24 hours / 18,000 breaths / No Napping
Written by: Caitlind r.c. Brown // @incandescentcloud
We’ve been wandering around the city on foot, wide-eyed and slightly mad with jet-lag, looking for adventures or all-night grocery stores. A light rain falls. We follow the pattern of WALK lights, passing almost no one – although, remarkably, the few people we do pass are all visibly sober, all in groups of two, all in deep conversation, and mostly women (which says something about Calgary). Without thinking, we aim for the test plot near the river – the giant rectangle of midnight grey concrete we’ve been marking with metal disks for a new public artwork. We peer through construction fencing, topped with glimmering caged lights (each a captured globe of incandescence – hold outs through the LED revolution) and see almost nothing. The 8 am – 4 pm world is sleeping. It’s time we go home and try to do the same.
We’re re-watching Stranger Things, one episode at a time, and eating all the forgotten food in the house: the back-of-cupboards cans of dolmatas, pickled things that never seem to go bad (despite years in the refrigerator), and less-than-advisable combinations of feta cheese and canned tuna on stale chips stolen from our roommate. We’re still awake, but fading. The rapid shift from southern to northern hemisphere is chewing at our consciousness. We manage to stop, mid-way through the last episode, and aim ourselves upwards, towards our unmade bed, to find temporary comfort in blackness.
Fitful sleeping, tossing and turning, watching the sun pull colour back into the sky between short gaps of non-remembering, subconscious cocooning.
We’re onsite at the test plot, watching two men in safety vests, hard hats, and steel toed boots hammer-drilling circular holes into the concrete. We too are wearing fluorescent vests – feeling slightly uncomfortable in this garb, this costume of skilled labour and legislated safety – although I’ve rebelled gently against the unspoken masculinity of the environment with my polka-dotted dress.
We’re drinking our second coffee of the morning and discussing chipping – concrete chipping, the threshold of necessary perfection in public art, and spaces for compromise. So much of our current art practice is a patchwork of compromises. Compromise is a necessity of working in public space, of occupying public psyche. We’re almost dulled towards it now. In moments of frustration, we daydream about paper and cardboard, plastic bags and water balloons, booby-traps and hidden passageways. After next year, we plan to re-evaluate… but we’ll wait until the avalanche passes. We’re chipping away too – one project at a time – towards god knows what. And we’re hoping this process isn’t chipping away at us.
We have a moment at home, and we’re madly scrambling to catch up on emails between meetings #workinghardforthemoney. The wonderful thing about working for yourself is that you can sit on the back deck, sunning yourself, while having a panic attack. How can one week without the internet possibly lead to such mayhem? Good problems to have, yes, but a perfect way to wreck an otherwise pleasant afternoon. Being self-employed usually means you can arrange for a nap at almost any moment. Just not now.
We’re back at the test plot for round two of the day. Outside it’s hot between clouds, but (lucky for us) we’ve been called into the site trailer for the weekly meeting. The contractors, project manager, landscape architects, and public art folks are here – a table of horn-rimmed glasses, yellow stripes, and pulled-back ponytails. Everyone is ready to get down to business, not in an unfriendly way, but the clock is ticking, ticking, ticking and everyone is always worried about the time, time, time. There is some unconscious pressure in the room, something unsaid (although we have a good idea of what). Sometimes I wonder if everyone has a hidden agenda, some underlying motivation, or if this faint static of anxiety is normal, a natural part of anything involving significant changes to infrastructure. Like the gravitational tug of all the people whose public space will be affected, shortly, in subtle but physical ways. This is what it means to make public art – it’s a sculpting of physical spaces, a mediation of situations, a drawing of lines between personal and interpersonal in a multitude of scribbles that will eventually take on their own life, lift off the page, and consume the drawer.
I’m on the phone with my Mom, walking to the grocery store. We’re talking about art – not because she wants to talk about art, but because she wants to talk to me, and I am on a verbal rampage. She’s at her annual Silent Retreat with the Franciscans in Cochrane, going for long walks, writing, reading, meditating, and occasionally sneaking in a little contraband telephone time and the occasional peek at Facebook. My Mom and Dad attended their annual retreat every year for – what? 30-odd years? – repeating their pilgrimage of watercolour, red clay, and reflection. While I’m devout in my non-religion, I appreciate the patience of this epic routine, this momentary chapter break between one year and the next. There’s beauty in sitting in the summer forest, in thinking about the people we love, in praying for the people we care about (and the people they care about) far, far away.
I’m sitting on the back deck, uploading photographs and getting colder and colder as the last of the summer sun wicks into a grey night sky. The leaves twinkle and quiver. Our cats wander lazily from house to yard and back, pausing to scratch their initials in the plywood crate behind me, or flag their tails in the air, proclaiming this patch of grass to be theirs. Magpies screech in the nearby apple tree. In a few months, these crab apples will grow to maturity, then rot on the tree and drop like bombs of sweetened mush onto our collection of bicycles. When the apple sauce dries, it will be like hardened cement to remove (almost like chipping concrete). I idly hope to find a new rental house before the apples fall – a bigger, brighter, roomier old house with more than one bathroom between three people. Ideally still comfortably dingy – somewhere between “well loved” and pre-demolition. Although these walls hold benevolent ghosties, they’ve never been my people. Soon, perhaps, we’ll be elsewhere. But the ghosts will remain, creaking in the plumbing and breathing in the basement.
It’s midnight, and despite being anxious and exhausted, we’re finishing the last episode of Stranger Things. We’re draped across the couch eating fruit and other juicy treats. I’m distracted by tomorrow, already multi-tasking in my head, already imagining the sweaty bike ride, the rapid meeting, my own stammering disorganization. Nervousness and excitement cloud the Netflix experience – for the better, I think – and we capture the Demogorgon in no time. We brush our teeth and go to bed, sinking through a dark cloud into nothing; another day spent.
All images by Caitlind r.c. Brown. The Deep Dark was created in collaboration with Wayne Garrett.
Caitlind r.c. Brown is an artist based in Calgary. A co-founder of WRECK CITY and frequent collaborator with Wayne Garrett, Caitlind’s art practice centers around creating intimate, immersive, and participatory experiences for diverse audiences, often in the public realm. As a firm believer in art’s radical potential to permeate familiar spaces, Caitlind’s work invites a critical re-visioning of our particular time and place – here and now.
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