Visible on a clear day from nearly anywhere in the Los Angeles Basin, Mount Baldy has tended during the last decade to bring to many a mind the singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, who in the ‘90s famously spent five secluded years at its remote Zen Center. But for me that mental association has been erased by the artist Charles Long and the unforgettable conversation he offered me at his Mount Baldy home and studio on a recent January afternoon. The mountain’s one road seemed more threatening than usual when I drove up to see him, and not because its narrow lanes were being fanned by the Santa Anas, those moody winds that harry Southern Californians into states of recklessness or torpor. It was my state of mind.
When I first met K8 Hardy we were both wearing used fur. Hers was a bouffanty white-rabbit collar, mine was semi-hideous leopard-print cow-hair boots. The artist Oscar Tuazon and his wife, Dorothée Perret, editor of the blog Paris, LA, introduced us. It was obvious K8 thought my boyfriend was lame. Charisma and open confrontation are so relaxing, especially when they come from a good, imaginative place. It’s nice to know where you stand. I told K8 I’d do anything she wanted. She said she wanted the Kiehl’s conditioner I’d just been given for my birthday. (I was broke, of course; Oscar and Dorothée know all I need is expensive emollients to feel rich and well loved.) I told K8 to hold out her hand and I squirted about an inch of thick white stuff into it, the best I could do for jizzing. After a few drinks, I realized I’d known her artwork for years and got really excited.
I met Liz Deschenes at Bennington in August 2010. I had just started teaching poetry and the humanities at the college, where Liz has been a vital intellectual presence for several years. I immediately discerned her rich attentiveness and intuition, and, from students, I heard that her teaching effortlessly combined a sense of discipline and a sense of play. When she and I began to talk about art practice, language, and images, I exhilarated in her mind’s unique ability to merge technique and dream, impersonal and personal, heavy and light. As a poet, I’m utterly intrigued by the way Liz can stay with a practice rather than fixate upon an idea. It is interesting to me that so many of our conversations have lingered on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, a novel that, in Liz’s view, celebrates perception rather than description as the central, and most vital, task of an artist. Liz Deschenes’s haunting work certainly does the same—reorienting the viewer and revivifying our relationship with the image. Rereading To the Lighthouse, I found this passage—the thoughts of the woman artist Lily Briscoe—which captures the spirit of Liz Deschenes’s upcoming work for the Whitney Biennial: “For it was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge . . . ” We wrote this interview—back and forth over time—via the new epistolary method, email.
Call me populist, call me lazy, but to help prepare for this interview, I posted on Facebook that I was talking to Heidi Julavits for BOMB and asked if anyone had any questions for her. Turns out they did. “How does she pronounce her last name?” Jewlavitz. “Is she ever going to collect her short stories?” I forgot to ask. “How does The Believer, the magazine she co-founded and edits, continue its reign of excellence?” I forgot to ask that, too. Other questions came in private and were rhetorical. “Why is she so smart and funny?” “How is she pulling off this career with two kids?” “How does anyone that intelligent also dress that well?” “What does she know that we don’t?” And so, Heidi, who tends to inspire this kind of awe among her readers and peers.
Ingo Schulze became famous in Europe early on as the first important writer to come out of the “new Germany.” It was literally true: Born in Dresden in 1962, he had spent his life in the GDR (East Germany) but didn’t begin writing fiction until a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Moreover, the unification—which, as he says, was more a nonhostile takeover of the East by the West than a true unification—permeates his wonderful stories of the unheroic.
Nicolás Pereda and Gerardo Naranjo
Gerardo Naranjo and Nicolás Pereda are two great representatives of the thrilling and renovated state of contemporary Mexican cinema. Both of them have been able to establish a personal and vigorous film career in a very short time span. Not an easy task, considering that not so long ago, film careers in Mexico were reserved for very few directors, as the available public funds were scarce and usually went into the same hands.
As a young musician, Mohsen Namjoo first captivated Iranians’ attention with his magnificent album Toranj from 2007. This album, mostly produced underground, exploded among the Iranian community, both inside and outside of the country, because of its subversive words and, most of all, for its unusual fusion of classical Persian poetry and music with Western melodies and instrumentation. Namjoo’s bold music broke through all social, cultural, and musical taboos. It also insulted the Islamic regime, which called for his arrest, and, eventually, in 2008, forced him into a life in exile.
Dean Moss is a brilliant choreographer whose multidisciplinary shows are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They never give me that “eating your postmodern vegetables” feel I sometimes get when watching similar work. I find his shows utterly absorbing, and I’m always a little tense when I’m watching because I never know what the performers are going to do to me next, whether it’s inviting me onstage, sitting too close to me, or just doing things onstage that make me uncomfortable. Each show offers its own distinct set of pleasures. For example, in Kisaeng becomes you (2008–2009), a collaboration with traditional Korean dance choreographer Yoon Jin Kim, a group of Korean women invites two audience members onstage for a raucous drinking party that perfectly captures many of my favorite aspects of Korean culture.
One of the bonuses of being friends with an artist for an extended period of time is that gradually, after countless openings, studio visits, and long conversations, you become somewhat of an expert on that person’s work. I have been fortunate to have such a relationship with Michelle Segre and her work—from collages of gangs of legs cut from comic book pages, gnawed alien-bone mobiles, and giant pieces of moldy bread and larger-than-life mushrooms recalling the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg, right up to her current work. Her recent sculptures retain the core theme of literally digesting Pop art (food and digestion are timeless themes in Segre’s work) while introducing a new, seemingly raw, but actually quite sophisticated, deconstruction of its cartoon narrative.