Book: Mira Schendel

Cover of the Tate catalog for Mira Schendel

Mira Schendel
edited by Tanya Barson and Taisa Palhares
published by Tate Publishing, London

In 2014, I was struggling with my abstract drawing practice, and needed to see how other artists managed some of the geometric ideas/problems/experiments I kept sketching out. By some amazing stroke of luck, I wound up in London on business, and was able to drop by the fantastic Tate Modern to see the Mira Schendel show.

Mira Schendel was a remarkable, Swiss-born Brazilian artist whom I’d never heard of, but whose work was STUNNING and completely on point as a contrast to my own work (and sometimes, it is easier to clarify your own thoughts in contrast to others’!). She worked with text! Translucency! Layers! Perforations! Her work is a revelation, and impressed me with its depth, experimentation, breadth (she has a remarkably diverse practice), and the great presentation of some very delicate work at the Tate.

This book is the sold-out catalog from that show, which I was able to buy YEARS later through a used book shop online. (Every time I’ve tried to stop taking photos as notes, and relied upon a show catalog, I couldn’t get one…) The reproductions, including those of oil crayon on translucent paper – which I was CERTAIN would be too difficult a challenge – are beautifully reproduced.

The essays in this catalog are a bit dense: Schendel was a fan of philosophy, and so folks who aren’t fans of Wittgenstein and others of his era might skim these for key clues about Schendel’s interest in language as an organizing concept for the world, and focus on the one about Immanence before jumping into the reproductions. The reprints of interviews with Schendel at the end are a great way to end.

A reproduction from the book of a Schendel piece incorporating typography, translucency, geometry, and general brilliance.

As with other artists I find “revelatory,” Schendel may have been omitted from the resources available to me while researching art because (a) she wasn’t based in Europe, (b) her work is not in the collections of major US museums, so (c) the major institutional museums don’t promote her as part of the official modern/contemporary art “canon” (which is based on what they have collected, conveniently), and (d) she wasn’t part of a group movement, which is a conveniently self-organizing set of practices or themes that make it easier to file work within a particular era’s “canon.” (It’s all so tedious, though I understand the desire for organizing principles.)

This is a well-produced catalog of a truly impressive show, and the Tate and its partners in Brazil and Portugal should be proud of it.

News: 500,000 OFFICIAL COVID-19 Deaths Reached Globally

News I was not looking forward to. (Illustration on the phone screen by me. Yes, I DO love Swiss watercolor pencils, and thanks for trying to give me something more pleasant to write about.)

The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Mortality Dashboard shows we hit 500,306 a short while ago. Today. This very afternoon. Unfortunately. And this is still an undercount, because it is just the official toll.

Was this preventable? Yes, but: HUMANS. Humans chose to prevent it in some places (I’m STILL looking at you, fantastic and careful South Korea and Taiwan!) yet chose to pretend it would disappear, “like a miracle,” in others, because key leaders haven’t watched enough horror movies about pandemics, in which terrible things happen because no one listens to the scientists who were right all along. (Truth is stupider than fiction.)

It’s strange to live in a country that regionally chose to let a global pandemic run wild. The US is still leading in the sheer volume of cases and deaths (2,510,151 confirmed cases, 125,539 deaths, and a 5% fatality rate at this moment according to the Johns Hopkins Mortality Analysis page).

I may be living in a region that set the first quarantines in the country, and benefit from excellent regional coordination of precautions, but that hasn’t spared my large state from being one of many places where videos of white women ranting about being forced to wear a mask as part of a political conspiracy keep cropping up. (Link provided to ABC7, so you won’t have to log into Twitter, where I saw that.) And our excellent regional approach won’t spare us if and when people from lax, conspiratorial areas come to visit. Which we are already dreading.

One awkward thing to note about the JH Mortality page is that it is sortable, and you can sort by which countries have the worst outcomes by population size (measured as deaths per 100,000 people). And what is terrifying is that, while the US is a big and CARELESS country without a functional leader, there are other countries that are somehow doing WORSE.

I just can’t find a polite way to discuss this with friends in other poorly-performing countries, though I’ve tried things along the lines of, ‘so sorry that our countries suck at preventing death’ and ‘I’m sorry to report we have surpassed your bad track record in the death percentage reports.’ It isn’t great to discussed shared incompetence in the absence of someone agreeing there is a problem, however, so it feels like a sensitive subject; it also feels like looking at the scaled rate it is a distraction from the US’ position as the worst-hit place, math aside.

I’ll go back to dreading ‘breaking news’ again…

News: 10 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide

It’s a very unhappy milestone, but we should mark it.

Global report: Covid-19 cases exceed 10m as anxieties rise over US

Global coronavirus cases have passed the 10 million mark as concerns mount over dangerous resurgences of the disease in several countries, most prominent among them the US, where infections are rising in 29 of 50 states. The pandemic has claimed almost 500,000 lives worldwide in seven months.

We are also approaching 500,000 deaths globally.

It didn’t have to be this way. But… [passive voice] “mistakes were made.”

Book: Real Man Adventures by T Cooper

Cover image

Real Man Adventures
by T Cooper
published by McSweeneys

What does it mean to be a man? T Cooper’s delightful biography / memoir / interview collection / essays explore this with depth, humor, vulnerability, and great stories. T wasn’t born male, and so approaches the subject with charming thoughtfulness in a way that many born-male men might not.

The humor of the fantastic cover is a good fit. There are truly engaging stories in here, unsent letters, questions, asides, and observations that had me giggling out loud so many times…

There are many serious moments. Changing one’s gender presentation in the US can be a dangerous, due to misinformation, ignorance, fear of difference, and negative cultural influences – and anyone who is true to themselves in this way risks violence. We should ALL be allowed to be ourselves and be safe, but that isn’t our current situation, and this is acknowledged throughout the book in candid, personal ways.

This is one of the most outright FUN books that I’ve read in a long while, and I recommend it enthusiastically.

News: Happy Virtual PRIDE!

We can all use the positivity of PRIDE! The intersectionality, support for BLM, and festivity is truly encouraging.

Today’s Virtual Global Pride 2020 poster

If you haven’t been watching the Global Pride 2020 live stream, you can find it by clicking on the photo above. (It is delightful!)

On 15 weeks of pandemic prevention

Image shot with my phone on March 10, 2020 , during the first week of then-voluntary coronavirus precautions

Just a couple years ago, I was always on a plane, heading east to a meeting on an overnight flight, living out of a suitcase, meeting colleagues for breakfast in airports, and now… my life is completely different . That way of life is no longer possible – and may not be again for YEARS.

HOW IT WAS: After five years of frequent business travel, I joined a company headquartered just six miles from my house (NOT in Switzerland!), with ZERO offices in Europe (though of course, they have one NOW, and I was volun-told to go…), so I could have some semblance of a local life again. Although my two most socially adventurous pals moved full time to SoCal (booooo!), my local habits rebounded: I resumed taking local photographs, eating in local vegan restaurants, visiting the many museums I have memberships at, enjoying strong coffee in pleasant cafes around my hometown, buying books from local bookshops, meeting friends for brunches and hikes, taking long walks to watch the city grow… 11,000 steps per day during my routine errands inserted stealth exercise into my car-free lifestyle, along with the intimacy that walking daily in a place provides.

The way sound travels through fog, the scent of blooming flowers in their peak seasons, the aromas from restaurants, the many languages of conversation – it infuses everything when you are out IN it. My hometown seeped back into me, and kept me delighted to be lucky enough to be here.

THE END OF THE OLD WORLD: My ordinary habits continued until the end of that first week in March, when my employer announced (over a weekend, no less) that we should not go back to the office for at least two weeks, but work remotely and try to stay put to avoid the highly contagious coronavirus. The timing was amusing: my company had held a big party to celebrate a company milestone just DAYS before the precautions began, and so it was almost comical to go from everyone clinking beer steins in one room to being banned from the office in the span of a weekend.

I enjoyed a (fantastic) museum show that final weekend, my last big public event for… well, maybe a long time.

I read news voraciously, and had been following the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. I was expecting it to arrive, and the quarantines in Asia were underway long before we started ours. When a colleague suggested postponing a meeting until after the two week initial precaution period, I told them not to count on returning anytime soon: by then, real restrictions were cropping up elsewhere, and UK reports had been leaked suggesting months of precautions were likely.

PANDEMIC DECLARED: If you had told me that there would be panic buying of toilet paper, I would not have believed you.

Nor the pasta panic buying. WHO DOES THAT?

Between the toilet paper and the pasta + sauce panic buying, I began to envision my neighbors as devoting 100% of their time to eating spaghetti and sitting on the toilet.

-me, then and again right now

I was able to get most of my gluten-free, vegan stuff for a while, before the panic buying by others expanded to ‘whatever is there.’

My friend K and I joked that people who had never cooked in their lives were now sitting on sacks of flour and lentils that would emerge, unopened, months from now, and that it would be our duty to our friends to mock them savagely. Meanwhile, I could have all the fresh greens and fruit I wanted, because the survivalist manuals people were suddenly relying on didn’t involve banana hoarding. (Though banana hoarding would have made for some very funny Instagram stories.)

Beyond inconvenience, there was the horror movie quality to the empty streets, the abrupt end of streetcar service, the sudden absence of voices, the eerie sound of a city of 800,000+ people sheltering inside simultaneously. The weird feeling that you could stop looking before you crossed a street, because THERE WERE NO CARS MOVING IN EITHER DIRECTION AS FAR AS YOU COULD SEE.

THE NEW WORLD: This is early in my sixteenth week of working remotely, avoiding other humans, and changing so many of my habits. I am tired from managing the logistical burdens of closures, limited hours, crowd control, overpriced delivery options, random shortages, and physical distance minimums, but I keep at it.

I am one of the lucky people who CAN work at home, and who still has a job.

I am extra lucky, because I have a room that was already set up as my home office, so I have a space to work in.

I am lucky even beyond that, because I’m an introverted writer-artist, and I do my best work when I have some time alone.

Not that I get time alone – my job entails about 4.5 hours of Zoom meetings daily – but when I am uninterrupted, I GET THINGS DONE. I don’t have small children demanding to be home-schooled; I don’t have a partner shouting into another Zoom meeting a few feet away from where I am working; dogs do not bark every time I try to present a slide; only deliveries interrupt my meetings (despite the odds).

Yes, it took me a few months to see real toilet paper again. Yes, buying groceries went from something I did a few times a week for freshness to something I dread. Yes, the logistics of getting supplies and keeping things in order has become onerous since the use of public transit was restricted to essential workers, and we were asked to stay within walking distance of our homes (my favorite grocer is just a tunnel away on a streetcar I can’t use…).

OH YES, I WORRY ABOUT THE DISPOSABLE, BLEACH-FILLED NEW WORLD in which driving a private vehicle and spraying disinfectants on things that should not have poisons sprayed on them (like FOOD) while throwing out everything that has ever been touched has suddenly become normal.

I like the birdsong, though. And having breakfast every morning during the time I used to spend commuting. The way the light shines into my bedroom in the morning, and into my office in the afternoon. Making myself a hot lunch in my own kitchen. Being home for dinner at a reasonable hour (because I’m always home). The relative quiet when I sleep. Living in a region where people care about each others’ safety, where the counties coordinate to align on precautions, and where people generally are looking after each other with noticeable courtesy and respect.

Yes, I am TOTALLY looking for SOMETHING to like during this global tragedy, because I have accepted that the world will be this way until we can interact safely, which may take a while. Hopefully not too long, but… a while.

News: A brief and brilliant piece on how crimes are just “youthful mistakes” for white folks

Krista Vernoff tweeted out a list of crimes she personally committed in her youth on Twitter, and how, in EVERY INSTANCE, she was escorted home, chided gently, and given a bottomless series of chances to change her life.

She knows that black people don’t receive these bottomless chances, and asks other white folks to reflect on this, and to change the system. Because: IT NEEDS TO CHANGE.

She wrote the tweets up into a piece for the Washington Post, and I’m sharing because it is worth a read:

Perspective | My list of youthful crimes is long. I survived because I’m white.

When I was 15, I was chased through a shopping mall by police while a store owner shouted, “Stop, thief!” I had thousands of dollars of stolen merchandise on me. I made it to the parking lot and hid between the cars before I was caught, booked, tried, sentenced to six months of probation, and required to see a parole officer weekly.

It is fantastic to read this as a first-person perspective: that may be enough to inspire others who were forgiven for their youthful “mistakes” to act on behalf of others who have not been so fortunate.

On what I’m reading now

Folks were once afraid that the Internet on phones would end reading, but it feels like that’s ALL I do with my phone now…

Here’s an overview of reading activities this week, whether or not I’ve written about it elsewhere here:

-Lucy Corin’s One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (which I won’t write a review of – disoriented narrators aren’t my thing)
-T Cooper’s Real Man Adventures (which kept me up WAAAAAY past my bedtime last night, giggling and being quite moved)
-Cory Doctorow’s Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age
-Terry Smith’s Whitelash: Unmasking White Grievance at the Ballot Box

Guardian UK (paid supporter) (for coronavirus, Black Lives Matter, and some world news)
Johns Hopkins University & Medical Center Coronavirus Resources (for coronavirus data)
-Twitter (heavily: I follow lots of writers and journalists, and they have a LOT to say right now, especially about BLM, Americans living in denial of coronavirus, and disinformation – reading on the Supreme Court is a big focus)
US Supreme Court Decision in Bostock v. Clayton County (OH MY GODS – and yes, I have an annotated PDF version with my notes, to help me digest it)
-Washington Post (paid subscriber) (BLM, coronavirus, world news, and politics)
-Wikipedia (donor)(very random things)

SARS-CoV-2: I would spend even more time reading about the pandemic, but I am lucky enough to work at a future pharmaceutical company, and receive presentations BY DOCTORS AND PHDs who are on our staff about the mechanisms of disease, what they are learning through their professional organizations, and how this relates to their specialties. It’s AMAZING stuff, and I can’t pretend I understand all of it, but I get something valuable from each session.

SUPREME COURT: That decision in Bostock kept me up VERY late: while the decision is 30 pages long, the dissents are 140 pages long (what a ratio), and after the ladies at Rewire said in their podcast that the dissents were “spicy”, I HAD TO KNOW DIRECTLY. And once I began, I just didn’t stop. 170 pages of decision TAKES TIME, it turns out, especially if you are fanatically highlighting your copy. The decision was full of surprises (Gorsuch!?!? GORSUCH!?!?); a friend who doesn’t work in law marveled that he could understand it; the dissents were not of equal quality (Alito seemed pretty worked up, and his attempt to distinguish anti-miscegenation cases from this turned weird pretty fast; his use of labels was interesting/revealing…); a gay friend DID want the law to distinguish between sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in this particular decision (which is something for new laws to address if that is what we want – the terminology has changed so much in my lifetime, that it is no surprise to me that the laws haven’t kept up) … I came away feeling like the decision was even stronger for trans rights than for gay rights, because the court has strong view of male and female, and becoming one or the other should be within their grasp as fully covered by a law hung up on those distinctions… but this pretends that the court accepts all trans people as their new sex (like I do), which they don’t.

Yes, I am a Supreme Court geek, and used to post especially great quotes from Supreme Court decisions on my office door at the law firm. Yes, most of those quotes were from Justice Ginsburg. I love RBG’s writing – love love love it. (Yes, the RBG Movie is worth watching – it is SO EXCITING that people understand the court, and care about how it works!)

(No, I haven’t read the DACA opinion yet, just many, many interpretations of it, but I am eager to read it myself…)

History: The Art of Complicating a Conversation Using the Internet

This has probably happened to you: you are trying to look up the date or location of some famous-but-ordinary event, only to find yourself still online, many hours later, learning about the knot-based recording system of ancient people of the Andes. The links of the Internet are catnip for the curious, and this can lead not only to unintended hours of indirect research online, but also some conversational derailments.

Curiosity can cause social problems, trust me on this. My Cousin forgave me immediately, however.

I will now briefly map how a conversation with my Cousin went from (a) focusing on the charm of some family photos relating to an ancestry research project to (b) the Japanese internment in the USA in just five topical steps due to interconnected links in the wonderful site known as Wikipedia.

MAP: My grandfather’s appearance as a light-skinned black man > his nickname Red > other Black people with the nickname Red, such as Malcom X ,who was a dishwasher with shared nickname holder Redd Foxx > Redd Foxx > Red Foxx’s friend (Noriyuki) Pat Morita (yes, Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid), who appeared on Redd’s popular show Sanford and Son with a TERRIBLE joke name > Pat Morita’s internment with his family at Gila River Internment Camp after his release from the hospital where he was recovering from surgeries for spinal TB.

(Yes, I would have continued if I hadn’t then realized I’d sucked all the charm out of the topic of my grandfather’s photo. OOOPS.)

Seriously, though, Pat Morita had a rough childhood. Imagine being paralyzed most of your youth, and when you finally get out of the hospital after years of painful surgeries and recovery, you are sent to join your family… in an internment camp.

Aside: Wikipedia is a great project, and you should consider sending some money to the Wikimedia Foundation (