The Grey Sobbing Ever-Expanding Beast

Autumn in New York

/ by JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

Every summer ends. The tan washes off, and we pull out that jacket, or we run off to get some new kicks with some fresh new piece of clothing, in which we will dance along with our own swag. Have you ever spent the summer in New York City? I did, after my first solo show, “Apnea's Rhapsody,” back in 2012. It is intoxicating, something crawls under your skin, and then you are done, the city is in you, and you'll probably never get rid of it. It's the heat, the sweat, the beats, the “all out there, all the time,” the craziness, the concerts, the parties, the vertical extreme. It's the nights when you pass from the corner deli or hot dog to 57th or something, to somebody's floor with a glass of champagne and you rattle away all your insights and dreams. Or you greet the sunset from one of the rooftops of Brooklyn, with many heated bodies and minds around you, fed up with expectations and lust.


That summer, the summer of 2012, my first in NYC, was just magical. We, Luka and I, lived in this beautiful white loft on the edge of Williamsburg. It belonged to Matthew McNulty, who was in Hong Kong at the time and was one of the supporters of the gallery (On Stellar Ray's, which was to feature my first US solo show), standing right next to the bridge. During the installation time, we walked every day for 40 minutes over the Williamsburg Bridge, to get the scene in, to breathe the air and to feel the thrill of the city. Then we spent the rest of the day in LES on Orchard street, a part of the city that has ever since had a special feeling for me. At the time, LES was up and coming, way grittier than on weekends now, but never the less, it still has that sound and feel that links me to it. After the opening, living big and eating out, we started running low on cash, something that happens in a split of a second in NY, the moment you loosen up. But we were creative, and still Candice (the gallery's director) and friends would get us around. So, in the same day, you would search your pockets for those hidden bucks in the morning, and dress up in the evening for dinners with potential buyers. Streets and clouds.


While making a photo for the show, I almost broke my leg on a roof above a loft where Zipora used to live (an artist of the same gallery, and the one supporter who got me into NY in the first place). I hurt my left leg so badly that I thought that hiking the city was done for me. With Luka, we found a table from which I could jump higher, to get the right shot, but we just could not get the right moment. We were recreating the first one I shot on a cliff in Helsinki, with wings we sewed up with Meta, my wife, made out of three black gentleman's umbrellas, spread out and in the moment of flight. That moment of going against gravity, the drive that fueled the whole show, Apnea's Rhapsody, the palpable dream of flight.


We were more than an hour into the shoot, the sun was frying our skin, but we had to push it. We still did not catch the right composition: Wings spread out to their maximum, left leg slightly up, the head and body, opened up, as to give and receive everything in one go. It felt impossible, it was unbearably hot, the height was creeping on me, as with every jump it felt I would simply lean over, landing on a trembling wooden table (one can still see on the photo). One more, I gave it all, I jumped as high as I could, spreading wide and tall, and it finally felt right, I knew we got it! Then, a split second later, while landing, one part of the wooden table, below my landing left foot, gave in. It all happened so quickly, and the pain was so excruciating that I just leaned to the left, with my right leg twisted to the side and with my hand trying to hold to the edges of the table, which made the wings cover my body. I held my eyes shut, as I did my breath. Too many things were about to rush through my head, and I wanted to make sure that I am ready for it. “Here I am, working on an additional image, which will conclude the Apnea's Rhapsody cycle of works, portraying the moment of flight, with wings sewn out of gentlemen's umbrellas, and I just crashed.” It was almost as if my own, but an outside voice that, with all the calmness of the word, commented on my situation. It scared the shit out of me. One, if I’d broken my leg. Two, the unavoidable “symbology” to come of what had just happened, and what this could bring to a bigger or more intimate scale.


There are different sorts of pipe dreams: The classical one, the chasing of that perfect script, the one that never comes out precisely the way you imagined it, or somehow you constructed it from bits and bobs, which glued to your mind along the way. Then there is the other one, the "fatalistic" one. Sure, we all know it, and all the absurd places, edges of moments, where we see that omen, that sign, that can either push you higher or deeper than ever before. By fatalistic, I mean the rather historical link to details and moments, where you can construct the tale of your persona in comparison to the "I will be so famous and rich" pipe dream, the "Disney Land," or the Disney that we all need to execute in our mind at some point. Probably with time I will come up with a better one, so let's keep, for now, the one that contained the old notion of "faith."


Events evolved somewhat incredibly after the accident, but still up to today for me, that split of reality, that moment captured in that last and perfect photo, containing the notion of the crash right away, embraces the essence of how it feels to me. Not one after another, it is the notion of both in one given moment. The situation that generates so many different directions. And New York, as an identity, the grey sobbing ever-expanding beast, feels just like that, to me.


Descending to the loft downstairs, clinching to Luka, in a complete trance, sweating and pale, sunburnt, scared but completely revived, I met a couple who, a week later, bought one of the picture's series. Zipora gave me a Chinese old man's stick, and I continued to walk and walk the streets of NY that summer, bearing with me one of the biggest bruises, a violet, to blue, green and yellow human aquarelle.


I've seen Geoffrey Rush during my years in Venice, queuing in a line for the ATM, as I bumped into my many other adored female actresses in all the secret alleys of Venice during the Biennales or film festivals. It is common to see a face in NY that makes the “wait a second, where do I know this face from,” this strange familiarity that a known face or character provokes, the rush of closeness that it creates in you. During a gala at Pioneer Works, when we were installing the second part of the “Crystal C” project, the place got packed with all different faces of this caliber. I will never forget the moment when Michele came knocking on the shower's glass door, where I would sneak in and steal 20 minutes of steam for myself, saying “Liv Tyler is in the studio, Jaša, looking at your work. “I ran down, dressing up in my grey suit on the way, only to start sweating like a Roman fountain when I arrived. I didn't take the time to cool down, so it seemed like I’d showered with my suit on. Well, yes, she was there, with her entourage, of course, looking at the levitating bottle of Crystal C, and yes, I felt like a teenager, because I was in the same room with my on-screen crush. But then I realized that I was dripping with sweat, so I had to fall into some roll or something. Yeah, I sat behind the piano to impersonate a French musician, and they were gone. Rosa and Michele were pissing their pants from laughing so hard.


In the same period, when I was leaving the studio, still in Pioneer works, and I bumped into Marina Abramovič. Boy, was that a moment. I felt 1 cm tall, but the desire, the strange feeling of “everything is possible” literally intoxicated my body. Then I found out that she's shooting the infamous restaging of one of her earlier works as a commercial for Adidas for the next two days. My studio was located right above the main space, where I’d installed the hanging weeping willow just two weeks ago, and so I could observe her at work. It was completely mesmerizing, from everything she represents, in general, and for an artist, as I am. Logically, there was a plan, that I should approach her, despite the battalions of butterflies in my belly, veins and everywhere. I tend to be very natural and good at it, approaching people naturally.

For example, once I saw Michel Stipe in PS1, and my blood just froze. I caught myself following him and thinking how to create a seemingly accidental moment to bump into him and say something. Ha! On my way out, he was taking a picture of a boy in front of a light piece, and the flash went off. As he was contemplating the display, he was apparently not happy with the outcome. I passed him at the back, leaned over his right shoulder and whispered in his ear: “Do it without the flash, it will come out better.” He looked at me, 10 cm distance, face to face, flabbergasted, saying “Yeah, I know, thanks.” I went out, and could not think of anything else but, "WTF? Is this all I could think of to say, don't use the flash!? What a pompous academic idiot!" It still makes me laugh when I think of it today.


Something similar happened on the second day, when I gathered the courage to approach Marina. Knowing what it means to be in the creative process, as she was, I was careful to choose my moment to approach her. The outside circles of boys and girls around her where like protecting vultures. Every time anyone felt my presence, through ferocious eye contact, I was put in my place, which was as far from her as I could be. Then I saw my window, went out to the garden, took a tiny branch from my weeping willow tree that was now planted, and which had finally started to bloom, and went straight up to her. I knew on my way to her that I'd be assaulted, at least with support, but I pushed my way through, and came right behind her in such a way that she would not even feel my presence. With my heart beating like a mad dog, with the tiny blooming branch in my hand, I guess she finally felt my shaking presence and turned around. When she did, and looked straight at me, I just froze. She did say something, which I do not remember, since I was sincerely blown away by her presence. At one point, I did manage to lift my hand, holding the tiny branch, and with a trembling voice, gasping for air said: “This is from my tree, a piece of spring that finally made it to the city.”


Imagine reaching out to an older artist, and he comes back to you, and even wants to meet. Then imagine that, on a Tuesday morning, you get an email from this same person, saying he was waiting for you at Veselka in the East Village for almost two hours, but then finally decided to go. And the stupidity that awashes you, as you realize that you mixed Tuesday for Thursday. Thinking what would be a believable excuse, of course, you opt for truth and ashes. He gives you another chance, but then on Wednesday a very dear friend of yours comes to town, and you need to go out. Of course, you need to pair the excitement with the quantity of drinks, so in the morning you get up late. I have no idea how I made it to Veselka in 20 minutes from Brooklyn, to be "only" 25 min late, but I did. I walked into the space, still drunk, sweaty and all hyper and heated, right to the table where I saw him, Kim Jones, still sitting. I glanced over the exquisite composition of tiny plates, with so many delicious breakfast elements, only to lean on one side of the roundtable to reach with my right hand in his direction. The table flipped with everything on it. Everyone stopped in that busy place, a rare thing in NY. I was so shocked, so out of it, that I just sat down, looked at Kim, and said something, which seemingly made sense to him. I thought, logically we would be done in 5 minutes. We stayed for two hours, and had a conversation that gave me more insight into the work of Kippenberger, Burden, the LA scene, Beuys, everyone he was part of from the 70s. That moment of flight, of zero gravity, of being so naturally there, with all the gods of art around the table. And I was sitting there, cracking jokes, jumping from heights of momentary insights to intimate findings, which actually resonated, equal, valid and present.


When I walked out, saying goodbye, I started laughing, both to and with myself, and before I knew it, I was dancing along the sidewalks. I knew great things would and were already happening. I knew somehow, strangely all of this makes sense, all of these extremes I was exposed to, all of these passages, this tip-toe-ing over edges, this spaces-in-between. This me, as space in between, as contrasts, differences, stories, extremes in all directions, somehow, strangely I do make sense. And even more in this city, this pocket of the world, for what it is and for what it can be, is more and more mine, too.

JAŠA (Mrevlje-Pollak)

is a Slovenian artist who lives and works in Ljubljana, Venice and New York.