Dorthe Nors on Bergman

22 Aug

He lived on a small island called Faro, north of Gotland, where he would plan his films, write the scripts, make the screenboards, and everything. He limited his activities: Besides working and thinking, he might go for a stroll. In the late afternoon or evening, he would have visitors over to go and look at a movie in his cinema. And that was his routine, every day.

That’s pretty disciplined to me — living primarily in service to one’s art. But we also hear the other myth: that you must live yourself out.

You know the cliché: You’re out on the town, you’re doing drugs, you’re drinking, you’re running on the walls, you’re pissing on the fireplace. It’s a cliché. Often you run into artists who live that life — and at one point, you find out that they’re not actually producing that much art. They’re living the life of the artist without the work.

If you live the kind of life that Bergman does — spending long hours in solitude, working with your art — sometimes people use medicine to smooth things over. They drink or take pills or whatever they do in order to deal with the painful sides of this. But so do people who don’t produce art. It’s not like only artists drink to cope. Doing so doesn’t make you more interesting or creative — and it may even destroy you.

I’ve often met artists who say it’s good to smoke marijuana or do this or that it will do things for things for your creativity. But basically, that’s just an excuse to take it. If you’ve got humanity pouring out of your veins, you don’t need anything to trigger it.

We can separate artistic pain, the experience of feeling deeply, from leading a painful life. One is not a requirement for the other. What’s interesting about Bergman — he shows you can use your demons to pull your way through life. You can use them for good things instead of trying to let them destroy you.

- Dorthe Nors

Andre Dubus on risk

21 Aug

William Stafford, the poet, taught me “The poet must put himself in a state of receptivity before writing.” Stafford said you know you’re being receptive when a) you’re willing to accept anything that comes, no matter what it is, and b) you’re willing to fail. But Americans are very impatient with failure. I think one of the many reasons people don’t end up living their authentic lives is because they’re afraid of failing — they don’t take chances. And I understand it. This is very risky, terrifying territory.

Putting up this kind of uncertainty is very difficult. We bring ourselves into these rooms. We bring all of our hopes, all of our longings, all of our shadows. What writing asks of us is the opposite of what being in the American culture asks of us. You’re supposed to have a five-year plan. Young people now are so cautious. These crazy, careful people! You know, look: Life is short if you live a hundred years. Better to die naked and reckless and with passion — and not be afraid to fuck up and fail.

I think one of the downsides of MFA programs is they make people really career-conscious. Fuck career. I’m so grateful to have had a publishing career so far. It’s how I make most of my living. But I do not ever think about career when I’m in my writing cave. I do not.

- Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III on process

20 Aug

There’s a profound difference between making something up and imagining it. You’re making something up when you think out a scene. You think, “I need this to happen so some other thing can happen.” There’s an aspect of controlling the material that I don’t think is artful. I think it leads to contrived work, no matter how beautifully written it might be. You can hear the false note in this kind of writing.

This was my main problem when I was just starting out: I was trying to say something. When I began to write, I was writing stories hoping they would say something thematic, or address something that I was wrestling with philosophically. I’ve learned, for me at least, it’s a dead road. It’s writing from the outside in instead of the inside out.

It’s every eight or nine or 10 days with me when most of the entire writing sessions feels I’m just moving with the character, a strange observer in their chest some way as they go about their business. I think it’s why a lot of writers write, is for that feeling. It’s certainly why I write.

Now, dreaming your way through a story is very useful at first — for the first draft, maybe the first two drafts. But once the revision process begins, you’ve got to change your approach. In the secondary period, you get more rational and logical about what you’ve dreamt. So once I have a beginning, middle, and end, I walk away from it for at least six months and don’t look at it. At least six months. To revise means “to see again” — well, how can you see again when you just looked at it 10 days ago? No. Have two seasons go between you.

A merciless reviser is in a much better position to write a really good book than one who hasn’t got the stomach for it. That may be the distinction between what makes a really good book and a great book.

- Andre Dubus III

Molly Antopol on Grace Paley

19 Aug

Because politics feel like an essential part of the makeup of her characters, I never feel like Paley’s being preachy; in “Wants,” the narrator wants to do all this organizing, and she’s upset with the gentrification in the neighborhood, but it never feels didactic because the political identity is so deeply embedded within the character. It’s the difference between writing about people who live political lives, and writing “Political Fiction” with a capital “P.”

…Fiction workshops hear “write what you know” all the time, but that advice can be so confining if taken literally. In a sense, any story that anyone writes is going to be autobiographical — whether it deals directly with the author’s experience or not — because it captures what we’re obsessed with while working on that particular piece.

For now, though, having to step outside my life is what works best for me. When I read a book that asks me to live in the head of another person and see things from their side—or when I see characters consider one another’s complexities in a generous way—I feel how that experience makes us more humane and compassionate. Great literature puts us in someone else’s shoes, asks us to reckon fully with what we may not have lived first-hand. There’s incredible power in this.

- Molly Antopol, Writing Almost Feels Like Method Acting

Linn Ulmann says

18 Aug

There is a Norwegian novelist who says “Writers must beware of their own good ideas.”

You have this great idea, and then you start writing — and maybe something happens, and your voice starts taking you places. But if you start to think, I’m going away from my great idea, I have this wonderful idea! I need to get back to my idea — you stop following the consequences of the place and voice you’ve chosen. This is a mistake. You see a lot of decent books and plots that are fantastic but still somehow feel completely dead. I think that’s because there’s a great idea, a compelling premise, but a lack of honesty that can only come from listening closely to your writing.

Linn Ulmann

singles: Matt Black

15 Aug

Matt Black, Kingdom of Dust

National Geographic did a write-up. Some photos from the series are also up in the ground floor of City Hall for the summer (til 9/19) as a part of The Valley/El Valle.

Michael Lundgren

13 Aug

Michael Lundgren

On Issuu, Lundgren has a mock-up of his Transfiguration series as a unconventionally long book with 4 images side by side in each spread instead of the usual 2. That doesn’t seem to be the layout of the book of the same title put out by Radius. Does anyone know if the long book exists? It has some nice possibilities IMO, and reminds me a bit of Marten Lange.

Neil Harbisson

11 Aug

Neil Harbisson is a Catalan-raised, British-born contemporary artist and cyborg activist best known for being the first person in the world to have an antenna implanted in his skull. The cyborg antenna allows him to perceive visible and invisible colours such as infrareds and ultraviolets via sound waves as well as receive images as sounds, videos as sounds, music or phone calls directly into his head. In 2004, he was officially recognized as a cyborg by a government. Since 2004, he has been described by international media as the world’s first cyborg[13] or the world’s first cyborg artist. (wiki)

He gave a TED Talk, in which he shows some of his work and delivers the lines:

I used to dress in a way that looks good, now I dress in a way that sounds good. Today I am dressed in C-major. Now I can display the food on my plate so I can eat my favorite song… The good thing about perceiving ultraviolet is that you can hear if it’s a good day or a bad day to sunbathe.

A lot of the work isn’t very visually or aurally interesting aside from being colorful, but it’s fascinating to think of training your senses, using your body, your brain instead of a computer to encode from one medium to another. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the machine encodes the data and he decodes it manually. I like color, so I have to say using colors to compose music appeals to me. Maybe synesthetics have been doing it forever already.

At the end of the TED Talk, he says, “I encourage you to become a cyborg. You won’t be alone.”


He seems a bit nervous in the TED Talk, and a bit more at ease in this short doc on one of his Barcelona color concerts:


I watched the videos and read about Harbisson immediately after seeing Spike Jonze’s Her, which was also about humans’ relationships with computers. Everyone goes around with a wireless earplug-sized earpiece (the queasy imbalance of only hearing something in one ear aside…) that essentially functions like Google Glass but ultimately humans and computers don’t meld in the way that they would perhaps like to.

The mood of the film feels optimistic yet dystopian since it explores both the possibility of increased isolation from other people while interacting with operating systems as well as the possibility that if the artificial intelligence is developed enough, it could be no different than a real relationship, and certainly more satisfying than any number of shallow human relationships. In fact, perhaps processors would be capable of so much more – they would have the bandwidth for 8000 simultaneous conversations and 600 love affairs. But in the end, people are left with people, which I can’t find it in me to say is a sad ending though it’s played as such.

So these two examples are of… a happy future with machines? No Bladerunner?

Cai Guo Qiang redux

7 Aug

Cai Guo Qiang

Cai Guo Qiang sends 99 animals aboard the ninth wave in shanghai

as part of a monumental exhibition presented by the the power station of art in shanghai, chinese artist cai guo-­qiang has set sail to ‘the ninth wave’, a fishing boat from the artist’s hometown of quanzhou carrying 99 fabricated animals. the installation draws visual influence and takes its name from russian painter ivan aivazovsky’s 1850 painting, which depicts weary survivors from a shipwreck just barely holding onto to a mast, communicating human helplessness in the wake of nature’s unforgiving forces.

the public work, as well as the gallery-bound ones installed within the PSA, thematically express earth’s current environmental crisis. last year, high levels of smog in the air in china led to the horrific incident of 16,000 dead pigs found floating down the huangpu river, proving that ecological concerns in the region, as well as globally, have reached a critical level.

Li Wei

5 Aug

Li Wei

I think I’ve seen those first few pictures floating around the web, but after looking at all the stuff on his site, I have to say I like the cheesiest ones better. There are times when you just have no idea what is going on in someone’s head and it is almost always more enjoyable than knowing what is going on in someone’s head.

(Unless they are right outside your house.)