are my children are my parents
I am on the other side of the world as I am writing this text, and you are in the room with the work that I am writing about. Right now, my advantage is that I have been speaking to Karin, Karin’s advantage is that she has been making the work, and your advantage is that you and the work are currently enjoying each other’s company. You have sight and I have sound and Karin has touch and together we build a spectrum of experience. For me, right now, the work is incomplete; for Karin, the work is finished; and for you, it is unfolding. The tissues are slowly unfolding onto the floor.1
What do you see? Yesterday, I heard about different works than those you are currently seeing. Last week, I heard works pop up overnight like mushrooms materialising in front of tired eyes and through the movement of experienced fingers. Karin’s are pointed and slender. Shroooom. The works burst into being hot on each other’s heels. What do you see? The week before last, Karin and I zoomed and I saw through shaky video calls and low-lit photographs some of the objects now in your company. The microphone caught the sound of two materials meeting. The tissues caught the colour of the dim, hanging light and the camera lens recorded it as slightly yellow.
As kids, Karin and I were each convinced that art was a long distance relationship. Or like those early internet friends, so exciting because you never quite encounter them. What art seemed to mean was a visit to the library, where shiny, faded prints, torn and worn covers, and the imprint of someone’s pen pushing through the page seemed to underline particularly poignant passages. Léger isolated and standardised the constituent elements of a painted composition. The most recognisable feature of the head is the open mouth. The artist has already begun to engage in visual games. Dog ears, curling the tops of the pages, obscured the paintings’ corners. I still kinda like art best in a book. Or on a bed. That is where I’m currently writing.
Karin’s work is now in Amsterdam, in front of you, and I am seeing it through some form of reproduction, or documentation, or I don’t actually really know the word for when you see an artwork from somebody else’s phone? Transmission? The books are of course still there, still in those libraries. Some are even few meters away, scattered across my floor. And I’ve learnt that it’s not only distance but time or form that leads us to encounter art on a phone, or in a colour plate book, or through somebody’s words, and that we build our understandings from whichever encounter our positions at the time can offer (currently: curled, knees to chin, on a chair).
I wonder how these experiences influence our looking, our ways of seeing. I wonder if it predisposes us to being a little more ambivalent, a little more ready to make our own meanings, to understand that what we see is not what we are reading about, and to therefore find value in our own experiences. To Karin, the Colosseum is a celebrity, not a building. To me, Karin’s camera is an actor. Maybe she doesn’t agree. But I’m star struck nonetheless, which is one possible outcome after finding oneself in the presence of a work that has only been encountered in some form of shrunk, cropped, or recoloured copy. I remember the first time I saw a Seurat... ooo. Now I see the work that you see through Karin’s camera, but rather than being distant, this arrangement feels intimate. I feel that skewed sense of closeness that a video can give. I know more about the work than the work knows about me. And yet here I am, too shy, refusing to talk about it.
In some earlier projects, Karin incorporated this ~taking place elsewhere~ in the works, so that our encounter, as viewers, always occurred after the work and always at a distance—in the cracks of the pavement,2 at the blocked entrance of a carpark,3 in a compost bin4—as we stood looking at the video in a stairwell.5 One time, Karin invited us to a reading on a plane to Guayaquil.6 Encountering these works, no matter how far away, always makes me a little more aware of my surroundings, a little more attentive to how public space is cracking.
The room in which you stand is filled with tissues and motors that give them the ability to rise and
to sink. They do so slowly. So slowly. This room amplifies a voice that has been previously recorded (and will be rerecorded soon—take note!). Notes peak out at you and ask for your attention. Layered voices ask you to remain in the present as they tell you something that might not be in your mother’s language. You are in the middle. The work works around you as you stand where Karin once stood in the process of making. You are the second viewer. The shadow. But I like to think that occasionally, perhaps when your back is turned, or when you’re busy reading, the work glances sideways, way out here where only reproductions, documentations, files small enough to zip down cables, are able to reach, and initiates contact. I like to think of the work taking a quick selfie with your camera. Maybe nothing profound but, I don’t know, maybe something like brushing teeth with the mouth wide open.
1 I say tissues throughout this text, I think only because toilet paper has so many lumpy syllables.