| * I asked my collegue artist who was also my neighbour Taey Iohe to interpret my art space. In this book instead of pararell of critics and artwork, I place her art writing with my works.|
Visits. Consolidates. Disappears.
still lives; small lives
October 22nd. S/he comes to our house in October.
Rolling along two suitcases, s/he is dressed in light clothes like a springtime guest who has just survived cold winter. Our place is chilly because of the draft coming through the brick walls. S/he looks cold and does not take his jacket off. I feel sorry for him but try very hard to hide my thoughts by placing a kettle on the stove to make tea. S/he sighs deeply as s/he looks around the apartment from behind his thin glasses then puts his luggage down. I wonder where he started walking from. S/he has already ditched his luggage and is on the floor massaging his swollen calves.
Our mornings are always crazy. We would line up in front of our only bathroom with sad and sleepy eyes, jump in the shower and stuff pieces of bread in our mouths before getting on our bikes in a hurry to be greeted by the world outside. A black man who is up early to get a car wash, a red-haired girl shivering on the street after partying all night, rows and rows of children going to school, and their parents running as they hold the children’s hands and briefcases in their other hands. Every morning looks exactly the same.
The mornings here in London are often cloudy, but it usually clears up with a cool breeze around 11am. Then it would be raining all of a sudden. When it rains, I’d sit at a café watching the rainfall or squish little ants traveling in a line between wet bricks. I would wonder what s/he is up to at home but try not to disturb him during his settling period.
My family is rather unaffected by his visit. They are not unkind, but also wouldn’t get out of their way to express warmth and care. S/he does not have a voice to respond so no one tries that hard to communicate with him. Although speechless, s/he has extremely sensitive hearing and picks up on what goes on in the basement while living on the third floor. Even without hospitality, s/he is lively and cheerful.
I have no way of finding out what s/he does all day. We would sometimes sit together on the couch watching TV and drinking tea, but mostly I’m too busy to make him the tea – except for that one occasion when s/he first arrived - or check in to see how s/he is. Nonetheless, s/he is becoming increasingly more intimate to my work. S/he would get up before I do and make breakfast. I would say you shouldn’t while being pleased with the fact that I can go to work with something in my stomach. Days pass by and I think of him and his kindness for granted. S/he has been naturalized as a part of my routine.
S/he’s got plenty of things to do at home all day. S/he would do all the dishes. The TV screen that somehow seemed desaturated would clear up after s/he wipes off the dust. S/he knew lots of little housekeeping tricks such as growing basil in plastic bottles, rubbing the cutting board with a slice of lemon and cutting up old rubber gloves into thin strips of rubber bands. In the afternoon, s/he would simmer water on low heat while sitting at the table staring at the fence. The ivy from next door has climbed over into our yard. As the color of the sky shifts from blue to white to grey, a cat jumps over the fence as if it has received a call from outer space. S/he pours hot water into a yellow teacup and places it on the table. S/he picks up the cup. S/he puts it back down. S/he brings the rim to his lips. S/he takes small sips of the hot water. Then s/he breathes.
One day, a piece of letter size paper slips in from underneath the door. We are now getting one of these everyday. At first I think it’s some misprinted advertisement. As I am about to step on it to walk pass, s/he comes running by to collect the paper. The letter size paper is delivered to our apartment every morning. I have no idea what s/he does with the sheets, but s/he would always pick them up before anyone steps on them.
As time passes, s/he becomes an inevitable part of the household. S/he is no longer a visitor but a resident. S/he knows about every little part of the house, including the dust in the corners and secret letters hidden inside our books. His trace can be seen everywhere. The wooden baluster is shinier and smoother after a swipe of his hands. I would leave my room to follow him down the stairs to feel the spots s/he had just touched. They somehow feel warmer.
When s/he is up early making breakfast, I would enter the kitchen and gently place my sleepy face on his back. His heartbeat sounds like a faraway train. The wheels on track, that are interconnected with arteries stemming from his strong heart, go round and round forever towards infinity. One of these mornings, s/he might feel like hopping on the train to go far away.
Some of us have become smarter and have gathered enough possessions to move out. Although we have separate lives, we’re all still busy in the morning and weary at night, connected to each other like single cellular protozoa. It is a parting that can’t be stopped. A parting that need not be missed. Then we would cross paths again.
We don’t take in new people in the evacuated rooms. Instead, s/he starts pasting clean sheets of letter size paper on the wall. The empty rooms start to turn white – too white for shadows to be cast. I would sometimes take a peek but do not interrupt his work.
Everything s/he does seem wise and important. The quiet times that exist between him and I are well grounded and travel smoothly like his trains. When I get back home, I try to describe to him as in much detail as possible, of what color the sky was, who I ran into, the types of garbage I saw on the street, and if the rain tasted salty or tart. S/he never opens his mouth but always immediately knows what I am trying to talk about. At least it seems like that to me. As if s/he sees the world through my eyes, s/he listens to my stories I bring in from the world outside to our home. I feel like asking him to go away with me, it doesn’t matter where we go.
The house is becoming smaller. The empty rooms that have turned white start to melt down as summer approaches. At first there were six rooms on the third floor. Now all have melted down except his room, my room and the kitchen. As the rooms melt down, the letter size sheets on the wall start to fall off into piles. Instead of brick walls, there are tall stacks of paper. When I get back from work, s/he would have built a sturdier wall with these stacks. For him, paper is the most solid and heaviest material in the world. S/he would pat the stacks of paper as if they are his own children.
The long summer has passed and it is October again.
I wake up on a Sunday morning after sleeping in. Sunlight enters through the paper stacks. The morning is slow and warm. I walk down to the kitchen so that I can lean my sleepy face against his back and listen to the faraway train.
S/he isn’t there. Instead, the refrigerator is filled with many kinds of long lasting Korean side dishes. I realize that s/he has left for good.
A piece of paper slides off from the wall and falls onto the table. I realize that his room has melted down. His suitcases are also gone.
The piece of paper is a letter from him written in very small handwriting, and this is how the letter starts –
“To My Dear Daughter.”
I feel the emptiness in the kitchen with my fingers. I can touch the ripples of sunlight through the dusty air. I pour some hot water into the yellow teacup s/he was using and take a sip. The handle on the cup is broken. I wrap my hands around the cup to hold, sit at the table, and drink tea.