Salty, Three Tales of Sorrow

Salty: Three Tales of Sorrow, the first volume of the three volume collaboration between artist Edith Abetya and myself, is now available on

Two short stories, one set in the Salton Sea and the other in the cell of Marie Antoinette, as well as a series of ghazals from the point of view of handkerchiefs.

It will be a limited edition of 100. You can preview the text on the website .

Title Banner – Edith Abeyta – Salty, Three Tales of Sorrow at the El Camino College Art Gallery

Title Banner – Edith Abeyta – Salty, Three Tales of Sorrow at the El Camino College Art Gallery, originally uploaded by Marshall Astor / Life on the Edge.

Edith Abeyta’s solo exhibition, Salty, at the El Camino College Art Gallery.

I wrote the text which accompanies the installation and will be writing the catalog for this amazing show.


I recently collaborated with artist Edith Abeyta. From her release:

The catalog for the exhibition is a specially commissioned three-part
prose and poetry volume by Allyson Shaw Her text is integral to each
tale/ installation and its optimum utilization would be to read each
corresponding section while viewing the installation. An ever better
scenario (is it possible to exceed optimization?) is to have a friend
reading it to you while traveling through the exhibition.

52 artists participated in the Blue Drawing portion of Cry Me a River.
They are:
Rheim Alkadhi, Katrina Alexy, Claudia Alvarez, Abbie Bagley-Young,
Sunny Buick, Alison Casson, Suzanne Coady, Shannon Collins, Susan
Crawford, Hope Dector, Pirkko De Bar, Ruth Dennis, Anne Devine, Irana
Douer, Rebecca Ebeling, Beth Elliott, Christina Empedocles, Elisabet
Ericson, Carol Es, Georgina Fineman, Betsy Lohrer Hall, Christine
Hawthorn, Syl Hillier, Peregrine Honig, Lindsay Jessee, Denise
Johnson, Marnia Johnston, Mary Kilvert, Mung Lar Lam, Miriam Libicki,
Hilary Lorenz, Allison Manch, Susanna Meiers, Nancy Mozar, Merry-Beth
Noble, Saelee Oh, Susie Oh, Naoke Okabe, Ahndraya Parlato, Charlene
Roth, Isabel Samaras, Colleen Sanders, Yong Sin, Jessica Newman
Skretny, Lisa Solomon, Michele Theberge, Deborah Thomas, Rebecca
Trawick, Kate Van Steenhuyse, Sarah Wagner, and Kate Williamson

An almost daily documentation of the installation progress can be
viewed on Marshall Astor’s site

Salty: three tales of sorrow
November 19 – December 14, 2007
Cake and Ice Cream Social Reception: November 20, 2007, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

El Camino College Art Gallery
16007 Crenshaw Boulevard
Torrance, CA 90506
(310) 660-3010

Anyone in OC should really go– the show looks amazing!

Something is Rotten in Holland

The saga of the Hotel Mariakapel, and my friend Edith Abeyta’s “residency” there continues. Edie was invited to live at the Hotel Mariakapel and produce a piece which would go in the gallery there. The piece was to involve beer Bob Tower had brewed, as well as hand-made product tie-ins which were aesthetically raw and seductive as well as subversive– acting as a send up of mega-branding. Well, that’s what should have been.

The housing itself was slated to be demolished from the inside, so Bob and Edie had to leave while other digs were arranged by the University of Utrecht as an emergency measure. During this time the people who ran the residency, who knew the construction would take place but where dishonest about the extent and timing of it, insisted they stay in the demolished building with no door or shower. There are other hostile aspects of this that I won’t go into but the project has been hijacked by these people running the residency, who stand to make a great deal of (taxpayers’) money if the show goes ahead, and yet it was impossible for Edie to work there given the circumstances and other hostilities that went down.

The Hotel was informed by Edie and her collaborator at the University of Utrecht that there would be no show, as there was no way for Edith continue to work on the premises (and given a long list of other unprofessional and hostile happenings which derailed the project). The person in charge of the residency flew back from South America and had a meeting with the big wigs funding the project who decided on their own that there will be a show, regardless of Edie’s wishes. They are taking Edie’s work, the beer Bob brewed, and student documentation of her working and putting it in the gallery as her “show”.

At one point these same people wanted Heineken to provide funding so they could make even more money, but this proves they are profoundly clueless about the content and message of the piece. The Heineken sponsorship was vetoed but now they have basically sabotaged her work and are using it for their own ends so they can make a bunch of money.

This is truly insane and I am outraged and sick at heart about it all. I will be posting updates as they come.

…just don’t mention the war…

Two weeks in Bavaria was definitely not part of the original plan, but things have conspired against us. Through the generosity of our friend Nicky, we have a place to crash in Munich and he’s been showing us around, driving to many Bavarian breweries where I’ve been sampling all the dunkles I can find.

But I must admit I’m weary of sitting around with people who are eating pig knuckles and roasted baby animals. It’s meat, meat meat at every meal. Sometimes meat is the lightest option available on the menu, as the vegetarian stuff is full of butter and cheese. I’ve been living on salty pretzels and beer and now my extremities are swollen from water retention.

Edie is back in the Netherlands, trying to get some work done on the Something’s Brewing piece at the University of Utrecht. Bob and I will be joining her in less than a week. Apparently on her way to Utrecht via train someone threw themselves in front of the tracks. As she was in the first car right behind the driver, she saw the driver go into shock. This must happen a lot, as when M and I were traveling to Vienna someone threw themselves on the tracks and I felt it go “bump”. When this whole piece of Edie’s comes off, in whatever form it takes, it will be an heroic piece of art making, no lie.

Earlier in the week, we trudged up the mountain to Neuschwanstein, the castle which inspired Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” castle in the heart of Disneyland. I’d already been there and I preferred it last time as the winter fog softened its plastic-looking, 19th century edges. There were so many tourists, I bailed on the tour. While everyone else went inside I waited and watched the stream of humans going in and out, many of them American or Japanese tourists in bright, casual clothes that made them look like children– engaging in a second-hand fantasy. All aberrations removed from the fairy tale in favor of the most mundane of happy endings.

Stern conformity still hangs heavy over Munich, despite locals’ insistence that “the past is history” and that Bavaria is part of a tolerant, modern EU state. The uneasy pact with the past is all too present. And this brutal history is all too similar to what it is happening in my own country. In school, history always seemed to stop at the Nazi invasion of Poland– the summer would come before we ever got Korea or Viet Nam.

One person my age I’ve met here said she was too young to remember the war, so why talk about it all the time? But how can I not think about it when my own government cynically uses the holocaust and the “good war” as a metaphor for their bloody and bankrupt foreign policy?

At the start of our visit to Bavaria, were in the little house in Rieder, in the countryside, with my friend Nicky. After the war, this house sheltered men coming home from the front, wanderers lost in the chaos after surrender. We cooked on the wood burning stove and watched a cat stalking through the grass. Everything was green and lush outside. Cows luxuriated in the fields, their bells ringing. Poppies nodded in the wind and I still thought of war. It was impossible to be there and not feel the surreality of peace. I wonder about the ambiguity of this place, so near Dachau– idyllic and terrible at the same time. Nicky is full of stories from the woman, his mother-in-law, who grew up in the country house. She said that after the war you would see all these children running around wearing red trousers. Their mothers had cut up the Nazi flags. Got to use them for something.

Before Edie left, we went to the Haus der Kunst and I was amazed by the architecture– the old glass building was rebuilt in a heavy neoclassical style by Paul Ludwig Troost, according to Hitlers vision (himself a mediocre painter). The iron doors and massive columns support the roof’s clean, soulless planes. Some buildings give themselves away, and insist on the past even through present reinvention– the Haus der Kunst is such a place. Ivy has tried to grow over the surface, leaving dead veins to mark the cold stone– which resembles more a giant mausoleum rather than an art museum. The pictures of the Degenerate Art Show, hung in a corridor by the toiletten, revealed the Nazi’s mythopoesis of hatred. Perhaps one of my fascinations with WWII is that it always seems so shockingly allegorical.

The Haus der Kunst was currently showing Georg Petel’s Baroque sculptures of crucifixions and meaty Saint Sebastians. I peeked at the catalogue and the stuff seemed Mannerist in its purposeful distortions and risks. I would assume he was working from corpses as the tortured bodies of his sculptures were obsessively rendered. I’ve had enough in-your-face-meat to last me for a while, so I skipped out on that and instead sat watching the Gilbert & George video, a preview of their upcoming show which is now at the Tate. It was in English, and as I listened to them finishing each other’s sentences, I was surprised at their sincerity. Why had I thought they would be ironic and distant, speaking in riddles? Gilbert is Italian but has been with George in Spitalfields for 40 years now. They are Londoners, and I understand their work now, more than before, because now I am a Londoner, too. Unlike Munich, London makes room for the passionate eccentric, the willful iconoclast. How I miss it.

On the run in Central Europe

When I arrived in the Netherlands over a week ago, I stayed in a massive building which was first a 16th century cloister, and after the dissolution of the Catholic Church here, it became an orphanage. My friend Edie was doing an art piece there and when she told me about it and said, “Think The Shining” I thought she was joking, but it’s pretty right on.

In its last manifestation, the place was a mis-managed and ill used art space. For several years students had abused it as studio space. There were four of us in this massive building. The place is so large that the first time I went to take a shower I went through 5 hallways and down one flight of stairs and up another, through 7 other rooms and I still didn’t find it and instead ended up right back in front of my own room.

I say was because the place is no more. There was talk of the potential remodeling, but no one could give Edie or Bob, who was brewing the beer for her art piece, any information about when it would start. The people who run the artspace (and I use the term loosely) were suspiciously out of the country while all this was going down and their line was that the work would be minor and contained in one far wing of the building. This is most ridiculous and hostile “artist residency” I have ever come across. I am furious, dismayed and depressed at the treatment of my friend Edith Abetya, whose work deserves an international audience and whose treatment here has been criminal.

Tuesday arrived, as did the developers who began at the main entrance, shattering the glass-walled foyer and tearing out the dry wall. They were going to gut all the internal walls and remove the shower and front entrance, and yet the people running the residency insisted Edie and Bob continue to stay there. It has a certain Kafkaesque absurdity to it. We had to flee, as Edie pointed out, like the nuns centuries ago. We left Hotel Mariakapel in a cloud of dust and showers of broken glass.

My initial intention was help Edie with the installation, to write a bit, research potential agents/publishing options for the completed novel and kick around ideas for the next project. But what’s happened instead is a kind of whirlwind tour. We took off to Cologne to drink beer and try to relax and maybe find a way to laugh about it all. That’s where I am now.

Before arriving in Cologne, we spent a few days in Amsterdam, wandering around, eating space cakes and dodging bicycles. It was pretty heavenly. It felt a lot like a kind of ancient San Francisco, or maybe I should say I felt the same way about Amsterdam as I did about SF when I visited it as a teenager– with a wide, happy hope– someday I will live here— Maybe it is a cliche to be an American falling in love with Amsterdam, but it is a bustling place scored by water, softened by the drift of pot smoke. We avoided the red light district so the city seemed to me relaxed, civilized and whimsical. So unlike London. That I should land in a place like London and not Amsterdam is evidence that the universe thought I needed a kind of tough love. And I suppose the Labyrinth still has lessons to teach me. The challenge of London is not just to love it, but to get it to love you, and with all humility, I may be winning at that.

But I’m relieved to be in Germany now. I can’t really generalize about the Netherlands from one little town, but Hoorn was a drag. The people of Hoorn are starers. Stop-in-their-tracks, turn-around-as-you-walk-by, jaws-agape starers. For some stupid reason I thougth a lot of the Dutch countryside would be like England’s– full of friendly eccentrics or bemused urban transplants. Or, hell, I thought the villages would be hippie enclaves where Lengendary Pink Dots type bands were squatting in old farm houses. Instead, it feels a lot more like Door County, Wisconsin circa 1985. Except Door County had tourists.

As we were leaving Amsterdam several days ago, we walked toward the train station, stopping in a small market to pick up some snacks for the train ride back to Hoorn. In the doorway behind me, a kind of junkie version of Neil Gaiman stood, cradling a black cat in his arms. He said something to me that I didn’t understand, squeezed past me and I watched him put the cat, heavily pregnant, down in the back of the store, slap some money on the counter and leave. The cat wandered slowly out and looked for him, but he had vanished. She sat down and waited patiently, and I looked around for him. He had abandoned her. She let Edie pet her and for a moment we entertained the idea of taking her back to Hoorn with us. She looked us over, eyes like big green beads, knowing on some primal level that we were plotting to take her to a god-forsaken village in the wet countryside, and she was an Amsterdam kitty, bastard master or no. Her tail straight and flicking at us, she took off.

I’ve been thinking about her. About the narrative I imposed on her to make it bearable: the paradox of a restless soul with a willful love of place, and the blessing of feral fecundity in a careless world.

The bells of the Dom call the hour.