Perfect Lovers / Cincinnati, Ohio / Art & Writing

A Note on Our Namesake & Our Press

Posted on February 4th, by Dana Ward in Written Articles. No Comments

(for the uninitiated, a brief description of Torres’ piece can be found here)

Felix Gonzalez Torres’ Perfect Lovers is a miracle. By that I don’t mean that it’s supernatural. I mean instead that the inexhaustibility of its generosity shocks me, as if it were divine. It gives, & has given me, time. Time as it is made (dominion),  time as it mystifies (dimension), time as it delineates, (prosody & music) & as it decimates (the inexorable; death).

The piece’s feeling for the temporal begins with love & loss. In 1991, the year it was made, Torres’s partner, Ross Laycock, was dying of AIDS.  In this initial, heartbreaking frame, the two clocks, slowly falling out of synch, give us to the thought of these lovers as their time together is diverging, split one way toward heaven (by way of illness, of hell), & the other, toward the time of the survivor, whose sense of time on earth will be forever altered by this loss.

Thinking of Felix & Ross, we might then consider another, related de-synchronization; between the beginning of the AIDS epidemic & the broader recognition of its ravages. As we know, for years, & at an unspeakable cost, the disease was ghettoized as ‘gay cancer’, a wrath-of-god plague rained down upon the sinful from above. This disastrous illogic was sanctioned at every level of American life. That such hate found a mouthpiece in the highest stations of government remains an unforgivable, pathetically predictable crime. The activist means by which this gap was remedied are for us a model of ingenuity & courage. But the fact that such a gap ever existed, was allowed, was in fact made to exist & to occasion such loss & such pain, cannot be redeemed by its subsequent mending. In that space there is only rage & grief.

From there the clocks take us to a broader vantage still, where such viciousness joins its American company of slavery, genocide, misogyny, mass incarceration, perpetual war against ‘the other’ at home & abroad. The time of justice & love sundered by force from the time of life as lived. This is the voracious time that means to swallow all others, the time that situates all of this slaughter within its own logic, then later, for convenience & false exculpation, poses in specious & tearful regret, while continuing on with new forms of the same devastation.

So here are the clocks as we live them right now, where one holds our beautiful antagonisms, our intimacies, our palliative cares, our tenderness, our wildness, our art. The other our alarm clock, our doomsday clock, the clock on our phone, the clock we punch in but never out on, the clock in Times Square & the nursing home, the indoctrinating clock on the Kindergarten wall, the clock kept from sight of the factory floor. The piece gives us time to act against, fighting our way out of this crumbling & bathetic ‘forever’, where forms of togetherness are rendered as impossible, or leveraged, by way of profiteering & some lies, into virtual Potemkin global networks.

With that in mind, let’s shrink our vantage back down, to Paul & I, & to Perfect Lovers Press, to where we, in our lives together as friends, found ourselves staring at the clocks described above, there with our daydreams & artworks on one, & our jobs & their-time suck on the other.  When Paul & I come in, the clocks give us access to something more gentle, something full of pratfalls & frustrated fuck ups, sweet & sad–the time of the small press or artist run space, where the desire to make public work that one loves is always out of step with the time (& time IS, sadly, money) one might forage to achieve this. One clock holds ambition, ardency, desire, & the other, the long delayed book, the unrealized show, the overdraft fee, the strained friendships, & the extra shifts at work.

One afternoon beneath those two clocks, Paul & I were working on a book together, to be included in an exhibition he had coming up. We decided to publish it under the name of a press, one that didn’t yet exist. This yielded that pleasurable exercise of naming, of looking for the apt thing together. In our search, the conversation moved around in what we shared; frustrations of money & art, the breathtaking work of our heroes & friends. We found ourselves talking about Perfect Lovers, & marveled at its rigor & depth. One reading offered our personal lives. Another gave huge world historical process. Then finally, our last reading opened on the ways in which these things were mainly, & bracingly, the same. We decided Perfect Lovers was just the right name. Both a tribute, & a fittingly succinct articulation.

So we released works of our own beneath the banner, then decided we should really get it up & running, have it function as a proper little press. This has meant some symptomatic fits & starts, of which they’ll be more going forward, but regardless, he were are, a basic little happy operation.

Do we have a program? Oh, I don’t know. If so, it’s quite general & classic–to bring things we love into the world as cheaply, & quickly & as beautifully as possible. Books & editions. Stuff online. We hope to accommodate works that maybe haven’t found a home by virtue of their weird or funny shape, things that disregard genre or media convention & too, things that ardently embrace them. But really finally anything, whatever; collaborations, dilettante eruptions, scrawls & screeds, meandering daydreams or rigorous theories (meandering theories as rigorous daydreams.) & maybe, just maybe, having meant to or not, these things will somehow engage or unfold, play or reckon, with the spirit of our namesake.

So that’s what’s here for us, our guiding lights. Hung up on the black & blue wall where they shine–one clock re-formulates O’Hara, holding that, while we despise systems that would crush it, we certainly don’t regret life. The other holds scorn for that affirmation, meets it with brutality & obstinate refusal. Only one can set the pace going forward. Between them, there’s only one choice.

Here, you’ll find a link about how to make Perfect Lovers yourself, where you live or better yet, wherever you are, anyplace you might find a wall. Like in Wal-Mart. Or you could put it on the phony wall between the head & heart. So much of his work was designed to be reproduced by anyone, anywhere, whenever they might need or want it, & almost for free. Against the gallery system (the world system) in that way. It’s sort of funny to think, if you take what I’ve said at all seriously here, the piece is sort of everywhere, it’s with us all as time. Why go through all the trouble to produce it? For me, when I try to answer that question, I feel the whole world rushing in. It’s kind of where the magic starts. How anyone answers, & then,what they do, that’s what I think of as art.

Oh, & don’t forget, if you do install the piece, the clocks are to be mounted very close to one another. So close, in fact, that they touch.

–Dana Ward (January 2013)

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