Tag Archives: Art

An unquiet cataloger

photo(5)“What is the greatest joy of Arabic cataloging?” asks Jessamy, “I will tell you: serious works with rhyming titles.”

The creator of Ghilafaat, a curious sounding Instragram feed and Tumblr site, Jessamy Klapper gives followers a glimpse of newly published Arabic and Persian book covers with a candid piece of commentary. Jessamy has access to a conveyor belt of interesting new acquisitions, from poetry to short stories to textbooks, as a cataloger at Columbia University.

Ghilafaat is a made-up plural of ghilaaf, the Arabic word used to refer to a book cover. Jessamy’s posts are a compelling look into the world of Arab and Persian literature. Ghilafaat is the only place I see these covers and imagery.

“Ghilafaat are the fleeting impressions and ideas you get from glancing at the cover of a book,” said Jessamy. “The things that make you want to turn back and look again…or hurry away!” Some covers stand on their own as works of art. The designs incorporate colorful typography, photography, playful illustrations, and collage. Others are more subdued. For a simple cover with a black and white portrait, Jessamy writes, “Here’s Ahmad Reza Ahmadi looking pensive again, this time on the cover of Naser Saffarian’s study of the poet’s work: A Poet Unlike His Poems.”

Jessamy shares these books because she loves the material. “Sometimes I am already familiar with the book or author before it arrives – I tend to highlight those books as well, just because I’m excited to see them! It’s like spotting a familiar face in a crowd of strangers.”

Here are three of Jessamy’s favorite posts from Ghilafaat:

1. I loved the Nowherelanders, for exactly the same reason I wrote in the original posts. I’d love to do translations of the Nowherelanders’ individual bios.

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Meet the fascinating faces of Nowhereland! This is catalogued as a collection of short stories, but it’s almost like an art catalog. Each story is presented as the bio of a particular character, photographed and presented in detail. I love these ugly-cute-strange doll-sculpture-people. My Persian professor was so enamored of them, he got his own copy. Author/artist: Alireza Mir’asadullah. #persian #art #fiction #books #bookcovers #dollmaking #sculpture #mixedmedia

2. This book is one of my favorites because it has gorgeous illustrations, and it’s a bilingual edition. The book I photographed here is actually the second copy I’ve cataloged – the first one passed through before I created Ghilafaat & I thought I had missed my chance!

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Gorgeous watercolor illustrations on (and inside!) this bilingual volume on the Emir Abdelkader. #art #arabic #french #history #books #bookcovers #coverart

3. This book isn’t really one of my favorite covers, but I wanted to share something that illustrates another side of this project – sometimes the books make me laugh. This one is a sort of tabloid-style ‘expose’ on the life of a star from Egyptian cinema’s Golden Age – Su’ad Husni. It has all the markings of something you would see on your way out the grocery aisle; insensitive, sensational questions in bold type, references to heretofore unseen documents, a glamorous photo of the starlet made ominous by a black background…On top of everything else, the author Samir Farraj has added a sort of pen name: ‘Ibn al-Shati” This title translates to Son of the Beach, and I’m really not mature enough to let something like that slide. ghila_3

WAIT, wait, wait—am I cataloging acquisitions at a respected research institution, or am I in line at the grocery store (of golden age Egyptian cinema, that is)? “Suad Hosny: did she kill herself, or was she murdered?” This macabre piece promises to include heretofore unseen documents and also declares that this “book is considered a historic document.” By whom, we don’t know. Side note: Author Samir Farraj seems to have a nickname of sorts “Ibn al-Shati’” which literally translates to ‘Son of the Beach.’ Hmm. #arabic #egypt #suadhosny #egyptiancinema #scandals #books #bookcovers

Top Image: Jessamy at the library, taken by Natalie.

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Note to Self: Preserve Personal Triumphs

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Seeing a friend read an essay this spring made me think about personal archives in a new way. I had traveled to a gallery in an old industrial zone of Brooklyn to support my friend Megan, who writes about contemporary art and her life. When Megan got up, she said she wrote the essay she would be reading two years ago. Revisiting the piece the night before, it didn’t seem quite right. She decided to rewrite all the questions as declarative statements. I imagined her questions had been answered over time. Or, made way for different, newer questions. The edits seemed like signs of growth. Being in the audience that night as the writers and artists shared their completed works, I felt I was witnessing a small milestone.

The reading reminded me of one of my own milestones, a night the summer after my college graduation. I studied photography for two years as an undergrad, first black and white and then color. I had the idea to organize my first photography exhibition of my own work. My friend Dave kindly let me decorate his apartment on St. Mark’s Place with my work, and hold the exhibit there.

Matt and I lined Dave’s apartment with my photographs and some yellow tube lights. We blew up pink balloons and bought a box of cheap Trader Joe’s wine. My friends started to arrive, one by one, despite the sweltering heat. The photographs I selected were taken on day trips, date nights, or were just observations from my early twenties. The show was a milestone in itself of my growth as an artist and marked the end of my college life. It was also an excuse to celebrate the friends and supporters I had collected along the way.

When I decided to share the photographs on Library Manifesto, I found that I had done a disservice to my own archives. Many of the photographs taken the night of the show are missing! I’ve moved and purged multiple times since college and I’m afraid they might be gone forever. This is a public note to myself, and anyone reading, to remember to document personal milestones and triumphs with the same attention and thought we often give our failures. Jot them down, share with friends. Have pride in your successes (big and small) and preserve your personal history.

Here are a few photos of that night and some that were hanging on the walls:

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See: Last Year at Marienbad Redux

Last Year At Marienbad

Entering Last Year at Marienbad Redux, a group exhibit and event series at a Midtown gallery, visitors are welcomed by tall mirrors, reminiscent of a funhouse, skewing their reflections.

Artworks in the exhibit reflect the themes of “Last Year at Marienbad,” a 1961 French New Wave film. Like the film’s puzzling nonlinear plot, the art attempts to piece together past events and document people, places, and things.

“The exhibition seeks to remind us that our understanding of a reality is a constructed one,” said James Voorhies, the exhibit’s curator, via e-mail. The inspiration first came out of the 2012 Presidential election. “I think many people watched in awe,” said Voorhies,“at the intense and repetitive narrative spun through the media machines of sound bites and images to become accepted fact for a majority of the American population who believed what the media told them about these candidates.”

The exhibit’s artwork again and again unveils human perceptions as flawed, a theme explored in the film “Last Year at Marienbad.” Voorhies said, “Our understanding of history is edited and cobbled together through the pieces of information and artifacts that survive and come down to us through both digital and printed materials.”

Iman Issa

Iman Issa recalls past events using three individual objects in Triptychs. In this example, a photograph, architectural detail, and larger still life photograph vaguely reconstruct an event.  While we can guess at some of the crucial elements, our inability to put the pieces together speaks to the flaws in the narrator’s storytelling. (Images from Rodeo Gallery)

Gordon Matta-Clark

Blast From the Past, a playful, but sinister puzzle from the estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, instructs players to recreate a scene from a history of a floor. A pile of cigarette butts, dirt, screws and rusty nails swept together in a vitrine awaits interpretation.

Josh Tonsfeldt

Josh Tonsfeldt created Marion, an installation based on documents the artist found in a box of a New York socialite. In the example above, from afar you can see a photo of Marion (or another woman?), but when looking directly down at the image, a layer between the viewer and the photo renders the image invisible.

Karen Cytter

In Video Art Manual, a how-to montage, tips about making video art are combined with scenes of familiar television shows and original footage by the artist, Keren Cytter. Messages are convoluted with news footage and a cheer-leading Richard Simmons.

The Bureau for Open Culture (I first found them at the NY Art Book Fair, but they are based in Vermont) have organized a number of interesting exhibitions and programs and publish related books. “Bureau for Open Culture publications are results of lived engagement in real time with the public,” said Voorhies. “Each of the books departs from exhibitions, performances, research and residencies. Over the years, the books are increasingly less documents of these projects and more integrated extensions of them.”

The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts hosts Last Year at Marienbad Redux until October 26, 2013.

Many thanks to James Voorhies for answering our questions. Images courtesy Bureau for Open Culture, Zach Feuer Gallery, and Library Manifesto.

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Unreliable Narrators

Jonathas de Andrade, Tropical Hangover, Journal Entries

In contemporary art, the archive is frequently explored as a tool to cope with and understand history. Here, I’ve picked two projects that explore identity through documentation: one from Margia Kramer in the ‘80s, one from Jonathas de Andrade in 2009. Each explores the idea of myth making, storytelling, and the deliberate construction of history with misinformation disguised as truth.

Broad Museum Jonathas de Andrade, Tropical Hangover

Artist Jonathas de Andrade used journals and photographs that are not originally connected and threads them together to create one narrative. I recently saw his work, Ressaca Tropical (Tropical Hangover), on view at the Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Ressaca is a word used to describe the moon’s influence of the tides and is slang for “Hangover” which brings to mind that familiar process of piecing events together after a wild night out. Found images and journals are presented on the wall as a timeline building a visual history of the city of Recife in northern Brazil. Much like our memories, there are gaps in the story and what Andrade pieces together is sometimes unreliable. Read more on this project here.

Kramer, Seberg, FBI

Activist artist Margia Kramer’s publication Essential Documents brings attention to FBI files that were part of a slandering mission undergone against actress Jean Seberg after the actress donated money to the Black Panther Party. Seberg is remembered as a fashion and film icon, but the less recounted part of her story is the harmful FBI investigation. Kramer’s work catalogs that trauma and tells of misinformation provided to the press by the FBI. Soon after Seberg’s death Kramer made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the release of those FBI files. FOIA requests are an important part of Kramer’s work and her way of of building a critical consciousness around government surveillance and handling of information. Read more on this project here.

Both artists are using primary source material (i.e. letters, photography, government documents) which we take to be trustworthy and unassailable, to show how the authority of the documents should be questioned. Not only are our memories flawed but items kept in an archive have the potential to be misconstrued too.

Images borrowed from top to bottom: The State of L3, Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, and the Franklin Furnace Archive.

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