Sowing Buoyant Futures
by Lucas Baisch
DAL: That encyclopedia and I are looking at each other with—
We know we can never fully absorb // one another—
– Rachel Jendrzejewski, Encylopedia (2016)
Pages ripped from their shells, the inside hides of disparate notebooks, ballpoint scratching, blue and black, like a bruise, a flowered vase in the corner, purple, foil and tape, painter’s tape in red, in yellow, yellow chairs and red walls, lime-hued, interstitial space, pages, paper tamed, punctured, drafted sequences of words, word traffic, crossed out, a taped leaf, arrested, a plastic glove sutured to paper, a hygienic memento, then pages, couched between notes, rehearsal notes, project notes, a geometry of space, a diagonal install, parabolic divisions of paint on wall, grid on paper, radar paper, lined with degree systems, pink lines of string tethered to floating objects, like piano-insides, instrument-flesh, automatic drawing, the swaying object, archive, more archive.
Pramila Vasudevan and Rachel Jendrzejewski’s a\c|c/e|p\t|i/n|s\i|s/t evokes the plasticity of a Venn diagram. Two artists concretize their shared ritual – the daily ingestion of Tamoxifen – through a deft presentation of image beside text. Both bare their experiences within cancer diagnosis, presenting a regular drawing practice, a regular writing practice, born of their overlapping ten-year prescriptions. It’s easy to boil the installation down to the word “archive,” though maybe that’s too passive. To rifle through documents so charged with biography gives way to an intensified blistering of time. It can swallow you; draw you in as participant and abject voyeur. But here, in this gallery: a soft clattering of wooden frames. The sound of a foil sheet, something reflective, sticking back out at me. The show title suggests an acknowledgement of pressure points; an innately abstract nature inside “give and take.” There’s a stark difference between archive born out of record and one clawing to establish its own agency – the record, hot and breathing.
In Johanna Hedva’s seminal essay-manifesto “Sick Woman Theory,” the author describes the daily rationing of energy in response to a body’s encounter with illness. Commerce is entertained. An economic pursuit housed in the flesh and bone gambles “wellness” with time – choice boiled down to a brokering of tasks. Where and when does one place their energy? In ritual? In pattern? Hedva refuses the semantic violence behind “the sick” and “the sickening,” highlighting a body’s stripped autonomy thanks to a social framework (specifically capitalism’s intertwinement with a crumpled healthcare system, the looming white patriarchal eye inside a history of medical rhetoric). What then is the act of reclamation?
In Vasudevan’s Lab Animal Life For My Immortality, a figure resembling Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and death, perches on the back of a giant rat. A crown of syringes sits atop her head, IV bags fanning out behind. Discoloration becomes opulence and a hearty grip becomes fortitude. In this goddess-body, there is meeting between the illuminated and the repulsive. A rejection of “the sickening” turns to confrontation, occupation, a negotiation with space. Vasudevan unlocks the mythic, not only through her transformed deity, but through her circumambulating line. Color mends and whistles on each page. The experience of diagnosis, however isolating, shows up with a hint of prophecy. The vessel of experience unlatches, lifts. I wash in both artists’ rejection of the sick slump. Curiosity clambers forth: How should we want to live?
The artists’ respective histories working in and from performance prompts a conversation around my own narrativizing, my projecting into, my physical handling of the archive. What is my role as audience? What is my own impulse to record? I’m clocking the urge to find “dates of importance” within the standing timeline –
even still, spring; even still making plans for the fall
– Jendrzejewski, 3/21/20
There is both a sensitivity and conflict represented in “making plan” – the stretching toward a future, while simultaneously learning to eject the linear conditioning of time. Jendrzejewski and Vasudevan’s concern for an oscillating temporality, phases of the sun and moon, are longstanding. In 2016, Aniccha Arts’ Census (a performance piece conceived by Vasudevan and collaborators Piotr Szyhalski and Jasmine Kar Tang) asked participants, across experience, across geography, to build systems from their bodies. To move from sundown into sunrise. In Jendrzejewski’s text Encyclopedia (a play framed by lunar phases, in which figures gift figures textbook, characters forget, and that forgetting is shared between bodies, between bouts of soup making), Dal and Lua enact performance techniques that also rhyme within a\c|c/e|p\t|i/n|s\i|s/t: simultaneous speech, a durational “real time” collapsing with the expedited. The playwright has maintained an interest in the cartographic, mirroring the continental forms that emerge in Vasudevan’s drawing. In tracing the creative lineage of these two artists, a private-public pressure dissolves.
It’s an incredibly intimate act to let strangers handle the physical traces of personal ritual. Even more intimate, my rummaging becomes an excavation of process. I close my eyes and rub at the soft punctures of one of Vasudevan’s drawings. A valley of orange circles in pen spreads out like a swath of tender marigold. In Doctor’s Office, strangers’ heads are held up by plant stems, further evoking gardenscape. Other drawings showcase bleeding bodies becoming crab-like, snail-shelled, others with hoof hands, strokes and scrawls that resemble seismic graphs, linking back to abdomens and breasts, scar tissue stitched over.
I see utility inside the act of repetition. Crosshatch, crosshatch, jetting lines, repeated cellular shapes. Lacan defines trauma as unresolved rupture, the re-construction of self, a moment of divine shock. After several diagnoses and surgeries, the artists’ shock isn’t so immediate. It reconfigures at a slower pace. Jendrzejewski’s ten-word strings of words ebb and wane inside meaning making. Complete sentences turn into a game of rhyming language, enacting a poetics of desire, the sounds that sound together. In Tilting, Vasudevan makes a note in the corner: “late.” Late for what? For whom? Change amasses. A writer switches paper, at the suggestion of a dancer. A newfound reading mechanic is proffered inside the shape of a spiral. Jotted in the margins, the phone number for United Women’s Health. A grocery list: charger, coffee, Band-Aids, yogurt, OJ. Besides that, more ballpoint crosses-slashes-scrawls its way through 2021. The mundane is almost euphoric inits frame and any reference to recovery become a bit more buoyant.
In the back room, behind the installation, the artists have organized a workspace. It’s explained to me that this was initially a place for further collaborative experimentation, but it quickly became a site for play. After my second visit to the gallery, I see a group of children have just written on the wall. Rachel began by writing a few letters. A child would complete them. Together, a ten-word phrase. I think on Michel de Certeau’s consideration, by way of Saidiya Hartman, that inside pain we are mobilized to recruit the past for the sake of the living. I linger at Pramila’s dreamscape. I thumb through Rachel’s redactions. History becomes a symptom of self-preservation. Of intergenerational care. Hope is sometimes an incision into what’s most difficult, then establishing pattern in order to find cumulative change. The grammar of living surpasses “healing” and “healed.” Time brandishes itself a holy garden.
Lucas Baisch is a playwright and artist from San Francisco. He is currently a Jerome Fellow through the Playwrights’ Center (Minneapolis) and a Princess Grace Fellow at New Dramatists (New York City). His plays have been read and developed at The Kennedy Center, The Goodman Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, First Floor Theater, The Bushwick Starr, The Neo-Futurists, etc. He is a recipient of a Steinberg Playwright Award, The Kennedy Center’s Latinx Playwriting Award, the Chesley/Bumbalo Award, and the Princess Grace Award in Playwriting. Outside of writing for theatre, his artwork has been presented at Elsewhere Museum, the Electronic Literature Organization, gallery no one, and the RISD Museum. Lucas’ plays have been published with Bloomsbury/Methuen Drama and in Yale’s Theater Magazine. He holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University.
by Rosario Parker Gordon
I am writing this while I am sick, so I hope you will forgive any wandering thoughts. We read through your sketchbooks – all of them except for the one populated entirely by diaristic scribbles. That one, we left.
I couldn’t help but think about the time I spent preparing my own sketchbooks for what might happen to them. Not many 20 year olds have a will. Illness forces you to think about death, but in the end everything left behind is only for the living.
When you died you had a list of Maura’s passwords, and last wishes saved on your phone. She was convinced that something bad would happen and sketchbooks and diaries would need to be burned. It didn’t end up mattering.
At the art opening, there is a receding line of notebook pages, hanging by strings in the ceiling, mimicking the horizontal and vertical lines of the grids in the pages themselves.
The green and red and pink of the gallery make the pages feel like they are vibrating. The gentle breeze of people walking through the space amplifies this effect. Some of the pages are covered over with tape, an intentional middle finger to the eyes of surveillance in this panopticon. To be sick or dead is to have every single person up in your fucking business.
There is a woman seated in the gallery, reading every single page, neatly placing each one back in place when she is done. She is crying, also neatly. No one is looking at her, but everyone knows this about her.
I feel myself existing in two timelines.
Because each of the hanging pages are dated, I track my progress against theirs – what round of treatment was I in? What medications had I started? Had you died yet?
It’s hard not to draw parallels.
I hear old friends catching up and new people entering the space. The hanging pages flutter and dance and tangle. Misplaced timelines. I remember that the work is that of two individual people, not one entity. I feel my partner watching me out of the corner of her eyes.
Someone else walks into the room and I am whole again, entirely in the present.
The spell is broken.
I leave, but I can’t stop thinking about the notebook pages all lined up in a row, and my own worries and plans for my sketchbooks, and yours scattered across the floor of your studio as we decide which drawings to share at your funeral.
I am writing this letter to you while I am sick, but this time presumably not dying.
When I look through the individual pages displayed in the gallery, I find it nearly impossible to put each one back in its proper place. They all must be placed within their timeline deliberately.
I wrote a lot of notes on how to write about this show, but in the end all I could do was write you this letter to say:
To accept my mortality but insist on survival is to place myself within this timeline deliberately, like these pages.
Rosario Parker Gordon is an artist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, currently enrolled in an MFA of Visual Studies program and when not making work, can be found spending the summertime months following trails of ants.
On Guts & Ongoingness:
Notes on Pramila Vasudevan’s and Rachel Jendrzejewski’s “a\c|c/e|p\t|i/n|s\i|s/t”
by Elisabeth Workman
- The first sense is saturation. Vivid saturation and flux.
- You are in it, this mutant space, you in this mutant space are in the world (an America that calls itself the world and clings to conflict and the heroic) not of it
- Space or portal? Yes. An artemisia green planet with mercury guts (Our way is the way of poisons. Mercury, the poisonous changeling.[i]) welcomes you into these expressive arrangements of disruption and accumulation–
the structure of research or the shape of an orbit[ii]
As if they have swooped down from strange heights, pieces of fluorescent painter’s tape and scraps of foil adorn surfaces, describe boundaries, perform strata, affirm edges, this seems an improvisation still in-process–
paper hovers next to paper, word precipitates word, pulp tops pulp, bald clinical light reflected by fleshy, almost edible light, and mutant pile-ups–tape on top of paper, tape on top of foil on top of paper, strand of hair on top of tape, scribble on top of script, surgical gloves, maxi pads, nipples, crabs, needles crowning a godhead, tits on a plate #Over-Easy….#PoopRelaxMeditateReincarnateVomit
–a dispersed spirit of self-organizing among this constellation of materials affirms and affirms, as extensions of Rachel and Pramila, their anarchic attention insisting on survival now materializing and grouping and undoing and adorning and yes and yes it would come as no surprise that etheric beings sit silently nodding–like a ring of mountains–in assent outside the back door.[iii]
- All the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of the prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. (Hour of the Star) [iv]
Thus, every movement through any environment is loaded with animating forces, signals to the senses, reciprocation between the human and the world. The mediation of imagination, the ways in which the mind’s eye takes in, literally, the world of appearances and happenings, is an operative function of our earthbound situation.
- #StarsInMyHead[vi]–a slogan for this alternative universe, or To do away with language, to turn into a meteor[vii]
- It is high summer and we are walking the edge of a marsh full of a universe of greens. To think we have the word green for all of this, my friend says, language is blunt and mendacious.
- In The Undying Anne Boyer suggests, “Fuck cancer” is always the wrong slogan if for no other reason than that the cancer is your own body growing inside you, but also because “cancer” is a historically specific, socially constructed imprecision and not an empirically established monolith.This whole time I’ve been writing about cancer, I’ve been writing about something that scientists agree doesn’t quite exist, at least not as one unified thing.[viii]
- In this alternative universe, there is a general disinterest in adherence to pedestal or frame (containment). Images are not made precious (is villainizing the shadow-propensity of making-precious?) and words do not adhere to the imperative of narrative one-way. Everything to be seen or read hangs down at an equal height (level plane) from a raised, slightly arcing (#tilted) bar by strings–as if a flock of medical charts strung to hospital beds have fled their posts–like a mobile considering gills or radiators, like an ode to the way time accordions in infinitude. Fittingly, it is easy to get lost in the content. Where did I read that line “accumulation, dissociation, chickpeas”? Or, even, the disorienting phenomenon of getting lost in the title of the show, and in the process, seeing other possibilities within it–”tin sisters” “cell transistors” “cede tinsel” “ecstatic spin” “enact space”
“a\c|c/e|p\t|i/n|s\i|s/t” slashes like a metronome for disorientation
- Enact space and time. In this case, the brutality of being bodied in an empire, the hyperbole, built-in violence, and stupidity of empire, and the simultaneous wonder of being bodied at all.
- Green for the nausea of it, the quagmire the superfund the pus, for crab guts, for the putridness and toxicity of our systems, for money or none at all, for radicles in the dark, new leaves, tendrilling shoots and vines and crawling and climbing and bursting and giving in abundance the force that through the green fuse drives
- The pale green and red of the lines that grid the engineering paper Rachel and Pramila use become the bright vermillion and lime and flood the walls of the gallery. A universe in which the mundane gets zoomed in on, becomes habitat–chartreuse, hibiscus–of vibration and the ineluctable momentum of viridescence.
- In this vertigo of scale, staining the white box with the intensity of the mundane, its ongoingness past suffering, is a use of the erotic, per Audre Lorde, this power that rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge
- The ten word entries shimmer in their often fragmented totality or mysteriously distilled states. Ten words a day for ten years of pills. Draw the Ten of Pills and see a Gate opening to the hidden experience in ordinary things.[ix] For example, #LabAnimalLifeForMyImmortality,[x] The great irony of language becoming absolutely impossible to access,[xi]#NippleDisco,[xii] like a balloon, like a bowling ball, like a bell[xiii]
Maybe in a less dense iteration of matter, we break free of containment (narrative, boxes), feel an impulse to control dissolve…–
- Vivid saturation and flux/ In the sense that flux comes from the Latin fluxus, from fluere, “to flow,” there is the presence of a corresponding fluidity, a liquidity that feels ecstatically visceral and dripping, like Grendel’s mother arriving at a PTO meeting, the lagoon monster in aisle 9 at the grocery store, the many-headed hydra’s arrival at the spa, the crab’s courage in the face of masculinist doom, the pantheon of chemo chimera and deities embedded in a strung stream of days.
- This power that rises from the gut. GUTS GUTS GUTS. The viscera of our existence. The microbiome in which human cells get outnumbered and we are delusional and hot, itinerant biospheres for other life forms.
- It takes guts to open to disorient
to accept to barf to expose to get cut to flow
all the way to the so-called line and past it
with insouciance and sensuousness
to slash to sleep to get stelled to insist to nourish to undo to push the edges of narrative of survival of self to exceed the edges of this world with another and another
- It seems a particular curse of the enlightenment that thought has been annexed to the brain, that logic and order/linear time and control/containment rule in colonial localities the state calls individuals. It is a particular kind of bravery to think otherwise.
- It takes guts to think with your guts.
- And when you do? Scream? Laugh uncontrollably? Puke on a plate of propaganda? Hum an old hymn backwards? Disorientation’s a condition of this world between worlds. Disorientation in the zooming in, which in the self-organizing universe, eventually leads to the cell that is boundless, because in order to survive you have to get lost, to unbind, to open to anything else.
[i] Dale Pendell, “On the Nature of Poisons,” Pharmakopoeia. Atlantic Books (Berkeley) 2010. First published in 1995 by Mercury House (San Francisco)
[ii] Rachel Jendrzejewski, “4/8/19,” #tenyearproject
[iii] Did you venture out that back door? Anything is possible.
[iv] Clarice Lispector, the opening lines of Hour of the Star. New Directions 1992. First published 1977.
[v] Text image from Gudrun Lock, detail of “MUD: All worlds, all times!” in Textures of the Anthropocene: Grain Vapor Ray Manual
[vi] Pramila Vasudevan, Cycle 34, 7/17 – 7/24
[vii] Rachel Jendrzejewski, “8/11/20,” #tenyearproject
[viii] Anne Boyer, The Undying. FSG (NY) 2019
[ix] Rachel Pollack, “Ten of Pentacles,” Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom. Weiser Books (San Francisco) 2007.
[x] Pramila Vasudevan, Cycle 14, 03/1 – 03/31
[xi] Rachel Jendrzejewski, “4/9/19,” #tenyearproject
[xii] Pramila Vasudevan, Cycle 28, 6/6-6/12
[xiii] Rachel Jendrzejewski, “9/14/21,” #tenyearproject
Elisabeth Workman is a poet and writer with a background in dance. She’s the author of ULTRAMEGAPRAIRIELAND (Bloof Books), ENDLESSNESS IS NO DESOLATION (Dusie Press), and thirteen chapbooks. She lives in Minneapolis and can be found in the disembodied realm here: elisabethworkman.com.