manuel arturo abreu
Notes on the garage residency (2018)
Digital video, 11:17 minutes
This is a kind of video essay. I took my text “Notes on the Garage Residency,” a reflection on my aesthetic practice published in 2016 by the SFMoMA Open Space blog, and commissioned various friends to read portions of it alongside me. Each got $5 to read one or two paragraphs of text. The audio accompanies an appropriated video of the 17 bus in southeast Portland driving up Holgate Ave from 28th to 82nd Ave, uploaded to YouTube by user PDXUncut on January 21, 2013. Captions are optionally available.
Notes on the garage residency (2018) is part of a series of pairings of dashcam and public transit videos with not-quite-unrelated caption text and/or audio, but it’s the only one that takes place in Portland. I take the 17 home every day from work. It was also a common transfer bus in my harrowed travels across town during the year I was in rehab. This work is a continuation of my interest in cyber nostalgia and one of a few examples in which I recycle my previous work. One of the earliest iterations of this interest is norwood (2013), which documents my homesick e-walks around the Bronx via Street View during the year I couldn’t leave Oregon due to my court-ordered outpatient requirements. It didn’t necessarily feel real, but it was fun in a melancholic way, my malaise resonating with the cognitive dissonance of seeing the Bronx through the eyes of corporate geosurveillance.
In thinking about the abstraction of memory, I am drawn to this kind of pairing because of the ways these non sequitur juxtapositions reveal deeper, somewhat phantom meanings or meaning-like resonances. For example, when the second reader in the video reads “drudgy” instead of “druggy,” it is an accident, but it is also redolent—of my negative college experience, of the transformative poetic power of the typo, etc. Expressions of memory online are interesting because, in a way, the mediation becomes the remembering. This might be why digital expression is so associated with the binary of nihilistic monotone / deadpan affect and always already hyperbolic / anxious affect. I often feel like we can only abrogate or exaggerate our feelings in order to feel like we’re truly expressing something—what is that?
The lull of the long drive provokes a style of thinking that has a hold over me. The other day I saw a meme posted in a Facebook group about an imaginary being that children in cars like to pretend is traveling alongside them. Often, the being has to follow a set of rules in its motion, like only running on fences or hopping from streetlight to streetlight. Many commenters affirmed that they had some kind of memory like this. I don’t really remember anything similar. It might be something like the white guy with the unibrow that many people report having seen in their dreams. What drives these collective memories or imaginings?
There was a being, Titivillus, who Europeans blamed in the medieval era for working on Satan’s behalf to introduce errors into manuscripts. He was scapegoated for the inevitable mistakes of language and communication that always creep in and unbearably escalate into violence. But if we think of Titivillus as representing the thickness and the richness of language in its failings—the ways in which it still works despite being useless so often—there is a more interesting perspective: one must introduce mistakes or distortions in order to cope. In a sense, this is the work of memory and the source of the question: Is it the devil or is it God in the details? Is it both? What does it mean to slow down and actually ask this, without being afraid of the magical thinking necessarily involved?
In his novel The Tree of the Sun (1978), Guyanese author Wilson Harris asks:
Julia’s deepseated love affair with posterity’s editor and painter Da Silva da Silva led her back to her childhood and young womanhood in the West Indies as into an extension of mythical presences, a mythical family whose figures reached across oceans to each other until the very art of creating a community (the very art of creation itself) seemed a heterogeneous enterprise.
“Do the origins of creation lie in an inimitable poem or word, an inimitable poet or maker of words?
“Do the origins of creation lie in an inimitable brushstroke of light, an inimitable painter or maker of suns?
“Do the origins of creation lie in an inimitable sculpture of space, an inimitable sculptor or maker of shapes?
“Do the origins of creation lie in an inimitable symphony or sound, an inimitable composer or music-maker?
“Or are they all uniquely correspondent, coincident, figures of and in creation, capable of enlargement, but substantially implicit in an equation of one and other until deity is both true and profound as paradoxical other or community-in-creator?”
Harris is typically kaleidoscopic here, but what’s relevant to the context of this video is the notion of community-in-creator. I read this as a description of the ways the creative self constitutes a debt to the communities and contexts from which it emerges. Creation is itself an act of community, just one part of “an equation of one and other.” I chose to have others read my words alongside me because it evokes two things: the people who helped me after my arrest, and the big Other to whom we must justify our actions in our minds, the witness to our beliefs, so to speak.
There is “good” debt and “bad” debt, and some debt is simply unpayable. Perhaps the debt to community, which constitutes the self and creation, is one example of unpayable debt.
Thanks to Satpreet, Anisa, M, Margo, Vicente, Melanie, and Joy. Thanks to Laura for her patience.
manuel arturo abreu (b. 1991, Santo Domingo) is a poet and artist from the Bronx. Currently living and working out of a garage in southeast Portland, they received their BA in Linguistics from Reed College in 2014. Recent visual work with the Art Gym (Oregon), Open Signal Portland Community Media Center, Veronica (Seattle), AA|LA Gallery (Los Angeles), and others. Recent publications in Rhizome, Art in America, AQNB, and elsewhere. abreu wrote List of Consonants (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and transtrender (Quimérica Books, 2016). Their debut collection of critical prose, Incalculable Loss, is forthcoming from the Institute for New Connotative Action press.