In a world where everything has a price, the most priceless things are free.
I have the honor and pleasure of introducing a new film by Robin McKenna called “The Gift” at the Castro Theater this Thursday November 29th. This movie is a visually delicious sampling of personal stories that illuminate some of the philosophy behind the popular and influential book by Lewis Hyde published in 1983.
Robin showcases four examples of “gifting” as manifest in some very different cultural settings. My favorite is the story of a anarchist(y) squat in a giant abandoned commercial swine abattoir. Roma gypsys, immigrants and struggling artists conjured Metropoliz out of a derelict property on the outskirts of Rome that no one seemed to want. This experiment ran into some bumps when the real estate started rising in value. A clever counter to this inexorable tide of property greed we have all had to contend with in some fashion was for Metropliz to emphasize the (soon internationally recognized) artistic contributions that famous artists have painted on the various huge walls of the complex. The stature of this new museum has helped fend off eviction attempts by real estate concerns and their political servants to date. The Gift here is an ongoing sharing of the space with the occupants and the outside world of art and culture afficianados.
Another of the four samples of “Gift economies” finds Robin and crew documenting a native potlatch Kwak’wakwala community in Alert Bay in Pacific Northwest Canada. The idea of “The Gift” in some form or other is a part of many tribal and indigenous cultures going back to pre-history. Gifts are not always accepted and often weighted significantly with social and cultural obligations; the unifying factor is simply that the The Gift must not be held. It must be shared with others who in turn are obliged to pass it along.
The Gift also follows the work of artist Lee Mingwei who’s work is a “life meets art/art is life” in the Zen tradition. His work is influenced by Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a book he carries the book around with him when he travels. Hyde has wrote an introduction to Mingwei’s work, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Last but not least in the quartet of lovely of Gift vignettes is Michelle/Smallfry who created a “circular gift” camp, art car (giant bee called Beezus Christ Supercar) and crew of busy bee pals that took gifted honey from SF beekeeper acquaintances and passed along for free on the playa at Burning Man.
I enjoyed these four symbolic and literal tales, each illuminating the concept of “The Gift” in different though related fashions. Our world, western culture, is driven in large part by the great and valuable philosophies of the spirit of the individual, freedom of will and self determination ruled by “none other.” Unfortunately, we have swung too far in that direction, abandoning the balancing power of community, sharing of resources, the idea that some things must remain free. The Gift is a timely message in this world where literally everything has a monetary value, a price – whatever “the market” demands. If we cannot return to a balance between the individual and the communal, we are surely doomed to a future of even more greed and inequality.
My comrades, associates and dear friends have launched a kickstarter campaign to fund a fabulous dream project in the mysterious and vibrant land of Detroit. Curious objects, totemic figurines, elaborately and lovingly produced tableaus, strange icons and bizarre tchotchekas: these are the things that have been collected from the furthest corners of the world and will appoint and adorn Detroit’s Seafoam Palace.
The avatar for this project, Julia Solis is one of the early pioneers of the world of Urban Exploration. Her book New York Underground is a primary text for explorers. She was a friend of and inspiration for Ninjalicious the fellow that grounded and popularized UE with the zine Infiltration and book Access all Areas. Julia’s NYC based exploration and event group Dark Passage founded in 1999 holds a near mythic status and has inspired adventurers around the world.
Julia’s many projects over the years have radiated an essence of purity and authenticity that is rare to find. Her singular aesthetic is deep, dark and beautiful. She attracts collaborators of high caliber.
To peruse the histories of folks involved in SeaFoam is to open many doors to rare, exotic and obsessive worlds.
Filmmaker and educator Bryan Papciak has documented surreal yet very real worlds in his uniquely disturbing style. Bryan continues to warp impressionable young minds as a prof at RISD. Bryan’s work as an animator and creator of images is pretty disturbing. He LOOKS normal, but watch out when delving into the worlds he creates in his feverish imagination. Watch his oddly mesmerizing video below!
Photographer, fearless explorer and web designer Tom Kirsch has captured some of the most haunting images ever. A small sampling of his work can be found here. His work has been featured on PBS’s American Experience, in Digital Photographer Magazine and other publications. Tom likes to fish – a lot – his nautical sensibilities have and will continue to influence Seafoam.
Madagascar Institute founder and international art Star Chris Hackett helps out in Detroit in between stints blowing things up, sometimes on teeveeand instructing the kids on how they can “do this at home!” for Popular Science Magazine. Hackett is deeply dedicated to making the world a more interesting (and dangerous) place. Madagascar has turned out hundreds of maladjusted young artists (with some actual real world skills) after Chris turned chose to open the place in 1999.
Globetrotting film professional Christos Pathiakis explores ruins for fun between exotic location shoots. Before teaming up with others as the internet began to connect explorers Christos spent thousands of hours roaming through much of the NYC subway system in the 90’s disguised as an MTA worker.
When not hammering away on Seafoam, swashbuckling pyrotecnician Kim Couchet installs and ignites the largest fireworks displays in the world.
Social engineer Shel Kimmen has dedicated her life to the revitalization of her beloved City of Detroit. Shel’s counsel has been invaluable for the Seafoam crew.
Italian explorer and aesthete Alessandro Toffoli adds a compelling European flavor to the Detroit mix. Alessandro compares Detroit favorably with Rome (for the eventual importance of it’s fast disappearing colossal abandoned edifices). Alessandro has published both fiction and nonfiction, and is now an ongoing researcher at Casa della Memoria, the official oral history society in Rome. He is also a co-founder of Arcadia, a Roman art and restoration laboratory that specializes in antiques and objects of curiosity.
Paul Parkhill is the Executive Director of Spaceworks, Between 1999 and 2012, Paul served as the Director of Planning and Development at the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. Paul worked as a housing developer for Common Ground Community. In 1997 Paul co-founded Place in History, and in 2004 he co-founded Furnace Press with Julia Solis and Ars Subterranea.
Installation and performance artist Monica Canilao creates exquisite, dream inspired worlds from the detritus sloughed off from the mundane world around her. Her involvement in Seafoam has introduced the project to a younger risk-taking group of collaborators. That’s a nice way to say “watch out for these crazy kids!”
Other key personnel and associates include artist/performer Vness Wolfchild a musician and interactive ritual healing performance artist. Her work explores the complexity of the physical, spiritual and emotional body existing within urban industry and architecture. soundcloud.com/vnesswolfchild
Designer Dorothy Trojanowski whose work includes the lovely lay-out for Julia Solis’ recent book Stages of Decay.
metal sculptor Colin McIntyre, Inspired by creatures from the oceans and all plant life, Colin creates sculptures using hot metal forging and fabrication. His work is featured as a permanent public art piece at the Austin Nature & Science Center.
Detroit homesteader Ryan Carmichael is a functional artist and was one of the lead fabricators on Gon Kirin. In recent years he has specialized in architectural installations around Detroit.
Maggie Sisco lives in Detroit and works in public relations for a small firm in the metro area. Her expertise is in media and content strategy.
Seafoam Palace is made up of artists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, sociologists, engineers, historians, travelers, explorers, and a few varieties of alchemists. Some have been collaborating on projects for over twenty years, some are brand new – drawn together by a love of the absurd, the profound, and the curious.