95 Claremont Ave. #12, NY,NY, noon, 09/29/1997ce
The 12th annual Anti-Gentrification Festival will begin here in a minute. There are tables being set up all through the intersection and the first crackly, then tinny, over-trebled and finally thuddy-bass-ed, and slightly more balanced sound of a PA of some kind kicks through the residential buildings at this corner. The kids are all setting up different stands and tables outside as I write.
I want to do some straight chronicling of the events of yesterday because the day was so full of activity and information. Let me get my coffee and a little more comfortable for the direct reportage process.
<Break> There is a relationship between B. and I as colleagues. He is a writer of the daily. He is a reporter. He is a member of the press and he attempts to work within that structure. I am a writer, too. The type of writing I do is at a different tempo, set at wide, broad strokes over years. Instead of the daily or the column-oriented construction of events into a format for a daily deadline, I create my own deadlines and parameters for describing and reporting on my world, at long-term estimation periods.
Yet we have so many things in common. We take coffee and read the paper. We are regular in our approach to the machine. We keep orderly notations and structures. Writers are a funny lot, but it is easy to pick one out when you’ve got one in your sights. B. understands I’m a writer and so he provides a vantage point, coffee, the paper, simple things. And a complex thing, too, for with the capacity to switch media like this I can capture much more than with just the field notes.
Here in the United States where so many things (everything?) are about money and its exchange, here in a capitalized society it is difficult to explain why I am able to use B.’s gear or coffee or he, mine. In the world of the arts this question does not arise. As an artist, we are communist by definition. We have to commune in order to create in a meaningful way. And so we try to order our efforts so the least amount of the fabric of the lives of others is required to allow us to participate to create the highest degree of impact or affect the highest degree of contact with others.
If a pen is the only thing I can afford, what is the most powerful thing I can make with it? What is the most powerful thing I can say? If I have access to a computer? Or a video outfit?
The tools are merely media. One of the most stupid things to do is to glorify the tools themselves.
The issue of how to use them is the decision of the artist who takes his task seriously and approaches with an organized effort. Right now I am in New York. This aspect of the process requires me to be here, now and to wait. So I’m trying to get what I can of the time.
I chronicle and report and keep the process going in whatever way possible. I attempt to get to places and see things and try to document to the best of my abilities what I experience. I am also trying to do something very different from journalists like Bob who participate in a language upon which his colleagues attempt to agree.
I am participating in a way in which I want to make language into a tool as well. I want to bend and angle and break it if I have to in order to present what I feel is an accurate portrayal (in metaphor) of the me I was when I was experiencing the things I describe.
This includes an attempt to completely embrace subjective-ism. It is to turn subject into object. And collect with language. This is the tempo of the kind of writing which I do.
For B., the writing itself and the perspectives represented take a back seat to the deadline and the result is the beauty of having a regular, ordered, ouevre of work over a long period of time (so beautiful) which requires, patience, discipline and dedication, not to mention the ability to tolerate editors, publishers and untold other interveners on a daily basis (no small thing – I CANNOT DO IT RIGHT NOW). He embraces and accepts the natural limitations of the form. I admire him his ability to do this, but I do not wish it for the world.
Well, let us begin shall we?
Yesterday morning I awoke to the beautiful sounds of South Indian music and singing as H., the Indian woman with whom I am staying, (who has been so kind and good to me since my arrival by accident in her lap in the street unknown, by “accident,” three weeks ago … see previous entries) awoke, showered and readied herself for her job to which she must go every morning at 8:30.
We chatted briefly about meeting up later in the day for a reading by two authors at a space downtown. She had the directions at the office and so I told her I’d call her there later and she left. I arose, drew a hot bath and took up a few of the fashion magazines which the woman from whom H. is subletting the apartment keeps on her windowsill. It’s the first time I’d ever read any of these magazines which are such a huge part of the literature in this country.
There I was, 30, bearded, shaved head, in a hot bath, listening to music, reading Marie Clare, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vanity Fair. The perspectives are on pop cultural issues and generally from a woman’s point of view, though not exclusively. It was amusing to spend a morning on the upper-east side this way, despite being broke and unemployed. I am truly blessed and fortunate to have good friends and help with this process.
So yesterday, I arose and read in the tub and sat about thinking for a while. Went to the Scoop and Grind Cafe for a coffee and a bagel. I have taken to the place. I am able to sit outside and enjoy the people passing and have a tall hazelnut coffee with two shots of espresso and an “everything” bagel with cream cheese all for $3.50.
I spend the time reading the papers and so on. Ted Turner, the billionaire entertainment and communications mogul has given the United Nations (the UN), one billion dollars. The amount is the largest contribution of its kind anywhere, ever. It’s absolutely phenomenal, and people seem to take it with hardly a thought. It’s as if a billion has become meaningless. But it isn’t.
The trouble is, what will the distribution of that billion dollars yield? Political power for the unempowered worker in Bangladesh? Ted Turner gives $1 billion to the UN and the next day a worker in India who is fifty times brighter than a worker in a McDonald’s in Biloxi, Mississippi, makes $3 a day in kind, not in cash and is able to eat a decent meal and feed his family.
Meanwhile the wages here in the US are spent on Tazmanian devil t-shirts and plastic toys.
Waste. Consumption. The false value of stupid objects designed by others to appear valuable but which are in fact cheap, and non-lasting. Will Ted Turner’s money fix that? It’s a problem which has gone on for fifty years untended and is, in some cases, worsening, more waste, more consumption.
New York is about money … I have heard people talk about how much they like making it, spending it, earning it, working for it, cheating others out of it, having it. It is honestly at the heart of many of the discussions here. It is the American, capitalized sensibility at its oldest and most evolved – New York, where people have come from every god-damn place and hacked out an existence. By using money. By attributing value to money.
But what a life. Is it a valuable life? Or is it devoid of meaning? (As one New York lifer told to me, “I cannot sleep where it is quiet, in the country, I have been around this noise all my life. My fear is that … I don’t know if it is a good thing. I don’t know if I don’t want it to be different. I am afraid that it is unhealthy.”)
And another have actually said, “I live to make money. I’m like a pit-bull when it comes to money.” What meaning is there in the earning of money for its own sake? Ted Turner gives away a billion and says it was like he gave away the earnings for the nine months of the year. “I’m no worse off than last year,” he suggests. It’s crazy. The inequity of wealth in this society as a function of the value of money- No. … the subjective value of money.
If you choose to care about money, if you choose to value it and you work your ass off and you are lucky and you have certain advantages like a good family or connections, it STILL isn’t a guarantee you will have money, security or satisfaction or happiness. It is something a person could spend a whole lifetime doing and have wasted a life. True contentment comes from within. Money is a manufactured construct, made to sate our desire for material happiness, security and contentment … but it requires enslavement.
Freedom is worth more than money.
Real freedom. The freedom to be unencumbered by society’s groping need for your expenditure. To participate as an individual for the collective good of the whole as you please, to reduce waste and participate. Does Ted Turner do this? His behavior night before last at the United Nations Awards dinner in his honor speaks to it. His gift is an enormously powerful and important one. Now to see if capitalists will learn from this the importance of supporting those in our society who do not accept money or capitalism.
The paper also reviewed the new exhibit at the Solomon Guggenheim Museums here in New York which opened to private reception night before last and was opened to the public yesterday. The exhibit is an enormously encompassing retrospective of the works of Robert Rauschenberg, now 71 year-old artist who was born in Port Arthur, Texas in 1925 and moved to New York in 1949.
He was educated at the Black Mountain school in the late 40’s and early 50’s and this yields some thought about his cohort and his own work. He was a student of Albers and participated with the encouragement of John Cage and Jasper Johns. The influence of both is very much present in his work and self-referentialism of the era – in literature as well as arts and music – must be addressed.
It is at this time that Charles Olson and Robert Creeley began the correspondence of which so much has been written, collected, and discussed. It has been posited that the Black Mountain School produced this movement of thought and idea which was named by its writers and energized by its artists and musicians. In order for it to be valid a a movement, however, the artists and so on must produce at length with comparative relationships. This seems to have happened.
The first use of the term “post-modern,” is attributed to the Creeley-Olson relationship. Surrounded by such artists as Johns, Rauschenberg and Cage it is no wonder the naming took this path. The Black Mountain School of thought can it be called? How do we go past it?
The Guggenheim has taken an amazing step toward solidifying the reputation of this school of thought.
Mr. Rauschenberg’s stuff is everywhere, six floors of the main space uptown at 5th and 89th and also in the downtown gallery and at another site. I have only seen three floors of the main hall’s dedication to R’s work.
fantastically broad usage of mixed-media and the incredible productivity of this fellow! He made so much art between 1949, when he arrived in New York at the age of 24 to 1965, still in New York but with many many many overseas trips and attempts to his credit by 40 years of age. 16 years and an amazing amount of work.
It is an impressive and vast collection. The use of mixed-media of such a wide variety (from gold leaf to photocopied images to photography to paints and drawings and blown glass and worked metal and text-and-image based stuff and lithographs and sculpture – taxidermified animals for God’s sake!) filled me with thoughts of Warhol, Johns, Cage and others a lot, but they were all contemporaries.
His use of the Mona Lisa as a photocopied image incorporated into another piece in 1952! That impressed me as important with regard to image appropriation and manipulation. It was so long ago. Photography was in its middle years. Rauschenberg was at least incredibly productive. And he was innovative, and he had a wonderful sense of taste, especially for texture (I’m using past tense and he’s not dead, but I haven’t really seen the stuff past 1971 or so … BTW, The De Kooning Retrospective in 1996-autumn was a much different type of show. This thing can’t possibly travel this way, I think, but it will. This is New York City. Here you can do anything.)
The generation of artists who precede my arrival in New York with movements (before Arthur Danto’s “Death of Art”) have huge institutions in their favor now. But they didn’t when they were my age. How can I make progress in this process now? What is the key to understanding how to make a relationship with my community which allows me to create for a living? Join the communities’ institutions? Should I become a member of the Guggenheim? Of the Met? Of the monied? Can’t. I’m broke. All I do is write. Hmmmmmmm.
After the Guggenheim (there are field notes in the New York Black Journal #1 – dated, 9/17/97ce) I walked down to H.’s place and had a couple of glasses of Yago (a cheap Sangria that’s tolerable when poured over ice) and sat down to roll three joints for the evening. My joint-rolling skills are terrible, but here in New York, the common practice for pot-smoking is the joint and no paraphernalia. I have learned this from a number of sources – it is considered west-coasty and read wimpy to use pipes and bongs … joints are the NYC way … how funny to learn these things at 30 …
I got a call from D. who wanted to get together for a drink. Kate is in town and I have blown her off pretty hard by not participating for the sake of my own vulnerability and so on. D. had arranged for us to meet her late tonight at an event.
D. and I agreed to meet at the sushi/bar at the corner of my block and so I finished rolling three joints, smoked half of one, and made my way down to the corner. D. was late and so I sat at the bar and had some sushi and a gin and tonic and wrote for a while (Field Notes Available – not important, some notes, “New York City: It’s a distrac- … (beat) … It’s god-damned all a big-ass distraction.” and others)
<Break> For a phone call from S. <Break>
That said let me return to last night …
After sushi, D. and I caught the 6 to the Drawing Center for the readings to be held there. The Drawing Center is at 35 Wooster Avenue and houses a gallery space (I had heard of it before because, Glenn Seator, whom I met through Sebastian, who constructed his piece at the Capp Street Gallery in San Francisco, has shown his work at the Drawing Center – Seator was in the last Whitney Biennial). The space is long and rectangular and well lit. It has good, large windows in the front of the shop, and a nice-sized space within which to show.
The readings were by Anita Desai, someone else, and Amitav Ghosh. D. and I arrived late and so we missed Desai and came in the middle of the second reader whose name I didn’t get and caught all of Amitav Ghosh who read from his new novel, “The Calcutta Chromosome,” reviewed positively by the New York Times as a complex, spiritual thriller-detective-type thing (NYTBR, two weeks ago when I first arrived).
The second-reader had a younger, faster-paced, style with pops and whistles. He had all the elements of Indo-Anglian writers of the day, exotic settings (to english ears) and rhythmic approaches to the blending of languages and so on. I wasn’t able to follow his reading so well, it lulled me because he had such little variation in his tone of voice as he read. He was listless. The audience, was polite and laughed when led to laughter. I think oral presentations are supposed to be different experiences from reading the book itself. I mean, here they are in front of a group and all.
They feel as if they are written to fit into a pre-defined structure ordained by the industry for Indo-Anglian writers. I know that’s terrible to say, especially about my contemporaries, but what are we building that’s original? I ask knowing the answer … little and everything. We are original. We are the new Indians. We can’t help but be contemporary and original. It’s never happened before, this thing.
Amitav Ghosh read from his novel which was available at the front of the gallery, beautiful jacket, case-bound, lovely job, by Avon Books … I was able to follow along in the text as he read which was a great benefit to the experience.
His work is slower-paced and more even. It is much more traditional. I mean in style, but not in content. In content he has woven and toyed with ideas. But the style is long and drawn and traditional. I think his use of adjectives and adjectival phrases (much like the younger fellow before him) relies too much on Indian-ness … but perhaps this is because I am an Indian … (am I? Only there, then … where? when?)
Marvelously developed thoughts, though, and ideas.
H. and her brother and others went for food afterward and D. and I went on to the D-film festival at the Kitchen (by cab).
The Kitchen is a performance art space on 19th at 10th streets … past chelsea in the middle of noplace. It was cool. I mean a good, black, dark-ass space with lighting available. But not so many people were there. Still what a weird event, to see K. in NYC and to be at a film festival from SF touring the US and here in NYC first.
Most of the high-tech digital filmmaking is SF, LA, California … this year’s festival had several New York entrants and two of the guys were present. It was good to see. Content was limited. I mean most of it was cutes-y and damn near vaudevillian. But there were one or two which took interestng approaches. There was one called, “Amend,” no plot, all image and spyrographic crazy beautiful trip through music … lovely and well-done.
Others of interest … but lots of cartoony-type stuff … what’s the point? That isn’t content … one guy did Dreamboy and it was because as he put it, “I saw the South Park stuff and figured I could do that … so I did …”… it’s good, it’s funny, its impressive, but it’s got obscene jokes and silly content … mass-market … cool, whatever … you know?
There was 120 minutes of shorts and then a last extra … it was long and the chairs were hard and uncomfortable and all … but I mean it was cool to see the “cutting edge,” of computer-based technology utilized by its makers. Give me content anyday though!!!! Not even necessarily linear.
So afterward we went to a bar, had a drink, K. and I smoked out before and after the gig and in the street and wherever we pleased.
After D-film we went to Mark Summer’s place and saw a few of his films and saw K. in one … it was good to do. Afterward D. and I had food and caught the 1 to his place. I got here at 4:00 a.m.
Now it’s Saturday and the Anti-Gentrification fest is rolling loud outside D.’s place!!!
Gotta go. That wraps up my description of my yesterday … 8:30 a.m. to 4:11 a.m. … damn near 20 hours on my third weekend in New York.