Category: Alex Stein Project

A Conversation with Yahia Lababidi by Alex Stein

Yahia Lababidi
Yahia Lababidi

In celebration of the publication of The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi (Onesuch Press), The Conversant here presents the first transcribed talk between Alex Stein and Lababidi—initially published in Agni.

Yahia believes the condition of the artist is exalted.

“Even if the artist lives in disregard?” I ask.

“Yes,” Yahia insists.

“Even if he is scorned and impoverished?” I ask.

“Still, yes,” says Yahia.

“What does that mean, then—exalted?” I ask.

“It means,” says Yahia, “called to service.”

“Oh,” I say, a sinking feeling coming over me, “you mean that soldiery of light, that brigade, born to march into the Valley of the Shadow?”

“Yes,” replies Yahia, “precisely!”

Yahia: There is a moment in the life of Rimbaud when he comes to realize that he is a poet, but that it is not his fault. He writes: “It is wrong to say, ‘I think.’ One has to say, ‘I am thought.’ I is another. Too bad for the wood that finds itself a violin.” For me, that tells all. I haven’t studied the lives of the mystics as closely as I have the lives of the artists but I do see the correspondences. The life of the artist may not be apparently monastic or holy, but there is the same sense of sacrifice, of vocation, of having been entrusted with something greater and dearer than one’s own happiness. Imagine! To hold something more dear than one’s own happiness. That cannot be a voluntary thing. We want, as much as we can, to be happy. Isn’t this true? Yet, there are these strange, luminous creatures who recognize that there is something to which they must submit, in order to be fully realized. It is the wood finding itself a violin. Continue reading

Michelle-Land: A Conversation with Michelle Ellsworth by Alex Stein

photograph of Michelle Ellsworth
Michelle Ellsworth

This is the first in a series of Alex Stein interviews with visual and performing artists.

Her friends sometimes refer to Michelle Ellsworth as an “artstronaut,” which even I, with my kneejerk antipathy toward anything cutesy-clever, kind of like, because the term is not only cutesy-clever, it is also entirely accurate. Michelle Ellsworth is an artstronaut. She did the training, donned the gear and launched herself into deep space.

In 2010, for a period of several months, Michelle and her family lived in the Boulder, Colorado apartment next door to mine. When I discovered that she had moved in, I called a friend and tried to explain my excitement. “It’s like if you were a Christian and Jesus moved in next door,” was the phrase I finally offered. “So, you’re a Christian?” asked my friend, in some confusion.

Continue reading