Text for the solo show ‘Impossible Body’
Galerie Allen, Paris, September 14 - October 21, 2017
Dear ______ ,
How are you feeling? What are you thinking about? Listening to? Writing? Reading? Who has come to visit? I know it’s absolute torture for you to be stuck in the house. Can you role play? Pretend that you are a fragile but glamorous agoraphobic? Wear lipstick with your best nightgowns and listen to Bach at the highest volume? Write your memoirs, write poetry! Spencerian sonnets and sestinas! Deep down I know none of that will really work. You have the worst FOMO of anyone I know.
I don’t write letters, I only write emails. But for you, anything. Please don’t judge my handwriting. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to face all of these decisions like whether my “y’s” and “g’s” should be straight or curved, so I’ve included both for good measure. That’s me… always splitting the difference. Half the people I know call me Julie and the other half call me Julia. Not knowing my own name causes acute existential doubt, but I just can’t seem to grab the bull by the horns and decide on one or the other. I’ve internalized the ambiguity.
Instead of writing I wish I could beam myself to you. Or better yet, that you could be here with me. I know you love Paris — your home away from home. It feels strange to be here without you. But Paris is different now. All of your friends are gone. Not on holiday, but gone for good. No longer in the world. We felt it coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
On my 30th birthday you told me that your 30’s were your favorite decade and I felt so buoyant, so hopeful to have the best years of my life ahead of me. Now I’m halfway through it and I think maybe I’m doing something wrong. But I am droopy, depressive, cloudy, crippled with self doubt. Why couldn’t I have inherited your relentless optimism? When you were in Paris as a young woman I remember you telling me how your friends would call you “la veuve joyeuse.” I want to rewind the movie of your life back to that time. I guess I started shooting too late. But I can picture you with short dresses and long red hair. (I also wished I had inherited your legs). And of course the requisite red nail polish. Or maybe you thought nail polish was vulgar at that point. I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen you without red nails. I’m convinced they grow in red at this point. But I think that only became an obsession after you saw Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which came out in 1988 when I was six years old.
I’ve clung on to everything you’ve told me about your time in Paris in the 50’s and 60’s. Didn’t you say that you and Jess were in the Jardin Luxembourg when Truffaut was shooting 400 Blows? I’ve never looked for you two in the film because I would be too disappointed to find out that you didn’t make it on screen. I know you’re there, and that’s all that matters.
La Nouvelle Vague, le Nouveau Roman. I remember you saying how much you loved Nathalie Sarraute. Maybe it’s because she was a Russian Jew like us. Was she the one who wrote about a doorknob for five pages? From what I’ve read of her work, I love it too. In the same way I love Clarice Lispector or Jane Bowles. They can express all of the contradictions, anxiety and humor of inner life with scientific exactitude. Do you think Nathalie Sarraute read Jane Bowles, for instance?
This is from Sarraute’s The Planetarium:
“Five rooms and she’s entirely alone. But that’s just it, that’s where her madness lies. I was about to tell you… That’s the funny part. She never has any company. But she must have two parlors, a big dining room, a guest room… That’s why she’s always getting things ready, so as to invite people. Everything must be perfect, spotless: it probably seems to her that their eye is there, always, ready to seize upon the slightest mistake, every imperfection, every error in taste… People’s opinions frighten her so… It’s never perfect enough. Never entirely ready… she doesn’t want it to be. In reality, she doesn’t care to see anybody: what she needs, in fact, is this getting ready. For her, that suffices.”
I have those same anxieties, yet I’m still a mess. You told Davide that you went to someone’s place (he remembered it as Susan Sontag, but I don’t think it was her) and it was cluttered with piles of crap everywhere. Whoever it was told you that cleaning was tedious and anti-intellectual. I can see you really embraced that sentiment. I should just give in and embrace it too. It would save me a lot of energy.
One’s living environment, home, furniture, books, objects, are all so revealing. “What sofa really represents me as a person?” is a question I have asked myself more than once. Hint: oftentimes it is not the most functional. I have at least two (no, definitely three) pieces of unusable furniture in my modestly sized apartment. Why, you may ask? I suppose I find something beautiful and tragic about furniture that can’t be used. I picture the impossible body it would accommodate, I picture the thing as a body, anthropomorphized like Pee-Wee Herman’s chair, maybe a little sadder, always a little sleepy.
Speaking of sleepy, I’m sleepy. It’s six hours ahead here so I tend to stay up later than I should to feel closer to New York. I’m picturing you right now in your plush armchair, long, thin, perfectly pedicured feet resting on the ottoman. Your legs mirroring the painting next to you on the wall of your legs from fifty years ago. One hand is holding a kindle and the other is fidgeting an oversized ring. This is you. Inextricably connected to your environment, at least in my memory.
Bonne nuit, I miss you,