Each issue of Museum opens with Symposium, a section dedicated to bite-sized ideas and revelatory nuggets from the world’s most brilliant personas, be it architects, scientists or magazine editors. Customarily, we work with photographers in disparate cities—as magazines are prone to do—arranging appointments for each of these interviewees to be captured. We publish them in offices and carparks, in real parks carpeted with green, in galleries and white studios. For our latest edition however, themed ‘Sorry… have we met?’ we decided to do things a little differently. We found people with illuminating perspectives on everything from the etymology of slang words to baking the perfect French baguette, and we asked Gladys Perint Palmer to draw them. No photos.
Palmer is—without question—one of fashion’s greats herself, having drawn or painted every industry bigwig for every publication that matters. The Hungarian-born artist studied at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, then at Parsons School of Design in New York. In the early 80s, she became fashion editor at the San Francisco Examiner; later, for almost two decades, she’d run the school of fashion any the Academy of Art University in the same city. Palmer’s clever, incisive lines and economical stroke capture moods in an instant‚ be it mirthful or solemn, and for The New Yorker, The Sunday Times or Vogue. Her work feels light and weighty at once. It almost dances upon the paper. Every line, even when free and wild and wriggly, has the control of a master calligrapher.
When we emailed for the Museum project, Palmer insisted portraits on profile were best, writing “noses and mouths have so much more character from this angle.” And in a few, sparse strokes, she communicates whole faces for us. The slight protrusion of a moustachioed upper lip. An orange-tinged dab of watercolour, suggesting a gold hoop earring. A nose, articulated in just three knowing marks, reaching outward to a little tip.
Museum first became acquainted with lexicographer Jonathon Green in 2016 via Lexicon Valley, Slate’s podcast about the English language that spans everything from etymology to New Yorker accents. Green, who is based between Paris and London, has worked with words his entire life, and with slang for a quarter century. In the late 60s he joined London’s underground press, working for Oz, IT and Friends. Since then, he has published more titles on language than can be listed here: from far-reaching oral histories documenting experiences of alternative society in 1960s London, or first-generation immigrants to Britain, to Chasing the Sun, an ambitious, lucid history of lexicography. In 2008, Green released an 87,500-entry strong slang dictionary. Two years later, Green’s Dictionary of Slang—his remarkable magnum opus—appeared on shelves: an encyclopaedic, three-volume record that remains the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. Recently, he launched a free online version, adding some 2,500 new entries.
Museum You’ve said that Green’s Dictionary of Slang—and its teasing out of etymologies—is your life’s work. What, in the course of your research, have you found to be the greatest misunderstanding about the way slang or marginal language evolves?
jonathon green I seek no pity, and my beloved slang would scorn such importuning, but as a linguistic register it is surely misunderstood. For most people it represents nothing more than what I term ‘apples and pears and fucking,’ rhyming slang and so-called obscenities. Yet my ongoing research has gleaned 130,000 terms from the last half millennium, drawn from its primary anglophone sources: the UK, US, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean. Slang has much else to offer. That said, it has its themes: sex, our physical bodies and a variety of their functions, intoxication via drink and drugs, insult and abuse, terms—rarely kind or even sympathetic—for what it judges as physical and mental imperfections, and of course women (assessed invariably in terms of sex and beauty) and men (often self-aggrandising, rarely self-aware). It does not philosophise, it is politically incorrect, it is careless of feelings, it scorns rules: it is Trump and not Obama.
Yet slang saves itself through wit, and through an essential, unrestrained, and, I would suggest, necessary subversion. If there exists a counter-culture, then slang is a counter-language. Less a coiner of words than their mischievous re-interpreter, for most of its vocabulary is also to be found in standard English, it takes the words then takes the piss. It is the least reliable of narrators. It plays with language, turning it inside out, upside-down, back to front. A single standard term, say dog, rendered into compounds and phrases, can be good for 200-plus meanings. Above all—and this is the product of 40 years of immersion, of hunting it down, defining and assessing it—slang for me represents far more than a few ‘dirty words’ and a small lexis that has more in common with such allied tourist clichés as black cabs and red phone boxes. Slang [represents us] at our most human … I may be cynical, it may be the sources wherein I find my material, but slang seems real.
There is a paradox. Coined on the social margins and among the young, it represents language’s cutting edge, yet it is static. Those themes are to be found in its earliest collections (the 16th century) and [they] persist. The words change, the obsessions remain. It boasts an unrivalled synonymy: the OED, lexicography’s gold standard, offers 102 terms for ‘sexual intercourse,’ slang. To date, I can find 1600 more. Slang knows its bounds, but is never done exploring them.
Plus ça change, one might say, But then nor, alas, do we.
Vancouver-born, New York-based Sara Cwynar is an artist working across photography, collage, film, installation and book-making. (Before this, she was an in-house graphic designer at The New York Times Magazine.) Her meticulous, obsessive practice deals with self-made archives (real, fictitious, expansive, incomplete), with cycles of capitalism, with reproductions, representations and visual tricks, with the way we look at objects or images and remember them.
From the end of March until 9 July this year, Cwynar will present her Baloise Art Prize-winning 16mm film on video, Soft Film, in the UK for the first time. Part of a group exhibition at Zabludowicz Collection in London—which also includes work by Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall—‘You are Looking at Something That Never Occurred’ will also feature two of Cwynar’s kitschy chromomeric prints from 2014: Corinthian Column (Plastic Cups) and Islamic Dome (Plastic Cups).
MUSEUM In 2010, the Edge Forum asked scientists and thinkers a single question: How is the internet changing the way you think? One respondent, a professor, wrote: “As John Berger pointed out, the nature of photography is a memory device that allows us to forget. Perhaps something similar can be said about the internet. In terms of art, the internet expands the network of reproduction … it replaces experience with facsimile.” What are your thoughts on this?
SARA CWYNAR I think the internet allows us to see so much, in such compacted periods, that it can almost feel like you know an image before you’ve even looked— everything becomes familiar, even violence, [and] especially commercial images, all the tropes of photography. I think about a part in White Noise where Don DeLillo describes the “world’s most photographed barn,” somewhere along a highway in America. He says you can’t even see the barn anymore, you can only see all the pictures you’ve already seen of it. This is our contemporary relationship with images. That’s something I think about a lot in my work, and in response I want to make images appear to be one familiar, over-imaged thing and then reveal themselves to be quite different. For example, I make pictures of floral arrangements that look from afar like a faded commercial image but up close are packed with other objects—the photographs are just vessels for other things. My hope is that this will make the viewer question all images, or look more closely.
“I am fundamentally interested in the ‘raw matter’ of the photographic medium,” begins Isobel Parker Philip, “[in] its particular mode of inscription and status as a trace recording.” The Australian writer and curator—who is currently assistant curator of photographs at the Art Gallery of NSW—is developing two monographic exhibitions from the gallery’s permanent collection this year. There is ‘David Stephenson: human landscapes,’ which includes pinhole images made of the sea and extended exposures of the sky, and begins on 14 April, and ‘Pat Brassington: the body electric,’ all mutated, abstracted, surreal and floating figures. Parker Philip is also managing curator for one of the gallery’s most significant and ambitious shows this year, ‘Robert Mapplethorpe: the perfect medium.’
Museum How do chance encounters—with people or objects—impact your curatorial practice?
isobel parker philip The word curator etymologically stems from the words ‘to care.’ This is an oft-cited association but one that needs to be reinforced in light of recent over (and mis-) use of the term. A curator is a caretaker and a custodian. To appropriately care for an object one must know it—know its history, its meaning, its constraints. I’m a curator who works with a collection and am closely acquainted with all the works in my custody. Yet even so, I am often surprised by objects I haven’t seen in a while, or suddenly see in a new light.
To work with a collection, a curator must be nimble. They must think laterally and intuitively to map alternate pathways through familiar material. They must be open to chance (and transformative) encounters with old friends. These kinds of interactions—or rediscoveries—can be intoxicating, for they resuscitate objects that are otherwise lying dormant in the collection store. They can also trigger entire exhibitions. ‘Imprint: photography and the impressionable image,’ staged at the Art Gallery of NSW last year, was born out of such an encounter.
In early 2014 I spent five weeks cataloguing close to 300 cartes de visite that had just entered the gallery’s collection. A carte de visite is a photographic calling card: a small print (usually albumen) affixed to a piece of card measuring 10×6 cm. Popular between 1860 and the 1890s, cartes were widely circulated across the globe. In a sea of near- identical portraits and landscape views, [one particular] photograph of a disembodied life, cast by William Hetzer, was a curious anomaly. Haunted by this image, I began to stumble upon other photographs in the collection that similarly depict cast forms. The domino effect of these accumulative discoveries was exhilarating.
As I unravelled the thread of these networked associations, a show took shape. Imprint examined the metaphoric resonance between photography and the sculptural cast, proposing that the two mediums share a symbolic lineage and are produced by parallel gestures—in spite of their material and dimensional differences. The photograph and the cast are copies and pictorial replicas, yet they are also trace recordings that maintain a line of contact between the subject and its image, whether it is mediated by light or direct physical exchange. The photograph and the cast do more than preserve a likeness. They produce echoes.
It is fitting, then, that the show itself was [prompted] by an echo: one that resonated and ricocheted across the tangled web of the collection. I encountered the echo as if I were eavesdropping. As a curator, such echoes shape and drive my practice. I hold my ear to the ground to catch them, however faint they may be.
After migrating to Paris with his family, aged seven, Senegalese-born Djibril Bodian is now considered one of France’s most celebrated bakers. Bodian trained in a branch of the Grenier à Pain chain, located in the Rue des Abbesses. He still works there, where he sells more than 1500 baguettes each day, and approximately 2200 on Sundays.
In both 2010 and 2015, Bodian’s traditional baguettes were judged Paris’ best, with their slight, crispy crust, non-sticky crumb and rousing wheat aroma. Since 1993, French law has dictated clear guidelines that must be followed to sell a traditional baguette: it must be made at the premises it’s sold, never be frozen, and contain only four ingredients: wheat flour, water, yeast and salt. As the winner, Bodian was twice given the exclusive right to supply bread to Élysée Palace—the official residence of the president—for a full year.
MUSEUM What gives a French baguette its distinctiveness, its ‘Frenchiness’?
Djibril Bodian One of the most important things for a French baguette is the [appearance]. It’s the first thing a customer will see when he enters a French bakery. And if he identifies the product as well shaped, he will buy it … A French baguette has to be crusty. It’s very important. If you compare French and Senegalese baguettes, you’ll find that [the latter] are not crusty. That’s due to the weather in Senegal, the humidity in the air.
When you cut a traditional French baguette, you’ll notice there are many small holes. These [are a telltale sign that] the baker wasn’t rushed, that they could respect the time needed to bake good bread. And of course the taste is very important. At my bakery, we buy a very good quality of flour, which is so important for the taste of the bread.
If you compare bakeries across Paris, you’ll be surprised at the difference in baguette flavours. This is due to the flour chosen—the rising flour—and how the baker respects the strict process. It takes so long—I spend at least six hours producing a baguette, and that makes a difference. People come twice daily to buy our baguettes: bread for the morning and for the night. Once a week, I take time to look over some of the baguettes we have made. I analyse everything. If one element has a small problem, I find a solution—my aim is to keep improving.
When I was 16 I told my father—who was a baker—that I wanted to do the same job. He gave me a lot of advice, but cautioned that it was a very difficult path. Working by night when people are sleeping can be hard. I was lucky to have my father to help me, and I saw in him a distinct passion for his job. That’s something I have tried to emulate. Thanks to his guidance, and that of my second boss … I have twice been recognised as baking the best baguette in Paris. I’m used to working very hard, without counting the hours. I was so pleased to win this fabulous prize—every French baker dreams of it.
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