Candace Hicks’s new exhibit, Egress, is one of mystery. The space at Pump Project seems empty, the walls white and bare. The installation sits in the middle of the room: six white doors arranged in a hexagon. Each door has a peephole and a dial with six buttons in place of a doorknob or where a lock should be. Visitors are meant to walk up to each door and look through the peephole. Behind each door is a miniature diorama of a room that is reminiscent of the locked-room mystery genre of writing that inspired the exhibit. Upon looking through the peephole and pressing the buttons on the dial, words light up and are revealed around the scene of the “crime” behind each successive door.
Elsewhere in the room, Hicks’s writing runs along every wall, forcing the reader to walk the perimeter of the space over and over again. Without giving away the mystery of the exhibit, I can say that the text had a lot to do with the concept of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is when someone comes across something, which can vary from a unique name to a strange phrase, that the person then encounters again, often repeatedly. Hicks’s presentation of words and visuals explores the perpetual motion of the Baader-Meinhof sensation and how familiarity can sometimes feel strange.
I had my own surreal Baader-Meinhof experience at the exhibit, reading a part of her work where Hicks talks about her first locked-room mystery, an Encyclopedia Brown story, the one about the crime scene where the only clue is a puddle in the middle of the room, the puddle being the result of a melted block of ice. The story stuck with me for years after reading it during my childhood, and I was shocked to find the exact same story that I read as a child, the very same experience I had, she had described and then written on the walls I was standing before. I laughed out loud in astonishment. Baader-Meinhof!
The chance of someone else having the same experience that I did seems small, but I think the universal familiarity of Hicks’s words and installation have the possibility to create a home for everyone within the space, which is a rare—and sometimes surprising—thing.
Review and photography by Natalie Walrath.
Egress is on view Saturdays from 12-5 at Pump Project until July 8th.
Zadie Smith discusses the masterful horror thinkpiece Get Out and Dana Schutz’s controversial Open Casket in this must-read essay on black pain. [Harper’s]
Drawing Justice: The Art of Courtroom Illustration is a selection of 98 courtroom sketches on display at the Library of Congress. It takes a look at how the restrictions of cameras in the courtroom has given sketch artists the difficult task of capturing some of the most difficult moments in American history with just a pen and paper. [Hyperallergic]
Ever since New York Public Theater started decapitating a Trump look-alike in its performance of Julius Caesar, theater companies with the name Shakespeare in the title have been receiving death threats all over the country. Stay strong, playwrights. [Boston Globe]
The Dallas Museum of Art plans to set a Guinness World Record on July 6th, Frida Kahlo’s 110th birthday, for the largest gathering of people dressed up as the artist. An exhibition featuring Kahlo’s work is on display at the museum, with participants receiving discounted admission. Unibrow required. [Star-Telegram]
An exhibit at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan has opened featuring the work of the late Cuban print maker Belkis Ayón. Before she passed away in 1999, Ayón tried her hand at printmaking just as the medium was going out of style. The pieces on display are inspired by an all male, Afro-Cuban religion called Abakuá that the artist took a certain fascination to throughout her life. [The New York Times]
Azniv Korkejian, the woman behind the music in the new Judd Apatow comedy The Big Sick, has released her first album under the name Bedouine. The debut album feels like a mix of jazz and twangy Americana folk at times. It’s sure to leave listeners feeling something—missing home, perhaps. [Fader]
Yayoi Kasama is allowing others to see themselves up close and illuminated in her new exhibit, Infinity Mirrors. Being able to experience the exhibit in person is powerful and rare, which is why the use of social media and Instagram has become an essential part of the message Kasama presents. [The Atlantic]
All of Alex Norris’ very-bad-but-good webcomics conclude with his signature character—a troublemaking blob—saying “oh no.” His shtick seems like it would get old fast, but sure enough, Norris (thankfully) keeps churning out the three-paneled comics with no end in sight, posting a new comic every day on his website. [It’s Nice That]
—Sean Redmond and Natalie Walrath
Associate editor Katie Lauren Bruton traveled to Athens, Greece, recently to attend this year’s documenta. The exhibition, which takes place every five years, is one of the art world’s most important international events. Traditionally held in Kassel, Germany, the exhibition was expanded to a two-city affair this year at the behest of Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk. Katie shares her first-hand experience of the tension behind the event and provides a glimpse into some of the artists turning heads at this year’s showing.
With “Crapamenta 14” tagged across Athens, there’s no mistaking the skepticism among some Athenians about the 14th edition of documenta. Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk’s proposal to bring the exhibition to Athens (under the concept of “Learning from Athens”) raised fears of cultural imperialism and commodification of the Greek economic crisis. Conscious of these criticisms, Szymczyk hoped to create an opportunity for a new Greek narrative to form. He conceived of the bi-city exhibition as a space for unlearning what we know, an open forum for “aneducation,” where education becomes a collective, empowering process rather than a readymade tool.
Yet, as a visitor, I initially felt more lost than empowered. Roaming around Athens with only a one-page guide to documenta’s 47 venues, I felt as if I were intentionally left directionless. Breaking away from typical museum pedagogy, almost no context is given to the works, and even the exhibition guards seemed reluctant to give too much information, perhaps fearful of breaching the line between informing and interpreting. The latter was left entirely to me.
Not One Day
by Anne Garréta
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Deep Vellum
The English translation to Anne Garréta’s Not One Day was published to low-key fanfare in April following widespread acclaim for Sphinx, Garréta’s groundbreaking gender-free romance. Much was made of that book’s technical accomplishment and of Garréta’s status as the first female member of the literary collective Oulipo, a group dedicated to experimentalism in language. I grow circumspect when books are praised for their formal achievements, wary of stumbling into novels more concerned with stroking the reader’s ego than constructing a compelling narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, at its heart, Sphinx was a straightforward romance, and Garréta’s detached, observational tone provided the perfect lens to examine the construct of gender through one couple’s experience. The novel’s lack of gender pronouns was impressive for the seamless way it dissolved into the fabric of the story, never coming across as awkward, forced, or even noticeable.
Emma Ramadan provided the masterly translation for that work, and she serves as the translator for Not One Day, which won the prestigious Prix Médicis upon its publication in 2002 (why it took so long for these works to be translated is a great mystery). Not One Day, as to be expected, is also built upon a formal premise: the allocation of five hours per day to writing about a woman who was the target of, or targeted, the author’s affection. This was to go on for one month, with each day’s essay exploring a different woman, a different experience.
In the hands of a male author, such an experiment would prove insufferable, an unnecessary addition to the bottomless trough of men’s sexual exploits. Even in Garréta’s hands, the premise is treacherous. However, her intelligence and self-awareness helps the collection expand beyond the confines of its roots. Garréta crafts her personal essays with a wink: “The irony delights you before you’ve even written a line,” she writes. “You will play at a very old game that has become the hobbyhorse of a modernity balking at radical disenchantment: confession, or how to scrape the bottoms of mirrors.” Years before Ben Lerner and Sheila Heti made waves pursuing such a style, Garréta had already more or less perfected the post-modern confessional, doing so with a self-awareness that many authors fail to accomplish.
As with those novelists, mileage with Not One Day will vary, but Garréta’s language is ever-engaging and her insights impressive (and at 95 pages, the book is an easy afternoon read). Each woman is marked by an initial—A, B, C, and so on—and each offers a different insight into the narrator’s romantic proclivities. “How can you feel such a pressing, devastating desire for a woman you don’t even find attractive?” she wonders of C. Her attraction for D, meanwhile, lies in “secret grasping of signs which, in the middle of a society both blind and supercilious, permitted the initiatory recognition of desire”—a desire that stemmed from “the paradox of this desire’s parameters… A social setting, a straight woman.” The clarity with which Garréta is able to deconstruct her yearnings and identify different strains of attraction is remarkable. That she is able to do so in such compact narratives without sacrificing the integrity of her characters is a feat. Although some passages are overly dense, others sparkle with clarity, as when she remarks of one woman, “All her mannerisms, even her way of sitting are of a perfect femininity. Or: how to occupy the least possible amount of space in the world.” If the writing is at times didactic, it is always thought-provoking without sacrificing the elegance of a finely turned phrase. Her chapter on the letter I, an unexpected recount of an American road trip, is particularly noteworthy. “Your car seems to surf on the surface. Chesapeake Bay swallows up body, lane, and soul. Spiraling ramps and arching suspension cables, a thin strip of steel and concrete surfaces and plunges anew into an endless vertigo. The cliff against which the Tappan Zee Bridge seems to want to throw itself, the elegant swerve of its deck skirting the abyss.” Nouns become verbs and verbs dissolve into the landscape of Garréta’s impressionistic prose, leaving the reader with an image, a feeling of a woman traversing the country under the night sky, solo but not alone.
Like Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?, Garréta’s novel is built upon the premise of a project that never reaches completion. N jumps to X, Y, and Z, the last completed, as the author notes, on night 12 of her 30-day endeavor. The book ends with a Post Scriptum wherein Garréta berates herself for having been unable to finish her project. She then jumps into a meta-analysis of the work that adds some depth to the essays, but mostly feels like an obtuse and off-topic ramble. Still, Garréta is a writer of immense talent; if she suffers from occasional over-indulgence, this is a small price to pay for the joy of even a single essay of this collection, and the singular insight that she provides. Not One Day is a casual revelation; a delight.
Congratulations to Tracy K. Smith, the new U.S. Poet Laureate. The 45-year-old Princeton professor has published three collections of poetry, including the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Life on Mars. Read along as she performs two of her poems, “I will tell you the truth about this, I will tell you all about it” and “Wade in the Water,” in these video clips. [PBS]
Published earlier this week, Roxane Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body speaks of weight loss journeys and the trauma that follows a sexual assault. The book, building on her past feminist writings, is a practice in making peace with one’s body. [The Atlantic]
W.G. Sebald has garnered acclaim for capturing the horror and pain of the Holocaust as it has filtered through the generations, and so it’s a little surprising to see a tribute to the author’s comedic tendencies. Sebald’s humor may be subtle, but it adds necessary levity to his heavy ruminations. For those unfamiliar, consider this a primer to one of the greatest writers of the past few decades. [The New Yorker]
Ctrl, singer-songwriter SZA’s debut album, is filled with deeply personal songs about womanhood and insecurities. Her trick for getting in touch with her own vulnerability? Mushroom trips, which she says helped her with her anxiety and broke through her writer’s block. [Fader]
A new “speculative institution” opens in Oakland today: the Museum of Capitalism. Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau have created the concept for the project, which invites viewers to imagine a post-capitalism world and features artists from all over the world. Count us in. [Artsy]
Academy Award-winning director and producer Oliver Stone discusses his new documentary, The Putin Interviews, in which he shows Vladimir Putin’s take on the alleged Russian tampering with the US presidential election. [The Nation]
Thursday was the 30th birthday of the GIF, and to celebrate, GIPHY is starting an IRL art show titled Time_Frame in New York that will run from June 17 to June 22. The exhibit will feature contemporary GIF art as well as revisit the GIF’s milestone historical moments (and will hopefully settle the soft-G or hard-G debate!) [Observer]
Sofia Coppola talks about her remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film The Beguiled, the lesson of which can be summarized as “underestimate women at your own risk.” The film just won a historic Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, which means that nobody will be underestimating Coppola for the foreseeable future. [Vulture]
Yoko Ono will be given songwriting credit for John Lennon’s “Imagine,” according to the National Music Publishers Association. It was Lennon’s wish after all— he is seen in a 1980 video saying that Ono deserves credit on the song because of “her influence and inspiration.” [Pitchfork]
Nathaniel Ainley speaks to American painter Reisha Perlmutter about her “Hyperrealistic Water Nudes,” or rather nude portraits of real women in water. The goal of this collection is to show the biological connection between the body and water and how it’s universal regardless of religion or background. [The Creators Project]
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the creation of “alternative facts,” Broadway will be introducing a theatrical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 later this month. Just make sure Big Brother isn’t watching you when you purchase those tickets. [The New York Times]
fields and TABLOID are happy to present Disparate Elements No. 6. The event takes place June 15 from 7-9 pm at Co-Lab Projects’ Demo Gallery, located downtown at 721 Congress Ave. The event features four readers: Julia Lans Nowak, EE Jarvie, EVIL MTN, and Zoe Darsee. Readings begin at 8 pm and beer will be provided courtesy of Hops and Grain. Doors are open from 7-8; doors lock and reading begins at 8. Please be on time. For more information ,visit our Facebook page. We hope you can join us.
Featured authors, in order of appearance:
Zoe Darsee studied poetry and Ancient Greek at Oberlin College. She is co-founder of TABLOID press, a publishing platform for social poetics. Zoe currently lives in Austin, TX.
EVIL MTN is an evil mountain. It’s not a big deal. It’s fine. Whatever. Learn more on Twitter @evilmtn.
EE Jarvie is a human person living in Austin, TX. They currently share work every month at theteenagers.company and edit at Boost House and Big Lucks.
Julia Lans Nowak is a poet and writer and translator and sometimes touring musician originally from Las Vegas. Her work often pledges equal devotion to both the affectionate and irreverent, and attempts to bind gravity and levity into one. Her current project, Accumulations, is an investigation into contemporary American “atomic tourism” through experimental and cynical reportage. She recently completed her MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts, and has given readings at the Museum of Jurassic Technology and the REDCAT Theater in downtown LA. Performances in the near future include a commissioned play for the Berlin Popkultur Festival in August.
A new bodega opened in New York City this week: a fauxdega. All of its merchandise is hand-sewn and made of felt. Lucy Sparrow, a young British artist, is the woman behind the installation, titled 8 ‘Till Late. The space, lent to Sparrow by the Standard, High Line Hotel, is meant to start a discussion about gentrification and the value of local businesses in NYC. [The New York Times]
Photographers have been capturing food on camera for as long as they’ve been taking pictures. From wartime propaganda to food porn, Susan Bright’s new book, Feast for the Eyes, has it all. Her book tells the story of our relationship with the food we eat and its place in the art we create. [NPR]
Daniel Adams, a 21-year-old photographer from the UK, is exploring racism toward Malaysians in his new photo series, Why Is Your English So Good? Adams grew up in Malaysia before moving to the UK, where white people often show blatant fascination toward people of color upon learning that they speak English fluently. [The Guardian]
The literary scene in Italy is one dominated by men. Though writers such as Elena Ferrante exist and are successful, a majority of Italian female authors are rarely translated into English or receive recognition for their work. Jeanne Bonner’s visit and commentary on female representation at the Salone Del Libro, the country’s largest book fair, sheds light on a problem that is much larger than Italy. [Lit Hub]
Ashley Stinson, a photographer from Louisville, has taken portraits of the inmates at The Western Kentucky Correctional Facility, a women’s prison, for over a year and a half. The prison is also the largest female-operated farm in the country. Stinson’s photos are as emotional as they are raw, showing the inmates, most of them serving sentences for small drug charges, adjusting to life behind bars. [The Creator’s Project]
New Orleans bounce has been part of the city’s music scene for generations, always finding a way to adapt to its surroundings. The music reflects the strong will of New Orleans residents, especially after Katrina. Bounce, a genre that’s (literally) on the move as it blares out of party buses driving through NOLA, not only evokes ass-shaking and gyrating, but also a sense of community. [Fader]
Pitchfork sits down to interview Nandi Rose Plunkett and discuss her solo project, Half Waif. You might know Plunkett from the New Jersey indie-rock band Pinegrove. Her third EP, form/a, explores Plunkett’s seemingly never-ending search for a place to call home and the restlessness that surrounds it. [Pitchfork]
We’re excited to learn that HBO is bringing the OpenTV web series Brown Girls to televisions across the country. The show, written by the phenomenally talented poet Fatimah Asghar and directed by Samantha Bailey, made a splash when it debuted at Elle in February. We’re looking forward to the duo’s new project, which will be based on Brown Girls and will hopefully capture the same magic as the original project. [Elle]
Planetarium, the new album by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and James McAlister, was originally written in 2012. Though the lyrics were written years ago, the sound and meaning behind the album is hauntingly relevant in today’s political climate. The sometimes lengthy and chaotic tracks are sure to remind listeners of Stevens’ other work as well as a new, cosmic sound introduced by the additional contributing artists. [The Atlantic]
Object-oriented philosopher Timothy Morton thinks of existence as a swath of mesh: interconnected, billowing, both structured and porous. The large-scale play of forces—what he calls “hyperobjects”—happens constantly, and often outside of our human frame of reference. Morton is particularly interested in the things we don’t yet have categories for but that swell and move and affect the world we think we know. In his words, “nothing is radically external to anything else.”
This sentiment, hand-picked by Lindsey Dorr-Niro during a performative lecture and poetry reading, might well be the argument of the small universe she has set up at Sector 2337 in Logan Square. “This Land Again” continues her interest in the ambient noise of capitalism: features of the built environment so familiar that they stop registering as physical matter. Her starting point is the back of a billboard, inspired by Woody Guthrie’s folk détournement: “Was a high wall there that tried to stop me / A sign was painted said: Private Property, / But on the back side it didn’t say nothing—This land was made for you and me.” A billboard might be intended to trigger a split-second of affective commerce on the open road, but that’s just the way we let it use us; look at it differently and it’s not so far away after all. Dorr-Niro finds freedom in seeing other affinities, in turning things the wrong way around.
Images and objects on view share a visual vocabulary of form, color, and material that requires the viewer’s engagement to become a grammar. Turn around after watching a video of the artist arranging and rearranging cinder blocks and you will see the very same objects being used as sculptural support; around the corner from an uncannily mirrored photograph of a pile of rubble at sunset is an installation of rocks and Flavin-esque lights in sunset tones. Even the purpose of the space itself is modular, with a sculptural platform serving as an event stage for readings and experimental performances as much as it is for rest and casual conversation. The delight in recognizing these threads does the work of making these bits and pieces familiar and unfamiliar at once. The rules of the space are like those of a welcoming host: Walk on the rocks! Sit on the stage! Like the blank backside of Guthrie’s wall, all the stuff in here is stuff after all.
It is easy to trace the inspiration the exhibition takes from Gordon Matta-Clark, slicing buildings open to expose their innards rather than their interiors. Here, too, objects we usually only know by their function are delinked from utility and allowed to play, to open, to morph metonymically into one another. Dorr-Niro’s tight constellation of works heightens our senses against the deadening assumptions of commodity culture and conjures up a world forever just around the corner from the one we know.
We recently caught up with the artist over drinks to talk about the little stuff: freedom, capitalism, and hyperobjects. A condensed transcript of our conversation follows.
How do you think about the idea of freedom you want to explore with the show?
LDN: My work is dealing with freedom on a more abstract or elemental level: how, by understanding that a frame is provided but can be altered, opened, changed, reorganized or rejected altogether, we can reframe things or create new frames or ways of seeing things entirely. It’s freedom as it relates to vision, to perception. This isn’t to say that this is easy, but it is possible and incredibly empowering as a realization, because it recognizes the power of the individual to change their reality.
What can encourage or trigger that realization?
LDN: There is something inspiring to me about the experience of collective, radical joy: these elemental, important experiences we need to have as human beings to want to continue to exist. Art is a more cerebral path than music, which is so connected with the body and is more immediate. I’ve set myself a challenge to create a similar experience. How do we use our deeply capitalist world and its spaces toward more ecstatic ends? I’m trying to take materials and forms associated with industry and re-appropriate them, redirecting them toward a more ecstatic way of seeing or thinking.
Do you see your work as engaging in a civic conversation?
LDN: I don’t think of my work as overtly political, but like Jacques Rancière has discussed at length, taking the most fundamental aspects of experiences and reorienting and redistributing them, which creates new openings for experiencing the world. A lot of the ways in which this is pursued are very formal and through materials. Even that action of taking the language of commodity and using it for an alternative purpose is already a political act. A basic question that many artists aren’t asking is what is what I’m doing doing? This is actually what I think makes art “political” and allows for moving beyond the representational. There are so many more nuanced ways of thinking about what is political, how to engage, how to exercise agency and where agency is.
It seems like you use events and collective experiences, like your performative lectures and poetry readings in the exhibition space, to approximate these kinds of moments.
LDN: Experience is amplified by the fact that you’re sharing it. With [live music], you feel connected in a way that sounds New Age-y, but it’s true. It’s not something that can be measured or calculated. I’m interested in experiences that aren’t commodities or can’t quite be accounted for.
What about the impulse to look at the backs of things or the component parts of things?
LDN: This relates back to the notion of freedom. We perceive things to be a fixed reality, unchanging and stable—that’s a limitation of perception. We know that at a quantum scale, I’m not sitting on this chair. But when you see things reframed or taken apart and put back together, or shifted positions, or something you know is familiar from materials but isn’t the thing it’s referring to, you can see that things can be different. When you see that things are malleable, you can think about how the rest of the world is malleable. I don’t want to claim that I’m teaching people how to see—I’m invested in making these objects, but when I think about it objectively, I see that that’s what is driving this.
Can you tell me about the allegorical space of the back of the billboard?
LDN: With the initial billboard photograph, I was trying to show it as a structure or present it as something with history, a thing that was designed and made by human beings. I like how it acts as a metonym for so many other parts of our experience that are ahistorical. I wanted to invert that. A billboard is a structure with a physical system, with a history; it is the support system for an image that has specific intentions. It’s a very loaded object, in terms of its function in the mythos of the American highway system, which is a kind of glamorous idea of freedom. It also reflects back to us the mind’s ability to focus. If driving is a metaphor for life, the billboard is a distraction pulling us out of what we’re attending to. It is symbolic of psychological or perceptual processes, our inability to not look at something, which becomes more complicated and loaded in relation to capitalism.
That piece is almost virtual reality. It replicates human scale so well; if you were standing at a certain distance looking at the back of a billboard, it would look like that. Obviously it’s not trying to create the illusion that it’s there, but I like the strangeness. I feel like fundamentally that is something I’m interested in producing: a defamiliarization.
Your work is consciously engaging with Timothy Morton’s ideas about “hyperobjects.” How do you engage with nature and larger forms of existence?
LDN: I’m interested in how Timothy Morton discusses nature as something that never existed or rather only exists in relation to what we consider artificial or abject. As the Buddhist tradition says, nothing is pure and everything is pure. It’s a logic of simultaneity or “bothness” rather than the binary logic of the Western patriarchy. I want to highlight that desire for purity that a pastoral landscape encodes and satisfies by both including and complicating it. So, in the show, for example, a photograph of a construction site at sunset is mirrored horizontally so that it appears as a sublime mountain range from a distance, and in the hallway behind the wall on which it is hung, a material analog is created out of rocks and a fluorescent light piece reconstructing the sunset of the photograph. Here, nature or what is natural, what is more natural and more real, hopefully becomes an obviously absurd inquiry and comparison. Neither is more real or unreal. Neither is natural or unnatural—they are equal.
The motif of doubling, mirroring, and re-presenting certain elements in the work defamiliarizes the images, but at the same time creates an internally referential environment.
LDN: Using these simple formal or visual strategies and repeating them is a way of creating a visual vocabulary that through repetition creates an environment. There’s something that a mirrored image accesses on a weird, primordial level; there’s a strangeness to it, almost hallucinatory. I like the simplicity of those actions in a very literal way. [In the photograph,] once people look a little more closely, they see that there’s no illusion; it’s just a mirror image. It’s not trying to achieve some sort of mystery into how it is made. I think it’s like a key or index for how to read the rest of the work.
Thinking about manipulable units, structures, and materials reminds me of post-structuralist ideas about language. How do you think about language when making objects?
LDN: To me, language is another material. I’m thinking on such an elemental level of space and light and architecture; language is just another part of that, equal to all these other things. Language is the thing in our experience that best demonstrates performativity—that is, by being malleable and interchangeable, it points to the openness, the radical potential that everything holds. So semiotics, the study of meaning-making through the signs that make up our world, has been a foundation for me, but instead of primarily studying words, I’m exploring language through image-making and the relationship between images, objects, materials, and words.
And you collaborate with your partner, poet Marty McConnell. What is the relationship between poetry and sculpture for you?
LDN: Marty and I joke about artists over-using the word “poetic,” because what does that really mean? For me, the best poetry uses language to transcend language not in an escapist way but in a way where thought is experienced and felt. Someone may be addressing a really heavy subject like “interrogating whiteness,” for example, but there are these ruptures or openings into a more primordial, intuitive, human space that happen.
I think of poetics as the relationship we see between things that are different. That sensory experience of difference inspires us to connect and relate things. How this relates to sculpture or objects and forms is that there is something that exists/happens between two (or more!) related or connected things that escapes our ability to put language to. If there isn’t some “beyond” we can’t articulate, if it’s all explained and obvious, then why make it? Why look at it? To me it’s the same as or connected to our inability to explain the beginning of the universe—in the West, the Big Bang; in Eastern traditions, “beginningless time.” We know and have a desire to connect to space that can’t be calculated or explained, and we also long for and need such spaces and places to exist in this world as human beings.
Lindsey Dorr-Niro’s “This Land Again” is on display at Sector 2337 in Chicago until June 10.
Interview by Nina Wexelblatt.
Photography by Claire Britt.
Rebecca Solnit’s The Loneliness of Donald Trump provides thoughtful analysis of the man who is single-handedly setting our country (and planet) on the path to destruction. The Paris Agreement is only the latest in what is sure to be a long list of spiteful, misanthropic evils that this spoiled, narcissistic man-child wreaks upon the nation. [Lit Hub]
Khalid, nineteen-year-old pop prodigy and creator of teenage anthems, talks to Michel Martin about his debut album, American Teen, which explores timeless themes of belonging, love, loneliness, and loss. His mother is there with him as he speaks about his music as an outlet for “youth” problems that are experienced by people of all ages. [NPR]
Lil Yachty’s debut album, Teenage Emotions, was released last Friday, and with it comes a need to analyze his cheerful and childlike brand of “joyous hip-hop” and its transcendence of (or disregard for) traditional hip-hop. Yachty remains cold like a Sprite soda in the face of hip-hop diehards’ heated rejection of him. [The New Yorker]
Ibrahim Kamara is a stylist born in Sierra Leone and based in London who has been pioneering “a new vision of black masculinity” through his bold, hands-on work, which often goes as far as dumpster diving. Here, he discusses his formative years and misconceptions about African fashion. [Fader]
In Kerpen, Germany, is an art space that is less museum, more haunted house. The inaugural exhibit at the Haus Mödrath Space for Art, titled Lodgers, is a collection of dark and dystopian, terror-inducing images including humanoid robots devouring Christ, coffins and cribs put together, and killer Smurfs. Go see it before it closes in November 2018, if you DER. [Hyperallergic]
Artist Kara Walker, famous for her sugar sphinx statue in Williamsburg called A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, will be unveiling a new public art project involving water this fall at the contemporary art triennial Prospect New Orleans. Her art will be featured alongside those by icons, such as Yoko Ono and Louis Armstrong. [The New York Times]
With the beginning of Pride Month comes news that Netflix has cancelled Sense8, the Wachowskis’ daring and emotionally charged show known for its diversity, especially its representation of the LGBT community, after two seasons. The public is reacting with a kind of outrage that was last seen when Netflix cancelled another show famous for its inclusiveness, The Get Down. [Vulture]
John Cameron Mitchell’s new movie is based on the Neil Gaiman short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman will be in it as aliens. No theatrical release date yet for this iconic ‘70s period piece, but here’s to hoping it delivers that quintessential Gaiman weirdness. [Flavorwire]
LA’s dark-pop trio MUNA stands out as a politicized band that represents the relationship between pop music and activism, especially in their rebuking of the new president and all three members’ overt queerness. Released in the aftermath of the inauguration, their newest album, About U, includes songs that are explicitly about toxic relationships, as well as songs rooted in advocacy that often address current events like the Pulse nightclub shooting and Trump’s immigration ban. [The Nation]
Cooper Hewitt’s new exhibit, “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s,” is a dazzling homage to the Art Deco design. Time to pull out that dress you were saving for a Gatsby themed party. [The Village Voice]
Austin bid adieu to the Off Center recently, longtime home of the Rude Mechs theater group and the latest casualty in Austin’s struggle for affordable arts spaces. Jeanne Claire Van Ryzin reports. [Arts and Culture TX]
In better news, Austinites are in for a treat this weekend, with the arrival of Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles, installed at the Waller Creek Conservancy and opening on June 3. The piece is on long-term loan and has been brought to town courtesy of The Contemporary Austin, The Waller Creek Conservancy, and the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation.
Tyson Swindell is a multi-instrumentalist based in Austin. When he’s not working as the Talent Buyer and General Manager at local punk club Sidewinder, he plays music with various bands, including most recently with the hardcore band Illustrations. Those who know him from these arenas might be surprised to listen to his latest release, Pianoforte Facsimiles, a haunting collection of solo piano performances, out now on cassette via Self Sabotage Records. We spoke with Tyson after the release concert, which took place at the Museum of Human Achievement in May.
As a fellow pianist, I really enjoyed your performance. It is rare to see solo piano performances of an avant-garde nature here in Austin. For how long have you been playing the piano? Did you take lessons?
TS: I briefly studied piano using the Suzuki Method when I was a child, but had problems keeping teachers. My first teacher moved away from my home town of Amarillo, Texas, and my second teacher died before we got very far. My parents didn’t really push me to continue lessons after that. I was also heavily involved in the Suzuki world of violin and viola at that point anyway. My family is very musical. All my siblings and I started playing instruments when we were about three years old.
Oh wow. So your parents play music as well? What instruments do they all play?
TS: My mother played piano, and my father is a jazz singer to this day. Apparently they wanted a string quartet; I switched from violin to viola around age 10, and my two sisters played violin and my brother played cello.
I love that. The Swindell Family Band. So you’ve been playing music your whole life. Is this tape your first release?
TS: This is my first release under my own name, and certainly my first piano release. I have been in touring bands since I was about 16 or 17 years old, mostly indie rock and punk/hardcore. I got a piano about 10 years ago, though, and I have been tinkering on it since then. I often write songs on piano and transcribe them to guitar or vice versa, depending on the type of musical project.
I love the variety of styles present. There’s the Disintegration Loops feel of the title track, the elegiac elegance of Nils Frahm on tracks like “Sidereus Nuncius,” and then what sounds like a vaudevillian romp sandwiched between them. Who are your inspirations?
TS: Yes, William Basinski was a huge inspiration for me on this! The other big ones would be Radiohead and Brian Eno. I always loved the piano stuff that Radiohead would release; their newest record is full of them. And obviously, Music for Airports was way up there, too. I still listen to that several times a month, every single month. Schoenberg and Webern were also really important guys for me to discover. The vaudevillian sounding stuff, I’m not really sure where to pinpoint the origin of… Honestly, it’s probably just theater songs, or maybe The Beatles, or Queen? I am a huge Queen fan.
I approached this record like an electronic album. I used samples I had made of myself on the piano and knitted them together, sort of how you would find the production on Vaporwave or Witch House electronics recordings. So artists like Burial and Dan Mason were big for me at the time, too.
How long did it take you to get the sequencing the way you wanted? Was there a larger pool of songs that the album was culled from?
TS: The way I usually decide on song sequence is that I dump everything down to cassette tape and spend a few days leisurely listening to the tape in the background of regular life. I have a crappy tape deck in almost every room I spend a good amount of time in, and the order of songs just sort of reveals itself to me. I jot these things in a notebook. You would think I am totally insane if you looked into this book. I can be pretty obsessive when it comes to things that I love.
Your use of space on the album is really wonderful. Satie has inspired a million composers to create sparse compositions in minor keys, but your sound is distinct. Does this style of playing come naturally to you, or do you find yourself going back and paring the pieces down? (I know I have a tendency to overplay when I’m composing, but maybe that’s just me.)
TS: Thanks! I guess I don’t sound like Satie because I have not listened to him much. I’m sure my influences are directly tied to him though, so that’s probably the similarity and distinction you notice. I do want to explore his works now that you bring it up! I was really going for a very dreamy, simple style from the get go, so overplaying wasn’t something I had to combat on this recording. I definitely do tend to do that when I play bass or guitar in a band. It’s more fun that way!
Tell me about the way you recorded this album. The cavernous sound of the recording gives it such a haunting quality, like walking through a derelict palace.
TS: So this was almost all recorded using a Zoom field recorder in my house playing my Wellington upright. Ky Williams mixed it very heavily on wet sounds (i.e., adding reverb and delay effects on top of the natural reverb on the tracks). Ky did a fantastic job. I wanted this album to sound like a glitchy sound wave of piano playing discovered after a war or maybe the apocalypse.
When I saw you play at the tape release, the loop pedal and effects were such a prominent part of your sound. I was surprised to find the effects to be much more subtle on the album. Do you consciously try to present a different experience live than on the recording?
TS: The sampler I used live is not on the recording at all, it was simply a tool for me to recreate the idea of the album (thus facsimiles) while still staying true to the music. To be honest, I like using it because it is so hard to control. Every time I play the songs live with that sampler, they turn out different in many different ways. I love that about it.
Was a loop pedal used at all in the recordings? Is your method of manipulation the same live as it is in the studio?
TS: No, live manipulations tend to be more loose, interpretive and improvised, where the ones on the record are cut by hand several times until the exact performance I imagined was achieved. I used both digital and analog methods of sound manipulation, both of which are heard in the title track.
Your sister played with you at the release, yes? On the violin?
TS: Yes. She was randomly in town and I put her to work! She is a professional touring musician, and I can usually collaborate with her when we are in the same town.
Did you think to add violin only after the recordings, and is that something you’d hope to incorporate more in the future?
TS: There is a little bit of cello I recorded on the album, so when we realized she would be in town for my release party, we figured out a way to get her on stage with me. It’s quite lonely up there by yourself the whole time.
How did you come up with the title of the album? It’s so fitting: again, it brings to mind the Disintegration Loops, but it also gives the impression that the sound is not of a piano at all, but of some approximation or recreation. I think the idea of recreation is present throughout the work; a heavy nostalgia persists, an idea that you’re consciously trying to replicate something. It feels like the soundtrack to a youth I never had. Is this a feeling that you set out to accomplish, and if so, why?
TS: The title of the album just snuck into my mind when I was working on this album. Much of the mixing and editing was done when I was on a seven-week tour with the hardcore/punk band Illustrations, as something to keep me busy. I’ve always loved the word facsimile and so I made it work.
There is a very heavy nostalgia in these songs and recordings. Many of the strings on my piano are the original strings, and I hadn’t had it tuned professionally in quite some time. I love the way it sounds like this. It reminds me of my past, my childhood, my grandparents. It smells old. I purposefully wanted this album to reflect those ideas, themes and feelings.
The photos on the insert of the tape I took at the funeral of my grandfather. We released balloons into the air after the burial, and I snapped these two photos. They seemed to fit when I went back to think about the artwork. Jordan Braithwaite did the layout for me. I am very pleased with it.
Interview and photography by Sean Redmond.