Prickly Pear Issue 1: Desert/Water
Agave Press is thrilled to announce our newest quarterly publication, Prickly Pear Kids, debuting in print this winter. Inspired by colours and contrasts, textures and senses, culture and the natural world, Prickly Pear brings an accessible community of learning and creating to children aged 5-12 across the globe.
Calls for submissions are open until November 1st.
Agave Magazine is read in over 75 countries, and readership continues to grow thanks to the immensely talented writers, artists and photographers who fill our pages. Vol. 3, Issue 3 is titled Best of Agave--keep your eye out for its release later this year. In the meantime, calls for submissions for the following issue close November 1st.
We are looking for manuscripts, artistic portfolios and mixed-genre work to bring to print in our 2018 series. The deadline for submissions is December 1st. Further information can be found here.
Agave Press is pleased to offer a range of services, from book design to editing, writing and even website customisation. Get in touch!
Considering a collaboration with Agave Press? For details about our publications, including reviews, stats, and prices for our integrated support services, please send us a request for our 2017 media kit.
By Deb A.
Jason Willome's art is a search for "the place where things start to break down and contradictions emerge." One of the fascinating results of his investigations, Matching Concealed Patterns (The Seam Grows When You're Not Looking), appears on the cover of Agave Magazine Vol. 3, Issue 2. This week we speak with Jason about transience, diegesis, and what can be found on middle ground.
You've created sculptures and sketches but predominantly, you paint. Why?
Painting, as a context, is all about models, references and analogues. It's this weird specificity of sculpture, when you get down to it, that is tied to a history of utilizing materials (paint) and objects (panels, surfaces, screens, substrates, etc.) in a very particular way. Painting has such an immense history that these aspects of it have become an invisible burden, but really it's always been this way of probing the edges of perception. You know, it's very much a mental thing, but it's also about the object of the painting itself, and the space between the object and the viewer. So, it's a really good context for exploring the things I'm interested in. Actually, it could be I'm interested in these things because of painting....
What motivated you to play with flat and three-dimensional spaces in works like Matching Concealed Patterns (The Seam Grows When You're Not Looking)?
Those works were a way of distilling these ideas down into a more precise presentation. Previously, I had made a set of paintings from stills from the Frank Capra movie, It's A Wonderful Life--specifically from this moment in the film where the filmmakers double-exposed the scene with footage of snow falling. I suppose there wasn't enough snow in the original take, but it was always jarring to me to see what basically amounted to these two independent spaces sharing a moment in the time of the film. They work together enough that you can ignore it, and proceed with the narrative, but they also present a moment of revelation in a way, where the artifice of the film becomes visible, and the screen was suddenly there, where previously there had only been space. It was a moment that ever-so-slightly broke with the diegetic space of the film--and this reminded me of the gold leaf you frequently see in Catholic altarpieces: the gold leaf is on the surface, and asserts its difference from the narrative of the illusory space, providing emphasis for the viewer, while simultaneously playing a role in the space of the painting. So I made these snow paintings where the areas of the image that were occupied by snow were built up with this relief of paint material that both asserted the surface, and paradoxically played a role in the image, as an analogue of that moment in the film. The painting you referenced was a way of taking a more focused look at that idea. The atmosphere of objects around the figures in those paintings oscillate between diegetic and non-diegetic, functioning in the space of the image, casting shadows into the illusion, but also asserting the surface for the viewer and calling attention to the illusion. To use another movie as an example, it's like that moment in Say Anything, where the film music begins to warp, and John Cusack's character fixes it by shoving a matchbook into his car's cassette deck. The music reveals the artifice of the film, but also brings the viewer into a deeper involvement with the narrative illusion. The atmosphere of objects around the figures in those paintings are attempting something similar.
What themes are you currently working on, and how are they taking shape?
Right now, I'm trying to use these ideas as a way of framing and adding emphasis to other issues. I'm moving further off of the surface, and thinking more about how to emphasize the space between the image and the object. I'm using more temporal materials like salt and ice, which have their own time and phenomenology, and pairing them with images to emphasize an idea. For example, I have a set of works that appropriate images of the ignition contrails from the old Gemini and Apollo missions, where I have grown salt crystals in the areas of the contrails. It's that Carl Sagan idea of space exploration as self-investigation--we are all made of stardust.
What role does transience play in your work?
Lately, using these more obviously temporal materials is a way of juxtaposing different layers of time. There is the time of the image or the painted image, and then there is the time of the material. The salt contrails, for example, are framed behind glass, which slows the decay of the crystal forms, but allows in enough moisture that they continue to grow. This occurs in contrast to the rest of the static image, but also reflects the time intrinsic to the experience of the viewer. Every time I look at them they are different. It's somewhere in between Dubuffet's notion that his paintings were alive, and having an ant farm.
Having explored the nature of experience and reality in much of your work, where do you believe truth in art lies?
In the middle! Somewhere in between, where the mental and physical rub together. In spite of a photographic experience being a limited one, there is still something there that cannot be discounted, and which would not be available if the situation were otherwise. Images tell us something about the limits of our perception--how we build whole, complex models of the universe based on the little information we understand or have access to. I think that artworks give us a model or analogue to hold onto--art serves as an access point or an interface to an idea about the world. There's truth in that relationship--in the friction between acknowledging these two facets of experience.
By Deb A.
Karen Havelin's Like I'm Indestructible (Agave Magazine Vol. 3, Issue 2) takes on a theme that rarely features prominently in literature: chronic illness. Here we talk to the Norwegian author about her love of Charlotte Brontë, the challenges of speaking honestly about a hidden topic, and why she believes her poetry is better in Norwegian.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: You've been writing since you were a child. What motivates you to write, and how has your writing process changed over the years?
KAREN HAVELIN: I’ve always written when life overwhelms me in one way or another. It became an important way to express myself and handle life in my early teens, which is when I realized I wanted to be a writer. Now, it’s a more complex phenomenon—I notice that life is worse when I don’t do it. It is as if a portion of me exist only inside my writing and when the flow stagnates, it’s bad for my health. It feels like something I have to do. If I put everything I have into this, I can maybe do something no one else can.
It’s taken me a long time to accept how I work. When I was younger, in the typical fashion of new writers, I was convinced I needed to be inspired before I could write, or that I needed to be tortured, or to make my writing process resemble other people’s. Now I have a higher acceptance for myself and a much bigger trust in the process. I have to write a lot before I know where I’m going. But if I show up and keep doing it, something good will eventually come of it.
You studied under some notable professors at Columbia University, including Gary Shteyngart and Donald Antrim. What was the most important thing you learned from them?
The most important thing I learned was to stop relying on charm in my writing, to do my ground work, blocking, dialogue, structure—to put in the work. So much work! I was primarily a poet before Columbia, so I changed both language and form, which was a little nuts, but also liberating. Because of the demands to submit lots of pages, I had to immediately start writing full speed, which was useful in getting past self consciousness and going all in.
The novel which is excerpted in Agave Magazine is written in reverse chronological order. Why did you employ this particular method of storytelling?
The reverse chronology showcases other things than straightforwardly following the character from younger to older. Like, how do people change through the years, and what things stick? How are we influenced by the past, and can we free ourselves? This way, the different time periods in my character’s life sort of exist simultaneously, which feels true to me. Each part works on its own as well. It’s been interesting to see how different the readings of this book are. People have thought it’s everything from uplifting to tragic, torturous to pleasant.
What made you decide to write about chronic illness?
This is one area where I can admit to having personal experience. I work with what I know. But chronic illness is also largely unexplored in literature. I have always longed for good books about illness. Particularly ones where the sick person gets a voice, and doesn’t either die or get cured. Books that show the amount of work that goes into having a challenging body that has to be coaxed along.
It’s a bit of a challenge too, to try to make engaging literature about something that might on the surface seem dull. These are things that influence people’s lives to an immense degree, and that they perhaps don’t ever talk about. You can have crazy experiences that you can’t necessarily share with anyone. There are actually a lot of opportunities for humor. How are people’s lives interesting, even though they maybe can’t have exciting adventures? How are people shaped by lives that are very constricting in certain ways? This is one of the reasons I’m a little bit obsessed with Charlotte Brontë’s characters.
Chronic pain and chronic illness also impact women and men differently and tangle up into money, class, race. Everyone has a body, everything I experience I experience as this body. So for me, it feels obvious to chase that concentration of energy I see there.
Do you prefer to write in Norwegian or English?
This varies—it comes down to one day at a time, one piece of writing at a time, in whichever language feels possible. I’m probably a freer writer in English, and probably also less rigorous. In Norwegian I have a terser voice. My poetry is probably better in Norwegian.
Learn more about Karen and her work at www.karenhavelin.com.
By Deb A.
Sculptor and Agave Magazine contributor S.E. Nash started thinking about fermentation and microbial activity after reading about sourdough baker Chad Robertson, cheese nun Noella Marcellino, and fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz in Michael Pollen's Cooked. After a three-week workshop with Katz, Nash's ideas around merging art and fermentation began to take shape. Nash's sculpture, Collaborative Microbes, is featured in the most recent issue of Agave Magazine; here Nash explains quorum sensing, why technically we're all 'they', and how microbes can teach us about human nature.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Have you ever been surprised at how one of your sculptures has evolved?
S.E. Nash: When I returned to NYC from summer fermentation camp in 2014, I experimented with many ideas on how to incorporate fermentation and allow it to remain edible in the sculptures. This meant including glass vessels that are covered and separate from the sculptural materials, which are definitely not edible. Crafting the sculptures is a very intuitive and fluid process for me. Planning a sculpture in advance usually leads to changes when working anyway, so I will create initial drawings for sculptures that I know will change as I start working. The feasibility and structural aspects of including jars of fermented foods can be challenging, so the evolution of the sculptures is usually contingent on how the vessel will be incorporated. The fermented foods are fairly predictable as to how they will turn out; even if I do not know exactly how something will taste, I am skilled at creating the right conditions for the food to transform in the proper manner. Now that my work is involving other people, either as collaborators or participants, I am opening up the work to unexpected occurrences in social and community based practice.
At the end of an exhibition, visitors can consume your sculptures. What draw does the impermanence of your work with fermented foods have for you?
I describe microbes as my sculptural collaborators. Their waste products are what we like to eat in the form of sauerkraut, cheese, beer, sourdough, and countless other delicious foods. I was drawn to work with fermented foods due to the role they play in cultural production and community involvement. I believe the taste of fermented foods, their umami, connects us to a magical sense of creation. Describing taste and sensory experience with other people feels very unifying. In describing what we taste together we can share subjective experiences, compare notes, and delight in consuming appreciation for the food and its maker. I think that by including foods that are living and that change over the course of an exhibition I am giving viewers an entry point to consider our complex biological and social relationships with the world. The impermanence is a part of life cycles and our perception of time.
Why is fermentation an effective way of exploring notions of gender?
I like to say: if we know that our bodies have a symbiotic and dependent relationship with microbes and we know that those microbes comprise at least half or over half of our cells then we are at least half microbe. If being human means being at least half microbe, then I would argue that our ideology should take into account this incredible symbiosis we share with microbes (and viruses, as we are coming to learn). What can we understand about microbes that will help us untangle sex, gender, and sexual reproduction? Bacteria do not have a sex or gender and they can reproduce in myriad ways, including transferring DNA to selectively become another species of bacteria! From a theoretical standpoint I would like to say that microbes are queer (without choosing to be so), but that they also queer our bodies regardless. I think our language is typically very limited and constricted to binaries in discussions of gender. Thinking about the ancient microbial world puts this in perspective for me. Can we look at the blip of human history in comparison to the billions of years that microbes have on us and understand that our codified definitions of race and gender are shortsighted? I believe that microbes illuminate the idea of plurality contained in the self. This is why I use the gender pronouns they, them, their, and I argue that everyone is technically a “they”.
Why would a future in which humans learn quorum sensing be a good one?
Good question! I hope I can be pardoned by scientists for using “quorum sensing” as a metaphor. Among bacteria, quorum sensing is communication between individual bacteria and communities of bacteria, and this chemical communication can be sensed across species. It can serve as a decision making process, telling the group whether to grow a biofilm or to produce an antibiotic, for example. Quorum sensing may be a key to understanding symbiogenesis, or the evolution of multicellular life forms out symbiosis with single celled bacteria. The idea of quorum sensing appeals to me as a way to decenter the importance of human evolution and human history on earth. We are part of a biophilic world and our increasing awareness of our relationship with microbes has the potential to empower us to make decisions based on an appreciation for complex ecosystems.
What message would you like to share through your work?
I would like to communicate that the work we do as individuals is interdependent. My work is contingent on communities: viewers, participants, actants, and those who are doing the work that I draw on. In the near future, I am enthusiastic about working with farmers and communities interested in sustainability. I love working with children, too, and plan to include groups of children and their ideas in future projects. I hope to bring people together to discover and delight in the wonders and magic of the microbial world, and to realize our connections with one another through creativity and generosity of spirit.
By Deb A.
In the second part of our series, Grant and Ariana share tips on cooking for one's family, the recipes closest to their hearts, and the things they can't do without in the kitchen.
AGAVE: You'd toyed with the idea of publishing something like The Family Table from the very beginning of your relationship, but you only took the plunge after being together for over a decade, and with four children in tow. Once you started, how long did it take to create?
ARIANA: In actuality, it took us 5 months to put it together from conception to print, but even that could have been extended.
GRANT: Yes, it was certainly a sprint, and the next time we'll use a year (at least) to get it done! It was a very time-consuming project and we're proud that we pushed as hard as we did.
How involved were your children in the process?
A: Very involved! They have a fascination with food and where it comes from, and greatly enjoy the surrounding farms, vineyards, orchards and markets. Much of what we captured on film is them in these various elements, although they were asked to help put various shots together, from food flat lays to holding produce.
G: They also were eager and willing to help test and taste throughout the recipe process.
What recipe has the most sentimental value to you?
A: Most definitely the recipes in the Heritage section. I lost my maternal grandmother in 2014 and it's a small tribute to her and my memories of her cooking at the holidays that will forever live in my mind. All of my grandparents are no longer with us, and I try to grasp onto the memories that remain.
G: Indeed. I also included one of my favourite recipes from my maternal grandmother – I was about 13 when she passed away. The Heritage section highlights the importance of retaining family recipes and preserving legacy.
What do you think is essential to remember when cooking for one's family?
A: It's so important to get your children involved in the process from very early on. It helps to foster a love of eating and a respect for the labours of love that go into it. We also believe in everyone eating the same meal together at the same time (whenever possible). There is no distinction between kids and adult menus in our home.
G: You have to realize that they have strong opinions and aren't necessarily going to love everything you make. I think that meals should incorporate enough components so that someone can always find something they enjoy; then as you prepare the dishes again over time, they can build confidence in what they're eating and become more adventurous.
What kitchen utensil is a must-have for you?
A: Sharp knives.
G: Cast iron pans.
Signed copies of The Family Table are available for purchase in the Agave online shop this holiday season. (You'll have to find the knives and pans elsewhere, though.)
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