Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Herbie Hancock/ The Imagine Project; Fall Reading List

[Herbie Hancock, The Imagine Project, released June 21, 2010.]

Herbie Hancock does it again, finding the beauty and strength in our differences, while reaffirming and celebrating our unity. "Peace through global collaboration," he says. "Perhaps you could say the recording studio is a model for peace, camaraderie and mutual respect."

Hancock creates thoughtful happiness, blending ingredients from many cultures judiciously, effectively. He's joined here by-- among many others-- Anoushka Shankar, Pink, John Legend, Derek Trucks, The Chieftains, Manu Katche, Seal, Chaka Khan, Jeff Beck, India.Arie, Oumou Sangare. ("Imagine" is-- yes-- John Lennon's, and there is also a wonderful rendition of Dylan's "The Times, They are A-Changing.")

Hancock again: "Every human is a creator...what can we do to help design the human orchestra of life?"

From music to books:

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins arrived this past week...well worth the wait...I am on page 107, and loving it...

On my fall list:

*Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, published in June by DAW.

*David Anthony Durham, The Other Lands (the second in the Acacia trilogy), out in paperback on August 31.

*Ken Scholes, Antiphon (the third book in The Psalms of Isaak series), due from Tor on September 14.

*Erzebet Yellowboy, Sleeping Helena, due from Prime, November 16.

*D.M. Cornish, Factotum (the final book in The Foundling's Tale trilogy), from Putnam, November 11.

*Catherine Fisher, Sapphique (the sequel to Incarceron), first American release, Penguin, December 28.

"Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Long Live Literature in the Digital Age!

In the midst of worries about the future of fiction in a digital age, literature (still) matters enough that Jonathan Franzen made the cover of Time two weeks ago. Click here for Lev Grossman's article on Franzen, and Franzen's notes on the novels that most influenced him.

Denis Dutton -- in The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure & Human Evolution (Bloomsbury, 2009; out now in pb)-- argues that fiction is a crucial adaptation for our survival:

"The basic themes and situations of fiction are a product of fundamental, evolved interests human beings have in love, death, adventure, family, justice, and overcoming adversity. 'Reproduction and survival' is the evolutionary slogan, which in fiction is translated straight into the eternal themes of love and death for tragedy, and love and marriage for comedy. [...] Story plots...inevitably follow, as Aristotle realized and Darwinian aesthetics can explain, from an instinctual desire to tell stories about the basic features of the human predicament." (page 132).

For a smart, complex exchange on the value of fiction-- and particularly fiction's relationship to non-fiction-- see Scott Esposito's "On the Insufficiency of Fiction For Our Times." Esposito, editor of The Quarterly Conversation, is responding to recent posts by a number of other critics.

Riffing on Esposito's essay, Levi Stahl (on August 6, in The Constant Conversation) notes: "Outside of the storied coffeeshop of Johnsonian days, there’s never been anything like the Internet for facilitating–hell, even generating–this sort of discussion. If the very idea of a golden age didn’t give me hives, I’d say we were living in it right now."

"Yes, yes!" sings the canary, while lobster claps his claws.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Sybil's Garage; Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet; Greer Gilman (Readercon20)

Lobster & Canary happily subscribe to Sybil's Garage (from Senses Five Press) and to Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (from Small Beer Press). We encourage you to do the same.

The latest Sybil's (no. 7, arrived last week) is the biggest ever at nearly 200 pages, and is as well produced as always. We're still reading our way through, but so far we are impressed. For instance, check out "The Unbeing of Once-Leela" by Swapna Kishore, and "An Orange Tree Framed Your Body," by Alex Dally MacFarlane. Also, poems by Sonya Taaffe, and Amal El-Mohtar.

The current LCRW (no. 25, published in May) is the usual omnium gatherum of delightful things. Jeannine Hall Gailey's poems about The Fox-Wife stood out for us, likewise Daniel Braum's "Music of the Spheres" and "Elephants of the Platte" by Thomas Israel Hopkins. Above all: "Exuviation" by Haihong Zhao, which strikes just the right balance between the utterly alien and the entirely plausible.

Thinking of Small Beer Press reminded us of one of their authors, Greer Gilman, whom we heard read from her then just-published Cloud & Ashes at Readercon 20 in July, 2009. (And Sonya Taaffe sang as part of that recital...lovely.) We heard Greer read "Down the Wall" the year before at KGB.

In the Readercon 20 souvenir book, Greer -- one of the guests of honor-- said: "I pretty much wrote the book backward and inside out. ... It's maze-making. Once you get the torch to light--and it can take years to get the torch alight--that makes the maze. The rooms unfold only if you are already in the light. If you're in the dark, you can't find the way."

If you are keen to find your way, we urge you to buy and read Greer's work.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Lady Gaga; Hannah Hoch: Rebecca Horn; Marina Abramovic

[Lady Gaga on the cover of Rolling Stone, issue 1108/1109, July 8-22, 2010]

[A montage of works by Hannah Hoch]

[Hugo Ball, in costume to recite his sound-poem "Karawane", at the Cafe Voltaire, Zurich, 1916]

[Theatre of Marionettes, Automata and Dolls, at the Bauhaus, c.1925 ]

[Rebecca Horn, "White Body Fan," 1972; photo by A. Thode]

[Rebecca Horn, still from the film Unicorn, 1970-1972; photo by A. Thode]

[Marina Abramovic, interview connected to her show "The Artist is Present," at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, March 14-May 31, 2010.]

Thinking about Lady Gaga as a performance/installation artist as much as a musician.

She has sparked much conversation about the "machine-gun bra" that she sports on the cover of Rolling Stone, and that she wears in her latest video, "Alejandro," but the concept is hardly new. Madonna famously wore an exaggerated conical bra in "Vogue" and on tour; Rebecca Horn sketched a design for "breast extensions" in the late 1960's.

Horn's early work was all about body extensions of various sorts, presaging Gaga's (and Beyonce's and Rihanna's) fascination with the same.

Other pop music antecedents: David Byrne's "big suit," Peter Gabriel in his days with Genesis, David Bowie as "Ziggy Stardust," George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the entire Funkadelic Parliament band, Elton John's eyewear (pairing Elton with Gaga at this year's Grammy Awards was a natural).

Shared models from experimental theater and the visual arts might include the "mechanical ballet" and "theater of dolls" staged by Schlemmer at the Bauhaus in Weimar, and the work of Hannah Hoch and other Dadaists, especially Hugo Ball with his bruitist presentations at the Cafe Voltaire.

Mix in Berlin cabaret and German Expressionism, some Grand Guignol, a dash of Artaud and a pinch of Mummenschanz, and a big swirl of vaudeville and burlesque.

Oh, and science fiction... surely the costumed Gaga and dancers who emerge from the pods at the start of her video "Bad Romance" owe something to the Giger/Scott creature in Alien?

Whatever her sources of inspiration, Gaga is reminding audiences that performance matters. The question is whether she will dare as much as some others have done, for instance Marina Abramovic, for whom performance is unique, unsettling, and authentic.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: "Wake Up"; Kate Castelli

"Wake Up," by The Arcade Fire (2007); a theme song for the Spike Jonze/Dave Eggers film of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

"Wake up, lobster, wake up!" Translucent chalk edgings on the Hudson's waves, the faintest blue wash above, the gulls are calling out..."Look at all the sailboats! Little ones for exploring the river and the and there: giant ocean-going ones, all the way from London or the Caribbean."

As we set sail, let us think of Calvin & Hobbes, and the Pevensies (especially Lucy) on the Dawntreader, Ged and Vetch in the Lookfar seeking Ged's bane on the open sea, Lyra (and Pantalaimon!) sailing north with John Faa and the Gyptians to rescue the kidnapped children, and of course Max wearing his animal-suit as he careens across the waves to meet the Wild Things.

An artist who captures the expectancy, the shimmery promise, of our trip is Kate Castelli. I urge you to spend time with her sketchbooks online (some of which will tour nationally in early 2011), and to read her blog, "Wandering But Not Lost." Click here for these.

Kate kindly answered a few questions for us:

Lobster & Canary, question 1:

The thesis of the 2009 Hayward Gallery/London show­ entitled ­The end of the line- attitudes in drawing:

“In the Western tradition, drawing was the foundation of art education, the essential discipline underlying all others. In the second half of the 20th century, a more academic approach to art making threatened the authority of drawing as a 'pure' art form, as a result, many schools cast it out as a throwback to past times. Recently drawing has returned to the mainstream as a cheap and autonomous activity, a democratically available form of image making, uniquely capable of intimate, spontaneous self-revelation.”

There certainly seems to be increased curatorial and scholarly interest in drawing. Some examples of this include the first-ever comprehensive exhibition of Bronzino’s drawings (at the Metropolitan, NYC earlier this year), the ground-breaking show of Parmigianino’s drawings in 2004 at the Frick (NYC), and books like Roberto Calasso’s 2006 (English translation, 2009) Tiepolo Pink on the painter’s Scherzi and the first-ever survey of conceptual/”interior space” artist Rachel Whiteread’s drawings, published this month. Collecting activity also seems to be picking up, judging from the successful launch ten years ago of Master Drawings, London and of its counterpart in New York four years ago.

But are we truly seeing a revival of interest in drawing in the art schools?

Kate's Response: "I don’t think there was ever a loss of interest in drawing. It is too vital of a skill to ignore. When you enter art school, drawing serves as a fundamental building block to engage in the visual language of the world. It is a way to make sense of what you are seeing. You become facile and adept. Eventually you realize that recording what you see is not enough, you are not a camera after all. This is the other side of drawing in art school, the expressive. Developmentally this can only happen after a rigorous and academic foundation. You choose what to keep and what to disregard. It is this intuitive editing combined with a skill set that really develops the artistic voice.

I think the renewed interest in drawing is more rooted in the dialogue between the artist and their voice. It’s not about what they see, but how they see it".

Lobster & Canary, question 2:

“If there is a renaissance of drawing taking place, it is not driven by the art market, but by something inside the artists themselves. It is driven, I suspect, by something innate and human, by a constellation of long-standing behaviors and impulses shaped as much by human nature as by culture.” Says Peter Steinhart in his The Undressed Art: Why We Draw (2004), p. 9.

Your thoughts on this?

Kate's Response: "There is a visceral immediacy to drawing. It is the relationship between the eye and the hand, or the head and the hand. It is a process and a product. I am more interested in the process, the intuitive, the compulsion to put a mark on a surface. I think the art market is generally interested in the product, something authentic and elemental. It is the dual nature of drawing; a place to begin and an end unto itself."

Lobster & Canary, question 3:

Talk to us about your sketchbooks. How much is spontaneous observation, how much an accretion of ideas, how much intended as a finished product, how much as preliminary to a final work? Do you study the sketchbooks of other artists?

Kate's Response: "I always carry a sketchbook, I feel naked without one. I’ve done 2-4 a year for the last couple of years. I think I’m on number 14. My sketchbooks are constantly evolving. They have always been a beginning and an end. I move seamlessly between the sketchbook and my finished work. The sketchbooks inform my work but I also consider them objects unto themselves.

The current incarnation is a combination of observational line drawings, collected ephemera, ink explorations, hand lettering and stitching. In this particular sketchbook I have been looking at how the spreads relate to each other. Sometimes I over think my sketchbook and have to remind myself that it is a place to play. That is the beauty of sketchbooks: they don’t have rules. They don’t have to be polished or edited.

I am fascinated by other artists’ sketchbooks. They allow you to not only engage in dialogue about process, but also about passion. Sketchbooks are deeply personal in an unexpected way. I show certain pages but rarely reveal the whole book. Only one person besides myself has seen all of them.

And I never draw or do anything on the first page. It is a little superstition of mine, but I always begin on the second page."

Lobster & Canary, question 4:

On your blog, "Wandering But Not Lost", you recently draw a series of airships inspired by Italo Calvino. Talk about some of your favorite authors, and how they may spur your creativity.

Kate's Response: "Invisible Cities was an interesting read. I enjoyed the ephemeral nature of the narrative structure. Calvino’s descriptions were both evasive and vivid.

I am rarely directly inspired by what I read. Reading offers a respite from the visual overload of the everyday world. I feel it engages a different part of my mind, a guilty pleasure of sorts. My tastes vary greatly, although I generally stick to fiction or art history and criticism. Being a visual creature, I have to admit I do pick books by their cover. This method, combined with roaming around bookstores aimlessly has rarely left me disappointed. Some of my recent favorites have been The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

Some perennial favorites include Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, and Kim by Rudyard Kipling."

Lobster & Canary, question 5:

On your blog, you also note your love for the music of the Rolling Stones. Tell us something about how music (Stones or others) may inspire your art.

Kate's Response: "I love the Rolling Stones for their music and their mythology. I have been listening to them since I was a little kid, but it was only later that I truly began to understand and appreciate what the Stones are really about. They don't apologize for who they are or who they were. Keith Richards famously says at every concert, “It’s good to be here, it’s good to be anywhere.” They’ve been making music for over four decades and show no signs of stopping. There is always room to grow.

Stones or otherwise, music is a vital part of my creative process. I have to listen to music when I am working in the studio. I can’t stand silence, it feels too fragile. Sometimes it is a certain album, mostly it is whatever comes up on iTunes shuffle; anything from Copland to the Stones, to Phoenix."

Lobster & Canary, question 6:

If you could talk with a dead artist, who would it be? What would you want him or her to tell you?

Kate's Response: "As a student and lover of art history this is quite the question. Must I pick only one?

I’d love to play chess with Duchamp, ask Calder about the color red, or accompany Joseph Cornell on his ephemeral wanderings in New York City. I’d ask them about these seasons of self-doubt, how to stay engaged and inspired in this world, their favorite color."

Canary's final words: "Thank you Kate! And, look, I spy land away on the far, far horizon...a line of hazy green...Get ready, lobster!"