The Shapeless Unease
The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping, Samantha Harvey (2020)
by Samantha Harvey (2020) was my most profound read of 2023. It is a novel of disorienting time dilation where days and nights coalesce into a maddening blur. A full review is here.
Cinema and Streaming
The two best films I saw in 2023 were Le otto montagne (The Eight Mountains (2022)) and Aftersun (2022).
Le otto montagne featured a rare depiction of an intimate friendship between two adult men.The Eight Mountains is currently availabe to stream on Criterion Collection in the United States.
It is sensitive to both the joy and the suffering that a deep bond brings. It’s also shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, a particularly unusual choice in films where the grandeur of the mountains plays a significant role.
Nuovo Testamento blew me away at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, New York. I had just discovered them months before when I bought their first album, Exposure (2019), at Static Shock Records in Berlin. When I shared my new discovery with my good friend Ryan Project, he told me that he had already bought us tickets to see them on my next New York visit. Amazing! Although their first album is more my speed, the performance of their current work at Saint Vitus was on of the best concerts in recent memory.
I also managed to catch The Soft Moon here in Turin with my friend Ignacio. I’ve seen Soft Moon several times but this one was special. The band agreed and released a concert video from that performance; turns out main man Luis Vasquez burst ear drum that night. I vividly remember his carnal performance so I can’t say I’m surprised.Days after writing the first draft of this post, I found out that Luis Vasquez died along with Silent Servant. I have seen The Soft Moon maybe five times and Luis always put everything into his performance. Silent Servant was also a gift to see behind the decks. I will miss both greatly.
These two albums caught my ear this year. Here are a couple of highlights:
From Suicide Disco Vol. 2 by Years of Denial (2023)
From The Soft Moon’s album Exister released in late 2022.
One of the most beautiful hikes I’ve taken in my life was just a hundred kilometers west of my place in Turin: La Valle Stretta. I actually had a lot of Alpine time between Bardonecchia, Champex, Meana, and Sauze dʼOulx. I also made four trips to France: two in the Alps, Bonneval-sur-Arc and Briançon, and two cities in the north, Lille and Paris.
Here in Italy, I spent a special day in Ivrea visiting the old Olivetti campus. I also visited Friuli, Milan, and Sardegna.
When I ventured further overseas, I made it Frankfurt, Berlin (x 2!), and Lisbon. Back in the United States I spent time in New York City, Chicago, Peoria, and St. Louis. The trip to St. Louis centered on attending the final Strange Loop - a unique conference that always attracted remarkable people. There really isn’t anything like it.
Years ago, I took my first Buddhist practice with a Vajrayana Sangha (community). I eventually left for Zen, a less mystical tradition. But there is much to be learned from the Vajrayana practices and Ken McLeod presents them in a deeply rational way without dismissing the “magical” elements of the tradition. He was so compelling that I have started reading his books. They will certainly find a place on my 2024 list. In the meantime, it’s worth listening to these two profound interviews:
A collection of Ambrea Wellman’s oil paintings at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in TurinFrom the exhibition description: “On April 4 , Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo opens Antipoem, the first solo exhibition in Italy by Ambera Wellmann (1982, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia). Together with a small selection of existing works, Antipoem presents a cycle of new paintings specifically created by the artist for this occasion. The show’s title takes its name from Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho’s archaic Greek poetry, whose fragmented remnants and missing passages create what Carson describes as a kind of Antipoem, a space where the visual intervenes in the absence of language.”
marked my favorite exhibition of the year. Her work is stunning. Like all great paintings, these photos don’t really do it justice. Her quotation of the quixotic writer Anne CarsonMy friend Sharon, a wonderful Streetsblogger and dance critic, introduced me to Carson when she lent me Autobiography of Red. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is Carson-curious.
made the exhibition even sweeter.
I also made it to three large exhibitions during Turin’s expansive Art Week - the first time I’ve ran such a gauntlet since I did Armory Week in New York City when I lived there. None of the Berlin art exhibitions were especially memorable this year, but the reflection on the life of GDR musician Wolf Biermann at the German Historical Museum was notable. His battles with the Stasi didn’t exactly end when the Wall came down.
Robin Sloan’s Specifying Spring ’83 (November 2022) ruminates on what’s possible on the web. Simple protocols that seek to liberate us from the hegemony of the social media timeline. His followup a month later, A Year of New Avenues, is also worth a read.
The Miracle of the Commons (May 2021) busts myth about the commons - how they function and their present-day impact.The essay challenges the widely accepted idea that communal resources are inevitably doomed to overuse and destruction. It instead argues that we humans have a capacity for collaboratively managing and preserving shared resources. It does’t simply argue the historical context - the author cites contemporary community-managed systems around the world.
On March 30, 2023, while writing in Udine, Italy, I ruminated:
Meditation by moonlight. This is an experience that is too rare in bigger cities.