June 2017: The Pixel Forest

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Collage by Sarah Gerard, accompanying her excellent “Mouthful” column on Hazlitt

This summer, the MFAH continues its series of grand-scale, immersive exhibitions. Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish brings together two mesmerizing works newly acquired by the Museum. Under the direction of the artist, these light-based and video-based installations transform the vast, central gallery of Cullinan Hall into a cosmic journey through time and space. —MFAH website

My review: I’ve been having a lot of fun imagining the entire internet as “the pixel forest” since experiencing this exhibition. Except, it’s much more magical to get lost in this installation than the internet.

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“The Pixel Forest” with “Worry Will Vanish” playing in the background, by Piplotti Rist

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Even more dreamy than the pixel forest? The Propeller Group at Blaffer Art Museum, as they rebrand communism, journey beyond death and write a cross-cultural narrative for Vietnam. I wrote a full review for Aeqaiand I really did hear a song from “Miss Saigon” on the way to the show.

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Still from “The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music” – film by The Propeller Group

 

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“Homebodies: Coverature” – gut-punch comic by Arwen Donahue on The Rumpus:

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From “Homebodies: Coverature” by Arwen Donahue via The Rumpus

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What do many lone attackers have in common? Domestic violence – The Guardian

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Why eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts would hurt rural Americans the most – Hyperallergic

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On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate why a comedian might look at the score awarded to their latest comedy special by a particular publication and complain that it’s a reductive way to summarize years of their work, and yet I also understand why an outlet like The A.V. Club—one which is in the business of art criticism—might not see it as a huge stretch to attempt to evaluate comedy using the same metrics that they apply to other art forms.

Hershal Pandya for Splitsider

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After 49 days, the cat couldn’t take it anymore, bit his tongue, and bled to death on [his owner’s] grave. Leave it to a cat to take the most metal route to death.

—Louise Hung for The Order of the Good Death

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And then she said something that kind of blew my mind: “You know, [Mary Magdalene] was the first one to whom our Lord appeared on Easter Sunday morning. In that time, a woman’s witness was worth nothing — so that Jesus would choose to appear to her and say ‘go and tell the others’ is huge! Of course, they didn’t believe her, but Jesus was making a point about the importance of believing women.” —Anne Therieux for The Establishment, speaking with Sister Bernadette and other nuns about feminism and their calling. Consider my mind also blown.

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“In Other Words” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Memoir
2016, Alfred A. Knopf

I think that my new language, more limited, more immature, gives me a more extensive, more adult gaze. That’s the reason I continue, for now, to write in Italian…. When I began to write, I thought it was more virtuous to talk about others. I was afraid that autobiographical material was of less creative value, even a form of laziness on my part. I was afraid that it was egocentric to relate one’s own experiences. In this book I am the protagonist for the first time…. A little like Matisse’s “Blue Nudes,” groups of cutout, reassembled female figures, I feel naked in this book, pasted to a new language, disjointed.  215-6

Jhumpa Lahiri’s memoir of life in another language — Italian — is a work of art in itself. Lahiri is most comfortable in English, but also speaks Bengali with her parents, and began learning Italian later in life. This memoir was written in Italian, with her original text flowering from the left side of the page; employing a translator removed temptation to revise or correct.

The book is a beautiful exploration of identity, intention and vulnerability. Her ruminations will resonate with anyone who has studied another language:

When I read in Italian, I’m a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort, I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me. 43

Behgali is my past, Italian, maybe, a new road into the future. In both I feel like a child, a little clumsy. 157

Beckett said that writing in French allowed him to write without style. On the one hand I agree: one could say that my writing in Italian is a type of unsalted bread. It works, but the usual flavor is missing. 179

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Last but not least: I’m so happy that Sasha Velour won RuPaul’s Drag Race! Loved this “magical bitch” all season—all of the final four queens were fantastic, but I’m glad an art weirdo has been crowned. From the sound of this article, she is going to do great things.

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September 2016: A perfect Houston evening

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3 interviews, 1 play, 3 books, 100+ nuns, 1 [long] joyful art experience, with videos

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That’s my lesson to all the young students: pay your parking tickets, or you could wind up in the slammer, and believe me, it’s no fun.

Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek. I talked to him on speakerphone for 30 minutes while parked in a Syracuse rest stop – incredibly nice and funny guy, and probably my longest-ever conversation with a proper celebrity.

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At first, I wanted to go into scripted filmmaking…. [but] there was a moment in time where I started to watch documentaries, and I became enamored with them — just in love with the truthful quality that you get from real human interactions which is impossible, really, to replicate in a work of fiction. To sift through hundreds of hours of footage to find a real, human interaction that you captured on film — there’s not one single fictional moment that can beat that, not one.

Kathryn Haydn, non-fiction television producer. Before we talked, I sat in on her presentation to a documentary filmmaking class, which was chock-full of practical advice and fascinating showbiz tidbits.

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One student in my class wrote a beautiful poem that mentioned Taub Hall by name. That was a revelation to me, that art could be made about a dorm room, about the mundane things surrounding us. At the time it seemed to elevate experience, to transform it.

Melissa Ginsburg, author of “Sunset City.” I read the book (a gritty Houston noir) and we corresponded via email. What’s interesting is that she’s primarily a poet and professor at Ole Miss, but she felt compelled to cross forms to write “Sunset City.”

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More than just a great headline: Hundreds of nuns trained in Kung Fu are biking the Himalayas to oppose human trafficking

“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”

– Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 22-year-old Nepalese Buddhist nun

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“Buried Child” by Sam Shepard
Catastrophic Theatre at MATCH

I read this play on a Saturday afternoon at the Emerson College library while it snowed outside, which was about the coziest and most exhilarating play-reading I’ve experienced, and I couldn’t wait to see this production. Fie on my memory because the play was not like I remember it at all, mostly because I pictured it being performed at a fast pace, and the talented actors on a perfectly drab set took an eternity to pull out the scenes. Some parts of this play should be slow, some explosive. Of course, it was treated to a round of gushing reviews by Houston’s breathless theater critics, which I’m learning to ignore not because their opinions aren’t valuable, but because it’s dangerous to let myself get over-excited about theatrical performances.

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“Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans
This would make a fantastically whacked musical, with Rex Harrison-style talk-singing. Then, the completely dark scene in the bomb shelter, wherein shelterers start nervously, laughingly calling out the luxurious food they’d like to eat, would be beautifully jarring. It’s no surprise that Evans is a TV producer. I’ll eat my library card if it hasn’t already been optioned by the BBC.

“Animals” by Emma Jane Unsworth
I believed in these characters, and their un-obvious wit is irresistible. The ending is the part that felt a little obvious, and I can’t say I appreciated Tyler in the same way I appreciated Laura, but the ride is worth it. Do not believe lazy people who will compare this book to “Girls” or “Trainwreck” and dismiss it.

“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July
Truly unique, funny, relatable and uncomfortable. I like July’s films for the same reasons, I suppose. But the discomfort extended into novel form was not really what I wanted to read before bedtime. The ideal reading scenario for “The First Bad Man” would be to sneak into waiting rooms without an appointment and read it all there.

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Bob Parks: artist talk

I wrote a feverish journal entry after this experience so I wouldn’t forget anything, and given the nature of Bob’s art and personality, I figured it would be best to include an almost-unadulterated version below. Note: I didn’t watch the documentary related to the two clips included here. The exhibition was visual art and artifacts.

It was what I’d like to call a perfect Houston evening, what you hope for when you go out, really. I found this artist conversation on Glass Tire with Bob Parks. The photo was of an eccentric looking guy, an older Weird Al type with a big British nose. I figured it was some art student’s photo of his grandpa, but it was actually a picture of Bob himself, wearing a Hawaiian shirt in his garden. The weird list of topics drew me in. 

A stub of a bulldog ran to meet us at the gallery. There was no one else inside except the curator, who followed the dog and introduced herself and the dog (his name was Boo), and another worker, a very young woman who was not introduced. An immediate awkwardness because we were the only people there. I was worried no one else would show up for the conversation. She gave us a flyer and we looked around for a few minutes. Weird mementos and photographs. Incredibly detailed drawings. Detailed logs of physiological health written in tiny, neat capital letters. A lot of “light constipation.” The dog sat on his bum looking at the ceiling, flailing his head back and forth in an especially groovy Stevie Wonder impersonation. He stopped eventually, and sat down near us.

The curator said she would go get Bob, and I expected him to arrive shortly. But then I heard a Skype noise, and realized she was flipping Skyping him in from England. She gave him a tour of the show by holding up her ipad, and we said hi when she got to us. No one else was coming in. 

She asked Bob how he came to be in a documentary (that’s how they found about him) while we were waiting in vain for more people to show up, and then he read an account of what he dictated to his mother about his “murderous rages.” Basically, he won’t ask questions of people he wouldn’t want asked of himself, so he’s dying for anyone to ask him a question so that he can ask it of them. He has quite a struggle with mental illness and is not on meds, we found out later, when the curator awkwardly asked him. “But you seem so well-balanced!” she said.

But, that was after he read the account of his murderous rages, as dictated to his mother, whom he dearly misses, and after he read a poem (“shall I do a poem then?”) about taking his parents on a tour of the national parks of England, when he was constipated and his dad was, shall we say, the opposite of constipated, and after he played two songs on his flutes, which made him very red-faced, and after he sang bits of two songs from the 50s (“before the beatles, a lovely sort of music”) and a song called “big nose” that he wrote and performed in the documentary. It was so weird and fabulous. We couldn’t leave, we were the only ones there and it would have been too conspicuous. The ipad kept slipping down from where it leaned against the back of the computer, and the curator kept propping it back up.


(Bob’s mum features heavily in this trailer.)

She asked him, first, about the dictation to his mom, but she misunderstood and thought that his mom had composed it (I kind of thought that too, he may have not explained very much) and expressed how nice it was, and how everyone wants to be listened to. He corrected her about the composition of the statement, and turned around the question on her: it sounds like you want to be listened to. Why do you feel like no one’s listening to you? You’re the curator, but not showing your own art? And she was flustered, first of all because oh no I’m not the curator, so first denying that talent, and then flustered because she doesn’t have any talent, “I’ve always been a facilitator for other people’s talent.” It felt very personal. Then the mental health thing. It got him on a roll about how everyone’s been psychotic since the first world war, and how no truly original and creative ideas had sprung forth since we started killing people on a global scale. Then I asked about media, and what he’s working in now. And he said something about Stanislavsky or Stravinsky and how an idea is transferred from the person to the canvas to another person, or something, but the message was really that medium is irrelevant, that the idea just has to be expressed. I’m probably butchering that. He also said, more practically, that he’s working class, and that means he often ends up just writing lately because it’s most available.

Then he went to bed, as it was midnight there, and we hung up on him. The curator offered to buy us a drink and chat for a bit, because she felt like she really needed to talk. We bought our own drinks, but did stay. We spent about half an hour talking about art in Houston and how Bob’s comment about her sharing her work struck her (“He was right, I don’t create my own work”). She was great, about our age, and we ended up having a lot of the same connections. We got her email address and promised to return.

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Image/screenshot from Bob Parks advert