Nick Cave, Let Go, Part II

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The Sing Harlem choir walked out in street clothes, and each member held their hands  above their heads. They walked in a line, two by two, and the word they sang broke the rhythm of their step. That word punched the silence of the great darkened room, but small trickles of slower singers had the word echoing softly as the choir split and walked around the room. They reassembled in the middle, a half moon shape, one crescent facing in and one crescent facing out.

A baritone moan, a hum, and more words, as one single operatic voice silenced the rest. Dancers in dark colors walked out, hands up. Only one was singing, amazing grace, how sweet the sound. The dancers wandered the floor. They found a place, they sat, in shorts and undershirt, and faced the distance.

When the choir joined in to the operatic moaning, the song changed. A change was coming over them, we could all feel it. All of the sitting dancers were assessed by a new set of characters, those wearing lab coats and gloves. They carefully began the change – a raffia skirt, a colorful sleeve, a stalk of colorful hair. Before my eyes, the dancers became gods, huge and colorful. The singing swelled, young singers, glittering against the glittering curtain, gracefully changing these men with their voices. The baritone cried, until his tears were covered by the embellishments of his new form. The lab coats finished their job and left. The dancers stood. They towered silently. Are we scared?

In the end, it turns out, we are scared. When you see what the god is made of, though, its rushing roar is no longer so impossible to understand. Nick Cave’s Soundsuits move and shake. They showed their anger and their joy. I had seen the dancer beneath, but now he was something different, something changed, and we were all invited to dance as the choir took over.

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Let Go!

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In the past month I’ve seen limpid lakes whose horizons stretched beyond the sky.

I’ve seen the lighters of 50,000 country music fans drifting in the darkness of Tennessee’s stadium.

I’ve eaten brisket, hot chicken, fried trout and fresh picked morels. I drank the cold  turquoise water of Lake Huron with my own two hands.

I’m back in New York, and last night was the best night of all.

At the Park Avenue Armory, Nick Cave’s “The Let Go” is an installation of strips of glittering mylar curtain gliding 100 feet long across an open dance floor. Cave envisions his art to be “a dance-based town hall—part installation, part performance—to which the community of New York is invited to ‘let go’ and speak their minds through movement, work out frustrations, and celebrate independence as well as community.”

Last night Cave and the Park Avenue Armory hosted the Let Go Freedom Ball where we could do just that, and it resulted in a remarkable night of glitter, dance and unbelievable costumes. Participants were invited to enter their costume creations in one of three categories: State of the World, Unlike Anything Else and Dare-Flair. Hundreds of ball-goers arrived in lovingly constructed creations: ball gowns fashioned out of plastic bags; Black Panther-style carnival costumes; sailor-with-a-disco-ball concepts; and really anything you could possibly imagine. As I danced in the revitalizing caress of Cave’s wandering curtain, I was “licked” by the giant tongue of a bouncing ball of gummy worms, and I bumped into a flock of women in futuristic silver outfits who were dancing on the other side of the shimmering strands of moving color.

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The night culminated with a ball-style competition where the costumes were walked, runway style, along an aisle cleared through the cheering crowd. Stylish neon monsters, glass mirror cyborgs, hyper vaginas and political witches each strutted their stuff to win the $5,000 grand prize in each category. Though the competition was fierce, I was struck by the positivity crackling in the air- though the New Yorkers pushed to see the show, they did so kindly, and they didn’t shove, which is the most I can hope for!

It was a gorgeous night of creative letting go. I’m so glad to be back.

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Love Flash Art

self portrait circa 1991 #beforeselfies 🤣#barbedwire #crosscolor #blackphotographer #soloshow #portraiture #queerphotographer #queerwomen 💕👊🏽💕#reclaimingmytime ✅
Lola Flash, self portrait circa 1991. (Retrieved from Lola Flash’s Instagram account Flash9)

 

Last night I heard the photographer Lola Flash speak with the founders of Women Picturing Revolution. Flash is enjoying a new found, well-deserved success at 59 years old, 40 years into her career. Flash is also a public school teacher, and this career has run parallel to her work as an artist. I say parallel because it doesn’t seem that the photography she creates is directly related to her teaching, though she does describe many ways in which the things she’s learned as a teacher have driven her methods as an artist.

I asked her how she did this. She is so dedicated to teaching, She is such a thorough, meticulous, careful artist. How can one person be both, without letting the two careers overlap? (I would be less incredulous if she were, say, a photographer of issues pertaining to education). She said it is hard. She said that she is very careful about planning and using her transition time: for example, she went to the gym and swam after school yesterday, before coming to the talk, and “left the kids in the pool.” She also said that she is single.

I am a teacher. I want to be an artist. I am also in love, and this love is my great work of the moment: growing the love, deepening it, cultivating it to stand on its own, to breathe without our constant attention. We want our love to be joyful and liberating, not archaic, heavy, not suffocating. Light love is work. It is luck and work. It is health and luck and work, like art. Is love art?

Is love necessary? Is art necessary? Teaching is necessary, I have no question about that. Nor do I have any questions about the necessity of love. And I know that Lola Flash has lots of love because to see her is to love her, and she is so committed to her work, her art, which is love.

 

La Mujer Sin Una Cabeza

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Veronica (María Onetto) lives in a cushioned world, where men and servants smooth her path through the day: they make her coffee, they brush her hair. Where is her jacket? Here it is, they help her into it. What is she doing? No, no Senora, you don’t sit in the waiting room. You are the doctor, come in here and meet your patients!

Veronica is confused. There has been a complication in her easy life: She hit something in the road, and she thinks it might have been a boy.

La Mujer Sin Una Cabeza (directed by Lucretia Martel) is a movie that deals with themes of doubt and passivity. The dreamy plot unfolds with Veronica’s placid smile pasted over the half closed doors of other, unimportant, worlds. As viewers, we never know what is happening here or there. We don’t know what Veronica did, and we don’t know what Veronica thinks. Her lack of agency asks the viewer to be more active, the doubt thrown into every scene demands us to supply the facts: Was that a dog lying in the road, or the limp figure of a child? Did Veronica hit her head? What was the doctors diagnosis? Is Veronica asking her husband and her lover/cousin to take care of the evidence? Was the boy found in the canal the same boy missing from the garden store? Everything in La Mujer Sin Una is a question.

The infuriating combination of passivity and uncertainty leaves the viewer with questions, questions that stretch beyond this plot-line: Who in society is being protected from themselves? Who is complicit in their sheltering, and who is hurt? What does a woman gain from letting herself relax into the arms of a society that cacoons her with the condition that she never breaks out of that cocoon?

 

 

The Public Shaming of Racist People

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Social media. It connects me to old friends across the world. It gives me a platform where I can share the small triumphs of my day, and where I can be inspired by the humor, insight, and beauty of others, people who would be (and, I think, largely are) strangers otherwise. It is incredible that we now have a way to bypass the judgmental gatekeepers of “culture” in order to share and promote all of the cool things that we are doing.

But what about all of that not cool stuff? What about of all that shameful, violent, racist, and hateful behavior that it seems many people incorporate into their daily interactions? This month, a couple of people have viraly infected my social media accounts. And unlike Beyonce at Cochella, they are not celebrities, and they are not being celebrated. Far from it. They are being shamed.

The characters I am referring to have much in common. They are both white. They are both every-day citizens, previously unknown beyond the small circles of their day-to-day lives. They were both captured on video by other civilians, doing something that is indicative of the way racism plays out in this country. Both threaten to use the police as a way to enforce their racism. Both characters have been identified and linked to institutions and professions. And both are being being relentlessly, publicly shamed.

There are also differences between the two, and these differences address how we understand racism in this country. One of the characters, lets call him Loathsome Lawyer, had been caught on video on at least three prior occasions, yelling racist and xenophobic slurs at strangers. In the most recent video, he threatened to call ICE on a restaurant employee speaking Spanish to a customer in New York City. His bigotry is well documented and clearly stated with the words that come out of his own mouth. This sort of racism (overt, violent, individualistic, legal) is easily identified. It is what we often think about when we think of a “racist” person, and since the Lecherous Lawyer is so vitriolic in his hatred, he almost serves as a comfort: “Oh, I would never do something like that! That’s horrible! Racism is bad.” I don’t do that, therefore, I am not racist.

The other character, lets call her the Pestiferous Caller, called the police on a Black family having a barbecue in the park, and lurked around their site complaining about the kind of charcoal grill they were using. She is shown standing a few yards away from the barbecue with her phone to her ear, threatening the barbecuers with police action. She does not articulate her racist motivations, though the bystanders nearby do make those clear. Thus, her actions are somewhat up for interpretation. Maybe the barbecuers really weren’t supposed to be using charcoal. Maybe Pestiferous Caller just really hates the smell of smoke on her walk around the lake. In a different society, perhaps her actions could be understood as simple uncalled for bitchery and rule regulating. In the United States, though, a relentless history of systemic racism means that the unexamined actions of white people easily play into the gears that work to repress a substantial portion of the population because of the color of their skin. This is the sort of racism that white people are being called upon to confront in themselves, even though it may be very uncomfortable. This is the kind of racism that the Pestiferous Caller has become a much-needed symbol for.

 

Social media not only lets us communicate rapidly; it enables users to pass information in whatever form they want. In the Pestiferous Caller’s case, after her video went viral she was transported into unenviable immortality by becoming a popular meme illustrating the ways that white people police Black lives, often in deadly ways. Internet artists have pasted her image onto many famous Black scenes, including Martin Luther King’s speech at March on Washington, and Rockwell’s painting of Ruby Bridge’s brave walk to school. “I’d like to report a graduation” reads a meme of the Pestiferous Caller next to a picture of Chadwick Boseman speaking at Howard University. Her disapproving frown hovers over and behind scenes of Black success, Black camaraderie, Black joy. Pestiferous Caller has become a vivid illustration of the latent racism that even well-meaning white people use to maintain a status quo that they might not have even acknowledged. And this sort of racism destroys the lives (and barbecues) of people of color every single day.

In his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson writes that social media tools like Twitter were used very powerfully from the beginning as “the democratization of justice.” Voiceless people suddenly had the ability to expose the wrong-doing of the very powerful. Companies suffered from attacks when they misused their privilege. Wrongs were righted. Then the Twitter army started using its power against small timers as well. When a young PR executive with 170 Twitter followers tweeted, before boarding an 11-hour flight to South Africa, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White!” Twitter turned against her, too. Her life was dismantled over the course of those 11 hours: when she turned on her phone, she found mockery, rape threats, and that she had lost her job.

For his book, Ronson spoke to many people who had gone through a similar experience. He worries that the ease and joy of publicly shaming strangers have led to ideologues prematurly winning over humanity. “Maybe instead of gleefully flaunting her privilege, she was mocking the gleeful flaunting of privilege,” he thought as he watched the woman’s life being torn apart before his eyes. But social media is such a swift force, there really isn’t any time for “maybe.” Maybe the Pestiferous Caller hates charcoal smoke. Maybe the Loathsome Lawyer was suffering some sort of mental break. It’s too late for those maybes to matter anymore: these characters have been called to justice, and justice will be served.

It is one thing to be called out for something you’ve done, even to be mocked. Perhaps just repercussions include termination from employers. That the mob of internet anger often turns to gleeful violent fantasies is worrisome and inappropriate. Maria Vargas Llosa recently said “If you fight terrorism with terrorism, than you are a terrorist.” I  want to live in a better world, and I know that we cannot do that through perpetuating threats of violence, even against people who have acted violently in the past.

The much needed conversation about public shaming will take place in the same space where the shame occurs, and only those who want to will engage. In this age of social media, of fast information and even faster judgement, we are all accountable for our actions. If we have become sloppy in the way we treated one another, if we casually rest upon the mistreatment of others, it is time to reexamine ourselves. If for no better reason than self-preservation: your dirty deeds might be caught, confronted, and life as you know it could easily become a mockery. It is ironic that these machines demand us to revisit our humanity, to measure ourselves against the constantly shifting tapestries of different ideologies. It is incredible that social media has so quickly done what nothing else did: to quickly and recognizably personify the ills that society so elusively dodges. This is an incredible tool, and at the moment it is still largely democratic. With humanity, responsibility, and action we can use social media to change the world (we already are). I truly hope that it is a peaceful revolution.

 

 

 

 

Heavenly fashion at the Met Gala

What a difference a year can make. Or perhaps I should say: what a difference a theme can make. The fashions from last night’s Met Gala “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” were far more interesting than those of 2017’s, when the high profile event honored Rei Kawakubo, the founder of Comme des Garçons, with “Art of the In-Between.”

It’s remarkable how rapidly those fashions became stale: last night I looked over the photo galleries from 2017, and was reminded of how boringly celebrity guests interpreted the theme. It seems that many women were intimidated by the designer’s structural looks, and chose to cop out with pretty but plain dresses that would have could have been worn to a wedding.

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Vogue’s boring photos of the fashions from the Met Gala 2017. From left to right: Lupita Nyong’o in Prada; Serena Williams in Versace; Gwyneth Paltrow in Calvin Klein by Appointment; Mary J. Blige in La Perla; Lesley Mann in Chanel.

Why did so few of the guests choose a design by the honoree, Rei Kawakubo? Some say the fashions are not easy to wear. Here is an example of her clothing. What do you think?

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Photos from Elle.
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Photo from the Newstatesman.com

Rhianna was one of the few guests who famously wore a Comme des Garçons design, renewing her unrivaled reign as the Best Dressed at the Met. And she’s at it again this year, with her Pope inspired look at the Catholic-themed party , which was held last night at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

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Cnn.com

It seems that more than a few celebrities were shamed into respecting the theme this year, interpreting the Catholic theme both politically and playfully.                                               Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 3.56.15 PM.png     Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 4.08.17 PM.png  Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 4.01.08 PM.png

Lena Waithe in Carolina Herrera; Pheobe Waller-Bridge in Christopher Kane; and Mindy Kaling in Vassilis Zoulias. “You can be the king but watch the queen conquer,” Kaling posted on Instragram. Photos from Cnn.com

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Religious iconography. Greta Gerwig in The Row; Janelle Monáe in Marc Jacobs and many others; Katy Perry in Versace; Zendaya in Atelier Versace. Photos from Vogue.com

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Fancy headgear: Christian Combs in Dolce & Gabbana; Cardi B. in Moschino; Amber Heard in Carolina Herrera. Photos from Vogue.com

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Trains, trains and more trains: Lily Aldridge and Rosy Huntington Whiteley in Ralph Lauren; Ming Gi in Prabal Gurung; Sarah Jessica Parker in Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda; Diane Kruger in Prabal Gurung. Photos from Vogue.com

The fashion worn at this year’s Met Gala was certainly over the top, and sometimes even irreverent, making it all the more fun to examine! I hope that the celebrities who are lucky enough to have an impact on the corture of the day continue to use the Met Gala as an opportunity to really push the envelope. And thank you, Rhianna, for always setting the bar very high.

 

The reflection

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In the Greek myth, poor beautiful Narcissus perishes when he observes his reflection and becomes so fascinated that he cannot tear himself away. His legacy lives on in the embodiment of modern-day narcissists, those people whose empathy and interest can scarcely reach beyond the limits of their own fingertips, and the early-blooming flowers that are among the bravest and boldest in temperate regions.

I wonder if we can understand Narcissus differently? After all, he was searching and studying his reflection in the water. Maybe he was noticing the way the ripples of rain altered his surface, or how fish wandered in and out of his outline beneath the surface. Reflection, self-reflection, and looking inward are abilities that are not often attributed to narcissistic people. Still, The trait I’d often scorned by “serious” people with “better things to do”: it seems to be such a luxury, such a waste of time to some.

But we live in a time of turning-off, of looking away, of body dysmorphia and blanket racism. It seems to me that a little more reflecting would be helpful to us all. Why not take a moment and try to see yourself, with all of your surface ripples and all of your slow deep stirrings? It’s difficult in the way only simple things can be. “If it’s simple, it must not be valuable!” But if you, like me, are aching for some change in this world, we need to do like Michael Jackson and that anonymous poet and look at ourselves first.

The joy of technology

I’m slow to pick up new technology. While I recognize the many conveniences that it brings to our lives, I also worry that some joy is lost. I’m even considering taking a Mallet to my Smart phone: It is starting to feel poisonous to my life.

Recently I was introduced to some technology that I feel very excited about. I went to an exhibit of David Hockney’s, and was sucked in by his potent colors. At the end of the exhibit, a wall of screens showed his work on the iPad: the painter’s medium is now digital. I was fascinated to see how his new paintings and his work on the iPad seemed to influence one another. His pigments are even more brilliant and C7E380A2-DC7D-4067-9A8D-5BF2FECDAE97saturated than before.

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One of David Hockneys iPad paintings and a new [paint] painting.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the possibilities that digital painting presents. And so, I am a joyful new adapter of a technological innovation! And feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Drawing with the iPad pen feels strangely frictionless. I still have bad control over the

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My first try at iPad drawing.

quality of my line or the color. But I love that I can use many effects on one “canvas”. I’m thrilled about the possibility of being able to draw and paint on the go. And for the opportunity to share! Soon I’ll put up a painting I did with real paint to compare. I don’t think that iPad art will replace the tactile pleasure of painting with oils for me, but there undeniable advantages to having such a vast toolbox in a 2 pound package.

 

Clap With Me

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In the beginning there are two claps.
The claps ground the light tapping of drum sticks. A guitar chord tentatively dances around the taps and claps, establishing a lighthearted funkiness to the song. When the heavy instrumentation of Mostacho Xprmnt’s new single “Clap With Me” falls in a few bars later, we’re already ready to groove along to the band’s first dance song.
“We needed an opener for our show. The words are an invitation to come jam with us,” says Andrés Marín, Mostacho Xprmnt’s drummer and founder of the band. He began the project in Boston while studying music composition at Berklee College of Music. Since then, the band has seen many singers, many pianists and guitarists, though Marín notes that “Dave [Lowenthal, Mostacho’s bassist], he’s been there all along.” More than any genre or musical influence, Marín’s vision of collaboration has been the drive of the project. With its a jazz vocalist, funk bassist and rock guitarist, Marín sees the band as an incubator for new, and sometimes difficult, sounds. “Clap with Me” was born out of ideas that former keyboardist Haruka Yabuno and former guitarist Eitan Akman brought to a jam. It became obvious to put them together. As the band’s line-up changed, subsequent musicians layered their own sound on top of the sounds that came before them. Marín is proud of the product. “It’s a true collaboration. It has the flavors of all the members of the band.”

Mostacho Xprmnt’s vision of collaboration means that it can be difficult to pin a genre on the band. Their compositions experiment with instrumental pieces that play with jolting time signatures and mellow slow-jams. “Clap with Me” is one of the band’s first forays into easily danceable music, and, judging from the audience reaction at their recent single release party, they seem to be on the right track.
Mostacho Xprmnt celebrated the release of “Clap With Me” with a party at Piano’s on a recent Sunday evening. On stage, singer Leala Cyr and guitarist Luís D’Elias’s flirtatious chemistry led the audience through the varied set. The band closed with their opener, “Clap with Me,” and with the first notes of its ear-worm of a hook the song had infused the Churning audience with a beginning-of-the-night energy. The band progressed into the dreamy bridge of broken piano chords and roaming vocals, and charged into the ambiguously undone ending. Audience members bopped along throughout it all, and when Cyr sang, “Clap with me,” they did.