Friday, June 26, 2020

Archive: Northbound Worm

Northbound Worm, Ink and acrylic, sketchbook page, 1985, 9 X 6 ins

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Archive: God's Smug 1

God's Smug 1, collage, 2004, 11 X 8.5 ins

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Jonestown & The Aesthetics of Paranoia

I've been enjoying Ben Davis' ongoing exploration of conspiracy theories on, and was reminded of this piece I did back in 1998 - can't say I didn't warn ya!


There is a formula in intelligence circles that stipulates a limit to the number of layers of disinformation that may be operating at one time. After the third level of double-cross;
that is, telling a lie to someone because they expect you to tell the truth because they think you think they think you think they expect you to tell a lie, neither the agent nor the agency can distinguish sense from dissemblance. The information becomes meaningless, signal merges with noise.

On Saturday, November 18 1978 more than 1000 American citizens, members of the People's Temple religious commune called 'Jonestown,' situated in the jungles of the tiny South American country of Guyana, were directed by their leader, Rev. Jim Jones, to commit an act of 'revolutionary suicide' by drinking cyanide-laced grape Kool-Aid*. Earlier that day Peoples' Temple members had shot and killed Congressman Leo Ryan and several reporters and Jonestown defectors as they attempted to board a plane for home. A week later, the U.S. military forces controlling the cleanup and investigation reported the final body count of 913. Jones believed, and had convinced his constituency, that death by painful cyanide poisoning was the only recourse in the face of the torture awaiting them at the hands of the CIA, FBI, the State Department and whatever other factions of the World Government felt threatened by the success of this 'model revolutionary interracial socialist commune'.

Conspiracy theorists took Jones' pronouncements about his 'enemies' seriously. Mark Lane, who played a major role in getting the conspiracy ball rolling as Lee Harvey Oswald's court-appointed attorney and best-selling author of the Warren-Commission-shredding Rush to Judgement (and himself the object of much sinister speculation in some conspiracy circles), had been hired by the Reverend in September of 1978 to represent the Peoples' Temple and take legal action against its government persecutors. Lane held a press conference announcing his intention to prove the conspiracy, and was in Jonestown when the much rehearsed suicide drill of 'White Night' became a reality. Improbably, he was one of 16 known survivors.

Given this connection, and the then-recently disclosed program of massive infiltration and assassination by federal and municipal police forces called COINTELPRO, which had targeted just such political and racial experiments, it was inevitable that the Jonestown massacre would attract substantial attention from the burgeoning community of conspiracy theorists.

As information came to light, though, in spite of the stringent dose of skepticism with which official Army Intelligence press releases must be interpreted, it became obvious that not only was Jones not a counterculture savior; rather, he had engaged in systematic physical (including sexual) and psychological torture of his flock, extorted Welfare checks and deeds to mansions, consumed and dispensing massive doses of icky psychoactives (speed for himself; thorazine for the believers), and supervised and/or participated in sundry distasteful entertainments. 

Jones was revealed to have had connections with the CIA, and to have played a major part in various suspicious municipal transactions as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority board. Eventually, independent conspiracy research linked Jones to the murders of Harvey Milk and Dan Moscone, John Lennon, Martin Luther King and Martin Luther King's mother, as well as to the attempted assassination of President Reagan and alleged suicide of Vatican Bank/Freemason/Mafia scandal MVP Roberto Calvi. 

According to some accounts, Jonestown itself was identified as a new model interment camp organized under the auspices of the CIA's MK-ULTRA program of mind control experiments, possibly one of many such camps, its lineage traced back to American Intelligence policies of relocating valuable Nazi spooks and scientists under programs like ODESSA and Operations  Sunrise and Paperclip, and the tacit sponsorship of their continued researches. Top Guyanese pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo found evidence that an overwhelming majority of the "suicides" had in fact died from some sort of lethal injection. Much of the Temple's' $2 billion fortune (including large quantities of gold bullion on hand in the jungle) vanished without a trace, and the possibility remains that hundreds of brainwashed robot assassins - graduates of Jonestown - walk among us, awaiting only simple trigger words to unleash their havoc. Some evidence suggests that Jones himself escaped Guyana, or, alternatively, that he had been dead for years, replaced by one of the more pliable 'doubles' he is known to have kept around to confuse would-be assassins. This is all, quite literally, beyond doubt.

The provisional suspension of doubt in order to explore the possible permutations that might result from a given set of possibilities is essential to any creative act, including the involuted speculative labyrinths that constitute the development of persuasive conspiracy theories. After the first leap of faith is concealed by a few layers of multivalent logic, one is free to abandon the tentative postulate and hypothetical end point that will resolve all loose threads, and blow freely. In conspiracy-minded fictions such as Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49, Wilson & Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy and Oliver Stone's JFK, the aesthetics of paranoia are unraveled to their logical and curiously similar ends: a womb-like dissolution of the criteria meant to discriminate among competing realities, where every point in the matrix is equally suffused with meaning. Contemporary conspiracy culture thus echo the heretical tenets of Gnosticism, which held that mankind is in paradise here and now, but human consciousness is veiled by the lies of a psychotic false god: It is an article of faith that all data perceived through the senses and mind is tainted, holding us back from the realization of Creation in its undivided wholeness.

Paranoia is a psychopathological disorder characterized by suspiciousness, mistrust, extreme jealousy, hypersensitivity to slights or blame, and vengeful feelings. Feelings of persecution, and delusions that one is being spied upon, plotted against, or secretly betrayed, or that one is secretly the heir to the French throne or George Michaels' wife are typical of this psychopathology. In its most extreme schizophrenic form, such beliefs become ever more far-fetched, involving aliens, mind-control implants, historical or supernatural personages, etc. and are buttressed by auditory and sometimes visual hallucinations. All this is well and fine when contained within the personality boundaries of an individual designated as 'sick.' The difficulties arises, and in a sense expand in an exponential torrent that defines History, when two or three are gathered together in His name.

The social analogues of paranoid states have been fodder for the baroque and illuminating discourses of Foucault and R.D. Laing (not to mention Kafka and Doris Lessing), but should be familiar enough in all their unmediated existential glory to anyone who has worked in an office, gone to grade school, lived in a family, or tried to make it in the art world. Consensus is a mercurial commodity, and much of our attention is justifiably sacrificed in attempting to assuage it. But when your workaday paranoiac social system achieves a certain level of isolation - when reality testing is unilaterally abandoned for reality policing - there occurs a figure/ground shift between what has heretofore been 'subjective' and 'objective'. That's when you get the Voices.

The hive-mind of the Cult is perhaps the most easily, widely diagnosed manifestation of paranoia in a cultural body. Another such group, popularly qualified delusional but less neatly contained , is the unevenly woven network of conspiracy theorists that developed after the JFK assassination, a family which technically includes everyone from the man on the street who believes that sometimes the government lies to him for reasons other than national security to, well, the late population of Jonestown. Thus Jonestown, as with virtually any other group expression of paranoia aesthetics, is located at the fulcrum of two networks of improvisational logic: one folding in on itself to a critical mass; one opening outward into the larger culture like a tangled fungal mycelium. Each is an extravagant and collectively authored expression of the same impulse that generates the greatest modern art, from intricate compositions by free-jazz innovator Ornette Coleman and non-linear narrative installations by Swedish Pop-experimentalist Öyvind Fahlström to the unchartable soundscapes of Japanese noise musician Merzbow and the meticulous sculptural conundrums of Tm Hawkinson.

Paranoia is, in a sense, the force of progressive modernist thought processes turned aside, exploring and identifying as meaningful the endless fractal nuances of mundane reality, and hemorrhages into a moment of significance previously held at bay by the the dynamic of time, with no destination save for the realization that we're already there. The aesthetics of paranoia derive from a molecular choreography of interconnectedness that ultimately signifies nothing except the structure of the human mind, the structure of reality, and the no-man's-land that lies between. The conscious postponement of final revelation becomes the mandate for a post-paranoiac cultural strategy, but preferably not out of fear of a bloodbath. As a post-modern millennial passion play enacting the somatic paranoia underpinning even our most innocuous social alliances, Jonestown provides a crude but moving cautionary tale: For most of us, locked in History as we are, a workable lie is worth more than our life, and society disenfranchises the individual artist at the risk of much larger disruptions of the hegemonic fabric. Or so some would have you believe.

* Actually Flavor-Aid

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Wound of Security

The Wound of Security, collage and acrylic, sketchbook page, 1992, unrealized sketch for a larger piece around the time I was doing my clip-art accumulation paintings.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Philosopher and the Policemen

I can't believe I had never heard of this remarkable novel, which clearly influenced Flann O'Brien, James Joyce (who at one point asked author James Stephens to coauthor Finnegan's Wake!) and even Samuel Beckett. The Crock of Gold (1912) is a mash-up of Irish magical folklore and satirical philosophical abuses of digression, with a healthy dose of gender politics (as well as species and popo politics, as you will note in the following excerpt). Stuart and Judy Spence turned me on to the book early this year, and I put it aside halfway through, then got caught up in The Little Ice Age among other things. I just resumed and came across this passage, which seems very timely indeed:

After a few minutes of silence the Philosopher began to speak.

“I do not see any necessity in nature for policemen,” said he, “nor do I understand how the custom first originated. Dogs and cats do not employ these extraordinary mercenaries, and yet their polity is progressive and orderly. Crows are a gregarious race with settled habitations and an organized commonwealth. They usually congregate in a ruined tower or on the top of a church, and their civilization is based on mutual aid and tolerance for each other’s idiosyncrasies.
Their exceeding mobility and hardiness render them dangerous to attack, and thus they are free to devote themselves to the development of their domestic laws and customs. If policemen were necessary to a civilization crows would certainly have evolved them, but I triumphantly insist that they have not got any policemen in their republic —”

“I don’t understand a word you are saying,” said the sergeant.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the Philosopher. “Ants and bees also live in specialized communities and have an extreme complexity both of function and occupation. Their experience in governmental matters is enormous, and yet they have never discovered that a police force is at all essential to their well-being —”

“Do you know,” said the sergeant, “ that whatever you say now will be used in evidence against you later on?”

“I do not,” said the Philosopher. “It may be said that these races are free from crime, that such vices as they have are organized and communal instead of individual and anarchistic, and that, consequently, there is no necessity for policecraft, but I cannot believe that these large aggregations of people could have attained their present high culture without an interval of both national and individual dishonesty —”

“Tell me now, as you are talking,” said the sergeant, “did you buy the poison at a chemist’s shop, or did you smother the pair of them with a pillow?”

“I did not,” said the Philosopher. “If crime is a condition precedent to the evolution of policemen then I will submit that jackdaws are a very thievish clan — they are somewhat larger than a blackbird, and will steal wool off a sheep’s back to line their nests with; they have, furthermore, been known to abstract one shilling in copper and secrete this booty so ingeniously that it has never since been recovered —”
“I had a jackdaw myself,” said one of the men. “I got it from a woman that came to the door with a basket for fourpence. My mother stood on its back one day and she getting out of bed. I split its tongue with a threepenny bit the way it would talk, but devil the word it ever said for me. It used to hop around letting on it had a lame leg, and then it would steal your socks.”

“Shut up,” roared the sergeant.

“If,” said the Philosopher, “these people steal both from sheep and from men, if their peculations range from wool to money, I do not see how they can avoid stealing from each other, and, consequently, if anywhere, it is amongst jackdaws one should look for the growth of a police force, but there is no such force in existence. The real reason is that they are a witty and thoughtful race who look temperately on what is known as crime and evil — one eats, one steals; it is all in the order of things and, therefore, not to be quarreled with. There is no other view possible to a philosophical people —”

“What the devil is he talking about?” said the sergeant.

“Monkeys are gregarious and thievish and semi-human. They inhabit the equatorial latitudes and eat nuts —”

“Do you know what he is saying, Shawn?”

“I do not,” said Shawn.

“— they ought to have evolved professional thief-takers, but it is common knowledge that they have not done so. Fishes, squirrels, rats, beavers, and bison have also abstained from this singular growth— therefore, when I insist that I see no necessity for policemen and object to their presence, I base that objection on logic and facts, and not on any immediate petty prejudice.”

“ Shawn,” said the sergeant, “have you got a good grip on that man?”

“I have,” said Shawn.

“Well, if he talks any more hit him with your baton.”

Original illustration by Thomas Mackenzie, depicting  a scene immediately following the events described above.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Staying Calm, Episode 126

Had these extra slow Satie recordings on a loop for about 2 weeks now:

Friday, June 12, 2020


Sketchbook page (found - unaltered except for being cut out) 2012ish
Definition of wert. archaic past tense second-person singular of be.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Metabolic Studio's Interdependence Salon #4 - Margaret and Christine Wertheim

Originally streamed Thursday May 14th at 1 pm PST 

Host: Doug Harvey 

Guests: Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim 

The Crochet Coral Reef is a project by Australian-born twin-sisters Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim and their Los Angeles based Institute For Figuring. Responding to anthropogenic crisis, the work simulates living reefs using techniques of crochet to mimic in yarn the curling crenelated forms of actual reef organisms. Corals and other frilly reef creatures are biological manifestations of “hyperbolic” geometry. Through an unlikely fusion of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and collective art practice, the Wertheims and their contributors produce large-scale coralline landscapes both beautiful and blighted. At once figurative, fantastical, worldly and dispersed, the Crochet Coral Reef offers a beautiful impassioned response to dual calamities devastating marine life: climate change and plastic trash. 

TED Talk about the Reef

Margaret Wertheim is an internationally noted science writer, artist and curator whose work focuses on relations between science and the wider cultural landscape. Her work is animated by a propositio that science is a field of conceptual enchantment, and a socially embedded activity with political and communal consequences. The author of six books, including The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace and Physics on the Fringe, she has written for the New York Times, The Guardian, Cabinet, Aeon and many others. Margaret and her sister Christine are founders of the Institute For Figuring, a Los Angeles-based practice devoted to the aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics. The sisters have created exhibits for the Hayward Gallery (London), Science Gallery (Dublin), Mass MOCA (MA), and Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles). Their Crochet Coral Reef – a worldwide participatory project in which thousands of women collectively crochet coral reefs as a response to climate change – has been shown at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), Museum of Arts and Design (New York), Deutsches Museum (Munich), the Smithsonian, and elsewhere. Margaret has worked on all seven continents and stood on the South Pole. For her work as a science communicator she has won the annual award from the American Association of Physics Teachers, and Australia’s Scientia Medal.

Christine Wertheim is a poet, performer, artist, critic, curator and collaborator. She has authored and edited eight books including three poetic suites – The Book of Me, mUtter-bAbel and +|’me’S-pace – and three literary anthologies, among them Feminaissance and The n/Oulipean Analects. Her poetic work fuses graphics and text to explore the potentialities of the English tongue and the relationships between suppressed infantile rage and global violence. Christine has a Phd. in literature and semiotics, and is a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, in the Department of Critical Studies where she teaches courses on art+feminisim, pataphysics, nonsense, and rubbish. She was formerly director of the Calarts MFA Writing Program and has written for many magazines including X-TRA and Jacket. She is co-director of the Institute For Figuring; and, with her sister Margaret Wertheim, co-creator of the Crochet Coral Reef project.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller 

A declaration of interdependence must be followed by a practice of interdependence. Achieving this interdependence takes both seeing and doing, both vision and action. A new collective vision is needed, centered and prioritized around the common good and community. As we live through these uncertain times, we hope as a community to collectively support one another and share our knowledge and voices. Please join us every Thursday at 1pm PST for a series of Interdependence Salons virtually on Zoom as we take inspiration this season from Buckminster Fuller’s 1976 Bicentennial Declaration of Interdependence. Metabolic Studio will be hosting special invited guests discussing their work in this new reality we are facing.

Metabolic Studio explores self-sustaining and self-diversifying systems of exchange that feed emergent properties that regenerate the life web.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Peter Coyote on Noah Purifoy

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture 

Thanks to the public library's COVID19 closure, I finally managed to read the copy of Peter Coyote's 1998 autobiography Sleeping Where I Fall that I checked out in February. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of the Diggers and the Commune movement of the 60s and 70s. But towards the very end of the book, after a decade of hippie shenanigans, Coyote's path takes a peculiar twist when he is recruited by Gary Snyder in 1975 to be a member of the California Arts Council under Gov. Jerry Brown. Dig his description of Noah Purifoy's philosophy about the role of the creative process in political domain. Artists should be running everything!

"Noah Purifoy is a short, muscular African-American man then in his sixties with gnarly hands, a pugnacious thrust to his posture, and a deliberate and somewhat querulous voice. A Los Angeles sculptor of found art, he is a deep thinker about creativity and culture. According to Noah, all artists work in fundamentally the same manner, no matter what their medium is. Following a hunch, an impulse, ora hypothesis, they make a move, a line, a sentence. They step back and regard what they have done, then they act again and review again, discovering where they are going incrementally. This antipodal shifting between the realms of logic and intuition is the core of the creative process. It is, according to Noah, a problem-solving mechanism of the highest order because it utilizes and integrates both the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Noah’s “hunch” was that the council itself should operate according to the same creative process, using as its starting position the policy and program intuitions of the members. Since most of us were working artists, we were comfortable leaping into the unknown in this manner. Purifoy asserted further that just as the creative process was a problem-solving mechanism for the artist, the community of artists could serve as a reservoir of creative problem solvers for the state. Artists could even save the state money if they succeeded in cracking some of the obdurate problems plaguing it. 
When the council began to design programs, we used Noah's ideas as our template and discovered how readily they expedited our ideas of service. If we want to have art in the state, we reasoned, we should create opportunities for artists to serve the state’s needs. If we paid a subsistence wage for twenty hours of weekly work, the artists would create art on their own nickel in the remaining time. There was no need to pay them for making  art, and doing so has been one of the major controversies and political problems of arts funding. Even the densest legislator could understand the equation of payment for service.

It was fascinating to track the reactions as the council began to explore and articulate this idea. A contrary philosophy known as art-for-art’s-sake was articulated among the representatives of the state’s “High Art” institutions. They argued that art had no statement to make nor any practical significance (which I always considered a dangerous argument to advance when asking taxpayers for their money). They contended that to attach a work of art to any purpose outside of its own organic evolution was to debase the work, andI can certainly agree with the latter part of the statement. 
But such arguments could not (or would not) address that all choices — especially by a government agency—are inherently political and reflect the interests or worldview of one group or another, Art-for-art’s-sake is the philosophy about art of a group accustomed to dominance, which mistakes its political power for revealed truth, They did not accept that their worldview was only one among many, some of which were far older and at least as well developed."

Monday, June 8, 2020

Archive: Doughboy Ritual

                      Sketchbook page, 1992ish

Saturday, June 6, 2020


Here's something from my "weird book" archive I've been wanting to scan for awhile, since I originally got it to cut up for collage elements, but haven't had the heart before sharing it with the world. 

As you can see, it looks like a regular, run-of-the-mill textbook on learning sign language - something you might see in a community college bookstore. And indeed, the content is the sort of prosaic vocabulary-building practice exercises that are the bread and butter of such curricula...

It's not until quite late in the game that the author's hidden agenda unveils itself, and the the content veers sharply and completely into radical idiosyncrasy, in the form of evangelical Christianity...

It isn't clear what the author's intention is here - get 'em hooked on "the story of the fox and the elephant" then glory-stomp 'em with "the Disciples met the prostitute at the altar?" Or just "You know Edgar, we'd feel a lot better publishing this if you prefaced it with 25 chapters of non-religious signing."

Whatever the secret history of this document, I've done my due diligence scanning and posting here, secure in the knowledge that the next time any of you need to tell a deaf person "I sing because I am happy I heard about Pentecost!" or remind them that "Saving grace is unworthy favor," you're all set!

Many more pages After The Jump!

Friday, June 5, 2020

Archive: My Smart-Ass Subconscious Goes Political

Here's a comic from a dream from New Year's Day 1994 that just turned up - seems timely somehow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Monday, June 1, 2020

Archive: Bwa Milan-go-boom Act I Scene I

Here is a comic I channelled while considerably intoxicated, conceived as a sort of vaudevillian stage play - scan is from a photocopy colorized by noted Canadian artist R.F. Godot (cropped content missing on photocopy version). 1994.