7 January 2021
Today was my first day back at the office and the second-hand copy of your publication with Carolee, Double Trouble, that I bought online was waiting for me on the table. It is in perfect condition and has that smell of old paper that I like and eroticises so much. The small size of the publication does not match the sheer richness and exuberance of the contents, as happens with the perfume samples you collect—have you ever thought of this publication as a perfume bottle?
As I sometimes do when facing a text or book for the first time, I started to look at the notes at the end of the text and there I learned about your former website (http://go.to/sands), created by Robin, which I checked and no longer exists, and which is described by Kathleen Wentrak, as ‘a continual work in progress’ revealing ‘personal correspondence and free association texts’. Just like our Studio exchanges.
In the brief reply that I sent you earlier, today I agreed with leaving the correspondence that we may have between now and next week out of our exchange for IICD, perhaps as a transition to my project in Bilbao—as you suggested elsewhere. But I now changed my mind :) and I think it would be nice to add this short note as well as my reply-to-come to your letter from January the 1st, which I have now printed and will reply to in the following days.
I remember you didn’t want to have the last say in our exchanges. So I’ll take that as my responsibility :)
Even safer hugs,
8 January 2021
Aimar!!! I am so tired and overworked that i am typing this in bed with long fingernails on my phone which need clipping (my fingernails). The old website you mention still exists!!! I will email you the very hard to access new link later today. More soon!!! Sun is out… Xx
once again proof that sharing information is an artistic gesture akin to a brushstroke for me!
6 February 2021
(Subject line: to rhyme an ending with a new beginning)
This is my last letter to you—the last, at least, as part of this public exchange. The other day my friend Pablo posted this note on Instagram that made me think of this moment between you and me: ‘ending is overrated. The goal should be to know how to rhyme an ending with a new beginning.’ This letter is an attempt to rhyme a new beginning for the two of us. The letter is also a palimpsest, in the sense that I have rewritten it from top to bottom several times, which is the reason why it arrives so late. It was short, then long, then short again. I think you are right and it’s better to leave our correspondence open ended, so I won’t force it to make it unnecessarily long. The value of this letter is probably in everything that it does not say.
You suggested that my last letter could be a reply to your letter from January 1st; that letter that in turn incorporated another letter inside: your bittersweet words to Carolee acknowledging the impact that distance can have on a relationship, no matter how solid and true it is. What a gift to have been the recipient of your first letter of 2021. But also how much responsibility to have received that letter, with your words to Carolee full of gratitude but also pain. In one of my recent, brief catch up emails to you I said that I was enjoying every minute of writing my answer. But it has not always been the case. And there have been times in the process in which I simply did not know what to say, how to respond to your words to Carolee and in turn, to me. At this point I like to think I know you a little bit, but I wonder if you always knew that you were going to round off your part of correspondence to me by sharing this very intimate letter. In many ways, receiving the letter felt like a new beginning marked by an additional level of knowledge of who you are and how you feel, an additional degree of intimacy.
Reading your letter to Carolee had two instant effects on me. First, it made me think again about the value of intimacy and what intimacy means for me. In our very first Zoom meeting, I said that intimacy was a shared affective space that does not necessarily sit well in the public-private dichotomy. What is intimate is not necessarily private or secret, as this exchange between us proves. That said, I am aware that a certain degree of privacy has been necessary to build this space of intimacy between us. Gosh, so many gossips, anecdotes, truth, and probably a couple of lies too! And paraphrasing the closing of your letter to Carolee, I also know that a very public gathering would probably not do ‘us’ justice. What the day will be like when we first meet in person? Will the intimacy and trust we have built between us put up with the degree of awkwardness involved in such a situation? I can also imagine that first meeting between us in a hotel lobby, just as you pictured your potential future meeting with Carolee in the letter you sent me. But on the other hand, and I have to admit this, your letter to Carolee had a paralysing effect similar to when I received your generous letter sharing how you had contracted HIV. I already said this in the past, but I want and need to say it one more time, as many times as possible, as a kind of mantra or spell, as if by recognising one of my weak points it would help to overturn it: too often I can feel overwhelmed by what I perceive as an excess of intimacy. This has been the case all my life, in my emotional, sexual and social lives. But I’m getting better at it, thanks in part to the lessons and gifts that life brings with it in unexpected ways, like the opportunity I’ve had to meet you through this project.
I wanted to jump back and focus this letter on saying something about my relationship with HIV, because I do not remember having responded to your letter from months ago where you shared your experience. If I did, it was probably not in a sufficiently engaged way as I don’t recall. So any redundancy with past letters is justified. I recently revisited my PhD thesis for the first time since getting my award a year and half ago and I thought about sharing a snippet with you. In the foreword to my thesis, I included a statement arguing why I had invested so much time and effort doing work on AIDS while being HIV-negative. Because, that is the case. I felt a little embarrassed to reread the foreword, full of big words and intentions, conveniently citing Élisabeth Lebovici’s recent observation that ‘we all live in AIDS’, in an effort to justify my work and defend myself before any accusation of doing work on HIV without knowing what it is to live with the virus. What I wrote in the foreword today feels wrong or pretentious in many ways, so I won’t share that with you. It is not true that I feel bad or have guilt for having been involved with the AIDS archive being seronegative, because I have always done so in the context of broad communities of care and practice, made up of people of different sero-status, who have recognised the value of my work and the ethics of my position. I myself know that I have done valuable work, so I don’t need to justify for my work and passions and I will not do it anymore. However, in a different section of the thesis, where I introduce the practice component of the project, I included a personal letter addressed to an anonymous reader with a rather different tone where I simply talk about my personal journey. As part of the letter, plain but honest, I share the following—I’ll just copy and paste:
“My inquiry into the AIDS archive is rooted in the need to build my own genealogy as a gay man as well as in my first serious experience with illness. In 2006, I nearly died from a poorly diagnosed appendicular peritonitis during a weekend trip to Berlin. I was thirty years old. I went into surgery three times over the course of the next year before I recovered completely. At the time of becoming ill, my existence was guided by social expectations; I had a partner as well as a permanent job as a curatorial assistant at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, now regarded as the blueprint of cultural institutions in the age of late capitalism. But my near-death experience shook my life. I quit my job and moved to Barcelona, seeking a personal and political transformation. I had been accepted in MACBA—Museum of Contemporary Art Barcelona’s Independent Study Programme, a new inter-disciplinary space for critical thinking, led at the time by Spanish queer philosopher Paul B. Preciado. Under Preciado’s mentorship, I embarked on a two-year long collective research project on the cultural responses to the last stage of Franco’s dictatorship and the early years of democracy in Spain, contemporary to the emergence of AIDS in Spain. So it was my own experience with illness which brought me to the AIDS archive.”
I wanted to take the opportunity of this last letter to share the above with you and to tell you that I hear you and I feel you and that I empathise with you when you say that you are well aware of your mortality and that that feeling, somehow, gets you closer to life and the urgency of creating art and being consistent with what you feel and with what surrounds you. My near-death experience fifteen years ago put my world up-side-down and led me to make, at the age of 30, what today I consider to be my first conscious decision: to leave my job at the Guggenheim and embark on a path of mystery, magic and personal search. A path more precarious, tougher, but way more joyful and rewarding, without which, for instance, I wouldn’t have met you. I had envisioned a very different correspondence ending, with a happier and less blueish tone. But turning 45 last week has put me in a self-reflective and somewhat melancholic place that I still don’t want to leave. I hope you don’t mind that I spray a bit blues in the air.
I thought I would finish the letter by simply summing up all the topics you have written to me about in recent letters and that will remain uncommented at length on my part, at least, for now: Adrian Piper’s problems with what she perceives as incapabilities in other people and her apparent self-sufficiency. I didn’t say anything before, but I was kind of sad that she didn’t accept your invitation. And you’re right, the invitation probably never passed the assistant-wall. I won’t elaborate either on Frank Wagner, whose work as one of the leading curators doing curatorial work on AIDS I appreciate. I never met him but I also know from other people that he was quite mean, so we should not waste our energies on people like that. I won’t say much on MONEY either. Except for that I hope you become rich to live carefree and to help other artists in need—I can totally see a foundation named after you. I also want money, or at least to achieve some stability and that my subsistence stops depending on putting ‘little piles’ together, which is what a friend calls when you have zillions of mini jobs at the same time. I also see that you could make money going into merch—T-shirts, bags or other products with original slogans such as ‘A relationship with a dick is better than no relationship at all’. Which is genius :) I won’t discuss Dianne Brill either, of whom I didn’t know much, except for a photo of her, Mr Pearl and Mugler—before becoming Orlan, as a friend says of his face—that I used to carry in one of my high-school folders.
In an earlier letter to me you wondered if you would ever be famous enough to refuse answering people’s emails and in depth. Based on our lovely and meaningful exchange in recent months, I really cannot imagine that happening. Although if you really become rich and famous, which I hope will happen, perhaps we could hire a couple of fairy assistants to answer fan mail for you. These letters to your fans would follow precise indications from you and would involve coloured envelopes and perfumed paper. If that happens, please do not stop responding to my emails yourself, even if not immediately. As a good Aquarian, I will be as patient as you have been with me and my long silences throughout this process.
And let me go full circle and end with Carolee. A couple of days ago I was browsing my earliest Instagram posts to delete some I was feeling embarrassed about, and I came across this one below from a photo I took of a book that I do not remember, possibly at my university in London, with a quote from Carolee that strikes me as the perfect ending:
Screenshot of a post by Aimar on his Instagram account, dated July 7, 2019, with a quote from Carolee Schneemann.
Forever thankful to have met you and more very soon, from and to our bodies and their splits.