The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Port – featuring writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf and David Hallberg, the greatest male dancer of his generation – is out now
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the foremost intellectual voices in the United States today. The author of Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus and Americanah – as well as of one of the most-viewed Ted talks ever, sampled by Beyoncé, no less – Adichie transcends the barriers between literature, art and music. For the cover story of Port issue 22, she met Catherine Lacey in Washington DC to discuss her extraordinary books, the complexity of recent gender movements and to give a hint at a next big project.
Elsewhere in the magazine, we speak to 6a – the most exciting architecture practice in London; discuss Netflix and race with the director of Mudbound, Dee Rees; and travel to rural Netherlands to meet the pioneering Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. Also featured: The photographer Christopher Payne visits one of the largest flag factories in the US, and we uncover the secrets and beauty of space with astronaut Nicole Stott.
In the fashion section, celebrated photographer Kalpesh Lathigra and Port‘s fashion director Dan May travel to Mumbai to shoot a 40-page story around the sprawling, seaside city; Scott Stephenson styles this season’s collections and Pari Dukovic shoots the greatest male dancer in the world, David Hallberg, wearing Saint Laurent.
Commentary pieces come courtesy of Will Self, Lisa Halliday and Jesse Ball, as well as Samuel Beckett‘s seminal Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit. Highlights from the Porter include Tilda Swinton remembering her friend John Berger; an interview with the British artist Gavin Turk; foraging with chef Nicholas Balfe; and ex-director of the Tate Modern, Vicente Todolí, on his passion for citrus fruits.
Port’s Design Editor, Will Wiles, talks to the celebrated German artist Thomas Demand
The enigmatic photographs by the German artist Thomas Demand appear, at first glance, to be more documentary than art. In fact, drawn closer by the sense of the uncanny, the scenes reveal themselves to be composed of incredibly detailed paper and card models, painstakingly made by the artist. Favouring bureaucratic and banal spaces that are often connected to dark events – subjects include the ransacked offices of the East German secret police, Saddam Hussein’s kitchen and, above, the control room of the nuclear power plant at Fukushima – the images question the nature of experience and memory, and, in Demand’s own words, “our need to make sense of the chaotic environment we are in”.
A few of his pieces are ‘outdoors’ – one of the most memorable being no more than a patch of lawn, rendered in staggering detail, with each blade of grass carefully and convincingly created – but most are of interiors. His work is a sinister enfilade: a succession of quiet, unpeopled rooms. In some, something terrible has clearly happened. In others, it may be about to. “These spaces more condensed and focused,” says Demand.
It’s an interest that connects to a recurring presence in his work – the ghostly afterimage of the Cold War and the division of Germany. “In the West since the Second World War, most of the places of power were inside a room, whereas the East tended to perform in a public realm, like parades and open-air speeches. This is not a general rule, but it seems notable nevertheless.”
And there has to be a degree of secrecy, or at least privacy and obscurity, to the scenes he chooses. Some scenes “are so iconic that I don’t see much that could be added: all has been shown. I like the less obvious, mundane, the generic and probably accidental attention to the built environment much more. It is closer to one’s own experiences.”
Reconstructing a scene in meticulous detail, and then taking an image of it, is a process that has obvious affinity to the making and handling of memory. “Memory is a construction,” Demand says. “No one has images in their head. When we talk about the downfall of Saddam Hussein, your brain assembles all the parts necessary for your imagination. Your brain provides you with that, to enable you to take part in a social practice, communication… That’s when it gets interesting for me. Not the incident, but the way in which we speak about it.”
Do particular scenes ever appeal simply as a model-making challenge? “Certainly,” he says, “but I try to avoid any hint of artistry; it would be challenging in a philosophical sense. Making a piece of lawn will take five months, but anyone could do it if they have the patience. The time spent on something like ‘Lawn’ has a Beckettian, absurdist meaning to it. That’s where it opens up to give an idea a form, which the visual arts should be aiming for.”
Demand seems most at home in a particular kind of bureaucratic environment: the office, the control room, the backrooms of power and decision-making. He admits to a kind of perverse enjoyment that these are spaces of paperwork: “A paradoxical barn door for me”. Here, it might be possible to discern a comment on the passage from an analogue, modern 20th century, in which we still believed that information could be tamed and mastered, into a digital, postmodern 21st century in which information endlessly proliferates. The latter is an era of over-memory, in which machines hoover up every datum of our lives and then never forget it, but also an age under permanent threat from data-loss, and the corruption and blanking of such archives. He gently denies any desire to ‘illustrate’ in that way. “I believe an artist will work alongside the issues which a society identifies in retrospect as significant,” he says. “The artist cannot produce them, but they will show up in a work which is of any relevance.
“However, how many telephone numbers do you remember? Three? Four? You don’t have to memorise them as they are in your smart phone, which you always carry around with you. We immediately blank out all such unessential information to make space for all the really important things, like Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed. So in the end it’s not the ‘over-memory era’ but the ‘age of the cancerous archive’. We are losing more memory than ever before.”
Demand prefers to call the dioramas he creates ‘sculptures’ rather than ‘models’, but their existence is only temporary. Once it has been properly photographed, resulting in that one, perfect shot, the card and paper construction is destroyed – the photograph is the work of art. Though this might feel like a waste, it’s a necessary part of the process, both for the questions Demand wants to ask about memory, and for more prosaic reasons.
“I need the space again, so it has to go,” he explains, though he allows himself some room for sentiment. “I tend to avoid doing it: if you spend months on something, you become friends with it, so I have assistants that take it down. Usually it only takes 20 minutes.”
This is an extended version of an article from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.
Style and substance sit shoulder to shoulder in Terry Newman’s new book, which examines the personal styles of 50 literary icons from Joan Didion to James Joyce
“Style is character,” Joan Didion famously wrote. The American writer, whose output is peppered with references to the cultural significance clothes, was talking about the tendency to view someone’s work as a reflection of their person. Specifically, she was writing about her young daughter’s desire to meet Georgia O’Keeffe after seeing her paintings. “She was assuming that the glory she saw in the work reflected a glory in its maker, that the painting was the painter as the poem is the poet…,” Didion tells us.
This is a common, almost instinctive, assumption about artists, wherein the politics of personality and style reign supreme, but is to a lesser extent applied to the literary world. It is telling then that Didion, the well-dressed woman, has become inseparable from her sharp, stylish prose.
London-based fashion journalist and writer Terry Newman takes this idea one step further in her new book, Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore, which details the relationship between the writing and wardrobes of 50 iconic authors. Ahead of its release, Newman sheds light on the book below.
On the inspiration behind the book…
“I have only ever been interested in two things: books and clothes. When I started thinking about writing a book, it seemed to me that writing about what authors wear would be interesting. When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader and authors themselves were just as interesting as the books they wrote. I was always fascinated by the characters behind the books.”
On style versus substance…
“People sometimes feel that the clothes can be superficial and I have to say, when I sat down to write this book, I thought, perhaps this is a mad thing to do, to talk about such amazing writers and analyse them as per their clothes. Then I realised that is just not how I feel about clothes.
Clothes reveal intense amounts about people; about their character, about their purpose, about their emotions. It seemed to me, to find a little bit more about these authors that I love, that looking at their clothes was a really obvious choice. It can be as revealing as talking to somebody. I can’t talk to Samuel Beckett because he is dead, but looking at his clothes gave me a glimpse of his personality. When people refer to clothes as being superficial, I think they are missing the point.”
On what she learned…
“What I found was that my premise was correct. As I started researching, what was most interesting was all of these authors had a style, they all had this uniqueness. But also the way they wrote about and used clothes in their literature was similar as well. They are all magnificent writers, all of them to a greater or lesser extent use clothes as a way of illuminating character. From James Joyce right through to Tom Wolfe, not one of these authors have dismissed clothes as being superficial in their work. What I feel about clothes, almost all these authors feel. They are important and interesting.”