Amsterdam, 2 September 2016 — Back in your studio. Someone upstairs is tuning a piano with the windows open. A climbing note. Peter Ablinger once wrote a piece for electric guitar in which a performer plucks the strings while tuning them higher and higher and higher. The piece (is it a composition?) ends when all the strings have snapped. Imagine the sound of that.
Yesterday I read in an essay by Brandon LaBelle that the sounds we make are in fact always already reverberations, responses to existing sounds. ‘To produce sound is in itself a kind of response. As a form of articulation, of enunciation, with its own slippages and improvisations, its own fevers and inflections, music too overcomes the contradictory moment of saying something when not knowing what to say.’ To sonorously produce, then, is to enter a conversation. There’s no such thing as ripping through silence, for that silence only exists in the imagination.
I wonder if the same applies to the act of writing and, of course, to art production. Isn’t every work to some degree an act of reproduction? (Similarly, a letter is always already a reply, even the very first, and this is what propels the correspondence.) I’m not necessarily talking about mimetic reproduction here, but rather about a retracing, a simulation or assimilation that isn’t limited to someone else’s line or tone – expressly not – but extends into their state of being, their line of thought or drift, rhythm maybe.
As you insist, the notion of an artist genius who relies solely on his own originality is a myth. This is a recurring thought in your notes, not least, it seems, because you still need to convince yourself of it. Something very tenacious, then, closely linked to the presence and perception of others. A perception against which the searching artist is apparently unprotected.
‘Sometimes you wish you were someone you’re not,’ you write. ‘To be an artist is a ponderous and arduous process of learning to see and trust in what is truly of oneself. It is the loneliest place you can imagine, but once you get there, everything is familiar and worthwhile.’
Of course, I’d be the first to amplify the ponderousness and arduousness of being an artist – it’s the only part that comes entirely naturally and effortlessly, and a joy to write about – but as your substitute in this studio, the unsolicited watchman, I feel compelled to argue that the erosion of the self you are hinting at is in fact possible and perhaps even necessary. That’s the beauty of art, that to some extent and within certain safe boundaries, it allows you to become other – someone other than the ‘I’ with whom we are saddled from the moment we’re born. In the best case, it is a role you fully coincide with for a while.
from a letter sent to Marijn van Kreij on 5 Sep 2015
Het is zo’n geweldig gevoel om post te ontvangen. En om het zo te noemen onderscheidt het al van alle andere berichten waarvan men de ontvanger is – ontvangst, ontvankelijkheid is voor mij bij uitstek iets actiefs en jouw brief rechtvaardigt dat ook. Het is een interessante overweging, met betrekking tot het archief van berichten dat wij allemaal vanzelf hebben opgebouwd sinds de electronische post zich in onze levens mengde, welke daarvan precies beantwoorden aan de klassieke notie van een brief. Het is zelfs behoorlijk lastig, heb ik kunnen merken nu ik mijn mailboxen opnieuw indeel, om de brieven te scheiden van de duizenden uitroepen, formaliteiten, herinneringen en datumvoorstellen waarvan de context me allang weer ontglipt. (Een arbeid, zeker weten.) En áls je ze dan aantreft is de verleiding groot al het overige weg te gooien en alleen de brieven te bewaren – maar dan besef je dat, met het oog op de correspondentie, je onmogelijk kunt zeggen wat daar wel en niet onder valt: brieven zijn nooit eilanden, en ze tot eiland maken door ze uit de stroom heen-en-weertjes te vissen veronderstelt eigenlijk al een uitgekiendheid, een berekenend bewustzijn, een autoritaire redactieslag die de essentiëel wederkerige aard van schrijven met anderen miskent.
Het afwisselend schrijven met de hand, met de schrijfmachine of met behulp van een toetsenbord maakt het er niet makkelijker op, om nog maar te zwijgen van alle parafernalia die bij het posten horen: enveloppen, briefpapier, postzegels, bijlagen… Als je werkelijk de betekenis van een briefwisseling wilt vatten zou het archiveren en annoteren volgens mij geen eind kennen – het is dan ook veel beter om erin te springen en het alsmaar uitdijende archief aan te vullen door het voortdurend nieuw leven in te blazen. Mijn vrienden hebben me doen inzien dat alles in principe volstaat om die heropleving teweeg te brengen, en dit beperkt zich uiteraard niet tot schrijven in de strikte zin des woords… een blanco is voldoende, of een paar eetstokjes samengehouden door een elastiekje; ik stuurde eens een envelop met alleen een grote spijker erin, eentje die in de lengte gehalveerd was. Deze spijker werd vervolgens een tijdje heen en weer gestuurd, net zo lang tot de postzegels tot een dik stapeltje uitgroeiden. Toen begreep ik ook dat de gebarentaal (materialiteit/tactiliteit) van het posten (of dat nou ‘echte’ post is of digitale) evenzeer onderdeel uitmaakt van de boodschap als datgene wat onder de inhoud wordt verstaan. Er komt een haast erotische intentionaliteit bij kijken – dus in navolging van jouw opmerking over ‘briefromantiek’ denk ik dat het op zijn plaats is te zeggen dat mijn liefdesaffaire met het corresponderen, net als elke andere romance, momenten van diepe toewijding en geluk kent en ook momenten van bijna-doodervaringen en wanhoop. Het wisselt elkaar af.
Wat betekent het eigenlijk voor de persoon met wie je schrijft, als je zegt dat je een liefdesaffaire hebt met het corresponderen zelf? Van meet af aan heb ik geprobeerd een antwoord te vinden op de vraag of ik een publiek adresseer via de ontvanger, of juist een specifieke ontvanger via een publiek. En in hoeverre is hierbij van belang of het publiek die geadresseerde kent (wanneer deze bijvoorbeeld een kunstenaar is of een publiek figuur) of niet, en vice versa, of de geadresseerde vertrouwd is met dat specifieke publiek? Sommige mensen waren van mening dat ik alleen maar aan mezelf schreef, als een narcistisch spel, terwijl degenen die het dichtst bij me staan juist vonden dat ik mezelf min of meer heb verwaterd in deze activiteit. Het is heel verwarrend.
Als het dus aankomt op jouw gewetensbezwaren omtrent het gebruik van je correspondentie met Th—— als vehikel voor een publiek stuk, denk ik dat er geen reden is om zo streng te zijn dat je zegt – en dit trof me het meest in je brief – ‘Nooit meer zal ik publieke brieven schrijven met echte personen als ontvangers.’ Ik geloof dat hierin schakeringen bestaan en dat deze van belang zijn. De andere kant van het spectrum zou zo kunnen klinken: het is een waar geschenk om deze ander te verwikkelen en volmondig te erkennen in iets wat je publiekelijk doet (of privé). Sterker nog, in sommige gevallen zou het verkeerd zijn deze ander uit beeld te laten. ‘Nooit meer zal ik publieke brieven schrijven (oftewel kunstwerken maken) zonder echte personen als ontvangers.’ Dat is wat ík mij heb voorgenomen.
Ik denk dat jouw samenwerking met S— ook een soort correspondentie is… En bij het lezen van je artikel aan Th—— ben ik wel benieuwd wie hij is en wat hij voor je betekent. Er waren een aantal dingen die ik eruit vond springen omdat ik niet denk dat je ze zou schrijven als er geen geadresseerde was die je miste en vertrouwde. Het gedeelte over ‘van nature gemarginaliseerd zijn’ is zo’n moment. Ik kan me daar op een intiem niveau toe verhouden, als een soort nullijn die alleen mijn mede-gemarginaliseerden (los van of ze al of niet succes hebben) begrijpen. Dezelfde melancholie waart door de zin over vergetelheid: ‘Een kunstwerk dat vandaag gemaakt wordt moet eerst worden vergeten om daadwerkelijk zijn potentie als kunst te bereiken.’ En volgens mij zit diezelfde melancholie ook besloten in het schrijven van brieven, die de vergetelheid en (zelf-)marginalisatie omhullen als een envelop. Wel raak ik het gevoel van intimiteit en urgentie weer kwijt door gestes als paginanummering en het ontbreken van een groet en ondertekening… en net als in mijn Sydvaranger-voordracht [Echolocation (Session), zie hieronder] is het altijd lastig om op een overtuigende manier filosofie erin te verwerken. Haha, ik vond de alinea over de ‘monoloog van de krankzinnige’ buitengewoon herkenbaar.
Maar muziek is echt iets wat die ruimte van het ongeschrevene voor me openbreekt. Ik merk dat het ritme, de klank en het timbre van het schrijven mij bezighouden, net als het geïmproviseerde karakter van corresponderen. Het wijkt af van een echt gesprek, dat zo snel ongemakkelijk kan worden, en komt dichter in de buurt van het besef dat improviseren alleen mogelijk is dankzij heel veel oefenen en vertrouwd raken met een instrument, de drums bijvoorbeeld. Als je erover nadenkt gaat improvisatie juist over grenzen en beperkingen, het is nooit totaal vrij. Bovendien lijkt er zoveel meer op het spel te staan in aanwezigheid van anderen; een aanwezigheid die onvermijdelijk een stempel drukt op het optreden en er uitdrukking in vindt.
Als er boven de brief ‘Beste Th——’ of ‘Beste E—’ staat dan zie ik dat graag als een voortijdig bedanken voor het feit dat de auteur zich die vrije beweging en urgentie en gerichtheid van denken mag aanmeten. Ik beschouw het in die zin als een soort opdragen aan. Natuurlijk romantiseer ik het nu een beetje…
Ik zal je ook een van mijn brieven meesturen. En één zin in jouw ‘Beste Th——’ herinnerde mij aan Lévinas die ik op dit moment lees. Het gaat om jouw citaat van Coetzee/Costello: ‘De rede is het bestaan van een bepaald spectrum van menselijk denken.’ In een lezing uit 1967 kritiseert Lévinas de fenomenologie en schrijft: ‘Voor de filosofische traditie van het Westen is elke vorm van geestelijk leven: bewustzijn, een thematiserend onthullen van het Zijn, weten. Uitgaande van het aanraken, niet opgevat als betasten maar als liefkozing – en van de taal, niet opgevat als uitwisseling van informatie, maar als contact – hebben we getracht de nabijheid te beschrijven als iets wat onherleidbaar is tot het bewustzijn en het thematiseren. Nabijheid verschijnt als een relatie met de ander, die niet opgelost kan worden in ‘beelden’ en zich niet laat tonen in een thema.’
E—, misschien moeten we ons samen aan een lezing van Derrida’s The Post Card wagen over de post, een soort close reading op afstand. (Misschien ook niet, en onze eigen versie schrijven.) Blijf zenden, je genegen,
Writing is like a crater, an act of excavating, tearing open a space that used to be a surface, covered, seamless. To write is to create an abyss, it’s like clawing and scraping, scooping, ploughing. To me, it always seems as though there is nothing to be said, just traversed, horizontally, in the linear nature of sight, walking, and reading. Things (thingly things) just speak for themselves, they are sealed, with no corners and edges to rub or pry. Preparing to write, then, is like an odd act of halting, a standstill for no apparent reason, setting up an archeological dig or a geological site without any evidence pointing there. And once the words are put in order, they plummet, they leak, they drill into the surface, like some early computer game which shows a cross-section of the ground, and the movement of the screen just shifts from lateral to vertical, in a perpendicular move.
The performative reading «Echolocation (Session)» will
take place on the final day of the Dark Ecology Journey 2016,
in the disused separation plant of the Sydvaranger mine,
in Kirkenes, northern Norway. Read full version
“The feeling, the state of a monk who disinvests in asceticism, who can no longer bring himself to invest in it (≠ who loses his faith).
It’s not a loss of belief; it’s a loss of investment. Depressive state: melancholy, lassitude, sadness, boredom, loss of heart.”
After leaving the ‘monastery’, how to recover a sense of asceticism?
The rhythm of sending and receiving. I wonder: could one still speak of a rhythm if one beat drops away, when the ‘swing’ is interrupted by a silence? Is there still a groove if a pulse becomes erratic and finally ceases? In other words, is there still a correspondence if it is interrupted – no mail indefinitely, when the letter slot only gives way to bank statements and anonimized formalities? What constitutes the correspondence, then, what corresponds, who responds to whom, and to go all the way to the stem of this word, which is spondere, ‘to plegde’ — who plegdes to whom? What pledge is made? What promise, what vow?
The funny thing about corresponding, or any writing for that matter, at least the kind that I practice, is that even when there is no reply, or when it is a reply to nothing, it seems to come from a lasting indebtedness. And therefore it is never enough, I never feel that this one settles it, I have to offer my whole head, I have to fold this house inside and out through the aperture [of the letter slot], the door, the door frame or ‘deurpost’ as we put it so beautifully in Dutch — like turning a plastic bag inside out, inverting a balloon, or emptying one’s pockets by pulling it out of one’s trousers.
excerpt from a recent reading for disembodied voice, drums and synthesizer
written to reverberate, but instead deadened upon arrival (d.o.a.) →
a disembodying voice, rather,
a voice leaving me without a body,
a helium balloon, knotted tight
and left to float against a lowered ceiling.
Left: «Inoperative Library (Reproduction)» and «Trickle»
Right: «Untitled (Paul Klee, Harmony of the Northern Flora, 1927)», 2016 by Marijn van Kreij and «Offered up Receptacle (Second Thoughts)»
Currently on display in «Contingence for Beginners»,
a joint presentation by Marijn van Kreij* and me at Barbara Seiler Gallery, Zürich*
It’s 3:14 a.m. I’m typing this directly into D-dreamweaver.
My mind woke me at the right time. I could not write you otherwise. Know that I am addressing your ghost, and scared of actually greeting you. I’ll try and keep this short, in keeping with what I wrote earlier, that long showerings actually don’t constitute generosity.
(Synonyms for a shower, according to the OED: fall, drizzle, sprinkling, misting. Volley, hail, salvo, bombardment, barrage, fusillade, cannonade. Avalanche, deluge, flood, spate, flurry; profusion, abundance.)
Your critique on my performance at De Appel left me feeling confused. I must say it was invasive, leaving the sour taste of a territorial pissing (as in showering), but of course I let you in. I had to. You deny me the shelter of my own excuse, that the aural trace of my nightly activities on cassette tape had been a deliberately unrehearsed improvisation, the product of a slip, an early-morning irrationality, like this. One doesn’t speak about self-sprung traps, you say.
True, my scribbled instructions weren’t clear as to whom could engage the tape recorders I had left, and how. You’re entirely right: by stating, a bit farther down, “the audience was instructed to play the tapes in succession”, I’m effectively denying that my friends who had invited me, whom I routinely address, were predictably the only ones empowered enough to press play. This failure to entrust things to a stranger, such as you, was for me this piece’s biggest flaw.
Also, I elected to bring certain books, predominantly by male, European, sufficiently venerated authors. Yes, my research has been lazy and inadequate for someone who says he explores a writerly art practice and gets to do a two-year residency in his home city. My shortage of imaginative source material genuinely puzzles me. You must know that I am currently leaving the Rijks bruised and battered. Numerous people have flashed mirrors in my face (only flashes were bearable), telling me that friendship can’t be formalized, that there’s nothing innately noble about receptivity, that my correspondence despite the replies is in fact non-reciprocal, that theorizing alterity and community the way I’ve been doing it still amounts to colonization and orientalism, that Europe is ideologically bankrupt and I am perpetuating this Europeanness. Their generosity consists in trying to get through to me.
(I am actually silencing and underrepresenting many tender voices here for the sake of this argument.)
Did you see the answering machine in my presentation, ready to record the disembodied voices of loved and admired ones, the ones who made me feel most indebted these two years, the ones who define generosity for me? The piece, if it was a piece – Is this a letter? – was called «Nothing left of me», as my voice also announced in the answering message.
I’m not trying to be sombre here, or to shower myself in self-pity. I’m simply acknowledging, confessing, that my work thus far has been the symptom of a malady. Ziektebeeld, as they say in Dutch. “Image of illness.”
I’m so sorry that interrupting my sleep (irresponsible wakefulness) is the only thing I can donate at this moment. Perhaps I should account for my performance along those lines. And I wasn’t even opening my own door.
PS Each time I access my mail I have to whisper-type “recidivist”.
While trying to clear out my studio this summer, I stopped halfway because I realised I was not so much interested in the emptying as in achieving a kind of anonimity through arrangement, and through stripping whatever objects were left of the identity of their possessor.
Last Monday during an event in which I was expected to present my process—a process that resists being displayed, for reasons both deliberate and indeliberate—I showed some items in two separate spaces, of which it was ambiguous whether they were artworks, or rather where their being-art was located.
One of them was a ‘mute kit’: my drums with all the skins and cymbals removed.
The character of Bartleby the scrivener was very much on my mind*, but then when I talked about his heroic nonengagement to someone who hadn’t read his story, I couldn’t deny that he was in some way deadened.
What’s the point in admiring a deadened person?
19 Aug 2015 – I’m writing to both of you, not to nullify a distinction, but to render it perceptible through your unified readership.
Tonight I’m playing drums during a queer night in Vrankrijk together with my friend from Brooklyn without any rehearsal. I couldn’t have dreamt it up.
How controlled is this. Starting with these very rules, these very lines. I arrive in the studio with its church windows, where everything is as I have—negligently—left it, except for a fresh layer of dust. The vacation period implies distance (even if it’s only physical, and it doesn’t even require a great distance, nor any disengagement of consciousness; in my case c. becomes calmer and thus less rippled, more transparent) and the return is marked by a discrepancy between what seems to be expected ‘of’ me and what I expect from myself, or perhaps the encounter with an absence of expectation. Lack of rules.
Like my last writing to you, these lines hardly emerge out of nothing; far from it. It’s as if you pick up a thread of yarn, only to realise that a significant length is still, or already, spooled, and an equally significant length is still, or already, unwound. It’s unclear in which direction you were going, spooling or unwinding; what’s clear is that, regardless of direction, it is not a beginning. Maybe an ink ribbon is a better analogy, because it keeps going back and forth in front of the type bars; one moment the one spool is thicker, the next, it’s the other.
I’m looking at the address on your envelope. It shouts out, unrestrained. [It is very reminiscent of Matisse’s handwriting in his «Jazz» note books that were in the Stedelijk.*] Yet the stamp, with the king’s head dangling upside down as it did several times before, has been very neatly pasted, in an ostensibly much more controlled operation. It’s a good start, a welcome, which I’m holding onto for just a little while longer. I thank you for it.
If only I could write the violence, or communicate what it is like to arrive here and to think: whatever is waiting for me? Because, after this short break, at a crucial time—in anticipation of ideas for the Open Studios, for which I’m anticipating a true identity shift, a destruction of expectations; and simultaneously a renewed ease in writing, a sense of belonging and a soaring literary curiosity versus a loss of interest in the material, the visual; in a word, the tension between disavowal («Verleugnung») and admission, knowing where you belong—it seems crystal clear to me that all that is waiting for me is the paper, the paper that may be written upon, must be written upon, cannot-be-left-unwritten-upon, be it in my studio, the library, or in the garden. And not, therefore, the space, the stuff, the bulk of an artist; just the task, which is philosophical, immaterial. The artist as deadweight. The studio is interchangeable, the stuff is interchangeable, the editions are interchangeable, the writing tools, the table, etc. This is the same writing pad I used for my ‘holiday’ notes, it makes no difference where I am & I’m even more emptyhanded than I ever thought.
(It’s funny, then, to see these stacks lying about, amidst which I feel at home and which please me, delight me, and in their objecthood carry a promise, a familiar residual force and a coincidence, a contingency as well as a contingence, a density, unity, closedness.)
The idea with which I left—and despite these improvised and vocalised thoughts I am still addressing each of you, simply because in this space, this writerly space, your spectres turn me into a familiar and thinkable subject, a thinking subject familiar to himself, contrary to a solitary individual—is that of a writer who in his refusal to write observes himself as an artist, only to eventually, or simultaneously in letters, report on this by means of the written word. (I drop my pen.)
That would mean that being an artist is a role, an act. Several things may attest to this, for example the fact that exhibitions do not interest or affect me, not like books do—I can look at art insofar as it gives rise to personas, in other words with a biographical, and by extension autobiographical curiosity. Darboven’s work, for instance, is interesting to me insofar as I consider that mode of existence, the (im)probability of her persona, and so aspire to a maximum of improbability in my own artist persona. Yet it is a role that can swallow you whole. More, it’s a role which, by its nature as role, can never acquire the earnestness, the self-transcending brilliance a proper artistic act seems to culminate in, and which I witness in certain people. The artist NvD appears to me to be a character who only engages in self-realisation insofar as it is necessary, and when it’s not, continues to read and write more or less surreptitiously. His preferred place of operation is there where he is without license.
The key question then remains: why don’t I only, and openly, read and write? What makes me want to distract myself, divide myself so? I suspect part of this is my inability to leave, inability to escape, inability to travel. I know that when I’m travelling, these concerns are irrelevant. I’m curious to what extent you relate to this idea, that travelling is the most natural mode and being at home a contortion.
I’ll stop here for now. How tame, how domesticated is my writing compared to the eruption. Perhaps that is my quarrel with being a writer, the sluggishness and meek compliance of my script and my idiom which, in expression at least, renders the violence of my thought utterly harmless, and therefore violates it (plural, as you can see I won’t tolerate mistakes). And yet, I know I will always be doing this, that I am fated to be a writer, writers, writerly, and that when I don’t, I will wither on the inside. And an art without the supervision of an author would gut me, hollow me out and drain me, until there’s nothing left but a husk, a shriveled snakeskin. (+ the snake that wiggles free falls prey to the first predator he runs into, it is without venom.)
When we came back we watched the full episode of Zomergasten with Simone van Saarloos. I was fascinated; she clearly absorbed the same theories I have been reading, about the encounter and the eternal problematic of comfortable intellectual solipsism vs. agency, being in the world, committing oneself. Campert & Kousbroek watching the fire engines from a Parisian balcony, hard to watch in its familiarity. What she said about relationships also struck a chord, it was one of the more unsettling moments. Beauvoir and Sartre were so convinced of the other’s strangeness that they kept addressing one another with ‘vous’. This goes against the very image of family life.
What is love? I would say: tolerating the other.
That sounds negative by most standards, certainly the conventional, romantic one, but I join Van Saarloos in wondering: are we capable of more? And is it not an example of loyalty, selflessness, open-mindedness, consolation, self-insufficiency (admitting that one is partial, incomplete), to be together? Promiscuity and the einzelgänger, continual adaptability and openness: I find it to be naive, excessive and yes, hedonistic in essence. But I do notice that it is necessary to grant the other transformation, rigorous privacy (in work, for example, in habits, intuitions) and that a relationship mustn’t serve to nullify or even out that dissimilarity. Travelling alone, working alone, it all strikes me as inevitable and necessary.
mailed to MW on 19 Aug 2015 (paper orginal to M, digital duplicate to W)
«NADIR» image by M
“Men zei me: Waarom bent u zo kalm ? En dat terwijl ik volledig werd verteerd; ’s nachts rende ik huilend door de straten; overdag werkte ik rustig.”
(Maurice Blanchot, «Waanzin van de dag», p. 11)
Add this sentence to the self-inflating narratives (bottom):
(A more accurate, more personal, more up-to-date description might be
that I try to image myself as a reader in my work.)
—I impersonate myself.
‘It is a working and an unworking all at once, an activation of something by allowing it to run, allowing it to play, no matter its subsequent disintegration or its already defective state. Triggering a stall, perhaps. Just as the point to this activity is continually and skillfully deferred, which to me constitutes pure resistance.’
(Cf. désoeuvrement, ‘inoperativeness’*)
«Offered up receptacle», 2015
Used envelope, used Riso Duplicator master, pigeonhole from Rijksakademie entrance
Currently on display in Galerie Rianne Groen, Rotterdam*
alongside work by Dina Danish, Marijn van Kreij and Wouter Venema
«Untitled double exposure», 2015
Chromogenic colour prints, lid from original photographic paper box, nails
Currently on display in A Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam*
Note to selves, 10 May 2015
I gave away one of the printed letters, the first to someone other than a recipient, to psychoanalyst Gohar Homayounpour, because she encouraged me to be ‘hospitable’ (hospitality without identification, without introduction, distinct from openness, distinct from generosity).*
I now wonder if I have been wanting to, waiting to, all along. ‘Offering up for analysis’ has been a key phrase in my thoughts of late, and perhaps the emphasis is not so much on ‘analysis’, but on ‘offering up’.
I’m left pondering what offering up entails, what it involves, also aesthetically.
Today I was clearly on the receiving end: two packages, as yet unopened, were on the door mat, a pair of chopsticks (used?) was poised against the doorpost to my studio, kept under tension in its sleeve by a rubber band, and in my drawer someone had left a Japanese spinning top for my son. (Gohar and I spoke about the distinction between game and play, the games one plays as a child, alone, and the play one engages in as an adult, with others.) I wonder, have I been on the sending end lately?
There was no film left, neither in the house nor the studio. Unphotographed: the spinning top-like shape lying in one of the sliding door grooves in the Manege, and the meagre contents of the garbage container in the corridor, illuminated by a bit of sunlight: a cracked reproduction of a romantic landscape painting buried beneath beverage containers. The deliverer of the chopsticks, who came to deliver them again, or who returned (too late) to remove them, thought a recently published reappraisal of the notion of the bohemian might be relevant to my studies.
Photography. Do I need it in order to ensure that something I saw was accurately stored? Do I need it in order to remind myself of how it really was, as opposed to what I thought I saw? No. But I need it.
One tends to remember studio visits by advisors (strangers, foreigners, guests—“the master of the house is at home, but nonetheless he comes to enter his home through the guest”) according to a summarised, that is to say strongly reduced, account of the encounter. I should try my best to avoid this. Last week, Isabelle C. said her problem with psychoanalysis is that it is ‘too narrative’, which both underscores and defies my point.
This writing may well be a way to defer or extend the tendency to summarise.
‘Transferral signifies my nascent awareness of what something is or could be.’ (from a letter written 9 Apr ’14)
procure more presence
Verso of photocopied catalogue page from «Matt Mullican», Artsite Gallery Bath (UK), 1988 on extra thin paper
showing a black and white photograph of the knob of a car door lock taken from the interior of the car
Along the edges, in pencil: ‘Matt Mullican, Untitled, 1984, collection of the artist + fingertip sweat dried by copy machine after having pinched three sheets while explaining myself to patrons of the institute literally 5 min after my first experiments with letters and appendices clasped together – 1/3 sent copies’
Sent 17 Apr 2015 to three recipients
4 Apr 2015 On some level my work may also aim at frustrating the practice of word processing as such (practical techniques of prose writing & scholarly modes of notation, the covertness of storage)
Helsinki, 24 March 2015 2:28 a.m.
My reason for omitting the salutation, which you address in your letter, was not so much an avoidance of niceties—though it’s difficult to choose between the obedient ‘dear’ [beste in Dutch] and the overly affectionate ‘dearest’ [lieve]—but rather because there’s a spoken version of the letter in my head, that is to say, I hear it. Rather than a summoning, though it amused me that’s how you experienced it, and put it so aptly, it is suggestive of a whisper. Much like checking if the other person’s asleep or addressable and simultaneously ensuring nobody else is roused by it. After all, the message is private.
I will be reading this letter, an English reiteration of it, to the listeners in Helsinki today, that is, when it is daytime again. This handwritten original will be on its way to you by then. I’m curious to find out what that feels like, for them, for you, for me. As I’m sure you know, private for me is a malleable and paradoxical notion. Not malleable in the sense of disposable but strangely yielding and susceptible to tension, to experimentality. When does something—a message—cease to be private? Not necessarily, I would say, when its contents are disclosed; even divulging a secret needn’t affect its privateness.
The fact that this writing occurs at night, which is by no means the first time, is perhaps relevant to the idea of whispering. I had intended to ‘invoke’ you earlier, but I didn’t manage to get myself properly activated. What’s more, I spent a considerable amount of time watching videos of executions and deadly accidents in my hotel room. You know about this habit of mine, and I’m glad I can speak relatively candidly to you about this. I must. It’s a shame there was no reason to complete the assignment you gave me last year to write a reflection on the instant of death recorded, because when you’re simultaneously focused on very different things, any postponement tends to become indefinite.
I would like to say two things about it though. The idea that this issue is completely separate from my usual preoccupations in my work is, I’m beginning to see, a misconception. It continues to amaze me that a great portion of literary theory, which I read because I’m interested in the notion of a radically honest language, the ability or inability of language to move beyond the individual whilst accommodating it, ends up pursuing, through multiple digressions, the case study of the unutterable. Indeed, there seems to be a relation between violence and writing, the ethics of reporting, recounting, and the memory of trauma. It sounds abstract now but I mean to say that an extreme situation such as the holocaust, or your subject, war, calls into question what language is capable of, what demands history and human actions put on language. For Primo Levi and Varlam Shalamov language, or poetry, symbolises a last refuge, a means of salvation which safeguards their humanity, and yet their accounts are so cruel and dehumanised.
The second thing I want to relate about my craving for shocking imagery is that it may be a form of self-inflicted pain—a means of activation. Maybe I mentioned this earlier but Sontag writes something to that effect in «Regarding the Pain of Others»: that the anaesthesising effect of images she postulated so persuasively in «On Photography» is in fact a reaction, or more precisely a substitute for the rage and powerlessness that overwhelms us when we expose ourselves to global newscasts. And to her this feeling is more appropriate, less suspicious, than sympathy. At the very least, we can no longer maintain our own innocence.
My day started well; disciplined, still a far way from being so depraved. I put on my hiking boots and ventured into the gusty cold to see the small islands in the Gulf of Finland, the docks, the converted warehouses on Katajanokka, the moored icebreakers and later on the rocky park wedged between the northern disctricts, Laakso Dal. In a short amount of time, I encountered many things and walked at least 15 kilometres. All the while, I pondered what I was going to say about the artist’s practice and the role of writing. I realise it’s highly applicable to my situation, and yet I feel reluctant about assuming any authority. In fact, my city drift [→‘dérive’] and the decision to put off preparing for the lecture until my arrival (and so, relying on nightwork and chance occurrences during the day) to my mind exemplify what I presently consider to be my practice, namely making oneself receptive, venturing into an unknown area without constantly referring to a map, and allowing the particularities to leave their impressions. It’s a mixture of being extremely controlled (reserving more than enough time, packing good shoes, bringing water, being mentally prepared to go far and making sure to be ‘on’) and at the same time permitting unpredictabilities, forgoing any comprehensive views, improvising. As a matter of fact, writing letters is very similar. I haven’t always been able to work like this.
Your response to my dream, which revealed my apprehensiveness towards my speech here at the University of Arts, was: ‘Analysis doesn’t mean ripping the work to pieces but enriching it with new interpretations.’ That is marvellous (and mild); it soothed me. When you want to offer something up for analysis, you have to be ready to free-associate. Just as you mail the draft version of a letter, rather than making a clean copy of it.
What’s very interesting and unnerving here in Finland is that my Dutchness is only amplified. I say this because I have difficulties illuminating my artistic practice, which I apparently have something instructive to say about, in such naïve terms (a bit of drifting, making a point of non-production, occasionally picking up an item and putting it in an envelope), when I realise that I owe this luxury to the Dutch subsidy system, which is similar to that of the Nordic countries. I believe increasingly strongly in the principle of the artist undoing themself of external pressures and liberating themself, fusing life and work—if anything, this is their task, their reponsibility—yet at the same time that makes for an excessively unworldy position. Here in Finland established artists can apply for ten-year grants, imagine that. In that respect it’s a comical coincidence that you used to chair my committee, which implies we were then partly responsible for deciding which artists deserved structural funding. In hindsight, this was a bit of a mindfuck.
Also at the Rijksakademie, it doesn’t feel right to be shouting from the rooftops about the artistic position I stand for, especially in light of our dependency on the Fund and therefore our neoliberal government. And yet, I’m aware that the alternative would be to depend on the market, which is quite possibly a far more suspect kind of dependency. People like Mel Bochner and Marcel Broodthaers, what were their means of survival? In other words people who questioned the entire problem of production and instead gave prominence to a practice, which is to say, the orchestration of one’s life. I don’t suppose they allowed themselves to be hindered by the types of guilt I’ve been outlining here: guilt over the need for surrogate suffering as a means to activate oneself, and guilt over wanting to do one’s work by way of the state. It is no coincidence that both senses of guilt are political in nature.
[Envelope exterior:] One other thing: paper carries a smell, where email doesn’t. A subtle scent in your case, a hint or trace as the English would have it; in my case the letter reeks, or so I imagine, of the copy machine’s lamp.
reading delivered at Taideyliopisto (University of the Arts) in Helsinki on Tuesday 24 Mar 2015 at 6 p.m.
upon invitation by the doctoral student association,
written and translated on the same date,
and mailed just prior to reading
thanks to Flis Holland, Mika Elo and Taina Riikonen for their helpful reflections+
INSTEAD OF MAKING ART I filled
out this form. carried my drum kit into the empty
project space (the door was open) and listened
to the ear-splitting reverberations of the drums
as I improvised. It occurred to me that,
only when I drown myself out completely—that is to say,
when the echoes totally engulf my playing, up to
the point of deafness—my playing becomes fluid and
my movements loose. Perhaps this is what I’m trying to
achieve here: to let the dry, bare interior activity
re-echo and multiply to the point where I no
longer restrain my transmissions.
typeover of «Substitution 25», 1970, by Frederick Bartelme,
photocopied from Ursula Meyer’s «Conceptual Art», 1972
mailed to M on 5 March 2015