Marvelous puddles.

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I do get a deep pleasure from looking. I mean, I can look at a little puddle on a road in Yorkshire and just have the rain falling on it and think it’s marvelous. … I see the world as very beautiful.

David Hockney on looking, from an NPR piece: Artist David Hockney Says the Drive to Create Pictures is ‘Deep Within Us.’

Image via Art News

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Jetlagged in Zurich & where I’m headed next.

rhythmic-landscape-on-lake-geneva-1908On the plane ride from Boston to Zurich I met a girl named Desiree who was flying home to Bern. She had been visiting her boyfriend (a Mexican-American serving in the US Air Force). She missed him already, and I told her I missed my guy, too, even though we had only been apart for a few hours.

When we got off the plane, she helped me find the shuttle train, those quiet and sleek trains that seem to have been installed in every major airport. I was asking her about Switzerland—do you like living in Bern? what is the best thing to eat while I’m here? what’s cool about Zurich?—and when we got on the train, she pointed up with one finger. Her eyes were the kind of pristine china blue that inspires men to write longwinded rock ballads. “Listen,” she told me. “They play cows and the sound of birds and that big instrument that you blow? That big one that is shaped like a…” here she used her hands to draw a large swoop in the air. “That’s Switzerland,” she said as the sound of mooing started playing over the intercom. She laughed.

Earlier in our conversation, I asked her what she liked about America. She said a lot of things, but my favorite was this: She said it was just like the movies. She wanted to go to a house party, having seen so many on screen. “Those red plastic cups!” she exclaimed. “Solo cups,” I provided. “I love them, too.” I asked if she got to play beer pong, and she said yes, and even though this sounds silly—your country has cows, mine has house parties and drunk college students—it made me feel infinitely better about America. We’re the country of flip cup and Hollywood and boyfriends in the Air Force and lots and lots of land.maggia-delta-before-sunrise-1893

I’m in a Holiday Inn in Zurich now. It’s a 24-hour layover before I fly to Oslo. I can’t sleep, because my body hasn’t figured out which knob to pull to reset and rewind its inner watch. I spend the day wandering around the city. I spent hours in an art museum (more on that another time) before walking aimlessly around the streets until my feet hurt from the cobblestones and my mind felt foggy. It’s a Sunday, so all the shops are closed, but it was 50-something degrees out and it seemed like the entire population had come out to celebrate. I walked across bridges, back and forth crossing one side to the next, like I was lacing up a shoe. On each bridge, I stopped to look south, out to Lake Zurich, out to the Alps. I’m always looking toward mountains.

Tomorrow I fly to Oslo. From there, I go further north. It’s as though I harbor a compass inside my ribcage, an iron needle that hums and worries when it’s being ignored. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always fantasized about the far north, the arctic, the cold, the clear truth of ice.

I’ll be there soon. Zurich was lovely, and I miss America already, but I’m excited for Finnmark. I hope to write more on this blog while I’m there, so whoever is reading this… I’ll see you again soon.

Images by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, who may just be my new favorite artist. He believed in something called “parallelism,” a system of symmetry and rhythm that connected people to the landscape and created world harmony. (I think? I’m not sure I fully understand.) His work reminds me of the Viennese Secessionists (my fave) and I spent a very long time in a room with his paintings today, just staring. Today was a good day. 

Two nice things: A body like mine, a body like yours.

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For a long time, my answer to the question, “Who is your favorite artist?” was spat out quickly, thrown from my mouth like something vaguely disgusting: Egon Schiele. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Schiele. But I love his work because it is so twisted and tortured, so uncomfortable to look at, so unsettling. Today, when I first saw the work of Kaethe Butcher, an artist from Leipzig, I gasped. Her illustrations have all the deranged, manic agony of Schiele, and all the raw sexuality, but Butcher adds a fierceness to her portraits. While Schiele’s subjects often seemed terribly sad, Butcher’s have an air of fuck-it-ness about them. They don’t care if you like it. They aren’t here for you. 

Two.
While we’re on the topic of female bodies, I’m reading two strange books. One is a first-person portrait of a sociopathic pedophile, a young female teacher with a taste for adolescent male flesh. The other is the story of an anorexic, image-obsessed young white woman and her jealous roommate. (Click here to see Tampa by Alissa Nutting and here for You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.) While the subject matter is entirely different, there are so many similarities between these two bold books. Both authors zero in on the female body and explore every inch of it. They write about taboos and urges, inappropriate needs and pathological desires. They both feel feminist, but in very different ways. And I recommend both novels for your Unflinching Books By Badass Women reading list.

Things with wings and grief like fire.

At_Night_Achile_CasanovaI’ve been thinking a lot about bats lately, which is due in part to working at Islandport Press (I’m a contributing editor, one of my many part-time positions). Islandport is a small Maine publishing house that has produced many great books, including  a very charming board book written by my co-worker, Melissa Kim. This particular book, published in a partnership with the Maine Audubon Society, is about the daily life of a little brown bat. It is cute and funny and full of science and I really adore it.

But it doesn’t sell quite as well as other picture books—sweeter picture books, ones with earth-bound animals like cats and horses. And I’m not sure why. Is it because bats aren’t as cute? Because bats are scary and gross? Don’t kids want to read about the only mammal capable of true flight? Haven’t they heard of Stellaluna? I was a girl who loved bats—I can’t be the only one of my kind.

And now that I’m thinking about them, bats seem to be everywhere, including in my memory. Several years ago, I was visiting a friend in Austin following a horrible heartbreak. I was devastated—filled with a kind of grief and desperation that I hadn’t known before, the kind that climbs from your stomach to your heart and back again, trailing hot fingers of pain through my torso, up and down and up and down. Few things brought me joy, but the bat bridge did.

In Austin, there is a bridge that connects the two sides of the city. The walkway below the bridge smells earthy and strange from the guano, so much of it. Bats roost below, clinging to the bottom of the man-made cavern. Every night at twilight, bats stream out from under their hanging spaces. Hundreds, thousands of creatures, wings spread, chirping, devouring the night. bats_austinI was so taken by the bats that I went back the next evening, and again the next. The sight soothed me with its strangeness, its utter unfamiliarity. I felt better, watching those bats. Less lonely somehow.

Now, years later, I am married to the man who once broke my heart. I’m as far from Austin as one can be and still be in America. I wonder if I will ever see those bats again—if I will ever need them, like I once did, to heal an aching heart.

[Top image: At Night by Achille Casanova (1861-1948) medium unknown.]

Shooting the moon: early lunar photography.

First Photograph of the Moon This photograph is believed to be the earliest picture captured of the moon. The mirror-reversed daguerreotype was taken by Josh W. Draper from his rooftop observatory at NYC on March 26, 1840. Early Moon Photography by DraperHere is another one of Draper’s early moon pictures. (Photo by J. W. Draper/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images). According to this article, Draper wasn’t the first photographer to shoot the moon. Several Frenchmen may have beaten him to it, but he was the first photographer to capture it in any detail. He was also definitely the first to shoot a full moon, so he gets credit for that. First image of the far side of the moonThe Soviets beat us to the opposite side of the moon. This picture was captured by Zond-3, the second spaceship to view the far side of the lunar surface. Lots more here.First picture of the earth from th emoonOne of the first pictures of the earth shot from the surface of the moon. Via National Geographic: “This photo reveals the first view of Earth from the moon, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 23, 1966. Shot from a distance of about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers), this image shows half of Earth, from Istanbul to Cape Town and areas east, shrouded in night.”

Baring it all, body and soul. (Or, why poets are the bravest people on the planet.)

patti smith
Found today: “Poets Without Clothes.” It’s a website of—you guessed it!—poets without clothing. Some are half-naked. Some are nude. Some are showing their bare toes. Some cover their breasts. But they’re all vulnerable and rather sweet. The Tumblr was inspired, naturally, by Walt Whitman, he who wrote:

   Let us all, without missing one, be exposed in public, naked,
monthly, at the peril of our lives! let our bodies be freely
handled and examined by whoever chooses!
Let nothing but copies at second hand be permitted to exist
upon the earth!

I wonder, which feels more raw: stripping off your clothing for a photograph, or stripping bare your soul for a poem? Which tears at the fabric of your being more? Which induces more shame, which brings more joy? They’re similar acts, but not the same.

Here’s a good would-you-rather for your next party:  Would you rather bare your body in public, warts and all, or publish your most jagged and painful personal thoughts? Personally, I’d rather take my top off.

Above: Patti Smith in the nude. More here.

Two scary things, in honor of the holiday.

Kate MccGwire Secretions Art Instillation
1. From Shirley Jackson, a true master of horror writing and vastly underrated writer, the best way to begin a book:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

If you don’t have chills after reading that, go ahead and read the whole book. I’ll wait here. (Shirley Jackson is my all-time favorite author. I wrote my college thesis on her—and Poe and Toni Morrison. It was about ghosts in American literature… I was/am/will always be a nerd.) Kate MccGwire art installation of feathers

2. British sculptor Kate MccGwire makes wonderfully nasty and strangely beautiful art installations out of feathers. They’re textural and rich and oh-so-creepy. Plus, they all have fantastically horrifying names, like Secrete (top), Siren (second image) and Slick (below). Some of her other installation names include Purge, Gyre, Corvid and Specter. I love how her pieces feel both organic and naturally occurring, and utterly uncanny in the most Freudian sense. They’re a double gut-punch of pretty and creepy. See more here. Slick,+2010,+Kate+MccGwireHappy Halloween! 

Hair as straight as sticks, dreams as frail as bog cotton, and eyes as big as plates.

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On the internet, this series of photographs has gotten a lot of attention under the headlines “Old Finnish People with Things on Their Heads,” which, while funny, really obscures the purpose of these strange pictures. The series is actually called “Eyes as Big as Plates,” a rather beautiful name, if you ask me. Originally inspired by Scandinavian folklore, the series has grown to cover people living in New York, Japan, and Iceland. It’s the creative work of photographers Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen and while I do think it’s peculiar and humorous, I also think it’s a wonderful depiction of human dignity, just people being people in their natural environments. Sure, we don’t typically adorn ourselves with windswept sticks and stand atop a cliff… but why not? It’s not like I do anything better with my days.

I might just be in sleepy fiction mode, but each piece feels like a writing prompt to me.

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Ilisia, the goddess of nightmares and daydreams, wonders whether she should claim credit for her most beautiful creation, the nightmare that incubated in an Englishman’s head until it was ready to spring forth, fully formed on Ilisia’s gracious loom, from his tingling fingers. Oh how she loathed the need for a human conduit! “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks,” she whispers into the air, a fine mist of spit spraying from her cracked lips. “You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout, till you have drenched our teeples, drowned the cocks!” Her voice lowers to a rumble in her throat, barely audible, but the birds listen still: “Nothing will come of nothing.”

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Marvin lay down for a little rest in the wood behind his house. He thought he could find his way back easily—if not by sight, then by scent, for his wife Nona had been making Borscht when he left and the savory red smell lingered in the air. Sadly, when he awoke, he could smell no stew and see no house. All had aged, for faeries trick time and men who stray from the hearth are seldom mourned.

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“Who are you looking for?” the man asked. “Oh no, Lars is not here. I am Otso and I am a bear.” He took a piece of dried rabbit out of the pocket of his trousers and began to gnaw at it, making the most disgusting noises as he ground and gnashed his old man teeth. For a moment, his headdress slipped, and I’ll tell you this, my friends: He really did look just like Lars.

See more.

Because they’re beautiful: Here are three neon love letters.

fionna banner be there saturday
1. Fionna Banner – “Be There Saturday Sweetheart” 

This 30-foot-tall neon sign was constructed in 2000 on the top of the New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this: The simple statement comes from the love letters of artist Jacob Epstein to Kathleen Garman. Although she was married to another man when she met Jacob, Kathleen fell in love with the sculptor and eventually left her husband for him. They stayed together until his death. Despite the rocky start (or perhaps because of it?) their letters are filled with sweetness and light. “With you I have every joy and every happiness,” Jacob wrote to his lover. “My nights are my worst time. I lie awake and think of you. Last night, Sunday, was wonderful moonlight and I thought of you, picturing how you were, how fascinating you looked on the balcony beside the lake in the moonlight and the lantern lights… I am always yours Kitty. Be there Saturday sweetheart.” Neon art about ghosts
2. Robert Montgomery – “The People You Love”
 

Truth time: I’m making this list today because I’m in a melancholy mood. I have a migraine hangover and my brain is fuzzy and unwilling to focus. I feel like a ghost of myself. I’m being lazy and wallowing—I’ll admit that.

But don’t let that take away from the art, because all three of these pieces are wonderful, lovely and haunting, modern and retro, sweet and sad. Artist Robert Montgomery created this piece after the death of a close friend. For him, ghosts are a positive force, a way of keeping in touch with the people he has lost. “I find the idea that love can somehow triumph over death an idea I need to keep sane,” he said.

But you know what I really love about this piece? It’s not just the ghost-y-ness or the eerie setting or the sparse and square font. It’s the way it turns light into a metaphor for humanity, for that elusive thing we call the soul or the spirit. Stare at a neon sign, then look away. The afterglow remains, spots on our vision. An imprint of what was. A visual ghost. More than a memory, less than a presence.

Tracey_Emin_neon_art
3. Tracey Emin – “I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You”

I saved my favorite for the finale. I find Tracey Emin so inspiring, both as an artist and as a human being. I love her brash attitude and her feminist message. I love her sensitive, neurotic, erotic works (I stumbled across “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With” when I was in college and that piece blew my freaking mind). I particularly love her neon ladies, all naked and glowing with legs spread and toes pointed. I would have shared one of those, but I try to keep my blog SFW, so instead here is one of her text-based pieces (another good one reads: “People like you need to fuck people like me”—not as poetic, but pretty damn funny). Emin’s extremely prolific and likes to work with light-up letters, so if you like this as much as I do, you can see more of her work here.

And you know what? After writing all this and doing the work of inserting images and googling details, I find myself feeling much, much better. I think it’s Tracey’s good influence (or I’m just going to pretend that’s it and not the glass-and-a-half of wine I drank while waiting for my internet to catch up to my thoughts). Thanks, lady.

The ultimate mombod.

great mothers of the stone ageIn honor of Mother’s Day (and since my mom reads my blog more than anyone else, probably) here’s a very cool graphic of mombods compiled by the smart ladies at etsi-ketsi. (Don’t know what a “mombod” is? It’s cool, it’s a stupid made-up thing that happened on the internet.)

It’s also interesting to note that these aren’t all Stone Age sex symbols as some might assume. “Erroneously, perhaps even cynically, many of the statues and sculptures shown here have been named Venus statuettes by patriarchal archeologists, as in Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Laussel; names based on the well-known nude depictions of the much later and slender Roman Venus,” explains scholar Eva Sawada.

Here’s another amazing graphic, this one shows “Goddess Sculptures” from the early Bronze Age. There’s something so amazingly modern about these, so geometric and cool, especially the top row.  With their sharp angles and big shoulders, these femmes remind me of 80’s business ladies in power suits. How would you worship a boss-bitch goddess? By burring a pyre of vintage Vogues? By using lipstick as warpaint and reenacting the ancient ritual of the power lunch? By sacrificing your toes to the torture of a pointy heel? One can only imagine. goddess sculpturesAnyway, happy Mother’s Day or whatever. Enjoy the history lesson.