The Don’t Do It guide to 2016: what to see, do and read this year

To celebrate our forthcoming Issue #10, “Beginnings”, the Don’t Do It team round up our favourite things from 2015 – and what we’re looking forward to next year.

Aleksi Koponen

2015

Agnes Martin at Tate Modern

Like a therapy session or an inner shower. A time warp. A melancholy calm.

Morgen und Abend at the Royal Opera House

Georg Friedrich Haas’ unnerving micro-intervals and Jon Fosse’s dazzlingly punishing libretto. Everything you could wish for a good night out.

Jennifer Cooke’s Apocalypse Dreams

Cooke’s latest gem of a collection after *not suitable for domestic sublimation. “how shit would it be if the end of the world/ was a rave in the snow. yet here it is.”

The Oresteia at the Almeida

Wunderkind Robert Icke’s rendering of the Greek play succeeded in everything that the other, much-hyped Greek play tried to but failed. It was current, raw and poised—Hara Yannas’ Cassandra especially breathtaking.

lines lines lines lines lines lines

Agnes Martin, Friendship (1963). Photo: Museum of Modern Art, New York

 

2016

Diane Williams’ new story collection Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

McSweeney’s can’t put this out quickly enough. Williams packs all the four humours in one sentence.

A mountain of Wagner

Opera North’s Ring cycle at Southbank Centre and Sage Gateshead, Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House, Tristan and Isolde in ENO and Helsinki, Parsifal in Berlin and in Stockholm.

Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo

The new story collection from Walsh, who gave us Grow A Pair and Hotel, finally published in the UK by And Other Stories. From her lapidary Hotel: ‘To show the family away from home is to show it at its most powerful. That it exists outside its setting without splitting, crumbling, is to show something almost invincible. To become invincible it must harden.’

Francis Bacon’s retrospective at Tate Liverpool

Discomfort over beauty.

The following, as I understand, is not actually forthcoming next year, but if I list it, maybe it will:

The English translation of Elfriede Jelinek’s Die Kinder der Toten

Gitta Honegger, I am begging you.

Stephanie Boland

2015: Events and exhibitions

I saw too many good things to count last year: Olwen Fouéré in Samuel Beckett’s Lessness at the Barbican, manipulating the archives of a dreamworld Stasi; Lanark at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow; Arthur Russell – Instrumentals, which shone despite a not-wholly-successful venue change; the Eames exhibition at the Barbican (on, still; prepare for three laps, minimum).

In Boston, Marilyn Arsem’s 100 Ways to Consider Time was warm, still and faintly unnerving. On the day I dropped by, Arsem was silently tallying seconds, pinning the completed pagefuls around the walls. Her performance continues at the Museum of Fine Arts until February 19th and is free with admission.

I was also lucky enough to catch Inspiration Japan at the Kunsthaus in Zürich earlier this year. Tracing the influence of Japanese art on the Impressionists, it unfortunately ended in May. The reviews, though, are well worth reading.

Books

I’m very into you, McKenzie Wark and Kathy Acker

There are a number of books which the Don’t Do It editors collectively fell in love with last year. The most memorable for me was I’m very into you, which collects the e-mail correspondence between McKenzie Wark and the late Kathy Acker. It’s full of things like this:

I know what you mean about slipping roles: I love it, going high low, power helpless even captive, male female, all over the place, space totally together and brain-sharp, if it wasn’t for play I’d be bored stiff and I think boredom is the emotion I find most unbearable (Kathy Acker)

and this:

I’m probably not a bad choice of person to whom to unburden yourself about Sylvère. I don’t have any preconceptions and I’m a long way away. It sounds like *he’s* the one with an identity problem. From your account it sounds like one of those things where he feels about an inch tall so he’s making out like you’re half an inch tall. It’s interesting how the value of the past with someone depends on how much they keep faith with that shared past. Sounds like an unpleasant experience. Old friends should know better than to disappoint us! Makes us question ourselves as much as them, as there is a bit of them in us, us in them… (McKenzie Wark)

Chris Kraus, of recent I Love Dick fame, is writing a biography of Acker at the moment (and yes; the Sylvère above is that Sylvère). 

I'm very into you. Photo: Semiotext(e)

I’m very into you. Photo: Semiotext(e)

Nicotine, Gregor Hens

Gregor Hens’ Nicotine was one of my favourite books from Fitzcorraldo Editions, a house doing consistently excellent things for essays and translated fiction. Hens’ thoughts on his addiction can be read over the course of a longish train journey, and they’re seductive even to this non-smoker. (It helps that Jen Calleja is a phenomenal translator; you can read an interview about the translation process in The Quietus here.)

The Dirty Dust, Máirtín Ó Cadhain 

A new translation of Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille, The Dirty Dust, came out in April. With probably one of the best opening pages ever penned (“Fuck them anyway if they plonked me in the Ten Shilling plot after all the warnings I gave them”), this edition also comes with a fiercely brilliantly introduction from translator Alan Titley. I keep it by my bedside, which is probably terrible bad luck, but what can you do?

Other things I loved: Maggie Nielson’s Bluets (I came to this one late: it’s a 2009 emotional, thoughtful, erotic meditation on blue, being and seeing of); Frederic Jameson’s The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms; Ali Smith’s take in Antigone; this hilarious interview; this piece on the mathematics of all-male panels; Spitalfields Life; Patti Smith’s M Train; Anne Enright on Antigone and the ongoing injustices of Irish church/state misogyny; everything by Rebecca Solnit.

2016: Events

Falling firmly in the DDI remit, the Whitechapel Gallery’s Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966) is first up in my diary for the New Year. The exhibition explores the influence of the internet on art from the 1960s onward, and features Olia Lialina, creator of the fantastic My Boyfriend Came Back From the War (1996), as well as Lynn Hershman Leeson’s early interactive installation.

Lessness, as mentioned above, is on in Dublin at the end of January. The performance is arresting, and I urge you to see it while you can.

With Shakespeare’s 400th, it’s going to be Bard-heavy year in the UK. The performance I’m most looking forward to is The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker. Performed in a small space, by candlelight, I’m hoping for a break from the bombastic touch which has overwhelmed too many Tempest productions.

In June, I’ll be at St John’s Smith Square for Deep∞Minimalism. With a majority-female lineup, the festival celebrates music with the quality of thought, from JS Bach to Éliane Radigue and Jennifer Walshe.

From July, the Tate Modern will be presenting a Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective to mark the centenary (can you believe it?) of her New York debut. The perfect chance to get beyond the flowers and see the whole range of O’Keeffe’s work.

If I can make it back to Zürich sometime this year, I’ll be planning around the Dada jubilee. The city is hosting public lectures, exhibitions and events which explore the history and spread of Dada from 1916 to today. (It may run counter to several key tenets of the original manifestos but I can’t quite bring myself to care.)

The Kunsthaus — I promise I’m not in their pay — is also digitising their Dada collection, which will be available online this year.

Me on the way to steal your man

Dada New York, 2915.

Books

Vertigo, Joanna Walsh

Hotel (Bloomsbury Academic, £11.99) was another collective DDI favourite in 2015 (see below). Walsh is one of the most important writers today in terms of exploring the gap between the possibilities and actualities of female experience, and what it means to navigate that gap. To me she is therapeutic: heartfelt but poised, cynical but not hard.

Like Aleksi, I’m hugely excited for the 2016 UK release of her short story cycle Vertigo. It comes out in March from And Other Stories and promises to “[pull] us deep into the panic that underlies everyday life”.

The Good Immigrant

The Good Immigrant is an amazing crowd-funded essay collection asking what it means to be an immigrant (“or the child of one, or even the grandchild of one”) at a time when certain vocal commentators are fond of praising the egalitarian “melting pot” of British culture – while everything from police statistics to literary prize shortlists tells a different story.

Edited by Nikesh Shukla, it has contributions from various columnists, playwrights, writers, journalists, actors and comedians and comes out with Unbound in June.

Other new books I’ll be buying: Human Acts by Han King of The Vegetarian fame (Granta, January); In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury, February); Prix Goncourt-winning Maria Ndiaye’s Ladivine (Knopf, April); poetry collection Olio from Tyehimba Jess (Wave Books, April); the new Pushkin translation of Gaito Gazdanov’s The Flight (Pushkin Press, March); Amy Liprot’s The Outrun, out any minute now from Canongate.

Justin Raden

I didn’t read many newly published books last year, at least not for leisure. But there was an awful lot on offer this year. My list is limited to the things I didn’t manage to justify putting off for next year.

2015

Sphinx, Anne Garréta

Joe Milazzo keyed me into this when I interviewed him for issue #9, and it didn’t disappoint. Garréta is a member of Oulipo, but the riddle of Sphinx isn’t merely formal. The novel is un-gendered—admittedly a more impressive feat in its original French—but knowing this in advance is hardly a cypher. (Incidentally, Joe’s Crepuscule W/ Nellie would have made my 2014 list.)

Headless, KD 

Part ongoing performance art piece, part cheesy murder mystery; Headless is a slippery fish. I reviewed this for Entropy back in the summer and I’m still trying to figure out what the hell it’s all about.

The New Whitney and the Semiotext(e) Whitney Series

The Whitney series, a collection of 28 books, was published for the Whitney biennial, and so technically dates from 2014. But, seeing as the New Whitney opened in 2015, I’m going to cheat a bit and throw these together.

The New Whitney, situated in painfully upscale Chelsea and with an entrance that looks like an idealized Scandinavian airport ticket counter, is a difficult to read statement about the institution of art in 2015. I’m still not sure what is says, to be perfectly honest, but the viewing spaces are capacious and the opening exhibition, “America Is Hard to See,” impressively captured a range of divergent trajectories in American art.

Among the Semiotext(e) Whitney series publications, I would highly recommend Tony Duvert’s The Undiscoverable Reading. It’s a good introduction to Duvert’s fascinating oeuvre–much of which is, unfortunately, out of print in translation. Luckily, Semiotext(e) have recently translated Duvert’s Good Sex Illustrated and Diary of an Innocent with Atlantic Island forthcoming this year, all of which were previously unavailable in English.

Joshua Cohen – PCKWCK

Cohen live wrote a short novel over the course of five days, for five hours a day. It was mainly just fun to watch him chain smoke shirtless on the site’s webcam. The text is offline now, but a meatspace version is forthcoming from Useless Press and all the proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.

Hotel, Joanna Walsh

Just in time to make the list, I spent the last two days of 2015 reading Walsh’s book Hotel. I’m particularly fond of anything to do with itineracy, spaciality, and depression (so long as its not sentimental), so this felt like a tailor-made read for the end of the year.

The Whitney. Photo: Wikimedia/Bill Benzon

The Whitney. Photo: Wikimedia/Bill Benzon

 2016

For 2016, most of the things I’m looking forward to don’t really have broad appeal. But I am curious to see what fiktion.cc comes out with in the coming year. They’ve been publishing fiction on a web-based reader and in e-pub format in an experimental response to the apparent crisis in publishing.

I’ve been speculating privately for a while that they’ll eventually publish something by Elfriede Jelinek, who’s on their advisory board. Maybe 2016 is the year?

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Call for submissions: Beginnings

***EXTENDED DEADLINE: MARCH 6***

Don’t Do It is opening 2016 with a call for work on the theme of “Beginnings”.

We’re seeking essays, poetry, fiction and other any other oddities on topics which might include, but are by no means limited to:

  • New years
  • Birth
  • The year 0 for DADA, feminism, Jesus
  • Indexes
  • Journeys
  • Overtures and epigraphs
  • First lines and first times
  • False starts
  • Housewarming parties
  • Introductions and prefaces
  • Greetings and salutations
  • Childhood
  • The Big Bang, mitosis, menarche, the Darwinian transition
  • The first person

We particularly encourage submissions from BAME writers, women writers, queer writers and others whose work is often overlooked or sidelined.

Essay pitches up to 500 words should be submitted to editors@dontdoitmag.co.uk

Completed poetry and prose should be submitted to aleksi@dontdoitmag.co.uk

The deadline for submissions is March 6th

Fish Friday #9: Tom McDonagh

Tom McDonagh is a theatre maker and designer, whose productions combine advanced optics and skilled puppetry. We met up with Tom to talk about his science background, shadow puppetry and new 3D techniques he is developing from his Fish Island Labs studio.

Tell me how you started.
I’ve been doing science for about ten years. Started as a physics undergrad at Bristol and then, near the end of that course, I heard a lecture by this guy who was working with insects: how they hear and the acoustics in their ears. I pestered him to let me join his lab and to do a final project with him. I ended up working in his lab, just for over a year, really enjoyed it, and got generally into biology.  So then I thought, maybe I’ll see if I want to do something more on the neuroscience side or the molecular side. I ended up studying for a PhD in New York, at Rockefeller University. I went there for about five years and was doing a lot of different kind of molecular biology: starting in neuroscience before I switched more into cell biology. But during that time I was also doing theatre and shadow puppetry, and other types of puppetry.

Had you done it before?
I’d done a bit of theatre in my final year in Bristol, but always kind of as an outsider. A lot of the people at Bristol University had done a thousand plays and that’s kind of how I got interested in it. The student theatre scene’s really strong. I was never fully participating in it; I think it kind of woke me up to the fact that this is something that people can do. I like building stuff and storytelling.

The first piece I did was about a place called Sikkim, which is just to the east of Nepal. It’s a part of India, an ancient mountainous kingdom. Me and my friend went up there and we stayed for a couple of months teaching English. I went back two years later and I did a lot of interviews and historical research and visited lots of different places and started to write a travel piece. But I ended up thinking: maybe it’d be interesting to do it on stage. It needed that visual element, because we’re right in the middle of the Himalayas here: you’ve got incredibly huge mountains and these masses of skies and inhumanly large landscapes. A travel article didn’t have the excitement. But how to capture the myths and folklore and how that relates to the landscape in a play? I’d never seen a shadow play, but it struck me one evening that a shadow play would have a lot of the aspects that I was trying to get to: the otherworldliness, the screen so that you never see what’s really making the shadows. In that first play, which was called Beyul Demojong, we had a landscape and various scenes in different places that we zoomed all about. I got all my friends in – it was basically a totally amateur thing. We didn’t have anyone around who’d done anything like this before. We’ve lost the video of it, but I think the spirit was there, just the process of doing it. We ended up doing a few different shows around Bristol and then took it up to Edinburgh and to the Shambala festival.

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Dispatch: Montreal

 

From What I Know Of a Fly When I Squash It: Seeing Montreal

We drove to Montreal. Through the monotony of New Hampshire and the unabashed cute of Vermont.

As we approached the border, inching forward in a string of shining cars, we played the questions game. Think of anything. Ok, now let me guess what you’re thinking of. Is it alive? Does it occur in nature? Is it the Atlantic Ocean?

I spoke too fast. I tripped over my words. But the French-Canadian border guard didn’t care. He handed back my passport without a word and waved us through. Another country. Another city to feel my way around. Continue reading

Fish Friday #8: Paulina Jaśniak on art, literature, and the 1%

As administrator at Fish Island Labs, it took us a while to discover Paulina Jaśniak is also — in our minds, infinitely more importantly — an artist. A polymath of the arts, Paulina has previously exhibited photography, drawings, videos and paintings in both Poland and the UK, including a ‘best paintings’ exhibition at Kobro Gallery in Lodz (2013) and in Stoke Newington at La Groovy (2014). Her recent show here in Hackney Wick included a series of intimate portraits which showcased her deft use of light, shadow, colour and texture, and her work has lately received acclaim from — among others — the judges at NOISE festival. We spoke to her here at Fish Island about her painting.

IMG_20140520_093918

Perhaps we can begin by going back to how you first got into painting.
I knew I would draw in the future, I knew I would design and stuff, but one thing I knew is that I would never paint. I didn’t want to paint, I felt — because you can feel drawing, you feel sculpture, if you are inclined that way. But I didn’t see painting that way. I didn’t know painters; I wasn’t interested.

Then I wanted to apply to art academy in Poland. They have plenty of tests, so I had a painting test, and I remember the first moment I started painting: it was a revelation for me. I started seeing the world in a very different way. It was like understanding something. You start understanding that you don’t really know anything; the world is completely different. It makes the world more interesting in a way. You see stuff and you start to think about how it works, how it’s built. How the light and the shadows create us. What makes us pretty, and what makes us ugly.

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Zenith Hotel: An Interview with Oscar Coop-Phane

Oscar Coop-Phane’s Zenith Hotel packs more punch than one might expect from a novel of its brief dimensions. Telling the story of prostitute Nanou and her patrons through a series of densely textured emotional vignettes, the novel was awarded the Prix de Flore in Coop-Phane’s native France. Now its delicate prose is available in English, in a new translation by Ros Schwartz. We met up with Coop-Phane to discuss the novel, style, painting, and how places, families and poetic inheritances affect one’s writing.

What brought you to writing the first novel? Did you conceive it as fragments?
I first started with Emmanuel, the guy who works in a school. I wanted to do a novel about this practical guy, but after twenty pages I thought, maybe this is a bored guy and it’s a boring life. I thought: it will be too boring. I hope one day I’ll be able to speak about this kind of thing, but I didn’t have enough ways to say it. I’m a huge fan of Flaubert because he’s always speaking about his boring life, but I don’t have the way of writing Flaubert did, so I can’t do that. I was thinking of doing a few portraits – short stories – like this, and after a time I thought…I want to write a novel and not short stories. Because I had this thing: Ok, I want to be a writer, I have to write novels.

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People Can Afford: A Review of J.T. Welsch’s ‘Appendix: Pruit-Igoe’

Andrew Motion praised J.T. Welsch’s first poetry collection, Orchids (2010), as ‘a distinguished debut: clever but emotional, ingenious but affecting,’ which ‘promise[d] very well for the future.’ His fourth collection, Appendix: Pruitt-Igoe (2013), shows that fledgling talent now in flight. The metaphor is not gratuitous, for reading Orchids I truly had the sensation – not all the time, but often enough that it became a lasting impression – that the lines were struggling to take off, that something kept them earthbound. Some process was not yet complete… but now the metaphor threatens to transform into an alchemical one, so I’ll draw myself up short.

Appendix is a slim book, 40 pages including the title page and three that are blank. The author is offering it for free as a PDF on his website, which is very generous of him, but I think it is worth more. On the site it is subtitled a ‘Sequence in thirty-three parts, appropriating voices around the failed Pruitt-Igoe public housing project.’ Elsewhere he describes it as a ‘collage poem’ of historical documents on the project. Each eleven-line part (stanza?), having its own page of which it occupies about a quarter, has its own ‘source’, all listed with bibliographic detail in a justified block on the final page – the most densely printed page in the book, an irony of which I doubt he is unaware. This is found poetry, then, but not untreated: Welsch has not only cut up and rearranged lines; he has taken creative liberties, changed a good many words, and to great effect.

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A Darkening Hour: Jacqueline Rose, Southbank Centre, 11 October 2014

Jacqueline Rose’s new book Women in Dark Times is about permission. ‘What [the women discussed in the book] allowed me to think is that there’s the most intimate relationship between a critique of a certain kind of power and inequality, and an understanding of the kind of psychic subtext of who we are.’

In a conversation with Jude Kelly at the Southbank Centre, Rose talks in her usual vein about otherness and marginalised voices, about the women who aren’t heard in the same way, or not at all. Both Rose and Kelly agree on the need for feminist discourse to be central in elucidating power structures in contemporary society. ‘What each of those women do,’ says Rose of her subjects, ‘is to push further towards an understanding of women’s deep entrenchment in forms of intimacy which can be most enabling, and terribly painful.’

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Writing From Prison, Southbank Centre, 09 October 14

‘It’s an enforced monastic experience,’ says Rose Simpson, a lecturer at HM Prison Stafford, on a panel discussing Writing from Prison ‘and people find talents they never knew they had.’ At an evening organised by The Koestler Trust and the Southbank Centre, offenders, secure patients and detainees were showcasing their writing as part of the London Literature Festival. Some of the writers are not present, but heard through their writing mentors, or through recordings of them reading their work.

There’s an intimate aspect to only hearing the voice through a ‘messenger’ or especially through the electronic speakers, which is a powerful statement about control and freedom through the medium and the absent writer. One of those writers is Mark from HM Prison Stafford, whose poem ‘A Stranger on the Shore’ Simpson reads to the absorbed audience. The short poem ends with a vivid image:

I was born a million waves ago

In this sea-haunted town.

Simpson also delivers a message from Mark about his confinement. ‘I escape every night by reading, drawing, and writing poetry.’

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Colm Tóibín: Nora Webster, Southbank Centre, 07 October 14

Colm Tóibín is a novelist more storyteller than wordsmith. This is not to say of course, that his use of language is not skilful, his sentences not beautiful; only that his craft, by now well celebrated among the best in the English language, is aimed at something else. Listening to him introduce his new novel Nora Webster at Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival, one senses it is the image, not the word, that holds sway over his imagination. A case in point: Tóibín prefaces his reading not only with tales of nuns from a coastal convent spotted by children as if they were rare seals, but also with Tony O’Malley, the Irish painter — although, as Tóibín reminds us, long of St Ives — who left a suitcase of paintings at a boarding house and found them still there twenty five years later. Tóibín’s writing starts from the point where the visual and the anecdote, so often ships in the night, happen to collide.

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