Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again @Socrates_Sculpture_Park

Reading about how the local community took the initiative to save this abandoned space, between Long Island City and Astoria, by converting it into a sculpture park – and being the first to applaud such creative initiatives, I thought I owed it to myself to take a closer look, not least because it is named after Socrates (470-399 B.C.), the great Greek philosopher, which is not surprising considering New York’s largest Greek community is in Astoria.

The exhibition on view those days was Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again, G.O.A.T. being an acronym for Greatest of All Time, a phrase commonly used in American sports. The exhibition examined ‘how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. This exhibition also brought new insight into the artist’s exploration of identity, social progress, the urban environment, and group belonging.

While it was difficult for me to grasp the higher meaning behind the flock of goats carrying stuff on their backs, I found the artist’s explanation ”… articulation of social dynamics, conjuring the animal’s attributes and symbolic connotations, from an ambitious climber of great heights to an outcast” equally puzzling.

On the other hand, the Apollo/Poll sign, that read ‘APOLLO’, the letters ‘A’ and ‘O’ blinking on and off to spell out “POLL” was easier to interpret even without the help of the artist (but here it is anyway): ”… The size and font of the red LED-lit letters are inspired by those of the iconic neon beacon hanging over Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a renowned venue for African American entertainers. The word ‘POLL’ suggests not only the theater’s well-known amateur night in which the audience decides the winner, but also the democratic election process.

I wonder what would Socrates have made out of all this…

August 26th, 2017

Sleep No More

Sharing a pastrami at Katz’s proved to be not only a delight but also necessary. We didn’t know it yet but we would need all the energy we could muster to see us through the rest of the evening. You see, we were about to embark on a journey to the fantasy world of the McKittrick Hotel and Punchdrunk’s adventurous production Sleep No More where lines between reality and dream, performer and spectator, time and space, are blurred and constantly shifting.

Sleep No More tells Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Macbeth seen as a film noir but, instead of watching a film, spectators move freely through corridors and rooms following any of the performers they choose to, or no one at all. People, wearing white masks handed by the McKittrick’s eccentric hosts before bidding them farewell with a firm ”fortune favours the bold”, can enter the dimly lit rooms, touch objects, open drawers, listen to soft rustling sounds and whispers, even breath the ever-so-faint scent of unseen residents. Sometimes, they can come face-to-face with an actor, perhaps too close for comfort. Which is precisely the whole point of this production, a unique theatrical experience unlike any other.

For tips on how to experience Sleep No More best, please check here.

Image credits: all except the first one, which was taken while waiting in line outside, are courtesy of the McKittrick and Punchdrunk. Photography is strictly forbidden so as not to spoil the ambience.

August 20th, 2017

At Katz’s

Before going to Katz’s make sure you work up a very healthy appetite. That’s what all that flânerie, walking from Hell’s Kitchen down to the East Village,  helped us do and even then we had to share a pastrami sandwich. For Katz’s Delicatessen is renowned not only for their legendary pastrami but also for their sandwiches of gargantuan proportions (ok, and for that orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally which, having tasted said pastrami, it totally makes sense).

August 20th, 2017

The Fantastic World of Virgil Finlay

In five scratchboard illustrations and one gouache.

In his 35-year career, Virgil Finlay produced over 2,600 illustrations, a remarkable achievement considering his labor-intensive and time-consuming drawing style.

”Instead of the typical pen and ink or carbon pencil drawings produced by most pulp illustrators, Finlay used a unique technique combining scratchboard—in which a clay-covered board is coated with black ink and the artist scratches away white lines from the black using a sharp blade—with intricate pen cross-hatching and an astonishingly painstaking method of creating tones called stipple.

Contrasted with hatching, or crossed lines, stippling is a time-consuming process in which tones are created with hundreds of tiny individual dots, carefully placed and dripped off the end of an ultra-fine dip pen, one dot at time.” [source]Face in the Abyss
Gouache on illustration board
Appeared on the cover of Famous Fantastic Mysteries magazine for ”Face in the Abyss” by A. Merritt, Frank A. Munsey Co., October 1940

”He came out of his coma. We left a sketch pad and pencils by the bed. He did a drawing, he went back into the coma, and died.”– Lail Finlay, Virgil Finlay’s daughter

Three Against the Stars
Scratchboard, pen and ink
Interior illustration in Fantastic Novels Magazine for ”Three Against the Stars”, by Eric North, New Publications, Inc., May 1950


The Lovers
Scratchboard, pen and ink
Appeared in Startling Stories magazine for ”The Lovers” by Philip José Farmer, Better Publications, August 1952

For the first time in science fiction history an Earth man and an alien woman have a sexual love affair in Philip José Farmer’s ”The Lovers”. This was quite groundbreaking yet controversial in 1950s American pop culture; however, it would seem quite tame compared to today’s science fiction books and films.


Woman reclining in lunar landscape, c. 1955
Scratchboard, pen and ink


Conquest of the Moon Pool
Scratchboard, pen and ink
Interior illustration in Fantastic Novels magazine for ”Conquest of the Moon Pool” by A. Merritt, New Publications, September 1948

From ”Conquest of the Moon Pool”:
”… and suddenly there before us stood two figures! One was a girl – a girl whose eyes were golden… whose softly curved lips were red as the royal coral and whose golden-brown hair reached to her knees! And the second was a gigantic frog – a woman frog… six feet high if an inch and with one webbed paw of its short, powerfully muscled forelegs resting upon the white should of the golden-eyed girl!”


Lur the Witch Woman with Her Consorts, Dwellers in the Mirage
Scratchboard, pen and ink
Appeared on the cover of Fantastic Novels for ”Dwellers in the Mirage”, written by A. Merritt, Frank A. Munsey Co., NY, April 1941

”Dwellers in the Mirage” introduction:
”The strangest adventure any man had encountered since time began faced Leif Langdon when he tumbled through that Alaskan mirage into a lost world.”

Adenturer Leif Langdon stumbles upon an uncommonly warm, hidden Arctic valley where he finds and falls in love with Evalie. Also in this valley are the Little People – elfin warriors fighting against Lur the Witch Woman and her demon riders who raid the Little People’s land for sacrifices to Kraken, their dark lord. Tapping into buried memories of another lifetime, Langdon realizes he had a past life as Kraken and as Lur’s lover. So begins Langdon’s inner struggle between his two selves.


All artwork by Virgil Finlay (1914 – 1971), photographed at the Society of Illustrators

August 15th, 2017

 

A resolution?

In case not very clear, the sign says: You are looking at 45,485 pounds of added sugar. This is the amount of added sugar children in the U.S. consume every 5 minutes.

But adults, too, are avid sugar consumers. Worst of all, we have little or no choice. After more than two years in the U.S. I still find it next to impossible to buy basic foods such as bread or cereal that do not contain some type of added sugar. Even foods labeled as ”healthy” contain cane sugar or maple syrup; sometimes sugar is disguised as cane syrup, which is nothing else than cane juice boiled down to a syrup, i.e. sugar.

By the way, the snack bars from the company responsible for this campaign? They contain 5g of added sugar.

Photos from August 22nd, 2017 – yet, always relevant.

A day trip to Poughkeepsie

First, I was intrigued by the Native American name. Looking for its meaning, I found out that it is a mispronunciation of a Native American word referring to the location of a spring of fresh water that was used by the first travelers as a rest stop on the trail that ran along the river. Poughkeepsie is derived from ”uppuqui ipis ing”, uppuqui pronounced oo-poo-kee, and it means ”the reed-covered lodge by the little water-place”. [source]

Then, came an episode of the ”Great American Railroad Journeys”, a BBC travel documentary in which Michael Portillo crosses the United States by train using an 1879 copy of Appleton’s Guidebook. In this episode, Portillo makes a stop on his way to Albany, to walk across the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, built in 1889.

In Appleton’s time the bridge existed on paper only but, just ten years later there it was, the first Hudson River rail crossing north of New York City, intended to move mostly freight from Midwest to New England. In peak times, as many as 50 trains a day used to cross the bridge, but by 1974, when it was destroyed by fire, the traffic had dropped to one train a day.

The fire may have been extinguished but the damaged bridge remained closed, in disrepair for 35 years, until October 2009 when it was reopened as Walkway Over the Hudson with funding by the State and Federal government bodies responsible for historic preservation, private philanthropic organisations, but mainly the initiative and extensive support  by local residents.

At 1,28 miles – just over 2 km long, it claims the first place as the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. Open daily from 7 am to sunset, easily reached from Manhattan: a two-hour trip running mostly alongside the Hudson, on Metro-North from Grand Central Terminal.

Attention, however, you need to plan accordingly: except for the obvious breezy conditions one may expect on a bridge, it can get really hot (as in boiling) on this particular one. There is nowhere to hide from the sun and relief will come only once you’ve crossed on either side and especially Highland, where the Hudson Valley Rail Trail continues for miles under the welcome leafy shade.

August 13th, 2017