El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You about Africa

I made a point to get to the Blanton to see this before it came down January 22nd, since it is the largest collection of El Anatsui’s work to be shown in the United States, and the Blanton is the only southwest venue to host the exhibition.  My determination was rewarded with vibrant visual rhythms.  Scribbling my impressions in a small notepad helped me keep some works fresh in my mind so I could post them here.

chip chop/chip chop/repeat, nick nack/repeat.  

Installation view. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall
Installation view. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall

Patterns reminiscent of woven fabric and methodical marks written as language were burned, carved, & gouged into planks, laid side by side to form tableaus; arresting figures emerged from wittily assembled, carved, and painted wood scraps. Worn materials made new again through the artist’s visceral energy: scored and scoured, charred and etched, painted and pieced.  Each work has stories to tell, transformative journeys to recount.

I am glad to be reminded that the range of materials, tools, and mark-making techniques available to an artist is as wide as the imagination.  Fancy supplies are not required to make something meaningful.


"Stressed World," 2011. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall.
“Stressed World,” 2011. Courtesy of The Blanton Museum of Art. Photo: Rick Hall.

Metal made fluid, flexible, like nets of some mystic ritual, woven from bottle tops & wire, discarded bits of mass consumption.  Patterns and shapes suggestive of  familiar forms:  a corset, a cloak, a flag, a map. Rippling from sparse to dense and back again, the varied color clusters and compositions providing a unique tone for each work.

Even the draping of the “tapestries” speaks volumes in each work .  “Stressed World” was stretched and pulled taught, yet sagging under its own weight. Lulling waves swelled in “Oasis.” “Tahari in Blue” was somehow formal with its thick, crisp creases.  “Susuvo” fluttered like a regal flag.  I was surprised to discover that such installation choices were likely made by the curator rather than the artist, as explained in Glasstire’s article about the exhibit.

Making the rounds in the gallery and gazing upon some works more than once, I became conscious of time, its passage, the substantial duration required for the wall sculptures.  Yet amazingly, some pieces conveyed chaos, despite the sustained, deliberate, and tedious construction apparent.  I love the way art surprises me, puzzles me, spurs me to trains of thought not present in my workaday life.

Images borrowed from Glasstire.


2010 in Review

As we embark on another year, it always feels good to review happenings of note from the last (at least the things we can remember or that we took the trouble to write down).  This list is not exhaustive but captures highlights. In making this list, we are reminded how rich our lives are, how much fun we have, how much love there is, how much wonder and beauty. We should do this more than once a year.

On the Homefront:
Interior home updates this year included new fixtures and tile in the full bathroom shower and a new, smaller, sleeker fridge in the kitchen (thank you City of Austin energy rebate!). If we could just get the tub refinished now (paint is steadily peeling off), bath time would be totally luxurious.

Lots of work in the backyard this year, including the addition of more gutters and 2 new rainbarrels (for a total of 3) in Amo’s water reclamation effort. We should be able to tend our plants better now during the hot/dry season. And we’re officially advertising our efforts with our new Certified Wildlife Habitat sign from the National Wildlife Federation. Maybe neighbors will make a note and change their habitats.

The wee ones are well, keeping us entertained and sufficiently snuggled on a daily basis. The dogs are good travelers, and have accompanied us to Arlington and Gonzales (more about those trips below). I’ve enjoyed making doggie sweaters out of old sweatshirt sleeves.

Captain, aka ‘MonkeyCat,’ is great and both pups had their teeth cleaned early in the year – Busy lost 6 teeth due to poor dental condition, but her snaggle-toothiness only makes her cuter. I’m still trying to get her to let me brush the remaining choppers, but she wriggles and squiggles and keeps her mouth SHUT. *sigh*

In & Around Austin:
Amy & I got iPhones, and I was eager to finally try geocaching. We subsequently caught the bug, frequently squeezing mini-adventures in our urban landscape among our regular errands and travels about town. It is amazing the way it makes you look at your surroundings differently, and we’ve learned quite a bit about our fair city along the way, as folks tend to place caches in historic and culturally significant places. We’ve also had a blast finding caches on our wider travels while visiting family and camping.

I won free tickets to one of the last tapings of Austin City Limits in its original studio home, for the Roseanne Cash/Brandi Carlile show. We grinned maniacally the entire time, as neither of us had been there before and we are HUGE ACL and Brandi fans. Such intimate and professionally-produced musical experiences are rare – we felt so fortunate to be in the historic music venue before it closed up shop. AND, we were on TV, and part of that recording FOREVER. Amen. “People used to make records, as in the record of an event: the event of people playing music in a room.” – Ani DiFranco

We also said goodbye to the Dobie Movie Theater on campus, which closed in 2010. We made a point to go and see a film on the last day it was open and say goodbye to the tiny theaters decorated with gargoyles, egyptian hieroglyphs, and library shelves by UT theater students. I hope the indie theater scene in Austin fills the hole this leaves.

Something we decidedly didn’t lose was the Cactus Cafe on campus, another historic music venue, tiny and super-intimate compared to the Austin City Limits studio. To celebrate the persistence of this place that faced closure by UT admins, we attended our friend Elizabeth Jackson’s All Out Accordion event there. Cool beyond words to be in a room mostly filled with friends and acquaintances, hypnotized by the wild and varied stylings of musicians covering so many genres, ladies and gents, from so many cultures. Squeezebox smorgasbord delight.

At the Paramount Theater downtown, we saw funny ladies Sarah Vowell (writer, satirist) and Margaret Cho (comedian). Amo heard Sally Ride (first American woman in space, 1983) speak at a UT lecture. I love this “prominent ladies” series we seem gravitate towards in our entertainment choices.

Nearby in Blanco, we spent another blissful Easter Sunday with Amo’s mom, friends and Framily at Juniper Hills farm. Good company, good food, bountiful sunshine, and more cascarone fun, leaving a confetti trail in our wake for days.

Later, in the heat of the summer, we suited up again to man the booth at the Lavender Festival with friends, hawking Sibby’s wares and testing our survival skills. We were decidedly better prepared this year than last – I finally invested in a serious sun hat that made subsequent summer hikes bearable.

We waved flags and marched with friends in the first Queer Bomb parade (alternative to over-commercialized and hetero-conserva-tized Austin Pride parade that has dominated the scene for years).

Holidays were spent close to home this year: Thanksgiving dinner with Framily around the ping-pong table couldn’t have been better (our friend Stephanie snapped an awesome pic of the spread, shown below), and New Year’s Eve & Day with Framily on a friend’s farm in Bastrop was warm & fuzzy with wine, the wood-burning stove, and sparklers for all.  I could have done without Dick Clark’s mangled mug on TV (please let the man retire/rest), but hey, that’s what everyone else in America looks at as the year changes over, right?

Amo bought a cute silver 2006 Yamaha Vino scooter from friends relocating out-of-state, so we’ve got 2 transpo options between us now (1 car, 1 scootie). She’s an old hat at scooting, but I’ve never ridden one before – invigorating! We’ll need to get more gear so that we’re both properly outfitted.

Celebrating Us:
We celebrated Amo’s birthday this year by inviting friends over to watch Enter the Dragon in the back yard, with cold beer and kiddie pools to stave off the summer heat.

In September, we marked our 7th year together with one of our favorite things: good local food. We traveled to Pflugerville to check out the European Bistro, which is owned and operated by one of my old work acquaintances. Pure Eastern European bliss: hungarian paprika chicken, pork chop and german potato salad, hefeweisen, wine, and cheesecake. We swore over dinner it was the best meal we’ve ever eaten.

On my birthday weekend, we ventured downtown for a delicious dinner at La Condesa, followed by cocktails and live bluegrass from the Carper Family in the historic Driskoll Hotel lounge. Several friends joined us the following day for a geocache trek through downtown, culminating in burgers, fries, and drinks at the Cedar Door.

Further out:
I went to Atlanta twice, once in March to spend a long weekend visiting my pregnant sister and the Cofields in anticipation of the latest addition to the family, and then later to greet my first nephew upon his arrival on July 1st. Conveniently, my sister had a c-section scheduled, so Amo & I were able to plan travel dates accordingly. Everything went smoothly. Little mister was adorable right out of the box, and didn’t mind being passed around among doting parents, grandparents, and aunts. 

In August, Amy went on a 3-week epic journey by van and boat through Alaska with a group of her colleagues. From Seattle/Bellingham, she floated through the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway to Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau. Hit the roads in “Vinny-Van-Go” through the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse & Tok, back to AK to Fairbanks, Denali NP, Anchorage, and the Seward Highway. Check out the Flickr site of the Alaska Adventurers if you want to see more photos.

We traveled several times to see Amo’s family, including a day trip to Sea World San Antonio this summer and Christmas in Arlington. On one Fall visit, we snagged nephew Dylan for a road-trip to Denton, where we met up with Uncle Frank for dinner, a quick wander through the Environmental Science bldg. on the UNT campus, and then back to the county square for ice cream and a stroll around the bustling courthouse grounds. We don’t see Frank or Dylan often enough, and it was great to get them both in one weekend.

Camp-outs with various Framily combos: Palmetto State Park (birders), Lost Maples (quick weekend getaway), and Bastrop State Park (annual group gathering) all lovely as usual. 

The weekend after Thanksgiving we went to Fort Huachuca, AZ to visit the James gang. First time staying on a military base. The surrounding landscape was surprisingly beautiful, and my sister indulged me with a visit to the base museum. Amo & I geocached, too, wandering some hiking trails and ridges for a scenic overlook and fun find tucked among the rocks. But mostly, we just giggled at the baby boy, whose cuteness and pleasant disposition make him a total joy to behold. 

After Christmas proper, we headed out to a friend’s cabin on the Guadalupe River between Belmont and Gonzales, TX for a 5 day writing retreat. We felt so revitalized by it, we are seriously considering making it our holiday tradition. Peace. And quiet. Very little distraction. An amazing gift from our friend, really. We did indulge in a day-trip into Gonzales, cruising the junk & antique shops, and exploring the old jailhouse museum. Totally fun. 

Music Notes:
Darling New Neighbors had a fabu year with wonder-drummer Karl, including lots of fun gigs around Austin, a couple of SXSW house parties, a Girls Rock Camp showcase at Cafe Mundi, a couple of San Antonio shows, and working up a new EP soon to be released.

West Lake Bitches played their second (and to date, last) show overlooking the infinity pool at Juniper Hills Farm as a fond farewell to our Kansan friends Allyson & Holly, who decided to return home for family and school. In addition to our standard rockers, we wowed the crowd with our one-time-only performance of ICE ICE BABY, dance moves and all – I narrowly avoided hyperventilating before finishing the number. 

Amo volunteered again as a band coach at Girls Rock Camp, along with DNN band mate Elizabeth. They also played guitar & violin during the ceremony at Karl’s wedding. I have to say that Karl & Rendi’s wedding was the most fun, musical, giddy-dance-filled wedding I have ever been to. I shed the most of the tears b/c I was so moved by the dancing (parents, grand-parents, friends, every-freaking-body).

Amo also warmed up her honey-toned Collings mandolin in some new bluegrass practice meet-ups with other local ladies.

Professional & Personal Growth:
In my 3rd year at the law library, I experienced some notable positives: Our new and hopefully permanent director finally arrived, and got the go-ahead to recruit a half-time software developer (hallelujah). These seem sure signs of an upswing in my job satisfaction!

I recently decided to finally attend to my creative life, or perceived lack thereof, by diving in to the Artist’s Way program. 8 weeks in now, I’m experiencing progress and rediscovery of long-neglected interests, ideas, and talents. Laundry can wait – internal exploration and creative risk-taking is a priority. At least, this is what I tell myself every morning during my mandatory write-before-I-do-anything-else ritual.

Amo has been plugging away reliably on her dissertation, traveling all over TX to collect research data. She visited Amarillo, Harlingen, and Canyon, interviewing teachers and staying in quaint B & B’s, usually making points to seek out ‘cultural’ experiences and have some fun along the way (e.g., spray-painting at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo!).

Professional conferences took her to Denver, Sacramento, and Philadelphia to name a few. She’s preparing to finish up her PhD in May (very soon now), and has been hunting job opportunities, applying for positions across the country, and considering job possibilities here in town.

We may be leaving our beloved Austin sooner rather than later after all. But it is all a journey left to the unfolding of time to tell….


Preaching to Choirs

One of my old youth group buddies spurned an interesting discussion on her facebook status. Basically, she was upset with the extended tax cuts for the uber-2%-richest Americans. Not really news to disagree with on my own FB side of things, or in the blue town I live in. But, she’s a staunch and unfaltering Christian. and Democrat. In North Texas. In fact, she’s been a Christian Democrat for as long as I’ve known her (25 years now?!). And she got a little heat for her comment. Because, in her community, Christian Democrats are as rare as gay republicans or hippie conservatives or Intelligent Palins or ‘real housewives of…’ (you get the point). A few of her Christian FB friends, and family, were setting up some thoughtful (yet predictable) arguments; one was a little meaner, but overall, it was a good discussion. Nobody’s minds were changed, but it was kind of nice to observe. I don’t see Christians fussing with each other often (usually most lean right and republican in north Texas so preach to their own choir), so I was curious. I naturally put in my 2 cents, basically agreeing with her sentiments, and maybe got a little of the heat too, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected – because I’ve spent the last many years assuming all Christian Republicans Hate Me And My Kind (this is what Fox taught me). Dumb, right?

So, I thought I’d share my final thoughts that I posted on her FB wall conversation. Yes, long-winded and took up too much of her space, but I felt like Jane Goodall! I had to write my field observations to them.

“*sigh* I miss the Roosevelts.

But seriously folks, Steph, thank you for starting this conversation! I have enjoyed reading your friend’s thoughtful responses. For real, I mean, on FB and here in blue insular hippie Austin, I say some politico-social-leftie-sciencey stuff, but am kind of preaching to the choir with my friends (bleeding hearts, gays, lefties, straights, non-believers, scientists, believers but progressives, alt families, trad families, smarty pants, people who wear plaid, etc etc.), ya know? and so I build up this unwarranted anti-trust and anger and head-scratchiness to the ‘other’ side: “the big bad hard-right Christian repubs.”

What I’m saying is, I don’t see/hear the right-leaning ‘everyday’ believers anymore who are not in the media, (i.e., extremist, non-logical-right-wingy-tea-baggy-Palin-Becky, haters) so forget that the average (in a normal bell curve kind of sense) church folks out there are still nice, thinking people who do have valid input about their life choices and are not necessary out to get the democrats, or gays, or scientists, or who they assume are non-believers or evil-doers or something crazy like that. I mean, duh, right? And that’s on me: to stop and hear the other side occasionally, but not the side from Fox news pundits – they are just louder and more obnoxious and incite fear/hate daily; I want to hear from the side that used to sit in the pews with me on sundays or are my red-state neighbors that I shared a lab table with in college. we may be different with how we live our lives day-to-day, but that doesn’t mean we gotta fear/hate/be suspicious of each other.

But these days, it seems people are so very, very divided, that democratic Christians like Steph get spewed at by her own. Back in the day (remember pastor Mahaffey? and all that love and stuff and support for all of humanity said in church?), we actually had dems and repubs in the pews, and in fact, we didn’t even know who voted for who, and it seemed so non-divisive. Like, gasp, you could be religious AND political on either side. now, it’s so dichotomized, or, lobotomized, that Stephanie’s breed seems rare (oxymorons, not spectrums. I love spectrums. rainbows to be exact – spectrums of humans make things interesting in life).

Anyway, my point, and I may have had one (thanks Ellen), I like this discussion. Especially the ones who say their piece thoughtfully, and then say, ‘even though we disagree on this issue, I love you!’ That’s the old school Christian (and humanist mind you) values I like to see!

And, um, I’m still waiting on evidence of how the upper 2% richies have “helped” our economy in the last 7 years; enough so to be rewarded with extended tax breaks for the next 2 years….uh oh, no I di’int!

the end.

Morning at McKinney Roughs

Hiking Ridge and Woodland trails
I can hear
the lightest breeze
winding through the leaves of trees

Wildflowers at McKinney Roughs

The snap of twigs
that quietly fall and land
upon the brushy ground

Tree at at McKinney Roughs

I can hear the distant calls of birds
the hum of insects close
the buzz and click
of wing-ed things

Wildflowers at McKinney Roughs

I can hear nature
on the move
and the absence
of Man.

Captain’s chair

Captain’s chair

Originally uploaded by Melly Belly



Originally uploaded by Melly Belly

We visited the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata a couple of weeks ago, and got inspired.