NUMBER 109 / FALL 2009
ALLEN RUPPERSBERG by Cheryl Donegan REBECCA SOLNIT by Astra Taylor LYDIA PEELLE by Gillian Welch JOEL SHAPIRO by Michèle Gerber Klein ALLORA & CALZADILLA by Carlos Motta THOMAS BRADSHAW by Margo Jefferson CHERIEN DABIS by June Stein KAROLE ARMITAGE by Lukas Ligeti FIRST PROOF: BOMB’s Literary Supplement
$7.95 US / $7.95 CANADA FILE UNDER ART AND CULTURE DISPLAY UNTIL DECEMBER 15, 2009
CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN ARTISTS, WRITERS, ACTORS, DIRECTORS, MUSICIANS—SINCE 1981
CONTENTS BOMB / NUMBER 109 / FALL 2009 EDITOR’S CHOICE
ARTISTS ON ARTISTS Micachu and the Shapes by Anni Rossi Tala Madani by Diana Al-Hadid Dan Schmidt by James Siena
46 50 52
BOMB SPECIFIC by R.H. Quaytman & Geoff Kaplan
THE WICK by Matt Madden
on the cover: Allen Ruppersberg, Untitled, printed poster, 14 × 22 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
REBECCA SOLNIT by Astra Taylor Filmmaker Taylor delves into Solnit’s latest book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, where the preconceptions of human nature are exposed and the triumphs of civil society are extolled.
JOEL SHAPIRO by Michèle Gerber Klein Known for his tilting, anthropomorphic sculptures and psychologically dense archetypical floor pieces, Shapiro speaks of Indian art as a lived experience and his overriding search for its forms.
KAROLE ARMITAGE by Lukas Ligeti The iconic dancer and choreographer is collaborating with musician Lukas Ligeti on Itutu, blending African pop with Western symbolism. They dissect African polyrhythms and Armitage’s movement language of sinuous curves.
LYDIA PEELLE by Gillian Welch A dazzling debut, Peelle’s first collection of short stories circles the terrain of O’Connor and Welty. Welch knows this landscape well, its forlorn glory and its hope-riddled despair.
CONTENTS ALLORA & CALZADILLA by Carlos Motta An unseen tap dancer whose reverberating steps haunt an empty gallery, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” a whistleblower atop a hippo made of mud: Allora & Calzadilla on the politics of site and sound.
THOMAS BRADSHAW by Margo Jefferson Jefferson describes Bradshaw’s plays as treacherous territories peopled with highachieving suburbanites and professors gripped by sexual and racial manias. Their most dangerous quality: they act on pure id.
ALLEN RUPPERSBERG by Cheryl Donegan The peripatetic conceptualist (Where’s Al?) talks with artist Cheryl Donegan about collections, the reanimated past, and the overlooked poetry of authorless signage.
CHERIEN DABIS by June Stein Dabis wrote her film Amreeka in response to her family’s Arab-American experience. An immigrant’s tale, the search for a better future in the Promised Land is full of seismic changes.
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FIRST PROOF: BOMB’S LITERARY SUPPLEMENT CHRISTOPHER SORRENTINO Ventriloquy
STEPHEN RATCLIFFE Poems from Human / Nature
NICOLE STEINBERG Poems from the Getting Lucky series
VALÉRIE BELIN Portfolio
SOLON TIMOTHY WOODWARD Mrs. Dellum Speaks
PAUL GUEST Two Poems
VICTORIA REDEL You Look Like You Do
First Proof is sponsored in part by the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation. This issue is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. The Artists on Artists Series is sponsored by the W.L. Lyons Brown, Jr. Charitable Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.
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BY ASTRA TAYLOR I’ve often thought of each of Solnit’s books as a tapestry, and of her as a master weaver, incorporating threads that less capable hands could never lace into a single work, let alone something so fiercely elegant. Her essays and books trace the contours of a culture in flux, uncovering hidden histories and bringing subterranean social currents to the surface. Savage Dreams, a genre-defying exploration of the relationship between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada Test Site, unites topics as seemingly diverse as the saga of the Shoshone Indians and the movement for nuclear disarmament. Wanderlust, an unfettered history of walking, investigates the increasing disembodiment of everyday life. River of Shadows, an expansive biography of the visionary photographer Eadweard Muybridge, reveals the often unappreciated causes and consequences of the industrialization of space and time. Hope in the Dark recasts the standard narrative of political despair, illuminating unsung progressive victories of the last two decades. Though Solnit is one of San Francisco’s most devoted residents, we met in Manhattan to discuss her latest offering, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, a tour through a century of North American catastrophes that deftly guides us through the rubble that results from the volatile combination of social darwinism and disaster. After opening with an astounding portrait of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake, Solnit takes readers to Halifax in 1917, where a cargo-ship crash caused the largest man-made explosion before the invention of the atom bomb. In Mexico City she revisits the 1985 earthquake, spending time with seamstresses who organized themselves after witnessing bosses who rushed to salvage machinery while workers perished. Solnit then presents 9/11 through the eyes of survivors and volunteers before taking an unsparing look at New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. There, the apathy of government authorities and unremorseful confessions of racist vigilantes who killed innocent people in order to protect their property against imaginary looters stands in dramatic contrast to the stories of selfless citizens who navigated their boats down flooded streets to rescue stranded citizens, opened their homes to flood survivors, or traveled to Louisiana to contribute to the rebuilding of the broken city.
Photo by Jim Herrington, 2009. Courtesy of Viking Penguin.
LITERATURE / REBECCA SOLNIT
Extensive archival research allows Solnit to paint a colorful portrait of mutual aid at the turn of the 20th century, while contemporary first-person investigative reporting lends a sense of urgency and, also, possibility. As Solnit points out, untold disasters lurk just over the horizon. What remains unknown is whether self-interest or a sense of community will guide our next response. —Astra Taylor
those disasters. Though it was not what I envisioned at the outset, A Paradise Built in Hell, like Hope in the Dark, argues for a radically different view of human nature and possibility. I realized how much the usual pessimistic view of human nature—which is not a conspiracy, because it’s not that organized—serves the status quo of authoritarianism, state violence, and fear incredibly well. While I’ve been working on this project, my running summary for my friends has been that what happens in disasters demonstrates everything an anarchist ever wanted to believe about the triumph of civil society and the failure of institutional authority. It does—this alternative information is truly radical. AT: But all that wasn’t entirely clear to you at the outset, right? I want to linger on that because that first week the news was coming in about Katrina, I can imagine you feeling pretty conflicted about your thesis. RS: There was this moment of being overwhelmed by this hysterical belief in all these Hobbesian rumors—about rape, child rape, murder, general mayhem, and even at one point cannibalism, like something out of Bosch or Goya—but I was pretty sure it was a pile of lies. I’d already delved into the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, which hasn’t been written about with enough boldness. Back then the city was essentially taken over by a hostile army that may have killed as many as 500 people as looters. The mayor issued a shootto-kill proclamation about looting. In what society do you kill for minor property crimes? Like in New Orleans, the public was demonized. That’s the social disaster, which is not at all the same thing as a natural disaster. I hope my new book will dissuade some of this thinking, so we’ll handle disasters better in the future. San Francisco already has made some big changes, not to praise my own city. AT: You’d never do that! (laughter) RS: After the ’89 earthquake, the city government looked at the fire department’s resources and it turned out they’d need twice as many engines and something like ten times as many firefighters than they had. They were not equipped to respond to a major earthquake, so they created a system to delegate and train the citizens, a system that said, “You are powerful; we trust you.” This is exactly what governments should do in terms of our highest ideals and our most urgent needs.
Astra Taylor: I want to begin by talking about your Harper’s essay, “The Uses of Disaster: Notes on Bad Weather and Good Government,” which led to your new book, A Paradise Built in Hell. The essay went to press the day Katrina hit, which is astounding. How did it feel, that uncanny timing? Rebecca Solnit: I was very distressed about what was happening in New Orleans and was following it intently, like a lot of other people were. I was also freaked out by the coverage of it: you know, the reports of viciousness, mayhem, and murder. I felt a little bit anxious about my very positive view of human nature in the piece. Luke Mitchell, my editor at Harper’s, was wonderful; he said, “The dust will settle and you’re right and they’re wrong, and just watch, and let’s put this out on the Web immediately.” AT: What led you to the topic of disaster in the first place? RS: My inspiration came partly from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, whose 20th anniversary is almost upon us. The 1989 earthquake was a remarkable occasion for a lot of us, a moment when everyday life ground to a halt and people looked around and hunkered down … a lot of people still glow when they talk about it, which is not how we think of disaster, really. I was invited to give the Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture at Cambridge in late 2004 and I thought that in honor of that great cultural critic I should do something good and fresh rather than recycling something else. So this talk began it; then the Harper’s piece went deeper, and in the book I was able to go further into and engage with the impact of Looking Back, September 11, 2001. Photo by Felicia Megginson.
Long Walk Home, September 11, 2001. Photo by Felicia Megginson.
BY LUKAS LIGETI
Made in Naples, 2009, performance photo of Megumi Eda. Costumes by Alba Clemente. Photo by Luciano Romono.
THEATER / KAROLE ARMITAGE
BOMB BACK TO SCHOOL BAG
THE CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF ART
Bard’s MFA program offers a nontraditional approach to the creative arts. Intensive eight-week summer sessions, ten-month independent study periods, and online seminars challenge students while providing space for artistic exploration.
The Cleveland Institute of Art: Founded in 1882, CIA is an independent college of art and design committed to leadership and vision in all forms of visual arts education. www.cia.edu
COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO
BA/BFA Fiction Writing, Playwriting MFA Creative Writing-Fiction MA Teaching of Writing Combined MFA/MA
California Institute of the Arts’ (CalArts) six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—educate professional artists in an environment founded on excellence, experimentation and cross-pollination among disciplines.
Carnegie Mellon School of Art’s BFA, MFA, and interdisciplinary degrees offer a breadth and depth of programming that engage contemporary issues, ideas and technologies, and anticipate the future while respecting the traditions of artmaking. In both practical and visionary terms, we seek to examine and expand the role of artists in our time. www.art.cfa.cmu.edu
www.goddard.edu/bachelorfine arts_writing NYU TISCH SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
One of the largest programs of its kind in the country, Sarah Lawrence College’s nationally recognized Graduate Writing Program brings students into close mentoring relationships with active, successful writers. Students concentrate in fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry, developing a personal voice while honing their writing and critical abilities. www.sarahlawrence.edu/writing SAN FRANCISCO ART INSTITUTE
COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
Columbia University School of the Arts (SoA) is a thriving, diverse community of internationally renowned artists and faculty. SoA offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre Arts, Visual Arts and Writing and MA degrees in Film Studies, as well as summer programs and public events.
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, THE LEWIS CENTER FOR THE ARTS
CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY
Goddard’s pioneering BFA Creative Writing low-residency program provides students with an intense on-campus residency, opportunities to form writing communities, and the chance to work with experienced faculty writers who mentor them, helping them place writing at the center of their lives.
SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE’S MFA WRITING PROGRAM
Offering graduate degree programs in the performing and media arts: stateof-the-art facilities, a collaborative community of award-winning faculty, internships with established professionals, and the incomparable resources of New York City.
Your stories. Your future. Students-at-large welcome.
The Lewis Center for the Arts is designed to put the arts at the heart of the Princeton experience. Students can engage in a range of arts programs including Creative Writing, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts and more. www.princeton.edu/arts
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Inventive and inquisitive students from all backgrounds are invited to enroll at SFAI for unique cross-disciplinary investigations into contemporary global art practice and theory.
Spalding University’s four-semester, brief-residency MFA in Writing combines superb instruction with unparalleled flexibility. Study fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, writing for children/young adults, screenwriting, or playwriting. firstname.lastname@example.org, (800) 896-8941 x2423 www.spalding.edu/mfa
Thanks to our Patrons and Sponsors BOMB’s Park-Lit Reading in Tompkins Square Park, July 2009.
We are most grateful to all of our patrons and sponsors for their contributions this past year. A special thanks to the following event sponsors for their kind support: The Brooklyn Book Festival, The Cleveland Institute of Art, The Brooklyn Public Library, Performance Space 122, The Other Means Reading Series, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU, Columbia College Chicago, The National Arts Club, Peerless Importers, Empire Merchants, Chatham Importers, NYEHOUSE Gallery, The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, Housing Works Bookstore, Brooklyn Brewery, T. Edwards Wines, Elizabeth Restaurant, Galapagos Art Space, Sixpoints Craft Ales, The New York Parks & Recreation Department.
Colson Whitehead and Stephen Elliot chatting it up at BOMB’s BookExpo America Bash at Housing Works Bookstore, May 2009.
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BOMB’s Summer Issue Launch Party at Galapagos Arts Space, June 2009.
BY CARLOS MOTTA
Compass, 2009, plywood, tap dancer. Photo by Jens Ziehe. Copyright Allora & Calzadilla and Tempor채re Kunsthalle Berlin.
ART / ALLORA & CALZADILLA
Allora & Calzadilla
BY MARGO JEFFERSON
Jerry Zellers, Peter Mccabe, and Hilary Ketchum in Prophet. P.S. 122, 2005. Photo by Ben Kato. All images courtesy of Thomas Bradshaw.
THEATER / THOMAS BRADSHAW “But what exactly is a black? First of all, what’s his color?” Jean Genet prefaced his incendiary 1959 play, The Blacks: A Clown Show, with those words. I’m happy to appropriate and apply them to Thomas Bradshaw, for his plays (published by Samuel French, Inc.) also invade dangerous, treacherous territories. I interviewed him at the Lark Theater this past July. He was preparing for a workshop of his latest play, Job, at Soho Rep, which gives that sacred biblical text some seriously profane and welcome revisions. Thomas Bradshaw is a “distinct shade of brown,” to use a phrase uttered by the father of Marvin Gaye in a Rolling Stone interview conducted after he had murdered his son. (“Negroes” calling themselves “blacks” were one of Reverend Gaye’s many grievances.) These are the kinds of lethal facts and ironies that Bradshaw cherishes. His plays are full of highachieving suburbanites—college profs, corporate lawyers—cheerfully gripped by sexual, racial, and religious manias, and often set on ignoring the fact that they are alcoholics and cokeheads. The first one I saw was Prophet, which began when a well-groomed, well-spoken man any woman in the audience might have mistaken for a decent prospect, clasped his hands together and prayed: “Lord, I have failed to be masculine. I am not worthy of my penis.” To become worthy, he is instructed by the Lord to time-travel back to 1865, that deadly year when slavery ended and the women’s movement was reinvigorated. His mission was to marry a “Negress” and re-enslave her. In a Bradshaw play, no one in the audience gets to sit back in safety and crow over the sins of others. In matters of vanity and perversity, our lust for psychic and social power—in addition to our secret angers: class, race, and gender—are equalopportunity employers. — Margo Jefferson
character/caricature of the professor in Purity. TB: Yeah, someone like Vernon in Purity. Fifty years ago, writing was treated as art; it was assumed that what someone was writing was coming out of their imagination. Now we live in this moment of reality TV and everybody’s trying to tell their story. Being an artist of color, there’s an even higher expectation that you’re supposed to be writing about your struggle, your personal experiences. MJ: And your personal anguish. It’s very much permeated criticism; the life is ceaselessly read into the work. Your work is historically grounded. It occurred to me that with so much slavery showing up in your plays, in a way, you’re writing costume dramas. It’s historical, psychic costume … TB: Absolutely. I love costume drama. MJ: Gone with the Wind? (laughter) TB: Definitely not. But I loved the movie Mandingo. I actually didn’t see it until after I wrote Southern Promises, and I’m glad because— MJ: Oh God, yes! You must have thought, I appropriated Mandingo without having seen it! TB: Exactly. It was amazing! I was so glad that I hadn’t seen it before that, or else it would have influenced me. MJ: I remember deciding, with a black feminist friend, that we were going to go see Mandingo. We joked about wearing big hats so we wouldn’t be recognized. The thrill that that supposed trash delivers! You’ve also nabbed on to a certain truth: our psyches speak in what our egos and rational selves call clichés. These pronouncements, these declarations, these extreme statements, like “I hate niggers!” That’s the way our fantasy lives and our internal dialogues work. You know, we all want to think we don’t have bad taste—we do! That’s the zone that you are always pushing the audience into. TB: You’re absolutely right; my characters speak in subtext. In traditional plays, we’re still in this moment of psychological realism that we’ve been in for a very long time. In that world, characters say one thing, but their intentions are different. So when actors are taught how to act, it’s “Okay, so you’re saying this, but what are you playing? You’re playing the subtext.” There’s none of that in my plays. There’s a unity of
Margo Jefferson: Thomas, you look so preppy in your blue shirt with a polo pony! Thomas Bradshaw: Well, when you write plays like mine, you had better look responsible and decent! (laughter) People are often surprised when they meet me. I feel like they sometimes think they’re about to meet a monster with three heads that’s going to rip their throats out and kill their parents. MJ: Something like that. TB: People actually say to me, “You’re Thomas Bradshaw … you seem so, nice and, um, good-humored.” MJ: They’re probably expecting something like your
Detra Payne, Jason Grant, and Peter Mccabe in Prophet. P.S. 122, 2005. Photo by Ben Kato.
BOMB’S LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
CHRISTOPHER SORRENTINO VENTRILOQUY
STEPHEN RATCLIFFE POEMS FROM HUMAN / NATURE 10
NICOLE STEINBERG POEMS FROM THE GETTING LUCKY SERIES 12
VALÉRIE BELIN PORTFOLIO
SOLON TIMOTHY WOODWARD MRS. DELLUM SPEAKS 22
PAUL GUEST TWO POEMS
VICTORIA REDEL YOU LOOK LIKE YOU DO 23
on the cover: George Herms, Corona #2, 2008, ink/somerset velvet, 34.75 × 47.5 inches. All images courtesy of Smith Andersen Editions, Palo Alto, and Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. 2
This issue of First Proof is funded in part by the Bertha and Isaac Lieberman Foundation and the Thanksgiving Fund.
Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and readers like you.
THE WICK / MATT MADDEN
Matt Madden is a cartoonist and the author of 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style.