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June 24, 2014

JR & José Parlá: Wrinkles of the City

The Freewheeling Artists On How They Transformed the Streets of Havana

Artists and longtime collaborators José Parlá and JR traveled to Havana, Cuba for Wrinkles of the City, a global series of public art installations and expressionistic murals centered around enigmatic portraits of the residents in each metropolis, from Berlin to Shanghai. This leg acted as a homecoming for Brooklyn-based Parlá, whose own parents emigrated from Cuba to Miami where he was born. Commissioned by the 2012 Havana Biennale, today’s self-directed film captures the duo’s citywide project that ran from Old Havana to Vedado, offering both artists the opportunity to engage with a city that has profound personal resonance. “Using any kind of media to express myself has always been key to my work,” says the Paris-born, NYC-based JR. “I’m glad we made the film to better understand our journey through this fascinating place that is La Havana.”

You’re both multilingual expatriates with similar backgrounds—what impact does that have on your art?
José Parlá: JR’s work is a commentary that is sharing something positive with the present or with history. Working together as we have has been organic because we both think alike. If I can't make something happen, JR steps in, and if he can’t, then I communicate it. In Cuba we spoke Spanish, Portuguese, French and Japanese, inventing ways to share.

JR: José and I have that in common, we always feel language is not a barrier. I guess it’s because we speak with our own hands a lot. 

How does your work in one discipline inform the other?
JP: The stories of walls are the memories of society. If I use photography it is to document places and people that later inform my paintings as well, with regards to colors and the mood or history of a painting’s direction. When I paint very layered and large-scale calligraphic paintings, the language is informed by gestural, free-associative movements, which I think of as a dance that envelopes the work.

What’s your favorite highlight from the trip?
When we were making the largest wall work of the whole project, JR guided me from across a field while I was suspended on a crane. It was hard to see with the sun glaring in my eyes. We finished the whole thing and celebrated the whole night.

JR: The people we met, especially the couple who we photographed and pasted up. We stayed in touch with them and they have been such an inspiration to both of us.—Timothée Verrecchia

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Ayahuasqueros: A Trip

Amazonian Shaman Soundtrack Stephan Crasneanscki's New Ayahuasca Documentary

Enchanting tribal songs lead Canadian anthropologist Jeremy Narby and French filmmaker and Soundwalk founder Stephan Crasneanscki through the psychedelic ayahuasca experience, in this clip from Ayahuasqueros: Recordings from the Amazon, Peru. Famously sought out by beat writer William S. Burroughs as a miracle cure for his opiate addiction, ayahausca is a hallucinogenic plant brew containing DMT used by Amazonian shaman in their tribal ceremonies since at least the sixteenth century. On their psychoactive trips, shamans claim to see and hear the essences of plants and animals as melodies called “icaros,” and learn the songs to give them the knowledge and power of the jungle. Setting off from Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, Narby and Crasneanscki traveled by boat up the Amazon, joining shamans in their ritual inebriations, and later combining collected footage and field recordings with world-renowned expert Narby’s radio essay on the ayahuasca experience for their documentary. “People are increasingly dissatisfied with the modern world and ayahuasca is a kind of counterpoint,” suggests Narby of the intoxicant’s increasing prevalence in Western pop culture—evidenced by the availability of package tours to visit the Amazon and take it first hand. “It’s seen as an embodiment of nature, of everything that the modern world isn’t and as a way of reconnecting with your body.” Here Narby and Crasneanscki expound.

Crasneanscki: Ayahuasqueros was the idea of going up the river of the Amazon, deeper and deeper into the forest… I’m a newcomer. I arrived here because Radio France asked me to embark on a project about poetry—poetry in its active form, not a dead poetry. I thought that the icaros, the songs of the ayahuasca ceremony, were a form of poetry, a poetry that’s alive and has a function in society today.

An icaros is a melody that an ayahuasca shaman gets from his or her visions. In their visions these practitioners see what they consider to be the essence of living beings, of plants and animals, which is a melody. If you can learn that melody by singing along with it as you perceive it in your visions then you can see like these entities, and gain their knowledge and power. That’s what these icaros are: songs of knowledge and power. You judge the knowledge of a shaman by the number of number of icaros that he or she has, just like you judge a university professor by the number of books that he or she has published.

For me the icaros has something really special in the quality of the voices, the rhythm and rhyme. It’s all a cappella, there are no instruments. It’s extremely pure. It has a vibration, initially in the ear, that really takes you on a journey. Icaros is what you use to ride through the experience of Ayahuasca.

The melody works as a kind of lifeline that you can grab onto if you’re drowning in your visions. It’s true that these are songs of drunkenness and they are made to navigate drunkenness, so you can only fully appreciate their effect if you are yourself in that modified state of consciousness, and they are precisely tools for finding your way in that discombobulating space.

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Angelika Taschen: Page Turner

The Pioneering Publisher Looks Back at the Novels That Shaped Her Life

Book publisher Angelika Taschen’s favorite novels––and where she read them––are wittily illustrated in this retro comic book-inspired series by artist Joe McKendry. The daughter of bookshop owners, Taschen (née Herbert) grew up surrounded by reading matter and famous German authors, such as Siegfried Lenz and Sarah Kirsch, who would regularly visit her parents’ store in Bonn. “I always knew my life would never be boring as long as there were books around to read and inspire me,” she says. Last year she established Angelika Publishers in Berlin after 23 years of working with her ex-husband Benedict Taschen’s eponymous publishing company, where she helped define the current popularity of coffee table art and design books. Angelika Publishers has so far released two titles––On Perfume Making by Frédéric Malle and Anna Bauer’s Backstage––but Taschen is not rushing to put out the next. “I have to really believe in a book,” she explains. “The subject must be special and it must be very well done conceptually.” Here the bibliophile talks us through the books and places that have colored her life so far.

Gottfried von Strassburg’s Tristan; a camping site, England
This is one of the highlights in my life. It was quite a long time ago when my daughter was born, and we went camping somewhere in England. I was studying German literature at the time. It is written in medieval German. I was fascinated by the poetry and simplicity of it. It’s a skill to write about complex things with simple words, so you understand the depth. I can only read these very sad books in a very beautiful environment.

Hans Fallada’s The Drinker; Ayurvedic resort, Sri Lanka
I loved being by the ocean and living this super healthy life, not drinking alcohol and only eating vegetarian food. This very sad book is about an alcoholic man who had a nice marriage, a good business, but he destroyed everything by drinking. He takes out his guilt on his wife and becomes aggressive. Probably this was the only moment, at a health resort, where I could read such a hard book. He ends up in the psychiatric hospital, and I was at this luxury retreat. 

Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser; in my bed, Berlin
I tried many times before to read Bernhard but it never clicked. Like reading James Joyce, you need a certain understanding of literature to be able to enjoy his books. It’s a description of [pianist] Glenn Gould. What I like about this book is that it demonstrates the difference between genius and skill. From the first line to the last line there is not a chapter, or paragraph break—there’s no pause. It’s very difficult to read.

Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin; Chemosphere House, Los Angeles

At the time I was living in the Chemosphere House and had a conversation with David LaChapelle about Bob Fosse’s Cabaretstarring Liza Minnelli—it’s our favorite movie. After that I decided to read the original book, which is completely different from the film. It’s a time and a place that really interest me: Berlin in the 20s and 30s. 

Paul Morand’s The Allure of Chanel; on an airplane to Sri Lanka
You can really focus on reading on an airplane because there’s nothing else to do. Morand met Chanel several times in the 50s and early 60s and made notes after their meetings. I’m interested in biographies and this is about how she developed from a very poor, hard background and was able to become such a successful woman.

Stefan Zweig’s Marie Antoinette; by the pool in Argentario, Tuscany 
I was on holiday and both my friend and I were reading Marie Antoinette by the pool. It was after the film by Sofia Coppola came out. Zweig is a master of psychology—he really draws a figure in history. For me, this is a much more enjoyable way of understanding history than reading actual history books.

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables; in hospital, Cologne
I had to be in the hospital, and reading this book, which is over 1,000 pages long, was an escape from the boredom. I like when novels develop groups of interconnected characters and this has some of the most complex, multifaceted character development I’ve experienced. Hugo writes about the human condition, which is timeless.

Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone; Hydra, Greece
Every year [gallerist] Sadie Coles organizes an exhibition in Hydra with [collector] Pauline Karpidas. Curator Clarissa Dalrymple was also reading this book there. We were lying on a beautiful beach and reading about the most tragic time in German history, how the Nazis created this distrust in people that enabled them to do terrible things to their neighbors and friends. It is one of the only books that helped me understand, even a little bit, how this was possible.

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