Note to Agents: Alleys in U Hill, Boulder

In the interests of enhancing compact cities, some lovely public spaces can be carved out of alleys.  It makes for quiet place amid the milieu, and can be the perfect home for those little secret restaurants, artworks, and meeting places that are whispered from the lips of locals in-the-know.


There are lovely, gritty, curious little corners of University Hill in Boulder, Colorado that are perfect for such an effort.  Agents from the Poorly Kept Secret Society infiltrated a few of these earlier today.  On bicycle, if you must know.  Here is a map, and some photos pulled from the Internets:





(Photo from the Daily Camera, 12/2009)


(Photo from the Denver Post, 2/2007)

Note: these are old photos, but the alleys are pretty much unchanged.



List of Things That Are Not Going Away

The following is a list of things that are not going to go away, no matter how hard you clap:


  1. Hippies.  Dreadlocks, tie die, sandals; how is it that this, among all the cultural fashions that ebb and flow, this is the timeless aesthetic that people can continue to which old and young alike can commit?
  2. That cricket that keeps you up at night.  It will outlive anything global warming can throw at it.
  3. The internet.


Digital technology has opened up so many fascinating landscapes for artists to play with.  The one big hangup was always the wires.  You had to be plugged in to enjoy the art.  But, the web is just now going wireless; no longer so web-like.  As the wires that once held artists to the wall, and kept our lazy butts in our seats, are cut, what frontiers are open to the geniuses of this next great medium of art history?  And, more importantly for our purposes, how can artists motivate people to get up, get out, and get talking?


Here’s a few of the artists and organizations that we at the Poorly Kept Secret Society think are poised to exploit the wireless future.  Some of them have not quite yet ventured outside their parents basements and delivered us our wireless future, but these are some of the minds who will do exactly that.


Dina Kelberman, who curates marvels from the milieu of the www.  Her presentation still very much works in the realm of screens, mice, and cables.  But her mindset is miraculous, bridging the most intriguing corners of the internet.


Mary Miss.  Her little ditty for the Indianapolis Museum of Art seamlessly weaves a smartphone app with a walk down the river.  An elegant cross between public and virtual spaces.


Mark Amerika.  His Museum of Glitch Aesthetics project asks you to rethink the visual implications of contemporary technological fails.  He frames up the digital version of reverb, and it turns out so pretty!  What he could do to your iPhone…


Denver Digirati.  Plus Gallery serves up video and animation for the town square.


Ben Rubin.  Working in reverse, his public artworks are re-imagined human interface on an urban scale.  King of the new breed of data mining artists; look out for this guy.


Halsey Burgund.  Fucking up your mobile device, directly.



About Places: Jenny Odell

Artist Jenny Odell offers a unique marriage of art and place.  The Agents of the Poorly Kept Secret Society generally deal with art in the public realm.  However, artists like Odell create works about the public realm.  What is there to learn from this?  How does the artists perspective on place serve a more academic function?  Here’s an interview with Odell that appeared recently in The Atlantic:


137 World Landmarks in One Picture, and Other Crazy Google Maps Art

by JOHN METCALFE, JUL 09, 2013

Call Jenny Odell a collector of spaces. Some are public, like all the basketball courts in Manhattan; others are most decidedly not, like smoke-puffing nuclear cooling towers. She doesn’t discriminate – she just wants to get her hands on as many as possible, so she can lay them out into maddening arrangements akin to a nutty entomologist’s butterfly collection.

Odell, who’s 27 and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, creates her works on a computer (sometimes at a Mission coffee shop) by pulling similar structures from Google Maps and spreading them into complex arrays that measure as large as 3 by 5 feet. “The main thing that I want people to take away from them is a new way of looking at their surroundings, specifically the ones so banal we risk ignoring them,” she says. “Being humans, it’s easy to forget how uniquely human we have made our environments.”

The artist began her odd quest to categorize the planet’s components on a whim in 2009, when she decided to find out just how many parking lots there were in her native San Jose. And she’s still making her meta-maps today, working on a series that deals with the massive machinery behind shipping and container transport. (She also manages the fun Tumblr, “The Satellite Tourist.”)

Seeing as how Odell will be showing new work beginning July 11 at SOMArt’s Electronic Pacific show – a promising-looking exploration of Pacific Rim culture staged in a bunch of shipping containers in San Francisco – I asked the artist to explain a little more about her obsession with ultimate order from above. Here’s what she had to say, with examples from her “Satellite Series”:

“137 Landmarks” (the key is here)

How’d you get the idea for these things?

I had just moved to San Francisco from Berkeley and since I relied a lot on maps at first (I didn’t, and still don’t, have a smartphone), I was thinking a lot about maps and how they can be seen as selective abbreviations of space. Different maps choose different things to show and other things to omit. In other words, I was already considering maps as collections of a certain type of information, an extraction from something infinite (space).

The first collection I made was of 144 empty parking lots; I grew up in San Jose always vaguely feeling like I was surrounded by empty parking lots but wanted to see what they would look like collected all together. I was expecting the result to be as depressing as the actual parking lots, but instead what was revealed was, somewhat humorously, the “personalities” of the parking lots – the careful or not-so-careful landscaping, the angles and density of lines, the blobby shapes (never the same), the tire-marks of people doing donuts, etc. Something I had meant to show similarities actually ended up showing their differences and idiosyncrasies. And I never took parking lots for granted again, which can be said for most of the things I’ve made collections of.

120 Stadiums

Is constructing these intricate pieces a terrible chore?

It can be painful in the sense that it’s very time consuming and labor intensive. But it’s definitely also satisfying to build something that slowly and see it come together over time. The concreteness of this work, both in process and outcome, is sort of like my stand against the quickness, distraction and immateriality of our usual experience of imagery on the internet.

The amount of time I spend with the imagery changes my relationship to it (and, I hope, the viewer’s), forcing a level of contemplation that might not occur naturally. And yes, it is satisfying to wrest some kind of order from the infinitude of satellite imagery, even if that order is completely subjective and personal, like a child organizing his or her favorite things according to imagined systems.

Every Outdoor Basketball Court in Manhattan

Is there meant to be any commentary on humanity’s sometimes ugly effect on the landscape?

Of course there is an environmentalist bent in pieces like the collections of landfills and waste ponds, but on a much broader note, what I’m trying to illuminate is the utter humanness and strangeness of the marks we’ve left on the earth. Only humans would build boxes of chlorinated water in the ground to occasionally splash around in, or engineer something as complicated as a water slide for the sole purpose of entertainment. Imagery taken from the inhuman perspective of a satellite provides us enough distance to appreciate the time and species-bound specificity of our surroundings, and to see ourselves reflected in them.

964 Round Parts of Wastewater Treatment Plants

Recently, I have been making collections of largely infrastructural elements like wastewater-treatment plants and power plants (and, for the SOMArts show, structures related to container transport) to highlight, on top of the specificity of these structures, the sheer effort it takes for us to continue existing on this planet. It can seem, from within the everyday perspective, that civilization is somehow magically running itself. Depending on who we are and where we live, our experiences of these things can often be removed and abstract – like how I know when I throw something away it goes to a landfill, but I have never seen that landfill.

At some point, a large portion of reality seems to have dematerialized. So by cutting out and collecting things like landfills, transmission towers, dams and container ships, I’m trying to highlight in a concrete sense the material mechanisms we have built and that we remain completely dependent on for our current existence. Having spent a lot of time with this imagery, I can say it’s quite a humbling realization.

206 Circular Farms

Shipping Containers, from a new series

195 Yachts, Barges, Cargo Lines, Tankers and Other Ships

97 Nuclear Cooling Towers 

Images used with permission of Jenny Odell