Saturday, December 29, 2012

Enchanting Spaces, Part I: People (Or, The IKEA Catalog as Cousin to The Hobbit)

--Samuel van Hoogstraten, Perspective Box With Views of the Interior of Dutch House
c. 1655-'60 (The National Gallery, London)

--van Hoogstraten, Les Paouffles, 1658 (The Louvre)

Who lives in this house?  (I can smell the pannekoeken in the pan, butter browning, with cinnamon...)

Here Bachelard's "poetics of space" meets Tolkien's "elvish craft of Enchantment, the sub-creation of a Secondary World."  Calvino's sixth principle, Visibility, merges with Benjamin's "panoramas, dioramas, cosmoramas...phantasmagorical and fantasmaparastatic experiences, picturesque journeys in a room."

--Ulla von Brandenburg, Mephisto/ Angel/ Krawatten, abgeschnitten, 2010 (installation at The Common Guild, Glasgow)

Who lives here?  (Travelers from afar perhaps, with the heads of dolphins, who speak in hieroglyphics).

--- A Tony Duquette interior, mid-20th-century.

Who lives here?  (A family of connoisseurs I think, with soft velvet paws and eyes that gleam like rubies).

Narnia entered through a wardrobe in a spare room.  The endless battery of rooms and passages that constitutes Gormenghast, the world-castle.  The rooms that mutate, move and cannot be accurately measured in Danielewski's House of Leaves (like Dr. Who's TARDIS, the interior is much larger than the exterior).  Down a rabbit-hole Alice fell, one lined "with cupboards and bookshelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs."  A hobbit-hole ("and that means comfort"), with its "panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs."  The "miniature, perfect Palladian house...with its sweet, retiring melancholy grace" in Angela Carter's "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon."


---Anne Hardy, Cipher, 2007

Who lives here?  (A retirement home for Arlecchino and other characters from the Commedia dell'Arte?)

Worlds described within four walls in the novels of Dickens, Proust, Henry James, and Edith Wharton (who made her name first with The Decoration of Houses, published in 1897).  Proust again, on the hotel in Doncieres:  "an assembly of rooms as real as a colony of people."  The famous opening chapter of Balzac's Pere Goriot, describing in the most minute, sociological detail the situation and outfitting of the Maison Vauquer and its peculiar inhabitants ("Nothing can be more depressing than the sight of that sitting room.  The furniture is covered with horse hair woven in alternate dull and glossy stripes.  There is a round table in the middle, with a purplish-red marble top, on which there stands, by way of ornament, the inevitable white china tea-service, covered with a half-effaced gilt network.")  The care with which Mann describes the house of the Buddenbrooks, with which Stefan Zweig recalls elements of architecture in his boyhood Vienna.

Each of us now elvish enchanters in our own small spaces, creating secondary worlds for ourselves.  ("Domestic," with root to "home," filiated with "to build," allied with "domination.")   The IKEA catalog as a cousin to The Hobbit; Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware... names of realms as potent and perilous as Faerie itself-- maybe these are the latest outposts, in fact, of Faerie on mortal terrain.  Rizzoli and Abrams the names of conjurors akin to Gandalf.  

The two images below are by Laurie Simmons, from her Black Series, 1978-'79.

Detail Image

Detail Image

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Painting the Text: Memory's Architecture

Orhan Pamuk realized a remarkable long-time dream in 2012 when he opened in Istanbul his Museum of Innocence-- the physical expression and repository of the story Pamuk tells in his 2009 novel of the same title. 

A museum containing the artifacts described in the novel; a novel based on the objects that epitomize the lives of the characters; a house of fictional memories made real, the fictive as authentic as the reality; the Proustian desire come to life, a mansion of arcades on Sebaldian borderlands.

Pamuk, in an interview with Sameer Rahim, says:  “When people read a novel 600 pages long, six months pass and all they will remember are five pages. They don’t remember the text – instead they remember the sensations the text gives them. In The Museum of Innocence, we are trying to give illustrations to those emotions. The layout of the museum is based on the chapters of the novel: the novel has 83 chapters so the museum has 83 display cabinets, and each box corresponds to the emotion of that chapter.” 

Who can be surprised that Pamuk studied architecture and yearned to be a painter before becoming a writer of fiction?

(Click here and here for more). 

Lobster & Canary wants to take up residence in a museum like this one.  We want to build an annex of our own.  We are apparently not alone in this: over the next week, we'll highlight other artists with similar visions.   Down the rabbit-hole indeed!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mervyn Peake, Mannerism, and The Morgan Library

Delighted to say that Garance Coggins references Lobster & Canary in "From Pictures to Prose: How Goya and Rembrandt Contributed to the Titus Books," published this fall in Peake Studies (click here).  Coggins refers to L & C's July 29, 2012 entry, " 'Anything, Seen Without Prejudice, Is Enormous': Mervyn Peake, Caricature, and the Baroque Roots of Modern Fantasy Literature"  (click here).

[Among many insights, Coggins quotes from chapter 14 of Gormenghast, a scene from Bellgrove's class:  "The ink was blue, dark, musty, dirtyish, deep as cruel water at night: what were the other colours?  Titus was surprised at the richness, the variety."]

Along similar lines, for more possible influences on Peake's work (or at least parallel imagery), I recommend a small but powerful exhibition currently at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan:  "Fantasy and Invention: Rosso Fiorentino and Sixteenth-Century Florentine Drawing"  (click here).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Drop-Time in Hudson Square

Not long ago last week, I strode with purpose around Varick and Greenwich Streets when suddenly I entered the realm I call "Drop-Time": I was alone with multitudes for the long draft between one heartbeat and the next.  (For my definition of "Drop-Time," click here).

I am not sure from whence or how the punctuation sprang, what the trigger was.  A woman glanced at me imperiously as she crossed the street, her thousand-dollar boots stamping the zebra, her scarf as well-combed as her hair.  Two men muttered about advertising rates, three colleagues joked about something as they waited in line at the lunch-truck (which claimed to purvey the world's best grilled cheese sandwiches).  Every storefront a tableau glimpsed, my reflection mingling with the workers inside at the chocolatier's, at the deli, at the bank-that-was-almost-like-a-living-room.  A hundred sharply defined details, a nose here, an eyebrow there, a spoon poised in mid-air between a bowl and a mouth, words, words, words on every surface; the colors of red and teal, maroon, angular black, lots of brick and yellow.  Strips of conversation slid through the air, combined, unknotted, added a coating of words to the muted roar of the trucks on the Holland Tunnel approaches.

In Drop-Time, all those sensations slow into one enormous yet intimate moment, the enjambment between the worlds.  I see everything and hear everything for that one instant, a great diastolic in-rush of sight and sound.  Captured in the poetry of breathing, the flight of words above the reality of the people and places they describe.  I taste the soup on the spoon, I know what is spoken at the truck of the grilled cheese sandwiches, I forgive the woman her arrogance.

Sunbeams frozen on the sidewalks.  Down the side-streets, a diminishing perspective that ends in grey warehouses along the Hudson.  Straitened vision that leads to Gjallar's Bridge with its dim pallor, and the prospect of a ferry across the river towards sunset.

My gaze returns to the world in front of me, the throngs along Varick.  I float for one second with a squadron of pigeons, see all of us below as motes among the buildings.

A taxi-driver hits his horn, the light shifts to green, someone yells something into a cell-phone...*blink, blunk*...I am just again inside myself, one among the many, a hyphen nearing my destination.

Carrying within me though the memory and future promise of Drop-Time.