culture

8 Stories


Sarah Howe

The T.S. Eliot Prize Winning Poet on the Pursuit of Identity

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Sarah Howe’s voice is as delicate and harmonious as her poetry,  a thought that becomes increasingly apparent throughout our talk. Howe, a British-Chinese writer who has been published in a number of anthologies, including three editions of The Best British Poetry, as well as well as being a recent recipient of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2015, is inspiringly smart – a testament which is proven not only in her writings, but in her eloquent conversation, ranging from Shakespeare to The Walking Dead. Ahead of her reading at NeueHouse Madison Square, an event co-hosted with The White Review, where she was joined by fellow poets Jorie Graham and Matvei Yankelevich, Howe sat down to talk about the pursuit of home and identity, the responsibility of representation, and working out her fascinations under the radar.

 

NeueJournal: Loop of Jade is your first collection. What is the curating process like when creating a compilatory book of your work?

 

Sarah Howe: It was very much a process of learning slowly, and somewhat surprisingly, what the range of my obsessions was. Discovering what it was that I’ve done over the last ten years of writing poems was actually quite a fun process, and it was a matter of learning which sets of poems seemed to need to speak to each other. There are lots of different strands running through the book, one of which is China and travel, another of which is art, and another of which is England. I was trying to bring those things together and knit them into some sort of satisfying order.

 

NJ: I’m glad you bring that up, because your work, at large, deals a lot with the meditation of being bicultural. What is the most significant thing you’ve learned from this exploration?

 

SH: The book was almost an attempt for me to answer the question, “who am I?” What emerged was a real hybrid of miscellaneous things. What I discovered about myself in the process was just how fluid and up for grabs something like identity is, but at the same time how much we, as individuals, are shaped by history and the cultures we live in – almost to a sort of oppressive degree, sometimes. So, history actually became a really big part of what the book was thinking about. My history, China’s history, my mother’s somewhat traumatic personal history – it was all an effort to sort of make sense of that and not be buried by it.

 

NJ: Is it difficult when you come face to face with realities you haven’t explored before?

 

SH: I had the experience, which I imagine is not uncommon, of having had an upbringing that was utterly different to that of my parents. I was always conscious that I had a great deal of privilege and safety and security, which neither of my parents, particular my mom, had enjoyed. I guess this is the way of inter-generational narratives, isn’t it? That one generation has to think about what it wants to pass on to the next, because that transfer is a meaningful one in the way culture happens.

 

The book, with its gaps and elliptical looping, reflects just what a broken and fragmented process it was for me to learn about my family origins, and what I discovered, as well, was there was a point beyond which I just couldn’t go. I can’t know anything about my Chinese family beyond my mom, and that was a big void, which I felt I needed to fill in some way. What the book does with Chinese history and myth was sort of an attempt to find some other connection with that place.

 

NJ: Poetry is such a beautiful art, but it feels like nowadays it’s the most devalued artform. Why do you think we forgot to nurture this relationship to poetry?

 

SH: I think that’s a lovely and quite accurate way of putting it, that we forgot about the historical and powerful relationship we used to have with poetry in our culture. It’s a sort of paradox, though, isn’t it? Just in demographic statistical terms, there must be such a larger percentage of people reading and writing poems now than ever before, solely because of literacy and education. And yet, it does feel very marginal in the culture, or at least in an economic sense. But actually, I find that quite liberating myself, as a poet; that you’re not under the same scrutiny, maybe, as artists working in art forms that enjoy a bigger share of the limelight. I feel like I’m allowed to work out my own fascinations under the radar.

 

NJ: You quite often deal with history and mythology as means to explore your work. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

SH: The person I have in mind is the modernist poet, Ezra Pound, who I found I kept going back to again and again, partly because as a Chinese poet writing in English you just can’t escape his legacy. He sort of created the idiom that we might think of as, in inverted commas, “translating Chinese to English.” And yet, in so many ways, he was an absolutely abhorrent, racist, fascist person. So, it’s not so much that I identify with Pound, it’s that I had to make some sort of effort to identify with him in order to think through his legacy.

 

NJ: Rebecca Solnit wrote a list of books no woman should read, which included Ernest Hemingway, who is a big staple of modern literature. I realized I hadn’t really considered the effect that his blatant misogyny can have on younger writers, especially female ones. The way we have conversations with these larger than life artists, and how we approach them, is interesting because it leads to the question, can you separate a person from their work?

 

SH: That whole debate is one that really interests me, because it’s about the ethics of writing and reading. I think it’s sort of related to the question of role models in literature, whether we need to have certain sorts of diversity in terms of the characters we encounter in our imaginative lives. Which, given my interest in race and identity and representation, is something I find myself thinking about. But then again, I think it would be a sad world if I felt like the only writers I could learn from were female poets of color, which brings me back to the question of empathy. I think we have to foster empathy on one end as writers, and on the other end as readers.

 

NJ: What is your favorite word?

 

SH: I absolutely love words and their texture and their history, so I think my favorite word probably changes on an hour-to-hour basis, but I have a special fondness and weakness for dead-end words in the evolutionary line. In the 16th century, they used to say “yesternight” but we only have a “yesterday” now, so I’m quite fond of ones that died a death for no apparent reason.

 

NJ: You’re relocating to the moon and you can only bring three things. What are they?

 

SH: A complete Shakespeare, a violin, in the forlorn hope that I might be able to learn how to play it one day, and is it okay to say a Netflix subscription? (laughs) I’m currently halfway through binging on The Walking Dead. I think I would be very sad to go to the moon before I found out what happened.

 

NJ: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the pursuit of poetry and writing as profession?

 

SH: I feel like as an ethnic minority writer, you face a different set of challenges to your peers of the dominant culture, as it were. This is something that has become very clear to me recently, that it’s just a very charged area in which to be working at the moment. There’s a sense in which whatever you do will always be colored by the idea that you have to serve as a spokesperson for the group you belong to. That burden is one that I want to be able to step up to, but it’s also a responsibility that I also sometimes feel I shouldn’t have to shoulder. I guess it’s especially acute for me, because there are so few Chinese poets writing and being published in Britain. I feel like some of the scrutiny that my work receives is much too colored by this sense of novelty, that I’m the first one to stick the head above the parapet.

 

NJ: Do you ever feel you’ve been hindered by thinking too much about the audience, instead of the reasons why you’re creating work?

 

SH: I think this question of the audience hovering in your mind as you write is an important one for all poets, and it’s one that shifts in and out of focus for me. I believe at some point you have to think, “What will another reader make of this?” I do write with an audience in mind; I do care about the world that my poems go out into. I’m not going to make any big hyperbolic claims, but the world is changed when voices that have traditionally never been heard before suddenly start to.

 

NJ: If you could live in any other point in time, when would it be?

 

SH: My day job is as an academic working on Renaissance literature, so I would definitely choose to live during Shakespeare’s heyday.

 

NJ: There’s a conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn’t actually exist. What do you think?

 

SH: I personally don’t care that much either way, because I’m not a big one for biographical speculation about the lives of authors. But I actually find the conspiracy theory phenomenon around Shakespeare absolutely fascinating as a phenomenon. It has so much to do with conspiracy theory as a psychological need.

 

NJ: What do you think happens when we die?

 

SH: I suppose this doesn’t really impinge on my poems or writings very much, but I’m a very staunch Atheist, so I believe that nothing happens to us after we die, or at least the conscious parts of ourselves. But I don’t find that particularly depressing or nihilistic, either – it’s pretty liberating.

 

Portrait Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal

Artwork: Pablo Thecuadro for NeueJournal

Jan Fabre

A Post-Mortem State of Life

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“I was always doomed to become an artist,” Jan Fabre says, a cigarette between his lips and the brooding London sky serving as the background. Fabre, however, is a particular breed of artist, since he is as prolific a playwright as he is a visual maker, performance artist, choreographer, stage director, and designer, making the title of ‘Renaissance man’ more than fitting. With countless work comprising his repertoire (including dozens of plays, sculptures, and drawings), and his first solo exhibition in the U.K., Knight of the Night, which runs until March 12, 2016 at the Ronchini Gallery, Fabre is an exemplary creative spirit. The Belgian artist sat down with us to discuss the inspiration of Christ and the body, the typology of tears, and creating work in a post-mortem state of life.

 

NeueJournal: A great deal of your work revolves around human anatomy, particularly the brain. Where did this interest come from and what fascinates you so much about it?

 

Jan Fabre: The body was always a subject and object to research. I made my first blood drawings in ’77 while watching an important exhibition in Bruges. I committed my own body to compete with the Flemish painting, so the research started there, by making incisions in my body. I made a lot of projects over the years with my own blood, tears, and sperm, I made scriptures about the human body. I used different materials and slowly, over seven years, I made a lot of works about the brain because some scientists became a fan of my work; neurologists and I started working with them and that influenced my work.

 

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NJ: So the work fed the research and the research fed the work. Religion is a recurring motif in your work. How would you describe your relationship to religion, and what role does art play in it?

 

JF: I’m an atheist thanks to Christ and of course I was born in the Flemish side of Belgium, which is a Catholic country. My mother was very Catholic and my father was a Communist, so I heard all the stories from the Bible and my father took me to churches and to museums to make drawings. My big inspirations were the Flemish classical masters, and of course Christ is very important in my work because we accept the model of Christ.

 

NJ: Your new exhibit explores the meaning of beauty – a question which has haunted humans for years. What is beauty, to you?

 

JF: For me beauty is not only aesthetic, because then it would be makeup. So for me beauty is almost always a kind of conciliation between ethical values and aesthetic principles.

 

NJ: What is your greatest extravagance?

 

JF: Why, the mediocrity of my genius.

 

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NJ: What do you think was the biggest impact your childhood had on your career/creative work?

 

JF: To be in a coma. As a young boy I was in a coma twice, and this influenced my work a lot – my writings, my drawings. I think all my work is almost in a post-mortem state of life.

 

NJ: How did you end up in a coma?

 

JF: One time a street fight and one time diving in a canal. We had this sport when we were young teenagers, where we would dive into the the canal and swim to the boats. One day, one of the guys on the boats hit me on the head and I lost consciousness in the water. One of my friends saved me, but I was in a coma for nine days, and the first time for six days.

 

NJ: Do you remember anything from it?

 

JF: No. But I remember afterwards, particularly the second time, the feeling of living in borrowed time. I was a lucky bastard.

 

NJ: How would you describe the color red to a blind person?

 

JF: Ha, good question. I would put their finger in a wound.

 

NJ: What is your first memory of art?

 

JF: Before I wanted to become an artist I wanted to become a postman because the son of my godmother and godfather was a mailman. I was five years old and he was walking on the streets of Antwerp ringing the door, bringing the checks, and I thought, “Wow, that’s the job I want, because it’s free and it is contact with people.” Then as a young boy I got this chemistry box for my birthday and I made my first laboratory in the basement. So the two professions I wanted to become were a chemist and a postman, and that’s what I do; I’m still choosing experiments and I bring my work around the world like a mailman.

 

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NJ: Was there ever a point in your life when you were about to make a different career choice?

 

JF: No, I was always doomed to become an artist.

 

NJ: Where do you think you would be had you not chosen the art world?

 

JF: I think science, because my inspiration is always scientists. My heroes are scientists.

 

NJ: More than the painters?

 

JF: It’s a combination of the Flemish classical masters and the contemporary scientists like Edward Wilson or Giacomo Rizzolatti in Italy who invented the mirror neurons. These kind of guys inspire me a lot.

 

NJ: What is the last film or play you watched that made you cry?

 

JF: About a year ago in Padova, Italy to see the Giotto Fresco. In the presence of immense beauty I really had tears on my face. Afterwards, I researched my own tears and I discovered different typologies of tears. For example irritation tears you get by peeling an onion, but listening to a beautiful piece of music or seeing a beautiful painting makes you cry spiritual tears – filled with soul.

 

NJ: What is the last film or play you watched that made you laugh?

 

JF: Little Britain. (laughs) It’s fantastic..

 

NJ: If heaven exists, what do you think it looks like?

 

JF: Like Antwerp.

 

Photography: Laurence Ellis for NeueJournal

RadioPaper

Mary Ramsden & Adam Thirlwell's
Anti-Collaboration

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There is an undeniable magic generated when two creatives collaborate, although, like writer Adam Thirlwell and artist Mary Ramsden will say about their recent partnership on the visual art – short story book hybrid, RadioPaper, rather than a collaboration “It was very much two independent works that slotted in very well.” It is this semblance of independent creation while guided under a unifying trope that led Ramsden and Thirlwell to find success in a piece that could beautifully translate each of their respective talents. The friends, who met years ago at gallerist Pilar Corrias’ house, sat down in conversation to discuss the abstractness of language, the experience of looking, and keeping the suspense forever.

 

Adam Thirlwell: Is this the first time you’ve worked with multiples? Because of course a book is a multiple… Does it feel the same as working with a single object?

 

Mary Ramsden: It still felt like a very private encounter, and the fact that all of the covers are hand-painted means they’re all individual, in a way. Also, the nature of the images and how they were produced contributes to this feeling of the handmade, because they are a mixture of painting and collage. I worked carefully with Bookworks – who produced the book – to retain the color and shadow of the cut-line after the works on paper were scanned in so as to maintain this object quality to the prints.

 

Do you have any floating sentences you create a context for?

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AT: My notebook is full of them. I used to love that sort of thing – if there was a line I liked I would be sure to fit it in, but now I worry it can cause too much digression. I normally like to write forms that give the illusion of being very rapid and improvised, and the danger of a notebook full of material you want to add is that in order to bring it in you have to write a page to get to that sentence and then –

 

MR: – all the rest is fluff. I was thinking about some of your short stories, and the way they are like marks and they kind of drive a punch in the same way.

 

AT: What I liked about writing these short stories for RadioPaper is they are all two paragraphs each – there’s no room for the extraneous. They’re pure speed. It meant they function as a sort of block of thinking. Which then, inadvertently, feels similar to the way your images relate to blocks or marks, too. One of the things I find interesting in pairing language to your painting is that language is inherently non-abstract, you always have to have something with meaning in it.

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MR: I came across the anthology of American Short Stories edited by Ben Marcus, and in his introduction he talks about the space between the reader and the short story; how if you could “paint” the place where language is filtering through to the reader, the imagery would get so morphed into this visual nonsense and ‘the picture would blacken into pure noise.’ I think if you are looking to describe that space, then as a writer maybe that would be the place where things are abstract, like reading poetry in a language you don’t speak.

 

It seemed to me like the clearest way to talk about these concerns was in a relatively abstract way within a typographical framework. It feels to me the most satisfactory level of communication.

 

AT: Do you think there’s a difference between the way you contemplate a story and the way you contemplate a work of art?

 

MR: I try and have a different pace to a lot of my works. I like that you might spend five minutes in front of a piece, and then another work demands a bit more attention because it has more going on and is slower or more labored. Those two different speeds can be quite a fun thing to play off against each other. That’s partly why, with the book, I kind of wanted to make an object you had to take your time with. When you stand with the book – especially that scale – you make yourself ready for the experience of looking, and there is something really lovely about that relationship.

 

AT: One of my favorite novelists, Laurence Sterne, uses various visual elements tricks, like when a character dies the page is just black and when a new love interest is introduced he says, “I can’t describe her; you should just imagine her as you want” and leaves a blank page for you to draw however you imagine her. I remember thinking only a crazy person would actually draw their idea – but then I talked to an academic who said there are actually copies from the 18th century where people drew on the page, and made their ideal portrait. Which is not, in the end, so stupid… Do you intend for people to cut the pages?

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MR: Definitely not. I like that they are uncut, and I like the idea of still continuing to peek through and keeping it all intact. Some of the best marks are hidden in the folds but that’s all part of the feeling that something of interest is being concealed.

 

AT: I keep thinking about this question of what a book is – because for me it’s all about how to control attention. A novel is an experience that takes place over time – like a movie. I’m always quite annoyed I can’t control the flow of time in the way a moviemaker can because a book is a portable experience. I’m trying to think whether it changes for me if there are images in it or not. I remember Hans Ulrich Obrist saying “a book and an exhibition are the same thing.” Did it feel like you were mounting a portable show, or did it feel different?

 

MR: It felt different; even the making was very much at a table, a considered, quiet process. Sitting down it was much more hands than arms, closer to writing than painting.

 

AT: Did you try out different sequences?

 

MR: Yeah, I spent ages shuffling things about. As you say, you can’t dictate the order in which people read through a book, but there had to be a certain rhythm to it. Some of the pages are more gestural or slower or covered by the collage or more graphic. Similarly, the way the books were installed felt like I was creating a language – something that could be understood but you couldn’t quite get there. In a way with Kapow! you’ve already played with text layout, but there it was much more about the structure on the page. Do you think many people read the upside-down pages, or backwards sentences?

 

AT: Kapow! was a really creative collaboration, but it’s true, there’s a difference between that project, where the text itself is arranged in strange shapes, and what we did. With RadioPaper the text itself is standard text. The interest in Kapow! was definitely to see how you can use typography to force the reader to almost physically have to reorient themselves, but it was also designed so you didn’t have to do that, you could continue to read without reading the crazed digressions… When I knew I was planning these stories for you, and knew the different kind of stories that would be hidden behind the French folds, I didn’t quite realize you really still can’t read the second half.

 

MR: You have to sort of press it down to read it. Does it bother you that people won’t know the end of your story?

 

AT: I think I like it more. One of the things I was exploiting with the texts for RadioPaper was what is a cliff hanger, or what is suspenseful, so why not keep the suspense forever…? Do you think you want to do more?

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MR: Yeah I was excited about maybe approaching other short story writers. I’m really enjoying the Ben Marcus book though; the introduction is punchy but it’s a great opener for the stories that follow. It sort of arms you for the experience.

 

AT: But also I feel like the word collaboration, especially the way it’s sometimes used in the art world, can become almost meaningless. It’s interesting – it was very vague, the way you introduced this project to me – basically you just said French folds, and my texts then added a digital theme, which I don’t think we ever talked about. I had the idea of creating a story that is suddenly broken off, and the selfie felt quite useful for that – the thing that you can see and the thing that you can’t see. Something which at first looks quite simple and then you realize there are hidden elements.

 

MR: I see your point on the collaboration thing, because I don’t think it’s necessarily the right term for the relationship we had on the book. I think it was very much two independent works that slotted in very well.

 

AT: I would say it was more mutually influencing. You influenced me by saying, “This is how I would like the structure to be and this is the nature of the story.” I’m trying to think if it can happen the other way around? For instance I just wrote a text for my friend Philippe Parreno, for the catalogue of his show, which is like a collaboration – but then I wouldn’t call it a true collaboration because he does something and I simply respond to it.

 

MR: Yeah, you sort of understand where he is coming from. Similarly in the way I responded to your book with the “Lurid & Cute” painting in my last show. I don’t know if we can even call that a collaboration, it was more like a strange exercise. How would you feel if we were to do another one?

 

AT: I think you’d have to think of a new constraint. It would be interesting to think how can we find a different technical oddity that then contains and organize the images within the medium of the book.

 

MR: Which might not necessarily be about the format of the book, I mean it would be fun to play around with other aspects.

 

AT: I was thinking – this project unexpectedly to me looks militantly anti-digital, like we are the last book people left on earth: it’s the combination of the title RadioPaper and the fact that it’s only in a tiny edition. But was that really part of your thinking?

 

MR: Not at all, and I wouldn’t see it like that. I’d say there’s a need for both of these fast and slow approaches to consumption.  It was more about the difference between the way we sit down with a book in relation to the way we spend time looking at screens and pointing at those two spaces. I heard the other day the average concentration span is now three minutes, which is shorter than you can actually train a goldfish to focus. It’s not that I am demanding lengthy concentration with this project as it is also very playful but I think it’s something to make a thing which can be held and leafed through, with both hands.

 

Photography: Tegen Williams & Raf Fellner for NeueJournal

Philip Glass

Maintaining Tibet's Culture

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For the past few decades legendary composer Philip Glass has been a key figure in raising awareness for the Tibetan Independence Movement. Through the annual Tibet House Benefit Concert, which has been held at Carnegie Hall for the past twenty-odd years, Glass has aided in raising money and attention with the aim of salvaging the culture of a country that has been at war since 1950. The musician talked to us about his involvement with the movement, the importance of preserving Tibet, and what this year’s concert will have in store.

 

The first time I came in contact with the Tibetan Independence Movement was in 1967, but the uprising had taken place in 1959 after the Chinese had moved into Tibet. The Dalai Lama had fled, along with 200 thousand other people, and they ended up living in refugee camps in Northern India, which are gone now. I first saw these refugee sites in December of 1966. I wondered, “Who are these people? What are they doing here?” At the time we didn’t even know where Tibet was, and it turned out to be the beginning of a huge exodus of people. Because of the diaspora some of those people moved to America and to South America.

 

There’s a very well established Tibetan community here in New York City, where they have Tibetan language classes for their children and they do what people have always done who want to hold on to their culture. They go back and visit relatives, many of whom are in India. Some of them go back to Tibet. They’re not disallowed automatically; people can go back to Tibet if they’re going for personal reasons or if there’s no political connection. It’s not like North and South Korea where people are not allowed see each other.

 

But things have actually gotten quite a bit worse because the Chinese no longer want Tibetan to be taught in schools at all. For a while they taught Chinese and Tibetan, but now the latter is being left out. China is currently in a phase where they’re trying to assimilate the Tibetan people into what they call the Greater Family, which is the Chinese family. The response I’ve heard from the Dalai Lama, which is quite interesting, is, “Well, I’m not really angry at the Chinese. The only trouble with the Chinese is that I’m Tibetan. I’m not Chinese.” The same thing happened in Vietnam and in Mongolia. The Chinese have that problem all over borders, where they see themselves as the parent country of all these little countries, but those people don’t feel the same way.

 

I’ve been aware of it for more than 45 years, although we didn’t do very much about it at the time. When I came back from Northern India people like Bob Thurman were just starting to run Tibetan Human Studies, and it wasn’t until 1990 when we had the first concert. The first time we held the concert at Carnegie Hall was in 1994, but there were four concerts before that. This will be the 25th year. The very first concert was at Brooklyn Herald of Music, the second at The Beacon Theater in Manhattan, and the third and fourth concerts were at Town Hall. We stuck to Carnegie Hall as of the fifth concert.

 

By that time the concert had achieved a kind of personality, because I began to put them together with usually eight or nine soloists. It was a concert with an array of artists, and different kinds. We always had people who could sell tickets. We needed that. For example, Iggy Pop is again singing with us this year. Sharon Jones will be there. Gogol Bordello will be there. Twiggy [FKA Twigs] will be there. We’ve had Laurie Anderson, who was not the pop star that she is now when she sang at the concert. One of the things that has always been interesting about the concert is that these people will often do things together. Caetano Veloso did a duet with Laurie Anderson in Carnegie Hall which, if you weren’t at that particular concert, you didn’t get to hear, because we never recorded the concerts. Those were the kinds of recordings that were a little bit too expensive to do then.

 

Most of the money that comes from the concert goes to Tibet, but in the last ten years since Katrina a fair amount of money goes to disasters that happen in other parts of the world. The Tibetan culture is on its feet, so to speak…at least outside of Tibet, and we do help with that, but there are other humanitarian and cultural issues which we can also address. We’re very happy to help. One was a Farm Aid concert. One was a Katrina one. I think I’m slowly getting money for Kathmandu, Nepal, and the Tsunami. Every year there’s a catastrophe.

 

The Tibet House Concert has a very good lineage now; you would be astonished by all the people who have performed there. David Bowie was there twice. Emmylou Harris has been there twice…a lot of people came and then came back. Patti Smith was there many, many times – she is almost a regular, having done eight or nine years in a row. This is probably Iggy Pop’s third time playing with us. When he first participated in the concert it may have been his first time playing at Carnegie Hall, but a lot of these people perform in stadiums and arenas. It’s a very impressive list of people who’ve come here, and it’s a bit of a range.

 

At this point we all pretty much know about Tibet, but in the beginning we had to educate people. People know it has to do with culture – with faith in a culture and with remembering that part of the world and its people. Did you know something like 300 languages disappear every year? Languages are just lost, because people stop speaking them; it can happen in New York still and it can also happen in cultural institutions. What we’re trying to hold on to is the culture, and having that live through.

 

Artwork: Anthony Gerace for NeueJournal

 

The Tibet House Benefit Concert will be held on February 22nd. Purchase tickets here

Carroll Dunham
& Glenn O’Brien

Abstraction, Figuration & Surrealism

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Carroll Dunham is an American painter whose work is defined by its indefinability. While he may have a recognizable style, he plays with abstraction, figuration and surrealism but never seems to settle firmly within any of those school’s confines. Glenn O’Brien is a writer on the subjects of art, music and fashion, also known for his role as GQ’s “Style Guy.” The two old friends stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square to discuss Dunham’s career — how he formed his artistic identity and established himself in New York’s art scene.

 

Glenn O’Brien: How did you get the name “Tip?”

 

Carroll Dunham: I’ve had it since I was a kid.

 

GO’B: Who gave it to you?

 

CD: Either my brother or my cousins. I’m sure I would have ditched it if I hadn’t been stuck with a girl’s name.

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Artwork: Carroll Dunham — LEFT: Terrible Sun 2011 Mixed media on linen 95 1/4 x 75 1/4 inches 241.9 x 191.1 cm | RIGHT: Bathers Eleven (Night Run) 2011 Mixed media on linen 78 1/8 x 66 1/8 inches 198.4 x 168 cm

 

GO’B: In England it’s not a girl’s name.

 

CD: It’s the kind of name you take a lot of crap about growing up, so I kept “Tip.”

 

GO’B: Was it like, there are a lot of famous Carrolls, but no famous Tips?

 

CD: There was one guy on death row called Caryl Chessman when I was a kid. That’s the only “Carroll” I knew about.

 

GO’B: He was the most glamorous murderer of our time. So, when you were becoming an artist, it was not really a time for painting, right?

 

CD: No, not in the way it became a bit later.

 

GO’B: I mean, it was kind of declared dead by various conceptual artists. So, did you become a painter just to be perverse?

 

CD: Partly, I think. The idea that painting isn’t really something you can do in a relevant way has been around the whole time I’ve been an artist. This was something I resisted. I liked the idea that painting seemed to have limits. I like the idea that there’s a place to operate that seems to have a kind of definition and, within that, you can really do anything.

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Artwork: Carroll Dunham — LEFT: Next Bathers, two (dead tree) 2012 Mixed media on linen 61 1/4 x 78 1/4 inches 155.6 x 198.8 cm| RIGHT: Late Trees #2 2011-2012 Mixed media on linen 88 x 68 inches 223.5 x 172.7 cm

 

GO’B: Was there an artist that got you excited about art for the first time?

 

CD: In my case it was Salvador Dalí’s melting clocks and things like that. I always thought I was excited by art, but I didn’t know anything about contemporary art until I came to New York. I can’t really say that environment specifically encouraged me to make paintings, but there were definitely inspiring examples.

 

GO’B: Anyone in particular?

 

CD: I worked for Dorothea Rockburne for a couple of years. The people that she was sort of in dialogue with were interesting, like Robert Ryman. The whole post-minimal aesthetic and approach were the things that got me thinking about my own approach to art and how to make it original.

 

GO’B: Was abstraction a big influence on you?

 

CD: That is all I was interested in. I came to New York in the early 70s, as you did, and there was absolutely nothing going on in representational or figurative painting that was of any interest to me. It was all abstraction, and I actually couldn’t even philosophically believe the idea that you could make representational paintings that would have any relevance or teeth at all. No one would be more surprised that the younger version of me to see what I’ve eventually ended up doing.

 

GO’B: There was this late abstract expressionist generation that kind of went the other way, like Phillip Guston.

 

CD: I was living in New York when Philip Guston first exhibited his, at that time, very controversial late paintings, and I didn’t understand them at all. Most of the older artists I knew were very dismissive of them and confused by them. I just thought it was really fascinating that a 65-year-old man, like Guston, could be that annoying and controversial to people. It wasn’t until quite a bit later that I found a use for those paintings in my own thoughts about art.

 

GO’B: It always seemed to me that there was a connection because what you do is very abstract, but it’s almost like it’s within a representational or quasi-representational context.

 

CD: You look at my paintings and you know that this is a tree and that is a bird. When I started making paintings, we saw art as a kind of demonstration of some set of principles. Abstraction is a word the has become pretty impoverished.

 

GO’B: So what was the first mode or way of painting that you felt was really yours?

 

CD: I made some paintings in the mid-70s that I felt were my work, but I had a full-time job and psychologically it was hard for me to be alone and work. I might have made 3 paintings, but I felt like I was connecting to something and they would give me an idea of how to continue.

 

GO’B: How about your work on wood?

 

CD: I think my wood panels were where it finally clicked that I could use a different kind of drawing vocabulary. The premise was that the painting was an object and it interested me a lot that there could be an illusionistic space that covered the surface of what was clearly an object. The wood veneers seemed to make that really ambiguous and they almost became pictures in themselves. So it reinforced what I was trying to do pictorially and it added this whole new dimension to it.

 

Photography: Harris Mizrahi for NeueJournal 

Chris Milk

Technical & Creative Frontiers

Chris Milk_1

Chris Milk is everywhere. He made a name for himself directing music videos for the likes of Kanye West, U2, Arcade Fire and Green Day, but now the scope of his work extends well beyond the arena of MTV, as he’s become more than just a great storyteller, but one of the pioneers innovating how we tell stories. Straddling the realms of art, photography and film, Milk’s comfort zone seems to lie on both the technical and creative frontiers —  he’s always pushing for new methodologies of experiencing content.

 

The collaboration between Milk’s companies, Vrse & Vrse.works, and The New York Times Magazine will be a bellwether experiment for the practice of virtual reality enhanced journalism. With their partnership launching at NeueHouse Madison Square early this November, NeueJournal caught up with Milk hoping to learn how this particular marriage of technology and storytelling may change more than just how we get our news.

 

NeueJournal: How can VR bolster the power of good journalism?

 

Chris Milk: Journalism is about conveying the truth. And in pursuing that truth, you hope your work affects people. So to craft a journalistic piece in VR simply means using a fresh, different tool to reach people. We as an audience have been inundated with good journalism through the written word, radio, and visual media – like TV and documentaries. But TV and documentaries are meant to “show” you something, whereas VR is meant to take you somewhere. What we try to do is craft stories that literally teleport the viewer, or at least their consciousness. VR can give people a different perspective, instead of just showing them one.

 

NJ: People mostly imagine VR as a tool for gaming or entertainment. What are some possible uses for VR that you think could extend beyond that realm?

 

CM: A lot of people are thinking about VR in so many different ways, and that excites us. We want to see this new medium grow in surprising capacities, and I think it will. I’ve seen some promising directions in medicine, therapy, and especially education.

 

VR, for me, can be an experience maker. What are the moments of real life that we find intriguing, beguiling, or intoxicating? It could be sitting next to a couple at a café in Milan, catching intimate snippets of their conversation. Or it could be a car chase. What I find important is the medium’s ability to share our human experiences, and potentially help people understand one another.

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NJ: How do you think VR will affect our powers of imagination? Will it cause them to atrophy? Will it enhance them?

 

CM: The same question was asked of radio, cinema, and television. And look at the beauty and scope of imagination that came of those tech / human interactions.

 

What’s so great about VR right now is that no one really knows with certainty what shape it’ll take, or what it’ll inspire us to achieve. But all the previous modes of storytelling have broadened our capacity for imagination. It’d be strange to think of VR’s impact as anything short of that.

 

Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Stretch Armstrong

An eye for the underrated

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Since he came onto the scene in the early 90s, DJ and producer Stretch Armstrong (born Adrian Bartos) has been a bellwether tastemaker in the world of music. Whatever the arena, whatever the medium, Stretch has been an influential cultural voice with an eye for the underrated, and a knack for exposing audiences to the hidden gems they need to hear. We caught up with him during his visit to NeueHouse Madison Square and asked some tough questions, hoping to learn a bit more about the man behind the mic.

 

NeueJournal: What song best describes your work ethic?

 

DJ Stretch Armstrong: “Get Into It” by Big Daddy Kane, but that is so not my work ethic. My work ethic is more like “Slow Ride” by Foghat, but not a lot of people know that. Maybe ”Behind The Bush” by the Jungle Brothers.

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NJ: If you could get rid of one state in the US which would it be and why?

 

DJ SA: Oh, Texas. They gotta go. They’re fucking it all up for everybody else. I don’t even think Mexico wants them. I mean, there are plenty of states we can get rid of but Texas, it would be easier to get rid of it because they are where they are, and a lot of those nuts want to be their own country. Other than Austin, it’s just a state that’s produced nothing but horrible presidents, horrible policies, from guns to really xenophobic immigration ideas, and the list goes on.

 

NJ: What do you think about when you are alone in your car?

 

DJ SA: I don’t have a car. I think about all the music I never get a chance to listen to.

 

NJ: Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?

 

DJ SA: Gatherer, all day. First of all, I’m Vegan, so I would say that I’m a forager, which is more akin to being a gatherer. Hunting, in the literal sense, is something I think is completely asinine. Of course, when it comes to music, I am a hunter and I’ve always been a hunter. In my career as a DJ and as a tastemaker, I’ve been known for exposing people to things that they perhaps wouldn’t have been exposed to if they weren’t listening to me. And to do that really meant going to great lengths to find music, whether it was traveling up and down the eastern seaboard in the early 90s, looking for old funk, soul and jazz records, or finding gems to play on the radio and as a club DJ. It was about finding music that would both resonate with people that had never heard it but was also new and challenging. I never really like to just play familiar music.

 

NJ: What are you scared of?

 

DJ SA: Dying. When I hit 40, on vacations when I had a lot of time to think and relax, I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would dawn on me that I’m not going to exist one day. Of course when you don’t exist you’re not aware that you’re not existing, so that’s the one thing that I sort of comfort myself with, that I won’t even know the difference. A lot of people don’t like to admit that they are afraid of dying. I’m definitely afraid of dying. It’s comforting to think that there is something after death, if you can get yourself to a place where you believe it. I mean people have had near-death experiences and have spoken about these incredible euphoric levels of consciousness, but I don’t think they were actually dead. I think they were near-dead. This is getting so morbid…I should have said spiders, mushrooms… I’m not afraid of them; I just find them grotesque.

 

NJ: Describe the color yellow to someone who is blind.

 

DJ SA: Ha. Don’t listen to Coldplay. I guess I would think of mild warmth. Not too hot, just a pleasant level of warmth.

 

NJ: What is your favorite Disney princess?

 

DJ SA: I know nothing about Disney. Was Snow White a princess? Yes! Got one! Snow White. She seems like an incredibly boring and not fun goody-goody. She might be kind of an undercover freak though…

 

NJ: Who would you let punch you directly in the face?

 

DJ SA: My dog does actually hit me in the face. He can’t make a fist, but he paws me straight in the face. When I’m lying in bed and he wants to go out, he comes up and he just, “boom,” right in the face. He is a mix: half chow. He’s a street dog from Thailand — they call them “soi dogs” because soi means street in Thai. When we rescued him, he had a broken leg but now he’s an incredible, confident and demanding dog who can’t stop smacking me in the face.

 

NJ: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do?

 

DJ SA: I used to know the answer to this. I think I would be doing something in the vegan, animal rights realm — some sort of educational or philanthropic thing, which I plan on doing anyway using my position in music and entertainment.

 

NJ: Who was your favorite spice girl?

 

DJ SA: I couldn’t stand the spice girls. Maybe scary spice. Is that an actual girl? Or is that just what you would call someone who is scary? Oh, and Beckham’s wife was a Spice Girl. Yeah, they fucking sucked. They are horrible people…the whole thing was horrible. It was just bad music. I guess they were like the first wave of the horrible pop shit that continues to this day.

 

NJ: What did you care the most about when you were 10 years old?

 

DJ SA: The Beatles. So, we went from the Spice Girls to the Beatles which is a big improvement. I was a Beatles maniac as a kid. When I was 5, I was already like 5 years into playing the drums so it was all about Ringo and The Beatles.

 

NJ: How does the internet work?

 

DJ SA: Ha! It works off of machine spirits. I’m convinced of that because my devices frequently don’t work at the most inopportune times and I’m convinced that they know what’s going on. That sort of contradicts my after-death belief…maybe we become machine spirits?

 

Photography: Chris Luttrell for NeueJournal 
Find Chris on Instagram here

Jane Says

Jane Goodall on The Resilience of Nature

Dr. Jane Goodall As told by Gideon Jacobs | Artwork by:  Karen Kilimnik | NeueJournal Issue 1

You can hear it in her voice—Dr. Jane Goodall is a scientist who is most excited when science is wrong. Of course, as a world-renowned primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist, she places enormous value on the systematic pursuit of knowledge that helps understand and predict. But it’s possible that she places just as much value on the failure of those systems. In the failures lie the surprises, and in the surprises lie what she never hesitates to call “magic.” A species is designated extinct and gone, only to inexplicably reappear years later; a forest is deemed unable to support life, and then sprouts suddenly begin peeking out from under the scorched earth—this is what strikes awe into Goodall. This is the locus of her love of nature, and what fuels her to travel 300 days of the year, at the age of 80, working to protect it. She’s a leader, a hero, an icon, but also something more. Just as the magic of this world can sometimes escape science, the magic of Jane can escape language.

 

At age 10 I decided I’d go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them. “How ridiculous!”—opposition was following me—“You’ll never do that!” It was the middle of the war, we didn’t have any money, Africa was the “Dark Continent,” and I was, of course, just a girl. “You can’t do that!” Well, I suppose I am a very obstinate person because I simply thought, “I very well can do it!” The example lies in the resilience of nature, seeing how green can come back to a once-desolate place that was written off, that would “never” return. But I also look at the pyramids in Egypt, Notre Dame in Paris, and the many people I meet who save these extraordinary but almost-extinct creatures, and I realize what we have done with our brains. I exist in awe of the indomitable human spirit!

 

Sure, our brains may have created some monsters, but we simply cannot dissociate ourselves from who we are. It is our intellect that distinguishes us—an intellect that I believe was born from our sophistication with language, our ability to talk about things that aren’t present, to teach about things that aren’t there, to talk about the ancient past and plan the distant future. This puts us in a place where we are very different from even chimpanzees or whales. Our intellect enables us to have this fascinating dialogue about who we are and why we’re here, to discover in deeper and deeper ways what exactly life is all about. So while our brains may have birthed some terrible things, and while language may be, in some sense, overvalued, without all that, we wouldn’t have the tools to explore the magic of life.

 

The real trouble is that once you lose any kind of spiritual belief in any- thing, you are just focused on a material world. In that mindset, people don’t care anymore. They simply don’t care. They just think of now, and instant gratification in the now.

 

I love being out in nature. I love the forest. I find it immensely, spiritually satisfying to watch animals and be in the world. I travel 300 days of the year, speaking and working, because I want to do my bit to save it. Not just for myself, but for itself. Yes, you have to fight for future generations—I’ve got grandchildren and I hate what we’re doing to the planet when I think of them having grandchildren—but I want nature to survive also for nature’s sake. I fight not just because I want future generations to have a home, but because I want to heal the harm we’ve inflicted on our oceans and forests.

 

People often say that I seem to be at peace and ask me how I’m able to achieve that peace. I think the fact of the matter is that, at the end of most days, I feel as though I’ve done my fair share. I do as much as I can to maximize whatever impact I can make. That sounds a lot tougher than it really is, but it really is quite simple: If you lay down to rest knowing that you can’t do more than you’ve just done, what is there not to be peaceful about?

 

Artwork: Karen Kilimnik for NeueJournal, fairy battle, 2001 Water soluble oil color on canvas, 20 × 16 inches (50.8 × 40.6 cm) KK 2242

© Karen Kilimnik, courtesy 303 Gallery, New York