"20/20" By Sean David Christensen. (2017) Mixed media; Contact case with two Bausch + Lomb Ultra (TM) contact lenses with MoistureSeal (TM) technology, magenta and neon green Avery dot labels with pen letters, sarcasm, construction paper.
August 12th, 2016. Amy Masters is making a burger. On Wednesday, she thought about cutting the meat with a five-horsepower, 24" industrial bandsaw, but because of all of the steel belts inside, she decided against it. Too dangerous. Later that week, in the Northside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Masters carves out the soft middle of the meat with X-Acto knifes instead, then drills holes through it and bolts it to one of the 16-foot pieces of bread that stands nine feet tall on the corner of 824 Chestnut Street. Masters bends a three-foot tube of onion, while the lettuce dries in the sun. The green, BEHR latex paint would dry quicker that way. When completed, Amy Masters' burger, "Northside Road Side," will measure 200 feet in surface area, constructed of recycled tires, rags, sheets of plywood, 2x4s, plastic bowls & dead flowers. Each one of its six-inch long sesame seeds catches the light and the attention of motorists heading down Chestnut St. towards the highway. Maybe they'll take a picture, or pose with the enormous snack. It's unexpected. It's fun. And that's how you get people to stop.
"I'm from Kansas and I used to go to roadside attractions all the time," Masters recalls. "They're huge in the midwest, cause that's how you get people to stop." After completing her Masters in Fine Arts with a concentration in Fiber from Arizona State University in 2013, Masters began a series of public sculptures that evoked that sense of "the stop," the acceptance and participation of art in a natural environment. "The reason why I started making roadsides was because of Gatlinburg, TN," Masters continues. "I was making these objects and placing them in a gallery, and there's something about the white cube that's not quite what I wanted my work to be; That's not where I see it actually existing. You had to actually direct people to engage your work. Whereas you take it outside, or you take it out of the context of the white cube, it kinda just happens on its own. Especially public art."
Outside Tennessee, Masters invested further in this concept of public sculptures as sources of engagement and fun for those who participated. Whether it was a five hole mini-golf course in Raleigh, North Carolina or a 70x30-foot rag rug in Gatlinburg, these projects dismantled the lofty ideals of the gallery in exchange for those that were closer to the ground. More communal. "I don't look at art as this elitist thing that people can't share," says Masters. "I like to create work that people can understand and people would like to actually help me create. I wanted to go beyond the idea of it being art and really push the engagement and push the play and roadside attractions do that."
The space to create this next attraction was provided by Neu Kirche and Fallow Grounds for Sculpture, an annual public art residency program in Pittsburgh that focuses on transforming vacant lots in economically challenged areas into one month-long artist studios. 824 Chestnut Street would be become Masters' studio, in the neighborhood of Northside, less than a mile from Interstate 279, an eight-lane highway spur that divides Allegheny County. "If you walk across the street over the highway, it's world's nicer. You can tell that its been in a slow decline," Masters describes. "One side has all the restaurants, all the industry, and the other side is just houses falling down, essentially." Making her way through its jagged arrangement of empty lots and freckled brick buildings, Amy Masters walked through Northside, her new home for the next month, thinking about what to build.
"I was trying to get a handle of what I actually wanted to make," Masters recalls. "Because I do that when I actually start to create. I try to become part of the community in some capacity, in order to make work that actually fits with them." What fit, was Northside Sandwich Week, a ten-day competition for local restaurants in the area to vie for the title of "Sandwich King." And yes, there's a crown. It's plastic. "Full garb." Masters confirms. "It's great, and it was such a funny event. There was a sixth grade band that played, you put a name on a card and slip it in a box, and by the end, they tally and that's how you get to be the Sandwich King." It was at this event in the summer of 2016 when the idea of building a giant sandwich, a burger, began to take hold in Masters' imagination. "There was something about it that struck me, you could see the civic pride in this event and I was always going to have an element of that in the work - and just through conversations with my roommate, it became one of those things: Why isn't it a sandwich?"
Over the next month, Masters and her team of artists and builders, some of them neighbors from the community, constructed the giant burger to the amused bewilderment of onlookers. "I remember this one woman," Masters recalls, "She was kind of gruff, and she walked by and she asked, 'What is that? What are you making?' And I said, 'I'm making a sandwich.' Simple. And then she said, 'You're making a sandwich?' And then she put her head back and she just started laughing." Outside of the white cube of traditional museum spaces, Masters' sculpture was free of artifice. Approachable. "I was just there, building. And because I was outside from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every single day, they saw me and I became a neighbor, essentially. I think it's important when you create works like that to become part of the neighborhood, because that's their home. I couldn't imagine not wanting to meet them. It was more about people coming up and sitting with me and sharing their stories."
"Northside Road Side" was completed on August 26th, 2016, and stands today in Pittsburgh. Masters allowed the community to rename it as many times as they pleased, with nicknames such as "The World's Largest Hamburger," "The Giant Cheeseburger," and "Sammich." There are no ticket-takers or record of who comes to visit. No gift shop. Its legacy is captured in pictures on people's phones and barber shop chats between neighbors. "Have you stuck your head through it yet?" If you pose just right, by sticking your head inside one of the structure's four portholes, it looks as if you're being eaten by this creation. People become a part of it. At the center of America's fascination with roadside attractions, is the desire to become one with the exhibit, the experience. To become art. Mimicking the tiny arms of the 100-ton T-Rex in Cabazon, CA with their friends, or hugging their great-grandfather inside "Big Brutus," the world's second-largest steam shovel near West Mineral, KS. "I went all the time," says Masters. "Generations of photos of our family have been to Big Brutus. We still go. I mean, every time I go home, I still go. It's a big part of our family."
On someone's phone right now, next to the pictures of their cousin's high-school graduation or a mirror they liked in a model home, might be a picture of them pretending to be eaten by a giant hamburger in Northside, Pennsylvania. A 16-foot tall hamburger that has now become part of their generations of photos, of their history. Perhaps they drove past it with a friend from college after getting lost trying to get back onto Interstate 279. Perhaps they both looked at each other, after realizing what it was, and the meat was made of recycled tires. "Let's take a picture," one of them would suggest. Because it's unexpected. Because it looks like fun. Because I'd like to remember I was here with you.
That's how you get people to stop.
"Road Trip" by Rozalina Burkova
Now that the holiday detritus has finally settled after the slow rain of confetti that was December, the first week of January has come like a great broom to sweep it all to the side to make room for new work to be done in this new year of ours.
One such new piece of work is the image above. I was fortunate to be asked by Vidiots Foundation of Santa Monica to create their end-of-the-year postcard as a way of thanking their donors to their successful Indiegogo campaign. Initiated to raise funds for their efforts to promote the cinematic arts through preservation, education and community engagement through public screenings, I felt a strong connection to their mission. I was raised on VHS, and the memories I have of watching tapes with my family still warms my heart when I think about it.
I normally don't celebrate the New Year. I didn't really feel the need for it this time around, added to fact that the construct of time seems more and more arbitrary to me the older I get. Or maybe I'm just grumpy because I have a little bit of a cold right now. But staring at this mirrorball VHS tape suspended above a sherbet sunset in colored pencil, I find myself reflecting on 2016, and how thankful I was to have family & friends to get my through it. On Christmas Eve, my mom, sister, brother-in-law & I all watched Scrooged. And although it wasn't on VHS like last time, this time, we were together.
As we head into this new year of ours, and if I may offer one piece of unsolicited advice that hopefully won't sound too cloying, it's this: Focus on creating as much happiness as you can for yourself and those you love. Don't base your idea happiness or success on someone else's life. That's their journey, sacred to only them. You'll never follow the same path they do, and you'll never end up being them in the end anyway. Most importantly, they'll never be you. There will never be another you, so be the best version of you that you can be. If you're not where you want to be, then start moving and keep it up. Each step forward counts, regardless of the size.
Happy new year.
For every month to come in 2017, I will be releasing a "Desktop Background of the Month," an original piece of art to splash across your desktop or laptop computer if you so choose. An aperitief to this new endeavor is the image you see above. I was in a "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" kind-of-a-mood, but with a larger bristle. And less people.
Click on the link above in the navigation tab to download yours today!
I recently gave my musical project a name, standing atop a mound of eviscerated ideas at the hands of Google search: "Behold, I am become Google search, the destroyer of first drafts of band names." Nevertheless, Maggie Dave is here, and in the meantime - while I desperately try to banish the creeping suspicion that there's somebody out there waiting to pounce on that unreserved domain name...I'll choose to breathe instead.
I'll be performing new songs during the holiday months ahead, so check back here during Decembertime for concert dates, live performances & more. Until then, enjoy this kitchen-recorded demo of "Haven't Been The Same," a cover of one of my favorite songs by the magnetically gifted singer/songwriter Uni and her Ukelele, aka Heather Marie-Ellison.
I love the hypnotic sense of equilibrium and pastel stasis in this video, directed by Daniel Brereton. Everything feels frozen, like a strange department store. Taken from Pool, the arresting new album by Porches, "Car" is a propulsive midnight drive that shimmers with Smiths guitar and rolls along a thick backbone, like the line of Shelby GT500.
When asked about the song, lead singer/songwriter Aaron Maine said: "I just liked the idea of shedding something and how amazing that feels to kind of discover something new or to feel like you're finding yourself in a different way." Listening to Pool, you can feel that same sense of Maine trying to define himself, trying to shed past lives and emerge as something of his own creation. Something amazing. For the listener, it is a similar experience. Preferably at night, listening to these stories melts away layers of guarded emotion underneath the cloak of anonymity provided by the dark hours between one and three A.M. On the other side of dawn, you too emerge different. Having shed.
Pool is a beautiful slow dive, through waters of loneliness, longing and wanting to be safe. Porches has crafted a focused, nocturnal tribute to the unease you feel when everyone else has gone to sleep, and you can't stop hitting "refresh," waiting for something new. Something amazing.
Pool by Porches is a Domino Recording Company release, available where all fine music is sold.
I recently got back into composing music and writing songs, several of which I made demos of in the winter of 2015 and the following spring. One of these, "Family Tree," is now available to download online through SoundCloud if you are so inclined. It's good company, and plays well with others on your music device or phone.
It's a rough draft though, unmastered & recorded in my mom's kitchen. Maybe a bit soft. Normally I'm leery of sharing works-in-progress, but I've always been intrigued by the organic quality of a demo that's still finding itself - stretching its connective tissue to other instruments yet to be added. To that end, I feel comfortable sharing it this way, because my main goal with my music hasn't always been sonic perfection, but rather, evocation of emotion & memory.
I hope, if anything, it's a pleasant aural diversion that isn't too much of a drag to listen to. Lord knows I love the darker shades.
My friend, the wonderful and impishly clever Tonya Glanz, immortalized as Little (Cartoon) Edie from Grey Gardens. A staunch character if there ever was one.
I will be performing a story for Vinyl Voices in Phoenix, AZ alongside storytellers Melissa Fossum, Davina Griego, Jon Kirby & Robrt Pela on September 27th. The conceit of the show is really fascinating: You bring a vinyl record, the DJ plays a track of your choice, and you tell a story based on that song. It's an evocative, communal experience - one that I'm honored to be a small part of.
Vinyl Voices is a monthly storytelling show at The Coronado in downtown Phoenix. For more information, please visit thecoronadophx.com.
The picture above you depicts two versions of the profoundly gifted folk singer/songwriter Meredith Axelrod. I drew "Blue Meredith" at what must've been two o'clock in the morning after a fitful night of sleep, as if it woke me up to roar itself into existence.
Trapped like a firefly in a jar, the original picture from which the illustration is based, illuminates my mind intermittently, and has done so in the five and a half years since I first saw it. Truly, it is one of my favorite photographs of all time, and keeps my drifting thoughts company at the most wonderfully inopportune times.
When I showed it to Meredith, she said, "You captured what I meant to convey by the photo."
I don't know what either is supposed to convey, but I captured it. Whatever it is. And that's something to be proud of.
Meredith Axelrod's evocative, stirring Americana folk music can be heard on Soundcloud.
I say this without a trace of snark, but there have been times in my life when I've found myself returning to this video, and finding it to be incredibly profound. It's true. Never give up.
There’s a specific lyrical choice made in Japanese Breakfast's tragic and penetrating "The Woman that Loves You" by singer/songwriter Michelle Zauner, that speaks to the larger, fragile heart of their stunning debut LP, Psychopomp:
The word “try.”
In the context of the song, this word edges its way into the chorus, suggesting: “Don’t you think? Don’t you think? You should try to do as little harm as you can/To the woman that loves you.”
It’s a heartbreaking detail. A whispered suggestion to someone not in the hopes of an end to the emotional abuse they dole out, but rather, less of it. They should “try” to make an effort. For the character in this song, the more realistic goal for her isn’t liberation from this man, but rather settling for a finer grit of sandpaper on her psyche. One that she can live with.
Psychopomp is rich with such detail, in rivers of narrative that stretch from feeling lost in relationships that are out-of-focus, to the weariness caused by years of a partner’s casual cruelty slowly grinding away at your patience.
In “The Woman that Loves You,” Zauner is embarrassed, upset that she’s let this relationship push her boundaries inward tighter and tighter, like a dog trapped in the backseat of a stalled out car: “You’re embarrassing me,” She confesses. “With a postponed marriage and this stalled out car/Then you leave me in the back/With half a window rolled down/Like a dog/Like a dog in the summer heat.”
Listening to this song, you can’t help but think that with all of her anger notwithstanding, she’s never once verbalized her plea for all of this to stop. Thought about it plenty of times for sure, but never out loud. Never to his face.
As the song winds down amidst a sea of frosty blue synthesizers, choral guitars, galloping drums and pulsating bass from the evocative performances of Ned Eisenberg, Nick Hawley-Gamer, Colin Redmond & Peter Bradley, the couple finds themselves “gazing out for better things,” knowing that they’re both reaching the end of the proverbial road. But perhaps they’ll give it one last chance. Or at least, they’ll try.
Psychopomp by Japanese Breakfast is available for purchase though Bandcamp and streaming for subscribers to Spotify, Pandora & iHeartRadio.