In my September 19th blog post, I wrote the following: “No one in the public saw (Hilma af Klint’s) private work until the mid 1960s, and it is only now gaining international recognition as being the first examples of non-objective painting in Western art, having preceded Kandinsky’s by at least four years.” Today, this is a headline about her work in Artsy Magazine:
I love Hilma af Klint’s work and am happy it is getting widespread recognition but come on, let’s me a bit more careful with our headlines. She did not “invent” abstract art! Abstract non-objective art has existed outside Western (aka: white people) art for thousands of years, the oldest example of it being from 73,000 years ago in Africa.
Yesterday, I was listening to Keep It, a podcast hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown and Louis Virtel. It’s “a show about pop culture, politics and what happens when they smack into each other at alarming speed,” (like when Donald Trump becomes president, or Taylor Swift announces she’s a Democrat).
About Swift’s first foray into public politics, Kara Brown, a writer who covers pop culture, race, and television, had this to say: “I think that’s what you’re seeing with a lot of mostly white people now where they did not feel the urgency two years ago. They didn’t feel like the world was about to fucking end, which is how I felt when Donald Trump was elected. And they weren’t terrified. And they weren’t worried about what he was going to do. And now that they see what he’s been doing, now they’re scared. And now they’re reacting…(Swift) wasn’t transgender and realizing that all of her fucking rights were going to be taken away. She wasn’t an immigrant and realizing that, holy shit, this president hates me. She wasn’t a Black male who’s like, wow, are they going to keep making it really easy to gun us down in the street? And for me it’s a little sad that you have to see things get really bad in order for that empathy chip to kick in. You sort of hope that it’s just functioning properly by living as a human in the world and interacting with others.”
My friend _____ (who for context is not white) told me something interesting about empathy once. He told me that he doesn’t believe empathy is the answer to addressing racism and other prejudices, because one cannot experience empathy unless they themselves have experienced the suffering. Instead, we have to have a clear and consistent ethical code that doesn’t require empathy, a set of principles we live by that kicks into gear when we witness discrimination. An example of one of these principles would be to use your public platform to lift up those who face more barriers than you do.
Swift had no such code. She knowingly courted white supremacist support of her music, which I can only assume she did because she wanted those dollar bills. This week, she made her first public statement about transphobia, homophobia and racism: “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.” I hope she continues to use her platform to encourage her fans to vote against bigotry. We’ll see.
Kara Brown goes on to say it’s a bit too little too late; if Swift had done this two years ago before the presidential election, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
October 10th, 2018
Last night, in the tub with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, I finished Keith Maillard’s latest novel Twin Studies, a sprawling and multifaceted story about the traumas and triumphs of three sets of twins who are brought together through strange and enthralling circumstances.
At times difficult to read, due to its visceral and thorough depiction of grief, there were moments in this novel of depression–and the lengths one goes to to hide or ignore or find relief from depression–that were so sharply accurate I had to pause and allow the emotion to work its way through me before continuing. The characters, and how they love each other, made me yearn for my own family, and threw into relief my fears about losing the people whom I consider a part of who I am.
The story begins with a set of intriguing emails that introduces the novel’s leitmotif–an academic study of the biology and psychology of twins–and in a way ends with its antithesis, a more spiritual and artistic approach to defining family. In between is the stuff Maillard is known for: difficult conversations and tense situations that circle around each character’s struggle with identity, gender, loss and how to keep looking forward.
October 9th, 2018
Over the past couple weeks, three very privilegedpeople in America (cis, straight, white, monied women) have shared (or re-shared) stories of abuse or their support for victims of abuse.
Even though cis straight white monied women are the least likely of all women to be abused, the media and public pay the most attention to their stories because of transphobia, homophobia, white supremacy and privilege. Often, the men they accuse are famous or powerful or both.
Many people have questions about why privileged white women share their stories of abuse, abuse that maybe was less physically violent than others, abuse that we perceive as not having broken them because there they stand, relatively thriving, with varying amounts of money and status. Shouldn’t they be taking that time and energy to protect those more in danger than them? If the most serious impact of the abuse is that now the victim needs two front doors on her home instead of one, is this the abuse we should be paying attention to? Also, don’t we know the earth is melting? What seems more urgent?
Today, about her own story, Busy Philipps wrote on an Instagram caption, “It’s a story that I have been telling for years. James apologized. I accepted. And I still get to tell it because it fucking happened to me.” There’s the implication of privilege–“I still get to tell it.” Others don’t.
I’ve been thinking about this tweet by Sidrah Ahmad a lot since I first saw it. Be a traitor to the patriarchy; push the bricks of the wall from where you are.
October 5th, 2018
Here is a portrait of a young Georgia O’Keeffe wearing gingham, painted by American artist Hilda Belcher in 1907.
October 4th, 2018
I read andrea bennett’s Hazlitt essay The In-Between Space a few days ago and I’m still thinking about it and thinking about my own gender expression. The visual style traits I connect most strongly to my gender are my long hair and my long dresses. In general, I dress in a style that might be called ‘modest’ in the fashion industry simply because most of my skin is covered up. The word ‘modest’ has a strange moral connotation to it, and always reminds me of when Mayim Bialik wrote that poorly-timed and poorly-worded op-ed for the New York Times urging women to stop being naive about how we sexualize our own bodies in service of the patriarchy, which literally has nothing to do with men who sexually assault women.
A few years ago, my partner’s mom (who is also my friend) called me a “Gibson Girl!” one morning when I came out of my bedroom in a floral housecoat and my hair piled on top of my head in a loose bun.
“What’s a Gibson Girl?!” I asked.
“Oh those girls from the early 1900s with the long hair piled up on their head in the voluminous pompadours,” she said. I could picture what she meant, and I filed it away as the name of the hairstyle, not thinking to wonder where it came from.
Then, a few months later, a student wrote about the Gibson Girls as part of her art project and I learned that it was not just a hairstyle but in fact was a whole fictionalized example of a woman, an ‘ideal woman,’ of how she should dress and behave and wear her hair and look. She was “created” by American graphic designer Charles Dana Gibson, who was “inspired” by his wife onto whom he projected this Gibson Girl’s aspirational figure.
People say now he created the Gibson Girl as an early form of opposition to the spectre of the New Woman, though Man Gibson seemed less frightened by the fact that women were reading more books and organizing politically and more frightened by the fact that they were cutting their hair short and hiding their figures.
My friend was right, I do have this long hair that I sometimes pile up on top of my head. And, I do…love myself a long-sleeved dress. But it certainly isn’t to comply to a male’s standard of appearance. Unless a male is going to appraise my mind or my sharp sense of style first, I’d actually prefer he not look at me at all!
A Gibson Girl, who looks to be directing/scolding some men who are holding an upside-down tree. Maybe she’s telling them to turn the tree right-side up before they plant it. From Wikipedia commons.
October 3rd, 2018
Last night, while taking a hot bath and drinking one cold glass of Pinot Grigio (an activity that has become a Glorious Autumn Habit), I finished reading Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Not a single character in this bleak satire is “likeable” (they are, of course, all loveable) and love them I did as they hurtled, lost, through their lives. Though hopeful moments are few and far between, the two that come at the end (amidst horrific mass death) are stunning. The book takes place in Manhattan between 2000 and 2001.
Death is present throughout the book–dead parents, dead dogs, dead fruit–and no one has a functional relationship with mortality because, according to the protagonist, their vanity (including her own) has gotten in the way. Thus the book reads like a contemporary literary vanitas: beautiful objects formally arranged to remind the reader that earthly goods (Louboutins for skulls, sleeping pills for wine, Whoopi Goldberg VHSs for hourglasses) are fleeting while spiritual peace is everlasting. The protagonist believes that a year of sleep will bring her this peace in a purity of form: “Mine was a quest for a new spirit.”
One of the last scenes of the novel takes place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and culminates in a tense interaction between the protagonist, a security guard, and a painting of grapes in which our sleeping beauty has at last, at long tortured last, seen some humanity. The suspense I felt here reminded me of this episode of the Art Curious podcast, about why certain people at certain times are driven to enter museums and destroy works of art.
But the protagonist does not destroy the art, she simply touches it, in a significant moment John Berger might reflect on as having “almost nothing to do with what anyone teaches about art. It’s as if the painting, absolutely still, soundless, becomes a corridor, connecting the moment it represents and the moment at which you are looking at it. And something travels down that corridor at a speed greater than light, throwing into question our way of measuring time itself.”
The water in my bath cooled; the wine in my glass warmed. I drained the tub and turned on the latest episode of KUWTK. As I watched, the unnamed protagonist’s voice–fed up, mean and funny –was still running through my head. One reviewer said Moshfegh writes sentences “that are snipped as if the author has an extra row of teeth.” On the screen, Scott Disick takes a pair of dull scissors and saws through Kim Kardashian’s Fulani braids, which had begun to make her feel “claustrophobic.” It’s not her real hair anyway, she assured him and Khloe. And even if it was, she didn’t care, she needed out.
October 2nd, 2018
Ana Mendieta was a Cuban artist probably best known for her Silueta series, three examples of which are shown above. Like Kara Walker after her, Mendieta’s use of the silhouette shows both a presence (of body) and an absence (of detail). Mendieta left Cuba in 1960 at age twelve with Operation Pedro Pan, a secret mission that transported thousands of minors to the United States at the start of Fidel Castro’s regime. She didn’t see her parents for years afterward, and bounced from state to state, from foster home to foster home.
Less celebrated are Mendieta’s more brutal pieces. She once used her own body to re-create a violent rape scene, inviting viewers into her home to see her naked, tied to a table, covered in blood. For a different piece, she poured pig’s blood and viscera from the front door of her apartment out onto the street, suggesting a wounded body on the floor inside. The art was in her surreptitious photographs of people’s reactions to the blood, which Mendieta predicted correctly would be indifferent.
People say Mendieta’s work was overshadowed by her death, but I don’t know if that’s true. I first learned of Mendieta’s art when I saw her gorgeous, gender-bending photography series Untitled (Facial Hair Transplant). It wasn’t until a couple years after that that I accidentally stumbled upon her cause of death: a fall from her apartment window after a fight with her husband, sculptor Carl Andre. He admitted they’d argued that night about “his reputation in the art world surpassing hers,” but that she must have jumped out of the bedroom window or accidentally fallen. He was charged with her murder and acquitted for lack of evidence.
I am thinking about Ana Mendieta today because of a news report: her estate is suing a film studio for using Mendieta’s art without permission. Meanwhile, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s life is being immortalized, again, this time on Broadway. The press release announcing the development reads (in the third sentence) that producers are “working closely with the Basquiat Estate and have secured the rights to the painter’s art work and personal archives.”
Wonderful news for the Basquiat Estate, for theatre-goers and art-lovers. I love Basquiat’s work and legacy as much as I love Mendieta’s. In a perfect world, both estates would be honoured and consulted and compensated. Both artists would get their own Broadway show.
October 1st, 2018
In today’s episode of Canadaland, Sheila Heti interviewed Rachel Cusk. It was a wonderful surprise to hear two women talking about art on a media criticism program that I otherwise conceive of as being very male. I loved what Cusk had to say about character, truth and narrative frequency, how she directed each question, no matter how personal, back to form. When differentiating between her fiction and memoir (Cusk has written several books of each) Cusk said, “A novel, you have to build like a building, so that it stays standing even when you’re not in it…For memoir, you use yourself as the building so other people can come be in you for a bit.”
The end of the interview was disappointing, only because I felt as though Cusk had said something that demanded more questions. She said, “(On literary panels) one is expected to have an opinion on the Me Too movement…and I find I have nothing to say. I felt I’ve lived through womanhood in the most basic and arduous ways, and now I don’t feel gendered, and I’m interested in knowing what is after gender.”
I am so curious to hear more about what she means. She is fifty-one. She has written eight novels and three memoirs, all about issues that are decidedly “gendered”–motherhood, divorce, sexist reactions to her books. A reviewer at the New York Times called her one of the smartest writers alive. She has no opinion on Me Too. She is interested in what is after gender. Aren’t we all? Isn’t that what Me Too is all about?
September 28th, 2018
From Etel Adnan’s Night:
Memory can fail us…We then enter barrenness, we silence the mind’s deserts; a few events may emerge, oh so very few!
There must be non-human memories from where our own surges, take us to the next thing.
Memory and theatre work in similar ways. Memory trespasses our limits. Some animals hear it…some structures own it. Theatre started with the Greek oracle. In Delphi. When the Pythia was uttering her sound, her cry, she was passing a message from one world to an other, so that it be stored in the human memory, and the people were watching, and the event was becoming a representation.
Thus a remembered event is a return to a mystery. When that happened for the first time, in pre-ancestral times, the creature that witnessed it as a return to the past was shattered.