By Deb A.
My Dear Sir,
It has been so long since letters gave way to e-mails that now e-mails themselves have been replaced by messages that are easier to type with one's thumbs. And yet, there's something undeniable about the power of the handwritten word—in particular when it comes in an envelope.
For anyone rolling their eyes at this anachronistic, romanticised view of letter-writing: Try imagining an audience listening rapt as a renowned performer reads a piece of correspondence aloud. Is that performer reading a WhatsApp chat or a letter?
Chances are you're thinking of epistles, not emojis. So were the founders of Letters Live, who began an event series in London in 2013 that has, after over a dozen events in the United Kingdom, recently made its way over the the United States as well.
Letters Live bills itself as "a celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence." The events are a surprise; the audience is aware of what to expect in the most general sense—in essence, a cast of famous people reading memorable letters from other, mostly famous, people—but the personalities and subject matter involved are a mystery until someone takes the stage, and every show is different. Perhaps Ian McKellen will read Kurt Vonnegut's letter to five teenage fans. Maybe Benedict Cumberbatch will recite Albert Camus's missive to the teacher who inspired him. The process is so secretive that the performers themselves are told only moments before they step into the spotlight what they'll be reading.
Shows are generally sold out, and part of the proceeds are used to support literacy-focused charities such as First Story, The Reading Agency, and 826LA. The next event is the series' New York debut this week.
By Deb A.
Here's a roundup of just a few examples of beauty in the world this week.
Yinka Shonibare's Wind Sculpture has arrived in Central Park.
'They want to read books that engage with their everyday experiences, featuring characters who look like them." Denene Millner wrote in the New York Times about finding books for black children that celebrate daily life rather than extraordinary 'firsts.'
Hot on the heels of his own attempt to show that things just keep getting better, Steven Pinker recommended books to make you an optimist in The Guardian.
March 8th was International Women's Day, and the CBC celebrated with a list of 30 incredible women to inspire you with art...
...while Bloomberg highlighted female photographers around the world.
A book of lost poetry by Lou Reed is set to be published.
Canada's new Heritage Minute is for everyone who grew up with Anne of Green Gables.
By Deb A.
A book of poetry written by Leonard Cohen just before his death will be published next year. (Billboard)
We've talked about the Fearless Girl statue at length, and we wish we could be shocked that the firm behind it has a history of underpaying women and people of colour. (NPR)
Thirty publishers rejected Matt Cain's book on the grounds that it was too gay, but the general public disagrees: it's well on its way to getting published through crowdfunding instead. (The Bookseller)
505 new books were released during the UK's "Super Thursday". Which will you read first? (BBC)
Prize round-up: Kazuo Ishiguro won this year's Nobel Prize for literature. And the five finalists for Canada's Giller Prize have been announced. (Nobel Prize, Giller Prize)
The Guardian asked the art world about the biggest question currently facing artists. In one way or another, money comes up a lot. (The Guardian)
A school librarian rejected the First Lady's donation of ten Dr. Seuss books. (The Washington Post)
The Yayoi Kusama museum in Tokyo is open for business! (Yayoi Kusama Museum)
By Deb A.
The museum-going experience is generally a fairly standard one: Go in and look. In most cases, the act of experiencing art relies heavily or even exclusively on sight. Anyone wishing to contemplate something particularly fascinating might get close enough to see the tiny details, or sit for awhile to gaze. There might be something to listen to, but touching or tasting are generally frowned upon, and smelling is often wholly irrelevant altogether.
Peter de Cupere is a preeminent olfactory artist whose works include a fake fuel station smelling of grass, candy and exhaust fumes; a house made of pleasantly scented garbage; real flowers that smell like smoke; and a dome containing an old black tree on a white ball that makes visitors' eyes water with its intense peppermint and pepper aroma.
"When you walk into an installation with scent, you cannot hide. Your body starts to react," Mr. de Cupere explained to the New York Times. He believes that so little art is olfactory because smells "act directly on the limbic system and don't give you the necessary time and chance to translate things like you do with sight." Odours have an immediate physical impact on us, whereas even our first visceral impression of a painting can be considered and evaluated and refined.
The immediacy of smells extends to how we experience them. Unlike visual and aural art, scents must be encountered in person. They are not available online. As Scent Art, a network for olfactory artists, explains, "The resistance of odour to digitisation makes it one of the aspects of an artwork that still demands the physical presence of its audience in order to experience it." Klara Ravat has taken advantage of this fact to examine how human interaction changes after visitors have exchanged body odours with someone else—a feat that could only be realised in person.
Artist and smell scientist Sissel Tolaas thinks that scent affords us a deeper understanding that is more likely to remain fixed in our memory. Her installation for Beauty--Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in 2016 examined the beauty of smells--in particular, decay. She captured autumn odours in Central Park, then reproduced them and mixed them into paint that is activated by another sense: touch. She aims to help visitors understand that there is beauty to be found in odours.
Scent is the only sense that triggers our emotions, our memory and our adrenaline. Why, then, aren't more artists using aromas in their works? For one, smells can be difficult to control—in 1902 Sadakichi Hartmann's 'scent concert' was upstaged by tobacco smoke. Smell is also temporary, although artists like Anicka Yi have used it to reinforce the idea that "maybe, all art shouldn't stick around forever in its object form."
Perhaps the most important barrier to scent art is that we simply don't care as much about our sense of smell as we do about our other four senses. It has been shown that the ability to smell is the sense we would be most willing to sacrifice. Hopefully the growing ranks of contemporary olfactory artists (if you'd like to become one, here's a helpful resource) can help us acknowledge the value of what's right under our noses.
By Deb A.
After Senator Kamala Harris was accused of being hysterical for the (professional) way she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the world-renowned Strand Book Store posted a list of "strong feminist voices you need to listen to" under the title We Are Not Hysterical.
If you'd like feminist books like those delivered to your door every month you might want to keep an eye on the Card Carrying Books and Gifts Indiegogo page.
Enormous portraits of inspiring black women now grace the streets of London thanks to artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane and his You Are Enough series.
New York City will also look a little more interesting as of June 26th, when works by female artists will take the place of ad space on Lower East Side billboards thanks to SaveArtSpace.
Meanwhile, Emma Watson is up to her usual tricks: hiding feminist books around a major city. After leaving copies of Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom around London and New York, she's now stashing The Handmaid's Tale in Parisian nooks and crannies.
Joanna Moorhead of The Guardian rightly asks: Why isn't Anna Atkins famous?
Shikha Sharma spotlights feminist Indian authors we should get to know for Youth Ki Awaaz.
Grace Meets Matisse: Coming to a NYC billboard soon. (via Elise R. Peterson)
By Deb A.
Conserving contemporary art has become more and more complex as artists explore new materials. How does one preserve gum, chocolate, or dung for future generations? This week we look at a few art conservation challenges.
By Deb A.
Over the last decade, nearly 36,000 30-page sketchbooks have made their way to the Brooklyn Art Library's permanent collection.They are part of The Sketchbook Project, an initiative to equalize and inspire creative people that claims to be one of the world's largest collections of sketchbooks.
The Sketchbook Project's criteria for inclusion are low: contributors must purchase a branded, barcoded 5"x7" sketchbook to fill, use it in some way, and return it to the library in its original dimensions. That's it. The rest is up to you.
Unlike the exclusive gallery culture that founders Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker were reacting against when they began, all works are welcome--the library features sketchbooks filled by professional artists alongside others filled by children.
Submissions that meet the criteria are catalogued with keywords, enabling visitors to search for a particular name, theme or place. Artists can see how often their books have been pulled from the shelf; with each view, they get a reminder that somewhere out in the world, someone is paying attention. (For $35, they can have their work digitized and made available for viewing online as well.)
The Sketchbook Project offers a range of themes that contributors should use for a starting point: for 2018, this includes everything from 'Tacos' to 'Lines and Graphics' to 'People I Wish I Knew'.
Anyone wishing to add their own work to the project must sign up by January 5th, 2018 and submit their sketchbook by the end of March.
By Deb A.
Time for another round-up of bits and pieces that have caught our eye recently....
The BBC celebrated Magnum Photos's 70th anniversary with a retrospective on the legendary photo agency run by photographers.
The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art opened May 4 with Exhibition 1, a show featuring four female artists influenced by Islamic architecture and design. The institute, which is the only cultural institution representing Muslim and Arab artists in New York City, aims to encourage dialogue and confront stereotypes.
Messy Nessy takes us back to the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, where struggling writers who promise to read a book each day and work in the shop for two hours a day have been sleeping amongst the stacks since 1951.
A.R. Penck, a leader of the German Neo-Expressionist movement, died May 2, aged 77.
Just over 40% of us have embellished the truth about our reading habits, claims The Reading Agency. That statistic leaps to nearly 65% for people aged 18 to 24. Indeed, a quarter of that particular demographic purports to have read The Lord of the Rings when in fact, they've only seen the film.
...Good news for anyone who's been pretending to read Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman: The Handmaid's Tale and American Gods have both hit the small screen.
By Deb A.
When it emerged from the night in 1989, Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull symbolised optimism. The 3200-kg bronze sculpture, featuring testicles that, thanks to constant grabbing, are as shiny as Il Porcellino's snout (no word on whether the tourists who goose the bull are destined to return to New York City), was erected as a monument to strength in the face of adversity and the American spirit.
And then one morning in 2017, everything changed. The bull was no longer a snarling testament to power and perseverance: it was the embodiment of Wall Street misogyny and greed.
Since International Women's Day 2017, the bronze figure of a child has stood facing Charging Bull--calmly, defiantly, hands on her hips, chin tilted upward, ponytail waving in the same static breeze that holds many a superhero's cape permanently aloft. The bull is enormous and aggressive and the newcomer is a mere slip of a thing at 250 kg, but she is unmistakably unafraid. She is Fearless Girl, and for many, she reclaimed the space for feminism in a district overwhelmed by men in suits.
Critics were quick to point out that Fearless Girl was no innocent child--she was a corporate shill, commissioned by an investment firm that offers an index fund of companies with higher percentages of women in leadership positions. The plaque at Fearless Girl's feet references the product. While the vision for corporate leadership is admirable, the sponsorship was read by some as a disingenuous attention grab. But most of the people who pass by to snap selfies laud Fearless Girl as a statement about female empowerment.
This is exactly the problem for Mr. Di Modica, who recently held a press conference to claim that the artistic intent of his work has been violated: it is nearly impossible to imagine Charging Bull as a symbol of hope now that it is mere metres away from trampling a child.
As Wall Street's reputation has suffered over the last quarter-century, the bull has admittedly become more vulnerable to reinterpretation, but placing another artwork in direct interaction with it changes the context enough to fully alter the original meaning. While Mr. Di Modica wouldn't stand much of a chance in a legal battle, the question remains: To what extent is it morally acceptable to alter the context, and therefore the implied message, of a work of art?
Although both creatures are officially temporary, it looks like they'll be staring each other down for a while: Mayor Bill de Blasio extended Fearless Girl's one-week permit to one year, to the chagrin of Mr. Di Modica and the glee of parents of little girls linking arms with their bronze counterpart.
By Deb A.
With so many potential sources of division around the world, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to unite his diverse city through literature.
One Book, One New York (#OneBookNY) aims to get each one of New York City's 8.5 million residents to read a book; more specifically, to read the same book, at the same time. Similar schemes have been successful in other American cities, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle... and unsuccessful in New York in 2002, when organisers couldn't settle on a title.
This time the book will be selected via popular vote, through online voting and digital voting booths set up throughout the NYC subway system. The shortlist, sifted out from the suggestions of an advisory panel of professional bookworms, consists of five award-winning novels:
The publishers of the five shortlisted novels will each donate 4000 books to over 200 libraries around the city to prepare for the big read, which will begin in March once the winner is announced.
The initiative is more than a symbolic show of unity: public discussions and other events in each of the city's five boroughs will encourage people to engage not only with ideas, but with each other. The Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, which is running the programme, also hopes One Book, One New York will support independent booksellers throughout the city.
This year's One Book, One New York will be the first iteration of an annual event. Which books would you pick for New Yorkers to read this year? Let us know in the comments below.
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