A detour and reflection
Picture: A bodega at night. The banner above the store says “Deli & Grill.” On the sidewalk in front is a lone cat laying down. A lamp is in the foreground. Various signs are on the glass doors and windows of the bodega.
I decided to ask a few friends if they would be interested in sharing an object that meant something to them during this past year. Something they marveled over. The rules were simple. It could be anything: a show, a song, an article, a book, a meme. It could have been released at any time, but it had to be something they thought about and returned to during the last year. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year of this, so I thought it would be a fun detour and reflection to kick off this month. I hope you find their answers as interesting as I do and perhaps it will make you think about what your own object would be. Their answers are wide and thoughtful.
Alf on Mama Mia
Alf and I met in 2018 due to a mutual love of Mitski. Alf and I collaborated on a podcast last year. Alf is a social worker and writer. We frequently talk on the phone about books and life.
I first saw the Mamma Mia movie in eighth grade, with my scene/emo best friend Kristen. It thrilled me, nearly killed me. When we walked out, Kristen immediately grumbled about the corniness of it all. Oh yeah. I thought, I guess it wasn't good after all. At the time, I was willing to sideline my own pleasure to fit in with the alt kids, which was the name of the game in eighth grade. I could never let it go, though, and revisited the movie during the winter of this pandemic, when the sun set at 5 and those happy days seemed so hard to find.
The beauty of the Mamma Mia movie is its shameless silliness, something I needed in my shame-addled adolescence and something that feels almost inconceivable in the 2021 media landscape of multilayered irony. My love for ABBA and Mamma Mia is not ironic. When I go for a stroll after a long day of work with the Mamma Mia soundtrack, the me in my mind's eye is dancing, jiving, having the time of their life. I put myself in the Mamma Mia-verse, with a song to help me cope with anything, even the daily grind of my life during this pandemic.
Cosimo Pori on Big Ang
Cosimo and I met in fall 2018. Now we’re roommates and frequent collaborators. They appeared in a film I made last year, as well as helped with other film projects, and they also appeared in the podcast. Cosimo is a poet, dancer, and performer.
It’s been 5 years since she left and she took with her all the unbridled joy that came before 2016.
I saw a TikTok, a video of her that said “everything got bad after you left.”
I am of course referring to dearly departed star of VH1’s “Mob Wives”: Angela “Big Ang” Raiola.
In the depths of lockdown last year I obsessively watched a video on YouTube made by VH1 called “Every Time Big Ang Made Us Laugh.” The video, almost 30 minutes long is a heartwarming celebration of all of Big Ang’s brightest moments. With her signature smoker’s drawl and thick Staten Island accent, Big Ang laughs about trying on wigs, laughs with her son about how her current boyfriend (just got out of jail 28 years he did, for murder) wants them to be “exclusive.” She laughs at a horse race and a bachelorette party. Laughter that sounds like a cough. But she also laughs brightly during more stressful moments like getting Botox (hit me with your best shot, DOC! she says) or after surgery (I’d rather get in a fight with any of the girls, than go through surgery again, surgery sucks).
I fixated on this video during lockdown because it not only offered me a portal to pre-Covid New York City, but a portal of a pre-Trump world. I know it sounds “nevertheless, she persisted” of me, but the beauty of the show and of Big Ang specifically is that we never have to wonder whether any of the mob wives have or would have voted for Trump. Their potential clandestine conservatism that masquerade as “live and let love” dissolve in the haze of a New York from five years ago. To dip my toe in the waters of the not so distant past was a perfect remedy to the deepest recesses of lockdown, an opportunity for me to let my mind wander to a simpler past close to my own Italian heritage (my grandfather is likely rolling over in his grave with this association), but also the chance of a brighter future filled with more ease and more non-Covid related drama. On the show, Big Ang was known as the peacemaker, and not to be superstitious but everything DID get terrible after she left us in early 2016. But the spirit of Big Ang can live on in our dream of the future: one of constant laughter, levity, the desire to make peace between fighting friends and strangers, and a simple desire for everyone to get along and be happy.
Emily Eckelbarger on Celebrity Home Tours
Emily and I went to college together and met at a rugby party in 2016. Emily is a writer and photographer. We walked the whole of NYC together once from the tip of Inwood to the Staten Island Ferry. We love to walk. She also writes at Sweet Tooth.
In April, when venturing outside into the NYC pandemic world felt like removing my helmet on the surface of Mars, my YouTube algorithm (hey bestie!) started serving me Architecture Digest Open Door tours of celebrities’ homes. My reactions ranged from envy (Kendall Jenner’s modern art collection is… exceptional) to mocking disdain (Aaron Paul’s Idaho ranch is tacky and I hate it). And then the YouTube autoplay feature, which some might call fate, hurled a bombshell at me: “Dakota Johnson’s Serene Hollywood Home.”
There are several features of this home that should trigger my fight-or-flight response: the stench of Hoosier Disgrace Ryan Murphy’s prior occupancy; the baffling choice of a rug covering the entire kitchen floor (Dakota can pretend all she likes, but this rug tells me all I need to know about how often she is using this kitchen). But this video took me far, far away from pandemic New York. It took me somewhere verdant, where the lawn furniture is made out of salvaged wood from Winston Churchill’s yacht, and where dust never accumulates, because I’m Dakota Johnson and I can afford a cleaning service. It was the most intoxicating form of escapist content — for 10 minutes and one second, I got to live in someone else’s house, where there was no roommate, no mouse problem, and most importantly, no pandemic. Dakota has since purchased a different house, and will presumably be moving out of the Serene Hollywood Home (almost certainly due to the lingering specter of director of the Golden Globe-nominated film “The Prom” Ryan Murphy). My purchase offer has not been accepted.
Milly Cai on LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Photography on Family
Milly and I also went to college together and met in fall 2016 when I used to curate a monthly art show. Milly is a curator, writer, and artist and one of the most industrious people I know.
A Reflection of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s Photography on Family
Last week I visited The New Museum’s latest exhibition, Grief and Grievance, A striking intergenerational exhibition featuring 37 artists, was envisioned by one of my favorite curators, the late Okwui Enwezor. The artists and artworks build conversation on and around the practice of mourning and the national emergency of radicalized violence experienced by Black Americans. As I moved through the multimedia landscape of the exhibition, looping through the open space and following along the construction of mazes The New Museum is known for, I felt myself becoming hyperaware of my body in the space. With four floors of work by artists such as Mark Bradford, Rashid Johnson, and Lorna Simpson, the dialogue between the works was one of confrontation, mediation, and social upheaval. Unaware of how the exhibition was anticipated to be viewed (where do I start?), my friend Zi and I took the elevator to the top floor and worked our way downwards. Somewhere sandwiched between the spaces, I walked into a gallery lined with framed photography by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Confronted by these images, all roughly standard size prints (11x17?), the space felt completely silent - *perhaps because I was the only one in the room, the rest of the galleries were rather claustrophobic at times.
I am familiar with her work yet this is the first time I’ve seen them in person (let alone in a space on their own). Her photographs is a confrontation with displacement, family, and the social and economical realities faced in America. She is direct and her work invites us to question the stability of the systems we are controlled under. Her work documents and narrates. I remember reading bell hooks, “In Our Glory,” an essay on family connections and how the invention of the camera allowed Black American communities and families to be able to privately document their lives. The camera became a tool of attestation, a tool of protest. Black Americans would be able to privately take images of their own lives without the subjectivity of the white gaze. These images, as hooks references, are then hung around the home, displayed privately yet proudly. Frazier’s photography reminds me of this, something pulled out of a private archive, images of family, of growth, love, and fear. Her works, blurring the line between social document and self-portrait, feel intimate to the viewer. She gazes at us through the mirror, directly into the camera and the interaction feels familiar. The images are not aestheticized, they have a sense of reveal. Frazier hides faces, shows her legs, and hides from the camera all together, the narratives through these images echo in the space of the museum.
The intimate gaze of the photographer next to empty walls of an apartment with walls stained by picture frames, the silence of these images remain in my mind, filling the cavities of my ears, like a secret I’m meant to keep.
I wanted to share another fundraiser! Please share, circulate, bookmark, donate if you are able to. Also, I wrote about the new Roberto Bolaño and lit-bros. Have a great week.