Movers and Shakers: The 40 Most Exciting Soulful Artists of 2003

| Arts Extra 2003

The 40 creators featured here—most of whom are not celebrated stars—offer a thoughtful sense of where the arts are headed. They’re innovative, edgy, and of the moment—but they’re not mere flavors-of-the-month. They’ve all got a depth, resonance, and soulfulness that make them good companions on the journey toward a better world. And their work is full of ideas and insights that challenge us to live more fully, see more clearly, and have more fun.—The Editors

Tom Waits
Black Rider/Blue Valentine
Remember when you first heard a Tom Waits song? You were having a clumsy affair with a blackjack dealer from Reno who swigged peppermint schnapps and lived in a rooming house with a jukebox in the hall . . .
And if you weren?t, you should have been. That?s the way it is with Waits; he?s a storyteller, and he turns you into one, too. And he keeps you guessing. From Small Change and Blue Valentine to Black Rider and Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, the beatnik-flavored cult hero?s remarkable songwriting and ever-changing musical directions have kept his devoted fans delightfully off balance now for more than a quarter century. His latest works, Blood Money and Alice, are both 10-year-old sound tracks to theatrical works by avant-garde director Robert Wilson that have found their way into album form. Why? Don?t ask Waits. ?I could tell you anything,? he told The Onion in a recent interview. ??Helen Keller made an appearance in the last tune, and it?s sung by her mother.? . . . Your mind will make sense of anything.? Blood Money and Alice (both Epitaph)

Mariko Mori Digital Diva
Mariko Mori can see the future, and it is digital, spiritual, and wearing a miniskirt. This 35-year-old Japanese performance and media artist creates installation pieces and computer-altered self-portraits that have a lot of fun exploring serious themes. A former model and student of fashion design, Mori has a perky, insouciant, yet somehow oddly reverent way of treating religious images. Viewers of her 1997 video Nirvana wear 3-D glasses and watch as a ball of flame, and then the image of Mori herself, dressed as a Japanese deity, descend from the screen and out into the gallery space. Floating overhead, Mori chants a tuneless song while a gaggle of animated characters accompany her on assorted musical instruments. Simultaneously gorgeous and silly, Nirvana finds weight and meaning in its echoes of religious ritual and its reference to the art of Japan?s Heian period (794?1185 CE).
Another work, Birth of a Star, finds Mori gussied up in a plastic miniskirt and giant, techno-blasting headphones that seem to be fused to her head. As she bops along, her vacant smile and glazed eyes reveal a whole new creature, unique to the 21st century; she becomes, as British art critic Richard Dorment puts it, ?a human being . . . whose perception of reality has been permanently altered by machines.? Mori?s comment here is on the inner life of humans in a high-tech age. Is a synthetic inner reality, achieved through the pulsing noise of techno music, really all that different from a state of bliss brought on by rhythmic chants of ?om??
Ambiguities like these make Mori?s work compelling. Hers is a strange new world of high fashion, soul searching, bodhisattvas, and levitating, bongo-playing animals. Going there with her is both delightful and disquieting.

Colson Whitehead
Postmodern Mythmaker
Manhattan-raised and Harvard-educated, Colson Whitehead writes fiction that visits the past, the present, and the surreal with equal effortlessness. His first novel, The Intuitionist, conjures up a Kafkaesque New York, half 1930s, half 1990s, inhabited by elevator inspectors who discuss ?the vertical imperative? and ?the dilemma of the phantom passenger.? A plucky black female inspector struggles hard to ?rise? in this world. In Whitehead?s second novel, John Henry Days, J. Sutter is a hack writer and junketeer who travels to rural West Virginia to cover the John Henry Days festival. Stutter?s humble life overlaps with an
epic retelling of the African American story of John Henry, the heroic hammer-wielder who wins a race with a steam drill, then dies.
In both books, Whitehead finds elegant and sly ways to show how modern Americans, and particularly African Americans, are caught up in a dialogue with the past?with inspiring and stultifying myths, with bits and pieces of old stereotypes and old dreams. And he does it in a literary language that recalls the work of complex literary mythmakers like Ralph Ellison and Thomas Pynchon, adding a nimble, genial wit to the mix. John Henry Days (Doubleday)—LAINE BERGESON

DJ Spooky
Turntable Intellectual
Some of DJ Spooky?s blissed-out fans don?t know their turntable hero is a card-carrying intellectual who can hold his own in a
discussion about double-coded language and neorationalism,
or write dense essays about
performer-photographer Mariko Mori (see p. 48) or video artist Shirin Neshat. They just know he makes remarkable audio collages intermingling hip-hop, jazz, pop, rock, ambient, and dance-club culture in ever-shifting, evocative soundscapes that are as complex as our post-postmodern world. Spooky, a.k.a. Paul D. Miller, is a former French and philosophy student who sees DJing as an art form, a sort of sound sculpture. His tools are laptop computers, turntables, myriad musical instruments, and lots of samples of music, speech, and sounds; his method is to find the aural threads running through culture and weave them into new forms. A swatch of Beethoven, a snippet of dialogue from a Hitchcock film, a blast of Public Enemy: Spooky will layer them into a cohesive whole. Spooky?s not the only one mining this cut-and-paste mother lode, but he?s one of the best, a pioneer in electronica, which he calls ?the folk music of the 21st century.?
Modern Mantra (Shadow Instinct Records)

Shigeru Ban Mr. ingenuity
Shigeru Ban is that rarity, a socially conscious architect with a keen eye for innovation. The 45-year-old Japanese designer is equally at home at Museum of Modern Art openings and meetings of the United Nations Commission for Refugees. His Curtain Wall house, a Tokyo residence whose exterior walls are two-story white curtains that ripple in the wind, was the poster image for ?Un-Private Houses,? a 1999 MoMA exhibition on radical housing. Even more radical were his instant temporary homes for refugees?Ban spent years on the muddy roads of refugee camps around the world developing the concept. Made of industrial paper tubes, beer crates, and other common materials, they have lent both shelter and dignity to untold hundreds left homeless by the devastation of war in Rwanda and by natural disasters in Japan, Turkey, and India. His Paper Church, designed in the wake of a 1995 Kobe earthquake and built by local parishioners, has wavy walls of paper tubing lit from within. It?s become such a beacon of hope in the community that a movement is afoot to make it permanent. —JULIE IOVINE

Dave Douglas jazz renaissance man
Calling Dave Douglas a trumpeter is like calling Duke Ellington a piano player. Douglas is a brilliant horn player, but his roles as composer, bandleader, thinker, multimedia collaborator, and all-around creative force are what make him a bright light in today?s jazz world.
He can?t be pinned down, which is just the way he likes it. He plays arty Jewish avant-jazz with John Zorn?s group Masada, Indian-influenced music with his new group Satya, something akin to chamber music with his Charms of the Night Sky band, and he composes for and leads at least half a dozen other ensembles. Since 1993, Douglas has released 19 CDs with eight different groups, and his head continues to spill over with good ideas.
An edgier, more versatile alternative to the Wynton Marsalis?Ken Burns school of classic American jazz, Douglas has plenty of grants and awards (if not widespread public acclaim) to show for his efforts. As long as he keeps blowing his horn, though, he?s certain to attract audiences for his stunningly ambitious work. The Infinite (Bluebird/RCA)

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