The Timeless Allure of Ruins

Mankind has always lived among its own ruins. Since our earliest history, we have explored ruined places, feared them and drawn inspiration from them, and we can trace that complex fascination in our art and writing.

One remarkable ancient artefact, a Babylonian world map from the Sixth Century BCE, marks the beginning of this obsession. The map, inscribed on a clay tablet, shows how ancient people imagined the quadrants of the earth: it describes lands of serpents, dragons, and scorpion-men, the far northern regions “where the sun is never seen”, and a great body of water they called “the bitter river”.

But the map also makes one other curious reference. It describes “ruined cities… watched over by… the ruined gods”. By that time, the ruins of great cities like Ur, Uruk and Nineveh already littered the landscape, destroyed and abandoned due to natural causes or cataclysmic wars. These ruined places were thought to be places of magic, terrible warnings to living humans and the haunts of ghosts and evil spirits.

When the Fifth Century BCE Greek writer and soldier Xenophon fled back to Greece after an unsuccessful campaign in Persia, he and his fellow adventurers marched past these same ruined cities. He describes seeing the ruins of Nineveh, “a great stronghold, deserted… The foundation of its wall was made of polished stone full of shells, and was 50ft in breadth and 50 in height.” Xenophon describes the desolate emptiness of the place, how local people were afraid to enter the ruined site for fear of the ghosts believed to roam there.

Perhaps because the broken parts in a ruin require our imagination to fill them in, ruins have always been associated with the occult and with dreams. They are places an observer can get lost, where time slips away. Ancient Hebrew poets found inspiration in the ruins of Sumer, Assyria and Babylon. They told stories about the wrath of God, the Tower of Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah, to explain the ruins that still scattered the land. In the Koran, the Surah of The Cow (Sūrat al-Baqarah) contains a parable where a traveller enters a ruined village, the sight of which fills him with sorrow and makes him doubt the power of God. In answer, God sends him into a deathlike sleep. When he wakes, God asks, “How long didst thou tarry [here]?” The man answers, “Perhaps a day or part of a day.” God replies, “Nay, thou hast tarried thus a hundred years”. Centuries later, artists would still portray ruins as places outside of time, where a man might get lost in his thoughts.

Discovering the past

In the First Millennium, ruins took on their most significant role in the poetry of the Arabic-speaking world. Pre-Islamic master poets like Tarafa and Imru’ al-Qais wrote elegies in which a wandering Bedouin tribesman returns to a ruined campsite where he once met a lost love. The lovelorn hero pauses for a while; time comes to a standstill, and memories of his sweetheart return to him. This trope, known as wuquf ‘ala al-atlal, or “stopping by the ruins” recurs throughout the history of Arabic poetry. In these poems, ruins are spectral and ephemeral things, that in the words of Tarafa, “appear and fade, like the trace of a tattoo / on the back of a hand.”

Meanwhile, Medieval depictions of Britain’s Stone Age ruins showed them as places associated with magic and Arthurian legends. The first known image of Stonehenge, for instance, shows it being constructed by the wizard Merlin with the help of giants.

True artistic representation of ruins began with the Renaissance. In that flourishing of art and science, the ruins of classical civilisation became symbols of enlightenment and repositories of lost knowledge. Ruins began to appear in the backgrounds of the etchings that illustrated volumes of anatomy. Even here, the ruins spoke to the passage of time, reminding readers that the human body will one day degrade, that life is fragile and fleeting.

The greatest draw for ruin artists during this period were the overgrown and crumbling remains of Rome. Painters flocked there in ever-increasing numbers to paint the Forum and the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Appian Way. The first representations of Rome were true to life, but soon the imagination of artists took flight.

Frustrated at the un-picturesque distance between the great landmarks of the Roman ruinscape, artists like Panini began placing them in more pleasing arrangements. This gave rise to the trend for capriccio, imaginary scenes of buildings and ruins that bore only slight relation to reality. The early association of ruins and dreams had reached a natural conclusion: artists simply began imagining their scenes.

Once the trend for capriccio had been established, painters in the 18th Century let their imaginations run wild in the ruins, creating whole imagined landscapes scattered with classical pillars and arches. One of the masters of these scenes was Piranesi, who created such vivid scenes of Rome that tourists to the eternal city, including the poet Goethe, were disappointed to arrive and find the ruins to be nothing like what he depicted.

(Credit: Alamy)

Venetian architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi printed his imaginary reconstruction of the ancient Vias Appia and Ardeatina multiple times between 1761 and 1799 (Credit: Alamy)

Closer to home, the ruins of Britain’s abbeys were a favourite subject of artists. Painters like Turner depicted Tintern Abbey as a wild and overgrown paradise. Here the ruin became a part of nature, a perfect marriage between the work of man and that of the natural world. In 1782, writer William Gilpin visited Tintern and described how “nature has now made it her own”, adding to the human decorations with “the ornaments of time.”

But ruins were more than just sites for idle romanticism. As the empires of Europe continued to increase their power through the 18th and into the 19th Century, ruin-gazers read fearful portents into the crumbling remains of previous civilisations. “If Rome could fall,” the Imperial subject wondered, “could it also happen to London, or Paris?”

No one embodied this trend more powerfully than French painter Hubert Robert, who earned himself the nickname ‘Robert des Ruines’. After spending 11 years painting the ruins of Rome, Robert returned to Paris and aimed his imagination at his own city. One of his most famous paintings shows Paris’ Louvre Gallery in ruins.

The trend for depictions of future ruins soon caught on. In 1872, Gustave Doré’s famous etching The New Zealander showed a future tourist gazing over the ruins of London, just as people in his day gazed at the ruins of Rome.

British painters were no less obsessed with the possibility of the future fall of their empire. After working in the office of architect John Soane, who designed the newly-built Bank of England, artist Joseph Gandy was commissioned to paint a view of the bank in ruins. Around the crumbling ruin, London appears as an overgrown wilderness like Rome or Babylon.

The painting was intended as a compliment to its architect: he had created something to last forever, Gandy meant to say. But the image also held a melancholy promise that all the present greatness of London could one day fall into ruin.

The fear embodied by the imperial ruin-gazer would find realisation in the coming centuries. Soon the citizens of London and Paris would see their own cities in ruins, just as the Victorian artists had warned, and with the dawn of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the first photographs of war ruins changed the image of the ruin forever. In 1865, the city of Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy during the US Civil War, was burned by retreating Confederate forces. The photographs of the devastation, the first true photographs of war ruins, would form a terrible foretaste of what was to come for cities like Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima and Stalingrad in the next century.

Past and prophecy

As bombs and shells rained on European cities during World War One and World War Two, the ruin painting took on a new form: an expression of horror. Painters like Graham Sutherland and John Piper documented the shattered holes that German bombing campaigns opened in Britain’s urban landscape, using modernist techniques to express the dark new age of warfare.

Before World War One, Australian artist Arthur Streeton spent his whole life painting ruins such as Corfe Castle in Dorset and Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire. He painted the ancient ruins as solid parts of the landscape, reassuring in their looming permanence. But when he took a job as an official painter of landscapes during World War One, he saw the devastation of cities like Péronne, near the Somme battlefield, and his style changed completely.

Streeton painted his modern ruins as ghostly, ephemeral entities, washed out and bleached in a shattered landscape. In the modern age of warfare, he returned to the ancient motif of ruins as silent, empty places, places where time stops and ghostly presences can be felt. “True pictures of battlefields are very quiet looking things,” Streeton said of his war paintings. “There’s nothing much to be seen, everybody and thing is hidden and camouflaged.”

Echoes of Streeton can be seen in images by the Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who painted the ruins of Mosul during the campaign to retake the city from IS. Abdul-Ahad uses the same tradition of washed-out watercolour and ink to portray these modern ruins as ghostly places full of sorrow.

Today, artists are still finding new ways to represent the ruins of our modern wars, and the ruins brought about by redundancy and economic crisis. Photographers like Rebecca Lilith Bathory or Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have turned their lenses on the abandoned and forgotten places of the world, once again finding beauty in the lost.

Despite the shifts in how people have reacted to and imagined ruins over the millennia, the artist’s fascination with ruined and abandoned places has never waned. Ruins make us feel connected to history, and to cultural memory. By their very existence, they form critiques of ideas concerning the march of capitalist progress. They fill us with an evocative melancholy and form moments of stillness in our hectic lives. While the modern ruin has become a specific container for traumatic and horrific memories, the ruins of the past are still places where time stands still, where the ghostly presence of history can be felt, and where an artist can lose themselves in dreams.

As published by BBC – Paul Cooper – 1-16-18

Cosmic Energy Beings Descend on Greater Reston Arts Center in Paulina Peavy’s Outsider Art

When Paulina Peavy appeared on Long John Nebel’s late-night radio talk show in New York in 1958, she wore a decorative mask. It was part of her art-making process, but that wasn’t what she was there to discuss.

“When did you first realize you could go into a trance?” the host asks. By that point in her life, Peavy had built a legitimate art practice, with a few different Manhattan solo shows under her belt. But Nebel wanted to talk about the beings that had been visiting her for nearly two decades: aliens, supernatural entities, who hailed from another realm. Nebel’s show, which ran from midnight to 5:30 a.m. five nights a week, ran the paranormal gamut, from ghost sightings to conspiracy theories to close encounters—the stuff that insomniacs live for.

Peavey claimed to know this otherworld intimately: She served as a medium for beings of pure energy, in particular one frequent interdimensional flyer known as Lacamo. Peavy wore one of her hand-made masks to her radio appearance in hopes of a channeling Lacamo or one of his cohort. Her masks worked like a conduit for UFO energy. Listeners were in luck: That night, Peavy was a hot mic.

Twenty-five years ago, she explains to Nebel, she began to hear voices coming through her. At that very moment in the program, Peavy cries out. “YOU SEE PAULINA SQUIRMING ABOUT BECAUSE WE ARE HOOKING INTO HER BEING HIGH VOLTAGE,” she intones, in a convenient establishment shot for radio listeners. Peavy (or somebody) continues on in an imperious voice. “THIS IS NOT THE VOICE OF PAULINA, FOR WE HAVE NOT RELEASED HER.”

Paulina Peavy: A Message to Paulina, on view at the Greater Reston Arts Center, is an effort to suss out what Peavy could not fully explain to Nebel that night. Or through a series of woowoo films, like 1987’s UFO Identified, which she produced herself. Over a career spanning decades and periods on both coasts, Peavy pursued a detailed vision of universal enlightenment, one that would culminate in a unified gender for all humankind. Along the way, she made hippie artworks and even found a modicum of commercial success. Peavy died in Bethesda in 1999, at the age of 98 and in the grips of dementia, and she otherwise has no claim to the D.C. area.

Yet it’s hard to imagine seeing this show anywhere else. Or any time else: A Message to Paulina arrives at a time when Steve Bannon ascended the ziggurat of power (however briefly) as a harbinger of an epochal cataclysm known as the Fourth Turning. The Pentagon confirmed the existence of footage recorded by a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet that appears to depict an honest-to-goodness flying saucer. Throw in some theremin and a week’s worth of headlines from The New York Times might not sound all that different from the message Lacamo spent Peavy’s life trying to tell us.

What we know about that life is short and sweet: Born in 1901 in Colorado, she spent her formative years bouncing around the West Coast before settling in Los Angeles. She claims to have studied at the Chouinard School of Art (now the California Institute of Technology), one of the premiere institutions funneling illustrators into the Walt Disney Co. at the time. Her studies might explain her precise approach to work that attempts to evoke formlessness. Things changed for Peavy in 1932, when she began attending a weekly séance in Long Beach. Shortly after, on the eve of her greatest artistic accomplishment—while she was exhibiting a 14-foot mural at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco—she was first visited by Lacamo.

A Message to Paulina tells this story through Peavy’s drawings and paintings, her masks, a bit of ephemera from her life, and a loop of her loopy films. (The radio program is also playing in the gallery.) The paintings are the place to start: almost all untitled and undated, Peavy’s dark, dense atmospheric abstractions feature geometric forms on their surface, like a crystalline net trying to reign in the ocean. The drawings especially are too refined to fit the not-so-neat idea that most of us have of outsider or visionary art. The Greater Reston Arts Center show explodes that simplistic box.

Peavy co-credits Lacamo for much of the artworks, and to the extent that it’s tempting to trace her hand (to pick a pronoun for a gender-defying being of pure harmonic energy) in this show, it’s gotta be in the masks. Covered in costume jewels and patterned fabric, they evoke the overbearing decorative sensibility of Hollywood Regency–era designer Dorothy Draper. The artist used tassels and seashells in ways that sometimes obstructed the eyelets. Seeing them did not summon for me a vision of Lacamo, but it’s easy to imagine the faceless Peavy donning a mask to convey alien messages in her baritone register—summoning all the exotic drama of Yma Sumac.

A Message to Paulina is ultimately too thin, as a historical record, to make much of a claim about her status in the art scenes she inhabited at various points in her life. For example, there are two untitled, undated smoke drawings, a complete departure from the orderly graphic style in her paintings. They resemble some works that the late D.C. artist Rockne Krebs made using candle smoke and airbrush in the 1970s. Peavy’s drawings with smoke are also ghostly yet precious, but with no context to understand them, they are mysteries. (To the credit of Greater Reston Arts Center curator and executive director Lily Siegel, there wasn’t much work by Peavy to be found.)

Instead, A Message is a challenge to the conventional wisdom that there is a particular look or feel to outsider art, a notion that is anyway rooted in a limited vision of neurodiversity. Too often, outsider means other. Outsider artists are seens as exiles from a normal way of doing things, less often as challengers at the gates. By all signs, Peavy was traditionally educated and commercially embraced. This show ought to upset the comfortable categories of inside and outside.

No doubt, Peavy’s work is out there. Her art is the kind of out there, however, that feels affirming and sensual and performative, not constricting or hallucinatory or eschatological. These days, Peavy’s world offers the kind of escape that the rest of us, masks off, might gladly entertain.

As published by Washington City Paper

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YOU HAVE TWELVE MINUTES

What do you do when you have twelve minutes to potentially live or die? Saturday morning our Hawaiian Islands were rattled, as we quickly awoke in our hotel on the island of Kauai. Listening to the crashing of the ocean, I slowly reached over to grasp my glasses and IPhone from the nightstand & read the following message.

“EMERGENCY ALERT, BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”

My mind immediately started to process and the retail trainer/facilitator in me started to work. Before I knew it, probing questions were filtering through my mind. Who, what, when, where, why? There was no time to panic and before we could react there had to be an immediate plan.

Suddenly, all these details that have been shared with us from the Hawaii government since the “War Games” threats began at the end of last year started to fill my head.

• Hawaii is about 4,600 miles from North Korea and a nuclear missile launched from there could reportedly be here in about 12-15 minutes.

• According to Hawaii Emergency Management Administration, current estimates of human causalities based on the size of North Korean nuclear weapon technology strongly suggest that an explosion would be less than 6 miles in diameter.

• “More than 90 percent of the population would survive the direct effects of such an explosion,” HEMA said in a fact sheet. “Planning and preparedness are essential to protect those survivors from delayed residual radiation and other effects of the attack.”

• “If a missile is launched from North Korea, the warning time available for Hawaii is only 15 minutes or less. Given the short timeframe, the public will have little time to react,” the release said. “The public is advised to prepare and exercise a plan for their families ahead of time.”

• Do I make a call to my parents and tell them I love them or do I just send a text and hope for the best?

A sick pit began to settle in my stomach as we pulled all the down pillows and comforters from the bed and huddled on the cold marble floor of the hotel bathroom. Before we could get settled, the hotel announced on an intercom that all guests should evacuate to the underground back of house. We were then informed there would be an investigation to verify the message we had all received on our devices and they would share more information as it became available. That is when it all got real.

I quickly went into think fast mode. My first thought was to grab all the things contestants on a reality show would bring before being dropped on a remote island and left to survive. Knowing we would potentially would not have power and need to stay inside for 2 weeks or more, I started to layer on clothes, lace up sneakers and lastly make sure I had my wallet with ID. Finally, we grabbed Christian our dog and off we went.

The journey to the safe place was where it all started to come together and shock was over. Emotions and fear were settling in. I was suddenly filled with feelings that I had not experienced since a tragic September day back home in Washington, DC. A tragic day in our US history where all I was trying to do was evacuate my office at the Washington Design Center and find a safe place. It was a sense of fear and uncertainty that so many of us felt and hoped to never feel again. Like that terrible day all you could do was look up and pray nothing would be dropping from the sky. I can no way compare the two days but the emotions and thoughts were so similar and not knowing if you would survive was the same.

Fortunately after the longest twelve minutes of my life along with another twenty minutes, we were finally notified that it was a false alarm.

Why today do I share this? The emotions that I had were overwhelming for me and fellow Hawaiians and tourists from all over the world. You might have not felt the impact of our morning while you were going about your Saturday on the mainland. In many cases I had friends reaching out to me hours after the incident, as they just weren’t aware. But can you only imagine how you would have reacted knowing that you might only have a few hours left to live? What would you do? My Hawaiian family and friends have all been in a state of “disbelief”. People were opening manhole covers and dropping their children underground, students at the university were running to take cover and people in their cars were essentially stuck with no where to go. Are you prepared? This is no longer a threat to Hawaii but it is reality to all of the United States. We are now living in era of a true survivor reality show lead by a former reality personality. We must, as American citizens be there to support each other, have a plan and be ready. Aloha and God Bless America!

David Brown
Mulberry Seed Design

A National Geographic Photographer Reflects on a Life in the Wild

Seventeen years ago, a hippopotamus family slowly wandered down a white sand beach on the western coast of Gabon and Michael “Nick” Nichols followed them with his camera lens. He was on a long photography assignment for National Geographic, traveling more than 2,000 miles from the Republic of the Congo to Gabon with explorer Michael Fay and writer David Quammen, and would walk the beach in the mornings looking for animals.

Soon, the heavy hippos got into the Atlantic Ocean and began to surf the waves. This serves a purpose, Nichols says, as they walk from their lagoon to the ocean in the mornings and use the waves to carry them down a few miles where they can feed on new grass at night.

“It’s 4 a.m., we’re trying to get the surfing hippos coming up out of the surf,” Nichols said in his easy Southern drawl during a video diary at the time. “It’s very, very difficult to see them. But they symbolize something in my photography, too. Because I go after things that are unseen.”

Nichols ran back and forth on the beach, trying to get precise shots that would illustrate his goal of “trying to tell a story that might make people care about nature, and nature being wild.”

He succeeded. His surfing hippo photo was selected as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential Images of All Time in 2016.

Nichols, 65, hails from Muscle Shoals in northern Alabama, near the Tennessee River. His mother raised three children with a fourth grade education. While playing as a child, he’d create his own fantasy worlds. “A forest behind the house would be the jungles of Africa. That, I think, led to where I went.”

The first time he picked up a camera in a college introductory photography course, he became enamored with the medium and knew he wanted to pursue it as a career. “I borrowed [a camera] that was on my shoulder for the rest of my life,” he says. That same semester, in 1972, he was drafted into the Army. He was able to keep up his skills during his service, however: His military identification card labeled him an official U.S. Army photographer. “Somehow, he persuaded them to hand him a camera instead of a gun,” Quammen said at a recent event. Quammen once asked Nichols what he would have done with his life had he been born long before the creation of photography. Nichols responded: “Well, I’d be in jail, I guess.”
Michael Nichols

In the Army, Nichols was depressed. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, looking for a creative outlet. He began exploring and photographing the state’s caves on the weekends. It was on these excursions that he taught himself about lighting and the functional techniques required to be a professional photographer. After completing three years of military service, he left the Army in 1975.

He started submitting his portfolio to National Geographic and received only rejection letters in return. But German educational magazine Geo, launched in 1976, was looking for reliable photographers stateside and came across his cave work. They were impressed, assigning him a cave story to photograph in 1978, which they published in 1979. He kept working for them, photographing dangerous river expeditions, rappelling off mountains in the Arctic. He went to caves all over the country, from Georgia to New Mexico. “People talk about danger, I never thought about danger, I just wanted to get pictures,” he says.

For the next ten years, he’d publish photos in Rolling Stone, Audubon, and Esquire. In 1989, he finally broke through with National Geographic, when the magazine asked him to return to New Mexico to photograph Lechuguilla Cave. He continued freelancing for the magazine for years. In 1996, he was hired as a staff photographer and after that, he never worked anywhere else, retiring from his official duties as editor at large for photography in 2015.

These days, he can look back on his career and all of the things he’s done with the perspective he couldn’t have when he was in the thick of it all. Nichols’ images for National Geographic are full of movement, brutality, and enduring life. Some are just as challenging to look at as they were to take. Some required him to venture into dense forests that no human had ever entered, others to get intimate with elephants and witness chimpanzees be tortured in the name of science. These challenges, he says, are a way to make people care.

Using camera traps—remotely activated cameras with motion sensors—and every manner of lens, he’s photographed Jane Goodall’s work and interactions with chimpanzees. He’s captured suffering chimps as scientists experiment on them, and chimps encountering humans for the first time as thousands of insects swirled around him. He’s gotten pictures of lowland gorillas, lions and tigers with their cubs, bears taking baths, herds of hundreds of elephants, owls with talons larger than human hands, the wilds of Yellowstone, and giant 3,200-year-old trees.

He now understands that his photos can help save the Earth and combat its human-accelerated destruction.

“‘Wild’ is an idea,” he says. “We don’t understand it, but we’ve got it in us. A lot of our behaviors are driven by that. So, that’s what the animals taught me. The planet is just not intact without the wild. And we’ve got to help keep it wild, we don’t want to tame it. Tame is so boring. The unpredictability of the wild is so special.”
In every project, he’s sure to not aggravate or harm the animals in any way. “If an animal told me it didn’t like what I was doing, I stopped doing it.” Once he realized that elephants hated camera flashes, he never used flashes again near them.

His work with National Geographic has brought about real change. Photos and data from his 2,000 mile trek through central and western Africa, on which he photographed the surfing hippos, were shared with Gabon’s president Omar Bongo, who was shocked to learn that all this natural beauty existed in his own country. This led to the creation of 13 national parks in Gabon, and brought significant U.S. funding to the Congo Basin.

“The most important thing in conservation is land, and that’s why what Fay and I did is so important, because we actually saved land,” Nichols says now.

His last international assignment sent him to Tanzania’s Serengeti plains in 2012. He had always dreamed of doing a photo project on Serengeti lions and entering their world. Using a robotic camera, he did, getting up close with several prides. He shot 200,000 pictures of the lions. National Geographic cut that down to about 13, he says.

But failures have also stuck with him and he’s learned from them. When he was on his final assignment at Yellowstone National Park from 2014 to 2015, he wanted to capture specific images of wolf packs. They didn’t let him, though, and avoided the areas where the cameras were set up. Nichols accepted the failure because the animals were wild, and the wild didn’t belong to him. “They defeated me completely. We learned that they are that wary, and it was cool to know that. Failure can sometimes be very positive.” 10NNW Michael Nichols WILD Exhibit39
Michael Nichols

Now he and his wife Reba, who have two adult sons, live in Sugar Hollow, Virginia, near Charlottesville and are, fittingly, still surrounded by nature. Instead of lions and tigers, he’s fallen in love with owls and the occasional bear, and recently got an iPhone X to take photos of his Australian cattle dog, Thermal. He sets simple camera traps on his land to try and capture the elusive coywolf. He’ll never stop being a photographer.

In all his adventures traversing the globe, his pictures haven’t come without a cost. By the time he got to the lion project, his body, he says, was starting to break. He’s contracted malaria more than 20 times, dealt with bouts of blackwater fever, and had five knee surgeries.

“It was what I begged for in life,” he says. “Once I had it, I just took it all the way, all the time. Now that I reflect on it, it was incredible to see all that. It does change you.”

For 40 years, he never stopped chasing adventure. Today, he’s trying to slow down. His photos currently adorn the walls of the National Geographic Museum on 17th Street NW in a new exhibit called Wild: Michael Nichols. It’s a celebration of his career and the nearly 30 photo assignments that have become storied images at the publication. He’s documented wildlife so well that each step of the exhibit is referred to as its own “room.” There’s a lion room, an elephant room, a chimpanzee room. The incredible photos on display represent everywhere he’s been. But where he’s going next, he doesn’t know.

“I’m just taking care of my family and my life around me, and enjoying the world around me,” he says. “Maybe someday I’ll have another project that I want to do, but I don’t know what it is right now. I’m trying to put that National Geographic guy to bed, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to die and not be a photographer.”

“Wild: Michael Nichols” is on view at the National Geographic Museum through January 15. 1145 17th St. NW. $15. (202) 857-7700. nationalgeographic.org/dc/exhibitions.

As published by Washington City Paper – Kayla Randall – 1-11-18

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Super Cold = Layers Upon Layers

Dressing in layers is what gets us through transitional seasons when it’s sunny and warm one day and gray and cold the next. Believe it or not, the layered look can add a significant amount of impact to your home as well. All the decorative elements in your home provide visual interest, texture, depth, and a sense of abundance. Whether layers increase your physical comfort, please the eye, or camouflage portions of a room that you don’t love, there are so many reasons to go multi-dimensional.

We mostly think of layering (clothes and housewares) in the winter. Something about winter makes us want to gather more around us, whereas summer makes us want to clear it all away. As fall quickly approaches and we are all re-evaluating our living spaces, here are a few ideas I kept in the back of my mind as I began pulling together ideas for the chilly breezy months ahead:

• Layering mirrors can provide an almost prismatic effect, reflecting light from multiple surfaces.

• Layering artwork can create a lot of texture, especially when using contrasting frames. Like layered clothing, artwork is versatile allowing you rotate what’s in front, middle and back.

• Layered bedding can be so inviting and add extra texture. The addition of throws, pillows and fluffy down not only add texture but depth to the space.

• White on white dish layering really accentuates the textures of the different plates as well as plays on the reflective qualities of the china.

• Layered rugs on top one another can add visual warmth as well as texture. They are also great at defining a space.

• Layered throws and pillows add a sense of warmth and texture to an otherwise flat and cold space.

• Layering in potted plants or an indoor tree can provide color to a space but the texture and plant itself will awaken the senses!

David Brown
Mulberry Seed Design

Aloha 2018!

Perhaps, when you find the opportunity to read my closing blog of 2017 it will be just another day in the New Year. I have so much to say but have yet to put it into words.

On this last day of 2017, I would like to share with you memories. This is the story of a young boy growing up in the country of West Virginia in the 1980’s and buried in a deep closet filled with sequins and organza. Fashion and music was my outlet to living a life without bullying and hate. I would allow my imagination, WWD, & Else Klensch to transport me to places that were filled with excitement, newness, color, style and passion. I knew the only way in life I would truly be fulfilled would be to live a life of travel, fashion, fast pace, and luxury lifestyle outside my little hometown.

Flash forward through the minimalistic utilitarian times of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. I accomplished my goals, lived my life in New York City, Washington, DC, Palm Beach and Miami. I faced many challenges along the way but due to the support of others (you all know who you are) I was been given so many opportunities to get back up on my feet and continue my journey. I must also say I have been blessed to live openly as a gay man in an industry that “embraces people who make people feel beautiful outside as well inside” and build relationships with some of the most amazing progressive and challenging thinkers of all time. When you reach what you think is your ultimate career goals and aspirations but all you have is sadness, an unbelievable first hand experience of the “The Devil Wears Prada”, behind the scene views of political chaos where other people determine your destiny (not you) and a deep sense of loneliness as well as a whole lot of debt and “designer stuff” you are left lost in the identity of your career not the true person you are. Wow, what a run on sentence. (Sorry Ms. Wanless & Mrs. Snyder)

Little did I know that coming to one of the smallest islands in the world would change me as a person in so many ways. I have always known something was missing and I knew I was on a journey to find it. I would be telling you the most horrific lies if I said my life is filled with surfing, sunshine and hula. In Hawaii I have had to work multiple jobs to survive, went months without being able to find a job, balanced medical challenges from thyroid tumors to vertebrae injuries, fought with depression, sadness, etc. It hasn’t been the lifestyle dream that social media might portray.

However, 2017 has been the year where we were all given a choice. The choice was to conform and step backwards in time or make change happen our selves. Many of us have united and shared our passion while others have remained silent. Over the last few months in the search to make change, I found that reason why I was sent here to Hawaii. I was given precious time to slow down and get to know me. After all the rushing, traveling, facilitating and sharing, I actually was forced to find “me”. What the hell? This is it! It’s that easy. I was given a rare opportunity to live life outside the “superficial bubble” or “glass box” that I have been smothered in for decades. It wasn’t just a closet I was trapped in as a teen, it was a whole life defined by stereotypes, greed, anger and what I thought life was suppose to be. Look, I am so grateful to have “shattered the glass ceiling” for myself. I am certain so many of you have been blessed with this but for those of you that haven’t…”Hey, people life is out there”. I know see that life is about taking your culture, values, DNA and experiences and sharing them with others to make both your lives brighter. Coming to Kauai has reignited my passion and love for the outdoors and brought with it stories that I had forgotten. Always running from the bullying and anger, I forgot about how much my family shared and cared.

My grandfather was a farmer and fur trapper while the other was an educator. One grandmother was a cook and primary provider of her family of seven kids the other was an entrepreneur who owned jewelry stores and radio stations. My mother was a special education aid and school secretary while my father was a director of housekeeping and purchasing for a mental institution. These values make up the person that I am today. It’s who I am. All these gifts that I have been given along the way from my family and my experiences are now meant for me to share with others so they we can all live a life more satisfying in 2018. It’s that easy people-just look around you. Be open.

I leave you going into 2018 with a quote from Glenn Life Brown my late grandfather and former Superintendent of Schools for Lewis County, “No matter what you do touch one person every day and make that difference”. I get it grandpa. I get it. Aloha to you all in 2018. May you find your peace and share change the way it was intended.

David Brown
Mulberry Seed Design

Recycling Holiday In A New Way

It’s that time of the year and the lovely holiday cards are flowing into our homes. If you are like me, it is so great to hear from those near and far but what do you do with the cards after you open them? Personally, I would recycle them and get rid of the clutter (with this statement I will never get another Christmas Card again). But, this year we have really tried to be very sensitive to the fact that allot of love and thought went into the cards- especially in a time when most people don’t take the time to personalize a card. So, I have combed the Internet and found a few ideas for you to utilize those beautiful cards in many ways throughout your home.

• Use simple kraft paper and wrap your gift, then top each gift with a “TO, FROM” tag made from the front of a holiday card.

• Create garland from old cards to hang on your tree, table or on the wall.

• Cut the front of each card into the shape of a beautiful leaf and turn those cards into a beautiful wreath for the wall.

• Fold, cut and twist holiday cards into gorgeous shapes to create these amazing ornaments for the tree.

• Save those old holiday Christmas bulb ornaments and add layers of small pieces of cards to the bulbs… giving them a fun update.

• Use old holiday cards as extra detail on your holiday gifts. A great idea is to cut initials out of the cards and use them in replacement of a typical bow.

• Use that card as a gift tag for a wine bottle, simply cut off the top cover of the card, make a 2-3 inch fold at the top of the card, cut out a small hole and slip over the top of your wine bottle.

• Okay, it is a little late but, you can make your own advent calendar with old holiday cards-they make a great door to for the daily cover.

• Make mini boxes out of old cards for giving jewelry and tiny gifts.

• Cut those holiday cards into strips and tie them with a ribbon to make fabulously festive bookmarks.

• Update the pictures in your home for the holidays by framing old festive cards and hand with red and green ribbon.

Cut and fold those old holiday cards into pretty bows for all your gifts.

• Add some holiday cheer to your living space with a simple tree decorated with hanging holiday cards.

David Brown
Mulberry Seed Design

Exit Interviews: Restaurant Pros Who Left D.C. Reflect on the City’s Dining Scene

While D.C. has been attracting top talent from other cities as of late, the city has also lost a few excellent chefs and bartenders to faraway lands. What do they have to say about the city they left in the rearview mirror? Baby, we got bad blood? Not so much. Their reflections are more constructive than contrarian.

Chef: Anthony Lombardo

You know him from: The Hamilton

Years worked in D.C. kitchens: 7

When he left: 2015

Current status: Opening his first solo restaurant, SheWolf, in Detroit. “It’s like what’s happening in Italy today as opposed to the red sauce places in Detroit,” he says. “Nothing against those places, but this is more chef-driven.” SheWolf should open in the spring.

Lombardo misses the camaraderie among chefs that’s long been touted as an advantage of living and working in D.C. “Detroit is becoming tight knit, but D.C. is much more evolved,” he says. “Guys have been working together there for years, while in Detroit people are just getting to know each other.”

Just go to any D.C. charity food event, like Chefs for Equality or Sips & Suppers, and you’ll see chefs embracing and shooting the shit. “I really miss those because they don’t really exist in Detroit. D.C. is a fundraising city—it really opens your eyes to see how chefs can raise money so easily,” he says.

On a personal note, he misses “day-off museum days” when he’d bop around the National Mall visiting the free museums. “It was fun and cheap and amazing,” he says. “I just got really smart when I was in D.C. It’s such a smart city.”

Watching from afar, he’s looking forward to seeing what Chefs Mike Friedman (All-Purpose Pizzeria) and Haidar Karoum (Chloe) do next. “Those guys have the chops to build a quick empire.”

Chef: R.J. Cooper

You know him from: Rogue 24 and Gypsy Soul

Years worked in D.C. kitchens: 17

When he left: 2015

Current status: Serving as the executive chef of Henley in Nashville. The modern American brasserie serves food R.J. Cooper describes as “super local, fun, and similar to Gypsy Soul but a little more refined.”

Cooper echoes Lombardo’s sentiment about missing the camaraderie among D.C. chefs. “You don’t have that in a lot of cities,” he says. “You don’t have the same lineage and legacy … there is no Roberta Donna or Jeff Buben in Nashville because it’s still such a young city.”

Donna and Buben have been working in D.C. for decades and have trained up many of the next generation of chefs that are currently opening restaurants locally. “They set the foundation for the city and what dining should be.”

If there’s one thing Cooper doesn’t miss it’s the traffic. Just the thought of it produces a stream of expletives from his mouth. “I love D.C., but the expansion happened so quickly,” he says. “The restaurants had an explosion and the rents skyrocketed. There’s so much push and it just got busy.”

The chef has been paying attention and says he continues to be impressed by Katsuya Fukushima (Daikaya, Haikan, Bantam King), Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve, Hummingbird, Kaliwa), Jeremiah Langhorne (The Dabney), and Tom Cunanan (Bad Saint). He also has an interesting theory about the future.

“That whole ethnic casual fine dining boom is what’s going to bring the next generation to the forefront instead of regional American fine dining,” Cooper says. “In D.C., it’s more likely there will be a three-star Michelin [restaurant] that’s ethnic instead of American, French, or Italian. Someone is going to breakthrough that mold and it’s not going to be Rasika or Fiola Mare. It’ll be someone small who’s young who will take a risk.”

Bartender: Scotty Holland

You know him from: Kapnos, Graffiato, Zaytinya, Urbana

Years worked in D.C. kitchens: 10.5

When he left: 2015

Current status: Head bartender at top-rated cocktail bar Forgery in San Francisco

Though he’s now living in San Francisco, a city long heralded for its food scene, Holland thinks D.C. has its merits. “I miss the wide variety of cuisine that D.C. has to offer, from great Filipino food to fiery Ethiopian,” he says. “Living in D.C., we always looked up to areas like New York and San Francisco, but after working in San Francisco I’ve realized that D.C. is right up there with everyone else when it comes to food and beverage.”

He’s heard about D.C.’s staffing crisis. “Things expanded quickly and there’s been a shortage of good staff,” he says. “The main thing D.C. needs is to focus on training the staff in the art of hospitality. I think that gets swept under the rug too often.” He admits that staffing is a problem everywhere, not just D.C.

When asked about rising bar stars, he gives a shout out to Hung Nguyen of Requin. “He came back from New York a couple of years ago and he’s someone that is doing some cutting edge things,” Holland says.

Chef: Frederik de Pue

You know him from: Table, Azure, Menu MBK

Years worked in D.C. kitchens: 14

When he left: Still has a residence in D.C. but opened Flamant this summer in Annapolis

Current status: Chef/owner of Flamant, specializing in his native Flemish cuisine

Reflecting on his time working in D.C., de Pue says we’ve come a long way. “Sixteen years ago when I arrived here I was initially disappointed,” he says. “There were a lot of steak restaurants and not anything beyond that other than a couple of big name chefs. It’s interesting to see how the city has evolved.”

He welcomes the trend that you don’t need $5 million to open a restaurant anymore. “It started in 2012 and 2013 when a lot of small restaurants opened—you don’t have to be large-scale anymore.”

He’s enjoying being a true neighborhood restaurant in Annapolis. While he’d occasionally get repeat customers at Table, Flamant is full of familiar faces. “That’s one of the reasons I left downtown D.C.,” he says. “I wanted to have that personal connection with customers and we definitely have that here.”

The chef doesn’t miss all the red tape you have to cut through to open a restaurant in D.C., noting that it’s easier to open a restaurant in Annapolis where everyone plays by the rules. “There shouldn’t be [permit] expeditors,” he says referring to people who help businesses shuffle permits along faster through the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. “They should do a better job in general, the city and DCRA.”

As far as D.C. stars, de Pue has his eye on Aaron Silverman who is readying to open Little Pearl in the former Bayou Bakery at the mouth of Barracks Row. “Mike Isabella is exploding everywhere. It’s amazing,” he continues. “And I’m quite excited about Haidar Karoum’s restaurant.”

As published by Washington City Paper — Laura Hayes — 12/15/17

Why Hundreds Of Completely New Cities Are Being Built Around The World

“Humans have always built new cities,” spoke Caspar Herzberg, the President of Middle East and Africa Region at Schneider Electric, from a stripped bare boardroom high up in the Northeast Trade Tower.

We were looking out through a window at skyscrapers glittering in the morning sun, myriad shops, hotels, restaurants, streets full of cars, and a meticulously manicured central park. Families were going for boat rides on the canal, dog walkers were gathered in small groups, business people were getting their morning coffees at sidewalk cafes. It was a typical scene that you would expect to find in any city in the world. However, we were not in a typical city; we were in Songdo, South Korea — a place that 15 years ago didn’t even exist.

But what is most striking about Songdo isn’t that it is a completely new city that built up a business base and a 130,000-person population in just handful of years, but the fact that it is not unique. In this era of compulsive new city building, Songdo has oddly become a new normal.

Everything about Songdo is artificial, clinical, and built from scratch — a “city in a box” that was purchased by the Incheon government for $40 billion and erected like a pop up tent. Even the ground below the 305-meter high tower that Caspar and I were standing in was nothing but soggy marshes leading out to the Yellow Sea hardly half a generation ago.

Literally, hundreds of entirely new cities have been sprouting up across Asia and Africa since the early 2000s. They are totally new dots on the map with names like Putrajaya, Naypyidaw, Nanhui, Kangbashi, Dompak, and Khorgos. There is a Forest City, a King Abdullah Economic City, a Blue City, a Gracefield Island, a Tbilisi Sea New City, a Port City, a Waterfall City, and, yes, even a Robotic Future City. In all, over 40 countries — such as Malaysia, Nigeria, China, Morocco, India, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Oman, Kazakhstan, and Kenya — have dumped billions of dollars into developing new cities from the ground up. Indonesia alone is busy at work constructing no less than 27 new cities.

What are new cities?

New cities tend to conceal nothing in nomenclature; they are exactly what they say they are: new cities — completely new urban organisms that are fully masterplanned, built in colossal waves of development, which have their own governments, economic engines, and social identities. New cities should not be confused with mere urban expansion or sprawl. While they are sometimes not entirely different in practice — and the lines between them can get very blurred — they are at root their own metropolitan entities.

“I define new cities as urban mega-projects that are intended to be largely independent from existing cities and have their own industries. They are physically separate from existing settlements, in contrast to suburbs or gated communities,” explained Dr. Sarah Moser of McGill University, who runs what is probably the world’s foremost research institute tracking new city development.

How big are they?

The scale and scope of Asian and African new cities is nearly incomprehensible in the current Western view of development. China’s Binhai New Area, a conurbation of development projects that contain two new financial districts, a high-tech zone, an eco-city, and an expanded port weighs in at 2,270 square kilometers, which is around the same size as Tokyo. Zhengzhou’s Zhengdong New District is three times the size of San Francisco. Chengdu’s Tianfu could evenly eclipse London. Changzhou’s Wujin New District has a footprint that matches that of Los Angeles. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Economic City is the size of Washington D.C.. While Malaysia’s Forest City — a veritable new colony for 700,000 Chinese transplants on the doorstep of Singapore — is four times the size of Central Park.

While humans have always intentionally built new cities, we have never built so many on such massive scales in so many places in so little time. This is a phenomenon that has all the makings of a movement that will shape the political, social, and economic trajectories of the planet in the coming decades.

How many new cities are being built?

“New cities have a definitional problem, but according to how I am defining new city projects, there are about 100 under construction or being planned since the mid-1990s, not including China,” Moser estimated.

China is without a doubt the global epicenter for new city building, having established more than 600 new cities since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. While many of China’s new cities derived from what amounts to ambitious rezoning schemes — creating new urban-classified administrative areas from rural-classified areas — nearly all of what is now regarded as urban China was built up from scratch over the past thirty years (with marked exceptions being the historic zones of cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou). The best official numbers that we can get as to how many new cities China has really built comes from a 2013 survey conducted by Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission, which found that in just twelve of China’s thirty-two provincial-level administrative divisions there were over 200 new towns under development. Nationwide, that number could easily be built.

Why new cities are being built

While some new cities are built to become new political centers, some are positioned to become new hubs of logistics, and others are designed to become new epicenters of trade, finance, or technology, they all share one common ambition: to be long-term engines of economic growth.

Flipping the 1990s-era script that urbanization is an economic scourge or social calamity, many countries across Asia and Africa are now viewing it as an opportunity (or at least a justification) to develop massive new cities — metaphorical gaming tables where billions of dollars are being won and lost.

Countries building these new cities also tend to be those which have rapidly growing middle and upper classes, are seeing dramatic improvements in infrastructure, skyrocketing GDPs, and newfound economic stability. In many ways, new cities are meant to provide the momentum required to keep these wheels in motion.

In this context, new cities are essentially giant blinking signposts which loudly proclaim, “We have arrived.” They are strategies to keep homegrown talent from migrating abroad, attract foreign investors and companies, rebrand the country as “modern,” as well as to extract the short-term spoils that can be squeezed out of real estate development.

“We are building Gracefield Island because the time for it has come in West Africa, particularly Nigeria,” sums up Olufemi Babalola, the driving force behind the project. “The time has come for a city that is sustainable, that addresses the housing and office accommodation needs of the future. People ask us, ‘Why Gracefield Island, why are we creating an island?,’ and we say that we are doing Gracefield Island on reclaimed land because we need a clean slate, a clean canvas on which to do what we are doing.”

It is often extremely profitable — at least at the onset — for governments to build new cities from scratch. Inherent to the creation of a new city is the creation of urban development land that can be sold to developers. We saw this fiscal strategy utilized in China to gaudy extents between 2002 and 2012 — the years of the country’s new city building boom. In 2000, land sales on average made up 9.3% of China’s municipal government revenue. In 2011, it was up to 74.1%. According to a joint survey between Landesa, Renmin University, and Michigan State University, China’s local municipalities were making 40-times more money per acre of land than they were paying to seize it for redevelopment. In the case of reclaimed land, we’re looking at profits in the 10 to 100-fold range.

“There is a widespread view that new cities are a crucial part of any emerging economy’s toolkit for economic growth, yet very little research has been conducted to determine the extent to which this is true,” Moser explained.

Who new cities are for

In many cases, new cities amount to “city 2.0-style” upgrades over the historic urban cores they usual exist in proximity to. Rather than completely demolishing and reworking the often outdated existing city, the idea is to start over from scratch on a completely blank canvas of land nearby. These new urban expanses are often attempts to engineer-out many of the pitfalls of the cities they are meant to improve upon — promising better traffic systems, more sustainable resource use strategies, and cleaner living environments.

However, there is a social class element that cannot be ignored.

“Most of these cities are not for the poor or even for middle class people,” Moser explained. “They have luxury housing, golf courses, and other amenities that are expensive and energy / water intensive … further exacerbating differences between rich and poor, the consequences of which could cause more social instability.”

Conclusion

The new city building movement that we are currently in the middle of is one of the most under the radar and most misinterpreted social and economic developments happening in the world today. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested as new dots are being emblazoned upon the map. These are the places in Asia and Africa’s emerging markets that are being primed for foreign investment, these are the places where the money is flowing into, and as the global economy is trending more and more in an upward direction, look for more new cities to start resembling the economic engines they were originally envisioned to become.

“If you get the economic theme right — and I think the one who got it best was Alexander the Great, because some of his cities still stand today and are now very successful — then [a new city] will last for millennia,” Herzberg concluded. “But if you don’t get it right, they will disappear.”

As published by Forbes — Wade Shepherd — 12/12/17

It’s Ultra Violet Time

It’s time to pull out the black light and accent in white. I’m not talking about a circuit party. Are you confused? So am I. Pantone has announced its 2018 color of the year and it is – Ultra Violet 18-3838. It is bold, deep and definitely makes a statement.

A dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade, PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that point us toward the future. According to Pantone this is what the color is all about.

Complex and contemplative, Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now. The vast and limitless night sky is symbolic of what is possible and continues to inspire the desire to pursue a world beyond our own.

Enigmatic purples have also long been symbolic of counterculture, unconventionality, and artistic brilliance. Musical icons Prince, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix brought shades of Ultra Violet to the forefront of western pop culture as personal expressions of individuality. Nuanced and full of emotion, the depth of PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet symbolizes experimentation and non-conformity, spurring individuals to imagine their unique mark on the world, and push boundaries through creative outlets.

Historically, there has been a mystical or spiritual quality attached to Ultra Violet. The color is often associated with mindfulness practices, which offer a higher ground to those seeking refuge from today’s over-stimulated world. The use of purple-toned lighting in meditation spaces and other gathering places energizes the communities that gather there and inspire connection.

Pantone, 2018

Personally, I just can’t embrace this color. Sorry Pantone. I was feeling last year’s PANOTNE 15-0343 Greenery and the connection with the outdoors but I just can’t see myself living in the world of Welches Grape Juice. My suggestion is to use this color as an accent and utilize it in highlights. Whatever you do avoid paint your walls this color (I did it in the 1990’s and it was the works mistake ever) and certainly don’t wear it unless you want to look like a bottle of Elizabeth Taylor’s –White Diamonds.

David Brown
Mulberry Seed Design