Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why we read

Why do you read? 

What is literature and how did it change your life?

Writer, poet, teacher and translator Christopher Alexander Gellert asks these questions and more in search of how literature has changed people's lives. His project, Why We Read, will take him from Normandy and the Basque Country to Alsace and Brittany to uncover these stories.

"Often you'll think of literature as a little bonus, an extra, and people write it off as something that doesn't have value or something that doesn't have real impact," says Gellert. "But literature is anything that is a written story. It's about the books that have touched you and moved you. When you read you are forced to pause and you are forced to think beyond yourself. Literature demands your attention in ways that other media do not."

Why We Read will explore how reading changes a person. Set against the backdrop of France, Gellert, who studied French literature and speaks French fluently, hopes to discover how literature can impact a person's life. 

"Literature is very intimate and can have enormous impact on our personal evolution," he says. "But it also defines and creates our relationship with others."

Naturally, these discussions will take place over a delicious meal which Gellert will prepare. The project will be tailored to the people who take part in it. It will be not only about what participants read, but what they love to eat, as well. Gellert plans to gather these stories over the course of a year and publish them in a book.

A book is something very intimate and you carry it within yourself after you read it, but it is also something shared, says Gellert. A meal is also a shared space, something that is very intimate. A book is also something that you have to digest and it may take a person years to assimilate. There is something very sacred in these ordinary things. Having a meal with someone. Reading a book. Asking questions. Finding out how that person has changed.

Gellert hopes to raise $26,000 for the project. The funds will go toward the cost of travel, preparation of meals and cost of living during the year-long research and writing of these stories.

"We need to be able to nourish our souls," he says. "To stop thinking that it is somehow secondary in the face of ever-changing technology, our emotional intelligence has not caught up. It's not only about how reading changes us, but putting that back at the center of the conversation. That it is fundamental."

To paraphrase Proust, "Reading is not an end unto itself, but it is about unlocking portals of consciousness."

Photo by Evan Bench (via Flickr).
Watch the full videos of Why We Read, click here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Women warriors (#RNCinCLE)

Women art warriors.

In the early hours on Sunday, just before dawn, more than 100 brave Cleveland women rose together, holding mirrors overhead to expose the naked truth about the Republican Party and making art with what may be the most controversial subject in this presidential race: a woman's body. 

New York-based artist Spencer Tunick, best known for organizing large scale nude shoots, has chosen The Land once again (in 2004 he created an installation where he photographed 2,754 naked people on East 9th Street). When it was announced that Cleveland would host the Republican National Convention, Tunick knew exactly what kind of art he wanted to create.   

"To me, [the work] references equality not only in the workplace, but in government," Tunick said about Everything She Says Means Everything in a recent interview. "Once there are more women in government, I think it is going to be a more peaceful world."

I'm inspired by Tunick's work and I'm even more inspired by my friend, Shauna Davis, for volunteering to be a part of the project. She and some 120 Cleveland-area women were chosen among 1,800 who applied to participate.

"It was so powerful, I feel like I was a part of history," she says. "It was an awesome feeling of camaraderie. And there were so many women of different body types, ages and races. There was even a trans woman. [Tunick] was so intentional when he and his team picked these women to take part."

Perhaps even more impressive was Tunick's sensitivity not only to the art but to his models. Not wanting the shoot to turn into a "press circus," Shauna says they were instructed to bring bed sheets to the installation space (a sprawling piece of un-manicured grass in The Flats, off of Scranton Road). At first she was puzzled.

"He said he wasn't sure if the police would come and he didn't invite the media," Shauna says. "He didn't want to make a spectacle of it. So the sheets were to build a wall around us, to protect us in case we needed it." 

Tunick also shared what the work meant on a personal level. As parents of two daughters, he and his wife (an Akron native) wanted them to have more choices, he told the women. The Republican Party, he said, doesn't represent that.

Though getting nude in public isn't new -- Shauna's participated in seven naked bike rides -- Sunday's event was even more poignant.

"I don't really do political things," she says. "But when we shined those mirrors on the convention center, it was like a silent protest." 

Everything She Says Means Everything by Spencer Tunick.
Prisma photo courtesy of Shauna Davis.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Art as activism (#BlackLivesMatter)

I wasn't alive in 1968 but I sure do feel like we're going back in time. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated that year, as was Robert F. Kennedy. Two black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, staged a silent demonstration against racial discrimination during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Star Trek aired American television's first interracial kiss.

In 2016 the volatility feels as thick as a relentlessly muggy summer evening. Suffocating. Oppressive. Inescapable.

Race relations is hitting a boiling point this year. Perhaps it was most horrifically portrayed in the Dallas sniper attack last week, where a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally turned into the massacre of five white police officers.

The world seems like it's going mad.

When I don't know what to do with my emotions -- anger, fear, deep sadness, hopelessness -- I often turn to words, art and images to help me cope. I came across this cathartic article in today's New York Times.

"The best that art can do is force us to face our problems," says writer Angelica Rogers. "Within ourselves and within our society."

Here is some of the most striking artwork coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement right now:

When you look at these images, what kind of emotions do they evoke? Anger, validation, healing? 

Would love to know your thoughts.

#MLK by Nikkolas Smith. (via BuzzFeed)
"A Man Was Lynched By Police Yesterday" by Dread Scott. (via The New York Times)
"Stay Woke," "Stop Killing Us," "No Breathing" and "More Than a Hashtag" 
by Nikkolas Smith.
"Don't Shoot" by Maria Maria Acha-Kutscher. (via Sojo)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

White denim: do or don't?

Do you do white denim?

Ronald Reagan was president last time I wore a pair of white jeans. I was a pubescent 13-year-old who thought white Guess jeans were the ultimate fashion status symbol. The year was 1988 and since then, I haven't dared. It's been almost 30 years.

My straight-up honest opinion about white denim? I think it looks trashy. Like men with ponytails and Victoria Beckham, white jeans have definite opinion-splitting properties, says blogger Alyson Walsh of That's Not My Age.

Unless you're Kate Moss, most women can't pull it off.

The color white, especially when stretched over the legs, is unforgiving. Every bump, every inch of cottage cheese and dimpled skin, every crack and fold. It's like watching a fashion train wreck.

What do you think? 

White denim: yay or nay?

Shades of white. (Girls of a Certain Age)