Monday, March 27, 2017

Sophie Calle, Paul Auster, & Enrique Vila-Matas (for ARTBOOK @ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles)



Sophie Calle, Paul Auster, Enrique Vila-Matas 

In such a fashion, voyeurism is very much part of the arts.  That includes both the visual and literary arts.   Eros is likewise an excellent companion to the arts.   The French artist, Sophie Calle, I feel is an entranceway to the world that is forbidden, and therefore we allow her as a guide to the underworld.   She is renowned for her performance/book artwork such as obtaining a job in a Venice hotel to observe the anonymous occupants and making a record of the experience.  As well as locating an address book on the street, and looking up every person in the book to learn more about the owner of the notebook.    Even enticingly, Calle through her mother, hired a private detective to monitor herself, not knowing the identity of the detective.   There is something that is wonderfully off-putting of such an art - especially when the artist commits herself to these series of performances and observations.  What’s equally sexy/disturbing is when other artists contribute to her work or comment on Calle through their art. In this case, the novel “Leviathan” by Paul Auster and “Because She Never Asked ” by Enrique Vila-Matas.  I feel both authors are sucked into this world that’s foundation is shaky at its best.  Which in turn, makes their “novels” so superb.



Calle’s art book, “Double Game, ” is more than a reflection on Paul Auster’s 1992 novel. It’s the springboard for Calle to explore the nature of what is real, not real, fiction and non-fiction, and how characters out of a novel can jump out of its pages.  There is the forbidden aspect of breaking that wall between reader/character and real life.  The thing about voyeurism is that it’s not really about the ‘real’ but how we perceive the ‘real. ' Calle and Auster play with the medium of fiction and conceptual art, that takes one on a very slippery path to the difference of one’s privacy, and another’s exploitation.  



The character, Maria Turner, in “Leviathan” is based on Sophie Calle, in that she’s a photographer who follows strangers for the purpose of photographing them for her art. In 2007, Calle came out with “Double Game. ” Her art/narrative book that focuses on the Auster character “Maria.” Calle plays up to the Maria character, even though it is inspired by her, into the world where the artist base her work on the fictional character that is based on….   “Double Game” is similar to going into a room full of mirrors, and consistently see endless images of oneself.   This is what all three artists/writers have in common.  The ability to be in their story, and then, in essence, floats over the narration and looks at themselves.  That, to me is the art of these two.  To take history, storytelling, and the ability to step into the typhoon that is art and mixing it up, and being able to express that experience with the skills of their artistry.  



The one flaw in the Auster/Calle world is the nature of coincidence.   It happens in life, but when you see it written down on paper, it becomes contrived.  It’s like having a puzzle, and you're missing key parts, so to make up for it, you force the ill-fitting part against another.   It can work, but it’s often too jarring, and brings attention to the weakness of the narration from point A to B.   Auster used Calle as a style of fiction, and Calle used Auster as a form of fiction - and then there’s Enrique Vila-Matas.



Of the three, I find Vila-Matas the most interesting.  His works are truly a combination of narrative fiction, literary theory, and art history rolled into one package.  Auster had approached this within his fiction, and Calle expressed this in her conceptual artwork, but Vila-Matas makes it seem effortless.   The one book of Vila-Matas that ties into the Sophie Calle presence is “Because She Never Asked. ”



The novella starts off about a fan of Calle who becomes a detective in the same light as her hero.  Which in turn, by the second chapter, is a story requested by Calle to Vila-Matas.   She wants Vila-Matas to write a story, and Calle will do anything in that story, except murder.  Now, the interesting thing, like with Auster, is having someone put one into a narrative of some sort.  The whole passive act is to follow along, and see what will happen. In a sense, it isn't precisely a work of fate, but the actual work of two authors.  There’s a sexual tinge in that one plays specific roles in the narrative.  As a writer, I like to base my little stories on real incidents and people as well.  What I do, is basically, take a real life, and altering that individual into my fashion.   In that sense, it’s a sex game where one plays roles to turn each other on.   Here, Vila-Matas is an inconsistent anticipation of hearing a response from Calle, through the medium of e-mail.   At this point, Vila-Matas, in the narrative, is not sure if the emails being sent back and forth will be part of an art exhibition (which is possible in the world of Calle) or an actual story being played out.   And at this point, the author is wondering if he’s being played “on.”   



The role of an artist/writer is interesting in itself in this presentation of them being a character in their story.  Therefore they can change their narrative to suit their art.   The thing is, they play with the reader’s imagination to a great extent, with the possibility that what they are writing is either 100% true, partially true, or entirely made-up.    Calle’s work is more fact-based in that she has information on-hand, and acts on it, with respect to her documentation.  Still, there is always a doubt in one’s mind if everything that is being presented to them is the actual truth of the situation.  Vila-Matas notices that he wants to live a written life, instead of being a writer.  That’s the conflict between being an artist who observes and one who lives out their life.  To participate in an action is very much part of being an author/artist - but to embrace the life as one’s lives, is an adventure that is not necessary literary or artistic.  In the hands (and minds) of these three, we are experiencing the duality of such a life. 




Paul Auster’s “Leviathan, ” Enrique Vila-Mata’s “Because She Never Asked, ” and Sophie Calle’s “Double Game” is an exploration of friendship, a touch of eros, collaboration, the fragile quality and quantity of truth.  Literary/art games have never been so much fun. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

HIPPOPOTAMUS - the new album by SPARKS


I heard the album and it's brilliant.  Buy it. 

HIPPOPOTAMUS - the new album by SPARKS

Pre-order the album and get the title track instantly! 

➫ https://sparks.lnk.to/HippoStore

Full tracklist:

1. Probably Nothing
2. Missionary Position
3. Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
4. Scandinavian Design
5. Giddy Giddy
6. What The Hell Is It This Time?
7. Unaware
8. Hippopotamus
9. Bummer
10. I Wish You Were Fun
11. So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play?
12. When You're A French Director
13. The Amazing Mr. Repeat
14. A Little Bit Like Fun
15. Life With The Macbeths

More options at https://sparks.lnk.to/hippopotamus

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Sanshirō by Natsume Sōseki (Translated by Jay Rubin) Penguin Random House UK

ISBN: 978-0-241-28446-9 Penguin Random House UK
So far, "Sanshirō" is my favorite Natsume Sōseki novel. Written over 100 years ago during the presence of the Meiji era in Japan, it's a book that is very much of its time. Japan at the time was feeling the influence of the West - in particular with the arts from that period. English and European literature were being translated into Japanese, and Sōseki is a writer who was very much under the influence of Western writers as well as its various philosophies - yet, the beauty of this book deals with the tension or difference between the West and Japan. 

The main character, Sanshirō is a countryside fellow who comes to the big city, Tokyo, to study and live. Here he encounters fellow students and professors who are exposed to other things in life besides what Sanshirō knows from his rural life. Including sexual feelings, or the first entrance to romantic overtures from a female. The great thing about the book for me is Sōseki's journalistic talents in writing about Tokyo and wandering throughout the city. "Sanshirō" through the main character, is very much going on a pre-Situationist adventure in finding new delights that Tokyo has to offer its new citizen. 

Nothing dramatic happens, but there is a strong narrative, with characters interacting with others. The female figures seem to be much more aware of what's going on than Sanshirō who is somewhat a 'sheep' or perhaps even a coward. I think he's not in tuned to his surroundings or even to himself. So, the book is about a discovery and how one processes a change in one's life. In that sense, it's a young man's or person's novel. The ripe fruit is life as it happens, and this novel is about the moments as it happens.



Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 16, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Los Angeles


March 16, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Los Angeles

Night to night and from day-to-day I try to stay alerted to my surroundings.  We arrived from Tokyo a few days ago, and since then it has been a struggle for me to accept my brain is in my physical body.  We arrived at 1:00 PM, and due to the organization of Super Shuttle, we arrived at our home at 3:30 PM.  So overall, it takes one and a half hours on a bus to Tokyo to Narita airport, then three hours hanging out at the airport.  Then nine and a half hours on a plane.  Customs take around 30 minutes with the weirdest questions such as 'how much cash do you have,' with right after that, 'I spent time in Japan to see my cousin who's in the military.'   While there is a line of people waiting to be processed so they can get on with their lives to pick up their luggage.    A very long day that March 14. 



I get home to face a month full of mail.  Bills as well as invitations that are way past their acceptance.  The first thing I noticed when we walked into our house is the smell of someone not being there, except the odor of dust and no air, due that the windows were locked up.   I had to make a few phone calls, and then I looked at the ceiling for a few hours from our couch in the living room.   



The weather is warm, and we just came from a climate that's wet and cold.  Our clothing still expressed that part of the world, where in fact we should be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  The heat made me feel not good, but out-of-existence.   I couldn't relate to the sweat that was building up on my chest and forehead.  I still have the traces of a cold that I caught in Tokyo, I think due to the cold rooms that I came upon from the cold outside to slightly warmer places.   Also, I kept on moving consistently for a month without rest or reflection.  There were so many things to see and do.  I didn't use the word 'no,' while I was in Japan.  




I can't sleep.  My body is fully active.  My brain is dead.  I maybe dead.  Just feel like the body is operating without a thought in my head.   Today's date or day is just a theory, and I'm aware of the deadlines that are in place in front of me.  I'm feeling sad, and I don't have the foggiest idea why.  My emotions are up front, and logic is somewhere buried deeply into a locked room.   I walked around the house in pitch darkness.  I go to bed, but my brain is in the daylight.   I look up the ceiling, and I can't make out the cracks which I think of the Nile River.  I used to follow it from one end to the other  - and by the time I reached there, I'm asleep.  This is not the case tonight.



I read the newspaper websites in the middle of the night, and I know life is going on, but I feel so not part of it.  Dick Clark, one-time America's oldest teenager, commented that "Jet lag is for amateurs."   I only wanted to be in that category, because I loathe professionalism that puts me down into a particular class or position.   I try to remind myself that I'm on a higher plane, but the truth is, I'm always crashing in the same car.   What do I know about knowing?  I'm going round and round in my house, and I only have these walls to keep me grounded.   When I do sleep, it's at 6 in the morning.  It's not sleeping; it's more like being in a coma. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 13, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan



March 13, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

I have been receiving a lot of messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google blogger asking what my daily life is like in Tokyo Japan.   Well, for one, it is not that different from your everyday life in your town, home, or country.  I usually wake up around Noon, because more likely I was out drinking in either in Shinjuku or the nearby bar near my place called Homesic, open from 5 PM to 5 AM.  The bar also serves drip coffee and tea.  There is room here for only a small table and two seats.  Anyone coming in would have to stand at the bar counter which is not a counter, but just a stand to separate the worker there from the rest of the customer's space.  Alcohol is a good pal of the Japanese lifestyle.  



The central shopping area around where I live here is on Heiwa Dori (Avenue).  There are at least two liquor shops that specialize in wines from Chile as well as various local brews of Sake.  You can get a cup of sake here for 150¥ or a bottle between 900¥ and 1,110¥.  Of course, there are more expensive bottles, but I tend to shy away from them.  



After a drink of wine or sake, I go to my local used bookstore, which like all the stores here, is tiny.  They stock a lot of books on art, as well as a focus on Suji Terayama.   He's a combination of Antonin Artaud, Jean Cocteau, with a touch of Fellini.   A writer, playwright, essayist, filmmaker - a jack of all trades and a master of all.   The shop owner often displays his sizable inventory of art and other issues in book form outside the store.



There's a superb music store near the station that has a strong focus on the culture of The Beach Boys.   If Budha is a God, so is Brian Wilson.  In the past, I was able to find hard-to-find Van Dyke Parks recordings as well as the entire catalog of the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra on CD.  On this particular visit, I purchased four 7" EP Kinks releases, as well as a Dave Davies solo EP, and the Honeycombs second album on CD, "All Systems Go."   Which includes 12 extra or bonus songs.  I haven't the foggiest idea what the bonus songs are, due that the titles are written in the Japanese language.



After my purchase, I go back to Heiwa Dori to go to my favorite Vegan cafe, which again, is tiny.   What are the chances of having a vegan restaurant within walking distance from my home?  Veganism is not exactly a huge fad here in Japan.   Usually when you mention you are a vegetarian to a fellow citizen of this country that means you don't eat a cow.  But of course, you can't be stating chicken, fish, or any other meat under the vegetarian bandwagon.   My favorite meal at this place is the coconut curry set lunch, which is superb.    The cafe looks like someone's personal kitchen.  It doesn't feel like a public space at all.  My reaction at first is to knock on the door then just walk in, like a regular restaurant.   There is probably a handful of vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo.   I pity the poor soul who has a strict diet.



I'm reminded that I need to mark my presence here in Tokyo.  The best thing to do is go to a photographer's studio and have an official portrait of myself.   I'm thinking of using the white background for my picture.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

March 10, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan



March 10, 2017 (Tosh's Diary) Japan

I'm ill.  Something is decaying in my body, and I tried every measure to piss or poop it out.   David Bowie went from station to station, but I'm going from toilet to toilet.   Every station has a bathroom as well as every public building.  In Los Angeles, I'm consistently reminded that there are very few public toilets in the city.   Tokyo and other cities in Japan seem to take the route that public bathrooms are a human's right to pee.   In the United States, you need to buy a cup of coffee before being allowed to the bathroom.  So in other words, one must have the currency of some sort to pee in a proper manner.



The Japanese toilet has other problems.  Well, the toilet itself doesn't have a problem, but the foreigner who can't read Kanji may have an issue with the object that's the toilet.   There are two types of toilets in Japan.   The western style, but has the added features to spray water on your behind, both hard and soft, as well as a bidet for the female.  Some come with a dryer, but all have a heated seat.  Even when I don't want to use the toilet, I like to sit on the warm seat and read.



One has to be careful in which button they're pushing.  Some years ago, I was in a public toilet in an expensive restaurant, and after I had peed, I played the game eenie meenie moe to select the right button.   "Meenie" led me to push a button where all of sudden a pipe came out of the toilet bowl and sprayed warm water all over my crotch.  I was wearing white levis, and it seems the entire restaurant knew what happened to me in that particular toilet.



The other is the 'squat' toilet.  This is the standard toilet you find in small Japanese towns or the countryside.  Some old department stores as well have them.  One can usually make a choice.  The Western toilet is very common now.  Still, I have never used this type of toilet because I could never figure how to use it.   I presume one had to sit or hover over it, but at what part of the toilet do you release your obscene insides?

Japan has an understanding of the need for the bathroom.  In fact, it is almost an art piece.  The structure of the 'squat' toilet is something that a fan of Marcel Duchamp can appreciate.  The other thing one must remember, especially if you are in someone's home - never bring the outside slippers into the toilet area.   There are toilet slippers, and they are to be used only in the toilet room.   This is an important rule to follow.   There is nothing more disgusting when someone uses the same pair of slippers for inside the house as well as in the toilet area.  That alone is making me ill at the moment.



But back to my illness.  It's impossible for one not to get sick when facing thousands of people on a daily level in the streets of Tokyo or any other major Japanese city.  If you travel on the train during the rush hour, you will be more likely to be kissing distance to either female or male.   Often I have opened my mouth, and someone would cough right into my open port.  So as I write, I'm feeling sick and of course, not in the greatest mood.

- Tosh Berman

Images of Japan Part Two: Photos by Tosh Berman




















Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Le Lion Cafe in Shibuya Tokyo



I was going to walk to a bookstore but decided to visit Le Lion Cafe which is in the Shibuya area of Tokyo.  I go here often over the years. It is one of my favorite places and by far my favorite cafe.  Their specialty and only specialty is that they play classical albums - mostly vinyl.  The coffee there cost 550¥, and it’s not that good.  What you’re paying for is someone to play records for you.  A vintage DJ set where one plays music for another.   They have these two massive wooden cabinet speakers facing the coffee drinkers.  One is not allowed to converse at the cafe.  There are small wooden chairs and covered seats.  All were facing the direction of the three turntables, various amps, and a CD machine or two.



When I walked in, they were playing Schubert’s “The Four Seasons” on vinyl.  Before and after each record, the waiter/waitress gives an introduction to the music being played.  Usually, they give the composer and the piece, but they also read from what looks like an old hardcover book on classical music, to provide detail about either the recording or the orchestra/musician/composer.  Last night after each playing, the waitress cleaned the vinyl before and after playing the record.   The next record was, I think, a piece of music by Tchaikovsky.  All introductions are done in Japanese, and they do exhibit the album cover on a stand in front of the speakers, but the lighting is so dark it’s hard to make out what the print says on the record cover.  She then played a recording of Handel’s harpsichord music.



I casually looked around the small room, and there are three people there drinking coffee and listening to the music.  There is an upstairs as well, that is the balcony, and the seating arrangement is the same as the bottom floor.  When you see the speakers, one would think that it will be loud.  The volume is somewhere in the middle.  What's interesting is that the music doesn't drown out the noise outside the cafe.  You can hear people laughing and walking pass the Lion Cafe, and one is aware that there is life outside the listening room.  The other thing one notices is that the architecture inside and outside represents a baroque era.  It is almost if you were walking down a street in the 17th century Vienna and you come upon this coffee house.  It's European but with the oversight of a Japanese aesthetic.

There are many things here that I find impressive, but one is sitting by yourself and being confronted with Western culture in an Eastern country.   The cafe is located in the Red Light District in Shibuya.  There are nothing here but bars and love hotels.   One would think that the perfect location for Le Lion Cafe would be the Ginza or West Shinjuku.  Here in Playland is the ultimate escape from the 21st century into the world that is both real and imagined.  The best 550¥ ever spent.