Of making many books there is no end

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Filed under: Ray Johnson didn't have a blog

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Filed under: Ray Johnson didn't have a blog,

Ray Johnson did not have a blog

The first attempt I ever made to “get this out there” was a sort of packet-thing I gave to Howard Singerman, circa November 2009. I tried to make Howard my BFF because we both lived in Charlottesville and reading his book was a really big deal for me at UCLA. I named the packet-thing “An Unfinished Case History of Being-For-Others” and it included photographs, emails, pieces of writing, etc that tried to express every single freaking thing I was thinking about and dealing with. A lot of these things specifically related to his book about art school: hinging your value on how you are viewed by others/the Art System, needing to comply with the discourse of the Art System in order to have a voice in it. As he wrote, “Nowadays, especially at our best schools, we teach ‘artists’– both a litany of names and a fashioning of individuality. Instead of working on a practice, it is the artist him- or herself who is worked on, pushed to internalize the art world, to take it seriously and to produce an identity in its image.”

A couple of things he said in that meeting are suddenly resurfacing these last few days:

  1. 1. At one point we were talking generally about ‘the art school problem’ (sorry about how that sounds) and he asked me if I’ve looked at that new Art School Book that’s out. I said something to the effect of “I’ve glanced at it, but like over 80% of the people in it are [white] dudes. And the things I’m talking about about art school, about ‘being-for-others,’ about needing to be perceived by others to have meaning, etc., …actually relate overwhelmingly to the experience of being a girl. Also it bothers me that the vast majority of art students are women yet that book is mostly dudes.” At this point he said something like, “…Well maybe you could read some Feminist Theory, do you read much Feminist Theory?” and I said something like “Ewwww feminist theory grosssss why would i EVER do that!!” To which he responded quite simply, yet in a way that dropped like an anvil: “Sooner or later you’re going to have to own your feminism.” At this point I recanted slightly, saying something like, “Well yeah, some of the shit I witnessed at UCLA was really fucked-up” (I remember actually using those words), and he replied, “Are you kidding!!? When I was there, UCLA was the most sexist place on the planet!”
  2. If I interpret correctly, he was being really nice about the packet-thing. He was telling me that I should “get it out there,” send it out to more people, send it to people I don’t even know personally, etc etc. And I was like “… I AM RAY JOHNSON. I AM A GHOST-LURKER WHO LINGERS ON THE PERIPHERY OF THE ART WORLD SENDING THE ACTUAL MEMBERS OF THE ART WORLD THINGS IN THE MAIL?” So for a moment we tried to come up with un-Ray-Johnson-like ways that I could go about “getting it out there,” at which point he said in passing, “Well Ray Johnson didn’t have a blog…”

Zoom to now, a year and a half later. Guess how I’ve been spending most of my free time over the last year or so? If you guessed “Creating lots of art without over-thinking it until it debilitates you from making anything at all,” you would be wrong. I have been reading Blogs!! Blogs about feminism. And anti-racism. And thinking about oppression (both others’ and my own) and privilege (both others’ and my own), and how these factors deeply influence the ways social Systems and institutions regulate who gets to have a voice and who does not.

For a long time I was embarrassed about wiling hours away on the internet. MAKE ART, you have spent hours staring at a screen, MAKE ART, you are wasting your life away, MAKE ART, you are unproductive and getting older. But this way of thinking serves to massively undermine the amount of learning I was doing, without even fully realizing it.

The weekend after I got my paintings back / the weekend before last, these things happened:

a) It was pouring rain and exaggeratedly cold in Monterey

b) someone’s dog pooped all over the walkway to my tiny apartment, a very narrow walkway that one must traverse to get to my front door. Dog shit was tracked onto my floor four times by four different people (including myself). I couldn’t clean it up right away because it was pouring and pouring rain.

c) I paid a visit to “Sudz Cyber Laundry,” came home (narrowly avoiding dog shit) and lay some of my clothes out on the flat surface of my heater. A few hours later, I turned on the heat (cold in Monterey), completely forgetting about the clothes. Favorite sweater = burnt forever

d) I throw off the thermostat, I grab the clothes off the heater. I am swinging the front door back and forth to get the smoke alarm to shut off. After it stops, I try to turn the heat back on. NOTHING HAPPENS. NO MORE HEAT – HEATER BROKEN

e) Dad date on Saturday at 2. He shows up at 2:30, wants to come inside. “Do you have to? There’s dog shit everywhere.” He assures me that he will tread gingerly. As he enters and I see the dog poop footprints he’s leaving, he approaches the carpet, I’m like “NOOOOOO” and he pivots and sees what’s happening– but he’s starving! He’s holding a to-go container with a half-eaten burger sort of thing. Can we get out of my apartment though? My heater is broken and there’s dog shit everywhere. We leave and go to a coffeeshop. He insists that we enter it despite his immediate need for his burger thing. He sweetly asks, “what kind of tea do you like……” while I notice the gentleman behind the counter giving the stink-eye to his burger thing. “Do you plan to eat that in here?” the gentleman asks. “We have a No Outside Food or Drink policy.” We leave dejectedly and sit in the car while it pours cold rain as he eats the equally cold burger thing. After he finishes, we get inside, order the tea, sit down, and

f) my dad realizes he locked his keys in his car.

g) He is crawling underneath his car because he thinks he has one of those magnetic key things. Can’t find it. Comes up for air like a snorkeler, covered in rain and dirt. “Can I go to your place to warm up? I won’t make you deal with this”

h) My apartment has no heat!  And… dog poop! and it’s the size of a glorified bathroom, there’s no way I could ignore you!

So I walked home.

And guess what I did, to “restore” and to be alone and to treat myself right on a shitty day? I READ OLD, QUALITY POSTS ON MY FAVE FEMINIST BLOG. And it made me feel better.

This weekend, combined with the previous weekend in which I got my artwork back, combined with the recent echoes of Howard’s comments, made me realize a few things.

I love the internet, and there is nothing wrong with that. The education that it’s provided me with has been pretty fucking incredible, and has drastically shifted the lens through which I view the world. Sometimes I wonder if I overdo the lens, if thinking everything is racist makes me miserable. But at the same time, I am less afraid. I am less afraid to say “fuck you” at problems that affect me, and far less afraid to speak up about the problems that don’t affect me directly. It has provided me with better tools to realize how and when and why those problems occur, how to pick them out; it has provided me with a linguistic framework to articulate precisely why they are a problem and why they should stop; it has, most importantly, given me the ability to recognize ways in which I am part of the problem, and to start there.

The ways that I’ve tried to “get this out there” didn’t work for a reason. Up to this point, over more than a year, I have gone about this in pretty much every wrong way possible.

The more I think about it though, going about it in every wrong way possible was probably the best thing I could have done. Because somehow, after all the unfinished attempts, after all the “Okay this is the real deal this time, I’m finally going to ‘get it out there,’ I’m going to tell the whole story” overtures that get suspended in stasis like a flight delay, I am here on a blog. I am here on a blog because I’ve finally reached the point where I realize that perhaps the most obvious, easy, even stupid way to “get this out there” is actually the way that makes the most sense. It doesn’t require the white walls, the obligatory plastic cups, the song-and-dance routine. It doesn’t have to have a specific audience (i.e. …Howard) in mind. In particular, it doesn’t have to hold an audience of legitimizers in mind, legitimizers who have more authority than me, who are more “inside” than me, who are often straight white dudes (no offense Howard). It has no commercial value, I don’t have to send it in the mail, and most importantly, anyone can read it regardless of their participation in the System. I can put it out there for the System to see, but (to return to my first post) if it doesn’t listen, at least I said something. Getting it out there is all that I can do.

Filed under: a world where not everyone looks just like you, Ray Johnson didn't have a blog, you are part of the problem,