I love that and I think I relate. Although of course I love doom and metal and hardcore music maybe more than anything else, and my primary constitutional condition would tend toward the dark and dank, I regularly have to dance, like very regularly, and I’m laughing all the time. My teachers used to get mad at me in class because I was out of control laughing. In an interview I did recently, the interviewer commented that I laugh way more than he would have expected, and that struck me. I think that the reason I have such a capacity, maybe even a super stamina and resilience, for the most dark and difficult parts of life is precisely because I can laugh and dance about it all. I really do think that laughter is the best way to cope with doom.
Yes! Laughter and dancing feel like things not separate from doom and horror. »10,000 Years« by High on Fire is one of the most euphoric pieces of music I can think of, and everything about it is bodily in its laughter. This is probably the kind of metal I like the most, the camp bodily-beyond of »Don’t Burn The Witch,« »Dragonaut,« »Holy Diver,« and anything by the eternal eight-year-old of rock, Glenn Danzig.
Oooh, bitch, yes, camp is my other primary coping mechanism. Like, when it hurts, camp it the fuck up! Maybe that’s another note your work hits that always chimes with me. There’s a sense of play and joy interwoven through the sad and heavy.
Listening to my brain chemistry and current lack of energy, the right kind of affective state for me to deal with this doomed cowboy story artwork is the joyful-sad cowboy song »Biological Speculation« from Funkadelic’s America Eats its Young, rather than say the howling-sad cowboy song of Dead Moon’s »Dagger Moon.«
My day-to-day practice is about efficiently using my joy. I can’t work when I’m sad. I enjoy being sad, I like a lot of things that make me really sad, but I can’t work in that condition. The machine of myself mostly produces garbage when it’s sad, and worse, it doesn’t have the resources to perceive whether what it was produced is garbage or not. So even when I write something that is about annihilating doom, it has to be from a position of joy.
I think this is probably why I work with that whirligig of bits and pieces: there’s secret potential resources of euphoria in a bunch of things and their interrelationships at a given time.
Mmm, that’s deep. It reminds me of how almost every time I read my tarot, I pull a card for the position of what would be »my special, secret skill,« like a resource that will help me in the situation—and I always get the quote-unquote worst cards there: Death, The Tower. Like, these are actually skills that I can cultivate in myself.
For whatever reason, this makes me think of how much of your practice involves drawing, and specifically diagrams. Can you talk about that?
My working practice is diagrammatic, quite literally. I produce diagrams as not so much planning, but as a kind of unstable creature to collaborate with. For various reasons, my medium-term memory and working memory are both shot, so I write everything down or draw something to mark it in space as best I can if it’s resistant to translation to language. I collect these things together; a bit of a film, an affective register of a piece of music, an event, a word because I’m excited by them, filled with joy by them, and feel there is something about their relationship to each other that could go somewhere. I don’t question why, I put them down in the diagram. The act of drawing the diagram pulls in or creates new elements – i.e., there was only room on the page to note that piece down in that top right corner there, which puts it next to this other thing that I hadn’t considered it in relation to. So this constellation of joy and desire gets built and edited, and that’s basically my collaborator for the given project I’m working on. The diagram’s power is that it’s unstable. It isn’t a hard mnemonic trigger, or a clean translation. It’s volatile and active, it’s different every time you look at it, but it retains some kind of coherence as a mob. It’s a thing to be divined from, which is why I wanted to talk about it specifically with you, because I know this is something you have a strong relationship to as well.
Yeah, I like to think of my practice in terms of divination, because I like to think of any kind of language as divination. And it’s the instability and failure of language that is most exciting to me about this proposal. Like, the propensity for incoherence is, to me, the part that gets us into the mystical.
Do you want to introduce us to the project you made for this web residency?
Okay, so like with the diagrams and tactics of joy, I have a system, or habit, or superstition around discussing artworks. I can’t describe things I’m working on or have just completed. I have to have a »one work buffer« – there needs to be a full completed artwork between what I’m working on right now, and the most recent artwork I can talk about. The reason is things that are too recent and too vulnerable can fall apart if I mess with them before they get a bit alienated from me (I need that aforementioned poor-resolution memory of mine to completely lose grip so I can look at this properly and say, hey, that’s what it is). I’ll scrub all that joy out of anything still being worked on right now.
What I can say is, what I proposed for this residency as the end result (a story, that was rearticulated as a diagram, that was then rearticulated as a story, on and on) clicked when I understood it instead as a process. What I’m producing is a video game of text, speech audio, and images, that loops and branches and repeats. It is concerned with orbits of moons, and hiding from the sun, Sedgwick’s Gothic image of men engaged in homophobic pursuit rearticulated as healing, reparative, generous love. Hannibal and Will’s mutual euphoric care.
So cool. One of the things that I wanted to foreground in this web residency is accessibility, making sure that online works are accessible, and I’m curious to know more about how you approached that. It’s the complexities and questions that accessibility brings up that I think both you and I are both invested in and pleasantly surprised and confused by. For instance, I’m very interested in this conundrum of discussing or describing artworks, and so much of accessibility on the web—like alt-text and open captioning, for example—proposes to be descriptive. Like, “here is a description of the thing.” Like, alt-text describes in words what is happening in an image, but as anyone who’s ever written alt-text knows, you immediately run into a huge mess of questions about how linguistic description totally fails the visual, but also adds all these other points of entry and layers of meaning to it, and this begs the question of the relationship between not only the linguistic and the visual, but of the description and interpretation. And of course, there are all these indications that reveal the position of the writer of the alt-text – are they foregrounding certain elements of the image over others, and if so, why? As a writer, I find all of these complexities to be generative and inspiring; they produce new frames of meaning and interpretation for me in ways that make art start to shimmer, but I think that’s because language for me is always shape-shifting and promiscuous and slippery.
Can you speak to this a little bit? How did questions of accessibility form your project? Did you arrive at any conclusions that could be helpful, even if they are tentative?
I like accounts of art that are themselves art. Writing about a thing not as an attempt to capture it, but seeing art as a provocation to create a new provocation. Something I’ve thought about a lot this last year is how to build accessibility through that approach. So alt-text is a really clear concrete example: I make an image, and that needs a text, but I’m trying to make the text do what the image was trying to do, while being aware that image and text aren’t the same. The alt-text is likely to have something to ground it to the image, perhaps make some reference to its content or colors, but it isn’t primarily a description, it’s a parallel process.
What has been really useful about this process is connecting it to a general approach of doing the same thing again and again from different angles. A habit I picked up a while ago is sometimes when I get in a bind writing something, I try instead to write about the attempt of writing, either as it was (hard, impossible, painful) or some other way (perfect, impossible, bizarre). A frustrating story where I’ve totally lost control of the emotions I’m wrangling with gets reduced to key points, in a much faster punchier form that often becomes an element in something new (the emotion is kept and the object is changed, or the object is kept and the creator speaking is changed). Doing the same thing again but alienating it enough that it can be seen properly.
I do the same thing with non-text artwork, the process of making and exhibiting an installation turns out to be the diagram for something later. Something to be divined from, perhaps repeatedly.
Writing is slippery, so a response to that (a stress-reducing response?) is to be adaptable. We can treat reading, writing, meaning, affect, brain-bits, body-bits, as fragile and finicky collaborators, unknowable but loved. The play of collaboration continuing happily is far more important and delicate than any one partner getting control. (I feel this keenly right now, I have erased and rewritten this reply to you so many times this last week, trying to keep the frame of play alive.)