I don’t like you, but I love you,
Seems that I’m always thinking of you
Oh, whoa, whoa, I wanna split now, I can’t quit now,
You really got a hold on me.
Eight years deep into my own private Lee-land, I can say that, despite both being Scorpios and sharing other cultural identities, ultimately we are not cut from the same cloth. Lozano’s temperament, chemistry, context, and extremes remain other—awesomely, inspiringly, spellbindingly other. I am reminded, occasionally with regret, that I’m not wired for her particular, spectacular kind of radical acting out. Had we met before her passing in 1999, odds are she would have rebuffed me, perhaps for being a fan but more likely in compliance with her mythic “Boycott Women” (1971 – ) project.
Never mind. It doesn’t matter. I nonetheless feel a major, consuming, unflagging, electric affinity, an adrenalin-endorphin rush of cheer and hope deep in my core when I look at and think about her art or read her writing—Lozano is a force. I jump to my feet. We meet on an astral plane. I am grateful for what she stands for and represents to me, even the disturbance, pain, dis-ease, and stubborn difficulty of her razor’s edge. (As far as formative affinities and hauntings go, it can’t have hurt that my abiding Lozanology set in during my 20s, that most opportune time for self-formation when life experience and accumulated knowledge cross a critical threshold beyond which I could more consciously decide who I am.)
She became my structuring logic, the frame against which I measure an evolving understanding of the world and my place in it. I’m not getting over her and, anyway, I wouldn’t want to. I love this one-sided love affair; sometimes, it’s all I think about. She makes me venture to understand questions of being and psychology. What can art do to a life? Are you passionate? Confronting such a thrillingly unruly, defiant, and ballsy thinker is powerful to a sister. The desire to get high on ideas, to be obsessed and feel possessed is our common bottom-line.
These lessons that I learned from Lozano continue to feel like important epiphanies:
Retain ontological doubt in front of a work “of art” (or not “of art”). Ask: what constitutes a piece? Where in time or space is it located if we are willing to acknowledge that the crucial part of the work’s life, for each of us, is our personal interaction with it, my contingent experience in front of and beyond it, as it sticks with me over time?
Continually question, wonder, and reconsider what I choose to take seriously—where serious thought lies and can be found (everything is a symptom if you know about diagnosis and can track effects). Ethics enters the conversation around art in connection to the question of what we choose to take seriously. Aesthetics will manifest a larger ethos. (Which by no means disallows an artist her internal contradictions, in fact one of Lozano’s other great lessons is that opposites are often nearly the same and co-dependent.)
Take my pleasures seriously and develop them with rigor so that they become this life’s work and meaning. At the same time, as serious and major as all these ideas are, none of this matters very much a few hundred feet off the ground, up in the air, in the cosmos, when the lights go out for good.
Take the artist as a lively model of consciousness that is, on the one hand, utterly consumed with introspection, self-reflection, self-analysis, subjectivity, and deep inward burrowing (or as she would say, INVOLUTION) and, on the other hand, compelled by a powerful desire to ditch the self, get over ego, escape, transcend the confines and limitations of identity, expand outward as energy, and go beyond the incessant me-ness of existence as we know it (as she would say, BE A KNOWBODY).
Tune into the potent possibility of invisibility and marginality. The immaterial brain material that is an idea is the most powerful thing. Think strategically about presence and timing, dropping out and showing up, autonomy and refusal (a lesson schooled in other ways by Sturtevant, via (for me) Bruce Hainley). Avoid, deflect, or at least complicate recognition. Non-recognition—defamiliarization’s fleeting twin—is discovery, which is mental orgasm. Orgasm is a pleasurably induced accumulation and release of energy; do it often and on lots of levels.
Ride waves of flux, flow, risk, and catastrophe—aspire (though impossible) to her fearlessness and abandon in the face of ripping changes. Support her kind of loose-canon, forward-thinking, against-the-grain, misfit radicality.
The subject of my study determines the form and quality my thinking takes. My fixations mirror her passions and precedent. As Lozano forged her practice conceptually around such expansive principles as MULTIPLY BY T and INFOFICTION, so does my own thinking absorb and responsively apply those same operations.
MULTIPLY BY TIME dictates that every art action be conceived with its long-term effects and evolving meaning in mind; open-ended, the “piece” encompasses everything it sets into motion from the time of its creation on, up to and including my writing about it. She thought so far ahead. I melt into the temporal expansiveness opened by her paradigm shifts.
INFOFICTION describes an understanding of individual consciousness as an alloy of subjective perception, particular delusion, psychological baggage, fantasy, memory, data, and received information; in other words, info is made fictive by the shape of my head.
I aim to reflect Lozano’s methodologies back onto her life as an artist. She steers me by example as I compose my understanding of her. Writing history and biography is a high-traffic two-way street of mutual formation.
The opacity Lozano cultivated, the mystery that resulted from her Life-Art decisions—for example, dropping out of the professional art world in “Dropout Piece” (c. 1970 – )—stokes my desire to do detective work. She is one of those cases where playing hard-to-get works. I lust for biographemes. The Quest for Corvo, by A.J.A. Symons, remains a model in this regard, both for the love of the search itself and for the way the detective-writer merges with and writes himself into his subject. Though destabilizing, it’s such a thrill to be unsure where I end and she begins.
As I speculate now on how she has changed me, I become, by extension, more sensitive to contact, influence, and transmission in general. This attention to transmission connects to an instinctive yearning to outwit mortality, to persist powerfully despite having to die.
SARAH LEHRER-GRAIWER is a writer and curator in Los Angeles where she co-runs The Finley Gallery and edits Pep Talk. She is the author of Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece (Afterall Books).