The MAK Center Schindler House, Los Angeles
13 June 2012
Context Note: In April, May, and June of this year, Les Figues Press hosted a short series of long conversations on queer art and literature. Titled Q.E.D., in honor of Gertrude Stein’s novel by the same name (and one of the earliest coming-out stories), each Q.E.D. event explored the constructions of speech, art, literature, materiality, and sex. The conversations were moderated by Vanessa Place at the historic MAK-Schindler House, L.A.’s original nod to green architecture.
An evening of Authentic Objects: Julie Bamber, Dodie Bellamy and Terry Castle in conversation.
In the third installment of Les Figues Press’ Q.E.D. Series, moderated by Vanessa Place, the initial questions were, “Does an object need a form? Does an objection? Does anything speak for itself?” Artist Julie Bamber, writer Dodie Bellamy and critic (and writer and artist) Terry Castle assembled in the MAK Schindler House in West Hollywood to discuss questions of object-hood before an excited audience.
Patrons gathered, drank Pellegrino and looked at programs. Grapes and cookies sat on a table on the lawn. The copper of the fireplace was bright, next to the concrete walls of the house, with low beams suspended with small lights. A sliding door opened the wall. Afternoon light slanted across the concrete floor, grey.
Teresa Carmody, co-editor of Les Figues Press, welcomed the group, thanking the city of West Hollywood for funding and mentioning the unexpected and new places these conversations can go. Vanessa Place, co-editor of Les Figues Press, opened the discussion and asked each panelist to speak a little bit about their work.
Julie Bamber’s first reaction to the question of “Does an object need a form?” was an unequivocal “Yes!” She is a painter, and spends months giving form to objects. Her most recent paintings and drawings are Polaroids her father took of her mother while she was a child, reflecting the primal scene. Her mother is often nude in the portraits. Bamber says that in painting the colors of her mother’s skin as they change, she is excavating her naked body as she would the body of a lover. Her mother’s body is her own body.
In Dodie Bellamy’s latest book, The TV Sutras, she has generated a religious text using the television. For the next step, she hands out a workshop flyer entitled, “Monitoring your Desire: The Sacred Erotics of Channeling Devices.” The text introduces JVC, her TV monitor and “world renowned trance channel,” with which she will explore topics such as “How to consecrate your TV monitor as a sacred prostitute” and “Switching: who’s channeling whom.” Object sex through meditation with one’s television is introduced as a tool for spiritual development.
Terry Castle is a professor of English at Stanford University. Her disenchantment with literary theory led her to write book reviews for the London Review of Books in the 1990s, where her reviews of lesbian books became much more personal and autobiographical. In this autobiographical vein, her last book, The Professor and Other Writings (HarperCollins, 2010) culminates in a relationship she had with a closeted professor in graduate school 40 years ago. She has a Photoshop collage practice and is a collector of books, vintage postcards, and printed ephemera.
Vanessa Place mentions that, although the trigger of the discussion was objects, each panelist focused on proceduralness: The never-doneness of collecting, the process of painting, the screen without fixed object status. The way that the term “object” plays with the idea of female object, the object is the locus of desire and desire is a procedure in and of itself. She concludes that, in a sense, the object is what you use to get to the thing you don’t really want to get.
Bamber says that although she worked on her mother collection for six years, she didn’t know what she thought she would find. She was performing the longing, the desire to reach something that she could never reach. Castle says that when writing The Apparitional Lesbian (1993), the ectoplasmic lesbian’s “vacuous eros” was the longing that she was enacting, similarly the longing of continuously collecting. She says that collecting is a process of introspection or self-interrogation, it is a meditative relationship to objects.
When asked how she relates as an object-character in her own work, Bellamy responds that there’s no limits to what she’ll say about herself if it makes good writing. She brings up the YouTube video “Married to the Eiffel Tower,” in which women have love affairs with architectural objects, such as the Berlin Wall. We all have this need to feel this desire, she adds.
Vanessa Place says that she is torn, she wants to do a substitution of women as the objects, and Bellamy remarks, “We have been treated as objects.” Place discusses how in her writing practice she is more object than subject, disinterested in the journey of self-discovery. Bringing it back to the screen, which is no longer Warholian, she says that in Facebook we’re both the consumer and producers of revenue, we’re accomplices, we’re not in or not in control. This endlessness, like the endlessness of Castle’s Photoshop practice, differs from Bamber’s fixed painted objects.
Place mentions an Andrea Fraser piece where she had simulated sex with a museum, again object sex, while listening to the docent’s audio recording. A woman in the audience comments that “this lays bare the irrationality that drifts underneath this idea of reason.” She speaks of willful mistranslations of TV screens and consumer culture willfully mistranslated as religion, with regards to Dodie Bellamy’s work. Bellamy says that Bamber’s paintings are really very beautiful, yet disturbing, looking that closely at the naked mother, the artist becomes very present.
Place remarks that there is something gossipy about everyone’s work, it over-interferes in the lives of others. What is religion but not gossip, a conversation underneath another conversation. Castle and Place discuss the legal troubles they encountered in their work, and Bamber says that she got permission from her mother to paint her so intimately.
A woman in the audience brings up an incident of object sex when a friend of hers wanted to come over and lick her monitor and film it, and her partner did not allow it. Place asks if she met her later with a laptop. Hilarity ensues.
Vanessa Place closes the conversation, stating that she is happy to say that no conclusions were reached.
I look up and the room is dark. It is full of ideas and people rustling with new possibilities. They discuss in groups and flow into the West Hollywood night.
Andrea Lambert is the author of Jet Set Desolate (Future Fiction London), Lorazepam and the Valley of Skin / 730910-2155 (valeveil), and the chapbook G(u)ilt. She co-curates the Featherless reading series. She lives in Los Angeles. Find her online at andreaklambert.com.