07 January, 2010

elevate, escalate, remember

i got home last night from a friend's birthday party in the far away land of the Upper West Side, and was too tired to type. a contributing factor i am sure was the pounds of italian food i ate at gennaro. squid-blackened risotto, kale salad, truffle salad, more gnocchi, octopus salad, fettuchini bolognase, then mousse, flan, and tiramisu. happy birthday jane!

i finished up "zeitoun" the other night, tearing through the 4th segment of the book like a mad-woman. i needed to know what happened more than i needed to sleep. i love books like that, even though they make my head ache from all that reading and leave me short of breath from all that excitement. i am contemplating a move to new orleans, and a book like "zeitoun" mostly makes me want to live there.
i have always wanted to be a part of the type of community that has formed there. although there is a part of me that is consistently horrified by every new story i hear about katrina-related atrocities, i also wonder if an event like the flood has to define a city forever. i suppose like any place, there's gonna be ups and downs, and new orleans just happened to have had a very very famous down. i need to think more on this.

so instead of reading last night, i decided to watch a film. the first one i saw on the shelf was "ladysmith black mambazo: on tip toe". i could do a whole entry on this documentary. maybe i will when i dont have too many other things to get to in this one. like most people, i heard of LBM when i saw them with paul simon on SNL back in 1985. "graceland" had just come out, and paul simon was BIG. i was too young to catch any of the debates swirling around the record (politics, expoitation) and i still havent resolved my feelings on all that (and i have a damn ethnomusicology degree).

what i remembered about that performance then is what also struck me last night watching this film. i am so taken with the substance of joseph shabalala's music- its subjects of god and hope, it's harmonic form, and the choreography. something about the dance language that LBM employs always catches me. i love the synchronicity, i love the small movements in time broken by bigger athletic gestures, the freeze-frame posturing and then the supple way the pose is broken.

the movie traces the history and influences of the isicathamiya style of singing and gives a brief timeline of the group. watching it, i couldnt help but think about another movie, paris is burning, about a similiar way that dance, fashion, and performance competition fufill a distinct social function in a culture. can someone with more time compare and contrast these two films? i know wont get to it until the spring, and i think there's something really rich there.

my big cultureweek2010 adventure yesterday was to go to the guggenheim with my friend Z, a wondrously talented musician, writer, and painter. she's got an eye and a mouth on her, all the better to view and provide running commentary.

the exhibit in the main hall of the guggenheim was a kandinsky retrospective. one of the first artists to be collected by the guggenheims, the show worked its way in a roughly chronological manner as you walked up and up and up toward the top of the rotunda.

i didnt know much about kandinsky, but it didnt matter because i like any experience of visual art. i especially like to see where someone's biography intersects their output. perhaps it is not fair to wonder where someone was living, who they were sleeping with, what they were listening to, what were they were reading might have affected their creativity (god knows i get cranky when people do it to me), but i find myself hungry to have that information as i look at a person's collected work.

i dont have all that much to say about kandinsky's actual art, but that i liked where it arrived by the time he died. as he closed in on his earthly end, he had discovered bio-morphic forms and pastel colors. picture ernst haeckel meeting bed bath and beyond, which is surprisingly engaging.

i'd never been to the guggenheim before and was completely stunned and overwhelmed by the space. i have rarely been in architecture that inspires such a physical reaction (see my entry ages ago on the jewish museum in berlin). but as i walked up and up and up into the museum, my heart raced, my head spun, and my mood shifted from calm and grounded, to ethereal and floating. i almost wanted it to stop because i felt like at any moment i would teeter over and fall... where?

one of the gifts of the space too is looking down through the spiral and catching glimpses of work that you saw a few minutes earlier. the feeling is a physical translation of memory. with distance, you see something differently. with distance, you can see a lot of things at once. because of the spiral, you walk a few more feet and look again, and some things that were near are now further, and vice versa. here's a pic i took from the top before the security guard made me stop.

speaking of memory, my favorite piece of art in the whole museum (and perhaps my favorite thing i have experienced all week) was anish kapoor's installation "memory". i wish i had written down my thoughts on seeing it before i watched this little movie about it, because the curator and the artist of course explain it more eloquently than i can, but i will say the following:

i was struck by the size of the object, and its relatively organic feel despite being made of giant steel plates bolted together. it was as though a big construction crane had laid a quivering steel egg in the too small room at the museum.

Z and i approached it from the outside on two different sides before we saw what the artist called the "aperature". approaching it, from a room filled with picasso and gaugin, i thought it was a modern rothko-type painting- a giant 2-D canvas that explored the color black. but as i got closer, i realized i was looking into a giant void, and that void was the interior of the sculpture. i took my glasses off, as if that would help; i stepped closer and further, nothing helped me make sense of what i was seeing. slowly, as my eyes got used to the darkness i could begin to discern the curved steel walls receding into an interior that was too big and too far away for definition.

thank you Art for the way you can disorient and dislodge my day-to-day.


  1. I will have to see that exhibit before it leaves! It reminded me in a completely opposite and very similar way of how james turrell uses light to challenge our perceptions of time and space. I’ve only experienced one of his works called “blue planet sky” at the museum of contemporary art in kanazawa, japan. however my favorite exhibit at this museum was called the “swimming pool” by Leandro Erlich – have you ever dived down deep in a swimming pool and looked up and experienced the muffled quite moment of timelessness- a pause -before you realize you have to leave it to catch your breath. I always wanted to just sit at the bottom of a pool for a long time and just look up and I did. if your interested see the video and link below http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rJa9kIVwto&feature=related

    As for the Guggenheim a wonderful structure and much like the grand canyon for me - although I have no desire to jump to my death there is something so powerful – freeing when you stand at the top of that curved ramp and the rail tilts slightly out over the void always makes me wish I had wings. Glad to hear how much the space inspired you.

    As for moving to N. Orleans… none of my f'ing business really, if it encourages growth and connections all the better but as someone who grew up in westhampton - the Berkshires would be sad to see you go.

    Again thanks for the inspiration – I’ve had the flu that past 3 days and your blog has given my head (although in delusional state) some food for thought.

  2. community - something I've searched for across the country and the globe and well they are everywhere and beautiful and vibrant when you finally find them. the healthiest community though I've ever been in and continue to live in is montpelier - just ask anais
    ok I'm writing much...but isn't this what these things are for!