It’s a Daytime Relationship
A letter is a vessel. A car is a vessel. A vessel is a vessel. Also a vase. A bowl. A bust. Etc. Often ceramic. Once clay. Shaped – by hand. We hold them, they hold us. Vessels are what are left; they survive. Later they’ll describe the attention that created them. That person: their privacy. It’s performance. Also society: how a culture shapes and contains its citizens, its makers, their private and public desire. The form their desire takes (and what contains it). Thus vessels – so corporeal, like the body, and body of the state, embodied, as it were – contain information about the civilizations in which they are shaped, conjured, burned, finally buried. (To be found later). Temporality then. Vessels hold time in them. Relics, letters, cars, bowls, busts, vases, essays, remnants, cultures, bodies. Shaped – by hand. What is time? How do we hold it? How do we name it? Whatever. Let’s be vessels, Jesse.
Quinn, I just wanted to write this to you, not sure where it’s leading but maybe we can figure something out from this to what happens tomora x…
My dad works as a driver at a car auctioneers. His job is to drive a number of cars into the bidding zone and then when the bidding is over he drives them away. He works alongside five or six other drivers and so is on a circuit taking turns to drive in 200–250 cars per auction. For the most part the cars on sale at the auction house have CD players. Every time dad’s driving a car with a CD player he presses eject on the stereo to see if there’s a CD left in the car. From each auction he gets an average of three to four CDs. Sometimes the music left is the official release and so if he knows the artist he can build a picture of the previous owner: car, interior, music taste, smokers/non-smokers, pets. His favorite situation is when the CD that is ejected is a regular CDR, a mysterious disc with the potential to be anything. He takes these CDs home and listens to them, imagining the owner – their life. Much the same as with the official release disc, but with the CDR there is a fundamental feeling of mystique and intrigue, especially because the music is playing in his (my dad’s) environment. This makes me think, for literal and also meta reasons, of the passage in J.G. Ballard’s Crash, where he explains that an extremely proficient mechanic would be able to tell which car a corpse would have died in from the bruising and impression left by the steering column and dashboard on the torso, face, and arms. Printing.
This feeling, the removed experience, someone else’s driving, their decisions about what car, what music is so deeply romantic and in many ways easy to become a part of. The imprint is left with great majesty; it can only be appreciated as another’s experience which we are experiencing in a consciously secondhand way. I’m not fascinated by cars. I just love this example of being simultaneously intimate and removed from something and that this removal is also so full of intimacy.
I was recently in Athens, Jesse. (Removed to there, to put it in literary hyperbole and to quote you simultaneously). Anyway, I think we texted once or twice while I was there. And my hotel room had two views.
View 1: My balcony looked out over Zeus’s Gate, or what is left of it. Tall marble columns vertical and horizontal stood and lay across gold-and-green grounds. Fragments of ancient and recent vessels (amphorae, energy drink cans) littered the grass and earth when I walked across it. The sea beyond. Some islands. When it was clear I could see them. They framed the bay where the Greeks fought off the Persians, I think.
View 2: The Parthenon. No description needed, right? Below it: the new Acropolis Museum. Later, when we were in Paris again, I think I told you about my visit to the museum: how it moved me. I’ll tell you again; you might not have been listening. On a cool, blue day, I entered the large foyer into the museum’s central hall – so much dark marble. The hall that leads to the galleries was lined by walls of glass vitrines and gleaming cabinets. Inside them were small ceramic and marble vessels and fragments and busts and statues, all carefully placed in rows like sentences. Carefully constructed and construed space between them. Their arrangement’s analogy to language, to me seemed quite clear – totally legible. What were these sentences saying? I read them. It seemed to be something about society, civilization, and being a person within them. Something about the human condition. The forms we make of it. The shape of desire and utility, etc. Actual words, if not complete sentences, were printed on small white cards below each vessel. I read them. They moved me, completely. Almost overbearingly. What did they say? One row of cards, and their attendant objects, read:
12) Unfinished statuette of Pan
13) Unfinished head of Dionysos
14) Unfinished statuette of Aphrodite
15) Unfinished female head
Another row read:
23) Lions and sirens
24) Swans and lions
25) Procession of women
26) Animals and mythical creatures
Nearby, longer wall texts enumerated on the Grecian relics of statuary and vessels:
‘The economic and trading activities of the inhabitants are reflected in the use of marble and lead balance weights and in the amphorae, many of which bore stamps on their handles marking their city of provenance… In order to gain favor with the goddess, people would bring gifts to her sanctuary. The form of these offerings depended on the nature of divinity in question as well as on the social class and occupation of the dedicator.’
The form of these offerings, Jesse. Like CDs. Like vessels.
The nature of the divinity in question: that remains uncertain.
I make things because I feel in some way like I need to, Quinn. I have a growing amount of nervous energy and I have found that making things is the best way of turning this energy into something I feel is representative and reflective of my feelings about existing on this planet, now, as me. Sometimes I think that it’s a strange slice of fortune that the concept of art even exists, and that without it I’d be a scribbling mess with no calling, and then I remember that I had a premier Western art education, and that no matter how free I want to be, I am completely implicated by the decisions I have made, they are why I live in London, have a really trendy life and make art in a currently trendy material. I am in so many ways a living cliché. I AM FLAT WHITE.
In the studio the use of material is therapeutic. Clay by its nature is an amazingly existential thing: it picks up every nuance of your interaction with it. As little as accidentally brushing it with a part of your body or smashing it into a particular shape, your presence is felt and echoed by the material. I spent years thinking I understood material before I used clay; in hindsight it’s clear I was always chasing material, never really having it under any kind of control. So the clay is the thing; I feel spiritually aligned with my use of it.
I’m definitely a sculptor – it’s the only language of making that makes me feel real when I’m doing it. Everything else makes me feel like an artist. Making sculpture makes me feel like me. Such a wanky sentence but true. The process of firing leads to an absolute finish; when you open the kiln the work is done. This absoluteness of the finished object has opened up something new for me, which is to have quite unpredictable and gnarly surfaces in works but without any anxiety. I can truly take responsibility for these fuck-ups because I have consciously built, glazed, and fired them and so the process begins and ends with me; they are mine. But the object has been through a process that is not mine. I try to make the works completely unpredictable in their finishes and so I fire the works inconsistently, mix lots of glazes and oxides together, never record my methods and fire at different temperatures. This is a conceptual decision; each work is legitimately different and I must rely on a new form of creativity with each work. It’s a hurdle.
The system of making for me is so totally brilliant. I spend most days and nights working in the studio (where I also live) and when I’m running up to a show I fire every night. What is beautiful about this process is that it feels like you’re always working, even when you’re sleeping. I’m making up for lost time in a remarkably clear way. I like to speak earnestly about making art, as you can tell. I think the definition of being such a fundamentally ‘hands-on’ artist against the varying forms of production in contemporary art makes me feel like being earnest is somehow appropriate, or part of my gig.
Jesse, have you seen the new Mariah album? It’s called: Me. I am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse. Amazing, right? Anyway: A CD is a vessel. An album digitally downloaded from iTunes is a vessel. But what about Mariah having to define herself – by naming and signifying herself – four times in the space of the album title? Is that a vessel, or vessel-like? Consider:
The first three are undeniable. She is, it’s true, and she is her: she is Mariah. Is she elusive? Not after all that naming. But what is the need to name, to signify?
You, for example, say you are a sculptor, an artist, a maker, Jesse. The new Acropolis Museum in Athens felt the need to name its vessels and fragments and sculptures, or at least signify their utility, as fragmentary and amputated and unknown as they are, relics from thousands of years ago. I, in turn, felt the need to name this epistolary text, and then to name each letter or vignette that comprises it. To call them so many vessels. To put our names on or in them.
I like that word’s ambiguity – a vessel can be so many things. And yet it is a thing. It has a name. Your vessels – your works – have names too, Jesse. I like them a lot. Sometimes even more than the works themselves (but how can you separate a name from the vessel it signifies? It’s a question, isn’t it). Interestingly, your titles often include your name, or the idea of naming, defining, signifying yourself, your place, your role, your emotional state and ambitions. Consider works from the past year:
Jesse show passion IV (2014)
Chester man II (2014)
Slow motion for me (2014)
Travelling white man II (2014)
I really care I (2014)
Vessels as self-portraits. Vessels as devotional items to make the goddesses rejoice. Vessels as bowls and vases. Vessels as indicators of economic class. Vessels as travelling white men. Vessels as admonitions to the self to do better, as aspirational. Vessels as letters. Vessels as documents of the self at a certain time. Vessels as time.
How was the talk in London, Quinn? Did it feel good? This is what I was trying to tell you over pizza before I left for Iceland:
Right in the middle of my journey to work I stop to see the giraffes at London Zoo. Their enclosure is on the road that dissects Regents Park, and you can see them clearly, from maybe ten metres away. I lean on the fence and take pictures and stare at them. They are weird, strange animals. After travelling through a city of humans, the giraffes are even more bizarre. There are three of them and they stand in a consistent figuration. Somehow they are equidistant from one another. They stand close to the wall of their house and stare back at the people staring at them. The alpha male marches in circles occasionally while the other two remain stationary, swinging their necks back and forth eating from mounted troughs. I feel like I can identify with these animals because I am tall and covered in freckles.
The calm I take from this experience has a huge affect on me. Nothing is as out of place as these giraffes in the city. When the animals are still, I can’t figure out how they will control their limbs and neck when they move; it feels like there’s just too much to concentrate on and that they might fall at any minute. But as they begin to trot a little their grace comes to light and to life, light-footed and silky. No matter my mood these animals have a gripping pull on me. I can be calm in this situation and I use this experience to pull this calm out of me. I often wonder if the animals are calm. If I go past late at night the house is closed and the giraffes are inside. It’s a daytime relationship.
Ballard, J.G. Crash, New York: Picador, 2001
Camus, Albert. The Outsider, London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2012
Casares, Adolfo Bioy. The Invention of Morel, New York: New York Review Books, 2003
Hemingway, Ernest. The Old Man and the Sea, London: Vintage, 2000
Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase, London: Vintage, 2003
Plascencia, Salvador. The People of Paper, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007
Tanizaki, Junichiro. In Praise of Shadows, London: Vintage, 2001
‘The facts of life
Boys ‘n’ girls
And human beings
Machines of love’ Talking Heads, The Facts of Life
Jesse Wine (b. 1983, Chester) lives and works in London. He gained his MA Fine Art at the Royal College of Art in 2010 and his BA Fine Art at Camberwell College of Art in 2007. Recent solo exhibitions include: You Can’t Beat Nature, Mostyn, Llandudno (2014); Chester Man, Mary Mary, Glasgow (2014); Travelling White Man, CO2, Rome (2013) and Practice of the Wild, Limoncello (2012). Selected group shows include: If this is left, what about right?, Kate Werble, New York (2014); Bloody English OHWOW, Los Angeles (2014); To Continue. Notes towards a Sculpture Cycle: Matter, NOMAS Foundation, Rome (2014); Mud and Water, Rokeby, London (2013); Open Heart Surgery, The Moving Museum, London (2013 – 15); Minstrel & Chronicle, Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2012); Original / Copy I, Peles Empire, London (2012); Slipped, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge (2011). Jesse Wine is represented by Limoncello, London and Mary Mary, Glasgow.
Quinn Latimer is a poet and critic based in Basel.
Supported by the Headley Trust.