This week, we saw an arguable example of institutional racism at the Grammys when Beyoncé’s Lemonade was overlooked for Album of the Year. Take a closer look at institutional racism and white privilege in the context of the Grammys, and an ode to the beauty of Beyoncé’s album and her fight with the system. [NPR]
And speaking of Queen Bey, here’s an interview with Morgan Parker about her latest poetry collection, “There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé. [Nylon]
Detroit-based photographer Aleksey Kondratyev’s new photo series captures ice fishermen in Kazakhstan at work in -40 degree Celsius temperatures in their self-made plastic cocoons. [The Calvert Journal]
Standing Fox, photographer and Apache activist, discusses how producing art, documenting Apache culture, and preserving sacred lands at Oak Flat are all linked. [Hyperallergic]
Torrent Tea: Queer Space and Photographic Futures, a new exhibit in Portland, Oregon, showcases work that explores the role the Internet plays as an exhibition space for queer artists of color. [The Creators Project]
In his acceptance speech for the Truman Capote Award, Kevin Birmingham used the platform to shine a light on the failure of universities to pay adjunct humanities professors fair wages—a speech worth reading. [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
While it was nice to see The Contemporary Austin unveil a new work dedicated to “Liberty and Justice for All” during the Women’s March in January, Ariel Evans points out the shallow nature of what she calls “a bumper sticker for a building.” Her insight is appreciated. [Conflict of Interest]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
Raoul Peck, the director of the new James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, discusses deconstructing the story of Haiti and the American myth and the importance of making a film that won’t be ignored by history. [Guernica]
When you think satire, RoboCop might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But its original dark, dystopian criticism has been lost in the decades since its release. As more of its predictions become reality, it’s worth revisiting as much for its insights as for its explosions. [Vulture]
Vandals caught tagging an historic schoolhouse with racist and anti-Semitic slurs have been handed an unsual punishment: a list of 35 books that they are required to read and report on, as well as a list of museums they must attend. If only we could force every racist Republican to read Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison, and Colson Whitehead. [Electric Literature]
The exhibit Black Cowboy in Harlem seeks to reshape the cowboy as a historically and culturally white figure by reminding us of the omission of African-Americans in the iconization of the American cowboy. [Hyperallergic]
Part of a three-year effort to keep the store from closing, an Oslo-based bookstore has released a new edition of The Conversational Lexicon, a subjective encyclopedia “freed from the demand for factual accuracy.” Contributed to by writers and thinkers from around the world, the entries are often playful, if not truthful—the entry for “death” is five pages, while listed under “rock ’n’ roll” is just a picture of Lemmy from Mötorhead. [The Guardian]
MoMA is displaying works in their collection from artists from the seven countries whose citizens are barred from U.S. entry, along with a placard reading “This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens are being denied entry into the United States… to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum as they are to the United States.” It’s small, but it’s something. [The New York Times]
And kudos to Austin’s Margin Walker for standing up against racism by joining the boycott of Houston venue Fitzgerald’s. In our capitalist society, there’s no better way to show disapproval than through economic action. We stand with them. [Austin 360]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
Released on the first day of Black History Month, Beyoncé mesmerized us with a pregnancy photo this week and the announcement that she’ll be having twins. Read about the artist and poet behind the immediately iconic photo and how it captures that “aesthetic aha” of familiarity and novelty. [The Atlantic]
Also just in time for Black History Month comes the release of the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Mandatory viewing. Catch a preview here. [Time]
Greenland is not known for its cultural exports, so Niviaq Korneliussen’s rise to fame has been a pleasurable surprise. The literary star talks about her American literary influences, growing up queer in Greenland, her Danish readership and her modest stardom on the island, where bestsellers only move a thousand copies. [The New Yorker]
Dana Tai Soon Burgess is one of few Asian-American choreographers who’ve received wide acclaim. Here, he talks about creating dances about the Asian-American experience, drawing inspiration from invertebrates, the misconception of a “lucky diversity card”, and more. [Guernica]
Here is an update on how writers and publishers are responding to the immigration ban, including a list of authors and publishers boycotting the U.S. and a few wise words from Colson Whitehead. [Electric Literature]
The history of literature is riddled with the frustrations of young men coming to terms with a world that fails to live up to their ideals. Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger examines these characters and looks at the cultural and political theories that have spawned and inspired them. [New Republic]
The Super Bowl is probably the last place you’d expect to find Margaret Atwood, but commercials for the new Atwood-inspired television series The Handmaid’s Tale will be airing during the big game. Keep an eye out. [Hollywood Reporter]
Electronic music may seem largely apolitical, but in Turkey and Iran, DJs and artists are defying censorship and authoritarian decrees in efforts to keep underground youth culture alive. We would be wise to take notes.
And in light of unconstitutional immigration orders that have been recently been decreed, it’s been heartening to see the number of artists and businesses offering proceeds of sales to the ACLU. Bandcamp is offering 100% of its sales today to the ACLU, and coffee shops all over the country are helping out this weekend. Purchase a subscription to fields between now and Sunday and we’ll do the same.
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
We’re late to the party, but Melville House’s Publishing During Wartime series is crucial reading when it comes to asking what role publishers are playing in disseminating hatred and legitimizing fascist voices. Some good news on this front: Roxane Gay has pulled out of her book contract with Simon & Schuster, due to the company’s contract to publish hate-peddler Milo Yiannopoulos’s book. We stand with Roxane, and will no longer be reviewing Simon & Schuster’s books. [Melville House]
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has become the go-to book to explain our dystopian fears: It was a bestseller this week on Amazon (an autocratic system of its own). But Josephine Livingston argues it’s the wrong dystopian novel for our times—there’s not a shred of globalized capitalism or “alternative facts” in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. She offers an alternative novel instead. [New Republic]
Twenty years and $15 million dollars later, Christo is abandoning “Over the River”—a project to drape 42 miles of fabric over the Arkansas River. His decision is in reaction to the new administration: “I can’t do a work that benefits this landlord.” [The New York Times]
Part of a series of conversations on the subject of violence, poet Malcolm London talks about getting an education on the Number 66 Chicago Avenue bus, appropriating language while others are coding it, and how his art is informed by black queer feminism and its functionality. [Los Angeles Review of Books]
If you haven’t checked out francine j. harris’s play dead yet, you really should. Maybe this review will convince you, if our interview in issue 6 left you on the fence. [Boston Review]
The New York Review of Books examines two books that explore the history of profanity, its benefit in social contexts, and its waning taboo in the U.S. [New York Review of Books]
Ann Hamilton has created a new public artwork for the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. Her largest project to-date features portraits of 500 individuals taken around the city. O N E E V E R Y O N E visualizes touch as a medium and the role it plays in health care-patient relationships as well as photographer-subject relationships. Seventy-one of the portraits will hung around the medical school complex; others will be published alongside essays about health-care in a book, newspaper and online archive. [The Austin Chronicle]
And while we’d love for signs from Saturday’s Women’s March to stay in front of Trump Towers indefinitely, they are being collected and archived in museums and libraries across the U.S. (Texas folks: our signs still need a home!) [Huffington Post]
Bonus link: dogs love reggae. [Pitchfork]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
Reports surfaced this week that Trump is planning to eliminate the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. This represents just .02 percent of federal spending—a minuscule amount that indicates cultural clampdown more than fiscal prudence. We will not be deterred. [Washington Post]
Which is not to say that Trump hates art—like all fascists, he has his favorites. Puccini, for example—a composer whose music provided a backdrop for Mussolini’s reign. Not surprising, but is it better or worse than 3 Doors Down? [MTV]
As contemporary art’s voice in the political sphere is getting more attention, here’s a reflection on institutional critique in the art world, and how standard practices should be dismantled to move toward alternative and more socially engaged institutions. [ARTnews]
MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach talks about Papo Colo’s latest performance, Procesión-Migración—a procession along the route to the El Yunque rainforest in Puerto Rico, where Colo will remain for a year in silence. The performance reflects the country’s past and current waves of migration, the economic frailty of the island, and its status as a territory. [artsy]
Speaking of challenging art spaces, choreographer Monica Bill Barnes has created a “museum workout” in the Met. Alongside a mix of disco, Motown hits, and voiceovers, participants dance and jog through the galleries. But not everyone feels at ease about running around art… [The New Yorker]
Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka is fulfilling his promise to tear up his Green Card if Trump got elected. Soyinka’s act is in reaction to Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and vast number of followers, but he notes his “Wolexit” is a personal decision—“no one else is invited.” [The Atlantic]
Gearing up for the Women’s March on Washington, Fiona Apple has released a catchy chant for protesters this week. [The New York Times]
And Austin’s women musicians speak out against sexism in the punk scene. A powerful read. [Austin Chronicle]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
In honor of Writers Resist, which is occurring today around the country, we present this poem by sam sax.
sick sick sick sick ventricle / militant / vehicle / excrement
sick sick sick sick sediment / stallion / tentacle / valium
sick sick sick sick villains & philistines / alien / millipedes
bail-outs & birds filled with gasoline
it’s sick isn’t it?
everything / going about its business
everything business / as usual
as usual / every thing candle vigiled
every little rural militia stockpiling power
every little leftist org hoarding seeds & flowers
every red hat teething buzzcut brag
every body grab
every reason not to breed
every bleeding thing
my friends & i have no guns
& no faith in government
we say doing something simple
as walking home
as if this was in our control
my friends are sick
& there’s drought coming
to the clinic
chemotherapy, anti-retrovirals, insulin, heart medicines, anti-depressants
my friends are sick of language
that does nothing but make sound
sound is a form of control
you can be flooded with noise
until you forget what you believe in
a sound cannon’s an acoustic weapon
when trained on protesters
makes them sick
a neighborhood can be flooded with poison
a brain & heart can be stopped with poison
any pharmaceutical used in excess becomes poison
i was fifteen
i swallowed pills
i wanted to die
because i touched a boy’s stomach
i didn’t not survive it
tell me how to live in this new america
& i will follow your trail of bloody-coats
tell me how this new america differs
from the old & i will tell you what’s to be done
with all the bodies
lord watch over everyone i love
with your white coat & sickle
lord let me hold onto my softness
a moment longer before it’s dragged
away in birds
lord tell me hope isn’t just a diagnosis,
a thing with feathers, all the chalk white
birds i swallowed who spread their wings
inside me & said you can go on living
Look for our interview with sam sax in our spring/summer 2017 issue, to be released in March.
Can we characterize novels according to presidential eras? How will we someday define “Obama Lit”? Christian Lorentzen considers authenticity and its’ problems in this decade’s literature, the four types of novels that came out of the Obama years, and the dystopian novel to come. [Vulture]
This Sunday, on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and only five days before the inauguration, writers across the country have organized Writers Resist events to raise questions about the ideals of democracy and free speech. (Check out Austin’s event at BookPeople.) As a precursor to the event, Lit Hub is publishing a selection of contributions about resistance. #Writeourdemocracy [Lit Hub]
Art museums, meanwhile, are preparing for January 20 by hosting the J20 Art Strike—some of them, anyway. Over 100 artists, curators, and gallerists have called for museums and cultural institutions to close their doors in protest; supporters include Cindy Sherman, Hilton Als, and Tania Bruguera. [ARTnews]
As another form of resistance before doomsday, LA artists are donating blood for Illma Gore’s latest anti-Trump piece. Gore discusses the project and future art actions, working with guerrilla art collective INDECLINE to continue the fight. [The Creators Project]
Other artists, meanwhile, are hoping to convince our fascist overlord to ditch the wall and replace it with a revamped version of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence. We can dream. [artnet]
Controversy surrounded this year’s STAAR exam when middle school students were asked to interpret the structure of a poem. The poet Sara Holbrook admitted that she couldn’t answer the test’s questions about her own work, proving once again the fallibility of our standardized tests. [The Huffington Post]
Good news, Austinites: The city has introduced a new artist-in-residence program. The nine-month residency will have the artist work with city departments on problem-solving initiatives. This year’s program will focus on Austin’s Watershed Protection Department. [Austin American-Statesman]
More good news for Austin folks: Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner recently donated the show’s archives to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center. Visitors can peruse inspiration boards, scripts, costumes, props and more. [UT News]
MOMA also recently released their archival collection online. Flipping through the vast collection, you’ll find historical tidbits about the museum as well as a few oddities. [frieze]
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Sean Redmond
by Florencia Castellano
Publication Date: October 1, 2016
Publisher: Ugly Duckling Presse
The image of the Spanish cowboy in Florencia Castellano’s Monitored Properties is striking. This Western figure of lore has become uncommon in popular culture and is even less popular in contemporary poetry. The topic of Castellano’s work piqued my interest, and the author’s polished execution kept me hooked.
An untitled piece from the collection embodies her work perfectly with three short words: “calm / silence / cicadas”. Her work undergoes few tonal shifts, uses little embellishment, and drips with an air of familiarity despite describing a lifestyle that is unfamiliar to most. Castellano’s style is consistent, which makes the fluidity of the poems’ subject matter even more engaging. By maintaining a steady rhythm and a captivating voice, readers can become truly immersed in the scenes and emotions that Castellano lays out for her audience.
At times, the author makes the reader envision being a cowboy; elsewhere, she puts you in the position of those that love (or long to love) them. But at her best moments she is able to do all that at once. In “Mogambo Takes Part in a Historical Fact,” she writes, “that streak of sunflower oil / on the cowboy’s forehead / imitates sweat / but there was no communication with the Father / family ties yes but with leather / what a bloodline!”
Many of the ideas Castellano puts forth take repeated readings to dissect and comprehend, but her most beautiful work defies comprehension. In “How the Cowboys Operate,” Castellano describes a scene tinged with the sense of personal violation. The poem is easy to enter into, but as it closes, she writes, “it’s a piece of chicken between the teeth / that detaches quickly / when toothpicks enter the universe / named after a car”. I may never know Castellano’s true meaning behind these lines, but the imagery stays with me, even now.
While much of the collection’s allure lies in its novel subject matter, certain poems struck me by their universality. In “Where Did All the Cowboys Go?” Castellano speaks of grief and provides a poignant portrait of the vulnerability that comes with it, writing, “widows cry like Sicilians / the bravest ones walk around / in bikinis in a boxing ring / with signs that say // LIES / FEAR / FORGIVENESS / ENVY.” Monitored Properties packs immense feeling into its 39 bilingual pages (each poem mirrored by Alexis Almeida’s English translation). Castellano’s affecting voice carries through each word of her poetry, leaving the reader to reflect over her emotive lines and the lingering images they portray. Each poem holds a subtle power that commands attention at first glance and maintains it long after the book closes.
by Emma Donoghue
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
The Wonder, Emma Donoghue’s ninth novel, is historical fiction at its most literary.
Elizabeth Wright, or “Lib,” as she’s known, is a Florence Nightingale-trained nurse hired by a small Irish village for a two-week post. Her job: To observe—and only observe—Anna O’Donnell, who claims to have not eaten anything since her eleventh birthday four months earlier. At the end of the two-week post, Lib is to report her observations back to the village committee convened to determine whether or not Anna’s apparent fast is a miracle from God. Anna prays constantly and claims she’s been living off “manna from heaven.” Her parents exalt her as holy and anointed by God. Religious pilgrims come from all over the world to meet and touch the wonder. Even the village doctor theorizes that something miraculous and God-driven is at work: Anna’s possibly living off air, or converting sunlight into energy, or becoming reptilian. With her English, secular, and medical training, Lib sees this mystery as nothing more than a religious hoax perpetrated for money or fame, and she takes up her post ready to be the lone voice for sanity in this backwater village ruled by Catholic dogma and pagan superstition.
As the novel—and Lib’s two-week appointment—unfold, Lib finds herself stumped by the veracity of Anna’s fast, by her continued health, and by her own affection for the little girl who she expected to uncover as a “little liar.” It isn’t until the second week, when Anna’s health begins to fail rapidly and fatally, that Lib realizes both her complicity in allowing Anna to fall deeper into malnutrition, and her responsibility, as a nurse and as an adult who loves Anna, to save the little girl from own confused, religious convictions.
Woven into the central narrative are Lib’s past experiences with the Crimean war, a previous marriage that left her widowed, and a love interest with the journalist from Dublin reporting on Anna’s fast. Details from Lib’s past are used well in the narrative: dispensed sparsely and with the purpose of coloring her thoughts, attitudes, decisions, etc. The love story, however, is less convincing. While the journalist, William Byrne, was a bright character in this dark novel, the love story that he and Lib were grafted into seemed, at first, superfluous to the narrative arc, then all too conveniently necessary. In a story about a young child intentionally starving herself, Lib’s reluctant crush and Byrne’s willing reciprocation is a note of comfort. But does the reader really need comforting?
The tensions central to this novel aren’t meant to be comfortable. A young girl starves herself because she believes it’s what her God requires of her. A mother encourages her daughter’s harmful decisions. A doctor reasons away all signs of death in his patient. A priest refuses to conflict the religious ideology that has Anna starving herself. A whole community treats a child like an object to experiment on. When the reason for Anna’s fast is finally revealed, Lib confronts the pain of a child, wronged and unprotected, and the tensions of devotion to duty and duty to compassion.
This is my strongest criticism of The Wonder: While Donoghue draws out themes of faith and devotion, she leaves the reader very little space to dwell on them. Between the suspense of the plot, the unspooling love story, and the laser-focus hunt to discover the trick behind Anna’s fast, there’s little room left for the reader to grapple with these complexities. Where The Wonder succeeds is in the strength of its characters and on the mystery of its plot. It is a well-paced, well-developed, well-articulated piece of historical drama that gives a complex female voice power, determination, and agency. Even if Donoghue didn’t pose the challenge that I want out of a novel, you can’t fight her for writing a story worth reading.
—Torrie Jay White
2016 was a nightmare in many ways, but it was also a year of significant artistic achievements. Here are some of our favorites. We continue to look to the arts for strength, guidance, and inspiration in the troubling times ahead, but also for enjoyment and amusement. Such are the many powers that art imbues us with. And so, without further ado…
FIVE GREAT ALBUMS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
Itasca channels the mellow, mournful beauty of Jodi Mitchell, singing softly to herself behind layers of intricate acoustic guitarwork. Some songs bear baroque shades of Nico’s Chelsea Girls, while others are brighter compositions akin to the work of Judee Sill or Vashti Bunyan. Augmented by a full band, complete with slide guitar and pan flute, Open to Chance is Kayla Cohen’s most realized release yet, drawing listeners into her brooding but achingly beautiful world. Available via Paradise of Bachelors.
Petite League – No Hitter
The Northeast is known for a particular strain of suburban emo, and Petite League from Syracuse, New York, is one of the better bands to come from the scene. The duo makes earnest lo-fi power-pop with easy hooks that transcend the limitations of the genre, recalling idiosyncratic acts like Home Blitz or the more popular Car Seat Headrest. Cassettes available via the artist’s bandcamp.
All of Them Naturals opens with a two-minute spoken-word introduction that sounds like an instructional record or infomercial: a buttery-voiced man talking about the secretive Uranium Club. This sets the stage for the DEVO-like post-punk that rips forth in dissonant, angular bursts, vocals alternating between frantic yelps and tranquilized hypno-speak. Highlights include the upbeat groove of “God’s Chest,” the Q&A of “Opus,” and the space-laser blasts of “Who Made the Man?” which was released as a 7” by Lumpy Records in October. Available in the UK via Static Shock (US release sold out).
Hidden Ritual – Always
Austin’s Hidden Ritual returns with their first vinyl release, another fine slice of jittery noir. Odd time signatures and minor keys abound as singer Jaime Zuverza intones over Ryan Camarillo’s bounding basslines and Matt Reilly’s steady drums. The rhythm section is wound so tight you might think it’s programmed, and the guitar and keyboards overlay for mood; they keep the songs simmering without ever boiling over. Available via Monofonus Press.
Chook Race – Around the House
A chook is Australian for “chicken.” Chook Race is an Australian band that sounds like The Go-Betweens or a long-lost Flying Nun band. They may not boast the most original sound, but slightly bittersweet guitar pop is timeless. Available via Trouble in Mind.
FIVE STANDOUT TRANSLATIONS OF WORK BY WOMEN WRITERS
A semi-autobiographical work by one of my favorite contemporary writers, Lina Meruane’s Seeing Red moves through the psyche of a young writer returning home to Chile to seek medical attention for a condition that leaves her blind. Trauma and strangeness penetrate her memories and consciousness as she struggles with blindness and an utter dependence on others. In swift prose powerfully cluttered with objects, emotions, and language, Seeing Red traverses palpable pain and surreal desires, leaving us with a strange joy.
Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, by Lina Wolff
(trans. Frank Perry, & Other Stories)
The title hints at the zest of the novel by a Swedish writer with Spanish-style black humor: Bret Easton Ellis is one of the strays in a Spanish brothel, each provocatively named after the old dogs of literature. Challenging in form, the novel is a colorful mix of stories from lovers, friends, and an eighteen-year-old narrator, with a mysterious writer of violent short stories at the center. In this tangled prose filled with shining female characters sketched together with carnal stories of prostitution, restlessness, love, death and power struggles, Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs doesn’t hide its’ feminist bite.
The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
(trans. Deborah Smith, Hogarth)
Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is the only book written by a woman on this year’s New York Times list of best fiction. They must have forgotten a few names, but this gem certainly deserves to be there. A family’s uncomplicated life begins to unravel when a husband finds that his “completely unremarkable” wife has thrown out all the meat from the refrigerator and from that day on has become a vegetarian—all because of a dream, she explains. What ensues is the collapse of a family whose obsession to cure her results in scenes of violence and grotesque passion paired against her own growing detachment from society. A book charged with dark serenity, we watch as family structures and societal norms founder.
In memoriam to Mukasonga’s 37 family members lost during the Rwanda genocide, Cockroaches is a survivor’s account, which stands vigil in reaffirming the existence of those lost and is a singular light for the many stories that will remain untold. What lays in this text is heartbreaking, morbid, and unbearable, but it does what memorials cannot by individualizing death in the face of mass slaughter. This serves as a poignant reminder that though we refer to parts of world history as “unspeakable tragedies,” it is only through articulation and preservation of these accounts that we embolden our resolve against these events.
Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972, by Alejandra Pizarnik
(trans. Yvette Siegert, New Directions)
Despite the reverence that Alejandra Pizarnik commands among many prominent male Latin American authors, there has been a dearth in published translations of her work until this year. Extracting the Stone of Madness is the first full-length collection made available in English for an author who is often compared to Sylvia Plath in disaffection (and untimely death) and Paul Celan in scope of influence in Latin American poetry. In this chronology, Pizarnik grapples with the madness of using language to express an abstract that lies on the edge of sanity. It is this brilliance and anguish that resonates with you long after you’ve read her work—so much so that you will end up wondering why she hasn’t been standing with her fellow tortured male peers in the canons of literature all along.
—Katie Lauren Bruton and Nhan Ho
FIVE GREAT MUSIC VIDEOS
Fielded – ”I Choose You”
Directed by Alex Mallis
Director Alex Mallis’s careful use of understated, cool pink, blue, and green light forms a low-lit, stirring undercurrent moving with singer Lindsay Powell’s vocal pyrotechnics. Unlikely scenes—a lizard slowly slinking toward a dentist’s chair, a jovial Bushwick barber shop in midday—are rendered beautiful as Powell’s voice stretches out, “I’m not too proud at all of my lost and can’t be found act.” An exacting, hopeful piece on modern isolation.
Cloud Becomes Your Hand – ”Hermit”
Directed by Jenna Caravello
Jenna Caravello’s animations fly, trip, and bounce with much panache over crisp layers of Cloud Becomes Your Hand performing. Her playful use of lone objects as visual props and bright psychedelic palette perfectly befits the experimental sextet known for breaking into subtly erotic synchronized dances during their live sets. Cheeky shapes shift and taunt the band as they intone, “Under a boulder was a shoe / from out which grew a shroom / for 30 odd years traipsing behind you,” making YouTube feel a little more like an enchanted forest.
Dehd – ”Sunburn”
Directed by Dominic Rabalais, Emily Kempf, and Emily Esperanza
“Sunburn” unfolds in an artful crescendo, like a stumbled-upon photo album found in someone else’s house, becoming increasingly risqué with each page. The directors lightheartedly build an intricate, colorful universe for immutably bored twin girls, rendering fetish themes like cake-sitting as banal as brushing one’s teeth, complementing a steady, minimal drumbeat and singer Emily Kempf’s disaffected cadence.
Oozing Wound – ”Diver”
Directed by Joe Martinez, Jr.
Director Joe Martinez gives viewers a frenetic, hellish peek into the life of one bumbling thrash fan who took one rip too many in the daily quest to never stop rocking. Sporting the requisite black T-shirt and long, unkempt hair, the video’s hero wakes, bakes, and headbangs heartily, spatula in hand, before things begin to go eerily wrong. The director’s rapid, stuttering cuts sync with Weil’s riffs in a tongue-and-cheek take on the band’s die-hard fanbase, as endearing and hilarious as comforting a good friend who got too high.
New Fries – ”JZIII”
Directed by Seth Scriver
A triumph of weird-for-the-sake-of-weird animation, Seth Scriver’s musical creatures exist in a universe reminiscent of something R. Crumb would make if allowed to go wild on Microsoft Paint while on painkillers. Cheerful monsters pulsate, melt, and step in puddles of one another to the catchy bass, each the star of a fake, hallucinatory TV channel. One click of the remote broadcasts a “Dink Nose Trillionaire” reporting from his ivory tower, another click shows a troll scrolling a smartphone. Viewers will be grateful that Scriver apparently decided to animate whatever popped into his head while surfing channels.
—Sarah Jane Quillin
FIVE GREAT AUSTIN ART SHOWS
Seth Orion Schwaiger was known for his arts coverage in The Austin Chronicle and elsewhere before stepping away to work on his own art. The trade paid off: Complex I was the most ambitious show of the year, taking up most of the Pump Project and ICOSA gallery spaces. Giant pillars topped with bones met visitors as they entered. In another room, six large discs hung suspended from the ceiling, offering skulls and grayscale renditions of the space. Complex I was more excavation than exhibit, presenting curious artifacts like a wooden bust and a glowing blue orb that hovered in the dark like a miniature version of Neptune, his imaginary ruins providing a portal into a mysterious new world.
I had the privilege of hearing Tammie Rubin discuss her latest exhibit, a remarkable set of ceramic cones covered in hundreds of tiny lines and dots. She traced the shape of the cone through time, highlighting its use as a dunce cap, traffic cone, and mitre. But staring at the dark holes cut into each piece, it was hard to think of anything but the KKK—an obvious parallel that Rubin built up to as she explained the stories behind the dots and lines. They represented maps, tracing the migration of African-American families through the U.S., her own included. The talk took place on November 18, just weeks after Donald Trump’s election, and served as a harrowing exemplar of art’s power and importance.
Co-Lab Projects’ move into the DEMO Gallery’s vast, undeveloped space at 8th and Congress was much welcomed, providing a perfect home for art shows, musical performances, and the Hyperreal Film Club. Co-Lab put on a year of great programming, but saved the best for last: a return by Russell Etchen, who curated this standout show featuring punk legend Tim Kerr, local stalwart Andy Coolquitt, and a host of others. Tamar Ettun’s Yellow inflatable provided the most interactive fun since Soto’s similarly yellow Penetrable came to the MFAH, but Johanna Jackson’s surreal stories stole the show, reading like comedies by Gertrude Stein on acid.
The Mom Gallery’s swansong was a mixed-media showcase featuring print, sculpture, and stitchwork from artists Laura Brown, Emily O’Leary, and Rachael Starbuck. The exhibit provided clever commentary on the concept of habit explored through content and medium. O’Leary’s samplers in particular stood out: her meticulously crafted miniatures of women surrounded by piles of yarn highlighted the time and effort required to craft such pieces and stood as commentary on the historical exclusion of embroidery and other “women’s work” from artistic consideration. It was a fitting finale for the gallery, which featured many talented women artists in its brief two-year run. It will be sorely missed.
The individual pieces were unassuming: some pictures of the sky, a snowy landscape, a cassette player. For an exhibit on UFO evidence, there wasn’t much to consider. But in totality, the work produced an effect. Listening to eyewitness accounts of UFO sightings primed the audience to believe, and suddenly anything could be a UFO: parking lot lights at night, or a gray blur next to an obviously manipulated landscape. Rebecca Marino’s work played with the concept of veracity, presenting chronicles of her time in Roswell and letting viewers decide if they were being told the whole story. Fun components like pieces of film stamped with the word PROOF added to the playful nature of the exhibit, which, like all good sci-fi, rewarded audiences for their suspension of disbelief with an expanded perception of reality.
—Sean Redmond. Co-Lab Projects photo courtesy Paul Finch.
FIVE IMPORTANT POETRY/POP CULTURE FUSIONS
I’ve been a fan of Warsan Shire since I first read her spellbinding poetry collection Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth in 2011, and I excitedly watched the premiere of Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade back in April. In my opinion, Shire’s influence—via the haunting spoken word voiced by, of course, Beyonce—stole the show. Many others agreed, and Shire achieved worldwide recognition for her poetic contributions. She was suddenly featured everywhere, from The New York Times to Vogue. Lemonade became a wild success, and it was great to see these two powerful talents combine to create such a stunning piece of art.
Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”
Ohio poet Maggie Smith watched her heartbreaking poem Good Bones go viral in the wake of the Orlando shooting. Though the poem needed no celebrity endorsement, re-Tweets of the poem from long-time actress and pop culture fixture Alyssa Milano (most known for her role on the Charmed TV series) certainly helped spread awareness. Milano even reached out to Maggie via Twitter to tell her “Thank you for being you.” From there, other celebrities and public figures caught wind of the haunting lines. To date, the poem has reached more than a million people and has been translated into numerous languages.
Both Teen Vogue and BuzzFeed have featured an impressive variety of acclaimed young poets this past year. Teen Vogue encouraged teenagers to embrace the art form with a piece titled “These 9 Young Poets are Actually Making the Genre Cool Again.” Poets showcased included Fatimah Asghar and fields favorite sam sax. (ed. note: Bonus points for their political coverage, which has been fire since Elaine Welteroth took over as Editor in Chief.) BuzzFeed, likewise, has amplified its spotlight on the literary world, regularly featuring pieces by poets such as Ocean Vuong and Danez Smith. It’s exciting to know a growing number of young people may become familiar with some of the best in contemporary poetry through publications such as these.
Writer and playwright Jenifer Toksvig’s poem “What They Took With Them – a List” was inspired by the testimonies of refugees fleeing their homes in search of a safe place to land. Her words achieved fame and critical praise when an assorted group of celebrity actors and actresses (including Keira Knightley, Jesse Eisenberg, and Stanley Tucci) read it aloud as part of a United Nations project to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis. It was inspiring to see influential celebrity figures join forces with the literary community to address human rights issues, and it is exciting to see Toksvig’s work reach a wider audience.
Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Win
When singer-songwriter and pop culture icon Bob Dylan was named as recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” controversy erupted. Some were pleased with the choice, saying that Dylan’s lyrics were in fact part of the literary tradition, or that he had artistically redefined the boundaries of literature. Others—many authors themselves—expressed outrage, believing the win undermined their own art form and hard work. Dylan himself was seemingly unenthused about his groundbreaking win, choosing not to attend the award ceremony. Still, the debate about Dylan’s literary merit raised questions about the role of poetry in pop culture and who gets to be counted among our finest bards.