"Miss Pliss," April 3rd, 2015, Studio 10 Gallery, Brooklyn. running time: 01:01:13.
Matt Freedman: All right, thanks for coming out tonight on this double religious holiday. I didn't realize it was a confluence of both Passover and Good Friday, which is an unusual, um, overlap. I wasn't sure if at first when anybody would come up, but then I realized that if you create a venn diagram of people who go to art shows and say people who attend seders on Friday night, there's a very limited, at this point, it's only my friends Stewart who's been here every night until now, but we actually have in sort of local printers for stewart. If this, instead of being art was like college roommates and art, then this can now be Jack. Jack is here. Thank you for coming out. So we have a kind of a complete family of another sort here. Um, but as, as a pass, I feel like it's my pedagogical duty for everybody here who's not as observant as I am. Uh, to, uh, remind I'd since I'm not in, has eight, are doing the four questions. We have the aid, we have a bone, we have some Matzoh, we have some bitter herbs, we have some mortar. It's all designed to commemorate the a flight from Egypt and slavery. Uh, we'll get into the Good Friday later. But the interesting thing about the flight from Egypt in slavery is that it probably never happened.
If you're a, if you're a purist about these things, it seems as though the story of Passover is far predates the actual time that this should have happened, which is sometime, uh, 1300, uh, before BC. US might as well be an incorrect, that this whole exit from exit from Egypt, the parting of the seas, the wandering in the desert, the entry into Palestine all probably didn't happen. There's no evidence of anybody here. Uh, eh. Any slaves here, the, any, anybody wandering in the desert. Um, in fact, the people who are actually building the pyramids, uh, were Egyptians and they were pretty well paid. There was, they found so many animal bones on the sites where the galleries, where the workers were living that it seems like they were eating prime beef every night and they were divided into gangs. Do graffiti inside says they were like Kotex, drunkards, and buddies of math Mohammed there.
In other words, they, they were, it wasn't, there was something between what we think of is a, as slavery and a free enterprise and more like an Amish barn raising apparently. But be that as it made the, that the reason that this story, perhaps there's told, at least the one that appeals to me is that at the time of the telling of the story, simple, um, occupation of land was not, uh, a valid reason for maintaining control, political control of an area as it is today. Or at least that's how we argue it is today. But by conquest, the, the story of the escape from Israel, from Egypt, it was through the mighty hand of God. Uh, and then the conquest of the tribes gave the, uh, the semetic tribes a reason to control the area instead of just being a bunch of farmers and a sheep herders who happened to be there.
Thanks. Sheep herders needed. They, uh, they were warriors who had been sent by God to control this land and that that's an appealing idea. And that somehow there was a bloody past that a justified, a peaceful present. The, uh, Good Friday stowed story. I suppose people are a little bit more familiar with, but I wasn't. So I, you know, when we walk our dogs, we always pass the stations of the cross. Good Friday is the day that Christ was crucified and I won't go into the odd name. And then, but he was crucified, um, the day after Passover, so pass over that year was Thursday. And, uh, then he gets betrayed, he gets hauled through the streets, he gets, he gets crucified and the stations of the cross, uh, at the church that we went where we walk our dogs, you know, there's 14, you know, you're falling, you're getting up, you're getting the thorns, you're getting nailed, you're getting denied, uh, at various stores and then you die.
And then you're resurrected and sort of like a big cartoon strip, I think. But it is true, um, the odd compliments of Passover and, and, and the crucifixion of course, is in the blood libel, which is, um, the story that was told. No, I said, if I can get that, uh, that in order to make the Matzoh for Passover, Jews had to, um, use the blood of an innocent child. Uh, for some reason. Uh, and this created a lot of problems in the middle. Well, this began somewhere around 1,080, uh, taken 1140 in entire French village with, of Jews were burned down because of a young, a young boy was found dead. And the village, the villagers decided it was all the Jews. And so they, they killed them in this, went on and on until the 20th century, I think in 19 Oh, three years.
The last program over Passover where 49 village Jews were murdered at different village, I assume. Um, but the, uh, the connection between these various bloody stories, the, uh, which may or may not have been true beginning with the plagues in Israel where the firstborn children of the Jews, and this, if this is a hard drawing to get, uh, were, uh, killed. So is said, no baby on, uh, and then, uh, say the scourging of Christ on the cross. I guess it's his carrying the cross. I'm, I'm partial to the Mel Gibson interpretation, which just so he's been, here's a scourging, uh, and then the children being threatened by the evil Jewish villagers, uh, all to me was eerily familiar. In some sense. It reminded me in terms of the sort of sheer blood lust of the, uh, and scenes in most of the road runner cartoons when Wiley Coyote, after yet another misguided attempt to get the, uh, the, the bird is like rocky smashed on his head and he walks wheezing down away, um, with the rocks Dell on his head in a sense, those cartoons or strips where sort of a form of a kind of ideal, uh, apotheosis of violence simply for the sake of violence.
Uh, and I sort of counterpoint to these, uh, you know, our Judeo Christian tradition of violence for another purpose, but as it turns out, a dubious is those other histories are, there is another dubious history, uh, of the roadrunner cartoons, which, um, uh, came to light about 15 years ago. Oh. And interesting artists who is an ex Olympic diver named Chris Lee found in, uh, her grandparents, uh, I'm sorry, their grandparents, a barn somewhere in Colombia. Uh, the artifacts, the relics of this, uh, traveling performance that was there was a man to hurt the great, great grandfather was named Ignacio Torres. And he was a dancer and a sculptor and a kind of unprepared, and for about 20 years or 30 years, between 1890 and 1920, he, I've had a troop of performers that moved from Mexico down into northern, sent, uh, South America performing, uh, for, uh, villagers, a, uh, a highly entertaining animal act with a powerful political message.
She had a toy train Chihuahua that, um, was able to perform elaborate stunts. It, for example, could be suspended from helium balloons and float across the stage and a small canary wearing a sombrero and a paper Poncho. I around on a string and he would direct the, uh, the Chihuahua in pursuit of the bird sometimes that you out. It could also put, this is I'm working fast here, but he had a little sort of like a pushcart. He could, he could, he could, uh, he could maneuver. He even had spring loaded shoes that he could put on and bounce around the room and, and he would, he was supposed to chase the canary while Ignacio Torres lectured. This are often illiterate, a political audience on the dangers of American imperialism. And, um, at the end of the performance, often the Chihuahua will be allowed to catch and eat the canary if they had enough training scenarios in, in, um, in reserve.
And, and Torres would come out and he'd say, you know, we are all birds of the south. We must be aware of the dogs of the North Unite, uh, for world revolution. And believe it or not, this was a very popular entertainment, uh, for several decades, uh, around central and South America, um, before he was finally caught and executed in Bolivia and about 1920. Or you can find evidence of, uh, his popularity and some of the log books. There were, you know, Charlie Chaplin went to the shows. Even a Teddy Roosevelt during one of his trips to central America wrote bully for the plucky chicken in the book. Um, the reason this has any consequences at all is there was a time, uh, in about 1915 when they actually made a film of one of these performances. Um, and a young boy was from a young child actor from the area was actually holding the string that had the bird on the wing while the Chihuahua in this case, I think your two always wearing the spring loaded shoes, jumped up and down trying to catch it.
And, uh, this boy was Chuck Jones, Charles Jones, who went onto to, to become the cartoonists who created the roadrunner cartoons. And I made a show about this about a decade ago. Um, and I thought it was a funny, a minor incident in, in the history of, of art. And I was teaching at Iowa at the time. I'm one of the students who as an Exon or who gave, who passed on information about the code to his uncle who ran a right wing blog, political blog. And He of course was interested in this story. I am pumped every, any published information about the sort of true communist underpinnings of the road runner cartoon. And I got a call from a reporter from Associated Press and asked me, they said, done some research on this and he couldn't find any information on Ignacio Torres and the, and the, uh, trained Chihuahua Act. And I said, well, that's because it, it doesn't exist. I made it up. It's only art. And he said, oh. And he hung up. And that was essentially the end of it. And I of course had a kind of severe, uh, the case of self doubt as I do after any kind of a decision I make, whether or not it was the proper thing to have done, whether it didn't carry through on this, uh, pokes for some larger reason, uh, either personal or political or to just confessed everything and had it go away and turn into nothing.
All it seemed to do is ruin my relationship with some of my friends who felt that they could never trust me again. I thought it was a work of fiction and it would be understood as such. But it turns out when you tell somebody something, they believe you and when you tell them, oh, you just told them it's not true. They don't like that. Um, it's not the first time that these cartoons got me in trouble. A few years before when I was drawing a cartoon strip that was essentially a sort of cut out a do it yourself paper sculpture. This is during the first Bush administration. Um, when George Bush and Dan Quayle and Gorbachev and mark attached or sort of the major political players. Um, I was thinking about the relationship between the power exercise by these world leaders and they're actual human resources as they would be sort of comparable to ours.
So what would happen if these, each of these world leaders was abandoned naked on a, uh, a small desert island? How would they fare? And then you've sort of had to figure out what would happen. So there's a, like you would, the figure was here, you could cut it out, fold it up, the standard up here and then like, of course, what happened in each of them was sort of a caricature of how I felt about them. Um, uh, it's, it's, it's very true. So, um, for example, so Bush sort of dithered Dan Quayle curled up in a ball, Gorbachev builds a radio transmitter out of a turtle shell and Margaret Thatcher invaded the next island over. I didn't, I didn't really think too much about this. It was just, you know, when you draw a weekly cartoon strip, you do one gag, then you do another and then you're doing another.
Um, one of the outlets for this strip at the time was a little known college. It wasn't even a newspaper. It was sort of what you call a, I started pizza clipping handle. It was like, you would, you would, you would get that, you would get humor and humor in general for the University of Iowa, Wisconsin. And you know, there were coupons in that. You'd read the cartoons or whatever. And, um, and then you would take the coupons to local pizzeria at it as a matter of historical oddity. It was the, that was the biggie. That was the onion, which is now, you know, but at the time it was just a kids, you know, I didn't even know where they, where they called up and said, we want to run your cartoons. And they did. And then I got a nest message to them that they had lost their publisher because the publisher and Muslim and Madison was so offended at the image of these naked world leaders that he refused to publish the cartoon strips.
And they were sort of in a bit of a quandary, which I see that, you know, they solved pretty well as time went on. But it doesn't seem to be an incident that's recorded in the, uh, in the, uh, in the onion annals of history. But, um, it's, um, it is true as Tim says, as far as I know. Um, and I was wondering what actually made them most upset was the idea of genitals, genitals of the world, leaders being on display. I feel like I have to draw this simply because my greatest fear is most of us, it's the standing naked in front of an audience not knowing quite what to do. And I figured this is about as close as I'm going to get my drawing it on my belly. But when I was thinking about the sort of relationship between the genitals and the idea of chain and a transgression, of course in this, you know, the last three months, you have to think about what happened with Charlie Hebdo and the cartoons that created this horrible massacre.
And then the magazine that was published immediately after the massacre where as you recall, there was a picture of, uh, they said it was Mohammed. I'm not saying it was Mohammad, I'm just making the drawing here. Paying all is forgiven. And, but anybody, any 14 year old boy knows that they were making a double penis face, uh, out of Mohammed's face. And I'm not so much interested in the idea of the sort of freedom of the past or whether we're Charlie or not, but that's sort of backstage story of this amazing level of misunderstanding that existed between these cultures and even to the very definition of the relationship between what we're doing there and what, uh, what the West is doing there and what the people there perceive is happening. You recall after the twin towers were attacked, the next day, the next President Bush, the son of the, the naked world leader went on the air and said that we were at the beginning of a great crusade of good against evil.
And immediately all the world leaders in Europe became terrified because they knew that that word meant a lot more, uh, in the than than George Bush apparently thought it did. He quickly sort of back backpedal, but that was sort of lingered over the, uh, the definition let's to the existential crisis of civilization, class of civilizations that he had sort of posed as they sort of the definition of what was going to happen. It's something I think in the United States that nobody really thought that much about it. I know I did this, a child growing up, I built a little model airplanes. The Crusader airplane was a fighter bomber was active in the Vietnam War in the fifties and sixties. And I made my share of them and I also was very fond of drawing, uh, crusaders, uh, which I had perfected to an almost uncanny art. A Crusader has very satisfying outfit, had that sort of square helmet align for the eye, a little neck piece, then this elegant sort of triangular sword, a shield and then the cross and then they had the cool mail but this sort of look and then this big sword.
And then they always fought there, always depicted fighting guys basically looking like they're wearing where the f a turban and a long beard in a, in a sword that curves. Then like a real sword. The Saracens and I'd draw these things over and over again having no idea what the relationship between these characters in my own history was. And, um, I sort of, I had a kind of a rotating inventory of, of more scenes you could try. The crusaders could draw like Greek nights could go, uh, I guess cowboys, uh, civil war scenes and then of course World War II planes and that, you know, since I was the kid in class who could draw, I started with Tyco through these routines over and over again. By the time I got to fourth grade I think I had sort of settled on a, on a signature style.
In fact, they're kind of obsessive drawing system. We have the, you have the helmet, you have the sword, you have the land's going off screen, you have the saddle and then you have the horse. If you draw correctly, you don't have to draw the head or the tail of the legs of the Horse, which is a set is very helpful if you can't draw legs or you can't remember how the back of the horse no where, what the elbow goes forward or backwards. And then that head goes up here cause you dispense with that whole thing by just focusing on this sort of central platonic ideal and this worked as I say all the way up to fourth grade when I finally had a teacher who is willing to confront me on aesthetic grounds named her name was Miss [inaudible] Luis playlists and she was a small, very dynamic woman.
She was considered the beat like the good teacher in fourth grade if you were lucky you get her. She had a page boy haircut. She was, she seemed to be ancient. She was probably about 50 and she one of the most interesting things about her and she had a black eye, permanent black eye. She said when somebody threw something at her when she was a kid. Right. So whenever she would say don't throw things, things could happen. She would always pointed her eye and it didn't, it wasn't that powerful, the deterrent. But she wasn't very, she was a very dynamic teacher and she emphasized creativity in the arts. She or southwest or writer, she'd written a book called, but she weren't a series of children's books based on her own Childhood in Austin, in New York. I think one of them is called that summer on Catalpa street.
And I, when I was trying to think of my relationship, my memories of Miss Bliss, I actually looked up that book because I had a very distinct memory of the cover. And sure enough, it was very similar to what I had recalled. It's like four children playing in the backyard and they're sort of, they've got a little can line of cans and they made a little, a little, you know, telephone, they're playing telephone and the girls all have these little pinafores on with the collars and dresses and the boy, the two boys have jeans with rolled up cuffs and little white shirts with rolled up cuffs and the ones on the ground, the others behind there's a tree. It's very idyllic. Um, I guess it's an aside, when you look up Catalpa Street, you also get a series of very horrific pictures of these very mean, determined looking men. It turns out the [inaudible] was also the name of a famous ship that rescued a bunch of and uh, Irish in the, in the Irish job independence fighters who had been exiled to Australia in a bunch of American Finian's had bought a ship called the cooktop and they sell it to a, they sheltered Australia and the, they faked out the Australians when they were at a regatta and they put them on this boat and they sell them back. And these men all ended up living out their lives in a potluck and Rhode Island.
That's sort of an aside, but it's ironic because my relationship with mis misplaced began to deteriorate the day that she asked us to write poems in class, which I found her intimidating cause I didn't like writing that much. But I had a book of Limerick's, which I enjoyed and I memorized a bunch of limericks and I was at the point in my life where I thought if I had a book, nobody else in the world had this book. And so she said, did anybody have a poem that he would like to read out loud? And I said yes. And she said, well, go ahead. So I said, there once was a man from Nantucket who kept all his cash in a bucket. His daughter named Nan ran away with a man and as for the cash Nantucket, and there was a silence after I finished and she said, uh, that, did you write that map?
And I said, yes. I figured it was a pretty safe bet that nobody else had read the same book I had read. It wasn't, it wasn't from the library. And so I decided to double down. I show, and not only did I knew this point, but I had actually thought about, and he said, I've written another one. And she said, what's that? And he said, well, par foul the man to Patek it and follow the to the pot. Takut the man and Nan and the bucket. He said to the man, you're welcome to Nan. But as for the cash par ticket, there was another silence. And she said, you wrote that too? And I said, yeah. And she was too good a a sport to say they're do anything more about it. But I clearly, from that moment on, she didn't trust me further than she could throw me.
And this came to a later when I was, I like to paint, so they gave me an easel and I would just sit there doing this same drawing of the night on horseback with the saddle and the rear of the horse and the Mane of the horse and things. And I usually got a lot of, you know, props for this kind of thing, but she came over and she just ripped it off. She said, you cannot make another drawing like that ever again. That's you that you're just, nothing has happened. That's not art and you have to do something else. You can never make another painting of a night again. Yeah. There were two boys, George Everly and Jeff Fish who used to sit quietly in a corner and draw still lives there, was set up a thing and there'd be a bowl. It'd be a glass. And clearly she left them alone.
That seem to be a safe thing to do. So I went back to the easel and I went, I made the bowl. I made the fruit, I put a banana or two and then, and she came by and she said, there, see that's art. You're a real artist now. And I think I'll try it. I've wanted to try this on these. We've got these frames out here. Let's see if I can make a real artist painting now. This was a man I'm going to see. There's the fruit. I'll add a bottle to in honor of George Everly and Jeff Fish. And I have to say that my pride in making, when I had, I had very little pride because I hadn't really drawn a still life. I, I knew what a ball looked like. I knew what fruit looked like. Um, and I use basically the same color scheme I use for the crusaders, the Brown ball red, if it's essentially very similar design to the, uh, the crusader.
But I realized that, uh, at least my insight at the time was that, you know, art was kind of a scam. If it was a bit of a formula. If you just did what they, what the, what the client expected you would you would get by. And um, I took me a long time to get past that if I, if I ever did. Um, I'm not alone in that feeling, especially as a, I spent about 10 years drawing cartoon strips and cartoonists are sort of notoriously hostile to contemporary art in a sense. They're kind of an old school guild mentality, a very skill based. Um, and this is brought to a ideal by the, the work of a cartoon set. Some of you may remember Ernie Push Miller who does the famous Nancy comics. Um, I've done Tim and I used to do a lot of the Nancy Strong because it, they're really beautiful and anybody who started interested in comic history, uh, knows that, uh, there's something so completely different about the way, well not different, but it's, he does represent a certain kind of ideal of simplicity and elegance in his line.
You could see everybody knows what her Nancy comic looks like. And, uh, somebody said you could reduce the size of a postage stamp and you still know what it was. He wrote these awful gags, some, you know, he'd been a Gig Harold Lloyd gag writer for Awhile. Um, and he was, it was all about sort of set up and then resolutions and, and the drawings were, were beautiful in their other, uh, economy of line. Uh, and he hated modern art. I don't know whether, I mean, some people said he admired it and he made fun of it, but he basically hit it the way he didn't understand it. And he, one of my favorite cartoons of his, his, uh, his, Nancy, I'll just do a British version of this. It's sort of, she's first we see her. There's no, there's no words in this. She's standing, let's can be, she's standing outside.
There's a big picture window and it says something like art sale. Uh, it's a gallery, it's promises art gallery and you know, he's got, there's a painting in the window, these lines that indicate glass rectangle indicates a brick. She's just sort of staying there, dead pan. And there's a painting in the window and it's squiggle, squiggle, squiggle a square. And then there's a sign over here. It's $100. That's the image you see the next page, next panel. Uh, Nancy is at home. Apparently there's a window behind her. It was a bit of a city scape. You see a crescent moon indicating it's night. She's focused. She's, she's got a brushing her hand.
There's some cans of painted or feet and there's listen drawings lined up behind her. We don't know what she's doing, but she's clearly responding to what she saw. And the third and last panel, antsy is back in front of that window. Same scene. We'll say, I said art sales while I have to stick it, but said art gallery or something like that. There's that picture of squiggle, squiggle, squiggle. Dot. Ah, dot rectangle. And then $100 and then next to her, or like four or five paintings. And then we go through, we go swiggle thought dot. Got Square, squiggles, fingers struggle.dot. Not Square squiggle. Squiggle, squiggle dot. Not Not Square, it's [inaudible]. And then here it says 10 cents. So she's underselling the art is identical. The caustic comments is transparent. Uh, but I, I mean, I, I wrote, I have a lot of sympathy for, um, Bush. Mila, his drawings are beautiful.
Somebody once said, you know, when he would draw, like he lost his nature scenes for always extraordinarily simple, as simple as anything. So a tree would be like a vertical, a branch than some lines indicate grass. Another lines indicate a horizon. There'd be like a leg that'd be a mountain here. And then there would be always, the joke was there will always be three rocks. That'd be a little grass here with three walks. Why? Because he wanted to indicate some rocks. If it was two rocks, that would be a couple of rocks. If it was for rocks, there'll be some rocks, maybe one more rock than you actually needed to show some rocks. So the three rocks became a kind of Motif of Ernie Bush and that sort of idea of the platonic ideal of what is necessary, uh, to communicate, like to communicate something. In that sense, he's not that similar to somebody we've talked about earlier.
Uh, the sort of medieval philosopher alchemists, like Saint Anne's song, who had the ontological proof of God. If you can conceive of a power of which there is no greater thing than it must exist, otherwise, you could not have conceived of the thought or his, uh, his spiritual. And that's descending a man named Raymond of law. Uh, Raymond Law, uh, who was from Africa, he still considered her the patron saint of, uh, Catalunian language. There's a Raymond Lowell Institute and he, um, bought a, bought a Muslim slave to teach himself, uh, Arabic. And then he studied, uh, he was very interested in language, uh, and uh, and logic. And he adopted from some, uh, Arabic scholars. This a Volvo, it's a, it's a kind a, a paper is considered the first computer, but you know, to us it might look like a fourth graders, a toy to, it's a series of concentric rings.
And on the outer ring would be a series of propositions like, uh, into goodness and power, um, benevolence. And then inside there would be angels and man and God. And you could rotate the inside of this system to line up with any of these, uh, any of these concepts which he and his debating partners all agreed was sort of a, a synonymous with, with, with God. And he believe that using this system, he could convince anyone who is not a Christian, that Christianity was superior to Judaism or, uh, or, uh, Islam or anything else for that matter. He was determined to be a martyr for his faith. He'd lost, he'd been a sort of a wild man until he had had a series of visions, uh, as a young man. And, uh, he kept going back to Tunisia, uh, um, trying to convert people. They kept, they kept letting him go because he was so respected as a scientist until finally at the age of 85, you've succeeded in getting himself stoned to death on the beach, um, and achieved, if not a saint too.
And I think he's beatified to this day. Um, you don't get many, uh, martyrs like that anymore. At least in the West. We have a problem trying to reconcile ourselves with the rules that we create, um, to define our faith. And uh, I'm most, I'm most taken by the related how this plays out, say in, in an orthodox Jewish state as a, as a young boy growing up in a kind of reform thousand household, but with Orthodox relatives and the generation above me know why you behave differently on one day of the week as opposed to all the others. Um, it was quite confusing when you get on an elevator and you couldn't push buttons to go to another floor. Uh, you couldn't eat certain foods. Um, you couldn't, um, right in a car and, but there are all these interesting work arounds for that. Uh, you can't turn on an oven, but you could have somebody else who doesn't believe coming in and turn on the oven, but you can't ask them to turn on the oven.
So you have to go out on the sidewalk and say, just a passer by my oven won't light. You can say that and you keep repeating it until they say, would you like me to go in and turn on your oven? And then that can happen. That I made that horrible fire that happened a couple of weeks ago occurred because the family put on a hot plate and keep their, their, their food warm all Saturday, but they couldn't turn it on or turn it off and it burst into flames. Uh, there's also, uh, our concept called the [inaudible], which is, uh, designed to get around the rule that you're not allowed, you're supposed to stay inside and pray all day and you're certainly not to supposed to bring a burden outside into the world. I find that it's very complicated to describe and to understand, but basically as long as you're at home, you can like carry your baby around, but you're not supposed to allow us to kick your baby out of the house and go some play with, but that, but certain neighborhoods where everyone is sort of has a sort of equal faith, have these strings that are drawn up in certain places.
There's like a doorway, anything, all the buildings inside this territory are considered to be inside a single house so that you can actually walk around from house to house doing the things that you would normally do inside, like carrying your baby, you're getting food, things like that. I'm sort of curious about that double consciousness about how we would, how we would sort of aspire to certain kinds of behavior, realized we couldn't quite a achieve it and then invent in genius roles that don't quite break the nature of those rules. Um, but allow us to do the things that we want. Uh, I was thinking of that because it seemed to be relevant to that. Uh, like that recent achievement of the two climbers who, uh, were the first people ever to achieve a, a, a free climb of the face of the dawn wall of the elk cappy Tan Rock in Yosemite.
If you recall that these two men, basically about a free client is supposed to be, is uh, you scale a cliff using nothing but your fingers and toes. Um, and you can have a rope to hold you up or keep you from falling. Um, that the rope to me is already a little bit of cheating. If you're going to climb without anything, shouldn't you just climbed? But then the thing that really confused me is that it's, it's, it's a very difficult climb and they couldn't do it in a day. So what they do is they climb a certain number of, of pitches and then they stop and they have a killer little campsite hanging from the side of the mountain. And they spent a night there as long as they want, and then they sort of climb a little bit more and they sort of know where they stopped.
And then they'd go back down and then they'd go back and they climb a little bit more and then they move the camp up. And if they fall off the side of the mountain, then they kind of go down, cause they're on a rope and they go back up and gradually work their way up until they, they finished. But you know, it seemed, I don't like the rain on anybody's parade. They're obviously very good mountain climbers, but if you're gonna do a free climb, it seems like you should start at the bottom. You can go to the top and one day or you can't do it. And since they can't do it, I did. They did something else. But it reminded me of the early days of your seminary where before we had all these rules and there were true kind of Wildman who, uh, who opened it up at least to the, uh, to the, the, their fellow Westerners.
Um, the first and perhaps most interesting of these is, uh, Edward Muybridge, uh, who we think of as, you know, the action photographer. He's one of the more interesting oddballs in the history of, I don't know if you call it art or science or whatever, but he was a, his real name was I think Edward Mah Muggeridge. He was born in Kingston on Tim's in England, which is where a lot of Saxon kings were crowned. And as he changed his name at various times over his life, he, he, he sort of, he tended towards the spelling of the Saxon kings, but that was later in his life. He, he immigrated from, uh, from England to California around the time of the, uh, first gold rush. He moved to San Francisco and he set up a successful business, uh, as a bookseller with his brother, uh, sometime around 1860.
After five years there, uh, he went back to England to get more antiquarian books for his store. And his plan was to take a boat from San Francisco around Cape, uh, around Cape Horn and, and, and be home in a few months, but I missed the boat. So he had to take a stage coach across, uh, across the West to get to San, to get to Saint Louis where the train stopped at the time, and then he could take the train to New York and then take a boat from there. But somewhere along the way in Texas, I believe there was a terrible accident in the, uh, in the, uh, the stage coach flipped over. Somebody's, everybody was injured. Somebody was killed and he wakes up nine days later in Arkansas. He's been taken there. He has no memory of what happened. He can't think straight. He has, uh, he has double vision.
He's in terrible shape. They eventually get him to New York. He spends months, their rehab or rehabilitating, it goes almost a year actually. And then he takes, he takes a boat to England and he stays there for seven years. It's sort of coincided with the American civil war. He may not wanted to come back for that, but while he's in England, uh, I think his doctor, he says, sort of suggests he takes up, uh, the new, um, hobby of photography and he turns out to be a natural at this. But he's also deeply changed by, uh, the accident he had. What we now would recognize is as prefrontal brain damage, which he never quite recovered from it. He becomes, he used to be a kind of a geneal, um, pleasant person. Now he's short tempered and erratic. Um, but he also seems to have benefited in some ways from the accident because he's become uninhibited and creative in a way that he never had been before in tact.
He begins, he goes back seven years later to San Francisco, no longer as a book seller, but as a photographer with some of the most cutting edge skills in the world. And a lot of the photographers in that, you know, he's, he's photographed him. He makes himself 360 degree picture of, of San Francisco. He, uh, he, he becomes, he is hired by the wealthy. It's sort of as it is now as I could. There was lots of, lots of millionaires there who needed their mansions. Photographs were photographs and mansions if does portraits of them. He gets to know Leland Stanford, the a lawyer who became the head of railroads and then the governor of California and he begins to take trips to Yosemite to take pictures of the, uh, the scenery there as many photographers are, but he, instead of taking these sort of soft focus, a very sentimental pictures, they're sort of focusing on the rock formations in the clouds.
If he's definitely a kind of a forerunner of Ansell Adams and the whole tradition of nature photography that we're familiar with. Um, and he's also an incredible daredevil. I mean, there are pictures of him sitting on the edge of a 2000 foot drop just kicking his legs off into the, and then he'd have his assistant's lower him down into these cracks, these enormous heavy pieces of machinery. Um, and he would take, uh, to take exactly the picture that you wanted and became published. This first collection of these pictures made him world famous. Um, and I think it brought to the attention of Stanton at Leland Stanford who wanted him to settle a bet in addition to all these other activities. Stanford had a huge collection of horses and he and some other horse owners. We're a very contentious issue of the day, which was whether or not courses who's left the ground when they ran the human eye isn't fast enough.
So here now I have to come to grips with my age old problem of uh, but um, whether or not the legs of the horse he hit the ground or don't hit the ground was always the question. And Stanford, uh, well Morbridge Toll Sanford, there was no technology, you know, available cause basically the way that these guys would take their pictures and hold their head over the lens and, and take the lens away and count one, 1000, 200,000, but Stanford had a lot of money. He gave him like $2,000 and unlimited budget and he got some assistance and they began stringing together ropes and cameras and the first fuzzy picture, which may or may not have been real, showed in fact that the horses do leaves the ground. Um, in a trot. I also leave the ground in a, uh, in a gallop, but unlike the way that the previous artists had thought it was thought that the lanes were out front when they ran, but in fact they gathered together.
But you know, in this respect, bridge is given credit for being the man who sort of began to see through time that you could see, you could see, uh, you could see the world in a way that we'd never been able to see it before. You could break down experience beyond the sort of capacity of the human eye to perceive it. Um, he, he actually animated these, he's invented something. I think he called the two. I can't revise as you packs. They're calm or something. It's like, it's a basic, a shallow system of, of animation. He showed it to Edison. He thought Edison stole the idea from him, basically sued everybody sooner or later in his life. Um, at one point, uh, he marries a much younger woman who he suspects of having an affair. Uh, and he goes and he shoots the, he shoots the, uh, the drama critic.
He shoots him. Daddy says, here's my answer to you from my wife Sir. And he shoots him and they put them on trial. And the trial is, you know, at the time I kind of novel defense that he's insane because he had suffered this grief brain damage. And Stanford is like paying for all these fancy lawyers. And in the middle of the trial, my neighbor's society, he's insulted that they're saying he's crazy. So he says he wasn't crazy, but the guy who got what he deserved and the, and then so the, the, his lawyer has to sort of switch gears and make that defense. And it turns out to be a compelling argument in the sort of wild, wild west of California. And he's, I think for the first and last time he was acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide. As soon after that, Stanford sends them off to central for a year to take pictures of, of, uh, towns that the railroads I think are opening up.
And he comes back and he begins to apply this technology that he's developed. He suffers this up back when Stanford doesn't allow him, doesn't give him credit in his book. And I started serious. Stanford's like suing the richest man in the world. He is life goes on. And he ends up at the University of Pennsylvania taking more pictures. Um, and then he retires. He goes back to England, to Kingston on Tim's, um, I hand the legend is that he dies digging a, uh, digging a, a model of the Great Lakes in his backyard naked at the age of 75, which may or may not be true, but let's assume for the sake of posterity that it is true. Um, he has an exact contemporary, uh, in many respects in another man with a beautiful beard who was born in, uh, Great Britain and move to the United States. Uh, even younger John Muir, who we think of as the patron saint of sort of American conservation.
Uh, he also moved, he, I think he moved to Wisconsin. Then he ended up, you know, in the same areas as Moy Bridge in California walking up and down the John Muir trail, which is lucky it was a Trenton, but up and down the Sierras, um, he introduced, uh, Teddy Roosevelt to the parks system. At one point they went camping together and he convinced teddy that the, uh, that was a great deal of danger to this territory if it wasn't turned into a park and it was turned into a park. And he continued to write, uh, an advocate for preservation of the outdoors. And this is his views evolved on, you know, the actual people are living there, that the native Americans in these territories, he went from thinking that they were kind of infestation on the natural beauty, uh, to peep better stewards of the land. And the, uh, the Westerners who succeeded him.
There he was, he saw nature as a kind of grand tabernacle. He said he, he sort of was sort of the book of nature, was his book of the Bible. And, uh, he wrote ceaselessly about this, this notion that, uh, this rapture and sort of transcendence of possible in the contemplation of the world of the natural world. And he became quite famous in this capacity. And at one point he's has as actually more bridge was took to go up to Alaska and do some surveying and he goes, uh, with a, a friend, a pastor, uh, and they're the, they have a well-equipped ship and they're going to sort of stop at various points along the, uh, Alaskan coast and explore glaciers, which were a particular fascination of his, um, he writes about this, uh, event, but 17 years later, um, because along with the, uh, the guides and his friends, uh, was the dog was a small dog that the, uh, the friend the pastor had picked up, uh, in a trading post.
It was called sticking and it was named after a local tribe and sticky and was a small black dog. He didn't think of it as being
particularly, didn't, wasn't very fond of dogs at this point. People thought of dog, sort of his, I mean, he, he sort of, he sort of thinks of it very dismissively as just the impediment. Something has to be taken care of. But it turns out that the dog is a wonderful adventure. And every time they sort of wrote to a new territory, a new area, he jumps out of the boat before anybody else swims through the icy water to the showing, goes off exploring on his own. He becomes somewhat fond of this dog. And one day they decided they're going to explore this vast glacier. Uh, uh, they set up camp, uh, several miles away and they, he sets off in the morning.
He's too excited to even eat breakfast to sort of explore this, this, it's several miles wide. Nobody knows how long deep it is. And he wants to kind of traverse this, uh, glacier, which is a rain with all these deep crevasses, thousands of feet deep. He says, uh, he writes in this extremely methodical way. He didn't like to write and he wrote a, he would write and then rewrite and he write in sentences are very sort of reduced and, and not very emotional. So you don't have much guide from him on what's going on. But he's hurt. He's talking about very matter of fact, the going across this territory, which sounds extraordinarily difficult and demanding, but he sort of, he crosses one. Then he sort of goes around, he says the dog is running and jumping over these six to eight foot crevasses and he's, you know, they're having a wonderful time of getting deeper and deeper and they finally get to the edge and night begins to fall and it begins to get cold and then realize they have to go back again.
Uh, or there'll be trapped overnight. All these things that seem like they're life or death situations, he sort of re relates very matter of factly and then sort of working their way back and working their way back. Finally they get to a, a gap, a crevasse in the, in the glacier, which is 50 feet wide, far too wide to jump over across. And then about 10 feet down there's a very narrow ice bridge to the other side. They don't, it's not ice, it's actually snow packs. No, I have no idea whether it's strong enough to hold a dog's weight, let alone a man's wait. But he has easy thing. I have to spend the night outdoors. And then there's a wild storm coming in, which he enjoys, but he knows it's not a good place to be. I'll have to dig their way in and tried to make it out in the morning or they're going to have to go across this snow bridge and hope that they can and that it'll hold up.
So he, he cuts out little holes with his ax and little foot holds and he climbs down. And then he straddles the Strauss, a snow bridge. He interests his way across, uh, and he gets to the other side and he digs little holes and he gets to the top and then he looks back in the dog is on the other side. Any he calls for the dog to follow me, but the dog is scared. He starts to whimper and he lies down. And this is the first time that he realizes the dog is actually aware of the danger around that the DA, the potential for danger and disaster, uh, that he seemed to have been so indifferent to, but he can't. So he calls the dog and the dog won't, Don won't come to dog. Very rarely been bitten minds anyway, but he says he's, he's gonna leave and then he starts to walk away and then he sees the dog began to crawl down this sheer face of the glacial cover us and he gets to, he gets to the snow bridge and newer seems like he's completely capable of telling the story and having an in any possible way that you're reading this and you're sort of wincing because you know the poor dog's going to fall into the crevasse.
It's whimpering and it's shaking. It's crawling and it's getting, it's getting for us and he's like, he's just standing there looking at it and calling to it and it gets finally gets to the end of, the thing is now it's got to go up 10 feet and he'd take reaching down for the dog, the dogs down there, and suddenly the dog jumps, scrambles up and runs past him and if it costs, and then the dog is like running in circles. He says he'd never seen such a display of joy and pleasure. It's like jumping and running and runs up to him. And it runs away and runs back and forth and up and down. It licks them and jumps in, rolls around and jumps and said he was aware of suddenly that this dog was alive and aware of the, uh, of the gift of life and that it understood the dangers of death.
And he said it was the first time he realized that there was a kind of, not only a kind of possibility of, of, uh, our commune with nature as it kind of a thing outside yourself, but that all these creatures were in some sense continuous with each other in their joy and their, um, and their embrace of life. And he said, I never miss Ms. Harmon. I knew concept, this idea of, of an animal without a soul, what they had no particular religious relationship to God could possibly have, a consciousness which in which we could recognize something of ourselves. And so he said, I've never had a more definite or important message to bring back and any of my travels. Thank you.
Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios have been producing their Endless Broken Time drawing, talking and percussion performances at Studio 10 gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn since 2015. Ancestors, machines, and philosophy are told and illustrated by Freedman and take their irregular rhythm and form from the aberrant and improvised syncopation of Spelios’ broken time drumming.
© 2020 Matt Freedman
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