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Jun 27, 2016

Random Obervations on Europe

Having just returned from a tour of central Europe with my buddy Garret, performing our Random Gifts of Art Live! performance, I have some cogent observations:

Swedish cooperation - Swedish society is a collection of farmers who traditionally had to cooperate in order to survive. This was the explanation I heard on a few occasions to explain why the Swedes are really good at political cooperation. If they find some bad element among them–like a toxin in plastic– they ban it. It's not like in the US where you have the democrats who want to ban something and immediately the Republicans defend the producers and rile about how many jobs will be lost and swear they will bury the democrats. Borlege (where we performed) in fact has the most eco-friendly mine in the world. Their goal is to make it the first non-toxic mine in the world. It's a good idea, and they prodeed with the expense knowing that the market will reward that idea. Brilliant!

Bicycles in Copenhagen - We arrived in Copenhagen at night. This is one of many Scandinavian cities known for its bicycle traffic. There are bike lanes everywhere and they are well-used, reducing car traffic by unimaginable amounts. But I was astonished to see many bicyclists racing around in the inner city without helmets and wearing black clothes! I don't know how many of them die, but it says to me that they are pretty confident about not being plowed over by cars.
 One lovely day we registered for the "CityBike" program, where you can take one of hundreds of bikes stationed all over town. You enter your membership number in a kiosk, remove a bike from the rack, and cycle whereever you want. Then when you're done you can locate a station, return the bike to a rack and be on your way. It's not only a great system, but the bike you get is a wonder! It not only has a GPS device and a screen that shows you your location, shows your route, nearby attractions and locates drop-off stations, but when you start pedaling an electric motor kicks in, making pedaling nearly effortless! All for a very few $ per hour! What a concept!

Bathrooms - As soon as I hit European soil I knew we were not in Kansas any more. I entered the bathroom at the airport and there behind the men's urinals was a woman calmly swabbing the floor. I soon discovered this was not uncommon. It didn't freak me out to have a woman in the men's room as long as she knew where she was, but obviously this is normal in Europe, a practice that would drive some Americans appopleptic. At the Brody Studio–where we performed in Budapest–we found a very reasonable solution to the bathroom issue: a unisex bathroom for everybody, built just like a woman's bathroom. Except for us confused Americans, it's a great system; all are accepted here except for any inappropriate sexual paranoia, which seems to rule only far-away places like North Carolina.
We also saw a great design at a public park in Vienna, where the porta-potty-sized toilet was a big stainless bowl with a seat that folds over it. Then after you flush you push a button and wash your hands over the same bowl. Hey, as long as it's clean, it makes for a very efficient machine!

Cobblestones - I'm amazed that in our age there are still billions of cobblestones making up the streets and sidewalks of Europe. Essentially these are hand-made streets, as each stone must be set into place by a person. This not only makes for very snappy street repairs as the paving can be replaced quickly, but the effect is very beautiful. Of course it makes for a rougher surface, but I also hear that studies show that walking on cobblestones is better for the brain! Apparently the minor adjustments needed to walk on the surface keep the brain in good shape.
I asked a fellow I sat next to on the bus about how cobblestones can still be justified. He said "Well, it sure keeps a lot of people employed." That I thought was a very generous answer, rather than, "More damn tax money down the drain!"

Constant Elevator - We saw one door-less elevator (on its weekend day of rest) that when it's working constantly moves, one up, one down. When the elevator hits your floor level you step on and it glides you to your new floor where you step off. Yes, it takes coordination but most of us are probably not going to decapitate ourselves (and really, what fun!) I don't think such a dangerous concept would survive for a week in letigious America, where I came back to see an innocent beachball with one whole panel taken up by warnings! God, I'd forgotten the world is so dangerous!

Windows - I'm not sure why in America we don't adopt the very clever European window design. There many of the new windows have two sets of hinges. If you turn the handle down, the window swings open to the side. Turn the handle up and the top opens up, hinging on the bottom. for ventilation. Even some doors work this way, so you can walk out, or–as we did on occasion– you lock the place up but leave the door open at the top for ventilation: secure and open at the same time.
Snogging - British expression for French kissing! (Sounds like something salamanders do). Who'd-a-thought?
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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.