After we summited the ridges high above Aspen in late July of this year, the artist Lorna Simpson and I finally had the occasion to speak at length. Simpson, in town to be honored by the Aspen Art Museum with the institution’s Aspen Award for Art, had taken advantage of the good weather for a day hike. Catching our breath, we talked about her life as an artist in New York during the nineties and the Brooklyn Heights high school where her daughter and I share a common history. Simpson, a Brooklyn native, still lives in the borough, where she also keeps a studio. We caught up earlier this month to continue the conversation. Here she talks about her artistic process, creative inspiration, and the joys of working without a deadline.
Mika Rottenberg’s installation NoNoseKnows, showing now at the Venice Biennale, focuses on production, as much of her work does: in the video, we watch an assembly line of women making pearls. They turn hand cranks; they manipulate knitting needles; they partake of the despondent rigmarole that is factory life. Soon enough, though, the images lurch toward phantasm. Some of the women are dozing peacefully at their stations; some have their feet submerged in whole baskets of pearls; and their labor is directed from underground by a kind of Pinocchio-nosed queen bee, an exhausted, frazzled woman with a nasty cold. Then, as Randy Kennedy writes in the New York Times, comes the denouement:
the woman sneezes explosively, causing steaming plates of Chinese food and pasta to burst from her inflamed schnozz, which seems to provide the pearl workers’ sole nourishment; the process repeats, maybe endlessly.
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- In the years before John Updike died, a man began to steal a lot of his garbage—thousands of pieces, actually, including “photographs, discarded drafts of stories, canceled checks, White House invitations, Christmas cards, love letters, floppy disks, a Mickey Mouse flip book, and a pair of brown tasseled loafers.” Taken as a whole, the collection amounts to a kind of secret history, a trash biography. (“My life is, in a sense, trash,” Updike said in his Art of Fiction interview.)
- “How does one choose books that one knows one is going to enjoy? The obvious answer is that you can’t … Think of all the times we start a book that we think we should be reading—because everyone else is reading it, because it’s won a prize, because our book group has chosen it, despite our misgivings. And think of all the times we refuse to abandon a book we are not enjoying—because we are peculiarly puritanical about literature—thus creating an antagonism and a reluctance that must damage our relationship with reading.”
- This year’s Venice Biennale, an architecture show, “reveals that modernism was never a style. It was a cultural, political, and social practice: the practice of making buildings suited to certain exigencies of life in a rapidly changing and developing world. And since, by definition, the question of how and what it meant to ‘make something modern’ changed over time and space—different in Finland than in Morocco—so also did the design of the buildings that emerged from it.”
- In which the keening of a single blue whale teaches us something about loneliness.
- What kind of worker is a writer? On Tillie Olsen, who wrote in dribs and drabs while holding down menial jobs and raising four children: “Writing, Olsen reminded her readers, takes time, education, energy, and resources, and these things are unevenly distributed. She encouraged us to attend to unorthodox writing produced in unfavorable circumstances—letters, diaries, scrapbooks like her own—and, in doing so, to question what counts as literature.”