Daily Postings
literature : interview

Mark von Schlegell

by Erika Landström

“Fiction can be this art object that doesn’t show us anything new about reality, but draws out everything fake.”

On the European release of Sundogz earlier this summer, I met with author and cultural critic Mark von Schlegell to talk about a mutual interest—the desire to observe from multiple viewpoints simultaneously, both inside and outside of fiction.

The idea of transformation is at the heart of speculative writing. Sundogz articulates this desire both allegorically, through descriptions of shape-shifting subjects in liquid worlds, and structurally, through normalizing a disrupted linearity, letting the point of reading become irretrievable by expansion instead. One viewpoint is diffused by striking two new.

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art : portfolio


by Mary Simpson

Boys or Women

“You laugh when boys or women tell their dreams.”
—Cleopatra to Dolabella
Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, Scene II


In a suburb outside of Cologne:

Mary and Gerhard are sitting in Gerhard’s studio, drinking espresso. They’re arguing.

G There’s impulse, and there’s control of impulse.

M But how can you calculate an image in proportions, like milk to coffee?

G It’s a danger to let heroic feelings into an image. You have to discipline the image.

M Those absurd feelings. It’s not so analytical. Even whales mate belly to belly.

G Whales and humans.

M Any chimp can fling paint. What if control is just the cycle of doing something over and again? You reach for the image, and it’s there for you.

G This is why I envy women—the indulgence in madness every twenty-eight days! It’s wonderful, the organization of it.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Joe Milazzo


They uncovered a u-boat in the bays beneath
the rayonnant of the kitchen linoleum,
drainpipes labyrinthed through its hull like
antennae with no use for alerts.
They anointed it “her,” so the lilting blue
of their torches might saw. In their sleeves
and buckles, they shoveled the fecund smell
her decks surrendered into the bags
whose buttressing they’d emptied of sand.
They offered to lay her relics in their van,
leaving me only her spiny lungs.
I asked them instead to erect
a second sink atop her bridge.
In the corroded glass of her periscope,
I can observe the creeping of green
bottles, brown bottles, brown bottles,
green bottles and the surface
of a mirror blank save
for a single bubble.

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film : interview

Les Blank’s A Poem Is a Naked Person

by Alex Zafiris

Thanks to his son, Harrod Blank, the filmmaker’s forty-year-old documentary on musician Leon Russell is finally released.

In May of 1972, Les Blank and his assistant, Maureen Gosling, traveled to Tulsa to begin shooting a documentary on Leon Russell. Blank had just left Louisiana, where he had filmed the footage for Dry Wood, an in-depth look at Creole people, their life, food, and music, and Hot Pepper, about local legend Clifton Chenier, who was also known as the “King of Zydeco.” Blank had already made Dizzy Gillespie (1965), Christopher Tree (1967), and The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1969-70), captured images of the Los Angeles “Love-In” of 1967 with God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance, and filmed the LSD scene in Easy Rider (1969) alongside cinematographer Baird Bryant. His interest in traditional music and counterculture was so immersive and all-consuming that when Russell and his producer, Denny Cordell, commissioned him to make a film about Russell, Blank didn’t know who he was.

That year, Russell was enjoying enormous success as a writer, performer, and recording artist with his third solo album, Carney. He was on a nationwide tour. His label, Shelter Records, which he co-founded with Cordell, was putting out music by J.J. Cale, Don Nix, and Freddie King, and was responsible for releasing Bob Marley’s first American single. The past two years had seen Russell release his first eponymous record, which included his biggest hit, “A Song For You,” and he was just coming off of collaborations with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and B.B. King. By ’72, he decided to relocate to Tulsa, his hometown, and set up Paradise Studios, located a few hours drive northeast in Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees. When Blank and Gosling arrived, they were housed nearby on the water in an old floating fisherman’s motel, where they lived for the next two years.

Russell returned to Tulsa and Grand Lake as a huge presence with an entourage. Many of his friends—among them Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Charlie McCoy—appear in unguarded, intimate performances. Blank’s camera focuses on the locals with equal reverence, layering it all with lingering shots of the moon, ripples in the lake, or a wriggling catfish caught on a line. He films artist Jim Franklin scooping up scorpions from an empty swimming pool; he’s onstage with Russell, who samples from a plate of gumbo on his piano as he performs to a blissed-out crowd; he attends the demolition of a city building and a pie-eating contest. Toward the middle, he introduces a segment where Franklin feeds a baby chick to a snake while the artist sounds off about the corporatization of America, an unsettling and cynical metaphor that anchors some of the anxieties expressed throughout. Early on, a young Bill Mullins laments his generation’s lack of spiritual leadership. When Blank questions Russell about money, Russell responds that he can’t think about it too much or he’ll get blocked. “I won’t know what I’m doing,” he says. “If I feel I know what I’m doing, then I know what I am doing.”

After viewing the completed work, Russell prevented it from being released. The two men never spoke again. Blank was only permitted to screen the film at nonprofit institutions, and kept working on it. A few years ago, when his health began to wane, his son Harrod—aware of how much the film meant to his father—reached out to Russell. Blank died soon afterwards, but Harrod kept pushing for the release, which Russell finally granted. A Poem Is a Naked Person is about these two complex, visionary men whose deep connections to sound and image could not quite meet, despite both of them communicating their own interests vividly and masterfully. After forty years, the film’s allure deepens as it resurfaces in a new era, reigniting old mysteries and creating new ones. Gosling went on to become a prolific documentarian, and Harrod is an artist, writer, and filmmaker. I spoke to them at the end of June at the Criterion Collection offices in New York.

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art : interview

Judith Bernstein

by Sofia Leiby

“In my work, there’s an awful lot of screaming to be heard.”

Judith Bernstein’s drawings and paintings are inspired by her early introduction to graffiti during her time at Yale School of Art. A vehicle for her outspoken feminist and anti-war activism, her paintings feature expressive line work, raw imagery, and an unflagging sense of humor. She was a participant in many activist organizations, including the Guerrilla Girls and the Art Workers’ Coalition. In the 1970s she was a member of AIR Gallery, the first to be devoted to showing female artists. Recently, Bernstein has exhibited at Mary Boone Gallery, Migros Museum Zurich, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The New Museum, ICA London, Studio Voltaire London, Hauser & Wirth London and Zurich, Karma International Zurich, The Box LA, and MoMA PS1. She is currently preparing for an retrospective at Kunsthalle Stavanger in Norway and a solo exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery in Chelsea; both opening in the new year. Bernstein is also working on a book of her work with Patrick Frey Publications.

On a steamy day in late June, I met Judith in the Chinatown loft where she lives and works. We began by looking through images of older work before moving into her adjacent studio and, over pungent chocolate-flavored coffee, beginning a more intimate conversation regarding touchstones in our own personal feminist histories.

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: literature
literature : interview

V. Vale

by Karlynne Ejercito

“Everything goes, whatever. You know that word 'whatever'—whenever that started coming in, about twenty years ago? It's like whatever-core—that's where we're at now.”

As the editor and publisher of RE/Search, and a self-described amateur anthropologist, V. Vale has commanded volumes of interviews and articles about countercultural figures and the subcultures they spawned. In the thirty-some years since the first issue appeared in 1980—a slim journal that drew Julio Cortázar together with Non, Sun Ra, and The Slits—few things about RE/Search have changed. Still too catholic in its taste for discriminating punk palates and still not academic enough to be Semiotext(e), RE/Search continues to articulate a no-man’s-land between the “underground” and the institutions that undergrounds allegedly subvert. Despite inhabiting this space, these publications assume a distinct place with their irregular sizes and boldface logo emblazoned onto their exaggerated covers.

Much like the curious tone of his books, Vale is notably less cynical toward his countercultural peers than readers of, say, Vice or The Baffler might expect. His is an attitude that reflects a willingness to publish a book of interviews with tattooist Ed Hardy alongside a zine by McKenzie Wark and a book by Penny Rimbaud—with little trace of irony. His sincerity is not simply a pose but a mark of his deep involvement with the people he writes about.

That he’s sincere, however, makes him no less inscrutable. For one thing, Vale has a habit of deliberating over the delicate specificity of certain terms in unwieldy generalities—a style of expression that yields the most unpredictable of ideas. Although deciphering our conversation proved to be a difficult task, it may be the most straightforward path to an understanding of RE/Search and its place today.

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art : interview

Mike Nelson

by Chris Chang

Matter, mythology, and metaphysical pelts.

Visitors to Mike Nelson’s installation at 303 Gallery, on view earlier this year, had a chance to meet the Gang of Seven, an array of sculptural assemblages made out of debris culled from the Pacific Northwest coastline. To understand the Gang—and to further enhance their aesthetic power—one needs to delve into the mythologies that Nelson has been building over the years. Luckily, he was more than happy to discuss his alternate universe, but reader take warning: it is a strange place indeed.

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film : interview

Jennifer Phang

by Steve Macfarlane

The director of Advantageous on technology, childhood, and the market forces that shape family relations. 

In the paranoid and heartbroken contours of Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous, one can see today’s concerns refracted with crystalline clarity: whiz-kid precocity emboldened, understandably, in a generation reared as much by LCD screens as parents; a never-ending litany of brand-name products and procedures; a mysterious ongoing war that bursts the story’s neon New York bubble only intermittently; and all this with an alarming casualness. As in the heyday of paperback science, or “speculative,” fiction, Advantageous questions where society is heading by nudging these present-tense anxieties slightly into the future. Heroine Gwen Koh (Jacqueline Kim) has to cope with her dismissal from her job as spokeswoman for a medical conglomerate. A single mother raising a hyperintelligent tween named Jules (Samantha Kim, no relation), Gwen finds that, even in a future liberated by technology, her options aren’t much different from any other woman’s in history. With increasing despair, she begins to explore life as an unemployed single parent, which culminates in an identity-switch that turns Advantageous into something closer to a horror movie.

The film is an expansion from the twenty-minute version featured in the Independent Television Service’s Futurestates project, an ongoing compendium of short, speculative sci-fi works by filmmakers such as J. P. Chan, Barry Jenkins, A. Sayeeda Clarke, and Alex Rivera. And, like Rivera’s Sleep Dealer, the film’s ideas-per-minute allow it to transcend its confining production value. This is not a work of cinema bound by overblown genre prerogatives: Phang gives Advantageous a nimble touch and a devastating conclusion, more a chamber drama of its milieu than anything remotely close to satire. It will be measured in coming years not for whiz-bang visuals or hoary monologues, but for its prescience.

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literature : interview

Magnus Mills

by Michael Barron

As novelist and bus driver, Mills discusses The Maintenance of Headway, vinyl puritans, and the history of England.

Few writers of fiction would retain a blue-collar occupation after meeting with literary success. In the case of Magnus Mills, however, it remains a vital component of his process. Throughout the span of eight novels, including one Booker nomination, the sixty-one-year-old British novelist has, curiously, remained a bus driver. It’s during his routes that he develops his ideas, which expand until he is ready to put them down on paper.

Plotted isn’t the most appropriate word to describe the kind of work Mills prefers to write. His novels are systems that slowly reveal their flaws as they progress. The Maintenance of Headway, released in the UK to much fanfare in 2010, now published in a US edition, is a poignant example of the Millsian style. The narrator is a bus driver who encounters little slips—a rushed or rerouted bus—that disrupt the optimal distance between the buses. Drivers are occasionally promoted to inspectors who, in turn, cite their colleagues for being early or late. New bus models loom on the horizon; others are retired. Headway remains a white rabbit.

Mills has since published two books in the UK, including this year’s The Field of the Cloth of Gold, a systemic novel tackling not the maladies of public transit, but the early history of the British, all woven with allegorical thread: a field of tent dwellers grows in population, including Caesarian and Christian inhabitants that bring about change.

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literature : word choice

The Thinking Head

by S.D. Chrostowska

An excerpt from Matches

§ Almost Being

The smaller the animal, the less the distance between being and its sensation. In this way, the smallest beings are closer to presence than us, who come face to face with being and do not sense it. What is our compensation for being so large?


§ Don’t Imagine…

If an angel were ever to tell us anything of his philosophy I believe many propositions would sound like two times two equals thirteen.
~ G.Ch. Lichtenberg1

If a lion could talk, we wouldn’t be able to understand it.
~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, enthusiast of Lichtenberg2

All the thoughts of a turtle are turtles
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson3

After all, what would be left of what it was like to be a bat if one removed the viewpoint of the bat?
~ Thomas Nagel4

Imagining and speculating about nonhuman experience makes us smaller and smaller. Why is it that we insist on being able to comprehend them all? Because little by little we are becoming our outside. The thoughts of a turtle will one day be shared by men who are part turtle, the arithmetic of angels, had angels ever existed, by semi-angels, the speech of a lion, by lion-man, the mindset of a bat—you guessed it. Even the experience of the next man will one day be accessible to us. Whenever we recognize this phenomenological drift, we start to prepare mentally for these interspecies liaisons, which will support us in our smallness. But when we set out only to know, we train for a fantasy takeover, ruling nothing.

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film : interview

Pedro Costa

by Michael Guarneri

Documentary, realism, and life on the margins.

As a teenager in Lisbon, Pedro Costa lived through the Carnation Revolution—the coup d'état initiated by young, low-ranking, left-wing army officers on April 24, 1974. The military putsch awoke Portugal from a forty-eight-year period of fascist dictatorship and contributed to the end of centuries of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa. As seen in documentaries like Thomas Harlan’s Torre Bela (1975) and Robert Kramer’s Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal (1977), the aim of the Marxist-Leninist “captains of April” was to empower Portuguese factory workers and farmers to wipe out “the exploitation of man by man” and build a just society. Soon enough, however, military threats and sanctions from NATO, and the multinational economic interests it represented, managed to disarm the “Reds” and return the country to the open arms of Western capitalism.

Costa’s latest feature, Horse Money (2014), shows how his friend Ventura—the Cape Verdean bricklayer whose nightmarish past and bleak future were depicted so poetically in Costa’s Colossal Youth (2006)—lived through Portugal’s revolutionary period. While teenage Costa joined parades in the streets of Lisbon shouting that “the people united will never be defeated,” twenty-year-old Ventura, and hundreds of African immigrants like him, hid in the dark corners of the capital, scared to death by the rallies and afraid of being tortured or murdered by the soldiers.

If Costa and Ventura could translate their memories and worldview into words, they wouldn’t have made this film. Costa finds it difficult to articulate the feelings that fed Horse Money, let alone make any kind of definitive statement about the meaning of the film. In some ways, it is a poem to the people and world of Fontainhas, the now-demolished, multiethnic Lisbon slum where Costa's Ossos (1997) and In Vanda's Room (2000) were shot, and where Ventura spent most of his life. The laconic, somewhat hermetic, official synopsis for the movie states: “While the young captains lead the revolution in the streets, the people of Fontainhas search for Ventura, lost in the woods.” But in other words—Costa’s own—his cinema is “a door that closes and leaves us guessing.”

However mysterious the film, the origin of Horse Money is something very tangible and concrete—a series of photographs. First of all, there is the photo of Gil Scott-Heron, the American poet-musician that Costa saw years ago, immediately noting an extraordinary physical resemblance between the singer and Ventura. Costa reached out to Scott-Heron and the two started to work on a cinematic “rap-lament.” Unfortunately, Scott-Heron‘s death in 2011 halted that collaboration, and the filmmaker resorted to using the song “Alto Cutelo,” by Cape Verdean band Os Tubarões, on the soundtrack of Horse Money.

Then there are photographs from 1970s newspapers reporting on the Carnation Revolution and its aftermath: “In all those photographs of street demonstrations ... there were hundreds of thousands of white faces and not a single black face,” remarks Costa in the appendix of his book Casa de Lava: Scrapbook. Thus, when I met him at the Munich Film Museum, it seemed a good idea to start plumbing the rich darkness of Horse Money by discussing its preoccupation with photography.

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film : interview

Chaitanya Tamhane

by Liza Béar

“It’s a different kind of terror when you’re constantly being arrested. Your mind starts exercising self-censorship on its own.”

Writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane, at age twenty-eight, delivers a scathing indictment of the Indian justice system in his first feature, Court, which deservedly won top prizes in the 2014 Venice Biennale’s Orizzonti section and has since racked up more than twenty festival awards.

On trial in Court is sixty-five-year-old folk singer and social activist Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), who’s been arrested for allegedly inciting a sewage worker to commit suicide on the job by the lyrics in his protest songs—a ridiculous and patently trumped up charge.

The film is outstanding in its acute observation of courtroom protocols and procedures, arcane colonial-era laws and judicial peccadilloes that serve to create a theater of the absurd. But the story’s originality surges when it steps outside the courtroom between the sessions, which are constantly adjourned on inane pretexts, to follow the daily lives of the principal players—defense attorney Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber, who’s also the film’s producer), public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), and Judge Sadavarte (Pradeep Joshi), adding texture and layers of unpredictability to their characters. Their domestic and social routines challenge the conventional affiliations between class and professional role—the cold-hearted public prosecutor, for instance, is from a working class background, while the defense attorney is from the upper echelons of social privilege.

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music : interview

Ben Zimmerman

by Sara Magenheimer

“I smear sounds the way you smudge paint.”

I met with Ben Zimmerman to talk about The Baltika Years, a collection of recordings created between 1992 and 2002 mostly using a Tandy DeskMate computer and just released this June on Daniel Lopatin’s Software Recording Co. label. Despite the instrumentation, this music feels oddly personal, almost like a diary, where one can write about whatever—the minutiae of everyday existence interspersed with moments of extreme drama, bizarre juxtapositions, and enormous gaps in narrative. Even the narrator’s voice can change according to whim. The operative motif is non-sequitur. There is no audience, therefore no need to follow any logic but one’s own. That’s how these recordings work. They don’t hold our hand, but they do pull back the curtain on Ben’s world.

The compilation of tracks, culled from a massive collection of tapes, opens with an epic swell. It is almost as if the soul of the computer is rising from the depths, a hydra-headed creature from an outmoded technology swamp, dragging with it a wide range of references to classical minimalism, the downtown New York ’90s avant-garde music scene, and hip-hop. The sounds we hear in that first minute are organic and warm, almost like a pump organ—corporeal, yet otherworldly at the same time. With these recordings as the backdrop, Ben and I found ourselves conversing about beats, nothingness, rhythm, and our mothers.

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literature : interview

James Salter

by Sally Gall

“Style is the writer.”

In 1989, Esquire magazine sent me to France to make photographs for an essay by James Salter about his several-month French sojourn. The photo editor at Esquire (to whom I am eternally grateful) thought that the sensuality of my photos would complement the sensuous quality of his writing. The rest is history, as they say. We became friends and I remain a huge fan of his work. In 1995, when my first book of photographs was published, I asked Jim to write the introductory essay. He wrote a beautiful and evocative story that begins the book.

On the occasion of Salter’s novel All That Is, published in 2013, Betsy Sussler asked me to interview him. She was aware that Jim and I had known each other for a long time. What ensued was an interview that meandered very slowly over the course of a year or more and many travels. As we were rarely in the same physical place, we ended up exchanging emails, starting with me in New York and Jim in Bridgehampton, Long Island, and continuing through my travels in France and Italy while Jim visited Mexico, Aspen, and Long Island again.

I had just sent in the completed edit of this interview, for Jim to review, when I received the news that he had died unexpectedly. We never got to have our wrap-up drink at Capsouto Frères (see the beginning of the interview), we never had our proposed dinner, nor was I able to take his portrait, which we had planned to do this August. This portrait was to run side by side with the portrait I made of him in 1989, the summer we met.

It is a shock that he is gone. Despite the reality that he had recently turned ninety, he remained so youthful, seeming like a young handsome man with lots more writing to do—a few more green sprigs, as he says at the end of this piece.

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film : interview

Debra Granik

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

“I never could’ve predicted that these burly men clad in leather and chains, riding these metal ponies, could be that wracked by stuff and live with actual ghosts.”

Stray Dog is the third feature and first documentary film from Debra Granik, director of the acclaimed Winter’s Bone. Her new film, an episodic character study, follows Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, a tough and leathery Vietnam vet who runs a trailer park in rural Missouri. Granik follows Hall as he and his loving wife Alicia, a recent emigrant from Mexico, embark on their annual motorcycle pilgrimage to the Vietnam memorial in Washington, DC. Plagued by guilt and PTSD, Ron bravely seeks counseling, talks with friends and fellow veterans, and gives tender advice to his young and pregnant granddaughter—encouraging her to go back to school in lieu of an endless cycle of dead-end jobs. When Alicia’s teenage sons arrive from Mexico, they highlight yet another theme of contemporary American life: the discomfort of immigrants who arrive in the USA expecting wealth and abundance, only to find a very different set of circumstances.

Stray Dog is dense with the details that form vivid, small-town American textures: brown leaves on the ground of a trailer park, men in camo sweatshirts and bandanas, and cluttered living rooms filled with American flag paraphernalia. I spoke with Granik about the uncontrollable nature of documentary filmmaking, the treatment of war veterans in America and their deep connection to biker culture, and how she provided a non-exploitative and empathetic window into the lives of low-income, rural Missourians.

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: literature


A summer market with your favorite publishers and magazines.

Saturday, August 1, 10:00am - 4:00pm ET
Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch
10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238

Presented by BOMB and The Brooklyn Public Library

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art : portfolio
art : interview

Amy Balkin

by Monica Westin

“Criminal evidence, not scientific evidence, as gathered from sites of slow crimes in progress.”

For the past decade, Amy Balkin has focused on projects concerning climate change, the public domain, and the commons broadly construed. Her work is characterized by ongoing interventions with national and supranational systems—political, legal, and economic in scope—as is the case with the Public Smog project, her ongoing attempt to create a “clean air park” by buying carbon emissions and then keeping them back from use, and also pushing for the Earth’s atmosphere to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In contrast to these explorations that intercede in bureaucratic systems, A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting, which Balkin has been steadily cultivating along with co-registrars Malte Roloff and Cassie Thornton since 2011, uses a form that is new to the artist. This archive moves transiently between global institutions, often as part of a group exhibition, where it grows with crowdsourced (not curated) items donated from places that risk disappearing because of climate change. The documents in the archive thus operate as a kind of worldwide record of loss.

I first visited the archive back in the spring of 2014 when it was housed at Southern Exposure in San Francisco, and I was struck by the variety of objects, many of which are cheap and ephemeral: a tin can, a bottlecap, a clip. A People’s Archive takes contributions of “anything that happens to be there,” including detritus, as long as it weighs less than half a pound and includes an explanation of how the location is impacted by climate change (sinking, erosion, desertification, rising sea levels, and so forth). As of 2015, the archive includes objects from Antarctica, Australia, Cape Verde, Santiago de Cuba, Germany, Greenland, Venice, Mexico, Nepal, New Orleans, Alaska, New York City, Panama, Peru, Republic of Komi, Russia, California, Senegal, and Tuvalu. It’s currently on view and open for contributions at Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark.

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music : interview

Little Wings

by Tobias Carroll

“Lil Wayne explains a blade of grass.”

Kyle Field is a busy guy. First and foremost, there’s his work as a musician under the name Little Wings, which first made an impact in the early 2000s with a number of albums released on K Records. Prior to that, Field was a member of the band Rodriguez along with M. Ward. Since then, his music has generally fallen into a sweet spot between easy-going folk pop and more idiosyncratic personal concerns—instantly familiar, yet difficult to pin down. Little Wings’s newest album, Explains, is his first for Woodsist Records. It’s a subdued, sometimes haunting album with tremendous restraint. Field’s crooning warble drifts over a series of melodically flowing compositions that veer from confessional to pastoral.

Field also makes visual art; a visit to his website turns up a host of surreal illustrations, some of which make impressive use of confined spaces. Field’s art and music are two sides of the same creative spark. Perhaps it’s a freeform characteristic that unites them, a dreamlike impetus yanked into the light of day.

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literature : word choice

Three Poems

by Linnea Ogden

The Way We Did It Was

“Going through something”
As though a spaceship made of marsh gas
Hovered overhead
The work of a moment mildewed
Along the edge
The press bed’s relenting skin
Sick at throat with hibiscus
Or rose hips
Our digressions
Black houses on a black street, hanging
Over dog-pawed ground

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art : interview

Monte Laster

by Hunter Braithwaite

North of Paris, west of Texas—Laster’s community-based social sculptures span cultures and continents.

On a hot day in May, Monte Laster and I drove an hour and a half out of Dallas to Castle Rock Mountain, a ranch he had purchased just two weeks prior to serve as the American base for his community engagement platform—the French American Creative Exchange (FACE). I was in town for the first edition of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Soluna International Music and Arts Festival, which commissioned Laster to create a new project based on notions of place, identity, and dislocation. Although he was raised in Fort Worth, Laster has lived in France since 1989, primarily in the disenfranchised banlieue of La Courneuve, a fifteen-minute train ride north of Paris. “I’m 100% Texan and 80% French,” the artist said. Castle Rock was a bit of a homecoming.

When we got to the ranch he gave me a quick tour of the house and grounds, which years of poor upkeep and a recent flood had thoroughly integrated. Then we decided to take a walk. Laster pulled on knee-high snake boots and handed me a pair. There had been a lot of rain, and rattlesnakes would be out. The boots were two sizes too small. My feet didn’t make it past the bend of the ankle. “My father and brother have lived here all their lives,” he told me, “and they won’t go down there without snake boots.” Down there miles of thick brush and cactus scraped together above swampy lowland soil. This interview took place while I was taking my chances.

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