XYZT: Abstract Landscapes – A Chance to Play

XYZT: Abstract Landscapes is a world-travelled installation by internationally acclaimed French contemporary digital artists and multimedia choreographers Adrien M & Claire B.

The interactive show offers an exploratory physical experience through ten digital landscapes. Tickets are $15 -$25 and it’s open until September 1 at Artechouse, located near the Mandarin Hotel, just a short walk from the National Mall in Washington, DC.

XYZT: Abstract Landscapes is a show designed for the Selfie Age. No longer enough to just passively enjoy art, contemporary audiences want to interact with installations and memorialize the experience. This photo-friendly exhibit provides what the public wants – places to take good selfies that they can post to Instagram, sharing with their friends the joy that they’ve experienced. The neon installation at the end of the exhibit is ideal for this.

More importantly, XYZT: Abstract Landscapes provides the opportunity to play. See yourself distorted in a video funhouse mirror. Organize swirling motes and hurricanes on a flat table. Blow into a glass to send letters into a bottle. Hold back a cascading alphabet with your hands.

An hour in this underground installation passed in an instant. The experience of playing a game provides a compelling, engaging, rewarding experience that the real-world often fails to match.

In the words of Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World:

Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves, and it turns out that almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work.

Artomatic Demonstrates the Creative Power of DC

Artomatic
Artomatic in Crystal City

Washington is not The Swamp. Nor is it House of Cards. And it’s certainly not the sleepy burg with a couple of cool restaurants that The New York Times rediscovers every few years.

Instead, it’s something different – a sprawling urban corridor that stretches along I-95 from Richmond to Baltimore, from the blue waters of the Chesapeake to the green forested Appalachians. More than just the nation’s capital, it’s six million people in a megacity that dominates the Mid-Atlantic.

Saturday, while the cherry blossoms were blooming along the Tidal Basin, I crossed the river and went to Artomatic. More than 600 artists, performers, musicians, and creatives of all stripes have converged upon Crystal City for this massive art festival that runs from March 24 – May 6. Artomatic is seven floors of art, along with classes, performances and movies, all taking place in an empty office building just across the Potomac from the capitol. Admission is free.

Artomatic is a non-juried festival. Anyone can participate. Artists that pay a fee and agree to do some volunteer time get space to display their work. Which means that you’ll find stuff you love, stuff you hate, and lot of work that falls somewhere in between.

It’s always inspiring. And I love to see friends of mine in the show. You’d be surprised at how many artists there are in Washington. Lawyers, web developers, government workers by day, they’re painters, photographers and dancers by night. Artomatic gives them the opportunity to shine.

Reach IV by Frank Mancino
Reach IV by Frank Mancino

The 5:01 Project by Victoria Pickering
Victoria Pickering took a photo at 5:01 PM every day for this project.

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Artomatic is quirky

And where else but in the Washington megacomplex could you have a massive, open festival like Artomatic? Only here will you find the ingredients necessary for this unique happening:

  • Space. A lot of it. Thousands of square feet of space in a building soon to be redeveloped, opened or torn down. Artomatic began in 1999 when a developer donated space in an old building. Artomatic typically takes place in transitional neighborhoods, where space is being converted from use to another. Military offices have moved out of Crystal City and their space is being redeveloped.
  • Artists. A lot of them. The 2008 show featured 1,540 individual artists, including painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers and poets stretched over ten floors in a new office building in NoMa. The artistic community is large in the region, featuring moonlighting professionals as well as graduates from local universities.
  • Audience. The memorable 2008 edition of Artomatic hosted the biggest audience ever, drawing 52,000 people. When I visited on Saturday, the halls were full of friends and family of the artists, as well as the culturally curious, drawn to see something new.
  • Organizers. Artomatic ain’t easy. The festival requires talented event planners to acquire the space, recruit volunteers and manage the event. Smart, well-organized, Type-A people, something DC specializes in.

Only in DC will you find this combination of arts, audiences and organizers. Washington isn’t the city you see on CNN. It’s more than just marble columns and endless arguments. Artomatic demonstrates the creative power and vibrancy of a city that few in America truly know.

The Future is the (Photography) Collective!

full house

How do photographers make their voice heard in a era saturated with millions of images? By forming a photo collective, a group of photographers with a common vision or subject matter. Photographers pool their talents and expertise to make a larger impact.

The idea is an old one. Magnum Photos set the tone for post-war photography, creating iconic images of war and conflict that still resonate today. And it’s a photo collective, owned and operated by the top editorial photographers in the world.

Slightly less famous is The Rooftop Collective, a gang of seven with a shared interest in lifestyle photography (i.e., gorgeous photos of food and drink). Growing out of the much-larger InstagramDC group, the collective had their first show recently at Black Whiskey, a nouveau dive on 14th Street in Washington, DC. Being friends with the group, I was glad to attend – and take some photos with my trusty Canon G9X.

There are a lot of advantages to being part of a collective. Putting on an individual show is a daunting effort. Providing a few photos for a group show is much easier. Collective members share their experience in framing, staging, marketing and outreach.

Being part of a collective is also a third-party endorsement, even if it’s self-created. If you like one Rooftop Collective photographer, you’ll probably like another, for the photographers have been selected for a similar vision.

The biggest benefit, however, is the power of the network. The show at Black Whiskey was packed for the group could draw upon their combined social networks. With seven members, that’s a lot of invites going out and a lot of exposure for photographers in the collective.

By pooling their contacts, resources and skills, the Rooftop Collective can make a much bigger impact as a group than they ever could do individually.

Comrades, the future is the (photography) collective!

East Building of the National Gallery of Art Reopens

NGA, East BuildingAfter three years of renovation, the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, reopened on September 30th. I grabbed my new Canon G9x to check out the opening.

The art museum is in two buildings – the West, which is home to Monet masterworks and more, while the East is known for its Calder mobiles and other bits of puzzling modern art.

The West Building has better art. It’s an art history course spanning centuries of Western tradition.

But the East Building has always been way more interesting visually. It’s a dream for photographers, with a soaring interior bathed in natural light and terraces that remind one of Romeo and Juliet. And is home to that NGA wall, a favorite among Instagrammers.

that NGA wall

Navigating the East Building is still a puzzling exercise. The renovation added new stairs and elevators, trying to form a cohesive whole out of what is essentially different platforms under one roof. Expect to get lost if you visit.

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Calder mobile at NGAThe highlight of the renovation is the Roof Terrace, an outdoor sculpture garden overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. Lean over the edge and you can see the Capitol. But most people will be drawn toward Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch, on view from July 2016 as a long-term loan from Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD.

This majestic blue rooster is destined to appear in thousands of Instagram selfies. Gallery visitors no longer just want to look at art (like they would in the West Building); instead, they want to create art. With themselves in it. They want to capture and share the experience of visiting the National Gallery of Art.

Hahn/Cock roof of NGA, East Building Capitol view from NGA, East Building

Hahn/Cock is more than just a work of art – it’s a marketing tool for the National Gallery of Art, something that can be digitally reproduced and shared with audiences well beyond any that the museum could reach. The chance of an Iowa teen reading an NGA brochure is nil; but she will look at her friend’s Instagram photo of the iconic blue rooster and ask, “Where’s that?” Thus, a new generation of art connoisseurs is born.

Visit the roof. Take a selfie with the blue chicken. Not just because it’s fun, but because you might just inspire a future artist.

Photography Show: New Orleans by Ben Carver

A friend of mine once lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After first visiting during Mardi Gras, I returned every few years, my last trip occurring just a few months before Hurricane Katrina. While everyone knew that the city was basically a big bathtub, and that a storm could fill that bathtub with water, no one expected the unthinkable to happen.

And then it did. What surprised me was the long-lasting impact the storm had. The city was devastated, livelihoods were wiped out and thousands of people left the city forever – including my friend Bob. I visited a year after Katrina and much of the city seemed like a ghost town. It’s slowly recovered since then.

Ben Carver spent three months walking the neighborhoods of New Orleans, capturing the city as it exists ten years after Hurricane Katrina. An exhibit of his photos recently took place at the White Room in Shaw, featuring selections from the 600+ images that comprise this collection.

For anyone who has visited New Orleans, the photos evoke a lot of nostalgia. I’ve been a fan of the city since reading A Confederacy of Dunces, one of my favorite books of all time. It’s unlike any other place in the United States – and I hope it remains that way.

Ben Carver

admiring Mardi Gras Indians

Artist Statement

Chocolate Jesus

my favorite photo from the show

New Orleans book

Imperfect Art is Better Than No Art at All

Artomatic, 2008
Artomatic, 2008

Artomatic is ten floors of bad art. Held every couple years in an abandoned office building, it’s a multi-week, multimedia arts event held in the Washington, DC area. Artomatic is non-juried. Pay a small fee and you’re given a section of wall to hang your work on. Like some sort of bizarre department store, Artomatic is home to thousands of square feet of slapdash painting, crude sculpture and out-of-focus photography. Added to this joyful mix of mediocrity are garage bands, freelance DJs, teen dance crews and deeply personal works of unwatchable performance art.

It really sucks. But that’s the key to its success. There’s an undeniable energy to the experience that you won’t find in some staid museum. No curators organized the art for you. The lighting is harsh. There is no audio tour. And around the corner could be anything – photos of Keds, a male nude or some impressionistic take on your home town that you fall in love with.

Artomatic celebrates the artist. It is about the messy process of art, as you struggle to achieve perfection with the most imperfect of materials: yourself.

As the author of two novels, I’ve met plenty of people over the years who say they have the perfect idea for a book. It’s so brilliant that they hesitate to even tell me about it. Maybe it’s the next War and Peace.

But we never find out because they never write it.

There’s a great chapter in The Up Side of Down by Megan McAardle about writers, procrastination and the fear of failure. We put off work because we’re afraid that our work won’t be perfect. We have the perfect manuscript – in our heads – but in writing it down, it will inevitably be corrupted by our imperfections, ending up like one of the misbegotten pieces hanging on the walls of Artomatic.

Yet, despite the psychological peril, writing gets done. Novels are written, screenplays drafted, poetry composed. Why?

“Work finally begins,” says Alain de Botton, “when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”

McArdle has her own advice for writers: you have permission to suck. Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It can be terrible. But get it done and get it on the page. You can fix a bad first draft; you can’t fix nothing.

Letting go of perfection is freeing. Tom Wolfe’s career began with a case of writer’s block, after being hired to write an article for Esquire:

I was totally blocked. I now know what writer’s block is. It’s the fear you cannot do what you’ve announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn’t worth doing. That’s a rarer form. In this case I suddenly realized I’d never written a magazine article before and I just felt I couldn’t do it. Well, Dobell somehow shamed me into writing down the notes that I had taken in my reporting… so that some competent writer could convert them into a magazine piece. I sat down one night and started writing a memorandum to him as fast as I could, just to get the ordeal over with. It became very much like a letter that you would write to a friend in which you’re not thinking about style, you’re just pouring it all out, and I churned it out all night long, forty typewritten, triple-spaced pages. I turned it in in the morning to Byron at Esquire, and then I went home to sleep. About four that afternoon I got a call from him telling me, Well, we’re knocking the “Dear Byron” off the top of your memo, and we’re running the piece.

You have a unique story to tell. But only if you share it. Let go of perfection and write it down in all its messy glory. It’s not going to be the idealized version in your head. It’s going to have rough edges and jagged corners. It might lack supporting beams and doors and windows. All of these problems can all be fixed – but only if you have the raw material to work with. You can’t reshape illusions.

Your work may be as flawed and imperfect as the art hanging on the walls of Artomatic. But it will be real. It will exist in the world. And imperfect art is better than no art at all.

Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography

I like wandering the city taking photos. I’m a chronicler, a recorder, pursuing the things I am interested in – city life, the arts, travel and strong horizontal lines.

And in 2012, I got to do so much of what I love – taking boozy Instagram shots of art gallery shows, capturing photos of bike culture and recording life in this city, from protests to performance art.

Here are my favorites from 2012.

iPhone Impressionism

It was the year of iPhone impressionism, where I used Instagram, Flickr, Slow Shutter and other apps to capture the city around me. When I take photos, I’m not looking for realism – I’m looking for symmetry and beauty in the urban environment. I’m showing an idealized Washington, a place of warm tones, strong lines and order.

Taxis on 17th St

there is a light that never goes out

F St from above

Late in the year came the controversy over Instagram’s odious Terms of Service. That inspired me to check out the newly updated Flickr mobile app, which has great filters like Narwhal (seen below) and doesn’t shrink your pictures down to tiny squares.

performance art at the Hillyer

My New Year’s Resolution is to use Flickr more and Instagram less.

Continue reading “Surrendering to Serendipity: My Year in Photography”

Friday Photo: The Ring Edition

performance art at the HillyerWhile it looks like a scene from The Ring, it’s actually Bryana Siobhan, a senior at Corcoran College of Art + Design, performing Center of Five, a ritual and repetitive work that explores personal memory and mental barriers within a constantly changing society. I took the photo at the Hillyer, my favorite small art gallery in DC.

And it’s an iPhone shot, modified with the narwhal filter in Flickr’s great new app. It’s about time that Flickr developed a decent mobile app. What I like about the app is that it doesn’t shrink photos down like Instagram and it’s tied into Flickr, which I use every day.

DCist Exposed Wants Your Photos

media storm
Media storm - 2012 DCist Exposed Photography Show

DCist Exposed is looking for photos of our nation’s capital for their annual show at Long View Gallery. The deadline for submissions is January 9 and the show will be in March of next year.

If you’re a photographer, it’s a great event. I’ve had photos in the show twice. The opening night parties are always packed and it’s a thrill to see your work framed and hung in a gallery. Plus, you get to meet lots of other photographers and learn how they do things – that’s been the best part for me.

So, what is DCist Exposed looking for? Well, check out DCist to get an idea of what their photo editors like. I’d say that they look for gritty, non-touristy and unusual looks at DC.

The photo above was in the 2012 show. I think it got in because it’s a different look at a familiar landmark. I took it during the post-earthquake inspection of the Washington Monument. There’s a strange symmetry between the antennas of the TV trucks and this iconic structure. I made it black and white to make this obvious. And if you look carefully, you can see a figure at the top of the Monument, rappelling down as he checked for earthquake damage.

Below is my photo which was in the 2007 show. There’s a nice contrast between the playful girl and the graffiti. It’s innocence in an urban environment.

rose runs
Rose runs - 2007 DCist Exposed Photography Show

So pick out your best three photos and submit to DCist Exposed today!

Save the Date Highlights Absurdity of Modern Weddings

Save the Date

My favorite wedding of 2012 was a fake one.

It was Save the Date, a performance art piece at the Corcoran Museum. Kathryn Cornelius married and divorced seven different people on one day in August. It was the busiest I’ve ever seen the Corcoran, as tourists joined with members of the wedding party to celebrate one marriage after another.

And the spectacle made some great photos. Given the Corcoran’s financial problems, maybe they should allow couples to actually get married there.

What did it all mean? For suitor Eames Armstrong, the message of Save the Date was marriage equality.

But to me, it was about marriage absurdity – why are weddings so big, expensive and overproduced? Weddings these days seem less about love and more about impressing friends and family with your wealth and taste.

The Onion, of course, put it best – Horrible Couple Really Wants Wedding To Reflect Their Personalities.

If there ever was an American institution deserving of mockery, it’s the modern American wedding. Save the Date demonstrated how bloated and silly these matrimonial performances have become.