3.24.2015

this is a tendency toward division


"Even after an hour of good work, the day might be lost: he would feel that a fruitful afternoon was opening up for him, and on the strength of that feeling would take a break, stretching his legs in the garden. He would look up at the sky, his attention would be caught by an unfamiliar bird, and he would take up his bird book and follow the bird over the wild acres outside his garden, plunging through the underbrush, scratching his face, and gathering burrs on his socks. Returning home, he would be too hot and tired to work, and with a sense of guilt would lie down to rest, reading something light."
-"Sketches for a Life of Wassily," Lydia Davis

---

I have a tendency toward division. For mental peace-keeping, I must divide the day into its polar parts: inside vs. outside, alone vs. in company, connected vs. disconnected, digital vs. analog, loafing vs. working, puttering vs. producing. The day is never about balance but rather about punctuation; time spent inside staring at a computer screen must be punctuated with walks outside, which I take regularly, when I remember to. The trouble is that I do not like walking senselessly and without direction, for it increases my sense of malaise and resignation, which is not a spirit or mindset that is conducive to creating or writing or communicating anything. Malaise and resignation make me want to nap, which I do not do on principle. A walk must have purpose, so that when I return home I feel purposeful and can continue the work I had paused with gumption and motivation. Thus I have devised a way of making every walk purposeful: if not walking with a friend, or walking to the library, then I walk to the grocery store and purchase a single item, like an onion or a stalk of broccoli. Only one item can be purchased at a time; other items are purchased on subsequent walks, or the next day. No walk is frivolous; each walk entails the retrieval of a necessary food item, which feels particularly precious and instrumental in being a solo purchase. This has been a successful solution for many reasons: I have many opportunities to take purposeful walks during the day; I feel thrifty; I get my grocery shopping done; I have become fairly adept at keeping an ongoing mental catalog of groceries; my outdoor breaks (alone, disconnected, analog, loafing, puttering) are satisfactory punctuation within stretches of indoor labor (inside, alone, connected, digital, working, producing).

One must devise small systems of order (inconsequential task lists, break options, minor chores) as reliable and comforting structures (or semblances thereof) as well as distractions from general disarray, unpredictability, and chaos.

3.22.2015

"POSSIBILITIES" by Wislawa Szymborska

I prefer movies.

I prefer cats.

I prefer the oaks along the Warta.

I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.

I prefer myself liking people

to myself loving mankind.

I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.

I prefer the color green.

I prefer not to maintain

that reason is to blame for everything.

I prefer exceptions.

I prefer to leave early.

I prefer talking to doctors about something else.

I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems

to the absurdity of not writing poems.

I prefer, where love's concerned, nonspecific anniversaries

that can be celebrated every day.

I prefer moralists

who promise me nothing.

I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.

I prefer the earth in civvies.

I prefer conquered to conquering countries.

I prefer having some reservations.

I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.

I prefer Grimms' fairy tales to the newspapers' front pages.

I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.

I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.

I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.

I prefer desk drawers.

I prefer many things that I haven't mentioned here

to many things I've also left unsaid.

I prefer zeroes on the loose

to those lined up behind a cipher.

I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.

I prefer to knock on wood.

I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.

I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility

that existence has its own reason for being.

3.18.2015

"It was a failure of my imagination that made me keep leaving people. All I could see in the world were beginnings and endings: moments to survive, record, and once recorded, safely forget.

I knew I was getting somewhere when I began losing interest in the beginnings and the ends of things.

Short tragic love stories that had once interested me no longer did.

What interested me was the kind of love to which the person dedicates herself for so long, so no longer remembers quite how it began."


-Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso

1.23.2015

this is a postlude: New Geometries

(originally posted on the New Geometries blog)

In 1991, a twenty-something Swiss man named Hans Ulrich Obrist hosted his first show in the kitchen of his student apartment. Over the course of three months, thirty people visited. In a New Yorker profile of the now mega-curator, D.T. Max writes, “the idea of the show was to suggest that the most ordinary spaces of human life, cleverly curated, could be made special.”

Later, Obrist went on to curate and install art shows in other unusual locations, including a country house where Nietzsche wrote part of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a hotel restaurant in the Swiss Mountains, a hotel room in Paris, where nine artists created clothes for the closet, and finally, in and around the Zurich sewers, featuring art about lavatories and digestion.

Though this particular segment of Obrist’s biography was unknown to me when I conceived New Geometries, the idea of his first show—to make ordinary spaces of human life special—was certainly one of mine as well. And many of Obrist’s convictions and passions resonate with me: his view of curatorial work as “junction-making between objects, between people, between people and objects;” his interest in unfinished and incomplete work; his fondness for interactivity, participation, and ephemeral aesthetics. Max writes: “The art [Obrist] is most passionate about doesn’t hang on walls and often doesn’t have a permanent emanation. It can take the form of a dance or a game or a science experiment, and often leaves nothing behind but memories and an exhibition catalogue.”


The three-hour stretch of the New Geometries show that I hosted and curated on Saturday night was a frenzy: in total, over 150 people passed through. At one point, there were over 70 people in my apartment, and we had a line going out the door. Friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers mingled in one room. The work of twenty artists, of all different mediums and forms, was on display, including: a multi-colored quilt, a yarn drawing on canvas, photographs of Devil’s Gulch in Montara, a three-dimensional painted sculpture in glowing neon green and yellow. A performance artist danced in a corner near the upstairs bathroom, scattering dirt, fire, and water on the hardwood floor. Food installations entranced and delighted show-goers: kimchi waffles, post-modern lunchables, sugar cookie rounds amidst hundreds of tea light candles, and do-it-yourself geodesic grape structures. A live terrarium in a half-dome provided an immersive escape into a wild environment of mosses, leaves, and bark.

At 9 PM that night, after all the candles were extinguished and the grape structures dissembled, after what was left of the food was swept into the garbage and guests had trickled out, after I had used up every last bit of energy in conversation—I wanted only silence and experienced only exhaustion. That night, despite gnawing hunger pangs, I was too tired to chew any food, and drank Nyquil to fall asleep. Real talk.




Now a week later, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience. Weeks of preparation, work, installation, and collaboration—What did I hope would come of it all?

First, I hoped for CONNECTION—connections between artists, connections that would lead to creative opportunities, connections between people who otherwise would not find themselves in the same room. This happened! Even in a small city like San Francisco, there are so many disparate worlds. and often the gaps between those worlds are far and wide. They remain unbridged without effort, and so they go on, in their separate ways, ignorant of each other. I want to change this. Above all, I believe physical proximity fosters meaningful relationships that can create positive, social change for a fragmented community. I am passionate about an economy that supports and sustains creative work while bridging socio-economic differences. I hope that connections with artists and their art would be a first step for people to make both emotional and financial investments in creative work.

Second, INSPIRATION. One of the most gratifying emails I received after the show said this: “I get down on SF more often than I care to admit, but last night reminded me of why this city has so much to offer—both artistically and spiritually.” The in-person experience of art is strikingly different from disembodied encounters with it online or on Instagram, but in the constant stream of productivity we’re tethered to (especially here in San Francisco), seeking out art can be difficult. By providing a novel artistic experience that was at once intimate and accessible, I hoped that people would see that art can be awakening, challenging, and worth thinking about. In his book No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton writes that in response to art, “one finds in himself totally new capacities for thought and vision and moral action . . . his very response makes him better and different. He is conscious of a new life and new powers, and it is not strange that he should proceed to develop them." This is significant!

Third, CONTINUATION. My hope is that New Geometries is only the beginning. In the introduction to Obrist’s book do it, a compendium of artistic instructions from over 100 artists, he writes: “Do It rejects the notion of the original in favor of an open-ended conception of the creation of the work . . . Unlike the theater, Do It has neither beginning nor end. No two versions of Do It instructions are ever identical when carried out. Via the list of instructions, the specific profane daily environment flows into the exhibition space rendering porous the limits dividing interior and exterior space . . . Each exhibition is yet another truth.”

The intention of Do It is, in part to inspire a never-ending chain reaction in which artists continue to create work based on the artistic instructions given to them. I too hope that New Geometries would spark a chain reaction—that in seeing the possibilities of creative, communal gatherings, in knowing that, even on a small scale, art in its many forms can be dynamic, fluid, responsive, non-institutional, and transcendent, others would feel compelled to host art shows in their own homes or embark on spontaneous, artistic endeavors.

My point is this: anyone can put on a show like New Geometries. You just have to DO IT.

1.15.2015

"If what distinguishes us from other members of the animal kingdom is speech, then literature—and poetry in particular, being the highest form of locution— is, to put it bluntly, the goal of our species."
-Joseph Brodsky

"Why would anyone write a poem in this wrecked world? And really, how could they? Massive doubt, failed love, shitty thoughts, empty spirit, a dead history compelling a transfixed vision, these are devastations that might overwhelm and silence anyone; and silence, for a poet, is a prison. It's where the descent hits bottom, it's where the poet either faces or does not face all the risks of failed comprehension."

"Answers are as transient and foolish as we are, and poets generally aren't in the solution business. In fact, if you're a poet and you're going to pose questions, they'd better approach the unanswerable. Why? Is it that only questions without answers are worth asking? Is it that the muse needs courting and doesn't usually go with know-it-alls and wise guys? Is it that questions salt and preserve life, keeping the mystery fresh?"

"If rock bottom, if total bust for a poet is silence, then the questions must be unanswerable, without remedy, to provoke the central event, which is language. Answers are the end of speech, not the beginning, and if language is the main draw in poetry, silence is the occasion for it, the ground of renewal. Questions precede speech; they're language tensely coiled, expectant."

"How can one write poetry after Auschwitz?"
-critic Theodor Adorno

"And how can one eat lunch?"
-poet Mark Strand


All of the above is excerpted from Charles D'Ambrosio's fantastic explication of Richard Hugo's poem, "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg," which was published in his collection of essays, Loitering. Highly recommended.