The Afterlives of Violence: On Brandon Shimoda’s “Hydra Medusa”

The Afterlives of Violence: On Brandon Shimoda’s “Hydra Medusa”

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED the work of Brandon Shimoda at Commend, a now-shuttered record store in New York's Lower East Side. Emily Sprague flowed through the speakers, and the air was filled with the scent of palo santo. I drifted through the space, examining small pieces of raku pottery, sifting through a rack of T-shirts. The bookshelves, sparsely populated, housed art books and a few collections of , including Shimoda's Evening Oracle (2015), the cover of which features a young girl, cast in sepia tones, holding a snake's tail in her mouth. Entranced, I bought it immediately. The girl on the cover appears on the cusp of puberty. She has a lazy eye. Multiple snakes writhe around her neck, and her expression is hazed, seeming to relay an ambivalence toward being draped in danger, in animal. When I told my partner I was this review, I showed him the cover of my battered copy of Evening Oracle . He, too, was entranced. Seeking a source for the image, we flipped to the book's copyright page, which informed us that it is a postcard of a young Japanese entertainer, date unknown, from a collection titled Sekaiichi Kuma-musume , which translates to “The World's Greatest Bear Girl.” If you try, as we did, to Google the image, the attempt will be in vain: the photograph cannot be found, nor can any more information the girl it captured. She remains ever enigmatic, writhing into a pit of time as unknowable as the universe. Shimoda's newest project, Hydra Medusa , is a hybrid collection of poems and essays whose title conveys a similarly serpentine aesthetic. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a snake-haired sorceress whose gaze held the power to enchant and bind, to literally turn a viewer into stone, while the hydra was a many-headed water snake that, when decapitated, sprouted two more heads from each wound. The Medusa was eventually killed by the Greek hero Perseus; to defeat the hydra, Heracles enlisted the help of fellow soldiers to cauterize each beheaded stump, sealing off the wounds to prevent new heads from […]

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