Recommendations, 4/18

This FRIDAY, we think some GOOD things (anyone?) are meticulous art installations, political punks, and massive NCAA violations.


Photo courtesy of Jaime Rojo

Looking at street artist Swoon’s work, it becomes clear how easy it is to fall in love with something that’s shamelessly beautiful. It enthralls instantly and leaves no room for second-guessing judgements.

Her pieces are majestic things. Exquisite portraits are printed using impressively carved linoleum blocks; intricate patterns are cut from delicate paper and then wheat-pasted so precisely, it’s nearly impossible to conceptualize the level of technical skill involved in executing each one. Coming across one of them on the street is like encountering something in a dream: you’re not quite sure what something so seemingly magical is doing in an otherwise ordinary setting, but you’re not about to question it.

Swoon’s latest project is an installation about climate change up at the Brooklyn Museum: she’s transformed the top floor into one of the most cohesive, interesting exhibits I’ve seen this year. Inspired in part by Hurricane Sandy — her studio is in Red Hook, one of the neighborhoods hit hardest by the storm — she included two ramshackle boats (yeah, they’ve been used) and surrounded them with prints and cut-outs that showcase motifs of life and death, drowning and rebirth. The installation is anchored by a towering, fabric-wrapped tree sculpture that soars upwards into the rotunda.

Swoon deals primarily in lines — she crafts them deftly, and they’re never anything less than graceful. There’s a flow to each of her pieces that makes it natural and appropriate for them to be combined in the same space, doubly so when they’re meant to be relating to water and the environment. The exhibit’s up through August — if you’re around, rush to see it now, then visit again for what will surely be an ethereal relief during the sweltering days of summer.


Chicago-based, Welshman, punk first-waver (The Mekons), alt-country pioneer (Waco Brothers), gravel-voiced political activist, artist, and collector of adjectival phrases, John Langford has a new album with his band Skull Orchard. It’s called Here Be Monsters. This is, of course, the phrase mapmakers used to throw down on the empty places where the map stopped and ignorance began. It might seem that we don’t have such places any more. Or it could be that those places of darkness are hidden beneath what we think we know of the world. On what map does a “Drone Operator” operate, after all? The map is a secret (even to himself) map designed by perpetual-war-mongers. The drone operator says: “When I was a young boy / I played all the games / straight out of grad school / someone gave them my name” and off he goes to continue this “game” in real life. Here Be Monsters is political, beautiful, and urgent in equal measure; a major statement from an artist not resting on his rasp.


I can’t remember ever reading anything online that made me happier than Steven Godfrey’s long report on the people who pay college football players under the table, “Meet the Bag Man”. Guided by one such “bag man” who operates out of SEC country — the heartland of college football in America — Godfrey dives deep into the logistics of how money and favors make their way from the hands of older fans with too much cash to young athletes who technically can’t be compensated for their performance. Learning about the man’s operation is great fun in itself; it feels a bit like one of those scenes in The Wire where they break down how the drug trade works, only with a slightly lighter undertone of crippling social dysfunction. And the bag man himself is a delightful character. He seems enviably comfortable in his shadowy role in the world, plus he drops gems like this:

If you hear stories about bank accounts, they’re fake. Why would there be a bank account? Yeah, I’m gonna open a checking account with statements someone could subpoena. Oh and hey, in this small town of however-many-thousands of people I’m gonna go in and open some account and then ask for a bunch of black teenagers to be put on there and ask for a bunch of debit cards they could get caught with.

Beyond the specifics of the piece itself, the mere fact that it exists helps me sleep at night. See, I know college football is awful on a million levels, but I watch a ton of it anyway. The fact that mostly black players are denied fair compensation while risking their health to make millions of dollars for mostly white coaches and school officials is a farce. So however “illegal” it may be, knowing that any SEC player who wants to get paid can get paid makes me feel better about watching the sport. I realize this is an impossibly tangled web of hypocrisy I’ve built for myself, but at least I feel good about adding this thread to it.


I took a break from work reading on a long plane ride and played through Monument Valley in a single sitting. It’s an aesthetically pleasing puzzle game for iOS that is less about solving problems and more about taking everything in. Its interactivity is limited, but in some ways, that’s the point.

The world of Monument Valley is built on kaleidoscopic palettes and enchanting geometries. Most of the puzzles involve manipulating perspective to navigate through the game’s M.C. Escher physics. The pleasures of Monument Valley aren’t purely visual. There’s an elegance to the touch controls too. They react gracefully beneath your fingertips as you reshape the game’s landscape and architecture. It’s simple and it’s beautiful and I was completely charmed.

The game took me, like, 45 minutes to beat. It’s really really easy, and on some level, I wish the game challenged the player more and further explored its own clever mechanics. But Monument Valley‘s brevity left me wanting more rather than exhausting me. Perhaps the game is only skin-deep, and when the entire thing feels like a glimpse of something special, maybe that’s all you need.