Our basements, closets, corners, and drawers are filled to capacity. 8 years of accumulated cardboard, wooden frames and platforms, puppets and embroidery hoops - with many of us having moved from apartment to apartment with an unbelievable pile of painted illustration board in tow - all of which is nothing compared to the effort of coordinating the creation of all these wandering objects. We've always been into "stuff," but where to house, assemble, and play with it has always been a struggle. Rehearsal spaces are wonderful, but they serve so many different people - storing a village of small cardboard houses in any of them would be, well, rude. For years we've fantasized - what if we had a dedicated space where we could have meetings, get on our feet and rehearse, AND store and create the objects that are so important to our work? We came close, once, when Jeff had a small shared studio space in 2009. We couldn't really rehearse there (which didn't stop us from trying) but we could craft and talk. Ever since that taste of the dream we've wanted more. Here are Tara and Allison discussing snacks and dreams on the fire escape of that building, overlooking a pit:
Ah, living and creating in Brooklyn in the late aughts. That's all well and good, but now, finally, we're ready for the big time. Here we are continuing that same conversation on the 30th floor of an office building in Lower Manhattan!
That's right, we've finally made it!! Have we sold out? Cashed in? Gotten involved in a pyramid scheme? No! We are incredibly grateful to announce that we are part of LMCC's 2015/2016 Workspace program. That means that we, along with a diverse community of other artists, are haunting an unused floor of an office building under the guidance of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. We have our own studio, space to rehearse, and the tremendous honor of making work alongside (and in conversation with) the other participants in the program. We've already started meeting in our office (and enjoying the power of being among the blessed few who don't have to wear suits in this building):
We'll be here until June - just heading on down to the Financial District to write on the windows with chalk markers and decorate the walls with inspiration (Romantic landscape paintings? Tiger Beat pin-ups? We'll have to see!) If anyone would like to point us towards particular haunted spots in this oldest part of fair Manhatto, we'll be receptive to the advice. In the mean time, we'll be dealing with the emotional implications of getting something we've longed for all these years - the opportunity to unite the disparate parts of our practice in one place. But don't worry - we'll never forget our roots:
Ah, the recent past. The recent past of two weeks ago; the slightly less but still essentially recent past of a year before that; the comparatively recent past of Hurricane Irene (the beginning of a fearful awakening here in the Northeast); the less recent but still modern past of textile mills in Vermont - I could go on.
But about what?
Piehole's (annual?) retreat to Vermont. That's what. We struck the Hand Foot Fizzle Face set, haphazardly stuffed a car with sleeping bags, snacks, and witch hats, and set off for a week of reflection, research, and mysteries. As is our custom, we were light on the official "planning" side of things.
After a satisfying but ominously damp night of camping, we returned to the "Ski End" in the old Bridgewater, Vermont mill - the site of some surprisingly generative work this time last year. It became the jumping-off point for what we hope will become our next piece. It had not changed. At all. Still empty; still in shambles; maybe a little moldier. What does it mean to encounter a place that you found unexpectedly inspirational and discover that it holds no magic powers? That it's so deeply, melancholically, static? Maybe that's part of the point. We tried out some video experiments to learn more about the space:
And we worried about the curiously beautiful decomposition of last year's dead birds - what were we breathing?
This revisiting of last year's muse raised a lot of questions for us - as did the rain pouring down back at our campsite. The former we'll be exploring for the next year; the latter was solved by a generous offer from a chance encounter. Thanks to the great generosity of Gertrude, Ann, and Glen, Vermont natives and friends of the Shackletons (our hosts for the final leg of the retreat), we stayed in this wonderful witch cabin up in the hills:
Our hosts were kind enough to share bits of their lives with us, both through their work as artists and craftspeople, and also through stories and snapshots running back through the recent past, the not-so-recent past, and the past-past, all intertwined with the history of the mill and the legacies of Woodstock and Bridgewater. We went to a museum to learn more:
So expect some musings about the relationship between captains of industry, environmentalism, and certain kinds of voice-overs. In our open-hearted exhaustion different facts and threads began to oscillate in and out of meaning; every spare moment was devoted to solving puzzles and jumbling them again. That is, aside from the vast expanses of time we spent cooking and eating:
As the week bled into the weekend we entered the warm bosom of the Shackleton homestead, where we gratefully let others take over the cooking. We spent the extra time discovering different spots in the woods and fields to plop down and do a Bernadette Mayer writing exercise, or to bring up a new question about the Ski End and its history (or someone's history, at least). More trips to the Ski End ensued; more chances to walk in the woods and talk with the gathering crowd of artists/people-with-a-creative-practice/right-good-thinkers/adorable dogs.
And so, after one night in a tent, two nights in a magick cabin, and four nights in a barn with approximately 30 other people, we called it a week. A week of hard work that can't be held in anyone's hand; of fewer-than-usual injuries; of worrisome sleepiness, hot dogs, and whiskey. Oh, and the past - and, I guess, the present, of course and...well, I mean you'll see - the future. Our thanks to Wink and Charlie, to Wink's mother who stayed on this plane just long enough to bless the event and whose legacy was felt by all, to Elliot (yes, it was an inside job) and Sophie, to the people who shared their stories with us, and finally to the teens who can't help but build a makeshift skate ramp with a broken tv and a plank of wood in all the abandoned spaces of America. A toast to all. Happy belated 4th of July.
Hi everyone! Old Paper Houses is in full swing, and we've seen a lot of beautiful, friendly faces in the house so far. We love you! Tonight's a night off, so in addition to falling asleep on the floor for two hours, I thought I'd stop by to say a few words about our friends at Tender Buttons Press. If you've been to one of our post-show/post-utopian hangs you might have noticed a few lovely little stacks of books for sale. There are two titles - Sonnets (a reissue of Bernadette Mayer's important 1989 text) and Please Add to This List, a companion teaching guide to Mayer's work. If you're interested in the poetry that has sustained our brains over these past couple of years, you should definitely check these out! From Tender Buttons' website:
"Sonnets, first published in 1989 as Tender Buttons #1 is widely considered to be one of the most generative and innovative works of contemporary American poetry, radically rethinking the traditional sonnet form. This expanded 25th Anniversary edition includes a new preface by Bernadette Mayer, an editor's note by Tender Buttons Press publisher Lee Ann Brown, and a selection of previously unpublished archival material including the Skinny Sonnets, described as "Hypnogogic Word Playing in Reporters' Notebooks" which further expand our map of Bernadette Mayer's ground-breaking works of writing consciousness."
The first time I ever heard of the Blizzard of ’78, I was in high school, 20 years later and a continent away. My friend’s parents had both gone to Brown, and they described to me climbing out of second story windows because the snow had piled up so high they couldn’t get out the front door of their dorm. When I got to Brown myself, I’d hear it mentioned by any Rhode Islander over 40 nearly every time it snowed more than three inches — stories about traffic slowing then stopping in situ, cars abandoned on the 95 overpass as flakes fell at two inches an hour, and the peculiar freedom and frustration of an endless snow day.
It took me several readings of Bernadette Mayer's The Golden Book of Words to connect its publication date with the blizzard. The collection is smothered in snow, cold, and claustrophobic New England living; it feels typical, but the data indicates that the weather was actually quite extraordinary that year. Exceptional weather begets exceptional poetry. Record setting snowfalls of over 7’ feet for the season, including two blizzards in short succession totaling over 4’ combined snow, and crippling New England for weeks. Sounds familiar. Who’s writing poetry in Boston this winter? Who’s making plays about it 35 years down the line?