Mar 14, 2015

Dolmen Talk (unfinished interview)

A year ago (Friday) March 14, our  (Somewhat) Portable Dolmen was installed at Le Petit Versaille Garden. The purposefully fragile piece (built in 2006-7 and exhibited regularly in the coming years) was designed for temporary installation on outdoor sites lasting for just a few hours each time before it would slip away as quickly as it came. For this particular presentation however the piece remained on the iconic Lower East Side garden site for over a month with the idea that it would navigate the elements from late winter into early spring. A spirited conversation was struck between visiting curator  Aimar Arriola,  Kathleen and myself about the piece. That conversation was suddenly interrupted when Kathleen was seriously hospitalized. Her cancer for which she was being treated since the previous summer had spread to her brain and her spine. This turn marked the beginning of both the intensifying of her treatment and the rapid progression of the disease in the coming months until her death on September 2, 2014.

Aimar has surprised us with his poignant article Fighting for Dignity (A Letter to Kathleen White) on Visual AIDS March Web Gallery. I am acknowledging the anniversary of (Somewhat) Portable Dolmen at Le Petite Versailes (March 14 - April 19, 2014) with this publication alLuPiNiT entry of our conversation and picking it up tonight Friday, March 13, 2015 where we left it with Aimar’s last question almost one year ago …

This article is dedicated to my dear beloved wife  Kathleen White who was taken from us here on this earth violently and with great extended suffering but she however also honored our time together so sweetly with a magnitude of loyalty, love and dignity that has surpassed any capacity for comprehension that I might even begin to remotely conjure.

Thank you Tavish Miller for your companionship and stalwart friendship to Kathleen and myself. Your navigating the many physical challenges of our nomadic practice has been fearless, crucial and not least a great comfort to us during these years of great adversity.

Rafael Sánchez
NYC 3/13/2015
Jack Waters with Kathleen White, Le Petit Versailles 3/15/2014

Aimar, March 15th 2014

I remembered what you said about the Dolmen being like a body without a fixed place, without a space of its own, doomed to exist on different sites. As a nomad, as ourselves. As someone who have decided to live according to their own convictions. I was also surprised by her white, flat front surface. I thought it looked like a projection screen. There is one particular image (of the Dolmen in Harlem) in which the shadows of the surrounding trees are projected onto its front that really caught my attention. It made me think of the Dolmen a subject always willing to accommodate its exterior, to welcome the other.

Rafael & Kathleen, March 19th 2014

Megalithic dolmen are definite permanent markers of specific sites. Our (Somewhat) Portable Dolmen serves another function for modern times. The piece is nomadic -without a home other than where it is at the moment. So your observation is pointed towards the heart of the piece. It is very much about the very nature of identity (form, forming) but also about assumptions and relationships and a dance, if you will - of reflecting back and intensifying where it stands. A "true" dolmen intensifies itself over time as stories are built around it and people go to it and consider its specifics and to that place with an encouragement of permanent associations. Ancient dolmen are associated with graves, death the gesture of unhinging the stone in a sense for us flips the symbol around towards life. But so also towards a kind of uncertainty and vulnerability, not quite doomed but essentially unfixed, temporary -though certainly ceremonial, as in the way life actually behaves and art tries to resist. In that way we would say that this is something that the symbol encourages, as it travels from site to site: a certain feeling of unity in the increasingly common experience of exile. So yes, the particulars of difference then become embraced and celebrated through the gentle stillness of the work. You are quite right to suggest that the shadows perform as a kind of cinema on its surface. They are telling a story.

Dolmen with Peter Cramer 3/14/14

(dolmen verso)

Aimar, March 19th 2014

I went to the Le Petit Versailles to see the Dolmen the day after you moved it there. It was, of course, a quite different experience from seeing the work reproduced in pictures. On one hand, this time what really caught my attention was its reverse, the wooden structure at the back, which resembles the back of a theatrical stage. I found it an intricate but fragile structure, which connects with the ideas of uncertainty and vulnerability you mention. On the other hand, due to the scale of the site, my relationship with the piece was in strict terms of proximity, as a body close to another. I was moved by my corporeal experience with the object in a way I could not verbalize until that night, when I read an excerpt from the text by Rafael on Hunter Reynolds, in the issue of alLuPiNiT dedicated to him (I am meeting Hunter this Friday and thought the reading would be a great way to enter his world). You describe your feelings at seeing a picture of Hunter dressed as Patina duPrey for the first in terms of empathy. And that's exactly how I would refer to my first encounter with the Dolmen, as an empathic experience. Which led me to think of the Dolmen as a "structure of feelings", borrowing the celebrated expression of Raymond Williams – an affective device, a counter-monument of feelings.

Rafael & Kathleen, March 22, 1014

Today we spent the afternoon with our friend Tavish and Steve Cannon "the blind guy" at Tribes, around the corner on 3rd Street from the garden, repairing the lintel (the top of the dolmen). It seems that the rains seeped in just the right way and the winds hit it just the right way to de-collage the lintel facade from the frame on the reverse. Initially we thought it very embarrassing. It was like the Dolmen was naked suddenly exposed. But it is also very fantastic to ponder the structure behaving this way. After all, part of our intention has been to do a lot with very little; so the piece is often quite vulnerable.

We have been exploring this other field of inquiry around flags. The project is called  V is for Vexilology. The research is part etymological. In botany a Vexil is that part of certain flowers which is the petal on top, like a banner.The high winds on the first day of Spring drawing attention to the top of the dolmen made us think of the lintel as a vexil...vexill, vexilla, vexillo, etc. ... intensifying the symbols and the architecture simultaneously. Sorry, we got a little sidetracked from our original thread, but the dolmen sometimes tells us how to spend our day...When it is out, the dolmen can be a tough boss.

This is a real part of the intricate but fragile nature of the work that you mention... and our work overall. The work is constantly being remade, navigated and reconsidered. It is performance. So being out in the elements certainly intensifies its vulnerabilities (and ours in turn). Perhaps this has something to do with an empathetic motivation. When Patina offers herself so forwardly and clearly it is monumental because everyone knows that in the end it's all flesh and blood, i.e.: everyone's flesh / everyone's blood -the exchange is incredibly vulnerable and even more powerful for it. Its the same way with art that is purely abstract -it taps at a core of shared experience in a way that subjectivity can never approach. Subjective motivation has to cannibalize itself before it can communicate in anything close to art.

Aimar, March 26th 2014

I have really enjoyed knowing more about your Vexillology project. And I was kind of shock to learn that the root "vex" interchangeably refers to arguing or debating and to bothering someone, as certifying that the distinction between dialogue and violence is thin. I also enjoyed reading on the etymological connections with botany, and thought that it is no coincidence at all that the Dolmen has ended up being installed in a garden, right in Spring, ready to bloom. But in relation to the cultural artifact "flag", I wondered where your interest lies, since every flag is a sign of identity, and I identify your work as a non-identitarian practice –understanding identity as a set of given privileges one needs to cope with. 

Rafael, March 13th 2015

Kathleen entered the hospital the day we received your last question question on March 26, 2014. The cancer progressed to her spine and this marked a turn in her health that interrupted our conversation with such naked power that we were ultimately not able to respond. Here is my response, still fragile, but perhaps at least an attempt to examine your question and in light of what happened as everything really seemed to turn for us at that very moment. 

Exposing the dolmen to the elements in an extended way at that time clearly identified a release to the unknown on the one hand. But while the symbolic aspect of the piece as a marker was particularly resonating for us in our union with each other. It is not well known even amongst our friends that Kathleen and I had proposed a project to The Performing Garage earlier that year based on “V” that consisted of the grinding of paint from pigment …in the theater for their fall residency program. The paint we would make would then be used to paint flags from around the world in differing sizes on canvases. These were deep running interests of ours since long before we knew each other. As students in the late 70’s early 80’s we both had extensive training in studio painting and paint science and we loved mixing colors and we often practiced this together. Coincidentally too both of us in our early professional years also generated works that explored flags and universal cosmologies. And our motivations were very similar. Our proposal to The Garage represented a way to explore these young, earlier tendencies together; to “go back” in “going forward” … to share and get to a feeling and idea about color and universal symbols and delve into concerns of memory and loss …the opposite of what individual flags might mean as territorial signifiers; but then again of course there is that and it would be in question throughout. In any case it was the most difficult proposal we had ever worked on because of the uncertainty of Kathleen’s health. Within the proposal we included this qualification,

“Factor X: One of us has cancer.” 

We were waiting to hear if our proposal was accepted around that time the lintel blew off The Dolmen at The Garden. It was a Thursday (March 21). In any case I was on my way to continue repair the damaged lintel with Tavish early that following Saturday morning after Kathleen and I had discussed the night before about how the dolmen’s lintel on top represented a “vexil” …we never thought of it that way until it blew of.  So Kathleen came to me while I was having breakfast, early and rare for her, with a drawing in hand of the two dolmen posts, each with a flag. It was a very direct gesture. We spoke briefly about the color, one black (piracy) one white (surrender). We included then the lover’s knot on the flags …the official symbol used in the the flag of the International Vexillological Association.

Tavish Miller with Dolmen

It just came out as part our process working through many signifiers both public and deeply personal. February, the month before Kathleen had lost her hair. The lintel blew off just at that moment that the cancer had noticeably progressed to her spine. The architecture of the body (private, personal, intimate and vulnerable, disease) and the architecture of the dolmen (public, post, lintel, surface, structure and vulnerable, weather). The “problem” of flags for us in this sense becomes then an intersection of potential unifiers and obliterators. 

photos Rafael Sánchez © alLuPiNiT

Join us May 10 3pm
Kathleen White / Readings