241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: When people ask me, “Who is your public?” I say honestly, without skipping a beat, “Ross.” The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.

Ross Lalock was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ partner. When the doctor diagnosed Ross with HIV, he assessed his ideal weight to be at175 pounds. Portrait of Ross is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy collected into a mound. By the invitation to take one of the candies, the viewer becomes part of the work and becomes more than simply a viewer. Every morning, the mound is replenished until it’s back at its ideal weight.

These candies are not only a representation of Ross’s weight, but also one of his struggle against the illness. HIV emaciates its patient, but the weight of the soul remains the same and allows for the patient to carry on, day after day.

Each day, the work risks being reduced to absence as the mound dwindles to nothing and no candies are left, in which case the viewer would be responsible for the lack of an artwork. And every day, Gonzalez-Torres plays this game with his audience, allowing them to decide the form of his work. With his work, art becomes fluid and in movement, but also in constant risk of disappearing.

A black and white photo of an empty bed with two pillows. A slept in bed. This is the artist’s own bed. The image was exhibited at the Projects Gallery at the MOMA, as well as on twenty-four billboards around the city of New York: Second Avenue and East 97th Street in Manhattan and Third Avenue and East 137th Street in the Bronx. None of these places were related to the art world of museums, galleries, and collectors. The number, twenty-four, relates to the date on which Ross died.

With Gonzalez-Torres’ sparse and tranquil photograph, the barrage of images that overwhelm New York pedestrians was temporarily paused. No text was supplied to explain the text. And there was no intention, as other billboards typically have, to lure the passerby into buying something. It was nothing more than a photograph of an empty bed with two pillows and a crumpled sheet. An image of private space manifesting itself within public space.

Gonzalez-Torres’ decision to refrain from showing Ross’ image can be seen as a political act. Typically for that time, depictions of AIDS denoted a discerning breach between the homosexuals and the heterosexuals. The sick homosexuals and the healthy heterosexuals. Gonzalez-Torres refuses to depict Ross. With his billboard, Untitled, he depicts the invisibility of the gay community. But he refuses to place himself in opposition to the dominant population, as Robert Mapplethorpe was doing. Gonzalez-Torres invites the viewer, regardless of their sexual preference.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

But Gonzalez-Torres also uses other strategies to include absence in his work. By allowing the viewer to take a part of his work, he plays with the role of the artist and the role of art. The role of the artist as designer, the role of the artwork as form. His work displays and art that is not static, but susceptible to constant change.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

To what extent is it his work?

Gonzalez-Torres:Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between fear of loss and the joy loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and the being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work.

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

Charioteer of Delphi

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

A Great Love

Nobody controls the intoxication of love that catches you off-guard like a terrorist, to tie you up and take you to sweet places. In this immersion, the ache of desire and total pleasure alternate. A great love might function as a tipping point, an experience that transforms the world for good. Across me sits Femmy Otten, in a conversation that is prompted by her recent installation (New Myth for New Family, 2011) at the Rijksacademie, in which love vibrated and triumphed, and the viewer was left feeling timid by the gazes surrounding him. Between us on the table lies the book by Pierre Klossowski, which is full of erotica and voyeurism. In Klossowski’s crayon drawings the classical merges with the temporary, and also the violent side of love can be recognized in the work; sometimes even literally, as in the photos in which he ties up his wife Denise.

Otten relates the moment on which she first made, or could make, her first relief after a very intense experience of love. ‘After a stable and pleasant seven-year relationship, I got into an unprecedentedly intense romance. Something has since stuck with me and not gone away, whilst there was also something that had been destroyed. Not before did I know that one could desire so extremely. That surrender, real letting go, is what accompanied this love. To be able to free myself from it I have inscribed his story, as if he were the one writing it, I am him, and I made a sculptural relief about it. This allowed me to give the experience a place and move on. I have continued to use that switch of perspective: every time I make a work I write from the perspective of the person that the work is a reaction to. It gives me a strange kind of freedom.’

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

Somewhere in the book by Klossowski I encounter the line: ‘Then I married Denise very quickly. Denise represented reality while I was metaphysical.’ The reality of the body embraced his mind and took him along. That is what love does.

In the installation, a woman in low relief on the wall wears a medallion with the portrait of her beloved close to her. It is a realistic portrait, he even wears glasses. Above her head floats a halo in various light colours. Her cheek has been slightly grazed. Her body is squashed like in some strange flowered corset and her hands dangle clumsily downwards. Opposite the relief, the two lovers stand on a peak with earthly attributes such as a bag, blue trousers and a beer bottle. Two As.

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

‘I was so obsessed by love that I couldn’t not make a work a about it. But who possesses who, does he possess her amulet or the other way around? With the arrows and the halo, it is almost a sanctification of love. I have made his portrait, but I feel it is about all loves that I had to part from. While I am in the middle of love’s ecstasy, strangely enough it foreshadows the end.’

Klossowski speaks somewhere of a faltering moment, a wavering moment in which the jolting gestures give the impression of being possessed by unknown forces. The strange hands in Otten’s installation seem to contradict the directness of the facial expression, to push something away, a helplessness. Or the facial expression confirms that which the hands reject, renounce or deny.

A former writer, Klossowksi spoke of his drawings as ‘the art of the deaf and dumb who are painters’. Standing in Otten’s installation, this silence breezes around you. It is mainly the silence of her experiences that is present in this installation, which, as a viewer, you can touch with your fingers in the air. A condensed moment that gathers everything that leads up to it and prefigures the gaze of the viewer. The viewer is caught between the gazes, locked in and locked out.

Otten tells how in summer she made a bike trip with her boyfriend across Italy, as a religious pilgrimage past the murals of the Early Renaissance. How her loved one grew in beauty with the exercise, tanner, more muscular, and how she would find herself red and sweating, trying to follow him. Love survived. The frescos of Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca were a honeysweet catalyst.

Otten: ‘The Madonna del Parto of Piero della Francesca, in the church in which his mother is buried, is free of sentiment, pure painting. So moving. When I saw a fresco of Fra Angelico I was reminded of Henry Darger. I recognized that level of detail very much, he works per square millimetre; a peculiar devotion speaks from it, an almost autistic passion. I relate to that, it is what I am always searching for, short moments in which you are sure it is just right, that things will work out in your work. A destined feeling. During the realisation of the work I am very slowly looking for that precise form. Total devotion, that is what it is about too. It has to do with oblivion, that enchantment that leaves you in a sort of hypnotised state. A frenzy in utter silence and concentration.’

The same sometimes occurs to me when I am listening to a concert. Once, during a Schubert piece, my body seemed to grow, my body members felt very long with large warm feet and hands on the far ends. When your body relates to you differently, it is intoxication too. You can also get that when you receive a very pleasant massage from someone, but it is much more intense when it surges up from within yourself, much grander.’

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

At the exhibition at Art Association Diepenheim I saw her adding the final touches to a relief; she put on headphones for isolation and in uttermost concentration she finished the painting with a few strokes of the brush. ‘Working is a great ecstasy. Unfortunately I cannot reach it every time; sometimes I idle all day in my studio in order to work for a mere twenty minutes around eleven. I then need the whole day to do that. That makes it very frustrating sometimes, and it makes art a time-consuming affair. I can speed up the process just by drawing or making something, which will set things going, and yes, it then becomes meditative.’

‘Francis Alÿs finds this rush in hiking, in its repetitiveness. The rhythm of the footsteps makes you part of a larger whole. Everyone has his own rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.’

‘It is a specific beauty that has its hold on me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it makes me very happy. It might happen just on the train, when a young girl obsesses me with her beauty; I enjoy that, it is most exciting, the adventure of looking. I want to hold onto that so badly. The feeling that something can disappear so easily is hard for me to bear.’

Femmy Otten - New Myth for New Family

‘My work is always about the ones close to me, but also there do I have that very specific feeling of beauty. I often use the face of my youngest sister because she has that specific, magical beauty that I’m looking for. It has always been very clear what I found beautiful, the archaic, the simple, powerful shapes, free from emotion. But it is more than that, it is also something primordial, something ancient, that tells no story but is visual, a sublimation.’

As a 13-year old, Femmy and her mother walked into the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. She saw the charioteer of Delphi and started to weep. A museum guard took her by the hand and she was allowed to climb the partition and stroke his foot. ‘To touch that statue seemed an almost sexual experience, so strong and all-encompassing.’ The charioteer, originating from the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi (470 BC) is a stately bronze sculpture of 1 metre 80 tall. A tall man whose heavy tunic falls down in folds. An open glance, set in coloured eyes, a slightly open mouth. An experience that already started to tilt the world.

Charioteer of Delphi

You I Love (Ya lyublyu tebya)

Boy A

Be Kind Rewind

Lon (The Professional)

All That Heaven Allows

Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (Eternity and a Day)

L'amour en fuite

Drle de Flix

Victor Victoria

Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris)

The Thin Red Line

Enduring Love

Human Nature

Imitation of Life

Nichts als Gespenster


Rebel Without a Cause

Suddenly, Last Summer

The Cranes are Flying

You I Love (Ya lyublyu tebya)

"I love love” she said, closing her eyes. ––Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
Love loves to love love. ––James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

When we say we ‘love’ or are ‘in love’, what is it we love in someone?

Her face, his hands, her smile, his voice? The smell of his hair, those little sleepy eyes of hers, his gait, her enthusiasm, his music collection, intelligence, independence, her witticisms, carefulness, the touch of her skin? His broken fingernails? The way she looks when she looks away, the little, funny mark on his right shoulder? Just how he says ‘hullo’ on the phone? Some ‘objet petit a’ that escapes definition, outsores language, a thing we cannot grasp or touch – or, on the contrary, something you can point out, point at exactly, a ‘punctum’?

His, her, your ‘blinding originality’ as Roland Barthes puts it? Or nothing, not even something special in this other person? Couldn’t the original thing be what we share, what makes us unique, together? (Roland Barthes, Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977), s.v. Atopos)

It’s your eyes and eyebrows – your smile – no, I wouldn’t know, it’s everything all together, everything about you. ––Knut Hamsun, Victoria (1935 – my translation (rw))

How it, he, she makes you feel: special, extraordinary, normal, simply happy, yourself, someone else, timeless, neither old nor young? Doesn’t love affect more than bodies and minds, but the fabric of time itself? Why do we forget about time when we are together, but think of nothing else simultaneously: its slipping through our fingers, the prospect of parting – and the waiting and longing when we are apart? Is this true: love needs time, but for love there is no such thing as time?

It takes no time to fall in love. But it takes you years to know what love is. ––Jason Mraz, ‘Life is Wonderful’, from the 2005 album Mr. A-Z

Imagine a girl (a young man, a boy, an elderly woman, just someone) being born, growing up, going to school, learning lots of languages, seeing the world, visiting other countries, going abroad, studying something, somewhere, say France – falling in love, very much in love with this other French girl (young man, boy, elderly woman etc.). Just think of some details, the one noticing the other, the other too impressed by the brave new world around her, a chance meeting (in a park, yes in a park, in Paris, in the springtime of course), first glances, then, later, the first touch.

It will be a love affair, even if they don’t know it yet, each day, every moment is an empty page. There is rapture all around.

They talk, look at each other, drink cheap wine from even cheaper glasses, laugh, talk even more, listen to music, go to movies, the park, the zoo, discuss books, the theatre, whatever they like. Anything is possible. (There is more looking of course, hesitation and not holding back at the same time.)

The two of them speak English, usually, sometimes some words in French, they seem to have grown to understand each other, even their silences. They have been together for two, three months now, eat meals together, share each other’s rooms and beds, at intervals. There is a moment, one time, in full summer, a warm, dark, damp night (or early morning).

Be Kind Rewind

‘Je t’aime,’ the other whispers.
She shudders, wavers, waits.
I love you, too.

How long does it take to learn the language of love? If you learn to say ‘I love you’ in one tongue, is it possible to understand (really understand) the other speaking another, to make yourself understandable? In this (imaginary?) universe ‘I love you’ cannot be translated, nor understood, if you don’t understand it first. ‘Ti amo’, ‘Ik hou van je’, ‘Je t’aime’, ‘Ich liebe dich’, ‘Jeg elsker deg’, all mean something else.

How does love translate, if it is, actually, itself a ‘translation’?

Is it necessary to know what love is to know what love is?

Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last Tango in Paris)