A Modern Meld: Lessons from Vinyl + Digital

I had a conversation this week that reminded me of this old post I wrote back in 2010, so I decided to transfer it here to my blog. I’m still waiting for hardcover books to include a digital file in the purchase price…

free mp3 with record sticker

At first it seemed so convenient and full of instant gratification to buy music online, or even from my phone. I’ve been purchasing music via online download almost exclusively for the last four years. This was fueled in part by my green side telling me I’m saving on packaging materials and the transport of the product, and also by the fact that I had moved away from my favorite record store in Chicago.

Recently, I began to feel more disconnected from the music I’ve purchased. I missed checking out the album art, the process of browsing in the store and the recommendations you can get from shop employees. I had also read two blogs posts that got me thinking about buying vinyl again – this one about digital readers and this one about tactile user experience. So, I broke my digital download streak and headed to LUNA in Indianapolis, an actual bricks and mortar shop.

The last time I had been vinyl shopping, maybe one out of thirty records offered a free digital download with purchase. But this trip, they filled the shelves. How awesome is that? You get the quality of vinyl, plus the ease of a download to enjoy the music the way we do – on the go, in the car, on our phone and iPods.

I am fascinated by this idea of combining old and new school. This movement toward vinyl+digital manages to satisfy the collector and the demand of current market trends. It forgoes forms that are often treated as disposable. Vinyl is typically bought for keeps, cds or other formats less so. How many people do you know who ditched their cd collection after downloading all of the music to iTunes?

Think of the other creative products that could benefit from a similar melding. I would love to see books go the same route. As a former bookseller, I personally had a hand in preparing hundreds, maybe thousands, of mass market books for the incredibly shameful practice of pulping (which is no different than the fiasco of H&M over disposing unsold goods, rather than donating them). That doesn’t even include magazines, which suffer the same fate when they languish on the newsstand. When a product is seen as so disposable by the very publishers of the material, it begs the question: Isn’t there another way?

What if publishers offered a free audio download or ebook version for your choice of electronic reader with the purchase of a hardcover? We can apply it to magazines as well. In bookshops and newsstands, we want glossies to thumb through. Maybe the shop could carry a few copies to browse and then serves as an access point to buy a digital version. With a year subscription, give readers a monthly online version that includes all of the ads and short articles, then provide one annual, high quality print version. Think coffee table book with the best articles and photos of the year, the features that merit a second look.

Despite declining sales in multiple sectors of the music industry, vinyl actually showed significant growth in 2009 according to statistics released by Nielson. Whether other products adopt this model remains to be seen, but there is a lesson to be learned from the vinyl+digital movement. There’s always a fresh outcry when magazines and newspapers fail. Who really wants to see the end of print? Or the disappearance of music and book shops? Consumers still crave these spaces where we can engage with products, rifle through them and talk with proprietors who know the products well. And we will spend dollars on the products that fit with our lifestyles, that come in the form we want to consume. If you’re in an industry with shifting markets, can you find a way to please our nostalgia and modernity at once?

Originally published on Wise Elephant on Mar 23rd, 2010

Character Costume

My love of fall began as a kid with the anticipation of costumes, trick or treating and the subsequent sugar highs. Carving jagged-tooth jack o-lanterns with my family, turning out all of the lights and chasing each other around the house by pumpkin candlelight. The vegetable soup my mom made every year on Halloween, a perfect meal to share post-candy jag. And a yearly tradition not to be missed – watching the Charlie Brown special with Linus’ futile quest for the Great Pumpkin.

During my annual viewing, I was struck by how much of Charles Schulz’ writing would have been over my head as a child. Lucy mentions that a document isn’t notarized. Charlie Brown, in refuting the existence of the great pumpkin, says that he and Linus obviously have denominational differences. And I’m not sure I would have had a concept for sincerity at so young of an age.

Fall is less about candy and costumes now that I’ve grown older, more about the colors of leaves and changing. It wasn’t always so, but something about this time of year makes me more reflective. After watching Linus and his hunt for sincerity, I’ve been thinking a lot about character. Sincerity, a good character trait by any measure.

When I think of the the type of person I’d like to be, the qualities I admire in others, I come up with patience, grace and humility. I’ve told just a couple of people about these personal character goals of mine, and the response has been surprise. When I first registered the surprise it made me question my efforts. Maybe I’m laughably far from these goals? But, no. I think it was something else. We design our lives, plan who we’d like to be in more material ways.

It’s more usual to define ourselves by job titles, degrees we’ve earned, the type of house and neighborhood we live in, things we do and buy. When I hear people talk about five year plans, it usually involves career or weight goals, whether to have a family or not, where to travel to and so on. Though I have reflected on character goals for myself, I don’t often bring it up in these conversations. Does everyone have secret character goals, and we’re just not talking about them?

I’ve heard that one of the most common Halloween costumes this year is Snooki from Jersey Shore. Wasn’t it Octo-mom one year? I suppose Halloween is the time for fun tricks, a chance to poke fun at these personalities decidedly lacking in character. I’m headed to a Halloween party later tonight and I don’t have a costume picked out. Think I can just tell everyone I’m not quite sure I’m there yet, but I’m trying to be patient, humble and full of grace?


For the inspiration, thank you:
To the anonymous donor to a nonprofit I once worked with for the lesson in humility.
And (don’t laugh, it’s the digital age after all) to the The Sartorialist for inspiring the goal of grace.

This post was originally published on October 30, 2010 on Sundayed.

Pieces of Me

This morning I drank my coffee out of a delicate china tea cup, a wedding gift just unpacked after two years of marriage. At first the china stayed in boxes because we were on the hunt for the perfect cabinet. Later, it had to wait because we would move to Indianapolis for my husband’s job.

The house hunt didn’t move fast enough. We ended up in a string of temporary living quarters. But this story isn’t about the fact that we needed to move three times in one year. Not exactly. After two weekends of packing and hauling, with aching muscles, it’s the stuff I’ve been lugging around with me over the years that’s on my mind.

Each move has been a filter. Do I really need this? Why do we have two vegetable peelers? Oh look – here’s that box of mismatched cords we keep in case the mysterious devices that once depended on them emerge. There’s that unwanted gift, kept out of guilt. And so on. It’s curious why I’ve hung onto these things.

Despite being in a two bedroom apartment, we had rented a storage unit. Things like patio furniture and lawn tools all had no place, but we hoped to need them again soon. And why unpack things we could live without while the house hunt continued?

I spent a year with just the basics. Bare, white walls, none of the books I’ve read and loved, none of the art I’ve been collecting slowly. When a friend passed away this year, many photos of him were in a box, buried deep in the storage unit.

After a year of searching, my husband and I finally bought our new house. No more temporary. No more storage unit. Unpacking these things I haven’t seen for a year has been like reacquainting with past versions of myself. After sifting through some of the banal, the cords and what-nots, there were other, more powerful objects. I’ve never wanted to be defined by the stuff that I own, but some of it felt like pieces of me.

The flowery, very seventies blanket I napped on in preschool. The ceramic jar passed down through four generations of my family. I’d all but forgotten about the small, wooden doll, gifted to me by Annie, a mentally unbalanced customer of a cafe I worked in when I first moved to Chicago. Annie visited several times a week, or sometimes not for months, always bearing random gifts. Why do I keep this wooden doll? Because it brings me to a time when I first moved to Chicago, full of wonder and the unknown, surrounded by others equally mesmerized and uncertain.

This is how I can revisit that fuzziness of being newly engaged just by drinking my morning coffee from a fancy cup. I don’t want to be defined by this stuff, but I can’t help but surround myself with these things that tie me to a life fully lived. As long as I never need a storage unit again, I think it’ll be alright.

This post was originally published on September 25, 2010 on Sundayed.

Mission: Doughnut Burger

I don’t do high fructose corn syrup, I try to eat local and I’m not much of a fast food person. But for festival food, I make an exception. I can’t explain the allure. I don’t know how I can be so disgusted with KFC’s double down, or the rumored chicken skin sandwich, only to throw all caution and foodie morals to the wind at the first sniff of festival food. Maybe I justify it since most fairs and festivals occur once per year, it’s a special treat and it’s all about experience. Blinking lights, carnies and the pervasive smell of deep-fried goodness.

I saw a plea from Foodspotting begging someone in Indiana to please spot a newfangled creation called the Doughnut Burger. This burger is an unlikely marriage – a hamburger with all the fixings, bacon and egg optional, sandwiched between two gooey, glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I felt a call, a mission. I’m not really sure what I expected, but it seemed to promise adventure in burger form. It would be my first trip to the Indiana State Fair with its tractor rides, up-close encounters with farm animals (I’d never been within a few feet of a cow before) and my first ever Doughnut Burger.

I walked through half the fair, scouring booths, looking for it. I rode a shuttle, hauled by a bio-diesel fueled John Deere, and got dropped off right in the heart of the deep fried section. The fair had organized it so that all of the deep-fried oddities were all together so you wouldn’t have to walk too far between your deep-fried courses. Neighboring booths boasted everything from chocolate covered bacon to deep-fried butter.

The line for the Doughnut Burger stretched across the street, a whole slew of fair-goers, eager to try it. I couldn’t be deterred. I was going to wait, no matter how long it took. I finally got close enough to see the magic happening – the Krispy Kremes toasting on the grill, the giant pile of bacon waiting to grace Doughnut Burgers. And I also noticed there was an awful lot of grease on the glass window. But this is what I was here for right? A five-inch high, over-the-top festival food experience.


But then my mission came to a sobering halt. I wanted to like it. I really did. I’d heard reviews of awesomeness from multiple sources. The doughnuts make for sticky, messy eating, and the flavor just didn’t offer enough of a pay off. To me, it tasted like saccharine Krispy Kremes with biting onion. Both overpowered the flavor of the hamburger, bacon and the cheese. The first taste smacked of novelty, then made me feel a little sick.

Doughnut Burger concessionaire Dennis Reas told the Indy Star that he has to challenge himself each year to come up with a new food to draw the crowds. I’m both in awe of and a little disturbed by the American obsession with one-upping the indulgence in fried-food. Hot beef sundaes and deep-fried Pepsi. How did we become a culture that encourages that? Despite this, (and even with Mission: Doughnut Burger ending in disappointment), I can’t say I wouldn’t stand in line for the next creation. Once my curiosity is piqued, I can’t help myself. I just might give the next deep-fried wonder (whatever it might be) a whirl.


The Doughnut Burger on Foodspotting


This post was originally published on August 21, 2010 on Sundayed.

Hybrid Business: A New Mix, from Couture to Meat

After watching ice cream trucks all but disappear from streets, the food truck business has made a huge comeback. When a taco truck in Indiana can make it into the New York Times, you know there’s a trend afoot. West Coast Tacos in Indianapolis is the perfect example of the hybrid business – new product, old package, new relevance. It’s new in the sense that it offers fusion food, korean tacos. West Coast Tacos then uses the old delivery method of the food truck, made relevant in today’s market by the fact that they broadcast their location through twitter to let people know where they’ll be on any given day. In addition, location-based game foursquare allows checking-in to food trucks, and there’s even a badge to earn, adding to the allure for the hyper-connected.

Street Lights

Our reconnection with the business on wheels might just be an extension of our addiction to cell phones, mobile apps and an on the go lifestyle. And this could be just the beginning. Enter LaSMOOCH, the couture truck, your roving source for fashion and accessories, at least if you’re in the Hamptons. This is hybrid to the extreme – a high-end product, typically sold from glass cases in posh retail environment (or maybe a catalog or web site) available in a truck converted to look like a walk-in closet. According to Manhattan Style, LaSMOOCH carries pieces ranging in price from $50 to $1,200.

Fashion might be old business, and mobile trucks might have been around the block, but together? All of this combined with neighborhood targeting via drive-by. This isn’t so different from the age-old marketing tactic of buying zip codes to send a catalog or snail mail promotion, but in this physical manifestation it offers the immediacy of product now versus in 8 to 10 business days for shipping.

In some cases the nonprofit sector has turned mobile to get services to those in need or to deliver health service messages in new ways. The documentary Born Sweet showcases a mobile karaoke truck visiting remote Cambodian villages to steer people away from old water wells tainted with arsenic.

Beyond the truck, the vending machine is another example of businesses going hybrid to meet new demand, find niche markets. If you’re in Spain, you can access gourmet meat 24/7, thanks to a butcher shop that installed a meat vending machine outside its shop. Or, consider the Art-o-mat, a refurbished cigarette machine, modified to dispense $5 art. We’re not only mobile, but seeking convenience in clever, unexpected forms.

The next wave of hybrid business could very well be less about product, and more about experience. Think: Mobile Karaoke, Tattoo trucks, Photobooth on wheels. What else could work in a vending machine? or on a truck? If you’re in an old biz, can you mix it up with new distribution? Can your business go hybrid?

Image credit: pamhule

This post was originally published on August 18, 2010 on the Wise Elephant blog.

He Says, She Says: Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her

An interview with filmmaker/actor Ryan Balas and Co-Star Deirdre Herlihy

A strange thing happened to me the other day after watching the world premiere of “Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her.” Some of the scenes began to weave themselves into my head, taking place next to my own memories. I felt distinctively that at some point I’d caught a secret glance into the back seat window of a car where Emmie (played by Deirdre Herlihy, http://twitter.com/deirdreherlihy) had sex with a new acquaintance. Did I really share mimosas with four friends in a wood-paneled cabin, made by Rowan (played by Ryan Balas, http://twitter.com/ryanbalas) while he wore nothing but black brief underwear? In reality, I had only just met the real life couple, Ryan and Deirdre, first via twitter, and finally in person a few days prior to the world premiere of their movie at the Indy Film Festival.

Indy Film Fest (http://twitter.com/IndyFilmFest) is a ten-day festival featuring movies from around the globe. In it’s seventh year, the festival aims to feature independent and innovative film. Each time yet another ill-conceived sequel is announced and the frustration mounts that Hollywood is not only broke, but also out of ideas, festivals like this deliver signs of life in film.

“Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her” (http://everyonesaysilookjustlikeher.blogspot.com) is the epitome of indie film. With a cast and crew numbering four each, it was shot in just ten days. The original budget of $5,000 (now surpassed due to additional post production and travel expenses from their home in Queens, NY) was crowd sourced from friends and family members, the new revenue stream for small-scale creative endeavors via personal appeals and sites like Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com).

The result is a surprising film that dives deep into the heart of family, relationships and grief without going too far into the brink. Two sisters, one biologic to white parents, one adopted (she happens to be African American, but no big deal is made of this), spend a week at their famous father’s summer home in the days before the anniversary of their mother’s death. It’s the real stuff of life, shelling out doses of unexpected joy to pierce the melancholy and mourning.

I got a chance to get into the minds of Ryan and Deirdre about “Everyone Says,” work and life, an especially nice trade, since they’d already worked their way into mine.

SM: The film has a lot of private moments, both happy and sad, and a lot of sex. After watching, I kept thinking a good word to describe your film was intimate. Was that part of the intent?

RB: Yes! We had a super small crew and cast. I wanted to create a safe environment and level of intimacy in which we could all come together and be truthful in the moment.

DH: I think of my first scene with Joe in the back of the car. It’s not dimly lit, there isn’t any heartfelt music playing – it’s just not that sexy. With that being said, I think that most sex between two people who have never been intimate is like that.

RB: My approach was to keep it honest and to acknowledge all the awkward, in-between- moments, not just of these characters sex lives, but also the times when they were alone with themselves. There is always a liability to personal work but I’d say that it’s worth it for the intimacy achieved.

SM: You shot the movie over ten days in Michigan. In some of the scenes, it feels like the setting is another character. Can you comment on sense of place?

RB: As for sense of place, it was very important to me that the house felt lived in and that it felt like these girls had made a lot of memories there. Also, let me just say that I stole a lot from the opening of Woody Allen’s “Interiors.”

DH: I had traveled to the house twice with Ryan for his family reunion. It was of course a very different experience being there with a film crew and working on an intense film schedule. When I wasn’t shooting, I would walk down to the water and feel so grateful. I was working on a film I believed in and able to take in our beautiful surroundings. The setting was another character – It was where these two sisters found comfort and familiarity.

RB: For me, it was easy, because it was true, but I had to play the opposite of that. The cabin where we filmed is a place my family has been renting for a week every summer since I was a kid, so it is wall-to-wall memories for me.. It had to be new to me, it had to be some place mysterious. There is so much natural beauty in Northern Michigan, that you basically just need to turn the camera on and start shooting and you are likely to find something really lovely. Plus, my producer/right hand man Darren Marshall (LINK) and Director of Photography/Cam Operator Richard Buonagurio (LINK) both have a good eye for natural composition and establishing a sense of place in the mix of our improvised scene work.

SM: How was your experience premiering the film at the Indy Film Fest?

RB: We had the best time. For me, it felt like a homecoming. I was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, my dad went to Purdue, and I spent a number of years living in Northern Indiana, so it’s a special state for me.

DH: I couldn’t have imagined it going any better. Everyone involved with Indy Film Fest was so welcoming and supportive of our film. I felt like we had a group of cheerleaders backing us the whole week. Also, having to two very different audiences during the screenings was beneficial to us as filmmakers.

SM: What did you take away from the screenings & their different audience vibes? There was a lot of laughing out loud in the first screening. Were you surprised about that?

DH: I was surprised by the amount of laughing during the first screening. Sometimes you aren’t sure if people will get your humor. It was so rewarding to hear such a positive response. The second screening had a more conservative audience, but the film provoked good questions from them during the Q&A. As a filmmaker, you need to have that balance from your audiences.

SM: During the Q & A of the World Premiere, you mentioned how viewing home videos inspired you to make this film. How much personal life was woven into the story?

DH: Ryan really dug deep into my family, with permission of course. A few years ago, I asked my dad to convert some home VHS videos into DVD so I could have them as my own personal keepsake. Having lost my mom nearly 13 years ago, I cherish anything that shows my mom, dad, older brother and I together. I remember Ryan being especially inspired watching the films. They were both a great tribute to her and also helped Ryan get to know her in a way.

RB: “Everyone Says” was a very personal film for all of us, in different ways. I wanted everyone to have the chance to add a unique voice and history to the story, which is why a majority of the dialogue is improvised.

SM: How has technology and social media changed how you promote and talk about your work?

RB: Where do I begin? Well…we met on twitter didn’t we? I have to say that I really began to promote my work at the time when social media was getting big, so it hasn’t been this totally new way for me to do old work. There certainly is a forever-morphing method. With the advancement of technology and the ability to connect with a larger audience on a daily basis, I think indie film can thrive on that opportunity.

DH: Darren, our producer, put together and posted a teaser online while we were still shooting. It felt a little premature, but then when I saw the response it was getting, I had no regrets. So many friends and family members donated to this film, so it felt awesome being able to show them what they helped us make.

RB: Our work is enhanced by it and in fact I really hope we can learn to use it as another story telling method. I think it has caused me to daydream ways in which we can integrate the process of the promotion with the work itself. That’s the exciting part about new media and technology for me. We are able to draw new lines between storytelling and promotion.

SM: What’s next for “Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her” – Are you seeking other festival screenings or distribution?

RB: We are actively submitting for fall, winter and spring film festivals and would really like to continue on the circuit for a little while. As for distribution, only the future can really tell. We have some interest but want to have the opportunity to build our relationship with the audience before we decide the direction to the film.

DH: We are looking for distribution, but not rushing into anything. This film is our baby and we want what’s best for it.

SM: Ryan, I’ve heard that your next project is a documentary that could be a little controversial. What other projects are on the horizon for you two?

RB: I’m working on the documentary, “Stage Brother,” (LINK) which I’m producing with director, Richie Buonagurio. We’ve been following Richie’s sister around for the last 6 months as she dips her toes into the adult industry. That project could be shooting for at least another 6 months to a year, so it’s more of a long-term thing. As for the next project that I will direct, we are talking about making a film based on our web series, The Really Cool Show (http://thereallycoolshow.blogspot.com).

DH: Ryan and I both just recently wrapped on Darren Marshall’s film, The Kings of Yorktown (LINK), and I also got to briefly appear in Stage Brother. I’d like to direct a film maybe this fall. In between all of this, I’m going to continue to work on my photography (http://www.deirdreherlihy.com).

RB: The Kings of York Town, which I also produced, should be hitting the circuit next summer. I’m trying to stay busy and do a lot of things at once. There are ideas on the table and we all want to do it, it’s just a matter of getting a few logistical things into place.

SM: You’ve just celebrated five years together as a couple, with countless collaborations under your belt. How has your relationship grown as a result of the work collaboration?

RB: We met in acting school and our relationship slowly unfolded out of a mutual interest and enjoyment in working together. The relationship has obviously grown far beyond the work, but we still love to collaborate. It feels natural and though we are both independent artists, it’s still great when we get a chance to partner up.

DH: We were really good friends for months before becoming an item and collaborating creatively, which I feel has made all the difference.

RB: It’s great fun to travel together and saves us both a lot of money when we only need one bed. The only downside is we always have to find someone to feed our cats while we are away.

One thing is certain, Ryan and Deirdre and countless other emerging filmmakers are making original, inspiring films with small budgets and a lot of love for what they’re doing. It isn’t about big paydays, but creating films that move, inspire and provoke thought. Do what you can to help make independent film happen. Look up your local festivals and screenings. And if you’re in Queens, maybe offer to watch Ryan and Deirdre’s cats so they can share their lovely film with a wider audience?

This post was originally published on July 31, 2010 on Sundayed.

Subversive Yarn & Other Curiosities

A friend taught me to knit about a year ago, starting with an easy scarf pattern. I approached it with an open mind, not knowing if I’d keep up with it. As it turned out, it was instant love, but I had no idea what role yarn would play in my relationship with art.

At times knitting can be maddening. I often find I’ve lost myself in the rhythm of the stitches and forget which row of a pattern I’m supposed to knit next. One false move can create a franken-scarf. An attempt to knit a little bit faster can go awry – a stitch slips from the needle, unraveling for several rows before I take notice.

That first compliment from a random stranger on a hand made piece makes it all worth it. And knitters like to meet and work together, form tight communities. I get together each Sunday with a group of knitters, a perfect unwinding to the week.

Last winter while browsing at a home gift shop, I stumbled upon a book about knit graffiti, a small but growing movement known as yarn bombing. It was unlike anything I’d seen before. Outdoor, fiber art woven into the natural or urban world in very surprising ways. The book, Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain , pictured everything from simple pieces of a single color to intricate multi-colored wraps covering large tree trunks. Some of these vast installations would take days of planning and knitting and multiple artists to put together. All to be put out into the world, not knowing if the piece will survive for a few hours or weeks.

Upon exiting the store, a strange thing happened. I spotted my first yarn bomb in the wild. On Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis, just outside Silver in the City gift shop, a trio of bike racks had been decorated with simple bands – one green, one pink, one purple. They were slouched down at the bottom of the racks, it would have been easy to miss them. Without knowing that this thing existed, I might not have. The book had heightened my awareness, allowing me to see them.

I was smitten. I loved that this small work by an unknown knitter could surprise and delight, causing a second look into everyday things. The bike rack otherwise would have blended into the cityscape.

The inspiration for my first yarn bomb came when my Sunday crew began planning a group knit project as a going-away present for the friend who founded our group. What do you knit for someone capable of knitting anything for herself? A tribute yarn bomb seemed like the perfect idea. We decided on knitting up a multi-colored moustache to adorn James Tyler’s Brickhead 3. The giant head sculpture is in Davlan Park on the 400 block of Mass Ave, a few steps from my first yarn bomb sighting.

During the time we were knitting away at the individual hairs of the moustache, I discovered that Banksy, a popular street artist, had created an image of two elderly ladies sitting in armchairs, knitting. One has a piece in her lap that says “PUNK’S NOT DEAD,” the other “THUG FOR LIFE.” I think it is a fair guess that Banksy had no clue what kindred spirits he could find in knitting.

I went to see the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary following the work of Shepard Fairey, Thierry Geutta aka. Mr. Brainwash, Bansky and other street artists. As I watched, I couldn’t help but relate to it in yarn. Consider Shepard Fairey’s early work of putting images of 70s/80s wrestler Andre the Giant on stickers with the word OBEY. His goal with this work is to cause the same reaction I had when I found the yarn bomb the bike rack on Mass Ave.

Fairey wrote in his 1990 Manifesto, “The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail.” Just replace sticker, advertisement and propaganda with yarn.

In one scene from the Exit Through the Gift Shop, Thierry Guetta films people on the street reacting to a Banksy sculpture. He had taken a telephone booth into his studio, sawed it in half and welded it back together angled, put an axe through it, then delivered back onto the street. No surprise that this subversive, in your face art stopped people in their tracks.


Much like Thierry with his lens on the phone booth, our group of knitters sat and watched reactions to our moustache installation. Brickhead 3, whom we affectionately renamed Burt (as in Reynolds), proved to be positively smile-inducing. People stopped to look, touch it, take pictures. I’ve made art before, but this was different. It was an amazing feeling, equal parts devious and proud, coupled with a deeper connection to my fellow yarn bombers.

All of this has me thinking of how we view and interact with art in the modern world. Upon visiting Cincinnati’s Contemporary Art Center, I discovered photos were not allowed of Shepard Fairey’s Supply and Demand exhibit (except his large installation in the lobby). At first I thought, doesn’t this go against everything for which Fairey stands to not allow photographs? In their top floor, the CAC has an Unmuseum, where not only are photos allowed, but touching the art is encouraged.

Alternatively, as the wear and tear of being hyperconnected takes its toll, maybe it isn’t so bad to force disconnection from devices to allow greater focus on the art. Would I have noticed my first yarn bomb on the bike rack if I’d been using my phone? It is a debate worth exploring, but I think the case for photos and allowing personal documenting wins out in the end.

On a recent trip to the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, I watched a young man flit from one object to the next, pausing just long enough to snap a quick photo. He was seeing the entire exhibit through the lens of his camera phone. Thinking of Burt and his moustache, watching people take snapshots, it was part of their enjoyment to be able to document it. One of our group members had a colleague change her profile picture to an image of her and the moustache, though she had no clue her coworker had taken part in its making. This is all a part of the way we absorb, engage in and share art. We take art from the museum display case, or its public location, into our own world at home and online. We create a permanent collection of experience on our facebook and flickr pages.

Burt’s moustache has been removed by authorities, or possibly stolen (Moore and Prain say to take as a compliment). I was sad to see him go, but at least I have my photos and the heightened awareness of environment this whole experience opened up for me. Whether in a museum or out in the world, I’m trying to keep my eyes open for subversive yarn and other curiosities. Knowing that I might spot a Slinkachu installation or a yarn bomb has me looking at things a little more closely, on the lookout for unexpected art.

More information:
Check out pictures of Burt and his moustache.
For more on yarnbombing, pictures of projects from around the world, see the Yarn Bombing blog.
See Nina Simon’s thoughtful case for photography in museums.

This post was originally published on July 4th, 2010 on Sundayed.

Untitled [A Colorful Man]

Once upon a time in a windy city, I had a best friend named Doug who made the most amazing lentil curry, sometimes snorted when he laughed and liked to sing Leonard Cohen songs in a sultry voice. He was part catty Bloomingdales merchandiser, part moody artist, part one-man musical.

He also called me every Monday to make sure I was up for work because he was a morning person and knew I was not. Instead of an alarm, I’d wake up to his own brand of citified, North Carolina drawl, “Hellllaaauu.”

One Sunday I got a different call, the kind where you know something is wrong. A phrase knocked around in my head, “things are… prêt-ty bad.”

In reverb, pretty bad, pretty bad, pretty bad, the t’s were sharp little daggers, softened with a sigh at the end. He’d said it slowly the last time we’d spoken on the phone and I had failed to grasp the full depth of it. He’d been suffering from depression for a long time before taking his life.

In the aftermath, the memorial planning and apartment sorting, another friend said, “I can see the grief written all over your face”. She had no idea what saying this did for me. It liberated me. My grief was already out there, a gaping wound and I wasn’t fooling anyone by trying to hide it.

His mother, who I would meet for the first time at the memorial, had asked his friends to sort out his Rogers Park apartment and set aside some personal effects, books and some of his artwork for her. I was tasked with choosing the books.

I often called Doug my literary soul mate. Our early friendship flourished over discussions of book jackets and sharing sentences we wished we had written with each other. Was Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking a poignant choice or would it hit too close to home? I found myself doubting each selection. These, I knew, were the books she would read when she travels the world to scatter Doug’s ashes.

Meeting someone for the first time when your only bond is that you loved the same person when they were alive is strangely intimate. My heart was so broken for her and for me and for all of the world that would be missing out on Doug. No barriers of decorum withstand that.

After crying our eyeballs out his Mother and I shared stories, like the one from the night Doug and I walked down Winona Street in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood and stumbled onto a naked man sitting on the hood of a car, just hanging out, staring at us. We linked arms, picked up the pace, unsure whether to laugh or be frightened. Maybe I told her this story because it afforded us a much needed laugh, but she already knew it. Doug had told her told her the story years ago on the phone.

The thing I most wanted to tell her was this. Once, Doug told me he cried when he saw Mark Rothko, Untitled [Blue, Green, and Brown], 1952. In his own work, he had a gift to create the richest colors. When I looked at his oil paintings, it was as if he had invented color. If you asked him what his favorite color was, he wouldn’t simply say green. He’d say the green of the new growth at spring. Considering all of this, the best way I can think to describe Doug is to say that he was colorful man.

I hoped to maintain some sort of grace, dignity, poetry when I accompanied his mother and a few close relatives and friends to scatter some of his ashes in a Chicago park. I wanted to say words fit for a loyal friend, a talented artist, the man of honor in my wedding. Instead I was a blubbering choking idiot, a cruel Chicago sleet smacking me in the face. Grief is messy.

Ahead of me is one last trek back to Chicago to pick up a painting, one of the few handfuls of the art he left behind. The week before he died he scraped and painted over some of his work. He would paint something 100 times more lovely than much of the work I’ve seen hanging in galleries and he would paint over it, or just leave it unfinished. I never understood his self-doubt, the way I never understood how deep and troubling his dark hours must have been.

I’m grateful for this last pilgrimage, to still have this official Doug business ahead of me keeping things from feeling so final. Afterwards, it’s just me, a little lost in this world without him.

Somehow the heaviness of this has let my heart grow deeper to accommodate it all. I can’t not carry this love and loss with me, and I can’t not let there be room for the others, the old and new in my life. This Doug-shaped hole allows me to look at friends and say “What in the world would I not do for you?”

I wanted to put this story out there in hopes it might help someone else recognize a plea from a loved one before it is too late. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Amber Naslund, for paving the way for me to write this by sharing this post, and also to April, the friend that liberated me from suppressing my grief.

This post was originally published on June 12, 2010 on Sundayed.