Wednesday, November 4, 2020

219. Only when we are } hidden bodies.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland begins with a pan & tilt from a teenager’s messy bedroom floor to her bed, where she lies uncovered & asleep. (Not wholly unlike the static opening shot of a sleeping Scarlet Johansson in Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation & not wholly unlike the dolly shot & pan of a sleeping Sheri Moon Zombie in Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem.) Her alarm clock radio blares Anvil’s “Wild Eyes” (“evil knows I fell / in your evil spell”). Her mother shouts “Maria, turn down that radio!” Maria, played by Kashina Kessler, replies, “Today’s the day I’m going to camp!” She has a book on her pink & yellow side table—I can’t read the title. She gets out of bed, walks to her bedroom window. Outside—judging by the light—it’s a bright morning; the window blind is red (a detail I find quite odd), the drapes are blue with a pattern of orange fish & shells & coral. She says, “Ma, did you hear me, I’m going to camp today.” He mother replies, “Yeah, I heard you, what do you want me to do about it?” At her dresser she peels off her t-shirt—she’s been on screen for under 30 seconds. She wants her mother to walk her to the bus “or anything”; her mother is not interested. It’s too early. A man’s voice interjects, “Hey, shut up.” Ma says, “You shut up.” Maria says, “You both shut up” while she looks at herself in a mirror. She adds, “I’m going to camp & I might never come back.” Above her left breast is tattooed the word “milk”; above her right breast “shake”—her chest fills the frame. Presumably this is meant to be funny.

Cut to a city street. Maria exits the Mitchell St. Hotel building—which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me—& is on her way to the bus that’s going to take her to Camp New Horizons. She’s promptly chased by a black & red garbage truck into an alley filled with garbage where she’s run over. By Pamela Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen’s sister.

Pamela—who plays Angela—puts Maria’s body into the truck’s compactor. Somehow after she does this she’s dressed in Maria’s blue “I [heart] NY” t-shirt & has Maria’s ID. She takes Maria’s place on the Camp New Horizons bus. When the bus pulls away it reveals the message, spray painted on a white brick wall in red, “Angela is back!”

Heavy metal! Nudity! Mayhem! All by minute 3:53. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but if Sleepaway Camp III maintained that level of lunacy, I’d be hailing it a classic.

It has its moments: Angela murders a local news journalist (who’s driving a red Ferrari) with a gram of Ajax (the journalist believes its cocaine), Angela fishes a hockey mask out of the lake, Michael J. Pollard seduces a camper by flashing a Playboy Bunny belt buckle at her, & Angela nonchalantly dispatches the camp’s director with a lawnmower. Otherwise, Sleepaway Camp III is boring.

Not to suggest I wouldn’t have watched it anyway, but the reason I watched Sleepaway Camp III was to see an actor who stood out to me in a less boring but also stupid movie, Night of the Demons.

There’s a video on YouTube posted by Jamaal Bradley that celebrates Rodger (portrayed by Alvin Alexis) as “One of the few brothers to survive a horror film.” What stood out to me about Night of the Demons is that it features an actor I assumed was Asian American (she’s Asian Canadian, in fact)— Jill Terashita. She doesn’t have much of a role, but I can’t think of a whole lot of 80s horror movies with Asian actors. In Night of the Demons, Terashita’s character is just part of the gang; in Sleepaway Camp III she’s a leather-jacket-wearing tough.


Terashita’s acting career was brief. She did the bulk of her work between 1985 & 1990. She was “part of the gang” in a War Games rip-off flick called Terminal Entry. I haven’t seen it. Otherwise her credits include “first bikini girl” & “hostess”—nothing notable.

In Night of the Demons her character’s name is “Frannie.” In Sleepaway Camp III her character’s name is “Arab.” I’m not sure what to make of that.



[ Images: scenes from Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989). Kashina Kessler chased by a dump truck, Jill Terashita reacting. ]

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

218. "...a horrible parody } of human speech."


During my first graduate workshop, in addition to the stories we wrote and workshopped, we were asked to bring copies of a published story for the workshop to discuss—the idea being (I presume) that a published story has accomplished what we in workshop hoped to accomplish.

This is a standard workshop practice that’s pedagogically useful for a number of reasons: published stories can be critiqued without wounding a student’s ego, it requires students to read what they’re trying to write, it challenges the assumption that all published writing is good, & it tests the instructor’s ability to discuss work the instructor didn’t select for the course. It’s also a practice abused by lazy instructors who don’t want to plan a course. OK—so long as the instructor is an able critic.

My instructor was not an able critic.

Admittedly, I selected a story I assumed would frustrate him, which is obnoxious of me. I chose “Dream of a Manikin” from Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer—multiple dreams w/in dreams, very little action to speak of, literary references (to Madame Bovary & the Zhuangzi), & Ligotti’s style are all elements anathema to my instructor, a devotee of 1970s/80s American realism. I was embarrassed for him when, after allowing a few students to comment on the story, he dismissed it out of hand by telling us he looked it up online and on one of the fan sites he found Nabokov’s name misspelled. I was flummoxed. What did a Ligotti fan site have to do with our analysis? Why was my instructor Googling the story for answers like a high school student assigned to write a book report?

I know why. He didn’t understand the story but was unwilling to admit he didn’t understand it.

But I didn’t bring the story into workshop only to reveal my instructor’s weaknesses; I sincerely hoped someone would be willing to unpack the story with me—I hoped for a discussion! I certainly didn’t understand “Dream of a Manikin.”

Since then, a Penguin Classics edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer (paired with Grimscribe, Ligotti’s second collection) was published. I wonder how that might have impacted my instructor’s opinion? Would he have responded to the legitimizing effect of such a “serious” treatment?

(How serious? Thus far I’ve found two typographical errors [p. 12, p. 208; the former does not appear in my Carol & Graff first edition; the latter does], there are no notes, & Jeff Vandermeer’s forward is slight. Gripes aside, I’m grateful for this affordable edition—too much good horror fiction is available only in expensive, limited-run editions. The Penguin makes it possible for me to teach Ligotti—as I’m doing this semester.)

If a parody of a Ligotti story was to be written, it would be “Dream of a Manikin.” Minus a high-peaked attic & masks, it’s got all the Ligottian elements! Psychiatry bordering on mysticism (AKA bad psychiatrists), dreams within dreams (within dreams), the aforementioned non-genre literary references, manikins (“dollings”/puppets), self-loathing gods (& self-loathing in general), the cosmos (“star-clustered blackness”), & un peu de fran├žais. I don’t suppose I would bring it to workshop now. Maybe instead “The Sect of the Idiot.”

Friday, September 11, 2020

217. William Wordsworth & } a number “n.”




Stumbled across this passage in the little book The Great Mathematicians (Herbert Western Turnbull):
… But the greatest figure of all was William Rowan Hamilton, who made two splendid discoveries, an early one in optics, on the Principle of Least Action, and later the Quaternions in algebra. He was born in 1805, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where at the age of twenty-one he became Professor of Astronomy, continuing to hold the office until 1865, the year of his death. He was a poet, and a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and between these three passed a highly interesting correspondence, dealing with philosophy, science, and literature.
Ah-ha! Just months earlier I read the following lines in Wordsworth’s Prelude (1850):

‘Tis told by one whom stormy waters threw,
With fellow-sufferers by the shipwreck spared,
Upon a desert coast, that having brought
To land a single volume by chance,
A treatise on Geometry, he wont,
Although of food and clothing destitute,
And beyond common wretchedness depressed,
To part from company and take this book
(Then first a self-taught pupil in its truths)
To spots remote, and draw his diagrams
With a long staff upon the sand, and thus
Did oft beguile his sorrow…

Alas, according to a footnote in the Norton Critical Prelude, the shipwrecked mathematician is not Hamilton, but John Newton. & John is not either of the Newtons mentioned in The Great Mathematicians, nor was John Newton acquainted with Wordsworth or Coleridge; Dorothy Wordsworth read his book & shared Newton’s geometry anecdote with her brother.

Hamilton’s thesis, Account of a Theory of Systems of Rays has to do with how light travels. According to Turnbull, Hamilton’s thesis has the “hard-won distinction of triumphantly surviving the latter-day revolution caused by the theory of Relativity.”

My expectation was that Turnbull’s The Great Mathematicians would end with Albert Einstein, but no; it ends with Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose “greatest monument is a theorem that he discovered jointly with [Harold Godfrey] Hardy, dealing with the partitions of a number n.” As I understand it, Ramanujan worked his way through the history of mathematics by his own genius. Based on “the contents of his mystifying notebooks” he was invited to England where he became a Fellow of Trinity College and of the Royal Society. “Unhappily,” writes Turnbull, “[Ramanujan’s] residence in England destroyed his health, and the year after his return to India he died.”


[ Image: Ramanujan's geometric construction for approximately "squaring the circle" lifted from the blog post "Who Was Ramanujan?" by Stephen Wolfram. ]

Monday, August 31, 2020

216. “…fully armored warrior on } a barded horse….”


Two new fragments from my corpus:

“June first,” from Ovid’s Fasti, explains why we honor the goddess of the hinge w/ humble food. Written for the summer solstice issue of Eternal Haunted Summer, edited by Rebecca Buchanan. Rebecca paid me for my work, for which I am grateful.

Editors Wendy Chen & Anna Mebel took “*/texture”—a Nada poem, part of a growing MS. of work—for Figure 1 issue 4b. Figure 1 is beautiful—an image at first unintelligible to me, a piece of armor for a horse, each plate corresponds to an author (our names at the end of leading lines); our names/poems = the name of the specific armor plate. I am the bit of armor that protects a horse’s right ear. Chen & Mebel took great care to get the arrangement of my poem just right (& I was persnickety).

Do editors Chen & Mebel know that horse armor is barding? How ridiculously apt.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

215. Erin Johnson } “Lake (Skowhegan, ME)” 2020




Is it queer to float together in a lake?

18 artists (“a group of friends, peers, and lovers”), video-recorded by a drone, (mostly) float on their backs in Lake George, a lake in Skowhegan, Maine. Clustered & centered, the artists tend to float apart. (The artist who, at the video’s start, floats at the heart of the cluster, floats furthest from the group—gradually off-screen.) The artists wear bathing suits; most of the suits are black or black & white; half are one-piece. A turquoise one-piece, a yellow & pale blue two-piece, & black & neon-green swimsuits stand out—amongst the group & against the background—

the lake. The lake appears black. & gray where it ripples.

“Lake (Skowhegan, ME)” is currently part of Unnamed for Decades, an exhibition of Johnson’s work at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. “Lake”—a 4:30 min. video—is projected in a dark room on a single screen. Two other videos—“Tomatoes (Skowhegan, ME)” & “There are things in this world that have yet to be named”—accompany “Lake” in the exhibition. “Tomatoes” is a three-channel video w/ a rhythm of repeated moments; people eating & holding bright red tomatoes. “There are things…” shows Bucknell University’s Solanum plastisexum lab & the Australia section in Los Angeles’s Huntington Botanical Garden. Passages from love letters between Rachel Carson & Dorothy Freeman are read & the phrase “there are things in this world that have yet to be named” is chanted.

Accompanying the show is this explanatory text:

In an adjacent series of photographs and video installations, a group of friends, peers, and lovers engage in collective queer and desirous exchanges such as eating tomatoes in a field and floating together in a lake.
“Tomatoes” = “desirous exchanges” I suppose; “There are things…”—w/ gender-fluid plants & the text between two women in an indefinable relationship clearly is interested in queer exchanges. “Lake,” however? Read “In [a] video [installation], a group of friends, peers, and lovers engage in collective queer and desirous exchanges such as… floating together in a lake.”
Such as floating together in a lake?

“Lake” strikes me as transcendently free of desire; free from ideological labelling.

I read the term “queer” as welcoming & wide open, so by all means floating together in a lake can be queer, but it can also not be queer.

Erin Johnson’s videos are subtler & stranger than the explanatory texts that accompany them. Watch any of the three videos & you’ll see how frustratingly reductive the texts are. Possibly written by a curator, possibly written by Johnson herself (likely the case—a nearly word-for-word description accompanied the same exhibition—under a different name [Nightshade] at the Iris Project), I suggest viewing & not reading—it is, after all, a video & thus meant to be looked at. I find it both calming & mysterious.

“Lake” ought to be watched on a big screen in a dark gallery—alone. Unfortunately, we can’t do that now. But we can watch it on Johnson’s website where there is no artist or curator’s statement to undermine its power.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

214. Harold Redicliffe “Fourteen Paper Cups” } & Terry Bisson “Bears Discover Fire.”


Aunt Marie gave me Terry Bisson’s short story collection Bears Discover Fire; I must’ve read it soon after I saw Redicliffe’s “Fourteen Paper Cups” (1996) at the Pepper Gallery; on the back of the promotional postcard I wrote the titles of the stories I liked. I liked the collection’s titular story—it’s the only one I remember. The title is literal. Bears have discovered fire. “Fourteen Paper Cups” is a pretty literal title, too. Arranged on a red counter top (with aluminum trim) are fourteen paper cups. Six white, six teal, one blue, one red. Some of the cup are crumpled and on their side, some dented but upright. Behind the cups is a solid dark blue/gray; beneath the counter it’s white—a brighter white than the white cups. At the start of an interview of Redicliffe conducted by Larry Groff, Groff asks, “Can you speak about the difference between what you do and photorealism?” Redicliffe defines photorealism as painting from photographs, which he does not do. But Groff is onto something else. The objects in Redicliffe’s painting are near photoreal—you would not mistake the postcard reproduction of “Fourteen Paper Cups” for a photograph the way might mistake a postcard reproduction of Gerhard Richter’s “Betty” (1988) for a photograph. Redicliffe’s choice of a monochromatic background is a tip-off. The cups themselves—if the title wasn’t “Fourteen Paper Cups,” I’d’ve gone on thinking they were plastic.

The postcard reproduction is 2” x 3”—this reduction suits “Fourteen Paper Cups”—the show was called Small Paintings. On a visit to the gallery, I held “Fourteen Paper Cups.”

If bears discover fire, do they cook? Do they light their caves? We know what happens next.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

213. Susan Schwalb } “Vibration V” 1998.



“Vibration V” refers to an effect:
In my wood panels I began by carving thin lines into the surface after which I applied several layers of paint or gesso. Then, after lightly sanding the surface, enriched the surface with bronze tones and metalpoint drawing. The works seem to vibrate as the eye moves around the painting.
“Vibration V” (1998), acrylic and metalpoint on paper on wood, 30” x 30” x 2,” by Susan Schwalb, presumably “seem[s] to vibrate” as does “Toccata 1” (2010), silverpoint, acrylic on wood, 30” x 30”—
In Toccata… a large yellow surface with contrasting pink highlights is covered with carved lines and metalpoint drawing so that it seems to vibrate as the eye moves around the painting.
At the RISD Museum is Richard Anuszkiewicz’s “Primary Hue” (1964), a painting that also seems to vibrate. Vibration is an apparent effect even with a reproduction of “Primary Hue”; vibration is not apparent with a reproduction of “Vibration V”—or with any of Schwalb’s work. Neither are her works subtle tonal shifts: “Vibration V” becomes strata only.

Schwalb’s focus is her materials. Whenever she is interviewed, she teaches the materials. This is metalpoint, this is the ground. Although music flavors her work (thus, “Toccata 1”), music does not inform her work. Her idea is to make lines (mostly horizontal lines) within the constraints of metalpoint.

Twelve years of work from “Vibration V” to “Toccata 1,” horizontal lines etched with metal into a variety of grounds brushed onto 30” x 30” wood panels (in an interview promoting her 2013 show Spatial Polyphonies: New Metalpoint Drawings, she’s asked about the wood panels. “So, do you have these made or do you do them yourself?” Schwalb lowers her voice and replies, “No. I have them made. I have a wonderful person who does this for me.” The she doesn’t make the panels contrasts with her approach to prepping the surface she etches— “Most of the artists who work in metalpoint today use commercially prepared paper. Coating the paper takes a long time, but it is an important part of my creative process.” Making the panels or not; making the ground or not—choices about what’s important enough to take time).

Time! Decades spent etching horizontal lines with a wide metal band into sanded coats of gesso. “An even grid of narrow horizontal lines forms the basic structure of my drawings and paintings.” “…groups of horizontal bands are carefully (but intuitively) measured.” “…[A]lways searching for a finer and finer line.”

A.R. Ammon’s register tape fed into a typewriter but instead of verse, hyphens only.

Or, had Mark Rothko not committed suicide.