Glenn Kotche‘s musical duo with Darin Gray, On Fillmore, will perform the music for the live version of Radiolab on Sunday. Above is a good example of the evocative and unearthly sounds that the band produces.
This animated Czech film by director Tomas Lunak is as stylish as it is challenging, and the mysteries behind it can seem all the more elevated because of its fever dream presentation.
Rotoscoped visuals in stark black and white reveal the unassuming life of Alois Nebel, a train dispatcher who begins to have visions — perhaps memories? — of an incident involving a woman leaving on a train and what follows. Sent to a sanitarium because of this, and eventually stripped of his job, Nebel goes to Prague to plead his case to the railway and also look into a mysterious fellow patient in the sanitarium.
If you don’t quite follow some of the history that haunts the film, don’t feel alone — although it seems to have to do with Nazis and World War 2, it’s really part of an intimate pieces of Czech history during that era when over 2 million ethnic Germans were expelled from the Sudaten Land to both East and West Germany in 1945. They were subject to massacres and internment camps, resulting in thousands of deaths.
The rest of the film unfolds against the backdrop of Vaclev Havel’s rise to power and the fall of the communist regime, showing how the sins of the past exist as ghosts buried beneath the sins of the present. Alois Nebel is undoubtably a tough nut to crack that requires some work on the viewer’s part and, no doubt, a little research to understand context, but it is a beautiful and evocative film, and repeated viewings might be prescribed for maximum soul piercing.
In case you’ve not noticed, the public fascination over abandoned buildings — which often falls under the category “urban exploration,” though certainly not all the sites of interests are in cities — has continued to grow over the last few years, supporting all kinds of photo projects documenting places of interest.
The latest in this trend is Stages of Decay, by photographer Julia Solis, which concentrates entirely on theater spaces that are falling apart — some of them the kind of grand downtown theater you imagine, but also auditoriums and stage spaces in schools, theaters, prisons, wherever there might be a performance space.
The idea of abandoned and decay theater space is uniquely poetic, and Solis eloquently explores this in her photographs, as well as her introduction, in which she describes the way that time has taken the drama from the stage itself, with human players, and transferred it to the entirety of the space, with the action unfolding between the building’s own materials and the elements overtaking them. These are still spaces for performance, where stories unfold, just not the type they were originally intended for. Solis beautifully captures these spaces in her work, documenting the complexity inherent in falling apart.
The question remains why we are so fascinated by the detritus of our recent past, and Solis also goes a long way to explaining that. Suffice it to say, we of the 20th century were raised to believe that our world was made of civilization in its final ultimate form, and that our present was eternal in the earth’s history. What these buildings show, and what Solis’s photography expresses, is that our culture, even our sturdy structures meant to house it, are no more impervious to time and atmosphere than any crumbling archeological structure we unearth from previous great but also gone societies.
The Buddhists are right — everything is fleeting, including us, but as Solis’ photos suggest, there may be some beauty in our decline.
Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (Drawn and Quarterly)
Sure, I have kids, but I can’t really know what it’s like to be one nowadays, I can only view the experience in others. It seems alien to me now, largely because the way kids consume entertainment is so much different than it was when I was a kid. That was a world of nothing at your finger-tips and never knowing what was coming until it came.
That’s the world that Hernandez’s Marble Season takes place — one of uncertainty not in the wider issues of life, but in the little ones. Like comics. They don’t come easy and you don’t always know what your few cents are going to buy you. Or trading cards. You may not get them all, no matter your best effort. Or other kids. The stereotypes that have become so common in kid culture depictions — and embraced within those cultures — didn’t quite exist yet. Any given kid could by anything — by making a friend, you never knew what you were going to get into.
It’s into this world that Hernandez offers a free form, neo-realist story about Huey, the middle kid in a family of three, obsessed with everything I mentioned before, plus his GI Joe doll — yeah, doll, they weren’t action figures in those days. Huey embraces comics and television and trading cards partially as a point of commonality with other kids — it’s something to talk about, measure your life by, it’s the capital of social interactions, it’s the one constant in a chaotic flow of friendships that come and go and change with hormones.
Some may ape Hernandez’s cartooning style, but no one’s ever mastered the finesse of his narratives — probably because no one’s ever presented comics with the same absorption of foreign film techniques, pacing, and more — Fellini, of course, but also think Rossellini and Godard — that Hernandez has always drenched his work in, making them often otherworldly.
This plays to perfection in Marble Season, because this is another world that Huey inhabits — at root, the concerns might be the same as any kid today, but the affectations are entirely alien, and childhood becomes a form of science fiction as weird as the monsters in the comics and movies that Huey obsesses about. Kids often live in societies separated from adults — the official worlds written about in history books and the subject of numerous documentaries — and no records are ever kept. That’s why a childhood 40 years ago can see so alien now. It feels like there’s no continuum, just something trapped in your own memory that you can’t express clearly to someone living it now.
That’s the sort of feeling one walks away from Marble Season with. You know Huey and his brothers and his friends, but they are lost in a different world that is no longer accessible. Nostalgia becomes something to grapple with, and Hernandez has shown that even when its only infected with the mundane, childhood haunts.
Sunday in the Park With Boys by Jane Mai (Koyama Press)
A expectation-defying meditation that turns a gloomy, self-pitying confessional into … well, a gloomy, self-pitying confessional, but one that presents depression as a failure of self that can be turned around.
Janey is a librarian who is going nowhere in life, and has isolated herself from all her friends, mostly because she perceives that they are going somewhere and that is not her destination. One panic attack in the library seems to define the course of her life, and she begins to wear her alienation like a badge.
But that doesn’t stop depression from weighing her down further, limiting her options, and causing her distress to appear in the form of giant bugs and other illusions.
This might not work if it were lengthy, but its 52 pages allows it to function as a stream of conscious meditation on the situation, more a visual poem than a clear narrative, and your appreciation of the work may be in direct relation to what portion of it you can identify with.
But if the actual emotional content of Mai’s book might not to be to everyone’s taste, the talent through which it unfolds certainly should be, given the right vehicles. Mai’s rough and innocent cartooning soften the pressure piled on by the story and keep things bearable. It’s both darkly evocative and strangely cute, and its on this that the book’s success balances, and does so admirably.
New Works To Make You Gasp Dept:
Kai Schaefer’s lovely photos of albums playing on turntables … consumer electronics and entertainment were once such lovely things, …
And enjoy this trailer for Mirage Men, a new documentary about UFOs that promises a different sort of conspiracy than the one people claim – the trailer itself is a bit of suspenseful masterwork all on its own.
The confusing world of copyright and intellectual property dept:
Here’s proof that Scarlett Johansson might be a jerk. Under no circumstances are you apparently even allowed to mention famous people in your novels any longer, or you will be subject to legal action. Writer Gregoire Delacourt learned that the hard way, just because he has a character in his novel who is mistaken for Johansson. That’s all. Because of this, Johansson is seeking compensation and damages for “fraudulent usage” (of her beauty, apparently) and hoping to stop all foreign translations and film adaptations. Guess I’ll have to take out the detail in my latest book where a character has her hair styled like Ms. Johansson’s … I don’t want to be taken to court …
This interesting piece by Bob Ostertag is one of the few I have read that actually addresses the real implications of copyright infringement, giving away music for free, and all that nonsense on musicians in a balanced and reasonable way. Osterberg offers a cold, hard look at the mercenary qualities of labels, while examining the devaluation of his craft because of online availability in a realistic, completely not-irrational way, and talks about the pros and cons, and the general challenges, of being a professional musician these days without all the typical Chicken Little stuff.
Sad tributes dept:
One of my favorite authors is Iain Banks, whose book The Wasp Factory ranks very, very high on my list. Banks died yesterday from cancer, far too early at the age of 59. Banks is well-known for his science fiction books about The Culture, some of which I read and liked, but I’m more a fan of his books like Espedair Street, about the career of a Fleetwood Mac style band, and The Crow Road, about uncovering family secrets in Scotland. There were a few books he wrote that I didn’t like, but the one thing about Banks is that even a failure was worth reading – I got something out of it. He will be missed – and here is Neil Gaiman’s very personal tribute to Banks.
I speak to painter Roger Shimomura in today’s Transcript, but here is a little extra dialogue we had about his use of popular cartoon characters in his work. Roger is a hardcore appropriator, but a very talented one who uses his borrowed characters for some pretty direct political commentary, and yet manages to make the whole thing fun despite the heaviness.
J7: Have you ever caught any flack for the using copyrighted characters?
RS: I got sued once for using a woman’s, a Japanese illustrator, a small portion of one of her drawings, she recognized it. I appropriate everything. Practically 100% of my work is appropriated for all these years, 40-something years. It cost my dealer and I a lot of money, but it eventually went away, and it went away because she couldn’t produce a copyright certificate, and the whole issue of parody was pretty clear.
J7: Is that how you view most of your images, as parody?
RS: There’s a technical thing with copyright. We faced it with that Superman painting because Mass MoCA wanted to use that on the banner to hang on the outside and they asked me for permission, and I said, ‘Well, you have my permission, but I don’t think you would have the comic book company’s permission.’
They checked with their attorney and found out it’s true, most – like Disney and other comics – will turn their back on a one-time usage on an individual painting, but if you put it in a public arena, then they freak out, like the way Disney freaked out at the daycare center that painted all of the Disney characters on the walls and they made it take them down for liability reasons. I could understand that.
Disney, in fact, on Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday sponsored an exhibition of original artwork done using their copyrighted figures, but the minute you make a public art piece, like Dennis Oppenheim made a piece of sculpture several years ago that had small Mickey Mouses on them, it was in a public arena and Disney felt that it made it look like it was one of Disney’s pieces, and so they made him take it down and so that work is in storage. That’s where the line is drawn. It’s okay to hang my painting of Superman, but it’s not okay to put it on the banner, because it makes it look like DC Comics was maybe one of the co-sponsors.
J7: What do you think your responsibility to the original artist is?
RS: I believe that anything that’s out there, that’s part of the landscape should be available to artists. Art schools have that immunity, we don’t have to to worry about that. When we’re teaching students, they can paint copyrighted images and that’s okay as long as it doesn’t get out to the public sector. Imagine what it would be like if I was setting up a still life to paint and I couldn’t put in a Coke bottle because that Coke bottle is copyrighted. Then I start looking at other things to put in there and just about everything has got a copyright attached to the packaging of it, even wine bottles, cereal boxes, the list goes on. What are we going to do, make a list that none of those things can be used unless you obtain the copyright permission? It’s absurd, so I believe in the other extreme, all of that stuff should be available for artists to use, and that’s the way I go about it.
I am more careful about using other people’s art. That’s different, especially if it’s current. Old art, I’ve copied Rembrandts and things like that, that stuff is public domain, but stuff that’s done more recently, I’m careful, like using manga, things like that. I would use the most popular ones, and I have. I did a huge painting that’s in the Bronx Museum right now, I painted this big Pikachu over the sex organs of this couple copulating, and Pikachu is waving his hand and censoring the delicate parts. I didn’t even think about copyright when I did that, and doubt anybody’s going to come after me for that.
One of the more unusual acts coming to the Solid Sound Festival this year is a live edition of the artful NPR science show Radiolab (with live music from Glen Kotche’s On Fillmore), which manages to explain scientific concepts through entertaining personal stories, often from a skeptical viewpoint. Above I’ve embedded my favorite episode, Stochasticity, which explains what randomness really looks like and how the human mind is able to creatively edit information in order to find a plan – and meaning – in a perfectly random situation.
“If You Knew Me You Would Care” is a collection of portraiture photography like none I’ve ever seen. Maifredi is both a fashion photographer and a portrait photographer who found himself looking for something different to shoot, something meaningful. Salbi and the organization Women For Women International gave him that by providing access to the women they represent, organize, help.
If you’re unfamiliar with Women For Women, one of their most successful aid programs is a direct sponsorship for women in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Rwanda, and help them get the training and knowledge they need to start their own businesses, and provide a safe space for them to meet. The book concerns itself with women from these countries and their stories.
What unravels before you is a parade of these women, presented as glittering, vibrant, powerful and spiritually gorgeous. Some have faces of strength, others of weariness, all of experience, and at least several of joy.
What makes the book so harrowing are the first hand accounts of many of these women’s lives, the circumstance that brought them to the point that Women For Women could transform their lives.
It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every woman in the book has been raped, many of them serially as sex slaves, often shunned by their communities and families after their ordeals — the book pulls no punches as the women recount their horrors.
The personal degradation and violence is just a component of lives surrounded by poverty and war, even genocide and sex slavery, often fueled by male domination that is so ingrained that domestic abuse and child marriage become accepted parts in many of these cultures.
In other words, these women have noticeable odds they have to beat to even make the smallest something of their lives.
With their gleaming and proud eyes on display throughout, it’s tough to claim this is a book about victimhood, and it really isn’t. What is shown here is that within each victim is a survivor and a hero. This book is a tapestry of how not to be defeated by the unimaginable.
Says Zahida from Bosnia and Herzegovina “I know that I’m a fighter, but I can’t believe that someone else recognizes me as a fighter.”
That’s really what the book is, a celebration of fighters and a refutation of our current trend against the idea of a handout. These women show that what they did to earn the charity they receive is to make it through impossible circumstances with the bravery of any solider who would be more typically lauded.
The way they pay you back for the charity is to make something of themselves and seize their own narrative, no longer victims of their history, becoming examples to follow in your darkest of times, proving that good things do happen even in the worst situations and brightening the world with their dignity and joy.
This all cardboard version of the Herzog film “Fitzcarraldo” was created by Robin Frohardt, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg of Frohardt’s talent. His website reveals all and is well worth a look – she’s a multi-talented painter, puppeteer, and fabricator. You can meet Frohardt here. And enjoy this elegant video.