Notes in Space

Between dreaming and waking.

The original void, they called it, and we thought like a womb and imagined ourselves a sort of placenta but who can say. We might have been the baby or the amniotic fluid, because where in that space do you find enough context for measurement?

What grows here cannot happen outside of time, they said, and we had no reason to argue; besides, who would listen? We couldn’t even name ourselves beyond we, beyond here, beyond you, and we used these interchangeably, depending on what fit the mood. Our words were the music we held between us.

All movement begins here, they said, and we had only known ourselves to be ever floating with it, in this space that only exists because it is empty enough to hold whatever comes. One evolving over time might decide to call the growth a contract between years and intentions, and who can fault them for this? It’s easy to forget this space, where the names of what we are keep sliding between us.

The Gift Horse

On looking in its mouth.

She said, child, sometimes someone will approach you on the pretense of bearing a gift, but it will be none other than another version of Death, that old shapeshifter, dressed up in fancy wrapping and a bow.

This happens all the time, she said, and the method is to stuff the box full of sequins so that its these shiny, tiny nothings that fall to the floor when you open it. They are there to distract you from the extraction of your blood, one slow drop at a time.

She said, wait. It is also true that sometimes you will be handed something that reminds you of endings and you will groan and weep and mourn and wish somebody would take it back and tell you it never happened. But hang on, she said, because sometimes those are the places where your life is hiding, buried in the muck they tried to tell you was separate from the living.

Fictional Singular Beginnings

With Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa.

Light through a lens, an entire image. It appears whole, complete. And it is, but it is also what you said: the fiction of singular beginnings.

When you added, every image is saturated, we thought you meant with meaning, and we said sure. We are big fans of your work.

––With origins, you correct us, and there you go again, making and remaking our capacity to see, and we begin to get a sense that any of the meanings we saw––anywhere, were nothing but beginnings.

***

Inspired by the essay “(W)hole” by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, appearing in the most recent issue of BOMB magazine, in which the photographer and writer reflects on some of my favorite themes. Italicized phrases are from this text.

Origin Points

About beginnings.

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.

Earth and Skies

First lessons in topography.

As a child of wartime, she remembered her grandmother’s hunger, the bombing and blood, and the flat expanse of the plains. Looking out, she imagined Earth as a wide plate and Heaven as the dome that covered it, and believed that if she walked to the edge, she would find the place where they met.

Later, she saw her first mountain. This was a shock.

Later still, she would think how well this prepared her for what followed, because what good is an education that does not continue to jar you from whatever it is you presume to know before learning more?

***

Inspired by a section of this conversation between Judith Plaskow and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2013).

Art and Theory

The poet and the philosopher.

Are you making an argument or a metaphor? Is this poetry or philosophy?

Neither and both. Are you saying I have to choose? I thought this was a creative writing class.

I call it creative reading.

Do poets read theory differently than theorists read poetry?

Our purposes are different.

Do you read theory?

Of course, but to no theoretical end.

How?

I am not looking to figure anything out.

Why then?

Why else? For material. For art making.

***

Adapted from a portion of “Poetry, Community, Movement: A Conversation” between Charles Bernstein, Ann Lauterbach, Jonathan Monroe and Bob Perelman, which appeared in Diacritics vol. 26, no. 3/ 4 (Fall/ Winter 1996), accessed on JSTOR.

Fielding Notes

The un-artist presents.

What are you doing now?

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.

Now what?

Sometimes I notice the sounds of birds. And it feels like they are coming out of me.

I know what you mean!

Do you?

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.

How?

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.

The Artist is Surprised

With Anne Truitt.

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.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from Anne Truitt’s Turn: The Journey of an Artist (1987). 

Time and Attention

When the veil thins.

A lit match in the dark and a family museum in flames. Removed of these objects to ground us, we start slipping from our assigned roles. Without the grain of a dated photograph, who will draw the borders between what happened half a century ago and what is in our midst, right now? At a certain age, it doesn’t matter; it’s all here again. 

As the veil thins, she sees. The past was always right here, but it was too much for us to hold and still go on with the living. She’s releasing the burden now, and vision returns. Time to call the names of the ones no longer here and be moved by the volume of their answers. 

In the end, we become our grandmothers, caring for our mothers, forgetting who is who as we walk in and out of one another’s dreams. Now, with the smoke in our eyes, we are singing.

***

Inspired by consideration of this announcement of Rea Tajiri’s film Wisdom Gone Wild, exploring themes of collective memory.

Nobody Here

First lessons in suspension.

We hardly knew it­––or ourselves––when we flooded the spaces we entered with memory so completely that to move was to be removed from our weight in invented immersion. What carried us was luminous and dense and had no word we knew. If someone were to ask us what it was, we would say Nothing, but no such questions came, because when we removed ourselves from our weight, we became no one.