My New Year’s resolution is to improve my diet — of words. So I am reading more artist books and zines.
And I have suddenly become aware of how much time I squander doing absolutely nothing on the subway. Well that was sort of a lie. I am usually “thinking.”
That word deserves quotations because most of my thoughts aren’t that interesting — maybe you’re better than me. Especially, in comparison to the way an artist book or zine gets me to ponder things in a new way.
For the past week, White Fungus, an English-language Taiwanese art magazine, was tucked under my arm as I frolicked and gallivanted through New York. I realize that some people love to sit at home, drink peppermint tea and read in bed. But I go out.
I’ve read White Fungus on the train, at coffee shops, at bars waiting for friends and went back to a friend’s apartment after left it there. The pages have become bent because I’m not good to paper. This paragraph is becoming narcissistically tedious but my question to you is: Do you make zines and books part of your life? Or do you just listen to the same songs over and over again on your iPod?
One article detailed how French nuclear testing in the pacific gave rise to Greenpeace. The fact that these tests wrecked people’s bodies and lives didn’t have the comic appeal of a stand-up comedy night. But it was a chilling reminder of the lunacy of the Cold Ear and the cruel indifference Westerners have shown towards the pain of Pacific Islanders.
It also made me think about my own forms of mental nuclear testing. Those cruel unspoken thoughts about other people that my brain “tests” out. The verbal bombs I wire and imagine I might detonate to emotional shock and awe. Even that seething process of testing can be a problem. It’s a (nuclear) waste of time. The article made me realize I need some Greenpeace right between my ears.
I pick favorites. It was an interview with a Beijing sound artist Yan Jun. Buzzwords like “feedback loops,” “noise,” and “cutting edge” are rattled off in an attempt to simplify his work. And these words can make us wonder what distinguishes a good sound artist from a bad one.
Yan Jun offers an answer:
“Artists enjoy life and labor, working hard. Maybe I’m wrong: I think artists enjoy working. People love to play on stage but not write emails and contact the rental equipment company. People love to drink together but no to do sound tracks or rehearsals. I think this is maybe the artist’s privilege: being Dionysian. But anyway, I think there are so many parodies of Dionysus in China. So that’s a pity they can’t go any higher.”
There are also many parodies of Dionysus here in New York. Creativity is so much easier when it’s about drinking and dreaming than results, outcomes and deadlines. And what I loved about reading these words is how Jan Yun made hard work sound sexy again. The puritans and ascetically boring people don’t do it for me.
But just after that excerpt glamorizing hard work, Jan Yun made it clear what hard work is not about. He is surrendering tasks as an organizer and convener to focus on what really matters: creation.
“I do everything as an artist now. I don’t want to organize so many things for everybody. I have 12,435 emails in my Gmail inbox and 9,112 in my sent box. Email murders creation. I think my responsibility is to liberate myself from responsibility.
He is so right. There is this tendency for talented people at certain moments in their mutli-faceted arts career to get burdened with logistics. And while it is important to work hard, this quote hits home how working smart is even more crucial. That line email murders creation resonates so powerfully that I was tempted to e-mail it instead of finishing this post.
I enjoyed reading White Fungus and how it lead my mind to new places. Take a risk and try out some zine you’ve never heard of before. What we read influences the way we think on a very detectable and experiential level. So it’s time to get serious about your literary diet. Take in a little more word nutrition and a little less of the songs on your IPOD you also loved five years ago. White Fungus on subway took my brain to some funky but rewarding and enriching places. If only saying “it was like mushrooms for my mind” would come off as nutritional as it actually was.
White Fungus is published in Taiwan and it is available for purchase at whitefungus.com. The publication also has an iPhone and iPad app available on iTunes for $3.99. In New York, copies of White Fungus are available at a number of booksellers, including Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and McNally Jackson Books in Soho, Manhattan. A complete list of international shops that carry the publication is available of their website.
Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!