the lake and the gallery
The function (and transformation) of SPACE is something I’ve been encountering since the moment I stepped foot in Berlin. There seems to be a kind of reckoning with it at every level in this city… and in ways that I don’t often encounter in New York. Back home, I am often dealing with space in terms of theater. Where am I going to put up a piece, or where am I going to rehearse? What is the space in which this play exists? From where is the audience looking at the work? I also contend with space in terms of how close I am around the people who also live in this city. Oh, public space. It can be such a pleasurable haven or a killing zone depending on the neighborhood I’m traveling through, what time of day it is, if I’m running late… It’s a serious skill to understand the internal mapping of a city. To know by heart which path is the shortest and most efficient route to any given destination, and to know what I call ‘ The Rules of Movement and Engagement’. Like never try to catch a taxi from the West Village on a Saturday night, or that the B doesn’t run on weekends, that the Chrystie Street bike lane off of the Manhattan Bridge will change directions after hitting Houston, and to avoid the lower level W. 4th Street station because it always smells like piss. When one truly grasps this knowledge (and of course, the internal map looks different for every individual!), I find there is a kind of symbiosis with the given space. The space becomes living. The space is breathing. There’s a feeling of ownership, and maybe even an unspoken citizenship.
In so many ways New Yorkers are confronted with space (and always the lack thereof), but it’s quite a rare occurrence when we are confronted with space as a metaphysical, spiritual transformation. Maybe it’s the lack of nature… or the shear amount of people. The overload of information and barraging technology all around us. The constant fight to claim even the tiniest of spaces (like a place to stand on the train… or better yet, a place to stand while you’re waiting for the light to change (but not really waiting because you’re going to walk the red anyway, but you want to walk it at the front of the crowd)), or perhaps it’s not the physical space at all, but rather, our ability to shift in mind space. I’ve noticed that this ‘shifting’ becomes harder and harder to make the more familiar and comfortable I get with the space, the environment. It’s like confining the mind to only the known paths. What is that shift in the mind when traveling from the big city to the country? When looking at trees and the there’s that calm reminder of how small we are within the bigger scheme. Hearing a tractor go by in the distance hinting at a nostalgic memory of automobiles. The glow of a firefly illuminating something in the heart. And that shift from home space to foreign space. When even the most mundane of tasks becomes something revelatory. When making a new friend opens the periphery of our mind’s eye… Is my lack to recognize transformative space in everyday life a price I pay for living in the city that has everything?
OPEN YOUR EYES, he said to her. She was led down a hallway with a door. It was when the door closed that he told her to open her eyes. A large man who wore a checkered hat and black polo shirt. Top white button, unbuttoned. He stood next to a stool, buttons on the wall. He pressed one large black one, and the hallway moved.
Downwards, into the ground. But wasn’t the outside of this building just a plain old apartment complex? The night sky shifted into cold cement as the hallway moved closer to what lie below. Hallway, elevator, hallway, elevator. Which one is it?? This caused her a quick pang of panic, but she covered it up with a cool glance upwards. Slow down. Quivering nerves, I will make you disappear just as instantaneously as you have welled up in my stomach. She chanted in her head. She didn’t yet trust the man by the stool… why is he wearing a checkered hat?
As the hallway elevator lowered itself into the layers of the earth, cold, dense air fingered the back of her neck, and her large ears perked to the thumping of bass, first faint, but which got louder and louder the deeper they moved down. The music was replacing the air, she thought. I have to learn to breathe music now. By the time they had hit the bottom level, the level in which the door would open, the air was being drained out of all of her pores in order to make room for the cacophony of sound that now pulsed behind her ribs, on the roof of her mouth. The man by the stool didn’t seem to notice anything that was going on inside her, which seemed to offer her strength, though it may have been a false offering. He opened the door.
Light flooded into her peripherals, but a kind of neon pink, or green or orange that suited the shade of the walls. They flickered past her, teasing her senses, teasing her feet to take a step into the space now. Smoke curled up from the floor, a curtain over her face. Little heaps of skinny muses wrapped up in a blanket of music and something they just put in their mouths. She caught a girl looking away from her. Her eyes were fading into her head. Her eyelashes were as long as her hair. She disappeared. Will I find her again? She hoped. What is this place… This space… There is a romance in the air. Trashy, glossy, hazy, electric romance. The night’s possibilities feel endless, and the number of rooms feel endless too. Where will she begin? When will it end?
An impulse to return above ground struck her thighs like little fire ants. How many rooms are there? Who are all these people? Will I go hungry down here? All of these questions crawling up her thighs and into her belly again, the little fire ants began to march. An overwhelming need to control and understand all that was presented to her in this moment. But it was exactly then that she had noticed the man by the stool staring at her. His eyes communicating something… they are sending a message, and the message was this:
Go get lost inside this place. Take a chance. This maze will amplify your fear if you want it to, but it can also give you an experience. It will latch on to your wandering feet and drive you towards something… Just dare yourself to get lost.
So this man knew, she mused. And, taking his advice, she picked up her feet and stepped out of the hallway elevator, onto the space. The space danced. It was time for her to get lost.
(inspired by philosophisches monopol friedrichshain e.V.)
Before coming here to Berlin, I think my idea of feeling happy within a space had to do with my sense of ownership of it. A kind of relating to space that had very much to do with controlling it. The more I could call a space my own, the more power I felt. Ah, now that I think of it… I find this to be true in relationships too. The comfort of knowing the known aspects of interaction. I feel invincible when I can project the precise expectations that will be met in all aspects of space: physical, mental, emotional space. I crave power in predictability! I’ve always been a person who demands this sense of control from myself. But one kind of space that always eludes this equation is that of the spiritual. The space where I am close to holiness. Blind space.
To exist in Berlin so far has been a lesson of being out of control most of the time. Can’t read the signs, can barely communicate with the people in their own language, therefore always being conscious of when I’m speaking English, but then feeling left out of conversations when everyone talks in German… not having the guts to start a conversation in English for fear of offending folks, always following someone else to someplace I don’t know anything about. A new party, a new situation, a new group of people. There’s no moment to hold onto something. And when I can hold onto something or someone, I’m latching onto them for dear life. I get scared when they tell me they’re going to leave, or I’ve felt scared leaving the apartment sometimes. And yet, I’ve always wanted this kind of lifestyle, to be a fluid soldier on the go, but I had NO IDEA that it would be so hard! How I fear not knowing things and planning things ahead of time! This state of being constantly lost/loss is not a part of my being… damn. And I’ve tapped into a bunch of unwanted emotions, now tangled in a ball that’s been sitting inside my chest. Thick grandma’s yarn in my chest. It reminds me of when I first came to New York… I had no idea what I was doing. I plunged myself in relationships doomed for failure, or would exhaust my mother with late-night phone calls, too afraid to hang up because then I would have to face the world again! It’s no wonder that I’ve become such a control freak, it’s given me a sense of self and stability over time. Someone strong and with purpose. But for the first time in almost 10 years, I don’t feel that right now. I’m so lost, but strategically lost inside this city. There is an overwhelming fear, but not the kind I deal with back home (which usually has to do with my fears of not being on the right path, or that I’m wasting my time or something) but here, there is no path, let alone anything to do! So I’m forced to carve something out of nothing. But this time, I’m testing how long I can go without having to control any given space, situation, or person. I’m kind of failing at it right now… but I’m trying really hard, trying to teach myself to experience moments of holiness through interacting with the unknown, especially all the unknown spaces. I also think that it will be interesting for me to approach creating something from this perspective right now. Instead of finding what I want to make with certain purpose and dignity, I want to dare myself to let art happen to me. Maybe I won’t even make anything at all while I’m here. But there is something art-full about the sheer act of encountering these spaces without preconceived meaning or turning it into knowledge. When, after a long days walk, I stumble upon a neighborhood or edifice that makes sense in that moment, then for that day I’ll feel closer to this city. The moment where I just feel the path under my feet, rather than carving it, shaping it, controlling it with my head and hands every step of the way.
I don’t expect this city to fix my control freak personality, or the different problems about myself that I felt magnified back in New York. Like a mother with a spoonful of medicine. Nor do I expect that I’ll return from this trip as a guru of fluidity, an unpredictable soul, the dreamy wanderer. My core is not built for that, and I’ve already made the choice of returning, so… But this practice of not doing anything or planning anything… I hope to carry a little bit of this knowledge with me when I’m home. Because allowing yourself to get lost, to fail in all kinds of ways, pushes one past predictability, it crushes expectations, and something holy new is bound to arise from the ashes.
A large wall surrounds me
I never noticed it till now,
Now that I can see it.
I would’ve gone on ignoring this wall if it wasn’t for Berlin, who not only showed me this wall, but pointed out that there’s a crack in it… Some kind of light shining in from the other side… She waved her hands over it, again and again, the electro-drunk magician. She tried poking her fingers through it like a busy dyke. Then she began climbing over it. An invasion-ultimatum. I was reluctant at first, but now I feel an overwhelming need to be overcome. To succumb. Break down this wall and become closer with mysterious Her. Fingers touching existence. She’s breaking me, breaking through. A BREAKDOWN. That’s it. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. It’s perverted. The edifice of all I know and find comfort in, pulverized to dusty nothingness. The destroyer of all worlds. Yes, I want to see what’s on the other side. The other side of me.
Berlin, this is a very welcome invasion indeed.
And how did this wall come to be in the first place? Because of my old lady New York. When I’m with her, I summon my spirit protector. it helps me get through the cycles. My routine reality. The wall wards off the things I can’t stand, the crazies I need to tune out. And believe me, New York… she’s like a basket of bottomless fries hoarding all the potatoes and cheeeese you ever dreamed of, the demons you don’t want to associate with, and the high-rising monsters who don’t want nothing to do with you either. She’s full of working crabs throwing their tantrums at each other raging mad with dissonance. So, 18 years and me, I began building a cocoon for myself. I made it with iron, spit, fire, words. Ah, and of course. The infamous “I’m not bothered by this, I’ve seen it all. No, seriously. I’m a New Yorker so I’ve seen it all…” a quick-glance of a thousand words. I built this wall strong enough so it can withstand even the most dangerous of interactions, the most chilling of differences. And slowly, slowly. Time is a breeze. The churning of worlds, a click. click. clicking into gear with the belly of this underworld, the great city. a coming-to of space, an awareness of territories (where to go, where to avoid). And before I know it, I’m gathering with the young people who are always driving this city forward, an “I-do-it-myself” kinda bunch. We runts got close over the breeze, and now we call each other home. By 365 X 7 or 8, the unexpected had turned into the expected, the bad times into… well, doable times at least.
The actual turning point?
I had one of those suggestive, esoteric experiences abroad. with somebody who’s way of encountering life is completely different from my own (and isn’t it always a somebody? People are catalysts). I regard her as a new teacher of sorts. A new friend-species of sorts. The experience itself is rather plain. The both of us walked into a cafe because I needed to use the internet before jumping on the plane. We were really close to the hostel, a scary gentrified part of town full of tourists (um… me) and ugly buildings that have recently been erected as grey mass grandeur. She was reluctant to go in at first. Of course she was. A girl who has nothing and doesn’t want nothing. When I asked her where she worked, she scoffed and said, “work? why would i want to work? why would i want to become like that?” ahem. well… i don’t know. why do we want to become like that? How do I justify the importance of work and society and membership and status to someone who gives her money away to homeless freaks (said lovingly, aren’t we all freaks?) the first chance she gets? OUR VALUES ARE SO DIFFERENT… So here we are, sitting in this hoity-toity cafe, just put our orders in, and all I can think about is if she’s OK. The dread, oh the dread. does she hate me for bringing us here? is she judging me for being an American Capitalist? I wanted to throw my hands in the air, “no no no! there are cafes, good cafes I go to back home! One’s that are green and friendly, one’s that aren’t like this. But this is berlin so I don’t know… I’M SORRY.” instead I offered, “you wanna take this to go?”
“why? i like it here.”
and so we stayed. My nerves still on edge because I didn’t know whether to believe her or not. I typed away on my computer. She was just sipping coffee and looking around. She even pulled out her camera to snap a few pictures (that’s when I know she’s in a good mood). a genuine calm. which made me calm. What was I so worried about? and then it hit me. She’s so happy. She’s so happy just to be here… All of this fear and judgment on my part, where was it coming from? Why did I assume we couldn’t have a good time here? Oh. this is about control, isn’t it. She didn’t have to judge or take control of the ‘situation’, but I did. she didn’t feel the need to force herself onto the situation, but i did. Isn’t this the kind of force that’s second nature for driven, ambitious, independant people? and then the wall… I saw a glimpse of it again. She’s on the other side. On the other side living something different. How will she sustain this way of being for an entire lifetime? I’m curious to know.
If there’s one thing I’ve worked hard for in New York, it’s at becoming an expert mover between the multiplicity and ever evolving social and cultural environments of the city, of putting on a role, playing out a status, faking my way in and out of circles. The glimpse of life without those things was a revelation of sorts… will there be more?
So here I am, face to face with my wall… And I can’t seem to stand still. I’m following my whims. It’s not the first, but maybe the biggest. Heart to head to cunt decisions. A stabbing in the dark like a woman with a mission (or a knife). I’m leaving my dear New York and staying with Berlin for the next month. No Plans. No Work. No To-Do. Perhaps this is nothing more than a quarter-life crisis projected onto a dreamy city… but that’s OK with me. I feel legit SCARED doing this. And I think that’s a really good thing. I’m stepping into that beckoning void. Just myself inside this mother of all underground. The woman who showed me my wall. And then attacked it.
And this ‘blog’?
Well. I’ve been mulling over an idea for a new piece of work, and I want to connect this journey into the making of said work. So here it is. a blog where I will notate my experiences and share it (because sharing this early step of the process from a first-person perspective sounds weird and great at the same time); the moments of when i open. Can this be a blog that’s not B.L.O.G.? Is that OK?… Maybe a picture book. Or better yet! A mandala. A pile of upcoming stories and research that fall somewhere between real and fiction, theory and play, that will become a source for a new creative something. So I dearly hope this mandala will be just as fun for you to drop in on, as it will be for me to write.