Pond Brain

A studio of open minds.

The artist welcomed extremes in her work, so employed bacterial assistants. They see differently, she said. She said the bacteria were very helpful. They bring a new intelligence, she said.

Is that them? We wondered. But it was the slime mold, which had recently arrived to help with the next project. 

What is that?  

We’re doing an adaptation of The Book of Changes.

***

Adapted from this BOMB interview with Jenna Suelta, for whom collaboration with non-human intelligences is a central feature of artmaking. Pond Brain is the title of a 2023 sculpture she created with bronze, water, sound, and light.

Studio Visit

The apprentice has questions.

The young artist came to learn. She was mainly concerned with the question of how anyone does it all, especially when there weren’t even enough words. The sculptor knew you could use nail polish to patch a glaze, so there was something. Then the sculptor asked about lunch. The young artist was relieved. Here, too, were meals, and these, at least, she knew. So perhaps there was hope.

***

Inspired by a tidbit from Michelle Millar Fisher’s BOMB interview with Jennifer Ling Datchuk. 

The Supplicants

Shift change at the city gates.

The turning happened where we almost ended, feeling the old king’s gaze, the walls of his long sleep around him, each drowsy syllable dripping from the mouth a study in the effects of subatomic explosions. 

How long? We wondered, had been wondering. We shivered, had been shivering, naked in the shadow of the fortress. The next cold rain started a whisper among us, in the direction of concessions. What was the point? with the freeway cars above us hissing Yes. 

We could have run then. I think we almost did. But one dropped her knees to the grass and then her ear, and we followed, to hear who was coming beneath our soles to be counted, even now.

The Sisters

In the late days of long wars.

We wanted to mend, so kept company with our mothers’ ghosts. Our yesterdays were wounded and came to us until every bed was full. 

O muse. Your song was bleeding out. 

We brought cloths and went to you. We wrapped you tight and held against the flow. It entered then.

We are still, holding. 

Bread

And the heart of the matter.

They come to see us, hungry for our size.

Look at our faces. We tower. They dance.

One says, walk slower. One says, closer.

There are more of us now, as though prayers.

Into clouds. No command is needed from this height.

They sing us. A dirge, they sing for beloveds

and the birds call back. From their ovens,

the smell of bread. When they taste,

they will look. Up, they will see us,

our suspended faces

against sky. 

***

Inspired by a recent New York Times article about Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet Theater.

The Land Before Us

Facing its faces.

The land before us

suggested as much 

by gesture as by intensity

of gaze returned.

It was tempting 

to call out, Hello?

and Who is here?

But we saw them

seeing us and

the grasses

spoke first. 

***

Inspired by Osman Can Yerbaken’s description of the paintings of Ghanaian artist Gideon Appah, who as Yerbaken puts it, “commands the landscape genre as its own form of portraiture by depicting the emotionality of a place like the piercing immediacy of a face.” 

You Are Here

Trying to read the map.

Some of the old masters believed the ear outlived the heart, so they would sit with the dead forty days, giving directions. We didn’t expect that kind of treatment, given the times. We thought we had better get to where we knew the map. 

We weren’t sure what to make of the artist’s work, so asked. There is something unknown in you, she said. She wanted us to see it. We asked her if she was sure about that and she laughed, shaking her head. We did not always know how to talk to the artist. 

In one series, she created shapes from mathematical theorems, but we took them for angels. The effect was like walking in a cathedral. We wanted to know how she did it. Something happens, she said. But when I work, I do not think of things.

I wish you could see it, and we asked what. How the void is the place where you stand, she said, and left us. We are still here, looking. 

***

Inspired by the work of Dorothea Rockburne.

Variabilities

Of similar forms.

Considering the history of a given set of bodies, the artist posed a question. Where are the bones of the bones? she asked us, and we knew our nakedness an extension of a larger shadow, casting us out. Once in it, we danced something more than imitation. The camel’s eye our needle, we stitched our skeletons into new visions of before to scatter our tomorrows until we lost their tracks and had to make them new again. 

***

Inspired by the work of Nancy Graves.

The Proximity of Matter

With Cynthia Hawkins.

Changing spaces between us, we kept looking. 

Form. Color. Line. Body, body, us.

We were skeptical when you confessed.

My practice is abstraction, you said.

We thought you should not say that out loud.

But you persisted. Draw a tree long enough,

you said, it will evolve. Until what you have

are lines, white space, and the pulse of intersections.

The point was not less tree, but more.

Not the sum of its parts, but something beyond.

In the beginning, you think it’s about figures.

But stay with it, and you see. What matters

is movement. What matters is direction.

What matters is space.

We wondered which space. 

Between the canvas and the eye, you said,

where they float

We wondered which they.

***

Inspired by (and using borrowed phrases from) this interview with Cynthia Hawkins. The title comes from one of Hawkins’ series.

Peel

Becoming the placeholder.

Once, I misplaced the breaks in my heart. That was a day without paint.

These skins resound a rhythm just below the ear’s reach, so look. 

See that ghosting flicker, call it urgency. History. The edge of before.

Call it, cipher. 

What is the word for this want?

Only wrong answers can help me now. 

***

Inspired by the work of Oscar yi Hou