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Treat Yourself

OITNB, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This

Jessica Anne Clark paints, draws, curates, reads voraciously (ask about joining her sci-fi book club), and writes. She is a staggeringly intelligent and empathic human being which makes her an amazing collaborative partner. She wonders what your life is like, who you love, what you love, what kinds of things decorate your house. She wonders these things because thoughtfulness is her superpower and because she comes from a theater and film background. Her work retains these qualities. When you encounter one of her paintings or drawings, you feel as if you have interrupted a staged scene and for a moment, her super power rubs off on you and you begin to wonder and care about her lovingly depicted characters. When she’s not working in the studio, she’s helping me curate and install exhibitions through my pop-up project, CHampions of Empty Rooms (CHER), she’s organizing Philly Art Talks, or she’s managing Manifesto-ish collective’s online artist in residence program. If she tells you to read something or look at something, you should do it because she’s thought a lot about it.

-Veronica Cianfrano, curator

Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite phrases was “de gustibus non est disputandum.” In colloquial English this loosely translates to “there is no accounting for taste.” She’d cart this puppy out whenever my sister and I would turn our nose up at something my mother enjoyed (be it food or entertainment) or when we’d fight amongst ourselves on matters of preference. Her words have stayed with me and as such, I am always hesitant to make recommendations regarding any subject where taste is concerned. However, after much consideration I have comprised the following list of items for your viewing/reading pleasure. They have something to offer beyond pure enjoyment and entertainment. Many provide insight into relevant social and historical issues as well as observations on the human condition. Though you may not share some of the ideas expressed in these works, they provide an opportunity for discussion and understanding.

On the Beach, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This

1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute (book). This book takes place in Australia, post-World War III. A nuclear war has devastated the northern hemisphere and Australia and New Zealand are among the last nations awaiting an inescapable radioactive cloud to make its way south. In a perfect world, I would hope this book would have the power to truly drive home the dangers of military escalation and nuclear warfare. Super important, super relevant. There are plenty of problematic elements to this book. As a product of 1950’s, On the Beach’s presentation of women and gender roles is dated. There are just two main female characters: one a housewife/stay at home mom type (Mary) and one pseudo-manic pixie dream girl (Moira) drinking her way through the apocalypse. Mary spends most of the novel worried about her garden, in complete denial of the coming destruction. In the throws of radiation poisoning, she is found struggling to place mothballs in all the closets. In contrast, Moira’s coping mechanism is brandy and parties. She forms a relationship with an American Navy captain and through this friendship, her last days are improved. While I do not enjoy encountering narrow and ill-defined portrayals of women in literary products from the past, reading these types of works gives me an appreciation for how far we’ve come as a society. On the whole, On the Beach’s flaws do not outweigh the import of its message and the profound sadness I felt upon reaching the last page.

2. Inverted World by Christopher Priest. This book creates a compelling metaphor regarding the subjectivity of our experiences and how our experience of reality can be skewed. I’ve already said too much.

Love and Friendship, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This, PMA3. Love and Friendship (The Sacrifice of the Arrows of Love on the Altar of Friendship) by Jean-Pierre-Antoine Tassaert. I first encountered this piece during a trip to the PMA. It fast became one of my favorite items in the PMA’s collection. To me, this sculpture exactly encapsulates how art enables us to make connections to artists of the past. It also demonstrates how an artwork can feel like a relic while simultaneously feeling fresh and relevant to the present day. Love and Friendship implies that the movement of burning desire towards far less tempestuous feelings of friendship is a timeless cycle, rather than a product of modernity. At times the past seems so far and foreign; artworks like this circumvent those impressions.

4. Something you don’t like. I think it can be important to force yourself to read/watch/listen to something you don’t like (or think you don’t like). You may be surprised or you might just come to understand something about people who are fans of the things you abhor.

OITNB, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This

5. Episode 12 (and part of episode 13) of season four of Orange is the New Black. This is a cheat because you kind of have to see the entire series for this episode to really hit home. Partial SPOILERS to follow. This episode tackles the subject of law enforcement brutality and race (the case of Eric Garner comes to mind, specifically). A longtime and much beloved character (who had been in all four seasons of OITNB) is unintentionally killed during a peaceful prison protest. There’s nothing anyone can to do bring back the dead and it often feels like there’s nothing we can do to stop the same thing from happening over and over. This episode feels very of-the-moment in light of events of the past few years/weeks/days. Critics of the show (and this season in particular) call out the use of serious issues for entertainment purposes as being tasteless and exploitative. These arguments cannot be ignored and create an opportunity for important discussions regarding race and the representation of race in popular entertainment. OITNB is definitely a flawed show, but nowhere else will you find depictions of such a wide variety of women’s stories, presenting women of all sizes, shapes, and colors. This isn’t a perfect show but perhaps it’s paving the way for new types of series.

6. The Killing. While I’m hesitant to recommend everyone partake in murder-for-entertainment shows, I think this series stands out in a couple of ways. Each episode represents one day in the murder investigation of a teenager. In this way, the pacing is slowed. This allows the show to really take its time to come to the conclusion. Time usually feels so sped up in TV series/movies, so this is a nice departure. The Killing is just as much about those affected by death as it is about discovering whodunnit. Also, the show does an excellent job of highlighting why circumstantial evidence isn’t always dependable. Just because someone looks guilty doesn’t mean they are.

FRONTLINE, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This7. Frontline (PBS documentary series). Each episode of Frontline is essentially a rich investigation on a compelling subject. Frontline has reported on concussions in football, mental illness in prison, physician-assisted suicide, and more. Some episodes focus on an issue/topic at large, others follow a specific person (or persons) and the specific issues they deal with on a daily basis. The New Asylums centers on mental health issues and how prisons have become a repository for the mentally ill (especially people with no support system). Country Boys follows two teenagers coming of age in Appalachia. Watching Frontline can feel a little like an “eat your peas” viewing experience in that the subject matter is not always easy to swallow: the reports are often heart wrenching and may leave you feeling a little hopeless . . . but it’s good for you.

8. Burn This (Lanford Wilson), specifically one night in the run of a Syracuse Stage production of this play in 1999. This night at the theater felt like magic. One of the things I’ve come to value most about theater is the possibility of variation within a run. One night will never be exactly the same as the next. This can cut both ways. You may attend on an off night, a night where actors were not at their best. Or, you could be present on a night where the actors are firing on all cylinders, everything is clicking exactly right and you are invigorated with the energy crackling on stage. That night at Syracuse Stage was one of those nights. I am recommending the performance rather than the play because it is the performance that has stayed with me all these years, not the story. Instead of teleporting back to 1999, take a chance and see some theater. You may just hit one of those magic nights.

9. Translations by Brian Friel. This is a play about language/communication/communication breakdown. It also has to do with cultural identity as well as “cultural imperialism” (thanks, wikipedia). The play takes place in small, fictional Irish town in the mid 1800’s. Issues between the Irish and English during occupation factor in heavily. Language is so essential to our daily lives, but it is flawed and fragile. Can we be understood without a common verbal language? Are we really being understood in our common tongue?

Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This

10. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman). This film exemplifies the strength of visual storytelling. On paper, Anomalisa is the story of a man who is really just a terrible, completely self-involved asshole. He’s so wrapped up in his own feelings of dissatisfaction that he is unable to differentiate between any of the people he comes into contact with as the movie progresses. Kaufman allowed us to experience the world as this man does, and it is not a pleasant world. Perhaps you too will be left conflicted, left with the odd feeling that you’ve just enjoyed something you shouldn’t have.

11. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman). I saw this a year or so after breaking up with my first serious boyfriend, the absolute right/wrong time to see this film. Anyone who has had the exquisitely terrible/kind of not terrible feelings of heartbreak would do well to see this movie.

Moonstruck, Nicholas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Jessica Anne Clark, Curate This

12. Moonstruck: Olympia Dukakis. Cher. Nicolas Cage. Treat yourself.

13. Kindred by Octavia Butler. I read this book in one night a couple of years ago. It had been a long time since I had read a book that I could not put down when bedtime rolled around. This time travel story-meets-investigation of slavery in America allows us to experience life on a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation through the eyes of an African American woman from 1976. The effect is really powerful. Why is this relevant? I’d say it’s at least relevant to any and all Americans because this is our heritage. The time of (legal) slavery in America is still so close to the surface. It’s wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. In many ways we are still feeling the effects of that point in our nation’s history. There is a poignancy to sending a woman living in post-Civil Rights era America to pre-Civil War era America, especially in light of the current events (re: police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement). America has yet to reach a point of full fairness and equal treatment for all its inhabitants, for all races and sexes. While 1978 may afford a better quality of life/more rights for an African American woman than 1815, and 2016 may have even more opportunities/possibilities than 1978, things still aren’t what they should be. The scales are still tipped: in this way the specters of past wrongs have not been vanquished.

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