The Room as I Touch It
New York, New York.
When I first came to this city of New York it was the beginning of 1996. There wasn't anything particularly historic or momentous happening here or in Spain at that time, at least that I remember, but the day of my arrival was, for me, one that will never be forgotten. It was so cold my ears were freezing off, and there was snow everywhere because the city had just emerged from one of the biggest snowstorms on record. I landed in a Brooklyn loft occupied by some Spanish artists. It was filthy. The windows looked into an interior courtyard, but because of the sheets of plastic covering the windows, the view outside was blurry and depressing. The ceilings were really high and the water and sewage pipes were exposed. I was assigned to a bed that was literally on top of the kitchen, though it's generous to use either the word "bed" or "kitchen" to refer to either of them. The cooking area was an enormous wooden structure, like the ones that I like, with all sorts of divisions for pots and pans, and with enough room in the middle to sit and eat. On top of this huge wooden object they had put a mattress. My mattress.
It probably sounds romantic now, in a wild sort of way, but for the few months that I was living there, it felt like I was living in a dungeon. I don't think I ever invited a friend to "my place," not even my dates.
I awoke every morning to the smell of stale coffee, spilled whiskey, and cigarette smoke. This was not what I had in mind when I made the decision to leave my country. From there on, I thought, I could only go up. I'd get out of bed, get dressed, and start my daily habit of walking the city. Up and down the island I walked, stopping along the way as I came across all the buildings and structures that I'd known, and visiting the people that were on my short list of names that I had assembled in Spain. Visiting these people turned out not to be worth even the energy it took to walk to their homes or studios or offices. Everybody in this goddamn city is very busy and no one has the time to talk for long with the newly-arrived. And those that do seem to have the time will eventually betray you sooner or later. With time, you learn not to trust anybody here.
Within two weeks of my arrival, I was taking the infamous "G" line from one part of Brooklyn to another. I was going to Sarah's house in Boerum Hill; at that time, she was a reporter and was working for the New York Times. She wanted to practice her Spanish and I needed to improve my English. Our first conversation exchange was on Valentine's Day. Anyway, people say that the "G" line is the most dangerous because it doesn't go through Manhattan. I don't know, maybe the G has fewer people than other lines, but other than that, it seems to me almost the same as the rest. It was in the subway that I started noticing the gum stuck to the floor and how it follows you through the corridors. Also, I saw fascinating construction sites. They were amazing, with the pipes curving around and the ceilings and walls made out of wood and painted in blue. They use big pieces of wood for anything and then they cover everything with more wood, and then they put "no trespassing" tape up, and spray paint a lot of numbers and signs on the walls and the ceilings and the floor, too.
I have to say that I was already in love with J. Stockholder's work before I came. But being here in this city and seeing all this made me understood and feel her work more viscerally. My first impression of New York was of this sudden accumulation of wood and paint and pipes and cables, a lot of material somehow wrapped together. All this seems to me like it was made by a person who wasn't following any specific directions from anyone. No plans. A person that was obsessed with the idea of filling up the surface just in front of him, with no other purpose but that of filling up that specific surface. Now that I think about it, it was as though this person wasn't focusing his view on what he was actually doing but on something that was located a few feet in front of him. Definitely in front. Like when you look through a window and you don't focus on what is on the glass surface but on what is happening just behind.
Looking back, I now see how the first days in this city made such an intense impression on me. When I walk through the streets and I inhale the smells of the city, like coffee or pretzels or roasted nuts or gas, I'm transported back to those initial days. And I breathe deeply in the streets, in any street, and the cold air penetrates my lungs, like it was the first time ever. It seems to me that just being here is a completely liberation, without father and without mother and everything happening much faster.
The beginnings are always very intense, because of the surprise and because they carry in themselves the germ of what may happen in the future, but only if you stop and listen carefully. I remember having the feeling that all the things that were happening to me in those first days here, were just like clues of all the things that will happen to me during the rest of my life. But all compressed. Every day was like several years, every hour contained what would have to happen in the several months to come. But I didn't pay too much attention to this feeling, and I didn't take note of all the details. So now I only remember the outlines. Now that I think about it, maybe it is better this way.