Studio Dialogue 1: Collapsing the Dinner Conversation
(aside) Graduate School: You can call me grad school. I am a professional juggler—the master of masters and doctorates too. I also produce jugglers—process them. MFA students can pass through my sieve, by standing on one foot, elevating their work with the other, while balancing teaching on their noses, and tossing jobs and classes rhythmically from one hand to the next. They must also be able to compose sweet nuanced love songs about their projects and inspirations.
Table: I stand between person + person. Sometimes in-between person + person + person + person. In fact, there can be an infinite number of persons for an infinite amount of us. We tend to grow or shrink in proportion to the amount of personhood surrounding us. A conversation often = person + me + person (as I previously mentioned, with the amount of personhood being a waxing and waning quantity).
Water: I need an in-between, a hole to fill, a space that takes me somewhere else, makes me something else.
Clay: Table, let me try to understand—you stand in front of one person and then another person. I can try to stand or sit or whatever you call it, in front of a person, but it will take time. I need help.
Water: If you try to stand, I will make you kneel.
Jane Bennett: “…we are much better at admitting that humans infect nature than we are at admitting that nonhumans affect culture” (pg. 115).
Hands: Clay, I will help. I will force you into places you don’t understand, mold you into something else. Yes, it will take time, and though I don’t know how much time, I will continue until I am done, or you are done, and you have become a standing table.
Jane Bennett: “The desire of a craftsperson to see what a [material] can do, rather than the desire of a scientist to know what a [material] is, enabled the former to discern a life in [material] and thus, eventually, to collaborate more productively with it” (pg. 60).
Water: Who are you all? What are you? How do you contain yourselves—take up space, fill the air? I never take up the air, I move through the air, and I’ll move through you all as well—some of you faster than others.
Hands: I am hands. I generally take up two fists.
Water: I’ll break your heart, leave you for clay. You can parch yourself pining for me—a dry desert—a Death Valley. You will find yourself less pliant, cracking, separating from your very self.
Clay: I am clay. I’m not sure how I take up space. I think it depends on a variety of factors.
Water: Your particles are loyal, attracted to each other. I’ll bide my time, wait for you to dry out. I will return, when you have become stale and fragile and your anatomy no longer clings to itself. I’ll infiltrate between neighbors and friends. I will kick out knees, cause you to crumble.
Ice: I hold my breath and drips stand still. I am the inhale of glaciers, I seal the surface of ponds, lick windows, rest on eyelashes. I entice rain to dent cars, and snowballs to nip at children’s fingertips. Eventually, I yield, fall through hands, sink through the ground.
Water: Yes, you will be lost before you realize you were held. Graceful as you are now, you will be me. Your seductive grace will recognize my hunger.
Graduate School: I take up a building, four floors, bathrooms, halls, rooms, offices, studios, the minds of the people who attend me.
Water: I take out your waste and navigate your tangled networks and offer myself up for your people (and their minds) to drink. Sometimes, I bust through the pipes, seep from one floor into the next. I’ve been known to take out artworks—entire buildings.
Jane Bennett: I am an American political theorist and philosopher. I write books—the one I am currently quoting from is called Vibrant Matter.
Water: I keep you from getting too hot or too cold; lubricate your joints; protect your brain and spine; stimulate your digestion; remove your toxins; wash your skin and your vegetables, too. In fact, I make up more of you than you do yourself. You know me because of how I exit—through your pores, your breath, your piss. I fog up your car’s windows. You know me because when I’m not there your nose bleeds, your throat aches, your lips split, your skin becomes flaky, your bladder infected. You know me through the ubiquity of plumbing and all the various containers your species tries to shove me in and through: mugs, glasses, pots, fountains, juicers, ice-cube trays, pipes, toilets, water tanks, dams, dish basins, fountains, hoses, canals, purifiers.
Table: I keep knees from touching knees. I keep plates from touching knees. I am the guardian of knees. I think I might even have knees. I have legs, for sure. Legs that can hold the wine and water glass, the second and the third course. I am people’s hands, laps, and their backs too, if they let me.
Water: I will bend you, bloat you, make you crack.
Clay: Table, let me try to understand. Yes, I see you stand so close to people’s knees that sometimes you are mistaken for a foot, nudged in playful human contact. You are supportive. I can try to be a support.
Hands: I can help you.
Clay: I will be heavy and fragile.
Hands: That will be interesting. I will start to ache, which will be less interesting.
Jane Bennett: “[…]so called inanimate things have a life, deep within is an inexplicable vitality or energy, a moment of independence from and resistance to us and other bodies: a kind of thing-power” (pg. 18).
Studio Dialogue 2: Unpacking Potential Threat
Public Transportation: TSA counts on the traveling public to report unattended bags or packages, individuals in possession of a threatening [sic] item, a person trying to enter a restricted area or similar suspicious activities at airports, train stations, bus stops, and ports. Suspicious behavior and situations must not be based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation or personal beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions or associations.
Graduate School: What do you have to say?
Me: One New Year’s Eve, I was sleeping amongst my luggage on JFK’s concrete floor waiting for the airport to open. My nose started to bleed. I was caught in a ridiculous position, trying both to stem the flow of blood and maneuver two oversized suitcases and a carry-on bag toward the bathroom. The smart thing to do would have been to leave my suitcases behind, run to the bathroom and grab some tissues. But I couldn’t. I had been conditioned to never leave my bags unattended. Thus, I continued my halting, epic, absurd trek toward tissues and toilets.
Graduate School: What do you have to say?
Me: Why do I feel guilty in airports, even when I’m not doing anything wrong?
Graduate School: What do you have to say?
Me: Suspicion seems to lurk everywhere these days: in our politics, in increased nationalism all around the world, in the United States’ heightened fear of immigration. I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS! I want to talk about this using the suitcase as an object and metaphor.
Ice: What did you learn?
Me: I learned: 1. that you are a magician, 2. that when you’re poured into a suitcase mold it takes 36 hours for you to freeze, 3. when I soak yarn into you and pack it in the mold it takes 48 hours for you and the yarn to freeze, and 4. that when I leave you in the freezer beyond those hours you expand and crack. Also, 5. that you burn my finger tips and make them numb and 6. that you glue to yourself best with a slush mixture of water and ice blended together.
Graduate School: Register to graduate. Schedule your defense.
Me: And you—you all—actually, what did you learn?
Water: That you are stubborn.
Me: And you are cold.
Me: For now, I’ll speak for you, suitcase. I’ll make a monument to you.
Gun: Really don’t worry about me—honestly—I’m not a problem—cross my fingers and hope to die—I won’t hurt you—I promise—I’m not a gun.
Me: You were never a gun. You were a stand-in for an emotional feeling of threat. Nevertheless, you are still a threat.
Gun: Yes, I’m actually just earplugs, Band-Aids, Ibuprofen, tampons, underwear, bras, shorts, belts, hair ties, floss, t-shirts, dresses, plastic, and sponges.
Fabric: I expand in water. To a certain degree, I can hold shape and volume. I knew this, but I learned it again.
Silicon Mold Material: I do not care about any of you.
Me: You, I loathe you, the way you slowly ooze, the utter impossibility to clean you from any container or surface you come into contact with.
Graduate School: Work Harder. Be Critical.
Me: I’m trying…Jane, are you still here?
Jane Bennett: I believe that encounters with lively matter can chasten my fantasies of human mastery, highlight the common materiality of all that is, expose a wider distribution of agency, and reshape the self and its interests (pg. 122).
Graduate School: Your time is almost done here, was that hard?
Me: Yes, that was hard.
Graduate School: It will still be hard afterward.
Me: I know.
Me: Why are you sad?
Myself: I’m not Sad.
Me: You are a little though…
Myself: There was so much forward momentum, it’s like accidentally taking one extra step on the staircase and feeling the pit of your stomach drop out. There are things that I have to think about, that I have not been thinking about. I have to say goodbye to people that I have grown to care about—lovely people, talented people. I have to say goodbye to an environment that I have grown into, an environment that recognizes me.
Studio Dialogue 3: Epilogue
Me: For weeks, you kept talking about how you wanted to be done. Is it just impossible for you to be happy?
Myself: I can be happy, but as always I’m interested in reconizing a more complicated conversation. Happy is too simple.
Wardenburg Health Services: Tell me about exhaustion?
Me: It hangs off me. It gets caught under my feet and lags behind me when I try to switch directions and do something new. I have to trim it off. I have to be light again.
Graduate School: What are you doing next?
Me: There are still things I need to figure out: how do I reconcile the fact that my work is always better in person, how to make soap, how to make a solar dehydrator, how to publish something, how to make a salad without lettuce, how to financially support an artistic practice of making temporal sculpture, how to create a lifestyle.
Graduate School: Do you still want to work together, you and ice?
Me: Yes, I would like to continue working with you ice, there is so much more potential to our discussion.
Ice: I don’t really care, but I’m sure that if you want to continue, it will happen.