This past Saturday, my roommate took us to El Museo del Barrio to see NKAME, a haunting retrospective of the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón. It is a show of paradoxes, crackling with stillness and intricate in its simplicity. Ayón’s work merges elements of Christian narrative with that of the founding mythology of the Afro-Cuban fraternal society, Abakuá, to establish an independent and forceful iconography of her own. Her prints are populated by androgynous, ghostly figures, featureless save for the almond-shaped eyes that peer out from their canvases in a resolute, subtly confrontational stare. One piece reimagines the Last Supper, but many of the scenes are more deliberately abstract, and those are the ones that are the most viscerally evocative. The show includes one of her color prints, but the rest are the result of her midcareer decision to work only in monochromatic gray scale. Ayón’s true virtuosity is in her command of this palette, and the nuance of patterns that she weaves into her prints is captivating. These patterns imbue the stillness of her scenes with a buzzing energy just below the surface, underscoring the archetypal uncanniness of her hybrid mythology. It was my roommate’s third time seeing the exhibition, and it is certainly one to pull you back again and again. Spend time with each print; the experience of each is a slow, mysterious revelation of masterful detail. —Lauren Kane
Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Eugene Lim revisits the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance, Legacy Plan.
CONAN: How do you obliterate space and time?
Mr. JONES: Well, you know, sometimes, when I’ve had one tequila too many and I’m lying on the floor, I feel pretty obliterated in space and time. No, but I don’t think that’s what [Merce] meant.
—Bill T. Jones remembering Merce Cunningham, on NPR.
On the few last nights of 2011, I saw a series of performances that so moved and changed me that I thought to myself, This is the greatest experience of art I’ve ever had!
And yet because I didn’t have the training or the critical terms to note the details of what I’d seen—and even if I’d had them I’m not sure the soft muscles of my memory would have retained them—I have only emotional and murky impressions. A dance performance I know I once felt was a pinnacle of experience I now can only vaguely hold in mind, like a summer in a foreign city where you carried out a painless and shimmering affair—that is, something idealized and maybe romantic but shrouded and perhaps no longer real.
These were the final dance performances of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, on the nights of December 29th, 30th, and 31st in 2011. Prior to his death, Merce Cunningham created a remarkably prescient and meticulous legacy plan which, after his passing, would send the company on a two-year world tour. It would culminate with final performances in New York. Then, the company would disband.
Good artists imitate; great artists steal. In our new series, Stolen, writers share stories of theft.
It was autumn and warm, late evening, and the shadows were as long as the hot busses that hissed and braked alongside the main library’s midwestern utilitarian grim, lifting trails of dead leaves like a breath of smoke in their wake as they rumbled toward the river. I read the dedication in J. A. Baker’s The Peregrine, “To My Wife,” before dropping the book in my backpack and unlocking my bike. I found it somewhat cheering. At least this neglected author managed to find someone. But over the decades, many readers—I later learned—had come to debate this. They said he never had a wife. They said he lived alone; he was a librarian; he was sick when he wrote the book, hence the melancholy that colors his prose. Others said it was not prose but poetry, while others insisted it wasn’t nonfiction but a novel. Even certain filmmakers wanted to lay claim to the text. Werner Herzog told a Rio audience to quit film school. If they wanted to make a movie they had only to read one book: The Peregrine. Classic Herzogian hyperbole, I thought, pushing my bike uphill across the dried grass toward the old capital.
I was with some poetry friends in a pub near Holborn, shooting the breeze before a reading two of us were participating in. The breeze was fairly dark on that day, for various reasons. It was the weekend following Donald Trump’s inauguration for one thing; it was January in London for another. Let us hope that it was genuine curiosity, at least as much as the need to keep the conversation going, that caused one friend to ask which poet I thought of as the main background presence for my own writing. He did not quite phrase the question in terms of influence. I did not have to think to know that the answer was John Ashbery. But for some reason, the name felt a little flat on my tongue, as if this was an important fact about myself that I had not been nourishing or had grown inattentive to. Further comment seemed called for, and what I found myself saying next was that, for me, Ashbery was the sky. It was true, and of course it remains so. The sky is not something that just goes and dies one day.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I am currently enrolled, doesn’t require you to do much of anything. Time is largely unstructured here; as long as your writing gets done, you barely have to get out of bed for two years. When I first realized this, I panicked, and then I registered for an undergraduate course in elementary Latin. I don’t even get academic credit for it. I just wanted something in my life, amidst the subjective muck of the creative process, that I could be objectively good at—the occasional dopamine rush of a check mark, an A grade, a scribbled Great job! from an authority figure—and I remembered being good at Latin.
It had been almost two decades since I last looked at a Latin textbook, but I was optimistic that I’d retained a lot. My seventh-grade Latin textbook left a vivid impression on me. It followed the fictionalized adventures of a real-life Pompeian household (vocab words for the final chapter included volcano, to erupt, smoke, ashes, in despair), and to this day, I remember the whole cast of characters: Caecilius, a banker; Metella, his wife; Grumio, their cook; and Cerberus, the dog, who stays by his master’s side to the very end (RIP, little buddy). I’ll never forget the passage in which Melissa, a newly purchased slave girl, is first presented to the household: my translation was “Melissa pleases Caecilius. Melissa pleases Grumio. Uh-oh—Melissa does not please Metella!” It was pretty juicy material, by seventh-grade standards. (I just Googled these names, so I can tell you that the book was The Cambridge Latin Course: Book 1, and that it has a surprisingly robust fandom on Tumblr.) Read More
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When you get bored, and you’re so bored you don’t even want to do anything to break up the boredom—it’s that creeping, infectious boredom that’s kind of like an anger—how do you avoid drinking too much?
Tipsy in Texas
Boredom has a hard time letting go of the remote control, so the secret is to get your body out of range so it can’t reach you. The remote control that boredom holds is your phone. Leave it behind, and sneak calmly out the back way. Get a ride to a bar that is about ninety-minutes walk from your place then go in, (phoneless!) and order your favorite drink and pound it. Drink it really, really fast. Then have one more really, really fast. Tip your bartender and head out, thinking of a question that you’d love to know the answer to, big or small. As you begin to walk home (possibly getting a little lost along the way as you are buzzed and phoneless) tell yourself that you will encounter three clues to the answer to this question in the next ninety minutes. Read More