Sunday, November 25, 2007


Well I'm back in Newark. Beautiful Newark, New Jersey.
I'm here but my heart's in Alabama so the blog shall remain Garland Farwell In Alabama. The rest of my body will join the heart come the New Year.

My camera disappeared just before I left and it's too bad. I wish I could share what I saw in those waning days. The whole landscape took a stunning turn. The leaves exploded with colors I didn't know could exist in the South and the sky shifted into vivid and weird configurations. I wanted to film a train hollering through York and sweet smoke rising snake-like from a crooked chimney. That and more. But it wasn't meant to be. i think I got absent-minded in my busyness and forgot where I laid the camera. Oh well.

Going back and forward I've got other stuff to show.

I hit the ground running because there's only a few days left to present Compagnia De' Colombari's STRANGERS AND OTHER ANGELS. Headed by Director Karin Coonrod, Colombari is an international theater company that creates epic passion plays in the streets of Orvieto, Italy and Harlem, USA using professional actors, singers, and dancers along with local people. My task is to create a flock of 20 angel wings for performers large and small. But the idea is to flip the wings out; make them edgy and new somehow. We looked to early renaissance painter Fra Angelo for inspiration. Everything old is new anyway. And his angel wings were always far out and surprisingly original; pretty much unmatched in their trippyness.

I met Karin last spring when we began developing an Operetta, THE BLACKAMOOR ANGEL. Carl Hancock Rux wrote the libretto, Dierdre Murrey composed the music, Karin directed, and I did the visuals. We all spent the summer together at The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts upstate at BARD college. We created the first act and the whole thing remains a work-in-progress but it was great being up there surrounded by all this major talent, under a major director, major musicians, and real live opera singers.

THE BLACKAMOOR ANGEL tells the story of Angelo Soliman, an African in 18th-century Vienna and a friend of Mozart, via the performance of a Weimar-era traveling circus. The opera probes the secrets of the Moor’s relationship to Mozart, his involvement in Mozart’s final operas (Monostatos, in The Magic Flute, was based on Soliman), his mysterious death, and the reason for the heinous postmortem display of his body in the imperial Naturalienkabinett.

Because the opera takes place in the 30's, I wanted to create the objects and props as if designed by someone like Jean Arp, a DADA pioneer and influential Modernist. Many of the avant-garde plays in the early 20th Century were co-created by painters and sculptors rather than "set designers" so this approach felt pretty good.

Karin and I vibed splendidly. I share a lot of her ideas about art - where to do it, who to do it with, how to present it. This Community Art aspect of her work is right up my alley as well. I think we'll be working together for awhile. There's already much planned for the coming year and I'm hoping she'll really bring me over to Italy.

Soon as i get these angels flying I have just a week or so to help out my favorite HIP HOP geniuses, FULL CIRCLE, a dance theater group that keeps it very real.

I've known Kwikstep (far left) and Rokafella (center) since our summers up in Amherst years ago working with Project 2050. Man, we had some TIMES, I tell you. Anyway they have a big show in December at Dance Theater Workshop. Kwik and Roc are legends in the HipHop community and people have a lot of preconceptions about them. So this coming performance will be somewhat autobiographical but they're casting themselves as a kind of HipHop Ricky Ricardo and Lucy. This is interesting and great because, though the dance defies the laws of gravity and always lifts you higher, their work is usually quite serious.

Mario, a member of their crew, designed this graffitti bed. It's my job to make it 3-dimensional and functional - a real bed.
Whoa. Look at this thing. i have a lot to figure out here. But it's a fun thing.

I've been collaborating with Julio Leitau and his dance troupe, Batoto Yetu, on and off for almost 15 years and in that time I've built about a zillion masks, puppets, and set pieces for him and his fabulous kids.

Julio has established satellite companies in New York, Portugal, and Brazil but this summer he finally got back to his native Angola and did the same. He said it was the best, most inspiring experience of his career. He also brought with him to Angola almost everything I ever created for him. Now they want him to return in the spring but he has to have a new show so he asked me to produce all this new stuff by April and several things in the coming month. I'll definitely be building for Batoto Yetu down in Alabama but I gotta brush up on my Portuguese cuz I'm going to Angola.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I usually can't stand openings. They're always anti-climactic and way too formal. The excitement is in the making of the art, the process of putting it together. Of course it's good to show the art and to get the reactions and maybe even sell but the opening is not the time for any of that. No one's looking at the art or feeling it. You sometimes get the buyers buying but that usually happens sometime before or after the opening. I really don't see the point of art openings and I think everybody actually hates them. They're the secular equivalent of a Catholic mass; a draggy ritual with wine and crackers.

I insisted that we call this night a PARTY. Grill some dogs and burgers, have some music, punch, and hot chocolate...

...and, most of all, let the "Art" be interactive. Let the people grab the objects. The fact that most of this art is made by and with kids kinda forces us to switch up the format anyway but I'll continue to follow this paradigm in all my presentations, kids or no kids.

Like May here, folks were a little timid about handling the work even though many of them helped create it. May did the Saturday program at the Coleman Center. I cut the bird shapes with some older kids as the younger kids did all the painting. Then I mounted them on a pole with a clever contraption to make the wings flap.

We made 7 Mose Tolliver birds which Nathan and I hung in the middle of the gallery on hooks for easy removal.

It took a couple of adults to break the ice and it was great to see these old folks go at it with these things.

The idea is to create a kind of Happening - To bring a bit of action, interaction and spontaneity to the gallery-going experience. Not such a new idea but one not practiced often enough. The Art Gallery is an alien, inaccessible place for most people and will continue to be so. But why bring that energy to a place like York? I wanted to tap into the warm flow particular to this community - to complement it and maybe add to it - not be a carpetbagger.

As the party continued, I grabbed some of the fathers and some Demopolis High-schoolers to come out to the wood shop with me to help move the Freedom Buses out, across the Coleman Center grounds and into the gallery in a kind of impromptu procession.

People weren’t expecting any more big things to arrive. They made quite an entrance. It was a fun challenge maneuvering through the crowd.

I gave a little talk about the Buses and the Seated Figures – Cultural origins and all that. I pointed out some of the luminaries the students were representing in their sculptures including Frederick Douglas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Davis, Cesar Chavez, Alexander Hamilton, and...Oprah Winfrey. The young girls really like Oprah so I just shut my mouth. And, hey, Oprah’s really okay anyway.

After everything was installed people stayed on and hung out with more meet, greet, and eat. I didn’t quite finish the three big figures but I put them in anyway and they looked fine. I’ll get back to them later.

Kids started clamoring for birds. I pulled them down, handed them out , and directed them outside.

I did a quick demo on how to make the Tolliver birds soar and how to use the pulley system to really get those wings flapping.

They took off from there, improvising movement and rhythmn. Others lined up for their turn on the birds. I sorta wished I’d had more stuff for them to explore and experiment with but I’m satisfied with what we did although it’s just scratching the surface of what I hope to expand on down here in the coming months – bigger objects, stronger themes, more people and public actions.

This continued on into the evening and under the evening lights. The air got real cool and sweet – just like the darn people.

Nathan kept the grill going quite late into the night. The skinniest, smallest kids ate the most but they stayed and helped us clean up. Kids down here are raised right, I tell you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Morning Walk

I'm working around the clock to get the project done. Each day is a swift kick in the groin then it's gone. Where are my hours, man?
I catch a little sanity in the wee hours. I walk quick-like around and through York. People wave and some comment. Walking is common here but I look like a maniac.
Anyway, I often bring my little camera and I catch things. This world down here is a real different world sometimes - almost all the time - and I see things I've never seen before. I stop and take it in.

We're conditioned to think a certain way about White People in trailers. Our culture is rife with derogatory terms for these low-income, often extremely poor, marginalized people. A woman and her grown-up son, who I first thought were husband and wife, live in this here run-down dwelling. It's right beside the railroad tracks on an abandoned lot. The trains scream through town and shake the earth with their clacking and the cars seem to stretch for a mile or more. I live a few blocks from these tracks and I'm still having a bit of a hard time with the noise, much as I love trains, so I can't imagine what it's like to live right up under those powerful engines as they pass. But you get used to it, as they say.
Kate and Jed cook outside and gather things to sell. They'll sweep your porch or wash a window for change. She has all kinds of clever ideas on how to make some money.

They're fine neighbors. But Kate has a major potty mouth - really dirty. Jed gets embarrassed when she starts going off. He fidgets and tries to change the subject. Kate waves and smiles at people passing by, then she might say something quite cutting about them under her breath. It's hilarious. Kinda like Bonita Bitrell on that TV show.

Poverty is terrible and poverty will never go away. Some rise. Some don't. I'm comfortable being in a place where it's at least a little easier for the poor to hold to their humanity.
It's not gonna be so easy goofing on Trailer Trash and White Trash and all that anymore. It's class-based bias anyway, and that's uglier than anything.

This is their little dog. Dogs are everywhere. Most dogs are tied to trees and objects. Leashes tend to be short, food scarce and bad. Days are spent wallowing in dirt because the grass has worn away. Chained dogs go berserk when you pass. They are biological, carbon-based alarm systems. Unchained dogs just stare at you. They lie in the yard or out by the road. They chase a squirrel and get killed by a car.

This vulture's been standing at the foot of the water tower for weeks. Maybe more than a month. It can't fly. Too young or too crippled. It is a sight to see. It's quite large and looks like something out of Edward Gorey or some Sci-fi horror. It wears a cape and a bumpy, pointed, black leather mask. I'll never get a good photo of it. Not with this camera. So I found some oil and a stick and a piece of parchment and did this drawing for you!

There's no shortage of food for the dark bird on this quiet stretch of back road. This possum was a full possum the day before. The scavengers did a number on it. Next day it was a meaty cavity. It's expression had gone from peaceful rest to silent scream.

Ah. The beautiful fauna. The Kudzo and the Pine. The Sedges and the Rushes. You just want to dive in or go charging off in some random direction - into the lush green density. But you can't. Not without proper gear. There's things that stick you and poison you. There's holes in the earth to swallow you forever. There's highly offended creatures with sharp teeth, snakes willing to kill, and hunters looking to kill. You'll need boots up to there, heavy clothes that cover all skin, a hat, a gun and maybe a cat.

The elusive wild red fire hydrant also grows there so bring a dog too.


It was a beautiful day. I had a workshop in Cuba. About 20 minutes down the road. The car, the tree, the house, and the red caboose posed for this shot. They go together well. The whole cartoony antiqueness of it all reminded me of Maakies, Tony Millionaire's insane but beautiful comic strip.

Alabama is literally overflowing with antiques, collectibles, and junk. It's great. You'll find shops jam-packed with attractive old crap in every town, even the smallest, remotest places like Cuba. And cheap.

Uncle Gabby and Drinky Crow would appreciate this stove.

Towns are quiet and no one is around. I think the big bad Summer heat has trained everybody to stay indoors all year, regardless of cooler weather. I like this. I like pulling into these quiet but open places.

Everything's laid out properly. I leave the vehicle and walk about, pretending I'm on the Twilight Zone, feeling a little larger than life.