Quote of the day: REVOLUTION

October 17, 2021

REVOLUTION

We are not going to play the disciplinary state against the neoliberal market. Those two have already come to an agreement: in the new Europe, the market is the only government motivation, the State becomes a punitive arm whose sole function will be to recreate the fiction of national identity through security-inspired terror. We do not want to define ourselves either as cognitive workers or as pharmaco-pornographic consumers. We are not Facebook, or Shell, or Google, or Nestle, or Pfizer-Wyeth. We do not want to produce French goods any more than we want to produce British goods. We do not want to produce. We are the living decentralized network. We refuse a citizenship defined by our labor force or our reproductive force. We want a total citizenship defined by the sharing of technologies, fluids, seeds, water, knowledge…They say the new clean war will be carried out by drones. We want to make love with drones. Our insurrection is peace, total feeling. They say crisis. We say revolution.

–Paul B. Preciado

photo by Marie Rouge

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Laurie Anderson, DEEP BLUE SEA, House of Dior, and SANCTUARY CITY

October 12, 2021

October 6: Laurie Anderson’s fourth Norton Lecture

Some highlights:

She quoted her friend Justin Stanwix who refers to the internet as “assisted living for millennials.”

She mentioned that her middle name is Phillips, which led to Phillips 66 gas stations, named after Route 66. Also, who knew that the name of the phone company Sprint is an acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony?

She said that she always sets up and breaks down her equipment for a concert by herself and that sometimes she wears a wig and a “CREW” T-shirt as a disguise. (It’s true – I watched her nimbly and efficiently dismantle her elaborate sound system after a show in San Francisco, although she wasn’t in disguise on that occasion.)

She spent some time discussing the notion of “the avant-garde” in 20th century art, noting that Gertrude Stein – who might be a perfect example of an avant-garde artist whom people consider difficult or inscrutable – gave 74 lectures on an American tour in 1934-35, her book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas made the best-seller lists, and her opera Four Saints in Three Acts was performed by an all-black cast for six weeks on Broadway in 1934. NOT marginal or obscure.

She brought up the nefarious Texas law empowering citizen-vigilantes to prevent women from receiving abortions and asked, “How is this different from the Taliban?”

She spoke poignantly about her mother, who was brilliant but cold, and wondered: “If I’d had a warm mother, would I have seen technology as more embracing?”

Her aspiration: “Try to have a big mind and an open heart.”

Norton Lectures #5 and 6 are scheduled for November 10 and December 8. You can register in advance to receive the Zoom link (free) here.

Laurie Anderson fans will also want to read Sam Anderson’s beautifully written profile of her in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

I was tickled to see the magazine reprint Allan Tannenbaum’s picture that ran with my 1980 cover story for the Soho News.

The NYT piece coincides with the opening of “The Weather,” her show of paintings and immersive installations at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Click here for details.

Also this week Laurie plays MC for a series of shows at Joe’s Pub under the collective title Kludge (definition: “An ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose”), featuring poet Anne Carson, musician and composer Arto Lindsay, writer Lafcadio Cass, and cellist Rubin Kodheli, in different combinations. See here for details.

October 8: penultimate performance of Deep Blue Sea at the Park Avenue Armory

Bill T. Jones’ exquisite performance collage Deep Blue Sea weaves Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech into a monumental meditation on remembering and forgetting, the individual and the collective, freedom and justice, and asking young people to take the mic and share what they know.

For the first part Jones takes the vast stage of the Park Avenue Armory by himself, with occasional flights of sweet music from five vocalists at one end of the theater-in-the-round. For the second part he’s joined by the current members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company, 10 dancers with excellent chops and extremely distinct personalities. Amidst their rigorous choreography, Jones tracks them with a video camera, addressing them each by name, two different times.

Then for the last section, 100 other dancers appear and fill the stage with waves of actions and group image-making. The music throughout — original score with contributions from Nick Hallett, Hprizm aka High Priest, Rena Anakwe, and Holland Andrews — is beautiful, as is the extraordinary visual environment created by Elizabeth Diller – DS&R and Peter Nigrini with Lighting by Robert Wierzel.

For the last 15 minutes of the show, the “community participants” take turns declaring an “I know” statement. The extremely diverse cast includes at least three hearing-impaired performers (all the statements are translated by sign-language interpreters) and someone I casually clocked as “a Larry Goldhuber type” who turned out to be Larry Goldhuber himself, the plus-sized Jones/Zane veteran, whose statement was “I know everything.” Especially pertinent statements got greeted by snaps from their colleagues. Many dancers made statements that included derogatory assumptions about white audiences for the show — a fascinating role-reversal exercise for us white folks to be on the receiving end of unattractive generalizations. 

When the show was over, the cast stayed onstage and Jones urged the audience to mingle and talk. I got to chat with a queer black performer who represented fiercely and a white lad whose statement was “I know how to bottom.” Both of them said they come up with a new statement for every performance. The white boy said he likes to come up with something spicy. One night he said, “I know I’m waiting for Donald Trump to die.”

October 9

This morning at the farmer’s market at 57th Street and Tenth Avenue, a sight I’ve never seen before: a jazz combo set up on the corner. I couldn’t help thinking of the Joni Mitchell song: “They were playing real good, and for free.” The two horn players traded sweet and cool licks so intimately it brought tears to my eyes. The bandleader was the drummer, Will Terrill, who said he’s associated with the Jazz Foundation; his crew included Sharif Kales on flugelhorn, Chris Hemingway on alto saxophone, and Jason Clotter on bass.

Later that day, we trekked to the Brooklyn Museum, where we stopped in to see the Obama portraits by Kahinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

The museum’s main attraction at the moment is a spectacular multimedia exhibition to rival the David Bowie retrospective in 2018. This one, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, traces the groundbreaking history and legacy of the House of Dior.

I know virtually nothing about the artistry of couture and couldn’t care less about dresses, so for me this was immersive theater, fun for people-watching and eavesdropping as much as absorbing the art and fashion.

The show has the unmistakable touch of Matthew Yokobosky, the museum’s Senior Curator of Fashion and Material Culture (also responsible for the Bowie and other great shows in the past), who put a decidedly 2021 stamp on Dior by choosing to display all the designer gowns on black mannequins. That small choice has immeasurable impact.

On our way back out of the museum, we passed this alabaster relief with a 9th century BC queen swinging a clever little clutch.

Another show of contemporary work included this nutty three-channel video of the artist lip-synching to the Bee Gees’ “Nights on Broadway” in airplane lavatories.

And then there was Karon Davis’s Nicotine, a striking sculpture of an essential worker on break.

October 10

In my therapy practice I somehow acquired the understanding that “having brings up not having” – sometimes when we get something we’ve longed for, there is a paradoxical bittersweetness or sadness recalling all the times we wanted that thing and didn’t have it. As I took my seat at the Lucille Lortel Theater to see New York Theater Workshop’s production of Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City, I was mystified by the wave of melancholy that swept over me until I realized: oh, this is “having brings up not having.” Returning to the theater after 18 months of pandemic lockdown has been an emotionally charged experience, joy and excitement tempered and dampened by remembering exactly why we’ve been away – the losses, the deaths, the turmoil, the fear, the vaccine anxiety. We’ll get more used to it over time, like people in war zones get used to metal detectors everywhere, but we’ll never get over it.

The first act of Majok’s play covers a year in the life of two high school seniors from immigrant families in Newark. The fractured narrative skips around in time with lots of blackouts and repetitions without losing clarity or coherence, thanks to the original staging by Rebecca Frecknall (remounted by Caitlin Sullivan), Isabella Byrd’s lighting, Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound, and the performances of Jasal Chase-Owens and Sharlene Cruz. The second act (intermissions and concession stands have been 86’d out of covid precautions) consists of one continuous scene that unfortunately descends into soap opera territory as the three characters (Julian Elijah Martinez joins at this point) play out an overly melodramatic love triangle. The playwright has some subtle insights about class, race, immigration status, and sexual orientation dynamics but the second act lurches through a series of contrived plot points and sudden reversals that turn nuanced characters into TV-drama stick figures.

Recommendation: go see Todd Haynes’ documentary The Velvet Underground, which opens this week. It’s a fast-paced Warhol-esque stream of images, split-screen video, talking heads, vintage footage, and satisfyingly loud sound focusing on the early 1960s artistic/cultural milieu from which emerged the unlikely team of classical violist-composer John Cale and Long Island poet-rocker Lou Reed…and the rest is history.


Quote of the Day: CONFLICT

October 11, 2021

At the dinner table, before the thrown
plate, but after the bitter claim,
in that one beat of silence
before the parents declare war

their child, who until now had been
invisible, but who had learned in school
a catechism, speaks: “Would you like me
to help solve the conflict?” Silence.

They can’t look at each other. A glance
would sear the soul. A wall of fire plots
this Maginot line across the butter plate
splits salt from pepper, him from her.

So their child speaks: “Three rules, then:
One—you have to let each other finish.
Two—you have to tell the truth. Three—
you have to want to solve the conflict.

If you say yes, we will solve it.
I love you. What do you say?”

–Kim Stafford, “Mediation”


Quote of the day: CREATIVITY

October 1, 2021

CREATIVITY

Creativity is conceived as a reproductive act with a tangible result — a child, a book, a monument — that has a physical life going beyond the life of its producer. Creativity, however, can be intangible in the form of a good life, or a beautiful act, or in other virtues of the soul such as freedom and openness, style and tact, humor, kindness.

– James Hillman

illustration by Jason Stout


Good stuff online: NY Times Magazine and T Magazine

September 10, 2021

A shout-out to the New York Times Magazine for an especially good September 5 edition. I knew I wanted to read Ismail Muhammad’s intimate profile of Maggie Nelson, whose last book The Argonauts knocked me out and whose new book (On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint) I’m now eager to dig into. I glanced at the cover story about Terry Albury, the black FBI agent who spent four years in jail for leaking classified documents, and at first I thought, “Oh, I know all that, I don’t have to read that story” (a frequent assumption facing such articles). But Janet Reitman’s story hooked me, and I wound up glad that I read this account of a principled American in law enforcement coming up against all the ways that post-9/11 “homeland security theater” got used in vicious ways to prop up the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks) while pretending to protect American citizens. As Albury puts it, “I helped destroy people.” He’s one of the heroes of the resistance who hasn’t gotten as much attention as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, or Reality Winner, but his story is just as compelling.

Similarly, I glanced at “The Ceremony,” David Treuer’s piece about an Ojibwe grieving ritual, and thought, “Oh, I know what that is.” I did not. Treuer leads with a moving description of his state of mind after a series of intense losses. “In the summer of 2020 I was — and there’s no fancy way to put this — falling apart.” He proceeds to share with respectful delicacy some details about the tradition of the Big Drum.

“Ojibwe Big Drum society, or ‘drum,’ as we call it, is a large, loud, social healing ceremony that takes place in dance halls designated specifically for that purpose in communities mostly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, throughout the year. To be seated on a drum, to be a member of the society, is both an honor and a profound, lifelong duty,” Treuer writes.

“There’s a process that sometimes occurs (not always or even often) during the Big Drum to help end a family’s mourning called ‘wash their tears.’ Typically, men will wash up men, and women will wash up women…A family is seated in chairs near the drum, and the veterans approach them with bowls of water and soap and combs. They literally wash the faces of the bereaved, and comb and braid their hair. These big men, with their strong hands, wash and comb with a delicacy you wouldn’t think possible. In so doing, they wash away our sadness.”

The details of how this ceremony evolved and the impact is has on its community are moving and powerful. Read the whole story here.

While I’m on the subject of the New York Times (which I used to write for and is also where my husband works), I want to sing the praises of Hanya Yanagihara, editor-in-chief of T Magazine, the Times’ fashion supplement. I never read Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life; some people love it for its honest portrayal of the damage wrought by childhood sexual abuse, and others object to its relentlessly grim portrait of gay male life. All I can say is that I appreciate the courage, determination, excellent taste, and unerring discernment Yanagihara has brought to representing queer and BIPOC culture in the glossy pages of T Magazine. The high literary quality and the diligent hunt for new/untold stories and perspectives surpasses just about any gay publication I can think of right now. Where else would I read about several young queer Asian female pop musicians (“Are You Listening?” by Ligaya Mishan) or the trans artist who calls herself Puppies Puppies (“Who is She?” by Jameson Fitzpatrick). I would be intrigued to read about these people in some arcane gay art magazine. It’s such a Sign O’ The Times (as the Purple One would say) that I’m reading about them first in the New York Times, which has sometimes been dismissed as “the Gray Lady”…but not so much anymore.


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