The Technium

David Byrne; From Bauhaus to Yow-howz!

One of my favorite thinkers is David Byrne the musician, photographer, and artist. He is a fantastic writer and keen observer. He has a refreshing lateral way of thinking, and a marvelous knack for brief pithy reports. His latest on his blog is a journal of his drive across the US with his daughter Malu. A few excerpts.

It’s so Spartan and purely functional in keeping with the Bauhaus dictum “form follows function.”  But these structures [in Texas] take the prize — they make the Germans and 20th century Modernists looks baroque. I think these buildings … are expressions of the hard, no-nonsense life that this land demands — an endless landscape of few concessions and little accommodation to the settlers. 

09 17 07 Prefab Web 2-1  09 17 07 Modernism-1 

We cross into New Mexico and arrive at Carlsbad Caverns National Park by 2:30pm. We’ve missed the last guided tour and a chance to clamber down the natural entrance, so we take the elevator down and spend almost 2 hours wandering the marked paths underground. The Big Room is vast, bigger than a football field (one quote claims one could lay the Empire State Building down in here — what an image!), and other spaces branch off from it. There are electric lights cleverly hidden behind rocks and formations so one can see pretty well, but some people still bring flashlights and I saw one couple with lights on their heads. 

09 17 07 Cave 1 

The formations are creatively named, as they often do in these caves: The Chinese Doll Theater (really!), The Temple, The Klansman(!), the Twin Domes, The Giant, The Lion’s Tail. I remember seeing some hilarious B&W pieces that Mike Kelly did where he made up his own names for cave formations. 

I find the formations disturbingly biomorphic, organic, and mostly sexual. Alien sex planet. The names they give them seem to belie what they actually resemble. It seems the underworld is comprised of vast landscape of penises, vulvas, vaginas, tentacles and fleshy flaps. Freud would have had a field day in here: it’s as if our own forbidden images and imaginings have all been forced not merely into the unconscious, as he would have it, but physically underground, in exaggerated form, with elements of the male and the female sometimes mixed together. Other elements seemed strongly sexual, but not quite human, like the sexual organs of insects, or deep-sea creatures. Only in this case it is the sexual organs of rocks hidden 830 feet beneath the earth’s surface, as they should be.  Imagine farmer Jim White seeing a plume of weird black smoke being spewed out of the earth near the top of a ridge – these were the bats. At sunset, thousands gushed from its small orifice, the way in to the sexy underground world. Any artist producing objects like these in such quantity and profusion would be considered a pervert, or at least obsessed. In this case, it is the Earth that is the pervert.


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