Day by day after the accident, the body told its story: she was able to make out the figure of the second man in the new silhouette. She recalled there was a first man, whom she’d cleared to the left, only to be met by a second man. Afterward he gave her his hand to hold to indicate regret, and a gentle squeeze to her stunned fingers meant goodbye. But she wanted to remember. She arranged for an artist to make a ¾ view contour drawing of her head from behind. The lower right half of her face showed the boldest impression.
As usual, I was stuck on Tilda Swinton. It was 2009, her hair looked fantastic, and I was obsessed with the new film I Am Love. Her role as the Russian wife of a Milanese don—a foreigner embraced and embedded by the ruthlessly elegant Italian elite, adept, willing to perform yet precarious, pulsing with an energy from elsewhere that frees her in the final scene—seemed an analogy for Tilda, actually. How or what is Tilda? Beautiful and strange. Delicate; nimble; wild; translucent. Almost see-through. By far my favorite fetish object. I imagined she’d been practicing.
She found a patch of ferns in her back woods to rehearse in. It reminded her of the “secret place” she/I used to visit as a child, a clearing on the side of a hill where privacy felt like gentle pressure rolling over my shoulders. But now the object was to draw a crowd, so the location could be a secret only insofar as it was talked about—versus a secret without keepers, that had never been born.
Compacting the ferns with her body weight, she lay perfectly still, and sustained a low hum with each exhalation for a radiant effect.
Meanwhile she meditated on the centerpiece of fruits, floating candles, tulips and tusk that had anchored the communal table of her young adulthood. Table like a strip of runway, she used to think, longing for a vacation. She lay on her side in the ferns so the mound of her hip was the highest point, echoing the tusk, hung up on the still life like a telephone receiver.
The table decoration had been modeled after a severe Japanese landscape that featured stone cylinders on water, so she rolled her eyes back like she was going to sleep for hundreds of years. Her inanimate surface would nonetheless suggest life, outside time.
Sure enough, animals came: soft, brown, roly-poly bluebirds, as well as people, to get beside Tilda’s haloes from heaven. Eventually, we occupied the clearing to capacity so that it no longer stood out from the surrounding area. With some reluctance, we widened the ring to accept newcomers. Sometimes a whole family or other bonded group would pack in around Tilda, obliging the closest circle to wedge the long parts of their feet under her body.
Who knew that Tilda’s body would delineate a two-dimensional area by its constellation of contact with the floor, and manifest an impediment?
The idea for The Impediments project was derived from the essay A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. The main point of the essay is that a woman needs her own room, money, and time in order to write, yet even the woman privileged with all of the above goes on to confront innumerable other challenges in the course of her career. Woolf calls them “impediments.” Two examples, she suggests, are fear and bitterness.
I envisioned sheets of writing paper, each marked with the solid contour drawing of a unique, abstract form—around which writing flowed, but never crossed.
The nature of the concept—impedimentum, hindrance; from impedire to impede; to shackle the feet—dictates that the writing is compromised by the impediment, never the other way around. Even when Paper wins at Rock, Paper, Scissors, by covering Rock, it bends to fit it and by no means hides it. Rock’s three dimensions trump Paper’s two, so its defeat is just a token; it remains exactly the same before and after Paper lays down on it.
The invincibility of Rock, then, is not only the model for people’s fists, but also for the fetal position. In the simulations in 1995 and 2013, “The Maybe” by Tilda Swinton and collaborators was adapted to building codes at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, respectively, that restricted physical touching by placing the artist inside an elevated vitrine.
Probably Tilda was glad for the buffer because the free-for-alls in the forest had sapped her. It takes gallons to make a capful of syrup, and we’d drained every drop of her bittersweet water. Now she could begin to replenish her sugars, out of reach, but still on display.
The later iteration seemed timely in the wake of the 2010 Marina Abramovic retrospective, “The Artist is Present.” Compared to Abramovic’s heroic performance of endurance* in the atrium of the MOMA, however, Tilda’s was a disappointment. Besides, critics complained, Swinton is a movie star, not a performance artist, and more famous than ever in spite of her unconventional looks and career choices. So “The Maybe” is an opportunity to ogle a celebrity at close range. BYOB and snacks for the vigil.
I thought—feeling betrayed—it might be more helpful if she set up her vitrine in a slum or warzone, or under a bridge somewhere. I’d conjured her an unbroken surface; she gave it back to me; now I wanted to destroy it. I brought my hammer, but she wasn’t in her box on the day I visited the museum.
There are many ways to interpret the body as impediment, including:
Objectification; Fatigue; Superstition; Susceptibility;
Touchability; Visibility; Noisy; Odor, flavor;
Formed; Curled; Elongated; Bunched;
The silver monument sits in the way like a pancake with its edge upturned and flopped over, pointlessly reflecting everything. Since it was installed in everybody’s way, it was made to withstand abuse. The silly silver face reflects the attacker’s twisted one, and never scratches.
The problem with the monument is that it takes up space, but it’s only a surface. Its undulations distort the things that appear in it, as enlarged or shrunken, winnowing, stretched, etc. The monument distracts the onlooker with his image, skewing his face, as the arbitrary nature of its own, slouched bag lip shape remains constant and dissociated. Here the two irrelevances don’t equal relevance. In the realm of art is an argument for uselessness, however. See the bodies balloon and flash in its patina like an ecosystem collapsing.
I wrote about the silver monument with disdain that wasn’t mine but that I had overheard. I hesitated to name “Cloud Gate,” by Anish Kapoor, also called The Bean, because I pretended to hate it. Now I name it because I deny it, but I begin to doubt the denial at the same time.
I dug my heels back into the place where something broad and mirrored silver lay flashing in the center of a downtown area—I used to visit it from my neighborhood five miles south along the lakeshore. I retracted my limbs to make the “cashew curlicue,” which they recommended for speed. My bean-form was the living embodiment of motion and transformation, and in such a way I defied the monument that only stood for these things: I could roll.
“Woman am I. Spirit am I. I am the infinite inside myself. I have no beginning and I have no end. All this I know.” Barely steering my bicycle along the gently curved path beside the lake, barely contained by my form, I chanted what I’d learned from the lesbian counselor at Quaker camp when I was 12. Then my tire slipped off the edge of the raised pavement into gravel, and I went down on the low side, face-first.
Consider a clock face large enough to pull over the head laced with spokes and opened in a plane perpendicular to the spine, as a giant collar. Consider the tip of the nose like a hand registering 12 o’clock. The face was impacted at 1:30, so its rigid components leaned left and back, while the flesh swelled right and forward. Peeling open the lower lip revealed a tear below the gum line spanning the right half of the jaw. The septum of the nose bowed from right to left, leaving lopsided nostril shapes.
Then again, all writing is up against the dominion of things, and can’t compare. Since words are inadequate to describe more than a surface, they spill over and fall between the cracks of people, stones, houses… shimmering across my skin like the silk sheath I only wear at home, while I read Jacques Rancière. Because he makes arguments by knitting detritus in a circular form with his beak, I think to myself, exhausted, I’d rather be picking apart an actual bird’s nest right now, or fraying cords, or brushing my hair. Gradually, I synthesize ideas.
1) When language is officiated and terms fixed, their referents become barriers, blockades, authoritative checks, thus defining the normative superstructure, or “distribution of the sensible.” This orientation is linked with the speech category, and inextricable from hierarchical power structures. On the other hand, 2) writing potentially undoes those structures. In The Politics of Aesthetics, Rancière writes:
By stealing away to wander aimlessly without knowing who to speak to or who not to speak to, writing destroys every legitimate foundation for the circulation of words, for the relationship between the effects of language and the positions of bodies in shared space.
That is, when language is un-officiated (released from dominant meaning), a new, playful relationship with entities comes about, by which we question and reconfigure what we know.
So writing around things goes without saying as the ‘nature’ of language, and can be characterized by free movement and creativity when we acknowledge it as such, as superficial. When, that is, we acknowledge that language isn’t truth, or even true to what it describes—except—perhaps—when in flux.
You complain, saying words are just a bunch of wooden pegs and joinery we move into new combinations: lay them down, stand them up, to the side, make an arch, etc.—and I admire the complexity of your monologue.
Beading in the crevices between actual, bodied things as well as bodies of knowledge or ideology, they say language becomes an emancipatory tool that loosens authority by opening perspective. Now with Paper formed around it the boulder could care or be crushed, would prefer to be approached, and wants to play. Punch it to see if the Rock is still there.
Bucking War Horse
I drew an impediment on a clean page in my “NOTE Sketchbook,” which is divided vertically into ruled and unruled sides, then began to write around it.
the impediments she referred to weren’t tangible forms. some examples of what she meant by impediments to women’s writing are FEAR, BITTERNESS, and DESPAIR. I had the idea for a project: a series of hand-drawn obstacles surrounded by handwriting. the first drawing was asymmetrical, but rounded and not unattractive. in some aspects it resembled the profile of A BUCKING WAR HORSE. I intended to make something beautiful, which, on the one hand, would not seem to depict or convey difficulty. rather than block writing, a shape’s torque could nudge it across the page… in a sense I could relax into this readymade like A DEN OF PILLOWS, a visual component that could substitute for significating words, no matter what I wrote or didn’t. all this to say the drawn impediment doesn’t impede—au contraire—a line of handwriting wraps nimbly around it. TOO BEAUTIFUL TO BE AN OBSTACLE, AND YET NOT, AND YET PRECISELY NOT. BEAUTIFUL FORMS RULED HER… if the sketched impediment becomes a facile decoration that neuters writing in advance? isn’t beauty itself a fundamental obstacle to creating new forms?
roll my eyes / all the way
back / into my throat
I underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete the weaving in the cast-iron fence*. In reality I sat there day after day for a month, my back to the street, steadily raising lines of weft. I made several mistakes and had to undo hours of work to correct each one. The weaving and I endured rainstorms, so the wet threads began to felt and my coveralls stank of mildew. But I didn’t mind the inconvenience, or the endless, painstaking repetition. I positioned myself in the way of passersby so I didn’t feel so alone when I had to fix a problem.
As the taut blanket crept up over the open bars of the fence, inches from my face, I became carefree: twill was my only thought. Ironically, the ability to see through it had made the fence a greater barrier than the solid tapestry, because from either vantage point its bars provided—outside the property looking in, or vice versa—I could clearly make out the other side. The fence told me what I was and by contrast, what I wasn’t—revealing “the one that was standing apart from me*.” Peering through it I was in my place: 1, alone, and I was not enough. Until the weaving began to encompass the fence, all white and opaque with tiny fibers uplifted from its surface, reaching for a source of heat.
I drew one card at a time: the Ten of Swords, followed by the Ace of Cups. I might have stopped at the Ten of Swords had it not been apparent that the card did not represent an answer to my romantic question—and motive for the reading—but the foundation and context for that question. As such, its seemliness was absolute: I was laid out on a rock, my back arched to match the curve of the stone, beneath a spray of hovering spears pointed at my neck and shoulders. For the first 24 hours after surgery under general anesthesia, I didn’t move my neck at all, so when I finally did the tendons spasmed and stuck out on both sides.
Eventually Goenka laughed, and said, Oh ho ho, you need a break. Oh ho ho, your butt must ache. Each evening of the Vipassana conference ended this way, with a video lecture by the old teacher in Burma. He reminded me now of Frog, then of Toad, from the story “Frog and Toad Are Friends.” The day would have passed much like the others: 12 hours of meditation in one-hour increments.
We learned to endure the emergent pain that pooled in one quadrant of the body at a time by mastering itches first. Met with the sensation of an ant scaling the soft side of my wrist, for example, I didn’t scratch it. I’d only note it, then move on along my surface in endless figure eights, down, up, and down again, scanning for feeling. In this way, itches I couldn’t scratch were a boon: simple sensations I could attend to while suspending my reaction to them until they passed away.
Around the third day Goenka instructed us to avoid moving altogether for the duration of the sit. The pain that then lodged in my hip, and spread in all directions, made me wail on the inside. And outside, real tears dripped from my chin into my unmoving lap, saturating an area of my skirt so I could add wetness to the log of sensations.
By day five, we were all swaying like cattails. Which isn’t to say there wasn’t any pain, but rather that the pain was permeable by our attention. Against the advice of Goenka and the assistant teachers, we had begun to enjoy an encompassing feeling of effervescence, like being washed in champagne. Such enjoyment would lead to the desire for more, they warned, til the ego that had been tamped down would reinflate as a giant clown balloon, aping the sitter’s gentle motion, its long red shoes pinned under her rear.
Indeed, I wondered about the feelings of accomplishment like a feather mantle down my back that my shoulders squared and spine stretched up to display, but the faint sense of mastery seemed more humane than the earlier abyss. I didn’t ponder whether or not humaneness was the point of the workshop. So when the teacher suggested a new, advanced technique on the eighth day, I accepted the challenge: to scan through, rather than around our bodies, traversing them cross-wise with our attention.
Dragging my consciousness across my insides caused my stomach to wrinkle and my breath to syncopate, as certain parts had never been touched before. Like an ocean passing through tight layers of mesh, it made no difference to the ocean, but the mesh knew it was being crossed. What does the object feel when it is printed out, one flat sheet at a time until it has dimensions?
I thought of the night at the museum when I found the horse—sliced—available to peruse like posters.
I didn’t agree with this answer to the impediments—I’m a vegetarian.
Even if I was touching my internal organs with my mind, I knew that as soon as I left the retreat, my body would zip its bag shut again and hustle to the center of the room or wherever it needed to go and not be sorry.
I became concerned about my ability to make work that could a) speak for itself and b) speak to others; a) talk, and b) talk back; a) reflect the ineffable and b) not be ff-ed; a) verbalize without violence and b) violate verbs; a) demonstrate and demolish and b) not be a demo; a) be the verb and b) not the noun form.
The large, intelligent dog will refuse to move if you leash him, for example, holding his position while staring sideways at the lake. Then, the dead weight is too much for one person to lift—you will have to call a friend. It’s like the difference between a descriptive paragraph and a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem, though both are a kind of burden.
Difficult to snap out of my dizzy spell since I wrote about vertigo at the waterfalls when I was 10, I remain ensorcelled by the mist floating up around me and softening my skin that I wouldn’t have noticed, had I been gesturing or talking loudly, for one to two decades. No bodies jumped that day, but every thought plummeted direct to the one conclusion: a white writhing, constantly refreshed. For instance, a video loop.
About his installation at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in 2012, which he named after the sci-fi short story by Gene Wolfe, “Forlesen,” William Pope.L said, “It’s only a quarter cock,” and, “Which way is the penis pointing?” Lauren Berlant called it the abject shredding of the symbolic. I call it shredded cock, and what IF the impediment is cock-shaped? Indeed, we form ourselves around it willingly.
But Berlant means something else: the impediment swirls us into the impasse, which is a space. When space and time pass by us, we scrutinize time because we are finite in it, and disregard space unless it is some kind of incredible view. The impasse is space uncoupled from time, where the time line goes slack and settles down on itself, becomes a pile of string instead. Berlant frames possibility temporally, and the title of her book Cruel Optimism is to say our narratives of “looking forward” are fucked. There is possibility for change where we no longer grease the tracks cut for something else’s flourishing, but catch instead on the “thick present” that continues from our bodies and touches everything simultaneously.
Reflecting on her participation in the performance-event Time of Action, Irina Pavovarova wrote:
…here all of a sudden this inexcusable waste of time. How can this be? Time flows so freely, wastes itself on practically anything. At the same time, it was nice to become aware of this. Aware that… and why not? Maybe all of this economizing that we are doing is actually empty. And maybe this very long action is actually time filled up. At any rate, it did not have a sense of emptiness, but of abundance, sufficiency.
Pope.L’s 40 foot-long quarter-cock shaped room and installation is an impasse, says Berlant. In it, we can’t move forward to cognize anything because nothing is legible, even though the title of the show recalls the German phrase für lessen, or “for reading.” Because it holds us, once we pass inside it it is less COCK, all shadowless, than SHELTER. Inside the cock are smudged charcoal drawings that are messy and minimal at the same time with overlays of coffee, and acrylic medium to look like cum; little t.v.s embedded in the plywood construction running video abstracted from VHS porn; and glasses of water. Additionally, the artist has invented a new material to coat the outside of the cock gallery, a mixture of joint compound and ketchup, which separates into large, heavy flakes when it dries.
The idea was about as interesting as if you said to a bunch of skater kids, consider the surfaces you grind over, how you go from one to the next making a line, and breaking it where you jump between materials or the materials drop out. How when you carve a long arc, you see the shape as you inscribe it because your body keeps it too, when you curl like the leaf of the sensitive plant asserts the endurance of its form.
I started getting bored watching the skate video “Welcome to Hell.” Even though this was a movie genre I’d never encountered before that I was curious about, I couldn’t latch on. I realized what was missing: the succession of tricks was unbroken, “seamless” as it were, despite what it was, or, a seam of disparate things touching. No spills, wrecks, or wipeouts punctuated the scraping sound that fuzzed out Sonic Youth, The Sundays, Black Sabbath… just silent gaps in the architecture did. The video shows how it looks and sounds to physically trace the city—something I dream about, like I could take a rubbing of an entire place with my body if I had large enough paper.
1. “A pioneer of performance art, Marina Abramovic (born Yugoslavia, 1946) began using her own body as the subject, object, and medium of her work in the early 1970s. For the exhibition Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, Abramovic performed in the Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium every day the Museum was open between March 14 and May 31, 2010. Visitors were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork. The Artist Is Present is Abramovic’s longest performance to date.”—from the museum’s website.
2. Jen Bervin, Weaving, GRIDSPACE, 2011, Brooklyn, NY
3. The English title of Celui qui ne m’accompagnait pas, by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Lydia Davis. Paralyzed by apartness, the speaker/writer’s only recourse is his own exhaustive thought, with which he suspends himself. Take a deep breath between paragraphs, a drink of water. Blanchot: “…all the power of the emptiness tightens around me, encloses me, holds me and pushes me back into the depth of an endless fall, so that the gap into which I fall has the exact dimensions of my body.” (1993, p. 62)
4. “In a forest, not far from the edge of a field, among the trees, we hung a drum on which we had previously wound seven kilometers of white string. The drum was hung in such a way that it was not visible from the opposite side of the field, where, across 200 meters of open space and freshly plowed earth, the end of the string was drawn and the audience (20 people) and two action participants were located… the action participants and some audience members took turns continuously pulling the rope that was unwinding from the drum. The rope’s end was not attached to the drum, and in this way, all of the rope was pulled out of the forest in the course of the action.”—Moscow Conceptualism co-founder A. Monastyrski’s description of the performance near Moscow in 1978 Time of Action. Cited from: Collective Actions, trans. Yelena Kalinsky, (Chicago: Soberscove Press, 2012) 9, 93.