26 June 2020
Sands Murray-Wassink letter with insert in ‘Dear, a postal series initiated by Martha Jager and Sophie de Serière’, Foundation Perdu.
4 July 2020
Hoping this finds you very well. So sorry for my silence, I have been dreaming of our correspondence coming up even as life’s whirlpool keeps me occupied.
The perfumed letters were sent out from Perdu Foundation (Amsterdam) last Friday (not yesterday but a week ago). I hope you will have yours soon and that it will still smell of perfume.
Please do let me know when it arrives.
We just found out that most likely my upcoming exhibit at Auto Italia in London will be postponed, (mainly) because of corona measures in the UK. I have been working so hard towards this exhibit, which was set to open 4 October this year. I just read the email yesterday about the postponement after hearing last week that the Mondriaan granted us a handsome sum of money for the event. It’s got me all confused, as I was also photographing works like a madman for them in London since they could not come over personally to choose works. I think I sent them 200+ images and have never worked this way for an exhibit before.
Today I’ll get my haircut soon this afternoon. Hoping that a ‘spa moment’ can relax my nerves.
I have been thinking about Antonin Artaud visiting Picasso’s house after Artaud wrote several (unanswered) letters to Picasso. I don’t believe that Picasso opened the door for Artaud. I think it was very ambitious of Artaud to reach out like that. As he often did. Carolee Schneemann introduced me to The Theatre and Its Double (1938) in 1994 when I was 19 at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was a guest teacher there and remained a good friend and mentor (although she hated that word, let’s say ‘guiding light’) until her death last year which I am still mourning. It’s funny, I mention Artaud and Picasso because (by the way, the reference I have is only in French and my French is not good at all, I will attach it here below, a good friend sent it to me) not only does it remind me of Carolee to do so, but also for the ‘homosocial’ element in their relationship. I have not been so good at any kind of relationship with males in the world, both the world at large and the art world. Except for my husband Robin whom you will read about in the Perdu letter. He is the exception to all my rules. I don’t know precisely why but I would like to free associate to you in the coming correspondences about my troubles and double relationship to men / males: liking them (cis-males) sexually but in my open relationship with Robin normally choosing either men who I would never want to be in a relationship with for sex, much older men (60+ years old, my taste generally, I am now 46)—and at the same time not wanting intellectual connections with males because I feel they are more susceptible to patriarchy working through them. Or I feel competitive with them somehow. Or excluded. Or suspicious. Or in disbelief. Or questioning their relationships to women and women’s history and force (Carolee Schneemann used to call ‘history’ Istory, maybe you know). There is a nice text from Hannah Wilke which I’ll attach here, from 1980.
Much more to say, it seems like there was something else but I’ll remember and come back to it if so. For now I hope my letter reaches you soon and that we can use that as a further springboard for correspondence and some sort of structure. I love to begin days by writing emails, maybe you will become my ideal audience!?
I am also sending this kind of first longer note to you and Megan Hoetger from If I Can’t Dance (IICD), as well as IICD’s director Frédérique Bergholtz who is ultimately responsible for bringing us together in her typically intuitive magic way.
Off to mentally prepare a little to go get my hair cut this afternoon. It’s grey outside and raining and it’s a new hairdresser / barber—my first time there—so there is excitement in the unknown regarding my pampering and appearance :)
At some point soon I will send you my book Profeminist WHITE FLOWERS for more background. I often refer to it as my ‘Sands Handbook’ or ‘Sands Personality Handbook’. Curious how all I say might strike or grab you.
Sending Many Greetings for now,
The letter to Pablo Picasso by Antonin Artaud was apparently written in 1947 and sent but never answered. Legend has it that Artaud went to Picasso’s door and rang the bell or knocked but never got an answer. The door remained closed and they never met...
Here is a typed-in version of the French text with Google Translate English:
L’heure est grave Pablo Picasso.
Les livres, les écrits, les toiles, l’art ne son rien; ce qui juge un homme c’est sa vie et non son oeuvre, et qu’est-elle sinon le cri de sa vie.
Mon oeuvre est celle d’un homme souffrant mais chaste, je vis seul,
AND THE ENGLISH
The hour is serious Pablo Picasso.
Books, writings, paintings, art are nothing; what judges a man is his life and not his work, and what is it if not the cry of his life. My work is that of a suffering but chaste man, I live alone,
This is just a small section of the letter, written the year before Artaud died I believe. I cannot find where it was actually published in any language (maybe the copy editor can?) and the image is from a friend of a friend who would take too long to reach out to...I like the Italian Youtube clip, maybe worth including in the caption etc.?
Again, I included this as an early example of homosociality in the cultural field, for lack of a better term now...
Hannah Wilke, ‘Visual Prejudice’ first published in ‘American Women Artists 1980’, exhibition catalog [São Paulo, Brazil: Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo], 1980. Reprinted in ‘Hannah Wilke: A Retrospective’ page 141, published 1989: https://books.google.nl
25 July 2020
My roommate has confirmed that the letter arrived approximately ten days ago. I took a short break from work and have been away for two weeks—present in social media but hidden from emails. I return to Bilbao tomorrow, Sunday willing to open the letter, and hopefully, to receive a blast of perfume in my—mask-free—face.
Haircuts, homosociality, other people’s correspondence and flowers are four of my favourite topics of conversation, so I will be happy to exchange with you some thoughts and even milestones of my personal biography in that regard. A new relationship (with someone much younger than me) is the reason why I have been away these two weeks, and I am still processing what old and new patterns of the way I have related to men so far is bringing up in this new relationship (I’m 44, by the way). I feel that I have changed, and that I am in a different moment in regard to all-things-life. But I’m not sure if I can draw a clear picture of where I am at the present.
I will spend August in Bilbao and looking forward to intensifying our email exchanges and thus compensate for my somewhat slow start. I think I’d also like to send you a few ‘pendants’ by post over the summer. Can I kindly ask you for your postal address?
Lastly, what a shame the exhibition at Auto Italia will not happen in the near future. I understand the frustration but hopefully the efforts and time spent at work will not be wasted.
(Megan: thanks also for your administrative notes; the plan sounds good to me and it will be lovely to reconnect in mid-September to see where we are and jointly give form to the material to be shared publicly).
That’s all for now, more in a few days.
7 August 2020
‘Carolee Schneemann Is My Whitney Independent Study Program’, circa 2012, acrylic on embroidered silk gifted fabric, approximately 75 by 100 cm. Together with book ‘The Migration of Symbols and Their Relations to Beliefs and Customs’ by Donald Alexander Mackenzie, published 1926 (book is from my archive and there for scale).
Just felt like sharing a fabric painting from a few years back. I thought you might appreciate the humor. I have for a lot of my younger life felt intimidated by ‘prestige’ and ‘fame’ etc. perhaps partly because I felt that there must be justice in who has a reputation. I found out that things are more complicated than that and that people in power are often hungry for corruption. It’s hard not to keep writing you now that I know I have a contractual audience :)
Carolee was my teacher when I was 19 and we remained close. (This was made when she was still alive, but she never saw it). Her, Adrian Piper and Hannah Wilke are my top three guiding lights. I will put this in a Word document and send it...
8 August 2020
This letter is to you. I received yours a week ago and it took me as long to reply. Just because. Life is beautiful but it is also complicated. This is not a love letter, but I realise that every exchange—especially letters—is subject to the same set of expectations implicit in any affective relationship. I hope I don’t disappoint your expectations. If I do, I can try to compensate.
Can we talk about perfumes? I don’t use perfumes. I used to, but not anymore. I’ve lived the last decade as a nomad, and perfume bottles are simply too heavy to carry. Also, in the process of redefining my relationship with my own body, as well as other bodies, I have ended up accepting that I like body odour. Mine and that of others (I’m writing this the morning afterthe hottest night of the year in Bilbao, while I enjoy the smell of my own sweat). I don’t know much about perfumes, but lately they are becoming a recurring presence. My friend D. M. A.—a young local artist from Bilbao increasingly working in fashion—has started creating his own perfumes from substances as varied as fig, tar or wood. He recently gave me a sample of fig essence. Unfortunately, this is still in test mode; the sample he gave me stains skin and dyes light clothes, so I can only use it as an air freshener or applied to black clothes. Also, last fall, on a last-minute trip to the Venice Biennale in its closing week, I ended up visiting the Museum of Perfume at the Palazzo Mocenigo, which became the most satisfying (aesthetic? sensory? learning?) experience I had that week. There I learned about the inter-species entanglement that is the history of perfume making. Aren’t musk glands the weirdest, queerest museum object you can think of? I wanted to ask you what exactly you mean when you say you collect perfumes.Do you collect essences? The memory of them? Do you perhaps collect perfume bottles? Was the beginning of the collection intentional? Or like any act of collecting, something that you later become aware of? I wonder if anyone in the queer literature on the archive has written about perfumes. Ann Cvetkovich has written about, of course, feelings, trauma, touch, incest, AIDS, but not about perfumes, at least that I can recall. In her book and other separate articles, she describes queer archives as embodied in idiosyncratic collections and objects such as T-shirts, buttons, flyers, matchbook covers, sex toys. But again, not perfumes. Did Carolee Schneemann wear perfume?
I look at your letter again and find to my surprise that I have taken some notes. It is one of the ‘vices’ that I have left from academic work: to underline, write down, mark, that is, to master what one reads. A vice that I want to quit. Since I finished my PhD I have been trying to read without a pen or pencil in hand. I want to guide my reading by the simple touch of my hands on the paper (I need paper in my life, I can hardly read on screen anymore) as well as the act of faith in what Virginia Woolf called ‘the temporality of reading’—that astonishing, almost magical ability of the act of reading, by which what one reads one can re-emerge, resurface sometime later. And yet, I took notes on your letter. For instance, I marked an English word that I didn’t know: gritty. You use it as the best word that describes you in the present. That’s a big statement. So, I have had no choice but to go to the dictionary. By the way, this helps me state the obvious: English is not my mother tongue, Basque and Spanish are. So, it will be necessary that the final result of our exchange goes into proofreading before publishing. Or perhaps not. Do you speak Dutch? Or have you been living in the Netherlands all this time in English? I am thinking here of Mladen Stilinović’s banner—’An artist who cannot speak English is no artist’, 1994—and how much the art world keeps taking for granted in that respect. I look up the word ‘gritty’ in the dictionary. So, you consider yourself brave and determined. I like that. I’m usually perceived as brave and determined as well. However, I want to shy away from the responsibility of being determined and strong in any given situation. More and more I want to embrace that part of me that is vulnerable, helpless, messy. My modest engagement with the legacy of feminism and, more specifically, with the archive of cultural responses to HIV/AIDS are a continuous learning in that regard.
On Monday I plan to send you a postal letter with a little object with it—call it a gift. You can save it, use it or scan it. It will help me to tell you about my love for reading other people’s letters. It will also help me to share with you when I come across Carolee Schneemann’s work. But that will be on Monday.
For now, enjoy the weekend and the hot weather.
Oh, one last thing: I noticed you love drawing horses and flowers. Are these tulips or daisies?
15 August 2020
This is to confirm that I received your book at the beginning of this week with surprise and delight. Thank you so much. The first thing I thought when looking at it was how adequate the book object continues to be when it comes to accounting for a complex practice. One of my favourite artist books is by Spanish artist duo Jeleton and it’s titled Short guide to difficult practice. Their work, like yours, draws on the legacy of feminism to intervene in different visual, literary and musical repertoires. Their long-term project, Historia política de las flores (Political History of Flowers), is an investigation into floral symbolism, which they renegotiate and re-politicise mainly through drawing (unfortunately, there is little or nothing available in English on their project, but you can see some of the work here: www.lataller.com; www.bienalcentroamericana.com). In their case, as in yours, a book offers the possibility of giving a recognisable—though not necessarily entirely readable—form to a practice that is abundant, fragmented, dispersed and not always easy to grasp. I would love if you could meet each other one day.
I have not yet had time to fully immerse in the reading of your book but I have enjoyed touching it, looking at it and basically feeling its presence nearby in my—now rather messy—summer desk (picture attached). I have a genuine interest in books as objects. As the son of a printer who had previously worked in a pulp mill for the production of paper, my interest in books from a young age and has been material before literary. In my doctoral thesis I dedicated a whole chapter to AIDS books, a ubiquitous yet usually overlooked object in the AIDS archive. Writing, publishing, reading and sharing books was central to people who were living with HIV, or have been deeply impacted by it in the early days of the crisis and served as a way to build communities of education and support to survive, literally and politically in an atmosphere otherwise filled with hatred and discrimination. In addition, books, in contrast to artworks, films and exhibitions, were the most prominent and often earliest forms of cultural response to AIDS in Spain and Chile, the two focus countries of my research. In my project, I approached books following the work of Leah Price, materialist literary critic and historian of the book as an object. Her work focusses on the three operations that best define our relationship to books: reading, handling and circulation; that is, the textual, material and social lives of books. Price has studied different aspects of the book object beyond, or rather, in addition to its reading value with a focus on the Victorian era—the historical moment in which print culture and the practice of reading went through the greatest chain of transformations. One question triggers Price’s work: “What meanings do books have even, or especially, when they go unread?” As Price suggests, and I believe, our love for books remains heavily placed on their reading value, at the expense of the book as a material thing. And yet, we cannot read a book without handling it, without touching it. Just as we cannot make a book without thinking about its circulation, its ‘after life’.
All this to say that the physical and material presence of your book has been a great company all this week and that I am eager to immerse myself in its pages.
P.S. In my previous letter I asked too many questions about your interest in perfumes. I’m now reading your interview with Andy Tauer and I realise that most answers are contained here, so never mind my interrogation :)
Best and tangible wishes for the week.
Digital photograph of Aimar’s desktop sent to Sands as an email attachment on 15 August 2020. Contents, clockwise: a USB stick of varied content; pink paper sheets with notes on an art and fashion working project; an unopened, neon yellow envelope from a mail-art project curated by Eliel Jones for Cell Project Space, London; a round stone picked up this summer on a beach in Suances, in the Spanish region of Cantabria; a dedicated copy of Sands’ book ‘Profeminist WHITE FLOWERS’, with the following dedication: “all blessings in all paths + ways”; scallop shell, typical of the pilgrimage of Compostela; photo print showing a sculpture composed of a clothes rack covered in construction netting and a large, red cornucopia by emerging Basque artist Dogartzi Magunagoicoechea; pens and Post-It Notes with accumulated tasks; Aimar’s left hand touching Sands’ book.