I wrote earlier about the online edition of Rachel Haynie's piece about my artwork. The print edition is now out, and I just got a copy (thanks, Rachel!). I think this may be my first time in a magazine that is actually delivered to people in the mail.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the main photo that they chose to use -- one of me with "Beauty and Grace" in progress where I think I don't look like an idiot. The photo doesn't appear in the online version of the article, but is a full page in the magazine.
I like it. I think I'll frame a copy.
I haven't had a whole lot of time for art this semester. I've had some, obviously (I finished "Beauty and Grace" and "My Father's Hammer"), but not as much as I would like. It's been a busy fall. The fever pace is starting to break, though, with just one week of classes left, SEAC over, and my wife's shop open (more on that later). So I've been able to get back to my workshop this weekend and last weekend. I need to spend more time out there to dissuade the Carolina wrens from building nests in things -- such as dinosaurs -- that I'm going to need to move. They've even been probing inside the garage when it's open. Love is in the air.
Last May after my Afterburner show originally opened at Tapp's, I had the time and energy to make several more pieces and get them into the "extended" show in June. One of the things I sent was an unfinished piece called "Sun Gun." It was a cawing crow perched on the tail fins of a rocket. I knew it wasn't done but I wasn't sure why. So it's been sitting my garage since the summer.
I made the original piece quickly, shortly after the death of Chris Cornell. Few celebrity deaths hit me like his did (I wrote a bit about it here). Anyway, his death was on my mind and his music was in my ears while I was working on "Sun Gun." The body of the crow is built to show a forward-facing gear under the neck that reminded me of the cover of Badmotorfinger.
The short version of the story is that I meant for the piece to be about fearlessness, arrogance, exploration, and vulnerability. No good fighter gets into the ring thinking there is a snowball's chance he'll lose. Neil Armstrong and Alan Shepard played golf on the moon. I've always been fascinated by that scene in 1902's A Trip to the Moon where the rocket hits the moon in the eye: the Victorians don't just land on the moon, they shoot themselves into it. The first line of "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart" is "Every time I stare into the sun" but it also sounds like "stab into the sun." It's about again and again taking steps into the unknown that you already know is dangerous.
Anyway, the crow of the unfinished version of "Sun Gun" had the right posture but was entirely too flimsy. In a race to keep moving, I used thin sheet metal and not much of it. I only just figured out that it was the crow itself that bothered me. Up until two days ago I was still thinking about how to change the base to make it more attractive. At one point I had even concocted plans for an elaborate mechanical contraption to rotate the base through a path mimicking the total eclipse we experienced here in August. I wasn't excited about any of those ideas (which I now understand was because they were wrong), so "Sun Gun" sat in the back of the garage.
My unhappiness with it finally turned into action when I realized it was the crow that needed work, not the base. I had all the materials I needed to puff it up the way it should be: more grit, more bulk, more moxy. Saw blades, rusty rods, a carving knife, old hinges . . . I used cut nails and pieces of a drain snake from the same stock as I used on "My Father's Hammer," which I like because it adds some resonance between them.
Finishing this feels like putting a piece into a puzzle that you couldn't place before because you were holding it upside down: fitting that piece in not only takes care of that piece, but opens the way for what's next.
Here are some pictures. There are a few more on this page.
In the week before SEAC, I had the students in my South Carolina Archaeology class sorting sherds in my lab. As the first part of a group/individual ceramic project, they were getting some experience identifying vessel portion, kind of temper, surface treatment, and decoration in sherds from a surface collection from Allendale County, South Carolina (the Larry Strong collection -- the same one I used to get some data for this Kirk paper). For the second part of the project, I'm going to supply them with the combined data and ask them to: (A) match the groups to named ceramic wares using information on excellent sites such as this one; (B) create a graphic depiction of change through time in temper, surface treatment, and the frequency of decoration; and (C) address in writing several questions linking the pottery to patterns of social/technological change.
I'm posting some quick images of most of the rim sherds (and some decorated non-rims) here so they will be able to look at them without coming back to the lab repeatedly while they're working on their projects. I know that some of you will know what these types are -- please don't deprive my students of the joy of discovery!
Also - hi students!
Today is my last morning in Tulsa at SEAC 2017. I spent all day yesterday in the "Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast" symposium: 18 papers that included state-by-state updates of what we know and the data we have and treatments of topics such as megafauna in the Southeast, plant use by early foragers in the region, wet site archaeology in Florida, lithic technologies, etc. It was a marathon.
My presentation with David Anderson was last in the lineup. I was tasked with an effort at a "big picture" demography paper. It was a lot to talk about in a short time (20 minutes) -- a difficult balancing act to discuss the dense data from such a large area and be able to explain how I tried to integrate it all into a geographical/chronological model that can be evaluated on a region-by-region basis. Anyway . . . the detail will be there in the publications that result from the endeavor.
I uploaded a pdf of my presentation here. Some of the details will change as we work through the process of refining the analysis and dividing the content into multiple papers. But you should be able to get a decent idea of what we were going for.
I'm currently in Tulsa, OK, at the 2017 Southeastern Archaeological Conference. I took a break this afternoon from papers and talking to hole up in my hotel room and put the finishing touches on the presentation I'll be giving tomorrow. I'm honored to be senior author on a paper with David Anderson (University of Tennessee). Our paper will be last tomorrow in a marathon symposium organized by Shane Miller (Mississippi State University), Ashley Smallwood (University of West Georgia), and Jesse Tune (Fort Lewis College).
I'm really looking forward to the session, which will present summaries, updates, and syntheses of work from across the Southeast. It's intended to be a 20-year update to the work that culminated in the landmark Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast volume that was published in 1996. Congratulations are due to the organizers who conceived of the symposium and pulled it off.
I briefly discussed our paper back in September. Significant work has happened since then, and I'm pretty happy with the result. The point of doing a "big" paper like this, in my view, is to attempt to identify and describe patterns that require explanation. We used information from three large datasets -- PIDBA, DINAA, and an always "in progress" compilation of radiocarbon dates -- to investigate patterns of population stability/fluctuation during the Paleoindian period in the Eastern Woodlands.
As of now (rushing through this blog post so I can go out to dinner) I like the result: a six period chronological/geographical model identifying the time/space parameters of population stabilities and fluctuations. As I listen tomorrow to region-by-region updates on what we know about the Paleoindian period in the Southeast, I will almost certainly learn of many things that are wrong. But I will be listening to the results of others' work with a model in mind. That's useful. As the famous quote goes: "all models are wrong, but some are useful." To me, a useful model is a machine for thinking that makes predictions about the world that can be evaluated. So I'm looking forward to seeing what I got wrong. I wish I had a big piece of paper I could spread out on a table so I could take notes time period by time period, region by region.
After this updated photograph of Woody Guthrie, I'll post images of a few key slides from the presentation. I'll put the whole thing on my Academia page tomorrow after the dust settles. [Update 11/13/2017: the presentation is available here.]
This article about me and my artwork came out a couple of days ago in the online version of Columbia Living Magazine. The author -- Rachel Haynie -- visited me several times while I was working on "Beauty and Grace" and also accompanied me on the scrap junket I wrote about here. It has been a pleasure to get to know Rachel, and I think the article turned out well. Enjoy!
I'm happy to announce that my recent paper on the minimum viable population (MVP) size of hunter-gatherer populations is now officially published and available for download from the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS). JASSS is open access, meaning anyone can access any paper at any time. It's the way to go, and I wish all journals could figure out how to play nicely with the public.
The issue of how many hunter-gatherers it takes to form a population that can sustain itself over a long period of time is relevant to understanding several issues, including: (1) how hunter-gatherer societies colonized empty landscapes; (2) how/why hunter-gatherer societies take on the forms that they do in different environments; (3) how/why/when those societies change in response to factors such as population growth.
The classic papers on the lower size limits of hunter-gatherer populations were published by Martin Wobst in the 1970's. Like him, I employ model-based approach to address the issue of how big a human population has to be to not be threatened by random fluctuations in mortality, fertility, and the ratio of males to females. Very small populations are more sensitive to those random fluctuations because each person makes up a greater percentage of the population.
My analysis suggested that, under a range of conditions represented in the model, human populations with more than about 150 people were fairly safe over long periods of time. That's a smaller lower size limit, I think, than a lot of people conceive of.
Here is the abstract:
"A non-spatial agent-based model is used to explore how marriage behaviors and fertility affect the minimum population size required for hunter-gatherer systems to be demographically viable. The model incorporates representations of person- and household-level constraints and behaviors affecting marriage, reproduction, and mortality. Results suggest that, under a variety of circumstances, a stable population size of about 150 persons is demographically viable in the sense that it is largely immune from extinction through normal stochastic perturbations in mortality, fertility, and sex ratio. Less restrictive marriage rules enhance the viability of small populations by making it possible to capitalize on a greater proportion of the finite female reproductive span and compensate for random fluctuations in the balance of males and females."
If you're interested in hunter-gatherer theory stuff, have a look and see what you think. This is probably the first paper of several I'll be writing on the topic.
I'm finally done with "Beauty and Grace." It has taken me about eight months of intermittent weekend work, from when the idea first ossified in my head during that Against Me! concert last March until I submitted it as my entry for ArtFields 2018 this evening. I finished "Grace" in time to put her into the second part of my Afterburner show at Tapp's in June, and I have mentioned the combined piece in passing a few times and posted a few photos on the Zero Point Mechanic page on Facebook. But other than I haven't talked about it too much.
That's because I was too busy struggling with it to spend energy talking about it. The beaten and bloodied boxer sitting on the stool between rounds doesn't want to chit chat.
Someone will probably accuse me of making up some art weirdo nonsense for saying this, but trust me when I tell you that sometimes you really don't know what a piece is about as you're making it. You think you know, but you don't. You're looking and seeing and doing, but meaning is percolating on some other level.
I always knew this piece was about the tension/opposition/inter-connectedness of transformation ("Grace") and acceptance ("Beauty"). It was only during another musical experience -- the Foo Fighters concert in Columbia last October -- that I understood the feeling I was going for. It's been a long week and it's beyond me right now to try to articulate it. That experience of hearing (and seeing, and feeling) live the music that connects together so many parts, people, places of my adult life was like pulling on a loose thread and seeing that what looks like a tangled mess is actually a beautifully complex, inter-connected structure. I understood then what “Beauty” and “Grace” represent to me and how they connect, relate, and depend on one another for balance. I can't explain it. But it's art, so I don't really have to.
I'll write more about making this piece at some point. For now, here are some more images from my "four king sheets and a bunch of safety pins" hillbilly photo studio in my driveway:
As I knew would happen, I've had relatively little time for art since the semester started. It has been a busy (and productive) fall so far in terms of academics and research. My creative ideas and materials have been piling up, though. I could go into high gear at any time, but the problem is I don't have any time.
I'm almost done with my entry for ArtFields (the deadline is November 9th), so I've been using what time I have to push "Beauty and Grace" toward the finish line. I just have some grinding/polishing/cleaning to do, and then I have to figure out a way to take some decent photos. That has to happen before I leave for SEAC. I also need to finish a luna moth that will grace the sign for my wife's shop (Luna Lola) that she'll open soon on Rosewood. More on that later. Follow the ZeroPointMechanic page on Facebook for updates.
I wanted to share a few photos of a nearly complete sculpture that I more-or-less finished last weekend: "My Father's Hammer." It is a sentimental piece, so it's not for sale. It came together quickly -- I thought of it as a sketch trying to capture the energy and motion of a crow coming in for a landing. It's a freeze frame about adaptability, which is one of the main gifts my father gave me. The head is made from the head of his old hammer, complete with the nails hammered in to shim it onto the shaft. Lots of other odds and ends are pieces of old tools that he let me pick out of his garage over the summer. I'm going to have to secure the piece to a larger metal base to make it stable. Other than that, though, it's done as is.
I happy to announce that my first owl sculpture (now named "The First Owl") received first place in the professional sculpture division at the 2017 South Carolina State Fair. The prize money will make a nice addition to my art war chest. I've got big plans.
This is the last weekend of the fair. My wife and I have been virus-ridden zombies all week, but we managed to rally and get the kids out there this morning (we live just a short distance to the fairgrounds). I can report that the baby ducks are still being tricked into going down the water slide, the roosters are still cool, and AC/DC is still the soundtrack to the Matterhorn ride.
I can also report that, though a five minute conversation with a representative from the Libertarian Party, I have definitively demonstrated to myself that I am not a Libertarian. I do not believe a "de-centralized, community-based" to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico would be more effective than what the federal government is capable of doing. I also do not believe all state and local governments have done a super great job of protecting the fundamental rights of their citizens. Or educating them. Or providing them with basic services.
Also: the kids each came home with an inflatable rainbow poop emoji. I have refused to participate in blowing them up. That's today's report from paradise.
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