Book: Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, edited by Peter Eleey, et al.

Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You
edited / essays by Peter Eleey, Robyn Farrell, Michael Govan, James Rondeau, Zoé Whitley, and more
published by Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and DelMonico Books – DAP
2021

Barbara Kruger’s retrospective has been calling to me from afar, and I was able to buy the book to read up in advance of seeing it!

Kruger’s most famous past works are widely recognized for their iconic consistency: a bold, black and white image with direct, engaging, nearly accusing Future Bold Oblique text on a high-contrast (often red) background. (I can just say, “Your Body is a Battlefield,” and the image will pop into your head!) She’s done much more with words, and I’ve had the pleasure of exploring a room wrapped in her power-questioning, engaging, accusatory texts.

This book features a significant amount of engaging, unsurprisingly bold, unsurprisingly relevant new works by Kruger, plus excellent essays about her and the ongoing relevance of the questions her work asks. Her work quotes Orwell, mocks the powerful, and challenges our willingness to be reduced from active citizens to consumers. The essays approach her challenges to us from different angles, quote James Baldwin, ask about our tendencies to judge, discuss empathy and contempt, and are thoughtful throughout.

The collection of recent work includes long walls/rooms of text, and it’s great to have them in book form to be able to take the time to read them all the way through.

It also comes with homework! There’s a collection of essays at the end which are presented as a sort of “syllabus” to the lessons we could be learning from all of this.

It’s a great book – not just in content, but also in form! The covers are boldly printed book-board with a printed fabric spine, and all the fore-edges are painted the same green as her work (and the x’s on the cover). I appreciate the boldness of the design.

For sale at the LACMA store, and wherever fine art books are sold.

This book is HIGHLY recommended if you love: Barbara Kruger, well-produced art books, text art, and concise, incisive cultural commentary.

Life: Staring At the International Space Station (a tiny dot)

The NASA App sends me notifications about 15 minutes before the ISS may come into view, along with coordinates appropriate to my location.

So ,YES, I was just standing out in the cold, holding my phone in my icy little hands with the compass app on, pointing it toward 220-ish degrees, and was rewarded by a brief glimpse of a very tiny, bright dot moving in a straight line between the clouds.

A tiny dot in the sky can be very pleasing! 😀

Language: Still Studying

And Duolingo gives me a chance to brag about it EVERY SINGLE DAY! (Well, every day I study, which is the same thing.)

Also, if I haven’t mentioned this since switching from other languages to Japanese: Japanese is difficult for me! My reaction when the program shows me an exercise is:

  • Oh, no! I have no idea what this says!
  • Oh, wait, I know that word.
  • Okay, I also know that phrase.
  • Well, maybe I do know what it says.
  • [complete answer]
  • [receive happy success chime]
  • [repeat with the same lack of confidence, again and again]

I’m still struggling so much over the little connectors, like [o], [ni], and [te/de]. I still fail to see the pattern of when they are appropriate, but… hopefully I’ll get there.

Manga: Spy X Family by Tatsuya Endo

Volume 1 Cover

Spy X Family
by Tatsuya Endo
published by Viz, San Francisco
2020 – (ongoing)

Westalis and Ostania are on the brink of war. Twilight, a handsome super-spy working for Westalis, must infiltrate elite society where politicians mingle: to do that, he’ll need a family – by the end of the week – to get into position to collect intelligence on a deadline.

He can’t be fussy.

He quickly adopts a child from a sketchy orphanage, and agrees to a faux marriage with a nice young woman who asks him for assistance, successfully assembling the Forger family. He doesn’t know the child, Anya, is hiding the fact that she is a telepath, or that his innocent-looking wife, Yor, is a professional assassin. Thanks to a series of misunderstandings and barely kept secrets, he won’t understand his (fake) wife or (fake) child any time soon!

This is a light-hearted comedy is attractively drawn. The faux-European setting provides a pretty-yet-tense backdrop, as government security services abduct and torture citizens who: show any hints of disloyalty, are turned in by envious acquaintances, or even are just a little different. The Forger family’s ability to fit in feels ‘high stakes,’ and while each of them has their own reasons they need to pass for normal, they all feel safer together.

Petty office rivalries, secret crushes, childhood bonds, misunderstandings, and sharp objects keep things moving along amusingly! EVEN THE DOG HAS A SECRET!

Viz’s Shonen Jump currently provides subscribers Chapters 1- 58; the compilation books are up through Volume 6 (Chapters 1 – 37).

Spy X Family is a nice way to take your mind off [gesturing]… the state of things.

This Viz preview below sets the scene in English; the Japanese preview below it has catchy music, and shows more images of the characters in action.

Music: Secret Agent at SomaFM

The soundtrack for my time at home this week is Secret Agent, which is a local web radio station run by somafm.com.

I can describe it as a bit of downtempo electronica (say, Amon Tobin), a bit of hip Jazz (something great from Blue Note), a bit of 70s cool (say, Curtis Mayfield), and random clips from James Bond films as punctuation. (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”)

It’s fun!

Manga: Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto

This is the cover for the compilation of the first 7 chapters. And it’s COOL.

Kaiju No. 8
by Naoya Matsumoto
published by Viz, San Francisco
2021 (ongoing)

Kafka Hibino has a dirty job: cleaning up the mess after giant monsters (kaiju) that attack his home city are violently “neutralized” by the nation’s Defense Force.

Kafka didn’t PLAN to be cutting up monster guts: he planned to fight against the kaiju directly at the side of childhood best friend, Mina Ashiro. But his plans went sideways, and decades later, he handles sanitation, while Mina leads the Defense Force’s third division as a national hero(ine), using weapons made from previously killed, powerful kaiju.

But… one day, things go very wrong, and Kafka becomes a part-time kaiju himself. Which is… SO AWKWARD. How will he ever get into the Defense Force and work with Mina if he is the enemy?

This is a charming adventure with dangerous monsters, dangerous humans, loyalty, teamwork, men gossiping in bathhouses, monster intestines, secret identities, partial kaiju transformations, very sharp blades, unexpected alliances, and fun illustrations between chapters.

I subscribe to Viz’s Shonen Jump, so I have access to all available chapters (1 through 54 as of mid-January 2022), and have been delighted by the story so far! Chapters 1-7 are available in book form, and I imagine the rest of the story will be bundled and released in the future.

I’m looking forward to future issues!

Internet Rabbit Hole: Street Names in San Francisco

While my father and I were discussing Spanish language place names (like the City of Manteca (which translates as LARD), or the town of Salida (which means exit, and various synonyms of that)), we started talking about street names in San Francisco that are ordinary Spanish words (Embarcadero (pier), Potrero (pasture), etc.). My father asked who Guerrero street was named after in the Mission.

That brought me to this work of awesomeness by Noah Veltman. It’s a map (and/or a list) of the streets of San Francisco, with brief biological remarks, and links to sites like Wikipedia.

The interface is great! For someone like Guerrero, the street is highlighted in red, and the biographical box is concise:

Excellent presentation of the data by Veltman (sample/detail)

The article on Guerrero at Wikipedia suggests that he was murdered (YIKES!) by (greedy) Americans trying to invalidate land grants of the Californios (people of California who resided in the area already/previously, while it was controlled by Spain and/or Mexico). (My brain is still saddened by and stuck on the idea of murder by slingshot – I believe it, I just have rarely seen effective slingshots, which somehow makes the idea even worse…)

This site is clearly a labor of love, and I’m happy to have encountered it.

Book: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata
translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
published in English by Grove Press (Grove Atlantic)
2016 (Japanese) / 2018 (English)

This is a compact, engrossing novel about a woman who has never quite fit into the rigid expectations of her family or society.

While convinced she is quite logical, Keiko sees that her behavior creates distress, especially for her beloved younger sister. Keiko learns to adjust her public self by mimicking those around her – their mannerisms, accents, clothing choices, figures of speech… And everyone seems satisfied and a bit flattered by how well she fits in – up to a point. Her continued work in a Japanese convenience store and single status remain unacceptable, though both suit her.

Ultimately, to appease her sister and others, she announces the end of her single status. The absurdity of misplaced satisfaction of those around her comes into the starkest possible relief.

The reviews I’ve read of this book discuss how “quirky” and “eccentric” the lead character is, but I suspect more. Those of us with friends ‘on the spectrum’ may read more into her viewpoints, and see Keiko as advocating for the liberation of neurodivergent people on their own terms.

It’s a great, short novel, and I love the frequency in which variations of ‘unnerving’ or ‘unsettling’ come up in the reviews!

Color: Celadon (green)

I am always looking for these shades of green, and always looking for excuses to buy more paints to mix them, since they don’t seem to exist as high-permanence prepared paints…

Music: Space Vacation Video

While we (okay, some of us) were frittering away our time during the pandemic, my friend and former colleague Scott and his band were working on their new album (coming soon, I’m sure). Space Vacation (spacevacationrocks.com) also made a fun (pandemic, multi-view, multi-time-period) video for this Iron Maiden cover:

(It’s harder to get meaningful internet results using the search phrase “Space Vacation” now – I blame the various billionaires and their hobbies!)