archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Saturday, 03 September 2011 02:00

Palo Alto

By  Karina Magdalena Szczurek
The striking cover caught my eye. Then the author's name. Could it be? Really? But then the photo and the bio at the back flap confirmed it. Yet it was only the fact that Faber and Faber published it that made me want to buy the book.

James Franco - yes, the actor - has written a collection of short stories entitled Palo Alto. It's neither the first nor the last time that a Hollywood star reaches for the pen: Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, or Ethan Hawks's Ash Wednesday immediately come to mind. Judging from the reception they usually encounter, multitalented artists whose creativity knows no boundaries - whether of genres or mediums - have it tough. Franco is no exception. Most critics of his book, it seems, follow the same track of thought and roll out the same question, unsure of how to respond to it themselves: Yes, we've seen him act. Yes, his visual art attracts attention. But can the man write as well?

The simple answer is, yes. The fact that Faber and Faber published Palo Alto this side of the Atlantic is already a pretty good indication. The imprint hardly ever disappoints, although they might have given Franco an even tighter edit. But in spite of a few tiny glitches, this is a remarkable debut.

Set in Palo Alto, the town Franco grew up in, these stories centre around a group of teenagers, trying to survive the more excessive trials and tribulations of youth: drugs, sex, prejudice and violence. The collection opens with "Ten years ago, my sophomore year in high school, I killed a woman on Halloween." The sentence sets the tone for the entire book. The obviousness and carelessness of the confession, the reference to Halloween (as later in other stories to 4th of July) and to the sophomore year point to a very specific context and attitude. But even if these are clearly American stories, in their setting and in-your-face approach, the atmosphere Franco captures is universal.

The narrators of Palo Alto are teenagers who form an extended network of friends or acquaintances - all uncannily authentic first-person (male and female), drawing you in from the word 'Go!' There is an almost pitiless and unsettling honesty about their narratives and the things they reveal about themselves. Although grappling with the most common afflictions of adolescence such as alienation, aimlessness, loneliness, identity, or loss of innocence, all stories are either refreshingly - or scarily - unpredictable.

These kids are on the threshold of adulthood. This is the time when 'big stuff' happens. The sheer intensity of every experience is never as poignant before or after growing up. This is when we are at our boldest and daring, angry and unforgiving, desperate and lost - all at the same time.

Franco captures all of these tensions and their energy in a prose that is very economical: "There was a moon and it was on the water. A miniature moon rocking on the little waves. I always see nice images like that but I don't know what to do with them. I guess you share them with someone. Or you write them down in a poem. I had so many of those little images, but never shared them or wrote any of them down."

In many such measured passages he not only presents the harsh brutality his characters face, but also its other, more hidden, side: moments of almost unbearable tenderness. As one of the narrators confesses: "I do care...I care too much, but it never works. Like now - I'm trying to be here, I'm trying to do things. But it doesn't work, I can't find anything, so maybe that's what makes me crazy."

One wonders how any of us ever survive the madness. Palo Alto stirs up all the memories.
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