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Interview with Moses Serubiri

 Interview with Moses Serubiri

Posted on May 9, 2017

Becky Nahom: Publishing Against the Grain is a traveling exhibition that calls attention to the current state of publishing as it exists in small journals, experimental publications, websites, radio and other innovative forms. Independent Curators International (ICI) is producing this exhibition at a time when free speech has been called into question all over the world and therefore independent publishing becomes even more important as a means of open dialogue. The Trans-African is one of the projects included in Publishing Against the Grain, which is the initiative of Invisible Borders, an artist led organization based in Nigeria. Could you give a little background about Invisible Borders and its relationship to The Trans-African? Moses Serubiri: I got to know about Invisible Borders through an article written by Emmanuel Iduma who is my co-editor at The Trans-African. I found Iduma because I was writing poetry and the Kenyan poet, Keguro Macharia, encouraged me to submit to Iduma’s magazine. Iduma was running an online magazine called Saraba. It was very popular among poets in Kenya and elsewhere because it was possibly one of the only publications for African writers that took poetry seriously. Actually, it’s funny because I didn’t even publish poetry with them, I wrote an essay on photography. After a while, I think late 2012, I encountered Iduma’s travel writings. He wrote an essay called “Trans Wander” (2013) modeled on letters someone would write back home as he / she traveled. Iduma is now very much expanding his ideas about fiction and travel writing. I would describe The Trans-African as basically a journal that uses the travelogue format as a way of presenting reflections on visual art and culture. In my piece on Iduma’s project, “Brooding Letters to Nigeria” (2013), I was interested in the letters he wrote back to Nigeria, and why he felt the way he did in this essay. This informed my initial impression of Invisible Borders as an outlet for not only Nigerian photographers, but also other photographers around the African continent who are interested in visiting regions in Africa where they had never been and finding some sort of connection between those places. In some of these letters, he’s concerned with Nigerian businessmen who migrated to Cameroon and how they are treated in parts of Buea, one of the cities of Cameroon. The Trans-African tends to take specific positions not just regarding travel, but also on what you discover when you travel to a new place, especially if that place is in Africa and you are also an African person encountering an unfamiliar culture. BN: Was The Trans-African always a part of Invisible Borders? MS: No, no. The essay “Trans Wander” was written separately from the work Iduma was doing with Invisible Borders. Iduma was invited as the first writer to participate in these trans-African road trips. He used to write a blog, and it was through that process (almost like sketching a set of ideas) that he started writing this other essay which I feel were modeled on Teju Cole’s writing, as Teju Cole also tends to write about his travels. Currently, Iduma is developing a book of travel writing based on three or four years of blogging during his road trips. The Trans-African is literally a version of that blog with two other writers. It’s more intentionally a journal because it has a thematic, a structure, and an identity of its own. A lot of the pieces weave into each other and there is a collective kind of thinking associated with it. There’s an interest in archival photography and personal photography, fiction, travel writing and a specific editorial position. BN: In the Invisible Borders manifesto, the idea of audience in relation to content is written as a boundless group where the lines of class and proficiency in literacy dissipate and therefore art and images can extend to the local audience. Is it possible that The Trans-African as a publication has a focus on photography and images to further the ideas of Invisible Borders to expand engagement through every outlet, real and virtual regardless of familiarity with the larger topics and ideas of literacy? MS: For a long time, only Iduma was writing for the Invisible Borders blog (from 2012 onwards). He was also in residency (Thread Residency in Sinthian, Senegal) with Emeka Okereke, the Director of Invisible Borders. Because of Invisible Borders, Iduma took a number of road trips and wrote on the image of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, a Senegalese saint. Iduma became kind of obsessed with Ahmadou Bamba’s image and tried to connect with it. He’s not Muslim; he’s not from Senegal; he’s not familiar with Senegal’s version of Sufi Islam. And so he was researching in order to write and uncover more about this figure. When he started writing, he realized he had so much to say that it became a recurring theme in his work because he hasn’t yet exhausted all the material he’s found. The Trans-African is interested in finding indexical images attached to a specific place and time, and then through fictive and journalistic approaches to writing, makes disparate connections. Iduma also felt a certain way while being in Senegal, being immersed in a culture that is mostly Muslim, which he is not. He has an interest in archival photography and in developing a language around archival photography that articulates first arriving in a new place and trying to connect with that place’s history, which is kind of a departure from Invisible Borders. BN: On The Trans-African, different writing styles are used for various pieces in response to the content. Could you talk about this and your own writing style? MS: The last essay that I published, “Dinka Woman with Baby,” (2016) started as a reflection on a painting that I had seen in an exhibition and became a reflection on the Venus figure and what the Venus figure represents. The text is also a reflection on the meaning of being a certain skin color in East Africa today. In particular, the people of Sudan have been stereotyped in a specific way particularly due to kinds of depictions in ethnographic photography. The image I write about is a particular image of a woman emerging from the river holding a baby from 1989 by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher from a book called African Ceremonies. I had no idea of the connection between the Venus image and the painting that I saw at first. I knew the painting was of a Dinka woman because the Dinka people wear similar beaded dress, wear necklaces like the ones in the painting, their children are also given beaded necklaces and arm bangles. Because of the facial structure and tone of the skin, I thought the woman was probably from Southern Sudan. I also knew the painter, Akot Deng, was from Southern Sudan where there’s currently a war happening. The more I read, the more I realized this was a painted reproduction. When the reproduction becomes apparent in the essay, I describe the idea of exoticism of the black female body and the history of ethnography in East Africa, and how that is necessary to discuss when talking about contemporary art today. In a sense, this is an art criticism piece, but it doesn’t start out like a typical art criticism piece. It feels more like a narrative. While I’m not necessarily trained as an academic, I write with academic concepts of race, ethnography, and anthropology in mind. In a sense, you would not always find academic writing on these topics written in this narrative style. I’m trying to ask a lot of questions. My writing is meant to be jarring and provocative. I wrote this essay because I am interested in feminist practices. It does not seem apparent in this essay, but it is a feminist critique of the Akot Deng painting. Although, in the end, I propose that it’s possible that this artist painted this image because South Sudan is going through a crisis and this is an empowering image of a woman rising out of the river. But from what we know about ethnographic photography, the photographers that were pursuing the black body and so called “black Nuba warrior” portraiture, were reproducing an invention of the German photographer, Leni Riefenstahl in the book, The Last of the Nuba. BN: How does your writing practice influence your curatorial practice and how do they align with each other? MS: I’m very happy to have written this essay. Even though it is somewhat jarring and off-putting, it really establishes what kind of standpoint I want to take in terms of feminism. I want to think about feminism as a counter to ethnography; feminism in relation to the black body, but also about several unresolved and ongoing questions that people may have in relation to photography and painting in general. In writing this essay, I touched on something that is very uncomfortable for a lot of people in Africa, which is the concept of tribe. The concept of tribe, unlike the concept of race, is not as fully theorized. The whole tribal narrative or discourse of the tribes of the people of Africa is still something that people struggle with in various parts of the continent in everyday politics. The fact that this essay tries to connect tribe and feminism is actually very brave. I do not think of my curatorial practice as being separate from my writing. For example, I’m writing for a lot of academic books where I have long interviews with artists in the process. The interesting thing is that my curatorial practice is a form of inquiry. It’s about asking difficult questions and entering into conversations that are uncomfortable. So if we are talking about tribal identity and why Dinka women are mythologized in the political imagination in Uganda or in Kenya, yes, let us by all means do it. I am also engaging with it as a curator in curatorial discourse. The thing that is curated becomes those feelings, then those feelings are the ones that take on other forms as interventions, actions, publications, or radio programs. BN: With Publishing Against the Grain, your writing will be included in an exhibition as an object for people to engage with. As a curator, how do you feel about The Trans-African and your writing being experienced in a new context? MS: Some of the writing is not as intense as this, so it’s interesting to pull some of it into a different context. For example, I am often asked about this piece, “Letter to My Niece,” which has a very different tone. It’s largely about mosque architecture and photography of specific mosques. The text is about a mosque in Sudan, The Great Mosque in Khartoum, and I discuss a mosque in Medina, and then a mosque in Wazir Khan in Lahore. I’m basically writing to my niece and telling her about these mosques. It reads: Sai, In your life you will see many great mosques. This is just one of them. But you may get to see the mosque of Medina. You will see the photograph of the mosque of Mecca in the living room of your late jajja’s house. You will see the photographs of pilgrims in Mecca, and the stone of paradise, that the pilgrims kiss. When your jajja-Hajji came back from Mecca, I asked him whether he, too, kissed this stone. He said then it was a huge struggle because there were thousands of pilgrims. In that conversation, I recalled the scent of myrrh, which he had in a bottle of oil perfume, said to be the scent of paradise. An Imam at the mosque of Kibuli, in one of his great sermons on Eid-el-Fitr, many years ago, declared that the air from the mouth of one who has fasted a whole day is foul to the human nose, but it is like myrrh of paradise to divine angels. Your uncle, Mo It’s a way of creating a narrative around images and trying to talk about images in a more nuanced way. This kind of writing is not necessarily part of a larger discourse. There’s an element of fiction with the letter format. Sai is a real person, but she hasn’t read this letter. Sai is three or four years old, so she doesn’t fully understand what this is about yet. I know that her father, who is a young middle class Muslim man, is often going to Mecca. Actually, I think he goes to Mecca every year. So of course at some point her father will show her a picture of a mosque or will maybe want to take her with him. I’m just trying to prepare her for this visual experience, which is kind of frightening. BN: The letter format you have chosen is a direct response to the content of the piece and expands models of writing. MS: It’s important to know various styles and ways of writing. But it is also important to explore them. I don’t think one should be limited to either scholarly writing or to fiction writing or to poetry. I try to blend all styles. I do have a poetic attitude towards scholarly material. It’s something that I play around with and it’s something we talk about with Iduma and Ndinda Kioko, who is the other co-editor of The Trans-African. We constantly talk about this blending of genres and styles and why it’s important for us to blur the lines more and more between visual analysis, fiction, scholarly writing and poetry. BN: This blurring is a reoccurring thread through many of the publications included in Publishing Against the Grain that are not clearly defined and can respond to the needs of their communities in experimental forms. The publications included in the exhibition come from ICI’s international network of collaborators, but additional content includes nominations by the included publications themselves. It’s a way of opening up curatorial authorship, and at the same time, allowing the invited projects to share their own trajectory of thought. Could you tell me about the publication that has influenced you and that you chose to be included in the exhibition, African Cities Reader II: Mobilities & Fixtures? MS: The African Cities Reader is another publication that like The Trans-African challenges the reader to go beyond what they think they know. Let me give an example by the third contributor to The Trans-African, Ndinda Kioko. “The Image of Life and Death” by Kioko is one of the most subtle essays I’ve read, period. Kioko has a way of taking the simplest detail – which is the mark of a great novelist actually – whether it’s a fly that landed on this table or a hat that was abandoned on the metro – and turning it into the most epic thing. The essay is about a death in her family, most of her essays are about the death of her mother. They are personal memoir essays, but they are at the same time visual analysis essays, and at the same time history of Kenya essays. She starts this essay with a quote, “Life is commemorated through photographs, why not death?” by Ray Ruby, and you think (of the photograph) okay this is an easy enough picture to look at. But then she goes ahead and writes: “This way, the funeral photograph somehow reminds us that we too shall go this way. Here, the Latin expression, “momento mori,” comes to mind. Remember death. You too, shall die. It is as if by standing right next to the coffin and having our photo taken, we are all participating in this little dance between life and death.” I mean, that could be Susan Sontag, or someone with that style. Kioko has a way of transforming that one thing we are familiar with into something deeper. The African Cities Reader is important because I feel that it unites the three of us. The African Cities Reader II, the one that I nominated, is called Mobilities & Fixtures and has three important writers to us. “Kin la Belle: In the Clear Light of Song and Silence” is by Yvonne Owuor and very important to Ndinda Kioko. Chris Abani who wrote “Las Vegas: The Last African City” is a very important writer to Emmanuel Iduma. Teju Cole is a very important reader for Emmanuel Iduma, Ndinda Kioko, and myself and wrote “Everyday is for the Thief.” He’s a writer who’s expressed support for The Trans-African and reached out to us. These three writers write urban travelogues and are all novelists, but their novels are not traditional. In any case, this African Cities Reader published their work. An African Cities Reader was publishing novelists. BN: Why is this so important to you? MS: It’s really important to me because it challenges the whole idea of urbanism and what urbanism means. African literature in itself, African novels, were not always written with the city in mind because apparently African writers wanted to write about Africa before colonialism. They wanted to remove trace of whiteness from the novel. The political African novel became a book about African villages, huts, soldiers which appeared in the 1950s. These writers are in direct opposition to that kind of writing because they recognize the complexity of the African experience. While yes, we recognize a pre-colonial Africa, we also recognize a post-colonial Africa in which cities are so much a part of the every day experience. Yvonne Owuor’s piece is really nice because it is concerned with the relationship between Congolese music and Kinshasa – which is the capital city in Congo – and Nairobi, which is a place where a lot of Congolese musicians play their music. At one point in the 90s, Congolese music was the most popular in East Africa, so Owuor grew up around this music. It’s like a pilgrimage of sorts because she’s going back in time to her childhood, but going to a city that she’s never been to at the same time.

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Axis Mundo Public Programs in Los Angeles

 Axis Mundo Public Programs in Los Angeles

Posted on October 13, 2017

Posted on October 12, 2017


Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.
MOCA Pacific Design Center and the ONE Gallery, West Hollywood
September 9-December 31, 2017


Friday, September 8, 7–9pm
MOCA Pacific Design Center and the ONE Gallery, West Hollywood
FREE for MOCA members; no reservations necessary

A Feminist Icon of LA Punk Shares Her Hard-Earned Wisdom as a part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles
Friday, October 6, 2017, 7pm
MOCA Grand Avenue, Ahmanson Auditorium
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Purchase tickets here.

For Alice Bag, punk was always more than just music – it’s a way of life. Born in East Los Angeles to immigrant Mexican parents, Bag first embraced music’s riotous energy when she founded the Bags with Patricia Morrison in 1977. The band only lasted four years but made an indelible mark on the burgeoning LA punk scene, thanks in no small part to how the young singer transformed the blunt trauma of her daily life into onstage energy. Bag continued to upend the expectations of what a woman could do in music throughout the ’80s, all while going to college and beginning a new career as a teacher. This quiet reinvention ultimately took Bag away from music, though she kept sharing insights and lessons online and in her memoir, Violence Girl. In 2016, nearly four decades after she first became a singer, Alice Bag released her self-titled debut solo album.

In this public conversation at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles, presented in partnership with the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries and the exhibition Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., Bag will share some of her hard-earned wisdom and explain just how she keeps her punk spirit alive.

Origin Stories: A workshop by Nicole Rademacher and Jerri Allyn

Sunday, October 8, 2017, 1-3pm
MOCA Pacific Design Center & West Hollywood Library Community Room
8687 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Admission is free. RSVP here.

Meet at 1pm at MOCA Pacific Design Center for a walkthrough of Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. with Rademacher and Allyn. Workshop to be presented following the tour at the West Hollywood Library Community Room located just across the street.
In this workshop led by artists Nicole Rademacher and Jerri Allyn, participants will together record their unique histories and shared experiences through the production of a communal deck of divination cards. The event will begin with a short walkthrough of Axis Mundo, where documentation of Allyn’s Laughing Souls/Espíritus Sonrientes (1979) is presented and numerous intersecting histories and identities are explored, including those of Pachuca/os, punk rockers, suburbanites, immigrants, risk-takers, manipulators, las locas, maricóns, malfloras, activists, Bon Bons, and other drag personas. The show may provide ideas for participants to collaboratively create their own real or imagined “origin stories” through the production of divination cards (like Tarot). Part of an ongoing project by Rademacher, the resulting card deck will reflect remembered and imagined pasts, as well as stories that have been passed down in their families, stories that have been whispered from one to another, and imagined futures.

This program is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program. For more information, please visit weho.org/arts or follow @WeHoArts.

Panelists: Julia Bryan-Wilson, Richard T. Rodríguez, C. Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz
Sunday, October 22, 3pm
City of West Hollywood Council Chambers
625 North San Vicente Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
INFO at one.usc.edu
FREE; no reservations necessary

Held on occasion of the exhibition Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., this roundtable discussion will consider recovering queer Chicana/o histories and artist’s archives. Participants will discuss how the exhibition seeks to map news directions for research and scholarship while sharing some surprising finds and unexpected connections uncovered during the process of organizing Axis Mundo. Panel participants include C. Ondine Chavoya and David Evans Frantz, the co-curators on Axis Mundo; Julia Bryan-Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art at UC Berkeley; and Richard T. Rodríguez, Associate Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.

This program is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program. For more information, please visit weho.org/arts or follow @WeHoArts.

Sunday, October 29, 4-7pm
ONE Archives at the USC Libraries
909 West Adams Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90007
INFO at one.usc.edu

One of the foremost avant-garde composers of her generation, Pauline Oliveros (1932–2016) expanded our understanding and perception of sound. In her groundbreaking career, Oliveros consistently experimented with new musical forms, emphasizing the potential of non-hierarchal musical practices and collaboration. An influential figure in Southern California’s artistic communities during the 1970s, Oliveros’s work was inspired by and deeply committed to the women’s movement. ONE Archives, in collaboration with author, playwright/director, and poet IONE and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), will present an open set of performances, meditations, Deep Listening, screenings, and discussions in tribute to Oliveros’s extensive work in experimental and electronic music. Featuring performances across multiple spaces; archival film and video screenings; and discussions about Oliveros’s musical work, 1970s Southern California, and Latinx musical history, this immersive event will offer exciting new ways to explore Oliveros’s landmark contributions to music. The event’s title, “Beethoven Was a Lesbian,” comes from a 1974 collaboration between Oliveros and Alison Knowles that addressed women’s outsider status in the music world.

Presented by USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative. Organized by ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries in conjunction with their exhibition Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

Joey Terrill Walkthrough of Axis Mundo

Sunday, November 12, 2017, 3pm
MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Admission is free.

Join artist Joey Terrill for a walkthrough of the exhibition Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. at MOCA Pacific Design Center. A central figure in the artist networks profiled in Axis Mundo, beginning in the 1970s Terrill worked across a wide-range of mediums, including screen printing, mail art, comic books, T-shirts, and painting, to visualize queer Chicano aesthetics and politics. Terrill will discuss his work as well as the work of close peers and collaborators in the exhibition.

This program is presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program. For more information, please visit weho.org/arts or follow @WeHoArts.

Sunday, November 19, 3pm
West Hollywood Council Chambers
625 North San Vicente Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
INFO 213/621-1741 or visitorservices@moca.org
FREE; priority entry for MOCA members

Simon Doonan is a celebrated window dresser, cultural critic, author, and creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys New York. In the early 1980s, Doonan collaborated with artist Mundo Meza(1955–1985) on window displays at West Hollywood boutiques including Maxfield Bleu. Juxtaposing glamorous and shocking elements, the playful and surreal displays were provocative and titillating. In conjunction with Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., Doonan will discuss his collaborations with Meza and the intersection of artistic, fashion, and club cultures during that prolific time in Los Angeles.

This program is presented in collaboration with The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program. For more information, please visit weho.org/arts or follow @WeHoArts.

Please check moca.org and one.usc.edu for updates on related programs.


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The Serenity of Madness at Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Posted on May 1, 2018


Brandy McDonnell interviews Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, Michael J. Anderson, for The Oklahoman.

“Apichatpong Weerasethakul likens film to a crippled angel, an art form that is “limiting but divine.” The ongoing efforts of the esteemed Thai filmmaker, who won the top prize at France’s 2010 Cannes Film Festival, to push through the limitations of the medium appear to literally burst at the feet of visitors to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, where his exhibition “The Serenity of Madness” is making its last North American stop. His innovative video installation “Fireworks (Archives),” featuring a group of actors setting off firecrackers on the night-shrouded grounds of a Buddhist monastery, is projected through panels of glass, giving the impression that the sparkles of light are leaping out of the frame and onto the museum floor.

“I tried it with another piece in Sharjah (in United Arab Emirates). We showed the work in a historic library. I liked the architecture and wanted it to be part of the experience,” Apichatpong said of using glass panels to create the immersive effect.”

To read the full article, continue here.

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“And Then Sport Said…” A Conversation with Mirene Arsanios of Makhzin and Anne Turyn of Top Stories

Posted on May 9, 2018

As part of Publishing Against the Grain’s ambition to highlight a number of intergenerational and feminist projects, Mirene Arsanios, editor of Makhzin and Anne Turyn, editor of Top Stories met to discuss their respective publishing projects included in the exhibition.

Arsanios selected Top Stories to be included in the exhibition alongside Makhzin, as it has influenced her own writing and editing practice since 2010 when she stumbled upon a copy of the zine while browsing through the Printed Matter bookstore in New York City. In this conversation, Arsanios and Turyn discuss the history of Top Stories, how small projects can create intimate relationships within artistic communities, and how the state of independent publishing has changed in New York since the ‘70s.

Initiated and edited by Becky Nahom

November 14, 2017

Various issues of Top Stories. Image courtesy of Top Stories.

Mirene Arsanios: I’d like to begin this interview with a brief overview of Top Stories’ history. I was looking at the start and end dates of the publication: 1978 and 1991. Somehow, these are symbolic dates; they really mark an era. I was interested in the historical period Top Stories occupied and how it lived in these 10 years, more or less, in New York. Maybe you could talk about how the publication started? Was it was prompted by some kind of artistic discourse or idea, something you wanted to promote?

Anne Turyn: Those are good questions. I graduated college in 1976 and recieved a BFA in art, but I was really interested in writing and literature. I had always been a really big reader. I moved to Buffalo, New York because I was moving in with my boyfriend, the artist Tony Conrad. He had been at Antioch College where I also went to school. I remember looking at him and thinking, “I want to be a writer.” I said to him, “I should find out what’s going on in writing” and he answers, “Oh, it’s better not to know.” That was part of his practice, to come in from left field.

When I first moved to Buffalo, the city was economically depressed. Rent was $60 a month and the pipes froze; the apartment was so small it was like living in a closet. There weren’t any jobs available, so I spent a lot of time in the rare book room at the University of Buffalo library. A lot of these books couldn’t leave the library so I would go up there and track down writing that I was interested in and read. But of course, I was also interested in art. We were involved with Hallwalls where I would pass around books that I would find to other artists. I would also go to The Strand Bookstore in New York City to buy books—friends seemed to like what I was reading.

There was this chapbook series by Black Sparrow, a poetry press in Boston. They published Charles Bukowski, Robert Creeley, and they had these little pamphlets that were 50 cents in the ‘70s. They had a self-cover and were stapled, on “poetry” paper. I loved it because it was so cheap and the price was not going to stop you from getting a poem. I liked that the language they used was plastic. I was interested in the more formal concerns, like how many different ways you could tell a story. I wasn’t really that interested in the story itself, but how you could recount it.

Tony helped me name Top Stories. I needed to have the word “stories” in the title. We were driving to New York City and it was going to be an eight or nine-hour trip. We were maybe an hour into the trip when he offered, “how about Top Stories.” I said “That’s perfect, that would be a great title.” So once that was settled we could talk about other things during the rest of the drive.

The first Top Stories that I did was, in retrospect, a trial run. Donna Wyszomierski was someone who was associated with Hallwalls and I liked her writing. I had actually taken a course to learn how to print, but it turned out I didn’t need to do that part. It was too much work and they never let the girls use the machines anyway. Someone I knew was more tenacious in the class and she actually bought her own printing press. So, she printed the first couple of issues of Top Stories. They were stapled and were priced at one dollar. I guess I had this naïve idea that I could make a little series that was interesting.

Then I asked Laurie Anderson to contribute to the next issue because I had seen her submit text from a performance in the book Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America edited by Alan Sondheim. This was in 1978 when we had organized a big benefit at Hallwalls for the first time and we invited both Constance DeJong and Laurie to perform. Laurie laid the cover page out very carefully. It always had the Top Stories logo on the front and the back cover would list the past issues. Anything in-between the covers was fair-game. The artists and writers could do whatever they wanted.

Pati Hill was someone who had actually published novels in the ‘60s with “regular” publishers and had been associated with the Paris Review. I had bought one of her books in Cambridge, Massachusetts in which she Xeroxed photos by other people and folded it into her novella. I was interested in Pati because her book was a novel with photos that were parallel to and somehow informed the text. You certainly wouldn’t see a direct picture or illustration of what she was writing about. I liked that and invited her to come to Hallwalls in January 1979.  I then invited Pati to submit something for the third issue. Much to my surprise she just gave me text without illustration, but she put a Xeroxed image on the cover. Maybe the image and text combination was just a temporary experiment for her, but that was fine because I thought of Top Stories as literature series. How many things can you do between the front and back cover?

MA: That’s super interesting because there seems to be a correspondence between formal experimentation and material production. You were talking about how producing a magazine wasn’t complicated because of the low production costs. So how difficult was it to produce Top Stories, materially speaking?

AT: In a way, it was probably harder then than it is now. For instance, I recently updated the Top Stories Catalog for an exhibition in Switzerland. Today, I can just go across the street to Kinkos and borrow their big stapler and the issue looks “real.” And, I only made two of them. Back then, setting up a printer was a lot of work and it felt like you had to have a print count of 500. Now people can make one book and make it color. And if people like it, they can easily order more.

MA: Technically, it is probably easier today. But there’s a sort of spontaneity—maybe that’s just me romanticizing—in deciding to launch a small press and having access to a community. So many projects were born that way. I feel that communities and audiences operate differently today. They aren’t as driven by advancing new forms and ideas. I wonder why certain things emerge and work. I’m interested in how you created an artistic and literary scene around Top Stories, and how you involved people you were interested in. The relationships around the magazine seem very egalitarian. Once it started, did it develop organically and how did you select who would do the next Top Stories? Was it word of mouth?

AT: I would invite people for the first nine issues. After the first three, I think I received some money from an organization in Buffalo. So then the next two issues were by people I knew in Buffalo. Foot Facts (issue five) was collage-like and Agent Pink (issue four) was straight writing. I collaborated with people I met whom I was interested in, up until about issue ten.

MA: Were these people connected amongst themselves?

AT: Not necessarily. Have you read the Chris Kraus book, After Kathy Acker?

MA: Yes.

AT: Kathy Acker had this period where she lived Toronto where there was this newspaper called Only Paper Today that Victor Coleman published. There was an interview with Kathy in Only Paper Today, probably in 1976 when I first moved to Buffalo, and that was the first time I heard of her. In the Only Paper Today interview, Kathy was talking about multiple points of view or changing the narrator in a story. I thought what she was saying was so interesting because probably one of the biggest influences on me in terms of literature was this book Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. It came out when I was in fifth or sixth grade and I loved it. You knew what the character was thinking straight from the prose: “And then she said,” “And then Sport said.” But you also read the book through what’s assumed to be her journal. So you know from these multiple viewpoints: the description, the characters’ conversation, and from the main character’s journal what’s going on. This was mind blowing to a 10 year old. I never got over it.

At one point I went to a reading of Kathy and Constance in New York City. I forget if Constance had already been to Hallwalls or not at that point. Our community was small, there was no Internet. That made it an exclusive club but one could still find what was happening and what was interesting in the art scene. We would go to an event every night of the week in Buffalo and while we were in New York City we would go to a million more events. And because at Hallwalls we were inviting so many people from New York City, we knew a lot of what was going on there too. I published Kathy’s work in 1981 but she had come up to Buffalo a couple of times in 1978 and late 1979.

MA: It’s interesting to hear you talk as someone who has experienced that era. Many of the female names you mention are being rediscovered and remarketed today. For example, Constance DeJong’s book, Modern Love, was re-issued recently with Primary Information and Ugly Duckling Press. Chris Kraus wrote Kathy Acker’s biography to introduce her to a larger audience. History is to tell a story, and you are now telling me a story from your memories and experiences. I was just thinking about the discrepancy between how the reader encounters these writers and artists today, and how they existed back then. I’m sure that there are some differences.

AT: To go back to something you said earlier, at the time, people were driven by making the work. I have taught graduate school and sometimes I feel like people now are driven by what their career is going to be, not by the work. These people made real contributions that have shaped literature, like the way Gertrude Stein did.

Makhzin, issue 2, 2016. Image courtesy of Makhzin.

MA: This is what I meant by communities driven by an artistic vision. I feel (or imagine) that same energy or desire to find new artistic forms or discourses has been lost. This is also something connected to my previous question about the disconnect between different scenes. Today contemporary art and the literature feel segregated and professionalized with very few intersections. Market demands hinder experimentation: a story needs to be chronological otherwise you run the risk of alienating your reader and that’s not lucrative. I’m interested in the way artists and writers involved with Top Stories seem to transgress their disciplines and resist professionalization. Did these distinctions exist before?

AT: There wasn’t any market, it seemed. In a way, you could just make the art you wanted because art didn’t sell for a lot of money. The market didn’t exist for us, so people could focus on what they were interested in. This was in the late ‘70s. We still had a little bit of ‘60s idealism going on there. Artists Space wasn’t even 10 years old. Hallwalls was just a couple years old, now it’s almost 45 years old. Who knew that these little pockets of energy were going to turn into Institutions? Back then, people could do a little of everything and there were many intersections.

MA: Some Top Stories authors write about living in New York and their various struggles, what it meant to be a female artist in the city, etc. Maybe you could talk about how most of the writers you published were female writers. Have you ever thought of yourself as a feminist press?

AT: Yes and after a while it would be called that. I think it was such an obvious reflection of my personal experience that I wouldn’t have necessarily labeled it as feminst back then but yes, certainly it is a feminist project. Once I realized by issue seven that the contributors were all women, I figured I’d go with it for a while. At one point I had had a short correspondence with Paul Auster. I had been very interested in him as well as Lydia Davis in that time period I was starting.

MA: You never invited her to do a Top Stories?

AT: No, but I had thought of it. Did you see the recent article in The New York Times about Richard Hell collecting books? Richard Hell had this punk band in the ‘70s called Richard Hell and the Voidoids. He’s a poet and the article was about how he loved his books. In one of the photos included in the article, you can see a copy of Top Stories.

MA: I’m interested in your own impulse to collect and archive. Did you do it with the future in mind or out of an impulse? I imagine that there are a lot of private libraries that contain very valuable books. Collections express the personality of the collector. You were very careful in archiving Top Stories and the ephemera around the magazine. Today you have a complete archive, more or less. How does this archive exist for you? Is it available to the public? Digitally? Is it something you circulate in exhibitions?

AT: It’s just in boxes but I’d love for it to be a traveling show. There was an exhibition of the Top Stories archive at Southfirst Gallery in Brooklyn last year, curated by Maika Pollack. After the project gained traction, in the 80s, university libraries starting subscribing to the magazine, so there are places that have collected this stuff. When I was in Bern, Switzerland this past summer, I visited Robert Walser’s library where his collection of books were mostly behind glass.

MA: One of the paradoxes is that these books acquire value over time and become rarified goods that are no longer accessible the way they used to be (especially if they were zines distributed in a DIY fashion). Have you thought about making the collection available online? Having an online collection doesn’t diminish the value of the physical collection, quite the opposite. For example, the Moroccan magazine Souffles, which I also nominated for Publishing Against the Grain, digitized most of their issues online thanks to one person who decided to do take on that project. The archive can exist in multiple ways.

AT: Are you thinking about the issues themselves or also all of the ephemera that goes with it? I’m interested in a letter from Kathy that I had forgotten about until the exhibition at Southfirst. In the letter, Kathy writes “I want the photos to undermine my text.” I had forgotten that she had said that.


MA: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that artistic and literary scenes in NY operate along race and class divides. Why didn’t a press like Top Stories, which published women who were trying to experiment with form and new ways of making art, engage communities of color? One of the widely circulated assumptions of the white avant-garde is that black and brown artists don’t engage in formal innovation. Though many poets of color are doing and have done very important work formally, their contribution is written out of western art history. In terms of Top Stories, was there any connection to scenes or writing that came from different communities?

AT: I would say that was a problem. In 1980, I felt like I was giving voice to minority in terms of women and also the form. I remember the New York State Council criticizing me and maybe cutting funding for not publishing enough people of color or minorities. I wasn’t catching up so well with the times. It was a small project and I didn’t want to include poetry. Some issues were created, edited and written by people I had never met. Certainly things are different now.

MA: As someone from the Middle East who started coming to New York in 2010, I was interested in self-publishing and inspired by some of the self-organized spaces that had emerged in New York in the ‘80s. I spent a lot of time at Printed Matter, which is where I stumbled on Top Stories. For me, Top Stories was an interesting model and I wondered how I could translate it back to the context where I came from, engaging with a history of literary experimentation, but also open it up to other communities and histories. These are questions I keep thinking about in terms of the magazine I’m editing today, which is Makhzin.

To go back to my initial question, the decade Top Stories existed in comes at the tail end of the social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and before the globalization of the ‘90s, which marks the end of a certain New York. It was also the peak of the AIDS crisis–the illness had decimated artists and writers living in the city. Does Top Stories end with a certain kind of New York?

AT: Maybe. That’s an interesting thought. It seemed at the time like the production was too much work for me and didn’t fit the time anymore. It was certainly a labor of love. If I had tried to make it a full time project, maybe it would have kept going. When I was deciding if I would publish work by man, I had someone specific in mind. It was Rene Santos, who was both gay and Puerto Rican, and died very abruptly of AIDS. He was doing some very interesting things with painting that had a narrative quality. Maybe we would be having a different conversation if I had decided to publish him sooner. The world changed when people started getting computers. For me, I was busy teaching and it became less necessary because it wasn’t so much fun anymore.

Mirene: I like the word you use: necessary. I feel that’s an important word in terms of thinking of why we do things.

Anne: When I started Top Stories, I thought to myself, “Well one day, people will look at the whole series and maybe they will read Donna Wyszomierski because they like Laurie Anderson.” That’s what I had hoped. That it would have the strength to elevate people that were lesser known. Laurie Anderson was doing well, but it was 1979, you know what I mean?  It was still a small community, not like today.


Mirene Arsanios is the author of the short story collection, The City Outside the Sentence (Ashkal Alwan, 2015). She has contributed essays and short stories to VidaThe Brooklyn RailThe RumpusThe Animated Reader, and The Outpost, among others. Her writing was featured collaboratively at the Sharjah Biennial (2017) and Venice Biennial (2017), as well as in various artist books and projects. Arsanios co-founded the collective 98weeks Research Project in Beirut and is the founding editor of Makhzin, a bilingual English/Arabic magazine for innovative writing. She teaches at Pratt Institute and holds an MFA in Writing from the Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts at Bard College. Arsanios currently lives in New York where she was a 2016 LMCC Workspace fellow, and an ART OMI resident in fall 2017.On Friday nights you can find her at the Poetry Project where she coordinates the Friday Night reading series with Rachel Valinsky.

Anne Turyn is a photographer based in New York City. Turyn founded and edited the artists’ chapbook series, Top Stories, a prose periodical, which featured one artist per issue. Top Stories #9: New York City in 1979 by Kathy Acker, with photographs by Anne Turyn, was re-published by Penguin UK in 2018. Top Top Stories, a volume compiled by Turyn, was published by City Lights Books. Missives, a book of Turyn’s photographs incorporating text, was published by Alfred van der Marck Editions.

Turyn’s work has been widely exhibited, including at the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, Center for Creative Photography, Walker Art Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the George Eastman Museum. Her work is included in The Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic ComfortVanishing PresenceAperture #130The Nature of PhotographsThe Photographer’s Playbook, among others.


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Reading Across the Grain

Posted on December 19, 2018

by Jordan Jones Jordan Jones is an artist living and working in New York. Her practice is mostly just asking questions. Recently she has been studying how we relate to one another and how we describe those relations. Jones graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in Studio Art and Comparative Literature and is currently a student in the Interdisciplinary Art and Theory Program.

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UNLV News Reviews Axis Mundo

 UNLV News Reviews Axis Mundo

Posted on March 7, 2019

D.K. Sole reviews Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A., reflecting on the exhibition’s positive reception at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Marjorie Barrick Museum:

“Quite possibly the best exhibit to arrive at the UNLV Barrick Museum ever,” said Patrick Naranjo, the resource coordinator from UNLV’s multicultural center, The Intersection. This is a big statement. What makes it the best? Naranjo highlighted the show’s willingness to present the artists as complex junctions of influence, not solely “queer” or “Chicano,” but both. In other words, the kind of complexity that the Intersection exists to acknowledge and uplift. Through Axis Mundo, we see how artists have used art to envisage a more complicated understanding of what a person — and the world around them — can be. The exhibition “allows queer and trans students of color to see themselves on the campus and in the world, creating possibilities for our students,” said Romeo Jackson, the Social Justice Center’s LGBTQ and gender program coordinator.

Read the entirety of the review here.

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Soundings on the Ontario Association of Art Galleries Awards Shortlist

Posted on November 9, 2019

Visitors enjoy Tania Willard’s Surrounded/ Surrounding, 2018, wood burning fire ring, laser etched cedar wood logs from Secwépemc Territory from Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

Soundings on the Ontario Association of Art Galleries Awards Shortlist

Soundings: An Exhibition in Five Parts, curated by Candice Hopkins and Dylan Robinson, has made it on the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) Awards shortlist for its presentation at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

In addition, the Agnes nominated Dylan Robinson as the inaugural BIPOC Changemaker and received shortlist affirmation.

The OAAG Awards celebrate the excellence and proud professional accomplishments of Ontario’s public art galleries. The shortlist was peer-reviewed by jurors and selected from over 250 nominations from 36 member galleries.

For more information, click here.

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Posted on August 12, 2020

As many continue to practice social distancing around the world, we hear from bani haykal, artist included in Seeing Sound curated by Barbara London. Based in Singapore, haykal thinks through notions of intimacy during isolation.

By bani haykal

Dear friends,

I hope this text finds you well and in best of health.

How are you doing amidst the current lockdowns occurring?

The past year has been a rather tumultuous one, when all things seasonal kicks in and refuses to leave, it gets paralyzing and on my best days, I strive to pull it together and hide the darkness.

If we have not spoken for sometime, I want to share some things I’ve been thinking through and working with as a means of resolving some of the most destabilizing anxieties relating to the future. One of my ongoing works has been to look at what encryption / encrypting means in relation to care and intimacy.

Encryption is a process and spirit that is pretty much all around us these days. From our daily messages via applications like WhatsApp or Telegram to bank records, we understand and know of encryption as a mechanism of security. I suppose what I’ve been obsessing over is to push this to one radical conclusion, which is to suggest encryption as a form of care. Encryption as a process of intimacy.

I’ve been thinking about and diving deeper into human-machine intimacy. I’ve recently resolved what intimacy is or how I’m reconfiguring the notion of intimacy. In Malay / Bahasa Melayu, intimacy can be transliterated to the word “intim,” which means pretty much what you’d understand of the English word, intimacy. But there is also another word that’s used to describe intimacy as we currently understand it, the word is mesra.

bani haykal, piece from the series isolated futures 4, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Mesra represents joyousness or closeness between two people, a state of happiness / shared relations, but in the culinary arts, mesra represents a state of absorption or blending. When addressing how different ingredients mix together, much like making pancake batter, mesra is used to suggest a new state of consistency, “..gaul sampai mesra..” is often used to say to mix ingredients until you get a particular or specific consistency.

The poetics of the Malay language teaches me that intimacy, joyousness, closeness and a state of being together, is an act of transformation. It is a process of absorbing and changing the state of two bodies into a new one.

Our intimacy with machine is precisely that. We’ve reacted, absorbed, transformed and altered parts of ourselves and our machines to reach a new state / body altogether.

In the wake of our current pandemic, our machine-selves have become increasingly busy, parsing and ploughing through volumes of data, networks, servers and profiles at the interest of sustaining our physical, mental and emotional selves in this potentially claustrophobic and confining times. If it’s any consolation, our machine-selves are spared of this virus, but not our physical-selves. For some of us and in some instances, parts of our machine-selves are already automated, either responding or reacting to other cues and prompts virtually, almost as if a part of us are spared from the pandemic.

But for most of us, self-automation isn’t a reality we’ve had access to. Many of my closest friends and family are artists / musicians, and almost everyone has lost jobs since. But lost opportunities aside, the current survival guide and strategy for me at least, has more to do with how we can further become mesra with one another, sustaining bodies through shared resources and developing new ecologies for our cyborgian futures. How can our machine-selves resuscitate our wetware, almost as if it were an overriding prompt to protect us, to care for us?

In one of my most recent performances, I did a live streamed event from National Gallery Singapore, where I reflected on the kind of isolation and distance most of us are experiencing, and how our machine-selves are taking over more diligently, if I’m being optimistic, to allow us a moment to hibernate. As always, I suppose my question is never about where we go from here, but how else can we move away from where we are to conceive and build new fluid futures and normalcy to care for one another, between and across (machine-physical) selves?

I am not interested in when this chaos will resolve, but what new strategies and politics are needed to fight for new horizons that is far more distributed in the way we breathe / live easy and with dignity. When we find a resolve for this chaos, I hope to be part of this new micro-cosmology where the focus is less generative, more reparative, where interactions are intimate in order to transform one another.

Intimacy is no longer just about being “close” to someone or just a sense of familiarity, intimacy or mesra is about transformation with care. It is about blending and absorbing one another to become something else, much like encryption, where information entangles itself with an algorithm to develop / reach a new state or body, hopefully impenetrable.

No future should be void of intimacy.

better days ahead,

About bani haykal:
Encompassing several disciplines including installation and performance, haykal’s interest lies at the intersection of political economy, music and speculative fiction. Working with a broad range of instruments, from acoustic to digital, traditional and hacked, his projects revolve around modes of interfacing and interaction. He is a member of b-quartet and Soundpainting ensemble Erik Satay & The Kampong Arkestra. haykal has presented works at institutions such as the Substation Gallery, Platform 3, Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore, and 8Q@SAM. He was an artist-in-residence at the NTU-Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore where he conducted research on the Cultural Cold War, identifying the politics of the internationalisation of Jazz music, its relationship with freedom, whilst reflecting on the present methods of promoting democracy and capitalism through digital technology. As a composer and performer, he has collaborated with Ho Tzu Nyen, Teater Ekamatra, the Dance Company, Raka Maitra, and The Necessary Stage among other artists and musicians. haykal has also participated in festivals including Les Hivernales: Avignon, Media/Art Kitchen, RRREC FEST, Liquid Architecture, da:ns Festival and The M1 Fringe Festival. Aside from his practice as an artist, haykal has curated projects relating to sound and music, including Tribal Gathering of Tongue Tasters (The Substation, 2012 – 2013), SOUND: Latitudes and Attitudes (Earl Lu Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Art Singapore, 2014); co-curated with Joleen Loh and Aural Narratives (National Gallery Singapore, 2015). He is currently an Associate Artist with Singapore theatre company, The Necessary Stage.