Quick Take: Habibi at MoMA

On a warm summer evening in the middle of Manhattan, five women stepped up to the large patio of the Museum of Modern Art’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. Habibi, the name of the Brooklyn-based band whose music Pichfork has called “charming and intriguing,” is an Arabic colloquial term for a loved one. Beneath the pastel evening sky, the performers were cool sisters to each other and the crowd. They wore white, accented with psychedelic colorful neon prints and began to casually jam away, comfortable in front of the audience. They looked ready for their late-’90s rooftop close up, à la Ten Things I Hate About You.

The gathered crowd of young hipsters and well-timed tourists crammed in – sitting, leaning, standing, vying for a good view, despite the fact that they could hear perfectly well, with the sound flying around the boxed-in space, bordered by fancy apartments, offices, and crystal clear windows giving peeks into the layers of galleries inside the museum. It was about the performance – the presence of the player.

Habibi

The poppy-rock music has a sitar-tinged vibe and hippie-era cool. The whole scene was full of alternative, dip-dyed glamour. It unfolded like a series of hipster polaroids, ready for the trendiest dorm room. It was a show of girl power beneath a thirty-six foot tall metallic rose by artist Isa Genzken. Under its magic, the beauties were unveiled as bass-thumping beasts, causing a mellow head-bobbing, hip-swaying trance to pass over the gathered listeners.

 

Find Habibi on Facebook, YouTube, and Bandcamp

MoMA Summer Thursdays run July 5 through August 30, 2018.

 

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Arthur Jafa: Message Received

 

 

November 25, 2017 I saw Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. At the time I was struck, wordless, unable to formulate a coherent thought about the video. Three weeks later I returned to the Hirshhorn and sat in the gallery for a long while, watching the seven minute video over and over. The gallery was a black cube – dark, with a few benches set back from the wall-sized screen.

The video was second-to-last in the Hirshhorn’s “The Message: New Media Works” exhibition, and when I eventually stood up and walked out I wished it were last. I wished there were a decompress room, a fainting couch, a net on which to fall and be caught for a moment – Kanye’s lyrics still echoing in my head, the tear-streaked face of a little black boy practicing putting his arms up for the cops burned onto my eyes like the sun flare image interspliced in the video.

But there was no pause except for a breath before the video started again.

Just like real life.

That day, when I had sat stationary and let the video play on loop before me, I found that even though it was the same artwork, I noticed different parts. It was like some clips had been taken out and others added – a trick of my mind as I noticed different things and tried to absorb as much of the content as I could. Before my eyes flashed images of love and dancing and pain and comedy and power and destruction and kids and icons… Joy and violence alternated, my processing was truncated.  I was breathless. I had chills. Time warped within the video, becoming syncopated with the rhythms of the song. Time warped between the videos, as other sound from the artworks before and after – separated by thin walls – bled into the room, seeping in under doorways like gas. Multiple voices rang out, then silence. Pause. Movement. A change of viewers around me – the group of men who had been standing in the corner left, the person who had been sitting next to me was replaced with another, a guard from the exhibition eagerly ushered in visitors and hurriedly told them about what he thought of the artwork. Play.

Jafa has been in the news a lot recently, from exhibition reviews to articles about his work and background to interviews in sources like artnews and Frieze (that one was my favorite). Each time one of these popped up over the months following my experience at the Hirshhorn I would sit down and think about writing something about the object, about Jafa, about anything even tangentially related to this gorgeous artwork. Every time I felt like my computer was staring at me rather than the other way around. The memory of the object would play in my mind, still catching me off guard and unprepared to say something. I looked and looked for the video online or in museum collections, but it doesn’t currently exist in the public domain; for now only shooting around the gallery and museum circuit like some kind of anti-morphine: amplifying, challenging, making you feel everything harder. Yet somehow still comforting.

Now, listening to “Ultralight Beam” on repeat as I write, I’m still not really sure what I have to say. With this piece, I don’t know if I’ll ever be. This one might be more about the feeling – the goose bumps racing up arms and down legs; the flash of images threatening to drive you into overload as they flash in a dark room; Kanye’s rich voice unsettling you like seasickness or love; other bodies scattered in the gallery, faceless but full to the brim with humanity, engaged with seven minutes of knife-sharp clarity.

 

The Message: New Media Works is on view at the Hirshhorn in Washington DC through September 30, 2018

Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message Is Death runs June 27 – September 30, 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

A review of the Jafa artwork (and more) on view at the MCA Denver through May 13.

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World

(The first thing that you need to know is that performance art is a social event. The success of the experience depends not only on the strength of the piece and of the artist, but of the willingness of the audience – the experiencers  – to commit…)

“IMAGINE PEACE” Yoko Ono’s voice rings out over the crowd, recorded but potent. “Imagine peace. Imagine peace…” A command. Are you ready to commit?

Imagine Peace (or perhaps: Imagine Piece) is an invitation to collaborate. Imagine, listen, feel. Cast yourself out into this audience and to the stage and to the space. Go.

Arising sets the stage with a haunting. Carnal and guttural and rhythmic, Ono’s voice screeches; viewers are uncomfortable with the contract they have signed by staying put. Now you are a bystander – no longer imagining, but witnessing.

Behind the screen you see one bright red dot (an orphan of the flames on the screen) pulsing as an inhale-exhale teases the cigarette in the dark.

This ember turns into a heartbeat. Next to you in the crowd near the stage someone puts two fingers to their wrist, searching for a pulse as their ears ring with one. Or: people hold their hands against their ears – against the sound of the too-loud life forcing itself through their chests. People hold each other in the dark. It is synthy and vibey and it passes over you like the sound of waves coming out of the speakers. Sound-gulls swoop in, coming to pluck the relaxed yawn from your mouth. Poetry echoes into a time machine – back to 1866 or 1953 or now elsewhere. Words fade, pause. Feedback turns musical.

Are you still there? Still committed to this art?

Break – a silent film plays. A match slowly burns itself out of existence. Who knew that your ears breathe when they aren’t clogged up with sound? Slowly the noise and the fire and the video burn out among the other silver screen stars.

Then frantic, uncontrolled, hair-whipping energy. “Why?!” over and over – whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy – until it not a word but a noise. Her voice on stage oscillates between orgasmic and painful. Behind walls of cymbal-symbols and a cart of incantations she is possessed with the spirit of the music noise light atmosphere of here and now and the crowd watches and nods – signs the dotted line.

Pause. Blink the confusion out of your eyes. No, slowly. Let your eye-lid-windshield-wipers restore the glimmer of eager amazement you have at experiencing this Happening. Do it even more slowly. This blink will take you five minutes to complete – think of it as a staring contest.

Now your nose fills with the smell of cigarette smoke as words swirl in your ears, over and over – “What about the dreamers?/ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ The world’s turning, I hope I don’t turn away./ I got dropped off at the wrong fashion show./ What’s he gonna do next?/ What about the dreamers?…” It is a dropped and cracked music box, though it retains it’s hypnotic powers: watch the dancer spin, listen to the words chase each other in the microphone…

Then scream against the sky! PROJECT without thought. Ears open, eyes open, hearts open, minds open, ears blown, minds blown. Again and once more – break this atmosphere with the force of your human lungs.

Lean in to this. Further and further until you are on the edge – about to fall into the guitar noise and be cradled in the bend of her knee supporting the sound waves. You have entered a rippling, breathy, dissonant Nirvana – marked by the circles her finger makes in the air between strums on the always vibrating strings.

In the middle of this circle you will find the concept of gravity. Excitement draws everyone tighter – still stitched together by the commitment to this night. This text-turned-voice is a promise of what comes next, a promise of a man and a guitar and a blanket carrying shards of glass or memory or future or everything at once.

Pressing bodies are fast and harsh and unwavering. Imagine Peace! Bend into the crowd, hold your place but be flexible. Reach and touch and feel the cool vase that has become hundreds of little promises. Feel its rough edges and how small it is. One in hundreds but each totally unique. Imagine peace. This crowd is a jigsaw puzzle marked by shards of glass in pockets.

Commit to returning. This is a social event, after all, and now it is shattered and will be spread. Commit to returning ten years from now with your peace/ piece and rebuild and build better because now this piece of glass is not just white and blue and ceramic and broken: it is a story.

This is exactly what you signed up for.

 

Concert for Yoko Ono, Washington, and The World took place on Sunday September 17, 2017 from 7 to 10 pm at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. It featured some of Ono’s video art, as well as performers Camae Ayewa (Moor Mother), Lizzi Bougatsos, and Kim Gordon, who performed selected Yoko Ono works from Grapefruit (including Collecting Piece and Overtones), as well as their own work inspired by Yoko Ono. 

#5: Aviano Coffee

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Aviano’s perfectly frothy cappuccino

Ryan Tedder – front man of Colorado band OneRepublic – is one of my music idols. He writes catchy songs that are so much more than just catchy songs. His lyrics sink from the ear to the soul, stirring it up and drawing in listeners. He is a poet. And so when I heard him say in an interview that his favorite Denver coffee shop is Aviano, I knew it needed to be placed high on my list of places to try.

It quickly moved from high on the “try” list, to high on the “favorites” list.

Located in upscale Cherry Creek North, it stretches the mold. Breaking away from boutique shops, organic restaurants, and chain coffee, Aviano marks its space more humbly, tucked back from the main drag and situated behind an large tree that shades patrons who choose to enjoy the patio seating. However, its distinctive young personality does not dissuade visitors, but rather invites them. At any time of day it remains busy – from the morning rush of people getting a coffee and pastry (while they last), through the afternoon crowd who sits to people watch, work, or chat with a friend before the evening falls and the shop closes.

In addition to the friendly ambiance, Aviano boasts a range of seating options – inside or out, table or stool; something for everyone. Their menu follows suit, with a host of tea and coffee options that are delicious. They offer everything from warm foamy cappuccinos to the house espresso drink called an Angeleno – a shot of espresso mixed with whole milk and sweetened with agave, all shaken up in a martini glass over ice, creating a smooth and slightly sweet drink that is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a hot summer day in Denver. The extensive menu may at first appear intimidating, but you can always count on one of the friendly baristas to approach and patiently give recommendations and explanations until you’ve found just what you’re looking for.

Then all that’s left to do is pull up a chair under the big tree or grab a seat next to the open garage-style-doors at the front of the shop and enjoy the day, delicious drink in hand.

How The Hunt was Born

The Hunt for the Perfect Coffee Shop was born from the death of a magical place. A place that not only can be referred to as my favorite coffee shop, but also one of the best places (coffee shop or otherwise) that I’ve experienced so far.

Strange Grounds: An Elegy

Strange Grounds (Denver, Colorado) was not just a coffee shop. It was a destination. It was a hole in a the wall tunnel to a magical land. Much like the wardrobe to Narnia, it was a portal to another world.

Upon crossing the threshold and passing through the faint smell of legal (and maybe not-so legal) marijuana, you entered a new realm. Warmly colored walls cradled paintings, mismatched furniture, games, music, books, poetry: life.

Here, coffee could taste like flowers if you asked nicely. Here, cocoa glittered. Here, flavored drinks simmered beneath steamy leaves made of foam.

Even at 1 AM, as the outside world slept, inside Strange Grounds there was life. In this real life Narnia I was serenaded by a violin lesson at midnight, or startled by the random and sometimes alarming performances of avant garde night. This was a gathering place. I talked with my friends and created patchwork poetry on magnet boards. I drank coffee too late at night and found my mind continuing to buzz even after I had left the stimulating place and stimulating people behind.

This coffee shop was the X-marks-the-spot on the treasure map.

Strange Grounds owned its name. But it went beyond “strange” and became enchanting. It pulled you in with its warm atmosphere, held you hypnotized with colored fairy lights, and kept you satisfied with a sweet or spicy chai.

Even when away, I knew that somewhere in the dark this other world pulsed. Now, with its heartbeat cut off, I have only the memory of being there and feeling at once myself and part of the place. Now I carry that memory in my head and heart and veins. The light that was once a beacon – bright and yellow in the night – will continue to shine like a ghost town – abandoned, but not really forgotten.

I will try to replace it, knowing that I will never replicate it.

I now have a new perspective on what it takes for a coffee shop to make the cut. I have experienced an ideal blend of creamy chai, glittery cocoa, and midnight-moony-eyed-creative-chaos, all because of – all thanks to – Strange Grounds.

 

And so, the Hunt begins.