ON ART, FILM AND BEING EDIE SEDGWICK
KINGA SYREK is a 26-year-old Polish multimedia artist, based in Krakow. Her 2021 filmed short - 'Too Late' – is a biographical essay in animated silhouette, based upon the life of artist, model and 'Warhol Superstar' Edie Sedgwick. (1943 – 71). Utilising recordings of Sedgwick's voice, and with sound assistance by Robert Magouleff (who directed Sedgwick in her final film, 'Ciao! Manhattan' in 1971) 'Too Late' is currently cleaning up awards and prize nominations around Europe and the USA. Alongside her other art, SYREK also models as Sedgwick bearing, in dress and make-up, an uncanny likeness. (See the links below).
What would you say is the current state of Arts funding for student artists in Poland?
Generally, it is pretty good. Young, creative, people with established goals can count on different grants. I was a recipient of the Diamond Grant, awarded by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland, and I’ve also received a Ministry of Culture and National Heritage scholarship for outstanding artistic achievement. The best students compete to qualify for a Rector’s scholarship. There are also supporting programs organized by heads of the cities and other organizations.
Before you began attending Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, what did you want, or hope, to achieve as a budding artist?
I’ve always wanted to be associated with fine arts. Art runs in my family. My mom is an artist and an art teacher. I am sure that I have art in my genes. I have always longed to shape my creative workshop. And now it gets better day by day. Talent is, of course, a necessity, but what’s most important is hard work and practice. When I decided that I want to attend the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, I had begun taking intensive courses in drawing and painting. I knew that it is a key to success in this field.
'Too Late' is still being nominated for multiple short film awards. How have the reactions to it affected you personally?
It feels like a dream! I jumped for joy when my was selected for an Academy Awards-qualifying Kraków Film Festival when it had its world premiere and later, when it has been selected for Raindance in London, where it will have its UK premiere on November 4th 2021. Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction had its UK premiere at the Raindance. I am extremely honored to receive this recognition from leading film festivals. ‚Too Late’ is my debut film and a master’s degree project. When I started working on it, I dared to dream that Robert Magouleff, who was Edie’s friend and a co-producer of Ciao! Manhattan would produce the soundtrack for my film!
It's fair to say that – in make-up - you're the most convincing 'Edie' out there. What – so far – has been the most surprising or unexpected reaction to you dressing as her?
I was doing research on Edie for my animated film „Too Late” at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. It was in the first week of July 2019. One day, when I was at the Museum, a guy from L.A. who visited the museum went crazy about me. He said that I was Edie! Then he told me that he cosplayed Andy Warhol for several occasions (like for Halloween and convents) and that he was VERY upset that he hasn’t brought his white wig with him. He really wanted me to come to L.A. for Halloween, so I could be his Edie. I felt like a celebrity, who met a crazy fan. He even didn’t want to let me go. It was such a surreal experience.
With 'Factory Girl,' the recent Nico biography, and the imminent Todd Haynes Velvet Underground documentary, Sedgwick's star seems on the rise again. Fifty years after her passing, what do you put down to her continuing popularity?
She is almost like a mythological figure. She is an enigma. Edie had that unique quality and aura that surrounded her. She IS timeless. She was incredibly talented. All of these aspects make her very special, plus her glare in her eyes and a smile that could have light up the room. I really wish I could have met her in person.
As an artist, do you think you will ever again draw upon The Factory years for inspiration? Or do you intend going in a different direction?
Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory has been an inspiration for me since high school. Although, I want to go forward and explore new themes, The Silver Factory left its mark on my art, and I am sure it is not the last time I will reference this endlessly inspirational space.
Huge thanks to Kinga for her time.
Check out her artistic activities here: Kinga Syrek | Mazda Isphahan and here:
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REBECCA KUDER’s short fiction has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books; Hags on Fire; Bayou Magazine; Shadows and Tall Trees; Lunch Ticket; Year’s Best Weird Fiction vols. 3 & 5; The Rumpus; and Crooked Houses. She lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, with the writer Robert Freeman Wexler and their child, where she writes fiction and creative nonfiction. Her debut fantasy novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, is out now from What Books Press. Rebecca is currently working on a memoir about the house where she grew up, "which was burned down by the local fire department as an exercise."
You wrote your first book, The Hole in the Shirt, at the age of seven. Tell me about it and, looking back, did its inspiration have any bearing – even subconsciously – on your adult writing?
The Hole in the Shirt is a 4 x 5 inch, stapled ’zine, a story I told my dad when I was seven or eight. My dad lettered most of the words (his handwriting being tidier than mine). I drew the pictures. It’s about a girl named Sally and her pet mouse (because there’s always a mouse). There’s a teeny weeny hole in Sally’s shirt, which she does not notice, and does not do anything about. Page after page, there’s Sally, and the hole in the shirt is getting bigger. For a while, she continues not to notice. “A long time went by...and it got so big that it almost covered her whole shirt...and then it got so big that she finally noticed it, and sewed it up.” The back page is heavy-handedly titled The Moral and says, “Whenever there’s a hole in your shirt, sew it up!” A cautionary tale about procrastination and the importance of noticing, which aligns with my current alarm over our age of distraction and disembodiment.
Maybe it’s also a story of dissociation? Being so absorbed in whatever is in front of a person that they are unaware of what’s happening with their body? Or maybe it’s the ultimate in mindfulness. Sally is busy living her life: on the beach, jumping rope, roller skating, eating ice cream, reading a book called The Book (which I’m fairly sure was not intended to depict the bible). Who cares if there’s a hole in my shirt? (Though I believe in mending things whenever possible.) Whether the drama of Sally’s shirt sleeps at the root of my writing, the early encouragement from adults made me feel like my words and stories meant something. And the publishing process in 1974—we mimeographed copies and sold them at the local sidewalk sale, 35 cents apiece—might have foreshadowed the machinery behind my debut novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, published by the artistic collective that is What Books Press. In both cases, a certain punk ethos?
The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival reminded me of Mervyn Peake's more whimsical and less dark work, such as Mr. Pye and The Quest For Corbett. What were your actual influences in the original concept?
(Though I haven’t yet read any Peake, I loved the Gormenghast TV adaptation, and Mr. Pye is on the bookshelf. Eager to read it). Influences...back to 1974: a tornado devastated Xenia, Ohio, which is about nine miles from Yellow Springs, where I grew up (and live now). That disaster made a huge impression on me. Our house didn’t have a basement. While the wind ripped up trees and buildings in Xenia, I hid in the bathtub under a blanket. After the storm passed, I collected baseball-sized hail to keep in the freezer. The tornado didn’t strike near me or my hidey hole in the tub. What haunts is the residual terror. I still get agitated with green skies, and drag my family and cats to hide—grateful that the house where I live now has a basement.
The first written inkling for Carnival, in 2001: Child gets caught in a tornado, wakes up in a different place (a different type of geography) like an homage to Oz but without obvious reference. Second place not Oz, but weird things happen? Is she a few years older, having woken up with amnesia? Does she find that through some trauma or illness (or injury from the tornado) she now can see things, see illnesses in others? Or if she has amnesia, does she now have the gift of being able to see the process by which people lose their memories? (i.e. if we lose memories as we age, would we not be losing some memory or particle of a memory at all times, at any moment?) Would she be able to see these memories (experience them) as people lose them?
I had been working on The Watery Girl (see below) which was, elementally, built (in terms of narrative texture and imagery) on air and water. And I had the idea to try a story or novella where the imagery centers on metal, metallic lines, sharpness, the various aspects of metal. The music and persona of Tom Waits provided inspiration. His hyperbolic, theatrical energy, and the rusted texture of his music permeates The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival. That quality of being patched together through invention, that patina of dirt and clang undergirds the fictional world—until the flood comes, and then moss wakes from slumber, and again—sort of—“all the world is green,” to quote Waits, from Blood Money.
Your husband (Robert Freeman Wexler) is also an author of fiction. How do your approaches differ and, while writing an MS., do you ever bounce ideas off each other; or is that purposely avoided?
Our approaches differ in at least one way: my first drafts are much more awful than his. (I’m not saying that to be humble.) He’s a great writer. I’m constantly amazed by his imagination and sentences. We both write by hand (fountain pen & paper) and often listen to music when we write together. Mostly things that provide sound texture, instrumental, such as music by friend Doug Snyder with his drummer, the late Bob Thompson—look up their Daily Dance—it’s fabulous. Or various projects by Steven R. Smith, Bill Frisell, etc. One of the best places to write, and the best café in the world is the Emporium, which is also the village living room. (And they sell wine!) If you are ever in Yellow Springs, please go see. It’s been impossible to write away from home during the pandemic, and I miss working at Emporium.
Neither Robert nor I are outliners—we figure stuff out along the way, grapple through the unknown. We follow clues, guiding ideas, images, possible destinations. Neither of us are very fast writers. My process seems more chaotic, generally, than his. I tend to have several notebooks going at once, and he usually has one. While writing, we discuss what we’re doing, ask for ideas, and read bits to each other. When a manuscript is complete, he’s generally my first reader. At first, it was a bit thorny to share work. I was more fragile back then. Robert was more accustomed to rigorous feedback than I was. I learned a great deal about giving/taking feedback from him (and also from graduate school at Antioch Los Angeles). Through the years, we have found a process that works, though nothing is perfect. Sometimes we only mark up the muck, and forget to draw stars indicating the beautiful bits. I imagine some people would find it challenging to share work with an intimate. Generally, we understand what the other is trying to do, so we’re able to frame things accordingly. I’ve learned how to discern when not to take his advice (rarely, but occasionally, and more with essays than fiction). He is much more laconic than I am. He would have answered this question in three sentences.
Your website 'Manifesto #1' describes a particular interest in the Uncanny; something you share with myself. As a writer, what draws you to it?
I don’t recall what started that contemplation, maybe a conflation of curiosity and boredom? Back in the 1960s and 70s, there were no digital devices to pacify, to anaesthetize brains on long car trips. As an only child, maybe I was less lonely imagining raindrops as sentient and striving toward something? I still revel in slowing down and intense noticing. Whenever I can just stare outward, watch the embodied world—and here I recommend Lynda Barry’s daily diary exercise—I feel more alive and human. More conscious, more calm. And that ultra specific, focused noticing, what I call image catching (as Lynda Barry says, no detail is too small or unimportant!) feeds my work, helps with specificity. Maybe it helps me notice what to mend, like Sally finally did with her shirt.
I wrote that manifesto many years ago, after assigning the exercise to my creative writing graduate students. Recently I reorganized my website, and thought about revisiting (or omitting) the manifestos. But I endorse what’s there—the words are still true. The horse charm is an early image-apparatus I employ in my essays: something concrete becomes a portal to the narrative interior. I’ve always been fascinated with perception—before I ever heard of what people call weird fiction, which sometimes occupies itself with the stretchy quality of perception, among other oddities and obsessions.
Also, why not be overt about the uncanny? There is magic everywhere, really. By magic, I mean science, too. Okay, science isn’t only magic, but it also is (to me). Why do we split these ways of understanding? Also, there are ghosts and haunts everywhere, and I am okay with that. Paint the porch ceiling haint blue, literally or energetically, make peace with any unrest, and move onward toward enlightenment.
You've run various creative workshops for different audiences. What is it you hope to inspire in delivering these? e.g. Is there a broad, long-term goal?
My goal is to foster the creative spark, and to encourage more joy in the world. I like to work with the inner critic. There are tricks that help reframe the dynamic to encourage dialogue, rather than accepting internal messages of self-doubt. In my workshops, often, we start with re-negotiation (inviting the inner critic to step aside). We draw them as creatures, and write letters that start, “Dear inner critic...” Get them out of our heads and onto the page. Set boundaries, and remove at least one pervasive obstacle to what brings joy. I intend to help others go easier on themselves. It’s very sacred to be with people doing these exercises and sharing what we write and draw. Often it seems people exhale after practicing these tricks.
Here’s something fun: write a letter to the inner critic. Write one letter, or more, or write a letter every day for 30 days. See what happens! Something will shift, I promise. (When I work with young people, sometimes they ask if they can use bad words. Yes! You can use bad words.) Ask the inner critic what they need. I don’t want to exile my inner critic, because that doesn’t seem realistic, but I want to calm her. I want to comfort her, suggest that she find something else to do, and leave me alone. She’s usually scared, and trying to protect me, even if her idea of protection ends up silencing me, or keeping me paralyzed. My hope is that people (myself included) can articulate boundaries with whatever parts of themselves obscure joy.
For generative practices, I depend on the work of Lynda Barry (Syllabus). Barry generously open sources her classes and exercises. I also adore Ariel Gore (We Were Witches) whose awesome and affordable asynchronous classes are held at the Literary Kitchen. And because this is also really about reclamation of self, and encouraging joy, I recommend Sonya Renee Taylor’s life-affirming project/book, The Body Is Not An Apology.
Your website refers to an 'unpublished novel, The Watery Girl, finalist in 2012 and 2013 for Many Voices Project at New Rivers Press.' What are the chances of this one day seeing the light of day in revised form?
The Watery Girl still shimmers on the periphery. Years ago when I was seeking an agent, there was interest, even a couple of phone calls. But no one knew how to market the close third person perspective of a seven-year-old protagonist in a novel written for adults. Eventually I abandoned the quest for an agent, and found a small press that accepted the novel. Sadly, that deal fell through. Heartbreaking, actually. But that novel is not dead yet. I can imagine revising, opening the narrative in some way, adding layers, and perhaps I will. Probably I had to write that novel, whether it ever emerges between portable covers, so I could write Carnival, and so I could be who I am now. Part of evolution. I’d love to share it with readers some day. Maybe that novel is a cooked stew, pulled from the heat, set on the back of the stove, and I haven’t yet eaten it all, or cleaned out the pot. There’s something in there that still smells good to me.
Huge thanks to Rebecca for her time.
You can order 'The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival' and check out Rebecca's activities here:
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Among The Lilies: Stories by Daniel Mills, Undertow Publications
To label this collection 'folk horror' somewhat undersells it. Certainly, its territory – of rural period perceptions of birth, blood, religious intolerance, viscera, death and familial legacy – are its classic tropes. What elevates Mills's second collection (like his first, The Lord Came At Twilight) is the exemplary prose.
American genre prose set in the present too often leaves me cold, with its cheery overuse of pop-cultural references and slang, ensuring a consistent build of atmosphere and tension is undermind throughout by a peppering of over-familiarity. Mills wisely avoids this, offering a more mature approach through his settings in a New England past; a region known to himself, being based in Vermont state. Indeed, the source of Mills' attention to regional detail is explained by a particular focus upon historical crime, researched and delivered for his podcast; These Dark Mountains.
The lily has multiple symbolic meanings, dependant as much upon colour as its geographical provenance:
"The white lily (foregrounded here) is one of the most important flower symbols to Christianity. It's mainly a symbol of Virgin Mary's purity. It's a symbol of majesty too with the Roman myth that white lilies came from the queen of the gods. Jealous of the beauty the lily has, she decided to mar its “perfection” with a huge pistil." (askinglot.com) Euphemism anyone? Also, "a white lily traditionally symbolizes modesty and new beginnings." (ibid.). "Lilies represent rebirth and hope, just as the resurrection does in the Christian faith. Lilies are also mentioned or alluded to several times in the Bible." (unknown). With reference to the themes in this collection, I also especially like that "lilies symbolize that the soul of the departed has received restored innocence after death." (unknown).
It is this definition which best reflects those tales utilising the flower as metaphor, highlighted in 'Woman In The Wood,' 'Lilies,' 'Canticle' and 'The Account of David Stonehouse, Exile,' the novella ending the collection. Chance encounters with distant relations – both physical and supernatural – trigger resolutions of silent echoes down the ages. Admirably, Mills avoids the cliches of the genre, such as puritan horror, black goats and witch-burners, by foregrounding the personal consequences of repression. Where Mills goes from here – in terms of other territory – will be intriguing; especially if he can maintain this standard. Initially obscured by the number of his contemporaries, it is now clear that Mills isn't so much 'among the lilies,' as one risen above the field.
PAN will return in December