In addition to living in earthquake country, I happen to live in Humboldt County, the capitol of pot culture in the U.S. It seems like every month or so, MSNBC, Fox or the LA Times puts out an article or segment whipping the public into a frenzy about grow houses and Mexican drug gangs that are out to behead innocent grannies. One "documentary" actually followed a DEA agent through a National Park as he talked about the drug gangs. When he stumbled onto a grow site, he actually pointed to a tortilla wrapper and a sexy Mexican novella as evidence that MS 13 is out to grow jazz tea and hunt your grandmother with their machetes.
What these articles never seem to do is focus on the POSITIVE. I'm not just talking about the increased availability of tasty baked goods and chocolate in our area.
What Humboldt county DOES have is a bunch of amazing glass artists. The need for smoking accessories brings out the artistic (and entrepreneurial) side of many of our residents.
I honestly had no idea that there was such a large subculture of glass artists focusing on stretching the boundaries of glass pipes, but it doesn't surprise me. The above YouTube clip is a trailer for a forthcoming documentary about pipe culture by M. Slinger called Degenerate Art: The Art and Culture of Glass Pipes. Holocaust-insensitive title aside, the scene seems to be ripe for some documentation, and perhaps some appreciation from the rest of the art and craft world.
As you might guess, function is somewhat arbitrary in many of the pieces that come out of this scene. An $8,000 glass pipe is really no different than what ceramic artists have been doing with teapots for years. Nobody is going to brew up a steaming pot of tea in a Sergei Isupov teapot, so the lack of functional use shouldn't be a deal-breaker.
In fact, the function of these pipes is mostly metaphorical. Slinger and his fellow glass artists are philosophical when it comes to function....as they have to be so as not to end up like Tommy Chong. The pipes will be displayed and treasured by collectors, monuments to human creation...and the impulse to change the situation one's situation is in.
A few years back, many of the glass artists featured in the documentary came together in Arcata, the town next to me, to work on a gigantic collaborative pipe sculpture. The creation of the "sculpture" is documented on Slinger's website, thataintart.com.
Lots of the work that comes out of this network of artists is free of day-glo head shop kitsch, but some of the artists take kitschy psychedelic imagery and warp it back on itself. Many of the artists profiled in the documentary have been showing their work together in fine art galleries, inviting both the scrutiny and increased attention that broader exposure can bring. It seems like some of the artists actually know their way around an artist statement!
The quasi-legal nature of their art is all part of the fun. I can't wait to see the artists talk about their run-ins with the law in the documentary. Slinger and Co. have also started a book imprint called Grit City that sells beautiful monographs about their art. Their first book was entitled "Smoked", and it has already sold out. A second volume of "Smoked" will be coming out this summer.
C'mon, Corning Glass Museum! C'mon, Pilchuck! It's time for you to ditch the second-rate Chihuly knock-offs and prove that you're down with some real glass art. What are you ashamed of? As for the rest of you.... it's time you stopped living like you did when you were in college. You know you can afford to ditch the crunched up beer can or hollowed-out apple and invest in some real functional art.
LINK to Degenerate Art show at the Mark Wooley Gallery