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Anne Carson’s poem overlooks Boston Harbor alongside the ICA

First Chaldic Oracle

There is something you should know.
And the right way to know it
is by a cherrying of your mind.

Because if you press your mind towards it
and try to know
that thing

as you know a thing,
you will not know it.
It comes out of red

with kills on both sides,
it is scrap, it is nightly,
it kings your mind.

No. Scorch is not the way
to know
that thing you must know.

But use the hum
of your wound
and flamepit out everything

right to the edge
of that thing you should know.
The way to know it

is not by staring hard.
But keep chiselled,
keeping Praguing the eye

of your soul and reach—
mind empty
towards that thing you should know

until you get it.
that thing you should know.
Because it is out there (orchid) outside your
and, it is

–Anne Carson

This poem has been mounted outside the ICA, overlooking Boston Harbor. What a setting for an unforgettable poem.

While the poem stands extraordinarily on its own, here are a few comments about it that feather Carson’s nest ever so gently.

From a piece by Catherine Joyce in Arc Poetry Magazine:

In “First Chaldaic Oracle”, a poetic manifesto, Anne Carson examines the relentless pursuit of what remains forever out of reach. Her questing but playful voice, sounding through the architectural layering of tercets, captures the continual striving toward meaning, the poet’s elusive, shape-shifting art.

The images proliferate, tantalize, elude definition—and yet we sense there is something vital here, something passionate yet annihilating, overlooked yet liminal, even preconscious—so essential it trumps your mind, possessing, ruling, dissolving any subjective state. Carson drives deep to planes of reality one intuits but cannot name—beyond self, beyond world, hypnotic.

Only by going beyond our prescriptive borders of ‘self’ and ‘other’ can the rare, the mysterious, the unnamed—beyond all our definitions—be found.

And from On Rationalizing and Oranges, an essay by Kea Trevett published in Mercer Street:

So much of real life lies between the lines of rational thought. The bigger questions are not the ones that can be answered on paper. They are what we tend to overlook or leave out—ideas that life suggests, hints at…The facts are word-bound, but the deeper truth, the confusion, the sticky messiness lies in the grey areas between the words…By trusting our intuition, by accepting the absurd, sometimes inexplicable reality of reality, we might find that the conventional boundaries of logic and reason only take us so far: sometimes they stifle true understanding. This is not to say that rational analysis never leads to truth…Carson urges us to see that sometimes, in pursuit of knowing a thing, a “cherrying” of the mind prepares us most.


This morning a group of us went to see the Shepard Fairey retrospective at the ICA in Boston. Having lived through the viral spread of Andre the Giant and the OBEY stickers and stencils in Boston and Providence, I had a preconceived idea about what it would be like to see his work assembled in the formality of an indoor gallery space. My expectations were low, I’ll be honest. Street artists, from Bansky to Os Gemeos, have achieved a very particular kind of cultural significance. But my curiosity and acknowlegement of their work were not bucketed with my personal artistic practices or intentions. Heavily iconized and graphic in nature, Fairey and his cohorts were using visual forms for a different set of intentions than I am employing with my work. Street art is political. Ironic. Cryptic. Sarcastic. All valid projects in and of themselves, but that’s not the program I’m watching in my studio.

The show at the ICA changed my view utterly. Shepard, while holding on to his populist and political roots, is a master collagist. The murals on display are layered and complex, full of innuendo and suggestion. I felt my resistance collapse into those surfaces immediately. His immense murals have gorgeous texturing with layers of newspapers, wallpaper, and recycled imagery, an amazingly delicate backdrop to his fist thrusting imagery.

The controversy around Fairey’s catapult from street artist to a museum retrospective—and around Fairey himself—is just so much added theatricity, although the meta of the meta is too ironic at times to not comment on. (Example: In these rooms full of “appropriated” images—many of them in litigation as I write this—visitors are not allowed to take any pictures of the works. And Shepard was arrested last night for two outstanding warrants as he arrived to DJ his show opening. Which of course could be a stunt in and of itself. Once again, the meta of the meta…) Putting aside all the Obama flywheel fame and urban legending around Fairey’s guerilla art tactics, Fairey is doing something extraordinary visually. He has found his way onto that fragile parapet between mass appeal and museum-quality (read: elitist) work. Between political content and a fresh and memorable aesthetic statement. Between an art that is detached and emotionally cool and one that is deeply engrossing and emotionally engaged.

From an interview with Fairey in the New York Times:

“I’m a populist,” Mr. Fairey said in an interview with a portrait gallery curator. “I’m trying to reach as many people as possible.”

“I love the concept in fine art of making a masterpiece, something that will endure,” he said, adding that he understood, too, how unlikely that is for anyone. “But I also understand how short the attention span of most consumers is and that you really need to work with the metabolism of consumer culture a lot of the time to make something relevant within the zeitgeist.”


Included in the documentation for the show is Fairey’s 1990 statement about his work. Worth a read even nine years later:

The OBEY sticker campaign can be explained as an experiment in Phenomenology. Heidegger describes Phenomenology as “the process of letting things manifest themselves.” Phenomenology attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is right before their eyes but obscured; things that are so taken for granted that they are muted by abstract observation.

The first aim of phenomenology is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker. Because OBEY has no actual meaning, the various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities.

Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The paranoid or conservative viewer however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.

Another phenomenon the sticker has brought to light is the trendy and conspicuously consumptive nature of many members of society. For those who have been surrounded by the sticker, its familiarity and cultural resonance is comforting and owning a sticker provides a souvenir or keepsake, a memento. People have often demanded the sticker merely because they have seen it everywhere and possessing a sticker provides a sense of belonging. The Giant sticker seems mostly to be embraced by those who are (or at least want to seem to be) rebellious. Even though these people may not know the meaning of the sticker, they enjoy its slightly disruptive underground quality and wish to contribute to the furthering of its humorous and absurd presence which seems to somehow be antiestablishment/societal convention. Giant stickers are both embraced and rejected, the reason behind which, upon examination reflects the psyche of the viewer. Whether the reaction be positive or negative, the stickers existence is worthy as long as it causes people to consider the details and meanings of their surroundings. In the name of fun and observation.

The ICA is free on Thursday nights starting at 5:30. If you live in the Boston area, don’t miss this show.


One of my art professors had a spiel about how to push a work to its farthest edge by reminding us that a great work of art almost doesn’t work—but it does. It was his way of getting his students to take risks, to push out beyond what feels safe. There’s really no other way to know just how long that plank extends over the cliff edge until you walk it, blindfolded, and fall off. And then you do that again. Many, many times.

I’ve come up against that edge several times lately, leaving me to ask why something that shouldn’t work, does. Here’s my list. Maybe you have a few of your own.


Styrofoam cup ceiling and mylar “lumps”

Tara Donovan, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Donovan has transformed my ongoing relationship with scotch tape, Styrofoam cups, paper plates, mylar sheets and plastic buttons. Simple materials in the hands of someone who clearly can stay focused on the tedious tasks of creating the extraordinary out of the ordinary.


Aurélia Thierrée threading her way across the stage; music making with alarm clocks

Aurelia’s Overture, American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge
Charlie Chaplin’s gift at the beguiling art form of silent performance seems to have been passed down, first to his daughter Victoria Thierrée Chaplin who wrote this piece and second, to his granddaughter Aurélia Thierrée who performs it. Small in scale and seductively intimate, this performance takes life and the theatrical experience and stands everything on its head. The stage curtains dance erotically with each other, and later in the show we meet their small curtain “child”; flowers are placed in vases upside down; empty coats behave as if they are wrapped around a body; a concerto is performed using the various sounds of alarm clocks. So simple, with no plot and almost no words, it is part circus, Grand Guignol, pantomime, minimalist theatre, Dadaist contrarian, Arte Povera, modern dance, improvisational. And yet these 75 minutes are a jewel box of the captivating and the whimsical. Only the hardest of hearts would not be softened and seduced by this.

Director Danny Boyle on the set for the final scene

Slumdog Millionaire
A fairytale about modern India—Mumbai to be exact—told with gritty realism, this is a movie that shouldn’t work but does. While the cast doesn’t periodically break into the dance and song we have come to expect from most Indian films (that is until the last scene, while the credits are rolling), the energy and pace is as explosive as any of those high action Bollywood extravaganzas. And because I am a newly minted and highly zealous Indianophile who fell head over heels for sprawling, massive Mumbai, I was riveted from start to finish.

Bonnie Horne overseeing the plethora of pizza making ingredients

Holiday Cuisine Highs
There were some stellar high points this year: The tempura-fried fresh oysters with tangerine sauce at our Christmas Day feast, Bryce’s clam chowder, Clate’s mushroom, potato and cheese medley, Barrie’s espresso chocolate flourless cake, Bonnie’s baklava, Tony Maws’ (of Craigie on Main) Macomber turnip soup, and the Barlow/Wilcox/Horne “make your own” pizza extravaganza which featured over 40 different ingredients. All these culinary exploits could have overshot that teetery edge and crashed over the cliff. But they didn’t.