Support the LifeSize Mousetrap!

The Lifesize Mousetrap is exactly what it sounds like: an astoundingly cool, “big kid” version of the classic board game. Created by Mark Perez, constructed from leftover metal/nuts/bolts/spare wood over the course of thirteen years, and operated and maintained by a small, scrappy collective of bay-area based engineers, artists and performers, it’s “a colorful assemblage of kinetic sculptures fantastically handcrafted into a giant, 25 TON Rube Goldberg machine.”

The mechanical spectacle is enhanced by a vaudevillian style road show featuring tap-dancing mouse women, live music, and several dapper “clown engineers” who endeavor to “achieve a chain reaction using Newtonian physics and bowling balls! The action culminates with the spectacular dropping of a 2 TON bank safe from a 30-foot crane.”

This 50,000 pound contraption and its stage show must be seen to be believed. Preferably in person, not on a computer screen– which is why they need our help getting to Maker Faire Detroit and Maker Faire World in New York City. They’ve setup a Kickstarter project to help raise funds for the labor-intensive, rather expensive cross-country trip. There are 10 days left on the clock, and they’ve still got a ways to go before they reach their goal of $6,600 — a buck for every mile they travel.  If you’re inspired by small, indie, gloriously strange community art and outreach, here’s a chance to express it. You guys know how this works: a buck here, a fiver there, and spread the word. It adds up so quickly.

Best of luck, you guys!

Mister Graves’ Nuclear Landscapes, Life-worn Faces

Mister David Graves does many things, but this post is about his gorgeous photography, and about his charity walk across Oregon in support of the Oregon Food Bank. More on that in a moment. In fact, this post is just about two aspects of his photo-repertoire, while there are several. For instance, Graves has taken plenty of photos of beautiful women and forgotten cemeteries, but today I’d rather show off his nuclear landscapes and life-worn faces.

The shot below is titled “They Make Milk Here”.

Arresting, yes? This is one of a series of vertical panoramas, another one of which is below the jump. Uncle Tarkovsky would approve.

Much of Graves’ work explores nature – sometimes coexisting in contrast with civilization, other times wild and exceeding all, with objects of human development becoming lifeless artifacts, left behind by an environmental revolution.

Dead House

Another dimension of Mister Graves’ work takes on cities, society, and its casualties. His photos of the homeless are, to me, among his best. On Flickr, these portraits are often accompanied by short blurbs of how the shot came about. This is Sally, captioned, “She asked for change, I asked for a picture in trade. She showed me her tattoo.”

Graves is far from a spectator with a camera. After years of working for various non-profits and going through a number of skin-thickening experiences like hitchhiking across parts of America, he’s decided to spend ninety days walking for charity. He leaves next week. On his website,, David Graves states:

I believe that access to real food is a basic human right. This philosophy is in line with the work the Oregon Food Bank does, and therefore I have chosen them as my charity for this event. All donations, minus personal expense, will be given to the Oregon Food Bank to support their efforts throughout the state. It is my hope that through the kindness of individual donors, and aided by numerous radio interviews/newspaper articles, I can raise $40,000 for the Oregon Food Bank.

My walk will begin and end at the State Capitol building in Salem. The event is planned to last anywhere from 80 to 100 days, with a scheduled start date of April 5th. My planned rate of walking is 15 miles per day, but I am leaving room for various setbacks, such as sickness, closed roads, and theft/robbery. My walk will begin heading east from Salem until I reach John Day. From John Day, I will walk north to Umatilla, and back west to Portland. From Portland I will walk to the coast and continue south to Coos Bay. The final leg of my walk will take me from Coos Bay to Springfield and back north to Salem. Many of my nights on the road I will be camping, in an attempt to keep my personal expense as low as possible. Any couches/hotel rooms that can be offered along the way will be of great help.

David is taking his cameras along for this journey, and he’ll be documenting his adventure online, which I’m really looking forward to. You can follow his progress on the Walking Oregon Facebook page.

Click the jump for some of my favorite shots by Mister Graves.

Gritty Banter: Having Fun On Stage With Fugazi

One non-sucky aspect of being a relatively old fart: getting to see Fugazi play live several times during their fiercest years. Now, nobody’s saying these four guys aren’t still fierce as hell; they surely are. But a live Fugazi show circa early ’90s was post-hardcore baptism by fire.

Fugazi, 1988, Philly. The early days! [via sgustilo]

A bit of background on the band for the uninitiated: Fugazi formed in Washington D.C. in 1987. Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto on guitar and vocals. Joe Lally on bass. Brendan Canty drumming. The music, which evolved tremendously over the decades, is a singular, dynamic mix of punk rock, hardcore, anthemic guitar rock, noise, soul, and more dissonant, experimental elements. They toured extensively for many, many, MANY moons before going on indefinite hiatus in 2002. Fugazi has my vote for the most resolutely DIY, ethically upstanding band that’s ever existed. From Wiki:

Fugazi’s early tours earned them a strong word-of-mouth reputation, both for their powerful performances, and for their eagerness to play in unusual venues. They sought out alternatives to traditional rock clubs partly to relieve the boredom of touring, but also hoping to show fans that there are other options to traditional ways of doing things. As Picciotto said, “You find the Elks Lodge, you find the guy who’s got a space in the back of his pizzeria, you find the guy who has a gallery. Kids will do that stuff because they want to make stuff happen.”

Yes. Very true. Motivated kids will do just about anything to make stuff happen. And when you’re young and scrappy, you’ll also endure a lot to see live music. I loved certain bands so much, I’d go to all ages shows and cheerfully risk being crushed, clocked in the head, kicked ’til bloody or used as a footstool by crowd-surfing, slam-dancing goons twice my size. Like so many punk babies I know must be reading and remembering, I was game. At that age, you just want to get as close to the music as possible. Even so, gnawing one’s way out of Broheim Armpit/Knuckle/Knee Forest always gets old after ten minutes, tops.

It never occurred to me that shows didn’t have to be that way. I thought, “this is how these things are, it’s part of the experience.” I was just happy to be there.

But the wise, worldly fellas in Fugazi? They weren’t fucking having it.

[click below to read more]

Vigilant Citizen: Occult Website for the True Believers

Shots from the most evil airport on earth, as reported by Vigilant Citizen

At first, I hesitated blogging about The Vigilant Citizen, a site that exposes the Masonic/Illuminati symbolism present in everyday things ranging from pop stars to national monuments. The site had to be a joke, I told myself, poking fun at occult nuts the same way that Christwire pokes fun at religious zealots. I’m not so sure, though. It feels like too much research to be fake, and yet it feels too silly to be real (case in point: Lady Gaga, The Illuminati Puppet). Whether or not the site is faux, it’s attracted some true believers! As one commenter writes in response to the the Gaga post:

This is truly amazing im shocked. I believe god told me to check this site. I feel like a total fool I wad becoming a fan of hers. Im totally conviced that this is what she’s trying to convey.

So dive right in, and have an occultastic good time! My favorite article is a toss-up between Top 5 Worst 9/11 Memorials and Vigilant’s analysis of the Denver National Airport (part of his Sinister Sites series, which examines the architectural occultism of buildings from all over the world). In a style that reminds me somewhat of Weird New Jersey, the latter article gives us a spooky tour of the most evil airport in America, introducing us to the apocalyptic horse with glowing red eyes that guards the entrance, the airport’s nightmarish murals, the arcane symbols embedded in the floor, the gargoyle statues, and of course the Nazi swastika-shaped runway. All part of the impending New World Order! Enjoy.

[via Aaron Muszalski]


Weeeee! Let’s dance!

My flight arrives in Wellington (one day into THE FUTURE FUTURE FUTURE…) on Tuesday, the 11th. If all goes well *knock on wood* I should be there for quite some time.

New Zealanders, any tips for me? I’ve got one of those little culture/customs/slang dictionaries, but real live advice from savvy weirdo Kiwis would be preferable. Can you think of any great places to visit, particularly in and around Wellington? (I’m definitely hitting the Ian Curtis wall first thing.) Local coffee shops and clothing boutiques, a good comic book store, night clubs, a place to buy a sturdy kite, etc? Inquiring n0obz want to know.

See you on the other side!

Mike Brodie’s Glimpses of the Under-Underclass

Photography can serve many functions. One of the most powerful is open up parts of the world we never see, reminding us that they are as viscerally real as our own lives. Humanity’s a huge thing and there are teeming cultures all around us — universes really — that we rarely glimpse from inside. Day by day, it’s amazing how much of it we file away as alien, content to leave it there.

That’s what struck me when I first saw this image of a slit possum splayed out for dinner in a homeless camp. The photo was unidentified, but the reality was jarring. Turned out it was by Mike Brodie, a.k.a. the Polaroid Kidd (thanks to Jonathan Welch for the ID). Brodie left home at 18 to ride the rails, armed at first with only an old Polaroid SX-70. Over the next three years, he proved an amazing photographer, documenting the travels and lives of his fellow squatters and vagabonds.

Brodie’s work has been justly praised, with exhibitions around the world and ecstatic comparisons to Dorothea Lange. However, he seems to have virtually disappeared during the last year: no new exhibitions, website down, the works.

Erik Lyle, a past squatter and rail-rider himself, writes that Brodie’s work provides glimpses of “a sort-of hobo-topia where packs of grubby kids (and dogs!) play music, share food, and forage in the ruins of post-industrial America together, while traveling together from town to town on freight trains and homemade river rafts.”

Yeah, that’s there. But, I also found his pictures — especially the jarring first image I found — to be an effective antidote to romanticizing the homeless. Yes, there’s vitality, fun and even a sense of grandeur here.

Yet a look at the missing teeth, the Mad Dog and the ever-present grime shows us a different side as well. This is still a group that remains nigh-illegal thanks to many a gentry-friendly law, is extremely vulnerable and are often plagued by mental and physical illness. The knife cuts both ways.

More glimpses below. Have a look.

Performer/Cyclist Hollis Hawthorne Needs Our Help

Performer/cyclist/activist Hollis Hawthorne. Photo by Alicia Sanguiliano.

There’s this awesome, beautiful gal I only kinda sorta barely know through our many mutual circus friends here in the bay area; her name is Hollis Hawthorne. She’s a founding member of a cycling dance troupe called The Derailleurs, a fabulous velocipede-inspired dance team active in a bunch of bay area-based critical mass stuff. Their goal:

To educate and entertain audiences with the possibilities of alternative transportation. Our performances embrace critical inquiry that reaches beyond conventional thought and action. We promote radical self reliance and mine local talents to unearth their strength.

They’re wonderful and vibrant folks leading adventurous lives who are trying to affect some sort of positive change in their community. They smile and laugh a lot; they are very shiny people. To be honest, I rather envy them, most days. But not today:

Late last month, Hollis was traveling by motor scooter in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India when something terrible happened. Some sort of freak hit-and-run accident that wasn’t her fault left her bleeding out on the side of the road with her boyfriend Harrison frantically performing CPR for 20 minutes before a van of German tourists picked them up and drove them to a hospital. According to her best pal Eliza, Hollis was wearing her helmet and driving very slowly at the time of the accident. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it sounds really bad. Now she’s in a coma in a rural hospital with a serious brain stem injury. (You know, that part of the brain that controls, um, everything?)

According to Harrison, who has been with her from the moment it happened, “there are huge rats scurrying around on the [hospital] floor. I am sleeping on the ant-covered floor outside her room as I am not allowed in and the water they have used for many procedures is not even purified.” When Hollis’ mom flew in from Tennessee a couple of days ago with emergency support from the US consulate to see her own daughter, the orderlies were dismissive and curt. “They are not observing her brain pressure and have done nothing to alleviate the swelling in her brain. These are things that can make or break her early on in her recovery and healing process.”

Through a series of fortuitous connections, Hollis’s case has been reviewed and accepted by Stanford Medical; one of the best hospitals in the world. As a charity case, even. (Just like me and most other starving artsy fartsies I know, Hollis has no insurance.) All we need to do is get her there. The friends and family of Hollis are reaching out to everyone they can to raise funds to get her on an I.C.U. plane (aka air ambulance) to fly her back to California.

This is truly a matter of life and death. They need move her quickly as possible.

Before that can happen, Friends of Hollis must raise $150,000 dollars. They’ve already raised approximately $40,000. Can you spare a dollar, or five, or ten?

Yes, I know, life is risk, and life is uncertain. Life is also precious. If, in some small way, we can help someone in our community to come back from the brink, we really should. Click here to help.

EDIT, MARCH 6TH: According to The Hindu, Hollis has been moved to Apollo hopsital in Chennai, where she is receiving the best possible medical care in India. While still in a coma, she is off the ventilator. But she still need help:

“Stanford has offered us free care and Hollis has no insurance,” says [Harrison] Bartlett. Ms. Allison is currently paying for hospitalisation expenses. She hopes that the fundraising effort, which is gathering momentum in the United States, would be able to help them make the trip back home as soon as Ms. Hollis is ready to go.

Cheryl E. Leonard: Music from the Ice and the Earth

The sound of snow crunching under treading feet has a soothing quality. There’s nothing quite like the rhythm of little ice particles crushed by an eager boot. Concentrate on the sound for a long while, and eventually it becomes a small symphony of pressures, tones and pauses. Cheryl E. Leonard understands this. Recently, the San Francisco-based musician and naturalist received a grant from the National Science Foundation to go to Antarctica and develop musical compositions based on the natural elements and sounds of that cold, vast region.

Musical explorer Cheryl E. Leonard.

Cheryl Leonard is an outdoorsy type who composes intricate, complex music using instruments created by Mother Nature – rocks, twigs, pools of water, dried seedpods and sifting sand. A graduate of Mills College and frequent collaborator with many talented experimental musicians and collectives like 23Five, she’s one of several local noisemakers profiled in the recent documentary Noisy People.

The artistic statement on Leonard’s website is a playful, poetic stringing of thoughts and sensations. Sweet remembrances like “cartwheels & rolling down hills” and “tea & crumpets in a tree” hold as much significance and inspiration as reflections that give you pause: “fully exploiting the confines you are given,” “reinforcement of things you didn’t recognize that you already knew,” and the simple act of “paying attention.”

Instruments from the Tides:Estuary collaboration between Cheryl E. Leonard and visual artist Rebecca Haseltine.

Paying attention to the smallest details is what makes Leonard’s compositions so remarkable. In a video profile on KQED’s series Spark, (a must-see glimpse into the composer’s creative process) she said: “You could just bang on rocks and it could sound like nothing. It’s how you bang on the rocks that makes it musical or not.” Each instrument, foraged by Leonard through her hikes in the wilderness, is chosen with utmost care and affection. A small pine cone is considered a soprano or alto depending on the sound its scales make when plucked and bowed; a dried strip of bark can become a bow or an instrument on its own; rocks of varying sizes and shapes are all given names and taken home to be rubbed against each other slowly and carefully, or to collide together with gentle, percussive force.

Better Than Coffee: The Flocking Behavior of Starlings

Who else here has a list (I mean an actual, tangible, ink-on-paper list) of places they want to go and things they want to do/see before they kick the bucket? Anyone? Care to share?

Near the tippy top of my own list is a visit to England specifically to witness massive flocking formations of starlings over the moors in the West Midlands. Hundreds of thousands of them gather each year to tumble together through the air at dusk, swerving suddenly, veering arbitrarily, always in perfect unison, never colliding, sometimes for hours before coming down to roost for the evening. Birders travel from all over the world to observe the phenomenon. Scientists have been studying their swarming behavior to develop artificial technology:

Before I die, I must see this with my own eyes. International Coilhouse field trip, anyone?

What would you want to do?

(More flocking clips after the jump.)

Better Than Coffee: Wingsuit Base Jumpers in Norway

“Meredith Anne Yayanos, I ABSOLUTELY FORBID IT.”

My Dad (standard response whenever I expressed interest in skydiving, bungee-jumping, para-surfing, parkour, driving a motorcycle, skateboarding, driving without a seat belt, crossing the street against a red light, not washing my hands before dinner, forgetting to floss, etc) 1976 – ?

“Have you ever heard of proximity flying? Fascinating. I’m thinking of getting myself a wingsuit for my birthday. If you hear a loud, dull thud, you will know my jump from our roof was unsuccessful.”

My Dad, 2009

My dad is getting quite XTREEM in his golden years, it would seem! He’s just about the last person I’d expect to get base-jumping links from. Nevertheless, pops just sent me this clip from the Matchstick-produced “action sports” documentary, Seven Sunny Days. It is, hands down, the most beautiful wingsuit footage I’ve ever seen. Instant adrenaline rush. Thank you, Doctor Yay!

Click below for more astounding “squirrel suit” clips from around the world.