I don’t have any platitudes about how handwork has made the past weeks feel less horrifying. It hasn’t, except in the ways that sleep after a death makes you forget the death a little while. And yet the plans some friends and I made to have a market of handmade goods here in Minneapolis had already been set, and so I have been making things by hand (and others have as well), and we will gather on December 10 from 2-6 pm in Peace Coffee on Minnehaha. And if you’d like to come and have a coffee, say hello, find a gift for someone (or just look around), please do. Everyone is welcome. I’ll be there with a few MIEL books, a lot of stationery, and some other small objects. My mom will have some stockings. And there are a bunch of other great vendors. Click here for all the information. It will be warm, there will be lights, we will be glad to see you.
Of course there is still beauty—the light this morning was like the light when it’s snowing, there were wrens in the borage plant outside my window, the sheep are funny and joyous companions, the color of the chickens against a frosty background is stirring, we listened to “Suzanne” sung in Irish—but I think a rush to refocus on the (nevertheless important) fact that the banal is to be cherished/there is beauty in dailiness is misguided. Terror and beauty coexist; always have, always will. And concepts like ‘home’ seem to me so easily turned against whatever a charismatic leader insists is a threat to ‘home’. US culture is Puritan in its roots: afraid of contagion. But beauty is not contaminated by acknowledging danger or articulating injustice or refusing to look away from horror. Its possibility, not as a pure quality without moral meaning but as an accompaniment to horror—sometimes bent in horror’s service, sometimes bent away—is preserved when we look squarely at horror and refuse to euphemize or ignore it, particularly in public places where we risk the most in doing so.
“The message to the crowd is a series of simple, basic, memorable words—nation, people, blood, family, comrade, friend, home, soil, bread, work, strength, hope, life, fight, victory, birth, death, honor, beauty.” The screenshot here is taken from this report in Life, May 2, 1938. Of course we should not cede beauty to demagogues. But it seems to me dangerous to focus on it without an accompanying critique of those who would press it into horror’s service. And they will. Stirring music, rousing speeches, pinnable images of aspirational products and lifestyles, evocations of belonging. It may not be the same as the daily beauty we experience (chickens, sheep, frost) but it uses the same word to identify itself: “To a people whose immediate past has been hard, muddled, and apparently irremediable, simple, emotional words have an immense, reverberating authority.” Bavaria was also beautiful. And home is evocative to most people. Beloveds, let us not stop observing and honoring what is beautiful in our lives. But let there also be a place for witnessing and testifying to horror; for difficult courage. I say it as much to myself.
White supremacist capitalist patriarchy in a setting where business and the State combine forces. That’s where we are. I will keep saying it.(Warning for content in the coming links: references to racism, homophobia, misogyny.) My teachers have included these writers and thinkers, if you’re looking for somewhere to start. Here is a dense but useful essay on the word ‘love’. This thread is very good. Read this and this and then this thread. Then read his. Don’t fall into easy confidence. It will not be ok after four years (and that’s what the German elite said, too: let them have their ridiculous candidate for four years). Whiteness is identity politics. And it is already happening. And it is on us to know what we are seeing and to push back against it. Because it will look like, it will feel like, resuming ordinary life and doing our jobs. But it will be much more.
When I lived in Minneapolis, in a third-floor one-bedroom apartment, alone with its wood floors and hexagon-tile bathroom and tiny kitchen and built-in cabinets, I would often sew in shorts and a tank top very late at night, listening to the BBC World Service as the open window brought in cold air (winter—central heating in old buildings in Minneapolis meant no individual control over how hot the apartments were) or the hot, humid air of late summer. I made all kinds of things but a few stick with me. One was a skirt I made for a fellow student in my MFA program: a mid-calf-length, formal skirt with a net petticoat and a beautiful waistband. A skirt for occasions. I only have photographs of that skirt now, and I have no idea whether my fellow student kept it or ended up giving it away after it no longer suited her. But it remains one of the things I am most proud to have made, a foundation of what I make now.
Then there are these. If you have been reading this space since it began back in 2003 or so, you have seen these. Pomflowers, I called them. In the linked photo they decorate a hair comb. But that was an afterthought. They really existed because I found it intensely pleasurable to make them. I noticed the form first when I was staying in Venice during the summer of 2005 (a pair attached to the toes of a pair of shoes in a window on my daily walk to school). And I drew them in my sketchbook and came home to engineer them. And then I couldn’t stop making them. I made hundreds. Why? There was no reason, although I used them for things eventually. Well, there was a reason, just not a reason as in I’ll make this so I can [x]. The reason was finding out what the form could do. I still work that way: when I get interested in a form I will make it or observe it over and over to find its patterns and combinations. (I watched this video six times in a row the other night, at which point Jonathan insisted I turn it off. I wasn’t sure why.)
Over the past year I’ve begun making objects that echo the pomflowers to me. One is in the photo above; I made it into a brooch for my friend Sarah for her birthday. There are maybe five? six? of these now. Some of them I feel are more successful than others—which tells me they are indeed about an investigation of form. They’re also kind of barnacles, collections of things adhering to a base, and like barnacles they say things about time, place, movement of medium (time, water). They are disproportionately pleasing to make: soft, in colors and materials I enjoy, and without an end goal. I make the form new and reinvestigate its prior iterations each time.
I saw Lisa Solomon’s post about her exhibition Mata Sen at the Walter Maciel Gallery in Los Angeles on Instagram (de facto blogging platform, these days, eh?) and it stirred this feeling in me—the attraction to series, especially to very large series, and to repetition, and to the color pink, and to ‘useless’ things, which certainly these 1000 knots are—but by their immensity and their repetition they become meaningful in the same way that religious buildings do. They are not ‘useful’ in the way capital demands (in themselves, I mean. Obviously monumental-scale artworks do participate in capital) but in the way that all beauty is: superfluously, exorbitantly. They are necessary once they exist. I could not imagine the world without them. Lisa’s work continues to teach and encourage me in my pursuit of form, in my belief that we can make things that mean outside of—or at least gesture to meaning outside of—the violent and desparate systems in which we live. Proficiat, Lisa, beautiful work. And merci. From Belgium. Where, after all, I am.
…is this thing on?
More than nostalgia for the internet of 2003-2008, the connections, real friendships, inspiration, teaching I found there, I miss the way it was slow and relatively quiet. The people I knew had blogs and wrote in them about their lives, their work, their questions about their work, their process, in ways that felt intimate and honest, and the word ‘monetize’ didn’t even exist in our frame yet. (Do any of you remember those ‘ad-free blog’ buttons? I actually found that campaign kind of self-righteous and snooty, but I do miss blogs where I feel like the writer isn’t walking on eggshells—the eggshells of advertising money or readers’ approval.) I like and use Instagram, although I like and use it in ways that are different to how I liked and used Flickr (talk about an empty hallway these days). I don’t have apps on my phone besides Instagram in part because I don’t want to feel available, I don’t want to feel overrun by voices and images, all the time. I like it when I don’t open my computer for two days in a row. But somewhere along the way—in part maybe because so many people started making money from their blogs; in part because I started writing about hmmm writing and thinking, and less about making clothes and objects; in part because as I professionalized as a writer I came to fear writing in a blog as a potential ‘waste’ (!) of future-usable text (!); and in part because honestly it’s not as fun to do this when you feel you’re doing it in a void—I stopped writing here. Regularly. I mean I stopped seeing the blog as a form for finding things out myself. I miss it. I can’t make promises because I only break those but I would like to be back here more often, as part of an ordinary recording of my ordinary life. The weather. The garden. What I’m sewing. Whether I’m painting. What I’ve read lately. Etc. You know, the things we used to write to one another about. I’ll start now(-ish) but I’m thinking 2017 will be my little renaissance: try to rediscover how I used this space. Since it’s now and not then, though, I’m going to use this: #littlerenaissance. You come too, if you like, in whatever form you used to use and now miss.
When I look back in my photos to May and see that the vegetable garden was still mostly bare—small plants and rows where we had planted seeds—now feels unlikely or miraculous. We have had probably ten kilos of beans this summer, two pumpkins (one truly enormous, one just normally large), three butternut squash, two charentais melons (four more on the vine), literal hundreds of zucchini and tomatillos (the latter all processed into green salsa), peas, herbs (dill, rosemary, oregano, mint, chamomile, calendula, lavender all dried for later use), pickling cucumbers, jalapeños, carrots, raspberries, plums (about 3 kg), now the first apples are coming from the trees, and sweetcorn. I have made almost a liter of raspberry jam. There are things I strongly dislike about living in Belgium (and someday soon I will write about them, but not today) but I love this garden and I love having people to stay in and use the things from it.