Each body has its signature, each a mystery. I know only awe for these, and nothing else of faith. Expect no unveilings here, no grand revelations. Only the presence of someone with nothing of importance to say, breathing between bouts of getting lost. Are you looking for something? Me too. I am trying to remember what.
In answer to your question. About art. No, I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is a means of survival. I hear there are other ways. Maybe if I spent less time in the folds of this fog and more among the purveyors of proven practices and ten-step solutions, I would be able to tell you what these are.
Instead, here I am, without even an explanation for this body’s central sacrament, which is listening to a cloud. All I can offer is this ritual: wait, wander, listen, repeat––and this open hand.
There is an elsewhere here. It breathes in the margins of activity and swims among the vessels of the plans we forever work over––arranging the sails of this one and that one, checking our courses and whether the knots will hold. Elsewhere is indifferent to all of this, or else amused.
Elsewhere can’t hold the music she holds if she keeps the door open for every cacophony that presumes to invade. She thrives in forgotten spaces and in dreams that dissipate before we can fasten them to words. Her only allegiance is to the country of lost countries. There are no flags.
Without Elsewhere, there is no one here. How may anyone name this central element of a life after the moment of recognition that it is not yours at all, but something possessed entirely by some other out there, in that nowhereland between continents, beneath these vessels, behind these words and all things seen and named; arranged and rearranged?
But even this final recognition of futility offers no freedom from the impulse toward making the worlds we keep creating as offerings, tempting her unmaking, her not-naming music, her long-shadowed disappearance of all that seems.
Overheard: Yes, but what can writing even do in a world? Or with one, for that matter?
Other than explain, it might make a likeness. Or dream a new one. Or transform.
Most of us have glimpsed the silvery back of something flickering beyond time and space, entering and exiting with continual unpredictability, why not the pen?
If the beginning was the word, where is the continuance, except here, in this ongoing fraught attempt to dream it forward, repair the torn fabric of the cosmos through which we slipped from something elemental into something else?
What else does one do, but stitch new wings for some eventual return, word by word, and keep a record in the meantime––of how we fall?
In art, dreams are realized––and the worst, not to be measured or weighted, but lived. Counting may follow, anguished measurements in the unflinching face of midday, when anyone with living ties to memory is susceptible to affliction by the pretense that all is well and as it seems, amid the noise of countless machines, distracting from a vast hum in the background.
This is why mornings and evenings are so much kinder, because the dominant noises are more obviously birds, revelers, and other wild sounds, none of which pretend any allegiance to standardized notions of good sense, which routinely kill without making any noise beyond those that have become so ordinary and expected, they may easily go unheard.
One problem, when it comes to beginnings, is that it is difficult to pick a point of origin when you are dealing with a substance that seems more wave-like than particular, when even if you could separate particles, there would be so many.
But it’s hard to resist trying to identify these points of emergence after the fact and harder to know how and when to jump in. Still, a wish to know and name is innate. Maybe this has something to do with pride, or a misplaced survival instinct. When I was five or six, I hatched a plan for counting raindrops. If I could isolate the amount that fell in a given measure of time before the five or six inches of my face pressed against the window, then I could multiply this number (about 15-20, I supposed) by another number to get the number of drops that fell in the square foot in front of our house in the space of––say, a breath. I measured a complete breath to be about six seconds (inhale: one two three; exhale: one two three). Then I would know what it was that was falling before me in the span of a single breath and then I would know––
Not much, apparently. But I couldn’t help myself. I needed a place to start, some foothold that would allow me to do the climbing that everyone was always talking about, except that what I saw before me was no ladder or stairs, not even a climbing wall. It was glass and falling water and the only response I ever seemed to have when it came to noticing anything, was wide-eyed awe, and it was clear that this wasn’t going to get me anywhere, not by the standards that were quickly becoming apparent. Among the adults, there seemed to be a consensus that expertise was valued above all else, and I seemed to have a natural immunity to it. This was terrifying. If I couldn’t be an expert in anything, at least I could learn to climb, I thought, so that I could manage to pass among the other climbers.
But this experiment failed. I couldn’t hold the drops in my gaze long enough to count them, not even for the space of a breath. And absolutely nothing about this solemn revelation seemed to relieve me of the pressure to find some way to begin.
Not doing. Noticing. That silence, for example, between those trees.
What about it?
It appears to be speeding up.
Um. Is this an exercise in magical thinking?
With an emphasis on ritual. Here, drink this.
Sometimes I notice the sounds of birds. And it feels like they are coming out of me.
I know what you mean!
So, you’re an artist?
Un-artist. I teach in the free pop-up art school. It has no walls.
Hm. Do they have podiums, or is it more like round tables?
Hollow altars. With headphones.
What are you teaching now?
It’s like this. Here is an arm, and here is a map of Antilles. Now combine them.
On a large-scale print, like this. Big as the front wall of a mansion. Then you drape it over the façade, in front of the door.
I’m not sure I follow.
You might say it doesn’t make any sense––
No, it’s just––
But you have to see it.
Yeah, probably then it would.
Not exactly. It will make the kind of sense you can’t say.
Inspired by the playful seriousness of manuel arturo abreu, profiled in the Fall issue of BOMB. This conversation is an extension of that play, and while it borrows some phrases of abreu’s as featured in the article, it is not intended to be an accurate rendering of their sensibilities.
She said, child, you may know a thing or two one day, but that won’t be anytime soon, so you will have to muddle through. For now, it’s going to be like driving in a rainstorm in the dark, when all you can see is the tiny patch of blur lit by the headlights, and no taillights to guide you, and the actual road will be poorly marked or not at all.
She said, child, I want you to know this, so that you will not be taken by surprise and swerve offroad. But of course, we are always in a state of disbelief, because who can resist keeping company with the secret hope that driving a dream would be an adventure story? This is not necessarily untrue, but most of us get the genre wrong.
When you’re raised on those feel-good films that validate the trope of the noble quest, with anthem music and sidekicks and breaks for humor, when the going gets rough, it can be disconcerting to realize that you’re actually in a David Lynch film with a blue filter and the sort of musical score designed to remind you––not that you need it––that something is a little off but you won’t be able to put your finger on it and there isn’t any chance of it letting up.
But this is what she told me, child; she said, Listen. When it gets like that, and you are driving in the dark and the weather and the unmarked roads say go back, only then can you know you are getting somewhere. It isn’t like any of the places you’ve seen before, I promise you, but keep going.
There will be others coming, child, more frightened and uncertain than you are now, and when they find the glow of your taillights before them, they will suddenly remember to breathe. They will think, Okay, and hang on.
Although there was no objection to the idea of a self, hers tended to elude her. I’m curious, she said, and decided one must be here, somewhere. But where to start? Perhaps a record of everyday things. Let’s see what happens, and what happened yesterday? Last year? Does the one from today have any relation to the one from last winter?
The works, when she regarded them, stood clear and solid, each holding a space of its own. The same could not be said of the artist. Each has her preoccupations: certain colors, shapes, proportions. One day an insight comes: there is an energy you can use to endure your life, and there is a force for changing it, and these are not distinct, but drawn from the same well.
I am not so much an artist, she decides, but out of my life these objects are surfaced. It is possible, after all, to become what we have not before been able to be. I am here, she told us, to be surprised.