Why I Always Cry on Airplanes

Friday, September 14th, 2012

I was unsure of leaving this entry’s title in first-person. Was also unsure of how and if I should punctuate it—to end it with ellipsis, as in here goes the list of reasons, or to add a do before the I and end it with a question mark, as in I am bewildered.

Point is: I always do cry during air flights. It seldom happens before take-off or landing, so no need to associate it with fear of flying. It actually tends to happen mostly after an hour or so on air. Sometimes tears just begin rolling down. Other times tears are announced by a knot on the throat or accompanied by some indeterminate muscular pain. Few times there’s actual weeping, and I am unsure if it’s because these are tears of exhaustion or of measured emotion. For sure, never are these alligator tears.

I’ve decided to wear prescription sunglasses during flights to avoid exhibition. Reddened sinus effects, blush cheeks, and slightly swollen lips rarely manifest. Though parallel and occasional teardrops from the nose are inevitable. The uncertainty of these discrete waterfalls prompts me to push the orange-button on the seat dashboard. Once the steward arrives, I request a tissue, then some bubbles, and if possible, I add to my request, to serve them on a crystal glass rather than a plastic cup. Sunrays or stars are hidden from the aisle seat—my preferred area on-board—so seeing sparkles on a glass and feeling them down my throat always trigger the experience of moving in a landscape, of being grounded yet on air.

From the explanations available online, the reason for my tears is probably because I fly coach, unfortunately. According to recurring travelers and pseudo-scientists that populate the Web, oxygen is limited in the back of airplanes, making those people seated in economy more sensitive, teary, as they say, during flights. That theory, however, is mostly associated to crying while watching movies on planes, specifically romantic comedies and generally-tasteless Hollywood melodramas on airline repertoires, which, to me, this only means that films on planes (should I add tears here?) cannot be taken all too seriously. In any case, that popular theory would not reason my tears, as I tend to read or dream on flights.

It’s unclear when this started happening, the crying. I barely noticed them last year or so. When the tears actually settled into ritual was just some months ago. As of late, it is their appearance of comfort, their I am here to stay while on air, that has become somewhat preoccupying, sometimes even more daunting than the tears themselves. And so, I’ve begun wondering if crying is because I am leaving a place—my home, or a place that feels like it, or a space that could be that should I had stayed. I’ve also wondered the opposite, if crying is because of having to go back home, or to a place that feels like it, or to a space that could be that someday.

Whether it is the sense of impending arrival or the acknowledgment of a departure, I’ve begun coming to terms with tears and some day will do so with the idea of home—whatever or wherever that is.

Image: detail of Dear Mr. _____ (from a desert to a mountain to a waterfall), 2012, by Tania Perez Cordova.


Sunday, June 19th, 2011

At the moment I am in Spain, tearlessly working on the installation of The Cry, a group exhibition that Maria Ines Rodriguez and I jointly curated for MUSAC. The title of the exhibition suggests that crying, aside from being a manifestation of a private emotion, is a public call for bearing witness. During the curatorial process, we asked ourselves: What if, for a change, we shift the lens for looking at contemporary art from conceptualism to expressionism? We then looked at what could be thought of as artistic gesture in recent art, and attempted to articulate in the exhibition possible structures of feeling.

The exhibition includes artworks from the 1990s to the present by Absalon, Allora & Calzadilla, Hernan Bas, Irina Botea, Luisa Cunha, Lara Favaretto, Jesper Just, David Maljkovic, Christian Marclay, Teresa Margolles, Olivia Plender, Ugo Rondinone and Javier Téllez; as well as performances by El Resplandor, Loreto Martínez Troncoso, and von Calhau. The exhibition design is a special project by the artist Terence Gower, who developed what we might call an “emotional architecture” (a term coined by the Mexican artist Mathias Goeritz). The graphic designer Scott Ponik made the exhibition title illustration, above.

The Cry opens June 25, 2011, and is on view until January 8, 2012.

“I gazed at the sun for so long that I’ve started to cry.”

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Czech Republic has a legacy and currency of conceptualism, and, for that matter, a socio-economic history in which working socially has its own political connotations. It is not surprising that the Czech artists with most international presence are conceptualists. Think of Jiří Kovanda’s scheduled actions and happenings; Kateřina Šedá’s social projects; Jiří Skála’s writing performances; Barbora Klímová’s current reenactments of almost invisible performances originally held in public spaces during the 1970s, when the country was communist and ruled as Czechoslovakia. From these artists, it is the new interpretations of Kovanda’s work that is important to touch upon here. This is not because there is a direct lineage between Kovanda and the younger artists that I mention thereafter. Clearly, the intentionality and form of their work couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Here are some of Kovanda’s happenings: September 3, 1977. On an escalator … turning around, I look into the eyes of the person standing behind me. In another action dated the same and described simply as Contact, the artist wanders on an almost empty sidewalk and, as if accidentally, bumps or rubs his shoulders when he encounters a person walking in opposite direction. Some months earlier, this time in a park in downtown Prague, May 19, 1977, I rake together some rubbish (dust, cigarette stubs, etc.) with my hands and when I’ve got a pile, I scatter it all again. Schölhammer sees a purposeful and meaningful aspect of anti-socialization in Kovanda’s work. He proposes the artist’s “refusal to cooperate” as a political act.

Simple actions characterize Kovanda’s work, while a level of production and art historical or institutional frame is either used or required, to a lesser or higher degree, in the work of these younger artists. The distinction is telling of the times. The new readings of Kovanda’s work describe the contexts of art production and reception of Czech contemporary art, particularly for performance. They suggest the possible subjectivities at play in work done today from that of the recent past. The curator Georg Schölhammer argues that, “Kovanda tries to find gestures in his work to act against the manifest ossification of society in the late 1970s, to transcend it and to find traces of an expression of individuality.” According to the curator, the bourgeois public of Fordism in the West and the bureaucratic Socialism in the East are the societies in question.

* * *

Under the direction of Vit Havernek, the Prague-based nonprofit arts organization Tranzit has taken the task of publishing a series of books about these and other Czech conceptual artists, young and old. This editorial project is done in collaboration with JRP | Ringier in Switzerland. These artist’s books and catalogues are published in Czech and English, and are strategically distributed, allowing new points of contact and reception of these artists work internationally. The reference to Georg Schölhammer is drawn from one of these books: Jiří Kovanda (Prague: Tranzit and JRP Ringier, 2006).

Jiří Kovanda is represented by GB Agency in Paris, who kindly provided the image pictured above. One of the best exhibitions at that the gallery has been an unconventional retrospective of his work curated by Work Method. Work Method is a Paris-based curatorial agency run by François Piron and Guillaume Désanges to initiate and manage independently individual and collaborative projects, including art exhibitions, performances, programs and editorial projects linked with contemporary art.

Image above: Jiří Kovanda. “XXX. August 1977. Prague. I’m crying. I gazed at the sun for so long that I’ve started to cry. (Je suis en train de pleuré. J’ai fixé le soleil depuis si longtemps que j’ai commencé à pleurer.)” Courtesy GB Agency, Paris.

I’m too sad to tell you

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

I’m too sad to tell you (1971) by Bas Jan Ader. Click his name to visit a wonderful site.