Burning LaPortal.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, when I received the somber news that my friend and collaborator Tom Laporte had passed from this world, I knew almost immediately that I would try to honor his legacy at the 2017 Burning Man festival. Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 7.57.36 PMTom loved everything about Burning Man; he was an integral part of the media team, a fixture on Burning Man radio and the historian and chief-elder of the Burners Without Borders camp. His absence would be felt all across the great city in the desert, and many memorials were planned, but I felt that it was also imperative to create a physical container to hold space for our camp’s collective sorrow over his death. BM is a sculpture exhibition first, so I began to conceive of an interactive shrine for Tom.

Tom loved radio, and he was a great proponent of live-streaming the Burn to the outside world. His voice is familiar to people who didn’t even know him, and he lives on in PSA’s played at both the main event and regional burns. So I kept coming back to the idea of a radio … perhaps a giant interactive radio to honor his voice? I had previously built two iterations of an interactive sound sculpture for Burning Man, an inward-projecting audio loop station called Audioreolae. I did some research and settled on the RCA 70 Cathedral Radio as a starting point for the project. It was a timeless design that would also honor Tom’s Catholic upbringing.



Often temples and shrines at Burning Man bear an aesthetic one might cynically call “Asian Fusion.” (2015’s Temple of Promise is the great exception.) I was excited to create a piece featuring the gothic arch, the central form of the great Northern European cathedrals whose mystical designs celebrated the divine feminine and sought to explain nature. Could the cathedral radio be both a big radio…and a tiny cathedral? Could there be an interior? In the great Burning Man sculptural tradition of toying with scale and context, I began building a big ol’ radio.

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No lasers were armed in the making of LaPortal.

Instead of using Auto CAD or CNC, I hand cut the forms out of Baltic Birch using jigsaws and paper templates.  I knew that I would have to transport this thing 2,000 miles from Chicago, so I kept the scale reasonable at 10 feet tall with a slightly flared 6’ by 4’ footprint. The flared footprint made the radio seem like it was growing out of the desert, and although I would later have to mutilate it, but I would be glad I’d flared the base, not only for stability, but for smoothness of form. 20170807_143705For the iconic “shell” speaker port I used burlap, and the giant dial was made from an HVAC end-cap. The RCA 70 radio has a tiny dial that turns a station indicator through a small window, and I knew that I had to combine the old radio with a more modern car radio display so users could see the needle moving. This also allowed the radio to be a portal that one could walk through. Hence; LaPortal. Instead of being an obelisk one would stand around, the radio became an intimate space, with inward-directed audio similar to Audioreolae.


The “Altar of Tubes.”

The inside became a shrine, and instead of votive candles, I inverted Ball jars, painted the bottoms silver to create a flickering “altar of tubes.”  I panelled out a curved ceiling for the interior and painted a comical adaptation of the iconic Creation of Adam panel from the Sistine chapel ceiling fresco by Michelangelo that I called “Creation of Hotdog.” I also made a rose window with Tom’s simple, optimistic and rebellious catchphrase Fuck yeah! hidden in the design. The window was made from vellum, to create a “melting stained glass window” effect when the structure burned.



“Creation of Hotdog.”

The most difficult mechanical hurdle was fabricating the linkage between the dial and the needle (a WD-40 straw). I considered using a bike chain, airplane cable, servos and even motion detectors.


The Brain Unit.


In the end, I took and cue from the Euroburner artists at Nowhere and went with the “keep it simple” approach, using a relatively straightforward rubberized-rope pulley system.

Message_1502894126908 (1)Hidden under the face of the radio was a USB MIDI key-controller, and the pulley system would glassando over the keys with a plastic ball (upcycled canopy tie) triggering both audio content, as well as specially composed AM radio “white noise” between the stops. Sometimes the ball would get a little stuck, or trigger both content and white noise. You had to fiddle with the radio dial, but that was the point; In essence, the interactivity was an exercise in using digital tech such as LEDs and USB audio to create the look and feel of a tube-driven, analog device. The lighting plan for the sculpture was a simple, warm yellow.

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The next step was programming the audio.  I’m immensely grateful to Joshua Gunty and Kevin O’Neill for their efforts here. We used an old Macbook running Ableton to power the sound, and created 4 different sets so that the content would change throughout the week on Playa. We programmed ten “stations” per set. (In keeping with the Catholic theme, these truly were the “stations of Tom.”) Some stations had PSA’s, some had content from Tom calling the Manburn. We included content from BWB telesalons and the BM Global Leadership Conference. We even included Tom’s interview with Abbie Hoffman, recorded when Tom was just seventeen. I broke the sculpture down into a 8’ by 4’ by 10” flat-packed package and had the excellent and reliable Chi-Cargo service ship it to Nevada.

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I had one last stop to make before heading out West. I met up with Tom’s son Daniel and picked up Tom’s ashes, which the family had decided should make their way to Tom’s favorite place. Danny related to me something Tom had said to a friend a few days before he died:

“The resistance is back on. You and I both know how to do it. Dare to Struggle. Dare to grin.”

I flew to Reno with Tom’s ashes on the seat next to mine and with that quote in my mind.

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In classic TLP tradition, LaPortal was a renegade project. Tom passed in March, when many BM projects have already been underway for months (letters of intent for honoraria sculptures are due 9 months out). BWB’s camp real estate includes a portion of open desert across Esplanade, and we are permitted to curate this swath of open Playa. As far as placement, electrical supply, breakdown and disposal were concerned, the Radio Cathedral was nothing more than a piece of camp deco.

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Crowdsourcing for materials was done once at the Freakeasy Pre-compression event, where the radio was activated with a beta version of the interactivity and content. I made a birdhouse-sized radio with a contribution hole and Burners filled it with cash. No Facebook or Gofundme involved.  


We placed the radio about 50 feet into the desert across Esplanade from BWB camp, framing the Man, next to Donkey Boy’s Temple of Tension tightwire clinic.



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Detail showing Manbase in the distance.

Throughout the week both friends and strangers were able to hear Tom’s voice on Playa one last time. There were tears and there was laughter, but most importantly there was Tom. I had enormous help from David Schnack and Kellie Larson, who decorated the inside of the radio with a thick red fabric to create a somber and sound-dampening environment. People wrote messages to Tom on the inside of the structure, where there was just enough room to spend a few moments listening.




We celebrated Tom’s life with a service Wednesday night, and there were special moments where strangers who had known Tom met each other for the first time and remembered their departed friend.


Christopher Breedlove talks about Tom.


The largest mobile flamethrower on Playa gave Tom a 21-poof salute.


One of Black Rock City’s greatest resources is a seemingly endless supply of radial serendipity. I never cease to be amazed by the coincidences I experience on Lake Lahontan. My final touch to the radio was a vintage-looking, braided two prong power cord, basically a sight gag. 20170901_153459A worklight shell filled with expanding foam and plywood prongs made it look like the ghost radio was unplugged. The foam made it light and springy in the wind. And what was the next project down the street on the desert-side of Esplanade? 20170903_111729 (1)A giant, marble outlet at the same approximate scale. I could have just about plugged mine into theirs. (Ask first). And we were unlisted, it wasn’t a placement gag. Curation via pure serendipity.


The week wore on.  The $100 Macbook never crashed and LaPortal played, its inside filling with sharpie messages to Tom around the altar. 


Soon it was Sunday.  My plan had always been to burn the radio shrine in the ashes of the Manbase on Sunday morning, and I had taken care to build the radio out of formaldehyde-free luan for a clean, non-toxic burn. The whole sculpture could be mounted on skis to and dragged to the center of Burning Man, but due to unforeseen circumstances that deserve no further mention, the Man base was closed Sunday, and no-one was able to burn small effigies. What to do?


Burners Without Borders camp has a New Orleans fire-pit that dates back to the organization’s inception, helping with the rebuilding in the Gulf Following Hurricane Katrina.


BWB’s opening night fire, 2017.

The pit measures just over 48” square, so with a little deconstruction and a little luck, I was able to remove the bottom flare of the structure, get it down to four feet square and place it in the pit. I biked over to BMIR and placed an announcement that we were burning Tom’s radio at sunset “at home.” We had a 5-gallon bucket of water and 4 fire extinguishers on hand, and placed a team member up on our deck to watch for errant embers.




As the sun dipped behind the Western mountains lining our Lake of Dreams, we lit the radio. The structure burned without need for any accelerant, as the fire climbed the 2×4’s in the corners of the radio.  20170903_194859-2Flames poured out the speaker port just as planned, the birch burned slowly while the burlap sparked right up. I had added some colorant to make the inside of the ceiling drip blue and green fire.

IMG_20170907_090855_380Just as the rose window began to melt, we saw the Temple ignite in the distance. A Temple builder friend had scaled that structure and placed some of Tom’s ashes at the very top of the spire, facing the city. 20170903_200639The two fires burned in unison under an almost-full moon, contrasted beautifully by the infinite shades of violet created by a spectacular Black Rock desert dusk.20170903_200601

Even for Burning Man, it was really something.




In the end, the gothic arch is what made our unorthodox burn a success; the weight of the structure was directed inward, and the sculpture collapsed in on itself, with just a few small pieces falling outside the pit.


It was an incredibly beautiful moment, and I feel that we did some justice to Tom’s many contributions to our city, our camp and our culture.

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Although the large radio is now just ashes and memory, I’ve since built a miniature version about the size of a jukebox to house the interactivity and Tom audio content. This version of the radio will be on display at the upcoming BWB Chicago fall grant salon, Nov 14th at Transamoeba studios.


We’re also keeping the audio we collected available online at the newly-created www.laportal.org

This site will also serve as a contribution portal for more Tom content so that if we ever re-create the installation, we’ll have even more content.


My gratitude to Christopher Breedlove, Weston Rose, Kevin O’Neill, Joshua Gunty, Carl Sporny, Ayda Keshtkar, David Schnack, Kellie Larson, Minimonk, B-Dub, C-haus, Daniel Laporte, ChiCargo, BWB, BMIR, BMORG, Temple Crew and the entire LaPorte Family.

But mostly, thank you Tom.

You were one-of-a-kind.

(Fuck yeah.)

Hoku-Chi prints

Da Wave. 38″ by 67″/ 2017. Acrylic paint, ink and sand. $1200. Print: $25
Pulaski at Night. Acrylic and ink. 24″ by 24″/2017. $300. Print: $25

PI&S features Rudy Hall.

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PI&S welcomes Logan Square-based illustrator/painter Rudy Hall to the exhibition walls of the Flatiron for the month of November. Rudy is a graduate of SCAD Atlanta (the sequential arts school sometimes called the “Harvard of comics”), and while he demonstrates great flexibility in his drawing chops as an illustrator-for-hire, his own signature style comes through in his paintings and portraits.

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His compositions have an illuminated quality that fuse graffiti motifs with distinct nods to the cyber-punk aesthetic.  Totem objects float in space around his stoic portrait subjects’ deftly painted faces, and his work bristles with implied movement. Prints for sale at PI&S and for more images, please visit his website.



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Every October, artists all over the world take on the Inktober drawing challenge by doing one ink drawing a day the entire month.  I followed Jake Parker’s Inktober prompts for each day’s drawing, although I sometimes stretched the interpretation a little.

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A sampling of my Inktober drawings:


..and here’s the other 22.

Thirty-one drawings, thirty-one days!

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Drawings will be on display at Pen, Ink & Song during The Flatiron Arts Building’s Fall Arts Festival/Open Studios Nov. 3-5th at 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. from 7pm to midnight!

The Art of the Heal.

97-Canon-DSC_4672.jpgI threw up a few times the morning of November 9th. 9/11 was a shock, but 11/9 was nauseating. I am deeply connected to multiple communities that are in real danger from the looming Drumpf catastrophe, but I was shocked by how visceral my response was.


Just a day before, I had renegade installed my Trump sign-redacting sculpture #towerchicago on the Chicago river front, across from Trump Tower, complete with red carper from which to take the perfect photo of Adrian Smith’s gleaming skyscraper…one without Trump’s name on it.


I thought the sculpture would be a part of a celebration, not a bitter protest. I felt sick, and didn’t even want to go see the piece again. The urge to run was strong as well. I hold dual citizenship with the US and the EU, but it is though Latvia, a tiny, former Eastern Bloc country that relies on its NATO membership to thwart the constant threat of Putin’s Russia next door. Did we really keep an endangered language and culture alive for half a Century, only to have a reality TV-show host sell free Europe to his ex-KBG sugar daddy?

The thought of Russian troops returning to the Baltics made me physically ill for days.

So I started painting. Unlike pen-and-ink work, which is meticulous and unforgiving, I find painting to be more therapeutic; political art catharsis. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the whole election nightmare was seeing how clear it was that Trump himself was caught completely off-guard by the upset. It reminded me of Goya’s haunting Saturn Devouring his Children (1820) painted while the artist was ill, confined to his home, and disillusioned with the Spanish government.


Saturn seems surprised and horrified by what he is doing…but he continues. I couldn’t get this image out of my mind, so I adapted it to suit the current situation:



In American political cartooning, the trope of “raping Lady Liberty” has long been used to sow xenophobic fear. But since Trump himself has admitted to a long history of sexual assault against women, it seemed quite appropriate to show her disrobed. I finished the painting in three days (using acrylic paints) and then coated it with a lacquer to give it that classic oil painting look.


I also made a poster version that was a kind of veiled shout-out to this Nation cover from 16 years ago, where Brian Stauffer depicted George W. Bush as Alfred E. Neumann, before the result of the 2000 election had been decided.

Damn, do I miss the Twentieth Century.

I even find myself missing the previous decade. Looking back on my political art from the last ten years, much of it seems suddenly outdated. Remember when Sarah Palin finding herself a heartbeat away from the nuclear codes was about the scariest thing we could imagine?

Or  how about Vladimir Putin besting George W. Bush in a battle of the wits?


While 9/11 was a complete shock to most of us, 11/9 seemed more like the prognosis of a cancer we had suspected was growing in our body politic. For years, the Right had whipped up a bigoted base with talk of death panels and fake birth certificates. And these lies were predated by a the lie Colon Powell was made to sell; the threat of WMD in Iraq. Without bending to accommodate and normalize THAT giant lie, the incredible sacrifice made there makes no sense.


So just out of decency to our dead, we had to normalize that lie to some extent. This cancer of lying has been growing for some time. We just didn’t know it. If you know you’re sick,you can do something about it.

And if you know you’re dying (and you’re David Bowie) you can orchestrate the most dramatic album release in music history.

2016 started thusly:


Bowie’s twisted, agonized figure from in the video for Lazarus was my inspiration for a mash-up of Kafka’s Metamorphosis with the national tragedy of white nationalist Steve Bannon playing alt-right Rasputin to a trust-fund sociopath. What had we become?



I call the four-foot wide painting “Uncle Samsa.” Once again painted with urgency in acrylics, then coated with an oil-based lacquer.  I used an “interference” blue-green hue to give the roach elements a sickly iridescent sheen. Sort of need to get this thing out of my studio. (Saturn sold, miraculously.)

The real reason I made the paintings was to deal with my own personal trauma following the election. Without forgetting it.  It’s important to remember. Just as we must remember the good will directed towards us by the nations of the world following 9/11 to truly appreciate the squandering of that good will by Bush and his lying cabal, we need to refuse to normalize the disease of Trump if we have any chance of cutting the cancer out.

The situation in which we find ourselves is not normal.  Trump campaigned on a series of alarmist lies, essentially claiming that the country was dying, despite unemployment rates lower than Romney promised, gas that was dollars cheaper per gallon than it was under Bush, and an economy that had almost recovered from a perennial Republican war-recession.

And now we are sick. Billionaires and Bigots are in charge, and they promise to privatize, corrupt, steal, and strip down this great nation for parts.

Now more than ever, truth is medicine.

Audioreolae Becomes an Audio Relay: Looping People, Cities and Sounds from Eastern Europe to The Western U.S. Summer 2016.

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The player stands between the Hypotenuses of two Pythagorean triangles, under an arch containing speakers. The loop creator is immersed in the sound of her loops, from above and below.  The participant’s figure is framed in a circular opening, a reference both to the circular nature of the audio loop, and to the etymology of the words “areola” (diminutive form of the Greek word for “open space”), aureole (the traditional “halo” of light around sacred figures in Medieval art) and the literal “audio relay” that is being created as the user completes the audio/visual circuit.

In 2010 I brought an interactive, musical sculpture to the Burning Man Festival called “Audioreolae” that allowed participants to experience live looping. Two “Golden” Pythagorean 3/4/5 triangles create the base for a twisted arch containing speakers. Audioreolae uses collaborative looping as a vehicle to question dichotomies such as performer/observer; front/back; now/then; beginning/end.

Over the course of 2010-2012 I installed the piece in various festivals, parks, Burning Man again, and the way people used the piece evolved…

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Audioreolae is more of a phone booth than a stage, and eventually I started leaving the last loop open for the next person to augment. Capturing authentic moments of collaborative looping works because the person or persons creating Loops are isolated from the spectators around them, but plugged into the messages left by the previous user.


The audio environment is quadsound tilted from horizontal to vertical array, and paired with ping-pong delays form “random surround sound.”  A tight sweetspot is cast at the intersection of a four channel arrangement of the speakers to create what I like to call a TAAZ:  a Temporary Autonomous Audio Zone. When one is standing inside of it, it is very loud, but also almost inaudible from the perspective of bystanders.

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This year I rebuilt the looper to collapse into itself, creating a battery-powered, 20kg package that could fly with me across Europe. In this “audio-relay,” the last loop is played first at the next site, connecting the recording sessions across both time and space.

The first activation took place at the Latvian Burn, DeJa, where from June 23-26 the sculpture stood in a field of knee-high hemp. I recorded Latvian and Lithuanian chants, as well as Ukrainian folk songs in multiple harmony looping, laughter, stories, etc.

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Next we crossed the border into Lithuania and deployed Audioreolae on the evening of June 27th in a Mescal bar in Vilnius called “Yucatan.” My crew and I were invited by our new friend Kamile, who spins as Nataraja-the cosmic dancer.  We were pickin’ up what she was puttin’ down in the DJ booth back at DeJa, so her friend opened up his bar to do a kind of improvised decompression event. He served us flights of cactahol ’til early in the morning, while Burners from the mighty Birds of Lithuania crew recorded messages for Playa.

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From there it travelled back to downtown Riga, Latvia, where on June 30th I activated it across from the statue of the mythic Latvian poet Rainis, on Esplanade park. Passers-by took a moment to say a few words to the great scribe, and others played the guitar mixed in with the voices of the plaza.

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“Ciau, Raini…”

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Cloffy serenades the poet.

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I’ve known musician/chef/Jedi Austris Silins for over Twenty years, since before Latvia was on the Euro, in NATO or had seen its first brand ambassadors. There’s a lot going on in this picture, and I can’t help but wonder what Rainis would’ve thought of it all…. ‪#‎audioreolaeurope‬‪#‎audiorelay‬ ‪#‎looping‬ ‪#‎soundsculpture‬ ‪#‎interactiveart‬ ‪#‎inwardsoundprojection‬‪#‎Riga‬ ‪#‎Rainis‬ ‪#‎esplanade‬

This was the first activation in a public park, and I didn’t get hassled at all by anyone. half a dozen folks including a few from the Baltic Burn stopped by and once again the sculpture was a decompression zone.

I left the capitol and drove East, to Cesis, where I had some art handing business to attend to at the Global Center for Latvian Art.  I camped at the base of a ski-lift across the river from the Gauja National Park, using the looper’s case as my table as I cooked dinner over a campfire.

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In the morning I swam in the Gauja river and then drove into town and later assembled a small crew to activate the looper.

We renegaded the triangle box past security into the “Lampa” conversation festival in Cesis castle park, Latvia, on July 2nd. Just as security was distracted by the political roast going down on the mainstage, I walked the Pythago case past them and just started setting up. Better to ask forgiveness than permission. Look busy. Capture sound. Repeat.

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The next stop was Nowhere, a European regional Burn held deep in the desert of Spain. Despite not being officially placed or on the map of the event, the Kunsthaus crew gave me excellent placement and art support and the piece looped dozens of individuals and groups in a variety of languages, from July 7-11th.IMG_5982




The culmination was using a variety of pickups, mics and sensors to attempt looping an unborn baby in the looper. My new friend Astride and her partner let me try -at least- to capture the sound of her baby’s heartbeat.



If we can isolate the heartbeat in the sample (which includes other music, people striking camps, using tools, etc) I’ll try to turn the little person’s bio-rhythms into a banging four-on-the floor beat for a DJ to mutate at Burning Man! On to New York, Chicago and the Big Burn, where the sculpture will have an interface that allows users to trigger the sounds of these places.



Marci Rubin – Microcosm – May 6/Artist Talk May 7, 3pm.

Pen, Ink & Song welcomes sculptor/printmaker/animal rights activist/DJ Marci Rubin for an exhibition of new and existing work called “Microcosm.”


Rubin’s process of direct printmaking on paper with fruit and ink led her to discover a basic, raw, and primary nature of creating work. Working with fruit as a material evoked questions regarding origin of cycles and phases. Utilizing fruit such as limes, grapefruits, tomatoes, apples, bananas or peaches as a material source captures the essence of the fruited body and transforms them into narratives of cellular cycles, phases, or generation. These works are a direct documentation of the lime, grapefruit, tomato, apple, banana, and peach as symbols of the cell.

“Recently my work involving the body has become political. The questions leading me to create these pieces are constituted from my interrogation of concepts such as; what is our body’s direct and indirect relationship to our environment, and how does the media and government have control of/over our bodies?” -Marci Rubin.

Marci holds an BFA from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and and an MFA from the University of Chicago. Her work was recognized with the “curator’s choice” award at Wicker Park’s legendary Around the Coyote art festival twice, and she was a winner of the Bridgeport Art Center’s 1st Annual Art Exhibition, where she was awarded Best 3D work in show.

We will be open in conjunction with Wicker Park First Fridays from 6PM-10PM May 6th, and then please join us at 3PM, Saturday, May 7th for an informal artist talk with refreshments and music.