October 2022: THICC #002
quitting things; OCD decoys and mediums; exile; teaching as improvisation; longitudinal translation; the menace of smoothness; writing as sport; the physics of writing
Bismillah. We begin everything with the name of Allah. We say Bismillah to initiate an act to acknowledge the intention and the ethics we carry with all that follows Bismillah.
— Allah is a Comedian! —
I am a whole week behind. I am giving myself some grace. I was trying to write through anxiety and anticipation. Somewhere between going back to powerlifting at Strengthworks Williamsburg (ya girl bench 75# with ease) and my new godchild being born (hey, Mars!), I knew I needed to wait. I was unsure what I was waiting for, but something said to wait. As I shared in the first newsletter, I have a special relationship with synchronicity. Being asked by my higher self to wait gave me time to do some clearing. On Monday, I had my first session with a new therapist who practices process-oriented psychology.
During that session, she reminded me of three things:
Identify the teachers in my inner school.
Disabuse myself of the notion that selfishness is wrong.
Acknowledge that awareness journeys are lonely and strange.
Before I called into the session, I already decided what needed to happen.
⬈ Thursday (tomorrow) is my last day at a full-time job I held for a little over nine years. I quit.
⬈ In mid-2021, I ended my marriage and filed for divorce. I quit.
⬈ Throughout the end of 2021 and early 2022, I closed out friendships. I quit.
A central cord tethers all these relationships: a desire for consistency. Even if that was consistent condescension or disrespect, it was constant. I knew what to expect. I could predict the exact intonations, the faithful gaslighting. The thrill (?) was in the prediction and the fulfillment of that prediction.
I often say “my version of OCD” because OCD does not show up the same for everyone. I love the rhythm of consistency, which is fascinating for me, self-witness and articulate because my art ethos is one of uncertainty, site-specificity, chance, and mutability. Islam provides a rhythm of consistency - appointed times of worship, appointed days of collective worship, and appointed months of spiritual duty.
When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2010, I read Jennifer Triag’s Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood (2004). This book precipitated memories of a specific period in my teen years (before I even knew what OCD was). During that time, I would repeatedly make wuḍūʾ to ensure that I washed correctly for fear that Allah would not accept my prayer and subsequent deeds. My practice of Islam at that time was one of using religious rituals as both a medium and a decoy for OCD before I could even understand it.
By my 20s, my Islam no longer looked like that as I emerged as a free-range Muslim™. As my therapist explains, marginalized energy doesn’t disappear; it just explodes elsewhere. Instead of outward actions of order, it became (again, without the language to witness it as such) a desire for relational consistency. I leaned into the comforts and rhythm of being on auto-pilot concerning a person or place. I stayed with people and places more prolonged than I should have.
Something significant shifted in July 2022. Something had shifted in 2021, too when I filed for divorce, but July 2022 felt different; like a forceful jolt, a sobering, maybe?
I remember laying very still in a hotel room in Paris amid that European heatwave. Whatever it was, it came from Allah. Allah was like, “look, lady, I’ve given you about fifty-eleven reminders, you gonna act on something…now.” And I did. I do. Allah did. Allah will. I quit all of these things with great clarity. Even with this clarity, it was not without grief. The type of grief pushing you into quiet gestures to find a replacement to fill the hole. Like changing departure timelines.
I return to an excerpt of Lara Mimosa Montes' Thresholes (2020) pointing to Ivy Baldwin’s Keen [No.2]:
There’s this question Ivy Baldwin asks: “What if you don’t replace this person? What if you live there and embrace that hole?” When there is a vacuum or hole - this impulse to fill it, to occupy it, to busy it with something else. But Baldwin’s invitation: to acknowledge the hole but not to fill the cavity asks that we observe the contours, the literal impressions of the person or place that once held space. It is not to pave to create a smooth surface or interface so we can pretend the loss never happens but to honor the texture, discontinuity, and glitch. It is a pause for reflection.
When putting together the show SMOOOOOOOOTH OPERATOR at University of Georgia - Athens (The Atheneum), I thought a lot about the menace of smoothness - this sort of facade of agreement or coherence. I kept coming back to Prem Krishnamurthy’s March 2020 Polymorph! PDF essay where he explores bumpiness.
While SMOOOOOOOOTH OPERATOR is focused on machine learning and feral translation, the language of bumpiness offers something else for this moment. The bumpiness, the glitch, the discontinuity…whatever you want to call it, invites us to slow down - to not glide over moments with carelessness, to self-study. That bump, that glitch, means that we can no longer proceed at the same velocity — that we should, no, that we must get out of autopilot.
Upon leaving my job, marriage, and friendships, there was a sense of estrangement. I made the choice to stand outside of things and the context I’d been conditioned to accept.
— Studio News —
Supporting Fellow Artists
Next Monday, I will announce the second cohort of the Orange Tangent Study recipients and a new website. Regarding peer-to-peer artist grants, please check out Whitney McGuire’s (personal website | Substack) peer-to-peer artist grant: a fund for Black artist mamas. She is distributing $100 microgrants. Please donate, share, or apply.
Last week, I started as a Core Critic at Yale School of Art in the Sculpture department. In 2021, I worked in the Painting and Printmaking department. I am appreciative of both cohorts of students, and I am learning a lot.
Also, this is my second semester at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and I am teaching the same course, Teaching as Social Practice. This year, we are focused on the nitty-gritty of teaching instruction: identifying goals, facilitating activities, reflecting on lessons, designing assessments, etc. Because I believe most teaching is improvisation, we will play a series of improv games in the next few weeks to get our responsive muscles going. And my improvisation does not mean working without a plan; I mean teaching as a relational art that asks that we listen closely to our classroom community and respond to that rather than continuing with an activity just because we planned it.
When I took my first class and performed my first improv set, I easily took to the form. There was something very familiar - the process of listening closely and responding to that and not the script I had in my head. There were these delicious moments of revealing unexpected dialogue and associations. Something was thrilling about listening in between and being in perpetual anticipation.
So much of teacher education, as I have experienced it across different contexts, is focused on planning such that we forget about the generative force and power of the unplanned and impossible-to-document (or replicate) moments. While I am not opposed to planning as an activity to wrangle and organize, planning alone does not equate to teaching. Teaching is about relationships and close listening, allowing for a dynamic and ongoing call and response. And this call and response are not unidirectional. Also, I often think about improvisation with intuition. I am reminded of artist S*an Henry-Smith’s March 2022 tweet:
On September 8th, I gave a talk at the Poetry Project as part of the moguLUOBO curatorial project. I spoke about translation as an erotics—erotic, as in Audre Lorde, The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power (1978).
On September 22nd, I spoke at RISD for the Center for Complexity symposium: COLLAPSE. I picked up on the conversation at the Poetry Project and did some live-processing of many ideas I have been wading in. I appreciate thematic invitations because
Last week, I gave a talk to SVA BFA students. I will speak at Bennington College, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SPCUNY, and SUNY Purchase in the coming months. I love speaking, so invite me to your institution :) Make a request here.
At the New Museum, I am speaking on a panel for Book Launch: “An Incomplete Archive of Activist Art” on Thursday, October 13th at 6:30 pm.
The Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference is a long-time programming partner of Printed Matter’s Art Book Fairs. I will deliver the keynote talk this year on Saturday, October 15th at 7:30 pm!
No more installations until the three big projects next year, but I wanted to share some things on shows that are currently running.
Worshipping at the Altar of Certainty: 1985, Benton Museum of Art |||| August 24 - December 18, 2022
SMOOOOOOOOTH OPERATOR, University of Georgia - Athens (The Atheneum) |||| September 1 - December 1, 2022
When it comes to machine learning, I am interested in the noise, the stages leading up to rendering a “perfect” image, and feral translation. I worked with text-to-image machine learning tools to create a series of image translations of a piece of writing I started in 2020. I am most interested in what I call longitudinal translation (keeping translation in perpetuity over a long time) - I am sure there is a better word for it.
In September 2020, participants were invited to type into the Zoom chat four words from any text nearest them. Using that collection of words, I had 37 minutes to write something. I screen-recorded the writing process. In 2021, I was invited to present at the Computer Mouse Conference organized by Emma Rae Bruml and Ashley Jane Lewis. I presented Algorithmic Music Composition Using Approximate Mouse Coordinates, where I translated the mouse coordinates in music by creating an algorithm that established a connection between the concentration of mouse locations in different quadrants to sound. I was inspired by Benjamin Patterson’s Ants (1960-62). I wanted to see how I could push this translation into other forms, substrates, etc. for this new show. I worked with a text-to-image bot called MidJourney to begin generating images from the text using a specific syntax and text tokenization. I worked with the output images to begin creating new compositions and relationships between the output images. [More on this soon as the project evolves across other sites!]
In addition to those images, I also worked with a N+7 OuLiPo tool to create new closed captioning for Sade’s Smooth Operator. At six minutes and five seconds, the video translates Sade’s song using N+7 (and my edits) as a translation medium.
— Not an Essay: Writing and Physics —
Starting this newsletter was the best thing I have done. This is not because my writing is so wonderful and you should all be grateful to read it; it is because I carved out time to do something I enjoy: the cycle of grasping, feverishly, for words, not finding them, experiencing the blunt edge of disappointment when baited to acknowledge the terrible distance between what I felt and what I was able to language, then committing to the whole process again! Writing, for me, has always been a sport. And by sport, I mean, yes, a competition. I was not competing against others as much as I was competing with language itself. They (language, the thing I am using now) is a fast mover, shapeshifter — and I am always racing: racing to catch up to language, racing to find language to catch up to myself, racing to outpace ill-fitted language.
I struggled with intense anxiety this weekend, and I wish it were about something less ridiculous (???). I was having a hard time finishing this essay (which is more than anything, just finishing me) and felt like I just needed ten more years to finish reading everything I needed to write the most comprehensive essay, an ironically about non-comprehensiveness. I felt like the Purifiers in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel, trying to find these comprehensive texts. I felt ridiculous because the anxiety I felt is the fetish of comprehensiveness/completeness/totality that I often rail against. Why was I so fixated on ensuring the comprehensiveness of an essay about the impossibility of comprehensiveness? I have created a hyper-meta hellscape. By the time the weekend was over, I went ahead and submitted some late writing and drank some tea. I reflected on writing as a sport and why it felt like a sport, and if not a sport, what would I like writing to feel like?
Some odd 20 years ago in AP Literature, my teacher told me something to the effect that my writing felt like a person packing multiple suitcases for a one-week trip. My writing was bursting at the seams, exceeding the parameters of what was asked, dancing outside the lines. I had a lot to say and still do. However, I took this criticism and sought to be more orderly and minimal. I strove for a voice of clarity. I clearly remember restraining my writing and seeing those B+s transform into A’s. I got better grades, but I lost my voice. I want to come back to Emily Elizabeth Dickinson’s letters to Thomas Higginson because there is something about her refusal to organize or be tidy:
The cheeky “Will you help me improve?” reminds me of the very particular relationships with editors — the external ones and the internal ones. And I am even more appreciative of her announcement that attempts to be orderly results in her “little force explod[ing].” Writing as a force. Writing as a force, we contain in containers called sentences and paragraphs. I have been reminded of Lyn Hejinian's essay The Rejection of Closure (1983)
In the preface of Lara Mimosa Montes' Thresholes (2020) she writes,
In physics, a force is an influence that can change the motion of an object. As Physics Classroom reminds me, “forces only exist as a result of an interaction.” I went down the physics of writing rabbit hole and found this:
Yes! There is a physics to the pull of ink and the movement of this liquid across a page. (This also reminds me to go back and read Track Changes A Literary History of Word Processing to read up on how the transition from analog to digital writing processes impacts my understanding of the writing process - also, what is the physics of working in a word processor?)
And all of this led me to two pieces of writing I reference a lot in my lectures:
I like the possibility of writing as physics — writing as a negotiation of forces, an explosion of forces, a suppression of forces, a reorganization of forces, an instigation of forces.
More soon on this.
— I Let Them Take Hold —
There is nothing more beautiful than reading Octavia Estelle Butler writes about artistic influence as a sort of possession.
A few things that have taken hold of me in the past few months:
Books: I made a new rule — If I purchase new books, I have to read them within a month or give away the book. Since my books are beloved, I have taken this promise seriously. Last week, I tore through Lara Mimosa Montes' Thresholes TWICE (!!!). I am now half way through Etel Adnan’s There: In the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other (1997). Much like reading Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva (1973), Adnan’s text is hard to finish because it locks you - like a brace and it’s hard to move forward. Finally, I look forward to Durga Chew-Bose’s Too Much and Not in the Mood (2017). I appreciate a good Virginia Woolf reference. As the book summary clarifies, “On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words ‘too much and not the mood’ to describe her frustration with placating her readers, what she described as the ‘cramming in and the cutting out.’”
TV/Films: Rewatching Evil!
Podcasts: I am listening to the Opportunist podcast! The summary: “The Opportunist tells true stories of regular people who turn sinister simply by being opportunistic. How does an everyday person turn into a thief, a cult leader, or a scammer?”
Music: I am listening to Björk again! “Hidden places” is on repeat.
Exhibitions: I have not seen much art lately between COVID-exposure announcements and preemptive quarantining. I look forward to seeing Just Above Midtown Changing Spaces at MoMA, .cataclysm. The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited at David Zwirner, Melvin Edwards at Dia: Beacon, Circular Ruins at Island 83 Gallery, and Made in Trans-Pakistan Umber Majeed at Pioneer Works.
In addition to the ideas that have taken hold, a few sensory things have locked me in.
Food: I am craving this vanilla tart frozen yogurt from 21 Choices.
Smells: A bag a lavender I bought while in Bosnia and Herzegovina this summer. I sleep with it near the top of my head. Usually the bags of lavender I buy loses its scent very quickly, but this bag has been going for months!
Textures: The hair on the nape of my neck.
How to cite this newsletter: Rasheed, K. (Year, Month Day). Newsletter Title. I Will (?) Figure This All Out Later. URL
The next SLIM THICC issue is released on October 25, 2022.
The next THICC issue is released on November 8, 2022.