April 3, 2013 | by Jesse Barron
I filled up half a notebook preparing for my interview with Rachel Kushner, whose second novel, The Flamethrowers, arrives this week. [It was excerpted and served as the inspiration for the portfolio in our last issue.] The notes are wide-ranging and imprecise, a record of the experience of reading this intellectually voracious book and trying to keep up with it. There are descriptions of American land art, scraps of World War I history, digressions on Italian counterculture in the late seventies. There are facts about those same years in New York, sometimes appreciating a particularly lovely observation, sometimes just noting what has changed (“on the Manhattan side, the Williamsburg Bridge had steps”). There are names, so many names: Aldo Moro, Virginia Tusi, Grifi and Sarchielli, Robert Smithson, and a hundred more. There are isolated flashes of pop-culture ephemera, like an otherwise blank page with “Jane Fonda wins an Oscar” written in the middle. That these elements, incoherent in my notebook, not only connect in Flamethrowers but create a dense and beautiful and polyphonic Bolaño-esque harmony meant that Ms. Kushner, by the time our interview rolled around, had started to seem somewhat miraculous.
Perhaps appropriately for an author concerned with the self-conscious production of ideas and images, Ms. Kushner spoke to me on Skype from LA, where she lives, as she put it, “incognito.” Her disguise on this particular day consisted of a black sweater and a few auburn highlights in her brown hair. When she answers questions, she has a habit of looking down past the camera, and her elaborate, delicate responses—complete with qualifications and footnotes—make it seem that she must be consulting a notebook propped open in the corner of the room. She isn’t.
The Flamethrowers spans a hundred years and follows multiple sets of characters across two countries, but I think it can be separated into three strands. Reno moves from Nevada to New York in the late seventies to be an artist, Italy is upended during the Years of Lead, Italian motorcyclists form a gang in World War I. Did you start out looking for a large and polyphonic book?
I like the way you divide up the three strands.
Is that not how you would divide them?
Well, at first there were two spheres—New York in the seventies and Italy in the seventies. And I knew they may have had some kind of en-tissuing or overlap, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to reduce it by linking them in forced or artificial ways. The only viable manner of figuring out how they were connected—and weren’t—was to write the novel. Read More »
April 2, 2013 | by Christopher Higgs
Kenneth Goldsmith’s writing has been called “some of the most exhaustive and beautiful collage work yet produced in poetry.” Goldsmith is the author of eleven books of poetry, founding editor of the online archive UbuWeb, and the editor of I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, which was the basis for an opera, Trans-Warhol, that premiered in Geneva in 2007. An hour-long documentary on his work, Sucking on Words, was first shown at the British Library that same year. In 2011, he was invited to read at President Obama’s “A Celebration of American Poetry” at the White House, where he also held a poetry workshop with First Lady Michelle Obama. Earlier this year, he began his tenure as the first-ever Poet Laureate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I recently sat down with Goldsmith to discuss his new book, Seven American Deaths and Disasters.
Since your practice emphasizes the value of the selection process over the creation process, how do you choose what to include and exclude from Seven American Deaths and Disasters?
I began with the assassination of JFK, which is arguably the beginning of media spectacle, as defined and framed by Warhol. His portrait of Jackie mourning iconizes that moment forever. Although he made Marilyn’ss, he never memorialized her death, thus it never entered into the realm of media spectacle in the same way. From JFK, I naturally proceeded to RFK, an eyewitness account of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It’s an incredible linguistic document—you really feel the newsman’s struggle to find words to describe what is unfolding before his eyes. John Lennon is taken from a cassette tape made by someone scanning the radio the night of and days following his assassination, which feels like an audio document from a lost time. Space Shuttle Challenger is from a TV broadcast of the event and its long, weird, silent aftermath. Columbine is straight transcript of a harrowing 911 call. The World Trade Center, the longest piece in the book, is from several sources—talk radio, news radio, color commentary—stitched together into a multichapter epic, thus mirroring the gargantuan scale of the event. And Michael Jackson is from a catty FM station, where the shock jocks have no problem cracking jokes and making racist comments at his expense. Read More »
March 28, 2013 | by Tim Small
Alexa Karolinski is an old friend. I first met her in 2005, when I was the editor at VICE Italy, in Milan, and she was a particularly bright intern at the VICE Germany office. Alexa quit VICE a few months after I met her; she then moved to Paris for a while, started working in television for ARTE, met her husband, moved back to Berlin, and then moved to New York three years ago, where she studied documentary filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. And now she is a film director. Oma & Bella, her first feature-length film, began as her thesis, and was then released in German cinemas after being accepted at the Berlin Film Festival last year. If, like me, you have any sort of fascination with World War II, food, and your grandma, it is an absolutely must-see documentary.
Oma & Bella tells the story of best friends Bella Katz and Regina Karolinski (Alexa’s grandmother), two octogenarian Holocaust survivors among the oldest surviving members of Berlin’s Jewish community, who moved in together when Regina had a hip operation. They spend most of their time cooking traditional Eastern European Jewish food, giving that food to their family, talking about food, organizing dinners, going food shopping, preparing food, washing the utensils they use to prepare food, putting food in Tupperware and freezing it, and occasionally taking a break from the food in the form of an amble to the park or the cemetery. With a delicate grace and a warm sense of humor, Alexa made one of the most touching portraits of an elderly couple―and of Holocaust survivors―I have ever seen on screen.
A few months after the movie was released, we collaborated on The Oma & Bella Cookbook. That is to say: when Alexa told me she wanted to make a cookbook that would collect the movie’s recipes, I begged her to let the Milan Review design it.
I recently got on Skype with Alexa to talk about her movie, grandparents, and food.
So, tell me—exactly when did you decide to make this movie?
It began about three years ago, when I was living in Berlin and decided that I wanted to learn how to cook. At the time I couldn’t cook anything more complicated than scrambled eggs and I decided that one day, my children—the children I don’t have yet—should be able to eat the food I grew up with. Therefore, I needed to learn that from my grandmother, and from her best friend, Bella, who she lives with. So I started cooking with them and then I kind of decided very quickly that it wasn’t enough to just cook with them, that I would have needed to write down the recipes and make a cookbook out of it.
It must have been daunting.
Yes. And they don’t cook with measurements—they go by eye—so I had to learn how to cook with them and invent the measurements just by watching them cook. So basically I started this cookbook project, and within that cookbook project I was looking for a visual landscape. And one day I kind of decided, knowing that I was going to go back to film school, to rent a camera and, just for fun, film them. Then I cut a two-minute teaser out of that, just to teach myself how to use Final Cut. And then, when I moved to New York, I showed this around, mostly just to show some friends how much I love my grandmother and how amazing she is. And people were like, This is gonna be your thesis film, and I kind of thought, Yeah, I guess it is. Read More »
March 25, 2013 | by John Lingan
Way back in 2004, the artist Neil Freeman debuted a novel idea on his Web site, Fake is the New Real: a map of the United States, redrawn so that each state has a more or less equal population. This, Freeman proffered, would correct the current problem with our electoral college system, in which sparsely populated states wield tremendous political influence for no real justifiable reason.
He remade the map in 2010 to reflect current census data, but took the idea to its most exhaustive and visually impressive heights in December 2012. Since the country had just survived yet another election where Ohio and Florida were agreed to be the only states of any import; since the governments of certain conservative-leaning states went out of their way to make voting a nearly constitution-violating ordeal for many minority populations; and since the last few years have seen many congressional districts gerrymandered out of political contention, I was touched by Freeman’s effort to envision an American political process that was, to put it plainly, more fair.
“The states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence,” he introduced the 2012 map. “The largest state is sixty-six times as populous as the smallest and has eighteen times as many electoral votes.” I e-mailed Freeman to discuss his problem with that reality, and how his map could theoretically change it.
You’re pretty vague in the artist’s statement to this piece, saying only “reforms are needed.” What compelled you in 2004 to start this project? What do you ultimately think it says about our politics?
The project grew out of two goals, which have tended to get braided and knotted over time. The first is to visualize the population distribution of the country in a novel way. The second is to critique the electoral college.
The roots of the project go back to the early days of the 2004 presidential campaign. The 2000 election made the limitations of the electoral college painfully obvious. Not only does the system make the popular vote irrelevant, but the college gives different levels of influence and power to citizens of different states based on competitiveness and House apportionment.
There was a fair degree of momentum to reform the electoral college after the 2000 election, and nothing happened. The electoral college is deeply naturalized into our political narrative, and rational discourse seems to have little ability to dislodge it. I hope that a more creative approach to the electoral college helps to lay bare its shortcomings and the possibility of effective reform.
Presidential campaigns are also a moment when everyone pays close attention to maps of states, and the weaknesses of state maps as a visual tool become apparent. After the 2000 and 2004 election, a county-by-county map that showed that the country as a mostly red country with little blue bits on the coast began showing up as a proof of the irrelevance of the Democratic vote. This is downright silly, and it really saddens me that people confuse geographical space with population density. If—when—we get rid of the electoral college, one of the benefits will be the irrelevance of geographical state-by-state maps for illustrating campaign trends.
To tie that up—by redrawing the political map, I hope to draw attention to the limitations of our political system, and the ways that we commonly represent it. Read More »
March 19, 2013 | by Michele Filgate
Last month I read a book by David Foster Wallace for the first time. (Dare I admit that? Not having read DFW is practically a sin in most literary circles; it was something that embarrassed me for years.) I finally read the essay collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. When I finished the book, I was greedy for more essay collections in which the author gets me to read about something I didn’t realize I had any interest in.
Michelle Orange’s This is Running for Your Life is exactly what I was looking for. While the author deserves comparisons to DFW and John Jeremiah Sullivan, she has her own distinct voice. Orange’s prose is animated by her innate curiosity and her convincing meditations on culture and her own life. I recently interviewed her via e-mail.
I was struck by the essay about your grandmother, in which you talked about the many ticket stubs she sent you on which she had scrawled short reviews. Movies, it seems, are more than a personal pleasure. It’s almost as if you genetically inherited the desire to watch cinema, to immerse yourself in the stories. Did you become a film critic partially because of your relationship with your grandmother?
There does seem to be something passed down about that kind of movie love, although in this case it skipped a generation—my mom is more of a special-event moviegoer. My father, though, is at least as devoted a movie-lover as my grandmother was, so I had it coming from several directions. What I sensed with my grandmother is that she seemed to need the movies as much as she loved them. Our trips to the Cineplex, where she would take seven-year-old me to see rated-R-for-mature-content movies like Night Shift, were the only time we spent alone together. They were memorable for that alone, but I think they embedded some of that need in me as well. She wasn’t interested in talking about a movie afterward. The pleasure was really in discovering and rediscovering that private response. Which is what made the ticket stubs so special to me—her effort to connect through this thing that we both loved so privately.
In “The Dream Girl Is Over,” you posit, “What if all life, but especially the part of it that involves consuming art and images, is in some sense a reminder?” Do you think that’s why those of us who are drawn to art, in whatever form we consume it, find some sense of recognition and familiarity in the work that we love?
There’s nothing better than encountering a voice that seems to have been living in your head, waiting for a microphone, or an interlocutor. It’s a feeling of being called. When art can make that connection it couldn’t be more personal. Read More »
Sometimes Still, Sometimes Full of Tears: A Studio Visit with Jayoung Yoon, or a Strange Eulogy for William Francis
March 18, 2013 | by Alex Moore
In Jayoung Yoon’s Brooklyn studio, a postcard reproduction of a Duccio alterpiece (Jesus holding a fishing net out to his disciples) hangs next to a photo of the artist, head shaved, standing in a lake. Floating off the opposite wall are a net and a shirt, both made of the artist’s hair, and two pictures of lotus flowers. Religious references abound. Read More »