Tuesday, 11 Apr 2000

BERKELEY, Calif.

I did something out of the ordinary today. Instead of rushing home after my art lecture to make Earth Week phone calls before people leave work for the day, I stuck around to talk to my professor. I’d been meaning for a while to show him the last piece I finished — a three-minute-long derivé, captured in the medium of digital video and set to the backdrop of DJ Spooky’s gut-thumping rhythms and techno sound-bite cut-ups.

The video was the final product of eight hours of shooting and another 20 hours of editing … A lot of time if you think in terms of the modern linear film, but not nearly as much if you imagine the finished product to be more closely related to a painting that a viewer would stare at for a minute or two in a gallery. In my video I presented a fast-paced tour of urban San Francisco, from the United Nations Plaza to Chinatown, then on to the Museum of Modern Art, the shopping malls, and much more. The images that I chose to present gave a critical look at modern urban space and the impact that it has upon both the natural world and the human psyche.

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

After showing the video to my professor, he was curious to see my other work, some of which I luckily happened to have with me. I pulled out two mini-albums of black and white photographs that I took in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan a few months ago. I was in D.C. for a Sierra Student Coalition conference, and afterwards I decided to pay a visit to a friend of mine at Columbia University in New York City. The experience was a strange one.

Having never spent an entire week in such an extreme urban environment, I began to feel very out of touch with my body. I was coughing everywhere I went, and I just generally felt trapped, even in Central Park. It makes me truly sad that at the technological apex of our modern civilization, people become so jaded and out of touch with the real world that Central Park seems like nature to them. You can’t find anywhere in the park out of sight of a fence or a statue. Even the rocks are artificial. I read somewhere that each and every stone in the park, from the tiniest gravel to the most gigantic boulder, was brought to the park based on the exact specifications of the designer.

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

I also paid a visit to the Guggenheim Museum, where I got a chance to see a retrospective on the work of Nam June Paik, an artist with whom I have since fallen in love. His artistic experiments oftentimes focus upon televisions or other electronic devices and he manipulates them in order to create art. My favorite piece was a jungle of potted plants that had dozens of TVs of all shapes and sizes planted within it, staring back at the viewer in some sort of yearning for release.

When I make art, I’m constantly faced with the question of whether I’m being too political or trying to advance too much of an agenda. Fine art, as my professor says, “creates possibilities for interpretation,” which separates it from low art, such as advertising, which is only design
ed to generate a specific reaction that benefits the artist’s client. I’m constantly battling between screaming at people something like, “Material possessions will never make you happy!” or “Start caring about something other than yourself!” and the aesthetic temptations of abstract expression. These are three of my most recent works in today’s column. Hopefully they may give you a bit more of an insight into what makes the activist in me tick. But maybe they’ll just make you wonder … I’d love to hear some feedback.

Photo: Dave Harris, &copy 2000.

Well, it’s 3:45 a.m. now, and I’ve only managed to grab three hours of sleep since my last entry. The Earth Week program guide has (almost) made it to the printer, and by the end of the week we’ll hopefully have a few thousand copies in hand. Now that our more than 100 events have actually been confirmed, I’m planning to dedicate most of my time to publicity, something we’re sorely lacking. I’ve had so many frustrations working on Earth Week this year, but it still has the potential to make something incredible happen.

All of the sleepless nights and bad grades it’s netted me over the last 10 months will be brought to final judgement in less than two weeks. It’s sad, but I think that the outcome of this event — the result of hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my life and energy — will be the major factor in determining my future as an activist. If it flops, I can’t possibly imagine myself ever having the energy to do something like this again. We’ll soon find out. Enjoy the photos!