You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


She later appeared on Japan's Got Talent
Maybe this had been too exuberantly recommended. It also makes me realize that even when reading manga or graphic novels I am expecting as much in the way of narrative as I am visuals. 

Is there a story here? Sure. Midori is an orphaned child taken up by the owner of a failing freak show. She is sexually and physically abused. When she takes in three abandoned puppies, one of the performers, a woman whose talent appears to involve nothing more than sitting naked in a bucket of snakes, discovers Midori's puppies, stomps them to death and serves them in a stew. Midori's apparent savior is a midget magician whose act involves crawling into and out of a large jar with an impossibly small opening. Although the new act can save the freak show, Mr. Arashi, the owner, runs off with the money and the performers go their separate ways. Midori's midget lover has her wait on the train platform while he goes to get some food. He is stabbed while stealing. Midori is more alone than ever. (According to the book jacket. this is a retelling of a classic Japanese tale. I haven't tried to track it down.)

Maruo overuses the tongue-to-eyeball motif

Sorry, should I have warned of spoilers? Why bother? The story is nothing, much of it a dream or a hypnotically induced hallucination. Fans go to Maruo for the arwowrk, which is outrageous and spectacular. Maruo has a flair for perversity. Midori's rape by the puss-filled mummy man is a visual high point. So as you can imagine this is not likely to be to everyone's taste. And yet glancing through promotions for Maruo's other works, this might be one of his tamer offerings.

Midori and her midget beau have a night on the town

Midori has a moment of clarity

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This has been my breakfast companion for several weeks. Documenta, the ultimate in international art exhibitions, occurs every five years in Kassel Germany. The extravaganza always produces a doorstopper catalog, usually several volumes of unreadable essays, and this chunky guidebook. The guidebook is what you are supposed to lug around with you at the actual exhibition, where you can spend several days visiting the different venues, taking in too much art in too little time. Forget about the films and lectures.

I have attended a couple of times in the past but decided to let this one slide. Reading reviews and now looking at the guidebook almost makes me wish I had made the trek, but then I remember years and trips to various huge international art expos where I wondered why I hadn't just stayed home , saved several thousand dollars, and bought the catalog. So I guess it all evens out in the end.

This year there are over 200 artists, and each gets a two-page spread in the guidebook. If I was consistent, I could read three artist entries per day at breakfast and make a complete tour in a little over three months. But I am not consistent. After a couple of months I am maybe halfway through. What stands out? Nothing, really. The projects tend to be so conceptual that the catalog entries do them little justice. If something seems interesting I have to google the artist and try to find out more. So far I have done that for the Cambodian photographer Vandy Rattana; Egyptian filmmaker Wael Shawky; Margaret Preston, an Australian painter born in 1875; and, the Slovakian artist Roman Ondak, whose ongoing Observations. a project invovling an archive of found images from Eastern European magazines has always seemed like something I would like.

Maybe in five years I will feel like going to Document 14.


Below: random images from Documenta 13

The selection of unreadable essays
mentioned above

Lara Favaretto's "Momentary Monument IV (Kassel)," 2012
A Spanish greyhound called Human with his front leg painted pink, by artist Pierre Huyghe. “Live things and inanimate things, made and not made,” reads Huyghe’s description of his materials
Marionette by filmmaker Wael Shawky

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Scylla, Paestan red-figure krater
C4th B.C., J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu
It's true her voice sounds like a new-born pup,
but she's a vicious monster.  Nobody
would feel good seeing her, nor would a god
who crossed her path.  She has a dozen feet,
all deformed, six enormously long necks,
with a horrific head on each of them,
and three rows of teeth packed close together,
full of murky death.  Her lower body
she keeps out of sight in her hollow cave,
but sticks her heads outside the fearful hole,
and fishes there, scouring around the rock
for dolphins, sword fish, or some bigger prey,
whatever she can seize of all those beasts
moaning Amphitrite keeps nourishing
in numbers past all counting.  No sailors  
can yet boast they and their ship sailed past her
without getting hurt.  Each of Scylla's heads
carries off a man, snatching him away  
right off the dark-prowed ship.


Scylla's tail. Fragment of a marble group (mid 1st BCE) from the cave of Tiberius showing the ship of Ulysses attacked by Scylla.
She's not human,
but a destroyer who will never die

fearful, difficult, and fierce—not someone 
you can fight.  There's no defence against her.
The bravest thing to do is run away. 

If you linger by the cliff to arm yourself,
I fear she'll jump out once more, attack you
with all her heads and snatch away six men,
just as before.  Row on quickly past her,
as hard as you can go.  Send out a call
to Crataiis, her mother, who bore her
to menace human beings. 

From Homer's Odyssey Book xii
Translated by Ian Johnston

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

MANGA MANIA: Lullabies from Hell by Hideshi HIno

More icky fun from the most visceral of all manga artists.  

A child raised by demented parents goes from torturing animals and self mutilation to murdering his enemies by depicting their deaths in his drawings. (Hino's protagonists are often artists.) A woman gives birth to a lizard in a story that could all be a fantasy devised by her manga artist husband. This story has an environmental message that never quite rises to the sophistication of Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster. In the third story, three children visit the countryside alone. They travel by train and return to find their world has become a nightmare complete with abandoned amusement parks and homicidal parents.

The final story, "Zoruko's Strange Disease," has that combination of physical repulsiveness and eerie grace that makes HIno more than just a master of gross-out horror. A socially outcast child, loved only by his mother, develops a degenerative disease that reduces hims to a pustule-infected monstrosity. Abandoned in a house deep in the forest, he uses the blood and ichor of his boils to paint strangely beautiful pictures. When the villagers decide to kill him before the spring thaw causes his putrid odor to once again fill the village, they discover a mystery that is simultaneously melancholy and lovely.