Tacita Dean big year makes the case for the warmth of film

(K. Brent Tomer),

BALZAC had some unusual ideas about photography, a new invention in his time. The Frenchman believed that all objects were “made up of a series of ghostly images superimposed in layers to infinity,” and that the camera captured one of those layers. Tacita Dean’s eerie new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, on until May 28th, in which flickering cinematic screens float in the middle of dark rooms, like layers caught in suspension, seems to encourage such spiritual notions as Balzac’s.

Ms Dean was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998, and found success as part of the generation of so-called Young British Artists. But unlike her contemporaries Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin, Ms Dean is not quite a household name. Her standing in the art world, though, is immense. It would be hard to find another living artist able to pull off the trick that Ms Dean has done: three shows at once in three of London’s most important cultural institutions, each focusing on a different…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Tacita Dean big year makes the case for the warmth of film


The damage overbearing fathers do to sons

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Italian Teacher. By Tom Rachman. Viking; 352 pages; $27. Riverrun; £13.99.

TOM RACHMAN’S latest novel is the story of a great man and the wreckage greatness leaves in its wake. It chronicles the life and legend of Bear Bavinsky, a painter of enormous appetites and all-consuming ego, largely through the eyes of his son, Charles (known as Pinch). Their names capture the complexion of their fraught relationship. Bear lumbers through life heedless of his impact; Pinch shrinks, unable to escape the giant’s shadow, hoping only to avoid being trampled underfoot.

Pinch is far from the only victim of the Bavinsky legend. Speaking to Natty, his current wife—Pinch’s mother, and a potter whose insecurities provide the perfect foil for his overbearing personality—Bavinsky proclaims: “You are a talent, my Natty. If you want to be. All it takes is a bit more oomph.” Bear is oomph incarnate. He charms and bullies, holds forth and rages,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The damage overbearing fathers do to sons

A compelling look at the flaws in the Chinese economy

(K. Brent Tomer),

China’s Great Wall of Debt. By Dinny McMahon. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 256 pages; $28. Little, Brown; £14.99.

THE zombies that appear in Chinese legends are not quite the same as their Western counterparts. They feast on blood, not brains, and hop about rather than staggering forwards. The differences extend to economics. Chinese officials, like their Western peers, openly fret about zombie companies—insolvent firms kept alive by banks—but are far less willing to kill them off. This small excursion into the world of the undead is one of many gems in Dinny McMahon’s new book, a vivid account of China’s economic problems, from debt to falsified data.

Mr McMahon, a veteran financial correspondent in China, most recently with the Wall Street Journal, wears his knowledge lightly, whether discussing ghost stories or balance sheets. His book, “China’s Great Wall of Debt”, is notable for two reasons. It is one of the clearest and most thorough…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A compelling look at the flaws in the Chinese economy

A symbolic struggle over ancient manuscripts

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE pages crackle, specks of parchment falling to the ground like snowflakes. Wrapped in a white shawl, the book open on his knees on an embroidered velvet cloth, Father Teklehaimanot turns the sheets fastidiously lest the leather ligature tear them. Inside the text is dull and faded. By contrast, the colours of the illustrations are brilliant, rich purples and blues that brighten the gloom of the monastery. On the floor lies the cloth in which the volume is usually enfolded; beside it, the pile of boxes on which it rests. This is where one of the world’s most precious religious artefacts is kept, as it has been for as long as the monks can remember.

The Garima Gospels are not easy to see. These illuminated Christian manuscripts—at around 1,500 years old, perhaps the oldest of their kind in existence—belong to Abba Garima monastery, which is perched on a remote outcrop in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. The roughly 100 monks store the two books in a circular treasure-house next to the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A symbolic struggle over ancient manuscripts

A child bride who longed to dance

(K. Brent Tomer),

Haile Selassie, before the fall

The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History. By Aida Edemariam. Harper; 314 pages; $26.99. Fourth Estate; £16.99.

A HOME-COOKED Ethiopian meal is a sensual journey, which extends beyond the warm flavours of ginger and cardamom that spice the languidly served stews. There is also the tactile joy of tearing and rolling injera, a spongy and bubbly flat bread, before using it to mop up sauces. Best of all is the whiff of green coffee beans roasted in a cast-iron skillet, which is carried around the table to give each guest a full measure of its aroma.

To read Aida Edemariam’s “The Wife’s Tale” is to savour the life of her grandmother, Yetemegnu. It is a life scented with ginger and garlic, cardamom and basil, which spans emperors, revolutions, invasion, conquest and liberation. Rather than cataloguing Ethiopia’s turbulent modern history, Ms Edemariam…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A child bride who longed to dance

Peril on the sea, in art and music

(K. Brent Tomer),

Two hundred years of cruel seas

LAST September Mamadou Ndiaye swam for 24 hours in the Atlantic Ocean. As he contended with the powerful currents, his head bobbing in the waves, his eyes became bleary with exhaustion. Mr Ndiaye, a swimming instructor from Saint-Louis in Senegal, was tracked and filmed by boat and drones over the four days of his exertions. This month his image was beamed onto a giant fabric screen at the Dutch National Opera, as a chorus of 115 singers, illuminated in the background like ghostly apparitions, performed Hans Werner Henze’s surging oratorio “Das Floss der Medusa”. The evening drew connections across different art-forms, and between historical woes and modern tragedy.

Henze’s work was inspired by Théodore Gericault’s painting of 1819, “The Raft of the Medusa” (pictured). That depicts a calamity of three years earlier, when the Méduse , a French naval frigate,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Peril on the sea, in art and music

Documenting the last bound feet in China

(K. Brent Tomer),

SU XI RONG’s tiny feet made her one of the most beautiful women in her the village. Hers were a perfect form in a society which valued delicacy in its womenfolk. Photographs of her show an old woman proudly displaying her finest assets. Although to the modern eye, her gnarled skin and unnaturally bent toes can shock, a new exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences by Jo Farrell, a British photographer, brings out their beauty. 

Foot binding became popular among the upper classes in the 10th century, during the Song dynasty, perhaps in imitation of a particularly dainty concubine. The perfect bound foot, known as the “golden lotus”, was less than 10cm long. The cost of such perfection was years of excruciating manipulation and pain. Bandages were used to pull the four smaller toes down underneath the foot while pulling the heel towards the toes. Walking on bound feet would push the metatarsals backwards until the foot broke, creating a deep crevice between the front and the back of the foot.

The result was…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Documenting the last bound feet in China

Despite an abbreviated schedule, Roger Federer rules the roost

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE men’s tennis season is one of the most arduous slogs in professional sports. Most players kick off their season the first week of each new year in Australia, then travel the globe to compete multiple times a month in an attempt to qualify for the year-end championships, held in London in mid-November. The off-season is barely worthy of the name, and is often insufficient for competitors to recover from a year’s worth of nagging injuries, not to mention developing new skills and tactics for a fresh campaign. The tour is undergoing a health crisis of sorts, as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, all victors of multiple grand-slam tournaments, are ageing and either absent or struggling to overcome physical woes. Some players—including Milos Raonic, a 27-year-old Canadian who is also on the comeback trail—attribute their absences to the excessive rigors of the schedule.

One man, however,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Despite an abbreviated schedule, Roger Federer rules the roost

The mysterious reggaeton bangers of Mexico’s election

(K. Brent Tomer),

FOR evidence that modern democracy has lost its pep, look back to the age of cheery campaign jingles. The art form dominated elections from America to the Philippines after the second world war. Australian political parties used them well into the 1980s. It is tempting to believe that melodious campaigns of the past were more enjoyable that today’s anxious, apocalyptic affairs. Sadly, a phobia of risk-taking among campaigns has killed them off in many countries. Modern candidates will sooner piggyback on popular songs (usually ones with drab titles like “Beautiful Day” or “New Sensation”) than craft an original. Silly, self-congratulatory jingles risk looking undignified.

Yet a new model of campaign song is slowly emerging. An unaffiliated person can release a song, and if it strikes a chord the campaign can “adopt” it for official use. The two songs that defined Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, “Crush On Obama” and “Yes We Can”, both came to be with no campaign input. The same is supposedly true of Italy’s…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The mysterious reggaeton bangers of Mexico’s election

Redeeming Mary Magdalene

(K. Brent Tomer),

EVERY generation of artists has brought its own sensibilities and experiences to the depiction of canonical Christian stories. Giotto, an Italian painter, set Bible scenes in medieval Tuscany. Rembrandt gave his a hint of mercantile 17th-century Amsterdam. “Mary Magdalene” is similarly a retelling of some of the faith’s main events from a 21st-century perspective, one that takes the original texts seriously but sets out to peel away aeons of sexist prejudice. It is a bold undertaking, particularly for film-makers with an impressive record otherwise but no experience of spiritual subjects.

At the heart of “Mary Magdalene” is the idea that Jesus’s most important female follower should be restored to a central, unique place in what might be considered the founding narrative of Western culture. The New Testament has much to say about this enigmatic figure, but is by no means comprehensive. It says that she, along with several other women, accompanied Jesus and the male disciples as he preached and healed. Her relationship with the Messiah…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Redeeming Mary Magdalene