A TV was on in the corner of the bar. The sound was off. But after watching it a few minutes I could tell what the show was about. A woman was leaving a man who loved her. Or she was promising him she would return, even though she was leaving him for now.
On my way home, after I reached street level, I stopped in a drinking establishment, where a number of men who must have worked in a nearby office were celebrating the retirement of one of their own. As I was standing at the bar, not touching my drink, but merely looking down at it, wondering whether I’d really wanted it or had only thought I did, one of the men asked me to take a photo of he and his colleague, who was the one whose retirement they were celebrating.
No one wanted to look at the woman on the train who was begging. She came up to me with her hand out, and, though I felt bad for doing it, I shook my head and looked the other way. Then she turned to the young couple who was sitting across the aisle from me, but they did the same thing I’d done. She went on down the length of the carriage. It was the same with everyone the whole way down.
At one of the stops in the subway, after I’d arrived back in the city, a woman carrying an infant got on and addressed all the passengers in a loud voice, asking if anyone could spare any change. When a man sitting near me said no to her sharply, and explained why, she yelled at him until the train arrived at the next stop.
Across from me on the train was a man who was returning to the same city I was, and who said to me, when he saw the cover of the book I was reading, “There’s no such thing as art. Art is the word people use when they want to suggest that mystery or ambiguity exists in a situation where really there is none.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, because we hadn’t yet been in conversation; he’d spoken abruptly, without provocation, as if he’d been thinking of what he was going to say and then had said it. And even then, after I’d had a moment to think, I still didn’t know how to respond.
“What the work of art looks like isn’t too important.” Sol LeWitt
1. If I close my eyes, I cannot see Atticus Lish’s book, Life Is with People. If I listen to the book with my eyes closed, especially at night, I hear my wall heater. If I toss the book across my room, it usually hits something, makes a sound–after I open my eyes, I feel surprised to find it.
2. If I were blind, I feel like I wouldn’t know what I’d say about Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People. I would probably wonder about the book’s title. I would probably wonder what life is? And what people are? And I would probably try to imagine Atticus Lish, make associations, which might not be possible, with his name. But, I would also probably hold on to his book a little longer, really hold it, rub its corners and flip its pages, and maybe even put the book up to my nose. I would probably know something about dust and fabric.
3. Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People, published by Tyrant Books, does not feel transitory, hazardous, or illegal. It smells new.
4. Even though it is a concrete object produced for consumption and made in a traditional format, Life Is with People feels good when it is included in a stack of books of similar size. However, people fail to fight, argue, debate, or even seem to notice it when it is displayed by itself on the living room table in my apartment. If they do pick it up, they also put it down. But, I never hear them talk about it. Certain books silence people, I guess.
5. I don’t use my books as coasters. Even books I don’t care for anymore. I put books I don’t care for anymore on the street, but only after making a few phone calls to see if certain friends want them.
6. I wonder what Life Is with People would become, if it weren’t connected to images? If it set out to draw what it saw–and what it desired–without the use of lines, shadings, erasures and writing, but instead with the use of something else? Something really hard to imagine? I guess if I were blind, I would try to imagine a book that looked like what I could imagine: black, maybe.
7. One of the tenets of a certain kind of conceptualism is a distrust of optical experience as a basis for art. The more a drawing–or a series of drawings seemingly randomly organized but thematically related, as is the case of Life Is with People–relies on visual sensation, the lower its cognitive value. I enjoy what my friends tell me when I ask them to describe or read to me what’s inside Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People.
8. When I close my eyes, I am not haunted by Life Is with People. But, I imagine things associated with it: its weight, its scent, the sounds it makes when I turn its pages or drop it on the floor. Life Is with People doesn’t seem to be a ghost. But, you never know.
9. I make wishes about it. I want to be cut by its paper. I want to be hit across the face with its thickness and given a bloody nose that I can taste. I want to hear it break a window or be used to beat a cat to death. I want somebody to open it in the next room and scream. Or laugh. And keep on laughing until I start to laugh. Then when we realize we are both laughing, stop–and get really quiet.
10. I feel like the nature of an object is that it has no nature. Art seems to support that. I guess I wish I knew how the actual, physical book, Life Is with People, were made? Where did its paper come from? Which machines and people assembled it? How was it designed? Which programs were used? Where did the drawings come from and how did they get into the book Tyrant Books published? What were the ideas informing it? I try to imagine all the forces of history coming together to make this book–again and again, but microscopically different each time–just as all the forces of history come together each moment I breathe. Sometimes, when I face a window and close my eyes, I almost experience sex.
11. I wonder what the function is of the drawings in Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People? Of course, I feel like there are probably more than one. But, maybe, sometimes at different times–and for different people at different times–there’s only very temporarily one? I wonder if, provisionally, one of the functions of Life Is with People is the radical critique of institutions of art? Almost everyday I make art with my eyes closed that consists of nothing other than my ideas of it: meaningless, paradoxical, black, maybe.
12. Maybe one of the functions of Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People is traveling through space? As a way of making the visible invisible? Minimizing the distance–when I close my eyes tightly and make a wish–between the extraordinary, widening gap between me and the characters I’m told his drawings represent? Traveling. I’m doing that right now. Simply by closing my eyes. And listening. Life Is with People is such a quiet book that when I close my eyes and just listen to it: I hear the sounds of cars and trucks and buses humming outside my bedroom window.
13. Life Is with People is art because I say so.
14. I put a wig on Atticus Lish’s book Life Is with People. I circled its cover with red lipstick and perfumed its pages. I asked my girlfriend, Alexandra, to walk me to Booksmith on Haight. After we entered the book store, I asked Alexandra to take me to the poetry section. With her help, I placed the book on the top shelf. She laughed and said, “Okay.” I said, “Okay, now let’s go.” She said, “Okay.” And laughed. We hurried out of there. “How did it look?” “Like a fucked up Barbie. Like a stupid, fucked up Barbie.” “Sweet.”
“This particular image is from the pool I learned to swim in as a child. In the late 90s some teenagers had a party there and one of them actually drowned. The pool got sued and ended up closing and has since become overgrown and very eerie feeling. I went back with my brother one day and we jumped the fence to look around. The place had been trashed and much of the furniture had been thrown into the pool. It was early afternoon and that television was just floating so perfectly near the surface. I only had my cell phone camera with me at the time so I took a picture of it, but ended up coming back the next day with my camera to re-take the shot. Last time I saw it, the TV had sunk…” — Truett Dietz