The city--as an idea, as a physical entity, as a work of science and industry and art--is the theme of the inaugural edition of a new journal in book form, Zone 1/2 (Urzone/Distributed by The Johns Hopkins University Press, Journals Publishing Division, 701 West 40th St., Suite 275, Baltimore, Md. 21211: $17 for a three-issue subscription). Like the city itself, "Zone 1/2" is a hectic, absorbing, tense construction of wildly diverse elements in a confined space: dense analytical prose by artists and architects, urbanologists and psychoanalysts, economists and historians; graphics that are sometimes violent and kinetic, sometimes elegant and oblique; and a series of odd and evocative images, ranging from exquisite diagrammatic maps of world cities (Moscow, New Delhi, Peking, Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Paris) to the depiction of a darkly millennial Los Angeles in the film "Blade Runner."
"(T)he group of works assembled here seeks . . . to let 'the city' emerge, in the complex and shifting fashion proper to it, as a specific power to affect both people and materials," write Michel Feher and Sanford Kwinter, the two principal co-editors of "Zone 1/2." The contemporary city can no longer be experienced or analyzed as "a distinct object" or as "the product of extrinsic socioeconomic laws," they argue. Rather, "the compound interpenetration it entails, a veritable phantasmagoria of media images, human body-parts, splintered affects, asphalt and chrome, far from simply chaotic, corresponds to new laws of combination determined by a transformation in the relation between space and time."
"Zone 1/2" is the product of a certain New York-Paris intellectual axis of cultural criticism--much of its text is translated from the French--and I found myself exasperated by some of the intentionally obscure, almost encoded prose favored by critics of art and architecture. If a subject so concrete as the city inspires such abstraction, we can only wonder what depths of cryptography will be reached when future issues of "Zone" address what its editors describe as "the new figures of Time and of the Body, the globality of Western capitalism and Pragmatics as a method of analysis."
By contrast, Audrey Flack aspires to clarity and simplicity in Art & Soul: Notes on Creating (Dutton: $8.95; also available in hardcover, $14.95), an ingratiating little book of "thoughts and experiences" designed by the author--a sculptor and a painter in the Photo-Realist style--"to offer comfort and nourishment in a difficult art world." Flack gives us the occasional anecdote--for instance, how a drunken Jackson Pollock tried to kiss her and "pinch (her) behind" at the Cedar Bar in New York ("I felt such a profound connection with him, but to kiss him would have been like kissing a Bowery bum")--but her book consists mostly of Flack's own musings and observations offered up in epigrams and short passages.
Flack ranges from the mundane ("When I work, I can't wear intense colors; all the clothing must fit comfortably and not be restrictive in any way") to the profound ("Years ago, poets and artists used to do what public relations people do now: glorify kings, praise heroes and beauty, and espouse causes"), and she is also capable of "Dear Diary" platitudes ("Art is a calling"). The persistent villain of her piece is "the art market," especially as manifested in "the New York gallery scene." Flack declares: "I do not believe in art as a commodity." At its best, "Art & Soul" is a book whose insights will be useful and even inspiring, not only to the aspiring visual artist but to the earnest practitioner in any creative endeavor.
Louise Steinman, an artist in residence at San Francisco State's Center Experimental and Interdisciplinary Arts, has thought deeply about "the performer's relationship to his or her body," as we discover in The Knowing Body: Elements of Contemporary Performance & Dance (Shambala/Random House: $14.95), a dazzling and deeply impressive study of the performing arts. Steinman ponders the profound and complex interconnections between performance, on one hand, and anatomy and biology, myth and magic, history and destiny. Along the way, she shares the work of assorted contemporary artists, comedians, dancers, storytellers. "Performance is that malleable form which can contain the great spillover of energy when traditional artforms--painting, sculpture, dance, theatre, music, film--are mixed, intercut, overlapped," she explains. "In an age of media manipulation, the age-old exchange between the watcher and the watched remains, practically speaking, an act of faith." So, too, is the generosity of spirit and imagination which infuses "The Knowing Body."