Moved to Student Perspectives!

The blog has moved to “Student Perspectives” on the Arts Initiative website, read new posts here!

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MoMA’s Cool Little Sister: MoMA PS1

MoMA PS 1, housed in an old school building, is like the MoMA’s cool little sister with a focus on the cutting edge in contemporary art. Located in Long Island City, MoMA PS 1 is just a few subway stops on the E from the MoMA, so you can easily squeeze in two museum’s worth of viewing pleasure in the span of a day. Right across from MoMA PS 1 is the aerosol-adorned 5 Pointz, an industrial warehouse displaying the work of countless graffiti artists across its walls. the warehouse itself is worth the trip out to Long Island City, and makes for a picturesque contrast against the stark concrete structure of the courtyard outside MoMA PS 1.

Courtyard of MoMA PS1

As a constantly changing exhibition space, MoMA PS1 does not set out to collect, but rather creates a unique environment for the temporary installment of a diverse range of pieces. It retains much of the original architecture of the school building that it was once programmed to be, and transforms classrooms and tight stairwells into galleries. The space is currently under the process of installation, but possesses a few permanent pieces which are still worth seeing.

Along the labyrinthine stairwells are the anamorphic, black and white drawings of William Kentridge and a painting by Cecily Brown, distorted by the cracked and brittle paint texture of the walls. My favorite permanent piece is Meeting, by James Turrell, a

James Turrell’s “Meeting”

perfectly square room with a razor-sharp skylight. The piece, due to the thinness of the ceiling, creates the effect of a perfect patch of sky that one is welcome to bask under on a sunny day, while relaxing on the light wooden benches that encircle the compact room.

The basement, which houses the old broiler of the school house contains even more subtle pieces. Small interventions like Sol LeWitt’s Crayola Square, which is exactly what the title suggests, can go unnoticed in the dark and dank space, but demonstrate how the unique architecture of the school house provides new opportunities for artists to develop their work according to the space rather than isolate itself as an object in the traditionally stark white gallery.

MoMA PS1’s sole temporary piece (which was shown till April 27), was a short film titled Alberi, by Italian artist Michelangelo Frammartino. Installed in a temporary geodesic dome, visitors were invited to lay across the floor, while Frammartino’s whimsical short, telling a mythical story about the trees of the Italian countryside coming to life, was projected on the walls of the dome.

On May 12, MoMA PS1 is set to launch its newest exhibit, EXPO 1: NEW YORK, which will show new work all across its galleries. I truly recommend heading out then to see the space in its full exhibition state.

Caroline Chen CC’15

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Henri Labrouste: “Structure Brought to Light”

As students, one of our central architectural experiences is the library. Butler is a prime symbol of the classical education, with the great writers of Western civilizations carved upon its entablature and the large hall of 209 with neat rows of study tables. As an architect who is known for his libraries, 19th century French architect Henri LaBrouste’s first solo exhibition at the MoMA, “Structure Brought to Light” should resonate with many students at Columbia University.

LaBrouste’s most celebrated works, the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the reading room of  Bibliothèque Nationale de France are his two masterpieces the exhibition centers around. As you walk into the first gallery hallway of the exhibit, you are greeted

Labrouste's reading room in his Bibliotheque Nationale

Labrouste’s reading room in his Bibliotheque Nationale

with a series of Labrouste’s beautifully and meticulously drafted drawings of various studies of classical buildings and some reconstructed works of ruins. Both rendered in watercolor and simple pencil, they show the tremendous draftsmanship of the architect, which must be appreciated to its fullest extent in person.

His two libraries, which have an entire room of the galleries dedicated to them, lead the use of iron construction and are seminal in their incorporation of new technology in architecture. The curator commissioned a series of wooden drafting tables which are laid out in the middle of the room to display various sketches and plans for the two libraries; however, the tables can appear to be a bit gimmicky since the materials are all set in glass cases to sit on top.

Outside of the immensely detailed drawings of LaBrouste, the exhibit also features models of the two libraries that were constructed for the purpose of the show. Although the models provide a nice three dimensional reference of the details of his two buildings, the most exciting parts of the exhibit are LaBrouste’s sketches and documentation that he

A study done of a Corinthian column

A study done of a Corinthian column

did leading up to the construction of the libraries

The exhibit concludes with a survey of Labrouste’s legacy, featuring his various pupils and more contemporarily, architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. There is no doubt that LaBrouste’s influence can be seen all throughout the architecture of New York. His use of iron and glass paved the way for works such as Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Seagram building, thus a survey of his work being brought to New York has great relevance to the built environment that surrounds all of us.

“Structure Brought to Light” will be running till June 24 so head down to the MoMA to view LaBrouste’s exquisite drawings in person.

Caroline Chen CC’15

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Staging the Thyestes

The Barnard-Columbia Ancient Drama Group’s production of Seneca’s Thyestes runs April 4 – 6 in Minor Lathan Theatre, Milbank Hall. Performances are at 8 PM every night at 2 PM on Saturday. Tickets are $5 at the door, the TIC, or online. Directed by Claire Catenaccio and made possible by the Matthew Allen Kramer Fund, the production features original music and choreography, hand-crafted puppets, and the author of this blog post in an opera hat and exquisite make-up.

Here’s an idea. Let’s say you want to mount a play from a corpus of theatrical Thyestes large
literature composed, produced, and performed in a cultural context radically removed from your own. Your options are the few dozen plays from Greco-Roman antiquity that survive intact rather than as mouse-chewed papyrus fragments, all of which were mounted somewhere between 1,900 and 2,400 years ago. Pick one and make it good.

It’s a challenge. Never mind that comparatively little evidence remains for the plays’ staging, choreography, music, or audience composition. Never mind, even, that each possible candidate for your production belongs to a distant, and sometimes impenetrable, conceptual and cultural world; Heracles’ appearance in Euripides’ Alcestis means something different to the child of the 1990’s who watched the Disney film from whatever it may have meant to a fifth-century Athenian. Let’s start with your wanting to put on the play in its original language—a language that your audience does not know and your actors do not regularly speak. And still you think that the exercise is worthwhile enough that you’re willing to dredge up an underperformed gem from the mud of cultural obscurity, and make it engaging to an audience by and large unfamiliar with the cultural and literary tradition on which you’re drawing. The exercise is curious: engaging spectators in a play they may never have heard of and whose language they will not understand when they hear it.

This unusual exercise has been the Barnard-Columbia Ancient Drama Group’s project since 1977. Each spring we mount an original-language production of Greek or Roman drama with English-language surtitles. Our choices have hardly all been Medea and Oedipus the King. In fact, the choices tend towards the non- or less-canonical. In the past three years, we’ve staged Plautus’ Persa, Euripides’ Alcestis, and even the ninth book of the Iliad; our production of Seneca’s Thyestes opens tonight. The Latin-language play tells the gruesome story of the brothers Atreus and Thyestes, a pair of Argive princes feuding over their father’s throne; Atreus invites his brother back from exile on the pretense of sharing power, butchers Thyestes’ children, and serves them to their father as part of the celebratory feast. (Food puns have abounded among cast and crew.)


A Fury (Katharina Volk, professor of Latin) threatens the shade of Tantalus. Photo Credit: Joe Ritter.

This as every year, the play has been a treat to act in, and I’m confident that our feast will more than sate the audience’s theatrical appetite. Getting here has been a challenge: our productions offer the same pleasures and struggles as English-language theatre for an English-language audience and then some, like translating the Latin poetry into faithful but accessible English prose, learning the niceties of classical Latin pronunciation—talk to me some time about the nasalised final m—or scanning hundreds of Senecan iambic trimeter lines.

If the challenges are greater, the reward is, too. The Latin or Greek performance isolates the power of a play’s language in such a way as no translation could do justice – power that comes across even if someone may not understand the words without reference to the surtitles. Consider Atreus’ and Thyestes’ closing couplet:

Thyestes –  vindices aderunt dei.
his puniendum vota te tradunt mea.

Atreus –  te puniendum liberis trado tuis.

Th. The gods will bring me vengeance.
My prayers give you to them for your punishment.
A. And I give you to your children for the same. 

Atreus’ grimly witty plays on Thyestes’ own indignant speech, and an original-language production allows a spectator to hear these verbal echoes.

But the richest reward comes when, from the stage, I can see the audience respond to our productions as presenting something psychologically and emotionally real. And then it couldn’t matter less that we’re speaking Latin words penned in the first century CE. Language barrier and all, we’ll have done our job.

-Gavin “Iratus Atreus” McGown, CC’13

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Hearing Red: Anne Carson at the NYPL

Jori Klein / The New York Public Library

Jori Klein / The New York Public Library

For years, if not for the right reasons, friends have recommended that I read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. The verse novel retells Stesichorus’ now-fragmentary Geryoneis, in which Herakles steals a herd of cattle and kills their red herdsman Geryon; Autobiography of Red depicts Geryon as a winged red monster who is also an adolescent struck by desire for a James-Deanian Herakles. Friends have made me the recommendation believing that the book would lend me, a queer classics student, support either for my queerness or my love affair with antiquity. Comfortable with both, I in fact needed a crutch for neither. But in Autobiography of Red I found support of another kind, a legitimating of my adolescent life’s loneliness, the mental life to which I often withdrew and found difficult to open to others.

In Autobiography as elsewhere, Carson’s verse opens minds with singular intensity. She gives a voice to Geryon’s rich and incommunicable sense of the world—a sense that escapes the participants of that world but into which Autobiography allows us a glimpse. Herakles and Geryon over the phone:

I had a dream of you last night. Did you. Yes you were this
old Indian guy standing on the back porch
and there was a pail of water there on the step with a drowned bird in it—
big yellow bird really huge you know…
Yellow? said Geryon and he was was thinking Yellow! Yellow! Even in dreams he doesn’t know me at all!

Autobiography communicates the red that Herakles cannot see.

Red Doc> is available at Book Culture, or practically anywhere, for $24.95.

Red Doc> is Carson’s newly completed sequel to the Autobiography; it, too, captures perfectly inner senses of the world. Red Doc> follows Geryon and Herakles, later in life and under different names. At first, everything about the book baffles, the way that a plate stuck round a pole surprises the squirrel headed to the birdfeeder above. The name baffles: the angle-bracket is a part of the title and is pronounced something like “Psssshhht.” The typesetting, too: much of the text appears in a narrow strip down a wide page. (As I turned pages on a flight to Ann Arbor—where Carson, incidentally, still lives—my seatmate glanced over and remarked, “They wasted a lot of paper.” “Maybe,” I replied. “I haven’t finished yet.”) But Red Doc>, quirks and all, reveals more than it obscures. Last Tuesday night at Live from the NYPL, Carson read a lyrical passage in which Geryon, now “G,” watches his herd of musk oxen:

They stand in a circle facing away from the center (calves in the center) and the long guard hairs hang down to brush their ankles like pines. Like queens. Like queens dressed in pines. Musk oxen are not in fact oxen not castrated bulls nor do their glands produce musk. Much is misnomer in our present way of grasping the world. But pines do always seem queenly as they sway so grand and anciently from the sky to the ground.

Carson’s reading of the passage numbered among a dozen moments when I thought, “That. Yes. Just like that”; another came when Carson provided the interior monologue of Io, G’s favoured musk ox, as she wakes. These senses of the world, however inaccessible, appear to have been perfectly articulated. A musk ox may wake up just like that.

I have now seen Carson read three times. Her voice is curiously controlled, stopping short of a monotone by a peak here and dip there. The restraint focuses a listener’s attention purely on her words and creates an exquisitely intense reading. Embellished with little emotion, her phrases are clear, cold, and as inescapable as the death of G’s mother that crowns Red Doc>. Listening for long is almost physically shocking; I remarked to my friends as we left the reading that I felt concussed. A strophic selection offered the strongest blow:

Mothers ashamed and Ablaze and clear
At the end
As they are
As they almost all are, and then
Mothers don’t come around Again
In spring

After the reading, I walked by myself up Fifth towards the Park, turning over my thoughts and her words, thinking about mothers and then again how light looks to me in the morning and what it might look like to a musk ox or a winged red monster. It felt good to be lonely.

-Gavin, or G, McGown, CC’13.

Posted in Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red and reread, Literature

Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers

In the age when 3D printers and other sorts of fabrication methods are on our minds, the concept of a prefab apartment is not so farfetched in our mass consumer society. This is just one of the design concepts presented at “Making Room” an exhibition on new housing initiatives for New Yorkers currently being shown at the Museum of the City of New York until Sept 2013. The Citizens Planning & Housing Council has partnered with the museum to produce “Making Room,” which zones in on designs that accommodate for the high percentage of singles in the city, legal shared housing for unrelated adults, and additions which make single-family homes more flexible.

As you approach the exhibit, you are first met by a room decorated by infographics illustrating the demographics of the inhabitants of New York City. The stats are organized around the number of singles, number of unrelated persons living together, single parents, and nuclear families. Manhattan boasts around 33% of singles which demonstrates a shifting demographic of people living alone in urban areas, an issue highlighted in this NYTimes article.

The exhibit features the winner of the adAPT competition initiated by Mayor Bloomberg,

aDAPT NYC competition winner

aDAPT NYC competition winner

designed by nARCHITECT, which involves a series of prefabricated units ranging from 250-370 sq feet that are fitted together modularly on site. The apartments include a kitchen, bath, living room, and sleeping area.

A 325 sq foot model apartment sits in the middle of the gallery space and demonstrates how all these amenities can be included in such a small space. The key to the design is maximizing space through multifunctional furniture, with stools doubling as cupboards

The model apartment shown at the exhibit furnished with a fold-out murphy bed.

and a couch which transforms into a Murphy bed. Yet the apartments that are set to open in 2015 do not come with the specialized array of ultra-modern furniture, which beckons the question of how effective the design is without the interior furnishings.

The highlight of the show is the beautiful models which illustrate each of the design proposals. Most of them are rendered in a light wood, intricately lasercut and put together to show the density of spaces contained in each unit. A theme around these kinds of housing proposals is to create density of residences, but also to create a sense of community through them through the sharing of amenities and the offering of community spaces within each unit.

Outside of the innovations in housing popping up in the United States, the exhibit also shows designs from outside of the country, including one of my favorites: the Domestic Transformer. I really recommend watching this video of the house done by award-winning architect, gary Chang, who designed a 344 sq ft apartment to be able to turn into 24 different rooms.

For a sneak peek at the housing future of the city head on down to the exhibit! The Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street and is just a short ride away on the M4. Admission is free for students with valid CUID.

-Caroline Chen CC’15

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Interview with Violinist Erika Mitsui

As the two-year anniversary of the disaster approaches,  Japan Society presents “Nocturne: Reemergence through Music,” a concert exploring the impact and aftermath of the tsunami.  Arts Initiative student staffer Caroline Chen CC’15 sat down with Erika Mitsui, a sophomore in the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange program, to talk about her experience as a violinist and her involvement in the upcoming concert at Japan Society.

So I hear you are performing at Japan Society in March, tell me more about the event!

Erika_Mitsui_Picture_File-1I’m going to be playing on a violin that was constructed from wood that was found in a disaster area. The violin is really special because the tsunami swept so much away. Some people only had left their cell phones and clothes that they were wearing at the time of
the tsunami. They don’t have anything personal that can be a sign of their memories. The wood from the violin comes from beams in the houses that were found after the tsunami. If you think about it, these beams are basically a piece of their family memories. So the violin is a bridge to before and after the tsunami. Because it’s an instrument and I’ll be playing music through it, it’s a way of bringing those memories to life. On the back of the violin is a picture of a tree. There used to be famous pine forest in Rikuzentakata, one of the villages most hard hit. Only one of the pine trees was left standing so it’s a symbol to remember.

How is it different playing on a violin that is also an art object?


(copyright nippon violin)

I haven’t touched it yet since I’m getting it in two weeks. The violin is part of a project; [the violin maker Muneyuki Nakazawa] wants a thousand violinists to play it. There are violinists before me who have played it and being able to join that line of violinists is really exciting.

How did you receive the opportunity to participate in this event?

I know the person who made the violin and he told me about this great project. I really wanted to find something through music to contribute so that people remember this event. So many people in the reconstruction phase are still trying to rebuild their lives.

What kind of music will you be performing?

I’ll be playing Bach, Elgar, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky. They represent a whole spectrum of human experience. The composers are from different periods of musical history. They each have a distinctive take and I hope I can bring that out and be able to look at the human emotion. I think playing this particular violin will really change my thoughts on that since there’s so much memory and experience in it. So seeing how I can grow from that is something I’m really interested in.

How do you think music as a medium has its individual advantages in voicing different sentiments?

Music has a “universal language” aspect to it. People who listen don’t have to think about understanding the words. If you’re just there and you hear the sound and you accept it, there is no right or wrong way to interpret that sound. As a performer, it’s really special because you can communicate to people from any culture. They might not necessarily come from the same background, but it’s a special medium where you can communicate to them as long as they’re willing to listening.

How did you get started playing violin?

When I was two years old one of my friends was four and she had a Suzuki recital. Her family invited me to come over and watch. My parents said I went up after the recital and said “Erika will play violin!” My parents were skeptical and I kept asking for a violin for a year. They finally started me on lessons and it was from my own volition. I’ve gone to several music schools, I went to Juilliard Pre-College Division and now I’m in the college division.

How do you prepare for concerts?

I practice a lot. I listen to a lot of CDs. I look at the different editions of it. Different editions bring out different articulations. The editors have different takes on the compositions. For each composer I like to listen to pieces by that composer, not just the one that I’m working on. Each composer has his or her own kind of language. I really like to immerse myself in that language and see how it grows on me. Especially for me, interpretation doesn’t grow overnight. You sort of have to live with the piece. Ideas don’t come consciously. It’s always predictable and unpredictable through playing and practicing. Each concert is also different  from a practice room where you’re alone. People are coming to listen and that kind of tension and emotional energy that you feel on stage is completely different from when you’re practicing. And you might get ideas right on stage. It also has to do with the other performers on stage.  Violinists play with piano a lot so you have two performers with living and breathing instruments. My pianist might do something that’s really interesting that I want to respond to on stage and it comes spontaneously. And to a certain extent you don’t want it to be planned, because there’s something special about that spontaneity.

Any final thoughts?

I’m really interested in being able to bring different disciplines and mediums together, literature and art, literature and music. When merging an artifact with music, I’m really excited to explore what that means. Especially because the violin is material, it’s meant to exist longer than I will live, so I’m able to play a part in a long tradition.

Erika will be performing in the concert, “Nocturne: Reemergence Through Music” on March 11, on a violin crafted by master violin maker Muneyuki Nakazawa made from driftwood found in the aftermath of the 3/11 Japanese tsunami. The concert will also feature the work of visual artist and pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit the Japan Society website.

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