U.S.A., SPRING, 2020
raw as sinew,
fresh as blood;
17 June 2020
Amerika, written between 1911-1914, was a fantasy projection of the idea of the United States from Kafka's perspective in Prague. Kafka's work operates as a metaphysical exploration of the human condition in which people are trapped in sadomasochistic power relations and unnamed bureaucrats can destroy lives with a flick of the pen. A nightmare world much like our own in which true justice remains elusive and man's search for meaning is often thwarted by powers beyond his control. In this world of old Europe, America, the proverbial “mansion on a hill”, seemed to many to be a place where these conditions could be overcome, where anything was possible, but Kafka's characters carry their baggage with them and find that even in the land of the free, cruelty abounds. America and the idea of America are basically the same, and they remain a blank canvas upon which we, much like Kafka, can project our ideas of this new world's possibility. This is the great strength of the American project, that it seems or seemed, at least until quite recently, to be a place of wide-open horizons and freedom in contrast to the stifling and calcified histories of Europe. As an American, I had to come to Prague and stay for many years before I began to understand this glittering promise of America, which acts as both an illusion and yet also as a living hope that longs for something different. Only Americans like me, it seems, make the mistake of leaving the country in search of what abounds there, an optimistic belief in the possibilities of the world. American expatriates are swimming against the stream, everyone else keeps trying to go there. But that is changing.
Despite having left, and despite this tragic Trump era which is hopefully drawing to a close, I haven't given up on the idea of America. I can't escape her anyway, as an immigrant I am reminded of my nationality, or at least otherness almost every day. These works from 2011 are my own fantasy projection of the idea of the United States from my perspective in Prague.
Contrasting two American archetypes, the astronaut and the indigenous Native American, in order to examine the tragic underpinnings of the colonialist technological project sometimes referred to as progress, although its legacy, we have come to learn, is global racism, alienation, and the climate emergency. This is the world so-called progress has made.
On one level, the figures inhabit an apocalyptic landscape lit by giant phallic candles in which sadistic rituals are enacted, with ever present skeletal figures of death looking on. On another level, the works are ironic, gently humorous surrealistic dream images. I wrote here about the promise of America. Americans, especially white Americans, like the land they come from, are full of contradictions. We carry all this colonialist, puritanical Jungian shadow material. These works were my attempt to shine a light on the active and actively-perverse American collective unconscious.
“Fake Memories: The Lunatics are running the Asylum” is based on Karl Roßmann's experience in the unfinished novel Amerika by Franz Kafka. I developed a series of photographic works from topics I identified in the novel. The title of each work reflects one of those topics.
I then referenced the America that Roßmann found with my experiences as an immigrant to the States and contextualized the findings with the USA as I perceive it today.
As the basis for the works I used photographs, which I took over the years in different places and collaged them with iconic works of art history, historical maps, quotes and elements of pop culture.
AMERIKA IN THE BARDO
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
~ Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
Uncertainty is the zeitgeist of the moment. This work is a metaphor for our nation as it emerges from the isolation of the Covid lockdown and confronts a critical election. It explores the impermanent and the illusory nature of phenomena.
The Bardo, in Tibetan Buddhism, is the intermediate state of existence where consciousness travels before it is reborn. It is an experience of being between death and rebirth, caught in an in-between, liminal state.
I shot this work as New York City emerged from isolation - into an Amerika forever changed - something had died, suspended in a transitional realm, dwelling in the Bardo.
The silhouettes of passersby, trees, and branches seemed to personify the loss, with stark, ghost-like figures and fragmented trunks and limbs. These cast shadows became symbolic for the shadow self of our nation.
Amerika today like the Bardo beings are both nascent, oscillating between the realities of despair and hope, isolation and connection, loss and transcendence, form and illusion.
In the end, there is an absence of what we thought was there. Things don’t live outside of us, but inside of us... constantly changing, moment by moment.
“Impermanence is not just an illuminator of loss. It is an illuminator of newness, the ever-unfolding present moment and its creativity.”
~Pema Khandro Rinpochei
THE REST IS NOW (take 22)
Richard Pryor & Richard Wright leisurely lean on
the crumblin’ wall of a burnt-out runaway hideout
Waitin’ for them folks in those badge sheets to
reconsider their DeLorean chariot, illegally parked just in front of them...
Inside it, the Flux Capacitor reads December 31st 1922, Rosewood
A crisp yellow stick-it note hanging underneath the screen reads
“Upgrades are available for Immediate Download”
Wright & Pryor download Northstar GPS & Swift Vehicle Transformers
Soon as they press ACCEPT, their innocuous chariot glitches-into an Onyx Submarine, Pryor coins it, A.A.= Anyanwu Ahab.
Wright answers the blinking alert, “Urgent New Message! New mission!”
“Abort all previous missions- you’re presence’s required at a demure bugged hotel room in Memphis, united states date-April 3rd, 1968”
Top Secret Inverted Mission [Censored sections]
If ever, you find yourself in InnerCity InnerMind & you have the time
We recommend you take a left on 110th @ Duke Ellington’s monument
Square up & proceed down to that enormous statue of
Fredrick Douglass gracefully hovering above the shoulders of Mumbet & her celestial wings
Look ‘cross the street & you’ll find Us at Father Divine’s Cafe
Me & Richard Pryor still celebratin’ that early sunny Saturday morning,
sittin’ easy, with our two espressos each, in separate cups
Reflectin’ on The Limits Of Control
Adjusting our thin Moroccan Scarves disheveled Dumas’ afros
Rollin’ Drum, smokin’ Drum & waitin’ on James Brown & Wright- (Who’re never late, especially on
Harlem Date, November 6th 2008)
Yerp, we sincerely chillin’ until another urgent alert ripples from our espressos
Warning Us that your exhausted Delorian disguised as an invisible illegally parked bus
is suffering from an unpreventable danger
Rich’ fronts the bill & we run to our DeLorean bus, whose front door abruptly slams shut, engine hollers &
Through the windshield we witness an excited Donald take off
while flippin’ us the bird…
We haven’t seen Our DeLorean since,
& The Rest Is Now
& the Rest Is Now (aREMINDER)
as Eye’m sure you already know...
The New Yin & Yang is
Artificial Intelligence & Artificial Imagination
But what about all of Us from Generation Keep It Real
Who unfortunately fell asleep nestled in that 20th Century V.R. of keepin’ it Violently Real
Having now arose to artificial dreams
Accidently experienced by bulging sacks of benign crystals
Smuggled in by those Boys From Brazil
Killed over by oldtime human traffickers
Whose main product is still real humans
Whose real organs & genes & humiliating murder scenes
Serve as antidotes for ancient royal machines, kept alive by
prehistoric cults, devoted to removing spiritual-bodies from minds stained with newly modified disgrace-
Invert that, then sale souls by the centimeter in international markets at artificial prices
As Brother Tulip out of fluorescent frustration proclaims,
“We all know this ain’t nothin but another poem
Full of artificial conclusions inspired by some artisanal maniacs
Unemployed & refusing to collect anything less than reparations
Always refusing to turn the light on when they brush their bleached teeth,
Can’t bare to see the ivory in their mouths, me neither- Cloak that-
Always refusing to respond to those text messages left on our mirror, every morning after every steamy shower by that silent being who lives
Just on the other-side of our mirrors, rent free & still, complaining.
Another INTERRUPTION 93million
You betta believe, They do Orphic rites for all abused muses
Cobalting about cracked vases full of tulip bulbs, sixth stage developments
Desperately fleein’ from that diamond studded skull...
a single cerulean flame in each socket
Sentimentally swaying in a vermillion wind
That shouldn’t be there, at all
suddenly those tiny crimson pocket clocks fall forward from
each cerulean Flame’s miniscule wrist & drips tiny tourmaline people who are rumoured to still be able to fix any & everything
After you feed them your pride & dreams
What about We
Who linger in looms
Phosphorescent eyes sparklin’
About the gender of colour
Listenin’ to soft-spoken pigments without hearin’ a word
Censoring what we’ve always been
Cuz no one, not even ourselves
Can tolerate another instance of losing
Another interruption 528
So now, they say,
you’re 400,000 times
dimmer than our Sun,
my scarred sacred moon
Divine distance is your perfume
Speakin’ of money... WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE GREEN MEN
You know the ones= Hulk, Kermit, Yoda, Gumby… The Grinch/ No wonder when Rama, Tara or Osiris, Nephytys, Tehuti or Milarepa finally show up/ Every mirror sustains a jade fog/ until tourmaline eyed, Ivy skin, pine haired, fern breath beings, tuRN UP/ beggin’ for filterless cigarettes rolled with dried mosquito wings laced with dragonfly antenna & caterpillar eyes/ lit by a spark from two black opals struck/ At the speed of prayers chasing the speed of curses into a corn field, where Uncle Michael never sings a single note, ever/ & Aunt Dorothy runs into James Brown runnin’ rhythms with those mad-ass munchkins in Arrondissement Me/ until Langston & Bob turn up with Ai & Lucille on the way to Maya’s, carrying yams meditating in pecan syrup, impeccably gratin’d mississippi mac & cheese & You too, dragging along a red wheel barrow stacked full of Eastern Star quilts sown in that old pre-colonial tradition.”
I spent much of the summer of 2020 trying to make sense of my observations of the protests following the killing of George Floyd. I visited the smouldering remains of scores of more than 250 structures destroyed by arson during the protests. I submitted some of these protest paintings to the Isolation Collection when they called for work for their Description of a Struggle show earlier this year. Then in August I went up to the North Shore of Lake Superior and spent two weeks hiking. I was not prepared for what I saw. On a miles long segment of the North Shore Trail I saw tens of thousands of dead pine trees. Most were spruce and balsams less than 30 feet tall. I had hiked the section of the trail where I saw the dead trees a few years ago and all were alive. Areas of the trail that had been permanently shaded previously, now had sunlight filtering to the ground through dead branches and local deciduous plants (like thimbleberries) were beginning to grow. I'm not sure what precisely killed the trees, but I realized that warmer weather was probably involved. Coniferous forests were changing to deciduous forests. Centuries of consistency were being overturned. It immediately struck me that the protests were like the splash made in the water by throwing a rock into the ocean, but global warming was like a hurricane coming ashore. Then came the fires in the Western United States. I realized this is the true storm that's coming. It’s a firestorm. This firestorm is a harbinger of the enormous change that is about to upset harmony all over the world. And it’s caused by global warming.
Just as the assignment to submit work responding to Kafka’s Description of a Struggle seemed to be prescient of the George Floyd protests, the assignment to submit art relevant to Kafka’s novel Amerika seems equally prescient. Here’s why: The essence of Amerika is based on a short story Kafka wrote called The Stoker. This story is the autobiographical account of Kafka’s meeting with the man who was the stoker of the boiler on the ship that brought him to America. The stoker was the man who fed fuel to the flames that delivered Kafka to America. America was the promise land. So in Amerika, fire is the catalyst that enables transition to the new world, the promised land. There is a subplot in Amerika which is Kafka’s identification with downtrodden black men. This subplot metaphorically connects the plight of police brutality felt today and the fires of these protests, also the flames of these fires connect to the wildfires sweeping across the west here in America overturning centuries of consistency and fuelling a transition to a new world.
The Survivor is a metaphorical image of ourselves. We who can read this are the sole survivors of a world on fire. Though we may feel grateful to have survived, we feel isolated from the familiar by the storm of flames charring our environment beyond recognition. And we recognize the deep threat to life as we once knew it. This soul-level insecurity fuels other changes in our social structure. Unfortunately, we believe the threat comes from our fellow citizens, the ones with power, the ones who have what we do not. This is a misperception. Our shared insecurity comes from the disintegration of our social agreements and our expanded awareness that our social agreements themselves were flawed. This new perception is what inhibited protection by law enforcers in Minneapolis. I personally investigated what happened by talking with tenants of unburned buildings adjacent to burned ones. I discovered that during the first several days of most intense arsonist activity, police did not respond to calls for help. A local food co-op survived because some of it’s own members armed with assault rifles stood guard all night. Across the street a record store survived because the owner and friends stayed up all night armed with baseball bats. The looting and burning of the 3rd Precinct Police Station okayed by our Mayor. And, strangely, no one has even inquired about all the weapons that were stolen. What did it mean that law enforcement in Minneapolis couldn’t protect its own home base? The only conclusion I can come to is that authorities considered the very laws which imbued them with power to no longer be valid. Yes, little remains of the forest in which we, the survivors, once stood. We who have survived dominate the burned out landscape around us. As we look out over the charred stumps we must determine how do we reseed? How do we create a comfortable new living environment fair to all?
SUNSET OF AMERICA
This is a still shot of a painting used as a projection screen. It is a painting of a smokey, molten sunset over burned hills in the western United States. As I stared at the twisted shapes of the burned trees I’d painted (from my own experiences and newscasts), I noticed they made me think of other images. I decided to seek out representations of the images I was imagining and project those images on the scene. What I realized I was creating was an image not of a sunset in or over America, but the Sunset of America. In other words, this sunset signifies the beginning of the end of America’s world dominance through endeavours powered by greed and fear and the ascension of mindful awareness as the new power base.
ARRIVAL OF THE ALCHEMIST
The Arrival of the Alchemist is dominated by two main figures both of which are surrounded by a myriad of shadows, reflections and illusions. In the left canvas of this diptych, we, the author of our own experience, see ourselves as the black man, sacrificed saviour, projected on the sail and mast of the boat in which he has just arrived on Amerika's shore. The prow of the boat rests on the beach where an indistinct figure has started a fire that casts long shadows. The stern still rests in waters beneath whose surface we see frightening images. In both the dark yet-to-be-explored promised land and the sea we find reflections of our own presence. On the right is the hooded Alchemist with a raven on his shoulder tending the flames of a fire bursting from a chimera. A chimera is defined as: 1. (In Greek mythology) a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. 2. a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve. Amerika may be a second sort of chimera. One of its rear cloven hooves and both of its front claws pin down the neck of a prostrate black man lying at the foundation of the illusion burning above him.
Smouldering Remains is a straight forward double entendre. What you see is the smouldering remains of the arson that erupted during the George Floyd protests here at ground zero and all across the world. But the title also implies that though the frustration was expressed, with more than 250 fires in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis (where Floyd was killed) and neighbouring capitol Saint Paul, there still remains a smouldering which is defined as a barely repressed anger or hatred.
ft. David Bowie
American Landfill, the song, is a re-creation, re-imagining, re-production of a song I wrote and recorded in the aughts (called Saviour). It is a song about over-indulgence and arrogance at every level. I wrote it as a duet for David Bowie and myself (after he attended one of my shows) and I was lucky that he loved the song and agreed to record it with me. Unfortunately, at the time, when we shopped it around to labels no one was interested in me (“we’ve already got a girl on our roster”) and we were told that David Bowie was “irrelevant”. But, as we know, time changes perspective.
Last year (2019) I started thinking about remaking the song because, frankly, I thought it was too good of a song to languish in the nothingness of a 2004 self-release. Hardly anyone had heard it. I asked the extremely talented producer, Justin Raisen, to remake it with me. And he said “yes”.
Initially American Landfill, the song, was supposed to be released on Record Store Day in April 2020. But the pandemic pushed this, and most everything else, back. This enabled me, gave me time, to make the video. I’d only started making videos a year prior. I’m not an extremely tech savvy or tech loving person. I’m tactile. So, I’ve been easing myself into the video making world. I’m still not at the point of using PROFESSIONAL tools. I shot the American Landfill video (as with all my prior videos) on my iPhone and edited it in iMovie using a couple of video apps (like Video Leap) for some effects. Since we were in pandemic lockdown at the time….the items used in the video were things I already had in my apartment…or apartment building: Literally (or litter-ally) “trash". Also in this time period (March and April 2020) people were talking about how the Earth seemed to be repairing itself because of the much needed break of human interaction. The birds came back to New York City and ...dare I say….the aroma outdoors was….fresh??? This informed much of the content of the video. What is landfill? What do we treat as landfill? What is REALLY landfill? Are people the same as our trash?
We built our first "border" in 2016 in Oslo. At that time we were dealing with an escalating refugee crisis and the border came to us as the perfect platform, capturing all sorts of crap, passions, nationalist shit, history and religious bullshit, severed heads, dead children on the beach, torn hands in ruins, dusty boys in orange ambulance chairs accompanied by sad crying smileys. One has to do something! Everybody roared all over social media… and so on and so on… We subjected all these things to our sculptural phenomenological reduction, deconstructed and re-constructed and entwined into a chaotic assemblage of sticks. The sculpture appears ready to fall apart at any moment, if not held together by plastic binders, precisely those binders used by cops to pacify protesters. At that time we created the first molecule of chaos, the mental frontier of society. We started working with the statue as a toy building-block set adapting to space and time in variable installations. Bones and sticks are the building blocks of a construction, which is constantly mutating in form, and which filters current events and our mental state.
Clearly… boundaries can take many forms… from the mythical wake separating chaos from order through the event horizon to your broken fence behind a 30-year-old mortgage house or my childhood complexes.
Our latest frontier has invaded the shopping cart of a drugstore. “For everything we are” is written on the handle of the cart. The cart… your wise guide… frames our humanity among the purity of shopping shelves, where we can fight without remorse for scented three-layer toilet paper to wipe our ass with in the comfort of home with the help of a hand with an opposable thumb. I shop here, I'm human here. It will carry our desires on it’s little wheels in a metal cage… and those little wheels will one day roam the withering roads.
LIVE TO RIDE
It’s a portrait of my brother, who is a Harley Davidson and gun enthusiast. He has a “Live to Ride” tattoo on his arm, among many others. He lives deep in the country and his property is fenced and posted with a lot of signs saying “No trespassing”, “Keep Out- This Means You”, etc. He’s suspicious of most people, especially “foreigners”, blacks, city dwellers, Jews, in other words, anyone who isn’t white, rightwing and country.
He is a big Trump guy and I would be afraid to know what other paranoid conspiracy or hate groups he may support, but he’s not a people-person, so I doubt he physically participates in anything like the Proud Boys. My family nor I have spoken to him in a very long time and he shows no interest in us, including my parents. I was trying to convey the apathetic coldness in his face and the feeling of rural isolation. He may be more extreme in his desire to self-isolate, but I think there are a lot of people like him out here in places like Central Pennsylvania, who are afraid of being overrun by “lefties” and non-whites. There were Trump signs everywhere before the election.
The world sits behind plexiglass.
People breathe and die amidst injustice and grime. The heroism of others is being desecrated, while murderers become powerful, celebrated martyrs. Everything lives on an ephemeral and uncertain plane. Were I to give concrete examples it would serve no purpose except to make the whole topic easier to grasp. This is not my intention.
Dear reader, I wish for you to be paralyzed by the intake of information, just as I am. With this text I hope to reflect the intellectual and emotional processes which have guided me. This text does not convey revolutionary ideas: it only attempts to convey why I will remain speechless or confused regarding topics which interest me and are important: politics, the situation surrounding the corona virus, basic human rights being eroded in Hong Kong, etc.
At the very best we may one day embrace the notion of a generally-accepted reality.
This however seems like nothing but a non-constructive cry into empty space because I myself may never manage to conceive of a universal reality.
The information we receive is distorted. The further it has to travel to get to us, the more deformed or deliberately altered it becomes. We cannot even be certain that we have properly comprehended a conversation that we are at the centre of.
I cannot, in all good faith, even create my own truth because I feel I am only absorbing and subconsciously accepting and regurgitating the opinions of others.
These facts result in me being paralyzed by my thoughts: How do I achieve true information? Does such information even exist?
New questions come and old questions return. Everything is spinning, and I don't know what to hold on to. I dream of a miracle.
How wonderful it would be to live in a world where the media can be trusted. Where ideals wouldn't be naive but commonplace. The only path to redemption is searching, searching for answers, searching for the truth.
My take on this subject is straightforward inspiration by the Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika.
He himself was inspired by photographs of places and people of Amerika as he never visited New York or any other part of Amerika during his life. I found few old photos on internet that were supposedly direct inspiration for his novel to him, and I used some of those pictures for the creation of my painting. Just as Franz Kafka never just described the photographic reality but gave it new twist, I also approached the subject freely. What I wanted to point out most are the points of novel I can relate to. The theme of immigration and sliding down the social ladder. As I myself emigrated from Czech Republic to UK all alone, I can feel with the struggle of young Karl who was sent to Amerika by his parents without support. Kafka in his novel touched the subject of racism in America when Karl in his new workplace accepted the name Negro. On one photograph that inspired this amazing writer is a dead black man hanged on a tree. Under the tree is a group of white men with cowboy hats.
On my painting I used the name Karel instead of Karl because Karel is the Czech form of the same name and it’s also my father’s name. In the painting I wrote it on the Karl’s suitcase which in the novel had been lost by Karl at one point. It’s been also all that Karl had.
The statue of liberty holding a sword is very interesting image or idea which is used in the novel by Franz Kafka and I used it in my painting. The other parts of painting are blend of street view, sea view and ships and some sign of a lift-boy uniform inspired by old New York photographs.
WHAT'S LEFT ?
They hand you a handout a look
a number a label a mask
a social identity that passes for you
They call you they and them--
Black people poor people gay people other people
They add on ‘’people’’ to distinguish you
from White Western male majority
They can’ t help being like that
They were born that way
Do unto others
before they do unto you
Go ahead make duplicates
only I’ll keep the original
I anonymously yours am at a loss
Coiled in my shell-- a cheap hotel
or is it Hell ?—
a crime scene tape I dare not cross
I am envious of my own reflection
I will never make it to the other side of the frame
Never see my own children again
I the carbon copy of unnamed stars of meteors
God’s blueprint at my fingertips
the Trinity stamped on my forehead
my tongue nailed to the roof of my mouth
a chain-link fence that keeps going South
They hand you a look a label a number
then point you in the direction of your shallow grave--
the one you carry with you
the one in which you bury yourself
a little deeper every day
What identity is left
is either inherited like a windfall or a disease
is a reasonable facsimile of an ad
a commercial on TV a Facebook Emoji ☺
What identity is Left
may be borrowed from the Right…
smacks of popular opinion late nite date night
Artificial Intelligence Fox breaking news
the romance novel you once read
just before that illegal abortion in sunny Mexico
The one that left you hemorrhaging in some unmarked train station
or forever boring smiles into other women’s children--
children whose souls you may recognize but never fully embrace
What identity is left is a mirror without a face new stanza
without health care or a place to call home..
What identity is left is you humming alone in the dark.
is the echo of an echo is Light sailing to some distant shore
is taking a vacation without you
is reminding you is reminding you
that you still look good you still look damn good
Red is sooo becoming ! as you stand there dripping in blood
What identity is left
is patting you on the back
is feeding you more of these lines
they guard your uterus better than assault weapons
as your brittle (but genius original) bones are snapping
in sync with your still cool ever-breaking heart
My paintings and drawings are often reflecting the Poetism of pop culture and its icons. This approach is apparent in the cycle Walt Buzny (Walt Faggots, 2008) in numerous quotations and paraphrases of characters from Walt Disney’s comics such as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and so on. This world is deeply rooted in my mind. It stalked me during my childhood in the form of TV series, furry toys, comics and other articles created by the consumer culture inundating our lives.
The illusive image of America as a land of dreams, freedom and wealth, as portrayed by world media, gets bent by a perverted world of Disney’s characters orgies, hidden deviations, preferences and orientations. Society is falling apart while individuals set their own rules. No end to the massacre.
The Isolation Collection