The amazing thing about this place, Arcosanti, is not first the architecture, I'm discovering. In many ways the architecture is out of date—it was cutting edge for its time. The amazing thing lies not in Arcosanti's history—it is not in its philosophy, it is not even in Paolo Soleri, as ultimately, one day, Arcosanti and those who live within its concrete, silt-cast womb, will have to realize that Arcosanti will—must—outlive Paolo Soleri. It may never outlive his vision—it may, and probably will, and probably should be, the seed daring to propose his vision as a practical and real solution for the future.
But Arcosanti has too many shortcomings currently to make this happen. It does work this way in small ways. But it is not as connected in the international community as it could be. Apathy and blindness can set in. It can get stuck in its own vision of self—it's supposed concrete "identity", which should be, and I would argue is much more plastic than many people here think—though they may do so entirely unconsciously.
But for all these shortcomings, the 1% of its final future being built—the hairline cracks in the concrete structures and the fading of the siltcast paintings—the amazing part of Arcosanti works beyond all these things, and it is a timeless phenomenon that is particular to all human communities that are vision-based—and this includes many of the best cities of the world, though they may not have a single vision to them. Paolo calls this the Urban Effect. From the smallest to the largest, the reverberation of people within a given space causes almost a kind of non-physical lovemaking that remains in that place and in peoples' hearts, and never leaves either place—even if the structure it took place in completely crumbles.
I've been here long enough now to be through a few cycles of workshops, visitors, and friends. Having Flam Chen here as guests was a completely unique experience, and if they gave Arcosanti an eternal memory, the phenomenon was mutual. It was palpable, almost, that we were two tightly-knit families that had invited each other into each other's hearts and homes. It was the space of the Vaults that inspired Flam Chen to do what they did, and without that space the performance could never have been the same thing. I could only imagine the feeling of a performer—seeing these soaring, fireproof, age-worn archways facing the south like a giant sundial. They're just begging to be lit up, rigged, and made into a multi-dimensional stage. No wonder they did it for the sake of doing it, and nothing else.
But it's not just Flam Chen and their creative company. It's the workshoppers who have come from New York City, Canada, Kazahkstan, Turkey, India, Japan, Switzerland, and a hundred other countries—each as unique and creative as I could count myself. It is humbling in a way, to realize that there are so many great minds. And for all Arcosanti's faults, the criticisms, and the hard discussions that happen behind closed doors—all those minds, with all their skill and visions, they all somehow end up here. And in a way, they never really leave. Just like the memory of that performance, put on by Flam Chen as a giant, fiery conversation with the vision and power of Soleri's architecture, the memory of the place, the people, and the community here gets carried into each person, back to their respective countries. Arcosanti is bigger than itself.
And just as that is true, the residents here need to remember that Arcosanti has a place in history and the international community. We're not pulling our weight. To our credit, we have almost no weight to pull in the first place—but this is not an opportunity for apathy and "it's been done before-ism". It's the age old opportunity for creativity within the frame of frugality—it's the opportunity for the melding of pleasure, comfort, and beauty with sustainability. Dare we think we never need outside input—dare we ever think we should shut out the conversations, and become "self sufficient" because that's "who we are"—dare we ever think that an outsider need to understand the politics and the minute details of our history before being relevant to our future—dare we ever think that we know where Arcosanti is heading. Paolo Soleri may have posed a very specific solution in Arcology, but Arcosanti is not an Arcology. It is an Urban Laboratory…? and this gives it the great luxury of experimentation—something an Arcology will never be capable of. But with this gifted opportunity to experiment is the responsibility to actually use it, which means that the people here, myself included, must remain humble. Arcosanti has a lot to say to the 21st Century, but it can say nothing effectively unless it first listens. It needs to listen long and hard—first to the movers and shakers within its own community, and it needs to welcome them into its arms as conversators on its future. Then it needs to listen to the outside world. This place will not always be under the rule of the "despot" (as Soleri calls himself). And it is at this pivot point that Arcosanti must realize its future beyond Soleri. It is a bright future, if it can look to that future and grab it, like it can look to night of the 90th and reach out, with Flam Chen, to create something never created before.
We all have to do our part. And not all of us will be here forever. We will have to learn quickly how to digest outsiders humbly, and actually bring them into the fold of the Project—rather than handing them a shovel and telling them to give us their sweat, which may be very nostalgic and very "fair", but not always very productive. It is at once a warning and a plea, because I know it was possible—and I know it was possible because I saw it happen that Saturday night. The beauty of conversation is that it is a meeting of the minds—the melding of two of one for a common purpose. In that sense, it is a kind of lovemaking. Again, dare we ever think we can have a conversation with ourself—that is a kind of self sufficiency, and we all know what Soleri thinks of this supposed "self sufficiency". Sacrifice this indulgence, and then you can finally realize the vision you were always meant to be as a living, breathing organism.
To follow up yesterday's photo-rich post of the Flam Chen performance, readers here might also want to check out the Today@Arcosanti blog, which features the best of the photos from a number of people who had cameras at the event. You might recognize some photos from my blog post as well—but there are many more from others that are much clearer and, I think, give a much truer photographic interpretation of the event.
Thanks to Flam Chen for making that night the spectacular one it was. It will not be soon forgotten!
Photos from Flam Chen's performance. Most of these are completely unedited from the original files, so this is pretty much what the performance looked like. Forgive the blurriness in a lot of shots, as everything was in motion and it was very hard to capture much of anything.
It should also be noted that I only really captured the third part of their show, which happened in the Vaults. Also should be included were performers hanging off of the construction crane by the pool cliffside with magnesium torches, Taiko, and a very calm, ritualistic "bath" that started off the show (which I did catch one picture of, and afterwards put the camera down).
Stilt Walkers in the Vaults.
Shadow Walkers (four legged stilt walkers).
Military Grade Flare Torch in the Vaults (yes, it did look that red).
You might want to note at the very top of this shot one of Flam Chen's silk fliers, hidden in the silk pouch/cocoon that is suspended from the ceiling.
Aurelia, scaling upwards across the Vaults (bad shot I know, it's just there to prove that it happened).
The silk cocoon opens, coaxed by the Shadow Walkers, as Aurelia helps her partner "emerge" from the cocoon.
Fire twirling on stilts. The silk fliers attach themselves to the Shadow Walkers.
Then they light the floor of the Vaults on fire, and shortly thereafter, the place pretty much explodes.
Flam Chen finishes, taking their bow, pretty much to deafening applause, and a "Maestro Soleri, happy birthday."
The Vaults empty after the show, still a little aflame.
It's the Tuesday after the 90th, and even with having taken Monday off (all departments did), I still feel utterly exhausted. It's the kind of exhaustion that saps you mentally, physically, socially… little is left afterwards. I know that everyone worked so hard to make the event a smash, and that it was, but even now I still feel as if I need to take a vacation (which is hard to do).
I planned to take this day off as well, but at the moment I'm sitting in the office making this blog entry. Around 8:30 AM I heard a lot of grinding above the roof of my bedroom, and it turned out that Randall and Dan were working on the plumbing upstairs. For those unaware, I live in the "Belltower" which is at the bottom of Crafts III and houses a lot of the plumbing for the visitor's bathroom, which is directly above.
I ended up waking up to Randall and Dan asking me to vacate the area, as apparently there was a very nasty accident just waiting to happen with a lot of sewage that was backed up just above my head. It's 1:00PM now, and last I checked there were no "oh ****" moments yet, to not be too blunt about it. But it wasn't very comforting to have my Paolo Soleri What If? book, a hardcover of all the work of Richard Deibenkorn, and my copy of the Annotated Oxford NRSV Bible right underneath the "troublesome" area.
Karma would have it, I guess—or just sheer irony, because I'm sure I didn't do "anything to deserve this", hah—that I was meant to move to another, much more comfortable and less leaky housing room (East Crescent 3), but had given that week up to a workshopper who needed an apartment for one week right before she planned to leave. That same week I find a scorpion, a stinkbug, a centipede in the room (which I didn't get to kill and is still somewhere in the walls), along with the usual host of cockroaches, and backed up sewage to top it off. Needless to say, the artist loft-style romance of the belltower is pretty much lost on me at this point.
But there is a big sigh of relief. Now that the 90th is done, things may come a bit back to normal. I realize that my recuperation will have to be a gradual, as I certainly can't spend time in my bedroom when it is no longer a comfortable area for me. It can be hard to find privacy in an arcology-style complex. Usually only one's own personal room is guaranteed privacy—every where else is pretty much fair game for socializing. And with the alumni staying their time here, it was quite difficult to actually find some quiet time in all the hectic scheduling.
The 90th was a bash though. Beyond all the business, the stress and the near-burnout, it was a huge success. Probably the biggest success was Saturday night, as we had the special treat of having Flam Chen come and perform out of the goodness of their hearts. The best way to describe Flam Chen would be to call them a miniature Cirque Du Soleil with less money and more fire. They're a circus/fire-twirling/art performance troupe based in Tucson, and they developed a relationship with the Arcosantians here when they performed for Paolo's 80th. For them, as I hear, it was a defining performance that they count as a major aesthetic influence for them now, and so coming back for Paolo's 90th was a coming to full circle for them. Of course, I took pictures, but I will be saving those for a subsequent blog post, as they deserve their own attention. But it's been great to hang out with them. You can typically separate Flam Chen from Arcosantians just by appearance. It's neat to see a mix of construction-type characters, with overalls or tanktops going one way, usually with a shovel in hand, and then a group of dreadlocked, pierced, tattooed characters going the other way, usually with firestaffs or hoola hoops (or any object they can get their hands on, in which case is usually being balanced on their chins).
Of course, being a huge Cirque du Soleil fan, this was a treat for me. Flam Chen is not just from the same stock as Cirque, they are more or less partners, and they, at least I've heard, are on speaking terms with Guy Laliberté, who founded the French Canadian circus troupe decades ago. Being surrounded by such personalities with that amount of creativity and skill, as well as welcoming them as friends and guests (and not tourists) was an absolute treat. In fact, many will be offering workshops to the Arcosanti residents in their skills, so it's likely I will get some good Power Riser practice and possible learn some Poi.
So much went into the 90th though. In a later entry I will catalogue all that I personally did, with pictures—the 90th T-Shirts being one thing worth mentioning (again, pictures).
But for now, I still have to detox, and there is money from sold T-Shirts that must be counted. At least you can all be content that I'm writing again. Be ready for lots of Photobucket links. ;)
T'was the night before Paolo Soleri's 90th Birthday, and all through the Arcology, not a soul was stirring, except the usual scorpions and centipedes. The office workers were tired, and one in particular had spent a sixty-hour work week, trying to make all the printed, promotional pomp perfect to his desire. A painted banner was hung in the cafe, a video was made in Adobe AfterEffects, most all done in the space of a week or less. T-shirts were printed, and there was much whining about them being colored black under the Arizona sun. (Eventually we got dark brown too, but by then the damage was done— oh well, at least the design is really cool, and we'll make more in different colors, I promise—like beige!) An alumni packet was made, with spirals and swirls on its cover, the materials to fill it, all the event lists, activities, and goodies, weren't made until the very last minute as committees finalized the event's schedule the same week of. (The graphic designer set the deadline for his bosses, or else he would die! Would the mixer happen in the Vaults or the Amphitheater? We may still never know.) Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go, from 9AM to Midnight, doing what I love, but wishing it could be done better Don't take me wrong, I'm not complaining. I wouldn't do anything else, even if could I wish. You see, it's time that determines quality, and planning that makes good execution. Lack of these things—all of them are a part of the particular(ly challenging) charm of this place. If anything, I'm just a sorry perfectionist who's worked for too many government subcontractors. I appreciate this place for what it is, but it's obvious the process is too rough around the edges either for me, or it itself. Hopefully it will all come together tomorrow though, I'll be working the weekend too. All without pay, but at least I have the best portfolio now from Phoenix to Washington DC. Eventually I'll take the week off and hopefully then they'll learn that last minute changes on their part means hours of extra work (with terrible results) on my part.
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to bed I go, before the day Soleri turns ninety, happy birthday, Paolo, and to a more organized Arcosanti!
My apologies for the quietness lately. My work here at Arcosanti has eaten up almost all of my time for anything else—and when I do have downtime, it is usually spent trying to gather energy for the next day, rather than write, make art, or anything else—including writing blog posts.
That's not to say it's bad. I'm producing a lot of content, and I'm learning a lot about the print aspects of graphic design as I go. While I am experienced in some areas of graphic design, there are certain areas in which I'm lacking—namely, printing. But that area in my portfolio is quite quickly filling just within in the time I've been here.
Most of this is for the upcoming 90th Birthday Celebration for Paolo Soleri. I can be very task, deadline-driven when I need to be, and at this point I have my days entirely outlined, task by task, up to the ninetieth. Hopefully everything will fall in line as it has to in order to push out all the content we have planned. This includes t-shirts, signs, an alumni packet, a ten-foot banner that I'll be producing next week (it will actually be hand-painted), and any other random little things that need to be done before that like bathroom and camping area signs. It's a shame that all of this is going to get crunched into the space of two weeks. We'll barely have time to concentrate on Juneteenth, the music festival that's happening this coming weekend. But I can't complain—most of the work was self-inflicted, being ideas I came up with or ideas that other people mentioned that I later decided to run with. If anything, through the stress of it, it is only fun, and it is a lot of learning. And if everything does fall in line it might not be as hectic as I first thought. I had to re-write my whole schedule for the upcoming two weeks this morning because iGTD and iCal didn't sync properly (iGTD seems to have its issues on occasion). And I'm wondering if the schedule looks more empty only because I re-organized it better or because I missed something.
So expect me to be quiet the upcoming two weeks. I'll try to update you with my progress—there's a lot of entries I've been meaning to write on a variety of subjects—including a series of entries on the various facets of Paolo Soleri (architect, artisan, philosopher, urban planner, ecologist, etc.).
I've also chosen to stay here through my originally planned date of late August up to the winter months. So I'll be attending Univeristy of Maryland in the spring, rather than the fall. The decision came with much deliberation (almost indecision) over the past few weeks, with many people giving me advice on both sides. But I feel I've already gained too much in the short time here, and stand to learn too much that cannot be learned in a University, no matter how good, while more "official" education may be on standby with no major deadline for me to return, either in cost or in season. After all, the original reason to finish my degree was to simply make me more viable for job hunters. I find it ironic that my time here at Arcosanti is preparing me to be a professional graphic designer far more than a piece of paper could ever signify—I wish people would realize that a piece of paper needs to mean something before it becomes valuable as a prerequisite.
Ah well—society isn't perfect, isn't it? We only make it what we want it to be.
And to leave you, I will end with this bit of wisdom from Shakespeare that happened to find me, by fate or chance (sometimes I can never tell which):
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.
I'm a twenty-something writer, artist, and freelancer in the inbetween zone of education. I've started blogging to chronicle my thoughts, projects, and reactions to what is going on in the world and so that people can track of me and what I'm doing. I am also a member and in-training performer for the pyrotechnic theater troupe Flam Chen, based in Tucson, AZ. This blog is to chronicle my experience learning and working with Flam Chen and my various projects in design, writing, and art.
When not painting, writing, or hanging upside down on silks, I can usually be found in cafes freelancing as a web and graphic designer.