LaborFest 2019

6 Jul



I spent Fourth of July at Dolores Park watching San Francisco Mime Troupe’s excellent production of Treasure Island, a musical about San Francisco land owner greed with an insightful focus on the city’s own toxic Treasure Island.  Beginning with the salvaging and scrubbing of radioactive ships destroyed by atomic testing at Bikini Atoll (testing began in 1946) the Navy polluted the San Francisco Bay Area with impunity.  A naval base on the island conducted a training center for radiological decontamination and dumped radioactive material and other contaminants in large rubbish pits.  The base closed in 1997.  The Navy was required to clean up the polluted site in order to transfer ownership back to the City and County of San Francisco.  But the clean up process cannot be trusted; for further information, consult Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice at  The island is phasing into high income housing and hostelry, pushing out low income residents who have lived on the island for many years.

San Francisco Mime Troupe is celebrating sixty years with a benefit concert on October 7th.  For their summer schedule, consult:

LaborFest is offering its 26th annual program of events about labor and culture.  Events are held throughout the San Francisco Bay Area during the month of July.  I will be conducting a walking tour with brother Gifford Hartman on Saturday, July 21st, at 10:00 a.m.  This free tour’s focus is on labor activist Tom Mooney and the Preparedness Day Bombing of 1916.  For more information on this year’s schedule of events, visit:





14 Mar




Pictures From an Exhibition

30 Jan




These watercolors, 9 x 12 in., were included in a group show at Hayes Valley Art Works recently.  The top image focuses on the days during Camp Fire, sparked on November 8, 2018, destroying the town of Paradise, California, and consuming 153,336 acres.  Smoke drifted 165 miles to San Francisco, where we breathed uneasily.  At least some of us.  To walk by groups of cigarette smokers standing outside bars and other businesses in the haze was surreal.

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.