Stare.
     
 

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  4'33" in the Birth of a Camel Cigarette
(after 4'33" in the Life of a Camel Cigarette)

 
 
 

 
 
P E R I O D  I  1 9 9 8
 
   

1 January 1998
4'33" in the Birth of a Camel Cigarette
(after 4'33" in the Life of a Camel Cigarette)
Almost ten years ago I made the photographic diptych shown here, 4'33" in the Life of a Camel Cigarette. (The time period was of course a reference to John Cage.) For 1998 I decided to do something entirely different from anything I'd ever done before while at the same time repeating myself. The result is 4'33" in the Birth of a Camel Cigarette, my first video. It's essentially a juvenile exercise: film a cigarette burning then play it backward. It can be seen over the Internet, although I wouldn't bother.

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2 January 1998
Not a Must
Toward the end of his visit, I told Thomas he must finish the huge container of homemade cookies he brought with him.

"It's not a must, it's a can" he corrected, pointing to the steel cookie barrel.

Everyone agreed it was by far the most clever thing said during the long evening, a remark all the more remarkable since English isn't Thomas's first language. It must be wonderful to speak more than one language.

(Due to the acute shortage of appetite stimulants, we never did finish the can of cookies.)

3 January 1998
Ask Any Leading French Communist
I found a magazine that had a two-page spread of small photographs of people who died in 1997. Death being the great equalizer, all the photographs were the same size except Momma Teresa and Princess Die whose portraits were four times as large as everyone else's. I guess sainthood really does have benefits in the afterlife.

Each person had two lines of text under their photograph. Since most of the first line was taken up by the name, that left just a few words to summarize an ostensibly notable life. Some of the people who died in 1997 were the "doyen of 'bonkbuster' novelists," a (the?) "leading French communist," the man who "invented the Portakabin" (I wonder if he was buried in his invention?), "beauty exiled in 1941," the "wrestler who was born Shirley Crabtree," an "actress, page-three girl, drug addict," "blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter," a "gay writer, junkie, wife-killer," and "Adolph Hitler's favorite secretary."

Since the date on the cover of the magazine was 28 December 1997, I'd wager the entire piece was finished around mid-December. I feel sorry for anyone who died in the last week or two of the year; they never had a shot at being included in any of the myriad "memorable deaths of the year" features. Fame is fickle; just ask any leading French communist.

4 January 1998
The Time is Mars
I finally began reading Marina Gobin's book An Unauthorized Autobiography of the Red Planet, but I didn't get very far. In fact, I didn't get further than the first line:

The time is Mars, the place, long ago.

Since the rest of the book can't be as good as the first sentence, I'm debating whether I should continue to read it.

5 January 1998
The Toad Store
I was walking down the street today and saw that the video rental store has been replaced by The Toad Store. When I went inside--how could I not?--I found all sorts of things I never imagined.

First, there was the needlepoint wall hanging with a crude image of a toad accompanied by the text "A toad is a thing of beauty forever." There was a huge poster showing some forest dwellers munching on toad shish kebabs, again with text: "Eat a toad for breakfast and you'll never eat anything worse all day." The bookshelf had some great titles, including You and Your New Toad, The Toad No One Knows, and Toads: Creatures of Mystery.

I asked the manager (who was wearing a t-shirt with "Kiss Me: I Might Turn Into a Toad") if she sold toads. When she said she didn't believe in selling animals, I congratulated her on taking the ethical high ground and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

Nothing happened so I left.

6 January 1998
Rabid Wombats Attack!
Jill gave me an album The Best of the Rabid Wombats for my birthday tomorrow. (I know because I opened my package a day early.) I thought it sounded familiar, so I compared it with the other recording I have by the group, Rabid Wombats Attack! It turns out both albums are exactly the same. Well, almost: they're the same songs, but presented in a different sequence.

I asked Umberto about this, and he explained that since the Rabid Wombats only released one album (Rabid Wombats Attack!) before they disbanded acrimoniously, that the "best of" album has to be the same as the only one they released.

7 January 1998
An Unremarkable Day
Today is my fifty-first birthday (again). It's an unremarkable day (except for an absence of salmon and orange juice) so I won't.

8 January 1998
Conceptual Art or What?
I ran across a striking photograph by Irving Penn accompanied by a quote: "A beautiful print is a thing in itself, not just a halfway house on the way to the printed page." I appreciated that his observation was illustrated by a reproduction on the printed page. Conceptual art or what?

My other reaction was to consider making beautiful prints again. It's been almost seven years since I was in a darkroom; I'm surprised when I look at my photographs and realize I used to be a good craftsperson. (Once a good craftsperson, always a good craftsperson?)

I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it and thought about it some more, and this is what I finally ended up thinking. I can make pretty pretty art and I can make boring conceptual art; they're not mutually exclusive.

That's what I think.

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9 January 1998
Beyond Infinity
I have a 500 millimeter lens that I may never have used. I took it on a trip to photograph seals back in the days when that sort of thing paid the rent, but I don't think I ever took it out of its padded case. I haven't got rid of it, though, because it does something none of my other lenses do: it focuses past infinity. I have no idea what lies beyond infinity, but if I ever have the urge or the opportunity to photograph it I'll be ready.

10 January 1998
A Reason to Be Cheerful
A few weeks ago I read an essay on the human condition that began with three reasons any rational person should be miserable. First, most of us will be dead in a few decades, completely forgotten in a few generations, and eventually our sun will burn out and/or explode and all life on earth will die. Second, in the years before we die we'll be tormented by envy, guilt, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, sloth, bad health, as well as broken promises, betrayals and a plethora of personal demons and disasters.

I take great pleasure in remembering this article, for it gives me a lovely reason to be cheerful: I can't remember the third reason I should be miserable.

11 January 1998
Practice Makes Perfectly Predictable
I listened to a documentary about a ventriloquists' convention in which one presenter said he'd done the exact same act some 20,000 times in recent decades. When someone in the audience asked him if he ever wanted to do anything differently, he gave a telling reply: "No."

It reminded me of another story about a young comedian from a rural community who went to Chicago to see professionals perform. He was depressed after seeing his first show; he thought he'd never be as good as the comic he watched. He asked the doorman if he'd caught the performer on a good night. The doorman laughed at the question, saying the comedian in question had done the exact same act for well over a decade.

Woody Allen was right "The audience always wants what you gave them last time."

12 January 1998
Smell Museum
A woman walked past me in the street today. She must have been wearing a liter of perfume; when I entered her wake the strong scent reminded me of a favorite childhood toy, but I lost the smell before I could remember which one.

I thought it was amazing that a scent could be the catalyst for a long-forgotten memory. I wonder why there are virtually no artists working with the medium of smell? (Actually, I haven't heard of any, but I suppose there must be some.) The technical hurdles seem daunting. How would you produce the smells? Make them last? Disseminate them?

Dogs live in a smell museum; I wonder if I'll ever visit one?

13 January 1998
A Chrysler as Big as a Whale!
I never spy on other people. Or at least I never have since I terminated my career in professional espionage. Today, though, I suppose I inadvertently spied when I accidentally read a file on a computer disk that someone sent me. I accidentally found it while I was looking for the file I was supposed to find.

There wasn't much there; just a couple paragraphs in a temporary scratch file that the other person's computer program didn't erase. But what writing!

    Sharon twisted her ponytail absently. She didn't know a Jessica ... But she did know a Sandy, worse luck. They had been best friends at Rydell High until Sandy stole her boyfriend. Danny was such a rat! She sighed in remembrance. It was a world away from this mysterious garden and the cartoon rabbit. (How did she get here? Last thing she remembered she'd been in a Chrysler, as big as a whale, heading down the Atlanta highway, looking for a love getaway.) She was ...

    "Of course" said Sharon in a disappointed voice "it's entirely possible that nobody will recognize me. After all" ... she eyed the cartoon rabbit quizzically ... "I'm merely a thinly disguised pastiche on one of literature's most famous women." She walked towards the grassy knoll in the center of the grounds, still wondering where on earth she'd seen the rabbit before. He wasn't wearing a top hat this time. And shouldn't he have been a real live rabbit? It made little difference to the puzzle ...

Best friends at Rydell High! Sandy stole her boyfriend! Such a rat! A Chrysler as big as a whale! Love getaway! The cartoon rabbit! What trash! But what great trash! I wonder if the rest of the story is that bad, that good?

I feel just a bit guilty for reading and publishing someone else's efforts, but not enough to stop me from sharing someone else's twisted genius.

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14 January 1998
The Deepening Sock Mystery
My socks are several years old; they've been worn and washed one or two or three hundred times. They're in good shape, which merely deepens the sock mystery.

(I'm not talking about the mystery of why one always has an odd number of socks. Since the disappearing sock partner has baffled the greatest minds in philosophy and science I'm not going to waste time banging my head against that conceptual wall.)

How is it possible that my socks continue to shed bits of lint after I've worn and washed them so many times? Given the cumulative volume of the lost material, I'd have thought that by now half the socks' volume would have disappeared, but they're still in fine shape.

15 January 1998
Not Enough $eriou$ Mone¥
Oh dear. My ill-fated project I did under the auspices of a couple of English arts organizations appears to be more of an ongoing headache than an ongoing project. Now that we're done with our aesthetic disagreements it's on to monetary disagreements. That's progress in the arts for you.

If petty squabbles are of little interest I suggest you carry on to tomorrow's entry, otherwise I suppose the new manifestation of an old project says it all. Here's the site that used to have a couple dozen pages now changed to a single text document:

Foundations, Fountains, Filters and $ome $eriou$ Mone¥

Now with exciting dynamic changing blinking content linked to developments in the real and/or art world(s)!

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

I thought I was finished with Foundations, Fountains, Filters and $ome $eriou$ Mone¥ on 25 September 1997 when the first version of the piece was completed, i.e., uploaded to my server. I've never been interested in gimmicky "dynamic" art pieces; I've always felt that when a piece was done it was done.

Until now.

Before I introduce you to the exciting dynamic changing content, I think it's only fair to foreshadow where this is going: this is a long boring dissertation about art and money. And I think that's great: contemporary western art is all about boredom and money. Brian Eno described it best, or at least most succinctly: "The tedium is the message."

And for our final introductory aside, it seems appropriate to describe how this piece was conceived. Here's what I wrote in the original incarnation:

    OK, £et'$ get thi$ out of the wa¥ right now: I did it for the mone¥.

    In Augu$t 1996 I read that $ome Eng£i$h organization ¢a££ed Arte¢ wa$ "¢a££ing for arti$t$' propo$a£$ for internet proje¢t$ that exp£ore theme of the digita£ or imaginar¥ ¢it¥." I didn't £ike the idea; a£though I ¢ou£dn't de¢ide whether it wa$ be¢au$e it $ounded tediou$ or trend¥. Or neither or both. One part of the announ¢ement $ounded intere$ting:

    Artists Fee £3000
    (plus produ¢tion expenses £1000)

    I did what an¥ prudent arti$t wou£d do: I found out who wou£d be making the de¢i$ion$, then $ubmitted three propo$a£$ under three different name$ for proje¢t$ $imi£ar to one$ the¥'d $pon$ored in the pa$t. And I of ¢our$e paid a mode$t bribe to the right per$on--it'$ on£¥ prudent.

    I got a ¢ommi$$ion, a$ did $evera£ other arti$t$.

Pretty straightforward, no? No.

Artec then gave the £4,000 to another "hosting" organization, Zone Gallery, to pass along to the artist. Or not, as it turns out.

The offer I accepted from Artec could only be interpreted as offering the artist the fee plus the production expenses, right? Wrong.

Zone Gallery was told in a separate announcement for the project that "Channel will provide host organisations £1000 towards the production of the work," in essence leading both Zone Gallery and me to expect to receive the £1,000 offered by Channel.

And to exacerbate things, Zone interprets "production expenses" to include "all expenses that were incurred by the hosting organization (such as gallery installation), production and distribution of publicity and interpretive materials (both individual and contributing to group publicity, ie advertising) and any education/outreach activities ..."

The "hosting" organization's final accounting came out:
Zone Gallery: £1,000 in production expenses
artist: £nothing in production expenses
 
On the other hand, the artist's (my) accounting concluded:
Zone Gallery: £.50 in production expenses
artist: £1,000+ in production expenses

Of course, such accounting discrepancies mean I'm headed into some tedious (note to self: "The tedium is the message.") discussions with Artec and Zone. Pending the resolution of our accounting disagreements, I thought it would be in keeping with the dynamic nature of Internet-based art as well as the shameless commercialism of the art world to have this site accurately reflect the amount of production expenses I've received: zilch. Content linked to money! Is that modern or what?! Thus all the graphics and whizzy stuff that were an integral part of the original piece have been sent to bureaucratic purgatory, which leaves us with a new improved piece consisting of some pseudo-Zen propositions on which to meditate:

Foundations
Is money a/the foundation of contemporary art? Would a cow ever want to go deep sea fishing?
Fountains
Is money the fountain that fertilizes contemporary art? Is the pound worse than the cure?
Filters
Is money the filter that separates the aesthetic wheat from the aesthetic chaff? If a tree falls in the forest with no witnesses, who benefits?
$ome $eriou$ Mone¥
How much is it? If dollars were millimeters, would it be longer or shorter than a length of string?

If my syringe of boring conceptual queries missed your aesthetic vein, you'll probably get a better fix from my other work.

Given that this piece's exciting dynamic changing content is linked to developments in the real and/or art world(s), Foundations, Fountains, Filters and $ome $eriou$ Mone¥ will enter its next manifestation after there are some new aesthetic developments, e.g., after from £999.50 to £1,000 pounds is deposited into my secret Barbados bank account.

Let me close with a last line from the original piece: Ah, the amazing wor£d of art: it'$ a££ ro¢k and rô£e!

16 January 1998
Some Sort of Afterlife
In December 1979 (or was it 1978?) I was driving in an Idaho blizzard through the Rocky Mountains. I was stuck behind a slow truck going up a curvy steep hill, and decided to pass it even though there really wasn't a good place. (Actually, the truck wasn't going that slow, it just wasn't going as fast as I liked to drive on snowy roads in those days.) I passed the truck on a tight curve, and momentarily lost control, something that almost never happened to me even on the worst stretches of pavement. I had a numbing adrenaline rush as I felt my car slide underneath the truck; I thought Barbara (my girlfriend at the time) and I were about to be crushed. I managed to pull out somehow, though, and continued driving through the night.

It turns out that I actually did die that night. I recently discovered that I've spent the last twenty-nine years since then in what appears to be some sort of afterlife. It doesn't feel like heaven, hell, reincarnation, or any of the other post-death scenarios I might have anticipated.

The bright side of my revelation is that at least I don't waste any time wondering about death now that I am dead. And neither should you: if you're reading this that means you're probably dead too.

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©1998 David Glenn Rinehart