recently i made this zine. for those of you who i haven’t given a physical copy, here is the digital version. sorry about the messy formatting. if you would like a physical copy email me at email@example.com
stories I want to tell people so they’ll understand me better
a zine by Chloê Langford.
“it seemed as if my senses were actually enlarging, as if a new sense, a time sense, was opening within me, something which might allow me to appreciate millenia or aeons as directly as I had experienced seconds or minutes” - from Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe’s work in Bellowing echoes at Gertrude Contemporary, Next Wave Festival 2012.
Before I moved to Berlin I spent four days in Melbourne at Next Wave Festival. I had two day-passes – a pass for curated day of exhibitions, talks, performances and events – and a bunch of individual show tickets. On one of the day-pass days it poured with rain, the kind of heavy rain that bores into the outer shell of your mental security. When the rain hit I had just gotten off a tram in the Docklands, to find I had gone about two or three stops too far.
Here is what I texted my best friend/soul mate/life partner Katherine about getting caught in the rain:
“It’s pouring rain here.
I’m thinking water is time, rain drops are future.
I have no umbrella so I’m letting the future get all over in me.
In my ear canal
Dripping from my hair
My suitcase has all the things I will take to my next life :):/:(:!”
PUNK ATTITUDE IN
AND STAYING OFFICIALLY
I really was completely soaked and I had made a stubborn decision to endure the rain rather than buy an umbrella or wait undercover until it slowed down a bit. It felt ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’, but everything felt ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’ at that point. Two or three months before, I’d decided to move to Berlin. I had a two month artist residency lined up and rather than come home, I would just stay. I had no money, but I’d made a stubborn decision. Whether or not I had money - or an umbrella – I’d get where I wanted to go, even though I had no idea why I wanted to go there or what it’d really be like. It didn’t really feel like a decision, I felt like I was being pulled along in the current of time, and that I could try to fight the direction or I could just expend my energy in a rhythm that fitted in with the water’s flow.
I’d also started smoking a lot of grass.
So I was walking around in the rain, letting the water fill up my boots and make the soles of my feet all wet and puckered (incidentally, it all peeled off in huge white slabs when I got to Berlin). Eventually I managed to find the destination described in my Next Wave day pass – the Melbourne Mission to Seafarers. Two artists - Laura Delaney and Danae Valenza – had curated an exhibition there called Hull. It was warm and dry inside, with sturdy brown furniture and a carpet that reminded me of the RSLs2 my grandparents used to take me to as a kid. Squishy leather couches and a cheap bar, a tiny church and a big round dome adjoined to the main building.
There were several artworks throughout the exhibition but I had two favourites. Inside the big concrete dome was Composition for Ice and Choir by one of the curators, Danae Valenza. Hanging from the curved ceiling were a series of silver wire ropes symmetrically arranged in a circle. Suspended from each rope was a perfect sphere of ice, slowly melting into a red oil barrel positioned on the ground below. Each drop of water hit a cymbal in the barrel, which echoed rich voices – recordings of the Chinese Methodist choir who rehearses there - singing extended notes through the high ceiling of the dome. The spheres were melted by the time I got there – a few days after the opening – but I can tell you about it because I watched this video of it on the internet: http://vimeo.com/44042239. What I saw by the time I got there was pretty beautiful anyway. Light and sound reflects around a room differently when it’s a sphere instead of a rectangle. The feeling was that many things had passed here in this space and what had passed was ringing in the air. Like the past vibrating through you, into the future.
The next artwork was in the little make-shift gift shop that sold hand made cards. I don’t remember whose work it was or the name of it and I didn’t write it down either. Maybe it wasn’t even an artwork but I’m pretty sure it was. There was a little donation jar, and a sign and a big box of hand-knitted beanies. The sign asked the viewer to contribute a small donation in exchange for one of the beanies.
//////The feeling that comes next is hard to describe without sounding like a wanker. Sometimes people might call it ‘a moment of inspiration’, in which they feel ‘possessed’ or ‘spoken to’ by some power outside of themselves. It’s the kind of feeling that makes you move steadily and purposefully, as though you’ve found and been found. Afterwards you can’t find the right way to tell the story to your friends because the moment is light (almost nothing happened) but still somehow heavy – the moment is an anchor on a thin wire rope, penetrating through you to past selves. There is a sensation that this moment has occurred before and will occur again. Maybe even that it’s been happening forever. This feeling once made me dip my finger in a vial of glitter and slowly draw it from the top to the bottom of my philtrum3, all the while looking my friend Lukas straight in the eyes.//////
So I felt that feeling, and I put ten dollars in the donation jar and also a shell that I had found on the floor of Mark’s car and had ever since been carrying around with me, stowed in my wallet. I took a cream beanie with a spiral of colours on the crown – purple, pink and teal and a little bit of pale blue. It’s a thick knit and it’s got a few loose threads on the inside.
I met Mark the same week I decided to move to Berlin, and also the same week I stopped crying every day about Brian.
I’ve been trying to write about Mark, but it’s hard to say why I want to say anything at all. If I related all the details of our little thing, then you’d have to look between the words for the feeling I’m trying to tell you about, and maybe the words would crowd out the feeling anyway. I met Mark at a time when I felt like someone had torn the outer shell of my skin from the tissue inside and left me all raw4. Mark made me feel nourished – like drinking full cream milk and eating roast vegetables with rosemary. Instead of healing all ugly and sad and cynical I somehow came out more open and trusting than I started out.
The other day Mark sent me an email for my birthday. I’m don’t how he knew it was my birthday, but it was really nice.
I can’t really articulate why leaving the shell in a donations jar in the Melbourne Docklands felt so significant, but I’ll try anyway. At the moment, I’m reading this book called “The Gift”5 by Lewis Hyde. Hyde thinksthat art can/should function as a part of a ‘gift system’. A gift system is an economy in which when a gift is received, the receiver returns that gift. But instead of reciprocating, in equal measure to the original giver, the gift is passed on to a third party. And that third party continues to pass on both the gift, and whatever else they gain as a result of receiving that gift. And – as earnest and naïve as it sounds - by passing on what is given to you, you get more. Rather than seeing art as ‘capital’ produced by one person and purchased by another, it’s something more emotional or even spiritual, a network we participate in that is bigger than our selves.
“…a circulation of gifts nourishes those parts of our spirit that are not entirely personal, parts that derive from nature, the group, the race of the gods…To feed them by giving away the increase they have brought us is to accept that our participation in them brings with it an obligation to preserve their vitality.”
Giving away Mark’s shell felt like a way of passing on the energy he gave me and in return I received something to keep me warm in the (literal) storm outside. The Seafarer’s Mission probably don’t need a shell I found on the floor of someone’s car, but whatever.
One of the best artists I can think of – Sean Ruiz – really gets ‘generosity’. Nearly three years ago now6, I had a painting in a group exhibition7 in FELTspace – a really great artist-run gallery in Adelaide. It was the first time I’d shown in a gallery like that – a gallery I really respected. Sean – who I didn’t see that often, who I didn’t even know that well and who didn’t have a mobile phone or an email address – came along to the opening with a plastic bag. Sean was about half my height, and skinny, always stoned, always wearing a beanie and baggy pants and always excited and nervous and warm and buzzing. He gave me the plastic bag because there was a gift inside, and the gift was a thing wrapped in bubble wrap. It was a sphere, about fifteen centimetres in diameter, composed entirely of folded maps. It’s perfectly made, there is no glue, the maps are folded in such a way that the tension of the thing holds itself together. When you hold it in your hand and press gently, it springs back against your touch.
It’s a perfect Earth, every part folded into the other, holding itself together by the force it exerts on itself. It’s the best gift I’ve ever been given.
Later I found out Sean had given spheres he’d made to many people we knew. Usually I’d feel like that would make me feel somehow less special. Usually I’m a dickhead.
//////REALISATION I HAD JUST RIGHT NOW: maybe I have to pass the sphere on. Maybe thats like The Lesson I’m supposed to learn or something//////
I had two little oil paintings on raw linen in that show. I sent one to Sean in the post and gave the other to one of my oldest friends (and also the first boy I ever had a real hard crush on) Julian. I visited Juian and his girlfriend Mina in their apartment the week before I left Adelaide, and the painting was on the wall. Seeing it there gave me a feeling that I can only describe as deep inner contentment. Amongst the twenty kilograms of prized possessions I brought with me to my new life here in Berlin is Sean’s gift8.
So back at the Seafarer’s Mission, I had a beer and a Mars Bar and checked my email on the free desktop computers. I thought it was a really good exhibition. I sat on the plushy leather couches and read the exhibition catalogue. The curator Laura Delaney had found the Mission one day when she got caught in the rain in Docklands and needed somewhere to dry off. Hull wasn’t necessarily a flashy or impressive exhibition. The thing I liked the most about it was just that it introduced me to the Seafarer’s Mission, which felt like exactly where I wanted to be right at that moment. But a lot of the time good art works like that. It’s something not quite in the control of the artist or the viewer, it’s something to do with the way they meet at just the right time for each other, it’s something that happens in the air between them. In my head it looks like the air in the distance between objects and people is becoming liquid, seeping and vibrating. Maybe it isn’t ‘art’, maybe it’s just moments, and when the moment is over the art is just an empty shell.
Magical thinking is a type of causal reasoning or causal fallacy that looks for meaningful relationships of grouped phenomena between acts and events.
2Retired Service Man’s League. For non-Australians, it is essentially a slightly crusty place for old people to drink, play the pokies and eat prawns and pasta salad from a buffet. Pokies are slot machines.
6Saying those words ‘nearly three years ago now’ brings back that time. When Stan and I had just started flirting, betting twenty dollar notes on Scrabble games and discussing if getting a tattoo of Charlie Sheen was a deal-breaker. I miss him in a soft, painless way.
8I have no idea where Sean is now. I lost his postal address – my only way of contacting him. Last time I saw him he’d quit art to become a teacher. The ultimate endpoint of all art is to stop making art (I guess).