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The Inscrutible Women of Pompeii, NC

the social behavior of owls

the social behavior of owls

Last night Harpo saw his grandmother, a daughter of Asheville. She looked as she did about the time she died, middle-aged, but still beautiful. She is a curator at the Smithsonian, arranging a collection of owl specimens.

She is in the middle of a private discussion with E.O. Wilson, in a conference room in the underground Dillon Center. No windows, incandescent lighting, eggshell walls, carpet, mouldings, trim. They are debating an obscure point about the social behavior of owls. Wilson has been brought in as an ‘outside expert.’ He advocates for a more open interpretation of a certain behavior, whereas my grandmother insists on a strictly academic approach. She’s not having it, she’s in charge. Wilson as an expert on social behavior suspects my grandmother’s chronic unhappiness, and knows she hasn’t long to live.

Later, Harpo helps his wealthy and stylish friend Otis P. Driftwood and his understated partner, Ambassador Trentino, as they consider investing in a new luxury apartment in a Paris/Berlin/DC hybrid city. They are in a neighborhood that is brutal, modern, concrete terraces, like Kreutzberg.

The girlfriend of Harpo’s pal Sharpie Rollins is there. She is a rich, dark-haired beauty. Harpo walks her to the metro through a grey, rainy, October day. They’re looking for her destination she’s going on the metro map but can’t find it. They don’t even know what part of town it might be in. They’re looking for a stop called ‘Plaisir.’

The map has the same design standards as the DC map — thick, brightly colored lines and simplified geometries, but it is much denser with stations and typography. they discover that some of the stations don’t even have names. Harpo’s dapper friend Ed Pinkard, in bow tie, red frames and argyle socks, happens to stop by and tries to help them. He can’t find the station either, and takes his leave, chuckling that everything will be OK.

Looking at the map, they are at the southwest edge of the system, near Biblioteque Nationale. Finally, they discover the station, it’s full name is ‘Plaisir du Republique,’ and it’s in a clustered tangle of lines and stations on the other side of the map.

homeland insecurity

homeland insecurity

Harpo’s college class is visiting the Museum of Homeland Insecurity. It’s on North Capitol Street, a block or two up from Saint Aloysius. They shuffle through a bland quasi-media presentation, devoid of other visitors. As they disperse outside into a wet, grey late morning, Harpo sees rock&roll consultant Ian Svenonius wander off with some hot, chattering groupies.

With a class of his own students, on a sunnier day, Harpo is modifying some sleeping bags as gift for a young friend who is dying. He’s tracing out a racing swoosh that starts on one sleeping bag and finishes on another that is arranged on the floor next to it. White sleeping bags with a black felt swoosh applique-ed on top, like the front cover of Elliot Smith’s ‘Figure 8.’ It’s the last thing that his class has to finish up before the end of the semester. It’s sunny outside, they are working on the grass, and the students are drifting off to summer vacation. One of them, Andrew, stops by, towers over Harpo and very politely excuses himself...


Last night Harpo had a brief, but pleasant conversation with Joseph Campbell. He gave good, candid advice about spiritual life and death.

places that existed five years ago

places that existed five years ago

Last night Harpo was recently married to a former sculpture teacher, Yoko. He was to meet her father, arriving by plane from Japan. The plane crash lands in the basement of a shopping mall, right in front of a multi-level Borders bookstore. Harpo takes an escalator down, which deposits him in front of a wide gash in the hull of the plane. He notices that the right side of the plane was sheered off in the crash. The plane innards look like a grade school diorama. The passengers are fine, and were just starting to get out of their seats, stretching, and casually getting luggage down from the overhead compartments. Harpo climbs aboard to see if he can find his father-in-law.

He has been carrying around a briefcase that has been randomly and intermittently giving off sparks all day. Inside the cabin a spark pops off and sets the plane on fire while all of the passengers are still aboard. Harpo decides to quickly hop out, run back into the bookstore, and pretend he doesn’t know anything about it, while the plane is engulfed in flames, killing all aboard, he tries to look innocent, browsing the comic book shelves.

He finds a giant bound monograph that analyzes the history of Walt Disney’s Japanese Iron Man franchise. He drops it in his bag without any thought of paying for it. On my way out he sees his drawing teacher, Leslie, managing the front registers, so he stops and chats with her for a bit. The long line of customers is getting restless while they talk, but they ignore them.

Eventually Harpo leaves, and makes his way to his old apartment on Reservoir Road, which he hasen’t been to in years, to meet his ex, Ginger Rogers, who he is also still married to. He hasn’t payed the rent in months, so he’s not sure if their keys will still work, or if their stuff is still in the place. Otherwise, she will be pissed. All of the mailboxes have been moved to the landing off the stairs in the basement. All of the first floor apartments share one box. Harpo opens it up, but nothing in there but packets of rent coupons for all of the apartments except...

A little while later Harpo finds a voicemail on my phone from Madog ab Owain Gwynedd. He starts with a nervous laugh, and then says, “I’m sorry but there’s going to be an investigation at the school, and it probably won’t be good.” At first Harpo thinks he’s talking about the shoplifted book, but then figures he must mean the airplane disaster. Harpo feels a little nervous, but then wonders, “doesn’t the administration realize I resigned from the faculty of the Loomis School of Psychic Engraving a year ago? What are they gonna do? Fire me?”



Camera pans down a line of slouching skate punks.
It pauses, facing each one, as each lists the prescription (and sometimes non-prescription) medications he ingests daily. One says, “<unpronounceable pig-latin brand taxonomy>” and Harpo is thinking, “yeah, me too!”

Darth Mater

darth mater

Last night Harpo was in a big chain bookstore at a shopping mall. He wanders through the aisles, not looking for anything in particular, when he glances over his right shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he happens to see what looks like a Ken Wilbur book. The cover is a painting — abstract and geometric like a Georgia O’Keefe painting in dark colors... eggplant purple, black, and slivers of crimson, sienna and pearl. Intrigued, Harpo turns and pulls the book off the shelf. The blurb on the back describes how George Lucas originally conceived of Darth Vader as a woman, and then connects that character to Lilith, and a history of female archetypes that represent forces of darkness and destruction.

three uncles

three uncles

Last night Harpo was hanging out with his best friend from high school, Sharpie Rollins, in Paris. Valerie and the boys were away for the weekend so it’s just the two of them taking care of Sharpy’s little girl, Janis. Around dinner time three uncles show up. Older, but lively men in their 60s with creased, smiling eyes, and almost Hasidic looking beards and dark suits. They strike poses and stroke their Michaelangelic beards like ZZ Top.



Early this morning Harpo was by the supermarket in the old neighborhood up Wisconsin Avenue. He was in a coffee house in a brownstone painted light grey on Lowell Street just off the west side of the avenue. He and his dapper friend Ed finish their tea, and walk out with an elegant, Mediterranean woman. Ed seemed to know her, and after she passed by, they talk on the steps of the coffee house for a moment. Ed tells Harpo that she had been, and might still be, married to one of his cousins. Once married, the cousin discovers that she had several exotic aliases: Stephanie Sherman, Nasimeh Bahrayni, Lucia Carroll, Jennie Carlisle, Emily Ensminger, Valerie Wiseman, Erica Curry... It turns out that the cousin is a bit shady, too.

Harpo and Ed walk to Ed’s car to get a lift to Georgetown. As they cross the street someone yells at Harpo from down the block. It’s his childhood pal, Peter, inviting him to ride down to a coffee shop in Georgetown, so Harpo bids Ed farewell and walks to the corner of Wisconsin and Lowell. Peter has parked his SUV sideways pointing out into the street, behind a garbage truck. Danny and some frat boy friends of theirs are in a couple of SUVs behind Peter’s. Harpo opens the rear passenger side to get in, but it’s full to the roof with winter coats. He opens the shotgun door and the same thing. The back of the truck is packed with frat boys, and so are the other cars. Peter just laughs in his usual smug way and suggests that Harpo take his bike and meet them in Georgetown. “Are you fucking kidding me? You just wasted my morning!” Anyway, the bike
is jammed in between the coats and the roof inside
the car.

Harpo starts walking south on Wisconsin avenue. It’s still early, the air is crisp, there are patches of ice and slush from last night, the sun is coming up, the trench
of tall art deco buildings that runs down down into georgetown is still deep grey. Harpo can see at least as far as Q Street, but not as far as the river. He decides to go down there and meet the gang at the coffee shop anyway.

After a while he’s coasting down the sidewalk in a personal-sized mini-SUV. He doesn’t remember which shop the gang is going to, so he stops in one at the corner of Wisconsin and Q. He gets out and actually folds the SUV down so that it barely fits through the old wooden doorframe. Harpo can telepathically communicate with the guys, seeing them projected in a reflection in a window. They seem to be indoors somewhere warm, and they’re all prancing around in their underwear.

It turns out that what Harpo is seeing is not a telepathic projection; he’s actually looking at his friends through the window into the coffee shop next door. He doesn’t feel like prancing around in his underwear with a bunch of guys, so he goes home. He has a bit of trouble getting the mini-SUV back out the door, and an ethnic lady who works there scolds him, telling him that it won’t fit. “If I can get it in, then I can get it out,” Harpo barks at her.



Last night Harpo met Maxwell Daemon, his childhood hero, outside a giant university auditorium in Northern California. Max is there to receive an honorary degree or knighthood. Harpo introduces himself and they fall into conversation about art and life. Max invites Harpo to join his group of people as they proceed inside. They are old friends , a lovely bunch of well-to-do aging hippies from all walks of life.

Once inside, they are at the back of the hall under a projection booth. The auditorium is a bowl — a perfect circle, with entrances at the cardinal points — and people enter it from all sides. The stage and orchestra are not quite in-the-round, and are on the opposite side of the hall from where Harpo came in. The building feels French neoclassical: Beautiful white plaster moulding, indirect lighting in the recessed ceiling.

Max and Harpo continue talking and getting drunk. At one point they’re relaxing, lying on the floor under the projection booth talking trash. Harpo asks him about a generative music program he wrote, but Max rolls his eyes. Harpo explains, “The one thing I would change would be to allow users to attach their own samples to the objects. There are some things I want to hear that use the software’s behaviors but different sounds. In my head I can hear a hybrid of what the software generates mixed with Carl Stalling’s orchestrations from Daffy Duck cartoons.”

The lights go down and the ceremony begins. Max had disappeared for a few minutes, and returns wearing an overcoat that has an exaggerated Russian architecture about it,made of golden and sable leopardskin. Running the show from the orchestra booth, a couple of ladies, who are Chairs from the humanities department, start off with long, dull monologues full of departmental in-jokes that mean nothing to a cosmopolitain audience. When it’s all over, they’re all really drunk. After folks have left, Harpo collects stuff out of the aisles. Abandoned toys like a Racer X action figure.


How do you fix spaces so beautiful, that breathe and ebb like a Brothers Quay decay-fest? The big question, what to curate? what to re-organize? Elsewhere is perfect as-is. If I could, I would preserve the dusty quiet, grey velvet corners.

But then Peter Pendergrass re-imagines the CoLab space as a spiritual sanctuary, and Paul Howe and Erica Curry reorganize the museum’s front desk. Will the ongoing curatorial activities at Elsewhere converge on an optimal configuration? Or is there a balance between the extremes of preservation and vitality? I imagine slowing down the Ovidian metamorphoses of this space and this stuff. If the bits and pieces of the collection at Elsewhere could survive 10,000 years, I’d use a ‘long now’ lens through which to consider ELSEWHERE. I want to look through the same eyes that see Chauvet, Lascaux and Willendorf.

And I wonder if curating and classifying objects within the physical museum perpetutuates a kind of insularity, preciousness, or secrecy. I’d like to to see Elsewhere go out into a larger world. So, I created something that can go abroad - as a book and a web site - without disturbing the ecosystem that is here-something that is new and not simply a reconfiguration of the existing ‘stuff’. In the end all of the objects that made their way in to my work were returned to where they were found.

Bodies of baby dolls, vehicles missing wheels, chunks of scrap wood. Things that that caught my eye because they seemed both incomplete *and* interesting were transformed into digital models, a cast of characters. As I built my cast, I was also kept a journal of my daily dreams that pointed to the unconscious process of sifting, sorting, categorizing, and making sense of the things I experienced at Elsewhere.

For the book/website I selected journal entries that explicitly referenced the themes of curation and wayfinding. This book is a loose collection of stories that happen outside of time, or rather, in ‘deep’ time, where all of the elements are in a perpetual state of metamorphosis. The images, which began as bits of the Elsewhere collection, are also undergoing changes of state... from what, to what? They serve not as explicit illustrations of the text, but rather as echoes, or parallel processes emerging from the same experience.


Many thanks go to the lovely people I’ve gotten to know during my stay at ELSEWHERE, including the curators, staff and fellow residents. Special shout out to Stephanie Sherman and Don Russell at Provisions Library. Learn more about this unique place at...

www. goelsewhere.org