October 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Let’s talk about temptation, because it’s Saint Hilarion’s feast day. A fourth-century anchorite who followed the ascetic precedent of Anthony the Great, Hilarion lived for most of his life in a desert in Syria Palaestina, where … not much happened, presumably. He refused to take food before sunset and, perhaps as a result, faced a slew of hallucinations temptations. These he avoided, being saintly. When at last he rejoined civilization after many decades in the wilderness, he didn’t much care for society—so many people!—so he retreated into austerity again, in Dalmatia and then in Cyprus, where he died.
I’m simplifying things a bit.
The man wrought some miracles, for instance, but those are not my concern.
Much of what we know about Hilarion—the name is from the Greek hilaros, meaning cheerful, not super funny, though neither seems to describe the Hilarion in question—comes from a chronicle written by Saint Jerome in 390 A.D., a strange, captivating, and fittingly arid read, particularly in regards to Hilarion’s temptations: Read More »
October 20, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
October 16, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
I started writing and drawing at an early age … My first book was a book of poetry and drawings. Invariably the first drafts of my poems combine drawings and verse, sometimes taking off from an image, sometimes from words … With drawing, I am acutely aware of creating something on a sheet of paper. It is a sensual act, which you cannot say about the act of writing. In fact, I often turn to drawing to recover from the writing.
—Günter Grass, the Art of Fiction No. 124, 1991
Happy eighty-seventh to Günter Grass. That “first book” he refers to is Die Vorzüge der Windhühner (The Advantages of Windfowl), from 1956; Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection has a few of the lithographs on their site. As Martin Esslin writes, “It is hard to tell whether the poems are there to illustrate the drawings, or the drawings to illustrate the poems”—which accords with Grass’s fairly circular description of his process. Here’s another:Read More »
October 10, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
It’s an experiment in what your life might be like if you speak freely to another person—speak and allow that person to show you the ways in which you stop yourself thinking and speaking freely. I don’t mean by that that it doesn’t change symptoms. I know by my own experience that it does. But I think the most interesting thing about it is its unpredictability. If you buy a fridge, there are certain things you will be guaranteed. If you buy a psychoanalysis, you won’t be. It’s a real risk, and that also is the point of it. Patients come because they are suffering from something. They want that suffering to be alleviated. Ideally, in the process of doing the analysis, they might find their suffering is alleviated or modified, but also they might discover there are more important things than to alleviate one’s suffering.
—Adam Phillips, The Art of Nonfiction No. 7
Sebastian Zimmermann’s new monograph, Fifty Shrinks, does exactly what it says on the tin: it features photographs of fifty therapists and analysts in their offices, which are, according to an essay in the book by the architect Elizabeth Danze, “floating vessels, places of sanctuary … [when] a patient reflects on the trajectory of his or her therapy, an indelible part of that recollection involves the space in which it took place.”
The concept should be twee or ponderous, and at its most obvious it can be—the tropes of analysis are all here, the long couches, solemn shelves of leatherbound books, thick curtains and dark woodgrain, prominently hung diplomas, all the shorthand for erudition—but most of Zimmermann’s portraits are surprisingly lively. The offices (and the people in them) are far from clinical. In fact, Fifty Shrinks is more or less an object lesson in eccentricity: there are offices furnished only with folding chairs or decorated with terrifyingly vibrant floral wallpaper, a therapist whose desk is consumed by Rolodexes, and a therapist holding ominous court at his chess set.
You can see more of the photographs here.
October 8, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Richard Sharpe Shaver is best remembered as a controversial sci-fi writer—in the late 1940s, his pieces in Amazing Stories made outlandishly specific claims about evil ancient civilizations, and it became progressively clearer that Shaver didn’t regard these stories as fiction. Toward the end of his life, Shaver spent his time elaborating an arcane theory about “rock books”; in certain stones, he avowed, one could find intricate pictographic texts inscribed by the hyperadvanced races of millennia past. As the art quarterly X-Tra has it, Shaver believed he’d begun to decode the texts of “a whole prehistoric Atlantean library”:
Shaver accessed the rock books by cutting through stone with a saw to reveal a world of imagery within the fissures. “Humans figures [sic] are distorted by saw-cut as well as by wrong lenses—but recognizable. The enigma of man’s past does not need to be an enigma.” This statement, handwritten in blue ball-point pen on thin typewriter bond, floats to the right of an oculus cut into the paper, which reveals beneath a photograph of what appears to be a random black and white pattern. In fact, Shaver believed the pattern was a holographic picture created thousands of years ago by an advanced ancient technology.
It can feel voyeuristic to dwell on the remnants of lunacy—like gaping at the crazies on the subway—but Shaver’s devotion and imagination provoke a strange empathy. As Brian Tucker writes in an excellent summary for Cabinet, “Despite poverty and virtually unremitting scorn, Shaver continued this work until his death in November 1975.” A few years ago, Tucker curated an exhibit including some of Shaver’s papers and theories:
The pictorial content that Shaver identified in these rocks is dense and complex. Different images reveal themselves at every angle of view and every level of magnification; pictures mingle with ancient graphic symbols and typography in what he called “the most fascinating exhibition of virtuosity in art existent on earth” … Discouraged by critics who charged that the figures pictured in his paintings were mere fabrications from his own imagination, he eventually abandoned painting in favor of the relative objectivity of photographic documentation. In an unpublished manuscript, Shaver writes, “If I hadn’t been an artist most of my life, I would have realized that people will believe photos, and won’t believe drawings or paintings … The camera wins, by being honest … which doesn’t say much for artists’ honesty, I guess. We try … but people think we lie.”
October 7, 2014 | by Jane Harris
LaToya Frazier’s first monograph, The Notion of Family, documents the decline of Braddock, Pennsylvania—a once-prosperous steel-mill town that employed generations of African American workers—alongside the hardships of Frazier’s family, who grew up there. Issues of class and race underscore the mostly black-and-white photographs in the collection, which is arranged as a kind of family album: intimate, collaboratively produced portraits of Frazier and her mother in mirrors and on beds, are presented with derelict scenes of collapsed buildings, vacant lots, and boarded-up stores.
Frazier provides short texts with each image—wistful snippets of memory and anecdote merge with facts and statistics. Illness is nearly a constant. As Laura Wexler points out in an accompanying essay, Braddock’s hospital, which eventually housed the town’s only restaurant and therefore became its de facto meeting place, “is as much or more a fixture in this album and this family than the school, the factory, the library, the market, the taxi stand, the pawnshop, or any other institution.” Read More »