Negative Dialectics, personal

by Yule Heibel on August 19, 2003

There is a room in my house that’s supposed to be mine. It’s small, yet it has potential. But since we moved last November and until now, it’s had dumperitis: everything which hasn’t yet found a permanent place elsewhere in the house has found its way into that room. Recently, I took action, …by dumping everything into the hallway instead. This emptied the room, and I’m now trying to make the space work for me.

Unfortunately, I got stuck just now by leafing through a binder that contains historical ephemera and incriminating evidence of various failed undertakings. There’s my birth certificate on which my mother’s “maiden” name is misspelled. There’s a picture from a 1980s newspaper, showing all the Jugendstil apartment houses slated for demolition on Duesseldorf’s Berger-Allee (I was born at home, in an apartment at 1 Berger-Allee). The article consists of one large picture of the street facade, and a short caption that the houses are to be demolished to make way for more Mannesmann A.G., now Vodafone, highrises on that street. (Looking around online, however, I see that the Stadt- or City-Museum of Duesseldorf is at 2 Berger-Allee, and that 1 Berger-Allee houses an art gallery that calls itself the Statt-Museum — the “Instead” Museum. Perhaps the buildings weren’t razed after all?)

There are various report cards — the binder makes no sense and spills its contents without pattern: my first report card from grade school in Germany; my assorted report cards from Canadian schools; every report card is from a different school in a different neighbourhood; my honours certificate from Grade 7, which I received during an evening ceremony that my parents didn’t attend, although in that particular year they came to some sort of parent-teacher meeting, which was the one time they set foot in any of the schools I went to. My miserable graduation report card, issued in January three weeks after my 17th birthday (we had a semester system and I finished early), which I brought home just before my parents announced they had sold their house and were moving into a one-bedroom apartment: the not-so-subtle hint. The report was signed by Mr. Williams, a history teacher whom some called Dead Fred. He wasn’t particularly animated. He was British. But I remember very distinctly that he thought I was so bright, and how disappointed he was that I always showed up high, if I showed up at all. Just how bad was it, anyway, if they made plans to move behind my back, and basically gave me 4 weeks notice to find a job and an apartment? Let’s see, job experience to date, accrued during summer vacations: delivering prescriptions for Aaronson’s Drug Store; working on construction sites; wearing a mermaid outfit and playing hostess-guide at the incredibly awful Undersea Gardens in Victoria; waitressing at the Empress Hotel. Ok, waitressing it is. Just not the breakfast shift, please.

But then the binder reveals the pictures: many cellophane sleeves filled with negatives, along with sheets of contacts, showing various sculpture projects. At 19 I used to be one of Robert Jacobsen‘s students at the Munich Art Academy, but I didn’t make it there. Too much booze, too much fcuking around, too much, too tough, I couldn’t cut it. Robert was an anarchist and a huge monster with a huge heart, a Dane who trolled through Munich when he felt like it, when he wasn’t in Aarhus or Copenhagen or Paris or Provence, and who otherwise utterly abandoned his class to their own devices: pedagogy through neglect. Until he came into town, then everyone would get drunk. Except Robert: he didn’t drink anymore because he had dissolved his liver years ago, but he loved watching everyone else make fools of themselves. All of his students were desperados, people on the edge willing to put up with abuse for the sake of their art, whatever that meant. Or a weekend trip to one of his places in Denmark. And they were all, except for one, years older than I was, and able to carry themselves with a bit more savvy. I lasted for three years, one year short of my diploma. Just quit. Left. Fled into theory: Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin. The notion of making art seemed like so much crap, like fodder for the culture industry, but now I look at the pictures of those half-baked projects, and I realize that the culture industry was just half the problem. I was the other half. Culture industry is alive and well and kicking. And I’m not, because I stubbornly refused to relinquish the notion that non-participation would make a difference. I’m not at all sure at this point whether it does or doesn’t. There is certainly no dearth of people who will take your place if you don’t participate, and in the end it’s a question of what you feel comfortable with, individually. If you can live with being a jerk, then that’s what you’ll do. If you have a major chip on your moral armour, then you’ll walk with a limp. Best, I suppose, if you can play, because it is some kind of weird game in the end.

The hallway is a mess now. Have to continue cleaning up that room.


Betsy Devine August 22, 2003 at 10:41 pm

Hi Yule, boy, I really identify with having “my” room become the archive for a million postponed projects and “where does this go?” items. Thank god IKEA was having a sale on huge filing cabinets–I bought 2 and then had a place to hide all the junk, in a conscience-soothing way. “Some-assembly-required turned out to be much tougher than I expected, but I had a daughter around to help vanquish the monsters. Of course, now both filing cabinets are bulging and my room is starting to fill up again, but it worked for a while….

Yule Heibel August 23, 2003 at 12:30 am

Ah yes, filing cabinets. I’m a shelter magazine junkie, and get suckered in by all the lovely “home office” shots. Read an article in the paper here recently that talked about “horti-porn”: glossy shots of flowers, plants, stamen, pistils and all that, and the lusty incitement in the viewer to achieve that garden experience, to come to bliss amidst the mulch. (I embroider on the article, but that was the gist.) Hmpfh. Horti-porn is real, but so is shelter-deco-porn. I lust after a dominatrix-bureau!!!! Jawohl, I’m in charge! (I wish.) Instead, I’m left with the realization that I love junk: The other day I was unpacking all my ephemera, and realized just how much I love that stuff: one-sheet announcements of weird art events, 3-page poetry anthologies on nearly-shredded paper, strange short-lived magazines full of bizarre stuff, crumbling clippings, …. But then I came across half-a-dozen binders with several thousand pages of journals, and I began reading the stuff from when I was 17 and 18. Shoudanahdonethat. I’m bloody close to getting maudlin.

It’s a dangerous thing, the room of one’s own ….

Sofia August 24, 2005 at 8:11 pm

You are the best. Thank you

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