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Saturday, February 20, 2021
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we reflect on the affecting New Museum exhibition “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” discuss the power of pottery with East Fork co-founder Connie Matisse, sip on the Brazilian sparkling wine D.M. Brut, find solace in a playlist created by Young Turks record label founder Caius Pawson, and ask Dr. Pamela Dalton what Covid-19 can teach us about smell. 

On Ep. 42 of our Time Sensitive podcast, Andrew speaks with New York–based philosopher Simon Critchley.

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See
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Anguish Art
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Glenn Ligon’s “A Small Band” (2015). Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, Thomas Dane Gallery, London, and Chantal Crousel, Paris. Photo: Roberto Marossi 
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Blackness as a color and, in some ways, as a culture, often finds itself in close proximity to death. Despite the vivid brilliance of Black creativity and expression, the richness innate to Blackness (a quality associated with a shade so powerful it absorbs the energy from all other hues into its depths) has been diluted by an omnipresence of grief. In the Western imagination, black is the color of funeral attire, a simple shorthand for mourning. And for the people it’s used to describe, the association becomes even more charged: Black is coded as a threat, as a burden, and yet somehow invisible, too. 

This week, New York’s New Museum opened “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” an exhibition curated by the late Okwui Enwezor (1963–2019) that examines what it’s like to be in a “perpetual state of mourning.” (Enwezor completed the show’s thesis and a list of artists and artworks just before his passing, in March 2019; a team of curatorial advisors established by the New Museum interpreted his vision to inform the final presentation.) Known for his deliberate focus on contemporary art from the African continent, Enwezor used the exhibition to explore America as the site of a particular shade of grief. It presents mourning as a political act, and demonstrates that the same emotional process can be a form of art-making in its own right. 

The white walls of the New Museum’s galleries serve as a striking backdrop for the limitless dimensions of how Black art archives the passage of time and the processing of pain. Both themes lie at the heart of projects by a roster of 37 artists—including Dawoud Bey, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ellen Gallagher, Theaster Gates, Rashid Johnson (the guest on Ep. 25 of our Time Sensitive podcast), and Adam Pendleton—that fill all three of the institution’s main exhibition floors as well as its lobby and public spaces. (The exhibition catalogue, published by Phaidon, includes essays by Elizabeth Alexander, Judith Butler, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Claudia Rankine, among other contributors who were selected by Enwezor.) Installations such as Glenn Ligon’s neon sign “A Small Band” (2015), which weightlessly deposits the words blues blood bruise directly into our field of vision, illustrate the interconnectivity of Black invention, sacrifice, and healing. Long before the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread calls to “defund the police,” the blue-black stain on America has always been one of violence without apology. The works on view are at once a sorrowful and empowering reminder that marginalized people have been able to forgive even in the absence of grace.

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Touch
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Breaking the Mold
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Bowls from the recent Samin Nosrat x East Fork collection. Courtesy East Fork
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East Fork imbues traditional clay tableware with a sense of delight, resulting in pieces that are instantly recognizable. The company’s ceramics feature its signature raw clay rims and matte glazes that allow for playful color combinations, while nodding to the heritage and legacy of the craft industry in Asheville, North Carolina, where it’s based. Since Alex and Connie Matisse founded East Fork with their friend John Vigelandin, back in 2009, its mugs and bowls have become highly coveted mainstays—as is evidenced by the 42 tons of clay it goes through each month (yes, month)—while its expansion into the lifestyle realm, with online recipes and carefully culled pantry items, such as black garlic shoyu from Japan’s Kyoto prefecture, give the brand a contemporary edge. We recently spoke with Connie about East Fork’s strategy for keeping up with demand, and how its most radical work takes place outside of the limelight.

Your products often immediately sell out. A few months ago, an article in the New York Post called your passionate fans the “new potheads.” What makes East Fork’s pieces so covetable? 

I think it’s a combination of people feeling really invested in the company and word of mouth. But sometimes we’re just, like, “Whoa, y’all. It’s literally a bowl.” [Laughs] It’s sweet and flattering, but sometimes people go really overboard and get so emotionally invested. Once, I had someone tell me that they were late to their father’s funeral because they had to pull over to buy one of our pieces on a launch day.

No!

Yeah. So this year, we’ve moved into a new paradigm. Right now you can go onto our website, buy any color pottery you want, and we’ll make it to order and ship it in four weeks. 

Can you talk about how you select and create the glazes?

When we first started out, everything was brown. Back then, one of our apprentices was, I think, a chemistry major in college. They were interested in the [science behind] glazes, and started making colors. From there, I started bringing in paint chips and hex codes, and making mood boards. We got really good at being able to match those colors exactly. 

We started doing seasonal colors about five years ago. We’d offer limited runs of things, and they sold really quickly. It became a way to speak to an audience that wasn’t just the pottery crowd, and to try and translate what we make—a very traditional craft in North Carolina—so as to appeal to a more coastal or a younger audience, or people with different tastes. We’re trying to bridge that gap. 

One way you’ve done that is through collaborations, such as the recent tableware collection with chef and Salt Fat Acid Heat author Samin Nosrat. How else are you expanding the narrative around your products?

We’re going to do something with [the D.C.-based community food platform] the Pineapple Collaborative, and with [the cookware start-up] Great Jones. At the moment, we’re trying to assemble a coalition of Southern-based brands whose values align with ours. We’ve done some storytelling around challenging the assumptions that people make about the South, and a lot of the talk that’s degrading the activism happening here. 

You’re redefining the possibilities of a ceramics brand.

We market ourselves like a direct-to-consumer start-up—but we’re actually a vertically integrated manufacturing company that’s working to provide sustainable middle-class jobs for folks in Asheville. We’re trying to do it in a way that feels like a radical departure from how business is typically done, and from how people who are in manufacturing jobs are typically treated. 

Of course, I think the products we make are beautiful. They’re really thoughtfully designed. It’s not that the design is secondary to what we do, but the thing that keeps us going, and has us on this intense growth trajectory, is trying to build out new systems for doing business that put a lot more energy into the health, wellness, and financial security of our most entry-level employees. East Fork’s executive team spends about sixty-five percent of its time thinking about personal issues related to our staff [which includes people who are transitioning out of incarceration], and ensuring that everybody understands their benefits and has access to places to live. That’s our real differentiator.

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Taste
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Brazilian Bubbly
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Courtesy Dom Maria
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Even if you’re not a sommelier or a wino, there are enough champagne memes these days for you to know that the bubbly favorite takes its name from the Champagne region of northeast France—and that any variant produced outside of that region is, strictly speaking, not champagne but sparkling wine. Technicalities aside, there’s no need to get fussy with tradition when there are a bevy of options to be found around the world. Spanish vintners make cava; Italians make prosecco; and now, a new Brazilian winemaker, Dom Maria, has offered its local answer, too, with the recent launch of D.M. Brut, a sparkling wine that’s made in the Champagne method—which is to say, fermented in the bottle itself—but with a “Brazilian touch.” Produced from grapes grown in the Valley of the Vineyards, in Southern Brazil, the 60/40 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir is aged for 12 months, and carries notes of tropical fruit. It also comes in a pleasingly minimalist package sealed with an Obrigado!, making for an apt gift. Sure, Dom Maria’s sparkling wine may not be champagne proper, but we’d happily raise a glass and saúde to a round of this.

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Hear
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Sounds of Solace
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Photo: Chris Rhodes
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It’s been a tough year for musicians and DJs, as the pandemic continues to make traditional revenue streams for performing artists all but obsolete. For Caius Pawson, the founder of the 15-year-old London record label Young Turks (which counts FKA twigs, Sampha, and The xx among the musicians on its roster), the absence of in-person performances is affecting creativity, too: “Live music is obviously a huge part of the industry, but it’s also its soul,” he says. “It’s where performers and the audience can best express themselves, and it’s where we come together.” 

However, like many of us, Pawson has found that music’s power to transport and transform is immune to the virus. He compiled a playlist of uplifting songs for us that have “amplified the best parts of my year,” he says, “and distracted me from some of the worst.” There’s solace to be found in this soundtrack, he notes, for both listeners and himself. “People turn to music to find meaning and to enrich their lives. Some things never change.” 

 
“Aure,” Maryam Olomi
“It’s So Different Here,” Rachel Sweet
“Challhuaschallay,” Conjunto Condemayta de Acomayo
“Stay So,” Busy Signal
“Solteiro,” DJ Lycox
“Spinning Away,” Brian Eno, John Cale
“Panagia Mou,” Mariza Koh
“Thiely,” Étoile De Dakar, Youssou N’Dour
“Mala Sombra,” Carmencita Lara
“Arman Doley,” Mamman Sani
“Likambo ya ngana,” Franco, TPOK Jazz, Youlou, Boyibanda, Bitshou
“City,” Alkaline
“Armée Guinéenne,” Bembeya Jazz National
“Obianuju,” Duncan Mighty
“Ramo de Rosas,” Los Pakines
“Pitié,” Tabu Ley Rochereau
“Torpedo,” Skillibeng
“Trouble Man,” Marvin Gaye
“Werente Serigne,” Orchestra Baobab
“Wildflowers” (2015 Remaster), Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris
“Elsa,” Los Destellos, Enrique Delgado
“Shippūden,” Blanco
“Periódico De Ayer,” Héctor Lavoe
“Kunta Kinte Dub,” The Revolutionaries
“All That I Could,” DJ Q
“Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing” (12” Version), Gloria Ann Taylor

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Smell
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Valuation of Loss
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Courtesy Dr. Pamela Dalton
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The mysteries surrounding our olfactory systems have been the focus of Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center since it opened, in 1968, more than 20 years before the discovery of the odorant receptors that we use to perceive scents. Today, it’s the world’s only independent nonprofit organization dedicated to interdisciplinary research around smell and taste. One of the center’s members, Dr. Pamela Dalton, a cognitive psychologist with a background in public health and chemosensory science, began creating and administering smell tests as soon as olfactory impairment emerged as a primary symptom for the novel coronavirus. We recently asked Dr. Dalton how thoughts and emotions impact the way we perceive scents, and what Covid-19 reveals about our noses. 

“The loss of smell can be a devastating experience. Covid-19 is giving us an opportunity to learn not only about how viruses affect the olfactory system, but how loss of smell affects people. First, we’re trying to establish that loss of smell is possibly a more important way to screen for infection than fever checks. It turns out that, at least with the current variant of the virus established in most of the world, loss of smell is experienced by seventy to eighty percent of infected people. 

Everybody is living in a [slightly] different smell world. That’s because, genetically, we have the ability to smell certain chemicals based on our individual genetic codes. Everything you do and experience—where you live, your culture, the foods you’re brought up with—appear to be the most determining factors of what you will ultimately come to accept or reject when it comes to scents. 

Your emotional state affects your response to smell, too. You will be faster to react to a negative odor in a stressed state than if you are relaxed. If you smell something familiar that reminds you of a safe place or a good experience, that can actually have fantastically fast and quite large effects on your mood in real time.

If there’s one good thing to come out of this pandemic, it’s that it has brought attention to a sensory system that may be an [indicator] for a lot of other viruses, brain disorders, and diseases. This has been largely ignored until now. We don’t want to underestimate the contribution that smell can provide to people. There are all these emotional connections that we don’t take into account until they’re removed from us. Only then do we realize how much they’ve added to the multidimensional experience of our everyday lives.”

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Evan Nicole Brown, who contributed the See column; Tiffany Lambert, who contributed the Touch and Smell columns; Aileen Kwun, who contributed the Taste column; and Tom Morris, who contributed the Hear column. 

Co-Editors: Spencer Bailey and Tiffany Jow
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Editor-at-Large: Aileen Kwun
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon


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