In summer 2018 New Scenario produced a video re-enactment of Bruce Nauman’s performance 'Playing A Note on the Violin While I Walk Around the Studio, 1968' in New York City. It was presented without additional information to eight international writers who were invited to use the video as a source of inspiration. None of them knew that they all received the same video.
'Cameron Nichole is Chloë Sevigny is Bruce Nauman' is New Scenario's latest group show of written contributions by
Concept and Curation Paul Barsch & Tilman Hornig
Video Paul Barsch & Tilman Hornig
Actress/Violinist Cameron Nichole Estep
Set Assistant Svenja Wichmann
Thank You Rahel Aima, Gaby Cepeda, Steph Kretowicz, Courtney Malick, Natalya Serkova, Natasha Stagg, Lucrezia Calabrò Visconti, Simon Würsten Marín, Cameron Nichole Estep, Dr. Manuel Frey, Peter Hausdorf, Elke Schubert, Klaus Winterfeld, Jens Müller, Kay BTSA, Meserole 91R, Svenja Wichmann, Ian Swanson, Solomon Chase, Eero Yli-Vakkuri, Chloë Sevigny, Hilary Galbreaith, Guan Xiao, Kellogg's Diner's Carmen, ISCP New York, Konstanze Schütze, Nelly Pistorius
This project was kindly supported by / Diese Projekt wurde gefördert durch
Amt für Kultur und Denkmalschutz, Landeshauptstadt Dresden und Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen
video © New Scenario, 2018 / all texts © the autors, 2018
A new magazine being launched was created entirely by women and every article in it was about a woman or things that women would appreciate. All the subjects were the B-listers publicists loved to promote, the ones who liked to be interviewed, who had the time. None of the editors were people I’d worked with, so I didn’t know who they were. When I thought about it, most magazines were already run by women and about women anyway.
I took a car to this launch party from my office because I was running late. I was relieved to be alone for ten minutes, smelling of my free Forbidden Euphoria sample. The party was for women only, no plus ones.
A smiling publicist with an iPad checked me in at the door and ushered me up an elevator. Another woman joined me there and smiled. “Are you a member?” she asked.
I’d forgotten I was entering a club. “I’m not, are you?”
“No, but I wish I was. Isn’t it great here?”
We were supposed to be celebrating the exclusion of male voices, in the classic setting of conspiracy. When we entered the room designated for the dinner, conflicting messages papered a reception pedestal: a copy of the first issue of the magazine was available, as was a brochure about joining the club, and a press packet about a new fragrance called Beau. The fragrance was the sponsor of the party, and so the room had been renovated to reflect its branding. Glass bottles—an abstracted form recognizable as a male and a female torso embracing, in miniature—stood on the tables as centerpieces.
A group of women I knew peripherally from art and literary events were dressed in matching designer outfits that the sponsor had paid them to wear. I said hello and nervously followed them to another room set up for hair and makeup, only to realize that it was reserved for the outfitted influencers only. I could wait in line for a “light touch up” if I wanted, outside. The girls spread out on a shearling rug and took pictures of one another, laughing about the commodification of feminism they were participating in.
“Women are so trendy right now,” one said, describing a pink-covered collection of essays written by women, to which she'd contributed. They had to have seen me standing just outside the room, but when I walked away, no one said anything.
At the club entrance again, a DJ I had met once years ago talked to me, to my surprise. She asked why any of us were there, and what this was about. I had no idea, I said. “No offense, but why does the this super-gendered magazine have a gender non-conforming person on the cover?”
We were called to find our name cards at a seated dinner. An all-female staff wearing tuxedos gathered around each table and readied the offerings in oversized utensils. At the nod of a head, the synchronized staff gently dropped the components of our meals on wide white plates.
I listened while a writer, an editor, and a filmmaker discussed what kinds of dogs do well in the city and the best preschools on the Upper East Side. I heard that one preschool was for “absolute delinquents.” I heard that some socialite couple I’d never heard of had started an open relationship just after getting married.
I finished my meal quickly and left alone, relieved to enter the cold air outside. Like deep breaths, inserted my headphones and lit a cigarette. The Manhattan lights at night looked far away as I walked, like this wasn’t my city.
I listened to the podcasts of several acquaintances regularly, although I hated my reactions to them. By their nature, one can’t agree with everything said there, and so I felt like I was in a conversation I couldn’t participate in. And then all of my friends asked me if I listened to one or the other, and their reactions seemed so uncomplicated: it’s so bad, or it’s so good. Everyone was trying to be controversial again, and I didn’t want to discourage that, by any means.
Besides, I couldn’t throw any stones: my friend’s book was finally being released, the one I’d written an afterward for, the one with Rape Jokes in the title. And my mentor, the one who’d published my novel, had just written a thing defending some people in the art and academic worlds that I wasn’t too sure about. I understood why some people just couldn’t talk about certain things now.
I had written some auto-fiction in the style of my mentor, who popularized that form, but probably never used the word before everyone else did. A magazine only published it after cutting something that was too pointed, apparently. This is what it said:
“I used to think that my ex’s position at such an esteemed and intellectual magazine said something about him, something I was supposed to like. Now it was clear, though, that the part of him that participated in the magazine—its pretentious parties hosted at a perverted old man’s mansion with the same white swing band and the same buffet meal and the same rumors about a coke-fueled S&M party starting at 3am, its fancy dinners that always chose one token ethnic person to award among the old standbys and hot writers, its ridiculous editor who never asked me about my writing but instead told me how great my boyfriend was, and who apparently had angered plenty of young female writers by coming on to them or worse—was the part I hated most about him.”
Said editor left the magazine shortly after I wrote that part, before the piece was published (without it). Legally, I was told, I couldn’t include it, but that meant politically, since all the other things in there were just as bad. If I had a podcast, it would be a disaster. Even the art I like becomes the art I hate, or vice versa. I felt really in love with my boyfriend when, weeks after a long drunk speech about the Ramones actually truly sucking, he put on a Ramones song while getting dressed in his room and said, “What was I thinking? The Ramones are so good, I love them so much.”
I looked at a series of verified Instagram posts about a corporation’s efforts to educate and become educated about digital sustainability. Videos asked tech-preneurs, students, and professors what digital sustainability was, and, like a parody show, they all came up with a paper-thin answer at odds with the one before it. We must keep abreast of new solutions, find the best way to adapt to shifts occurring everywhere, make sure to eliminate the excessive and recycle the emergent. Mine young minds. The secret sauce. Innovation where you least expect it. All of the comments were enthusiastic and kind, congratulating a brand for trying to think differently for once.
I listened as podcasters described the political state as a tone being played continuously, its pitch getting higher, with no signs up a drop. They described worshipping chaos in these troubled times. They described a world in which everyone is a corporation, the inverse or neoliberal version of “corporations are people.”
I watched a lecture about how the earth’s surface has been crusted by a layer of design, that boundaries of every type are mutable, since they are manmade. I watched another about scarcity becoming less desirable in the area of luxury, and what that could mean for consumerism.
Everything I watch and listen to is coming from a person using a platform to sell a product. They sell art, tote bags, and T-shirts that come in vinyl bags. But more than that they’re all selling themselves, and I am too, and I hate myself for it, but even more I hate that I believe I’ll disappoint people if I quit.
Dinner conversations revolve around the millennial and Gen-Z terms “anxiety,” “borderline personality disorder,” and “triggered,” and we have to agree, despite our derision of the overuse, people of a certain age are suffering from certain experiences unknown to us that deserve new terminology. I would always rather be in a conversation than listening to a podcast, but I must listen to every episode of the podcasts made by my friends. There is a manageable amount now, and I’ve only read the manuscripts of three friends who wrote books about themselves so far, and I liked the feeling of guessing who the characters with changed names were, although mostly I just thought it would be better if the names were real.
I read another book by someone who doesn’t like me about her life and she described me in it. I’m fascinated by this description and also by her, and also the way she promotes herself and her book. In interviews I of course read, searching for another mention of myself or of someone I know, she decides she was very brave for writing about real events, blinded by urgency to the ways it might offend real people. I wondered who it offended, since everything is so abstracted. Bitterly, I thought that she was not brave at all. I’m not naming any names either, to be clear.
My boyfriend and I saw a movie, one of the stars of which I’d interviewed for a magazine once. I hardly remembered speaking with her, though. “She’s Elvis’s granddaughter. She was promoting a TV show in which she plays an escort,” I said.
In similar discussions, I’d said, “I interviewed her/him” about John Cale, Glenn Danzig, Jena Malone, Laura Dern, Annabella Lwin, AF Vandevorst, Petite Meller, Hari Nef, Christina Ricci, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sarah Silverman, Nick Jonas, Anton Yelchin, Walter Van Beirendonck, Junglepussy, BJ the Chicago Kid, Olivia Cooke, Krewella, Alice Bag, Karl Glusman, Donita Sparks, Kali Uchis, Bebe Rexha, Tove Lo, Cam’ron, Melissa Auf der Maur, Lynne Tillman, Dita Von Teese, Urs Fischer, Barbie, Terry Castle, Linda Ramone, Marilyn Manson, and so many blonde models (Paige Reifler, Stella Maxwell, Hailey Baldwin, etc).
I’d moderated interviews with Gigi and Bella Hadid, China Machado, Selena Gomez, James Franco, Sean Avery, Courtney Love, and Lana Del Rey. And I’d facilitated photo shoots in person with Kembra Pfahler, Dan Graham, Lydia Lunch, Martin Rev, Thurston Moore, Molly Ringwald, Tama Janowitz, Richard Hell, Pat Place, and James Chance.
Those were just the ones that came up naturally in conversation, though. There were so many others that no one has heard of yet or since. Mostly there wasn’t a good story to go with these anecdotes. The subjects were either very used to getting interviewed, or they were not especially interesting to talk to, their interesting qualities being their collaborative projects, or they were not especially interested in talking to me. Anyway, I didn’t become friends with any of them.
I interviewed Chloë Sevigny at Veselka in the East Village. She was friendly and unpretentious, and when she learned we had friends in common, she invited me to a party and chose to ride the train with me when we left, even opening her mail in front of me. When the interview came out, it was reduced to a Q&A: basically a transcript of our conversation, edited for length, basically all gossip, which I love about her. One line was picked up by tabloids. She’d said she found the media presence of a young actress annoyingly vulgar. I thought it was great.
I was standing in front of a bar in the Lower East Side one night when she walked up to me, flanked by Kim Gordon and Lizzi Bougatsos. I smiled, thinking we were friends now. She hissed, “You threw me under the bus,” then turned to enter the bar next door before I could stutter my response. The women on either side of her laughed at my pained expression and followed her. I told our mutual friend about it, who happened to be in the bar I then entered. “You’ll learn from this,” she said.
The experience had a surprisingly deep effect on me, it’s true. I didn’t want to apologize, but I didn’t want to defend my industry, either. What I didn’t understand was that if Chloë didn’t like the coverage of her slight, why she said it. When I see her around New York, I avoid her path, even though I’m sure she’s over it, this total non-event in the grand scheme of her life, a life I consider a truly compelling and genuine expression of cinematic form. No one has a career like hers. I still think she is very cool.
“Do you ever want to do that sort of thing again?” My boyfriend asked me, impressed. I said I had no interest at all, although I still loved celebrities and finding out about their lives. It was because I loved them that I didn’t want to keep meeting them, I said. A famous white rapper once got my number and tried to meet up with me late at night, I said, and it meant nothing to me because I knew he just wanted to be interviewed.
To be invited to something as someone other than press, I said, was the best feeling, after being invited to so many things as that, although I did sort of miss the invitations. I’d turned so many down, they stopped coming as frequently. What I had to remember was that the reason I didn’t like doing these things was that I was too sensitive for them: when you meet up with a celebrity it feels like a date, except you know that what for you is an opportunity, for them is an obligation.
We got in a huge fight in the Lower East Side and he stopped answering my calls. While it was happening, I had the thought, It feels like this has happened before. I yelled that he lied, and two pretty women walking past asked me if I was okay. Not if we were okay, just me, “Girly, are you sure?” Looking out for domestic abuse. I said I was fine, but thank you. I wanted to thank them again. This was more than he could handle and he ran off, which started multiple chases back and forth and phone calls and hang-ups and tired texts and finally I was back at the bar having a drink alone and a older man tried to buy me another drink. I said I was leaving and he ordered me to put his number in my phone, which I did, and then he ordered me to text him, which I didn’t.
Outside the bar, a guy screamed my name like we were best friends and he had forgotten to tell me he was in town. He also ordered me to put his number in my phone, which I did, and I texted him, but had no idea what his name was, since I’d only met him once before, probably ten years ago, while sharing cocaine in an apartment, I don’t remember why.
I remembered being alone on my roof in the summer, single, and enjoying it. Had I enjoyed it, or had I taken photos of myself to feel distracted? I could be alone again, I thought, as long as I didn’t know that’s what I was.
Friedrich Nietzsche suffered all his life of poor health. Prone to frequent indigestions, insomnia and severe migraines, his clinical history famously ended with a mental breakdown followed by incapacitating dementia. Usually out-shadowed by the rest of his critical health condition, not everybody knows that in 1882 Nietzsche also almost completely lost his eyesight, an event that forced him to stop writing by hand and start using a typewriter – more precisely, a Danish Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. In that period of his life, starting approximately with Thus Spoke Zarathustra and ending with the so-called “Madness Letters”, the philosopher’s writing style changed dramatically, shifting from a rhetoric prose with an elaborate syntax to a highly evocative telegraphic style. One could say that the evolution of Nietzsche’s fatalist, desecrating and visionary discourse perfectly matched with his incapacity of using the new writing device. This has contributed to the vast array of obscure as much as easily quotable aphorisms sourced from the philosopher’s production from 1882 onwards, which have added to the popularity and mystical allure Nietzsche still holds today.
In the late 19th century an unidentified girl was found drowned in the river Seine. As was customary at the time, the body was put on display at the Paris mortuary in the hope that someone would identify her. No one ever did, but the pathologist on duty became so entranced by the features of the girl that he asked a moulder to make a death mask of her face. It didn’t take long before plaster copies of the mesmerising face began to appear for sale outside the moulders' workshops on the banks of the Seine under the name Inconnue de la Seine. In a few decades, replicas of the unknown girl’s face could be seen hanging in the studios of artists and poets all around Europe and the United States, where it was known as La Belle Italienne. Amongst the others, the young woman famously became a muse for Rainer Maria Rilke, Albert Camus, Vladimir Nabokov and Man Ray. In 1958, when the Swedish toy manufacturer Asmund Laerdal was asked to produce a training aid for the newly-invented technique of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), he deliberately decided to design the life-sized dummy of a beautiful woman, persuaded that this would make mouth-to-mouth breathing more appealing to students. Still used today in first aid practice, the dummy was named Resusci Anne, and modelled by Laerdal after the face of the Inconnue de la Seine, which gave her the title of "the most kissed face in the world".
In the short story Fantasmagonia, the writer Michele Mari lists the required elements to make a ghost. First of all, three things are prescribed: a life, an evil, and a place. The place and the evil have to influence and affect the life, till it becomes unimaginable without them. The place needs precise limits: more than a place, it needs to be a closed portion of a place. The evil must be intolerable, whether it brings to suicide or not, and such intolerability has to be destined not to dwindle throughout time, but rather to increase: before and after death. According to Mari, a common mistake that people do when thinking about ghosts consists in believing that either there are haunted places or there are wandering ghosts, tortured souls moping around. Instead, the place and the person cannot be distinguished, not even linguistically: they completely overlap and coincide. On one hand, the ghost is fully absorbed within the perimeter of the place, and cannot exist as an individual anymore; on the other hand, the ghost can exist as a place, but as a place that is so infected by its past and present individuality that it will exist, in turn, also as an individual.
After the screening we ended up preparing some dinner at Cameron’s. While I was neatly lining up the ingredients required for the soffritto on the kitchen counter, I started ruminating on the video we had just seen. I wouldn’t have the courage to say it out loud, but I thought the claim to use one’s own body to measure his surroundings was quite vain, even arrogant. Also, I was convinced that such a solipsistic, circumscribed exercise could hardly benefit anyone when shared. Why share it, then? I thought to myself. A classic example of manspreading and a clear case of mansplaining were catastrophically meeting in that film! I giggled at this outrageous conclusion, and decided to indulge in such exaggerated statement, thinking about the beauty intrinsic to conventional systems of classification. About the democratic utopia of turning arbitrary data into universal sets of mathematical rules. About the egalitarian ambition of designing a measuring device that can be adapted to all that exists. About the glorious moment in which Tito Livio Burattini used for the first time the term "metro" in 1600-something. Ah! Blessed conventions! I confidently laid my eyes on the carrot that I was holding in my left hand, trying to measure it only through my mathematical memory. What was it, 12, 13 cm long? I shut my eyes and closed more firmly my hand around the vegetable, trying to weigh it. Could it be 100 grams? Probably more. How could I not be able to tell right away? Unsatisfied by my approximation, I understood that my exercise required an objective reference, something through which I could deduce more precise measurements. I started searching for the right guideline in my memory. Orthogonal planes and goniometers were immediately discarded as too distant from my daily life to be remembered and applied. Weight scales? Same problem, I could not recall the last time I had used one. My memory had to search for a closer parameter, something engraved in my daily routine. I tried to call up all the objects I had touched in the last few days, months, years, searching for one precise reference to be used. After filing a few, I found myself including in the list all the dicks I had held in that same hand. That’s perfect! – I thought, blushing a little bit. There was nothing I could remember more precisely than those. Without hesitations I started censing all the penises I had encountered in my life, one after the other, looking for a proportion that could help me measure the carrot and support my thesis. Were they longer or shorter than the carrot? Lighter or heavier? Thicker or thinner? While I was absorbed in such comparative analysis, whose scientific inspiration was increasingly leaving room to rather erotic ambitions, I felt catapulted for a moment into the attic of the famous Deep Throat remake Throat, where Sasha Grey diligently welcomes a long line of men who came to enjoy her famous deep-throat. The mix of seriality and eroticism of the scene felt completely consistent with my investigation, and inebriated by this filmic analogy I kept browsing my archive of cocks. I had been looking so greedily for the perfect match that, when the list of boyfriends and Tinder partners was over with no positive matches, I decided to expand my sampling and include in the experiment all the dicks that I had seen, but never had the opportunity to touch. I tried to collect all of them, from the ones recently compiled in the pornographic history of my browser to the classmate’s penis glimpsed by mistake in the gym locker room. Still unsatisfied by the results, I arrived to the point of including in my lustful research all those bodies I had not even actually seen, but only desired – abdicating the perfect demonstrability of my meticulous exercise, in favour of the much nobler purpose of finding the perfect phallus, the one phallus that precisely, irrefutably and definitively would match the size, weight and hardness of the carrot I was still holding in my left hand. Yet, my mission weaved again, as in comparison with that granitic vegetable all the penises I could imagine seemed so warm, soft, delicate... Just too weak to even stand comparison. That was utterly disappointing. How could a dick, any dick, feel so harmless and inadequate in comparison to a simple carrot? I was looking for the familiar mixture of embarrassment and arousal that comes from thinking of a dirty joke in the middle of a mundane situation, and what I had found instead was the tragicomic revelation of the frailty of masculinity in front of a vegetable. How unsatisfactory! I hesitated. Faced with the impotence of manliness against a harmless root, I did not know whether to feel emancipated as a woman, or rather defeated as a human. Therefore, I decided instead to feel excited as a set of holes, transferring my arousal in the hospitable lands of abstraction, not ready to give up my erotic fantasy. In this new scenario, the carrot could become an indefinite, indecent form, the pure concept of Pleasure – perfectly adhering to the perimeters of my orifices, thanks to their shared indeterminacy. But once again I was not satisfied: how could I relate to something so generic? I needed more details. Dear Pleasure, could you kindly list more precisely which holes of my body you would like to fill? And, by “fill”, do you mean it literally, “to fill” like a liquid fills a container, or more metaphorically, “to drill”, like a drill inserts the vine into the wood? While I was searching for a more specific sexual allegory to fantasise about, the water I had put on the stove a few minutes earlier started boiling and took me back to reality. I realised I was still in front of Cameron’s kitchen counter, some friends cooking and chatting behind me. I decided to cut it short and renounce my onanistic game, concluding that nothing inaccurate can ever feel erotic. I grabbed the knife and started mincing the carrot, without understanding whether, together with it, I was also chopping my libido, or rather castrating the whole catalogue of penises I had compiled, or perhaps cutting once and for all with the conceit and narcissism coming with the very concept of masculinity. I realised in that moment that the time for metaphors was over, and that the reason why I was so annoyed by the video we watched was that I could totally relate to its inadequacy.
New York is a tempting place. In the summer, especially, it is a catnip of sorts for all manner of strolling, frolicking, and lollygagging. The streets are full of millions of faces, and most, perhaps, are as eager to frequent as many indoor public spaces as possible throughout the course of their busy day, for even the mere brief respite provided by that reassuring hum from the industrial strength air conditioning provided by hubs like the CVSes and Starbuckses of the city. Summer is not for dwelling within, it is, in New York in particular, for going out into the world, and staying out all hours. Otherwise overlooked areas become commonplace hangouts, like stoops, corner stores and rooftops. However, over the years, as the city continues to get more packed with people and the faces of strangers roaming the crowded streets, and as it gets hotter as global temperatures rise and modes of transport multiply, it is important, whether a resident, a frequent couch surfer or just a one-time tourist, to keep in mind that as miniscule as you may feel amongst the thousands of busybodies walking up, down and across town, entering and exiting stores, banks, cafés, all the while texting and tweeting and talking to Siri and face-timing and taking pics and selfies, you are, nonetheless, easily pinpointable. You are a set of coordinates – the unique contours of your very own face – their virtual cipher.
It may seem like unwillful surveillance, but more and more we are opting to look squarely into cameras and screens in order to unlock the virtual realms within which so much of our lives now take place. And thought it seems so commonplace, and the exchange is completed so instantaneously, all the while, whether out on the street, up on a roof enjoying the view, or hiding out in the cool darkness of the movie theater on a sweltering night – we are essentially “in frame.” Being within the proverbial frame, so to speak, can be as threatening as it can be emboldening. Admittedly, this panopticonian way of life is not new, nor does its invisible limitations come as a surprise. However, as technology advances not only its actual capabilities, but its permeabilities, which seep as much into cultural norms and daily life as they do into the very threshold of our physical being, we become less aware of the consequences of our exteriors, and in that sense, perhaps they slowly lose their agency, or at least the kind of agency that we once found reassuring. And in that slight lapse of awareness between posting a perfectly filtered image and crossing the street to meet a friend, we send out a myriad of constant signals that are available for tracking at the ready.
Too much awareness of the bulls-eye-like aura we radiate through our central position within our own frame is always attempted to be kept at bay by both internal and external forces. Even the potential tightening of its collectively understood contours could have dire consequences. The subject of a work of art, figurative or otherwise, is liberated by such localized stature, but the similar spotlight within which we now exist and perform, whether via social media nexuses or by using our faces to access our bank accounts, is not comfortably couched in the artistic realm of the contemplative. Instead its hold on us can have drastic effects on our lives, and therein, what we conceive of as our inherent freedoms. The connection between these two types of frames has been parsed by many artists, but, looking back at the onset of video art, now a full generation past, there are few works whose ultimate meaning still speaks as simply and didactically about the issues that we face today as moving bodies within a surveilled frame, as those of Bruce Nauman.
Such work’s ongoing relevance is evident in its self-reflexivity, despite the major advancements in user-guided technologies over the interim. However, despite the proliferated parallels between our relationship to public space via technology then (the 1970s), and now (nearly two decades in to the 21st century), video art’s draw on younger contemporary audiences still seems to be a bit of an inexplicably slow burn. Though abstract art still looms surprisingly large, our cultural and behavioral tendencies have, arguable, never been more visually saturated. Like the frame we most often refer to these days – the one that fits so smoothly into the palms of our hands, and that we reach for and slide our fingers across for nearly every imaginable reason throughout every hour of every day – Nauman’s early video works, most of which consisted of the artist walking back and forth in small, composed spaces, are as much about the communal, and communication, as it is about the sensorial, by way of confinement.
Though he is known for being among those few contemporary artists whose work spans seemingly endless visual manifestations and forms of experimentation, and is thusly revered for resisting that controversial tendency toward over signature-stylization, Nauman’s early videos feature several unmistakable elements. Namely through his use of such basics as the staking out of a delineated space, the repeating of a movement or set of actions, and the incorporation of a directional sound source, these works, both in abstract, and even obtuse ways, evoke the systemics and the visceral feeling of mapping bodies and various modes for the extrinsic management of their lived experiences. In terms of space, Nauman extends his actions out at least to the generalized dimensions of “the” or “my” studio, but soon began constraining himself to a corridor or platform of sorts, either pre-existing or specifically constructed for performative use. Here again, its not difficult to see the congruence between the ways that we are so often existing today within virtual (online) frames, with their specific defaults, filters and regulations, and the ways in which Nauman infers his singular presence within another multitude of frames. Foremost is of course the physical frame of his studio or corridors, which dictates the breadth of his bodily movement, but more importantly, the implications and meanings behind them. The technological frame of that the camera itself imposes is just as central, as, without it, such meaning would never have been conveyed outwardly. But the larger, more conceptual frame of the art context within which Nauman chose to operate is most striking today, as it correlates with our attention-seeking social media behavior today as a telling jumping off point. With his movements, like much of the activity we present and absorb online, Nauman does practically nothing. Nothing of note. Yet, it is that incessancy that rings true, and makes him – and us -- seem less alone.
What ever happened to Vanessa Mae? — She’s a retired Olympic skier now.
Everything changes. Artist studios are now rooftops, male artists are woman model violinists. 2018 is now 2019. It’s for the better. You got to trust.
The good thing about repetition is that it makes space for your thoughts, so you can fill that void with various podcasts or Thank U, Next. That void is similar to the affect of watching a superhero movie starring seventeen main characters, or even better, Riverdale, where the rules of traditional narrative are constantly trampled on which unexpectedly allows you to look at your phone 75% of the time and still be an Archie stan (“Curse those broad shoulders”).
I was totally gonna try and write an astrologically-infused, slice of life fiction about this violinist blond girl, but I really have no insight on how a white girl exists in New York or how anyone exists in New York at all. I have never been there, and it's fine. Mexico City was the new Berlin like five years ago, which was the new New York like nine years ago. I think New York is the new New York again?
"Is there, then, no now because the past has consumed the present, reduced it to a series of compulsive repetitions, and what seemed to be new, what seemed to be now, is only the playing out of some out-of-time pattern?" This is from Mark Fisher's The Weird and the Eerie (2016). It applies to our constant need to reboot every old movie and tv show —which I just read somewhere on Twitter or on some anarcho-communist subreddit, is a consequence of our valuing capital over creative innovation—; but also to how state-sponsored museums are now almost exclusively in the business of re-creating art pieces from the 60s and displaying papers as the sacred archives. It also works in regard to a fan theory about the next Avengers movie that believes they are all stuck in some type of cursed time loop, and that they'll break free by traveling to the past and in the end they will triumph.
My cat just walked on my keyboard, added this: C C C C C C C C C C C C V V V V V V V V V V V V N n n n n n n n n n n n n ________________________________________________________________________________________________________. And then he left.
"Repetition is an indestructible garment that fits closely and tenderly, neither binds nor sags." That one is from Søren Kierkegaard's Repetition (1843). The hopeless curse of every New Year is the cyclical 12-month structure that we impose on ourselves, a competition against the undefeated clock. By arbitrarily conceiving of time as a forward-going, never-ending cycle of life and death, it feels like the indestructible garment fits more and more snugly as time goes by, an asphyxiating loop. That this is also sprinkled with the gospel of productivity and success doesn’t help, we become slower and therefore move closer to obsolescence each year. The kids are now growing chroma-key-green zits, and here I am with my three-years-ago Korean beauty donkey milk mask. I’m honestly okay with getting old because it seems like less pressure. We are both kind and cruel to our elders by low-key ignoring them. I love my mom.
My cat just circled back and is now nestled between my two arms as I type this.
Horsehair or human hair? Once it is bleached and rubbed with rosin, no one knows the difference. And it brings her a curious kind of pleasure, to be playing with her ponytail in that way. She picks up the bow.
The casting call was intriguing. Modeling for stock photos, she had done plenty of that. Videos, no problem. Of course, since she got the skinBrite Everlast resurfacing and dye job, getting gigs was a cinch. It was hard to say it without sounding like the ad. The first time she asked her parents about Michael Jackson, they quite seriously explained that his changing colour was the result of an accident with shoe polish. Only years later did the story get amended to a skin condition. Scanning for keywords, she smiled as the jingle from Nirma brand washing powder stole into her head. Doodh ki safedi. They didn’t say it outright, but she knew what they wanted.
This gig would be different. She would be covered in neon green dots and modeling for machines. For algorithms, chalk numbers on a blackboard that became training data to help physical therapists, student animators, scientists, engineers and product designers, the casting director explained. As if. Everyone knew that these neural cesspools bred only facial recognition systems, surveillance networks, military apparatuses, remote killers. Machinic third eyes ॐg. Violins for violence. Whatever; she didn’t care.
Show up, stand against this fence on some downtown rooftop, and pretend to play a violin until we tell you to stop. It sounded easy, and way less skeevy than parts modeling. Okay yes, the bow was strung with her own hair. Weird, but it still felt less skeevy than parts modeling. The bike messenger had showed up for the hair yesterday. She cut the requisite chunk from underneath and put it in a Ziploc. She fantasised about how much she would earn from the rest—Indian hair is the best, they say. She rather fancied becoming someone’s sheitel.
Bowing and scraping: sometimes one string, sometimes all four. She thinks of bows, and their various degrees of deference. Does angle matter?
They should really have gotten an actual musician in, someone who knew what they were doing, someone who might actually be useful to an algorithm trying to learn about the mechanics of violin playing. But she knows why they picked her. Blonde hair, that straight out the salon itch. Green eyes and white skin, big Muslim mood. They aren’t going to use her footage anywhere but the website catalogue. No machine is going to learn anything from this little performance; everyone agrees. Unbidden, a line from that movie her roommate dragged her to see floats into her head. Douce France, je suis blanchi par ta culture. Ghanaian? Liberian? Mauritius? One of those West African countries colonised by the French, at any rate. And some of us paid dearly for the privilege of white privilege, a little voice adds.
1, 2, 3, 4. The numbers flash on a small monitor placed on a high stool in front of her. Segmented numbers, like an old LCD calculator display you could flip around on your desk to send little messages. She imagines it’s how they flirt in American high schools: calculator sexts and red Solo cups. 0.7734. 008 14! She plays each number as they flash, usually in order. 1 is the lowest string, and that is all she has to remember.
The night before, she received an email confirming the call time, with a directive to wear a pink top. She chose an off-the-shoulder Stradivarius number, giggling at her own wit before she remembered that Americans have only heard of Zara. Still, every Stradivarius top was unique if only because of the individual ways they fell apart in the wash. If you looked at them the wrong way, really. More importantly, it made her feel elegant. Pulled together somehow; chic and elongated, like a ballerina.
12 … 1 … A funny clashy dissonance that resolves itself each time she cycles back to the first string. Kind of like that man at the crosswalk this morning. He was wearing a full-sleeved ankle length patent alligator leather coat over pristine tennis whites. Pleated skirt, plimsolls, and polo with an oversize, truly rather rotund roundboy of a crocodile—nice touch— emblazoned on it. A sartorial ouroboros, was she using that word right? It was the gloaming still. She could have sworn she saw that crocodile close one eye in a slow, satisfied wink. A trick of the darkness, she decided, remembering that today was the first Manhattanhenge of the year, when the angle of sunrise or sunset aligns with the city’s grid. Usually, she slept through them.
The green dots are beginning to melt. She hopes they don’t leave janky fecal-looking stains. They are m&ms painted acid green affixed with some kind of prosthetic glue, awfully fiddly to apply; hopefully they don’t have to stop for a touchup. She remembers having measles, or was it chicken pox? Of being wrapped in neem leaves, a second skin of serrated feathers. In reality, it was probably a paste or some leaves in the bath, maybe some powder like the ayurvedic concoction she now religiously massages into her face and neck every night.
Remember, your face ends at your collarbone her grandmother always said, and it’s true. Maybe one day they’d know she wasn’t born white by her lack of a wrinkly neck, but maybe not: they’ve surely learnt about the sun by now. She’s certainly feeling it on her face. Her cheeks feel ticklish, like they want to sneeze. It’s a good thing there isn’t a Turing test for race she thinks, struggling to keep her expression blank. Facial kegels. Bagels. Hegels. God, I’m hungry.
1234 … 1234 … 1234. It seems to want chords now. One more and she’ll be on her way to fronting a pop-punk band. Ska, maybe. And her bathroom has those nice checkered tiles: she could lie in the bathtub and shoot her cover there. “Skanking for hoes” will be her first album. Pastels-meets-medicore aesthetics—
—“We chose you because your face was so symmetrical, you know,” the newly-arrived director says from behind her, his soft aside breaking her train of thoughts. “A little pale perhaps, but we can edit it in post” Her face is furiously itchy now. She can feel the dots on her face liquefying, burning furrows into her skin, exposing the raw bone. That’s what it feels like, at least, but when she steals a glance at the violin, the dots are still intact. “Keep playing,” they continue, so softly it is nearly inaudible. It sounds as if there are two voices speaking, one a gravelly, octave lower than the other.
The sun begins to rise, framed between buildings, an S.H. Raza black sun turned carmine with the fury of a thousand beetles. Free range luxury yolk, softboiled and oozing. Her face begins to spill. Whiteness of milk indeed, but opaque and bitter like safed kaner sap. Acid green swirled in like wildfire. A sudden craving for the comforting latticed toffee of a Cadbury’s Curly Wurly. Drumbeats, or maybe that’s just her heart.
713705 6734 As the director moves around to stand in front of the screen, coat now drawn close, she realises that the messages, these plaintive algorithmic communiques, aren’t meant for her. She keeps playing.
713705 She keeps playing, sawing harder at the strings now. The bottom string snaps, and she can feel a clump of her hair fall down her back. Sashaying its way down, she thinks dispassionately as the screen begins to flash.
7 3705 She is the little peasant girl at the cruel mercy of her possessed red dancing shoes. She is Odile, pushing herself to do a thirty-third fouette. She is Sergei Yurevich Filin and a faceful of sulphuric acid, so gallantly called the oil of vitriol. A pink and white and green and brown ballerina in one last danse macabre. The sun reaches its midpoint.
0 7 3705 Time seems to stop, and so does she.
Once upon a time, I had my heart broken. Mangled. Now I’m here, four years later, sitting at a table in Chris’ second Berlin café with headphones and a MacBook Pro that’s probably about that old. The video playing from my eroded display screen features a person who isn’t Chloë Sevigny maybe pretending to play the violin. The glowing green dots on her face remind me of something about motion capture and behind the scenes stills of the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. I resist the urge to count them.
Green is the colour a kinesiology practitioner-slash-psychic said was significant without specifying exactly how when I called her on Skype in Sydney to ask her about choices from Perth. It was one day after the partial solar eclipse, another before my 33rd birthday and two ahead of the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, a Gemini. I’d had surgery three weeks-plus-two-days earlier, four days after making out with Ellen, a Libra, and five before the cat was put down, on the same day the neighbour died of a heart attack. Our funding application was rejected two days after that, the eve of the Super Blue Blood Moon.
It’s November now in Neukölln, roughly 11 months later. I have a scar on my back and can sit up without pain. The 2018 video file I’m half-watching is titled Playing A Note on the Violin While I Walk Around the Studio, 1968. The significance of the year is ambiguous and it’s unclear who is the subject walking around this hypothetical studio, which is actually Cameron Nichole playing the violin and pretending to be Chloë Sevigny on a rooftop with no walls but wire fencing. The camera moves around her and the light is that gorgeous golden yellow of a low autumn sun.
“Cameron Nichole is Chloë Sevigny is Bruce Nauman” is the opening tagline. The note Cameron Nichole (who is Chloë Sevigny who is Bruce Nauman) is playing doesn’t sound like it’s coming from the violin. It’s like the vibration – an audible wave of pressure – has been processed to such a degree that the pitch is staggered by delay, like a violently strummed guitar chord. Harmonic intervals. The initial strike is sharp and concussive. The effect lifts the audio up and away from its visual context in the same way the saturated image of the New York skyline at sunset makes Cameron Nichole look bordered by a chroma key background.
"Writers should 100 percent be paid well for their work”, says a man that I know into a microphone from the audience at the panel I’m hosting. Writers 100 percent are not paid well for their work. A discussion about branded content turns into a complaint about scarcity. The room echoes.
“The old exchange has always been poets writing about artists…”
I paraphrase this quote – by Eileen Myles, as cited by Chris Kraus in an essay from Where Art Belongs – to anyone who’ll listen, including that day an a mattress in a Berlin studio, talking to h+ about feeling exploited by artists. ‘Are you using me?’ is the subtext.
“...And that was always contingent on the poet being interested in the artist’s production.”
Maybe it’s mutual.
h+ performs four songs for the first time at the event named after my angel number. An unexpected blue spotlight points directly at me. I drink more and avoid eye contact. I’ve never heard any of these songs before. Except one. The closing track and future lead single is a half-whispered scat about material, meteorology and metaphysics, money, emotions and manufactured goods. It’s cheerful, fragmented pop for the disembodied. There’s another one that’s the best, my favourite. A real ballad. A second single. It’s like the ‘Sometimes’ to Britney Spears’s ‘...Baby One More Time’, released in the turn-of-the-millennium era of false American innocence, when she was 17 years old. h+ is older, more mature, but she didn’t perform my favourite song amongst the minimal lighting, squats and waving hand gestures. Listening to it later, it’s all swelling build-ups and affected lyrics, heavy with the same thinly-veiled innuendo about what ‘come’ means as Christina Aguilera’s in ‘Genie in a Bottle’, released in the same year as ‘Sometimes’. Britney was born almost exactly a year after Christina, two Sagittarius suns to h+’s Sagittarius rising.
Does my writing on this video give it value, or is the value in the writing itself? The hierarchy has been reversed, it’s uncommon. I have no attention span so I don’t watch the whole video of Cameron Nichole dancing around with the violin she may or may not be playing. Instead I rip the audio and call the sound file ‘CHLOE’ so I can listen to it while texting h+ about how I want my next book to be networked. Capillary and fibrous. It has to be ever-present, interconnected and three-dimensional. Fairy floss: sticky and easily melted, digestible and readily absorbed into the bloodstream.
“I could have described…
…With sand and seaweed”
h+ texts in that way where she breaks up her sentences typical to iPhone users, but more extreme. It reads as a means to keep your attention without interruption and a technique that thrives on suspense. The first time she uses this metaphor of seaweed and sand is in person, and I respond that her energy is more like an anchor because her body is heavy. I’m a writer. Too literal.
I’m listening to the recording of my kinesiology practitioner-slash-psychic session over and over, while walking the dog in Mid City because Ellen’s stopped writing me back. There’s that talk about green again, which is the colour of the Monster Energy drink logo that I have as my lock screen and the t-shirt I left with my heartbreak in Stockholm. It’s made up of three green lines that h+ tells me twice have been appropriated by contemporary Christians to look like crucifixes – once in Los Angeles, again in Berlin, in the same month, a year apart. Three times I saw three green threes in one day in Las Vegas, once as a house number and twice on a gas station price list.
“I saw more 3 s for you”, h+ writes me in San Francisco then asks for my help with her bio. I look up to a 33 presented as degrees Fahrenheit on the National Geographic TV show about life of the Alaskan Iñupiat. I’m waiting to watch The Kardashians. I first saw my angel number, ₹3.33 on a receipt for an international payphone call in India, where I turned 21 years old, 12 years ago. One plus two and one plus two equals two threes, side-by-side and now I’m 33 years old with a third 3 that’s silent.
“Sound is the reception of waves and their perception by the brain,” writes a user called ‘rigator’ on a reddit thread about sports marketing. “There is no sound if no one is around to hear it.” I take this analogy and apply it to writing about art rather than wrestling. Chris refills my water and the lesbians to my left hold hands across the table. Indefinable feeling. The incessant, obtrusive tone of Cameron Nichole playing a note on the violin shatters the gentle atmospherics of two spaces: The one I can hear in my headphones and the one I can see with my eyes. I call myself an art writer (sometimes) but I barely know anything about Bruce Nauman. Neon signs. I don’t understand the relationship between the artist, the It girl and the model in the video but maybe there isn’t supposed to be one. Art doesn’t have to explain itself like writing does.
In Perth, the source of my old heartbreak emailed me almost but not quite two weeks after the first Super Blue Blood Moon eclipse for the first time in one-and-a-half years. I ignored it. That same day I walked into a door and thought I broke my nose but I didn’t. It was two days before the second partial solar eclipse, when Gem did my tarot but the reading was inconclusive.
Two circles. The first circle is located on the left side from the second one, diameters equal to each other. The first circle is a room in an apartment, the second circle is the place in Polynesia inhabited by a tribe. Small number of people are in the first circle. The walls of the room are painted in pale pink. This color becomes thicker and darker starting from the corners, begins to resemble fuchsia. People in the room are in a lively conversation. In the second circle stands a boy. One of the fellow men of the tribe had just cut off the tip of his tongue with a ritual stone knife. The boy could not hold back tears and is seen crying. The boy knows that he did not pass the test and now he can never become a man. This makes him feel worse and he begins to cry harder. The man walks away from him as soon as he sees the tears. Now the boy is seen standing alone on the edge of the village and crying. The sun slowly sets over the water, and the sky turns to fuchsia. The boy does not know the word ‘fuchsia’, in his tribe a sky like this is called ‘ihhu martoa’— the blood of the newborn. None of his friends cried when passing this test. They all became men now. He knows what happens to those who fail the test. He is to be expelled from the tribe and can only come back by proving that he could nevertheless become a man. He knows two who were expelled. They are yet to return. No one knows what happened to them. Perhaps, that Pora-Pora, goddess of the earth, took them long time ago. The boy remembers that Pora-Pora is also a goddess of tears, because all of tears fall into the earth and feed her. He is providing for Pora-Pora with his hot tears. But no one in the tribe is happy about it. He is standing and thinking that it would be better if Pora-Pora took him as soon as he was born.
Tartare is very easy to cook, but it is also very easy to ruin. That is the secret of dishes, the preparation of which seems to be elementary from the first sight: it is enough to make a small mistake, and the dish is irreparably ruined. Tartare became part of French cuisine in the 17th century when a certain French officer tried to repeat the dish of Tatar mercenaries, amongst whom he served in Ukraine. Tatars finely chopped the horse meat, salted it and pressed it under horse saddles. Story goes that this delicacy saved the Tatars from starvation during long transitions. French cooks fancied the recipe brought back by the officer and began to experiment, taking the taste of this dish to perfection. The unchanged feature of the tartare recipe remained — the heat treatment was not used during the preparation. For the sake of consistency, the ingredients of the famous delicacy are cut very finely. A distinctive feature of cooking the tartare is the speed of getting to the table. It takes the cook on average ten minutes to do all the work. In some versions of the preparation it may be possible for the eater to mix the components on his own, a step, which further reduces the time of cooking.
Pora-Pora has always been very kind to me. Maybe she will still be kind to me even now. I wonder if she knows what happened? Does Pora-Pora know how bad I feel? Pora-Pora has always been kind to me. Even when I dug a pit and it was deeper than it was allowed, she didn’t punish me. Pora-Pora rewards us if we dig shallow pits and throw our seeds into them. Pora-Pora feeds us. But I dug a pit which was too deep, I climbed into the body of Pora-Pora, I tore her skin and, probably, Pora-Pora felt much pain. I tore her skin and climbed right into her when I sank into that pit. But it was so cool there and I liked it so much. Maybe Pora-Pora understood how pleasant it was for me to lie inside her and did not get angry with me. And what about now? Will she get angry at me now? After all, I did not become a man. I shed tears, but those were nourishing tears. Our tears feed Pora-Pora. I could not become a man because I shed tears, but these tears are pleasant for Pora-Pora. It means, that Pora-Pora is glad that I did not become a man! Pora-Pora loves me! She will always love me! I will go where the sun sets and even there Pora-Pora will guard me! Oh, my love, the biggest, the warmest, the softest, the darkest Pora-Pora! I will dig holes in you and lie in them, you will not be angry with me, you will help me become a man. I will prove to everyone that I became a man, because I shall become the husband of a big and warm Pora-Pora. You have no husband, and I shall be your husband. I will shed so many tears into you that you will bear a child, this child will be very big and strong, because it will be the child of a great dark mother. The holes that I shall dig will rip your skin out, but you will grow new skin, and this new skin will be more beautiful than the one you have now. I will love you, and you will give birth to my sons. I will still be as strong and fast as now when my sons will occupy your whole body, and there will be as many of them as fish in the water. I will return to the tribe with my sons and will start my life there there again, because the tribe will see that I became a man.
An older couple is leaving the restaurant. It is already dark outside and drizzling, so she wraps into a long coat and asks him to catch a taxi, quicker. He pulls out the gloves from the pockets and drops the wallet to the ground. He tries to bend down to lift the wallet, but his chronic arthritis prevents him from reaching the ground. She starts to grumble. He turns to the restaurant doors and looks for the doorman to ask him to pick up his wallet from the ground. The doorman is not there, he probably went inside because of the rain. She bends over the wallet, straightens up, as he notices a frightened expression on her face. She is looking over his shoulder. He turns in the direction of her gaze. Behind him, a man appears standing pretty close. This man says something to him, but he cannot make out what exactly this man is saying. With a sharp movement of his right hand that man stabs him with a knife to the left of his stomach. He instinctively stretches his left hand to cover the wound and begins to feel sharp pain. She screams. The second circle starts to move slowly to the left. People in the room continue to talk. The second circle continues to move. After some time, the second circle comes near to the first circle. The first circle does not move, people in the room are still talking. The second circle moves to the left and slowly begins to close on the first circle. After some time, the second circle completely covers the first circle. The boy stops crying and runs down the hill to the water. His feet slide on soft and loose soil. The violin is playing.
“Look up at the courtyard window. The sun rattling down against the concrete, and the fireman’s windows were closed, but the lights were on. Through one window, a corner of a bed badly made, and the covers thrown back.”
David Wojnarowicz, Weight of the Earth: The Tape Journals of David Wojnarowicz, ed. L. Darms and D. O’Neill (South Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2018), 66.
I recently spent several weeks in New York. I was there to find some space away from my comfort zone and daily routine, in order to work on a long overdue paper. Unsurprisingly, I ended up spending more time wandering the city than letting my ass go numb in a library chair. Frankly speaking, the temptation to explore New York more deeply—I mean, to try scratching beneath the surface of my first impressions and prejudices—easily ruined my good will and assiduity at work. So, that’s how I spent most of my time there: riding my bike around, swallowing art up to the gagging point, cruising mythical gay bars and struggling to find my way back home at dawn. Like that night I fell from my bike ten meters after getting on it before falling sound asleep on the subway while crossing all of Manhattan and most of Brooklyn; waking up bruised and hung over on the next morning, not sure of when or how I had made it home safely and mostly unharmed. All the while, I was trying to figure out what I would actually get out of this stay, since it quickly became obvious my initial academic incentive was being redirected. I was also struggling with difficult decisions to make and somehow hoping that the city would work her magic and spark a moment of inspiration. But I had trouble connecting to the reality of what I was seeing and experiencing. My expectations were met with a constant feeling of latency, like I was not really there and New York—or some part of it—was eluding me.
At that time, I was reading a recently published transcript of David Wojnarowicz’s audio journals, recorded during the 1980s. The contents of the tapes are diverse, ranging from frustrated love stories, recounted dreams and hallucinations while high on dope, and more general reflections on the alienating reality of being a young gay artist in 1980s’ New York—somewhat stuck between a conservative political climate, the threat of AIDS and a hegemonic pop culture. Reading the book, I imagined the tone of David’s voice as pretty angry, and maybe a little scared too. It’s obvious he was trying to cope with something, to alleviate the burden of existence while finding meaning in it. The tapes seem to have allowed him to express these emotions without having to open up to anyone in particular—an attempt at externalizing feelings, maybe exorcizing his demons by naming them out loud without exposing himself.
And there I was, reading a public transcript of confessions that had mostly been recorded in the solitude of a bedroom, and above all directed at nobody but their author. Whether it was due to their content or the fact that these journals were on tape, it struck me how much more introspective the tone of David’s words seemed in these records in comparison to his written journals. The impression of invading his privacy felt much more intense, and my whole reading was accompanied by a persistent mix of voyeuristic thrill and guilt. Of course, I couldn’t help but identify with some elements of David’s tales. I think I even started using the power of his words and of his anguish to process my own torments: The failure of his affair with a guy named Bill, who he met cruising in a park, and his struggle at coming to terms with his feelings became my own grief at having to let go of that doomed crush that had kept me going for nearly a year. Often, David evokes the feeling of alienation—and isolation—he gets from living in New York, a sort of numbness, like he’s losing touch with his own emotions and his own self. Suddenly, I felt he was describing my own mental state—my emotional loneliness, especially there, and this perverse anger at myself for not overcoming the impression that I’m sometimes just the witness of a life I don’t have any control over. I was seeing myself on my own, overwhelmed both by my situation and the city, and unable to find some space to express or think about what I was actually going through. This insight into the intimacy of David’s thoughts was a relief and helped me get a sense of what I was myself experiencing.
The whole book follows a kind of tension between inside and outside. David is constantly gazing out the window and commenting on what he sees. He speaks of the sky, the light entering his apartment, street scenes, and the hot guys he’s peeking at that make him suddenly feel horny. His window acts as the border between the intimacy of his bedroom and the outside world. In these moments when he’s secluded in his apartment and looks out, it feels as if everything was momentarily suspended and he describes the city like he’s setting the stage for the words he’s about to speak. The outdoors then becomes an extension of an inner landscape—the emotional topology—he’s trying to depict to his friend the tape recorder, with New York’s skyline serving as a metaphor for the ups and downs of his state of mind. In a way, he contemplates life running its course outside from what seems like a remote position, both physically and emotionally, sheltered from pain and struggle in a place where, just for an instant, everything can become peaceful. So, reading the transcription of his tapes, I scrutinized him the same way he looked at the street 30 years ago. And I relate.
Progressively, I also started having the feeling that I was no longer exploring New York just by walking and cycling about the city, but also through David’s own eyes. Yet, it was another side of the city I was discovering: less as a physical space, than as an emotional one. David’s tapes revealed to me that New York could be a surface to project one’s desires, hopes and sorrows onto. I’m not saying that it took me until I opened this book to grasp that New York—or any city, for that matter—could appear sentimentally loaded and ambiguous. But reading David’s words while myself being there, I somewhat became hyperconscious of how central the urban landscape was in his describing the architecture of his emotional condition. So, I began imagining the city somehow like a green screen, in front of which one would stand before choosing a suitable background for their private scenario. A kind of stage that would match their mood and aspirations, in order for their stories to unfold in the right décor. And even though I still haven’t yet decided what kind of design I want for my own green screen or how to explain the little I’ve achieved during my time there, getting a glimpse into David’s intimate thoughts, allowed me to project my melancholy onto something, the same way he was projecting his onto the city of New York—with all that tension he so often said he wanted to escape, but couldn’t, because at the end, it’s what really inspired him.