Tag Archives: experiment

LEARN THE LETTER

thumbnailphpIn April 2008, a number of ‘poets’ went to a screening of Pedro Costa’s “Colossal Youth” at the PFA in Berkeley. There are several scenes in which the main character Ventura repeatedly recites a love letter, pleading that his friend Lento “must learn the letter” so that Lento can later deliver it to his beloved. The letter was based on a poem by Robert Desnos, and is repeated in several variations throughout the film, such that the audience also ‘learns the letter.’ The next day I emailed several folks, asking them to write me their recollection of the letter. These are some of the responses, mediated of course by time and memory but also by the disconnect between the spoken Portuguese and the English-language subtitles. Thanks to Konrad Steiner, Stephanie Young, David Brazil, Elise Ficarra, Lisa Robertson, Jocelyn Saidenberg, and Rachel Sanderoff. The final version below is the English translation of what critic Ana Balona de Oliveira claims is the longest iteration in the film.

I will return to you strong and loving.

I will [want to?] give
you 100 000 cigarettes

a car

the lava house that you
have always wanted

a three penny bouquet

Here there is nothing but work
There are over one hundred of us.

I write you every month.

Still nothing from you

Every day I learn beautiful
new words for us [...]

Still nothing from you.
Some other time.

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday.

————————–

my dear,

strong and loving

thirty years

100 000 cigarettes, a dozen dresses, a car

a bottle of wine

there are over a hundred of us here now

I can only write once a month

————————–

I will come to you loving and strong

I will give you 100,000 cigarettes
a dozen fancy dresses

but mostly drink a bottle of fine wine and think of me

————————–

Nhe Crechu, my love

Seeing each other again
will brighten our lives
for 30 years

If I could, I would offer you
100,000 cigarettes
a dozen fancy dresses
a car
that little house of lava
you always dreamed of
a three penny bouquet…

But most of all,
drink a bottle of good wine
and think of me.

Here it is nothing
but work.

There are over
a hundred of us now.

I can only send
one letter a month.

Still nothing from you.

Some time.

Every day, every minute
I learn beautiful new words
fit just for us.

We can wear them
like a pair
of silk pyjamas.

How would you like that?

Some time.

Sometimes
I think of us.

Me, with my pick axe and cement.

You with your pit of silence
so deep I am afraid
it will swallow you.

Everyday I see horrors
that I do not want to see.

I wait for your letters.

Still nothing from you.


Some time.

————————–

my love,

being together again would make us happy for at least 30 more years.

I’d return to you strong and loving.

I wish I could offer you 100,000 cigarettes,

a dozen fancy dresses,

a car,

that little lava house you always dreamed of,

a three-penny bouquet.

most of all,

drink a bottle of good wine and think of me.

————————–

I wish I could offer you 100,000 cigarettes,
a dozen fancy dresses,
that little lava house you always dreamed of.

But most of all, drink a bottle of good wine and think
of me.

Here it is

Work

There are nearly a hundred of us here now.

The other day for my birthday I thought of you for
several hours.

Each day I am learning (thinking?) new words

to fit us

like silk pajamas

wouldn’t you like that?

did you receive my letter

no word

————————–

Nha crecheu, my love
Being together again
Will brighten our lives
For at least 30 years.
I’ll come back to you
Strong and loving.
I wish I could offer you
100,000 cigarettes
A dozen fancy dresses
A car
That little lava house
You always dreamed of
A three-penny bouquet
But most of all
Drink a bottle of good wine
And think of me
Here, it’s nothing but work
There are over a hundred of us now
Did my letter arrive safely?
Still nothing from you.
Some other time.
Every day, every minute
I learn beautiful new words
For you and me alone
Made to fit us both,
Like fine silk pajamas.
Wouldn’t you like that?
I can only send you
One letter a month.
Still nothing from you.
Some other time.
I often get scared
building these walls.
Me with a pick and cement,
You with your silence,
A pit so deep,
It swallows you up.
It hurts to see these horrors
That I don’t want to see.
Your lovely hair slips
Through my fingers like dry grass.
Often, I feel weak and think
I’m going to forget you

FOLLOW

nomad-outside-29-zoom1

(a conceptual self-portrait experiment)

I hired a private investigator to follow & photograph me at various times over a week in Jan 07, & to then send me his ‘report.’ 

Reflections: due to cost, I was only able to retain his services for a limited time. Which meant he did not do much night-time surveillance, for better or worse… I found the rather banal results to be kinda hilarious – how much of the (this) ‘writer’s life’ is really really boring. Still, an interesting trial run at a poetics of surveillance, where the self & its expressions (self-portraiture, autobiography, confessional poem, etc.) are increasing crafted by other mediated means, often with our consent (i.e. what I feed ‘them’ thru my internet usage, electronic purchases, public movements, etc.) I am I because my little machine knows me…

sample text:

(DATE REDACTED)

10:30 am  - On scene. 

12:05 pm  - No activity noted.  Delivery truck pulls next to surveillance vehicle parked on (REDACTED) St., blocking view of residence.  Surveillance vehicle moves to find alternate location.

12:10 pm  -  Subject vehicle, green (REDACTED), observed traveling westbound on (REDACTED) St. toward Martin Luther King Jr. Way (MLK).  Mobile surveillance initiated.  Subject vehicle traveling southbound on MLK toward (REDACTED).

12:15 pm  - Visual of subject vehicle lost.  Surveillance vehicle delayed at red light.

12:23 pm  - Visual of subject vehicle regained in area of Bay Bridge toll booth.  Subject vehicle moves quickly across three lanes to FasTrak lane and proceeds onto bridge.  Surveillance vehicle blocked by traffic and unable to continue.

12:25 pm  - Attempt to locate subject vehicle on Bay Bridge and into San Francisco.  Unable to locate subject vehicle and surveillance terminated at (REDACTED) exit from Hwy. 101.

(DATE REDACTED)

9:15 am  - On scene at (REDACTED) St., Oakland, CA.  No activity noted.  Window coverings are closed and subject vehicle parked in driveway next to residence. 

1:00 pm – No activity.  No one exits or enters the residence.  Subject vehicle remains parked as described.  Surveillance terminated.

(DATE REDACTED)

10:30 am  - Begin to depart area enroute to (REDACTED) to determine if subject departed residence on foot prior to initiation of surveillance.  Subject observed through rear view mirror hurrying down front stairs and moving quickly to vehicle.  Subject is a Caucasian male, mid 30’s, approximately (REDACTED) tall, slim build wearing (REDACTED), brown cap, and maroon work boots.  Subject carrying book bag or computer bag.  Subject enters vehicle and departs area.

10:35 am  - Subject vehicle parks parallel on (REDACTED) St. just north of (REDACTED) Ave., Oakland, CA.  Subject exits the vehicle and walks briskly to and enters (REDACTED) on corner of (REDACTED) and (REDACTED).

11:00 am  - Investigator enters (REDACTED) to determine actions of subject.  Subject observed seated just inside front door and to the left at small table near window, with back to window.  Subject, with (REDACTED) in hand, converses briefly with (REDACTED) seated to his right, mid 30’s, approximately (REDACTED) tall with long light brown or dark blonde hair, wearing (REDACTED) with neck scarf, white (REDACTED) and blue jeans.  Subject scans interior of (REDACTED) briefly.  Subject appears to stare off across (REDACTED) as if in thought.  Investigator departs (REDACTED) at 11:10 am.

12:44 pm  - Subject observed through window standing and milling about.  Photographs of movement obtained

1:52 pm  - Subject exits (REDACTED) alone and scans area in all directions.  He is observed milling about on the sidewalk at the corner with his hands in pants pocket to protect against chill wind.  He pulls small (REDACTED) from his pocket and places in his mouth.  He is looking down at sidewalk as he walks, again with hands in pants pockets.  No discernable purpose of this activity is noted.  Subject removes cell phone from pocket and dials.  He holds cell phone to his right ear and mills about.  Unable to determine if he is actually talking with anyone or simply listening.  He is looking down and walking in an exaggerated manner. Subject places right hand over forehead and rubs the area of his forehead and eyes with a  strong squeezing motion.  Subject continues to mill about and walks several feet up (REDACTED) Ave. toward rear of (REDACTED).  He turns and walks back slowly.  His facial expression demonstrates contemplation, as he walks back toward the front of the (REDACTED), apparently taking no notice of the (REDACTED) and traffic as he strides by.  Subject reaches the front of the (REDACTED) and lifts his head to look ahead of him.  His gaze appears to be fixed in front of him as he walks northbound on (REDACTED) Ave. to the end of the (REDACTED).  Subject immediately turns about and walks slowly but with determination back to the front door of (REDACTED) where he enters at 1:57 pm and disappears from view.  Photographs of Subject’s activities are obtained.

2:42 pm  - Surveillance is terminated

 

nomad-outside-19-bw-zoom

Scent It Out – reflections

CONCEPT: 

For the TAXT benefit/event at 21Grand/New Series, in which writers were invited to present work/performance throughout the space & ongoingly over about two hours. The idea was that I would distribute text throughout the audience, in the form of paper bags filled with strong odors, presenting a bag & its text & asking recipients to pass it on in the form of gossip. The text consisted of 8 8-line stanzas, using the text/form/spirit of John Suckling’s 1637 poem “Sessions of the Poets,” a kind of coterie/court-poem/satire (thanks Stan Apps), ‘updated’ by replacing proper names with roles/types such as the blogger, the trust-funder, the scenester, the court-queen, the bitter poet, etc. The concept was to stage a few questions/problematics: how to make material & ‘stage’ the sociology of a coterie that traffics in gossip? How to foreground the textual poetics of gossip? How to use odor/scent as an aid to memory &/or as olfactory complement to the textual content? What happens when you foreground the social forms of gossip such that the transmitter must literally ‘pass the bag’ & publicly collaborate in its dissemination? What is the relation between the content of gossip (as text, as poetics, as ‘dirt’) & the forms of its dissemination (as coterie-building, , as sociology, as ‘scandal’)? To what degree is gossip the primary (if not sole) content of the (my? our?) coterie? & what does that say about the coterie? 

The odors were: garlic, beer, herbs & spices, tobacco, compost, Axe body spray, vinegar, & my body & its excretions.

——————————

Here is the text on the card I attempted to pass out with the bags:

SCENT IT OUT

Smell changes the surface of things before you into a volume in which you are caught. The air you breathe is the index of the world into which you have been introduced—be that of an illness, of grace, or of a spell. When you smell it, it means you are already in it, or more precisely, you are of it.

                                                                     M. de Certeau, The Possession at Loudon

The senses therefore become theoriticians in practice 

                                                                      — K. Marx, 1844 Manuscripts

If you look at it, it’s a barn. If you smell it, it’s a stable

                                                                       G. Marx, Monkey Business

A durational thought-experiment in social-spatial practice — through dispersal of gossip by means of olfactory distribution. Before leaving the space, please find the table with the paper bags, breathe deep of each bag, write down your remembered version of each gossip-stanza & put in corresponding pile. The cumulative texts will become the template for the development of a coterie-body-odor-wax for social lubrication & reenacted ruttings. Spread liberally over surface area. Chin up, chest out, wrists & ankles, scent it out.

 

——————————

REFLECTIONS & SELF-CRITICISM

A very disappointing if interesting mess.

I did not adequately think through the time required to set the process in motion. It required a lot of instruction, & thus took a lot of time just to get the thing started, much less to make sure the bags kept moving. 

The project was under-theorized & under-cooked.

Separate from the event itself, I was disappointed with my lack of rigor in its formulations.

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I mistook 21Grand for the site, when the site in question in this case was the audience/coterie itself. 

I made a lot of assumptions about the audience & its openness to participation. Given the recent discussions of collaboration, participation, community & coterie, I was surprised by the degree to which people resisted or refused participation, to the point of refusing to hold the bag, smell the bag, or even listen to the text. It seemed that few people who took the bags actually passed them on, as I would find them left on a table, or someone ‘left holding the bag’ would hand it back to me. More than a couple of poets assumed the texts were about them, or were jibes aimed at specific poets in the audience. Of course, I wanted there to be some discomforture around the content & how close to the bone it might ‘feel’, but then in the moment I just felt bad/guilty, even though I had no individual local poets in mind when writing them.

Most of the people who agreed to participate in the way I requested & take the bags and pass them on, were people I did not know. Those that asked out, resisted, or refused were all people I knew personally. (This is from an admittedly small sample size, and only of those I interacted with personally. Not sure how it went ‘out there’) I’m not yet sure what to think about this, but it was interesting.

The smells were disappointing, & their relation to the textual content not adequately thought-through.

The relation between form & content was under-cooked. Though I am interested in projects that use formal structures as containers for text, I tend to gravitate towards a relationship in my own work where, as much as possible, the formal aspects of a work or performance “come out of” the content. (though it’s always pretty chicken-egg, of course). Here the content might be characterized as the text itself, but also the social content of the coterie, the broader thematics of gossip & court-poetics. The form then would be the expression of that content in rhymed stanzas (thus ‘safely’ – or so I imagined – framing the content in anachronistic & satirical/ironical poems), the connection of each stanza to a specific odor, and the performance/method of its distribution among an audience in live space.  I’m still not sure that there was any ‘necessary’ reason as to why scent/odor should have been the primary formal means for the expression of this content. I could have simply spread gossip all night, & allow the dispersal of that gossip (which of course travels well beyond the boundaries of the event itself) to become my text/reading/performance, & which would more ‘naturally’ bring others into collaboration (which is of course what gossip does all the time). 

Perhaps my ‘everyday performance(s)’ (ie my behavior & its public expression), & its subsequent dispersal among various coteries in the form of gossip, is ‘my’ textual production, my poetics. (at least that’s what I’ve heard…)

Only one or two people ever returned to the table to write down responses.

I allowed myself to be unnerved by negative audience reactions, concerned about those who felt upset, and disappointed that my ideas did not pan out as I’d planned.

As if by letting the coterie produce the work I could somehow still control it.

As if I could still control the gossip that I disseminate. 

The stanzas were not particularly good. In fact they were pretty bad, but not bad enough to be interestingly stoopid or stuplime.

Two of the bags dripped & ultimately broke.

I was asked why there were no ‘nice’ smells.

The event took place at the end of a long weekend of poets performing & socializing together, with a perceived sense (by me) of the coterie feeling very good about itself & excited by its own sense of scandal (at least as judged by the gossip being distributed to me prior to & during the event). I think this effected the reception of my admittedly more cynical/dark work. 

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I did not get much of a chance to see the other works going on simultaneously. I had hoped that I could simply spread some shit, disseminate some gossip, & let the process work itself out, thus leaving me time to participate as an audience member. 

Of the very few things I did check out, I noticed that I liked things that did not require me to interact with anyone else, but just listen or read. This of course says more about me than the interactive works.

I was and was not surprised how many people did not want to spread gossip once it required actually ‘carrying the bag’ & thus perhaps taking responsibility for it dissemination. 

I was asked “is this one about X?” I was told “that one about Y is mean.”

It was assumed that the judgments expressed in the poems were my own personal judgments. 

I was and was not surprised by the narcissism of paranoia, that anything that might be ‘about’ one must be about one.

If the roles were reversed, I imagine I would do much the same – worry that the text might be about me or my ‘type’, resist or refuse to hold &/or pass the bag. I might to some degree judge the performer personally rather than the project. 

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice, as well as how I interpreted its reception.

I allowed myself to forget that if you stage a thought-experiment, its ‘success’ has nothing to do with whether or not the work was ‘good’ or well-received, or even if it ‘went as planned.’

In fact, if the thought-experiment is simply ‘what happens if…’ then the results cannot not be a ‘success’, i.e., whatever happens is precisely the (contingent, context-specific) ‘correct’ result.

But there are still better and worse ‘successes.’ More and less interesting/ compelling/ challenging successes. We’ve all no doubt been to a lot of ‘successful’ readings & performances in which too little is at stake, or the successes are merely evidence of one’s chops or cleverness, or are instantly forgettable.

My stakes were perhaps too low. Too many scare quotes.

Success is the wrong word. Its terms need to be challenged. 

What would happen if I did something similar elsewhere, in another context, scene, city…

All of the gossip-stanzas were (probably) about me.

I allowed my cynicism to infect my practice.

I was not happy with this performance/project at all. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

Each failure is a learning opportunity.

 

 

Call for Participants: Freeway Collaborations

As part of ongoing research into site-based performance, the California landscape, and the psycho-geographies of the tour, the trip, & the commute, BARGE is inviting  collaborators for a series of ‘accidental encounters’ —

 

Sometime in the afternoon of Friday Oct 24 I will be driving a red Toyota pick-up south on I-5, between Stockton and Los Angeles. On Monday evening Oct 27, I will have parked the same pick-up outside of Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. Sometime midday Tuesday Oct 28 I will be driving the same pick-up on westbound Hwy 62, between Yucca Valley and Twenty-nine Palms. At some point in the morning of Thursday Oct 30, the same pick-up will be moving northeastward on 247. In each instance, collaborators are welcome to crash their vehicles into mine, creating a site-based accidental sculpture, a public-art performance, & the resultant documentation in the form of police, medical, repair-shop and insurance records. Collaborators will be considered instant co-authors of the results.

 

RSVPs not necessary, though welcome.

 

postscript:

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