Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Novels for other times or our times

Every couple of years I take a run at L'Education Sentimentale. My French is good enough that it doesn't make sense to read Flaubert in translation, but not so good that it's actually easy, so I usually run out of steam before I get too far. My dad lent me a new edition with the promise of better notes, so I'm at it again. This book has always had an allure. Things like a Woody Allen movie listing it among some essential things, or Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot. We'll see how far I get this time.

Even a handful of chapters is enough to bring some ideas to mind. One of them is the way this book and so many other 19th century novels turn on economics. More precisely, on the precariousness of people's personal financial security and way the lack of money gets in the way of characters realizing the life to which they aspire. L'Education Sentimentale (at least these early chapters) is filled with material on how much money the characters have, how much they spend, what they can count on or hope for, and the things they have to do if they are to make money. Of course, Flaubert's Frederic Moreau is a fool, committed to living as an artist, not to making art. L'Education Sentimentale, at least as much of it as I've gotten through, is heavily comedic.

Flaubert was not unique in this. Novels throughout the 19th century, as least up through Edith Wharton, turned on the drama of the precarious situation most people lived in--needing money to keep themselves out of a state of wretched deprivation, but usually finding it very hard to make any. The main form of security comes from inherited wealth, and if you don't have it you are often SOL.

The centrality of economic precariousness as a dramatic engine seems appropriate today. Every conversation is about the economy, about how bad it is and how bad it's going to get, the cuts that are coming. By and large I don't find people in a state of despair or panic, a gallows humor prevails. But there is also a serious undercurrent to the conversations, about how to hold on for months and years, and about what one can do if the economy collapses in a fundamental way. It is easy to fear that it will become as rare in our society for people to be able to provide themselves a comfortable living as it apparently was in the 19th century. Will ruin loom again as the most likey outcome for dreamy people?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My night with Tristan und Isolde

I splurged this week and went to the Tuesday night performance of Tristan und Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera. Thanks to my father and the Saturday afternoon broadcasts, the Met was part of my childhood’s sonic background and I’m still attached to it. But outside of a bad touring company performance in DC, maybe at Wolf Trap, in the 70s, I’ve never heard it live. I happened to be in New York this week, and happened to be there on one of the weeknight performances of this production.

This is the first time Daniel Barenboim has conducted the Met, and it’s been reviewed extremely well . I don’t have too much to add, other than concurrence. And some fragmentary comments that follow.

As a neophyte Wagnerian, this proved to be an intense experience a bit different from anything I’ve encountered before. I was tired, so I had trouble staying awake in parts of the second act, but by the end I desperately didn’t want it to end. I was pleading inside for each note of the Liebestod to stretch to infinity, and then for the last few orchestral chords that end the opera exquisitely and almost understatedly. It reminded me of the immersion effects of an Indian music performance, where the urgency of the performance builds by accumulation over a couple of hours and the music, the very notes and sounds themselves have an effect on the cells of your brain and body. As you move towards the third hour of a concert at Sri Ganesha, you start to enter a realm of timelessness. Same with Wagner.

The Met orchestra sounds amazing. The string sound is maybe the best I’ve heard, buttery. They responded so well to Barenboim of course. Often his direction consisted of holding a closed hand out and then opening it suddenly, prompting the orchestra to release a burst of tension building in its lines. It wasn’t always a burst of sound, often much subtler than that, a pulse of energy. There was great evidence of his knowledge of the score—I feel like an idiot even mentioning this. One example was seeing him bring out a little inner line that was nothing more than some tremelo notes in the strings, not a melody at all, but that little bit of texture was essential.

The singers were uniformly great, although it was “one of those nights” and the Isolde, Katarina Dalayman, had a cold and had to step aside after the first two acts. This was disconcerting, and one man near me left before Act III started. She was replaced by Susan Foster, whom I don’t know much about, but I thought she did a fine job—a strong voice, although not as subtle as Dalayman. Still, you do get attached to singers as actors, and it was strange seeing her emerge onto the stage when Isolde enters well into Act III. Most of Act III belongs to Tristan and Kurvenal (Peter Seiffert and Gerd Grochowski). Isolde shows up half way through, sings just a bit with Tristan, he dies, King Mark (Kwangchul Youn—very impressive throughout) shows up, Kurvenal and Melot (Stephen Gaertner) are killed, and then Isolde sings some of her most important music, the Liebestod. But it’s not like Acts I and II where she is singing reams of music, and much of it as duets with Tristan, so it makes more sense to bring a substitute in for this last act, if you have to. (I've mentioned all the other primary cast members, so let me add Michelle DeYoung who sang Brangane to complete the main roles.)

Act I was about the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I teared up from the sound of it, the progress of the sound. It is exquisitely constructed as music and drama, and when the Tristan and Isolde drink the potion that frees them to become lovers to each other (as the opera opens they are nominally distanced from each other and even antagonists, their underlying attraction is apparent from the start—Isolde is fixated on the hero, and the hero cannot trust himself to meet her gaze) the music breaks off starkly and then is set loose through the reappearance of the famous “Tristan” chord from the opening into an arena of harmony unleashed from solid ground, ethereal and cosmic. The characters and the sound are in a state of pure transformation at that point. It’s overwhelming to experience directly.

I’ve been listening to Tristan und Isolde in an ongoing but disorganized way in the last year or so. I’ve got a Furtwangler recording with Flagstad on my iPod. What’s struck me about that recording is how the music seems intent on embodying passion and bliss (Lust is the German word used) in the most extended way possible. In this performance, I was aware of how discursive the piece is. Tristan and Isolde’s engagement with each other and passion for each other is expressed through and across passages of dialogue where they talk about the nature of passion and everyday life, playing word games about light and dark, day and night, and making a claim for the primacy of passion, lust/Lust. These ideas go back to the Troubadours’ alba (and the Minnesingers’ Tagelied), in which the lover curses the coming of the day which will require separation from the beloved. But this is a dialogue, not a poet’s monologue, and lengthy dialogue, not a short lyric in Provencal, and it leaves you with two people making love to each other by entwining their words, wrapping them around each other ever more tightly as the music follows suit.

Wagner glorifies Lust in a highly idealized way, no doubt utterly ridiculous. It’s hard for me to avoid thinking that only a man could quite go here, utterly disregard the practical sides of passion and seek something so ethereal and sublime.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nashville Visual Arts Events mid-December update

I missed a couple of things coming up this weekend so I’m sending out a mid-month update. One thing I missed before was the lecture tonight at the Frist on Civil War photography. For the middle of the holiday season, there’s a fair amount going on this weekend.

In addition to these shows in galleries, my friend and band mate Peggy Snow is at work on a new painting of the Church of Christ at 46th and Charlotte. For those of you who don’t know, Peggy does paintings of endangered buildings, sometimes as the bulldozers are rolling in, sometimes when the forces of commerce are gathering around. It’s not just an act of nostalgia, but an imaginative form of painting activism. Peggy gives voice to what is wrong about so much development and real estate speculation, the damage it does to the character of the places we live, the history and cultural inheritance it blows away. The constant churn of development results in the destruction of an important shared form of wealth, the wealth of memory. Peggy’s pictures pinpoint where that has occurred, and Peggy’s act of painting itself, always en plein air, makes for a kind of protest and vigil. People see Peggy painting. They ask what she’s doing. Sometimes the media come along and broadcast something.

Peggy’s subject this time is a fairly large church at the corner of Charlotte when you drive to it from Murphy road or get off the interstate. There was a group of local artists and arts organizations looking at the space, but I haven’t heard much about that in a while, and otherwise it would be prime land for yet another CVS, Walmart or Eckerd. The oncoming global depression might give the property a reprieve, but a lot of times the developers just level a place and grade it so it’s “development-ready.” In the mean time, Peggy’s doing her thing to call attention to the building, and to what gets crushed when the wheels of commerce grind away.

As always, if you have an email list of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email, send me an email at dcmaddox@comcast.net. To get taken off the list, email to that effect at the same address.

December 11

Frist Center, Brooks Johnson lecture on Civil War photography. Johnson is associated with the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. The Civil War was incredibly important to the history of photography in America. The war came along at just the right time in the development of the medium to become a key testing ground for the new medium and its images established photographers like Matthew Brady and Timothy O’Sullivan. 6:30 P.M.

December 12

Renaissance Center (Dickson), Jennifer Stoneking-Stewart. An exhibit by a printmaker who has recently joined the faculty at Belmont.

untitled, Winter show (Abominable Art Show), Gallery East. This quarter’s show by the venerable, vibrant and open-minded group. Gallery East is at 1008-C Woodland Street, behind the Alley Cat in East Nashville. 6-10.

Crema, Benefit Art Sale. Crema is an awesome new coffee shop on Hermitage Ave. on the edge of downtown. They make lattes the right way and I’m increasingly looking for excuses to stop there. This month they’ve taken over some adjoining space and are offering art work on sale to benefit the Safe Haven Family shelter. The artists are Thomas Petillo, Janet K. Lee, Stacie Berry, Taunia Rice, Aaron Grayum. They’re holding a closing event on Friday from 6 to 10. 15 Hermitage Ave.

December 13

Ruby Green, The Best Private Collection in Nashville. From the artist listed, the title may not be hyperbole—Marina Abramovic, Raymond Pettibon, Picasso, Man Ray, Annie Liebowitz, and R. Crumb. This exhibit is drawn from pieces owned by an anonymous private collector in Nasvhille who agreed to lend the art to Ruby Green. In addition to big names nationally, the collection includes work by the best Nashville artists, like Chris Scarborough, Sam Dunson, and Bob Durham. This show only runs through Dec. 20.

magpie, etc., Mark Sloniker. A mixed media installation from an artist who creates elaborate scenes with cartoon-like characters.

Done Made, 226 3rd Ave. North (work by students in Kristi Hargrove’s drawing class). A one-night show by the students in Kristi Hargrove’s drawing class at Watkins. The last show I saw that Kristi organized of work from one of her classes had some really good work, some of it defining big steps for the artists involved. This show includes several people who already doing sophisticated work (Kelly Bonadies, Beth Gilmore, Erin Plew, and Nick Stolle for a few). The entire list of participants includes Adrienne Bailey, C.J. Fasshauer, Alexis Hicks, Camille Jackson, Robbie Johnson, Justin Patterson, Mandy Stoller, and Myrna Talbot.

December 16

Gallery F., Wish List artists’ talk. This is a show of work by students from TSU, some of it very good. Several of the artists have had a piece or two in shows I’ve seen like the show of student work at the Frist, but this exhibit gives you a better sense of what they are up to. Brandon Donahue, whose piece at the Frist caught my attention, holds up well here. Ash Lusk is someone with a mature voice, and the work here is at an additional level of complexity. In addition to these two, the artists in the show and scheduled to speak are Mandy Sauer, Marjorie Ward, Jared Freihoefer, Sara Estes, Holly Settle, and Vincent Black. 6-9

December 26

Plowhaus at TALS, Art and Artisans Holiday Show. This is the reception for the affordable art show that opened earlier in the month.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nashville Visual Arts Events December

Your country needs you. The economy sucks. Phil Bredesen is going to cut every budget he can find. Gas is cheap again, but no one can afford to go nowhere. But buck up. We’ve got a brand new President, and unlike the current one, it looks he will not be a bummer from start to finish. In fact, he shows every indication of being good at his new job. But your country needs…hell, Barack needs you. He would never say that, because it sounds too much like Bush and it’s passive in a way that Obama isn’t (“what do you expect me to do, it’s up to you, I’m just the President”). But I’m not President and am not otherwise doing the country much good, so I can say it. It’s the holiday season. The economy and Barack need you to spend some money. And why not buy some art? There are friendly people all over town anxious to help you stimulate the economy. Just a thought to go with this month’s art listings, which includes several galleries doing “Art under ___” shows (in addition to the shows opening this month, Cumberland is continuing its Small Packages show which opened last month).

And this month, the second Saturday (the 13th) might be as good as first, Ruby Green having got its hands on someone’s private collection, and magpie is turning its space over to Mark Sloniker.

As always, if you have an email list of your own, feel free to forward this.

If someone wants to get added directly to my list for the email, send me an email at dcmaddox@comcast.net. To get taken off the list, email to that effect at the same address.

Dec. 4

Zeitgeist, Jeeyun Lee gallery talk. One of the 3 artists in Zeitgeist’s current show, Lee has contributed really nice ink drawings, long scrolls of paper unveiling delicately patterned forms. The other artists in the show are Christie Nuell (engravings with a kind of industrial feel) and Megan Lightell (calm, crespucular landscapes).

Dec. 5

Threesquared Gallery, Kaaren Engel and Dane Carter. The two artists are exploring imagery of road trips. This gallery is at 427 Chestnut, suite 223.

Sewanee University Art Gallery, Greely Myatt. Myatt is a sculptor in Memphis, one of the main people in the art scene there. His pieces are often visual jokes, rooted in Southern life through forms and materials. The gallery talk is at 4:30.

Dec. 6

Rymer, Inside Out. Pieces by Jon Coffett, Catherine Forster, Brett Osborn, and Casey Pierce. In addition to paintings, Rymer is showing a video piece by Osborn. He attached cameras to the front and back of a car, drove around Atlanta, and then projects the footage onto the windows of Jeep, which have been frosted. The Jeep will be parked out front ofr the gallery.

Twist, Rocky and Mandy Horton, Duncan McDaniel, and JJ Jones’s 12 Minutes of Christmas Rocky is one of the professors at Lipscomb and is leading those students into interesting places. His own work, at least what I’ve seen, is often subdued abstractions, sometimes using materials like photo paper. Mandy’s work (again what I’ve seen, primarily her exhibit last year at Twist) is also abstract, but it’s fleshier and more expressive. McDaniel’s drawings represent on a microscopic level yeast and taste buds, a visual essay on the phenomenon of tasting wine. But, there’s more—JJ Jones will present his 12 Minutes of Christmas performance, where he encloses himself in a big plastic globe and sings Christmas carols until the air inside runs out, about 12 minutes. He will repeat this performance at the top of the hour on Gallery Crawl night. It’s like David Blaine without the international media attention.

Estel, Branch Out: Artists Interpret the Holidays Cynthia Bullinger has had artists associated with the gallery put together pieces that interpret the symbols of the holidays. There are some of Sean O’Meallie’s clever and slick wood sculpture, and ornaments made from cut-up Metrocards by Desi Minchillo, who turned in one of the best shows at Estel last year. There are 9 other artists in the show, including Mr. Hooper.

The Arts Company, Wood, Canvas, and Clay. This group show features artists new to The Arts Company: furniture-maker and painter Randy Shull, mixed media artist Maria-Louise Coil, painter Sarah Emerson, and sculptor Krista Grecco.

Tinney Contemporary, Lost Boys of Sudan. Art work from the Sudanese refugees living in Nashville and making art under the guidance of photographer Jack Spencer.

Downtown Presbyterian Church, Art from the Congregation and Friends. This is the second or third time we’ve done this, ask members of the congregation and friends to bring in a couple of works of art from home to explain. I’ve finally contributed a couple of things this year.

Watkins, Senior exhibits by Jenn Campbell, Shauna Currier and Lisa Deal. All three are doing photography. I’ve seen Lisa’s work in other media, including installations, although this sounds like it will be “straight” photography.

Plowhaus at TALS, Art and Artisans Holiday Show. Affordable art from folks like Andee Rudloff, Ayjey, Carrie Mills, Denny Adcock, Franne Lee, Marlynda Augelli, Miranda Herrick, Tracy Ratliff, and many others. The reception is actually on December 26!

Sera Davis, In a Nut$hell: Under a Grand. The title is pretty self-explanatory. I don’t have information on the artists included.

Mir Gallery, August Hampton. The new gallery in the Arcade, this month with mixed media work on paper and canvas by Hampton.

Gallery One, Group Holiday Show.

Firefinch, Sarah Shearer and Laura Baisden. One-night only “trunk show” of Sarah’s paintings and prints by Baisden. This is at Firefinch’s downtown location on Church near Printer’s Alley. 6-9.

ASK Apparel open house, 5001 Indiana. ASK Apparel is an enterprise by Ali, Sarah and Kate Bellos, who are getting together with the Connect 12 artists group and Thistle Farms to offer art and crafts for sale to benefit four local community organizations (including the homeless meals programs at my church). 2-6 p.m.

December 7

The Rutledge, in.FORM.all fundraiser. A fundraiser for the Happy Tails Humane Society with work by Merry Beth Myrick, Shonna Sexton, Arlene Bates, Judy Klich, Hans Mooy, Jessica Helmey, Gina Emmanuel and Betsy Clapsaddle. 3-6 p.m.

December 10

Gordon Jewish Community Center, Mel Davenport. Black and white Deco-inspired paintings and Pop Art inspired work. Reception from 7-9.

December 12

Renaissance Center (Dickson), Jennifer Stoneking-Stewart. An exhibit by a printmaker who has recently joined the faculty at Belmont.

December 13

Ruby Green, The Best Private Collection in Nashville. From the artist listed, the title may not be hyperbole—Marina Abramovic, Raymond Pettibon, Picasso, Man Ray, Annie Liebowitz, and R. Crumb. This exhibit is drawn from pieces owned by an anonymous private collector in Nasvhille who agreed to lend the art to Ruby Green. In addition to big names nationally, the collection includes work by the best Nashville artists, like Chris Scarborough, Sam Dunson, and Bob Durham.

magpie, etc., Mark Sloniker. A mixed media installation from an artist who creates elaborate scenes with cartoon-like characters.

December 26

Plowhaus at TALS, Art and Artisans Holiday Show. This is the reception for the affordable art show that’s opening on December 6.