"Travelers who do not go anywhere, apparently, do not
New York. It's the name of the city which is printed on my C.V.
designating where I live. It is the east coast city of dreams,
which continues to be magnified by the west coast city of dreams.
Flickering images of neonlit streets filled with red sirened cop
cars, drug deals in abandoned tenements as well as high rises,
penthouses and birdseye views of Central Park continue to be transmitted
through the airwaves on TVs around the globe. Feared and immulated,
from a distance seeming more a symbol than an actual place, this
is where I always return. But, is it home?
As is often the case when I work I am not there. It is V-E Day,
planes are flying overhead in commemoration and I sit in a sunny
backyard in the south of England. I'm trying to recall what 'living'
in New York entails for me. When I am there, as I have just been
for months, it seems almost inescapably real. Prosaic activities
such as paying bills, doing the laundry, taking the subway, returning
phone calls tend to dominate the days and make me long for the
fantasy New York so many come there in search of. Maybe you find
what you want to find.
"The memorable is that which can be dreamed about a place."
Even when I was around New York more regularly I often thought
about other places and of people, some of whom once lived in New
York, and their travels. It's the archetypal way in which one
becomes a traveller, dreaming of others's travels. Sitting here
typing on V-E Day and hearing the plane motors overhead I can
recall Janet Flanner, aka Genet, in her letter from Paris for
the New Yorker, setting up her typewriter as soon as she'd
arrive in whatever location she was meant to temporarily inhabit.
She reported on the state of politics and culture throughout Europe
between, during and after the war years.
"What am I doing?," I ask myself.
"The image of the idle flaneur changes: by superimposing
a form of writing over the map, the browser now composes, like
the musician adding notes to the staff."
("The Screener's Maps," Mireille Rosello, Hyper/Text/Theory,
ed. George P. Landow)
All of This Travel: Is It About Site-Specificity Or Artists
As Ethnographers Or What?
Someone remarked to me recently that there seem to be quite a
number of young American artists working in Europe. Is this a
phenomenon or simply a pattern which has occured, with historical
variations, since the end of the nineteenth century? What invariably
happens to all of the artists abroad is that they must at some
point determine what place they'll identify as home. This doesn't
mean that "home" must be just one place or that the
place even be a tangible one. Home is also not necessarily idyllic,
but can contain that which is most scary, all that from which
the travellers might have wanted to flee. Home is most definitely
a concept, whatever its reality may be.
The "exile's return" is as much an archetype as is the
traveller's departure and subsequent return. The chronicles of
the various artists and entourage members of, for example, the
"Lost Generation" often document how difficult returning
home can be after the passage of time and events. But as different
technologies separated say Henry James from F. Scott Fitzgerald
so too have new technologies affected this experience for contemporary
returnees, in addition to an alteration of the concept of home.
"No objects, spaces or bodies are sacred in themselves;
any component can be interfaced with any other if the proper standard,
the proper code, can be constructed for processing signals in
a common language. Exchange in this world transcends the universal
translation effected by capitalist markets that Marx analysed
("A Cyborg Manifesto," Simians, Cyborgs, and Women:
The Reinvention of Nature, Donna Haraway)
Much of the work I've done has in some way to do with charting
relationships between what is imagined to be home and what is
imagined to be away. Reflections on these locations continue by
referencing how an organic body, with it's particular markers,
can exist in different locations to how a subject positions itself
in virtual space. Imagining the "virtual subject" or
oneself as a virtual subject becomes easier and easier as modem
communication in portable computers becomes a necessary tool for
those artists, who are as mobile as the fluctuations in international
capital. Home almost becomes where your modem is.
But, in what ways do we position ourselves and are we positioned
within networks of exchange? In what places do these activities
occur? These will continue to be questions from which massive
implications will continue to unfold. Just think of the recent
Oklahoma bombing and the networks via which it was organized.
Questions of identity will be played out within these complex
In "Quest," which in part references a time in which
I lived and worked in Lisbon, a fragmented course is charted in
which memories of places and of histories are activated by associations
to media. Ways of perceiving a self can become exaggerated as
a traveler. How writing becomes an attempt to access memory, give
body to experience and track time and what this traveler collects
and pieces together to allude to her sense of self--from an almanac
printed in the year of her birth to an index of essays written
by Greil Marcus between 1977 to 1985--all of these things become
clues to the "Quest."
"At the station I gathered Dutch-language magazines and
newspapers of all kinds and since I left the Hague I've been scouring
them for images. While doing this I was reminded of Chance (Chauncey
Gardiner) the character in Being There. Often I feel as
if I'm in my own bubble and that the main contact I have is with
the media, these images are familiar and I see them around the
world on TV and in magazines. This is the closest I get to stability.
I seek these images out and they form another layer of contact,
beyond walking through the cities, with life as it is now and
with images remembered from childhood. The media is an incredibly
(After The Thousand Things , Renée Green)
Back To New York
When I get restless in this city and can't take to the open road
I go to one of the many bookstores here. Unlike in days past when
book browsing was a fairly solitary activity, bookstores--or rather
megabookstores--have become points of gathering. In a way going
to a bookstore and becoming lost in someone else's written world
may appear terribly old-fashioned at a time in which it is predicted
that books on paper will be replaced by software. But these very
contradictions describe the times.
In these stores in which one can find gigantic reference sections for Internet and World Wide Web manuals one can also find simulations of nostalgic cozy living rooms with cushy chairs and plump sofas. You can read magazines all day without paying for them while you sip a cup of tea. Home and travel are where you can find them.