Number 120 / Summer 2012 EDITOR’S CHOICE
INTERVIEWS ART — JOHN NEWMAN 24 and B. WURTZ At second glance, it becomes clear what sculptors John Newman and B. Wurtz have in common: a passion for the found object, a delight in the handmade, an incisive knowledge of art history, and a keen sense of humor. DANCE — RALPH LEMON 34 by James Hannaham Dancer and choreographer Ralph Lemon views artistic practice almost like a Zen koan. In works from How Can You Stay in the House All Day . . . to his collaboration with the late centenarian Walter Carter, the less performance behaves like performance, the better.
on the cover: Danny Lyon, Working Girl, Cartagena, Colombia , 1965, Cibachrome, 11 × 14 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Phaidon Press, and Churner and Churner Gallery, New York City.
THEATER — TOM MURPHY 44 by Colm Tóibín Irish playwright Tom Murphy and Druid Theatre director Garry Hynes began their collaboration in the mid-1980s and have come together again to revive three of Murphy’s plays—A Whistle in the Dark, Conversations on a Homecoming, and Famine—opening at Lincoln Center in New York City this July. MUSIC — ARIEL PINK 58 and CASS McCOMBS Cass McCombs, a singer-songwriter of few, carefully chosen words, speaks with his favorite motormouth, fellow musician Ariel Pink, about the Millennials, songwriting, Gnosticism, and American guilt. Pink takes a break from recording his new album with his band, Haunted Graffiti. LITERATURE — BRIAN EVENSON 72 by Blake Butler Brian Evenson borrows from high and low—from sci-fi, ghost, and detective novels, to Deleuze and Metzinger—to bend genre fiction into eerie tales of repetition and suspense. With novelist Blake Butler, on the occasion of Evenson’s recent releases: Immobility, a novel, and Windeye, a collection of short stories. LITERATURE — WAYNE KOESTENBAUM 93 by Kenneth Goldsmith Wayne Koestenbaum’s book-length essay, Humiliation, published last summer, was followed by this spring’s releases of the virtuosic conceptual study The Anatomy of Harpo Marx and the poetry collection Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background. Of his friend and colleague, Goldsmith says, “I’m all blind, intuitive practice; he’s sparkling theory.” ART — DANNY LYON 124 by Susan Meiselas Danny Lyon’s iconic American photographs have portrayed the civil rights movement, motorcycle gangs,
inmates serving life sentences, and, more recently, Chinese laborers and Occupy protests. Long-time friend and fellow photographer Susan Meiselas caught up with the legend on the eve of his survey exhibition at the Menil Collection in Houston. ART — EIJA-LIISA AHTILA 134 by Cary Wolfe Finnish artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s staged, multichannel video installations bring space and time in and out of synchronicity, making the everyday appear miraculous. With Cary Wolfe, author of What Is Posthumanism? and Animal Rites, she exchanges thoughts on the sacred, transformation, and biopolitics. ARTISTS ON ARTISTS LUTHER PRICE by Andrew Lampert JUSTIN LIEBERMAN by Nic Guagnini LUCY WINTON by April Gornik BOMB SPECIFIC Theo Rosenblum and Chelsea Seltzer
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FIRST PROOF BOMB’S LITERARY SUPPLEMENT TOM FAIRS CAROLE MASO DANIEL SHAPIRO JOSHUA COHEN VICTORIA MOON LYNN MELNICK GABRIELLA DE FERRARI MARGARET LEE JESSICA BARAN
68 78 80 82 85 91 101 104 109
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THE WICK Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr
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John Newman and B. Wurtz
B. Wurtz, Untitled , 2012, wood, wire, and plastic bags, 57 × 16 3/4 × 31 inches. Images of B. Wurtz’s works courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York City. 25
ART — JOHN NEWMAN AND B. WURTZ
B. Wurtz, Shoelace , 1995, wood, metal, and shoelace, 12 × 6 1/8 × 5 1/4 inches.
John Newman first came across my radar in a conversation I had with Richard Tuttle a few years ago. Shortly after, I was invited to curate an exhibition at White Columns, in New York City. John wrote me a letter, care of the gallery, saying that he related a lot to the exhibition—which consisted of a range of sculptures—and wondered if I might be interested in meeting with him. He included a catalogue of his work in the envelope, and, after looking through it, I was intrigued. I emailed him back, we arranged a meeting, and that is how our friendship began. It turned out we are both quite opinionated, and that is something I thoroughly enjoy. Since then, we have traded many studio visits and our work has recently been shown together at KANSAS Gallery. This past spring, we sat down in John’s studio in Tribeca and continued our ongoing conversation about art and life. — B. WURTZ
B. WURTZ I just saw your show at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. One of the things that interests me about your work is that it looks like nothing else around. JOHN NEWMAN It’s my goal to make something I’ve never seen before. I realize that there is a certain level of grandiosity in this statement, because there’s nothing new under the sun. But as a goal, as a method for working, it is something I like thinking about. When I started working on this smaller scale in the early ‘90s, I felt that a lot of what was going on in the art world was what I call “journalism”— research-driven artwork and art reporting on the art world. That was when I began to travel a lot: India, Africa, Japan . . . I was really impressed to see that people had very special and meaningful relationships with objects small in size, but by no means small in significance. The way I saw the art world back then was that everyone was like a farmer, planting their crops on one side of the hill so that eventually all the minerals would become depleted! And I thought—like a good farmer—I had to find another hill to plant on, one on which I could grow something very different. BW That was well put. Everything’s been done before; it’s the personal focus that makes it seem new or as if it were never done before. There is a big difference between being derivative or using history as a starting point and, from there, being truly creative. When you began making these new pieces, you reinvented yourself, which I find fascinating. These new works, for me, come from an unexpected place. There’s a nonmodernist aspect to them and there’s a certain “craft” aspect. 27
B. Wurtz is a mystery. When I first saw the name, I didn’t know if it belonged to a man or a woman. When I first saw the work, I assumed it was by a much younger artist. When I saw an exhibition he curated at White Columns, it was clear that he was collapsing the conventional demarcations between outsider and insider, sincerity and irony, conceptual and formal. When I asked around about him, he was thought to be an esteemed village elder of the burgeoning Lower East Side scene. When I first got to know him, I was disarmed by his sweetness and generosity, his charisma and his humility—and his tough-mindedness. B.‘s work has an upbeat, oxygenated, effervescent effortlessness, which I greatly admire. It can be quite funny—and he is completely serious about it. It is rare that an artist who has been working quietly for a good long time gets to be simultaneously discovered and rediscovered. — JOHN NEWMAN
Craft is something I usually want to avoid. It makes me think of objects with no real subject matter or, conversely, maybe too obvious a subject matter, a kind of show-off conventionalism. But, at the same time, I like to be confronted with something that I might ordinarily resist. Jeff Koons, for instance—I really have no interest in kitsch—but in the ’80s, when Koons made those polychromewood sculptures using one of the finest traditional techniques—well, some of the late-medieval religious figures at the Cloisters museum were made exactly the same way. Looking at both examples close up in a kind of abstracted way, disregarding their subject matter, they became the same. I thought, There’s a way to make me look at kitsch in a different light. There’s really nothing in art that someone can’t make work, if done well. Your work makes me think of the 17th or 18th century, when things would be expertly crafted, often using precious materials, the stuff that was lost with modernism. Your work is also very handmade looking. It intrigues me because I don’t quite know what’s happening.
about. I learned about art backward. Initially, I wanted to be a poet. In 1969, a fellow student showed me pictures of Conceptual art and early Minimalism, and I thought it was the most radical thing I’d ever seen. I got bitten by the bug and have been an artist ever since. But I am also very interested in 17thcentury sculpture. I find Bernini’s glorious virtuosity overwhelming, but I have always associated crafts with a hippie sensibility mixed with something of the practical, like, “Does it hold water?” I understand that working on a more intimate scale and mixing materials could bring up an association with craft. But it is a connection that causes me a lot of ambivalence.
JN I want to expand the spectrum of sculpture’s vocabulary, whether it’s engaging objects from other cultures—artifacts or instruments—along with forms in nature. I was particularly fascinated with medieval armor and Japanese samurai helmets. Yet the idea of craft is very complicated for me—it makes me cringe a bit to have it brought up.
BW I find it makes me really think. I like being thrown by things. There are Eastern or Asian aspects to your art, which also has a huge connection to Western modernism. Modernism is so related to Japanese architecture, certainly design is.
BW But you don’t need to defend it! JN The crafts reside in a different, maybe parallel, art world than the one I’m talking
ART — JOHN NEWMAN AND B. WURTZ
BW I’m talking about art from past centuries. What I think happened in more modern times is that “craft” and “fine art” got separated. Whereas I don’t think, in the past, it was seen that way. To me, it’s refreshing to have that wrench thrown into your work. JN The wrench sounds good.
JN You’re right—in recent times we have made a stark distinction between art and craft. In the 16th and 17th century, sculptors like Cellini or Giambologna also made decorative objects in porcelain or silver. And sculpture then was very connected to architecture.
Ralph Lemon by James Hannaham
Untitled , 2010, ink on paper drawings. Images courtesy of the artist.
1. A long, seated monologue by Lemon, accompanied by a video montage about Walter Carter, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a dance called Ecstasy, and the loss of Lemon’s longtime partner to cancer, parts of which were invented. 2. Ten minutes of sobbing by Okwui Okpokwasili— authentic tears, says Lemon. 3. A foray into dancer stamina (and by extension, unfair labor practices) called “Wall/Hole”—20 minutes of intense physical improv along predetermined guidelines by a group of black performers. To some, this fare may have seemed artless, but Ralph sees artistic practice almost like a Zen koan. The less we see performance behaving like performance, encouraging us to separate ourselves from what we see in front of us, the better. His answer to the question, “What is art?” could very well be, “Mu!” In a wonderfully appropriate gaffe, Ralph and I spoke for two hours at the Park Avenue Armory, where he’s in residency developing new work, not realizing that the recorder had stopped two minutes into the conversation. Was it a mistake? Or was it a duende, reminding us that life is the real interview? Later that week, we reconvened and tried to reenact some of what we’d touched on previously without feeling the pressure of history at our necks. This may or may not be the superior conversation; it is certainly the definitive one. — JAMES HANNAHAM 35
DANCE — RALPH LEMON
RALPH LEMON Why don’t we explain that a couple of days ago we talked for two hours and the tape recorder didn’t work. JAMES HANNAHAM No one has this conversation but us. Which I think is weirdly appropriate. The Ralph Lemon Archive— RL —Oh my God, it’s a mess. JH It’s much more vast than anything that winds up in a show. Yet the archive is as much a part of your work as what you end up showing to people. RL I do a number of things, and they all are interrelated. There’s no hierarchy. They all feel quite organic and there’s fluidity to them. It’s all kind of the same thing. It’s a practice: a need to imagine and to give some kind of form to that. But perhaps I am completely romanticizing this idea of process and form? There’s that wonderful Virilio text, “the pursuit of form is only a technical pursuit of time.” Ultimately, my practice is about time and how memory plays into that, and how we think about the future and present time, and how that’s all kind of dictated by the society we live in—the community and our place in it, what people need from us and what we need from them. I feel like I could play this game eternally and everything would be fine. These days I don’t think so much about if it’s a good work or a bad work, but rather, Have I been satisfied? Have I articulated this thing as best I can? JH Yeah. Can you tell me about that in relationship to specific things you’ve done in the recent past, for instance, with Walter Carter? RL Well, the exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem is the last thing we did together, you know, after eight years of a lot of stuff that no one’s ever going to see. A lot of really beautiful, private play between Walter and me, his family members and me. It’s been coming along for many years. But this particular sharing of work has reached a place where it feels kind of complete. And maybe that’s obvious because there’s no more work with Walter. He passed away, so it has to be complete—the material body of it, the photographs, the narrative of the video. I’m very satisfied with that work and it feels like it’s honoring him and that relationship. I don’t have that relationship anymore. Now it’s just material. I’ll continue to work on a project with Edna, 36
Walter’s wife. So the story goes on, but without Walter. JH Remind me again how you met him. Though I haven’t actually forgotten, it’s just on the lost tape. RL (laughter) I was doing some research in a little town in the Mississippi Delta called Bentonia, at a juke joint called the Blue Front Café. And the owner, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, asked if I wanted to meet the oldest man in Yazoo City, Mississippi, which is right next door to Bentonia. I was researching, so of course I said yes. The next day we drove to his house, picked Walter up, and brought him back to the Blue Front, where he and I sat for hours and just talked. Here is this close to hundred-year-old black man, who lived in the Delta all his life in this particular little town. He had witnessed everything I had romanticized that had ever happened in the South to black people—a lot of beauty, hard work, and abdominal racism. He witnessed a lynching when he was a little boy. The story goes that a black man had been covertly dating a white woman; it was consensual and not a rape. JH Dating? RL The early-20th-century, backwoods Mississippi dating, where the white woman lets you into her house and you get caught. And they hung this man from a tree—not any tree, but the favorite climbing tree for the town’s little black kids, just to send them a message. They left him there for days, until a white woman in a little horse-drawn buggy was driving down the road and, outraged, asked the blacks in the township to take the body down. Walter’s comment at the end of this story was, “Damn, man. We weren’t able to play in that tree again.” JH Oh God. RL But Walter told that tale without a whole lot of rage, not that the rage is not there, of course. I barely got to the surface of this, but there’s a kind of rage of black people of his generation in the Deep South that’s very complex. Things like that lynching happened all the time. And you lived with that and then you found this other productive life that allowed you to be a human being. JH Hopefully. RL And in Walter’s case, eventually performing, sort of, in a video about some
fake intergalactic travel, spaceship and all. Walter was maybe one of the lucky ones, without taking away any of the horror he grew up with. JH Well, as human beings we react the way we react, not so much according to stereotype, or “keeping it real” self-stereotyping—whichever term you want to use. There are all sorts of cultural activities we think of as acceptable for black people— and then as soon as anybody goes outside those things, everyone begins to question the truth of their identity. As if they know! Things like playing basketball. That’s acceptable as black, even though it was invented by a white man. But hockey is not as acceptable for a black man. RL But I would think a black man being interested in hockey is nicely abstract, curiously compelling. And there are some black hockey players. JH Well, yeah, there are always pioneers who go out and change that dynamic, like the Williams sisters. I don’t know how much blacker they’ve made tennis, but they certainly haven’t made it less black. RL They weren’t the ones who began the grunting? JH Isn’t that Monica Seles who does the grunting? RL Monica Seles. Right. JH I’m glad that black women weren’t the first to do the grunting. RL Yeah, the Williams sisters have expanded the boundaries of blackness a bit. JH Can water polo be far off? You just reminded me of one of my favorite moments with you, which was during The Kitchen showing of early workshop material for Come Home Charley Patton, during the talkback, when Bill T. Jones got up and said, “I think I get it. I think it’s ‘Free at Last! Free at Last!’” I loved that moment! He seemed to be talking about the message of the work and its doing exactly the sort of thing I was talking about before—looking outside conventional notions of what is acceptable for a black artist. And just having a sense of entitlement about the world, like being able to look at, say, Eastern European culture and say, “That’s black.” Or to look at Tarkovsky, and say, “That’s black.” RL And Neil Young is black, and everyone
Untitled , 2010, archival pigment print from original film. Photo by Ralph Lemon.
DANCE â€” RALPH LEMON
Sean McGinley as Tom in Conversations on a Homecoming , performed at Druid Lane Theatre and on tour, 1985. Images courtesy of Druid Theatre unless otherwise noted.
BOMBâ€™s theater interviews are sponsored in part by the Select Equity Group Foundation. 44
Tom Murphy by Colm Tóibín In Ireland in the 1980s, when I was starting to write, there was a relationship between the Irish theater and its audience that was raw, visceral, and immediate. As new plays came—by Brian Friel, or Billy Roche, or Frank McGuinness (and later by Marina Carr, Sebastian Barry, Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Enda Walsh, and Mark O’Rowe)—there was a sense of real expectation and excitement. And as older classic Irish plays were performed by a new generation of Irish actors, that excitement was also there. Two of this period’s central figures entered our spirit and transformed the country in ways both clear and mysterious: the playwright Tom Murphy, who was born in Tuam in the west of Ireland in 1935, and the director Garry Hynes, almost 20 years younger than Murphy. The two began to work together in the mid-1980s and have come together again to revive three of Murphy’s plays—A Whistle in the Dark, Conversations on a Homecoming, and Famine. I will never forget the opening nights of other plays by Murphy, such as The Gigli Concert (1983),
about a man who wants to sing like Gigli, the writing filled with magic and sour wit and soaring language, and Bailegangaire (1985), where the great actress Siobhán McKenna played an old woman who has a story to tell which she cannot finish, whose ending will liberate her, those around her, and, by implication, the audience too. I will never forget a revival in the Abbey Theatre, directed by Hynes, of Murphy’s first play, A Whistle in the Dark, which had been a West End hit in the early 1960s. Or the first production of Conversations on a Homecoming, in Galway, in 1985, with the brilliant young actors from Druid Theatre doing committed and exemplary work. Or the epic production of Murphy’s play Famine, also in the mid1980s in Galway, also directed by Hynes. Murphy’s restless imagination, something both soaring and uncompromising in his spirit as an artist, and his belief in the image and in the struggle to achieve raw perfection, make him an example to all of us. He is the writer whom other Irish writers most admire. — COLM TÓIBÍN
COLM TÓIBÍN I wanted to ask you about theatrical language and about the idea of rhythm. This is something anybody going to your plays or reading them notices— that there is a very particular rhythm at the root of them, which of course in one way is the rhythm of speech, but it’s also the rhythm of theatrical speech.
plays is the way that they move and are structured emotionally, so that at certain times the music in them is minimalist, the music is muted, and it’s clipped. And that seems sometimes designed to allow space for it to soar at a given moment when you’re ready for that. Would you say that’s correct?
much know-how as something inherent in me that I can make the inarticulate sing with feeling.
TOM MURPHY First of all, I think that conversational speech—everyday speech—has rhythm, everything has a rhythm. I don’t think that that particular rhythm is stageworthy as such. It has to be adjusted. Obviously, the individual characters have speech patterns, and it’s a way of conveying character on stage. Back to ordinary, everyday conversational stuff: I’ve noticed all through my life that very few people leave a rhythm unfinished in a sentence. I’ve noticed pigeons doing this. I was in the Canaries a few weeks ago, and the pigeons have a different language. “Da-duh, da-duh, the day is fucked.” (laughter) We were having a laugh at that, but here the only animal life that does not complete a rhythm is the Irish pigeon. It goes, “Da-duh daduh, da-duh da-duh, da-duh da-duh, da.” Which doesn’t make sense. All art aspires toward music, so I try, as far as I can, to make a symphony out of the language. If there is a very dominant central character, then I suppose it would be a concerto.
TM It’s correct, there has to be contrast.
TM It didn’t at the start because anything Irish was a pain in the ass to me. I was trying to escape that. In fact, it was through Federico García Lorca that I discovered Synge, and of course Lorca was greatly influenced by Synge. But Synge means an awful lot to me—I like his extravagance, the generosity of his writing. I like to watch good actors, or good Syngean actors playing Synge. Nobody with a tight, little mouth can play Synge. It has to be a generous sound or a generous mix of sounds. Yeats is another thing to me—I don’t like his plays. I like Purgatory, which is probably the best play by Yeats that I’ve seen, in my opinion—and maybe On Baile’s Strand and The Only Jealousy of Emer.
CT I think what is notable about your 45
THEATER — TOM MURPHY
CT Yes, but it’s not exactly contrast. It’s trying to actually lift language up—not only trying to give it color, but trying to get language to do something more than it normally does. TM Yes, although ordinary people in ordinary conversations fulfilling the rhythm of a sentence, most people are inarticulate. And I frequently write inarticulate people. But they still have to fulfill the unspoken rules of drama: they have to fulfill rhythm, balance, and contrast—architectural stuff. CT What about language then lifting? If you get someone inarticulate to speak, you can get a sour poetry out of that. TM This might be the answer to your question: Feeling interests me more than anything, to create the feeling of life, or to recreate it; and if it’s feeling, it frequently isn’t linear or logical or reasonable. If we’re back to aspiring to the condition of music, 17 things can happen simultaneously in a phrase of music. It’s not so
CT Does the Irish repertoire mean anything to you? I mean, what W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory did, or what J. M. Synge did, or what Seán O’Casey did?
CT Your impulse as a playwright seems essentially poetic. Your images seem hard-won, what came after a struggle. TM I don’t fancy myself as a brain—as I say, feeling and emotion are top of the scale, the intellectual comes in much later—but you have to put the time in, two years, for instance, day after day, and
BOMB Specific Theo Rosenblum and Chelsea Seltzer
BOMB SPECIFIC — THEO ROSENBLUM AND CHELSEA SELTZER
Cass McCombs and Ariel Pink Cass McCombs’s 2011 albums, WIT’S END and Humor Risk, are the work of one of the finest singer-songwriters currently working. He draws on the history of everything implied by that mossy title—”singersongwriter”—as well as on traditions more occult and obscured from the golden California afternoon sunshine that suffuses his music. As with most things, California or not, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface, dark things as well as light, all precisely etched into the songs by McCombs’s oracular words and trademark croon—as alien, distant, and warm as Dion’s or Merle Haggard’s. Ariel Pink’s special brand of homemade (and, now, studio-processed) psychedelic song has antecedents in the records, tapes, and CD-Rs of outsiders like R. Stevie Moore. With last year’s record Before Today, and its hit single “Round and Round,” Pink’s music—the lo-fi product of an imagination in constant motion, frantically picking through the threadbare simulacrum of contemporary Los Angeles—has escaped the bedroom and resonates with a larger audience. The Internet is littered with the corpses of his imitators’ MySpace pages.
Last April, both thirty-something musicians met in Los Angeles while Pink was recording his forthcoming yet untitled album with Haunted Graffiti, his band. A laid-back conversation was followed by a call-in session a few weeks later. Though McCombs and Pink might appear to speak different languages, they are both writing the same book. — BOMB Nearly every time I see Ariel, I am impressed by his ability to speak his mind. Every madcap, absurd, intelligent, misguided, generous blathering flows so freely from his whim that I imagine it’s because of this freedom that his music is so great. He is such an intelligent blatherer that I revert to my country-boy aw-shucks put-on to escape dying on the floor of laughter. He makes sense too. I relate to his desire to establish new values when consciousness itself seems false, and I’m charmed by his contempt for rhetoric. I feel lucky to have participated in these talks and hope they do some good for someone somewhere. — CASS McCOMBS
PART I — In an apartment in Los Angeles.
people enough to act.
YOUNG WOMAN Hormones in milk.
ARIEL PINK Maybe we can take this opportunity to discuss current music and stuff. I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that everything is extremely melodious and a little too pretty. Too emotional. Too serious. Everyone wants to emote— maybe the emo stance hasn’t left us yet. I’d say in the last five years even it’s gotten a little bit more intense. And everyone’s talking about pop, using that word, but I don’t think they know what it means.
CM Just not through music, at least not consciously.
CM Hormones in ice cream. Passing of the torch . . .
AP Not anymore. Music, to me, is a heightened degree of the fantasy. It’s the sexual dance of the woman and the Dionysian. Like, “Look at the ghost! Look at the shiny spotlights! Look at all of the psychedelic colors!” It’s just a distraction. It doesn’t tell us anything about ourselves. Death metal had a good go.
PART II — Phone conversation with Cass McCombs in San Francisco, Ariel Pink in Los Angeles, and Mónica de la Torre in New York City.
CM Growing up I felt provoked. Music provoked me, back in the day.
YOUNG WOMAN People get really upset when you walk down that path . . . when you act as though you’re going to die tomorrow. AP That’s why I love the Westboro Baptist Church. You know them?
AP It’s a good point, so the people that go to action are the kids. Therefore music is targeted to a youth audience. The youth are castrating themselves. Willingly. That political correctness thing. Everybody’s bi now. Have you noticed that?
CASS MCCOMBS Sure.
CM Outside of San Francisco?
AP I love their message: “You’re going to hell, honey!” They’ll say that to people on the street, people driving by. And their reaction will be, “How can these people say this to me? I’m a good God-fearing American!” The members of the church want to provoke violence and physical retaliation, because it’s a family of lawyers. Then they can actually sue them. That’s the scam. I love that words can provoke
AP Everybody under 27 years old. Every girl I’ve ever met who’s under 27: bi. Call me old-fashioned. That did not happen in my generation. I find it very disturbing, frankly. The Millennials are what I’m talking about—they have no gender. Their gender is a biological imperative. It can’t be a choice, of course. They’re just born bi. Maybe it’s a mutation or something like that.
MT Where is Ariel? Did he call in yet? CM I just spoke with him. I could call him again. MT Let’s do that. Oh wait, what was that? CM I think you’re hearing things. MT I think I am. There’s got to be a name for auditory hallucinations, like when you think that someone is texting you or that your phone is ringing. Technology’s phantom sounds. Okay. Let’s call each other again in five minutes. (Break.) AP Hey guys! Sorry it took me so long, sorry. Here we are! MT Thanks for wanting to do this again. Hopefully we’ll get it right this time. AP I thought we got it right last time, but that’s okay.
Tim Koh, Ariel Pink, Kenny Gilmore, and Cole M.G.N. Photo by Austin Warnock. Courtesy of the artist.
Cass McCombs and Karen Black, Los Angeles, 2010. Courtesy of Cass McCombs.
MUSIC â€”CASS McCOMBS AND ARIEL PINK
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BOMB’S LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
CONTENTS 68 TOM FAIRS Portfolio 72 BRIA N EVENSON by Blake Butler 78 CAROLE MASO The Girl with the Matted Hair Eight Scenes from Childhood Excerpted from Mother & Child, a novel 80 DA NIEL SHAPIRO Four Poems 82 JOSHUA COHEN Excerpt from Sent
85 VICTORIA MOON On the Water 91 LYNN MELNICK Seven Scenes from the Wreckage 93 WAYNE KOESTENBAUM by Kenneth Goldsmith 101 GABRIELLA DE FERR ARI Don Ilario 104 MARGARET LEE Portfolio 109 JESSICA BAR A N Late and Soon, Getting and Spending: Prose Sonnets on Dailiness
On the cover: Tom Fairs, Untitled, 2000, pencil on paper, 8 3/4 Ă— 6 inches. Images courtesy of the estate of Tom Fairs and Kerry Schuss, New York City. This issue of First Proof is funded, in part, by Amazon, the Bertha and Isaac Lieberman Foundation, and the Thanksgiving Fund. Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and readers like you. 66
TOM FAIRS Portfolio Tom Fairs (1925–2007), a lifelong resident of London, left school at age 15 to become a messenger boy. After winning several prizes for drawing, he went on to graduate from Horsey College of Art and the Royal College of Art. Married to the writer Elisabeth Russell Taylor, he taught fine art and stage design at the Central School of Art and Design from 1954 to 1987. Upon retiring, he devoted himself entirely to his art, painting and drawing every day. Much of his imagery was found in and around Hampstead Heath, where he drew daily in his sketchbooks. His artistic hero and mentor was Pierre Bonnard, whose delight in the ordinariness of daily life and its elevation to art was a shared passion. Like Bonnard, Fairs was a humble, unpretentious man, indifferent to the notion of career, for whom art, as he wrote in a statement in 2003, was a chance to have a “brief glimpse of the implicit order that lies beneath what we perceive as reality.” — BOBBIE OLIVER, painter
BRIAN EVENSON by Blake Butler
Expansive, thrilling, attuned, and fearless are all adjectives that come to mind when thinking about the work of Brian Evenson, but so do prolific, generous, thoughtful, and kind. Both on the page and as a human, Evenson is the kind of author any person could aspire to follow in the wake of; I know I have, devouring each of his books not once but multiple times as soon as I can get my hands on them. This year marks the advent of two new works in this continuum: Immobility, a novel released on the legendary sci-fi label Tor, and, this summer, Windeye, Evenson’s newest collection of short fiction, a work as psychologically taut and recursively terrifying as anything he’s produced thus far. Recently, Brian and I talked on the phone, from Providence and Atlanta respectively, about the creation of Windeye as well as his process as a writer, both at the desk and away from it. — BLAKE BUTLER
Brian Evenson. Photo by Valerie Evenson. 72
BLAKE BUTLER Windeye seems to have a different texture than any of your previous books. A familiar reader probably won’t be surprised by the content, but there’s a different tone and quality to the way you’re delivering the story this time. Your characters seem particularly disoriented, maybe even muffled by what they’re up against. BRIAN EVENSON More than any of my other books, this book is about loss. It’s also about characters who are having a hard time navigating their world. In many of these stories, the reality of the world is either collapsing or threatening to collapse—there’s a sense of something having disappeared. I too feel the book is different, but since these are themes I’ve touched on elsewhere, I’m trying to figure out exactly what is different. Contentwise there are stories that could potentially be in my other books. Perhaps the book is more sober? The humorous element is not as prominent, and there are stories here that are much creepier. They’re always creepy, that’s the thing. (laughter) BB The tone is sober. The narrators seem like they’ve been under pressure from what they’ve been through. And now they’re like, Okay, I’m going to really figure out what’s happening. But the more they try to focus, the more the story pushes their world away. BE That’s a big part of it. In the title story, the narrator is trying to figure out, to no avail, how he’s lost part of his reality. Finally he just decides that he has no choice but to go on with life as it is, even if he’s certain that something that should be there is missing. That’s a sobering surrender. BB There’s so much obsession with appendages and grafting. A character loses an ear and then an ear is grafted but it’s not his ear. Another has the same thing happen to his arm. BE You start to see this in my novel Last Days, where there was a sense that you lose an arm but you still feel like the arm is there somehow. Here it’s the reverse. You have something grafted back on and you’re convinced it’s not yours. This thing both is you and is not you at the same time. It’s unsettling. Weirdly enough, there are aspects of this book that are more autobiographical than my other books. The kids locking each other in the toy box in the title story at the opening of the book—that was something my sister and I used to do to each other. We had this normal-sized toy box, but it had this little cubbyhole in the bottom that was just big enough to crawl into. When I was about four or five, one of us would crawl in and the other person would close you in and pretend like they were going to leave. In that sense, it’s this return to certain things that feel familiar to me. But it’s also a search for these moments that unsettle your sense of reality and then how you, regardless, build a life on top of them. You know, I had a tumor in my neck about a year and a half ago. To get it out, they had to take my left ear 73
LITERATURE — BRIAN EVENSON
and peel it back and then put it back in place. No one told me before the operation that they’d have to cut the nerve so I wouldn’t feel my ear. So, afterward, there was this really strange period where the nerve was there and not there, flailing, trying to reconnect. My brain was figuring out ways to pretend there was something there. There was a period that I described in “The Other Ear” where it felt like my ear was tightening like a fist and then opening wide like a fan. It was like an alien presence on the side of my head, out of my vision. That was the start of that obsession with both feeling connected and distant from myself at the same time. This opened up to larger epistemological issues, starting with the question of how you can know if what you’re experiencing is real. So many of these stories are struggling to find an answer to that question. Their characters are trying to figure out ways to continue on, try to calm the world down so they can feel like they can stand on something, even though it’s no longer solid. BB Do you put yourself in your characters’ feelings, are they tools, or both? Some of the stories specifically explore the role of the detective as being mostly useless beyond his ability to ask critical questions, while other less objectively described characters’ emotions are formed in the very act of trying to find an answer. The area between those two extremes here is so rich. BE Yeah, there is an investigation of the nature of character that goes on in the book too. On the one hand, you think of characters as a kind of noise or words on a page. You know, a collection of bits of language that cause a particular effect. On the other hand, we tend to respond to characters as if they’re living, breathing things. Certainly I do; I feel very attached to some of my and others’ characters, like I could have a coffee with them. So there are moments where characters are fairly empty vessels; they’re serving a function within the story. And there are other moments in which they refuse to play that role, they insist on acting human, and they become uncomfortably close. The book as a whole is playing around with the degree to which fiction is something that’s mimetic and producing a reality and the degree to which fiction is something intensive that’s having an effect and making the reader experience something. BB The book opens with “Windeye,” which sets an oddly emotional tone, developed through the boy’s confusion over whether his sister actually existed. Then “The Second Boy” changes the position slightly, beginning with these boys who also have trouble being sure of what is real. This story falls into a looping mechanism where you tell the same story again and again, and the moments that seem most vivid are the tiny glitches in what carries over. I kept thinking about Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. BE It was deliberate to have those two stories at the beginning, because they do mark a continuum for
CAROLE MASO The Girl with the Matted Hair Eight Scenes from Childhood
Excerpted from Mother & Child, a novel — 1 — When the children were small, they would often play their grave resurrection games back behind the prickle bushes at the Winterbear Montessori School. Each day after graceful walking and practical life and blue line work the two girls would venture out after snack to begin once again to concoct the Mother Potion from scratch. The potion, as the Girl with the Matted Hair said, would save once and for all the mothers who had died or were dying. Otherwise, the Girl with the Matted Hair said, they would die for good, and they would never come back. As it was, the Girl with the Matted Hair’s mother had died when she was a toddler and ever since then she had worked night and day to find the cure for that. This sort of project enthralled the child and every day at recess she and her friend collected and assembled a wide assortment of ingredients and charms: rose thorns and wish bones, robin’s eggshells and goose eggshells, scrunchies and ribbons, knee scabs and matted hair (for DNA the child said) chestnut casings, glitter glue, butterfly wings, birch bark and other forest charms. Ten plucked blades of yarrow—nine discarded, the last placed in a vial of rose water; eight hairs from the tail of a black cat dipped in clay then burned to an ash. Chewed grass from the grave of the schoolmaster. They sewed a magnet into a mother’s dress and slipped fish lures into the hem. They obtained a dead 78
wren, and sent away a black lamb, for a little black lamb foretells mourning garments within the year. They tied mint around their wrists while skipping. They mixed chamomile and mud with salt and silt and tears into a poultice and stirred it with a Hawthorne branch. Spells and banishments were many. The child carried elf stones in a velvet pouch and waited for a fourfooted beast to pass in order to animate the charm. Before the magic words were spoken into the well, they covered it with a wool shawl. Lavender plucked on a Sunday night they pounded with a stone that never was moved since the world began. When the child who was gathering thistle had her back turned, the Girl with the Matted Hair snuck up on her and sunk her teeth into the child’s arm. There, she said, the blood of a child! The child screamed and drew a circle on the ground and said the magic words and a fire rushed up from the earth and a flood of water, pure and bright, sprang from her side creating a mote, separating now the child from the ring of fire. It all happened so fast that the Girl with the Matted Hair at first did not know what had happened. That was fantastic! She shouted and began to applaud. She had always suspected that the child carried the water charm inside her, and now it was verified. Sometimes the child would carve a little f igure out of a carrot from her snack for her friend, and the Girl with the Matted Hair would put it in her pocket. Together they wandered past the prickle bushes through the vale of tears, over the river of sleep, and into the fairy field. They crossed the bridge and saw Billy Goat’s Gruff and the place of the trolls, the witch’s den, and they went down to where Rumpelstiltskin and Rip Van Winkle slept, and past that to where the mothers slumbered. — 2 — After the mother died, the Girl had begun to display Matted Hair. Someone said it was her father’s fault for never combing it, but the child’s mother did not think that that was the reason and sometimes on particularly diff icult days, the girl grew a pelt for additional protection. At the very least the child’s mother
might offer to drag a brush through that thicket of hair, that wilderness of grief, that sorrowing. Poor Girl with the Matted Hair (no mother), the others whispered. If her mother were alive she would have licked and licked until the fur was sleek and smooth. Everything would have been different then. The child admired the pelt. It was cool in the summer. It was warm in the winter. In the rain it was like a raincoat. Those who might try to break her spirit or her resolve or her heart, it frightened, and they would not come near. And she could always wear it when she visited her mother’s grave, which is when she needed the most protection of all, and there it served as a kind of armor. Even though she pretended otherwise, she could not take it off—a pelt was permanent after all. The child did not mind her friend’s pelt. The child was impervious to pelts. — 3 — The Girl with the Matted Hair lived some distance from the child and so there was always the matter of transporting her, which the mother happily did, and sometimes on the way back when the children sat together in the back seat and chattered in their own language saying boden and pish-pish and wimple, and the child would sniff the girl hard—the forest and wind and sadness on her skin—and like a mother monkey, she would pick the nits from her pelt. The girls spoke in their code in the back seat and dreamt their dreams and planned their plans. This was in the time that they were still mini-bodens, and they were not bodens yet. — 4 — On the days the Girl with the Matted Hair came to play for the whole day they would build a tent together out of the mother’s diaphanous clothes and when it was time for her to go home, she would hide in the crimson recesses of the house and she would not come out. At these times, when the child disappeared, the father wept because the story was that the Girl with the Matted Hair resembled exactly his deceased wife—but weeping did no good. After the house was searched, the morose
DANIEL SHAPIRO Four Poems
X A man sucks another man’s tongue, leans him against a tree and in this jungle of masculine leaves steadily dripping, hot light on tumid skin bronzed and broad-backed they fuck with gusto (or feign so), legs hoisted in a driven rhythm
(velvety squiggles, noisy snow across the screen)
Dollar bills hang, tongues from your dress straps as you one-kick, two, in blue chiffon, throw your head back. We stroke our beer mugs, then our beards, gingerly trace our lips. We need to keep you at fingertips’ length: Continue
I uncap the cream, let my hand drift down their thick arms draped across each other reach for mine and I’m beneath them one at a time, a well-greased machine in the guise of a man (until it softens and the fluffer comes in)
dancing. The band plays Salsa in the corner, a wooden fan slices the air, a salty wind through a Caribbean scene.
Their black-sheathed bellies mesh hair with hair, spouting sap like tuberous orchids sprinkling the leaves
And if we’re exiles, we’re only men against ourselves, exchanging partners for the dancers we’ve invented, out of our wallets dollar bills fighting their way. We toast Salud. Our faces warp behind the glass. At night, inside the mirror what do you see, makeup off: your face a stain between your ears? Do you see bones inside your forehead, pores and stubble, the lumpy throat? Or are those clouds fanning your crown, a blur of pomade and sweat? It doesn’t matter. A steady round and you’ll return the way we want you, wearing poppy-red and velvet, inviting our tips as you kick your way back on stage. The stage is bright, the crowd is dark, swaying as one.
including mine, even though I know it’s a lie (my wrist yanked by an unseen chain) even though after everyone’s sighs climb higher than the screams of toucans a sleepy green eye fades into a blue ray on the screen
FA NTASIA NOCTUR NA There’s a merman singing in the shower, a glittering seahorse trapped under glass. Waves of coral emerge from the wall and I’m the only one in the room. I imagine tide pools, whorls of color, glistening copper pipes rinsed in spray. Yellow lichen and kirlian turquoise, thunderous floods between sea and sky. How do I know there’s a merman, or that he’s singing? Dolphins leaping in formation under a full moon? I’ll strap on a wing and dangle from the balcony, look for flakes of iridescence along the sill. He sings because I want him to, his broad pectorals taper into gold scales patterning his tail, into powerful flips that bound him away in a spray of bubbles through anemones and ferns. In some other country, I might camp among cottages,
JOSHUA COHEN Excerpt from Sent Hello my name is Moc and today I have make my first sex on camera. Just for you @ 1stsexoncamera.com Let’s try that again, he said, just read the card he’s holding. The card? she asked. Read it. Hello my name is Moc and today I make my first sex on camera. Just for you @ first-sexy-on-camera.com Try it again. Hello my name is Moc and today I make sex with cameras. Just for you @ first-sexy-cameras.com Say it com, not cum—do you know what that means? Hello my name is Moc. Can you stop? I asked you a question. Cum—don’t you know what that means? Com? Yes. No. Cum means open your mouth and take what I give you. Cum means open your fucking mouth and take it. Fuck? Good. Do you know what the redlight means? Redlight? It means fuck. Means fuck till I cum. Fuck means cum? Very good. Money? How much I say? You said 5000 much. That’s what I said? You said. 3000. That was their exchange —and, Cut!—unfilmed. But later they’d pretend they’d just met each other, when they began filming, when the redlight lit red. O fancy pantsing you here, what’s your name, beautiful? do you want to go back to your house and get better— ak-vaynt-ed was their pronunciation? ON, we’re rolling. . . . Moc, “the friend,” his pardner holding the camera— having dealt with the 82
lights and mic—holding the cuecards too, because the girls could never be trusted to remember: Say the website’s address at the beginning, repeat it at the end, www., with shotwad slopping from your face. They were just passing through. Who are you? the girls would ask him, would ask the pardner, Who is he? He’d a nswer, I’m just passi ng through. Hanging out. Hanging. As if a gunslinger from a Western, a drifting private eye. Doing the circuit, the stations, making passes. The tiny villages off the highway. Little tiny townlets far enough from the capital’s allures. He could’ve been a bonafide desperado, a bonded dick—none of these women, these girls, had met an American before. Have you ever met an American before? She shook her head, they shook her head into smoky curls, into corkscrews—Say, No. And though it was the same script every time, each fall was as unique as its fallen: In each Location—as they called every town where they porned—the first thing they’d do would be to identify the raggiest regional newspaper, where were sold birds not yet caught and deceased grandmothers’ furniture and preowned cats, the paper most people used to wrap fish in, to wrap trapped Rodentia for placement outdoors and severed limbs too, in the hope of reattachment—their ideal a paper that informed on local gossip while providing annual photos of the mayor in a goofy folkloristic helmet slaying a marionette dragon at Carnivaltime, this being the news most preferred. With papers like that rates were cheap for double columns in inksmudged color and half or even full page spreads, but they always requested something small so as to seem special, unobtrusive—a small box relegated to the crossword’s classifieds, a clue. He and not his pardner, who’d always ask to place it himself, would place this advertisement and the ad would say: We want girls 18 to 25. Must be nice. But it said all this in the wrong language, in this language— “the friend” didn’t know the right language, he never would, the language things were in over here. That was the problem that was, at the same time, an asset—that
he only knew how to speak what was not spoken too well by must be nice girls 18 to 25. He was from—I don’t know where he was from—Ohio, where his mother lived, say. He was big, broad and jangly in big fat stretched college sweats, always sweatshirts, always sweatpants (he didn’t like zippers, he didn’t like teeth). A whole wardrobe of that mottled blackswirled collegiate gray—a color that exists nowhere in nature. He was a beerdrinker with a beergut like he’d swallowed a keg but also swollen all around—beerwrists, beerneck, beerknees. Eight countries’ worth of change in his pockets. He wore sandals, never socks. Strange —I was a lways hearing about the no socks whenever I asked about his looks—his toes were long, his feet flat, apparently he was bowlegged. But I’ve heard other things that conflict. That despite being baggy—“skin like a paperbag,” said one woman who introduced herself on a streetcorner on my f irst morning abroad, a girl he’d propositioned at a public pool— he was actually a trif le handsome. He was bald, not bald, balding, with black plastic glasses, with bluetinted metal sunglasses in the aviator style. Prescription, nonprescription. Never with a baseballcap, never without one, glasses resting on the brim, no glasses but a single studly earring. Hanging down from the cap a fringe of grayish white hair like an uneven row of incisors grown from the back of his head. “The friend” always with a toothpick . “T he f r iend” never w it h a toothpick. The ladies asking, Who is toothpick? I’ve also invented a lot, for you, for myself. After his mother remarried—a soybean farmer—he moved in with his ailing father: Sandusky, then a suburb of Indianapolis, and then New York for two years for film school. His father paid tuition, incidentals. Imagine, two years of incidentals: Central Park swanboating through springtime afternoons into one night stands with women from the same ha l l, f rom adjacent dor ms, w it h divorced faculty who’d loan him keys to Harlem—the next mornings the endless circling for an uncrowded bagel brunch, before a mile of museums
On the Water
Anne called before Independence Day with an invitation to stay for the week. It wasn’t odd, just unexpected. The heat was too familiar and bullying. Hanna fanned herself limply and looked at her watch. David would not be back from his sociology conference for another two hours. As it was, they hardly spent any time together, between his expanded teaching engagements, and his wife and two children in Connecticut; they had four weekday nights from six to six: dinner, sex, then bed. Fridays were always rushed. Breakfast, a shared subway ride to Penn, and then the mildly anticlimactic goodbye, watching the back of his head as it slowly descended down the escalator to the commuter train idling underground. Hanna promised herself that it was just for the summer. She would live rent free at David’s city apartment, quit her copywriting job, and spend the weekends alone, fully focused on her thesis. David would know what to do. He had been delighted by her peccadilloes. On their few first dates Hanna remembered the way his eyes would perk up at the mention of other men. He would put his fork down or at least stop chewing and gaze intently at her. It seemed the more debased the better. She had enjoyed it as well, learning to elaborate on her past experiences, dressing up each moment in lurid detail. Somehow, held up to the gaze of David’s eyes, each experience gained weight, added importance. It seemed she was reaffirming something very dear to him, that beautiful women were whores, that they should be whores. He spoke with great pride of his wife, whom he rescued from a life on the streets. And look at her now, the lady of the house in a Connecticut suburb. There was one story about her brother-in-law, Gerald, which David particularly liked and somehow got in the habit of making her repeat before sex. Featuring a drunken Hanna in the summer before college, on the kitchen counter with
LYNN MELNICK Seven Scenes from the Wreckage —1—
splitting their time between residences. The water there is furious enough for daredevils, but I had no use for it. —3— Suddenly I liked avocados, California’s own plan to fatten me up, to ripen itself
In a sallow square, five by five faces project a mood toward a sharp-nosed dog with felt ears.
under my grip before rotting the fruit as a metaphor for time.
We’re a mess of lapel, wallpaper, denim, and I’m in a dress of apples.
I was rotations away from an ability to fathom.
That boy above me in the checkered jacket, he’ll grow up to kiss me on a porch then pollute me in a pool house—a tacky set piece, as these things go. I counted the turquoise
That was the year my instamatic broke, the end to fuzzy four-sides of goings-on, of me topless in so many stairwells I’d bore even my biographer, wheezing at the top step. Months left me where I couldn’t laugh.
tile edging the water, and when I lost tally I knew a kid with a balcony edging his bedroom I began again, my face pressed cruelly into wicker, my eyes peering through
overlooking the busiest intersection I’d spent instances overlooking. He had to jump
the breaks in its twist. And then a gift, when I still believed in all that.
and I took home that obstinate plant urged from a wide-mouthed jar.
It rained in August, droplets snapping from the overlay like blown glass breaking blue, magnificent. —2— There was sand in my hourglass and gold on the beach blown through the spray,
—4— Around an L-shaped table she couldn’t suppose that I’m an L, formal in a month of pedestrian secrets, dumb to the pretty teeth whittling themselves to fangs. She anchored the pileup of people I wore out, persuading from one trouble to
through the shiny suit among a grove of options.
Sometimes a hand would unfold on nuggets of foil from a box of cigars.
to demonstrate a kind of shade, even as nineteen eighty-nine was my warmest year on record.
This when I was very small and through to another state’s recreational triumph
Like a rat sated on slop, my place on the food chain had yet to be decided.
where I dug greedily for prizes. It’s not visible for the grainy murk clung to the lens, for the hair
And in all the goodbyes, I only caught her sideways, where she fancied me
whipping my face, but I was smiling. I was dozens of girls back then, and some of them happy. Miles after, there is the Rogue River
well enough to tell me what I’d become. Too remote, that kind of chaos, when I’d already given up.
recklessly collecting tributaries, the seagulls 91
WAYNE KOESTENBAUM by Kenneth Goldsmith
Wayne Koestenbaum. Photo by Heike Steinweg.
Wayne Koestenbaum is my dream doppelgänger, or maybe he’s the long-lost older brother I wish I had. We’re both nerdy, culture-obsessed Jewish guys with a proclivity toward dandyism who love to gossip. We met nearly a decade ago when I edited a book of Warhol interviews and was lucky enough to convince Wayne to write the postscript. We became fast friends and instantly formed a mutual admiration club. We tend to fill in each other’s sentences in the same way that our work tends to fill in each other’s gaps. He loves the way that my work speaks to no one; I love the way that his work speaks to everyone. I’m the avant-garde Wayne; he’s the populist Kenny; I’m all blind, intuitive practice; he’s sparkling theory, his 1000-watt mind illuminating all it touches. As a result, our chemistries are explosive: the moment we get near each other, the sparks fly. The transcript below is pretty much indicative of how we go at it. The one thing that’s missing here is tempo. We speak with incredible speed, yammering on top of one another and cutting the other one off in ways that one learns only at a Jewish-family dinner table: get your words in at any expense, damn the others. It’s been an amazing year for Wayne. He’s published three books: one of poetry, Blue Stranger with Mosaic Background; the book-length essay Humiliation; and a hybrid scholarly-conceptual one, The Anatomy of Harpo Marx. But things don’t fall into neat compartments for Wayne: his poems drift into essays and his scholarly works swerve into Proustian mnemonic exercises. But it’s very much the way his mind works. As you’ll see from the conversation below, Wayne effortlessly slides from the frivolous to the profound on the turn of a dime. He’s a master of the impure and the inconsistent, making the most persuasive arguments for the natural melding of opposites. 93
LITERATURE — WAYNE KOESTENBAUM
Wayne has recently begun painting. I first noticed this when I received my copy of Blue Stranger and admired the painting on the cover. Curious to see who did it, I found out it was Wayne himself. He’s having a solo show of his work at White Columns this fall. He described it to me this way: “It’s completely a continuation of writing. There’s no difference methodologically or emotionally between painting and writing for me, except that I really like doing it. It’s not boring in the way that writing is. It’s just like there are different kinds of marks that I haven’t done; I’ve used up all the other words.” It’s hard to imagine Wayne Koestenbaum—our most profound and pointed cultural critic, a writer of endlessly loquacious tomes, the sharpest-tongued human I know—having used up all the words. Impossible, really. We met at my Chelsea loft on a gray afternoon in late April to chat over a divine lunch of meats and cheeses from nearby Eataly. Fueled by a bottle or two of Sacravite, we launched right into a steamy conversation, the nature of which is, quite frankly, unprintable in this magazine. Instead, our interview officially began by examining the contents of my bookshelf. — KEN N ETH GOLDSMITH WAYNE KOESTENBAUM I love your library. I had forgotten the precision and beauty of your collection. It’s just unbelievable. KEN N ETH GOLDSMITH I only get one bookshelf, so for anything new that comes in, a whole bunch of books have to go out to make room. I’m such a collector and hoarder that if Cheryl [Donegan] didn’t make this rule, this place would be filled with so many books that you couldn’t move. WK Do the discards go to the country? KG Nothing gets sold. WK I salute that retentiveness. KG I can’t, because the collection is the trace of my intellectual life. As a kid I would go into new phases with records, and each time I entered a new one, I would sell the rest of my records. Eventually I ended up having to buy them all back. WK You’ve learned your lesson. KG Let me ask you a question here since I’m interviewing you. If this were your bookshelf, what would go? W K I don’t think you have books as low as my low books go. KG You wouldn’t have the Abbie Hoffman collection here. W K That’s not low, though. I wouldn’t have Abbie Hoffman because I lack the kind of street cred or lobby
mystique of Cravan and Paul Thek.” We’re not really talking about the words there, but when you begin to talk about your own practice, it does drift back to an analytical, you know, a purely Apollonian— WK —Yeah, I’m kind of Apollonian, because I have not mastered the art of friendship. When I think about the artists’ lives that are interesting, I have had, to some extent, an unfortunate notion—from never having gone to art school—that socializing and practice are somewhat separate. KG Really? W K Your work shows the imprint of having gone to art school. You understand that interpersonal behavior determines aesthetic protocol. KG It’s an interesting point. Having come through an art education and now teaching English, here’s what I’ve learned: English students function from the neck up; they don’t have bodies, they just have heads. WK Oh, that’s pathetic. KG And art students function from the neck down— they don’t have heads, they just have bodies. And they’re distrustful of heads. In the same way a literature student is distrustful of the body. After class the English students drift off, nothing happens. After class in art school, everyone goes dancing and gets drunk.
Wayne Koestenbaum, I’m Not Underage , 2010, acrylic on canvas, 14 × 11 inches.
WK It’s frightening. So what do you do, pedagogically? KG How do I join the two? Well, an English student, by doing something very dull, would be forced to confront the body. For instance, retyping things, he will be forced to notice the body, because the body is actually a really important part of writing. I don’t have to teach art students, so actually my job is much easier. I have very smart literature students, like you do, and my job is to make them dumber, you know? It’s a little downhill push. WK Oh, I can’t wait to hear you say that at the fundraiser at UPenn: Professor Goldsmith speaks to the donors about what he’s contributing to the student body! KG (Looks at flowers.) These are really beautiful. WK I love peonies. KG You want to hear something really funny about flowers? I’m doing a collaboration with John Ashbery. WK You are? How exciting!
Wayne Koestenbaum, The Same Guy , 2010, acrylic on canvas, 14 × 11 inches.
GABRIELLA DE FERRARI Don Ilario When I was a young girl I passed by his house several times a day. He was always there standing at the front door. He was very tall, very thin, and very straight. The only man in my town to dress all in white. A large pink carnation sprouted from his lapel. He lived in a small house in the Alameda. A house made of white stucco with a small front door that framed him in a way that made him larger than life, some sort of giant staring into the palm trees that lined the boulevard. Looking at him in the morning light as I walked to school, I imagined him contemplating great thoughts like the ones of those philosophers who lived in the bookshelves at the library. Next to the house behind a wrought iron fence, he had a small garden where he grew the carnations that he sported in his lapel—the scent near his home was soft and sweet. In his solemn silence he ignored all of us noisy young girls in uniforms. Sometimes, on our way to school, we dared each other to talk to him, but we were greeted with an empty stare. For our parents and other adults, he produced a dignified hello. Once my father brought him a bottle of champagne for Christmas, and on that occasion I was allowed to join them. He and my father would have a long visit, standing at his front door. They talked about politics, about food, and about ailments but mostly, and idyllically, they talked about Italy, their homeland. They came from different parts of Italy and compared notes on the food that they grew up eating, and the way they celebrated holidays. I wondered who did Don Ilario’s cooking or cleaning? The house was so quiet, I did not think he had a maid and, being so elegant looking, I could not imagine him in the kitchen or cleaning the house. Besides, men did not do these chores in my town. The conversations I overheard were not of a personal nature. I listened carefully hoping to learn something about this puzzling person to report to my friends in school. 101
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His name was Don Ilario Cambiasso. My parents spoke about him with the kind of reverence given to people whose stories are closed books for the young. To me, his mysterious presence was the embodiment of the exotic worlds that existed outside the monotonous life of my town. Worlds I couldn’t wait to explore. He became the instrument that allowed me and my friends to play out our young fantasies. At school, when we were left alone, we tried to outdo each other by inventing stories about this silent man. Every night between the ages of 12 and 14, I made up a bit of Don Ilario Cambiasso’s life. The next day I would deliver the installment to my classmates. In order to embellish my story, I made use of the encyclopedia, segments of the radionovelas the maids listened to in the kitchen, my mother’s magazines, and any book I could put my hands on. My classmates, I assumed, used similar tricks. My Don Ilario was a man born without the curse of death. He was eternal like the saints and the devil. He grew up in a small town in the Italian south and could not stand the poverty and desperation that surrounded him. At the age of 15, he left home and joined an illfated expedition to Portugal. The vessel he sailed in lost its course, and after several weeks at sea, in a violent storm, it capsized. Everyone died, except Don Ilario, who swam to shore. Without knowing it, Don Ilario had arrived on the northern tip of South America, a few years before Columbus. A group of natives rescued him. At first, they did not know what to do with this very white man with blond hair and blue eyes. When they realized that he was not only exceptionally strong but also kind, and that he could sing beautiful songs, they made him into one of their Gods. They called him Hatun Quilla (Great Moon). They fed him the best of foods, bathed him in goat’s milk, and perfumed his body with delicate scents. They built him a house with walls made of solid gold and moldings of emeralds and presented him with the most beautiful of their women. Soon, Don Ilario became bored by all of this adoration. He wanted to be rich and powerful among people like himself, he wanted books to read and food like the kind with which he grew up. One night, he stole the most perfect and largest of all
emeralds, and, with Arauca, his favorite woman, he escaped to a deserted beach. He left behind his very many children, little mestizo children with blue eyes and dark skins, who would haunt him in his dreams. On his deserted beach, with the formidable Arauca, he built himself a boat and they sailed until they reached the coast of Peru. Because he lived with an Indian woman and because he loved her so much, the Quechua Indians took him on as one of their own. He quickly learned their language and mesmerized them with his knowledge of the world, his tale of survival, and his stories about the Caribbean Indians. Don Ilario forewarned them of the arrival of the Spaniards and taught them many of the things that helped the Quechua when they appeared. He knew the degree of ignorance of the Spanish conquistadores and persuaded the Incas to protect their scientific knowledge. Because of Don Ilario, all the scientific information that was stored in Machu Picchu was removed and hidden away in places that are still to be found. He also instructed them to close their roads. The famous Inca Trail that linked the whole empire was made inaccessible to the Spaniards. The Indians gave him generous gifts of silver and gold, which he buried in a secret spot. Eternity came to Don Ilario with a caveat. Every time one of his women died, he lost the knowledge as well as the properties he had acquired during his life with her. The one thing that stayed with him was the knowledge of the existence of his children. When Arauca died, he lost everything and was left to invent a new life. He even forgot where he had hidden his gold. Eventually, the Indians grew tired of him because he didn’t remember things. They ignored him and one day he wandered away in search of a new existence. In his next life, Don Ilario became a traveling merchant. He bartered dyes and fibers that he found in the Peruvian jungle with the Indians in the Andes, in exchange for which he got silver and gold. He moved from town to town with Aymuray, his new woman who was always having babies. His dreams continued to be haunted by the presence of the beautiful children he had abandoned in the Caribbean.
MARGARET LEE Portfolio
Margaret Lee & Antoine Catala, http://www.suzannewhite. com/new-astrology/AquariusGoat.html , 2010, pigment print, 5 Ă— 7 inches. All images courtesy of the artists.
JESSICA BARAN Late and Soon, Getting and Spending Prose Sonnets on Dailiness 1. I’m not interested in propaganda. The space where you arrived is empty when you leave. The lake is open to questioning. Everyone has a different method: of lending, of accruing debt. Water can be boiled in all sorts of weather, but the pot cannot be outsourced. No one thought to peer through a window, as distress was simple. A freight train in the night. You never thought you’d see the day, but it came. Guilt was no longer deranging. Language had become flabby. No one had been minding their words. Everyone was eager to get the point and move forward. No more ruminative wallowing in unclarity. The bow pulled back, the arrow straight. When you speak your mind, the mind feels empty. It’s been so long since you lived in the present tense. The windows are obscured by cardboard. The message is bold and indelibly scrawled. It says something like this. 2. “In a time of waste and glut on every front, compression and economy have undeniable appeal.” “What is marginalized can also become a form of dissent.” 3. Totally normal. The normal. A better brand of inevitability offering a sure thing of uncertainty. Something to stand by, a good method. The kind of stuff that f ills afternoons: unlit entryways, central air, bargain prices. Lateral mobility. You’re not meant for that kind of direction. Your floor rustles with resilient life. Pestilence is a superior mode of survival. The least desirable things have nothing to give, and it does them well. The most desirable things have everything to take, and it does them well, too. Somewhere in between, in the soft, daily middle: 109
everything that is effortlessly expendable. It’s there and then it’s gone, and it never has to leave a note.
willful choice to care. Anomalies stave off anonymity. Plus, you always have the right to change your mind.
4. Potential is terrible. Remove better judgment. The muffling capacity of sheets, how they offer that dream of speechlessness. A tan leather sofa next to a card table with wheels. The worth of inappropriate behavior. The comforter makes a bed of spongeprint blossoms—nature in all seasons, polyblend. An anthem to dailiness. An American history of lost civility; the decline of small gestures. Cities of the century in drive-by ruins. Is this the clearing you were looking for? It’s not what you expected: not the rich black burnt thatch long lost woodsmen cleared in a wood of pines. Not the tractor-flattened part of the meal-colored prairie. Just a carpet sample thrown on faux terrazzo tiles. Its presence suggests that you curl up like a penitent preschooler, and nap hard.
7. The anxiety of correspondence—that a letter written and sent will actually arrive. Tough telling. No one thing will invite you to right every wrong. The weather report and the food you eat is a plainer way of getting through the day. It evens out the percentages. The neighbor, too, burns his leaves without conscience.
5. How did it get this easy? Risk business, risk society. There’s no one out there anymore who’s a legitimate fool. Information is large and readily informative, and your will is healthy and limitless. We’ve been misreading, which may be the only way to read. Trivia time. Leisure sports, leisure knowledge, leisure pets. How old we’ve suddenly become. How angry our pets have gotten. All those trophies of exploit, the mantle gross cluttered. Bring me the better salt, the more conspicuous consumables. Pathologies that sparkle. Why go away when you can see it all here? 6. Let those be the truer difficulties: the pleasure of your company, permissions given and received. A notneeding-to-know when to stop. Foolish articulations are not to be regretted but reedited. Say them again, just better this time. There are many varieties of jars to fill, so much time on our hands. Whose clock is ticking—the other fellow’s, you hope. Certain jottings, notes on decay. Where to put the recyclables? It all made it into the correct trash bin. Everyone labored to make the perfect match. There was a ceiling above, and a basement below. It’s okay. You’re making sense. The particulars needn’t be devoured. Marvel at all that hasn’t been discussed, at the other person’s
8. The anxiety of affluence. Distress logs, video loops, the lost trip to Canada. We reviewed the camping notes. A rainbow appeared in an oil slick; its lack of shape seemed democratic. Unforced pleasure is difficult to be consistent about. The sky is a kind of debt. You will be reimbursed. There will be a very beautiful day after tomorrow. Look at the enormous dishevelment of nighttime stars and put them into animal order. You found yourself looking. You hold yourself to be selfevident but still find more to say. The boss says nothing. I march to the beat of liberty. As long as I love you I am not free. Fuck destiny. A dream within a dream. What are you, a mind reader? They looked to me like men who had been somewhere. Committed to error. Expansive in life-lists. Everything a daily chore. Stick to your guns is what somebody yells. Then, in a whisper, incidental scrap can make a delicate yield. 9. Rage versus loneliness. The truer way for clothes to fit. Can you carry history on your back? There are many moments poised to be photographed but left immemorial. They clutter obscure storehouses of small worth. In getting back to the basics, sometimes the argument unspools. The emergency kit contained a bottle for holy water. The bottle was as empty as a shell. You heard music and it rang through the corridors of the tall-storied building. What does it mean to have your presence thoroughly fill the air? Stitch up the holes, become better mended. You expand and contract. Your body is never of a piece. Feel your own fingers. Sit there, don’t offend anyone. July’s strawberries have long since been spilled. All gross-out tactics prove futile. No one has time to look.
Danny Lyon by Susan Meiselas
Kenny and Slex, Bushwick , 1993, gelatin silver print, 11 Ă— 14 inches. Copyright Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of the artist and Edwynn Houk Gallery. 124
Shakedown, Ramsey, Texas Prison , 1968, gelatin silver print, 11 × 14 inches. Courtesy of the artist, the Menil Collection, Houston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery.
Coal Workers North of Danton , 2011, gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 inches. Courtesy of the artist, Phaidon Press, and Churner and Churner Gallery, New York City. 125
ART — DANNY LYON
I first met Danny Lyon in the photographers’ room at Magnum Photos. It was 1976, he was passing through and I had just joined the collective. He greeted me by saying that he had just stolen my book Carnival Strippers from a local bookstore. Danny was already a myth to me, with his immersive approach during the civil rights movement in the south. I was envious, having been too young to go myself. Then I bought The Bikeriders just as I began to do photography, but never thought I’d meet the man who took to the roads with them. He really became legendary with his powerful series on Texas prisoners Conversations with the Dead. We didn’t see each other often, but when I went
SUSAN MEISELAS Hello? Is this the real Danny Lyon? DANNY LYON Richard Avedon asked me that once; it was embarrassing. We were at a workshop he did with Marvin Israel at Avedon’s studio on 58th Street—one of these super vicious Manhattan art scenes. I’m guessing that the year was 1969. I showed pictures I made in whorehouses in Colombia in 1964, a slideshow with music. They lacerated my work. SM Really? DL Avedon’s father had just died, and he’d photographed him in his coffin. He was putting the pictures on the wall and kept sticking pushpins into the prints. I was horrified. “Who’s the real Danny Lyon?” he said. “You photographed civil rights, you photographed prostitutes, you photographed bikers.” I was so upset that I went home and destroyed the work. It had Ricky Nelson on the soundtrack singing “Hello Mary Lou,” an incredible song I had heard in a whorehouse in Colombia. SM So will the real Danny Lyon please stand up? (laughter) DL Claude Lanzmann, in his new biography, talks about Jews having masks. Maybe this is an inherited survival skill. My greatest strength has been empathy with others different from myself. SM So, would you give me a sense of your show at the Menil Collection? DL In 1968, I was photographing the Texas prison system, and, when I was evicted from a farm I had rented next to the prisons, I ended up living in Houston. People quickly linked me up with Dominique de Menil. I ended up knowing Addie [Adelaide de Menil] really well 127
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off to the insurrection in Nicaragua a few years later, Danny sent me a bulletproof vest. In fact it weighed too much for me to ever really use, but it meant a lot to me that he cared enough to send it. We’ve now crossed paths for years, sharing our books and some stories, with a sense of kinship, though definitely some differences. We both dive in, but I like to go back again and again to my subjects, he likes to move on. Danny likes to talk, I tend to listen, so here we are 36 years later, still getting to know each other. You might want to check out his blog: dektol.wordpress.com. — SUSAN MEISELAS
through her work in the Hamptons—she remains a friend of mine. Addie and her late husband, Ted Carpenter, donated a big collection of my civil rights and prison work to the Menil Collection, which Dominique and John, her parents, had started. The genesis of the show was to honor this gift. Then Toby Kamps, the curator, and I added a lot of things. Leon Henkin, my first cousin, was a genius in mathematics who studied with Einstein. He and his wife Ginette donated about 20 vintage prints that I’d given them over the years. That took it up into the Colombian pictures and Los Niños Abandonados, which I made in 1974. The show has nine montages in it, some of which were shown at my Whitney Museum show in 2008, and some of which are new. It also has a couple drawings by Billy McCune— one is a copy of a bikerider photograph. It has a couple of the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] posters, four of the China photographs from Deep Sea Diver, and three of the ones I did at Occupy when I was staying in your house and borrowed your batteries to photograph Zucotti Park. One from Occupy LA was made last November. That brings it up to the present. SM So it’s a mix, but what makes it coherent? DL That’s a good question. It’s not a retrospective; there are only 50 or 60 pieces in it. I like to break things up. I learned a lot of this from showing pictures with Mr. Hugh Edwards at the Art Institute of Chicago. I mix color and black-and-white and mix different sizes to have it be a good experience. SM Is there something important missing? DL For the Whitney show, I’d made a selection that I had sequenced in this
rational order. I came in the day they were hanging the show. The pictures were all leaning up against the walls. There were these three guys from the union standing with their uniforms on. I’m looking at the work and what I see is simple montages: a picture with Stephanie in it, a picture with Rachel in it, a picture with Nancy in it. I’m thinking, Did Elisabeth Sussman put this up? I’ve got to be careful with what I say, she’s the curator. SM Hmm. DL So I finally ask, “Elisabeth, who arranged this?” She shrugs and says, “It’s not arranged yet.” One of these union guys starts waving. “This is great!” I say. And they’re going, “We’re the union, we did it!” They had laid out the pictures in this totally cockamamy way: they had my two wives plus a girlfriend all together. I’m like, Well, that can’t survive! I said to Elisabeth, “This is much better than the rational sequence that I had with series, and chronology, and trying to make sense of the world and my work. Why don’t we leave it and just try and improve it?” So we broke up the three women and moved a couple things around and the show was great. It was totally irrational. It made individual things much stronger, and it didn’t impose a mindset on the viewer. SM You do so much with fragments but also sequences, books, films, and collages. You’re always working toward something beyond the single frame. DL So this time I show up in Houston to hang the show. Toby Kamps explains it needs to be chronological, beginning with my SNCC work and ending with Occupy 50 years later. In other words, everything I hate. The next morning I come into the empty gallery—the entire show is matted and framed and all laid out on the floor, in chronological order. Nobody but me is in
Eija-Liisa Ahtila by Cary Wolfe
Eija-Liisa Ahtila and I have never met in person—I only know what she looks like thanks to YouTube—and we conducted this conversation via email over a period of about two weeks in April of 2012, her keyboard docked in Helsinki, Finland; mine, in Houston, Texas. Worlds apart in many ways, not the least of which would be landscape and climate—things that matter very much to this artist. And yet, as she reminded me in our conversation, one of her most ambitious pieces, The Annunciation, ends with a song by Townes Van Zandt, the legendary Texas singer and songwriter from just up the road in Fort Worth. “Coincidence?,” I can hear him asking in his Texas drawl, even though he died on New Year’s Day, 1997. Our paths crossed several months ago when I was contacted by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and asked to write a piece for the catalogue of a major retrospective of Eija-Liisa’s work called Parallel Worlds. She had read some of my work (What Is Posthumanism?, I think) and asked them to contact me—and that made for an invitation that was hard to resist. Any number of critics and commentators will tell you that her work is meticulous in its execution, razor sharp in its intelligence, and beautiful and strange at 135
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the same time. But what I find most appealing about it is what I would characterize as a rather unique kind of gravitas, a willingness to raise the big questions, but in fresh and unexpected ways, as if they were part of the fabric of the ordinary and the everyday, as if we could stumble upon them—or they could come upon us—at any moment, while staring blankly at the computer screen, say, or out for a walk with the dog: What is the nature of the miraculous, of divinity or grace? What does it mean to share the planet with other creatures who inhabit very different life worlds from our own? What are my responsibilities as an artist or a person regarding historical events that transpired in another time and place? Can something familiar become strange and, in so doing, transform who I am and how I see? As many of her recent works attest, such questions aren’t to be simply answered, but are rather staged— in multichannel installations that bring space and time in and out of synchronicity, impossible to experience in a single take or point of view—and lived through, in a world neither wholly visible nor wholly ours. — CARY WOLFE
Series A: Action / Stumble, 2011, green pastel on Parisian paper, 21 1/2 Ă— 65 3/8 inches, from the series Anthropomorphic Exercises on Film.
Installation view of Horizontal , 2011, six-channel projection with 5.1-channel audio, six minutes, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2011. Photo by John Berens.
ART â€” EIJA-LIISA AHTILA
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Published on May 30, 2012
Published on May 30, 2012
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