Slog | The Stranger

Dec 22, 2008

In Ren Weschler’s Pockets

Jen Graves

On Friday I trekked out to Greenlake in order to do a podcast with the great Lawrence Weschler (which I’ll put up tomorrow). One of the best parts of meeting with him was what he took out of his pockets.

The first two items to emerge were a bottle-cap-sized pin-on button of this painting and a white box a little fatter than a matchbox with the words “Rotten Luck Disappearing Dice” and “Museum of Jurassic Technology” printed on its label. The dice inside are erasers, a reference to Ricky Jay’s literally disintegrating antique dice.

Next to emerge, a few minutes later, was a plexiglass box containing three delicate curved drawings easily cupped in the palm of the hand. The drawings were of a particular stretch of Chicago seen from about halfway up one of the cylindrical towers on the river, of another stretch of Chicago seen from a sidewalk, and of the silvery Anish Kapoor “bean” sculpture at Millennium Park that reflects yet another stretch of Chicago.

The miniature drawings (actually copies of larger drawings) are curved, like a segment cut out of a sphere, because the artists who made them work on a device they’ve made that’s basically a curved easel.

They use this device because they want to reflect the curvature of human vision— because they believe that the window-view perspective of the Renaissance, which has directed basically all of art for hundreds of years, IS WRONG! Does not represent human vision at all! Instead, this is better (one of their drawings):

All of this has to do with these two artists, Ryan and Trevor Oakes, being identical twins (their own stereoscope!) who have been discussing the possibilities of human vision since they were toddlers. They would, for instance, sit on tree trunks 10 feet apart and try to imagine what an animal large enough to have eyes 10 feet apart would see.

This is a sculpture they made out of matchsticks. As in one-point perspective, every match in this dome points at exactly the same spot.

Weschler, naturally, is writing about the Oakes twins.

But there is still one more artist in his pockets: Matt Shlian. Shlian is a paper artist, and Weschler produces two tiny Shlian creations and sets them on the table. They are shaped white piles that rise into columns; columns that then collapse into neat piles, into shape sandwiches. The collapses happen in spurts, little clenching bursts, as the top level goes down, then the next, then the next. In the artist’s videos, he controls their moves. Here’s one.

Eventually Weschler and I went into an attic to record the podcast while sitting next to a retarded cat. The cat was his sister’s. His sister happens to be Toni Weschler, a name I didn’t know, but a name that’s much more well-known than Lawrence Weschler. Twenty years ago Toni wrote the fertility bible “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Her brother describes her as “the bourgeois face of hippie knowledge on the subject of fertility.” She is in fact a guru.

When we finish the podcast, we go back downstairs where Toni meets me with a 17-foot laminated scroll. From afar it might look like music; it is instead a chart of her menstrual cycle. She has been charting her menstrual cycle, specifically measuring her body temperature and recording the consistency of her cervical mucus every day, for 364 cycles. Her brother tells her to please put the thing away (“She is a nice person!” he says, regarding me). He has something to show me on the computer. He pulls up her book on Amazon; it is the ninth most customer-reviewed book on all of Amazon, behind a few titles unknown to me and the Harry Potter series: her book has 1,081 customer reviews, with an average rating of five stars. He clicks on his book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, which, he would like to point out, has 27 customer reviews. “Watch out!” he tells her.

When things get a little tense between Toni and Ren, a good subject to bring up is their brother Raymond. They both like him. Raymond is a funny man, they tell me, and from what he writes on the internet, this claim seems in fact true. Here is Raymond’s description of their family. Raymond also runs “The Finest Unaffiliated Email Organized Softball Community West of the Sacramento River.” Here is a brief sample from those regular dispatches:

To make matters worse, more injuries followed, Jeff W. was still recovering from knee surgery, and most precarious of all, we found ourselves with only one seasoned pitcher on the entire field! Needless to say, frustration and chaos began to burgeon, and precisely because our decade-long reputation of smooth aerobic integrity was about to implode, I swiftly accepted Matt’s transformative suggestion to have each team pitch to itself. Yep, my friends, just like they do in socialism.

Now look, I totally agree that resorting to this is both tawdry and unclean, and if left unchecked, it’s an insidious source of deep recreational rot. Yeah, I get it, and yet I had a game to save and a people to calm, so please, I make no apologies for a temporary reversion to the stabilizing succor of legal self-mounding.

Regardless, it turns out that all kinds of people can pitch in a crisis, if by that verb we mean a general ability to get the ball from the hurler’s hands to within 25 feet of the awaiting batter. Of course some were more accurate than others, and thus for example, both Ramona and Pace mastered delightfully sensual throws right up the middle, and even Anthony showed a solid grasp of the stark Euclidean nature of the task at hand. Unfortunately though, he also seemed to confuse the vital conceptual distinctions between ‘pitching’ and ‘bowling,’ which would seem to suggest that his ultimate destiny remains in deep center-right. And therefore there will be a game at Codornices this Sunday at 11AM, IF I get enough commits by this Friday morning…Ray

Needless to say, I did not want to leave the Weschlers.