Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Sparks & Beauties: Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity at the Art Institute of Chicago

It has been a remarkably chilly week for mid-July: the coldest July since 1980-something, according to local meterologists. I don’t exactly mind, really, except for the whole global climate change things, which is admittedly pretty apocalyptic-inspiring. My world is full of ups and downs, peaceful meadows and tumult, and I’m sort of in a very “WHERE IS EVERYBODY/GET AWAY FROM ME” headspace. And since I can’t really figure out the middle ground between the two, I’m kind of just being a recluse. But a glamorous one!

Anyway, there are some bright spots on the horizon: Eleanor Whitney, author of Grow, which I big-upped earlier, gave my book a great write-up at her blog, which made me so happy. As a writer, it is always so wonderful to know your work makes some kind of impact in the hearts and minds of the people who read it. Thank you, Eleanor! And academic superstar, fellow punk expat and feminist of color firebrand Mimi Thi Nguyen gave props to my old fashion blog nogoodforme.com in her recent interview at The Feminist Wire, which made me feel so proud. Anyway: this edition of Sparks & Beauties is devoted to one giant gorgeous firecracker of an art exhibition. I hope you enjoy it!

One beautiful thing possible when living in a city like New York: you get to have up-close and personal relationships to museums. And when I lived in NYC and was going to Columbia, I got to have lots of them, because one advantage of paying nosebleeds of tuition was free admission to places like the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA. After my two years of intensive coursework, I tried to go as often as possible — and I noticed I had very specific relationships to each museum. For me, MOMA was a bit like that person you date who looks good on paper — you think it aligns perfectly with everyone you ever thought you wanted in someone, but there is something missing. Some human eccentricity, some hidden dork factor that makes them genuinely fun to be around.

The Metropolitan, though, was my true love in museum form. For one thing, it was just so immense — I went almost weekly and there were still rooms I’d stumble into, having never seen them, so there was a constant sense of discovery. I had particularly favorite rooms and galleries: I loved the 19th-century American and European painting sections, for example: I’d sit for an afternoon in one of the galleries and just write or read. (I graded a whole sheaf of papers there once, much to the amusement of the guards.) I loved the decorative arts wings, and marveled at Marie Antoinette’s furniture. When I needed to think, I sat in the Temple of Dendur and the immense echo of the large room often soothed me.

I don’t really have a steady relationship with a museum anymore, and that’s a pity. So, in some major respect, my whole take on the “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago feels incomplete — it doesn’t quite benefit from the feeling of having lived with and experienced the work in a way that intimacy and familiarity grant it. I also feel as if, since leaving NYC, I’ve lost the “art muscle” that comes from seeing, hearing about and discussing art on a regular basis. It used to be easy for me to “keep up” with modern art, but since being isolated in the Midwestern semi-countryside, this kind of thinking doesn’t come easy to me anymore. Still, I gave it a try on my recent trip into Chicago: I spent almost three hours at the exhibition, as a result, felt like I was cramming in all the beauty and insight that it offered — because it’s truly an astonishing exhibition on aesthetic, intellectual and historical levels. It did its job, though: I walked out of it feeling thoughtful, inspired and energized — appreciative of how the past shapes the present moment, and full of a kind of serene lightness that only spending time with such wondrous art can give you.


Real Talk About Female Bodies, Weight, Fathers and Being Sovereign Within

The minute I started thinking about writing this, I first thought, Oh, okay, writing about weight and body issues and race and heritage…geez, feeling soooooo 1995 here, haven’t I done this before in a zine or something? And then I thought: Kat, you just turned 38, shouldn’t you be over talking out this topic now? And then I thought, Do people really want to read about this kind of stuff? And isn’t this too personal? So talking about this particular constellation of topics — family, bodies, emotions — sets off a lot of resistance in me, and that might make my thoughts on it choppy and uncomfortable to read. There’s no beautiful lyricism here, no calm serenity or wisdom that I usually go for, no well-constructed sentences. There’s a lot of bitter rawness and anger, more than I usually express publicly. But in a way, I felt writing this could be of service to someone else, as well as in me expressing it. So that is my intention, and may you read this and extract some kind of solidarity, understanding or compassion from it.


You know I have been riding horses a lot lately, and it is the best thing. Horses are big creatures; they are massive, beautifully streamlined living machines of muscles, sinew, tendon, and ligaments. They are born to run. They’re incredibly strong, able to pull massive carts and carriages; modern horses are descended from draft horses and warhorses of old. Carrying an average adult woman is not hard for a horse. They can canter beautifully carrying hundreds of pounds of person on their back with no problem.

So you can imagine how happy I was feeling when I stopped by my parents’ house after my riding lesson on Sunday. I had had an awesome time: I rode a trickier, speedier, more headstrong horse, Mister, and had him at a steady, fast trot by the end. We were jamming together, hitting that sweet spot where we listened to and anticipated one another really nicely. It was like meditating, but fast, focused, quicksilver meditation — I was both peaceful and very, very amped.

I pulled into my parents’ driveway, and my dad was working in the yard. He asked how my lesson went, and I chatted happily about how well I did, how great I was feeling, how much I was progressing. And then my dad kind of laughed and joked, “Wow, that sounds great. You mean the horse didn’t complain about how fat and heavy you are?”

I hope you understand me when I tell you, just like that — the feeling of light and happiness just drained out of me, and I was left feel ugly, angry and as misshapen as a troll.


Feminist Performance Art for Teenagers, Apps for Creative Spirits & My Monthly Mixtape

Ah, yes, the inspiration/round-up post of this week’s sparks, as I call them: things that got me thinking, feeling, thinking again and sometimes dreaming and scheming. Suggestions? What’s got your interest lately? Please let me know in comments below!

Please Let Carrie Bradshaw Go to CBGBs

I’ve written before about my odd fandom for “The Carrie Diaries,” its mix of 80s NYC nostalgia and its refashioning of Carrie Bradshaw as a wide-eyed innocent. It’s a standard issue CW/Josh Schwartz kind of show, but one thing I’m really enjoying are the references to NYC hotspots at the time: Indochine, Mudd Club, all of those mythic venues you read about in social histories of the city. Last week’s episode featured a central scene where Carrie and her good friend Mouse get into real-life storied avant-garde performance space Franklin Furnace and are confronted with feminist performance art! (Basically: a fictional porn star sits on a throne at a gallery, people put money in a jar and she flashes them her hoo-ha. Very Karen Finley-like.)

First: I think it’s just rad that feminist performance art has made it into a mainstream American TV show. I was also amused by the mild satirizing/earnest shoutout of sex-positive “reclaiming your vagina” discourse — as well as a knowing wink to the original SATC show. There’s an odd pleasure in seeing how this show on this very commercial network refracts gritty NYC downtown history — seeing what it elides, distorts and glosses over, but also what it cheers and bestows its affection upon. I’d be happy if Carrie got to CBGBs or Max’s Kansas City, but now it’s kind of my dream that the show makes it into the early 90s and there’s a shoutout to riot grrrl somewhere. Please, someone at the CW, make this happen! You can option my screenplay about 90s zine girls if you want!

I Heart These Apps

I write about technology as a day-job, but it’s taken me forever to get an iPhone, due to my own contrarian nature, my personal laziness and general rather-spend-my-money-on-other-thingsness. But now I have one, and use apps all the time. I review apps for my day job, but I don’t often get to write about them from my personal perspective of a creative lady writer and artist — nor do I get to write about them in my personal voice. But this is my blog, and I can say what I want and how I want! Which is: I’m proud to hype up some apps I’ve found particularly useful and creative-sparking. My favorites right now include WorkFlowy, which is essentially a giant list-making app. It sounds nightmarish but it is not: it’s very simple and elegant and it has made a big difference in organizing my time and things-to-do in such a way that I spend a lot less time doing these things — so I can spend more time actually making work.

Also: in the interest of streamlining digital clutter, I discovered Feedly, which ports my RSS reader to my iPhone. And for fun, Hello Kitty Mahjong wiles away minutes spend otherwise standing in lines that don’t move at various places and times. It is super cute. If you have other apps you use, iPhone brethren, please let me know — I am always interested to know what people use and how.

Monthly Mixtape: Surprisingly Energetic for a Cold January

Usually in January I hunker down with music and treat it more like a security blanket, swaddling my spirit in familiarity and comfort. Maybe it is the sense of possibility that January can have, but this particular month I actually felt myself much more open to new sounds. So here they are, some old, some new, some rediscoveries.

Here is the track listing below:


Monthly Mixtape: In the Name of the Father But Never the Ghost

Most of you know I’m an inveterate music diarist — for years I made a mix tape diary for every semester of school on cassette. This year, because it is modern times and everything is d-i-g-i-t-a-l, I’ve been keeping a monthly playlist online that reflects the songs and music that both captures my heart and drifts in the background during those lovely, fleeting moments in life that I want to remember. This is September’s playlist: a harvest month, full of Indian summer sunshine, the smell of fresh cider donuts, the warmth of bundling up for the first time in a much-missed sweater you haven’t worn for months. September is warmth, the energy of fresh endeavor, reaping what you’ve sown, watching leaves fall onto the ground in the clear, brilliant sunshine.

Grimes, “Oblivion”

This was my favorite song of the month: it is pure ethereal ear candy. People love or hate Grimes: I often explain to people who’ve never heard her before that her music is like if aliens discovered a time capsule of TLC, Aaliyah and Aphex Twin records that was blasted into space during the late 90s. But being aliens, of course, they have no idea about music genres, so if they started their own band based on the examples of human-made music in the capsule, something like Grimes would come out of their oddly-shaped noggins. I not-so-secretly love a lot of electronic music and R&B and I am strangely comforted by the idea of aliens, so of course I am a fan. And have you seen the video for this song? I think it’s my favorite this year — there’s something really oddly beautiful about it, with the lyrical cinematography capturing jock and athletic culture. I spent a lot of time in football stadiums at night during high school as a cheerleader, so this takes me back but in a way that is abstract and almost poetic. But I think it’s hypnotic even without the patina of nostalgia I have for the milieu.

Also: I ran 5 miles on a treadmill listening to this song on repeat, and it did not let me down. Alien lady jock jam, for sure.

Cat Power, “Silent Machine”

I’m really stoked to see Chan Marshall releasing records as she heads into her forties — I think a lot more about how to sail into that decade than I used to, I admit, since I’m on the dark side of my thirties. That she’d release a record as jubilant, left-of-center and experimental as Sun when she could just keep releasing more stark, sad, spare songs about ghosts and heartbreak — to me, that’s a beautiful progression, and it’s great to hear her sound so forceful and even optimistic.

One thing I’m discovering as I get older, your sense of sovereignty over your life and your world grows and grows — and Sun is a truly sovereign record, full of energy, direction and purpose. It may not be my favorite Cat Power album — I think I’ll always be partial to the haunted, dark Moon Pix — but it’s sort of like receiving a sun-worn, travel-weathered postcard from a dear friend telling you about the amazing trip she’s been on and how she wishes you were there with her. You’re just glad she’s doing so well, out in the world having adventures and living her life.

Grizzly Bear, “gun-shy”

I remember seeing Grizzly Bear in tiny crappy clubs when I was still living in NYC, and I think of them oddly like neighbors in my mind, even though they’re big enough now where Jay-Z likes them and they appear on national talk shows and stuff like that. So I feel proud of them when a new record of theirs comes out, in this kind of homebody/neighborhood way that makes no sense, really, because I didn’t ever live in Brooklyn except for half a summer. For awhile I’d been feeling like their music had become more and more beautiful, but also more remote and distant — like their songs were just carapaces for beautiful sonic textures that full-bodied melodies would try to poke out of every now and then. But there’s something nice and immediate about Shields, their latest. I’ve been in a phase where I’m trying to be more open and not be so guarded or cryptic, so it’s nice to hear emotional immediacy reflected elsewhere in my life.

Bob Dylan, “If You See Her, Say Hello”

Sometimes I just can’t make a decision. This month: Neil Young or Bob Dylan? They’re both playing in Chicago this fall, so whose concert should I go to? Who should I shell out for? I admit, I’m a Neilers girl at heart, but Tempest is freaking good. But Neil! But Bob! But Neil! But Bob! At this rate, I’m likely to miss both because I’m paralyzed with indecision. (And, it’s so expensive to see either! Wah!) For awhile I was revisiting my favorite Dylan record, Blood on the Tracks, trying to sway myself one way or the other. Sometimes I think Dylan can be such a jerk about girls, but “If You See Her, Say Hello” is such a wistful, sweet song that I forgive him again and again.

Warpaint, “Shadows”

The Warpaint record came out awhile ago, but I still love it so much — it hits that kind of mysterious, witchy spot that I like so nicely. Sometimes I’ll have my iPod on random and a Warpaint song will come on, and I have to stop what I’m doing and have a moment of reverence. Sometimes I say stuff like “Warpaint’s The Fool is to 16-year-old girls now the way PJ Harvey’s Dry was to teen girls in the early 90s.” That’s me being lofty about records, but I honestly really believe that: there’s something really wraithlike, feminine and yet entirely ungirly about both albums.

Blondie, “Heart of Glass”

Imagine, if you will, a tiny moment of dancing in the car on the highway to “Heart of Glass” after a day of watching sloths stuff themselves into tree trunks and turtles swimming and having very slow sex — what could be better?

Tina Turner, “Private Dancer”

I heard this in a restaurant recently, and it made me think back to listening to Tina Turner as a child. My first exposure to Tina was during her big Private Dancer comeback in the 80s. As a kid I was fascinated initially by the idea of being a “private dancer,” feeling like it was this weird, forbidden thing for a woman to do — maybe it was my first conscious exposure in pop culture to the virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists rail against. I listen to it now, however, and I’m struck by the longing for family and domesticity that creates the undertow of melancholy in the song, and how cleverly it endows a kind of subjectivity to a loaded stereotype.

In a way, no one else but Tina Turner — with her aura of experience and, yes, sovereignty — could do a song like this without becoming a victim of its complexities. I mean, can you imagine Gaga or Katy Perry or Rihanna doing this song justice? Not really. Those ladies, as great and fun as they are as pop stars, are all essentially brands, and you get the sense that underneath their shells, they’re struggling with demons and slightly out of control. (Or too much in control, as the case may be.) But Tina’s pop stardom came after her struggles, and it gave her an aura of authority and power that helped her stake a place against much younger pop stars at the time, like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and others. Is there kind of an equivalent to Tina now, a grande dame who can stand alongside pop ingenues, who can keep current but not become imprisoned by the drive to stay relentlessly contemporary? I don’t know, and it makes me a little sad that there may not be.

Spoon, “Stay Don’t Go”

This song is part of my housecleaning jams playlist on my iPod. Yes, I have a housecleaning jams playlist. Sweeping, wiping and tidying up would be so boring otherwise! Everything on it is very bounceable and singable — it’s like the Tigger of domestic soundtracks. IF any of you having personal housecleaning anthems, please comment and let me know — I need to add them to my roster. You can never have too much bounce when you houseclean.

Lil’ Bob & the Lollipops, “I Got Loaded”

This Louisiana soul classic was playing on the radio during a drive in the countryside. We’d just gotten apple cider donuts and other delicious autumn treats, and the sun was bright and mellow — an archetypal beautiful fall day. This song came on and I thought it was kind of hilarious — it’s such a freaking happy song about getting drunk! He just sounds so jubilant and optimistic and life-affirming about spiraling into alcoholism! What a strange thing to sound so joyous about! Still, the song has such a bounce that it’s hard not to love it at first listen.