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Umbrella Online - Current Issue

umbrella on line

ISSN 0160-0699

Volume 29, No. 4, Dec 2006

ARTIST BOOKS - REVIEWS

Most of the books reviewed here are available at Printed Matter, at 195 10th Ave. (between 21st and 22nd St.), New York, NY 10011. www.printedmatter.org

REFERENCE

Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan by Roger S. Keyes (New York Public Library in assoc. with University of Washington Press, 2006, $50.00 cloth) features 70 key works from the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library, one of the foremost collections of Japanese illustrated books in the West. With 250 color illustrations, this book is the inspired gift of the year!

Ehon–or “picture books”–are part of an incomparable 1,200 year-old Japanese tradition. Created by artists and craftsmen, most ehon also feature essays, poems, or other texts written in beautiful, distinctive calligraphy. To have one of the great scholars in the field to curate this exhibition and write this magnificent volume is a great opportunity to know this chapter of book art history much better than before. Here we have the collaboration of visual artists, calligraphers, writers, and designers joining forces with papermakers, binders, block cutters and printers. They books they created are strikingly beautiful, highly charged microcosms of deep feeling, sharp intensity, and extraordinary intelligence. This splendid volume portrays pages of these magnificent bookworks in generous color and ample openings.

In the beginning, “ehon” were made as religious offerings or talismans, but their great flowering began in the early modern period (1600-1868) and has continued, with new media and new styles and subject, to the present. What a treat to have Utamaro’s The Shell Book (1789) reproduced in full. Mr. Ginger’s Book of Love (1803) is featured as well as twentieth-century bookworks by such artists as Kawada Kikuji’s profound photographic requiem for Hiroshima; Yoko Tawada’s and Stephan Kohler’s affecting Ein Gedicht fur ein Buch (A Poem for a Book, 1996); and Vija Celmins’s and Eliot Weinberger’s Hoshi (The Stars, 2005).

To be sure, the tradition of Ehon began in Japan and flourished under special circumstances, but now the artist book is no longer marginalized but a developed art form in both exhibitions, collections, and scholarly books about them. The artist book has reached audiences giving pleasure, excitement, inspiration and joy.

Passions in Print: Private Press Artistry in New Mexico 1834-Present by Pamela S. Smith with Richard Polese (Santa Fe, Museum of New Mexico Press, 2006, $45.00 hardcover) is a remarkable history of the letterpress and private press movement in New Mexico, a tribute to New Mexico book artists, their dedication to a timeless craft, and their extraordinary contribution to the literature of the region. This has been a labor of love by Pamela Smith, the former director of the Press of the Palace of the Governors, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, where she designed and printed award-winning limited edition letterpress books for nearly 30 years and organized the Palace’s working exhibition of historic printing equipment.

This is such a good read along with 150 photographs to enliven and make the reader familiar with the abundant enthusiasts in New Mexico of the art of the book. The Southwest is full of independent characters, none less than in the field of private printing, and that individuality is honored in this volume. From the initial 19th century beginnings with the printing Padre Martinez and his instructional religious tomes as well as educational books to the private presses making remarkably beautiful work in 2005, this volume introduces or amplifies the reader’s knowledge of what really is going on in New Mexico, where the winters are cold and the summer hot, where reading is an art form, and where the book lives as the best conveyor of information both factual and aesthetic to this very day. It is wonderful to read the chapter of my friend Paula Hocks’ Running Women Press, and to know that Priscilla Spitler had much to do with this book not only with encouragement but also with information. The presses of Gustave Baumann, Willard Clark, and Linnea Gentry are also featured, among so many others. Besides the private press community, there is a large community of artists who make bookworks in New Mexico, and that should convince you that New Mexico is a hub of bookmaking from the nineteenth century until this very moment and beyond. Extensive notes, glossary, bibliography, list of interviews, archival material and index. Richard Polese was book editor of the Museum of New Mexico Press, later editor of El Palacio, the museum’s magazine, and now has his own private press.

LIMITED EDITION

By a Thread by Lynn Avadenka continues a theme she started in her remarkable book project, Root Words, a collaboration she did with the Islamic calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya. Looking for elements that Judaism and Islam shared, instead of the divisive elements that are more often in the spotlight, she now focuses on the lives of Queen Esther and Scheherazade. Finding striking similarities in the two women–both women were the second wives of betrayed and humiliated kings; in both stories, before these two women are chosen by these kings, a thousand women come before them. These and many more similarities become the basis for this artist book. This book is a completely interactive bookwork, requiring the reader/viewer to interact with the turning of pages, the passage of time, the sequencing of events, the understanding of this heroic queen, this dynamic woman who is relating this story to another woman, stories leading to stories, stories with no ending. But Scheherazade begins her tale 1000 years later in Persia again. The women are sincere in their storytelling, both educated, attached to family. Scheherezade becomes the ultimate storyteller citing how language and cleverness save both women–but in the end, it is language that has saved the women and their people. In this guise, Avadenka becomes their legacy, writing down (and printing) the record of their lives, so that others (the readers) can spin their tales inventing them once again. So Jewess and Muslim become connected again in this age of disconnections and venom. Avadenka has done it again–making a jewel of a work of art, another book to soothe the madding thoughts of men, this time from the point of view of women, brave, courageous, amazing women!

The book structure reflects the endless, always changing nature of storytelling, the accordion-folded page spreads, with tab pages printed on both sides. This is an offset work in full color, died-cut cover, with original drawings on the image pages using gouache, powdered graphite and letterpress printing. This is a total work of art, one which will tell its tale to many women, and men, and continue the legacy.

This edition of 300 is available for $350.00 from Lynne Avadenka, Land Marks Press, 26116 York Rd., Huntington Woods, MI 48070.

Productiongray NEW TITLES

Gray’s Brain by Gray Fraser (Montreal, productiongray, 2003, accordion binding, 202 copies, $10.00 paper) is a double accordion book, back-to-back- which documents the physiological and psychological effects of the Hidden Rebellious Gene (HRG) on the brain. The accordion book reads in two directions: Part A shows the damage caused by the HRG to the frontal cortex in series of MRI scans of the artist’s brain. Part B recounts the psychological symptomatically of the mutant gene as an illustrated chronicle of the artist’s radical rebellious behavior (RRB), from age sixteen to twenty-four. The findings show that the majority of people with the Hidden Rebellious Syndrome become involved in the arts. It’s hard to tell what is serious and what is amusing, but it’s a very funny, serious book. Signed and numbered.

Seven Deadly Sins by Gray Fraser (Montreal, productiongray, 2004, loose leaf in folder, 222 copies, $14.00 paper) creates a portfolio of individual sins packaged separately for individual consideration. Each shiny black sheet is folded into a simple pamphlet and holds a loose gauze-y paper imprinted with the word for each sin and its linguistic origin. Inside each pamphlet, personal texts recount the artist’s experience with the named sin. Open and closing the shiny black pages, a reader feels as if he or she is participating in the artist’s confession ritual.

The Mission by Gray Fraser (Montreal, productiongray, 2001, 101 copies, in color, $27.00 paper) is a series of panoramic slices of a paranoid mind with fuzzy, almost pixilated images of these simulated stills from a surveillance camera. The text, laid out on top of them in government databank font, chronicles the surreptitious rendezvous of the author with an anonymous party to whom he delivers a small piece of paper containing “information about information leading to the whereabouts of terrorists.” It sounds like a plot for a TV movie or a very smartly crafted ficto-document of these times, sadly. This is part two of a trilogy commenting on the Bush administration.

My Car Doesn’t Need a Gas Tank (Montreal, productiongray, 2006 in color, 101 copies, $8.00 plus shipping) explores the use of an alternative energy source as a means to help combat the current U.S. foreign policy–a policy that seems to be fueled by gasoline profits. Clever and chilling–since this booklet is produced only for Japanese consumption and is in Japanese.

The Anthrax Treatment Kit by Haliburton (Montreal, productiongray, 2006, multimedia in color, 101 copies, $25.00 paper in a tube) is a bookwork that satirically proposes a product produced specifically for the foreign market by Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton. Through concept and metaphor, the work highlights the influence Halliburton has on U.S. Home Land Security policies, and how the corporation then profits from war and scare tactics on a global scale. This is part one of a planned trilogy that questions the foreign policies of the Bush Administration.

Some of these titles are at Printed Matter, but one can order these books at www.productiongray.com.

MORE BOOKWORKS

Robert Blanchon, edited by Tania Duvergne and Amay Sadao with an essay by Sasha Archibald (New York, Visual Aids dist. by d.a.p., 2006, $25.00 paper) is a posthumous anthology of the work of the late Robert Blanchon, who died of AIDS at the age of 34 in 1999. It is fitting that on this Day Without Art, 1 December, I should be writing these words about this amazing artist, one who seemed to be more trickster than artist, preferring a wit, parody and imagination rather than the truthfulness to which some of us aspire. Yet, he played many roles as artist, professor, arts administrator, and especially provocateur. This also has been a labor of love, arduous but I am sure exciting, since Robert changed his address so very often and left personal effects, slides, writings, journals, faxes, photographs, clippings and so much else. Sasha Archibald literally played detective and unearthed known and unknown work, gathered correspondence, his latest C.V., artist statements and pedagogical texts.

Ironically, this is the first comprehensive monograph to document Blanchon’s work and its place within the context of New York City in the 1990s. Blanchon’s contemporaries were Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Gober, and Zoe Leonard and like them, Blanchon grappled with the legacies of Minimalism and Modernism, the relation between politics and art and his identity as a gay man and artist. But he had such joy, such emotional energy when he talked about his work, and one can see it in this catalog with 295 color reproductions of his work. One of my favorites was his shirt made out of clothing labels–or his many cards, so many business cards which changed with the intention that Blanchon wanted to use to elicit a certain response. Being a conceptualist, Blanchon used announcements that are anonymous, tattoos without names, and photographs of empty beds, empty carports, even blank gravestone rubbings. It is always the presence of absence and on this very day, the absence of so many friends comes to include Robert Blanchon as well. This is a remarkable effort to historify an artist whose career was nipped in the bud in video, performance and mail art. A card that is partially blank accompanies the book. Biography and bibliography.

Reprint: Selections from Leading Edge Artist Made Publications (San Francisco, Campari Press, 2006, n.p.) Features the work of Arkitip, ARUDE, K48, Kilimanjaro, Lilacmenace, mstrmnd, zingmagazine. Carlos McCormick writes the introductory essay on “MegaZines” in which he states that “Like some uncanny cross between the Xerox machines of yore an the new digital desktop technologies, the current crop of aesthetic-minded periodicals borrow at will and whimsy from the seminal forbearers of artist books, fanzines, and the contemporary climate of commercial media.” The full-color pages are stunning–and may get you to read these titles which are completely tagged websites, physical addresses, editions, and even dimensions. For more information, contact www.compariusa.com

Nichts/Nothing, edited by Martina Weinhart and Max Hollein, with essays by Mieke Bal, Ulrike Gehring and Martina Weinhart (Shirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and Hatje Cantz, 2006, $50.00 hardback) deals with the exploration of gaps, omissions, lacunae, the pause, silence, emptiness, even silence–all emerged in the 1960s and 1970s into contemporary art. Now Postminimalists and Neoconceptualists like John Baldessari, Joseph Beuys, Martin Creed, James Lee Byars, Joseph Kosuth, Imi Knoebel, Nam June Paik, and many others explore the experience of nothingness into installations, paintings and sculpture, and in ways that range from the poetic to the ironic. 70 color plates., bio-bibliographies for each artist.

Artist Collaborations with Printmaker Ruth Lingen (Walla Walla, WA, Whitman College, 2005) is a remarkable book since even the dustjacket folds out to make a poster. Ruth Lingen is legendary. The exhibit features collaborative efforts representing Lingen’s 20-year career as printmaker and book artist. Lingen, a lecturer of art at Whitman, has collaborated with many well-known artists including Jim Dine, Robert Creeley and KiKi Smith. As a student of Walter Hamady, her initial steps into the field of printmaking and books was auspicious, becoming a master printer associated with Pace Editions in New York City. She also is the proprietor of Pooté Press, publishing limited edition books with artists using both traditional and innovative letterpress, papermaking and bookbinding techniques.

This catalog includes an essay by Nancy Princenthal entitled “Printing with Ruth”. Sue Gosin writes about collaboration and Ruth Lingen is the epitome of collaboration. Vincent Katz writes about Lingen’s artist books of which there are many and amazing variety, and her ephemera are beautifully arrayed in full color on the pages near the end. You almost don’t want this catalog to end–but a ticket to her studio should have been included. Appointments necessary, I am sure.

Blackstock’s Collections: The Drawing of an Artistic Savant by Gregory L. Blackstock (New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, $19.95 paper) is a picture book of Blackstock’s visual lists to make sense of his world. Without any artistic training, he began making his drawings at the age of 40. At 58 in 2004, he had his first gallery exhibition at Garde Rail Gallery in his hometown of Seattle, WA.

This outsider artist who is autistic researches different topics–airplanes, ants, shoes, Airedale terriers, etc.–at the library, and then using Sharpies, pencils and gray crayon, makes freehand drawings of these items from memory. Each drawing is a neatly laid out vertical scroll of labeled images. He works on his art everywhere: at his desk at home, outside, when he takes a break from the accordion, and on the bus (but only at stoplights). His drawing stirs the spirit and educates the eye to details never before imagined. Blackstock truly is a Seattle treasure, famed for his accordion-olaying in front of the Seattle Opera House, Pike Place Market, Nordstrom’s, and the Key Arena. He also has an amazing gift for language, speaking Czech, Russian, and Tagalog, among 9 more, especially learning these while scrubbing pots for 23 years at the Washington Athletic Club, from which he retired in 2001 after 23 years.

This volume contains 103 of his unique vertical scrolls of drawings of everything from Monsters of the Deep and The Great Cabbage Family, to Colorful Egg Pattern Favorites and German Shepherd Police Dogs. With an introduction by Dr. Darrold A. Treffert, the artist writes down his own biography, and then Karen Light-Piña of Garde-Rail Gallery writes an homage. What a remarkable artist Blackstock is, and what a great contribution Princeton Architectural Press has given to us. Buy it, you’ll love it!

The Epitaph Project by Joyce Burstein (Los Angeles, Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art & Design, 2006, $20 paper) is the result of the artist’s pondering the importance of cemeteries around the world, serving as both a pubic and a private space, then acquiring a mortgage on a small plot at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery.. She visited the plot often, creating a slate tombstone where people using chalk which is provided, write on it. So the spectators become performers as well. The artist quickly became a photographer, an archivist, a tour guide all at once. Becoming a collector, while the spectator composes, Burstein sees the end product reflecting on the situation of encounter and creating its own.

The artist also has this project at Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio and The Fields Sculpture Park in upstate New York. It also exists as a portable tombstone/chalkboard used to collect epitaphs at lectures and exhibitions. It exists also as an archive of epitaphs, as well as this little book which documents many of the tombstones and their epitaphs. It is poignant and even in a gallery space, the portable tombstones generate a reaction immediately from spectators. Chalk, of course, is provided. 300 photos in this 4 x 5” collection. Available from www.epitaphproject.com

Ordinary Curtains by Tate Shaw is a collection, a compendium, a gathering, an assemblage and an assortment of reprinted ephemera. What a joy–how many people even feel the need for such a collection, let alone print them. It is a rare moment when an artist feels the urge and does it! There is a kind of serendipity to it, but it really does have an organization similar to a “Vaudeville” show where one everyday “act” follows the next, with only the opening and closing of curtains to separate unique performers. And each page is unique! There are palimpsests, textured pages, simulated legal pad paper, doodles, ornaments, and an ever-widening concept of absence as the book progresses. There are themes of dieting, divorce, was as entertainment and cell phone correspondence, among others. Using found pictures and texts, there is a theme and variation of vaudeville duos such as Abbott and Costello, magicians’ assistants and hypnotists. The book is hypnotic and makes one crave even more–it is more like food, than food for thought. For one who loves offset printing and found objects, it is a joy! Life is a collage, and this book is a collage. Read it and read it again. Bound in buckram, $75.00 plus $5.00 shipping from reacher’s Biscuit Books, P.O. Box 10564, Rochester, NY 14610.

Windflower, a novel by Nick Bantock and Edoardo Ponti (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2006, $24.95 hardcover) tells the story of Ana, a striking young dancer, who is promised in marriage to a man she doesn’t love. No one understands her reluctance to wed. After all, isn’t Marco a fine man? Won’t the union of these two families benefit her people, the Capolan? And yet, only Ana and her grandfather see that the marriage will do her tribe more harm than good. So Ana has only one choice–to run away on the eve of her wedding. She heads to the exotic port of Serona, not only in search of the elusive Felix Bulerias, a man reputed to have the answers she seeks, but also in search of herself.

Along the way, the attentions of four unusual men threaten to lure Ana in directions that she could never have fathomed…and lead her down a path of sensuality and understanding beyond any she ever imagined. Bantock has adorned each page with appropriate paintings and drawings which Jacqueline Verkley has “massaged in Photoshop.” If you don’t recognize the co-author, he is the son of Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren, a screenwriter and film director–and you can bet this will be out soon at your local cinema.

PERIODICALS

0+ 9: The Complete Magazine 1967 - 1969, edited by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer (Brooklyn, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006, $45.00 softbound) is a reprint of the journal which we coveted in the 1960s, th self-published journal appeared in seven inexpensive, mimeographed, staple-bound issues that were sold for a dollar an issue. The original concept was democratic, but several were ultimately printed in small runs of between 100 and 350 copies. This was not the conventional poetry or art magazines for the period, but 0 to 9 consisted mostly of language or idea-based contributions by artists and poets, establishing a new kind of “dematerialized” do-it-yourself exhibition context beyond the existing gallery and museum systems, in other words, the periodical as alternative gallery. So were many New Yorkers and artists throughout the world using the offset press as an easy way to publish and create these alternatives.

0 to 9 published some remarkable experimental and innovative artists and writers of its time, such as Vito Acconci, Robert Barry, Ted Berrigan, Clark Coolidge, Phil Corner, John Giorno, Dan Graham, Michael Heizer, Dick Higgins, Kenneth Koch, Sol LeWitt, Lee Lozano, Jackson Mac Low, Bernadette Mayer, Adrian Piper, Bern Porter, Yvonne Rainer, Jerome Rothenberg, Aram Saroyan, Robert Smithson, Alan Sondheim, Hannah Weiner, Lawrence Weiner, and Emmett Williams among more than 70 contributors.

What a thrill to see these typewritten pages again with such remarkable experiments in poetry and language in the mimeograph revolution. The third issue had crumpled paper cover which is used for this anthology, a hefty 736 sewn-bound pages, which is the second in the Los Literature Series of the Ugly Duckling Press. Edited by Ryan Haley and James Hoff, the Press publishes forgotten works of 20th century experimental poetry and avant-garde prose.

Both Acconci and Mayer write remarkable memory tracts about the beginnings of this journal, and it feels as if all of us are reliving those days with this anthology in our laps. This is a must for all contemporary art collections, as well as poetry and avant-garde collections. A treasure re-acquired!

Daily Constitutional, no. 2 (Summer 2006) is called Between and includes a wonderful essay by Derek Coté about a trip to Art Miami last December probably just on the even of this year’s event. This issue runs the gamut from words about collectors to ephemeral works in the public sphere, a great “classified ad” by Jason Szalla who requires intimate objects from critics’ and artists’ personal effects for a new series of work–from Dan Flavin, a burnt out fluorescent bulb, from Arthur Danto, his house slippers, etc. There is a section of manifestoes, exhibition, provisions, jest and classifieds. A wonderful read! $4.28 plus a $1.00 postage and handling from P.O. Box 4683, Richmond, VA 23220 or buy directly from Printed Matter.

Esopus 7 is once again a not-to-be-missed publication, a jouirnal devoted to the creative process , eschewing advertising adn commercially driven content. The price to the reader is much less than actual cost of production and it is once again a treasure. I remember going through as a child the Roycrofters few books that my family had bought, and then the wonderful Flair magazine with die-cut covers that I coveted and treasured. And now Esopus that has so many different kinds of art, papers, and a CD each issue which incorporates projects with artists. #7 has a cover done by eighth-grader Alex Brown who takes on the subject of war in a series of mesmerizing drawings along with an interview. There are also a sequence of stills from the Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady (2004), an artist’s project by Kira Lynn Harris which has removable inserts to allow one to exhibit these; an emulation of Don Celender’s survey of museum guards in a long-ago publication now revivified questioning the museum guards who oversee German minimalist, Gunter Umberg’s Untitled work (1989); an unlikely project but one that succeeds with Alex Katz, the artist, and Vincent Katz, the book arts maven, poet, translator and critic where there is this collaboration between painter and poet, father and son; a new series called Modern Artifacts whereby Esopus and the Archives of the Museum of Modern Art collaborate, introduced by Michelle Elligott, the archivist of MOMA; and wonderful smaller projects that reflect the wide span of editor Tod Lippy, whereby 13 artists received ouija boards this summer and were asked to create songs and they responded by falling into three categories: “believers”, those who gave it their best shot but failed, and the cynics. The CD will reflect their efforts. What an experience this journal is–it’s like taking a trip to somewhere you would like to go, but cannot physically surmise until you open each issue. A must for anyone. Each issue has a different price. . #7 is $10.00 and #6 dedicated to the creative process is $15.00. Distributed by d.a.p. or www.esposusmag.org

AUDIOWORKS & VISUAL AND CONCRETE POETRY

Something is going on in the Northwest and you should know about it. If you do not know about Whitewall of Sound, now you will. Its number 35, entitled Northwest Concrete & Visual Poetry, guest-edited by Seattle poet Nico Vassilakis has a brilliant introduction by Nico, a table of contents, and contributions by David Abel, Randy Adams, Jim Andrews, Jonathan Ball, derek beaulieu, Nancy Burr, Jason Christie, Jim Clinefelter, John Crouse, Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, Brad Ford, David Francis, Crag Hill, Lionel Kearns, Joseph Keppler, Paul Lambert, Donato Mancini, Bryant Mason, F.A. Nettelbeck, mARK oWEns, ross priddle, Lanny Quarles, Thomas Lowe Taylor, Nico Vassilakis, and Ted Warnell. Also included are two videos- “the wizard uv time” by bill bissett and “Lengua(je” by mARK oWEns & Maria Jose Gonzales. This is, as far as we know, the first collection of poetry from the Northwestern US and Canada on a cd. Copies are available at Printed Matter and at selected bookstores in the US and Canada, or order directly from Whitewall of Sound, 411 NE 22nd #21, Portland, OR 97232. Copies are $15.00 (postpaid). Please make your check or money order payable to Jim Clinefelter.

Greetings from Ohio: Whitewall of Sound Numbers 7,8,9/20 & 11 are now available because of Adobe’s Photoshop and Acrobat Creator, enabling independent self-financed publications such as Whitewall of Sound to present work in color inexpensively. #8 (1992) has a set of 5 x 7 black and white photos by Jim Clinefelter. . #7 is full of collages that are exquisite. What a labor of love it ws using black and white photocopy, rub-on lettering, correction fluid, glue stick, rubber cement, layout paper, and typewriters. Now with a flick of the finger you can see them all–and perhaps they look even better, but what a labor it was! #11 is a series of photos of a trip to Mexico. $15.00

Whitewall of Sound: No. 33 (Winter 2003) is an All Canadian Issue of visual and concrete poetry, guest edited by derek beaulieu with work by Gary Barwin, Jesse Huisken, Mark Sutherland, Jay Millar, Peter Jaeger, Steve McCaffery, and Gustave Morin. $15.00

Whitewall of Sound: Number 34 (Summer 2006) is an assemblage of contributions from many with visual poetry, photographs, paintings and poems being featured. Among the contributors are John Bennett, Justin Leach, Joel Lipman, David Miller, Serge Segay, Nico Vassilakis, and Ying Xu among others. $15.00

Whitewall of Sound has been published since 1983. The title is a reference to the music scene and industry that once rolled out of the editor Jim Clinefelter’s hometown of Akron, Ohio. Over the years, we have published many of the leading artists and writers in the international visual arts/poetry scene. We are one of the longest-running independent, self-financed magazines in the USA- we accept no advertising and deal directly with bookstores and our readers. We’re in this for the long haul- all aboard!