Language, writing, translation, and literature are all kind of their own thing, but broadly, "words" offer a different kind of opportunity to introduce citation, play, subversion, and double-meanings into or alongside the work. Language creates an affective field. It is also a structural framework. I learn, or steal, a lot about physical form from literature: how to complicate texture, rhythm, negative space, and organize research in embodied and irreverent ways.
I return often to Deleuze and Isabelle Stenger's takes on "stuttering" language, where the "stutter," as a kind of glitch, decomposes and deterritorializes language to push it toward its limit. I am monolingual, I speak a colonizer's tongue, I do not trust language or that it brings us closer to apprehending anything. The stutter, through an almost erotic rupture of function, minorizes a language from within. It is a way to challenge language's relationship to historical formation, how language is usually understood to inform or shape reality. The totally exploded form that [Conclusion and Findings] eventually takes in the two-channel video installation unable to Title was very much born of this line of thinking. Replace "language" with "form"; how do you transfer the thing that a stutter does, the world that it makes, to objects, movement, image? The title of my figurative sculpture otherwise, spite: 1: whores at the end of the world / 2. from every drop of his blood another demon arose (1829-1840) is structured after the title of Marcel Duchamp's final piece Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d'éclairage, which, like otherwise, spite:, evokes the Courbet painting L'Origine du monde. The citations embedded in the title of otherwise, spite: extend the psychic space of the sculpture beyond its two physical subjects and brings us back, in a way, to the supposed beginning of everything, with language and logic stuttering through my research across continents and time.
I work with materials, ideas, and stories that over years I build relationships with. An object or material lives with me for any period from a few weeks to a few years until it expresses how it wants to live. A block of stone, a bone, a knife, a broken chair, an image, a certain kind of beeswax or clay or gel medium. I used to do a lot of intentional/cerebral brainstorming around this--writing, making charts, attempting taxonomies, whatever, trying to establish a diagrammatic logic in the connections--but I have found that the most profound assemblies come to me gnostically. Sometimes a certain phrase or image will get stuck in my head for months or years--"to attend violently," "look what you made me do"--and the materials will fall into place around that. Like tetris, but messier, where you are hacking off toes to make the shapes fit.
Transformation of material and surface is exciting to me because it is a way to push against the apparent constraints of a material or object. I hardly ever engage in creation from the point of total genesis--most of the making is an intervention of some kind. I carve, and then I suture. In that way it is a kind of problem solving. "Difficult" is an interesting term. You are proposing that as a viewer's experience; for me, "difficulty" is also central to the process of making. I have avoided developing concise systems of construction/fabrication because I have found that the perpetual struggle of non-mastery is what gives my work a sense of life and honesty. Nothing should feel perfunctory or clever. When the creation of every piece, against physics or finances, is an absolute struggle, this also yields the moments of serendipitous breakthrough and rupture that drive me on into the next project.
"Grotesque" is a term sometimes applied to my work, but it is a subjective judgment for which I have no internal scale. Slightly different but often conflated, I think what may be termed the “abject”--that which jerks us toward the oblivion of our bodies--is essentially a space of creation and renewal, but our fear and revulsion are rooted in internalized oppression and repression.
In creation myths, something is born--the world, an empire--that eventually becomes too sublime or awful to fully apprehend. Karen Barad describes the past, present, and future as all threaded through one another in a complex topology, and within this topology, a beginning is perpetually overlapping an end, and/or vice versa. A she-wolf created the story of Romulus and Remus by saving the twins from death: an act of mercy that, later on, very much pleased Mussolini, and led to other consequences and endings that loop perpetually to this day and all of our following days. A story is powerful because it can be taken any which way. In European fairy tales, the wolf symbolizes sexual threat, self discovery, the threat of the minor subject's self discovery, the thing that must be killed. I like villains. I remain taken by the closing line from Angela Carter's story "The Werewolf," where Little Red Riding Hood invites the town to murder her own grandmother, who has turned out to be the wolf who attacked Red in the woods: "Now the child lived in her grandmother's house; she prospered." There is not really any moral here, it is a story about time and returns. The wolf skulls in my work displace the bones of a reliquary saint, indicating the immanence of a complicated symbol that cannot be linearly or morally consolidated.
I return occasionally to entreating my mother as my collaborator because she is the person I have learned everything from, and also have had to unlearn everything from. And her mother before her. Loyalty, also cruelty. Pain, suffering, punishment, and love are inextricable in these relations. My mother's forms of knowledge production are so different from mine, her relationship to language is so different from mine, in your typical immigrant way but also at the level of context. "What is it to inhabit a world?" asks Veena Das. "What does it mean to lose one's world?" Das proposes that, through trauma, "one ceases to trust that context is in place." I have never had to lose my world in the way that my mother has. But working with her, through performance or conversation or writing, is a way to reach toward the horizon we share. Her wisdom, trauma, and particular limitations have the potential to activate certain regions of material that I have no access to. Whatever generational knowledge or trauma lives in my body, I embrace but also am not trying at this time to identify or understand. The idea is to protect or respect it by not seeking its edges.
the process by which organic matter exposed to minerals over a long period is turned into a stony substance through replacement of the original material and filling of original pore spaces with minerals. All organisms, from bacteria to vertebrates, can become petrified.
· a state of extreme fear, making someone unable to move.
· an organic object that has been turned to stone.
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die.
You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing.
Helene Cixous, Laugh of the Medusa
The most exhausted, banal of questions that I can only recite with an eyeroll and knowing guffaw of resignation: well why didn’t you…? Answer: I was frozen. With. With. Answer: I didn’t want to know. Answer: I was waiting for something to pass and it never did. Do anything? Fuck you. I’m trying to learn how to take my feelings somewhere else but my feet seem to be utterly rooted. If you take a flame to alabaster, it clouds and turns milky white. Heat kills the blood that allows you to see into its heart. Answer: something about Perseus holding up Medusa’s head. Her gaze, still active. The undying lifetime of the body as a tool. As weapon. The choices we don’t have about our legacy. The choices we don’t have about how we are militarized. Even when the blood stops flowing. Even once the blood is scorched. What I am saying. That: I began the day by sinking. That: I began the day counting to twenty, over and over again. That: I began the day with a shroud over my face. How long could I go without breathing. (Years, full of yawning.) Once, in line holding scented candles at Ikea, I saw it all pass before my eyes, hot crimson curtain of blah. I mean whatever. I mean you know. About filling the space with syllables waiting for something to pass. The family in line before me was buying new white shelves. I was still counting my losses. Having not slept in days. Can I even talk any more about that period of wakefulness. “Vigilance” the professionals call it. Is there any point to rehashing it, oh Doctor, I have this problem. Last week I tried signing up for a smokers’ screening to make a quick $950. Why did I somehow end up having to talk about, well, I mean, How has your mental health been lately? Why did this reduce me to apology? “Good, good.” And since the incident? The Incident. People don’t call things what they are. For fear. Something deeply, flagrantly entrenched.
In the movies when people are frozen, they shatter at the gentlest poke. Floating exposed bodies in outer space, blue tendrils curling lovingly over their skin. Arm stuck out the hole of a train barreling through the arctic. Exploding with the gentle tap of a hammer. What was shattered. Sometimes freezing is a way of saving something. Another way is to swallow a bucket of plaster. Plaster hardens because it contains volcanic ash. What words remain as the eruption memorializes your windpipe. The fracture of language and how it gets reduced to a single, multitudinous vowel. Ah. Sigh of pleasure. Ah. Scream of fear. Ah. Wail of grief. Ah. Breath of defeat. Ah. Moment of revelation. Ah. Ah, ha.
In the middle of the night I have to pee so I go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. What gazes back? The face of a wolf. No, a pug. A flat-nosed, wide-faced pug. A pug named Ming Ming, bitch of the Chinese court. A pug named Ming Ming, adopted by a kind English couple named the Herrings. A pug with a stupid, smiling face. Are we daft? When did we lose what made us wild? What constitutes “wild?” I am a pug. I am a fucking clown. I am a B-word. My therapist taught me the other day what “displacement” means in his line of work. Oops. I am evil, I tell him. You are not, he says. I am petrified in 2015. I am petrified in 1907. 1400. 200. Can’t remember.
So, I was petrified in that moment: a moment I never really came out of. I was betrothed once. Four years later I asked a friend to give me a tattoo of Medusa on the back of my hand. Marking the body is a way of measuring time. To visualize its passing as a physical affirmation. Sometimes all the body needs is to be convinced. Coaxed, seduced. Then reconstituted by something that carries the illusion of solidity. All I wanted was not to disappear. We were born of stone. Veins of stone. Currents. Meridians. Turning to stone is a kind of death but at least you stick around. Ahalya was brought back to flesh after sixty thousand years. The lesson: you can never wait too long.