A Biannual, Risograph printed arts publication.


Each copy includes a print by Aurora Bodenhamer, a centerfold poster by Isobel Connelly, and two broadsides of poems by Kate Durbin and Jen Fisher.
56 Pages
Saddle stitched tabliod.
Risograph printed on Finch Vanilla Vellum and Springhill Cream.
Riso inks used: Green, Flo pink, Yellow and Black.



Volume #18 

  Monday, April 26th, 2021

Contributing Artists:





Emily Costantino sat down with Aaron Powell of indie downer-pop band Fog Lake to discuss his latest LP, Tragedy Reel, released on April 23rd via Orchid Tapes.

Apr26 2021





These poems are excerpts from a longer manuscript which performs a decomposition of a family member's Civil War diary and includes characters, a dramatic preface, three acts with exposition, and footnotes. The slashes are the mycelium threads from an (ASCII) mushroom.

Apr26 2021





Dylan Marx’s work exists across multiple mediums, shapes, and forms, but it always carries a familiar sense of play and earnestness. That may be because his poems and songs often begin from the same place, and at some point, Dylan decides whether the poem would be better off sung or read...

See Work...
Apr26 2021





Each place, each place I’ve called home/ is bisected in origin by water,/ in time by roads and the bridges/ carry me across each time,/ home home not home./ I release the thought after moving it/ from right brain to left and back./ The bridge might be a placebo or

Apr26 2021



Bail-Funds, Mutual Aid, Black led organizing, recommended reading and more.

Learn more...

Volume #17 

  Monday, March 29th, 2021

Contributing Artists:





The piece’s accordion structure provides two different modes: folded and unfolded, dressed and undressed. With the pull of a thread, the diffuse composition compresses and nearly half of the poem’s language is hidden away in the poem’s creases, allowing a second, redacted poem to emerge in its place.
See More...
Mar29 2021





the desperation/ of thinking/ period/
when/ making dumb faces/
behind the glass/ the/ little fishey mind/ begs in the/ wee small/ hours/ what did you expect?/ to fill a bucket/ halfway/ with dirty/

Mar29 2021





Hemali Vadalia draws and paints the ordinary into visions evoking an ethereal, dreamy quality, still grounded in the postures and presence of the every day. With a primary use of oil on linen, Vadalia uncloaks the parts of daily life left unseen... 

See Work...
Mar29 2021





When I feel particularly hopeless, I turn to three YouTube videos for inspiration — Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night”, Susan Boyle’s Audition for Britain’s Got Talent, and the trailer for the 2015 film JOY.

Mar29 2021



Bail-Funds, Mutual Aid, Black led organizing, recommended reading and more.

Learn more...

January 7, 2021

On Spiritual Creatures

Analog and Digital


The Net (Irwin Winkler, 1995)

On the winter beach something moves in the zone between where I stand and you speak. Thin gleam of sheet white light on waving repeat when into the space between I throw the light of this screen.

To see the messenger’s form and to make the middle glow or DICE THROW in an attempt to reach you I click on a link which writes its destination:


Wavelength (1967) plays a continuous zoom on an empty-full room —-->


lens revealed as moving eye ruled by what it’s in front of and behind.

Material things, says Thomas Aquinas, must have something holding them together other than their parts. A slice of meat THROWN

into a field of light to make it loop, enter
a body, loop, leave a body, loop, become a body.

Angels and other immaterial creatures of organization (like us) are always dying. MOVING in wave disturbances. An energy-carrying medium.

An angel, says Aquinas, might be pure form. The distance between wave crests. “Spiritual substance” or the speed of a wave divided by frequency or “divine thing” or when the medium’s wings glow then vanish upon delivery. Delivery. Something speaks. A throw of the die’s knife-edge between there and here along wired-up


When a form makes itself known. Brilliant frock coat appears. Again and again and again without end the wave breaks-crests-breaks-again. I have not reached you yet. AN ANGEL

falls too-bright light
becomes Lucifer as
waves freeze-frame
repeat where I stand
on the beach. Here
and there.

A very very awe-inducing morning star with white light of film and/or beyond. True or false light masquerading as air. Film in which there appear sprocket holes, edge lettering, dirt particles, etc. (1965-66) is a film by George Landow in which we see the form of the film’s trembling noise. The babble at the beginning of a world-film’s test strip. Dirt keeps bizarre time. The system moves. There is the risk of fire. Flicker and lettered glimpses. So close to the form we see its vision shooting from eyes in zigzags, swift dissolve. Wavelength, dying messenger, wavelength, repeated together.

A rebel angel adds its own sound to the message. Like me right now or sprocket holes as translucent form runs along the edge of the wheel. Wavelength getting closer to here. Medium excess gets hard to hold in the head. Light spreads its revelation, loop, wave, moving message.

I write to you and some of what moves thru


I write to you and some of what moves thru


me to you
sticks and escapes
blue digital
then analog
material between
sea and screen.
Something speaks.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes:  “The devil has the broadest perspectives for God; therefore he keeps so far away from God–the devil being the most ancient friend of wisdom.”

Alarmingly bright thing gets dragged across the sky in between permeabilities this distant vision can’t see. Use something other than the eyes. Rotting light leaving behind RESIDUE

clinging as this light
speaks through me
to you? Reach and decay
then leave the frame.

In a trembling cool white moment from Michael Snow’s Wavelength, a frame shows itself, projector blue's bleeding edge. Lengthy beep where light, angel-demon, gets heard and seen. Falling, something speaks. Dying flare pushing through screen:

What can the painting/screen/sea see?  A breeze a breeze a penetrating breeze. Light, meat, famous nativity. Wavelength was shot during one week in December 1966 after years of conceiving. The goal: a moment of pure filmic space time. The blue-green-yellow beep plays behind a scene. The message DELIVERED SMASHED

is delivered again alarmingly blue
serene we speak as we enter
the room. We are in the room
getting closer and closer while
eyeing the lit threshold of a film
moving with the reel. Hearing
it hum. Then we go. Thick
light on digital liturgy. The angel
Gabriel did a fine 3-part job:
deliver, explain, depart.

We end with a photograph of the sea on a wall. The head of a pin is a place. Angels are placeless. A text message’s lit-up blue holds part of the room up on this sizzling winged shelf MICROSCOPIC

not quite itself.
What can film fit on?
How many angels can fit
on the edge of its reel?
What film plays
on the head of a pin?
The text message is
a Paul Virilio quote:
“God has come back
into history through
the door of terror.”

In the 1995 film The Net, computers seem new and strange, digital screens with their own light suddenly mediating sky, ground, hand, film, fireplace. Sandra Bullock plays a computer programmer. All day she clicks. A hyperlink is a wired-up electronic door.


She enters chat rooms and talks to cyberbuddies. We don't know who animates these entities. Angel, skull, smiley face. Michel Serres says that the Annunciation asks the question of the intermediary: “...if he is too magnificent, he may intercept the message; if he is too discreet, he won’t make it heard. Must he appear or disappear? Both one and the other? How?” Serres describes the Annunciation as “the perfect message” because simultaneously “word and act.”

A messenger may fuck up.
Something speaks louder
than its end. Time passes.
A scroll unfurls from hand
hangs suspended midair.

In the above early 15th century depiction of the Annunciation, a scroll extends between the two figures, the angel Gabriel and Mary. An unwound reel. The sea is a fixed image moving on a wall. On screen, I scroll, click. All angels and waves recede for an instant and we’re left with what was delivered. FRIGHTENING




THE MESSENGER IS A CHANCE like in Zorns Lemma (1970) when Hollis Frampton shows us many signs in quick succession, among them this flash of angel and dice:

Thomas Aquinas, angelic doctor, says angels are placeless but they can act upon places, pushing and powering arenas. A hook is the item Georges Bataille associates with chance. A fall blocked by the hook of chance, knife-arrow curved into U may rip and/or act as a saving grace. Bataille writes: “Chance, which eludes me, plays in the heavens. The sky: oblique link uniting me with those who breathe beneath its expanse; even uniting me with beings yet to come. How to bear the question of the multitude of particular beings?”

Innumerable spiritual creatures and oblique (hyper)links. Without divine order, chance mediates.

Alejandra Pizarnik’s poem “Exile” ends:

angels beautiful as knives
that rise up at night
as hope’s devestations.


frenetic in Marie Menken’s Lights (1966). She writes: “Made during the brief Christmas-lit season, usually between the hours of midnight and 1:00 A.M., when vehicle and foot traffic was light, over a period of three years. Based on store decorations, window displays, fountains, public promenades, Park Avenue lights, building and church facades. I had to keep my camera under my coat to warm it up, as the temperature was close to zero much of the time.”

On the December beach I watch one surfer carry a surfboard out of the ocean like a heavy wing. Between us: air, cold phones, hair, ocean foam, light blur, something I can’t see or hear.

Emmalea Russo is a writer and artist living at the Jersey shore. Her books are G (Futurepoem, 2018) and Wave Archive (Book*hug, 2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and edits Asphalte Magazine.

For more of Emmalea’s work, go to and/or follow her on instagram at @emmalea.russo

August 27, 2021

Undigested Fragments

Erotic Goo and Absent Messages



I’m in a blue-lit room sitting near a beautiful stranger. We’ve communicated digitally, though his dream presence has a different resonance and texture. I notice new things about Dream Stranger in this dreamscape. For instance: he has a revolutionary message embroidered on his jeans. I’ve seen the message in a documentary, perhaps. Tagged in spray paint on a cement wall. I wonder what this fragment of text quietly displayed on his pant leg says about him, what I might surmise from the threaded message. The soft and pointed materials involved in the manual labor of its stitching. Sudden urge to photograph it, translate it to digital. But this is a dream and I have no camera.

We exit the blue-lit room and enter an abandoned stripmall. Skateboarders skate along the empty floor, back and forth as Dream Stranger and me stand in awe. Suddenly, a ringing flip phone in my trembling hand, brand new and very old. The ringing phone means I have to go, pulled away from Dream Stranger. Walking away from him and the mall, his mysterious textured pants and familiar look, our eyes lock, analog and digital and beyond, musical swoosh of wheels on old mall tiles.

Ahead of me: the star-like work of inscribing his message into our own uncertain future and the decay of light. But I already forgot the message. I carry the absence of the message into my day and for hours it hangs like a cloud between me and everything I see. What’s between me and the world is composed of loose threads and turquoise and pink toys, plush and smooshed like Mike Kelley’s old stuffed animals sewn together and hanging from a ceiling. Where is Dream Stranger? What was the embroidered message?

Everywhere: stuffed animals and thread and a foggy absence I carry carefully, trying not to walk through it, disperse it. The cloud’s a cloud. Then: night, the kind that arrives as a dazzling chandelier fuzzing-out the center of the field I’ve arrived in. A shadow of sewn-up cloud moving over Dream Stranger and me, Mike Kelley’s Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites. In the waking world, digitized, deodorized, I am met with a series of yes or no questions and a few boxes to check. I blink into the screen, then into the analog beyond, a mass of matted toys flattened and smoothed into pixels as my limbs leave the screen like candelabra arms in Jean Cocteau’s foggy Beauty and the Beast. Trapped, enchanted, both/and.

Click every image in which a skateboard appears. Click every image in which a thread appears. A thread appears. I attempt to type out the dream message, repeat its absence many times, cloud-like chunk of what I’ve forgotten and skulk around obliquely, no trail. I cannot name it. Outside at twilight, the absence of the threaded message takes on new resonance, sharp like the silver point in Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Thinking of You), where an unfastened safety pin presses into a fingertip. The red headline reads:


Thinking of you, I repeat many times into the cloud I move around. YOU are not there. The absence of YOU is like a pin pressing into the finger. A safety pin is meant to clasp, hold things together. The finger is not yet punctured by the pin, though there’s the YOU’s distance and almost-wound at the flesh’s threshold. If YOU arrive, will the pin go into the skin? A painful relief-release? If YOU arrive, will the pin re-enter its clasp, secured?

Barbara Kruger. Untitled (Thinking of You). 1999

Desire, like writing, is an empty-full space of mediation and flux. Both are somewhat impossible, blood anticipation at the fingertips. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietszche, always reminding us that we write with our bodies, writes: “Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with blood, and you will experience that blood is spirit. It is not easily possible to understand the blood of another...”


Transparency is trending. As Byung-Chul Han notes in Transparency Society, transparency is meant to denote trust, but trust has been degraded in our society. Han associates a society of transparency with one of distrust, control, and hypervisibility where we suffer from overexposure and a lack of necessary opacity and those modes that thrive in cloudier zones: poetry, eros, sensuality, what’s hard to name, grasp, consume, digest.

In the book’s preface, Han writes: “Transparent communication is communication that has a smoothing and leveling effect. It leads to uniformity. It eliminates Otherness.” Constant exhibition and masses of information eliminate erotic assymetries, thresholds, edges, ambiguous goo and blurry edges of poetry, those undigestable pieces, toys hanging from the ceiling, stitched together, a needle about to press into a fingertip, writing with one’s bodily fluids. The dream returns, a virtuality I walk around and around, a cloud that secretly shapes my moves, weaving veils and glimmers which illuminate the past in uncanny fractures of light, threading slowly some possible futures.

Under consumer capitalism, information (clickable) is meant to be immediately assimilable. In our digital experiences, largely regulated by Big Tech, what happens to the Other? To the absent message? The dream—Thinking of You—stranger? Mystical experience, which Georges Bataille (following mystics like Angela of Foligno) sometimes relates to erotic experience, is cloudy and requires slanted points of entry, a negative theology, fuzzy and at times formless, risky.

“Formless” is a prose poem-like definition of a slippery term, part of a text that Georges Bataille wrote for the surrealist journal Documents in 1929. Philosophy, writes Bataille, seeks to “give a frock coat to what is.” A shape, form, name. However, to say the universe is formless “amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.” Bataille is suspicious of mathematical frock coats and modernism’s affinity for categorizations and mastery. Instead of bringing what’s apparently low or formless into dominant economies to be circulated and subsumed, Bataille brings art to base materialism in a reversal echoing Nietzsche, who often associated art with animality and the body.

“Formless: A User’s Guide,” a 1996 exhibition in Paris curated by Rosalind Krauss, employed Bataille’s ideas about formlessness and included the work of Mike Kelley, Mel Bochner, and Cindy Sherman, among others. Moments of continuity or formlessness, slippages or materials that overflow utility or may defy categorization and deal with what’s uncanny, abject, ‘low,’ bodily, erotic.

Mel Bochner. Transparent and Opaque.&nbsp;1968, printed 1998.

Mel Bochner. Transparent and Opaque. 1968, printed 1998.

One of the pieces included in the show was Mel Bochner’s Transparent Opaque, a series of photographs arranged in a grid, each one displaying ambiguous goo or slime in a variety of colors. Vaseline spread across glass or plastic and lit by pink, purple, turquoise light and opaque substances resembling shaving cream, sensuous and hard to identify. In On Nietzsche, the third book in his Atheological Summa, a trilogy of mystical writings composed during the second world war, Bataille writes: 

Sensuality is nothing without an equivocal shift—in which suddenly there is this glimpse of a demented ‘goo’ that, although normally escaping us, suddenly seems attainable. The ‘goo’ still gets away. But in the brief glimpse our hearts beat with deranged hopes. It’s such hopes as these that, jumbled all together and pushing forward, finally allow the surging forth of... Often, a deranged beyond lacerates us while we’re apparently bent on lasciviousness.

Erotic goo, unattainable but profoundly affecting, makes the heart beat with “deranged hope.” And in this brief and uncapturable glimpse, an encounter with an Other—Dream Stranger, digital, divine, or otherwise—formlessness ensues. One can’t capture the seepage, a deranged hope clouds the scene. His thought trails off after something—a space for something, surges forth, then picks up again.

In contrast to the “transparent communication,” uniform and flat, that Byung-Chul Han says we’re plagued by these days under digitized neoliberal capitalism, Bataille continues the above thought with an attempt to define an entirely different kind of communication, intimate and excessive, open but not exactly transparent: “The communication of two individuals occurs when they lose themselves in sweet, shared slime...” Selves get lost in a slime reminiscent of Mel Bochner’s gridded textures of colorful vaselines and creams. In an erotic and intimate communication, we can never really attain or grasp the Other, piece of art, text, atmosphere, on and on. We try, we slip.

On Nietzsche feels undigested and also resists digestion. A different, slower, and more divergent reading practice is required. Bataille writes from personal experience, at times diaristic and fragmentary. When I first opened the book, I expected to read about Nietzsche. Instead, On Nietzsche acts as a tilted guidebook filled with oblique and overgrown paths into Nietzsche via Bataille’s encounters with Christian and non-western mystical writings and Nietzsche’s work. Still, it slowly shows ways one might approach, read, assimilate, and leave undigested parts of any text.

In a way, On Nietzsche shows the dangers of thinking you’ve digested or fully assimilated...anything. Bataille attempted to save Nietzsche’s writing from posthumous fascist appropriations, showing how his work is resistant to easy subsumption into any political agenda or book. To leave certain parts undigested (opaque), to leave room for multiplicity and flux and bodily chaos of thought itself, is a kind of ethics. I’m thinking here about Simone Weil’s warnings against eating or consuming the object of one’s desire and Ingeborg Bachmann’s insistence that fascism begins in the relationships between people. About Bataille’s mystical wartime trilogy, Amy Hollywood writes: “These books contain ample quotations from Nietzsche’s texts and from those of the mystics—undigested hunks and fragments of these illusive writings...”


Kelly, Milke. Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites. 1991-1999.

The slippery texture of digital communications seems, at least on the surface, to be of a different variety than Bataille’s shared slime, unnameable goo, Bochner’s pearly pictures, or my forgotten dream message. I scroll on my device quickly, trance-like. Ads pop up and I accidentally click, then leave, enter another grid. Mostly, things I can name. An advertisement for a new kind of candy bar. Digital and analog desires overlap and appear quickly, suggestions for things I might want. We can click on the name of a friend, lover, stranger, and the name, a link, leads to a window, another series of images. Looking, devouring. Digital and analog communications overcode and underwrite each other. Opaque clouds of not-knowing mix with digital storage.

In Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, which employs poetic and associative logic against totalities and colonialism, a crucial part of Glissant’s concept of relation involves opacity.

If we examine the process of ‘understanding’ people and ideas from the perspective of Western thought, we discover that its basis is this requirement for transparency. In order to understand and thus accept you, I have to measure your solidity with the ideal scale providing me with grounds to make comparisons and, perhaps, judgements. I have to reduce.

Relation is mobile, pushing against fixity. Glissant reminds us that we can relate to a person without understanding or grasping them. He continues: “Agree not merely to the right to difference but, carrying this further, agree also to the right to opacity that is not enclosure within an impenetrable autarchy but subsistence within an irreducible singularity. Opacities can coexist and converge, weaving fabrics.” Against a closed loop of understanding, Glissant clamors for an opening that spills over as he illustrates these seepages in the text itself, linking-up poetry and relation through their weird weaves, loose threads and generative convergences which work to trouble reduction of place, person, idea.

Intimate communication or relation opens space for the other, erotic goo, intriguing though not exactly digestible. Always already overflowing itself in incalculable flows, hard to scroll over or forget and equally hard to store. Messages or Dream Strangers that resist legibility, opaque-shimmering thicknesses that stick to memory and arrive over and over in flashes. Clicks that may turn into punctures, thinking of you, a you that’s both here and not, an I that is also another, loosening the bones to gooey formlessness as it backlights another zone, perhaps pink and turquoise vaseline on glass, a grid of photographs, a deodorized mass.


Bataille, Georges. On Nietzsche, tr. Bruce Boone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1998, p.97-98.

Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess, tr. Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, p. 31.

Glissant, Édouard. Poetics of Relation, tr. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1997, p. 189-190.

Han, Byung-Chul. Transparency Society, tr. Erik Butler. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, 2015, p. vii.

Hollywood, Amy. Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002, p. 101.

Nietzsche, Frederich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, tr. Adrian Del Caro. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p 27.

Emmalea Russo is a writer and artist living at the Jersey shore. Her books are G (Futurepoem, 2018) and Wave Archive (Book*hug, 2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and edits Asphalte Magazine.

For more of Emmalea’s work, go to and/or follow her on instagram at @emmalea.russo

September 25, 2021



“There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it.
Darkness and light, error and truth—it is none of these.
-Pseudo-Dionysius, The Mystical Theology

“I am not a philosopher, but a saint, maybe a madman.”
– Georges Bataille, Method of Meditation

“But this night of mine can’t be killed by any sun.”
– Alejandra Pizarnik, “The Green Table”

Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna (1969) shows a disintegrating relationship between Anna (Liv Ullman) and Andreas (Max von Sydow) in disjointed associative leaps. The present fills with residues of a past catastrophe which haunts Anna as an ominous future horror hangs over the film like another film. Mind and world deteriorate in plays of light and darkness. The film opens as Andreas repairs his roof which has “long been in disrepair.” He pauses and squints into the bright sky which contains multiple suns. The bucket of cement falls to the ground.

It’s a question of proximity. Glimmering trash on the ground, uncomfortable close-ups, multiple suns, tiny transcendences under minimart lights. Proximity to sun, lamp, page, face, experience.

Is there a right light for writing? Direct experience? Receiving messages from the dead? Is the light which facilitated a work always the light it emits? Or is there a gap, a spillover, light or night that can’t be accounted for? How does the persistent light of our screens delete and mutate proximity and distance? What facilitates dazzlement, being so close, too close -- to sun, lamp, face, divine, other, ground?

In “The Night, The Poem” Alejandra Pizarnik writes: “In fact, I do not write: I widen a breach so that the messages of the dead can reach me at twilight.” Writing is the process of creating an opening for messages, an active receptivity that is also not writing.


When does the writer/lover/filmmaker/mystic’s passage-making and desire for union tilt into madness? Ingmar Bergman wrote The Passion of Anna “in a white heat” aiming to “make a black-and-white film in color, with certain hues emphasized in a strictly defined color scale. It turned out to be difficult.”

In an uncomfortable and hypnotic monologue half-way through the film, Anna tells Andreas about her former marriage, which she describes as a thrilling/dissolving oneness (similar to the way certain mystics speak of union with God) as her eyes gleam. Bergman makes faces into landscapes and here, Anna’s works like a dazzling sun we’re impossibly near.

The Mystical Theology, written by the 5th or 6th century pseudonymous mystic Pseudo-Dionysius and influential for Christian mystical traditions in the Middle Ages, speaks of the divine as beyond speech or description. A “brilliant darkness of a hidden silence” and a “darkness beyond intellect,” highlighting spiritual experience over understanding. The seven page text begins with a question: “What is the divine darkness?” Is this the night Pizarnik speaks of? The night of the poem? The “complete togetherness” that Anna recalls in the film?

In the trilogy of books written during World War II, Georges Bataille connects the writings of Nietzsche with those of the Christian mystic Angela of Foligno (1248-1309), whose bodily devotions included washing hands and feet of lepers and then drinking the water, stripping naked in front of the cross, convulsing, and meditating on portions of Christ’s crucified flesh. This unlikely connection, I think, has to do with unmediated experience. The I/eye of the philosopher, dazzled, might become the I/eye of mystic. In his book on Bataille, Rodolphe Gasché writes about the theorizing eye of the philosopher:

“Never looking up in order to avoid the danger of being dazzled, strips the perceived images of their materiality in order to perceive in them eternal forms and essences. But a look at the things themselves would dazzle his vision like a look at the sun, which still appears to the philosopher as the guarantee of every truth.”

In forsaking cool distance to look at things in themselves, philosophy risks a dazzlement which might swerve the old theory/experience binary. According to Angela of Foligno, the divine darkness shows the soul “nothing and everything at once.”


The multiple suns at the start of The Passion of Anna divine the structure of the film. Just as the violence of the Vietnam War heightened on-set stress, interviews with the actors get interjected and trouble demarcations between reality/fiction, actor/character, nearness/distance. Liv Ullman says that while she sympathizes with her character’s need for truth, the quest has become dangerous. Not finding what she seeks, she takes “refuge in lies and imagination.”

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes: “When after a forceful attempt to gaze at the sun we turn away blinded, we see dark-colored spots before our eyes, as a cure, as it were.” Later, in his introduction to Twilight of the Idols (dated September 30, 1888, a few months before his nervous collapse in Turin), Nietzsche writes that the book is a kind of sunspot, a place to rest. When is the darkness a restorative retreat? When does the retreat become a hideaway? When might the hideaway open into terror, deterioration?

Sunspot writing. Philosophy becomes poetry becomes autobiography becomes divine revelation becomes silence. Sunspot writing is perhaps performed in bursts (Nietzsche often paused to write aphorisms while walking) alternating between afternoon sun and dazzling darkness, writing and walking. Walking is sometimes writing. Writing is sometimes not writing.

I often photograph the ground, glimmers that catch my eye or that I might ordinarily pass over, usually something discarded or dropped and curiously lit by sun or streetlight. Over the years, I’ve amassed a glittering digital archive of trash.

Beyond what Nietzsche named “permanent daylight—the daylight of reason,” the dazzled one has a paradoxical relationship to light. According to Bataille, Nietzsche wrote from a night emerging from excesses of light, and perhaps went mad from it:

“The tragedy of Nietzsche is the tragedy of night emerging from excesses of light.
His eyes emboldened and wide open, like an eagle in flight: the sun of immorality and dazzling malice left him blinded. 
It’s a dazzled man who speaks.
The most difficult thing.
Getting as far down as possible.
Down to where everything thrown to the ground is shattered. Your nose in a puddle of vomit.”

Light slips and splits. Things of this world, up-close, might unlock a sunspot, a place to write. Pseudo-Dionysius describes this divine darkness as higher than light. To be dazzled is to be so near to something (the sun, the divine, a lamp, a sidewalk, a text, a puddle) that it stuns and confuses. Dazzled knowledge is limit knowledge, perilous, often silent, hard to describe.

In “Sex, Night” Pizarnik writes, “Night opens itself only once. It’s enough. You see.” Then the self, like the sun in the film, multiplies: “Fear of being two in the mirror, and suddenly we’re four.” Often, one doesn't choose this dazzling darkness. It arrives through the breach in Pizarnik’s poem. It comes through poverty, illness, or other precarious situations which take a person out of/into the world in disquieting proximities to light, truth, self, other. I photographed dazzling ground in part because I frequently ended up there, having fallen during epileptic seizures, moments that felt mad, my eye/I dissolved. I have to write around these experiences. I can’t write from them. Still, maybe those falls and contortions are a kind of silent writing.


Who gets to have distance? What (ir)rationality is inherent in collecting and organizing images and making narratives? Near the film’s end, Anna and Andreas communicate in a vacuum of inky darkness. There is always a remainder, a gap or an excess, dazzling or disorienting, between two people, between what happened and the story we tell, between the filmmaker’s vision and how we receive the film as viewers.

Georges Bataille’s brief essay “Rotten Sun” describes two suns, one productive and one combustive:

    • The reasonable and elevated sun gives form to our days. Distant, it allows us to see.
    • The rotten sun decomposes forms and melts Icarus’s waxen wings: “If on the other hand one obstinately focuses on it, a certain madness is implied, and the notion changes meaning because it is no longer production that appears in light, but refuse or combustion, adequately expressed by the horror emanating from a brilliant arc lamp.”

The sun, so often regarded in philosophy as an unwavering truth source, is also a perishable material. Blisters, headache, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting: symptoms of sun poisoning. Reaching a limit, the sun switches, it’s a dazzled man who speaks.

Up-close, we see other worlds, suns, selves born from rot. We encounter a bodily beyond engendered by proximal experience. Under what light and at what proximity to night, sun, sidewalk, does a person become a philosopher, a saint, a poet, reasonable, mad?

Alexander Irwin defines saint, in Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred, in terms of corporeality and service:

“Saints are beings who, instead of trying to crystallize the abstract essence of courage or justice in yet another theory, enact courage and justice in real-life situations and inspire others to do likewise. Saints offer not airy discourse but their own flesh, a ‘saintly corporeality,’ risked in the service of the other.”

Currently, I’m sitting at my desk. The room is comfortably lit, and the blue light of the computer screen mixes with memories that return, words of various dazzled thinkers, and the film. It’s a question of proximity. I write around the dazzling, a moth circling a gas station light.


Narrated by Bergman himself, we might also read the white heat of multiple suns at the film’s start as a distortion forecast. Productive and combustive suns hanging in one sky, hooking-up the film with the conditions under which it was made, theory with direct experience, an actor with her character.

Just as I begin to sink into the world of the film, an interview with one of the actors arrives to remind me that I’m in at least three worlds (with three suns?):

    • diegetic world of the movie
    • historical and temporal moment in which the film was made
    • my own material reality as I watch

The sun and screen light the room.

After a heated argument, Andreas gets out of the car and begins to walk. Anna drives away. The camera moves closer to Andreas as he paces back and forth. Closer and closer, Andreas blurs into the environment as the film ends.

What’s lost to/revealed in the dazzling?

There is no speaking of it.

Weather says: chance of rain then maybe-sun. A neon reflection in smudged glass, a perfume ad, a bottle of soda, gas station lights in a puddle, paused film, a piece of fabric weathered from overuse or sun.


All screen grabs (taken by Emmalea Russo) are from Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna (1969). Source:

Angela of Foligno. The Complete Works. Trans. Paul Lachance. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.

Bataille, Georges. Guilty. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2011.

Bataille, Georges. On Nietzsche, tr. Bruce Boone. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1994.

Bataille, Georges. The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, tr. Michelle and Stuart Kendall. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade, 2017.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. London: Penguin, 1968.

Pizarnik, Alejandra. Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962-1972. New York: New Directions, 2016.

Pizarnik, Alejandra. The Galloping Hour: French Poems. New York: New DIrections, 2018.

Pseudo-Dionysius. The Complete Works. New York: Paulist Press, 1987.

Emmalea Russo is a writer and artist living at the Jersey shore. Her books are G (Futurepoem, 2018) and Wave Archive (Book*hug, 2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and edits Asphalte Magazine.

For more of Emmalea’s work, go to and/or follow her on instagram at @emmalea.russo

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October 29, 2021


Revolting Memories, Deranged Forms, and Lost Highways(s)


“Night brings formal terrors: an obliteration of the grounding divisor of the horizon, a punctuated vision against an indifferent and unmarked field of duration, unmoored in time and space.” — Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects

“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” – Mystery Man, Lost Highway (1997)


DETECTIVE: Do you own a video camera?
RENEE: No. Fred hates them.
FRED: I like to remember things my own way.
DETECTIVE: What do you mean by that?
FRED: How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happen.
Lost Highway (1997)


It begins and ends at night, David Bowie’s “I’m Deranged” playing over the Lost Highway, smudges of white headlights emblazoning the road in fast flickers. The yellow line of road disappears under whatever vehicle we’re inside of. Again and again. A mechanism pushes forward and meets itself, affixing the start to the finish. Almost. Lines fall fast out of frame and into pure night. We appear to be rushing forward. Towards what? Line. Line. Line. The film, a line deranging into an almost-circle, feels like headlights pushing through plastic, illuminating in fuzzy defusions what moves.


To derange is to disarrange. A line thrown into disorder, made to curve and bend into chaos. A Mobius strip, affixed to itself and infinitely looping, cut. The clear plastic curves of videotape wound into reels. When we are beside ourselves. When we split, then multiply. A phosphorescent strip between what happened and what’s recalled.


The exchange about memory and video cameras happens near the beginning of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). Fred and Renee are a married couple who’ve been receiving anonymous surveillance videos of themselves and their home. Memory is what returns flecked with forgetting, falsities, and imagination. To watch the film is to read the textured topology of lost highways and how they move, what moves them: fast asphalt, slow red curtain, deliquescent static, bright blue light, silver gleam of intercom.


In Tales of Love, Julia Kristeva writes, “Like an image simultaneously composed and decomposed on videotape, love is only for the time being and forever.” Lost Highway unfurls in this temporal paradox, desire brushing-up against and becoming a horror never quite resolved. Yellow lines deteriorate as they proliferate.

At the start, someone is filming/watching Fred and Renee. Shots of the outside of their home give way to footage from the inside. Fred and Renee, disturbed, watch themselves sleeping from a bird’s eye view. Finally, the footage further invades, replacing or glitching Fred’s own head.


Lost Highway is filled with technological mediums, recording devices, and bodies acting on each other. Like Francis Bacon’s paintings, where unseen forces stretch bodily forms to their bizarre limits – deform, dissolve, and spasm – Lost Highway reveals the deranging qualities of the medium we’re watching. As viewers, we’re always already on the lost highway.

Watching the film again, I’m struck by how much I’ve forgotten, by those parts I’ve remembered falsely or not at all, and by those elements which have stuck with me. Speaking about Lost Highway, David Lynch said “this is going to be a strange interview because I can’t remember so many things.”

A message delivered through a medium, disembodied, to layer a scene, not always sensical. At the start of the film, the first words we hear (“Dick Laurent is dead”) arrive through an intercom as Fred holds his finger on the LISTEN button. The film dilates the inter: existing between spasms, between transmission sent and message received, between experience and memory.


Composed and decomposed on videotape. In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes writes: “What does ‘thinking of you’ mean? It means: forgetting ‘you’ (without forgetting, life itself is not possible) and frequently waking out of that forgetfulness. Many things, by association, bring you back into my discourse. ‘Thinking of you’ means precisely this metonymy.”

If forgetting, as Barthes claims, makes life possible, what happens to life under instant digital recall, a phenomenon which Lost Highway calls toward. “The word digital points to the finger (digitus). Above all, the finger counts. Digital culture is based on the counting finger,” writes Byung-Chul Han in In the Swarm. But (human) memory cannot be counted or quantified. It involves the whole body and like Lynch’s film, it is filled with gaps, silences, and oblique on/off ramps.

Lost Highway gives us long unwieldy stretches of not-knowing. Are the terrifying turns that Fred’s life has taken (he doesn’t seem to remember killing his wife but the act is on videotape, for instance) a result of human or supernatural intervention? Memory, with its glitches and curtains mixes with memory (data storage, videotape) and a chaotic play of contiguous universes ensues.


“The movement of translation occurs between two spasms,” wrote Gilles Deleuze in The Logic of Sensation about Francis Bacon’s paintings. Lost highways (surreal, spastic, textured, unruly, static-ridden) get truncated and paved over during times of algorithmic digital recall. In The Hours Have Lost Their Clock: The Politics of Nostalgia, Grafton Tanner writes about this quickening loop, which works to immediately petrify experience into technological memory: “Frozen into data, posts and content can be called up at whim, instead of merely forgotten. Before the age of Big Tech, nostalgic cycles were wider.”

At the interstice between experience and memory runs a deranged highway along which forms compose and decompose. As Fred stares at his prison cell door on death row, a burning cabin appears, then reconstitutes itself. A dazzling blue light appears, an intensity portalling Fred somewhere else as he rocks back and forth in pain. A stranger stands at the side of the road. The sequence acts like a Francis Bacon painting, a body becoming a series of forces morphing, escaping its edges.


The film splits. We enter the world of Pete and Alice, doubles of Fred and Renee. Eventually, near the end of a hallucinogenic love scene lit by car headlights, music mutates from angelic to suspenseful and the thin veil between seduction and horror breaks. Again, a switch. A world born from a broken-open instant, a blue light, the same note played on the same instrument in different weather.

We enter a dynamic sublime, blurs of sensation escaping frame and body. Here and elsewhere. Julia Kristeva, in The Powers of Horror: “Not at all short of but always with and through perception and words, the sublime is a something added that expands us, overstrains us, and causes us to be both here, as dejects, and there, as others and sparkling. A divergence, an impossible bounding. Everything missed, joy—fascination.”


A divergence, an impossible bounding.
Here and there.
Composed and decomposed on videotape.

An uncanny residue, a line lit by a car we cannot see, moves between viewer and screen. In Cinema 2, Gilles Deleuze writes about interstitial moments in cinema – betweens which generate perceptual shifts, changes in how we see film and world: “Between two actions, between two affections, between two perceptions, between two visual images, between two sound images, between the sound and the visual: make the indiscernible, that is the frontier, visible.”

Interpretations of the film often revolve around the split between reality and dream, noting that Fred (Bill Pullman) enters an illusory space after his feelings of inadequacy and suspicion drive him to kill his wife. Zizek claims that the film is about “the enigma of feminine desire.” But there are also tunnels of visible yet indiscernible communications between viewer and film, bound to each other through plays of lost highways, surface tension, curtain, and static.


In the blue-lit oneiric sequence between Fred’s prison cell and Pete, there’s revolt. A body in revolt: overturning, overthrowing and a body in revolt: turning, rolling back. A turn of the film, video, Mobius strip, road, body. Condensed pain moves across abstract frames. In Revolt, She Said, Julia Kristeva writes:

It is precisely a technocratic ideology that is supposed to abolish anxiety. But what I am saying is the opposite: anxiety, repulsion, nothingness are essential aspects of freedom. That’s what revolt is. When one abolishes revolt that is linked to anxiety and rejection, there is no reason to change. You store things and keep storing. It’s a banker’s idea, not an idea of a rebel, which spreads this technocratic ideology.

The hallucinatory flicker between scenes houses what cannot be stored, pointing us back to our own surroundings in the flat black silence framing an indiscernible blur, a body twisting in the corner of the frame. A form of revolt slips out from storage, interpretation, representation.


DETECTIVE: Do you own a video camera?
RENEE: No. Fred hates them.
FRED: I like to remember things my own way.
DETECTIVE: What do you mean by that?
FRED: How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happen.
Lost Highway (1997)


With its doubles, almosts, déjà vu, repetitions, curtains, holes, and loops, Lost Highway shows the distortive aspects of technological mediums as both destructive and fruitful. New mysteries and mysticisms emerge, more devices through which messages get delivered, distorted, broken open. Bookended by spasms, an ending which touches the beginning as it escapes, we return to the same road changed, deranged.


*All screenshots (from Lost Highway, dir. David Lynch, 1997) are by Emmalea Russo.

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, tr. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977, p. 157.

Brinkema, Eugenie. The Forms of the Affects. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014, p. 232.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image, tr. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989, p. 180.

Han, Byung-Chul. In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, tr. Erik Butler. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, tr. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolt, She Said, tr. Brian O’Keefe. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2002, pp. 101-2.

Kristeva, Julia. Tales of Love, tr. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, p. 125.

Tanner, Grafton. The Hours Have Lost Their Clock: The Politics of Nostalgia. New York: Repeater, 2021.

Emmalea Russo is a writer and artist living at the Jersey shore. Her books are G(Futurepoem, 2018) and Wave Archive (Book*hug, 2019). Recent writing has appeared in Artforum, American Chordata, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, Granta, Hyperallergic, Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She's pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and edits Asphalte Magazine.

For more of Emmalea’s work, go to and/or follow her on instagram at @emmalea.russo 

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May 21st, 2021

Closing the Gap Between Dreams and Reality: On the Work of Ta-Nia

Caitlyn and theater-making duo Ta-Nia discuss embodiment, multimodality, and afrofuturism. 
Dreams in Black Major at NYU Tisch / National Black Theatre. Photo Jeff Lawless.

Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, the late, visionary founder of Harlem’s National Black Theatre, was committed to art that “emanates from an African world-view and is grounded in spiritual tradition,” a standard, she wrote, that inherently “removes the separation between audience and stage.” Ta-Nia, a theater-making duo in Brooklyn, whose formative collaboration, Dreams in Black Major, premiered at the National Black Theatre in 2019, excavate that separation in their practice-based research. If the proverbial stage entertains limitless fantasy and the audience sits in concrete reality, what lies between? Ta-Nia intricately perceive the possibilities of that synthesis to build a new space. In their words, “a blk space in an anti-blk society.”

To understand what I mean when I say that Ta-Nia intricately perceive the liminal, participate in The Map Project. It’s a digital tour through the capacity of your own imagination to envision utopia, guided by meditations, video art, and dozens of prompts written by Ta-Nia. It works by initiating participants into the wisdom tradition of their own sensory faculties and applying that wisdom to realize the Afro-future. Ta-Nia crafted the experience to collect written material for A Map to Nowhere (things are), a performance/ritual in development through Soho Rep’s Writer/Director Lab. Since August 2020, over 150 people have participated, with over 500 responses recorded. “We find it crucial for our projects to contain the DNA of our community,” they say.

Screenshots from The Map Project. Website designed by Talía Paulette Oliveras.

In Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing, a poetry book that inspired A Map to Nowhere (things are), “The Device” tells the story of a new technology invented by “a hive mind of Black nerds” to communicate with and receive guidance from ancestors. Imagine the device through the aesthetic lens of Afrofuturism and you might picture a metallic, sleek, cosmic gadget. As it turns out, the device is “an inelegant hodgepodge, a reflection of the hands that made it.” One scientist's reflection: “It looked like in a hundred years it might be something you’d find at a yardsale. But of course...wouldn’t that be a success? Shouldn’t the device come to be so average and commonplace that it ceases to be magic and comes to be part of everyday life for regular black people all over the country?” This question expresses Mundane Afrofuturism, a tenet of Ta-Nia’s project.

Elucidated in Martine Syms’ manifesto, Mundane Afrofuturism is a framework for cultural production that combines the vision of Afrofuturism—–Black liberation–—with a critique of its spiritual bypasses. It applies the laws of physics (gravity) to Afrofuturism, and in doing so, roots the radical Black imagination on earth. “Outer space will not save us from injustice,” writes Syms, and “the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.” Sprawling mycelium networks, with their ancient abilities to nourish entire ecosystems and detoxify the environment, are, after all, mundane by definition. The Map Project and its spawn, A Map to Nowhere (things are), embody this type of technology to world-build. 

Nia Farrell and Talía Paulette Oliveras, photo Bianca Rogoff

In early spring I corresponded with Ta-Nia on a shared doc about these influences over the course of several weeks. While they mainly wrote as a singular entity, they are, by the way, Talía Paulette Oliveras and Nia Farrell. “Nia,” writes Talía, “is a master of puns and poetics, a supernova gracing us with its brightness, an infectious joy embodied.” While “Talía,” writes Nia, “is the manifestation of dreams and a catalyst for the possibilities of this world, with a rose in one hand and a machete in the other.” Together, they alchemize a way of working and being otherwise inaccessible.


Video stills from The Map Project designed by Ava Elizabeth Novak, concept by Ta-Nia.

Can you talk a bit about how you’re translating The Map Project responses from the virtual realm to the performance of A Map to Nowhere (things are)?

We worked with two incredible archivists, Jordan Powell and Nina Attinello, who helped us sort through all the website submissions and track recurring themes, repeated dreams, and striking imagery.

With those 50-something Google doc pages of responses, we’ll identify the quotes and visual language that we want to incorporate directly in the script. Sometimes we’ll put responses in conversation with one another by creating a poem of different dreams for a character to perform. And other times, the submissions, individually and collectively, influence the physical environment. Colors, sounds, and textures that people included in their dreams may find their way into our collective theatrical space. One of our hopes as creators is that a person who participated in The Map Project walks into the space and sees or experiences their dreams actualized.

“I wanted a map / not to know / where things are / but to know / where I am” appears in all caps in Eve L. Ewing’s book, Electric Arches. This also reflects the title of your show. Ewing’s poetry takes many forms, including sestina, narrative prose, epistolary, five-act structure, and the “re-tellings” where she uses her own handwriting to redirect and transmute a traumatic narrative. Her writing also continually insists on joy and meaning, not as divine privileges or future states to inhabit, but as the basis of her own perceptions, all in the context of the status quo of anti-Black violence. There’s a lot more to say about it. How does this particular book influence your piece?

You identified many of the reasons we fell in love with Eve L. Ewing’s writing and this collection of poems in particular. As our project evolved from an adaptation of the book to a conversation with the book to a piece that is inspired by the book, there are two elements of Ewing’s that we’ve clung to.

First, the re-tellings. The act of re-telling and transforming an inherited or lived narrative is a powerful one. These re-telling poems remind the reader of their agency and imagination—two essential components for future-building. In the way Ewing activated us as creators to re-tell our stories, we want to activate our characters and audience to do the same.

The other element of Ewing’s work that serves as an emotional undercurrent for our characters and the structure of the piece is her core question in “The Device,”––how can we as Black people be free in a world that does not love us? At its core, A Map To Nowhere (things are) is a ritual for the audience to ask and answer that question for themselves.

Martine Syms writes that Mundane Afrofuturism recognizes “the sense that the rituals and inconsistencies of daily life are compelling, dynamic, and utterly strange.” How does this inform the work you do as theater-makers to “make blk spaces in an anti-blk society”?

I’m excited for what Talía thinks about this question! The way I understand this quote and its relationship to our work is that, in isolation, concepts of actualization and manifestation might appear to be nonsense. But I think rituals are only “utterly strange” if they don’t lead us to action. Dreams of liberation that only remain in the head, now that’s strange to me! But dreams that become a blueprint for the future we will coexist in, now that’s just practical. My Afro-future isn’t going to drop out of the sky, it must be rooted in deliberate and intentional acts of community building.

A big part of making blk spaces for me has to do with recognizing the ways blkness is inherently complex, multiple, dynamic, ephemeral, transformative and so on. The rituals and inconsistencies of daily life that Syms refers to feel intrinsic and synonymous to blkness—it almost makes me think that, in our work, the first step to making our spaces blk is by leaning into the mundane.

Video stills from The Map Project designed by Ava Elizabeth Novak, concept by Ta-Nia.

Syms also writes “to burn this manifesto as soon as it gets boring.” What is your relationship to building upon the legacy of your mentors and predecessors while remaining true to your aims?

We thank and honor the ancestors and community leaders and mentors who have guided us to this point. It is because of their work we stand on a solid foundation that we aim to only add to—whether that be continuing the work or finding new ways that lead us to the ultimate goal: the liberation of Blk people.

We love that last line of the manifesto; it keeps us accountable to our people who we wish to service. We like to think of burning not as destroying, but an act of creating something new. The volcano erupts to make an island. The fire rages to release seeds and forge a new path. We hope that when the flames come for our work, it follows in that tradition of burning in order to see what other form exists on the other side.

And if our rituals no longer respond to the needs of the community, or worse, work in antithesis to the needs of the community, for sure burn it down! We hope that the future ancestors rise from the ashes anew.

How did working at the National Black Theatre influence your approach to producing theater?

A shout out to the folks at National Black Theatre (NBT) who supported Dreams in Black Major: Sade Lythcott, Jonathan McCrory, Nabii Faison, Abisola Faison, Denzel Faison, Belynda Hardin, and Kiele Logan and the entire facilities team—we are in deep gratitude for the space you made for us to actualize our dreams. We hope we made Dr. Barbara Ann Teer proud.

The energy of NBT fundamentally changed our piece. We didn’t have to carry the baggage of our work in a traditionally white theatre institution. No, we walked into a Blk space and immediately felt closer to our dreams. There’s a reason why NBT is called “your home away from home.” It’s where Blk artists undergo a soul journey to tap into the soul of what we do and how we can share that with others. In every rehearsal room and theatrical space that we’ve worked in since NBT, we bring that soul with us.

NBT was the first revenue-generating Black arts complex in the country, capable of subsidizing their own performances. What is your vision for producing models (economically speaking) that would best support your theatrical visions?

We've been dreaming up ideas around this a lot recently! At the moment, we're very interested in reimagining currency in regard to theatrical experiences. For example, we're interested in ways we can share our work with flexible ticket models—those who have funds can purchase tickets and those who don't can offer something else in exchange whether that's offering a cooked meal, leading a workshop another day, etc. In this same vein, we're interested in creating a community space where we can share our work, engage with our respective community through events and workshops, offer a safe space to just have a cup of coffee, house a community garden.


Dreams in Black Major will be live streamed at Theatretreffen's Stückemarkt in Berlin on May 22. In fall 2021, A Map to Nowhere (things are) will be presented as part of Soho Rep’s Writer/Director Lab. Follow The Map Project @amaptonowhere.


We are Talia Paulette Oliveras and Nia Farrell, collectively Ta-Nia, a theatre-making duo committed to challenging the limits of theatre to create unapologetically Blk spaces of liberation. As creators and performers, we focus on developing new work that foregrounds identity, collectivity, and celebrations of dreams. Since graduating from NYU Tisch, our work has been presented in Ars Nova’s ANT Fest 2019 and will be in Theatretreffen’s Stückemarkt 2021 (Dreams in Blk Major). Currently, we are members of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab and finalists for SPACE on Ryder Farm’s Creative Residency 2020 (A Map To Nowhere things are). We are multi-hyphenate artists who apply our interdisciplinary nature to the art we create in both process and product. Talia has collaborated with Musical Theatre Factory, Big Green Theater, Theatre Mitu, JACK, Mabou Mines, The Public, and BAM. And Nia has collaborated with Theatre Mitu, National Black Theatre, The Public Theatre Mobile Unit, and New Ohio Theatre. Learn more at:

Caitlyn Tella:

Caitlyn Tella is a theater maker and poet originally from the Bay Area. Her chapbook, Sky Cracked Open the Proscenium Frame, is forthcoming from DoubleCross Press.

December 21, 2021

COMMITTING TO THE FAKE: An Interview with Anh Vo

Caitlyn and Anh Vo discuss psychotherapy, performance, transcendence, and familial ghosts.

Anh stewing on stage, Summer 2021. Video by Caitlyn Tella.

I wanted to interview Anh Vo after watching this video of Red (For Communism). Performed at Judson Church in 2019, the dancer sails across the floor, skipping in clipped cadence, occasionally making perky, ceremonious leaps. I watched on my laptop, entranced by the lively near-precision of their steps and commitment to keep skipping for an annoyingly long time. As nothing new continues to happen, joy, set to communist revolutionary music, accumulates, and to my surprise, given the frequently bland conceit belying so much duration-as-content performance, so does a palpable lack of pretentiousness.

When the skipping ends, Anh jokes, “The white abstract part of the performance is over” and proceeds to attract an audience member to the open floor of Judson Church to play a little cross-examination game: “Have you ever been a communist party member?” “No.” ... "Have you ever been on the 23rd street of Manhattan?" “Yes.” “Are you aware the Communist Party USA headquarter is located at 235 West 23rd Street?” (Audience laughs), etc.

At the top of that performance the lights go out and a voiceover of Joseph McCarthy espouses evergreen American beliefs that communists have no freedom of thought, no freedom of expression. In the dark of this historical trace, I ponder the levels of self-denial I have achieved to manage to pay rent.

Anh at Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn, where this interview was conducted. Photos by Caitlyn Tella.

The first time we talked, Anh told me they were dealing with the ghost of their grandfather: in psychotherapy four days a week and also with a shaman. Anh had experienced profound technical difficulties before performing BABYLIFT at Target Margin in February—a memory for no audience named after Operation BABYLIFT, the 1975 mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam to the United States that resulted in a plane crash killing 78 of them. After spilling coffee on their laptop the day before the show, Anh realized they needed professional, high-order guidance from a shaman before scheduling any further performances. “At least that’s how the message got translated into my consciousness,” they said.

Since then, I’ve seen Anh perform twice. In sweaty New York summer they stewed an aromatic soup on stage. Then, as if trapped in a spell, repeated an elegant loopy step, producing increasing sweat. In autumn at MOtiVE Brooklyn, I saw their latest iteration of Non-Binary Pussy, sexy propaganda fueled by Anh’s popstar persona, featuring video, intricate choreography and great raps like MY PUSSY: ZEN DANCE SLAPPING. YOUR PUSSY: BLAND STRESSED NAPPING.


BABYLIFT at Target Margin Theater, 2021. Credit: Yekaterina Gyadu.

What made you start working with ghosts in performance?

It was a very unconscious decision. I think people here have no relationship to death and in Vietnam there are many rituals around the dead and war. It felt culturally important.

I come from performance studies which theorizes this fake-real relationship—how the fake is always the real and the real is never truly real. So I decided to fake trying to conjure ghosts. I went into my memory of my father performing these traditions and just stayed with that memory. I didn't try to google it. I had no idea what I was doing. I was like, “am I offending ghosts right now?” And that’s the price I would have to pay.

Did you have a sense of—oh maybe I’m on to something? How did you register a connection?

Things gained clarity over time. For BABYLIFT I did a five hour ritual before the performance, very rhythmical. And a lot of singing. That was the part where the ghost was there. My grandfather. I almost fainted. In Vietnam we usually call people who are susceptible to ghosts and haunting as having “weak aura.” People who are always pale and dizzy—fainting is one of the signs that the ghost incorporated into your body.

When you were growing up were you interested in your ancestry?

Not really. That’s where the paradox is. I had to leave Vietnam to have some awareness of how important war is, for example. We never talked about war. Why would they talk about it? I know nothing of my mom’s life pre-1975. Or really, pre-1986 when capitalism was integrated. We just have an idea that there was a lot of suffering. Only when I left I felt the haunting of the war nagging at the present, informing why people are the way people are in Vietnam. But I have no investment in trying to find the truth of my family’s history. I think more of a unit where historical relations play out, where there’s this suffocation to death of a certain way of life, a certain possibility that could have gone somewhere else in history. Instead the U.S. suffocated it. Now here we are.

So you’re exploring this undiscovered place that could have existed—the unknown.

I think so, and that’s why it’s so speculative. I don’t want to do an anthropological exercise of interviewing my parents. That’s not how the truth comes out. It comes out in random ways, so my sensibility now is to pay attention to how these historical traces emerge.

Speaking of traces, you use a lot of repetition in your work. How do these things form?

I think it has to do with ritual. I’m drawn to repetition of very small movements. Committing to the repetition weakens your connection to this world and you transport somewhere else.

Would you say it’s like a trance?

Very much like a trance. Like, transcendence. The shaman said, “I don’t know how dance works, but when I see you dance I see you leave your body.” And my analyst really dove into that. She’s like, “Hmmm, you know, a lot of people describe a traumatic experience in terms of leaving the body and watching it from above.” She connects so many things to me leaving my body. I have a very clear investment in transcendence. Devising techniques to transcend myself. I black out every time I perform.

What’s your relationship to the audience in all that?

I’m really invested in asking, “Why are we watching these things? Why do you have to show it to somebody? Why are people watching me do this?”

BABYLIFT at Target Margin Theater, 2021. Credit: Yekaterina Gyadu.

Sounds like those questions motivate you, but they could easily be—

Debilitating? The opposite, it’s very motivating. For me theater is a very colonial structure—the watching, the expectations. The audience stares, they sit in the dark, people sit in silence, as if they don’t exist. The invisible eye is so violent. Especially when it comes to me working with these Vietnamese materials, that anthropological gaze is so annoying to me. This curiosity of “art that is exotic.” Of course it’s subtle, but as a performer I feel it so clearly. That informs why I don’t let people sit and watch in peace. (Laughs) They have to be implicated in the work. I want to lean into the power dynamic, make it explicit.

Do you think sexuality is part of how you do that too?

Oh yeah, 100%. The way I approach sex in my work is actually very psychoanalytic. Elusive, unreachable. In analysis, sex has a lot to do with repression, especially repression of infantile sexuality which is more sensational. They say that as an infant your body is an erogenous zone, open to inspiration, sexual possibilities, sexual potential. And then they say that as you grow up there’s discipline, punishment, shame coming in that force you to repress your infantile sexual surge. Of course you can never fully repress it, so it comes out—in symptoms, in dynamics.

The humor in your work is also very unexpected and direct, it feels improvised.

Yeah, it just comes out. Usually the way I work—I don’t choreograph. I sit in the studio and develop what I call repertoire. I have a repertoire of movement, of narrative, of moments. That’s how I improvise. I’m much more interested in durational form where the repertoire can actually be responsive to the moment. Although I feel like with Non-Binary Pussy it’s going to be precise, it’s going to be like dancey dance. A lot of audience engagement too.

Getting the audience to dance?

Paying them to. I have to have enough money first. (Laughs.) Paying people on the spot.

Then they can feel like it was their autonomous choice.

I don’t think there’s autonomy in a performance space. I hope to create a communal space where people are not so fixated on this boundary of you and I. There are other models, more productive to risk taking and play.

That’s your agenda.

It is. I use the word propaganda. I want to create a space where people feel compelled enough to play with me. I never just force, I draw them in—it’s a difficult task. You’re watching me, I’m giving you all of my existence right now, I’m asking a fragment of yours. Reciprocation. That’s why I hate “audience participation.” Asking the audience to volunteer and shit. Acting like you’re inconveniencing the audience, whereas it’s always the fucking audience that’s devouring you.

That’s a good word.

They devour you with their gaze.

Film stills from a video version of Non-Binary Pussy by Anh Vo.

What do you make of persona?

I definitely have characters, but not explicitly. Each character is a repertoire to me.

Is it a defense mechanism against the audience’s gaze? (Laughs.) That was a very psychoanalytic way to put it.

(Laughs.) I think defense mechanism is part of it. A mask does that. It's an external thing that protects your inside but also manages to give you access to the inside you don’t know as well. Non-Binary Pussy is very clear pop star. I felt I needed to embody a charismatic revolutionary. I used to want to be a revolutionary leader, that’s where I draw from.


This analysis process has been fucking me up.

How long have you been doing it?

Nine months. I’d never done therapy before. Classic Scorpio. The first therapy I do has to be four times a week. I would never say “I work with trauma.” Of course I do, but the word is overused. The way people mobilize the word as some sort of description of a traumatic event doesn't get at the obliqueness of trauma—how it always shows up when you don’t expect it and how you never know what your real trauma is. That’s the point of trauma! It exceeds your comprehension. It comes out as repetition, as action. That’s something so radical about psychoanalysis—they don’t try to know. Of course the eventual goal is awareness of your patterns, transforming them to a point where it’s healthy in your life.

Do you get the sense of your analyst as an audience, having control over you?

A performance space is very similar to what they call transference—the space between me and the analyst and what happens there. She’s not explicitly the audience, if anything she’s the performer. She’s fucking with me. I don’t know anything about her. The analyst has to push you beyond your boundaries and I get very frustrated. I feel very persecuted. That’s her word. A little bit violated. But it’s fundamental to the analysis process because you have to be pushed beyond your resistance, because you always resist their interpretation. That curious connecting of different events—I fuck with that. But sometimes she gives an interpretation and I am just like, “What the fuck.” But then I sit with it. And I feel like that’s how I work with audiences.

It sounds like it acclimates you to not knowing yourself.

Yes, I talked with a college professor recently and she was saying a lot of psychoanalysis is about not trusting yourself. Learning to not trust yourself.

That’s radical.

It’s really radical. To not trust yourself. (Laughs) Of course you cannot trust yourself! You cannot trust the stories you tell yourself about yourself.

BABYLIFT at Target Margin Theater, 2021. Credit: Yekaterina Gyadu.

So what do you stand on?

Exactly—the standing on is always some sort of illusion, a coping thing, to help you move through life. I was very shocked hearing from my analyst that the club, which is a place I dearly love, is a space of mania for me. Shocked. Of course, all the fucked up kids turn to the club, turn to the night. It makes sense. People need that sort of escape, or manic transcendent euphoria, the ones that have been fucked up by society. That’s where I started dancing, really drunk with music. Being in a crowd. Blacking out.

It’s very Dionysian.

Yeah yeah yeah. Very Dionysian. My work does strive for that place.

If you didn’t have that outlet it would be a pathology.

For me, that’s where beauty is. I see her point. But I still believe in transcendence, I still believe in leaving my body. I definitely want to—I was going to say “do something” about this mania thing. But the whole point is if you do, you’re in the manic mode (Laughs.) I often try to do instead of feel. Which, yeah, in order to be a productive person you can’t feel too much.

Anh Vo:

Anh Vo is a Vietnamese choreographer, dancer, theorist, and activist. They create dances and produce texts about pornography and queer relations, about being and form, about identity and abstraction, about history and its colonial reality. Currently based in Brooklyn, they earn their degrees in Performance Studies from Brown University (BA) and New York University (MA).

Their choreographic works have been presented nationally and internationally by Target Margin Theater, Dixon Place, MR @ Judson, Brown University, Production Workshop, Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo (Madrid), greenroom (Seoul), Montréal arts interculturels (Montréal), among others. Their artistic process has received support from Brooklyn Arts Council, Foundation of Contemporary Arts, Women and Performance, New York Live Arts, Leslie-Lohman Museum, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Jonah Bokaer Arts Foundation, Tisch/Danspace, and the Performance Project Fellowship at University Settlement.

As a writer, they are the founder and editor of the performance theory blog CultPlastic, the Co-Editor of Critical Correspondence, and a frequent contributor to Anomaly. Their writings focus on experimental practices in contemporary dance and pornography.

Caitlyn Tella:

Caitlyn Tella is a poet and performer based in New York. Her poetry appears in Fence, Witch Craft, Dirt Child, Nat. Brut and MARY: A Journal of New Writing. She has two chapbooks forthcoming, from Double Cross Press and from Mondo Bummer.

March 26th, 2021

The Performative Self: On the Work of Leeny Sack

Caitlyn talks to Leeny Sack about spilling your guts, creativity as procrastination, therapy, and excavating intergenerational trauma through theater.

Leeny Sack in Our Lady of the Hidden Agenda. Photo: Jane Bassuk

All actors are terrified that they are bad actors, so they try hard to be truthful––a trap––because effortful verisimilitude reads as bad acting. The TikTok meme “What’s an acting performance that was so good you forgot it was acting?” highlights this phenomenon. Whether stitched with sincere, ironic, or correct answers to the question, the performance of the meme itself reveals the conflation of acting and psychological realism in cultural consciousness––good acting being the ability to conceal artifice, bad acting the failure to do so.

If good acting is marked by Oscars, then why do all Oscar clips scream: I’M ACTING? Instead of passing as straight (the literal jargon for this kind of performance in theater is “straight play”), “good acting” should be recognized as the highly stylized form it is: psychological realism. The cultural premium placed on this style and its codified gestures (think, STELLA! et al.), warps the perception of what emotional truth must look and sound like to be considered real and good.

When concepts of self hinge on psychological terms, “I” don’t get much leeway, and the question that performers are primed to ask—Who am I?—has only obvious (boring) answers. Antonin Artaud, a dramatic obsessed with liveness, wrote, “Psychology, which works relentlessly to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and the ordinary, is the cause of the theater’s abasement and its fearful loss of energy.”

For performing artist Leeny Sack, psychological realism couldn’t be further from the truth. Born in Brooklyn, Leeny dropped out of Julliard in 1971 to join The Performance Group, an experimental theater company led by Richard Schechner that focused on actors as sources of dramaturgy rather than interpreters of fictional characters. When the troupe eventually split and morphed into The Wooster Group, she developed a solo career. Her body of work has been mythologized under the title “The Performative Self.” It interrogates concepts of self, not by crafting chameleon personas nor by shedding masks to uncover the “real me,” but through ongoing engagement with performance as a consequence of living.

A couple years ago, afflicted by romance, I fell lifeless under the weight of fantasy. I’d known Leeny as a teacher and flew to see her in hopes she could help administer the performative like a medicine. I wanted to find a performance to free me from fantasy.

I recently spoke with Leeny again for the first time in a couple years. Here is our conversation about her work.

Leeny Sack as Kattrin in The Performance Group's production of Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by Richard Schechner. Photo: Clem Fiori, 1975

You once told me that when you performed your underwear would get completely soaked because you were so aroused.

I would get so wet. Because performing was such a full being engagement, everything was flowing. Eros. Life force.

Have you experienced that life force in the past year?

Maybe where I’ve experienced it most extraordinarily was with [my dog] Moose’s dying and death. The life force in the presence of death was astounding.

How did you ritualize his passing?

Some of the usual bells and whistles--literally, bells, candles. Prayers kept coming through. And this extraordinary tension between letting him go and holding him, and knowing I had to get out of the way to let him go. His body was here for almost 24 hours and I would touch him and feel the change in his body temperature, his literal dead body temperature, and watch and feel the--what do you call it when the body stiffens?

Rigor mortis?

I would watch the pain of the suffering, the illness, leave his face. It was an extraordinary, heightened time. After he died, and since, his spirit body has come many times. If I still had doubts about afterlife, I don't anymore. It's so palpable. A simultaneity of warm, loving presence. I don't have language for that.

Moose and Leeny at the Ithaca women’s march, 2017. Photo: Hayya Mintz

I read in Michelle Minnick’s work that your desire to be an actress when you were young was to become immortal so you wouldn't die an anonymous death--

Very much in relation to the Holocaust. Yeah.

What drives you as a performer now?

Hm. The great and very challenging disentanglement from my conditioned ideas about “performing.” The last piece I made, Subtitles, Signage, Signifiers, and Cogitations, I spent most of the month leading up to it in panic and anxiety. And, “How can I get out of this?” That was my preparation. But I'm working differently, not so much detailed scoring and rehearsal. Mostly object work and writing. What it means to be finished is different now.

My whole creative process has been procrastination, then I'll randomly sit down and do something very quickly. I pretend the procrastination is some kind of gestation.

It is, it's an incubation state. And the stuff around it, even the word procrastinating, is somebody else's word, and entrains all the ideas of making work and who we should be and how one is supposed to work. The grip of those ideas has deeply lessened during this time. I told you about the mucus plug, right?

You told me I need to unplug the mucus plug and connect my sexuality to the earth.

It's interesting you remember it that way.

What did you mean?

For a number of years I’d been feeling there was something in the way of my full work. A friend had a baby and she was saying something about the mucus plug. When she said that phrase, “mucus plug” I thought, oh my God, that's it! Somewhere in my belief systems I thought the energy of creative movement moved up and out. I had it directionally off. It was about birthing it back into earth, not going up into the heavens. Since then, my “energetic mucus plug” has slowly begun to dissolve. What I have yearned for is more accessible to me and I'm more out of the way of it.

Do you relate the mucus plug to confessional forms? Like, spilling your guts out onto the stage.

“Spilling your guts out” is a very personal thing. You're talking about accessing and “expressing” something personal. I'm talking about being able to get out of the way of things that are coming through. Maybe those things come through the word “I”, but it transcends that. When performing has really worked for me, it's this strange paradoxical thing of--look at me not being me. Look at something coming through me.

Leeny Sack in The Survivor and the Translator, 1980. Photo: Stephen Siegel

The theater company provides structure, and the director provides structure, and the character too, but when you left The Performance Group you didn’t have any of that. When you started working on The Survivor and the Translator, you were alone.

Yeah. I started in a studio alone, naked with a ratty old flannel gray blanket. And I didn't have texts yet.

Was your intention to make a performance about trauma?

Yeah, very much. First I thought I would do a piece on women, madness, and God. Rather large. I thought, how have I encountered those? That brought me back to being a child of Holocaust survivors. And that's the subtitle of the piece “a solo theater work about not having experienced the Holocaust by a daughter of concentration camp survivors.”

How did you go from lying in the unstructured darkness to--

I was inviting in the world of the Holocaust. It was so dark. To open to the deep, inherited memory and the deepest imaginable--I thought, no, no, no, I'm not gonna get through this … well. So I shifted and, completely antithetical to all my training and all my practice till then, I wrote. There was a great typewriter store on the upper West side and when I decided that I needed a typewriter I went up there and as I was walking in Elie Weisel was walking out. I thought, “a sign!” I bought this wonderful little electric Olivetti. The typewriter gave me focus and I wrote for months, researching translation, thinking how am I going to tell this?

Leeny Sack in The Survivor and the Translator, 1980. Photo: Stephen Siegel

In the performance, your body is a vessel for memories that go beyond your first-hand experience. You are also the translator of those memories, translating between languages, generations, cultures, from memory into performance itself. Your body contains many voices. At one point the Survivor’s voice screams in Polish as the translator continues to translate in English, calm, matter of fact, split-off.

The stories were imparted to me in Polish, or sometimes in accented English, or not good English, and also in silence. So that’s how I told it. One day my grandmother came over and started talking, as she often did, about the camps and the war. I turned on my tape recorder and when I transcribed it I tried to translate it into correct English. I would call my mother and say, “How do you say this in English, exactly?” At some point in transcribing I thought––why don’t I just get it down roughly, and then I'll fix it later. So I started listening and transcribing literally--out of syntax, “uh,” “Hmm,” silence, circularity, memory lapses. When I looked at it, I saw that this was the writing I was trying to get at all these months that I couldn't quite get. The space between the words. The failures of language. I threw out most of the writing that I had and began working with that text.

In Therapy as Performance you strip off another layer of character. In that piece you staged real therapy sessions with three different therapists in front of full audiences. That piece makes me think about the deceit of self-concepts, how even in therapy, with its premium on honesty, whenever you tell your story, it’s contrived, and how confining it feels to only have words to tell your story.

Therapy As Performance (2018) video still. Leeny Sack, Moose, Jeff Collins, LSW, Meditation Retreat Leader.

One of the things I was thinking about over time was exactly what you're talking about. The role of the characters of ourselves. I made lists of what roles I’ve played in the theater, what roles I’ve played in life. They got more and more specific, so it wasn’t only “daughter,” it was “my mother's daughter.” I just kept adding to that list. It does go on. 

Can you talk more about “astrology as performance,” “genetics as performance,” “preparing to die as performance?”


Why is it interesting to you to frame those things as performances?

The blurring between art and life? It's not a blurring, it's actually very clarifying. As the astrologer Caroline Casey said, “If we don't ritualize, we pathologize.”

Leeny Sack:

Leeny Sack is an interdisciplinary performance artist, writer, postmodern ventriloquist, and originator of The Performative Self™. Her works on identity, including The Survivor and the Translator, Straight Man, PATIENT/ARTIST, and Therapy As Performance, are part of a 4-decade body of work addressing performance as medicine. She has performed extensively throughout the U.S., Europe, and in Asia at venues including the Venice Biennale, The Edinburgh Festival, The American Dance Festival, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the first World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. She was original faculty of New York University’s Experimental Theatre Wing (ETW), faculty at Naropa University’s Theatre: Contemporary Performance program, and cofounder of Pangea Farm retreat center for contemplative and healing arts. Sack is a certified Master Teacher of Kinetic Awareness®, the somatic practice originated by choreographer and intermedia artist Elaine Summers. She currently resides and teaches in Ithaca, NY, where she frames her work as Counter Stage, an intermedia performance series that takes place on her kitchen

Caitlyn Tella:

Caitlyn Tella is a theater maker and poet originally from the Bay Area. Her chapbook, Sky Cracked Open the Proscenium Frame, is forthcoming from DoubleCross Press.

February 12th, 2021

The Impossible Realm of Embodiment: On the Work of Haruna Lee


Haruna Lee speaks to making theater on Zoom and offers a writing exercise into psychic landscapes

What makes “~*real*~” theater so thrilling is the sensational feedback loop between actors and audiences, woven into the fabric of shared space and time. Unaided by the literal porousness of space that transmits breath and laughter, theater on Zoom plays out more on a psychic plane, which, actually, has its own erotic merits. Like masturbating, actors can only imagine they are being seen.

As far as theater architecture goes, Zoom’s fourth wall collapses into the first, second, and third walls, creating a very flat earth experience for everyone involved. An intense suspension of disbelief is required to get into it. Or maybe it’s an engagement with belief––belief that this is, in fact, a gathering, that I’m not just alone with my laptop watching, through the window, actors, who are also alone, do their thing.

Playwright and director Haruna Lee, whose body of work in experimental theater spans a decade (and recently earned an Obie for the conception and writing of Suicide Forest), took this most rudimentary constraint on the art form as an opportunity to exploit the very core of live performance in Beyond the Wound is a Portal, a production they helmed as a visiting artist at Stanford last fall. In a feat of collaboration with seven student writer/performers, the choreographer Sarah Ashkin, and musical director Sheela Ramesh, the entirely original Zoom show, created remotely, found ways to, as Haruna said, “reach through the box within the box and touch each other.” In Emergent Strategy, a book Haruna cites as an influence, adrienne marie brown portends, “the sacred comes from limitations.”

Beyond the Wound is a Portal digital backdrop by scenic designer Carlo Maghirang, depicting an altar of ritual objects chosen by each performer. The show was produced by the Stanford Department of Theater & Performance Studies in Fall 2020.

JULIANNA: What is there on the moon that you can’t find here?
DIANA: Space.
                    -Beyond the Wound is a Portal

Beyond the Wound is a Portal opens on a familiar grid of mini-prosceniums, each performer tucked into the box set of their own home. Alexa (all the actors play versions of themselves) welcomes the audience onto the Zoom platform, “a place that is nowhere and everywhere at once,” before each actor goes around *the circle* to share a recent dream and the name of the land they stand on. This paradox, where everywhereness (a gaping yet loaded void) intersects with the actors’ specific contexts on colonized ground, activates the non-linear journey ahead.

The tidy Zoom boxes dissolve. Glass breaks, and one of the actors, in simulated miniature, free falls in darkness, then through clouds of wisteria. Frames distort and cohere into a variety of potent, psychic landscapes throughout the show, technically composed by layers of live and pre-recorded action, as well as surrealistic 2D and 3D animations. The actors enter cabins, tunnels, clubs, and cosmos like lucid dreams and navigate their mysteries through song. Singing functions like a sensory faculty—–it heightens the actors’ perceptions of grief, longing, and bewilderment lodged in each environment.

A dollhouse full of inexplicable hedgehogs contains a claustrophobic mother-child relationship.

The mother, played by Julianna Yonis.

Club Waxing Gibbous, 2024. Surrounded by flailing limbs and broken beats, performer Alexa Luckey wakes up in the terror of a memory that encases and exposes her.

Morgan, grieving his mother, becomes trapped inside the loneliness of tunnel vision. “I want to go back to feeling safe,” he begs a globular, oscillating oracle, before a vaguely familiar tune catches his attention.
    MORGAN: I know that song. How do I know it?

“We all sing it to ourselves sometimes,” quips the oracle. This moment reminded me how pain can feel so alienating and spacious at once. The tunnel disintegrates and opens on a new portal: the cabin where Morgan finds a letter his mom wrote to him before he was born. He sings, “I wish that she could smile at me one last time / then I would know / and at last she could go.” His voice embodies a mix of self-declaration and keening. Throughout the show, singing seems to separate the actors from their pain by giving it its own voice. As a voyeur, this was soothing to experience.

Video and 3D Design by Matt Romein.

In Diana’s dreamscape, they are on a quest to live where pain has no lineage. They end up on the moon. There, a bunch of hedgehogs worry they will miss the earth. Even if they do, Diana says, “I don’t think the myth that would welcome me back [to earth] has been written yet.”

Structurally tied to the ever growing, ever shrinking moon cycle, the show has no resolution, no final healing touch, even as we return to the familiarity of the Zoom grid. Of course not. There is only process and possibility, and myths yet written. When it ended, I felt spacious, as if I’d just spent an hour lying on the earth, gazing into the night sky. The next evening, I met with Haruna on Zoom to talk about the show.


The show made me feel incredibly soft. When it was over I thought it was odd that I’d gotten totally immersed in a performance on Zoom. I know the show was originally going to be did you make something so intimate online?

Yeah, I echo that there was something so tender and sweet about what came from that particular group of artists. I think there's something to the impossibility of having to create embodiment digitally. The fact that this group was game to move towards that, even though the impossibility was crystal clear, might've been what birthed the tenderness. Without a sense of care and lovingness, I just don't think it would have been possible to create a brand new show.

The care was palpable. Also, watching it felt like a time capsule of early pandemic.

Yes, we played with that idea so much, so it’s amazing that you say that.

What was the beginning of the pandemic like for you?

In the spring, summer, and fall of 2020, the grief was huge. I was thinking a lot about wounds. I had just had this show Suicide Forest that got cancelled midway through March. My mother was in that show with me, and the trauma of having to close it and having to make quick decisions with my mom about where her body should be, where would be most safe—–should she stay in New York? Do we send her back to Seattle? And slowly realizing the dissolution of the embodied arts culture as we know it... all of that was hitting us in the moment, and it felt like fresh wounds.

Haruna and their mom on their way to the last show of Suicide Forest before shutting down for the pandemic.

So how did you start working on the show? It was made from scratch, right?

Yeah. Creatively, our show started with adrienne marie brown's essay Dream Beyond the Wounds. In the essay, amb asks us to use our imagination as if it's medicine to dream beyond the space of just wounds. What are the possibilities when we do this? A lot of early writing prompts with the cast were based on imagining the landscape of a wound.

After writing, writing, writing—–scenes, monologues, songs—–we arrived at this place where we were like, how are we going to organize this? The cast was really drawn to the moon cycle as a structure for the piece itself. We started with the waxing gibbous and we ended on the new moon. And we eventually created this very ritualistic, abstract, imagistic dream logic piece.

I kept thinking “beyond the womb is a portal” because there were a lot of mommy issues being explored.

I wasn't intending on bringing that energy into this work, but I think some of the cast members had read Suicide Forest and the idea of the monstrous mother, which is something I explore in that play, was really present. The hungry mother, the dark sides of mother, as well as the generous light sides of mother, were all at play.

I also picked up on the family relationships they were working through because they were no longer on campus. They were all back home in their childhood bedrooms. So, a lot of intergenerational workings seeped through, a lot of parent-child dynamics, and the residual pain from that. The death of family members was also present throughout the process.

Yeah, it felt very courageous, and raw. I mean, the actors played themselves, well, versions of themselves. I thought it was interesting how it opened with that slightly awkward thing of going around a circle to introduce yourself. That threshold moment with a new group before you dig into the guts of whatever it is you’re about to do. I enjoyed watching the actors perform a kind of ease with discomfort in that scenario, or a mix of ease and discomfort.

There’s a sweetness there. Finding a common denominator felt really real in a time when things feel so fractured and people are carrying so much grief and stress and tension. The idea that we have to be productive, and not having space to release and let go. I felt the group working through the biggest, most human ideas we can all relate with. And that somehow created care, like, let's just care for everyone! Can we do that? Is that possible?

But something I learned is that community care can’t necessarily be a learning space. It has to be just plain care. Rest and play, not more work, not more constructive conversations on race and racial dynamics and how that plays out in this piece and all that.

Beyond the Wound is a Portal production still featuring (clockwise from top left) Emily Saletan, Alexa Luckey, Julianna Yonis, Morgan Gwilym Tso, Chloe Chow, Diana Khong, and Obed De la Cruz at center.

How do you work with images as a performance maker?

When I think images, I might actually mean landscapes. I think a location houses a collection of different images. In Suicide Forest, for example, I had just read Funnyhouse of a Negro by Adrienne Kennedy and was struck by the way she uses her own psychic space as the landscape of the play itself. I was really drawn to that as a prompt–—to find a dark psychic space that speaks to my Asian American identity. That led me to thinking about Aokigahara, which is ‘Suicide Forest’ at the base of Mount Fuji, and what a rep that place has from a Western viewpoint. I was interested in what would happen if that forest was actually full of possibility and love and reconnection with ghosts and mothers. Like, if it's actually an intergenerational space where the conversations that we could never have could happen. The first part of the play that takes place in the suicide forest is full of goats who are rock climbing!

Suicide Forest by Ma-Yi Theater Company production still by Maria Baranova.

Oh! Maybe this is a good time to do a little writing exercise? I was hoping you could lead me through something you used in your rehearsal process to generate material.

Oh, yeah. I actually don't think I used this writing exercise for Beyond the Wound is a Portal, but it’s a writing ritual I return to all the time. I call it “The Cosmic Cellar.”

When you go on these imaginary journeys, like in this writing prompt, do you fight with your brain about the images that come up?

Oh yeah, I think I do. I think I fight with my brain and play with it and sleep with it. That’s what's so beautiful about the image world—–it allows for so much messy simultaneity, and that's such a core of my… of me.

Where does your life end and performance begin? Or maybe I mean, how do they overlap?

That is such a good question. Does my work create a shift in my lived reality? More and more I’m finding that's the case. That's what I'm getting off on in making art—seeing the ways the thing I make deeply impacts my lived experience and vice versa. My work continually moves towards a more relational, more community-based model. I just can't help it. I'm getting sucked into that.

My most recent collaborators are people I would want to be stranded on an island with. People I am so deeply inspired by and care about, their families and their livelihood. I’m grounding into how my sense of freedom and true, liberated self can be connected to somebody else's who is entirely their own human being. Really beautiful collaboration feels like a mirror of that, where we're allowing each other to be more free rather than less free.

What processes or rituals have you been participating in lately?

Mmm, I think gathering is such an important ritual. This group came out of making Suicide Forest, which is the “Women-Trans-Femme-Non Binary Asian Diasporic Performance Makers Potluck.” Such a long title, but I feel with the first draft—just have all the words!

Women-Trans-Femme-Non Binary (WTFNB) Asian Diasporic Performance Makers Potluck (zoom version)

Throughout the year [this group] has been a touchstone for me—–the act of gathering and also [the fact that] within the group we’re actively coming up with rituals that help each other get through this time. We had one where we all, 30 or 40 folks, shared a word that describes something we're carrying in ourselves that we want to let go of. I wrote everyone’s words down on a piece of paper and went out to my yard and did a little burning ceremony with this piece of paper that had all of our words. As a group I think we realized like, “Oh, what that person needs to let go of is something I need to let go of too.”

Ritual objects Haruna keeps close.

I think a lot more people have been dabbling in spiritual practices, like creating new solo rituals during quarantine. It's inspiring to hear you talk about a group ritual, a collective beholding. Having everyone there to watch makes it so powerful.

We really had to work up to that idea too. That group met a few times over the pandemic before we felt we could even go forward with this idea. We were like, “Wait, what would it mean for this group to perform this ritual over Zoom?” It didn't even cross our minds at first.

Beyond the Wound is a Portal production still.
Image created by Morgan Gwilym Tso.

Haruna Lee:

Haruna Lee (they/them) is a Taiwanese/Japanese/American theater maker, educator and community steward whose work is rooted in a liberation-based healing practice. They are committed to promoting arts activism and emergent strategies for the theater through ethical and process-based collaborations that challenge systems and legacies of power, while inviting the fullness of marginalized bodies and the complexity of lived experience to their practice. Recent plays include Suicide Forest published by 53rd State Press (Ma-Yi Theater Company and The Bushwick Starr), plural (love) (Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab; New Georges), and Memory Retrograde (UTR; Ars Nova; BAX). Lee is a recipient of an Obie Award for Playwriting and Conception of Suicide Forest, an FCA Grants to Artists Award, received the Mohr Visiting Artist Fellowship at Stanford University, a MacDowell Fellowship, the Map Fund Grant, Lotos Foundation Prize for Directing, and a New Dramatists Van Lier Fellowship. They were a member of the 2019 artEquity cohort, and are a co-founder and lead facilitator for the Women-Trans-Femme-Non Binary Asian Diasporic Performance Makers Potluck. They received their M.F.A. from Brooklyn College under the tutelage of Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney, and a B.F.A. from NYU Experimental Theater Wing.

Caitlyn Tella:

Caitlyn Tella is a theater maker and poet originally from the Bay Area. Her chapbook, Sky Cracked Open the Proscenium Frame, is forthcoming from DoubleCross Press.

August 22, 2021

Sculptural Autopsies with Yasue Maetake [Pt. 1]

By Addison Bale

 [ Author’s note:     This text traces month’s of correspondence and time spent with sculptor Yasue Maetake. To reflect the diverse nature of our communication, this article has been hewn out of email exchanges, journal entries, notes, observations, and some recorded content. The linear sequence of the writing is unimportant: any lines and paragraphs can be read variably, theoretically in or out of context, mismatched and replaced with lines from other sections. The only important thing to know is that my words as the author are non-italicized. I use italics when quoting Yasue’s words or emails, when quoting her husband, David, and for word or concept definitions. I use italics as opposed to quotation marks for Yasue’s words because most of the time I am not actually quoting her, but interpreting and restating.     ]


A broken-down car, palette-fulls of Benjamin Moore paints, scrap metal, spare ladders, rolling shelf units, panes of glass, a charbroil grill, green True Value bins, aluminum rods, a blue steel rolling staircase, chassis, wood palettes, filing cabinets, planters, spare fuel tanks, rust-covered wheelbarrows, wagons, trollies, a forklift, crutches and a walker, trash cans, piping, milk crates, tarps, foam core, shopping carts, folding table, scrapwood, 2-by-4s, etc, all sit in the lot behind Platz Hardware True Value where Yasue also keeps her studio.


Email from Yasue:

Hi Addison, you are welcome to stop by my studio anytime. Whether during the week w/o Ai or weekends w/ Ai. I am also fully starting to focus on the studio. For you to observe my real life, how messy and horrible practice, it might be interesting to look at. All past publications embellished my studio practice with cool material engagement, with cool pants with artistic paint marks on it but the reality is really more depressing and miserable being covered by dust than you think. Also, on weekends, I am mad and yelling at Ai while she is climbing 12 feet high scaffolding and tries sneaking to drive a forklift (seriously. she learned by watching David) so, there is no "cool picture" of artists meditating on their practice or a "smiling mother." 

Just letting you know for your head-up!


Now I wanna kick myself for not having recorded more of our conversations. I feel like Francis Bacon painting people from memory and soiled photos towards an image of his own devices (often beautiful, often monstrous). I am scanning my notes and re-membering the things Yasue and I have done and discussed over the past few months of correspondence.


Politics, for one. Do you consider your work political?

I say, “No,” but this is partly because I know that it is not received that way.


Day with Yasue and Ai-chan ~ May 1st, 2021. From my journal:

Met at Myrtle-Wyckoff. Ai-chan eating a hotdog. We go to Printed Matter photo show on St. Marks place to see Gryphon (Rue), who is curating/founding D R O N E gallery at Hudson & Chambers St. Stopped at Sunrise Mart & Yasue bought a week’s worth of groceries; Ai-chan nonstop singing/complaining and creating diversions by talking to strangers everywhere we go.

Back on the subway, Ai-chan fake-crying.

Out of the subway, eating umeboshi & onigiri & curry pan & pocky in front of D R O N E, talking about family & poetry. Ai running around, entertaining a woman who is eating a salad.

Inside the new gallery space, Yasue checks to see if this chunk of exposed copper pipe in the cement floor could be used as a conductor for something…Ai-chan & I have moments of calm as she rests on a white pedestal & drinks Yakulte. I ask what she thinks about her Mamma’s art & she gives me a thumbs up. At the same time, artist Viktor (Timofeev) is in the process of muraling on the back wall of the gallery with water-based pastel, hand-painting/smudging them on.

Then → → → → walk across Chambers St over to Chinatown, stopping in playground for Ai-chan to play for a bit, then carrying Aichan all the way to galleries. First, M23 gallery, where a minor incident occurs: Ai-chan taps a resin-brick sculpture with her tiny foot, Yasue goes to re-adjust bricks, the gallery assistant screams at them, sharply and loudly and I am startled from across the room:

“Don’t touch it! Do you know how much that costs?? I am shaking!!!”

Ai-chan scared; Yasue, a sculptor, knows that resin is not fragile…

Then ATM Gallery: artist Kyoko Hamaguchi’s minimal houses of colored threads suspended in hand sanitizer dispensers. Ai-chan chats with gallery owner and people on the street. A cute puppy embraces Ai-chan. Yasue and I enjoy talking to Kyoko—then time to go!

Ai-chan cries, says she is tired and wants Mamma to carry so I take the grocery bags and Yasue takes Ai-chan and I walk them to the subway, promptly realize I have lost my wallet.


Addison, maybe you can briefly explain: Chan (ちゃん) expresses that the speaker finds a person endearing. In general, -chan is used for the names of young children, close friends, and babies. It may also be used for cute animals and lovers.


Notes after D R O N E show, “The Location of Serenity” :

Without a photo reference, I recall Yasue’s sculpture like a reaper, like a harpy, like an open heart with long stents, the stilted legs of Dali’s hungry elephants, bag-like and ribbed against a cloudless blood sky—the piece is larger than a person, except maybe an NBA player, though it assumes an airy, almost avian posture echoed in some of her smaller works. Unlike Yasue’s more recent sculptures, “Ascending Industrial Bouquets,” is not made up of animal bones or seashells. Very skeletal nonetheless.  This I remember. It is an anemic couplet of steel, brass, and copper with one semi-glossy shock of resin at the waist, and a second, stooped burst of resin suspended at the peak. Baby resin and Mamma resin. Somehow, a composite of materials found and manipulated still draws out the soul of something.


Am I interested in owning the artwork? No, I told you. I don’t like to have the work around me. The urge ends in the studio. This urge—that is the urge to make, is unconditional and a bit scary—logically I can explain my other responsibilities, but the urge to make things is distinct and probably inexplicable, but nobody asks about this.

What do people ask you about?

Normally, they ask me how I got the camel bones. Then they ask me how much they cost.

Is it possible to understand the motivation that provokes you to make sculptures?

I should write down my thoughts during my process because something very close to the answers for my own process pass through my mind but then I forget. It’s all very elusive, come and go, come and go, so I fully rely on this elusive, ephemeral image. When I nail down this almost-there-form, it is about trapping and archiving it instinctively. Everyday I am thinking about these things.


Seashells from the beach. Some bones too (camel). Most bones sourced from a taxidermist, some found. Many materials found or given. A neighbor is removing tons of bamboo overgrowth from their yard, so Yasue takes it. I show up at her studio in a moment when she is cutting and curving and grinding down rattan (similar to bamboo but different) as an echo of her other recent materials acquisition: old trumpets and trombones from a hoarder on Craigslist.


I am back at Yasue’s studio, sitting between a rolling steel staircase and some rusting filing cabinets in the back of Platz Hardware True Value, her husband David’s store. We are talking about many things and then David comes out to say something—I take the opportunity to ask him about Platz:

How did you get involved with Platz in the beginning?

David: They were gonna shut it down, so my brother and I decided to buy. Because the Depots were coming to New York, all the old hardware stores were shutting down. Gottlieb’s, Harry’s—and I’ve been coming here since I was Ai’s age. You see one of my eyebrows, see this scar? That’s from this store when I was 4. If one more hardware store closes in New York, then we are the oldest continuously running hardware store in the city.

How long have you had the store now?

D: 21 years. Almost 22.

Yasue: Yes, so finally cleaning the junk out.

D: You know all those little comments that you try to stick in there, it’s not necessary.

Y: But do you know a lot of idiot art-folk think that this mess is an inspiration of mine!

D: No—I’m an artist also and this is my creation [gesturing to the variable heaps of refuse and backstock piled up in the ass-end of Platz.]

Y: Actually, David is good. He has a very good formal sensibility. Better than many artists. He has good eyes and is good with materials. And physics.


Ai-chan stumbles over with Yasue’s phone in her hand, singing along to something, then singing loud enough to drown out the conversation. An ice cream truck jingles down the block. Yasue, referring to Ai-chan, says, She knows the vibe! Now we have more critical talk so she sings and distracts. She’s mean.

What is transmutation for you? Is it for us to see the unification of materials through form? Is it about the inanimate becoming free standing? Or brass sharing a leg with bones and bone sharing an arm with glass and glass sharing a spine with seashell…

Unification is certainly an interest of mine but not as an end goal. I view unification as a part of the transitional process of the materials and then we keep going—there is no stopping at unity. Transformation, changing—yes, changing—but after changing, I do not declare the finished product. It is about ever-changing, ever-evolving; continuity where I might have anticipated a conclusion or a logical terminus. For me, none of the sculptures are at their end, per se. The end remains arbitrary, even as I accept the end of labor. Movement and dynamics are how I see everything—this is how I view the world of substance.
Realistically, I am using stone, concrete, animal bone, and metal—these impenetrable hard substances, but my worldview, at least metaphorically if not also metaphysically, is that the distinctions between vapor, liquid, solid, are all unified by the same atomic units, and therefore, their barriers are always, on some level, psychologically imposed. I impose my perception of the world through the image of the sculpture. In looking, viewers can sense this fluid, transforming, dynamic materiality.

Ironically, you perceive the world through permeable distinctions, and yet you understand better than most people the actual compositional qualities that make every material unique. You know from experience what it’s like to cut through bone vs. steel, for example.

Yes, well I deal with the reality of these hard forms but live in a fantasy of transmutation, which is what the show is about.


Continuity; not just abrupt optimism, but the aspirational journey at the confluence of tune, arriving and re-arriving at beginnings which are naturally optimistic. To begin again is in some way to always repeat. To either doom oneself to repetition or open oneself up to the permutations. The inanimate materials throw out some suggestions to the sculptor, Yasue, throughout the process: save me, assemble me, cut me, smooth me, grind me, melt me, weld me, glue me, fix me, break me, burn me, polish me, splice me, hoist me, name me, repeat me, etc. Brass plumbing rods become korean chopsticks become the bones of wings hinged to the grooves of actual bones, etc.


Politics are undeniably present, always, somehow, but some people speak louder than others. People do not look for political angle in my sculptures; they look at my work and assess whether it is utilitarian or not, decorative or not. They tend to isolate the identifiable features in the sculpture and then they want to know,  how much do camel bones cost? Where did I find them? And these stones, and these metals—where to find and how much?


Addison, can you write a brief sentence about this sculpture?

I want to quote and introduce you by saying : "My fellow Addison Bale told me "This piece is blablablbal XXXXXXXXXXXXX" that I really appreciate. Now we are working on some creative writing project together.  etc etc....."


“Ascending Industrial Bouquets”: Grim reaper of brass bones and harpy’s wings: a sour-patch polymer with secret soul and it’s stalwart mother with the metal hood. (Baby resin and Mamma resin!)


Another Japanese sculptor suggested that Americans focus on the material components of a sculpture over form/balance because there are no earthquakes here. Form is taken for granted. Precarity is little more than thematic. In Japan, form is the essential question at the heart of sculpture.

(Yasue’s skinny-legged sculpture, “Ascending Industrial Bouquets,” for example, might not survive in Japan!)


Symbolism key to Yasue’s most used materials, according to the author:

Bone = beastial death (though since it is repurposed, it is either under examination or given a symbolic new life. Therefore, bone simultaneously represents autopsy, medical science, truth, and reincarnation.) Seashells = mathematics, repetition, whimsy, ancient history, and overfishing. Metal of any kind = human genius, hardness, softness, irony, cyborgs, and most importantly, the future. Stone of any kind = western fetishism, monotheism, and obesity. Paper = weather systems, fruit, and the Edo Period. Plant matter = motherhood, neighborliness, and non-judgement. Resin = regret, remorse, and retrograde.


Even though I poetically claim to not see the boundaries between materials and states of vapor liquid, and solid, it is true that on the molecular level there is in fact no boundary. Sound is included in this.

Follow Yasue:


Instagram: @yasuemaetake

Yasue Maetake: 

Yasue Maetake is a Toyko-born artist living and working in New York. Using a wide variety of influences, her sculpture evokes associations with Baroque Dynamism and Animism, along with futuristic variations of natural forms and industrial aesthetics. They partner directly with human customs and technology.

Addison Bale:

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

More from “Shedding”:

November 16, 2021

Sculptural Autopsies with Yasue Maetake
[Pt. 2]

By Addison Bale

Yasue outside NADAx Foreland in Catskill, NY. Photo taken by Matt Austin.

[Author’s note:        An important thing to note is that my words as the author are non-italicized. I use italics when quoting Yasue’s words or emails and for word or concept definitions. I use italics as opposed to quotation marks for Yasue’s words because most of the time, I am not actually quoting her, but interpreting and restating.     ]


Addison, can you edit the below?

The truth is, I wanted to go to Japan for my upcoming show, but I found I couldn't, so I decided to invite my parents to come spend two months here this summer. During their stay, I have felt like I'm standing around like an idiot, moving at my middle-age speed like a turtle, facing a child and elderly parents whose company is like time-lapse video/film/montage? Passing in front of me—my daughter perhaps became 2 inches taller and I noticed that my parents needed more naps.

And I questioned, what I was doing?


The weekend of August 28, 2021, we went upstate to the town of Catskill, NY, to see Yasue’s sculpture in NADA x Foreland. Her piece, Mass Inception, was well-positioned on the top floor of the exhibition illuminated by a corner of daylight pouring in from the south- and west-facing windows. Yasue introduced me to her gallerists, Elle Burchill and Andrea Monti of Microscope. We gave them a riso-printed copy of our article, Sculptural Autopsies with Yasue Maetake Pt.1. Yasue got to work, talking, moving around with people. I cruised the galleries, latching on and off to acquaintances for an hour or so before assuming a wallflower's posture at the edge of the room, performing intrigue while idling between the sculptures, arranging myself in relation to Yasue’s position, close by without obviously hovering.
    We took several coffee breaks. Just outside the fair at HiLo café, our friend Daniel Giordano had two gross and gorgeous sculptures dominating the window display. Ai-chan, who just learned to use the phone, was calling Yasue repeatedly.
    Back inside the exhibit, Yasue was spinning Mass Inception, trying to decide on it’s best angle in relation to the light coming through the windows. Microscope’s Elle and Andrea assisted the process of angling. I resumed my position by the window, pretending to write stuff down in my notebook.
    Later, we found surprisingly yummy Thai food on Main Street and Yasue dealt with Instagram, then fielded some very basic questions from me about sculpture. What do you think of the Pietà? What do you think of Richard Serra’s work? Isamu Noguchi?

I know I shouldn’t say it but when I think about any art of the old masters, I feel contemporary sculpture is often embarrassing... Myself included… Richard Serra and Anselm Keifer are influences for sure… Noguchi, perhaps… but the best of all is Toya Shigeo...

Yasue Maetake, “Mass Inception,” 2021. Terracotta, epoxy, polyurethane, coated styrofoam, synthetic paint, steel, marble, resin, natural soil, found bird’s feather. 45 x 43 x 41 inches. Photo taken by Matt Austin; courtesy of the artist and Microscope Gallery, New York.


It’s just such a waste— $300 dollars for one night in Catskill? I mean, there is not even space for two people! But it’s my mistake. I misunderstand the pricing— it’s just such a waste.

The Airbnb listing was misleading. You showed me the photos— I also expected at least a bedroom separate from the kitchen.

It doesn’t matter what the situation; $300 for me to come one night to Catskill, a day I don’t take Ai-chan to gymnastics or be with her, be at home preparing for my new class’s syllabus tomorrow. I just feel it is a bit embarrassing, this being-an-artist thing sometimes. Why should this be a priority when I have a daughter? I feel bad. Doing all this— networking and leaving Ai-chan makes me feel that way.

It’s not about being an artist. We could be having this same conversation in regards to any other occupation all the same— for any number of reasons we become too busy, pulled apart; art isn’t embarrassing, it’s an occupation. And anyway, Ai-chan likes your work, she told me.

Yes but then Ai-chan gets bored of me. She literally says, No not sculpture again! And this is the 3rd Saturday in a row that I don’t take her to gymnastics. Ai-chan is not progressing as she was before...

What would be better, to be busy for some other reason?

I think about those mom’s that do everything for the children, putting them in music lessons, in sports; I feel I am such a self-centered mom sometimes. It feels silly because I am not some big important artist, I just have one piece in this fair and take my whole weekend to come here, to Catskill, spend money to come here, stay overnight, talk about sculpture. These objects are silly. Ai-chan could be learning things, being taken to lessons that maybe she loves or is prodigy and she grows up with a talent far superior to mine... but I will never know because I don’t take her. That is the irony.

Is Ai-chan particularly good at gymnastics?

Not really. But she is tough. She is better at climbing on scaffolding actually. And the forklift.


[...] untalking, wordless shimmers of Yasue’s bone, metal, and stone compositions—the anti-narrative bedrock of her practice, which is a performance of tactility and translating the vision into object. In this way, her sculptures yield a totemic power, evoking the smoke of her, the artist’s intentions. On the other hand, there is no telling what they say. Just like Yasue, they are non-didactic. Who do the sculptures address? Do they speak in first-person, third-person? Or do they simply say, you.
    What if I write directly to you? Like a letter.


You. I think I mentioned once this knack I have of hardly recording anything and my tendency to neglect note-taking until later on, trying to remember whatever it was we discussed together. While this has emerged as an integral exercise in our creative approach to dialoguing, it is also painstaking for me to get at the heart of things that left an impression on me, fighting to reprise a memory with some clarity. Even as you create new sculptures and I write these words, we are yielding to a consensual erasure of many things.

Whether to reenact the things we say solely from memory or to rely on the recording device for evidence: I accept both without making a hierarchy amongst them.
    But the most important thing is that I know how integral the absence of a recording device is— I mean, for us. Not because the connoisseurs tell me to choose so as to romanticize the artist's perception; we simply and inevitably keep forgetting to record our conversations. And the fact is that, because of this, the most important evidence has been missed, like our natural dialogue, or even a snapshot of us in Catskill. Now I know why I like Western classism. And Bacon.


Can you tell me what “Mass Inception” is about?

“Mass Inception” was referring to mother nature, mood changes during pregnancy, and a more voluminous approach to form. It is an eruption caught in motion, a volcanic limbo between the land and the air. It is also my body as I became a small mountain, a mother.
    I built that foundation made of steel armature covered with urethane foam whose shape was curved by literal burning with blow torch and then coating with varnish. This was right before I retired from the studio practice for a while when I realized I was pregnant and I could not go on working with such materials. I walked away— I had Ai-chan. I thought, ah, now is my chance to stop with sculpture. I was so happy to become less competitive, less pressure to make. I was a mother. That was four years ago.
    I came back to the piece this year and applied the surface material which is like a faux-earth: terracotta blended with epoxy resin and spread over the surface of the charred foam.


Did you see this piece in your head before you began? Or is its assemblage a reaction to the process of sculpting? While sculpting, are you re-interpreting and reacting to unplanned directions? 

I have the vision in mind. I get the visions beforehand. They can change, but I see the piece in my head always.

When do you get visions? Are you always open or do they come under particular circumstances?

I get them frequently, doing mundane things. I don’t need travel or to go foraging for inspiration. Actually I have the clearest ideas just doing my routines— I live over there, I take Ai-chan to school across the street, I go to my studio behind Platz where I find David— I see through this, and in moments of isolation. I have the best visions in the bath.

When you finish a sculpture, is it normally close to what you envisioned?



Have you thought about the timing?
    Should we have waited to write these things— waited for when artists are typically remembered, when you are old or dead?
    You just turned 47. You just spoke to me— you speak to me. You tell me about the cars drifting through the mountain roads in Japan. You saw them racing when you were a teenager. You tell me about driving in New York and seeing the architecture passing in blurs of color and material, fusing with your thoughts of sculpture, thoughts of combining what you have like terra cotta and urethane foam, paper, stone, brass...


The toughness of being my gallerist is not because I make a grotesque aesthetic. The toughness is that the gallerist almost  has to treat/handle my work as a dead artist's rather than a living artist’s, i.g. the gallerist has to curate the work across the artist's age or time period of a life. My life.


I’m in your studio again as we turn our attention now to translating Pt. 1 and organize a print edition to accommodate the Tokyo Art Book Fair in October (meanwhile, I am writing this, Pt. 2).
    By cc’ing me on every email with the translators, Rumi and Nahoko, I intuited that you want me google-translating every correspondence, observing as you coordinate the rewriting of our article, Sculptural Autopsies with Yasue Maetake Pt. 1, into Japanese. There and again I see you all separating the English into fragments, questioning word choices and double-entendres,  slowly equating the language to its Japanese mirror-image.
    As my original text became logographic, unintelligible to me, you can now read our article for the first time in your mother tongue and understand with clarity what was previously oblique in English. You describe to me the decisions Rumi and Nahoko made when ascribing certain English words to Japanese characters; how seemingly subtle distinctions in their interpretations influenced how to approximate sentiments from the original English text into Japanese.
    To lose understanding of my own article was to look once again at sculpture, or at least at yours, which dictate no narrative and no single language in their exposition— if I snag on them, something liquid and sentimental might escape me, dispensing a thought in its wake, a hard-to-say, fleeting thing that suggests I simply look twice at the shapes you’ve made.




Email regarding the word “reaper” and its counterpoint in Japanese:

彼岸" leads to the "boundary" or “barrier” which appears later in the writing.  "彼岸" is an unstable "辺獄" while "あの世" is an absolute place, and that which is the antonym to "in this world". Therefore "彼岸"  is more oscillant.
    Perhaps you might think "辺獄" could also work as a translation. But the character "獄" is too strong and thus, implies hell unnecessarily. Since “Grim Reaper” will appear later, I also want to neutralize the questionable strong connotation of death and hell. Another reason to use “彼岸" is an image of a field and river full of natural light. That is more suitable for my "Ascending Industrial Bouquet," whose translucent body accumulates the light.  “彼岸" also means Spring and Autumn equinox, which is my birthday, too.
    As for the “大鎌”, I wanted to use the character “刈” which refers more a simple device (a scythe) with a more linear character form, as opposed to “大鎌” which is more arched and compact. The skeletal armature of “Ascending Industrial Bouquets” consists of the linear structure.


See your hands turning the steering wheel of the car, which turns the wheels of the car, which brings you onto Forest Ave and home again. See yourself at home, alive and surprised (because you are a somewhat bad driver, or so says David). See yourself move automatically through the home. See yourself move deliberately through the studio: see yourself assembling, responding to the thoughts of laundry, thoughts of your daughter, welding certain arguments into lobes of resin, into cages of effort, her little knees, barely recovered from a scrape, air barely different than mesh, oil, seashell, wedding veil, hot glue, photos from your life coming through the glue, sculptures interrupting, air on air, thinly, daily, more shape, more memory in the form of a career, in the form of paper, wet pulp drying on metal whose rust leaves striking blue stains.


Working on the translation of “reaper” became the same intensity as my sculpture making, in which I am constantly maintaining the oscillation between the two places where I regard only the essence can exist. I am very happy to come up with the word "彼岸."
    At this point, you perhaps understand that Japanese (especially Chinese) is based on the symbolism called logogram. I am living in a hieroglyphic view of the world while Japanese also uses a half phonographic system, like English. Hope this experience helps you understand. But even more so, I simply wanted to share with you this linguistic epiphany and happiness.


As we talk, your life becomes a story we both remember, a memory imparting onto me or a confusion lying in wait... your patience with this portrait as I write this all down, as I try to tell us both about your life.

Follow Yasue:


Instagram: @yasuemaetake

Yasue Maetake: 

Yasue Maetake is a Toyko-born artist living and working in New York. Using a wide variety of influences, her sculpture evokes associations with Baroque Dynamism and Animism, along with futuristic variations of natural forms and industrial aesthetics. They partner directly with human customs and technology.

Addison Bale:

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

More from “Shedding”:

April 2nd, 2021

A Year with Wang Chen

By Addison Bale

Multidisciplinary artist, Wang Chen, has been a participant of the year-long Roswell Artist-in-Residence program in New Mexico since last June. Now, after 10 months of residency, their new video-piece, “In the Woods,” is nearly finished, and two exhibitions of their work are forthcoming. What follows is a dialogue about those 10 months of residency, the process of making artwork as video, and the unique conditions that influenced Chen’s practice during a year of pandemic, protest, and a tide of violence against Asian people in the US.

Chen shares with me their love of performing in the video-pieces and as we discuss, I relate the year-long residency in Roswell to the legendary year-long performance projects of Tehching Hsieh. We come to acknowledge that art itself is performative: the performance of artmaking, performing the expectations of what an artist does and looks like. I realize now that Chen and I echo this phenomenon in this transcript, because it is in fact not a transcript, but a paraphrased dialogue—the text follows our original statements and sentiments with adapted language. The performance of an interview rather than an actual interview.


I was really naughty when I was a kid…I would always go to this arcade. I was like, seven, maybe. And then, I wouldn’t go home until pretty late at night, and when my parents found me they would be so angry they wouldn’t know what to do. I just got punished all the time.

So you’ve always been a rebel in a way.

Yeah, I mean, when I wanted to do something, they really couldn’t stop me. I always found a way. I was obsessed with playing computer games since I was really little, I was so addicted and they couldn’t stop me at all. [Laughing] I remember when I was ten we got our first computer—I downloaded all the games and stopped studying. And then my mom was so pissed off, and her friend told her, you should put a password on the computer. Then one day after school I went home and I was like Noooo! How is there a password? What am I gonna do?? So I used a pen to leave tiny dots on every computer key, and after I finished all my homework I was asking my mom to put in the password to let me play. Then she typed in the password and after she did it, I looked at the keys to see which dots got wiped away so I could see what the password was. Then the next day, she came home after work and saw me playing on the computer and was like, I put the password! And I didn’t say how I figured it out so she told her colleagues like, my kid cracked the code and got into the computer, and they all thought that I was a computer genius.

[Laughing] Wow, so the art of gaming goes way back for you. Was there a time in your life when you decided to pursue art or was it just something that you were doing and you just let it continue?
Well, I made traditional Chinese paintings really young as a kid, but that’s different than really thinking about art. But with this fundamental training, I went to art school. I dreamed of becoming an artist but it wasn’t until my third year in undergrad really when my own work shifted and I found a language through performance. I think I told you I want to be an actor. I love performance. So, when I was in grad school, considering this background in painting and drawing, I started combining drawings and performance together in video, and that’s when I felt very strong for the first time. I love to be different characters, you know? There’s so much potential and space to be not you when you are acting.

Is that a way to get away from yourself or to get closer to certain traits of yourself?

Young Chen with her paintings, 1998

It’s so funny because when you think about it, when you’re an artist it’s all about you. But to be an actor you have to think into the mind of somebody else, into their thoughts and speech. You come close to being no longer you. For me, it’s such a relief. I like to be like that, it’s nice for me to have that outlet to get away from myself.

How are you during this residency? Are you comfortable enough to act in front of people?

I’m doing good here, yeah, I am.

Is there any part of this year-long residency that feels like a performance?

Partly yes. First, it is an excellent opportunity to be here, for an entire year, just to work on my project without any interruption. But for me, there is also a certain expectation of looking forward to the result. Like what I could accomplish or what I could achieve. So there is a routine in my time here that I go to the studio, even if I'm not working, but I still go.

Right. To a certain degree I feel like making art as an aspiring artist—talking about myself here—is like a total charade of seriousness. I have no institutions, nor any collectors knocking on my door for work, yet I treat my practice like it runs on deadlines and expectations so that I inhabit the work-state and mindset of an artist with clout and representation, you know? I am pretending to be a “good” artist in a way. [Laughing.]

Yeah me too!

GIF excerpt from In the Woods. Video. Wang Chen, 2021.

Chen, I was thinking about something I wanted to bring up: the Roswell Artist in Residence program is one year long. This reminds me of the year-long performance projects of Tehching Hsieh back in the 70s/80s where he would confine himself to some very strict condition for an entire year such as living in a cage (Cage Piece 1978-1979), clocking in every hour on the hour (Time Clock Piece 1980-1981), or being tied to another artist at the waist (Rope Piece 1983-1984). I think the year for Tehching was not so symbolic as a physical or mental endurance challenge as much as it was just like, a unit of measurement for wasting time and existing through it…so, with Tehching on the mind, what is this year for you in Roswell? Do you feel liberated, do you feel trapped?

I had a dream and I woke up crying. In the dream I was in this meeting and the people around me were bullying me, telling me I was useless, that I didn’t deserve to be there with them, I belong elsewhere. I started defending myself saying, No no, I am an artist and I have a purpose being here, and they were like No, you are nothing, you do nothing.
    The past year has been a big shift for everyone in the world, with all of the things that have happened. Politics, immigration, Covid...There is always a certain anxiety that exists in me. I mean, this residency, one year to just focus on work and make art, is obviously the best thing you can have for yourself as an artist. But at the same time, I don’t have the confidence to relax at all. I guess it is good and bad for me. Good for making work, bad for my mental health in some ways.

GIF excerpt from In the Woods. Video. Wang Chen, 2021.

When you were beginning the residency did you make a work plan for the year?

I did. And time flies, I hope I can finish my plan on time. [Laughing].

Can you walk me through the process of making a video? How does that process start for you?

All of my videos, visually, come from my drawings. I make drawings casually and randomly. The characters or marks, or a scene I see in my drawings become inspiration for my video work—I’ll develop characters, like draw new characters, or actual fabrication to create costumed characters and from there I begin to imagine plotlines. Then, I enact performances in these costumes utilizing a greenscreen. At the same time I also scan the drawing and layer the elements into composition to create an imagined space for the characters. Sound is also spontaneously growing while making the work.

Pencil and oil pastel on paper. 2019.

Wait wait, when you say, scan the drawing and layer the elements, you mean that you scan the drawings into the computer and then you bring the scanned drawings into Photoshop or Illustrator or something and use the drawings like layers?

No I don’t scan the full drawings—I will isolate the elements that I want to repaint separated from the original image. Then I scan those so I can compile the elements that I want into layers. It’s another way of re-representing my drawings, the source materials, and allowing the characters and narratives that I imagined to assemble in new, unplanned ways once they are digitally rendered. In the digital medium, the narrative unfolds somewhat randomly, it never stays the same. As I go through the video making process, I get new ideas for the redesign characters or narratives or sound that make me change things and sometimes, I react and completely remake what I have if a new idea feels stronger. The narrative is very intuitive in this way also.

What programs are you using?

I use Unity, After Effects, and Maya. And then for my sound I use Logic.

Acrylic and mixed media on paper. 2020.

Is your background in Chinese painting still an influence over your work today?

Yes, not only aesthetically but also conceptually. I do think that my style comes from Chinese painting—feeling the brushstrokes and making them intuitive. As in Chinese painting, I am interested in imagery that captures the feeling of something, to see that things are more profound and express them beyond just an image or an appearance.

Acrylic and mixed media on paper. 2020.

And yet your video work is so labor intensive and meticulous! How is the process for you mentally and emotionally as you make videos? Do you ever lose interest or are you just in it  the whole time?

It’s different…. Every medium has its own way of leaving a mark. By switching mediums, it always keeps me interested. Just like, existing between the digital and physical dimensions, layering them down and creating different possibilities. It’s more fluid.

What is the video piece that you’re working on right now called?

In the Woods.

Do you already have plans for what comes after this project?

Yes, I have been experimenting with clay while I’m at the residency. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will go.

GIF excerpt from In the Woods. Video. Wang Chen, 2021.

Follow Chen:


Instagram: @ohyo_chen

Wang Chen:

Wang Chen (b. 1991. Hohhot, China) is a multidisciplinary artist based in NYC. Chen incorporates costumed performance, fabrication, drawings, sound engineering, gaming software, and now sculpture, into elaborate video installations. They received a BFA in painting from Virginia Commonwealth University (2014) and an MFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology (2018.) They are currently an artist in residence with the RAIR Program in Roswell, New Mexico, where their upcoming exhibition In the Woods, will open June 25th at the Roswell Museum & Art Center. @ohyo_chen

Addison Bale:

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

April 2nd, 2021

On Love and Practice: a Conversation with Musician Spurge Carter

By Addison Bale

︎: Figure Ground

Author’s note: I met Spurge at his home studio where we talked for an hour and twenty minutes on record. As we dug into questions about how writing informs his practice and how his music bleeds into educational initiatives, he played guitar and even shared some songs in progress with me. These songs are linked into the article where they appear in the conversation and can be played as you read through.

The original transcript of my conversation with Spurge was 27 pages long. Once I filtered out all the filler words such as “um,” “you know,” “I mean,” and “like,” the transcript had shed 10 full pages. It took several more read-throughs to bring the written conversation down to 4000 words of focused dialogue. What follows is a distillation.


What are you working on?

I have a bunch of stuff that's just sitting in various stages and I'm starting to try to go back and finish things. Mostly working on my vocal performance. I’m figuring out how I want to sing. I'm also writing lyrics—I do a lot of free flow, just to get context for how I'm feeling emotionally. Words come out about whatever I’m trying to say but rarely do I try and start a song idea with lyrics.

So you write lyrics to the music, not music to the lyrics?

Yes. Usually, I hear a word I like or maybe there's a catalyst, like a friend says something interesting that I write down in my notes, or if there's a sentence that I think of I write it down, and then maybe it’ll come up later. For example: this person I’ve been seeing, we quickly connected very strongly, pretty carnally. I jokingly said it felt like we were trying to fuck into oblivion, you know, to the point where your body starts to hurt from it. Those words kept repeating for me. Separately, I’ve had this guitar riff for a long time, just playing it, never really recorded it. I put two and two together for whatever reason and then I started this song with this riff in mind. I was kind of waiting for something to connect that would make me want to sit down and record it. I had been working on something else and then, for whatever reason I got inspired by this drum loop.

I have so many melodic ideas in my voice recordings that I had forgotten about and I just never got back to because then they pile up. But with some riffs, I’ll play or hum without recording it for a long time and I'll just see if I keep remembering it and then every time I pick up the guitar, play the riff. The more I do that, the more I’m like, Alright, if I'm choosing to remember this, that means that it must be pretty solid, you know?

Can I hear that guitar riff?

Yes. I've been playing this for a while...Just like that: rhythmic, funky...I had been trying to write about stubbornness and other themes for a year or so too it. But that line, fuck into oblivion, became a catalyst for me to explore this concept of physicality and intensity and words began to flow out.

Most of your music, as far as I can tell, and definitely with your tracks on Bandcamp, is published with significant passages of writing. “Walking While Black” is maybe the longest example, but also Fever Pitch, as a project has a paragraph of text that introduces the EP. And these are pretty essential for understanding the work, especially in the case of “Walking While Black,” which as a song is—I mean, calling it a song is almost reductive. It's more like a listening experience, it’s an audio experience, it's musical and it's a composition...But it's also kind of uncomfortable, kind of jarring—it’s an evocative sound piece. But without the text there, it’s noise could represent anything.

Yeah. Fair.

So where does that writing come for you? Was that before the song? Or did the song happen and the writing was a part of its genesis, or did the writing come after?

The text that I wrote to accompany the song describes an experience I had just had. I went home and then I made that piece—and not necessarily in response to the experience. I didn’t know I was making it for that moment. I remember because I had this loop of some feedback to work with. I was starting something different and then that feedback started happening. “Walking While Black” is a one-take recording of me processing and manipulating that feedback loop. It wasn't until after the fact that I was like… The expression happened through “Walking While Black” and then I was able to understand more clearly after the fact.

Fever Pitch was kind of similar. It happened back in October, extremely fatigued over this pandemic. I like making beats, but I haven't really dedicated myself to a lot of beat music and that was supposed to be a beat-based project. I was just tired of words, I just wanted something to fucking dissociate to. So much of what I do involves trying to stay super informed, things like my ambient event or the government infographic; doing these things that require processing a lot of information and trying to distill it in a way that feels accessible. With the beat thing, I was like, I'm just trying to make beats and not think too much.

Fever Pitch seems like a pretty clear distillation of this time, down to the formatting of the songs, each song being  named for the month, starting at March, ending in November. The second song, “April,” is when you really introduced the listeners to the album with the vast majority of the words that are in the album.

Yeah, the skit thing.

And the kind of rapid fire quoting that you pull from the common sentiment of today. So words still play a pretty crucial role for contextualizing what the album is.

Yeah, across the board for my work. But some of the work I'm going to show you lives in these other more pop-oriented projects, where I'm trying to get better at being concise, but, obviously, I’m a person that likes to speak and has a lot to say. Going back to electronic music—and with most releases under that sspurgee moniker—what’s great is that form is so much more malleable. It's important, but you can obviously have an eight minute drone track and to the listeners who are open to that, you know they'll accept that. So one can also insert a paragraph of companion text that contextualizes the ethos of a song, you know?

So in that way, electronic music presents or functions as a medium that is very open to mixed expression and a multitude of possibilities for what form it can take and what other media it can incorporate.

Yes! Exactly. For me, it's unadulterated expression. I could speak a passage from the bell hooks’s Salvation, which was a companion piece to Walking While Black, and it could have a place in the music. And I love that about electronic music. I was thinking about this other book on dub music culture, they talk about how music is about making spaces. Less about form, more about creating space, these intangible spaces.

It’s a kind of double entendre of space there because it seems like you're talking about musical space—like sound space, or maybe audio space—

Or just even world space, dimensional space—

—which has been so much the function of jazz historically as a refuge of music and a refuge of location, to go to a place and to listen. Maybe in more recent memory especially, how powerful electronic and club music was for so long—that it provided a space for marginalized folks, queer folks, and anybody who needed a refuge. 



Have you listened to Fever Pitch, played it back through since you released it?


Do you ever do that with your old songs?

Not really. Usually if I'm listening to music, it's stuff in various demo stages, because I'm trying to sit with it, live with it, see how to advance it. But in terms of stuff that I've put out, less so.

How do you feel about Fever Pitch now? Fever Pitch is conceptually born of this moment, cut from a communal psyche that you talk through in the short skits between songs and then, more abstractly, in the soundscape, which, perhaps you can talk about. I'm curious, how do you feel about the project now that we're in January and we're still just going through COVID-19? Does this Fever Pitch go on? Do you continue to think in terms of making music that voices the pandemic?

I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. I think that's partially because we're still living in the pandemic. Fever Pitch was just me making something that was supposed to mark this period in time. I made it in like, a week, and put it out. It's like a journal entry in that way. Once it's out, I don't go back for a while.

You know, in music there's this frustrating part when you're trying to deal with marketing for projects and that sort of ties up the art that you might have written a year ago. In terms of an album, if you're gonna really go through the album cycle of getting it produced and pressed on vinyl, that takes like, six months. Obviously, marketing it, doing it all, you might be talking about something that’s already passed through your body like a year or two ago, and you have to talk about it now. That's what I like about Bandcamp—I made Fever Pitch, I made the artwork and literally, within the week, put it up, and got it out. And that is such a good feeling to be able to be like, it's outside of me and I was able to express this.



On Eto Ano’s website, you say it's a record label and an education initiative.


When I asked you last time if you see yourself being an educator ever in your life, you said no. I was surprised just because you’ve put a lot of time put into talking with educators, creating a stage for them, and likewise developing small educational info-artworks to share through instagram and the Eto Ano site. The Baby’s event stressed the importance of education, maybe now more than ever during the pandemic.

There might have been some rejection of academia when you asked me if I would be an educator, as opposed to sharing and teaching through alternative methods, because academia is a system that I know I don’t want to participate in. But obviously, I think education is really important. So I do like to educate through the platforms that I use within music and writing, like the Resident Advisor article, for example. There's a lot of things I don't like about the institutions of academic education and I think I was probably responding to that when you asked if I would get into education.

The Baby’s All Right event and the other examples of how you've been able to educate in certain ways—the government infographics and the RA story—these things feel to me like they have a tone of a communal, grassroots initiative to disseminate information that is very accessible. It's all based on accessibility. They're also fun and unorthodox. In that way, it feels like—not to fetishize it by calling it radical—but it feels like you are educating in a way that actually subverts the typical modalities of education, because it's completely free, non-exclusive, and intersectional with your music.

Yeah, I would agree with that, and it’s something that I want to continue to do.

Last time we spoke, you mentioned these magazines you receive from the National Education Association that are all about the teaching and teacher’s stories. Anything you learned that you can share from the magazine?

One of the most impactful stories was about a school in Washington (or somewhere in the Northwest) and how one day this kid came in with a gun, wanting to shoot up the school. There was a counselor who saw this, peeped this happening, realized that this kid had a gun and he went up to the kid, managed to disarm him, and then hugged the kid before they were able to get in and actually do any harm. And that image— I remember reading that and just crying, thinking about this person who literally put his life on the line and responded to this troubled but confused kid, with love. It really hit me with how important the image of love is. Love is responding with an embrace because the counselor knew that is what this kid needed. I really think  that's something that is coming up more and more in my music—the power of love, as hippy dippy or corny as that is. That's what always stuck with me from these magazines though: seeing teachers work so hard in the face of everything because they're so passionate about showing children that they're loved and that they're cared for. And that to me is so simple. That should really be the fucking manual for society and how we treat each other, you know?



What do you hope for the future Eto Ano?

It lives on as an educational experiment. Apart from me just uploading stuff onto Bandcamp, I haven’t done much with Eto Ano because this year hasn’t really been a great time to take risks, but it’s supposed to be this way that I document how to run a music label. So the whole educational component is that I want to do quarterly reports where I show all the money I’m putting into it and all of the money that I’m making out of it— making that public. Also, just doing write-ups in the same way that I did with the government infographic or the one I did about the police commissioner. I wanna put up PDFs that map out what I’ve done the past couple of months, to create serial documents of what it’s like to develop a record label.

Wow, so again you’re creating through a vector of education and transparency. This is a record label and also an auto journalistic opportunity for you.

Yeah, it's documenting what's going on in the music and the business of a label. Hopefully in a way that provides insight.

Are you currently using the label as a space to invite artists in to collaborate with?

That's definitely the idea. Like I said, I'm producing my brother, Cam,  under it. And ideally, I want it to be a space where I could release friends’ music. I just signed my first record for fall 2021. Doing a rebrand of the label at the moment too. My current job as an A&R at OMG (Captured Tracks/Sinderlyn/2MR) has really helped me build confidence for that.

I'm curious also about the future of your music. Are you seeing or are you considering any conceptual links between your interests and operations into these educational modes and the sound of music? Are these projects informing one another? Is music taking shape somehow within and around considerations of education?

Absolutely, but it feels like two different worlds. I have this pop music project that I'm working on, for example, that’s less about me trying to intellectualize things and more about what I'm feeling, what's happening with me romantically, you know? Then, I come to electronic or experimental projects as sspurgee, where I’m like, let me study the different aspects of the society that I exist in, or let me look at the different communities that I'm in. It's a lot more about investigating the external, whereas the pop music projects are usually more of an internal investigation. There's intermingling of both, of course, but so far, a lot of the pop is about love.

When I’m investigating some facet of society—like on one electronic EP, I'm linking blackness and electronic music specifically. I have one song called “Nina's Hair” that I wrote a couple years ago that's poking fun at Nina Kraviz, that Russian DJ. There was a lot of talk about how she co-opts blackness and what is, of course, an originally black genre of music: techno. She has a song called “Ghetto Kraviz”, which came out a couple years ago, and I don't think many people initially batted much of an eye at it. But then, I think two years ago now, she was wearing cornrows and another black female DJ, Ash Lauryn, was like, you really shouldn’t be doing that. And then, in wonderful fashion, Nina got really defensive. Then other people brought up that song “Ghetto Kravitz” and how she's a prominent DJ, getting the big festival bill stuff and obviously making a lot of money, profiting off of it, but hasn't really acknowledged her place or the history of techno music. Of course, the thing with whiteness is the issue of defining what is white culture. So this track, “Nina’s Hair” is me poking fun—it’s supposed to be polka music with electronic elements.

Like, what the fuck is whiteness in electronic music? I have a whole project that examines various, recent incidents within the electronic music community, generally around how we've gentrified this music. This is something that in the first quarter of this year I'm gonna probably release, and I plan on doing a lot of long form writing also to provide context for this body of work.

There's a lot of concept behind the music and there’s a thesis to what you're doing by blending these musical influences to poke fun at whiteness and the gentrification of techno…and then at the end of the day people are gonna dance to this! This is what we’re gonna dance to!

This song is pretty fun! But what that was leading me to ask you is, what are you investigating about love right now? Because the last thing I saw you make about love is called “Love is simple, really.” But is it?

Oh, yeah, yeah, well that was a song that I put that out in response to the crisis in Lebanon. I put it up for donations. For me, it's more of that love that I was talking about as a collective love, the same crucial love of a school counselor hugging this kid that's going to shoot up the school. That song is about that interpersonal, human-to-human love. How simple that could be, and seeing people's response to the Lebanese situation. It feels hard to think about...I think the decaying ship had been there for like a year or something, some dramatically long time. It should have been taken care of. If you just love your fellow man, and especially if it’s your fucking job as a government official, that explosion should have never happened. It should have been simple.

Is romantic love coming into your music right now?

Yeah! I mean, it's always in my music, for sure.

How is it? How has it changed? How has your perspective on love and its role in your music changed? Does love sound different now than it did a couple years ago?

I think so. I mean, now, having been through a longer relationship and seen the commitment and effort that goes into it. I understand now that you can love somebody but things just might not be right for both people and the complexity and the turmoil of that. So I've been writing about the nuances of love. But there's this one song that I've been working with for a while and it’s about choice. indecision can be such a killer, no matter how you feel towards somebody or the situation, you can still be indecisive and that can be something that kills. Not just romantically, but also with my last situation with the band I was in, that's what killed it. Indecision ended up being a thing that killed the arrangement. They were indecisive to a fault about the band’s future. It had gotten past the point where it was okay to then change your mind. Then you either commit, because you've involved other people or...People make mistakes, you make a mistake and you also own up to it. In the case of that situation, there wasn't a lot of owning up.

This is one of the first songs that I wrote and I've been reworking it, rebuilding from the ground up. I had initial lyrics written but now I'm trying to figure out a way to express that concept very simply.

That is hot.

[laughing] Thank you.



I want to ask some closing questions. I feel like you kind of brought us full circle by taking us back to the construction of the songs that you're working on, which is what we opened with. And I also think ending with love is really nice, because that seems to be kind of the theme tonight. So, what are your favorite love songs? You can name as many as you want.

“Sara Smile.” That's just such a good song all around. Such a fucking sick song.

This next song, I think is really good. This is a bit of what—a song I’ll show you in a second—I modeled off of. Trying to go for this sort of like a D’Angelo sound. Or not really D’Angelo, just going for Prince.

I actually think the best love song of all time—which is maybe a hot take—is “Really Love” by D’Angelo. You know it?

I can't recall offhand. I remember listening to Black Messiah though. I think “Betray My Heart” is one of the more perfect songs. It’s such a pleasing song. What stands out about the song? What makes the song special for you? Based on your body right now I’d say it's the rhythm.

The rhythm is pretty hypnotic, there’s no doubt about that. Somehow this song—there's so many delicate, interwoven layers that bring this complex sound to a seemingly simple meridian. It feels like something you listened to every time you were in love somehow, like it was already playing in your ears...And then it’s the repetition, the lyrics that repeat.

My last question is: can you walk me through either a typical day or an ideal day of making music and work for you? What's your routine?

There's a lot of structure, especially this year, being in my apartment and being here all the time. So I might wake up, maybe I'll play piano, play guitar for a little bit, aimlessly. Maybe I'm working on a song or learning something. Sometimes I might switch between instruments and go from one to the other. And that could be a couple hours.

Would you describe it as fun?

I don't think about that way right now. It’s work; there's certain things I need to accomplish because I want to get better. But I think I’m coming to the point where I'm wanting to let myself do the things that are fun. I’m always advancing my goals with instrumental work and putting myself through like, rhythm bootcamp, doing scale work, reading a lot. These things will be my whole day normally, and it's so regimented. They’re important, and obviously I enjoy building my musicianship, but like, days and days of that, make me feel like, what the fuck am I doing?

Spurge’s first track under his Aliese project, “all good? (demo)” is released today on the album “A Lot of Love,” via The Lot Radio. Listen to the track here:

Spurge Carter:

Spurge is a musician and creative thinker/producer based in Brooklyn, NY. He co-founded international touring/recording band Barrie, helped build community fixture The Lot Radio, and once drove palm trees across America for his former boss P-Thugg of Chromeo. He cites his Electric Lady Studios internship as his worst music industry experience but he still very much appreciates the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. He currently is working as an A&R for Omnian Music Group (Captured Tracks, 2MR, Sinderlyn) and is the creative editor for Hii Magazine, a new online magazine focused on sound and sound culture. Finally, and most importantly, he’s building his own record label, Eto Ano, and personal solo music to coincide.

Addison Bale:

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

February 19, 2021

Recordings and Conversations with Choreographer Renata Pereira Lima

Compiled by Addison Bale 

This article comprises recorded conversations between Renata and I, emailed voice-memo monologues from Renata, and passages of my writing that augment our correspondence. To address the confluence of talking points and multi-media, we divided the article into themed chapters whereby transcripts of conversation, monologue, and my editorial writing coalesce around Renata’s trains of thought. What follows is a patchwork of collaboration. Let this appendix act as a multi-portal through which you click into our motley dialogue. —Addison Bale

Follow Renata:


Instagram: @renpl

Renata Pereira Lima:

(b. 1994) is a Cuban/Brazilian artist whose work explores the body as a vessel of reactionary and archivable phenomena. Through site-specific performance / installation, video-making, and gestures of dance, her research in choreography seeks to minimize expectations of narrative and maximize the body’s ability to communicate on a tactile level: the space the body moves through, the energetic tone of the environment or natural light, and the sounds that pervade the space and therefore, the body in movement, all represent indeterminate happenings to be examined. Rhythm, bodily rhythm, is essential even as the dance is translated into installation or video, which continues a thematic obligation to the scaffolding of time itself.

Aside from choreographing and editing her own body of work, Renata splits her time between Mexico City and New York as a movement director and collaborator on music videos, dance films, and commercials.

Addison Bale

is a writer and artist from NYC. His work is viewable online:

More from Shedding...

July 15, 2020



This moment, the moment you’re reading these words, right now, whenever that may be, is – and yes, this is quite official – the End of Opinion.

The commonplace qualitative model of judgement, that tedious vertical Good-Bad binary, is now as unimportant as your vague reasoning for why The Lobster just “didn’t work for you.”

Hot takes are now hot trash. And yes, I completely understand how adrift you must feel.

Because without your arbitrary art rules, your peer-tested conjecture, your mountain of prop books and performative merch, without the abstract wreckage you refer to as your “taste”… why even watch a film anymore?

It’s an age old conundrum really: If a dude tees off on how Malick’s never been quite “grounded enough” and no one’s around to hear him, did he even ever see The Thin Red Line three times in theaters?

I remember in 2011 the New York Film Critics Circle hastily moved their awards date up to November, before many of the films in (supposed) contention had even been released.  

Some film journalists saw this as typical east coast elitism, New York writers flexing intellectual precedence by forcing their way into the inaugural awards position.

That, to me, was not the issue.

The rosiest, most benevolent view of a film writer is one of pop-cultural archaeology. There’s an altruistic sense of responsibility to unearth and champion the work you believe in to your readership.

And by ranking, by saying “this is the best film of the year,” you boldly pronounce strongly held aesthetic values. You compel readers and peers to debate, to examine, to ponder the nature of what makes film a true and vital artform.

If this is the level of artistic zeal the New York Film Critics Circle felt for the cinema of 2011, well then, I thought to myself, have at it. Flood the digital tributaries with your simmering passion which could not possibly have waited another two weeks to boil over into public view…

… the day came. And the NYFCC proudly announced their pantheon of cinematic prestige:

Best Film… The Artist
Best Actor… Brad Pitt
Best Actress… Meryl Streep

Ooookay, so let me stop ya’ right there if I may.

And just allow me to pose a simple question: Why... did you even... bother?

Every year the top ten lists come out and every year they’re just a deck-shuffle of the same 25 films.

Film criticism, in the classic Kael-ian model, has become little more than a social media-damaged conformity.

And this has had a significant trickle-down effect on the amateur dialectic. My generation and younger are so addicted to bandwagon-ism that when they’re confronted with dissenting perspectives the result is akin to LIGHTS ON at the rave.

Opinion is the new religion.

Its institution is corporate interest. Its church is Twitter. Every service is an all-night open mic. And yet every guest preacher really just wants to prosthelytize that “Yep… Get Out ruled!”

‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ are suppressant words. And like Huxley’s soma the words are pills to anesthetize conversation to the transactional complexity of giving out doggie treats.

Rotten Tomatoes is our Golem, and it’s trampled our brains into a barren landscape of Netflix thumbnails. Existential obedience to the algorithmic order of Silicon Valley.

No more.

Consider this Luther’s parchment nailed to the Church door.

Consider this a liberation.

Consider the question “Hey, is Zardoz actually any good?” as a FULL ON ASSAULT on your philosophical freedoms!

And together we will usher in a messianic age of opinion-less analysis.

Think of yourself as an alien, or post-apocalyptic future human, and consider films not as fuel for simplistic assertions of identity but as odd, potentially profound artifacts. Each one holding an insight into both the intricacies of the medium and the humanity of the message.

Some initial steps in this glorious new freedom:

  1. Watch What Lies Beneath and resist the urge to rage on its contrivances, its chintzy Hitchockian cheap shots, its huffy celebrity performances. Instead meditate quietly on its prophecy of cell phone technology ruining the classic suspense film.

  2. Watch every single James Spader movie in a row up to Crash and realize that it is a detailed chronology of the rise and fall of Yuppie Culture.

  3. Watch Body Horror films not just for their goopy gory payoffs but as subconscious statements of Man’s irrational fear of the Female anatomy.

  4. Watch Field of Dreams not as an uplifting balm of magical Americana, but as Baby Boomer apologist propaganda with Baseball nostalgia as its MAGA Trojan horse. 

Look beyond the vanity of auteurs, the vagaries and vulgarities of corporate marketing, the academic tyranny of the so-called canon, and crucially understand that all hype is hypnosis.

See the forest through the trees, don’t just see The Tree of Wooden Clogs and proclaim how much you “dug” all the tree shots.

Films are complex documents of unintended spiritual, political, societal, and institutional significance, and the century-plus reign of Opinion has suppressed these hidden meanings.

This column is an act of anthropological radicalism, of ideological detective work. An attempt to re-contextualize all of cinema, freeing films as feeble fodder for your feed, and lifting them up as profound reflections of your humanity.

Welcome, friends, to the future. Where should we begin?   


Benjamin Shearn is a film editor and writer. His last feature, Ladyworld, premiered at BFI London, Fantastic Fest, TIFF: Next Wave and was presented as part of the Frontieres Showcase at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Shearn’s work in narrative and documentary films has also been exhibited at ComicCon San Diego, the Louisiana Museum of Art in Copenhagen, la Gaîté lyrique in Paris, as well as official selections of the CPH:DOX, Melbourne International, Planete+Doc, TIFF After Dark, Court Metrage du Clermont, Chicago and Boston Underground Film Festivals, amongst others. For more of his work, go to and/or follow his absurd Instagram account @actorsupset.

August 14, 2020



I’m often shit on for my Hollywood People-Worshipping of white straight men. It’s wildly out of fashion, I guess, especially for a woman like me. You don’t know me, but you’ll have to trust that no one around me wants to hear about how much I adore this popular actor or that rich actor.

Anyway fuck fashion: I LOVE JAMES SPADER.

Thinking about James Spader makes me physically ill. It twists my insides. But one of my favorite things in the world to do is think about James Spader; his motivations, his movements, his vibe, his voice. I take pleasure in every single acting choice he’s ever made. Like when he leans on desks or leans on cars, always this effortless leaning, like he’s too chill to stand but too chic to sit. James Spader knows intrinsically the James Spader character. He’s never missed a Spader beat. God I love thinking about him.

Here is a brag, a swagger, a triumph: I happen to know someone (well) who knows James Spader (well). I love thinking about this. He has James Spader stories, personal ones and professional ones. He’ll tell me the stories sometimes if I ask - I do have to ask, and ask without too much excitement, and then I have to listen, also without too much excitement, or he may not tell me another one again. Have to keep it “cool,” have to keep my energy “low.” But in truth my soul is fed by these stories. In every single one James Spader does exactly what I want him to be doing. He’s acting exactly like James Spader, and there’s a joyousness (a jubilation) in the storyteller as well - here are two people (one, a brilliant decades-long television director/the other, me) in agreement that James Spader is a marvel, an actual treasure. We’re also in agreement that if Hollywood brings back Columbo, Hollywood would be fucking stupid as fuck not to get on their knees and happily hand the role to James Spader.

James Spader is an enduring icon who has given us the gift of his work.

James Spader should have played Patrick Bateman, not Christian Bale, and I stand by that one hundred percent and don’t care about any opposing opinions. I am right. James Spader is a flawless 80s demon, a uniquely dimensional Reaganite, the personification of charmed smarm, a performance artist whose art is a disappearing act. He has wholly disappeared inside the James Spader aesthetic, which is a frightening, libidinal, impish, formal, magnetic, untrustworthy (in)human masterpiece. James Spader doesn’t do anything unless he’s doing it masterfully. James Spader is a legendary weirdo. We are lucky to have moving images of him.

Can you imagine being David E. Kelley? I try to imagine it all of the time. It’s an overwhelming thought experiment and that’s before I let my mind wrap around marrying Michelle Pfeiffer. Imagine you’re David E. Kelley. You want to cast James Spader in a role on a television show called The Practice. Yet every person around you, all of the people who normally tell you you’re a goddamn TV genius, is looking at you like you're a diseased lunatic off the streets. "You can’t cast James Spader! He’s the single most sexually charged nefarious symbol of class, the most bizarre seductor in the business!” And you cast him anyway and you win awards and he wins awards and the Spader Legacy mutates and transforms and deepens and enriches all of America into the 21st century. And that’s what it’s like to be David E. Kelley, a very important piece of the James Spader puzzle.

And it’s a puzzle that is ever-rewarding as its pieces continue to interlock.

Please watch Mannequin. No matter how you feel about Kim Cattrall. You won’t BELIEVE the Spader look, and even if you remember it, you only vaguely remember it, and need to interact with it again. It is undeniably strange and wondrous.

Please watch Jack's Back. In this film James Spader plays a Spader medical student. He also plays a Spader medical student’s Spader criminal twin brother. Here every opportunity for classic Spaderism is mined: shirtlessness on white sheets, compelling male blondness, charismatic night sweats, balletically-timed one liners, levels of sinister secrecy, jocular affirmations of alt-heroics, a complex comfort in the leading man as stranger/danger. Ebert watched. He then compared James Spader to Jack Nicholson, another created persona, another example of exuberant, mythical villainy. I would agree with Ebert there, save for the fact that James Spader is much, much more allegorical and intriguing than Jack Nicholson. As we all know.

Please go to YouTube. Click on the video titled “James Spader,” wherein James Spader sit-leans next to a very tall leafy plant and discusses his film Pretty in Pink. He wears a leather jacket with shoulder pads. He has the presence of a god. He’s hilarious, suave, subtle, unfazed, alluring. If a man can be a pair of dark sunglasses attached to a slightly wrinkled linen blazer, then that man is James Spader. He is entirely meant to be James Spader. He has an impeccable vocabulary.

Some people don’t want to meet their heroes. That’s absolute bullshit. What the hell is wrong with those people, nothing makes sense about that. Nothing. I want to meet James Spader and I want to recount back to him every moment of his career, I want to say his best and most potent lines to his face, I want to make sure he understands fully that his decisions (all of his decisions) have been perfectly executed and brilliantly designed. And more than anything I want to let him know that he is meaningful, representational, and amazing. He amazes me. He is a maze. He is an amazement.

Follow Amanda:



Kramer's short films BARK, INTERVENE, and SIN ULTRA have played at Fantastic Fest, Monster Fest, Final Frame, Court Metrange Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival and Boston Underground Film Festival's Dispatches from the Underground. Her screenplays have been accepted into IFP’s Emerging Filmmakers program and Frontierés International Co-Production Market in Brussels. Kramer's music videos have premiered on Vogue, LA Record, Flaunt Magazine, and Complex.

Her feature film PARIS WINDOW opened the Women Texas Film Festival and won the jury prize for Creative Vision at the DTLA Film Festival. Her feature film LADYWORLD was selected for the Frontierés Buyers Showcase at the Marche du Film at Cannes. The film had its US Premiere at Fantastic Fest ('18) and its International Premiere at London BFI Film Festival. LADYWORLD also showed at Denver International Film Festival, SF Indie Fest, TIFF Next Wave, Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, and Sydney Film Fest. Distributed by Cleopatra Entertainment, LADYWORLD had its theatrical and
streaming release in August 2019.

September 23, 2020



I knew it was risky. And almost certainly... illegal? Echoes of a past scandal concerning Pee-Wee Herman and a movie theater and Florida rattled around somewhere in the muddle of memory.

And yet... I proceeded... slowly... outwardly covering my guilt with nonchalance. A tan windbreaker slipped off the back of my seat onto my lap - adjustments were made, both physical and psychological.

I wish the fog of recollection would allow me to round up in my favor, and that I could tell you the theater was empty. Sadly, it’s all still imprinted on my cerebellum with the same finality of light on nitrate. Surrounded by strangers in a midwestern movie house, I pursued my compulsion well before reason and restraint dissuaded me.

The film was True Lies and I was masturbating to the scene where Jamie Lee Curtis dances a goofy lingerie striptease. The year was 1994 and I was 13 years old.

How and why I committed such brazen self-gratification could be attributable to youthful fatuity. But I’d never tried anything like that before, or since. Only in retrospect can a case be made that I was acting out as a so-called ‘product of the culture.’

Hollywood’s output that year was more directly catered to (and in praise of) the straight male adolescent psyche, than any other demographic. The movie capitalists had red-blooded American boys in their crosshairs, and I was both victor and victim of the spotlight.

The box office tea leaves could not have been more overt. What started with Big, continued with Home Alone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hook, Encino Man, T2, Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth. Here, movies whose central figures were adolescent males (either literally, psychologically, or magically) were winning audiences with overwhelming fervor.

The Age of Boy was nigh and the mid-90s were to be its apotheosis era.

Boys saved baseball in Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield and Little Big League.

They taught recalcitrant adults life lessons in North, The Client and The War.

They laid claim to the animal kingdom in The Jungle Book and The Lion King.

They revealed themselves as the inner-children of adults in Forrest Gump, Clerks, The Hudsucker Proxy, Reality Bites, Cabin Boy, Clifford, Crumb and of course the trifecta of Carrey - Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber and The Mask.

They even found time to free Tibet in Little Buddha.

But of all the boy-driven narratives Disney’s Blank Check, for me, held the most potent and indelible subtext. A film that offered up unapologetic adolescent wish fulfillment and was one of my key cinema enablers.  

11-year-old Preston Waters, by virtue of a car-on-bike accident, is handed a blank check connected to a money laundering scam. He fills in one million, gets his backpack stuffed by a buffoon banker, then proceeds to spend and live unencumbered by the restrictions and prejudices of the adult world.

Blank Check attempts to establish a clear ‘money can’t buy everything’ theme, inasmuch as Preston’s family wrongly preaches the opposite. Middle-class Dad berates Preston for a lack of income, and his entrepreneurial brothers make known their capitalist-fascist beliefs with a perversion of the Golden Rule, chanting: “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Clearly, the screenwriters intended to affirm the original Golden Rule but end up reinforcing this false one. If they had succeeded in their intended thematic cohesion, I’m not sure it would have been as impactful on my licentious 13-year-old psyche.

Preston uses the cash to close on a small castle, and does so under a false name of a false idol; Mr. Mackintosh. He fills the house with unbridled childish Id; walls of TVs blasting video games in surround sound, a wilderness of giant inflatables and the ultimate male adolescent wet dream home addition; a built-in water slide.

Preston flaunts it with limos and wardrobe montages and even an improbably romantic dinner with a pretty bank teller (played by Karen Duffy, MTV’s “Duffy” at the time). The teller is, in reality, secretive Shay, an undercover FBI agent who sees Preston as a conduit to criminals.

Preston’s impish clash of naivete and burgeoning bravado thaw Shay’s crucial adult layers of professionalism and age-gap skepticism. In only a few encounters, this child empowered by bottomless wealth is seamingly the perfect man and he seamlessly charms Shay into an unlikely romantic co-lead.

And this is where any of Blank Check’s original altruistic sentiments fray irrevocably into an unregulated glorification of adolescent instincts.

In the film’s final act, Preston’s exposed as a fraud, broke, and in massive debt. All of which, naturally, are forgiven and absolved by quaint Disney logic. A series of jarring moral reversals then haphazardly appear. Preston experiences firsthand the cold isolation of wealth and even goes as far as to swear off money in the face of family reconciliation.

However, this turnaround is shoehorned in so suddenly it reeks suspiciously of a desperate hail mary for moral catharsis. 

What Preston truly wants is plainly stated from the beginning; freedom and autonomy. He craves whatever force can transcend his child class and at the same time satiate his adolescent desires.

The eponymous Blank Check then takes on a symbolic prowess; Preston’s signature unlocks more than funds but an entire relativistic universe in which his basest intuitions are rewarded and worshipped.

All the adults of Blank Check are so passive and corrupt that Preston emerges as a God in a Godless world, self-generating all of his own moral quandaries and conclusions. Within this ethical vacuum Preston feels no pain, suffers no repercussions and is even decorated with the highest trophy of the gross straight male adolescent fantasy... the “babe.”

After all is revealed, Shay offers Preston both a statutory kiss and promise of future nooky once he’s of age or even ‘wink-wink’ before then.

With that, Blank Check accidentally offered my 1994 lizard brain a modern fable; the uncurbed ascendency of a boy king who discovers that his boyishness is fundamental to his power.

At the time Blank Check played like a fetish film for me. A revisionist myth that shifted away from adages of family, responsibility and morality, into an unambiguous exaltation of pubescent hedonism. Watching it tickled psychological pressure points with ASMR-like reward tingles, entwined with my subliminals, and endowed me with an overgrown sense of strut.

I felt as invincible as Preston, and that I lived in a world which would only ever cheer me on.

Of course, I wasn’t consciously aware of any of this as I was engaging in public self-abuse during a Schwarzenegger movie. Nor was I aware of the deep matrix of male privilege and empowerment driving all if not most of my instinctive actions.

Simultaneously I felt zero shameful misgivings or moral doubt. If I felt any fear it was only the fear of being caught. And not even from the potential for embarrassment. Only disciplinary repercussions. Even that fear was hypothetical at best. I felt more than safe that both True Lies and myself would reach denouement without incident.

If you’d ask me then, ‘why?’ I’d probably maneuver blame on to the power of runaway train hormones. Looking soberly back though, I see it as a sort of paradoxical and sad victory lap.  A gestural attempt to reinforce the idea that my adolescent vigor was as powerful as a bag full of money...

Benjamin Shearn is a film editor and writer. His last feature, Ladyworld, premiered at BFI London, Fantastic Fest, TIFF: Next Wave and was presented as part of the Frontieres Showcase at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. Shearn’s work in narrative and documentary films has also been exhibited at ComicCon San Diego, the Louisiana Museum of Art in Copenhagen, la Gaîté lyrique in Paris, as well as official selections of the CPH:DOX, Melbourne International, Planete+Doc, TIFF After Dark, Court Metrage du Clermont, Chicago and Boston Underground Film Festivals, amongst others. For more of his work, go to and/or follow his absurd Instagram account @actorsupset.

September 15th, 2021

Writing the Wound: The Production of the Real in S.M.H.’s CICATRIZATION


S.M.H.’s full length debut Cicatrization is a hypnotic and extreme work of fiction filled with equal parts beauty and agony. Leonard Klossner takes a deep dive into this pseudonymous work, released on Infinity Land Press in 2020. 

Cicatrization does not reveal to us the sheer ugliness of its face right away, but grants us an odd respite before we will have suffered a moment of its insane barbarity. Instead, the text is prefaced by an interview of the author, S.M.H., by Martin Bladh, co-founder of the book’s publisher, Infinity Land Press. The author, asked if they believe writing to be an engagement which nears the violence of a criminal act “in the same way Jean Genet stated that his ‘impulse to murder was diverted into poetic impulses’,” S.M.H.  responds that, for them, writing “is a sublimated impulse to commit anti-social violence against the whole of the civilized world,” and that the highest honor would be for someone having read their work to become inspired to murder “someone important.”

Cicatrization finds itself at home with Infinity Land Press among a host of titles that share a thematic thread of violence, pathological obsession, transgression, and mania. Both founders of the press, Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak, are well-established artists in their own right, working across numerous mediums (their latest, The Torture of the 100 Pieces, consists of Urbaniak’s photographs of numerous wounds inflicted by Bladh upon his own body; an exhibition of a similar fixation Georges Bataille suffered over the photographs detailing the Chinese torture technique, ‘death by a thousand cuts.’). In addition, they have published a number of Antonin Artaud’s more obscure or then-unpublished texts, as well as works by Stephen Barber, Dennis Cooper, and Philip Best.

Any reader who might have hazarded through Pierre Guyotat’s radical and relentless Eden Eden Eden may be steeled against what awaits them within the space of Cicatrization, since both texts are seething with hallucinatory sprees of brutality. Both books share a similar mutant textuo-genetic code, but whereas Guyotat’s Eden maintains a uniform grammatical style throughout (consisting of an endless and unbroken sentence which spans its couple-hundred pages), there are a variety of mutations which pervert the monstrous body of Cicatrization. Some segments of Cicatrization contain some degree of proper punctuation, capitalization, and other conventions, but many more do away with convention entirely, refusing to spare the reader a single moment to catch their breath until the end, subjecting them until then to an onslaught as unrelenting as the sadistic acts that occur in the text.

Familiarity with Guyotat’s work may also help to clue the reader in to what is at stake in Cicatrization, or what is being written about: writing itself. This text is a tangle of dreams, a ransacking of the annals of the unconscious, a series of episodes of oneiric wish-fulfillment, an exorcism of rabid neuroses, or, to state the matter simply, the text is concerned above all with the production of the real; of real death, and from this understanding we may begin to explore the spaces of Cicatrization.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1); “the Word of atrocity / vibrating with psychic wounds.” S.M.H. goes on: “atrocities we commit in fiction / are real”. The figures that we encounter in the desolate landscapes of the text, then, are figures with real bodies, and what we bear witness to is real barbarity. As the text puts it: “This is real death.”

However, it would be a mistake to center our consideration around negativity. Consider the wound: the stab, the tear, the gouge. Certainly such an injury subtracts its share of flesh from the surface, but in its place appears a gorgeous array of beads or streams of vital fluid, and, later, a scab or a scar which serves as somatic symbol both of the act(s) that produced the wound as well as the incredible complexity of the organism. Wounds so often amaze and astound their witnesses. For some, such a gruesome sight, along with the symphony of pain scored upon its infliction—a composition notated by the blade or some other tool of inscription—throws them towards or past certain neurological thresholds. A wound is an incredible phenomenon. So, too, is it something given, something gifted; something radically altered, startled from its lazy stasis.

With all of this said, we may finally ask: What does Cicatrization steal? What does it take? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Instead, the text is intensely, obsessively, and violently productive. Because a wound (upon the flesh or upon the psyche) produces a radical change upon and beneath the site of its surface. Because to murder is to produce a corpse. The gouge, the slit, the cut, then, are dignified as artistic gestures like the brush of bristles across a canvas that, on their own or in series, all serve to create. The canvas wears what strokes cover its once unblemished flesh like contusions. Because the painted canvas itself becomes a wound. And in this same way, through this subtraction of flesh and this spilling of substance, Cicatrization produces, creates, and brings to life, over and again, this real death.

Real. As real as Real. Because, S.M.H. writes, “The world is fiction / the plague that binds us to this dream,” a declaration which dissolves the difference between textuality and reality.

To appreciate this work for what it is, what it becomes, and for what it accomplishes—the invocation and the production of the real—we need to understand how the artifice of the text—the book (as material, as product), the binding, the pages—becomes the frame in which the real comes to constitute itself; a real that is astoundingly similar to this ‘real’ we know ourselves to inhabit, because what is our world, our perception, and our thoughts but fictive productions? This earth, beyond what science can tell us about its material and atmospheric contents, is a frame in which a real—our own personal real—constitutes itself, because the imaginary helps to fill in the gaps of what cannot be described, of what we cannot or do not know. Yes, life may be but a dream as we sang in childhood, but the world, too, is but a fiction, a “plague that binds us to this dream.”

And now, finally, we can proceed into the work and the world of Cicatrization.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

“Cult,” situated somewhere in the middle of the book, functions as Cicatrization’s manifesto. This story centers on a murder cult sheltering away from civilization in a fenced-off acreage built of tarps, “old crates, barrels, [and] chunks of wood scavenged from the desolation.”

The leader of the cult speaks: “I AM ON A JOURNEY. […] The blood is the door through which I have entered and through which we must all enter to meet the favor of our lord,” and there in the following line it is as if the text defines the ways in which his metaphors write this world as a (corpo)reality, in which it brings to life the bodies which suffer within it.

Humanity suffers agony and injuries—so often self-inflicted—which the landscape, watching on throughout all of human history, cannot help but inflict upon itself. And though the particularities of humanity’s barbarism may shock us, they must not sadden us. After all, there is freedom in death, because God lords above the cult’s devotees; the “killer and killed//both plague and cure//night and day// //both light and dark//murder and birth//blood and bone.”

If our world is “the plague that binds us to this dream,” it is we who have spread (or have always been?) the sickness. Because a plague that cannot spread is no plague at all. Because every sickness demands a means, a surface, a territory for transmission; a zone whose dimensions in and across space could perhaps comprise or constitute a body or a network of bodies. Our bodies. And what is each body, with all of its various parts, zones and regions, if not a global organism? And what is this world, with all of its various landscapes whose features assume the postures and particularities of a body in misery, if not a global body?

This world—Cicatrization makes this clear—inherits our deformities as well as our ugliness. It mimics (mocks?) our disabilities (the drainage arching like a tortured spine; the spines of stalks of grass bending “in quiet agony”). It clothes itself in garments like our own (the spread of sky wearing a “butcher’s apron burning raw and red and black with blood”). It imitates the stillness and the silence of our own death (“He raises his hands in address, raises his voice to the dead wind”). It reproduces the convulsions of our flesh when we are afraid (“The air raw, each grain of sand vibrating with terror”).

“Cult,” as auto-manifesto, characterizes the broader text’s morbid religious ideation. The cult leader’s address is a treatise on the ethics of murder, and naturally we see a correlation between murder and illumination that we will encounter again in "Trail": “Each sacrifice will illuminate the world in light,” the leader says. “We Will See All Eaten / Both Good and Evil, Death and Birth.” A total devourment, the swallowing of all human life. They offer the spirit of those they kill to God—“both eater and eaten”—and it is within His gaping, abyssal maw that salvation from this world will be found. But the text here plays a trick on us; a bit of a phonetic prank. Because of course, when we come to see all eaten, then surely We Will See All Eden.

It could be no other way.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

The book’s first entry, “Trail,” demonstrates a curatorial prescience, understanding that the reader, too, will come to walk this trail where they will be led, leashed, to witness the text’s first gruesome murder.

“The man walked into the woods. The noise soaked land buzzed brightly in the heat. The man walked with a boy. The boy was not his son. The boy was no relation. The boy walked in front. A white leash looped around his thin neck, stretching out like spit.”

Everywhere the text animates the inanimate and brings the lifeless to life and gives the bodiless a body, making metaphor material; the ropes of saliva made thick from fear, braided and suspended taut like leather wrapped around the captive’s neck. The grass is “beaten” as the man and boy walk, “[t]he spine of each stalk bent in quiet agony.” Words gurgle from the man’s throat.

Everything here is grotesque, and everywhere there is agony. The trees, too, are made miserable from the cruelty of man, “hanged” as they are “in low witness.” The meadow burns beneath the “fire of midday sun.” Meanwhile the child is being strangled: “Rope cutting deep into thin neck, marking strange runes into the softness of youth. The roughing rope leaving burn marks blotchy and cruel on the horror of flesh.” But this child will soon be free; “soon / there will be light / and it will shine through your eyes / and I will drink it like honey.”

Yes, there is freedom in death, and so too is there beauty within the body, with murder as the means of furnishing its treasures. Torture, agony, strangulation; these gestures proffer “[t]he platter of goods [God] has set inside of you. / The platter of ripe fruits pulsating in the heat of your wounds. / The pink fruit pulsating in the beat of your organs, stretching the web of your skin.” A gorgeous spread. A marvelous feast, like a perversion of Claude Monet's Flowers and Fruit; a cornucopia of strips of flesh and blood for a banquet.

How grotesque is this boy’s murder which at first blush seems so senseless. But what beauty grows by the light of God and blooms like flowers from the body born of this murder. Because it is death and only death which brings this text to life. Need death always be so cruel? Need murder be so selfish?

No, because we see that it is kindness which conditions this act when the man tells the frightened child, “I am sharing these things with you.” Never mind the white of the boy’s eyes “straining open, burning black as beetles in the sun” because this—his agony, his delirium—is but a momentary labor. Soon the preparation of the feast will be complete, and “soon / there will be light.”

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

The publisher, Infinity Land, characterizes itself as “a realm deeply steeped in pathological obsessions, extreme desires, and private aesthetic visions,” quoting the author Yukio Mishima as saying that “True beauty is something that attacks, overpowers robs, and finally destroys,” and, true to this obsessive pursuit of a beauty which destroys, a cat o’ nine tails awaits us on the otherwise sparse and dismal cover (as dismal as the material the cover encloses); this object of abject torture lying free from any hand—its tails of leather arranged and spaced decorously—invites us to wield the wood of its handle. Invites us to torture, to inflict what, according to its design, will become a constellation of wounds, but upon whose body but our own? To read Cicatrization is to engage in this ceremony of self-flagellation, this ritual act of bloodletting. Here’s the handle and here’s the whip, the cover seems to beckon. You know what to do.

Leonard Klossner:

Leonard Klossner has had fiction and poetry published in Expat Press, SELFFUCK and Ligeia, with work forthcoming from Fugitives & Futurists. He is one half of the editorial body of AGON, a literary, arts and theory journal.
IG: @communicatingvessels

David Kuhnlein:

David Kuhnlein lives in Michigan. His critical writing is featured at 3:AM, Full Stop, Entropy, DIAGRAM, and others. He's online @princessbl00d.

Collages by Karolina Urbaniak at Infinity Land.

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June 11th, 2021

Dead to the World: On Bob Flanagan’s The Pain Journal


Bob Flanagan not only found pleasure in his pain but used his masochism to fuel his art. Adam Mitts revisits Bob’s final work of art, The Pain Journal, begun 408 days before his death in 1996, ending in tandem with Bob’s life.

photo by Sheree Rose

“I hate to be so monotonous but I’m still in awful pain,” Bob Flanagan writes on the evening of November 10, 1995. His partner is gone, his lungs and stomach are “killing” and “hurting” him—he is dying: “Sometimes I think they’re missing something and I’m going to die earlier than I have to before they catch it.” The uncertainty and risks of both medicine and temporality are magnified by how the body spends itself in its few remaining days: “I literally slept all day on the couch….The worst of it is the waste of time. Days like this filled with nothingness are horrible.” Dying isn't something that can be eased into, but rather is haunted at every turn by labor, as materialized in the journal: “I don’t want to write this crap but I’m forcing myself to.” This labor becomes “monotonous,” becomes “crap,” not because it is forced—after all, the libidinal desire to write comes as much from the contract as it does from mortality, the publishing contract which competes with the masochistic contract, itself a hovering, haunting presence throughout the text: “Sheree’s in Greenville….But she’s having fun and I’m glad I’m home….In bed. Suffering. Dying” (Flanagan 157). 

Bob Flanagan’s The Pain Journal, written while he was dying of cystic fibrosis at the age of 42, is many things, from a daily chronicle of the excruciating minutiae of chronic pain and terminal illness, to a bitter and often funny critique of end-of-life care, filled with subversive humor which disrupts the patient’s proscribed role as the one who patiently suffers. But what’s most interesting to me about Flanagan’s book is what it reveals about the relation of illness to labor, and the relation of the corpse to value—the valorization of the dying body. Flanagan’s is a dying which is relentlessly productive, in large part because the Journal’s form requires a daily writing habit, but also because of his financial needs and his work as an artist. But the value accruing in The Pain Journal as a commodity never arises from his labor alone. Flanagan is acutely aware that at least some of the value of his book springs from the inevitability of his death. As a result, Flanagan’s complaints about his bodily pain overlap with complaints about his writing, about its failure or impossibility under these conditions, the worsening conditions of a body suspended in a slow-motion animation of its own expiration, so that the pain of The Pain Journal is the pain of being in too much pain to articulate anything in language other than that: “I hate to be so monotonous but I’m still in awful pain” (157).

Pain used to be not only a source of pleasure for Flanagan, it was also the source of his livelihood, as someone who famously turned his masochism into performance art. However, it could be said that both his sexuality and his art had their source in his illness—Flanagan writes of dealing with the pain of childhood stomach aches by rubbing his penis on his sheets, for example, or how “when [he] was tied up as an infant in the hospital,” the mixture of his parents’ extra love and affection, and the painful medical treatments for his cystic fibrosis, made it so that “two contradictory feelings were fused together….the horrible things happening to me were made into something better; a sweetness is overlaid” (Supermasochist 12-13).

photo by Sheree Rose

One thing that Flanagan teaches us is that there are different levels of pain which are managed by different bodily techniques, and susceptible to variations in differing types of bodily energies. This is why, although his illness was arguably the psychological source of his masochism, none of his masochistic superpowers can hope to prepare him for the debilitating denouement of his illness. “I used to talk about using pain to reach an altered state: I’m high as a kite on a drug called pain,” Flanagan writes on September 19, 1995. “Well, this kite has had all the wind knocked of it” (Pain 122, italics original). At the time he wrote this journal entry, using drugs to reach an altered state was an abiding concern for Flanagan—in large part, because he felt doing so would improve the quality of his writing. His doctors, who Flanagan was convinced saw their terminally ill patient as some sort of junkie, refused to prescribe him a dosage which would dull his pain enough to allow him the psychic and energetic space necessary for aesthetic labor.

Two days later, he writes: “Missed a day of writing because I dropped off the edge of the world last night, exhausted” (123). Missing journal entries compound the sense of time running out, increasing in frequency as his illness intensifies. Meanwhile, Flanagan becomes increasingly distressed about the quality of what he has already produced. He stresses that he waits too long into the day to begin writing, when he only has energy to sleep or watch television (120). “So not try writing in the daylight hours, before I’m dead to the world?” Flanagan asks on July 23, 1995. “The question is, when am I not dead to the world?” (90). No matter when Flanagan tries writing, or how early in the day, pain and exhaustion block his creative faculties.

As Flanagan begins to question the aesthetic value of what he can produce under his current working conditions, he starts to question the project itself, “this stupid obligation to write this ‘pain’ article,” asking himself, “How come I’m still laboring over it?” (99). Flanagan’s reasons for continuing the project, in part, parody the publishing contract by making it replicate the masochistic one: “Discipline. The rules. Being a good boy. That’s why” (152). But more importantly, Flanagan pursues the project because he wants to do valuable creative work:

I need to be able to write great things again and be able to write them fast because, eventually, probably sooner than later, that’s all I’m going to have left is the writing and it damn well better be good (99-100).

As a result, Flanagan’s complaints about his pain and his writing begin to take on more radical dimensions. Bob Flanagan, self-proclaimed “disability poster-child from hell,” ends up arguing for the rights of people with disabilities to proper working conditions, but doing so in a characteristically perverse way. Refusing to be anesthetized into a passive “end of life,” Flanagan argues for quality of life, regardless of prognosis, and for access to conditions under which one can work when one is ill.

Much of the genius of The Pain Journal comes from how Flanagan exhausts the possibilities of the journal form. The daily, contractually obligated form of the journal replicates Flanagan’s lifelong themes of medicine and masochism in an aesthetically reinforced way, since the journal is also a serial, regular submission to a form of discomfort, one which eventually produces value the longer one patiently undergoes its temporal demands. However, the “monotonous complaint” also has a sense of urgency due to the temporal structure of the journal as a narrative form, since in The Pain Journal, the end of the book is already expected by the reader to be the death of the author.

Flanagan’s struggle with his doctors over painkillers isn’t only about drugs for Flanagan—it’s a struggle over working conditions and a conflict between two different regimes of value. In most instances where Flanagan mentions drugs, it’s so that he can “get some goddamn work done while I still have time to do it” (158). In making this argument, he frames his heavily medicalized life as a patient as a form of labor, and devalues longevity in favor of a pain treatment regimen which will capacitate aesthetic productivity:

Life is my full time job, and the pay stinks. I feel like a prisoner on the rock pile, pounding big rocks into small. Not only is there no pay, but I’m beginning to wonder what it’s all for, is it even worth it. Here’s where I think the advantages of IV pain meds at home would greatly outweigh the dangers. At the rate I’m going I’m at a much higher risk of saying fuck it all. I need some damitall spark to smooth out the rough edges so I can devote some time and energy to something else besides the constant bodily maintenance….[sic] (142)

To be clear, this “risk” which Flanagan figures as “Damitall,” a pun on the painkiller Demerol, is not expressing a preference for death over a painful life—rather, Flanagan is making a calculated decision to assume the risks of taking higher doses of opioids in the interests of decreasing his pain enough that he can perform aesthetic labor. Otherwise, what is the remuneration that Flanagan receives for the “full time job” of living with a terminal illness, where “nothing happens anymore but medical torture” (169)? What is the value produced by the medicalized torture of which Flanagan is “life tired” (122)? For the doctors, Flanagan’s longevity is valuable so long as he is a viable consumer; in contrast, Flanagan values his productivity, which means more control over the dosage and types of painkillers conducive to aesthetic labor.

Flanagan’s struggle with his doctors over painkillers isn’t only about access to drugs. It’s also about who gets to decide which forms of labor produce which forms of value from Flanagan’s dying body—whether he is profitable as a patient or an artist, and profitable to whom.

Bimbox zine cover, circa 1990s

What becomes truly life-sustaining for Bob Flanagan at the end of his life is not only the capacity to perform aesthetic work, but also the intrinsic provisionality and open-endedness to journal writing as a form of aesthetic labor. Much of the genius of The Pain Journal comes from how Flanagan exhausts the possibilities of the journal form. The journal is a form of aesthetic labor which makes practical sense for a person with a debilitating and painful illness. The “monotonous complaint,” as a literary device, uses repetition and seriality to produce a sense of the exhausting banality of chronic pain. Maurice Blanchot writes that creative work is

The exceptional moment when possibility becomes power, when the mind….becomes the certainty of a realized form, becomes this body which is form and this beautiful form which is a lovely body. The work is mind, and the mind is the passage, from the supreme indeterminacy to the determination of that extreme. This unique passage is real only in the work—in the work which is never real, never finished, since it is only the realization of that mind’s infiniteness (The Space of Literature, 88).

The provisionality of the journal, its openness to future entries and future revisions, is precisely this passage, this “lovely body” which Flanagan ingeniously collapses with his own through the temporal form of the journal as a narrative form and a form of labor—one entry a day, until there isn’t. While emotionally devastating for the reader, this provisionality was apparently life-sustaining for Flanagan. In the final entry of the journal, December 16, 1995, Flanagan writes about printing out the pages of The Pain Journal and reading them, and behind his usual self-deprecating anxiety over their contents, there is a legible sense of (albeit disavowed) pride at his handiwork:

I printed out the entire 1995 journal through October. 75 pages. There were some sparkling moments here and there—good writing I mean—but the latter months seem to have degenerated quite a bit. Too sick. Too distracted. But the journal was intended to be just a day to day record, a minimum of a paragraph a day, and never meant to be read unedited by anyone but me. It was a fluke that so many of the entries became exciting rants and observations that have lead to some good writing. I just hope I can sustain that voice to complete some sort of manuscript (italics mine). But in the meantime I’m going for a late night dip in the Dilaudid (172-173).

I would like to argue that this penultimate sentence, “I just hope I can sustain that voice to complete some sort of manuscript,” should be read in an expansive sense. This sentence makes legible an affective undercurrent of provisionality and open-endedness to the journal form, in particular, and aesthetic labor, in general, which sustains Flanagan through the project, and all his anxieties about its failure. This hope, of someday sustaining a voice he fears he doesn’t have, is what allows him to sustain the voice he has had all along.

Bob and Sheree’s wedding photo, 1995

Adam Mitts:

Adam Mitts is a poet from Michigan. They studied creative writing at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, and are currently a PhD candidate in poetics at the University at Buffalo.

David Kuhnlein:

David Kuhnlein lives in Michigan. His critical writing is featured at 3:AM, Full Stop, Entropy, DIAGRAM, and others. He's online @princessbl00d.

Two Poems

Poetry by:

A shot clock to report

Awesome            players should
all        contribute Awesome
all     contribute their     time.

    time.             Are you hooked
                            next year?

            Are you            Awesome
        hooked into
    contribute        time.

She doctored    what
                  she could. Correct
       doctored        Correct            geo
                        for use. Mon beau
                next year?
                            Mon beau     geo

    Mon Awesome sapin.

Re-leap soft infusion

        This tray        is


This account        should be

This tray is     transparent.
This account should be        missing.

    should be    should be
        is        is
    account        transparent
    tray            missing

        Phone Numbers     Magic
Magic Magic Magic Magic Magic missing.
   Magic creature        survey.
       creature    account
                transparent    creature
survey.    Show love
                & cooking.

Follow Abigail:

Instagram: @honeymoonbeam

Twitter: @orbigail


Abigail Swoboda is a poet, pre-K teacher, and practitioner of Pennsylvania Dutch Braucherei who lives in West Philly.

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Two Poems

Poetry by:


We get beat up.

the explicable, the explicable, then the. the prefecture, void
of harmony

We are not what I wasn’t
afraid of. Nor did that occur to you
just now: the back
door as an option.

He stayed up late looking: home
remedies for sKy-Attica
I tried unlocking

my jaw silently
from your name
came a syllable of stress,
then all this resting

Semblance of Rigor

I blame the powers of inference
       for the trouble
back there. We’re sorting it out
behind the scenes while I announce that
               there are thousands of ways
  of thinking about something,
I just happen to choose the one
about thinking
about something
dear to the people
  who aren’t thought about: fear
of money is branded
ideology, lazy
when fear of poverty is fear of people
            finding out they’re people,
so poor.

I work that out for myself so I can justify
the drink it took, the week
it didn’t. No one thinks: but attention takes time
       so why should I?
I think: no one thinks
about the people I know, no one prays
   for the guy who observes that
no one prays for him
because everyone’s heard the song
and digs it.

  I’m careful to assume the barrier
has a conclusion.
 I keep watching old milk
            spill, noting
its democratic urgency.


Jed Munson is a Wisconsin-born, Korean American writer based in New York City. His chapbook, Newsflash Under Fire, Over the Shoulder, is forthcoming with Ugly Duckling Presse. Recent work can be found in Conjunctions and P-QUEUE.

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Mixed media by:



: for voice and delay


signal path : voice (v) —> delay (d) :
dry and delayed voice amplified and in center of stereo field

begin with
delay time : 0ms /
blend : 50% (or 12 o’clock on EHX analog delay pedal) /
feedback : 0% and will not change /

italics used to indicate suggestions for character, delivery, or intention of the voice

total duration should be at least six minutes

optional addition : video camera zoomed into face, eyes, or mouth of the performer and this image projected behind them


devise a sentence, phrase, or small poem that feels affirming to you: affirming in that you feel a positive resonance inside yourself when you say it:

max five words, max two syllables per word, no more than one two-syllable word in the phrase :



v : start speaking the phrase with a small pause in between each word and keep repeating

d: turn delay time up a small amount after each repetition of the spoken phrase. move at your own pace, but keep the movement of the delay time consistent once you’ve found a rhythm

exact / steady / searching:


v : keep repeating the phrase with pauses. attempt to follow the rhythm and pacing of the delayed voice returning, especially as delayed signal separates more and more from the dry voice. words can become more sung rather than spoken if desired

d : after delay time is at ~275ms (12 o’clock), start to alternate moving the delay time knob and the blend knob, increasing the blend. adjustments to the blend knob can be in greater notches than the delay time movement

moving / playful / curious :


v : keep repeating. stop when you have completed a full repetition of the phrase without any delayed signal

d : once delay time is 550ms (or all the way up on EHX pedal) and blend is 100%, start moving the blend down (moving slower than when you first increased the blend) until you reach 0%

lucid / intuitive / confident :


Graphic score interpretation by Caroline Partamian.


Sally Decker is a composer, performer, and writer based in Oakland, CA. Her work explores the subtle emotional body and sound as a vessel for practicing presence. Her approach to form and process is psychological and sensory, rooted in the intent of strengthening a reflective focus toward our internal intuitive worlds. Recent interests include feedback systems, the voice, and utilization of language in performance. Her full-length album In The Tender Dream was released in August 2020 on NNA Tapes. More info & work at

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Two Poems


The phone rings 

        like a flock of jays surprised

out of an evergreen & you become

a quilt of daylight on the same device

that hacks up spam & headlines. Now, my thumb-

print smudges your chin’s spectacle, your laugh

cups my ear through this hole in the fourth wall,

a magic lantern that spins code & flash

bringing you closer home with each pixel

to say good morning as if you’re right here,

golden hour in my hand til I hang

up no you hang up first, talking to air,

to you. Tuesday starts & the call goes blank.

When I press my fingers against the screen

it’s warm, but not as warm as you must be.

Long distance song

Follow Rhiannon:

Instagram: @rhiannonmcgavin


Rhiannon McGavin has failed the driver’s license test three times so far. Her work has been published by The Believer, Teen Vogue, and more. She is the former Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles. Her books Branches and Grocery List Poems are both available from Not A Cult. As a 2023 Mitchell Scholar, she will be studying at Trinity College next year.

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Two Movie Poems

Poetry by:

The Unbelievable Truth

Hal Hartley, 1989, 90 mins

Audrey is alternately bored and terrified.

Audrey is alternately bored and terrified and her boyfriend disgusts her.

Audrey is in love with a man who just got out of prison for a double murder.

Audrey knows that we, as a human species, are close to fucking everything up with our bombs. She’s going to Harvard, maybe. Probably.

Audrey who is played by Adrienne Shelly has strawberry red hair and a pink mouth. Everyone wants to kiss it. Audrey is a flirt.

Adrienne Shelly who is not Audrey who is actually Adrienne Levine was an actress, director, and screenwriter and optimistic agnostic.

Adrienne Shelly committed suicide in her Greenwich Village studio on November 1, 2006.

Adrienne Shelly didn’t commit suicide, she was murdered in her New York studio on November 1, 2006, and it was made to look like a suicide.

Law & Order Episode 386 is a thinly veiled dramatization of Adrienne Shelly’s murder.

In Law & Order Episode 227, Adrienne Shelly plays Wendy, a former porn star who ends up going to jail for conspiracy to murder.

Adrienne Shelly’s directorial debut was for Waitress in 2007, starring Kerri Russell, and received a “90% Fresh” rating, according to Rotten Tomatoes. 


Terrence Malick, 1973, 95 mins

in one scene we are escaping from our daddies with their thick necks and long guns and curfews, we are on the soft soft lamb baby

in another the cows screaming in the feedlot, in another a dead catfish thrown into the vegetable garden, in another a felled tree in a brown riverbank

we're Sissy in her white short shorts and Martin in his cowboy boots and denim, we are all american apparel circa nineteen fifties in a town called Texas

in the days of happiness, a red balloon rose over the farm grasses into the strategic sky, higher and higher away from sharp rooftops

the imaginary felt more actual than the actual, we were kings and queens of grasshoppers, we gave names to all of the flowers we didn't already know

it was the time of quiet in the cathedral of the trees and we humped each other in hushed voices and stared at the soft clouds on our hard backs

we were killers and we burned for each other, everything existed to be touched

we rang the bell, didn't we didn’t we didn’t we didn’t

Follow Catherine:

Instagram: @catherineb817


Catherine Bresner is the author of the chapbook The Merriam Webster Series; the artist book Everyday Eros (Mount Analogue 2017); and the empty season, which won the Diode Edition Book Prize in 2017. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the VOLTA, b l u s h, Sixth Finch, Fonograf, Itinerant, The Offing, Heavy Feather Review, Gulf Coast, Passages North, Paperbag and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Juniper Summer Institute fellowship and the 2019 Cadence Residency through the Northwest Film Forum. Currently, she is the publicist for Wave Books and lives in Brattleboro, VT. 

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Two Poems

Poetry by:

abalone castle

borned glimpse in the water
big iridescence gathering

at the beach i go inside it
how it feels

see myself in a new mirror
gleaned blue and white and pink

i make a movie in the castle
looking at myself looking

body spoold gleaming
shells buried in the yard

garden alphabet

i put my hands in the dirt
dig it out

the dark white spread of morning
columbine after it’s rained

the way it touches beside me
watching closer

big garden plume
the sloped gathering

my head thick with it
the unclean spelling of vegetables

Follow Cy:



Cy March is a poet and collage artist currently living in Portland, Oregon. They like to cook meals with friends, read poetry, and bike over bridges. Some of their work can be found in Peach Mag and Hobart Pulp.

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Two Poems

Poetry and Audio by:


Rare children who develop an entire language of their own

Exceptional kids that grow whole tongues by themselves

Uncommon babies who originate complete dictionaries in isolation

Special youngsters that nurture all words the same

Remarkable minors who raise an exhaustive lyric on their lonesome

Outstanding juveniles that enhance lingo through the personal

Unparalleled adolescents who patch up great blankets of dialect

Bizarre offspring that scavenge an unbroken vocabulary from the dead

Notable sprouts who formulate ceaseless monologues of their individuality

Alternative, divisive progenies preparing to wed their textual companions

Prominent striplings that back talk a glossary to their teachers

Incomprehensible toddlers who mouth off the phrasebook of our ancestors

Self-made, singular infants flourishing in the garden of their own jargon

Funny kiddies prospering in a bed of declarative idioms

Outlandish spring chickens dancing through terms and propagandas

Full-feathered volunteers diving into the hell of a maxim

I desires be language as simple as necessary


Usually he leans on the table enough to tip it. I’m studying. My computer! I swallow as I catch it, parallel it. She sees to the other side meanwhile like a voyeur while meaning nothing. In the loud evening, her twin has a spatula. He’s using it like a hammer, that’s evening. Fish! He’s flipping the table with his hammer, meanwhile the psychic locks eyes with the wall and goes a mean while beyond.

Follow Zoe:

Instagram: @katypablo_ & @tabloidpress


Zoe Darsee (b. 1991) has spent most of her life between Texas and Berlin. In 2014, she co-founded TABLOID Press with poet and artist Nat Marcus. The publishing initiative is a social one; it aims to facilitate collaboration, to uphold the poetics of the local.

Her work, textual and vocal, has appeared in the archives of dittoditto, PRELUDE, KEITH LLC and TINGE Magazine, on Cashmere radio, TLTRPreß, and in collaboration with musicians Exael, GOD69 and DJ Paradise.

She is currently a candidate for the MFA in poetry at University of Notre Dame.


Poetry by:

    1. Discretio spiritum:

it begins in air

vast air gold
air air
destitute of
light gold ending
like a sound and color
ripped through
air how I
grow arro
gant and swaggering
through gold and empty
invocations ad mea
perpetuum deducite

    2. “Who am I? the Fawn
of God?”

    3. I enter her somatic camp
a saint, and I’m looking for trouble,
asking for it. Every camp
we made that summer she, JOAN, soma, raged and endlessly we
anticipated our syncopation,
her parousia.

    4. Camp: synced, stinking, and choleric...
    Let’s get outta here! I said, JOAN, it’s perfectly possible
to enjoy something “ethically injurious...” Anyway, we’re in circulation with God; punishment and edifying sermons give way to reward and sexual emancipation. Now we are promised freedom
and promises of freedom.

    And JOAN, in characteristically
inexorable purpose—the explosion of a lone water molecule—strikes, accuses me of lesbianism
and molesting her political
nursery. Jumps out of the moving car: somatic re-feminization.

JOAN! I call out,
your dreams are full of cells.

Camp, as if her amnion, as if the trouble we’re looking for constructs our bodies, tectonically.
Not hyperconsciousness, but ice cubes for water, the reopening of museums post-plague.

JOAN d’arc: the Biodrag Dimension, Radical Pragmatism, Synced (with me) and Clean as Camp Allows, Circulating God and Emancipating Michael, Looking for Trouble, Begging for War,
Oh, Anglophiiiiile:
You have her ring!

JOAN, skywalker, cisMaid oversold
to justice, the Daughtergod—she
missed the stink even
forty times her sword.

    5. JOAN, blonde like emmer,
like tact to polish catholic
reports. A thought event—a war event—is won
by shadowed order; emmer growing golden
over brick,
over our soft, squishy

    6. JOAN’s “visits” are as revelatory as they’re
apprehensive, even a little
for their transformation
of the private into the
spectacular, resisting
paraphrase through easy
opposition: one side:
apophasis of a ‘gender,’ the other: the gala of faith,

the final sync: ‘Theophany in Drag.’

Congratulations, JOAN, haec sancta!
Your wig’s cut short,
while our scalps grow raw.

    7. And what is a man,
looking the other way? Metaphysics? Certainly not
litigiousness. An admission
that god is in the body he
won’t look at?
Or, is that that JOAN was right? The dove was right? The fawn of god had never

    8. If a human man, looking away, with metaphysical intent, not smelling certain blood not
    syncing not looking in the right
does that prove the Daughtergod’s
privacy is sacred?

An oriole, a spy, the hailing of the superhuman, JOAN, Brad Pitt of Byzantium, the songfast
pennant, oracular Bloom.

She presses that word we’re folded from
into the grooves, the angel, sister to/of

    9. As a Saint, I am the daughter of genitives,
the crucifixion of accusatives, the abolition of the nominatives.
My offer is dative.

As a Saint, I am fake science. I am the decreation of enlightenment; I am its silly

As a Saint, I am in the business of good explanations, beautiful ones that make sounds like an
enlightened understanding
of real grace.

As a Saint, I am loyal.
I wish to make war. I am a prince, am humble and make no more war.

As a Saint, so much is at stake, and the consequence of waging war is to wage a war against

As a Saint, the risk of waging war is spending it
without you.

As a Saint, no matter how many men you raise against us.

As a Saint, I love the insect, its larvae, as I love myself, my skinny dogs.

As a Saint, I had not wanted to besiege the town, I had not intended any canonballs to remove
any fucking faces.

As a Saint.

    10. As a Saint, I was the nominative, the accusative, the vocative. I determined spirits as
    genitives, I required datives, stunk with ablatives.

As a Saint, I wonder if you understand urgency:
JOAN, flame, self-touching
urgency, golden/
gold alike.


Louise Akers is a poet living in Queens, NY. They earned their MFA from Brown University in May of 2018, and received the Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop Prize for Innovative Writing in 2017 and the Confrontation Poetry Prize in 2019. Their chapbook, Alien year, was selected by Brandon Shimoda for the 2020 Oversound Chapbook Prize. Akers’s work can be found in the Berkeley Poetry Review, MIDTERM, Bat City Review, Fugue Journal, Confrontation Magazine, bæst journal, and elsewhere.

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Tragedy Reel

Interview with:

Interview with Aaron Powell of Fog Lake

Conducted by: Emily Costantino 

Fog Lake’s seventh album, Tragedy Reel, comes through as Aaron Powell’s most powerful and well-crafted album to date. Alongside the same haunted vocal layering, a new sonic field emerges within Tragedy Reel. A minimalism blotted with sparse percussion and looming Casio synths. A truly beautiful and urgent listen.

During the past month, Aaron and I went back and forth in a conversation about this latest release. Tragedy Reel was officially released on April 23rd through the independent label Orchid Tapes. Meeting Aaron, albeit virtually, it became clear that the control this album posits is in fact masterfully held by Aaron himself -- a thoughtful and prolific songwriter based out of Newfoundland, Canada. The interview that follows is a snapshot of a much longer dialouge, as we approached the subjects of craft, ritual, limitation and redemption -- coming to understand the motivations behind Aaron’s latest record.

Purchase Tragedy Reel or pre-order physical copies, here.

Stream the LP, here:

What is it about Newfoundland do you think?

At this point I’ve spent most of my life there, in Newfoundland, specifically in a small town sort of in the middle of nowhere. In a lot of ways I’ve wanted Fog Lake to sound like what living in rural Newfoundland feels like. Whether that is describing the dense backwoods, the ocean, or the silence and solitude of it all. I guess being out there can be so mind-numbingly boring at times that there really isn’t much else to do other than to get lost in your own mind.

I think many artists found themselves in the same situation this year, moving back to where they grew up, either temporarily or indefinitely. Although, most I know went ‘home’ and were somewhat crushed by the experience. You wrote an entire album...

This album came together much more effortlessly than my previous albums, thankfully. I had written and demoed a few songs in the summer of 2019, which was a very intense time in my life personally. Once that dust had finally settled for the most part, a few weeks back at home that following summer and I felt like it was the right time to revisit those songs and to build an album around them.

I genuinely struggle to find inspiration for writing songs when I’m anywhere other than Newfoundland. Growing up, there really wasn’t much else to do except work on creative things -- so it eventually became a refuge for me and an escape from the meaninglessness and alienation of it all.

It feels impossible to listen to Tragedy Reel and not feel paralyzed by its lyricism (in the best way possible).  So many tracks I would replay after the first listen because the impressionistic quality warranted another go, sometimes several goes. Those spaces you create feel so... alive.

It always remains a goal of mine to be cryptic in my lyricism, because I think all of my favorite songwriters have a way of making their music feel not completely aligned to their own lived experiences, so in that way the listener is able to reshape it to fit their own. I think if you get too specific in what you are trying to say, building that bridge between the songwriter and the listener becomes a lot more difficult.

Some songs tell what feels like a single story -- like “Latter Day Saint,” one of my favorite tracks on the album -- while others feel a bit more nonlinear. Was your lyrical practice any different this time around?

Tragedy Reel is a lot more conceptual (at least on a narrative level) than my previous albums. It has more of a “beginning, middle and end” than other records I’ve done, much of those which I feel ended on cliffhangers, in terms of personal closure or catharsis at least.  I’d like to think that it’s my first record which tells a more complete story of things I had only briefly touched upon in earlier works, but had still inspired them heavily. “Latter Day Saint” is the only song on the album to me that is mostly linear storywise while the other songs touch upon about a decade’s worth of significant personal events and the emotions surrounding them, almost like an attempt to write my own “coming-of-age” story perhaps.

I think as artists, we are often retelling the same stories. Trying to say it “better” or fully capture it with each iteration.  And like you said about certain experiences, especially those centered around a trauma, they can feel almost impossible to put to words. I always wonder what happens once an artist feels a sense of completion with a certain story/ event that preoccupies them. Have you ever felt completion in this way around a major theme in your writing?

I think with Tragedy Reel for the first time I felt like I had finished telling the story I had been loosely reflecting upon in previous releases. It’s a bit bothersome when certain muses and flames feel like they’re finally extinguished. But I also like that it opens a new door and gives me a massive opportunity to evolve sonically and lyrically, which I’m excited about. Even if some stories in my life come to an end, I can say with confidence that I’ll never feel like I’ve completed my artistic journey or like I’ve said everything I’d like to say.

Well, this album feels like a massive step forward on that journey. Especially it’s composition. I mean, sonically it separates itself from some of your previous records. How did that sound come about?

My close friend and one of my favorite songwriters Kenny Boothby of the band Little Kid once told me that they always have a certain rule for each record they make, whether that be something like “no distortion” or “only songs in the key of A.” So I took a note from them, the same one which they applied on their album Flowers, that rule being “no electric guitars.” I guess that would make Tragedy Reel the most ‘folky’ album of mine, but I really don’t enjoy trying to categorize my own music too much.

I’m always interested in how taking something away or adding an arbitrary rule can suddenly become this generative experience.  I think your choice to take some instruments away allowed for a certain felt spaciousness in the composition.  Are there any other practices or rituals you engage in to keep working?

I have some fun rituals and stuff I do for sure. Sometimes when I have a bad writer’s block I’ll literally take a whole day and try to write and record an entire album, at least 8 to 12 songs, and do it as stream-of-consciousness as possible. Then I’ll burn the songs off onto a CD and go for a drive late at night, listening to them for the first time. Of course all of the songs end up being half-baked and unfinished, but there’s always at least one or two songs that have a memorable hook, or a few bars of lyrics I really like. It’s a lot of fun. Some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written have come from that practice.

That’s really badass. Anything else...

Sometimes I’ll find old archival footage on youtube, even old family video tapes and whatnot. I’ll project it onto a screen and put it on mute. Then I’ll try to write a song that captures the way those moving images make me feel. I find when I write music to images it really helps me focus and gives me a feeling to work off of.

Ahh, that makes a lot of sense.  I mean, I read others online referring to the “harrowing nostalgia” of your work. There’s totally a cinematic quality to your writing. And Tragedy *Reel*… Not to be lame, but that title alone communicates so much.

I always feel like I want to evoke the feeling one gets from watching old family videos or looking through a photo album. A lot of the drive I have to make music comes from how I feel that it’s detrimental for me mentally to create little time capsules that I can go back to, in order to compartmentalize intense or negative things I’ve felt or have had happen to me. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bad tendency to be melodramatic and romanticize my own struggles to the point where I imagine them in my head to be ‘Shakespearean’ in their scale of tragedy. Then, in moments of clarity I just laugh and realize how insignificant and trivial it is a lot of the time.

In the biography that I was sent for this album it described the album as a vehicle for ‘forgiveness’ and ‘repentance.’ I connected this to the process of catharsis you were describing, that creating this album was actively releasing you from something -- a feeling, or history. It reminds me that so much of what shapes our actions, and as artists our creative choices, are the bondages we are experiencing at that time, what we need to be set free from. If, as you said, there was some kind of starting point and end-point to this album, an arc of sorts, where did you end up? Were you set free? Or do you think the process of making art can even do this, actually set us free from a thing...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this. When I’m in the midst of making something that I feel is deeply personal and important to me, it can feel like I’m doing something that’s going to have some kind of major impact on my life, like in the way people perceive me or the way I perceive myself. But then when everything’s said and done, I realize that music, while an extremely powerful thing, isn’t going to mend anything on it’s own. I almost feel cowardly hiding behind my songs sometimes. There’s one line in Leonard Cohen’s song “Bird on a Wire”: ”I swear by this song / and all I’ve done wrong / I will make it up to thee.” That one always gets me. Sometimes I genuinely feel like a song is going to right some kind of wrong, or set me free from some kind of psychological bondage, but in the end it’s only just a song.

Follow Aaron:

Instagram: @aaronfoglake

Twitter: @foglake


Fog Lake is the solo project of Newfoundland, Canada artist Aaron Powell. Over the last ten years, his lo-fi recordings, described as “harrowing nostalgia,” have explored the dark valleys where everything has settled and must be understood.


Decomposition in Three Acts

Poetry by:

Excerpts from:“Diary: A Decomposition in Three Acts”

These poems are excerpts from a longer manuscript which performs a decomposition of a family member's Civil War diary and includes characters, a dramatic preface, three acts with exposition, and footnotes. The slashes are the mycelium threads from an (ASCII) mushroom.

Follow Jordan:




Jordan Chesnut (she, they) is the author of How Gross, My Seances (Plays Inverse, 2021), a psychodrama and verse play. The manuscript was shortlisted for the 2019 Tarpaulin Sky Book Award. Her creative writing has been featured in the Jacket2 "Extreme Texts" feature, Soft Surface, among others, and her critical essay-in-parts is published in The Adroit Journal. She leads a "Poetics of Queer Ecology" course through the Hyperlink Academy, a group for the experimental study of contemporary "eco-poetry" through animal justice, queer/feminist, and decolonial theory. 


Selected Work

Audio, Drawing, and Poetry by:

Dylan Marx’s work exists across multiple mediums, shapes, and forms, but it always carries a familiar sense of play and earnestness. That may be because his poems and songs often begin from the same place, and at some point, Dylan decides whether the poem would be better off sung or read. The drawings, too, mostly come from that same place––doodled into the margins of his notebook.

Both New Shorts and what's in a leaf's in a nail are part of one project, a book called where (we)re. The pieces traverse memory and place, humor and sadness, feeling both safe and full of surprise. Sometimes, the poems ask the reader questions, like “Have you ever listened to the sound of a rock scraped / against a tree trunk? There really is a lot there.” Sound is consistently important in the work––Dylan says music was the first medium he ever took seriously (beginning with piano lessons in his youth “with an incredible teacher named Miss Cynthia.”) Thus, it was imperative to include audio in this mini portfolio. I Fall Asleep at Operas comes from Romu Otsimine or Black Oil Sunflower for Wild Birds, a 9-track album that will be released this summer.

- Sarah Yanni, TQR

what's in a leaf's in a nail, pen and paper, 2020

New Shorts

I wrote you a letter on a train. It was cold, and everyone
was smoking. I lost the letter (something about warm

Once I saw you twirl into the cafeteria and pop open an
umbrella. I was throwing pizzas in the oven, wearing a
yellow hat, refusing to smile.

Have you ever listened to the sound of a rock scraped
against a tree trunk? There really is a lot there

Picture this: shakespeare, a walkie talkie, the rolling stones,
street sharks

Buried beneath layers and layers of sand, dirt, and
dust is the peg used to hold together Guido de Arezzo’s
legendary monochord. Farther down, his bones.

There are too many cushions now, and a handful of rocks.
The blue of the sky is a bit off.

“You sharpen yourself as a weapon of God”
I go down the stairs, like a gazelle

Follow Dylan:


Instagram: @dylankurtmarx

Twitter: @Dylan_marx


Dylan Marx is a musician, writer, and teacher. He works with new and old sounds. He plays music as Moths and as himself, often with dancers. He’s a founding member of The Infranational Society of the Nomadic City and It’s People and is finishing up his MFA at CalArts.


Two Poems

Poetry by:

The Bridge

Each place, each place I’ve called home 
is bisected in origin by water, 

in time by roads and the bridges 
carry me across each time, 

home home not home. 

I release the thought after moving it 
from right brain to left and back. 

The bridge might be a placebo or diversion. 

We cross it in pleasure, 
dreaming its collapse. 

We cross it and drive up the hill, 
past the house where it happened. 

It happened / it is not happening, 
it is not happening, not now. 

Riveted to the empty 
sound, I wait, listen. 

Mute house. 

We cross the state line and in Kansas, 
it is Sunday, 
and we have already not gone to church. 

The bridge bows, and on it 
I find a still, dead starling: 
fresh red and almost with us. 

Where death shouldn’t be, 
in plain sight. We lose things 

on the bridge.
We go down with it. 


What I felt and what I was told to feel,

so what I learned: to fold up
the feeling, rearrange the room and hold
still. Now there is this stack,

disheveled, of true 
and untrue things
presented at once.

Just tape them to the wall,
and look. 

I forget where the bone broke
until it rains. It swells
like a used-up mattress 
left out.

Nothing disappears.
Drawers and shelves fill
even as I clear room
after room.

You’ll keep your bones as long 
as you can.

I take down the wall,
empty the drawers,
sort. Each thing saturated
in time. Narrow pathways 
to move in the crowded room,
hauls to Goodwill.

I must find a place I can live
inside, and

I either put it in the landfill now or
someone else does when I’m gone.

Follow Paige:

Instagram: @paige.g.p


Paige Parsons is from Mission Viejo, California and lives in Los Angeles. She writes, makes clothes and textiles, and is a member of Belladonna* Collaborative.


A Letter to Three Videos

Essay by:

A Letter To Three Videos; A Letter To Three Lies

When I feel particularly hopeless, I turn to three YouTube videos for inspiration — Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night”, Susan Boyle’s Audition for Britain’s Got Talent, and the trailer for the 2015 film JOY.

ONE ︎:
Dear the music video for “Marry The Night” (“Marry The Night” by Lady Gaga),

It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality.

You aren’t even my favorite song off Born This Way. That honor goes to “Government Hooker” – Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy. But there’s an enthralling mania to your imagery. When I look at you I see myself flopping and succeeding and flopping and succeeding and struggling and sweating and dying and then living, but through the glorious lens of cinema.

Oh, (“Marry The Night” by Lady Gaga), you start off with the pop star being pushed around in a hospital bed. She’s in a white hospital gown complimented by high heels. She’s reciting an internal monologue about trauma and memory and the innate deception of retelling one’s story. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality. You follow the origins of Gaga. She gets dropped by her label and then claws her way back up from the precipice, donning a bedazzled denim jacket to dance rehearsal that preludes her comeback. You may say that I have lost everything, but I still have my bedazzler. There are dramatic montages of Gaga making herself vomit, laboring up a stairwell with a keyboard, and pushing herself to the limit at rehearsals, all for the sake of fame. The music video ends with a car explosion. Gaga steps into a limousine and the camera glances at her hand — Interscope Records, Hollywood, CA 4 PM. It cuts to red. Some Satanic imagery — Gaga in a red leather dress, her head is obscured by a blue sphere. She floats into the black abyss. An ominous, off-kilter score.

You were posted on YouTube on December 2, 2011. You topped off a year of demented excess — this was Gaga at her height of her prowess. She wanted to group herself within a pantheon of demigods — Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna. But nothing is forever.

After you were posted, things started to go downhill for Gaga. She flew too close to the sun. Her Jeff Koons-themed dance album ARTPOP was messy and incoherent — pop culture was an art form, now art’s in pop culture in me. A media studies essay that should have languished in the drafts folder. But Born This Way was utopian Gaga. A pop star declaring that her journey to achieving fame and battling eating disorders and body image issues and assault and heartbreaks and breakups was indicative of anyone’s untapped potential. Crying in the hospital bed, Gaga whimpers — I’m going to be a star, you know why? Because I have nothing left to lose.

You, (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga), are a spiritual sibling of another iconic video — “Lady Gaga - Brave Speech Live At The Monster Ball Tour” —  a clip of a monologue she gave a few years back at a sold out concert in Madison Square Garden.

I want to feel like my taste has changed. I want to have the confidence of knowing that all those things I found inspiring and moving and profound years ago, now seem trite and stupid. But that isn’t the case. There’s a part of me that will always need you (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga) and your spiritual sibling (“Brave Speech Live At The Monster Ball Tour”) to get me through a rough night.

Social media platforms are blanketed with similarly trite messages — frequently viral Tweets that remind me of all the people who became successful artists in their 40s and 50s and 60s, infographics telling me some version of just remember that you’re a goddamn superstar.

But (“Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga), there’s an integrity to your imagery. You weren’t made in some anesthetized content mill; a distant factory filled with creators crouched over their MacBooks, longing for an earthquake to wipe them the fuck out. No, you are glorious. Lady Gaga emptied her coffers for you. You are the most baroque testament to this lie. And that’s why I love you. 

Just because something is a myth doesn’t mean it can’t impact us, shape us, and help us in tangible ways. Scanning through your comments, it seems as if many agree. A recurring theme from your fans is that this video has brought them hope during their worst moments of crisis.     

Almost any pop music video on YouTube will have some fans in the comments section proclaiming that the bop is underrated or slept on or should have been a bigger hit. For instance, here is YouTube user Tristen Torres declaring that you’re a masterpiece:

I wish I could tell Tristan that I have always thought of you as a masterpiece. Maybe four years ago, when Tristan was rewatching you for the millionth time, I was drunk and high in bed and also consuming these very same pixels. I probably needed the late-night adrenaline boost. The thrill of Gaga stomping through New York City streets, exuding the ethereal aura of a star. Oh my dear, can you just imagine Tristan and I united in our loneliness, soaking in the soft glow of our laptops. Living for this lie. Living for you.

TWO ︎:
Dear Susan Boyle’s Audition (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality),

You showcase Susan Boyle, a middle-aged woman from the English countryside, auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent. Her hair is disheveled. She’s wearing a tacky dress that looks like it was made from old motel wallpaper. She seems worlds away from our understanding of a goddamn superstar. Simon Cowell is on the panel of judges. And he does a cheeky back and forth, asking Boyle about her aspirations — I am 47 and that’s just one side of me…. Okay, what’s the dream? — I am trying to be a professional singer. When he asks who she’d like to be as successful as, she says Elaine Page. The camera cuts to audience members rolling their eyes, mocking her and exchanging glances of disbelief. And then she opens her mouth and sings a pitch-perfect cover of “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables. The audience and judges are in shock. This random woman who moments ago seemed like a total joke turned out to be a goddamn superstar, bringing the house down with a transcendent performance.

When watching you, I become Susan Boyle. I am tone-deaf and can only do decent karaoke after a couple bottles of soju, but when watching you (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), I have operatic range. Sending writing into the world, emailing editors and uploading PDFs to, I am a faceless void. The occasional response reminds me that I am far from Susan Boyle. Simon Cowells at literary magazines scowling at me, copy-and-pasting canned rejections — Thanks for thinking of us, now go back to the English countryside. I have yet to reach that triumphant crescendo.

But you, (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), you remind me that there’s always the possibility to flip the script. Regardless of how many individuals mock you or doubt you or insult you, there’s always a chance to prove them wrong. The people who flock to you have an array of opinions:

Let me respond.

Lexie Jane Moore: What does this mean?

Brian Mullins: I also share this theory that Susan Boyle knew she
would bean icon. She knew that she was about to fuck up the world.

Darren: Yes, me too.

SilverSoul: Thanks for sharing that factoid.

meg: Part of me fears that I would have been one of the people
doubting and mocking Susan Boyle.

Oh, (Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent 2009 Episode 1 - Saturday 11th April | HD High Quality), I love the lie you tell. That we can all be Susan Boyles. But maybe it’s not much of a lie at all. Our comebacks aren’t as grand. We won’t all make $40,000,000. Not all of our dreams will come true. But watching this video after facing endless rejection, it makes each rejection seem small and insignificant and mundane. Boos can quickly morph into cheers, squints of disgust transform into mouths gaping in admiration. None of that really matters. If Susan Boyle didn’t think of herself as Susan Boyle, she wouldn’t have thrown herself in the lion’s den. The only thing one has control over is their self-confidence. I guess I will be coming back to you for years to come.

Dear the trailer for JOY (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX),

Although you are a riveting trailer, it’s been five years since I have seen you and I have yet to even watch the actual movie you advertise. JOY is a 2015 film by the writer and director of Silver Linings Playbook. Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy Mangano — the creator of the Miracle Mop. Why was this film even made? Do you even know?

You are an emotional rollercoaster. You start off with Joy as a little girl, listening to her mom recite a speech that’s straight from a Sociology 101 textbook — Listen to me, I will tell you what’s going to come of you. You are going to grow up and be a strong, smart young woman. Go to school. Meet a fine young man. Have beautiful children of your own. And you’re going to build wonderful things and that is what’s going to happen you. A montage begins, scored by the choir portion of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Jennifer Lawrence, working as a receptionist for an airline. A customer angrily throws a stack of files at her. Jennifer Lawrence, crying for some unknown reason. She’s about to give up all hope. Jennifer Lawrence, standing outside in the winter cold with a lover; gazing longingly at one another through falling flakes of snow.  Jennifer Lawrence, crouched on her knees, working on a blue print for the Miracle Mop. And then the music stops; Jennifer Lawrence’s lush voice muses — Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The Rolling Stones’ song comes back in full force, powering through scenes of Jennifer Lawrence hustling, crying, screaming, and creating a mop empire. You made me really want to see the film. But it seems like JOY didn’t live up to your hype:

The truth is (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), I don’t even know how the movie ends. I assume that after the trials and tribulations of runaway success, Jennifer Lawrence has a humbling moment that reminds her that she has to stay grounded and honest. Shackled to puritanical morals. She is glory. I am sure that the story is rendered universal. It’s specific but relatable to a mass audience. Oh, (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you really convey the stakes. You really make sure that anyone can feel like they are a Jennifer Lawrence, marching towards the American Dream.

I looked at your comments to see if anyone else also frequently returns to you for inspiration. But I can’t really find anything analogous to my own experience:

The world doesn’t owe me anything. It’s indifferent. It’s not kind.  I am not special. I am not a goddamn superstar. All I can do is look at Jennifer Lawrence and long for that bravado.  (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), I find the world you create so riveting. You make me envy her because everything is happening so fast. She cries and she suffers, but also within seconds, she’s ready to conquer.

(JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you make me think about moments from my childhood where I felt like a total outsider. I ping-ponged between various specialists who came up with highly professionalized ways to explain that I’m peculiar — Growth Hormone Deficiency, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Minor ADHD. Offices adorned with fancy degrees. My little legs dangling off the armchair. Staring at a new bearded man with a folder filled with charts and recommendations and strategies.

In elementary school, before I got injected by growth hormone, I was much smaller than all of my classmates. I’d look up at these looming children. And though I grew and became perfectly normal and gained all the strategies to navigate a learning difference and succeed academically, I know that those years had made me think of myself as a perpetual underdog. I used to have this recurring nightmare in middle school — I am at some pool party and all my friends are in a Jacuzzi, laughing and smiling with a gaggle of bikini-wearing supermodels, and then as I try to approach them, I float away. The closer I try to get, the farther I drift off into the ether.

I can compile Pinterest boards of #inspo #hustle #workharder messages. Hope and pray that some arbitrary definition of success will cure me of all insecurities. Maybe unlock a new level and finally feel like a goddamn superstar. But there are always words and phrases that echo in the back of my head. Close my eyes and they all bounce back — failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit, failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit. failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit, failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up, joke, unoriginal, quit. failure, ugly, stop it, quit, give up.

The world doesn’t owe me anything. It’s not here to fulfil some meta-narrative that I have imposed onto it. And whatever I create probably will never have the tangible impact of the Miracle Mop. (JOY | Teaser Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX), you are my little secret. A safe space. You promote this fantasy that though the world might be indifferent, we can all achieve great things.

However, there’s power in insignificance. Waking up and staring at my reflection and not hearing a hurricane of insults and diagnoses. Just washing my face and thinking about what I’m going to eat for breakfast and write about and how whatever I put out to the world is more than enough because it comes from me and only me and no one, regardless of rejection or acceptance, can take that away. And even if I inch towards that small nirvana, I know that there will be times in the future where I will have to return to the three of you. Your lies are too tempting to ignore forever. Your function may change. But until you’re deleted, the impact is forever.


It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loathe reality.

Follow Daniel:

Twitter: @quepaso_daniel

Instagram: @quepaso_daniel1993  


Daniel Spielberger is a writer based in Los Angeles. He's currently an MFA candidate at CalArts's Creative Writing Program.

The Gusseted Lady

Sculptural Poetry by:

“The Gusseted Lady” is a sculptural poem that takes the crease as its generating formal feature.

The piece’s accordion structure provides two different modes: folded and unfolded, dressed and undressed. With the pull of a thread, the diffuse composition compresses and nearly half of the poem’s language is hidden away in the poem’s creases, allowing a second, redacted poem to emerge in its place. In this compressed state, the folded poem becomes a wearable garment, mimicking the form of an Elizabethan ruff. When the ruff is worn, the viewer must draw intimately, perhaps even uncomfortably, close to the wearer in order to read the poem. Some of the “creased” language is still visible when the garment in its folded state, but to read all of the printed language the ruff must be taken off entirely—the subject must undress. Thus, the poem hides things within itself; it keeps secrets. To uncover those secrets, the reader must tread the tense line between intimacy and intrusion. Constructed out of stiff cardstock, the collar is uncomfortable to wear and difficult to move in. This material quality is fitting, as decadent constriction—the tension of being held in and held back even within an excess of ornamentation—is a central concern of the poem.

Follow Kelly:

Twitter: @kellyrosehoffer

Instagram: @kellyrosehoffer



Kelly Hoffer (she/her) earned an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poetry manuscript Undershore was a finalist for the 2020 National Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in Yalobusha Review, BathHouse Journal, Prelude online, The Bennington Review, and the inaugural issue of Second Factory from ugly duckling presse, among others. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Literatures in English at Cornell University. She lives in Ithaca, New York, within hearing distance of a waterfall.

Blue Green

Poetry and Audio by:

Blue Green 

the desperation
of thinking
making dumb faces
behind the glass
little fishey mind
begs in the
wee small
what did you expect?
to fill a bucket 
with dirty
fish tank water
place the fish
in the bucket
unplug all electrical
aquarium equipment
drain the tank
take two cupfuls
of dirty gravel
and put it aside
i mean—
it’s the season
time of year
i’ve been 
window shopping
sponsored ads
to furnish
the demands
of the fishey
the modern
furniture company
their Anton
button tufted sofa 
with down-filled cushions
for $1149
i prefer it
in Arizona Turquoise
with Honey Walnut legs
in the brash 
of my fastidiousness
i imagine it’s 
clean lines
perhaps accompanied
by the Noah 
an armchair
also in Arizona Turquoise
prominently featured
in an open room 
effortlessly cresting
over the lilt
of a distillate vape pen
from the recreational
we might
extol the trashy
drifting whimsy
of our truest
abject inclinations
being in a state
of melancholic
i might
just let the fabric
the contours
of my 
the obvious
joy of this
by the fact 
that the Sven
in Cascadia Blue and Mahogany
with cotton velvet upholstery 
and Pirelli webbing 
has a kind of opulence
that exceeds
its $1299 price tag
it is
their most popular sofa
there’s something 
about that
too easy
though it would also
look really good
and could accommodate
my fishey fish 
just as well
my caprice 
is what it is 
the concern
having been
how to indulge
the debased
to school together
with a few larger
in a 29 gallon
among the
substrate & decorations
what’s pleasing
to your eye?
it can seem
so uncertain
i know 
there’s a way
to amortize
my vacuous longing
and its 
impossible density
but sometimes 
it’s just
the nitrogen cycle
out in the open
where terms apply
it’s anyone’s guess
how it all fits together
i wouldn’t know
you got me
if I married rich
i would have
so much more
to say
would appear
to me
as lifelike
projecting bubbles
into the water
the sky
would lower
their gown
i would
a little
i dunno
it’s just
these unfinished
ecstasies are
the money’s sent
& the draft
is in shambles
the precept
being in the
there’s a way
to get back there
but i’m not
entirely convinced
the sun
like a single
of glitter
to your
a less
those crystal flashes
like flakes
to the surface
i think
i enjoy
their cruelty
more than anything

Follow Jon:


Instagram: @jonruseski


Jon Ruseski is the author of the chapbooks Sporting Life and Neon Clouds. He is co-editor and founder of b l u s h, an online poetry journal and publishing imprint. Recent work appears in BOMB, jubilat, and Prelude, among others.

Drawings and Paintings From Life

Visual Art by:

Hemali Vadalia draws and paints the ordinary into visions evoking an ethereal, dreamy quality, still grounded in the postures and presence of the every day. With a primary use of oil on linen, Vadalia uncloaks the parts of daily life left unseen: the skeletal architecture of a body and the possibilities of emotional depth in stillness.
—Isabel Boutiette, TQR

Follow Hemali:


Instagram: @hemalivadalia


Hemali Vadalia is an Indian multidisciplinary artist currently living in Queens, NY. Her work explores the ideas of freedom, self-image, and belonging in the everyday lives of people. Currently, she is studying classical realism at the Grand Central Atelier. Vadalia has been published in the Wired Magazine, Bleacher Report, CreativeMornings, and WorkingNotWorking. 

Cold Jumbles

Video, Printed Compostion and Ringtone by:

Cold Jumbles

Jinu Hong’s latest work implores viewers to blur the boundaries between sound, text, language, and video. Cold Jumbles is presented in three fragmented parts, all of which isolate a distinct moment in Jinu’s creative process, while remaining cohesive in their sense of play and transformation; a quality present throughout the entire project.

Speaking to this process, Hong reflects: “I was curious about what it is like to have a spontaneous conversation with myself or to come across a moment of vocal connection with myself.” Jinu recorded daily sound journals which captured whatever random thoughts and words came to mind. The parts of thought that, in the rapid movement of life “would otherwise be lost.”

The sound journals were then transformed: “Sound and time [were] chunked into phrases, randomly scrambled, flattened, transcribed, and frozen into a musical score.” The composition’s final iteration plays from an object we can never quite divorce ourselves from: the cellphone. But Jinu replaces the phone’s often jarring and high-pitched reminders with the cool sounds of artfully-rendered piano––a reprieve we can all aspire to.
-- Sarah Yanni, TQR

Watch “Cold Jumbles,” in three parts:

Follow Jinu:





Jinu Hong is a graphic designer, video/image maker, and educator currently based in New York. As a graphic designer, he pushes back continuously to create the antithesis of the time where our daily experiences are framed into seamless and streamlined communication accomplished by the whole world view of engineers. He has been very much interested in physical intervention and connection taking place in the spur of the moment under certain instruction. He has also been exploring how graphic design physically and psychologically influences the way people interact with a place. He currently works independently with architects and artists on prints, videos, websites, and exhibitions. As well as working as a digital content manager at Center for Collaborative Arts and Media, he teaches at Parsons School of Design. He holds an MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University, US.

Two Poems

Poetry and Audio by:


I’ve grown parts of me I shed
so many shitty people
look cool online 
and in my room
I think grotesquely
textured thoughts 
I am better than a house at almost everything 
I am worse than most houses 
light transposes crochet lace
to a dullish wall
the world has all this surface
still I can’t see my face

Tape Delay

I let go my lawn
the lines crossed overhead
they stitched me in my life for a while
I was on a first-name basis with the world
and you were on the phone
a downy splotch traveling
thru the nightly projection I thought 
I never wanted these beige rooms
my bluish bedside on a dimmer
I disembark this air
for different air

Follow Abigail:


Instagram: @abigailstallings


Abigail Stallings is a poet and visual artist. Her work can be found in Blush Lit, Hobart and on her Instagram.


Short Film by:

On the night of a Sabbath dinner a young man takes a remarkable walk through the woods. Watch rising star Betsey Brown alongside former TQR contributor Hunter Zimny in this inventive, genre-defying short film. Bergmensch is the second project released from film-duo Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky, following their debut short, Bolue Vience, which premiered on No Budge in August and was co-written by the pair.

"Bergmensch rekindled for me memories of many a cozy family gathering. It also, while devoid of any genre trappings, felt like perhaps the most efficient and punchy little horror movie I'd ever seen... And now I am questioning whether family has been a nightmare all along."     
--Andrew Bujalski, Director/Writer of Funny Ha Ha 

Writer, Directors, Editors: Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky. Producers: Albee Delia, Mika Lungulov-Klotz, Galen Core. Cinematography: Max Bayarsky. Production Designer: Charlie Chaspooley Robinson. ACs: Alex Huggins, Grace Pendleton, John Clouse, Tara Forman. Gaffers: Conner Schuurmans, Alex Lu, Vuk Lungulov. Composer: Brendan Rooney. Casting: Jenny McCabe, Michele Mansoor. Cast: Betsey Brown, Hunter Zimny, Karen Burd, Peter Cole, Norman Stein, Mary Hronicek, Paul Kandarian, Irving Kohn, and Avram Tetewsky.


Jordan Tetewsky and Joshua Pikovsky are a filmmaking duo. Their works explore immeasurable pain and incomprehensible agony, the anguish of the human condition, and the tragedy of man.

I Need A Friend

Music by: 

Colin Miller’s latest project, Hook, slated for release in March through Oof Records, will be his first release under this label, and yes, the EP is named after the 1991 movie starring Robin Williams. A movie which has always captivated and terrified Miller, especially the character Peter who could so easily “lose himself in an effort to displace painful memories”(Riot Act 2021). Warm, lo-fi and lyrically innocent, one might feel as they make their way through Miller’s new EP the felt impression of a VHS tape pressed into a TV set during late adolescence. A feeling made painful only through its distance, through the act of remembering it.

Earlier this month Colin released a single from the EP, “I Need a Friend,” alongside a grainy and equally heart-felt video for the track. The video captures a series of naive animations which overlay handheld shots and night vision close-ups, amid the rural landscape of Western North Carolina. We asked Colin about his process of writing the forthcoming EP, to which he responded with the story behind “I Need a Friend,” a song which came to him in a dream:

“In the early months of the pandemic I dreamt that I was telling someone how much I loved the southern songwriter Vic Chestnutt. The person responded “That’s wild, I’m going to be filming a livestream of him tonight. Do you want to come along?” This piqued my interest both because I would do anything to see him play live but specifically because Vic Chestnutt died in 2009.

Immediately after this, he got a call on his phone–unimportant detail but, to illustrate fully, he did have an old motorola razr, the red one–and the voice on the other end said Vic couldn’t play tonight. My dream-friend and I were both bummed at this, it’s not often you get to see a dead person play live–especially in a pandemic. We started comparing our favorite of Vic’s songs and figured out that we had the same favorite: “I Need a Friend”. We both half-sang the melody and talked about our favorite lines:
    “Alone in my car the world feels so faa-har away”

Then I woke up...And I realized that this was not a real Vic Chestnutt song. I looked up “I Need a Friend” on my phone––nothing! So I sat up in bed, grabbed a guitar, sang and wrote what I could remember, filled in a few lyrical gaps with the first things that came to mind and in five minutes the song was as done as it is now.

Some songs come out of a few years of very slow, very patient, work ––tracking down the right lyrics, then chords, and then melody. Some have to be pushed into the deep end and after staying under the water a little too long they come up gasping for air and sea-ready. And then there is a small group of songs that fall out of the sky and, if you catch them, you find that somehow the work is already done. They are the most infuriating kind of song but, in a way, the most reassuring as well. “I Need a Friend” is one of those songs.”

In early quarantine, we published a series of Colin’s graphic poetry, found here.

--Emily Costantino, TQR
Listen to “I Need a Friend”:

︎ Watch “I Need a Friend”:

Follow Colin:

Instagram: @c_linmiller

Twitter: @c_linmiller_


Colin Miller lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He makes records in a little house on a hill in the Haw Creek Valley. In addition to his own eponymous musical project, he contributes to several other musical groups including Cheap Studs, MJ Lenderman, Brucemont, and Zach Romeo.

Hyperlink Blues

Video and Intro by:

Hyperlink Blues: Computer Gardening is Natural Gardening

    Here is the garden I tend to. While perched in my local community garden, watering and clipping, I reflect on the other spaces I have tended to and cultivated: from a discontinued web archive collecting images that contain a hue described as digitally-flattened-hyperlink-nature1 to my psychotherapy VR space, where I sit, still, in a digital copy of my favorite jacket2.

    In this audiovisual collage, I consider what it means to tend-to, tend-with, and maybe even be tended-by. The term 'tend' comes from the Latin tendere, meaning to stretch or direct oneself; perhaps then to at-tend-to is an act of extending outwards in the vulnerable condition of being soft. Computer gardening is natural gardening, and a fruitful garden demands soft, continual tending.

1 Hyperlink blue as a symbol for oxygen of the internet, green as a symbol for human and non-human fruitfulness; Tending as archiving as cultivating a relationship.

2 This experiment is part-two in a series called Hyperlink Blues. See Hyperlink Blues: Experiments in Virtual Psychotherapy on Dirt (2021).

Follow Mark:




Mark Anthony Hernandez Motaghy is an artist, architect, and organizer. They are a research candidate at MIT, investigating network infrastructures, informal economies, and the politics of care. Mark is one-half of the collaborative spatial practice If So Then.

Sounds like that pond is right here in the room

Audio and Poetry by:

This new piece from Adrienne Herr, “Sounds like that pond is right here in the room,” arrives out of a procedural method Adrienne has been practicing within. To create this piece Adrienne read and recorded fragmented pieces of her writing, collaging the audio within an editing software. The final recording was then played back while she transcribed the layered audio into the resulting textual paragraph. 

Through this act of transcription, the piece mediates the distance between the audial and textual domains of speech.  The act of listening siphons the polyvocal, multitemporal recording into a single point in time. Giving a sense of linearity to the felt openness of the text. The writing almost begs to be redistributed as we imagine the many different iterations of this text the procedure could produce – different results based on what the ear picks up.

More of Adrienne’s experiments with documentation, sound, and poetry can be found on her website. Herr recently organized a sound poetry compilation, ”Thou who holds but owns not,“ organized on Bandcamp for TLTRPreß’s Juneteenth NAACP fundraising. Listen to the album, here

- Emily Costantino

Sounds like that pond is right here in the room

I can tell when I read it yeah what kind of distance from yourself you should keep yeah Jacky lived in Galveston I totally understand in her pots although underneath the leaves having read the sample in her bathroom each kind in a shell also that you say that now we played Jacky and this is too safe one might wonder what the first two days of life were like and more personal in a way how slowly we spent the night and time passed in these days like eternities she said it should be moving I thought Jacky was asleep thats also what I do beside me its an exciting way its kind of not how I think that are her and her property those crickets are making great sleep and thats humor I think she was 5 was killed by a container Jacky found out has got a jar is covered by and the way that she wants me is sort of the opposite of that keep moving spent the night it was deafening and yeah I think avoid to go by public transport kill a map is covered by a crosswalk will not be affected by a mall right here in the room manure it’s downright eerie and I feel really mutable in a lot of ways downright eerie light in the human soul right lonesome there wasn’t a human spit thunder reach hold crying to her over the video and she told me I needed twist ache peak slip hold glance doing something that I thought might kill a map covered by a crosswalk Yeah yeah that's what it is to shift weight from to know life again and to feel better like that meaning like you're normative about my work is the only work that I know there is not the right work I tell you not to worry to make physical things there was never any confirmed location our meeting is always by chance I think you to help me with this is the opposite of resigning into something that you're not attached to because it's exactly this attachment I wrote something down about being available we approaches thing the opposite of and alive never caught what I cannot ground in that kind of attention gives to the things that you’re writing about weight in rent of speak on know I would safely and every time we talk love the them the I respond to the always when in time there to perform that the now to end this emotionally I want we with work from world to feet difference why you say you don't want to work like you thought don't knew want need to believe in balance I have these communities standing that shoot like I think there is something important face by all about this directness and this availability shift this kind I took it used to things film me in any meanings part this? The to is to which was the we approaches thing and alive never caught cannot ground there to perform that the now to end this really personal about your dad and your mom and also its a little Jacky I had standing shoot shift this we got mired took it window used to things, film, me any meaning parts you and the world identifies what is outside of you and identifies you in turn I thought Jacky you in your experience or something like that one might wonder what the first two days said how I am those crickets its also like most relevant to you one does have to or perhaps might wonder that is how I call you who knows? laughs

Follow Adrienne:


Instagram: @adriennenicoleherr


Adrienne Herr is an artist and writer drawing from documentary and experimental poetics. Her work is interdisciplinary and cross-form, often presented in multiple registers including audio, installation and participatory performance. Recent collaborations with Martin Kohout, Sanna Helena Berger, and Cecilie Nørgaard.

Icon image is a film still by Mark Hernandez

I Look So Tired Vacating My Tomb

Audio and Poetry by:


I Look So Tired Vacating My Tomb

a biorhythmic plume
in oversized
I rise
from the water
a livestream
watch a bead
of sweat
refecting the severity
of this damage
the un
of the birds
opening up
we look into
our holes
sparks flying off
the netting of
our bodies
it is best
to write
this burning
for destruction
a sense
of ceremony
a cup of water
an open flame
stuffng paper
in my gums
so I can catch
on fire
I want to be
a high priestess
carrying a silencer
a ghost with
a mouth
full of
flaming arrows
divination here
being the routine
cleaning of our
light switches
creating an oval
around our limbs
with pine bark
on Instagram
promo codes
we will add
to our carts
with intention
a way to better
our bodies’
range of washes
I look into
the direction
of my sofa’s
pebbled leather
moving soap
and water
with a forked wire
mud with
an extra-small
box cutter
to find
the unseen power
a cicada
in my shin
I am happiest
when my thoughts are
made remote
from others
my cells
scattering on
a high-touch
by diazepam
thoughts of
cash bars
the growing space
inside me
each morning
I sit still
in my damp kidney
and fouler
a fragrant scent
I microbend for
the instructor
over video
I wish I could hold to
the pose
without effort
hold up
my ovaries
like milkweed
for the vultures
circling my limbs
in my head
I am plated
so beautifully
on aesthetically
pleasing gunmetal
stone fruit
and ancient grains
lining my intestines
this is operating
above ground
is how I bunch
under the weight
of my own talons
and your finer
at least now
I can feel relevant
swiping right
after so much
desert chalk and
picking over
finer bones
with aluminum
I’ve had
better days
oiling my heels
to go out
and hunt for men
and money
with my big
breasts inflated
it’s hard living
through this
of nothing
legs sanitized
between uses
an average
a polymer of red
I teeth out
with future
the dead
my one
to feel
even less

Follow Stevie:


Instagram: @steviebelchak


Stevie Belchak is a graduate of the English MFA for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Her work can be found published in Peach, Feelings, Queen Mob's Teahouse, Pinwheel Journal, Hobart Pulp, Blush Lit, Third Coast, Dream Pop Press, Metatron's #MicroMeta series, and JetFuel Review.

Two Poems

Poetry by:

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

I have a note in my phone from Sept 12, 2017 that simply says "the back of her ears make me hysterical." I knew those ears so well, but not much else - I never called her to turn around.

First Cow (2019)

I watch a lot of "silent" ASMR vlogs on YouTube. No talking. Just loud, crisp sounds of women doing housework. Chopping, cooking, cleaning - caring. It gives me shivers and warmth at the same time.

These vlogs can work as an anti-capitalist call to non-action. Many of them explicitly tell us in their captions to slow down and find joy in everyday moments, nature, food we nourish our bodies and our loved ones with. If we have the luxury to stop and soak our skin in it, survival can seem like an escape.

But unlike these vlogs, this movie reminded me that sometimes, maybe most times, surviving just isn't enough, even if we want it to be. Whether we're running uphill or lying down to rest, survival can seem like a trap.

Follow Sennah:


Twitter: @sennahaha


Sennah is from Toronto. She is the author of the poetry collection How Do I Look? (Metatron Press, 2017) and the children’s book My Day with Gong Gong (Annick Press, 2020). She is a poetry editor at Peach Mag, and the co-founder of In The Mood Magazine, a pop culture journal.

Two Poems

Poetry by:


are you ever crouching
in a doorway
for some crooked version of god
are you ever shrouded
in the dark
of something burning
on fire

i took the staircase
into the open portion of sky
i did a beautiful secret
at the secret beach

over the ocean
i thought about
peeling the night back
exposing the raw air
on the other side
to wrap us all up in it
the deep cloth of night
we could wear it like a shirt
i thought about putting
my hand through the night
and grabbing it down
and wearing it like a shirt

i dont think it was ever quiet
but you have to really
put your ear up close
to hear it
the stars
are crying in shame

is anyone listening
to this beautiful song
this moment?
It will be gone very soon
like magic.

im looking for someone
with a fairy tattoo
who has never seen me sleeping
and wears the night like shirt

diane is dead

dirty sun weaver
beautiful anarchist
little silver earring
heart is an anagram for earth;
there is so much glittering
in the brightness of survival
a thousand summers over
i notice the goodness
beautiful day
sky drenched holy fullness
the beautiful + berserk day
angel pulsing pure sky
where the rain tumbles out
after the heat of the moment
a sort of belief crystalizes in my thought
that i could love you until the end of the world
our shared dream
this is my spring
grief pearled riding the train to manhattan
when david sat us down to give us his prayer
he said, “you remind me of my brother
who died of aids” there are coins falling
from the hole in the sky i can’t write enough
about heaven because i believe in it again
on friday there was something like shattered glass
the sun discoed from it out into the room
looking like the three pink rainbows when we win
this is my spring
everything becoming real
after a lifetime of splintered awareness
this long terrible year marked by love
heart is an anagram for earth
we have to act like this is where
the better world begins
this is my spring
energy energy energy
the earth becomes okay again
earth becomes new becomes
beauty becomes heart becomes
the old ancient timeless beauty
ring out america is dying america
is dead and dying america does not suffer
death no more pointless cruel american
death no sanctioned death no
death penalty no penalty
no prison no penalty no sick sad forms
of new death no twisted song of
expansion expansion expansion
the empire is over and is never built twice
this is my spring
time is going back
to her moon/sun song
the leaves wither, and drop
the flowers come back through
wet + ancient “april”
or whatever we call it now
after the heat of the moment
i want to take your hand and follow
from the edge of this
lifetime of mechanic death
into the day time and the night time
of my spring against the face of your palm
this is my spring
stepping into the future
of wild unleashing

Follow Chariot:

Instagram: @butterflybutterflysmileyface


chariot wish is a poet and magician living in new york city. their email address is

Three Poems

Poetry by:

International Velvet

take me to a tea-warm moat coated in fallen wisteria

to broken shells in hell

to that light-scarred place only diamonds remember

and the dearth of my scaled flesh

do you remember you shot a seagull?

go home old man. go tire yourself

of the chew


oh Nina

furied are the flames of breath chamade

for the actress rage is salt


a man came along by chance

crumbs from a warm prayer

to understand incremental swallowing
take me to water
rub my eyes
those copper bugs to pills

Follow Marissa:


Instgram: @marissazappas

Twitter: @marissazappas


Marissa Zappas is a perfumer, poet and artist currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Until We Meet Again at a Softer Place

Photo Essay by:

I was hiking deep in the Cascades when I stumbled upon what the locals called the "Chinese wall.” It was a hand stacked rock wall made of mining tailings, stretching as far as the eye could see.

I have since been going to places in rural parts of the West Coast in the United States, in search of stories from early Chinese immigrants.

One of them is Hanford, CA.

There used to be many more oak trees standing right next to this one. They are now dying, roots soaked in irrigation water during long summer days, quietly waiting for the moment to snap and fall.

Larry likes to say that even though he is Portuguese, this history is his history too. His grandma took pride in entering the Chinese stores in the 200-feet alley through their back doors.

Some people are gone; they left things in buildings. Some buildings are gone; they left memories in people.

Camille is one of the only Chinese Americans that never moved away. She once said to me: “We are saving this for you, the future. If we don’t save things, they will go away with us, and there aren’t many of us left.”

A Chinese family once lived on this empty lot on Shanghai St, between Cherry Ln and Lotus Ln. They left behind a jujube tree and an array of broken ceramic pieces.

For decades, Chinese people were not allowed to be laid to rest among other Americans.

A group of community members restored this cemetery in 2000, before which it was a field of weeds.

It is in the Chinese tradition that fallen leaves will return to their roots. Yet sometimes the withered leaves are blown away by a little breeze, swirling high up in the air before they land on the ground a few trees down.

The wind took us far away after all. Yet I’d like to believe that no matter what land they are on, the tree roots are all connected and constantly talking to each other. It is the same imaginary roots that bred us, fed us, and nurtured us to become you were and who I am today.

So long, my early friends.

Let us meet again soon at that softer place underground.

Follow Evelyn:

Instagram: @haannngggg



Evelyn Hang Yin is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Yin investigates how her experience moving between China and the U.S. informs her cultural identity, and is invested in issues of race, history, place/displacement, and collective memory.

Silkworm / Vegetation

Visual Art by:           

Poetry by:

“Silkworm” by Maya McGrory and Shane Lavers, 2020.

“Vegetation” by Maya McGrory and Shane Lavers, 2020. 

Follow Maya:

Instagram: @dream__machine__


Maya is a visual artist in :: Dream Machine :: and a musician as ::  COLLE :: Her projects touch on the subjects of family (belonging) & understanding (learning/unlearning). Her friends think it’s obvious she’s a Pisces based on her work. 

Follow Shane:

Instagram: @chanel_beads


Shane | aka Chanel Beads is a musician, visual artist and writer. Shane is inspired by small moments of complete knowledge. Being struck with the sense of estatic unity while walking down a sidewalk and how quickly that feeling can stretch into mundanity.

Satisfactory/ Disturbance

Visual Poetry by:

Follow Sarah:

Twitter: @stocktonianslip

Instagram: @the_ereader_from_it_follows


Sarah R. Stockton writes, teaches, and works in Los Angeles. She is an MFA candidate at CalArt

Two Poems

Poetry by:

Man on Fire

At 6:08 am the call comes in

Is it air? I try to say something
As I read the words “man on fire”
As I use my mouth to say his name
As I want in my memory a memory of his
As I walk through green plots under spring blossoms
As the city walks away
As a witness sees the air
As I read again the words “man on fire”
As gasoline is spilt like holy water
And fires burned through saffron saris
       Then burned through saffron robes,
       Voiced the ash of humans
Still the husband beating through her heart
Still the gingko sheds its stinking leaves
As I picture the park all colored red
As I try to keep my eyelids open
As I push my fingers through the flame
As I press up against the thought of it

A burning lotus soothes itself
     Wordless is the hot white finish
As the body literally becomes the air


The city’s curfew falls and we
hide. You, specifically, drinking beer in the 
grass of the feral yard behind your place in
Crown Heights. We hear the
sound of the helicopter before we
see it and then it is above
us slow as a hammerhead shark in dark
If the cops ever had reason to stop
Free you speak an English
macerated in your Russian
lips. Dim the gaslight, words like
kettle. Fireworks have been a fixture of June
nights since George Floyd was
killed. This June, the Federal Agency for
Forestry in Russia announced 246 forest
fires on 140,073 hectares of tundra in
Siberia. You
pulling weeds in the feral grass behind your
place, filling your palms with sticky
flowers, one hand floating like a
god over the grass. Again, the
fireworks, closer than they’ve ever been
exploding over the
brownstones. Gray-black sky with
smoke like sutures blowing sideways
after the fireworks. On Al
Jazeera, video of the
heatwave in Siberia: The warmer
climate, says the journalist, has
created a surge of insects. This is not
dirt coated thick on the door, it’s
A surge of crime, they say, is probably
subterfuge. Or just summer. We think there is a
plot on behalf of the police to funnel the
fireworks into Black communities.
Free you fingernail X’s into my
mosquito bites.
Pyrotechnics are cheap now because the Chinese
New Year was cancelled due to the
virus, as will be
Pride and the 4th, plus I have seen on
Instagram clips of men by unmarked SUVs
lighting roman candles on
NYCHA blocks and also men selling
chrysanthemums and liquor bottles.
Free you live in the USA unable to
so you show me the photo of you as a little
girl on a blue bike in front of your
grandmother’s house in the Ural
Mountains and free you use your
unemployment checks to buy camping
gear for the Appalachian
Trail. If the cops ever had reason to stop

How does this end for you?
Alice, If our home is murderous by
nature, if we come from nations of murder,
we are, therefore.                      
You left home at
sixteen and free you live in the
USA unable to leave. When does this
country become home?
If you say In spite of or
Painfully; if your family sells your grandmother’s
house in the Urals, the house you grew up in;
if the cops ever had reason to stop
you and you were deported; I see you
lose this country and when you do
some years go by and then you show yourself an
old photo from your life in Brooklyn and
you are in love with the woman you
became here.
From now on, you could be anywhere and the
colors of a neon storefront or
thunder alone, keeping you awake,
will remind you of the
fireworks tonight as we watch brilliant blue
peonies explode and disappear. Flying
fish jitter over the
rooftops like quick yellow drumsticks
breaking down the line.

Follow Addison:

Instagram:  @dots_bodega



Addison Bale is a writer and artist from NYC. His work has developed over the past few years through artist residencies and collaborations variously around Mexico City. Now back in New York, Addison is focusing on projects that bridge the gap between visual art and poetry, lingual barriers, and collaborative modes of making and sharing artwork. His recent poetry is focused on voicing witness to the active and political now.

Egg is The Father

Illustrations by:

Justin Parker, Mixed pencil, Ink and Digital coloring, 2020.

Justin Parker, Mixed pencil, Ink and Digital coloring, 2020.

Justin Parker, Mixed pencil, Ink and Digital coloring, 2020.

Justin Parker, Mixed pencil, Ink and Digital coloring, 2020.

Justin Parker, Mixed pencil, Ink and Digital coloring, 2020.

Follow Justin:

Instagram: @Technically_Dead  


Justin Parker is a mixed media illustrator not currently based anywhere, but nevertheless accepting any and all commissions. Semi-classically and self trained, his work tends to be based in humor and light hearted social satire. Not currently showing in any physical galleries, follow Technically_Dead on Instagram for new artwork and email any inquiries or friendly conversation starters to

Two Poems

Poetry by:

Is this the happiest you’ve ever been?

like a whale I have spent most of my life holding my breath

snow slipping off the car

like a soft belly hanging over the waistband of a pair of jeans

or pearls of colloidal oatmeal on my fingers

us solemn rednecks with crooked smiles

horses with phone numbers

sharpied on their flanks

let loose and running from the flames

no one feels the same as anyone else but sometimes

driving around at night

watching a hundred different lit up doorways to a hundred different lives

you lean over to kiss me at a stoplight while Don Williams sings

I wouldn’t want to live if you didn’t love me

it’s here I think this shelter taken in the roof

of someone else’s mouth

breathing the deep exhaust of the night

dying isn’t only something that happens to other people

I remember waiting tables during brunch

it was snowing and a man was having a heart attack

we pretended it wasn’t happening while he was crying

and vomiting all over himself like a giant old child

and his wife held him until the paramedics arrived

I don’t know what happened to him

it doesn’t matter

I wish I could love you the way you want me to

smoothly without trying

it’s been one of those days or months or series of years

I whack open an apple exposing

a plush white worm now in two pieces and suddenly there it is:

the apple, the worm, the knife and I can’t tell which one I am

Follow Gion:

Instgram: @starkstateofmind


Gion Davis is a poet from northern New Mexico where she grew up on a sheep ranch. Her poetry has been featured in Wax Nine Journal, The Vassar Review, Blush Literary Journal and others. She has received the Best New Poets of 2018 Prize selected by Ocean Vuong & her chapbook Love & Fear & Glamour was published in 2019. She is the editor of Rhinestone Magazine, a music magazine only on Instagram @rhinestonemagazine. She graduated with her MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 2019 and currently lives in Denver, Colorado. 

Development Yard

Prose Poetry by:

Development Yard

Where was I going? In circles. I was going in circles, and everyone I knew was going in circles also. When the panic started I began carefully reconsidering myself. It felt like time was moving in such redundant shifts of epoch and tragedy, and I couldn’t tell if I was being hysterical or wise for noticing. I couldn’t be the stoic the moment required. But I had to do something. Then one day I was looking at my legs in the mirror, and it suddenly hit me – the track.

    The high school track was under a hill a short walk from my apartment. 10 minutes, maybe. The hill was spotted with blue bonnets. The older women walked in the mornings. They wore sun faded sweat suits and moved in a sort of combustive way, arms bent, severe at the elbow propelling in little thrusts with their fists forward like mountaineers.  There’s a determination about them I like. I’m at the track now as I write this. Sunday smells industrious and I’ll tell you some more about it.

    This afternoon I saw a ten year old boy with what looked like a parachute strapped to his back sprint forty yards while his father or uncle filmed from lane 7.

    I was worried I’d get in the shot. I was worried about the IRS.  I was embracing repetition.

    I make my rounds. I don’t even run. It’s not the speed or the endurance or the dopamine or the longevity that I’m after. It’s the reiteration of process. Articulating in body my worst habit of mind. I go in circles, and walk until I can’t continue. At pace I find my life pleasant, sometimes, as I’m doing now, writing in my notebook.

    In the event of a return to industry, I’ll be ready, taut, calmer, tawny in shoulder, and so much better overall.

    I pass the corduroy yellow belt of earth left by construction equipment. I watch clouds pass behind a tower crane. I hear welders in the development yard. I smell fresh earth.

    I distrust bald men in trucks. The wide ones you see described in commercials as “Super Duty.” There’s something ominous, truly,  about the mirrored sunglasses on the pig faced men who sit in their trucks in my neighborhood. I’m contingent on the cycles, I swear. We all know: you see a condo, you steal the wood. But that’s a nighttime thing. In day you shudder the thrum of an idling crew cab— the call of pink men as they instruct the day-laborers in garbled Spanish.       

    General Contractors.

    Project Managers.

    In the event of a return to industry, I’ll miss the old man with incredible strength. He’s wearing a tank top with tiny straps like a circus strongman or an 80’s movie lifeguard. Impossible. I see him bend to the kettlebell. Doesn’t gleam. His face contorts, like he was both within and above it.

    Lift like this was the diving board era, friend!

           guide the banks, one of the guards.

    The more serious athletes pull resistance rope under the shade of the concession vendor’s roof. We all have our thing. Me, for instance, I oscillate between despair and joy. One example is, earlier, I was rounding a lap when I heard a rumble above the hill. A blue sports car was revving its engine.  On the street in front of the projects. The tire squeals grew louder and plumes of smoke began to accumulate. I was bracing for it. Then—just then—the burnout. The blue car was gone.

    Laughing kids ran through the cloud of smoke and spent asphalt. There was an aura of great joy. There were squeals of delight. As the plumes began to rise, as they dissipated, the form of a jumping girl appeared to me with her arms raised. I rubbed my eyes.  Several children were clapping. It was marvelous.  We should all be so lucky to appear, vertiginous, from the smoke, like some cult who’d forgotten every god but the sky.

        Fool that I am, I sometimes pray. I’ll share one of the ones I’ve been trying:

                                    Lord, grant me

                                    the love of morning and

                                    an energy that verdict is blue

                                    blue light in the hallway

                                    held blue light

                                    Tomorrow’s another massive content offer

    That night we sat in plastic chairs in front of our garden. We have a new garden. We have  a modest backyard. A shotgun yard. I said, I’m worried about the IRS. She said, I don’t know how to say that moonlight is the surrogate’s reward for loyalty. I said, us. She said, the sun. Tomorrow’s an opportunity. What should we do?  

    What titans, We’ll shoplift!

    But the next day we couldn’t because they closed all the box stores.

    For a while we drove around aimlessly, discussing the panic, admiring the empty city. Eventually, we park at the mouth of a construction sight. Our mall’s a college and growing.  Dirt caked in shoe. Our house is a holiday but it’s under threat. Slip between a fence. Compete to see who can skip rocks down the crevice.  Doing pull ups on a bulldozer. Leaning in to take selfies on the grouser pad. I squat in the Slavic fashion. Her hand a peace sign under her right eye her left a peace sign to the air.

    I’ve seen the industry.

    It’s blue-blue. And it spills over everything.

Follow Matthew:

Instagram:  @mhodg


Matthew Hodges is a writer currently based in Texas. He is the co-author of Austerity Brunch (published by KEITH LLC, 2017) along with various pieces both online and in print. He releases audio work under the name Oil Company. Various mediums.

Black Yankees

Photography by:

Black Yankees, 2017, digital, 10” x 8”.

Straw, 2020, digital, 16” x 20”.

Follow Narayan:

Instagram: @postfeminism



Narayan Forest Lockett’s documentary photography broadens the scope of the womanist perspective, through a lens of disciplic Catherine Opie art theory, best described as postfeminism. The hardcore artist practices emotive, abstract composition, translating photographs to the Krishnacore experience; spiritual devotion, mental clarity & physical fitness. NFL lives & works in his native New York.  

Final Confessions

Audio Poetry by:

final confessions

for immigrant parents

you were taught       the inexplicable

you were taught the crimson
      myths, moral warnings
      of snakes and women on an earth
      far different from ours                        

             you were taught one too many                        

             you’re tired
             of listening                              
             so you pass them on
             towards me                             


                                 the inexplicable gives me vertigo                     

gives me      a kink in my              
              neck and a panic
              in my throat                            
              a linen veil atop
              your hair falls now onto
              mine and I tumble
              forward, performing
              hardwood creaks
              sustained by shaking hands


        we were all brought up        on wonder
                                      and the many ways an ache
                                      can sit

and still, we are all parched
searching for droplets
of something to share
breaths of reason among
the madness and a way to make
time make sense


            you find it in tradition      the prayers which

fail to change
I sometimes find it in the wind
but mostly
in an instinct
leaning towards a feeling or the
punch of knowledge past

                    and if the time is right
                    we can find it 
                    in a moonlit sky

                    the gaze of hopeful saplings,
                    intertwined, perhaps not
                    together but always

                                        the night aglow with holy stars

Follow Sarah:

Twitter: @saritahyanni



Sarah Sophia Yanni is a writer and educator from the San Fernando Valley. A gemini and mixed race daughter of immigrants, she is continuously interested in the hybrid self. Her work has been published by DREGINALD, feelings, Rivulet, and others, and she was a finalist for Bomb Magazine’s 2020 Poetry Contest. She holds an MFA from CalArts.

Two Poems 

Poetry by:

Magic flute

You know me
Full of light at the races
It’s time to come in from the pool

That’s not a new crisis anyway
Summoning thunder after lightning
What’s floating there in the drink

I carry it through the backyard
Like some of your charge might rub off
The object that’s trapped scattering light

It was all electronic anyway
I say I’ve never been so forgiving
But in this version something’s changed

Terrapin new

Dreamed big San Diego plane crash
Some kind of soft brag
Telling how you went out at midnight

Whatever this is      practice?
We need more of it  immediate regimen
Might even fix us   in movies in magic

Still finding a new way
Done being hot   too fancy I’m sorry
Alright we are two people at quartz dawn

Follow Zach:

Instagram: @big.zachy 


Zach Halberg is publisher at Newest York Arts Press, a non-profit organization supporting local arts and artists in New York City. His poetry has previously been published by Blush and Wonder at the links below.

Debunking the Welfare Queen

Poetry by:

Debunking the Welfare Queen

i wonder
if i can rename myself

without having to lie on my back

if i can speak
and be spared from digits
slipping into
one of my orifices

my newest desire
may be
simply to stand at the square and stretch my shoulders

without looking up and squinting
gnashing teeth
clenching fists

has caused a tiny crater at the crown of my head

my forehead protrudes
i put on a wig to hide it
now it's a trend

i roll my eyes
i have trouble with my sight
not the irony of my wig

i smack my teeth
a few are missing because of the grinding at night
i try to smile but i don't want to scare anyone

i've never had a good night's sleep
i've always had to protect my head

so i was late for the interview
i didn't get the job

there's a sway in my walk
i'm not a lush

just lopsided
i have 16 degree scoliosis

you say not true because i have wide shoulders and muscular arms
you say i'm a liar

i am exhausted
explaining my disposition
i don't deserve work

carry groceries i
carry laundry
carry babies i
sometimes not my own

and i have to

to remain resilient

I own the Original.

i only know Nina Simone ballads
when i was just a harmless thing

my mother armed me with resolve
gave me “Little Girl Blue”

she tried to save me from this life
but couldn't afford the piano lessons

a waste
             because i have long

elegant fingers

Follow Jeanetta:

Instagram: @jeanettaprich


Jeanetta Rich is a mother and poet. Her  work focuses on the emotional lives of women who aren't equipped with voices because of their poverty and/or lack of education. In 2018 she was published in the anthology "Clark".

Green Thing: Solidarity

Dialogue between: GRACE HIGGINS BROWN &

Green Thing: Solidarity

“Green thing,” a work which accumulated daily over the span of one week, is a negotiated, creative exchange between two artists, who are also daughter and father; actively engaging in a dialogue about Green Things. Through the exchange, both Higgins’ explore ”Greeness” in relation to how it manifests and develops symbolically, physically, historically, and its presentation within their own creative practices.
    Green Thing was created while in residence at 2/42 Studios, in the Pipe Factory, Glasgow as part of their Remote Series. Solidarity is a sample of a longer work, which can be found here. 


It could be argued that Solidarity is a tool for reducing inequality and social injustice in the world. To listen and be heard, as Levinas would have it, is not easy and as we see today it's absolutely clear this isn’t easy.

Dictionary definitions talk of two aspects of solidarity: the uniting of a group of people with a common purpose, and mutual-dependency (or interdependency) of people.

Is it the same as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another - empathy? As George Bernard Shaw pointed out: 

“Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.”

I’ve always had a suspicion about the word ‘curiosity’ in this context, it’s a confusion between an active and passive inquiry, who is able or not, to be curious, is it an equal meeting point? So I can be curious about something, without the ‘something’ ever knowing or wanting to be made a curious something - says who?

Of course this is one of the ethical questions in green spaces, I think again of our conversation we had earlier about - object subject relationships - of Green space (we don’t mean green grass), as a potential site physically and conceptually for political - radical - possibilities - without being didactic.

If we assume the need to challenge prejudices and discover commonalities, on whose and what terms are the commonalities and who is in the driving seat?

Also my first encounter with the word ‘solidarity’ was in reference to Poland. Solidarity was founded on 31 August 1980, in Gdańsk, Poland, and gave rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement that, at its height, claimed some 9.4 million members. It is considered to have contributed greatly to the fall of communism.

(Aha, thats a nice red)

When we started our dialogue, if I’m right, it was with the word generosity we were going to use, in terms of what can be shared and how a green space could be where this can take place? Again thinking of this both physically and conceptually - without being didactic. I like solidarity now.

So I feel a strong solidarity with you Grace, are we now Green Higgins Brown.

In relation to these thoughts and ideas I have a really strong connection with this place (image below), and the gap I’m working in now, its past and future. For 17 years I’ve been working with this image. It made me think today when I read Katharine Viner: There is a great quote in one of your (Naomi Klein) recent essays from a tech CEO, who says: “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”, of how during the Soviet period humans could easily have been described and reduced to biohazards, it gave the word both a past and future meaning. How humans can be a biological substance that poses a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily humans. Today it's COV-19.

The original image was sourced courtesy of the Oleg Valov, The Solovky State Museum Reserve, Russia.

We now have in relation to COV-19 what Naomi Klein calls in a recent article, “touchless technology”, and how “the pre-existing agenda before Covid that imagined replacing so many of our personal bodily experiences by inserting technology in the middle of them.

So for the few spaces where tech is not already mediating our relationships, there was a plan – to replace in-person teaching with virtual learning, for instance, and in-person medicine with telehealth and in-person delivery with robots. All of this has been rebranded, post-Covid, as a touchless technology, as a way of replacing what has been diagnosed as the problem, which is the problem of touch. And yet, on a personal level, what we miss most is touch”.

Solidarity feels very haptic and the ideas we have been exploring together suggest the word solidarity was more an idea of people standing in things together and related very strongly to the green thoughts and work we have been making.

In relation to this Klein talks about the Green New Deal proposed by the Democrats in the US: “How do we slow down? This is what I am thinking a lot about. It feels like every time we slam our foot on the accelerator marked “business as usual” or “back to normal”, the virus surges back and says: “Slow down.” She then goes on to say: “I have a few ideas. One has to do with the softness that the pandemic has introduced into our culture. When you slow down, you can feel things; when you’re in that constant rat race, it doesn’t leave much time for empathy. From its very beginning, the virus has forced us to think about interdependencies and relationships. The first thing you are thinking about is: everything I touch, what has somebody else touched? The food I am eating, the package that was just delivered, the food on the shelves. These are connections that capitalism teaches us not to think about”.

This feels like a call for individual and collective solidarity as we are roaming in the gloaming*a kind of hazy, uncertain and to be, moment.

*Gloaming dates back to the 12th century, which is pretty old for a word still used and understood today. It has Middle English, Scots, and Old English roots in words such as glom and gloming which mean twilight and glowan which means to glow.

что делать

Haptic emotionally political green.


Solidarity means standing in things together, feeling things together, not flattening difference, green space allows this to happen more readily. Symbolically, I talk about standing in bodily fluids together because this is something that in one way or another, connects us all - corporeal, visceral empathy (it’s uncomfortable and it’s useful!).

The new generosity is generous in sharing infection, ‘bad’ things. People keep saying ‘the new normal’, familiarity is strangely mutable and quick to evolve, but feels like a big ask.

You touch me and I’ll touch you; reciprocity is extended as a gesture of threat; members, limbs, extremities. The extremity of extremities inched over the mark of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, what leads to a new kind of mortality and dissociation, self-loathing.

Familiarity is cyclical and repetitious - it is green and productive in the ability to redo but it isn’t necessarily helpful. Sometimes liminality should be abandoned. Spring always makes me feel sad - in line with this thought pattern maybe it’s a kind of grief. But this moment is carried by the overarching weight of starting again. Newness that is at once familiar and alien. Desirability - familiarity is reciprocal - I see these things in myself and it reflects back onto the object of whatever affection it is thrust upon. But there is desirability in the Other - perhaps this is in the jouissance felt in discovering something new but I also feel there is pleasure in redefining the other as something that can be understood, conquered, familiarised. To find the familiar in the alien and overcome that overwhelming sensation of unknown that causes so much fear and excitement.

Searching for familiarity can result in empathy, generosity, but it can also result in destructive assimilation. Colonialism rests partly on a kind of genocidal ‘familiarisation’ - the desire to assimilate the scary ‘Other’ that threatens your sense of secure identity - or to destroy it in the face of defiance. It is a balance of colonial ego. Greeness recognises a naive generosity towards one another in seeking the familiarity in the masses, those who inhabit those green public spaces that belong to us all (they don’t, they should, that’s the point) but harnesses the power of the other. It’s not about acting as one it’s about solidarity in difference. Intersectional politics isn’t about assimilation after all - a celebration of Otherness is necessary for political empowerment and just as green symbolises the essence of life force it is also the new colour of revolution. This is how we harness the abjection held within green for political gain.

Is it utterly naive to praise jollity amongst horror? Or is greeness the thing that is necessary to empower and disempower effectively and for productive social ends? (Here I’m trying to distinguish a stance against oppressive, dogmatic, hegemonic seriousness). You can laugh at the evils in the world and this is disempowering but sometimes there is good to be had in stopping for a somber moment. Power shouldn’t be trivialised although power itself can be found in acknowledging the ambivalence of continuation.

I don’t want the positive reversal of abjection as something weaponised against marginalised groups to something to arm oneself with to be included in society at large, to merely be enveloped in the sludge. (Look I love sludge and I know it’s maybe confusing because there seems to be this distinction of it either being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ abjection, but I don’t think abjection or grotesquerie is moral, merely weaponised as such by society, and here we try to fight back as double-agents, throwing up replicated-but-reversed tactics back at them). Green is not inclusion in a corrupt society it is generous push against this - generous in its upholding of solidarity between those who require it. Generosity can be extended by those who have greater privilege within capitalist consumerist systems by harnessing this as opportunity to enhance those without such access - this is where, as artists, we can play double-agent.

It’s true that the coexistence of laughter and tears is so near and the states are so similar.

Well, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, eh!

But I do think that laughter can become authoritarian. Distraction isn’t always the way. Maybe the freedom of laughter was never fully suspended? Clowning wisely is important to consider when undertaking anything to such effect.

We talked about Green being infectedshitbilepussviruspuke - it’s pointedly denied by our subconscious, “Othered” by us, because apparently we don’t want to associate with things which lead to the corpse, to death. They cross the boundary of living comfort. The female, the feminine is placed as the Other, with a big O by Lacan because the norm, the standard, the “control” human is male - so the female is then differentiated, it is alien and it is Other. So then interestingly it shares this realm with the abject. Perhaps the abject is exacerbated by the idea, the ideal, of “female” because the abject is female. So this would predicate that the moral idea of purity and cleanliness is enforced upon womankind not just for the standard arguments of male ownership and control (obvious) but because subconsciously, we fear the reconciliation of the female as innately abject. With the powers of life, death, bodily functions most harnessed by women, with men only relatively recently invited into the rituals of childbirth and so on, women have always had access to the power of renewal held the abject - death is natural after all, birth and death one and the same - but it has been subjugated as disgusting. Because they do not know, and this is threatening. Because it is always

We share this kind of talk, experience, amongst ourselves (womxn) but it feels taboo to extend this sharing to males. To be honest, it feels taboo until that boundary is initially crossed - that is why strangely it feels like a politicised statement every time a woman chooses to “overshare” (as it is often said), but I think this is “sharing just enough” because when we don’t share these things we die.

Well, I was born green because I shat myself on the way out, and to be honest I’ve always been proud of that.

So if jouissance is demarcated as ‘Other’ also - by Lacan, somewhat more empoweringly by Kristeva, then let’s claim that and utilise it for radical gain.

This all underlines a distinction of the abject being present on parallel planes - just as we addressed the importance of symbolic and practical distinguishing - linguistic abjection, and abject experience. Linguistic abjection follows abject experience in its reflection of taboo - popularly it enshrines a kind of superstitious negativity in its aim to hide the true abjection of lived experience. Whereas abject experience just happens at a consistent level, fluctuated by health, circumstance, and choice, but it is there. So in this there is the ability to flip the negativity, harnessing the power of abject experience as something to be utilised, funnelled into our language as helpful, useful taboo. This is one way in which we can connect, as humans.

And then how do we reconcile this with the image of the father, the mother, and the growth of a human away from these polyphonic identities? (we’ve already talked about Lacan, so I don’t really want to dwell to be honest). Familiarity - family - is comfort for me where it is not for others; we are generous with family, we share, but many don’t stand in solidarity, that comes with a different understanding of the familial. There’s discomfort to be had in all of this too - for example this text. Are we crossing a boundary, a taboo? Because I’m going to write the word semen and my Dad is going to read it and I’m going to tell you that when we sat down for lunch to start talking about this work, about Green, one of the first things my Dad said to me is
Green smells like semen
And we laughed, we still laugh. Maybe you have synesthesia, Pah.

Duncan: Grace, It's called odor-color synesthesia, duh.

Follow Grace:

Instagram: @50ml_oh_de_toilet


2/42 Studios:

Follow Duncan:

Instagram: @downonthefarmdh


Grace and Duncan are both artists from Sheffield (UK), and Grace is now based in Glasgow (UK). They have known each other for approx. 25 years because they are father and daughter. They have been working collaboratively for probably more like 12 years.

Two Poems

Poetry by:


I hate the one who found it
a dirty sedative
a theft that is let, lot

And his heel
and the heel of the imprinted some
kind of destruction
over and over

Thrash like they do in the movies
yaw to stop the flux
of what is apricot
within me brazen
and in want of visitation

Something about the faint
surrender of his face, like a cannon
machine to clay
amid the filth of lowbrow sex
which used to cover me

And from every gaping aperture
a flinty excrescence rises

Behind the behind the desire
through trembling attire
the man stays


Chased me down about a half-whip
pox of wanting you

The negative edge
I feel when you pluck out
the joy that only you and I

Once a salty interior, me and my sex
a smiling girlfriend
stealing small awards

But understand I was glass
cat-eyes, the gloss of my bare nod

– Your cheap face
some $20 of snake material
protruding like a testicle

Go pale and bend under, someday
you'll see – I am

The blank slate
upon which every man

Follow M. Elizabeth:

Instagram: @m.elizabeth.scott


M. Elizabeth Scott is a poet, Western esotericist and Hermeticist based in Jersey City, NJ. She is the co-founder of experimental arts collective Cixous72 and its derivative imprint, 72 Press, established in 2015 to promote the innovative and eclectic works of emerging artists and writers. Her poetry and essays have been featured in Newest York, Shit Wonder, The Poetry Project, Refigural Magazine, and elsewhere. Recent presentations of her text have appeared at Printed Matter, McNally Jackson, Codex Books, and Montez Press Radio. She is currently an MFA candidate at Rutgers University in Newark, where she will be teaching creative writing.



Short Story by:

After graduating, I spent ten years working for various scumbags, morons, petty despots. A couple service industry gigs, intern at a PR firm, camming, some freelance production assistance. None of it really made any difference in my debt, financial or cosmic. But then a friend got me a job in the environmental resources department at city government. Everyone who worked there was a thousand years old. One of them was a lady named Linda Hoftstedt. She sat next to me. Every day I would spend the whole afternoon completely dissociating while staring at her poofy grey hair sticking above the cubicle wall. We eventually got to know each other. She was from a place called Woonsocket, Rhode Island, but had lived here for like 50 years. She was really easy to talk to and you could tell she actually cared about people. We became drinking buddies. By that I don’t mean we went to happy hour after work. No, no. Whenever we prepped our lunchtime rum and cokes—she pouring the flask, me on lookout—she would say in a high-volume whisper: “Remember Mercedes, a meal without a sweet is a story without a moral!” She didn’t know it but she was the closest thing I had to a best friend.
    About a year after I started working there is when I started meeting with Arquímedes. His dumbass is always late, which is ironic because Arquímedes is always wearing that stupidass puka shell necklace. The one with the little hourglass. So I was standing there by the empty trellis, I think you know the one, and I lit my third cigarette. Smacked one of the stucco columns. I pictured the sun dappling me through the bougainvillea on the trellis, but there was no bougainvillea and there was no sun. Then I thought about the time when I was 10 or 11 and a jellyfish stung me a few blocks down. How, instead of pain, I felt like it gave me some kind of super power. I walked up to this little boy I didn’t know who was poking seaweed with a stick and asked him, “You wanna go behind the lifeguard tower?” How, in the middle of him peeing on my leg, he started crying.      
    By that point Arquímedes was a half hour late. I almost didn’t care; the skinny palms curved by wind and salt looked so good against that velvet sky! The knotted seagrapes, the pink promenade. The fine-ass Jamaican dude with like, a dozen abs rollerblading by. (I could tell he was Jamaican because he had this big Jamaican flag wrapped around his shoulders.) I almost hoped Arquímedes wouldn’t show, that’s how hard I was vibing. Some kids passed a bowl around in the alley of that condemned Art Deco chateau. Is that what you used to call it? A chateau? The stormwater pump was humming and its spray was balletic as fuck. I took out my phone and considered texting Arquímedes but instead I decided to scroll, then scroll some more.
    His purple polo appeared in my peripheral. Tight grey sweatpants, Comme des Garçons, his beard a huge hornet’s nest of pubes. He’s got this silver cap on one of his canines that twinkles whenever he grins his gravelly “Oyeee?” Kisses me on the cheek. I simulate a smile. He looks me up and down and grunts approval, same as every time, and I harangue him for being a dog, a piece of shit. “Dis-cul-pame bay-bee.” I don’t hate him even though I want to.
    We crossed the street for dinner at the restaurant attached to the hotel. The building used to be cake yellow with seafoam ziggurats along the edges. Now it was all white like every other building. We sat catty corner at a table on the patio and browsed the menus. I already knew what I wanted so I peeked over the hard plastic. His eyes were glassy, each nostril a rose of broken capillaries, big ass shit-grin. I went to high school with the puta. We never talked—he had his boujee clique, my tribe was the skaters stoned all the time. Senior year everyone talked about how his dad killed a horse.
    Arquímedes’ family lived in Horse Country down in Kendall. Back then it was all huge estates and farmland. All the families were rich and had cooks. They made picadillo and fed it to the fat boys. They folded the fat boys’ laundry, tucked them into bed. Then they’d go to their closet-size quarters, clutch their rosaries and pray for their husbands, the tomato pickers and alpaca shavers. One of the rumors was that the horse his dad killed belonged to a neighbor who was his main competition in the chicken seed market. Another rumor was that it belonged to a mistress he was trying to send a message to. Everyone agreed on one detail: He’d killed it with his bare hands. How the fuck do you kill a horse with your bare hands?
    All those years later I was sitting at my computer when the memory popped into my mind. It was so random. I googled “horse murder horse country miami” and was surprised to find a number of articles. Arquímedes’ grandfather was a pharma executive with a show horse named Fantasia. His son, Arquímedes’ father, was convicted of arranging the killing for insurance money. There was speculation about what really happened, since the payout was just a drop in their bucket. One blogger suspected that the grandfather, who’d gone senile, had actually ordered the killing. Supposedly the family had previously blackballed Arquímedes’ father (I forget why) and in exchange for taking the fall, he was allowed back in. I never asked Arquímedes about it. Soon after reading the articles is when I had the idea that would make us mucho fuckin’ dinero.
    We ordered daiquiris. “Do you want the totopos? You want the totopos don’t you?” He’s so annoying. We sipped the daiquiris and snacked on the chips without saying much to each other. I watched him flip his hourglass, then locked eyes with the lemon wedge pinned to the sky. “Minuteglass,” he’d corrected me once. Gave me a sour look after I told him to shut the fuck up. I just can’t with him sometimes.
    Another round of drinks and we were in his SUV. He was parked next to the library, under the lone lamp of the parking lot. Mom used to turn into there when she needed to get high. “Time for a pit stop,” she’d say. Do you remember that? To be honest I was glad when Arquímedes pulled out of there with a little screech. He drove slowly down a side street behind the Walgreens. Three parrots shifted on their perch, the fronds lightly rasping as they watched. “Where are you going?” I asked. He said he needed to see somebody.
    Arquímedes parked and got out, walked through a gate, and disappeared. I put the window down because the car smelled like Cohibas and Axe Body Spray. The bouquet always gave me a shot of teenage nostalgia, that funny mix of nausea and longing. I lit a cigarette I didn’t want. Halfway through he was back.
    “This lady is crazy. You text her what you want. You show up at her crib, she buzzes you in. It’s just you in this Florida room, right? The door that goes into the house—that shit is reinforced steel. And there’s lockers on one side? Like the small ones in middle school.”
    “You’ve never met her?” I asked.
    “Never. She gives you the code, you get your shit from one of the lockers.”
    During our meetings Arquímedes was always telling me stories about buying or doing some research chemical, some of which I hadn’t touched since college, most of which I’d never even heard of. I never saw him balls-to-the-wall fucked up. Though I heard about it plenty.
    He drove into another lot across the street, slowly through the flooded parts, and parked. He took out a small baggie filled with about a dozen capsules, cracked one open, sprinkled some lavender colored powder onto his studded tongue.
    “Mercedes you wanna hit it?”
    At first I declined. These days I’m more interested in your run-of-the-mill oblivion. But it was Saturday. So I tipped a tiny bit into my mouth. We sat and listened to the radio, a full 10 seconds of air horns. 
    Finally, down to business. He popped open the center console and pulled out a half-gallon Ziploc bag filled with white, white sand. As he handed it to me, he said, “This that good raw shit.”
    I cupped its contents, feeling for softness and granularity. Cottony and uniform, as promised. I clicked on the light above and Arquímedes looked around nervously. I told him to relax and took a whiff from the bag. The sand was sweet, a little salty, a little musky.
    “Looks pretty good,” I said, handing it back, cloaking my excitement. He threw it back in the console, switched off the light. We bumped fists, the signature of choice on our felonious contract, then stepped out into the hot winter night.
    I hung out with guys like Arquímedes in college. I spent so many nights in dimly lit apartments, sitting Indian style on stained beige carpets, the TV on with nobody watching except for me and the other one or two girls. The boys were always gathered around the bong and scraping resin for their shitty spliffs. They’d have longwinded arguments about Žižek then smack each other in the nuts while doing a Cartman impression. Everyone was either secretly depressed and anxious or openly depressed and anxious. It was around the time when the end of the world became this tedious thing. 
    Bikini Bar was my kinda spot. One long bar, two poles at both ends. The poles were on small platforms. Their brass had gone patina about two feet up, the high water mark. The girls danced—you guessed it—in bikinis. The owners probably couldn’t afford whatever license you need for women to take all of their clothes off. It seemed like a pretty sad attempt at depraved fun. That’s why I liked it. Arquímedes and I took a seat in the middle of the bar closest to the bartender. She had this highlighter green baseball cap on. When she turned around to make our drinks, we saw her black thong pulled high above the waist of her white jeans. Arquímedes raised his eyebrows at it. She reminded me of me.
    “Check this shit out,” Arquímedes said, chinning at the entrance. Six members of a mariachi spilled in, stoic and dignified, ready to let loose. Their outfits’ intricate embroidery and fraying cuffs, the silk red scarves, their air of post-gig glory—all of it made my heart swoon. I was definitely coming up on whatever it was I had taken earlier. My jaw tightened and slackened. The room tingled.
    Arquímedes, wiping grease on his sweatpants, started telling me a story about a story. Before bed, his mom would tell him a version of The Sand Reckoner. In her version, Archimedes (the philosopher) was walking around in a swamp, whistling a tune and bounding over cypress knees, plucking tillandsia, when all of the sudden, Archimedes’ head started ringing. A bell struck by an idea. He realized he could figure out how many grains of sand it would take to fill the entire universe. So he went to the beach and started counting: one, two, three, four… He was still counting as little Arquímedes fell asleep, his mother tenderly placing a kiss on his brow.
    My partner in crime’s eyes twinkled with love and inebriation.
    “So it’s funny that you and I have been, uh, doing this thing, you know? The sand thing.” I shot him a muting glance, as if to say, not here, too public. I let some time pass, let the sentimentality sink in, then reminded him to message his guy in New Delhi. This would be the largest shipment we’d ever arranged. I wanted to make sure he did what he was supposed to do before he got too fucked up to do it right. I kept an eye on his crafting of the text till I was assured of its sober-seeming syntax. After the New Delhi guy got the go-ahead, he’d coordinate with whatever goons in whatever sand mafia to secure the delivery. As I stared into my empty shot glass, I imagined, or maybe hallucinated, a Rolodex of all the shady developers and contractors I knew. Who would bid the highest? I politely said to our bartender, “Another round, please.”
    The period was barely on the sentence when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a man quickly approaching. In that split second I knew for sure that he was coming towards me specifically, and that it was not friendly. It’s funny—first the animal in you knows. Isn’t there something so pathetically human about a delayed response? That lapse between reality, perception, and interpretation sometimes feels like the only space I get to live in.
    By the time I turned he was already yelling in my face. The words at first were just hot blasts of breath that stung my eyes. The only word I could make out was “phone.” His face was a mask of white, contorted. Maybe a Chad.
    “Ya-rimmie-rack-my phone!”
    “What? Excuse me?”
    “Wooshook it!”
    I scooted my chair back so I could stand up and gain some distance from this asshole. I didn’t feel too threatened, but I’d learned to not always trust that part of me. It was then I realized this guy was holding a pool cue. I shot a glance at Arquímedes. His mouth was an O of useless, crippled surprise. The dancer at the end had stopped her routine and her polka-dotted top was glowing. All six members of the mariachi were standing up from their stools.
    Before I could respond, the bartender was up and over the bar, a flash of green and authority. “Not in MY FUCKING BAR.” The bouncer came up with stealth and speed from behind, a dark suit who moved with the grace of a dancer. In an instant Chad was on the floor, then out the door.
    The bartender held my shoulders and asked if I was ok. All I could do was laugh. She explained that someone had been stealing phones at Bikini Bar a lot lately. He must’ve confused me with someone he suspected of stealing his. Or maybe he had some other shipwrecked thought in the churning seas of his brain.
    “Dude. Where the fuck were you Arquímedes?”
    “I… didn’t even understand. That was so crazy!”
    I sat down. The bar eventually settled back into its normal rhythms. Arquímedes pointed to the door at the back of the bar and whispered to me,
    “I hear dudes can get a HJ back there.”
    “Shut the fuck up.”
    “What?? You prolly could too!”
    We settled up. On the way out, one of the mariachi guys gave me a head nod. I smoked a cigarette outside and texted Linda about what happened while Arquímedes stared at a tree. I decided the night was almost over.
    On the Rocks was a bar that had no door. They closed for a single hour at 5 a.m. to clean the place up. El viejo would sit on a stool guarding the entrance like a gargoyle. The AC was broken that night, so it was especially humid inside. Sitting at the bar were some piercy-eyed Portuguese women, and a thruple of parrotheads in tie-dye. Everyone was dewy. Arquímedes went to order our drinks as penance while I found a table in the corner.
    I sat down and looked at my phone. Linda had texted me back. She’d sent a link to some news story about a village on the coast of Russia called Shoyna. Shoyna, which meant “cemetery” in their local language, was a fishing community. At one point they had 1,500 people living there, a fleet of over 70 fishing vessels. Mostly mackerel, pollock, haddock. But now the whole village was just completely entombed in sand. Linda liked sharing weird sand stories with me. It was a nice respite from boring erosion reports and coordinating with dickheaded vendors.
    Linda sent another text: “Crazy story! So sorry re ‘macho’ man. Was reading this when you sent. Plz try to enjoy the rest of your night <3.”
    I sat there thinking about what led me to my life. I smiled as Arquímedes came back with two ridiculous looking beverages. Another song had come on the jukebox, a song I recognized.
    “What?” he asked.
    “Nothing, bro. Nothing.”

Follow Rob:

Instagram: @goyanesque
Twitter: @robgoyanes


Rob Goyanes was born in Brooksville, Florida, and raised in Miami. He lives in New York. "Hourglass" was made possible thanks to a commission by Misael Soto for their project "Sand: Amphitheater, Theater, Arena."

Two Poems

Poetry by:

outside the psychic shop

pacing can’t move me
at the speed you’re wanting  words

i mouth a cue
you jump the turnstile
each time i speak a new payment

facefucking the final  moments
of my lunch break
is the only profit
i could adore

transactions are unrelenting

i stare straight in the eyes of your collector
chugging grapefruit seltzer under rain

grief hits like a punch
enough with closed eyes
to call this  Living

looking soft to march for the loosie shop
cop an afternoon seat on the downtown train

your artist wife will never feel peace
in your house  she will always
want to be alone


gentle intention

outbound phobias

miss my soft soap fingers
miss my quarter xanax head

all my life
recall hand to mouth vitriol
as intuitive upheaval

i accept my ordinary physics
my oxygen scaffolding
my never get

all longing is admissible
when refracted thru necessity

i’m not interested
in caring least

it’s me
green smiles
in ubiquity  on every
airport bathroom screen

Follow Ivanna:

Instagram: @ivanna.jpg


Twitter: @internetfantasy


Ivanna Baranova is the author of CONFIRMATION BIAS (Metatron Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Peach Mag, Newest York, The Poetry Project, and elsewhere. She lives between Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

The Bike Accident

Artwork by:

Megan DeCino, “The Bike Accident,” 9 X 12 inches, Acrylic on paper. 

Megan DeCino, “Wow, that's weird I'm sorry I guess I just don't understand, my family is like, really well adjusted,” 18 x 24 inches, Arcylic on paper. 

Megan DeCino, “Me Three,” 12 X 18 inches, Acrylic on paper.

Megan DeCino, “Sacha,” 9 X 12 inches, Arcylic on canvas.

Follow Megan:

Instagram: @megandecino 


Megan DeCino is an artist from Alaska. She will paint your portrait if you DM her.

For Jean & Anselm

Poetry and Music by:


Vessel II (Sparks of the Sacred): 


Oh Jean, my Jean...
Call him where he is
and where I am not
Streetwalker battlefield
Call him Lilith
Dropped in my grandmother’s
Where flame
and smoke, waltz
you are sand
and he
is ashflower


granite under
the eye
torn edges take
the glance away
from those
hyaluronic lips
which are a lie

Follow Jeremiah:

Instagram: @necklaceoftears

Soundcloud: jeremiahcarter 



Jeremiah M. Carter is an artist from Nashville, TN currently based out of Brooklyn, NY. Carter's current interest is the use of the written word to banish itself.

Essay Series by:

Adam Lehrer,”Society Eroding, Giftzwerg Descending,” 2020.


There is a German word, “Giftzwerg,” that most directly translates as  “poisonous dwarf.” This enigmatic mythological being generally resides deep beneath the ground — that is, far outside normative society — and is adept at creative crafts such as metallurgy (an implicitly artistic being, if one ruthlessly difficult to be around). The Giftzwerg thrives as an oppositional force. Characterized as loud, rude, and uncommonly spiteful, the Giftzwerg disrupts the typical ebbs and flows of “the discourse.” The Giftzwerg is a sophisticated brand of what we in Western internet culture call “a troll.”

Normally, we are conditioned to hate and fear these trolls that interrupt our conversations and puncture our ideologies with their incessant online bullying, their memes, and their disdainful senses of humor. But dear reader, consider the roll of the troll as filtered through the fantastical lens of Giftzwerg: the Gitftzwerg troll is an artist, and these beings have long held a vital cultural function throughout political, sociological, and art history. You see, the discourse that comes to define our culture’s values and prevalently held truths isn’t always universally correct. An alternate position is a valuable one in a society that is so consistently wrong. So when this Giftzwerg, this troll, slithers into our discourses, we greet him with scorn and disgust. But the troll, boisterously defiant, throws a grenade into the culture. The grenade, the contrarian thought, rips a whole into the fabric of the symbolic order. Oh, how we fight the truth! “How dare you! you small spiteful little troll! How dare you show us that we might be wrong!”

The discourse needs its trolls. It needs these evil, small, hateful, contrarian men and women to disrupt our safe spaces with oppositional, incendiary theories. Newton: for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The troll is the reaction. The reactionary? Not so much.

The Giftzwerg functions as an agent of chaos, an anarchic element that is vital to sorting truths from lies, and determining the value in misbegotten moral standards. We establish the taboos, the troll gleefully transgresses that taboo. We hate the troll, oh yes, we despise our culture’s Giftzwergs. But these beings elevate our subconscious repressions to the surface of our culture inevitably planting seeds that emerge as new discourses and new ideas. We are afraid, so deeply afraid, to challenge the prevailing ideas of our times, that we shrink. We shrink into cowardice. Shrink into clichéd theories and conceptions of culture and history. We conform, oh how we conform! The Giftzwerg laughs — with malicious glee — at our cowardice! We resist new ideas, but he forces us to consume and digest them.

The language of the Internet is a gothic language: “A language of the monstrous and the macabre,” writes author Laurence Scott in his book The Four-Dimensional: Ways of Being in the Digital World. With the Internet firmly established as the primary instrument for intellectual enrichment and human communication, it has also emerged as a contemporized iteration of the battleground of our most mythological and eternal ideological battles: chaos versus reason, conservation versus decadence, immorality versus morality. Our honored troll has its counterpart in another being aptly named after an iconic gothic fiend: the dreaded “grey vampire.” The late cultural theorist Mark Fisher wrote, “The dominant modes of subjectivity at the end of history/web 2.0 are that of the troll and of the grey vampire, the two faces of The Last Man.”

How to understand this conflict between the troll and the grey vampire? While both modes of being share a couple key similarities, they also wield major distinctions. You see, where as the troll defines itself in opposition to the prevailing norms and ideological hegemonies of social life, the grey vampire feeds off of the opposition and reinforces those political and cultural norms. You have all dealt with grey vampires before. Have you ever gotten into an insufferable twitter debate with a MSNBC watching liberal shill absolutely positive that Trump is some kind of Russian operative despite the Russiagate story having been discredited almost two years ago? Of course you have. You ended up in a circular argument with a grey vampire; be grateful that the encounter didn’t leave you idealistically exsanguinated.

The troll/grey vampire opposition is at the crux of the conflict between the alt-right and “Tumblr Feminists”  as outlined by Angela Nagle in her incendiary Kill All Normies text. “But after crying wolf throughout these years, calling everyone from saccharine pop stars to Justin Trudeau a ‘white supremacist’ and everyone who wasn’t “With Her” a sexist, the real wolf eventually arrived, in the form of the openly white nationalist alt-right who hid among an online army of ironic in-jokey trolls,” writes Nagle. While the alt-right took on the cultural roles of online trolls, the “Tumblr feminists” embodied the grey vampire in its most toxic iteration. Both ideologies, while wildly out of step with the modes of thinking and being of the wider populations, equally feast upon the attention economy. Attention is that which feeds these mythological beasts, but they are ravenous and insatiable. A multi-course feast worthy of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover leaves their stomachs growling.

But while the-alt right became defined by a pure opposition — total transgression of cultural norms — the “Tumblr feminists” were propagating a more extreme version of an ideology that had already been dispersed throughout and co-opted by the corporate mainstream. The grey vampires as represented by “Tumblr feminists” here present as remarkably social beings: polite, kind, “understanding.” And yet, in their unearned moral certainty, they stop at nothing from enforcing bourgeois ideology and oppressive hegemonic norms. The cultural vampire, unlike the troll, is always sure that it is right. Whereas the trolls revel in their wrongness to express a singular alienation while seeking the “creation of an anarchic community out of the wreckage,” according to philosopher Nina Power, the cultural vampires attempt to coerce, shame, and “educate” their perceived ideological opponents into taking on the hegemonic cultural belief system (at the present, that system is “woke” neoliberalism).

I don’t mean to venerate alt-right trolls here, and clearly as a sub-culture it is prone to vicious displays of misogyny, racism, and anti-semitism and an almost sickening disregard for real human beings, but it is merely one kind of troll. The troll, unlike the grey vampire, does not claim moral authority or certitude. The troll seeks to push back against prevailing norms, right or wrong. As Mark Fisher says, “trolls are not limited to cyberspace. And of course, the elementary troll gesture is the disavowal of cyberspace itself.”

This, brothers and sisters, emphasizes the point that I am ultimately trying to make. An internet troll by definition is a rejection of the Internet, i.e. our prevailing cultural discourse machine, in and of itself. As Fisher points out, this is a historical stance. The Internet as cultural hegemony is a role that in the past has been filled by modernism, technology, science, technocracy. But the troll has always been there, exposing the hypocrisies within our culture and its institutions. The Gitzwerg: he who opposes, he who disobeys. What I am proposing is that the troll, when liberated from our narrow understanding of it as merely an online bully, is an art historical stance that has yielded some of our most radical cultural productions. In its bold defiance, the troll leaves room for an avant-garde elevation of idea and aesthetic that the grey vampire never could. This elevated troll is an artist, or a thinker, or a generator of the new. The poisonous dwarf is an agent of change. The troll is needed now more than ever.

What follows this essay is a series of imagined conversations with some of recent history’s — from modernism to liquid modernism — boldest, most liberated, and most radical Giftzwergs.

Adam Lehrer,”The Spectacle (Troll It),” 2020.


Francois Rabelais

Rabelais the rebellious, how the French aristocracy despised you! What was it, like Francois, to be surrounded by such bone-headed vulgarians? You trolled the 16th Century French monastery from the inside. You exposed the absurdities and failures of quack physicians whom you worked alongside as a physician yourself. A monk. A doctor. And perhaps the world’s first great prose writer. A lacerating satirist of biting wit and profound cultural critique, hypocrisy was everywhere and you alone could see it. You alone could dissect it. You alone could expose it. You alone, Francois,  could troll it.

The modernist 20th Century literary critic Mikhail Bahktin identified some of modernism’s most powerful modes of revolt in your work. The carnivalesque, Francois, you saw power in the strength of the crowd! THE DECADENCE OF THE CARNIVAL! The people were united in splendor and debauchery! Bound by their flouting of the authorities, by their excesses, their thirsts for life and freedom, Rabelais, you illustrated it beautifully!

Francois, I admire your ability to identify the strange and contradictory within your own epoch. I identify with it, actually. I live in liberal capitalism in the 21st Century, can you believe it? We are separated by centuries, and yet, we are one! Artists who can see! Artists who detect and resent flaws within our own societies. Artists who disdain the very times periods we were thrust into by no faults of our own! It’s not our faults!

Where I must live under the control of platform capitalism (sorry Francois, there’s just no way I can adequately explain to you the concept of cyberspace, should your ghost ever decide to haunt my dreams again, we can talk it out), you lived under the repressive dominion of the Church. But you flouted its authority, Francois! Your writing, so deliriously funny and brutally poignant that it was protected by a network of powerful patrons, punctured the projected image of the church that reverberated throughout society like the sun through the ozone. Guy Debord understood that the culture of the 20th Century was a spectacle, but your era was a spectacle too was it not? The church is nothing if not spectacular. Moreover, it’s vulgar. The sheer foppish pageantry of its rituals must have been enough to make you sick. Modernity, you anticipated it, you perhaps even created it. Modernity — a mode of transgression, an onslaught on normative values — is intertwined with trolls. Without trolls, no modernity. Without modernist intent, no trolls. You were one of the most mischievous trolls of all. Fearless, radical. Rebel Rabelais.

In the fourth book of your Gargantua anthology you tell the story of Master Villon. I love this story, it so illustrates your preternatural power to expose. To troll. Villon, your chosen protagonist, is like you, an artist with seismic ambition but still bound to the financing structures of the church. Such a drag! Villon wants to produce a play full of travesty and passion (much like your prose!) All he needs to complete his work of unparalleled creativity is a costume for one of the play’s primary characters, God Almighty. But a local sacristan responsible for financing Villon’s plays, insulted, rebukes Villon’s pleas for financing! Villon, bold and defiant as his creator, decides to take on the role of troll (of Giftzwerg even) by staging the play’s rehearsal just as the sacristan strolls by on his carriage. Villon stirs his cast into a decadent frenzy! The sacristan’s horse is startled, and drags that stingy sacristan across the lands! “Thus he was dragged about by the filly through the road, scratching his bare breech all the way.”

Villon was you, Francois. This story is the essence of your incisive trolling. "In his novel, and by means of his novel, Rabelais behaves exactly as did Villon....” wrote your most insightful critic Bahktin. “He uses the popular-festive system of images ... to inflict a severe punishment on his foe, the Gothic age." This is it, Francois! You were in awe of the capacity of the masses for chaos and decadence to undermine the rigidity of living through the repression of a Church dominated monarchy! The Renaissance was a time of artistic resurgence no doubt, but it could not contain your exuberance. It could not contain your genius. No, you ushered in modernism. You were its first troll, able to fracture the hegemony of the Church and the aristocracy that formed a disorienting labyrinth of power and dominance. Oh, if you only knew how many great historic trolls would later bask in your influence! Cervantes! Shakespeare! Joyce! Rejoice! Rejoice for all of them Francois! The giants of modernism. The grand trolls of literary history. They are your legacy! You are its progenitor.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich, you were right. God had died. He’s still dead. Dead as a fuckin doornail. But don’t worry, us 21st Century dullards have found plenty of things to replace him with: celebrity, outrage, and technology (a great artist of our time named Neil Gaiman made a book of illustrations and text entitled American Gods in which the gods of mysticism and folklore face off with the technological idols of the information age for a battle over the souls of mankind. It’s pretty good, I think you’d like it).

Friedrich, you would be shocked at how utterly controversial your thought remains to this very day. Since your death hundreds of years ago, thinkers and ideologues have attempted to co-opt and rebrand your philosophy to justify their political demands. “The Will to Power,” as you often refrained, was “beyond good and evil.” My god (dead as he is), the fortitude you possessed! The analytical prowess! You were as apolitical as a philosopher could be! You simply diagnosed the world as a fluid matrix of competing power centers. But it’s just such a potent phrase, “the will to power.” The political left embraced it, appropriating it into a Marxist theory of political change: “Seize the will to power, workers of the world! Rise up and take your rightful ownership over the means of production!” As an old fashioned communist myself, I’ve often considered how to liquidate your philosophy into my political theory of change, but alas, I believe that is to woefully miss the pint. Conversely, the 20th Century right wing also found your terminology, potent, Friedrich. The Nazis found your nomenclature very useful in justifying their creation of a white ethno-state (your sister didn’t help any, here, I truly hope you’ve had a chance to slag her off in the after life, she used you Friedrich, used you for power and clout, as we call it now).

But politics wasn’t really your domain, was it? No, you were merely an agitator! A troll! You were suspicious! Suspicious of the hierarchies and clichéd platitudes that had infected the theory of the 19th Century. Morality, you said, what does it even mean? How can such a complicated subject be derived solely from Judeo-Christian thought? Surely one could be moral and not be a Christian, and surely a Christian could be immoral?

What is so enduringly exciting about your philosophy, Friedrich, is that it is a Rorschach test. To read Nietzsche is to know thyself. Your theories are amorphous, applicable to any and all politics, all religions, all modes of thought! You lived in a world enduring rapid change. A new world needs new ideas, and you had ideas. So many ideas! How could theology continue to hold value over thought in a world in which god had died! In which god was pushed aside by machines! Industrialization demanded genealogical suspicion, a “hermeneutics of suspicion.” And you gave it to us, Friedrich. If only you had lived through the 20th Century to see what you’ve become! You are a god Friedrich! Immortalized by the thought and teachings of modernism’s greatest minds! Its greatest trolls! Foucault, Bataille, Adorno, Sartre, Cioran! Suspicious minds, brilliant minds!

I can’t even tell you how prophetic your analysis of slave morality has proven itself to be. Leftwing politics, which admittedly you were always suspicious of, has totally failed in galvanizing any kind of the broader class consciousness that your contemporary Karl Marx was hopeful could be attained as capitalism continued to immeserate its subjects. But class politics continues to fail, and today’s leftists are every bit as filthily capitalist as their right wing counterparts. The difference between the left and the right lies in a slave versus master morality, Friedrich.

Today’s right wingers are more than happy to protect a white, male oligarchic state. Instead, today’s left merely uses slave morality to secure “seats at the table” for people of more marginal identities in relation to race, gender, religion and orientation. They aren’t arguing for the abolition of the ruling class. No! They want to “diversify” the ruling class, weaponizing their cultural oppression to eviscerate their enemies all the way to the top. But I’m a socialist! I want the revolution to come from the abolition of the oligarchic state! And you know what they call me? These “leftists?” A “class reductionist!”  And the craziest thing is that even with a diversified ruling class, people of all races and all genders are living in more poverty than at any point in human history! Slave morality has utterly neutralized the efforts towards real emancipation of working and poor people, mystifying the stakes of realpolitik! It’s a tragedy, Friedrich. A historically absurd tragedy.

A great French writer who lived a bit after you, named Camus, once wrote of you as “the only artist to have derived the extreme consequences of an aesthetics of the absurd.” I think he’s right, Friedrich, I really do. Industrialization ushered in an era of absurdism that has persisted to this day. A world of absurdity doesn’t always need philosophers. There are no easy answers living in absurdity, and philosophy just can’t always prove adequate. What an absurd world needs is humans who dare to think differently. Who dare to point at absurdities and say: “You fools, you are all absurd! Can you not see the absurdity of our ways of living and thinking?” Absurdity demands trolls. Absurdity demands ARTISTS! And your life gave birth to a new kind of thinker. The artist-philosopher, dissecting and contextualizing the absurdities of life and extracting great beauty from it. Your thought was beautiful, Friedrich, don’t let anyone take that away from you.

HP Lovecraft

HP, master of the macabre, progenitor of the CTHULU, demi-god of the cosmic horror, people these days can’t even appreciate the artful disdain in your work without harping on about your racism and your anti-semitism. Just yesterday I read a record review about this heavy metal band (to know what heavy metal is, you would have to know what rock n’ roll is, so let’s just say metal is to us here in the 21st Century what Wagner was to you in the 19th Century) called Providence. Providence named themselves after your home city, HP, they love you! They love you as much as I love you. And this critic, Kim Kelly, she’s rather obnoxious, HP, she all but denounced the band for loving your work.

But how could we not love your work, HP? You defined a cosmic horror for the 20th Century! In your work, horror isn’t a genre, it’s a philosophy! A philosophy of the unknown, of the “world without us” as one of our own 21st Century philosophers Eugene Thacker would call it. All that magnetic brilliance, but your antisemitism and racism are attributes a touch too shocking for most of what passes as the American left in 2020. Well, I’m a jew HP, and I love you. Even if you hate me, I love you. I love you because no one could materialize a language of hate and fear and disorienting unknowability like you. You are the almighty giftzwerg! A small, toxic dwarf, disdainful and suspicious of all that modernist progress that was meant to usher mankind into utopia. You were right. We aren’t living in utopia. In fact, Earth circa 2020 is a hellscape, HP. While there are men who have hundreds of billions of dollars, most citizens of the world have barely enough money saved to simply weather the next week. And what do today’s “progressives” do about it HP? They attempt to silence any and all who pose an alternative view.

HP, you mean-spirited bastard, for all these contemporary scolds that try to write your work off all together, there are plenty of others who twist themselves into pretzels to justify their love of your work DESPITE your bigotries. Victor Lavalle, for instance, he’s probably one of our most respected contemporary authors of the weird fiction that you pioneered, wrote a novella entitled The Ballad of Black Tom in 2016. The story is framed as a “woke” remake of one of your more flagrantly racist stories The Horror at Red Hook. But that story predates the Cthulu Mythos, HP, it’s not even part of your seminal body of work, and yet Lavalle uses it to rationalize his love of your prose against his distaste of your bigotries. But this is wrong, I think. Your disdain for progress, your distrust of modernism, and your HATE is inextricably linked to your art. This isn’t a case where one can simply separate art from the artist, because your art was inherently negative, and your negative outlook on humanity must be folded into that understanding.

I’m reminded of what a late-20th Century French philosopher named Julia Kristeva would say about the French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Céline worked contemporaneously with you but found himself widely celebrated by the intellectual avant-garde, whereas you scribbled away on the fringes, publishing in pulp and sci-fi magazines. Despite that gap in initial acclaim between the two of you, and his interest in a hyper-realist abjection against yours in the unknown and that which is beyond knowledge, I believe you both shared an intense nihilism and malicious dismissal of humankind. Kristeva believed that efforts to isolate Céline’s stomach-churning antisemitism was to misunderstand the impact of his art as it overlooks the rage against the symbolic, or the ferocious anger at society in its totality, that is given language by your contemporary Céline’s antisemitism: “Anti-Semitism would be a die-hard secularism sweeping away, “ writes Kristeva. “Along with its number one enemy, religion, all its secondary representatives: abstraction, reason, and adulterated power, considered emasculating.”

I think Kristeva was right, HP. I do think Céline’s bigotries were inseparable from his art. How could one read prose so transcendentally negative and not consider his actual petty hatreds to be at least partly fueling that prose? Would it not be dishonest? I am honest, HP. It’s a virtue that I use to differentiate myself from the reactionaries and dullards I’m surrounded by in the 21st Century. And I am honest enough to admit that I love your work, not in spite of your racially driven grievances, but perhaps partly because of them. I find racism abhorrent of course, and that’s the dilemma you imbue in me as a reader: to be mesmerized by you is to be repulsed by you. I must acknowledge that your bigotries were connected to a broader world view that casts a cloud of ominous doubt upon all that we happily interpret as reality.

The Cthulu Myths. The Great Old Ones. These massive tentacled beasts that populated your literary universe suffused my childhood nightmares with enigma and an inescapable sense of my own impotence and ineffectuality in this world. My egocentric adolescence would be replaced with the dreadfully adult realization that I am nothing but a speck of dust. My society? Dust. It’s all dust. It’s all meaningless. And the more we learned about our galaxy through the rapid scientific progress of modernism, the more we learned that we. Are. Nothing.

Your beasts, your “Great Old Ones,” are the manifestations of all that is unknown. The closer we got to understanding the universe, you suggested, is the closer we came to knowing that we are constitutionally incapable of understanding our universe. Our universe is unknowable, a terrifyingly vast and empty void, and we are but a miniscule component of it. I imagine you looking upon your fellow 20th Century men with dismissal and contempt. While they stood in awe at the technological momentum of industrialization, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and Ford’s production line, you must have seen what the fall out of these would be, no? Did you know that these innovations would result in mass poverty, nuclear war and climate apocalypse? Maybe, maybe not. But you must have found these people to be fools considering what you came to believe would be science’s ultimate result: the realization that there is nothing. The universe is merely lawless chaos and and and all attempts to understand it are futile.

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far,” you once wrote in The Call of Cthulu. “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

To understand your remarkable powers of cosmically pessimist philosophy, we must interpret your art as inseparable from your worldview. We must accept that your hatred was not limited to those who looked or worshipped differently than you, but that those narrower grievances were merely aspects of a broader dogma of rejection. To love you is to love your hate. Without this hate, we reduce your work to what Georges Bataille would have called merely a “literary power.” But you are beyond literature. You are beyond humanity, even! You are Giftzwerg, the mighty troll who looked at Earth and saw nothing, an artist who forced us to confront our futility! Bless you HP! An author who concealed a pessimist philosophy to rival Schopenhauer and Cioran within the pages of low-brow sci-fi magazines, creating generations of trolls to come. Lovecraft, the crypto-philosopher. Bless you.

Adam Lehrer, “Society Eroding, Giftzwerg Descending,” digital collage, 2020.
Adam Lehrer,”Lovecraft v Modernism,” 2020.

Follow Adam:

Instagram: @adamlehreruptown



Adam Lehrer is a writer and an artist living in New York. As a writer, Lehrer covers topics like contemporary art, horror fiction, arthouse and cult cinema, noise/experimental music, left left/Marxist politics. He has been published by Autre Magazine, The Quietus, Filthy Dreams, SSENSE, i-D, and more. As an artist, Lehrer works with collage, photography, and video montage and explores the hauntological nature of image production in digital media. His work is laced in the aesthetics of horror, cyberpunk, eroticism, and abjection.

Essay Series by:

Adam Lehrer, ”the vampires are grey today,” c-prints and mixed media, 2020.


Kathy Acker

Kathy, if you were still here, would you lie to me? Would you seduce me? Would you make me feel stupid? Would you emasculate me? Would you laugh at me, Kathy? Would you?

To read your work is to be equally mesmerized and stupefied. Your books fail to fit neatly within any aesthetic or literary category. While informed by poststructuralism and other modes of hyper-intellectual thought, they never cease to tap into something personal, primordial, brutal, and tethered to chaotic nature.

It’s all too easy to label your work “postmodernism” even if it is, in many ways, postmodern. By appropriating the texts of classic writers into your novels — Dickens, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Eliot, many more — you injected your work into a temporal loop with the history that preceded it. But I don’t think that this stylistic choice of yours was indicative of a tendency towards the “nostalgia mode” that Frederic Jameson warned against in his essays on postmodernism.

Instead, Kathy, what I think you were interested in was the construction of myth! You were fascinated by the image of the great writer, equal parts saint and devil. Noble and cruel. Artist and thinker! Rimbaud. Genet. Baudelaire! These writers aren’t just authors, they are myths! And a myth, like a story, must be told.

The late comparative mythology professor Joseph Campbell defined the myth as a story that emphasizes mankind’s search for meaning and connection to the mysterious and the eternal. By turning yourself into a cultural myth — the tattoo covered, nymphomaniac, transgressive author — you became a symbol of our quest to understand the society that we inhabit.

You, Kathy, became the myth through which we funneled our alienation. You embodied the post-punk refusal to be subsumed by the logic of the postmodern cultural marketplace. Your mythical presence in the discourse was a constant reminder that something was indeed rotten in Denmark; that lurking beneath the veneer of prosperity and upwards mobility was the reality that the postmodern political economy was built atop a network of exploitation, war, and death.

The myth of “Kathy Acker” and its projected image was an artful construction. “Kathy Acker” the writer —a work of art created by an artist named Kathy Acker — was like a concept. Kathy Acker” is the rebelliousness, disaffection, and disassociation of the postmodern intellectual! In the 1980s, cultures were no longer being formed out of communities. Cultures, according to Jameson, were now being shaped by the mass media. And the mass media needs an image.

And you cut one hell of a striking image, Kathy. There’s a photograph of you on a motorcycle. Your back is towards the camera, face in side profile. That massive koi fish tattoo drapes your back, which is rippled in the muscle that you achieved through your diligent weight training routine. Your hair is cut short, and bleached. This image is the full realization of the myth of “Kathy Acker.” And yes, Kathy, I know this photograph doesn’t necessarily reflect the totality of who you were, vulnerabilities and all, but I want to believe in it. I want to believe in the concept of you.

Art is about de-mystifying difficult truths, is it not? It helps us orient ourselves to this chaotic and unforgiving world. According to Hegel, the function of art is not just the creation of beauty, but the creation of a beauty that engenders a particularly sensuous form of self-understanding. And that’s what reading your work does to me Kathy; it allows me to disassociate from the systems I’m tethered to and to search within my psyche and beyond the material world.

The creation of “Kathy Acker,” Kathy, was an infallibly noble pursuit. But in that pursuit, purity can be a hindrance. And you were not pure, Kathy. You courted scandal. You entertained controversy. And you lied, Kathy, lied about who you were and lied about what you had done. Your work is a hallucinatory matrix of lies and truths, facts and fictions. And what is a myth, and what is art, if not a series of exaggerations and falsehoods that coalesce to reveal profundity?

Chris Kraus, one of our greatest writers now and a sexual competitor of yours then, wrote a biography on you, and it isn’t always flattering. But nevertheless, she lauds your devotion to the creation of myth and art: “Acker’s life was a fable, and to describe the confusion and love and conflicting agendas behind these memorials would be to sketch an apocryphal allegory of an artistic life in the 20th Century,” writes Kraus. “And like other lives, but unlike most fables, it was created through means both within and beyond her control.”

Your texts, Kathy, are oozing, amorphous, lysergic baths of acid that dissolve literary history and social critique into a primal scream of stream of consciousness, phantasmagoric musings. You were truly a reflection of the social conditions you inhabited, Kathy. Postmodernism devoured and regurgitated history, and so did you. Your work was about your obsessions, perversities, confusions, and the books that you ingested to make sense of it all. Like the logic of postmodernity itself, your work constantly looms with the threat of pandemonium. To be lost in your text is to be lost in an ordered chaos that could devolve into disarray at any moment.

Your two masterworks, Great Expectations (1983) and Blood and Guts in High School (1984), were both published inside a year. For that brief window of time, you had achieved a mastery over this amorphous prose, this “formless” (if I can use a Bataillean term) literature that you had pioneered. These texts are dripping with violence, sexual and otherwise, and death. They expose a rot beneath neoliberalism’s sanitized cosmetic veneer. Your art was a tool for puncturing ideological hegemony.

Great Expectations is a virtuosic work of literary cannibalism, Kathy. Your greatest work was written at the “End of History,” when liberal capitalism had utterly eroded the capacity for modernism or the creation of the new. You had the foresight to accept this, and in a sense you were liberated by it.

You took Dickens’ classic novel of the same name and freed it from the constraints of the canon and history. “I have no idea how to begin to forgive someone, much less my mother,” you wrote. “I have no idea where to begin: repression’s impossible because it’s stupid and I’m a materialist.” You had internalized the cynicism and nihilism of the postmodern generation, Kathy, but you remained remarkably self-aware. That is what makes you such a particularly engaging troll: you didn’t act like you were above us, but you made sincere efforts towards making us aware of what we had become.

Blood and Guts in High School chronicles incest, rape, the sex trade, and Jean Genet as your spiritual father. Genet’s genius was in his celebration of the decadent freaks at the fringes of society. But you seem to have recognized that decadence and degradation were no longer at the fringes of society; that they had been woven into the fabric of “normative culture.” Neoliberalism was the force that sought to conceal the degeneracy of the ruling class from the under classes, but you wouldn’t let them hide.

Blood and Guts in High School’s most unsettling gesture is its protagonist Janey’s utter indifference towards the rape and abuse she endures throughout the text. This indifference was your indifference. There is the vaguest sense of self-critique in it: even though depravity has been normalized doesn’t mean it’s normal. “The shit hits the fan and everything becomes chaos and wild again,” you wrote. “There are no more secrets.”

Too true Kathy. The mass media had rendered all of society’s dysfunction simultaneously hyper-visible and yet utterly dulled in affect. People seemed to know that the world was being built atop a cesspool of corruption, exploitation, and evil. But they didn’t care. And Kathy, I’m not even so sure that you cared. You were too caught up in your ambitions, your perverse and insatiable desires, and your masochistic fetishizations of your own ego to pay heed to the chaos happening outside your door.

The troll is inherently a force of mythology, and mythology is the space from which your work emanated. By mythologizing America, circa 1980s, you were able to contextually moralize the stakes of human suffering. Men were still murdered. Women were still raped. “Kathy Acker,” postmodern literary troll, was a force of de-mystification.

Adam Lehrer, “Pandrogyne in the Woods,” digital c-print, 2019.

Genesis P-Orridge

It was just a couple months ago that you were still bound to your form. Your pandrogynic body. Your body was perhaps your greatest creative gesture. A sculpture in permanent process. The more you altered it, the closer it came to representing the essence that is you, Genesis. You were beyond the physical, which is perhaps why it feels so natural to converse with your ghost.

The further your gender distorted, the closer you came to attaining the status of the pandrogyne. The pandrogyne is your spirit. The body could never fully express the fluidity of the pandrogyne, leaving you in a permanent state of evolution.

I have no doubt, Genesis, that you were anything other than exuberant about your ability to shock and repulse the normies! The pandrogyne was a troll, indeed! Your aesthetic wasn’t targeted solely at the mainstream, but also at the ostensibly radical albeit functionally conservative art world.

I too despise the art world, full of petit bourgeois cowards who stand for nothing as it is. The art world is a more deeply institutionalized variant of the identiarian neoliberalism that permeates mainstream discourse: it must be exposed! This ideology, and the artists and thinkers that adhere to it, claims to build its thought upon a foundation of tolerance. But tolerance for what? Certainly not for thinking differently!

Your pandrogyny was an act of mysticism. You recognized society as a series of systems that limit the growth of human consciousness, by freeing your human form from its scientific limitations you freed your mind from the constraints of life in the late 20th Century.

Your heroes were the artists and thinkers who transcended the material and quested for the ethereal. Lovecraft. Aleister Crowley. The artist and mystic writer Austin Osman Spare. The psychologically fragmenting cut-up techniques of Burroughs and Gysin. Even your musical tastes were a touch unorthodox for an artist associated with the noise and industrial sub-undergrounds. You loved hippie shit! Hendrix! Zappa! The Doors!

These artists and musicians are connected by magic. They were either unconcerned or even violently opposed to orthodox intellectualism, critical standards, and institutional approval. All they were interested in was the transportation of the human psyche into a realm of the unknown, just like you Genesis!

Nothing is more subversive in postmodern society — a society bound to systems and simulacra —than magic. Magic happens beneath and above those systems. It courses through them. Art, like magic, should be treated as an immaterial force. You treated art like it was a force to be conjured and wielded.

There were very few precedents for the guerilla style theatrical performances of taboo flouting and transgression that was COUM Transmissions. Its concept came to you during a daydream, when the phrase “COUM Transmissions” was beamed mystically into your brain and repeated as a mantra. Was this even true, Gen? Or was it one of the many pieces of folklore you composed to bolster the cultural narrative of your work? With you, one can never tell where fact ends and fiction begins.

I love that COUM’s membership consisted of both artists/intellectuals and criminals, Gen. Never has there been such a profound confluence of both the high-brow and literary with the low-brow and the base! COUM was where you honed your persona as Manson-esque cultist guru, capable of magic and evil alike. Everyone from back then describes you as a manipulator, and I’m not here to excuse your misconduct but to acknowledge that your power to influence was inevitably tied into the force of your art.

After being brandished a “wrecker of western civilization,” by the media after COUM’s ICA exhibition Prostitution was perpertrated against the cultural elite, you courageously decided to disband COUM at the heights of its ascendancy! With the institutional apparatus around the art world as exposed as conservative and plagued by moral cowardice, it was time to infiltrate pop culture. “Suddenly we were performing at the big Institute of Contemporary Art, we’d done it!” you told artist Tony Oursler in his film Synesthesia “We were paid, just to be performance artists. That made me uncomfortable, because what we were interested in was reconstructing and deconstructing characters and targeting and infiltrating big institutions.”

It’s stunning to think that a time when bands like The Sex Pistols (Chuck Berry riffs sped up with really awesome clothes) were considered radical, Throbbing Gristle was in the culture pioneering the noise underground! You, Cosey, Sleazy and Chris Carter appropriated the noisy and avant-garde experimentation of Stockhausen, John Cage, and others, liberating atonal sound from the shackles of the academy, while freeing the “rock band” approach from sonic limitations of rock music.

In effect, you created industrial music, ultimately paving the path for decades of idiosyncratic musical geniuses: avant-garde and unclassifiable artists like Nurse With Wound and Current 93, 1980s power electronics groups like Whitehouse and Ramleh, 2000s noise bands like Wolf Eyes and Sightings, and even artists that broke through to the mainstream like Trent Reznor were influenced by what you, Cosey, Sleazy, and Carter created with Throbbing Gristle.

You performed with so much passion and intensity! Genesis, even Cosey conceded in her book that you were like an avant-garde rock god/dess, a decadent master of ceremonies: “SUBHUMANNNNNNNNN!!!!” you shrieked on stage night after night, rolling around the floor, disassociated from your body, and lost in the K-hole!

Throbbing Gristle dissolved, but you were far from done. You started Psychic TV, arguably foreseeing the acid house movement in the UK. You further immersed yourselves into the studies of mysticism and paganism by founding the “anti-cult” Thee Temple Ov Psychik Youth. What began as a Psychic TV fan club evolved into a commune of sorts, and Thee Temple would incorporate the theories of Burroughs, Crowley and Bataille into rituals of “chaos magic.”

You were pretty famous by that point Genesis, and mainstream society had you in its sights. The British government continuously tried to set you up for child pornography charges. Thee Temple got caught up in the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, and Scotland Yard launched an investigation into your occultist activities.

But these assaults on your freedom validated your entire artistic philosophy! You had started enough controversy to get them to engage with the SUBSTANCE of your ideas! You trolled them, and you won!

I imagine you lived in two zones, Gen: in your body, and in the cosmos. And your body was the portal through which you travelled. Your art brought you closer to the unknown. To a world beyond us. To the eternal. And knowing that you believed in this immaterial realm of pure light and consciousness, I am comforted. I’m comforted that your final and ultimate project has met its conclusion. Your death, agonizingly cancer-stricken as it was, allowed you to free your consciousness from its biological prison. You are with Lady Jaye now, two spirits as one, connected to all of nature and that which lies beyond. You are the grand troll in the sky, merged with the cosmos, your mischievous magic still reverberating throughout the physical realm that you left behind.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier, you were no doubt fascinated and repulsed by power, and your work often sought to heroize the ordinary people amongst the Italian working class being crushed into condensed, lifefless flesh beneath those power structures. You were their champion, this I cannot deny! You were a moralist, and against my better judgement, so am I.

But I also relate to your contrarianism! Shocking an audience was, for you, nothing short of thrilling, an act of sorcery! Better than sex, better than politics even; film was a perfect vehicle for your art because of its largesse, and its absorption into popular discourse. A Pasolini film release was a mushroom cloud that would reverberate outwards and send a shockwave of outrage and paranoia throughout the culture. Shock was your joie de vivre Pier!

When your admirers boxed you into an aesthetic and ideological corner, you’d introduce an unforeseen anarchic element that further complicated the dialog that was solidifying around it. Your art was too infinite to be contained by criticism, and I imagine there were few things more offensive to you than a finite art, Pier.

You, Pier, were an apex troll. Handsome, with chiseled figures and the enviable physique of a 20-year-old gymnast. Openly gay, outwardly Marxist, and enthusiastically contrarian. You used art to assault the Italian aristocracy, its bourgeois sensibilities, and its tendency towards fascistic fetishizations. You used art to wage ideological war upon the philistines that couldn’t understand art beyond their own moral and ethical limitations. “To hell with your beliefs!” you declared. “Life is shocking, and horrific, and beautiful!” Bataille used the term “Acéphale” to describe a “headless” philosophy, or a philosophy that cannot be concluded, that continuously grows outward without forming a cohesive whole. Pier, your cinema was an acéphalic one.

I suspect you might take issue with the use of the term “troll” as a signifier of both you and your work, given your penchant for moralism, dignity, and sophistication. But that’s the point, Pier. In a culture in which values and traditions have been dissolved into the chaos of market discourse, nothing is more radical than he who is true to his principles. You were principled, Pier. Few artists and thinkers of your fame have ever adhered to an ethical dogma to the extent that you adhered to yours.

When I think of the courageously unpopular political and artistic stances you took throughout your life — stances that often put you at odds with both comrades and colleagues — I am emboldened. Your life, cut short as it was, offers me strength and fortitude to hold onto my ideological values regardless of the extent to which they alienate me from my ostensible allies.

The leftist working class movements of recent history, as you’d probably assume, were crushed. Crushed by capital, crushed by the media, and crushed by the contradictory tendencies of the contemporary left itself. Your class enemies then are the same ones we face today. The left has proven itself incapable of self-analysis.  If you were still here, Pier, I can imagine you chuckling at the never-ending rollout of content-devoid slogans spewed into the discourse by the left: abolish the family, abolish the police, abolish joy and laughter. It sometimes appears that the contemporary left is more concerned with abolishing the institutions within capitalism that hold us together (family, community, religion) in this alienating political economy than abolishing capitalism itself. All that is solid continues to melt into air, Pier. The left is, perhaps more than ever, a petit bourgeois project that represents the material concerns of the petit bourgeoisie. All that is “left” is culture war.

My god, I think of the bravery and ideological consistency you displayed in the face of the Italian student riots of 1968, when leftoid university students waged a guerilla style campaign against the Roman police. Most left intellectuals offered full throated support of what they viewed as an uprising of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. But these students were not the proletariat, you noticed, they were the children of the bourgeoisie.

You sent shockwaves through the intellectual left when you published the poem The PCI to Young People clarifying your stance on the conflict. “Obviously we are against the police as an institution,” you wrote, before ending with, “Do I have to take into consideration the possibility of fighting the Civil War on your side, setting aside my old idea of Revolution.” Your implication here is clear and brutal: during your revolution, the cops (the workers) would be revolting against the students. I wish the contemporary left could understand the world with this level of complexity and consistency.

But enough about politics! Let’s talk about your art! Your cinema! It is a cinema of life! Every film of yours is saturated with the bottomless contradictions  and conflicting emotions and experiences of being a human being who is alive! You adopted a literary term “free indirect discourse,” a term that would be absorbed by Deleuze in his text Cinema! and described a way in which the director could create a story that was told from both the first and third-person, into your directorial sensibility. By allowing us to view your characters from both a voyeuristic gaze and through the eyes of the characters themselves, you produced a peculiarly intense connection between viewer and character.

Your films highlight these characters attempting to find freedom beyond the prison of systems and institutions. A turn towards the spiritual and the transcendental frees your characters from the modern. The dysfunctional bourgeois family in Teorema (arguably my favorite film of yours) is liberated from their passive, repressive existences through the unexplained appearance of a handsome stranger. The stranger, implied to be a mystical presence of some sort, allows the son to shed himself of the fear he felt as he felt his repressed homosexual desires bubbling to the surface, and the stranger instills in him passion and creativity by tenderly showing him a book of Francis Bacon paintings.

The stranger sleeps with the mother, freeing her from the sexual rigidity of her husband. The husband, inspired by the stranger, renounces his own business and bourgeois responsibilities, to go on a journey of self discovery and reflection. Your films suggest that modernity hasn’t solved any of the historical and ancient conflicts, but has instead made transcending those problems all but impossible. Without love, without family, without religion, where do we turn to? One must connect to a plane of spiritual awareness beyond the material to cope with the material, your films suggest.

And then there’s Saló, Pier, your final and arguably most incendiary work of cultural trolling. I have to hand it to you, to this day your last film is mentioned as one of the sickest and most disturbing works of cinema ever made. But true transgresion (true trolling) cannot be reducible to the mindless grotesquerie of de-intellectualized shlock. While Sade, your source material, emphasized the ideations of heinous sexual violence as activators of the absolute limits of human consciousness, you were interested in the material. In political economy. True transgression, like yours, confronts society with its own grotesquerie. It is the grotesque of the real!

What’s so striking to me about Saló now is the way in which it takes the viewer on a journey from victim to torturer (a journey mimicked by the child victims in the film, who form their own hierarchy of relations below their aristocratic fascist captors). Viewers of Saló are corrupted alongside the film’s characters. As a great filmmaker of the 21st Century named Catherine Breillat (surely an inheritor of your legacy of trolling, Pier) wrote in an essay about your film decades after your death: “Long after I first saw it, this film haunted me. I couldn’t rid my mind of the spectacle of torture, now a victim, then a torturer, what a hellish position, to have one foot on one bank of the Styx, the other across the water...” 

Saló treats power as an amorphous, near mystical force that we are useless to resist. Before your death, you claimed that you didn’t just want Saló to be your last film, but the last film ever! You forecasted the end, Pier! A film for the end of history! Power, you saw, had taken on a life of its own, effectively neutralizing individual subjectivity. Saló then is like a document left to new species of intelligent life, a warning of what went wrong with mankind. “The images of Salò – revelatory of the structures of cruelty and of the sexual origins of human atrocities and massacres – would then form a kind of malign legacy, left for any non-human species which, at some point in the future, might want to look back upon the memories and obsessions of the human species,” writes visual studies theorist Stephen Barber. 

Your brutal death — run over several times by your own car, testicles crushed by a lead pipe — martyred you as a righteous hero of the avant-garde and the communist left. I close my eyes, and I see you as you are being beaten into a bloody pulp by your vitriolically homophobic assailants, while looking at them with empathy and forgiveness. You didn’t see thugs, did you Pier? You saw young men, confused and angry, doing the bidding of an oppressive system. You saw humanity in its full scope: prone to violent destruction and still worthy of absolution. You have shown me that the troll need not be malicious. The troll can be an agent of purification. Through art, you sought spiritual freedom. Through your art, I seek moral guidance. The communist poet, the moralizing troll. Pasolini, may you live on.

Adam, Lehrer, “the lingering of blue beard,” c-prints and mixed media, 2020.

Trolls of Modernism
Contemporary Trolls

Follow Adam:

Instagram: @adamlehreruptown



Adam Lehrer is a writer and an artist living in New York. As a writer, Lehrer covers topics like contemporary art, horror fiction, arthouse and cult cinema, noise/experimental music, left left/Marxist politics. He has been published by Autre Magazine, The Quietus, Filthy Dreams, SSENSE, i-D, and more. As an artist, Lehrer works with collage, photography, and video montage and explores the hauntological nature of image production in digital media. His work is laced in the aesthetics of horror, cyberpunk, eroticism, and abjection.

A Theory of Falling To Earth


“I made this video thinking about poetry, which to me is ultimately a social medium, under the present circumstances of isolation, in which our social spheres are fragmented and where new experiences mostly cease to happen. In it I hoped to reflect a little on my feelings towards love poetry, specifically its plausible bankruptcy, using footage I took before March.”  - Jonathan

Follow Jonathan:

Instagram: @veryverylightcombat



Jonathan Aprea lives in New York City. His poetry has appeared in Guernica, Newest York, the Atlas Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook Dyson Poems was published by Monster House Press in 2018. 

Selected Work

Artwork by:


Irena’s three new pieces arrive out of her experience of isolation. Libidinal and playful, Irena’s recent work plays with texture, using unconventional materials like glitter mixed with bright acrylics. Irena’s approach to topics like sexual desire and gender often comes bound to a childlike mythos.

In “Red ride, Red Tide,” Irena offers an alternative to a classic children’s story. This type of storytelling is central to Irena’s work; she claims she refuses to create paintings that fail to tell a story, but instead desires to create “something that is tied to the connection of being alive in the physical world.”

While Irena spans mediums – painting, illustration, sculpture – the narrative at the heart of her work is one, that through a keen wit and controlled irreverence, continually defies convention.

Irena Jurek, “Wet n Wild,” 18 x 24 inches, Acrylic on panel, 2020.

Irena Jurek, “Bright-eyed and Bushy-tailed,” 30 x 24 inches, Acrylic and glitter on panel, 2020.

Irena Jurek, “Red ride, Red Tide,” Ink, acrylic, glitter on paper, 2020.

Follow Irena:

Instagram: @irenadegreat




Irena Jurek was born in Krakow, Poland. She has had solo shows with David Shelton Gallery, Houston, TX, Romeo Gallery, NYC, Jeff Bailey Gallery in Hudson, New York, and with Zurcher Gallery, Paris. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at The Breeder, 0-0LA, MASS Gallery, Know More Games, 247365, Left Field, and others. She received her BFA in 2004 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in 2008 from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan. She lives and works in New York.

Two Poems

Poetry and Audio by:

I Hate You Jackson Pollock

I hate you Jackson Pollock

I hate you like wall street

For being so bad with women

I’m a woman

But too abstractly to be bad with

O little lover with your little

Slice of anger

What is it like to be a man

Is it like spitting

Is it like spitting in a cup?

I am not trying to speak to sickness

I want to speak to you

You are so embodied and limp

Like a sandcastle

I will try to make this time important

Before I run my hip into it

I want to get into a vehicle

I want to get into a fight

Are you going to let me tell you

Which fighting to do

In a poem by a good poet

His mistress and wife are smiling

Three is an uncertain plot

We are going to have an affair

We are going to have it in the house

We should go into the house and have it

Follow Iva:

Instagram: @ivaellliott

Twitter: @ivvvvaelliott  


Iva Moore is a writer and editor in Kentucky. Her poems can be found online in Peach, Juked, and Likely Red

“Time Keeper”

Digital Collage by:

Violet Tamayo, “Time Keeper,” Digital collage, 2020.

Violet Tamayo, “Journal Entry #2,” Digital collage, 2020.

Violet Tamayo, “Journal Entry #3,” Digital collage, 2020.

Follow Violet:

Instagram: @violetayo




Violet Tamayo is an artist + designer based in Brooklyn. Her focus right now is in collaborative making and mapping. She is interested in blurring the lines between maker and user.

Two Poems

Poetry and Audio by:

like a child you have reached your destination

this is easy
how it feels to race
the meditation

how your herons love
what you insist on for

i am my child, i desire
to find where I am most gentle
i all we until
free be will

there's a testament
in the nothing
you speak out of

underground is a shadow
to the sex of the first

my teenager is there,
coaching the king
to desire this prism,
this ring pop,
this disembodied sovereign,
to study how art stole gold

there is no defeat in time

six miles in to
the creature of this earth,
a lake,
a pendant in the blood,
i roll water on my knees

in every shower i am lucky
you were not the end,
that there was a water ahead, open
and flickering like an ultrasound,
i hold my hands out

and pray to fill with the fatigue
of wading in the center
of a sun spotted current

i wrote this poem on a lunch bag
as i arrived at the creature’s mouth,
in my delirium i face
a wind with no

Follow Anjali:

Instagram: @anjaliems 

Atm Magazine: @atm.mag


Anjali Emsellem is a poet and founding editor of ATM Magazine (, a publication focused on the intersections of language, the internet, and struggle. Anjali's poems consider what is animate, what is dying, and what has yet to be born.