Promotional image for Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, 2016. Iarla Ó Lionáird. Photo: Colm Hogan

Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy teaches at Princeton University and is the founder of the Dublin-based Crash Ensemble. Here, he speaks about his latest opera, The Hunger, which was commissioned by Alarm Will Sound and coproduced by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. It is based on Asenath Nicholson’s first-person account of the Great Famine and features Irish folksinger Iarla Ó Lionáird and soprano Katherine Manley, whose singing is interspersed with video interviews with Noam Chomsky and Paul Krugman, among others. The Hunger will be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on September 30 and October 1, 2016.

I HAD WANTED to do something on the Irish Famine in the nineteenth century for a long time. There were actually many Irish famines, but this one is the famous one because it was so catastrophic. Out of a population of eight million, at least a million died, at least a million emigrated, and over the next fifty years, millions more emigrated. I’d been working with a Sean-nós singer named Iarla Ó Lionáird. (Sean-nós means “old style,” and it’s a type of unaccompanied vocal singing in Ireland.) I’d done a piece with him, Grá Agus Bás, for which I made analyses of his singing and noticed that I could do overtone versions of it. It was a meeting point of sorts, as I was doing more with overtones and then realized that this old tradition held a lot of possibility. It became a very fertile area for me, so I wanted to write more for him.

The Hunger had a rather complicated genesis but ultimately became a duet between two people. One is an outsider: an unusual American woman named Asenath Nicholson, who was a vegetarian and involved in the temperance movement. She traveled around Ireland and documented what was going on. Katherine Manley, an amazing English soprano whom I discovered while writing my last opera, sings Nicholson. The other voice is of the insider, a person of the people who suffered, the Gaelic-speaking majority—Ó Lionáird, whose voice I knew. Then there are video interviews with Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman, Megan Vaughan, Branko Milanovic, and Maureen Murphy, which cut in and out of the opera, so they become like singers. It starts coming at you quite fast and thick after a while. We asked them questions like: Is a famine an agricultural phenomenon, is it a political or economic phenomenon? When the famine happened in Ireland it was during a period of the greatest inequality that’s been measured to this day—and we seem to be approaching similar levels of inequality now.

The great thing about doing different versions of this piece over the years was that I got Alarm Will Sound used to my musical language. I make a lot of use of overtone-derived material. I had been doing that gently over the years, on natural harmonics, but I became braver and braver about what I wanted to accomplish acoustically. So it was helpful to hear what the ensemble could do each time. Each time I went back and went further in my writing.

There’s no doubt that I am strongly influenced by the Minimalism of the 1970s and later that came out of New York, like Steve Reich, early Philip Glass, David Lang, and Michael Gordon. They had a huge impact on my rhythmic language and on my sense of how harmonic motion works. Charlemagne Palestine and James Tenney also influenced me, for their single-minded, distinctively American, maverick quality. I think that in terms of rhythmic quality, my music is more volatile, though—it could shift or lunge into something else in a way that is less predictable than for the standard-bearers of Minimalism and post-Minimalism. I was taken with spectralist composer Gérard Grisey’s music as well. I loved his piece Modulations. It was like a window opening up into a whole new world for the ways the timbre and harmony fused, and because of his use of the overtone-derived material, rather than it sounding like funny microtonal music. Luminosity of sound is something I am obsessed with.

As for the traditional Irish singing, my first encounter with Sean-nós was through my mother’s family, which was incredibly sociable and had all-night parties with singing. Some of them were fine singers, but there were also versions that were even more out of tune than the standard ones. Somehow those resonated with me in particular. There was an attraction toward not just perfection of overtones but also the imperfection, the buzzing quality. Sean-nós opened up vocal music for me, almost like an emotional catalyst: I became aware of possibilities because of the spectral qualities of this tradition. So I came at spectralism from a personal, experiential perspective.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Barbara Rose


Larry Poons, Tantrum 2, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 5' 5“ x 13' 5”.

Art historian, filmmaker, and curator Barbara Rose is a force of nature with a penchant for the rarified fine arts. Her latest undertaking, “Painting After Postmodernism: Belgium – USA,” features sixteen painters—half of them Americans, half Belgians. An exhibition that encourages exchange, the show asserts a need for a new discussion surrounding the condition of contemporary painting, as Rose discusses here. “Painting After Postmodernism” is on view in the historic Vanderborght building and Cinéma Galeries in Brussels through November 13, 2016.

THE ONLY THING anybody knows about me is that I wrote that article with the title I didn’t give it, which was “ABC Art,” and then everybody insisted that I invented Minimal art. Well, that is seriously wrong. I don’t invent art movements. I just notice coincidences, and those coincidences began to make sense to me as a worldview, which the Germans call weltanschauung. I once brought up the idea of a worldview to some young people and they did not understand what I was talking about. That is troubling to me. I think the artists in this show—who range from age thirty-eight to ninety—have a similar worldview, which is that we live in an extremely unstable and changing time, and that the problem of life, which can be expressed in painting, is a search for equilibrium in this fluctuating landscape.

The artists in the show are expressing a common worldview and it is strangely related to Cezanne. Matisse said that Cezanne was “the father of us all,” and he really was. He’s the real founding father of modern art. He had a different worldview than even his contemporaries, the post-Impressionists. There’s nothing in a Cezanne painting that’s standing still or stable. It’s all in a state of being resolved. Cezanne worked on his paintings for a long time, and all these artists do too. They’ll go back to them, change them, revise them, and rethink them—they are critical of their own work. And they work very slowly. They try to get all of the elements into equilibrium despite constant shifting. They take accident and chance and structure it in some kind of meaningful way so that we can deal with it and the composition doesn’t fall apart. And that’s what we have to do now. Every day you wake up and find out new horrible things have happened, and the question is: How do you regain a sense of equilibrium and stability?

The building where the show is installed is a miracle of modern architecture. The Vanderborght was originally a department store, designed in 1932—around the same time as the original Museum of Modern Art, which opened in 1929. It was the beginning of the International Style in architecture, so it’s actually a historic monument. It’s constructed around this glass atrium so that you can have all of the pleasure of say, the Guggenheim, because you can look across the building. I installed it in such a way that there would be a dialogue between the Belgian artists and the Americans. And in fact they started to write to each other, which makes me happy, and I write to them and they write to me—I have correspondence with all these people now. Another weird common denominator: They’re all incredibly interested in music. Jan Vanriet, who is a poet as well—he’s more interested in classical music, but most of the others are interested in American country western music. Larry Poons is really fantastic; he can sing and play any kind of country western tune. Paul Manes, who’s from Texas, plays a mean guitar. Poons and Bart Vandevijvere are also really interested in Morton Feldman. Bart plays Feldman all the time when he paints, and Morty was actually a friend of Larry Poons, so there are these kind of strange interactions.

All of these artists have no social persona. None. They’re real artists—they stay in their studios and they talk to themselves and listen to music. Or they read and think. None of them make sketches for their paintings. There’s no strategy, no plan: The image emerges out of the process, in all cases. For me, that’s really important. You don’t know where the road is taking you. A lot of the processes they use—again, this was something I found by observation—are Surrealist processes. Not Surrealist imagery, but the Surrealist processes that cause an image to emerge and coalesce. If you look at some of Ed Moses’s paintings, they look like Rorschach tests. The viewer interprets, but the painter is evoking the image in the sense that Pollock did. The same is true of a lot of the other painters in the show as well.

— As told to Kat Herriman

James T. Hong, Nietzsche Reincarnated as a Chinese Woman and Their Shared Lives, 2016, four-channel video projection, color, sound, 45 minutes.

James T. Hong is a filmmaker and artist based in Taiwan. His performance and installation Nietzsche Reincarnated as a Chinese Woman and Their Shared Lives, 2016, is featured in the tenth edition of the Taipei Biennial, “Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future,” which is curated by Corrine Diserens and is on view at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum from September 10, 2016, through February 5, 2017. Hong’s performances will occur on November 19 at 7 PM and November 20 at 3 PM.

I FIRST HEARD OF NIETZSCHE as a critic of Christianity (“God is dead and we have killed him”) while I was in high school, but I didn’t study him until college. Like many other disaffected young people, I was drawn to Nietzsche’s writings as a sort of antidote to mainstream malaise and as a weapon against the status quo. I was actually led to Nietzsche via Schopenhauer, as I was studying Western philosophy and interested in the metaphysics of the will and theories of truth at the time. By graduate school I had grown beyond Nietzsche, or so I thought, but I always returned to his writings for inspiration or simply out of boredom.

Two things inspire my current project: I had been researching the concept of morality in East Asia and then I got the chance to revisit Nietzsche’s grave and birthplace in Germany. Nietzsche’s critique of morality and my own research took some similar roads, though I am now more influenced by Buddhist and Confucianist thought than by any antiquated critique of Christianity. I remembered that Nietzsche claimed to be the “Buddha of Europe” in a crazed letter, and then the project just crystallized. My experiment is not a strict Buddhist interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought (to me this doesn’t work), but rather a quasi-Nietzschean interpretation of Mahayana Buddhism vis-ŕ-vis morality—if that makes any sense.

The performances entail a live monologue that takes place inside a sizable room bounded by four large video screens—a chamber of thoughts and images. Since the screens are arranged in a square, only two adjacent screens are completely visible to the viewer from any particular perspective. Screens that face each other cannot be viewed simultaneously; one must turn one’s head. Thus different perspectives will offer different combinations, different interpretations. Audience members are invited to sit on benches in the center of this room, though they are free to move around (or leave), if they so choose. I can’t say much more about the installation, as some details are still in flux. My inspirations include live theater, benshi (the Japanese art of narrating silent movies, which was also performed in Taiwan during Japanese occupation), karaoke, and propaganda rituals in schools that indoctrinate students with state-sponsored ideologies.

As an experiment, I see this project as an unusual biography, not of Nietzsche’s life, but rather of his afterlife. Relative to the metaphysical chronology of my project, “soul number zero” refers to Nietzsche himself, as the work begins at his death in 1900 and proceeds through a number of his post-1900 incarnations, souls, and memories—as a single-celled organism, an invertebrate, a bug, definitely a worm, and eventually a Chinese woman—metempsychosis on four video screens. The woman as narrator will mention the idea of the eternal recurrence, while images will illustrate it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Incidentally, some metaphysical aspects of Buddhism echo Nietzsche’s thought of the eternal recurrence.

I am also interested in the translation of Nietzsche’s work into Chinese, which is definitely more interpretatively violent than translating his original German into English. How will the meanings change in Chinese? Only those well acquainted with his writings will appreciate this aspect of the work. It is an object example of the translation of Western philosophical ideas not only into the Chinese language but also into a Chinese ideology.

Since Nietzsche is involved, this experiment definitely involves critique, sometimes with a hammer. And why is this project necessary? Because we living in East Asia, we Han Chinese in particular, are the largest herd in the world. In Nietzschespeak, morality today in East Asia is herd animal morality—sick, deceitful, and obedient at the same time.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

McDermott and McGough, God Answers Your Prayers, 1984, 2016, oil on canvas and artist’s wooden frame, 18 x 18”.

“I’ve seen the future, and I’m not going,” says David McDermott, Peter McGough’s creative partner and fellow time-traveler for over thirty years. McDermott and McGough’s queer reimaginings of the past—from eighteenth-century America to the roaring twenties, all the way up to 1984, via painting, photography, film, and sculpture—reinvigorate one’s hopes, to paraphrase E. M. Forster, for better days ahead. Here, McGough discusses their first exhibition with James Fuentes Gallery in New York, “Velvet Rage, Flaming Youth, and the Gift of Desperation,” which opens on September 16 and runs through October 23, 2016, as well as their work in progress The Oscar Wilde Temple, which will make its debut during Frieze New York in 2017. In 2018, it will travel to the Dallas Contemporary for the pair’s retrospective, curated by Alison Gingeras, and then go to Studio Voltaire for Frieze London.

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, David and I had an idea to make a work about Oscar Wilde via the stations of the cross, based around his epic poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which he wrote about his time at the Reading Gaol prison in Berkshire county, England. Wilde, as we all know, was jailed for sodomy. Anyway, sometime during the summer of 2015, I was in my apartment, looking down at Christopher Street in the West Village and thinking about the state of the world around the time same-sex marriage was legalized in Ireland. Not too much later, marriage equality becomes the law in the United States, then the Stonewall Inn gets landmarked, and suddenly I’m witnessing Mario Cuomo marrying a same-sex couple in front of it—I mean, it’s unbelievable! The Wilde project came racing back to the forefront of my mind, and I thought, we have to make this happen, now.

Excerpt from Peter McGough’s interview for 500 Words

What I love about the Wilde project, which will be a transportable temple that same-sex couples can get married in, is that it’s so much bigger than “McDermott and McGough.” It is a temple to our god and martyr, Oscar Wilde, a place where unions of love can be celebrated without Christianity—or really, any fucking religion—frowning down upon anyone. Within the temple will be images of queer martyrs: Marsha P. Johnson, the black trans activist who participated in the Stonewall riots and was murdered in 1992; Harvey Milk; Sakia Gunn, a fifteen-year-old lesbian who, in 2003, was stabbed in the chest and killed for being gay; Matthew Shepherd; Xulhaz Mannan, the founder of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, who was hacked to death in his own apartment; and others. Then we will make a side altar for people who died of AIDS. Anytime I talk about this, I start to weep. It really makes me think of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and ’70s as a gay kid. I have so much anger—I was always made to feel that I was “wrong.” My parents were very liberal Christians, and they thought, “Everyone’s God’s children: Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims…everyone’s equal in God’s eyes…except homosexuals.” Christ only preached love, forgiveness, and understanding: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me.” That’s what Jesus said, that’s what he preached, not “hate faggots!”

I was such an obvious homosexual as a child. I liked to watch movies with Lana Turner or Marilyn Monroe; I looked at my sisters’ Vogue magazines; I didn’t play sports. I just wanted long, blonde, Prell-shampooed hair; Breck Girl hair. But I was mocked and beaten for who I was and who I wanted to be—tripped, spit on, called a faggot—since I was seven years old. So fuck everyone—if fucking Scientologists can have their tax-exempt religion, I can certainly have Oscar Wilde be the savior for all queers. I asked curator Alison Gingeras to help with an exhibition for the Wilde shrine in a castle’s chapel in Ireland; however, the people at this art institution got cold feet. It got canceled because the locals were upset about our work making this play on the Catholic Church.

For the James Fuentes show, there’s going to be a number of paintings and other kinds of objects based on a black-and-white cartoon from the 1930s with a “fairy” character in it. So it goes like this: A fairy, all rouged up, comes into a café that Betty Boop’s dog friend is running to order a chocolate soda. He’s trying to get the little dog’s attention by saying, “I want a chocolate soda, please” in this really soft fairy voice. The dog’s ignoring the fairy to flirt with a Mae West character. Eventually, he makes the fairy’s soda, but he puts in tacks, bug spray, and shoe polish. The fairy drinks it, gets sick, and starts pulling at his clothes—he starts destroying the diner because he’s turned into a monster. And God, I’m watching this, thinking, This is just like AIDS in the 1980s. So many gays murdered, so much horror and rage, and nobody’s doing anything about it because everyone’s terrified.

The show’s also going to have a shrine to Onan the Masturbator, the biblical seed spiller. There’s going to be this amazing table, the shrine’s centerpiece, based on one Catherine the Great had made, where the top is held aloft by a bunch of large carved cocks. The cocks will be of different races—Black, Latino, white—and the balls will be tits. The cocks will be shooting billows of sperm—they’ll be supporting the tabletop. There’ll be a painting called The Circle Hermaphroditus, 1984, 2016, where a pair of women will be depicted turning into McDermott and myself. There will be Greek-style urns, painted with sex scenes and satyrs, filled with burning incense. And, oh my God, there’s going to be this great painting titled Hic Habitat Felicitas (Here Lives Happiness), 1984, 2016, done in the style of Seurat, with a masturbator on a rock and a pussy, an ass, and two cocks flying out of a cloud. It’ll be flanked by paintings of a white hand holding a black cock, and a black hand holding a white cock. Each painting will be set into an enormous gold frame. So tacky! It’s a paean to desire, sex, lust, joy, eroticism. No shame. Fuck Mike Pence and Trump and all those idiot asshole Christian bigots and perverts destroying children’s lives with conversion therapy. If the works aren’t sold, I’ll organize a huge orgy around them at home, with beautiful ephebes playing lyres and pan flutes. It’ll be exquisite, and so grand. Fuck everyone!

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Left: Cover of Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016). Right: A design by Elaine Gan for the exhibit “DUMP!” at Kunsthal Aarhus, 2015.

From her classic Cyborg Manifesto, first published three decades ago, to her latest arguments about the “Chthulucene,” multispecies feminist theorist Donna J. Haraway is one of our most daring thinkers. A distinguished professor emerita in the history of consciousness department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Haraway has recently published her latest book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Duke University Press, 2016), which urgently argues for a nonanthropocentric view of climate change and is driven metaphorically and theoretically by the signifier SF—for string figures, science fact, science fiction, speculative feminism, and speculative fabulation—as she discusses here.

IT’S NOT LIKE I have a vendetta against the word anthropocene—I understand the intentions of the scientists who initially proposed it in 2000 and the important work it does. But as with other big terms, it’s both too big and too small, and it proposes itself as a kind of universal in several senses, as if it’s humanity or man that did this thing, as opposed to situated human beings in complicated histories. Many people now—for example the Inuit of the circumpolar north—are acutely aware of deep and troubling changes in the world they live in. But calling it anthropocene does not gather them together, nor does it set up alliances that might be necessary. I have an allergy to the particular etymology of the anthropic: the one who looks up, the one who is not of the earth, the one whose feet are in the mud but his eyes are in the sky; the retelling, once again, of the stories that I think have done us dirt in Western cultures.

That all made me think: If we can only have one word, let’s use capitalocene. But of course the fact is that we need more than one word. Capitalocene is a term I thought I had invented, but it turns out I most certainly did not. (Andreas Malm first used it in 2009 and then Jason Moore picked it up.) Capitalocene refers to the complex networks that have transformed lives for everybody on this planet. Not in the same ways, but deeply still. Capitalism is obviously based on growth—but not just any kind of growth: the growth that depends on resourcing the earth for the kind of expansion and extraction that result in profit, which is, in turn, distributed unequally. This unleashing of the motors of endless growth, extraction, and the production of ever-new forms of inequality is intrinsic to capitalism. It’s a vastly destructive process, whether you’re talking about social systems or natural systems. Capitalocene at least captures that this is a few-hundred-year-old process of building wealth through exterminationist extraction. In comparison, anthropocene implies that this is somehow a species act; that it’s the separation of whatever it is that makes us human from all else, and that it’s another human exceptionalist move. But that’s just wrong. It’s empirically, morally, ethically, and emotionally wrong.

This book is about staying with all this trouble. It is about a becoming-with-each-other in another new term: what I’m calling the chthulucene. This can’t be done in the mode of critique, which is never enough. In the chthulucene, critique is one of many practices tempered by others that lead to an opening of what is still possible. Chthulu comes from chthonic—the earthly powers and processes—human too, but much more than human. But this isn’t some sort of ancient, destroyed-by-modernity story. It’s an ongoing and present story. These chthonic powers, forces, and entities are coupled with the suffix –cene, drawn from kainos, or the thick now, the present, which is not instantaneous but extends into many kinds of time, into presence. Into cultivating response-ability.

Nearly every page of the book grows out of connections among art, science, and activism. Artists who are engaging in this overlap especially drew me. For example, the cover is an untitled print by Geraldine Javier. Rooted in a bony pelvis that mimes the shape of a butterfly, the image rises through a skeletal vertebral column made with vibrant filaments that ends in a butterfly with delicate coloration, constructed from dry leaves. The image has human feet—sort of—and a human pelvis—sort of. The whole thing is living and dying, insectoid and humanoid, fibrous and bony, plant and animal. It is a transformationally metamorphic piece, both disturbing and reassuring. It is also an invitation to stay with the trouble. Fiber arts recur in the book repeatedly—from the crochet coral reef project of Margaret and Christine Wertheim to old and contemporary Navajo weaving, and from cat’s cradling to string figuring. The latter is a theoretical apparatus for visual, verbal, and theoretical metaphors I use throughout the book. String figuring, one of the many “SF”s in the book, involves making patterns with others. The various partners engaging in string figuring are active and passive; in their relaying patterns to each other, threads get dropped and things become unraveled or a new pattern emerges that is a source of possibility and joy. String figuring is also akin to the way I write. Perhaps the first things that folks like me think of when they see the signifier SF are science fiction and science fantasy. But quickly come more terms: science fact, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism, so far… SF keeps ramifying into many terms that are pulled together in this signifier.

One of the most urgent tasks that we mortal critters have is making kin, not babies. This making kin, both with and among other humans and not humans, should happen in an enduring fashion that can sustain through generations. I propose making kin nongenealogically, which will be an absolute need for the eleven-plus billion humans by the end of this century—and is already terribly important. I’m interested in taking care of the earth in a way that makes multispecies environmental justice the means and not just the goal. So I think of making kin as a way of being really, truly prochild—making babies rare and precious—as opposed to the crazy pronatalist but actually antichild world in which we live. It’s making present the powers of mortal critters on earth in resistance to the anthropocene and capitalocene. That’s really what the book is about.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler