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Letters /Cartas

 
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Hi Máx,

Can I write to you in English? And you can ask me if you don’t understand something? 

I am happy for you to write in spanish. 

I was thinking we should do a little homework between our conversations. There is so much I am thinking and forget to tell you. But maybe you would prefer to make a drawing or send a photo or a map or a diagram. That would be great. Maybe better. 

I wrote something after our last conversation but I forgot to send it to you. But here it is.

I also want to write a few notes about life in NZ under the quarantine, just a series of notes from everyday life. 
- alys

28 March 2020

Dear Máx, 

ok

 

so i think

 

we're talking about resistance

 

against the virus of the toxic state

 

or the exterminationist machine, (as donna haraway puts it, referring to late-stage capitalism)

 

the paradoxical symbolism of the pañuela/ handkerchief/ face mask

 

masked face/ all we can do/ is resist - with movement together or movement away from each other/ a turning outward against/ a turning inward to ward off the spill of bacteria

 

 

Santiago had come together in its millions/ in this force of proximity/ in waves of rage- is this intense work being undone       with the fall inside to quarantine?

 

does it have to be undone?

 

/ does resistance have to fall away when the people cannot move as a collective?

We were thinking about this work we are doing in terms of connectedness and solidarity.

It helps me to feel hopeful, amongst the precariousness. 

a. 

 
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Dear Máx,

 

It's 4:45 AM here.

 

Inside the night's very dark, pre-dawn hours.

 

I was lying awake thinking of games. We bought a big box of all different kinds of dice a couple of months ago. Somehow they remind me of all the visualisations of the virus in its exponential curves, spreading across the globe.  Times the number by this, or times it by that, chances are increasing or decreasing depending on distances between. Depending on the spaces we manage to make between touches, on the capacity for isolation.

 

I talked to my dad last night.  He was talking about New York, bodies under white sheets moved by forklifts. He said over 800 people died in New York in one day. Jeffrey remembered the maps I bought for you last year, in the subway. Vessels travelling through the veins of the body-city. Each part carries varying levels of infection of every kind - emotion and resilience and immunity and reason and defeat and resistance and love and hate and patriotism and what is the opposite of patriotism?

 

 I was thinking about the telephone book paintings you had at that show at MAC.

 

My dad is in a bubble with his small dog. We talk most days. It is strange to think of him alone in his small-town without any real human contact, for maybe many months. My dear aunt Trish is in a retirement village and her cancer is really serious. We have always been very close. I worry for her. Every day I send her videos of the girls - Elena singing, Rosie reading a poem, the kids in a tent, or riding bikes. I really wish I could make her lunch and do her dishes for her.

 

I have a student from Colombia studying her PhD.  She is living in Auckland and was asking me about my friends in Chile. Her Wi-Fi isn't very good although she lives quite close to here. The line is much clearer when I chat to you or Maca in Chile.

 

Every second day our family goes walking through a bush track to a local beach. Usually at sunset. The colour of the bay washes through with changing light and we walk back up the steep track with torches.

 

I keep wondering what our project could be. It's so phenomenally outrageous and so very banal, this experience. I'm happy to have a creative conversation between here and there during this lockdown. Somehow it calms the fact that I'm unable to leave this house, because our meetings are a kind of international travel.

 

The festival I'm making a performance for was cancelled yesterday. They are making a digital version instead. I'm imagining sending a suite of films/sound works, even though I have zero enthusiasm for the idea of a digital festival, and I don't think I could attend anything. Really, I just want to retreat from the world of production and articulation at this time, but I feel like I still have responsibility to my work and to my community, to participate. It's a paradox.

 

It's really a paradox. If I had it my way, I think I would detach from everything right now. And really just be in the bubble, without any outside. But it's impossible.  I have a job and I love my students. I have articles due for journals and examinations of projects to do for other universities. And I love it all, but if I could choose, there would be no internet in this house. But as I write this, I don't know if I believe myself.

 

Yesterday morning Rosie looked at me and said, "Hey mum, is anything small for germs in the world?"

And I said, "I think so. I think our bodies become playgrounds for germs. And other kinds of bodies too."

 

Rosie often thinks of germs as though they are the size of us, living in families, migrating around.

 

Her imagination changes scale constantly.

 

 I hope you and your family are safe and well in Barrio Yungay.

 

See you soon.

 

a.

 

6 April 2020

 

Dear Alys,

 

I am very happy to receive your letter, as I am very happy to be doing this project remotely together. I have sat at the desk several times to answer you but I am somewhat blocked.

 

How beautiful the thoughts of your daughters, we had a conversation at the beginning of the quarantine with Sol and Emilio, explaining why they will not go to class. Until now they have been very good, Sol much easier than me to communicate with his friends by Zoom, although he is very resistant when we do classes, Emilio, who has always liked being at home, plays and draws, was happy of not having to go out and have his parents with him all day, but yesterday he was already asking to meet some friends, - I don't like this virus anymore, when Dad ends, I want to see my friends? I wonder.

 

I remember the first time I paid attention to the coronaviruz, we were deeply immersed in the social problems that we still have unfortunately in Chile and that today, in this new scenario, will give birth, for example, to the dismantling that state health has suffered for decades. Unfortunately it is a reality of all Latin America, that is what the news coming from Ecuador anticipates. But going back to that memory when it became latent that the virus was not just paranoia to keep us quiet and leave us at home instead of going out to protest. There was talk of a "Diamond Princess" cruise ship that was kept with all its passengers parked on the shores of Japan without allowing them to get off. Inside the passengers were starving in their rooms, some crashed by claustrophobia and the possibility of getting infected, I imagine the rooms with small windows, with little natural light and stale air; other sick with infinite coughs and other dead. Employees kept carrying food, knocked on the door leaving the tray on the floor, only after 10 seconds could the door be opened from the inside to remove it. The newscast went on to say, "It is the most dangerous place after Hubei province, where the virus originated. Despite the chilling news I could not see him close, he was still in Asia, rather I thought about it with cinematographic images and then Gericault's “The Raft of the Medusa” came to mind, that shipwreck that accounted for the sinking of all a society in romanticism. We in Chile were still thinking of the coronavirus, as a farce, that the president would use in his favor, that the virus would be mainly at the epicenter of the protests, however at this point, the conspiracy theories are falling and we realize that the pandemic is real and that thinking positively with this virus, what can be expected is that it will end the global capitalist systems, a change that many of us have thought until now but saw no way that it would take place, at least in the short term.

 

Like you, the projects stop, little by little I understand that it will be impossible to travel this year, I had an art fair in Sao Paulo, an artist residence in Gothenburg and the Vancouver Biennale. The first one that is canceled is that of Brazil, that of Sweden we continue to see what are the possibilities of doing it or moving it for later, but after a few days it seems impossible to think about the first semester, I have asked that it be postponed for by 2021, however, the bureaucracy works the same in all parts of the world, the assigned funds must be spent this year, I still don't know anything about Canada, I write to the curator and he still thinks that it can be done in September. Although it seems hopeless, this year will be lost for everyone ... or won from another point of view ... I don't know.

 

A few days after a quarantine was declared in Chile, I looked for the book that I had ever read by Jose Saramago "Essay on blindness" while rereading it I thought absurdly, -it is a shame that Saramago is dead, he would have to be alive to see this moment, moment so well described in your book, with the idea that we were all blind before losing our sight, only here the blindfold has come down to the mouth. I can't stop thinking about the paradox of the last moments of the social uprising when a law was pulled against the hooded man, where anyone who wore a scarf in their faces was criminalized, when the vast majority of people who went out to demonstrate He used the handkerchief or the mask because of the amount of chemicals that had the thousands of bombs per second that they threw against the protesters, and now, the chinstrap is raised as a symbol of the other first line, the one that is in hospitals trying to save life.

 

Yesterday, after asking for a permit, to get out of the quarantine to move my mother to carry out some paperwork, I looked at the empty streets and it was inescapable to see them full of animals and plants crossing the cement, it was like continuing to see the cars, the buildings, all the “human advances” like the reflection of a star that has already died, how will it be once the vaccine is found (or not found), will we learn the lesson?

 

Nor do I know how we will approach our work, although in some way we are already doing it. I think about your game with dice, it is a tool that we could use, maybe build a game. On the other hand, I also visualize the chinstrap as a powerful element to work with.

 

Well, see you tomorrow at our meeting with my precarious English.

 

Hugs to each one of you.

Max

7 April

Dear Max,

 

This morning, as it has been ALL week, the household was up extremely early due to the change of the clocks on Sunday. I don't know why this makes my family get up SO MUCH earlier but I just refuse to get up even though I'm awake, and this morning I took your advice to read Blindness by Jose Saramago. My reading was interrupted by Jeffrey who wanted to talk about an article in the Guardian about Trump's insane recommendations for people to take anti-malarial medication based on quack testing methods, for the virus. In flicking between the Guardian and my novel, I ended up reading these two passages right beside each other:

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/air-canada-flight-attendant-exposed-to-covid-19

 

"Wilson, who works for Air Canada and asked to use a pseudonym, had recently completed a return flight from Toronto to Frankfurt and back. Accustomed to occasional discomforts caused by her job, she waved off the symptoms.

“I’m not really a hypochondriac. I didn’t honestly think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got the coronavirus’ or anything.”

That evening, however, a fever had set in, and her chest became tight, as if “someone was yanking an elastic from either end” of her lungs. By the next morning, with her body weak and racked by chills, Wilson’s calmness had given way to full-blown panic ... Meanwhile, Wilson’s family also began developing symptoms – fevers, breathing difficulties and body pains. As she battled a fever and aching body, she was also overwhelmed by guilt – believing if she had acted sooner, recognizing the symptoms as the coronavirus – she could have spared her two daughters and husband. While the family’s symptoms are mild compared with thousands of cases that require hospitalization and intubation, the virus nonetheless also took an immense mental toll."

Immediately after reading this in an article in yesterday's Guardian, I came across the following passage:

"No sooner had he uttered this last word than his expression changed. he pushed his wife away, almost violently, he himself drew back, Keep away, don't come near me, I might infect you, and then beating on his forehead with clenched fists, What a fool, what a fool, what an idiot of a doctor, why did I not think of it before, we've spent the entire night together, I should have slept in the study with the door shut, and even so, Please don't say such things, what has to be will be, come, let me get you some breakfast, Leave me, leave me, No, I won't leave you, shouted his wife, what do you want, to go stumbling and bumping into the furniture, searching for the telephone without eyes to find the numbers you need in the telephone directory, while I calmly observe this spectacle, stuck inside a bell-jar to avoid contamination." (Saramago, p. 63)

So i'm in that state where the border between fact and fiction becomes spongy and pliable- somehow Saramago's novel feels so much more true than the idiotic edicts of various Presidents, and the truly idiotic Prime Minister of England is in intensive care with the virus.

 

It's very hard to process reality and 'reality' enters life in surreal fragments. Jeffrey returned from supermarket shopping full of stories from podcasts about New York, which he listened to while he stood in the very long line, a 2 metre gap between each shopper, wearing his mask and gloves. To stop the paranoia and xenophobia coming in. Honestly, New Zealand is feeling more like East Germany during the reign of the Stasi every day - with something like 13,000 people reporting others who are breaking the lockdown ban. I find it really chilling. 

 And it seems that the megalopolis of a city I visited last year is now a fiction. That NYC is broken. Apparently the damage is worse than 911. It's so hard to reconcile, from here, from where we are - where it is so very quiet, the light is soft, the city so empty.

 

Yesterday, we listened to the National Radio station, this is a relatively conservative station, with many older listeners. The topic was people who are in isolation alone and how to stay calm and well while alone for an extended period. During the segment, this woman started giving masturbation advice to older people, and I thought - Shit, Arundhati Roy is right, we really are in a portal to another world!

 

I'm giving advice on how to manage anxiety to students stuck in not-ideal living situations - and obviously, I am no therapist. We talk about gratitude for a public health system.  I think it could be important somehow to share our work with students as an example of process at a time of constraint  - to think about how this situation is impacting other places, beyond NZ,  the issues beyond the small shores of this relatively protected little nation. My first year students are enrolled in a university course I lead that is called 'Introduction to Dance and Creative Practice' - it is a course about interdisciplinary creativity - but the students no longer have sessions in a dance studio making performance experiments together - I'm trying to get them to treat their houses as studios and to find artistry in the little details of life.

 

To cross the portal dividing art and life, to take the jump where meaning floats a bit.

 

To hold this intangible space of support - to make it safe for these students to make new things, amongst the destabilisation.

 

I have this fear that this project will become a burden for you - in this time where the exhaustion of the attempt to process our worlds / in the blur between disbelief and understanding, mourning and hope - that it will add to the weight of the day. In which case we should re-orient the method. The point of this project is to continue the mapping porous borders project into the current moment/ future moment. Which was always about sharing process for the sake of connecting space between worlds - whatever is made is the result of what our circumstances afford.

 

 As val smith and Richard Orjis would say in their bttm manifesto - which I think genuinely questions and resists the neoliberal infections of the contemporary art/academic world:

 

#4. It’s not about off the grid. It’s about IN the grid

#5. Tribal leader. rotting the system through fungal power

Meeting / Meating friends over plant-based drinks

Learning to love shame, plastics and viruses

 

Yes to sculptures that float and disperse

Yes to half baked ideas 

Yes to incomplete methodologies

Yes to underdeveloped performances

Yes to bad planning

Yes to confusion

Yes to an insignificant piece of garbage named Art

It takes two to bottom 

Move to a comfortable position

Or move to a position that

you may have gotten into

before

 

– there is an awareness of being complicit, a give and take. and a muddiness. Because to work with others you need to work within other systems. There is a complicit complexity. slop

Bttm methodology is half done, 

half-conceived, half baked.

 

https://morphicqueering.com/bttm-manifesto/?fbclid=IwAR0v2aOSvLIRDusww8qC3rxLJUSBwlHQcXLYoC8x6tojWkzuJCwcuiOxApk

Producing anything / producing almost nothing

So let's produce anything, taking all the time we need.

 

xx

alys

 

8 April 2020

Dear Máx,

 

We were supposed to be talking now but you are feeling unwell so we have deferred to next week. I quite like the feeling of stalling, of time extending itself. It returns you to the materiality of the world. Coming back toward the horizon of my little bubble world, my attention is at the window ledge, the light moving through things and upon things.

 

I was reading/listening to you on the podcast El Arte No Calla, talking about making art for the social movement in Chile - and the importance of anonymity - of

 

"actions without authorship and without personal interest other than working collectively. In this sense, this way of working awakens you. We cannot hide that we were following a very individualistic and neoliberal logic in our work - and this new situation shapes you as an artist and makes you work and think from another place, another perspective".

 

To work and think from another place.

 

That's where we are, again, untethered. But quarantined.

 

I am wondering about this project of ours, if it is more about learning from each other, just practising language, having conversations in solidarity, following each others obsessions a bit, acts of care... maybe the resultant work is a series of documentations of conversation - drawings, maps, fragments of talking. I also agree that the pañuelo a really fascinating symbol right now. The trade wars for face masks between the US and the rest of the world are really wild.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/05/market-for-chinese-made-masks-is-a-madhouse-says-broker

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/global-battle-coronavirus-equipment-masks-tests

 

I liked Beradi's writing about hope and biocontrol. I like how he contradicts himself. The future is up for grabs.

 

"What the political will has failed to do could be done by the mutagenic power of the virus. But this escape must be prepared by imagining the possible, now that the unpredictable has torn the canvas of the inevitable."

 

I'm thinking about the small evidences, the place where the extremity and the banality of this situation (for the majority of us in quarantine) coexist.

 

You sent me that link about the situation in Equador, where people are unable to dispose of their dead. I think about the problem of a body's weight, when a body becomes heavier, without buoyancy, without breath, without any elevation where the torsion has dissolved from the structure and the weight falls further and further into itself, and into the community unable to deal with it. The weight of unmanageable bodies. The pressure becomes exponentially disturbing. Entire cities fall into a void.

 

I have been thinking about how neither of us are clear how to proceed. I was thinking that if we were not confused, if we felt clarity about how to proceed at this time, then we would a) probably not be responding to the situation we are in and b) probably not really be collaborating - we'd just be repeating sometime from another time. I'm heartened by our sense of being on unstable ground. Arundhati Roy writes that :

 

"Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could... in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

 

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next."

 

I also feel that the social movement in Chile was a portal from one world to the next - with work still to complete. I think of precipices, edge states. The fear of returning to the status quo. The fear of losing the very ground of our world.

 

Since the lockdown here, the girls have been very committed to their imaginary horses, they ride them around the house, practice jumps in the lounge. Elena's horse is Prince (kind and reliable), Rosie has Speedy (fast, confident, scared of the dark) and Whisper (very nervous, very sensitive, but very smart and good at jumping). I love how responsible they are with all the imaginary bits and pieces - saddles and bridles and reins. The level of detail. The texture of a world within a world. They cross together through portals, all the time, with methods that Donna Haraway or Arundhati Roy would love - the capacity to imagine new worlds, to appreciate our multi-species world.

 

Well, this letter is sitting here unfinished, on April 7 at 10:38 am. I guess I'll send it to you now before we meet.

 

A big hug.

 

alys

Dear Alys                                                                           15 April 2020

 

I return to the letter that was detained, it is possible that there are things that we have already discussed and that may be expressed as redundancy in this letter, but I feel determined to finish it.

 

My head keeps thinking about our work, today while organizing my workshop an idea occurred to me that I would like us to evaluate. I thought a lot about the trajectory, in the real time that people move and with them the virus inside them, I thought about the equation of people infected per second, but above all this, I thought that what we have in front of us is a problem physical, as is evident.

 

It is for this reason that it occurs to me that the exercise that we propose, must be able to be touched (with the safeguards that the context deserves), I thought then that we should intervene an image, perhaps a world map that can fold -like the aeropostal works of Eugenio Dittborn- to put in an envelope and send it by physical mail. In this case it is not a single author, as it is with Dittborn, this could be an exercise where some artists confined in other places on the planet receive this envelope, which they will surely have to disinfect and then add a small intervention, turning the exercise in a collective work that counts the time, the difficulty of crossing borders at this time.

 

In some way, I also think of this work with a bit of rebellion, we cannot let the coronavirus be the “Everything”, this by the way, does not mean that we are not taking care of ourselves, what I think is that we have to resist, because this is alienating us. For example, if television was bad before, today it has become disgusting, in a kind of COVID 19 reality show.

 

I think of the panopticon of Michael Foucault, in Byung-Chul Han and then again I return to Foucault, as the DNA ellipse, as a symbolic figure (for me) of history, history repeats itself but never in the same place.

 

We are told that we move from a disciplinary society to one of self-control, but before us we are seeing how the societies of the “civilized” world fail to contain this virus, making societies more precarious. Today we put on Han's shoe and we put on the old shoe again, left behind by Foucault, producing a new rereading of the I must be able, if it is possible, because, I wonder, how we surrendered now, suddenly we become the delinquent who breaks the quarantine, the madman who cannot bear to live locked up with 8 or 11 people in a 35 m2 apartment or the patient who carries the virus and who we all want to isolate… Apropósito, a very close person, who is a psychoanalyst and who is helping doctors and nurses to lower their stress levels and fears, he told me that one of the most recurring comments among them, was that they felt with a brand, as a sign of death, that people when recognizing them in their neighborhoods, buildings, etc., escaped from them with great fear, some even reported that they live this in their own houses.

 

After the dismantling of health systems, in the vast majority of neo-liberal countries, the United States, today is a sadly exemplary case, we see how this virus takes over everything, there is no room for people who have other diseases, also terminally certain Although, to be fair, it must be said that they are the consequences of a pandemic, but we also know that today is the moment where the cases of covid-19 are being counted in a kind of race to demonstrate the management of the disease. Without going any further, in Chile dead people are counted within the “recovered cases”, although it may seem crazy, from the close vision of the health minister, Jaime Mañalich, the practical conclusion is that these people are no longer a source of contagion.

 

We must resist dear Alys, because this virus came to give this government a break. I think that the political dimension of the coronavirus is very powerful, in Chile it is very evident because the government today can again say that nobody goes out and we all stay home and reproduce the speech.

 

Now our president has the power to do what he wants, that is, Piñera regains power, so much so, that he decides to go one Friday, the day that the protesters took Plaza Dignidad to tell him to resign, not only that our president He decides to go even when the call is made to be at home, in quarantine and take a photo of himself at the monument, which, incidentally, is full of writings and insults against him. But for me, more than a stupidity of our president, which is clearly, it is also a sign of power. In this act Piñera unconsciously, he tells us, today I can go to the place where you met, I go and take a photo of myself, while I have all of you scared at home.

 

 

Well, but going back to our work, I think that this time in suspension allows boredom, as a virtue, boredom is the bird of sleep that hatches the egg of experience, says W. Benjamin. It is an undeniable advantage to have the time to find new spaces for creation. It is a mistake to assume that the more active, the more productive, the better you are. I think this pause that makes us give the virus, gives us freedom of contemplation, before the virus it seemed that there were no spaces for interruption to stop, there was only time for time turning everything into a prolonged present. Hence so much depression ...

 

Well I return to our idea, I think it should have, as I said at the beginning, some instructions such as: you must disinfect the envelope when it reaches your destination; You must take a photo of the envelope when it is at your house and send us an email advising us that the map is in your possession; carry out intervention on the map considering that it will continue traveling; Once you have finished taking a photo or video and sending them to our emails that to start with there will surely be more ideas on the way.

 

 

Hugs dear Alys

Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira

 
 

15 April 2020

 

Dear Máx,

 

This week various distancing recommendations shifted in NZ, influenced by this piece of research about the travel of a simple sneeze:

 

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763852

 

 

https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/06-04-2020/siouxsie-wiles-toby-morris-should-we-all-be-wearing-face-masks-to-prevent-covid-19-spread/

 

With all the complexity of modern medicine, how did the distance of a sneeze lie unrecognised for so long? I can remember sneezes that felt like rocket-like hyper-extensions between internal and external germ - universes, far beyond the expected sneeze.

 

I think about the messages you sent me when the social movement began in Chile - I remember you writing, "This thing is climbing" You described the atmosphere as 'hard', and you warned me to be careful and to watch our movements. I think about the metro protests in Santiago triggering a rocket-like hyperextension from compromise and acceptance of state control to enunciated refusal and civic disobedience, that in a very short time overturned the working of a city, a country, a continent. I think about how Arundhati Roy describes the virus as bringing the world to its knees.

 

10 April

 

It's Friday, Good Friday in NZ. I sent you a physical, analogue letter today in my neighbourhood post box. I think of this letter as performing a kind of measurement - in real time it will tell of the timing of disturbance to everyday life, and everyday exchange. How long will this suspension of real-world/analogue connectivity last?

 

Monday 13 April

 

It's week three of quarantine here. When our quarantine began Jeffrey and I really thought it would be longer than four weeks, for an indefinite time. But it looks like we could be released from full-on quarantine in the next weeks, potentially. I keep wondering how we would adjust to the sudden release of lockdown. In New Zealand most people instantly stopped seeing friends and family, stopped hanging out, stopped closeness. How easily is it going to be to return to the world? How will all the people who are reporting their neighbours to the police for using their cars or walking beyond the neighbourhood reverse their enthusiasm for spying?  It's like we all drove off a cliff and soon we'll be trying to drive back up. Or we've all joined an epic social experiment that could suddenly evaporate. Things that were always normal through the history of civilisation - friendship, touch, leisure, eating comunally - became virtually illegal overnight and could soon be legal. The border of legality isn't very porous, it is rigid, but the moral and ethical behaviours are porous. It's very strange to be considering this reversal. At the same time, I think it is going to be a long time until things resume and we can socialise again. I'm definitely working from home until July.  But the sense of some kind of release (however small) is latent here.

 

Tuesday 14 April

 

It's Tuesday afternoon. I just finished reading Jose Saramago's Blindness. What a book. It was so overwhelming, in a way, cross-analysing the scenes in the asylum with accounts of hospitals around the world right now. Baradi writes:

 

The effect of the virus lies in the relational paralysis it is spreading.

the crisis comes from the body’s collapse...The very biological function has entered in passivity mode, for reasons that have nothing to do with conscious will and a political project.

https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4600-bifo-diary-of-the-psycho-deflation

Blindness describes a society that can no longer organise, a world without predictable time or form. That is the precariousness of the pandemic. Today, you and I were talking about the unfamiliar new kinds of time COVID 19 has brought into being.

 

A time of suspension.

Last week my aunt was taken to hospital. There is the time of the life she has left and the time of the lockdown moving together, and I'm so futile, one of the futile millions. The suspension of ordinary acts of touch, and the time until we can hold each other again.  You and I talked today about the importance of touch and the possibility of connecting through material things.   Also somehow touching the closed borders and working beyond them, even now. 

 

There is this song playing now in my room by Bon Iver : it's called It might be over soon

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ5X8OelEgs

 

There is the time of recovery and the slow movement of grief, which is its own time entirely.

 

There is also the time of the garden you are building with Emilio and the new trees growing taller.

 

Talk soon.

 

a.

 
 

15 April 2020

6 may 2020

 

Dear Máx,

 

This week we had no new cases of the virus in NZ  for two days in a row. Obviously, this is very good news in terms of the dream of schools returning and life starting again. During the Prime Ministers briefing, when they announced we had no new cases, I just started weeping - somehow the relief, the sense of hope that this situation would change - it was really surprising that sense of how you just create the resilience to be able to manage a situation, but when you release a bit of the constraint all this intensity wells up from the body.

 

The country is in this strange place of still being in lockdown, but lots of parts of life are returning. It was really fun posting the letters for our project out yesterday - sending out these envoys into so many different places.

 

The addresses seemed so distant and the act of buying the postage and sending them out felt so very hopeful.

 

12 May 2020

 

Dear Máx,

 

Well, today NZ is in this very interstitial place.

 

As I write this, I am alone in my house.

 

Jeffrey has the girls at Karen's house and I have no teaching or meetings today.

 

It is the first time I have felt I have had space to myself, and time to myself, for nearly two months.

 

It feels like I can tangibly feel the space, I can taste the quiet, my skin is soaking up a clarity of atmosphere which I'm utterly unaccustomed to. Just this luxurious sense of calm, of peace. It is so so new.    

 

It's been so interesting the difference for people experiencing quarantine with or without children, - those of us that have been missing company and those of us that have been missing quiet.

 

For me every moment of the day the children have been present, and every moment has been drenched with more things to do that I could ever do, and so little space between things. But incredible to watch the children growing literally every minute of every day. Watching life itself in its rhythms. The unbelievable leaps in comprehension that they make.

 

And today, we step into what feels like a new world. In two days time, we come pretty much completely out of lockdown. The borders will magically evaporate, the locks will release, the children will play with their friends, we can see pretty much anyone we want, the shops will all open, we can even travel and have holidays in nz. And breathe in a way that is quite quite new to us. A simultaneous sense of recovery.

 

I guess, for Chile - you also need to feel that when a new constitution is signed, that sense of healing, of a weight of repression lifted.

 

Here, our international borders are still closed,

 

but we are allowed to become fully human again

 

Or do you think in our lockdown existence, we are even more human, in realising the importance of connection and being deprived of it?

 

I'm encouraging my students, who have a series of art projects due between the months of March - May, through this course I run, to think of how the final projects can track something of creativity once we can leave our houses. When I raised this idea with them yesterday they almost couldn't imagine it, it seemed nearly impossible to make a dance with friends and dance it together with them. Although that will be legally allowed in just two days.

 

It feels like now we are a population of birds with our wings temporarily clipped, who are going to have to learn to fly again.

 

And I think at first we are going to stumble. I think there are going to be immense stumbles as the emotion surges through us - the fear still inscribed in our bones, the locks still ghosting the doors, the bubbles still present although suddenly meaningless. Of course the relief and joy will be immense - NZ's experience of COVID-19 has been very tightly and strongly managed by the government so everyone went into very stringent lockdown together, and as a nation we are released together - but I think with that sense of relief we'll also be overcome by just pure emotion from the shock of it all, the sadness of distance, the loss of touch - realising in release the intensity of sadness that such sudden distancing creates and the intensity of healing that needs to be done.

 

We shall see.

 

A hug from here to there,

alys

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Saturday 25 April 2020

Dear Máx,

I thought you might appreciate some native birdsong from my backyard. This bird is the tui. 

a. 

letter to máx 9 June

 

how to hold – the strings are made of salt – what is a circulatory system?  / how does the circulation continue through these interruptions? / when do you give up? / this morning nipan rode his bicycle in bangkok/ with the envelope on its way to katya in berlin, i am wondering if she will put music into it/ music drawn with her hand/ nipan made punctures with a hammer and a tool for cutting perfect circles/ in Antarctica they are making propositions about parallel universes where time travels backwards/ in parallel with us/ in parallel together/ I’m reading about processes of invention as relational matrices - ecological webs

 

how to hold

when the strings are made of salt?

what are the limits

of this circulatory system?

 

we asked nipan to send the envelope to argentina and he wrote back that it’s impossible, the post won’t send there anymore.

 

the borders are opening and closing anew each day/  the accordions of political force and viral sporing hold and release and hold and release and hold and release and   pin us

                        & pin us

                        & pin us to the

                                                affordances of time and place.

                                                                                                            Jeffrey receives a twitter from a guardian journalist who writes of the similarities of police brutality in the US and Chile, down to the men in uniform without identification, unsayable, unreachable, inarticulate, these men who disappear their affiliations/ who make themselves untraceable as they lift their batons/ the ranks are forming/ the ranks are always forming/ forming and falling away/ in Minneapolis they are disbanding their entire police force for a whole other kind of protection that offers protection/ these solutions we couldn’t quite gather the hope to believe in/ through all the inexplicable violence /are also happening

 

when we last spoke you looked so tired/ with your red eyepatch/ an injury made out of renovation

 

if there was some kind of protection to send/

 

but this is such an uneven circulatory system/ it is the size of everything

 

It’s impossible to counter a force the size of everything/

 

so i rest my attention into a series of miniscule resistances the size of envelopes/ and the tiny grains of salt and bacteria in every touch

 
 

Dear Máx,

 

It’s the 16 june 2020 & NZ has just gone 27 days without a new case of COVID. Understandably and rightly, this project has dropped off your radar.

In the world news reports the Americas – North and South are the epicenter.

I can’t imagine what it’s like.

 

Here in NZ we can touch each other again and dwell together again without fear. We have achieved  ‘elimination’. This is nearly taken forgranted now. As I’ve been meeting with friends and students we slip into touch practices without much of a thought. But there is a palpable relief in every touch, as our bodies can support each other again, read weight as we lean into each other, cells softening in this tactile meeting, in recovery. Albert Park (in Māori, Rangipuke)  – which I’m sure you know – the park behind the Auckland City Art Gallery with the amazing trees – is so vibrant that it is overwhelming, after living so quietly at home for so long – the brightness of the flowers and the density of green. There are homeless people sleeping in the hollow parts of trees,  the art spaces are open.

 

 I have made my aunt (who is too unwell to leave her little apartment) many cups of tea, and cleaned many dishes, and each time I nearly take it forgranted, but also  have this intense wash of awareness of how rare it is, right now globally, in the world, to wander with your children into an old folks home without any paranoia or fear, and to give your favourite aunt a hug. 

 

Our countries are poles apart, and it feels so unfair to me. I feel the gap in our conditions – as nations, territories, populations, individuals, families, with a sense of intense bewilderment and profound futility.

 

I’m thinking of you and your family in Barrio Yungay. I’m thinking of Nipan riding his bicycle in Thailand, of the envelopes that haven’t arrived – from me to you, to Oscar in Mexico, Chiara in Italy, Ganzug in Mongolia, Francis in the Canary Islands. These passages suspended somewhere, these connections deferred or lost or delayed. I’m thinking of the envelope that has gone from me, to Richard Orjis, also in Auckland, to Linda Knight in Melbourne, and is on its way to pavle in Sweden. How easy it can be when the system is working, how impossible it is when the system is overwhelmed, and how slight the difference. There are things you can’t imagine across distance and things you can imagine and the gap between is a fog.

 

18 June 2020

 

It’s two days later and here they made a mistake with two people who travelled from London who were allowed to leave their two weeks of isolation early for a funeral (New Zealanders are coming home from overseas in their thousands at the moment), and didn’t test for COVID when they should have, and then tested positive for the virus after travelling the country in a car. And now hundreds of people are at risk and somehow the sense of paranoia and suspension looms again. How easy it can be when the system is working, how impossible when the system is overwhelmed, and how slight the difference. How much we depend on chance operations. How slight the difference between safety and emergency, how we adapt and adapt, again and again, to these forces of bacteria and control, spill and resistance, borders swinging open and shut. People rising and falling and falling and rising and rising and falling.

 

“Death is back at the center of the landscape: the long denied mortality that makes humans alive.”  (Beradi, 2020).

 

I think about buoyancy

 

About care that hasn’t any pull to it, and doesn’t need anything reciprocated

 

So many of us, everywhere,  are trying to conjure a way to protect those we care about, with words, with thoughts, with magical acts, with forces of imagining and projection

 

Is it possible to continue to translate levity and solidarity

When the time for meeting has passed?

 

I’m thinking about tethering and untethering,

Safety and emergency,

 

And unknowing.

 

 

 

29 June 2020

 

It’s a beautiful summery winters Monday in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland. Everyone has gone to school and work. I turned on my computer to begin marking exams from my first year students. They finished their course over zoom. At the time of lockdown, my intuition was to untether them from the formal curriculum and instead provide them an architecture of support to find artistic processes in any way they wished.  This could be in filming the steam that rises from a cup of tea as a kind of molecular choreography, or watching their hand being immersed in a tub of water as an experiment in optics and the dimensions of the colour blue – or whatever they wanted.  The feedback has been that this was the right way to go. The students were very happy to have taken this course over lockdown. My relief that I didn’t fail them at this time is pretty overwhelming. Because very often, at the time, I felt like I was failing.  It was hard to carry responsibility for 60 students in a course that is supposed to be about dance making, over zoom. But, kind of amazing, looking back.

 

Anyway. So I go to begin my work and this email comes up from Julie in China, sending images for our map project. I’ve been corresponding with her for awhile – it’s tricky with the surveillance in China – they don’t have WeTransfer, we couldn’t find a way to get a high quality version of the map. And I’ve been feeling this sense of failure not to have participation from China in our project – it seems very important in terms of the geopolitical dimension of the work to keep attempting to make this connection.

 

Anyway, so I was very happy to have her send through this work, to include a Chinese artist in our Exquisite Corpse.

 

It’s been the same with Africa. For weeks I’ve been trying to find an artist  on the African continent who is willing to join the envelope project. And today I will send this envelope to Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire in Uganda. He is very happy to join our project. He is an artist focussed on ecology and collaboration , a friend of a friend.

 

There is something very exquisite about these small acts of tenderness, generosity and connection. I find it so hopeful to have strangers across the world agreeing to join our project, sending us work,  sending their videos of the envelopes entering the post. 

 

“ What do we need now? Now, in the immediate now, we need a vaccine against the malady, we need protective masks, and we need intensive care equipment. And in the long run we need food, we need affection and pleasure. And a new culture of tenderness, solidarity, and frugality.” (Beradi, 2020).

 

I would add to Beradi, we need to keep our contact alive, in whatever way we can (is the word solidarity enough? I’m not sure).

 

With love,

As always,

 

alys

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