model airplane parts, resistors and porno mags.

There’s something to be said for cities where you can still walk into a store and buy a resistor, model airplane parts, and a porno mag. It doesn’t have to be the same store, but just that those stores actually still exist in the city: it means something.

I was behind a man in line at a kiosk a couple days ago, waiting to top up my mobile credit, and he was bantering and laughing with the person at the register waiting to be handed his goods: a pack of cigarettes and a porno mag. They chatted amiably, and he turned to wander up the street, along the bustling main drag that leads to the central city square.  

It made me think of being a kid and trying to steal porno mags from local gas stations and places like that (there was a mall in this town near where I grew up, Silverdale, that had a bookstore in it that inexplicably also sold porno mags) and realizing that there was a period in the 90s where porn mags slowly disappeared. You could blame this on the internet, but there were two other places that slowly died too: places to buy model airplane parts and resistors.

I have no idea how these three things are related, or if they really are, I’m sure someone out there that knows something about R values (P values? Someone who knows statistics and things abut correlation just go ahead and jump in here), but I do know that the 90s were a period where these three things slinked off into the background.

In my hometown you used to be able to buy all three of these things between local hobby stores, a Radio Shack, and a gas station. But slowly these stores closed or stopped selling these items. Radio Shack turned into a weird backwater of Made for TV items and electronic devices that paired with a VCR, or a home intercom system, or something equally useless. Hobby stores closed and gas stations got classy (or not classy, but you just couldn’t buy porn anymore… you could still get vibrating cock rings from those quarter machines in the bathroom and ground up rhino horns, or wasp hormones, or whatever, in those weird pills by the cash register which supposedly would give that special lady in your life the best sex of her life.) 

I remember the nearest hobby store to my home actually ended up being next door to the diner that was used in Twin Peaks; beautiful North Bend Washington. That was a hefty distance to go for a new prop or balsa wood wing kit. And given my flying experience these were all in constant, desperate need. I crashed planes faster than I could build them and gold stars to my dad for his commitment to trying to start small gas engine airplanes while sitting in some empty, gray cloud-covered field, soaked to the bone from dew that somehow could hang in gallon drops on each blade of grass.

We had some nice moments where I think we were both equally miserable, but just sort of liked having something to do. I liked hanging out with my dad as a kid, because he’d always get into optimizing things I cared about and he’d approach these endeavors with the same gusto as designing some piece of furniture or engineering a part of a house. It made me feel like the things I cared about were important and as a kid that’s huge. I remember him giving some design tips to maximize the mobility and power of a mobile water balloon launcher or in the case of the model airplanes, making an attachment for the cordless drill that would spin the prop instead of having to flick it with a finger and hope I always walked away being able to still count to ten visually on my hands.

If YouTube had been around then, I could have made a super cut of my dad running after departing planes flapping his arms above his head madly, trying to get me to steer away from imminent disaster. Mind you, it would be hard to tell if it was a super cut except for the fact that the background and the color of the planes changed, as my dad wears the same outfit everyday (which I think has trickled down a bit, as I recently had someone show me pictures of one of my projects in progress and noticed that while everyone else’s look changed I remained constant in my apparel.)

Two instances of note involving model airplane tragedy:
1. After taking off, banking hard left and flying directly into a tree. My dad only ran waving his arms for about two strides during this 5 second flight.
1. I took off out of an empty parking lot only to go into erratic flight patterns, causing some utility workers sitting on the back of their truck eating lunch to start laughing and pointing at my drunken plane path. Unfortunately for them, that erratic flight pattern included a collision course with their truck, meaning they all had to dive to safety as the plane crashed into the fence behind where their heads had once been.

Model planes also make me think of my best friend from those years, Eamon, and his Dad who smoked cigars and built beautiful model planes. (Eamon and I’d always sneak out of his parents house at night to go Night Watching, where we’d go to a pond near his house and listen to frogs. We’d also peak in neighbors windows to see what people were up to.) My Dad had friend’s his age, Wade and Glen (who limped along in a cloud of booze), who built planes, but they did it in that way of putting ships in boats where it was meticulous and surgical and seemed to indicate a fine glass of whiskey in the background somewhere. I was more “I hope I don’t super glue too much stuff to my hands, and we can get this done before lunch”.

I still have a model airplane sitting in my garage, because I keep thinking I’ll finish it and fly it with my dad. It’s one of those things that I used to believe is needed to make my relationship with my dad whole, and then realized that the relationship is whole already, because it’s our relationship. The medium is the message sort of thing.

Porno mags my friends and I would steal and trade in middle school. I remember trading Super Mario 3 for a stack of Penthouse Letters, which people thought I was crazy for doing at the time. “THERE’S NO PICTURES!” said my friend Joey, which in my head I responded to with “Yeah, it’s better cause you get to imagine everything.” I still think I’m right on that one.

As for resistors, I wasn’t into electronics too much as a kid (computers: yes, electronics: no), but I miss that I don’t see them around. Something about seeing them made me think the possibility to fix anything was close at hand: acid rain, spotted owls... anything could be mended (sidenote: whatever happened to acid rain and the spotted owl? Did they cancel each other out? As kids we'd be diving under desks for earthquake drills as teachers voices echoed in halls about acid rain and spotted owls and then suddenly there was silence. Maybe we all just reached a certain state of acceptance.)

Being in Eastern Europe a lot, I find these three things EVERYWHERE, and I wonder what changes in a place that causes them to disappear. I guess the easy answer is probably just because online shopping has become more prevalent, but as I’m wont to do, I’ll go ahead and turn this observation into some enormous generalization that covers way more than it should.

So my generalization for why these three things disappeared is: there’s been a reduction of intimacy in communities.

Building airplanes in garages, soldering up little custom electronics, or reading a porno mag are all things people do individually in their spare time. Maybe every once in a while you share the experience with friends. I won’t tell stories highlighting this, but quite a few people reading this just nodded their head in a knowing embarrassment or at least recognition. I feel like being out among other people in the community and being seen engaging in the things you do while alone is something we don’t like to make visible anymore.

I get in a lot of conversations with Serbians about the tightness of family and the pros and cons of it. The stereotype here in Belgrade seems to be that people structure their life much more towards their family and the idea of community: much more than back in the States. I remember back home people leaving high school, or graduating college, and talking with pride about moving across the country or to a different country: they were cool for having left their families behind. People that stayed where they grew up were somehow Less Than. Here people don’t think like that as much.

And maybe that’s why I can walk out my door here and buy a model airplane, a resistor, and a porno mag.

two apartments. one block

Here they are in their glory: left and right in the frame. I think I like them so much, because they appear to be regular and have a lot of symmetries, but they don't; they give the appearance of being like crazy 10-sided dice or something, but they are just a single surface made for stories. A frame each. Maybe in some ways they seem the most like people out of any building I've recently met.

it's easy to forget about continuity.

I gave a talk a long time ago about continuity and discreteness and how it relates to the way I (and everyone really) tells stories. I think I think about stories as a discrete piece -- "this is the story about the time X happened" -- although it is perceived as a continuous block of time, which is again broken down into further discrete pieces that make up this whole flowing river of narrative. Recently I've found myself in a residency that I'm not quite sure what my purpose is. I came in with an idea that originally made sense, but didn't really make particular sense FOR ME; as in the goal of the project didn't buttress some work I'm currently doing. 

This is something I think I do quite often, which is spread myself further thin, versus dig deeper into a specific direction. I think a lot of people tend to use posthole diggers when they follow an idea, whereas I'm more a shovel person, which requires moving much more dirt. A posthole digger gets a Y-diameter hole X meters down and will at ground level also have a Y-diameter hole, while shovel digging creates a Y-diameter hole X meters down, but creates a Y-diameter-plus-some-trig-with-the-angle-of-repose-( hole.

What I hope is that the hole is different but still valuable. Although I'm self conscious about my hole digging technique not being optimized in certain regards, it tends to make sense to me when I get back to basics and think of continuity and discreteness. As I do a lot, I've been recently fixated on a paper (that I've only partially read), called The Multiplicity of Conscious States; The Idea of Duration. It's one of a bundled three papers by Henri Bergson, who I first read about a while back when he was mentioned in the Poetics of Space, which I guess a lot of people read when they were pretty young, but I stumbled into at the ripe age of 34 or so. He talks at length about the expression of a number and what a number actually is, arguing that the IDEA of a number takes place in space and not time. Basically, a number becomes something that individually occupies a single space as well as being a multitude of some unity in a single space. Like when we count 50 sheep to fall asleep (an example he uses), we are placing 50 identical sheep side by side in some physical space in our mind, whereas if I think of the number 50, I think of an unbreakable object called Fifty. 

He can get a bit wordy and I'm not sure if I'm following his main thought, but he punctuates all of this by saying "Number in process of formation is discontinuous, but, when formed, is invested in the continuity of space". Which I found funny to read yesterday as it made me loop back to main premises I have in my work: continuous/discontinuous divides, The Middle, complexity from simplicity, internal/external space, creation of ubiquitous means of information exchange, etc. 

My plan coming here was to photograph buildings and paint representations of their structure (low creative fidelity), using some ideas about painting I thought of when I was here 2 years ago; I thought of it as sort of a reunion of technique. However, on reading this little tidbit of Bergson, I realized that work here could tie back into ideas I've been having that I'm loosely calling Modular Modes of Existence, which is about chaining static sculptural elements together, which have possibilities for feedback loops with themselves and the environment. The structure and brutalist concrete elements of Belgrade are singing with ideas of Modularity and I think I've become a bit obsessed with a pair of identical apartment buildings about a mile away from me that seem as if concrete was poured into a kaleidoscope (originally tried to spell that "colidascope). But these buildings seem to scream about reference to Numbers in they way Bergson talks about Numbers, in that they inhabit, as all buildings do, a certain continuity/discrete middle ground, where they give space meaning as a whole, but also dictate an information exchange in their own right.

I remember when I was in 7th grade we were supposed to do a research project highlighting some issue in the world and mine was "Should we save the Salmon?" Just for some context some other kid researched Lasting Cultural Impacts of the Vietnam War, which when I heard of I thought, "OH. Issues like that! Why didn't someone tell me?!" The project involved doing first and second hand research. So I read a lot about damns, conservation, and animal population thresholds, while standing outside my local grocery store asking people "Do you think we need salmon?" As you can imagine, people looked at me like I was an idiot, but I couldn't tell at that age if anyone actually knew anything was True, so it seemed like any question you could ask was an issue.

(Also side note: My dad would always say to me when we left exterior doors open or the lights on "WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO?!?! KILL THE SALMON!?!", which is a few degrees of separation from the issue, heat-loss, to the result of heat-loss: increased damn activity in order to produce more electricity for heat, resulting in salmon death. This took mental leaps at the age of 11.)

I bring this up because this age (7th grade-ish) was the period of making displays boards (this kid looks happy: Interestingly, science fairs, a major outlet for display boards, started in the 40s, becoming quite popular in the 50s due, in part, interest in the atomic bomb. Other tidbit is the first winner of a national science fair: Alan J. Fletcher) and OUTLINES of issues and references/connections to tangential information around the issue. Boards usually folded in threes with each panel containing selected boxes of information that when taken on the whole created an argument or illustration of The Point. In some ways, this is probably the most important understanding of how knowledge works, since each box can be broken down into its own display board, and so and so on.

Zooming out a bit these display boards end up being a bit like Numbers, with the unity they are built from being digestible and agreeable units of knowledge. This idea of unity in knowledge can be seen a lot in the agreeability we have to other’s stories or to what they hold as their own truth. I think the disconnect we can have when taking on other people’s stories is lacking a common unity, a smallest building block of narrative or truth, resulting in one person trying to take up another’s space in unpleasant ways, because the shape and volume of the space that holds this story or truth is distorted without a common unity; there’s a sense of mismatching or faulty resolution. It’s like if I tried to tell you about all the numbers between 1 and 10 by only using the number 2. I can’t build all the numbers between 1 and 10 with 2. I need the unity of integers under addition: 1.

This is the starting point... basically I'm going to start investigating the creation of a display boards AS PAINTINGS for some buildings in Belgrade related to modularity and space. And Numbers. Crafty painting.