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Misfits and Hooligans Interview: Tom Flaherty and Quintan Ana Wikswo

25 Apr

In the second in our series of interviews with artists leading up to the Misfits and Hooligans concert on April 28 at Beyond Baroque, we talk to interdisciplinary filmmaker/visual artist/writer  (and Catalysis Projects Core Artist) Quintan Ana Wikswo, and composer Tom Flaherty.

     

Can you tell us a bit about your work that’s being presented on the 28th?

TF: “Shepard’s Pi” a piece that explores weird sonic characteristics of the toy piano, whose lowest notes can sound higher than its highest notes. The live toy piano is accompanied by electronic transmogrifications of itself, and the player gets to dance with a funhouse mirror of his or her playing.

QW: I have two new pieces on the 28th – one is a collaboration with Veronika Krausas: her music JONAS with my poem cycle and 35mm film suite, called THE ANGUILLADAE EATERS. The second piece is my film projection APIMANIAS, which I created to go alongside Aron Kallay’s phenomenal toy piano performance of Tom Flaherty’s equally-phenomenal and intriguing SHEPARD’S PI.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

TF: Named after cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard, a Shepard scale is an audio illusion in which a scale seems to rise endlessly, without getting higher. The constituent pitches consist of several simultaneous octaves, which fade out at the top of the scale and fade in at the bottom. Taken out of the moving context, the actual octave register of a note is ambiguous to the ear. A toy piano displays similar ambiguity: as the length of the sounding rods at lowest keys is too short to produce a true bass note, its overtones are louder than its fundamental pitch. Taken out of context the lowest F can sound more like its C overtone, an octave and a fifth higher. This ambiguity is part of the charm of the toy piano, and Shepard’s Pi enjoys playing with that charm, with lots of scales that seem not to get higher, sonorities whose octave register is ambiguous, and moments where the meter and tempo could be heard in several different ways.

Oh yes, pi. Just as pi = 3.14159265. . ., so too Shepard’s Pihas slightly more than three electronically produced sounds (all derived from the sound of the toy piano), sections, and tempi.

QW: When I first encountered Tom Flaherty’s “Shepard’s Pi,” the word “apimanias” began spiraling through my mind alongside the music. I find the musical work quite charming and endearing – it suggests an obsessive, insistent structural precision, a kind of auditory engineering that is similar to the unrelenting, exciting din of skyscraper construction – something rising, and yet never seeming to finish. Admirable, and inexorable, it’s the din of highly controlled creation. I immediately thought of bees. The preoccupying, intrusive, dominating and yet subtly complex sound of their wings spiraling in circles of flight – annoying, but breathtaking, and also quite gorgeous. As I read the score of Tom’s piece, the carefully nested progression of concentric octaves somehow echoed the precise mathematics bees use to build the structure of their hive. The Greek mathematician Archimedes approximated Pi by inscribing a hexagon into a circle: that is at the heart of bee geometry as well – their honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells that contain their larvae, honey and pollen. And dreams. The word Apimanias means “an excessive interest in bees.” And hidden within the word Apimanias is another word: pi.

While I was working on my B/ee-Movie, I became obsessed by the posture of the bees – their hunched backs bent down intently over their mathematical task. This ominous, slightly maniacal physical shape that suggests obsession and inexorable focus. During this time, I saw a video of Tom’s piece in performance and recognized an uncanny similarity between the bees and the toy piano player – both hump-backed and crouched, singlemindedly constructing geometry within a creation device…I suspect the honeycomb and the piano may serve the same function for two different species. Or perhaps, not so different species. I know pianists have very good posture, especially Aron.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Do you consider yourself a hooligan or a misfit? Or both? Or neither?

TW: Definitely misfit. That used to be a requirement for admission to the Composer’s Union, though they may have relaxed their standards in recent years.
Perhaps hooligan, to my students.
film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

QW: I am probably mostly like a bee: both a misfit and a hooligan. Currently, there is an astonishingly large, obnoxious and ungainly wood-boring bee attempting to drill through the wall of my studio. At first, I thought it was a lawnmower. All that trouble from just a little fellow. There is a punk quality to its uncaring response to being in the way, being noisy and obstreperous, and generally being just not much of a joy to have around…but it’s just being a bee. And honestly, there’s also something quite silly about them in their ridiculous fuzzy carapace and ungainly wings and their sentimental affection for overwrought flowers. Yet nevertheless, bees can kill people. Lots of people are terrified of all sorts of bees – perhaps because they’re also very unpredictable. One never knows if a bee will kill somebody – they’re just as likely to land on your fingertip and slurp up a bit of tasty sweat as to put one into the grave.

But getting back to your question – it’s just the bee’s nature to drill and buzz and annoy and terrify and make life happen, and pollinate, and cross-polinate, and create. They are the best sorts of misfits and hooligans.

As far as new music, I think that Saturday’s concert – and new music in general – won my heart a long time ago with its ability to be the bee…to cause shock and horror, discomfort, and make enemies without even trying – but also to be a bit silly and ungainly, and wobbly and fragile and peculiar. Invariably someone seems to walk out of a concert once they realize the violin in never going to sound like Debussy. They seem partly ashamed of themselves – as if they know they must be missing something – but also betrayed by their friend, the obedient violin. So much new music invariably horrifies unsuspecting audience members who want to expect the expected. And that’s really quite thrilling to be within.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Tell us about the most memorable oddball instrument you’ve ever encountered.

TF: There was a vegetable orchestra in Vienna a couple or years ago. That’s got to rank pretty high on the list. But clearly this question deserves greater thought.

QW: I grew up in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee way out in the country, and my brother played dulcimer at Appalachian and mountain music jamborees. Jamborees are a glorious experience in making a lot of something from nothing. And for truly transcendent expression to come from the least likely situations, and equipment. I was probably about six years old and we were in some mountain hollow filled with hickory smoke and crickets and desolation, way out there in the Smokey Mountains.

Up on stage come these tiny blonde triplets in overalls, each holding a pair of spoons. Honestly, at first they made me really hungry. Everything in the south will make you hungry if you look at it the right way, but spoons just looked delicious. I kept thinking of what they were about to eat on that little rattletrap wood stage, and what it had to do with mountain music. Then it was just like a lightning storm descended into their little pink hands – flashes of bright white shining light and all sorts of glorious rhythm and vibration and clattering whirring cadence. They played a waltz. And a hoedown.

And a “fiddler’s choice” piece that probably belonged in a temple to some unknown displaced haint. They’d hit those spoons on the snaps and buckles of their little overalls. Just to get more range. I guess I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear something equally transcendent and shocking, but it hasn’t happened yet. Those girls really knew how to play their spoons.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

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QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO INTERVIEWS JAMES ILGENFRITZ

6 Oct

by QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO

On October 29, 2011, Issue Project Room Artist-in-Residence James Ilgenfritz presents The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera. Based on William Burroughs’ 1962 dystopian novel about identity disintegration, oppression of humanity’s collective consciousness through technological influence, and revolution through the subversion of those very technologies.

There are only a few artists whose grip upon my adolescent sensibilities was so thorough, so relentless, and so transmogrifying that I actually feel I absorbed them into my atomic matter.  William Burroughs is one such artist (Kathy Acker is another). A few hours after my own peculiar live performance works premiered last month in NYC, I happened to have a restorative beer alongside the delightfully insightful Brooklyn composer, bassist and educator James Ilgenfritz – he mentioned that my aesthetics seemed imbued with a certain Burroughsian hue, a certain WSB stink.

Yes, I said, with a fanatic, quivering gleam in my eye. Are you, too, an admirer of his existence?

When James said he was in fact creating a new opera based off Burrough’s The Ticket That Exploded, and that it would be premiering at the end of October at Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn, I knew I would soon have to dissect the whorls and fissures of this likeminded brain over a nice pint of Belgian hops.

And so a few weeks later we adjourned to BierKraft in Park Slope to talk about the re-sexualization of narrative structure, the infliction of aesthetic discomfort,  the kinds of weeds that are engulfing William’s old car in the back yard, and James’ kickstarter campaign for the project.


QUINTAN: It seems that while some people are immune to the Burrough’s bug, some of us come down with it pretty badly and learn to treasure the aesthetic infection.  To create an opera seems highly symptomatic of this kind of full-fledged chronic infestation. I am fairly confident at this point that you’re highly contaminated.

What initially attracted you to Burroughs’ writing, and to this project in particular? 

JAMES: I read Naked Lunch in high school in the mid-90s and was drawn to both the unapologetic approach he took to disturbing imagery and the unorthodox structure to his writing. At that time there was a wealth of information on his work– the film came out, which was extremely inspiring though not necessarily related to what intrigued me about the book. I was fascinated both by his persona and by his bizarre creations.

I’ve long been fascinated by art that both elicits an immediate visceral response and then also requires a fair amount of consideration after the fact in order to begin to understand. I’ve read that this is what initially confounded listeners when they encountered Charlie Parker, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman for the first time. This definitely happened for me with Ornette’s music, though I was more prepared for both Cecil and Bird.

Naked Lunch definitely did that for me. I spent a long time considering the implications of opening that door, and I’m doing that now with this opera. When the residency at Issue Project Room came along, I knew I wanted to find ways to both challenge myself to create more ambitious work, but also to find a way to more fully address the unspoken force that guides my artistic hand, so to speak.

I quickly recognized that Burroughs’ work had a resonance that I’d been overlooking for a while, probably since the early 2000s when I last read one of his books. My copy of The Ticket That Exploded found its way into my life in 2010 in a very capricious fashion, and I tend to appreciate those fleeting moments- I like to build something big on a foundation that could almost have not happened.

QUINTAN:  The most phenomenal artworks really are a kind of pathology – there is the initial shock of contagion, and then a long time living with how it unfolds in the body, its repercussions and consequences and how the host adapts…or doesn’t. It requires a whole different kind of aesthetic outlook to create work that unfolds perhaps weeks or years after that initial encounter…an encounter that can often be quite unpleasant or uncomfortable or distasteful.  A sort of Darwinian approach to audiences, perhaps [laughter].

When I talk to people about Burroughs, the idea of Lawrence, Kansas often emerges as an imagined place – some sort of epic spacetime coordinate that lives only in mythos.. I went on a pilgrimage there as a teenager and it ended up being quite a bizarre, beautiful experience – I suspect it’s nearly impossible to have a normal, tidy, sane experience of his domain.

How did you end up making your trip to WSB’s house in Lawrence, Kansas, and what was that like? I half-expected to see his corpse in the driver’s seat of that car. A datsun, perhaps?

JAMES: As my idea to turn Ticket into an opera turned into a strong determination, two issues arose: one was that I felt that I wanted a more direct connection to the man. The creative work I’m doing is based on my personal experiences encountering his creative work, but I wanted another level of personal connection to Burroughs the historical figure. The other issue was that I wanted to make sure that I would be allowed to do this! Elliott Sharp helped me get in touch with James Grauerholz, who was a close friend and professional associate of Burroughs for the last couple decades of his life. James was very helpful on both counts.

It turned out that that day I could be in Kansas was a Thursday, a day where traditionally Burroughs and many of his associates in Lawrence would get together for a pot luck. So James and Tom King, who lives at the house and maintains the property, invited everyone back over and we had a wonderful evening full of stories and some incredible food.

Towards the end of the evening I gave a short concert, which was recorded and is now on Youtube. The experience was really great, because it gave me a chance to get some first-hand accounts from folks who knew him quite well. They were all quite gracious– as one can imagine, there are a fair number of random people who show with somewhat voyeuristic intentions because of his notoriety, but they were quite appreciative of my work and were all quite helpful– I’m definitely grateful for them referring me to Andre Perkowski, who has made an incredible film based on the Nova Express.

QUINTAN: Burroughs had a really shattering impact on many artists’ sense of narrative – not just textual, but visual and cognitive as well. He has the ability to take a subject that could be highly coherent and smash it over your head, leaving you to assemble the pieces within your own consciousness…or not. That smashing gives a lot of respect and power and responsibility to the audience, and serves as a reminder that our brains are capable of abstract aesthetic sleuthing. Fragments and shards force us to do the heavy lifting. It’s one of the aspects I love the most about his work.

Given the number of shifting components available within opera – text, voice, plot, stage setting, narrative, instruments and the multivalent score itself – how are you approaching Burroughs’ unorthodox deconstruction of narrative?

JAMES: Burroughs’ approach resonates with those of some of my favorite musical innovators– Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Feldman. These are all artists from whom I have learned things about texture, methodology, and structure. They have created work that challenged the concept of linearity and narrative, all in very different ways.

Opera is, in my mind, one of the great formats for synthesis, juxtaposition, cross-pollination, and appropriation, so I am looking to assemble a variety of performative methodologies in this work. The structure itself is modular– there are numerous discrete episodes which will be assembled in real-time during the performance. This is why I am referring to this as an “ongoing opera”– the materials will always fit together differently. Not only because the sections will not necessarily happen in the same order every time, but also because many of the sections incorporate indeterminacy and improvisation as well as notation with more implicit directionality.

I came up in a time where many filmmakers were experimenting with nonlinearity, from David Lynch to Quentin Tarantino. As I began to learn more about compositional structures that dealt with nonlinearity, I really started to see something that attracted me in a deep way. This opera actually has a big mixture of linear structures and various curved structures.

QUINTAN: I would be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t steer our conversation towards  the significance of gender and genitalia in these poly-matrix narrative constructions and compositional structures. You take 20th century queer artists – Burroughs and Kathy Acker and the phenomenal Monique Wittig, for example – who looked at how sexualized biological forms impacted narrative structure. That the “plot arc” is a male orgasmic structure. That linearity is rather penile. That a circular structure with multiple climaxes is a feminine construction…and so forth.

Their work has a conscious scatological, genital “obscenity” to it that really startles us out of these static forms and encourages us to tell our stories within a far broader framework of structures.

JAMES: Absolutely, I think Burroughs’ work shatters linearity in this violent and beautiful way. I’ve been inspired for a while by artists whose work identifies linearity as a phallic structure that needs balance. It was a great experience for me, seeing Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum– a pretty deep experience, as was an experience I had a the Whitney a while back with the work of performance artist Hannah Wilke, whose work Through the Large Glass, which was represented in an exhibit called Off The Wall: Thirty Performative Actions (which inspired the title to my work Three Performative Acts, premiered earlier this year at Issue Project Room).

What was included in the show was a couple large images of Hanna’s performance in the 1970s– images of her standing naked, photographed through the shattered glass of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare. Meanwhile, one floor down was a work by Christian Marclay that included film footage of Duchamp discussing the shattering of the glass, and how he felt it improved the very sexually explicit (though profoundly abstract) work.

I find similar beauty in the way Burroughs’ work, especially in the Cut-Up trilogy (that includes Ticket, along with The Nova Express and the Soft Machine) seems to shatter linearity. My hope is to do that with this opera.

QUINTAN: I encourage everyone to check out the opera itself on October 29th at Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and to contribute your available pocket change to your Kickstarter campaign. Keep us posted with your progress, and let’s go have another beer.

 

 

ABOUT THE OPERA:

On October 29, 2011, Issue Project Room Artist-in-Residence James Ilgenfritz presents The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera. Based on William Burroughs’ 1962 dystopian novel about identity disintegration, oppression of humanity’s collective consciousness through technological influence, and revolution through the subversion of those very technologies.  Featuring live vocalists Ted Hearne, Nick Hallett, Anne Rhodes, and Megan Schubert, video vocalists Melissa Hughes, Steve Dalachinsky, and Ryan Opperman, an ensemble of thirteen instrumentalists, and live video projections from Jason Ponce, the opera will be organized using the same cut-up techniques and emphasis on fragmentation of language that distinguishes Burroughs’ literary work.

An ongoing opera is one which has set material but is perpetually reconfigured during the performance, mixing composed material with indeterminate composition strategies and conducted improvisations. With zero staging, all visuals are conveyed through projected live video manipulations.  Pre-recorded video performances will facilitate vocalists to interact with other vocalists who are not present, or even to sing a duet with themselves. These efforts to perpetually repurpose the musical and visual content of the opera are a direct effort on my part to draw comparisons between the performative and the generative– to make the very act of reorganizing materials function both as a blueprint for making art and as art itself.

Anne Rhodes, Megan Schubert, Ted Hearne, Nick Hallett: Voices

Steve Dalachinsky, Ryan Opperman, Melissa Hughes: Video voices

Jay Rozen: tuba

Sam Kulik: trombone

Douglas Detrick: trumpet

Justin Wood: alto saxophone, flute

Mike McGinnis: clarinet / bass clarinet / flute

Julianne Carney: violin

Nathan Bontrager: cello

Denman Maroney: piano

Andrew Drury, John O’Brien, Vinnie Sperazza: Percussion

Taylor Levine, Ty Citerman: Guitar/Electronics

Nicholas DeMaison: Conductor

Jason Ponce: Video Artist / Live Processing

ABOUT JAMES ILGENFRITZ

Brooklyn composer, bassist, and educator James Ilgenfritz has been active in creative music since 1999. His work has been praised in Time Out New York, All About Jazz, and Downbeat Magazine. Recent performances include work with Lukas Ligeti, Pauline Oliveros, Elliott Sharp, Steve Swell, John Zorn, and Anthony Braxton. James has received grants and residencies from Issue Project Room, the American Composers Forum, and OMI Arts Center.

Notable performance venues include Roulette, The Kitchen, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, The World Financial Center Winter Garden, Symphony Space, and the New Museum in SoHo. James hosts the Ten Thousand Hours Podcast, featuring conversations and duets with such musical innovators as Robert Dick and Pauline Oliveros.

In 2011 James is Artist-In-Residence at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of California San Diego. James is on Faculty at the Preparatory Center of Brooklyn College and at Brooklyn Conservatory.

ABOUT QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO

Quintan Ana Wikswo is a multidisciplinary artist whose projects integrate photography, original text, multichannel and projected video and film, site specific installation, and performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Working with damaged antique battlefield cameras and military typewriters, Ms. Wikswo explores unmarked locations where obscured histories and crimes against humanity have taken place.   Her projects appear in museums, galleries, performance spaces and publications throughout Europe, Asia and the US.

The first major solo museum survey of her work appears at the Smithsonian-affiliated Yeshiva University Museum in Chelsea/NYC from August 2011-Feb 2012.

Narrow Lands Production: Deborah Martin Notes from the Studio

21 Jun

This NOTES FROM THE STUDIO column features CP Core Artist Deborah Martin,  a contemporary realist painter, fine art photographer and curator. Visit her work online here.

 

The Drawer 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

I am in a painting frenzy working on 10 paintings that will be shipped out to Cape Cod, MA in mid July. While I attended the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, I used to frequent Provincetown. Duirng one of my visits to Provincetown, I spent the night in the very house that several of the paintings and poems from this exhibit are based on. The house has since been abandoned. I actually had forgotten that I had slept in the house-with a gang of girls (strewn about on the floor.) The memory came back to me later while working on the selection of images for this series. I have made a complete circle.

NARROW LANDS is an ongoing multidisciplinary collaborative project between CP Core Artists Quintan Ana Wikswo and Deborah Martin. For any one living on the East Coast anywhere near Provincetown-I hope you will have a chance to see this exhibit.

Here’s a note from the press release:

Martin’s sea bleached and dusty-colored paintings exist in intimate conversation with Wikswo’s spare, sensual prose poems, yielding poignant and often enticing portraits of Provincetown buildings and the women who live and love within them.

Together, the works inhabit a uniquely Provincetown landscape, forming a powerful meditation on human erosion, transformation and renewal, and a powerful encounter with the Cape itself.

The fine art book NARROW LANDS: Paintings and Prose Poems has been published by CATALYSIS PROJECTS, and will be available in hardback and paperback.

Here is a preview of one of Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Poems that will be part of the upcoming exhibition and Narrow Lands Book.

THE DRAWER

by Quitnan Ana Wikswo

The veins on the back of her hand a delta, veins swollen and exposed. Under the nails – dulled and chipped – oyster shells nibbled in hopes of reaching the meat.

On her wrist, split blood vessels hunched and sharp as sea nettles.

Her nose arches over her long neglected mouth, and a dangling brown braid locked tight against the salt and moisture of the coast.

She wishes she’d been born looking like this, some fierce seafaring Venus sprung from a whale, split asunder and screaming on the shore.

But instead she’s grown this way, and slowly.

Slow enough to notice.

Hamper 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

This is a painting I am working on titled Hamper. I  have yet to tackle this hamper which is still outlined here in Pencil.

All three of the images included in this blog post are based on the house in Provincetown I made reference to. I hear that the house is owned by Penny and Chuck who are residents of Provincetown. My dear friend Linnie relayed that she ran into Penny and Chuck and had told them about these paintings coming to Provincetown. I wonder if they will come to the opening. As I write this I am thinking how strange this all is and how somehow we are all connected…

The Narrow Lands exhibit opens August 5th -24th, 2011 (opening reception  Friday August 5,  6-9pm) at The Patty Deluca Gallery in Provincetown, MA (courtesy of The School House Gallery.)

The work will be on display at The School House Gallery opening Labor day weekend September 2-21st, 2011 (with an opening reception on Friday Sept 2 7-10pm.)

Hanger 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

A Love Song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles

9 Jun

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO – Catalysis Projects’ Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo waxes passionate for the charms and magic of The Last Bookstore, a pleasure dome of literary delights in downtown Los Angeles.

Consider this a love song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles – but wait, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is no tragic love song for the disappearing anachronism of the Los Angeles bookseller. No. This is a joyful, jubilant falling-in-love song for a used bookstore called “The Last Bookstore,” – a funhouse xanadu, a valhalla nirvana that despite all odds is located in Los Angeles, rather than belle epoque Budapest, Barcelona, Mexico City, or London. It’s the boulevard of dreams-come-true that invites us on an expedition of cerebral stimulations.

If somewhere within you dwells a misrecollected pink, this will tickle it.

If there is a seventh gear for jubilation, here is where you shall shift into it.

Look at it this way: Gertrude Stein has brought you to a magical attic of succulents, birdcages, faux-taxidermy wooly mastodons, where the tufted charms of Henry Miller’s seductively tattered Chesterfield seduces you to recline, indolent, whilst dragging on a contraband Chesterfield – you are wrapped in a rapt ardor amidst the precise sort of hazy spectral ambience that drives a Bronte to orgasm. Now it’s yours. If you can’t hallucinate your way through the halcyon literary lexicon of 1930s Paris, Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Saigon or Prague, you can come here.

A lifetime could vanish happily amidst these spendiferous stacks of books. You’ll emerge, bespectacled and blinking, equally conversant with antimatter spaceships orEdwardian ghosts. You will have books in your hand, and you will feel transcendent.

And even better for me, it’s downstairs from my studio, on the ground floor of the inimitably noir-ish Spring Arts Tower, a 1923 structure by the renown architect John Parkinson located at the corner of 5th and Spring, in downtown Los Angeles…a semi-hidden gem of a building dense with affordable artist studios. I ask you: how often is a writer’s studio located directly above three thousand ingeniously-curated, spookily perfect used books that is also an enticing timespace portal to various mecca of literary avant-garde culture? Never. Now you understand why this is a love song. A very ecstatic love song.

If you live anywhere near Los Angeles, do your body, mind, heart and soul a favor – hie thyself to the corner of 5th and Spring downtown, and enter the wonderland that is The Last Bookstore. It is a phantasmagoric delight for the eyes, the cerebral cortex, and the human heart.

The space itself is monumental in design and execution with an eye for quirky, sultry, brooding steampunk magnificence, with a kick of lighthearted quirk.

This is a place to dwell for hours, if not days, fully enthralled.

Waiting for you are thousands of books in angled cases. They lurk and waltz and careen and impose themselves upon your best self beneath an ornate vaulted 1920s ceiling, where the visitor would be unsurprised to see the Hindenburg, Poe’s

hanging bats, or Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling.

At each stack, I expected to haggle with Borges over a book of Margaret Bourke-White photos. Or flirt with Mina Loy about Patti Smith’s Horses CD.

This is an Angeleno pantheon  to that uncommon variety of epic literary grandeur we find only in our fantasies. This is less a bookstore than a portal into a transcendent palace of literature, a resplendent temple to the word. Its ambiance befits a cathedral to the written word – commerce seems an afterthought (which is why all of us must visit it, with a few dollars in our pockets).

The Last Bookstore presents a dazzlingly shabby, majestically mythical old world intellectual playfulness that so often seems to elude Los Angeles. Go here when you feel that all hope is lost. Go here when you feel you were born in the wrong time, the wrong place, with the wrong dreams and impractical ambitions that lean more towards poetics than plastic surgery scars. This is a place to forget what’s irrelevant and remember why you were born: there’s a suspension of mundanity happening here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more than a little magic going down. Something holy and enchanted.

In this cranial pleasure dome there is more to love than what meets the eye: the curation of the books themselves seems to inspire paranoia in every visitor: how did they know about my favorite books? My first five minutes yielded works by Jack Spicer, Mallarme, Anne Waldman, Paul Celan, and even the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti‘s works…in Italian. My beating heart henceforth shakes the building.

A few hours later, my studio assistant returned bearing a stack of vintage classic horror stories and fairy tales. Later that evening, the filmmaker leaving my studio after helping me on some video installations reported bliss at discovering a trove of beloved children’s books that would later leave his nephews in paroxysms of delight.

We were all experiencing literary paroxysms of the most delightful kind.

Please, my dear ones, bring your raw and bleeding heart in your hands, the nooks and crannies of your long-forgotten chimeras that say, why isn’t there anywhere to go in Los Angeles where I can simply read a book, and feel my skin shiver with delight in the polysyllabic written word, in goose-fleshed jubilation that our cave dwelling ancestors once learned to put grunt to charcoal and sketch out some marks with meaning. Words. We have them here, they abound and resound. They’re at The Lost Bookstore, on sale cheap. Go. Go. Go.

Learn more about Quintan Ana Wikswo here, or read her most recent short story here, in Gulf Coast journal.

REVIEW: Microtextual at the Microfest 2011 concert series

5 Jun

MicroTextual

Catalysis Projects

April 16, 2011

MiMoDa Studio, Los Angeles

Review by CP composer Veronika Krausas

One of my favorite things is bilingual poetry books – English on the right side and the original on the left.  Sometimes it’s a foreign language I understand but often not. Still, it makes me feel a little bit like a traveler to an exotic place – comparing the alternate versions.  It feels like a magical and secret world that is private and I’m opening up a little cabinet of wonders to enjoy and watch sparkle. 

CP’s MicroTextual, curated by Aron Kallay, for me was just like that – a land of wonder, from the moment you walked into MiMoDa.  The space was transformed to an art exhibit with soft lighting and mysterious scrolls hanging from the ceiling and paper-origami-poof lamps  (my term) and a super cool vibe.  This concert featured many of the Catalysis Projects artists and what a collection of creativity and performances it was.

The reason I bring up bilingual poetry books is that the work of Quintan Wikswo is a 3-D version but so much more.   Her ‘cabinet of wonders’ included two wonderful works combining her texts with sublimely beautiful video footage.  They’re from her Floriography collection:  Floriography I (Coimbra 1541) and Floriography II (Bavaria 1543).  Her term is a “diptych of text-integrated video installation.”  

Wikswo "Floriography"

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back wall, in amongst the mostly red images floated text, in English, while Rafael Liebich read, as an echo, the same text in Portuguese, with trombonist Matt Barbier playing a microtonal composition by David Rosenboom.  In the second work, the texts were read in Hebrew to a soundscape of flies and frogs.  These pieces were a visual realization of bilingual poetry books.

Wikswo: FLORIOGRAPHY II: COIMBRA 1453

Starting the program was the amazing Honey, Milk and Blood, a collaboration by composer Isaac Schankler and visual artist Kim Ye, inspired by the ideas of Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.  The scrolls were explained – they were functional art!  It was the score for the dozen singers, dressed in off-white flowing clothes.  The soprano soloist Andrea Zomorodian was herself a sculpture, a kinetic sculptures by Ye, a mermaid plant with a long root carried out by her attendants.  LOVED the music, LOVED the kinetic sculptures – it was the first sparkle opening up the cabinet of wonders.

Schankler/Ye: HONEY, MILK AND BLOOD

And what microtonal concert would be complete without some quintessential Harry Partch, the grandfather of American microtonal music?  The Barstow:  Eight Hitchhikers’ Inscriptions by Partch was brilliantly performed by baritone and guitarist John Schneider, one of the co-directors of the Microfest series this year and Aron Kallay on chromelodeon.  

The second half of the concert started with a minimal and very serene work by Cat Lamb, The Field (for Agnes)There was a world premiere by Jeffrey Holmes, Fragments for soprano and piano.  The vocal line is more of a chant or what Holmes calls “a spell” in a series of images that use text from a variety of anonymous Latin sources. It was a Teutonic saga full of rich harmonies and virtuoso piano writing.  The virtuoso piano part was expertly performed by CP member and organizer of the whole evening pianist Aron Kallay

Holmes: Fragments

The most amazing thing about this piece was visual and completely accidental. I just happened to be lucky enough to be sitting in the exact spot to notice – Katherine Giaquinto, the singer was standing in a spot that when I looked in the mirror on the opposite wall, her body was replaced by the reflection of one of those paper-origami-poof lamps.  This alternate body was like another sculpture by Kim Ye and added to the chant-like Latin text’s magical and removed quality.

The concert concluded with Luminenscence, a gorgeous work by this year’s other co-director of Microfest, Bill Alves.  In his program notes Alves writes:

… an oton [is] a ritual that is performed 210 days after the birth of a child when the baby’s feet touch the earth for the first time. Before that time she is considered still too close to the realm of the gods to be allowed to touch the ground. The only music at this ceremony came from the chanting of the officiating priest and the small bell whose sounds he wafted to the fascinated baby’s ears.  Those chants, or mantra, are … a way of tuning oneself to the vibrations of the universe. These are in a very real sense the sounds of the transition from the celestial to the terrestrial world.

The singers now changed from white to black – from light to dark – balancing the visual and aural in the concert, touching the audience’s feet to the ground.  The whole evening was a wonderfully surreal and dreamlike experience.

PS

If you, like me, love bilingual poetry books – definitely check out The Madness of Amadis by Jean Cassou, translated by Timothy Adès  (Agenda Editions).  Cassou (1897-1986), was a war-time Resistance leader, created France’s National Museum of Modern Art, and a poet!  It’s wonderful poetry and a brilliant and sensitive translation.

PS #2

The concert was part of the Microfest Concert series that started in LA in by the fabulous John Schneider in 1997.  www.microfest.org

MicroTextual Musings: Quintan Ana Wikswo Interview

7 Apr

Quintan Ana Wikswo is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects integrate a constellation of works in photography, original text, video and installation, as well as performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Catalysis Projects interviews her about synesthesia, washing dishes with kitty litter, and microtonal fantasies.

MicroTextual will premiere Quintan’s Floriography I/Coimbra 1452 (with Rafael Liebich) and Floriography II/Bavaria 1543 (with Philip Shakhnis), a diptych of video-integrated text performance works about medieval botanical and ecological life at Inquisition convents and Crusade villages.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

QAW-This summer in Czech Republic – where the character system and language are completely different from English – I spent a long time in a shop trying to distinguish a box of dishwasher crystals from a box of cake mix. Both were cardboard containers of white powder with images of a kitchen and a cat and a half-eaten slice of cake on a plate. I stood there giggling happily while the workers glared at the demented Gypsy lady who might steal the box of cat litter.

A few years ago I was told I have synesthesia, which tends to tangle up meaning through some aberrant neurological and cognitive wiring. As a visual artist and writer, this is a big tangle. For instance, the color yellow makes a sound, and thus has stronger auditory than visual meaning  – yellow is not a “color.” Likewise, letters are very visually and emotionally evocative – much as human faces convey very distinctive personalities.  When I make words, I make little villages. Sentences are civilizations. The integrated text-video-performance pieces for MicroTextual (Floriography I and II) explore mass slaughter and genocide, but I built the texts using letters whose personalities are extremely gentle and pretty and demure. A bit shy, with the tendency to daintily cringe away from any unpleasantness.

Clearly, there’s no way an outside audience could share in that kind of personal language. Yet every creature is fairly clueless about what its fellows are trying to say, and at some point it’s the process of conveying meaning that can be most mesmerizing – watching someone try to wash dishes with kitty litter, or bake a cake using dishwashing powder is more intriguing than doing it just like everyone else. This struggle about attaching symbols and meanings have resulted in psychiatric asylums, Carnegie Hall, and the Crusades. It’s nice to imagine that as artists we finally have the right to draw our own conclusions.

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,” but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

QAW-My most fertile conversations begin with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and errors of interpretation. Otherwise, there’s no friction. No rough edges to catch against. I find a perverse pleasure in being artistically uncomfortable and confused and disoriented. Over time, this sensation has become a barometer that monitors my stagnation and aeration. I never create a work from a tidy place of comprehension – my own works are documents of an awkward struggle to understand something I find unwieldy.

As artists and audiences, I think it’s very important that we get excited by – rather than intimidated by – disorienting, perplexing, unfamiliar communication. I rarely want anyone to pre-digest anything for me, and I try to carry that philosophy forward to audiences, whether they like it or not.

Overall, I think it’s fruitful to resist the marketplace-driven phobia about being misunderstood – the whole idea that everything must be distilled to a tits-out elevator speech where god forbid something isn’t quick and easy and sexy. It’s repellant, but not in the fun way.  Likewise, the attempt to control the outcome for an audience is very dull and stultifying – when artworks are presented with a hegemonic surveillance around “the right meaning” it completely kills the chemical reactions between artist and audience.  It makes artworks that smother rather than kindle.

A lot of my work is politically engaged, and so for me to try and control or police meaning would get really ugly. The pieces being performed at MicroTextual explore epic historic genocides, and of course I have various points to make. But it would be splendid if someone just gets that there are green butterflies in a field. When someone attaches a new meaning to my work, it means the piece sprouts renegade tendrils and grows weird vegetables in someone else’s brain. Birth is meant to be a struggle for everyone involved.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields? How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

QAW-I realized recently that I have developed an little fantasy about microtonal music being an arcane, Kabbalistic, alchemical treasure hunt where secret notes are hidden between the visible notes.  Rather like an auditory wormhole through which one can vanish out of mundane do-re-me territory and emerge someplace altogether fantastic. Like sailing to the edge of a flat earth and expecting to fall off, only to discover a sphere…or vice versa. How lovely!

Microtonal music is also such a wonderful imposition on musicians and audiences who might otherwise fall into a rut of twelve – let’s make it fast! Let’s take the interstate, instead of Route 66.  I love how microtonality forces participants to navigate unfamiliar, disorienting situations, and requires people to grow new perceptual antennae to sleuth out what’s going down. The risk is feeling foolish, vulnerable, overwhelmed, annoyed and exhausted, but the reward is gaining a new auditory knowledge that’s a bit secret and arcane.

When you approached me about contributing works to this event, the challenge was to find a analogous “microtonal” tuning in literature – a way of composing and performing text that involves that sense of striding off the map, sailing over the edge, spending time in uncharted waters. I thought about how much I love spending time in countries where I’m illiterate in the written and spoken language because I’m forced to embark upon that treasure hunt for other clues of meaning, like gesture and expression and context.

So I created two works for the April 16th concert that involve finding the small spaces between languages – each text piece is visually projected in English, while being overspoken in other languages such as Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. In a sense, the audience is the performance, occupying that space between the two languages where a third meaning emerges.

I’m very excited to hear everyone’s pieces at the April concert, especially so many premieres. It’s impossible for artists to really play it safe within these creative parameters, and that’s tremendously inspiring.  Besides – if the world doesn’t turn out to be spherical, the ship will make a lovely crash as it falls off the edge of the world.

Congratulations Jennifer Egan: Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Notes from the Studio

12 Mar

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO
This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the fifth in our series of new columns – brief notes from the studios of our Core and Resident Artists. This week our Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo points out just how clueless and distasteful the Los Angeles Times can be in reporting on women writers.  

I am quite pleased that Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad” was awarded the prestigious fiction prize from the National Book Critics Circle last night. Go pick up a copy at Skylight Books. And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of the nonfiction winner, Isabel Wilkerson’s riveting book: The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (sorry Skylight, but you say you don’t carry it).

But I couldn’t be more horrified that the LA Times article today made an atrocious series of choices in announcing Jonathan Franzen NOT winning the award, rather than a talented female writer WINNING the award.

First bad choice? The headline: “Egan beats Franzen in National Book Critics Circle’s Fiction Prize.” Isn’t it enough that she won, without naming the famous man whose work was NOT selected?

Second bad choice? The tagline: “The Jennifer Egan work bests Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom.'” Um, you might want to name the winning book (“A Visit from the Good Squad”) rather than the name of the novel by the man who didn’t win.

Third bad choice? The photograph: of a typically fatuous looking loser Jonathan Franzen, instead of the female winner, Jennifer Egan. Here’s an actual author photograph:

Jennifer Egan

I like the damning article by Cynthia Newberry Martin in Contrary Magazine, who offers an alternative headline:

EGAN WINS NATIONAL BOOK CRITIC CIRCLE’S FICTION PRIZE.

Click here to respond to the LAt Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-op-email-form,0,3054191.customform

Lying in a Ditch on a Stormy Day: Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Notes from the Studio

10 Feb

by Quintan Ana Wikswo

This NOTES FROM THE STUDIO column features CP Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo, who creates work in text, photography, video, installation and performance.  Visit her work online here and here.

When I was a teenager, some fortuitous creature slid me a copy of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”

Since then, I’ve been mesmerized by the indefatigable pursuit for a practical space for private creation and cogitation, with a door that locks. My first studio was the lower limb of an apple tree – when I got older and heavier I graduated to a maple tree – then a steamer trunk, a closet, a semi-abandoned sweatshop, my lap, the bathtub, the kitchen table.

A studio is a great place for scraps.  It’s like the manure pile of art: mostly shit, but very rich in nutrients.

Nowadays my studio is located on an upper floor in a 1920s building in downtown Los Angeles, with huge chickenwired windows peeking into the bleached out well of a courtyard. I have always considered chickens to be my muses, and perhaps it is the chicken wire windows that draws me into this vista with fantasies of transcendence.

My view is all soot stains and articulated smog, the cool hues of concrete and charcoal asphalt, and a monochrome obstructed light. All the chemicals are in flux: every visible surface is oxidizing, peeling, rusting, dissolving. Somehow, I find this galvanic activity very exciting.

It’s because of Virginia. Her command for studio is unconventional:

“Lying in a ditch on a stormy day, when it has been raining, then enormous clouds come marching over the sky, tattered clouds, wisps of cloud. What delights me then is the confusion, the height, the indifference and the fury. Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up, helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch.”

Required qualities in a studio: confusion. Height. Fury and indifference. Great clouds ever-changing. The smell of sulphur. Everything sinister and lost. Broken off. Bowled up.

And I forgotten. Perhaps that is the most important part – the humility of beginning with scraps and growing shoots from the muck.

Next to me on my workdesk today is a glorious bit of deliciousness sent my way from a musician friend. It’s a rejection letter sent to Gertrude Stein by a publisher.

I think it’s very much appropriate this week, when VIDA released its new report about the shameful, bigoted disparities in “the publishing world” between female and male writers. As the Guardian writes, “The gender imbalance at the heart of the British and American literary establishment has been laid bare by a new study confirming that leading literary magazines focus their review coverage on books written by men, and commission more men than women to write about them.”

In essence, women are writing, but their work is not seeing the light of day in major magazines, including Tin House, where my own work has been published. Then again, many people think the name Quintan could only be attached to a man.

One argument – made by a rather smug and odious editor Peter Stothard of the Times Literary Supplement, suggested that women don’t read and furthermore don’t know how to read quality literature, so why allow them to review quality books?

I offer him a sulphurous and sinister “screw you.”

Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead writes: “My own feeling is that there is an issue of confidence among women writers.” Hm.

So must we believe that women don’t submit our work to publishers, but rather keep it locked away in our hope chests with our tampons, barbie dolls and cooking aprons?

These are hardly credible alibis in any editor’s quest for misanthropic absolution – publishing is still a segregated industry, with women writers consigned to women readers, and the male writer deemed best at representing the literary expression of humanity.

But as long as we’re on the topic, it’s important to “submit” work. Without being submissive. Gertrude Stein didn’t get where she got by listening to fools like Arthur C. Fifield, whose role in advancing literature is surely as pathetic as the creature at the Times Literary Supplement.

Shortly after I read A Room of One’s Own, someone gave me Alice Walker’s retort, with her call for all women (not only wealthy white women) to have studio space. Today is her birthday, and her consistent efforts to get all women to the table is especially resonant.

Let’s have all the chickens in studios.

From within the fury and bowled up sulphurous confusion of the studio, it’s good to be forgotten, but only while mucking around in the manure pile. Afterwards, let’s send all the chickens out into the street, squawking.

I love the ridicule of this rejection letter, sent in derisive rebuke of Ms. Stein, who shouted her poems into the streets of Paris unabashed, furious and sinister and helter-skelter. And look where it propelled us.

Studios should be locked and then unlocked. When the work is done, send it out, ladies and gentlemen.

Send those chickens out beyond the wire and let them spread their icky little feathers everywhere.

And to catch up on the hoo-hah about the VIDA report, check out these articles:

Waterland at PIE

6 Jun

BY VERONIKA KRAUSAS Last night PIE (People inside Electronics) had a concert at the Boston Court in Pasadena, in conjunctions with CATALYSIS PROJECTS. This marks our first performance event, and we are pleased to announce that it was sold-out show.

In the introduction, one of the two founding directors, Isaac Schankler, talked about the solitary existence of composers and mentioned that working with electronics sometimes gives composers a false sense of not being alone!

Composing, or many creative processes, are quite solitary but I think we often don’t realize this because our brains are so busy and entrenched in the process that it’s not until afterwards, when we look back, we realize that we were all by ourselves and spending perhaps too much time with just our own brains and thoughts and selves!

Then when the piece is finally performed, that sense of isolation really is front and center, because you realize it’s you and your music that’s going to be standing with your pants down in front of the whole audience!  I’ve had my share of wonderful and not so wonderful experiences but I have to say that last night, the premiere of WATERLAND was definitely in the “happy” category!

Waterland was originally an electronic work created in 1990 on some very forgotten and very long gone equipment in Toronto to accompany a great text by the Canadian writer André Alexis.  Aron Kallay (the other founding member of PIE) asked to perform the work but since it was on a cassette (last century’s technology and a very low quality recording) he offered to help me recreate it using LOGIC.  And poof, we did.  John Payne was amazing reciting André Alexis hallucinatory text.  The video was by fellow Catalysis Projects Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo and it was brilliant in its vividness and beauty.

So this solitary venture turned out into a wonderful collaboration with all sorts of amazing people & I think that this was a much less solitary venture than normal!

Make sure to check out PIE’s next concert in the fall.

http://www.peopleinsideelectronics.com

IN THE GARDENS OF THE AVANT-GARDE

28 Apr

BY QUINTAN ANA WIKSWO

This Sunday, I was delighted to don a dress and attend the Los Angeles garden party for Les Figues Press, a visionary literary vehicle ably driven by Teresa Carmody and Vanessa Place. When both Bloomsbury and Kathy Acker were invoked within Mistress of Ceremonies Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum‘s first welcoming breaths, I knew the day was made…and not least of all a joy was seeing Sarah herself preside throughout…she who authored the fabulous fabulist novel Madeline is Sleeping.  And the spooky sweet churchly organ stylings of Laura Steenberge were transporting (rather like the faery iron archway in the garden corner, where I saw a hummingbird fly in, and a pomegranate come out). I want to hear more of Mme. Steenberge, and as soon as eerily possible.

At a loss for summer reading? Start with the fine folks above and the Les Figues list, and the frying months will become scrying months, and inscribe themselves happily within your mind.

But back to yesterday afternoon, which included several readings by other favorites of mine whose new books await multiple re-readings.

Kathy Acker, Queen of the Pirate Words

Following other readers including Janice Lee and Matias Viegener, Los Angeles poet Wanda Coleman shook the dusty air from out the very clouds above with her reading of several selections of her work featured in Les Figues’ collection Feminaissance: A Book of Tiny Revolts.  If a shamanic breath blew through our forsaken city around 5pm last night, thank Wanda, for it was in part her doing.

And from my MFAlma-mater SFSU came San Francisco poet Paul Hoover (I include the link to Paul’s blog, because I quite like his essay on memorability: “the Poetry of Forgetting”), who read from his often-merry, very textually elastic new collection Sonnet 56 (fifty-six variations on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56), including a recitation of one of my very favorite pieces, in homage to one of my very favorite literary schools: Oulipo, founded by  Raymond Queneau, amongst others who include Italo Calvino. Paul’s piece uses the S+7 method, where each noun in a given text is replaced by a noun to be found seven places away in a chosen dictionary.

Raymond Queneau, Let Us Reincarnate You!

I use this opportunity to highly recommend another summer reading gem: Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. It sits alongside Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres, and Jean Toomer’s Cane as lifelong beloved companions that broke boundaries in between words and witchcraft.

Seated nearby Wanda for much of the afternoon, it was lovely to see her hold the familiar spine of an old Black Sparrow Press edition of her work – a publisher long beloved by both admirers and practitioners of experimental text (Charles Bukowski and John Fante were bookends in their house of writers). Like Bloomsbury, Black Sparrow was the original home-on-paper of many artists who – were they alive today – would struggle to find a place in print in today’s corporate bookmarket.

The honor to sit in the garden yesterday was significant, because all us writers working on anything the slightest bit odd owe much appreciation to the fortifying vision and valour of independent publishers, and a growing handful of other journals and collectives of their ilk and kin and stripe and kind. (May the nascence soon transcend, amen!)

Time and again, conversations begin with the prices charged by the big chain bookstores to even stock books at all – those books featured at the end-displays of a row? the books shown face-up instead of spine-out? That’s a surcharge, please. Commercial bookstores are not as much bookstores, as bookshelves for sale to the highest bidder.

These bookstores remind me of cemeteries, where you must pay rent on your burial plot.

We enter an era where the art and wisdom of literary curatorship has vanished from bookstores, who once upon a time could be relied upon for recommendations, guidance, and navigational tools to facilitate discovery of latent treasure. Those days are gone, and many feel adrift in a vast and treacherous sea – awash in a plastic island of chick-lit and diet guides and hot pink word porn.

I look at unsuspecting Americans departing those corporate chains like the whale who died on Seattle’s beaches last week, its stomach full up with human garbage: bits of plastic beer hats, anal suppository wrappers, and the dismembered arms of action figures.

whale prostrate with grief at state of american publishing industry. Oh, I mean, as a result of human greed. Well, every desecration is pretty much a result of human greed.

Conversation rages on about the efficacy and potency of independent presses in re-shaping the empty-caloried American literary diet – a pursuit similar to Alice Waters’ whole food revolution (we hope it all works out, for how could it get worse?). It’s a David-and-Goliath enterprise.

But regardless of the rise and fall of stones and slings, presses like Les Figues keep alive the art of curating words. Providing leadership of eye and ear in the finding of writers and readers from lost corners. The orchestration of reunions, communions, collusions, collisions, and productive rendez-vous.

The Rise and Fall of Stones and Slings

Sunday’s garden party was a joyous sail in a rebel ship on the high text seas, capably crewed with madcap insurgents, theorists,  barricade-builders, clowns and jugglers and cockeyed saints and martyrs and ragtag bunch of heroines…with cucumber sandwiches, an electric organ, and quite a thrilling cascade of hummingbirds.

GO BUY SOME BOOKS!!!!!

thanks for the cucumbers, getty images, and LES FIGUES!