Chapter Six: Missing Strands,
1 December 2020 – 1 January 2021

Studio Notes

1 December 2020

Dear Sands, you are so sweet, thank you! There may be a chance for you to sign the book for me earlier, in London next July? I’m determined to be there for your opening in Auto Italia. As you know, they are a dear project to me, and I tend to support them as much as I can. Plus, I haven’t been to London for a year and a half now, when I was there for my PhD viva. And I kind of miss the city and my friends there. And July is the perfect month to be in London, if corona allows us.

It’s now, until this month the prospect of travelling anywhere made me terribly lazy. But this, suddenly my appetite to travel is back and strong, and I am one of those who does not like to neglect their appetite.

By the way, that vulva necklace is everything! But I’m not sure I could, I should wear one. Any recommendations where I could buy an anus necklace?

Speaking of anuses, and in indirect response to those lovely selfies with Ron Athey that you sent me back in early fall—I was jealous! I just remembered that I recently read Ron on social media announcing a T-shirt for his Solar Anus project that will soon be on sale – no available images yet. So I should save my pennies for this. I was about to buy the Acephalous Monster project T-shirt but I think I’ll wait for the new, anal design: https://www.ronathey.org/merch-books-tshirts-photographic-and-art-editions/acephalous-monster-new-white-t-shirts

Have you ever considered producing your own merch? A limited-edition T-shirt of a horse drawing would be amazing.

P.S. My former teacher and mentor Adelina Moya will be at Azkuna Zentroa speaking today as part of this series of events organised by a collective of women artists (Sra Polaroiska) titled ‘Council of wise women’ in which they celebrate the life and work of women of a certain age coming from different disciplines. Of course, I will be there. Again, this will be an opportunity to celebrate the women who have changed our lives and of others.

P.S. 2. The warm, springy weather that unexpectedly arrived in Bilbao a couple of weeks ago has disappeared and today is the first day that I have turned on the heating. It’s freezing cold but starting the day by writing little notes like this keeps me warm.

More soon,

a.–

6 December 2020

dear aimar,

just wanted to say a quick hello. a consequence of saving our correspondence for our project is that i hesitate to write if i don’t have full energy. but now i figured a small hello is part of the quotidian nature of things, and you’ve been on my mind. right now i’m listening to the playlist i made for you (over and over again, checking it) and preparing mentally for tomorrow at the rijksakademie with the internal open studios for residents and staff only. six hours in the studio as a durational performance with my body as material. it’s been so busy and that will continue for a bit, so i’m trying to get this in in between. and let my brain "float"… schneemannfoundation.org carolee has a foundation put together after her death, and looking at the website i can see that… it’s a bit cold and forced i think in design. i just found out about it two days ago. late. i’ll go further waking up now and write more asap. but i am with u in spirit and hope u have a lovely sunday and that you are well.

xxsands

8 December 2020

(Subject line: artwork question (anus series, serralves 2006) xxxx)

Dear Aimar,

Much More from me coming soon, but could you please help in your network find the artist’s name and info for this 2006 exhibit at Serralves Museum in Portugal?

I would really like to know who did this work etc. in light of my own recent work.

Thank you, more asap!!!!!

Thank you so much for all your recent correspondence which i will read soon and reply.

XxSands

http://forum.blackhairmedia.com/butthole-art-exhibit-nsfwpics-nsfw_topic369130.html

https://www.damajority.com/unusual-art-assholes-exposed-portugal-must-see

http://www.lautreinfo.net/2013/10/art-insolite-anus-portugal

7 January 2021
(response to email from 8 December 2020)

Dear Sands,

In an inexplicable way, I still had to answer this question of yours about the supposed photographic exhibition on anuses at the Serralves Museum—and yes, I think we can leave these fringes of correspondence for our own pleasure and out of the chain for the Studio, so don’t burden Megan with extras. I did ask a couple of Portuguese friends over Christmas but nobody knew anything or could recall the supposed controversy, so, yes, it seems to be an internet hoax. Which is not surprising, since at different times in the museum’s history, conservative media and politicians have tried to question their programming based on sex-related allegations, up to the recent and well-known, too-real case of censorship suffered by an exhibition by Mapplethorpe.

On a brighter anal note, Ron Athey has just released his T-shirt commemorating the work Solar Anus and I need it desperately.

Safe hugs,

a.–

9 December 2020

Dear Sands,

(I started writing this letter last week from home and I finished it today at work. So you can consider it a conglomeration of times and spaces.)

I am sitting in my studio in Azkuna Zentroa and I have just finished scanning the contents of the physical letter that you sent me on September 30, as you and Megan kindly asked me to do. I had fun doing this and if I were an artist scanning would be my signature technique. This task led me to your email from the same day, which I have read several times in the course of the last months and which I had yet to reply to. That is the one email you keep saying is disjointed and fragmentary. I didn’t think so; it is rich and generous and full of wisdom coming from life and direct experience. That specific email from you is organised by fragments, yes. But is there something in the world that is not made of fragments? We are all made of atoms and particles and of some magic too beautiful for science to deal with.

Fragments are everything. So let my answer to you today be fragmentary as well. I have decided to leave for a future letter my reply to your very inspiring thoughts in the same email about ‘queer form’, about what a queer form can be. I promise I will clearly explain to you (at least, I’ll try) why I need you to be in my project in Bilbao and I hope to make you see that my desire to involve you in the project is not ‘just because’ (to quote you). For now, let me share with you the quote below by Eve K. Sedgwick on ‘queer formalism’ from her book ‘Tendencies’ (her 1994 book, her so-called political book) that I’ve been rereading lately for a class on affect theory I gave last week in a new master in which I collaborate. I know form and formalism, which are both very heavy-loaded terms, are different concepts and require to be used accurately. But Eve’s quote on literary formalism in which she tries to describe her love for certain texts explains in part my current appreciation of form:

“I’m uncomfortable generalizing about people who do queer writing and teaching, even within literature; but some effects do seem widespread. I think many adults (and I am among them) are trying, in our work, to keep faith with vividly remembered promises made to ourselves in childhood: promises to make invisible possibilities and desires visible; to make the tacit things explicit; to smuggle queer representation in where it must be smuggled and, with the relative freedom of adulthood, to challenge queereradicating impulses frontally where they are to be so challenged. I think that for many of us in childhood the ability to attach intently to a few cultural objects, objects of high or popular culture or both, objects whose meaning seemed mysterious, excessive, or oblique in relation to the codes most readily available to us, became a prime resource for survival. We needed for there to be sites where the meanings didn’t line up tidily with each other, and we learned to invest those sites with fascination and love. This can’t help coloring the adult relation to cultural texts and objects; in fact, it’s almost hard for me to imagine another way of coming to care enough about literature to give a lifetime to it. The demands on both the text and the reader from so intent an attachment can be multiple, even paradoxical. For me, a kind of formalism, a visceral near-identification with the writing I cared for, at the level of sentence structure, metrical pattern, rhyme, was one way of trying to appropriate what seemed the numinous and resistant power of the chosen objects.

[…]

For me, this strong formalist investment didn’t imply (as formalism is generally taken to imply) an evacuation of interest from the passional, the imagistic, the ethical dimensions of the texts, but quite the contrary: the need I brought to books and poems was hardly to be circumscribed, and I felt I knew I would have to struggle to wrest from them sustaining news of the world, ideas, myself, and (in various senses) my kind.” (‘Tendencies’, p.3)

Leaving childhood as explanation of things aside, I also want to think of formalism and appreciation of forms as a sort of visceral identification with objects that offer a mysterious, excessive, divine force that can be a means for queer survival. I think your work has to do a lot with this.

Back to fringes, I love everything you have to say about fashion and I think we have not discussed fashion enough but there is always time to do so. Too bad I’m away from my hometown. Otherwise, I would have immerse myself in the family album and send you visual evidence of some of my good, bad and worse fashion choices from my past. You said in your letter that fashion helped you get out of Topeka and I can imagine what you mean. It’s pretty much the same for me regarding my upbringing in my hometown Markina, with the difference that fashion did not take me out of town, but rather helped me survive in my decision to stay there. When I was younger being able to express my identity through clothing and having autonomy to decide how I wanted to show myself to others, saved my life. No one would tell by looking at me now, with my rather homonormative look. I have had and have a very intermittent relationship with fashion and I have not been loyal to it. My longest love relationship to date has been with an independent Basque fashion designer, so at crucial moments in my life, fashion has taken centre stage. But again, that has not been always the case and I’ve been through other periods of my life where I barely changed my clothes and made my jeans and black sweatshirt my uniform. This was the case for my PhD years in London where I lived with a suitcase and hardly changed my wardrobe. I remember once at a party at a friend’s house that someone rather sarcastically told me that I had ‘a very-consistent look’, making fun about the fact that I never changed pants (British sarcasm could be the topic of a separate letter). I also want to acknowledge how important fashion magazines have been in shaping my visual education. And, for example, my first writings as an art and culture critic were in the context of the so-called ‘trend’ magazines. It is a space that still interests me, just as I am interested in the way in which within the vocabulary of fashion the concept of ‘style’ works productively, against a certain modern sense of the term. Eve K. Sedgwick was also conscious of her fashion choices and I love the role specific garments have in her book Tendencies. The opening chapter is all about T-shirts and their meanings in an AIDS demonstration. And the obituary she wrote in life for her friend Michael Lynch revolves around his signature white glasses that she longed for.

There is one more thing that I find profoundly meaningful in Tendencies and that got me thinking a lot these days. In several parts of the book Eve talks about the beauty of ‘not fully knowing people’, about the rest that comes from accepting that the relationship we have with those we love or admire or simply surround us is built on both what we know and what we don’t know and can never know about the other. I think this also concerns you and I and accepting this makes me happy. Again, the beauty of fragments and fragmentary relations.

In your email, you asked me why in my research on HIV I had focused on Chile. It is an important question and I want to answer you but possibly I will do so in another letter.

Warmest wishes for your day and more soon.

aimar

P.S. Also, I forgot to say in relation to what you said in our common thread with Megan, which we are not sharing publicly, I do cry a lot. I am someone with easy tears but it has not always been that way so I can relate to people who don’t cry that often. I mostly cry to songs rather than say, films. A neurologist friend told me that this is possibly related to the fact that my ears are culturally less regulated than my gaze, less mediated. Chavela Vargas’ songs are an instant source of tears, although I can also cry to Barbra Streisand’s You Don’t Bring me Flowers, which my mum, who doesn’t understand a single word of English listens to a lot. Is this too camp for a Tuesday morning? :) More soon Xox

1 January 2021

Dearest Aimar, Okay here we go…

1st of January 2021, Friday, Amsterdam, 15:28 pm, after a weird night, the weirdest New Year’s and the least eventful I think I’ve ever had, I think I have just read up all your correspondence Aimar and I might have missed some things, maybe we didn’t go deep enough in my HIV+ status and how that happened, and also why you concentrate on Chile in your research, why I mentioned people of color hiding behind being people of color as if that made them good people by default, and also introverted people hiding behind being introverted as if that makes them good people by default… What is a good person?

Maybe it’s interesting to leave our correspondence open ended, as it will develop as we develop as people knowing each other. I may have missed strands In all of our correspondence which I hope Megan’s excellent editorial skills might catch, we’ll take one last look before it all goes live, I guess… ?

Missing strands is also reality. I have just read through the letter below to Carolee for the first time since 2015, perhaps I had never read through it, just typed and sent it. Emails are invisible unpaid labor. I hate that word or phrase unpaid labor maybe “work” is a better epithet, and what is work? For anyone?

How can work be defined if the person is not fixing machines in a factory like my father did or doing practical things connected to interlibrary book loan as my mother did? I consider all my accoutrements, dresses, wigs, headbands, jewelry, perfumes, etc. etc. all “work attributes”. I just saw a tartan skirt that Sylvia Plath owned and wore for sale for something like 12,000 British pounds. Very interesting to me. I adore ephemera, sometimes I think all real art is ephemera.

I call myself a “performalist” after Hannah Wilke and her “Performalist Self Portraits”. She was such a genius. I loved your quote by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in a previous email, I could relate a lot to it. I met her once in person, in Amsterdam at a squatted building where they hold events called “Vrankrijk”. Years ago. She was lovely and very unusual as a creative person and an academic. Often I find the art world to be too homogenous. Robin comments on this as well, as if everyone in the art world, no matter where they come from, is doing the same sort of things, wearing the same or similar clothes, speaking the same ways… I only wear denim and eucalyptus. I have 3 denim shirts, two pairs of denim jeans, a belt with big buckle I’ve had since I was 19, and I have five eucalyptus undershirts in “moon blue” which I alternate under the denim shirts. Every single day. It annoys me that Carl Andre (that fucker, murderer of Ana Mendieta) wore / wears a similar outfit. Oh well, he also drinks water and I do too…

I love how Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick talks about things that are “mysterious, obsessive, oblique” that we hold on to as queer children. Linda Montano believes that what we do in our adult lives is to appease what the inner child missed growing up. Linda also gives herself 20 years to understand what she’s done, I have adopted that way too…Radna Rumping, who is working with us on the Gift Science Archive project at the Rijksakademie, talks about dealing with abundance as a concept or methodology. This also reminds me a bit of Eve’s quote, things that are too much, hard to digest (my interpretation), beyond our reach of comprehension. I was obsessed with a model for Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Gaultier for runway shows in the 90s called Dianne Brill. I met her when I was 24 in 1998 with Robin for a project in work / art called “Sands Murray Meets Dianne Brill”. She’s from Florida in the US and lives between NYC and Munich, or she did then. The curator of a large exhibit on young European art, Kathrin Rhomberg who worked at the Vienna Secession then, arranged for Dianne and I to meet. It healed something from my childhood to look her in the eyes. She wrote a book in 1993 called “Boobs, Boys, and High Heels or How To Get Dressed In Just Under Six Hours” which I loved and bought many copies of to give away as gifts. My own book Profeminist WHITE FLOWERS was partially based on this book and her work, presence, thought. She was called “Queen of the Night” on the NYC club scene, and of course this fueled my fantasies as a teenager about being free, and gay sex and intimacies in the metropolis. Turns out I am much weirder than the people who fit in that scene, an outsider among outsiders…

Aimar, we’ve had a long, good run. I have NEVER engaged with a queer cis-male in the art world for such a long period and without negative friction and tension and mistrust. I hope I have been an okay / worthy correspondent, so sorry I was so behind at the end—work and commitments got the better of me. Truly. I think this letter from me to Carolee says it all in a way, and rounds off what I would like to leave you with nicely. As I have said 1000 times, a writer is someone who writes. An artist is someone who calls themselves an artist. Etc.

I feel like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick could be proud of our Homosocial correspondence……… ah “homosociality”……… changing now that patriarchy might be slowly crumbling, or at least people are banding together to see that that might happen eventually. This is all very hungry work, as another bastard, André Breton said, first food, then art…

I think I will go eat something (not sure what yet) and leave it at this for now. I like it that my words to Carolee round off my part of our correspondence.

So looking forward to continuing our conversations, and looking into developing something meaningful around ‘queer form’ for later in this New Year. There is much more to say, and some surprises to enfold yet, that will come…… Thank you so much for engaging with me. And reciprocating in a way I am rarely used to from other creative people or people in general. I am learning to embrace my strident “not-fitting-ness” and understand that it will now come to bolster me as those I look up to pass on and I come into the space of meaning in life that I feel they inhabited, in my own, my very own way…

Wanting to be as complete as possible, always, and following your lead knowing that being complete is sometimes being incomplete, fragmentary, associative, casting my hands to the air in a grand gesture of caring and not caring at the same time.

With love for now,

XxSandsx

Carolee about Sands in the year 2000 (Women in the Year 2000), as told to Kathleen Wentrack about Sands as a student of Carolee’s when he was 19 years old in 1994:

« That’s what I was recognizing when he was my student. He was all about spillage and seepage and everyone was trying to get him back in the quadrant and I thought that it was just perfect. Let him spill and seep and envelop and overcome space. »

Carolee told me the other teachers, in particular a hetero white male sculptor named John Monty, told her I was “unteachable” which was her favorite description of a real talent, to paraphrase her, because that’s what she had been called (this was at Pratt Institute in 1994).

In 2015 I went to Salzburg to see Carolee’s retrospective at the MMK Museum. She and I had a bit of a distant time, I think she was overwhelmed, this is what I wrote her after the trip about a particularly painful evening:

(her response I will keep for myself)

Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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2015 letter from Sands to Carolee shared with Aimar on 1 January 2021.

Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Sands 2015 letter to Schneemann
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Carolee and Sands Double Selfie with peacock scarf, A.I.R. Gallery Back Office, New York, January 2010.