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A woman in housedress and slippers, scarf wound round her head, stands on a ladder staring at the desert. This arresting image, a photograph taken by Bruce Chatwin, was chosen by the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena to represent the themes of this year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice, which closed November 27. The woman, whom Chatwin encountered in southern Peru, was a German archeologist. She was there to study the Nazca lines, which look like random gravel from the ground but from a small elevation take shape as geoglyphs, or man-made images of animals and plants. The point? A slight shift in perspective achieved by modest means can alter our experience of the world.
More than sixty countries were represented in the Biennale’s two locations, the Gardens and the Arsenale. At both sites, Aravena, who recently received the Pritzker Architecture Prize, constructed compelling entry halls from over ninety tons of scrap material left over from previous Biennales. Out of plasterboard and the metal posts it attaches to, he formed cavernous spaces with textured walls and sculptural ceilings. The boards were cut with ragged edges and stacked like tiles, leaving small ledges here and there, or tiny gaps for windows, while lengths of torqued aluminum stalactites hung just above our heads. The spaces felt like primitive shelter: cave, hut, igloo, ger. Read More
Discovering William Christenberry.
One of my first days in Washington, having just arrived from Tennessee, I wandered into the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I found myself surrounded by Kodak Brownie photographs of barns, country stores, Baptist churches, metal signs, family graveyards—striking reminders of the Southern landscape I’d left behind.
Starting in the 1970s, the artist William Christenberry had photographed the same places in rural Alabama year after year. In one picture, a shack with false brick siding commanded the landscape; two decades later, kudzu had swallowed it whole. Their continuity gave these images a neurotic but documentary quality. There was loss in them. There was deep and complicated love. Read More
- Imagine being a successful writer. Like, one who actually makes enough money to have a large disposable income; one who has so many passionate readers that one’s personal life comes under scrutiny. It’s hard to picture it, isn’t it? If it actually happened to you, would you even know how to spend the money? Or would you do what Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants, did, and buy a bunch of Hatchimals on eBay? Michael Schaub writes, “The writer purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151—spending more than $23,000—with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price. She intends to use the proceeds to help fund the defense of a man she says is serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Her plan backfired, though, when eBay wouldn’t let her resell the toys, she wrote in a Facebook post that drew some harsh criticism from readers. One called her move ‘Christmas greed,’ while another wrote, ‘Exploiting families whose children want these toys for Christmas is awful.’ She did have supporters, however, such as the woman who wrote, “Don’t let the haters stop you from doing what you believe is right! (((HUGS)))”
- Tony Tulathimutte has had it up to here with this whole notion of the “voice of a generation” novel—so don’t ask him if he’s at work on one: “The idea of a one-size-fits-all masterpiece runs squarely against the novel form. Novels can certainly cover plenty of ground, containing hundreds of characters in diverse settings, but they’re still all about specificity. To a novelist, the lowest common denominator of affectations, fashions and consumption patterns evoked by the generational tag are seldom any character’s most interesting qualities, except in novels that are about superficiality itself, like American Psycho. The generational novel, like the Great American Novel, is a comforting romantic myth, which wrongly assumes that commonality is more significant than individuality.”
A recent group of Ara Peterson’s interlaced relief paintings are on display at Derek Eller Gallery through December 23. The paintings, according to the gallery, evoke “the elegance of New England transcendentalism, the overwhelming geographies of H. P. Lovecraft, the crisp sonic landscapes of Steely Dan, and the vertiginous feeling of swimming out to sea … Peterson begins his process with a lengthy period of development rooted in the visualization of wave phenomena. For each work, he plots the relationships between color, mood, scale, weight, surface tension, and directional flow.”
Mike Powell’s column is about living in Arizona.
My friend Raul is thirty-six and until recently played in a band called the Electric Blankets. Raul works at a bar that I drink at all the time. I generally don’t talk to bartenders because I don’t want to get in their way, a trait I’ve always considered to be European but have been informed is just unfriendly. One night, Raul saw me at a party and he patted me on the back and that was that.
Raul lives here in Tucson on an expired green card. He was born in Tijuana and moved to Southern California when he was eleven. His family started a Mexican restaurant outside San Diego; it turned into two. As a teenager, Raul started going up to Los Angeles with a crew of kids to dance to hard house, a genre of music I was unfamiliar with until Raul told me about it. “DJ Irene,” he says. “DJ Trajic.” I listened to them later. It sounds like a pinball machine crossed with construction noise.
Raul married a friend when he was twenty-three and moved to Tucson shortly thereafter. The plan was to stay for eight months; that was eleven years ago. Raul watched the 2016 presidential election at his bar in a state of mounting anxiety. Tucson is a blue pocket in a mostly red state. The plan was to celebrate. “We had TVs, we had bands, we had guest speakers,” he says. By the end of the night, he was crying on his barstool, “not out of sadness or anger, but out of fear. It felt like the fucking twilight zone.” Read More