51. Micro Reliquary V
Now that I'm finally catching my breath, I thought I'd share some of the things that kept me sane during this time of disruption and healing.
Like the month of February itself, I'm keeping this letter relatively short and sweet. My sense of time has been so off lately, mostly due to the fact that I got my wisdom teeth out and ended up spending these recent recovering from surgery. Somehow February has felt like the longest month and the briefest month. I kept mixing up my days of the week, and the violent oscillations between freezing cold winds and unusually warm weather didn't help my sense of perpetual temporal displacement.
Despite spending half this month icing my jaw and staying in on the weekends, it still ended up being a jam-packed time, full of deadlines, things to read, things to see, and events to attend. Now that I'm finally catching my breath, I thought I'd share some of the things that kept me sane during this time of disruption and healing.
I had the great privilege of being invited to see Willy Chavarria's Fall 2023 collection for New York Fashion Week. I have lived in NYC for almost 8 years now, and never gone to any event for NYFW, so this was such a treat (made all the more special by the fact that the show was staged at the museum I work at). This dazzling production, which included a vocalist and string quartet serenading the models, embraced the drama of gothic aesthetics. Each of the pieces were beautifully tailored, made of rich, sumptuous sweeps and puffs of fabric true to Chavarria's signature experimentation with exaggerated masculine silhouettes. I've only seen Chavarria's work in person once before, so getting a chance to see his designs up close was unforgettable.
At the start of 2022, I kicked off the year by reading Audre Lorde's brilliant essay collection, Sister Outsider. I continued this tradition by making Zami: A New Spelling of My Name my first read of 2023. Described as a "biomythography," this epic traces Lorde's experiences growing up as a Black lesbian and how she found her voice in the face of racism and segregation, homophobia, sexism, and class struggle. Lorde doesn't differentiate between her autobiography and other histories and fictionalizations, choosing instead to create vibrant portraits of her family and the complicated women she encountered during the most transformative years of her life.
I went on multiple perfume-smelling adventures this month and finally got the chance to visit The Naxos Apothecary’s Nolita location. This recommendation came from a friend who went to Greece last summer and discovered the brand. Each of their fragrances take inspiration from Greek landscapes and draw from ancient scent cultures with a fresh, modern sensibility. I love how they use these little fragrance cones for the testers and, when you step into their shop, you become surrounded by beautiful glass dropper bottles and shelves of loose herbs for custom blends. My two favorites were the crisp, earthy Yria and the wetter, woodier Alyko.
Last summer in Berlin, I kept a tube of paprika-flavored Pringles with me at all times. It's a little embarrassing how many of these chips I consumed during that one week (no regrets), but I've been craving them ever since. While they're impossible to find here in New York, my partner surprised me with a 4-pack shipped all the way from the UK for Valentine's Day. Waiting until I was healed enough to eat them was absolute agony, but well worth being able to savor their deliciousness yet again.
I’ve had an eye on Stora Skuggan for a long time and finally got the chance to sample Thumbsucker on a trip to the Scent Bar. This is a brand that embraces the peculiar, subverting our expectations of typical fragrance notes and concepts. Thumbsucker smells like literal baby. It has this powdery intensity on the skin, but a delicate sweetness too that comes through over time. Conceived as a hangover recovery, this perfume embodied my experience coming out of a period of medical vulnerability.
This month, I got the chance to see PAROXYSM, a wonderful show curated by my friend and creative superstar, Alison, at Westbeth Gallery. PAROXYSM's collection of sculptures, paintings, and performances each explore bodies in crises brought on by social, mental, and physical diseases that impact us and the world around us. These artworks embraced discomfort and alienation, responding to ongoing bodily and systemic violences with immense fury and healing. I went to the show’s opening and its night of performances, and both experiences were ones of rapturous catharsis.
Lou Benesch’s illustrations feel like modern fairytales. Her surreal arrangements of mythic creatures and otherwordly creatures are rendered beautifully through watercolors, giving them a dreamy ethereal quality that brings to mind tarot decks, folklore, and medieval manuscripts. We’re in a time that’s lacking in enchantment, yet Benesch’s body of work cuts through with ferocious saturations of magic and wonder.
Since I first took a wheel throwing class with friends a while back, I've become obsessed with ceramics, that meticulous attention to craft. Federica Massimi's collection of fruit-inspired dishes is one of those gems. Based in Rome, Massimi's pieces are bursting with color, glazed with delicately layered line-work that mimics the ripeness of her subjects. I've been especially obsessed with her fig plates, gently sloping as if cut and half and decorated with detailed veining that adds such a dimensional pulp to these ordinary objects. They'll make your mouth water.
As I wait for a chance to see him DJ again live here in New York, I’ve been keeping Conducta’s BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix on loop. It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, relentlessly hypnotic with bouncy rhythms and skillfully arranged vocals that shake up the groove. I love mixes with a narrative flow, ones that take you on an adventure. This one makes me feel like I could take on the world and win.
In my downtime, I finally caught up on the back catalog of Momus’s podcast. In continuing with the publication’s mission to advance art criticism, the show features interviews with writers, editors, and scholars about their craft and their relationship to contemporary art. This whole show is essential listening for anyone interested in working the arts, but if you’re not sure where to start, I’d suggest their conversations with Kemi Adeyemi about the history of Black queer women in Chicago nightlife, Arushi Vats about meditating on waste, and Tausif Noor on sexual transgressions.
Once Upon a Time at Bennington College takes listeners back to Vermont in the 1980s, where Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Lethem, and Donna Tartt began to hone their literary voices among a whole constellation of rebellious young adults, partying rich kids, and ambitious creatives. The show maps out the writers’ time together as part of the Class of 1986, how literary friends and rivalries collided in this notoriously countercultural college. Beyond these three future stars of American fiction, the show looks at the school itself, how it gained its wild reputation, and we see how both the school itself and its vibrant student body became a source of inspiration.
The day I got my wisdom teeth out, I planted myself in bed, mouth sore and full of bloody gauze, and watched some movies. One of them was the camp cult classic Grey Gardens. Grey Gardens follows a mother and daughter, related to Jackie Kennedy, as they live reclusively in their deteriorating Long Island mansion. The documentary’s style breaks many rules: its subjects talk back to the camera, casual bouts of bickering and rants are shown entirely, minimal recording equipment that values imperfect shots over stylized scenes. There are moments when the movie was painful to watch, but it was also hard to look away as the camera captures these women’s experiences with money, age, nostalgia, and mental illness with a morbid fascination.
I recently became obsessed with chatelaines, a type of belt hook made with suspended chains that held everyday items like keys, a watch, toiletries, writing implements, scissors. The carabiner's cool, fancy aunt, chatelaines acted as women's keychains from the 16th to the 19th century when they were replaced by bags. Meant for female heads of households, chatelaines signaled authority over domestic spaces while the decoration and materials were indicative of one's familial wealth and status. Both an ornament and practical tool, I wouldn't object if these came back into style.
I’m trying not to mix metals but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of my favorite shows from London fashion week: Dilara Findikoğlu’s Fall 2023 RTW collection. This dress made out of antique knives was to die for, and the rest of the collection challenged norms of feminine modesty, both in direct response to the Masha Amini protests in Iran and as part of the designer’s ongoing exploration of challenging gender-based injustice and violence through fashion. “There’s always this conversation about a woman’s body: how it should look, what we should wear, what jobs we should do,” Dilara remarked in an interview, “I can’t express how angry this makes me.” That raw rage is palpable, felt through the textures of her fabrics that brought lingerie-style femininity and bondage-inspired corsetry to the razor’s edge.
Back in 2020, as many of us turned our kitchens into coping mechanisms, Sabrina Orah Mark published "Fuck the Bread. The Bread is Over." In some ways this is an essay about labor, in other ways about motherhood, and Mark turns to the fantastical realm of fairytales to connect these threads of value, productivity, and ambitions unspooled by the pandemic's upheaval of our lives. "What does it mean to be worth something? Or worth enough? " she muses, "Or worthless? What does it mean to earn a living? What does it mean to be hired? What does it mean to be let go?"
Although I write newsletters, I subscribe to very few of them (the anxiety of clogged inboxes and going through a million emails, yada yada yada). Dirt is the exception to the rule. Published daily, their articles are thoughtful explorations of digital and pop culture, art, fashion, design and every niche in between. A recent favorite was Colleen Kelsey’s analysis of scallop shell motifs and how they’ve dominated our visual culture as symbols of beauty and luxury. I love how Kelsey takes a historical view, connecting cool girl trends like tinned fish and Chloë Sevigny’s bachelorette party to Renaissance painting, Gothic aesthetics, and Greco-Roman mythologies.
In Mary Ruefle’s “Kiss of the Sun,” the poet greets us with an orange at the end of time. Each time I read her work, it’s like tapping into a moment of pure wonder, the invisible machinations of life revealing themselves through her gently contemplative lyrics. There is a rawness to this poem, a vulnerability that spans the scales of “wheat and evil and insects and love” that leaves you on the precipice of anticipation.