Guest Post by Jamilee Polson Lacy
Kansas City, in my opinion, is a sentimental place. I often hear KC natives recount the expansive history of Northeast KC, an historic 19th century neighborhood which is now a little rough around the edges but still incredibly interesting and diverse, recall the Jazz bars East of Troost, or speculate about what really happened in the days when the “Prendergast Machine” controlled the West Bottoms. One of my favorite times to eavesdrop is when I hear longtime residents waxing nostalgic for streetcar rides to Swope Park in the 1950s. Every time I am lucky enough to hear such things, I imagine myself inhabiting the setting and time of these other folks’ memories.
Similarly, the arts scene in KC has seen lately a confluence of presentations demonstrating artists’ longing for many pasts, presents and futures. I think they are trying to connect with their former, current and hopefully-to-be selves. In some cases, these artists show that they merely wish to spend a little time somewhere else, to escape, to vacation even. In others cases, though, artists seem want to be in two places at once, or to teleport themselves across space and time in order to gather images and artifacts to pile up for exhibitions. And in other, other cases, artists (and I too!) hope and pray versions of themselves, doubles, doppelgangers are out there doing good work on their behalf.
These artists’ notions about such things are really quite silly. Well, until they aren’t.
They are especially not silly when considered alongside KC-based fiction writer Annie Fischer’s 2012 essay, “Wish You Were Here,” which somehow, amazingly, sums up all of these wild ideas. So, for this month’s post on artiness in KC, I give you an illustrated version of “Wish You Were Here”:
Please Note: The italicized notes following the images are mine, not Annie Fischer’s.
“Wish You Were Here”
By Annie Fischer
In Anne and Dirk’s kitchen, where I’ve embraced the best and worst kinds of self- indulgence for ten years, the topic of conversation is déjà vu. I can’t remember why.
Dirk is troubled that there is no definitive rational explanation for it, this false sense of familiarity.
I am troubled that brains can play tricks.
Anne is troubled that it did not occur to her to be troubled by our troubles, and asks for not the last time, “What is wrong with you both?”
I’ve been reading lately about Capgras syndrome, a disorder in which one holds the delusion that an intimate has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter. Two French psychiatrists, Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux, first described the syndrome in 1923, in the case of a female patient complaining that “doubles” had replaced her husband, children and neighbors. Doubles also figure in Freud’s 1919 essay on DAS UNHEIMLICHE, “the uncanny,” a concept he describes as “that class of the terrifying” that is both familiar and foreign at once. Heidegger tackled DAS UNHEIMLICHE, too, and its associated anxiety. Heidegger called it UNHEIMLICHKEIT: “not-being-at-home.”
“We’re homesick,” I suggest. “Our doubles are homesick, too.”
Anne shakes her head. She says, “My double is having an excellent time.”
Portraitist Jaimie Warren and her costumed coterie travel across art history and pop culture. Warren, though a KC resident and staple of the local arts community, opened a solo show at The Hole NYC last month. See more of Jaimie Warren at http://www.dontyoufeelbetter.com.
In my apartment, at my desk: I re-read the latest batch of texts and emails, a week’s worth or so.
When I reply, I tell him I wish he wouldn’t dash off these cryptic messages and then disappear again. It’s maddening, this new habit. It seems careless, and done in secret, and not meant for or mindful of me. “I want to believe there’s something uncompromised in it,” I tell him, “something familiar.” What I mean is, who is this imposter?
Sometimes he would forget his watch on my dresser in the mornings, and in the afternoons I would fasten it to my wrist for an hour or so. I liked to hear it tick.
He says: “Nothing worked.”
He says: “We worked.”
He says: “I care more than you can imagine.”
In THE STRANGER, Meursault – imprisoned – kills time taking mental inventories of his old apartment. He recalls the color and texture of the furniture, the objects atop the furniture, the details of the objects: every crack, every chipped edge. “Once I learned how to remember things,” he tells the reader, “I wasn’t bored at all.”
There’s lots of room for romance in existentialism – I actually said that once.
“The more I thought about it,” Meursault continues, “the more I dug out of my memory things I had overlooked or forgotten. I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored. In a way, it was an advantage.”
In a way. On the one hand.
What my mother likes to say, during the most serious conversations: “On the other hand, she wore a glove.”
At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, I throw out his toothbrush. Its absence is what I see in the medicine cabinet now. I sleep on his side of the bed; some ghost sleeps on mine.
I tell him all of this, of course.
I, too, want an audience for my inventory.
Poor Meursault. It is terrible – it is so disadvantageous – to be kept from being bored.
If Only A Fool, curated by Chris Daharsh for City Ice Arts, inventories this group of artists’ attempts to re-iterate, re-use and re-present themselves and their surroundings. See more at www.chrisdaharsh.com.
“SO NICE,” visitors say of Kansas City’s residents. “People here are SO NICE.”
“Wonderful,” a local murmurs in reply. “Are people not nice where you come from?”
“No, no – it isn’t that,” visitors say. “We knew everyone would be nice, we’ve always heard that about this place, everyone’s always heard that about this place. We’re just surprised by HOW nice.”
The local suggests that perhaps the dissonance occurs not because the visitors have encountered an unexpected depth and/or breadth of friendliness, but because they have confirmed through lived experience what cognitively they had already accepted, consciously or not, as true.
The visitors frown. “Hmm,” they say. “Maybe. Probably not.” “No, probably not,” the local says. The visitors, once more: “It’s just: SO NICE.”
They haven’t had occasion to visit my pharmacy, I think. At my pharmacy, grim-faced girls in uncomfortable-looking lab coats approach the counter and stare or sigh until a customer intuits it is his or her turn to speak.
These girls, with their heavy reluctance – I want to ask them, “Can I help you?”
People in KC are so nice that they let Xijing Men travel across the world to make up fake countries and olympics so that they can reinvent themselves. People in KC are so nice that they let Xijing Men draw crazy stories of doppelgängers all over the wall. People in KC are so nice that they will lay on the concrete floor to please Xijing Men. See more of The Xijing Men; Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Chen Shaoxiong, and Gimhongsok exhibition at http://www.kcai.edu/artspace.
I am spending five days at the beach. Exactly five months ago I spent six days on another beach, some 1,800 miles west of this one. Any distinction I might make from memory between the physical landscapes – clarity of water, intensity of sun – I would have to invent. Beach is beach to me.
On the first beach, in May, I would lie on a damp lounge chair for an hour or so after sunrise each morning and listen to the waves hurl themselves against the shore with such desperation and regularity that I felt I could not breathe. When the rhythm became too oppressive, I would go upstairs. One morning I took two showers in five hours just to try the shampoos.
Here, on the second beach, the waves ahead remind me of the experience and the feeling I had on the first beach five months ago. I compare this memory with the one that comes next – the new memory of remembering the first beach, the memory created here on the second beach – and I recognize in the second memory an absence of the anxiety in the first.
From what I gather, the shore on this beach simply suffers less reckless waves than the first beach.
This explains the difference.
In a way.
At the grocery store down the street, I spin a circular rack of postcards. I’m looking for something specific, something with porpoises and a setting sun.
I find one of a pair of gulls studying the horizon. It reads, “Wish you were here.”
I consider sending it to him. I consider sending it to the girls at the pharmacy. I consider sending it to Annie Fischer, in Kansas City, Mo., so something is waiting when she returns.
As I walk out empty-handed – because I do not wish to be familiar with this particular moment in this particular place; I do not wish to be reminded – a new comparison of memories reveals that the absence of anxiety has been replaced by the presence of anxiety.
As the exhibition’s title suggests, Centuries of Self: New Works by Seth Johnson (organized by Greenlease Gallery Director Anne Austin Pearce) researches, culls from, believes in the possibilities of a self’s multiples realities.
I fly home, I unpack. Days pass, then weeks. I visit kitchens, and allow visitors in mine.
No matter: The gulls remain faithful.
It helps to think my double feels homesick tonight.
Jamilee Polson Lacy is an artist, curator and writer living and working in Chicago. Lacy founded and currently directs the Twelve Galleries Project, a transitory, collaborative exhibition experiment. Her independent curatorial projects focus on the visions, colors, histories and ideas shared between authors, architects and artists, while her artwork and writing searches for what is lost and gained between text, image and object. She has engaged in solo and collaborative projects with numerous creatives and institutions, including A+D Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, The Black Visual Archive, Chicago Artists’ Coalition & Hatch Projects, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hyde Park Art Center, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Quite Strong, among others. Publications include Color: Fully Engaged in addition to multiple exhibition essays and interviews. Lacy holds two undergraduate degrees in studio arts and art history and a Masters of Comparative Literature and Arts from Northwestern University. She is the 2012-2013 Curator-In-Residence for Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation, where she is organizing three exhibitions and publications for Charlotte Street’s la Esquina gallery.