Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters: Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders and What it Means to Art

When his blustery, mean-spirited dismissive, caustic pinched, nasal voice started coming back out through the public airwaves, I had to draw back and remember, when was I first aware of Donald Trump?

It was the late 80s, when everyday I found the funny pages of the LA Times (well almost everyday, after my Dad had done the crossword) and I read Doonsbury, a decades long satire by Gary Trudeau .  I was transfixed by the romance happening between Mike and J.J.  Mike’s long-suffering commercial career as an illustrator was punctuated by campaigns that would come to life like Mr. Butts, the Cigarette Lobby Spokesman, and J.J. was a performance artist who donned a bucket on her head and dashed the wedding china on the floor to make a comment about the fragile artifice of American marriage.  Now this was real love.

At some point, despite their rocky and often bewildering relationship, Mike and J.J have a child, Alex.  This is when (momentarily)  J.J sobers up and realizes, shit, I have to get a job.  J.J’s first commission?  To paint a replica of the Cistine Chapel inside Donald Trump’s yacht.  The Don was married to Ivana and had just purchased the Trump Princess (I guess he  didn’t care that renaming a boat is bad luck).  He was a fixture on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. “Give Those Nymphs Some Hooters” is the feedback J.J receives from her new boss as she clambers back up the scaffold, chanting to herself “I have a family, I have a family…” In the end of the sequence, she makes Adam look a little more Donaldy.

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What Gary Trudeau points out here with his usual wry humor, is that Trump is the distillation of the crass disregard for real beauty that comes with profound excess and a lack of profound feeling. Despite the way the rich toss their blue chips onto the table to obtain a Picasso or more recently, a Banksy, they are the same people who have no idea what Picasso or Banksy are attempting to do with their work, why great art is ownerless. It’s not the painting; it’s the invisible magic that takes place between the viewer and the painting.

It’s this ability, to envision, to imagine, to play, that has sustained us and pushed us forward as a species. In this way, The Donald is The Opposite of Civilization. He is closed, you are fired. There isn’t a single original thought happening. He is the ultimate reduction to lowest common denominator. All things are objects to him, even his own daughter.

I’ve read all the articles that talk about how strategic he’s being, using simple fourth grade words, shredding right through the GOP operating manual, and in some ways, yes, this is clever salesmanship.  But no matter what the talking heads say, he is not a rebel.  Trump is allied with another far less morally bound party that play by their own set of rules: the Robber Barons.  It would not surprise me if he lit his cigars with $100 bills.

Even if we try to make the businessman pitch to The Donald: art’s central role in the latest science about brain development, sociological studies on happiness, mental illness, and general quality of life. The Donald isn’t interested in abstractions.  He’s not interested in the enlightenment project. He’s interested in power and he has no plan. Trump is a nihilist sociopath.  He’s artless.

When I was in college at a tiny, now defunct liberal arts school, I attended an event held every summer called Bread and Puppet.  It started in the 60s as guerrilla street theatre in New York City, where young people made puppets and costumes out of garbage and found items, acting out local or national politics on the street.  Over time, the show got so big that it moved to Glover, VT where the production has several barn-sized workshops and a big amphitheater.

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The main event began with what looked like an old timey carnival taking the big outdoor stage, complete with clowns, stilt walkers, and an old school bus painted in rainbows.  The actors put on a series of skits, becoming teachers, politicians, farmers, school kids, using mostly body language and simple props. The audience cheered and booed accordingly as if they already knew what to do.  At one point, a clown who had been present since the beginning stepped forward and with a dramatic gesture, tore off his mask.  You guessed: Senator Bernie Sanders. The audience went mad.  That was 1998.

Art is as various and sundry as anything else humans do, but no matter the shape of the expression, creating comes from an essential urge toward truth, beauty and love.  Even the most savage sentiment expressed creatively opens up a conversational space for catharsis. I make the argument that art on some level is activism.

When asked about his religion, Bernie states that his idea of God is everyone together.  I don’t want to get too Vermont hippy here, but in his way, Bernie is an artist because he sees the systemic failures clearly and he calls it like he sees it . He demands that we question the vicious nature of our system and in doing so, he envisions a radical alternative.  And in 1998, he was willing to put on a costume and express that idealism.

Trump is a buyer, a seller, a bored patron in the box seat.  He doesn’t speak the language of idealism.

 

I watched a bit of Democratic National Convention, and when Bernie spoke, exhausted, hoarse, finally painting HRC as the only alternative to Trump, the camera caught lots of young anguished faces on film.  Yes, the movement is bigger than Bernie, but it’s hard to see this as anything other than big money winning once again.  And when big money wins, real creative change loses.

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Ai Weiwei @ Large Exhibit at Alcatraz: the Danger of Silence

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I lived in San Francisco for 8 years and never went to Alcatraz until this weekend.  I could never think of a good reason to visit a dilapidated prison. But I was struck by the magnitude of this mass of rock and its crumbling facades, the undeniable beauty of the ocean and the city.  It was the perfect setting for this show.

Ai Weiwei is such a force that he can successfully conduct a conversation about freedom and confinement without even setting foot on the site.  These installations are so titanic without overpowering the space; they also enable the public to see some of the buildings that are not usually accessible.

The experience of being in this space is hard explain but there are so many contradictions: the constricting cells, and the wide openness of the industrial buildings, the degrading surfaces and the bubbles of old glass letting in the bold illumination of the sea.

Ai Weiwei tinkers with these contradictions so consciously: the portraits of detained or persecuted people are made of Legos, giving them a primary and pixelated look.  Soft little ceramic flowers fill up bath tubs and latrines, you almost miss them if you aren’t looking for them, quiet gestures of solace in an environment of humiliation and chaos.

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In the hospital, there were two tiled rooms the size of small bathrooms where the mentally ill were contained.  Glass block facing the ocean allowed a soft light in but once the sun went down, these rooms went black.  Ill prisoners were kept in solitary, often restrained. Ai Weiwei piped the sound of Tibetan monks chanting into one room and at a certain point I was the only one in there.  I closed my eyes and the sudden, sonorous vibration of the monks’ deep bellow shook my ribcage. In the other room, the sound of Hopi ritual drumming and chanting bounced off the tile walls.

Prison and war are our primary industries in the U.S and it is almost hard to separate them when you are in these interiors.  Alcatraz was a military prison, the remnants are still ferocious, like the cannons that shot 440 lbs cannon balls.  These spaces are like a war on the body, a constant attack of surveillance, a void of comfort, a wasteland of connection.   The primary tool of these industries is dehumanization; when we cease to acknowledge a person, or a country as human, we can criminalize them, we can refuse to help, we can drop bombs.

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And still, this artist who deserves to be on the world stage, is able to convey these very powerful messages about injustice, about the danger of silence, and that is not possible in other countries.  At the end of the exhibit, there are shelves of postcards with the names of political prisoners printed on them.  Ai Weiwei teamed up with Amnesty International to ensure that these prisoners would receive the postcards and visitors to the exhibit were encouraged to write.  This was perhaps the most powerful part of the installation, that as a viewer, you were not simply left with this heavy feeling of futility, but that you could sit down and convey your own message.  An art guide told me that 8 people had been released since the exhibit opened.

This is what great art does: it makes an undeniable stand, but it invites questions and evokes a sense of personal responsibility in everyone who witnesses it.   It is by nature, inclusive, calling attention to the artificial boundaries that distance us from other people.

Oliver Vernon, Mars-1 and Damon Soule at the Space Gallery in Denver Nov, 2014

I wrote an article for 1/1 Art Magazine about an artist I admire, Oliver Vernon, after viewing his latest work for the upcoming show with #Mars-1 and #DamonSoule at Space Gallery in Denver, CO through November.  The show features a 10×23′ collaboration by all three artists, a piece that represents the culmination of years these three artists have shared the canvas.

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Oliver Vernon with his daughter in front of “Pilgrim”.

Take a peek at the article, and please let your Denver people know that they should go see this body of work in person.  It’s truly awe-inspiring.

http://1of1magazine.com/opening-oliver-vernon-mars-1-and-damon-soules-momentum-space-gallery/

Thank you to Raymundo Muñoz for publishing the work and for supporting the Denver art community.

For more about the exhibit, visit: http://spacegallery.org/exhibition/momentum/

A Bygone Era: The Black & White Mastery of Robert Taylor and Charles Farmer at the Viewpoint Center

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Two living legends of the rapidly diminishing black and white film process are showing at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center through the month of October.  I thought I would shamelessly stump for them since their work is truly exceptional in the land of selfies and GoPro.

These delicious silver prints are like magnifying glasses held up to a California that is no longer; there is a richness and lyricism that digital, in all its glory, cannot hold a candle to.  It is worth it to see these lush landscapes and nature studies in person and you can at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento from October 10-November 1, 2014.

Taylor will be offering his new book: Robert Taylor 40 Years.

#blackandwhite, #RobertTaylor:40years, #art,  #photography, #Sacramento

Whatever Lola Wants: Vine & Bone Blog on Food, Art and Photography

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A somewhat mythic presence in the the Sacramento art community, Lola Mo (or Lola Magnolia, as I have dubbed her) quietly absorbs, watches, tastes, documents and describes all things delicious and daring.  Not only does the woman make her own gin, she gives historic walking tours in Midtown and is a veritable fount of artful facts.

Wherever Lola goes, she leaves a faint spell in the air; people need to know who she is and what she does.  Her photographs are often poetic traces of her primal impressions.  I don’t know her very well, but I am always impressed by her vision, her painstaking aesthetic and her ravenous appetite for new concoctions.  Her blog is a litany of interesting discoveries and awakenings.  This particular page is about the creative process and feeling somewhat bogged down creatively, I took quite a bit of inspiration from it.  However, I recommend following her since she always has something beautiful to offer.  And I should warn you, I almost always come away hungry.

Vine & Bone: http://vinebone.com/2014/06/blog-tour-monday-the-creative-process/

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

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“I Left My Heart in San Francisco,

high on a hill, it calls to me.

Little cable cars, they climb half way to the stars

the morning fog may fill the air, but I don’t care…”- George Cory

It’s been almost seven years since I moved away from San Francisco.  And yet, I still dream, just like this morning, that I am there.  It’s usually the mayhem of Chinatown or the Mission and I am with a group of people desperately trying to coordinate an outing of some kind.  Or I am looking for housing. This morning, I was trying to talk my other single mom friend into moving in together.

I get an article in my FB feed once a week about a beloved venue, an old school restaurant or some other pivotal cultural institution coming down to make way for more upscale housing and wine bars.  The most heartbreaking so-longs recently have been Elbo Room and Cafe du Nord.

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Like many of my friends, I feel like the San Francisco I loved is no longer.  Most of my artist friends have made the exodus to Oakland or Berkeley. On the scale, I don’t think I am terribly sentimental, but the great architecture, the dive bars, the magic hole in the wall cafes and most of all the live music, all seem to be evaporating.

However, just as a counterpoint, I just finished reading #FrogMusic by Emma Donoghue, which is about an unsolved murder that happened in the City during a heat wave in the 1870s.  A bigger-than-life character named Jenny Bonnet was renowned city-wide for wearing men’s clothes, riding a boneshaker bicycle and generally causing a disturbance. The story is about her unlikely relationship with a lady of the stage, Blanche Beunon, and Jenny’s mysterious murder. http://www.sfchronicle.com/entertainment/books/item/Frog-map-28408.php

At one point, Jenny is in the as of yet undisturbed edge of town called San Miguel Station (known to you San Franciscans San Jose Ave and Alemeny Blvd) when a construction crew suddenly emerges to dam a pond and Jenny rants about how the whole city is changing.  So it ain’t new news.

There is another line in the story when the investigating officer sniffs at Blanche’s french origins and makes a cutting remark about how her kind flooded into the city around the Rush, threatening the City’s dignity.  The French, for godsakes.

San Francisco has always walked the line of defining civilized society and opportunity while hosting the shadiest of markets; it has always lauded it’s reputation for bohemian inclusion while cordoning off whole segments of its population.  Like any other American city that has prospered, it is a crystaline reflection of how the system fails most of its people.

I am far from defending the tech influx that has driven working people, retired people, disabled people out of their homes.  Where the charge of the City used to excite me, it now makes me acutely claustrophobic; the traffic is a nightmarish sea of cars at any time of day and the sidewalks are the same, just with people instead of cars.  Every good idea you have: “hey, let’s go to the De Young” is exhaustive with time/money/logistics because everyone else had that same idea, and a latte is like, ten dollars now.  If I’m going to live in New York, I want to actually live in New York.

I will not spoil the end of Frog Music for you, since it is a wild romp, truly delicious with details of a San Francisco of yore, but I relished the fact that Sacramento is the greener pasture, in the story anyway.  That is not to say that we don’t have our own version of gentrification here, but we still have reasonably priced housing and a middle class.  For now.

When I was an 11 year-old girl, my parents used to take us on family vacations driving up the length of California.  San Francisco was always my favorite and I would look out at the wild dips and dives of the streets and see myself at 21: long-legged, stylishly dressed, on my way to a gig singing jazz in some smoky dive bar.  I really believed San Francisco would be my forever home.  And while I have no urge to return again, not even in my older, billionaire fantasies, there is still a way in which “it calls to me.”

#SanFrancisco, #SiliconValley, #Emma Donaghue, #Bay Area, #SFmusicians

Wandering through the Dense, Modern Fog of Unemployment

In the old days, when I was a young person on the job hunt my Mom gave me good advice: show up early in the morning, put yourself together, look people in the eye, leave your resume, check back in person.

I was once in the grocery store on a Friday evening when I watched a man with his two children try to turn in an application to the manager.  He was in his painter’s pants and there were lines at every register.  Not everyone had received the same advice.

But the rules are all different now because of the internet: email your resume, don’t get too dressed up, don’t be too confrontational and if you circle back, they automatically put your resume in the circular file.  Show up in the afternoon when people are more likely to have the time to talk to you.  

Because I am a single mom, in a new city, it is hard to know the etiquette of job searching.  Some places consider it rude to actually show up and try to make a person-to person impression.  They look bewildered, as if they were never going to have to talk to you, ever.  Some places are so big that even if you impressed someone by doing so, they probably have no input at all.  And the rules about what you should put on your resume seem to change daily: don’t put the year you graduated from college, that will date you, don’t offer your references, that’s not the style these days.  

And please don’t get me started on what counts as “business attire” today.  I walked into an interview recently where I had been informed that business attire was required and the woman who greeted me was in a mini skirt and hooker pumps.  Skin colored, platform hooker pumps.  

Sheesh.  

I have never gotten a job from my resume alone; I always shook someone’s hand and said something unexpected to make them laugh.  I complimented them on something specific about their business in a genuine way to indicate why I wanted to work there.  I never got nervous in an interview because if I was honest people usually got it.  

But I am getting nervous now.  My savings is dwindling.  My expenses are many.  I realize I am in a much less precarious place than most people in this country, even this world.  I have roof over my head and food in the fridge.  But the threat of not being able to make ends meet makes me desperate, and employers smell desperate from miles away.  

And of course, there is always this lingering feeling that I’m trying to push myself into a space that was not designed for me.  There are many, many things I would rather get paid to do, like write fiction, teach yoga, sing jazz.  if I could find a job that combined all those things and paid me 80k a year with bennies, I’d be set.  

But here I am, in a blazer that fit me much better before Thanksgiving, driving around, clutching my resume, smiling and hoping to find a sympathetic bureaucrat to take it off my hands and put it in a stack of other resumes.  If I can even get through the door.

I am always tempted in my cover letters to blurt out: “you know, I could come up with some amazing adjectives to describe myself, but why don’t you just throw me in there and see what i can do?! You won’t be sorry!”  I’m sure that wouldn’t come across as desperate.  Maybe I should just try the hooker pumps.  

 

 

 

Doze Green’s Gaia

There is a ghetto blaster in Doze Green’s House, circa 1982.  It still works.  It sits, like a robotic shrine amid a wall of records, tapes and DVDs.  His vinyl collection is a lexicon of psychedelic, hip-hop, hardcore, reggae, jazz, and on and on.

Doze’s house is a low-slung affair in west Nevada County, a remnant of the 80’s that is steadily transforming into a self sufficient, off-the-grid paradise.  He and his partner Nicole Strand moved here from San Francisco a few years ago.  Like many of us arriving in Nevada County, they wanted to try and repair their severed ties to Mother Earth. He and Nicole started, Ouroboros, an heirloom seed company with a fellow permaculturist in Sebastapol.

Doze is a monolith of pop culture.  He can reference any pop personality, place or happening in the last 50 years.  He is of that New York ilk that is faster, street-smarter and wittier by osmosis.  When he talks, he cracks himself up, bursting into sudden cartoonish motion.

I met Doze by house sitting for him last September while he was in Chicago painting a mural for three weeks.  I met his partner, Nicole, his dogs, his chickens, and his tomato plants and paintings months before I met him.  It was intense waking up to his art everyday.  I don’t think I got it at first.  I could see clearly that he had chops, but the intent wasn’t so clear to me.  Some of his paintings appear to be epic narrative glyphs, compressed and layered.  Multiple stories told simultaneously.  Some of them are so infused with sadness and rage that I avoided them first thing in the morning.  And some of them seem empty of emotion altogether. I would stay up late at night with a glass of wine, watching them for new developments.  I became familiar with his cast of characters.  It took weeks for Doze’s work to unravel enough, for my eyes to slowly penetrate the layers, so that I felt like I was getting the story. Or stories.

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(still life with Siddhartha)

Doze is a graffiti veteran of the 70’s and 80’s.  He and his compatriots went from being the most hated faction of New York life to the most revered.  “I’m no art critic but I can tell ya that ain’t art!” said a cop gesturing at a throw-up on a subway car in the 1983 documentary Style Wars.  It meant having a secret identity that was emblazoned on every imaginable surface.  As the form became more elaborate and more illegal, the accompanying hip-hop soundtrack was eeking it’s way from little local radio stations into big record labels.   Slowly but with increasing speed, outsider artists were beckoned into the money institutions: getting signed, getting larger venues, and getting acknowledged as culture makers.  To the rest of the country, hip-hop must have seemed to come out of nowhere.  But for the youth at the center of the counter culture, it was just the natural whipping together of hundreds of influences.

Simultaneously, punk and hardcore were lacerating crowds of teens at CBGB’s with the barely human sound of outrage.  Doze frequently found himself enthralled in the chaos of the Ramones or the Misfits.

As part of the Rock Steady Crew, he traveled all over the world, “every continent but Africa and Antarctica,” he laughed.  He worked for design companies like Jive and Bad Boy and painted murals in famous nightclubs like the Devil’s Nest.  He came out to California in the late 80’s and lived in Hollywood with Special K, Grandmaster Caz, Prince Whipperwhip and IceT.  In ‘91 he had the strange LA experience of living on Skid Row and in Beverly Hills in the same year. The empty-eyed faces in many of his paintings are echos of the homelessness he witnessed. The Beverly Hills mansion used to belong to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s House and was populated by ghosts and Scientologists.  “They tried to convert me.  It didn’t work.”

The first painting I bonded with was a single figure that hung in the living room: a golden alien robot floating on a white background.  I imagined if humans evolved for a few thousand more years we might look like that guy.  He was a protector of sorts, there was something soft about him despite his armor.  When I moved out, I missed him.  (Arawak 2011)

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(Arawak 2011)

This was a really brutal time in my life.  I took the gig house sitting for Doze and Nicole because my marriage was falling apart and I needed a neutral space to figure out a plan. Everyday Blossom and I would get up and feed the spastic black labs and then we’d go out to the chicken hutch to collect eggs.  Blossom would hunker down with an egg in her hands like it was a precious jewel.  “Thank you, Ladies,” she would coo to each of them.  Then we’d go back up to the kitchen and make breakfast.  We could pick tomatoes and grapes, swing in the hammock or watch cartoons on their old, tiny TV.  It was a relief to be away from my crumbling home and in a place where people were doing everything we dreamed about doing: growing food, making art.  Blossom would occasionally comment on a painting: “I like the blue bird,” or “that one is scary.” Doze and Blossom have since exchanged art; one of her original pieces (finger paints on card stock) hangs in his studio.

There is an interview with Doze back in his graffiti days where he is explaining the connection between dance and the trippy characters that make up a piece.  He has been building his own language for decades so of course it is esoteric. But he is also so deeply connected to some kind of instinctive cuneiform; his imagination parts so sharply from reality at times that it must be a struggle to come back to this monotone world.

A few weeks ago, we were standing in his studio and looking at Doze’s new works in progress.  He keeps about 6 or 8 going at a time, which attests to his restless energy.  This particular painting was a body, a humanoid body, in a sickened landscape of darkness.  Within her body there are faces with different expressions.  She is plowing forward in a gesture of elephantine determination with one hand behind, a black veil trailing her and a red orb floating inside it.

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“It’s Gaia,” he said, “in the apocalypse, pulling the seed of life from the void.”

There is a phenomenon called the Stendhal Syndrome whereby a person is so moved by what they are seeing that they are transformed physically, often getting ill with the shakes or dizziness.  Apparently it happens a lot in Italy when people are seeing the great masters for the first time.  It happened to me when I saw the Venus de Milo and it happened when I saw Doze’s Gaia.  I had to catch my breath and he patted me on the back reassuringly.  I had trouble sleeping, which is nothing new, but the image stuck on the inside of my eyelids.  Great art resonates with our experience, like a tuning fork.  It should reach in there and pluck that chord that feels unique to our body, our memory.  It should require no explanation.

I just spent the last year dialing back all my plans and dreams because it took all my energy just to get out of bed in the morning.  Add in the chronic terror of living in a collapsing system, an eroding ecology and all the helplessness and the denial it takes to keep going within that system.  In the grips of single motherhood I looked at Gaia and I saw…myself. Gathering up the babies, walking through chaos, dragging the void and the seed of life behind me.

Doze seems to permeate that thin membrane between the dead and the living.  People come to Nevada County to call out the last shred of the sacred. There are other artists here, cloistered away in the hills, exhibiting internationally, bartering their paintings for chicken feed.  This is another reason I don’t want to leave.  It changes me, to see and to be around people who are making their imagination actual.  It gives me hope and the sense that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, despite the smart phone pseudo-revolution.  Or maybe this is just a gold country phenomenon: that people like Doze and Nicole along with many other travelers on the path, arrive here.

Knowing them has made me all that much more resistant to moving, to getting a “straight job”.  I want to do in my fiction what Doze does on that canvas.  It maybe partly fear of failure.  A friend posted a quote for Beth Moore recently, “Writing is like throwing up: I know I’m going to do it, I just need to find a place.”

When I told Doze that I gave up trying to make music for a living because it sucked the joy out of the process, he said something that has stuck in my gut since: “Meer, you have to be willing to hate it, about half the time.”  When I sit down to write now, i think about that, I try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I can see what it must feel like to have reached a point in your art making where you no longer wonder or care if it is good.  Doze may be a little eccentric, but he’s also free.  And that freedom produces magnificent results.

He is about to go to Las Vegas to paint a five-story mural.

“I’ll be in a cherry-picker the whole time.”

“Are you scared of heights?”  I asked him.

“I didn’t used to be,” he said.  “I used to run on top of the subway cars.”

“Jesus.”

“Ahh, It’ll be fun,” he said with a grin and a bombastic gesture of excitement.

dozegreen.com

watch a video about the Las Vegas project:

http://vimeo.com/76575366