(with, ‘n, from) Nearby
“I don't intend to speak about, just to speak near by.”
Using Trinh T. Minh-ha quote we would like to suggest to think of your own position of speaking near by someone or something and what kind of relationality it implies.
An invited tutor for this task is Toby Üpson, an art writer currently based in London (UK).
His interests lie in ideas around realities and how these (so often framed as this) can be mediated and consumed. Specifically, how realities can be mediated and consumed otherwise. Often drawn to quotidian matter, Üpson uses ekphrastic modes of writing to abound linear understandings of things. In turn, questioning the system that surrounds.
Üpson has written for numerous international publications, most recently Art Monthly, Art & Education, FAD_, and Garageland.
This is an exercise in close writing. In slowness, and the potentials of ekphrastic prose to resist systemic forms of op- and re- pression. That is the task’s ‘aim’, beyond creative fulfillment, is to use poetic language to get beyond the stereotyped way we receive our everyday existence and to afford an opportunity for a writer, indeed a reader, to escape the streamlined flows of a reality made in and as a disposable commodity.
This task seeks to create air. To afford slow breaths. To allow us to think anew from a position of proximity.
Here slowness and a collection of written prompts will be used to make sensorial something of a space between the I of the writer and an everyday object before their eyes. And in this way, this task seeks to give new, anomalous, visibility, to something otherwise ‘known’, something overlooked. Further, as a metaphorical excise, the task asks us to consider the critical (not only liberatory but revolutionary) potentials of creative writing, of poetic and indirect language, of slowness, and how these expressions could be applied to everyday life as a way to resist a colonial-capitalist world system, where ‘efficiency’ of movement is foregrounded for wholly extractive ends.
The output of this task will be a short 100-word text. Rather than an appendage to an encounter with a thing, my hope is that this exercise will allow you to produce a text that has its own creative agency. A text that provides a reader with a point of departure for their own creative thinking. And, in this way, this text will be something of a creative relay.
You will need (exercise equipment)
Paper and a pencil, or a pen; or a laptop, or a phone (your preferred writing media)
The ability to go into the world. That is, to sit in a cafe or park, for example (this task could be undertaken from within one's home however)
Slowness and time. Though the physical output from this task is a short 100 word text, the task itself should be performed with beautiful slowness; with careful and carefilled thinking.
Task (exercise instructions)
Go somewhere you go everyday or very regularly
(for example, a cafe, a park, or a railway station)
Sit in this place and notice. What are the small, overlooked, things that constitute the performances of this place? Note these down as a short list.
(ie, the teaspoons in a cafe, the benches in a park, the tickets that flutter between hands at a railway station.)
Choose one of these small, overlooked, things, and in 100 words describe this.(Please do not name this thing. We do not want 100 words of ‘this spoon is grey.’ This is a rather dull description.)
Now, thinking across your senses (sight and smell and sound and taste?) use 100 words to describe how you experience this thing.
(ie, ‘It's cold and sleek. Sounding with a clatter as I twist and turn cappuccino foam…’)
Stay close to this thing, and also stay close to how you are experiencing this thing at this moment. Note down one association that comes to mind.
(This could be a memory, or an analogy, a story, or a theory - try to avoid thinking too academic, however. For example, a teaspoon might remind you of an oyster shell.)
Now, use 100 words to describe this association.
(ie, why does the teaspoon remind you of an oyster shell?)
We are going to shift perspective now. Write down, in 100 words, why this place is everyday, and also mention the performance(s) you enact in this place.
(‘I come to this cafe every day. It is a large space in the centre of the city. I always get a cappuccino before work….’ You have 100 words, think carefully.)
From this perspective, use 100 words to describe how the thing of your previous attention operates within this space. Also, consider, why is it overlooked, and how does this thing enable you to perform what you do in this place?
You should now have a total of 500 words - five sets of 100 word notes - which describe a thing in a space and something of your relation to this.
As an exercise in creative editing, take these 500 words and weave them together into a singular text of no more than 100 words. This text can take any form - a single paragraph, a series of short verses, a score or a script - think creatively.
(I am asking you to condense a space of relation down into something small and indeed reductive. The aim of this challenge is, however, to make you think about words carefully, precisely; to make you consider how to caress a space of relations (that space between you - a speaking ‘I’ - and an overlooked thing - the thing before your ‘eye’) into existence.)
You can now leave this everyday place.
(Enjoy the rest of your day!)
Leonid Bilmes, 2023, ‘Introduction: On seeing prose pictures,’ in Ekphrasis, Memory and Narrative after Proust: Prose Pictures and Fictional Recollection. Bloomsbury Publishing
Marcel Proust, c.1927, In Search of Lost Time. Volume 6: Finding Time Again [trans. Ian Patterson], pages 180-207. Penguin Books (2003).
Georges Perec, c. 1975, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris
Tina M. Campt, 2017, Listening to Images
What unexpected happened during your performing of the task?
Did something break your shell?
How do you envision applying this exercise in an institutional framework (museum/ gallery visit, meeting and artist/ curator)?
What change may it bring to your approach?
Can you articulate your individual voice - where does it come from, what it aims for?