The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.
‑ Wallace Stevens
The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.
‑ Wallace Stevens
Here’s a fascinating article that I came across while browsing the net. I subscribe to a bunch of daily newspapers to keep my brain active.
By MARTHA SCHWENDENER
What would the proverbial alien, beamed into the Grey Art Gallery for a viewing of “Downtown Pix: Mining the Fales Archives, 1961-1991,” discern about New York toward the end of the last millennium? Maybe this: That it was very gritty, very gay and very Caucasian.
Organized by Philip Gefter, a former picture editor for The New York Times, the exhibition includes more than 300 photographs and serves as a kind of sequel to “The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984” from 2006. Like that display, this one reminds us what the arts scene in the East Village, SoHo and TriBeCa was like at the height of the AIDS epidemic, before gentrification and before the downtown ethos and aesthetic were packaged into family viewing spectacles like “Rent” or those by Blue Man Group.
This was the downtown of experimental art, music, film, theater and dance — often mashed up and delivered simultaneously. An idea of how it was received might be gleaned from a quotation from a review by the New York Times critic Frank Rich printed on a wall label next to a photograph documenting a 1984 performance of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s “Through the Leaves,” by the avant-garde company Mabou Mines. The work “is not pleasant,” he wrote, “but it sticks like a splinter in the mind.”
There are plenty of splinters here. A series of photographs by David Wojnarowicz documents the death of his mentor and lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, from AIDS in a hospital; nearby is a matter-of-fact letter to Hujar from his doctor describing his dire medical condition. “Heroin,” a three-minute movie shot in 1981 on Super 8 film, shows Wojnarowicz’s semicomatose friends crashed out in various lofts and bathrooms. The film wasn’t made to celebrate drug use, but out of concern for the rampant addiction the artist witnessed around him.
New York’s grittiness was compared frequently to that of 19th-century Paris, with its bohemians afflicted by poverty and consumption, and its reverence for poetry, a form that has been largely eclipsed in subsequent decades. There are portraits of real poets, like David Trinidad, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and John Giorno, and fake ones: Tom Verlaine dressed up as Theresa Stern, a fictive poet invented by Mr. Verlaine and Richard Hell, founders of the band Television (foreshadowing a more recent art world fictional character, Reena Spaulings).
Wojnarowicz’s series “Rimbaud in New York” features young men posing in diners or decrepit interiors, each wearing a mask with the image of the 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud, while a Jimmy De Sana photo captures Andy Warhol hanging out with the fashion designer Halston’s Colombian boyfriend, who went by the name Victor Hugo.
Poetry was also featured as a tragic-romantic motif in projects like Kathy Acker and Richard Foreman’s opera “The Birth of the Poet” from 1984 or a video of John Kelly singing “Love of a Poet,” based on a Robert Shumann song cycle from the 1840s.
Women aren’t particularly well represented — except as perfunctory documentarians of the scene (the Fales Library, New York University’s rare-book and manuscript collection, has actually acknowledged this weakness in the archives) — and neither are minorities. There are portraits of the punk-folk priestess Patti Smith, the punk-appropriation author Ms. Acker and the downtown dance pioneer Trisha Brown, as well as a video of Carolee Schneemann’s “Meat Joy” from 1964, an absurdist Dionysian performance in which nearly nude participants rub themselves with paint, plastic and raw meat.
And despite the extraordinary influence of black and Hispanic art forms, like graffiti and hip-hop — noted cursorily in ephemera-filled vitrines and in Polaroids by Martin Wong — one of the few images of a black man is Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1983 photograph of the muscle-ripped Derrick Cross. You can see why images like this — taken from behind, with his head out of the frame — published in “The Black Book” (1986), incensed artists like Glenn Ligon, whose “Notes on the Margin of the Black Book” (1991-93), took Mapplethorpe to task for his objectification and sexual stereotyping of black men.
Also included in “Downtown Pix” are a couple of portraits of Alvin Ailey taken by Robert Alexander, a photographer for SoHo Weekly News, who documented dance.
You wonder how much the show is a product of Mr. Gefter’s curatorial vision and how much he was limited by the Fales Archives, even though it holds more than 5,000 images. There is a strong black-and-white, art-photography flavor to the show; at times it feels anachronistic for a period when artists were making the switch to color photography. Mr. Gefter is also the author of “Photography After Frank” (2009), a collection of writings whose title nods to Robert Frank, whose artfully bleak and blurry images serve almost like a template for the show’s aesthetic.
A splash of color comes in a grid of 42 snapshots made by Mr. Trinidad, the poet, who is an avid collector of Barbie paraphernalia. Mr. Trinidad photographed his dolls in their plastic habitats, creating a tongue-in-cheek archive that also calls to mind Laurie Simmons’s more self-consciously arty photographs. Accompanying the photos is a sestina by Mr. Trinidad called “Playing With Dolls,” in which his mother defends his doll habit (“He’s a creative boy”), and his father calls him a sissy.
A few other decisions about how to present downtown art are interesting, like the one to marginalize Warhol, who gets his own section of Polaroids in the basement. Likewise, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who have overwhelmed many downtown ’80s histories, are virtually absent.
There are some amazing inclusions, however, like the film “Beehive” from 1985, a delirious pastiche that feels like a postmodern mix of Looney Tunes, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and Balanchine. Juxtaposed with a black-and-white video of a 1972 performance by Grand Union, an Yvonne Rainer offshoot, you get the full range of downtown’s development, from serious, hermetic and formalist to zany, hallucinogenic and ironic.
Like “The Downtown Show” or “The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year, this exhibition is essentially another preliminary history of art in the ’70s and ’80s. The Fales Library has become the biggest repository of downtown archives, which is paradoxical, since New York University is often seen as the biggest institutional gentrifier of the East Village and its environs. What that means, however, is that “Downtown Pix” is probably just one iteration of a show and a history that will continue to be presented, tweaked and re-presented over time.
“Downtown Pix: Mining the Fales Archives, 1961-1991” continues through April 3 at the Grey Art Gallery, 100 Washington Square East, Greenwich Village; (212) 998-6780, nyu.edu/greyart.
Writing is an unexplained energy that flows through us all. I’m not the slight bit religious or sentimental, however I’ve come to realize that writing is a rhythm and a desire for us to plunge ourselves into the consciousness of something unseen. Think of the Greek symbol of infinity (a numerical eight pushed on its side). This is what I think of when people blame the Muse, some other entity, or situation for their work. When we write, and whatever it is…we’re accessing a constant rhythm. Sometimes we might scribble down something terrible, and other times, a masterpiece.
I’m a chaos addict. When I first grabbed a book and explored poetry, metaphors of Ted Hughes, and the mythology of Yeats entranced me. Like anything, learning to write came as a challenge. After much criticism, and some confusion I liked what I saw. The reason being, after enough exposure and plenty practice, you learn to internalize the craft. I like to think that all good writing has three critical components: exposure, practice, and mentorship.
Exposing the Animal
Starting off as a writer is a sign that you’re learning to listen to the inside of your own psyche. It’s tricky and exhausting, but the first time you’re seized by the characters of a novel, or the images of a poet…it becomes hard to let go. A writer needs as much of this as possible. I’ve always loved books because they’re the cheapest form of entertainment. (If you disagree, try and turn off your TV for a month or two and watch your habits change.) When I take out a library book the fine is 20 cents a day. An overdue DVD or a month’s subscription for satellite TV is considerably larger.
So start to expose your brain, with something else that the general public isn’t trying. Secondhand book stores are often my retreat to explore other people’s lives, and the words that have gone before them. Also don’t just limit this to books. Join clubs and societies that think along the same wavelength you do. You don’t always have to pay to have an experience.
Writing is also fairly cost-effective. Paper is widely used and a pen or pencil isn’t going to break your piggy bank either. The Harry Potter series was started on a bunch of serviettes. People are generally scared to start something that might burn up their wallets. I’m placing an emphasis of money because it has little to do with starting out. If you can find a surface that enjoys a pen…you’re half way there. I first kept a journal, and then went on to put together school exercise books labeled Writing 1, Writing 2, Writing 3, and so on. Writing means getting a pen, paper, and an undisturbed part of the house to practice.
It’s just scribbling. Nothing makes sense at first and doesn’t always have to either. Keep it as a mental note to get down and do. I sometimes like to go and sit out in a park, and wait for a usual person (who is poem-worthy) to come along. The South African poet, Kobus Moolman calls it ‘bum discipline’ and this is exactly it.
Find an admirer. Even if it’s a lover looking into your eyes, and listening to the words you sculpt. If you’ve scribbled enough, someone is bound to listen to you, and find you interesting. Writing is as common as any other pursuit. If you can do it, chances are, a million other people are also trying it out is fairly high. There are also people prepared to help make your words stronger and original. Taking advice can be very hard at first, but once you do, bouncing back is easier.
Why the fuss?
It’s there a point in breaking everything down into a category? I like to think so. When you’re suffering from Writer’s Block, your emphasis is just on writing and you may need to change your stimuli. If you’re feeling bad for not writing enough, you’re still busy exposing yourself and waiting for the penny to drop. We may feel like we’re stuck in a pattern, and just repeating ourselves. If so, then you need to get a friend to give some advice.
I’m sure from time-to-time you’ve heard the clichéd hermit writer, who’s socially illiterate and avoids the public. This craft does tend to lean towards introversion. Any editor will tell you an award-winning novel that takes 2-3 days to read, has probably taken the same amount of time (in years) to reach you. This covers the birth of the idea, until the final copy is laid to rest on the shelf.
However tempting the backstage work becomes, the best writers are activists. Seasoned writers become the exposure that new and naïve writers seek out. In this country alone, the number of voices exceeds the amount of fingers I have to type this.
My advice would be to seek them out, and become exposed.
Close the door
Come inside and close the window
The thick sun is still asleep.
I’m left to lie on aged sheets, that
I grasp in little mounds like children.
Come inside but don’t come too close,
I have a tender place I won’t want you
I mask it with the reflections
in the window, watching me.
As strange as birds they hover in the
Sunlight, stirring my clammy head.
Come inside and feel the carpet
with your naked foot.
Your pink toes prickle, play,
Let go of the music.
I have a tender place to touch,
It feels warm as your hand, soft
As your duvet face. I want you
To hold it like the pillow’s shoulder
You cry on
Come inside here, close the door.
Feel my creases, come under my lamplight
I’ll tuck you in close to me, where you
Can lie in the shade of my tender place
Swim in the old ripples of my heart
The long light touches
the tips of your lips
you are too supple
*May The Muse and Plato Juice Be With You*
This is the blog of philosopherpoet. Anyone is free to comment. I see myself as a hunter of images. More to the point I’m more of the poet than philosopher at this stage, but philosophy has been an interest of mine, so in the future…who knows… I’ll be adding more philosophy into the blog with time. For now this is a platform for me to publish my writing.
So enjoy the site, and feel free to email me, for extra feedback
So long thinkers and Aristotlians…