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Sahra Motalebi

New York–based artist and vocalist Sahra Motalebi has recently shown her work at such venues as the Kitchen, SculptureCenter, and MoMA PS1 in New York. This year, Motalebi will present a series of exhibitions, performances, and texts as part of a new opera titled Rendering What Remains.

  1. KAI ALTHOFF, FANAL 4 (SONIG)

    In the fourth LP Althoff has produced under the moniker Fanal, the artist’s capacities as a singer and multi-instrumentalist reverberate in perfect pitch with his other works, which cycle rapidly between high lyrical beauty and grotesque abjection, often with pointed humor. This 2014 record offers a gorgeous pageant of musical declarations and irrational personae that the artist wears like ornaments: He is by turns a crone, a bharata natya singer, and a teacher.

    *Still from Kai Althoff’s 2014 video for the second track on his 2014 LP _Fanal 4_, “_Eine Fremde_” (A Stranger), directed by Brett Milspaw.* Still from Kai Althoff’s 2014 video for the second track on his 2014 LP Fanal 4, “Eine Fremde” (A Stranger), directed by Brett Milspaw.
  2. ADOLPHE APPIA, 1912 SET FOR GLUCK’S ORFEO ED EURIDICE

    Obsessed with the limits of Wagnerian staging, Appia was a pioneer of contemporary performance lighting and scenography. He used architectonic masses of ramps and stairs to organize the space of the stage and ditch the illusionism of late-nineteenth-century set design. He also wanted to eliminate the distinction between audience and performer; nowhere is this desire more apparent than in the set he designed for act 2 of Gluck’s 1762 opera.

    *Adolphe Appia’s set design for a 1912 production of Gluck’s _Orfeo ed Euridice_, 1762, Great Hall, Hellerau, Germany.* Adolphe Appia’s set design for a 1912 production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, 1762, Great Hall, Hellerau, Germany.
  3. RADIOGRAPHIC IMAGE OF A NORTHERN WEI–DYNASTY BUDDHA

    A friend who’s a chemist and conservator recently turned me on to her work analyzing ancient sculpture, and I was particularly taken with a series of images she showed me that were produced using radiography. The technology can reveal otherwise illegible traces of protoscientific and alchemical processes—such as the uncanny internal construction and metallurgy of a standing Buddha Maitreya sculpture from a sixth-century CE Northern Wei altarpiece.

  4. FRAME OF THE BLACK STONE, SIXTEENTH CENTURY

    I visited the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris a couple of years ago and saw a beautiful frame of the Black Stone on display in an exhibition about the Hajj. It was one of many produced throughout history. The frame looks futuristic, silver and curvilinear; it was designed to bracket a segment of the Black Stone relic, the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba in Mecca. The frame has a hole in the center through which pilgrims could see, touch, and kiss fragments of the stone while performing the ritual circumambulation around the Kaaba.

  5. KATHLEEN FERRIER PERFORMING GUSTAV MAHLER’S KINDERTOTENLIEDER (SONGS ON THE DEATH OF CHILDREN,

    1901–1904) AT KINGSWAY HALL, LONDON, 1949
    I’ve always known Jessye Norman’s 1991 recording of Mahler’s song cycle, and years ago I found Kirsten Flagstad’s breathtaking version from 1957; Ferrier’s 1949 performance is a recent discovery. For this work, Mahler set to music five poems by Friedrich Rückert (written after Rückert lost two of his children to scarlet fever, and published posthumously in 1872); in its expression of grief and love, this piece is not macabre but calmly moving.

  6. GUSTAVE COURBET, THE WAVE, 1869–70

    I started going to the Dallas Museum of Art as an adolescent. The Wave, which is in the museum’s collection, is the first painting by Courbet that I remember seeing in person, and it completely shaped my feelings about his work and about painting in general. The canvas—one of dozens he painted of the shoreline—edges on total abstraction, the picture dissolving into near-sculptural passages of paint.

    *Gustave Courbet, _The Wave_, 1869–70*, oil on canvas, 22 × 36". Gustave Courbet, The Wave, 1869–70, oil on canvas, 22 × 36".
  7. ASHA PUTHLI

    I often listen to a single song or album with stupefying repetition, especially disco and R&B from the 1970s and ’80s, and I’ve listened to Puthli’s albums She Loves to Hear the Music (1975), The Devil Is Loose (1976), and L’Indiana (1979) over and over during the past year. The Indian-born avant-jazz vocalist moved to New York on a Martha Graham dance scholarship in 1970, and before her solo debut, she sang on Ornette Coleman’s 1971 album Science Fiction.

    *Cover of Asha Puthli’s _L’Indiana_* (Dash, 1979). Cover of Asha Puthli’s L’Indiana (Dash, 1979).
  8. TLAZOLTEOTL FIGURE, CA. 900–1450

    The British Museum has a striking carved sandstone sculpture of Tlazolteotl, the goddess of filth and “eater of dirt.” A semiwrathful female deity from the Huastec world, she was worshipped primarily on the Gulf Coast of present-day Mexico. Tlazolteotl was associated with midwifery and bathing, and it’s said that she served as the patron saint to adulterers and prostitutes and offered an antidote to the deleterious effects of a life of vice.

    *Tlazolteotl sculpture, Huastec culture, Mexico, ca. 900–1450*, sandstone, 50 3/8 × 22 1/2 × 5 1/2". Tlazolteotl sculpture, Huastec culture, Mexico, ca. 900–1450, sandstone, 50 3/8 × 22 1/2 × 5 1/2".
  9. UNESCO’S MASTERPIECES OF THE ORAL AND INTANGIBLE HERITAGE OF HUMANITY

    I came across this project (initiated in 2001) last year while researching a unique form of Dzikir sung by Sufi women in the Pankisi Gorge of the Republic of Georgia. Whatever one’s thoughts are on UNESCO, this list is fascinating. The agency provides funding for its member states to document and sustain regional traditions in the face of globalization and increased intolerance.

    *UNESCO-protected Carnival of Binche, Belgium, 1982.* Photo: Marie-Claire/Wikicommons. UNESCO-protected Carnival of Binche, Belgium, 1982. Photo: Marie-Claire/Wikicommons.
  10. L’AMOUR BLEU, PLEASE (STATIC RECITAL)

    This New York–based band is Ryan Schaefer (Palms), EAI, Shane Ruth, and Matt Tong (Algiers, Bloc Party). Their music has conjured such descriptions as “meat wave” and “bathhouse ballet,” and their shows and videos feature a rotating cast of improv dancers, alter egos, and former lovers, all involved in a public display of disaffection. They’re releasing their first record this summer on the label I founded in 2007 with Jorge Elbrecht.

    *L’Amour Bleu performing at Cameo, Brooklyn, New York, October 21, 2015*. Far left: Ryan Schaefer. Center: Shane Ruth. Photo: Sahra Motalebi. L’Amour Bleu performing at Cameo, Brooklyn, New York, October 21, 2015. Far left: Ryan Schaefer. Center: Shane Ruth. Photo: Sahra Motalebi.