The Ledger

September 2018

Sombre Victorian post-mortem photo portraits, Greek warriors rendered in vivid oil, flickering Super 8 reels of childhood birthdays, high-resolution smartphone video of everything under the sun—amid perpetual change, humans have long sought to capture moments and pin them down. Such records become mementos at best: time is ceaseless, and in 2018 it seems to move with greater velocity than ever before, as institutions both great and small that represented the progress and stability of the Western postwar order are in doubt. Of late, to take one example, libraries everywhere are downsizing. This frequently brings a pang and sometimes a protest, whether it's a school library in South Australia closing or the lion-guarded eminence of the New York Public Library threatening to bring in Norman Foster and dispose of the unwieldy stacks. But consider, for a moment, the written word’s long history, and its uneven progress toward the featherweight. In 1791, Isaac Disraeli, father of future British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, wrote Curiosities of Literature, which walks the reader through the materiality of text itself. The lesson is that people have been upgrading by downsizing since the dawn of time. Cave paintings and the Rosetta Stone gave way to Romans scratching public records into brass. Disraeli recalls how we used to write on shells, bricks, pottery and tiles. The Romans then found use for the peel that grows between the wood and the bark of trees, a sheet they called liber (the root of 'library'; the English word 'book' derives from the Danish bog, the beech-tree—for language, too, mutates and competes and changes). After Disraeli, paper made from wood pulp displaced its handmade, expensive predecessor, laid paper. Pulp paper is generally brittle, acidic and prone to quick fading and deterioration. All this to say: the long view suggests that we can scarcely imagine what form our future written communications may take, or in what script they will appear. Will our descendants still learn to write by hand, will they type, will they simply dictate? Will emojis last out the twenty-first century, and will young back-to-basics zealots proselytise for carving them in stone? Evolution and impermanence are inextricable, two strands of the double helix that is the creep of time. The future is, as yet, unscripted.

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LISTEN

Of eclectic inspiration, and deserved acclaim

Bangkok-based DJ Maft Sai spent much of his life in Australia and the U.K., but the music he fell in love with, and popularised at home and abroad, is Thailand's version of a down-home country jam. Sung in Isaan dialect, luk thunge (literally 'children of the field') and its counterpart molam ('expert song' or 'expert singer') capture the rhythms and tribulations of rural life. The luscious sound of molam, which has been played in the wilds of Thailand and Laos since the 17th century, incorporates a bamboo mouth-organ known as a khaen, whose bass tones have a psychedelic tinge, and sometimes drums and phin (a small lute). In the 1970s, American G.I.'s stationed around Isaan introduced local musicians to rock, soul and funk, and molam songs from this era incorporate riffs from Black Sabbath and The Rolling Stones. In 2009, Maft Sai launched a roving monthly dance party in Bangkok, featuring tunes from this time. Having confirmed a shared enthusiasm, he opened a record store and formed The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, a six-piece collective that has performed at Glastonbury and now commands large audiences worldwide. Its 2014 album 21st Century Molam is stacked with outstanding tracks—try 'Sao Sakit Mae'. But 'if you want to see the real-deal', Maft Sai told VICE, 'you have to go to a private party in the country where they kill a cow, the whole village shares it and they play music until 10 in the morning.'

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CINEMA

An elegiac meditation on dispossession, memory and grief

Together, cowboys and Indians are the ego and the id of Anglo-Saxon identity', writes the Navajo filmmaker Brian Young in a trenchant essay about the slowly changing, yet always complicated and problematic, representation of indigenous American peoples in Hollywood. While Chris Eyre's Smoke Signals (1998) found a wide audience, other talented Native American and First Nations filmmakers are undersung—Young mentions Zacharias Kunuk's Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), Georgina Lightning's Older Than America (2008), Neil Diamond's Reel Injun (2009), Jeff Barnaby's Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) and Sterlin Harjo's This May Be the Last Time (2014). Mekko (2015) is the third narrative feature from the Oklahoma-based Harjo, who is Seminole and Muscogee, and the film provides a powerful, painful tale of incomplete redemption. Rod Rondeaux, a stunt performer and former rodeo star, plays Mekko, cast adrift after serving a 19-year prison sentence for murder. Spurned by his relatives, Mekko wanders through Tulsa and links up with an old chum, Bunnie (Wotko Long), a 'street chief' who presides over a community of homeless Native Americans and who welcomes Mekko into the fold. Zahn McClarnon, who has appeared in the television series Fargo, plays Bill, a homeless man with a forbidding stare. To Mekko, Bill seems to be an estekini, the Creek word for a witch who can take many forms. The film is spare, violent and beautifully rendered, mixing documentary-style colour cinematography with poetic black-and-white interludes. The lead-mining community of Mekko's childhood, now a ghost town due to water contamination, appears as a memory. The present day is a place of soup kitchens and drunken nights. Music by Ryan Beveridge includes a tribal chant in a barroom, traditional drumming by a street musician and a mournful Creek hymn. Harjo's themes of loss, marginalisation and dislocation are plainly presented and reverberate in the mind long after the film ends.

 
VISIT

A shrine to snapshots, captured moments and paper ephemera in a former imperial city

While Marrakech's Bahia Palace and Jardin Majorelle are deservedly well-trod attractions, a quieter but no less visually electrifying experience, La Maison de la Photographie, housed in a refurbished riad in the medina, offers a glimpse into the recent history of this ancient city. More than 8000 original photographs, taken between 1870 and 1950, reveal the rhythms and traditions of Berber culture and the flavour of street life: the Pharmacie sign on the corner of Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, tanners and as-yet-untanned animals, children operating a decorated well. The collection features work by Jean Besancenot, Pierre Boucher, Joseph Bouhsira (who opened one of the city's first photography studios, in the Jewish quarter), Félix (nom de pellicule of Fernand Bidon), Marcelin Flandrin and George Washington Wilson, alongside other documentary curiosities such as a trove of old postcards and Daniel Chicault's 1950s colour film of the High Atlas. Once you've soaked up the sepia, the rooftop terrace beckons, with fragrant mint tea and a spectacular view of modern Marrakech's ombré rooftops. And it’s worth keeping your museum ticket, which also admits you to the Mouassine Mosque, a seventeenth-century Almohad marvel with a gorgeous fountain.

 
THE PARIS REVIEW

From the archive: an unsettling exploration of temporality and artifice

Michael McGuire, the playwright and author of the 1990 story collection The Ice Forest, often writes about liminal spaces—the American borderland, the shadowy, untrustworthy realm of memory. Per his biography in one publication, 'Michael McGuire was born and raised, lives in or near; he divides his time; his dog is nondescript, his horse is dead.' 'Last Words', a story published in 1976 in The Paris Review, begins in New York City's American Museum of Natural History, an apt setting for a story both stagy and quiet, about a man racked with intrusive memories and peculiar regrets. The story is told in monologue form, and the narrator is obsessed by the passing of time, symbolised evocatively by the dioramas before him, 'the dustless silent cases.' It pleases him to notice 'natural moments...caught, perhaps held forever’; it pleases him ‘that something has been preserved.' As for J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield, the stasis of the Museum's set pieces is a psychic refuge. Yet McGuire's narrator can't help but notice the artifice behind the displays: 'the stuffed predator theatrically disembowels a smaller creature...she (the victim) is skinned, the little skull carved out, the muscles pulled from her wings, her legs. Then she is sewn together again over balsa and wire....' The stuffed predator becomes the taxidermist's victim, and the narrator finds himself crippled by self-consciousness, wishing his presence in this unchanging shrine to the great sweep of evolution could be truly fleeting: 'I withdraw my fingers from the glass. I do not like that smoothness. I regret having left my prints where they do not belong.'

 
EAT

Reimagining dietary habits of millennia past

Until the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans ate what they could catch and gather. Nomadic hunter-gatherers like the Tsimane, the Arctic Inuit and the Hadza still eat this way, and researchers have found that such groups have a lower incidence of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease than the rest of us. The idea that we may do better adhering to a Stone Age diet has led to the Paleo craze, which is keen on meat and censorious of confectionery, but some paleontologists and anthropologists assert that a meat-centric diet rests on a skewed perception of ancient eating habits. What's uncontested: our forebears ate a lot of raw cruciferous vegetable matter, and we'd all do well to increase our consumption of the same. You can find a splendid rendition of raw cuisine at Elizabeth's Gone Raw, in Washington, D.C., a gracious Federal-style townhouse open just once a week with a Friday night prix-fixe tasting menu. 'Bone marrow' made from young coconut meat, 'ravioli' constructed with wafer-thin slices of apple and beet surrounding a tender macadamia compote, a 'risotto' of green papaya and morels—are some of the innovations of the restaurant's founder, Elizabeth Petty. Petty became a raw-food evangelist after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 2009; along with chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she radically changed what she ate and what she catered. Her seasonal menu lately includes a cooling soup made from honeydew melon, cucumber and garlic flowers; a rich fava-bean cake with red lentils, chili oil and chanterelles; and a white sweet-potato ice-cream with poached apricots and smoked lavender to finish.

 
READ

Incisive perspectives on global warming from those intimately acquainted with its effects

Gleb Raygorodetsky's Archipelago of Hope deals with what is surely the furthest-reaching consequence of human evolution—climate change—by chronicling indigenous peoples' first-hand experience of it. The book is no Luddite dirge; it features a great deal of ingenuity as well as a deep, abiding respect for the land and its secrets. For 20 years, Raygorodetsky, an environmentalist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, made forays to indigenous communities around the world; Archipelago of Hope features the stories and observations of those he visited in Canada, Ecuador, Finland, Russia and Thailand. Indigenous peoples are the principal inhabitants of many vast low-density areas, constituting more than a fifth of the Earth's land mass, and encounters with ecological adversity have made them skilled and keen (and sometimes directly threatened) observers of change. On the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia, for instance, reindeer herders opposed plans for a pipeline that would have disrupted the animals' migratory patterns. A solution was found in an elevated pipeline that would permit reindeer to pass beneath it. The ‘hope’ of Raygorodetsky's title refers to all such mixes of ancestral wisdom, activism and savvy he finds on the ground. 'All of the Indigenous peoples featured in the book are intimately aware of the web of relationships that sustains them and their traditional territories,' the author told Orion. 'The interdependence of animate and inanimate, spiritual and physical, past and future, rights and responsibilities, traditional knowledge and science, are fundamentally important for sustaining our planet's biocultural diversity.'

 
PEOPLE

A new way of seeing: traditional nature morte meets technicolour virtual reality

Rachel Rossin, a painter and autodidact programmer, makes art that straddles Oculus Rift and oil on canvas. For her 'still lifes’, Rossin employs photogrammetry software to capture 3D scans of interior spaces such as her bedroom or studio. She scrambles portions of the scans with 3D game-creation software, and these distorted scenes become the subjects of her oil paintings. The result is a physical world that looks trippy, warped and entropic. Light seems to bulge and distend; gravity appears extra-gravitational. The term ‘lossy’, which lends its name to a 2015 Rossin exhibition, describes compression algorithms (such as JPG and MP3 formats) that reduce file size, saving digital real estate, but at a cost—the smaller files sacrifice quality when they jettison less crucial data. Rossin's title hints that as our digital and physical worlds merge and blur, there is a corresponding capacity for disappearance and degradation. Giorgio de Chirico and Yves Tanguy come to mind, but Rossin's surrealistic work is not derivative; her spatial logic feels extremely fresh, pushing beyond the bounds of film or photography, in a VR chamber all her own.

 
ATTEND

An immersive contemporary theatre experience honouring an historic act of subversion

The theme of this year’s Ultima Festival in Oslo is migration and flux. Its programme features diverse artists and performers including Laurie Anderson, Cikada, Tan Dun, Beatriz Ferreyra, Marlene Freitas, Mouse on Mars and William Kentridge. A collaborative offering between the festival and the city’s internationally renowned Black Box Teater is the staging of Mitra, a remarkable hybrid performance that meshes musical theatre, documentary cinema and installation to highly innovative effect. Set to music by the Austrian composer, viola da gambist and flautist Eva Reiter, it tells the story of Mitra Kadivar, a psychoanalyst from Tehran who dared to question certain medically insupportable but politically sacrosanct best practices of the Iranian psychiatric system. The production, which will take place on September 22 and which features the American soprano Claron McFadden, is a strange, genre-bending, description-defying experience, and despite being set in a psychiatric hospital, it imparts a feeling of freedom.’

 

 

Illustrations by Audrey Helen Weber

'All evolution in thought and conduct must at first appear as heresy and misconduct.'

George Bernard Shaw