Sunday, December 11, 2011

Melora Griffis at 571 Projects

--Melora Griffis, empty room (2010; acrylic, gouache, pastel on paper).

--Griffis, blue sun (2010; acrylic, gouache, pastel on paper).

In mid-November, the Lobster & Canary made our first visit to 571 Projects, a beautiful small art gallery in NYC's Chelsea founded by Sophie Brechu-West two years ago ("571" refers to the gallery's square footage). We were rewarded with a gem of a show: wings and murmurs, paintings by New York artist Melora Griffis.

Griffis's work has great narrative power, stories emerging from depths below the carefully muted surfaces, and spurred by the enigmatic shapes and figures (many half-rendered, or veiled) the painter places on the canvas. The overall effects are of restraint and solemnity, possibly remonstrance and mourning, overlaid with spectral uncertainty and a sense of things perceived rather than formally witnessed (fittingly, one of Griffis's paintings is titled unsichtbar, which is German for "invisible, unseen, hidden"). Griffis works small wonders with her chalky/milky backgrounds supporting flares of subtle, slightly slurred color. She calls to mind Pousette-Dart's mostly white paintings, the pale mysterious abstractions of Adele Sypesteyn, the finely calibrated gestures on corrugated white done by Saul Fletcher. Her eerie personages recall those of Ensor, and --while her style differs often substantially from each of the following--the tone is similar to those suffusing Marsden Hartley, Johns, Bonnard, Rauschenberg, Gorky, Tamayo, and O'Keefe.

--Griffis, schlossgespenst (2010; oil on linen)

571 Projects is an arts space to watch, a welcome newcomer to the Chelsea scene. The warmly dynamic Brechu-West has a sharp eye, and a strong sense of how the space interacts with and supports the artwork, how the space becomes a part of the overall aesthetic experience. She chose the locale for-- among other things-- its large windows with their unobstructed views of Chelsea Piers, so that the rays of the afternoon sun and of the sunset play a role in how viewers see the art.

Brechu-West is also willing to cross disciplinary boundaries. As an example of the latter drive, 571 Projects hosted a talk last week by Griffis along with three poets-- Betty Harmon, Alystyre Julian, and Shelly Stenhouse--reading poetry inspired by Griffis's displayed work. Alas, the Lobster & Canary could not attend the event, but we love the concept and look forward to more such salons at 571 Projects.

Visit 571 Projects. For more information, click here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman

Lobster & Canary was at the November 22nd book launch party at The Center for Fiction (NYC) for Delia Sherman's The Freedom Maze (published by Small Beer Press's Big Mouth House imprint).

We have not yet finished the book, but it promises to be one of the best for 2011. (Don't just take our word on that: Kirkus Reviews has already selected The Freedom Maze as a best children's book of the year, and strongly positive advance reviews are in from--among others-- Alaya Dawn Johnson, Gregory Maguire, Cory Doctorow, Holly Black, N.K. Jemisin, Jane Yolen, Nisi Shawl and Terri Windling).
It's a time-travel story with some great twists. It provides us with a set of powerful lenses through which to explore, imagine and think about race and gender-- in the antebellum South and as that period continues to impact the present day.

Here's the synopsis Small Beer supplies (you can download the first chapter at the Small Beer site by clicking here):

"Set against the burgeoning Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and then just before the outbreak of the Civil War, The Freedom Maze explores both political and personal liberation, and how the two intertwine.

In 1960, thirteen-year-old Sophie isn’t happy about spending summer at her grandmother’s old house in the Bayou. But the house has a maze Sophie can’t resist exploring once she finds it has a secretive and playful inhabitant.

When Sophie, bored and lonely, makes an impulsive wish inspired by her reading, hoping for a fantasy adventure of her own, she slips one hundred years into the past, to the year 1860. On her arrival she makes her way, bedraggled and tanned, to what will one day be her grandmother’s house, where she is at once mistaken for a slave."

You can read more about Delia at her site by clicking here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shahzia Sikander & Du Yun at Sikkema Jenkins

Shahzia Sikander's current show at Sikkema, Jenkins (in NYC's Chelsea) includes a 10-minute animated video projected on a large wall, entitled Last Post, with accompanying music by Du Yun.

The animation is kaleidoscopic, constantly changing, with forms collapsing and fragmenting, colors shifting, ghostly calligraphy floating in the background. The main character is an English East India Company officer, at first stolidly implanted within the world of a Mughal miniature painting, then balancing precariously and ultimately dissolving. Jewel-like shapes detach themselves, become floating corpuscles--to our eye the opium derived from the poppy and shipped from India to China in the 19th century.

The music is perfectly suited to the images; one is lured into the viewing room-- which is separate from the large, open main gallery-- by the deep, melancholy themes. Together, moving images & flowing music, tell a story of transcultural exchange, of disparities in power and unbalanced power, of decay and renewal.

Above all, Sikander (trained at the National College of Arts, Lahore before moving to RISD, and living now in NYC) and Yun (trained at the Shanghai Conservatory before moving to Oberlin and Harvard, and living now in NYC) are superb at re-contextualizing traditional forms and at mixing different genres without resorting to pastiche or the lowest common denominator. In this, they remind Lobster & Canary of Yinka Shonibare and of Kehinde Wiley, artists who are in the vanguard of our emerging globalized world, knitting us together while retaining the granular, organic individuality of each of us and the authenticity of our constituent local cultures.

As Sikander puts it in an artist statement on the Sikkema, Jenkins site:

"I find the terminology and the referencing of work in terms of an east and west paradigm, simplistic and dated. It robs the work of all nuances in meaning. In fact these days the world is small and one should really consider work in terms of some sort of global context of ideas. Work I believe should stand on its own, irrespective of geography."

For more Sikander, click here and click here (a filmed conversation between Sikander and MoMA director Glenn Lowry).

For more Du Yun, click here (scroll far down on the right-hand side to check out her list of influences!).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Berman, Delany, Hairston, Hernandez, Johnson & Kushner at The Center for Fiction (NYC): Celebrating Le Guin

Last month The Center for Fiction in midtown Manhattan presented a reading series as part of the NEA's Big Read (in partnership with Arts Midwest) celebrating Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. (The Center is an elegant haven for books and book-lovers in the midst of Manhattan's roar and hustle, reminding Lobster & Canary of the wizard's school on the island of Roke in Le Guin's Earthsea; visit the Center, support the Center.) Click here and here for information on the entire series. Lobster & Canary was in the audience October 24th for one of the panels: "Outsiders In/Of Science Fiction and the Fantastic," moderated by Ellen Kushner, and featuring Steve Berman, Samuel R. Delany, Andrea Hairston, Carlos Hernandez, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

The panel was everything such an event should be, i.e., a warm, smart and authentic conversation both among the panelists and with audience members, deftly moderated; a lively give-&-take, laced with inclusive humor.

Kushner launched the discussion by asking whether speculative fiction is inherently an "outsider genre." Lobster & Canary is happy to report that we could not discern a clear consensus among the many and quickening responses (what a dull panel it would have been had a consensus emerged). The garden simply has too many blooms--as Le Guin notes in her essay collection, Cheek by Jowl (referenced by Hairston on the panel), fantasy is necessarily about "reinventing the world of intense, unreproducible, local knowledge" as a way to deny or refute simplistic conclusions, false unanimity and soul-flattening homogenization.

Or perhaps there was agreement that spec fic is intrinsically outsider art but the panel was eager to move on to two other (related) questions:

* Is spec fic friendly to writers other than straight white males (corollary: friendlier than other genres)?

* Is the boundary between speculative fiction and other forms of fiction (what Delany called here "Big Lit") clear, hierarchical and fenced?

Not surprisingly, opinions varied on both themes. Responses were thoughtful and nuanced inside their "yes but..." and "maybe, sometimes" wrappers. Le Guin was the stalking horse throughout, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven referred to as much as or more than The Wizard of Earthsea, the critical essayist of "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" and The Wave in the Mind as honored as the novelist.

A few flowers from the garden:

Berman suggested that the speculative elements in a story are akin to the tools a carpenter uses, that speculation is not present merely as either ornamentation or an end in itself, but as a means to address deeper societal issues.

Hairston spoke of spec fic as writing in the subjunctive, the "what might be." She interleaved that concept with the drive to identify and then recover what we have lost, the right and need to imagine worlds when "the film stock has dissolved" in ours. She also reminded us that, even with super powers, there is no guarantee that one will be able to change the world-- spec fic is not simple escapism or wish fulfillment.

Johnson emphasized the playful use of spec fic to "twist the world," to see what the twisting reveals about how we live today, and how we might live otherwise now or in the future.

Johnson also highlighted (citing David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas as an example) that the boundaries between speculative fiction and the other kind appear to be getting more porous, as genre fiction experiments with literary techniques and mainstream fiction adopts speculative tropes.

Delany took a less sanguine view, arguing that the border is very real and patrolled by power brokers who only now and then allow, say, a Vonnegut up and through. He used Sturgeon as the counter-example of a great writer who has gone unheralded by "Big Lit."

Hernandez turned the map inside out, leaving the border police ineffectively guarding checkpoints that no longer matter, by saying all fiction is speculative--it is just that self-proclaimed spec fic writers are more honest about what they are up to.

The fact that The Center for Fiction hosted the Le Guin series suggests that the borders may be fairly open, or at least that visas are no longer necessary. (But see the P.S. to this entry). The panel discussed Nabokov, Flaubert and Morrison along side Russ, Disch, and of course Le Guin.

Lobster & Canary regrets only that we were unable to attend the other panels and readings in the series!

P.S. Then again, perhaps Delany is right to be skeptical of claims about genuine understanding and rapprochement between Spec Lit and Big Lit. Four days after this panel, Glen Duncan opened his review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One in The New York Times Book Review this way: "A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?" *Sigh*

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Toronto SpecFic Colloquium: Modern Mythologies

The Lobster and Canary hugely enjoyed participating in the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium on October 15th. Toronto has deep roots in speculative fiction and a robust specfic scene (it is no surprise that Toronto will host next year's World Fantasy Convention)--all of which were on display at the Colloquium.

Sandra Kasturi and Helen Marshall of Chizine Publications did a superb job organizing the event (full disclosure: CZP publishes my work, but truly I would say this even if I were published elsewhere). Other sponsors included Toronto's leading comix/ graphic novels store, The Beguiling, and Toronto's specialty science fiction/ fantasy/ horror bookstore Bakka Phoenix, plus the specfic magazine Ideomancer and poetry small press Kelp Queen.

For details, click here. A short summary:

Guest of honor Mike Carey -- author of the Felix Castor novels, of X-Men, Hellblazer, Lucifer, the graphic novelization of Gaiman's Neverwhere, and many other good thing--delivered an elegant, thought-provoking, very well received keynote address entitled " 'Speak of the Dazzling Wings': Myth, Language, and Modern Fantasy," on how metaphor works for and sometimes against intended meaning in fiction generally. I cannot do justice to the address here--I urge Mike to get it published, so that our wider community can read and comment. Delivered with humor and without presumption, Mike's lecture spanned evolutionary biology (touching on Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition & Fiction), T.S. Eliot, hard-boiled detective novels, comic books, Owen Barfield (perhaps the least-remembered Inkling, whose Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning from 1928 is steadily gaining more notice and adherents), and much, much more. Mike's central concepts derived from and played with the work of Wallace Stevens ("Speak of the Dazzling Wings" is the last line in the Stevens poem "Some Friends From Pascagoula").

Mike's performance was all the more impressive, since he must have been fairly massively jet-lagged: he and his wife Linda (who is herself an accomplished fantasy author, writing as A.J. Lake) had just stepped off the plane from London!

The Colloquium also featured (in no particular order): Hugo Award-winner Peter Watts demonstrating that none of us has free will and that there is no such thing as "reality" (one of those talks that reminds us of an intricate machine whose purpose is not fully understood, that may even be slightly sinister, yet lures us in for closer inspection-- against our will); Daniel Heath Justice providing an excellent overview of Native American specfic and scholarship on the same (I look forward to hearing more from and about Daniel, and likewise more about the many authors and scholars he summarized); a lively exchange on how writers use and re-use classical mythological themes, complete with readings from Shakespeare, Tennyson and Homer, between Lesley Livingston and Caitlin Sweet; a very interactive session on utopias and activism with Emily Pohl-Weary; and an insightful, spirited roundtable with booksellers and publishers on the state of the specfic field in commercial/market terms.

And, of course, the power of the gathering includes the many conversations struck up by and among participants. For instance, we were delighted to meet Diana Kolpak, whose just-released collaboration with photographer Kathleen Finlay, entitled Starfall, certainly intrigues.

The 2012 edition of the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium-- with World Fantasy Award winner Robert Shearman as GoH-- will be October 20th. Go get your tickets now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bureau and Thierry Goldberg on the Lower East Side; Mary Tompkins Lewis on Chardin

Many of Lobster & Canary's favorite art galleries are in NYC's Chelsea, but we're excited by the blossoming of interesting new (or renewed) places on the Lower East Side. Two weeks ago (Sept. 25th entry) we looked at one of those-- the DODGEGallery--and today we will feature two more, both of which nestle in the midst of bustling neighborhoods, cheek by jowl with playgrounds, nondescript apartment buildings, houses of worship, laundromats, barber shops, bodegas and bars: Bureau, and the Thierry Goldberg Gallery.

Bureau is a tiny but well-curated space on Henry Street, currently showing Painted Bones--some reliquaries by Tom Holmes. Click here for more.

[untitled Program (feathers red yellow green blk), 2011]

Thierry Goldberg's space is on Norfolk Street, hard by the ramp to the Williamsburg Bridge. Equally crisp and inviting, the gallery is currently featuring various of its house artists (click here for more). We were especially taken by Marianne Vitale's Model for Torpedo (2011):


Mary Tompkins Lewis, a professor of art history at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), is one of our most astute commentators on painting. In her occasional essays for The Wall Street Journal, she returns our gaze to iconic images from the Western tradition, and never fails to uncover a theme or element that we might have missed in earlier visitations-- she finds something new to say about that which we believed we knew intimately.

Her most recent essay, "A Monumental Moment" (WSJ, Oct. 8th-9th, 2011) is a good example of Lewis at her best, as she unpicks the meaning of Chardin's paradigmatic still life The Ray (1728).

Lewis on The Ray:

"We hardly notice, however, Chardin's studious balance of opposites—the crafted, manmade objects squared off against those of nature; one side carefully orchestrated, the other casually strewn—because our gaze is so riveted by the ghastly specter of the gutted ray fish that hangs from a meat hook on the wall. Butchered cartilage and bloodied entrails spill forth from its luminous, silvery flesh. A hideous, half-human "face" seems to grimace in our direction; drops of moisture glimmer on its sparkling but slimy surface. The painting, closer to 17th-century Spanish scenes of disemboweled martyrs than to the decorous tradition from which it emerged, rejects both the menial stature of still life (and by extension that of its artists) and its subject of conventional beauty to celebrate the painter's virtuoso touch."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Spectral Beauty of Decay at Temple Court in Lower Manhattan

Yesterday, as the sun set and rain fell intermittently, the lobster and the canary had a rare treat:

We got to visit the interior of the recently rediscovered Temple Court at 5 Beekman Street in lower Manhattan, just off Broadway by City Hall and across from the Woolworth Building-- a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. (A friend of ours is a wedding photographer who got permission to do a shoot yesterday in the now-famed building-- we tagged along).

Temple Court: a spectacularly gorgeous interior, now decayed after decades of abandonment, soon to be restored (plans are afoot to rehab the building as a luxury hotel). An oddity of life: beauty and romance hidden in plain sight. The lobster works very close to 5 Beekman, has walked past the building hundreds of times, and never paid it much mind. Until last year, no one paid the dilapidated hulk any attention, when suddenly a scene scout for films stumbled upon it. Click here for details, and for many pictures.

Built in 1881-1883 as one of the first nine-story buildings that marched up from Bowling Green (as NYC's commercial expansion drove the need for office space beyond the narrow confines of Wall Street and its immediate environs), 5 Beekman had 212 suites housing law firms, advertising and insurance companies. Above all, it had a glass-roofed central atrium, ornate iron grill work (some in the form of dragons), fireplaces, trapdoors for the hauling of safes, terra cotta and brick, colorful tiles on the floors.

The building began to shutter in the 1940s, and apparently wound down almost completely over the next decade. Today the interior is a ghostly, gaping place, with the names of long gone (indeed, long defunct) tenants etched palely on dusty glass. The walls are blotched and shadowed, the rooms empty except for echoes, the floors stippled with vague piles of refuse, oblique shards of light filter in from the panes far above.

Think of the Bradbury Building in Blade Runner.

Think of the decayed surfaces Rosamund Purcell captures in her photographs.

Here are photographs the lobster & canary took yesterday, to give you a sense of the layered mystery of Manhattan's Temple Court:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

More on Lorna Williams at DODGEgallery

A quick addendum to today's posting about Lorna Williams at DODGEgallery in NYC:

The gallery kindly supplied these two images of Williams pieces in the current show.

Please note that these images and the long view of the gallery in this morning's post are photographs by Carly Gaebe, courtesy of the artist and DODGEgallery.

Lorna Williams Weaves Space; Dafnis Prieto Flicks Time

[Last week's post on feminist approaches to fairy tale and myth has been formally posted to the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium blog, with all the promised album cover images: click here to see them.]

Lorna Williams is an astonishing young talent, whose current exhibition Brown Baby is on display through October 2nd at Dodge Gallery (on Rivington Street in NYC's Lower East Side). The lobster & canary visited the exhibit last week, straying into Williams's world of plaited beings, assemblages of found wood and fetal bone, pendulous chains and bits of bead, of forms both comforting and disturbing (sometimes at the same time). Williams has an eye for the sinuous shape. Most interesting to us was the recurring theme of birth and becoming...but birth at best endured (seemingly not celebrated), and what becoming unto what?

Here are some views. Click the Dodge Gallery site for more.


The lobster & canary were thrilled to learn that last week the MacArthur Foundation named the jazz drummer Dafnis Prieto as one of their "genius grant" award winners. We caught Prieto with his group a few years ago at the Jazz Standard in NYC and still marvel at his fluid dissection of time. Here he is-- possibly at the very concert we attended (we did not take this video, but it is from one of his Jazz Standard gigs)-- playing "New Elephant." Pay special attention to the rhythm change-up at c. 3 minutes, 10 seconds.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Dragon of Their Own: Fairy Tale & Myth From a Feminist Perspective (With Guest Appearances by Janelle Monae, P.J. Harvey, Rachelle Ferrell, Cecile Corbel, Kate Bush, Loreena McKennitt, and Rihanna)

Happy fall to you all, from the lobster & canary in NYC.

We are presenting at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium next month. Here is the teaser the Colloquium organizers asked us to send to the event's blog:

A Dragon of Their Own: Fairy Tale & Myth From a Feminist Perspective
(With Guest Appearances by Janelle Monae, P.J. Harvey, Rachelle Ferrell, Cecile Corbel, Kate Bush, Loreena McKennitt, and Rihanna)

By Daniel A. Rabuzzi

Preview of a larger discussion to be held at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, October 15th, 2011.

“Benedick: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

Beatrice: A bird of my tongue is better
than a beast of yours.”

--- Much Ado About Nothing, (Act I, scene 1: lines 138-140), William Shakespeare, c. 1600.

Fairy tales, myth, legend and other traditional story genres have long provided women (almost universally it seems, though that hypothesis needs to be tested) with subtle and subversive vehicles for self-expression.

If men controlled and commanded the power of words in the front room—consider, for instance, the etymology of “parliament”—women crafted a contrapuntal commentary in the back room. The counterpoint continues to this day in modern speculative fiction, not least in the many explicitly feminist retellings of traditional tales of the marvelous. The power and appeal of the old stories as ways for women to contest male speech or to reshape discourse altogether seem undiminished (if anything, they may be growing). Most intriguing, woman-centered fairy tale themes and motifs thrive today not only in written form but influence, often strongly, popular music and the visual arts.

Since the 1960s, feminist and/or post-modernist scholars have studied vigorously and with great insight both the original fairy tales and myths of the world and literary adaptations of the same. See work by, for instance, Ruth Bottigheimer, Maria Tatar, Steven Swann Jones, Marina Warner, Cristina Bacchilegia, Kay Stone, Vanessa Joosen, Valerie Paradiz, Jack Zipes, Daryl Cumber Dance, Donald Haase, Helen Pilinovsky, Elizabeth Wanning Harries, Lewis Seifert, Marcelle Maistre Welch. (I will include a bibliography in my full-length SpecFic Colloquium paper). Their findings have become a core part of feminist theories of reading, poetics and literature generally, and have –somewhat more tentatively—been connected to the work of scholars exploring issues of race, ethnicity, colonialism and class. Among many others, see work by Sandra Gilbert & Susan Gubar, Elaine Showalter, Patricia Meyer Spacks, Oyeronke Oyewumi, Valerie Lee, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Susan Sellers, Toi Derricotte, Sheila Rowbotham, Cheryl Wall, Margaret Ezell, Beverly Guy-Sheftall.

Over the past few decades, writers of many stripes have continued to revise and re-fashion fairy tales (and/or folkloric elements more generally) to make feminist points, in a project that goes back at least to Marie-Jeanne Lheritier de Villandon’s “Les Enchantements de l’eloquence” and Madame d’Aulnoy’s Histoire d’Hypolite in the 1690s. To name a handful from a long list:

Nalo Hopkinson, Sonya Taaffe, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, A.S. Byatt, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, Terri Windling, Kate Bernheimer, Theodora Goss, Joan Aiken, Virginia Hamilton, Robin McKinley, Ellen Kushner, Cat Valente, Margaret Atwood, Emma Donoghue, Erzebet YellowBoy, Nnedi Okorafor, Patricia McKillip, Malinda Lo, Theodora Goss, Bharati Mukherjee, Jeanette Winterson, Delia Sherman, Helen Oyeyemi, Gail Carson Levine, and Margo Lanagan.

Even when folklore or fairy tale do not frame or focus a modern work of fiction, themes from folkloric traditions crop up in “mainstream” works more frequently than is sometimes acknowledged. Toni Morrison’s work comes to mind, and that of Dacia Maraini, to name just two. Modern poetry is also full of fairy tale references, even that published far from the usual fantasy genre outposts.

“Imaginary gardens with real toads in them” fascinate so much that a growing number of journals and sites devote themselves to the sub-genres: The Endicott Studio for Mythic Arts (founded 1987), SurLaLune Fairy Tales (1998), Cabinet des Fees (2005), Fairy Tale Review (2005), Goblin Fruit (2006), Enchanted Conversation (2010). And then there are the anthologies, above all the Windling & Ellen Datlow series begun in 1993 with Snow White, Blood Red.

At the SpecFic Colloquium we will talk about the resurgent interest in fairy tale and myth, specfically the desire to write and read them “against the grain.” I particularly want to learn more about traditions other than the various European ones and about current literary practice that is not Eurocentric.

Most of all: I want to explore how the renewed excitement for fairy tales-- and especially the subversive elements of fairy tales (pace fans of Disney)—has spread into other popular media, in particular music. Just as women have (re)shaped the fairy tale canon on the page over the past several centuries, they appear to be doing the same in the musical realm.

Male composers have freely used motifs from fairy tales and myths to create some of the dominant pieces in the Western canon. Think of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Haydn’s The Fishwives and The World on the Moon, Mahler’s Wunderhorn sequence, Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird and Princess Maleine, Stravinsky’s The Firebird, and—towering over them all in its attempt to produce a Gesamtkunstwerk, a myth updated to encompass and overwhelm all other works—Wagner’s Ring.

In the past few decades, female musicians have been (re)claiming those themes, reworking them into works of their own, often in opposition to the dominant male canon, sometimes (most subversive of all!) indifferent to the male perspective—creating music that is not defined or definable in terms of male categories.

Working in and around a wide variety of musical forms, and with a wide sweep of perspectives, the following artists nevertheless appear to share an underlying approach in terms of deploying fairy tale and mythic motifs in their music: Angelique Kidjo, Bjork, Missy Elliott, Grace Jones, Enya, Tori Amos, Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Rihanna, Kimberly Perry, Mediaeval Baebes, Alison Krauss, The Dixie Chicks, Anoushka Shankar, Goldfrapp. Yes, an idiosyncratic list...very far from complete...and begging to be queried and to be added to!

Surely one major impulse came from the British Neo-Folk movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, led by Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention, Annie Haslam of Renaissance, and Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span. Stevie Nicks further propelled Faerie onto the concert stage and into popular music (and I think Diana Ross, Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle did the same, each in her own inimitable style). Sometimes the fairy tale overlay is explicit, self-referential even, as with many of those working the (all too often twee) Celtic Twilight angle. Othertimes it is less self-conscious, and more oblique.

I will end this teaser with album cover images [Lobster says: For some reason, I am having trouble porting these into the L & C blog, so will point to the SpecFic blog when this essay is posted] to bolster my suggestion about the inroads of fairy tale into modern pop music—and to spark the conversation when we meet in Toronto in October.

See you there and then!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Arts Preview in NYC: Neely, Ventura, Holmes, and More

The fall arts season has begun here in New York City: the usual horn of plenty spilling out its wonders, far more offerings than any one of us could see!

Some shows the lobster & canary have their eyes on:

--- Anne Neely, Aglow (2011)

The Neely show at Lohin Geduld in Chelsea. Judging from the gallery website, this is a series of luminous landscapes, drawing one into enchantment. (See our November 25, 2010 entry for our last review of a Lohin Geduld exhibition, the Laura Battle show).

--- Tom Holmes, untitled Program (feathers red yellow green blk) (2011)

The Holmes show at Bureau on Henry Street (Lower East Side), entitled Painted Bones-Some Reliquaries. The title alone draws us.

--- Jackie Saccoccio, Left Portrait (2011)

Saccoccio, with Andrew Gbur and Keltie Ferris, at Eleven Rivington (LES).

--- Paolo Ventura, Behind the Walls #3 (2011)

The amazing Ventura, once again at Hasted Kraeutler in Chelsea (we reviewed his last show there, Winter Stories, in January 2010). This one is called The Automaton of Venice, and we are already immersed in his miniature fantasy world...which brings to mind Benjamin's Passagenwerke, the labyrinths of Borges, the languid melancholia of Zweig, the wanderings of Sebald.

--- Sarah Walker, Masses and Forces (2010)

Walker, with fellow abstract painters Douglas Melini and Gary Petersen, at McKenzie Fine Art in Chelsea (whose shows we have described on several occasions). Explorations of geometry compressed, tangled and skewed.

Just a few leaves in a forest! Plus, of course, all the coming attractions at the museums, e.g., the Ingres show at the Morgan, the Goddess/Mother in Indian painting at the Metropolitan, the Spirals show at the Studio Museum in Harlem (the Norman Lewis paintings look particularly intriguing), and others.

Fall Arts Preview in NYC: Neely, Ventura, Holmes, and More

The fall arts season has begun here in New York City: the usual horn of plenty spilling out its wonders, far more offerings than any one of us could see!

Some shows the lobster & canary have their eyes on:

--- Anne Neely, Aglow (2011)

The Neely show at Lohin Geduld in Chelsea. Judging from the gallery website, this is a series of luminous landscapes, drawing one into enchantment. (See our November 25, 2010 entry for our last review of a Lohin Geduld exhibition, the Laura Battle show).

--- Tom Holmes, untitled Program (feathers red yellow green blk) (2011)

The Holmes show at Bureau on Henry Street (Lower East Side), entitled Painted Bones-Some Reliquaries. The title alone draws us.

--- Jackie Saccoccio, Left Portrait (2011)

Saccoccio, with Andrew Gbur and Keltie Ferris, at Eleven Rivington (LES).

--- Paolo Ventura, Behind the Walls #3 (2011)

The amazing Ventura, once again at Hasted Kraeutler in Chelsea (we reviewed his last show there, Winter Stories, in January 2010). This one is called The Automaton of Venice, and we are already immersed in his miniature fantasy world...which brings to mind Benjamin's Passagenwerke, the labyrinths of Borges, the languid melancholia of Zweig, the wanderings of Sebald.

--- Sarah Walker, Masses and Forces (2010)

Walker, with fellow abstract painters Douglas Melini and Gary Petersen, at McKenzie Fine Art in Chelsea (whose shows we have described on several occasions). Explorations of geometry compressed, tangled and skewed.

Just a few leaves in a forest! Plus, of course, all the coming attractions at the museums, e.g., the Ingres show at the Morgan, the Goddess/Mother in Indian painting at the Metropolitan, the Spirals show at the Studio Museum in Harlem (the Norman Lewis paintings look particularly intriguing), and others.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Toronto SpecFic Colloquium (Mike Carey is Keynoting)

The lobster and the canary apologize to all patient readers for the long hiatus; we were taking a rest during August, but are back now.

We are excited about the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium on October 15th (full disclosure: we are one of the guest speakers there). A newcomer to the scene-- this being its second year--the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium is set to become a "must attend" on the circuit, a great companion piece to gatherings in the Northeast/Middle Atlantic such as Readercon, Arisia, and Capclave.

As their website notes:

"The Toronto SpecFic Colloquium is a one-day event featuring a series of lectures, readings and discussions from major authors and industry professionals."

This year's keynoter is Mike Carey, the graphic novelist, whose talk is entitled "Speak of the Dazzling Wings": Myth, Language, and Modern Fantasy.

We'll be writing more about the Colloquium over the next few weeks. In the meantime, learn more by clicking here.

Better yet, why not come to Toronto and attend in person?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

With Eyes Like a Lynx: Using Computers to See The Otherwise Hidden

We love the ever-expanding use of digital tools, especially in the arts and humanities. Not only for what we learn about specific artists, aesthetics and audiences, but because using computers to analyze arts and letters helps us bridge the (artificial) divide between the Arts and the Sciences.

Bits and bytes are helping us reunite the Two Cultures of the 20th century, bringing us back to the integrated, holistic approach that existed at least until the early 19th century (yes, speaking here of Western learning and the so-called common era; Lobster & Canary is always curious to know more about how other traditions of inquiry have contemplated the issues discussed here). Echoes of the days when a Goethe focused on optics and color theory as much as poetry, when a Humphry Davy and an Erasmus Darwin expressed their chemical and biological findings in poetry, when a Shelley and his Romantic peers made technology and science the serious object of their poetry.

Back to the Lunar Society of Birmingham, and to Diderot and the Encyclopedistes in the 18th century!

Back, back to the Lincean Academy in 17th-century Rome, and the Dutch and German polymaths of that same era!

Back, back, back to Da Vinci, Alberti, and Aldus Manutius!

Two areas of computer-aided inquiry particularly intrigue us:

* Image analysis: Taking the venerable techniques of connoisseurship to new levels, computer scientists have recently put forth interesting hypotheses on image identification and artistic affinities.

For instance (chosen more or less at random from among many possible examples), here is the opening to "Image Processing for Artist Identification; Computerized Analysis of Vincent van Gogh's Brushstrokes" by C. Richard Johnson jr. et al. (IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, July 2008):

"As image data acquisition technology has advanced in the past decade, museums have
routinely begun to assemble vast digital libraries of images of their collections. The
cross-disciplinary interaction of image analysis researchers and art historians has reached a stage where technology developers can focus on image analysis tasks supportive of the art historian’s mission of painting analysis in addition to activities in image acquisition, storage, and database search. In particular, the problem of artist identification seems ripe for the use of image processing tools. In making an attribution, experts often use not only
current knowledge of the artist’s common practices, in combination with meticulous comparisons of a variety of technical data (acquired, e.g., through ultraviolet fluorescence, infrared reflectography, x-radiography, paint sampling, and/or canvas weave count ), but they also include a visual assessment of the presence of the artist’s “handwriting” in the brushwork. This suggests that mathematical analysis of a painting’s digital representation could assist the art expert in the process of attribution."

(For more, click here.)

* Textual analysis: Humanists of all stripes were among the first to see the benefits of digital tools, for everything from raw set-construction and recurrence compilation to sophisticated pattern recognition.

The journal Literary & Linguistic Computing is a good gateway. Here you find articles like these:

"Constructing readings of damaged and abraded ancient documents is a difficult, complex, and a time-consuming task. It frequently involves reference to a variety of linguistic and archaeological datasets and the integration of previous knowledge of similar documentary material. Due to the involved and lengthy reading process, it is often difficult to record and recall how the final interpretation of the document was reached and which competing hypotheses were presented, adopted, or discarded in the process of reading. This article discusses the development of the application called DUGA, which uses Decision Support System (DSS) technology to aid the day-to-day reading of damaged documents. Such an application will facilitate the process of transcribing texts by providing a framework in which scholars can record, track, and trace their progress. DUGA will include a word search facility of external resources such as the Vindolanda ink tablets through the knowledge base Web Service called APPELLO. This functionality will support the scholars through their reading process by suggesting words, which may confirm current interpretations or inspire new ones. Furthermore, DUGA will allow continuity between working sessions, and the complete documentation of the reading process, that has hitherto been implicit in published editions." [Abstract for "Towards a decision support system for reading ancient documents," by Henriette Roued-Cunliffe, in the December, 2010 issue].

"The use of corpus material and methods represents a major methodological innovation in Chinese historical linguistics. The very exciting findings uncovered in this article may be seen as the first systematic large-scale investigation of the various morpho-syntactic patterns underpinning the evolution of Chinese lexis. In this article, we have made a ground-breaking investigation into the diverse lexical modes and patterns which have emerged and developed in each major period in Chinese history, in which the generation of corpus linguistic data and the subsequent computational statistical modelling have been essential." [Abstract of "A corpus-based study of lexical periodization in historical Chinese,' by Meng Ji, in June, 2010 issue].

"This article provides quantitative evidence for a hypothesis concerning fourth-century translations of Indian Buddhist texts from Prakrit and Sanskrit into Chinese. Using a Variable Length n-Gram Feature Extraction Algorithm, principal component analysis and average linkage clustering we are able to show that 24 sutras, attributed by the tradition to different translators, were in fact translated by the same translator or group of translators. Since part of our method is based on assigning weight to n-grams, the analysis is capable of yielding distinctive features, i.e. strings of Chinese characters, that are characteristic of the translator(s). This is the first time that these techniques have successfully been applied to medieval Chinese texts. The results of this study open up a number of new directions for the lexicographic and syntactic study of early Chinese translations of Buddhist texts." [Abstract for "Quantitative evidence for a hypothesis regarding the attribution of early Buddhist translations, " by Jen-Jou Hung, Marcus Bingenheimer and Simon Wiles, in April, 2010 issue}.

For more from Literary & Linguistic Computing, click here.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hobbits in Fiscal-Land (And a Nod to Daniel Abraham)

Middle Earth found itself embroiled this week in the American debt ceiling and budget negotiations, as the Wall Street Journal labeled the Tea Partiers "debt-limit hobbits." Senator McCain quoted at length from the WSJ editorial on Wednesday, sparking a series of Tolkien-inspired retorts from the Tea Party (among others, Senator Rand Paul said he would rather be a hobbit than a troll) and commentary from Stewart and Colbert, all of which led the WSJ to editorialize again yesterday about hobbits as relating to the current financial debate.

Two thoughts come to mind, one particular, one general:

* To the extent that there is a tea party and an extremely urgent time limit, and a set of definitions, principles and posturings that seem to hail from the other side of the looking glass, I think we are in the adventures of Alice rather than those of Frodo & Sam.

* Middle Earth, and very nearly all other worlds created within speculative fiction, is curiously devoid of financial elements. In most fantasy worlds-- no matter how gritty and real-- the economy is primitive, formal economic principles unstated or unknown, the study of economics non-existent or, at best, ill-defined. Middle Earth is seemingly a cash-&-carry place, without fiscal policy or possibly any taxation whatsoever-- these matters simply do not rise to the level of importance held by, say, rings of power, the flight of the elves, and the return of the king. Dragons and dwarves make terrible bankers, being content to hoard without circulating wealth, let alone extend credit. (Smaug's reaction to a withdrawal from his accumulated riches is not one intended to gain him a commercial franchise). For the most part, "the merchant" is a stock figure in fantasy, especially of the swords-&-sorcery variety, but the mechanics of wealth creation, of investment, risk, innovation, return, etc. find no foothold in the genre.

All of which is a pity because the genre would benefit from including economic and financial aspects in the plot and in the development of characters. The majority of generic fantasy worlds are modeled on medieval Europe... yet, by 1200 western Europe had built a sophisticated economy based on technological gain, division of labor, local markets, long-distance trade, nuanced and voluminous banking networks, and emerging states increasingly successful in gathering tax and creating currency. The sophistication is even greater in the medieval Islamic world and in the Chinese Empire.

(A wonderful exception to genre fantasy's economics blindspot: Daniel Abraham, whose Long Price quartet and The Dragon's Path make the workings of trade and finance integral to the plot; he has clearly studied Renaissance Italian banking and merchanting, and put what he learned to very good use.)

So, if by "hobbit" the Wall Street Journal and Senator McCain mean "economic know-nothings", the appellation is pretty close to the mark. It remains to be seen if other hobbitish traits are in evidence as well, for instance, the hobbits' great common sense and pragmatic nature, and -- above all-- their deep caring for one another, especially in times of dearth. The hobbits triumphed, not because they sought or wielded great power, but because they took pains to care for their little Elanors and their Old Tooks. In the end, their larders are full and they have in their dwellings items worth more-- as Gandalf says to Thorin Oakenshield--than those in the halls of some dwarves.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rod Serling in Ithaca; Phantasmaphile Covers Vienna; The Cascadian Subduction Zone, and Sundry Other Good Things

We're melting like votive candles here in New York City, smothered by record-setting heat and humidity along with the rest of the Northeast. Too hot and exhausted to think original thoughts, the lobster and the canary will instead find refuge in the cool ideas of others.

Some recent good things that have landed in our mailbox:

* The Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College (NY): Elena Pizarro writes to announce that this year's conference takes place September 9-10. Serling taught at Ithaca College 1967-1975; the college houses his archives. Click here for more information.

* Valerie McKenzie sends her gallery's summer newsletter (McKenzie Fine Art is on W. 25th in Manhattan). She represents some very interesting, and underrated, artists- I especially love Jim Dingilian's spectral etchings inside bottles ("Hiding Places: Memory in Art"). Click here for more.

* Pam Grossman is always cutting-edge! On her blog Phantasmaphile she finds the most interesting art with a baroque, occult and fabulistic mentality. Recently she noted the opening of the Phantasten Museum in Vienna ("visionary art/ fantastic realism/ surrealism")-- like her, Lobster & Canary want to go! For more, click here and here.

* The Boston Review's latest is out. The BR offers, besides its incisive political and investigative reporting, some of the best fiction anywhere. (With Junot Diaz as their fiction editor, how could they not?) Among other things, they published NoViolet Bulawayo's Caine Prize-winning short story last year. Click here for more.

* Aqueduct Press has launched The Cascadian Subduction Zone: A Literary Quarterly-- the third issue just arrived, and it continues this newcomer's strong debut. Kristin King's feature essay "Can Science Fiction Change the World?" should prompt thoughtful debate. Also, many good book reviews, plus suitably strange artwork by "Mr. Mead." Check it out here.

* Charity Shumway writes to announce the launch of an urban gardening & cookery site, Spade & Spatula ("growing and cooking in the city"). Great quick recipes, anecdotes, and luscious photographs of tomatoes, flowers, pie, vases... Makes us hungry for brunch. Check it out here.

* The Academy of American Poets July newsletter includes a provocative interview with Kenneth Goldsmith, who says (among other things): "The best thing about conceptual poetry is that it doesn't need to be read. You don't have to read it. As a matter of fact, you can write books, and you don't even have to read them." Click here for more.

* Omnidawn's blog continues to share generously of their writers' work. Most recently I have been struck by Christine Hume's "Self-Stalked," which starts this way: "I looked in all eight directions then spread out my tiger’s skin. Before the public mind kicked in, I surveyed an inner shore. Its facets operated on me. I lost my lights and began my midnight thus: mental feet, mental lake, little mental pines, mental mile around the muzzle." And also Aaron Shurin's "Bruja," which opens: "Alcove of the shade tree, under which they neck and whisper… and gather their tribe. She stencils the tilt of their heads from her perch on the iron bench, their dreamy eyes and smiles. Migrating neurons: It’s as if a baton streaking the air laid them bodily onto her page…" Click here for more.

* The Pedestal Magazine's June issue features speculative poetry selected by Marge Simon and Bruce Boston, and a range of other good items. I particularly liked Steven Peck's "The Complete Text of the First Ten Volumes of Dr. Fleckwain’s Very, Very Short Steampunk Novels," and JoSelle Vanderhooft's review of God's Optimism by Yehoshua November. Vanderhooft: "This near-mystical belief in the goodness of God, God’s love, and the worthiness of human life reflect the optimism that underpins this all-too-small collection, whether its contents deal with joy or sorrow, divinity or earthliness, the spiritual or the secular. In most cases, these poems incorporate all of the above simultaneously. For these are poems about what it means to dwell in an imperfect and painful world that is nonetheless touched by the divine—or, as November said in a recent interview with The Jewish Week when explaining a teaching of the kabala, a Jewish mystical text: 'God created the world because he wanted to dwell in the lowest realm, our realm.' Thus, the most intensely spiritual moments in God’s Optimism delineate not grandiose gestures or Technicolor visions, but quiet encounters, as sharp as a needle and often unexpected." Well said! Click here for more... and then stay cool in the heatwave.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter Lives!

We saw the final Potter movie last night, and were as moved, thrilled and delighted by it as we were by the previous films and all the books.

Rowling has given us all a powerful gift, one added to by the various film directors and cinematic technologists who realized her world and the acting corps that interpreted her characters. (Surely Rickman is Snape and Smith is McGonagall, just as McKellen is Gandalf.) As Morgenstern put it in the Wall Street Journal, this one is Harry Potter and the Fantastic Finale.

Several quick thoughts about the appeal of the series, both on paper and on screen:

* Rowling understands that the fantastic is not merely about "special effects" and weirdness for its own sake. The heart of the matter is the strange magic of the Ordinary, and especially the ability of Ordinary People to tell Right from Wrong, and to overcome their own fears and weaknesses on the way to doing what is Right. Rowling loves her wizards but she loves her Muggles most of all (or rather, the Muggle qualities that her good wizards possess), just as Tolkien held his hobbits above the elves, the kings and the wizards. Pullman builds his neo-Miltonian epic on this concept as well. The theme suffuses Dickens and Chesterton, Hardy, Greene, Orwell. Rowling's world is deeply demotic, full of common sense, hard work, goofy and irreverent humor, optimism (tempered by the realization that suffering is inevitable), and the enduring sinews of love and friendship that defeat and transcend the inequities of power and those who seek it.

* The scenes of Harry's parents sacrificing themselves for him, and of the Weasleys as a family defying all comers-- in that slightly bumbling, cup-of-tea Weasley way, a bit vague at the start but ultimately decisive--are highlights in the film, as they are throughout the books. I choked up at the scene in the movie (okay, I cried here in the book too) where the shades of Lilly, James, Remus and Sirius reassure Harry that they are always with him, living on in his heart and to the end.

* If I have one complaint, it is that the films shunt Ginny Weasley aside, focusing almost entirely on Harry, Ron and Hermione. Yet Ginny is willing to sacrifice herself for Harry, while I am never quite sure that Hermione would do the same for Ron (and sometimes it feels as if neither of the lads is truly prepared to die for their swain; for each other, yes, but not for the girls).

* Snape is one of the most complex characters ever to appear in the spec fic genre. I keep coming back to his hidden love for Lilly, the impulse that drives his actions all the way to his death. "Always," says Snape (in Rickman's deliberate tone) to Dumbledore.

* I keep thinking about the words Rowling puts in Dumbledore's mouth when he and Harry are reunited in the place that reminds Harry of King's Cross Station, i.e., during the respite in the battle with Voldemort. Words about language being true magic, the incantatory power of words themselves. Words about what is most real being those things within our heads. Rowling understands the deepest truth of Power, that it exists not in weapons or armor, not in turrets or crenellations, but in the wellsprings of imagination and the flow of language therefrom. And she has demonstrated this through the thousands of pages and hours of film that constitute the Potter mythos.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Step into the sun, Step into the light"-- Gay Marriage Legalized in New York

"You're out of the woods, You're out of the dark, You're out of the night.
Step into the sun, Step into the light.

Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place
On the Face of the Earth or the sky.
Hold onto your breath, Hold onto your heart, Hold onto your hope.
March up to the gate and bid it open."

"New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage, Becoming Largest State to Pass Law

By Nicholas Confessore and Michael Barbaro
Published: June 24, 2011. The New York Times

ALBANY — Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

With his position still undeclared, Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo who had sought office promising to oppose same-sex marriage, told his colleagues he had agonized for months before concluding he had been wrong.

“I apologize for those who feel offended,” Mr. Grisanti said, adding, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”

Senate approval was the final hurdle for the same-sex marriage legislation, which was approved last week by the Assembly. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the measure at 11:55 p.m., and the law will go into effect in 30 days, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by late July.

Passage of same-sex marriage here followed a daunting run of defeats in other states where voters barred same-sex marriage by legislative action, constitutional amendment or referendum. Just five states currently permit same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia.

At around 10:30 p.m., moments after the vote was announced, Mr. Cuomo strode onto the Senate floor to wave at cheering supporters who had crowded into the galleries to watch. Trailed by two of his daughters, the governor greeted lawmakers, and paused to single out those Republicans who had defied the majority of their party to support the marriage bill.

“How do you feel?” he asked Senator James S. Alesi, a suburban Rochester Republican who voted against the measure in 2009 and was the first to break party ranks this year. “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

The approval of same-sex marriage represented a reversal of fortune for gay-rights advocates, who just two years ago suffered a humiliating defeat when a same-sex marriage bill was easily rejected by the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. This year, with the Senate controlled by Republicans, the odds against passage of same-sex marriage appeared long."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Color Coordinated

[Hans Hoffman, Indian Summer, 1959]

[David Gates, Color Run Riot, set to "Invisible Colors" by Russ Malone, posted May, 2011]

"There is a surprising disconnect between what children seem to know about colors and numbers and what they actually know when tested," writes Melody Dye of Stanford University in the latest issue of Scientific American Mind ("Why Johnny Can't Name His Colors," SAM, May/June 2011, pg. 48). "Nailing down just what 'red' or 'three' means is a difficult hurdle in mastering language, and even older children sometimes slip up and reveal a less than expert grasp of the concept."

[Anish Kapoor, Dismemberment of Jeanne D'Arc, 2009]

Dye's research demonstrates that, even after hours of drilling, most two- and three-year-olds and children as old as six cannot identify colors accurately without contextual prompts. It appears that context is critical, which "may explain why children, across every language studied, invariably learn their nouns before their colors."

[Frank Stella, Hyena Stomp, 1962]

In English, color words may be especially tricksy because we tend to say "red balloon" rather than "the balloon that is red" (i.e., we typically use the adjective prenominally instead of postnominally). Order provides context: the brain must process the prenominal without the "hook" provided by the noun, so has a much wider spectrum of possible meanings to search. Using a postnominal construction helps "narrow 'red' to being an attribute of the balloon and not some general property of the world at large."

[Scarlet Tanager]

[Indigo Bunting]

Also, children tend to understand a color word used postnominally as a descriptor like "wet" or "sharp," whereas they see a color word used prenominally as being part of the object's name ("Indigo Bunting" versus "the bunting that is indigo").

[Yves Klein, his patented blue]

Dye's findings slot in with the provocative research on the linguistic classification of color perception sparked by Brent Berlin & Paul Kay's Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution (1969), and most recently updated with the 2009 publication of The World Color Survey (Kay et al.) Click here and here for more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Revisiting Bordertown; Returning to the Shire

The Way from the fields we know to the Border has re-opened: Holly Black and Ellen Kushner have edited a new volume of tales, poems and art from the Borderlands, Welcome to Bordertown (released last month by Random House).

Lobster & Canary was delighted this past Thursday evening to attend the NYC debut of the new collection, at Books of Wonder (an exceptionally appropriate venue; if you ever have a spare hour or three in the city, find your way to this Chelsea/Flatiron bookstore, which Lobster & Canary has known since its original site near Barrow & Hudson in the West Village). Kushner, Black, and co-authors Delia Sherman, Cory Doctorow, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Annette Curtis Klause read to a large and appreciate audience, answered questions, and signed copies of the book. There was even a brilliant fiddler on hand-- Joe Kessler, a friend of Ellen's, a jack o' the green-- playing klezmer, bluegrass and other faerie reels, hints of the music along the Border.

We look forward to delving into the tome (a very generous 500-plus pages, all for just $20), whose authors are a Who's Who of speculative fiction, from bright new stars like Johnson, Cassandra Clare and Amal El-Mohtar (who presumably grew up with the original Bordertown stories) to established talents such as Kushner, Sherman, Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, Jane Yolen, Patricia McKillip, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and Steven Brust. Christopher Barzak is here, Cat Valente, and Tim Pratt...and Terri Windling.

This is a reunion of Diana's tribe, Titania's court, our best modern-day druids...with wine in humble containers at Tompkins Square Park, over coffee at a diner on Queens Boulevard, in a tagged doorway on the Bowery. Somewhere Lord Dunsany and Hope Mirrlees are smiling.

*** *** ***

Meanwhile, in other news:

Unless you've been waylaid by goblins ("of the worst possible description") or trapped in conversation with Smaug ("it does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him"), you know that two weeks ago Warner Bros., New Line and MGM announced the release dates for the two Peter Jackson-directed films of The Hobbit: December, 2012 and December, 2013. Most of the cast from LOTR will be back, and shooting has begun on the WETA-designed sets in New Zealand.

Here is Jackson's first vlog of production on The Hobbit:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron died May 27th, just 62 years old.

I grew up on his music, his poetry, his philosophy: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "The Bottle," "Winter in America," "We Almost Lost Detroit," "Pieces of a Man," "Whitey on the Moon," "Home is Where the Hatred Is," "Johannesburg."

I saw him only once, decades ago-- with Brian Jackson, at Brandeis University-- but the memory after all these years is like a ruby, red hot and burning in the night.

Scott-Heron never got his full due, but his influence is deeper than many realize and will--here's a prediction from Lobster & Canary-- continue to grow.

He called himself a "bluesologist." He was a cousin to the Beats, an uncle to the first rappers, a great-uncle to later hip-hop artists. Listen for his influence in work by Mos Def, Kwalib Tweli, Public Enemy, Erykah Badu, Arrested Development, Meshell Ndegeocello, The Roots, Common, Ludacris, Kanye West...too many to list.

Scott-Heron wrestled mightily, like Jacob at Peniel, with addiction and its collateral damage for many years, yet continued to produce art and was in the midst of a comeback with last year's
album I'm New Here.

He had regained his power. This is "Me and the Devil" from I'm New Here:

As Lobster & Canary mourns his passing, we think of his tribute to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane, and imagine him making music with them in some other place:

"Ever feel kinda down and out,
Don't know just what to do?


Ever feel that somehow, somewhere,
You lost your way?

And if you don't get a help quick,
You won't make it through the day?

Or could you call on Lady Day?
Or could you call on John Coltrane?

Now, they'll wash your troubles, your troubles,
Your troubles, your troubles

Click here and here for more on Scott-Heron.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Leonora Carrington: Viva la reina!

The grande dame of Surrealism, Leonora Carrington, died last week at age 94. One of modernism's greatest (if under appreciated) minds leaves us with a vibrant legacy of dream landscapes, obscured figures, hybrid animals, the eye of mythos.

Carrington was one of the pioneering women who broke into the new old boy's club of modernist art (why was the "anxiety of influence" primarily a revolt of sons against fathers?). Her life-story was dramatic, her friends and rivals included Kahlo, Ernst, Dali, Miro, Picasso. For more, click here and here .

Lobster & Canary think we see her subterranean influence on many writers (Angela Carter perhaps) and artists (Marina Abramovic, Rebecca Horn) since. What a study that would be! And most intriguing: Carrington's putative, if unrealized, impact on many popular musicians of the past few decades. Think Madonna, Patti LaBelle, Annie Lennox, Grace Jones ("Slave to the Rhythm" reads like a Carrington painting come to life), Bjork, Missy Elliott.

Right down to relative newcomers such as Rihanna ("Disturbia," "Party Like A Rockstar"), Janelle Monae, Lady Gaga, and the Katy Perry of her Kanye West collaboration on "E.T."