Neil Young's box set, titled Archives, was released a couple of months ago to great acclaim. Made up of 10 Blu-ray discs, each holding 50 gigs of information, it is truly Neil Young's life in a box. There’s a beautiful moment we stumble upon in the box set where we see a film showing Young leaning out of an old car on his property in the hills of California, a land that I am so intimately connected to from having grown up here and watching the subtle changes of coastal light, and he says, “No matter how many people are around me, I keep talking about all the things that go on inside me.” The joy and vulnerability on his face against the bright blue sky suddenly made me see him as a dreamer, as someone who followed the only thing that he could do and followed it fully, preserving all the evidence of that journey in his music.
Humpday is the winner of the 2009 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence and screened at the Cannes Film Festival, the Edinburgh Film Festival, the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival. I spoke with Lynn Shelton when she was in San Francisco and you can find that interview on the Radio Tania website.
John Baldessari has been called an LA artist, a conceptual artist, a pop-artist, but is quite simply and completely an artist. Winner of the 2009 Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, Baldessari is one of the most important artists living and working today. In October, he will have a retrospective at the Tate that will travel to Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York. Stay tuned for an article on him in The Times.
Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie (detail)
Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43)
As the world's eyes are on the passing of one of the biggest icons to date, the reaction of his fans, foes, and the media offers a fascinating insight into the nexus of American culture. A prodigal performer from day one, Michael Jackson grew up alongside America with the promise of greatness, churning out hit after hit and literally lighting up the floor with innovation. But our expectation of Jackson fell short of reality as he collected as many disturbing rumours as he did animals for his Neverland Ranch; our icon became the personification of misguided talent.
Fifty years ago, American culture was similarly perceived through the lens of photographer Robert Frank, who thought he would capture candid scenes of life in the young and exciting US of A, beginning the project as documenting a young, growing country fulfilling its unbounded potential. What resulted however was the pervading sadness, both of the much American urban environment and the people who strode upon it. Behind all of the glitz and shiny exterior, there is a gritty alley and a lost gaze, or sometimes, a scene of pure weariness. Thus the seminal book, The Americans, was born and it is celebrating its 50th with an exhibition in San Francisco. I spoke with the co-curator Corey Keller. Both these stories represented how beauty and tragedy rest side by side.
Frank documented the seemingly banal during the 1950s and when the advent of the video camera became available, conceptual artists in LA started recording their own banal actions, tracking their own processes and those of their colleagues. One of the pioneers was artist John Baldessari who turned the lens towards himself and others—painting, moving, walking, sitting, making art. He has an exhibition coming up in San Francisco and I will be speaking with in in mid-July. Stay tuned!
On April 22nd, Pop-Up Magazine had their first event and I was delighted to be involved as one of the performances of the night with my friend and partner Ahri Golden. We filled out the "Society" section of the night, showing material from "Born," our piece about the postpartum experience in America. Here is the clip we played.
Also in attendance was Larry Sultan who entertained the crowd with his fictional family history that he devised from images in a photo album he found years ago. Above is Sultan's photograph (not from the photo album) titled, "Mom Posing By Green Wall And Dad Watching TV."
I interviewed Larry Sultan several years ago, lovely man.
The ever-brilliant Kitchen Sisters who produce and host the NPR series, "Hidden Kitchens," showcased their new piece "One Big Soul" which looks to reveal the secret life of girls.
I did it! I made a podcast! I have been wanting to make a podcast of Sight Unseen, particularly so that my friend Michael could listen to the show (Michael is the person I drove around America with who is highlighted in the Happiness piece I produced for Studio 360). I am not quite sure why it took me so long to make this when 13 year olds across the world are creating podcasts but it did and now, well soon, you can look for Sight Unseen in iTunes. So check it out. The first one is the Steven Soderbergh interview (with an intro of Che at the start). Enjoy....
There are a lot of perks to being a journalist and one of them is surely the chance to speak with people you admire. Philip Glass may be one of those (I definitely admire him, just need to confirm the interview). I can't say I actively listen to Philip Glass regularly the way I do to say John Coltrane or Smog (at least lately). They are more accessible artists. But I admire Philip Glass for the vast range of his work. Last year, I went to see an opera of his, Appomattox, with Philip who managed to tolerate it even though he truly dislikes opera and this year, Glass is coming to San Francisco for the West Coast premiere of Music in Twelve Parts.
The other thing happening this week is I just started teaching a workshop with some students at CCA called PODCASTING YOU. They are excited about having a voice and when the podcasts come out, I will let you all know. Oh and just randomly, this is an image that Philip took in Tahoe.
OK, so I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up in the next week and while I normally don't voice my excitement over these sorts of things (people had to pry it out that I had interviewed His Holiness the Dalai Lama), this time I am changing my ways. Maybe it's a 2009 thing, the year of the ox supposedly, a year of great struggle and great work. Maybe it's just that I am really looking forward to these two interviews with Steven Soderbergh and Wim Wenders. Regardless, I wanted to share a few things about each director. First, Philip and I just got through seeing CHE, Soderbergh's epic film about the legendary, near mythical revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, played by a subdued and potent Benicio del Toro. It was an interesting role for him, and one that must have meant a great deal to him since he co-produced CHE. It takes great passion and drive to produce a film. I also wonder about the challenges of making films about legendary figures. The film was gorgeous and deserved the four plus hours of screen time because it offered the pace and sense and challenge of starting revolutions. From the lush, jungle quality of Cuba's countryside to the arid mountains of Bolivia, the cinematorgraphy was magnificent and real. For those interested in revolutionaries or in Che himself, I recommend it. Then next week, I am speaking with Wim Wenders about his recent film Palermo Shooting. I have interviewed Wenders before but I have always worried that in that interview I confused him with Werner Herzog. I think I might have said, "in your previous film, Grizzly Man...." Oops! I hope that didn't happen but at least I have a second chance to redeem myself!
WS Merwin just came out with a new book of poetry. He's 81, he lives in Hawaii, he has a gentle voice and he isn't scared of dying. What strikes me about his work is the brilliant balance and sensitivity to nature and the human emotion. These are two themes that seem potent during the "holiday season"—the dramatic weather and the changes it goes through from short days to longer ones, from colored leaves to white snow and the plethora of human emotions that come up during this time of family gatherings and suspended hopes. Here are a couple poems by Merwin and here is a review of his new book.
How long ago the day is
when at last I look at it
with the time it has taken
to be there still in it
now in the transparent light
with the flight in the voices
the beginning in the leaves
everything I remember
and before it before me
present at the speed of light
in the distance that I am
who keep reaching out to it
seeing all the time faster
where it has never stirred from
before there is anything
the darkness thinking the light
Certain words now in our knowledge we will not use again, and we will never forget them. We need them. Like the back of the picture. Like our marrow, and the color in our veins. We shine the lantern of our sleep on them, to make sure, and there they are, trembling already for the day of witness. They will be buried with us and rise with the rest.
This weekend, I went to the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, a building designed by Herzog and de Meuron that is changing color over time. I went with my Mom and Grandma, a tradition we seem to be creating, weekend excursions together to places we enjoy. Last week was Half Moon Bay, this week, the museum. We went there to see the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit, be all girly and decide which outfit we would most want to wear (I chose a brown dress). While there, we saw the work of artist Maya Lin. I had the opportunity to interview her but turned it down. When I saw her extraordinary work, I regretted that choice. She creates landscapes from plywood, almost as if she has filled The Grand Canyon with carefully carved birch wood. Some pieces could be held in our arms, others were massive. My Grandma particularly liked the work and I trust her opinion, especially given that she was impressed by contemporary art. She is an artist in her own right and her painting hangs on my bedroom wall. The Lin pieces reminded me of another artist who depicts landscapes, these being real and, according to him, manufactured ones. That's Edward Burtynsky and I interviewed him earlier this year. You can find that here. I then remembered another interviewee that inspired me—Jennifer Fox—who traversed the landscape of this world asking women about being women in Flying: Confessions of Free Woman. Here's that interview. The idea of landscapes just leads to so much! (Oh, and what inspired this whole posting was the bottom image that I saw on one of my favorite sites.)