It is quite puzzling that cultures across much of the northern hemisphere have chosen the season when the earth’s tilt provides for much darkness and quiet as the time to be out and about, shopping for gifts, frequently tripping over each other in the pursuit of the last minute deal. Wouldn’t it be more intuitive, even logical, to adapt to the earth’s rhythm, shed our external leaves, tune into the winter landscapes of our mind, and embrace the more scarce but meaningful treasures in it? To look inward, appreciate what we have, and make connections on a non-material plain?

On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense that a society engaged in a mad race to avoid silence and reflection has left no resource unextracted and no marketing plot untouched to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at dreaded entities like mystery, uncertainty, and impermanence. I have trouble coming up with a better reason for why we’re so hooked on an economic system hell-bent on perpetual growth and material distraction other than this debilitating fear of the gloriously rich and expansive world within us — a world that encompasses both our greatest hopes and dreams as well as our deepest wounds and worries.

Could it be that our inner demons are wreaking havoc on the outer world because we’re afraid to dance with them?

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The Art of Recology: The Artist in Residence Program 1990-2013
San Francisco Airport Museum, March – October 2013
United Terminal 3 (exhibition viewable by ticketed passengers)
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This exhibition presents over one-hundred pieces made by forty-five artists during their residencies at Recology. All of the works on display were made in the art studio at the San Francisco Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Facility and constructed from materials the artists scavenged from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area. Founded in 1990, the Recology San Francisco Artist in Residence Program promotes recycling and reuse, and encourages people to reflect on how their consumption practices affect the environment. Over one-hundred Bay Area artists have participated in the program since its founding.

“They’re making art out of recycled crap!” was just one of many expressions of appreciation overheard on a recent tour of the Art of Recology exhibition in Terminal 3 of San Francisco’s International Airport. Open through October 2013, the myriad of artworks displayed — including a whale tail made from discarded ropes, a gown made from newspaper delivery bags, and a life-sized Styrofoam Hummer — is expected to be viewed by more than 2.5 million people.

Having a reputation as one of San Francisco’s most trashy, wasted, and rotten reporters, I was kindly invited by the composting conglomerate to go on an artist-led tour of the exhibition, an offer I just couldn’t throw away refuse. If you find yourself in the United Terminal at SFO over the next three months you will literally not be able to miss this extraordinary show, but for those without travel plans I’d like to share a few impressions of a collection that SFO Museum Curator of Exhibitions Tim O’Brien says conveys “the need to change our view of material goods and their disposal in the waste stream.”

The Styrofoam Hummer, by Andrew Junge

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When Andrew Junge began his residency, he was impacted by the amount of Styrofoam that entered the waste stream and decided to make something from this rightfully maligned material that would be a metaphor for consumption and waste—and so the Styrofoam Hummer was born. The life-sized replica of the civilian and military vehicle was constructed from hundreds of pieces of packing material that he formed into blocks, assembled, and hand-shaped.

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The Matador Travel Network just published my piece about my German ancestral roots in the seed trading business and how it relates to California’s narrowly defeated Proposition 37 which would have required food products made from plants or animals with genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labelled as such. My uncle, Wolfgang Ziegler, the last in his trade, features prominently.

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Wolfgang Ziegler at the Seed Museum in Gönningen, Germany.

This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a while, and I’m pretty psyched to finally have found an excuse to write about it. There’s more to it, but this is a good intro. If the subject floats your boat, take a trip to Matador to get the whole scoop…

How the US is behind the rest of the world in GMO policy

On the state of the anti-GMO movement in America.

I come from a long line of seed traders in the small village of Gönningen in the Swabian region of Germany. As far back as the 17th century, my ancestors were traveling all over Europe, selling tulip, hyacinth, and narcissus bulbs and heirloom tubers, from the Netherlands to the Black Sea. In the 18th century, these intrepid villagers took their high-value seeds all the way down the Mississippi River Valley, traveling by foot, ship, and train via Liverpool and New York all the way to Memphis, Tennessee.

Books have been written and films have been made in Germany to document this important piece of history, not just for the entertainment value of this pre-television version of The Amazing Race, but because the very idea of small-town merchants disseminating saved seeds has all but become a thing of the past, thanks to giant agribusiness conglomerates like BASF, DuPont, and Monsanto. When my uncle, Wolfgang Ziegler, closed his small seed store a few years ago, he was the last member on my mother’s side of the family to have called himself a seed trader.

Fast forward to November 6th, 2012, an ocean, continent, and centuries away from the Gönningen of yore: In the State of California, USA, residents are being asked to vote on Proposition 37, a referendum whose passing would require food products made from plants or animals with genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labelled as such.

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Now that December 21st, 2012 has come and gone and we’re all still here, there are a few different paths we can take in processing the “event.”

1. Go about business as usual as if nothing happened.
2. Make fun of anyone who took the end of the Mayan calendar literally.
3. Acknowledge that the world (as we know it) is in fact ending, and find the deeper lessons in it.

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fruit fenceLiving in San Francisco, I’ve come to appreciate and almost expect my fellow residents’ relentless drive for innovative use of urban spaces, to redefine what it means to live and interact with each other. Caused by an acute awareness of the role our wasteful western habits and a lack of imagination have played in creating uninspiring environments, there’s a be-the-change-you-wish-to-see-in the-world DNA in our blood that leads us to embrace alternative ways for sharing space.

From Burning Man to Critical Mass to Santacon, whenever there’s a public display so beautifully weird and unheard of that it makes people stop in their tracks and burst into random giggles and conversations, chances are it’s connected to the City by the Bay. Add in our penchant for geeky tech explorations and you could call this condition we’re collectively afflicted with a severe case of “prototyping mania.” It didn’t surprise me at all then when I heard that the Urban Prototyping Festival (UP Festival for short) was going to make one of its inaugural appearances this weekend in downtown San Francisco.

Check out the whole story and tons more pics at shareable.net

Today Sunday Streets returned to my neighborhood in San Francisco’s Mission District. Sunday Streets is an event organized by the City of San Francisco, MTA, and Livable City that creates a large, temporary, public space by closing off stretches of a neighborhood’s streets to automobile traffic, and opening them to pedestrians, bicyclists, and activities. Or to be more specific, a huge street party for old and young to come out and be human for a day.

Sunday Streets, June 3, 2012

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How Occupiers, pranksters, and artists speak louder than money.

by Sven Eberlein, reposted from Yes! Magazine

Money talks. Occupy George’s graphic artists highlight who has the wealth in the United States—and who doesn’t—then send those dollars back into circulation. Photo from Occupy George.

Since long before Abbie Hoffman dropped dollar bills over the New York Stock Exchange—unleashing hilarity as Wall Street traders scurried to gather up cash—humor has been a potent political weapon. It can expose the absurdities and inequities of consumer society. It doesn’t need big bucks to be effective or contagious—Occupy has shown that creativity and imagination can be powerful enough to build a national movement. And the Internet and social networking can allow a well-orchestrated prank to reach millions in minutes. Want to use your wit to confront corporate power? Here are creative and inspiring examples.

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Yesterday was the kickoff to the 2012 Sunday Streets season in San Francisco, an event that creates a large, temporary, public space by closing off stretches of a neighborhood’s streets to automobile traffic, and opening them to pedestrians, bicyclists, and activities. The opener to what promises to be another glorious season of people-powered streets took place along the Embarcadero, from Mariposa @ 3rd Street at the southern end all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.

We’re talking 4 miles of streets the way little people would imagine and design them if they were in charge!

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Here’s a series of impressions of a carless afternoon from yours truly, bike reporter Sven. And yes, most photos were taken while riding, another testament to the liberating creative power of losing your fear of being flattened by 3000 pounds of steel.

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Dec 062011

by Sven Eberlein

what there is
may not be there
and what may come
has always been

what is a rock
is tomorrow’s sand
your deepest wish
buried in your hand

the seed you sow
may not become
the plant envisioned
but it will find its way
if you water it

change eats
from the bowl of the past
slowly emptying
the reservoir of certainty
with each spoonful of dwindling prospects
remember
you’re being nourished

also posted on A World of Words

Oct 252011

Aside from having a great name, these guys really brought the street down yesterday at Sunday Streets.

Please Do Not Fight at Sunday Streets October 23, 2011
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