way from home &
I don’t really know
A NARRATIVE PROJECT COMMISSIONED BY e a r on the occasion of the Umbrella Visual Arts Conference (April 2014). To hear the audio component, or if you’d like to meet me for an interview, please visit either the UAS or STRIDE gallery staff who kindly agreed to facilitate the space for these encounters.
Remain honest, lucid, awake, make a work with all one’s
to be determined, go all the way,
do what needs to be done;
think that: better is less good;
make it so that everything has to fight to exist,
first off, your own work;
show a lot, make yourself tired,
run on overload,
overload lets you tire out,
tiredness allows for no more lies,
to not lie anymore, not forget, work,
work, not make something that means something,
make necessary work. [TH 2013]
April 4, 2014 @ the check-in kiosk
Sheldon M. Chumir Centre, Calgary
All our visitors bring happiness: some by
coming, others by going
There is no money anymore, it is a fact. And without a companion in sight, solitude settles. The situation is grave, but not discouraging, far from it, because hope lies in the inscrutable. Remembering that a journey is more than an act of locomotion, a traveller will tell another traveller, one who is and remains a stranger to him, his secret experiences and thoughts. There is something magical in this situation, for travellers themselves become foreigners and strangers, as they reveal their secret tales to other travellers, who are also aliens, strangers. But through their inherent opacities, the truth is these stories, like other versions of ephemeral oral literature, will begin arranging themselves through their open-ended syntax, as facts become exaggerated, characters invented, events staged and landscapes unfixed.
It is with this unmediated slippage in the act of retelling a story where my work begins - when storytelling displaces perceived reality through anxious visions of subjects caught in spatial systems beyond their control; faced with having to make immediate representational and architectural sense of their predicament, as they set in motion every fixed notion and stable clue by situating it in a field of other spaces and sites. Pitched against the stability of place, my stories begin to describe situations where reality is consistently displaced by its spatial field, often relying on a emerging anxiety, where anything and everything can, and will respond to unforeseen collateral damage. Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his pithily titled masterwork from 1844, The Concept of Anxiety: A Simple Psychologically Orienting Deliberation on the Dogmatic Issue of Hereditary Sin: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”, suggesting that freedom is collateral damage. One hundred and seventy years later, on April 4th, 2014 at 9:00PM, to be exact, I was hospitalized because of an unexplained facial spasm. Although I need to undergo further neurological testing, one diagnosis being passed around leads to a progressed blindness, while another suggests brain cancer. Googling these conditions, on an almost daily basis, provokes the discovery of other symptoms - such as light-headedness for example, which makes me wonder whether I am creating these symptoms in my body because of my anxiety towards a possible end, or if they are indeed symptomatic of an organic process. Paradoxically, on April 4th, reality caught up with my practice of isolating anxiety as agent to a re-imagining of the world around me, as if the universe was finally catching up in its synchronicity to the rhythms in my own logic. From reading Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, one gets the sense of a similarly experienced syntax where the imagined and the real effortlessly collapse in ways that dwell together in an unforeseen ease of making sense through a possibility of withdrawal. If one knows that the end is near, there are two clear choices: one would be to fight the inevitable, while the other is to find ways to consume it. Out of reflex, I choose to consume an ending. But how does one begin to improvise their daily life in relation to this un-negotiated fear of the unknown? To barrow from a recently given therapist’s advice, there is no need on this occasion to unify space and time or weights and measures. It is better instead to take one’s mind off things and overlook the sense of proportion, lose sight of the relationship between the parts and the much vaunted overall view, which on this occasion of nearing an end, is to be forgotten or left at home, in order to expect with loving insistence even the most unlikely accident.
In “Friendship as a Way of Life”, an interview from 1981 with Michael Foucault, and published in the magazine Gai pied, the philosopher prophetically asked, “What relations, through homosexuality, can be established, invented, multiplied, and modulated?” Foucault viewed sexuality as “a multiplicity of relationships” not based solely on intercourse or hedonism but also on intimate social interactions. “To be gay” is to “define and develop a way of life,” he said, and “a way of life can yield a culture and an ethics.” Faced with an uncertain and unpredictable future, I observe Foucault’s living response to “friendship” as a meaningful possibility (or an inheritance?) to re-encounter daily life.
If you are reading this in your bedroom, and are using a lap top, consider lying down on your bed, while listening to the following recorded conversation I had with Pam Rocker, from the Hillhurst United Church on April 24th. Pam kindly agreed to meet at Caffe Beano in Calgary, and answer my questions. If it is possible, continue reading while listening to this conversation, and imagine yourself sitting with us, on a bench.
soundcloud recording link: https://soundcloud.com/bogdan-cheta/queer-shame
A W A Y
“I am engulfed,
s’abimer / to be engulfed
Outburst of annihilation which affects the amorous
subject in despair or fulfillment.
Another day, in the rain, we’re waiting for the boat at the lake; from happiness, this time, the same outburst of annihilation sweeps through me. This is how it happens sometimes, misery or joy engulfs me, without any particular tumult ensuing: nor any pathos: I am dissolved, not dismembered; I fall, I flow, I melt. Such thoughts - grazed, touched, tested (the way you test the water with your foot) - can recur. Nothing solemn about them.
2. The crisis of engulfment can come from a wound, but also from a fusion: we die together from loving each other: an open death, by dilution into the ether, a closed death of the shared grave.
Engulfment is a moment of hypnosis. A suggestion functions, which commands me to swoon without killing myself. Whence, perhaps, the gentleness of the abyss: I have no responsibility here, the act (of dying) is not up to me: I entrust myself, I transmit myself (to whom? to God, to Nature, to everything, except to the other).
― Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse (1978)
April 12, 2014
I woke up feeling alone, so lonely. The night before, I had cried myself to sleep. Out of a reflex that usually brings me safety, I covered my bed with the pairs of men’s underwear I keep finding at the gym. I learned that if you go late at night, just before closing time, you can find abandoned pairs of underwear, tucked away in the darkness, and out of the way. It took me a while to figure it out, but the white stains on these pairs of underwear are sperm. I touch them, study them, sniff them, as if they are gifts from the men I write about.
A few hours earlier, at 2:00am, after I finished my shift of washing dishes in a French restaurant, and when I fell into the now-familiar realization that this world was no longer my world, I attempted to kill myself. This is an older sentiment, and I bend myself to this task with great determination, knowing that sooner or later, I can stop the constant headache these thoughts give me. I find comfort in the thought that everything can simply, and irrevocably stop. But usually, I don’t see it as a gesture towards death. I tell myself that there must be a better place - and each time I try and make the switch to a better world, something unexpected happens and for some unknown reason, almost like a reproach, I remain here. But, on the flip side, writing has become a more efficient way to switch worlds.
( earlier that morning )
I was crossing Centre Street to get to my car. I wrote “Good Bye” on a piece of paper, hid my laptop in a bush and then lay down on the road. I was on my back, so I could look at the stars. At 2:00am there is no traffic. It is silent. And dark. And quiet. Thoughts begin to talk. I sat there on the ground for what seemed like hours, but it was probably a couple of minutes before these bright headlights disturbed my view of the sky. I closed my eyes in anticipation of impact. It felt exciting in a way I can not articulate. Earlier, in C magazine, I read something along the lines that if one keeps returning to the spaces where ideas are born, a kind of eternal return will continue, and laying down there made sense because this is a street I grew up with. My best friend lives around the corner, and although our friendship has dissolved, it is this neighbourhood where I began to consciously wander through back alleys and retreat in my observations of the world around me. I counted in my mind - 5, 4, 3, 2, - then I counted again: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, hoping that by the time I would reach 1, I would be in a better place - but instead of impact, I felt someone raise my hand. I opened my eyes. Holding my hand was a handsome younger man. His name was Ahmed. I decided to ask him if he could give me a ride to a friend’s place. Ahmed assumed I fainted as I was crossing the street and offered me a free ride.
The following is a Facebook exchange I had with a friend, that took place in parallel to the events that continue to shape my participation in Notes on learning how to live. I am interested to include this dialogue because it revealed further questions which I had to (re)consider. Initially, and in line with my practice of subtracting unmediated everyday situations as points of reference to my research, my intention was to also present this exchange in an unfiltered format - much like an immediate acoustic recording of fleeting thoughts. What I failed to realize, is that the context of sharing changes once it occurs between two people that also share the same social and professional circles - and the act & space of an unmediated “sharing” has a collateral damage implicated, and further complicated by these social intersections. As a resolve, I replaced my friend’s name with “friend” in an effort to reduce the incoming collateral damage - and to maintain, and care for the capacity of our free and unfiltered exchange. In parallel, having to negotiate the kind of anonymity this conversation needs before it becomes a shared public experience, was a helpful learning experience for me because I am interested to find out if this level of controlled anonymity is the only possibility to encounter and present a free public exchange of information, thoughts, and emotions between two friends that share a professional context. What would the alternatives look like? And are there alternatives? And how can one remain publicly critical of the art infrastructure when they have become a part of that very infrastructure. I find these thoughts to be especially relevant to a Calgary context, where critical space is often negotiated in relation to the relatively small number of contemporary art institutions.
Part of my larger aim with this project is not to challenge - or become confrontational, but to ask for help - help from anyone that might have the same questions that I do; help from strangers, or from friends - as a way to share and find valid answers and think through ideas. I distrust any position that displays certainty in its answers. Like a seismograph measuring not only the duration but also the direction of a tremor, asking for help is not a vulnerable position - it is an opportunity to understand. In philosophy this “discovery”, termed perspectivism, corresponds to the evidence that the world corresponds to a certain physiognomy that is projected and constructed by us all: to perspectivize is to always see the world as a construction, a project, and an intention.
A few days before our interview, we met at a gallery function. The main conversation revolved around the idea that most of us, artists, make up stories, as a way to build narrative structures in our practice. I felt uncomfortable with the topic, because for me making up stories is sometimes a more real place than reality, rather than an intentional mechanism to present, or work through ideas.
Me: I wanted to thank you for what you did on Thursday. I thought back and I realized after, that it must have taken courage to do what you did. I am puzzled by why people think that I want to go somewhere with my practice. All I want is to be in my world - which is what drives my projects etc. Right now I work in a restaurant as a dishwasher, mostly because it gives me more time to be in the studio and to write. Recently I’ve realized that my place in the world has always been in these liminal roles - as cleaner, labourer, dishwasher, etc. and something happens when you are in that place for most of your life: you start to see how you belong somewhere in the trash, mostly under the table, washing the dishes - rather than be at the table. I find it stressful how in most art circumstance I am expected to be at the table - yet I have no way to navigate that position. It’s like being asked to talk a language that I don’t speak. Yes, I can learn that language, but every single day, my reality is poverty - always confronted by how can I make both dinner and lunch for $5 for example. I’m not trying to take anyone’s opportunity - I’m honestly content with just being myself, which probably means that I’m never probably going to make it as an artist in any sort of significant way, and I am ok with that. It takes off the pressure thinking that way too, I think - and I like how I can just ignore everything and spend my days writing and reading and making work because it is something I need to do, and not because I want to go somewhere. One of the biggest surprises for me this year, was to be accepted in two projects in Toronto and I would like to think that that happened because of my work - which makes it meaningful for me. On the flip side, I am currently in counselling because of some previous breakdowns I had - and most recently, I found out that I may have something serious going on with my head since I have developed a kind of facial spasm - and doctors believe it’s a blood vessel going all weird in my brain. It takes 6 months to get an MRI scan in Calgary, so I’m waiting for an uncertain future (though I’m not confident about its outcome). But i think that this is what my work is also about - a kind of faith in miracles, that being in the background could also be a position that counts for something. I’m honestly not trying to play a marginalized role - and most certainly I don’t want to be “included” - I’m just tired of trying to fit in. This is who I am today: a mentally unstable 30 year old man hanging out in public bathrooms during the day and washing dishes by night, writing about crazy things that therapists then analyze. And I’m ok to be like this because I know that I can’t, and don’t want to be someone else. Regardless of weather you want to meet now, I am grateful that you were my friend a couple of nights ago.
Friend: I absolutely would still like to meet, and I understand better than you think about where you are at. When I worked at my last job I got a glimpse into the world that I am usually on the other side of, the world where rich people pat themselves on the back for being such great Philanthropists, I always felt like such an impostor at those things, an artist suddenly wearing the face of money, but who really didn't actually have any. My income itself at the moment is almost non existent, mostly because I am trying to decide what I want to do next for work, and also with my practice, I am caught with too much credentials to get the low key jobs I would have worked in the past, and unable to work the jobs that would essentially mean spending all of my time positioning other artists for success while ignoring my own creative work. I'm also both at the table and not, and it’s a difficult feeling.
I started this current project to do more of the thing that makes me feel most alive, and that is talking to other people about the inspiration and the challenges that drive their practice, yours has always been compelling, so I would not consider it bravery, I am genuinely interested and not in the least surprized that you have been accepted to do work in Toronto.
In Vagabond (1985), Agnes Varda introduces Mona, a drifter, in the most peculiar way: she is naked, and is walking out of the sea after a swim. Then Varda’s voice explains that Mona came from the sea, as if she was a non-human creature born that very afternoon. (this is also the only time when we hear Varda talk in the film). And like the hypnotic rhythm of waves endlessly splashing to their abrupt death, Mona finds herself drifting from man to man - up to the point that like a wave, breaks down and vanishes - perhaps returning to the place from where she came from. I would like to imagine that I also come out of nowhere specific. But like Mona, drifting into men and their lives usually leads to a passive rhythm with which life can unfold. I am interested in this kind of pessimism that allows life to fall - because after the fall, one has to ask hard and difficult questions - like why am I an artist - and who am I?
Why am I here?
What does it mean?
April 24, 2014
It’s 8:30 PM. I spent my day going from clinic to clinic, asking anyone that would see me if they can find signs of cancer. I don’t have physical proof that I have cancer, but a premonition that I am close to an end, persists. The more I research symptoms on the internet for brain tumours, the more associations I find with with my own symptoms - such as facial spasms, slurred speech, clumsiness and poor judgement. Of course it doesn’t help when I’ve always experienced most of these symptoms, but, right now I am sitting in a chair in the Emergency waiting room at the Sheldon Chumir clinic, waiting to see a mental health therapist, and hopefully another doctor. I’m also worried because I’ve had a weird kind of persistent dizziness that I never felt before, and today, after looking in the mirror I noticed a number of red dots on my forehead. Taking my clothes off, and to my horror, I noticed these red dots continuing to the rest of my body. Earlier in the day, I met for an interview with Pam Rocker, from Hillhurt United Church, who agreed to meet and offer some guidance on ideas I am developing for an upcoming project with M:ST this October. We talked about the connection between queer intimacy and shame, amongst other things - but it is this idea of shame and how shame differentiates itself from guilt in a queer context, that interested me. I often wonder if my anxiety is a form of repressed guilt, and if guilt makes me feel like I deserve to be sick because I am gay, in the same way that some men feel like they deserve to have HIV because of their unresolved relationship towards sex for example. While waiting on the mysterious triage process, symptomatic of any crowded emergency waiting room, I took out my notebook and this is what I wrote:
These are the people that I believe in: the young man that is in art school, working an evening job so that he can buy art magazines, my mother, my father, my sister, the boy that is picked on because he’s too sensitive, the girl that has a speech impairment, the woman that thinks she’s too old to count for anything, then the boy next door that got raped, and then became infected with HIV, all the men I meet at the free mental health clinics, all the dishwashers (and I’m talking about the people - not the appliance), and all the cleaning ladies that break their backs for $12/h, the young men that have unprotected sex with strangers because they’re too lost and all the artists that need to loose themselves in their worlds - so far, that they can’t find their way back.
in sadness, &
beauty is never
2 1 (barrowed) questions
One of my therapists asks me regularly to name 3 things that I look forward to. Right now, I’m looking forward to summer, an upcoming residency in Toronto and finding more mysterious used underwear. A man I see regularly when I go to the HIV clinic told me that today, he lives in the sky. I too live in the sky - except I fantasize about Sophie Calle, perhaps in the same way that Abdellah Taïa, a Moroccan gay writer, fell in love with French movie star Isabelle Adjani. He explains that seeing her in the movies while growing up, encouraged him to dream. In a 2009 interview with Frieze magazine, Calle, unwilling to consider the generic nature of the questions asked, took charge of the situation, and made up her own questions. In turn, I borrowed her questions and asked a number of artists to respond, as a way to share and pass down this intimacy. These were their answers.
When did you last die?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
What became of your childhood dreams?
What sets you apart from everyone else?
What is missing from your life?
Do you think that everyone can be an artist?
Where do you come from?
What have you given up?
What do you do with your money?
What household task gives you the most trouble?
What are your favourite pleasures?
What would you like to receive for your birthday?
Cite three living artists whom you detest.
What do you stick up for?
What are you capable of refusing?
What is the most fragile part of your body?
What has love made you capable of doing?
What do other people reproach you for?
What does art do for you?
Write your epitaph.
In what form would you like to return?
These questions were originally published in Frieze magazine (Issue 124, 2009) as part of an interview with Sophie Calle. Calle does not answer them, but instead offers these questions to anyone. I barrowed these questions as a way to engage with others. In the susequent interviews, these questions usually represent a starting point to more complex conversations. For the original interview, please click on the fallowing link: http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/sophie_calle/
The term “headless” is also completely shared by Art and Philosophy. “Headless” does not mean stupid, silly, or without intelligence; “headless” does not mean being ignorant. I am not an ignorant artist - better not be ignorant, as an artist! Of course, I love the beautiful book The Ignorant Schoolmaster by Jacques Ranciere and its fantastic, enlightening title, but I am not a schoolmaster - I don’t even teach Art - I am an artist! I am and want to be a headless artist. I want to act - always-in headlessness; it’s something important to me. I want to make Art in headlessness. “Headlessness” stands for doing my work in a rush and precipitously. Other words for headlessness are restlessness, insisting and insisting again heavily, acceleration, generosity, expenditure, energy, self-transgression, blindness and excess. I never want to economize myself and I know that - as the artist - I sometimes look stupid facing my own work, but I have to stand for this ridiculousness. I want to rush through the wall head-first; I want to make a breakthrough; I want to cut a hole, or a window, into the reality of today. (Thomas Hirschhorn/ Critical Laboratory/ 2013)
For a copy - http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/critical-laboratory
FOR THE READER
for spending your time with my secret thoughts. I would
like to return the favour, and share these questions with you in
person. Take me to your secret place; let’s talk, or go for a walk.
a friend asked me these Sophie Calle questions after reading Notes on learning hot to live. These were my answers:
When did you last die? I die everyday. What gets you out of bed in the morning?I like getting up and walking to my studio. Sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted time while asleep, and somehow if I wake up, make tea, and sit in my studio, I’m back to where I’m supposed to be. It’s not the act of making work - it’s more about being inside this room, surrounded by my books and lap tops and cell phones and colognes and hand creams, and ideas, that pulls me out of bed. And then writing emails, or reading a book first thing in the morning, is something I enjoy. What became of your childhood dreams? I think that I am still working at overcoming those dreams. I’m not sure if it is true for everyone, but part of getting older is to gather a sense of one’s scale in the world. Perhaps my childhood dreams were always about an ability to imagine and re-imagine things. Right now, for example, I’m open to follow whatever detour happens in life. And things do happen, if you let go - which is different than failure. Letting things fall whichever way, learning from mistakes, making mistakes, doubting, questioning, second-guessing were always part of the mix for me. I am permanently questioning. What sets you apart from everyone else? Doubt. Doubting the veneer of first impressions, but at the same time, always ready to trust it. It’s kind of like falling in love, getting hurt, and then coming back for more, everyday, in an endless cycle, where stopping would not make sense. So I guess, not being afraid to look ridiculous might set me apart? Sometime’s standing beside one’s work is difficult - but I like when those moments happen. When being ridiculous makes perfect sense…because then you have to defend your position, and in the process, this reveals what one stands for. What is missing from your life? Touch. Do you think that everyone can be an artist? No Where do you come from? In Vagabond (1985), Agnes Varda introduces Mona, a drifter, in the most peculiar way: she is naked, and walking out of the sea after a swim. Then Varda’s voice explains that Mona came from the sea, as if she was a non-human creature born that very day. Like the hypnotic rhythm of waves endlessly splashing to their abrupt death, Mona finds herself drifting from man to man - up to the point that like a wave, breaks down and vanishes - perhaps returning to the place from where she came from. I would like to imagine that I also come out of nowhere specific. But like Mona, drifting into men and their lives usually leads to a rhythm for a passivity with which life can unfold. I am interested in this kind of pessimism that allows life to fall, and then finding reasons to move forward. What have you given up? health, financial security, stable relationships. What do you do with your money? I buy books mostly. And teas in coffee shops - which also buy me a temporary space that I can use as an office. Also if I get lots of tips from work, I usually buy things at the flea market on Sundays - or expensive foreign magazines. Buying a good book is like buying a whole world - so it’s a bargain...What household task gives you the most trouble? I like household tasks because I live in my studio, and they’re a nice part of the rhythm I developed there. Perhaps the one task that gives me most trouble is not answering phone calls - or taking messages, or answering the door. This drives my dog nuts - when someone is at the front door and I don’t open the door, she starts barking in this violent manner, and I usually just turn the stereo louder, so I don’t have to leave the studio and lose track of my thoughts. If you want to get a hold of me when I’m home, please, just knock on my windows. Or even better, send me a text instead. What are your favourite pleasures? shared intimacy, french food, a good book, art magazines, writing, being in the studio, gardening, driving, cemeteries, swimming, free time, listening to cd’s from the library, walking, running, cruising men, back alleys, secrets, churches & finding things. What would you like to receive for your birthday?any form of intimacy Cite three living artists whom you detest. this is hard. I like how you went in Lady Gaga’s direction. I think I dislike situations where artists make art for reasons they don’t even know. It’s painful when you experience it because you can’t really do anything about it, but at the same time it also affects you in ways that shouldn’t, which I always find confusing - but maybe that is because I also want to help when I see someone in trouble. For me it’s always a challenge - to maintain this critical distance and at the same time to be friendly - but not in a superficial or sarcastic way - friendly, perhaps in a constructive way. I’m drawn to artists that can navigate through these kinds of friendships, where often the most caring thing to do is to be honest, and doubtful and frank, and emotional. A pat on the back is so boring, and it rarely accomplishes anything. I would much rather be challenged by someone on any day than be told that everything is great. What do you stick up for? excellence What are you capable of refusing? agresive, or uncaring situations What is the most fragile part of your body? right now my left eye. I have developed a rare medical condition - called hemifacial spasm, which requires regular botox injections. Thankfully Alberta Healthcare covers them. What has love made you capable of doing? Learn how to share. What do other people reproach you for? I think a lot of times there is a disconnect I have with most people, because of my choice to be with my thoughts, and with writing and with books. I’m good at finding ways to disappear and just doing my thing - but at the same time, I think people associate that with something that is antisocial - or that I am purposely choosing to avoid them - when I am just trying to be happy, and spending time thinking about stuff alone makes me happy. Sometimes I also feel that when I have a million things going on in my head, it is better to work those things out before I talk to someone - which I think is a caring way to relate to others. Ultimately, distance is about a space of care, and sometimes what you see, is not always what you get… What does art do for you? It takes me out of this world. Write your epitaph. Thank You In what form would you like to return? a cat
Life is everywhere