could fall in love and/or become destitute. I could be murdered or permanently disfigured. I could be washed in rainbow light and dance with leprechauns forever and ever.

The basis for my yeses is not that I'm privy to frequent disaster, it's that I cherish imagination and am willing (eager!) to be surprised; thus, it seems to me that there is a third kind of person. In this third space between privilege and disaster, between indolence and reaction, there is a sense of incredibly terrifying possibility. Certainly in the realm of building impossible things -- experimental art outposts, communally owned land, relationships that work and art that matters -- we must cultivate a threadbare sense of self and a carefree attachment to how things turn out. I'm learning that an alternative lifestyle can be volatile; it's tenuous and scary to do things differently. We could be jailed or commodified or shut down or hurt. Yet this love affair with that midnight thing... it's what keeps us believing in possibilities.