Félix González-Torres to Ross about “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)”.
Time is dissipating into soup. I think about the way we seem to feel time is our own medium, something we deserve to work in and understand. How so much of my years have been about how gelatinous time is. How much flexibility is in this rubberband? If we stay up all night do we run up against or away from time? When we spend our time immersed in someone or something is time collapsing or absolving us from its limitations? In essence, are we always beholden to time or does it ever let us move like minnows, simply inside but without weight?
Sometimes, capitalism causes time to feel finite, linear, specific. Like a hedge maze. Dream logic of time (mourning, moving, sitting, wondering, love, grief, ecstasy, parties, drugs) seems to only be allowed in non-capitalist spaces. Capitalism requires productivity, linearity, hours. This is not new, and is based on an imperial whiteness of time that decolonial and black studies have long pointed.
UNTITLED (PERFECT LOVERS)
When I last went to the MOMA, before it closed, the lion of anti-capitalist capitalism, I stared for a while at their Félix González-Torres piece. It was so unceremoniously amid a large amount of other work.
How can González-Torres’ works be experienced in time? They can be experienced as artifacts of time, leftover pieces of time, physical times, but they cannot be experienced in time, they are too corporeal. There is no linearity except in the instance of “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)”- decay. And yet, the two clocks disintegrate over time into non-linearity. The two clocks were set to be in sync but to slowly fall out of sync over time. On the MOMA catalog González-Torres is quoted: “Time is something that scares me.” Who wouldn’t be scared of time? González-Torres own fear of time is certainly affective, personal, visceral, the bodily experience of queerness and his own partner’s fatal AIDS diagnosis.
In her monograph on González-Torres, Nancy Spector points out the number of works that feature mirrored images- homosexuality- between clocks, light bulbs, mirrors, and curtains. “In Gonzalez-Torres’s ideal world people do not endure separately, they survive in pairs, as part of loving couples who age together no longer in danger of premature separation caused by incurable and inexplicable disease.” Spector says. Spector points out two key features of González-Torres’ work- travel and the trace. The idea of being able to move, escape, or deal with death- the ultimate god of time- and the idea of the ephemeral. Footprints in the snow, candy for the taking, sheets to grab, a decaying clock.
On this inevitability of loss, Gonzalez-Torres said: “This work originated from my fear of losing everything… My work cannot be destroyed. I destroyed it from day one.”
Time is the thing a body moves through, T Fleischmann poses to us in their incredible book of the same name on love, gender, and of course González-Torres. How can we consider the prism of gender, sexuality, loss, and movement? What do gender and time echo of each other? For Fleischmann, there’s a jumping of narrative, of lovers who know X or Y based on certain geographic and certain periods of gendered and romantic understandings. A narrative that uses time in a fragmentary fashion for a queer or trans person must reckon with posing presentation and context. How much (gendered, geographic, time-based) context for each love encounter, geography, subterfuge, political act, or poignant moment is needed when telling a story without neat chronology? Contrast Time Is The Thing a Body Moves Through with Stone Butch Blues or Zami for instance and you’ll see two different ideas of chronology. One fluid and loose and another fluid, yes, but also with a more linear autobiographical element.
COMMODITY AND IMAGINATION
I drink the last sludginess of my cheap coffee on my little plastic cerulean table. Things do change, just not as fast as we want them to. Or, ironically, too fast. Sarah Schulman’s book The Gentrification of the Mind takes a different approach to time, one based on how certain chronologies repeat and collapse our imagination and preclude thinking about how to build better worlds. For Schulman, we have gentrified our imagination and this influences how we make community, art, circulate new ideas, treat marginalized people, and re-image futures. How can we more creatively, more grimly, more optimistically create and live? Reading about the gentrification of the AIDS story to be absorbed as a commodity, reading about the history of gentrification in the East Village, reading about what Schulman labels the gentrification of publishing or galleries to displace and create barriers of access, a process always in flux but one Schulman particularly nails to a New York City in the 90s, 00s, and now.
Recently, Clem told me they got a shirt that advertises the making of the Piers into public works projects: sanitation, no cruising. What does this give us the vision to look beyond? It takes an immense amount of stamina and joy and gentleness to look beyond crumbling facades. Already, as physicality is limited, as space becomes imagined differently, time must follow.
We are wading through a time where there is no past or present. Arundhati Roy, the great political thinker and novelist recently wrote an essay for the Financial Times called “The pandemic is a portal”. Here’s how Roy’s essay ends, on the idea of possibility, of imagination, the very thing Schulman argues for (admittedly in a very different context)
“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
A portal, as in a Haruki Murakami novel, means a slippage of what is/what isn’t, a gentle reorganizing of possibility that is also violent in its finality. If one goes through, there is no coming back. Perhaps this is what so much collective grief right now is about, people slowly waking up to how time does or doesn’t work for them based on their positionality and being forced to contend with what so many disabled, queer, and people of color have been saying for so long. Things are fucked. Time is fucked. Lack of access is fucked. But that seems optimistic in the face of narcissism. Perhaps, better to say, the people who were on the tipping point have tipped and some people were already working through time as one medium forced onto their body. What is the antidote? What ways can we move with time and not barricade ourselves to its inevitable gust? I don’t know. One winter, in 2018, I read. I read Ursula K Le Guin and Robin Wall Kimmerer and didn’t do much else. I let the darkness wash.
FOR THE ROSES
The other element of time we are dealing with is, put bluntly, loneliness. Time’s link to grief has always been sisterly. The long walks, the inability to feel present, inhabiting a different corporeal reality, a lack of control of the body. While rage has bursts and clicks with the way time should work (cyclical, quick, in flow, forward, linear), grief requires a slowing down, a reflection, a surrender to its omnipresence. I listen to Joni Mitchell’s “See You Sometime” over and over in the shower. I listen to Mx Justin Vivian Bond croon “Let the Wind Carry Me” as I walk around the peninsula of Red Hook. Crooners allow a collapsing of time into putty on a stage with a light.
Joni made her 1972 album For the Roses in a cabin in Canada, mostly alone, writing on her piano and drinking wine after the dissolution of her relationship to James Taylor. They were still off and on during the recording cycle for Blue, which is famously an album about Taylor and Leonard Cohen. The retreat produced a record that did not develop the critical appeal of Blue or the commercial success of Court and Spark. But it did produce some of the more searing, probative works that Mitchell is lauded for. Such tender and searing thought on joy and union. I think of “Woman of Heart and Mind”, a song I played a lot driving around in high school. The anthem against men whose tenderness is a weapon masking refusal. The thesis statement for scorned lovers everywhere:
“I'm looking for affection and respect
A little passion
And you want stimulation, nothing more
That's what I think
But you know I'll try to be there for you
When your spirits start to sink”
I have been waiting to let time envelop me. It always does, but soon, time will be a soft blanket instead of an arcade claw machine.
I hope you are doing well. After today, there are only two more of these weekly newsletters. The last newsletter- on May 31- will be special featuring new video work by myself and others for one day only. Afterward, these newsletters will be roughly once a month.
If you haven’t yet, catch all the episodes so far of the podcast I created with Alana Ruiz, Anna Fieldmann, and Myrrh Crow at nonbinarycarriebradshaw.com ! We are halfway through the season. Only four more episodes to go!
This week I’ll be taking over PH Gallery’s Instagram due to the video piece I have in their current show Code/Switch. Find their instagram here to see what I come up with. :)