As Much as We Sweep...[ Read More ]
Selections by Mónica de la Torre, Matias Piñeiro, Hannah Holden, Sabine Russ, and Lisa Robertson.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the sixth of several installments.[ Read More ]
The master filmmakers on blending the political and the personal in their new film.
It was a rare privilege and fascinating experience to speak with Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne during the screening of Two Days One Night at the 52nd New York Film Festival. They are auteurs par excellence, keeping tight reins over every aspect of their oeuvre—script, production and mise-en-scene. Their tightly-wound and intensely humanistic films, mostly direct but powerful stories about young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have won two Palme d’Or at Cannes for Rosetta (1999)—along with Best Actress for Emilie Dequenne—and The Child (2005). In addition, Olivier Gourmet was named Best Actor for his role in The Son (2002), and the brothers won Best Screenplay for Lorna’s Silence (2008)—a well-deserved track record for low-budget filmmakers.
Typically working with new or non-professional actors, Two Days One Night is their first film to feature a noted international star, Marion Cotillard, as Sandra, a working mother just fired from a solar energy factory. A new management scam has placed the onus of downsizing on workers, who are offered a bonus if they vote to operate with one less employee, resulting in Sandra’s dismissal. While, in a very different way, unemployment was also the focus of Rosetta, the Dardennes break-out film—it reportedly led to the passing of a labor bill, Rosetta’s Law to protect young people—Two Days One Night addresses the issue of worker solidarity in a toxically competitive world.
In the following interview, the Dardennes discuss their documentary background, modus operandi, and the new film’s genesis. Two Days One Night opens theatrically on December 24.[ Read More ]
Selections by Deana Lawson, C. Spencer Yeh, Andrew Bourne, Orit Gat, Clinton Krute, and Brian Evenson.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the fifth of several installments.
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A discussion of urbanism and Staten Island, cartography, and monumental sculpture’s place in modern society.
The Great Richmond is collaboration between the cartographer Neil Greenberg and the sculptor Will Corwin. The two were introduced by Monica Valenzuela, the Director of Development and Community Programming at Staten Island Arts, after both independently proposed projects focusing on the future of the borough via abstract methodology—Greenberg through imaginary maps and Corwin via interactive sculpture. The simplest means of collaborating turned out to be Greenberg visiting New York for several weeks at a time and camping out on Corwin’s couch. They made field trips to the island, wandered its streets and researched its history at the archives in the basement at Snug Harbor. Two years later, the result is a game-based and crowd-sourced sculpture incorporating many ideas from previous projects. For Greenberg it references imaginary urban manifestations and interventions such as Fake Omaha and Freshwater Metro Transit, and for Corwin it is another iteration of pseudo-randomly generated sculpture such as the Clocktower Chess Match.
The Great Richmond is an interactive project that will draw its momentum from the 65,000 or so tourists and Staten Islanders who wander into the Staten Island Arts Culture Lounge at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and are willing to interact with the piece. The rules are simple: choose two game tokens from the storage shelves and place them on any of the four color-coded tables. There are eight varieties of token, cast-plaster sculptures approximately a cubic foot in size, representing different facets of the island: infrastructure, history and culture, architectural fabric (retail and residential, government institutions, contemporary culture, and connectivity with the rest of the boroughs), and agrarian aspirations. The four tables represent four visions for the island—a return to an agrarian utopia, secession, and increased suburban or urban fabric. The possible outcomes of visitors’ choices are concretized in Greenberg’s cycle of four fantasy maps of the island, while Corwin’s contribution lies in the tokens and shelving matrix. [ Read More ]
Selections by Kate Valk, Andrew Lampert, Tan Lin, Mary-Ann Monforton, and Ryan Chapman.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the fourth of several installments.
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Chaotic performances, live recordings, and Generation Tween.
Ariel Pink’s unpredictable career continues to go down the rabbit hole. This time around, if he’s not under attack (again) for statements mocking Madonna and Grimes, he’s appearing on Fox News, or collaborating with the controversial and questionable Azealia Banks, and his recent “Tantalizing Tinsel Town Takeover” of LA featured nail painting, donuts, and limousines—all pink. In 2014, Pink is somewhere between the Fool card, Einstein, and Yahoo Serious.
Three quarters of the way through Ariel Pink’s overstuffed, sprawling, tasteless, and brilliant double album Pom Pom, there’s an already infamous skit about a grandfather taking his grandson to a strip club. Almost six minutes of Animotion meets The Human League meets Rodney Dangerfield give way to the crude skit interlude. It’s at the end of Side N (Sides P, I, N, and K, correlate to 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively), and it’s only relieved by the dreamier Side K, three longer dreamier songs that send off a classic double album. K contains the highlight “Picture Me Gone,” which manages to encapsulate the omnipotent feeling of FOMO while also mocking the times that have created the phrase. We discussed the ugly nature of performing, his method of creating an album, and how recording is a rip-off.[ Read More ]
Selections by Nate Wooley, Laida Lertxundi, and Sarah Gerard.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the third of several installments.[ Read More ]
The "grandmother of the French New Wave" discusses her ever-evolving artistic practice.
Agnès Varda is the only woman director to have been officially part of the French New Wave movement—and is perhaps best known for her classic Cleo from 5 to 7, from 1964. Her first film, La Pointe Courte, from 1954, was one of the first films from a member of the New Wave. She also made Vagabond (1984), one of the most important female road narratives to date, and has more recently received praise for her documentaries, including Jacquot de Nantes (1991), about her marriage to fellow filmmaker Jacques Demy, and The Gleaners and I (2000). As the writer and director of more than twenty features and countless shorts she is a bit of a living legend of filmmaking in Paris. But all that is in the past, as Agnès Varda has decided to move into a new chapter of her creative existence.
On the occasion of her winter opening at Galerie Nathalie Obadia last February I set about the project of trying to organize and interview with Agnès Varda on the subject of her new life as a visual artist. That was more than six months ago. The reality is is Ms. Varda has a great many people asking her for interviews and feels frustrated by how often the journalist ‘gets it all wrong no matter how nice they may be as people’ as she told me over the phone—and therefore she tends to turn them down altogether. Weeks and weeks gone by and a score of emails later her assistant suggested I come quickly to her famous address on Rue Daguerre on the left bank because Ms. Varda had agreed to meet with me after all, albeit briefly. Upon arrival I found her dressed all in maroon—to match her two tone hair, her cats wandering playfully around the living room, asking tea to be fetched for us. Ms Varda explained how much work she had to finish so we would have to make it quick. Who would argue with an eighty six year old trailblazer who has outlived the majority of her contemporaries anyway? I tried out some questions on her, and while some were left unanswered … these were the ones that passed the test:[ Read More ]
Selections by Chris Kraus, Alan Licht, and Kelly Copper.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the second of several installments.[ Read More ]
Deep language, the “silver” figures of literature, and reader as pit canary.
My first dealings with Michael Hofmann were professional—or should have been. The publishing house I work for was printing one of his translations, and so I wrote to introduce myself.
What started formally—“Dear Mr. Hofmann”—quickly devolved into an embarrassingly ingratiating letter, in part detailing my love for his recent translation of Durs Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast, but also asking him for any reading recommendations. I’m not entirely sure what I expected back from someone who has established himself as the preeminent translator of German literature, not to mention a brilliant critic and poet. Even a selected résumé of Hofmann’s work is formidable: translations of Joseph Roth, Gottfried Benn, Franz Kafka, Peter Stamm, Wim Wenders, Wolfgang Koeppen; six collections of poems; decades of writing for the London Review of Books. I received in return a modest email of thanks. And a PS: “Have you read any Penelope Fitzgerald?”
While Hofmann is certainly best known as a translator here in the United States, his reviews in the LRB confirm that his criticism is some of the most incisive and beautifully composed in contemporary literature. At times incendiary and seemingly ruthless in his critiques—his now infamous takedown of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig goes so far to describe Zweig’s suicide note as boring and reading “more like an Oscar acceptance speech”—Hofmann’s criticism is unpredictable, informed, personal, sensitive to inscrutability.[ Read More ]
"A precisely-aimed reach into the immeasurable flow of things."
For nearly three decades, German painter Neo Rauch has mesmerized and mystified viewers with his boundless imagination and his ability to give shape to the intangible, the bizarre, and the paradoxical. His figurative compositions, which also imply abstraction, reach far into the histories and myths of communal living, of ideology, faith, creativity, and the subconscious. From all of these realms Rauch spins scenarios with a pronounced absence of the linear and the logical, or of common temporal and spatial perspectives. Giant humans cradle their miniature selves or tower over dwarfed others; small German towns assume Himalayan dimensions; old-time laborers and modern-day businessmen engage in enigmatic tasks involving obsolete tools; trees grow houses like fruit, fields grow explosives like vegetables; sea creatures breed women, menfolk morph into flocks of birds; boulders become clouds, clouds become words; and arteries of bulging paint, hazardous-looking liquid, or pure energy snake or flow through it all.
Rauch’s palette ranges widely between tricolored scenes suggesting underexposed or lost histories and extravagantly colored canvases with dramatic, almost fluorescent highlights. His protagonists, whom he politely calls his picture personnel, serve the painting before they serve a story. They are employed for the purpose of creating tension, harmony, and discord of color and form. Rauch follows these figures’ evolution on the canvas, observing their influence, their pace and authority, which then prompts him to drive their activities further.
Physical and mental labor and, more recently, explicitly artistic labor, have always been in the center of Rauch’s interest. His early, agitprop-style compositions featuring pensive-looking staff (toiling toward alleged progress under looming watchwords in formal yet off-kilter semi-industrial landscapes) later gave way to more allegorical and epic scenes whose elements of folklore and myth seem at once local and elusive. Yet always, the depictions of men and women's active efforts and gestural communication, as disparate and enigmatic as they may seem, result in a strong sense of community in the painting. There’s an undisclosed common goal that Rauch’s protagonists dutifully pursue among globs of mysterious matter.
I’ve always been fascinated by the existential mood yet distinct air of neutrality and moral detachment that prevails in Rauch’s painted societies. While there’s conflict, even rebellion and upheaval, there’s neither overt terror nor affliction or even strain in the figures’ faces, no matter what type of crude or gentle acts they are engaged in. The man bound in ropes, about to be beheaded, appears in a strange and accepting union with his slayer. Victims and perpetrators are part of the same coin and dependent on each other. There’s no tension in a play without a villain; there is no progress without conflict. Like in a selfless universe, all participants seem to contain multitudes and to possess the fluidity to change and morph into one another.
The serene, unperturbed facial expressions in Rauch’s paintings are somewhat reminiscent of Western religious art, especially Giotto, the master of Italian pre-Renaissance who was active at the brink of a new era, just before individualism, science, and perspective started to enter painting. Rauch obviously knows how to paint in perfect perspective but he employs his skill to demolish ordinary notions of spatial proportionality. This allows him to present disparate events accumulatively and simultaneously, something only painting can pictorially accomplish. Everything exists in one single space and in one present: attempts from centuries ago face today’s endeavors face future pasts alongside individuals’ dreams and collective utopias.
On the occasion of his latest exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York, I had the opportunity to ask Neo Rauch seven questions, which he answered in writing.[ Read More ]
Selections by Ben Lerner, Jen Rosenblit, and Stanley Whitney.
As 2014 comes to a close, BOMB's contributors have a look back and report on a few highlights from their own reading, listening, and viewing experiences—books, albums, exhibitions, plays, performances, concerts, lectures, places, objects, really anything striking encountered over the course of the last eleven months or so. This is the first of several installments.[ Read More ]
Nostalgia, rhythm, and synchronicity.
Great Master Ma is unwell. (This guy has broken down quite a bit. He’s dragging in other people.) The temple superintendent asked him, “Teacher, how are you these days?” (Four-hundred four diseases break out all at once. They’ll be lucky if they’re not seeing off a dead monk in three days. This is in the course of human duty.) The great master said “Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.” (How fresh and new! Sustenance for his fledgling.)
—from The Blue Cliff Record
Led by Tori Kudo, the group Maher Shalal Hash Baz (Isaiah 8:1, “hasten to the spoils,” or according to Tori, “quick spoil, speedy booty”) has existed in permutation in Japan since the mid ’80s, playing a kind of shambolic congregational music that at times veers into poignant simplicity. By employing a simultaneous rigor and spontaneity (players will often perform a score having not seen it prior), Tori has crafted a unique musical space. What results as often conjures the infamous Portsmouth Sinfonia interpreting the Ventures as it does the prescient doomed neo-romanticism of the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett (Tori’s hero), and always with a certain laconic charm that is unmistakably Maher.
We sat down after Maher’s concert at ISSUE Project Room in NYC to discuss the blues, misunderstanding as an imperialistic prerogative, unwittingly embodying the herd, and the end of the world.[ Read More ]
On painting, architecture, and working in "chapters."
My first encounter with Quaytman’s work happened by chance around 2004 when I was working on a Portuguese translation of Susan Howe’s Pierce-Arrow. During a visit to Howe’s home in Guilford, Connecticut, the conversation quickly shifted away from Charles Sanders Peirce and semeiotics to architecture. At some point she volunteered, “If you like architecture, I must show you the house my daughter and her husband Jeff Preiss recently bought nearby,” the daughter being Quaytman. We drove for about five minutes and arrived at a magnificent structure designed by Tony Smith perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Long Island Sound. In hindsight, I feel like I have been stalking Quaytman, quietly following her development since the early days of the artist-run space Orchard.
In 2001, Quaytman introduced the idea of chapters as a way to organize her working on different subjects in discrete series. In an era that tends to (over?) analyze everything, the concept provides viewers with a roadmap, while at the same time allowing the artist space to experiment. The works that compose O Tópico (the subject), on view at Gladstone Gallery, have been commissioned by Brazilian collector Bernardo Paz for his private garden in Inhotim, Minas Gerais. The exhibition provided the perfect opportunity for me to finally meet Quaytman and talk about our common interests related to painting and language.[ Read More ]
A residency program on view.
Nicholas Weist is the director of the Shandaken Project, which offers free residencies to artists and other cultural producers on a 250-acre grounds in the Catskill Mountains in New York. This month, the residency is organizing a three-year retrospective exhibition in a disused apartment in the East Village. Ethan Philbrick met Weist during a retreat-style conference held by the Shandaken Project earlier this year, which invited nine artists, scholars, and administrators to investigate how queer theory informs cultural production today. More on this program is available here. When they met for lunch to have this conversation, Weist made overflowing and unruly open-faced sandwiches.[ Read More ]
The Look of Silence, and the price of forgiveness.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence had its Danish premiere last month at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival—CPH:DOX. The Danish capital has been home to Oppenheimer for several years now. He is one of the principals of Copenhagen-based Final Cut for Real, an independent production company specializing in nonfiction and documentary projects for the international marketplace. Shortly after taking the main prize in the DOX:AWARD competition, the film was released in cinemas countrywide in Denmark. Oppenheimer is also a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" award and his previous film, The Act of Killing, was nominated for an Academy Award in addition to winning numerous other prestigious awards.
I first met and interviewed Josh in Copenhagen in 2012 when The Act of Killing débuted. Unlike The Look of Silence, it had not been widely released yet. Even though the films are a cycle unto themselves, with their various narratives and productions overlapping and informing one another over the course of a decade, their entry and reception into the world has been quite different. However hinged together the works are, Oppenheimer has crafted two distinct films that stand on their own as extraordinarily brave and profound pieces. It would be a gross oversimplification to view these films as reflecting two sides of a coin, that is, a film from the point of view of the perpetrators followed by a film that represents the point of view of the victims. The schema they create together is not that simple.[ Read More ]
“A weight carried by two, weighs only half as much.”
What function does poetry serve off the page? Alberto Ríos’s “Border Lines (Líneas Fronterizas)” is a poem that may try to answer this question by both bridging the gap between two bordering countries and physically situating itself at just such a bridge. It will soon be on the wall in both English and Spanish at the US port of entry, viewable from Nogales, Sonora. His lines and their breaks hold tangible meaning in this border space: “Which way we look at the drawing / Makes all the difference.” Having grown up in Nogales, Arizona, this poem is a homecoming of sorts and a return to a time when this meeting point between two cities with the same name felt more malleable.
Poems can commemorate political figures and historical events. Whitman famously wrote of Abraham Lincoln, and there is an American tradition of honoring a president-elect at inauguration—Robert Frost of Kennedy, Elizabeth Alexander of Obama, and so forth. Similarly, Ríos has written poems for former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and former Mexican president Vicente Fox. But does writing a poem mean you align your art with politics? Are poets, as Shelley said, “unacknowledged legislators of the world”? Ríos, Arizona’s first poet laureate, sees it his own way.[ Read More ]
The technology of light.
Sun dogs, or phantom suns, appear when sunlight moves through ice crystals in high-altitude cirrus clouds or low-lying air currents (known as diamond dust) and refracts horizontally to create a halo of light around the sun. Inspired by sun dogs, Melvin Moti’s The Vision Machine is a moving image installation that will operate with the same mechanical system for a period of fifty years, positioning the poetics of light refraction against the policies of planned obsolescence. The Vision Machine is a projector that creates images of refracted light through the paired down vocabulary of a light source, lens, and several rotating prisms. The piece was partially inspired by Riccardo Manzotti’s “the spread mind,” a radical externalist theory that holds that consciousness is spread between the material world and an individual. The Vision Machine is anchored between these two sources of inspiration—one physical, the other theoretical—arguing for the infinite interdependency of thought and materiality.[ Read More ]
On being nothing, looking outward, and the obstinant relevance of that popular art form, song.
Richard Dawson is a force of nature. Even though that’s been said about many people, I really mean it this time. Ask anyone lucky enough to have seen him in the past few years and I doubt you will find any argument. His sets leave people with a confused throat-lump laugh. For example, I recently insisted a friend of mine—who maintains music has no real emotional impact—come and see Richard the first time he played in Dublin, and even he had to admit that after the gig, he shed a tear or two.
His music is familiar and unsettling, like some half-remembered childhood moment that comes up in the midst of a god-awful hangover, crippling in its sweetness. His music has a brutal nostalgia to it, often drawing on moments from his formative years but stripped of any saccharine nostalgia. He regularly brings us back to the sober present with a bang through his savage commitment to the idea that his songs be about real life, not some fantasy of what a song should be about. His songs mention WHSmith, Asda, Anadin Extra, Newcastle United: places and things that hover around the margins of the average UK consciousness, and that most of us are not used to hearing sung about at all. They are songs about our everyday life to enhance our everyday life. In the process of songwriting, these moments become kaleidoscopic, transcend the everyday reality they come from and become a sort of hallucination of Richard’s life, taking on a new strength in the process. Similarly, Richard’s guitar playing is always towing the line between dissonance and sweet melody, and is catchy in the strangest way—you'll find yourself humming his melodies long after hearing the songs, but straining to get the notes right. And his voice is fucking powerful. Never had I heard a man with a thick Newcastle accent roar his head off in a way that touched me so until I saw Richard. Don't take it from me, go see him and see for yourself.
I had the pleasure of asking Richard about all these things and much more, including his new album, Nothing Important, over Skype and some wine.[ Read More ]
Filmmaking as a collective project.
In late 2010 Gary Pollard asked Béla Tarr whether he considered himself a pessimistic or an optimistic person, and the Hungarian director replied that he still had a bit of optimism left, because he still believed in the possibility of communicating with an audience: “If you are pessimistic, you don’t do anything, you don’t want to communicate with people,” he stated.1
A couple of months after that, in February 2011, Béla Tarr presented the world premiere of The Turin Horse at Berlinale by declaring that it was going to be his last film: was this as the definitive victory of disillusion and pessimism?
The following interviews with Tarr, cinematographer Fred Kelemen, and composer Mihály Víg—made in early 2014 via phone calls and e-mail exchanges—originated from the sentence Tarr has been repeating in every press conference for the past three years: “The Turin Horse is my last film as a director.”
However, instead of considering The Turin Horse as the spiritual testament of a “finished” artist, I prefer to see it as a chance for a new beginning. As a matter of fact, Béla Tarr is still alive and kicking. On the verge of his sixtieth birthday, he is working more than ever at the Film Factory of Sarajevo Film Academy, a laboratory for young filmmakers he founded in 2012 with the aim of “educating mature filmmakers who think responsibly, with the spirit of humanism, artists who have an individual outlook, an individual form of expression and who use their creative powers in the defense of the dignity of man within the reality that surrounds us.”2 Thus, as a provocation of sorts, the interview with Béla Tarr that follows deliberately ignores the films he made as a director and focuses on his work as a “school director” instead.
In an attempt to find out more about Tarr’s teaching methods, I also contacted two of his close friends and collaborators: cinematographer—and a great filmmaker in his own right—Fred Kelemen, and composer/actor Mihály Víg, who were kind enough to help me sketch a profile of the auteur.
In my view, what emerged from the three interviews was the absolute continuity between “Béla Tarr, the film director” and “Béla Tarr, the school director,” between what used to happen on film sets in the middle of the Great Hungarian Plain and what happens today at the Film Factory of Sarajevo Film Academy. In particular, it was interesting to find out that Béla Tarr’s interest in teaching (though the words tutoring or maieutics would be more apt, as we will see) dates back to the early ’80s, when the young but already famous filmmaker supplied young Hungarians who wanted to express themselves through moving images with a videocamera.[ Read More ]
The American West meets a harsh ’80s reality.
If you have any feeling for film, the first few shots of Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas (1984) will take you captive. The camera coasts above the Mojave Desert, past buttes shaved thin by geological processes you can only begin to consider if you break free from your recollections of the Western and the realization that John Ford never climbed so high to look down on the landscape he defined for generations of moviegoers. The helicopter perspective in Paris, Texas would be entirely regal if the camera didn’t gently list from one side to the other. The whole movie is in that initial shot: continental scale and human frailty. Just as you’re adjusting to the purely American topography, a tiny figure is glimpsed making its way across the landscape. An edit both jarring and eerily graceful delivers a close-up of a vulture alighting, then we cut to the figure as he comes to a halt. He has no horse, no gun. Just a plastic water jug and a face that looks like it’s been dragged over miles of red dirt. The actor is Harry Dean Stanton, poised to step out of the ranks of supporting actors you love and join the icons that broke your heart. His extraordinary, long face seems to have weathered the history of human calamity, yet the way his eyes search out the distance makes him as blank as the desert. He’s funny-looking too, in a red cap and suit jacket with absurdly pointy lapels. Ford would have cast him as a card shark or a traveling preacher with a revolver cut into his Bible, but he also would have been kind enough to provide him with a seat in the stagecoach. In Wenders’s hands, he’s an enigma great enough to fill the wilderness of the movie screen. His eyes pan toward the vulture and we see what he sees. Then he takes the last slug from his water bottle, litters, and heads on into the desert. Ry Cooder’s slide guitar, a whirlpool of metallic hum and drawling notes that has been with us since the credits, pulls us deeper.[ Read More ]