Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I'm reading about performance and remains for a class. How to engage performance given its proclivity for disappearance. There is a supposition that time and space continue forward in a linear trajectory. How about the ever present palimpsest of overlapping spaces/times/material beings as a possibility?

I remember raulsalinas and Oloye speaking of how space requires witness. How engaging with other human beings is about transforming space by the fact of occupying it, moving its energy, filling it, giving it meaning. That once the space has contained the actions of its inhabitants, traces linger in the air, become part of the materia prima for the past and the future. In other words: that space will always contain what was in it, and so the past is reconstructed. And so is the future.

So, anxieties about disappearances are far from where I stand. In fact, I'm watching those anxieties from over here, wondering why they're visiting the minds of others. And then I think: well, genocide is a good reason to be anxious about disappearance. So is death in general. Then I think about transformation - the notion of transformation - the understanding of energy and matter as inherently in flux that requires a reframing of space, time and perception. So when M Nourbese Phillips (she is actually only the ship that carries the story) undoes time and space in Zong! and takes us all down into the refracted light of water, we understand that words are not just signifiers of matter itself, but actually generate it [Incantations].

All this aside, for this class we've had to consider the work of Sophie Calle within this conversation about performances and their remains. I first came across her work when I was constructing the conceptual framework for The Landlines Project. How she photographed eruvim in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank. Then I went on to discover her other projects/pieces/performances (project = bound; pieces = fractured; performances = audience + time + ...), The Sleepers, The Address Book, The Hotel, Sweet Venitienne... Sophie Calle is, essentially, a stalker of remains, traces, of moving bodies in space and time. Today, I am in conversation with her work in another way. Let me explain.

For some reason, I attract stalkers, people who obsess over whoever/whatever they think I am to them. I am not who they imagine, but that is besides the point. I don't think this is an arrogant claim. I've had over five stalkers in my life. I've had restraining orders issued to two of them. The others were just unstable. One of them I met before I made a six-month trip overseas. We were "dating" right before I left, but let's just say it was not that...eh hem...serious. I leave, I come back. She calls, asks to get together for brunch. That she has something for me. Perhaps I should have said no. After all, I wasn't looking to continue what had been started. But I didn't. I agreed to brunch.

And when I arrived, there it was innocently wrapped up in natural tissue paper. There were three silver rings along one edge. And the cover had a world map on it. How cheesy, I thought. But, I merely smiled and said, "You shouldn't have." I was going to leave it at that, thinking the pages were empty. And feeling more tender about the cover considering how unexpectedly thoughtful she was being: this was an album for me to fill with photos from my journey. But just as I went to put it away, she insisted, "Open it. Look inside."

And I did.

The contemporary me would get up from the table at this point and run out as fast as possible. But the 20 year old me was concerned about other peoples' feelings. Even when those feelings were so completely distorted that there was no semblance of sanity within them. So, I looked through the "album".

"Wow. What is this?"

"I took photos of myself for every day you were gone. On your birthday, I tried to commit suicide, and so I took a photo of my arm."

And indeed she had. There was the proof: a 2x2 inch polaroid image of a long red splice down the neat, pale skin of her inner forearm. I couldn't handle anymore.

"I have to go. Thank you so much for this book."

I kept my face free of expression, not wanting to incite any psychotic responses. I paid for my brunch and excused myself with a white lie about having to be somewhere else (umm, my best friend's house). I took the album with me. I left and did not look back.

I have often wondered why I did that. Why I accepted this album, those photos. Why I held onto it for two years. Maybe part of it was a fascination of the performance this woman had engaged in over a period of six months. Or maybe, I wanted material for jokes a la Cruela. Maybe part of it was wanting to understand how or why someone would use me as a vehicle for their obsessions (by using themselves as a vehicle to obsess about my absence). But, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I kept it. For two whole years.

Finally, one day on a late summer afternoon two years post-brunch, when I had tired of having the object in my possession, I tore out all the pages and threw them into the sink. I felt nauseous as the photographs of her filled the space in front of me, no longer bound by two covers (which I also threw in). I poured lighter fluid over them and lit everything on fire. The kitchen filled with blue and green smoke from all the burning Polaroids. I thought, "That was dumb. I should have burned them in a trash can outside." But it was too late. The remains lined the kitchen sink. The cabinets were black with smoke. The photographs, every last one of them, were gone.

Perhaps this was my own sort of performance. A marking of the unmarked. A reclaiming of myself by eliminating that which marked my absence. I wondered for a moment if I had done the right thing by burning those photographs. I would never be able to look at them again. And yet, the fact of their departure meant that the traces of their existence had somehow been embedded in my memory - as fractures, as colors, as charred remains. I walked away from the kitchen and sat down in the living room to think about what I had done.

When my roommate came home, she asked me what happened. All I could say was,

"I was cleaning."

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