As the news of the world continues to get worse, the urge to escape, into making art, reading, domestic tasks, grows. I create space for these essential tasks by blocking out politics during election off-years, but now the election is here and it’s hard to engage as the fascist politicians grub for money and votes so they can ride the gravy train. The Supreme Court’s Christian Ayatollahs announced their plan to roll back reproductive rights, and the corrupt thug who started the whole movement remains out of jail and living lavishly from the donations of his ignorant and rage filled sycophants. The slouching beast with the orange fright wig is moving toward Bethlehem. Hearings about the January 6 coup attempt are under way, but it’s clear that the white power faction will continue to sow the big lies even as the truth of corruption is revealed. Action is needed, and I’ve picked up a book (or two).
It can be hard to justify escape into the magic realism of a Borges, the delicate perversities of metaphor and language of a Dickinson, and colorful landscapes of the mind in the studio, but those don’t become suddenly irrelevant simply because the brute realities of greed, racism and willful ignorance are ascendant. As a matter of fact, they complete, and redeem the declarative mottoes of activism: ‘bans off my body’ -in this Information Age. What do these slogans mean? They are of immediate urgency to the bodies directly affected, but to the rest of us, ‘bans off my mind’ is equally relevant.
The activists are correct: a declaration has to be made at some point. Just ‘keeping keeping on’ is admirable, but can seem inadequate when the solid ground of democratic society is slipping from beneath your feet.
“I’ve always envisioned Paradise as a sort of library”, Borges is quoted as saying and the library is often a refuge from the assaults of ignorance. Not always, though; the same fascists who seek to control women’s bodies often target the corpus of great works on the shelves of the local library. Meanwhile the thugs have turned the Supreme Court into a corrupted theocratic hideout, destroying rights rather than protecting them. It’s hard to be an optimist these days, and making or enjoying art that is not sloganeering ( not that there’s anything inherently wrong, or un-creative with that, see: Banksy) often requires optimism.
Borges’ Library of Babel provides the sort of thoughtful magic realism that can act as a tonic to the cynical power mongering happening in the news daily. I’ve adopted it as a theme for new work, and as a metaphor for creative possibility.
In Umberto Eco’s version of the medieval library, apparently lifted almost wholly in homage to the author whose brief, fantastic stories inspired postmodernist giants such as Eco himself and Thomas Pynchon, etc. the library burns to the ground. In Borges’ library, the sublime is shelved side-by-side with gobbledygook. Every combination of letters is there, in infinite proliferation. Just like the internetses!
In my own small ‘library’, Borges is shelved next to my bed with some other small collections of quick reads, such as some Nick Hornby book blurbs from Believer Magazine, some Granta and McSweeney’s short stories, and a collection of C.F.’s zines, etc, to provide bedtime escape from anxiety-producing blue screen realities.
I do donate to important candidates and causes, and have often been active on the streets in various campaigns, but the culture of disinformation promoted by the Republican Party has supplanted actual debate. Their lies are intended to devalue honest, searching political debate in favor of their memes of fear and bigotry. It’s hard to feel your voice counts against these unhearing oligarchs, some of whom pretend to work for democratic causes, while aiding the rich, white zombies of control.
Authentic voices these days can be found in books, art and music, but the oligarchs seek to control the means of production there as well. It seems to me that authentic ideas, no matter how small, and no matter how distant from topical issues, can be very empowering. I try to make as many as I can.
Thus, I trundle off to the studio on a weekly schedule to putter around with my abstractions. I suppose it seems trivial, but independent thinking is exactly what most scares the fear mongers. This year’s studio projects are not intended to fill frames in shows. I use very simple images, such as tables, chairs, trees, trestles, etc. to explore formal solutions, but also to free my anxious mind for new ideas.
Given my escape into reading during quarantine (I’d recently read The Name of the Rose, for example, only coincidentally picking up my bedside Borges to discover the library homage) it was probably inevitable that Borges would leak into my interior scenes, which are all about finding metaphor in generic imagery. Borges’ Fictions, aren’t that complex either- except in their conceptual richness, are intended to add the ‘magic’ to my very schematic ‘realism’.
These are studies on a half sheets of the basic idea, which will be worked on in large format this Summer. I’m taking my time, as there’s no show deadline upcoming. So I’m focusing on the details which are intended to tell the tale in a thematic, rather than a literal sense.
I’m reminding myself to take pictures at various stages and will probably do some video at some point when I have a good idea of where I’m going. In addition to Borges, I’m reading a biography of Emily Dickinson ( My Wars Are Laid Away In Books ). There’s a rather surreal retrofuturist TV series about Dickinson on Apple TV, too. I’m working my way through Harold Bloom on Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human ( with BBC productions of the plays I haven’t seen), David Goldblatt on The Age of Football ( because, World Cup!), and various magazines on Printmaking and Comics.
It’s not political activism, but I do consider it to be active and engaged. It’s a ‘retreat’ in the sense of contemplation and ideas of the human, rather than a retreat from humanism. It’s a refuge, but I’m not a refugee. It’s an activism of the mind, which could go a long way toward inventing some newer, better humans.
I’ve noticed that some comics creators like to cite the music they listen while creating their projects. This sounds like great fun. Among others: Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia and Be-In; Lush, Gala and Spooky; and Wilco, Sky Blue Sky and Whole Love.