Jimmy DeSana, Sweatshirt, c.1980-82
Via Visual Aids
Since the mid-70’s, internationally recognized artist Laurie Simmons has staged scenes for her camera with dolls, ventriloquist dummies, mannequins and people to create images with intensely psychological subtexts. This September she will have an exhibition at Gallery Met and is working on a commission for the opera “ Two Boys.”In this interview with artist and Visual AIDS board member Lucas Michael, Simmons talks about her work as well as being the executor of Visual AIDS artist member Jimmy DeSana’s estate.
Lucas Michael: How did you and Jimmy meet?
Laurie Simmons: A bunch of us were meeting on the A train to go out to the Far Rockaway beaches. I saw this guy in a white panama hat with a yashica around his neck that he’d spray-painted white – very stylish. We agreed that we would look for a loft together – this was 1973. We eventually split a long skinny loft with windows at each end and set up twin darkrooms.
LM: In thinking about your work, and Jimmy’s work, there is something so vibrant about your colors, the other-worldliness that you both create, and your interest in people as subjects and objects. Did you influence each other as artists?
LS: Let me be really straightforward about this – I learned just about everything I know from him. I tagged along when he shot, modeled for him and he taught me how to print and set up a darkroom. I’d never studied photography in art school – he taught me everything. My contribution to him was probably trying to pull him more towards defining himself as an artist rather than a photographer.
LM: Visual AIDS works with many estates and we see the amount of work and dedication it takes to do a good job. As someone caring for Jimmy’s work and his legacy, I am curious to hear how you approach the work.
LS: I mentioned this recently in another interview – I think when someone close to you is dying and they ask a favor of you – you say yes. Jimmy was one of my best friends and he asked me to take his work. We were both 39. Neither of us had very much money. I had a little kid. I had no time. I’d never thought about what it would mean to be the executor of an artist’s estate. I didn’t know where I would keep the archive or how I would house it. I remember thinking 20 years – it will take at least 20 years for people to get the breadth and importance of this work. I made a promise to myself in the early years not to feel guilty when things weren’t happening with his work.
LM: How does it relate to your own practice as an artist?
LS: It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to be an artist who maintains the life work of another artist. It’s somewhere between being a custodian and actually being THE artist. I so believe in the work and I always have. There is no one but me to make the decisions and I try really hard to imagine how Jimmy would solve problems and answer questions. I realize more and more that everything has to come from me. I am very protective of the JDS estate and in a way much less polite and patient than I might be with my own work. There are a finite number of things and I fiercely guard them. My attitude towards his work has certainly influenced my attitude towards my own work. I have extremely well organized archives now. That’s primarily because of the state in which I found the work when I received it. Organization takes years.
LM: From the very beginning women have played a huge role within the epidemic, and continue to be vital within the ongoing crisis. As someone who has thought about the roles of women do you have any thoughts around the work of women within the ongoing AIDS movement?
LS: You know I’ve honestly never given that a bit of thought. My observation is that everyone’s efforts have been first and foremost about love and friendship. I don’t know a single soul who hasn’t experienced some loss as a result of the epidemic - which I know says something about the world I inhabit. I know women are meant to be nurturers and caregivers but in my own personal and anecdotal history I’ve seen everyone play a huge role – men, women, straight, gay. I will say that Jimmy’s mother Jo – a gracious southern lady – moved to New York City in the last months of Jimmy’s life to care for him. This was not easy for her. She and her sister rented rooms in some sort of church housing and really threw themselves into both Jimmy’s care and city life. They were really brave. Jo actually died a few months ago. We remained in touch. She was very proud of her son.
LM: There is something moody and fun about Party Picks. In putting the exhibition together what were some of the ideas you had?
LS: I actually left the concept and organization of the show to Fabienne Stephan of Salon 94. I am utterly thrilled that Salon is representing the estate. I’ve worked with them since 2010 and trust their vision and appreciate their dedication. I felt for their first JDS show I should open up the archives to them. I could’ve just given them 20 images and that would be that but with this plan Fabienne was able to spend real time with the work getting to know it. I love the result and what a fresh pair of eyes brought to the installation.
LM: Are there things happening in the art world, and the world at large, that give you hope?
LS: I feel the current situation – the apparent mind meld of art and the marketplace— is very damaging to all concerned. The meme that’s out there that the so called art market has the ability to ferret out what is truly good has a trickle down effect that makes everybody think less, contemplate less and search less for great artists and great art. There is a laziness and a willingness to equate high price success with high quality. It’s bullshit. I’m excited about young artists and young art and all the possibilities for change. My generation, overall, made something of a mess in the world. PLEASE help us undo it.
LM: We are in a moment where art from the 80s and early 90s is being re-examined. Looking at Jimmy’s work and your work from the time, do you see anything now you didn’t see then?
LS: With all of the (sometimes) sexual content in the JDS photographs and odd juxtapositions of humans and objects I think I may have missed how flat out drop dead gorgeous his pictures are OR maybe, at this stage of my life, I’m confident enough to just go there.
Party Picks: Estate of Jimmy DeSana is on view at Salon 94 until August 9, 2013
4 months agoAugust 1, 2013
July 9 2013.
Commuting is a way of life for most Bay Area residents. Many people are accustomed to an hour commute each way without traffic. Some people even commute to Southern California several times a month, spending several hours each way either in the car or fighting through airports. What if there was an alternative to flights and car rides? If it was up to Tesla CEO Elon Musk and a Colorado company, an answer could come sooner than we think.
Musk, the man behind both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has spoken about a high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop, a tube transport system that would allow passengers to travel at high speeds. The proposed system could reduce trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles to minutes, and reaching the East Coast from California could take under an hour. Crazy as it seems, the company ET3, based out of Longmont, Colorado, has already been hard at work making this a reality, calling their project the Evacuated Tube Transport.
How Does It Work?
The Hyperloop has been vaguely described by Musk as a “cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.” A better description might be an elevated tube system with a magnetic levitation system similar to high-speed bullet trains. The kicker would be the enclosed tube, which would provide a nearly friction-less surface for individual capsules to travel in.
ET3′s Hyperloop-like project already has a number of schematics and plans already in place. They claim an automobile-sized, six-passenger capsule constructed for “outer space” travel conditions could easily reach speeds of 4,000 miles per hour on longer journeys across the country or across continents. In theory, this elevated tube system could be built for a tenth of the cost of high-speed rail and a quarter the cost of a freeway. The projected cost for a passenger to travel from Los Angeles to New York is $100.
The tubes could be connected to form a new superhighway across the United States. They could go underwater and connect to Alaska, Hawaii, and the rest of the world. ET3 has already built mock-ups and prototypes and is planning a 3-mile test run by the end of 2013.
Expanding on Older Ideas
Despite the ingenuity of the idea, it isn’t actually that new. In 1972, a paper written by physicist R.M Salter described a tube system known as the Very High Speed Transit System (VHST) that could send people across the United States in under an hour. The system was composed of a series of underground tubes arranged in a network across the country. While several technical problems existed with the idea at the time, Salter also concluded, “The general principles are fairly straightforward: electromagnetically levitated and propelled cars in an evacuated tunnel.” The one primary difference between Salter’s plan and ET3′s is that the VHST would need to be underground, with massive amounts of excavation required.
If the Hyperloop or Evacuated Tube Transport was built and succeeded, it could make California’s current high-speed rail project obsolete. With a budgeted cost of $70 billion, the high-speed system currently under development would take passengers from San Francisco to L.A. in three hours, potentially six times slower than the Hyperloop.
4 months agoJuly 23, 2013
NEW YORK TIMES
July 14, 2013
A Village Invents a Language All Its Own
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR
There are many dying languages in the world. But at least one has recently been born, created by children living in a remote village in northern Australia.
Carmel O’Shannessy, a linguist at the University of Michigan, has been studying the young people’s speech for more than a decade and has concluded that they speak neither a dialect nor the mixture of languages called a creole, but a new language with unique grammatical rules.
The language, called Warlpiri rampaku, or Light Warlpiri, is spoken only by people under 35 in Lajamanu, an isolated village of about 700 people in Australia’s Northern Territory. In all, about 350 people speak the language as their native tongue. Dr. O’Shannessy has published several studies of Light Warlpiri, the most recent in the June issue of Language.
“Many of the first speakers of this language are still alive,” said Mary Laughren, a research fellow in linguistics at the University of Queensland in Australia, who was not involved in the studies. One reason Dr. O’Shannessy’s research is so significant, she said, “is that she has been able to record and document a ‘new’ language in the very early period of its existence.”
Everyone in Lajamanu also speaks “strong” Warlpiri, an aboriginal language unrelated to English and shared with about 4,000 people in several Australian villages. Many also speak Kriol, an English-based creole developed in the late 19th century and widely spoken in northern Australia among aboriginal people of many different native languages.
Lajamanu parents are happy to have their children learn English for use in the wider world, but eager to preserve Warlpiri as the language of their culture.
Lajamanu’s isolation may have something to do with the creation of a new way of speaking. The village is about 550 miles south of Darwin, and the nearest commercial center is Katherine, about 340 miles north. There are no completely paved roads.
An airplane, one of seven owned by Lajamanu Air, a community-managed airline, lands on the village’s dirt airstrip twice a week carrying mail from Katherine, and once a week a truck brings food and supplies sold in the village’s only store. A diesel generator and a solar energy plant supply electricity.
The village was established by the Australian government in 1948, without the consent of the people who would inhabit it. The native affairs branch of the federal government, concerned about overcrowding and drought in Yuendumu, forcibly removed 550 people from there to what would become Lajamanu. At least twice, the group walked all the way back to Yuendumu, only to be retransported when they arrived.
Contact with English is quite recent. “These people were hunters and gatherers, roaming over a territory,” said Dr. O’Shannessy. “But then along came white people, cattle stations, mines, and so on. People were kind of forced to stop hunting and gathering.”
By the 1970s, villagers had resigned themselves to their new home, and the Lajamanu Council had been set up as a self-governing community authority, the first in the Northern Territory. In the 2006 census, almost half the population was under 20, and the Australian government estimates that by 2026 the number of indigenous people 15 to 64 will increase to 650 from about 440 today.
Dr. O’Shannessy, who started investigating the language in 2002, spends three to eight weeks a year in Lajamanu. She speaks and understands both Warlpiri and Light Warlpiri, but is not fluent.
People in Lajamanu often engage in what linguists call code-switching, mixing languages together or changing from one to another as they speak. And many words in Light Warlpiri are derived from English or Kriol.
But Light Warlpiri is not simply a combination of words from different languages. Peter Bakker, an associate professor of linguistics at Aarhus University in Denmark who has published widely on language development, says Light Warlpiri cannot be a pidgin, because a pidgin has no native speakers. Nor can it be a creole, because a creole is a new language that combines two separate tongues.
“These young people have developed something entirely new,” he said. “Light Warlpiri is clearly a mother tongue.”
Dr. O’Shannessy offers this example, spoken by a 4-year-old: Nganimpa-ng gen wi-m si-m worm mai aus-ria. (We also saw worms at my house.)
It is easy enough to see several nouns derived from English. But the -ria ending on “aus” (house) means “in” or “at,” and it comes from Warlpiri. The -m ending on the verb “si” (see) indicates that the event is either happening now or has already happened, a “present or past but not future” tense that does not exist in English or Warlpiri. This is a way of talking so different from either Walpiri or Kriol that it constitutes a new language.
The development of the language, Dr. O’Shannessy says, was a two-step process. It began with parents using baby talk with their children in a combination of the three languages. But then the children took that language as their native tongue by adding radical innovations to the syntax, especially in the use of verb structures, that are not present in any of the source languages.
Why a new language developed at this time and in this place is not entirely clear. It was not a case of people needing to communicate when they have no common language, a situation that can give rise to pidgin or creole.
Dr. Bakker says that new languages are discovered from time to time, but until now no one has been there at the beginning to see a language develop from children’s speech.
Dr. O’Shannessy suggests that subtle forces may be at work. “I think that identity plays a role,” she said. “After children created the new system, it has since become a marker of their identity as being young Warlpiri from the Lajamanu Community.”
The language is now so well established among young people that there is some question about the survival of strong Warlpiri. “How long the kids will keep multilingualism, I don’t know,” Dr. O’Shannessy said. “The elders would like to preserve Warlpiri, but I’m not sure it will be. Light Warlpiri seems quite robust.”
4 months agoJuly 16, 2013