Jessye Norman

Intersections: Telling future tales

In a time of cultural and climate meltdown, are literary artists predicting the history of what's to come?

This story was published originally on July 5, 2021, under the title “Intersections,” on the website YDP – Your Daily Picture, which features the writing, photography, and photomontage art of regular ArtsWatch contributor Friderike Heuer. It is reprinted here with permission. Essay and photographs are by Heuer.


During the days of apocalyptic heat I vegetated on the sofa in the basement, reading books on my Kindle. Nothing too demanding, given the melting brain. One was A.S. Byatt’s elegant, lyrical re-telling of Nordic myths of the past, Ragnarok – The End of the Gods, set in Great Britain during the second world war. The other was fantasy writer Elizabeth Knox’s passionate weaving of an alternate reality, The Absolute Book, centered on the preservation of language, books and libraries as tools for knowledge acquisition. Both melded history with reality, envisioning futuristic possibilities within or outside of reality.

Both have found high acclaim (Byatt here, Knox here), which is why they landed on my lap in the first place. I have, as my regular readers know, a soft spot for A.S. Byatt, given her lasting passion to weave every botanical name there ever was into her writing, and her willingness to tolerate shades of grey when it comes to people’s characters, refraining from black and white, either good or bad, judgements. I have only recently discovered Elizabeth Knox, impressed by her political engagement clothed in smart, imaginative storytelling, although frequently heavy on the gore, be warned.


ArtsWatch Weekly: old, new, always

Same old story? Brash new wave? In Oregon arts & culture this week, old and new mix it up, and it's sometimes tough to tell which is which

ART IS ABOUT STRIDING BOLDLY INTO THE FUTURE and discovering the new. The Portland Art Museum, for instance, is getting ready to open the first major retrospective of the work of American artist Hank Willis Thomas, whose photography, sculpture, video, and collaborative public art projects turn their focus sharply and sometimes satirically on the flashpoints of contemporary culture and the struggle for social justice and civil rights. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal …, which will run Oct. 12-Jan. 12, is the museum’s big fall-season attraction, and a central part of a run of shows in the next few months about the work of artists of color: the essential Portland painter Isaka Shamsud-Din, the great Robert ColescottFrida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and the just-opened exhibition Question Bridge: Black Males.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, from the series Strange Fruit, 2011. Digital c-print. 50 x 73 inches. © Hank Willis Thomas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.