Issue 3

︎The CCAM Checking Stick︎ CCAM Team ︎The CCAM Checking Stick︎ CCAM Team ︎The CCAM Checking Stick︎ CCAM Team

All images by Alex Zafiris, 2022

The CCAM Checking Stick

In November 2021, the mood on campus was quiet and stressed. The Omicron variant threatened to shut everything down again, a disruption that could seriously hinder exams. CCAM director Dana Karwas walked into 149 York Street to teach her “Mechanical Eye” architecture class. She found her 14 students frozen with tension, their faces blank and worried.

Wanting to diffuse the room, she cued up a YouTube video that she and I had swooned over a few months earlier: David Lynch presenting his “checking stick.” In it, the filmmaker and artist is standing in his studio in Los Angeles. Beside him is a large unfinished painting. From behind his back, he introduces a slim, hand-held stick with a small golden ball at the end, and a red string near the handle. “It starts with this ball,” he explains. “It has to be a ball-shape, a globe. And it’s picking up in all directions.” He floats his hand, indicating the energies emanating from the painting and into the ball. They travel down the wood, he says, to the string, and to a metal tab. “You set the tab on your heart,” he continues, as he closes his eyes, “and you get a feeling.” Then you put the metal tab on your head, and start thinking. “You put those two things together, and it can help you indicate the next move.” For himself, he says, it seems that he will need to destroy part of the painting in order to move forward. Then he turns to the camera and flashes a huge grin.

After seeing this, the students were alert, smiling, and open. They all wanted to create their own individual checking sticks. “I showed them the video to remind them that they should always trust their intuition,” says Karwas. “Architecture practice is very systematic, and in the classroom, has a tendency to put students in a problem solving trajectory towards solutions and output. This loosened them up to remind them of play. Everyone needs a checking stick.”

Lynch was trained as a painter before becoming a filmmaker. He built his own sets from scratch for his first feature, Eraserhead, and continues to create props, art, and music for his work; he also does the sound design, and appears as FBI Agent Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks. He has released albums, and exhibits his photographs, paintings, and sculptures worldwide. (He has two shows coming up this fall in New York: At Pace Gallery, and at Sperone Westwater.) He is a natural interdisciplinarian, highly focused on new technology. In 2006, he was the first director to use digital video: He created Inland Empire—which he recently remastered and is currently showing nationwide—in perpetual motion, waking up every day with new ideas and dialogue, shooting without a plan. Instinct, luck, and chance are a huge part of his creativity.

True to her word, Karwas commissioned me to make an official CCAM Checking Stick. She sent me upstate to Croton-Harmon to visit one of her collaborators, Michael Lanzano, who keeps a studio there. Surrounded by rows and piles of local walnut lumber, we selected, refined, and polished a beautiful stick, and he drilled a hole into it. Then he cut ten small rods of metal, and sent me on my way. At home, I painted ten wooden balls—one for each issue color of Maquette, and a variety of others for different moods—and glued them to the rods. I cut seven pieces of cotton string, and glued metal tabs on each. CCAM now has a beautiful checking stick for anyone who visits. Bring your artwork, writing, music or even just ideas to 149 York Street! Select your colors, feel the energy, and find out your next move. Before you leave, sign the CCAM Checking Stick Guest Book. 

—Alex Zafiris