Pic of Erik Ruin performing at St Stephen's Church in Washington DC. Photo by Katherine Fahey.
I think I first met Erik Ruin when he lived in Detroit and my band showed up on his door step in 2003. Besides letting me print a hundred shirts in his basement, he also performed a stark, captivating shadow puppet show at Trumbellplex that night. Since then, I've run into him a bunch of different times and his art just keeps getting better and better, through the mediums of printmaking, papercuts and DIY publications. You can find his work at Just Seeds and on his web-thing. Here's Erik's top ten art-related experiences of 2013:
....and Kristi's here---
2. Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr - OK, this actually came out in 2012, but it was still in the "New Arrivals" section of my public library when i found it this year, so i'm counting it. For those not familiar with Wojnarowicz's work, he made brilliant/beautiful paintings, writings, photographs, collages, films, etc. that bristled with transcendent rage at homophobia, hypocritical politicians, AIDS, capitalism and more, as well as a radiant empathy for the oppressed. His book Close to the Knives was huge for me as a disaffected youth. This book is huge, engrossing, inspiring. One of my favorite moments- Wojnarowicz talking to the artist Zoe Leonard, who was feeling conflicted between her activism (ACT-UP) and her art (at the time, a series of large-scale aerial photographs). He says to her, "Zoe, these are so beautiful, and that's what we're fighting for. We're being angry & complaining because we have to, but where we want to go is back to beauty. If you let go of that, we don't have anywhere to go."
4. Beth Nixon, Lava Fossil- I probably saw this one-person play/puppet show in various versions 9 or 10 times this year, having toured with it, been in test audiences, etc., but I still love it. Beth Nixon, who sometimes goes by the handle Ramshackle Enterprises, has been plying her unique brand of puppet-related performance, infused with surprising scientific facts, astute political insight and ridiculous outfits, for years now. Amongst a pretty consistently great track record, Lava Fossil stands out as her most personal and touching work, as she talks about the death of her father, hot-air balloons, the nature of empathy and memory, ocean grasses and more while pulling an amazing array of scenes out of various suitcases.
6. Rebecca Solnit's Faraway Nearby - I'm not really sure how to describe this book. It combines memoir and musings on death and loss, memory, fairy tales and the nature of narrative, all of it delivered poetically and perceptively. I recommend reading it back to back with WG Sebald's Vertigo (which I just finished) for the ultimate melancholic winter reading experience.
7. Gabfestry gathering in Machias, Maine - A gathering of "creative dissenters" up in beautiful northern coastal Maine, this brought together a great variety of old head artists, earnest young activists and fellow travelers to share lessons learned, show off their work, and struggle through messy conversations about representation, infrastructure and racism together. There was just something so loving- even romantic- about the regard people showed toward each other and each others' work that it warmed even this bitter burnt-out old man's heart. Plus, you know, bonfires on a beach of green stones.
8. Work/Death performance and radical history tour @ Slater Mill - This pairing was such a great idea. The evening began with a people's history-style tour of Slater Mill, according to their website "the first successful factory in the US," courtesy of Joey "Quits" DeFrancesco. The tour focused on the mechanization of time and labor in the transition to industrialism, as well as resistance to it on the part of the workers. One fascinating detail that stood out to me was how factory workers took up a collection to build their own clocktower after growing tired of the bosses docking their wages for supposed lateness! We also got to see all the machines running off of water power. This was followed by a performance from Providence's resident noise genius Scott Reber aka Work/Death. After a lengthy and moving preamble, wherein he discussed his personal history growing up in a bleak post-industrial town and how inspiring it was to learn stories of collective struggle, Scott played a powerful set, divided into two parts. The first used the sounds of Slater Mill's machinery as raw material, while the second explored the "The Great Textile Strike of 1934" in a sort of associative narrative piece that sounded overpowering, emotional, almost gothic to my ears.
9. Assembly of Light Choir and What Cheer? Brigade collaborative performance @ the RISD Museum - Really a three-in-one- my two favorite local bands that contain more than a dozen members apiece performing at a really great event series. The curators of the Locally Made series of events at the RISD Museum here in Providence did a wonderful job of giving space to a great variety of local weirdos to do their thing, and wisely enlisted local curators to host their own series. Willa Van Nostrand wisely included the all-female, (pretty much) all-original choir Assembly of Light (maybe best known for their star turn at the beginning of that one Body record?), whose leader Chrissy invited the rowdy What Cheer? brass ensemble to join them. The result was something startling and new. You can see some video here-
10. Bread & Puppet, A Birdcatcher In Hell - Kinda feels funny to cap a "best of 2013" list off with a revival of a play originally staged in 1971, but whatever. This play is on the starker/weirder/darker end of the B&P continuum, all the costumes and masks done in varying shades of red and black. It's based on a Japanese kyogen (Noh play), interlaced with texts referencing modern war crimes (a speech from Obama, the testimony of My Lai massacre participant Lt. Calley). From the moment, over a decade ago, that I saw the "King of Hell" mask in the B&P museum, with its massive demon face made up of many smaller demon faces, in a style reminiscent of 16th-century Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo, I knew I had to see this play. Lucky for me, they revived in honor of the company's 50th anniversary, and I was able to see it.