Christo

Absolute Total Freedom

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Christo enters the gallery space of his SoHo studio, walking in front of large framed renderings of sketches for his newest project, The Floating Piers in Italy’s Lake Iseo [June 18 to July 3, 2016], before sitting down on a white chair. He matches the room, with long white hair, a pinstriped shirt, and affectionate eyes behind black-rimmed glasses. Even though the room is big, it is warm; a fitting atmosphere for the artist, who, along with his late wife Jeanne-Claude, revolutionized the framework for grand scale pieces. With a sharp and poetic intellect, Christo talked to us about his work and his partner, touching on everything from optimism, patience, and love. 

 

Each project has its own unique journey. This is why we never do the same things again; we will never do another gate, we will never wrap another bridge, or install other umbrellas. The unique journey to something would take a long long time. All these projects involve the idea of art and there are many elements of architecture and urban planning; they involve complex relations to the space. It is not normal sculpture, and it is not object itself, all these projects are related to space that we are borrowing and renting.

 

Each project has two distinct periods: the software period and the hardware period. The software period is when the work exists only in drawings and sketches, and when hundreds or thousands of people try to help us to get permission, and also when thousands of people try to stop us from getting the permission. Some of these projects take many years, like the Reichstag took 25 years and three refusals before we could actually do it – same thing with the Gates and the Pont Neuf. These projects have a long period of realizing the journey; meaning that the work of art involves a software period when it does not exist, and a hardware period when we physically build the project, which involves miles and miles of real distance, real wind, real people, the real wet, the real dry, not virtual reality, not film. All that is the work of art – the software and the hardware.

 

It is very difficult for some people to grasp that these projects involve a physical engagement of yourself. It’s not something to look at, but, because it’s three-dimensional, it involves your physical senses. This is why the work cannot be bought nor do we charge a ticket price; the work doesn’t even belong to us – they’re so large, so obtuse, so irrational, and totally useless. They only exist because we like to have them…they are absolute total freedom. And, of course, they cannot be kept, because their freedom is contrary to possession and to permanence.

 

The immortality of art is linked to what we think we know. People dig up the earth and discover remains of people five or ten thousand years ago, and through these remnants construct an idea of how they lived. We built an entire history about white Roman marble, but didn’t know until later that the marble was actually painted. It is very difficult to imagine what modern archeology will be like a thousand years from now. It’ll probably be a little computer chip. It is also very difficult to imagine how people will look at us a thousand years from now. This is why the idea to create things that are immortal is something so complicated, and why I am not even thinking about that.

 

I like to do work where there will be something unique, some journey of life where each project is part of our existence. We always like to go back to the site of the project. In 2007, before Jeanne-Claude passed away, we went to where we had done the Wrapped Coast in Australia. We stood on these huge tall cliffs on the South Pacific Ocean filled with sharks and I had dislocated my shoulder. We were looking at this very strong wind coming from the ocean, and Jeanne-Claude said that to have done the Wrapped Coast was totally nuts, but we were younger and we were living.

 

The projects find themselves. In a similar way, it was probably very good that the Reichstag was wrapped after the Berlin Wall fell down. Before the fall, and through the years during the Cold War, there were many articles against the wrapping of the Reichstag. To wrap the Reichstag we needed to have permission, since it was in a military zone in Berlin that was divided in four alliance forces: French, British, Americans and Soviets. The Soviets insisted to have rights to the Reichstag and to control the use of it for political means. I remember the project was refused in ’77 and in ’81. An article was written saying, “this is the stupid imperialistic, capitalist artist.” Basically, the work was suffering from that division of the world, and it could finally be done when the wall fell down.

 

The Floating Piers, is about the pleasure of enjoying many things: relation, form, proportion, movement. But it cannot be explained. It is something that needs the use of the senses to be enjoyed. That’s how it is for our work. It involves physicality because Jeanne and I love that. There are no stools and no chairs in my studio, so I am standing for 15 hours. I don’t like to sit, I don’t like to talk on the telephone, I don’t know how to use a computer, I don’t know how to drive. Basically, I like physical things, this is something personal, this is something I enjoy tremendously and the physical senses are important to know things like the relation of wind.

 

My greatest fear is to be sick. I do everything possible to be in good health. I would like to die like Jeanne-Claude, actually. I don’t want to be sick, I can’t stand myself being in a wheelchair. If something got that bad I would kill myself. I enjoy so much to touch things, to see things, that I cannot imagine myself incapacitated. I really take care, I have no elevator, I climb 90 steps 30 times a day.

 

I have always been a great optimist. Even in the most difficult moments, I’m always fine. I never feel miserable. Of course, we’ve been through enormous problems, but it’s like a game, it’s almost like gambling. And if you do that you enjoy the energy, and you cannot complain because all the problems we make ourselves. The reason we do these projects is because they are so enriching and so unforgettable, and this is why each project carries so much unpredictability. It is not misery – it is challenges, it is frustration, and it is enormous joy.

 

I remember, for two precious weeks, Jeanne-Claude and I didn’t see anybody. We wanted to be alone with our things and to walk to the places we worked in. There was an incredible pleasure to be there with her for those 16 days in the places we had worked. I met Jeanne-Claude in 1958. I was born in Bulgaria; half Macedonian, a quarter Czechoslovakian, and a quarter Bulgarian. In 1956, I was in Prague visiting my relatives when the Hungarian revolution started, and I escaped from Czechoslovakia to Vienna. I was alone and a political refugee at 21 years old, so the important thing was to go to Paris, but it was difficult because I was a refugee.

 

Finally, I arrived in Paris. I didn’t speak the language, but because I was an art student I was doing commissioned portraits. I would go to people’s homes and do portraits of the families and children. I met some officer of the United Nations from Geneva, and one of the biggest suppliers of portraits was their hairdresser. She would tell people, “There is this young artist he paints portraits.” One of the people she told this to was Jeanne-Claude’s mother, so I was commissioned to do a portrait of Jeanne-Claude. Love. I cannot describe love, love is very complicated. Love is something human and very private and very personal.

 

Photography: Peter Ash Lee for NeueJournal

RadioPaper

Mary Ramsden & Adam Thirlwell's
Anti-Collaboration

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There is an undeniable magic generated when two creatives collaborate, although, like writer Adam Thirlwell and artist Mary Ramsden will say about their recent partnership on the visual art – short story book hybrid, RadioPaper, rather than a collaboration “It was very much two independent works that slotted in very well.” It is this semblance of independent creation while guided under a unifying trope that led Ramsden and Thirlwell to find success in a piece that could beautifully translate each of their respective talents. The friends, who met years ago at gallerist Pilar Corrias’ house, sat down in conversation to discuss the abstractness of language, the experience of looking, and keeping the suspense forever.

 

Adam Thirlwell: Is this the first time you’ve worked with multiples? Because of course a book is a multiple… Does it feel the same as working with a single object?

 

Mary Ramsden: It still felt like a very private encounter, and the fact that all of the covers are hand-painted means they’re all individual, in a way. Also, the nature of the images and how they were produced contributes to this feeling of the handmade, because they are a mixture of painting and collage. I worked carefully with Bookworks – who produced the book – to retain the color and shadow of the cut-line after the works on paper were scanned in so as to maintain this object quality to the prints.

 

Do you have any floating sentences you create a context for?

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AT: My notebook is full of them. I used to love that sort of thing – if there was a line I liked I would be sure to fit it in, but now I worry it can cause too much digression. I normally like to write forms that give the illusion of being very rapid and improvised, and the danger of a notebook full of material you want to add is that in order to bring it in you have to write a page to get to that sentence and then –

 

MR: – all the rest is fluff. I was thinking about some of your short stories, and the way they are like marks and they kind of drive a punch in the same way.

 

AT: What I liked about writing these short stories for RadioPaper is they are all two paragraphs each – there’s no room for the extraneous. They’re pure speed. It meant they function as a sort of block of thinking. Which then, inadvertently, feels similar to the way your images relate to blocks or marks, too. One of the things I find interesting in pairing language to your painting is that language is inherently non-abstract, you always have to have something with meaning in it.

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MR: I came across the anthology of American Short Stories edited by Ben Marcus, and in his introduction he talks about the space between the reader and the short story; how if you could “paint” the place where language is filtering through to the reader, the imagery would get so morphed into this visual nonsense and ‘the picture would blacken into pure noise.’ I think if you are looking to describe that space, then as a writer maybe that would be the place where things are abstract, like reading poetry in a language you don’t speak.

 

It seemed to me like the clearest way to talk about these concerns was in a relatively abstract way within a typographical framework. It feels to me the most satisfactory level of communication.

 

AT: Do you think there’s a difference between the way you contemplate a story and the way you contemplate a work of art?

 

MR: I try and have a different pace to a lot of my works. I like that you might spend five minutes in front of a piece, and then another work demands a bit more attention because it has more going on and is slower or more labored. Those two different speeds can be quite a fun thing to play off against each other. That’s partly why, with the book, I kind of wanted to make an object you had to take your time with. When you stand with the book – especially that scale – you make yourself ready for the experience of looking, and there is something really lovely about that relationship.

 

AT: One of my favorite novelists, Laurence Sterne, uses various visual elements tricks, like when a character dies the page is just black and when a new love interest is introduced he says, “I can’t describe her; you should just imagine her as you want” and leaves a blank page for you to draw however you imagine her. I remember thinking only a crazy person would actually draw their idea – but then I talked to an academic who said there are actually copies from the 18th century where people drew on the page, and made their ideal portrait. Which is not, in the end, so stupid… Do you intend for people to cut the pages?

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MR: Definitely not. I like that they are uncut, and I like the idea of still continuing to peek through and keeping it all intact. Some of the best marks are hidden in the folds but that’s all part of the feeling that something of interest is being concealed.

 

AT: I keep thinking about this question of what a book is – because for me it’s all about how to control attention. A novel is an experience that takes place over time – like a movie. I’m always quite annoyed I can’t control the flow of time in the way a moviemaker can because a book is a portable experience. I’m trying to think whether it changes for me if there are images in it or not. I remember Hans Ulrich Obrist saying “a book and an exhibition are the same thing.” Did it feel like you were mounting a portable show, or did it feel different?

 

MR: It felt different; even the making was very much at a table, a considered, quiet process. Sitting down it was much more hands than arms, closer to writing than painting.

 

AT: Did you try out different sequences?

 

MR: Yeah, I spent ages shuffling things about. As you say, you can’t dictate the order in which people read through a book, but there had to be a certain rhythm to it. Some of the pages are more gestural or slower or covered by the collage or more graphic. Similarly, the way the books were installed felt like I was creating a language – something that could be understood but you couldn’t quite get there. In a way with Kapow! you’ve already played with text layout, but there it was much more about the structure on the page. Do you think many people read the upside-down pages, or backwards sentences?

 

AT: Kapow! was a really creative collaboration, but it’s true, there’s a difference between that project, where the text itself is arranged in strange shapes, and what we did. With RadioPaper the text itself is standard text. The interest in Kapow! was definitely to see how you can use typography to force the reader to almost physically have to reorient themselves, but it was also designed so you didn’t have to do that, you could continue to read without reading the crazed digressions… When I knew I was planning these stories for you, and knew the different kind of stories that would be hidden behind the French folds, I didn’t quite realize you really still can’t read the second half.

 

MR: You have to sort of press it down to read it. Does it bother you that people won’t know the end of your story?

 

AT: I think I like it more. One of the things I was exploiting with the texts for RadioPaper was what is a cliff hanger, or what is suspenseful, so why not keep the suspense forever…? Do you think you want to do more?

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MR: Yeah I was excited about maybe approaching other short story writers. I’m really enjoying the Ben Marcus book though; the introduction is punchy but it’s a great opener for the stories that follow. It sort of arms you for the experience.

 

AT: But also I feel like the word collaboration, especially the way it’s sometimes used in the art world, can become almost meaningless. It’s interesting – it was very vague, the way you introduced this project to me – basically you just said French folds, and my texts then added a digital theme, which I don’t think we ever talked about. I had the idea of creating a story that is suddenly broken off, and the selfie felt quite useful for that – the thing that you can see and the thing that you can’t see. Something which at first looks quite simple and then you realize there are hidden elements.

 

MR: I see your point on the collaboration thing, because I don’t think it’s necessarily the right term for the relationship we had on the book. I think it was very much two independent works that slotted in very well.

 

AT: I would say it was more mutually influencing. You influenced me by saying, “This is how I would like the structure to be and this is the nature of the story.” I’m trying to think if it can happen the other way around? For instance I just wrote a text for my friend Philippe Parreno, for the catalogue of his show, which is like a collaboration – but then I wouldn’t call it a true collaboration because he does something and I simply respond to it.

 

MR: Yeah, you sort of understand where he is coming from. Similarly in the way I responded to your book with the “Lurid & Cute” painting in my last show. I don’t know if we can even call that a collaboration, it was more like a strange exercise. How would you feel if we were to do another one?

 

AT: I think you’d have to think of a new constraint. It would be interesting to think how can we find a different technical oddity that then contains and organize the images within the medium of the book.

 

MR: Which might not necessarily be about the format of the book, I mean it would be fun to play around with other aspects.

 

AT: I was thinking – this project unexpectedly to me looks militantly anti-digital, like we are the last book people left on earth: it’s the combination of the title RadioPaper and the fact that it’s only in a tiny edition. But was that really part of your thinking?

 

MR: Not at all, and I wouldn’t see it like that. I’d say there’s a need for both of these fast and slow approaches to consumption.  It was more about the difference between the way we sit down with a book in relation to the way we spend time looking at screens and pointing at those two spaces. I heard the other day the average concentration span is now three minutes, which is shorter than you can actually train a goldfish to focus. It’s not that I am demanding lengthy concentration with this project as it is also very playful but I think it’s something to make a thing which can be held and leafed through, with both hands.

 

Photography: Tegen Williams & Raf Fellner for NeueJournal

Philip Glass

Maintaining Tibet's Culture

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For the past few decades legendary composer Philip Glass has been a key figure in raising awareness for the Tibetan Independence Movement. Through the annual Tibet House Benefit Concert, which has been held at Carnegie Hall for the past twenty-odd years, Glass has aided in raising money and attention with the aim of salvaging the culture of a country that has been at war since 1950. The musician talked to us about his involvement with the movement, the importance of preserving Tibet, and what this year’s concert will have in store.

 

The first time I came in contact with the Tibetan Independence Movement was in 1967, but the uprising had taken place in 1959 after the Chinese had moved into Tibet. The Dalai Lama had fled, along with 200 thousand other people, and they ended up living in refugee camps in Northern India, which are gone now. I first saw these refugee sites in December of 1966. I wondered, “Who are these people? What are they doing here?” At the time we didn’t even know where Tibet was, and it turned out to be the beginning of a huge exodus of people. Because of the diaspora some of those people moved to America and to South America.

 

There’s a very well established Tibetan community here in New York City, where they have Tibetan language classes for their children and they do what people have always done who want to hold on to their culture. They go back and visit relatives, many of whom are in India. Some of them go back to Tibet. They’re not disallowed automatically; people can go back to Tibet if they’re going for personal reasons or if there’s no political connection. It’s not like North and South Korea where people are not allowed see each other.

 

But things have actually gotten quite a bit worse because the Chinese no longer want Tibetan to be taught in schools at all. For a while they taught Chinese and Tibetan, but now the latter is being left out. China is currently in a phase where they’re trying to assimilate the Tibetan people into what they call the Greater Family, which is the Chinese family. The response I’ve heard from the Dalai Lama, which is quite interesting, is, “Well, I’m not really angry at the Chinese. The only trouble with the Chinese is that I’m Tibetan. I’m not Chinese.” The same thing happened in Vietnam and in Mongolia. The Chinese have that problem all over borders, where they see themselves as the parent country of all these little countries, but those people don’t feel the same way.

 

I’ve been aware of it for more than 45 years, although we didn’t do very much about it at the time. When I came back from Northern India people like Bob Thurman were just starting to run Tibetan Human Studies, and it wasn’t until 1990 when we had the first concert. The first time we held the concert at Carnegie Hall was in 1994, but there were four concerts before that. This will be the 25th year. The very first concert was at Brooklyn Herald of Music, the second at The Beacon Theater in Manhattan, and the third and fourth concerts were at Town Hall. We stuck to Carnegie Hall as of the fifth concert.

 

By that time the concert had achieved a kind of personality, because I began to put them together with usually eight or nine soloists. It was a concert with an array of artists, and different kinds. We always had people who could sell tickets. We needed that. For example, Iggy Pop is again singing with us this year. Sharon Jones will be there. Gogol Bordello will be there. Twiggy [FKA Twigs] will be there. We’ve had Laurie Anderson, who was not the pop star that she is now when she sang at the concert. One of the things that has always been interesting about the concert is that these people will often do things together. Caetano Veloso did a duet with Laurie Anderson in Carnegie Hall which, if you weren’t at that particular concert, you didn’t get to hear, because we never recorded the concerts. Those were the kinds of recordings that were a little bit too expensive to do then.

 

Most of the money that comes from the concert goes to Tibet, but in the last ten years since Katrina a fair amount of money goes to disasters that happen in other parts of the world. The Tibetan culture is on its feet, so to speak…at least outside of Tibet, and we do help with that, but there are other humanitarian and cultural issues which we can also address. We’re very happy to help. One was a Farm Aid concert. One was a Katrina one. I think I’m slowly getting money for Kathmandu, Nepal, and the Tsunami. Every year there’s a catastrophe.

 

The Tibet House Concert has a very good lineage now; you would be astonished by all the people who have performed there. David Bowie was there twice. Emmylou Harris has been there twice…a lot of people came and then came back. Patti Smith was there many, many times – she is almost a regular, having done eight or nine years in a row. This is probably Iggy Pop’s third time playing with us. When he first participated in the concert it may have been his first time playing at Carnegie Hall, but a lot of these people perform in stadiums and arenas. It’s a very impressive list of people who’ve come here, and it’s a bit of a range.

 

At this point we all pretty much know about Tibet, but in the beginning we had to educate people. People know it has to do with culture – with faith in a culture and with remembering that part of the world and its people. Did you know something like 300 languages disappear every year? Languages are just lost, because people stop speaking them; it can happen in New York still and it can also happen in cultural institutions. What we’re trying to hold on to is the culture, and having that live through.

 

Artwork: Anthony Gerace for NeueJournal

 

The Tibet House Benefit Concert will be held on February 22nd. Purchase tickets here

Richard Kern

New York Girls

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It’s surprising to find that Richard Kern is a self-proclaimed shy person, seeing as his repertoire is the complete antithesis. Having first entered the underground art scene of New York City in the 1980s, Kern became a pioneer of the Cinema of Transgression – a movement that blended low-budget productions with humor and provocative themes, including sex and violence. Throughout the years, the artist became widely known for his work, including music videos for the likes of Marilyn Manson and Sonic Youth, and photographs of mostly nude girls. In lieu of the re-publication of one of his best known – and most notorious – books, New York Girls (TASCHEN), Kern sat down with NeueJournal to give us insight into the man behind the camera.

 

 

NeueJournal: When you first published New York Girls some of the material was too explicit for publication. Why do you think the perception of this has changed? Do you think the concept of “too explicit” still exists in this day and age?

 

 

Richard Kern: I don’t think the perception has changed. I think the rules are more relaxed; I’m sure it has a lot to do with the Internet and things not being so shocking. The original book came out in the U.K. and was going to get seized for obscenity, so they shipped it to Amsterdam. It was sitting in this warehouse until Benedikt Taschen stepped in and bought it because he didn’t care about the rules. There’s a lot of stuff in the new book that isn’t in the old book – mainly vaginas. At the time when it came out there had been a long period with no nude books for sale.

 

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Linda Wet on Floor, 1992, photo by Richard Kern (Courtesy of the Artist)

 

NJ: When you first started creating work it was underground and incredibly provocative. Do you think the initial intention or reaction with which you made those oeuvres has changed because the audience that responds to your work has changed?

 

 

RK: I think the people that respond to it now have no idea what I’ve done in the past. I think there is a certain group of people that know, but most people have no idea. The original work I did back then was mostly film and video, which were definitely made just to be provocative. I still do it on Instagram. I try to hold myself back, but it’s still provocative. I get a lot of weird followers.

 

 

NJ: You’ve collaborated with some incredible artists – some of which are infamous for their wild reputations. Who was the wildest one and what’s the craziest thing they did?

 

 

RK: The first one that comes to mind is Lydia Lunch. When I think about it now everyone I work with is pretty tame, although it didn’t seem like it at the time. Back then, though, Lydia was pretty hard to take – she would get right in your face. Lucy McKenzie, who used to be a model and is a pretty well-known artist now, would do pretty much anything I asked. There is a shot of her with her head in the toilet – basically doing a handstand. We were trying to do these things of people flushing themselves down the toilet and it all seemed so corny, but then she did it and was like an athlete.  She said, “sure,” and just did it. Those kind of people are pretty great.

 

 

 

NJ: What is the first film you remember having an impact on you?

 

 

RK: One was Barbarella because of the sexual awakenings I had when I was watching her on screen. I remembered her being naked all through the movie, but I watched it again recently and she’s never naked. You don’t actually see anything – you only kind of do. Another one was this art film by a Polish director, Ashes and Diamonds. The hero died at the end and I was like, “What!?”.

 

 

NJ: What is your go-to karaoke song?

 

 

RK: I don’t like karaoke, I’m too shy. That’s why I hide behind the camera.

 

 

NJ: If you could work with any other provocateur – dead or alive – who would it be and what would the dream collaboration look like?

 

 

RK: There are a lot of people that I would like to meet and do music videos for. It’s hard to say though. I’ve met my heroes a couple of times and it’s not as fantastic as you think. I want to say David Bowie. I watched his new video for “Lazarus” and I wished I could have done something like it. I would also love to work with people nobody knows.

 

 

NJ: What makes you irrationally angry?

 

 

RK: Jealousy of other people’s work. That’s the big thing. I’m jealous of anyone who is making a good living, because if you’re not doing something super commercial it’s a struggle.

 

 

NJ: What is usually the first thought you have in the mornings and the last thought you have at night?

 

 

RK: I wake up thinking about some girl I know. It’s always somebody different. When I look at my phone I feel lucky and I think, “Wow they texted me.” It sounds corny but it’s true. The last thought is usually, “oh I must have fallen asleep while I was reading.” I read spy books all the time.

 

 

NJ: What is the sexiest photo prop that people wouldn’t normally associate with being erotic?

 

 

RK: A toothbrush or a hairbrush – something like that. The most erotic thing is when girls are brushing their teeth and brushing their hair.

 

Photography: Andrew Boyle for NeueJournal 

Emily Wells

Euphoric Notions

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“I’m mostly euphoric,” Emily Wells tells us, fresh off her performance at NeueHouse Madison Square. The multi-instrumentalist musician has many a cause to celebrate, with the release of her newest EP Promise (the first under her own imprint, Thesis and Instinct), already garnering positive reviews and putting her back on the road. Having picked up an interest in music at a prodigal age (she began playing the violin when she was four), Wells has firmly established her place in the music industry. After 17 years of breaking the mold, Wells’ performance and newest album prove that she’s nowhere near done surprising us.

 

NeueJournal: What is your current state of mind?

 

Emily Wells: I’m mostly euphoric and I’ve been focusing on a lot of details lately, which is not my favorite thing so I am in a brief state of relief. I’m getting ready to leave for three months so all of the normal traveling stuff mixed with a tour and releasing an album…things going right, things going wrong etc.

 

NJ: Is the glass half full or half empty?

 

EW: It depends on the time of day. It’s overflowing now. Last night it was the dregs. I think when you are in a state of thinking about too many things at once they all start to conflate so one piece of misery taints the whole batch.

 

NJ: How do you feel about Valentine’s Day?

 

EW: I’m indifferent, but I have a sweetheart so I’ll probably do something really sweet for her because I’m not going to be with her that day. It’s gonna have to be through the mail or a serenade. She’s really into funny jokes and grandiose gestures so I think I should probably hop on that.

 

NJ: What is the meaning of life?

 

EW: Come on! I don’t know what it is, it’s too much. There is no meaning.

 

NJ: What is your motto?

 

EW: Stay curious. Stay present.

 

NJ: How do you define success?

 

EW: Just getting to keep doing what I’m doing and I hope that I can really feel that every day. I wasn’t able to conceive of adulthood or success, but I was always driven to play music. I love playing music for people; it’s an incredible experience and there is nothing like it – my father has it too.

 

NJ: What song best describes your work ethic?

 

EW: Maybe ‘Working On A Chain Gang’ by Sam Cooke.

 

NJ: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

 

EW: Hmm, I have to think about this one. I’m picturing every conversation I’ve had with my mother. I think just to remember the highs.

 

NJ: What’s a fun fact about you that people might not be aware of?

 

EW: I’m recently getting into crystals and stones.

 

NJ: Do you get upset if they are touched? I know there are theories about the transfer of energies, etc.

 

EW: No, I like it…but I want to give you permission to touch. It’s like a woman with a pregnant belly; you can’t just go running over and rub her belly. You have to have access granted. I carry some crystals in my pocket although they’re not on me right now. It started kind of as a joke. My girlfriend is really into that stuff and I would always tease her and make fun of her, but then she would read to me about stones and it was like a lullaby. Now I’m really into it.

 

NJ: Who are your real life heroes?

 

EW: My dad and my mom for very different reasons. They are both very brave in different ways, and I admire that.

 

NJ: Who are your fictional heroes?

 

EW: Well gosh, I am drawing a blank. We have a joke…I say I’d go gay for Don Draper. Everyone knows what he is, but I wouldn’t call him a hero. There is a hunchback albino little person called Olympia in this book called Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I named my dog after her.

 

NJ: If you could have any super power what would it be?

 

EW: Not to give a fuck what other people think.

 

NJ: What natural talent would you like to possess?

 

EW: Just sort of an athletic nature, I’d love to be really light on my feet.

 

NJ: What situation makes you feel the most uncomfortable?

 

EW: Probably when I’m playing and there’s some asshole talking near by. Like a room full of quiet people and then two people chatting – it makes my skin crawl and it makes me detach from the performance.

 

NJ: In what situation are you the most content?

 

EW: When I am squished between my girl and my dog. Those are the moments when I am like, “this is a good moment.”

 

GIF: Mr. GIF x Ira Chernova for NeueJournal

The Dream

Fictional time-code for a nocturnal rumination

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Novelist and playwright Veronica Gonzalez Peña creates an original piece for NeueJouranl — a fictional time-code for a nocturnal rumination.

 

In the dream we are in the back of a station wagon—like children, little kids— it’s ample and we are lying down in that long rectangular space, like a coffin. When we arrive, we step out; who has been driving us? I look at you standing there and I am you. We are so alike. And then we are in your room. I’ve never seen it, of course; it is your childhood room, where you’d tell stories to your younger sister, deep into the night. It is small and cramped, just as you’ve described it. But in my dream it is long too, rectangular and narrow, like the back of that station wagon, like that coffin I can’t stop thinking about. And so I wake from your room, force myself awake. My heart. I wake up panting, and my heart, it is racing.

 

You read, curled up like a cat in one corner of the couch. You read voraciously. Once in a while, as you read, you make low noises in your throat, sounds you are probably not aware of, but which I note. They say something to me about you.

 

Sometimes you get up from the couch and sit at your small desk and start typing, writing and writing. You work on a typewriter because it gives you some distance, you say. It keeps things from getting too intense. The sound of the letters hitting the page, the time it takes them to get there after leaving your fingers, the sound of it when they land, the clacking. It’s the only way you can write, you say, distance. I sit at my computer, my desk across the room, my back to you; my writing is silent by comparison. Sometimes we work like this for hours and hours on end. I leave the room more often than you, leave the apartment, go outside to see the light, and when I return you are still there, hunched over the noise of those letters hitting the page.

 

This is when you are happiest, you say, our backs to each other, both working away. Or else when we are in bed, in each other’s arms, telling each other things, talking in whispers though we are alone. After you father died,your sister would come into your bed and you would tell her stories, things you’d make up. You would work hard to make the stories turn out okay, though what was driving you at your core was terror. You never told her this, how hard you worked to make those stories okay. She would settle into sleep, and you would be overtaken by that deep dread.

 

Often, I fall asleep before you do. Though I sometimes wake in the middle of the night and look at you there, all curled up like a baby, curled up like you do on the couch when you are reading.

 

The first time you disappear I am terrified. I call your sister and she says there is nothing I can do. When you come back, days later, I am angry and you tell me you just do this sometimes.

 

“Well, I don’t like it,” I say. You turn to me, “Of course not,” you say. Of course you don’t. It must be terrible for you. You are so tender as you say it. I can see that you know it is awful; I can see your concern. Why can’t you help yourself?

 

I am not quiet. I know of quiet people, writers who extricate themselves from life, who live in the woods, or near the sea, and work and work and think. I want to be like that. I want to be like them, but I am not. I get angry. I scream and cry. I throw myself at you.

 

This was not a dream: We were in a group, people drinking scotch and champagne. It was a celebration. You were sitting with your hand on her knee and though I didn’t know you yet, your fingers were long and when you kissed the side of her head. I looked away.

 

Your eyes are big and dark, they are black, almost, and even when you smiled at me at the end of that night, those heavy lidded, deep-set eyes looked a bit sad.

 

You rushed at me at the end of the night. I had just met you. And as I was leaving, you came from out of nowhere and grabbed my arm and kissed at my cheek and said good night. I was putting my coat on. You were excited and you just missed my mouth. “I really enjoyed talking to you,” you said. Though we had barely exchanged a word. “I hope I run into you again,” I said. “You never know,” you replied. “You never know when I’ll show up.” And then I finished adjusting my coat and when I turned toward you, you were gone.

 

Did that really happen? How could you appear and disappear like that? My coat partially on and the place dense with music and talking.

 

We end up together. We drive to the desert. You say you knew this. At that bar. That we would some day be together. In the desert you tell me about your father. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to take you in my arms, but I know that there is nothing I can say or do to match what you have just told me and so I lie still and silent there next to you. At some point I reach for your hand, and you let me take it. And like this we lie on the hood of your car, looking at stars, for a very long time.

 

Sometimes when you have to do things, the things a son must do for a father who died long before his job was done, your rage turns inward and you become gray and flat. The grayness fills our car as we drive delivering his paintings to a collector two states away, a seven hour drive. The collector will want to talk about your father. You will avoid this. The flat gray is palpable in our car, but I know I cannot say a thing and so I stare out the window, wanting to cry. How will you ever move beyond it if you cannot speak it.

 

Once in a Japanese restaurant, the couple two tables away from us sat quietly fighting. It was strange, for it was a silent battle they were fighting. In a crowded restaurant where everyone else was talking. My eyes were drawn to that woman’s eyes, which were red and wet with tears. The man just stared at her, for long periods at a time, every once in a while trying to wipe her face for her; she wouldn’t let him, kept pulling herself away, her black shoulder-length hair falling onto her cheek, dipping into her mouth. I tried to look away, but couldn’t. I ignored my meal, ignored you, in order to stare at the two of them.

 

It is me. I am crying and talking, with you looking on. Yes. I remember now. I am angry. I am louder than I should be, in a restaurant where everyone else is quiet. You keep trying to reach for my face, to touch my face, my long, dark hair wet and sticking to the side of my face.

 

You remove a strand from my cheek. “I don’t like it when you disappear,” I say. You turn to me, “Of course not,” you say. “Of course you don’t.” You look into my eyes. I am crying. “It must be terrible for you,” you add. You are so tender as you say this. I reach my mouth up to you and you kiss me for a long long time.

 

In my dreams, these dreams I have, I am either dying with you, or I am on a boat and you are sinking deep into the ocean below me, and I know I can- not pull you up. This, or else you are leaving; you are far out of my reach. I do not chase you because I know it will not make a difference. I am passive at your leaving because I know there is nothing I can do. Still, I want to be able to chase you. I want it to make a difference. Better yet, I want to be the one who gets chased. I want to say no, and have you run beside me begging me for words. I want you to tell me your terrifying stories and for you to know that I can take it, that I can listen and absorb your dread. But I am not really like that. I am not a silent listener. I am not kind and gentle. I am not merely receptive. I yell at you to wake up, I tell you that you must, I am not patient in your slow death, I am not quiet in your self-imposed coffin.

 

Artwork: Josephine Meckseper, Untitled (Coors Light), 2014 © Josephine Meckseper. Image courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York