Usually, when someone asks us how we know each other, we say: We are Solitude sisters. We arrived at Akademie Schloss Solitude the same day and were shown around the house together. We lived on top of each other: We could hear each other walk or type on the typewriter or hammer nails into the walls. We couldn’t hear the letters or the lines settling on the off-white paper in black or gray, but somehow we did anyway. We met exactly two years ago, but in cat years or work years, it feels like around twenty.
Solitude also as an innermost state: being used to sitting alone in front of paper – digital or analogue. Hearing one’s own breath echoing between ribcage and mountain range. Smelling the damp darkness of sleep while turning a white oval into the roundness of a moment – thanks to the habit of starting to work before taking a shower and then, in the early afternoon, still wearing the nightgown. Still, we weren’t just medium-clean loners before we met; we had initiated projects and collaborations and we were proud and glad to have longstanding ones. But while one does work, that is, getting whirled away in the sea of graphite, of consonants, it’s downright impossible to imagine that someone is just next door, also in their pajamas, also happily exhausted. One just holds onto a little piece of driftwood with both hands and brain halves and heart chambers, and that’s that.
When we say sisters, we mean that deep familiarity that needs no explanation and is a full embrace up front. We have spent three months living at each other’s places since we were fellows at Akademie Schloss Solitude, split between London and Berlin and Biel. It all began when we saw that our methods are related: both of us work with constraints, that is, more or less complicated rules or sets of rules that determine what can or cannot be done. The French writer’s group Oulipo, which also worked heavily with constraints, put it like this: Oulipians must be like rats who build the labyrinth from which they propose to escape. Rats probably wearing pajamas while stacking brick after brick. The escape, the rooftop of freedom that can be reached only within the limitations is what makes this method so effervescent. What we achieve by subjecting ourselves to rigidity is a raw gentleness, a precarious intimacy, and often surprising immediacy. A page or sheet of paper that suddenly stares back.
While it seems very natural to us that we collaborate and thus are part of each other’s lives, it is probably important that we are not siblings. We had to find each other; had to walk past a lot of bricks and bridges and bookshops and doubts and bus stops and bakeries to have our paths cross. In fact, we even both lived in Berlin for a while as we both studied at the UdK (different departments, though, and a couple of years apart) and both were in Istanbul that one summer, working with the same gallery. Yet, we didn’t meet. Solitude, the white oval on a hilltop, did that for us. We met in an unmarked space, and this seems significant. It is a privileged blank, ready to be inhabited, not already crowded with all those people we once have been.
It is, in a way, the utopia which Luce Irigaray has in mind when she reminded us how to welcome the Other as guest: It certainly is good to have a spare room or corner where a guest can be put up and it is good to share with them whatever we have. But nevertheless this arrangement means that the Other is incorporated into our world, has to blend in all the little habits and arrangements that have, over time, become ourselves. In order to meet the other as Other, it would be desirable, says Irigaray, to not have a place ready, but to build a new one. A space that can become a world that truly is the Other’s. Only then we can meet: »in fact, proximity to the Other and closeness between us can be reached when engendering a common world together, a world that will not destroy the world which is proper to each one.«
Text by Regina Dürig
Drawings by Patrizia Bach. Copyrights are held exclusively by the artist.