Monday, May 09, 2005

A Room of Your Own? (Novel: A Living Installation)

NovelWhen I'm working on a short story, poetry, my novel, or even just preparing lecture notes, I often like to be in a mostly quiet environment, with little sound beyond the ambient. (This means many cafés these days are out, because they pump music like they're discos.) I also realize that it's tough to complete longer prose fiction texts while I'm reading lots of student writing, which is usually the case from late September through mid-June (the university's standard three working quarters). So a certain amount of quiet solitude, away from everything, especially the teaching, always is an ideal.

On the other hand, I love being able to spend time with my partner, our two new kittens, friends, family members, the world at large--I like being able to explore my home, get out and about, especially when the weather's decent and I'm in the New York area. To me there are few things as exhilarating as strolling the streets of Manhattan or Jersey City, especially at a fast clip, with nowhere set I need to be, just wandering where time, chance, and my internal compass guide me. Debord attributes profound psychogeographical effects to the Situationist's more carefully structured dérives, but mere flânerie has its own numerous benefits and rewards.

So I wondered about the performance art piece qua novel-writing bootcamp experience, "Novel: A Living Installation" at the Flux Factory, that Julie Salamon describes in her article, "Would You, Could You, In a Box (Write, That Is)?" in the Arts section of today's New York Times. (Subscription required.) "Novel" entails three published writers, Laurie Stone, Ranbir Sidhu, and Grant Baillie lodging in "pods," built by selected architect-artists, in designated space on the Flux Factory's premises, where they'll each be working on completing a novel (or more realistically, I think, a draft of one) by June 4. The enforced isolation sounds like a good prescription for getting a lot of work done, except that the viewing public can view the authors at work (or at least in situ) during selected time periods (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 pm to 5 pm; and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm to 4 pm). So if you can't bear having strangers observe you for extended periods as you work, you got a real problem. Also, all three are scheduled (required?) to read selections of what they've written at 8 pm on each of the next few Saturdays, and to participate in 2 public discussions this upcoming Sunday, May 15, and again on May 22. (There's lots of information on the Flux Factory and on the Olde Towne Review sites.) It's isolation, of a particular sort, and doesn't approach what you might encounter at MacDowell or Hedgebrook or Yaddo.

On top of the spectactular aspects of the art piece, there's another really tough element, at least in my opinion: Stone, Sidhu and Baillie are being allowed only a 90-minute daily excursus from their pods, and they're required to note on cards the reason why they're leaving. (Talk about flashbacks to hall monitors! And if they tarry, then what happens? Demerits? Expulsion? Hmm....) They will, however, share a communal dinner prepared by a guest chef every evening.

According to Salamon, "Novel" was the idea of Morgan Meis, an artist, ABD graduate student and founder of the Flux Factory. Originally he was thinking of performing a similar piece to complete his dissertion on Walter Benjamin. Instead, with with fellow Flux-resident Kerry Downey, he opened it up to a competition, and landed the three authors and the architect-artists who built their writing-houses. If nothing else, it represents a fascinating art-world recuperation of the "reality" phenomenon, which of course the artworld pioneered decades before, but now structured along the lines of frameworks established by relational aestheticists like Rirkrit Tiravanija. (I actually had suggested and written up a proposal for poet, visual artist and singer Krista Franklin to perform a similar project, called "Bed," for Studio Group A [qvp.] in Chicago a few years ago, but it went nowhere.) All three of the authors will get tremendous publicity for participating, and viewers may at least get to see three relatively unknown authors "performing" the act of writing, whether they're actually something or not--imagine a writing workshop where you're given an exercise and instead of the teacher and perhaps a classmate watching you as you scribble something down, you've got unknowns staring and pointing, placing you in a position sort of like Kafka's Hunger Artist--, but I wonder if any substantive fictional work will come out of it. Each author should have good notes towards a non-fiction work, at least, so perhaps they'll each write write something along the lines of Sylvia Molloy's En breve cárcel (Certificate of Absence). I think I'd take a few months in a Thoreau-type cabin in the woods (or maybe just in Harlem!), but then again, this could provide a jumpstart to a completely new and exciting project....

7 comments:

  1. john...stopped by to say hi. cool post...

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  2. Thanks, Ruth-E! Sending love to you and my native city, St. Louis!

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  3. i got a chance to do a bit of that aimless ambling in Manhattan and Brooklyn this weekend. It was really nice.

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  4. great post, john! i was thinking about all the times iw ould just get on a train and go downtown or just go..somewhere when i was in NYC...ambling around without a set agenda most oftentimes can be very fun...

    in fact, i know i'll be doing a decent bit of ambling/exploring the city again during downtime with my interviews (which will mainly be this weekend and during the evenings next week)

    good post....will talk to you when i come back.

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  5. great post, john! i was thinking about all the times iw ould just get on a train and go downtown or just go..somewhere when i was in NYC...ambling around without a set agenda most oftentimes can be very fun...

    in fact, i know i'll be doing a decent bit of ambling/exploring the city again during downtime with my interviews (which will mainly be this weekend and during the evenings next week)

    good post....will talk to you when i come back.

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  6. Blackgriot, I'm glad to hear you got to take in the city some while you were there. Ryan, once again best wishes on all the interviews!

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