Lighted Moving Message
One of several proposals to rid my life of accumulated …what?… confusions about subject matter and composition:
Theoretically or imaginatively destroy all that has gone before that can’t go with me into the future, what came with me but isn’t necessary to me I incinerate spiritually in order to say yes to the items of thought, yes as the color of the bird of paradise, yes as the color of the sky of blue, yes as the color of sand, the color of salt, the color of thought, infinite opposite of regress describing a path to a new form, the kind one follows in a dream, the kind that changes with every step.
That piece I wrote about San Diego, the one Open Space commissioned in 2017: it’s too long and I could come to no conclusions. Even if that’s the conclusion — none is possible — it’s irritating. It’s not that I want certainty, it’s that I wanted San Diego to be about something. “San Diego prepares you to become a Buddhist,” Rae Armantrout wrote. She’s right. I moved to San Diego from Oakland a year after writing the essay. In the two and half years since, this nothing’s become familiar. The place is beige, bland, diffuse; and sultry, soft, pleasing, at ease, sufficient. Empty. A mind that’s already encountered the urgent conflux of an urban community’s vaunting of “contemporary arts and culture” — which San Diego definitively won’t offer — can explore itself here, can appraise and reappraise experience (new, old) with an exquisite, weightless sensation of integrated distance. New things can be learned by being learned quietly, in solitude yet among others. New things can be made.
There’s no structured art community here, but there’s no pressure to think what’s in fashion. I can listen to myself and move and grow in any direction. 1
The day John Baldessari died I did what we often do, especially on seeing social posts of books we’ve not yet encountered: I hit up Amazon for a couple of used copies before they were long gone. Especially of interest to me was John Baldessari: National City, the catalogue from an exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 1998. Not a retrospective precisely but a backward glance. National City, Baldessari’s hometown, and the place where the artist becomes “John Baldessari,” is six miles from downtown San Diego, five miles from where I live now. More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari volumes 1 and 2 arrived to me from sellers at two points distant, and though neither was listed as such, both were inscribed by the artist. That can’t be so unusual, the guy must have autographed a lot of books. Still, I took it as a sign. 2
I am a housewife bathing myself 3
I am caressing a neighbor’s kitten
I am drowning ants in a sea of cinnamon
I put my hands into the sand and dig down to where it is damp
I say hello to a woman, washing a patio floor
I say hello to a little dog
I write a note for no one
I bring chocolate to my mother
I bring my mother a sparkling soda
I bring a flower to my mother
I am a housewife fondling myself
I am bathing a neighbor’s item
I put my hands into the sheets and dig down to where it is damp
I say hello to a woman, washing a patio floor
I say hello to a little item
I say no to a note to no one
I bring chocolate into my mouth
I bring salt into my mouth
I bring the pith of oranges into my mouth
The inside of my mouth is damp
The tip of my tongue is damp
There is sand on the tip of my tongue
Petals float over the sand
The scent of the sand is a flower
The flower I bring is sand
I carry the sand of the flower between my teeth
I carry the cashmere sweater I haven’t got
into the lock and key I haven’t got
I haven’t got a lock and key
I haven’t got a cup of sand…
Wherever we look, correspondences occur. The day after the books came, I got lost in National City. Out of this place of nothing, and, no one, the unreal appearance of a place. I took it as a sign.
There would always be two views of something, the right view and the wrong view, the right way to compose and the wrong way to compose … 4
How much does one have to say in order to be understood? It’s 2.2 miles from my house to the Cypress View Mortuary, where Baldessari famously incinerated (some of) what was behind him (approximately 125 paintings; though not before thoroughly documenting them). I do a drive-by, pause in the parking lot, consider the future, consider the past.
Names of all the artists you can think of, that is, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, writers, poets, musicians, composers, any of the above and more, heck, philosophers, revolutionaries, critics, who disavowed, destroyed, cremated, or otherwise laid to rest “early works” or “previous works” or “juvenilia” in making their complete break to the “new works.”
I turn this pebble over in my hand
I turn this leaf by its stem in my hand
I turn this bird of sand into a stream that slips from my hand
I gather a stone that fits in the palm of my hand
I gather a stone that fits into the palm of my hand
The weight of a palm-sized stone weighs into the palm of my hand…
Suzanne’s previous contribution to the Open Space magazine, “Cul-de-sac,” was commissioned for the publication’s seventh issue, West coast is something nobody with sense would understand.
- Cf: John Baldessari: National City, edited by Hugh M. Davies and Andrea Hales, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 1996, p. 10.
- A lie. Only one was inscribed. Still, I took it as a sign.
- Cf. housewife bathing herself
- Ibid, p. 90.