Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Meatspace Manifestation

The first offline form of Minerva's Wreck was released in 2009, 
in an oversized, handworked edition of 300.

The most thorough response to the project
was from Alan Rankin, writing in Poopsheet:

“This is the artifact itself.”

These words are on the indicia page of Minerva's Wreck. They remind me of Magritte's painting of a pipe, labeled “This is not a pipe.” Minerva's Wreck, no mere reproduction, is an art object itself, rare and beautiful, and perfectly aware of its status as such.

I can't write an ordinary review for this celebration of all things Austin and arty. Minerva's Wreck deserves something special. To give it the standard Ebertian thumbs-up would be like describing the canelones caseros at Austin's Buenos Aires Cafe as merely “delicious.” No words can adequately describe it to the uninitiated; and for those who already know, no explanation is necessary.

I liked Minerva's Wreck so much, I picked up and moved to Austin. Yeah, that's closer to the mark. An exaggeration, of course - or is it? Read the long personal narrative by editor Wayne Alan Brenner that threads its way through the pages of Minerva like a needle through fine cloth. Brenner's essay is all about the subtle, synchronous ways the city entwines itself into one's life; how the people and places at the hippie heart of Texas can create an Austin epiphany. Having experienced my own such epiphany, I cannot write about the city or its artists with objectivity - and it wouldn't really be appropriate to do so. Like the Beat, or the blues: you just gotta live it.

Minerva's Wreck is a very limited edition. Its rareness means most Poopsheet readers will never see it. This provides a special challenge to the reviewer. Ordinarily, the message of a review comes down to some version of “Buy the damned thing.” (Or: “Don't.”) But in a case like this, I have to sum the experience; the reader's vicarious pleasure depends on how well I express my own. Fortunately, I have lots of experience describing those wild paths and arcane alleys that most readers will never visit.

Good art makes you feel things: anger, hope, loss, love. Great art makes you feel things that cannot be summed in single words. Sometimes a photograph or a painting can fill you with a complex longing, like nostalgia for a place that never existed. When we say art enriches life, this is the full meaning of the word. Examples:

· Molly Rice's memoir of youth and illness, “Seizureville,” is listed under “Fiction.” But it is so painful it must be real, a sore spot in your mouth you can't stop touching with your tongue. It reproduces a tiny slice of life to perfection - like intricate dollhouse furniture - then rips it apart with one cataclysmic, drug-triggered grand mal.

· Profiles of the Alamo Drafthouse and The Order of the Oosik offer insights into gatherings of the Select. Somewhere there is a Church that never passes the plate, whose members pay for the privilege of congregating - but not with money. Their roving Witnessses walk right by you, their eyes passing over without interest - they're not looking for you. You must first approach them.

· Robert Faires' comic “The Lad in the Iron Mask” pastes a four-color hero into a little boy's life, just as that boy once imitated his heroes on the playground. If pop culture has invaded our lives to the extent that it supplants genuine experience, the story argues, then pop culture becomes genuine experience.

· Henri Mazza's “Kangaroos and Vibrators” successfully mingles loneliness with sheer banana silliness, like a 12-hour Animaniacs marathon and no one to watch it with.

· Brenner's rambling personal essay is the rooted bulb from which the rest of the magazine flowers. He's too wordy by half, but you can't stop reading, even flipping back to peruse footnotes that parody themselves. He's the friend whose chaotic personal life you've witnessed with alternating love and horror for the last 20 years.

The mag is full of goofy bonus materials - zines, stickers, postcards. The fact that some articles are illustrated with glossy color photos added by hand to each copy affirms Minerva's existence as an objet d'art. Other add-ons simply qualify as art. For example, why is Benjamin Reed's story of slow apocalypse, “Speechless,” obscured by multiple Post-it Notes portraying an open mouth? Well, Junior, that's what makes it art: Sometimes the question is the answer.

Brenner's mission in assembling the Wreck was clearly to collect some of the great art and writing generated in his home city on a regular basis. The fact that so many of the contributors are or were connected to him - even family - is neither accident nor design. It's just another example of what happens when you have a gathering of creative people, those for whom art is a way of life, not something you do in the off-hours. In a place like that, art and life intertwine so beautifully, so naturally, it's hard to believe we were intended to live any other way.

~ Alan Rankin

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