Writing On It All: Governors Island, June 2013

Alex Chasin, who has been featured a few times as a guest contributor at Big Other, is spearheading a site-specific collaborative writing project at Governors Island called Writing On It All.

It begins this month and it looks unusually good–so sign up for a session, donate, and/or spread the word!

In a series of seven sessions, invited artists and writers, along with interested members of the public, collaborate in writing on the interior of an out-of-use house on Governors Island. Writing On It All enacts the physical as well as social nature of writing, with a materialist twist on contemporary conceptual art practice. Just as writers are embodied, so do we write with concrete tools, in and from particular locations with particular histories and functions. Mindful of this materiality, Writing On It All takes place in an early 20th-Century house that used to serve as senior officer housing when Governors Island was a military base.

Writing On It All puts these ideas and this history into play with a number of poets and visual thinkers, a graffiti artist, and a movement improviser, who will facilitate sessions designed to invite different forms of engagement with the empty old house, from listening to dancing to a range of collaborative writing activities. The project foregrounds process over product, which means that we don’t know quite what to expect, and that our collective focus is on acts of writing rather than on the texts we produce – nevertheless, the house will be available for viewing after each session. Ultimately, the texts themselves are ephemeral; they will be painted over, rinsed or sanded off, and the house restored to its original condition, at the beginning of July.


June 15 – Kundiman Poets – Writing Race & Belonging: A Live Monument
June 16 – Al Diaz – WET PAINT PROJECT 2011-2013
June 22 – Wendy S. Walters – Out of Regiment, a Project in Personal Mapping
June 23 – Carla Gannis and Justin Petropolous – legend / legend
June 23 – Jovanina Pagano and Rachel Levitsky – Against the Wall: Migration / Habitation / Erasing / Tracing
June 29 – Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
June 30 – Anne Carson, Robert Currie, and Ébauche


1000 Words: Life Is with People by Atticus Lish

“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.”

Art as Experience

Like John Cage said: "Not a peep."

In the comments section of my last post, Can Video Games Be Art?, I sketched out a definition of art as experience, or even as an attitude, rather than as a thing or a collection of things (see here and here). At the risk of repeating myself, I’d like expound on that position, in case anyone is interested (and wants to discuss/debate it).

But first, and briefly: I really do consider Roger Ebert’s argument—that video games aren’t art and can never be art—easily refuted. (I suspect Ebert thinks similarly; he’s obviously being polemical.) Here are two different ways:

1. Redefine art so that it includes video games. (As far as I’ve seen, no one caught up in the Ebert-inspired debate has taken the trouble to actually define art—always a big mistake.)

2. Demonstrate how video games display, in their own way, artistry (formal elegance, originality, personal expression, ingenuity, response to an artistic tradition, etc.). This is what I see most people trying to do, but the key is to find that artistry in the video games themselves, without comparing them to paintings, literature, cinema, etc. If they are an artistic medium, then video games should have their own unique artistic integrity.

That said, Ebert’s right when he asks why anyone really cares whether video games are art. I think it’s self-evident that they can be, but despite that most of them still totally suck.

Continue reading