Category Archives: Reviews

The (Un)Draped Woman: Contemporary Iranian Art and New Self-Portraits

By Austin Park

The (Un)Draped Woman is the third in a series of pop-up shows organized by Roshi Rahnama and Advocartsy, a “collaborative visual arts platform” examining an exciting and highly active Iranian contemporary art scene in Los Angeles and beyond. This particular iteration seeks to challenge and interrogate the established or conventional image of the woman in Iranian culture, a central visual aspect of which is the image of women in various states of cover. Virtually all the works in this show engage primarily with questions about the image of self or the self-portrait. In this sense, the show as a whole attempts to visualize a contemporary Iranian and Iranian-American image of feminine self, ones that might possess qualities and inspirations from both Western and Eastern culture. Continue reading

Looking and Acting: On Ali Smith’s Autumn

By Milo Hicks

Reading a new Ali Smith novel always feels like returning to a familiar place. There is the usual smattering of quotes that mark the opening of each work, laid out like a welcome mat at the door. She always uses a single word — “past,” “beginning,” “I,” “there,” “one,” “1” — to open the first section of every one of her novels, a gentle reminder that every story is the bringing together of disparate parts. And then there is her undeniable voice that agitates and soothes in the same stroke, unbearably light and effortlessly heavy. Autumn, her most recent novel, is no exception, and it’s homier than ever. Underneath the new window coverings and re-arranged furniture are the same authorial concerns: time, art, and storytelling. Yet the familiar places of her novels never come across as worn or tired because they welcome such a diversity of characters. Smith knows that “whoever makes up the story makes up the world,” and advises us to “always try to welcome people into the home of your story.” This advice, which is one of Autumn’s foremost concerns, is lived out in every home she builds. Continue reading

The Fourth Estate Needs a Superhero

By Benjamin Reeves

On January 20th, America inaugurated a new president. He is a plutocrat who made a mint plastering his name on buildings and shellacking everything in gold like some sort of cut-rate Midas. He is a creature of the media — a whore for attention and a brazen liar. It was theoretically amusing, in years past, when he was simply taking turns on reality TV and pretending to gossip columnists that he was his own PR agent. During the early days of the campaign, the nation was all too content to suffer this particular fool so long as he kept the campaign interesting. Never forget CBS chairman Les Moonves’ words that Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” When we all started living in his personal reality TV show — when he won — he became terrifying. Continue reading

Hong Kong Noir

By Susan Blumberg-Kason

When I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s, my only interaction with the police occurred when I’d return from Shenzhen by foot. Once on the Hong Kong side of the Lo Wu Bridge, I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw their crisp navy uniforms.  The sight represented stability, order, and safety, things that were in short supply in Shenzhen and the parts of Hubei that I often visited as well on my forays to the mainland.  Life in those places had a Wild West, free-for-all feel to them.  There, as opposed to in rule-honoring Hong Kong, the trend often seemed to be that those with guanxi (personal connections) could work the system, while others were left to their own devices. Continue reading

2016 Releases from Dorothy, a Publishing Project

By Emily Wells

October was a thrilling month for Dorothy, a publishing project, a small press focused on publishing “fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Dorothy releases their entire annual catalogue in October, in this year’s case, two small volumes: the first English translation of Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger, and a collection of short fiction, The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George. The two books compliment each other well. Both are unconventional forays into the burdens of womanhood and storytelling, and are desperately concerned with what it means to be female and unfulfilled. Continue reading

Coastal Elite Elegy

By Joe Donnelly

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.
-Alfred North Whitehead

Of the many forensic narratives that have been stitched together to try and shape the potentially-nightmarish November 8 election results into some kind of cloth of understanding, one in particular has approached one-size-fits-all: the Rustbelt pastoral. It feels like I’ve read dozens of these instant anthropologies in books, magazine and newspapers over the past year or so, and they just keep coming. Most are handwringing, liberal guilt trips and almost all follow the same schematic: a righteous scribe from one of the coasts ventures into the heartland, gains a keener sense of the region’s economic and psychic wounds and then bundles it into a sympathetic homily that’s meant to explain, well, everything. Continue reading

Still Life: on Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme De Gilles

By Amina Cain

I had a difficult time, while reading Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme de Gilles, separating it from the recent events in U.S. politics. A man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women has won the presidency over the woman who would have been our first female president. Originally published in 1937 by Éditions Gallimard in Paris, and reissued this fall through Melville House as part of their Neversink Library series, it is not fair to Bourdouxhe to bring today’s politics into my reading of La Femme de Gilles. And yet, she might have understood. Friends with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Bourdouxhe was a member of the Resistance in France and Belgium, and is known to have worked with surrealist artist Paul Éluard to sneak political leaflets from Paris into Brussels. In the 1940s, when the Nazis took over Gallimard, Bourdouxhe cut ties, never publishing with them again. Continue reading

Beware of Black Ops Advertising

By Andrew Lipstein

If the term “Black Ops” conjures images of boots on the ground, assassination plots, Rainbow Six, or Edward Snowden, you’re forgiven — but prepare yourself for evils far more banal. That is: native advertising, content marketing, big data. In Black Ops Advertising, Mara Einstein (a professor of media studies at Queens College, City University of New York) constructs a clear, if occasionally slanted, window into the world of marketing in the digital age. In Einstein’s eyes, we’re all part of an invisible warzone, with businesses battling over a trifecta of bounty: our eyes, clicks, and wallets. Continue reading

The Purple Glamour of Billy the Kid

By Nick Holdstock

If I start by telling you that the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid dies at the end of The Kid, Ron Hansen’s newest novel, you cannot complain about spoilers. Historical fiction is perhaps unique in being exempt from having to supply the reader with morsels of the unexpected to keep their appetite keen. We don’t read these books to find out what happened — we read them to better understand why Thomas Cromwell helped his king to murder his wives, or how Shostakovich managed to survive the ravages of Stalin. We want to know how these people felt; we want to inhabit their minds and their world in a way that conventional nonfiction does not allow. Continue reading

Problems, Provocations, Roller Coasters, and Guns

By Alina Cohen

A few days before the Problems and Provocations book launch, Stacy Switzer mused that the promotional materials somewhat misrepresented the nature of the event.  “They’ve been saying panel discussion, but it’s not really a panel discussion,” she told me by phone. “It’s framed as more of a variety show.” Switzer is the former artistic director of Kansas City-based Grand Arts, a contemporary art project space that closed in 2015. Problems and Provocations, which she and collaborator Annie Fischer edited, celebrates the organization’s mission and projects throughout its 20 years of operation in pages both commemorative and absurd. Given the unconventional, expansive nature of Grand Arts’ work and the new book, a simple panel discussion just wouldn’t be fitting. Continue reading