January / February 2002 - State of the Arts

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Girl Gets First Tattoo
Fighting for peace
Dangerous and Ephemeral
Baby Steps

Girl Gets First Tattoo
by Diana Zimmerman

"It's going to hurt," everyone told me. "I know," I said. "They stick you with needles," I was warned. "I know," I replied. Needles. Anyone who can sew has stuck herself with needles plenty of times. Big deal. My mind was made up about getting a tattoo. It's a good thing, too, because the instant Tribal Steve's needles pierced my virgin hide, I nearly lost my resolve. I actually did lose it, but was very clear on the choices before me: either sit there and find a way through it; or get up, walk out, and for the rest of my life explain that the random black line on the small of my back is a tattoo that I chickened out of. I sat. "No brinques," Steve said, after I jumped when the machine first touched me. "Ok," I said. "Y relajete," he instructed. "Entre mas tiesa estas, mas te duele." I tried to relax - Steve was right, the more tense I was, the more it hurt. I could explain the pain of this procedure more fully-I have some great metaphors-but I don't want to damage Steve's business. He's a marvelous artist and a truly kind human being.

As he worked, I kept reminding myself of this, as well as the fact that Steve is my friend, and he wouldn't hurt me any more than necessary. He has many tattoos. He understands the experience. For years I'd been saying I'd get a tattoo when I was sure of what I wanted and where; now, I was sure. The bird/snake design is an ancient spirit that visited me in a dream and whose stylized image I learned to draw in my years among the potters of Guaitil. I chose the small of my back because it's an easy place to cover or expose as I choose. People say it's one of the most painful places to have tattoed. I suspect they're right, but I have no desire to find out if it hurts less someplace else. A tattoo is made by "brushstrokes" on the skin. Each time Steve lifted his "brush," I took a breath. When he touched it to my back, I concentrated on slowly and evenly pushing the breath out until he lifted it again. I shut my eyes. I don't have children, but I've heard about pain and breathing techniques. I don't actually know any of them, but I created one pretty damn fast. I pictured my whole body as a hollow tube with a current of pain running through it, and I concentrated on pushing it out through my feet. I have never thought so much about my feet.

It took three hours. Steve made it very clear that any time I wanted to stop, he would stop-but I wanted to finish. The first hour was only difficult for a few minutes. The sharpness of the pain lessened, and Steve and I laughed and talked while he worked. It hurt, but I was pushing the pain out through my feet. I smiled bravely at some curious tourists who peered through the door. By the end of the second hour, I was fading. I could no longer talk. I tried to lose myself in the blue wall in front of me, staring at the bottles of brightly colored paint lining a shelf. I closed my eyes. I started to really dig Steve's weird music. The third hour was hard. My back felt filleted. There was almost too much pain to fit through the small tube that was me. Steve was kind and patient, letting me rest, letting me admire his work, which really was beautiful and gave me courage. But I could tell I was slipping. I was reaching the end of what I could do. I couldn't make myself breathe right anymore; and I could feel myself taking too much air, pushing it out too fast, taking more. I started to feel dizzy. I figured that if I fainted, at least I wouldn't feel the pain, and I wouldn't have to concentrate so hard anymore. Sometime during that third hour, Steve lifted the needle and said, "Solo falta un color." One more color. "Que es?" It felt like an eloquent speech to ask which one. "Amarillo." I tried to imagine the yellow ink. "Ya te puse doce. Esto es trece." One more color. He'd already put in 12 others. So I put my head down and chanted to myself the mantra, "I accept yellow" while Steve finished this incredibly beautiful, fearsomely burning image that I will wear forever.

Then, in what can only be described as comic relief at the end of a show, he lead me out into the blistering high noon sun of Tamarindo in my underwear to photograph the handiwork on my rump. I wasn't the least bit embarrassed. I was triumphant. I guarded this creation as it healed, slathering it with the antibiotic cream and lotion that Steve recommended, and staying out of the sun and salt water. I didn't want to mess it up with neglect or impatience after so much suffering. I love it. It's beautiful. Several times, Steve has requested that I pull my dress up and show it off for others. I can tell he's proud of it, too. I am delighted to have this drawn into me because of what the symbol means to me. I am fascinated by the experience of working through/with pain; and I now understand what that bad-ass look on the faces of the painted people in tattoo magazines is all about.NG

Diana Zimmerman, a Spanish teacher and writer, can be found zooming around Tamarindo, Costa Rica on a bicycle or a surf board.

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:Fighting for Peace
by Rena Grasso


On September 12, 2001, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) cast the only vote against a bill granting President Bush full authority to pursue war without accountability to Congress. The final vote was 420-1. In an editorial to the San Francisco Chronicle, Lee wrote, "It was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events... I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk." Although Lee stood alone in Congress, she joined the company of many historical suffragists, feminists, and social activists who formed the peace movement of the early 20th century. This illustrious chapter in history began in 1914, three weeks after World War I erupted in Europe. Some of the women pioneers of anti-violence activism from that era include (but are certainly not limited to): Jeanette Rankin, Frances Garrison Villard, Jane Addams, the members of the Women's Peace Party (WPP), and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973) Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin was the first woman to be elected to Congress-twice - before women won voting rights. Singularity was Rankin's signature. In the face of censure and contempt, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against America's entry into both world wars. As she defiantly defended her vote, she declared, "The first time the first woman has a chance to say no to war, she should say it." A lifelong pacifist, Rankin refused to be deterred by age. In 1967, at the age of 87, she led the Jeanette Rankin Brigade, a peace march of 5,000 women in Washington, D.C. protesting the Vietnam War. Today, a bronze statue memorializes Rankin's work in the House of Representatives. Her pedestal is engraved with a quote of simple power: "I cannot vote for war."

Frances Garrison Villard (1844-1928) Frances Garrison Villard organized the Women's Peace Parade, a march of 1,500 women down Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1914 to protest WWI. Villard, daughter of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, was an uncompromising pacifist, a philanthropist, and fundraiser for interracial and humanitarian causes. She felt that women could redeem politics, and she helped establish the WPP and the WILPF.

Jane Addams (1860-1935) When the legendary Jane Addams took her courageous stand in protest of WWI, she became one of the most famous women in America. She participated in the International Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915, spoke against America's entry into WWI, and helped to form the WPP and the WILPF. In 1889, Addams founded the Hull House in Chicago, which helped hundreds of Chicago immigrants and others gain a place of self-respect in society by offering classes, a nursery school, a library, and other social programs for the neighborhood. An important advocate of internationalism, Addams was elected chairwoman of the WPP in 1915 and served as the first president of the WILPF from 1915 to 1929. In 1931, Addams became the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Women's Peace Party (WPP) Although women still did not have the right to vote in 1914, Addams and countless other women were not deterred; they led an international peace movement of extraordinary scope and vision. In January 1915, after Villard's tour de force in New York City, 3,000 American women convened in Washington, D.C. to discuss putting an end to WWI. The group formed the WPP and elected Jane Addams as chairwoman. The WPP established an international tribunal and conceived social and economic conditions necessary for permanent peace-including the worldwide equality of men and women.

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) In April of 1915, Arlette Jacobs, a suffragist in Holland, invited members of the WPP and women from all over Europe to an International Congress of Women in The Hague. Fifteen hundred women attended. Addams chaired the meeting, which focused on ways of ending WWI and preventing future wars. As a result of the conference, the WILPF was formed. For more than 85 years, the WILPF has been in the forefront of national and international protests against war, supporting struggles for justice and freedom, and advocating women's rights. The WILPF's remarkable vision, which has remained the same since its inception in 1915, includes working toward equality for all people and ending all forms of violence. Visit the WILPF website at: www.wilpf.org.NG

Rena Grasso, Ph.D., teaches women's studies and writing, does home renovating, and longs for the re-birth of feminist activism.

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Dangerous and Ephemeral
by Lisa Cannon


Some artists create because they want a part of themselves to live forever. Others create art in order to burn it. Artists who enjoy burning things for the sake of burning things are drawn to Burning Man, the annual celebration of conflagration in the Nevada desert. The festival that takes place in the Black Rock Desert every year around Labor Day weekend is difficult to describe. And it's even more of a challenge to describe the incredible works of art that appear and disappear before your eyes like a heat-induced mirage. Burning Man has been characterized as many things-virtual community, pagan ceremony, outdoor rave, freak show. It's none of those things and all of them. Every year more than 20,000 people arrive and create a community, works of art, and a whole lifestyle centered around the ritual burning of a giant effigy: The Man. Then, they pack it all up and leave again. The fact that an entire city-some would say a civilization-can appear and then disappear in a space of a few weeks is one of the most magical elements of this fantastic world. The works of art are equally ephemeral. They appear and then-poof-they're gone. Fire is often called upon to destroy that which has been created. It is also used as an art form in its own right, with fascinating-if somewhat dangerous-results. Fire is a power symbol. From burning witches to burning bras, it's been a part of women's history and ceremony. How do women artists make their own artistic space at an event called Burning Man? What does the artist create, and in doing so, what does she destroy?

Burn the Man
Though Burning Man has been called androcentric (there is a man in the middle of it, after all) the Fire and Pyrotechnic Performance Director is an artist named Crimson Rose. She set The Man on fire at her first event in 1991, and she's been burning him ever since. She also works to help people create art and destroy it safely. In addition, she is Burning Man's Administrative Director, overseeing tickets, merchandise, registration and office procedures. Rose, according to her biography on the official Burning Man web site, is fascinated with the way interactivity and art mesh at Burning Man, and feels it changes the atmosphere of performance. The site also says that someday she wants to organize a few games of fire badminton, involving flaming tampons instead of birdies. Women burning with creativity continue to be drawn to Burning Man by the thousands, and the future of ephemeral art on the desert floor is bright. Women who share a burning desire to create something memorable in the desert can start by visiting www.burningman.com. It has important information about getting there, buying tickets, and surviving the harsh climate. There is a collection of photos of art installations and information about the philosophy behind the annual experiment in temporary community.

Falling Fire
San Francisco artist Kiki has been playing with fire for several years. Her flammable visions, which she calls Firefalls, have taken several forms at Burning Man and elsewhere. Kiki describes a Firefall as "a water fountain on fire." A small amount of fuel on the surface makes the water look like it's burning. The water and fire cascade from one level to another, creating a flow of opposite elements, elegantly intertwined and always in motion. The water also forms a protective layer, so you can hold the flames in your bare hands.
What inspired these burning visions? Kiki says it was an accident. "I was on a camping trip with a friend, and I thought I'd help out and bring fuel for his stove." Instead of fuel, the can had only water inside, with some fuel residue. Since they had nothing to cook with and nothing to do, they lit the watery fuel on fire. The mixture of fire and water inspired Kiki to create her first firefall, which she calls Ceramic Thing. The next, larger version was called The Cauldron, which she brought to Burning Man. Kiki finds fire fascinating in its ability to create, rather than destroy. And she has described her Firefalls as expressions of femininity, though she doesn't like to say exactly what each one symbolizes for her. "I like hearing what it symbolizes for other people," she asserts.
"A piece of art can symbolize things to the artist, but it only really succeeds when the viewer has a reaction." However, she admits that feminine symbols such as cauldrons, bowls, and the hourglass shape of a woman's body are recurrent elements in her art, and that she is drawn to them without consciously trying to inject a feminine influence into her works. It just happens. While she doesn't like to generalize along gender lines, Kiki has found one thing to be true in her burning experiences. "My male pyro friends tend to want bigger, louder, brighter, longer fire creations," she says, "whereas I'm happy enough playing with a candle in a restaurant. A Firefall is a means for me-and others-to be intimate with the flame, to touch it with their bare hands, and to see it right up in their face. Many women who would never touch a firecracker will play with a Firefall for hours."
Her advice to artists considering a large-scale art installation on the Burning Man plateau: "Dream big, but leave lots of room to scale back. Always keep in mind what the minimal idea is and work on that before anything else." And she advises artists to remember that bigger is not always better. Many excellent projects are very simple and small. "It's better to have a good idea that's only gesturally expressed than something with a lot of detail that is executed poorly," she says. Despite the huge logistical challenge of transporting such a complex work of art - gallons of water and fuel, fuel pumps, tubes, pipes and more - to a remote desert in Northern Nevada, Kiki is looking forward to next year. She plans on creating an even larger Firefall called Egeria (named for a Roman nymph), and is working on an initial proposal to get funding. Egeria is a tiered fountain made from translucent fiberglass, creating a crystal backdrop for the flaming water.

Frida's Bed
Spiralgirl, an artist living in Montreal, Canada, created a work of art to celebrate Frida Kahlo, a painter and icon for many women artists. In 1925, at the age of 18, Frida Kahlo was in a bus accident that seriously injured her spine, abdomen, pelvis and right foot, wounds that led to lengthy hospital stays and many operations. A trained painter, Kahlo continued to create art during her convalescence. Because much of her life was spent in bed, the bed is a meaningful symbol of the artist. And fire is an appropriate medium with which to paint the artist.
According to one report of Frida Kahlo's cremation, a sudden blast of heat from the open incinerator doors blew her body bolt upright. Her hair, burning brightly, blazed around her head like a halo. Witnesses claim that she appeared to break into a grin just as the doors were closed. "I thought that Frida Kahlo would have loved Burning Man," Spiralgirl explains. "So I thought that making her bedroom would be a sort of tribute to her... and it ended up being a very powerful experience. She spent her life in a lot of pain, but she also knew how to enjoy herself." Spiralgirl created a replica of a bedroom in the middle of the desert floor with a bed, a nightstand, and pink satin sheets.
"I loved the idea of making something that people could experience," she points out. "I worried a bit about the bed blowing away, because this was 1999 and the winds were pretty high. I left it out there for three days." But it stayed in spite of the heavy weather, and at the end of the week, they burned it, in what became a ritual of rebirth. "People just showed up. We had some tequila. The adrenaline was pumping. I was so excited about doing this. Burning something that was like an altar for me to the dark goddess. It ended up being a pretty powerful ritual. People liked the bed. I think a few couples had sex on it, which was fine with me. There was even blood on the sheets."
Spiralgirl finds Burning Man to be a crucible of creativity. "Burning Man is a necessary event for the survival of the creative spirit of our species. Time speeds up and slows down. It is compressed joy, grief, love-all emotion-into minutes, hours. All that matters is that people have a place to express themselves, and to move so many people."NG

Allison Dubinksy's freelance writing also appears regularly in Barfly.

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Baby Steps
by Alex Beauchamp

July 9, 10:30 a.m. There are boxes that need to be unpacked, furniture that needs to be arranged, and grocery shopping that needs to be done. But I'm making it all wait, because I have more important things to do today. Like Art. When I decided to start writing full time, what I actually wanted to do was create art full time. I originally chose writing as my focus because I believe that's where the majority of my talent lies, and it's always been the easiest thing for me to do. However, I've wanted to become more creative and artistically free, and so I decided, a little fearfully, to embrace art. I've handed myself some weapons: a book, some paint, some furniture, some canvas, pencils, pens, and imagination. Armed and (hopefully) dangerous, I'm going to start creating whatever I want.
Jumping into art, however, is a bit intimidating. As a person who can only draw stick figures, and whose apartment is in all shades of bland, I feel it's a daunting task to create and come alive artistically. I want to be able to just jump into everything, have an apartment filled with finished art projects, and be at the height of my creativity. I know, however, that I have to start somewhere, and that somewhere needs to be small. So, the other day I transformed an old, beaten-up , wooden chair into a stunning, bright, raspberry-colored masterpiece.
All I did was paint it one color, but I felt proud because not only had I chosen such a bold color, but I had done something. Doing that one thing got my mind humming with more ideas. Since then, I've been going to paint shops and gathering paint chips to choose the colors for each wall in my apartment. Instead of buying art, I've decided to make some of my own, frame it, and hang it on my walls. I've also decided to sign up for an art class, because I'm now living only a couple of blocks away from the local arts center. I'm hoping that I'll be able to volunteer there as well. I've been a shadow artist for so long-always admiring others works and never feeling like I could be one of them. I have always been drawn to artists and their art, but I never embraced any of it because I felt that I wasn't very good, and so what right did I have to try to be a part of that world? I never attempted art because I thought that I should leave creating to "real artists."
I always failed before I tried, and that has bothered me for a very long time. I think if you have even the tiniest passion for something, you should embrace it, even if it's scary or intimidating. Just painting one chair, one simple chair, made me feel better than any longing ever did. It made me wonder why I took so long to begin. July 22, 10:01 a.m. I was talking with someone the other day about my website and career changes. I told her how, for the first time in my life, I have a job that I am not only good at, but I also love. I told her how excited I am each day at the prospect of writing. "I'm envious," she said to me. "I would like to have a job that I was good at and loved.
But I don't think I could give up the security I have right now or put myself through all that stress. I would be far too scared." "Me too," I said. "You're scared?" she asked in disbelief. "But you seemed so happy and when you were talking to me about it, you seemed so…so confident." "I'm scared every day," I said. "Every day is different. I don't know if I'll be able to write that day or, if I do, if it will be any good. I'm scared of people's reactions to me when I say that I write-not all of it is positive, you know. I'm scared that the love and passion I have for it will fade with time. I'm scared that I might have to be an office girl one day. I'm scared of sounding trite or pretentious. I'm scared of my pen running out of ink when I start to write down my most brilliant thought. I'm scared of the mail carrier returning my work with big NOs marked on them." "For someone who has so many fears, you definitely seem very brave," she said. "I wouldn't have known you have fears. You hide them pretty well." I do now, I thought.
I had to make peace with the fears because I learned they will always be there. Mark Twain once said, "Courage is the resistance to fear, not the absence of it." Fear is always going to be around, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Fear can be useful at times, as long as it doesn't paralyze you or prevent you from doing what you can do. I realize the fear won't ever go away, but I know that my giving in to it has.NG

Alex Beauchamp recently left behind the 9-to-5 world to become a freelance writer. She chronicles her insights and experiences as a girl living out her dream on her website www.girlatplay.com.

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