At the opening, the room was not as if it were an average day at home, living. An extension cord would have been balancing on the table, not tucked discreetly behind the filing cabinet. A mat, with silvery surfaces, would have been rolled between the books and the stacked-foam-mat. A cushion would have been there; a washing line.
But it was almost. An almost that came from (the suddenly daunting) task set by Rafa to “put the room as I would live in it”, proposing that the exhibition would grow from there. And then he left, to take a walk and smoke a cigar; leaving Diego and I sitting between books and files and catalogs and works, with the realization that the room did not have such a composition: Ever since sharing my living room with art, it has been composed the other way round.
But Laura offered some perspective. She noted that nobody’s room has a set, intended form to which it keeps. Objects creep about, compiling into towers of coffee cups, spreading into fields of discarded clothes, until our limits as inhabitants are reached. We then prune back our belongings –often slightly too severely- to the stem, the required base, in anticipation of the composition’s (almost immediate) regrowth.
Perhaps the image I giggle at most when walking in Amsterdam is that of tourists lugging luggage. Small plastic rectangles on wheels trail behind them as physical embodiments of their (anticipated) needs. Their first, and last, trips through the city are accompanied by the rattling weight of their fears and desires – little bundles of their potential selves.
Its funny how we keep our belongings in drawers or bags – containing them for practicality, or for privacy, by keeping them in wraps. The sides of our carry bags conceal our underwear; our cabinets hide the pages and notes that carry our thoughts. But Rafa is not so sure. He believes the wrapping of objects makes us see more than what this outer layer appears to conceal.
The sculptures he has installed at Plat- began thirty years ago, when he found himself needing to move his things. Wrapped in tape, upon his arrival, he never made the move to unwrap - instead starting an ongoing sculptural practice in which bits and pieces of his personal belongings have become permanently suspended in haphazard conglomerations. At some point a critic saw in them faces, and since then, Rafa has aimed to perpetuate this unintended – and still conceptually irrelevant – detail. He’s now left with a growing archive of bundles of things he can no longer see, but now, through pareidolia, they have the ability return his gaze, looking back and making him seen instead. By constricting them into face-like bundles, he has made them animate.
This conflict of movements activates the objects of this practice. Like the cover of a book, Rafa says, the wrappings conceal what they contain while still hinting at what lies inside. The objects combined become sculptures made of his belongings, while still not being an expression of who he is. To which Yuliia offered some perspective.
Upon observing how frequently the furniture moves at Plǝt- to accommodate each exhibition, she noted how at her home, the furniture never moves. Since installing herself in her house, furniture such as her bed has remained in one place. But, she says, it’s not just a bed: it has a space beneath, which has become an ever-growing collection of belongings that anchor the bed into a permanent spot; the static state of the bed being the result, rather than the expression, of a personality.
Which makes me realise some things at Plǝt- also do not move. Contained in heavy metal cabinets, Plǝt- also plays host to an archive which artists are encouraged to treat this as the one immobile part of the room. Though it is more a suggestion than a rule, the archive has become an anchor in the space, containing past memories that are too large to hold in our heads. It holds words -indicators of events- but also textures, weights, colours that can be forever further explored. The archive –a physical memory- collects decisions. But it is also a decision in itself. It reveals a desire to remember, or at least shows the acknowledgment of a history. Which makes me wonder: are Rafa’s sculptures from his archive, or are they each an archive in themselves? Each a physical collection of a moment revealed by the materials present; the types and varieties becoming indicators of movements once performed. Is the sculpture of a pink shirt and jeans wrapped in tire tubes an ode to a bike ride? The sculptures containing scraps of canvas the measures of overestimation in other works?
I don’t think so. Rafa explained to me –twice- what he meant when he said the wrapping reveals more than it conceals. And yet it’s a logic that escapes my grasp. I conjure up rational explanations. But something tells me these take me further, rather than closer, to the thought he is trying to convey. And then a less conclusive, more material, example edges in from my memory: the impossibility of categorizing.
The abstract notion of categories feels rational and clean cut. Yet the physical experience of organizing belongings makes me believe categorising achieves nothing more than a slightly tidier mess. For example, in my attempts at categorising books, the shelf reserved for novels fits all but one. The shelf for unread-books hosts several novels. The three-quarter-read book does not fit - so can it already migrate to its read companions? One catalogue is also a work. A zine is a gift but also a publication. A book is actually a collection of papers living in a plastic bag with no intention of fitting on a bookshelf. In relation to this, Rafa’s archive is the most clearly delineated category of objects in the room. And yet I also understand that this is because it has arrived in a very concise manner, with Rafa pre-determining its edge – hiding the frayed complications that inevitably occur.
But I feel I am digressing. Have I already been too loose with the term archive? Aren’t books and belongings closer to collections? Meaning the one archive I do have does have a very clear outline. It’s wrapped in a rectangular filing cabinet and it exists in one part of the room. Some parts of it does not fit, yet I know where they are and still see their connections, despite their escape from logical storage. Perhaps here is where the parallel with Rafa’s work sits. Each of his sculptures is a clearly delineated collection, and yet their form allows them to speak. Their apparent faces create personalities, but their compositions also dialogue with other objects in the room. They are clearly separate, and yet also clearly related– just like the arms and legs of my archive.
But what does the addition of Rafa’s exhibition ‘Archive’ do to my collections? Does it ground them into a time from before I was born? Or does it show how the habit of collecting similarly shaped, and similar-in-content, things is something that we as humans are perpetually inclined to perform?
I’m looking at three rolls of canvas wrapped in cloth. It is a work by Rafa. It sits on four books wrapped by a floor, a wall other books and a mat. It could be a work of mine if I had thought to make it so. But it’s not. I still value the content of the books more than what they could do or say collectively. I still feel I need them. But through the scraps of materials he no longer needs, Rafa shows me how in the end, these collections are nothing but humble conglomerations of debris formed by movements made to navigate, learn and develop. They are merely paths created by walking, and rewalking, particular lines of thought. History. Archives of movements. Not a constructed expression of ourselves. Which makes the move to put belongings in the space a little less daunting. It makes me realize the extension cord is not hidden, but rather put away when not needed. The books on the floor are the result of not owning a shelf. And a lie is, rather, a misinterpretation of the situation.
Olga and Maria came by this afternoon and I wanted to write you about it immediately. They were our second appointment visit this exhibition, and I guess because of the summer break, it feels that right now we are rediscovering the structures we established and followed last year. I guess I forgot the kind of euphoria these visits can bring.
This afternoon I was in very low energy - so low that before they arrived, I was slipping into small naps trying to get my body and mind to recover from the slightly too restricted sleeping schedule I’ve been keeping this week. But by the time they left, I was fully recovered - if not with energy in the muscles around my eyes, then at least in energy of spirit. The conversation, meandering from Rafa to Cyprus to art education, institutions and biennales, kept a steady but slow pace over the course of some hours. And the effect it had on me was rejuvenation.
There is a book in the installation right now that Clément gave me called ‘Utopia’ and I hesitate to read it. Yet the word that arises every now and then through moments such as this afternoon - when I realise that the situation we have created with Plǝt- leads people to reach out on weekday afternoons to come talk about art - is ‘utopian’. A quality I guess, rather than a place as such. Which leads me to my conversation with Olga.
I don’t think I mentioned it to you, but because of the tight schedule this weekend, I offered Olga to take Plǝt-’s keys for the weekend - to let herself in and make herself at home and view the exhibition. To which she replied that, flattered as she was, it would be much nicer to visit with somebody there. It brings me back to these thoughts of the tenant of a house being its fifth wall - the extra dimension shaping the environment as much as the architecture and the objects within it. And this is not to write in self praise over our capabilities as hosts, but rather to draw attention the form of the living room - a place in which people come to spend time - to live in - to co-exist, and how through running Plǝt- this living room, built into an apartment meant for one, opens up to a wider community - or perhaps - if we can sing in self-praise a tiny bit - builds one.
And it was all this that made me realise once more how much I value our long exhibition spans, the embrace of this ‘dead time’, in which the exhibition exists for the audience that trickles in after the flood of the opening. I love how it exists to catch the small moments that otherwise may not have existed. Or is that too general?
Or is this email too general?
What I enjoyed so much about Olga and Maria’s visit today was the pace of the conversation: slow. Three accents brought our attention close to each other’s lips as we listened carefully to pick up the thoughts that were being conveyed.
I enjoyed speaking for the first time to someone from Cyprus; to hear about Manifesta from the perspective of someone who experienced its (almost and still permeating) affect from the perspective of the hosting community. I enjoyed hearing about Olga’s experiences of DAI, and how she now works as both an artist and a carpenter. And small other curiosities. Little details. Such as Maria saying how her aim now as an artist now is to work her practice completely back to drawing, because drawing is the hardest medium in which to make a work. Which reminded me of (what I always think of as) your favourite quote of Juan Muñoz, in which he says he chose to be a sculptor because it was the most difficult path. Or how Olga said she felt independent spaces in Cyprus play one of the most important roles for art infrastructures there. And the stories Maria told of how the art community there operates.
I guess the conversation opened up a small crack through which to hear whispers of another country - one I knew about but had never explored beyond its green shape on a digital map; its coupled syllables coming up every now and then in books on art, in art news, on newsfeeds.
And I enjoyed how on her first trip to Amsterdam, Maria’s first public space she visited was a private living room. I purposefully did not tidy up. The grey IKEA mat was still lying across the floor from my afternoon nap. My current book was strewn next to it on the floor. And zines, ready for Rotterdam, stood in stacks on the table. The press release was drowned by other papers. And the sculpture, standing as a paper weight on the table, acted as a lighthouse differentiating the pile of drawings Rafa installed from the table’s other affairs.
I’m going to stop with this now as it’s getting quite long. Incomprehensible. A mash of details. And yet it’s funny how during the two hour conversation - holding infinitely more details than revealed here – the thoughts were succinct, fast and completely intact.
See you tomorrow
Today we had a surprise visit due to a misreading of our Amsterdam Art Weekend hours. I was at home, cooking. I let them in. They know you from The Hague - the organiser of Studium Generale KABK, and an artist. They came on their way to De Appel, stayed around 15 minutes and left. Just enough time for me to give the general spiel about the space, the general spiel about the exhibition, the general spiel about my practice. They took some photos and departed; leaving me back alone with my thoughts.
I’ve been meaning to write about the exhibition today, and maybe this is the entrance. Though I feel this is going to be more about Plǝt- than about Rafa. In any case, to start, I need to backtrack a few hours.
I woke up this morning, late. On my days off I haven’t been setting my alarm and I’m waking around 8.30. I try to see if I need more sleep, but I don’t. I get up and shower. The day stretches ahead of me in relaxed promise. Plans to go to Rotterdam have been once more postponed, and so my day stands not only open, but unplannedly so, making it a pocket of gained time. It is around the time of realising this that I scan the room. It’s a bit dirty. But with the date of closing looming, I consider to do the full clean up a bit closer to this moment of being public.
It’s a cold winter morning, but the sun shines in, intensely. The direct sunrays penetrate through the glass that protects me from the cold, and they hit the tire tube and jean sculpture, which slowly gathers the weak heat. I lay my hand over it and feel the accumulated warmth. Memories of summer baking into pavements, and the thick smell of heated rubber, spontaneously appear. General childhood memories of time spent on recycled tire playgrounds come to mind; then a specific moment at my primary school playground and a tactile memory of the tires' textures.
The heat that radiates off rubber is a particular kind of warmth: one that reaches out to greet the skin that contacts it. In the sculpture in this moment, the jeans remain room temperature - slightly cooler in the shade. And the tire on the shadow side remains cool also. Which leads me to inspect it further. Six weeks of dust gathers around it. A sign of time passing. Of the breaking down of roomly materials. Skin and lint of clothing. And I realise it must also be settling into the sculpture, imperceptibly - the sculpture involuntarily taking a small sample of the room into its surface, perhaps to be rediscovered ‘scientifically’, hundreds of years later, relocating its time being exhibited at Plǝt-.
But back to the surprise visit.
They came into the door asking, ‘So its just in your living room?’ I confirmed and, running around to pick up the most obvious mess, used my circumnavigation of the room to turn the lights on. Caught off guard, feeling that in this moment the room was infinitely more living room than exhibition space, the lights were the biggest gesture I felt that could make the ratio turn.
But it didn't work. The light coming in from the window was too strong and the lights brightened the room a mere fraction. And while I did not notice it so much at the time, by the time they left and I looked at the room from their eyes, I realised the lights had highlighted all the elements in the room, not just the sculptures. I scanned the room in the TL lighting. The dust on the floor that I thought to sweep up later gave the whole space a fuzzy feeling. There were towels drying on the clothing rack in the corner. That cube of tin foil I was playing with so insistently the last time you were here, was laying on a volume of Beat poetry that I had thrown out of my bag in a pre-work panic. The avocado you left resided on the book re-borrowed from the library. Clippers from trimming my fingernails days earlier lay next to a sash I had been gifted by Kidlat, the filmmaker I was hosting last week. An empty sleeve of chewing gum lay next to an art supplies catalogue from the mail. And yes, that bag of paints was still lying on the table. Scattered between all of these, were traces of every meal and beverage I had consumed since this morning. I was slightly horrified.
My mother’s voice jumped into my head with an exasperated statement she once made about a guest staying at her house. She said, “I don’t even need to ask what she has done throughout the day, as a trail of all her actions lays behind her as she skips from one to the next, never cleaning up.” Your comment about cups remerged. I clean three, and sit back down to write.
Not only was Plǝt- filled with an overwhelming number of visual traces of my movements today, it was also filled with smells. Caught in the middle of cooking lunch, a warm aroma of lentils and onions simmered in the room. I’d been conscious of it their entire stay - perhaps even more than the visual details. It reminded me of the time we had visitors while the washing machine was on - the sound rumbling in the background causing them slight concern. All these details, I realise, are ones that are systematically eliminated from exhibition spaces. Exhibition spaces are cool and clean and sterile. But a house is made of heats, and smells and mergings of objects and actions and dirts and informalities.
At the reading group at Casco on Tuesday, we were comparing the actions of two texts. While each text was achieving different things, what they both did was describe concrete situations as a way to observe a greater pattern or structure. I feel this is what I am attempting when describing all these details and happenings in this room. Not only is it a merging of art space and living room, it’s a merging of public and private, of work and leisure, of time on and off. It brings in so many questions and expectations, of hierarchies and actions: to clean or to read in the morning? It brings in questions of exposure and transparency and opacity. Of intimacy and formality. Tim and his friend are coming over this evening and I know it will feel different. I realise the visit this early afternoon, of two strangers, our first (it feels) of two people visiting Plǝt- as part of their ‘art-run’ of the day, contrasts strongly with our most prominent way of being open: by appointment, invitation or event, in which people are guests, not visitors. Perhaps this is an important distinction.
Perhaps I’m thrown off by this visit today precisely because it came unexpectedly. They came while I was at home, not in our exhibition space. Perhaps the difference between the two is simply the state of mind, with the state of the room following suite. They even asked, “Is it not overwhelming?” to which I said no, it’s intended to be this way: an experiment on how to be open and closed, public and private, “oscillating between a living and an exhibition space”. Which then made me realise that their experience of Plǝt- today was precisely the experience we continue to say that we aim for, but with none of the romanticising. Today’s experience of Plǝt- was not an aesthetic merging of living and exhibiting - it was the very real merging of the two. An exhibition is an image - an image made of traces of past movements, frozen. And so was the rest of the room today, except while Rafa’s movements frozen in sculptures bring to mind ideas of wrapping and relations and mergings of materials, my movements - frozen as a very temporary installation - brought into consciousness ideas of tidiness, routines, (hidden) habits. It was extremely exposing. It was relatively uncomfortable. And perhaps this is why during their visit I (unconsciously) made the move to pick up one of Rafa’s sculptures to show them about how they fit into one’s hands, how in the colloquial moments of events that people do pick them up, do explore their tactility. Perhaps I picked the sculpture up to show that just as my objects and movements enter the exhibition space, everyday movements like touching and playing and informally investigating also enter the experience of the sculptures -in a positive way- that this informality is an opening not a sullying, that the project is not disrespectful a thorough and committed investigation into the environments we choose to view art in.
They said they came to see the space, but when they left I feel they were here to look at the work, which gives me this very strange feeling of being part of some kind of spontaneous performance. They asked questions but did not engage in conversation. They did not pick up the sculptures - though they did knock one over and, in my very relaxed response to this momentary ‘destruction’ of an artwork, perhaps our slowly growing philosophy came through: not so much the ‘prolonged engagement’ but the ‘approaching art from different perspectives’. The sculptures are not made to be touched, but can be. They’re not installed to be thrown over but if it does happen, it’s not so bad. Like a shelf of books that slides into a diagonal fall, they are simply put back into place; the mugs are taken back to the kitchen, the floor is swept, and the space is brought back to a level of regularity. The room, oscillating from side to side, affects the experience, which relies utterly on timing.
Which brings me back to the beginning. Today was a pocket of time at home, dug out of a movement in my schedule. I kept it hollow to create space in which to be calm and reflect. And in my morning observations of the heat of the sculpture, I realised that it was these moments I was imagining Plǝt- would be made of when we first started. However, just as this visit this afternoon, this moment this morning was unexpected. It held the quality I had always hoped for the project without premeditation. It came naturally out of the environment we have created. Like Kaprow’s happenings, it was not an event, or the elements brought together, but that moment when, suddenly out of one’s control, these elements trigger something unexpected.
On a day-to-day level the project can feel limp. But then its moments like these, in private and in public, that it activates. Both sides of the concept. Both comfortable and uncomfortable. Both in one day. A day at Plǝt-. A day at home, reflecting.
Hope Barcelona is good! Hope this email acts not as a response to your last, but a contribution to our on-going conversation.
All my best,
The exhibition has passed - in room-form in any case.
Though Plǝt- is small, I guess that each exhibition we host is actually smaller - compact-able to the size of a car boot, or a suit case. While Rafa’s exhibition has inhabited a whole room for six weeks, it now takes the mere space of a bag intended for tourists, and it is standing, temporarily beside me, as I uncomfortably don the same image as Amsterdam’s temporary visitors.
On the tram towards the central station people gave me that look. The one of annoyance as I, the apparent outsider with my bright red luggage, did not fold perfectly into my seat. The extension of myself showed that I was moving further than the edges of the city, making me stand out in the west-Amsterdam tram population. “Sorry, its an exhibition”, I felt tempted to reply to their gazes - feeling Rafa’s statement that 'wrapping shows more than it hides’ did not quite apply to this situation. Or was it true that it was showing more - as in, showing something completely different? The assumption that luggage means tourist; or that baggage signifies some kind of disability to travel light and be (care) free? And while I registered their scathing faces, I also realised this look was probably more a projection of my own thoughts than a reflection of a shared reality - their glum, bored travel-faces acting as empty canvases on which I was painting narratives. I’m not sure. So lets go back to the exhibition in its final day at Plat-.
Faithful to our events’ usual compositions, we had a steady flow of visitors throughout the afternoon. Some came for Orin, some for us, for Rafa, for you. Some came for themselves. I noted them all down on that paper in the kitchen -as you usually do- and I realised its not as hard to keep track of as I’d previously imagined: it was just something I’d never attended to due to the roles we've unspokenly assigned ourselves to. And just as I realised I was certainly capable of hosting this event by myself, Rosita and Orin stepped in to co-host beside me.
As you know, Orin was serving mulled apple juice for the launch of his publication, and before I knew it, both Orin and Rosita were offering people drinks, as we do, the moment they came in. Orin took orders from Claes while he was still removing his shoes - perhaps setting a new record for our speedy beverage serving. What is it about the space that makes us act this way? Is it how the front door opens straight into the living room? The way people enter and spin, as they orientate themselves, becoming a momentary star as they stand -centre stage- while conversations momentarily idle in response to their sudden appearance? Is it due to the exhibition - arranged close to the walls and not immediately visible - leading us to either guide their eye to the art or offer them some kind of welcoming token? Is it because we don’t want to rush people into looking at art as they appear, after three flights of stairs, into the mysterious depths of an otherwise inaccessible residential building?
Yesterday I was at Cinema of the Dam'd, speaking to Cecelia about Jeffrey’s film screenings. As you know, each screening is introduced by a speech, and we were discussing what these speeches do to the experience. I noted that, though I am sure Jeffrey and I do not have perfectly aligned taste, I have never disliked a film he is showing. Cecilia proposed that it is due his speech, acting as a buffer between what came before -biking, locking, stair climbing, (ticket-buying)- that resets each person’s mode, making us ready to watch the film. To which I wonder: is this similar to what we do with our cups of tea / coffee / mulled apple-juice? Does offering the beverage bring them into the rhythm of the room, shifting their mode from moving to idling, slowing their pace to the one we have set the room to?
The day before yesterday, I was at another space, Mezrab, this one dedicated to the act of storytelling. Here I was the new guest. Somebody welcomed me at the door -reassured me I was in the right place- and I walked in. At which point I too had that feeling of not knowing what to do with my body. I spun around -centre stage- and, in my moment of searching for something (a familiar face; an activity to do), I made my way over to a table serving soup. The queue gave me an excuse to idle after which, armed with soup, I found a corner from which to eat and observe, waiting for the show to begin. I guess what interests me is about Mezrab and Jeffrey’s cinemas and Plǝt- is that they are not about soup, or speeches, or tea, and yet each of them begin with this activity before the intended one: the appetiser; the opening act; the adverts; the trailers - framing (wrapping) the main event.
The afternoon wore on. After some time I realised that each time I introduced the exhibition, I was wrapping Rafa’s work in the same expressions, replaying the exact same anecdote, with the exact same words in the exact same sentences. To which Rosita and Orin’s hosting once more became a counterpart. As their drink offering spilled into general hosting, each showed people around the room, introducing Rafa’s practice, turning hosting once again into a collaborative effort. Elias arrived and, with Orin’s publication in hand, began a thorough investigation. Taking each page and deciphering where it was in the room and how it was achieved, he even untangling the subtle edits Orin had performed to the room’s composition to make his images. So while my words went round in circles, Orin’s publication took over my role, leading Elias around on his own journey. I guess this is the kind of engagement I imagine when we say "the parallel programme aims to approach the exhibition from different angles”, except I had never imagined it in this exact image, so directly. Which is perhaps one, in a series, of unexpected observations I have made throughout this exhibition.
Somehow for Rafa's exhibition I feel I have been less engaged than with others. I did not write about it every morning; I did not spend time musing about how it was changing in my mind, or changing in the room. And yet when I look back at the thoughts that have developed and the few texts I have written to you over these weeks, then it feels just as rich as the times I wrote page upon page upon page of notes. Perhaps (though I dislike the concept) I/we are becoming more efficient? Or perhaps it is precisely when it is left to unfold, rather than forced, that these moments present themselves - the project becoming more embodied.
I realise now that the drawings I have been making while using the living room as a studio have affected the way that I have thought about this exhibition and written this text. Without meaning to, these logics and lines are injected into my thoughts. I also remember how you -in a text about Barcelona- turned back to Rafa and wrapping as a way to structure your thoughts. ("A wrapping, again, do we come back to Rafa?”) I guess these cross-pollinations are constantly happening -consciously, unconsciously- and perhaps this is why it’s so important to live with art -rather than IKEA prints- and be around art -rather than commodities- and think about art -rather than things that present themselves as more pressing. I don't know. These thoughts are getting strung out; I’m pulling in too-abstract examples.
I’m on my way back home from Rotterdam now. Lucia has safely received the exhibition to bring it back to Mallorca. I’m here on the train with a new painting –which I picked up to bring it to New Zealand. And as I travel kilometre by kilometre away from Rafa's exhibition -wrapped objects wrapped in bubble wrap wrapped in a suitcase waiting to go back to Rafa’s studio- the thoughts begin to unravel. The logic fades; the concrete example is gone and soon it will be replaced with a new one. How will our thoughts be structured once we begin to engage with Alison’s paintings? How will they, combined with my drawings, experiences, researches, structure my thoughts? What will you pull from them as you finish your thesis? Once more, the project moves on; thoughts move forwards and I feel safe to conclude our time with Rafa’s Archive by saying, “It’s a wrap!” and stepping off centre stage.
All my best,