Monday, November 22, 2010

The West Coast's answer to the New Yorker: Slake Magazine

Slake: Los Angeles

Besides the accomplished fester of strung-out screen writers, obscure, self-aggrandizing university auteurs, and below them the naive and wide-eyed wannabes itching for their shot at instant fame, Los Angeles has yet to produce an iconic literary journal that can successfully embody the city's diverse social and cultural demographic. There is, however, a new Mag in town, and one that is putting forth considerable effort to establish itself as the go-to source for all that concerns the city beyond the glitz, gloss, and glamor.

Slake, recently co-founded by former L.A. Weekly editors Laurie Ochoa and Joe Donnelly, is a quarterly journal whose stated aim is a devotion "to the endangered art of deeply reported narrative journalism and the kind of polished essay, memoir, fiction, poetry and portrait writing that is disappearing in a world of instant takes and unfiltered opinion." It is an ambitious agenda, and one that is being given wide acclaim by the LA Times, public radio (KPCC), and by an esteemed list of inaugural Slake contributors.

Although Slake's online presence is limited to excerpts and previews, they offer a satisfactory glimpse into the range of works featured in their main print publication. Certainly, it wouldn't take much for Slake to publish even a handful of exclusive selections online, as their general layout is clearly the work of seasoned web-developers.

Set against a blue gossamer background, Slake's homepage is designed for simplicity: across the top is a horizontally scrollable list of articles, each marked by a distinctive cover unique to the writer's content, followed by Slake's introductory statement positioned at the center while directly below a tiered promotional plea and a current list of contributors.

In terms of content, Slake casts a wide net. Take for example Anne Fishbein's "The Secret Lives of Stiffs," an article exploring Acme's eerie display of mannequins in its downtown Los Angeles showroom:

"At times we walk past these working stiffs without a second glance - their presence is so familiar that we don't question their odd existence. But sometimes a mannequin's outstretched hand, its fingertips seemingly reaching for some kind of connection, give us pause."

It's a fitting topic given the revolving veneer of trends that characterize LA fashion, and which subsume and homogenize the passions and interests of ogling downtown shoppers. Fishbein's series of pictures depicting mannequins in a variety of still poses forces the viewer to confront and question its own emotional and substantive depth, or lack thereof.

Arty Nelson's "Abstract L.A." surveys a revitalized movement in abstract art that is unique to Los Angeles. Nelson's review offers a convincing argument that despite risking the same mistakes of old - namely, total exhaustion of the genre's ability to maintain its inchoate energy - these new works of abstraction are indeed full of "intriguing techniques" that "[include] the deconstruction of the canvas, the use of stencils, [and] even the exposure of treated surfaces to heat." Of the abstract artists Nelson discusses and whose work he shows, I particularly enjoyed Dianna Molzan's ability to extend her medium beyond paint and canvas, and with a minimalist bent no less, and the fabric based artwork of Matthew Chambers, whose strips of colored cloth for canvas create a warm, spiraling effect of texture that is sure to appeal to the wealthy, Eco-friendly garbed L.A. earth mother.

There are also plenty of essays and poetry, although Ray DiPalma's poem, "33," does more to tell than show through an intangible and unnecessarily disjointed sequence of ambiguous imagery:

"Individual traits and external expedients, pauses and omissions-
the imaginary tracks of compulsive reality and fine detail,
an investment in contradictions
caught between layers of purple and scarlet light
amid the eerie scent of cold smoke"

In contrast, the consistency of quality demonstrated in Slake's essays addressing a myriad of issues affecting Los Angeles is impressive. C.R. Stecyk's "Fortress L.A." is a magnificent expose on the ever present military-industrial complex located throughout Los Angeles. Stecyk charts the industry's earliest experimentation in their attempts to break the sound barrier to the advanced surveillance technologies and remote controlled UAVs that comprise the industry's death machinations today. Stecyk's article shocks readers into acknowledging the hard realities of not only our world's obsession with perpetual war, but also our complicity in its maintenance.

Slake's enthusiasm to establish itself as the West Coast's answer to the New Yorker is both a bold and uncertain endeavor. Nevertheless, so long as Slake is able to sustain its inaugural depth and scope of content, as well as embracing the web in the near future, they are certain to garner considerable respect and attention.

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