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16 February 2010

Some thoughts on Black Mountain College & the nature of communities

If you know nothing about Black Mountain College, where the above photo was taken, start here. Its teaching ranks were not populated by academics but practitioners. Among those who taught there during its brief, 24-year lifespan were Josef and Anni Albers, Alfred Kazin, John Cage, Harry Callahan, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Walter Gropius, Franz Kline, Charles Olson, Aaron Siskind, and Robert Motherwell. (I’ll let you Google the unfamiliar names.) Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg and William Carlos Williams. (You better know them.) It wasn’t just a school, it was a community with a unique gravitational pull.

There was also fun with problems. To jump right into it, here’s a passage from Martin Duberman’s history of the place, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community

    “Drawing on the familiar distinction between negative freedom from rules and restraint, and positive freedom to be constructive and creative, Wallen argued that Black Mountain had concentrated too much on producing the first kind of freedom (‘laissez-faire’) and not enough on the second (‘democracy’). The difference between the two hinged on the lack of structure and leadership characteristic of the laissez-faire climate. Their absence created insecurity and frustration, which brought passivity and confusion, which led to a reversion back to autocratic methods in order to restore some semblance of productivity and harmony.”

For evidence of that laissez-faire spirit espy these two photographs. At left, a 1951 picture of writer Francine du Plessix Gray next to poet Joel Oppenheimer. At right, a snap of inventor and gadfly Buckminster Fuller.

Bucky — as his friends knew him — was really into these things:

Not exactly well-ordered! Or, well, so extremely well-ordered, in such a specific manner, that there was inevitably static:


I wish to say we could always use more wonder in the world. But communities require more than that; and communes–which is more or less what Black Mountain was–require far more than wonder to survive and thrive.
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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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10 December 2009

Will Oldham and the Community Function

willoldham

Will Oldham compiled a list of his favorite music of 2009 for the current issue of Artforum. The best part was his introduction:

    “The editors of this publication asked me to compile a list. They asked that I not be too esoteric, and I will try…. However, as most people are coming to realize, we as individuals are finding greater connections to smaller things; things smaller in scope and more specific to our tangible and imagined communities. I find that the music that transports me often has a community of admirers bound together only by the love of that music. When I take a look at the dominant music news and discover that, essentially, Bruce Springsteen = Radiohead = Yeah Yeah Yeahs = Madonna = Arcade Fire = Bat for Lashes, it compels me to turn away from the lot.”

Actor, musician & my mustache style icon, you may know Oldham as Bonnie “Prince” Billy aka Palace Music aka Palace Brothers aka Palace Songs, et. cetera. At the risk of overstatement, his songwriting, his flexible method of reinterpreting his own work, and the complicated system of ethics & belief which play out in his lyrics could have made him a Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen for our age.

But he’s not that, and we live in a different kind of age.

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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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25 September 2009

Blackberry Loves U2; U2 Loves Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Last night I saw U2’s 360° Tour. This was definitely the WTF moment of the night. Via TheAwl:

And I say that as a supporter of Mike Bloomberg (albeit one suspicious of his third term shenanigans).

I was also struck by these billboards which seemed to take corporate sponsorship to a level at once more bland, straightforward & effective than any I could recall.
bblovesu2
And I say this as a fan of my Blackberry. Maybe this is the best way for corporations to sponsor popular culture — in a manner that mimics the bland, straightforward, effective demeanor to which all internal corporate cultures aspire.

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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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