No Word for Nowhereland

Until the maps are remade.

A skeptic challenged Picasso about his art, and the artist, in response, explained that while he did not understand a word of Chinese, he had no doubt that the language existed. So much of nuance resists translation. So much flavor is too perishable to survive transport, and the limits of an art are temporal. When someone ventures into an uncharted landscape, they will seem to others to be simply––gone.

Sense of Direction

Laughing in the basement.

If revelation is marked by unknowns, happiness by suffering, ease by difficulty, then it’s not a stretch to recognize that those serious truths everyone has been so steadfastly seeking were under our noses all along, hiding among the stuffed jesters and the Lego bricks in the carpet. If truth’s constant companion is the absurd, let us sit in the dark and laugh.

No, but seriously, you said, and raised self-doubt to the level of moral imperative, and at the crossroads between Either and Or, you boldly announced, neither will do–and chose anyway, as one must.

In your good company, we sleep no more in this underground of mirrors and toys; instead, we are awake with the question of whether we are, after all, in or out, as relates to the houses we once took for granted as ours. And now, you said, for my final performance, I shall confide the meaning of life to this scrap of paper, which you cleverly managed to lose.

Easy come, easy go, you said, while continuing to insist that neither would do.


Earlier in the week, some other search reminded me back to some of Søren Kierkegaard’s ideas, so today I am appreciating his teasing sense of humor.

Knock at a Door

Here is an invitation.

Here is no wall, but a congregation of forces in flux, and tree is a small word for the constellation of alchemies this body holds. Dense with time, here is a geometry to resist the easy abstractions of the surveilling class. It is possible, after all: to notice the grid imposed over perception and leave it; to train eyes on the invisible presence and laugh at the challenge to prove it. Here is a fluid power.

If you would be an observer, detached at some remove, it becomes possible to construct a polished opening shot with a wide angle lens to match the score, but when you are in it, all impressions immediate, the world is the sculpture you are making from the inside out, tunneling naked through each slab of clay, leaving impressions and sensing some emerging form while not knowing what it is.

Here is an invitation: come not to look, but to witness, and bear the weight of sight, the hot breath of a body in proximity. Try to extract from your life its history, but it will not be moved.  Why remain, then? Why continue, and when? A heart insists by its own measure, this echo. Come out.

The Opposite of Narrow

Space in the body of a breath.

With every idea limited, cut to our own measure, we are always at a loss. Still, you work with what you have. Waking, there’s a hand at the lamp, a sigh, and the sense of some waiting presence. Who is here?

I knew a poet who loved the word vast because it rhymes with a whisper, breathing space wherever others are gathered. There are some sounds that can only move as soft substance, inviting an infinity into the lungs.

Upon exhalation, we are far from ourselves. It seems to happen only for a moment, but we never knew time.

From Fire

Trying, and trying again.

Some say that it is possible to dry a spirit from the cold damp if you bring it by the flame, urging hereTake hold. Offer a warm mug, an invitation to sit awhile. 

When it comes to what it is really like, we are left with feeble words, and there are limits to what these may hold, even if you mean to build a cathedral.

Often it is no muse but frustration that spurs a body forward––trying once more, and again––to get warm.

Dreaming a Discovery

Fresh eyes for old forms.

It began with an idea. Considering certain fundamental principles––of geometry, for example––what if we replaced points, lines, and planes with words, sentences, and paragraphs? If truths lend themselves well to interpretation where correct structures are used, why not apply some rules to the invention of new forms?

No one needed to make anything up, only to let the new rules serve as lenses trained on what already is. It was settled, then: a movement began. To join, one only needed to commit to certain practices. Once elected, no one could quit. No one wanted to; there was freedom in constraints, and practitioners learned that they might move easily between Hegel and comic strips, philosophies of mathematics and conversations overheard at flea market stands.

One of the leaders can be found among these every day, scouring the aisles and the remainder bins, the trash piles, and the antique shops with the same reverence he wears in the great libraries of the world. You will hear him muttering to himself as he picks up one after another item to add to his collection. “Hmmph,” he will say, “this might be useful.”


Inspired by the work of Raymond Queneau and the Oulipo movement, while consulting Warren Motte’s article “Raymond Queneau and the Early Oulipo” (French Forum, Winter 2006). 

Disappearing Acts

Shifts in attention.

She knew something shifted when the plot no longer held her interest. Its pretense of coherent motivation rang false. She shifted her attentions then, to the way the nameless organisms within us would respond to the movements of forces outside, including other nameless organisms. Sometimes they were more vegetable than people, more tree than people, more bird. The stimulus mattered so much less than the effect. Yes, she would think, as she watched them. I know this lonely crowd. Then she knit herself a yarn cocoon. The yarn was the same color as her background. When her work was done, she disappeared. What is memory? Only forgetting, like a poem made by the act of erasure.


Inspired by the writing of Nathalie Saurrate and the art of Bea Camacho.


A body in motion.

There is a large megaphone. The artist has a question. Is it possible to turn every cell in a chosen direction and if so, what if? What if we all––did?

If the forest is an archive of breath, who keeps things in order? The trees are silent, but not the wind and not what flies and calls between the limbs. 

Here is a study in the movement of these bodies answering a call. What does it mean to be here now, together? Meanwhile, trees listen.


Inspired by Sioban Burke’s article in the arts section of yesterday’s New York Times (“A Choreographer Who Merges Art, Activism, and the Natural World”) on the work of Emily Johnson. Italicized phrase appears in a recent performance.

Material Concerns

In the garden of mirrored monsters.

In the end, it was the materials that killed her. But isn’t this always the case, these days? she might have said, taking aim at another plaster sculpture. In the beginning, her thing was to hide bags of paint inside, to bleed an aftermath. 

When she was done with shooting, she became mother to the monsters. It was a dream vision. Why? someone asked. They locked her up. In lieu of an answer, she returned to her creatures.

See the sphinx, a flower blooming from one breast, her insides shards of mirror. But why? Inquiries persisted. The monsters grew. To heal, she said. A joyland, she named it, locus for a new kind of life.

What kind? someone wondered. 

One where when your face breaks, it bursts into a tree.

Someone called it an apocalypse in paradise. She did not object.


Inspired by the work of Niki de Saint Phalle.


With Salarrué.

Like a Polaroid shaken in the light, details of the once-beloved artist emerge. This happens just before the record of his life is erased by time and war. His students remember.

He was called unclassifiable, a sphinx without a riddle, a gentle man uninterested in greatness. He loved invented worlds and claimed Atlantis as his home country.

He loved the people of the land and not its titles. And they knew it.


In honor of the birthday of the celebrated Salvadoran painter, writer, and philosopher Salvador Salazar Arrué, better known as Salarrué (1899-1975). Reed Johnson’s 2005 article in the LA Times discusses a recent resurgence of interest in the artist’s life and work.