Mr. Brown-Guy Goes to the Library
Pope.L recounts a surreal library in quarantine.
Aug 12, 2020
This letter is a part of Performing at a Distance, an artist project that unfolds with one letter a week.
To Whom It May Concern,
The clouds are barely above the horizon. The sun is barely below.
I am ensconced in my red Eldorado Cadillac 2002, last of its kind. Just just moments previous I I l had been pondering, remembering, who remembers anymore? So then then pondering, yes I was pondering hope, well, well, the idea of it, not not the thing itself and and I’d just gotten to the part that goes: “Hope is inside something else” and as a rule, I do not ponder hope so so so as you might expect I quickly lost my way…
People say bridges connect things. Odd. I find that odd. As a utility. I find it odd. In fact, I go in the total opposite direction. In fact, bridges divide things into two until you have one thing over here and one thing over there which only cousins up to constructions like: this and that, before and after, hither and yon, I and thou, in and out, dark and light, past and future, Hulot and Wittgenstein.
It it it is now.
It is now that I become aware of myself experiencing what I’ve come to learn after repeated failures and confusions others call a lightbulb moment, but but but apparently I am experiencing as much of a lightbulb moment as I’ll ever be capable of so so I don my mirror shades, k-turn my vehicle and speed off in the opposite direction.
I am I have been driving for a while now. My shades obscure the road ahead but one does not have to be sited in order to see. I have excellent preperception. But But how is it that I can possess excellent preperception but do not know where I am going?
I have driven for hours, maybe days, maybe years and I arrive before dawn. It is still black out. The kind of black that one would call dark if it wasn’t so thick and viscous that kind of matter. I park across the way and ponder once again.
Pope.L. Yellow People Are The Bones St The Wreck On The Deck In The Sun. 2010. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Ensconced in my vehicle, engine running always running, I see out through the windshield the murk, the hulk before me and as the sun slowly rises it burns off the dim transforming the ink right before my eyes into a tatter of photo, the trace betwixt a tv show and its commercial, a letter from one amnesiac to another, and now and now the rising orb reveals a little squat gray brick building and and attached to it, a much much much larger structure like the prow of a ship, both buildings, squat and huge, enveloped in a webbing of metal construction scaffolding. At the base of the two buildings, a queue of figures, seemingly endless in number, stands in a broken-shoelace-line that wraps around the entire physical structure. The figures are dressed in colorful hooded rain gear, slickers mostly red then yellow few blue. There is a hierarchy here: the red figures are stolid, the yellow smallest the most active and the blue mere puddles of humanity.
I close my eyes for a second, maybe a minute, maybe an eon. Next thing I know I’ve exited my purring Eldorado, contributed my urine to the asphalt, and I am walking, I am walking. The queue slightly rustles at my advance. Above their heads, like an omen, attached firmly to the building’s exterior by metal rods, is an aluminum sign that says Public Library 137.
From a distance the colored slickers appeared shiny, reflective, almost hopeful, now close up I see they are coated with the dim dulling their signal interrupted by bits of a mysterious sparkle, each queue-person carries their belongings in various ways eccentric but this variety is nullified by the the the sense that the line has not moved for some time now, a very long time now. Empty food tins, feces at their bandaged and sandaled feet. Figures mill around portable grills roasting bits of foil and plastic, others play dominoes, the fray of static on special radios. A stagnant festive air that wraps around the entire block.
Pope.L. Red People Ream Of Talapia. 2012. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
The queue clots angrily at the entrance to the squat little building, its exterior covered with shiny gray bricks the same color as its mortar. Three concrete steps lead up to the doorway. As I approach, the queue grudgingly parts, eyes shift this way and that and I am both ashamed and beatified because I can feel the queue’s hostility, it is all in my direction, a kind of a kind of a kind of reverse adoration, if you will which can only be a kind of reverence for one such as I for I I I I I I am Mr. Brown-Guy and I am a very handsome man, adored by all, bestowing a thousand canapes of affection to everyone I encounter on my journey. My skin is highly complected. My eyes are the color of the Sudan. The left side of my face a viscera crimson. My dimpled chin a neon gash of cadmium yellow leaving the rest of my body to a riotous war of pulchritudinous hues from lime-green testicles to Khmer rouge.
I give the slightest nod to the queue-folk, the barest, almost imperceptible, and enter the library foyer. The queue knows its place and dares not trespass. The foyer is an “L” shaped hallway that hooks left, its walls papered with faded posters advertising successful diseases, failed government programs, instructions for a better life, hand-drawn images of of of discontinued medicines and dire warnings of several serverities. The foyer floor is a palimpsest of several million footprints and tiny bits of glitter, the mysterious sparkling heretofore mentioned. Just around the corner of the “L” sits a blue slickered figure, its knees drawn up to its chin welk-like, squatting atop a tall stool as if guarding the entrance to the library proper. The figure, male I believe, lifts its hooded head and offers some warmed-over vehemence. I ignore it, as is my wont, and enter a large vaulted room with a very tall ceiling, maybe a former church, maybe a former chamber of commerce, maybe maybe maybe a former museum of science and industry. The interior of the room appears much larger than it did from the outside. Two walls of the room are covered with colorful dirty broken stained glass windows. The stained glass has a complex geometric design made more complex by the dirt, the holes stuffed with newspaper and the shadows cast by the construction scaffolding on the building’s exterior. Above each window is a a plaque stating some sort of subject or area of expertise, for example: mineralogy, reference, mathematics, language and so on.
The center of the vaulted room is taken up completely with row after row of overturned pews chopped into individual cubicles. Each cubicle has a computer and sitting at each computer is a blue slickered individual with its head positioned inches from its screen perhaps undergoing some sort of self-blinding ritual. Each individual sits upon a stubby blue fiberglass throne, the same blue as its slicker and each throne leaks a blue liquid that smells of formaldehyde, larger bits of glitter float in the seeping.
Pope.L. Blue People Are The Red Man On His Pony In Front Of The Hospital. 2010. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
My gashing chin leads me to the right and I turn, I turn and, off to the right, I see off to the side of the vaulted room, I see another room, a kind of storage facility, perhaps a garage, in fact, I see two rooms, one deeper and darker than the other and one, yes, and then then then yet another seemingly full of light. In the darker room, garage-like room, milling about, I see more of the slickered figures, now dressed in red and yellow like those outside in the queue, now these inside-figures milling about dragging their bandaged feet in the shadows. I can hear them sliding and crunching, sliding and crunching something beneath their feet as they wander aimless always in mass shifting. I take a few steps closer to and several things clarify. The figures are trodding, on what appears to be, seems like, millions upon millions upon millions of small rectangles of glass framed in paper like like micro-stained glass windows. I pick one up, hold it to the light and the pattern complicates even further, evolving into a destination. I step even closer closer, if I dare and I do, and one of the figures, dressed in yellow, perhaps a child, as small as a child, steps forward, its long dark braids extending from its hood like baby medusas wearing a countenance and and giving me that look, that look, that look, not not not the typical Brown Guy-nian look of hatred, disgust and adoration woven into reverence but something, something, something, how can I say it, something something different, something else. I take a step back, and make an abrupt turn to the left and into the room seemingly full of light.
This this room is the library proper, the black ship’s hull from the outside, now inside something something else altogether entirely, the stacks as it were, and as I look up, I see I see floor upon floor of objects mostly books on transparent shelves veering up up into the skylight. Elevators encased in nothing glide up and down the length of the structure. I take an elevator to the odd floor, having no idea where I am going, disembark and realize I am in the section of the library that deals with language. From their I wander, finding myself in Religion, then Philosophy, then Mathematics, then a very large section on the Ear. From there I lose all direction and, after what seems like hours, I end up in Reference. I grab a few tomes, rifle through them as if I am looking for something, as if I know what I am looking for as if I know from whence I am looking and find a letter. I do not open it instead I put it in my pocket and exit.
When I find myself again in the vault room, the small yellow figure is waiting for me. Or is it I who is waiting for the small yellow figure waiting for me? And this waiting, this waiting this waiting has a valence for now I realize that it reminds of a child I once knew a long time ago perhaps my own but but but but how it that possible?
I continue my exit and am about to to into the foyer and so pass the blue slickered stool-person and and all of sudden out of its shell, the folds of its slicker it juts a pale blue piece of paper, a chit for me to join the others at the cubicles.
I grab the chit, walk over to the child, shove it the blue piece of paper, about face, vamoose the structure, jump into my purring Eldorado (always running, always purring) and take off once again out into what I have no idea only a sinking premonition.
Pope.L. Blue People Are A Drop Of Halter. 2012. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Pope.L is a multidisciplinary artist whose work poses provocative questions about a culture consumed with success yet riven by social, racial, and economic conflict. A group of his influential early performances was acquired for MoMA’s collection in 2019 and formed the focus of the exhibition member: Pope.L, 1978–2001.
Performing at a Distance
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
The artist discusses the incongruence between dance and COVID-19.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Jul 14, 2020
Performing at a Distance
The artist writes with rage and desire about MoMA’s care for dead things; learning from the biological force of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the perpetual, beautiful crisis called for by the protests for Black life.
Jul 8, 2020