40. Micro Reliquary II
For this month’s letter, I’m keeping it brief, embracing the random and the mildly disorganized.
A dear friend of mine gifted me a mushroom-themed tarot deck for my birthday back in January. Since then, I’ve been trying to draw one card each morning (when I’m awake enough to remember, at least). Today, I pulled ‘Temperance,’ which the little booklet tells me is “a reflection on underlying drives and break beyond (perhaps below) the cyclical actions of habit, but attempt to keep the self connected to the whole while you turn inward.” As someone who is currently trying to find a balance between keeping up with my responsibilities and pursuing my passions, all while avoiding burning the candle at both ends, this tarot card came at the right time.
Each spring, I embark on an ambitious declutter of my digital storage units, namely my iPhone photos and personal inbox. Already, I’ve spent hours scrolling through and deleting screenshots of articles I planned to read later, newsletters from exhibits that opened last year, unsubscribing from marketing emails from a clothing brand I bought from once last summer, and so on. Every time I do it, I’m struck by how much digital refuse accumulates, how much space these little files take up, accumulating into an assorted medley of mundane reminders, warm memories, and curiosities.
For this month’s letter, I’m keeping it brief, embracing the random and the mildly disorganized.
When the violence in Ukraine first exploded and my social media feeds became full of videos of fleeing refugees in packed subway stations and buildings hollowed out with smoking rubble, I, like so many, turned to Ukrainian writers to find ways to articulate and reflect on these ongoing horrors. In doing so, I picked up a copy of Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. Kaminsky, whose family had fled the Soviet Union in the mid-90s, tells the story of a town under violent military occupation. After a deaf boy is killed by soldiers and everyone loses their hearing from the lethal gunshot, the townsfolk begin to resist through systems of sign language, challenging this oppression through covert operations, hopeful resiliency, and powerful silences.
Bella Carlos is an artist and jeweler who makes silver sculptural necklaces and wearable body pieces that mix poetic forms with alchemical interplays of texture, color, and magical symbolism. You may have even seen Hunter Schafer wearing one of their collars. I finally got my hands on one of their divine lighting bolt necklaces to mark the start of Spring. Rendered in graphite, this gorgeous little piece looks and feels absolutely electric.
I can say, without a doubt, that Solmaz Sharif continues to be one of my favorite poets. Six years after her debut, her follow-up collection, Customs, doesn’t disappoint. Each poem is a moment of displacement, giving language to a pervasive feeling of alienation from one’s self, family, and country. Violent government bureaucracy looms in the shadows of these borderlands. Take “He, Too,” where Sharif describes a tense conversation with a Border Patrol agent: “What do you teach? / Poetry. / I hate poetry, the officer says, / I only like writing / where you can make an argument.”
I have no idea how the Instagram algorithms got me to Livia Fălcaru’s gorgeous illustrations, but I’m so grateful for it. Based in Romania, you’ve probably seen Livia’s work adorn articles from Teen Vogue, The Washington Post, Refinery 29, and more. I love the way she layers vibrant colors against wiggly, abstract shapes that can feel at times so magical and surreal. I love Livia’s work so much that, when I moved into a new apartment last spring, I got a print of her illustration No Turning Back and now I can look at it every time I’m working at my desk and need some visual inspiration.
Ever since I saw Rosemary Mayer’s exhibition at the Swiss Institute, I’ve been thinking about her rich, colorful forms of drapery. Many of these pieces, whose titles take their names from female characters from mythology and folklore, are intricate systems of layering and knotting, organically folding and undulating as they suspend from and defy the boundaries of their frames (like Galla Placidia, 1973, pictured above). Mayer was not only deeply involved in the New York feminist art circles of the 1970s, but she would become fascinated with this idea of “temporary monuments,” creating sculptures from ephemeral materials that play with the cosmic powers of time.
In 2021, the global wellness industry was estimated at 1.5 trillion (yes, trillion) dollars, with fitness services, nutritional supplements, and beauty products all designed to promote ideas of healthy living. Yet, there’s a dark side, with junk science fueling fad diets, scamming influencers, and media actively encouraging fatphobia and body-shaming. Maintenance Phase has been so refreshing to listen to precisely because co-hosts Michael Hobbes and Audrey Gordon cut through the bullshit, debunking weigh loss myths that continue to plague our society to this day. If you’re trying to figure out where to start I’d recommend their 2-parter on Jordan Peterson’s Carnivore Diet, their series on influencer Rachel Hollis, and their breakdown of the Keto Diet.
I fell into Faye Webster’s discography when I got her song “Right Side of My Neck” stuck in my head about a month ago. Since then, every track I’ve listened to feels like a dream, light and airy like springtime. Yet, dancing through the soft sweetness of her melodies, there are lingering emotional aches. Take “In A Good Way” where she opens with the line, “I didn't know that I was capable of being happy right now.”
Each time a new episode of Art & Obsolescence pops up on my feed, I can’t help but get excited. This show features interviews from people across the art world, from artists and curators to conservators and gallerists, who are thinking about and working with technology whether its in their own professional practices or reflecting on how technology continues to shape the art world. Each conversation is so insightful as guests share their personal experiences and offer insights into their respective niches and fields of study. Two of my favorites so far have been, without a doubt, American Artist’s discussion about technology’s role in upholding systems of racist oppression and Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan’s interview about crypto’s role in digital art.
I’m definitely late to the party on this one, but I’ve really been enjoying Magdalena Bay’s latest album, Mercurial World. Ultra-ethereal with a bit of hyperpop fizz, each track feels like a fantastical journey into glitchy cyberspace. Songs like “Dreamcatching” are a go-to when I need an escape from reality.
My boyfriend and I recently started (and finished) The Leftovers. The show considers a peculiar kind of apocalypse: 2% of the world’s population simply vanishes into thin air on October 14th. There’s no explanation for why it happened. We don’t know where they went nor what caused some people to lose entire families while others lost no one. Cults have started cropping up, America establishes the Department of Sudden Departures, and the world attempts to move on. While at times it can dabble the cheesy or be downright batshit and unrealistic, the show’s true power lies in the way its cast of characters grapple with grief and faith and try to find themselves in this new world. With the way COVID has derailed our lives and brought unspeakable loss to so many at numbers we haven’t fully comprehended yet, it feels especially timely.
One of the best perks to quitting my intense full time 9-5 and becoming a grad student this year is more time to read. When I’m trying to ignore the growing mountain of books in my to-read pile(s), I’ve really enjoyed Nathan Shuherk’s reviews and content. Known as schizophrenicreads on TikTok, Nathan went from working as a mental health public speaker traveling around before the pandemic to reading and reviewing non-fiction on the Internet. Most online book communities are totally saturated in fiction, so it’s really refreshing to have someone suggest non-fiction releases. Nathan’s reviews are always so insightful, and I really appreciate how he shares what he’s learned from these reads with his audience.
I’ve been utterly obsessed with Myra Magdalen’s styling videos and I can’t stop watching them every time they appear on my feed. The way she layers things like PVC pipes, wires, props, and other random pieces of plastic she collects, all against a backdrop of a bathroom that has keyboards on the walls from floor to ceiling, it’s been wonderfully mind-boggling to see what deranged outfit ideas she comes up.
In a world of viral maximalist confections that look more like masterful pieces of sculpture than edible desserts, Rust Cakes truly takes the cake (I’m so sorry, I had to). Seriously, these cakes are so lush with ornamentation, it makes your mouth water. There’s this playful inventiveness to these cakes too, like raspberries standing in for mushrooms or a regal spike of strawberries. This is food meant for fairies and other fantastical creatures, not human beings. I’d feel so guilty cutting the first slice.
I recently revisited Ocean Vuong’s poem “Eurydice.” Something about that image of a doe standing in the frostbitten air, blissfully unaware of her body about to be punctured, remains stuck in my head and I’m not sure how to shake it (or if I really want to). All of Vuong’s poems feel like a gut punch and this one is no exception. Under the crushing weight of mundane mythos, Vuong writes, “Gravity breaking / our kneecaps just to show us / the sky.”
Nostalgia has become such an outsized part of pop culture, from remaking beloved franchises to collabs with childhood media and toy companies. Yet sometimes what’s even more fascinating is the dark side to the businesses who created the iconic products we adored as kids, the events and newsworthy scandals we would have been too young to know about. For that reason, I became completely engrossed in this Jezebel story about the rise and fall of Lisa Frank. Lisa Frank’s technicolor designs, adorning backpacks were highly coveted in its heyday, yet the artist behind the brand remained elusive. I don’t want to give too much away because this story is so juicy as personal drama spills into a disorganized company struggling to peak again.
Audrey Wollen’s essay “Middle Sister” was one of those pieces that haunted me long after I finished reading it. The story follows Dolours Price who, with her sister Marian, joined the IRA in the 1970s. This is an essay of entanglements, a reflection on hunger strikes balanced against young girls’ eating disorders, how books and TV shows have grappled with The Troubles, unspoken violence revealed through modern-day oral histories. As Wollen notes, “This was supposed to be an essay about the long, unexpected afterlives of violent conflict…”
Thanks for taking the time to read! Feel free to share this little project of mine with your friends, lovers, and enemies. If you like what I do, you can help feed my leopard gecko through Ko-Fi or check out my website to find more of my writing. You can find a list of books by the people I mentioned on Bookshop (I get a small commission through this and any other affiliate links in this letter).
Until next time,