Francis Als


Spread in Francis Als’s notebook from his embedment in Mosul, 2016, pencil on paper, 6 x 16”.

Following an invitation from the Ruya Foundation, artist Francis Als spent nine days in October and November 2016 embedded with the Kurdish Army, or Peshmerga, on the Mosul front line during their campaign to liberate the second-largest city of Iraq from ISIS. Here, Als shares some of the notes he took during his embedment, as he grappled with questions of the artist’s role in war and the reality of nomadism and terror. The paintings produced in Mosul will be on view at the Iraqi pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, as part of the show “Archaic,” which runs from May 13 through November 26, 2017.

I AM AFRAID IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT to give a coherent account of my embedment with the Peshmerga, for it was anything but coherent. I arrived in Iraq on October 28 with the intention of documenting the displacements caused by the Mosul offensive against ISIS. Yet, for a series of tactical reasons, I instead found myself dropped somewhere along the fourteen-mile Iraqi Kurdistan military Peshmerga’s front line on the eastern flank of Mosul, with a small bag and no plan of action. At first, the stupefying reality of combat and the smell of terror nearby numbed me and frustrated any proper creative process. However, as I had to somehow make contact with my Peshmerga guardian angels, drawing turned out to be a providential way of communicating, plus it gave me the illusion of being part of the scene. Images started filling my notebook and words soon followed.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fighting the jetlag, breaking the ice, waiting for the subjects to forgive my presence. Early night / foreground sound track of mobile phones playing Arab rap with background music of the US-led coalition bombardment.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Earthworks. The Peshmerga offensive is a massive engineering enterprise, a monumental Land art operation. Behind each platoon there is a bulldozer waiting. Every hundred meters of gained territory results in hundreds of tons of dry earth pushed forward, all in order to move the front line ever closer to the suburbs of Mosul. Landscape is refashioned daily by the shelling, ISIS’s tunnels are behind, under, and beyond our mobile front line; the dunes are scarred by the infinite lines of trenches while on the Syrian-Iraqi border ISIS’s bulldozers breach a passage through a hill to erase the Sykes–Picot Agreement’s fatal design.

The desert is no longer an exotic escape. It’s pure naked exposure. The closest to protection from the snipers is by running from one shadow to another.

Peshmerga gained territory in Mosul. Photo: Francis Als, October 2016.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In an era when any insignificant event is instantly public online—and governments are tapping millions of cell phones—how on earth is it possible that no intelligence whatsoever can tell us how many ISIS fighters are left in Mosul? There lies the power of terror.

Heard among the Peshmerga returning from a village they just freed: “This morning they were shooting at us; this afternoon they receive us with open arms, as if nothing had happened.”

Thinking of the Yazidi kids of the refugee camp near Dohuk I visited in February 2016. What can we tell to a child in the face of terror? In a child’s imagination, what is the image of terror? How can one make sense of terror to a child? How can one integrate the un-acceptable? Can a human tragedy be testified to by way of a fictional work?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In the midst of gunfire the rain caught us all by surprise. What could the ISIS fighters possibly make of the rain? Strangely it brought us closer, we shared that moment. Did I film the rain?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Second day of trying to match on small canvases the colors of the scenes I’m witnessing in an attempt to coincide with the moment I am living—this is the abstraction of war within the spectacle of combat. Meanwhile, I watch a Peshmerga rushing to take a selfie on the background of an exploding rocket. The smiles of this war will be well kept in cell phones, in between photos of sweethearts and motorcycles. What happens in Mosul stays in Mosul.

The Mosul offensive is like the making of a movie: 90 percent waiting, 10 percent action. With tea and Turkish biscuits served in the intermezzo.

The white flags waved on the Mosul rooftops against the sky blacked out by the smoke provoked by the bombings.

In the absence of language, I miss the way in which talking helps to materialize an idea.

Furat (Iraqi friend filmmaker), referring to European ISIS volunteers: “The young Europeans did not live a war. All they know is through video games. They come here because they live war as a fiction.”

50,000 euros = classic bomb GBU-US
200,000 euros = missile AASM
600,000 euros = cruise missile SCALP
500 to 750 USD = daily pay of a private security contractor in Iraq
435 USD = monthly pay of a Peshmerga fighter

The disturbing beauty of counter-light explosions at dusk.

Francis Als, untitled, Mosul (selfie), 2016, pencil and photo on canvas, 5 x 6”.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Quel est l’enjeu? What’s more absurd? When the Big Friendly General fires his cannon into the suburbs of Mosul to entertain the accompanying press, or when I play my commedia dell’arte in the face of terror? What does it mean to make art while Nimrud and Palmyra are being destroyed? If ISIS’s logic is “destroy to exist,” does it mean we ought to create in order to survive? Is art is just a means of survival through the catastrophe of war? Do we live because we narrate? In classic Arab literature, poetry fixes things and fractures the past from the present. Within a situation of continuous conflict, does memory allow us to reinvent/reset ourselves and escape the vicious circle in which violence calls for more violence? “It’s not about turning your back, it’s about how you turn your back.” (Elias Khoury, Beirut, November 2015)

I against my brothers,
I and my brothers against my cousins,
I and my brothers and my cousins against the stranger.
(Arab saying)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What did I see yesterday? What really happened? What role does fear play in my memories? What part does fantasy play? Where do I stand in between those two forces?

Symptomatology of Embedment:

Intellectual and neurological arousal, all senses on alert / urge to register the moment no matter how / hyperactive mental space where the most disparate elements can be connected / acute 360 degrees perception / state of total submission to the events, I absorb them like a sponge / sleeping like a log in spite of the constant bombings

Sunday, November 6, 2016

There is something peculiar about the times we live in, and with them, a different expectation of the artist’s role. When the structure of a society collapses, when politicians and media have lost credit and terror invades daily life, society turns toward culture in pursuit of answers. The painter is expected to look at its reality without any filters; the writer is asked to produce stories that will help make sense of the madness going on; the musician is urged to transcend his present; the poet is invited to translate social tensions into verses. Even Hollywood actors are meant to have a cause! Yet, is the artist able to assume those roles from a moral, intellectual, and emotional point of view? Artists have their own agendas and their own subjective view of facts. When does witnessing become denouncing? When does denouncing become accusing? Is the artist’s role to reveal the hidden reality of things without naming them, like Akram once told me? Or is our job just to open up a different perspective on a given situation—rather than change the world, to challenge it? Art can open a space of hope in the midst of hopelessness. Paradoxically it sometimes takes the absurdity of the artistic operation to introduce a measure of meaning in a situation that seems to have stopped making any sense.

-Why the Middle East?

Because it’s the nest of civilization, the heart of all human conflicts.

-This particular war?

Because it is local, tribal, and religious conflicts that have had extraordinary repercussions on more than half the planet. It’s medieval barbarism perpetrated and spread with the most modern of technologies.

An existential war.

-And art in all this?

Back in Afghanistan a friend told me: “If you do, you’re wrong; and if you don’t do, you’re wrong.” Otherwise said: Doing something is the right thing to do, but do I have the right to do it? That’s the impossible equation one has to deal with.

  • Francis Als, untitled, Mosul (shadow to shadow), 2016, oil on linen, 7 x 5 1/2”.

  • Francis Als, untitled, Mosul (surrendering IS), 2016, oil on linen, 5 1/2 x 7”.

  • Francis Als, untitled, Mosul (the return), 2016, oil on linen, 7 x 5 1/2”.

  • Francis Als, untitled, Mosul (dead IS), 2016, oil on linen, 5 1/2 x 7”.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Ral de Nieves and Colin Self, The Fool, 2014. Performance view, ISSUE Project Room, New York, November 11, 2014. Billy Fortini and Lisa Kori Chung. Photo: Whitney Mallett.

Scored for a chorus and string ensemble, Ral de Nieves and Colin Self’s chamber opera The Fool rises up with an ethos that feels equally majestic and DIY. After a 2014 premiere at ISSUE Project Room, The Fool returns with an elevated production at the Kitchen from February 9 through 11, 2017. Here, de Nieves and Self discuss the piece’s catharsis and community.

IN EARLY IMAGININGS FOR THE FOOL, we both started identifying with the trickster archetype, a cultural figure that often uses magic or some kind of transformation to reveal or teach something. The trickster or jester is a character that can inadvertently create social or political change, usually through the process of transforming either themselves or a group of people. The Fool is all of us, it’s the beginning and the end, the neither and the otherwise, the betwixt and the between.

We assembled an intimate group at ISSUE Project Room in 2014 while Ral had a residency there. The production became about our relationships, and the way we organically came together as people who have creative vocal practices. All of a sudden, while having a collective to sing with, a group of voices to experiment with, we started realizing we could actually do an opera. What came from this production was the question of, How can we make a proposal for what future operas could be, in both their conception and their process? To have it be less about virtuosity or “doing it right,” and more about togetherness and elation—how, in this time of one catastrophe after the next, do we find elation, together?

We felt like opera could be a way to represent a narrative focus of care, whether in our art practices or in our day-to-day lives. Opera for us is this idea of a huge collaborative system in which people get energy or walk away from rehearsal or the show itself thinking, “I feel so much better than when I walked in this room.” We are looking out for each other—through art, experience, and through the joy of singing. If we had more of these environments, on so many different social and political levels, to just devote time to making and doing things this way, there would be a lot less pain.

Excerpt from Colin Self and Ral de Nieves’ interview for 500 Words.

Inevitably, the people involved in The Fool are invested in not letting a current social or political conundrum dictate the possibility of finding a way out or problem solving. These people genuinely see joy and beauty in everyday experiences and are bringing that to the production. There were these collaborative moments while rehearsing when it became very much coauthored; it’s a porous compositional process. Everyone has a voice. That’s the thing about collaborating with each other: We look into each other’s world and see a landscape and think, “That’s the world that I’m from.” A sense of home comes from collectivity.

In this iteration, there is a chorus of twenty-two people; that feels important. It is much larger than in the original production, and the chorus is a fitting metaphor for the way we are talking about this community coming together. The collective voice now is so much richer and everyone has their own layer of where they belong. There is a soaring nature to their togetherness—a group of people trying to create a moment in time when it is difficult to do so. For us and our lives, and the people that are in our immediate surroundings in a creative community, this is what we know how to do and this is who we are in our capacity to create some kind of resistance. The Fool character carries a little bag of tricks, and every other character in this opera is one of the tricks. We can’t do everything by ourselves. We needed to reach out to the people among us to put all these crazy things into one idea, which isn't even cohesive—it’s still developing. It overflows with expressivity and emotional release. In 2014 the doors closed on the initial production, and we can still hear the voices, and now it’s 2017 and the door is going to open once again. We’re all coming together to make this happen—this isn’t the end; this is the beginning for us.

— As told to Alex Fialho

Tom Burr


Marcel Breuer, Pirelli Building, 1969, New Haven.

For nearly three decades, Tom Burr’s sculptures, writings, collages, and photographs have tended to focus on access, site-specificity, the confluence of public and private environments, and the constructed persona. Here, he discusses his yearlong project Tom Burr / New Haven”—conceived as part of Bortolami Gallery’s “Artist / City” initiative—for which Burr will occupy and activate the ground floor of the IKEA-owned, Marcel Breuer–designed Pirelli building in New Haven, beginning in March 2017. Also in New Haven, Burr will participate in a talk about the project on February 22 at 5:30 PM at the Yale University Art Gallery. Additionally, in 2017, he will present solo exhibitions at Maureen Paley in London from June 2 through July 22; the Westflischer Kunstverein in Mnster from June 10 through October 1; and Galerie Neu in Berlin from October 26 through November 30, 2017.

WHEN THE POSSIBILITY TO DO THIS PROJECT AROSE, I thought about the Dia Art Foundation in an earlier era: It was all about going outside, creating an exoticism through location and geography. I wanted to do something more banal than those Dia projects though, something that wasn’t utopian. And then I thought, “Well, New Haven.” Its such a banal city in some ways but it also has an autobiographical fold for me.

I was born there a handful of years before the Pirelli building was built, so it was always in my mind while I was growing up. Armstrong Rubber commissioned the building in 1968 for its factory and executive offices, and it became an iconic emblem as the entrance to the city off Interstate 95, particularly at a time when the city was gaining attention for its urban renewal and restructuring. I’m interested in how this type of Brutalist architecture in New Haven, and elsewhere, came to represent failure, as its progressive utopian strategy and sense of optimism against the economic and racial problems of the inner city quickly dissipated. It failed to produce the results it promised. That is the New Haven that left an impression on me.

About fifteen years ago, the Pirelli building was purchased by IKEA with the intention to use the site for a new store. The building originally had a horizontal warehouse extension that was then amputated (in my mind, it became a body that was dismembered), in order to make room for the IKEA parking lot. The rest of the existing building was left standing, abandoned, as we know it today.

Excerpt from Tom Burr’s interview for 500 Words.

Leasing the building from IKEA was not a problem. But complications of access, and how to adhere to local codes—fire codes, capacity issues—became problematic and therefore became a real part of the project and part of how I think about what I’m creating there. There are all sorts of issues with the use and rehabilitation of this building––this concrete corpse––that inspire me. I think of it as an object to be activated, and I want to treat these activations as a series of swipes, iterations, or phases.

I always feel I walk within structures that have preceded me, conditions already produced. Marcel Breuer designed the building based on a six-by-six modular, which is my height. I’m working on a series of images depicting the surface of the walls of the house that I grew up in: rough plaster walls that feel like concrete––they resemble a sidewalk. They were never painted. It’s an enigmatic surface that was strangely productive for me as a child. I would find patterns in it and scrape myself against it––a very sensual and sensory experience that feeds into my relationship with the materiality of the Breuer building, which has concrete as its skin, as its envelope. I want to conflate that domestic space with this other space, a former factory and executive office: one skin onto, or into, another.

I often wonder whether my works are decoys: Am I telling anything about myself when I make references to my own name, my own body? I’m aware that these things are constructed and possibly leading you nowhere. But at the same time, there is something. There really are these specific walls, and I’m concerned with how to construct something out of that materiality while always having this distance that I find meaningful. I’m often suspicious of anything that smacks of truth-saying in artmaking, maybe because of the mythology that we’re always trudging through, so much bullshit about what it is to be an artist, and about authenticity––with the art object or with the artist––that we’re trying to navigate. However, there are things to be said; there are stories to be told.

So much of my specificity as an author, as an artist, has to do with being a queer subject. And yet I’m other things beyond that. We’re multiple things simultaneously. I’m also white, and male. I became interested in throwing these things into the foreground, not letting them exist in an anonymous vessel. I’m interested in this project being a culmination of these facets, these problems/masquerades/privileges/disappointments, of both this particular building and my own body. All of these conditions that operate both metaphorically and actually, manifest in the presence of the building and in the hopes and dreams and expectations and all the disappointments and abandonments as well. Whether or not these subjectivities are “meaningful”? I don’t know. They’re materials that are there to use, like the building itself.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner

Luisa Lambri


Luisa Lambri, Untitled (The Met Breuer, #06), 2016, color photograph, 35 3/8 x 31 1/2".

For nearly twenty years, the artist Luisa Lambri has lingered in the twentieth century’s most hallowed interiors, using the doors, corners, and mood-altering apertures of modernist buildings by Aalto, Bo Bardi, Corbusier, and others as prompts for photographs that convey phenomenological experience rather than reliable documentation. On the occasion of “Breuer Revisited: New Photographs by Luisa Lambri and Bas Princen,” the artist reflects on her encounter with the work of Marcel Breuer and her tentative, arms-length relationship to architecture. The show runs February 1 through May 21, 2017, at the Met Breuer in New York.

FOR THIS EXHIBITION, I was asked by Beatrice Galilee, one of the Met’s architecture and design curators, to photograph three Breuer-designed buildings: the Met Breuer, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and Saint John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota. I have been familiar with Breuer’s work for a while; in 2007 I took photographs of his Hooper House II in Baltimore. I had also photographed the windows of the former Whitney on previous occasions, and so I welcomed the opportunity to work there again, especially now that it has a new identity. This exhibition gives me the chance to install my photographs in that very building, which I am very drawn to. Generally, I relate to the unique dialogue between drama and simplicity in Breuer’s buildings, the thick void they create, and their silence—a cold, enveloping darkness with a spiritual dimension.

While I photograph buildings—mostly interiors of houses—I do not identify with traditional architectural photography. I actually try to distance myself from most image-making that documents architecture, even though some of my work might seem related to that. In my work, architecture only exists in abstract and subjective terms. I use it to create my photographs, rather than using my photographs to document it. I often think of my work as closer to performance than photography. For me, photographing interiors is an existential practice rather than the creation of an accurate representation of a building. The spaces I choose to photograph speak for me and of me, and each and every one of them is a reflection of myself. My photographs are in many ways self-portraits devoid of my own representation but filled with my own experiences. My work exists where personal and collective histories and images overlap.

I choose the buildings I photograph carefully, but never because they were made by a certain architect. I select spaces I relate to and identify with, and which I understand intuitively and emotionally. To me, my works are all part of the same personal archive, which is the result of pursuing the unrealizable quest to find an ideal home. They are variations of the same space and of the same image. I also feel a certain responsibility in speaking up for the buildings, especially for some of the most overlooked areas and details. Buildings have a lot to say, especially when they carry a lot of history. Male architects have designed most of the buildings I have worked with, and while I would not say that my work is explicitly feminist, I do investigate a female experience in a world created by men. I hope that exploration expands out to address larger and more universal questions about our place in the world, the relationship we have to the world that we have constructed around us, and the ideologies that have shaped these constructions.

When I take photographs, I usually focus on small and specific areas that speak to the architect’s work while also being relevant to me. I might photograph the same skylight or window for days and would do that endlessly if that were possible. I might spend time in the exact same spot or move and align myself with the space slightly differently. I usually adapt myself to it and don’t move or change anything around me, with the exception of perhaps opening a window to let some light in. I only use natural light and often work in poor light conditions, without necessarily waiting for the perfect moment to occur. Each moment is part of a process and they are all equal, as are the hundreds of photographs that are the result of a shoot.

I use film when I take photographs, and over- or underexposing it erases some of the physical elements of the architecture in favor of more metaphysical ones. But for the most part, my work is created at the lab where the images are scanned, and through an often long digital process they distance themselves further and further from the actual buildings. This transformation is as dramatic as it is imperceptible. What remains of the architecture is just an idea, and what emerges is something that transcends it.

— As told to David Huber

Joyce Pensato, Untitled, 1992, oil on linen, 36 36”.

Homer, Kenny, Donald, Mickey: Joyce Pensato’s painterly masticating of these American cartoon icons—distilled in black-and-white enamel—have been seducing audiences for decades. One of her earliest Mickey Mouse paintings will be featured in the Whitney Museum’s survey of image-making in downtown New York, “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s,” curated by Jane Panetta and Melinda Lang. The exhibition opens on January 27 and runs through May 14, 2017.

I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE my first ever solo show in the East Village at Fiction/Nonfiction gallery in 1991. A couple of the Mickey Mouse drawings I had started doing were going to be in it. For two years I’d been making work for this show, and just a couple of weeks before it was supposed to go up, it got canceled. The guy who ran the gallery came to me at the last minute and said I wasn’t ready. I was so shocked, crushed. Devastated. This was supposed to be my big break, you know? The world just fell apart. And I told everyone about it, too—my friends, my family. You know what my mom said to me? “We always knew it wasn’t going to happen.” Ha. Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, the cancellation forced me to really look at what I was doing and thinking about, and what I liked looking at. For the longest time I’d been torn, divided—I had two sides to me as an artist, and I was longing to just become one, totally unafraid of who I wanted to be. One side of me was making these colorful, atmospheric, AbEx-y landscapes, while the other was making these charcoal drawings that were simple, black-and-white, graphic. And I really wanted to make the drawings paintings—it just made sense to me. I like being messy and I love throwing paint around and fucking it all up. But I also like the structure drawing provides.

Excerpt from Joyce Pensato’s interview for 500 Words

The untitled Mickey painting from 1992 that’s going into the Whitney show is maybe the first or second Mickey painting I’d ever done. The painting was based on a rubber Mickey Mouse head someone gave me—such an unhappy-looking guy—found in a garbage dump. It looked like something out of Edvard Munch, really deep and brooding. I thought it was funny when I was approached about being in the “Fast Forward” show because I had nothing to do with the ’80s. I was the artist looking in on the ’80s. I saw a lot of people getting attention and shows, but I was so far outside of all that. At that time I was stuck in East Williamsburg—hardly any artists around! I could barely get anyone to come over the bridge and see my work. I was in Brooklyn with another painter friend of mine, Carl Plansky—we were pioneers. I’m still in Brooklyn, but believe me, I never want to be a pioneer again.

I didn’t feel like I was having problems as an artist because I was a woman. I just thought of myself as a struggling artist trying to get recognition—I wanted to show my work somewhere. But I know women get a lot of shit in the art world. I’ve become a lot more aware of this since the ’90s. I also have great painter friends like Marilyn Minter. Marilyn told me about all the difficulties she’s encountered.

I’ve had so many incredible people in my life. Thea Westreich was like my fairy godmother in the ’80s, collecting my work and boosting me up. Mercedes Matter was the first person to see my Mickey drawings and really encourage me in that direction—she was one of my teachers and mentors at the New York Studio School when I was a student there. I met Christopher Wool at the NYSS as well. He introduced me to my first collector, his dad, Ira, who was like a proud father, my biggest cheerleader. The Woolies are very important to me. Joan Mitchell was a mentor of mine too. But she could be kind of brutal. She would say, “Do you want to be one of those German Expressionists, all dark? Or do you want to be one of the French painters, like Matisse or Czanne, with light and color?” I wanted to please her, of course, so I’d say, “I want to be French!” But I realized I was one of those expressionist painters. The last time I saw her, she was at my first group show in Paris. God, she just loved giving me a hard time. She would say, “Are you still doing those animals?”—meaning Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; or, “Do you still have that skin disease?”—referring to the rough textures I like using in my work. Ha—she was a tough broad.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Do Ho Suh


Do Ho Suh, rubbing/loving (detail), 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Do Ho Suh is an artist based between London, New York, and Seoul who is known for his intensive work with architecture’s experiential, mnemonic, and psychological dimensions, engagements that often take the form of full-scale fabric re-creations of the spaces in which he has lived. Here, he discusses rubbing/loving, 2016, a large-scale piece that began with a painstaking process of wrapping all of the surfaces of his former apartment with white paper—including walls and cabinets, light switches and door handles, as well as his house key in its lock. Suh then used colored pencils and pastels to create rubbings on the sheets, in a process that discloses and memorializes all of the home’s details. After documenting the entire process, Suh vacated the apartment and has placed all the paper fragments in storage while he explores the possibility of exhibiting the reassembled work.

I FOUND THE APARTMENT ON WEST TWENTY-SECOND STREET before I even moved to New York. It was in the spring of 1997, a couple of months before my graduation from Yale. A friend of a friend was moving out and offered to put me in touch with the landlord, who lived in the building. It’s a typical New York townhouse, and he was renting out the ground floor. This was a year or two before all the SoHo galleries had started moving to Chelsea, and it wasn’t quite an art neighborhood yet. I remember the landlord was excited about the fact that I was an artist—although he also joked that he was worried I couldn’t afford the rent—and we became good friends. It is amazing how quickly the neighborhood changed after that.

I had already conceived my first fabric architecture piece while I was in grad school—I made a small-scale version of my studio in muslin. But that was just a test, because I was already thinking of much larger spaces. Soon after moving to New York, I was invited to participate in an exhibition in Seoul. Its theme was the home, so I decided to make my new apartment in fabric. I needed precise measurements of the space in order to create the pattern for the fabric, I made rubbings with graphite on paper of some of the walls, and then traced the patterns from those sheets of paper. That was the moment I got the idea for this current project—oh, maybe I could do a rubbing of my entire space! But it was cluttered with so much stuff. It wasn’t practical at the time.

In a sense, this project didn’t become possible until I had to vacate the space. When my landlord passed away this past year, the building was sold and I had to move out. I decided that the last piece I would make in the space would be a rubbing of all the interiors in the entire building. It has been interesting to think of the rubbings as an end in themselves, rather than the first step in creating a pattern for a fabric architecture piece. I knew from the beginning that my fabric architecture pieces aren’t 100 percent accurate. People think they are really precise—and really, really anal! But of course I’m not actually trying to exactly replicate a physical structure in fabric. It’s more about capturing enough visual and physical information to evoke a sense of the space as I experienced it. And the translation of the architecture into fabric is exhausting—taking measurements, creating the pattern, sewing the finished piece. There is a lot of removal from the original content, and here I wanted to have something more immediate, something that more directly captured the different layers of the space.

These layers aren’t only physical—there’s an emotional connection to a place, an accumulation of memories. I’ve always thought about architecture as clothing, or clothing as architecture. Clothing is the smallest, most intimate inhabitable space that you can actually carry. Architecture is an expansion of that. After living in this apartment for some time, I realized that it gave me a sense of protection that was quite physical. It became a kind of skin, and I felt so comfortable that I was almost not even aware of the space around me any more. Eventually, I even started to experience this space as entering inside of me, as if it had shifted from a skin to something like an internal organ. At that point, I didn’t really see the space at all—the apartment became about the orientation of my things, my movement, and my routine inside.

That’s how your house gets inside of you—it’s more than just space, and it’s not even space and time, because I think the notion of space and time as separate is a very Western idea. Time and space are always together, and they are usually collapsed into each other. That’s why the process of rubbing seemed so appropriate. It brings up a lot of memories, and it’s also very physical. As I moved upstairs, I changed the material of the rubbing from colored pencil to pastel, which I had to use my fingertips to apply. I literally had to caress every surface with my fingertips, and I started to wear off my fingerprints. I was actually giving up my own body to the architecture. The project became a spiritual quest. As I spent twenty years of my time in that space, my farewell to the house took two years. It was an extended ritual to commemorate my time in that house and my friendship with the landlord before finally departing.

— As told to Julian Rose