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Monday, November 16, 2009

The vortex touches down

by Era Farnsworth

The night after Hung Liu and Michael McClure's presentation of their artist's book, Deer Boy, I woke in the middle of the night, thinking about how during the quite amazing reading by Michael McClure the moment began to feel historic, like touching the vortex and maybe hitching a little ride on its high energy.

Era Farnsworth, Michael McClure, and Hung Liu - photo by Harlan Crowder

I've been around long enough to recognize what that energy feels like, and maybe some of you reading this recognize it also. I was born in Berkeley and was, in fact, a flower child during the sixties. I attended Be-Ins in Golden Gate Park, the Fillmore, and the Avalon Ballroom in their hey day. I saw and listened to Jack Kennedy when he visited the UC Berkeley campus, and to Mario Savio. I went to most of the anti-Vietnam marches in San Francisco and the Bay Area and, more recently, almost all of the "Please, please, please let's not invade Iraq" marches in San Francisco and the greater Bay. Certainly some of the rarefied energy swept thru those massive gatherings at times.

I was in London when the Beatles were recording "Get Back" on the roof; I could plainly hear them, but couldn't quite figure out which building they were on. We threw a party in our London apartment and Pink Floyd came. Many of the great names in art from the Bay Area and elsewhere have passed through Magnolia's doors and many have worked here. Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery came to Don's and my opening in Santa Fe and performed their deeply resonant throat chanting. And most recently, we were blessed by the Dalai Lama and couldn't help noticing the wake he leaves wherever he passes.

When I look back on my life, I have found myself, over and over, in situations, mostly unplanned (I don't think you can plan exactly where the vortex will touch down), which have this feeling of riding the wave, of tasting the essence of the large, sweeping cultural changes, of touching the vortex.

(I was also in Berkeley and Oakland when the police cracked down on the anti-Vietnam protesters and the Free Speech Movement and people were shot; and I was in Paris in May of 1968, known even now to the French as Les Manifestations, when the entire city was shut down and gendarmes shot fiery grenades into buildings along the Left Bank. I've seen the darker, more violent side of the vortex; it imparts a similar feeling, but cruder, heavier, angry, even hateful.)

So I lay in bed thinking about the vortex as Ezra Pound described it in one of his cantos – except I couldn't think of Ezra Pound's name. I got up in the middle of the night and searched online for vortex and poetry. The first four or five entries concerned The Wichita Vortex Sutra by Allen Ginsberg, an antiwar poem of the Vietnam era, which references Michael McClure:

to Wichita where McClure's mind
burst into animal beauty
drunk, getting laid in a car
in a neon misted street
15 years ago--

There were several sites commenting on the poem, which not only mentioned McClure but also several other familiar names: Bruce Conner, who actually went to high school with Michael McClure in Kansas, and who worked with Don Farnsworth at Magnolia Editions twice a week for years; Terry Riley, who wrote the scores for Bruce's short films, among other things; and David Haselwood, who ran Auerhahn Press with Andrew Hoyem for years before becoming a Zen Buddhist monk.

With the coming together of the amazing Hung Liu – a highly accomplished artist, and a person in touch with and creating a vortex in her own right – and the legendary Michael McClure, and a whole room full of interested and energized people at the Rena Bransten Gallery (currently featuring an elegant show of work by the illustrious Ruth Asawa) – no wonder I felt the energy.

As Jeff Kelley said, McClure's delivery was reminiscent of performance art – at least for those of us who, going backwards in time, had seen performance art before they heard much reading of beat poetry. The pauses, the stresses, the cadences go far toward delivering the impact of the poem.

Michael McClure - photo by Harlan Crowder

The combination of Liu's art and McClure's poem in the Deer Boy book is amazing. I encourage you to take a look at it at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York, or at Magnolia Editions in Oakland, California.

If you are curious about some of the sites I found in that middle of the night search, please see below:

The Wichita Vortex Sutra

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore's Memorial and Memory Lane Meditation to Bruce Conner


Blogger Mary Hull Webster said...

Thanks, Era!

Sorry to have missed the great event that brought the vortex into the room that kept you awake that caused such realizations.

What you are calling the vortex is for me about the ability some artists and others have to ride the edges of archetypal waves washing through cultures and the planet all the time. Some of us are attracted to these energies and their content, as well as being able to channel the electrical charge through ourselves and into cultural forms--maybe the only really important social contribution by artists.


November 19, 2009 11:43 AM  
Blogger Richelle said...

Thanks, Era. I was having a tangential kind of reflection about lucky timing -- a cultural vortex of sorts. Feeling so grateful to have come of age just when possibilities for women finally, breathtakingly opened up. Right on the cusp (as portrayed in the recent movie An Education) --just in the nick of time for us. How lucky was that!! Ricky

November 27, 2009 9:44 PM  

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