Friday, May 14, 2010

KARI ALTMANN: Zoomed-in View From The Trenches

Kari Altmann's knack for illuminating technology and its psychic imprints is impressive. Her real-time gif collages for Double Dagger drummer Denny Bowen's solo dance/pop mashup project Smart Growth were elaborate and clever without being self-congratulatory -- only the tip of the iceberg. A prolific artist immersed in the narrative possibilities of ephemeral imagery, Altmann DJs as, creates videos, and shows her work regularly around the globe. Her epic collection R-U-IN?S highlights the intersection between permanence, obsolescence, and the alluring constructions of the unreal. R-U-IN?S is a testament to its own double meaning as much as it is a challenge; all comers are invited to participate in the catalogue, to submit or remix. Plans are currently underway for a R-U-IN?S kiosk at Shanghai's World Expo. Here, Altmann responds to a question that's been on her mind for some time.

What are you doing the most lately?
Reading and making a lot of videos, mixes, and tumblrs, it's winter. I spend most of my time emailing and ftp'ing files - I want a long computer hiatus this spring and I want to run away to some facsimile of Ibiza this summer. But today I'm excited about the igloo we're going to build behind our apartment (I'm answering this during Baltimore's "Snowpocalypse 2010")

How does your location (Baltimore) affect what you do and who you are these days?
  • Importing what I can't get locally to a city full of empty warehouses.
  • It is more convenient to go to Manhattan than to the suburbs.
  • Right now I think I attend more events in New York than locally, and I definitely seem to show my art everywhere else but here.
  • People think I live in New York.
  • I'm just bouncing between here and there, something more artists seem to be doing
  • I want the world tour lifestyle that all these musicians have but only my files seem to get it.

I feel really lucky to have moved here in 2004 and witness some magical years, but I'm not in a musical act so the ride on the wave was a little different. Mostly it was a spectacle to learn from - an education. I think of it almost like a research residency on the culture industry: watching things be planted, cultivated, then exported to the world. I actually saw it happen from start to finish, with varying degrees of success. I'd seen a little bit of that before but never with this intimate social intensity. In a place this raw with currents this dark it seems like viruses have the time and space to grow very carefully, in a unique way - so that if they get swept away to other places or hit that exponential dispersion they are almost invincible.

While all this was happening I was at MICA learning critical theory and art history, trying to maintain some kind of perspective on it all but still wanting to participate. It was a tricky balance. After watching people around you deal with fame and self-branding so many times, you really learn what you want and don't want, but more importantly you see new possibilities for yourself. Baltimore has made me understand freedom. It has made me tougher in a different way than New York, by testing what I do with that freedom. Not everyone flourishes under these conditions.

I moved here from Dallas which is the opposite of Baltimore in a lot of ways, so it has always felt like an escape. When I came here I was definitely on the run. At first I took advantage of school loan money and the cheap cost of living and just travelled all over the world every time MICA was on break. The transition was a little rough. Eventually, though, I settled down and got more invested in Baltimore itself, which is when it rewarded me with an ideal quality of life. That tribal experience people fetishize - we actually had it for a minute, with all its ups and downs. I took a net hiatus and spent my time raving and surrounded by people. I didn't care about blogs or a career. It was like the ideal end of college situation amplified by 200 percent.

Now I feel pulled back out of that experience, more zoomed out again. My website went back up. This is a great place to get some projects done, but you basically have to export those products everywhere else once they're finished. It's like MVP/Bolt Bus and Wimax are singlehandedly responsible for more MICA graduates staying and surviving.

More importantly though, it's a good place to experience the raw and hidden elements of America, if you can handle it. If you use it to educate yourself you become able to see the things at work behind a lot of the larger forces in the world. If New York gives you eagle-eye vision, Baltimore gives you the zoomed-in view from the trenches. And there are times I still get that dystopian/lost city/end-of-the-world feel from it all which is what seduced me in the first place. People here are creating their own utopias, whether productive or destructive, among the burnout. Those forces keep eachother in balance. These people are part of a network of post-industrial American settlers experimenting with a cultural "next wave" in cities all over the country, with the aid of the internet. Sometimes it's the second wave, sometimes it's the sixth. Since most of the music and art from these cities is accessible via internet, touring, or exportation to New York, you can actually feel the current of a "Post-Millenial American Frontier" which can motivate you. Not to suggest it's only coming from America though, it's happening all over the world and has been, in cycles, for a long time. It's just that the internet is uniting and diversifying it more than ever before. In 2012 my only dream is to have some huge mega-rave that pulls all of these art/music/party initiatives together, to actually feel this current frontier in one place at one time.

I don't know if I'll stay living here this year - a move is feeling more and more inevitable - but what I've learned in Baltimore, first-person, is invaluable.

What do you think of the future?
Look Up, Look Out

Thursday, May 13, 2010

DINA KELBERMAN: Dancing However You Want

Dina Kelberman lives in Hampden and works at Atomic Books. She emigrated from Purchase, NY with a group of friends who became what the outside world recognizes as Wham City, and if anything Dina embodies the principles of Wham-City-ness as much as any of her more outgoing peers. She draws a serial Important Comics strip for Baltimore Citypaper because she won their comics contest in 2009, regularly releases The Regular Man and Aperiodic Comic, creates posters and album artwork, designs websites & t-shirts and frequently exhibits her bold non-sequential work in group shows. Her website Important Comics is a cavalcade of varied, exciting work in a wide array of fields and a spectacular archive of her work over the years.

What do you do? What are you doing the most lately?
I make comics and draw stuff and paint and update websites. I am always mostly updating websites, presumably because I enjoy it, although that seems retarded.

How long have you done these things? How have the things changed?
I've been drawing comics for about 10 years, not that seriously for most of that time. So I've gotten more "this is what I wanna do" about it, and I've definitely gotten WAY looser about it, I used to spend forever just drawing boxes that were perfectly square. Now I just slosh shit on the page as fast as I can. It's all gotten way more "painterly" if I can get away with saying that without sounding like a douche. (I can't.)

Someone got a tattoo of one of her comical characters!

Why do you do these things? What's it like when you are unable to do these things?
It's really fun. I like to write down the stupid tiny conversations I have in my head constantly. It makes me feel triumphant. I love looking at colorful shapes.
It is rare that I am unable to draw comics. If that's happening it's probably because i'm updating a website. There is never a time when making things is not an option, which is the best part of making things. I don't know if this is relevant, but i thought this might be a good time to mention that I love office supplies SO MUCH.

Have you ever had an epiphany about your true purpose?
Ummm, no real epiphany i guess . . . but going to Purchase College definitely changed me, in that I realized there were other people who were total weirdos and I could actually be myself around them, and we all fell in love with each other. Also I learned there that dancing however you want feels great.

Album artwork for Ed Schrader, The Choir Inside

How has your work affected your life in return?
It makes me feel awesome when people like my comics. It makes me feel awesome to look through my sketchbooks at all the shit I've drawn over the years. Making things makes me feel awesome. There is no single better feeling than making things. Are these answers?

How does your location affect what you do and who you are these days?
Baltimore is the best because of all the reasons everyone knows: supportive awesome community of crazy dickweeds doing things. My house is very comfy and my landlord accepts most of my interior designs. Sometimes I think I should leave and go somewhere by myself, cause i'm too addicted to my friends. But fuck that.

Part of the Wham City Paper

What do you think of the future?
Who knows? Hopefully good. Can't wait for nothing to happen at 2012!

Do you have anything you'd like to ask me?
How'd you lose that tooth?
It fell out when I bit a piece of bread because it was still a baby fang I had since my first teeth. The adult one is there now, but more crocodile style.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How We Lost the Van

April 27, 2010
Everyone is asking what happened.

Nate and I bought a baby blue 1993 Toyota Previa. We filled it with Crazy Dreams Band and made our way up the east coast, through the megalopolis and New England into Canada and down into the midwest.

Two hours outside Detroit, the van overheated. We were en route to Chicago when the Check Engine light came on and the van’s engine temperature pinned at H. Jon pulled the van over to the shoulder of 94W, an exit sign for Parma visible yards away. The periodic hissing he heard when we were leaving Detroit was now a steady, steamy chuff-chuff-chuff and when we popped the hood we saw vapor escaping from the coolant cap, and no coolant.

We called AAA, thinking we had it in the bag: “Bring some coolant!” Our tow truck driver was affable. He did not bring any coolant, but he was prepared to bring all four of us in his truck to his garage, Jimmie’s Towing of Jackson, Michigan. During the tow, he pointed out local landmarks like the Mystic Restaurant (“Don’t eat there, it sucks. Their chicken tastes like steak.”), Michigan Ave, and how it was the same road as the one in Detroit (from there, you can take it to Aberdeen, Washington).

Jon (L) and Jorge take in the scenery

For some reason, spirits were high. Jon and Jorge bought tallboys from the convenience store across the street from the garage and drank them from paper bags while we awaited the verdict. To kill time, we wandered up Michigan Ave, checking out the used vans for sale at neighboring lots, inspecting an abandoned seafood restaurant and peeing in the shrubbery.

It was almost 6pm and we were still 3 hours outside Chicago. Jimmie’s called. The head gasket was blown. The cost: $1650. Parts: arriving in two or three days.

Nobody in Jackson was able to rent us a vehicle that night; most places were closed, wouldn’t rent one-way out of state, or didn’t have a car large enough for all our gear. The folks at Jimmie’s recommended an affordable hotel and taxi company, then let us store our van, and all the gear still in its trunk, in their lot overnight. We were tired, punchy with cheap beer and confusion, and feeling thoroughly helpless. I called the venue in Chicago to cancel, hugged the filthy van and wept.

Jimmie's Towing of Jackson MI

Our cab ride to the hotel-formerly-known-as-Super-8 took us through the outroads of Jackson, past Cracker Barrel and Red Lobster, to a snarl of freeway ramps. Sadly, we recognized the rest stop up the road from our America’s Best Value Hotel Thing because it was where the Frappuccinos we enjoyed while waiting to be towed to Jackson were purchased. A half-dozen people were tailgating in the hotel’s parking lot, barbecuing on a Hibachi in the bed of a pickup truck. Our concierge, Britney, also felt our pain: “Jackson blows!” She gave us a room with a view of the better hotels, a dumpster, a puddle and a garbage bag stuck in a tree.

Accessing dinner required crossing five lanes of speeding traffic, navigating a barbed wire fence and trolling beneath a highway overpass. The options were, like much of Jackson, bleak. Nate remarked that times like this were why laughter was invented. We passed up Ground Round (“That still exists?”), Old Country Buffet, Panera, and Quizno’s for Outback Steakhouse, which turned out to be the most expensive, most disgusting meal of tour. The ribs made Jorge sad, my side of mixed vegetables were better described as “depressed and oddly sugary” rather than “garden fresh” and Nate, amazingly, couldn’t finish his chicken quesadilla (not so much “stuffed” with chicken, bacon and mushrooms as “oppressing” said items amidst its cheesy paleness). Futility, depression, and queasy fullness bloomed within us in a completely non-ironic, unfunny way.

Nate, Rick Olney and the new trucks

Our walk back to the hotel in the complete dark was quiet and scary. We dug into a case of Milwaukee’s Best and watched TV. A jingle invented by Jackson’s Fox News affiliate pertly chimed “Buy local, Mid-Michigan!” No amount of trademark asterisks could better highlight the endangerment of Jackson’s economy and culture than our meal excursion. The only other local restaurant we came across in Jackson besides the abandoned surf-n-turf shack, the salad bar in the airport and the Mystic (which “sucks”) was closed at 2pm. The Outback Steakhouse, however, was packed.

Jackson’s Fox News lead story of the evening told of a University of Michigan employee caught propositioning a cop posing as an underage girl on the internet; the image of a screen name being typed over and over flashed repeatedly, intercut with blurry shots of the man in question walking away. The same images, edited together, repeated over and over. Before the cut to commercial, a teaser blared “The dangers of texting while driving! Next!” over clips of people texting while driving, including the cameraman. Clearly people were asked to text while driving in order to collect footage for the segment on the dangers of texting while driving.

We awoke to a bright sun, artificially malted hotel waffles, and a phone book full of rental agencies still unable to help us no matter how early our start. The closest assistance was in Lansing, 45 minutes away. We reached out to our Michigan brotherhood network, and by the time we checked out of the hotel, cabbed back to Jimmie’s, and checked in on our fallen soldier, John Olson planned to come to Jackson to rescue us later that afternoon. Additionally, Rick Olney would buy our van from us for scrap prices. The son of the owner of Jimmie’s and a professional towman for decades, Rick scoped out a 1997 Ford Windstar with a smashed hood, popped airbags and faceless CD player. Options blossomed as quickly as they had dwindled the day before. The Windstar was bumper-car purple, and Rick offered to replace the hood, cut the airbags out and do some other small repairs so we could have it for $1000 and the Previa.

Trailer wreck courtesy Jimmie's archives

While we mulled over whether or not we should purchase a van we didn’t know anything about (didn’t stop us in the first place) and couldn’t really afford, Rick showed us around. Next to another Windstar was a smashed hearse, having reached its final destination whilst delivering someone’s earthly remains to their final destination. In a warehouse adjacent to the lot of wrecks, Jimmie’s Towing’s latest acquisition loomed large and shiny: a 50-ton Freightliner wrecker. In yet another warehouse, the first truck The Olney family purchased for Jimmie’s rusted gently away. Rick explained that the towing with this truck required more skill because the entire hydraulic system had to be manipulated by hand, unlike modern automatic winches.

Jorge and Jon played catch with a water bottle while Nate & I listened to Rick’s tales. Jimmie’s waiting area consists of car seats a box of old photographs, and almost a half dozen scrapbooks filled with various wrecks of yore and towing triumphs – a boulder, an army tank, another tow truck. The garage has been in service since the 50s, and the Olneys acquired it in 1972. They are probably one of the oldest local institutions in Jackson.

The Previa.

Our options were to purchase the dubious frankenWindstar with money we didn’t have, play Cleveland and then set off to Baltimore at a leisurely pace, completely at the mercy of a potentially fickle chariot. Or rent a reliable, phenomenally expensive minivan and take it straight home. I felt as if all cars on the road were mocking me, “Look how driving around I am.” It was simple and sad to decide. Getting into John Olson’s oddly clean and spiffy little black Honda thing with its decent stereo and Band-Aid colored upholstery caused a pang of sadness and regret to tingle through me. We sped safely and incident-free into Lansing, chatting about The Wire, Treme, babies on the brain and Lansing. Our destination: Lansing International Airport, where, for a price, Avis would give us the keys to a minivan and make it ours until 2PM the next day. Once there, keys in hand, we were relieved to note that not only would our equipment fit in the Kia Sedona we were given, we would be treated to a plentiful cup holders and satellite radio.

After thanking the shit out of John, we drove back to Jackson for our gear. Cleveland was not far away, I reasoned; there was time enough that we could play our set, drive home and still return the van within 24 hours. I even offered to drive that long, light-leaning leg of road. Thus emboldened, we went to Cleveland where we were met with PBR, pizza, friends and a screening of Nukie. After a thoroughly decent set and kind words from the assembled, we waved goodbye to the Cool Ranch and threaded our way across Pennsylvania’s harrowing Route 80 to meet Baltimore’s strange, bright morning of home.

Jimmie's Towing

Images from Jimmie's Archives