Charlotte Viewpoint Feed This is the article feed for Charlotte ViewPoint Charlotte ViewPoint Copyright 2011 Charlotte ViewPoint en-us Sat, 23 Feb 2019 4:14:08 Sat, 23 Feb 2019 4:14:08 Charlotte ViewPoint Logo Charlotte ViewPoint Image 222 34 <![CDATA[Dylan Comes to Town Championing the Standards Fare]]>

Bob Dylan will be in Charlotte Sunday night, fresh off winning the Nobel prize for literature and releasing another album of American Songbook fare, Fallen Angels. If it surprises you in any way that the gravel-voiced 75-year-old would earn literature's most coveted award, or record standards more often associated with velvet-throated crooners like Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra—well, you've probably not been following along.

But you don't have to be a Dylanologist to appreciate Dylan. His iconic 60s protest songs are justifiably hailed for their ear-to-the-ground prescience and poetry. His mid-60s fare changed the musical landscape thereafter by making rock 'n' roll as much a "music of the mind as the body," as Dylan organist Al Kooper put it. But after the 1975 break-up album, Blood on the Tracks, my musical attention begins to wander (an uninspiring Street Legal-era live show didn't help, and neither did the trio of born-again LPs that followed shortly after). The 80s and early 90s releases were, to be kind, uneven, though the stylistic twists and turns remained of interest because of their inscrutable author. 

Dylan's long final act in the 2000s has proven more steady and musically fruitful. But you can never entirely shake Dylan anyway. He permeates the work of music critics whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, and that extends way beyond Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, et al, all of whom have felled forests in pursuit of the "real" Dylan. No, it's because Dylan's DNA courses through almost all popular music since the early 60s—"he was our idol," Paul McCartney said of the Beatles' admiration for Dylan, and few musicians get covered more often than Dylan to this day. Even his turn toward the standards of Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen and Carolyn Leigh makes sense when you read of his long-held love for Sinatra and other standards bearers.

These days, though, I find his cultural impact increasingly relevant in the classroom. In the Popular Culture & the American Music Scene course I teach at UNC Charlotte, clips from D.A. Pennebaker's 1965 film, Don't Look Back, play integral roles. In one scene, two teenage Brits lean into the then 23-year-old musician's car and thrust their autograph books at him, demanding signatures. Gently spurned, the two kids alternate between pleading their case and calling their musician-hero "a bum." Exasperated at last, Dylan ends the discussion with a forceful yet revelatory closing argument: "If you needed my autograph," he says, "I'd give it to you."

It's seems petulant, sure, but it gets at some fundamental truth, which matters more. It also works as an introduction into Dylan's seminal role in shaping our modern world, and not just the 1960s counter-culture or rock 'n' roll, either. The mass pandemonium of Beatlemania shadowed Pennebaker's film just as it does for my students today. Right on the heels of the Fab Four's charm offensive comes an artist who's ambivalent about fame on any terms but his own. For these millennials, it runs counter to a key tenet of their social media existence, the whole point of which is to revel in one's notoriety and then, if possible, monetize it.

This isn't a Saint Dylan homily. After all, he invited Pennebaker along on that tour and gave him unfettered access, then okayed the film's release (though filmmaker and subject wound up paying for distribution themselves). Dylan's also done his share of selling out, sometimes gleefully so. But Pennebaker quickly grasped that he wasn't making a film about a rising rock 'n' roll celebrity so much as documenting an artist's self-actualization. "What I thought was, this person is trying to generate himself. He’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants to do," Pennebaker recently told the New York Times.

You can watch that play out in real-time at an hour-long press conference in San Francisco later that year, where a chain-smoking—and completely baked—Dylan parries questions from fawning acolytes and story-hunting journalists. This is at the height of the singer's popularity and cultural impact, and the exchanges are often hilariously ludicrous. But the laughter can obscure the subtextthere's inspiration and artistry wherever you choose to find it, current cultural tides be damned. When asked which poets he "digs," Dylan lists Smokey Robinson, W.C. Fields, Charlie Rich and "that trapeze family" (The Flying Wallendas) alongside Rimbaud and Ginsberg, and he means it. And when he's confronted with the topic du jour back then—his "selling out" of the folk movement by plugging in at the '65 Newport Folk Festival and playing rock 'n' rollhe cops to it immediately. (Someone follows up and asks which commercial interest he would sell out to, and Dylan answers "ladies garments"—which makes this moment four decades later that much more delicious.)

But as the Q&A drifts from surreal to just plain uncomfortable, the veil comes off the whole enterprise—"Ballad of a Thin Man"-style—when Dylan and an older reporter share the following exchange:  

Mr. Dylan, you seem very reluctant to talk about the fact that you're a popular entertainer, and that you're a most popular entertainer.

Well, what do you want me to say?

I don't understand why you're reluctant.

What do you want me to say about it?

You seem almost embarrassed to talk about the fact that you're popular.

I'm not embarrassed, I mean, what exactly do you want me to say? Jump up and say 'hallelujah' and crash the cameras and do something weird? Tell me. I'll go along with you and if I can't go along with you I'll find somebody to go along with you.

No, but you really have no idea, no thoughts, as to why you're popular? That's what interests me...

I haven't really struggled for that. It happened, you know. It happened like anything else happens.

So much for the "spokesman for a generation," an orthodoxy Dylan had already rejected musically and lyrically. He didn't want to be the voice of the hippies, either, it turned out, or a political pundit, or a social critic, or the Picasso of Music or any other distracting stereotype. Little wonder, then, that he quit doing interviews shortly after that '65 press conference, took a long hiatus from touring and vanished from public life. Instead, at the height of 60s social unrest and political foment, and as covers of his songs blasted over the airways, he retreated with The Band into the Big Pink's basement. There, they stripped away all the artifice and went back to the basics of the music and creativity.

"Just being pressed and hammered and forced to answer questions is enough to make anybody sick," Dylan later told 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley in a 2004 televised interview. Back then, he added, people would show up at his door and want to talk politics and philosophy, and society viewed him as some kind of danger. "It was like being in an Edgar Allen Poe story," he sighed.

We're all living in the Edgar Allen Poe story now, of course. Many have devolved into public ciphers, online personas masquerading as individuals and trolling for attention; others lose themselves in the vapid causeways of celebrity worship. Meanwhile, a trickster worthy of a Dylan song turns the nation into a carnival act and gets set to pocket the proceedings. Dylan never wanted to be your hero, just a song-and-dance man. He has no great message for us beyond the one that's always been there anyway—find your true voice, and be the hero of your own story.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here John Schacht Wed, 2 Nov 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Third Annual 100 Words Film Festival Gets Timely]]>

Photos: (below) Entrants in the third annual 100 Words Film Festival, top to bottom: Battle Friend, by Trevor Walsh; Still Sophie, by Caroline Knight; Freedom Line, by Andrew Smith; Barn Dance, by Ted Richardson

"The first thing people usually notice is the counter," Scott Galloway says.

Galloway, a Charlotte-based filmmaker and founder of Susie Films, is animated as he discusses his brainchild, the 100 Words Film Festival. Now in its third year, the festival showcases and celebrates concise cinematic storytelling. (The festival returns to Uptown Charlotte’s McGlohon Theater Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5; ticket and times info here). Submissions in all genres are accepted from around the world. The only stipulation—and it's a strict one—is that each film must contain exactly 100 spoken words.

That's where the word counter comes in.

It appears onscreen as each film unspools, counting down how many of those allotted words have been used. Galloway got the idea from watching his three children's YouTube viewing habits—invariably they impatiently checked the time counter halfway through each video to see how much time was left. Substituting language for seconds, Galloway came up with the 100-word counter, a succinct concept and trademark for an event dedicated to getting straight to the point.

"It’s kind of neat," Galloway says. "People will periodically peek at it, thinking, 'Oh my gosh, there’s only seven words left. How is this going to wrap up?'"

Cutting to the chase "remains a significant challenge to young filmmakers," Galloway maintains, noting that aspiring producers and directors are often adept at shooting, editing and effects, but stymied when it comes to storytelling. Though that situation grows worse in the wider film world, Galloway notes that submissions to the festival have improved immensely since its launch in 2014. "Overall craft has sharpened" because the 100-words limit forces filmmakers to focus on the fundamentals of visual and verbal storytelling.

"This year's films are by far the best we've ever received," Galloway notes. "From just under 100 submissions, we are showing 36 films, 18 each night at the McGlohon." That tally is up from 34 in 2015, and 30 in 2014.

The subject matter has changed some, too. With the Keith Scott shooting and its aftermath catapulting Charlotte onto the world stage, 2016 has been a tumultuous and contentious year for the city—a fact reflected in the  festival's submissions, says Galloway.

"We have two films that deal directly with race and the police. One is a documentary and the other is a narrative piece." For the non-fiction State of  Emergency, Charlotte Director Kelvin Edwards "was downtown in the middle of all of the action and activity," Galloway notes. "He has footage that no one has ever seen before."

Maryland Filmmaker Andrew Smith directs the dramatic film Freedom Line. Set in the 1850s, the story is " about a slave who runs to the north for freedom and what happens when he gets there," Galloway says. "I don't want to give too much away, but the filmmaker has a very clever way of taking the story from the 19th Century to the modern day."

Clearly the festival doesn't shy away from controversial submissions.

"We embrace all stories, so there are no (political) guidelines," Galloway maintains. "We tell filmmakers, 'Make a film. Tell the best story you possibly can and if the judges believe it's worthy, then you're in.'"

This year the judges are Director/Actor Christina Beck (Suburbia/Perfection), Writer/Social Media and Content Strategist Kristen McCracken and Robin Canfield, Programs Director for Actuality Media, a documentary production organization. In addition to American produced films, the panel will score submissions from Latvia and Turkey. The award categories this year will be the same as previous years.

"We’ll have two student winners, and we keep that broad," Galloway says, noting fluctuation between the number of documentary and narrative submissions from year to year. "We decided to simply award the two best student films," regardless of category, he explains. "In the professional category, we have the documentary and the scripted narrative divisions." A total of four awards will be given out on the festival's second night.

One popular element carried over from previous festivals is the Student/Charity Program, which matches aspiring filmmakers with non-profit organizations seeking new branding and outreach opportunities.

"In the first year we reached out to colleges and universities and asked those schools to identify students who showed real promise," Galloway explains. Once they met the students and determined their areas of concern, Galloway and the Festival organizers connected the young filmmakers with charitable organizations that best matched their interests. The charity helped the students with contacts and research, and the student provided the non-profit with a short film they could use to spread their message. "It was a win-win," Galloway says.

The resulting films generated enough interest to raise funding in 2015 from the Reemprise Fund, managed by the Foundation for the Carolinas. With the extra money, the program was able to provide the student filmmakers with professional mentoring. "We'd bring in a cinematographer to help (the students) shoot, or give them a day or two in post with a professional editor," Galloway says.

"We gave the young filmmakers the opportunity to work at the best of their abilities," he continues, "and by doing so they made even better films for the charitable organizations, which was more helpful for the non-profits."

"Call it a win-win-win," Galloway says, laughing.   

This year the program, now called the Student/Charity Mentoring Program, grows apace. "The Student/Charity Films are significantly better this year than last year."

Like the festival itself, the program is part of a larger initiative to democratize filmmaking, a cause close to Galloway's heart.

"In college I wanted to be a filmmaker," Galloway recalls. "But I didn't have contacts or the money to make that happen. It took me 15 years to make my first film. Fifteen years is too long to chase your passion."

In addition to encouraging narrative skills, Galloway devised the 100 Words Film Festival to give storytellers from any background an opportunity to tell their tales.

"They can make their film at any length, on any topic. The only criteria are that it has to have 100 spoken words. Financially speaking, anyone can do that."

Festivalgoers benefit by seeing the world premieres of these exciting new films from fresh new talent, but the filmmakers may reap even greater rewards, Galloway believes.

"If you're a filmmaker and your work is selected, you receive five things," he says."One, you will have your film professionally judged—an invaluable learning experience. Two, you'll have the opportunity to compete for prize money. Three, you'll have your film shown in a huge venue that seats over 700 people.

"Four, you're going to earn a credit on  IMDB. In our business, that credit is so important. A lot of times when you apply for a job people will look at your IMDB (entry) before your resume."

Fifth, and most importantly, Galloway concludes, "at the end of this experience the filmmaker will have completed a short film," something rare and precious.

"For a filmmaker in today's world, a short film is gold," he says. "It's a visual calling card."

The 100 Words Film Festival takes place Nov. 4-5 at the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square in Uptown Charlotte. For tickets or more information, go to

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Nicole Fisher Mon, 31 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[ATC's Toxic Avenger Wreaks Hilarious Musical Havoc]]>

Photo: Jeremy DeCarlos as Toxie (by George Hendricks)

Just in time for Halloween and its tragicomic transformations, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte is presenting its rebirth on Freedom Drive through a raucously rebellious 2008 musical satire of a 1984 horror comedy film about a toxic-waste superhero.  While its new theatre is not quite ready, ATC is performing The Toxic Avenger (through Nov. 12, ticket and times info here) next door in the Center City Church auditorium.  But this production fully explores the infectious satirical potentials of the musical (book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, music and lyrics by David Bryan), resonating with current local news of toxic coal ash pits and protests against police violence.  It overflows from its narrow stage with barrels of glowing green sludge, through doors at the sides, into the aisles and seats of the audience—offering a powerful band, polished voices for the hilarious lyrics, and a complex mix of dance styles.

The plot is simple, yet with a double conflict: the nerd, Melvin Ferd, after turning into the superheroic “Toxie,” fears contact with his blind sexy babe, Sarah the librarian, and battles an also sexy, corrupt Mayor of Tromaville, NJ, who makes money by taking NYC’s waste.  The amazingly versatile Jeremy DeCarlos plays Melvin/Toxie, as a singing Hulk, werewolf, Frankenstein combo, with a bit of a “Yes, we can” (or could have) Obama.  Leslie Giles is equally compelling as the sweetly earnest, romantic-novel-writing, gotta-get-onto-Oprah, “hot” yet blind ingénue, Sarah.  She also transforms from a short-skirted, cane-whipping librarian to lusty lover in a nightie, and to overalls-wearing, gun-toting, action heroine, with many comic moments in her sight-challenged use of stage and auditorium. 

Lisa Hugo plays the consistently villainous, yet costume-altering Mayor and another character, Melvin’s mother, even doubling them as they fight in a hair salon—in a tour de force of theatricality.  (She also plays a nun in the opening song about the city.)  Ryan Stamey and Dominique Atwater become superheroic transformers throughout the show, as bullies, cops, doctor and professor, Latina hairdressers, and many other comical characters, some of which get torn apart by Toxie.  Indeed, applause must go to all involved in this production, especially special effects artist (with costumes and props) Melissa Brown, lighting designer Ryan Maloney, choreographer Tod A. Kuhn, onstage music director and keyboardist Brad Fugate, and director Chip Decker, along with stage manager Christy Edney Lancaster, holding it all together each night.

Many of the song lyrics are disgustingly delightful.  Sarah sings an “Oh my God” song with her gal pals (Stamey and Atwater) about her “big French boyfriend” after feeling his bulked up toxic pecs, but not his decayed face, and over-romanticizing Toxie’s new name.  His mother, on the other hand, offers a brutally honest view, singing: “You’re such a disappointment.”  There’s a beautiful, ironic duet between Toxie and Sarah, about being “so scared of my hot toxic love.”  There’s also an “evil is hot” tango as the Mayor seduces a professor (Atwater) to get her secret weapon against Toxie.  Intrusions repeatedly occur with a Folk Singer (Stamey) insisting on his “Legend of the Toxic Avenger.”  But the best might be Toxie’s mom consoling Sarah, after she feels his face and dumps him in horror, by singing: “All men are freaks.”  The final song also triumphs, with current reflections, as Toxie and Sarah succeed in both love and politics—producing an offspring who combines their disablingly hilarious super-powers.

Thus, serious insights bubble up, in this satirical musical, as Toxie goes wild through his righteous, yet riotous rebellion against political corruption and environmental pollution—causing more damage to possibly innocent people.  Hopefully, Charlotte theatre-goers will not be scared away, though, and will continue to support ATC’s various strengths, exemplified by this show.  For it is transforming Freedom Drive now, like Toxie, through infectiously entertaining, yet also wise(cracking) ideas.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Mark Pizzato Fri, 28 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Mint Highlights Women of Abstract Expressionism]]>

Artwork: (Above) "Early Morning Garden," Perl Fine (1957—Oil paint and collage on canvas, 44 x 36), Collection Art Enterprises, Ltd., Chicago. Courtesy McCormick Gallery, Chicago. © A.E. Artworks, LLC.;  (below) "Untitled," Lee Bul (Korean, 1964- ), 2005, crystal and glass beads, nickel-chrome wire, 63 x 40½ x 43, Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, OH), Purchased with funds given by Doctor and Mrs. Edward A. Kern in honor of Rhoda L. and Roger, M. Berkowitz, 2005.98. Photo Credit: Photography Inc.

The elephant—or Guerrilla Girl—in the room as far as the two fine shows now up at the Mint Museum is concerned is that an entire gender is still treated as a minority. Both shows, Fired Up: Contemporary Glass by Women Artists from the Toledo Museum of Art” (through Feb. 26, 2017) and Women of Abstract Expressionism (through Jan. 22, 2017, and sponsored by Wells Fargo), are part of the museum's 80th Anniversary "Year of the Woman" celebration, and both underscore how far we have come and how much farther we need to go in regards to the work of women artists. Based on their merits, these works  do not need to be defended as being as good as the work of any male, which is an absurdity, but an absurdity which has been institutionalized until recently, and which remains in effect to a large degree even now.

Abstract Expressionism was the first visual art movement to originate on U.S. shores. It coincided with the emergence of free jazz and the frantic rearrangements of the European borders by the victors of World War II. Immersiveness was its beau ideal, as in the Water Lilies of Monet, and gesture was its means. Largeness of scale was a means to immersiveness, and behind this was an existential concern for the sublime—it aimed to induce the viewer into something of the vertigo of looking into a chasm. 

This gesture-based large scale painting coincided with, and was partially responsible for, the shift of the center of the art world marketplace from Paris to New York.  How much this was due to artistic merit and how much was due to post-war economics—a shift in the gravity of finance—will always be debated. The scope of gesture and the size of the paintings also made the act of painting itself agonistic, like boxing.

At the time, few of the painters now exhibited in Women of Abstract Expressionism wanted to be designated as women artists. This would be to handicap oneself with minor status from the get-go. Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, in particular, fought to be taken on the same terms as the men, which made them the one woman on their gallerist’s roster. This probably had something of the mixed pleasure of getting to play poker with the guys. None of the painters in this show was a commercial failure, though each was eclipsed (Mitchell and Frankenthaler excepted) by the rapid-fire sequence of Pop art, Minimalism and Conceptualism from the 1960s on, as were many of their male coevals.

To view this show, then, is to see a history (or herstory) of Abstract Expressionism without Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, et al., except by proxy, as the husbands of the wives on the wall. It is not quite as revelatory as discovering the Latin American novel, for instance, but it is a very satisfying nevertheless. There are some real masterpieces in the show—by which I mean works which could be returned to time and again and which would continue to yield additional meaning. The Joan Mitchells seem to me to be in this category, as do the paintings of Jay DeFeo, which are so heavily impastoed that they had to be hung with a crane. DeFeo’s “incision“ is at least 10 inches thick in places, and looks like a relief map from an unknown planet. It could easily repay the study required of a statue by Giacometti or a Rembrandt etching. It seems to be made of the sediment of deep thought. The  Joan Mitchells reconcile American Abstract expressionism with French Impressionist painting without falling into imitation. Her brushstroke is as recognizable as Monet’s or Delacroix’s, and her sense of plentitude, of joi de vivre, is in direct contrast to much of the angst-ridden painting of the time.

Lee Krasner, too, has always seemed to me to be a more considerable painter than she has been given credit for. The black and white paintings which Krasner painted in the wee hours of the night while suffering from insomnia—color eluded her at those hours—would seem to me to be able to hold their own next to a black and white Franz Kline, though considerably smaller. 

Some paintings in this show are epigonic, but these are comparatively few. Most of these paintings achieve monumentality, or the immersive shimmer, or the glint of the fin in the water, or the still moment which is the justification of art. But by the early 1960s  there were simply too many practitioners of gestural abstraction; the field had become crowded and it had become predictable. And it has taken 60 years, the re-emergence of feminism, and a group of lesser known painters to see it afresh.

Fired Up: Contemporary Glass by Women from the Toledo Museum of Art illustrates the difference between the present day and the 1950s, when most of the work in Women of Abstract Expressionism was done.  We are now in the most unrelentingly various period of art history, as the work here attests.  Furthermore, the material of glass proves to be as expressive in range as photography or painting. The Studio Glass Movement has roots in Toledo, where it was first attempted with portable high temperature kilns instead of foundries in the 1960s.  There is a great deal of work with dauntless flights of virtuosity in this show. All has been made by heating glass to solar temperatures; all the work is by women, and this both matters and doesn’t matter. What the show proves is that a genre held to be craftsmanly and minor can become a vehicle of poetry and even monumental scale. I particularly admired the sea creature-like relief work of Lee Bul and the pyramid of incremental shards of glass, like an architectural structure becoming mineral, of Josepha Gasch-Muche. But there are  few works in this show which would not repay study. Like the paintings in Women of Abstract Expressionism, they demonstrate what women can do when the threshold of permission is crossed within and without, which is to make work which is deeply and widely human.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Phillip Larrimore Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA['Slow Words Movement' Thriving at Charlotte Lit]]>

Most contemporary writers are pretty humble folks. We understand it’s asking a lot of people to read our words, especially when they can instead scroll their social media feeds for an escape, or binge-watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones for a thrill. Last year, one author told me during an interview for a story previewing his upcoming novel reading: “I’m going to stand up and read from a book I wrote for 10 minutes. It sounds really preposterous when you try to explain it to people.”

Historically, people turned to literature for their cultural fix. But nowadays, appointment-free television and social media—the digital salon, for some—are most people's main sources for that kind of engagement. But Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, also known as Charlotte Lit, aims to reverse declining reading trends and reactivate a love for literature by supporting writers and engaging readers.

Launched one year ago and located inside the Midwood International & Cultural Center on Central Avenue, Charlotte Lit’s 800-square-foot space feels like somewhere you can kick off your shoes, nuzzle into a puffy pillow and dive into a good book. Natural light pours through the wide windows, and the hardwood floors complement the denim-colored couches in the living room-like area. Of course, a nearby bookcase is packed with reading material.

But it’s also evident that the difficult work of writing can be done here. Two expansive wooden tables offer plenty of space to spread out story outlines or character profiles, and there’s plenty of pens, pencils, markers and highlighters on an elegantly worn sideboard. The whiteboards give the room that classroom feel, and seating is abundant—perfect for a writing workshop or a book discussion.

And, of course, there’s a coffeemaker. Writers need coffee.

Co-founders Kathie Collins and Paul RealiKathie Collins is one of the co-founders of Charlotte Lit; much of the design of the space is thanks to her. “Though I loved the serenity of my home office, I hated the isolation of writing alone and had a hunch that other writers did too,” she says. “I wanted to create a hybrid home/office/old-style library feel in which writers could both produce and share their work.”

Charlotte Lit evolved from a writing co-operative Collins started in 2015 called August Moon. The only person who joined was Paul Reali, and last October, they partnered up to launch Charlotte Lit. The center is now supported by members (in September, the count was upwards of 120) who believe in its mission of elevating the literary arts in Charlotte.

One of the benefits for members is getting access to the studio if they need a place to work. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Charlotte Lit hosts an Open Write-In, where people can gather with other writers and work on their individual projects. It’s an opportunity to get out of their home offices or the coffee shops, Reali says. “At the end of each of those sessions, we have conversations. We talk about what we’re writing, our lives, and that helps to build community for our members.”

Another way Charlotte Lit aims to help people engage with literature is through low-cost or free events. For writers, there are workshops, like Oct. 26’s “Scary, Scary, Scary: Tips & Tricks to Courageous Writing.”

The center also offers in-depth reading discussions. Part of Charlotte Lit’s mission is “to promote community wide conversations that are literature-based, but that move the dialogue on important topics in Charlotte forward,” Collins explains.

In September, Charlotte writer Kathryn Schwille hosted a workshop called “Read Like a Writer: Flannery O’Connor,” in which the group discussed the short story “The Displaced Person.”

“It was a fabulous readers workshop, touching on themes that have a lot to do with today,” Collins says.O’Connor’s story, published in 1955, features a white widow who has a problem with one of her employees, an immigrant, because he intends to let his white cousin marry her black employee to flee a detention camp. Among other things, the piece explores racism, the idea of the “Other,” warfare and social order.

The event, coincidentally, took place the same week protests erupted in Charlotte in response to the police-shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.

“These are topics that are important to be discussing,” Collins says. “There are a lot of ways to approach civil discourse. It was good to be together [that night] and talk about those things.”

In addition to hosting thought-provoking conversations, Charlotte Lit aims to fill a gap in the arts scene in Charlotte. “In our community, we see that the other arts—visual arts, performing arts, including theater and music—they’re well-represented and well-covered in the media,” Reali says. “In a lot of cases, they’re also well-attended and in some cases well-funded.

“But,” he continues, “there’s very little attention paid to literary arts, even though there are many, many readers and writers and literary events in this community.”

Collins adds, “We call it the stepchild of the arts here in Charlotte.”

Not only is Charlotte Lit a physical gathering place for literary enthusiasts, but it also is a metaphorical center, in that it publishes a calendar featuring any and all lit-related events upcoming in the city.

“Literature is the primary way we understand ourselves, each other and the world we live in,” Reali says. “That’s what literature does, and so we want to reclaim its place and encourage people to read who don’t read; encourage people to talk to each other who don’t get to talk to each other. Those people who want to write and can’t get started, we want to help them get started or finish their books. For people who do write and want to master their craft, we want to be able to help them to do that, too.”

Charlotte isn’t the only city seeing a re-emergence of a literary arts center. Reali says Greeneville, South Carolina, and Winston-Salem are other cities trying to build up their literary arts communities.

“Maybe this is a bit of a response in some ways to the overabundance of fast information in social media and media in general,” Collins says. “Social media is fast content, and we are endorsing the slower transmission of literature because it’s deeper.”

Reali adds: “So if there was a slow food movement, maybe we have the slow words movement.” 

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Kimberly Lawson Tue, 25 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Novel Production Spotlights The Aliens Among Us]]>

Photos: (top to bottom) UNC Charlotte student-actors Chester Wolfaardt, Tykiique Cuthkelvin and Kobina Fon-ndikum star in Annie Baker's The Aliens (photo by Danny Tulledge)

UNC Charlotte students and faculty crossing the quad over the next couple of weeks may come across an unexpected drama—and at first, it might seem like real life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker’s The Aliens takes place behind the fictitious Green Sheep coffee shop in rural Vermont, where two disaffected dreamers, KJ and Jasper, discuss music, Charles Bukowski, and plans that never reach fruition. When bespectacled high-schooler Evan enters this salon of slacker philosophers, the two older men decide to take the younger one under their wing.

Baker’s quietly unassuming, Obie-winning drama has been praised by The New York Times for its subtle scenes that “move at the loping pace of real life," and for its halting, silence-studded dialog, where meaning is slowly revealed while KJ, Jasper and Evan uncover profundities amongst the mundane.

Director (and UNC Charlotte Lecturer) Jay Morong has taken the unusual step of moving The Aliens outside for its performances (Oct. 14, 15, 20-22 at 6 p.m., and Oct. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m.; ticket info here), staging its elliptical scenes among the hustle and bustle of campus life in the Arts Quad behind Robinson Hall. Charlotte Viewpoint talked with Morong about the unexpected benefits of outdoor theater, lobbying for smoking onstage and the challenges of directing a play that seems on the surface to be about nothing.

Much is made of the language in this play. In fact, it’s been compared to Chekov, where meaning accretes gradually. What is your take on the dialog?

All playwrights create a certain style and tempo for their dialog, but there's a natural progression in the way Baker’s people sound. There might be heavy, meaningful ideas that she has crafted, a nugget of truth that pops up in the middle of what a character is saying, but that also happens when people hold a conversation in real life.

In our day and age, where people talk less and less to each other because of technology and the fast pace of life, it’s interesting that Baker has reverted back to this style. Maybe that’s what people are relating to. They want to see people talking to each other, and for it to feel natural. Maybe it’s nostalgia for conversation, because people don’t have conversations now in the 140 characters in a tweet, or in instant messages and Facebook posts. Baker captures the simplicity of people talking to each other—or how people used to talk to each other.

Does that make The Aliens a difficult play to direct? Is it a challenge to keep some tension and momentum going?

An actor's impulse is to do the next thing, to get to the next moment. That's driven by the actor thinking, "What is the audience going to think when we just sit here for 30 seconds and don't do anything?" One of the interesting things about directing this play with college-age actors for essentially a college-age audience, is that there's a tendency to think, "Is our audience going to be able to stay with us?' That will be a challenge because of audience expectations. They see movies where there's half a second from one thing to the next, and this play kind of sits for 45 to 50 minutes each act. You're in these small slice-of-life scenes that move at their own pace. It's hard to train an audience to understand that even though there doesn't seem to be much going on, there is in fact a lot happening.

The truism about stage directing is 90 percent of it is casting. Is there a grain of truth in that?

For a play like this I think it might be 100 percent.

How did you cast the three parts? What told you, "That's my KJ, that's my Jasper"?

Some of the casting is not just about who is right for what role, but (how) everyone fits together. That became my focus with this play. It came down to this group of guys who seemed to work well together, especially so with  KJ and Jasper.

Tykiique Cuthkelvin is an interesting choice for Jasper. Jasper's not an angry guy, but he has this pent-up anger. There's a darkness about him. Tykiique seems very light, but he's able to tap into something that shows that even though somebody looks a certain way, underneath the surface there might be entirely different things going on. So Tykiique surprised me. You wouldn't think that he was going to play this dark tortured person.

When Chester Wolfaardt walked into the (audition) room, I saw KJ. He looks the part to me. Chester brought a lot of things to that role that I would never have thought about with that character. I saw KJ as a Big Lebowski type. In some ways, that's how the character is written. Chester definitely has elements of that, but his KJ is much more aware than I had envisioned the character. That adds a level of gravitas to Chester's performance as the play goes on. He brings a level to KJ that I didn't see in the text. That's a great thing to get from an actor.

We have two actors playing Evan. One is Kobina Fon-Ndikum. He's our main Evan, and we have an understudy for Evan. His name is Quinn Watt-Riback. They both captured Evan's innocence.

The play takes place in the yard and alley behind a coffee house. Why did you decide to stage the play in an outdoor environmental setting?

One of the things we try to do at UNC Charlotte is urge students to start thinking about theater in different ways. One way to think differently about theater is to get out of the mentality that you have to be in a traditional  theater space. Working in a found space or something more environmental is a key element for training students for the 21st century.

Actors and designers gain valuable training from an outdoor production. Actors have to adapt to being outside, especially where our stage is. It's in the center of a quad where students may be walking back and forth to class while the actors are in the middle of a performance. The scenic designer had to figure out how to turn this space into a theater.

There's also a ton of smoking in this play. When we decided to do The Aliens I said, "You realize there's smoking on every other page." I felt the smoking was integral to the characters—they smoke and they talk. If we did the traditional fake smoking in the black box theater, where you're two or three feet away from an actor, it would just read poorly. Because of fire code and safety concerns, you can't light a cigarette in the black box. We needed to be somewhere where we could light up. So I said, "why don't we do it outside?" You smell the smoke, and you see it. It adds a level of detail to the production.

Also, an outdoor show gets us outside of our building, even though we're only in front of the building. It's not just creating an experience for the actors and the designers. It's also an experience for the students at our university. People may be walking by and say, "what's going on?' They might only stop for 10 minutes, but it engages us with the campus in a way that will be impactful for our department and for the college at large. It's like saying, "Hey, there's art going on all around us."

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Nicole Fisher Wed, 12 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Klahr's Film Sixty Six Explores American Mythology]]>

In 1946, Nat King Cole extolled the free and easy virtues of traversing America on the open road that once linked Chicago to Los Angeles in the chart-topping, Bobby Troup-penned single, "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66." The tune inspired a classic TV show of the same name, and nowadays evokes a vanished era of hipster cool, a mid-20th century high-water mark for pop culture, social upheaval and dreams that once seemed boundless.

Filmmaker, animator and collagist Lewis Klahr draws on these potent notions in his latest feature, Sixty Six—and doesn't leave out the kicks, either.

"This an experimental movie for people who don't like experimental movies," says Ross Wilbanks, Film Curator for the New Frequencies series at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, which will screen Klahr's animated feature on Friday, Oct. 14, fresh off its premiere at New York City's Museum of Modern Art. Film buffs who find avant-garde movies boring, nonsensical or meandering will be pleasantly surprised by Sixty Six, Wilbanks maintains. Klahr's feature debut is especially for you, he adds, "if you like the visual kick of the unknown."

Wilbanks maintains a friendly correspondence with Klahr, who has been making films since the late 1970s. He contacted the filmmaker directly to book the 90-minute feature, a compendium of a dozen shorter digital films completed between 2002 and 2015, for its North Carolina premiere.

Dense, provocative and dreamlike, Sixty Six seems to dwell in a realm where mystery and memory collide. Writing in the January 2016 issue of Film Comment, Kristin M. Jones said "Messages and portents bubble up throughout (the) feature, which poetically fuses images and ephemera of the Sixties with Greek mythology," noting that black and white photos of modernist Los Angles architecture frequently contrast with richly hued, but often worn-looking, cut-outs.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis also praises Klahr's "astonishing archive of material ephemera and personal memories that he reanimates with scissors, a camera and expressive editing."

Wilbanks cautions that we shouldn't think of  Klahr's magnum opus as "animation" in the classic sense, either. "(Klahr) prefers the word collage. Although objects are moving on the screen, they don't move in the  smoothly homogenized way we expect animation to work."

"The effect can be humorous," Wilbanks adds. "Exciting things happen, not unlike a surrealist painting or a Luis Buñuel film."

Because he draws from the iconic Sixties of Beatlemania, Mad Men and the generation gap,  Klahr is as much re-animator as animator. His astonishing magpie-like cache of mid-20th Century American ephemera is enlivened with frequently astonishing techniques. Speech balloons containing unreadable jumbles of text appear above characters, imbuing Klahr's vignettes with a sense of dislocation and unease. In Mercury, one of Sixty Six's dozen chapters, the messenger of the gods is depicted with a photographic light box, which gives the double-sided pages of a Flash comic book a superimposed look. In an effect that uncomfortably recalls The Picture of Dorian Gray, the older image of the 1930s golden age Flash seems to bleed through the visage of the newer, 1950s silver age Flash.

Audio is not neglected, either. Dramatic music by Gustav Mahler graces the soundtrack, and snippets of ominous dialog from the Route 66 TV show contribute a disjointed jittery feel of the segment entitled Erigone's Daughter.  

The number in the film's title is key to understanding Klahr's feature, Wilbanks maintains. It deliberately evokes the 1960s, perhaps the most potent and powerful social and artistic decade in American history, and lifts that era to the level of myth by having mid-20th century American ephemera rubbing shoulders with Greek gods. It's no accident that two of 12 chapters in Sixty Six are named Ichor and Ambrosia (the blood and the food of the Hellenistic gods, respectively).

"Klahr  may be touching on how in the 60s there is an explosion—whether it's riots or art," Wilbanks says. "Movies got faster and crazier. Jazz music blew up in a way where certain people felt it wasn't jazz anymore."

"(Klahr) has said in interviews that the 60s were important to him personally," he adds. "He came of age during that time, and you notice in his films (that) the 60s are always 'now.' The 1960s in Sixty Six are the present."

Filmmaker Lewis KlahrThis commitment to time and place distinguishes Klahr from other collage animators, says Wilbanks. "With (collagists) Harry Smith or Lawrence Jordan, there's a kind of whimsy. It's a dream where anything can happen. But with Klahr, he's constructing dramatic narratives." Wilbanks notes the filmic continuity and grammar Klahr employs in Sixty Six. "There are reaction shots and interaction (between characters)," as if Klahr's cut-outs were flesh and blood performers in a live action drama.

From bits of paper, Klahr crafts life-changing and thought-provoking consequences for his characters. 1998's Pony Glass, perhaps Klahr's best known short film, follows newspaper reporter and Superman sidekick Jimmy Olson through a series of disappointing romances, until he embraces his latent homosexuality.

"Jimmy Olsen can’t see the change coming and (is) surprised and overwhelmed by it," Klahr said in a 2010 interview with Film Comment. "Ultimately (Olson's) rational resistance to (his) transformation proves futile."

Despite its dynamism, an air of melancholy permeates the emotional heft and visual pyrotechnics of Sixty Six. "Klahr is very serious about melancholy, the ecstasy that comes from an extended period of sadness," Wilbanks explains. "(Watching Klahr) is like seeing a great performance of a Greek tragedy. The tragedy may make you cry, but it's also uplifting. You're filled with a sense of wonder."

With its focus on heightened drama and character development, Klahr's work has less in common with the iconoclastic imagery of underground auteurs like Kenneth Anger, says Wilbanks, and more of an affinity with Hollywood's golden age, particularly the lush 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Wilbanks cites the end of Sirk's 1959 drama Imitation of Life. "The maid dies and she's given a lavish funeral with a coffin covered with flowers. As her daughter repents and runs to embrace the coffin, the flowers fall and all she can do is hug flowers."

"Those moments of melodrama thread throughout Klahr's films," Wilbanks adds, pointing to the eponymous heroine of the Helen of T chapter in Sixty Six. Helen is a former New York party girl whose halcyon past is presented in sharp contrast with a harder edged present in a film noir-ish Los Angeles. A bittersweet sadness suffuses the segment as Helen comes to reluctantly accept the ravages wrought by aging and hard living.

Yet even here, Klahr's playfulness surfaces. A pop-art joke surfaces, Wilbanks notes, when the fading blonde Helen passes an "Art of the Sixties" poster depicting one of artist Roy Lichtenstein's iconic comic book blondes. It's a moment that marries Klahr's melancholia with his mythologizing of America's most tumultuous decade.

"The details are so dense and compressed in Sixty Six," says Wilbanks. "You have to stay alert to what is happening."

"There hasn't been (collage) animation like Klahr's before. It's like fireworks."

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Nicole Fisher Mon, 10 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Provocative Questions for Interesting People]]>

Interdisciplinary artist, love warrior monk, and mischievous thinker John W. Love, Jr. asserts that the more interesting the question and the person, the more interesting the time in the sandbox. Here’s a flash at how he plays with others.


Person of Interest


Is beauty necessary?

Yes I think so, I don't believe life would be bearable without it. What defines beauty is the variable.

Your mind:

                   It’s the temperature of a red-hot cast iron pan,

                   the texture of bubble gum,  

                   and the speed of Google Fiber.  

Your age:

                   I am older than you would expect,  

                   younger than I feel,

                   and the exact same age as I am now. 

Your body:

                   - My hand is a girl.

                   - My foot is a boy.

                   - My heart is somewhere in between.

What part of your body has been annoying you lately?

My shoulder.

What part of your body NEVER embarrasses you?

My eyes.

What has made you cry?

Thinking about life’s limits of time with my children.

Be they naturally occurring or people-made, name three things that exist as your favorite color.

A perfect pinot noir.

The very first green leaves in Spring.

The sea on an overcast day

If you could wear a piece of music, what would it be?

Ekki Mukk by Sigur Ros, but like most of my wardrobe I’d have to change it at some point!

Is photography male, female, or somewhere else on the spectrum?  Why?

It’s way too fluid to adopt a specific gender.

Don’t name the film. Just describe one detail in the moment that took your breath away.

A small dinosaur approaches another small prehistoric animal, wounded lying in the river bed. It puts it’s foot on it’s head and then walks away, pausing in the river before the scene ends.

If you were to have an affair with a piece of literature, what would it be?

Brave New World.

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly— they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Who’s the designer, design team, or design operation you just love, love, love now?  Why?

Engineered Garments

What material, fabric, substrate, or substance would you like to see used more in design, fashion, art, architecture, etc.?


From where you’re sitting, what’s the most luxurious nature made substance you can reach out and touch?

A beeswax candle.

What font just makes you want to vomit?


What’s the sexiest tool in your arsenal?

You’d have to ask my wife.

That time you went “ham” “slam off” “weren’t having it” and noooobody saw it coming what was…?:

The number of windows in the room: 2.

The time of day: Dusk.

The eye color of the most innocent one present: Green.

The shoe attire of the most offensive one: Barefoot.

Select A, B, C, or D


A. Overrated

B. Underserved

C. Hahaaaaaagh!

D. Huh?



A. Bone

B. Chalky

C. Eggshell  

D. High gloss lacquered



A. Inky

B. Cool

C. Matte

D. Vanta



A. Slate

B. Earl, Fox, or Flannel

C. Charcoal

D. Silver


Favorite sweet thing? Gelato.

Favorite bitter thing? Fernet Branca.

Favorite sour thing? Warheads.

Favorite hot thing? Coffee.

Favorite cold thing? King of Pops.

Favorite hard thing? My iPhone.

Favorite soft thing? My pillow.

What smells better—your own toe cheese or your own ear wax?

Ear wax.

What smells worse—your own morning breath or your afternoon pits?

Morning breath.

What do you have most in the mornings - eye snot or nose snot?

Usually neither.

What time of day has the most beautiful light?


What makes you tired just thinking about it?

Growing up.

Who's the sexiest person you know personally?

This question is trouble. 

What makes a nerd hot?


What makes a physically beautiful person NOT hot at all?

Lack of empathy.

If you could, which way would you go—longer or thicker?

We’re talking about hair here, right?

Stronger or more agile?


Smarter or funnier?


What three spices in the spice rack best describe you?

Cayenne, Cardamom, Sage.

What FRESH herb would you wear as a scent?

Thai basil.

Whose funk smells gooood to you?

Not really any.

What inanimate object are you in love with the most right now?

My cocktail shaker.

Choose one—sleek, smooth, plush, or slick?  Why?

Plush because it sounds so comfortable.

Choose onesalty, hot, crisp, or juicy?  Why?

Salty because I hate under-salted.

Who do you know that is both sleek and salty?


Who's got a mind you’d describe as plush and juicy?

My 9 year old.

Using sleek, smooth, plush, slick, salty, hot, crisp, and juicy, which combination of two would make…

                            …the ideal business partner for you? sleek and slick. 

                            …the ideal lover for you? hot and juicy. 

                            …the ideal enemy that could defeat you? salty and plush.

                            …the ideal assistant for you? crisp and smooth. 

                            …the ideal leader of the free world?smooth and hot. 

                            …the ideal sauce? hot and salty.

                            …the ideal snack food? salty and crisp.


Describe either where you are right now or where you just came from:

-       the terrain: flat. 

-       the weather: overcast. 

-       the smell: industrial. 

-       the vegetation: sparse. 

-       the texture of the air: wet. 

-       the color of the sky: grey.

-       the people: busy. 

-       the bodies: fast. 

-       the clothing or lack thereof: professional. 

-       the spirit, the energy, the vibration: urgent. 

-       the name of this locale: Uptown.

Write an autobiographical sentence using exactly seven words.

I am one sibling out of 10.

Write a five-word novel.

He sure had it coming.


You’re throwing an intimate feast for yourself and 12 others. Very briefly describe who they are without using their names. You’re one of them.


The guy with the nice shirt.


There was a beautiful, hypnotic, breathtaking, and necessary lie you told. It was a shield that nurtured and comforted you. What were you protecting?

My brother.

There is a well-intentioned liar who told you life is not a party. Describe in no less than five details their single most prominent feature.

Soft, full, long, lush blonde hair.


Is the simplicity of a truth real or illusory? What is the simple truths relationship to the complex, baroque, and layered one?

Illusory. It’s the upbeat cousin.

Fill in the blanks.

My imagination is massive. My limits non-existent. My hope is significant and my patience is laughable. While I hate mediocrity I love excellence and to tell the absolute truth all I want to do right now is catch a flight somewhere.

What percentage of your day do you spend alone?

About five.

What percentage of your day would you prefer to be alone?

About 50.

Is quiet more like an old friend or a secret lover?

Secret lover.

What are the five biggest noise-makers in your domain right now?

My phone, my head, my car, my dog, the construction next to my house.

In seven words or less describe your real relationship with clutter.

I despise it to no end.

Do you still write with a pencil?


Favorite writing instrument?


Paper or plastic?


Is paper a pleasure in your life or an annoyance?

Depends on the paper, mostly an annoyance.

Are you a luddite and/or do you find them charming?

For the most part 'no' to both.

What do you take pleasure in ignoring?

My phone.

What pleasure have you given up that you still desperately miss?

I try not to give up pleasure.

What has replaced it?

Probably work.

Was that even intentional?

Not really.

Does not answering your phone give you a low-grade panic attack?

Answering my phone gives me a panic attack!

TV—yes or no?


Tiny screen or large screen?


You eat in bed. True or false?


Books—yes or no?


Radio—yes or no?

Not unless it’s NPR.

What’s been your biggest failure in the last 48 hours?

I lost my cool during a stressful situation.

What is your oldest desire?

To be fed.

How do you feel about other people’s feet?

Pretty indifferent, just keep them off of my pillow!

How do you feel about other people’s hands?

I like hands.

Coffee or tea?


Wine or liquor?

Do I really have to choose? Liquor.

Soda or juice?


Sparkling water or flat?


Hair tugged or pressure applied?

Tug away.

Underwear or commando?


Boxers or briefs?


Panties or thongs?


Furry, fuzzy, bushy, or woolly?


Clean shaven or a thicket?

Clean shaven.

What is your relationship with stubble?

I’ve been known to have it.

Nipple rings or belly rings?


Big ears or big noses?

Big ears.

Person of Interest: James Yoder

At this very moment, if your life were to spontaneously transform into the dream you’ve told no one about what (or who) would the score sound like?

An epic crescendo of rushing water.

What would be the taste in your mouth? 


Highlights:  I’m the co-owner of a Charlotte coffee shop brand so that keeps me busy. People have got to get their beverages! I can’t wait to see what’s next, hopefully going to get some cocktails into the mix.

Bio: James co-founded Not Just Coffee with his wife in 2011, after moving to Charlotte from Italy, where they lived for two and a half years. His interests are great food/bev and people. He has traveled extensively working with various non-profits but now considers Charlotte his home.

More:  Instagram: notjustcoffee

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here John W. Love, Jr. Thu, 6 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Upstage End Sends Performing Arts Troupes Packing]]>

Photos: (top) The cast of Big Mamma D’s House of Burlesque at Upstage (Eric Cutchin photo); (below) Three Bone Theatre’s "The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence" at Upstage earlier this year (courtesy Three Bone Theatre)

"Happily ever after” is a literary device we’ve come to expect from a Disney movie and little else. Against all odds, the protagonist defeats his enemy, wins the hand of the damsel in distress and sails off into the sunset, the bright promise of tomorrow beckoning him forward. It may all seem naive, relishing the classic fairy tale the way that we do, but then we live in a world where a reality TV show host and serial prevaricator has a shot at the White House. There’s nothing wrong with a little wishful thinking.

So perhaps it’s fitting that the last event on Upstage’s calendar before it closes forever is titled “Disney After Dark”—it’s a little harder to find the happily-ever-after here knowing that the NoDa venue will be no more after Oct. 8.

The show, courtesy of Big Mamma’s House of Burlesque and taking place Saturday, offers a twisted burlesque version of Disney classics like Toy Story and Wreck-It Ralph, as well as a tribute to Labyrinth. “Disney After Dark” is the last event in a weekend of residencies saying goodbye to Upstage, formerly known as Wine Up. On Thursday, Touch One Productions brings its final night of spoken word and live music at the venue after a 12-year run, and Improv Charlotte’s monthly charity show takes place Friday.

Kelly Oyama is the owner of Upstage. She says the venue is closing because the building, which also houses Neighborhood Theatre, Sanctuary, Boudreaux’s and Salud, was sold to new owners, and she wasn’t offered a new lease. Besides that, she says, business has been challenging since the adjacent parking lot was sold to developers, who subsequently built an apartment complex.

In 2012, Oyama handed the reins to Michael Ford, who changed the business name to Upstage and sought to create a hub for performing arts. Because of Ford’s endeavors, smaller theater groups like Three Bone Theatre, Stephen Seay Productions and Innate Productions had a home.

“[Upstage] was a great venue for start-up companies and for companies that were doing edgier work,” says Robin Tynes, founding artistic director of Three Bone, which began hosting performances at Upstage in 2013. “We wouldn't be where we are now without having been able to work in a space we could afford and experiment in.”

Courtesy Three Bone TheatreTynes says the layout and size of the 3,000-plus-square-foot space created a “gritty and intimate environment that was great for contemporary pieces.” In their second season, the group was able to put on their first full production of The Vagina Monologues, which sold out several shows.

For its 2016-17 season, Three Bone Theatre has secured a residency at Blumenthal’s Duke Energy Theatre in Spirit Square. “UpStage played a big role in helping us to grow to that point,” Tynes says.

Deana Pendragon, owner of Big Mamma’s House of Burlesque, has been performing at Upstage since it came under Ford’s management. She says the intimacy of the space really made her burlesque shows feel more cabaret than stage show. “When I come out to do my opening song, I immediately leave the stage and make my way through the audience, talking to people, greeting people, flirting with people,” she says. “It’s a part of the show. It’s like being in someone’s living room as opposed to being in a theater.”

With Upstage’s departure, Pendragon says she’ll focus on the other venue she performs in regularly, Visulite Theatre. She also says she’s in talks with Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte—which just recently found a new home on Freedom Drive after its longtime space on Stonewall Street was sold to developers—to possibly do late-night shows in the future.

Last month, ATC artistic director Chip Decker told the Observer that he wants to invite local theaters without permanent homes to make use of one of their property buildings. While that’s good news for up-and-coming theater companies, one problem remains: NoDa, the arts district, continues to not live up to its namesake.

With Upstage gone, “there will definitely be a vacuum created” in the neighborhood, Pendragon says. “When you’re looking for a place to do a live production and really all that’s left there is beer and bands.”

Jaycee Cowan of Touch One Productions, though, says it’s for that very reason that he’s making sure to stay in NoDa. He’s lived there for 16 years—long enough to see the support for arts in the neighborhood swell and now fall short. During that time, Touch One’s poetry night drew poets from all over the country, Cowan says.

Even though “it seems like [the powers that be are] cutting culture out of there so hard and fast,” Cowan says he wants to continue to bring arts to people—even if he ends up being the only one in the neighborhood to do so. After more than a decade with a weekly poetry night at Wine Up/Upstage, Cowan is taking his event down the street to the soon-to-open Caribbean restaurant Mangos. Until then, Touch One will be at Boudreaux’s, not missing a beat.

Despite the incredible opportunity Upstage offered smaller arts groups, in the end, money trumped art at the bottom line. Because of leasing issues, Oyama took back control of Upstage earlier this year, and discovered how hard it was to sustain Ford’s vision and pay rent.

With the sale of the building, she says, the venue’s closing is “just one little piece of the puzzle. I think you’re going to see a lot more [change] in the next two years.”

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Kimberly Lawson Wed, 5 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Six Years On, Bechtler Reimagines Its Collection]]>

Photo credits: (top) Miguel Berrocal's "Romeo and Juliet," © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; (middle) Pol Mara's "Night Train," © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOFAM, Brussels; (bottom) Victor Vaserely's "Tridem K," © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Bechtler Collection, which opened six years ago, is presently reframing  its holdings in a show entitled, “The Bechtler Collection: Relaunched and Rediscovered." The title of the show (it runs through April 2017) hints strongly at a need for rebooting in an institution which—in terms of the life span of a museum—is still very new. This newness  cannot be over-emphasized, for it takes years for a museum to develop a mission and direction, just as it is the work of generations  for a culture to develop.  If a sense of tentativeness  remains over the Mint Museum, the Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, and the Bechtler, this is to be expected.

Each of these museums opened in the depth of the recession, when orchestras were folding, and foundations were cutting their funding.  It undoubtedly took skill to steer them through such times. The Bechtler, moreover, in a tragic turn of events, lost its chief curator, Michael Godfrey, who died unexpectedly a few months after the collection opened. No one knew the collection better than he; it was  like a monastery losing its abbot or lama.

As an institution, the Bechtler has done rather well in soldiering on despite this handicap, and a few of its shows—such as an  overview of Alberto Giacometti’s career—have been distinguished.This exhibition will feature approximately 158 works from the museum's permanent collection, 60 of which have not yet been shown in Charlotte or anywhere else in the U.S.  An overriding  concern for the Bechtler collection is the art historical status of the holdings, which chiefly consists of European modernist works from a time when the train track of history was largely co-opted by Americans. In retrospect, the purported irrelevance of these European modernist works can be seen as the result of a combination of aesthetic dogmatism and post-war American triumphalism. But the lifework of a great many artists in the Bechtler collection was sidelined and remains so, though the ideological scaffolding of the arguments against them have collapsed.

With “Relaunched and Rediscovered,” then, the Bechtler is taking its chances on some of the lesser-known artists in its collection, and highlighting artists whose work has been railroaded from the general art historical narrative, which is a good thing.  It is very much in league with  an increasingly global vantage of art history, which is aware of the Egyptian surrealists or the Brazilian kinetic sculptors  innovating far from the main thoroughfares of the art market. The individual artists in the Bechtler collection will have to be re-evaluated on a case by case basis—Is Max Bill a purist or merely sterile? What does Hartung tell us about the relationship of painting to calligraphy In the post-war period?—but our view of history can only be richer for it. 

“Relaunched and Rediscovered” supplies a blueprint for how this might be done. The most remarkable thing about this show, however, for me  was the inclusion of several regional artists  collected by Andreas Bechtler.  How well they sat on the walls next to their better known European coevals  was a compliment to them, to the curator (Dr. Jennifer Sudul Edwards), to the installation, and to the “eye” of  Andreas Bechtler.  Indeed, the largest, most rebarbative, and dare I say, the greatest painting in the entire show was  “Consuming Cause” (1989 ) by Maud Gatewood.

Gatewood is an artist whose stature has increased for me with each painting of hers that I have seen. The drawing, the application of paint, the composition of her paintings have a quality of awkward truth  piled upon awkward truth until awkward truth becomes grace.  There is nothing mellifluous or artisanal about her.  "Common Cause” shows a group of nudes fallen like soldiers at war, becoming as gray as bull tallow.  An American flag hangs behind them. They are at once broken—some crying for help or in outrage—and monumental.  It was done during the peak of the AIDS crisis, but has been felt to be about the  Holocaust, because its subject is the purposeless waste of human life.  It is Gatewood’s truthful awkwardness that keeps it from being a pronunciamento.  There is something of Balthus in Gatewood’s drawing of the human figure—but also Masaccio.  And it may be the nearest thing that the Bechtler collection has to the Douanier Rousseau’s  terrifying "La Guerre" or Picasso’s "Guernica."

It  gave weight to “Relaunched and Rediscovered,” and showed what the Bechtler at its best can do.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Phillip Larrimore Sun, 2 Oct 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Novi Sad: Coming to Terms with Our Post-Apocalypse]]>

The best horror forces us to examine ourselves. It uses the fright of an external monster to mirror and magnify our own flaws and insecurities. From Frankenstein to Dawn of the Dead, man ushers in his own ruin.

With his new novella, Novi Sad, Charlotte novelist and playwright Jeff Jackson offers a familiar setup for fans of genre fiction: a gang of young survivors huddled into an abandoned motel as civilization crumbles around them.

But Jackson—who hosts a book signing at SOCO Gallery from 6-8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5—sheds the supernatural buffer and melodramatic shocks that a genre exercise might warrant. In his desolate dystopia, the world ends “mid-sentence.” As Jackson traces the world's last desperate days, through its final turning point, and well into its smoldering denouement, the apocalypse he conjures feels far too close for comfort. The limited run novella (Kiddiepunk, $24) also features Michael Salerno’s striking artwork, which, like the Serbian city of the book's title, serves as a stand-in for the horrific destruction humankind inflicts on itself.

If the world doesn’t erupt in cataclysm, which one suspects our anthropocentric imagination demands—we assume we deserve to go out with a bang, so to speak—one must wonder how that slow dissolve would manifest. Without the option of burning out, do we cling to the world we once loved, or do we fade away complacently alongside it?

The survivors of Novi Sad aren’t the heroic rebuilders of civilization or tenacious warriors we might imagine ourselves to be, or that more conventional genre fiction might rely upon. If they’re searching for anything, perhaps it's closure, or an actual end-point at the world’s end. More often, it’s a chemical escape. They resign themselves easily to the new status quo, reluctantly holding to routines and a “fraying sense of loyalty” to each other and “to our sense of ourselves as the sort of people who are loyal.”

Novi Sad cover by Michael Salerno

When we meet them, through the tellings of an often insecure narrator, also named Jeff, the world is already crumbling. Jackson describes “miles of flooded landscape,” viewed, at a distance, on TV. At the motel, in “the heart of annihilation,” he describes “cratered sidewalks, sprawling rubble lots, tenement buildings shorn of their facades.”

The group’s de facto leader, Hank, a charismatic if unreliable chief, foretells the impending apocalypse, but can’t predict the following anticlimax. When it arrives in the middle of chapter one, in the form of “a piercing whine” that “shakes the tectonic foundation of the entire block,” it feels inevitable and largely inconsequential. Jackson’s protagonists are “neither ecstatic nor terrified, neither indignant nor relieved, we’re simply overcome by an unexpected swell of wonder.”

It’s not until after the apocalypse, and the disappearance of Hank, that Jackson’s band of survivors begins to gain nuance. We discover that Jeff, whose history points to a long time living as a loner and nomad, is eager to join the group less out of loyalty than inertia. And as the bonds of loyalty that once united the group begin to fray after that piercing whine, Jeff’s observations of the rest of the group color their characters more than any expository dialogue.

After Hank goes missing, the fractured group convenes daily at the docks, searching for closure among the bodies of the dragged-in dead. “The report of how we’ve spent our nights is stamped across our faces,” Jeff says. “We can read the status of Lena’s relationship with her sugar daddy, Markus’s leveraged dealings in the black market, Rupesh’s standing at the underground casino. My own mental state is broadcast by the shifting layers of dirt embedded behind my ears. Only Blue is hard to decipher. Or rather, nobody cares to pry too deeply into the catalog of incisions and abrasions that multiply on her body with alarming frequency.”

By the end, the group has splintered and Jeff seems uncertain even of his own identity, as he quietly plays along with Muriel, a newcomer who mistakes him for Hank.

Ultimately, though, the setting plays a role as important as any of its inhabitants. Jackson’s dystopia feels frighteningly present. The floods: a possible effect of climate change? The city reduced to rubble and the world ending in a flash: the result of nuclear war?

We live in an age that seems to teeter on the verge of destruction. Each year is hotter than the last record-breaking year; the floods and storms and wildfires more intense. Geopolitical tensions and distrust threaten to split society at its seams, while a demagogic Republican presidential nominee seems terribly at ease with the prospect of nuclear war. (One of too many examples: In an interview with Fox News host Eric Bolling, Donald Trump said, “The last person that wants to play the nuclear card believe me is me. But you can never take cards off the table.”)

Novi Sad’s scarily unremarkable apocalypse feels like a playing of that hand. Natural and man-made disaster working in horrific collaboration. It never feels far off or fantastical. It’s more terrifying for its understatement.

In his other works of fiction, Mira Corpora—to which Novi Sad is billed as a “sister book”—and the short story “The Dying of the Deads,” Jackson plays eagerly with dream logic, giving his prose a sense of surreality. That same dreamy atmosphere permeates Novi Sad. The bombed-out ruins of the imagined city don’t claim any overt ties to reality. Still, the novella feels much more grounded than Jackson’s previous work. Its imagined end-times are all too easy to imagine.

As we should expect from a well-crafted horror story, Novi Sad forces us to confront our own listless acceptance of the world and to wonder how much we’ll cling to and fight for our civilization, or how easily we’ll let it slip away. More, it begs us to ask how soon we’ll do it.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Bryan Reed Fri, 30 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Gangsters, Aliens and Privatizing Public Ed at CFF]]>

Many cities are famous for their film festivals: Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and even the several Utah cities that host Sundance. Charlotte has had an annual film festival for almost a decade now, though without the fanfare of other "world class" cities. Yet it has become a vital outlet for local filmmakers and a key showplace for films from abroad.

Dozens of films from around the world are being shown at the Ayrsley Grand Cinemas 14, through Sunday, Oct. 2.  The eight annual Charlotte Film Festival includes features from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Iran, Hungary, Bosnia, the Philippines and Singapore, as well as short films from five continents (and from local filmmakers), plus many others, full-length and short, from across the U.S. 

Here are some highlights from the first week of the festival (full remaining schedule here)

Trespass Against Us (dir. Adam Smith, United Kingdom, 2016; trailer here), with familiar faces Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson in lead roles, is like a British Sopranos, but without the therapist, teen kids, and overbearing mom. Instead, Chad is the second in command of a small group of gypsy-like gangsters, including mostly men but also some women and children, who live in campers in a field.  His dad, Colby, is the alpha male and his loyal wife, Kelly, a fretful mom to their two small kids, Tyson and Mini.  Many scenes show Chad as a loving father and son, torn between his dad’s communal life of wild, underclass rebellion and his wife’s desire that their kids have a better life by going to school, unlike their patriarchs.  Several car and foot chases are shown, with Chad daring and outwitting the cops, but Stills from Trespass Against Us, Papagajka and Harmonium killing a police dog to escape—reminding the audience of the dangers to animals, children, and law-abiding adults from his family’s trickster lifestyle, despite the charming wit of his religion-adapting dad.  Eventually, Chad redeems himself in the eyes of his son, father, wife, and the film audience.  But throughout the film, American audiences may have difficulty understanding the local British accents, making the film frustratingly foreign.

Fortunately, Harmonium (dir. Koji Fukada, Japan, 2016; trailer here), a prize-winner at Cannes this year, has subtitles—as it subtly explores the tragic aftermath of gangsters trying to return to civil homelife environments.  Yet its slow, poetic pace may also challenge American viewers, accustomed to action-packed gangster melodramas, with obvious heroes, villains, victims, and violence.  Instead, this film shows the daily life of Toshio, who runs a metal press shop on the first floor of his home, Akie, his dutiful wife, and Hotaru, their preteen daughter.  The marriage is already disharmonious when Toshio allows his friend, Yasaka, to work for him and live with them after 11 years in prison.  The romantic triangle at first seems obvious, with desire, betrayal, and violent lust.  But mysteries emerge as to why Toshio feels indebted to Yasaka: how Hotaru becomes damaged by her parents’ sins; how Akie survives as a traumatized caretaker of her disabled daughter; why Yasaka’s son, Takashi, appears in their lives eight years later, and how the innocent are doomed to suffer along with their guilt-ridden elders.  This is a genuine tragedy of fate, focused on an isolated group.  Yet it reflects both Eastern and Western ghosts haunting modern Japan—with controlled emotions eventually erupting, through ties to a Protestant minister and personal confessions, OCD and repetitive machine work, hallucinations and suicides.  It is worth the effort to watch it, despite its tragic trajectory and questions left unanswered.

Also developing slowly, but with less emotional resonance,Papagajka (or The Parrot, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2016; trailer here) is Australian director Emma Rozanski’s feature debut, after graduating from a Bosnian film school.  Its strange electronic soundtrack suggests that the English-speaking visitor to a security guard’s Sarajevo apartment might be a sci-fi alien.  But the lovely lady with a suitcase claims that her handbag was stolen, with the address of her friends, so she has nowhere to stay.  The shy Damir allows her to sleep on a mattress on the floor, wipes her brow when she has a fever, and gradually lets her take over his kitchen and home—while he draws tic-tac-toe games on the window of his solitary guard booth and dreams chastely of his visitor.  He only confronts her when she starts to take over his bedroom.  But he also submits to her feeding him with his eyes closed—in a “game” she offers—and then swallows quickly as she demands, until he chokes and she comforts him, like a nurturing yet controlling mother. Damir’s nosy sister finds the visitor’s passport, which appears to be American.  So, one might view this surreal film as a parable of American consumer culture invading Bosnian life.  But its ambiguous seductions remain opaque, with many extreme closeups of ordinary objects and actions, suggesting meanings that are never clarified.

Much clearer and more horrifying in its own way is the documentary, Starving the Beast (dir. Steve Mims, USA, 2016; trailer here).  This film gives both the big picture and local views of a nationwide shift of public university costs from state (and taxpayer) funding to an individual student burden.  Its case studies include UNC Chapel Hill, plus examples from Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Through statistics, images, and compelling interviews with various people on both sides of this issue, the film shows a change in our country from valuing higher education as a benefit to society, with a willingness to pay collectively for our public research and teaching institutions, to the student as “consumer,” who simply studies to get a better job (devaluing other areas of inquiry). Ironically, the Tea Party movement to cut taxes and balance budgets has benefitted the wealthy, whose children can still afford to attend public or private institutions. But in North Carolina, where public universities were set up, according to the state constitution, to be “as far as practicable … to the people of the State free of expense,” yet now cost thousands of dollars per year for in-state tuition, the non-elites are hitting a social mobility ceiling.

And yet, by offering such films about local, national, and international issues, public and personal, the Charlotte Film Festival demonstrates the value of investing in areas of inquiry that are not simply money-making.  Hopefully, more audience members will join the organizers in this endeavor, currently and in future years.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Mark Pizzato Tue, 27 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Fifty Years on, Pet Sounds Arranges to Endure]]>

Throughout much of the Monday performance of Pet Sounds by Brian Wilson and his band, I felt conflicted.

That’s not to say that the experience at Charlotte’s Belk Theater was bad. The arrangements were stellar, with a band that peaked at 12 members perfectly delivering every reverb-laden wood block, every random bicycle bell, every intricately placed sound that gave the landmark 1966 album its title and set it apart as an early studio masterpiece.

The 74-year-old Wilson—clearly feeling his age, tinkling occasionally on a baby grand piano, but mostly just sitting behind it—couldn’t hit the high notes, but it hardly mattered. The Beach Boys bassist and the wizardly producer and arranger who spearheaded Pet Sounds, the group’s most renowned and influential work, delivered his relatable evocations of youthful angst with the same downtrodden conviction that made the studio versions stick. Matt Jardine—son of fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, who was also on hand—swooped in to ace the high harmonies, delivering the lines with similarly powerful feeling.

You see, I wasn’t conflicted because Wilson and his backers messed up Pet Sounds at this stop on a tour celebrating the album’s 50th anniversary. I was conflicted because they nailed it.

Like many essential LPs, Pet Sounds can be appreciated in different ways, but in the case of these 13 unimpeachable pop songs, those outlooks are remarkably divergent.

On one hand, Pet Sounds can be seen as an album—perhaps the album—that helped elevate studio recording to a true art form. The arrangements are so vivid, pushing the limits of what a studio was then capable of, layering together various parts and overdubs, fleshing out the songs to the point that they are nearly symphonic. Wilson did the same thing with The Beach Boys’ famous harmonies, reportedly teaching each singer their parts individually at a piano, pushing the group’s already sparking vocals to become even more full and immersive.

Fifty years on, even as it’s inspired countless bands to try and capture part of its magic, it remains one of rock’s most sonically striking records.

In preparation for my night enjoying a live rendition of the album, I reached out on Facebook and Twitter for perspective: “If you love Pet Sounds, why do you love it? What makes it so special?”

Wilson, during the making of Pet SoundsAnd sure enough, many of the responses I received focused on the record’s sonic breakthroughs.

“The sound design is bonkers,” responded Raleigh’s Grant Golden, a music journalist and advocate who has contributed to Paste, “both with the use of non-traditional or 'experimental' sounds and also how they utilize their harmonies to make the vocals sound much bigger.”

“Brian is playing the studio as an instrument and using each musician as if they were an individual key on a piano,” offered Paul Bodamer, a producer based in Columbia, South Carolina, who operates the boutique label and recording spot Jangly Records. “It's a matter of tasteful indulgence and one of the high points of pop music arrangement. As most musicians would agree, a great arrangement is a damn sexy thing.” 

But Pet Sounds is more than just a seminal studio achievement. It also set a new standard for how emotionally resonant an album could be, stepping past the majority of the LPs released at the time—often a ploy to sell hit singles at a higher price point than that of a 45—to craft an LP that surges and sways in service of a distinctly melancholic mood, sustaining that feeling from beginning to end. Wilson was inspired by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, a record he saw as having no filler tracks, but his own opus far outstrips that effort in terms of its emotive power.

From the young love anxiety of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to the lonely desperation that lingers behind the bounding melodies of “Sloop John B”; from the yearning, unguarded affection expressed by “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” and “Caroline No” to the existential crises that unravel during “I Know There’s an Answer” and “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”—the songs on Pet Sounds unite a series of emotional breakdowns, a fitting reflection of Wilson’s then fractured state. (His deteriorating mental health would go on to stall production of his intended grande follow-up, Smile, and limit his contributions to the band as they pushed into the ’70s.)

Several responses to my online query focused on this depth of feeling as Pet Sounds’ true strength.

“You grow up hearing ‘Surfer Girl’ or ’Surfin' Safari’ on the radio and think, ‘These are good musicians who kind of wasted their talent on this whole surfing/cars/beach schtick,’” noted Shayne Miel, leader of the sporadically active Durham acoustic-rock band The Future Kings of Nowhere. “Then you hear Pet Sounds and realize just how talented Brian Wilson is, and maybe it comes to you at the same time as learning about his struggles with depression and whatnot, and you get to reinterpret all of those old songs through the lens of this new appreciation for him and them as a group. That's what makes that album special for me—its quality is magnified by how it transforms all of the songs that came before it.”

“It showed a 12-year-old rock fan that music was more than songs about surf and cars,” offered longstanding Columbia musician Bentz Kirby, remembering hearing the record as a kid when it came out. “The Beatles had opened the door with Rubber Soul, but Pet Sounds raised the bar. Songs like ‘God Only Knows,’ ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice,’ ‘Carolina No’ and the arrangement of the cover ‘Sloop John B’ showed that Brian had a vision which still spoke to us pre-teens, but also spoke to adults.”

On Monday, the true nature of Pet Sounds’ enduring appeal came through during “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” one of the album’s two excellent instrumentals. Swirling around amid the delicate but expansive strings (synthesized on keys at this performance) and horns is a melody that sums up, without a single word, the instantly identifiable feeling that powers Pet Sounds—part wistful, part regretful, the aural pangs of a confused but determined heart.

Wilson didn’t play during “Let’s Go Away for Awhile.” He sat with his head bowed and took in the band’s hypnotic rendition. And it was at that moment that my conflict lifted, that I stopped oscillating between appreciating either the intricate arrangements or the aching emotions.

We can argue endlessly over whether it’s the studio majesty or the plaintive songwriting that makes Pet Sounds essential. But it’s the way those two strengths combine to create such a fully realized evocation of an intensely relatable mood that make the LP so vital, an enduring document that redefined both the sonic and the sentimental possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Jordan Lawrence Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Warren-Green Talks Symphony on Tap, New Season ]]>

When a symphony says its upcoming season brings something new, that can be hard to quantify—"new" is subjective, right? When Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christopher Warren-Green says that, however, he comes prepared with numbers.

"We're doing seven premieres of pieces that have never been played in Charlotte before," Warren-Green says. "One I'm particularly proud of is the percussion concerto." Concerto for Percussion, Evolution, written by local composer and Winthrop University music professor Leonard Mark Lewis for CSO principal timpanist Leonardo Soto, has its world premiere in January here in Charlotte.

Lewis' concerto, as Warren-Green describes it, is a rhythmic piece that embraces rock influences without leaning too heavily in that direction. The threads that run through rock and jazz, he says, can be traced back through Stravinsky and Bach—Lewis' work is contemporary, but deeply rooted. And one movement from it will be premiered Thursday evening at Symphony on Tap (sponsored by Wells Fargo), an hour-long season preview and sampler starting with a 7 p.m. fanfare on the Belk Theater plaza, then moving into the theater itself at 7:30 p.m.

Charlotte Viewpoint spoke with Warren-Green about the 2016-2017 season—CSO's 85th—and the premieres, new partnerships and evolutions it entails. In June, CSO welcomed new president and CEO Mary Deissler, while KnightSounds, a series programmed with younger audiences in mind, has been renamed altsounds. The new series includes a mash-up of Radiohead and Brahms, Mark O'Connor bluegrass paired with Aaron Copland, and scores from John Carpenter films.

With Symphony on Tap coming up, what is the best case scenario for bringing in new people?

What is really great is the larger public get to hear about it. The other thing that is fun is, last time we played the Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland with the brass section, and we played it out on the street. It stopped a lot of people on Tryon Street. People came in off the street who hadn't been to the symphony before and we got tremendous feedback. People wrote in and emailed the symphony and said, "That was great. I'm coming."

Fanfare for the Common Man is so bold. Was it an obvious choice to do that one?

CW-G: It's a great American fanfare. It's probably the greatest and one of the greatest in the world and we have a fantastic brass section. So to actually hear them close up and live and in the street is thrilling.

What is your relationship with new CEO Mary Deissler like? What do each of you bring to the table?CSO President and CEO Mary A Deissler

Wespeak the same language, Mary and I. As soon as we met we clicked. From her resume alone, it's obvious she's highly experienced in the arts and incredible as a fundraiser. (She's) someone who didn't pull any punches, which I liked. I can't take people who are not plain-speaking.

It's like chemistry because the music director has to work hand-in-glove with the chief executive. If the music director does programming things that bankrupt the orchestra, that's not really helpful to the chief executive.

It's one thing to put programs together, which is the music director's job. It's another thing to conceptualize an entire season and where you want to go and the story you want to tell. That is where the partnership is crucial, and Mary and I met several times over the summer in foreign countries because I can't be trusted to stay in one place for two minutes. Our relationship is just phenomenal—everyone is very excited to have her on board. To sum it up, it would be like saying it's the other half of my brain. That's the way I work with a chief executive.

If you had an infinite budget, what would be the first thing you would do?

(Laughs) Oh, my goodness, what could you say about that? We'd be programming a lot more Mahler, for a start, because it requires a much bigger orchestra. Not just us, but orchestras all over, can be artistically compromised if you don't have a budget to put onstage these wonderfully huge works like we're doing at the end of this coming season. Mahler's second symphony, The Resurrection, has a huge orchestra and choir and soloist on stage. It's a spectacle for the eye; whatever it is for the ear, it's that. I think I would probably be programming much more of that kind of repertoire, but I would still try to be doing something for everybody across the board.

KnightSounds has been renamed and, it seems, rebranded. Can you tell me about altsounds—is that a different creature or just a new name?

The concept of a one-hour program with people being able to wander in with drinks and a more relaxed atmosphere on stage is still there. Altsounds is closer to what I wanted to do. If I can explain it this way: there's much more to what a symphony orchestra does than play music from the last four or five centuries. It's heard on every computer game that children play; it's heard behind every Hollywood movie that comes out; it's heard on most big rock band tracks ever since George Martin started using classical musicians with the Beatles. What we're playing at the altsounds is aimed really now to be getting a younger demographic of audience, if you like.

It's an alternative. Within the concept of the evening we might play some bluegrass, me might play something from a film—a sampler, if you like, from a symphony—but we might also play new music, which frightens a lot of audiences. Because of the concept of a one-hour show, and I call it a "show" deliberately, it is a way of getting stuff that is more interesting.

Often when you play to 18- or 19 year-olds in Europe—I have done this in Scandinavia as well. You play them some Beethoven and then you play some Alfred Schnittke—they weren't that keen on the Beethoven, but they were really happy with the Schnittke. A lot of conventional audiences go further back in time, so some Twentieth century music isn't palatable to them. To younger audiences, the more modern music is extremely palatable. The problem we have faced as musicians is packaging it in a way that doesn't dumb it down, doesn't demean anything, but says to people, "hey, look—this stuff, you're going to like. Even though you thought you weren't going to like a symphony, come and experience this and find out that actually you do."


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Corbie Hill Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Anti-HB2 Concerts Makes Some Noise for Equality]]>

With Governor Pat McCrory flailing to save his political future, and the city of Charlotte summarily dismissing his latest bad faith "compromise," the next sound you hear may be the death rattle of North Carolina House Bill 2, a hastily-passed, toxic combination of bigotry, transphobia and worker oppression that seems to be racking up opposition by the minute.

Even McCrory now acknowledges—albeit for the wrong reasons—how disastrous a piece of legislation HB2 has been for the state. That was the impetus this past weekend for the governor and state GOP leaders to say they would consider repealing HB2—but only if  Charlotte agreed to get rid of its city ordinance codifying equality for the LBGTQ community. On Monday, speaking for Charlotte and Americans everywhere opposed to discriminatory legislation, Mayor Jennifer  Roberts said, in essence—'no, thanks, you broke it, you fix it.'

While the massive losses to the state’s pocketbook seems to be the only language that the governor understands, the fallout for North Carolina extends far beyond money. The arts community in particular has voiced concern and disapproval at HB2, and been at the forefront at calling for its repeal.  

"I was just furious at McCrory and the GOP legislature for passing this hateful, hurtful law," says Mike Allen, founder of Stand Against HB2, a grassroots concert series showcasing North Carolina musicians united in protest against the divisive law. The series rolls into the Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday, Sept.  24, running from noon to midnight and featuring 17 local and regional bands, solo artists and speakers (full roster and schedule here).

A Raleigh-based copywriter with ties to the Tarheel music scene, Allen said he did not want to join musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Nick Jonas in boycotting his home state, but instead chose inclusion, launching Stand Against HB2. Since its initial May 15 concert at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapawhaw, the series has toured a fluid roster of musicians throughout the state, donating all proceeds to Equality North Carolina, a nonprofit advocating equal rights for LGBTQ North Carolinians, and QORDS, a summer camp that builds queer community through music.

Allen and the Tarheel musical collective contributing to these concerts have transformed their anger at the bill into hope, love and a celebration of community. More powerful than a polemic, Stand Against HB2 is a party, a human rights road show. Instead of dividing North Carolinians along partisan lines, it is bringing neighbors together through music, education and an openhearted embrace of our better angels.

Charlotte Viewpoint spoke with promoter and principal organizer Allen, plus several musicians and speakers involved in this historic concert series.   

First, let's address the law. How would you respond to someone who believes that HB2 insures the safety of women and children, that it will stop a man from putting on a dress so he can go into a women's rest room or locker room to assault someone or to expose himself?

Mike Allen: There are already laws in place to protect women and children from the activities you mention. The fact is, heterosexual men have been doing these kinds of acts since the beginning of time. However, there have been no cases of a transgender person assaulting anyone or exposing him/herself in a restroom ever. Quite the opposite—Mike Allen, founder of Stand Against HB2transgender individuals are more likely to be assaulted than non-transgender people. This law forces transgender women to use the men's restroom and transgender men to use the women's restroom, thus putting them in danger, not the other way around. It is a solution for a non-existent problem.

Jay Garrigan (Singer/songwriter with several Charlotte bands including The Eyebrows): There have not been any public safety issues with ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

Candis Cox (Transgender activist, educator and speaker): I agree that we need to insure that people do not attempt to take advantage of anyone in any way shape or form regardless of gender. However, it is absurd to say that HB2 protects people more than what we already have written into law. Stalking and sexual predatory behavior is already illegal at the federal level. If HB2 was truly about protection, then there would have been measures written into the legislation that address how we would enforce it, and what the penalty would be for a violation. The Governor and the legislature have presented neither of those.

How did you get involved in Stand Against HB2 and what drew you to the concert series and the cause?

Mike Allen: I have organized benefit concerts in this area for several years, and when HB2 became law, area musicians asked me  to organize the first Stand Against show. The idea for the benefit came from Jon Heames (Crush), Rod Abernethy (composer for film, television and games) and Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown).

Jon Lindsay (Raleigh and Charlotte based singer/songwriter): I've been actively involved in LGTBQ rights since the passage of this ridiculous bill. When Mike organized the first concert at Haw River Ballroom, my band was more than happy to join the lineup. After the wild success of that first concert, some of us urged Mike to take the show around the state. It came together pretty quickly. All the credit goes to Mike.

Orlando Parker(Singer, model, and community activist): I saw my buddy Matt Hirschy's name attached to the concert series. Matt just happens to be the Director of Advancement at Equality North Carolina. This prompted me to look further into the concerts and the agenda behind them. Once I realized that I could use one of my biggest assets—my singing voice—to be of service, I was in. I approached Mike Allen with the idea of opening the show with the National Anthem. I felt that it was meaningful to have me singing that particular song at this event because I am gay, I am black, I am an American and I am proud.

Danny Johnson (Multi-instrumentalist with Jack the Radio): We've been lucky enough to work with Mike Allen since the first Stand Against HB2 show. Watching him undertake such a daunting task has been really inspirational. This series of shows proves that while one artist might be hard pressed to make a substantial difference, a coalition of artists coming together can draw local, state, and national press to the issues around inequity in North Carolina. We're proud to be part of that coalition.

Have you or your friends or your family been affected by HB2?

Jay Garrigan: I’ve seen the pain HB2 causes. I’ve tried to address my own transphobia by actively meeting and discussing this law with transgender individuals. I highly recommend that people make personal connections to better understand how they think and feel about HB2. Meeting people who are different from you is one of the greatest things you can do to expand your knowledge of the world. The world is a really big place, and I've always found it silly when one group of people tries to impose their views on others. It’s always short-lived, and it runs deep with hate. When this type of hate becomes acceptable, it’s only a matter of time before they come after you, too.

Mike Allen: At the time the law passed, I didn't have a personal connection to anyone affected by it. But through the course of the show, I've met wonderful transgender people such as Candis Cox and Lara Americo whose lives have been dramatically affected.

Danny Johnson: We live in a diverse community, so most of us at one point or another have known people whose gender doesn't align with the body they were born in. Friends, colleagues, students—regardless of the connection, we know that HB2 adds one more hurdle to equality for folks who are already facing challenges.

Jon Lindsay, musical activistJon Lindsay: I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ community of North Carolina, many of whom I consider as close as blood family. Beyond the LGBTQ community, HB2 has negatively affected all people of North Carolina. It has tarnished the reputation of our great state,  resulting in some folks writing the entire place off as a bigoted backwater. That drives me nuts. The real heart and soul of North Carolina is anything but this kind of backward intolerance. 

How important is it for artists to speak up about causes like opposition to HB2, and why is it important to you?

Candis Cox: It's extremely important. I see it as a moral imperative. Artists often cross genres and appeal to different segments of society. Politicians, in contrast, are often isolated in their support from their like-minded constituents, whereas an artist can be liked and loved by people who come from every walk of life. Artists and musicians can be extremely influential with their fans. If nothing else, artists should use their voices to educate, because the best decision we all can make is an educated one.

Danny Johnson: Artists in the music community aren't any different than millions of like-minded citizens across the state, but we're lucky enough to have more access to press, stages, and microphones. Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." A lot of artists in the state took that sentiment to heart when HB2 rolled out.

Orlando Parker:I think everyone, including artists, should use their platform, whatever that may be, for the advancement of the human race. Anyone with a voice should be speaking out. We artists are using our talents to raise money, which is necessary in fighting HB2 in court. Funds are also needed to continue raising awareness and educating people. HB2 is much broader than the "bathroom bill" it has been reduced to by the media. It's an attack on minorities, under-paid workers and religion as well.


What do you hope Stand Against HB2 will accomplish?

Mike Allen: I hope it raises money for Equality North Carolina and QORDS, but I also hope it raises awareness of the evil embodied in this bill—far beyond the bathroom part. Many people still can't see past that. It is a law that does so much harm at the local and municipal level. It legalizes discrimination and strips away citizens' rights to sue for wrongful termination or discrimination in state courts.

Jon Lindsay: I hope it uplifts everyone targeted by the legislation. This law is also designed to keep municipalities from raising the minimum wage, and doesn't even include veterans as a protected group of the population.

Candis Cox: I hope it shows people that when we're faced with adversity here in North Carolina, we step up, take ownership of the problem and rectify it. Stand Against HB2 is helping us identify our allies and supporters, and it's defining what it means to be a positive beacon of hope. It's one thing to say, "I think that HB2 is wrong. It should be repealed. We need to elect Roy Cooper." It's another thing to say, "I'm going to use my resources to uplift the people of North Carolina and show that we are a great state and a great people." We have positivity. We have love. Let's use those resources to empower, not only trans or LGBTQ people, but all of our communities.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Nicole Fisher Mon, 19 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Anna Deavere Smith on the Power of Real Listening]]>

Anna Deavere Smith, who will be appearing at the Gantt Center’s Symposium 2016 at the Knight Theater this Thursday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. (sponsored by Wells Fargo), is renowned for her solo shows on the subjects of race riots (Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992), health care (Let Me Down Easy), and education and the prison system. These are made from interviews, which are then performed verbatim.

She is an uncanny mimic, routinely performing feats of transformation at a clip; a typical piece might include 20 to 40 characters from every station in life. Her men and women are put convincingly before our eyes—she might, for instance, alternate a Hassidic Jewish matron with activist Al Sharpton.

The actor, playwright and professor has been nominated for the Pulitzer in drama, received a MacArthur Fellowship, and the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2013), and has been presented throughout her career on PBS’ Great Performances. Deavere Smith is hugely influential and is credited with starting the “Theater of Testimony” (also known as "verbatim theatre" or "documentary theatre"), in which journalism usurps fiction. So far, she overshadows her many imitators.

She ought to have hardened into an institution by now, but she hasn’t. What keeps Deavere Smith’s work fresh seems to be the broad range of people who she interviews, the depth of the listening  that she brings to the table, and a joy she finds in the expressiveness of the person doing the talking.  She is skilled at getting a great deal out of anyone, and adept at finding the person who “will shout it from the mountaintop.”

Fires in the Mirror, the show that propelled her to fame in the early 1990s, was the thirteenth of these one-person-as-many theater pieces. It is now nearly 30 years old, but it still seems sharp due to the  level of observation given to the African-American and Hassidic Jewish communities of Brooklyn's racially divided Crown Heights neighborhood, who found themselves in deadly enmity after a Hassidic businessman accidently ran over and killed a black child on a sidewalk, and a young Jewish man was stabbed to death the next week.

The grief of each community—both victims of institutional  racism to an oft fatal degree, both oblivious to each other—is refracted through the accounts of 20 people over an hour and a half. It starts by looking like the news and then climbs a steep route to poetry. According to Smith, there is a moment when anyone who is listened to attentively will cease to talk from their perch and instead will speak from their heart when asked the right question. To wait for this moment, to listen for it without judgment or impatience, to hear the person as well as their schtick, to discern the sorrow beneath the invective, and to use their words as they were said, is what Smith requires of herself as an interviewer.  It is sad to consider how distant from the conduct of daily life this approach seems to be, particularly in this election year. And yet, and yet…

Anna Deavere Smith

To find this vein of poetry in Norman Rosenbaum (brother of the slain Hassidic) or Rodney King, or Anne Richards when she was Governor of Texas, or Gavin Cato’s father, as he talks of his child’s death, is simply to restore to an “other” their true humanity.

Twilight, the work that followed Fires in the Mirror, was a successful enlargement of the multi-facetted interview concept. The latter had the weight of a novel; Twilight felt epic or panoramic. Every point of view had the effect of modifying and perhaps correcting or adding a layer of understanding to what had been said before. One of the hidden strengths of Deavere Smith’s work is its narrative faceting; the editing of whose story is told in the over-riding arc of the play always tilts to what is next with a “yes, but…” “Yes, that story is true from its vantage, but the person over there was seeing this...” “Yes, but down the block and up the hill that same event presented itself thus...” It becomes verbally symphonic as a result, with something of the breadth of Woolf's The Waves or Joyce's Ulysses or Eliot's The Wasteland, and before them, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Listening, obviously, is the beginning of such a process, but Smith emphasizes that her characters are recreated through their own words. She is a great believer in the word as Originality. She calls it “walking in someone’s words” and this rhymes somehow with her practice of performing barefoot. Her Grandpa, who was a coffee and tea merchant in segregated Baltimore, told her as a child that, “If you say a word often enough, it becomes you.” This incantation of another person’s psyche, this conjuring them up, is what makes Deavere Smith’s work almost spooky. It’s the reason I associate it with poetry as much as theater.

There is a vein of poetry in democracy that keeps trying to have its say throughout the collisions and collusions of politics. It keeps trying to state that humanity is greater than its parts because of its parts—that is, the individuals which make up the whole. “Here the profound lesson of reception,” writes Whitman in "Song of the Open Road, “nor preference nor denial/the black with his wooly head, the felon, the diseas’d, the illiterate person, are not denied; the birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar’s tramp, the drunkard’s stagger, the laughing party of mechanics, the escaped youth…none can be interdicted, none but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me…”

This synoptic democratic vision is our best hope amidst our mutual misunderstandings large and small. Whitman is its bard. It may be found in the poetry of William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes, in Vachel Lindsay, in George Oppen (“Of Being Numerous”) and Charles Reznikoff’s remarkable if little known “Testimony,” among others. It illumines Deavere Smith’s work, and makes her an avatar of this vision for the present day. Walking in someone else’s words is her means of smuggling hope from disaster.

The two riot plays have been followed by a broad-spectrum view of health care, Let Me Down Easy, which deals with the vulneribilities of the body and the hurdles of the health care system. The pipelining of young black men into the for-profit prison system via public schools is the subject of another work in progress, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. The title of the symposium on Thursday night is “Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition.” Who knows who among the multitude she has portrayed will be on stage? I can’t wait to find out.  


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Phillip Larrimore Sun, 18 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Provocative Questions for Interesting People]]>

Interdisciplinary artist, love warrior monk, and mischievous thinker John W. Love, Jr. asserts that the more interesting the question and the person, the more interesting the time in the sandbox. Here’s a flash at how he plays with others.


Person of interestIs beauty necessary?

What a fantastic question.  Beauty surrounds us—like oxygen.  But is it ‘necessary?’ I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

Your mind:

                   It’s the temperature of fluorescent lighting 

                   the texture of lacquer 

                   and the speed of sound 

Your age:

                   I am older than my identical twin 

                   younger than the nearest star 

                   and the exact same age as my identical twin

What part of your body has been annoying you lately?

My IT band

What part of your body NEVER embarrasses you?

My eyes

What has made you cry?

My mother’s passing

Be they naturally occurring or people-made, name three things that exist as your favorite color.

Smoked Lucite, stained walnut, and celeste green

What color annoys you right now?

Life would be rather difficult if all it took was a color to bother you…

If you could eat a piece of sculpture, whose is it, what’s its name, what is it made of, and where does it reside?

I would never ingest a sculpture that I held dear to me…but if there’s enough wiggle room to categorize sculpture:

Frank Lloyd Wright. Windows and Chairs.

Leendert Prins

If you could wear a piece of music, what would it be?

Nardis by Bill Evans (1961)

If you were to rendezvous with the most succulent part of yourself, in what painting would the two of you meet?

Komposition Mit Doppellinie Und Blau by Piet Mondrian

Is photography male, female, or somewhere else on the spectrum?  Why?

Photography is art, documentation, physics, and mechanics…somewhere else on the   spectrum.

Don’t name the film.  Just describe one detail in the moment that took your breath away.

Seconds after a suspect was relieved from questioning, the investigator realized he had been fooled the entire time with the content of the suspect’s contrived story in plain eyesight throughout the interrogation.  

If you were to have an affair with a piece of literature, what would it be?

A Letter To A Christian Nation, by Sam Harris.

Night after night you fall asleep to the same vision of entities, bodies, people, creatures in the throes of dance. Describe the most intoxicating three seconds.

Living a real moment with someone I haven't seen in twenty years…it could be any moment, just as long as I dreamt it as it were real and not aware that I was dreaming. 

Who’s the designer, design team, or design operation you just love, love, love now?  Why?

Face, of Monterrey, Mexico.

If they were a lover of yours how would you seduce them?

Improvise well, or crash and burn.

Who’s the design entity you feel isn’t getting nearly enough juice?

I haven't met them yet.

What material, fabric, substrate, or substance would you like to see used more in design, fashion, art, architecture, etc.?


From where you’re sitting, what’s the most luxurious nature-made substance you can reach out and touch?

If machined, carbon. If not, mahogany.

What font just makes you want to vomit?

Papyrus. I’m glad to see these questions are becoming less complicated.

What’s the sexiest tool in your arsenal?

My Leica.

Supposition: You are your most formidable opponent. What’s that one thing the other you has, says, or does that always defeats you unmercifully?

I’ve been ‘killed with kindness’ more times than I wish to admit.

Supposition: You are your greatest ally. What’s that one thing your ally pulls out that always saves your ass?!


That time you went “ham” “slam off” “weren’t having it” and noooobody saw it coming what was?:

The number of windows in the room: You don’t really think counting windows prefaced this incident, do you?

The time of day: Dinnertime-ish.

The eye color of the most innocent one present: Probably blue.

The show attire of the most offensive one: I don’t remember what I was wearing.

Select A, B, C, or D


A. Overrated

B. Underserved

C. Hahaaaaaagh!

D. Huh?



A. Bone

B. Chalky

C. Eggshell 

D. High gloss lacquered



A. Inky

B. Cool

C. Matte

D. Vanta



A. Slate

B. Earl, Fox, or Flannel

C. Charcoal

D. Silver


Favorite sweet thing? Ganache.

Favorite bitter thing? Citrus peel.

Favorite sour thing? Citrus.

Favorite hot thing? Coffee.

Favorite cold thing? Coffee.

Favorite hard thing? Frozen coffee.

Favorite soft thing? Sneaker soles.

What time of day has the most beautiful light?


What makes you tired just thinking about it?


Who's the sexiest person you know personally?

I’m not here for trouble. :)

What makes a nerd hot?

I’m hoping to find out very soon.

What makes a physically beautiful person NOT hot at all?

Poor grammar.

If you could, which way would you go—longer or thicker?

Stronger or more agile?


Smarter or funnier?

Smart people know funny.

What FRESH herb would you wear as a scent?

I don’t wear what I eat.

What inanimate object are you in love with the most right now?

Sadly, my iPhone.

Choose one—sleek, smooth, plush, or slick?  Why?

Slick.  Not saying why.

Write an autobiographical sentence using exactly seven words.

So much to do, so little time…(not a complete sentence—sorry.)

What percentage of your day do you spend alone?

As little as possible.

What percentage of your day would you prefer to be alone?

The percentage I spend in the bathroom.

Is quiet more like an old friend or a secret lover?

An old friend.

What are the five biggest noise-makers in your domain right now?

Dog, construction crew, traffic, dog, my own self-inflicted noise.

In seven words or less describe your real relationship with clutter.

I have no room for clutter.

Do you still write with a pencil?

Only during miniature golf.

Favorite writing instrument?


Paper or plastic?


Is paper a pleasure in your life or an annoyance?


Are you a Luddite and/or do you find them charming?

I’m not threatened by technology.

What do you take pleasure in ignoring?

Spectator sports.

What pleasure have you given up that you still desperately miss?

Can’t think of any.

Does not answering your phone give you a low-grade panic attack?


TV—yes or no?


Tiny screen or large screen?

Medium, by today’s standards.

You eat in bed. True or false?


Booksyes or no?


Radio—yes or no?


What’s been your biggest failure in the last 48 hours?

I accidentally burnt a reduction I was preparing on a new stove.

What is your oldest desire?

I wouldn’t remember.

Wine or liquor?

Don’t make me choose.

Soda or juice?


Sparkling water or flat?


Person of interest: James Fedele.


James grew up in Rochester, NY. He moved to Charlotte in 1993 with his twin brother to attend college and discover the South. A professional DJ, James has been a viable contributor to Charlotte’s music scene.  He is recognized as a part of Charlotte’s music culture alongside national musicians and artists that span so many different genres and demonstrate extraordinary talent. These days, James concentrates on his urban and branding photography that combines his expertise in creative branding with street photography.


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here John W. Love, Jr. Sun, 4 Sep 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Herman's Photos Play With Memory, Familial Pasts]]>

The American novelist and author of the indispensable Little House on the Prairie series, Laura Ingalls Wilder, once said that home was the “nicest word there is.” Home is not only where the Wi-Fi is, and where the heart resides; home is also an ever-expanding receptacle into which we place our memories generated from years of coming and going. Charlotte by way of Detroit photographer Amy Herman, in her new body of work on display at CPCC's Ross Gallery titled it wasn't important until it was, captures that procedural familiarity of coming home, the sum of years of memories, in the form of photographs that look both forward and backward. Herman's works feature striking moments of visual depth and symbolic contrast—relying on mood, atmosphere and setting to bring home these feelings of familiarity to an audience.

It's the transition from one home to the next that scrambles those feelings of procedural familiarity. Herman, a co-director at Goodyear Arts, captures these feelings of misplaced comfort and the need to hang on to cherished  memories by using projection and the burgeoning infrastructure of her new home currently under construction. On the walls of her unfinished home, Herman projects the smiling faces of friends and family members captured through lenses decades old. These mid-sized, archival inkjet prints feature the deep blacks—and especially the dark shadows typical of inkjet—and slight scrolling distortion created by the action of the printer. Normally, these remnants of the printing process would distract from the content of the artwork, but not so in it wasn't important until it was. The dark corners of Herman's photographs leave room for uncertainty and the ever-so-delicate scrolling texture that sneaks into the highlighted areas contributes to a homesick ethos created by the memories that she projects.

There is this an interesting atmosphere in Herman's work, like the audience might be viewing each image on old tube television, one whose signal may be just slightly interfered with. Squirt stands as the prototype for many of the works featured in it wasn't important until it was. It features a lone spray bottle sitting on the ground flanked on one side by bags of debris, on the other by the projected visage of a smiling woman looking out of frame, and above by a window that looks out onto an overcast world and a shade tree. This piece was particularly provocative because the individual elements of the photograph create a pleasing visual triangle that allows focus to be shared by all of the elements but with the lion's share of attention going to the spray bottle. The artist's statement that accompanies it wasn't important until it was claims to present these feelings with an element of chaos, yet because the elements arrive neatly arranged in near flawless photographic composition, they serve a muted sense of longing and homesickness.

The saturnine filter through which we see Herman's moments makes the show emotionally draining. There's nothing particularly sad here, but the mood of these photographs is a solemn one—the moments that Herman projects onto the frame of her unfinished home suggest a time where things were seemingly better and brighter.

But these inkjet prints aren’t the only work featured in it wasn't important until it was. The most interesting aspect of the show is in Ross Gallery's small rear exhibition space. There, in a timeline along three walls at eye level, is a series of Snapchats from the artist herself—or at least partially from the artist. Snapchat, the app used for sharing photographs and videos with your friends that only last a few seconds, has recently incorporated a face-swapping feature that allows the user to switch faces with a nearby friend.Herman uses this feature to swap faces with old photographs of family members. Each photograph is about the size of the phone screen that the image would normally have lived on for its brief lifetime, and each image is placed one after another in a line around the room. The faces of Herman's family members fit neatly into the Snapchat algorithm, which in turn splices them onto Herman's face and creates these slightly distorted hybrid individuals. Each photograph has its own new character and each is brief glimpse into Herman's genetic history unraveled. This series is both intensely interesting and slightly discomforting. Younger audience members familiar with the Snapchat format might feel the same befuddling, uncomfortable, prying sense of seeing Snaps framed for a gallery space.

It wasn't important until it was wallows in our longing for moments of the past. It's all about missing  familiar things, missing the past in the context of a new present. The whole exhibition buildings into this tense exercise in re-establishing lost familiarity—reaching out and grabbing at golden years, or the feelings that made those years golden. Herman's works are beautiful representations of that effort of making home feel like home—whether that means directly injecting your new home with old memories or realizing that, just like our parents, we have the same opportunity to illuminate those familiar memories anew. 

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Joshua Peters Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Goodyear Arts Gives Artists Still More Space,Time ]]>

Photos: (top) "It's a Win-Win Situation" by Renee Cloud; (upper middle): installation by Leah Cabinum; (lower middle, left to right) Goodyear Arts co-directors Graham Carew, Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman; (bottom) part of the cooperative creative space in the main gallery at Goodyear Arts. 

Disruptor—it's the overworked term du jour popular with techies and digital entrepreneurs because it signals tectonic shifts in our social interactions and, by extension, in familiar business paradigms. And in those fault lines between old and new there is money to make and legends to build.

Of course, disruption is old hat to artists, something they practice regularly and more often than not without a profit motive or stock options driving them. For most, it's the reason they make art in the first place—to shake us from our air-conditioned nightmares, as Henry Miller described our day-to-day somnambulance. And the wonderful thing is that, from zeitgeist shapers down to the local artist-in-residence, art can—if we're lucky—disrupt our worldview every bit as much as today's code wizards and app gurus.

First, though, it has to be made. And contrary to prevalent notions among non-artists, making art doesn't come cheap or easy; painters, sculptors and choreographers like start-up money, too. Materials, devoted art-making space, and the time to make art come at a premium, while chasing grants and affordable studio space actually steals from art-making. In an era when public arts funding is shrinking in inverse proportion to the number of artists who could really use it, funding the arts needs new models to emerge.  

Enter the local disruptors at Goodyear Arts. Founded and run by artists and co-directors Amy Bagwell, Graham Carew and Amy Herman, the Goodyear Arts project is dedicated to providing artists with the "space, time, money and community" they need by partnering with local developers to make use of local buildings targeted for demolition. Taking its name from the old Goodyear building on Stonewall Street where, as Skyline Artists in Residence, the program first ran for six months in 2015, the latest iteration is about to bear the fruit of its first two-months-long residencies in a showcase this Friday (6-9 p.m.) at the Goodyear Arts building (516 N. College St.). That's when artists Micah CashRamya, and Chris Thomas will explore the creation of boundaries both real and imagined in new work that includes painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, virtual stories, and film (Thomas' films run at 7 and 8 p.m). 

So far, Goodyear Arts has defied the odds since its hastily assembled beginnings (the original program took shape over a single hectic month). And despite the temporary nature of its pre-razed homes, it has also suggested a working model for artists and arts-funders moving forward. The trio of co-directors certainly views the current building and its artist-residents as a continuation of the ethos (and on-the-fly logistics lessons) established during the initial Goodyear/Skyline residencies.

"(The artists) hurled themselves at the project and they created the momentum," says Bagwell, conceding that the directorship plays key roles as well. "But the artists really propelled this, made it sing, made it noteworthy. My hope is that that compounds here—it is a torch-carrying, because however good this is really is the difference between it happening again or not. The artists and residents this time owe it to the previous residents, and these artists owe it to the future residents to keep it going."

By most measures, the program's expansion suggests that the momentum is real. The residencies are now two months long (July-August, September-October, November-December) rather than one, and the $1,500 stipends represent a 50 percent jump. More space and better climate conditions allows writers, filmmakers, and photographers to qualify for residencies, too, along with the painters, dancers and installation artists. There's even room for an alumni studio and unaffiliated visiting artists via in-person sign-up, as well as a main gallery large enough to accommodate after-hours band and dance troupe rehearsals.

"If they have a special project and they want studio time for a few hours or a few days or a few weeks, they can talk to us about the calendar," Bagwell says. "As long as they're doing something that isn't ridiculous and they're nice people, that's it. We just want to be able to offer space, because  it's so hard to find studio space that's affordable in Charlotte."

But space is just one component of what Goodyear Arts offers. One of the main goals of the project, the trio says, is to provide Charlotte artists with a tangible sense of community strong enough to keep them from emigrating to higher profile arts scenes.

"It's an 'our studios are our homes' kind of thing," says Carew, a Kilkenny, Ireland native who's been involved in empty space projects there after the austerity wolf gutted Irish arts funding over the last decade. "Being able to work pretty much 24/7, and talk about art and deal with other artists working in different mediums that I don't even know about—that's the number one thing that I've brought forward."

That sense of community was on display in July during the Goodyear Arts building's opening party, when an estimated 600 people dropped by to get their first look at the new building and artist-residents. But it's also apparent a few weeks later on a quiet Saturday morning at 10 a.m. (the building's open hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). The former Comedy Zone and nightclub space—donated by Levine Properties, who worked with Bagwell and Carew on their Wall Poems project—almost seems custom-made for its new purpose. The main gallery room could double as a basketball gym; it's an open space roomy enough to house ceiling and floor installations, and feature walls lined with photographs, paintings and mixed-media projects from current residents and alumni.

And on that Saturday morning, with the summer furnace already in full effect outside, a handful of patrons and artists sat in climate controlled comfort—courtesy of Crescent Communities, who remain a founding sponsor—at donated picnic benches or in donated rocking chairs, working on laptops accessing the building's free Wi-Fi. Several drank coffee brewed on the premises by Lindsey Pittman, 28, formerly of the Daily Press pop-up cafe in NoDa. Two weeks before the Goodyear Arts building's July 15 opening, Pittman was asked if she wanted to recreate the pop-up cafe and jumped at the offer as a way to prep new baristas and promote Hyde Brewing, the South End restaurant/brewery/coffee partnership she's part of and which is scheduled to open in early 2017.

"This is a really great way to show everybody that Hyde is going to be involved in the arts, and that we want to promote our local community, we want to be involved in any way that we can," Pittman says.

"We wanted to not only create community among the artists, but we wanted to bring community in," Herman later adds. "So having a gallery space that we're also treating as a coffee shop that has workspace for people to use and Wi-Fi for people to use and encouraging people to come here during the day and work, and how can that also become community and enhance this community of artists. When you get the right people sitting at the right tables, how does that benefit community?"

Meanwhile, in the back room, artists began drifting in to the studios that have been sectioned off using discounted materials and at-cost labor, courtesy of the group's connections with the construction world. Original paintings and prints decorate each partition in bold colors and figures, while some of their makers relaxed in the donated couches and love seats. Another group gathered around a substantial conference table (donated) in comfortable office chairs (also donated), discussing the group's impact on the Charlotte scene.

Bagwell, Carew and Herman say there have been unforeseen benefits in the direct partnerships forged between artists and local businesses. Trust is one of them. In addition to combating the stereotype that artists are hobbyists and art a luxury, they've exploded the notion that giving free reign to artists is to open the door to a bacchanalian freak show.

"One thing that Goodyear proved is, if you give artists space, good artists, they're not going to mess it up," says Bagwell. "Artists want space so they can make art. People don't need studio space for debauchery. Artists are professionals—they can take care of a space."

"A lot of other residencies or projects I've come across, they're trying to put it in box, or standardize it," Carew adds, "where the beauty of this project is that we trust our artists, and the people who fund us trust us to trust our artists."

There are still valid questions to ask about the role of public funding in creating a society that values the artistic spirit as much as it does the entrepreneurial one. But in the here-and-now trenches the equation is simpler—studio space, materials and time are getting harder to come by in Charlotte. Bypassing some of the traditional, red tape-heavy funding models and shrinking arts budgets in favor of direct, one-one-one interactions where supply meets demand has so far proven to be a legitimate disruptor for local artists.

"Everyone thinks these are such different worlds—'business and art, you can't get much more diametrically opposed'," Bagwell says. "Well, those businesses are just people, and they like art just like anybody else. And they're interested in getting it, and they have money to pay for it, and they're also really binary—you ask a business person a question and, in my limited experience, you get a 'yes' or a 'no.' And it doesn't take them that long to make up their minds. It's actually really great working with business folks who are interested in supporting arts endeavors because of that; they know what they know, they know what they can do, and they know that when it comes to art, someone else knows more about that."

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here John Schacht Mon, 22 Aug 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Time + Terrain: Bradford Finds Muse in NC Roots]]>

Photos: (top) "Mountain Island Lake Beech" acrylic on canvas, 16x20; (middle) "Creekside at Dusk,"  20x16  acrylic on canvas; (bottom) artist Elizabeth Bradford.

A lot of native North Carolina artists will tell you that their roots are evident in their work. For painter Elizabeth Bradford, those claims can seem almost quaint and droll by comparison.

The Davidson-based Bradford traces her lineage back to settlers there in the late 1700s, and she still lives on farmland  that was part of their holdings, including her current home, first acquired by her great grandfather in 1890. Those long-standing ties to the land manifest in her painting, which highlights the state's vanishing wilderness in meticulous but spirited acrylic and oil studies that focus on the intricate and formal patterns found in nature. Several will be featured in her upcoming exhibit—Elizabeth Bradford: Time + Terrain—at Blowing Rock Art and History Museum from Aug. 13-Nov. 19 (presented by Well Fargo Private Bank). An opening reception takes place Thursday, Sept. 1, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The UNC Chapel Hill graduate and former high school art teacher, who now spends 40-60 hours a week at her craft, has shown throughout the Southeast and beyond, though her work resonates particularly well with North Carolinians. Bradford answered some questions via email for Charlotte Viewpoint about her work, her North Carolina heritage, and her upcoming show at BRAHM.  

You mention in your artist statement that you are descended from North Carolina farmers—how do you see the continuum between the post-war farming era you grew up in, the naturalists' preservation tendencies, and the urban, technological South? Can the three co-exist?

My ancestors first settled on Huntersville Concord Road in the late 1700s. Their holdings and their descendants' holdings sprawled out from that point over to where I now live. My home for the last 40 years was acquired by my great grandfather, Will Bradford, in 1890 when he was 30 years old. My grandfather and my father were both born in my bedroom. The farm my brother and I now live on was home to a bustling group of enterprises around the turn of the century. There was a general store, reopened and restored by my bother and sister in law, Grier and Kim Bradford. There was also a cotton gin and a sawmill. As a little child in the 50s, I was witness to the vestigial farm culture that survived after World War II, as well as the New South urges toward modernization, suburbanization, and population growth. Too, there was a huge shift in the way people made a living. For generations, Bradford men and women had tended the farm, but my father’s generation drove into the city and made their livings in other ways. These ways of being overlapped, coexisted, ebbed and flowed. When I was little, the drive was to appear modern. Wonder Bread would have been the cool thing to buy. Homemade bread would have been a little homespun—almost embarrassingly old fashioned. People wanted a Beacon blanket, not a feed sack quilt. And of course, in the way of all things, the pendulum swings the other way and now we take huge pride in our farm-to-table foods, our love of old craft ways, our preservation of practices like bee keeping and raising chickens. 

You call your paintings elegies for a natural world that has certainly diminished over the last century—what is your hope with your paintings in general, and with the exhibit Time + Terrainin particular?

I really hope that people look at the wild places I paint and are stirred to reverence. I hope that my seeing subtle hidden treasure, and underscoring it, causes people to also see it. Not just the obvious, like a great sunset, but the small things like the sky fragmented and reflected in the water, the baroque woven quality of limbs and vines, the structure and dignity of an ancient tree. I also target a kind of mood in the work. I want the peace that descends on me in the wild to descend upon my viewer as well, and for that viewer to see—this is church. This is the Really Big Cathedral. 

How did you land on the exhibit's title Time + Terrain in any case? What did you want the paintings to convey via the title? 

The title of the exhibition was the idea of (former Mint Museum curator) Carla Hanzal, its curator. She was really interested in the way my work expresses time…I used to call it the “slow accretion of detail.” These images aren’t arrived at with anything resembling efficiency. They are time-intensive and are at their best when no limits are put upon their realization. Terrain, for obvious reasons—I’m obsessed with the land. I believe that’s almost hard-wired into my genes as I am the offspring of generations of farming folk who watched the weather, the rise and fall of the ground, the things that grew and didn’t grow, the rotation of the earth and the seasons.  

How do you choose the sites you decide to paint? Is there something in each spot that speaks to you specifically as a painter or naturalist? Or are the two inseparable?

Over time my criteria has changed. Initially, when I was a young person in a community of older retiring farmers, I was engaged in trying to capture their way of living on the land—the way a farmer grows things.  Now all those wonderful folks are gone and I’m proud I captured their barns, their row crops, their flower beds, their skill. I’m glad there are, out there, little memorials to Harris’ famous knack for growing the best cantaloupes, and Sarah’s remarkable frothy cloud of baby’s breath against her stand of yellow lilies, the rhythms of Joe’s barn as it began to sag with age.

Now, my focus has changed. I’ve wandered away from the cultivated earth, searching for Mother. I find her in the national and state parks, for starters. A few years ago two brilliant outdoorsmen who are long-time friends agreed to school me in backpacking. They go once a month to a remote location and I get to tag along. One of them is a biologist and he’s always teaching me amazing details about what I’m looking at. So that has come to feed my work—and the work and being a naturalist are indeed inseparable.  

Your connection to the land here in North Carolina clearly informs the work—have you found as deep a connection painting in other parts of the country or in topics not associated with nature?

Time + Terrain includes paintings drawn from sites as distant as the Everglades and Cumberland Island in Georgia. I’m fond of saying that my camping and backpacking experiences have always made me mindful that the whole earth is my home. If I have a tent and a sleeping bag, I can nestle into the very ground of anyplace on earth, and I have done that, in many amazing places. If I’m in the city, and there are no trees, no rocks or soil to capture my imagination, my second favorite subject for work is my interior landscape. It’s terribly hard to access—and not as delicious to contemplate as the natural world. It requires more rigor and more imagination, so there is not a lot of that work out in the world. The Mint Museum has an all-time favorite piece in its collection which is just such a painting.

Could you elaborate a bit on how the needlework traditions of Southern women, and the Pattern and Decoration movement of the 70s inform your work?

There is a tradition that goes back deep in history, not only in the South, but all over the world, that involves women doing needlework. Colonial era schools in the United States taught women to sew, to cipher, to create images via samplers. Sewing was a necessity. It’s hard to imagine that a lot of the very fabric clothing was made of had to be hand woven 150 years ago. When I moved to my farm in the 70s the barn that’s now my studio still had a spinning wheel in it. The christening gown all my children wore, handed down from my mother’s christening, was, every stitch, hand-sewn. The time when needlework was important is not so distant. So, as a small child, my grandmother didn’t offer me a box of watercolors but, instead, embroidery floss, and some coarser thread to make tatting—a kind of lovely handmade lace.  I used my embroidery skills to make pictures and grew pretty skilled at making those kind of marks.

Pattern and Decoration was coincidental to the beginnings of the Women’s Liberation movement and it embraced “feminine” ideas like patterned fabrics, beauty and color in the face of the art world’s obsession with Minimalism. Not unlike fabricating a quilt, P&D included frequently the idea of collage, of embroidery, beading, and general lushness. It felt like home to me, as a young artist who’d tried unsuccessfully to curb my lust for complexity in order to fit into the fold.

Are there landscape artists or naturalist painters who influenced you along the way? Were there any artists along the way who mentored you or became lifelong influences, and if so, what about them did they pass on or teach you?

I felt at home when I looked at the work of Neil Welliver. I was never lucky enough to be able to study with him, but lucky enough to meet him once. He stopped in the middle of a crowded appearance to really talk to me about life. I keep a postcard of one of his paintings around at all times. We are different, but I’m his offspring. It’s probably best I didn’t study with him as our art DNA is so aligned, I might never have found my own voice. I was hugely assisted in my growth as an artist by the thoughtful, challenging, stimulating instruction of Herb Jackson. Herb taught me so much it’s hard to know where to begin. Most importantly, and most uniquely, perhaps, he taught me how to talk about art in concrete, crystal clear terms. He also hassled me whenever I tried some slacker approach. I’ll never forget some of his one-liners: “When are you going to stop drawing on toilet paper?” “There’s no excuse (ever) for not making art”. “When are you going to get a studio?” He’s my wonderful big brother, and his generosity to other artists is under-appreciated.

Your paintings often have a watercolor feel to them; which properties in acrylic and oil do you find contribute to your subjects' look and feel?

For the most part I am self-taught. It was like the School of Rock, only it was the Elizabethan School of Art. The course of study began with a decade or so of drawing only, in colored pencils on paper. That was followed by a decade of painting in gouache, an opaque kind of watercolor, and since then, acrylic on canvas or board. The decade of working with the funky medium of gouache was very instructive and formative. It is very much present in the acrylic work. I am only just now beginning to exploit surface in my work. That’s primarily because surface was never an issue in the pencil or gouache works. 

In your artist statement, you mention "inventing" colors, "seeing auras" around subjects, and patterns inside you that manifest in the work—what do you ascribe these to?


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here CV staff Mon, 8 Aug 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Through My Eyes: Ashford's Art Finds Joy in Crisis]]>

Photos: (above) Nellie Ashford's "Miles to Walk Before We Sleep" (2016; (below) "Sewing Elegance To a Queen For a Queen"

Folk art is art that has been taken ownership of by a people. Folk art is the intersection of tradition, culture, and creative expression. Self-taught Charlotte folk artist Nellie Ashford has reached that intersection and embraced folk art as a vehicle by which to share her experiences growing up in Charlotte—the people and the traditions all brought to life in mixed media assemblage and collage.

In her latest exhibition, Nellie Ashford: Through My Eyes, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture (through Jan. 16, 2017), Ashford combines paints, fabrics, papers and surface coatings to bring to life moments from the past. These moments, frozen in time and rendered with a quilt-like appreciation for pattern and color, depict summer days spent in front of an old grand piano in the parlors of old houses, or bright Sunday mornings walking home from church with friends and family. In these and over two dozen more works, the 72-year-old brings to life an era in Charlotte's history still wrought with racial segregation. Despite the reality of the socio-economic and socio-cultural climate in the setting of her works, Ashford turns her creative energy to the quiet, contemplative moments of family, of congregation and of daily routine.

Ashford's artistic approach exudes a humble and endearing honesty. Each of her compositions feels like a labor of love and an earnest attempt to show the audience a time in the South and in African-American cultural history that was filled both with struggle and happiness. One of Ashford's most vibrant works is a piece titled Sewing Elegance To a Queen For a Queen, a mixed media work that depicts a young woman helping another older woman get fitted into a wedding dress. Ashford uses the opportunity presented by the long flowing gown to apply a rippled cloth surface texture using a sheer sequined fabric. This waterfall of fabric draws a beautiful focal point to the piece and brings the audience's eye down vertically through the tall composition. This organization allows the depiction of the young woman helping the subject to come to the fore and provide much-needed visual depth.

Not all of Ashford's depictions of historic Charlotte are idyllic. She also represents the oppressive effects of racial segregation and a pre-Civil Rights North Carolina where opportunity for African-Americans was a constant struggle. In her 2016 work, Miles to Walk Before We Sleep, she depicts a group of African-American travelers—men, women and newborns—in the midst of a long journey, far from their destination but looking toward the horizon hopefully. Each subject is rendered in a combination of acrylic and cut fabric, yet even in these more somber compositions, subjects and setting are bursting with vibrancy, saturation and texture.

Through My Eyes is full of moments of somber but optimistic reflection. Scenes often depict people in motion, preparing for work, traveling home from work, on their way to parties or family functions or on the way to church. It is these moments of quiet locomotion—amidst the simple necessities of life in a Charlotte without widespread access to automobiles or public transportation—that Ashford notes with special artistic affection.

Ashford's unostentatious, but vivid artistic voice is especially clear in her depiction of people. True to her Romare Bearden-influenced style, her subjects are brought to life with simple abstract forms. Tall, lanky figures may be distorted by distance and perspective, but Ashford's masterful utilization of texture and mixed media application imbues her work with an unmistakable reality. Her artistic gift is knowing that the bright summer day in front of the parlor piano would have looked and felt just as hot, humid and bathed in window light as her unpretentious, joyous depiction. It's this knowing curation of beautiful, timeless moments that makes Ashford's collection sing with authenticity. 

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Joshua Peters Tue, 2 Aug 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Provocative Questions for Interesting People]]>

Interdisciplinary artist, love warrior monk, and mischievous thinker John W. Love, Jr. asserts that the more interesting the question and the person, the more interesting the time in the sandbox. Here’s a flash at how he plays with others.


Is beauty necessary?Person of interest

Hell, yeah! It adds flare to life. It gives us something to look forward to.

Your mind:

                  It’s the temperature of liquid that’s been sitting in a hot car all day  

                  the texture of gelatin 

                  and the speed of the light that flickers in an electric ball handled by a turtle. 

Your age:

                  I am older than my looks  

                  younger than my spirit  

                  and the exact same age as I feel.

Your body:

                  My warmth is a girl.

                  My tenacity is a boy.

                  My existence is somewhere in between.

What part of your body has been annoying you lately?

My head & chest. Mentally & emotionally constipated.

What part of your body NEVER embarrasses you?

My hands.

What has made you cry?


Be they naturally occurring or people-made, name three things that exist as your favorite color.

Dark chocolate, hazel eyes, indigo blue.

What color annoys you right now?

Honey mustard yellow can be an eyesore sometimes.

If you could wear a piece of music, what would it be?

Lorine Chia's "You’re Alright."

Is photography male, female, or somewhere else on the spectrum?  Why?

It’s an infinite being that’s unexplainable. Every second and every movement can be a mental image engraved in everyone’s memory. So I guess it’s whoever or whatever you want it to be.

Don’t name the film.  Just describe one detail in the moment that took your breath away.

He swallowed the pill and suddenly, his dull existence became vibrant and actually had life.

There is the playwright, director, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, and the play’s two-character cast—You at your Best and You at your Worst.  Consider every beverage you’ve ever tasted or yearned to taste. Everybody is essentially some liquid, serum, or elixir. Go.

Playwright: Water, the foundation of the mix.

Director: Ginger ale.

Set designer: Cardinal’s Gin.

Costume designer: Pineapple juice.

Lighting designer: Orange juice.

You at your Best: Sweet tea mixed with lemonade.

You at your Worst: Sambuca.

Night after night you fall asleep to the same vision of entities, bodies, people, creatures in the throes of dance. Describe the most intoxicating three seconds.

Gasping for air.

Who’s the designer, design team, or design operation you just love, love, love now?  Why?

Alexander McQueen. His vision always said “fuck you” without those words ever coming out of his mouth. Fearless fashion at its best.

If they were a lover of yours how would you seduce them?

A mental tease here and there, then I’d go for the “OH, SHIT” moment and remove the earth from their feet (in a good way).

Who’s the design entity you feel isn’t getting nearly enough juice?

Alexander Nash. His suits are just so goddamn obnoxiously sharp!

What material, fabric, substrate, or substance would you like to see used more in design, fashion, art, architecture, etc.?

I would like to see Mahogany wood, Silk, Chambray, Burlap, Alpaca, & Tweed. All done right though.

From where you’re sitting, what’s the most luxurious nature-made substance you can reach out and touch?

Wooden tables. I often wonder what part of the globe they came from, where else have they been, what’s been on them, what stories do they have to tell?

What font just makes you want to vomit?

Comic Sans. I hate that shit.

What’s the sexiest tool in your arsenal?

My brain, heart & hands.

Favorite sweet thing? Caramel.

Favorite bitter thing? Beer!

Favorite sour thing? Lemons.

Favorite hot thing? Body heat.

Favorite cold thing? Cold watermelon in the summer.

Favorite hard thing? Marble.

Favorite soft thing? Skin.

What smells better—your own toe cheese or your own ear wax?

Toe cheese, it’s got character.

Who's the sexiest person you know personally?

The one that breathes life into me.

What makes a nerd hot?


What makes a physically beautiful person NOT hot at all?


If you could, which way would you go—longer or thicker?

The way I am.

Stronger or more agile?


Smarter or funnier?


What three spices in the spice rack best describe you?

Cinnamon, Vanilla bean, & Ginger…all of them are also my favorites.

What FRESH herb would you wear as a scent?


Whose funk smells gooood to you?

A woman who can workout, claim they’re sweaty and musty, but you can’t tell.

What inanimate object are you in love with the most right now?

My bed.

Choose one—sleek, smooth, plush, or slick?  Why?

Plush, it can take some pressure but remains comfortable

Choose one—salty, hot, crisp, or juicy? Why?

I like the satisfaction from hot things. Heat will open you up!

Who do you know that is both sleek and salty?

A woman scorned.

Who's got a mind you’d describe as plush and juicy?

Whoever it is that can get through to me and speak directly into my soul.

Describe either where you are right now or where you just came from:

-       the terrain: flat and stale like grandma’s church candy.

-       the weather: a comfortable 80 degrees.

-       the smell: after-rain mugginess.  

-       the vegetation: fully blossomed spring flowers, and plush green grass.

-       the texture of the air: thick as Florida humidity.

-       the color of the sky: typical Carolina Blue sky with clouds from The Simpsons.

-       the people: they’re running from one too many things. Probably the devil inside.

-       the bodies: some toned up, some in the shape of the letter V, and some in the shape of a question mark.

-       the clothing or lack thereof: I wish I could dress them myself, but I’ll let them live and be comfortable.

-       the spirit, the energy, the vibration: calm.

-       the name of this locale: Common Market.

Write a five-word novel.

You’re more than your existence.


You’re throwing an intimate feast for yourself and 12 others. Very briefly describe who they are without using their names. You’re one of them.

The VISIONARY has been rendered momentarily blind. What the hell did they witness?

The VISIONARY saw the PUGILIST having an emotional moment with the SCIENTIST.


When is the truth not enough?

When time passes and it outweighs the truth. Nothing else matters.

When is the truth much too much?

When it can’t be digested.

That time the truth actually did set you free—where did you feel it, what was the time of day, what was your hair doing, and what is the predominant smell that lingers in the memory?

I felt it in my gut as if I was on the fall of a roller coaster. The time of day was late in the evening when most truths come out.

Fill in the blanks.

My BEING is massive. My FUCKS non-existent. My SPIRIT is significant and my CHARM is laughable. While I hate SILENCE I love PEACE and to tell the absolute truth all I want to do right now is ESCAPE THE MIND THAT TRAPS ME.

What percentage of your day do you spend alone?

Ninety percent.

What percentage of your day would you prefer to be alone?

Thirty percent.

Is quiet more like an old friend or a secret lover?

An old friend who became a secret lover.

What are the five biggest noise-makers in your domain right now?

Old crusty-ass people violating the quiet space they walked into. All five of them.

Do you still write with a pencil?

Not as much as I’d like.

What do you take pleasure in ignoring?

People that drain my goddamn energy.

What pleasure have you given up that you still desperately miss?

A lot that I care not to mention.

How do you feel about other people’s feet?

Where have they been?

Sparkling water or flat?

Flat, unless I’m in Europe.

Clean shaven or a thicket?

However she’d like to show up.

What is your relationship with stubble?

I can adjust.

Big ears or big noses?


At this very moment, if your life were to spontaneously transform into the dream you’ve told no one about what (or who) would the score sound like?

The score would sound like the crowd’s response to a winning goal at the World Cup.

What would be the taste in your mouth?

Raw honey with a touch of cinnamon & bourbon.

Person of Interest: Jonathan Cooper


As long as I have eyes, I will always be a photographer. Capturing moments, emotions, and whatever brings pleasure. Currently indulging in the culinary world, which means dinner parties and other gatherings involving food, and libations that’ll create commune and build community. Forever craving expansion creatively, professionally and personally.


I’m a photographer, thrill seeker, lover, eater, healer, giver, and supreme being. Forever seeking the next big thing with an appetite for more because I’m a firm believer that we are more and well deserving of it.

More:, (currently under construction)

IG: iamCoopernicus_

IG: NomKnowledge



]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here John W. Love, Jr. Mon, 1 Aug 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[About Town]]>

This week's best cultural bets, from film to stage. Read more.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here CV staff Thu, 28 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Shaping the Vessel: Woodwork as Art at Gantt Show]]>

The same lathe that turned the simple salad bowl that sits atop your kitchen shelf or the banister that helps you upstairs has the potential to turn out vessels that will change your perception of what is possible with wood. It just takes a craftsperson who can visualize their work within their medium. In one of the Harvey Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture's three new exhibitions, Shaping the Vessel: Mascoll + Samuel, curator, artist and educator Charles Farrar seeks to highlight two such craftspeople and the history of woodworking that has culminated in their work.

Farrar not only displays the master craft of these two artists—John Mascoll, a self-taught woodworking artist, and Avelino Samuel, who has an MS in Industrial Design—but also the history and legacy of wood art in African culture. Placed centrally in the gallery is a fully constructed manual lathe, operated by stomping on a large wooden pedal that actuates a large bow string that then spins the wood the craftsperson would be working from. Farrar deliberately references craftspeople dating back to ancient Egypt, whose utilitarian and sacred turned wood may have been fashioned with a lathe similar to the one in the exhibition space.

In Shaping the Vessel: Mascoll + Samuel, Farrar focuses on the two artist's mastery of a craft through 20 immaculate pieces of turned wood. The lathe allows the artists a sculptural control over the form and execution of each of the vessels, and the results are truly awe inspiring. Shaping the Vessel elevates the woodturning medium with truly singular design aesthetics. Mascoll and Samuel render works of art that are pristine in their execution and captivating in their purity.

Mascoll learned his craft on a whim after purchasing an all-in-one table saw, lathe and drill press in 1982. Since then, channeling his competitive nature from a history in athletics, he has honed his craft to a regal exactness. His works seek to highlight the natural grace in a piece of wood, accentuating complex patterns and gnarls in the wood's grain. His forms are extreme and simple—they range from tall, slender almost vase-like urns to rounder, stouter vessels, all with extremely delicate finial work and a glassy smooth surface treatment that turns the wood into what looks like ethereal marble. The effect is most apparent in his piece Ebonized Chinaberry Vessel, which features a deep-black stain that practically transforms the wooden form into precious stone. The egg-shaped vessel rounds off at the shoulders and works its way down to almost a point at the base, and features a wide, slender finial on the top handle. The vertical streaks in the wood's grain imbue the piece with silvery waves across its shiny surface, and fleck it with tiny pockets and gaps that warp and elongate between the rings from the lathing process.

Samuel's work is slightly less restrained than his exhibition partner's, but no less beautiful. A native of the island of St. John, Samuel grew up carving wooden tools and toys, afro picks and fighting staffs, bows and masks. After stints at North Carolina A&T and East Michigan University, Samuel finished his education and returned to St. John to teach woodworking at his primary school alma mater.

His works are planned very much like the work of a traditional sculptor, with extensive sketches. Samuel looks for the beauty in the imperfections of the woods that he finds on the island. His exhibited works range in complexity from the sublime and understated Offering Bowl to the fantastic Mahogany Spiral, which features a conch shell-like form, with smooth, rolling concentric spirals that meet at the vessel's opening. The surface of Mahogany Spiral features perfectly uniform dash marks burned into the exterior, adding emphatic visual interest and texture to the piece.

Samuel isn't afraid to carve in his own surface textures after a piece leaves the lathe, and many of his works feature alternating moments of beautiful pristine smoothness and sections of scaled, burned or carved texture. Many of Samuel's works, like Mascoll's, feature extremely delicate finial touches, some crowned with slender towering finials turned with exacting measure on the lathe.

The work of these two artists is a testament to the hours of patience at the lathe that went into each of the 20 flawless works. Shaping the Vessel: Mascoll + Samuel is a truly rare opportunity to experience a masterwork level of craft. Mascoll and Samuel surprise and delight an audience with work that is both regal and unassailable in its presentation, and stunning and wondrous in its aesthetics. 

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Joshua Peters Wed, 27 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Jazz Comes to the QC This Summer - But Is It Jazz?]]>

For some jazz fans, the fact that Kenny G will headline a festival named for saxophonist supreme, innovator extraordinaire and North Carolina native John Coltrane beggars belief. Yet there it is on High Point's Sixth Annual John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival website—the controversial, ever-changing stylist who took the genre to its highest plane is being honored by a million-selling, Grammy-winning purveyor of smooth jazz. To be fair, the Coltrane Festival must move tickets, its bill is filled out with genuinely inventive performers like Esperanza Spalding and Gregory Porter, and Kenny G is arguably the most popular contemporary jazz artist of all time. (For promoters, festival planners, and—once upon a time—radio programmers, "contemporary" is code for "smooth.") So why the hate for a marquee populated with talented crowd pleasers?

For starters, as noted by PopMatters jazz critic Will Layman in 2008, Mr. G's greatest gift seems to be his ability, through circular breathing, to hold a single note for several minutes while walking among his bedazzled fans. It's is an impressive stunt, but so is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut downing 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to regain his competitive eating title last Fourth of July. As for Spalding and Porter, jazz joins a raft of influences for each performer, but is it accurate to call their R&B-infused music jazz?

The fans' dilemma—determining how much actual jazz can be heard at their local jazz fest—is not confined to High Point. Last April, The Seabreeze Jazz Festival brought a 25,000-plus crowd to a four-day event in Panama City Beach, Florida. Headlining that bill were Doobie Brothers mastermind Michael McDonald, jazz-tinged R&B/pop guitarist Jonathan Butler and smooth jazz stalwart Boney James.

Charlotte's second annual QC Summerfest, advertised as a three-day, "beat the heat" bill of music at the Belk Theater uptown this weekend (July 29-31), seems to draw from a similar well. While McDonald has booked his own stand-alone gig at the Knight Theater in August, both Boney James and Butler are on hand for Summerfest, on days one and three, respectively. Filling out the bill on day two is BWB, a smooth jazz super group comprised of trumpeterRick Braun, saxophonist Kirk Whalum and guitarist Norman Brown.

On one point, this array of smooth jazzers concur—they don't use the term "smooth." Neither does Billboard, preferring "contemporary jazz" to describe the genre. Curiously, the music's practitioners and supporters are not too keen on the word "jazz" either. Boney James, who boasts eight number one albums on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart, is quoted on the Blumenthal Performing Arts website to the effect that he has "never thought of (himself) as a ‘jazz’ artist specifically." Similarly, in a positive assessment of Jonathan Butler, Allmusic's Alex Henderson maintains that the South African expatriate doesn't really play jazz, "but his slightly jazz-tinged approach to R&B/pop has earned (Butler) a lot of supporters in the urban contemporary, adult contemporary, quiet storm, and smooth jazz markets."

Truth be told, when radio stations purged the smooth jazz format in 2008-2009 in search of a younger demo, many stars of the genre started courting the R&B audience. Catching BWB on the Holland America Line’s "smooth cruise" up the Hudson in 2013, the New York Times' Nate Chinen noted that the trio "played a snippet of  'Milestones,' by Miles Davis, and then swerved into Michael Jackson’s 'Billie Jean'."

But this falling between the stools—landing briefly in the realm of R&B, fluttering around the perimeter of pop, and flirting ever so lightly with jazz—has always been a feature of smooth jazz, "a music forged by market considerations, less a coherent genre than a commercial format," writes Chinen. Smooth jazz has been marketed as jazz/not jazz John Coltrane and Boney James; both jazz?since 1968, when producer Creed Taylor teamed with hard bop guitarist Wes Montgomery to record slickly produced instrumental versions of pop hits like "California Dreaming" and "When a Man Loves a Woman." Launching the nascent, yet-unnamed genre was another former hard bop guitarist—George Benson—who was influenced by Montgomery. Benson took smooth jazz to the next level when he made a mid-career shift toward shimmering pop and seamless R&B. Benson's 1976 Breezin' album was a smash hit and contemporary jazz in all but name. Chuck Mangione, whose oeuvre was once likened to a 1970s smile button, followed with his 1977 hit "Feels So Good." Players began to realize they could have hits if they simplified their playing and songwriting, and "knew how to dial down the genius level," says contemporary jazz bassist Gerald Veasley, quoted in a 2012 Jazz Times piece by David Adler.

The stage was set for smooth jazz—tunes that were catchy, kind of groovy, and about as threatening as Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk"—without that 1959 instrumental's eerily dislocated sense of David Lynchian cool. It remained for radio to calcify the genre. A new wave of easy listening stations emerged in the 1980s. At first they mixed the minimalist New Age ambiance of artists like Paul Winter with fledgling contemporary jazz artists, but by the late 1980s, smooth reigned supreme. As corporate radio embraced smooth jazz, it imposed ever-more narrow playlists. Musical standards that were already "dialed down" now became the bench mark for a new batch of players like The Yellow Jackets and Jeff Lorber, and the genre was further degraded and dumbed-down. As a result, music designed to be uncomplicated and breezy became lifeless, artificial and fussy.

Smooth jazz became as "a kind of easy-listening contemporary R&B," writes Layman. "It rarely used swing rhythms, instead favoring a light funk groove. The leader (usually sax players or guitarists) played basic pentatonic melodies and improvised solos somewhat in the manner of jazz musicians, but highly conventional. There would often be background vocals—as if the Raylettes made a gig without Brother Ray."

Clearly, Layman doesn't like smooth jazz, but somebody still does—the audience cultivated by contemporary jazz radio, corralled into the genre’s increasingly narrow confines and then unceremoniously dumped due to a nationwide purge of the format from the airwaves. Today, the genre’s fans are a niche audience, albeit a well-off one, willing to plunk down $39.50 to $69.50 to see Boney James at QC Summerfest, and $8,600 for a weeklong smooth jazz cruise. They’re “orphans from R&B radio that used to play stuff like L.T.D., Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire,” said jazz fusion keyboardist Jeff Lorber to Jazz Times’ Adler. “Our audience is basically an older affluent audience,’ said BWB’s Rick Braun, speaking to Chinen in 2013.

Lorber and Braun’s anecdotal assessments are backed up by data. In 2009, the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, Ohio launched the Jazz Audience Initiative to study the audience for all jazz, but they focused on large-scale presenters in 19 American cities, the kind of agencies promoting smooth jazz events like Seabreeze and Summerfest, in venues like the Blumenthal.

The study uncovered an aging demographic, writes Patrick Jarenwattananon for National Public Radio’s A Blog Supreme. The big-ticket jazz fan—one likely to attend a smooth jazz show—“are middle-aged, predominantly male, and very well educated. On average, only 17 percent are under age 45, and 80 percent are white.” Those numbers concern promoters, who increasingly rely on large smooth jazz events to balance the books. Jarenwattananon writes that there is a sliver of hope in a rival study, but it is razor thin. “In contrast, the 2008 National Endowment of the Arts Survey of Public Participation in the Arts indicates that the median age of jazz concertgoers was 46, or in other words, about 50 percent of jazz audiences were under age 46.”

Though smooth jazz may be the predominant listening choice for this aging demographic, it is not the only one. Almost as popular at Seabreeze, Summerfest and the like, are "big band" ensembles which pump out lovingly reconstructed pastiches of jazz experimentation's past. This is a school first spearheaded in the 1980s by classicists like trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The Marsalis school has glommed on to the explorations of 60 years ago— the fluid, free-flowing rush of hard bop, exemplified by Horace Silver, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and others—and frozen them in amber, lacquering a once living form to put it on display as a museum piece. To be fair, Marsalis is an inspired bandleader who has done much to support younger jazz musicians, but by funneling them into a carefully curated and ossified version of hard bop, he's doing players and fans no favors.

Kamasi Washington, an inheritor of Coltrane and jazz legacyAny way you slice it— the "contemporary" light groove of Boney James or the fussy classicism of Marsalis and friends—the health of mainstream jazz, of which smooth jazz is a predominant component, lies with old white guys.

This is curious, given the near constant infiltration of jazz into the genre most popular with younger—and more diverse—listeners, mainstream hip-hop, since the early 1990s. Digable Planets sampled the work of Don Cherry, Herbie Hancock, Arts Blakey and others on their 1993 debut Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), and Miles Davis’ posthumously released 1992 album Doo-Bop relied heavily on hip-hop beats and the contributions of producer Easy Moe Bee. The hip-hop jazz torch burns brightly on Kendrick Lamar’s critical smash from last year, To Pimp a Butterfly, and a key collaborator on that album, progressive jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, landed at number three on the jazz charts with his sprawling three-disc magnum opus, The Epic. Washington, who packed The Chop Shop last summer, can range from vertiginous free jazz to soothing R&B. There’s a through-line from Esperanza Spalding to artists like Washington, but festival promoters have to be willing to take that step toward a more diverse and youth-friendly bill.

Concurrent with the rise of hip-hop jazz is another idiom popular with younger, more adventurous listeners—Chicago's diverse free music scene, embodied and influenced by player/bandleaders like saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark and drummer Hamid Drake. Influenced by the repetitive punk-jazz grooves of Miles Davis' unjustly reviled 1972 release On the Corner and the percussive machine gun assault of Peter Brötzmann, the windy city's fluid free music movement is a braided stream whose varied tributaries include—but are not limited to—turntabalism's whiplash switchbacks, the off-center retro futurism of Stereolab and the avant-garde indie rock and musique concrete of Jim O'Rourke. Indeed, Chicago stalwarts like Trio Red Space and Rob Mazurek's Black Cube São Paulo have drawn solid crowds as part of the McColl Center's ongoing New Frequency Series, suggesting to many listeners that Chicago free music—and not Marsalis-style reverence or milquetoast jazz pop—may be the true progeny of hard bop.

Perhaps jazz fans, promoters, players and commentators should be less concerned with either praising or burying smooth jazz and focus instead on moving forward. If they can embrace the restless, ever-changing experimentation that has always been the lifeblood of jazz regardless of style or idiom—the challenging, sometimes messy explorations and trial balloons raised by the likes of Kamasi Washington and Chicago's free music scene—they might be surprised and delighted by what they find.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Nicole Fisher Sat, 23 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[On Artist Willie Little: Proof of Promises Kept]]>

Photos: (above) Detail view of Willie Little's installation "American Obsession" at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation's; (middle) Willie Little; (bottom) detail from Little's "In the Hood" installation.

When Willie Little was a 6-year-old boy, he stood in his Grandma’s vegetable garden staring at the Morning glory as the scent of honeysuckle wafted by, and promised himself that he would never forget this memory.  Years later, he made “Grandma’s Garden.” It was proof  that the promise was kept.

I remember seeing “Grandma’s Garden” at B.E. Noel’s gallery in 1999. It was striking in its unabashed lyricism in a time when art generally seemed rife with irony. Yet it seemed too fresh and clearsighted to dissolve into sentimentality.  Something bold and specific in its vulnerability disarmed this criticism. Many people felt, as I did, that the memories Little shared were much their own.

This may be partially explained by Little’s almost eidetic memory. “I see my past as a movie,” says Little, who currently has a piece up at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation as part of the Prompt show. (The exhibit also contains arresting pieces up through Aug. 21 by Quisqueya Henriquez and Susan Lee-Chun.) Little really means a movie, not some nebulous mental picture with a caption, but events unfolding in sequence in something like real time, with the emotional affect of having happened recently, no matter how long ago.

This Proust- or Nabokov-strength memory was put next to an exacting reconstruction of Little’s father’s country store in Pactolus, N.C., which became an illegal juke joint by night. Little credits Juan Logan, interlocutor par excellence among artists in these parts, with urging him to make something from his childhood stories about the juke joint.

What this become in practice was impressive: a three-quarter scale, 320-square-foot installation with 10 different full-length character/portraits (instantly recognized by Little’s relatives) each with their own tale, and songs, as well as a 10-minute narration delivered by Little from a Wurlitzer Juke box. "Juke Joint” has toured to wide acclaim for the last Willie Littledecade and a half, and is slated for permanent installation in the Smithsonian in 2017. I suspect, nevertheless, that its apparent guilelessness disguises its true originality. Seldom if ever has a viewer been allowed to walk through a space reconstructed from memory and simultaneously overhear someone’s experiences there.  With "Juke Joint,” Little gave installation art something of the heft of a memoir or novel.

The turn from lyricism to satire in Little’s later work has caused some consternation, but he might well reply that this is due to the nature of the present day. Satire and lyricism, moreover, have always  gone hand in hand. The sometimes oblique relationship between them hinges on the fact that satire at its best is not only an attack on societal evils but also a defense of what is loved. This would go some way towards explaining how Little’s later work addresses the contradictions of race in America. It is not a  subject he can  get away from.

As Little wrote in an email to me, “My first transition from embracing my shame-producing childhood to a more serious contemplation of social/political concepts came with…residencies that took me far away from the comforts of Charlotte. The first was at Caversham Press in South Africa, where I produced work responding to the Diallo case (in which) an African man was repeatedly shot and killed by the New York police. My response was 'Baggage,' a series of prints that examined America’s sense of self-righteousness and arrogance at the close of the century.”

A subsequent residence at the Headlands Center in Marin County, California, lead to Little’s “Oxidation Series,” which originate in Little’s appreciation of the textures and look of rusty farm  implements. The differences between the two series might give an idea of the balance between the polemical and the aesthetic that Little strikes. The polemical aspect creates puzzles for the viewer to parse, rather than resorting to outright editorializing; the seemingly formal turns out to have a subtext and a story of its own.

It is, however, the installation work of Little’s that forms the center of his output, which he has approached with slyness, outrage, cold calm, and formal ingenuity. A good example is "In Mixed Company" (at the Levine Museum of the New South in 2008), in which very elegant walking sticks based on African art but made of cockleburs surround a gown in a Belle Époque style made of blackened teabags and blackened doll faces. The walking sticks were suspended to hover above the 


ground as a verbal “score"—compiled of the things that white and black people say about each other in private—was played. Some of these  comments were cringe inducing, some of them were funny, and the walking sticks hovered amidst all  this like witnesses surrounding the Belle Époque teabag gown doll. The walking sticks had a great deal of anthrocentric presence—they were walking sticks on the verge of human personality—and seemed to be listening from a wiser perspective than the viewer’s own, as if they would have much to say on the Day of Judgment.

Little's "In the Hood" installation at the New Gallery of Modern Art in 2014 was as provocative as "In Mixed Company" was stately and sly. The centerpiece was a walk-in hood modeled on those worn by the Klu Klux Klan (attire imitated  from the Spanish Inquisition) and containing an effigy of the so-called “Hottentot Venus,” who had the ill fortune to be exhibited naked in a cage for the delectation of Victorian gentlemen of an anthropological bent due to the size of her buttocks. Her physique was said to have inspired the vogue for the bustle in the 1880s.

Consequently, Little made a wedding dress of a thousand hardened tea bags for her. This was not all. Above her hung a chandelier made of strands of pearls and black baby dolls from a simpleton time. There were hoods everywhere, even on a tea cosy, and bling galore put to discomfiting uses. It put the KKK and the Tea Party in the same boat and then swam around them brandishing  all the regalia of hip-hop. It was balefully funny. It also brought up a number of pointed questions about the exploitation of the black body by a mainstreaming white culture that can uglify, or fetishize, or reify, but seldom meet I-to-Thou. It contained a number of significant “thought bombs”—which might be defined as when a demonizing  cliché is skillfully rewired, and tossed back to the viewer to think about. 

This seems to be the wake-up technique of our time, to judge by choreographer Bill T. Jones, visual artists Ellen Gallegher and Kara Walker—the list could continue—as well as Willie Little. As a technique, it depends on the artists’ awareness of the racial imagery barely latent and scarcely submerged throughout  the general culture—and the sacrifice of the viewer’s general complicity to insight. The beauty of receiving a thought bomb is that it makes a mental space with which to see things afresh, even as it exposes some thoughts you didn’t even know you had entertained. It may also supply some illuminating new thoughts on the subject, if the time is taken to think. Wisdom would find this a gain, not a loss.


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Phillip Larrimore Fri, 22 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[About Town]]>

This week's highlights include an exhibit of makeup as art form, politically charged Americana, movies under the stars, hip-hop fundamentals and more. Read more.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here CV staff Thu, 21 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Quilts and Social Fabric: Textiles as Art, History]]>

Photo credit: (above) Lillian Blades' Red Clay with Caribbean Spice (mixed media, 2016); (below) a quilt by Michael A. Cummings (untitled, 1994).

A quilt is far more than the sum of the many blocks of fabric that make it up. The African quilt making tradition has its roots spread far across continental Africa, as well as across artistic and utilitarian modes. From Ghanaian kente cloth to quilt making as a form of tribal identification and historical record keeping, an African quilt serves both utilitarian and aesthetic purposes: as a ward against evil spirits; as centerpiece of social gatherings; as coverings for beds and defense against the cold. Modern African American culture has similarly embraced the quilt, as a familial treasure to be passed on, the textile representation of mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers whose stitches elevated quilt making to a master-craft. Over time, the quilt has become a medium for creative improvisation and artistic expression, bringing it from the bed to the wall as art object.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, in partnership with the MetLife Foundation, is proudly exploring the cultural legacy of the quilt and the depth of African American quilt making in their newest exhibition, Quilts and Social Fabric: Heritage and Improvisation.Curator and studio artist Dr. Michael D. Harris has included a wide spectrum of artists in Quilts and Social Fabric in an effort to highlight the rich history of African and African American quilt making, thereby focusing attention on the influence that the quilt has on contemporary studio artists.

Renowned quilt and mixed media artist, and professor emeritus at UC San Diego, Faith Ringgold is central to the exhibit, with a body of work that has been four decades in the making. Her career of protests and artistic innovation paved the way for artists of color and women in the museum sector, and in the art world beyond. Her painted narrative quilts are among her most famous works. Quilts and Social Fabric features several—most notably her 1986 work, Groovin' High, which depicts a memory of Ringgolds—that memorialize her many visits to Sunday afternoon parties growing up in Harlem in the late 1930s and '40s. Her style here reflects much of the attitude of the Harlem Renaissance and is shared by many of her contemporaries—large blocks of color, expressive faces and dynamic abstracted bodies. The colors in Groovin' High are as loud and vibrant and hot as the summer Sunday it depicts.

Harlem is further represented by the quilt virtuoso Michael A. Cummings, who still lives and works in the Harlem brownstone he purchased more than 30 years ago. Inspired by contemporaries like Romare Bearden, Cummings uses the quilt medium much like a collage artist, incorporating distinct abstracted elements together to form a greater unified composition—in the case of the untitled 1994 quilt featured in Quilts and Social Fabric, a church and it's serving pastor.

But Quilts and Social Fabric doesn't restrict itself to quilts. Mixed media and fashion artists are also featured, each with their own unique take on the quilting practice. In the case of artist Lillian Blades, traditional African American quilts inspired a series of assemblages that take advantage of an artistic element not easily achieved in the medium: dimension. Blade's Reflections features building-blocks similar to that of the block of fabric that might make up an individual addition to a quilt—only in this case with painted wooden blocks. These blocks form a cascade of color, texture and form that develops in a waterfall down the length of the piece. Blades' other works pop out amongst their flat peers, offering a unique post-modern look at how traditional craft has escalated into something else entirely.

3D artist and designer Januwa Moja's work, Crown of the Thorns for The Visionary, also takes quilting concepts into new mediums, this time via a mixed media headdress, again taking advantage of the patchwork qualities reflected in her fabric based co-exhibitors.

Quilts and Social Fabric is an exhibition that asks its audience to reconsider the quilt for what it is in both its aesthetic and historical context. It forces the audience to understand that quilting isn't just relegated to another stall at the county flea market, but instead stakes a major artistic, narrative and conceptual claim—and much like its collage and fashion cousins—and demands the consideration awarded to other fine art mediums. With great respect for the artists involved, Dr. Harris and his associates have assembled a timeline for the elevation of a craft—one that began as a means to capture ancestry and provide comfort, and has grown from there into an artistic medium that embodies those ideas. 

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Joshua Peters Wed, 20 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[Future Imperfect: Weird State of Star Trek Geekdom]]>

One of my earliest memories is of watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with my dad.

I was very young—3 or 4 years old—and I loved it. Some of the scenes from the 1982 film terrified me, such as the maggot-like Ceti eel larva burrowing into poor Chekov's ear, and I was certainly too little for Khan's bloody death scene.

"That's ketchup," my dad told me, and his simplification of Hollywood makeup did the trick. I got it—this is just a story. It's an excellent story, one that speaks to me and stirs something in my young mind, but just a story.

That was 30 years ago, and I'm still watching. But why? Habit for the sake of habit, as Spock would no doubt point out, is both irrational and illogical. I've had decades to figure this out, and I've come to realize that I continue to watch Star Trek because I want to believe humanity can rise above the prejudice, greed and sheer meanness that perpetually threaten to consume our species. In series creator Gene Roddenberry's bright vision of the future, there is no money, humanity is united in a quest for its own betterment and racism and sexism are behind us, banished to our barbaric past. And the Enterprise, though well-armed, will only fire its weapons in defense.

If I identified so totally with this show, I realized, I needed to see the whole thing, meaning all 720-something episodes and 12 movies. Appropriately, it took me five years in total. I progressed sequentially through the shows—The Original Series (TOS), The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9), Voyager (VOY) and Enterprise (ENT). I tried to watchThe Animated Series—lord, did I try—but it felt like Space Ghost Coast to Coast minus the comedy.

After the shows, I watched the feature films, finishing just a few weeks ago. Thursday I'll be seeing Star Trek Beyond, the thirteenth movie in the franchise—which opens this week at theatres throughout Charlotte—and then in early 2017 will excitedly stream a new show helmed by people with trustworthy Trek accolades that debuts then.

On top of all that, this is Star Trek's 50th anniversary, a major milestone for the space opera franchise I have loved to the point of obsession nearly my entire life. Yet even with the anniversary, the new film and the upcoming series, I don't feel as excited as I should. I feel anxious. I feel shut out of the conversation, as if the studios footing the bill for these potentially worthy new stories have forgotten who their true target audience is—they're behaving as if they either don't know what we want or simply don't care.

From the outside, perhaps, the most offensive thing sounds fairly innocuous. It's common enough knowledge that Star Trek is a popular springboard for fan films and fan fiction—even William Shatner has playfully told my overactive subculture to "get a life ... It's just a TV show!"  But there's a rich and varied fan film community, spanning all eras of Trek.

In late June, CBS and Paramount Pictures released a set of fan film guidelines. Ostensibly, these were drafted to defend copyrighted characters, ships, logos and whatnot. I get it—I don't have to like capitalism, but I get that part. What makes me so queasy, though, is that the guidelines are specifically targeted at already existing fan films. These rules are unreasonably restrictive, nakedly and unapologetically punitive and, dare I say, petty.

Star Trek fan lit and fan films have existed for decades. Granted, there is some fan-made Star Dreck out there, but there is also legitimate greatness to be found in these unofficial tales. The idea is to create stories in this universe that believably expand on the official timeline: this isn't canon, the conceit goes, but it could be. These films are made by and for people who don't believe there's such a thing as enough Star Trek. Put plainly, these are the people the studios should hold close rather than push away. These are the people who keep the franchise alive during the lean years, such as the 11 years since the last televised Trek series ended.

There had been a tacit detente of sorts between CBS and Paramount and fan film makers—they weren't legal, per se, but these fan expressions were generally tolerated or ignored. That changed when Axanar happened—or, more realistically, when it didn't. In 2014, Prelude to Axanar, a 21-minute teaser, shot documentary-style, came out on YouTube. Created by artist and writer Christian Gossett (who, in another universe, designed Darth Maul's double-bladed lightsaber) and Alec Peters (who cast himself in the hero role), the writing was fantastic and faithful to the Trek spirit. The sheer gravity of the premise hinted at a complex and rewarding storyline that was, again, meant to expand upon canon, not compete with it.

Yet it was too ambitious, dangerously toeing the for-profit line. It had a respectable crowdfunded budget and a cast of beloved Trek guest stars like J.G. Hertzler, Gary Graham and Tony Todd as well as Battlestar Galactica alums such as Richard Hatch and Kate Vernon. In 2015, Paramount filed a lawsuit against the Axanar team, citing violation of intellectual property. Suddenly, Paramount and CBS were treating fan films as competition. The long honeymoon was over.

And then came one of the 21st century's nerdiest civil wars, the one between Trek fans who took Axanar's side and the ones who took the studio's side. As Trek turned 50, then, its fandom was split and embattled, each side seeking out and trolling the other on social media ("Get a life!" indeed). There's even a movement to boycott Beyond and the new series in protest.

In this climate, two things happened back-to-back: first, J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin, producer and director of Beyond, respectively, came out against the lawsuit. "This is not an appropriate way to deal with the fans," Abrams said. They were pressuring the studio to drop the suit, they said. Not long after, the fan film guidelines appeared on the official Star Trek site, souring the pro-Axanar camp's incipient celebrations.

To be clear, the fan film community had been asking for guidelines this whole time. They simply hadn't anticipated how harsh and unreasonably specific they would be: actors "currently or previously employed on an Star Trek series" could not be used, for instance. This, in particular, seemed aimed squarely at Axanar and the fan-made series Renegades, which has since dropped the Star Trek from its title. In another restrictive twist, fan films could now be no longer than 15 minutes and were limited to a single sequel, not to collectively top a half-hour total (There goes Horizon, a remarkably well-written and acted fan film in the ENT timeline.).

The franchise founder Gene Roddenberry on the original set

There's a budget cap, too, accompanied by a requirement that any props or uniforms have to be officially licensed and commercially available—a steep expense, as Star Trek's official uniforms and replicas are typically priced for the collectors' market.

What these guidelines blatantly ignore—and what Abrams and Lin were likely getting at—is that the people who make fan films don't want to destroy Trek, they simply want more Trek. It's reductive to think of this in terms of hard binaries—official Trek and fan-made Trek are not mutually exclusive. The latter is simply there to flesh out this fictional universe for those of us who are into this franchise up to our pointed ears.

There are more troubling developments, too. Details about the new show are still vague, but we do know that it will be exclusively available via second-tier streaming service CBS All Access (the IMDB page currently refers to it as Star Trek: All Access, which kind of stings). Releasing it there, rather than on a network or more prominent service like Netflix or Amazon, reads like an attempt to simultaneously gouge the fans and launch All Access. Adding insult to injury, it was announced Monday that the new show would stream on Netflix everywhere but the U.S. and Canada.

Granted, the first five series all ran on commercial stations.  Roddenberry himself knew he was working within the system, admitting that "television only exists to sell products," as quoted in exhaustive Star Trek oral history The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years. Yet these were all networks that were either widely broadcast or, in the case of late-season VGR or ENT's cable homes, already included in available package deals. The pay-to-view approach, where new show fans must pay directly for Star Trek, and only for Star Trek (as it is the first streaming-only series on All Access), seems like a slap in the face of Roddenberry's utopian ideals. This is the man who created a post-capitalist future, after all, where neither Kirk nor Picard even comprehended money, much less carried it.

Yet not all is lost. I have faith that the universe will unfold as it should. Despite my misgivings upon seeing the film's muscle-headed first trailer, I feel hopeful about Beyond. Lin and Abrams are as pissed as the rest of fandom about the Axanar lawsuit, while Simon Pegg, the newer films' Scotty and one of the writers of Beyond, recently published a bold entry on his site about the alternate universe the new films exist in. "It can mutate and subvert," he wrote. "It is a playground for the new and the progressive and I know in my heart, that Gene Roddenberry would be proud of us for keeping his ideals alive."

Thankfully, the new show has experienced navigators at the helm—executive producer Bryan Fuller was in the writing room for both DS9 and VGR; Nicholas Meyer, who directed the finest two original cast films, Star Trek II and VI, is on board; and Rod Roddenberry, the franchise creator's son, is a co-executive producer. In a recent interview, Fuller said the casting for the new show is both gender-blind and color-blind, continuing in the respectably forward-thinking tradition that put women and minorities in positions of authority on a network TV show in the 1960s.

Ultimately,  I think I can stomach a little anxiety if it means Roddenberry's vision is still alive. I won't boycott the new film or show—I'd potentially miss out on something fantastic. Still, after 50 years, it's frustrating that the studios, by all evidence, simply don't get their own fans. Maybe they're like the admirals from TNG, forever missing the point of the Federation or pushing the Enterprise crew into some ethical bind (did any of them even watch the show?). And maybe the writers and producers of the new films and series—official and fan-made—are the captains, fallible but trying to do the right thing regardless.

]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here Corbie Hill Tue, 19 Jul 2016 12:00:00
<![CDATA[About Town]]>

This week's calendar includes a trio of Gantt Center exhibit openings, Goodyear Arts previews, a Horace Silver tribute, an LP release from Temperance League, and much more. Read more.


]]> Key/Words/Entered/Here CV staff Thu, 14 Jul 2016 12:00:00