The Unchained Tour

Yesterday was a truly special day at ETSU — three raconteurs and two musicians of The Unchained Tour performed exceptionally charming, engaging, funny, encouraging stories and songs. The cast at this particular event consisted of Dawn J. Fraser, Peter Aguero, and Neil Gaiman.  Joel T. Hamilton and Rachel Kate (Gillon) opened and closed the show with each of their own songs. (Please look them all up online.) I had heard about it because people kept saying, “Did you hear Neil Gaiman is coming?” This was always said in a tone of wonder and uncertainty. It was hard to believe. I expected a hologram or an old emerald green suitcase with a voice box in it, but I also expected to enjoy the story, no matter how I received it.

When I learned more about why Neil Gaiman was coming to Johnson City after reading the Facebook invitation and watching their video, I became even more interested in attending the event. Raconteurs, live music, local support — I love all that stuff! However, I was worried that some people who came to see Neil Gaiman would be disrespectful to the other performers (similarly to how some rude individuals yell for the “headliner” at a concert while the opening band is playing or speaking), or would demand signatures and pictures at inappropriate times. Thankfully, in no small part due to the wonderful stories already shared with us, everyone seemed absorbed in the moment and less in the idea of seeing (and possibly meeting?!) Neil Gaiman.

Which I think was the whole point of the show.

Not regarding “the dude who has done some stuff” specifically, but generally speaking, the point was to exist in the moment without the mental distraction of documentation, narration, and impressing your Facebook friends. Peter Aguero insisted in the beginning of the show that everyone turn off their phones, and not to worry about getting a shot of any of the performers because “there are better images of them online anyway”.

“You want a picture of Rachel Kate performing? Google it. She’s there. I promise.” Lord knows there’s plenty of images of Neil Gaiman. And his hair.

Speaking of Peter Aguero, aside from telling a really intimate and funny story of his own about meeting his wife, he was also a perfect host. He did a fantastic job of keeping the mood light, yet intimate. Almost immediately after he began speaking, I felt deeply connected to his presence, to the presence of the band, to the presence of the audience, to this act of sitting and listening, to laughing. To my own presence.

I liked that all of the stories were personal. As much as I appreciate any good story, whether it’s personal or not, whether it’s even factually correct or not, it’s my opinion that stories are often told better when they are rooted from a personal place. Some place inside that says, “This is true.” If it’s someone else’s story, you can still acknowledge and speak from the part of you that feels this story. Artists do it all the time in plays, operas, and other performances. And that’s when the performances really stand out, really impact my life and remain in my memory.

That said, just because a story is personal, doesn’t make it a good one. You may have said or heard the facetious one-liner joke, “Good story, bro” or “Wow, that was a really good story. Tell it again.” Many people have read part of a memoir that left them marveling at the author’s ability to remain lodged up his or her own ass. Every storyteller, or raconteur, that performed yesterday reminded me of why personal stories can be so compelling. It renewed, at least in me, a sense that a personal story thrives when it’s not being told to impress, to posture, to indulge, to gain attention, to flatter, or to get paid (although getting paid is nice). Personal stories are their best when the heart of the storyteller is present and being shared. In the metaphorical sense, not in the cannibalism sense. We weren’t in the auditorium that long.

Actually, the whole theme of the tour is the heart. Jokingly, Peter Aguero said, “it’s pretty simple the tour is shaped liked a heart…” so there you have it. Dawn told us a story about a dog who “thinks he’s blacker [than her]” who accidentally helped her find a balance between her past and present. Peter told us a story about being adventurous and squeezing the gonads of life. Neil told us a story about being happy for three days, about elephants and a dog who knows a lot about being chained. If you look at their posters, the heart’s probably the first thing you notice — a map with a heart roughly drawn on it, with names like Boone and Asheville as points of reference. And perhaps that was the best way for a group of strangers to come to a campus in northeast Tennessee and tell stories so that we would listen, so that we would walk away feeling like we had experienced something unique and beautiful and meaningful, so that we might want to tell our own stories and listen to those of others.

Although we were lucky enough to see this event for free, I think it’s absolutely worth paying money for and you should if you’re even remotely close to any city along its route. Thank you Dawn, Peter, Neil, Joel, Rachel, and George Dawes Green, thank you to everyone at ETSU who made this possible.


Christopher Mir lecture + The Day on Fire reception

“Devil”, 2012
Christopher Mir
Enamel on canvas

In the very beginning of Christopher Mir‘s lecture, he stated that the lecture would be about transformation. He started off showing us a slide that was the beginning of the transformation – Cave, 2012 – and explained his previous work method, which involved digital collages projected to trace onto canvas and printed as reference while painting. Just as it sounds, it was a very controlled and formulaic process. He started to want a sense of freedom and looseness. Innocence, even. Cave is split into three sections, with a girl kneeling in the center, wearing a pale blue dress and interacting with the foliage in the cave rather uncertainly. It seems like an embrace, a nurturing extension of her arms and fingers. Behind her and to the right, there is a man wearing a ranger hat carrying a flashlight. It’s darker and more barren than the area around the girl. Further behind her toward the top of the painting is the cave opening, full of pale shapes that appear strikingly distant and desirable. Actually, every section of the painting feels desirable, though for differing, uncertain reasons. It just feels that way. You can see the collage process, but it appears looser than his earlier work. It congeals and breathes.

Taking a moment to explain Cave and the following slide, which contained another girl, Mir said, “I’ve always been kind of obsessed with goddesses and heroines and other female figures… I really like to tell their stories.” He went on to explain that he thinks women are more advanced than men “in many ways” and “should be running the place”. He joked about the obvious tension this could cause for many men in the room, and as if on cue several women laughed a bit uncomfortably, with varying recognition or disbelief. Regarding Cave, he spoke of Persephone being kidnapped by Hades, and how this relationship relates to art-making. Forgive me, I’m paraphrasing from memory, but basically Persephone represents innocence and an unburdened desire to create while Hades represents the critic, the negative “father”. He mentioned something along the lines of striving for Persephone, but accepting that sometimes she has to visit the Underworld.

This makes sense with later statements he made, about how painting or drawing an image is a way for him to possess it, and allows him to come to terms with it, whatever it happens to be. The moon and the arctic as iconic yet penetrable spaces. Insect and mushroom “self-portraits” painted like icons, giving them a kind of humor and humility. Mir spoke of seeing Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Black Paintings in person, and how they changed his life. Simultaneously, he found the images tragic and comical, fearsome and cartoonish. If I understand and remember correctly, this experience is what eventually led him making his most recent and dramatic shift in work:  he began to take small, quick, and linear Sharpie marker drawings made on photo paper and turn them into larger paintings made with enamel on canvas over panel. Of the process, he said, “The paintings tend be more methodical, but they’re also more fun.” It sounds like he finally gave himself permission to embrace this personal sense of humor — which was so evident throughout his lecture — and this several years long, necessary “side” practice of drawing absurd things onto photo paper. Absurd things that are meaningful and personal, perhaps more so than previously planned paintings. Mir said that he didn’t think about it a lot, but just responded to images that appealed to him, and that quite a few of the images relate to his family.

I found the lecture to be really interesting, and hopefully not just because so much of what Mir said felt familiar to me personally. Considering how widely the lecture was liked, I’m thinking it’s more than that. No one even complained about “that’s why men have nipples”. (Long story.) He said the lecture would be about transformation, and aside from the most obvious representation of that, there was definitely a feeling of momentum toward transformation and uncertainty within that momentum. I’ve become kind of fixated on the concept of FUTURE recently, as if years of my mom taking me to Disney World’s Tomorrowland as a kid have finally caught up, and the awe and fear and excitement are all rushing to the surface at once. For many reasons, both intimate and global, I think that’s probably the case for many people. And who has not experienced an “end” that became transformation? Mir’s lecture was a really great way to enter the galleries and consider the nuanced responses artists offered to “the end times”. And eat Twinkies and Spam, if that’s your thing.

Below are some images I took at the exhibition reception. There are some more at my Flickr account, if you’re feeling curious or bored. Similarly to last Friday, I didn’t photograph everything, not even everything I liked. The videos within this show were perhaps my favourite, and I have no evidence of that except what’s in my memory. Oh, and what they’ve posted on the internet.

An ebook featuring essays by Mira Gerard and Chase Westfall as well as artwork from The Day on Fire is available for free download at You can also pay to order a hard copy. I highly recommend downloading/buying it if you’re at all interested in this subject and what little you can see of the work on this blog.

“Untitled #15 (Tank Man)”, 2006
Josh Azarella, NY
Archival digital c-print

“Exotic Flora”, 2012
Bryce Lafferty, AL
Watercolour on paper

“Okay With My Decay”, 2011
Ned Snider, NY
Acrylic on canvas
(Side note: Ned and his wife were actually at the lecture and reception, but nobody knew it right away. It was a pleasant surprise.)

Part of “Collected Suggestions”, 2010
Katie Waugh, NY
Graphite drawings

“Black Car Fire With Greens”, 2012
Caroline Larsen, ON
Oil on canvas on board

FF: Sept 7th, 2012

A few quick snapshots from First Friday, September 7th in Johnson City:

The Day on Fire preview reception at Tipton Gallery

“Necklace for 2012”, 2011
Robly Glover, TX
Found objects, sterling silver, riser with battery-powered turntable
@ The Day on Fire preview reception, Tipton Gallery

“The Moment Before The Apocalypse: Russia”, 2012
Gregory Martens, WI
Reproduction of monoprint
@ The Day on Fire preview reception, Tipton Gallery

Detail of “The Moment Before The Apocalypse: Planet Earth”, 2012
Gregory Martens, WI
Screen monoprint on paper
@ The Day on Fire preview reception, Tipton Gallery

Side note: I also really like Adam WilliamsIn Trying Times, Don’t Quit Trying and Casey Jex Smith‘s Dingershare, but I couldn’t get decent photos of them. And similarly, I totally failed to take any non-blurry photos of Jordan’s new jewelry. The two following images were the best I could do. They all have lovely, hand drawn details that are worth an up close gander.

Jordan’s jewelry at Venus & Fur

Jordan’s jewelry at Venus & Fur

this mountain playing downtown, in front of Nelson Fine Art Center

This post is pretty sparse because I’ve been rushing around and just wanted to get something together for a follow up post. I hope to write more in the future, although I kind of like the idea of FF re-caps just being photos (hopefully better quality than the current example). We’ll see.

I went to the other art receptions, but I didn’t feel particularly engaged, so I didn’t take any photos. They just weren’t my cup of tea. Felt too safe, too controlled. (Not that I like dangerous tea, I don’t care what Jill Tracy says.) On one hand, I feel like I should record what I experience, but on the other hand, I’m not sure it’s my responsibility to record everything, even my disliking of things. I’m not a critic, after all. However, I do see value in discourse. Thoughts?