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Author Archives: Julie Rafalski

A Mischievous Painting (Julie Rafalski)

June 21st, 2011 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

While walking through the National Gallery recently, I noticed several paintings that I had first seen many years ago. They seemed strangely familiar, like places one remembers from childhood only because of some inconsequential detail.

One such painting was a 16th century portrait of a tailor by Giovanni Battista Moroni. The last time I had seen it was thirteen years ago, while visiting London on holiday. The portrait had struck me then because of the immediacy of the tailor’s mischievous expression, which seemed to suggest he had momentarily looked up from his work-table, upon hearing some witty remark. The portrait was also brighter and more colourful then; the shiny-eyed tailor wore a vivid yellow coat with dark blue trimmings. A dark purple satin fabric and sewing equipment were lying on the table.

Now though, the painting looked very different. Although the tailor’s life-like expression was still there, the mischievous look was gone and replaced by a more stern, almost challenging expression. His coat had changed colour to a grey-ish beige and the blue trimmings had disappeared. The fabric on the table had now turned black and all the sewing equipment except for a pair of scissors was gone. The image looked like a faded photocopy of a colour-saturated photograph. It was hard to reconcile the two images; it was as if there were two paintings.

During all those years the image of the other tailor had been stacked away in my memory’s archive and if someone had mentioned the work to me, that initial image is what I would have called to mind. And if someone asked about its colours I would have said bright yellow and dark purple, convinced that those were the actual colours. And in a sense, they were the actual colours of the painting during all those years in which I didn’t see the painting and couldn’t juxtapose the memory with the actual painting. If we remember something as being bright yellow, isn’t it bright yellow?

The discrepancy between the painting and my memory of it partly has to do with the fact that when the image was stored somewhere in memory’s archive it began to change on its own, influenced by all the other portraits, tailors, and paintings I had seen since then.

But perhaps it also has something to do with how we see. It is usually said that a memory is incomplete, that memory fails to register all the sensory input available. Memory is selective, but what this notion seems to assume is that there is an all-encompassing viewpoint from which we experience the world– that once we are face-to-face with something, we have it there before us in its totality and in its truth: that it is all there before us and all we have to do is look and we will instantaneously see and experience everything there is to see and experience.

But does such a comprehensive viewpoint exist? This notion doesn’t convey the gaps in perception and the connections forged during the actual process of seeing. We may be looking at a painting before us, but its colours intertwine with our own emotions, the facial expressions in portraits partly mirror our own state of mind, the figures compared with those familiar to us, the places portrayed tinged with references to places we know. A shadow in the background may be overshadowed by a patch of sun in the foreground, while the steamship on the horizon may sail away in plain sight from beneath our gaze.

It seems that when we look at something, we see it in a very particular and non-comprehensive way, selecting certain details while discarding others, making certain connections while not making others. We see and experience selectively, on the one hand overlooking and on the other acquiring connections between that which is before us and that which is within us: loosing whole narratives, forms, figures, faces, gestures, shapes, colours while fabricating others.

What memory encodes then, is this collection of connections and mis-connections. So we can’t blame memory for being incomplete if the nature of seeing is itself partial, never allowing for an all-encompassing viewpoint.

Although there is no all-encompassing viewpoint, what there is to be seen and experienced can never be exhausted. There is always more to see. But this process takes time. If we look and continue to look and continue to look and continue a while longer, things reveal themselves in ever different configurations, as if each glance opened another Chinese box onto a different reality, each one just one among an infinite array of all the possible ways of seeing and experiencing something. An array that seems to mirror, even if asymmetrically, each person’s archive of individual memories. An archive that manages to fit entire alphabets of broaches, coaches, dyes, eyes, flies, gills, hills, iotas, jotas, kitchens, lichens, mittens, nesters, oysters, posters, quotas, rotas, sailors, tailors, uranium, vanadium, by-ways, x-rays, Yen and Zen into its endless cabinets.

Watching a Film Not Yet Seen

February 24th, 2011 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

“The future is but the obsolete in reverse,” wrote Nabokov.  Both the future and the obsolete are to varying degrees deficient in images representing them. Traces of the obsolete can often be found in attics, archives, junkyards, museums, sunken ships and memories. “Traces” of the future, however, are intangible and images of the future can only be imagined or projected. Imagining future events often creates a web of obscure correspondences to past events and images already seen.

I’ve recently come across various references to Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. These scene descriptions and details about the film have started to accumulate and have contributed to my forming images of the film in my mind before ever having seen it. Like the traces of long-lost objects these vague images of an imagined film, often based on photographs, paintings or entirely different film scenes, have begun to take on the qualities of an indistinct memory of a film seen long ago.

Seeing Alexander Rodchenko’s poster for the film lead me to imagine the battleship as a hybrid of the submarine from Crimson Tide and the U-boat from the German film, The Boat. The scene from the latter in which one crewmember is thrown overboard from the submarine’s tower echoes the illustration of the man falling overboard in the poster.

Still from The Boat

The screaming face in Francis Bacon’s Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X has now became the face of a nurse in the imagined Potemkin, after I read that Bacon was inspired by an image of a screaming nurse in the film.

The Odessa Staircase scene, which is perhaps the most quoted scene from the film, had begun to take shape in my mind long before knowing what occurs in the scene. For a long time I imagined it was similar to a film fragment I had seen as a kid. The scene portrayed a staircase covered in a crimson carpet in a Russian palace. The colour of the carpet was so overpowering that the people descending the staircase were lost in this field of red, as if floating in a sea of crimson. One of these people was a woman dressed in white, who in a remote way resembled the woman in Gerhard Richter’s painting, Woman Descending a Staircase.

It was only later I learned that the staircase scene depicted the massacre of Odessans by the Tsarist soldiers and that it was a black and white film. The red-carpet version of this scene then began to be supplanted by other images of the staircase. My uncle once showed me a photograph of the staircase, depicting my aunt in a bright summer dress, standing on the steps against a backdrop of tourists, the Odessa seaport and a cruise ship.

The Odessa Staircase

The staircase was also filmed in a video piece I have a vague recollection of seeing, in which two actors dressed in black descended the stairs slowly. As this video was shown at a screening which also included one of Rodney Graham’s video pieces (City Self / Country Self) these two works seem to have merged in such a way that I can’t think of one without recalling the other.

Still from City Self / Country Self

Richter’s Woman Descending a Staircase can be found in the Chicago Art Institute in a room that is accessible via a large spiral staircase. The same room also houses Robert Smithson’s Chalk/Mirror Displacement, which belongs to a series of works he called “nonsites” and is made of chalk taken from the “site” of a chalk quarry in Surrey. Smithson stated, “What you are really confronted with in a Nonsite is the absence of the Site… a ponderous and weighty absence”.

It seems the ponderous and weighty absence of the future with its unseen films creates a blank surface ideal for projecting the half-remembered, the indistinct and the imagined. These projections though, are as fragile as images on a screen. The virtual Battleship Potemkin I have created with memories and projections will only linger as long as it is not destroyed and made obsolete by the act of watching the actual film.

Palast der Republik

August 5th, 2010 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

I recently came across a postcard of the Palast der Republik* (Palace of the Republic), which was a building in the former East Berlin.

The Palast appears on the postcard, under a sunny sky, surrounded by people, streetlamps and trees. The clouds are scattered, the flowers in full bloom. Near the entrance of the building, barely visible, people are gathered on the steps outside. A hammer and compass hang on the facade.

It could be a Monday. It could be July. The Berlin Wall hasn’t yet fallen, but humans had already landed on the moon.

Clouds hang in the afternoon sky, a few people are walking towards the Palast. Its smoked glass is reflecting other buildings. The gardeners who tend to the flowers in the foreground have gone, leaving behind them the anomaly of a red-flowered plant in a plot of white-flowered plants.

Further beyond the Palast are some trees in the distance. Children are throwing a ball back and forth and a bird is sitting on top of a statue. Someone is tying his shoelaces. A traffic light is turning red.

Still further off a flag is waving in the wind, an architecture student is running to an exam session and a blood pump is being switched on. Someone is counting tomatoes. A crane is being assembled. A building is being demolished.

The postcard is skilled at keeping all of these events silently hidden while always showing the same woman in the red jacket with the same group of people, endlessly walking towards the Palast, which always remains removed from them at a fixed distance. The shadows in the foreground never shift, night never falls, no one replants the red and white flowers.

The postcard knows nothing about the time when the Palast der Republik’s physical existence will be reduced to thousands of pieces of steel and glass. It is too busy trapping the Palast and a sunny afternoon on a sheet of paper.

palast_blog

*The Palast der Republik housed a theatre, two auditoria, art galleries and a nightclub and was the seat of the Volkskammer, the parliament of the German Democratic Republic. It was constructed between 1973 and 1976 on the site of a Prussian-era Stadtschloß, which had been damaged during World War II. One of its nicknames included “Erichs Lampenladen” (Erich’s lamp shop). After the Palast was deconstructed in 2008 the steel that had served as its skeleton was sent to Dubai to be used for constructing the skyscraper Burij Khalifa.

Word Chain

June 17th, 2010 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

If you follow a pencil carefully, from the moment it is created from the wood of a tree that grew by a Czech lake which you once saw through the train window while on your way to Vienna where a waiter then used that pencil to write down your order, to the moment when that pencil rots hidden under other garbage in a landfill, the pencil will have accumulated a rich biography which might include lying on a shelf, copying  totals from utility bills and passing into the hands of a businessman flying to Seattle by plane, where it is picked up by someone who in his childhood used to swim in a Czech lake.

Each object has its own narrative, connecting to the world at different junctions. John Baldessari once said that everything is connected in some way. In one of his word chains, he asked someone to construct a story from a single photograph. The words in the story were then written down consecutively in a chain and finally replaced with images. While following each chain, I wondered what story led to the links between each consecutive word. Some links were obvious: “grass, cow, fence”. Others such as “cucumbers” followed by “phone numbers” were not self-evident, as if prompting one to create connections between them.

Out of curiosity, I wrote my own word chain, selecting words through association. I starting out with dust that’s settled on top of my computer screen and writing down the first association that came to mind as quickly as possible. The list is limited to 100 words:

dust

fluff

cloud

fog machine

strobe lights

beat

high-hat

bell

tower

Rundetarn

pancakes

spotlights

velvet

darkness

dawn

dungeon

Wagner

chords

tent

acrobat

Wings of Desire

grafitti

train

Berlin

Alexanderplatz

station

stationery

ink

glue

honey

tea

pot

melting pot

land

construction

crane

sea

bird

Columbus

ship

cargo

night

noise

window

lamp

hotel

painting

Impressionism

frame

museum

lions

steaks

Coca-Cola

billboard

traffic

highway

Route 1

Atlantic Ocean

oil

explosion

Zabriskie Point

desert

skull

bones

Space Odyssey

waltz

chandelier

Adolf Loos

cobblestones

wheel

carriage

lantern

fire

water

drop

sink

kitchen

geranium

clay

mud

swamp

Vietnam

bodies

stacks

paper

crates

piles

warehouse

factory

reactor

My link from “dust” to “reactor” extended to 98 words, whereas in another chain it may take none. If I were to start another chain with the same word tomorrow it would follow a different path. Tapping into the vast network of invisible connections, each word chain records passing associations and fleeting thoughts.

As things are bound to be connected even if in very circuitous ways, the above list of words can almost be seen as a set of clues in a detective novel in which their connections are discovered. Did architect Adolf Loos ever visit the Rundetarn, a former astronomical observatory in Copenhagen? What did Alexanderplatz in Berlin look like in 1968, the year when 2001 Space Odyssey was made? Where can one find geraniums nearest to Zabriskie Point, a location in Death Valley National Park in California?

It seems easier to find the answers to the above questions to than to draw up questions about other more oblique connections, which can sometimes become manifest through images

dust_storm

Dust in the Arizona desert

muller_house

The cubic facade of the Villa Müller designed by Adolf Loos in 1930

rundetarn

The Rundetarn, built in the 17th century as an astronomical observatory, has a 7.5 turn helical corridor leading to the top.

space_odyssey

Scenes on board the spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey were shot by moving the film set into a giant ferris wheel, which would rotate while the actor walked in tandem with its motion.

alexanderplatz

The building of the Alexanderplatz in 1968, the year when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released.

zabriski_point

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, California.

zabriskie-point-film

A film still from the famous finale in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, showing a spectacular explosion that occurs in the imagination of the main character.

About a Word

February 23rd, 2010 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (1 Comments)

Names, smells or tastes that we remember from childhood and have since kept locked away somewhere in the vast storehouse of memories sometimes appear suddenly, like people who we take to be strangers before we slowly begin to recognize them. Coming across a name or a smell is the perfect recipe for a Proustian madeleine moment, when long-forgotten past experiences are suddenly brought out of the vast memory storehouse and begin replaying in our minds. These triggers of the memory remain so closely entwined with the past that when they are recalled, they drag with them whole reams of other, forgotten, seemingly unrelated events and experiences. Particularly those memories that remain hidden for years and then suddenly surface, seem to retain some of the intensity of the original experience.

I experienced such a madeleine moment when overhearing a word that escaped from a conversation between two Polish women on the tube. The word that would in my mind trigger a an avalanche of long-forgotten memories was the Polish word for “jar’: słoik. (pronounced swuh-eek). It was spoken under the train carriage’s fluorescent lighting, which cast a bluish glow on the passengers. Into this bluish glow, from “słoik” spilled minute snippets of experiences like beads scattering into all corners. For me this word remains linked to my grandmother who used to live in Warsaw and with whom I spent summers when growing up. She was probably the first person I had heard say that particular word and since then, it seems that the only voice in which the word “słoik” can retain its true identity is my grandmother’s voice. Her voice made the jam jar a true jam jar. She pronounced the “s” more slowly and then lingered on the “o” longer than usual, as if following the slippery curved surface of the glass with her voice. Any other incarnation of the word pronounced by anyone else seems just a poor replica, not to mention incarnations in other languages. “Jar” seems too far removed from “słoik,” even if only because of its meaning as a verb. On another level, “jar” is too shallow, incapable of summoning a specific set of associations. Of all spoken appearances of the words “jar” that I’ve come across – those in grocery shops, kitchen tables or paint supply stores- none retains the essence of a “słoik”. This essence though seems to be made of a diffuse web of associations, which shape a “słoik” in my mind.

“Słoik” reminds me of a stack of empty jam jars that would be brought out of the damp cellar every summer, when my grandmother would make apricot jam. She would assemble all the empty jars on the kitchen table whose tablecloth had a geometric tulip pattern. These tulips would deform into strange organic shapes when looked at through an empty jar. If the jar was positioned in a particular spot, a blue tulip petal would become a giant lake.

“Słoik” also brings to mind my grandmother buying strawberry jam, which usually had a white label printed with bright blue letters and pictures of strawberries which had pink halos as a result of having been misprinted. This grocer was located on a square whose square pavement stones were laid out in a diagonal pattern. Some of these stones were a different colour and gave the impression of a large chessboard, although one on which the black and white squares were distributed randomly.

“Słoik” also summons an image of a tall pickle jar filled with water and a single flower, usually a rose, that stood by the ticket window at a train station in Warsaw. The ticket hall at this station was painted with a pinkish beige glossy paint that reflected the bluish fluorescent lighting, which was ubiquitous in the public spaces of Poland in the 1980s. Bookshops, bakeries, pharmacies, jewellery shops and fish mongers were all subject to this uniform lighting. The light bathed bread, cans of herring, geography books and syrup bottles in a pale bluish glow, draining the surroundings and the people in them of colour.

When I overheard the bits of conversation between the two women, under the pale glow of the tube carriage’s lighting, this particular combination of elements: this other pale bluish glow, the paint in a train station hall, chess-like pavement stones, my grandmother’s voice, blue tulips and misprinted strawberries all intersected suddenly, briefly summoned by a single word.

A Drifting Country and a Sea in London

December 8th, 2009 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

Dreams often allow us to do things that are impossible in waking life: hovering in mid air, walking across Antarctica, becoming a character in a film, sipping tea with a famous actor, sharing jokes with a relative who has been dead for years, speaking unknown languages flawlessly, travelling to places not found on any map… But perhaps the most interesting dreams are those that include our everyday surroundings and then transmute these places to varying degrees, changing their geography and sometimes even their identity.

A while ago I dreamt of a neighbourhood in which I had previously lived. Graham Street (which connects City Road to Regent’s Canal and is lined with apartment buildings) was transformed into a fair ground with shops, a giant Ferris wheel and crowds of visitors. I remember looking up at the sky at the storm clouds that were gathering on the horizon. I walked under the Ferris wheel with its white box-like cars towards the high rise where I had formerly lived, which was now about twenty stories taller and its dull concrete exterior was much brighter. After I entered the building and looked out a window facing City Road, I saw a sea extending northwards from the spot where there had formerly been a seedy café and through to the horizon. The shoreline ran parallel to City Road and waves crashed into the road with such force that it seemed not long before they would submerge it.

When I then drove by this high rise in real life a few weeks later, it seemed as if this grey building was hiding its former self, as if the tall and bright building from the dream belonged to a previous era which I had glimpsed in my dream. I began to look for traces of the fair ground and to search out the location of the missing Ferris wheel. But the gleaming new apartment blocks now disguised this site. It was like looking for an ancient battle site lying hidden under a forest or a city street. The missing sea also seemed belong to distant past that was now obscured.

In another dream, I was on a train speeding through some wheat fields spotted with poppies outside Warsaw when the train stopped suddenly. Looking out the window, I saw mountains covered in snow and far in the distance, a coastline. The loudspeaker announced that we had reached the Danish/Polish border. All the passengers were told to get off and passports were screened by a border guard sitting behind a wooden table half covered in snow. The situation was very convenient since I happened to be heading to Denmark. In the dream a realisation struck me: despite the fact that Denmark doesn’t share any borders with Poland, it can sometimes be found on the outskirts of Warsaw, if approached from the right direction. This thought seemed like a practical observation to note for the future; since all countries sometimes temporarily drifted to other locations, I should find out where the schedule for these shifts can be found and if I’m lucky, I might catch some convenient connections.

Geographical rearrangements in dreams have also altered my perception of places. One place about which I repeatedly dream throughout the years is the small town of Langhorne on the outskirts of Philadelphia where I grew up. With each dream the geography of the place changes: Roads end where they have never ended before and a dense thicket covers the hills where houses once stood. A nearby hospital progressively diminishes in size and moves slightly further from the main road. A forest has replaced the main shopping area and a creek has turned into a waterfall, almost as if nature were reclaiming any developed areas. Perhaps because I haven’t been to the town for many years, these dreams seem now to be the most current experience I have of the place. If I travelled to Langhorne now I would expect to see some of these thickets, forests and waterfalls.

In W.G. Sebald’s novel, Austerlitz, the protagonist describes a view of the Rhine valley from a train window as strangely familiar. This image of the river had haunted him in his dreams throughout his life, although he could never identify the location. He realises that he must have had seen this landscape only once before, as a child making the same train journey. Although he had forgotten the original image, it served as a blueprint for haunting dreams of an unidentified place. Perhaps in looking at the place he had seen more often in his dreams then in actuality, the Rhine valley seemed to him to be more closely related to them than to the long forgotten memory. Perhaps for him too, dreams had left their traces on the “blueprint”, just as drifting Denmarks and sea waves crashing into City Road have left a mark, even if only a fleeting one.

Balka’s Black Box, Versions 1 and 2: Julie Rafalski

October 28th, 2009 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

Recently I read about the latest commission for Tate’s Turbine Hall, an installation by Miroslaw Balka. Entitled ‘How It Is’, after a prose work by Samuel Beckett, the piece was described by one critic as “a darkness you struggle to measure, or rather a darkness that measures you.”

box1

Through the secondary sources of online photographs and descriptions, I began to form a seemingly concrete image of the piece, a kind of preliminary version of the installation. The future experience of walking into this black void became almost palpable: A huge steel box-like structure stands in the Turbine Hall. Raised from the ground by several metres, it rests on stilt-like beams that allow one to walk underneath the structure. As one enters through the ramp on one side a giant black space looms ahead. It is silent and the air is heavy with the smell of felt (not unlike in Joseph Beuys’ felt-lined room).

box2

As one walks further into this seemingly unending space, the sounds from the main hall are drowned out. The interior walls are curved and form a spiral-like labyrinth (somewhat reminiscent of Richard Serra’s pieces).

box3

Once inside this dark labyrinth, one has no guarantee one will be able to return the way one had come. The curved corridor continues, until the entrance disappears from view. The darkness is intractable. Then suddenly around another corner a faint light glimmers, the sounds of the hall return and one is back at the entrance ramp.

I doubted that this was the piece Balka had created. I knew that when I would see the actual installation, it would be like travelling to a city which one has only read about. The imagined version of this void would dissolve once confronted with reality, or perhaps it would become a projection.

The former was the case when I went to see ‘How It Is’. From the back the structure looked like a giant container of a freight train. The black steel entrance ramp was the size of one of the walls of the structure and gave off a hallow sound when one walked on it. Stepping onto it was like stepping onto a stage or into a territory where other rules governed. I followed a few people inside and watched their contours disappear into the blackness. For a while they remained barely discernible, only because they happened to be wearing white. There was no smell of felt, the walls were lined with black velvet. My eyes almost hurt because of the lack of anything to see. There was no way of telling how far the back wall was or if there was a back wall at all, but I knew there must be some sort of a boundary to this void.

I treaded slowly, aware how uncertain everything had suddenly become. Then the flat velvet surface of a wall in front of me touched my hand. There had been no labyrinth; the space followed the form of a box. I turned around. What the art critics failed to mention and what I hadn’t foreseen was what happens after one turns around. This, it seemed, was the heart of the piece. The Turbine Hall’s light was streaming in from the entrance defining the floor and the contours of the other people. The space that was so uncertain and overwhelming a few moments ago was suddenly illuminated and clear. From within the darkest darkness, everything else was marginally brighter, everything was visible.

How I Came to Live in a Book: Julie Rafalski

October 7th, 2009 | Posted by Julie Rafalski in Julie Rafalski (PL/US) - (0 Comments)

After recently coming across Novalis’ statement that the true reader must be an extension of the author, I began thinking about how readers become the final “producers” of the “screenplay” they’re reading and more specifically, about how the settings in novels and stories are constructed in the reader’s mind. While reading the first volume of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ not too long ago, I had imagined the setting of the fictional town Combray to be based on the neighbourhood where I live, Ealing. My flat, located in a two-story ex-council building, became not unlike a stage on which the narrator’s childhood house in Combray was constructed. My room had become the narrator’s bedroom. It lost its stacks of papers, books and Ikea-esque furniture and acquired high ceilings and long curtains that flanked the now wooden-framed windows. The narrator’s “magic lantern” which would project colourful figures of a medieval knight and castle, now cast these figures onto my wallpaper. The view from the windows changed from that of a small back garden with a clothes hanger to that of a vast garden with an orchard visible in the distance. My room on the ground floor had now moved to the first floor and was found at one end of a long corridor lined with paintings in ornate frames. At the other end of the corridor was a staircase which lead down to my living room where, the narrator writes, the family would entertain dinner guests. The view from this dining room window incorporated my neighbour’s trees through which could be seen the distant steeple of Combray’s church.

This hybrid house and neighbourhood came into being as I began to modify my flat and surroundings to more closely match the descriptions of the narrator’s house and surroundings. I hadn’t consciously decided to base Combray on Ealing, rather, the spatial arrangement of my neighbourhood and street had simply “appeared” in Proust’s descriptions. The fact that I read most of the book at home might explain why the surrounding environment had somehow become part of the novel. With other novels it seems that the settings are usually based on familiar places: those from everyday life, those remembered from childhood or settings from films.

Last year I had a similar experience of my surroundings being used in imagining a place. While travelling on a train at dusk somewhere in southern Poland, the landscape outside the window seemed to have seeped into Borges’ short story, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, which I was then reading. The narrator describes the history and structure of the utopian world, Tlön, which he learns about from a single volume of an encyclopaedia of Tlön. The existence of this planet, though, remains uncertain throughout the story. Created (or imagined) by a secret group of scientists, this world is governed by a Berkeleyan idealism. On Tlön, novels and stories have plots that include all possible variations. Objects can cease to exist once someone forgets them (once a doorway disappeared after a beggar who would visit it often died). The snow-covered fields I saw from the train window began to provide an image of Tlön and it became a planet whose external features would solely consist of fields of snow, occasional railroad crossings, derelict small railway stations, signal boxes and forests, all in a perpetual dusk. (Other objects and places perhaps had already disappeared as a result of being forgotten.) The story continues on to describe how the press then spread the discovery of the literature about Tlön and soon after our world was obliterated by Tlön. Its history replaced our history, its language would soon replace English, Spanish and French. The world would become Tlön. It would become vast expanses of snow and railway track at dusk.

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cites, Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan the cities he has seen in his travels. By the end of the novel, it becomes apparent that all the cities refer in fact to Venice. One of the cities, Baucis, is a city entirely built on stilts projecting from the ground and extending above the clouds. Marco Polo states that one possible explanation for the placement of the city above ground is the inhabitants’ love for the earth as it was before they had existed. Consequently they prefer to observe the uninhabited earth with telescopes. If Baucis’ inhabitants prefer to observe from a distance, then maybe they are like readers, looking down into another place or planet, their view of it partly obscured as a result of that distance and partly created through their imagined presence in that other space.

Julie Rafalski is an artist living and working in London, especially in video.  Is she Polish? American? Perhaps  ‘European’ makes more sense. Julie Graduated from the Slade in 2006 and has contributed to the Henningham Family Press since 2005. In one film she asked Polish contacts what was missing under Soviet influence, but soon conversation turns to what is missing today; the oppressed exchange one lack for another.