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Dec 30, 2011

Passing

Leo Hawelka, on his 99th birthday in his Vienna Cafe
Life is full of remarkable moments.  This week, as I reflect on the passing of the year, we heard the news of the death at 100 of Leopold Hawelka who opened a small Viennese cafe in 1938. After WWII and a stint as a draftee in the Nazi army his cafe served free water to guests, some of whom stayed all day just to stay warm. Over the years his cafe became a meeting place for not only the poor but royalty and stars and eventually became so famous that his passing was international news.

That's not why I was there, I went to meet with the woman making a film about my work, Karin Wally. And that day Hawelka, sitting at the next table in his great coat, just happened to be having his 99th birthday. Karin wrote to me today to pass on news of his death and reminded me that I had done a sketch of Hewelka that day (I had forgotten but went through my sketchbooks and actually found it!) Had she not written me I would not have known that such an iconic figure passed through my life.

That reminded me that I'd had another meeting at the same cafe when I first arrived in Vienna 18 months previously. I'd met with an artist who told me about the art scene and gave me some contacts for my visit. As we left that winter day we stepped around an old man in a wheelchair and his companion. As we passed she turned to me and said "Have you heard of Hrdlicka, Vienna's most famous sculptor?" Of course I had. He has major monuments in Vienna. Well, that was him! He also died within a year, but not before I was invited to attend his last major sculpture unveiling.

None of this happened because I am an important person, but simply because I was aware (or rather was reminded) of the greater stories swirling about me all the time. As we end 2011, the year of the freedom breaking out all over the world, perhaps each of us will look back on this pivotal moment in the Great Story and recall where we were, how we contributed, and who was there with us when it happened.
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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.