Hi. Sorry I’m a few days late in sending this; I have no excuse, as right now I find myself with fewer obligations than I have for some time. It’s been great here at Nida Art Colony - it always is, I guess. The rain has been pretty constant but I can still get outdoors for a good bit of each day. Yesterday I woke up and walked to Russia (or, to 100 metres from Russia) which is not something I get to say often. There is hardly anyone on the whole Spit, and the Colony itself is completely quiet. Anyway, please forgive me if I go a bit long this week (or just don’t read!). Still have the cast on my arm so I'm saving up my keyboard time and getting it all out at once.
I have only been here once before, yet my memories of that time echo deep inside me, as if those two months existed earlier in my life than they actually did (it was spring 2013). I remember taking a long walk around the dunes after I first arrived, and as I came back down the hillside towards the Colony, and emerged from the trees back onto the road, the street lamps, which I guess are programmed to automatically light when the surrounding darkness reachers a certain level, turned on. It was about 6PM -- dusk -- and they just quietly lit up as I stepped out of the woods. I was thinking a lot then about the concept of ‘nature’ and the natural; it’s no great insight to claim such distinctions are artificial constructs, blah blah blah — but at that moment, when this reddish yellow glow slowly tinted my peripheral vision, I completely lost myself in the aesthetic beauty of that moment. At that moment, those electric street lamps felt more a part of that serene, contemplative landscape than the skinny, leaning trees did (which had been shoved into the sand by the Soviets, in their attempts to make a forest exist here). It wasn’t really a life-changing philosophical moment, but it was a perfect one, and one that I keep coming back to as I have become more connected to Helsinki’s so-called ‘natural’ elements such as parks and forests.
This time I haven't had any breakthrough epiphanies, but it's been really nice. And I will savour the next 8 days before I return North. But that's OK - there is much work to be done in 2016!
I am reading like mad, three or four books at a time, split between stuff I brought and bits from the library here. I’m 200 pages into The Recognitions, which I last read around 15 years ago, and I’m doing it all austere and serious, sitting upright at my table with the web annotations open in front of me. Did you know Gaddis originally planned to use (or parody) every single line from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets somewhere in the text? Though he abandoned that plan, plenty of them remain. I particularly like 'the present, unredeemed though it may be’.
I loved season 2 of Transparent, as I loved the first. This time I felt a real resonance with my own relationship to intimacy, which has been under evaluation in the last few months. It’s crazy when a massively popular fictional television series can stir such a reaction in me - the ‘honesty’ these characters live, through what I'll call ‘benevolent enmity’, feels so much more complex and real (at points) than many of my actual experiences. Gaby Hoffman is goddamned incredible, too.
I don’t have much to say about Greenaway’s latest film, sadly. I could say lots about The Lobster but I won’t (yet). Andrej Zulawski’s Szamanka (1996), which I finally got around to watching, was more demented then even Possession was, and I’m just disappointed that I have only a 13” laptop screen to view it on. That acclaimed Ukrainian sign-language film, Plemya, mostly bored me, but Jon Jost’s Sure Fire (from 1990) didn’t at all, and I think I will probably end up eventually seeing everything by Jost (and Mark Rappaport too, who I discovered around the same time as Jost, so I link the two in my brain, even though they aren’t formally related).
Back to books: Thomas Bernhard’s Woodcutters, wow! What an absolute evisceration of the artistic lifestyle, and what a misanthropic blast it was to read. For those of you who think I am cynical now, just wait until I am the age Bernhard was when he wrote that. I also read Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark which I can’t remember if I wrote about last time, but at this point both of her novels are going to the desert island with me (if I ever get the nice option to bring books to a desert island).
HOW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD (YOU WILL ONLY MAKE MATTERS WORSE)
I also read Martin Duberman’s 1971 book about Black Mountain College, Black Mountain: an exploration in community. I didn’t previously know anything about how BMC was organised, and this turned out to be a fun read that really de-mythologised it without diminishing my admiration for its accomplishments. As many of you know, Agnieszka and I are going to try to get something started in Helsinki next year, something that I hope will be more than just another art/culture/project space - so this has been a good book to take ideas from. Ideas that I wouldn’t call straight-up ‘inspiration’ (we are not planning to open an unaccredited college), but rather case studies in group dynamics, goalless experimentation, and of course the reality of how a project like that must relate to its outside reality.
Anyway, this inevitably led to thinking about John Cage again, though Cage was much less a presence at Black Mountain than I thought prior to reading the book. Also, John Darnielle wrote a great, fun piece for Harper’s about the ongoing organ performance of a Cage piece that will last until the year 2640, which everyone should read: http://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/there-are-other-forces-at-work/
I saw that Cage’s Diary: How To Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) was recently published in its entirety. I've never read the complete version, but just the part that appears in his collection M, and Diary is actually one of my favourite works of his, textual or otherwise. So much of what drives my curiosity right now is finding forms for expressing one’s “non-fictional” relationship with the world in way that is direct, communicative and innovative at the same time. I guess the last sentence actually sums up what I want to do with my life (or maybe in conjunction with my other trusty standby, ‘pointless does not necessarily equal waste of time’).
Anyway. Like Eno’s A Year with Swollen Appendices or many of David Markson’s books, this smashes together the mundane with a ruthless, uncompromising (yet feather-light) pensiveness about art, politics, and the self. It runs by like a slipstream, a constantly twisting refraction of 1969 in the life of John Cage; most importantly for me, it directly engages with the “real world”. I just wanted to mention it because though I am not currently generating any output of my own here (besides this newsletter!), it’s the pinnacle inspiration in this week of so many others (Adler, Lobster, the beautiful and infinite fucking stars that I stare at on the beach at night until I eventually get a sore neck and/or too cold, etc.). I’m going to order the full book. You should too.
OTHER QUOTIDIAN DISPATCHES
I went to Klaipeda today with the other artists in residence here and discovered a record store, which reminded me of that one in Riga’s old town, minus the wine bar - mostly shit, but with a few diamonds scattered throughout. I found a copy of Number One Cup’s debut album from 1995, Possum Trot Plan, which I have owned and loved for twenty years. I bought it anyway, a second copy, just marvelling at how incredibly bizarre of an item it was to find in Klaipeda, Lithuania.
In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, my ‘music friend’ Nick made me a mixtape containing the song ‘Divebomb’ by Number One Cup. I loved that song and still do. That August, when they came to Pittsburgh, we eagerly went to see them at Luciano’s, a formative venue of my teenage years. They played to what was basically an empty room excerpt for Nick and I - two fanatic high school kids just thrilled to see this obscure Chicago indie rock band. I bought the LP that night and it’s been a constant presence on my turntable ever since. Maybe it’s just another typical indie rock album of the mid-90s (though a little closer to cute, melodic pop than any angular, edgy stuff) but the songwriting (which was shared across the whole band) is stellar and I still melt every time I listen to ‘Autumn Lover’ or ‘Lustrous Poppies’. It was the night before 11th grade started.
Must-read: My friend Will conducted a great interview with Owen Hatherley, author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, about the architecture of Communism. In it, he articulates the moral failure of the Estonian and Latvian treatment of their Russian-speaking residents better than I ever could myself. But really it’s about architecture, ideology, and the way today's nationalism colours these experiences. READ IT! http://deepbaltic.com/2015/12/21/landscapes-of-communism-revalued-an-interview-with-owen-hatherley-2/
‘And we are blizzarded in a melancholy, which when disassembled, proves to be mere sadness.’ - Number One Cup, ‘Lustrous Poppies'
See you next week, and thanks for reading this far if you made it!