I’ve just returned from Paris. I am still incredulous that I can go to places like Paris on the train in less than 3 hours. My dear friend and bread twin, Amy, braved the international airways all the way from Washington, DC to meet me there. Naturally our goals were to consume bread in all its forms: baguettes, croissants, pastry… as well as to see all the art. Oh, how we ate! Oh, how we drank! Oh, how we saw! Oh, how we walked… and walked… and walked. Continue reading “Levain: the long rise”
Things are moving along here. It seems that we won’t be homeless! We are waiting on a variety of boring items (like credit checks and a lease) to resolve on an apartment we want to live in! Islington is great, but it will be nice to have a home for our own. Don’t worry — when it’s all signed and done, we’ll barrage you with photographs and change of address announcements.
We have a Saturday ritual now, which is really nice. The cleaning people come in the morning, so we need to take Zeke out. We walk over to King Square Gardens to play with him. After he’s thoroughly exhausted, we have breakfast at Jimmy an the Bee, where they make an amazing ham and cheese croissant and Americano, as well as a fresh, cold bowl of water for Zeke. This particular Saturday David forced me to walk another two blocks to see a few galleries. I have a natural resistance to interacting with new people, and being in a new place makes it harder. However, my reward was a really great exhibition, Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography at Parasol Unit. It was encouraging to me to find work that I really liked–literally around the corner.
Still got my eye out for Virginia here in London. Joel Sternfeld, ‘McLean, Virginia, December 1978’ (detail), 1978
Loved this video created from a photo of Elvis. David Claerbout, ‘KING (after Alfred Wertheimer’s 1956 picture of a young man named Elvis Presley)’, 2015-16. Via Parasol Unit site
Over at Victoria Miro they had a Yayoi Kusama piece floating about. Narcissus Garden, 1966 – Stainless steel spheres, Set of 800, Each 30 cm
We were delighted that our friend, Sean, arrived in London this weekend! He has been riding trains across the world with another friend, Andrew. He started in Singapore, wandered about Vietnam, Japan, China, and Mongolia, then hopped on the Trans-Siberian Railway. He spent time in Moscow, Paris, and a few other spots before landing here. Coincidence would have it that he is staying for a week on the same block as us here in Islington. Yay for neighbors! We all met when Sean and I started together as freshmen at Cornell in 2004. We even got to hang out with him after college because he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. So, it’s good he’s here to help us explore our new city, especially since he’s so good at exploring new places by now.
On Sunday we did a walking tour of London. We saw Westminster, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Covent Garden, and a few other spots. It was good to get a bit of the lay of the land. We even saw a marching band of British officers with their bowlers and brollies (or, uh, umbrellas)!
Lots of rules at Trafalgar Square
In St. James’ Park near Buckingham Palace on our tour
Sean with his tiny beers at Brewdog, a Scottish craft beer spot we learned to love in Edinburgh last October
And yesterday (Tuesday) I needed to do some research at the Natural History Museum. I’m learning a lot about plesiosaurs and also the Loch Ness monster as an extension of my lifelong love. I did a fifth grade science project about the Loch Ness monster, convinced that as a ten year old I could determine whether or not she is real. This has emerged once again into a painting exploration. We get to project all our imaginings onto the bones of the plesiosaur, the fossilized reptile that could be Nessie. I’m not sure what will result, but the large hallway at the Natural History Museum is an portal to a crazy world for me.
On my walk to the tube, I discovered Sean–who was also on his way to the Natural History Museum! It was nice to have a comrade excited to learn, though Sean didn’t need to spend an hour and a half with the plesiosaurs like I did. There is so much to learn here, and what was really beautiful to me at the museum yesterday was that learning leads to imagining. Learning isn’t all facts and dry numbers; it’s about where it can take you. Maybe it means traveling the world, visiting dinosaur bones, or starting a new life in a new place.
Natural History Museum’s plesiosaurs with one, big pliosaur
We’ve been here for two weeks! It feels like we have always lived in this strange apartment-hotel for our entire lives. Today and yesterday we were international flat-hunters, though we’ll share more on that later when the stars align.
What are you doing in …life?
A lot of people are wondering what I, Leah, am doing over here on this island. That is fair. I am doing what I did before: my art practice. It’s more complicated to explain quickly (especially to a real estate agent), which is why I’m sometimes less keen to speak up.
So, my art practice looks this way: researching new ideas, experimenting with paint and what I’m learning, prepping surfaces to paint, making paintings, and editing all of that. After all that, I’m applying for exhibitions and a residency here and there, while trying to participate in the art scene. That’s what happens for me full time.
Then I have some sort of employment to help out with the finances. In San Francisco, I really loved working as a consultant for artists and authors. I also was able to do some teaching gigs in the midst of all that.
Here I don’t have that network, so I am beginning from scratch. Small talk and networking takes a lot of my energy and requires a lot of mental preparation, so I am trying to grow in that. London will be good for me to stretch that way. My hope is to be teaching more here in London at a university level.
I am returning to the States to teach for 4 weeks in the summer. It’s a program I really love teaching, and I’ll still net some dollars while imposing on all of my favorites for their couches.
What then have you been doing in London?
When David went back to work, so did I. I’ve been making small paintings on paper with my tiniest of palettes. I brought a small toolbox with the basics for oil painting: a few tubes of paint, brushes, a small glass palette, and a few other odds and ends. I prepared the paper ahead of time in San Francisco, so that I could just start painting again when I was ready.
I’ve been mulling over the vulnerability of travel/migrating/relocation. Your body is extra sensitive. I read an article about how we don’t sleep well when we travel because our bodies know we could maybe be in more danger. I packed a tiny first aid kit for our travels. I have so many things to keep me safe from germs: wipes, hand sanitizer, and vitamins. And I’m not even a germ person–I don’t care about germs, but I know how sick I can get from everything I’m exposed to.
You’re more emotionally vulnerable as well. We really are doing okay! Very much so! And that is amazing. Even so, things will trigger homesickness or remind us how insane all of this is. I’m on a (Mexican food) hunger strike because you can’t beat SF. I haven’t changed my default “home” address in Google Maps. I felt pangs of sadness when I saw photos of the queen’s bubble umbrella because my friend also has one. It’s all raw, but also ridiculous.
Tate Modern has an amazing Mona Hatoum exhibition up right now. I trekked down on Thursday to see it, and it was extremely moving for me. So much of her work is about the (sometimes literal) shreds of yourself that you leave behind in your displacements or migrations. This felt especially solvent as I think about everyone and everything back in the States, as I attempt to rebuild my professional and personal lives.
So, I’m running again trying to rebuild there. We’ve visited a church. We went for pints with David’s colleagues. I’m venturing out to see art exhibitions. I’ve made some tiny paintings. All of these things are really small in the grand scheme, but take so much of you when everything is new. I find myself being tired a lot, but also like it’s not the end of the world.
It’s like my life is a small check list: Make some friends. Make some art. Stay healthy spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. I can do this.
“You are still here” is a Mona Hatoum piece at Tate Modern right now. It’s a mirror with words just like this. I’ve made my own version of my memory of the piece.
First aid kit painting
Long live the King — international flight Budweiser