Blue Book, October 2019
Updated: Apr 8
Illustration by Lilly Cao
On a recent evening, some residents of McBain floors one and two congregated in the dorm lounge for their resident advisor’s first planned event of the season. Rather than select a cheesy movie to watch or purchase a tub of ice cream, Chrissy opted to commission the owner of Studio 28, a tattoo parlor in Midtown, for an hour-long information session.
TJ, a stocky white guy in his mid-thirties covered from fingertips to stubbly chin with colorful and elaborate ink, took a seat at the center of the room while residents piled onto the couches. He introduced himself to the residents, telling them he had earned a dual degree in politics and philosophy from Hofstra University, then worked on Wall Street in mortgages until the 2008 crash, when he realized he hated his job. He quit and opened a tattoo parlor with a friend.
TJ frequently reminded the residents that he had no artistic talent. Rather, it was his business and sales expertise that had earned his parlor hundreds of five-star Yelp reviews and a clientele including secret service agents and Forbes 500 CEOs.
TJ offered penetrating insight into the richness of tattoo culture, joking glibly about the contrast between New York’s austere, colorless trends and the vibrant avant-garde he associates with “Cali.” He outlined how body alterations have evolved from a back-alley pastime for social out-casts and inmates to a multi-billion dollar industry. Before parting, he insisted on three things: that do our research; that we choose a clean, reputable parlor, no matter the price; and that we start from the drawing board with an artist, rather than choosing something pre-designed.
Chrissy, who remained bright and bubbly throughout the evening, flashed her two tattoos as students exited and passed out sheets of temporaries she had cut out. Whether others in attendance will muster the courage to get their own remains to be seen.
Illustration by Aaron Jackson
It the aroma of mold and laundry left too long in the tumbler—was once a non-profit grocery, replete with dime bagels and beer, run by a rotating squadron of angsty stoners. Plans for the defunct site aren’t easily accessible, so it’s anyone’s guess what the space looked like. Furnald was renovated in 1995, so one might surmise that the old grocery was long ago subdivided into what is today the laundry room, the trash compactor room, the basement lounge, and the employee locker rooms. A bit of vigilante exploration leads one to believe that the trash compactor room and adjoining storage room were once the main rooms of the grocery, and assorted other spaces on the lower level were once storage rooms, offices, and break rooms. The Spectator seems to have given the grocery quite a bit of attention in its day. Archives reveal that the grocery the grocery was robbed a lot and owed various thousands of dollars the store owed to seemingly just about everyone. Back in the ‘70s, when the Upper West Side was “a pretty lousy place to go to college” (as eloquently phrased in a 21 March, 1978 Spec op-ed called “The Birth of a Grocery”), the grocery was seen as a necessary perk, something to counteract Morningside’s then-persistent dreariness. It was feisty and dynamic and run by fellow students who were constantly motivated, sympathetic, and extremely high. It was, paradoxically, a little piece of counterculture. Its very existence was a middle finger to the administration, and it persistently fought against powers that remain alive and well long after the grocery’s demise. Eventually, the perky Furnald Grocery had to face up to an enormous deficit and an on-campus beer ban and shuttered for good in 1990. Now, nary a trace of it remains, but readers may find that all of Columbia is still charged with the spirit that first brought the grocery into existence and sustained it for twelve irreverent dime-bagel years.
Of the essential pieces in “After the End: Timing Socialism in Africa,” on view at Columbia’s Wallach Art Gallery until October 6, the most incisive might be a multi-media installation by the Mozambican artist Ângela Ferreira. “For Mozambique (Model no. 1 of Screen-Tribute-Kiosk Celebrating a Post-Independence Utopia),” from 2008, is a towering assemblage of wood, steel, and two projected videos. Makwayela, an anticolonial drama shot in Maputo by Jean Rouch and Jacques d’Arthuys in 1977, graces one side of the screen, and a live recording of Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique,” performed in Colorado in 1976, plays on the other. Ferreira deftly contrasts the videos, both made shortly after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, to raise the stakes and terms of colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial storytelling—vital challenges that many of the exhibition’s radically insightful artists take upon themselves.
Ferreira’s floor-to-ceiling geometries ascend to the scale of architecture and even infrastructure, particularly when the sculpture’s glorious slats pierce the projection of Bob Dylan’s stadium and nearly graze the gallery’s ceiling. The built environment, it turns out, permeates the whole exhibition, often as an instructive and productive palimpsest, as in a characteristically elaborate painting by Julie Mehretu, who is slated for a retrospective at the Whitney next year. In seven striking photographs of people at work, Filipe Branquinho, also Mozambican, almost splays buildings across his backgrounds, temporarily relieving them from their functions to foreground their beauty and, crucially, their near-seamless continuities with boundless sidewalks and oceans.
Other gems from this undersung exhibit— a step in the right direction for the freshly minted Wallach, which ought to emerge as an Uptown art destination for everyone—include the Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s witty series of prints that portray a mission to the Sun, and the Ethiopian painter Mezgebu Tesema’s ominous “Weekend,” from 2016. The show’s curator, Álvaro Luís Lima, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, suspends not time but rather our ideas about temporality and its politics, which the artists help us interrogate, shatter, and if we’re lucky, reconstruct. Rather than distill one contiguous chronology or ideology—ever a fraught pursuit for small shows with grand political schemes, at Columbia or elsewhere—the show launches us into a constellation. It’s a pleasure to pick a bright star and gaze.