Giardino Dei Tarocchi or ‘Tarot Garden’

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Last summer, on the suggestion of a friend who had heard we would be travelling through Tuscany, we visited Il Giardino dei Tarocchi or ‘Tarot Garden’ by French sculptor, painter, and film maker, Niki de Saint Phalle. The garden – fantastic, in every sense of the word – was an explosion of mosaic-filled light and wonder. It reminded me of another incredible park we had visited 10 years earlier, Parco Dei Mostri in Bomarzo, Italy – built in the 16th century and, as it turns out, one of the inspirations for this garden.

Some history about the artist: born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, Niki de Saint Phalle initially rejects the conservative values of her family which dictated domestic positions for wives and strict rules of conduct. After marrying young and becoming a mother, however, she finds herself living exactly the bourgeois lifestyle she had hoped to avoid. This internal conflict causes her to suffer a nervous breakdown and, as a form of therapy, she is urged to pursue her painting. Further encouraged by the American painter Hugh Weiss, who becomes both friend and mentor, she does continue painting in her self-taught style, subsequently moving to Deià on the island of Mallorca, Spain. There she read the works of Proust, visits Madrid and Barcelona, and becomes deeply affected by the work of Antonio Gaudí. Gaudí’s influence opens many previously unimagined possibilities for Saint Phalle, especially regarding the use of unusual materials and objets-trouvés as structural elements in sculpture and architecture. Saint Phalle is strongly influenced by Gaudi´s Parc Güell in Barcelona, as well as Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo, the Palais Idéal by Ferdinand Cheval, and Watts Towers by Simon Rodia. She decides she wants to make a monumental sculpture park, too: the first to be created by a woman. In 1979, she acquires several acres of land in Garavicchio, Tuscany, and sets about creating her garden, which would eventually contain a series of 22 fantastical and monumental mosaic-covered sculptures, each a representation of 22 of the mysteries of the Tarot, in addition to numerous other sculptures.

After nearly 20 years Giardino Dei Tarocchi finally opened in 1998, and 16 years later it remains a remarkable wonder for both the eyes and the spirit.


droplets, drips, waves, & streams

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PHouk plates

After 13 years away, I recently had the good fortune to be back in Boston, and was able to spend time with one of my 5050LIGHT collaborators Peter Houk – a fantastically creative glass artist – who also happens to run the MIT Glass Lab. I became a fan of Peter’s work back in the late 80’s while volunteering at The Society of Art & Crafts in Boston and commissioned him to make a set of etched glass plates (who doesn’t love geckos?). A few years later, we collaborated on a grouping of vases with etched copper tubing lengths which became the necks which he blew the glass through. We discussed plans for our upcoming collaboration which, hopefully, will include a splinter study of a light installation he did based on the Rayleigh instability.

droplet wave illustration

In a nutshell, the Rayleigh instability is part of a greater branch of fluid dynamics which explains why and how a falling stream of fluid breaks up into smaller packets with the same volume but less surface area. The driving force is that liquids, by virtue of their surface tensions, tend to minimize their surface area. The resulting effects offer some compelling visual possibilities for artistic pursuits. (Coincidentally, on a more mundane note, I’ve noticed numerous recent examples of the Rayleigh instability featured in the opening title sequences of films and in other popular media.) 

You can read Rayleigh’s original research here, or another fascinating MIT research paper on the physics of surface tension here.

Art, isn’t that a man’s name?

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semiconductor photoresist

I come from a family of geeks. Not internet geeks, mind you, but living, breathing, original 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s geeks. Father, mother, both brothers – all computer nerds. These people were online about 20 years before Google even became a word. We can even lay claim to a family member (to remain nameless) making national news for an entire week as a young teenager for cracking his school’s computer code, narrowly escaping notoriety only by wisely choosing not to do anything malicious. He just did it for the challenge.

As the lone artist living amongst a houseful of computer folk, I always felt like a bit of an outsider; my focus was always, and has only been, art. Not that I don’t enjoy computers, I do, I just never delved into it the way they did because, frankly, in comparison I would always be behind the curve.

It was, therefore, with great pleasure that I recently felt our worlds finally collide in a fortuitous manner. The following thoughts on light are excerpted from a note from my dad;

I was very involved in the design aspects of semiconductor memory chips. One technology used was very much like silkscreen art, but on a much finer scale, with dimensions in the millionths of centimeters. The 1 cm x 1 cm semiconductor chip would be coated with a photoresist, then exposed to visible light shined through a mask. The exposed areas not defined by the mask would be acid-etched away, and a pattern of millions of conductors would be left on the surface
of the chip. Then another layer, etc… As the demand for memory grew, larger and larger chips would be needed, which exponentially increased the cost, unless the masks could be made to smaller and smaller tolerances.. which is what we did, until the lines on the mask were so close together that visible light would not penetrate through the mask to expose the photoresist. Technically, the issue was that the wavelength of visible light was longer than the spaces on the mask it had to go through. The solution was to go to a different light source – ultraviolet – which had a shorter wavelength than visible light, and to develop a photoresist that would work with it.

A fascinating process, finding the art in science, and the science in art. 

‘Art, isn’t that a man’s name?’   quote by Andy Warhol

Looking at Art

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Hiroshi Sugimoto's Glass Tea House in Venice Biennale, photo by Martino Piertropoli
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ‘Glass Tea House Mondrian’ at the Venice Biennale, photos by Martino Piertropoli

Recently, dear friend and collaborator Martino Pietropoli posted images from his visit to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Glass Tea House Mondrian at the Venice Biennale, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore . While googling it, I came across a notice that Sugimoto also currently had an exhibition up at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery, which would be ending the following week.

My daughter and I rushed into the city late that Saturday afternoon to catch the show an hour before closing. We entered, realizing to our delight that we were the only ones there, able to view & discuss the art freely. A short while later, however, we heard someone behind us enter and begin snapping photos. When we moved to step back so he could get a better shot he demurred, explaining that he wanted photos with us intentionally in the shot. He turned out to be professional photographer Richard Nagler, who’d just published Looking at Art, the Art of Looking, a book about the relationship between artwork and the viewer, and their interdependant dynamic. He was kind enough to forward me a photo of us examining Sugimoto’s piece titled In Praise of Shadows, itself a tribute to the Jun’inchiro Tanazaki’s book, with the following text:

Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki disdained the “violent” artificial light wrought by modern civilization. I, too, am an anachronist: rather than live at the cutting edge of the contemporary, I feel more at ease in the absent past. 

Domesticating fire marks humankind’s ascendancy over other species. For tens of thousands of years, we have illuminated the night with flames. Reflecting upon this, I decided to record “the life of the candle”. Late one midsummer night, I thre open the windows and invited in the night breeze. Lighting a candle, I opened my camera lens. After several hours of wavering in the breeze, the candle burned out. Savoring the dark, I slowly closed the shutter. The candle’s life varied on any given night – short, intensely burning nights and long, constantly glowing lights – each different, yet equally lovely in its afterglow.


I left thinking about a Paulo Coelho quote from the book The Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Sadie and Deb looking at Hiroshi Sugimoto's In Praise of Shadows. Photo courtesy of Richard Nagler.
Deb & daughter Sadie looking at Hiroshi Sugimoto’s In Praise of Shadows.                                     Photo courtesy of Richard Nagler.




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Well, we’ve done it! The lease is signed, and our upcoming show finally has a home. Our place is a light-filled 3,600 SF space in the fabulous space formerly occupied by Black Oaks Books on Shattuck Ave, in the heart of the gourmet ghetto in North Berkeley. The space is being made available to us via the very generous support of Dana Ellsworth, Vice President of Rue-Ell Enterprises, the owners of the space.

It also would never have happened, without the helpful intervention on our behalf of our local councilmember, Laurie Capitelli (and his wonderful soon-to-be-retired assistant, Jill Martinucci.)

One of my collaborators, Jess Williams, and I had a conversation recently about the importance of volunteering – investing time in your community and finding ways to contribute. The value is not just to those who are are on the receiving end of your efforts, it is also deeply beneficial to you. Building relationships, connecting yourself in meaningful and personal ways to the issues that concern you and are important to your life – this all gives richness and meaning to our lives.

Many thanks to everyone who has been supportive – in all manner of ways – and to all who have helped make this possible. We could never have done it with you!

Mark your calendars! The 50/50 LIGHT show will run from Saturday, October4th thru Tuesday, October 28th. The opening will be on Sunday, October 12th, 2014.


Summer Solstice & Midsummer Eve

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Summer solstice is upon us today – the longest day of the year – when the northern hemisphere most directly faces the sun, giving us greatest amount of time in light.

druids in Stonehenge, 1970

Ancient Druids celebrated summer solstice with traditions dating back thousands of years. They believed that everything in existence is interconnected, that energy – the stuff we’re made of, our spirits – is part of a continuum which makes up the whole universe. They believed that we are unique individuals, but also are part of something bigger. Everything in nature is cyclical, the cycle of the year, which fundamentally affects everything we do – when we grow food, when we harvest, and when we hide away next to the fire. Participation during changes of seasons and observation of the changes made one better attuned to the cycles within oneself. Modern Druids continue to gather in ancient places specifically to be part of the continuum with their ancestors. When they gather at Stonehenge during summer solstice, they’re in the same place for the same reason as their ancestors 5,000 years ago – to be in a place marked as special, intentionally chosen for these observances, to become part of something bigger than themselves.

For me, the 50/50 LIGHT exhibition in October is a celebration of a cycle – five full decades – and the urge to gather round with the creative folks who have shaped me, my art, and my life at this auspicious moment.

This past Friday, June 20th, 2014, was also Midsummer Eve, also called St. John’s Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers. It’s a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month on Friday the 13th was called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead. That’s where the word “honeymoon” comes from, because it’s also a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says, “Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.”

Midsummer dew was said to have special healing powers. In Mexico, people decorate wells and fountains with flowers, candles, and paper garlands. They go out at midnight and bathe in the lakes and streams. Midsummer Eve is also known as Herb Evening. Legend says that this is the best night for gathering magical herbs. Supposedly, a special plant flowers only on this night, and the person who picks it can understand the language of the trees. Flowers were placed under a pillow with the hope of important dreams about future lovers. Shakespeare set his play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on this night. It tells the story of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens. In the play, Shakespeare wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

honeycomb necklace and earrings

Historically, the name Deborah means “Queen Bee”. The origin of the name is Hebrew; and in the Old Testament of the Bible, Deborah was the name of a judge, prophetess and lawmaker. Over the centuries this name has traditionally been associated with hard work, persistence, and importance to society for which bees were known. As such, I pay homage to bees here with a necklace and earrings I made from 18KY gold and black diamonds.

As for true love, the impulse to create and manifest symbols and art in celebration of such unions is with me constantly and, hopefully, always will be.

info on Druids excerpted fr International Business Times, 6/19/14

On Being, Mindful

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This yearlong exploration of light has continued to surprise, delight and occasionally also startle:

“Thinking of your light exhibition. Did you know that one of the earliest forms of light for indoors was to stuff a wick-like material down the throat of an oily Icelandic sea bird and let it burn as it sat on the dinner table?”


This was shared by collaborator Jeffrey Brice Ornstein who always has the best stories…. Oddly and coincidentally one of my 25 projects will feature the recent documentation of ‘an animal product as edible table lighting’… a life-altering experience for me, but more on that later.

Icelandic puffins

Collaborator Amy Cranch recently forwarded a poem by Mary Oliver which celebrates – amongst other things – light. The poem reveres ordinary life, attention, and a recognition of the sublime within the mundane.

She tells me that this, along with innumerable other sources of inspiration, is fueling her ideas for our collaboration which she is in the process of creating with her husband, Marc L’Italien, and their talented support crew of dancers + videographer.


Every day I see or hear something that more or less

kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle

in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for – to look, to listen,

to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over

in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant – but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help

but grow wise with such teachings as these – the untrimmable light

of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?

~ Mary Oliver, poet