“History Rising” advertising for Burj Khalifa, Dubai, 2006. Photo: Brian McMorrow.

DO YOU REMEMBER THE DIALUP HANDSHAKE? Numbers being punched, assorted squeal-y gurgling, a series of high and low tones, and then the extended white noise? Dubai’s past decade of overtures towards the international art world felt a lot like this. The initial plaintive trilling gave way to a charging, moneyed insistence familiar to anyone on the global art circuit. We’ve finally logged on, and now it’s time to turn inward for phase two.

In the mid-2000s, I would drive past a massive billboard hugging the side of the highway. It depicted a rendering of a new downtown development with scooped-out waterways, luxury mixed-use complexes, and the world’s tallest tower, a cutout of which rose several feet above a dubiously tumultuous sky. Behind it, the actual Burj Khalifa slowly loomed, notching its own growth like a child being measured up against a wall. Emblazoned in one corner of the display was the tagline: History Rising. In June, Cardi B’s summer banger “Bodak Yellow” dropped. The video suggests luxury-as-usual, opening with an aerial shot of that fantastical cityscape made gleaming reality. Burnished sand dunes, camels, a sulky-looking cheetah, Cardi in a green niqab, men in dishdashas, a rain of Benjamin Franklins, and so on. This is Dubai as it works hard to be seen, even if, like the Sharjah Biennial, that image never quite touches the ground it purports to represent.

Official music video for Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” 2017

The funny thing about Dubai is that it’s a place where history comes after the future. History is the ad copy that sinters a rendering to reality and as such, it needs to be malleable and responsive enough to the needs of the market as well as the national project. This year saw a spate of retrospective shows, a relatively new phenomenon in a city whose myths are predicated on zero-to-hundred accelerated development. Remember the faintly ludicrous title of the UAE’s 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale participation “Lest We Forget”? It’s a phrase that has since become a running joke around here. The pavilion gestured towards that exhibition’s remit to examine architecture’s progress over the past hundred years, but focused on the 1970s and 80s; such is the tenuousness of historical memory. Lest we forget the eighties—! Of note this year was an exhibition of Syrian portraiture that inaugurated Concrete’s OMA-designed flagship space on Alserkal Avenue, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s chilling audioscape of a Syrian prison and Mochu’s kaleidoscopic paean to Goan techno-spiritualism at the thirteenth Sharjah Biennial, Fouad Elkoury’s Cairene travelogues at The Third Line, an Art Jameel lecture performance from Ho Rui An, and Lala Rukh’s hushed seascapes at Grey Noise in what would come to feel like an elegy when the artist died this summer. At the same time, I would hesitate to place any of these in my personal top five for 2017, and it remains hard to shake that ever-persistent, insidious question of whether these shows were truly great, or just great for the UAE. Unequivocally stunning, however was the Picasso and Giacometti exhibition at Doha’s Fire Station, and the Bin Jelmood House slavery museum in the same city. Focusing on the trans-Indian Ocean slave trade in particular, with an emphasis on Qatar’s own complicity, its rigor felt all the more remarkable because slavery was only formally abolished in the Gulf in the 1960s and remains a touchy subject, to say nothing of its present-day analogs in Libya and ISIS territories.

And even when recent historical shows have fallen flat curatorially, as the majority of them have, it’s difficult to ignore their educational value: most of the artists included have never shown in the region. On that note the Jean-Paul Najar Foundation, which hit its stride this year with a remarkable Christian Bonnefoi presentation this winter, also took a look in the spring at artist-run spaces in 1970s downtown New York. The JPNF show found a sequel this fall with NYU Abu Dhabi’s hosting of its NYC counterpart’s “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965.” A fortuitous if very close coincidence, I was assured, yet in a country with so few institutions to begin with, it seems to telegraph a much wider desire for new conditions of possibility, new modes of art-making. The local scene has undoubtedly developed over time but it’s a brittle, uncertain maturity: what comes up seemingly overnight can disappear just as quickly. It’s also worth emphasizing the astonishing levels of support available to artists here, which ranges from free or heavily subsidized studio and exhibition spaces to fully funded MFAs abroad. Unfortunately the cost of living and generalized precarity of status (one that depends on your place of birth over your passport) leave few artists able to avail themselves of these opportunities.  

Lala Rukh, Beruwela x, Beruwela y, Beruwela z, 1996, C-prints on aluminum, 8 x 12" each.

Following the passing last fall of Hassan Sharif, the past few years’ furious documenting of the early years of the local art scene came to the fore. Very “Emirati Art History Rising,” with a side of hagiography, as if to make up for the decades in which these artists struggled in obscurity before supporting the arts became economically expedient. It’s worth remembering that even Sharif, arguably the country’s most illustrious artist, was relatively unknown just ten years ago. Perhaps Dubai didn’t need to go questing for international contemporary art after all. Like the last feel-good moments before a movie’s credits roll, maybe it actually was there all along, or so the new narrative goes.

Two major institutional shows in neighboring emirates anchored this impulse, along with a handful of smaller shows in Dubai, which mined the same well-trod territory. The mammoth Hassan Sharif retrospective “I Am The Single Work Artist,” which opened in November at the Sharjah Art Foundation, brought together over 300 works and impressed in its scale even as it suggested the kind of obituary drafted years in advance. At NYUAD this spring was “But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988–2008,” encompassing the group of Emirati artists known as “The Five”—Sharif, Mohammed Kazem, Hussein Sharif, Abdullah Al Saadi, and Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, in addition to Ebtisam Abdulaziz—a rare woman in the years before female artists came to outnumber male ones—and, unusually, Jos Clevers and Vivek Vilasini, who were Dutch and Indian respectively. Also unexpected were two of the local artists included in the UAE pavilion for this year’s Venice Biennale, Vikram Divecha and Lantian Xie, residents-but-not-citizens as the Gulf litany goes, a move that feels radical in face of the country’s racialized hierarchy.

View of “Hassan Sharif: I Am The Single Work Artist,” 2017.

There’s a quote from German anarchist Gustav Landauer that I think about a lot. He says, “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another … We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.” When working in the arts here it’s hard to escape being the state or an extension of it, and to not be conscripted into a mythmaking that you, like the original Big Five artists, might not have necessarily signed up for.

And while it’s unlikely that anyone in the upper echelons of government is consulting Landauer, there has certainly been a concerted effort to dig in, build sustainable arts infrastructure, and most of all, to build institutions. Especially important are Alserkal Avenue’s pilot residency program, and the piñata of the new Abu Dhabi Louvre, which opened just a few weeks ago to much fanfare followed by a general slump in energy. Above all, the entrance of Saudi-funded Art Jameel, who have announced a generous commission cycle and opened a project space in anticipation of a 10,000 square-foot center currently being built on the old city’s arterial creek, presages a broader shift away from Dubai’s scene being primarily market driven—and perhaps a geographical shift too, away from the city’s purpose-built arts districts. No one’s really selling anyway—one dealer quipped that even commercial spaces here essentially function as nonprofits—and galleries are responding by staging fewer, longer-running shows and doing more international fairs to cater to their primarily foreign collector bases. Following last year’s deregulation of fuel prices, January 2018’s introduction of a 5% VAT promises to make the city even more unaffordable, further worrying dealers and denizens alike.

But the thing about that History Rising billboard? The sky never looks like that here. We don’t even get inclement weather unless clouds have been seeded or ionized into producing rain. Outside the UAE’s borders a proxy war in Yemen rages on, along with an open siege of economic attrition with Qatar, to say nothing of a global climate that feels like a sentient @Horse_ebooks tweet. Then there’s the US’s modified Muslim ban that continues to make interfacing with American fairs and institutions a difficult proposition, in addition to who knows what’s happening in Lebanon. Even the Sharjah Biennial, which was distributed across five countries this year, seemed to be hedging its bets. We’re largely insulated from that volatility here—this is very much the shelf stable city—yet like the sand and ants that inevitably find their way into the most sealed of interiors, it’s hard to keep the outside world out forever.

The Burj Khalifa under construction in Dubai, 2008. Photo: Imre Solt.

Rahel Aima

Bronze Herm, ca. 490 B.C.

 The world’s full of children who grew up too fast

Gil Scott-Heron, “A Sign of the Ages”

WITHIN A FEW HOURS OF HIS BIRTH, Hermes had already become a cattle thief, invented the lyre, & innovated the art of divine worship. “The alphabet, numbers, astronomy, music, the art of fighting, gymnastics, the cultivation of the olive tree, measures, weights, and many other things” were among his inventions, according to Plutarch. Hermes was both the herald of the gods and their psychopomp, as friendly with the ruling powers on Mount Olympus as he was with the living and the dead of our kind. He managed all this while simultaneously presiding over all commerce, speech, and writing; the arts of social life and diplomacy; and likewise overseeing cunning, trickery, and theft—especially where charm was involved. Like Visa in the 1980s and ’90s, he was everywhere you wanted—but also everywhere you didn’t want—to be. Being the god of roads, he was propitiated by both travelers and bandits. He is likewise the friend of all rappers and poets, who are often, of course, also liars and thieves. When Robert Johnson went to the crossroads in Rosedale, Mississippi, to sell his soul to the devil, Hermes (or perhaps Legba, with whom he is cognate) was there. The high deeds of little men, from David to Odysseus to Bruce Lee to Tyrion Lannister, are hermetic. Sleep, too, was under Hermes’s control. Even though dreams came from the high command (Zeus), it was up to Hermes whether or not you’d get to go to sleep at all.

The Romans called him Mercury.

Otherwise known as the hot little planet closest to our Sun, the metal that looks like a liquid mirror at room temperature, that which formerly could be found in thermometers, the neurotoxin that builds up in the bodies of fish, and the mystic substance crucial both to alchemical transformation and to metallurgy.

Mercury represents both brilliancy of mind and delusion. Both the faithful transmission of the message and its distortion. Mercury is the medium through which intellection moves, but also the infrastructure for the transportation of meaning. In Greece, there are trucking companies called METAPHOR: Trucking, a fundamentally mercurial art, is literally the transportation of meaning (in the form of matter) from one place to another. Language as transportation. The twitchy, subtle sensitivity, the agility (also anxiety) of the constant mirror—the faithful mirror, the funhouse mirror.

Our problem tends to be not so much that we kill the messenger, but that we ignore him. We ignore the delivery system and focus on “content,” on the thing delivered. And yet we are living in a moment when those who control the infrastructure, the networks themselves, are distorting profoundly and in many ways irrevocably the very substance of the world.

Likewise, Mercury stands for in-betweenness. He presides over the space between the human and the divine, between death and the afterlife, between the event and its reporting, between my brains and my mouth, between you and me. When we communicate, there is a neglected third party in on the game. A few years ago I would have joked it was the NSA. Now I might say it is Google, and any number of other corporate algorithms. But always, it is Mercury.

For writers, Mercury is always in retrograde. What I mean is, we understand that language has plasticity, and that it is as much an instrument of confusion and betrayal as it can be humankind’s crucial on-ramp to the truth. And here I need to acknowledge that Genesis begins with The Word, to wave at the whole Writing/Speech differential of Deconstructionism, to invoke everything you know & don’t know about the Linguistic Turn in philosophy, and to simply state that at this point on the planet, almost everybody writes. Everybody texts. And almost everybody writes emails. Mercury is always in retrograde. 

And yet, now that our lives are so exceptionally mediated, to the point that whole masses of people are somewhere on the spectrum between zombified and demon-possessed in the glow of their smartphone, Mercury in Retrograde is more of a gauntlet than ever.

The official dates this month are 3-22 December, and he’ll be dancing backward thru Sagittarius the whole time. Sagittarius represents philosophical synthesis and big-picture thinking; the vitality & sense of adventure required to discover the Meaning of Life; the search for overarching principles according to which the Good Life can be led. The main thing this particular retrograde means is our capacity to see the big picture is going to be seriously incapacitated. Moreover, Mercury is conjunct with Saturn during the first week of this phase, indicating both serious brain damage in authority figures and basically a total leadership breakdown.

You don’t need an astrologer to tell you that the chaos, viciousness, and mayhem that everything simple and good in our culture and on our planet is being subjected to is utterly insane. Likewise, the pressure this insanity is putting on the individual psyche is incalculable. There are probably people in your life who are losing their marbles right now. You may be feeling pressure on your own as well. If you are someone upon whom others depend—and really we all are, whether we’re single parents, freelancers, CEOs, or scenesters—consciously slowing down your decisionmaking, taking a few minutes to reflect before texting back, tabling your plans ands schemes for the future, and communicating with more care than ever will be crucial. I am not saying stop communicating for three weeks. On the contrary, the need to stand your ground and speak your truth is more urgent than ever. But every single syllable you utter must signify hospitality to the very highest good for all concerned. There are inflammatory glyphs in the sky this month. You must drop into the core of yourself and ask, with all your strength, what the best course of action for you is: use this retrograde period to apprentice yourself to this question, in all humility, in all sincerity. Practice alkalizing your nervous system by talking to yourself, even your organs and limbs, the way you’d pep talk your most cherished friend.

You’ve heard the normcore astrological warnings against buying technological devices, booking travel, or making career decisions during Mercury Retrograde. I’d like to add a simple recommendation, beyond telling you to try to keep your cool and breathe through your printer eating your resumé minutes before a job interview etc: propitiation. Remember the delivery system; remember that you, me, and everyone we know are being massaged hard by the medium. If crystals are a thing you do, try putting clear quartz, shungite, and cinnabar on or near your machines, both while they’re in use and sleeping.

Cinnabar on dolomite.

I WONDER if it has ever occurred to you to thank the various networks for transmitting, at lightning speed, the substance of your thoughts, your lusts? Possibly not. Possibly because the ethers dump so much immiserating garbage into your devices it’s hard to appreciate them sometimes. One needn’t be a believer to propitiate a god. It can be done prophylactically. Like Odysseus pouring out libations before setting out on the road, you too can touch the perfect body of the cosmos with your mind. Name the names of your beloveds and your ideals before you enter the fray of the internet, your workday, a difficult conversation, a project. Keep the phone away from the bed. Give thanks before you put your hand on it in the morning. Touch yourself, and/or your lover(s) before you touch your machines.

The Moon will be full on December 3 at 10:46 AM EST, (calculate for your time zone here) at eleven degrees and forty minutes in Mercury-ruled Gemini.

At the same moment, the Sun & Moon in opposition form a T-Square to Neptune in Pisces, Jupiter in Scorpio is in a strong trine with Neptune, and Mars in Libra & Uranus in Aries are locked in hard opposition. In other words, this is a moment of reckoning about spiritual self-concept of Earthlings, and likewise about the future of leadership on this planet. What we dream is as much a reflection of the hells on earth as it reflects our longings and needs. But again, you don’t need me to tell you that tempers are running high and that there is explosive pressure on us as individuals and as societies right now. The sky says so, and so does the shithouse wall. 

As Above, So Below, as Hermes Trismegistus said.

Gemini as depicted in Urania's Mirror, from a set of constellation cards published in London, ca. 1825.

What I can offer is a few words about Gemini you might not have heard. The cosmic twins represent the duality that came into the world when the creator separated light from darkness. Gemini is the Zen Beginnerhood of the zodiac, and it is good to remember the frolicsome play of babies first discovering the world as the foundation for all adulthood. If astrology functions on the mirror principle, reflecting here what transpires in the heavens, the duality of Gemini also speaks to the magic of diagnosis and to sacred asymmetry.

Castor and Pollux are not equal, and as twins, they are cyphers for the riddle of equality. But one had an immortal parent and the other one didn’t. One came first, and the other one second. Resolving disharmony into balance, asymmetry into perfect proportion, is the secret algebra of the soul’s mathematics. Think back to the caduceus Hermes/Mercury holds: the serpent wound around the staff represents the judicious use of medicine, which can either cure or kill depending on the dosage. And here we’re in Plato’s Pharmacy (I’m citing Derrida): In Mercury’s allegorical pharmakon, the serpent (poison) is wound carefully around the staff (discernment), miming the double helix of our DNA, this symbol, like we ourselves, is a mysterious—and mysteriously exact concatenation of good and bad, poison and antidote, rigor and mercy.

This month’s full moon is full of medicine, but the side effects can be severe.

I recommend partying the night of the second, and on December 3, you should get up early, hangover or bedfellow be damned, and write your spiritual autobiography.

Where did you first hear the word god, when did you begin (or cease) to believe in a “higher power,” what experiences have you had, whether within or outside the structures of normalized/organized religion, that have led you toward or away from what—and forgive the sloppy term—has lately been called spirituality? 

Into what or whom do you put your faith? Who are you, and who and where do you come from? 

Astrology teaches that we have many parents, and most of them are in the sky.

Speaking of parents, Saturn, the patriarch of the zodiac, enters Capricorn, the sign he rules, on December 20, just in time for the Winter Solstice the following day, during a Mars-Pluto square that indicates sexual rage in the collective, at once a desire to dissolve all existing forms of authority and a cluelessness as to what to replace them with—and looming behind all the smoke and hot air stands the same old bad white father. Ruthless power grabs, reactionary posturing, and a yearning to return to archaic modes of statehood are in the air. Watch out for the “adults in the room.”

By December 22, when the Sun follows Saturn into Capricorn, Venus in Sagittarius trine Uranus in Aries suggests structural upheaval but also real progress when it comes to women holding power, while Mercury squaring Neptune indicates but not merely replacing the men in rotten structures—on the contrary, this is a first sign of a mass movement on the part of women already in authoritative positions and femininity more generally taking its rightful place in the structure of our self-concept as residents on Earth.

On Christmas, Neptune in Pisces’ beams to Mars and Jupiter in Scorpio indicate a powerful and not un-Christian idealism in the air, and some deep thinking about how to deepen empathy and de-incarcerate what we repress in ourselves and likewise the populations America lives to lock up. All the Pisces in the air at Christmas can also indicate major escapist yearnings, so watch your consumption of drugs and alcohol, already normally higher at this time of year, there are indications intoxication can have heavier-than-usual consequences this time around.

On New Year’s Eve, a T-Square forms between the Moon in Gemini, Mercury and Sagittarius, and Chiron in Pisces, restating the Mercurial & Spiritual demands I’ve discussed above. It’s as though the outlines of a door to the next year have been drawn in the sky, and in order to find out the magic words we need to say to gain entry to 2018, working out what our spiritual wounds are, and just where our concept of the divine (and/or lack thereof) has caused suffering and escapism in our self-concept. A Yod to the Moon, also known as “the finger of God,” reemphasizes this point. Beaming energy from Pluto in Capricorn and Jupiter in Scorpio, this Yod is calling for us to conjugate the collective need to transform the structures of power and our individual needs to release shame and repression: New Year’s Eve calls for major Zen Beginnerhood, so that we may be reborn with the turning of the year with all the curiosity, attention, and affection of children at play.

Ariana Reines’s video from “Pubic Space,” her exhibition with Oscar Tuazon at Stuart Shave Modern Art, 2016.

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com. To read her November Piece for artforum.com click here; to read her October piece click here; and to read her September piece click here.

Gustav Klimt, Danaë, 1907, oil on canvas, 30 x 33”.
in which God turns himself into money in order to rape a woman. –AR

I MOVED TO NEW YORK WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN. During the first few years I lived in the city, men came up to me daily, and often many times daily, asking to take my picture. Even at the time I was certain this was not because they considered me beautiful. I felt that I must look vulnerable. I knew that I looked vulnerable and I cursed myself for it. I needed to become tougher. But I also wanted to be beautiful and desired, to look like a blushing creature of whom a parent might say, “If he so much as harms a hair on your head.”

I had no parent to say such a thing to me. I was an orphan and it showed. Determined as I was not to be so, I looked vulnerable and I was. And though I refused these men again and again, walking like a deaf cyclops down the street—deaf to all catcalls and absolutely never ever wavering the focus of my eyes from some obscure point in the middle distance, toward which I was striving with all my might—they arrested my movement again and again. The streets were theirs. Whatever their eye touched belonged to them.

I did sex work in college, but not the kind people propositioned me for on the street—or not exactly that kind. I worked at a dungeon, let a man photograph his dick going into my butt for $500 an hour, and did “art modeling” for a sketching group—six or seven sweet retirees who gathered weekly in the basement of their Harlem co-op. My mom had become homeless when I was eighteen and the school I went to was full of rich young women. I needed all the money and all the power I could get. I worked two restaurant jobs plus five hours a week at the campus Writing Center. I had a 4.2 GPA. I was tired, lonely, confused, furious, and very hungry intellectually. I wanted to “own” my sexuality and, if I could not yet consider myself brave, I was determined to become so.

When I was twenty, I spent a semester in Paris. I couldn’t afford it, but I had to escape my homeless mom. I had never wanted to be anywhere near my parents in the first place. It was spring break, and everyone I knew had gone somewhere. A lot of them were vacationing on Capri, and my best friend, who was poor too but not as broke as I was, was down in Hyères with two handsome gay men, learning how to drink wine and smoke Dunhills. I decided I’d figure out what it felt like to be a lonely poet in Paris. It was a well-traveled cliché and I hoped it would be strong enough to hold me.

Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira,” 1976.

One evening a man approached me on the street. He was smoking a cigarillo. He had a slender and elegant body. He made casual references to Baroque music and ancient Greece. He said he was a “figurative” painter and that I looked like someone he had known when he was young. And would I model for him. I said I didn’t know, people asked me to do that a lot. He said, “That doesn’t surprise me.” I said I’d think about it. We exchanged numbers.

The first time, he took pictures of me with my clothes on. “I paint from photographs,” he said, gesturing to canvases-in-progress on the walls, large Bonnardesque female nudes. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. We talked about philosophy and secularism in twentieth-century Turkey. I agreed to let him photograph me naked next time.

I was on the made bed, positioning myself according to his instructions. He was standing over me adjusting the lens of his camera. Gradually he started to adjust my body physically, wedging his feet between my legs, straining whatever pose I was in so that I looked (I felt) more and more like the exacerbated nudes of Egon Schiele. He started to sweat. I had never seen someone literally foaming at the mouth with sweat before. I don’t know. Maybe he had rabies.

He wiped the side of his mouth with a cloth. “Pardon me,” he said, “I’m sweating.” The weird, tautological statement of the obvious was something I would remember men do when they are stupefied by lust. I remember his sweat falling onto my body. He had wedged himself somehow between my legs and on top of me. By the time I felt his erection I was screaming no and hitting and kicking. I remember leaping off the bed and getting into my clothes and out the door and that it was sunny, a blindingly sunny afternoon.

He called to apologize. He said that attraction was natural, that it was normal, that he was a healthy man, that I was a healthy woman, that inspiration and the erotic went hand in hand. I guess that must have made sense to me. I had gone there willingly and I wasn’t stupid. I knew what a muse was. He said he wanted to paint me, that he needed to, that I reminded him of this woman he had known when he was young, that he was not a monster or a beast. “OK,” I said, “I don’t want to think you are a monster or a beast, but if I come over again you cannot touch me. Not once. You cannot touch me at all.” “I won’t touch you,” he said. “I respect you,” he said. “I promise,” he said.

When he forced his body onto mine the second time and I screamed no and punched and kicked he would not get off me. He was much, much stronger this time. He was not going to stop. He took off his pants and put his slimy thing in. That’s when I went dead. I don’t know all the things he did. I know that somehow when it was over we were on the couch. He had come somewhere outside of me, on my skin. He had had the presence of mind to exit my womb when he came. He had done me that service.

I was shaking and there were tears on my face. I didn’t say a single word. I put on my clothes and I left. When I told my best friend what had happened, she said that I had been raped, but because my body had gone dead and I had “let” him do what he did, and because I should have known what he would do, I could not really believe her that I had been raped. I had been stupid. I wanted to light his building on fire. I wanted to die.

He called to ask when I could come back. “You raped me,” I said. “You were into it,” he said. “I tried to fight you off and then my body went dead,” I said, “I was not into it.” “I am not a monster,” he said. He said other things. I hung up. I was shaking.

By the time I was getting groped by Knight Landesman at dinner parties, I had put this experience, and many others, behind me. I had been loved. I had been cherished. I had written books and won prizes, I had written plays and made performances. I had used my body and refused to use it. I had learned how to be beautiful and learned how to withstand being ugly, learned how to be broke and learned how to earn money, learned the pleasure of being known and the ecstasy of hiding. I was living as variously as possible, like Frank O’Hara said he wanted to. Sometimes I was visible. Sometimes I wasn’t.

But it wasn’t until this past week that I realized that the reason why I hate to be photographed might have something to do with being violated by a man wielding a camera.

It wasn’t until this past week that I realized why, when a photographer from New York magazine wanted to take my picture for a brilliant woman’s article about my then-new astrology practice, I said I wasn’t available. I was working as a sculptor on that particular day, and covered in sawdust and drying cement in my friend’s LA studio. I told myself that that day I didn’t look like an astrologer. I have found so many excuses and so many ways to hide from sight. One of them is code switching. Another is the seizure of dread that attacks my body when someone brandishes a camera. It is so much worse than the normal anxieties of vanity.

I’ve often wondered why this age of selfies and images has been such a torture to me. I’ve wondered if it tortures others in the same way. Is it a harrowing of hell because I’m just naturally fugly, or because something very deep in me was taught that it had better run and hide if it wanted to live? Whatever hid inside me while my body became the dead altar for that man’s sweat and spooge and demons is still hiding. Whatever learned to run from me in that moment is still in flight.

I respect that many people are choosing not to deliver their own rapes etc to the internet right now. Even though I have written about and created artworks about mine, I have kept a lot of silence too. I am publishing this portion of my own history in this of all publications at this of all times because in it many old problems fulminate: the old muse problem, the old rape problem, the problem of trying to own what cannot be owned, the problem of performing dominance and submission, the problem of living like a woman-shaped thing.

Nina Simone’s “Dambala,” 1974.


I was kind of freaking out this week but I started breathing into the moon
It worked
The four legs of the ruminant, steady on the ground
I am steady on the ground
I have the right to earthly food
Just by seeing what I see I beautify it
Cow-eyed Aphrodite beholding the entire world with the melancholy gaze of a lover
Flesh is full
Eyes are bright
The things born to grow in the ground do grow
The walls of the house are firm

Venus and Uranus perfect their opposition on November 4. The explosive, collective drive toward more democratic social structures is bombing the space of romance and partnership. In sexual violence, the aggressor buries their demons in you while stealing your soul. That’s what happens. Uranus is operating a kind of exorcism on all femininity. OUT, DEMON. What has been hidden here, and what has the feminine been carrying, and for whom, for so long? It is time to send the beelzebubs back to their source. Rape is not a new story. The culture of extraction, likewise is not new. What is new, now, is the uprooting of foul kings. Uranus is very much about the explosive power of collective consciousness coming to a change of heart and mind: This is a moment in which our sense of ourselves as individuals and our desires for romantic partnership actually results in the demand for structures that are more just. Some of the mighty are falling. But the structures that made and abetted them must fall too.

There are all kinds of sex and money vibes in the sky right now.

The Full Moon in Taurus the night of November 3 (10:22 PST/1:22 AM EST on the 4th) is lavish, earthy, and grounded. It’s as much about earning as it is about pleasure. And what pleasures offer themselves to you tonight, you have earned.

Feed your senses, respect your appetite for beauty, respect your hunger, and drop into the magic of gravity: You have every right to be in residence on this planet. Be an animal. Take your space. Occupy it. Chew slowly. Binge watch something beautiful. Change the sheets. And if you feel like it, fuck all night.

Jupiter is in Scorpio til next year: There are fortunes to be made from telling the truth. There is dignity in the truth. Jupiter does not understand shame, nor does he win by manipulation. If you desire something you feel you shouldn’t, you can find a just way to enjoy it. But you must not steal it. And if you are a furnace of shame, lay it on Jupiter’s altar. Shame is only a portion of the truth. It is also an obstruction to it. There is justice in you. Reconnect to your sense of humor. It will make you happier, and richer.

Venus enters Scorpio November 7, ooh la la. Since when did your deepest darkest secrets make you look so charming and sweet?

Saturn squared with Chiron on November 2, weighing a bodybuilder’s heavy resistance against the hemorrhaging spiritual wound in our social order, in the very concept of a social order, which cannot, perhaps, endure without a sacred basis.

When Saturn trines Uranus on November 11, he brings some discipline and calculated ambition to bear upon the collective emergency of what exactly it means to be an individual at a time on the planet so gravely calling upon us to learn to think and do ably in groups.

The New Moon is born November 18, in Scorpio. More sex and money, yay. What I mean is, this is an opportunity to ponder what you truly desire, to face whatever pain and shame you have locked away in yourself, to be ringingly clear about what you’re after when it comes to sex and real intimacy, and to think about how to earn your living more honestly—whether that means not making yourself miserable and pretending to be happy doing whatever it is you’re doing, or figuring out how to earn money without doing things you think are wrong.

The sun moves into Sagittarius on the 21st, and Neptune goes direct the following day. This threshold should have us feeling somehow refreshed and clearer, both spiritually and philosophically. This is a crazy planet, but it’s good to be here, searching together, passing through.

Ariana Reines

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com. To read her October piece for artforum.com click here and to read her September piece click here.

Paige K. Bradley, Screwed, 2017, pencil, watercolor, and pen on paper, 8 1/2 x 11".

Since I’m already screwed
Here’s a message to you
My heart’s wide open
I’m just not getting through to the lover in you
Yet I’m still hoping
That tonight, tonight, you’re gonna turn down the lights
And give me a little more room just to prove it to you

THAT’S HOW SHE PUT IT ON “SCREWED,” the eighth track of her debut album, Paris, released in August 2006. Screwed, with an open heart and hope for a little more room, that’s as much as any femme is allowed to be in this world.

Bio: She was born in the 1980s in Los Angeles to wealth and privilege. Her middle name is Whitney. Her middle name is Katharine. She went to a Catholic school on the west side, where she created problems easily compensated for with major donations while reading books under her desk instead of talking. She dropped out of high school and went to art school in a Southern California suburb. She moved to New York City and got a break from family friend Donald Trump. She has an inheritance, but it’s not as much as you think it is. She makes money just to prove that she can. Her first single was dub-inflected, but she was signed to Drake and Nicki Minaj’s label in 2013. Her upcoming debut album is titled Shareholder’s Daughter. She creates a culture around herself. Culture is held at a cool distance by her critical eye. People think she has a sex tape but she doesn’t even fuck anyone. She’s a famous entrepreneur who likes to stay indoors. Her selfies are everywhere and rarely published.

June 8, 2017:

Miss Hilton has been a lot of things to a lot of people: friend, mentor, thinspiration, whore, glamourpuss, symbol of the decline of Western Civilization, DJ (aka symbol of the decline of Western Civilization). But the thing she did best was tire out the old framework of centralized mass culture, exploiting its almighty last bits before the internet and social media—to say nothing of antisocial media—stepped in and ruined everything ☆⌒(>。<). We hear pundits bloviate on how much water it takes to produce a gallon of milk. How about all the resources it takes to produce a woman, especially a Paris?

Paris. Did she invent fame for fame’s sake—the metastasization of art for art’s sake—for an entire generation, fusing it with a colluding cis white womanhood, the branding of the self on an emerging market, the individual as microenterprise… or did she just go ahead and massage the times? Architect of now, queen of my heart—what were her materials? Her modern aristocracy was a tool to be applied, and the pressure pushed contemporary culture to a precipice, at which point Kim Kardashian had little to do except tip the boulder Paris had foreman’d up the hill, all while we thought she was fooling around and being a bad role model.

Paige K. Bradley, Past Looks, 2017, pencil, colored pencil, water-soluble crayon, and collage on paper, 8 1/2 x 11".

June 20, 2017😟:

Her primary quality is prismatic: stupidity, ease, uselessness, blondeness. In other words, an unnerving perfection. Her consciously high-pitched voice, the influential outfits—tiny bag, huge sunglasses, demure headbands over chic bobs, the monochrome track suits nowhere near the track (athleisure anyone?), flesh-toned feathered ball gowns, a committed exploration of the liminal space between dressed and undressed (leisure anyone?)—and the memorable catchphrases (“that’s hot,” “loves it”) were taken for granted as expressive of her dead ends. Look, sometimes a text gets up and performs in an ensemble fit for a stupid-spoiled-whore-with-a-video playset. Her essay becomes a look, and a magazine might call the style “Paris Hilton Meets Mike Kelley and Thinks She’s Smarter.” The difference between displays of authenticity and artificiality are negligible—two showrooms, both alike in dignity. ``╰(▔∀▔)╯``

June 29, 2017:

Before one can be a caricature, one must first become recognizable. In the September 2000 issue of Vanity Fair, Paris and her sister Nicky, nineteen and sixteen years old, respectively, posed for a spread by David LaChapelle, with one photo featuring Paris in her grandmother’s living room wearing a see-through mesh tank top and hot pink micromini skirt holding out her middle finger.

What’s great about the obvious is that its logic is unimpeachable.

So is being in “the right place at the right time,” as an intertitle states in Will Rebein’s compilation of archival footage, loosely resembling the meditative march of a documentary, titled Famous for Being Famous, 2015, and hosted on his Vimeo account Party Like It’s 2007. Here Paris is alternately chatting to and ignoring paparazzi—just another element in her scenery so nothing to get too distressed over, a lesson her pal Britney never learned or learned too late—mooning the microphone in promotional footage for her debut album, demonstrating the voice she uses for TV and divulging to an unknown passenger in her car that she’ll “be a little idiot… and talk like a baby” but she “always knows what’s going on.” (^_~)

July 2, 2017:

At the two-hour mark of FfBF, a Wall Street Journalist tries to pin her down and prick her hubris bubble about being one of the top five DJs in the world, which she swiftly corrects: She only ever claimed to be one of the top-five-paid DJs in the world. She didn’t mean “skillwise.” You can appreciate how numbers speak for themselves, and I can marvel about what it would be like to keep the company of people who don’t perform elaborate subterfuge to downplay their advantages. At almost two-and-a-half hours long, Rebein’s mass-produced documentary demonstrates his talent for collecting. “The more you know,” that smug, ideal phrase, is our anthem now. Newspapers and other “media” hound you with information, hordes of stranglers with something to say, regardless of your ability to do anything about or with their truths.

Why do I love Paris? Because she doesn’t tell, she just shows (up). Rebein doesn’t film, doesn’t add to the pile or ply us with promises of bringing us inside the story, instead he edits down, thank god.
\( ̄▽ ̄)/

July 3, 2017:

Can a person come preloaded, like a gun? Or is that just destiny, like blonde hair and blue eyes? Duchamp in this corner with the Readymade, and in the other biology’s double helix. There’s the name, the bullet, the meaning hopefully already capped a priori, the better to explode later. You might be forgiven for thinking there’s anything in this world besides dads and names, or a lack thereof. ε=ε=ε=ε=┌(; ̄▽ ̄)┘

July 15, 2017:

Naturally we have arrived at Trump 凸( ̄ヘ ̄), or, to be more specific, Ivanka (/Ω\). Some think we need to open a line of communication with her, or make her see the error of her ways, a kind of proactive networking that adheres to an oddly traditional notion that the way to get to a Man is via the Woman, forever standing right behind him and wielding influence from the shadows. Our handwringing over Ivanka shows how little we like to admit that the white woman in particular has always been a creature of collusion, cutting deals and splitting differences, always standing by, ready and willing, waiting for her time to shine.

Though Paris has been mum for the most part in politics, save for a memorable dig at John McCain during the 2008 election cycle and a catchy bid at the presidency herself (which, in hindsight, seems more reasonable than the reality afforded us now), the Hiltons, and the Clintons, have been mixing it up with the Trump clan since at least the 1990s, with Paris signing to DT’s modeling agency in New York circa 2000, when she was nineteen. Ivanka has a philosophy; Paris has a lot of perfumes. Ivanka hangs around in the White House cabinet and avoids prosecution while Paris flies to her DJ residency in Ibiza. Neither of these people could be said to be helping, but surely shameless self-promotion is less pernicious than self-promotion in a feminist sheath, or as public policy. Paris works a room, Ivanka has a pathological need to own it, just like her father. #ParisForPresident? Sure, because America, like every other dream, has to end sometime. ┐( ̄ヘ ̄)┌


A pit stop to talk about color. Purple is a neutral, if you’re royalty, and I propose that pink is the color of complicity. Pink, like the tones of a white woman’s skin, allows one to slip and slide through without attracting suspicion. You can do anything (to anyone) in the camouflage of dumb. But if the lights are off, so are the bets.

Paige K. Bradley, Architect of Now, Queen of My Heart, 2017, pencil, colored pencil, pen, watercolor, and collage on paper, 11 x 8 1/2".

August 2, 2017:

The most remarkable thing about the infamous 1 Night in Paris sex tape featuring her—because it wasn’t hers, it was actually (¬_¬) his—is how boring it is, though the seconds-long intro dedicating the tape to 9/11 is quite striking. Paris would have never signed off on something as dull and humorless as this hour-long snoozer. She was embarrassed by the release, I hope chiefly because of the tragically bad lighting. (That night vision!) The illuminated ones drive a context and train of baggage all their own, selectively leaking their contents in print, online, all across your timeline. She was being fucked, and she got screwed (out of her rightful cut from the original distribution deal), noting, as she said on her track five years later: “I could be the perfect girl for you to ruin.” Alas, nothing seems to ruin a woman, with a dad behind her, who wants to lean in, hard.

August 3, 2017:

The lover in you, already screwed.

August 4, 2017:

Paris rode her reputation hard in and out of the news cycle. In case you haven’t noticed yet, she’s totally back.

But wasn’t gossip the forerunner of news and institutional media? The infamous woman is a necessary trope in any village, and a scandal-maker may have once been begrudged the respect that the reporter demands for himself now. The journalist’s “BREAKING” was once just another woman found broken (っ˘̩╭╮˘̩)っ. You may as well take her seriously, as much as we would any other all-consuming joke. Surely by now we’ve learned to read backwards, from the spoiler to foreshadow, or from now until history. And all along the way is a trail of people watching themselves being looked at, to which Paris would probably say “Duh.” 乁( • Ω •乁)

Paige K. Bradley is associate editor of artforum.com

Ju-Yeon Kim, THE IN-BETWEEN, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable.

God’s Justice! who could ever paraphrase
the agonies and tortures that I saw?
And why did I feel guilty as I gazed?

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, translated by Ciaran Carson (2002)


I’M AT AN artists’ colony editing a book about fowl and infinity. Every night the chickens here get sung a lullaby written especially for them by a Pulitzer Prize winning composer. It’s an insipid little ditty but it works. It is sung seven nights a week by two to five highly accomplished artists of the almost always female persuasion. Right now I’m one of them.

Singing to chickens is like a parody of maternity, some obeisance or act of care—ovary to egg, breakfast to sundown—that I can’t even wrap my head around. There’s one woman here who wisely declares, “I can’t have any dependents” whenever we invite her to sing to the chickens with us. I’m not good with dependents either. But I met an artist named Ju-Yeon Kim on chicken duty.

She asked who I was, so I told her. That’s a fancy name, she said, grinning sadistically. Thanks I said. It suits you she said. I was sixty percent sure I had been insulted. I was pleased.

The other night Ju-Yeon showed us some slides. There was a set of sixty-four tiles she made in Sheboygan, depicting human beings performing characteristically human acts, a kind of deadpan socialist realism of the soul. There were big confident paintings of dazzling virtuosity. “These seem to have been influenced by the various traditions in Asian art,” noted an audience member. “Yeah,” said Ju-Yeon, “I used to make abstract expressionist paintings but they kept asking me why they didn’t look more Asian, so then I made them more Asian.” There was a cave in Provence studded with paper flowers and dried flowers dipped in plaster, like the bebarnacled hull of an undersea god. There was a mediation room made of finely-embroidered cloth depicting human figures in various states of torment. We were all agog.

“I base my work on Dante and The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” Ju-Yeon said.

The most ambitious piece of Ju-Yeon’s that I’ve seen is called THE IN-BETWEEN. It’s a room depicting the six Bardos described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. One of the things I love about THE IN-BETWEEN is it masquerades as a sleek, even Scandinavian design piece on the outside, concealing within it a grey high relief of souls and bodies in torment. These days we like to conceal our torment. Which is to say we try. I love that THE IN-BETWEEN’s a room, because stanza means room, and a room for a feeling, room for the truth, is always what a poet’s trying to make. It is always some awkward transition, some contortion that demands a kind of shrine, even just some extra space around it. Now that Hell is a retrograde idea we’re disinclined to believe in, its even more vitalizing to confront it, since we’ve obviously gotten good, as a species, to making hells on Earth. Anyway.


Both the Gita and Bessie Smith agree: Do your duty. Another’s duty will make you insane.David Rattray

A few celestial events to note:

October 5: The Charm Offensive

Full moon in Aries (2:40 PM EST), Venus conjunct Mars in Virgo trine Pluto in Capricorn

This month’s full moon is in the dazzling and martial sign of fire, but masculine Mars and feminine Venus conjunct in the moon’s bright light, in the sign of the physical body & holy service to the collective, while locked in a strong beam from Pluto in Capricorn, spells a new way of leading with love. It’s almost like the ragiest neediest part of you getting to see your grandparents, if they hated each other, tangoing cheek-to-cheek to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” in a luxury nursing home on… Mars. I always tell my clients that what Aries represents, fundamentally, is the vertical movement of energy: the rush of blood to the head (whether from fury or embarrassment) & likewise the rush of blood to the head of the genital—Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the masculine sign par excellence, & not a reflective or contemplative energy. It is not the boner you read a book about and then organized yourself into having.

Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” on MTV Unplugged, 1993.

Also? This full moon happens while the sun is in lovely, fair-minded, and seductive Libra, adding even more queer balance and oomph to the entire vibe (moon: feminine / Aries: masculine; sun: masculine / Libra: feminine)

The spark in us that drives us to live, to hunger and search, to be identical with our desire will be conjugated Thursday into a divine diagram of alchemical androgyny, the actual possibility of harmonizing the feminine and masculine energies within ourselves and in the erotics of our relationships, in such a way that we can actually deploy this balance to get what we want and need as earthlings, as citizens, as lovers, as negotiators. This is a queer and a beautiful gift.

Chaucer, in the foundational works of literature in the English language, set the world up, the whole battle of humankind, as a war between love and war, i.e. a war between Mars and Venus. What could a more balanced approach to attack and victory look like? One example comes to mind.

Taking a knee.

Dignified, elegant, powerful, and catching, this gesture, first made by Colin Kaepernick, long may he live, has seduced the hearts of legion while simultaneously drawing a powerful boundary between the conscience of NFL players and their industry and country’s official okayness with state murder and destruction of black and brown people. Not to mention the structurally fucked things about the industry of the game, the rapey militarism it has come to represent in our lives from the minute we enter middle school.

My point is, taking a knee is a great example of the charm offensive in action. It is Venus and Mars working in (rare) and perfect harmony: the dignified, succinct, beautiful expression of absolute boundaries and absolute respect. I’m not saying other modes of protest are invalid, I’m saying the charm offensive is underused in our day, and Venus-Mars in conjunction while the full moon is in Aries Thursday sends a very clear message to every single one of us: Ye who study the arts of war, bone up on the weapons of seduction. How can we better put this energy to work in our personal and social struggles?

October 10: Sexual Healing Year Zero

Jupiter enters Scorpio for a yearlong residency, ’til November 9 2018. Contrary to what I said last month, I think this is gonna be a fun one. Jupiter is the planet of good luck and the magnifying glass of the zodiac. His yearlong residency in the sign of the genitals, the anus, obsession, X-ray vision, dominance & submission, the things we really fear, & the things we really want, is a chance to bring some dignity and even fun to the desires and yearnings you’re ashamed of and the parts of yourself you’d rather not face. Jupiter also brings a dose of confidence and I-deserve-to-be-hereness to the tough stuff of advocating for yourself and your paper, telling the truth, breaking up when it’s time to break up, and weaponizing, when you must, the very deep and very private ways that you’ve been hurt.

Jupiter in Scorpio can mean more intimacy, deeper intimacy, freakier sex and more of it, and actually drawing in more good luck and material fortune (!) by getting and giving more and deeper pleasure. It brings trust and shining good humor to places where the abyssal drop and dank pull of gravity can be heavy.

This is a year for the world to explore consent and fantasize hard. It’s a year to worship unbridled mystery and also the major psychic abs required for self-control. And here I come to the tough part. Jupiter will also simply magnify Scorpionic themes of power, obsession, master-slave dialectics, vengefulness, and the delusion that the nuclear option is ever an option. (Pluto is still in Capricorn, y’all.) So while in my heart I believe the shamans and mountain spirits of Korea will protect us all from nuclear holocaust, we also have some singularly cretinous and cruel world leaders standing on our necks. Spending this year working on deepening our connections to ourselves and one another, and actually sexually healing, going to the root of the problem and going all the way—no tyrant or imperative can make us do this. We have to want it. Jupiter will help, and will make it as fun and as lucky a process as it can possibly be.

On October 23, the sun enters Scorpio & becomes conjunct with Jupiter on the 26, bringing extra oomph to the deep and actually-possibly-for-the-first-time-ever fun work of facing who we really are and sharing it honestly with one another. The truth can be scary and gross, which is why we tend to bury it in our genitals and butts and demote its planetary representatives to nonplanetary status (hello, Pluto?). Right now the heavens are giving some extra support to our need to face the things about ourselves we think (we know) are bad, and lending us the capacity to laugh at ourselves in the process. This is really important. Because, as a reminder, Pluto is in Capricorn until 2023. The process of complete and total nuclear meltdown of existing social structures (some of what is dissolving is good things that we need but a lot of what’s dissolving is evil, needs to end, and will not go without a fight). This is likewise the era of the x-ray of our leaders’ souls, writ large across the world: it’s all out there for all to see. Unfortunately, our buffoon leaders are also the x-ray of everything about ourselves that’s conniving, wrong, and fucked. So we have to learn how to be honest about ourselves, give love even though things are so confusing and wrong, and protect our tenderness while hardening our will.

October 31–November 2ish are the Days of the Dead, All Hallows’ Eve, Fet Gede, and the Santa Muerte festival. Lots of traditions say the boundary between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time. Embrace the spooky feeling, open yourself to wonder, make offerings & prayers to the people in your life who have passed on. People in your life include people you have never met. (I’ve made offerings & prayers to Jimi Hendrix, my grandmother, people killed in earthquakes & hurricanes & wars, people murdered by the police, and Harry Houdini. There are lots of dead people in our lives.)

Julee Cruise’s “Floating,” 1989.


Right now, there are five men who own more than most everyone else on the planet. The New Age (and age-old) adage that each of us reaps what she sows is a little bit complicated in the current regime—but what I can tell you without even looking up at the heavens is there is no way in heaven or hell the sowers of death won’t reap what they’ve dealt. The present structures are in the process of passing away. It’s already over. Marry your ideals now, and buckle up.

There are those of us having panic attacks from the news, there are those of us being murdered by the police, or, as this morning, by white terrorism. Those of us who are variously underwater, poisoned by toxic sludge, rendered homeless by structural evil & hurricanes, & those of us flipping out about it on the internet. There are the people who drive the drones and there are the people those drones bomb. There are those whose equanimity is inborn, like an animal’s; there are those who are simply insensitive while others are numbing out, a lot of us are on drugs, and some of us radiate balance and compassion thanks to our very expensive diets and exercise-and-meditation regimes. Whatever gets you through the night.

Nobody is excused from figuring out how to love other people, themselves, all creation, and god, not even now while it is visibly dissolving. Have you ever heard that thing about life here on earth being an illusion? Well now that there are so many illusions running amok, do you believe it? Why do you think you’re so attracted to astrology? I praise you for wanting to feel more connected to the cosmos and I praise you for seeking a larger meaning for the sometimes crazed and contradictory ways you feel and act.

The world is being emulsified, dissolved, and, to quote Shakespeare, translated into and out of total delusion a million times a second every day. Beauty is being churned into trash, the sap of the planet is being sucked out and turned into money, money is turning into the creams you put on your face. It’s weird to feel like an illusion, yet true.

Anyway, gentle reminder that nobody, not the Dalai Lama or Alice Notley or Oprah, fully knows what the soul or consciousness are. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Broken and hurt as we are, we’re made of the universe and we have our minds. Let’s be together in life and in death, in humility and reverence and awe forever. Amen.


Ariana Reines

Ariana Reines is a poet & playwright. She astrologizes at lazyeyehaver.com.

Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield, Craig Owens: An Interview, 1984, video, black-and-white, sound, 80 minutes.

APRIL 16, 2017 AT 2:24 PM EST

Dearest Bruce,

Today, a resurrection. 

On Tuesday, as you recommended, I went to Light Industry to see Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield’s 1984 conversation, or portrait of, Craig Owens, part of Video Data Bank’s incredible interviews with artists and writers. This was some six years before he died, age thirty-nine, of—I rehearse the intolerable boilerplate—AIDS-related complications. 

Eighty black-and-white minutes. Owens sits in a director’s chair in front of a makeshift backdrop—the zigzag of a wrinkled moving blanket. He talks and talks, always smoking. Or… he’s not really smoking, just lighting cigarette after cigarette and then mostly letting the lit cigarette sit on his lap so that the smoke blooms up into the frame. It looks like his crotch is on fire. The camera sits still, sometimes zooming in on his face, then pulling out to show his dark, formica sweater. The blanket and the sweater and the video’s poor contrast makes his face so white. 

It’s a real performance. We start in early childhood, when Owens is ten or eleven years old, reading Variety in isolation in suburban Pennsylvania. I guess this was 1960 or so? He draws designs for houses for TV stars, including one for Gale Storm, which he sends to her. 

More bio: His father takes him to New York to see the Sound of Music. He’s accepted to Haverford College as a junior in high school. He directs many plays. In May of 1970 he’s working on a Noël Coward comedy when the US invades Cambodia. The National Guard murders four students at Kent State. He goes to Washington, but “politicization never happened for me.” External events annoy him. All that matters is the work.

He moves to New York in 1971, does theater. He sees the stage version of Yvonne Rainer’s Film About a Woman Who…

He hears about Robert Wilson, Vito Acconci. His passion for commercial theater flags. 

For six months, out of financial desperation, he moves to Philadelphia to work at the Al Paul Lefton advertising agency. Another Rainer twist: He comes across—how?—Annette Michelson’s germinal 1974 Artforum article on Rainer. This, he thinks, is serious criticism. He begins to read Roland Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Marcuse. An “older gentleman” encourages him to go to grad school. He applies to Columbia, NYU, and CUNY’s Grad Center, choosing the last simply because they let him join midyear. 

The cranky coincidences of an education.

All this Rainer, Michelson stuff: I feel interpellated.

He takes classes with Leo Steinberg. Skepticism becomes admiration. Rosalind Krauss joins the faculty. Owens swoons. Krauss is beginning to carve her path out of formalism. A year later Douglas Crimp joins as a student. October dawns.

Owens wants to write about performance. He thinks he can bring his new critical tools to bear on emerging live-art disciplines. He writes a paper for class on Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach. He’s surprised when Krauss asks if he’d like to expand it for “the magazine.” This becomes “‘Einstein on the Beach’: The Primacy of Metaphor,” published in October’s fourth volume (autumn, 1977). (Also in this issue are Krauss’s “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America [Part 2],” Michael Snow’s “Notes for Rameau’s Nephew,” and Amy Taubin’s “Doubled Visions,” on Michael Snow.)

Looking back, from 1984, Owens considers this period with amused embarrassment. He’s writing what he calls “footnotes” to Krauss’s own writing. “I was not equipped at that point,” he says, to tackle something like Einstein on the Beach, calling his first essay an “overinflated… pretentious piece.” 

The Octoberites are all “carrying the torch of serious criticism,” writing only for one another. The readers, if there are any, are just eavesdropping. At this time, he says, the frame of art was not an issue for him. It didn’t matter, for instance, that Einstein on the Beach played not at some downtown theater but at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Things change when he becomes an editor at Art in America in… 1980? At October everything was taken care of by public funds. Suddenly he’s thrown into the same market conditions as the artists about whom he’s writing. He begins to consider the purpose of intellectual work, whose interests that work serves. His new mandate: “To analyze the position of your own work vis-à-vis the channels through which it must pass to reach an audience.”

He begins to think of criticism as existing alongside the work. You find work with which you feel solidarity, and “the critical task is to extend… amplify… develop new terms.” He begins to see the categorical debates around “modernism” and “postmodernism” as “diversionary tactics, to take intellectual energy away from feminism.” (Race doesn’t enter his picture.)

He zooms out. Art doesn’t “change the world—it changes the terms. If we get hopeless, we’ll let other people do it.” Success is being able to “responsibly set the agenda.” 

If he had lived, where else he would have zoomed?

The punchline: at the end, a credit for the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Eternal returns.

I begin with a mouthful. But I’ll swallow all but this question: For whom do you write? 


Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2016. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 29, 2017. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

APRIL 16, 2017 AT 9:49 PM PST

I don’t want to talk with food in my mouth, and you’ve given me a lot to chew on, despite a single question.

Race hasn’t entered his picture, but “gay men,” whether “outlaws in feminism” or not, haven’t been articulated yet either, as an impulse for theoretical pursuit. 

Yet with great dexterity and purpose, he recounts how, after repeatedly turning over the sheets of his quickly finished, elementary-school writing assignments to sketch designs for dresses, teachers and parents tried to divert his talent for fashion toward a butcher design endeavor: architecture. 

Talk about feeling interpellated!  

I’m not sure I can answer your question (for whom do I write?) with any resolve, especially right now. 

Am I wrong to interpret Owens’s fatigue and/or resignation (?) at always responding, having to respond, as similar to Barthes’s coming to terms with his long-harbored desire to write a novel? 

Does “being able to ‘responsibly set the agenda’ ” equal abandoning a certain mode or genre of writing for another?

However much alongside culture any criticism exists, it too often must be in response to a work. While that seems plainly obvious, this morning, rewatching Owens end the interview on this topic, I could only nod, slowly, in agreement, mouthing the words, I feel you, dude

The frame was invisible. He learns not only to see the frame but also to draw attention to the frameworks that support it. 

I’ve extolled to you how enthralling I found Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work / Travail / Arbeid at MoMA a few weeks ago, the involutional forces of her choreographic endeavor, one that manages to be roomy, inviting, able to accommodate or, rather, unite, the movements of passersby as counterpoint to not only those of her corps but also of her musicians, who wind through the space of the dance as complement to the dancers’ transit. The dance and Gérard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum, in which the musicians play their instruments as percussive things and breath modulators as much as for melody, resonate with one another, sometimes in synch, sometimes discontinuous. While W/T/A seems incredibly “open,” the openness exposes the choreographer’s intense formal assiduity, centrifugal, centripetal, alert to every action, activity, gesture, and/or stillness of the event. How deliberately but without strenuousness the force field of her choreography clarified when and where and how rapidly any audience “in the way” as well as part of the dance would have to move and when and where they could just be darted around or leapt over by her dancers. 

At what point and how does the fact that Anne Teresa is the Baroness De Keersmaeker become critically or theoretically useful?

After watching the dance for an hour-and-a-half in the Atrium, I left—hearing the music reverberating, spying it from other vantages—saw Seurat’s Evening, Honfleur, 1886, with its dazzling painted frame, extending the artist’s pursuits beyond the strictly pictorial, and wondered about the conversation he and the Baroness could have about frames, frameworks, duration, luminosity, points, vibration, atomization, futures.

Something meteorological, the systems of what they put into motion.

Is it like a maelström?

Like a tempest?

“If I negate powdered wigs, I am still left with unpowdered wigs,” Marx stated, c. 1843.

A little later, Molly Nesbit replied: 

“There must be another response besides negation.

A maelström is not a death.” [Midnight: The Tempest: Essays, 81]

We are in the midst and mess of a male storm, one which might take the entire planet down; nevertheless, Madame Nesbit instructs us: “Try to think of the maelström as a swim.”

With her last book, The Pragmatism in the History of Art [2013], Madame left us climbing and hanging in a large tree in Poughkeepsie, New York, courtesy of Gordon Matta-Clark—who was known to tango, darkly, on the piers—his Tree Dance. She left us, too, with this question, which seems apropos, given the Baroness, evenings at Honfleur, extension, social questions: “What if there were no limits to aesthetics?”

“The Tree Dance,” she informs, “was an event infiltrated by other events: the weekend beforehand 500,000 people had marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War; students were occupying the administration offices in Vassar’s Main Building; in June the New York Times would publish the Pentagon Papers detailing the secret history of the American buildup in Vietnam. On May 31st, the Times would quote a letter from Gordon Matta-Clark urging an artist boycott of the São Paulo Bienal because ‘it is now common knowledge that freedom of speech survives nowhere in Brazil.’ ”

The past would seem, still, to speak fluently to our possible future.

Trisha Brown, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, 1970. Performance view, 80 Wooster Street, New York, April 18, 1970. Joseph Schlichter. Photo: Carol Goodden.

APRIL 17, 2017 AT 1:29 PM EST

Dear Sir,

You’re playing the dance card. 

Tempesting me. 

Tree Dance—a tea dance for heterosexuals?—was made for an exhibition, “26 x 26,” organized at Vassar in solidarity with Lucy Lippard’s “26 Contemporary Women Artists” at the Aldrich Museum. It was the most beautiful way for Nesbit to end The Pragmatism.  It took my breath away. I couldn’t really believe it.

I also couldn’t really believe that it was Gordon Matta-Clark we were talking about. Because it sounds like it should be a Trisha Brown dance. 

Nesbit leaves a clue: “[Matta-Clark] had asked Carol Goodden, his new partner, herself a dancer with Trisha Brown, to find him some people for this dance that was not one exactly, meaning it was not to be explicitly choreographed.” [The Pragmatism in the History of Art, 84]

How much of the work is “finding some people”? 

What is a dance that is not one exactly?

Matta-Clark’s Tree Dance, May 1, 1971, was barely a year after the April 18, 1970 premiere at 80 Wooster Street of Brown’s Floor of the Forest, in which dancers climb across—rather, through—a horizontal net of clothing, dressing and undressing themselves as they move. (The restaging of this work in Documenta 12 [2007] was one of the signal moments in the reawakening of a certain art-world fondness for dance.) At the same time, Goodden participated in the premiere of Brown’s Leaning Duets, 1970, in which pairs of dancers hold onto opposite ends of a rope, lean away from each other, and walk, balancing against each other’s feet. These are the early days of the Equipment Dances—Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (April, 1970), Walking on the Wall (March, 1971)—one of the most thrilling and still-underthought moments in art-making. 

I want (another!) book about Brown. 

I want a book about Goodden.

Why have there been no great women artists?

“What if there were no limits to aesthetics?”

It’s a beautiful question, and one applied to some more than others. 

But it’s certainly an ideal toward which I aspire. 

In the end, Matta-Clark’s Tree Dance surrendered to a thunderstorm. The maelström has its own priorities. His nondance broke up. From what we can gather, this was part of the plan. And so becomes the stuff of legend.

This is different, of course, from the maelström (the Gale Storm?) of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Work / Travail / Arbeid, a choreography so explicit, so rigorously rehearsed, that it can adapt to the deluge without compromise.

It makes its own weather. 

I’ve seen it now in two places—at the Wiels, in Brussels, and in the Museum of Modern Art’s Atrium. (It also traveled to the Pompidou and Tate Modern.) At Wiels, the dance took over two adjacent galleries, the dancers and musicians moving between. At MoMA, the dance conspired with the Atrium to open new vistas. You could be on the same plane as the dancers, broken up by them, or you could go upstairs and watch from above. At every angle, the dance sets its own agenda. 

Break away to one of my favorite chapters in Nesbit’s new book, Midnight: The Tempest Essays, “Without Walls,” an expanded version of an essay she did for Artforum in April 2003. She’s thinking about Malraux’s The Voices of Silence. “The problem under consideration here—how to find forms that can address the vastness—has a history that is and is not an art history, that is and is not American.” [118, emphasis mine]

What is this vastness? What counts as American?

“Solitude is a strong position… the position to refuse,” Nesbit quotes Godard in another favorite chapter, “History Without Object.” [100]

How to become a figure in the vastness, Nesbit asks. 

I choose dance to connect vastness and solitude.

What do you choose?


Pages 122-3 of Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays (Inventory Press: 2017).

APRIL 17, 2017 AT 10:58 PM PST

Your question jetés to life, how to live, in a world often increasingly immiserating.

The questions of life and living, their complication by livelihood, their imitations, organize Midnight. Or as Nesbit puts it: “With whom will one walk?” [92] 

Like Godard’s, hers is “a practice in which the ideas become questions, not answers.” [92]

With her tempest, she addresses our concerns in many ways, with many questions, perhaps most directly by way of Albert Béguin, who opened the preface of his book L’Âme romantique et le rêve, in 1936, darkness storming, with a meditation on a very particular question, “Am I the one who is dreaming?” [104]

Madame continues:

A question, he went on to say, with infinite prospects, one which touches on our very reason to live, on the possible choices one makes inside one’s own limits; for it uncovers both the problem of knowing and of poetry. It is one of the few questions which abstract thought cannot satisfy, he felt, because it is the kind of question thrown in one’s face by an undefinable reality, more vast than ourselves and on which we depend so heavily that we refuse it only at the expense of a diminished life. He continued to ask the question about what lives inside our selves at nightfall, no need to put politics there overtly, the times in which this was being written were looming too large in the minds of his readers. Science seemed unable to account for this dreamwork, a theatre of incoherent dancing, poor and aping, a patter in the atoms of one’s own mind, abandoned to an absurd caprice. [104]

The vortex—the vortext—of your ellipsis makes me wonder how that sinuous sentence about solitude is to be read.

Swimming against the current to return to it, reaching into the mist of the ellipsis, I find this sticky goodness:

“Solitude, as Deleuze had rightly remarked, had long been Godard’s private vanishing point. ‘Solitude is a strong position,’ like a right, Godard himself had remarked flatly, ‘The position to refuse.’ ”

Is solitude the state of being refused or is it solitude that allows one a position from which to refuse?  

Of course, it isn’t ever only either/or.

With the help of Deleuze’s response to Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville’s Six Fois Deux, Nesbit reminds us that the philosopher who weathered many plateaus “made a point to mention Godard’s solitary ways, called him one of a kind, a man apart from the usual routes taken by the cinema, and yet… Godard was always a man surrounded, working both with the people on his crew and with the worlds that lived in his mind,” making for a “multiple, populous solitude that was really a crowd bound to the outside world not by a heartbeat anymore but by a stammer.” [91] 

It would be remiss, if not grotesque, to forget to state the obvious: One of the ones with whom Godard walks is Miéville, and she agrees to walk with him, being more than an accomplice, coconspirator, or muse, but an artist in her own right. See not only her films We’re All Still Here (1997) and After the Reconciliation (2000), but her sly preface to Godard’s Hail, Mary (1985)—his study of life’s pulsation and plenty, wildlife—The Book of Mary (1985).

They walk AND in AND (“AND being the word upon which relations can be expressed” [92]), and they’ll extend his methods of montage to “upset everything and everyone’s relation to everyday life.” [88]
The heart of Midnight homes in on a decade running, roughly from 1975 to 1985, in France with Godard & Miéville, in New York with Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler, and David Salle.

“Let us say only that by the seventies the irresolution of history itself was apparent in New York. The term postmodern was not needed to see this.” [120]

The group in New York would find “their rhetoric of form” at the movies. Douglas Sirk’s proleptic treatise on so much of what remained long occluded in Pop art, Imitation of Life (1959), would hold particular sway. Nesbit sketches all the film showed: “the dangers that lay in wait for every success and star—the racial segregation festering within integration, the torture of maternal love, the unbridgeable personal costs.” [115]

What does it mean to feel that we are still held in the vice of so much of what Sirk lensed in that opus?

Nesbit beams no small part of her admiration on André Malraux’s The Voices of Silence. “Malraux saw a great threat. It came from the formalisms and professionalism of a modern art culture keeping art from its chief and ancient business, the confrontation with the totality of experience and fate.” [119] 

To begin to confront via aesthetics such totality, Sherman would use thrift culture to refuse “commercial fashion” and its dictates; Levine would employ the internegative as well as the “most impersonal, least theatrical techniques of thrift to bring divinity back” [130]; Lawler would host borrowed light to demonstrate how you “have walked into a situation that has rearranged your own world and made you well aware of it.” For the most part “the new New York art criticism was not concerned with the imitation of life, but only with imitation.”

The debut for some of these techniques were exhibited at “Artists Space in the fall of 1978 in a group show curated by Janelle Reiring,” which assembled Sherman, Lawler, Christopher d’Arcangelo, and Adrian Piper.

The essay “Without Walls” ends with a looking backward. The “interaction being imagined remains personal, full of the trace of internegativity of the old days, as if art might still be something that passed between friends,” but it is now seen to be a thing of the past.

Is it? Does it have to be?

The Artists Space show emblem circled or bull’s-eyed the “A” for anarchy as much as artist. 

Perhaps I’ll anarchize these proceedings a little with some disappearance and/or absence. Nesbit schools the inattentive to keep alert for what is not there. While we’re left almost at the doors of the opening of Metro Pictures and a certain kind of business that won’t be refused, recall the other ways two of the artists in the Artists Space show went. D’Arcangelo, having italicized certain removals to point to social systems and occlusions, would kill himself in 1979. For her part in the Artists Space show, Piper introduced Aspects of the Liberal Dilemma.

In 1983, Piper premieres Funk Lessons at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Her best friend Phillip Zohn dies of AIDS-related encephalitis. After that, her brief biographical précis concludes: “Begins design of poster, Think About It, commemorating 1983 March on Washington. Reads Toni Morrison. Goes dancing regularly and hears live funk bands from Oakland and Los Angeles at Little Orphan Annie’s, Foster City, California. Watches Entertainment Tonight. Sees BrainstormThe Hunger.”

Rather than ask you any of the questions I was going to ask—where do the younger artists of today find their rhetorics of form? do they think about any such rhetoric?—I’ll leave you with another beat and image of 1978, one artist’s form for addressing the vastness:

Sylvester, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), 1978.

APRIL 20, 2017 AT 2:49 PM EST

I’m realing a bit here. 

1. From The Fabulous Sylvester—a disco-catechism that Ryan read years ago and that I read more-or-less by proxy, anecdote by anecdote, communicated relentlessly as we walked around the city as he pushed deeper into the fairy kingdom—one particular episode has long stuck in my head. The artist “first turned forty in 1985, when he was thirty-eight. He wanted to go ahead and get that milestone out of the way while he still looked good. […] Besides, he liked to say, he was timeless.” [243]

2. It might be unsurprising to hear that Piper was the first, or among the first, artists who really mattered to me. I didn’t study art, at least not in school, but when Piper came and spoke to my college, I remember sitting in the auditorium trying to fathom her Funk Lessons and the ways that difference inhabited and took over our bodies, how it inhibited us from moving in certain ways. I remember being embarrassed for all the white college students who couldn’t keep up. 

I could always keep up.

3. Sylvester died in December 1988 of AIDS-related complications, a few months after his forty-first birthday. He left behind instructions for his funeral, held at the Love Center, where he appeared in a red kimono with flaming red hair and red lipstick—less red than peachy-orange, in the end, a small concession to his mother, who thought maybe the red was a bit too much.

He was timeless until he wasn’t. 

Or the time of timelessness was altered—both expanded and contracted—by the plague. 

Timelessness matters most when you have no time.

4. Piper’s The Big Four-Oh premiered in 1988, the same year as her fortieth birthday. (She is a Virgo, like Sylvester.) The installation has a video featuring her, facing a white wall, dancing alone to a selected playlist of funk, salsa, R&B, and rock, including the Rolling Stones’s “Miss You,” as well as a notebook, “forty hardballs,” a “disassembled coat of armor,” and “sealed jars of blood, sweat, tears, piss, and vinegar, respectively.” 

The three-minute clip provided on her website includes voiceover of Piper reading from the journal. I’ve transcribed a small portion, simply because I love it: 

[…] I sweated blood to become myself and not someone else I didn’t like. So many tears for what’s been lost have been wrung out of me I thought I’d drown, parched, in my own grief. Under attack my fangs appear, emitting searing streams of piss and vinegar. I had to get hit in the stomach with a hardball many times before I learned to play the game. Nevertheless my forays into community are stymied by the concrete particularity of these artifacts. I don’t understand their chemical structure, nor the stillness of their lives, and I can’t see all sides of them at once. Embodiments of me, they become themselves; and in visual conjunction they mean other things I didn’t intend and didn’t anticipate. I am inspired by their imperturbability, and rely blindly on my ghost to steer me through the second half of my life with the wisdom and grace stored in unrecollected midnight dreams. I defy you to stop me from dancing.

“Unrecollected midnight dreams” will guide her through the next forty-some years.

Who gets a second-half?  

Who on earth would want to stop Piper from dancing?

6. I hear these lines and trip into the final page of Under the Sign of [sic] (2013), your book, so important to me, when you, or “Pierre Menard” writes, “How do we know when we are really living?” which immediately prefaces the question of why that author (which author?) didn’t “deal with” Sturtevant’s Haring Tag, 1986—how this not-dealing-with also means skipping how Haring Tag “forebodes what of the inappropriable remains.” [314] 

There is the “disappeared,” something left out so that something else may be revealed, and then there is what you can’t “deal with,” the inappropriable remains. 

These inappropriable remains and unrecollected midnight dreams might be a way for us to take Nesbit’s collected Midnight dreams, the periods in French and New York art they so magically chart, to think a way into how “younger artists”—by which I suppose I mean my friends and loved ones—might see their relationships to form, to addressing the vastness.

Ylang Ylang and Vesolo at The Spectrum, Ridgewood, New York, April 15, 2017. Photo: David Velasco.

7. Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990, of complications related to AIDS.

On October 30, 2014, I began to take Truvada, not because I needed to, but because for my entire life I had associated sex with death, and I no longer wanted to do so. I continue to feel like those of us who aren’t dying of it are still living with complications related to AIDS. Like somewhere in the time between the “AIDS cocktail” and Truvada-as-PreP, a lot of us kind of stalled out on addressing the vastness.

8. The other night Sam and I went dancing late at a club called The Spectrum. A lot of black and brown and white kids, mostly queer, mostly young, mostly moving splendidly through a haze of cigarette smoke under a canopy of thrifted chandeliers, another beat in the comforting pulse of night-places I’ve phased through throughout my young and then adult life. Something seems different though (and not in the way that every night can feel different), in that it might be among the first clubs I’ve inhabited that feels unhaunted by AIDS. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a relation to AIDS (impossible), but that its relation goes differently, not AIDS-AND, but AIDS-AND-AND.

9. I emailed Piper the other day to inquire about another, unfinished, dance video she told me about years ago. Coincidence: It’s now done, and she’s made it available, for rental, on her website.

“As if art might still be something that passed between friends.” 

I’m not ready to let go of this line. 

Friends AND…? 

APRIL 21, 2017 AT 10:32 PM PST

[I’m realing a bit here.]

​But isn’t it part of our project to attend to the ruptures in the various dances, realings and reelings, around us?

Nesbit has Godard cut off Hegel (isn’t it about time?), the filmmaker having little truck with his “grey of philosophy” or his ornithological musing that the “owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk” [103]. Instead, Godard’s “[m]ontage will see to it that no owl, no concept, no saving philosophy will arrive, only a growing rupture in the real.”

One way to convey Midnight’s tempests, their temporally cross-cutting organization, would be to see it as montage.

[2. It might be unsurprising to hear that Adrian Piper was the first, or among the first…]

Funk Lessons, were “staged collaborative performances with large or small groups of people,” that she conducted from “1982 to 1984”; the videotape, Funk Lessons with Adrian Piper, provides a “record of one of the more successful performances.” In her lively “Notes on Funk I-IV,” Piper writes: “My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance (preferably with sixty people or more) was to enable everyone present to


Inspiring to learn that she also conducted more intimate versions of her lessons. To wit:

I would have people over to dinner, or for a drink, and, as is standard middle-class behavior, initially select my background music from the Usual Gang of Idiots (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.). I would then interpose some funk and watch people become puzzled, agitated, or annoyed, and then I would attempt to initiate systematic discussion of the source of their dismay... This usually included listening to samples of funk music and analyzing their structures, content, and personal connotations for each listener, in a sympathetic and supportive atmosphere. Occasionally, it also included dance lessons…

N.B.: When conducted in Los Angeles, Funk Lessons went down at the Women’s Building, 1727 North Spring Street, March 3, 1984, billed by the artist as a “collaborative experiment in cross-cultural transfusion”—highlighting “Music Appreciation” and “Social Dancing.”
[Sylvester] was timeless until he wasn’t.

Or the time of timelessness was altered—both expanded and contracted—by the plague.

Timelessness matters most when you have no time.]

​Or he now can return in unexpected ways, not ghosting but coursing through the mainstream in surprisingly powerful ways, i.e., there’s a lot of Sylvester in Titus Andromedon, the character played with such gusto by Tituss Burgess, written with such verve by Tina Fey, in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. See his “Lemonading” in full-on homemade Bae regalia​ down a New York street!

[4. Piper’s The Big Four-Oh premiered in 1988…]

​I saw The Big Four-Oh at the Walker the last time I was in Minneapolis. What a revelation! Stop her dancing at your peril! But, as you put it, “Who on earth would want to do that?” The piece connects so deeply to Funk Lessons, a private tutorial rather than a seminar or lecture, which, as Piper writes, was itself a way to confront the “ignorance and xenophobia that surround the aesthetic idiom of black working-class culture” and that have “affected the audience’s comprehension of my performance work since 1972, when I did the Aretha Franklin Catalysis piece on the streets of New York…”

I had the once-in-a-lifetime luck to watch Simone Forti take in The Big Four-Oh. Her response: “She’s a really good dancer.” Takes one to know one.

[I don’t know why I think so, but these inappropriable remains and unrecollected midnight dreams might be a way…]

Remains functions, funkily (I can only hope) as both a noun and a verb.

We’d agreed to hold off reading the last section of Midnight until we were deep in the stank of our convo. I read it (“The Port of Calls”) this afternoon. Roughly a third of the way through the text—which was written as much, or even more so, in response to 9/11 as for Okwui Enwezor’s Documenta 11—there is this bit of astonishing synchronicity:

When pressed to give a form to the life she saw in New York, Jane Jacobs chose dance. She described deliveries, school students en route, shopkeepers setting up wares, taxis taking the businessmen away and back, the lunches in taverns, fire engines, drunks, a little boy sitting on a stoop to learn English. In the minds of others, these forms were not exempt from art. Merce Cunningham, for example, has often spoken of walking as being full of the movements, individual, small and large, from which dance could come. But Cunningham’s dances existed, so to speak, on a sidewalk where others worked too. He and John Cage collaborated on many dance productions in such a way that the music and the dance exist side by side, not conceived together, but like two walkers, each moving along together and at their own pace. [193]

[8. [Spectrum] might be among the first clubs I’ve inhabited that feels unhaunted by AIDS. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a relation to AIDS, impossible, but that its relation goes differently, not AIDS-AND, but AIDS-AND-AND.]

​Let art be a way of unhaunting. Shall I say that I believe Nesbit wishes the conclusions of her book to spill “into the infinite” [201]? She rallies us to embody knowledge (Piper’s honey jars of blood, sweat, tears, piss, and vinegar) as much as to remain alive to what exists between bodies, dancing or walking down the street, Lemonading or Aretha Franklining. “That might perhaps,” she uses Deleuze, “be the defining characteristic of art, this business of finding infinity and giving it back. Was this the plan for good life? […] Something was coming from the nothing. It seemed to inhabit the space between people.” [201] ​

She’s a really good dancer.

[“As if art might still be something that passed between friends.”

I’m not ready to let go of this line.]

​Who on earth would want to let go of this line?​

Why on earth would anyone wish to let it go?

[Friends AND…?]

​No partying, no getting down together, without some expanded/expanding ampersand of friendship.​ 

Umbrella for the storm:

Netflix ad for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, February 13, 2017.

MAY 21, 2017 AT 1:30 PM EST

A month goes by. Some travels (for art, in Europe).

Scatter art.

I’m back in time to see the opening of the Rauschenberg exhibition at MoMA. The show is a holiday; it’s “professional” in the ways I like, masterful but also sly and adventurous, cueing us to track the ampersands of getting down together in (a supposedly bygone?) New York. The institution working healthily to do the memory-work we ask of it.

It’s good to be back in New York. I don’t feel the need to look backward at it, even as it’s refreshing to have its past honored, a reminder of what has happened and thus can happen rather than a monument to our exhaustion.

Some things I think about now that I’ve read Nesbit’s final chapter, written after 9/11, around the time that I moved to New York.

I recognize her city aflame. The danger of the market, of marketing, persists. That “Pepsi-Cola” thing, Duchamp’s warning to artists obsessed with branding and integration. “There was still the danger of Pepsi-Cola,” Nesbit writes, “still the vacant lot, the piece of string, the memory of a writer’s phrase, the vaporized world of cubes. Difficult to subsume all that into the single horizon of publicity, difficult to call it all entertainment or fashion, impossible to contract it into the low horizon of expectation targeted by most marketers, the view of the world seen from the top down by a fifteen-year old’s eyes. Difficult to see all places as non-places, or modernity as only super-modernity. Difficult to see the city simply as New York.” [203]

(I wonder here only about this perspective on a fifteen-year old’s eyes. Fifteen-year-olds have the best taste in ideas. But I’m a marketer as much as a critic.)  

So much dancing in “The Port of Calls.” Jane Jacobs and her figure of dance as the form for life in the city, her critique of separation; Cunningham’s Walkaround Time and his serendipitous movements across New York’s sidewalks; Rem Koolhaas inviting a “perverse modernist choreography” to describe the junkspace of airports and other schizoid switch-points. (I refer Koolhaas to Charles Atlas’s Ex-Romance [1987], a beautiful film of Karole Armitage dancing with Michael Clark through airport lounges and baggage claims—more convoluted ampersands of friendship. Or to Ryan’s ME3M: A Story Ballet About the Internet, an elaborate twitting of this idea that choreography can articulate a junkspace.) 

Charles Atlas, Ex-Romance, 1987, 16 mm, color, sound, 48 minutes 22 seconds.

Around the time Nesbit is writing “Port of Calls,” the choreographer Sarah Michelson is making her dance Group Experience, which premieres at P.S. 122 in October 2001. (As the towers fall Michelson and her collaborator Parker Lutz are at Materials for the Arts, tracking down the orange carpet that would be added to the risers, attending to every tiny detail, rubbing this seductive attention against the supposed slacker MO of “downtown.”) Group Experience, like all of Michelson’s dances, takes place seriously, which also means with a lot of humor. Place and the people of a place, who are also its audience. She is not an anyspacewhatever artist. 

Our friend Claude Wampler describes the group that Group Experience was for:

They were dancers who were working with everybody and being shared by lots of choreographers, all longtime East Village–type performers. That alone created an audience, just each dancer and all their friends and Sarah having been on the scene. She was involved with lots of work before she started making her own. I think that’s who her audience was, because she was so intrinsic to the lower Manhattan dance world, just by dancing for everyone, working for everyone, helping everyone. Like being in my piece and making out in my shows. I mean, she really was all over the place, like she still is. [Sarah Michelson, 106]

In New York there is the push to be all over the place, to spread yourself thin and then recoil back into your own thing, your art, maybe. The dialectic of street and studio is strong here. I have a theory, maybe a stupid one, that the whole development of what we call “pedestrian” dance emerged from this New York groove, from the collision of sidewalks and dancespace, so peculiar to twentieth-century Manhattan geography. (So many interesting dances to be made amid our twenty-first century Manhattan abandon.)

Nesbit quoting Duchamp on Dada:

It was not intended to be a school, to be—we did not want to say we are a group of people—we were not a group—we were five friends who were having a good time during the war—and I think all these things—that’s the way they are always—even Cubism was not intended to be Cubism when they started, they just painted paintings that were funny to look at and ten years later they were called Cubism…. It just happens what happened in the course of years, and some people gather together and keep those things together and call it a movement or that way. But there is no essential foundation to it that makes it go that way. Because it was a genius who did it. [188]

So strange today to hear the word “genius,” and refreshing, I think. Let’s keep the genius thing going. Let’s keep the Nesbit thing going. I keep on with Group Experience because it’s the one thing in the book I put together on Michelson that I wanted to write about but couldn’t quite. A group experience for a group I was on the cusp of experiencing. Just some geniuses in a moment being together, making something for one another. Or as Nesbit says Deleuze says of that generous arc of art, “finding infinity and giving it back.” [201]

we were not a group…

And yet, the group is—even if that is is only a taste: bitter or sweet.

Avital Ronell: So long as there is something like experience, it is not entirely mine.

I never saw Group Experience, not even a video. Just talk, some publicity shots. There was a lot of different kinds of dancing, from what I understand, but the strongest memory people have from the show is of the performers standing for a very long time, together, in relevé.

Standing together, until they couldn’t any longer.


Page 134 of Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays (Inventory Press: 2017).

MAY 22, 2017 AT 5:42 PST

Nesbit tracks and prioritizes so many dialogues—between philosophers, between friends. Confidants, conspirators, we can, about Midnight, foreground “that it is in dialogue too with the words of artists… calling across positions once held. The conclusion spilled into the infinite” [201], which is, of course, no small part of why we wish to be, why we were compelled to be, in dialogue with it.

But finishing the book I was still not ready to harbor in Manhattan. I was not ready to commit to her final image-repertoire of Matthew Barney (Cremaster 3) and Richard Serra (“Torqued Spirals”), among others. Not with fifteen-year-old eyes, but looking back fifteen years on, aren’t these the type of forms, myths, of “masculinity” which assist in leading us to our desolate, bloated state? 

Will New Yorkers ever allow an “art history” other than one that places New York at the center? Beyond tedious, this ongoing east coast/west coast maneuvering—and yet it still dominates too much thinking, too much art history. “Act so that there is no use in a centre,” recalling Gertrude Stein, who was raised in Oakland, California. 

Of course, to be American is deranging. “The pure products of America,” Dr. Williams long ago discerned, “go crazy—.” The poem in which he reminded anyone who cared of that fact, “To Elsie,” prescribes nothing dulcet nor dainty, notices “promiscuity between // devil-may-care men who have taken / to railroading” and addresses us as the “degraded prisoners” we are. Who is Elsie? The doctor’s words course by like a current hard to grasp:    

…reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor’s family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—

Electric, that anacoluthic leap over the line break from “Elsie” to “voluptuous water,” which disorients yet nevertheless conveys something powerful about Elsie’s body and presence, what she has seen and knows. The poem “to” her, her truth, becomes “about” how much is not witnessed, and what remains to seeing and reporting on what is being seen. Williams concludes his furious, elegiac poem: “It is only in isolate flecks that / something / is given off // No one / to witness / and adjust, no one to drive the car.” 

That’s something, that single-word line “something.” To contribute an isolate fleck, this may be our small and yet overwhelming task.

It shouldn’t be a contest, we must outmaneuver such maneuvering, but, proleptic as always, Los Angeles, didn’t it situate so much of our current image-repertoire? In 1992 with the Rodney King case and the uprising that followed, events recapitulated and extended in the O. J. Simpson murder case?

Preparing for her Powerful Reversals at Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf in 1995, Sturtevant, as Peter Eleey discovered, was confronting these matters as a disturbance in aesthetics. In a draft checklist for the exhibit, Sturtevant, as Eleey writes:

included something described as “Rodney King Tape.” Taken at face value, this entry suggests that the artist might have intended to show the famous broadcast tape, perhaps looped on a monitor in the gallery. The video of five Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King after a car chase on the night of March 3, 1991, shot by amateur videographer George Holliday on his new camcorder, had by then already entered the world of art, having been included in a work by Adrian Piper in 1992 and also featured in the Whitney Biennial in 1993. Given the importance of missing and absent elements in Sturtevant’s work, it is tempting to view the possible inclusion of the video as an idea aligned with Gober’s “lynching” wallpaper, which Sturtevant did not repeat in her installation, and to consider the video as a horrific enactment of that scene.

Material remains. 

Material remains to be thought through.

What does such thinking look like?

I don’t know, but not the already soured, recently au courant mode of abstract expressionism with, as my friend Andy put it this morning, “nothing to express.”

(Sturtevant, circa 1969: “Pop-art [sic] is our new folklore, our sense of nature, it is common property, so I use it and paint on the spot. I am a perfect naturalistic painter.”) 

With her astonishments of language, swift, fluid arguments, Nesbit demonstrates not only the relevance of linguistic relevés, but also of leaps and bounds. Midnight is a book, as so many of the best books are, with which to argue, and, certainly, there will have to be a response to Nesbit, looking east in two directions at once—to that historically imaginary “East” as well as to the east coast—something along the lines of (nodding to the midday glare of film noir, earthquakes, and Gavin Lambert): High Noon: The Slide Area Essays.  

Ours is the time of no shadows. 

As Blanchot anticipated, “Midnight is only a dissimulated noon.”

SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 AT 16:30 PM EST

Act as though the shadows remain.



Last weekend, on the morning of Saturday, September 9, AIDS killed another brilliant artist, Michael Friedman. He was forty-one.

When he died, our friend who was with him in the hospital said, he looked like “one of those photos.”

I don’t know how to, nor do I want to, find special meaning in this. Meaning isn’t good enough.

Find me on the dancefloor:

Denis Lavant’s final dance in Claire Denis’s Beau Travail (1999).


Bruce Hainley is a contributing editor of Artforum.

David Velasco is editor of artforum.com and of the volume Sarah Michelson (Museum of Modern Art, 2017).

Molly Nesbit’s Midnight: The Tempest Essays is now available from Inventory Press.

Craig Owens: Portrait of a Young Critic, an edited version of Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield’s 1984 interview, is forthcoming from Badlands Unlimited (Spring 2018).