I. Images For A Better World: Albert WEBB, Visual Artist
Albert Webb, born in Barbourville, Kentucky, spent his youth in the rural community of Rockholds. The son of a Vietnam Veteran and of a devoted mother, he received a strong patriotic upbringing. Encouraged by his father to pursue art instead of the military, and backed by his mother and his high school art teacher who perceived his artistic inclinations early on, Webb attended art school and obtained a BFA from Eastern Kentucky University and two MFA degrees, one in Painting and Printmaking from the University of Louisville and one in Printmaking from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Webb spent a good part of his youth exploring his imagination through movies, literature, television, and comic books; they exposed him to idealized concepts of heroes and warfare. Born in a post Vietnam War era, he developed, concurrently, a strong desire to understand the true aspects of that war, mainly because of his father’s military service there. He attempted to better understand the events of the past through a thorough examination of history and, as a result, his interests permeated his art. War themes became prevalent in his work in school.
During his graduate school years at the University of Louisville, Webb’s working methodology shifted more in favor of printmaking and gave him the time to reflect even more on the importance of history, not only in understanding the world, but also in personal matters. Studying the philosophy of history under Professor Mark Blum, he was exposed to the concept of historigraphical logic; it encouraged him to make further connections between his interests and his experiences and influenced his use of military weaponry as a subject choice for his art, thus linking it to personal play memories as far back as elementary school. Warriors, soldiers, battle and war became present in his imagery, especially when heroes were involved.
Webb’s connection to soldiering was strengthened when he witnessed his older brother join the military; this gave him additional insight into the training experiences of soldiers and the transitioning from civilian life to military life. While in high school, he participated in a Junior ROTC program. Despite these associations with the military, Webb’s experiences were different from those who actually experience war firsthand.
Society’s own reactions to war, furthermore, reflect how Webb responds to military combat. In his work, he sometimes combines military vehicles with medieval weapons and accessories, suggesting antiquated devices with modern connections. He also uses shield motifs and heraldic patterns to obtain more intimate connections with history. His prints attempt to ask the viewer to reflect on war – a natural progression of his own conflicted sentiments about war machines, which for him, were both elements of play as well as functional destructive forces.
Webb’s artwork focuses on images that are connected to the history of war throughout history. The struggle between the ugly reality of war and his innocent playing of war games as a child shaped his early understanding of military life and remains the driving force behind his working methodology. His artwork depicts symbolic fabrications that use images as metaphors to express his divergent feelings. Attraction and repulsion about the subject of war pushes him to study human conflict on a personnel level within the art he produces. Recent images include complex hybrids composed of tanks and play sets designed using Google Sketchup and completed using etching, drypoint, aquatint, and chine colle techniques with emphases on mark and value. Secondary insets are often used to initiate a visual dialogue between past and present subjects that seek to invite and repel. Webb designs his imagery to discuss merging subjects such as idealistic war imagery and the reality of battle, forming a dichotomy of thought on the topic of war.
The M7 Priest, an American self-propelled artillery vehicle, was used from the 1940’s to the 1960’s. In his print “WM7 105 – Sling Priest” Webb connects it to ancient siege artillery, thus combining two eras of warfare, in order to illustrate sinister aspects of mobile weaponry with exceptional functions and over-embellished weaponry.
The Tiger One, World War II era German battle tank, was designed to counter the Soviet Union’s armored vehicles. It was armed with an 88mm weapon but eventually became too expensive to maintain and was replaced by the Tiger II. A favorite past time of Webb’s, playing with toy tanks and swinging, was the inspiration for this print which depicts a recycled Tiger I as a nonviable swing set. An inset along the top represents a hastilude – a reference to a generic medieval term for many material games, such as the mounted lance games – which function as a symbolic connection to medieval jousting lances. The inset, therefore, references the role of war as a game, maintaining at the same time and due to its ominous image, a truthful depiction of war’s violent nature and reality. Webb designed the print to combine actual war and how children play war using their imaginations, possibly sparked by their most basic surroundings, such as the swing.
Emerging from Webb’s past experiences of childhood dares, “The Dare” originates from his personal fear of heights. Dares and challenges, common during adolescence, lead to fears, peer pressure, trauma and rites of passage, all potential glorified experiences, positive and negative. Webb’s print functions as a turning point where the play set becomes the object of risk and danger, the war machines, even though still threatening, being secondary. A flag is shown flying, linking the subject to military forts, thereby giving the play set a new function.
Referring to memories of playing war, Webb’s print “Fower Quad Sentries -Expositional Violence” was generated to show the reality of the playground set as a symbol for defense – the castle and/or fort. Here the play set is redesigned as guard post sentries while maintaining a level of functionality. The space has been altered to hide and slow the viewer’s read amid the set and to expose the guns. The tank turrets and guns are World War II era Mark VI Churchill Crocodile tanks, named after Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
“Delta Dare Fort Fower,” addresses how daring, peer pressure, and playground violence combine as subjects to bring the playground center stage. Instead of weapons of war acting as the dangers, the sets themselves are reassembled to indicate the dichotomy between war and play. The slide functions as both a thrill and a threat, while a hidden merry-go-round is set inverted creating yet another ill-advised pastime in which to participate. A shield design and flags, all with red symbols, adorn the composition and connect the scene to military forts, thereby repurposing the play set with military references. The print is designed to capture aspects of community, fortifications, and heroism with risk, mystery, and emptiness in order to maintain links with the subjects of conflict and duality.
Embellishing playground sets with 12 overabundant 88mm weapons merges with a disassembled Tiger I tank hull, bringing two conflicting points of view together – play and war. The inset in the lower left shows an altered Soviet T-10 Main Battle Tank with red symbols designed to exaggerate the level of violence associated with the imagery. The T-10 is compositionally separate to the overall scene, yet, still symbolizes the unity and a dichotomized subject matter.
The image of “88mm Tree on Target” represents an interior scene of the print “Duodecuple Sentries: Ready, Aim, Annihilate.” It brings the viewer into the construct, but maintains the ambiguous surroundings, thus limiting the viewer’s ability to connect to a specific space and focus on the nature of the scene. Again, absurd dangers are present in the magic ball pit, but violence is reinforced with three (changed in the title to the military phonetic numeral Tree) 88mm weapons. In this print, Webb sought to show connections between playground violence and hostilities using bizarre semi-functional playground structures.
II. Words For A Better World: Steven Paul LANSKY, Literary Artist
In the 1980s, Steven Paul Lansky had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, been homeless and lived in state mental hospitals after his parents would no longer support his treatment. As he became gradually more functional, he received some retraining, lived in a group home in the community, was given General Assistance, food stamps, and a subsidized two-bedroom small unfurnished apartment to share with a roommate whom he had never met before.
Lansky’s subsidy, GA and food stamps were contingent on his daily activity. So he looked for work and found a volunteer placement through the United Way; teaching English as a Second Language at Traveler’s Aid—International Institute. Many of his students were refugees and immigrants from Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos and were adults with families who also received support from the government through a program called Aid to Dependent Children. So both teacher and students were financially supported by the government but their support was framed as Welfare.
Some years later, Lansky watched Educational Television on French speaking Canada. The program described a situation where new arrivals to Canada, who did not speak French, were taught the language at government expense. The teachers, thus, were seen as serving a vital interest in the local community and the province, and so were the students, and neither of them were described as welfare recipients. Their respective labor was clearly considered worthy of a financial exchange, whether called subsidy or remuneration. Lansky thus learned that the way a Living Wage was defined by our society was the real problem. Actually the lines on his resume kept moving back and forth between subsidized and “socially legitimate” labor.
In 1984 and 1985 Lansky won the Cincinnati Recreational Department’s Neighborhood Writing Contest and was named Poet Laureate of Over the Rhine; as a result, his stature as a writer went up. At the same time he was working on an audionovel, Jack Acid, and his poetry had come to reflect place, urban Appalachia, and a voice – that of someone unsettled by poverty and hard work.
After finishing a four-year degree in creative writing (which took three schools and thirteen years from start to finish), Lansky went on to work as a janitorial supervisor, cleaning a state mental institution with clinically designated client-workers, with either mental illness and/or chemical dependency. He kept writing and held several other positions in the social work field.
In 1989 Lansky volunteered at the NPR affiliate, WNKU, initially working as a board operator, then hosting a weekly program on Sunday night, a program which grew over the years from a one hour to three hours’ duration.
In 1999 he began graduate school at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, and by 2001, with an MA degree, he began searching for paid work as an educator. He has since taught creative writing at the same university.
At fifty-six, Lansky has just completed his third higher degree, a newly minted Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing, at the University of Tampa, Florida. It qualifies him to teach graduate students and upper level writing workshops. He is still actively pursuing publication of his first book of fiction and hopes that his sense of how work is framed keeps pace with his newly found understanding of, and comfort with, the spiritual process of writing.
Lansky is the author of Main St. (2002) and Eleven Word Title for Confessional Political Poetry Originally Composed for Radio (2009), two chapbooks published by Seaweed Sideshow Circus. His audionovel Jack Acid (2004) initially available as purchasable CDs from Squidmusic, can now be digitally downloaded from CD Baby. Lansky has also written a novel: the citizen, excerpts from which have been published in The Brooklyn Rail, ArtSpike, CityBeat, Streetvibes and Article 25. His “semi-animated” videos, Bratwurst and Exit Strategy (both with Leigh Waltz), Harvest, and The Broken Finger Episode A-8 or the Cigarette Break can be viewed on YouTube. He has forthcoming publications in 2015, in Black Clock Issue 20 and St. Petersburg Review Issue 8.
Lansky currently lives in Cincinnati, in Clifton.
1. The poem “Berrypoem 8.30.12” was Lansky’s response to a prompt he gave to his students at Miami University after reading an article by Wendell Berry from a 1980’s “Organic Gardening Magazine.”
2. In his poem “Steel Mill” Lansky transcribed a sleeping dream, about the decline of heavy industry in the Midwest juxtaposed with rock concerts by aging stars, and further enhanced by the presence of Pussy Riot, a women’s punk band from Russia which has been suppressed by Putin. The poem devolves into mundane daily living activities, pushed into absurdity, part of an ongoing awareness, which characterizes the psychiatric survivor. The poem/dream treats all its impressions equally, letting the reader distinguish foreground from background, and suggests a state of apathy, even aphasia, or possibly anhedonia.
3. Listening to Fela Kuti on Zombies, Lansky admired his use of them in his songs to comment on people following blindly.
A way to get ahead in rural Appalachian culture is/was to buy bulldozers.
These tools require capital to own, yet they then enable a certain independence if the owner is willing to serve the needs of the developer.
The relevance of machine screws as technological advance in the automotive industry: the Phillips head allowed for a more complex level of industrial construction.
Polling over Democrats and Republicans and how that shows polarization. Once the poll is taken, the poll is watched.
Mother earth only has one existence. She nurtures, yet She is fragile. Watersheds and mountains have not proven easy to rebuild.
Dear Living Wage,
Zombie, Zomb. ieZomb.
My friend just bought a Caterpiller, Komatsu, John Deere, Liebherr, Dressta.
He now is moved to move the earth.
Hydraulic hiker, dynamite addict,
The rush of destruction.
The wild and cement cannot coexist—superhighways!
Watersheds cannot compete with bulldozers, dynamite,
Coal cleaved from the veins of mountains.
He played with the heads of several bucks in velvet
Then burned sandalwood Malas in a raging bonfire!
Her water boils with benzene.
Let us commission a poll to determine if Democrats or Republicans
Are responsible for inventing the Phillips screwdriver? What century?
See U.S.Patent #2,046,343. Thank you, Henry – now humanity is screwed.
Dear Living Wage,
Binge and purge, breathing and market value.
Cigarettes vs. cars—which is the greater evil?
Who or what is a “wage earner?” Growth vs.
Angry passivity…could a Congress earn a Living Wage?
Government, government, government, Zombie?
Is God clean to the blind eye?
A function in killing! It was the only way to get her to listen—
Now she’s dead, dear…hear?
Might move earth that don’t need movin.
That my momma that you kill!
Dear Living Wage,
I know how to work on bicycles.
I know how to read.
I know how to type.
I know how to clean a building, even mop floors, keep vacuums running,
Wash toilets and sinks, and dust.
I know how to file.
I know how to enter data and process data.
I have worked as a clerk.
I have driven a forklift.
I have loaded a truck.
I have hauled trash.
I have moved furniture.
I have moved further.
I know how to write.
Yet, I am disabled.
My disability is emotional.
It is invisible.
I have learned that a job is a privilege.
I have schizophrenia. Even when it is in remission I function
Differently than most people.
My imagination catches fire.
If it is a good day, I know how to extinguish the fire.
If it is a good day, I can match the extinguisher appropriately to the specific fire.
Do you know what a Living Wage is?
I live on my own. I live alone.
My skills at self-expression have been developed with education, training, advancement, and include teaching writing to college students at a four-year university for over ten years. All that time I drew disability and was paid so little for my work that I am ashamed at how this country defines a Living Wage.
I make cartoons and visual artwork in color. I have made digital art. I have even made some sculptures, working with stone, chisels, files, and a hammer. I play music and enjoy busking.
Dear Living Wage,
I have values and do not want to do work that opposes my ideals.
Once I applied for a job as a counselor at a jail facility for chemically dependent offenders. The model used was called the therapeutic community. The punishment for the inmates was to write about what they had done wrong. I could not in clear conscience work in a job that considered writing punishment. To me writing is a form of prayer and meditation. It is healing.
Dear Living Wage,
I have worked in radio. See the wave, be the wave. NPR affiliate music programming started for me as a volunteer. The volunteer ethic has defined my work history.
The other volunteer job I worked was doing public relations writing for a hospital. I learned to write for an editor, find stories, take photos, and do interviews, always looking for a way to put individuals and institutions in a giving light.
Later I received college credit for both of these volunteer jobs, which were described by the university-without-walls program as “internships.”
My writing heritage is a combination, first of middle class urban upbringing, childhood summers spent on the great lakes in Ontario, exposure to the avant-garde writing of the seventies in high school, and one year at an Ivy League college with a crash course on travelling by my wits, cycling, hitchhiking, and scrapping my way to the left coast. There I met the Merry Pranksters, who augmented my interest in counter-culture, organic gardening, raising rabbits and chickens, with a connection to the Zen Buddhist community. Then I returned to the Midwest, where followed identification as Urban Appalachian-by-assimilation.
The need for self-justification, the rut-rut-rut of guilt. I am told to go along, to be a worker among workers, always in service to others, nothing extraordinary about me. Yet, I crave attention, desire action, want to be loved. My role is to nurture and love those who would let me, and in turn to receive nurturing and love. How can I be unique in a good way? It must be from trial and error. I gain experience by making mistakes, and my experience is the one thing that can help others.
- 4. “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Amended to excuse those with disability in Jamestown 1609.
More Karl Marx:
“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
French utopian Étienne-Gabriel Morelly, who proposed in his 1755 Code of Nature “Sacred and Fundamental Laws that would tear out the roots of vice and of all the evils of a society,” including
1. “Nothing in society will belong to anyone, either as a personal possession or as capital goods, except the things for which the person has immediate use, for either his needs, his pleasures, or his daily work.”
2. “Every citizen will be a public man, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.”
3. “Every citizen will make his particular contribution to the activities of the community according to his capacity, his talent and his age; it is on this basis that his duties will be determined, in conformity with the distributive laws.”
Xmas morning 2014, Anna Maria Island
I didn’t know the story at the time I first saw them. It was strange walking near the moving waves with the stinky dead fish deposited on the sand up the beach. There were a good ten fish every ten feet or so, and some of them were eye-pecked by gulls. What was odd was that they were clearly all the same species. I didn’t recognize them as mullet, as I don’t know my ocean fish so well. They had split tails, broad bodies, and were about a foot long. The first article I read about the fish kill declared them mullet, but lacked a clear explanation for their death. Today I moved from the Bradenton beach place to a bigger apartment in Sarasota. The owner is an environmentalist, and he told me that the mullet roe is sent to Asia.
When I first told others about the dead fish, they cautioned me against going in the water. The water looked fine. And because the fish were all similar, it didn’t make sense to me that some poison killed them. Why would a poison be so selective?
The fishermen tossed back fish that in the past would have been sold to feed people. I read that fish poisoned by the red tide and washed up on Holmes Beach were sometimes removed by inmates on work details. Not so unlike my previous experience cleaning the jail and hospital with client-workers. I wondered if, on this Boxing Day, inmates would be picking up dead mullet from Anna Maria Island? And if so, what would be done with the refuse? Would they go into a landfill? Would they be sold as fertilizer? If so, who would profit?