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Alley Culture
AC News V18 #1
FALL 2016

Donald Trump rages on about immigrants, terrorists, the plane with cash for Iran he saw, the plane with cash for Iran he didn't see.

This weekend, four people were fatally shot in Chicago.

The war machine rages on, Democrat, Republican can only measure in terms of degrees, not completion.

Suicides are up, PTSD is rising and gun sales spike. A major corporation allegedly lays off employees in secret, so a lower stock rating doesn't send the company into a downward market spiral.

One in ten Americans takes antidepressants.

It's hard to buy a house, it's harder to save one.

Neighborhoods gentrify, someone is pushed out.

Racism marches on, wielding a machete.

People rally and protest in the streets for justice.

Still, people die, every day, from gunshots.

Lately, people talk in a way that reveals a collective dis-ease: depression, anxiety, rage, a sense of knowing dread at a looming, indecipherable dawn. It's as though people take the Ray Bradbury title to heart: Something Wicked This Way Comes. A terrorist attack, or a lurking unknown, weighs on people and their lives. Even students I teach arrive with a new anxiety. If an early education of systematic testing and re-testing doesn't stress them, the crippling debt does. I had a student with chronic anxiety who checked her phone battery to see she had been texting for two hours. It was 11 a.m. I don't think that helps.

When I see all the hate and rage in the media, I want to quote Audre Lorde, “The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.” But then I remember I'm watching anger fed through the media filter, and no good comes from trusting the 24-hour propaganda machine. I could rail against a system designed to drain the middle class, and set the lower classes against one another for profit. I could champion the fight against The Koch Brothers, Inc. We could commiserate about the debt and the Medical Industrial Complex that wants us just sick enough to be hooked to the system that, if you believe Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, fuels mental illness anyway.

Any other year, I would take my little place in the big fight. But this year my mother passed on. Doctors never got it quite right. She was sick for eight years. Eight years of searching, eight years of steady decline. The general, symptom-based prognosis was dementia. They looked for cancer early on. One doctor said she had vascular dementia, but that was not her first illness. And so we helped her how we could. We kept her at home. I tried to save her. I failed.

You learn a lot when an elder gets sick. There is no medical profit in elder care, and doctors say they know very little about the brain. We took her to a major research university for help. They had built a new dementia wing. They put a bandage and ointment on a facial scar, and said it would heal in a week. We found out later it was basal cell carcinoma. She needed surgery. Moments like those added to the larger helplessness. It is a horrifying thing to hear a loved one call for help and know no help will come.     (continued below)

Brooklyn based artist Scott Pfaffman arrived in NYC in 1977 to study with Tony Smith at Hunter College from parts South: Albany, Georgia, Savannah, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, bringing his violin north, but returning at times to take part in deep woods fiddler gatherings. He established the annual sculpture show between the bridges in DUMBO and landed in Red Hook in 1984. Brooklyn “based” is a bit light. He, along with Richard Mock, Florence Neal, Sunny Balzano, and others overlapping in time built with their labor and exceptional dogged creativity a Red Hook that will never be found behind a common developer's hash tag. The last On the Waterfront neighborhood cooking across the mouth of the East River from Manhattan. Shared is the operative word - labor, art, music, food. You could feel an uncommon déjà vu of home walking down Conover Street to Sunny's Bar on a Friday for music, and find the history of past stevedores walking on its rolling floors. Red Hook was under three feet of hurricane Sandy's water in November 2012, now an invisibility that invades as another layer of history. High Water, Scott Pfaffman drawings 2014 - 2016, opens Friday, October 28 at Alley Culture.

“Someone said 'Those are paintings. They're made with paint.' So if you like you can call them paintings. I call them drawings. Drawing is a daily practice which I sometimes neglect to do daily. Drawings are the evidence of an engagement and investigation into the image of significant forms. These forms have meaning as members of a set of phenomena that exist as markers of the state of differentness. They are distinguished by an autonomy as singular as a fingerprint. As a body of work develops patterns of recognition and distinction evolve. Each of the drawings allow what I hope is an ongoing and ever increasing reference catalog of perception, cognition and meaning.

“Abstraction is a useful but misleading description of what remains an entirely natural image. After many years of mark making the dialog becomes as varied and as predictable as the tides. Phrases of expression and overlapping create language-like epigrams whose meanings reside within the entire body of work and allude to meanings outside as well. I try to make each event memorable and do not always succeed. In every wave are thousands of moments touching each other like neighbors collectively and individually spending the time each is allotted. As drawings these moments are captured and the unfolding is for that single frame allowed to still itself and wait for its meaning to catch hold. At times the medium is subsumed by lattice like connections between the eye, the mind, the hand and the source. Drawing is language without a dictionary to define itself. The hand learns to see and the eye learns to feel. I am a drawing in a resting state waiting for the paper and ink to complete me. Under a shell on a shelf in the hallway of an abandoned home is a note which was left many years ago for me to find. Drawing is discovery made visible.”     -Scott Pfaffman

Pfaffman's violin is one-third of the string trio on Mick Vranich's The Black Box. He completed an installation “All ideas are the same except in execution” on Governors Island in August. In Detroit, he has a solar sculpture “Ra Ra” at The Factory, 333 Midland, through October 22.

Judy Rifka 7

Judy Rifka, SNS Photography #7, 2011

(continued from above)     So yes, I could rail on. But I won't, because shortly after my mother died, a dear friend took my arm and shared a confession, something he knew from experience. “When your mother dies, your life is changed forever. You can't go back. And that's okay.”

Rather than fill me with horror, that one moment of compassion freed me. It resonated with something an Aikido teacher once said, “The first part of any attack is acceptance. Accept that this person is coming at you. Accept your role in this moment.”

After that admission, I really tried to pay attention, not to what I had to do, but to just sitting, being for a minute. And in those moments, sometimes, once in a while, a candle was lit. A friend arrived to make me dinner. Phone calls came. A care package arrived. People shared their most intimate experiences with death, with life, with hope, with failure. More of these luminous moments spun themselves out of grief's yarns. When friends called, we didn't talk about the weather, we didn't talk about Trump. We talked about whether helping to care for one's dying mother was worth the sacrifice. We agreed that it was, surprisingly meaningful, even in its pain. Yes, there was so much trouble along the way. We hired people eventually to take care of my mother. Most were spiritual, kind, and wonderful. Some stole. The diamond disappeared from my mother's finger. A pot, a purse, and silver were stolen by the woman my father most trusted. Yet they were pale sisters to an entire subculture of empaths, wise souls, and creative thinkers who whispered in the dark with me, saying, “Here is now I survived blinding loss. Here is why I am happier because of it. What about you?”

I was vulnerable, lost, and alive. And in that time, beauty opened, compassion opened. Life opened. Denial and rage are loud. Acceptance is quiet. Still, like a lake. You go for a walk and see the beauty of a season in a morning, and you know you only have so many mornings left. It is wonderful to be alive. Whenever I have a free moment, I see what I wanted for my mother, for her to love the tender elegance of this world. When my mother was sick, I kept pointing to the window of her home and saying to her, see the leaves, see the snow, see the sun. Isn't it beautiful? And in wanting that for her, it nested in me.

If we believe the media rap, the world is cruel, with guns and rage; distrust and menace. In times like these, I wonder if kindness isn't our greatest act of rebellion, against the rush to madness, against the incessant noise.

So allow me to practice rebellion here, in this writing, in this small corner of the world. This is for you. No matter who you are, no matter if you are filled with rage, or grief, anxiety, or arrogance; no matter if you are joyous or depressed, in any and all states of what you bring into being today, I wish for you acceptance. I wish for you wonder.

I wish you peace.

Maureen Aitken's writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Journal, and other publications. She teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Judy Rifka Brambles

Judy Rifka, Brambles


The Standing Rock Lakota/Dakota Sioux Nation, along with 280 more North American tribal nations, are protecting the rivers from oil, and the land from the belief it is any less than sacred. They stand as Protectors, not Protestors, an eternal position that does not end with the day's demonstration.       News feed

The music was a metaphorical means of saying this doesn't happen without people of color, without white people. You know, jazz only happens in this country. It doesn't happen in West Africa. It doesn't happen in Europe. It happens from the pentatonic scale with a flatted third, and a flatted seventh which is a West African dynamic, and from instrumentation and musical logic that is distinctly European. The reason that jazz bands probably got their kick at the time they did was from all the military bands coming back from the Spanish American War dumping their instruments when the boats hit the docks. It's a triumph of our pluralism.

-David Simon, journalist, writer on The Wire, and Treme talking on WTF

Judy Rifka, The Opera of the Worms

Judy Rifka, The Opera of the Worms

The once free-spirited city of San Francisco is now a “Company Town,” a playground for tech moguls of the “sharing economy.” Airbnb is the biggest hotel. Uber privatizes transit. And now these companies want political power as well. Meanwhile, middle class and ethnic communities are driven out by skyrocketing rents and evictions-sparking a grassroots backlash that challenges the oligarchy of tech. Is this the future of cities around the world? The feature-length documentary, “Company Town,” is the story of an intense election campaign to determine the fate of the city at the epicenter of the digital revolution. Produced and directed by Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow. Edited by Manuel Tsingaris. Premiers in Mill Valley. Opens in San Francisco and Berkeley late October.

The film is already a catalyst for much needed dialogue on the future of our cities. “Company Town' is a shot of political energy -- a valentine to the weird and wild hurly-burly of the electoral process at the grassroots level, from where true democracy springs.” - David Talbot, founder of Salon and bestselling author of Season of the Witch

Snitow and Kaufman produced and directed “Thirst” a documentary on the privatization of water which was shown November 2014 at Alley Culture. It reveals how water is the catalyst for explosive community resistance to globalization.


Judy Rifka 13

Judy Rifka, SNS Photography #13, 2011

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