Elaine Lustig Cohen on the late Alvin Lustig and the art, and archiving, of the book jacket.
I first met the artist and designer Elaine Lustig Cohen through the website dedicated to her former husband, the legendary designer Alvin Lustig. Back in 2006, I had been asked to get in touch with the estate regarding his jacket designs for New Directions: we were hoping to replace intermediate designs on some of our books with the original Lustigs. I was an editorial assistant at the time; New Directions was still going through a generational change. Emails were considered unofficial. One senior editor told me to type a letter, “preferably with a typewriter.” Another told me to call. But I had neither an address nor an number. So I emailed the webmaster of the Alvin Lustig site and hoped for the best. Elaine herself answered my inquiry—it was the first contact she had had with New Directions since its founder James Laughlin passed away in 1997.
That was almost seven years ago. Yet over the years, Elaine and I have teamed together in promoting the legacy of Alvin Lustig. Many of New Directions’ classic titles now proudly wear their original Lustig jackets. This May, New Directions will issue an Alvin Lustig postcard collection: 50 of his best ND designs in a box.
Since our first meeting, I have also come to discover Elaine’s incredible body of work. A couple of years after our initial contact, she invited me to her opening at the Julie Saul Gallery. The exhibit was called, “The Geometry of Seeing” and it displayed the sort of opus only a designer cum artist could develop—a prototype for a sewing kit, a giclée of a geometric Alphabet, a collage made from old train tickets, and a wooden box adorned with colored cubes, among other pieces.
In the course of this Alvin Lustig revival, Elaine has also garnered widespread attention and acclaim as an artist. She began as a book designer for New Directions and Meridian Books. Architects such as Eero Saarinan and Philip Johnson hired her to do the lettering for their buildings. In the 1960s, Elaine worked as a designer for the Jewish museum, producing some of her most opulent and iconic designs. For the catalog cover of Primary Structures, a full-bodied “P” is cut neatly in two by a red line that folds below it into the curvature of an “S.” In the layout for Kinetic Sculptures the two words look as though caught in an eddy. Around this time, she began showing her artwork outside of design—collages and paintings that nod ever so slightly to Dadaism. Elaine’s recent exhibitions in the Julie Saul Gallery, the Adler and Konkright Gallery, and the AIGA Gallery, where her work was shown alongside Alvin’s, are a testament to her success as an artist. In 2011, she was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts medal.
This interview took place at Elaine’s Upper East Side home. The interior of her townhouse is touched with a designer’s sensibility—everything in its right place, from the curation and layout of art to the selection and placement of furniture. Speaking with Elaine is like cracking open a volume of 20th-century American design history. At 85, Elaine’s memory is as sharp as her knowledge is erudite. She speaks with a modest firmness, doubtless in her affirmation of fact, but humble about her accomplishments.
Michael Barron How did you get your start as a designer? Was it in Alvin’s studio?
Elaine Lustig Cohen Well, for a long time he was the only designer in the studio.
Two warm remembrances of the poet David Rattray, who passed away in 1993, and a video of the poet reading his piece “Mr. Peacock.”
On April 5th and 6th, 2013, Eileen Myles—with Robbie Dewhirst, Chris Kraus, and myself—presented David Rattray: A Recognition, two events in honor of the life and work of David Rattray: poet, prose writer, translator, harpsichordist, polyglot, and polymath. These celebrations, at the Leo Koenig Gallery and St. Mark’s Poetry Project, respectively—many thanks to both!—gathered together those who loved him and his work, who had known him well or not at all, who wanted to pay tribute to David Rattray, an exception among exceptions.
David was a vital and vivid presence to many of us, and to many, a best friend, an intimate, a wise man, a mentor. His breadth of knowledge, passion, enthusiasm, his poetic mind, his talent for love and life, swept us away. He swept us away also with his “bad attitude,” his insubordination to authority and to the authority of what he knew. He was an anomaly among anomalies, a teacher who never professed but who taught, and did it unlike any teacher most of us had ever known. He was never precious; he was always prescient.
— Lynne Tillman
Marissa Perel talks about her recent performance Night Ballast which explores the power that can come from vulnerability.
“Now, there’s a Full moon. I’m opening boxes. In one box are notes from my old studio… Questions, “Is this a play? Am I a counterpart to an as yet undetermined main character?” “How is a text a body?” How is an object an event?” —excerpt from Perel’s performance text
i sat down with Marissa Perel to discuss the process of her performance, Night Ballast, which was presented as part of Food For Thought at Danspace Project on April 12, 2013. The evening was curated by Stacy Szymaszek, Director of St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and in this instance, represented an overlap of the D/d/owntown worlds of dance and poetry.
Marissa and i have been engaging in an ongoing conversation about body politics in relationship to dance, wellness, and gender identity. In the face of my own health challenges, newly navigating the world with invisible disabilities, and bringing these complex dynamics into my own choreographic work, i connected to Perel’s ongoing struggles with chronic pain and performance making, and how these things which seem somewhat contradictory can coalesce and lead to new forms.
In this conversation, we talk about the choreographic process in her living room, the use of sculptural objects to mediate and heighten perceptions of stillness and everyday movement, and the reading of her personal narrative as part of the dance. We arrive at an open, moving conversation on “fierce vulnerability,” and the power of emotional content and choreographic subtlety.
Iele Paloumpis In my memory of how the performance started, the way Justin [Cabrillos] entered with a brightly colored rug and stick, stood out to me. It was something about the stick, how pale the wood was, that looked like it was naturally a part of the space of St. Mark’s. When I saw him lean the stick against one of columns, it made me think of you, of your body, leaning. And the rug was this lone source of comfort. The movement was very still, but at the same time it felt very personal to the dancers themselves. It was quiet, internal, reflective, subtle. Were the performers improvising, or was the movement choreographed?
Marissa Perel It was a combination of set choreography and improvisation. Tess [Dworman]’s movement on the rug comes from a series of Authentic Movement sessions on the rug on my living room floor. We then weaved certain phrases together from those sessions. When Tess was walking with the wooden stick, and would lean on the stick to pivot her body, it’s a stance I take with my cane in everyday life that becomes a gesture.
Eric Dean Wilson on the rushing river of language in Dara Wier’s You Good Thing.
“Here does move more than one would suppose,” writes Dara Wier in You Good Thing, a slim wallop of poems nearly all addressed to a mysterious “you,” which as soon as I feel I’ve pinned, shifts identities. A rushing river connects the poems, each block of text placed as one further hunk of driftwood in an unmanageable stream. I read these poems in one, dizzying sitting, but the poems demand multiple go-rounds, and as I reached the end of one reading, I found myself flipping to the front for another ride down the rapids. Immediately. Here does move—in Wier’s case, fluidly, with dark affirmation.
Following several thin collections and a large Selected Poems with works from ten of Wier’s books over the last 35 years, You Good Thing shows a marked change from the parenthetical poems of Reverse Rapture (Verse Press, 2006) and the longer poems of Remnants of Hannah (Wave, 2006). Each poem is of short, uniform length and shuttles the reader through long lines with conversational force, reminiscent of the breathless poems of Frank O’Hara or James Schuyler, and similarly wields their disconnect between dreaming and waking life: “Say, you’re particularly / Lovely today, little penknife. Big backhoe, we couldn’t live without / You.”
The book opens with a scrawled drawing from Pessoa of “a plan . . . to walk with Ophelia from the office where she worked to where they lived, by the longest possible route.” The drawing looks, at first, like a reasoned thing, a scrap from the geometry notebooks of Euclid, but after trying to make mathematical sense of it (wouldn’t the longest distance be . . . infinity?), I’m at a loss. Clearly, I should approach Pessoa’s curiosity differently. And despite their talkative character, the same goes for the poems in You Good Thing.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read an excerpt from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s forthcoming work, My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love.
A few weeks after the novel was finished life began as a house-husband, and the plan was it would last until next spring while Linda did the last year of her training at the Dramatiska Institutet. The novel writing had taken its toll on our relationship, I slept in the office for six weeks, barely seeing Linda and our five-month-old daughter, and when at last it was over she was relieved and happy, and I owed it to her to be there, not just in the same room, physically, but also with all my attention and participation. I couldn’t do it. For several months I felt a sorrow at not being where I had been, in the cold, clear environment, and my yearning to return was stronger than my pleasure at the life we lived. The fact that the novel was doing well didn’t matter. After every good review I put a cross in the book and waited for the next, after every conversation with the agent at the publisher’s, when a foreign company had shown some interest or made an offer, I put a cross in the book and waited for the next, and I wasn’t very interested when it was eventually nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, for if there was one thing I had learned over the last six months it was that what all writing was about was writing. Therein lay all its value. Yet I wanted to have more of what came in its wake because public attention is a drug, the need it satisfies is artificial, but once you have had a taste of it you want more. So there I was, pushing the stroller on my endless walks on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm waiting for the telephone to ring and a journalist to ask me about something, an event organizer to invite me somewhere, a magazine to ask for an article, a publisher to make an offer, until at last I took the consequences of the disagreeable taste it left in my mouth, and began to say no to everything, at the same time as the interest ebbed away and I was back to the everyday grind. But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get into it, there was always something else that was more important. Vanja sat there in the stroller looking around while I trudged through the town, first here, then there, or sat in the sandbox digging with a spade in the play area in Humlegården where the tall, lean Stockholm mothers who surrounded us were constantly on their phones, looking as if they were part of some absurd fashion show, or she was in her high chair in the kitchen at home swallowing the food I fed her. All of this bored me out of my mind.
Jodie Wille and Maria Demopoulous discuss their recent documentary on The Source Family, a past zeitgeist of trust, and the popular perception of cultists and communes.
Jodie Wille and Maria Demopoulous’s new documentary on the Source Family— an LA-based cult, psych rock group, and health food restaurant operation—offers an often underrepresented picture of radical living in mid-century America. The film follows the trajectory of the Family and it’s charismatic leader, Father Yod, highlighting the group’s practices—from free love and white magic to yoga and health food—while maintaining a more objective criticism of the issues within the community. By drawing from the successes and failures of this experiment in alternative living as a sort of case study, Wille and Demopoulos ultimately celebrate the vivacity, creativity and purpose of the Family’s lifestyle, leaving the viewer with a much more rounded view of the cults and communes of the 1960s.
Jonathan Andrews The first thing I wanted to know was how you guys got exposed to the Source Family.
Jodie Wille The first time I ever got exposed to them was in 1999, when a friend had showed me this deluxe box set of Source Family music that was put out by Captain Trip Records, which is this Japanese psychedelic label. I was just shocked, because I had been researching fringe religious groups and cults for, like, 20 years, and I’d never heard anything about them. I saw the album covers, which blew my mind, as well as photographs of the Family, but it was all done in Japanese so I couldn’t read anything about it and there was nothing online anywhere! So for about five years that just sat around in the back of my brain.
But one day my ex-husband Adam Parfrey had come home with this student film he found about the Source Family that had very limited release through Amoeba Records. I was very excited to see something! It was definitely a student film, but when we saw the interviews with the Family members, I was just blown away by how articulate and charming the people were. I just didn’t expect that, that level of self-awareness. I saw that there was a Ya Ho Wa/Source Family website, and contacted them to see if they would be interested in publishing a book with one of my companies, Process Media.
Isis Aquarian [associate producer on the film and an original Source Family member] wrote me back right away to say, “That’s so funny your contacting us now; I’ve been working on this book with my brother Electricity and we just finished it.” So we worked to expand and rework it—that was how I first got to find out about the Family and first got to meet them.
Colette Lumière on the return of Victorian Punk, 40 years of “sleep art” and her artistic collaboration with Hurricane Sandy.
Over a 40-year career, Colette—also known at different points in her career as Olympia, Justine, Mata Hari and the Stolen Potatoes, Countess Reichenbach, the Beautiful Dreamer, and Lumière—has created a complex oeuvre of performances and staged photographs. She has also pioneered trends in art, design and fashion, including the Victorian Punk look. As she has reinvented herself as an artist, she has seen her ideas filter into the commercial world through designers, decorators and clothing lines. Today, her influence on pop entertainers from Madonna to Lady Gaga, and visual artists like Cindy Sherman is clear. Beginning in the mid-1970s, she staged a number of sleep pieces, which are still reverberating in the work of artists today, including Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe, which is currently being re-performed at MoMA.
Katie Peyton Colette, you cut a striking figure on the New York art scene, but a lot of people of my generation don’t know what a fascinating and influential figure you really are. You were staging photographs, taking on personas and using them as canvases before Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney ever did. Your installations from the ’70s look exactly like some of the costumes and environments created by Madonna and Lady Gaga. You’re a fashion icon, and you’ve even staged your own death.
Now your work has found its way into museums, but I think it is significant that it actually began on the streets. Can we use that as a jumping off point to talk about how you began performing?
Andrea Quaid on love poetry’s lineage in Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s Advice for Lovers.
Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s Advice for Lovers (City Lights Books, 2012) opens with “Dedication to Venus” and a proclamation, “I am a love poet, and dedicate all my verses to Love, that god among goddesses, goddess among gods.” Immediately invoking Ovid’s apostrophe to Venus in Ars Amatoria, Brolaski’s poem is one of allegiance and ardor. Issuing an invitation to the reader and student of love, the speaker summons likeminded devotees to follow the poet’s lead and expertise: “herkneth ladings, lordes, if you would love, to these advices.”
The reader’s promised tutelage is twofold, for the newly anointed “disciple amoris” is offered instruction in love and love poetry in all their sacred and profane valences. At once philosophical and sexy, the poet’s enticing edifications assure that the willing pupil will become:
Learnt in all the lossom ways that love is
Lernt in that sweet science of bruising
Which renders lewd, so that at your choosing
You may yet plot to snare your pet
Or blaze thir parts in englyssche, or by your very glance
To hook a hating falconet.
However, in love poetry this list of different ambitions all take place within the poem. The “plot to snare your pet” occurs in verse and meter as much as the plan to “blaze thir parts in englyssche.” Advice for Loverss poetic seduction knowingly occurs via lament, enticement, praise, and reproach. All are come-hithers, all are the “sweet science of bruising,” wholly conjured and lustful and alive in the poetic line.
Video by Veronika Vogler.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Aaron Dilloway perform at one of the last Wierd Records parties at Home Sweet Home.
In many Eastern philosophies and religions, one of the essential lessons of meditation is to realize the Oneness of being by overcoming the distance between the self and what surrounds it. In Hinduism, the term Ardhanarishvara signifies the confluence between the Self (purusha), which is male, and the Universe (prakriti), which is female. The union between these two energies translates into the very essence of Creation where Love denotes itself, and not the space between two entities. The idea is that by eradicating distance, difference is no longer perceived. And if there is no difference between us there can only be Love. While the end result of this stream of thought is enticing, it is onerous to reconcile the idea of a symbiosis between two people, let alone with the entire reality of the world. This is what makes the performance of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge creatively transcendental and aesthetically ceremonial. Over two decades ago, Genesis and his wife Lady Jane began their most prolific collaboration by undergoing numerous surgeries to look like one another. The end result being this Oneness of being which they titled the Pandrogyne Project—the creation of a new gender through the synthesis of their two entities to be known collectively as Breyer P-Orridge. If the body is the personal property of the soul, can bodymates become an extension of soulmates? The one step beyond the Platonian concept of androgynous beings—both male and female confined to one form.