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Tony Martin’s extraordinary body of work is being culled together for the first time in his retrospective book, The Variable Place. Attend the release party and enjoy complementary beers at Café Dancer in the Lower East Side. Begins at 7pm.
Join Judith Bernstein and Paul McCarthy at the New Museum for Bernstein’s first solo exhibition. For tickets click here.
Triple Canopy is throwing its second annual marathon reading–and weekend-long slumber party–with Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress, beginning tonight! Borscht and booze will be provided. For more information click here.
Craig Drennen discusses his current body of work, Timon of Athens, the power of abandoned cultural productions, and life in Atlanta.
Craig Drennen spends years on a body of work. Starting in 2008, he has focused on his eponymous series Timon of Athens, based Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Since moving to Atlanta this summer I’ve become acquainted with Drennen, and his dedicated practice, through a mutual friend. Drennen’s studio is housed in an outbuilding of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center as part of their Studio Artist Program. Recently we met to discuss the convergence of theater and painting in his work.
Rachel Reese How were you first introduced to Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens and how did you become so invested in this particular piece of literature?
Craig Drennen Well, by late 2007 I had finished up the Supergirl project that I’d been working on for about five and a half years. I’d had Timon of Athens on my mind for some time. I like starting my entire artistic process with something that culture produced but then abandoned—and I’m drawn to things that are both strong and weak simultaneously. Also, I’m curious about acting as it relates to art. Timon of Athens was a perfect subject. It was the worst play by the most idolized writer in the English language. I think I first heard about it in some used bookstore, and from then on it was always on my radar. Timon of Athens is a corrupted text of indeterminate history, with a dubious relationship to the respected canon, and questionable sources. That is to say, it perfectly mirrors my own position within the art world. (laughter)
Multi-media artist Tony Martin talks about his synesthesia-driven take on creating space that draws on human-to-human connection.
In the early 1960s, Tony Martin moved into a loft overlooking the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was there, with the sound of the ferryboats and street floating in through the windows that he may have begun the process of discovering that “the best stuff comes out of the destruction of our intentions.” After studying painting for years, Martin had become frustrated with his output. One day, he took more than the usual amount of paint to canvas, moving it all at once with three paint brushes and some cardboard to reach a point where it was all wet and glistening. It would take months to dry. “There you are,” he declared. This is one of the pivotal moments in Martin’s personal life to which he would hold all of his best work up to; the rest he would leave out for the sanitation department.
It was during that same period that he met artists and composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick, and William Maginnis—all devoted to working in the tape music medium. With Tony at the helm visually, they worked on various compositions, establishing a network of friendships and collaboration that continues to this day. Combining overhead and slide projectors, objects, liquid, paint, and light, Martin began performing his live light compositions alongside the compositions of sound pioneers such as Terry Riley (In C) and Pauline Oliveros (Bye Bye Butterfly). When the San Francisco Tape Music Center moved to 321 Divisadero Street in the spring of 1963, co-directors Sender and Subotnick asked Martin to join up as their Visual Director. With alchemical precision, he culled together the enduring ideas or what he called the “ingredients” for a lifelong project, with close attention paid to the palette of light and a painterly approach. Martin’s following grew as the culture of psychedelia spread though the later half of the decade and he began producing light compositions for bands such as the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium shows. Because he was a classically trained musician, he was built for the job. Greatly adept at rhythm, he was “painting in time.”
Tony Martin I’m working on a new piece and in the process of putting the piece together I’m allowing a lot of latitude. I incorporated some ideas from earlier work and from last year’s work where I worked with my analogue projection setups, which are really directly related to painting. I use liquids and dry things on overhead projectors. I hand-paint glass slides and those blend in a way that for me is an extension of painting in time. Painting as a moving image. Alongside that is also performing with optical things. Light Pendulum was a piece that began very early on when I was seeing Nam June Paik sometimes and we would talk. He came into my studio at LaGuardia Place and he saw the Light Pendulum in ’71 or ’72 and I was talking about how that was a piece I hoped in 30 years I could work with again. He understood what I meant and sure enough I built a new base for it and used new sensors, but not changing the content of the piece. So for Proximity Switched Installation, 2012 I had these things lying around, the light pendulum, three DVDs from 1970 and three DVDs from last year, and I was just casually trying some things out to find a thread of meaning that would be current for me because I think I’ve become more interested in the way the world is as I’m observing it in the past five years.
Nicky Mao This book was quite the undertaking, since it’s the first of its kind for you. We neglected to explain this one in the book interview. [Pointing to the image of Phase Shift Brush, 1977.]
Kurt Hollander discusses his book Several Ways to Die in Mexico City, a fascinating and ambitious book about the history, culture, economics, anthropology, and even aesthetics of death in Mexico City.
Kurt Hollander, a native New Yorker who was well known for publishing the Portable Lower East Side (PLES) magazine from 1983-1993, arrived in Mexico more than 20 years ago just to learn Spanish and to have a good time. He got married, had children, owned a billiard room and a bar, published the art magazine Poliester, directed the movie Carambola, then when everything seemed to be going great, became very ill and watched as his business empire crumbled. An ugly case of salmonella and the ensuing severe chronic ulcerative colitis turned his life around and made him think seriously about his own mortality. That led him to write Several Ways to Die in Mexico City, a fascinating and ambitious book about the history, culture, economics, anthropology, and even aesthetics of death in Mexico City. We met at a coffee house on First Avenue where he only drank a tiny bottle of Italian apricot juice. He seemed tired, but once he started talking about his book, his energy level rose.
Naief Yehya What influenced you to embark on such a vast and strange piece of literature?
Kurt Hollander The book started as a series of articles I wrote for the London Guardian. One was about a trip to Tepito [the center for pirated goods and a criminal stronghold of the city] where I found my film for sale months before it was released, another was on speed bumps, or topes, in the streets of Mexico City, and another on the demise of the old city morgue. But then I realized that I was really writing about death and that there was much more to write about. The first chapters I wrote were “Air” and “Water,” and then I added “Food” and “Alcohol.” I tried to do a very serious study of how these elements were involved in death in Mexico City, how the toxic substances and parasites within them were the major contributing factors to death in the city. I told the history of these elements since before Aztec times through the conquistadores up until the modern age.
NY Air, water, food and alcohol are body invaders.
KH The main causes of death in Mexico City are heart, liver and circulatory diseases, and cancer. The major contributing factors to all those diseases are the air, water, food, and alcohol in the city—the toxic substances and microorganisms they contain. What I basically found as I was writing the book is that it’s actually the city that kills people because it concentrates huge amounts of toxic substances and parasites and exposes people to them. When I moved to Mexico City in 1989, the city had one of the most polluted environments on earth. Decades ago the city became so overpopulated that the environment couldn’t absorb all the waste materials from industry, cars, and human activity, and toxic substances became an integral part of the city and part of the people in it. Because we are all permeable, the environment invades people’s bodies. The way people die historically is from parasites and diarrhea, but today the city itself turns out to be the leading cause of death in Mexico City. To understand how people die today, I really had to go back to the roots. I wrote a historical guide to death in Mexico City to introduce the larger issues of death within the culture (disasters, conquest, the Inquisition, etcetera), but then focused on the particulars.
Bee Mask’s Chris Madak spent the better part of the last two years constructing his new album. Now he reflects on the conceptual threads running through it.
There is a lurking strangeness in the music of Philadelphia-based composer Chris Madak, who records under the half-silly, half-terrifying moniker Bee Mask. Like sometimes tourmate Oneohtrix Point Never, Madak uses synthesizers and scraps of nostalgia to conjure a sonic world that defies the usual parameters of noise and pop. In part undeniably catchy and in part incredibly abstract, these tracks are constantly eluding their center. They are hauntingly subdued, quasi-human, and dramatic; far-out but felt. Bee Mask’s is an artificially intelligent music reminiscent of that moment in sci-fi stories when technology turns in on itself and gains a glimmer of human consciousness—think HAL 5000 or Johnny Five.
My talk with Chris—an e-mail exchange, actually—was surprising on a number of levels. To hear him wax philosophical on everything from Platonic forms to the evils of streaming video to the nature of time itself can be a disorienting experience. You want to think the guy behind a project like Bee Mask possesses a laconic minimalism across the board, but, then, that’s just not the case. After reading his responses to my questions, I was at first a little stunned. He had successfully gone in with a little scalpel and dug out the bits of the questions that seemed to him to ring false, and then filled in the empty space with his own ruminations. But then this approach is similar to the one that he takes to composition. Instead of hearing the music as ultra-minimal and restrained, I started to think of it as a reduction of sorts—a block of sound, bit by bit reduced of its superfluous parts.
Chris’s approach to this interview was unconventional as well. He responded to my questions—which became more like prompts—with an unexpected richness and enthusiasm. He talks a bit about his excellent new album, When We Were Eating Unripe Pears, out now on Spectrum Spools, and instead of offering the usual “mixtape” of YouTube videos, gives his thoughts on the shifting meaning of artistic responsibility. Feel free to read the small print.
Stephen Ratcliffe on the Michael Gregory’s “real” wide open spaces.
If, for instance, you were ordered to paint a particular shade of blue called “Prussian Blue”, you might have to use a table to lead you from the word “Prussian Blue” to a sample of the colour, which would serve you as your copy.
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book
The titles of the paintings in Michael Gregory’s Western Construct — Lander, Red Slate, Deep Springs, Saddle Butte, Bitterroot, South Pass, Medicine Ridge, Grangeville, Clearwater, Bodie —are the names of actual (real) places in the world, places Michael Gregory has himself seen (in person) when he travels from his home in Bolinas (on the coast of California, just north of San Francisco) to take photographs of things he finds in Idaho, Eastern Washington, the Palouse–pictures of places such as these, which he will use in the paintings he will make when he returns to his studio.
Miranda Field and Julia Guez have been corresponding since January 2010. This is the transcript of their conversation which touches on insomnia, motherhood, and “living on the wrong side of the river.”
Miranda Field published a first full-length collection just over ten years ago. After a “journey-into-things-other-than-poetry,” she is writing again.
Field and I meet face to face, for the first time, at OST, a relaxed café around the corner from my East Village apartment, not far from where Field lived when she was around the age I am now—“barely even beginning to think seriously about poetry, let alone motherhood.”
Like many of the contributors to the vital Not For Mothers Only anthology (Fence Books, 2007), Field has received some attention for the ways she has since learned to reconcile the demands of both parenting and cultural production. To borrow from Alicia Ostriker’s introduction to the anthology, it is very clear to me how Field’s life and work “bespeaks both the power of maternity in bending us to its will, and the power of the artist to resist-while-submitting.”
In our first conversation, though, sitting on a pea-green sofa in a sun-washed window overlooking Avenue A, we didn’t speak about poetry or motherhood. We talked about fallow time. We talked about health and sickness, publication, and travel. We talked about small presses, feminism, and the sacredness of a well-made cortado.
Though she has, in her own words, “kind of gone underground in the last ten years,” Field has maintained a quiet but forceful and enduring presence in the poetry world. She has been cited by other poets as an influence, both poetic and otherwise. In a recent essay called “A Curious Thing: Motherhood, Confidence and Getting the Work Done,” the poet, Lynn Melnick, recounts a conversation with Field (with whom she shares a fierce commitment to reinforcing how “being a mother and being a writer are two things that can happen in the same woman”).
Years ago, long before I could imagine ever being a mother, my friend Miranda Field, a superb and accomplished poet and mother, spoke to me about what it was like to be both of those things. Her oldest was still a baby at the time and she said that, against popular wisdom of sleeping when one’s baby sleeps, she wrote during his naps, because it was a do-or-die situation. After years of non-productivity, she had to make a conscious decision to either write or not write, to be a writer or not be a writer. If she didn’t write during her baby’s sleeping hours, then she would never write, and she would not be a writer.
Since January 2010, Miranda Field and I have been corresponding about the writing life via email. We have been talking about Swallow and Foxglove. We talk about motherhood. And conversationally we have continued to “journey-into-things-other-than-poetry.” We talk about sleep. We talk about Hokusai, translation, and homesickness, among other things. What follows is a transcript of the conversation that has been evolving over the last thirty-six months.
Don’t let the week slip away.
New Media already has some history. Hear Ellen Pau discuss Videotage, the media art collective she co-founded in Hong Kong 27 years ago, and where new media art is headed. The talk and screening hosted by Independent Curators International starts at 6:30pm.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Underfed” by Susan Steinberg.
; there was the time I stood outside; it had snowed the night before; a sound in the distance could have been voices; it could have been something else; it could have been machinery; it could have been just in my head; I wanted the sound to be something else: waves crashing to the sand, an ocean I was standing in, an ocean I was drowning in; I wanted to be sinking into sand; but I was standing in snow under a tree; I was standing in my underthings; there was something about just standing there like that; there was something about just standing still, the sky about to turn light; I was not in a state of dire need; but I’d been up late thinking of dire things; I’d been thinking, for instance, of the reasons girls love love; I’d been thinking, as well, of the reasons guys love war; I every day bought the paper from the box on the corner; I every day spread the paper across my bed; I was reading up on various wars; I followed wars in various places I didn’t know; I was becoming well informed on battle; I was becoming well-informed on invasion; because there was nothing going on where I was at all; there was nothing going on where I was but snow; everyone had gone away for the winter; everyone loved to leave for the winter; and yes, I was feeling abandoned; yes, I was feeling melodramatic; then this one friend called who hadn’t yet left; and of course he would leave for the winter too; he would leave, of course, like everyone else…
Dust yourself off, you’re going to need to start fresh.
Come for a night of stories and story tellers at The Strand, featuring George Saunders and Deborah Eisenberg. They will discuss their new work, each other’s work, and the short story format. Begins at 7 PM.
Experience a different side of New York: a darker one that is. Film Forum and the New Yawk New Wave series co-present a 2-for-1 screening of On the Bowery and The Connection –two gritty, improvised documentaries featuring a colorful cast of Old New York denizens.