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Brittany Julious
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in brittany julious (23)

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)

Monday
Aug062012

In Which We Anticipate A Subtle Play

Upcycling Vol. 4

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

"Lost" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

"Pyramids" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

Audiences were immediately invested in Frank Ocean's success. Channel Orange was better because we understood the gravity of its production. Each song is finely crafted, memorable, and enjoyable. Pop hooks are a choice and one Ocean executes with a sense of the familiar. "Lost" sounds like something I've heard before. It sounds like a song from my youth, from the peak of structured r&b.

"Pyramids," the first single from the album, took a while to settle in as one of the best tracks on the album. Unlike many of the other tracks on the record, it is not crisp and concise and to the point. In many ways, it is two songs in one. Mixing the enigmatic simplicity of synth-ready contemporary hip hop with the fun and most perfect grooves of 70s funk, the song — about a woman and her work (in its simplest form) — is stunning. Sandwiched in the middle of the album, it anchors the record, finding the perfect balance and middle ground of ideas that cherish the new and the old.

"Run My Heart" - Twin Shadow (mp3)

"Five Seconds" - Twin Shadow (mp3)

Twin Shadow's music is moody. Each song sounds less like a poetic reflection of life as a whole and more like the frustrations and emotional complications of the everyday. George Lewis Jr. crafts songs that play like romantic, social folk tales or narratives of what it feels like to be a young, eager, earnest person. If Confess was a soundtrack, it would be to a film filled with shadows and long pauses and stares of confusion and frustration and lust.

“Run My Heart” is a perfect example of this play of narrative and emotion. Lewis Jr.’s voice is not as strong as it sounds on the flawless first single “Five Seconds,” but on this track, it works so well because of its imperfections. Throughout the song, he utters, “I’ve been working on making this start again,” and the line works for a variety of different interactions: troubled relationships, job prospects, lost friendships. It is a song of next chapters, of recognizing the differences of time, and ultimately letting go.

"Silly Girl" - Television Personalities (mp3)

"The Glittering Prizes" - Television Personalities (mp3)

Many of the songs on Television Personalities' ...And Don't the Kids Just Love It are underrated and timeless. Listening to music constantly creates that conundrum. A favorite album is a favorite for a variety of different reasons, but most often, it is not due to the singles. Perfect moments exist in between the great hooks. I'm thinking of the universality and steadiness of St. Vincent's “Just the Same but Brand New,” the romanticism of Dirty Projectors' "Two Doves," or the squawking lines of Metronomy's "Love Underlined."

On Television Personalities’ first album, "The Glittering Prizes" and "Silly Girl" exist in that realm for me. I began listening to the album again after a long hiatus and I realized what I have a tendency to forget: true goodness runs constant. "The Glittering Prizes," with its lyrics of wanting and disappointment especially run familiar. That desire to rise above, to be one's best self, to have something greater than what you are left with is not new. It was as true in 1980, when the album was first released, as it is now. Maybe it's even truer. The world is bigger. The stakes are higher. The rewards are greater. The success is sweeter. The failure is forever.

"Just From Chevron" - Dirty Projectors (mp3)

"Swing Lo Magellan" - Dirty Projectors (mp3)

"Swing Lo Magellan" transitions into “Just From Chevron” which transitions into "Dance for You," and this moment on Dirty Projectors' new record is without a doubt the loveliest thing one will hear all year. The music is a subtle break from the heaviness of most current Dirty Projectors songs, employing the effortlessness and charm of Amber Coffman's voice during some moments; incorporating the quirky and comforting intonation of Dave Longstreth's in others.

Much is made of the band's sound. During Pitchfork weekend, I sat in a restaurant in Chicago listening to the band DJ a mix of dance and r&b and pop, never settling on one sound and instead finding the commonality (of production, of strangeness, of memorability) in each. Their efforts were not taken for granted and are evident on this record as in records past. “Indie rock” may not seem as progressive or “of the times” as many newly established musical genres, but like those new genres, there is a subtle play on what was gleaned from the past and how that works for the present. It may not be as obvious as a Destiny’s Child sample, but it is there and it sounds as much 2012 as anything else. This is a band of musicians raised in a generation that could consume sounds easily and thus create with a greater knowledge and curiosity than those of the past. As a whole, Swing Lo Magellan excels because of this execution. The first spin sounds as “settled in” as the 5th or 10th.

Grizzly Bear’s music is comforting. It may not always feel challenging, but a closer listen reveals the depths. In “Sleeping Ute,” the band showcases some of their most progressive and aggressive instrumentation, leaving no moment truly silent. Instruments upon instruments are layered. The band that creates music of overpowering warmth and beauty literally overpowers the listener with guitars, with vocals, with drumming, with sound. If Grizzly Bear’s greatest strengths were their ability to show restraint, here they exhibit the ways in which the breaking free of their sound is still more calculating and exciting than the majority of music currently being released.

"Changes" - LOL Boys (mp3)

LOL Boys make sexy, dreamy, weird disco. Their remix work on tracks like the perfect pop of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” uncovers the best elements of the singer’s music: the sweetly melodic chorus and the memorable lyrics. On other songs, like their new single “Changes,” multiple musical genres combine (jazz, disco) to create a stunning, sophisticated, one-of-a-kind moment. It is slinky and seductive, a welcome break from the anxiousness of both realms (the EDM/brostep aesthetic and the hittery post-dubstep) of the contemporary dance music scene. Its simplicity – a simple horn, a steady 4/4 beat, a clean yet pitch-altered voice – sounds vintage in many ways. This is not a song of 2012, but it’s welcome.

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 sequins. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Just The Same But Brand New (live)" - St. Vincent (mp3)

Monday
Jun252012

In Which The Outfit Requires Control

Six Months of Sequins 

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I

Winter never started. There was snow and ice on occasion, but what I remember most is the dull cold of late fall. We can see the effects of this now. A trip to the farmer’s market introduces higher prices and misshapen fruits or entirely missing vegetables. It felt like a respite from years before to have a winter that settled evenly, that was consistent from day-to-day. I thought about how I spent one year with my head always down, with tears born out of the wind by the lake. Spring never seemed so vital as during that winter. But manageable cold festers. We live in Chicago because we are masochists. We live in Chicago because we know it is all worth it. We live here with a small love of the brutality. If you can make it here, then you will realize everywhere else lacks something real and vital: the narrative of struggle.

The first blouse was purchased in early January, the day of my old friend’s birthday party. We don’t speak anymore. The top was perhaps a going away party, a means of framing the end of a friendship not because hate grew, but because who we are at 17 and 18 and 19 can never be who we are just moments later.

II

I spent the winter sweeping up black and gold and silver sequins. I leave a trail of glitter and sequins wherever I go. But each sweep is a reminder of what is to be accomplished: brighter days, laughter, a sense of peace.

This black top — structured, tough — hangs in my closet. I’ve worn it once. It’s too thick now for the summer heat, but when it was still bitterly cold only weeks ago, it felt just as wrong. What is freedom if not literal? There is the freedom of choice in which I choose to wear these things. And then there is literal freedom, to be free, to move swiftly and gently, or slowly and roughly. This blouse constricts. It requires straight backs, elongated necks. I’ve sat otherwise and the sequins and beads pierce my skin with precision.

Like many vintage clothing items, it was created for both literal and figurative control. Breasts are covered completely. But also, it can not be worn easily. A zipper in the back is for a lover. But I am alone like always, and so I zip haphazardly, with tools and trouble. I bend and shake until the job is done. And there I stand in this blouse, body set in place and even. I sat in the office of the director of a local dance company and the first thing he said to me was, “And you too were a dancer.” This is right, but most times my posture does little to give me away. I wore the top. It told of a past, a hobby, a possession of the body that had not been mine for years.

III

I love this dress. I love how it sparkles and I love the cut and the way it melts into my skin, as if it was made only for me. The moment of discovery was intense. It was exactly what I wanted, but was unable to articulate. Something lovely and beautiful and weird. Something that would not cost a lot. Something that was old and had history and character.

Vintage entices because of the imagined history of each dress or blouse or bag. But the way I wear clothing changes the longer I own a favorite piece. A lovely blouse becomes a form of armor, a means of protection from an outside world that conforms and questions. And each time the piece is worn, it is an attempt at recreation and affirmation. What was it like to wear for the first time? How did you feel? How pure was the moment?

All clothing options take confidence. Each blouse or skirt or dress is a statement of purpose. Not just who I am, but also who I want to be and what I want the world to see in me. We think of style — of outrageous style, of complicated style – as courageous. You must believe in yourself so deeply to be able to wear that shirt, those pants, that dress. But I wear those things and I visit a therapist once a week. This is my reality. I am playing at confidence at times, approaching self-esteem as performative. But from the performative, I can build an alternative reality, one that strengthens rather than destroys.

Clothing and style can function as a little pleasure, an everyday pleasure, and a way to appreciate beauty when it feels like there is not much of any in the world. I noticed - I notice - my affinity for things that sparkle and shimmer and glitter. I wear them day and night, but I wear them especially when it is cold outside, when I am feeling down, when I need something to feel good about, if for even a moment. The sequins and beads and sparkle are something nice to look at, but also personally defining. The sparkle is who I am, and if not who I am, then what I want to do and be.

IV

I collect these items to be surrounded by tangible manifestations of beauty and perfection. In the beginning, I saw Marion once a week. I didn’t realize I needed her as much as I did until I was unable to get out of bed one Tuesday morning. I went to work the day before, but I could not remember what I did or how I spent my time there. I used to walk home and the walk was long not because of the distance, but because the blankness of my mind made the measure of time an impossibility. I went to work the day before, but that morning my limbs were heavier than ever. My mind was heavier than ever. My heart, the heaviest. It was just weeks before at my friend’s party, just weeks before when the first blouse was purchased. The next day was unseasonably warm and I walked around my neighborhood with an eye toward the gleaming.

On the rack of a local boutique was a deep blue, sequined and beaded blouse, fluttering and designed to look like a butterfly. I spent the past two years eyeing these blouses suspiciously at local vintage markets. This was a different level of sparkle, one that requested confidence in its owner. The blouses are heavy. They are not to be worn. Rather, the blouse wears you. Long, thick arms and broad shoulders only showcase. The body is hanger.

“I love this. Don’t you?” a salesgirl asked. “No one purchases these, but they’re so beautiful.”

I looked her square in the eye. “Do you have anymore?” I asked.

A day later, I went to Smart Bar with two friends and someone tapped me on the shoulder as I tried to lose my sense of place on the dance floor. The beauty of the dance floor is the beauty of dance music in general. It is why dance music increases in popularity. It allows for an escape and provides a visceral reaction to the music. It takes possession again and again. It delivers you to another place and then you come down, and there is a chance, however small, that what was just felt can linger long after.

I turned around and it was the salesgirl from the day before. She gave me a hug, eagerly. I could not process her reaction.

“I’m glad you got this,” she said.

“So am I,” I responded.

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 the hooks. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

"How Can U Luv Me" - Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mp3)

"Ruin" - Cat Power (mp3)

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