Paris 1938-war is imminent. Henry Miller mails his manuscript ‘ Open Letter to Surrealists Everywhere’ to his old friend, Emil Schnellock, for safe keeping. Emil receives the letter while living in Fredricksburg, Virginia where he has just started teaching art history and painting at Mary Washington College. He uses a letter opener so as not to disturb the seal on the back- a business sticker for Madame Anna.
Madame Anna will see you now, is an installation which imagines Madame Anna’s influence on Miller and his artist colleagues, including me. The audio-video montage of Madame Anna is projected into an open armoire situated in a surreal hotel room with related drawings, documents and photos of love, art and war- the inner war as well as the world wars. Her musings on life are that of a medium, one who lives and makes a living in the borderlands of the seen and unseen worlds, tapping into the future to answer the age old questions of her clients- why am I here, what’s going to happen next. Her French voice is interspersed with a reading from Miller’s Open Letters to Surrealists Everywhere, page 34-35 where he predicts the future and the coming Age of Aquarius.
“By the year 2000AD we will be completely under the sway of Uranus and Saturn. …We shall be breaking ground for the new anarchy which will come in with the advent of the new zodiacal sign , Aquarius, circa 2160 AD. ….The meaning of destiny is to throw away the truss which the zodiacal belt represents and to live it out ad hoc and post rem. That is what Breton means when he says with apocalyptic precision:”We should carry ourselves as though we were really in the world!” “
“In September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.” Henry Rollins
I love this. Read it in the hammock after picking up the mail and seeing Jeff Bridges on the cover of AARP magazine. He’s not old… and I found this wonderful quote from someone I’d never heard of. It sums up September in northern New Mexico. The wreckage of sun flower skeletons and squash vines, asters and ragweed. And honey season. And bears. Elk. Indigo and coming winter with all its metaphors.
In the studio I am painting The Three Bears, all from one small ceramic black flocked bear picked up at a flea market in 1991. The archetypal bear that is watching over me. She announced herself on the heels of reading Buffie Johnson’s book The Lady and Her Beasts, a book 40 years in the making about the Goddess culture as revealed through 13 beasts ( bird and fish included but I hardly think of them as beasts). Henry Miller and Emil Schnellock introduced me to Buffie through the Open Letters/Hotel Central project I’ve been working on over the last few years. Buffie Johnson was an abstract painter who showed at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century gallery in NYC in the 1940’s. She moved from abstract to figurative work and back again. I’d never heard of her until I found an etching in Emil’s collection of papers I inherited- the face of Alfred Perles, Henry’s writer-bad boy friend Boris in Tropic of Cancer. On the back of the etching in small script- ‘Fred’ by Buffie Johnson.
I just returned from 10 days in Oaxaca ciudad. It was my first visit since 1994, when I was there fro Dias de los Muertos, traveling through Mexico with someone I barely knew who drank all the mezcal that was offered and left me in Puerto Escondido for two days without the key to the room so she could fecund herself with her dear Oaxaquena boyfriend in another hotel. We were supposed to be a travel writing team- me the writer, she the photographer. But really, she was Uranus and I was Pluto. It was all about death and rebirth; and it it still is. I was afraid to return, afraid it was a dream that would turn into a Wal-Mart. Yes, there is a Wal-Mart but the dream lives, wide awake, in the streets, the people, the food, the love. And the street art, graphics- how I long for figures again in my art making. Crazy magically real story figures.
It’s been 20 years since I’ve been to Oaxaca and I’m going to be there tonight!!!
In 1994 I was there for Days of the Dead. My first sculpture was exhibited at the Owings-Dewey Gallery Shrine show- a house of cards made from cut up credit card and roofing paper. Everything in my life was dissolving. I visited the ancient ruins at Yagul and got the message from the spirit world- let go. Let go. Death and rebirth. A big creation myth we are all part of- I jumped in. That’s what my last few years with Henry and Emil and Mdm Anna has been about. Jumping the river, going for a beautiful ride.
LoudWhisper is an exhibition of new work based on the continuing story I’m spinning from an inherited archive. If you are in Santa Fe, NM please stop by Ernesto Mayans Gallery October 4-25.
Emil Schnellock closed one of his letters to Henry Miller with the line “This is as loud as I can whisper”. I love this line. I’m a loud whisperer. One of my favorite pickup lines I received was ‘I noticed your loud solitude”. Yes, the interior life can be a 3D action film.Since 2011 I’ve immersed myself in the archive and studio miscellanea I inherited from Emil following the death of his sister, my great aunt Dorothy (Shnellock) Greene. During that time I recreated a room at the Hotel Central, Paris in my studio, where Miller, Schnellock, and other voices from the archive are gathered together with posterity to review the human condition in the present. War, running with the herd over a cliff, fear, sexual politics and debate about what is private, public and obscene is with us but I see change….My article about the project was just published in Nexus-The International Henry Miller Journal- thanks Nexus (www.nexusmiller.org)
While developing the art installation ‘Open Letters from the Hotel Central: Correspondence between Henry Miller, Emil Schnellock and Posterity’ I discovered the whisper in the archive:
The male and female doll-couple from China that Emil used as still-life props. They’ve become the yin-yang balancing principle of life that this project is really about. I’ve worked with them extensively and named them Fuxi and Nuwa after the Chinese creation myth characters responsible for keeping the world in balance.
Madame Anna, the fortune teller whose business seal is on the back of one of the envelopes Henry sent from Paris. She represents all the men and women in the margins- those who work and live in the borderlands of the physical/spiritual world. The unnamed prostitutes and anonymous service providers who are engaged in the healing arts
Buffie Johnson, whose 1938 etching of Miller’s friend and cohort, Alfred Perles, is in the collection. I was fixated on ‘Fred’s’ Pierrot-look, every bit the Fool and had not noticed the note on the back ‘Fred, by Buffie Johnson’. I’d never heard of Buffie Johnson- a renowned painter whose work was exhibited in Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century in a group show titled The Women, 1945. She was a good friend of Carl Jung’s and knew from an early age that her work was dedicated to the goddess. In 1987 Lady of the Beasts was published- telling the story of goddess culture through 13 of her beasts. Buffie Johnson and the Lady of the Beasts appeared to me just when I needed them. It was time to return to the present- I was becoming lost in the jungle of words and interior lives of others. The beasts are leading me home.
It’s the map of Paris; it’s the Cosmological Eye. It’s surveillance (sur: over beyond above; veillance/Fr.veiller/L. vigilare=to watch/WAKE
Yesterday I was in the Axle Contemporary van ( www.axleart.com) in Santa Fe, NM talking about a work in progress ‘Open Letters from the Hotel Central: a Correspondence between Henry Miler, Emil Schnellock and Posterity’. I took the canvas map painting from under the hotel room bed and mounted it on the van’s wall. Nuwa and Fuxi were there, along with the Samsonite briefcase- the ‘enormous womb’ in Henry speak, that holds the contents of the archive whose thread I’ve been following for several years now. I was tangled in facts and telling the truth but was reminded by my perfect audience and surveilling eye of Henry Miller that fiction and invention are the fabric of life. Let it rip. For 90 minutes the Axle van was the Airstream version of the Hotel Central. Thanks to all who stopped by.
The cosmological eye is watching over me. Where is Edward Snowden?
I’ve reduced my LP collection to 3 : HAIR, given to me on my birthday in 1968, along with Nashville Skyline (which didn’t make the cut, sorry Bob), Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall 1961, Satchmo at Symphony Hall 1947. If a collection says anything about a person, the pretext of this one would be that I didn’t collect them- they were given to me. Judy and Satchmo are sentimental attachments to my father who communicated not through his own voice, but the music he stacked on the Hi-Fi day and night. That’s another story.
Why HAIR? Why not Let it Bleed or Revolver– favorites that I played over and over? I hardly ever played HAIR.
Last night I went to see Faustwork Mask Theatre’s ‘The Mask Messenger‘ at the CCA, part of Theater Grottesco’s ‘Eventua’ series. Rob Faust attributed to universal appeal of masks to our human desire for transformation. HAIR holds a place where I am still turning 13, believing in a dawning Aquarius. It was a directional signal – I trusted the gardens and co-ops, the overcooked millet, the music, the poetry, the art making, all the way through the 80’s and the polo playing logos. HAIR, psychedelic astrological future forecast of peace and love, isn’t nostalgic, like Judy and Satchmo. It is an anthem that tells me, yes indeed, the world is turning and you are part of the whorl.
I found a drawing paper clipped to the back of one of Henry Miller’s letters from around 1938- a heated letter to the editor of the New Republic regarding their review of Tropic of Cancer. I like the Piscean fish scales on the left and the ship in space invention in progress way it sails across the page. 2160 AD marks the astrological calender date for the arrival of Aquarius after the dissolution of the 2000 year cycle of Pisces. Miller was hanging out at the time with astrologer Conrad Moricand. ” .. and the mind through revelation…..”
The January 11, 2013 issue of Pasatiempo/The New Mexican had an article by Michael Abatemarco- ‘ Seance with Henry Miller and Emil Schnellock’- regarding the Open Letter from the Hotel Central project. I can’t link to the article but I’ve posted it here for anyone willing to zoom in. He captured the thread of the project born from my obsession with Schnellock’s personal archive, much of it focused on Miller’s life as a writer. Like Miller walking the streets of Paris in Tropic of Cancer or Emil, trying to crack through the visible world to which he feels chained, the project is a record of my walk as an artist as I spin meaning through making, always on the trail of what’s missing- the frontier, the unknown future, the giant absence.
In a letter to Emil dated 1947, British writer Claude Houghton writes of the spiritual discouragement of the English people following the war:
“All things- from God downwards- are revealed by their absence. As clearly revealed, negatively, as they are positively revealed by their presence.”
Paper, ink, words stung into ideas, stamps, books and edited typescripts, handwritten notes, exotic dolls from Emil’s studio- the ephemeral physical world of the archive tracks the censoring mind- what to conceal, what to reveal- something lost in digital communication. Written words, whether sensuously enveloped in paper and stamps or digitally transmitted, are a metaphor for the intimate- absent that creates our life story, individually and collectively. What is silenced becomes loud, the reckless are revealed as fearful. The project installations look at censorship- how we edit ourselves and are silenced by others, and the haunting resonance of what is repressed. It also looks at the relationship of the Voice- what we project into the world- and the Receiver, how we listen and reflect on what we hear/think. In an increasingly crowded, action and message driven world where nearly everyone has a voice via digital media – the project looks at emptiness, absence and the space required for assimilation and integration of the ‘new’, the place where change is born- the void. It’s about listening and sitting in the unknown – an integral part of ”living in the world as if we are really part of it” (Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto). It’s about Fuxi and Nuwa, the mythic couple in Chinese mythology, whose yinyang malefemale absentpresent dance keeps the world in balance.