January 18, 2012

Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty

I had the uncanny pleasure of hearing

Diane Williams read last night

at The Corner Bookstore.

I appreciate the seriousness

of Diane’s delivery.

Her voice has a way of extending the life of words

such that they begin to know each other in new

and conflicting ways.

I sat down this morning to read through her new collection,

“Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty.”

The texture of William’s prose reminded me of the feeling I had while watching the recent

Werner Herzog documentary,

Cave of Forgotten Dreams,

about the origin of our understanding of cave signs and symbols

and their relationship to the narrative tracking of historic and personal events.

Hertzog’s voice has that similarly

distilled, witty way

of unearthing surprise

through examining objects

from an obtuse, distanced lens.

The scientific is at once personal.

The personal

is open for exam.

So too, with William’s stories.

Blunt dialogue

meets exclamation.

Each chord is emphatic and yet strikes

an open-ended measure.

We end up feeling that the personal

is all the more persecuted and at bay.

Hertzog’s documentary charts the discovery of 32,000 year old drawings on the interior of the

Cave of Chauvet-Pont-D-Arc.

What struck me about the documentary was that

Herzog mentions that the moisture of the breath of visitors

sought to destroy the durability of the ancient renderings

and preempted further use of the cave as a tourist site.

I recently visited the origin

of the Ardèche River where the documentary was filmed

in the south of France.

The stone was red and brutal and evidenced

the power of water to draw gorges into

even the most unremitting of earth.

Diane Williams

seems to exhume that same sort of evidence

laying it bare for us to consider

and continually overturn.

For example, take the opening of her story, “Glee:”

“We have a drink of coffee and a Danish and it has this, what we call — grandmother cough-up –

a bright yellow filling.  The project is to resurrect glee.  This is the explicit reason I get on a bus and go to an area

where I do this and have a black coffee.

I emphasize, I confess, as well, that last night I came into a room, smiled a while and my laughter was like a hand on my own

shoulder.  As I opened up the volume of the television set, I saw a television beauty and a man wants to marry her and she says, “I

don’t do that sort of thing.””

For more excerpts, McSweeney’s Books has created a generous teaser with more of William’s

“Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty”


January 17, 2012

Danser Sa Vie

“Look at Jasper Johns’ and Robert Rauschenberg’s painting. They use the canvas as I use the stage.” -Merce Cunningham


I recently had the opportunity to visit the Danser Sa Vie exhibit

now on at the Centre Pompidou through April 2nd.

The scale of the exhibit alone was astounding.

In a space of over two thousand square meters, curators Christine Macel and Emma Lavigne

traced the theme of the moving body from paintings and sculptures by modern masters

such as Picasso and Matisse to works by a wide constellation of artists including Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg,

Yvonne Rainer, Robert Morris, and Andy Warhol.

In addition, the exhibit housed an impressive menagerie of large scale video projects of dance sequences

by greats such as Merce Cunningham, Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman and Nijinski.

The curatorial project here makes an interesting supposition:

“The history of abstraction would not be what it is without dance [...]

The whole gamut of avant-garde movements, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, De Stijl, Dada, Bauhaus or Russian Constructivism,

also latched on to dance, all fascinated by the body in motion and by the colours, lines, energy and rhythms.”

The curators take to task the program of submerging the viewer into

a kind of kinetic, oracular, full-bodied choreography,

not unlike the kind of digitized geography of the dance notation which Laban himself invented.

The exhibit is divided into three sections,

each wall draped in the organic experience of craft attempting to realize and recreate the body through traditional paintings and

sculptures mixed into the fabric of a kind of technicolor dreamcoat created by modern full-scale video installations and audiovisual


The show draws the unique conclusion that indeed the connection between modernity and dance

is an inseparable one.

At once the viewer encounters a hanging mobile by Calder,  a watercolor by German expressionist painter Emil Nolde,

and a video installation by Ange Leccia inspired by John Travolta’s 1970 “golden age of disco” performance in the film Saturday

Night Fever.

Works by Matthew Barney, Simon Dybbroe Moeller, Olafur Eliasson,

Daria Martin, Jeff Mills, Kelly Nipper, Mai-Thu Perret or Tino Sehgal

are in dialogue with modern masterpieces such as Henri Matisse’s “La Danse.”

The exhibit tranverses such diverse landscapes, the viewer wanders – happily though at times unaided -

through a kind of visual assault

looking for the unifying thread.

As I left the final viewing station in the exhibit,

Jérôme Bel’s fantastic sartorial, satire, “The Show Must Go On,” which draws on traditional pop music hits,

I was struck by this quote by 19th century thinker François Delsarte,

“Gesture is the direct agent of the heart.”

The body, its movements, the way it cuts through time and space, similar to the work of most post-expressionists,

argues that space itself is indeed nonhierarchical.

Dance highlights for us the kind of liminal narrative

that writers such a Joan Didion argue for in her essay, “We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live.”

Experience is fragmentary and nonhierarchical.

Indeed Didion’s sentiment is echoed in the exhibit’s opening quote by Isadora Duncan,

“My art is just an effort to express the truth of my being in gesture and movement. (…) From the beginning, I have only danced my life.”

Duncan’s quote reminded me of a discussion I recently had

with students on post-modernism.

Postmodernism, Fredric Jameson told us, was a periodizing concept.

It was a way of grouping a set of writers and painters and thinkers

into a lens which took into account

“the other.”

A way of looking at the world

which understood that experience itself

was fragmentary, nonhierarchical, imperfect.

The Danser Sa Vie exhibit hit the nail

square on the head.

January 10, 2012

Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, London

Malega, Surma Boy, Ethiopia, April 2011 by Mario Marino

The Embrace from the Series Hot Ink by Jonathan May

Olive Selling Dresses by Kenneth O Halloran

Bibi Aisha by Jodi Bieber

Oliver by Kelvin Murray

Maria and Raul, Paso Marti, Centro Habano by David Creedon

Anna from the Series Migration Linked to Prostitution by Paulo Patrizi

Monette and Mady, Rue Des Partants by Maja Daniels

Peter Crouch by Spencer Murphy

Old Truman Brewery / Claudia by Darren Hall

Tatiana And Belene by Yann Gross


I had the good fortune of passing through London

over the holidays

just in time to catch the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

on show at The National Portrait Gallery.

I was so captured by the exhibit,

I couldn’t walk away without the catalogue under my arm.

Above are a few of my favorites.

January 10, 2012

Printed Matter

Leafing through the books of strangers

is like walking into a dream.

The apartment we are staying in in Paris belongs to

a photographer.

I have enjoyed glimpsing at

all his books

and printed matter.

The above shots are from a hardcover retrospective

on Christine Dior by Assouline Books.

January 7, 2012

Deux Petits Magazines Français

Excited to discover these two new titles

in a little bookshop on Rue Clignancourt.

MODZIK features some consummate music reviews,

including an interview with Lulu Gainsbourg,

as well as a Short Sampler Vol. 24 CD

with new tracks by bands including

Evening Hymns, MAI, and Scratch Massive, Onra and Kourosh Yaghamaei.

MUZE offers creative design and

contemporary journalism covering cultural issues with a feminist slant.

This issue features a fantastic review of the Danser Sa Vie exhibit

now on at the Centre Pompidou.

More on that soon…



January 5, 2012

Diane Arbus, The Jeu de Paume, Paris

*Diane Arbus displays her “Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” (1963)

I have long admired Diane Arbus’s tenacity.

She unearths pain and the private parts of people.

Susan Sontag’s essay, “Melanchology Objects,” puts it’s plainly,

Arbus’s photography developed out of the Whitmanesque landscape,

the belief that “America, that surreal county, is full of found objects.

Our junk has become art.  Our junk has become history.”

Arbus herself famously said,

“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do –

that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.”


The current exhibit of Arbus’s work on display at the Jeu de Paume

in Paris

is not only exacting in that it includes excerpts from Arbus’s journals and private musings,

it is exhaustive, encompassing nearly two floors and each of her consummate projects.

The following is an except from a dream in Arbus’s 1959 Notebook.

“I am in an enormous ornate white gorgeous hotel wich is on fire, dormed, but the fire is burning so slowly that people are still allowed to come and go freely. I can’t see the fire but smoke hangs thinly everywhere especially around the lights. It is terribly pretty. I am in a hurry and I want to photograph most awfully. I go to our rooms to get what I must save and I cannot find it whatever it is. My grandmother is around, perhaps in the next room. I do not know what I am looking for, what I must save, how soon the building will collapse, what I must do, how long I may photograph. Maybe I don’t even have film or can’t find my camera. I am constantly interrupted. Everyone is busy and wandering around but it’s quiet and a little slowed. The elevators are golden. It’s like the sinking Titanic…I am filled with delight but anxious and confused and cannot get to the photographing. My whole life is there. It is a sort of calm but painfully blocked ecstasy like when a baby is coming and the attendants ask you to hold back because they aren’t ready. I am almost overcome with delight but plagued by the interruptions of it. There are cupids carved in the ceilings. Perhaps I will be unable to photograph if I save anything including the camera and myself. I am strangely alone although people are around. They keep disappearing. No one tells me what to do but I worry lest I am neglecting them or not doing something I am supposed to do. It is like an emergency in slow motion. I am in the eye of the storm.”

*Diane Arbus, excerpt from current exhibit at The Jeu de Paume, Paris

January 2, 2012

“We Did Not Toil”

Happy New Year from our little studio in Montmartre!

I am excited to have a short piece out in the latest issue of Jerry Magazine,

the brainchild of Emily Wolahan and Ethan Hon’s combined brilliance.

Check it out here.

July 17, 2011


I’ve recently become a fan of Harper’s “Findings,” strings of current “scientific” findings composed into a single paragraph without a discernible ontology.  They are one of the few sources of text that insight on-site guttural laughter on my part.  Here’s a recent clip compiled by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi for the January 2011 issue:

“The practice of black magic and the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise were both endangering India’s wild owls. American herpetologists traveled to a restaurant in Vietnam to examine a previously undescribed race of all-female lizards but arrived to find that a “crazy guy had gotten drunk and served them all to his customers.” Japanese ichthyologists concluded that the small size of “parasitic dwarf” male Lamprologus callipterus fish, which are only 2.4 percent the size of “bourgeois” males who build snail-shell houses to attract mates, enables the parasitic males to sneak into bourgeois houses and fertilize the females. Two Spanish malacologists unveiled a massive study describing 209 new species ofTurbonilla snail. “There were so many,” said one of the micromollusk experts. “And they were so small.” In Burma, a newly discovered noseless monkey was assumed to be critically endangered because—despite its efforts to keep its head tucked between its legs on rainy days—it sneezes whenever rain falls into its nasal cavity and thereby alerts hunters to its presence. Researchers discovered a gene for liberalism and now know how the leopard got its spots.”

Full text available here.  A google search for “Harper’s Findings” will also elicit the following post at HTML giant.

July 8, 2011

Portrait Series: Feature 3 La Madre


June 19, 2011

Happy Father’s Day, Papa!

To the man who gave me

the great outdoors.

Play some jazz for me today.

With love, A.



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