Wired Gadgets, Geico Cavemen, Bartók, and Alice Walker: It's Pop-Up Magazine
Can you envision a "live magazine?" How about an event that combines the best parts of your favorite magazine, like great writing, unusual and illuminating topics, and beautiful, challenging images, with the spontaneity, ephemerality, and added sensory elements such as live music? Pop-Up Magazine is that event, and in its short existence (it has produced six issues in three years) it has become one of the city's most exciting cultural happenings. Tickets to the production sell out in minutes, and presenting at the event has become something like appearing on Saturday Night Live for intellectuals, a high-profile career touchstone earned on stage. Photography and recording is prohibited, so we give you what we can with images from a party associated with the event.
Writers speak or read their articles, photographers narrate their visual essays, and filmmakers show excerpts from their films. Recordings accompany stories involving interviews or specific sounds, and live music helps aurally illustrate stories.
Artist Jason Polan sketched all the acts, including Bryant Terry's recipe for mustard greens.
Wednesday night, Wired's Steven Leckart demonstrated tech gadgets aimed at parents of toddlers, including a preposterous "origami stroller" complete with LED headlights, two cup-holders, and an iPhone charger. Photographer Lucas Foglia shared antique images found in a portrait studio that's been in continuous business in a Wyoming coal-mining town since the early 20th century. This American Life's Starlee Kine traced the inspiration for Geico's "It's so easy a caveman can do it" commercials through the writings of several generations of short-story writers and poets (including Poe) to a work for the cello by Béla Bartók (performed rivetingly by Amos Yang), who had found inspiration in Hungarian folk dances.
The biggest name, but possibly weakest act, was The Color Purple's Alice Walker, who read about the grim midcentury bureaucratic city Brasilia. Dressed like a priestess and exuding her rightful gravitas, she was the savviest performer of all the presenters, whose foibles like poor enunciation and fidgeting were nevertheless also endearing. But Walker's essay was written with a predictable earnestness that clashed with the tone of the rest of the production. Women's skin represented all the beautiful colors of the flesh spectrum, people recalled their common slave ancestry together, goats and cows were remarked on as being good things, while big concrete buildings and treeless streets were derided. It's hard to disagree with her, and possibly it would be a more effective piece read alone or in Literature of the Oppressed class at Mills College. But the most powerful moments of the evening came as wayward bits of seriousness set off by the jollier context -- the punch in the gut, as it were, that's still sore from laughing.
Photographer Aaron Huey walked out in gold-glitter Tom's shoes and a bandana in his hair and with hardly any somber talk proceeded to reveal a devastating series of images from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation near Wounded Knee. This is a place so blighted and impoverished it's almost unrecognizable as a part of this country; yet, as Huey remarked, the spirit of the culture is also evident, wounded but not vanquished.
Jon Mooallem's story on one man's preoccupation with thunder started with a study in vocation -- the man had obsessively recorded thunder from his front porch for decades and had provided the first recognizable sound effects of rolling thunder to the movie industry, first and most significantly the Indiana Jones films. It slyly morphed into a heartbreaking reminder that finding your vocation and its practical application does not guarantee success (the movie studios needed only so many thunder effects and eventually stopped buying, and the man now lives in poverty, without the money even to move to Texas, where he dreams of recording the more frequent and more spectacular storms of the plains).