My Ex Was Real Christmassy

Here’s another USS Rock ‘N Roll Blog post I wrote about a hacked knitting machine and my friend Andrew Salomone’s artwork on it, among other things:

My artist friend Andrew Salomone has a hacked knitting machine (as in computer hacked) on which he can take images from a computer and transfer them into yarn patterns.  There’s an incredible video of the process on his excellent website here: Andrew Salomone Video

Apparently he was with my artist ex-girlfriend Loren when trying to figure out whose mug to put on a Christmas sweater, and she was heard to say that I’m real Christmassy. This image is the result, which he sent to me last week:

Using this machine he has made a wide variety of knit objects, including a ‘Bill Cosby Sweater.’ This is an actual Bill Cosby-looking sweater that has an image of Bill Cosby wearing the same sweater with Bill Cosby wearing a sweater on it, ad infinitum.  Or at least until it’s too small to see in the image on the computer screen, which is very similar to me. It’s basically an infinite loop.

Andrew’s artwork has been very compelling to me ever since I met him, and I really feel like he’s been really knocking it out of the park over the last decade.  I found the Bill Cosby piece fascinating.  But probably not as fascinating as the one of my face.  Not only is it disorienting for me to have the non-contextual experience of my (Jewish) ex-girlfriend saying that about me via the medium of a digital picture of a sweater made by a hacked knitting machine, I am also taking in the piece through self-awareness of (and resultant shame over) my narcissan love of my own visage. This simultaneously evokes guilt and pleasure, which is a common experience for me.

Via email, I asked Andrew, “am i the ex? or is there a hypothetical ex who gave it to me?  lot of layers here saladmoney.” (my friend Fiona, Loren, and probably a bunch of people call him Saladmoney, because it’s a very fun spoonerism on his surname, Salamone.  They are each very compelling artists, whose websites you should check out, too: Loren’s Website and Fiona’s Website).

The question and answer process was interesting because number one, seldom do I as a viewer of art get to ask the artist what s/he was thinking exactly. Number two, to subjectively appreciate a piece of work such as this, it really isn’t necessary to know the context, and in some cases, it can obfuscate.  Or possibly land us in an infinite loop, an endless series of Matryoshka dolls with smaller and smaller Russian Premiers inside.  Andrew wrote back:

“well Loren helped me get the studio where I made these so I asked her what she thought I should put on them, and she said, “Mark is really Christmassy” but the rest of the sweater is open to interpretation, I like that there’s no real context for it, it actually seems like the ideal venue for this one is really in a thrift shop.”

Whatever the greater meaning of  “things in things,” à la the infinite loop of the Bill Cosby sweaters, I love the idea that the ideal venue for this object would be a thrift shop. Interesting objects, without context, become more interesting. Successful improvisation often mingles context and non sequitur in a similar manner.

There’s something inherently frustrating about the ethereality of improv shows, which also makes them so great.  That the shows are here only now and then gone is sometimes lamentable (which I feel more during the long dark tea times of the soul[1] spent wondering “What the hell am I doing here exactly?”) in that we don’t have a product the way a visual artist does. I am jealous sometimes that a visual artist can create and then walk away and observe, covetous that they can step back and view what they’ve produced.  Video of improvisation can be taken, sketches can be created, and scenes can go on to live in other formats, but obviously the experience is very different.

Once in a great while, sometimes art and impro can line up in compelling ways. For instance, this past Tuesday was that Letters to Santa 24 hour improv benefit at Second City in Chicago.  I was onstage for only the first three hours, and a great deal of credit and respect goes out to the seven or eight odd performers who were in it to win it the whole time.  They even streamed it live, and there’s more on that great charity event supported by a bunch of wonderful people here: Letters to Santa

(What’s that, you ask me? “Why the hell didn’t you tell us about this two weeks ago so we could actually benefit from this information and maybe check it out?”  “Well,” I’d say, “I don’t know, but you’ve sure got a lot of nerve talking to me like that. I’ll have you know that I’m not your plaything to kick around anymore….   Sorry.  You’re right.  It slipped my mind, and I apologize. They’ll do it again next year.”[2])

At any rate, I was out there for the first shift from 7-10pm, and before Tweedy played via Skype from the basement of the State Theater in Minneapolis.[3] The first damn scene out of the gate featured Hans Holsen and Tim Meadows, and off the pad set suggestion of (I think) ‘presents’ they wound up as coworkers at a company Christmas party.  Hans’ character had just started work that week, and felt guilty about taking advantage of the party, being so new.

Tim’s vaguely-threatening more veteran employee character gave Hans a present, possibly the one all the employees got, though passed off as just being from Tim.  Obviously Hans could have made the present anything at all, but he made the sublime move of taking what appeared to be a shirt out of the box and holding it up to his shoulders. He said something along the lines of, “Wow, thanks! It’s a Bill Cosby sweater, with a picture of Bill Cosby on it.”

Having just watched the above video of Andrew’s work, I was understandably thrilled. I was on the side of the stage watching, unable to convey to anyone the excitement welling up in my breast over the simultaneous discovery. “But,” went my unspoken words, “Andrew…the sweater machine…I….” Art imitating life imitating impro.

It’s possible (and perhaps even likely) that the notion of the Möbius strip Cosby sweater has been floated in some improvised scene somewhere, possibly many times. But I hadn’t ever seen it before, and that’s what made my subjective experience so exciting. I found out about Andrew’s project the day before. Considering how translucent and fleeting is improvisation, a connection without context occurring in such a tight timeframe is in and of itself meaningful, at least to me. And as the unique observer of my experience, how could I be wrong?

Andrew’s hope, as laid out in the video, is to somehow give the sweater to Bill Cosby and get a photo of him wearing it, his head coming out of a sweater of him wearing the sweater.  An infinite loop, like Del Close’s vision of the Harold being plucked out of the stream of improvisation, transferred by actors onto the stage, and viewed until lights go out and it leaps back into the stream. Here’s to hoping he closes the loop.

[1] This is a potentially erroneous allusion to a (Douglas Adams) novel which I purchased sometime in late high school or early college, moved to eight different apartments throughout my adulthood, and never read. Carting it around through so much time and space makes me feel connected to it enough to use it as a reference, even though the novel may actually have a completely different implicit meaning. But it doesn’t matter because my figure of speech makes sense to me, and hopefully in the paragraph.  Like all these things.

[2] Speaking of the last post, I do hope you’ve learned a little about Shackleton since then.  If you haven’t, (in the spirit of me filling this post with more links that the big cat enclosure at the Brookfield Zoo) at least scratch the surface by checking this out:



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