Marfa Notebook

 Andrei Tarkovsky,  Stalker  (still), 1979.

Andrei Tarkovsky, Stalker (still), 1979.


I see Rashaun’s body being tossed as if by an invisible wave; how amazing, I think, the things he can do.

Later he tells me that was the wind, that he was trying desperately to keep his footing, that falling was scary and painful. This information will be seconded by Silas. Phillip’s nasal passages and lungs and really his whole body will be wrecked for days: what it is to circular breathe in the desert.

They take us on a morning site visit, explaining that the wind is easier then. “This is hard: I do like it when there is something in the landscape to address,” R. says. The eye wants structure. S. finds a rattlesnake skin. He and R. discuss. P. walks out into the distance. There is the sound of crickets, mostly the sound of wind. There are barely-there paths beaten into the dust, which is the color and consistency of nutmeg powder. A jackrabbit rushes.

The rumpled mountain spines in the distance. Grit in everyone’s teeth. A dog who is no one’s dog shows up, hangs around; P. points, smiles, says Stalker, referring to the Tarkovsky movie. The dog that just showed up. Scraps of metal and the dully colorful box cars of a long train.

Writing this now, months later, I think of something said to me by a filmmaker who has for many years had a day job that involves shooting the studio practice of performing artists: how it has diminished the idea of the “finished product” as the actual thing, knowing there are so many hours and days and months surrounding that moment in time when the curtain parts.

Of course, there is no curtain here. There is very little to stop the tumbleweeds. The restaurants run out of food. “I was almost unable to think while we were out there,” S. says, later that day, while the others nap and he and I sit on the poured concrete deck, talking about this and that.

I see him running with rapid, elegant direction shifts, legacy of his soccer years. Further in the distance, R. standing still, holding a white sail of fabric. P. working a midrange frequency on his mouthpiece.

The night before they had talked about what would disappear, what wouldn’t. Who held this land originally, who owns it now. “It’s always been about land, who can afford to access and control the land, or the water, or the electricity.”

At one point in the performance, R. walks so far into the distance, I forget to look for him. He is another part of this big landscape. I think of something he said that night before, after we had flown from various points, met in the El Paso airport, stumbled upon fantastic Mexican food and taken the long, dark drive to this strange art colony, all of us with tired bodies and excited minds, all of us sprawled in a stranger’s vacant bungalow, the project still an idea more than an actuality: “There is that lure of doing something impressive.”

When you disappear, you gesture toward the land.

We (the watchers) are all on blankets, or standing, or clumped in small groups being art world people. There is the ubiquitous medium of the smart phone, dully glowing rectangles held up here and there like miniature recording lanterns. A way to sidestep the present for the perfect future.

S. catches his hands behind his back and hinges his torso, stalking across our field of vision in big, geometric lines. R. makes a voluptuous turn until the wind catches up to him and spirals him down into the dirt and brush, where he stays, crawling slowly now, moving almost not at all. P. pushes his breath through circular loops, wanders an uneven line on the perimeter.

All day there had been a leisurely conversation about outfits, props, positioning. I couldn’t see the point of the disco ball. Lack of imagination. Can’t see it, until there R. is, swinging the ball on its cord as he stalks through the tawny, almost-iridescent vegetation: the beauty and right-wrongness of that object, the lights of it hitting P.’s saxophone as he moves through various fingerings. S.’s turn now to be a barely-there body in the distance, running and running and running. Why it’s important to insert what doesn’t belong, what can be political about that; S. quietly, insistently linking such insertions to a submerged queer identity.

I think about how many hours I have spent with these three individuals. How much I love them.

“Anna Halprin talks about, it’s a body in an environment, it’s not a representation of something else. So, what can a body do, what does a body want to do.”

There are horses running in the distance. Agitated, aware of us, and then still.

Sometimes the notes are close together, sometimes far apart.

It’s easy for a body to get swallowed up.

Deep sideways lunge. Gloved fingertips to toe. Foot up. Sideways balance. Multiphonics whistling into and against the air.

Bodies smeared in dirt. Lunge and twist. Weird, thrumming rhythm, something insistent. Running and leaping turns. Stillness. Complex frequencies. Our shadows reach longer.

"Marfa Notebook: For PG, RM, SR," 2017. Copyright of the author.