By Deb A.
Standing in front of a painting, squinting, admiring, moving to the next. Until fairly recently, this was a typical museum experience for art lovers. Every now and then, a visitor might find herself stopped in her tracks, lost in contemplation, seconds melting into minutes as each scrutinized brushstroke evoked a fresh wave of awe. Replicas of favourite works, purchased in the inevitable gift shop, served as reminders of an ephemeral moment.
In museums such as Florence's Uffizzi, where photography without a special permit is strictly forbidden, this is still the default. In others that allow (usually flash-free) photography, visitors' habits have evolved slightly: standing in front of a sculpture, squinting, finding the best angle for a shot, posting to Instagram. Increasingly, these images are not merely of an artwork, but also of the visitor: the museum selfie.
Visitors are coming equipped to reinterpret art quite literally through the lens of their own experience. While traditionalists accuse selfie fans of turning masterpieces into mere wallpaper, the practice is becoming more accepted and even encouraged by curators and museum directors around the world. Not only can inserting oneself into a work of art result, in the best cases at least, in a new work altogether, but the overwhelming love of selfies on social media can be an effortless way of promoting museums and their art.
Which is why institutions are grappling with a new conundrum: how to deal with the selfie stick. The gadgets have been banned by London's National Gallery, Berlin's national museums, and New York's Museum of Modern Art, generally on the grounds that waving around sticks while ignoring one's surroundings--consisting mostly of priceless art and other human beings--is a terrible idea. (This neatly bypasses the criticism that selfies in general are a dooming indictment of the human race: the triumph of shallow narcissism over art appreciation.) Other museums, such as the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, embrace the selfie stick to entice a younger audience.
The clear victor in catering to the needs of all its visitors is Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum. Reacting to complaints by visitors regarding photography, the institution has banned all picture-taking... except in a special room filled with replicas of its best-loved works.
By Deb A.
"Each poem is unique but each reflects the universal in human experience, the aspiration for creativity that crosses all boundaries and borders, of time as well as space, in the constant affirmation of humanity as a single family." -- Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
"Let's show the world that feelings are more valuable than money" -- Julius Meinl Coffee Shop
While UNESCO gamely, and without any apparent sense of irony, encouraged the world to celebrate World Poetry Day yesterday with awkward tips such as "Read up about riddles, limericks and sonnets to liven up your evenings" (#4) and "Fight against the outdated image of poetry" (#5), a chain of cafes set its sights on the middle of a Venn diagram of poets, caffeine addicts, and penny pinchers by offering a coffee to customers who wrote them a poem. Under the painfully bad premise that "the more we do, the less we feel", Julius Meinl urged us to slow down to... have feelings... and then express them in a hasty iambic pentameter written for the sole purpose of scoring a cup of coffee.
On one hand, #PayWithAPoem is a laudable initiative in its ability to drum up more awareness, however superficial, of World Poetry Day than UNESCO's well-meaning but staid website. On the other, it certainly opens the doors to cynicism on several levels. Does the ability to buy an Americano with a poem belittle the efforts of those for whom poetry is an inevitable, undeniable expression of their very being? How many people gleefully sipped their reward for a thoughtless riff on "Roses are red / Violets are blue" that brought them no closer to the form of artistic expression that UNESCO deems important enough to all of humanity to merit its own special day? How many serious poets were willing to trade their pensive observations on the human condition for the sake of not having to count out change while a barista feigns patience? Will all those handwritten cards end up in a smug promotional clip on YouTube? And what determines the true value of a poem?
Perhaps we should try to liven up our evenings with limericks after all. Or, better yet, go with UNESCO's first tip: "Support poetry by buying the collections of young poets." (You could start here.)
By Deb A.
All it takes is a glimpse at Ian Adams's magnificent cover photograph, "Space", to get a sense of the magic folded into the Winter 2015 edition of Agave Magazine. The sobriety of long cold months are reflected here: impermanence, solitude, and loss all find expression, but the gently burning beauty with which these themes are tackled is what lingers longest in the mind's eye. The artists, photographers, writers, and poets whose works we are so proud to bring into the spotlight are united by a shared creative, inquisitive spirit that results in sublimely compelling images that are perfect for contemplation as the chill of winter slowly recedes.
We thank all our contributors for sharing their extraordinary talents with us, and invite you, dear Readers, to join us on another aesthetic journey: Agave Magazine's Winter 2015 issue.
By Deb A.
Danielle Susi's "Pareidolia", first featured in Volume 2, Issue 1 of Agave Magazine, is just one of twelve powerful poems that, bundled together in Danielle's first chapbook, The Month In Which We Are Born (Dancing Girl Press), form a piercing examination of identity and how we evolve through experience. In celebration of her new publication, we spoke with Danielle about how The Month In Which We Are Born came to life.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: The poems in The Month In Which We Are Born deal with the fluidity and fragility of identity; did you consciously choose to address this theme or did it emerge organically?
DANIELLE SUSI: That emerged organically. I had just moved to Chicago from New England and it was very strange for me. I didn't know who I was in this new place and what value I had to add to the city. I was discovering new roles for myself and I was scared and lonely for awhile.
AM: Tell us about the period in which you wrote the twelve poems featured in your chapbook. Did you write the poems as a series or collect them together afterwards? What were you reading and listening to at the time?
DS: The transition from New England to Chicago was difficult. I was thinking a lot about a life I had left and what my youth had been like. These poems have three phases for me: urgency, confrontation, and elegy.
I didn't write any of these as a series, but began to recognise them as thematically connected after I had all of it together. I didn't think I realised how much I had been mourning my childhood until I saw that I was writing about it so frequently. In a way, these poems are "place poems", identifying very much with the bridge between place and what current experience sparks thought of the past.
In a way, the poems are also about my younger brother. He went to college at the same time I moved to Chicago and I knew his transition was difficult as well. I don't often see memories of my childhood without him in them so when I was writing about those memories I knew that he must have been mourning them too. He's even in the title, too. That "We" is he and I. We were both born in August.
Hadara Bar-Nadav's incredible book Lullaby (with exit sign) was a huge influence in the making of this work. I was also listening to a lot of Volcano Choir and Lorde and Paul Simon and thinking about what words they used to describe place and location-specific emotion.
AM: Do you have a favourite poem in The Month In Which We Are Born?
DS: "Ode to Absorption" is one of my favourite poems I've ever written. It's pretty different from the others in the chapbook because it talks less about autobiographical experience and centers around what it means to reflect that experience we take in. This poem is the light. The reveal.
AM: Which poem was the hardest to write?
DS: Probably "Bitter". It's the shortest poem, but it went through so many revisions. I worked so hard to make it reflect this immediacy of needing to try something and discover something as a child. It tends to be one of the favourite poems among those who have read the chapbook, so maybe I did something right there.
AM: Leonardo da Vinci believed that pareidolia was a helpful phenomenon for artists. How can writers benefit from finding arbitrary meaning in common circumstance? Have you had instances of pareidolia that have been significant for your poems?
DS: Certainly. I think writers can benefit from this type of experience as a means to tap into the subconscious and to reveal images or ideas that wouldn't have been available to them otherwise. In the poem the speaker is recalling this notion of having several separate instances of believing to have seen popular culture icons like Morgan Freeman, John Lennon, and Fiona Apple in public settings and then realising they weren't the person the speaker thought they were. In the end, the speaker makes the same mistake but thinks the seen person is the speaker's mother. This poem, too, is about identity and not only how we think others are who they are not, but how sometimes we see ourselves as someone different from who we really are.
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