The Daily

Arts & Culture

I Was Dreambox

June 1, 2015 | by

Wearing a sandwich board for Richard Kraft’s “100 Walkers.”

Photo: Helen Kim

Photo: Helen Kim

On a warm, Saturday afternoon in mid-April, I stood among ninety-nine others in grid formation in a West Hollywood parking lot, beneath a radiant red-and-gold Shepard Fairey mural. We wore all black—pants, blazers, and bowler hats. Each of us also bore a sandwich board with an image or phrase on the front and a different one on the back: a photograph of the ocean or the stars; a detail from an illustrated children’s book; a picture of a fiery, comet-tailed rocket; a portrait of a dissident, activist, or athlete; a close-up of a single human eye or a snarling dog; a snippet of a Dutch floral still life; a rendering of hands clasped in prayer or holding a lit match. The texts, in slender caps against vibrant emerald, violet, tangerine, or magenta, issued hopeful declarations (THE FUTURE IS FEMALE) and unfortunate truths (THE PEOPLE ADORE AUTHORITY!), cartoonish sound effects (EEEEEEK), commands (ABANDON SHIP!), questions (AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?), warnings (BEWARE OF THE RABBLE), and urgent, private reminders (I MUST TELL THE FLOWERS I MUST TELL THE TREES).

We stood in position for several minutes, a curious and dazzling assembly, a tenuous poem, a solemn, slyly subversive army. Then, one by one, we were dismissed according to our designated start phrases—body parts in Cockney slang. From head to toe, the corps dispersed. I answered to Dreambox and left through the lot’s south gate. My five-mile route took me along the glare of Sunset Boulevard and down jacaranda-shaded, bougainvilla-draped residential streets. As directed by the orchestrator of “100 Walkers,” Richard Kraft, I faced forward, kept a steady pace and neutral expression, and stayed silent. Read More »

Addy Walker, American Girl

May 28, 2015 | by

The role of black dolls in American culture.

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From the cover of Meet Addy.

In 1864, a nine-year-old slave girl was punished for daydreaming. Distracted by rumors that her brother and father would be sold, she failed to remove worms from the tobacco leaves she was picking. The overseer didn’t whip her. Instead, he pried her mouth open, stuffed a worm inside, and forced her to eat it.

This girl is not real. Her name is Addy Walker; she is an American Girl doll, one of eight historical dolls produced by the Pleasant Company who arrive with dresses, accessories, and a series of books about their lives. Of all the harrowing scenes I’ve encountered in slave narratives, I remember this scene from Meet Addy, her origin story, most vividly. How the worm—green, fat, and juicy—burst inside Addy’s mouth. At eight years old, I understood that slavery was cruel—I knew about hard labor and whippings—but the idea of a little girl being forced to eat a worm stunned me. I did not yet understand that violence is an art. There’s creativity to cruelty. What did I know of its boundaries and edges? Read More »

From Sand and Cactus

May 14, 2015 | by

Raymond Chandler the environmentalist.

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The wise man, as Biblical lore has it, built his house on the rock, his foolish compatriot on the sand—guidance that mankind has ignored for millennia. In the late nineteenth century, the pioneers, or developers, or “boosters” who founded and promoted Los Angeles as a new “instant city” were among those to lay substantial foundations in what was essentially sand. Not on a desert, exactly—that myth’s been debunked—but perilously close to one, and on the shore of an undrinkable ocean.

Today, it’s not an excess of water—as in the scriptures and children’s song—that threatens Southern California, but a scarcity of it. The state is considering implementing desalination centers. As has been remarked in Europe, the city defines itself against its medieval origins; American metropolises define themselves against the wilderness. In John Fante’s 1939 LA novel, Ask the Dust, his alter ego, Arturo Bandini, revels in his adopted home’s mastery of nature: “This great city, these mighty pavements and proud buildings, they were the voice of my America. From sand and cactus we Americans had carved an empire.” Read More »

A Whale in Her Own Ocean

May 12, 2015 | by

Suzanne Farrell at the New York Public Library.

Farrell and Balanchine in Don Quixote, 1964.

Suzanne Farrell—the ballerina who was George Balanchine’s last and arguably greatest muse—appears tonight at the New York Public Library’s Live! series, cosponsored by NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts. If you’d like to go, don’t—the event was a harder ticket than Hamilton, which the Wall Street Journal called “the buzziest show of the spring.”

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, well, everything you need to know about Farrell, now sixty-nine, you can learn from the essays of Arlene Croce, whose own great muse was Balanchine and his New York City Ballet, and whose unassailable writings on dance appeared in the pages of The New Yorker for twenty-five years. Croce says about Farrell in Diamonds, the third act of Balanchine’s Jewels: Read More »

Marketplace of Meaning: An Oblique Interview with Heidi Julavits

May 8, 2015 | by

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Heidi Julavits’s international driver’s license.

In 2010, the artist Hans-Peter Feldmann and Hans Ulrich Obrist conducted a book-length interview. The two Hanses agreed that Obrist would ask traditional interview questions and Feldmann would answer them by providing only an image. The book, called simply Interview, is an expansive exercise in control and meaning.

When I read Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock: A Diary, I was struck by her relationship to objects and the place they take in her life. In a very funny and layered way, her diary entries move, like an ego-submersible, from the surface to the abyss and back. I decided that, in the spirit of Feldmann and Obrist, I wanted to interview Julavits and have her respond with eBay auction articles, as the book also reveals Julavits’s knack for e-commerce. What follows is the result of our discourse.


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Say Stupid Shit

April 30, 2015 | by

Richard Lindner, Boy with Machine, 1954. According to Guattari and Deleuze, the painting validates one of their theses: “the turgid little boy has already plugged a desiring-machine into a social machine, short-circuiting the parents.”

From The Anti-Oedipus Papers, a set of notes and journal entries by Félix Guattari. When Guattari, born on this day in 1930, cowrote Anti-Oedipus (1972) with Gilles Deleuze, readers and scholars were baffled by their process; Guattari’s extensive diarizing pulls back the curtain on their collaboration.

10/06/1972

I’m strapped to this journal. Grunt. Heave. Impression that the ship is going down. The furniture slides, the table legs wobble …

Writing so that I won’t die. Or so that I die otherwise. Sentences breaking up. Panting like for what. […]

You can explain everything away. I explain myself away. But to whom? You know … The question of the other. The other and time. I’m home kind of fucking around. Listening to my own words. Redundancy. Peepee poopoo. Things are so fucking weird! […] Read More »