Prospero

Books, arts and culture

  • Runt of the litter

    “Isle of Dogs” lacks bite

    by N.B.

    WESTERN politics are so extreme at the moment that you can watch a whimsical animated science-fiction romp about talking dogs in Japan, and it seems to be an upsettingly accurate representation of today’s America. Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs”, which debuted last week at the Berlinale, has a government leader who stokes the public’s fear of a disenfranchised demographic so that he can consolidate his power. It also has a group of high-school children taking a stand against corrupt elected officialdom when their parents fail to do so. In other words, it has everything to do with contemporary reality. And yet it is almost too quirky and outlandish for its own good.

  • Expanding the franchise

    The growth of Marvel’s universe through “Black Panther” is welcome

    by O.M.

    COSMOLOGISTS, Eastern and Western, ancient and modern, have on occasion mooted the possibility of an ekpyrotic universe, one which expands, then contracts into fire, then expands again. Like most big cosmic ideas, this one has almost certainly been purloined, ornamented and abused more than once in the vast works of mythopoeic bricolage which DC and Marvel, America’s main comic-book publishers, have provided to the world over the past decades. (The climax of Alan Moore’s “American Gothic” storyline in DC’s Swamp Thing comes to mind.) But it also applies to those comic-book universes themselves, and to none more so than the cinematic version of Marvel’s.

  • Fashion forward

    The Prada Foundation will transform Milan’s contemporary art offering

    by T.A. | MILAN

    COMPARED with other major European cities, Milan’s contemporary art offering is slight. The Gallerie d’Arte Moderna, housed in a venerable palazzo, contains some important late-19th-century work, but little of note from the 20th century and nothing from the 21st. The Museo del Novecento, despite its name, is meant to consider contemporary work but has little room to do so; the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea is also constrained by space.

    In recent years, the Prada Foundation has expanded to fill this gap.

  • The music never stopped

    A tribute to John Perry Barlow

    by K.N.C.

    HIS rough features resembled the hard Wyoming land from where he came. Sandpaper skin, deep gorges across his forehead and wrinkles alongside the temples like cracked, dry earth. A craggy, stubborn nose. But gentle eyes, narrow as if formed by squinting into the sun over years. 

    John Perry Barlow, who died on February 7th, was a Grateful Dead lyricist, cyber-pundit, cattle rancher and idealist. He embodied a vanishing America. His lyrics, like his lifestyle, were a world of cowboys, nature and passions. He was a literary heir to Walt Whitman, depicting a rugged American individualism, romanticism and freedom as wide as the Lower 48, with his boots pulled up and his hat worn low.

  • Making the personal political

    The art born of opioid addiction

    by J.J.M.

    UPDATE February 16th: This piece has been updated and includes a statement from Jillian Sackler, Arthur Sackler’s widow.

    AS A photographer, Nan Goldin has been drawn to those living on the fringes of society. Best known for her documenting of queer communities devastated by AIDS in the 1980s, she has turned her attention to another demonised group: addicts. “People are afraid to come out about it. That’s one of the main reasons there aren’t more faces of addiction. There is a stigma attached.

  • Diversifying television

    “This Close” is an insightful portrayal of friendship and deafness

    by H.G.

    IN THE first episode of “This Close”, Kate and Michael set out on a trip to Seattle. One airport official, on learning that they are both deaf, tries to communicate by screaming “CAN I SEE YOUR BOARDING PASSES?” Another offers them a wheelchair; a TSA agent uses wildly unintelligible pantomime to ask Michael if there’s anything in his pockets. With every ignorant or misinformed move, the show lets the viewers in on the absurdity of the interaction by way of an exasperated look shared between the leads, a witty response (signed to each other or vocalised by Kate), or simply an eye roll.

  • Special effects

    Sculpting a romantic lead for “The Shape of Water”

    by K.S.C.

    GUILLERMO DEL TORO (the director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Pacific Rim”) was six years old when he watched the American horror classic “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954). It made a deep impression, but perhaps not the one you might expect. What struck Mr del Toro was not the fearsomeness of the creature’s mien but the injustice of his unrequited love for the leading lady, played by Julie Adams, and his tragic demise. “The Shape of Water”, nominated for 13 Academy Awards, is the director’s paean to the silver-screen, inter-species love affair that never was.

    A challenge intrinsic to this aim was creating an erotic and desirable leading fish-man (Doug Jones).

  • Sparking joik

    Bringing back the strange sound of the Sami

    by E.B.

    THE Arctic Philharmonic, a Norwegian professional symphony orchestra, is known for playing pretty standard orchestral fare (upcoming performances include works by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn). Last month it tried something new. The Orchestral Joik Project, performed in the northern city of Tromsø, featured tonalities that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, yet the music was completely Scandinavian. In recent years joik, traditional Sami music, has made a remarkable journey from near-oblivion to mainstream repertoire.

  • Architecture and the open sea

    Le Corbusier’s love of the ocean liner

    by A.L.B.

    IF Instagram had been around during Le Corbusier’s time, his followers would no doubt have been inundated with arty pictures of funnels, hashtag “design_inspo”. Photographs taken by the Swiss architect on board an Italian passenger ship in 1936 are one of the exhibits in “Ocean Liners: Speed & Style”, a celebration of ocean liners and design at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

    Le Corbusier’s journey from Brazil to France took place during the golden age of liners.

  • Not of equal temperament

    Comparing the brain activity of jazz and classical pianists

    by H.G.

    IT DOESN’T take a musical genius to recognise the differences between performances by Arthur Rubinstein and Duke Ellington. They were both prominent pianists in the 20th century, but were known for two distinct genres. While the upbeat swing of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” is the epitome of jazz, Rubinstein and his world-renowned recordings of nearly every work by Frédéric Chopin have a special place in the classical world. But it appears the differences between these musicians may have actually extended beyond their scores and into their brains. 

  • Posthumous praise

    Helen Dunmore’s indomitable spirit

    by B.T.

    LYING on an operating table in a “workaday city hospital”, the late author Helen Dunmore noticed a waterfall outside the theatre. The staff seemed quite unbothered by this therapeutic installation. They strolled casually towards the patient with “their gowns, caps and pale gumboots while I watched the cataract tumble behind them”. Dunmore, whose novels and poems always flow and brim with images of seas, rivers and pools, felt a sudden “amazement and joy” at the nearness of her favourite element. That waterfall cascades into the opening poem of her final collection, “Inside the Wave”.

  • Cackling with Kant

    “The Good Place” shows that a comedy can also tackle morality

    by B.H.

    TO AN outsider, “The Good Place” might seem like gibberish. One character is a cheerful omniscient being that lives in a void and is capable of materialising anything. Another is a sour-faced bureaucrat and immortal demon improbably named Sean. Frozen yogurt is the most popular food in Heaven. And in a recent episode, four friends emerge from Hell and humble themselves before a burrito in the hope of escaping eternal torment, before discovering, as Freud might say, that sometimes a burrito is only a burrito. But not only is “The Good Place”—which airs its second season finale on February 1st—bizarre, hilarious and smart in its approach to morality and the afterlife.

  • No longer the voice of the Arabs

    The rise and fall of Egyptian Arabic

    by A.V.

    THE END of January marks the start of the Cairo International Book Fair, the largest gathering of its kind in the Arab world. Writers and readers from all over the region meet to swap tomes and discuss this year’s theme: “soft power, how?” A good question, especially for Egyptians. After all, the country’s distinctive dialect once ruled across the region. Its decline speaks to the restless state of the modern Middle East, and the decline in Egypt’s influence over it today.  

    Arabic is sometimes considered a language family, rather than a single language.

  • Immaterial world

    In the 1960s, Californian artists became masters of light and space

    by J.U-S.

    ON A dull day in Zurich, it’s a treat to encounter a warm sunset glow infusing salty white light in Hauser & Wirth’s trendy industrial art space. Larry Bell, a Los Angeles-based artist, was inspired by the marine fog that rolls towards his Venice Beach studio to use four large glass cubes, each housing a smaller one, to evoke four variants of Los Angeles’ famously beguiling light. Los Angeles’ light is also a focus in the city itself, where Sprüth Magers, a gallery, has invited Robert Irwin to remodel its space as an immersive installation (pictured) using his trademark scrim—a gauze-like material that is “both there and not there”, as he puts it.

About Prospero

An enchanting mix of literary insight and cultural commentary, in the spirit of the hero of “The Tempest”

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