“From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may once have been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the lungs. The word may once have been a healthy neural cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting your sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.”
–William S. Burroughs, from The Ticket That Exploded, 1962
In his relentless, lifelong quest to push the written word into new realms of expression, William S. Burroughs experimented with a few formal techniques, one of which was the “cut-up.” Stumbled upon by his artist friend and collaborator Brion Gysin in the process of cutting a matte, the cut-up was a splicing together of different pieces of pre-existing writing to create something new. A literary echo of surrealist collage methods, the cut-up technique freed the writer from the dictates of linear narrative and invoked a free-association mind state.
As a tribute to Burroughs, whose writing inspired the name of this column, I am launching it with a cut-up of my own. As a Los Angeles–based freelance arts writer, I generate texts on a daily basis discussing artworks that I have seen. Often I am forced to edit out sections of text for the sake of conciseness. When these discards are interesting to me, I save them as separate files called “discarded texts.” I have amassed around 30 of these over the last few years. Below I have selected some of the files and collaged them together into a new essay, whose lack of tethering to a single subject turns it into a more freeform negotiation of ideas.
Eve Babitz first came into my life via an Amazon book transaction. I had purchased the out-of-print Marcel Duchamp study, West Coast Duchamp, for the amazing price of $6.99. It later turned out that the seller had accidentally left out a digit—the price should have been $64.99. But she was good-humored about it, and let me have the book anyway.
Tucked into the back of the book was a faded Xerox copy of plate no. 34—the legendary photograph you see above of Eve playing chess nude with Marcel Duchamp, as part of the opening reception for his landmark Pasadena Art Museum retrospective. I don’t know why it was there—apparently the previous owner had taken a special interest in the chess match, and perhaps he or she had wanted to share it with others.
I didn’t think about Eve again until she started to snake her way back into L.A.’s public consciousness via the resuscitative festivities of Pacific Standard Time. Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, who came out with the historic tell-all book Rebels in Paradise last year, claimed that Eve’s writing had enabled her to find the right tone to use in her own book. In August of 2011, she corralled the acclaimed writer and storied ex-groupie into giving a talk with her at the Hammer, which generated quite a bit of buzz and brought out legions of people who had been devoted fans of Eve for years. The talk, which is thankfully archived on the Hammer website, is a gem, filled with great stories, witticisms, and Eve’s effervescent personality.
On May 3, 2012, artist Zoe Crosher held something of a conceptual séance for Eve, attempting to bring her out into the public again with an event called For an Evening with Eve Babitz. Done under the auspices of Los Angeles Nomadic Division’s Nomadic Nights, an ongoing series of pop-up art events, For an Evening with Eve Babitz was held in the penthouse suite of the Chateau Marmont hotel, the beloved site of many of Eve’s adventures back in the day.
Looking at Los Angeles | The Language of Materials: Janne Larsen and Sibyl Wickersheimer’s “Big Haul”
Editor’s Note: This week, Los Angeles-based writer Carol Cheh fills in for Lily Simonson, who is travelling. Cheh is a writer and curator based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of Another Righteous Transfer!, a blog devoted to documenting LA’s performance art scene, and currently writes for LA Weekly, ArtInfo, and Artillery. Her curatorial projects have included You Don’t Bring Me Flowers: An Evening of Re-Performances (PØST, 2010) and Signals: A Video Showcase (Orange County Museum of Art, 2008).
Earlier this month, I saw Thomas Crow give a keynote address at Pomona College on the occasion of their museum’s exhibition, It Happened at Pomona. Crow tried to make the case that the inventiveness of Los Angeles artists can be partially attributed to the fact that many of them have come at artmaking from other disciplines. He cited James Turrell, who majored in psychology and mathematics at Pomona; Chris Burden, who studied architecture; and an obscure artist named John Ware, who was influenced by Hollywood set design.
Crow’s words struck a chord with me, as I’ve long been intrigued by the collaborative work of Janne Larsen and Sibyl Wickersheimer, two Los Angeles set designers who also make and exhibit art. They are both highly inquisitive people whose mindset is perhaps just a bit different from that of artists who have maintained an exclusive focus on fine art.