Laurel Snyder’s solosarehardtomake makes wildly good sense

Dancer Laurel Snyder screaming

Laurel Snyder wails in solosarehardtomake

Read my review in Bushwick Daily!

The first thing I said when I spoke with dancer, singer, and musician Laurel Snyder on the phone before seeing her solo work solosarehardtomake was, “Thank you for writing an artist statement that makes sense.”

Don’t get me wrong: I feel quite sympathetic to anyone tasked with writing about their art (even writers!), but some of the blurbs I read go beyond just not illuminating the work; they actually muddy the waters with a bunch of big words and esoteric constructions and make it harder to understand. Yikes!

So when Laurel stated that the multiple creative disciplines she works in allow for “layered expression,” and that playing her field recordings during shows “invites performers and viewers to exist within the same world,” it made sense to me on the page—and then it enriched my understanding of her performance when I saw it on stage.

That’s brilliant! That’s the point!!

And, as a bonus, my heightened understanding of her work didn’t at all detract from its innate sensational-ness: it’s a wild show with lots of spontaneity and emotion, packed to the gills with nuance. So “getting it” didn’t break it down or make it boring. It just made it like a Beck song: orchestrated chaos I can get into.

My favorite.

New Groundswell mural vivifies East Williamsburg; really makes ya think

Early last week, I took a short walk down Manhattan Ave to its terminus at Broadway. It was a nice walk—in part because, on a morning this hot, I found myself actually enjoying being in the shadow of those 2,700-unit Lindsay Park cooperative housing buildings. But mostly it was because I knew what awaited me at the end: not one, but two!, beautiful and moving public murals by NYC’s own Groundswell, a nonprofit that’s been bedecking the city with gorgeous, socially-conscious public art, painted by teams of professionals and city kids, for 20 years.

I’ve been admiring the first mural I passed, “I Just Want To Come Home,” since it went up in 2015. A “contemporary blues piece,” according to the organization, the painting’s moody color scheme and kaleidoscopic arrangement of faces  within the letters of its title make it at once an arresting, calming, and haunting visual experience. With the knowledge that its purpose is to illustrate the complex relationships between police, young men of color, gentrification, incarceration, and a sense of safety and belonging, that experience is enriched many-fold.

Then I turned the corner onto Broadway and joined the dedication ceremony for Groundswell’s newest art project in our ‘hood: “The Fall of Oppression” (so new, it looks like Groundswell’s yet to put it on their website!). It’s a pretty fascinating work.

You can read my write-up of the whole dedication experience—complete with tear-jerking quotes from the lead artist, Groundswell’s program director, and our city council district rep—on Bushwick Daily.

My renewed thanks to all of you for keeping Williamsburg an enjoyable and educational place to live, paint, and walk. And for continuing to fight that good fight.

Readers: Tell me about your favorite public art!

Colorado photo tour -slash time warp

America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs

Arthur and I just spent four days and change in the big square state of Colorado (from which I originally hail), and boy was it a hatful—for reasons beside our inaugural start-to-finish screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! (Tim Curry: respect.)

Yes, multiple factors led to the head-spinning:

  • Going back to where you’re from, when you don’t go regularly, is all but guaranteed to be a trip. “Is that what XYZ really looks like? Where did XYZ go? I can’t believe I used to do XYZ here!!”
  • Colorado is different from New York in many ways: more sky, more dry, more guns; you hear fewer different languages spoken on the street—and fewer people are walking down the street to begin with, and the streets are steeply crowned to deal with the occasional flash flooding. That’s just a few, of many more, off the dome.
  • Taking a break from your usual routine and surroundings is a shake-up—even if you’re just spending the night on a friend’s couch. There’s nothing quite like shoehorning yourself into a different place temporarily to shift your perspective and put it in… perspective.

I could easily go on, and I don’t want to image myself out of blog-writing business!, but pictures are probably the most apt expression tool in this case. Ladies and germs, prepare to feast your eyes on… Colorado, Spring 2016!

Readers! Care to show and/or tell me about a trip ‘home’ you’ve taken?

Fly By Night: Duke Riley turns everybody on at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

“Duke Riley’s Fly By Night brings the rock dove back to the forefront of the New York story once again,” reads the program for the performance we saw last night, “assembling an unprecedented fleet of specially-trained birds that pay homage to the inhabitants of Cob Dock [the largest U.S. Navy pigeon coop, previously located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and now defunct] over 100 years later.”


As they got started, a hush fell on the crowd

Extremely cool artist and “long-time pigeon fancier” Duke Riley is partnering with one of my favorite organizations ever, Creative Time, to enact a fairly thrilling bird-based performance on a semi-secret corner of NYC’s waterfront this spring. Creative Time says:

“Friday through Sunday evenings at dusk, a massive flock of pigeons will elegantly twirl, swoop, and glide above the East River, as Riley orchestrates a series of performances… At the call of a whistle, thousands of birds will emerge from their home in a grand, converted historic boat docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The pigeons will circle above the river as the sun sets over Manhattan, and small leg bands, historically used to carry messages, will be replaced with tiny LED lights, illuminating the sky in a transcendent union of public art and nature.”


The birds’ changing shapes, swoops, and dives were mesmerizing!

One might wonder “why pigeons?”, but then one only need read further into the event program, which was so good that I’ll just quote it verbatim again:

“As the oldest domesticated bird, the rock dove has been part of the human story for thousands of years. …These delicate and talented creatures are deeply loved by the humans who raise them and widely misunderstood by their urban neighbors. … Letter carrier, spy, camera operator, educator, and soldier are just a few of the professions cited on the long resume of this often underestimated bird.”


In the dark, it resembled a giant game of Pong on steroids

The romance of the many points of light, the pigeons’ swirling flight patterns, and the long, almost melancholy whistles of the jumpsuited “conductors” were not lost on the crowd. Most of us kept our seats on the temporary bleachers and craned our necks back to watch the half-hour show, while others reclined on the pavement for a panoramic view. Judging by the general silence and periodic gasps of delight, I think we were pretty much all peacefully entranced.

From any vantage point, it was nice to see NYC’s proverbial “rats with wings” literally cast in an artful and appreciative light. (I’ve never had an intrinsic problem with rats either, come to think of it. Maybe a performance starring them will be next? Paul Jarvis would be proud!)

Scholes Street Studio: Making my day in all kinds of ways

I did an interview a few weeks ago with the lovely human beings Anita Mercier and René Pierre Allain, long-time Williamsburg residents, accomplished parents, and co-owners of Scholes Street Studio, a gem of a music space in our fair neighborhood.

The fascinating couple took more time than was necessary to show me around their beautiful and impressive live/work/performance space, and we enjoyed talking about their collection of African masks, the benefits of a metalworking background in the context of a major building renovation, and the ever-changing arts landscape of NYC.

Artists By Any Other Name performance

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (photo courtesy of Scholes Street Studio)

I felt the story I wrote about it for Bushwick Daily basically did the conversation, and Scholes Street Studio itself, justice. Plus it came together pretty easily once the interview was done, which always feels good from the ol’ craftsmanship perspective. But I was totally and wonderfully shocked when Bushwick Daily’s managing editor Emilie Ruscoe sent me the following feedback a couple of weeks after it was published:

“This is way overdue, but I have been meaning to email you back regarding your amazing work on the Scholes Street Studio piece! It was outstanding! Seriously beautiful, thoughtful, elegant features writing that, in my estimation, made up a story that seems like something the most discriminating news outlets I read would have been proud to run. I feel so lucky that you wrote it for us and so proud to have something so great among the stories I’ve edited for this site. Thank you so much!!”

Jeez, Emilie—you made me blush! You also made my day. Heck, my week! While trying to write well is its own reward, it’s a huge, huge help to get thoughtful pats on the back like this from time to time (as well as thoughtful critiques, which Emilie is also good at!). Helps make all the time spent staring at the screen totally worth it.

So this is pretty much a win-win, right? Memorable conversation, solid story, and morale-boosting accolade. (Well, if my math is right, that actually constitutes a win-win-win.) Just had to share.

Fellow writers (or anyone else): Tell me about a notable compliment you’ve received!

Arizona vs Florida: Cold weather getaway showdown

Yellow tulips

Unrelated: The springtime yellow tulips recently gifted to us by an uber-kind houseguest!

Winter’s basically over, so the time is ripe to look back at this past season’s getaway trips and, because this is America, crown a WINNER.

Let’s start with Arizona, where I went in January to visit my friend Elena who was interning at the blissed-out Tree of Life Center in the teensy town of Patagonia.

IMG_1987

Elena chillin’ on the plateau

She showed me around the farm’s sprout house (where tubs of little seedlings are each identified by a name like “Surrender” or “Forgiveness” written in marker on one side), brought me to dinner at a pizza restaurant called Velvet Elvis, and helmed many a scenic drive—from Phoenix to Tucson to the border town of Nogales and many stops in between. My favorite part might have been the evening when we set up lawn chairs on a hillside to watch the sun set, then turned them around to watch the moon rise.

I took so many awesome pictures (if I do say so myself) in this spellbinding locale that it’s hard to pick, but here’s a wee selection:

Turning our attention next to Florida… Arthur and I flew to Ft. Meyers last week to visit his mom and stepdad, who have wisely started leaving Boston each March to weather the bitter ends of the Northeast winter in these more hospitable climes.

While the area’s sprawling tic-tac developments and endless six-lane highways were not a draw for any of us, there are innumerable awesome animals and plants all around, and we spent much of our time hunting them down (with our eyes!). Plus of course many hours were spent in fine company simply relaxing and chatting, and sometimes enjoying a little media accompaniment, such as Rivers and Tides, the enchanting movie about artist Andy Goldsworthy.

So what do you think, dear audience? Which winter getaway vacation wins?

Cast your votes—the chosen city will win a prize!!

Behind burqas, more than bodies

I first became acquainted with the righteous, personable, accomplished (and stylish!) Grace Aneiza Ali when she wrote a guest post for the blog Idealists in Action, which I was co-editing at the time with one of the great platonic loves of my life, Celeste Hamilton Dennis.

To put my introduction to Grace in context, I should begin by saying, perhaps quizzically, that I don’t read too awfully much on the internet. I mean read-read. For sure, I look at the news, I peruse my neighborhood listserv, and I click over when I see an acquaintance has a new job. But—though it’s not a point of pride—after staring at the screen all day in the service of most of my work and life tasks, I don’t usually feel I have the energy to sit down with it for even longer when I actually want to read. (For this, I turn to paper books and magazines.) The loss is all mine, I know!

But occasionally, something does first catch my eye, then keep my attention, then resonate with me enough afterward that I keep a link to it in my “favorites” doc, look for ways to share it, and sometimes even read it again. Grace’s story for Idealist, “Do we miscast rural communities as places to leave behind?” was one such piece.

Grace Aneiza Ali and Celeste Hamilton Dennis

Grace + Celeste (photo by Terrence Jennings)

Grace caught my eye again a while later when I saw her in the New York TimesSunday Routine, and then a third time (the charm?) just last week in NYC. The occasion was the event The Art of the Burqa, produced by the art-meets-activism magazine Grace founded, OF NOTE, and hosted by Pen + Brush (“the only international nonprofit organization offering an outlet for women in both the literary and visual arts in the city of New York”) with help from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.

Through the fortitude of their mutual awesomeness, Grace and Celeste have stayed in touch since the Idealist days, and Celeste recently became Editor of OF NOTE, which was pretty thrilling news for me. (And here I’d been thinking that ’90s Hillary and Bill were the world’s most iconic two-for-the-price-of-one!) Naturally, I high-tailed it to Gramercy/Flatiron for the event, and spent the afternoon feeling more enlightened by the minute.

Highlights for me included the conversation between Suzanne Russell—an extremely badass lawyer, writer, and visual artist—and Afghan artist Hangama Amiri about the latter’s portrait series that features her burqa-clad mother inhabiting a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces; and the multimedia artist, educator, and writer Gia Harewood on the artist Behnaz Babazadeh’s Burkaphilia project—especially this wild video. But all the afternoon’s segments went a good distance toward illuminating the meanings and impacts of this iconic garment that extend far beyond the cloth itself and the body it covers.

It’s hard to picture a better event than one that combines a visit with beloved friends and mentors and a timely and affecting program—all in a beautiful space with a rapt audience. So my hat’s off to all of you! I look forward to only more greatness.

Tonight: Watch Jemima Kirke (of “Girls”) Interview an Ancient Alien at a Bushwick Film Premiere

I’m lifting that line directly from my latest post on Bushwick Daily, because I’m doubtful it gets much more catchy-slash-confusing than that.

Rather like the explanation given to me by producer Eric Schmalenberger of the psychological thriller, comedy, sports, horror drama (psy-thrill-com-spo-ho-dra?) he’s debuting at a big variety show-type event at House of Yes tonight, entitled The Joanne Holiday Show:

Claywoman is traveling 65 million light years to discuss humanity and metaphysics with Jemima Kirke. Also, we’ll be screening our film, in which psychedelic performance genius Erin Markey, fresh off the triumphant success of her one-of-a-kind musical A Ride on the Irish Cream, stars alongside the film’s writer, Michael Cavadias.”

Claywoman

Claywoman

“Plus, we’ll have Holly Miranda, who will break your heart; Jill Pangallo, who will deconstruct your heart; Will Janowitz, who will dress up as your heart; and Shane Shane, who will prance at your heart. Plus Dave Hill with an important video message!”

While (full transparency) I have never actually seen the show Girls, or caught any of Claywoman’s performances in the past 500 million years, I can tell from a simple Google image search that both Jemima Kirke and our ancient friend are pretty special, and I predict their conversation alone will be worth the cost of admission.

Not to mention the excitement of an ‘important video message’ getting piped in from this guy! Color me your newest fan, Mr. Hill.

I’m sure I’ll see you in Bushwick, my fellow psy-thrill-com-spo-ho-dra devotees! Another snowy night, another grip of good reasons to brave it.

“Incinerate Your Aversion to Performance Art” — new ink in Bushwick Daily

Polaroid genius Nick McManus and I enjoyed a Roman candle-esque tenure at Bushwick Daily in 2014, and I’ve been milking the produce of our collaboration regularly since. (Nick has gone on to dizzying heights the likes of Flavorpill and some others that whizzed by my consciousness when he told me about them on the phone the other day. Whatever they are, dude, you know I’m mighty stoked for ya!)

Nick McManus Polaroid

Nick (middle, faceless) engaging in incidental performance art, per usual

I admit to dropping the ball with the Bushwick gang after that hat trick of party coverage, but our acquaintance was rekindled when I ran into its lovely crew at a pre-Christmas poetry reading. They were nice enough to say they’d entertain any new pitches I cared to share—a statement they’ll likely regret, but I’m psyched!

Here’s me picking up where I left off (except without Nick, malheureusement, as it’s hard to illustrate a preview of an event with a photo): a shorty about people who cover their faces in pizza dough and punch tubs of margarine—for art!

Up next: god only knows. NYC is perfectly unpredictable (see all of the above).