Summer Reading

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I tend to alternate between intensive movie watching and intensive reading. When it’s summer it’s usually the latter – I feel guilty about being inside and they’ve yet to design hats for movie watching. The summer also has the privilege of less work, and by extension, not being attached to the internet. Free of my addiction I have the attention span, by necessity, to read some of the longer, harder books I avoid throughout the year. My goal for the year was to read all the long books (400+ pages) I own (about 30 or so), and so far I’ve gotten to the resounding number of three (one of which was mostly photos of Michael Snow works). So, to publicly shame me in to actually reading them, here is my to-read list for the next few months.

Barbara G. Walker’s The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

This book is not meant to be read cover to cover, so I’m not really sure why I’ve decided to be the one to do it. Still, in a lot of ways it’s my ideal long book – segmented and without plot so I can pick it up and leave it as I like. I could also read it in a sort of choose your own adventure – jumping around entry to entry as they reference each other. Though as someone who needs to finish things (though you never really finish reading a book) I won’t do that. I’m kind of stressed out by the idea. It also links with a couple of my ongoing reading projects nicely, so killing five(?) birds with one stone is preferred.

Nicole Loraux’s The Divided City and The Invention of Athens

These will probably not be the most exciting Loraux titles for me, I honestly could not come up with texts more relevant to my interests than Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman and Mothers in Mourning: Moral and Legal Issues, but my boyfriend is gone for the summer and he’s left these with me. Thanks to reading Greek tragedies a couple summers ago I’m increasingly interested in the ancient world, and there’s always that pleasure in finding another French female academic to obsess over.

Surrealist Women: An International Anthology and Refusal of the Shadow: Surrealism and the Caribbean

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve realized that fringe Surrealist figures are by far more interesting than its key figures. I read Black, Brown and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora a year or two ago and I’m still going through the list of authors I pulled from that (forever grateful for Joyce Mansour and Suzanne Cesaire), but figured I would continue with that project with the above two titles. Surrealism is so exciting, but a lot of the French tradition felt stagnant, so seeing its manifestations, both in literature and philosophy, spread out across the world and in to actual revolution is still dazzling. Though if I ever want to get my to-read list on goodreads below 900 titles, this is not the way to go. Also, it will never not be weird to see people saying nice things about Andre Breton.

Arna Mackic’s Mortal Cities Forgotten Monuments

You probably don’t remember the listicles going around a few years ago about monuments in the former Yugoslavia because unlike me they haven’t haunted you to the point where you’ve planned trips, films and career paths around it. Well, the source for these listicles came from this book, and in order to prepare myself for the above mentioned trips, films and career paths I should probably read it. Structures as testament to what they were built for, and in turn testament to what they survived? Don’t need to tell me twice.

The Duchess of Malfi: Seven Masterpieces of Jacobean Drama

I know you’re thinking, well Madeleine, that sounds great if you like cold arch dead things, but it’s summer, where is the drama. Next to the Frances Farmer autobiography, this is definitely the most dramatic book I own, and I’ve had it for over seven years.

Edmund de Waal’s The White Road: Journey into an Obsession

My friends Anjo-mari and Johannes, who have perfect taste, recommended this. I’m generally wary of nonfiction books that are described as “detective stories,” for it’s usually code for “trying too hard to be interesting” but I trust them, and pottery is a field I’m aesthetically interested in but know nothing about. Also I don’t own this book so this shouldn’t be on the list, I’ve already failed.

Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate

I read The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters a few years ago because I wanted to read Pursuit and Climate. I found a copy last year at in Vancouver, and it feels like the right book to read in the evening after a drink or two (the above are all strictly morning reads). Heavily autobiographical fiction is probably my favourite kind.

You’ve read enough. Here are the other titles:

Parents and Children by Ivy Compton-Burnett, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan, The Honeyman Festival by Marian Engel, Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, Love’s Work by Gillian Rose, Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, War and the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, and The Break by Katherena Vermette.

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READING LIST: March 7

A few things to get us through the week.

Seen and Unseen: The Films of Marie Louise Alemann

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MADDY: The pleasure of discovery is always dampened when you realize that what you’ve discovered was dismissed from the canon in the first place. Such is almost always the case with female experimental filmmakers, as if the initial medium weren’t niche enough. Luckily, Emily and I had to chance to watch a screening of the films of Argentinian filmmaker Marie Louise Alemann. A significant figure in the Argentinian experimental film scene of the 1970s and 1980s, she is all but unheard of here in North America. Shifting between documenting happenings with her fellow artists Narcisa Hirsch, Claudio Caldini, and others, Butoh performance, criticisms of the dictatorship, and razor sharp depictions of female experience, the handful of Alemann’s films we saw were of a considerable talent. What really struck me was how each of her films were so different from each other, and yet they still made up a consistent whole. The programmer, Federico Windhausen, lamented after the screening that they were not in the order he wanted, but still managed to work. Because of this I made some assumptions about the work – who she collaborated with, how the collaborations worked, when she made it, what her focus was, etc., only to realize that they probably weren’t the right assumptions to make.

EMILY: Yes, one thing I really loved about the scrambled order was that it confused those assumptions. Windhausen mentioned in his introductory remarks that many of the films Alemann directed were filmed by her friends and collaborators, such as Claudio Caldini and Narcisa Hirsch, presumably because so much of Alemann’s work draws on her own embodiment and performance. The last film that we ended up seeing was an untitled one by Juan Jose Mugni, which the program notes inform us was made as a “tribute to Alemann’s face, which she sought to use as an enigmatic and multi-purpose mask in many of her films.” To me this film so clearly showed how Alemann was in control of its image of herself. It did not seem to me to be a series of passive representations of her (something we have been taught to expect in a structure of film production organized around the objectification of women) but rather a vital creative act she directed.* It was to this power that Mugni paid tribute. Maybe I especially liked this because it brought together the site at which I am habitually restricted to searching for women’s creative power in film (the female performance as both enabled and constrained by the conditions of film production) and a host of radical possibilites for that power in an experimental space of collaboration, through which film is given direction and force from both behind and in front of the camera.

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*To direct (per the Oxford English Dictionary)
To write (a letter or message) expressly to.
To address (spoken words) to any one; to utter (speech) so that it may directly reach a person.
To impart, communicate expressly, give in charge to a person.
To keep in right order; to regulate, control, govern the actions of.
To give authoritative instructions to; to ordain, order, or appoint (a person) to do a thing, (a thing) to be done.
To supervise and control the making of a film or the production of a play, etc.; to guide or train (an actor, etc.) in his performance.

How interesting that in the contemporary and classical film industry “direction” is about organizing objects, people, images in ways that collect at the authoritative end of this spectrum of control (think Griffith with his megaphone or, my favourite, Abel Gance directing with a revolver–images of masculine power) while the sense of communication–direction in service of transmitting a message to someone–is subdued, even though that is ostensibly the point of making a movie. Even in movies she does not “direct,” Alemann’s (silent) face and body still direct messages to the viewer and so send viewers in particular directions. Alemann’s wider artistic practice disrupted film direction’s model of gendered authority in other ways, too. I loved the story Windhausen told about how she would teach all of the housewives she met on the beach during her summer vacations how to use their super 8 cameras: she acted as a mentor for films and directors not recognized as “real” films or directors.

MADDY: The close-up of a woman’s face is one of those key cinematic images that just keeps recurring (lately it seems to be thriving in music videos). I’m reminded of early cinema, and Munsterberg’s writings on the close-up. Generally a close-up is a shot that’s used to direct and focus the viewer’s attention on one spot, but is still tied up in ideas of truth and authenticity. If we see the close-up on the face, there is nothing that can hide from us, and there’s the impression that we’re seeing some kind of truth here. But Alemann is much too smart for that. Her close-ups are interspersed with filters (which she controls), paint dripping, and other means of distortion. The rapid cuts, instead of a long take (as is the norm with the close up of the female face) also challenge any passive looking, or any chance of suture. As you’ve said so well already, she is not an object of our gaze, but rather a very stark reminder of who is in control of what we are watching, and by extension how we understand it.

Not to be a gender essentialist, but this feels like a very female understanding of the world. It’s a fact at this point that by constantly being considered objects to be looked at, first and foremost, women’s humanity has become secondary. To take on a project where what one sees is clearly constructed, and constantly being altered, is a very clear challenge to those norms. She has a similar project in Autobiografico 2 (1974), with her face spray painted silver and her body tied up to trees with a coarse rope. There are rapid cuts here as well, but here they slowly reveal information, for example, that she is tied up to trees is only gradually shown to the audience. The initial shots are of her face, and then parts of her body, and then the trees tied up with parts of the rope. As the cuts show more and more, the rope begins to untie itself, and eventually it becomes completely untied. The rapid cutting loosens the ropes that bind her, and also gives and takes from the audience. The pleasure of seeing is postponed, and when we are finally able to see “the whole picture” of her entrapment, she is freed. Though Alemann is tied up, she is control of the camera, and by extension in control of her own experience.

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EMILY: This interplay between performance, direction, and the camera is important in all of the work that we saw from Alemann but I’m thinking of it right now particularly in the context of Legitima defensa (Self-defense, 1980), which was my favourite of all of the films shown that night. In this black and white short, the camera slowly follows Alemann as she circles around a room in an indeterminate location. Alemann’s hair is hidden beneath a white cap and her face is covered with white paint. She confronts the camera with aggressive facial expressions (smiles? grimaces? threats?) and holds a long wooden staff at the ready, presumably for attack. The soundtrack is screams and groans – at least I think so. All I remember is being profoundly unsettled. I loved this movie, first of all, because the intensity of Alemann’s performance in it gave me literal goosebumps. As well, the film was such an incredible exploration of the relationship between the camera and its subject. The camera follows Alemann around, documenting her–this surveillance evoking at once the traditional position of women as the object of the camera’s gaze and the specific political context of Alemann’s life under a repressive and violent dictatorship in Argentina during the Dirty War. In this film Alemann flips the experience of being watched. Her eyes never leave the camera and never blink. With the staff in her hand she could easily break the lens but doesn’t, and the camera follows her direction as it is forced to keep this danger in its sight. She controls its movement. She is flagrantly visible and will not be disappeared, but even though her face is the camera’s obsessive focus it cannot be deciphered under her layers of paint and performance. It was so interesting to see this film in juxtaposition with Sensasion 77: Mimetismo (Sensation 77: Mimicry, 1977) which is about hiding from sight/the camera.

MADDY: I remember being so struck by her eyes in Self-Defense. Wide-open and aggressive, a stark contrast to her white face. She circles around the room challenging the camera, and at times is clearly seen, but against some walls she almost disappears. Still, her eyes remain. Which I think is the key element to both of her explicitly political works: When a corrupt government tries to disappear its subjects, nothing can truly be disappeared. Something always remains, whether it be the person or the actions of the government. In Sensasion 77 Alemann is trying to disguise herself amongst foliage, but also failing. For me, to film someone trying to hide, is a very conscious decision that is inherently critical. I’m trying to hide, but I’m filming it, so there will always be a record of this act. So it is a false hiding, or rather, hiding to show something else.

Windhausen mentioned that Alemann’s group was visited by the fascist government over concerns of subversive works, and after watching these films the artists were left to continue as they were. He noted that the government was afraid of militant works, those that would inspire an uprising. These works, though deeply subversive and critical, weren’t about challenging the government. They’re more insidious, more intelligent. I can see why they weren’t arrested over them, but I think that’s their merit. They’re more about life under dictatorship, the everyday quality of fear and desperation. But both are radical challenges, both in what they depict, and in their very existence.

And I think a woman depicting her everyday existence, under any form of oppression, is inherently radical.

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Things We Currently Love: January 2016

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

I started DS9 last year and found the earlier season a bit tedious, but by season 4 and onwards it’s a very engaging show which has come into its on, so even though I started it in 2015 it’s more of a January 2016 obsession.  I would rank it as below The Original Series, but above The Next Generation.

Coconut Oil

During the winter my skin and hair get extremely dry, and I find that using a regular moisturizer or conditioner isn’t enough.  I leave it in my hair for an hour before showering to deep condition, use it moisturize my body, rub a very small amount over my hair to smooth it while removing frizz and static, use it as a makeup remover, and mix it with a bit of nutmeg as an exfoliant (you’ll smell like a cookie!)  But don’t leave it on your face.

Françoise Hardy/Comment te dire adieu? (1968) – Françoise Hardy

This is the only album I listen to, it’s very comforting.

Cassie

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I’m unsure if it’s fair to put a half-read book on a list of things you love but I can’t remember being this gripped by a book in such a long time. Some may suggest that I’m focusing on the wrong aspect of Yanagihara’s tale but to me, it’s a book all about the gravity of small gestures. (I know this book was on a bunch of Best of 2015 lists, but consider me perpetually late to the party).

Gardening

I’m far from a green thumb and I recently overwatered a large collection of succulents so much they up and died, but I’m trying! And it seems that trying is enough because I find that nothing is quite as calming as being wrists deep in dirt. I recently rescued a pot-bound mystery tree from my late grandfathers property and am eagerly awaiting it’s first bloom so that I can identify it.

The Psychoanalytic Geography of Alan Partridge

We can thank Paul Kingsbury for this gem. I want to highfive Kingsbury a billion times for thinking up something so simultaneously absurd and so completely ingenious. It’s both a crash course in Joan Copjec’s work on Lacan and a farcical new insight into everyone’s most loved/loathed radio show host. Trust me when I say it’s well worth getting behind that paywall. (FWIW Kingsbury’s body of work is actually pretty fascinating).

Hannah

dressing like a pink cloud — I wish to be a pastel ice queen, draped in vintage silks & angora & pale fur. I’ve been snatching up peach-pink & ivory & celadon silk 1930s tap pants, step-in teddies, and slips all winter, and incorporating them into everyday outfits. My best find is an early 40s ivory silk fischer heavenly slip with lace trim — for 20USD! It has pale pink lipstick stains across the bust, but that only makes it more endearing. Winter brings out my inner sloth, all i want to do is luxuriate under soft blankets reading, or don a furry cape, beret, and gloves & go for a very short jaunt in the park when the winter sun is high. Pantone’s choices for colour(s) of 2016 hit me close to heart. Long live pastel!

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soups — With the purchase of an immersion blender, homemade soup has never been so simple. My partner is more of the cook in our house, but I can whip up a mean butternut squash soup sans recipe. My favourite though, is our take on gombapaprikás, using whatever slightly exotic fungi you can find at the international grocery & liberal amounts of Hungarian paprika in a homemade veggie broth. In restaurants, CLT izakaya Futo Buta has my favourite ramen I’ve had in the States: fire & ice — kimchi broth, hot smoked salmon, fresh mint, cabbage, shaved carrot, radish, black sesame. by no means traditional ramen, but so amazingly delicious I wanted to lick the bowl.

“love me forever (chopped & screwed)” – young thug — This song is my go-to for the cool down during my daily dance improvisation lately. The chopped/screwed version gives a wistful lethargy to what was an upbeat, gleeful track. During the recent snowstorm, after a bit too much whiskey, L. put this song on around midnight; I was pirouetting on the ice without making a dent of a footprint, when I slid and fell hard on my right knee & left shoulder. Thanks to the booze, I didn’t feel anything. I still have a gnarly bruise.

Brandi

This January has been a struggle for me. I can feel every drop of the incessant rain in Vancouver and I’ve taken to hiding myself away in my shitty customer service job and my heavy rain boots. In times like these the only drive I have is to consume and obsess but hey, I’m content.

Some of the shit I like this month includes:

Mourning Coup

This month I’ve been listening to Mourning Coup’s debut album, Baby Blue, on (all-consuming) repeat . Mourning Coup, a Vancouver based Indigenous artist with roots in Siksika Nation, vibes a dreamy experimental pop that channels ancestor and blood memory. It’s heavy shit that’s also completely wonderful to listen to.

You can stream Baby Blue for free on soundcloud and buy the LP from No Sun Recordings ($15.00 USD).

otipêyimsiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikohk (Metis in Space)

Full disclosure, otipêyimisiw-iskwêwak kihci-kîsikohk (Métis In Space) is a podcast created by 2 of my good friends and listening to it is like a warm blanket. However, the concept and execution of it is so fun and so necessary that I’d be listening to it even if I hadn’t had the privilege of getting drunk with these 2 women in my offline life.

Supported by Indian & Cowboy, this podcast is all about 2 Metis women getting together, drinking a bottle of wine and reviewing sci-fi/fantasy’s use of Indigenous peoples.
I’m eternally sad I wasn’t able to appear on it while I was in Montreal but you can listen to previous episodes/subscribe to new ones here.
Be sure to listen to the episode I was supposed to appear on (Metis in Space: S.2 EP#10) in which they are subjected to Wonderfalls, teenage Brandi’s fav (created by adult Brandi’s problematic fav, Bryan Fuller).

Price-Matching

I used to be a grocery store cashier and apart from being the most miserable job I’ve ever had (including a stint cleaning up chicken blood) it taught me that I should never ever pay full price for something. My cashier job has turned me into one of the customers I used to hate: a line halting, great and terrible price-matcher. But Reebee, a customizable sales flyer and coupon clipper app, makes it easier on everyone to deal with me. Big box and chain stores will almost always price match even if it’s not advertised and I don’t really understand why people won’t do this small time corporate haggling. But don’t worry, I’ve vowed never to pay full price for tampons or bread or junk food ever again in my life.
You can download Reebee for iphone and android here.

Kathryn

01. Leave Me Alone (album), Hinds

For a long time, I wasn’t listening to new music at all and, when I was, I especially wasn’t listening to fuzzy garage pop. I figured I was done with lo-fi pop, that I had all of the lo-fi pop I needed in my life, and that I just didn’t need to go looking for that anymore. So, Leave Me Alone came as the most beautiful, pleasant surprise – dueling female vocals, lovely little guitar lines, rough around the edges in the most delightful way. Hinds reminds me of my favorite rough around the edges group, The Babies & the album opener, “Garden”, is a delightful lost anthem for wayward teens and twenty-somethings. YouTube link.

Paper Girls

02. Paper Girls (comic), Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

I’m obsessed with the brilliant and beautiful art in this comic, set in the suburbs of Cleveland in the 1980s. Vaughan and Chiang get the setting exactly right, but even better than the perfectly rendered split-level houses is the dynamite crew of these tough as nails twelve year old paper girls faced with an unimaginable extraterrestrial threat. Paper Girls is one of those comics that will assuredly be recommended to “people who don’t read comics” & I look forward to seeing it on loads of end-of-year best-of lists in about 10 months.

03. Kristaps Porzingis for Shifman Mattresses (endorsement deal)

There are many things I love about basketball, but my favorite thing is how deeply weird it can be when you shift the focus from the sport to its individual players & this story, which focuses on an endorsement deal between a purveyor of luxury bedding and a 7-foot-three 20 year-old Latvian basketball player is a wonderful example of basketball’s unexpected weirdness and whimsy.

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04. Setting Up My Desk (minor life improvement)

I’ve lived in the same house for over two years now, the longest I’ve lived in any one place since 2005. I’ve gotten so used to precarious and impermanent living situations that it’s hard to think of making space for myself to do anything. But around a year ago, I got myself a desk and this weekend I finally set it up as a proper work space and am now riding that sweet 72-hour high of feeling like I might actually get something done for once in my life.

05. Prince Charming Shower Cream (bath/shower product)

Like many people who have worked for Lush, I’ve soured on much of the company’s rhetoric and question many of their business practices, but I can’t help it – I still have a weak spot for this once-a-year Valentine’s Day product. Prince Charming was reformulated for this year’s line and, at first, I was shocked and disappointed, going so far to tell my former coworkers at Lush that I felt “betrayed,” but it ended up turning out fine. In the bottle, the pomegranate scent is much more up front than in past years (almost unpleasantly so), but once you lather up you smell the grapefruit and mallow root and it’s just a really nice dumb luxury that I look forward to whenever this time of year rolls around. Anyway, as much as I love showering with this I’m still really glad that I don’t work at Lush anymore.

Julia

January was awful, but it’s over. Here are some things I liked.

Casey Mecija

Formerly of Ohbijou and currently a badass, Casey rocks. Not only am I really enjoying her song Palms Out, I’m loving the creative ways she’s promoting her first solo endeavour. She collaborated with digital artist Sammy Rawal to have an accompanying .gif with lyrics for each song. Really well-executed creative concept. She is also one of the many artists to weigh in on important conversations about racism in Toronto/Canada’s music scene, which you should read in full.

Maman Sauvage by Geneviève Elverum (Castrée)

So, perhaps the best thing about January, and about this year, is that I am pregnant and going to meet the baby that is currently percolating in my womb. I have a womb! I am with child! That’s biblical and shit! Since I found out I was pregnant, I’ve been desperately searching for stories by anyone who resembles me in their fucked up relationship to femininity and who never necessarily planned on becoming a parent/mother. I found it in Geneviève Elverum Castrée’s poetry. It’s in French and it’s all about how weird it is to be pregnant and I was sobbing by the end of it. This book feels like it was written to be read by me while pregnant, and I’m so so happy I found it.

(Strangely enough, it was this time last year that I stumbled upon O Paôn, her music, for the first time and fell in love with that.)

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Vintage maternity tags (and the clothes that go with them)

I was lucky enough to find the motherlode of vintage maternity clothes in late 2015, and am happy to finally be forced to wear them. I use the word “forced” because I’m going to keep wearing the pieces from my regular wardrobe that still fit me as long as I can. All the details! The designs! The thinking that went in to making these pieces wearable for expanding bellies and breasts! I marvel at it all. And my favourite is probably the detailed tag designs and ridiculous puns. Coming Attractions, Expectantly Yours, Stork-A-Lure.

Amaka

Hot Pilates

Imagine paying for a service — once you pay for this service, you get to spend an hour in a heated room (generally around 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit) while an instructor enthusiastically yells at you for that entire hour. They shout at you to move your body in various ways: get on the floor. Stand up. Hold a side plank. Do some weird push-ups! Sometimes, you tune them out and want to curl into the fetal position, praying for the madness to end. Only sometimes.
My favorite thing about Hot Pilates is that by description alone, it sounds horrendous. But it’s addictive! For me, no class feels easy, giving me room to improve, strengthen poses, and push through mentally when physically, my body has had it. It’s fun, I promise.

Wearing shoes that make me taller

Being 6’1” matters to me in the way that it has to matter — it’s what people notice about me, and often ask about. My height has been the the subject of debate for folks in denial (why would I lie? Why?), an opportunity to help strangers reach high items at grocery stores, and a great way to be selected early to join a basketball team in high school gym class, despite being…not very good at basketball.
As a tall woman, wearing heeled shoes can be an intimidating feat when you’re already much taller than most people. But in my case, sometimes the purchase of a great shoe is just too tempting. You buy one pair of heeled brogues, and you never look back.
This month, I bought 4 pairs of shoes, all with a slight heel — 2-3 inches, I’d guess. Though my priority with all clothing is comfort, I have begun to love having the option of wearing something that literally elevates me, albeit temporarily.

Not Mackelmore

I do not like Macklemore. I LOVE not liking Macklemore. I really enjoy not liking any of his songs. I am overjoyed when I see headlines that will lead me to articles about him online, so that I do not click on those links. I am not sure if this is breaking the rules, to talk about something that I don’t like. If it is, I am okay with breaking the rules.

READING LIST: February 1

January was very long, but here’s what we were reading.

What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments!

 

Fireworks (Archives): Impressions

Madeleine Wall: After some time, I’m quite certain the best thing I saw at TIFF was Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation Fireworks (Archives). I saw a lot, and, to be honest, too much, but this was the only piece that I was excited by.

After being told by the ticket vendor that it was “very dark, very scary, and that people are going to get hurt,” I met up with Maddie, and knowing only that warning, entered the installation. The vendor wasn’t wrong — we had trouble orienting ourselves in the space, and only after some time did we realize there were chairs, and that they already had people in them. This difficulty in situating ourselves didn’t change in regard to the video piece. An inaccurate summary of it would be a man and a woman wander around a statue garden, which is sporadically illuminated by fireworks or the flash of a camera. The subjects, whether the moving people or the many statues, are only ever seen briefly and partially by these lights, and the sound of fireworks turns into the sound of gunfire.

For me, this piece is very much engaged with the sleight of hand that is inherent to cinema. We believe, when watching a film, we can see it all, that we are presented with an authentic, as close to reality as possible, picture, and that sound functions to reinforce that illusion of reality. In actuality, light, darkness and sound are three separate parts that work together, in ways that are not perceptible to the human eye, to create the illusion of the moving picture. Light becomes something we take for granted, and we trust in its abilities completely.

Here, on the other hand, the light only partially illuminates, and is meant to function as such. Fireworks are a spectacle, meant to distract rather than illuminate. The flash of the camera and the click of its shutter only provides a brief glimpse of what is going on, and the image it takes the audience does not see. It is a film of mostly darkness, with the light adding to the disorientation rather than clarity. When we see fireworks going off as they should, there is silence, and the sound we expect is replaced with gunfire, but at times it is difficult to tell the difference.

On a technical and aesthetic level I loved it, but lacking any context, I knew this was (pun not intended but I’m keeping it) only part of the picture. The statues in the garden were such a mishmash of figures that its reason for existence remained unclear. If this is an archive with gunfire, there’s a history and politics here that I’m missing.

Madeleine Lee: A few hours before I met Maddy, I went a few floors down from where Fireworks (Archives) was playing to see Apichatpong Weerasethakul in conversation with critic Dennis Lim, where they discussed both Fireworks and Apichatpong’s new film, Cemetery of Splendour. I hadn’t yet seen Fireworks in motion, so my initial contact with it was the opposite of Maddy’s — I only had the context.

Fireworks (Archives) is an offshoot of Cemetery of Splendour in that both works were shot in the northeast of Thailand, the area where Apichatpong was born, and the two actors who appear in Fireworks are also the main actors in Cemetery of Splendour, more or less as they appear in the full-length feature. The major context of Fireworks, however, is the location: the Sala Keoku Temple, founded by a handsome, charismatic mystic who had fled from Laos and established himself as a guru of sorts back in Thailand. He covered the walls of the temple with his portrait, and designed all of the sculptures in its garden. The sculptures draw on images from multiple religions (including Buddhism and Hinduism) as well as contemporary culture, giving them a primal, pantheistic look.

Apichatpong also explained that the northeast of Thailand has been traditionally a marginal area of the country both economically and politically. An audience member who had seen the piece asked about the photographs of people that are shown at the beginning and end of the film without commentary or labels. The filmmaker identified them as people who had been executed in uprisings against the government. He had included their images in the work so that they wouldn’t be forgotten. Given all this context, I couldn’t help but come to Fireworks already viewing it as a heavily political and intellectual work.

At the same time, I kept thinking of one of my favourite moments in the Q&A session earlier: An audience member had asked Apichatpong about his intent in using black and white versus colour in a different short film, and what kind of statement he was trying to make by choosing one or the other (for instance, evoking a certain sense of time). The filmmaker’s response was, “I choose according to what looks right to me” – not an evasive answer, just a simple one.

From its historical context alone, Fireworks is a political work. But it is also a very visually and aurally striking one, and by its creator’s own admission born as much of experiments with capturing different sources of light on camera as it was of historical research into the location. In Fireworks, the political and the aesthetic are not two different layers or different readings of the piece, because both are located in one place, in one person: the work’s creator, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. If Fireworks has a political viewpoint, it is the political viewpoint he expresses; if it has aesthetic value, it is the value of the creator’s instinctive choices, “what looks right” to him. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his aesthetic choices are subconsciously informed by his politics, because he is the one person making both decisions. And I don’t think it’s much more of a stretch to say that his taste for formal experimentation and fascination with the images found at the Sala Keoku Temple might come from a similar place as his political leanings.

MW: It’s interesting, because without the context I assumed that the photos of the men were those of the perpetrators. There is an overwhelming sense that something is not right in this garden, and beginning the film with the photos of men does alert one to some historical event. (Though since we walked in half way through the film, we didn’t see their photos until the end, so our time line was off, or at least mine was.)

I suppose it was a kind of Act of Killing syndrome, where I assumed the only evidence we have of any crime in the non Western world is only of the perpetrator, and most certainly they were not punished. Here, these men become part of this archive, and though what happened is never explicitly stated, we still understand it, predominantly because of the aesthetic/political alignment you were talking about.

ML: I think your initial impulse raises an interesting point, which is that despite designating this work as “Archives”, the photos are not labelled, and there’s no designation given to the exact location within the work itself. In the Q&A, his insistence that his purely aesthetic choices be recognized as such also leaves them open for alternative interpretations (or shuts out the possibility, depending on how much authorial intent matters to you).

I think the ambiguous identities of the people in the work for anyone unfamiliar with them works into the overall theme of ambiguity in the piece that you mentioned in your initial impression — the firework noises that become gunshots, the parallel drawn between the flash of a camera and the lights given off by fireworks, the part where the two actors hold hands and are conflated with a statue in the temple of two skeletons holding hands. Even just the fact of all the lighting being done by a single source in each shot confuses the concept of an archive: rather than preserving these things in their whole form, only their impression is preserved, if that makes any sense. I think this plays into the photography as well, then: the people in the photographs are presented not with biographies and history, but only as impressions.

The artist’s statement is here:
fireworks (Archives) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

THINGS WE CURRENTLY LOVE SEPTEMBER

Dana

Lady Lamb – After

Lady Lamb’s (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) new album After is one of my favorite little gems from 2015. I had never heard her music before this album, so this album fell into my lap as a fully formed treasure. The strength of Lady Lamb’s lyrics – about love and loss and modern anxieties – are bolstered by the sometimes sweet, sometimes surprisingly hard rocking tunes she crafts around her words. It’s definitely not the “young woman makes quiet folk record” cliché, but instead, young woman takes the world around her as she experiences it and creates a moving record of her truth.

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Marjorie Cameron

One of the biggest experiences of cultural FOMO I have suffered in the last few years was the Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman exhibit at Los Angeles’ MOCA last last year. The more I read about Cameron, her relationship to Jack Parsons and other male occultists of her day, and her art, the more I am just in awe of this incredibly powerful woman. Finally, the Deitch Gallery brought an expanded version of the MOCA show to their gallery in New York, and I was lucky enough to be able to check it out this past week. It’s in a beautiful, sunlight space with bare white walls, belying the dark imagery in Cameron’s art. Dark, yet incredibly compelling and, to me, remarkably inspiring. I am strongly considering getting the sketch pictured above, from the Songs for the Witch Woman series, tattooed on my leg or side, as a reminder of the power of witch women, and also because of how plain beautiful it is. Taking Cameron’s inspiration to heart for future projects!

Pumpkin Spice Lattes 😦

Fall is incontrovertibly the best season (sorry to one of my favorite writers, Jia Tolentino, who is just totally wrong on this), and, being really real with you all, it’s partially because of pumpkin spice flavors!! Especially Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes! I am one of those basic bitches who love a PSL; I got the pre-release coupon for an early cup, I even think the PSL promoted tweets are cute? But really, fall is the best, cinnamon-y flavors are the best, and now I will be enjoying pumpkin spice fever until after Christmas.

Emily

Knitting

I’m an anxious person generally, and I’m currently going through a stressful professional time. Knitting has become at once hobby, coping mechanism, and bulwark against despair. I had attempted to learn to knit about 4 times previously (efforts going back 10 years), and gave up each time, frustrated that my hands couldn’t or wouldn’t make the right figures. This time something clicked, and I immediately felt like a witch. Making objects out of yarn is extraordinarily satisfying and grounding, combining precision, attention, and a long process of learning with a sense of provisionality and play, while offering me material evidence of my competence. It’s a joy, and I’m grateful it’s part of my life right now.

The Ocean

ocean emily

My boyfriend and I recently made a trip to Prince Edward Island for our friends’ wedding. I grew up on the Island between the ages of 8 and 18, but, for various reasons, I haven’t visited in almost a decade, and haven’t seen the Atlantic Ocean in nearly as long. I didn’t realize how important it was to me, how viscerally I’d missed it, until we arrived at Greenwich Dunes and I immediately ran into the waves and started crying. It’s already been too long since I’ve been back.

Hot toddies

Cut up a whole hunk of ginger root into pieces (you don’t need to peel it) and put it in a pot with a cinnamon stick, some whole cloves, and a few pieces of lemon peel. Add 5 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about half an hour. Strain the liquid, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a mug, then top the mug up with some of the ginger mixture you’ve made. Add honey generously and, if you wish, the alcoholic spirit of your choice. Drink and feel cozy as fuck.

Julia

Summer lingered long through September here, and I am grateful. The month ended with a supermoon and an eclipse, so I stared long and hard at the shadows of the moon trying to make sense of space, time, light and darkness. Something tells me I won’t find the solution overnight.

Nicolas Provost – Papillon d’Amour

I watched more short films in September 2015 than I have in the past year. Quebec City’s Film Festival has hit its stride this year in its 5th edition, and my favourites were the local short films screened in all kinds of contexts – in shipping containers, in decadent moldy theatres, in gorgeous palaces. Simultaneously, the first Quebec City edition of Cinédanse took place at the Musée de la Civilisation. I could list off the gorgeous shorts I had the chance to see screened, but the one that struck me the most and that translates best onto screens of any size is this piece by Nicholas Provost, from 2010. Simple, short, and fucking intense. Also now I need to rewatch Rashomon.

Reading poetry and shit

I’ve been making a real effort to read more fiction in French these days but I keep getting sidetracked by badass poets. Namely,

Warsan Shire
Elaine Kahn
Louise Glück
Anne Boyer
Alice Notley

Also people can you stop posting Warsan’s work without crediting her? That would be great. That happened a lot this month with her poem  “Home” and it pissed me off.

Wide-brimmed hats

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For years and years and years, I have lusted for cloche hats. They look so good. I love pretending I am a modern-day flapper when I wear the ones I have. As my hair grows long, and longer, I am confronted with the reality that cloche hats look best on chin-length hair – or shorter. Well guess what. Wide-brimmed hats look fucking awesome when your hair is longer. So here are some selfies of me with wide-brimmed hats, including a fancy-ass French one I wish I could afford.

P.S. YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE WAS AWESOME ABOUT SEPTEMBER? Meeting Emily. That was pretty awesome. [Emily interjects virtually: YES, IT WAS AMAZING <3<3<3]

Madeleine W

I’m a sucker for anything involving trees in the title, which occasionally leads me astray (I’m avoiding watching The Place Beyond The Pines even though it has the best title of all time??) but lately I’ve been rewarded by pine trees, specifically in Alice Notley’s Into The Pines and AroarA’s Into The Pines.

The latter is a sort of adaptation of the former, taking Notley’s already experimental book of poetry, and writing a song for each of the poems. Having listened to the album to the point of memorization before reading the book, I had a really weird reading experience. The book of poems is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time, and I’m not sure why it took me years to finally get around to reading it. I often write down or post on tumblr my favourite lines, but it got to the point where the entire book was my favourite line. I resisted posting more, feeling like each line was reduced when outside of the poem it is part of. Which is a weird thing to feel, considering the album takes a few lines and writes a song about it. I experienced it in the wrong order, and I wonder if I would like the album as much if I’d read the poems first. Initially I want to say I now have context for these lines, but rather I have a linguistic context within the book versus the musical context of the song. Both are complete works, with their own world and wholeness. Both ache with a long sadness, and have the haunted shiver you can only find in the dark woods. The lines from the poems, “I was born to be your poet,” “I am a dead man’s eyes and I haven’t seen anything for eternity,” “I’m going to find your soul,” aren’t missing anything in the songs. They have a new home, with just as much meaning. A really remarkable project, I wonder if it could work with others.