I didn’t play the game right

Going to grad school for art is a performance. I come from an unconventional place I went back to grad school. I had been teaching abroad for a decade now, and the position I held required an MFA. I had a choice to uproot my family, or stay abroad and complete an MA there. I figured finally getting my MFA was a good decision because I’d be able to have more opportunities to continue my teaching career in the US should we ever decide to move there. I say this because it’s important to understand that I had already seen the other side of the curtain for a decade before I became a student again. In this regard I know that professors are also just people, and their opinions can vary from day to day. I know that mindless bureaucracy is soul crushing and nonsensical, and that political rivalries within art schools can destroy friendships. I’ve seen countless accounts of young female students run out of crits crying, or freaking out to the point where it doesn’t even phase me any more. More like “oh, she’s crying. This is happening again” . I only say “female” students because I’ve never seen a male student cry, However I’ve seen them get angry, and throw tantrums, and walk out of a crit and never come back to school again. I think this is an indication of just how deep seated and strange art school is. It gets at your core, when facing a crit it’s not just about your work, and your research and how successfully you’ve integrated the two. It’s about you. About your family, about where you were born and what socioeconomic status you hold. I can’t think of many other advanced degrees which are so focused on the person, rather than the work itself.

Art grad school is a performance, and with any performance there are certain parameters which must be adhered to. This often creates work that students only do in grad school. The reason why the work doesn’t continue is simply because the student was trying to fulfill the requirements of the performance. The grad school “art speak” is something similar to legalese. A language which is only employed within the confines of academia. And the result of all the theory, and research essentially becomes a one paragraph artist statement on the wall that perhaps a small percentage of those who look at the work actually read. All of the talking is essentially just part of the performance which you are embarking on.

Which brings me to the idea of “I didn’t play the game right”. I was having a conversation with a final year student near the elevator, and we were lamenting about the fact that two of her lecturers remained speechless while two other lecturers essentially tore her to shreds. The two lecturers who were quiet had previously met with her individually and expressed their admiration of her work, but when it came time to defend it in front of their colleagues, they remained speechless. The two who didn’t like her work were seeing the work for the first time, and therefore, had more to say about it. This could have contributed to why the two lecturers who liked her work were quiet. They had said what they wanted to, and so they were quiet when she was challenged. I’ve actually done this as a lecturer as well. I’ve spoken with a student on their own, and then when the big review of the work came, I made the student fend off multiple attacks. But this is what it means to really “play the game” of art grad school. When you meet with a teacher, or give them any insight into your work you are carefully crafting a narrative which will give them a framework with which to see the work. If you overplay your hand, you can give out too much info, if you underplay it, you risk looking like you aren’t taking a position. That’s what it means to “play the game” of grad school. As I said, you are performing, and if you’re not sure of yourself, you’ll fall, but the most important thing to take away from these initial meetings with your lecturers is that you are crafting a picture of who you are. And let me tell you, teachers love trying to figure out who it is that you really are.

“I want to see more of Jacob in this piece” or “I think it’s painted beautifully, there’s no doubt about that, but where are you in this piece?” is a question which will come up at basically every crit, for every semester that you’re at school. And because you need to situate yourself to the work, you’ll need to come up with an answer. About 75% of those in your class will say “Well, as someone born and raised in North Carolina(insert state here) I think like this”. Everyone does it. So you probably should too, even though it’s bullshit. Figure out what it is that you like about the work that you are creating. If you like eating lasagna, then think about what it is that really makes you like lasagna. Is it the cheese? The tomato sauce? What’s the worst lasagna you ever had in your life? What’s the best? And how do they differ. Think this way about your art. What is it that really intrigues you about the artists that you look up to, and really ask yourself if you are doing anything more than just biting off a few of their techniques.

While navigating the strange world of the art school remember that there are politicians scheming around every corner. Many students are simply jealous of the students which are better, so they try to give them a harder time in crits. If you’re dealing with big philosophical ideas, and you’ve got a Phd on your faculty you’ll be amazed at the way she challenges you at every turn, while someone with a simple idea that isn’t anywhere as near as complex as yours gets a pass. This is part of the inconsistency of the entire affair. The way professors react to certain students work is largely arbitrary and you shouldn’t look for any sort of thread between how they speak from student to student. It’s constantly morphing and this can be disorienting if you don’t see it for what it is. And there really isn’t some standard which makes something “good” . You may as well be two people arguing whether Tax Driver is better than The Godfather.

Building a Log Cabin in Alaska

I’ve been watching Jamie’s videos for years, and he most well well known for his giant robot building project. However I really like this series of videos he made when he was hired to build a log cabin in the Alskan wilderness. I believe that he embodies a very important concept many of us should remember when embarking on our own quests to build the home of our dreams. That it is much more important to do, and experiment above all else. We all have things holding us back, such as the fact that we are still waiting on a buyer for our apartment. And more practical things to consider, such as being close to work so I can still afford to feed my wife and child. But at the same time, when the opportunity comes, I hope to be able to have the same amount of freedom and experimentation as Jamie has in the woods of Vermont. In the words of Christopher Walken “If you want to build a house…build a house. Don’t tell anyone, just build a house”

Here’s Jamie’s series of videos of the cabin build project he did. Stick with them, they seem a bit slow at first but as a whole work out really nicely in showing the progression of a cabin build.

Straw Bale Building Short Documentary

Short Documentary from Sweden about straw bale building techniques. Cover the construction of one straw bale home build and the basics of the building process.

Straw Bale Links

First Straw Bale Bus Stop in Czech Republic

Sculptors Straw Bale Home in Czech Republic

Falling in love with a tiny house

I found this beautiful little house for sale nested in the woods around Hlásná Třebaň. The neighbor has some Turkeys and Ducks. And the cottage and surroundings are something out of a fairy tale. Big old Plum trees (which I wish I would’ve got more footage of) and a cute cabin nested down in a valley. The property slants down on both sides which inevitable means one thing. water. Also because of the slanted land this will also make gardening a bit more difficult. Not impossible by any means. I could imagine putting some terraces in, and raised beds on top of that, and the property does seem to get a good deal of sun (just not all throughout the day because of the large trees). It’s located within walking distance of a modern train which gets to the center of Prague in 30 minutes. Luckily for me my work is only about 15 minutes from the main train station so this makes this pretty optimal in terms of a commute time. But. But. But. And I’m thinking out loud here. I’ve got a gut feeling there’s something weird about this property if I could step foot on it. I’ll have to go back with the Realtor to check it out, and I’m imagining the inside of that house hasn’t seen an occupant in quite some time so it’s also probably not in the best shape (the listing doesn’t even have pictures inside the home). So, we’ll see. I’ll do some more research on the property and see what it’s all about. I think that sometimes I have to think more practically then just on impulse when it comes to buying though. There’s gotta be something really weird about this place. It’s way too cheap.

What To Look For When Buying Land

Before I start the article just thought I’d show you that our apartment is now up for sale. Here are the pics we worked so hard to make. Taking photos of an apartment to show its true size can be more difficult than you think!

What to look for when buying land? It’s a simple question with a rather complicated answer. I won’t act as if I’m the end all guru of knowing exactly what to look for as our upcoming purchase of some land will be our first. But I’ve done my research and I tried to compile a checklist of sorts as what are some of the major things you should think about when purchasing land.

One of the first things most people will want to consider is resale value. I know it doesn’t seem like the biggest factor as you are most likely putting all your hopes and dreams into this one plot of land but that doesn’t mean you won’t perhaps want something bigger, or even move back into the city in an apartment later on. All I’m saying is that like it or not, buying land is a big investment, and you’d have to be reckless not to consider the property value of the plot. The good news is that land consistently goes up in value at a scale almost twice as much as property. So say for instance you buy a plot of land for 100,000 and build a house on it which cost 100,000. The land itself will most likely go up by 20% in ten years (120,000$) while the home will go up 10%(110,000$). The thing with land is that it is a finite resource and one that has a demand that is on the increase across the board. Simply put, most land will only increase in value in time as it becomes more and more scarce (especially around major cities). When looking at land values of a plot think about it’s access to transportation, schools, roads, noise, access to nature, neighboring houses, and then comes the next big annoyance. Zoning.

Everyone but developers and real estate tycoons pretty much hates zoning laws. I could go on at length about zoning laws and how they’ve actually ruined the landscape of a lot of the US but I’ll save that for later. Basically there’s three types of zones. Business, Residential, and Mixed Use. You obviously need to buy a piece of land that is zoned residential. Sorry, Christopher Walken’s wise words “If you want to build a house, build a house. Don’t tell anyone, just build a house.” dosn’t really apply unless you are wanting to build something in a completely remote location where you know the local zoning authorities won’t mess with you. So check number 2 is to make sure the land you are buying is zoned for living! I know it seems like common sense but you’d be surprised. Also look at how close you are to a commercial/mixed zone and how these two interact. In the US it is common to use large collector roads that connect residential and commercial areas. If you have the ability to walk or ride your bike to the store without crossing a 5 lane highway then these are obvious bonuses. In much of Europe the smaller satellite towns surrounding the major cities are long well established so they didn’t fall into the 1950s suburbanization. In this case (which is my case as I’m looking for land in Czech Republic) I’m looking for a smaller town with fast public transportation (trains) to Prague as well as something which still has a city center with shops so I can still walk to buy my groceries and won’t need to jump in the car every time we run out of milk (which hopefully won’t be often if I gt the goat I’ve been lobbying for:) ) We also need to be within a reasonable distance to a school as we are awaiting the arrival of a baby girl. So this check on the list could be summed up as be aware of how your land is zoned, but also be aware of how the surrounding land is zoned and how the commercial areas intertwine with the residential areas (who knows you could also be an urban homesteader and get a plot of land in the center of town). Just make sure that you’re able to do what you want on that land (have chickens, goats, etc. etc.).

We don’t need a lot in order to survive, but one thing that every human needs is water. Which brings me to the issue of Utilities. The level to which the plot of land is “wired” can vary with each field you look at. Some will have gas, septic, electricity, and everything ready to roll. If not then you can use various alternative methods for managing your septic system yourself, make sure you’ve got a well, and generate your own electricity. Or if you aren’t looking to be off the grid you should inquire as to how much it will cost in order to get all these lines going to your future home. Prices will vary based upon a multitude of factors.

Find out about the quality of your soil and figure out how far the builders will have to dig in order to lay a foundation. When the foundation for your house is poured the builders will have to ensure that it has a solid foundation. This can be determined by taking soil borings which will show how deep your builders will have to excavate for your foundation. Other things to consider is that those nice pieces of land on a slope are cheaper for a reason, and that’s because it’s going to be more expensive to lay a level foundation on a slope as opposed to a flat field. Also look for big stones or other tell tale signs that the soil may be difficult to excavate.

As I was saying previously another obvious thing to check is your plots access to roads and transportation. Often I’ve seen some cheaper pieces of property which are essentially islands inside of other privately owned lands. Why are they cheaper? Well, because if you’re the one using the road to get to your place, then it’s your responsibility to upkeep the road. A road may seem like a simple idea but they are actually extremely difficult to build and maintain without the proper equipment. My Uncle up in North Dakota bought his own road grater, as well as a huge snowplow just to maintain the road to his home. Don’t think that having your own private road isn’t going to be a big expense. On top of that every country road I’ve ever seen will have places that just always seem to get flooded every year. If there is a smaller private road to a piece of property look to see if their are large ruts in the road or if people appear to be constantly changing their route. If possible it’s best to be on, or extremely close to a publicly maintained road as you won’t have to foot the bill (well your taxes pay for that, so you are paying for it anyway).

Remember how much your house is realistically going to cost to build. Many times it’s easy to forget that buying land also includes the cost of building something on that land. Make sure that the home you are looking to build won’t put you way over budget. Get a realistic quote and tell whoever you’ve got lined up to build the home that you simply can’t pay more. I personally found it better during the reconstruction of our apartment to charge by the job and not by the hour. Not sure how legal that is :/ lol, anyway just make sure your contractors know that you’re really tied into a budget and while you should prepare for some leeway that you absolutely can’t go too far over budget.

Do your research on the surrounding community and the type of people who live there. This is something I’ve been documenting throughout the summer as I’ve travelled to various small satellite villages surrounding Prague. They’ve turned into little diary like entries complete with music (made by me:) ) but they remind me of what the village felt like. In the video below you can see my most recent trip to a field for sale in Mnichovice

Now obviously you don’t need to go to the lengths of editing the video and making your own music and everything. I just do that for fun, but the lesson here is to document every single piece of property you look at. You might think you’re filming a lot of crap but once you get home you can review the footage and it actually works in capturing the feel of the area you are in. You can view the other towns I’ve been to by looking at my youtube channel.

Make sure you can get financing to buy your dream plot. Buying land is much more difficult to get financing for as there are a lot more factors which make it risky. It’s a good idea to figure out how you’re going to pay for it once you pay it. Thankfully we’ve been blessed with Jana inheriting an apartment we are selling which will more than cover the price of a plot of land. And since we’ll have “cash in hand” so to speak we’ll also be able to haggle more with the seller of the property. If you don’t have a chunk of money to spend then realize that down payments on land can often be much higher than what is expected for homes.

The last thing I look for may be my own strange thing, but I always check for drainage issues on a piece of land I’m looking at. If there are large sections of standing water or puddles you should probably get used to them being there because it’s pretty hard to change the course of nature.

So that’s it. If anyone has some things that they always look for when thinking about buying land please leave a comment below. It would be fun to expand the checklist and make it a resource for those looking to buy land in the future (plus it would help me out in my own search as well!) Cheers!

Time to sell

There’s always a lot of points in life that need to be decided upon with impulse decision making. If one keeps planning for the future and not actively working to make that future happen then we might as well just give up and accept that what we have now is all there is. I’ve been planning and thinking about executing the sale of our apartment for years now and finally today I’ve decided that tomorrow I’m going to buy some paint, paint the walls and prepare it for photos. Jana is due to give birth in two months and it’s obvious that now may not be the best time to add the huge stress of selling an apartment to all the changes that will be coming in the future months. I’m preparing that it is going to be a lot more stressful than I can imagine. However I feel as if we’re really serious about getting out of the city and creating our own home then we must start immediately working towards the first major hurdle in our way, and that’s selling our place. We bought it just about 4 years ago before we were married and now it’s time to move on and make the next step. The reason why I feel we need to get it on the market as soon as possible is the inevitability that we will need to rent somewhere no matter what while our home is being built, and obviously we can’t build a house without money, and we can’t get money without selling our apartment. I’m sure this is a conundrum that many have faced as they begin to ponder how they will get the money to get out of the city and build what they want. And what to do with all the stuff right? There has to be a place to keep all of your belongings as the new home is being built, and if you’ve sold your home in order to get money to build a home, then you’re going to need to rent a place to live! I figure I’m going to go crazy anyway, why not go crazy and end up with what we all want in the end anyway. The goal is to begin construction by next spring and be living there by summer. We’ll see how naive I am in my thinking as the months pass, until then, keep your fingers crossed for me.

My Grandfather in Law’s Amazing Home and Food Gardens

Jana has been spending a lot of time out at her Grandfather’s place an hour outside of Prague since she is now 7 months pregnant and needs the peace and quiet. I was amazed when I arrived there last week to find a multitude of berries and fruits bulging from tree branches overhead. The place is amazing. It sits on about 1700 square meters and on that patch of land sits Apricot Trees, About 4 or 5 different berry bushes, Potatoes, Herbs, Tomatoes, Beans, A huge Cherry tree, 4 other apple trees, a wood chopping hideaway, two homes (both built by my grandfather in law Jindra), 3 fireplaces, a grill, ponds with salamanders and fish, and I could keep going on and on. But the thing is these type of places are really very common here in Czech Republic. Under communism there was a desire to leave the city during the weekends and most czechs have some “chata” (cabin) where they still go on the weekends to do nothing but drink home made slivovice (plum brandy) and roast potatoes and sausages. In this case I am told that Jindra’s place used to be much more extensive and much of the vegetables he grew are gone (he’s 83 now, but still chops all the wood and tends to all the plants himself). I am just blown away because in the US there is all this talk about Homesteading and Permaculture, and these are things I’m really into, and they seem new to me. But at the same time they aren’t new concepts in any way. Having a barrel at the end of your gutter to collect rain to later water your vegetables with is really not that revolutionary of an idea. And Czechs don’t act as if composting or collecting rain water is anything new at all, they just never stopped doing it. Whereas in the states we need some giant pr campaign to convince people they can recycle their garbage. Anyway, I took a few videos while I was there and I was really inspired to see that what I want to do isn’t that crazy of an idea. Get a plot of land, build a home, have a garden isn’t something that is unreachable or impossible, it’s something that people have been doing for quite some time. At this point we are waiting through the summer and until after our little girl is born, and then we will sell the apartment, and buy a piece of land. We’ll have to move into a temporary apartment after we sell but hey, it will be crazy enough having our first child, we might as well just go completely mad in the next few years and really do what we want. And that is to build a home and have a big garden.

In this first video you see the story of the potatoes we dug up and roasted in the fire. I wanted the video to show how something as simple as a potato can have a story and also be super yummy (which it was)

Here’s the big Garden Tour video of the garden with very pregnant Jana and myself. Hi! 🙂

Garden Tour from King Vitaman on Vimeo.

And here’s some dubstep with some mushroom picking. The mushrooms we were collecting were called Boletus Badius and were easily identifiable. Also collected on Jindra’s property.

Before Survivorman, Les Stroud Made a Documentary about Building his Off The Grid Home

Still one of my favorite documentaries about building is a little known video by Les Stroud who chronicled his off the grid build in Canada. Stroud is the perfect example of a person who is into building a home like this, he’s independent, resourceful, and respectful to nature. It’s crazy to think that these things we now believe to be “out of the ordinary” were simply how most people lived for the vast majority of human history. Building a home was a necessity of having a family, my grandparents did it, yours probably as well. One of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century is that homes went from nests built for ones families and turned into commodities which were bought and sold and traded like stocks and bonds. It’s no wonder that our contemporary suburban landscapes resemble a McDonalds drive thru as opposed to a town square. People have stopped caring about the homes they live in, and have started to care only about the value of the home instead. When watching this documentary I can’t help but think of how much personal satisfaction must come from creating and building a home with your own hands, and how much more that house must be worth to the family which inhabits it.

Earthship Building Webinair FULL

8 part webinair series produced by earthship.com outlining the basic principles and practices of building and living in an earthship.