"Stare. It is the only way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry,listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." - Walker Evans

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This Is Not a Publication?!
The curious case of two periodicals named Stare
Art Shit
The aesthetics of excreta
A near fatal mistake

. . .

This Is Not a Publication?!

New York-based Stare Inc. has announced plans to launch an arts-related periodical called Stare, and is attempting to trademark the name "Stare."

Although another periodical is always welcome, we would prefer that the creative people at Stare Inc. choose a name other than the title we've been using since 1995. We asked Stare Inc. to

  • choose a different name, and
  • not to trademark Stare, a name we've been using (complete with the ugly little ™ symbol beside it) for going on four years.

Stare Inc. President David Renard was somewhat understanding, acknowledging that Stare is "a name you have been using for some time now."

Oddly enough, it seems that Mr. Renard believes that there are no publications on the Internet. In justifying using the name of another periodical, Renard said, "You choose to call [your site] a publication when in fact it is not, it is just a source of information on the web."

There's more information in the Stare press pages.

"Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how used to it you become."
-Jean Cocteau

. . .

Art Shit



Piero Manzoni's little cans of shit aren't what they used to be. He canned his feces in 1961 in an edition of ninety thirty-gram tins. One of the pieces sold for $75,000 in 1993, but at the most recent auction his little can of shit sold for only $28,800.

Perhaps it was the $75,000 price tag that prompted artist Todd Alden to make a variation on Manzoni's piece. In 1993, Alden asked some 400 collectors to send him their canned excrement for an exhibition. The request led to a 1996 exhibition of 81 such cans.


It seems that only one collector complied with Alden's request. Alden didn't reveal what was in the 80 other cans. Alden explained the lame hoax by saying, "There is a whole subtext to this that is between me and my therapist."

"The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot."
-Salvador Dali

. . .


Edward Conrad


Editor's Note: During his first extensive hospitalization, Conrad commenced and completed a collection of eight pieces, "The Seven Deadly Virtues." His archivist was reluctant to release any of the material, based on his opinion that "the work, in general, suffers from fantastic distortions and impossibilities perhaps resulting more from medication than planning." Given the parodic nature of the material, however, a contrary argument could be offered regarding the way in which parable, historically, is often both deliberately cryptic and opaque. In the spirit of compromise, Conrad's archivist provided what he regarded as "the least problematic" work of the collection, reproduced here. We leave it to the reader to decide whether or not it represents delirium as opposed to deliberation.

But years before I ever went to Kansas, I was held up conversationally while passing through an Indiana town. There wasn't any real reason for me to stop there, unless coincidence had reason of its own. I remember I was driving from North Dakota to North Carolina. Personal business in the oil plains near the U.S./Canada border required my station-to-station travel, but nothing to do with oil, if I didn't make that clear. A childhood friend had reached the age of employment and had forged out for the north country with the dream of securing a lucrative career as a geologist.  I guess it was a lonely choice. All through his first winter I received phone calls full of icy landscapes, ice-bound pump-stations, and even icier towns. He definitely needed cheering up. I'm sure I wasn't his only contact with the warmer world that winter, but I was the only one crazy enough to take him up on his offer to see what the continental borders looked like in early spring. I suppose I didn't have the heart to turn him down. It isn't easily remembered during old age, but youthful friendship often suffers from maladies of idyllic devotion: anything for a friend.

So, as a result of fulfilling the obligations of comradeship, I saw the "early spring" in North Dakota. It was all very charming, but, when you drive somewhere, you have to drive back, and I can't say why I decided to connect up with Interstate 80 somewhere near Chicago on my return trip. I could have gone farther south before turning east; it was just the action of chance. Why I was driving at all is somewhat a mystery. I could have flown. It would have been faster, but perhaps I was feeling superstitious. April the 20th is one of those "funny" days when everyone ought to be careful, and it was exactly on the early morning of April the 20th, near dawn, that I found myself traveling the Indiana Toll Road, eastbound, after having driven for seventeen hours.

You might remember what it's like. Youth, I mean. Time unfolds so immediately, and you really think you're concentrating on every possible detail of living, but, then, events catch up and you suddenly realize that everything's been in front of you while you were off somewhere else. And that's the way it was that morning. The fog had been sifting in slowly. I'd seen it, but I hadn't noticed. Perhaps I was surfacing on that part of the Indiana Toll Road always in the middle of a fog bank, but I was surely the worse for a long, dark night tacked onto the end of that fast-paced, "early spring" visit to North Dakota. Things were fading in just as they were fading out. The grey and damp of the dawn mixed soporifically with the accelerating light of the obscured sunrise.  Despite the blasting glare from the instrument panel of my '63 Dodge Dart and what should have been the thrill of hurtling forward at 65 miles per hour inside a 2700-pound box of ribbed steel, I was losing consciousness. It was all sensation of gauzy moisture in low light. Sleep, when you don't want it, and particularly when you're young, is a lot like sex. And even as I tugged and jerked against the body-borne chemicals attempting to dissolve my conscious world, somewhere between dream and whatever flew by the windshield, everything became unendurably pleasant. I was all the way there, and nowhere at all.

A near-fatal mistake.

With an explosive sound from the right side of the suspension, the whole screen flashed white as my eyelids jumped back. The steering wheel wanted to slice away from my immediate grip, and the windshield now read diagonally. The 2700-pound box of ribbed steel and I were being pulled off the road into a sucking-mud shoulder, and, even as I desperately attempted to wrench the car back onto the asphalt, a white post with a green, rectangular sign, screaming "ELKHEART" in big, white letters shot straight up in front of me, straight out of the fog. It all happened so fast that I couldn't avoid it. The sound, at contact, was sharp and horrible, and, for a millisecond, the post and sign seemed to jump toward the sky but were immediately slapped down. As the car continued its pitch to the right, and the whole mess flew under the wheels, I felt the stump of the sheared-off post brutally rake the right length of the chassis. Despite the terror of the collision, the accident probably enabled my pulling the car out of the mud. The stump, as it passed under the right side, could have raised the car just enough. Still, however it happened, the Dart and I sheared suddenly left, back onto the asphalt of the shoulder, and I brought the entire episode to a stop. Once stationary, in the silence of zero motion, it was almost as if nothing had happened, and I might have felt very alone, except for the presence of a cold sweat, the kind that reminds you how close you always are to calamity and death. Finally, it is just that simple.

But my mind wanted to be occupied with other things. I had been fortunate to be alone, unobserved. I thought about helpful bystanders and how they had a habit of calling the police. Not that I had anything to hide, but my supply of clever answers to difficult questions was dangerously low. I hopped out of the car to check quickly for damage. There were no fluids dripping off the underside, so it looked as if the oil pan and gas tank were intact. At the front end, both headlights were shining, still in alignment, and the grill hadn't even been scratched. Really, the only clue at all was where the front bumper had been dented slightly, just to the left of its middle. I felt a few deep scratches along the dent and saw a few streaks of white paint imbedded in the chrome. And then, through what was left of the fog, I saw what I did not want to see, a car coming up in the far distance. I had to go, but I had to go somewhere. I was very tired, but not so tired that I couldn't see what was left of the sign, now glaring up out of the mud several yards off and still screaming at me in green and white:


Albeit a bit dramatic, I found my destination, or it found me. I hurriedly closed myself back inside the 2700-pound box, maneuvered back onto the Toll Road, and went in search of the nearest exit. I didn't have far to go. Out of the fog popped a runway on the right, and, unlike the sign of a moment before, I was ready for this appearance. With commendable efficiency, I dropped the landing gear, guided the nose onto the ramp, and brought the car to rest directly in front of the tower. As I handed my ticket and tribute to the gatekeeper, the barrier, left over from medieval times, rose to permit my passage past the territory's edge.

Because I needed sleep, I noticed little specific of the castles and roads that now went by in a slightly thinner fog. Like those legendary knights, I quested for a grail of my own, but this chalice more resembled a "vacancy" sign than anything of the sparkly metallic. Of course, not so lost in dream that I could forget the cost of such diversion, mine was a mid-priced crusade, and I dimly remember the sight of a modestly flashing electric crown that convinced me, economically, to make a sweeping turn to the left. I also vaguely recall telling the rather portly attendant wearing the chain mail gauntlets and standing behind the reception desk that I wanted an afternoon wake-up call and that I might stay a couple of days. Check-out time was something worried upon by migrating troupes of badly-clothed actors, not the slightest concern for a traveling Knight of the Order D'art. I really was very tired, so tired that I forgot to check the torches on the way to the room.

A near-fatal mistake.

When the phone rang, about one-thirty in the afternoon, I immediately realized from the painting opposite the bed, an enormously flat and nondescript scrawling of an ocean pretending as if Winslow Homer had been nothing but a hideous mistake, that Toto and I were no longer anywhere near medieval Kansas.

I had the receiver in my hand.

"Mr. Conrad, this is Judy, at the front desk."

I wondered suddenly if Judy owned an "ELKHEART" sign on the Toll Road, just outside of town. I may have answered a bit hesitantly.

"Yes, Judy, what is it?"

"Well, Mr. Conrad, you asked for a 1:30 call."

Suddenly I was having difficulty remembering a "Judy" in gauntlets, portly or otherwise.

"Oh, yes, thanks. Much appreciated."

With the receiver safely back in place, the room assumed a clearer motel focus. Postcards and stationary on the desk/bureau-combination across from the bed announced both a name and an idea: The Best Western Jesse James Motel, a mid-America favorite. To the right of the postcards, a television, complete with a massive color-coordinated collar to prevent accidental theft, displayed a placard boasting several channels. To the left of the bed resided one of those circular pedestal tables complete with three matching chairs in either a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with their host. Understood collectively, the Formica-coated furnishings throughout the room struggled valiantly to simulate the appearance of actual wood.  Finally, in keeping with the other decor, the rose-colored wallpaper sported an imitation-of-something design that I'm sure would have been a favorite with Jesse, if not all the other James brothers. And when I noticed the mirror on the wall behind the television, and noticed myself noticing all the furniture and furnishings, I felt suddenly as if I was growing a rose-colored, Formica vest. I hadn't exactly expected to find the grail, but a medieval quest had to be better than this. With horror, I leapt out of bed, away from the gaze of the mirror, and made my way toward the window.

Peeking out through the curtains and seeing the early afternoon blue sky and sunshine, I decided that the town of ELKHEART had to be more interesting than the heavy dark of the motel room. Despite the foremost efforts of the Best Western decorators, it wasn't a difficult decision. As rapidly as possible for a leisurely pace, I cleaned myself, dressed tastefully but casually, and set out to be the best socially acceptable tourist the town had ever seen.

Now some people say that all towns in Indiana look the same, but assembling or assuming stereotypes betray lazy minds in a terrible rush. Of course, all signs to the contrary, I was not then and am not now a saint. I could have been just as selfish as anyone else while walking by the storefronts between the motel I had left and wherever in the world I was going. Still, for no reason I can systemically explain, I was somehow as open to the world as were so many of the doors I passed. Later that evening, someone told me that the winter had been unusually long and strong, and that this particular day offered both more warmth and sun than the town had seen most of the past month. Actually, what I saw in the windows and open April doors were the gestures and activities of genuine folks speaking a genuine language. Behind the appliance repair signs, outside the mechanics' garages, and inside the clothing shops, I observed conversations that pulled me into each moment. I found it difficult not to stare, but I knew it wouldn't be fashionable. Mostly, I walked on because I hadn't arrived at the place I was going, though I had a good time looking it all over.

I went on walking and looking for a few hours or so, exchanging genuine words and deliberately sharing the best smile I could flash to make everyone as comfortable as possible because I wanted to say I was happy to be there milling about the residential and commercial streets of ELKHEART. And even though I spent much of the time scuffing along the sidewalks and asphalt, I encountered a considerable number of April trees, fighting their way out of the hard winter, firing tiny, green buds out all over their dark branches like impossible individual sunrises splitting a thousand horizons at the end of a long night. It also seemed as if, from their locations and shapes, that the trees had started and survived where they had landed as seeds, that they had avoided the officious and plying hands of bureaucratic city planners. And leading occasionally up to the trees, but also all alone as patches of unurbaned space, small fields, not large enough for tracts of fallowed land, displayed the previous year's hoary-brown, unmanicured blades of hay, grass, and rye. So, after the drive, the motel, and the tour, ELKHEART shimmered through the layers of air as an almost-city where the concrete had not as of yet taken over. Trees and vegetation escaped being strategically surrounded by Ready-Mix and Sakrete, and the people of the almost-city seemed as if they had done the same. It was a magic moment.

But then, just as suddenly as I might see such a thing, I encountered something else.

At six-thirty or so, dusk, almost, I arrived on foot in the middle of the commercial district, somewhere near Main Street. I paused and looked over into the heart of a shopping center. A small number of connected retail buildings, well maintained, set back from the street, surrounded by ample parking, they were cast in soft relief against the lake of dark asphalt before them. But what really caught my eye was directly and diagonally to the right, almost outside of what I could see, an imposing white building impractically pressed up against the very edge of the sidewalk where I was standing.

THE OASIS. The white, concrete-block building announced a name that turned toward me as I moved and looked impulsively in its direction. I remember the light streaming out from the old-style, glass-block windows, and it was suddenly colder than it ought to have been for April, and I was a little bit hungry, or I needed something, so I reached for the brass handle of the large, wooden door.

Whenever a door opens, there's always a chance you remember how subtle a change resides between one moment and the next. A rush of air drawn audibly by your ear reminds you of a thousand moments when the distance between a previous footfall and the next marks a line receding actively from the present, melting or drifting away forever. Call it an intuition more than a thought in this case, however, because, as THE OASIS opened toward me, I seemed to go, conversely, from the present into the past. With the large, wooden door opened wide into an immense room lush with dark wood and smoke, all seemed carved, ornate with craft and age, like something from another time. I suddenly wasn't sure if I was in ELKHEART at all.

Or maybe it was just the action of walking from the cold into the warm. The mechanical noise of cars and engines dissolved into the sound of a different kind of commerce.  From the heard to the seen, tables and booths seemed to rise up throughout the room from the dark green and off-white tile floor, and they gently cradled friends, couples, and those who were just now to meet.  In the booths against the far left wall, I saw families with children laughing and chatting over dinner. A passionate discussion in the center of the room between two friends about the fine points of cribbage attracted my notice. And, to the side of the card players, two waitresses exchanged bustling words while pointing hurriedly at an order ticket, nothing unfriendly, just the stuff of talk and speed.  The whole room brimmed with the warmth of conversation, musical in the way it seemed so engaged and alive. But despite all that was directly in front of me, I felt my attention drawn to the right.

And there it was. Perhaps I hadn't seen it immediately, but it was instantly recognizable. Running almost the entire length of the right wall except for that which was recessed some fifteen feet from the entry, I found the displaced center of the room, the heart of the body guarded by the blood, bone, and flesh of blocks, booths, tables, conversations, and people: THE OASIS BAR. I had to stare, and it was as if the crowd went magically silent because the structure had wanted it so.

THE OASIS BAR. Meticulously carved panels graced the front, all avian and animal subjects, all sculpted through to the individual hairs of fur or veins of feather, and each brilliantly accentuated by felicitously detailed backgrounds of sky, forest, or plain.  I reflected upon the fact that the sculptor knew these panels would best be appreciated from a distance, so I lingered. Each panel appeared to rise out of the wood and then fade back to blank before progressing to the next tableau. No applied border or nosing covered the laminates from one to the succeeding. The presentation was seamless. I noticed the material.  The entire edifice had been finished, or perhaps even composed, of a particularly luminous red mahogany, planned so that the closest wood grain resided nearest the floor, slowly opened through the elegant panels, and then expansively thrust upward toward the structure's apex. Having arrived at the apex of the front, I stared straight into the rich, slow-moving curve at the edge of the bar's cap, that edge extending somewhere near a foot beyond the pedestal, and shaped not just above but also beneath, the warmest invitation for association, rest, or embrace. But it was also the stuff of motion. Still observing the structure from the entry, I realized an invisible arc ascending from the splashing curve of the bar's front, finding its crest in a horizontal line of diminishing perspective projected by the sequence of elaborate capitals topping the nine Composite columns that supported the immense crown of the back bar. I remember thinking the columns unusual, not because they were doubled at each end, but because the remaining five were evenly spaced and slightly forward across the front of the mirror. Although this seemed to obscure the glass, it also created an unusual depth, almost reflecting a boundary between coexisting rooms as if it were real, not merely the imitation of such an illusion, as I had seen on numerous other occasions.

And, suddenly, I saw the reflections in the other room. The patrons, in sight and then in sound, came back into the world. It was the bar's way of asking me to remember that I wasn't alone. After all, I reflected, the previous invitation wasn't meant solely for me. Aligned with the best traditions of art, THE OASIS BAR intended the egalitarian rather than the exclusive. Perhaps I might have selfishly wanted it some other way, but I agreed graciously to the generous terms, still accompanied by my best, socially acceptable smile.

And so I passed several tables. I made my happy way through the smoke and talk toward the stream of motion playing gently along the shore of the bar's edge. I did not find a spot until well past the middle, far down toward the other end of the room, but I didn't mind the walk.  Immediately next to me on the right stood an older gentleman, perhaps in his sixties, but he stood taller and trimmer than might have been expected. Smiling, warm, and talking with many friends, perhaps his energy made him seem younger. But the same energy appeared especially true of all those closest the bar. Unusually alive, they gestured and watched and moved and turned to face in all directions. It seemed as if a world of its own. But, then, as I leaned across the bar to order a drink, I saw a television off to the left. On a platform hanging from the ceiling, it boasted a large color-coordinated collar, presumably to keep it from accidentally falling to the floor. I hadn't noticed it from the entry, and perhaps it seemed out of place, but no one else at the bar appeared the slightest bit concerned. Still, I couldn't resist a glance or two toward the local broadcast. And, after the bartender took my order, I turned back just in time to see a television man, in a television suit, break an important story on the Indiana Evening News.


The television man's voice continued the recitation while accompanied by film of very scruffy people moving this way and that. There were bundles, boxes, and plastic bags of what must have been possessions. I saw uniformed men raking gravel and trash out from holes under the bridges. Someone in a coat held together with duct tape, obviously evicted by the early morning visitation, was about to speak into a microphone held by a very well dressed reporter.


And, suddenly, the older gentleman next to me said, "I mean, do you see that? Those folks don't know how good they got it."

Like it was the most natural thing on earth, he just took off into a conversation, and I had no choice but to look and listen.

"Well, I grew up down in the south of the state, in Haysville, 'bout seven miles from Jasper as the crow flies, and along when I was ten or eleven, the town had just got itself a brand-new, three-room schoolhouse. 'Course we had a lot of bad years back then. The farms weren't makin'. The mines and the plants were closed mostly, and nobody was sellin' too much of anything, but, I remember headin' in toward winter that year, one mornin' Miss Williams, she was the teacher in our room, told us all about 'the needy.' And Mark Corbett, over there in the booth, remembers this 'cause he grew up down there. Miss Williams told us all about the needy and said that the school was gonna have a contest to see which of the rooms could raise up the most food for folks who might not have enough that winter."

I couldn't hear the television anymore.

He continued, "Well, Miss Williams must have done a powerful job talkin', 'cause I know I pestered my mom and dad, and I ended up takin' a couple of jars of tomatoes and onions to school, along with a small sack of flour, and I wasn't the only one. But, anyway, we all put the food back in the corner of our schoolroom, back next to all the coat hooks on the wall, and I remember that there was some kind of prize for the room that collected the most food, and I don't remember what it was, but the prize, as time went on, got bigger and bigger. I mean, it was the same prize all the time, but when we looked at the piles of food that the other rooms had collected, we figured we'd be on the short end.

"But, like Corbett over there could tell you, with only a couple of days left, we remembered as how Mark's father owned a grocery store, and we set out to pesterin' him something awful. A whole bunch of us went with Mark to talk to his father and see what we could do to get more food for the needy."

I remember that I tried to look over and find Corbett in the crowd, but I had to turn back to hear the rest.

"Well, Mark's dad, Ozzie, wasn't too receptive to the idea. Mark had already taken somethin' in to school, and times were tough, and business wasn't that good, and so forth. But we were persistent. As a matter of fact, I think it was Betty Heidenreich, and Ozzie knew that Mark was kind of sweet on her, Betty let it slip that we might not win the prize if we didn't fill up the space next to our coat racks in a big hurry and in a big way. I think it was up to me to say that we had a little bit of money between us. I'm not really sure what got him, and we never did get down to brass tacks, but we all left Ozzie and Mark's feelin' pretty confident that somethin' good was gonna happen for the needy.

"So we all made our way to the schoolhouse the next mornin' and were all gettin' settled down when in comes Mark and his dad wheelin' in thirty cardboard cases of fancy, canned beets. They rolled 'em over and set 'em up in two towers next to the other stuff we'd collected in the back of the room. Suddenly, all that pile of food in the back of the room looked picture perfect and real big, just like a little town all to itself.

"Well, 'course, we won the prize, and no doubt about it. I still can't remember what it was, but, later on, I had to think, I always hated canned beets. I can't stand 'em to this day, bleedin' out red all over the plate the way they do. They taste just awful. It bothered me from time to time, thinkin' 'bout the needy bein' served up endless canned beets, all red and nasty, from now to the end of whenever. Yeah, those folks on TV, they don't know how lucky they are."

And he looked me in the eye with a smile that wasn't as big as the state of Texas, but certainly big enough for ELKHEART, and that was it. Within the moment I turned away to order another drink, the tall man moved down the bar and was talking with a couple that he surely knew better than he knew me.

I remember I ordered a wonderful dinner that made its way from a kitchen located at the far end of the room. While I ate and drank, I met and talked with a couple of other patrons. Those conversations were a bit less one-sided, I suppose, but the test of a successful evening resides in more than just measuring the number of your own words against those spoken by someone else.

Anyway, walking back to the motel that night, I remember thinking that it was quite a place. After all, it was a beautiful bar. I tell myself from time to time that I'm going to travel back for another visit someday: the smoke, the wood, the conversation, the ambiance. Unique, very special. I suppose I could say the same about the town as well. ELKHEART and THE OASIS: "four star attractions" for anyone's Baedeker.

Any comment or inquiries regarding the work, in general, maybe addressed to Conrad's literary executor at archivcon@stare.com.

. . .
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