Monday, February 28, 2011

Hort: A Playground for Designers

Iris Braun profiles the German design group Hort and founder Eike König at the Goethe-Institut site. Based in Berlin, Hort brings together a dozen or so designers in a working environment that resembles a nursery where children come to play.

“ … Here we are trying to be a sort of playground for creative people,” says König.

Hort has worked with a diverse clientele from Nike to Walt Disney, and magazines to record labels.

König expects to be surprised by what his team creates and has a few rules for the group: “No clichés, no advertising with naked women or for alcohol and cigarettes.”

You can learn more about Hort at their website and download a portfolio of their work.

We’d like the Absinthe HQ to be a creative playground but for now, thanks to our new assistant editor, the home office just swarms with toys ... I suppose it's a step in the right direction.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

London Fashion Week Trends and Educating Tailors in Italy

At the Financial Times Carola Long discusses three trends following the close of London Fashion Week. Here in the Midwest we're quite familiar with two of the trends, blanket-like styles and layering, as we've had the second-most February snow ever recorded in Michigan.

Absinthe editors demonstrate the fine art of layering
Additionally, Alex Coles writes about several Italian brands (Kiton, Brioni, Bottega Veneta and Ermenegildo Zegna) planning for the future by starting schools to teach their tailoring techniques.

“It occurred to me that founding a school was vital when I noticed the average age of our tailors was 55,” says Kiton chief executive Antonio De Matteis, noting that the craft was in danger of dying in Naples once this generation retired. Investment in manpower was crucial, he says, since all Kiton’s products are made by hand and the importance the brand places on the school is clear from the fact the factory floor is adjacent to the school’s classrooms.
Perhaps I should learn a new trade when we retire to Italy in 30 years.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Love Doesn't Work: New Fiction by Henning Koch

Longtime Absinthe advisor Henning Koch has a new collection of short stories out from Dzanc Books, Love Doesn't Work.

The collection includes the story "In Memoriam, Ingmar Bergman," which originally appeared in Absinthe #9.

According to Dzanc's website:

Love Doesn't Work offers classic storytelling with profound, startling insights into human desire and its shortfalls. Inspired by the ancient Cathars, these seven tales present a vision of life as an inevitable struggle against ignorance, darkness and sexual confusion. Devilish and playful in tone, they leave the reader with a sense of outraged satisfaction and delight.

Grab a copy; I know you'll enjoy it. You can order it from Dzanc Books here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bratislava's Art Scene

In a New York Times article, "Bratislava's Art Comes Out of the Shadows", Ginanne Brownell profiles the Bratislava art scene, highlighting the work of the HIT Gallery in particular and noting:

The Bratislava art scene has always played second fiddle to Vienna — a 45-minute drive from the Slovak capital — and Prague, which for generations was where Slovak artists decamped for cultural enlightenment. But these days, small galleries are starting to have a big impact not only on the local scene but on the regional one as well. HIT Gallery is one of the most influential....
HIT is unique to the small Slovak contemporary art scene in its commitment to exploring social, political and cultural boundaries.

The gallery was cofounded by Dorota Kenderova who now partners with artist Jaro Varga. According to Varga they “decided to change from being a gallery of emerging artists to a gallery of emerging ideas….We want to do big topics in a small gallery.”

Learn more about the gallery here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In the works: Absinthe #15

Over at Absinthe HQ we're hard at work on a milestone issue, Absinthe #15.

It promises to be an excellent issue with poetry by Menno Wigman, Pedja Kojovic, Pierre Peuchmaurd, and others, along with fiction from writers such as Simon Fruelund, Jan Sonnergaard, and Birgitta Stenberg.

The issue will also include our recommendations of recent European cinema, music, and literature and reports from Copenhagen and elsewhere.

Logan, our assistant editor, is working overtime to ensure the issue is ready by the end of April.

In upcoming weeks we'll post more info about the issue, along with a sneak peek at the cover.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prostitution in Vienna

In a previous life I worked as a therapist, primarily focused on sexual abuse issues with offenders and read numerous books and attended many conferences related to sexual deviations as defined by the DSM, the impact of pornography, the lives of sex workers, etc. It was difficult work and I finally realized I did not want to deal with these issues on a daily basis.

However, I still occasionally read articles related to the field and found a recent essay in the Vienna Review of interest. In "Women of the Shadows", Anni Surenian and Philippa Hohenzollern explore the realities of legalized prostitution in Vienna:
Currently, there are 2,374 prostitutes registered at the Polizeikommissariat Innere Stadt,” we learned from Frau Hohenwarter, a spokeswoman for the commission, of which not even 200 are Austrian. “Some of them only want to work for a couple of weeks or months,” she told us, “very often out of an emergency situation.” Accordingly, prostitutes are required to have weekly medical check-ups and have to pay their taxes. However they may not put in a legal claim for their wages should a client decide to not to pay.... Vienna is referred to as the “Hochburg” or hot spot for legal and illegal prostitution. Even though legal official numbers speak of nearly 3,000 registered sex workers, NGO estimates go as high as 8,000 nationwide.
The authors interview a woman from Romania they call "Clara":
This is my shitty job, I’m sorry, she tells us. Clara is neither happy nor proud of where she is in life right now. In fact, she despises her job more than anything else, but it is the only way she can provide for her family. As a waitress, she would make €40 a day. Here she can make twice as much in one hour, justification enough. “Aber besser trinken Alkohol und schlafen, dann ist alles ok,” It’s better to drink alcohol and sleep, then everything is ok.

Clearly not all is well in the world of legalized prostitution.

Monday, February 21, 2011

French Film and Writers in NYC

If you're near New York City over the next two weeks you have a cool opportunity to hear from some excellent French authors (in conversation with American writers) and to see some great new films from France.

First up, from February 24th-26th, is the Festival of New French Writing to be held at New York University. The writers appearing include Stéphane Audeguy, Pascal Bruckner, Philippe Claudel, Geneviève Brisac, Laurence Cossé, Atiq Rahimi, and David B. They will be joined in conversation with writers such as A.M. Homes, Rick Moody and friend of Absinthe, Arthur Phillips. Additionally, Open Letter Books director Chad Post will be moderating one of the discussions.

Then from March 3rd-14th there is the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The interesting lineup of films includes work by directors Bertrand Tavernier, Claude Lelouch, Catherine Breillat, and Benoît Jacquot.

Catherine Deneuve will be in attendance to present her new film Potiche, directed by François Ozon.  There will also be two programs of experimental cinema.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

European Union Film Festival in Chicago

In two weeks the 14th annual European Union Film Festival kicks off at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. The festival will run from March 4th-31st, and features 64 films from 24 countries.

The festival includes 9 films that represented their countries in the competition for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the Academy Awards.

Also featured is a film I mentioned in a previous post, Two in the Wave, a documentary on the friendship between Godard and Truffaut.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely we'll get to see the documentary but we do plan a quick trip to Chicago for a few films. If you make it for any part of the festival let us know what you saw.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Arts & Faith Top 100 Films

Arts & Faith, affiliated with one of my favorite literary journals--IMAGE--has published their list of the top 100 films.

There are many European films on the list, as expected, including films from the usual suspects: Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wim Wenders, Robert Bresson, and Krystof Kieslowski, among others.

Recent films by the Dardenne Brothers (see previous post) and Romanian directors Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) and Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) also make the list.

The group would definitely make for an excellent film festival.

Learn about how the list was put together here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interview with Belgian Filmmakers The Brothers Dardenne

Over at the web site 99%, writer Ariston Anderson interviews Belgian filmmakers the Dardenne Brothers. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have won two Palme d'Or's at the Cannes Film Festival, for Rosetta (1999) and for L'Enfant (2005).

When asked why depictions of work and labor play a prominent part in their films, Luc notes that they were raised in an industrial city, Seraing, "a little Detroit."

He explains how this experience informed their decision to make films:
I think one of the big wishes of the human kind is to transform things, to work on things to construct, to destroy, to sometimes construct again. And not only to look at the world, let’s say, passively. I think that’s the aim of humankind, being a man, a woman, is to change things. And cinema is about showing things that are changing.

Later in the interview Luc and Jean-Pierre mention Armand Gatti, a man they refer to as their "spiritual father":
That’s what we call the spiritual father, the man that gives you the desire to discover new things. And that surprises you while also giving you confidence. So he’s someone who has played an important role in our work. Without this encounter, we wouldn’t have been doing what we’ve been doing all these years.

I wasn't familiar with Gatti before but he sounds fascinating (though apparently none of his films have been released on video in the U.S.).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Miroslav Penkov's Stories About Bulgaria

A writer we intend to keep an eye on is Miroslav Penkov. He was born in Bulgaria and grew up in Sofia before moving to the U.S. in 2001 to attend college and is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas.

Penkov's collection of short stories, East of the West: A Country in Stories, will be published in June by FSG

On Penkov’s website he includes a brief history of Bulgaria along with a description of what inspired him to write the stories that make up the collection:

I wanted people to listen and be moved by our tales, and to show them that Bulgarians are not all car thieves and prostitutes, though there are plenty of those too. As a boy I’d listened to my father and felt calm and safe, and twenty years later I wanted to feel that same way. Writing about Bulgaria was the only way I knew that would get me back to Bulgaria – not just my family, whom I miss greatly, but also our muddy village roads, black fields, blue mountains...
He concludes:

Today, more than a million Bulgarians live abroad, and I have seen countless parents (my own included) encourage their children to leave, to seek a better life away from home; and I’ve seen Bulgarians change their names, abandon their language, take on new beliefs, new ideologies and identities, forget where they came from. Yes, history repeats itself and nothing is new under the sun, but history can be forgotten. With this book, I wanted to remember.
Penkov’s site includes brief excerpts from each of the eight stories in East of the West, and he’s also started a blog as something of an anti-new year’s resolution. Hopefully he'll keep at it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BOMB Interview with Tristan Garcia

For a limited time, BOMB magazine is making their full interview with French novelist Tristan Garcia available on their website.

Garcia was born in 1981 in Toulouse and is the author of Hate: A Romance (published by Faber and Faber last fall and translated by Marion Duvert and Lorin Stein) and Mémoires de la Jungle.

I haven't read Garcia's novel yet but it definitely sounds like it's worth checking out and there was much in the interview of interest:

I wanted to write about something far removed from myself, which has nothing to do with my existence, even my nature—I’m too well-behaved, my soul is too well-adapted to the world, in a sense. Autofiction doesn’t interest me, and I’m not very interested in myself either. For a time, it was believed that because people were writing to tell their stories—as if to a psychoanalyst or a confessor—literature was self-expression, first and foremost, and, sometimes, the fictional expression of self: speech, a voice, the voice of the person writing. For me, it is the contrary. Writing is a refined form of empathy through which man extends his ability to be an Other, to feel what someone else feels, to trade his sensibility and voice with others without losing his soul.

And on dealing with morals in fiction:

In the 20th century, the idea of morals became suspect: people spoke of sanctimonious morals; a holier-than-thou approach; categories of good and evil, what should and shouldn’t be done. But if you take morals out of art and, especially, out of literature, the form dries up, it tends toward abstraction, self-reflexiveness. . . The interesting thing about morals in the novel is the idea of empathy, as opposed to compassion. Compassion consists in pretending to share someone else’s suffering, to suffer together, by patting the victim on the back, like on television shows. I hate compassion as a spectacle: ultimately you suffer alone; we should not pretend to commune in pain—that’s false. However, you can put yourself in the other’s place, you can, through the imagination, suffer what he suffers, come out of yourself, take the other’s place—without being with the Other, but by carrying out the exercise of being what the Other is.
Additionally, you can read a review of the novel in the Guardian

Monday, February 14, 2011

Berlusconi Makes Every Woman Feel "Special"

Yesterday thousands of protesters, primarily women, filled the Piazza del Popolo in Rome demanding the resignation of Italy's prime minister--Silvio Berlusconi--in protest over an underage prostitution scandal involving Berlusconi and to promote greater respect for women and gender equality.

Just last year, the film Videocracy (directed by Erik Gandini) explored Berlusconi's television empire, his treatment of women, and what it means for Italian culture and society. Read more about the film from a New York Times review.

And speaking of film ... Berlusconi's response today makes one wish Federico Fellini was still alive to direct a fantastical film based on the prime minister's life. Berlusconi claimed the protests were organized by his political opponents and stated "I have always behaved with the greatest attention and respect towards them. I have always made it so that every woman feels, how should I say, special."

Perhaps his definition of "special" would not be shared by all.

View a video of the protest from The Guardian.  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Finnish Novelist and Poet Bo Carpelan Dies at 84

The Finnish poet and author Bo Carpelan died yesterday at age 84. Carpelan was a laureate of the Nordic Council Literature Prize and twice was awarded the Finlandia Literature Prize.

Several of his works were translated into English, including Axel, Homecoming, and Urwind, all translated by David McDuff.

More information about Carpelan is available at YLE and Helsingen Sanomat.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Truffaut and Godard

As admirers of the French New Wave directors, particularly Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, we can't pass up news related to the Nouvelle Vague.

The new documentary, Two in the Waveto be released on DVD this month (after screening at limited theatres in the U.S. last year) focuses on the relationship between the two directors—their early friendship and collaborations, along with their writing for Cahier du Cinema through their estrangement.

The film is directed by Emmanuel Laurent with Antoine de Baecque (a biographer of both Godard and Truffaut) contributing the script and narration.

At the Financial Times Tobias Grey takes a look at the two directors and the film documenting their different personalities and cinematic ambitions:

In their documentary Laurent and De Baecque shun a talking-heads approach and instead make judicious use of newspaper clippings, film clips, archive documentary footage and photographs to tell the story of how Godard and Truffaut began by sharing the same dream of cinema, only to end up each hating the other for the kind of films he made.... For a while Truffaut and Godard managed to ignore their creative differences and their friendship flourished. But tensions began to surface during the political upheaval of 1968. While Godard embraced Marxism and signalled his determination to make politically driven, elliptical films, Truffaut steadfastly refused to mix cinema and politics.
Eventually the friendship completely dissolved, in part over a dispute involving a letter sent by Godard to Jean-Pierre Léaud, the actor who appeared in many of Truffaut's films.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

All You Need Is Logan and DD

Logan, our new assistant editor at Absinthe and resident "wild boy", has been enjoying the new Mark Ronson-produced "album" by Duran Duran while working on issue #15 at the home office.

"All You Need is Now" has a sound reminiscent of the British band's early music from "Rio " and "Seven and the Ragged Tiger." Check it out for yourself with the video for the title song:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Previewing the Berlin International Film Festival

The 61st Berlin International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow and Deutsche Welle previews what is in store for filmgoers:

The themes of family, identity and society link this year's films, largely drawn from the ranks of independent movie makers. Thirty-nine films--many with a documentary focus--explore the grave social changes and questions people from across the world face day to day.
The Coen Brothers commence the festival with their film “True Grit”, while Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog screen documentaries and Hungarian director Béla Tarr and the French animation filmmaker Michel Ocelot also present new work. 

Hopefully a number of the films will find their way to theatres here in the U.S.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vaclav Havel Makes a Movie

At the ripe, young age of 73, Former Czech president Vaclav Havel is directing his first film, an adaptation of his autobiographical 2007 play Leaving about a "recently retired statesman (Chancellor Rieger) going through the withdrawal symptoms of power within the general framework of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s King Lear."

Michael Zantovsky speaks with Havel about this and many other things in the current issue of World Affairs.

Besides providing inspiration to maturing would-be filmmakers, the interview is interesting on many levels. When asked if he is a "believer" Havel replies:
It is hard to say. If by believing you mean praying to an anthropomorphic deity who created the world and half controls it and half observes it, then I am probably not a believer. But if you mean that it is not all accidental, that there is a mystery to existence, a deeper meaning, that I do believe in. Actually, I am pretty sure of it.... we ask, why is there anything living? And then we ask, why is there anything at all? And if you tell some advocate of scientism that the answer is a secret, he will go white hot and write a book. But it is a secret. And the experience of living with the secret and thinking about it is in itself a kind of faith. 
On his political leanings:
I am always amused when people try to put me in a drawer and label me as this or that. It is not all that important. What is important to me is the truth. And the truth is that Russia has become a threat to its neighbors. I don’t care whether this be considered liberal, or conservative, or progressive. But it is the truth. I am not a friend of war. But it is the truth that if we had intervened in Kosovo sooner, we might have saved many lives. The same thing holds for Iraq. When the first Gulf War took place, I was all for going all the way to Baghdad. When dictators get appeased, people die.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coming from an Off-Key Time: New Fiction from Bogdan Suceava

Northwestern University Press recently published Romanian writer Bogdan Suceava's novel Coming from an Off-Key Time, translated by Alistair Ian Blyth. The work is part of Northwestern's excellent series "Writings from an Unbound Europe." Readers of Absinthe will already be familiar with Suceava's imaginative fiction. NUP's description of the novel notes:

Suceava satirizes the events [around the fall of communism] in his native Romania since the violent end of the Ceausescu regime that fateful year. Suceava uses three interrelated narratives to illustrate the destructive power of Romanian society’s most powerful mythologies. He depicts madness of all kinds but especially religious beliefs and their perversion by all manner of outrageous sects. Here horror and humor reside impossibly in the same time and place, and readers experience the vertiginous feeling of living in the middle of a violent historical upheaval.

I'm nearly half-way through it and can definitely recommend it from what I've read so far.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Apply for the Sozopol Fiction Seminar

Just a reminder that applications for the Sozopol Fiction Seminar sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation are due February 15th, so time is short. The seminar hosts writers from English-speaking countries and from Bulgaria in Sozopol, on the Black Sea.

It's an opportunity to participate in fiction workshops with Elizabeth Kostova and the program also includes round-table discussions, readings, and lectures with guest writers, translators, publishers, and editors.

Read more about the seminar and Jeremiah Chamberlin's account of his experience as an attendee here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Five London Artists to Keep an Eye On

With the British Art Show set to open in two weeks ArtInfo selects 5 up-and-coming London artists of note: Charles Avery, Alice Channer, Anthea Hamilton, Nathaniel Mellors, and Haroon Mirza.

A new work by Mellor's sounds particularly interesting: "a six-part drama set in a derelict mansion in the English countryside.... (his) investigation of language's impact on reality has moments of dead-parrot humor, hints of Pasolini, and slices of absurdist theater."

There is also a photo gallery of their work to take a look at.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The "Flowering" of Turkish Cinema

A number of very fine Turkish films have been released in the U.S. in the last few years, including films by Fatih Akin and Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Writer Kieron Corless in Sight & Sound, the magazine of the British Film Institute, reviews the latest effort by Asli Ozge--Men on the Bridge--and claims that the film is further evidence that "Turkish cinema continues to flower."
(Men on the Bridge) represent(s) the best of what’s happening in sections of (Turkish) cinema: a willingness to grapple with the big themes and ask the right questions, a socially engaged cinema largely untainted by didacticism, which is generally purveyed in solidly naturalist style and firmly embedded in ordinary lives and real worlds, usually at the sharp end of economic circumstance.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Writing from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria

If you're near Chicago or New York you'll have an opportunity to hear from some of the best younger writers from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in the coming weeks.

First up is the Festival Neue Literatur taking place February 11-13 at several locations around NYC and presenting two authors each from the three countries: Dorothee Elmiger, Andrea Grill, Julia Schoch, Antje Rávic Strubel, Peter Weber and Andrea Winkler. The festival is curated by Susan Bernofsky and Paul North and sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Forum, Deutsches Haus NYU, the German Book Office, the German Consulate, the Goethe-Institut NY, Pro Helvetia, and the Swiss Consulate. The festival web site also provides sample translations of the authors.

Then on Wednesday, February 16, 2011, Dorothee Elmiger and Andrea Grill will join German author Christiane Neudecker for Literaturlenz at the Goethe-Institut Chicago.  Additionally, the writers will visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison (on February 15), the University of Illinois at Chicago (on February 17) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on February 18).