Posts Tagged ‘landscapes’
May 11, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Chris Burden—who spent five days in a school locker, hammered a metal stud into his sternum, and had himself shot in the arm by a rifle from fifteen feet, all in the name of art—has died at sixty-nine. “Power was a central motif in Burden’s work. He approached it as an almost tactile, palpable material, one with visual, physical, emotional and social meanings … His work delved into the power of individuals, tribes and nations. Often he explored the realm of science and technology as distinctly modern manifestations of power’s dual capacity for the creation of magical delight or total annihilation.”
- Send a (well-encrypted) thank-you note to the antiauthoritarian librarian in your life: “Librarians have frequently been involved in the fight against government surveillance. The first librarian to be locked up for defending privacy and intellectual freedom was Zoia Horn, who spent three week in jail in 1972 for refusing to testify against anti–Vietnam War activists. During the Cold War, librarians exposed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to recruit library staffers to spy on foreigners, particularly Soviets, through a national effort called the Library Awareness Program. The post-Snowden Internet age is no different.”
- The county of Dorset, along the coast of England, gave Thomas Hardy “the pastoral landscapes that he is famous for describing; the farmland and heath with sandstone cottages, sheep pastures and Roman roads ending abruptly at dramatic seaside cliffs. And since Dorset is relatively unspoiled by modern development, it isn’t hard to imagine, with a squint of the eyes, the countryside as Hardy saw it.”
- The Irish landscape, meanwhile, contains such well-documented beauty and blight that any writer who takes it on risks courting cliché—but why not try anyway? “Over the years I had avoided what I call ‘the landscape solution’ in Irish prose, whereby the writer puts the word ‘Atlantic’ or ‘bog’ into the story and some essential yearning in her character is fixed. But there I was myself, getting fixed on the green road, and it seemed to me that this was something I should allow myself to write about now.”
- Today in living, breathing metaphors: people who think they’re made of glass. When glass was a new and seemingly magical material, glass delusions manifested relatively commonly; about midway through the nineteenth century, though, doctors began to see fewer and fewer of them. “It’s easy to assume society and culture are so changed that mentally ill people would no longer manifest this particular delusion. But a psychiatrist from the Netherlands has uncovered contemporary cases … The glass delusion has powerful contemporary resonance in a society in which anxieties about fragility, transparency, and personal space are pertinent to many people's experience of, and anxieties about, living in the modern world.”
April 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- On James Merrill, whose work “exists in part to reverse our bias against trivia”: “His work is replete with the transfigured commonplace, bits of the world reclaimed in his daily imaginative raids: an ‘Atari dragonfly’ on the Connecticut River, a joint smoked on a courthouse lawn, a trip to the gym, a Tyvek windbreaker … And Ouija boards: Merrill made the most ambitious American poem of the past fifty years, seventeen thousand lines long, in consultation with one.”
- “I am writing to you because I noticed that you did exceptionally well last semester … and I would encourage you to consider English as a major (or a second major) … flexible enough to fit in easily with your other academic pursuits.” Giving the hard sell to prospective students of literature.
- “A busting of the bucolic, a puncturing of the pastoral”: young writers are reckoning with the English landscape in unconventional ways, seeking its absences, its eeriness, “the terror in the terroir.”
- We’ve been Photoshopping images for twenty-five years. How did we dupe and retouch before that? Double exposure, montage, stage-setting; we’ve been manipulating photographs since nearly the moment they were invented.
- Picasso, in his posthumous life, is more than a mere painter—he’s a barometer of unassailable excellence in any and every field. Thus, I present to you “The Picasso of LEGO Bricks,” “The Picasso of Low-temperature Geochemistry,” and “The Picasso of Anal-Pleasuring Toys.”
February 19, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Feeling anxious? Depressed? Full of foreboding? Use fiction to overmaster your fears, and experience instant results. “In my books I get to create anxiety on my own terms. I can moderate fear and pass it on to other people. This creative, oddly communal form of anxiety feels very different from the kind I have in the back of my mind always—the fear about what will happen to my sight. There is something delicious—that’s the only word I can use to describe it—about recreating apprehension on the page.”
- Jennifer Lopez’s terrible new movie The Boy Next Door has inspired a misguided quest for first editions of the Iliad. “Lopez plays a divorced English literature high school teacher who has a one-night stand with her younger neighbor played by Ryan Guzman. In one scene, Guzman’s character gives Lopez a copy of The Iliad, which is described as a ‘first edition’ and apparently found for ‘a buck at a garage sale.’ ” Problems: no one knows for certain when the Iliad was even written. It was passed down by oral tradition first. It’s at least three thousand years old. It wasn’t composed in English for first publication in a handsome hardcover.
- On André Brink, a South African novelist who died last week: “Brink could write in a blocky, slightly cumbersome way, and some of his overlong later novels needed more editing. But the combination of his moral vision, psychological acuity, and insistent narrative force puts him, in my mind at least, in the company of Theodore Dreiser and Russell Banks.”
- I’m not sure if Victoria Sambunaris’s pictures amount to “a photographer’s version of the Great American Novel,” as the headline says they do—but they’re an affecting record of an American phenomenon: “the recurring sprawl of massive development and junctures where nature meets culture unexpectedly and surprisingly sublimely.”
- Supposedly, we’ve entered a new golden age for television, and for architecture, and some might say even journalism—what about art? “This is how we know precisely that we’re not in any Golden Age for visual art: There’s the spectacle of obsessive, laser-like bidding on lonely, singular canvasses by the few, but no broadly shared delight and conversation. ‘Excess of excellence’ or ‘intellectual credibility’ wouldn’t exactly be the first words from anyone in Contemporary art describing their own field, much less Miami art fairs.”
December 15, 2014 | by Jonathan Lippincott
“100 Years of Design on the Land,” a photography show opening here in New York this evening at 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, explores ten historic American landscapes, from Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston, created in 1831, to the Camden Public Library Amphitheatre in Maine, created in 1931. The show presents contemporary photographs by Carol Betsch and Andy Olenick that have been commissioned for books published by the Library of American Landscape History (LALH). Robin Karson, the executive director and founder of LALH, curated the exhibition. As she says in an introductory statement in the show’s catalogue, “each of these places was shaped by a deliberate design process, and each has an individual story to tell. Taken together, they tell a much larger story of a nation’s beliefs and aspirations—who we are, where we long to go or what we want to get back to.”
The Library of American Landscape History, based in Amherst, Massachusetts, is defining the field of landscape history through its books about significant American landscape practitioners and places. LALH also organizes exhibitions that reflect the subjects of its publications, and, in partnership with Hott Productions of Florentine Films, produces a series of short films, North America by Design. Carol Betsch’s photographs have appeared in eleven LALH books (two are forthcoming). For the 2013 title The Best Planned City in the World, the author Frank Kowsky worked with Andy Olenick, an architectural photographer based in Buffalo, to document the key elements of the park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for that city. This includes three large parks and a series of parkways to connect them, as well as Niagara Falls, which Olmsted helped to preserve from the destruction of local industries.
I first encountered Carol Betsch’s photographs at the exhibition “A Genius for Place,” at the PaineWebber Art Gallery in the fall of 2000. I was struck by the remarkable elegance and stateliness of her images. The landscapes pictured were stunning, with grand homes nestled among ancient trees, vast lawns, formal gardens, pools, ponds, and follies. I found the feeling of serenity in these places, the evocative light and space, tremendously appealing. Looking at these photographs felt like walking through these wonderful American landscapes and gardens, having just the right guide to take me to the best views, the most significant perspectives, and to create the opportunity for understanding some of the ideas behind the landscapes unfolding before me. The photographs looked like they could be the work of an artist from the late nineteenth century, but they had all been made during the last decade. Who was this photographer? And where were these places?
“A Genius for Place,” both the show and the book that followed, presented seven estates of the country-place era, roughly the 1890s to the 1930s, created by some of the most important landscape architects of the time. Written by Robin Karson, the chapters alternate between biographies of the practitioners and exploration of the places from the perspective of an art historian, looking at the landscape designs as works of art. Selecting the best of the sites that retained the integrity of the original design, and discussing them in chronological order, Karson reveals the trajectory and evolution of American landscape design, and the ways these designs expressed ideas in the larger culture.
In anticipation of this new show, I spoke with Betsch about her photography, and the process of working in these landscapes. Read More »
July 7, 2014 | by Damian Fowler
The varying temperaments of British and American storytelling.
In 1890, a thirty-seven-year-old Scot named James F. Muirhead arrived in America with the intention of carrying out an extensive survey of the republic for the “Baedeker’s Handbook to the United States.” Muirhead spent the next three years traveling to almost every state and territory in the Union, approaching his vast subject matter with none of the condescension often expressed by Victorian Englishmen of the era. In 1898 he published The Land of Contrasts—A Briton’s View of His American Kin, which he considered to be a “tribute of admiration and gratitude.” His colorful chapter headings show the range of his interests: “An Appreciation of the American Woman,” “Sports and Amusements,” “American Journalism—A Mixed Blessing,” and “Some Literary Straws.”
In that last chapter, Muirhead attempts to throw some light upon the “respective literary tastes of the Englishman and the American.” While he notes the grammatical wrongness of the American idiom—at least to his ear—in phrases such as “a long ways off” or “In a voice neither could scare hear,” he is most interested in “the tone, the temper, the method, the ideals” of an American writer. He singles out William Dean Howells—who challenged American authors to choose American subjects—as “purely and exclusively American, in his style as in his subject, in his main themes as in his incidental illustrations, in his spirit, his temperament, his point of view.”
But what does it mean to have an American point of view? Muirhead keeps trying to put his finger on this elusive quality: “Mr. Howells … possesses a bonhomie, a geniality, a good-nature veiled by a slight mask of cynicism, that may be personal, but which strikes one as also a characteristic American trait.” And then: “To me Mr. Howells, even when in his most realistic and sordid vein, always suggests the ideal and the noble.” Read More »