By Deb A.
If you're in need of some inspiration to begin your week, look no further:
Art is good for us: On Wednesday the British Parliament will announce the results of its two-year inquiry into arts, health and wellbeing. In anticipation of the report, Nicci Gerrard offers an eloquent account of the role of arts in helping people with dementia. (The Guardian)
Beware the selfie: A single snapshot was to blame for the domino effect that knocked over a row of plinths holding $200,000 worth of art. Too perfectly awkward to be true? (The New York Times)
Sketching the unknown: How artists and researchers teamed up to find and introduce new species to the rest of the world. (The Atlantic)
Illustrator, cartoonist, trailblazer: Canadian artist Jillian Tamaki's new book of graphic short stories marks her emergence as a "consummate storyteller". (The Walrus)
Visual activist: Photographer Zanele Muholi highlights racism, homophobia, and hate with Somnyama Ngopnyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, a series of self-portraits she took every day for a year. The Guardian dedicates two spaces to her work, and rightly so: a striking photo gallery and a compelling article.
When is a Modigliani not a Modigliani? Twenty-one artworks have been confiscated from a major exhibition in Genoa after several were confirmed as fakes. (The Telegraph)
The Commuter Pig Keeper? You still have time to vote for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. (The Bookseller)
Agave alumna: Agave Magazine contributor Karla K. Morton's twelfth book, Wooden Lions, is now available.
By Deb A.
It's that time again: here's what may have slipped under your radar.
As classic dystopian fiction surges to the top of bestseller lists, Margaret Atwood wrote about The Handmaid's Tale and the significance of bearing witness in America's current political climate for the New York Times.
The Guardian looks at the numbers and concludes, happily, that hate doesn't sell.
Because you've already clicked 'agree': R. Sikoryak has turned iTunes's Terms and Conditions into a graphic novel.
Do you hear characters' voices even after you've put down your book? You're not alone.
The shortlist of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize is on display in London.
Co-edited by Agave Magazine favourite Mahvesh Murad, The Djinn Falls in Love is out now in the UK and will be available in North America from March 14th. The Washington Post loves it and you will too.
By Deb A.
Yanuary Navarro appreciates the unique allure of gouache and watercolours, noting that "they don't require much more than a cup of water and a brush. The older I get the more I appreciate simplicity." Yet her beautifully vibrant illustrations are part of a fantastical world where fairy tales, science fiction, and a childhood growing up in the Honduras collide--anything but simple. Agave Magazine is proud to feature Yanuary's A Coyote's Dream in our most recent issue, and to speak to her about being an artist, the power of ideas, and her series of invented short stories, 'The World of Wolli'.
What is 'The World of Wolli', and how did it come into being?
The 'World of Wolli' is the title of a series of visual short stories depicted in no chronological order. I have been building the story one painting at a time over the years. The concept began during my last year in college where I had an independent study class where I had the safe space to explore any subject. The narratives that began to naturally demand a voice were autobiographical, illustrating how my family and I immigrated and endured a dangerous journey through Central America. This is something I never really felt comfortable talking to people about and made me feel ashamed.
Over the years the narratives have expanded to include a network of people around me and their life stories and how they inspire me. I exaggerate people into characters and their details because storytelling is more interesting to me when truths are costumed in metaphors and when people are entertained they pay more attention to what is being said.
Where else do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in other forms of art such as film, literature, music etc. and seeing other artists move forward with their ideas despite social disadvantages and failures. Their courage to share their human experience creatively motivates me to not be so afraid of doing the same.
Your work is influenced by fairy tales and science fiction. What are your favourite stories?
My favorite stories list is always changing and growing. Currently, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Star Wars by George Lucas are some of my favorite fiction stories because they depict relatable human struggles within a fantastical setting that asks the human mind to leave logic and exercise the abstract concept of imagination. I believe that practising this helps us to become more skilled at empathizing with other people in real life and imagining what joys and sorrows they may be experiencing and therefore have a more appropriate response.
When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?
During high school I began to seriously practice my painting. I did not have hopes of becoming an artist or even make a living from it. I did it because being in the flow made the world make sense and brought a sense of inner peace that I could not get anywhere else. I think that the arts have shaped me from a frustrated teen into a peaceful and confident adult.
If you couldn't be an artist, what would you be?
I think I would enjoy being a scientist building machines and gadgets out of my Science Fiction dreams.
To be honest I feel that one cannot just be an artist hiding away from the world in a studio and perhaps that is not the worst fact in the world. Art is the voice of the people, it comes from a place of struggle seeking to be heard and the only way to hear what people's concerns are is to go outside and live life.
By Deb A.
In a time when famous people of colour can safely assume that they will be asked about #OscarsSoWhite in practically any interview, and when representations of black lives in the media often revolve around tragedy and the response to it, Zun Lee wants to draw our attention instead to "black love and black joy... everyday moments that are very quiet, but at the same time very powerful."
Mr. Lee is a photographer whose most recent exhibit, Fade Resistance at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, consists of over 1,000 photos that he did not take.
Four years ago, during the American recession, Mr. Lee stumbled across a box of old Polaroids. He knocked on doors to find the owners, but neighbours couldn't identify the subjects. It wasn't uncommon, he was told, for photos to be left out on the street. Unable to find the owners, he kept the box, and decided to build an archive of African American life as told through similar images.
Thanks to eBay and yard sales, his collection now consists of about 3,500 photographs documenting everything from newborns and family gatherings to hobbies and holidays from the 1970s to the 2000s.
Although Fade Resistance's primary aim is to emphasize the agency of the individuals and families in the photos, Mr. Lee is also acutely aware of the risk of objectification that comes with his exhibitions, telling the CBC, "it weighs on me to not really have the original owners attached to them. They're actual families, who know what these photos meant, and us speculating about them is kind of not OK." He posts his images on social media, hoping that he'll hear from the families to whom they belong, whether it's to reclaim the pictures or to instruct him to remove them from the Internet.
Fade Resistance asks us to consciously confront the vast gap between self-representation of black lives and media narratives about African Americans, and to decide that for all of us, "we are enough as we are".
By Deb A.
The way to a person's heart is through the stomach--it's an old saying (rendered gender-neutral here because... well, because it's 2015), but no less true for its age.
Celebrated chef Grant Macdonald understands very well the intricate intertwinings of food and love: while his culinary imagination and thoughtfulness has found expression in some of the most notable restaurants in North America, it all begins in his own kitchen, where he prepares meals for and with his wife, writer and photographer Ariana Lyriotakis, and their four children.
The Family Table, published by Agave Press, is the culinary story of Grant and Ariana's family of six. It is a cookbook of humble ingredients, shared meals, and good company.
From Montreal to Santa Barbara via New York, Vancouver and Austin, Grant and his family seek out local ingredients and imbue them with personal meaning, creating new dishes, new tastes, new adventures. As a collection of favourite recipes, anecdotes, and food-inspired moments, The Family Table is designed to be enjoyed for generations to come.
The Family Table is available as a full-colour, 150-page hardcover with dust jacket for order now at Agave Press. It is printed in the USA.
"Moving locations as often as we do means that we have been endowed with a generous gift of a variety of food cultures, ingredients and culinary traditions. This proximity to a rich bounty of North American cooking—the ability to experience things locally from near and far—has been immeasurably cultivating in how we perceive cooking in all its diverse forms, on a daily basis."
By Deb A.
From their very first freshman activities, university students are divided into their faculties: Arts and Humanities, Science, Engineering, Agriculture... we imagine that while Arts students fulfill their Science requirements with classes nicknamed 'Moons for Goons', Science students are rolling their eyes behind a battered poetry anthology. Math is for the logical, literature is for the dreamers, and never the twain shall meet.
Like all divisions we rely upon to help us make sense of the world, this one is not nearly as black-and-white as we may assume. Just ask the author who is also a doctor of history and philosophy of science and technology with an undergraduate degree in math and drama. Or turn to Oxford University and its Humanities and Science series, which recently launched its 2015 programme with 'Narrative and Proof: Two Side of the Same Equation?'.
"Mathematicians are storytellers," posited scientist and keynote speaker Marcus du Sautoy. "Our characters are numbers and geometries. Our narratives are the proofs we create about these characters."
Du Sautoy's love of mathematics is rooted in the journey rather than the answer. Mathematical proofs are like detective stories for him; the last chapter, in which everything is revealed, is nothing without the build-up of the rest of the book. Both a proof and a novel require narrative to be exciting. He also notes that at times, the link between literature and math is even more direct, citing Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, in which each chapter is half the length of the previous one, thus creating the much-lauded pacing of the story.
Author Ben Okri is the next speaker up to bat, and he also sees the link between narrative and mathematical proof, arguing that there is an unavoidable logic to storytelling, and that working out the 'inner maths' of a story is one of the most challenging tasks a writer faces. Storytelling, he insists, is the oldest technology, and in the beautiful prose for which he is known, he tells us that "narrative is woven into the fabric of consciousness as mathematics is woven into the fabric of the world." Everything, from stories to theorems, is narrative.
And then mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose arrives on the scene to pierce through the poetry of his predecessors on the panel. He agrees that indeed, narrative and proof do share things in common: while one might suppose that an author can simply make characters do whatever he or she pleases, the fact of the matter is that authors do face constraints if characters are to be believable. He also identifies beauty as a common element of both sides of the narrative/proof coin. And yet, Sir Penrose insists, the two are irreconcilably different due to one unavoidable element: in math, you can tell a great story, but if you're not right, the rest doesn't matter.
By Deb A.
Before smart phones and WiFi made it nearly impossible to not be able to find immediate answers for anything from burning questions to useless trivia, there was the library.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) has generously intertwined the new and old, offering us an entertainingly bizarre look at some of the queries it received in the years before we had the luxury of settling debates with a quick (and often, thankfully anonymous) swipe. #letmelibrarianthatforyou is the library's endearingly cumbersome hashtag for its new Monday feature in which some of the strangest archived query cards from its reference desk see the light of day once more.
The series began with a lucky find: an old recipe box labeled "interesting reference questions". As the NYPL notes, "in a world pre-Google, librarians weren't just Wikipedia, they were people's Craigslist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram all rolled into one." The library was as much a place for a songwriter to fact-check her bluebird-related lyrics or a Swiss stroller manufacturer to ask for a list of expectant mothers as it was for students or bookworms.
Unlike typing "what does it mean when" into a Google search and being confronted with the most popular searches that start that way (currently, "what does it mean when you dream about someone" is the top suggestion, hinting at a world heavily populated by lovesick dreamers), these cards represent the specific questions of a very small minority; in this case, we can't imagine that being chased by an elephant ranks high on the list of typical dreams.
#letmelibrarianthatforyou offers us the quirks of daily life as part of the bastion of human knowledge that is the New York Public Library, and reminds us that no matter what we can find online, we still need our libraries.
He paints, he draws, and he tells a great story. Agave Magazine's Artist-in-Residence Tony Luciani's Castel di Capestrano graces the front cover of the latest issue of Agave Magazine, so this week we've asked him to give us the inside scoop on the cover image and some more of his favourite works.
The Italian series
I spent three years in Italy. That is to say, one year, three separate times. Although I was born in Toronto to a family of Italian immigrants, I didn't go to Europe until my Ontario College of Art post-graduate year, in 1977-78. That year was spent mostly in Florence, studying the Renaissance masters. Needless to say, I was awestruck. I went back on my own in 1980-81, and again in 1984-84. Those two times, however, I lived in and painted the tiny village of Carrufo, high up the mountains of Abruzzo, where my family came from. It was during those extended visits that I came to maturity as an artist.
The study for Castel di Capestrano was done on a very narrow bridge in the village of Capestrano. I had to move my easel every time someone in a car wanted to cross over. It was this view I desired, and no car or wide mule-pulled cart full of kindling was going to dissuade me.
To me, Campo Santo di Carrufo is a spiritual painting. The mounds of earth on the graves roll like swells in the ocean, and the cypress trees remind me of souls reaching up to the heavens from their peaceful resting places. I kept the imagery in this work rather vague and purposefully flat, not wanting to lend this experience any sense of reality. My grandfather is buried there.
This series of charcoal drawings began as an observation over a period of two years. My excursions to the local township dump while I was living in the country were always interesting for me, and on every occasion, I would eye the mounds of scrap rubber piled high up against the expansive sky. This is where tires came to die.
One day I showed up with no waste to deposit; instead I had a sketchbook and camera. I asked the site attendant if it was okay with him if I spent some serious time with the mountain of rubber across the way. I explained that I was an artist and I thought the tires were beautiful. He took a step back and said, under his breath, "ahhhh... okay... sure."
All day long as I sketched, photographed and touched the tires, I could see the attendant, a hundred feet away at his booth, talkng to everyone who showed up to discard their garbage, pointing to me and bringing his other hand up to the side of his head, rotating an extended finger.
I heard the laughing... but I got four great drawings.
I had driven many times past a myriad of huge, grey-white turbines strewn across the open farmland outside Shelburne, Ontario. And then one day, taking a road less traveled, I came upon a small, steepled country church and saw the turbines from a new perspective. The scene, it seemed to me, was about the juxtaposition of modernity and antiquity; of furious, curious technological 'progress' and the resulting demise of acres of fertile farmland. In the century-old graveyard beside the church, the crosses on the tombstones echoed the shapes of the turbine blades, reminding me, ridiculously, of the tune from the last scene of the Monty Python film Life of Brian: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
A few years ago a major tornado came through the town where I live. The twister destroyed buildings, uprooted large trees, toppled hydro poles, and devastated parts of the surrounding countryside. Although its path was immense, there was only one casualty; sadly, it was a young boy from this area.
I began a painting with thoughts of capturing the tornado's aftermath. I was helping a friend clean up the debris on her farm the day after the storm and witnessed a scene of tranquility as well as destruction. The sky was the most beautiful blue, yet catastrophe was all around us. And so I painted with that thought in mind. I titled it Aftermath.
With the completed work now on my easel, I was entirely unsatisfied. I took one step back, and a deep breath in, and I knew I had to change it. It just looked like a fallen-down barn, a victim of abandonment.
My painted sky changed. The peaceful blue that had so captivated me became a dark, swirling array of greyish-black clouds. I inserted the twister in the distance. I brushed in sticks and lumber flying in every direction, and made the barn explode with power.
Now I had a painting I was happy with. I called it Twister.
I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia a few years ago and was overwhelmed by the depth of emotion I felt while standing at Pier 21, overlooking the water. This, I thought, is where my father, traveling on his own from Italy at the age of 40, first set foot on Canadian soil in 1950. I imagined the magnitude of his journey. He arrived at one end of this vast country, unable to speak English, and from there made his way to Alberta to work in the coal mines so that he could make enough money to get settled and bring over his wife and children. It took four long years.
My mother and my two brothers, Domenico and Terenzio, arrived at the same Pier 21 in November 1954. I wanted to document this achievement and used an old photo of the actual ship my family sailed on, the Saturnia, as my model. I also used typical Halifax homes of the time to represent what the city must have looked like back then.
When they arrived, my mom and brothers boarded a train from Halifax to Toronto, where they met up with my dad and settled in the city. I was born 17 months later.
By Deb A.
Roald Dahl's beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, and the occasion is being marked with hints of controversy from both a half-century ago and today: a chapter that didn't make it into the final version–it was considered too scandalous and immoral for British children of the 1950s–was printed in The Guardian on Saturday, and the cover of the new edition, published as a Penguin Modern Classic, has been roundly criticised as more appropriate for Valley of the Dolls or Lolita. (Making Dahl's name even more ubiquitous is a recent uproar over the use of the word "slut" in another of the author's books, Revolting Rhymes.)
The previously unseen chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reveals some of the major changes that were made before the final draft went to print. Initially, Charlie brought his mother, not his grandfather, along for Willy Wonka's tour, and was joined by eight other children instead of four. In the unpublished chapter featured in The Guardian, two unruly boys nearly meet a gruesome end: after clambering onto the wagons that transport chunks from a fudge mountain, Wilbur Rice and Tommy Troutbeck disappear off to "The Pounding And Cutting Room", to the horror of their parents. Willy Wonka reassures them, in the least reassuring and most Wonka-esque way, that there's a strainer in place for just this sort of occasion, and it's always worked: "At least it always has up to now." It's probably better for Wilbur and Tommy that they didn't make the novel's final cut, in more ways than one.
By Deb A.
Christopher David DiCicco writes short fiction in his attic. But he also mumbles it to himself in grocery stores, so if you run into him in Pennsylvania, don't be alarmed. He is a proud member of the online literary community whose piece, "Life Where You Want It" brings an upside-down world to the pages of Agave Magazine's Summer 2014 issue. (He would probably not mind you thinking he wrote Amy Hempel's "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" as well: "I can read that story over and over and you know what, so could you.") This week we are proud to introduce to you the fascinating Christopher D. DiCicco.
Where did you come up with the idea of a short story about being upside-down on a roller coaster?
I think in stories, so it just kind of came to me like a lot of mine do, but then like a lot of my ideas, I married it to something more important that interests me or haunts me or hurts my damn soul. You know what I mean, one of those deeper themes that occur throughout most literature because we’re all so similar, I married it to one of those guys. I’d been talking to my writer friend Matthew Kabik and he’d been reiterating his hate for his cubicle life; every day he’d look at this awful inspirational poster of a mountain biker riding down a hill with the words “Go for it” at the bottom of it or something like that. He said it crushed his soul, the stupidity and corniness of his corporate job trying to inspire him, and I thought about it, how odd and scary it is that we get stuck in these daily loops where we end up doing the same thing over and over again that we’d rather not do, and how that’s probably as weird as the rain hitting the ground and drying it right up. So, I guess the piece is a reaction to that. It’s my way of trying to make the reader look at things in a different perspective, maybe notice how weird things already are.
What would your upside-down life be like?
Upside down, when I kiss my wife, it’s because I’m angry. I step into a room and walk outside into the sun.
Hanging there no longer right-side up, I feed strays, starving them until I can see their ribs.
And when I dance, I stand completely still, and when I’m sad and cry upside down, little words in the tune of a happy jingle come singing out my eyes letting everyone know what it’s like to be me.
You sometimes write by dictating into your iPhone – does that change the nature of your final draft compared to things that start on a screen/a sheet of paper? Do you use this method because your brain is bubbling over with ideas, or because your life as a father/husband/teacher means you have to make the most of every minute... or just because you like to?
No, not really because even if I start a piece on screen or paper, I like to hear it aloud. I’m very interested in how my writing sounds, the flow of it. If I’m typing the thing, I’m saying it aloud and if I’m recording it, then it’s only a matter of time before I’m typing it anyway, so I don’t see a real change in the nature of the writing, not really. But it’s terrible at Starbucks. People probably think I’m whispering to myself. Although it’s probably worse when I’m at the grocery store talking into my phone about life on an upside-down roller coaster. And it’s not like I voice it aloud because it has to sound beautiful or anything. It’s more of it sounding right, to fit what I’m trying to capture for the particular piece. I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s my voice. I know how I sound or the narrator should sound, and if it’s not right, then I want to fix it. For me, dictating into my phone or reading it aloud as I write helps ensure that I’m writing it as it should be. I guess that kind of answers the second part of your question in a way, but not completely, so here goes...I think my style and my process are reciprocal in nature. My style is as much a product of my process as my process is a part of my style. And I’m overflowing with ideas, so I say into my phone, “New story idea” or “Continuation of…” and then I start listing the details, and then I’m like, the hell with this, because the details start taking form and then I just can’t help myself and I start telling the story, which is me writing. I think that makes sense because that’s the kind of the voice I have, some sort of weird casual storyteller. Isn’t that what writing fiction is anyway? Storytelling? I mean, the same way a singer or musician might emphasize a certain note, holding it out or cutting it nice and tight, that’s what the fiction writer does. He or she decides where to cut a word or splice in a phrase, where to emphasize a detail no one cares about until the storyteller decides it’s important, and in doing so the writer produces something of his/her own creation... and what the hell am I talking about, so yeah, being a father/husband/teacher reinforces my approach to writing. It’s old-fashioned storytelling, parenting and teaching—I’m always telling them a story—and if I tell it well enough they’ll listen.
Where does your (presumably irrepressible) urge to write come from?
Urge? It’s more like an anxiety. I have this need to write, and when I do, I feel good. At least, most of the time. It’s a part of me. And the more I know about it, the more writing becomes interesting to me—it becomes something I have to do because I love it. It’s really a narcotic thing, my urge to write. It comes from this intense appreciation of writing as an art, and a sort of obsession over style and experimentation. Those things complete me in a very corny way—who wouldn’t have the urge to feel completed?
Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Yes, but I never call it that. I’m not sure why. I know what it is. It’s when I write and hate every word I think of. I get so down on myself that everything seems wrong and I wonder why I write at all. To get over it, I read my favorite stories and they remind me of how good writing is, then I read something I’ve written that I know is good or at least has a good part to it, and when I come to that word or line or paragraph that sounds like it should and I’m proud of it and feel good, then my faith has been restored in me, not just in the written word. Then I can write again.
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