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On the train yesterday I was reading the London Review of Books (having unrelatedly had a pot of tea with four words in its name at the LRB Cake Shop the very same day) (and cake).
One of the articles is Do Not Scribble, Amanda Vickery’s review of two new books on letter writing: The Pen and the People: English Letter-Writers 1660-1800 (Susan Whyman) and Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters (Dena Goodman). Vickery writes:
“No lady’s desk was complete without a secret drawer in which to hide valuables and letters. A place of privacy is central to Goodman’s conception of the autonomy of the letter-writer. The secrétaire guarded a lady’s secrets and advertised her claim to thoughts of her own.” (LRB Nov 2010: Vol. 32 No. 21, p.36)
Advertising one’s secrecy is contradictory. (We can talk about gender or colonialism here if we like, or about artist statements.) Keeping things in a known secret place makes the secrecy a public practice, and only the detail of the secret remains private. If the compartment weren’t generally known about, it follows, then the secrets would only be half valid, the private mind being significant only in relation to the public perception of that mind. (The artist’s anguish.) There is still plenty of space for secrecy within the detail of a secret, but its nature changes somewhat when its form is prepared for in the carpentry of a desk.
Instead one might choose to keep a secret compartment with, secretly, no secrets in it at all, or to hide secret things in another truly secret compartment while leaving nothing of particular interest under lock and key in the known hiding place – or to just leave secrets lying around indifferently, disguised as everyday things.
Over the last few weeks I’ve spent some happy hours reading the Artists Talking blogs on the a-n website. I’ve been picking a “Choice Blog” for the month, and landed gladly upon David Minton’s Dead and Dying Flowers (see this page here).
Separately, I’ve been struck by the role of the studio in many of the blogs: it appears variously as a place separate from the proper bits of life; the only place where proper life happens; a place where mistakes are allowed and enjoyed; a place where things are still; where things are never still; where things stay and wait until the artist next returns. (Do the things dance around like Woody and Buzz while we’re away, and flop back down in naturalistic poses just as we open the door? Wouldn’t that be nice. Maybe we should spend more time out of our studios to let the artworks play on their owns.)
In June I wrote a short audio play called Things Are Exact, which you can listen to here. I wrote it forwards rather than backwards: intuitively, to find something out by writing it rather than writing it to show something I’d already found out. It means listening to it remains a useful way for me to find things out.
The play draws to a conclusion around the idea of catching and joining together moments of time. Here’s part of the dialogue:
- Why do you always cry?
- I think we have to calibrate things. I think things have to be clear enough to mark differences between them. [...] I cry to mark things out.
- Do you cry because things are exact or so that things are exact?
- So that.
- Then it doesn’t have to be crying. It could be something else that joins things together. String. Read the rest of this entry »
Below are extracts from my diary over the two weeks leading up to my What To Do talk in July. I had to write about the talk privately because I didn’t want anyone reading the blog to come to the talk equipped with too clear an understanding of my intentions.
I made this site “published” this week which means anyone can read it. It was public to begin with too, but then somebody actually read it and that terrorized me so I made it private again, and since then all the posts were written just for me, as a sort of hyperlinked notebook. Now that it’s public again I’m concerned that I might be writing differently, and less usefully, if I imagine other people can read what I’m writing.
But these bits of interim writing have a function in relation to the rest of my work because they bleed out of the edges of the finished artworks I make and stop them ending too neatly. The edges of artworks are always a problem for me: Read the rest of this entry »