an email exchange
by Jen Rosenblit and Tyler Matthew Oyer
SEPTEMBER 20, 2015
Hello lovely Jen,
Where are you? I’m at a café in Echo Park, sitting outside in 100-degree heat. The summer temperatures were fairly mild here, so all the New Yorkers who recently moved west are finally getting a taste of the desert realness. Feel the burn. New York burns, but this is a different kind. I always say humans aren’t lizards. It makes me miss the week I spent in Fire Island where we met. The humidity, lush green landscape and beach-to-bay rhythm was a welcome reprieve from the monotony of everyday life in Los Angeles.
Speaking of burn- the day we met you and Enrico spent what seemed like six hours rehearsing on the roof of the BOFFO residency house at the northwest end of the boardwalk in Fire Island Pines. You were mostly naked, at times with an improvised headpiece made from a t-shirt perched atop your skull. After breakfast I conservatively, parentally, hypochondriacally, and self consciously asked if, and simultaneously suggested that, you wear sunscreen. I forget what your answer was concerning the sunscreen, but what stands out in my memory is that you very boldly admitted you wanted to feel the burn, be tan, and not fear the health or beauty effects of the sun.
I must be honest and admit I’ve been slightly worried about how to approach this conversation because we’ve really just met. And while we have almost instantly developed some form of camaraderie, attraction, intrigue, respect…. this conversation could lay bare individual truths that change the course of our relationship. We agreed on this email conversation format because it’s a bit romantic; two artists writing letters to each other harkens Sartre and Beauvoir, Catherine the Great and Voltaire, John Waters and Leslie Van Houten (Leslie may not consider herself an artist, but who’s to argue murder isn’t an art?!). This format also allows for a variety of responses; short, long, messy, rewritten, quick, revised, advised, and unhurried.
So let’s begin with this notion of the burn and why you wanted to feel it so badly that week in Fire Island.
Looking forward to your reply,
SEPTEMBER 21, 2015
I'm in bed on the upper west side of Manhattan. Each window from the 12th floor apartment has a view of the Hudson. This is my dear friend's parent’s place, I'm just here for 2 weeks as they are out of town and I am perpetually without a home. I get along with NYC better now that I am not a permanent renter. She and I support each other's desires to fantasize outside of the landmarks of possibility now. We welcome one another's short comings and expensive habits. I went to the Commes des Garçons shop today and purchased a new bottle of my scent (Monocle/Hinoki) in preparation for my next round of travel out of this fair city from mid October through end of December.
I have arnica oil on every part of my body. Oh the life of a dancer! Meanwhile I ate an amazing burger after a show I had tonight. I wonder if I lived in LA, would I eat more kale? I actually think I eat plenty of kale, I just wanted to see what it sounded like to say something about myself and LA. A visit to you and your strange city is needed.
It's true, we only met for one week but you hailed me down immediately. I become interested in people really quickly, I trust that attraction.
I like to feel the burn. I like the sun on my body. I like being naked. Tan lines are cute but I much prefer even coverage! I did put sunblock on baby, I promise, but it was a hot day and I did make us rehearse on the roof deck. I think I was worried about my brain getting too hot so I wrapped a shirt around my head as to push through. I want to feel things. I'm not so interested in shielding myself. I'm not one for going through the motions. I am quite particular and would say my performances are as well. I'm working with the body at the most complex moment, when other bodies are watching and expecting something. I remember you recalling a moment in the showing Enrico and I did where I slowly shed my snake skin, (because I swam through the pool like a water snake of course) stand up to look at it, then throw it over my shoulder like a purse and walk away. I have to deeply invest in these moments. To dance this scenario or even consider that shapes in space or rhythmic patterns over time could carry that image would be cheap. There are no motions that just need to be seen. They need to exist over time, complicate and problematize themselves as the public enters and locates their own sense of becoming the audience to the work itself. It's all about time. 6 hours in the sun is nothing. My people wandered the desert for much longer than that.
I look forward to our letters. I'd like to know how your work is coming along. I remember something about a gallery show on the horizon... the fires seem unreal. What's your relationship to California actually burning? That seems insensitive on my part but I'd like to know what you are thinking about in terms of organizing thoughts and how things come together.
Kiss and hug,
Jen Rosenblit and Enrico D. Wey perform in Fire Island Pines.
OCTOBER 2, 2015
It’s interesting you ask about the California wildfires. I had to Google search to find exactly where they were and if they are indeed still burning. I’m ashamed of this, but think it’s a symptom of living in Los Angeles. This state is so geographically long that anything north of San Francisco seems meaningless for the L.A. day-to-day consciousness. People tend to take on, put on, or find themselves wearing the accessories of casual oblivion; perhaps burned and blinded in the worst ways by the golden light from the Golden State. Here, we have a severe drought and people still wash their cars and water their lawns. The homeless population is growing and being displaced by the city, even killed by the LAPD while we drive around listening to “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift. The state is burning but “all I wanna do is get high by the beach…”
It’s funny how quickly and easily you lose touch, even with the city you live in. It’s easier for some than others, this we are well aware. Is this why so many people are migrating to Los Angeles? Perhaps they hope to further alienate themselves from the oppressions of the white supremacist, neoliberal, global capitalist social landscape by further embedding themselves into the more relaxed, more expansive west coast alternative to New York. It’s like getting a vaccination for their allergies or the looming, dooming, approaching flu season. My grandfather used to say California was another country and the people who lived there were “out there”.
The fires in Northern California seem to have cooled down due to the efforts of the firefighters referred to as the “Angels in Orange”. These angels are inmates; low-level offenders who perform more than 3 million hours of emergency response work annually.
I remember when I moved to L.A. to attend CalArts, Leslie Dick (then director of the program along with Martin Kersels) warned those new to southern California (most of us) that one day, while commuting the 30 miles north to campus, a wildfire could be ablaze beside you, paralleling the 5 as you traverse the Valley. Five years later I have yet to experience this. The thought is exhilarating and frightening… the surreal disaster as witnessed through my movie-screen-windshield.
I have experienced some fires in L.A. One morning while living with Mette Hersoug on Beverly Boulevard we awoke to a bizarre sky. An industrial fire was burning in East L.A., sending an enormous cloud of smoke and ash between the rising sun and the city. The result was a brown, grey, orange glowing haze… sort of like a Martian sky depicted in a Hollywood film. Another was the epic downtown fire on December 8, 2014 that destroyed Geoff Palmer's under construction Da Vinci housing complex. It has been ruled an act of arson by accused suspect Dawud Abdulwali. While I missed the flames, I returned to L.A. mid-day on December 9 to smoke billowing upward, metal bent into the most gorgeous postures and the view from the 110 Freeway of the Los Angeles County Health Services building fully restored.
OCTOBER 20, 2015
I must admit it’s been a few weeks since I started, then temporarily abandoned, this reply. Some big things have happened for both of us. I traveled to the east coast for the following:
to attend a wedding in New Jersey
to see Everett Quinton in Drop Dead Perfect
to have dinner and catch up with Everett Quinton
to visit my parents and sister in Pennsylvania
to clean out storage of old artworks from my life before moving to Los Angeles
to lecture and do studio visits at Penn State University (my undergraduate Alma Mater)
to catch up with two life mentors (Bonnie Collura and Anthony Leach)
to perform as part of an Alumni cabaret showcase at Penn State
and to sing with the Essence of Joy Alumni Singers for the first time in three years.
Here is a picture from my performance-
You and I texted a bit but I’m glad we couldn’t manage to see each other while I was in New York. That would have produced interactions outside of this written exchange. I want it all, or most of it, here, for now.
Meanwhile it’s been announced and you’ve already been fulfilling your performance research as part of the Greater New York survey show at MoMA PS1. Congratulations! I want to know more about this project Clap Hands/Solo Studies. I’ve seen images of you and others wrapped in fabulous-looking hot pink fabric. Is it felt?
I’ve noticed you have been referring to this iteration as research for the piece. Can you elaborate on that distinction?
Starting to develop a strong desire to see you in person…
OCTOBER 23, 2015
I'm writing to you from the Copenhagen airport. In Transit from a festival in Bergen and now heading to Munich. I'm performing in this work called Uni*Form by Simone Aughterlony and Jorge Leon. Maybe I told you about it when we met on the island. Ah, just had a warm memory of sun and water and not wheeling my suitcase on cobble stone and through airport malls. Ok, the memory is over, back to reality as the Danish folks walk past me sitting on the floor near an outlet. This work is amazing, rough, troubling, tender, silly. We are dressed as police in whatever city it is that we travel to. It is some serious movement research and highly refined attention to the vibrancy of varying materials. We hone sensuality even as we explore challenging images of useless cops on patrol. This work really fulfills me at the moment. In fact, I think I have to talk my way through this work to even understand where I am with my own work. Bergen was cute but very small, rainy, expensive. I'm looking forward to a few days off in Munich and then another go at this work for a different audience. I love the people in this work. Sometimes we are on stage and I feel such deep things for them. Then I realize I’m performing. This is somehow in the work as well, all these shifts navigating the self with the uniform or group. Coming together with people and ideas is such a challenge, and then inside of the challenge, that labor seems to be the content.
You asked me about my new work, the nature of calling it research, the Greater New York exhibit at MoMA PS1 and yes dear, that is pink felt, fuchsia to be exact. This new work is called Clap Hands. For MoMA PS1 we added solo studies to the title for some specific boring reasons. I'll tell you about them. On a super logistical level this work is commissioned to premiere April 20-28 at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn as an off-site co-presentation with New York Live Arts. Because of this I have to be careful where the work appears before its premiere and how it is interpreted. The other reality is that it is still literally research. I make performances in a way that kind of messily explores a lot around what it might actually look, sound and feel like. Not sure how much sense that makes to you, but I use performances or scenarios for audience to build a kind of desire for how the work wants to sit or stand or hover in the room. So this work began with an intention of making a solo. The thing I like about performance is coming together with other bodies. I like when my ideas are opened up, messed up, taken out of order out of context. I like it when I can't recognize myself. I like, well not in the moment, but in this sadistic way of looking back, I like it when I’m not sure if I like my work. I tend to have great doubt, not about how good or bad it is, but there is a moment where I’m inside of something that doesn't necessarily resemble me, it doesn't hold me or comfort me. I've started to realize that this is a major moment of locating my trust in the work. There seems to come a time when I really sink in and just say I trust this process and this work and these people. So, I asked three other people to help me crowd this solo. I brought in this large sheet of fuchsia felt that has taken on different forms and purposes and levels of importance. I brought it in initially because I was interested in talking about the disappearance of a body as a solo concept. In a more conventional arrangement solo might mean something more about the presence of a muse.
I was doing some initial improvisations with a really simple agenda of "seeing and being seen" mostly by found objects around my studio, a table, a chair, a ladder, a ball, a piece of wood scrap. I’m always wondering about how to practice the moment of performance, the being seen part. Now that I say this it doesn’t seem so different from the “seeing” part which is equally as difficult. I'm looking for more language to pass on to my collaborators on this, so I would allow the table to see me and for me to locate any kind of flirtation or intimacy with that form. I went through the channels of turning the things into bodies, using my body to get close to them in some kind of sensual or familial way, creating images with all of our forms near one another. I started to locate a deep problem with turning the things into bodies and always have a problem with my body only having a relationship to another body. Coinciding with a breakup, leaving a lover, an apartment and all my things that I loved and even to a large degree my stable position as a New Yorker, I wanted to begin to honor alternative forms of intimacy, ways that I know I have been close to things and allowed for things to get close to me without having to know them and own them. Ways that aren't based on need or completion but might have something to do with being called or hailed. I removed the objects from the practice and got the felt. I wanted to work at it. I wanted to obfuscate the room, our bodies. I didn't want to think about the solo being my body, I wanted the solo to be the room, or the audience, or the problem of being looked at. Naturally, we did things like going under the felt. I eventually cut up this large piece to begin fabrication on a felted table and chair. Wow was that a stupid idea that was all about visuals - I'm such a sucker sometimes! Truly, for a moment in the research I was still looking to create a scene that made some kind of sense or logic. It is clear to me that the work is about locating a kind of emergent logic and this can be super messy. I have to be OK to sit in this mess for some time, potentially forever. This really frustrates the organizational and tidy parts of me! I'm still in phases of sculpting the material to make these body forms but what I am actually much more interested in is folding the felt, stacking it, using it is a measuring tool in the room, spreading it out and cleaning it up, creating constellations with it in the room that locate our bodies but don’t necessarily set up a demand for our bodies to be the most dominant. In no way am I suggesting there is a democracy of the felt material and our bodies, it is more a question of what is allowed to hold intimacy and what just representation or symbolic of that.
The felt is hot, bright, ugly, not representative of my aesthetic, it is synthetic. I think it's quite cute that there is a play on the materiality of the felt as it relates to the more poetics nature of... feelings.
The text that you heard me perform on the island is a script I am writing for this work. It navigates stage directions mixed with poetic meditations on the work as well as wikipedia stories (actually facts but read like stories) on things that have or will disappear. Early on I thought I could disappear the solo by making it then writing it down in stage notes, like "move mic to chair" or "she would position right here, covering me". I thought how funny to tell the audience what they were meant to have seen, or maybe even narrate them seeing it. Now it is just a kind of poetics in the work, weaving in stories of things that have disappeared like a boat, The Great Salt Lake, hair, bees. I'm just trying to crowd the room right now. Manifest illegibility. This seems to be the research. This will be the hardest thing for an audience to take in. Intentional illegibility. Why would anyone do that? I guess I’m looking for more space, a widening, and so maybe I’m asking people to follow me, not simply to just see me.
At MoMA PS1 we were working with that nature of the non committal public, the gallery walker... very different than sitting down in a theater. I wondered what it takes to become an audience, together. One major problem in performance is that we don't really make any agreements with the audience. It is more about consumption. I don't know if I want to make endless agreements, but I do want to think about coming together and how it often either fails or is painful. But we deal with this, we navigate it and that is super interesting content for me. We would spend hours in the gallery, sometimes performing solo scores for each other, sometimes talking, sometimes watching the public as they make their way toward being an audience in the room or maintaining a casual stroll, grazing on all items that look like art, or "intentional". At one point a man flipped through my journal, another took a picture of the cord that was plugged into the wall from a light we were using. It can be so silly, art. But also, positioning everything in the gallery as artful or intentional allows the viewer to understand their position in relation. We are always making extensions of ourselves. We are always looking to connect, to bond, to fuse, to bleed into the next thing. I'm not against that, I have questions about it, but more, I want to really watch that happen. We would leave the piles of felt in the room when were would take a pause. Visitors would pass through, slowing their walk down, moving up closer to the felt, looking up at the ceiling, like maybe it was a trap or a trick, like that couldn't be it, is that the art? A ghostly presence took over and was all located in how the public felt as though they had missed something. It was clear that bodies were present in the room, its like we left a stench, something that only another body would know. But if we were not visibly performing, there was such an absence, they were looking for us, they would wait, they would try to maintain the experience until they could locate themselves in our absence. I could cry remembering some of the beauty that I saw in people looking at the work, or the missing.
Now I'm picking this back up from my hotel in Munich. I'm a hotel queen. I have not had a steady apartment for over a year now. I'm getting really good at keeping my liquids under 3ML in a plastic ziplock bag. I'm getting better at not knowing where I am and then learning something out about that place.
Oddly enough around this time of The Greater New York survey my collaborator and dear friend Addys Gonzalez became clear that he is not interested in the kind of research that needs his body to be seen - that he may not want to dance anymore. I've known this about him for years. This is what I love about him. He's never looking for that attention that I sometimes feel myself foaming at the mouth for. Each work has been a kind of tribute or love song to him. As I approached the solo I knew that I was offering him a way out. I was creating the escape route for this practice of eyes on his body. For being seen. I've only ever wanted to work with him to be a part of the moments that he leans toward this clarity but oh lord was it a bit emotional when the clarity came out. He doesn't want to dance right now. He doesn't want to research in this way. Anyway, so here we are. We are now wondering what it means for him to not perform. What it could look and feel like for his body to support the work in a way that doesn't speak to the virtuosity of his performing self. This is the whole work for me. Things disappear, there is erasure, to talk about the missing we have to constantly re contextualize the remnants, the remains, whatever was left. We must re-align ourselves. Lauren Berlant says "the reorganization of life makes us lose our things".
I currently have no idea what this performance will look like or what it will do or if it is even important. But I am over here, holding onto all the felt.
I'd like to hear and see you perform again soon. I recall some serious chills on my skin. I did that thing from the audience where I just nod my head, it was just a clear yes from the start. It's a nice feeling, when someone else's body stops yours, makes you just say yes to it.
until soon my dear
DECEMBER 3, 2015
It’s been many weeks since I read, then set aside, your last reply. You present quite a few deep notions for me to process. At this moment I’m writing with feelings of frustration, anger and sadness that together coalesce into a version of numbing helplessness. As you probably know, yesterday there was another event to add to the rhythmic trend of mass shootings in the United States. According to a standard a mass shooting is any event in which four or more people are injured or killed by guns. In an article by Sharon LaFraniere, Sarah Cohen and Richard A. Oppel Jr. posted last night for The New York Times online their research states: In 209 out of 336 days this year, at least one shooting left four or more people injured or dead in the United States, according to compilations of incidents derived from news reports. The rhythm looks like this-
DEC. 2, 2015 14 dead; 21 injured at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino
DEC. 2, 2015 1 dead; 3 injured in Savannah, GA
NOV. 29, 2015 3 dead; 9 injured at Planned Prenthood in Colorado Springs
OCT. 1, 2015 9 dead; 9 injured at Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon
JULY 16, 2015 5 dead; 3 injured at two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee
JUNE 18, 2015 9 dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
This stuff is on my mind. I think it is important to list things. It visually lays out autonomous events that in language become conflated into some kind of diminished or generalized topic. President Obama asked for the United States to not allow this kind of mass violence to become normalized. I’m sure I’m not the only one who fears and feels it already has. I remember media outlets portraying a nationalistic shock and disturbance after the Columbine High School shootings. Again after Sandy Hook Elementary. Now it seems there is a permanent column in the media programming systems for devastating civilian gun violence. This is located too comfortably next to the column for police brutality. Freedom never really meant security, it meant the right to harm or kill at free will. To reference Kanye West lyrics: freedom is free doom.
I feel there must be a generative way of responding to your last letter with this emotional lens of discontent and discouragement.
It seems like one common thread running through your creative rubric for Clap Hands is that of challenging or re-organizing the individual body. I like that you set up a concept that is inherently contradictory- create a solo that removes the muse. The singular, spectacularized, examined, focused, specific, learned body. Remove the muse. Diminish individualism. A solo in which the author/performer cannot recognize oneself. This sounds like you’re pointing at a utopia of sorts: an imagined space to manifest illegibility. The illegible body could transcend conventions of race, class, gender, or sexuality. Not sure how I feel about that. Let me try again. The illegible body could instead escape racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and neoliberal global capitalism. Escaping discrimination, hatred, violence and physical harm is something worth looking toward in the realms of art making and art viewing.
These shootings, which swim heavily through my attempt to focus on our ongoing conversation, seem so legible to me. They take the form of militarized maneuvers or video games. Enter, shoot and kill. I don’t mean they are casual. These tragedies are indeed extreme ruptures to the daily mesh but they are hardly alternative or imaginative. They feel, and are at this point, a prescribed action of discontent.
I remember during Madonna’s 2012 world tour supporting her MDNA album she used fake guns on stage in the name of a love revolution. Not only was I offended and disappointed that one of the most powerful pop stars in the world (who arguably has done some pretty transgressive things in the past) would glamorously utilize such violent tactics, I was annoyed by how tritely uninspiring it seemed. Watching Madonna’s handgun choreography, which led her to fake kill bad-guy dancers, was actually downright lame.
The trite radicality of guns and gun imagery, to me, opens a place of potential for your choice of a bundle of magenta felt. (I know this is a huge leap but I’m allowing myself to compare tools.) I like how you say it’s not your aesthetic. You describe it as hot, bright, and ugly. It seems to point at the anti body. The anti human. The anti natural. The anti form. The potential for constant re shaping. Anti fixed, un-concretized. Talk about illegibility. Your language around the felt makes me think about Kembra Pfahler’s provocative term Antinaturalism. This is a movement that invites the radical re-imagining of representation and behavior as a space of political agency and transcendence. It seems like you are allowing space to reconsider this felt as a non-human body whose presence and form alters itself and its audience.
The felt brings to mind works by Robert Morris and Joseph Beuys. In 1968 Morris’ essay “Anti-Form” departed from traditional values of minimalism to reassess assumptions that, contrary to earlier assertions, the construction of such minimalist objects had relied on subjective decisions and therefore resulted in icons- making them essentially no different that traditional sculpture. His large scale, static, formalist studies in symmetry and gravity alluded to the human body. Beuys used felt as a skin- to wrap his body, upholster a grand piano, a cello… His felt suit has become an eternal material stand in for the artist’s persona, his oeuvre. You seem to pick up where these men left off. They conceptualize the felt as a metonym for the body; the generalized body for Morris and the self-portrait for Beuys. You have the possibility of presenting the pink felt as a blob with metaphorical potentialities.
Blob as, stack as, mound as, fold as, heap as, bundle as, soft as, pink as, crease as, large as, drape as, flat as…
Normally I would feel concern about this decision because metaphors are open to interpretation and I typically prefer a tight legibility when encountering art, specifically live art. This openness seems to be the very thing you are searching for, the thing you value. In this moment I cannot blame you.
Capitalism loves gun violence. To prove, gun sales are at an all time high. I came across a company called Bodyguard that sells bullet resistant 7mm thick ballistic Ultra High Density Polyethylene Fiber blankets. Almost all of the images on their website show children in school settings covering their bodies with these bullet proof blankets. They state: Bodyguard™ blanket was developed and tested to specifically protect our children and teachers in the event of a school shooting. Bodyguard™ blanket is designed to be bullet resistant. It is made of the same materials our U.S. soldiers wear while in battle, and is equal to or exceeds the protection used by our police departments. After extensive research, it is estimated that Bodyguard™ blanket provides bullet resistant protection against 90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the United States. We are so confident in the protective properties of Bodyguard™blanket we are encouraging every administrator to make it an integral part of school and university lockdown protocol.
They come in three sizes:
Small: For individuals 5ft tall or shorter with an average body frame 20” x 36” $1,011.49 each (price includes shipping)
Medium: For individuals 5ft fall (heavier body frame) and to 6ft (average body frame) 23” x 48” $1,415.08 each (price includes shipping) Large: For individuals 6ft and taller (heavier body frame) 26” x 50” $1,622.90 each (price includes shipping)
The illegibility the Bodyguard blankets provide intends protection. The lack of absurdity is astounding. Is your felt concerned with protection? You mention disappearance. In the case of Bodyguard, to disappear momentarily means to survive. But for some bodies it is important to combat systemic disappearance. This is something to consider. The slippage between the legible and the illegible body means dramatically and politically different things for different bodies at different times. What does it mean to make a black, brown, trans, disabled, large, or female body illegible? What does is mean to make a cis, white, male, CEO illegible? My imagination slides into thoughts of dissolution.
I realize I may be a bit generous with engaging your ideas thus far. I will admit I want to be generous with you. I feel an attraction to your energy. I remember sharing some critical reflections with you while on Fire Island that seemed to lay a foundation for camaraderie. I’m not afraid to say I fantasize about causing trouble with you in the future.
Donald Trump is legitimately running for President.
More work to do.
DECEMBER 10, 2015
I long for your long emails. I must admit, I crave the amount of space and time it takes me to get through them. The way I want to respond immediately but feel like a response needs its time, like I can't rush letting you know what I mean and feel and what I want things to mean and how I never know what things are. Things are too short these days. Nothing is serious, no one is concerned. You are. I feel like I've met my kind with you a bit. Or maybe like you remind me to care a bit more.
I’m not quite sure how to talk about the problem of guns in this country along side my work. My work just seems like a doll game in proximity to how much we need to talk about the list of shootings and deaths.
I don’t know if I am asking for or hoping to generate a utopia actually. I might be asking more that we sit next to the problems and hover inside of them. Honor the mess of the dystopia and continue to dwell without fixing the walls and buffing the floor. Let’s let decay occur. The phenomenon of disappearance as it addresses the body is one of the problems I am navigating. I’m not looking to disappear things, even though most things do tend to fade away, much like I am not looking to position beauty in my work, even though it emerges. I am tracking phenomenologies. I have no way to speak directly toward the massive problems in the world through art making. Why I would make a dance "about" race politics, gun control or global warming is beyond me. I am a political body. I am a queer woman who puts labor into how I negotiate myself, who I am intimate with and where I locate kinship. I have a trust that because I am an active human in these areas my work might speak or brush up against change, it might be oppositional or ask for more continually.
In order to begin a process that deals with the fucked up space that we continue to operate inside of especially in this country, surrounding the isolation and persistent ghettoization and poverty of certain groups of people I start from the most basic space-intimacy. The problem of coming together. We reject difference. It makes no sense. It doesn't help us see ourselves unless we position that difference as small and low in relation to our massive dominant selves. My work is concerned with the dystopia of coming together. Arrangements and constellations of togetherness are not actually bound to sameness or harmony. In fact, dissonance, can be something quite glorious, labor intensive and beautiful all the while not high functioning or sustainable.
I guess what I am asking for is more space - more expansive ways to define things and for precision to not be something that isolates other things. I long for the ability to move closer to an idea or a feeling while creating more space for it. To touch something and truly feel it, but not own it as my dear friend Jorge Leon reminds me.
Is the felt we use concerned with protection? I don't know. I think it could be for sure. Today I asked Effie Bowen, my dear friend and collaborator, what would she do in relationship to the felt to treat it? How far would she go for it? Can it be an extension of herself or can she be an extension of it? Can she care for it like she might another body? Is there a way we can begin to speak about alternative forms of intimacy in hopes of addressing the problem of togetherness? I have given her some personal examples:
I would organize the shit out of the felt.
I would clean it, groom it, pick my long hairs off of it that it tends to collect.
I would move it, remove it.
I would compromise my physical position for it.
I would linger near it, not knowing it.
I would get lost in it.
A practice that feels so against being a strong woman in this world, I would allow for not-knowing.
I would trust it could protect me and I would flirt with the invitation that others could sit near it with me.
I would create more space with it.
I would leave it alone.
I would break the law, I would be naughty with the felt.
These are things I would do. I have invited her to try those things but what I am more interested in is what she would do in order to find an intimacy with something so absurd. Much like another body, what is the labor we would participate in, endure for?
I keep feeling like I would go too far. I would waste myself. In hopes of locating another in a way that doesn't eliminate my autonomy, I would go far. This is some Libra shit. The desire to locate others is deep inside my planetary makeup. I am starting to notice how I create space for departure, for disappearance. It is something that happens. People, bodies, ideas, availability, it fades. Space becomes limited. We isolate people so much that invisibility is the only trace of presence. I am not trying to position this as an idea in art. This happens and it is a problem.
We are fear based. We feel invisible when difference enters. So, before it can be present, we isolate it. We position it and create tales around it. We make up stories about existence and disappear it.
A friend mentioned that Donald Trump was amazing because he would just be such an ass that he would ruin the Republican Party and all would be ok. I’m worried. I don't trust this moment. I’m concerned.
love to you my dear.
FEBRUARY 4, 2016
Today is my sister’s birthday. You and I have been writing for almost five months. This is my last exchange for the particular engagement. I’m scratching pink polish from my nails as I re-read your last message. I painted them at the Mutant Salon performance at Commonwealth & Council two weeks back. A lot has happened. Holidays, flights, a new year. I relocated my studio last weekend. It feels good to have a new space, to throw things away, and begin to shape an archive of past projects and materials.
I feel you. I’m thinking about care. The list of directives you gave Effie reorient the body’s relationship to object and time with tender, tactile considerations. Can this be care?
I would organize the shit out of the felt.
I would create more space with it.
At our recent tir talk (2), loads of people filled Pieterspace to engage ideas of queer family making… but more like queer familying, or just queering. The conversation was messy, difficult, energetic and expansive. Queers of all types listened, responded, brought forth ideas, suggestions, and anecdotes. For over two hours we discussed things. What is a queer agenda? Is being monogamous un-queer? Who wants to have a child? Are you in love? Can we have a communal, shared bank account? Can we kill the singular identity? What are the material realities of this? Can we not reference a white, male theorist? Can we stand in a circle and hold hands? Why aren’t we talking about sex?
Some people were frustrated. Dominant voices dominated. There was a need to reflect on what had happened. Expectations were not met. People felt inspired. People felt tired.
I would compromise my physical position for it.
I would linger near it, not knowing it.
My best friend’s mother died on January 16. She had battled cancer since 2012, a harsh reality that laid an uncomfortable foundation for our long distance friendship. My friend lives in New York and Copenhagen, so our communications are limited to emails and Skype sessions. After the diagnosis, I thought it best to not bring up her mother’s illness when we spoke. I thought we should talk about art, friends, and gossip as a way of relieving the pain and sadness of having a mother with an aggressive strain of terminal cancer. I thought we could figure those lighter things out - feel accomplished, organized, positive, empowered. The inevitable anxieties of illness bubbled into an issue greater than art, friends, and gossip - greater than organization and positivity. It became a point of conflict in our friendship. It became an issue of care. What I thought was helping was actually dominating and suppressing a different kind of interaction and exchange. My friend needed me to ask how she was feeling, how her mother was doing, and be able to sit with the uneasiness of pain, confusion, and anger. Be able to sit with the emotional contradictions of a hope for life and the knowledge of mortality. I needed to compromise what I knew (and found comfort in) and allow things to linger in the liminal queer space of not knowing - to confidently allow the not knowing.
I would clean it, groom it, pick my long hairs off of it that it tends to collect.
This is care. Attending to your partners, your protection, your collaborator, your thing. The felt cannot tell you what it needs, but you can approach it anticipating it’s wishes, desires, and abilities based off of what you know about it by spending time with it. Not like the anticipations of a patriarch who “knows what’s best”, but with learned, shared, attentive responsibility. I’m curious how your list functions now. Has it grown? Has it been tossed away? Is it a script for all your collaborators on Clap Hands? Do your collaborators treat each other the way you intent to treat the felt?
I would trust it could protect me and I would flirt with the invitation that others could sit near it with me.
To trust in protection, for some, is utopic.
A close friend asked what is queer family to me? My answer came surprisingly quick - to allow each other the space and time to be together in the ways that we are - to identify the allergies we share with heternormative temporalities and to accept the differences we feel toward each other. To be reductive- family is a safe space to extend care beyond sameness, beyond homogeneity, and beyond heteronormative scripted expectations. Do you think Clap Hands is building a family?
I would get lost in it.
I would break the law, I would be naughty with the felt.
You seem to translate fears and difference into opportunities for realigning expectation. The Administration of Fear comes from the top down. It’s structural, embedded, pathological. I hope the actions from your prompts can introduce you, your collaborators, and audience members to prospects of getting lost. Getting lost sounds fun. Getting lost may be necessary for safety and survival. For some, getting lost is all they can do.
Good luck with your naughtiness. I believe you.
I look forward to seeing you and Clap Hands soon. Thanks for your commitment, patience and dedication with our written exchanges. I hope it’s just the beginning.
Love from Los Angeles,
Tyler x x
MARCH 25, 2016
Family. I keep typing and deleting my answer here.
I'm on a plane to Marfa, Texas. My final residency to "complete" Clap Hands. Something about the desert seems appropriately lonely and vast. You can see for miles but nothing is revealed. The landscape just keeps going.
I have been busy with organization for years. Previously it has existed as an obsessive/compulsive ordering and cleanliness of my personal space. I could spend a whole day in my apartment drinking wine and shifting things around the room, then standing in the room to see how I feel inside of each new constellation. I haven’t had a consistent apartment during the process of Clap Hands. Something about a nomadic or temporary home is embedded into the work. We carry our things with us. We are responsible for our things. Still, I sit on planes and trains closing my eyes, imagining myself in the kitchen, where I would place the mugs, if the vase with fresh flowers would be on the table or near the window, I often like the table cleared, just a surface. These daydreams are not about furniture, they are about architectures for gathering. I'm trying to imagine and reimagine ways to get closer and the absurdity of it all is that I build a situation where I seem to be lacking the tools to foster and support this happening. I make a house without a front door. If there is no architecture for gathering as we knew it, where can I sit? What could i offer someone? That stick on the ground, over there, we could stand near that, I don't know what we would call it, or who we would be in relation to each other, but we would be together.
I have been experiencing organization in different manifestations lately, ways in which to care for things that don’t put them or me in a singular place. I have been hovering, lingering, over staying. I have been experiencing the things as they touch each other for longer than what feels comfortable. I have been letting time exhaust itself until something eventually gets renewed or until something fades away. I have been curious not about why things disappear but that they do, and how we create systems for organizing the haunting remains that are more often than not, violent. Systemic patterning in order to reduce pain, the felt. This is something about family I think, these ungovernable skeletons of logic. How can we begin to manage feelings and supporting each other with more space around our bodies without ordering, without eliminating the precarity that is intimacy?
In recent public showings people have told me how much they love the part when the three of us finally come together. I like it too. I want to be close. I feel an overwhelming ache for all the other parts. The problems, the not fitting, long long spans of aloneness, the dystopia. Clap Hands is something we have to sit alone with, to recall being together.
Thank you for the conversation my dear, it has been so sweet to find you as a kind of companion during my travels.
Jen Rosenblit and Tyler Matthew Oyer in Fire Island Pines, August 2015
JEN ROSENBLIT has been making performance in New York City since 2005. Recent works focus on an improvisational approach to choreographic thought, locating ways of being together amidst impossible spaces. Rosenblit is a 2015-16 Movement Research Artist-in-Residence, a 2014-2015 workspace artist through Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, a recipient of a 2014 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Emerging Choreographer for a Natural dance, a 2013 Fellow at Insel Hombroich (Nuese, Germany), a recipient of the 2012 Grant to Artists from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a 2009 Fresh Tracks artist (Dance Theater Workshop). Rosenblit was included in MoMA PS1’s Greater New York exhibition in October 2015, and has received commissions from The Kitchen, The Invisible Dog Art Center, New York Live Arts, Danspace Project, and Issue Project Room. Rosenblit has also collaborated and performed with artists including Simone Aughterlony, Young Jean Lee, Ryan McNamara, Yvonne Meier, Sasa Asentic, Anne Imhof, Miguel Gutierrez, A.K. Burns, Kerry Downey and Joanna Seitz. Rosenblit's next work, Swivel Spot, a companion piece for Clap Hands will premiere at The Kitchen March 2017.
TYLER MATTHEW OYER founded tir journal in 2015. He is an artist, performer, writer and organizer based in Los Angeles. His work has been presented at MoMA PS1, REDCAT, dOCUMENTA (13), Hammer Museum, Kunstnernes Hus Oslo, Art Basel Miami Beach, Bergen Kunstall, Rogaland Kunstsenter, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, High Desert Test Sites, Highways Performance Space and the Orange County Museum of Art. He received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2012.