Day 11: Contingencies of Circumstance

The space he had been given was a windowless, high-ceilinged room, one of several century-old unrestored structures built around the courtyard. It was more a stall than a studio. Slabs of plaster had fallen off the wall in places, exposing like an open wound roughly hewn stones of the outer masonry wall.

As I stood in the courtyard I could see a figure moving in the depths of the dimly lit room. Peering into the space I could see that the only light came from the screen of his laptop and a tile of light thrown on the wall from a small projector on the other side of the room. Hunched over his laptop in the dark, his chest of tools set open against one of the walls, he looked a little like a smith in his forge or a shaman in his tent. Except he wanted company.

As I entered the room he got up to greet me. He told his name (Rob Kennedy) and how he had gotten here (he was sponsored by the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow as an artist-in-residence in the Remap 3 contemporary art platform that is taking place in Athens until the end of October) and explained a bit about the project. From what I understood it was an installation in progress that was being shaped by the encounters he had with other artists and visitors while here and by the space he worked in. The installation was slowly incorporating pieces of the immediate environment of his exhibition space—the objects he had found lying around the room and outside in the courtyard—and of the broader city environment.

Rob Kennedy, Possible Uses of Disorder, 2010

One piece, a video installation he had brought with him from Scotland, or at least the core of the work: a small projector, a screen and a video loop.  The rest was found here. The projector was set on a folding stool he found in the space, laid on its side with a tile wedged between its legs. The screen was propped up on a precarious arrangement of bathroom tile, butter knife and sheets of printer’s paper, all also found in the space.  On the screen one saw a continuous loop of a short vintage clip showing an old man walking to a city street corner, accompanied by the monotonous repetition of a snippet of a child’s nursery rhyme.

Kennedy describes the project in this way:

Starting from a point that is an arbitrary zero and by way of reciprocal discussion something rudimentary begins to appear. What it gives shape to will be an accumulation of this language as it is translated both on paper or screen and through actions in physical space. This initial impetus will be developed locally according to use and re-use, relying on the contingencies of circumstance to foster a variety of (in)conclusions.

I was intrigued by this idea of re-combining used objects from a familiar environment with the chance finds of a new one, this quite literal idea of translation as moving across. I wonder if the artist was aware that the makeshift base of the installation, the acute precariousness of the support it provides (but for how long) might have a particularly trenchant symbolic significance in a country whose economy is about to implode.

But I am even more fascinated by how the story he tells in his space is being shaped in its telling, how the conversations he has with others and the objects he finds in the city will find a place in the installation and by their very incorporation into the project, change it. Kennedy’s installations are both recursive and outward-reaching, self-referential and open to new encounters and the “contingencies of circumstance”.

Nathan is still a very private project. I haven‘t spoken to anyone about it, except my cousin, and that’s just because she has a particularly unusual relationship to things that I wanted to know more about. I do want to talk about the project, but I don’t feel I’m ready yet. My commitment is too tenuous.

I feel I can only declare the project’s existence once it is more solidly established. Whenever that it is.  But I can’t but wonder how the project would change if I talked about it with Nikolas or Natalie.

It’s odd that the act of relinquishing these objects should be so solitary. Much of what I have disposed of so far has been so intricately and closely with persons of consequence in my life: the sheets I slept on with Matthew, the music that played when I made love to Waclaw, the gifts of friends. I sit at the dining room table late in the evenings writing about things I’m throwing away. I feel a bit like a gnome in his hut, and I think of Kennedy in the dark crumbling studio, working on the next addition to the installation and waiting for his next conversation with a stranger.

But however the project develops (or sputters out), Nathan has been engrossing so far. I find myself at times throughout the day thinking about the objects I will discard in the evening, wondering if they will suggest a story or, indeed, give up their own.  I begin noticing objects more, imagining their history and their end. Last night I dreamt of Matthew. He appeared with his lover as leprechauns, short stubby men with huge crooked noses who had made a stopover on their way to a more exotic destination. I was lying on a bed in a house that was mine but not the one I live in now. He bent over and gave me band of banknotes and said, “This is for you. Go buy yourself something.”  He wasn’t being patronizing, just generous. It’s been a while since I had a nice dream about Matthew.

I decide to commemorate his visit to my dream, albeit through an act of disassembly or divestment. A traveler’s case.

I dig out a holdall from a bedroom closet. It’s a canvas bag with two grab handles, big enough to fit a five-year-old. I kept it even I had bought a proper grown-up suitcase with rollers and used to store things I didn’t want the cleaning woman to stumble on.

I had travelled with it to the States a few times because I could fit so much stuff in it.

The first thing my brother asked me when picked me and the bag up from Kennedy Airport was “so you’ve decided to move back?”. But it wasn’t all my stuff, of course. Half the bag was usually filled with presents for family and friends in the States, which when delivered would leave me with just enough space to fill with the presents I’d buy for family and friends inGreece.

It was the kind of suitcase you could live out of for awhile. Maybe a long while, with enough wash powder. With clothes left over. It perhaps says something about the superfluity of much of what we possess that even in the more modest suitcases we pack there’s almost always some item we don’t wind up ever wearing or using.

My friend Jörg lives out of his suitcase half the days of the year. My friend Joanna says she wouldn’t even need the suitcase. She swears that if she were rich enough she’d spend her time travelling around the world, from city to city—without a suitcase. She’d board the airplane with her purse, having arranged beforehand with the hotel concierge—being filthy rich she’d only stay at the kind of hotel which would have a concierge who could serve as your personal shopper—to have bought her the  clothes and toiletries she’d need for her stay in the city. She’d be a traveler-in-residence. Like Kennedy’s installations, she would acquire, use and then divest herself of the objects of local use–subject to  the contingencies of circumstances..

“Wouldn’t you miss your things?” I asked her, thinking of her 8-room flat in Brussels.

“Darling, I’d be seeing all these marvelous places and meeting all these extraordinarily interesting people, why would I ever miss a sofa?” she said.

I wouldn’t be able to reach such an extreme state of dispossession. I can strip down the excess in my flat but at least for now there’s a threshold of things I need to have around me. I need to be surrounded by my books and music, maybe not all of them, agreed, but some.  A favorite sweater. A pair of fraying jeans that have taken on the shape of my butt and legs like a mold. These things are a part of me. Or maybe it’s just that I feel more me when I’m with them.

At least that’s how I feel now. Maybe this experiment in the ascesis of divestment will ready me for a truly simple life. We shall see.

Published in altered form in Breach of Close. Apologies for the cross-posting.

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