This Recording, 2013. Original article.
In which we search for lost meanings
A photographer friend of mine is obsessed with bodies and architecture. How the two interact in the cityscape, the soft curled around the hard, breaking up the clean lines. She creates variations on these images again and again but she doesn’t know why, just that they compel her. Of course, she can’t write that on the pieces of paper that’s handed out at her exhibitions. Art has to have an intent and if none comes to mind you have to make it up, so that is what she does.
As a words person, I get a kick out of that sort of task. To mull over a feeling, shift it back and forth, distilling the essence like an egg yolk passed between shells to remove the white. To look for the words to convey the emotion, starting with something vague and feeling the rush as the words come together. But for a visual person like my friend, this translation from feeling to vocabulary is a mystery, a task that feels impossible. For her, the answers are all in the clean lines in her pictures, and in the roundness of the bodies as they distract and mess it all up, without which the city would have no meaning. She knows this, how the answer is in the disruption, but this awareness is not literal but in the heart, just a hunch.
“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” Edgar Allan Poe (misattributed).
These collages are by Anya Lsk. We don’t know much about this artist. Her work echoes across the internet, with all roads leading back to her Tumblr, ‘Long Time No See’. Not that she wants to see anyone as she ignores all attempts to reach her, but as she’s made her work available it seems she wants people to see her. Her photography is all clean lines and architecture, a bit like my friend’s, but the stars of the show are her collages. One image is injected into another, brutal yet effective, to create layers of meaning where previously there was only one. A tree in the midst of a barren landscape, a ravine between two lovers, a city in a lake. We know that Anya Lsk is an artist and photographer from Moscow, Russia, but that’s about it. Except, of course, what’s in her work.
On the surface, Lsk’s collages do a lot of the interpreting work for us, as the contrasts are so clear. One world inserted into another, creating a an obvious comparison between opposing forces. So why is it so difficult to pin down? A piece of blue sky in the middle of a mountain, those are extremes, sure. But to what end? I’m wondering what Lsk wants us to think when we look at her work, knowing that if she’s anything like my friend she probably has no real interest in trying to articulate it at all. Lsk is a picture person and she’s denied us any explanation, which for a words person like me is frustrating. It’s left a void where her intentions should be and we have to fill it with own thoughts. I look at Lsk’s contrasting worlds and there is a feeling there, it nags and eludes and it kills me that I’m not better at doing the thing that I love. But I keep looking for the words, even though I get distracted all the time, by the trivial, by the profound, by my own resistance and attraction to the things I need.
“I feel sorry for need, which gives us life and wastes our time. But I am deep down just that way, and it is good. I love being in love. I have wasted so many productive years on relationships that have amounted to time spent. But what is life but time spent?” Elizabeth Wurtzel.
I read a newspaper feature once, it was maybe ten years ago, which told the story how this woman always cut the ends off the ham before roasting it. She didn’t know why she did this, except that she learnt it from her mother. Her mother was then asked about this habit, but she didn’t know either except, again, that her own mother did it. Then to the grandmother, solving the mystery: the habit of trimming the edges off the ham originated because she had a very small oven.
This story has stayed with me all these years, fascinating me with the thought that one lost detail can provide meaning. How there’s always a reason for things, even if we aren’t aware of it. Lsk may be able to explain why she placed an obelisk emerging from a rainbow into a lake, or it could just be a feeling for her, triggered by something profound, or obscure, or random. Maybe she isn’t paying attention, or she’s behaving perhaps deviously. Somewhere in the muddle there’s a small oven, but Anya Lsk isn’t telling us where it is.
“I dealt with it the same way I deal with everything. I just tended my own garden, didn’t pay much attention, behaved – I suppose – deviously. I mean, I didn’t actually let too many people know what I was doing.” Joan Didion.