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: