Departure of Biography (for Lei Yamabe)

What follows is a presentation of sections from a notebook the author claims to have found on a recent trip to Brussels but which in fact he has entirely made up. This notebook which does not exist contains a pencil sketch of a painting, a series of brief diary entries spanning roughly two days, an exhibition review, and a conversation. These elements (not found in a small book on Rue de La Confiance on March 29th)­­ the author finds so compelling on their own terms that they are simply presented here without recourse to any particular analytic project. From the author’s point of view their openness and concern with general form lends them a strangely trustworthy quality––even though they are without comparative object. 

First are the diary fragments, second the review, and lastly the conversation. The pencil sketch serves as a frontispiece. In aid of clarity it is worth stating that the author believes the conversation in the last section to be concerned with the discussion of some notable figure, possibly an artist or writer, which the voices talk around but the identity of whom remains unclear.

For the sake of full disclosure it is also important to say that although the author does not believe the text to be in any sense autobiographical, he was also in Brussels on March 28th and 29th, visited a number of galleries and museums, and enjoyed the company of a number of interesting individuals. 


March 28th:

Had an idea this morning. What distinguishes an artist is their pursuit of coincidences or maybe the creation of them. Said this to mum over breakfast before the flight. She nodded, understood. 

Airport dull, mostly bored. Drunk a sparkling water and espresso. On the plane thought of all the artists who drift out of the art world and disappear. Flight otherwise fine.

Arranged to meet in the central square. Fell quickly into conversation. While talking walked across a boulevard and settled on a bench. Close by was a stall selling the best fries in the city.

At the restaurant he explained that he preferred not to talk while he ate, nor in fact during dinner at all, particularly when dining out. He recommended focussing on the food when it came, its qualities, the balance of flavours, the way it complimented the wine––that slow engineering of pleasure. And between courses to listen, to hear the small sounds around conversations, to notice things, to watch the movement of the waiting staff, their elegance and egalitarian regard for the covers. 

Found this a difficult experience. Flaws in posture became of tantamount importance. Stillness involved a kind of concentration, a meditative discipline. He looked quite at home, peaceful even. 

After dinner he announced that he had to depart urgently for Monchengladbach but that the gallery would be open tomorrow and that everything had been arranged. Surprised and disappointed by this. Looking forward to the exhibition nonetheless. Shook hands, parted ways.

March 29th:

Good breakfast at a café near the hotel. Coffee, pain au chocolat, orange juice. 

Went for a walk. Brussels as a backdrop, or main player perhaps, definitely important––each building different but then each street somehow the same, the same cumbersome and brooding complexity. Stone and glass. A palpable weight. History in the noble aggression of equestrian statues and Leopold repeated again and again; a dark refrain in the names of buildings and streets. 

A city somehow on the edge of Westphalian flatness, a plateau, a feeling of being below water. The idea persisted. A feeling of not knowing where to look. An endlessness, a kind of deference.

Arrived at the gallery to find it closed. The door locked. Very frustrated. Called him, no answer. The building was stone, certainly a couple of hundred years old. Windows of ornamented green stained glass. Could see into one room through a small clear section on one window. Inside a figurative painting––hard to discern.

Headed to the airport. 

On the phone later he explained that this was exactly what was meant to happen. He said there was no reason to be disappointed and that there was nothing to talk about. 


The exhibition begins. There is a proposal. It has a historical and educational remit. It is certain that projects like this are an interesting phenomenon. In some ways positive and in other ways worrying. The subject is elusive. Now is not the time for an in-depth institutional critique or analysis. That will have to wait for a longer monograph. Certainly, the disorder of artistic life is foregrounded throughout. There is a rhythm. It is important to emphasise that this show contains no original work. I feel that the promotional material might fool the casual viewer. The significance of the technological development is also clear but only by association. Some ideas would sit better in a completely different survey or exhibit. 


Where? who? 
Him, across Europe of course.
Thinking about it recently… 
When we met, sometimes for hours… beautiful connections. 
Talk without end? 
Real contact. Discussion of certain places in the world. 
And you, working in the gallery? 
At that time, sure. 
Ink pots, backs of heads… the usual stuff. 
But when he phoned? How did it feel? 
All voice. All voice. 
A certain complexity, and his distance? 
Well, a conclusion never came… was never sent, as it were. 
Somehow I felt he knew me. 
He said look at the work and don’t understand. 
All those possibilities. 
Perfect for a film actually. 
MoMA would never allow it though. 
Whatever it has to be, it has to be. 
All the work he made was real. 
It settled questions? 
In a manner, yes.
Clarity? Never in question. 
He never asked anything. 
Just to remember everything, I suppose. 
Just look. 
Big ideas. Small actions. 
And all over just a couple of weeks… 
All time.
Death? A subject? 
Not exactly, not for him. 
He worked too much. 
Yes, sometimes things went wrong. 
We all went to the openings or difficult dinners.
Mind and body. You felt it. 
He was someone you wanted to know better? 
I can’t explain. 
You wanted to get him away from his working table? 
Or piano… yes, sometimes. 
Eventually, an important visit but what we discussed… 
Never realised? 
Exactly. Just an invitation… 
To a party that never happened. 
I had a kind of intuition.
He did too, I’m sure. 
Simply wanting to see how it could be. 
Impossible? Average?
Probably. His only mistake, really.  
Sad and normal. 
The departure of biography. 
It happens to us all.
It is for us now, what was his. 
That kind of emotion. 
Annoying, fantastic. 
A real contribution. 
You have to think about these things. 
A generation passing? 
Something like that.