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Sneak previews of indies and features, and conversations with the most compelling luminaries in literature, photography and film

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August 1, 2014

Divine Filth

John Waters’ Muse and Queen of the Grotesque Immortalized on the Big Screen

Once described by People magazine as “a Miss Piggy for the blissfully depraved,” exuberant actor, performer and drag queen Divine tore up the rulebook of body image and gender identity. Born Harris Glenn Milstead, the celebrated kook embraced the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and adopted a camped-up persona that caught the eye of the “Pope of trash” himself, John Waters. Subsequently starring in almost a dozen of Waters’ cult classics, including Multiple Maniacs, Polyester and Female Trouble, the duo questioned American notions of taste and helped to redefine underground cinema. The Baltimore beatniks are seen here hatching the notorious feces-ingesting scene from 1972’s Pink Flamingos, taken from Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary I Am Divine. Featuring never-before-seen home movies, Divine's high school sweethearts and cameos from Elton John and Ricki Lake, Schwarz’s film reveals the endearing personality behind the famous smudged lipstick and gravity-defying wig. “I've worshiped at the altar of Divine and of John Waters since I was a teenager,” says the director. “An entire new generation has come of age without him in their lives and I hope this film restores him to his proper place as Queen Mother of us all.” For the uninitiated, a timeline of some of Divine’s rowdiest moments that earned her the immortal sobriquet “filthiest person alive.”

1945: Flower Stealer
Already showing signs of the iconoclastic behavior that would define his future character, the adolescent Milsted solved the problem of not being able to afford the flowers he so desperately craved by stealing them from the graves of dead neighbors. 

1968: Taste Trasher
Playing Jackie Kennedy in Waters’ first 16mm film, Eat Your Makeup, which chronicles a deranged nanny who kidnaps young girls and forces them to “model themselves to death,” Divine re-enacted the 1963 JFK assassination just five years after the actual incident.

1971: Shit Eater
Appearing in Pink Flamingos, the performer shocks the world by literally eating shit, preceded by the infamous line: “You think you know somebody filthier? Watch!”

I Am Divine is available On-Demand Now and on DVD August 25 in the UK and Ireland

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Spotlight

The Book of Miracles

A Wondrous Discovery in Renaissance Art Reveals a Series of Hallucinatory Illustrations

These depictions of celestial phenomena and portentous signs were recently discovered as part of a collection of 169 illustrations created in Augsburg, Germany around 1552. Reproduced as The Book of Miracles for the first time in its entirety by Taschen, the book is one of the most remarkable modern finds in the field of Renaissance art, offering a unique view into the fears and fascinations of the age. “The unidentified patron who commissioned this manuscript wanted to create a stunning visual experience,” says author Joshua P. Waterman, an expert on German art of the late medieval and early modern periods who authored the new book with fellow academic Till-Holger Borchert. “The Protestant viewer would have reflected on the greater significance of these wonders: Why are there dragons in the sky? Why does it rain blood? Why are there three suns overhead? We know from contemporary sources that the answer was general: Things are wrong in the world. Repent and prepare for the end times, which are possibly now.” Though the gouache and watercolor illustrations add up to an ominous collection, the ultimate message of these signs of doom could be interpreted as positive. “They implied moral improvement could mark a path not only to a better existence on earth, but also eternal life,” says Waterman. “Unfortunately, the catastrophes in the book—earthquakes, floods, storms, fires, and volcanic eruptions—are still all too relevant. Let’s hope instead that 2014 brings harmless wonders such as battles of celestial armies, which was the 16th-century interpretation of northern lights, and maybe some sword-wielding comets.”

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Spotlight

Shorts on Sundays: Elias Hansen

Escape to Upstate New York With The Rough-Hewn Modern Sculptor

Visceral artist Elias Hansen fells trees and blows glass in the dense woodland that surrounds his home and studio in today’s short by Jeremy Liebman. The New York-based photographer and filmmaker, who has shot for Pin-Up, Apartamento and 032C documents Hansen’s hands-on approach to art, with a crushed transit van, treehouse named Fort Crunk and a wood-fueled hot tub creating a makeshift sculpture park on his property. “It's a way to observe certain aspects of materials and structures without the pressure of selling them,” says Hansen of the installations. “They're really just for fun. Something to look at when I'm hanging out in the yard, and to observe as they slowly decay.” Beyond the pieces scattered throughout his garden, Hansen has had solo exhibitions at such galleries as Jonathan Viner  in London and Maccarone in New York have combined hand-blown erlenmeyer flasks, test tubes and raw timber to become an ad hoc art laboratories. Renowned for his partnerships with New York artist Dan Colen, Hansen’s collaborations also feature his brother Oscar Tuazon, a celebrated artist in his own right. “We both love to work with our hands, and we both really appreciate well built objects and quality tools,” says Hansen, on their working relationship. “But Oscar is very intellectual, and I have always been more visceral. We love to work together, and I think a lot of the enjoyment comes from having such different approaches to our work.”

Can you tell us more about the catalyst of your career?
Elias Hansen:
My artistic pursuit has always been craft-based. It's only in the last 10 years that I have even tried to make my own art. I have always been more interested in the craft of making someone else's work. Artists are fun to work for, as the work is always different and challenging, and the end target is always shifting.

Does your work have a kind of purpose in mind?
EH:
My sculptures are about the stories they tell, and the handmade objects have so much to say. I really enjoy just turning them over in my hand, looking at the little details, trying to imagine the hands that got them to where they are. Glass can be such an amazing object in this way. An object built for a specific purpose can have such a wonderful combination of perfection and heavy handedness.

Can you elaborate on a project you've collaborated on with your brother?
EH: We went to Alaska and spent a week and a half on a remote island north of Kodiak building a shelter from sitka spruce. We built a stove, a staircase and a wall with windows. The piece was for a project at the Seattle Art Museum, but the real objective of the work was to describe a much larger space than the room we were working in. We wanted to take the viewer out of the space and into their imagination.

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