Moments of waste. A conversation about Tarot and poetry

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A few hours before The Green Lantern Press’ Fundraiser event, NEW AGE NOW, Lara Schoorl and Evan Kleekamp talked about Tarot, poetry, and systems (inspired at least partly in the free readings Kleekamp provided on Dec 2nd). Evan Kleekamp is a writer living in Chicago. His poetry and essays have appeared in literary journals such as PinwheelDrunken BoatAdult, and Vinyl Poetry and Prose. He is a frequent collaborator with Les Figues Press in Los Angeles and Green Lantern Press/Sector 2337 in Chicago. His chapbook, 13 Theses on State-Sponsored Black Death in America, is available through Kastle Editions. Lara Schoorl is an art historian and writer from The Netherlands based in Los Angeles. Her writing recently appeared in the co-authored book the end of may and in Sisternhood, an anthology of non-native Anglophone women writing in English curated by Nadia de Vries. She is the Publicity Manager at The Green Lantern Press.

Lara Schoorl: While driving alone along the central coast, I was thinking about what to ask you, in the midst of looking for campsites in Big Sur, CA to set up a tent. This made me think about where “my” home is—something a lot of people have recently asked me about. I sometimes wonder if my astrological chart provides a language to think about my character(istics), my inner drive, and way of living (rather than that it directs or explains who “I” am). I already know my own traits, because why else do I move and act the way I do? But sometimes it’s nevertheless hard to describe them or articulate were that drive comes from. What do you think astrology does/is? And how does Tarot work in this sense?

Evan Kleekamp: When most people are asked about Tarot or astrology, the word “system” does not come to mind. Our head goes to the astrology section in the newspaper or our friend who obsesses over the symbolic elements on the Tarot cards. I’ll admit that I’m more familiar with the Tarot than astrology, but I approach the cards as a system just as astrologers approach astrology as a system. I believe—though this is an unpopular belief—that the Tarot has a purposefully organized structure. What most people consider a flawed form of logic, I see as a machine operation: I cut the deck and allow chance interactions between cards to create a map populated by archetypical examples. These archetypes connote more information than a simple designation could provide in the same space, but at a loss of specificity. I like to think of this as a transactional cost typical to compression: a file becomes less mobile the more information it contains; so we condense our files to move them. This is where I step in as an interpreter. I use the associations and archival links buried deep into Tarot’s organization and translate what I see into an expanded narrative. For example, anyone who looks closely at the Tarot will notice multiple counting systems at work. These ways of counting are only pertinent to the reader or interpreter, who must convey their meaning via story—a far more accessible means of transferring information between people.

With these concepts in mind, I like to consider the Tarot as an empathetic system. Like astrology, it is a useful and meaningful way to look at humans’ behavior or human ecology as structurally—and thus necessarily—flawed. I am quick to remind people who express discomfort or disdain about these systems that we live in a world where these technologies were invented out of necessity. What the naysayers don’t understand is why they remain necessary.

LS: That makes a lot of sense and I wonder if everything that is invented or created, perhaps everything that is perceived and considered by humans is a system? That we can’t live without narrative or what that chaos would look like (beyond postmodernism)?

EK: Astrology and Tarot do not value what we consider fact; they value the cataloging of human emotion, which they absorb, preserve, and deploy via narrative. My personal practice links Tarot with psychoanalysis by way of Alejandro Jodorowski and Jacques Lacan, respectively. When I’m giving a reading, I’m often attempting to create a narrative screen that allows me to peer into the psyche of my would-be analysand while eliding the narrative they would like to create for themselves. It is a way of veering toward the real by way of the virtual. We see a similar technique deployed in words of fiction like W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, which question the boundary between fiction and reality in narrative. My goal is to create the surface where I can the action of a mind occur, and from there generate a sort of invisible map that, because it is invisible, shows what is invisible.

On the topic of surface and visibility, I recently reread Joan Didion’s “On Morality.” For a moment in the essay—it seems will be discussing moments later—Didion describes the desert as a surface on which action occurs, which is distinct from my own impression of the desert, a place I spent much time as a child. The desert was always a zone to me: a three-dimensional space that extended beyond the sky and continued into into the recesses of the earth; it was a space that resisted human occupation by various means of exclusion—exclusion that I witness at the level of terrain. As a system, Tarot creates a similar environment that asks us to read people as exclusionary terrain, to look for guideposts and markers that reveal signs or give us passage into otherwise impenetrable areas. But the catch is interesting: You don’t use your subject to reconstruct this area; you use a not-so-randomly generated set of cards to ghost your way into a landscape. Few people understand that the Tarot needs be laid out as a map before being read; you have to see the complete picture the deck offers, otherwise you are giving out faulty directions in a space that you do not understand. Once you know the lay of the land, you can move across this landscape and the psychological space it reflects. If you’re lucky you might even unlock a way of seeing what was previously unavailable to be seen.

I wonder if you see any connection between trash and abandoned systems like Tarot or astrology. Much of what we designate as trash exists in a physical medium, but I’m curious: What happens to concepts, philosophies, and beliefs once they’re deemed obsolete? What happens to the histories and stories we leave to the wayside? What happens when information becomes trash?

LS: They remain, the concepts, the stories, beliefs, the information, but no longer used as such. Or used differently, considered past and as moments that then lead to something else. Similar, or perhaps even the same as when you said that there are systems that we invented and live in/by (i.e. narratives, agreed structures built from words, because language and narratives are how we understand what we mean). I have to think now of Fredric Jameson and his disagreement with Jean-François Lyotard saying that postmodernism was the end of grand narratives. Instead he says that grand narratives, although untrustworthy, continue to exist below ground. That makes total sense to me. Styxes of past sytems. You can’t really erase the past or disregard prior knowledges, this answer is proof of that as well. In order to respond to your question, I am digging through all different knowledges in my mind and am folding them into each other here in a new narrative or thought: an underground river that flows with have-been knowledges. I am also reminded Klee’s Angelus Novus. About the storm that is blowing in his wings Benjamin wrote: “The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” The pile in front of him is the past, it doesn’t fade, it accumulates. Is this similar to Bergson’s memory theory, the cone and durational flux? Everything is new because every new thing contains a (slightly) longer past? Everything I know seems to carry a past or memory within it and I add to and adapt it when using it, like rings that grow in water, like how trees age. Or that is how I perceive. So for me trash becomes (part of) a foundation or a current. Trash not as a place, not as something stopped or held up, but a part of a movement or journey.

Another kind of non-physical trash that I have been thinking about is emotional trash, feelings of people that are also part of systems and structures. Often there is not a place to discuss the effort or energy that  emotional labor asks for as it is not considered worth or productive talking about. Recently I talked to Sabrina Greig from Sixty inches from the center about the online exhibition, Institutional Garbage, that Caroline Picard and I co-curated and Sabrina pointed out how the exhibition might shift the focus of importance in (art) institutions from highlights to the bearings, beginnings, process and failures that comprise more than an eventual result, artwork, exhibition or project.

Can we talk or think about Tarot, systems and trash in relation to poetry? Sometimes when I read poetry it seems as if these words written by other people combine thoughts with language for me in a way that I had not been capable of but somehow already knew. We once talked about this in relation to C.D. Wright’s and Lorine Niedecker’s work. Perhaps also Anne Sexton in your case?

EK: After I left my MFA program I said poetry was dead to me. And then Donald Trump was elected, and I felt even more truth in this statement. Anne Sexton is dead, but poetry is deader. (I don’t mean to suggest that poetry is undead or beyond death. I mean that is has become a boring enterprise for me; it’s not even meaningless.) However, I am interested in the effects of poetic influence. Writers who can manipulate language to create deep, and sometimes instantaneous, emotional short circuits still inspire me, regardless of genre. I think my two largest poetic influences are Tomaž Šalamun and Vanessa Place—two poets who have been more or less cast aside by the larger poetic establishment in the United States. Without risk, there is no such thing as poetry. With so many organizations and institutions devoted to the production and commodification of poetry, I wonder if it is even possible for poetry to occur, even as we enter what appears to be bleak times. (What a sad fact: without a prohibition against poetry, we have no means to produce it.) Šalamun and Place are studied masters in violation, and that is where my love for them stems from, but for others this is an excuse to vilify them. Sexton might have been the first poet to set off this tic with me, but her influence over me has since waned.

We met while occupying different spaces of the academia: You were studying Art History at The School of the Art Institute while I was completing my MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia. Much of our conversation revolved around poetics, conceptualism, the baroque, narrative, epistolary writing—heady concepts that seem to negate or at least rub up against what we consider the New Age. What draws us, as artists and historians, to these equal and opposite domains? As a person who is able to move between these of vectors of belief and thought, do you see zones of productive tension between them? If so, where?

LS: See, I think that because we come from different fields (despite both within humanities) that I have a different understanding of the word or concept of poetry. Since I never did a BFA or an MFA nor was I in a literary program but always in art history I started learning (about) poetry from the position of an art historian. I consider representation and meaning making poetry, and that can be visual and textual. Poetry both reading and writing it makes me question words and concepts. What I call poetry seems to be what you refer to (more correctly) as poetics or poetic influence and maybe I am wrong in calling it poetry. Yet, paradoxically that word (poetry) to me seems less loaded and predetermined and in addition to (and perhaps because of) it being overused poetry is also underused (for example, when a Hallmark text is called poetry). This gives me a lot of space on what I think poetry means or is or does. To go back to the questioning of words and concepts…For example, baroque and conceptualism, which I have studied in art in the 16th/17th and 20th/21st centuries respectively, looking for those movements in contemporary poetry I saw and was searching for similarities between those two perspectives four centuries apart. Both are part of history and happened in different times, but I think both also always were already present and still are. Saying this might make the whole conversation obsolete, because everything was and is always already here and (re-)appears in different formations and then what it there left to talk about. Should we then not just try to perform each moment better than in the past, especially after Trump is elected president. For me poetry which thus can be writing in many formats as well as other forms of art making, writing and seeing it becomes a way, for me, to learn about ethics and to add a stance to them. I do, however, at the same question the value of it, because being in the arts and humanities makes that my life is flexible in a way. I can go to meetings, lectures, protests, etc., but what about doctors, who do treat people equally. (Not considering the fact that in this country access to healthcare is inherently unequal and not everyone can see a doctor, but in the hospital or physician’s office people are healed and saved and cared for). Still, I believe in poetry too and its ability to act or change. Like when my friend Mia shared Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me?” after the elections and there are many more poets such as Niedecker and Wright that encourage me to write, to do, to move. Again, this might be what you call poetic influence rather than influence of poetry. Although it is more than just the ethics and language theory, I value aesthetics too, the chosen and milled over words and thoughts by an individual attempting to put a part of her body outside in the world.

EK: As I wrote the question above, your investigation of Lorine Niedecker and C.D. Wright came to mind. While not exactly engaged or associated with New Age spirituality, these two writers open up a space for the spiritual that many would probably label as New Age today. (I guess what I mean to say is that by being spiritual in a nontraditional sense, they open themselves up to the accusation that they are too spiritual, which seems to the the larger social critique of New Age thinking.) Is poetry a form of being spiritual? What does it mean to be spiritual in a time of mass data? Or, more precisely, to be spiritual in a time when even data is a form of waste?

LS: This ties in again for me with considering poetry as meaning making and representation. Language might be spiritual for me. It is intangible, I will never understand personally when conceptualists consider a word as an object or material thing. I understand what they mean by it or why they think that is, but it is not how I see words. Words for me maybe are more like appearances, sometimes I understand them, sometimes they become part of my vocabulary, often I forget them, my understanding of them changes and their meaning changes over time. Words are always shared by the person who says, writes or thinks them, by all readers and listeners and by their history and etymology. This latter part, their etymology and their form (built from letters), place part of them in the physical world. So, they are part of objects and bodies and amplify them, but for me words mostly live in a space between those bodies. Maybe a quavering shadow of a palm leaf is a good metaphor?

To answer your question more precisely: perhaps to be spiritual in a time when data is a form of waste is another way of organizing collaborative chaos in one’s personal mind? This seems selfish or not very productive but perhaps necessary in order to do more or be productive as there is (always, of course) more waste than there was before; one needs to find a way to move along with it first. Then, writing or creating something out of a spiritual experience might be a way to make it not solely an individual experience, but becomes a sharing of ordering chaos?

I have shared these lines by C.D. Wright from her poem “Crescent” many times, they show me our presence on the world and the presence of the world as part of something larger that no one understands. We should think about that, but also not get lost in thought, because we are here in the flesh. We should think about the far and the future, of course, but also what is near and at close distance, the smallness of space:

“Later beneath the blueness of trees the future falls out of place: something always happens: draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it.”

And a vague question for you: since we have been talking about moments, what do you think a moment is? I think I think of moments when I think of you, both in a temporal way as, for example, you react very well in moments—I’m thinking here about your tweets and Facebook statuses that seem very sudden. But also, because we have spent mostly just moments together. We were never in a class or program together and usually worked different days at Sector 2337. Even our collaboration now (the beginning of a chapbook publication series) happens instantaneous. Do you think moment is the best word to use in this context? I have a feeling you might describe it differently.

EK: What do I think a moment is? I think I might be the person most incapable of answering this question. I often suspect that I am incapable of feeling or experiencing time. My social media presence might suggest the opposite case. From what I’ve been told, the people who read my posts get a sense of urgency, but what I’m aiming for is a reminder issued from across the room. (You have to find a way of being loud without going full volume, otherwise you will not be heard. You have to proceed by means of various paradoxes and contradictions. This is my favorite part of the process!) Often when I’m writing and I’m at my most vulnerable—and thus need to post—I’m not feeling like I’m in a moment, but that I’m endless expanse of time that I truly wish would end. (I guess I should note here that a series of my Facebook posts have been collected in a chapbook titled 13 Theses on State-Sponsored Black Death, to be published by Kastle Editions in Chicago.) I know this is a precarious difference to propose, but it means a lot to me. My reaction to the crises at hand, if they are crises, is not a sudden or instantaneous recognition; if a moment exists, it exists as the part of the event where we are given the ability to see the structure and positions we occupy. In the case of Trump’s election, we can no longer deny the conditions our country has created for itself. But this doesn’t mean a moment is reflected in reality, it means that we are forced to reconcile our subjective ideas with the realities at hand. But again, we not in a moment, it’s nothing new; we are in the continuation of past events. (Like Lacan, I consider capitalism a euphemism for feudalism, something that I hope is more clear with the election of our impotent prince.) I guess the short answer is that I believe moments are fictional, but we rely on fictional devices to mediate our existence. Because they are not real, they are useful to us.

LS: Lastly, can you tell us a little bit about what you did during the Green Lantern Press Fundraiser? How do Tarot and art relate to you, or is this an even broader question and ties it in in the conversation of art today and politics. Although politics today in America has become a new and necessary conversation..

EK: During the fundraiser I was tucked away in a small room reading the Tarot for any curious parties. To repeat what I said above: I see Tarot as tool to create emotional linkages. At its base, it is an act of storytelling where the story is improvised in accordance with a handful of signs randomly culled from a larger set. We often accidentally approach truth in this process, but it is an emotional truth, not a fact, and it exists only in the mind of those whose cards are being read. (Although sometimes I am given a refracted version of this image when I look into someone’s eyes or read their expression.) I am not an expert in politics, nor do I want to be, but I do have a deep connection with aesthetics, which is not just style but value. Aesthetics asks us to consider what it is we value and why. Tarot is the part of my artistic practice. I use it to commune with the unconscious landscapes that reside within all of us and probe those systems of value. Like Dante who begins his inferno with a confession that he is lost, I throw myself into these blind spaces. But I’m there with the goal of remaining as lost and blind as possible. I am there to demonstrate that what we experience as emotion is the inverse of the visual.

 

 

2016 Fall in Review

What follows is a selected collection of images taken from The Green Lantern Press’ fall 2016 public program at Sector 2337 and (in the case of the Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater) Links Hall.

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Gardener of Stars, an Opera by Carla Harryman and Jon Raskin w/ Tania Chen and Cris Cheek; still from performance directed by Julia Klein, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Links Hall, 2016.

 

2016 Festival of Poets Theater

Kevin Killian, A Box of Rain, still from performance, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Links Hall, 2016.

 

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“Dust,” Robert Ashley.  Still from a reading directed by Alex Waterman, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Links Hall, 2016.

 

“My mother is writing a book that will let us crawl back into the womb / send her all your cash now / there are no apologies in it / it isn’t dedicated to anyone‬” Jen(n)ifer Tamayo. Still from performance, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Sector 2337.

 

Kevin B Lee

“It was as if the screen was to a building what a smart phone was to a person” Kevin B Lee, Still from performance, ” To Speak of Future Delights,” Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Sector 2337, 2016. Image courtesy of artist.

 

for_twovocalists by Nathanael Jones w/ Beth McDonald and Neal Markowski

“for_twovocalists” by Nathanael Jones w/ Beth McDonald and Neal Markowski; still from performance, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"If we place ourselves in the middle we are lost" Cosmological Plants by Michael Pisaro, directed by Devin King.

“If we place ourselves in the middle we are lost” Cosmological Plants by Michael Pisaro. Still from performance directed by Devin King, Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

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New Age Now, Second Annual Green Lantern Press Fundraiser, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

mrezlivinSichuan fungus salad with black & cloud ear fungus & goji berries, my offering for tonight's #newagenow fundraiser for Green Lantern Press. 6-12, come through!!!

Sichuan fungus salad with black & cloud ear fungus & goji berries, Eric May’s contribution for the Transcendental Menu of New Age Now, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"The 4-Hour Ouroboros Concept Stack" Brandon Alvendia's contribution the Transcendental Menu of New Age Now. Tonight from 7-10pm

“The 4-Hour Ouroboros Concept Stack” Brandon Alvendia’s vitamin contribution the Transcendental Menu of New Age Now, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"Imagining a post-apocolyptic future is one of the things King Lear is all about" Craig Dionne presents his book, "Posthuman Lear" (Punctum)

“Imagining a post-apocolyptic future is one of the things King Lear is all about” Craig Dionne presents his book, “Posthuman Lear” (Punctum)

 

Jake Vogds, Pseudocidal Camper, still from performance, 2016.

Jake Vogds, “Pseudocidal Camper,” 2016. Still from performance, Sector 2337.

 

Jake Vogds, "Pseudocidal Camper," 2016. Still from performance.

Jake Vogds, “Pseudocidal Camper,” 2016. Still from performance, Sector 2337.

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“I have failed to become a girl / a drill / a tablet / The marketplace winks knowingly,” Jay Besemer, Chelate, (Brooklyn Arts Press). Sector 2337, 2016.

 

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“We are part of the flourishing of disability culture as a political scene in Britain” Petra Kuppers https://soundcloud.com/humanities-pitt/petra-kuppers-interview

"A birth in the wrong era is the risk you run when you are reincarnated" Galo Ghigliotto translated by Daniel Borzutzky @coimpress #Valdivia – at Sector 2337

“A birth in the wrong era is the risk you run when you are reincarnated” Galo Ghigliotto translated by Daniel Borzutzky, Valdivia, (coimpress), 2016.

 

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“My homeland isn’t anthologies” Victor Rodriguez Nuñez translated by Katherine M Hedeen, (coimpress), 2016.

 

"That sort of quiet is toxic and in my state I have no tolerance for poison." Erik Anderson reads from "Estranger" (Rescue Press). Sector 2337, 2016.

“That sort of quiet is toxic and in my state I have no tolerance for poison.” Erik Anderson reads from “Estranger” (Rescue Press). Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"Most pornography, like literature, is a rebuttal to 'no one wants to see that'" @TarpaulinSky's Eliz.Hall #IHaveDevotedMyLifetoMyClitoris

“Most pornography, like literature, is a rebuttal to ‘no one wants to see that.’ ” Elizabeth Hall reads from “I Have Devoted My Life to My Clitoris,” (Tarpaulin Sky Press). Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"On the O of a euphemism / I would abandon you" Carla Harrryman – at Sector 2337

“On the O of a euphemism / I would abandon you” Carla Harrryman, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"Who will defend the you when they are arrested for revolutionary gestures?" Misha Pam Dick, Sector 2337, 2016.

“Who will defend the you when they are arrested for revolutionary gestures?” Misha Pam Dick, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"On Translation: A Discussion with Writer-Translators," Panel discussion presented as part of MAKE Magazine's Lit & Luz festival, Sector 2337, 2016.

“Metaphors for translation become proxies for thinking politically” with John Pluecker, Stalina Villarreal, Rebekah Smith, and Alexis Almeida; Daniel Borzutzky moderating. “On Translation: A Discussion with Writer-Translators,” Panel discussion presented as part of MAKE Magazine’s Lit & Luz festival, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

"Focus on the smallest story ever told" Wendy Spacek #psychogynecology

“Focus on the smallest story ever told” Wendy Spacek, Psychogynecology, (Monster House Press), 2016.

 

"You'd think my years in a boy band would have inured me from humiliation" Garett Caples reads poem "Garrett Caples Writes Again"

“You’d think my years in a boy band would have inured me from humiliation” Garett Caples reads poem “Garrett Caples Writes Again”

 

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Stephen Lapthisophon, Lorelei Stewart, Matthew Girson, and Devin King: Panel Discussion, Sector 2337, 2016

 

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“The stubborn, still living / force / That is the potato,” Stephen Lapthisophon, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

“A Rule by Nobody,” Installation image, Sector 2337, Chicago, 2016. Photo by Clare Britt.

“A Rule by Nobody,” curated by Third Object. Installation image, Sector 2337 (project space), Chicago, 2016. Photo by Clare Britt.

 

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I Have Wanted to be Every Girl Ever: Book Release for Olivia Cronk’s Louise and Louise and Louise

 

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I Have Wanted to be Every Girl Ever: Book Release for Olivia Cronk’s Louise and Louise and Louise

 

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“I have no way of using someone else’s time to measure my own” Kenyatta Rogers.

 

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“Never to have known that what I understood I no longer understand” Michael O’Leary invites the room to read from his new book, The Reception (Cultural Society), Sector 2337, 2016.

 

 John Judd performs for Styles of Radical Will (Italian Sculpture), a solo exhibition by Stephen Lapthisophon, Sector 2337, 2016.

John Judd performs for Styles of Radical Will (Italian Sculpture), a solo exhibition by Stephen Lapthisophon, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

“September’s here, midway there, it could end in tears,” Alberto Aguilar performs for “Wasted Hours – an evening of performance” curated by Every house has a door, Sector 2337, 2016.

 

Industrial floor mats / institutional garbage. Micahl Samama dances with weight #wastedhours

Michal Samama, “Another Heav(enl)y Day,” Wasted Hours-an evening of performance, Sector 2337, 2016.

Michal Samana begins Another Heav(enl)y Day, "Wasted Hours-evening of performance," curated by Every house has a door, Sector 2337, 2016.

Michal Samama, “Another Heav(enl)y Day,” Wasted Hours-evening of performance, Sector 2337, 2016.

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A Brave New World of Options: Color and Form with Claire Ashley

In the last week of November, Sector 2337 is posting interviews and articles with artists who are contributing to our Dec 2nd fundraiser, New Age Now. Claire Ashley is known for her inflatable paintings—large-scale, brightly colored works that effectively consume and spill out of the spaces they are installed in. For New Age Now, Ashley donated a 2D work on paper, Facet (no. 9) (2016), inspiring a conversation about color in shapes and social landscapes. Claire Ashley received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL), and her BFA from Gray’s School of Art (Aberdeen, Scotland). Originally from Edinburgh, Scotland, Ashley is now Chicago based. Currently, she teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Contemporary Practices, and the Department of Painting and Drawing. She is represented by Galleri Urbane Marfa + Dallas, TX.

Caroline Picard: Ive heard you say color is a noncerebral experiencewhat do you mean by that?

Claire Ashley: I think of color as linked to the visceral physicality of the body rather than only something you experience visually—it’s an interconnected system. I love Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink about facial expressions and their inability to lie and the idea that internal truth is hidden within a micro-expression—well, I also think that color has a similar underlying message to it. I think it’s an animal instinct that grows out of our ancient, pre-historic genetic coding for survival. Bright colors create a deeply ingrained alert in the body, whether that alert is about assessing danger or pleasure, we know we have to pause and pay attention. So, I use that aggressive pay-attention-to-me physicality and color as both warning system and system of persuasion in my work quite deliberately.

CP: Do you think its possible to separate shape from color?

CA: Hmmmm good question. Well, in my work I really enjoy the fact that color and shape get conflated, that the painted marks camouflage the form, often in ways that make each more intriguing. Color complicates the shape by altering our perceptual understanding of it: foreground/background, image/edge, symbolism/abstraction, illusion/physicality, convex/concave surface, all get called into question as your body assesses the scale and fecundity of the form and your eyes are pushed and pulled across and into it.

CP: Do you think society has changed with the advancement of dyes and color reproductions that make vibrant color more common in daily life? (Im partly thinking of friends who grew up in Communist countries and describe that color appearing more often was a dramatic shift after their country embraced capitalism)

CA: Yes, I am from Scotland so I inherently understand the visual and psychological greying effects of rain. When I moved to the States a whole world of fabulously crass, kitsch, plastic color opened up to me. Yinka Shonibare describes the opposite experience upon his arrival in Britain from Nigeria in 1980. He writes of being in color shock having moved from the vibrant eclectic color in Lagos to the grey restrained color of London (“Colour: Imperialism, Race and Taste”, Documents of Contemporary Art: Color). In addition to my own introduction to American color in the 90s, I think technological advancements have complicated our color environments and expectations. The ubiquitous and constantly illuminated screen is a supremely successful, if sinister, system of persuasion that has exponentially increased our experience of color. The super sexy and seamless gradient, acrid neons, glitter, glow in the dark paints, CMYK intensity, and body re-active materials create a brave new world of options.

CP: What is the difference (for you) between an inflated surface and a flat, planed surface? What about an inflatedor curvilinear surfaceand a splintered/diamond surface?

CA: Well I have an extraordinarily hard time with flatness, so the paper pieces I make are folded or crumpled in multiple ways so that they are more vocally present within themselves before I paint. They act in a more complex, multifaceted, substantial way much like human beings. I am interested in using the physicality and imperfections of each surface to create the painting. I want the paint to literally embody the form rather than allude to it, and the inflatables and the paper pieces whether they are planar, splintered, faceted, or crumpled come from a similar desire to think of the paint as a skin or camouflage, and the substrate as a body.

 

 

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The Technology of Lyric Poetry: An Interview with Matthew Reed Corey

What follows is an interview with Matthew Reed Corey, a Chicago poet whose work has been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Crazyhorse, the Massachusetts Review, DIAGRAM, Artifice Magazine, MAKE, Pinwheel, and elsewhere. Corey recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he won the AWP Intro to Journals Project Prize and the Paul Carroll Award in Creative Writing.

Corey will be a featured reader at New Age Now on Friday, December 2, 2016.

Jose-Luis Moctezuma: Your current project, Cream Rinse, “investigates the architectures, grammars, and possibilities of sleep.” This is a wonderfully counter-intuitive approach to that frequent and yet oft-overlooked state in which one is, presumably, least active. How did you arrive at this fascination with sleep, and what lyrical methods or techniques do you use to capture and utilize sleep as a force in your writing?

Matthew Reed Corey: I swear to you that every written history is a history of consciousness, I promise you that poetry gives access to what might be otherwise unobtainable, and I assure you that lyric poetry is a technology that desires to divulge the interiority of its speaking subjects. When I look through a lyric representation of consciousness, I interpret the apparatuses that give shape to lyric, and I’m aware that lyric manifests through the paradoxes native to those structures. At the moment of my submersion into its representative space, I acknowledge that lyric will never apprehend its subject, making it seem that I’m there for something else, whether it’s to chase the fleeting speaker, or to chew on the left-behind textures of its diction. If unconsciousness and its sigil, sleep, can be investigated, I would leave it neither to the accountants of truth nor to the empiricists but to lyric poets, whose nation is the unification of opposites. This is what A. E. Waite and other occultists mean by “the open entrance to the closed palace of the king.”

JLM: Is there such a thing as a “politics of sleep”? I’m intrigued by your insistence that (in your own words) sleep can engender “states of exception to the real texts that make sovereign power.” What do you mean by “real texts” versus “imaginary texts”? And how do concepts of “biopower” and “sovereignty” come into play?

MRC: There is nothing but a politics of sleep: where I write sleep, I also manifest what I cannot access or possess as a poor, queer, and disabled person. By sleep, I do not mean dreaming what one cannot have, but rather understanding that one always-already possesses the keys to “the closed palace.” That’s the lapis philosophorum the alchemists keep secret, just as I keep secret the topography of my interior landscapes, and just as you should keep the philosopher’s stone within the secret of your imagined body.

JLM: In speaking of sleep, I’m reminded of surrealist praxis, particularly of the photo of French poet Robert Desnos waking from a “sleeping fit” in André Breton’s Nadja. There’s also René Magritte’s mixed-media work in La révolution surréaliste (no. 12), where we see photobooth portraits of sixteen male surrealists, their faces modeling some type of sleep trance, bordering a reproduction of a painting (La Femme cachée) by Magritte. There seems to be something hermetic and occult about sleep. Does the surrealist stance regarding the magical properties of sleep influence you; or are the surrealists tapping into a much older hermetic tradition?

MRC: At the close of The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism, Patrick Lepetit quotes Philip Lamantia, the youngest surrealist poet: “‘…the bridge between sleeping and waking [will] become transparent as a teardrop—with no other work but the genius of present life.'” The genius of Plotinus’ era is Hermes in concert with The One; Baudelaire’s era has its Hermes Trismegistus, and the genius of Jung’s era is the syncretic Hermes. If I find something there with me as I sleep, I find Hermes in his wingèd boots, I find Thoth with his ibis’ beak, I locate self-awareness, and I become myself hovering over my bed in wingèd boots and with a bird’s beak. The “present life” kneels before us. Here’s what Breton writes: “God, who no one describes, is a swine.” Isn’t that so?

JLM: Thinking of the peculiar evolution of the terms “hermetic” and “occult” from the Renaissance up to now (and certainly even farther back to certain lineages of Platonic philosophy), I wonder what you think of the current concept of the “New Age” — what does this phrase mean to you?

MRC: Astrologers claim that the New Age signals the division between the Piscean Age and the Aquarian Age, or between different eras of human thought regarding the divine, or between opposing ways of being-in-the-world. In terms of lyric, I think the New Age invites 21st-century poets to look back (way, way, way back) at earlier written representations of a plastic self, of the dynamic first-person one would observe, for instance, in the ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. The earliest poems describe the transmutation of a lyric subject. The New Age, the Aquarian Age, is so old that we’ve forgotten it; this is a lie.

JLM: What realms and practices of lyric thought are currently interesting you “beyond the wall of sleep” (so to speak)? Which is to say: are there any future projects, themes, or concepts that are exciting you right now?

MRC: There is nothing but a politics of sleep: I’m experimenting by writing under psychic duress, by composing what is impossible, by writing through divination, by writing inside states of foregone consciousness, by writing across grimoires new and old, by writing English-to-English translations of ancient Egyptian poem-spells, by tying together the ends of a string, by swimming across texts in the public domain, by writing my true name and my number. There is nothing else, here, but this.

Jose-Luis Moctezuma’s critical and poetic work has been published in Jacket2, Chicago Review, Big Bridge, FlashPoint, Comma, and elsewhere. Spring Tlaloc Seance (Projective Industries, 2016) is his most recent chapbook. He is an associate editor at MAKE Magazine. He is currently at work on a dissertation on avant-garde poetics, transmediality, and automatism at the University of Chicago.

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Magritte the Writer: Kathleen Rooney on Hyperallergic

In the last week of November, Sector 2337 is posting interviews and articles with artists who are contributing to our Dec 2nd fundraiser, New Age Now. Chicago-based writer, Kathleen Rooney will contribute to the curated, artist-made menu of transcendental delights with her SAMADHI POD DATES. When describing her inspiration for the dish, she wrote, “This past quarter, the Writing the Body creative writing workshop that I teach at DePaul got to experience one-hour-long floats in sensory deprivation tanks thanks to a collaboration between one of my students and the owner of Float Sixty in River North. I chose the most restrictive option of all, the classic Samadhi tank. These dates—with their small but dense pod-like shapes—suggest that container for producing altered consciousness.” Rooney’s Samadhi Pod Dates will be served between 7-10pm on Dec 2nd, alongside additional New Age creations  by Brandon Alvendia, Jessica Campbell, Rebecca Mir Grady, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Alyssa Martinez, Eric May, Midnight Kitchen Projects, and Edra Soto.

The following excerpted interview with Rooney and Cassandra Balzer was originally published on Hyperallergic.

Magritte the Writer

Kathleen Rooney’s most recent project, René Magritte: Selected Writings, co-edited with Eric Plattner, is somewhat out of the ordinary for this Chicago-based writer. This book offers English speakers a chance to dive into the life of René Magritte, the lauded Belgian surrealist painter.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of several books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the forthcoming novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. However, Rooney’s most recent project, René Magritte: Selected Writings, co-edited with Eric Plattner, is somewhat out of the ordinary for this Chicago-based writer. This book offers English speakers a chance to dive into the life of René Magritte, the lauded Belgian surrealist painter. It includes more than a few personal letters and journals; the artist, unbeknownst to many of his fans, was a prolific writer, composing manifestos, prose poems, and even a few film scripts over the course of his lifetime. Rooney’s book provides an intimate glimpse into the artist’s mind while establishing his talent as a writer.

I spoke with Rooney via email about this project’s unexpected genesis, her relationship with Magritte, and the inquisitive, genre-bending nature of the artist’s writing.

Cassandra Balzer: Your bibliography is impressively expansive; you’ve experienced everything from novel-writing to a crazed jaunt into the world of literary remixes. What specifically was your role in the forthcoming project, and how does it compare to your previous work? What catalyzed your interest in assuming the role of editor rather than taking a more creative approach?

Kathleen Rooney: Thanks! I think that the key to my expansive bibliography in general and this project in particular is that one of my favorite emotions is curiosity — I’m super-curious about a lot of things, and I love a good mystery. The origins of this project go back about two years, to late July of 2014 when I sort of accidentally stumbled on this long-lost manuscript. To be honest, it’s still kind of nuts to me that I — who have no academic background in art history (though I did work for years as a figure model) — have ended up helping to bring this book into the world. That summer, my friend and DePaul University colleague Eric Plattner and I went to the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 show of Magritte’s work hosted by the Art Institute [of Chicago]. I’ve loved Magritte’s work ever since I was a kid, and I thought the show — which only came to the AIC, MoMA, and the Menil Collection in Houston — was excellent. As Eric and I went through, I was struck by the outstanding quality of the wall texts accompanying the paintings. Partway through the exhibit, it occurred to me that the texts were so well-done because they were excerpts of Magritte’s own writing.

As they funneled us out through the gift shop, I planned to buy a copy of his book. To my dismay, it wasn’t there. Through a lot of online and international detective work, I discovered that an English translation of Magritte’s writings had been commissioned and scheduled for publication in 1987 through John Calder’s Riverrun Press, but the publisher folded and the project never saw the light of day. So weirdly, a fully translated (albeit rough and typewritten) manuscript of Magritte’s Selected Writings by the now-dead translator Jo Levy had been languishing in an archive in Caen, France for close to 30 years, unbeknownst to just about anyone. Owing to the help of the librarian there, Alma Books (which held the rights to Riverrun’s catalogue) in the UK, and University of Minnesota Press here in the States, not to mention my phenomenal co-editor Eric, that manuscript is now a book, available to Magritte fans in English for the first time.

As for a more creative approach, the two-ish years that I ended up spending working with Eric to prepare this manuscript for publication did inspire me to take a creative angle on the material as well. I got to know Magritte and his household so deeply as I was reading his writing and working on my introduction, and that inspired me to write a novel-in-flash-fictions / prose poems told partly from the perspective of his wife, Georgette, and partly from the perspective of their series of beloved Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou. It’s called The Listening Room.

CB: Why Magritte? As previously mentioned, his writing has never been published in English. What can fans of the artist expect from this publication?

KR: Magritte because, like I said, I’m a big fan and he’s the Belgian surrealist whose work I serendipitously happened upon (thanks to Eric’s Art Institute membership). It was like finding a Picasso at a yard sale or something, like “Can no one else have gotten to this before now?”

Fans can expect a witty, opinionated, and mysterious look into the mind of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. I say in my intro that Magritte is essentially a writer’s painter, so it probably isn’t surprising that his written output is so delightful. There are manifestos, prose poems, flash fictions, detective stories, interviews, reviews, polemics and all kinds of hard-to-classify texts (even film scripts!) in here, and it’s the kind of book that is rewarding to read both straight through and in small leaps in and out.

CB: Aside from the artist in question, what about this project drew you in?

KR: Aside from not having a background in art history, I do know good writing when I see it, and I found it incredibly galling that this stuff was not more widely available in English. Magritte is a great painter — that is well understood. But the more I read the writing itself, the more I realized what a wonderful writer he is as well. Reading the book, of course, gives you a great deal of insight into his work and creative process, but even people who are not fans of Magritte will find a lot to admire here just in terms of literary quality. Both Alma and University of Minnesota initially discussed with us whether we thought illustrations or images were needed, and we concluded that they were not because this work is so capable of standing totally on its own.

CB: I think that’s an interesting and important decision. In choosing to not include his visual artwork, you’re almost forcing the reader to acknowledge his prowess as a writer.

KR: Exactly. Or if not to force, then at least to encourage them to seriously consider his prowess as a writer. It also gives the reader a choose-your-own-adventure option in terms of how they want to engage with the book. They could choose to read it as-is, totally sans images, and have a rewarding experience that way. Or they could open up their browser to Google “image search” and choose to look up images as needed every time a painting gets mentioned, or simply when they’re curious about a particular image. This latter approach can be especially fun with the pieces that do refer heavily to his visual output, like one of my favorites, “On Titles,” a long list piece, which begins:

1. General comments apropos of titles:

The titles of pictures are not explanations and pictures are not illustrations of titles. The relationship between title and picture is poetic, that is, it only catches some of the object’s characteristics of which we are usually unconscious, but which we sometimes intuit, when extraordinary events take place which logic has not yet managed to elucidate.

  • Alice au pays des merveilles

We imagine the tree to be living in wonderland. To this end, the landscape and the tree have human features.

  • L’Invention du feu

The amazing discovery of fire. Thanks to the friction of two bodies together, suggestive of the physical mechanism of pleasure.

  • L’École buissonnière

Here, the idea of playing truant is applied to objects.

Life is no longer represented on a stage set, the roving imagination sees life as a show.

  • La Leçon d’esthétique

In the forest a hunter meets an art show.

  • Raminagrobis

The cat still exists in the twentieth century. The legend bursts into modern life.

 

René Magritte: Selected Writings (2016) is published by University of Minnesota Press and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.