I See Them, Do You?
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rifling glove as you well know
one and the same this was the late
never defect back to the wall
at the far end a gloomy bay
books in the black it all began on
whose thousand yard stares
until that day when the last
variegated cloud lifts off the roof
and it was here on the radio
in what was always a beverage
back to the wall while waiting tables
never been any waiting since
God, nature, and Memphis
Tim Sutton’s Memphis, like his earlier feature, Pavilion, is a gorgeously made impressionistic drama. An observational film that emphasizes mood, place, and atmosphere over plot or character, Memphis presents the quotidian aspects of its characters’ lives with visual flair. Sutton creates real emotion from still images, such as main character Willis (played by musician Willis Earl Beal), lying asleep with his arm over his face, or Lopaka (Lopaka Thomas), sitting in a car staring at an ignited lighter. Lengthy tracking shots—down the aisle of a church, or through the streets of the titular city—are also freighted with meaning.
Sutton practically eavesdrops on his characters as scenes create a loose narrative, eschewing any overtly climactic moments. The writer/director’s approach is firmly rooted in documentary, and he envelops viewers in dreamy landscapes that are transfixing. Sutton makes watching glass fall from a broken car window a truly hypnotic experience.[ Read More ]
Life as medium: Physical and conceptual notions of the body, sexuality, and identity.
New Delhi–based artist Mithu Sen makes sculptures, installations, drawings, and texts that critique ideas around desire, sex and sexuality, representation, the body, and what it means to be an Indian woman in contemporary society. Sen feels a deep kinship with the legacy of feminism and often infuses elements like hair and blood from her own body into her art as a way of examining our relationship to the material world. The historical legacy her work carries through its subject matter may be heavy, but she manages to convey the lighter side of the human condition through humor and sharp wit. For her first solo museum exhibition in the United States, Sen created a large-scale installation of false teeth and dental polymer to question the visible and invisible dividing lines among human beings. During her travels to the US, as she worked to finish and install her work at the Broad Museum, Sen shared more with me about her work and practice that spans genres and disciplines.[ Read More ]
“Beautiful, stupid, dangerous, life-saving, corrupting, and perhaps all there is.”
In Joe Wenderoth’s most recent collection of poems, If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep (Wave Books, 2014), the speaker is in constant discovery of his limitations. Whether it’s a desire to travel, to offer sympathy, to miss a loved one, to avoid bureaucratic obligations, to assemble a clown, to keep in shape, “to eat of the world you live in,” the speaker visits each poem only to find more despair and more limits. “I very recently came into complete possession of where I am. / Trouble is: / having complete possession of where I am / diminishes the potential of my dramatic arc.” The speaker realizes this during “My Coronation,” where awareness is a coming to terms with playing an unsatisfying role.[ Read More ]
I am reading a book about brain plasticity while John attempts to hook up an arcane device (DVD player) to our very modern media-viewing system. The arcane device will allow for the viewing of an arcane medium (DVD) in particular an arcane medium from an unrecognized/unpermitted region (in this case region 2, Europe/UK). The hunt for cables and mounting and dismounting tools begins early in the morning and ranges all over the house. There’s some concern on both our parts that the attempts to introduce this arcane device into our very modern system might bring all media-viewing to a crashing halt. All this so we can watch an Alan Bennett play staged and performed for television (arcane-but-evolvable technology) in another, forbidden regional format (BBC). I have already seen it; I went through a similar but less complicated process of media accommodation several years ago in another house in order to watch this play. John, however, hasn’t seen it even though he would have been living in that region when the program aired on its intended technological medium. The play, oddly enough, is called “An Englishman Abroad.”[ Read More ]
The two filmmakers on their new documentary, Web Junkie, about rehabbing the addicted youth of China.
For those of us who’re not aficionados, the cinematic YouTube trailer for World of Warcraft’s third installment, Cataclysm, announces blood and gore, crude humor, mild language, suggestive themes, use of alcohol, and violence. WoW is classified as a MMRPOG, a massive multiple role player online game, and the 16,998,014 trailer viewers, with a fourteen to one like-to-dislike ratio attest to its worldwide popularity. Still, it’s a video game, and small potatoes, you may think, compared to the devastation endured by civilian populations in the real world, and the concomitant, ubiquitous imagery thereby generated by the carnage, putting us, as the artist Carolee Schneemann recently emailed me, in “a whirligig of grief and outrage.”
But what if your sixteen-year-old son dropped out of school and spent forty days straight at the computer playing WoW? Or lied and spent nights at the Internet café instead of staying with friends? In China, obsessive Internet use by teens has been classified as an addiction and the number one public health threat to teenagers. Desperate parents are tricking or forcing their sons into one of 400 rehab centers run as military boot camps, where if you don’t make your bed in the morning, at night you sleep on the floor.
Two award-winning Israeli documentary filmmakers, Shosh Shlam (Good Garbage and Last Journey Into Silence) and Hilla Medalia (To Die in Jerusalem and Dancing in Jaffa), who have made a dozen films separately, collaborated on the just-released film Web Junkie, which follows three Chinese boys going through a treatment cycle in Daxing, Beijing, the first of these rehab centers, where the filmmakers lived for four months.[ Read More ]
Melting glaciers, Metallica, and the Arctic.
Expedition to the End of the World is an adventure documentary filmed aboard the Activ, an Arctic schooner that set sail in Northeast Greenland with a crew of artists, philosophers, and scientists. Greenland is an enormous country, but also the least populated in the world. The film showcases the great island’s icy beauty, its towering glaciers and lonely blank horizon.
The characters on board are akin to caricatures, referred to merely as “the geochemist” or “the artist.” Each crewmember has his or her own specialty, but each is there for an indistinct purpose: to observe, to experience, to ask existential questions. The expedition has no formal goals. Everyone is mixed together in a hodge-podge of expertise. These artists and scientists venture into the landscape, and are struck by its immensity and power—but as one crewmember puts it, “what we are really struck by, is ourselves.”[ Read More ]
An outsider looking in.
For a number of years, Daniel McKewen taught a class at the Queensland University of Technology that functioned as a drop-in critique and discussion session for whoever was around at the time. We almost always ended up talking about film and the media, which for a number of years have formed the content of his video-based work. Last summer, sharing a workshop in the subtropics, we worked side-by-side in a steamy tin shed, doors thrown wide to catch whatever breeze there was. As he obsessively polished a bronze sculpture to mirror-finish, he offered his steady and reasoned advice to whoever came knocking. The advice was usually: Keep doing it. At the 2014 Sydney Biennale and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s NEW14 exhibition McKewen showed video-based work focusing on popular media, cinema, and fan culture, but his newer pieces consist of sculpture and drawing. His work, culled from familiar sources, aims for the jolt of recognition before the quotidian is made strange. We spoke about harvesting laugh tracks, the politics of art funding, and his upcoming show at Milani Gallery in Brisbane, which deals with the global financial crisis.[ Read More ]
BOMB Daily has gone fishing. We'll see you again on August 18.
BOMB Daily will be on vacation from August 12th to August 18th. All of us here would like to take this opportunity to thank all the artists, writers, filmmakers, and others who have contributed to this project.[ Read More ]
Strange songs: Elizabeth Mikesch channels the grit and caprice of suburban adolescence.
Elizabeth Mikesch’s debut novella, Niceties, is a collection of domestic fairytales that evoke the kind of suburban witchcraft of Harmony Korine, Vladimir Nabokov, and Catherine Breillat. Presumably based on the author’s experiences as a precocious child living in Small Town, USA, the book is composed of a series of loosely related miniatures on eroticism, witchery, and boredom, which occasionally braid and loop back on one another as if through the tiny nooks of the book’s imaginary floor plan. Mikesch’s sentences are, throughout, pleasantly plump and oleaginous, seeping with the sights and smells of pubescence: grandmother’s repasts, masturbatory bed-sheets, and nocturnal beasties. “We were sleeveless daughters once in the sleet nights of the wild fields, smokes and talk, eyelids stained, in the spunout drives, riding suicide, in the chardark, in the moonlight,” she writes of the rituals of teenage girls in the parlance of a millennial Sibyl. “There was hiding coughing—do not make a sound—inhale a puff of a poison, did the coffin slam shut?” Its familial subject matter, often portrayed in illicit and traumatic vignettes, and a lyrical, albeit dissonant, use of language makes Niceties a rewarding experiment in the linkages between Victorian “house” literature and the transgressive, free-versification of the archly feminist New Narrative.[ Read More ]
Finding meeting points: in preparation for a joint show, two artists talk about materials, process, and presenting their work.
At the onset of this conversation, the artists Laura Aldridge and Lee Maida had never met each other. We shared a couple of short, three-way email exchanges to get the ball rolling, but ultimately this session was a lot like a blind date, a real set up. We initiated the talk, which took place over Skype, because I had invited them to present new work in a two-person exhibition at Andrew Kreps gallery in New York over the summer. While Aldridge is based in Glasgow and Maida in New York, it would be easy enough to apply a synchronistic frame around their practices. Aldridge and Maida’s three-dimensional works show an interest in color, the legacy of images, and the malleable, textured life of material. If left to their own volition, though, I doubt that either artist would initiate a conversation about their work according to the vestiges of materiality. Especially for that reason, I leaned into this potentially troublesome zone. A discussion about material and desire might tease out various distinctions and nuanced similarities regarding the use of ceramics and fabric in each of their work, which include some of the most poignant, anachronistic examples of clay and fabric in a day-glo world.[ Read More ]
Portuguese cinema, dealing with illness, and "the tissue connecting the cosmic and the corporeal."
A bee lands on a cheeseburger being held by Joaquim Pinto. The camera moves in and, with microscopic focus, captures the perverse comedy and unexpected beauty of the creature determinedly sawing off a chunk of meat before flitting away. It’s one of a dozen extended sequences of bodies close up—insect, canine, and human—that could strike the first-time viewer of Pinto’s latest film, What Now? Remind Me, as curious, poetic digressions. But the deliberate and obsessive attention imparted to such incidental observations underscores an urgent and necessary function. They act as tethers to the present, pulling the filmmaker back from the hazy edges of memory and exhaustion. Cumulatively, they become the tissue connecting the cosmic and the corporeal in the film’s unique cosmology.
It’s safe to say that you will not see another film like What Now? Remind Me in cinemas this year. Pinto’s 162-minute epic—made in collaboration with his husband, Nuno Leonel—is a deeply personal love letter to life lived fully, in the face of so much decay. The fifty-seven year old director, a central figure in Portuguese cinema who has worked with auteurs like Raúl Ruiz, Manoel de Oliveira, and João César Monteiro, has been living with HIV and Hepatitis C for nearly twenty years, and his latest documentary is an intimate diary of a year spent in a clinical trial for experimental treatment.
As the film shuttles between life on the couple’s remote farm and trips to medical centers, it weaves past and present, reverie and reality, the personal and the political. There are glimpses of Pinto’s early days in cinema, on set with Ruiz in 1981, and flashes of the vital generation of critics and filmmakers (including friends Derek Jarman and Serge Daney) devastated by AIDS. There are glimpses of his remarkable first two features, Tall Stories (1988) and Where the Sun Beats (1989). But What Now? Remind Me deftly skirts the solipsistic and the sentimental, and its striking images, evocative dissolves, and terrific soundtrack remain with you. It’s a testament to Pinto and Leonel’s extraordinary filmmaking, as well as to their remarkable decades-long relationship, that together they’ve produced a film that looks outward as generously and deeply as it looks inward.[ Read More ]
The Clean, The Heavy Eights, The Bats, and smoking hash with Alex Chilton.
Robert Scott and David Kilgour are perhaps best known as two-thirds of the influential New Zealand band The Clean. With David's brother Hamish (who currently lives in New York City), the trio released a handful of EPs of shambling, psychedelic, and otherwise unclassifiable pop songs in the early '80s. These records were some of the first to come out of the nascent Dunedin-based New Zealand music scene, centered around the Flying Nun label, and remain among the best to come out of that movement. The band reformed in the late '80s and, since then, have put out another focused, playful, and beautiful record every few years. A compilation of work spanning their entire output, the four-LP Anthology, was recently released by Merge Records.
David's long and equally rich solo career continues with End Times Undone, his new record with longtime band the Heavy Eights. The album, out August 5th on Merge Records, is David and the Heavy Eights's first since 2011's Left by Soft, and is a further exploration of his overlapping interests in compressed pop song-forms and lush, expansive guitar music.
Robert's group The Bats have also been active since the early '80s and have produced a number of astonishingly great pop albums over the years, several of which were recently reissued in the US by Captured Tracks as part of that label's series of Flying Nun Records releases. He also has a solo album, The Green House, out shortly on Flying Nun.
Both David and Robert are also prolific painters whose work frequently doubles as album art. I emailed them a bunch of questions about painting, their solo work, history, and The Clean. The two old friends then sat down and talked them over on tape. Revelations abound.[ Read More ]
Modern love in slow motion and black-and-white.
The French director Leos Carax made Boy Meets Girl (1984) at the age of twenty-three. You would expect a filmmaker in such a hurry to get his first feature out the gate to make something that zips past or hurtles forward, a youthful bullet train that leaves you with a smeared impression of shapes and faces and—if all went well—the promise of movies to come. But Boy Meets Girl is a slow movie, moving at a zig-zagging crawl to an inevitable but long-delayed outcome: the meeting of Alex (Denis Lavant), a nocturnal loner betrayed by his girlfriend Florence, and Mireille (Mireille Perrier), left alone on a summer’s night by her insensitive boyfriend. The movie is drawn out by the rich, dark shadows of its black-and-white images—deep pools in which the gaze finds no end—and the way Carax’s constant inventiveness lights up the peripheral action—nearly obscuring the central business of girl meeting boy—with a density of details including a woman driving to the mountains with her skis and ski poles poking through a hole in her windshield, and a man opening a giant empty fridge to kneel before it and cool off.[ Read More ]
Wrapping words up in images.
Among book designers, Peter Mendelsund is the best reader of all. You always recognize one of his covers when you see it, and it’s not because he tends toward certain colors or typefaces—quite the opposite. Rather, it’s something about the way the cover illuminates the text. You can tell he didn’t just read the manuscript; he internalized it. The result somehow feels both inevitable and surprising: the only possible solution but one you could never dream up yourself.
That such a good reader would turn out to be an outstanding writer is perhaps inevitable as well, but Peter has once again confounded expectations by publishing two books of his own, with two different publishers, on the same day. The first, Cover, is a design book full of words, and the second, What We See When We Read, is a philosophy book full of pictures.
Six years ago, I had a desk a few floors up from Peter’s office at Random House. He was already famed for his iconic covers for authors like Martin Amis and Mark Haddon, but many of his greatest hits—the Kafka reissues, the Cortázar covers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—were still to come. We became acquainted that summer, and every now and then I’d poke my head in and ask for advice about how to be a better designer.
Of course, now I realize I was asking all the wrong questions. So I recently went back to Peter’s office and asked for advice about how to be a better reader.[ Read More ]
Pre-shift you stop at Valley Mart. You need two Mountain Dews to survive. The slog. See yourself when you say slog. You’ll slug Dew—wind catching your black cargo chef pants, raw chicken gunking your kitchen clogs—and mud will pour into the Mansion. Gray-brown, doom and gloom, life after your mother’s death—that’s what you need to overcome: today’s shift. Tell yourself it’s any Tuesday.[ Read More ]
Human collage, mail art, and punning with the nothing master Ray Johnson.
Almost twenty years after his death, Ray Johnson continues to be revealed as one of the most consequential figures in American contemporary art. The progenitor of correspondence art and an influential pioneer of pop art and conceptual art (though he eschewed all of these monikers), Johnson’s curiosity resulted in an immense body of work that spans collage, correspondence, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, and book arts. For better or worse, he embodied that over-glorified and under-recognized role of “the artist’s artist.” Johnson’s dynamic life-art unfolded within a nexus of artists and media that read as a who’s who and what’s what of American art from the 1950s through 1970s, and yet he systematically refused or flouted all opportunities to popularize his work through mainstream art commerce.
Grace Glueck once wrote to me that Johnson sent letters to academics and journalists in the art world whose attention he wanted. Maybe, but it certainly wasn’t fame he was after. So I guess the question is, what kind of attention? From what I can tell, Johnson was highly selective about whom in the art establishment he tried to engage. He sent letters to academic figures who he thought could and hopefully would correspond with him the way he wanted—persons who might match his intellect and interests, and parry with his acerbic wit; persons who might be game to enter into an alternative kind of correspondence via the oblique and contiguous relationships of words, ideas, and images. Clive Phillpot was one such favorite correspondent and friend of Ray Johnson’s. Since Johnson’s death, Phillpot has become one of the foremost scholars of his work. It was an honor to be able to talk with Clive and plumb his unique and illuminating insight into Johnson’s art and person.[ Read More ]
BOMB’s Oral History Project documents the life stories of New York City’s African American artists.
Adger Cowans is a renowned fine arts photographer and painter whose works have been shown by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, International Museum of Photography, Museum of Modern Art, The Studio Museum of Harlem, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Harvard Fine Art Museum, Detroit Art Institute, James E. Lewis Museum and numerous other art institutions. His photographs were highlighted in the exhibition, Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2001. Cowans was awarded the Lorenzo il Magnifico alla Carriera in recognition of a Distinguished Career at the 2001 Florence Biennale of Contemporary Art. In 2015, Glitterati, Inc. will be publishing a book of his work.
Cowans attended Ohio University where he received a BFA in photography. He furthered his education at the School of Motion Picture Arts and School of Visual Arts in New York. While serving in the United States Navy, he worked as a photographer before moving to New York, where he later worked with Life magazine photographer, Gordon Parks and fashion photographer, Henri Clarke. The New York Times described Cowans’ work as “Boldly inventive and experimental ... the artist is a craftsman to his fingertips.”
Funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts with The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, with additional funding from the Dedalus Foundation and New York Community Trust, as well as A G Foundation and Toni L. Ross.
BOMB’s Oral History Advisory Panel is Sanford Biggers, Thelma Golden, Kellie Jones, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, Stanley Whitney, and Jack Whitten.[ Read More ]