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Archive for the ‘Dresden’ Category

IMG_20141122_214232Sometimes you need a change of context to continue evolving: different scenery, ideas, tools, or language, or all of the above. I got a big dose of all that printing at the Grafikwerkstatt in Dresden, Germany. The result was two print projects unlike any I had ever undertaken before.  The Grafikwerkstatt lithographer Peter Stefan got to the crux of one key change when he noticed that I was printing the chaotic marks of a cutting board.

“These are marks from life,” he said. “Not about life, but made from life.”

That captured not only a critical aspect of this collection of poems, 2014-10-14 12.01.22Elementary Science, but also a moment of printmaking evolution for me: This is not a children’s book. The fine lines of my Exacto knife weren’t descriptive of anything, weren’t an illustration or any kind of picture, but graphic material made in the process of life: the lines of a cutting board, printed as the pale green background for a book about living and dying.

It took two presses to make this book: a Karl Krause relief press for the wood blocks, and a small hand press for the movable type.

I wrote the poems in Elementary Science years ago, in 2007–a memorial to a dear friend who died too soon. David Cornicelli passed away in 1999, 15 years ago this December. He remains a formative person in my life, and the lives of several friends. 2014-10-16 13.17.11

The poems are built upon the classical elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water– and deal with things that mattered to us. Anyone who knew David, and especially anyone who knew the two of us together, likely knows we spent a lot of time contemplating fires. Our friends also know that we once helped to recycle a stone barn and used the rocks to build a passive solar heated extension to a centuries-old manor house, Caer Llan, in Wales. Relevant to that, we shared an appreciation for labor, and the life of cities. Our closest friends knew that I learned to play music with him, 2014-10-16 13.09.06 and the best of times for us involved loud and shameless improvisation, mostly in basements and attics. And finally, that we shared an understanding of natural life cycles, especially watersheds. Riding on those ideas, these poems are about they way life consumes itself on the way to death: Fire, earth, air, water: fate and inevitability, the most glorious and saddest of truths.

David would have appreciated that this was printed during a residency in Germany. He would have appreciated many of the same things about the city of Dresden as me—its age, its history through the twentieth century, from the World Wars to the fall of Communism, to the resurgence and the confluence of cultures going on there now. IMG_20141021_144610

He’d also appreciate this: I made just 20 copies of this book, most of which I will give to our friends. One, though, I will metaphorically deliver to him in the same way his body returned to dust. One day when the time is right and the right friends are gathered, I’m going to pass this on to him by throwing one of the twenty copies into a fire. To David. Delivered by fire. Somewhere in Ohio.

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Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

The last time I drove a rental car in the United Kingdom, it was to get to a Welsh cultural festival. Recent Hiram College graduates Tim Walker, David Cornicelli, and I were in Wales working for the summer, helping to build a passive solar-heated, earth-sheltered extension to the Caer Llan Field Study Centre. This was 27 years ago. We had come as graduate students to pitch in on the environmentally visionary project, and to spend a summer surrounded by the ruined castles and abbeys of the Wye river valley and nearby black hills, and to drink the beer. One weekend we heard about this cultural festival, the Welsh National Eisteddfod, so we figured we’d rent a car for the weekend and drive up to hear the famous choirs.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Back then, to rent a car in a foreign country, a person needed an international drivers license. David had an expired one, which he’d brought with him from the US for no good reason, but he didn’t bring it along when we went to pick up the rental car. After all, it had expired. Why bother? But when we arrived at the rental place in Monmouth, the proprietor wouldn’t give us the car without the proper paperwork.

"Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David."

“Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David.”

View from the Berm House roof

View from the Berm House roof

“We forgot to bring it,” we told him. “We’ll be back.”

So we went back to Caer Llan to see if we could figure out some plan to rescue our weekend: No license, no car, no choirs. None of the anticipated road trip debauchery. So David took out the old license, a slightly worn document three years expired. And we noticed that it was made only of heavy paper, no laminating, no photo ID. And further, that at the bottom, just below the expiration date, there was some left over free space. We happened to have some US coins in our pockets. So there was borne an idea.

A US quarter would do the trick. We laid it down on a block of wood, and the driver’s license down on top of it, and a heavy rag down on top of that, and then another block of wood. We popped the whole sandwich with a big hammer from the construction site, embossing the page with the very official looking profile of George Washington. In God We Trust. We got a black pen and a ruler, and next to the improvised notary stamp we drew a line. We wrote in a new expiration date. We signed it “Richard Shagnasty,” in a script so sloppy as to be illegible to anyone who didn’t know.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

This was satisfying work. We showed it to our host and employer, Peter Carpenter, who –despite the position in which our expatriate criminal activity might put him—had that usual gleam in his eye. “I’ll either see you in a few days, or I’ll see you in jail,” he said.

We picked up the car without a hitch. The lending agent didn’t look twice. We drove through the night to Porth Madoc, the town in North Wales where the Eisteddfod was held. We drank the local beer.  We slept in the car. We met some Welsh women. At no time did the the police intervene.

*

These days you don’t need an international drivers license to rent a car in the United Kingdom. I know this because twenty seven years after that summer at Caer Llan—last week–I went back. I took a short break from an artist residency in Germany to catch up with Peter, his son Jake and

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

family, and to see the beautiful place we had helped, in the smallest way, to build. What I feel looking at the place –more than pride in my tiny role there–is massive gratitude for having been involved in such a visionary project, with such capable and generous people.

Caer Llan was originally built as a private house at the turn of the 18th to 19th century, overlooking pasture land marked off by hedgerows undoubtedly older. It was enlarged over the years, but as fortunes ran down in the twentieth century, so did the house. In the sixties it was being run as a small boarding school, and it came up for sale. Peter Carpenter was teaching biology and leading his students on field study excursions at the time. Circumstances aligned, and he bought the place in 1969 with a plan to make it a field study center—a place for student groups to come and stay while they studied through the lens of the surroundings: The English majors would visit the ruin of Tintern Abbey, famous as the place in the Wye valley above which William Wordsworth wrote his famous lines. Perhaps they would take in a bit of Shakespeare in the courtyard at Raglan Castle. The history students might do that, and look at Chepstow and other castles, and any of the significant prehistoric stones that can be found nearby. For the biology students, there are peat bogs. For everyone, plenty of English beer.

The passive solar-heated extension followed. Timothy, David, and I originally met Peter on Hiram College trips to Cambridge, which stopped at Caer Llan. That was in the early 80s. The berm house was an unfunded vision then. But a few years later, we learned that Peter had cut a deal with a retired submarine commander, who pledged enough money to get the project moving, in exchange for being able to live there in his remaining years. So we wrote Peter letters, telling him we’d give a summer’s labor in exchange for lodging and food. By then it was 1987.

Caer Llan was among the first (if not the first) passive solar heating structures in the United Kingdom. The modern addition uses recycled stone to match the original house, and does not

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

obstruct the view of its façade or any of its other sides. Castellations and other features are complementary. Built into the side of a hill, it has southwest-facing, double paned windows and hyper insulated walls. To top it off, it is covered with six feet of earth, atop which are planted a lawn and garden. A BBC news program once featured Peter mowing the roof. The idea and reality of the construction are that for the majority of the year it is heated and cooled by just a single fan that draws in fresh air, warms it in the solar corridor, and vents it in and out of the rooms. Only in the coldest months do rooms require a little boost from a space heater.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former  pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

In the years since I worked there, Peter has handed the place off to his son Jake and his wife Vicky to run. Caer Llan has evolved under their leadership to keep up with the changing economy. Instead of students sleeping in bunk rooms with group bathrooms, eating meals prepared by live-in help, the place caters to weddings and business conferences, offering five-star group lodging.

For my return visit, my rental car travels were not quite as eventful as the first time around. I picked up a nice Vauxhaul at Stansted airport at about midnight, and set off, guided by a GPS I borrowed from an artist friend in Dresden, Kerstin Franke-Gneuss. I made one wrong turn, landing eventually on two-lane “A” road that took me through Oxford, Ross-on-Wye, and about 47 thousand roundabouts. After a three-hour trip that took me five, I rolled up the driveway at Caer Llan at about 5 a.m.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

The Welsh countryside is still there, including the hilltop known as Craig Y Dorth, with incredible views over small farms, delineated by ancient hedgerows and populated by sheep and cows. I walked around it a couple of times, and saw the full arc of a double rainbow there the day I arrived. Peter Carpenter chauffeured me to the 13th/14th century Old Church in Penalt, which was one of my walking destinations a quarter century ago. I’d have walked this round, too, but for lack of time in a three-day visit. Other destinations back then and now included the old parish churches of Mitchell Troy and Trellech; the Virtuous Well of Trellech and Harold’s Stones nearby; the town of Monmouth with its old fortified bridge; and, in a quick stop on the way back to London, Tintern Abbey.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

All this, obviously, is illustrated with photos from the trip. Huge thanks to Peter, Jake, Vicky, Charlotte, and Georgia for unparalleled hospitality. Here’s hoping the next time takes much less than 27 years.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The road around Craig Y Dorth--a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

The road around Craig Y Dorth–a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Steps in the garden

Steps in the garden

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

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Dresden Palimpsesto

Dresden Palimpsesto

The narrow, cobbled streets of this 200 year-old neighborhood, Dresden’s  Neustadt, or New Town, are lined with 4-story buildings, and for block after block, the first six feet up from street level are covered with graffiti. Mercilessly, exuberantly, covered with painted words and graphics of all kinds: a generous dose of hip hop, inevitably. And the scrawl of grass-roots politiking: the polyglot voice of discontent, of young egos. And–soaring above the visual din, murals–monsters and skeletons and human figures, realistic and surreally distorted. Sometimes they reach 30 and 40 feet high.

Love, American Style

Love, American Style

Every one of these veins of street art is interesting in its own way. All together, they project pure energy. The urgency to make a mark, to take ownership, to communicate. Ideas about private property are especially provocative in this formerly communist place, long run-down, now percolating—boiling, it seems to me–with twin spirits of entrepreneurship and something US politics shies away from by comparison, the collective effort to build a better place.

Friday, October 3, is German Unity Day—a national holiday celebrating the official reunification of Germany 24 years ago. To my eyes and ears and all my senses, really, Dresden is defined by the energy of reunification, and rebuilding. Graffiti is just one of the release valves.

Just like home.

Just like home.

Consider the hip hop style pieces and tags. To an awful lot of people, and perhaps especially Americans, this is what graffiti is. But here it is just one particular brand, one specific thread in the rope. Viewed through the lens of east and west, of capitalism vs. communism or socialism, it’s a grass roots embrace of western culture, the flattery of imitation applied to that American street style, one of our most easily recognized cultural exports. Eye candy. It’s a bit like seeing McDonalds, or a Subway, both of which are present here, even if only a little. Hip hop style shows up as part of the chorus everywhere graffiti can be found–but it’s just one of the voices. In this context I appreciate it mostly as part of the palimpsesto–one layer in the whole, screaming chorus of color and activity.

In Dresden's so-called "Bermuda Triangle"--an intersection here young people gather every night--the flavor goes on and on.

In Dresden’s so-called “Bermuda Triangle”–an intersection here young people gather every night–the flavor goes on and on.

As far as individual marks go, I’m personally more intrigued by written messages painted around town, in at least three languages.

"It's hardt to see racism when you're."

“It’s hardt to see racism when you’re.”

I see plenty of English with the German, including many lines written by people painting in what seems (by its syntax) to be a second language. “It’s hardt [sic] to see racism when you’re,” for example. Indeed: When you are racist, it is difficult to see racism. And indeed, someone wrote in a correction to the spelling of “hard.”

The linguistic mix includes a bit of Spanish, some even with Mexican (not continental European) sympathies, such as the mark of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), of Chiapas. Remember Subcomandante Marcos?

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

EZLN, The Star of Humanity

Some of the same unwritten rules clearly apply to graffiti here as in the US, and everywhere I’ve looked for the writing on the wall.  The baroque neighborhood surrounding the Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady, its familiar domed version completed in 1743)  is immaculate. The Frauenkirche and the palatial Zwinger complex of museums have been rebuilt stone by stone since demolition by allied bombing in 1945. And everyone knows you don’t tag a church.

Dresden also has places as ruined as Cleveland’s storied “Fun Wall,” where writers paint with impunity, accumulating layer on layer of paint. Dresden has its direct parallel, not far from the Elbe River, about halfway between Neustadt and Blasewitz, an overgrown ruin of a building covered in hip hop pieces.  Whoever owns these walls seems to have no plans, except perhaps to sell when the right bidder comes along with a new construction project. Until then, it’s just canvas made of brick.

In the Neustadt, though, Graffiti is not only everywhere, but it is all over buildings that are actively being used. Not long ago, this neighborhood was losing people, except for squatters.  Now people, own these buildings, run businesses in their storefronts, and live in their apartments. Despite the objections, it seems to me the energy reflected in the graffiti is part of what has drawn people again. People like to be near creative energy. The artists, as we know in Cleveland, bring it.  Of course not everyone sees it that way. One landlord conceived a can’t beat-em-join-em kind of solution, painting the entire first floor of a building on Boemischer Strasse with black chalkboard paint. It’s covered in chalk graffiti. And of course, just above the chalkboard, someone sprayed a tag.

Chalk Fest

Chalk Fest

Once in a while, though, you turn a corner and see something that distinguishes itself: a work of art that’s neither graphic treatment of a made-up name, nor political branding, just images, figures, scenes along the street, available to everyone, all day, every day. Folks who have appreciated the Zoetic Walls project in Collinwood will appreciate such pieces.  It’s commonly said that street art loses something when it is done with permission, which some of these clearly have. I’d have to say that very much depends on the nature of the street art. When I roll around here on my bicycle, taking it all in, I just don’t care.2014-10-03 09.22.34

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Off Martin Lutherplatz

Off Martin Lutherplatz

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Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

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My bikefor a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

My bike, for a month: The Checker Pig, in front of the Hotel Raskolnikoff. It’s the one on the right.

By the grace of Zygote Press, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Grafikwerkstatt, I find myself in Dresden. Located in the former GDR, along the Elbe river between Berlin and Prague, Dresden is a city of a little more than half a million people, thriving in Germany’s post-soviet reunification, with businesses filling the shops and enough government involvement to keep it all running beautifully—at least it seems that way to me. But I’m getting off track. I’ve got five weeks here to carve wood blocks, set type, and make prints. And right now I want to talk about the acquisition of a bicycle.

Dresden is a terrific cycling town. Bikes don’t quite rule the streets: that honor must go to the excellent municipal tram system. But there are an awful lot of bicycles rolling all over the place, and plenty of shops. You see people of all ages, and bicycles of all kinds. That phrase used by American bicycle advocates—”we’re not holding up traffic, we are traffic”—seems completely unnecessary here. No one honks at cyclists.

The day we arrived, jet lagged and exhausted after about 35 hours traveling (curse the layovers), we walked around the early 19th century Neustadt, or “new town.” This is the neighborhood left standing after the war, a tight cluster of 4-story buildings with first floor shops, lining narrow, cobbled streets, all run down during the Soviet era, but still standing, then taken over by young people, including lots of squatters and entrepreneurs. As we passed one of them on the day we arrived, a city official giving a tour pointed out a shop where I could buy a used bike and sell it back at the end of my stay. Sounds good. I figured a city bike or a mountain bike—something with slightly fat tires to manage the cobbled streets and tram tracks.

I’ll spare you the details of prices, of second hand shops, co-ops, and rental shops, of stores closed on Wednesdays, or in the middle of the afternoon, of which take credit cards and which would not.

The long and short of it is that after two days that included all of the above, I went—still bike-less– to hang an exhibit of my prints with three other resident artists—Ellen Price from the US, Anna Garberg from Sweden, an Nicolas Sphicas from Greece. The show is in an old firehouse converted to a gallery, the Alte Feuerwache Gallery, in a slightly swanky

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

The Alte Feuerwache Gallery, at Fidelio F. Finke Strasse Number 4, which the Endomondo sports tracker tells me is just under 5 miles from the Hotel Raskolnikoff.

neighborhood called Loschwitz. And as I described my adventures to the gallery manager Hans-Peter, he said “I’ve got a bike back in the shed. Why don’t you just take that?”

Sheds the world over have the same musty smell, and the same kind of chronologically layered organization. For a person who cares very much about bicycles to be confronted with that smell and that style of organization at the hand of a generous person attempting to help out a visiting artist, the situation is precarious, indeed. “What, exactly, might I get myself into behind that wooden door,” I said to myself. This could be absolutely any kind of bicycle, in any condition, I knew. But one doesn’t want to reject hospitality. One wants to move gracefully around a foreign city.

In fact there were two bikes back in the shed—a rickety old three speed, and a very hot, full suspension mountain bike outfitted with Shimano Deore components: The Checker Pig 6000. Full suspension is not my style, but with everything tight, lightweight, and built for high performance, I felt like a very lucky man. “It was left to us by a lawyer who was moving away,” said Hans-Peter. “Take it.” So I did.

We put some pressure in the tires. I adjusted the seat. And Dresden was open to me in a whole new way. The trams are magnificent, miraculous, even, to a Clevelander. But on a bicycle I am faster. I don’t have to wait, or to change lines, or to walk to and from stops. Today, a beautiful, sunny Saturday, I pedaled the excellent bicycle trail along the Elbe River, which goes to Berlin and beyond in one direction, to Prague and more in the other. I didn’t go quite that far. I rode about 40 kilometers round trip, dallying for beer in a town called Heidenau. I don’t really know my way around Dresden yet, beyond the gallery, the Grafikwerkstatt print shop, and the Neustadt, where we’re staying at the Raskolnikoff Hotel. I get lost sometimes, but it doesn’t matter. I find my way. It’s perfectly comfortable mingling with the cars and the tram. I’ve got a bike now, and I am traffic.

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