Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Neutrinos in a New Light - Art at Fermilab

The proof that mysterious, invisible neutrinos exist lies in the "aftermath" of their collisions with other particles and substances. Ghost-like, neutrinos can pass through objects, leaving a mark that the naked eye cannot see, thus inspiring both scientists and artists. Things we cannot see leave the most indelible impression.

The result of  Ellen Sandor and (art)n's year-long artist residency at Fermilab is a fascinating exhibition entitled Neutrinos in a New Light, on view now through March 17, 2017. Art and science collide gently to form elegant PHSColograms - Sandor's term for the synthesis of photography, holography, sculpture, and computer graphics. The works in this show the AIDS and Ebola viruses as well as the brain of an autistic person; some pieces highlight the influence artists such as Alberto Giacometti, Jackson Pollock, and David Smith have had on Sandor and her collaborators. A friend of the artist commented that the art captured the "tragic beauty" of life. Perhaps my favorite piece was The Magnificent Micelle, 2013

Physicists and art lovers, young and old enthusiastically engaged with the virtual reality component of the show in order to create their own 3D art. I was excited by the way art once again enters into everything, everywhere if you let it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Things I've Enjoyed This Week

Despite recent personal sadnesses and the general Weltschmerz, these things have made me smile this week:

1. The super moon.

2. The Nollywood portrait exhibition at Columbia College's Museum of Contemporary Photography.

3. Beautiful, atypical Chicago weather.

4. The lunch special at Thai Spoon.

5. The Norman Lewis painting exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.

6. Michelle Dockery in Good Behavior (because where else will you see Lady Mary toting a stainless steel shotgun, grifting with glee, and smoking meth from a hand-fashioned pipe?)

7. Jo Malone's new fall fragrance, Basil and Neroli.

8. Being immersed in Diana Thater's hypnotic animal world at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

9. Going behind the scenes at Susanin's Auction House.

10. Discovering Open Books, a non-profit bookstore promoting literacy.

11. Being tempted to visit Los Angeles (finally) by the lovely portrait food critic Jonathan Gold paints in City of Gold.

12. Being reminded of the delight that is Buenos Aires, one of my favorite cities, in the moving documentary Our Last Tango.

13. Thinking about going to see Morrissey on the 27th.

14. Ha Jin's The Boat Rocker.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vanishing Streets

Admirers of W.G. Sebald will believe he has come back to life in the melancholy, beautiful book called Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London by J.M. Tyree. Reading this book may lead you (as it did me) down a delightful rabbit hole that included watching all of the British Film Institute and Ford Motor Company-funded Free Cinema films as well as reading Tyree's Our Secret Life in the Movies, written in collaboration with Michael McGriff. And I will likely soon re-read Austerlitz and The Emgirants, two of my favorite Sebald masterpieces.

The Free Cinema Films were conceived, filmed, and produced in the black-and-white 1950s of post-war London and other parts of Britain. Unlike the more traditional films of the time, the credo of the Free Cinema directors called for a celebration of ordinary citizens enjoying themselves, living life, working. Downton Abbey/E.M. Forster/Merchant Ivory stories these are not, but for me, they are all the more exciting and fresh for it. You are really there at that time in history, observing people speak, move, live. You are taken into worlds that lie beyond the static, still (though beautiful) black-and-white images of photographers like Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Walker Evans, and Diane Arbus.

Watching the Free Cinema films gave me the same thrill I got when I entered the black-and-white 1950s Rome of Roberto Rosellini and Vittorio Seca. Ditto the French New Wave films of Francois Truffault, Agnes Varda, Chris Marker, and Eric Rohmer. Antonioni captured 1972 China in La Chine; Wim Wenders did the same with Berlin, pre-Wall fall, in the magnificent Wings of Desire. And Kieslowski documented 1960s-1980s life in Poland in his masterful black and white films of the era before making the permanent shift to fiction, starting with his splendid Dekalog, newly released by Criterion.

In Vanishing Streets, Tyree pays homage to Robert Vas's 1962 Free Cinema film, The Vanishing Street. We spend 20 minutes among the inhabitants of London's Jewish East End, specifically Hessel Street, just before the buildings there are razed to make way for "improvements." Like Vas, Tyree depicts the inevitability of the constant cycle of destruction and construction, lamenting what is lost, never (or poorly) to be replaced. Like fellow author Sebald, Tyree illustrates the disconnection and loss felt by many in the modern world by juxtaposing odd, haunting photos within the text. Some worlds can only be seen second-hand now (via books, photos, films) rather than with our own eyes. But at least we have that.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Life, Death and Rebirth of Buildings and Things

Whenever life doesn't find me elsewhere, I take advantage of Open House Chicago, an annual October event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. For the past several years, friends and I have peeked behind off-limits curtains and doors, into vaults, snuck up and down staircases, onto rooftops, and into lobbies and hidden spaces of buildings scattered throughout the city. Last year, we toured Ukrainian Village and this year, it was Ravenswood, originally a planned suburb in 1868, but later annexed to the city in 1889. But first...

...After Vietnamese food on Argyle Street in Uptown, my friend and I went down the street to visit Vintage Garage Chicago, a flea market held on the third Sunday of the month from April - October. We looked at and touched objects that had been loved, used, and discarded perhaps many times, perhaps in the past 100 years. Who owned these things and how did the previous owners make that final decision to lighten their loads? Who wants what we decide to let go? Cocktail sets, vintage furs, crusty LPs and 45s, brass door knobs, leather belts, 1960s guides for fathers to use in discussion with their sons about the etiquette of dating, tiny leather baby boots, chunky jewels, shimmering silk and cashmere items.

Still in Uptown, we went by the historic Green Mill, still going strong after nearly 110 years. But next door, the architectural gem, Uptown Theater, stands in sad contrast, boarded up; its interior beauty and legendary status have to be read about or viewed on videoShake, Rattle, and Read, the rock and roll used book and record store (and the Uptown's neighbor of 50 years) shuttered earlier this year. Its most frequent customers were attendees of concerts at the nearby music venues and architectural gems of the Aragon Ballroom and the 100-year-old Riviera, which still stand.

In Ravenswood, we stopped in at All Saints Episcopal Church, the oldest wooden church in the city of Chicago, and a lovely example of a structure that continues to exist today (despite threat of destruction in the 1990s), thanks to the efforts of a devoted community. Afterwards, we walked on cobblestone streets between two train lines (one train happened to go one way and the other roared the other way simultaneously - we yelled for fun) to reach the Airstream Building, another structure saved from the wrecking ball 30 years ago when architect Edward Noonan bought the space for his growing firm. Formerly an industrial plant, the building now house three floors of designers, educators and artists, all of whom can use the roof top and sit inside the silver 1962 Airstream Trailer placed there by crane. Views of the city are great and there was a nice breeze..

Encompassed by Ravenswood, we next went to Lincoln Square, an area originally settled by German and Swiss immigrants, whose influence can still be felt at Cafe Selmarie and Gene's Sausage Shop as well as in apothecaries and other specialty shops. It is the kind of place Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities) would have approved of: "eyes on the street," mixed-used zones, plenty of people engaged in various activities, and bits of nature here and there.

This is the centenary of Jane Jacobs' birth; much has been published this year in commemoration. Jacobs' philosophy regarding the preservation of cities and buildings has had its share of detractors over the years, but I find that her words often accompany me when I interact with cities and buildings of the world. It seems to me that every city has elements worth saving, if only to maintain a continuum of the living history of people's efforts to be surrounded by beauty. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Call of Elsewhere

"Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can." - Virginia Reed (one of the survivors in the Donner-Reed Party) to her cousin, quoted in Joan Didion's Where I was From.

Happy Fall! It is in fall and spring that I feel most restless, a sense of impending change or that I MUST change something, must move or keep moving. Now that I think of it, my European trips since returning to the States have indeed happened in May and October.

The white egrets and blue herons have left one of the ponds I pass on my bike rides. Red leaves have begun to appear, the light has become more focused, and there are more acorns and horse chestnuts that I need to swerve around so that I won't be pitched to the ground.

Never take no cutoffs: Joan Didion (one of my favorite writers) was descended from pioneers who made their way west across the country in the 1800s to settle in Sacramento; in fact, they were among the first settlers there. She questions the impetus for this movement from the south and east and wonders what the ultimate effect was, both on her and her family and on the very essence of what California came to be.

Earlier this year, The Criterion Collection released Wim Wenders' Road Trilogy which includes: Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move, and Kings of the Road. I watched all three recently and they moved me (as all his films do) with the melancholy experienced by his protagonists even after they have reached their often-nebulous goals. More movement, whether running away from or towards something or a bit of both.

The Call of Elsewhere: I also recently watched Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, another Criterion documentary just released last month. I have always admired in Bergman her fortitude, self-respect, and of course, her acting. Among other highlights of this film, we hear Swedish actress Alicia Vikander read the words Bergman wrote in her diary as a young girl in Stockholm and then as she matured, went to Hollywood, and eventually back to Europe. Although our circumstances couldn't be more different, I identify strongly with the pull she felt - even when at the height of her success - the restlessness that she defined as "the call of elsewhere," and responding to it like the flyttfagel (migratory bird) she often said she was.