Sep 252014


I first saw this image on a postcard hanging on the wall of my friend’s office in New York about fifteen years ago.

We both laughed as we looked at it because we’d seen each other’s bodies enough to know that one of the woman’s breast in the photograph looked exactly like hers and the other looked exactly like mine.

Soon after that she sent it to me in the mail back in Memphis.   There’s not a photo credit on it so I don’t know who took the picture.  It’s printed on a nice card stock though and on the back the paper is a deep red.

On that red she wrote this.


Dear Melissa –

Thought you might like to have this image nearby for a while.

I am sort of lost in my relationship still, and though I’m sort of enjoying the new energy and attachment, I’m craving engagement with my work too.  It’s a bit frustrating.  I hate to complain, but still I hope to be honest.

It’s getting cold up here now and I’m eating and sleeping more like the good little animal I am.  Friends are procreating or breaking up.  Yoga is a far away dream.  I have absolutely zero spending money and frequently wonder what’s going to happen when.  I float a little – feeling it’ll happen when it will.

Love you, MB

We were very close friends from our late twenties to mid-thirties – that pivotal time of chucking off the remnants of adolescence and discovering who we are as adults.

Nowadays I’m only in touch with her every so often, usually through an annual email exchange.  I cherish the time we had when we regularly corresponded through the post, talked on the phone a couple of times a month, and regularly walked through New York talking and figuring things out.

My paintings and drawings are about seeing and searching out what happens when I manipulate color, layers, lines, volumes, patterns, and shapes.  I paint and look – I look more than I paint.  And yet, along with all this watching I am listening, hearing my own insecurities, questions, and frustrations rising up.

The studio process requires a lot of listening.

As I hear my inner guide figuring things out, I think of my friend’s words…

“but still I hope to be honest”

Today this image doesn’t just represent me facing a friend, looking her in the eye, giving her the time and room to work life out as I listen deeply, and then her giving me that same gift as she listens to me.

No, today, at this very moment, this is about me looking at me and listening to me.


Melissa Dunn makes art in Memphis, TN.  She’s a teaching artist at Flicker Street Studio and volunteers at several arts programs around the city.  Currently she’s spending as much time outside walking, gardening, and hanging out as possible.  

Sep 152014

What would you say you’re trying to communicate when you write about perfume?

The first thing I’d say I try to communicate is what the scent smells like. And that starts off in a really kind of empirical way: it smells like these notes. Then I move to what it makes me feel; what it’s conveying, what all these things together are evoking. And I try to situate it in a history: What must this scent have meant for people during its time. Emotionally, too: how does this scent make me feel? I try to hit all of those things.


Why? Because I don’t think people take scent as seriously as they should. I think in people’s lives scent actually has a lot of meaning. And because there’s not a lot of discourse around it they just experience it without really being able to analyze it the way you can other things. It’s culturally available to talk about movies or poems or fashion even, but with perfume, this very intimate, personal historical thing, they don’t really have the language to talk about it, so I try to initiate that conversation.

Why is that important to you?

It’s important to me because I think scent is important to people. It’s part of their memory; part of their cultural history. People can say, When I smell this, I return to my fourteen year-old self or my twenty year-old self or when I fell in love with this person or the way my grandmother smelled. These are important things. And I think they’re worthy of analysis.

If you could go back to the person who was going into the mall and spraying ten different things on herself, you as a teenager, and tell her anything, what would it be?

I don’t think she needed to know anything. If anything, she could tell me things. Because she was just open. She liked what she liked, she sprayed what she liked on her, and there wasn’t a lot of censorship. She just liked what she liked, and I think that’s something we can all learn from.

Where does the censorship come in for you now? Do you struggle with that?

Well, I think when I wear something people tell me they don’t like, it hurts my feelings, and it makes me second guess whether I should like it. We’re living in a culture where people don’t like perfume, they don’t like scent, they don’t want to smell you. So I’m very self conscious about scent. That girl didn’t give a shit what anyone thought. You know? I was wearing fifteen different perfumes. I wore whatever I liked. If people were like, I have a headache, I would just be like, roll a window down. I didn’t care.


Barbara Herman is the author of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume and the website Yesterday’s Perfume. The short film above, These Things That Stink, was shot during a reading at Scent Bar in Los Angeles during the fall of 2013. The interview was conducted in May of 2014.

Sep 112014


Paper Moon, 1973

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Featuring Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal

When Addie’s mother dies, Moses Pray, a former suitor slash john shows up at the funeral. The funeral is decidedly middle of nowhere, prairie in all directions, and other than Pray, and discounting the droning preacher, only maybe two people have attended: two elderly women, probably cast locally, who’ve made Addie their charge. Moses (Ryan O’Neal) happens to be passing through and stops to pay his respects (“I know your backside is still warm,” he whispers to the coffin), but the women seize his resemblance to Addie (Tatum O’Neal, “same jawline”) and while they can’t manage to burden him with parenting the nine year old they’re able in this film populated with con artists to persuade him to drive her to her aunt’s house a few states away.

So the movie is playing on the whole It Happened One Night schema of opposites stuck in a small situation together, seeking refuge from the great wide open, rubbing each other the wrong way; referencing dust bowl iconography (the photographs of Dorothea Lange, notably), The grumpy adult child faces and curve ball verbal outlandishness of The Little Rascals, the history of road to nowhere movies and small time gangster films.

Moses cheats widows out of their deceased husbands’ money, selling them never-ordered Bibles he’s embossed with their names, after tracking their misfortunes in the obituaries. Your husband ordered this for you but I can see you’re in a bad place so I’ll just give you a refund, unless you want something to hold onto that memorializes him in death by contradicting the thoughtlessness that characterized him in life, etc. Addie turns out to be an even better con than Moses, jacking one sale up from his modest 7 bucks to 24 – so he delays the aunt situation indefinitely, and the two stay in various flops that dot the map between their designated marks. He also owes her money, and she intends to be paid back, so there’s that.

At one point, overnight in one of these bare bulb motel rooms, after Moses has gone to bed, Addie gets up and quietly locks herself in the bathroom with a cigar box full of mementos from her mother. In the box are pearls, postcards, and what looks like a half ounce bottle of Evening in Paris, with its classic hourglass meets urn silhouette. The very best thing about this scene – aside from the wisdom of Polly Platt’s art direction (a star of this film as much as either O’Neal); aside from the idea of such a tomboy taking an interest in such a feminine perfume; aside from all the standard implications of a scent reviving memory, conjuring the dead – is the fact that Addie, posing in front of the mirror as a distorted facsimile of her mom, douses herself in the stuff the way a man would the cheapest splash cologne, slapping it on her neck, her cheeks, and finally, for good measure, wielding the bottle like a salt shaker on each shoulder.

From this the movie cuts to the next morning, a tight shot of the front seat of the car Addie and Moses spend most of their time in, this little black box theater in which they endlessly articulate their Punch and Judy routine. Moses keeps sniffing the air, wrinkling his nose like they’ve passed an animal carcass on the side of the road. He finally figures out the stench is Addie, who seems pleased to be noticed for her perfume, her mother’s drag, satisfied to have magnetized attention this way. But she can’t command it for long: Moses opens the window over the dash, airing out the cab, and Addie’s face flatlines back into the limits of its frustrated childishness.

 Posted by on September 11, 2014
Sep 102014

Before I could bring myself to say out loud that I was interested in boys or cock or next-level faggotry, I said that I was interested in kitsch. I collected doe-eyed figurines and listened to torch songs while bathing in the light of LED devotional statues, pretending all the while that I was doing it for laughs.

This sentimental song is ridiculous, right?


Cultivating an outwardly ironic interest in kitsch was a coded way for me to take part in the things that were forbidden to straight adolescent boys – feminine things, diminutive things and, most of all, wet, soft-bellied emotional things. It was a thin veil at best, but a necessary one. I couldn’t cry about the boy who would never notice me, much less want to kiss me, but Shirley Bassey could cry for me, and cry well. And while she did, I could wink the tears away.

Most gays, at some point, make the transition from kitsch to camp, kitsch’s city-living, cynical sister. I never fully did. I maintain an ambivalent but necessary relationship to the sincerity and vulnerability of other people’s unabashed expressions of attachment. Kitsch is a still a conduit and a safe space for me. It still gives me a way to enjoy things for reasons that are not intellectual and rips me open in a way that makes no rational sense. It lets me feel the scary things at arm’s length.

Joel Parsons is a sculptor and writer living in Memphis, TN. He’s the director of the Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College. He runs Beige, a peripheral space for otherwise art and performance, with his partner, Steven McMahon.

 Posted by on September 10, 2014