Dear Friends and Readers,by Phong Bui
I am the Earth
– Jane Yolen
Let war and trade and creeds and song
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Recently “fake news” and “alternative facts” have faced a steady stream of real news and primary facts, including the latest dismissal of Bill O’Reilly by Fox News on April 19 (after Roger Ailes was ousted on July 21), and President Trump’s firing of fifty-nine missiles at Syria’s al-Shayrat military airfield in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, among other destructive actions the Trump administration has taken since the presidential inauguration on January 20. However dark, the Women’s March soon after the inauguration undoubtedly heightened awareness about the seriousness and consequences of sexual harassment. Secondly, we were again reminded that like the previous acts of war—be they in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Panama, or Afghanistan—this recent air strike against Syria promotes the familiar illusion that war can be a solution to the endless domestic political problems that President Trump faces.
Meanwhile, just as the Vietnam War and the civil and women’s rights movements were interconnected, the last Women’s March materialized as a monumental presence in the nation’s capital in response to Trump’s inauguration. Just a few months later, the Trump administration’s dismissive and uninformed views on climate change and science gave rise to the March for Science that coincided with Earth Day last Saturday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. Tens of thousands of concerned scientists, advocates, students, and members of the general public gathered to listen to a host of speakers, including Bill Nye, Jane Hirshfield, Sam Droege, Jamie Rappaport Clark, our two friends Maya Lin and Lawrence Benenson, and countless others, before marching to Constitution Avenue and to the Washington Monument. Simultaneous marches were held in more than 600 cities and towns across six continents.
Can we imagine history without the astronomical studies of Aristotle and Ptolemy, which led to Copernicus’s argument that the Earth revolved around the sun, which was further validated by Galileo and Kepler who also accounted for the movements of several moons and planets in the solar system? This, in turn, led to Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation. What about Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity without the foundations of quantum mechanics laid by Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and John von Neumann, among others? It’s impossible to think of natural science without ancient Greece, Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Newton. Likewise, it’s impossible to think of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and interdisciplinary fields such as astrophysics, biochemistry, and environmental science, without the scientific discoveries that predated them. We all remember learning arithmetic, algebra, and geometry as children at the same time we were learning how to communicate with each other through language. Just as the visual language of art documents human evolution from cave painting to today, the language of science records our search for knowledge of the natural and social worlds through a systematic, evidence-based methodology. To deny the arts, sciences, and humanities is to deny the power of our imagination. I love what Einstein said: “Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
I recently visited the Clyfford Still Museum—which, designed by Brad Cloepfil and his team at Allied Works, is a simple and solid, yet dignified and quietly monumental response to Still’s landmark large abstract canvases that evoke the high and immeasurable scale of the Midwestern plains and elevation. As the artist once wrote, “Imagination, no longer fettered by the laws of fear, became as one with vision.” I also realized how he had envisioned which city would have the privilege of hosting a museum solely dedicated to his works—more than 800 paintings and 1500 works on paper along with personal archives—in a way that was similar to how Donald Judd envisioned the ideal conditions for for viewing his art at the Chinati Foundation in 1979 and the Judd Foundation in 1996, two years after his death in 1994. Still’s vision finally materialized in 2011, thirty-one years after his death in 1980. But art has never been a race to the finish line. This is what distinguishes the arts, sciences, and humanities from other human endeavors—especially from politics, where cynical rhetoric and false promises are all but required to win constituents’ votes. By contrast, artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, poets, composers, musicians, and dancers, among other creative individuals, are often driven to undergo personal odysseys of self-transformation, without the arrogance of presuming to change the lives of fellow human beings.
Filled with profound optimism, I can speak on behalf of my colleagues at the Rail and many of our friends and supporters when I say that we’re in complete solidarity in any fight against tyranny and ignorance, with the philosophy of nonviolent resistance. As a brilliant testament to collective spirit and imagination, April was both Poetry Month, and the month of Earth Day and the March for Science. The latest astonishing effort, A House Divided, organized by our friends, artist/poet Stefan Bondell and Bob Holman, poet/founder of the Bowery Poetry Club and Endangered Languages Alliance, in collaboration with the PEN World Voices Festival brought together more than thirty artists and writers, including Joan Jonas, Richard Serra, Jonas Mekas, Anne Waldman, Siri Hustvedt, Paul Auster, Reverend Billy, and Yusef Komunyakaa, at the Great Hall, Cooper Union on April 30, has certainly added a remarkable boost to our momentum. Let’s keep it up, friends.
Happy May, with love and peace,
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary lives of Magdalena Abakanowicz, Barkley L. Hendricks, Glenn O’Brien, Kim Jong-gil, Eugene Lang, and Robert Meltzer, whose individual labors of love have added to the liveliness of our imaginations. We send our deep condolences to their immediate family members, relatives, friends, and admirers.
We congratulate our dear friend Carolee Schneemann as a winner of the Golden Lion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
PHONG BUI is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.