homeland insecurity

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‘Heimat, the evocative German word that loosely translates as ‘homeland,’ is a conflicting term for those to whose language it belongs. Since its earlier, predominantly romantic use, conjuring associations with a love for the rolling hills of Bavaria and the lost utopia of childhood, the term’s cultural associations have shifted often. Not least with it’s adoption and distortion by the Third Reich, prior to its subsequent reclamation in the 1950s.

For Thomas Dworzak this “rejection and search for Heimat” has been a pervading influence in his life. While growing up in a small Bavarian town near the Iron Curtain, the photographer felt suffocated by the overbearing “Catholicism, provincialism, order and calm”, eventually leaving as a young man. Today, Dworzak identifies as having three homelands, one in his native Bavaria, the others in Tbilisi and Tehran.”‘

A beautiful as well as thought-provoking photoessay on homelands from a renowned Magnum photographer, whose father at age six was one of three million people expelled from Czechoslovakia in the 1945-6 odsun (“transfer”), one of the worst ethnic cleansings of the last century.

Both images and text are well worth pondering as the clever hopes of a low, dishonest decade expire with Brexit and Trump.

The photo above is mine, taken last month in the UK, about which I have similarly mixed feelings to Dworzak on Bavaria.  His images are copyrighted, but there are many on his Magnum site.


 

intimate and inconvenient truths

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“For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.”

Zadie Smith in the New Yorker, by far the best thing I’ve read amid the welter of over-politicized and under-nuanced commentary unleashed by the great man’s death.


 

a mythic, cool America

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Charles Sheeler: Bucks County Barn, 1940

‘Instantly recognizable images dominate “America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper,” the surprisingly arresting new show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: Charles Demuth’s magnetic I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928), inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams’s poem The Great Figure, in which a fire truck speeds through the streets of New York one rainy night; Georgia O’Keeffe’s breathtakingly chilly East River from the Shelton Hotel (1928), the cool, icy blue of the water slicing through the middle of the canvas, separating the snow-topped roofs in the foreground from the smoke-clouded factory chimneys in the distance; three large Edward Hopper oils, From Williamsburg Bridge (1928), Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928), and Dawn in Pennsylvania (1942), not his most famous work, but nevertheless immediately identifiable …’

Lucy Scholes reviews a new exhibition of ‘the mythologies of an “America” that has long inhabited the popular global imagination, from the towering structures of the archetypal modern metropolis to the rustic barns, uniform fields of corn, and white picket fences of prairie farmland,’ whose images ‘speak to a desire for a sanitized version of reality that tries to master the anxieties and ambivalences associated with modern life.’


 

eyeless in Gaza

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Promise was that I/Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;/Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves … (John Milton, Samson Agonistes)

Borders are conventionally represented as tidy lines on maps.  On the ground things get messier.  Especially in the case of Palestine–Israel–Gaza.

‘Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from and annexed under Israel’s control,’ writes Amjad Iraqi.  ‘It is a purgatory designed to provide whatever answer is most convenient for shirking responsibility and justifying violence at any given time. This has obscured a controversial but perhaps inexorable fact: after 51 years, Gaza can hardly be described as “occupied territory” anymore. It is now a segregated, debilitated, and subjugated part of Israel; a replica of the districts, townships, and reservations that imprisoned native populations and communities of color in apartheid South Africa, the United States, and other colonial regimes. In other words, Palestinians are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state; they are being caged and brutalized inside it.’

Alongside the anatomy of compliance, perhaps we need to reconsider the spatialities of oppression.


 

preserves for life

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The Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the Man Booker International prize for her novel Flights.

‘“It isn’t a traditional narrative,” said chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi, pointing to Tokarczuk’s own description of her writing as “constellation novels” to describe an author who throws her stories into orbit, allowing her readers to form meaningful shapes from them. “We loved the voice of the narrative – it’s one that moves from wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture and has the ability to create character very quickly, with interesting digression and speculation.”

The book’s themes – “the nomadic life that we now lead in the world, with our constant movement, our constant desire to pick up and go, whether it’s from relationships or whether it’s to other countries”, and “the limitedness, the finiteness, the mortality of the human body, which is always pulled towards the ground” – collide in Tokarczuk’s “extraordinary” stories, said Appignanesi.’

For those who fancy a sample, Granta magazine has published Tokarczuk’s masterpiece of black humor “Preserves for Life.”


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

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I was recently invited by the excellent Prague-based magazine Alienist (motto: ALL SUBJECTIVITY IS APPROPRIATION) to participate in this questionnaire.  The entire issue of the magazine can be downloaded here.  I have also posted my own brief contribution, which interrogates the notion of alienation, separately on academia.edu.

ALIENIST MANIFESTO

We live, we die. In a world beset by alienation, it seems we exist in a recurring dream of disillusionment. The history of reason – history as reason – poses itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a congenital madness. And if reason is the symptom of an irrational problem, what part does the mind play in this? Bloodless revolutions have stained the pages of psychiatry, literature, art history, philosophy – if emancipation is an idea that first belongs to those who forge chains, it is not a facetious question we pose: IS SCHIZOPHRENIA A SOLUTION?

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art history

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In the 1940s, a 16-year-old girl captured the minds of the art world’s elite. The self-taught Algerian artist, Baya Mahieddine (1931-1988) — known as Baya — is finally being celebrated in the first North American exhibition of her work, at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, through March 31. Baya used gouache as her primary medium, depicting a world without men but full of bright images of women, nature, and animals …

In 1947, when Baya was just 16, she was discovered by Aimé Maeght, an established French art dealer, and André Breton, who included Baya’s works in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme at Galerie Maeght in Paris. Almost overnight she caught the attention of Picasso and Matisse, among other prominent artists, for her colorful, spontaneous and “childlike” compositions. “Her work allows us to question so many different histories,” said curator Natasha Boas.  (from Jane Drinkard in The Cut)


 

build that wall

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A German newspaper has published the names of 33,293 refugees and migrants who died trying to reach Europe.  Der Tagesspiegel listed victims’ names, ages and countries of origin, as well as causes and dates of death, over 46 pages.

The newspaper said it wanted to document “the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who died since 1993 as a consequence of the restrictive policies of Europe on the continent’s outer borders or inside Europe”.

The majority of the people on the newspaper’s list drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year was the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with at least 5,079 dying or going missing during their journey, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).  (from The Independent)


 

miracles in sicily

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Migration into Sutera has brought a new influx of children to a school that had been earmarked to shut Photograph: Francesco Bellina/Cesura/Francesco Bellina / Cesura

When the phone call came asking the Sicilian townspeople if they had any room in their graveyards, the answer was a reluctant no.

A boat full of migrants had sunk in the Mediterranean. Almost 400 people were dead and they had to be buried somewhere. But the Sicilian town of Sutera, almost entirely populated by older people, had long since filled up its cemeteries.

Yet although there was no room for the dead, there was plenty of room for the living. All but a few hundred people had moved out of the town to find work in bigger cities, leaving behind empty houses. Now there was a chance to repopulate.

And so, since 2014, Sutera has augmented its fast-dwindling population with dozens of asylum seekers. The school has been reborn; the butcher and grocer are happy with the growth in turnover; the birthrate has rocketed.  (From the Guardian)


 

the times they are a-changin’ (maybe)

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Some fascinating data from Pew Research on the rapidly changing demographic makeup of America.

“The past five decades – spanning from the time when the Silent Generation (today, in their 70s and 80s) was entering adulthood to the adulthood of today’s Millennials – have seen large shifts in U.S. society and culture … Americans, especially Millennials, have become more detached from major institutions such as political parties, religion, the military and marriage. At the same time, the racial and ethnic make-up of the country has changed, college attainment has spiked and women have greatly increased their participation in the nation’s workforce.”

So how come the United States is still governed by uneducated, conservative, old white men, as epitomized by “President” Donald Trump?


 

the future

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Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old girl from Alexandria, Virginia, thrilled hundreds of thousands when she spoke out for “the African-American girls who don’t make the front page of every national newspaper” at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC, on Saturday.

“I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington,” Wadler said. “I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here today to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at just 16 was shot dead in her home here in Washington, DC. I am here today to acknowledge the African-American girls who don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant beautiful girls full of potential.”  (from MotherJones)

The future.  Unless the old white men of the baby boom generation kill us all, one way or another, first.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

Signs of the times

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DO WHAT YOU WILL

I am Muslim, register me.

I am Mexican, deport me.

I am African American, imprison me.

I am LGBT, refuse to serve me.

I am poor, blame me.

I am elderly, privatize me.

I am woman, defund me.

I am homeless, ignore me.

I am disabled, bully me.

I am sick, uninsure me.

I am indigenous, pollute me.

I am a veteran, voucher me.

I am an American, lie to me.

AUTHOR UNKNOWN


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Rejoice! Our times are intolerable. Take coverage for the worst is a harbinger of the best. Only dire circumstance can precipitate the overthrow of oppressors. The old and corrupt must be laid to waste before the just can triumph. Contradiction will be heightened. The reckoning will be hastened by the staging of seed disturbances. The apocalypse will blossom.

AUTHOR: Jenny Holzer   WEARER OF THE DRESS: Lorde

“Lorde’s message comes amid reports that she declined to perform at this year’s Grammys because the show’s organizers refused to offer her a solo performance, as they did the other, male Album of the Year nominees. She also notably skipped the red carpet.”


 

beyonce-formation-lyricsImage from Randi Bryant, Beyonce’s Letter to You about “Formation,” at Beatnik24

Dozens of artists came to the Grammys wearing white roses in solidarity with Time’s Up and sexual misconduct victims. But that spirit of female empowerment wasn’t reflected in this year’s winners, nor in remarks made by Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, who suggested that if women wish to collect more golden gramophones moving forward, they need to double down on their efforts.

“I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls — who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level — to step up, because I think they would be welcome,” Portnow told journalists backstage after the show.

Step up, Neil? Creativity in their hearts and their souls, Neil?  Where were you in 2015 when Beck’s “Morning Phase” won Album of the Year ahead of Beyonce’s “Beyonce” and in 2017 when Adele’s “25” won Album of the Year ahead of Beyonce’s “Lemonade“?

Adele herself said on stage: “I can’t possibly accept this award. And I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious. But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the “Lemonade” album, is just so monumental. Beyoncé, it’s so monumental. And so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see. And we appreciate that. And all us artists here adore you. You are our light.”

 


 

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Trump International Hotel, Washington D.C.  The artist was Robin Bell, but the inspiration comes from Jenny Holzer.


 

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Jenny Holzer, projection, Washington, D.C., 2004


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

Vic Mensa: What Palestine Taught Me About American Racism

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“For once in my life I didn’t feel like the nigger. As I sat comfortably at a coffee shop, gawking at a group of Israeli soldiers harassing a Palestinian teenager, it was clear who was the nigger. My American passport, ironically, had awarded me a higher position in the social hierarchy of Jerusalem than it did in my hometown of Chicago.”

His debut album The Autobiography is pretty stunning, too.


 

Key findings about U.S. immigrants

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By way of background to what nowadays passes for politics in the United States (or should I say United Shitholes?) of America.

The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 43.2 million in 2015.  Immigrants today account for 13.4% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.7%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S.

Useful data from the Pew Research Center.  In snowflake Canada, by way of comparison, the foreign-born population was 20.6% in 2011 Census.  The sky hasn’t fallen yet (and the food choices get better by the year).


 

Sense and sensitivity

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“After the 10th or so person sent me the stunningly silly anti-#MeToo letter signed by Catherine Deneuve and a hundred other French women (the actual authorship of which we’ll get to), informing me that I’d love it because finally someone was standing up for sanity, I considered a form letter response: ‘If the question is whether #MeToo has gone too far or not far enough, the answer is obviously BOTH. Putting yourself on one side or the other is politically obtuse.'”

Thank you Laura Kipnis.  Pissing off all sides, as usual.  Both/and rather than either/or.  Courage, subtlety, and intellect, very well worth the long read.


 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200

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But Frankenstein is no memoir. The question it asks, “How far is too far?”, is at the very heart of modernity. The Romantics, Mary among them, “leaned in” to progress … Published early in this classical era of modernity, Mary’s novel still helps us define its terms today. Shorthand for the way we experience ourselves within a world of increasing man-made complexity, “modernity” is both positive and negative, signalling hope for progress as well as our fear of change. Frankenstein identifies the mismatch between human experience and what we are expected to become as technology and science advance.  (Fiona Sampson, on her new book on Mary Shelley).

“It is the migrant, the refugee, and the Muslim that have become the poor lone impossible monsters abhorr’d of our time, the nameless figures of terror against whom we must circle our wagons and strengthen our walls.  It is salutary how quickly Helena’s sympathy for the robots [in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R.] turns to disgust once she learns they are not “just like me”—once, that is to say, they have been convincingly Othered, cast outside the pale of the League of Humanity.  “Oh, stop!  At least send them out of the room!” she begs.  In this respect R.U.R. is a more pertinent text for our times than Frankenstein, because of its grasp of this dialectic of resemblance and alterity, attraction and repulsion, fascination and fear. We can send them out of the room but the suspicion of their humanity can never be exorcized.  It eternally returns to haunt us, pricking the collective conscience—in the image of a three-year-old Syrian boy in blue shorts and red top lying face down, drowned, on a Greek beach, for instance, or in the blank, uncomprehending face of a black man who cannot believe he lost all his fingers to frostbite while trying to walk from North Dakota to Manitoba.  The more we can’t get them out of our heads, the more we wish they would just go away.  Make it stop!  Do I hear murmurings of a Final Solution?  We have been here before, and it wasn’t in 1816.”  My take on why Shelley’s astonishing novel still matters.


 

Nonsense and insensitivity

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London’s oldest strip club, the Windmill Theater in Soho, has lost its license after a women’s rights group hired private detectives to gather evidence that the venue broke a ban on physical contact between dancers and clients.  Stacey Clare is a stripper, performance artist, writer, activist and co-founding member of the East London Strippers Collective.  She writes:

“Closing down a venue may feel like a victory to those who champion the abolition of the industry, but taking work away from women relying on it is tantamount to taking food from our mouths. Thousands of girls who otherwise have less value in the wider job market (foreign nationals, single mums, anyone with any sort of disadvantaged background) are turning to stripping and other forms of sex work to survive. According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, record numbers have moved into the sex industry under austerity, which disproportionately affects women, particularly single mothers. In fact, putting women out of work is about the most un-feminist thing possible …

Their [feminist anti-strip club campaigners’] cloak and dagger tactics reveal the kind of attitude women’s rights campaigners have towards us, the women at the centre of this issue – that we, the ‘victims’, cannot be trusted to have a say in the matter so decisions must be made on our behalf, rather than consult with us directly.”

The infernal problem of false consciousness, aka I know what’s good for you better than you do, dear.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

 

European right-wing leaders meet in Prague, slam EU and immigration

Le Pen in Prague

Marine Le Pen insisted that none of the parties were xenophobic. “We like diversity.  I like the Dutch to be Dutch, I like the Czech to be Czechs, I like the French to be French, I like the Italians to be Italian.”  A priceless photograph.


 

An everyday story of country folk

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Field Farm fisheries, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, England, which describes itself as “picturesque, tranquil and an idyllic setting” with an “extensively stocked” lake for leisure anglers, has put up a sign saying “No vehicle access. No Polish or eastern bloc fishermen allowed. No children or dogs.”  Nuff said.


 

Puerto Rico Sketchbook: There Are Dead in the Fields

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“A cantastoria is a vagabond fusion of art and music, so old it turns up all over the world.  In each set, a performer displays an illustrated scroll, then, while pointing to each image with a stick, tells a story in song.  The cantastoria first developed in India as a way for itinerant performers to bring the legends of gods from door to door. By the time it hit Central Europe in the sixteenth century, it had mutated away from its sacred roots into a wandering carny show of sex, crime, and political sedition.

After the hurricane, the Puerto Rican puppetry collective Papel Machete created a new cantastoria: Solidarity and Survival for our Liberation …”

Excerpts from artist Molly Crabapple’s sketchbook of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria


 

Sarah Mullally appointed bishop of London

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“Tony Robinson, bishop of Wakefield and chairman of Forward in Faith which does not accept women’s ordination, said Mullally’s appointment in a diocese where so many people rejected the ministry of women would result in ‘a deeper impairment of communion.'”


 

An Intimate History of America

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Voodoo Guitar “Marie” made by Don Moser with debris from Hurricane Katrina

“Exhibitions like these invested me in the museum not only because they tell the story of black America but because they insist that the story of black America is indeed the story of America itself.”

PhD candidate Clint Smith on a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


I have known Clay Ellis for years.  Clay and his wife Michelle are what I miss most about living in Alberta.  Their hospitality, their generosity, their grace.  His work, somewhere in a zone of his own between painting, sculpture, and video, abstract and concrete, conceptual and figurative art, conjures up a sense of time and a spirit of place like little else I know.  We have had many drunken conversations about Picasso, country music and the meaning of it all over the years, and I look forward to many more.  He is one of Canada’s greatest living artists.  These are some shots from his most recent exhibition at the stunning new Art Gallery of Grande Prairie.  

The text is from the gallery website.  The photographs were taken by Rob Ganzeveld.

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Clay Ellis: Weaners, Culls and Divvies

January 17, 2014 – April 6, 2014

Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (Alberta, Canada)

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Born and raised on a ranch in Southern Alberta, Clay Ellis explores his connection with the landscape, referring to images, the temperament and gestures of his past.

“I think that the focus behind this exhibition is equal parts of reflecting on the experiences of growing up on the ranch, considering the reality of no longer being a part of it, and pondering what the land means to the individuals that currently live on the property.”

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The transformation of the ranch itself, from homestead to ranching company, marked by the restructuring of out-buildings, the parceling of land, and the move towards automation, has happened in only a few generations.

For most operations, it is no longer necessary or practical to house a workforce, a shift that replaced hired hands and displaced extraneous family members. Usable tack turned to relic, and family members became guests to a property that had once been their home.

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It is from the perspective of guest that Ellis makes his observations. While the works are informed by the changing perspectives of land use and ranching practices from one generation to the next, it has been his yearly visits over a 45 year period that have allowed him to see changes to the landscape that may escape those embedded in the rigors of the day to day.

Ellis neither condones nor prescribes ideology but rather suggests that to assess change we must first see it.

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“Art has much more important things to do than change the world”–Clay Ellis, in one of those aforementioned conversations.