Space Invaders Inside Trump’s Empty Head

5 Dec


Eric Crowell. Mixed media on paper. Collection of David Duckworth.


Oh Boy, Soy!

25 Nov


My colleague Dan captured what we imagined one alt-right hater named Roosh Valizadeh termed the “soy smile,” as quoted in Alex Henderson’s article for Alternet; a smile within a pose that “combines the feelings of excitement and fear” (see Henderson, “The ‘soy boy’ conspiracy theory: Why the alt-right believes soybeans are part of a vast left-wing plot against manhood,”; accessed 11/24/2018).

The theory is breathtaking, but, I suppose, no different in character from the myriad other theories which point to specific environmental factors and their causal effects on the human body.  Except, the haters promoting this theory target the LGBTQ communities in our midst.  Belief in theories which purport male emasculation to be caused by social forces is age-old in our society.  This newest theory neatly conjoins social and environmental factors together.  It is not simply that soy has an estrogenic effect, but also that this known factor is being manipulated by a vast conspiracy of left-wing agents.

Once Dan produced the smile I had to capture it with a photograph.  I did not grow up consuming soy, so I can rest assured that my gay self did not magically sprout from a bean.  (That would make a cute fairy tale, wouldn’t it?)  Dan, though, is a generation younger.  Do you suppose?


4 Nov


I spend Sunday afternoon with friends writing postcards addressing important environmental, political, and social concerns.  These last few weeks we have been writing to prospective voters urging them to get to the polls.  California is not plagued with the level of voter suppression that we are witnessing in Georgia or Nevada or North Dakota.  But I am encouraging everyone to vote.

In 2018, our group has thus far sent 25,200 postcards to the U.S. Senate and other offices.


13 Oct


Dylan Welch. Audium. Archival digital print.

A coyote chorus and stars.  These elements were present when I attended an event at Audium Thursday night, a theater of sound-sculptured space at 1616 Bush Street.  The program comprised works by Stanley and David Shaff, father and son.  I already knew from a friend that the performance would take place in total darkness.  Thus, I was apprehensive when the lights began to dim.  How do we experience in the dark?  I felt the same apprehension sitting in the waning light at Bear Valley Visitor Center.  But once it was dark in the valley I was greeted by a sky of stars.  And a chorus of coyote howls in the distance (see previous post).

At Audium, the brief coyote sounds were a single element in the vast collage of natural sounds woven by the Shaffs, in what they refer to as a “sound-space continuum.”  This is immersive space; the Shaffs call it a “building within a building.”  Once dark, the stars appeared.  There are small lit arrows embedded in the floor to direct audience members to an exit should they feel the need to leave before performance end.  The arrows created a sky upon which were sitting in our chairs.

My first experience with sound composition was through the artist Patrick Todd.  I met Patrick through my friend Max Yawney, a painter, both based in New York.  In 2007, Patrick characterized his work as “explor[ing] the outer realms of manufacturing noise production through digital interface.”  Patrick introduced me to the salon-style space Experimental Intermedia at a 224 Centre Street loft in Manhattan.  It was there that I saw and heard an early work of Phil Niblock’s, different than Patrick’s work in that its structure was collected natural sound.  Niblock started as a film maker and photographer and began to explore sound to accompany his films.  His works has been called “live sound collage.”  Niblock and Experimental Intermedia are celebrating fifty years this month.

I brought Patrick’s work into the exhibition American Seven at WORKS/San José in 2006.  Subsequently, Patrick created a composition for a collaborative performance called Detainee, which was performed at The Lab Gallery of the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan from January 29 to February 2, 2007.  In this work we created the red stripes of the American flag, the flag and field of stars already outlined on the gallery floor, by dragging my body through poured paint.  Viewers, many just passersby, were able to watch from outside the gallery through large plate glass windows.  One passerby, George Anttila, posted a video of a performance at YouTube.  Patrick’s contribution, run through a speaker above the sidewalk, complemented the performances by pulling out the dark impulse of torture we alluded to in the piece.  It also gave the audibly muted drama inside an ambient presence outside.

The Shaffs work with field recording from urban space and natural environments.  Human voice, animal sound, musical strands, mechanical motion, and much more come together in changing structures, ranging from lilting, to playful, to meditative.  The space is equipped with a total of 176 speakers, the speakers controlled in groups.  While a computer is in use during performance, the Shaffs still move sound via an analog console.  They also use plenty of synthesizer and midi sounds.

It is difficult for me to arrive at superlatives for this experience.  How does one experience sound?  Partly, I suppose it is in the way that sound attunes to your body.  When we dance to music we bring that sound within so that the body can place the rhythms it will make.  There is that at Audium with the lowest timbres vibrating through the space.  When I listened to coyotes at Bear Valley Visitor Center at night, their howl marked the distant space I could not see.  That was magical.  There is also that at Audium.

Mickey Dumpster

12 Oct



My Aborted Vacation

11 Oct


It was the simplest solution to not traveling long distance. Point Reyes National Seashore next to Marin County offered hiking in nature’s landscapes and time to read and reflect. I booked four nights at HI-Point Reyes Hostel, an inexpensive accommodation featuring bunk bed dormitories and kitchen. Over the phone, the receptionist wrote down information for a credit card. Nearly set, I purchased enough groceries for the four days and packed my bags.

I traveled from San Francisco on a Golden Gate Transit bus connecting to a Marin Transit bus in San Rafael. One of my work mates had taken the same trip some years ago and really enjoyed it. Other people I know have visited the park and praise the wildness and remoteness of the setting. It is rich in flora and fauna and offers a number of ecological terrains. Outside of campsites, three very small towns, Olema, Point Reyes Station, and Inverness, offer accommodations, but I assumed that was outside of my budget. The hostel, set within a lush coastal scrub terrain, is very close the shore.

My final stop by bus was to disembark at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. A beautiful wooden structure features a spacious audience hall complete with educational displays. I smiled at the sight of a couple taking a photograph, the husband posing next to a life-size figure of an bull elephant seal, the look of the seal’s open mouth suggesting the two were old friends. The volunteer ranger was attentive and gracious to a first-timer at the seashore. With the help of a second ranger a walking route was drawn for me from a map. The distance between Bear Valley and the hostel was roughly seven miles.

I was loaded down with food, clothing, and books in a backpack and two bags. I must have been a silly sight, certainly not that of an experienced naturalist. I crossed along the Horse Trail and the Fire Lane Trail. The first was a constant zigzag ascent, the second a less angled descent. As I started away from the Visitor Center I passed a large field enclosed within barbed wire fencing. A black-tailed buck spotted me from the other side of the fence and approached quickly as if we had an arranged meeting. But he stopped short of nearing the fence and went on his way once sizing me up.

After a certain distance the walk was grueling, mainly because of the weight I was carrying. I paced grimly and slowly. Several times I had to unload and breathe for a moment. The weather was perfect, though, and the verdant landscape a delight to see. I especially enjoyed the descent from forest to scrub, recognizing the scrub instantly from the smells. There was the sight of many birds, several rabbits, and a lone banana slug. Various insects brushed my body the entire way.

By the time I approached the hostel my body was aching, my steps were unsure and uneven. I plopped my bags on the floor at the reception desk. A cheerful receptionist invited me in and began the quick interview. I had decided to use a second debit/credit card. There would be an automatic deposit in two days ensuring that I had the funds to pay for the accommodation. With the card in hand she attempted to transact payment for the four nights. I explained the funds yet to appear, but she said that payment was upfront. There was no choice: I had to turn back. It was late afternoon. It would soon be dark. But I thanked her and proceeded to walk back to Bear Valley. I would take the road which automobile drivers use to reach the hostel. Before I could leave the reception area a British traveler, having overheard the exchange, asked me if she could help out with any financial arrangement, perhaps one night’s payment, as she would be leaving in two days. I thanked her but said no. She then proposed that she drive me back to the Visitor Center.

Embarrassed, I told Continue reading

Let’s Catch Up!

13 Jun

Dear Reader,

If you have been a follower, I must apologize for my absence since last November.  There have been several projects in the works.  You will learn of two of these here, while a third I must remain quiet about as it is in the prototype stage.

First, I will be speaking at Treasure Island Museum on Saturday, June 23rd, beginning at 10:30 a.m.  This is one in a monthly series called Little Island, Big Ideas, and my third address at this venue.  This will take place in the lobby of Building One and is free of charge.  You can also enjoy TreasureFest (formerly Treasure Island Flea) following the lecture.  There is a low admission fee.  The flea market offers live music and food truck fare.  The topic is as follows:

Halliburton’s Final Dare: Sailing the Pacific to the GGIE

Of the many ways to travel to the Golden Gate International Exposition, crossing the Pacific Ocean in a Chinese junk could have been the most unusual.  Nothing seemed beyond adventurer and writer Richard Halliburton’s spirit of “impulse and spontaneity.”  He had already circumnavigated the globe in an open cockpit biplane and swum the length of the Panama Canal.  Now, having built the Sea Dragon in a Hong Kong at war with Japan, he and his companion Paul Mooney embarked, intending to arrive at Treasure Island with much fanfare – but never did. His ill-fated trip is seen within the context of the Pacific war and the Exposition’s theme of trans-Pacific unity, positioning Halliburton as a gay man who shaped his own unique trajectory.


Noel Sullivan Papers, BANC MSS C-B 801. The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Second, LaborFest‘s 25th annual month-of-July programming is soon upon us.  I will be leading a walking tour with fellow historian Gifford Hartman on Saturday, July 21st, at 10:00 a.m.  We meet at One Market Street.  The event is free.  Here is a description of the tour:

Tom Mooney and the Preparedness Day Bombing Walk

During this walking tour, we visit several sites, which were integral to the unfolding of events following a bomb explosion on Steuart Street at Market Street on July 22, 1916. With fervor building to engage the United States in the war in Europe, businessmen in San Francisco embraced the cause, while labor leaders and the left denounced it. With the bomb killing ten people and wounding forty, no clear culprit was identified. But, two figures from the left, labor organizers and anarchists Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings, were framed for the murder of the victims and spent many years in prison before being released. On this tour, we learn not only about the war between business and labor and open and closed union shops, but also about the divisive issues of American aggression in the Pacific region and against Mexico, crusading and yellow journalism in the city of San Francisco, and the mood of the country regarding World War I. The tour lasts approximately two hours. David Duckworth is an art and cultural historian, having lectured widely, including at California Institute of Integral Studies, Free University, LaborFest, New York University, Popular Culture/American Culture Association, and Treasure Island Museum. Gifford Hartman is an adult educator, labor trainer, working class historian, and has been a rank-and-file militant in various industries (some organized by the SEIU and ILWU, and other non-union shops) and presently works in the unorganized precarious education sector.


To see the full calendar of events, visit:

And then serendipity arrived recently.  I have a group of drawings on view at Hayes Valley Art Works.  The group exhibition opened last Friday evening as a “pop up” event and will continue for two or so more weeks.  All but one of the drawings have appeared at this blog.  The garden site is at Octavia Boulevard between Oak and Lily Streets.  There is a large industrial cargo container that serves as the exhibition space.  Their hours are Friday through Sunday, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Monday, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  You can learn more about the garden at:

I hope to see you in the near future!