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Entries in brittany julious (22)

Friday
Oct122012

In Which We Move Further Towards It

Extravagance

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Chicago’s beaches are not real and so, given the choice, I instead spent the afternoon walking a little further. Today is the last day of summer, unofficially. The heat won’t yet end, but responsibilities will begin to pile up. The ability to do nothing and have that be okay is diminishing. Heat welcomes you outside, forces you to see others, to face the world. I feel most insecure in the winter because the extended time indoors welcomes checking: the mirror, the internet … I know the world moves on. 

I walked in my neighborhood and then in the Gold Coast. Later, I stuck to the West Loop, a neighborhood beautiful and empty. It is during long walks in which I remember anecdotes and recommendations and reviews. I had a copy of Monocle Mediterraneo, collected essays by Marguerite Duras, and this tiny orange notebook in my tote bag. I wanted to go to the French Market and try every flavor of aioli and ketchup at the Belgian frites stand. That was one thing I remembered. The store was closed. 

Being alone sometimes facilitates a self-centeredness that borders on inconsiderateness. I forgot about the holiday as a moment of rest for many, not just myself. What I wanted was for things to fall into place just because I wanted, I desired. That was enough. I kept walking. 

The West Loop is full of shadows and shade. It is easy to feel alone, feel miniscule by the buildings. But it is even more possible to be alone, literally. The West Loop is a neighborhood built before life was here. It is a neighborhood of expectation. They expected money and bodies. But quietness begets quietness. If I were to live here, would I abandon the streets just as my neighbors would? Living is for inside. Living is for condos and lofts. It is for hardwood floors and exposed brick, rehabilitation and refurbishing. They don’t live on the sidewalks. 

I sat on a curb and thought to tweet, “I am lost in the West Loop.” Instead, I wrote about how there is no grass in the West Loop, only Astroturf. Nothing grows from the ground. It is artificial. It is perfected. It is green

Two years ago, my friend Barrett and I ate delicious Vietnamese cuisine in the dim room that is Saigon Sisters. The restaurant is right off of the Clinton stop on Lake Street. It was a long and late dinner. I took a cab ride home and the car raced down the expressway, only giving glimpses of the city from a distance. I liked to take a look back during those cab rides to the suburbs. Employment was bleak. The city was a moment, a place to move around and through. It was not permanent. It was not mine.

Today I walked by Province and Sepia and Prosecco. I saw the Sears Tower from a distance. I saw Au Cheval and Carnivale and newly-planted greenery. On the side of Grange Hall Burger Bar is a field of weeds, a crumbling brick facade, a Banksy. I looked back because this was all I could do. Everything was closed and would re-open that evening for a few hours before closing again. The streets would feel alive, but the bodies would be from Wicker Park, from Bronzeville, from Lakeview. It would not be the West Loop. It would be of transitory moments. It would be of right then and nothing more.

+

I am remembering that my main desire to live in a city was to live downtown. I wanted to live amongst the biggest buildings in the world. Their strength and power and beauty were my idea of urbanity. But it is unrealistic to want that and to have that. What most defines this city is something that I can’t be a part of. Commuting to work downtown is not the same thing. I am in a rush to begin the day. In the late afternoon, a rush to escape the office. The time spent between train and skyscraper is one of panic and worry. I am inside the building before I even realize I am there. 

I had an early appointment downtown and once that was done, I decided to spend the next few minutes walking near the lake, near the river, between the buildings that cast shadows. There is something to be said for feeling so small, for feeling so compact underneath greatness. I am never more aware of myself than when I am downtown. The minutes quickly turned into three hours and I began to remember why I love it here so much, even though that love has changed and dissipated and is challenged.

Downtown and River North and the Gold Coast and the South Loop are accessible through public transportation, but that doesn’t change the fact that accessibility is more than just “the getting there.” These parts of the city are the parts that we talk about when we talk about its energy. These parts are the parts that we show visitors and tourists and strangers when we talk about what Chicago can accomplish. But if I were a teen living on the West Side or the South Side, would I feel these parts are as much mine as they are for the people in charge? Would I feel they are as much mine as they are for the people who brush in and out of the city in a matter of days? 

As a teenager, I used to take the Green Line train in from Oak Park to attend a special college-bound program for “gifted” minority students. I didn’t recognize it then as I do now. I didn’t think about the discrepancies in living in the city. It takes many years and many active thoughts in consideration of all parts of the city to get to that place. Back then, downtown felt as much mine as it did for the people living in the city. That greatness was accessible. That greatness was attainable. That greatness was my expected reality.

The Green Line is elevated above ground providing perfect views of the skyline and perfect views of the crumbling infrastructure of a part of the city ignored since the late 60s. As a young girl, I would take the train downtown with my family and my mother would say, “It looked just the same when we finally moved out of here.” She was talking not of our move out of the city but her move out of this part of the city as a young teen. It looked just the same. 

I walked to the Merchandise Mart and stood outside of Gilt Bar and Bavette’s. Around the corner from both restaurants is Doughnut Vault. The last time I was here, a line ran down and around the block. Once we made it inside of the minuscule shop, I was astounded to hear the people in front of me order boxes and boxes of doughnuts. 

“I’ll have one of everything.”

“I’ll have three of everything.”

“Give me everything you have right now … and a coffee to go.”

The excess made me uncomfortable. I planned on purchasing one doughnut for myself and one for my sister who lived half a mile away. But when I got to the counter, I said, “Two vanilla glazed … and two chocolate glazed … no make that three of both.” I didn’t need that much, but felt compelled to make the extravagant purchases at $3 per doughnut because this luxe and indulgent part of the city did not feel like my own. I wanted it, even if I could not yet admit it. 

Yesterday there was no line and so I walked inside and ordered just one treat.

“Just one?” the girl behind the counter asked as Outkast played in the background.

This was an indulgent departure, a moment that most in the city could not take. But also, it was just something for me, not for anyone else. It did not ground me to the city, to what it means to be a part of the city. I am still figuring that out, but I do know the buildings downtown (so fierce, so massive) mean something critical to me. I have claimed them as my own even if others can not. I recognize the privilege in wanting to be a part of this greatness, of knowing that it can possibly be mine. Everyone can’t want for that. But also, most Chicagoans don’t want it at all. That is not their city. That is not what they want to come home to.

“Yep. Just one!” I said. That was all I needed.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. You can find her tumblr here and he twitter here. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about tumblr.

"Oh Yeah" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

"The Haunted Man" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

"Horses of the Sun" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

The new album from Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man, is out today.

Friday
Oct052012

In Which We Are Inside Of A Website

The Play of Selves

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I’m looking at my Tumblr dashboard. The first thing that pops up is an image of Cindy Sherman’s A Play of Selves. In the work, Sherman is photographed and styled in a number of different manners: from playful and coquettish to shocked and pale. The photograph was one of many that would show up on my “curated” dashboard of images, text, music, and other media from an assortment of Tumblr users.

After Sherman is Chicago-based photographer Todd Diederich, a man who never physically inserts himself in his images, yet still manages to convey the people, places, and things that define his alternative, avant-garde, non-mainstream existence in Chicago. I was first captured by his images of the underground ball scene in Chicago. A fan of Paris is Burning and an open user of slang appropriated from the film, I was given a glimpse of a world that was only miles away from me both in physical space and everyday social interactions.

After Diederich was Dylan Shaw, a young artist creating hyper-stylized images of broken youth and the technicolor ways in which we see the world. His images - of quick dalliances and the time spent waiting for things to happen in between - are raw, yet familiar. From Chicago, I could recount similar scenes. The art became richer with my personal understanding of it. And later, I could understand artistic practices as a whole. Each executes with their own aesthetic, but underlying their work is the means in which they present it to the world.

Both use the Tumblr platform as a means of organization, placement, and exposure. New audiences are readily available and the easiest way to gain a following is by following back. Tumblr is youth-oriented, and these emerging photographers create works that speak to such audiences.

The Tumblr I know is one that is forever growing. It is deeply complex and complicated. I’ve read numerous tweets and short-form essays reducing Tumblr to memes and incomprehensible sub-cultures. There is no doubt that the site has this, but for someone who has been an active user, it is also more than this. The tumblr of 2012 is different than the one of 2007.

When I first joined the site, I posted new music multiple times a day, occasionally providing thoughts on why something was a favorite, but usually just sharing to share. The music was too good to just keep to myself. I gravitated toward a community of young writers also interested in music and my identity as a tumblr user and my identity in real life became one of a music fan, a connoisseur of things new and old, a devotee to aural pleasures.

But as I have grown, my relationship to and the communities I am a part of on the site have also grown. There are new opportunities for users to find a different community, or a micro community to relate to their new life, their new everyday experiences. Tumblr favors the use of media to captivate its users and its users in turn favor the use of media to better define and refine their ideas of self. My tumblr experience allows for that world to be a part of my world on a daily basis. My dashboard caters to who I am as a person and what I love as an individual.

My tumblr Britticisms will be five years old in December. I’ve been thinking about the critical importance of the dashboard for five years — content posted quickly, easily accessible, with low social cost to following random people on the web.

It is a constant stream of information, both new and old. Users continuously scroll down and through pages in the hopes of discovering new media to consume and enjoy. The dashboard, however – with its dark blue background and uniform white rectangles to contain each form of media – blends each post together.

By utilizing this uniform aesthetic, the Tumblr platform makes each post appear one in the same. The user thus consumes the posts equally. In the interest of something meme-ingful, this can elevate a hazy, Instagram photograph of a field of grass to the same level of “likes” and praise as images of installation shots of Jessica Stockholder’s public art extravaganza Color Jam or Carrie Schneider’s Burning House series of photographs. I posted images from both local Chicago artists and they quickly went viral on the site. A quick reblog to the Tumblr radar ensures audiences of all interests (not just rabid art fans) can view something pleasant or challenging or beautiful.

Media as it is seen through the platform transforms from the original painting, photograph, video, or other object to a succinct image that connects to the user on an individual, personal taste level. Because works of art can be consumed in the same manner as a song clip or a GIF or a short anecdote about life in the city, the art itself takes on a different, more neutered meaning. The art becomes less about what was created and more about how it reflects the person consuming the work of art.

I am part of a community of young black women on tumblr interested in specific aspects of pop culture that relate to our everyday experiences: intricate displays of nail art, aspirational female rappers, the complicated stylings of modern day and mainstream feminists. We’re not official, but I often find myself relating to most everything they post, whether it is a cute blouse or an Audra Lorde quote, a recipe for a cocktail or the latest single from Azealia Banks. Most importantly, when we talk about the things that connect us on the surface (our race, our gender, our sexuality), there is a level of familiarity and family that is instantaneous. As in, this thing happened to you and I understand it because it happened to me too. Or even, this thing happened to you, and although I cannot personally relate, I understand your feelings and confusions and know you deeply.

My greatest fear about a viral collection of images I posted by Chicago artist Adam Ekberg was not that others would hate the work or remove Ekberg’s credit, but that they would lose sight of the fact that I posted it first. I feared losing credit for the discovery, but not for the work itself. Media posted on Tumblr often loses its identification the longer it is blogged and reblogged.

Although the physical works are protected, little can be done to protect what accompanied the work originally. A user can change the source URL for an image, can delete any reblogged text and write their own, and even remove identifying tags. Stripping a work once of its proper credit or caption can strip it forever for tens or hundreds or thousands of users. I’ve seen this happen for works I don’t recognize, for nameless young artists selling their screen prints on Etsy or posting their copyrighted images to Flickr. And I’ve seen this happen personally for deeply personal posts on angst and regret and race and the body. Does the work still resonate the same once it loses its creator? Or has it moved to a different level of consumption, one that flashes bright in popularity, then quickly fades as something newer, more interesting, and more engaging comes along?

For myself, the consumer and blogger and Tumblr user, the art became less the art and more the sort of tangible object I use to define who I am on a daily basis. The photographs by Ekberg were as much me as my collection of rings, my beaded blouses, or my heels. The truth is ugly and self-centered, but true. The more I see, the more I take on and consume as me and only me.

The longer I’ve spent on Tumblr, the longer I’ve known the overwhelmingly present population of teenagers on the site. And with the younger population of users, I’ve begun to understand why the site is so critically valid in the development of self. Tumblr not only helps the individual find him or herself; it also acts as a sort of guide for the things that we would have never found or truly understood on our own. I can pretend that my interest in post-punk music or Lorna Simpson’s work or bell hooks’ writing would have been just as strong, but that would be a lie.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Lorna Simpson. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"You're Not Happy" - Sea Pinks (mp3)

"A Pattern Recognition" - Sea Pinks (mp3)

Wednesday
Aug292012

In Which These Are Angelic Figures

Felt Works

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I imagine Lorna Simpson's days are not filled with the sort of thoughts that occasionally plague my own. She is a mother and an artist. The execution of her ideas is the catharsis needed when confronting the world. I imagine she thinks clearly of the world and sees it for what it is. Lorna does not ask why; she asks how. It is not a question of knowing, but rather a question of explanation. I ask why things are the way they are. She says, this is the way things are the way they are.

I spent Tuesday afternoons in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, thinking about what was to come next. It was the summer after my college graduation and I was underemployed and soaking up the last days of independence in the city before moving home.

There she was, part of a broader constellation. She was there all summer on the third floor and I could not forget her words not of wisdom, but of validity. The truth of Lorna Simpson’s art is not that it is too painful to understand, but that these things - the struggle for personhood, violence, femininity, feminism, and the black female body - were of importance and of reality.

When we talk of the "black struggle," we talk of the black male struggle. There is no differentiation between man and woman in black racial politics. We treat blackness as all-encompassing. Variations of lived experience are irrelevant. Differing narratives (of life black and male vs life black and female) are too complicated for the majority. But she knew of the reality, that our experiences are colored and multifaceted, that our lives are insectionally-bound two steps below what is seen as most vital or critical.

Lorna's most provocative works don't rely solely on the body. The body can tell much, but it is the black woman's body that was born to tell everything. Skin is colored with history, curves are exaggerated and hypersexualized. There is also the nose. There are also the lips, too full. Sexual, not sensual. Meant for the pleasure of others, inhabiting a purpose beyond the body of their owner and instead answering for lust and lechery. There are the eyes, absorbing the world from a young age, quickly and bitingly.

In one of her earlier installations, below a photographic work are the words, “She was no more exotic than the sparse room she posed in.”

I began to write this down and saw I instead wrote, “She was more exotic than...” I went to exoticism first, feeling the subjugation of the body was to be Lorna’s first directive. The phrase appears in Screen No. 4, an installation of gelatin silver prints on wooden accordion screens. I let my everyday play a part in shaping the idea of Lorna’s work. Sometimes these ideas are right, but more often, she rejects the complacency of expectations. She was not exotic. She was no more exotic. It is you, that other person, that assumes otherwise.

Like most of her figures, she is wearing white. We do not see her head nor her face. We never do. That is not what it is important. But we do see the skin – deep, rich, brown – and we do see the white, a perfect contrast. Sometimes, the white acts as a means of inscribing a different narrative to her subjects. These are angelic figures. They are pure and good and true, even if you can’t believe it.

 The words too are familiar to my lived experience and to the lived experience of many women around me. These white blouses and dresses and other clothing affirm the purity of these statements. Lorna is not being provocative. She is being true. Lorna is not trying to just get a rise out of the viewer. She is telling you that this is as true as a clean white shirt, a crisp piece of clothing and also the “value” of the absence of color. Take this as best as you can. Take this and know that it comes from a place of reality.

In Three Seated Figures, she wrote, “her story/each time they looked for proof.”

In Figure, she wrote, “figured the worst/figured legality had nothing to do with it/figured she was suspect/figured there would be no reaction.”

In Square Deal, she wrote, “That story doesn’t square with yours, try and square the two.”

Lorna refines her words up to the last moment, which is why they complement the images, but often stay with the viewer much longer than the image. Memory is tied to strong visuals, moments in real life that were tangible and seemingly never ending. Words can resonate much more deeply. Words are universal. Phrases help draw parallels to our own lives and the lives of others around us. I can potentially relate to the image I see before me, the reflection of a life that is not like my own. I can most certainly relate to clean and exact diction. When there are no characters, I am left to insert myself into the story.

In Untitled (A Lie is Not a Shelter), she wrote, “a lie is not a shelter/discrimination is not protection/isolation is not a remedy/a promise is not a prophylactic.”

What are the things we tell ourselves to make sense of the world? A lie is not a shelter. A lie is not cover from the truth. A lie does not make up for what is not there. Discrimination is not protection. Discrimination is not safety, is not cover, is not security.

This was the first Lorna Simpson work I remembered vividly long after first seeing it. I saved the image, kept it safe on my desktop as a reminder. A lie is not a shelter. My sophomore year of college, I began to see a therapist and at the end of the year, I assumed I was cured. When I thought of change of the mind, I thought of a completeness that came not unlike the end of a class or the end of a semester. I’ve gotten as far as I need to go and that is that, I used to think. Four years later, I began to see another therapist.

The year after my college graduation, I worked at the museum. Many days were spent in front of the computer, but some were not. If one were to ask me what I did during the day, I would not know what to say. There was talking and emailing and handshaking and site visiting. None of that feels succinct or accurate. What I remember most is that, like with any job, I needed a break and I took those breaks a floor or two below our offices in the building. Those breaks were spent in the galleries, wandering from room to room, aimless of the lost seconds and minutes and hours spent surrounded by mini mazes and viscously-rich paintings, multi-colored light installations and light, airy mobiles. I lack that time now. I don’t work in that kind of environment now, and images on the screen, while temporarily emotionally valuable, lack the strength of seeing something in person. I could consume Lorna in heavy doses. I stood as close to her works as possible. That was me, learning. And now I take it all in and hope it has even a fraction of the same effect.

I like that her subjects’ hair is a little wild. Who are these Black women who wrap their relaxed hair at night and look fresh and beautiful in the morning? I look nothing like that. I am strong like this woman, but my hair is a little real. I am vulnerable in physicality. I am not “on.”

I love that she (and her characters) straddle two worlds. In one work, a woman’s dress is clean, but something is amiss. She balances too different containers of water: one plastic and flimsy, one steady and metal. Or rather, one cheap and unassuming, one valuable and classic. In another work, she sits, hands placed to the side. Every image looks the same, but a closer examination reveals levels of strength in one shot and levels of vulnerability in another. The hands are calm, and then they’re sturdy, and then they’re firmly grasping.

In my writing, I vaguely talked about my obsession with the body, with its machinations, with its changes and the struggle for control. It was a way for me to work around the truth of my own assault. These were lies of omission. There was a truth that I did not want to touch. There was a truth that I saw and did not feel safe claiming. These lies were not shelter for what I knew to be true, what I struggled with internally for more than a decade. A lie is not a shelter and Lorna’s work speaks to the mind because her work comes from the mind. She creates what she knows. Her truths are clear because the truth is real and valid.

I write about the connection to Lorna’s work and the Black female experience because that is what I know. I wanted to write that her ideas are bigger than that specific experience, but that derails from the universalities and commonalities in the way we live. Not all things are the same, but many are. What has always stuck out to me in Lorna’s work is the struggle to be heard. Many works tell of discussion and dismissal. It is not that there are two sides to every story, but that there is the side to value and the side to dismiss. There is the side to understand and the side to argue against. There is what can only and most certainly be true, and there is the rest.

My initial instincts are to go to what is worse in my own history in relation to what I read in her works, but I realize now that this struggle of the voice and the struggle of perception is one that builds from the youngest of ages and from the most miniscule of situations. I think about the desire to express my ideas at work. I think about chastisements of being too “combative,” too “outspoken,” too “crazy,” or too “hostile.” I think about the Sweetie’s and Honey’s and Girl’s of the world. I realize this desire to say something and have it matter, to say something and have it validated with worth and importance and the supposition of truth is bigger than I ever imagined. These feelings and struggles and frustrations are everywhere. They infiltrate everything. They are everything.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about six months of sequins and upcycling. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Nothing Here" - Holy Other (mp3)

"Inpouring" - Holy Other (mp3)