Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mithra, Mark Bradford and Projects Update

      A few weeks ago I was approached by Robert Kahn of Fang Duff Kahn Publishing and asked if I’d consider contributing a piece to his new collection, Books: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide, edited by Mark Strand. It’s FDK’s second volume of their Arts & Letters series. As with all their books, it’ll be a compilation of short essays by a wide range of contributors – in this case, writing about their favorite lesser-known book. He sent me a copy of their Movies: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide so I’d see their work. That book is so dope in design and execution, and the caliber of folks that contributed so high (Wes Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Milos Forman, John Guare, Arthur Hiller, Anjelica Houston, Barbara Kopple, Sidney Lumet, Martin Scorsese) that I agreed to contribute to the new book even though I’d just sworn that I’d do no more non-paying writing gigs, which is what this is. But the chance to be in stellar company in a good book won me over. I wrote about Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. Look for Books: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide in September.

      As I’ve blogged in the past several months, my own next planned book will be titled 1 Cat Seen. It will center on Mark Bradford’s massive installation “Mithra” (formerly called “1 Cat Seen”), an ark he built in the Lower Ninth Ward as part of the Prospect1 Biennial, but will expand in scope to discuss the state of blackness in the era of Katrina; 21st century blackness in its myriad forms and manifestations as revealed through an examination of the artifacts of art, politics, business and culture (“high,” “low” and everything in between) created and lived within a specific bracket of time. These conversations are inherently about America and its future. I’ve logged several hours of interviews with Bradford and many other artists, and have been furiously compiling research lists and stock-piling research materials over the last several months, and I am still doing so. Send up some good energy for me that a few things click into place that will allow me to really do the hard work and research I need to pull this off. I am more excited about this project than I’ve been about anything for a minute. The first thing I will do in the book is break down the meaning of the two names (Mithra; 1 Cat Seen) and explain why the latter was dropped for the former. When first told that Mark was building an ark, I was a little… disappointed. What I like about his work in the first place is that it isn’t obvious; this seemed too on-the-nose. But as he explained the meanings behind everything from the ark’s name to the significance of the materials used to build it, I could only utter, “Oh, shit…” Below are nine photos of the project, from its trial-run mounting at Mark’s studio here in LA’s Leimert Park to its mounting in New Orleans. That lanky shadow-figure in the photo at the top of this post is Bradford himself. Photos are courtesy of Bradford’s insanely talented assistant Sean Boyle.

      As soon as I post this update I am back to fine-tuning the editor’s notes for War Diaries, the literary anthology that I am co-editing with my friend Tisa Bryant for APLA, and to which I am also contributing a poem and a short short-story. That anthology is scheduled to drop this summer.


Brett said...

Simply wow

hr_g said...

Interesting post. Though I find it a little difficult that an Bradford's explanation shifted your experience of the work to profoundly. Why do you put such power in his explanation rather than your experience? Just curious.

EH said...


I'm afraid I probably wasn't too clear in this post. It wasn't just Mark's explanation that shifted my experience of the work, but my actually experiencing the work as well. For myself. I went to his studio several times to interview him and to see the ark in-progress; the impact of it up close is staggering. But that all came some time after he and I'd first spoken about the project, when it was still just in his head and then on the drawing boards. Mark's explanation pushed me beyond my first intellectual response and broke open the symbolism, attaching it to multiple layers of both the concrete and the ephemeral. That's what I hope to do in my book as I discuss the work, present the interviews I did with Mark at various stages of the arc's evolution, and try to capture something of the impact of seeing Mithra itself. I'd say that Mark's explanation was subsequently more than backed up by my seeing the arc for myself, by my actual "experience" of it. I hope that answers your question somewhat.


ReggieH said...

Looking forward to the Bradford. And congrats on the "Ultimate Insider's Guide"! _Wide Sargasso Sea_ huh? Damn youz is an edu-ma-cated Negro LOL!:)