Monthly Archives: May 2013

Interior Forest opening

Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest

18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404

Opening reception: June 1, 2013, 7 – 9 pm

Exhibition dates: April 15 – June 28, 2013

Please join us for the opening reception of Alexandra Grant’s Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest on Saturday,  June 1st from 7 – 9 pm.

The exhibition marks the culmination of a large scale site-specific work initiated by Grant encompassing a series of public drawing sessions, reading groups and artist collaborations at 18th Street Arts Center. Co-curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Isabelle Le Normand, this work premieres in Santa Monica and is presented at Mains d’Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen, France this fall.

Based on an ongoing exchange with the iconic French author, poet, playwright and philosopher Hélène Cixous, Grant focuses on Cixous’ book Philippines as a source for imagery, centering on the repeating thematic of the forest as a profound shared space. Drifting between a real and an imagined place, the forest becomes a site for communion with what Cixous terms “the perfect Other.”  In Philippines, Cixous explores the philosophical and sociological constructs of the “Other,” linking texts from Sigmund Freud on the shared dream, Jacques Derrida on telepathy, and the story of Peter Ibbetson, a novel by Georges du Maurier, where two childhood friends separated by class and country are reunited as adults in their joined dream-life.  Within Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Grant examines the “twinned” ideas of Philippines, such as dreaming and reality, telepathy and empathy, and relationships between man and woman, adult and child, and colony and colonizer, through illustration of the text, an installation of the forest as image and stage-set, and through collaborations with other artists and the public.

Structured as a residency and an exhibition, Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest extends Grant’s studio practice into the arena of public engagement. Grant has held collaborative drawing sessions ongoing since April that invite community participation to construct a large-scale, site-specific work. Exploring the space between a specified aesthetic and shared process, Grant engages artists Frances Garreston, Channing Hansen, Bari Ziperstein, Annelie McKenzie and Tina Linville to produce sculptural, “Visiting Trees” (Arbres d’Ailleurs) for the installation. While artists Lita Albuquerque, Renee Petropoulos, Steve Roden, Scoli Acosta, Alison O’Daniel, Florian Viel, Meital Yaniv, Chritine Beebe and Laura Pardini have been invited to lead drawing residencies within the project. To date, over 190 participants have contributed to the work and are named as collaborators, and more than 70 people have formed part of the Cixous Reading Group active since January 2013.

“Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest will continue at Mains d’Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen, France, presented from September 14 to October 27, 2013.

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Black rainbows in the Interior Forest

Come and draw with Christine Beebe and Laura Pardini in the Interior Forest.

Saturday, May 25, 6 – 9pm
18th Street Arts Center

As part of Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Alexandra Grant’s residency at 18th Street Arts Center, she has invited both the public and other artists to lead drawing sessions to join her in illustrating Hélène Cixous’s book “Philippines”.

Christine Beebe is a director/producer and founder of La Turista Films and is based in Los Angeles. She has just completed, FELIX AUSTRIA!, a documentary film about American aesthete Felix Pfeifle who sets out to find and save the last heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but along the way discovers that the real ticking bomb is his own mortality.  Before this, she produced ThinkFilm’s FUCK, a documentary about censorship in America.  Beebe received her MFA from CalArts’ Film Directing Program and her BA in Political Science from Bates College.

Laura Pardini is a French artist doing a three-month internship in Los Angeles (and in the Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest).  Laura is finishing up her studies at the Ecole supérieure d’art et design (ESAD) Grenoble-Valence, where she helps run the student group Tòst (

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Hydrangea/Woman of Fire

Come and draw with Renee Petropoulos in the Interior Forest.

Monday, May 20, 11am – 2pm, Wednesday, May 22, 12 – 3pm, Friday, May 24, 4 – 7pm

As part of Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Alexandra Grant’s residency at 18th Street Arts Center, she has invited both the public and other artists to lead drawing sessions to join her in illustrating Hélène Cixous’s book “Philippines”.

Renee Petropoulos holds a fine arts degree from UCLA and lives and works in Venice, California. Petropoulos is a painter whose work has become increasingly three-dimensional, reflecting an interest in decorative forms and images of different cultures. Heavily influenced by street art, her works often involve several layers of painted imagery. Her public art commissions include a large painted ceiling at the downtown Los Angeles Public Library, a series of sculptures in Culver City, and a collaborative project for the Municipal Services Building in downtown Philadelphia.

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Dutchess of Towers and Ruins

Come and draw with Florian Viel and Meital Yaniv in the Interior Forest

Saturday, May 18th, from 6 – 9pm

18th Street Arts Center

1639 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404

As part of Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Alexandra Grant’s residency at 18th Street Arts Center, she has invited both the public and other artists to lead drawing sessions to join her in illustrating Hélène Cixous’s book “Philippines”.

Florian Viel is a Paris-based artist who will be documenting the Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest in both Los Angeles and Paris. His work has been featured in different exhibitions in Paris. He is obsessed with pineapples.

Meital Yaniv is an Israeli artist currently living in Los Angeles.  Together with Florian, she will be documenting the Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest in both Los Angeles and Paris.  She is working in collaboration with Shagha Ariannia on an upcoming exhibition.

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Grant and Joyce with nimbus1 at Machine Project 2004.

As part of KCET’s mapping of Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant’s interdisciplinary and collaborative project “Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest,” Grant has invited writer Michael Joyce to create an innovative piece of writing about the project. Joyce is known as the pioneer of hypertext fiction, which means that in the late 1980’s he was using the newly invented internet as a place to write fictions that were non-linear, moving forward and backward according to each readers’ choosing. Grant and Joyce have collaborated for many years, he writing original texts or scores for her to use as the basis for her paintings and drawings which have been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) among others. A long-time fan of the French writer and philosopher Hélène Cixous’s writing and teaching — Cixous wrote the afterward to Joyce’s book “Moral tales and meditations” in 2001 — it was Joyce who introduced Cixous and Grant recognizing that she too was a “Cixousian.” Joyce’s contribution below is two-part, first an introduction to Cixous’s work “Philippines” and the central role that book plays in Grant’s “Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest,” and the second part an original work of fiction around the central theme of the exhibition, the “perfect other.” In “Une meditation isomorph,” Joyce’s “perfect other” is his wife, the artist Carolyn Guyer, whose work is also included here.

Carolyn Guyer, Michael Joyce, Helene Cixous 2003.Carolyn Guyer, Michael Joyce, Helene Cixous 2003.

From Michael Joyce:

I am asked to write about Alexandra Grant, about Hélène Cixous, about Carolyn Guyer. The occasions are different and the same. “Would you mind then” — Alexandra requests — “in addition to this meditation on the Fôret, also writing a more didactic piece, connecting the dots? How you introduced me to Cixous, why Cixous’ work is important to you and for artists, and then yes, the imagery of the forest…why it’s important to share dreams, to be telepathic, to collaborate. Even touching on the idea of the gift without expectation of return.”I do not mind this, or I do but in a way we do not use the verb, and yet which I think about as Cixousian. I mind this in the sense of putting it in mind, in the same way, say, that I put Alexandra’s Fôret Interieure/Interior Forest and Cixous’ “Philippines” in mind as I wrote the meditation that follows, keeping these two women and their not-so-separate arts there like twinned almonds whose nested shapes scribe a valentine in the mandorla; the latter the selfsame figure that Carolyn — whose childhood story the meditation tells — together with another woman, herself a twin, Martha Petry — Carolyn my wife, Martha my once wife and mother of our children — fashioned and called the visual design for the long-ago hypertext digital fiction they wrote together, transforming mandala into mandorla, the almond eye of Shakti, the two-prowed sacred boat, the yoni, the divine female orifice.I do not-mind, I mind, in the sense of the satipatthana, the mindfulness — of body, feelings, mind, and mental objects — that form the foundation and presence of all creation. “Philippine is me is you!”–Cixous writes in “Philippines” — “You know the rite. The fate. An enchanted almond. It contains the worlds in its shell…Those mothers who conceal the soft, sweet child. The outer almond resists the hasty predator, says Plato. This is how desire is kept alive, through the toughness of the approach. The inner almond has the shape of a delicate oval which is used as a model and a reference to what is beautiful: a sea shell, a pearl, the lover’s [amante] eyes, everything that resembles a sublime tear is almond-shaped. Even Christ in glory, even the Virgin, are entrusted to the soft oval frame of an almond. The Virgin herself in the mandorla shines softly as a mystical almond.” 1

The soft oval portrait puts me in mind of the evangelist Luke, cantor of the incarnation, chronicler of the story of Bethlehem, he who is said to have been the first painter of icons, particularly those devoted to representing the Virgin and Child, who wrote in his version of the parable of the gatekeeper that to whom much is given much is asked. It seems to me, despite his matrilineal inclination, that what Luke records is an inhospitable admonition, a patrimonial gift that charges its recipient to constantly weigh what is given against what is asked.

In “Coming to Writing” Cixous writes of something quite its opposite, the maternal gift, the wordless source of our language: “So this is why, how, who, what, I write: milk. Strong nourishment. The gift without return. Writing, too, is milk. I nourish. And like all those who nourish, I am nourished. A smile nourishes me. Mother I am daughter: if you smile at me, you nourish me, I am your daughter. Goodnesses of good exchanges.” 2

“Philippines” explores the manifold goodnesses of good exchanges, seeking the place beyond the gate — au-dela de la grille, beyond the prison bars of mere inscription — where the lucid dreamer clambers up the ladder rungs that passing lights momentarily imprint upon the ceiling of the child’s bedroom at night, arriving beyond the gate in the magical space where the garden begins.

Carolyn Guyer, "Stains Quilt," 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.Carolyn Guyer, “Stains Quilt,” 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.

The meditation that follows means to slip through these bars as well. Its story is true, not only how stories are true in the way of a true line drawn by a painter’s hand, but as something that flows truly as a gift from my beloved, Carolyn, and where I am asked nothing but to take it, unbidden and unburdened, for what it is. What Cixous calls “the velvety hull” of the almond — the womb the mother keeps her child safely within — in this version of the story transforms instead to become the velvety conjoint carapace of motherdaughter, the blue crab of Maryland where the meditation is set. As such it is meant to become a story of “Mother I am daughter,” that is, of the philippine itself, the cradling mandorla of the motherdaughter, the story of language inextricably tangled, imbricated, in the weblike tendrils of the world beyond, wherein the araignée de mère “has the knack of barging in at the most decisive moments, as if umbilical communication were never interrupted” (48), until, after some time, the daughter comes to “appreciate her connections of an additional line” (49).

In “Coming to Writing” Cixous writes of how she came to savor this connection, the line that barges in and holds us: “I was raised on the milk of words. Languages nourished me. I hated to eat what was on a plate. Dirty carrots, nasty soups, the aggression of forks and spoons. ‘Open your mouth.’ ‘No.’ I let myself be fed only by voice, by words. A deal was made: I would swallow only if I was given something to hear.” 3

Carolyn, like Alexandra, a visual artist, would eat only if she were given something to see; even now she claims she cannot learn a new word in another language unless she has it before her in both eye and ear. From the first her mother fed her alfabeto, the tiny pasta in the shape of letters, stringing them out in a constellation, a milky way upon the tray of the chaise-haute bébé, just as, in this story, she later laced a garland of letters across a blank sheet of newsprint spread upon a little table. The letters upon tray and sheet became for Carolyn as familiar and animate as the spiders and ants along the forest floor where she and her mother would walk hand in hand. And so when a face appeared among the forms of the letters that she had come to recognize as real beings in the world, she was confused and did not recognize herself. So, too, when she grew into adolescence it was into that Southern Maryland fôret that she retreated to read, sitting there for hours, held in the arms of a tree.

Carolyn Guyer, "Stains Quilt," 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.Carolyn Guyer, “Stains Quilt,” 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.
“And my trees!”– Cixous writes of the garden at the heart of Philippines — “My slim, elegant acacias, my first loves, my magnolias, my madly seducing mimosas, my half-loving half-words, they stretch out their arms to me, my arms, my trees, my young odorous orpheuses from Oran” (66).

Voices from the motherdaughter world, from that fôret, bid me to write about these three women. Or if that is too fantastical an explanation — “One cannot give proofs of the dreamingtrue,” Cixous writes. “Or of telepathy. Since it takes place inside in the inner foreign country” (72) — rather say then that, in my minding of that world where much was given but nothing asked of me, the world of Hélene Cixous and Alexandra Grant, I was given to writing. What I am asked is a gift of presence, not a gift that requires something in return, but what I am given to. I mean this phrase in the way that the poet Robert Creeley uses it:

I’m given to write poems. I cannot anticipate their occasion…I cannot anticipate the necessary conclusions of the activity, nor can I judge in any sense, in moments of writing, the significance of that writing more than to recognize that it is being permitted to continue. I’m trying to say that, in writing, at least as I have experienced it, one is in the activity.

I am in the midst of rereading the stories of three women in terms of one other. “Philippines” tells of rereading (re: reading) in several ways: “It is in the middle of the garden of the book” — Cixous writes — “during the fine hours of an afternoon. I was unreading the Book which makes me cry. I had passed very often by those chapters. The word has been there. I was not looking for it. As always it responded to my desire even before that desire came to consciousness…If I had looked for it, I would not have found it. It found me” (19).

The word that found her, despite her “fateful, almost neurotic incapacity to give the name” (18), instead gives itself to become the eponymous title of “Philippines,” springing up “with the piercing authority of an arrow” (19), in the midst of a story that makes her cry, George du Maurier’s “Peter Ibbetson:” “The reality of our close companionship, of our true possession of each other” — du Maurier writes — “was absolute, complete, and thorough…Although each was, in a way, but a seeming illusion of the other’s brain, the illusion was no illusion for us. It was an illusion that showed the truth, as does the illusion of sight. Like twin kernels in one shell (‘Philipschen,’ as Mary called it), we touched at more points and were closer than the rest of mankind (with each of them a separate shell of his own).”5

Philippine is me is you. Philippine, c’est moi c’est toi. mimoi mitoi minou [me-you miaow, Laurent Milesi translates]. Rereading begins as what in English is called a reduplicative, i.e., stuttering are’serring perhaps would be a franglaisian pun — like chitchat, kittycat, nightnight, no-no, bye-bye, mommy, maman. Toi being the mother’s murmur, the latter a word itself reduplicative; moi being at first the name of Ma.

Carolyn Guyer, "Stains Quilt," 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.Carolyn Guyer, “Stains Quilt,” 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.

There is no rereading that is not all at once new. What Alexandra does, what she’s doing here, ce qu’elle fait ici, is rereading of that sort, a sort of are‘ing, a simultaneity and synchronicity of being, that she and I discussed once some years ago in Central Park near Poets’ Walk where the great elm trees reach out their arms across the sky like the acacias in the garden at Oran, interlacing like the forest of letters the mother draws in my isomorphic meditation of Southern Maryland. We sat there, Alexandra and I, like Mimsey and Gogo, the sister and brother characters in “Peter Ibbetson,” talking about what happens when she transforms language into image, an invitation to enter into reduplication that she now extends to all who enter this Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest at the 18th Street Arts Center or its twin at Mains d’Oeuvres:

AG: I was just thinking of…the implication of lasting.
MJ: There’s that kind of duration, a lastingness that is not the lastingness of history, but the way that a harmonic stays in your ear while another note is sounded. That is central to our collaboration. What is the relation between the language and the visuals here? There has to be some sort of lastingness that is that kind of durational interplay, harmonic interplay. Remember when the English professor came to your studio and, aghast, asked me, “What do you feel about what has happened to your words?” I was puzzled, because I could see them there, lasting. Not lasting like “okay, you can read this” in the same way as if you have a text of mine in hand, but a duration that is fundamental to any kind of textuality. How readers don’t remember very much verbatim from even the greatest novels, but there’s a lasting, a duration of your knowing something that is outside of the details of language.

AG: I do get asked about that, about the loss of being able to read your text, about the total transformation of your words.

MJ: Which never troubles me at all. I think the text is utterly there. It’s, as you say, “held in trust.” We came with the language and we linger on the word. We’ve both decided it was the right language. I’m giving you something and you took it. And Hélène, whom we both now admit was somehow at the center of this…for her that’s the core thing: the gift without return. Here’s the language, I say, and you give me — and the world — back the images.

AG: So a second sense of time in our collaboration is synchronicity. What does it mean to be in “synchronicity,” to be at the same time?

This, too, is the lasting question of “Philippines,” the text that Alexandra now proposes not just to hold in trust but to invite you to enter into through these twinned, trans-Atlantic installations. Installations that attempt — just as do both this essay and meditation of mine — to reread and reduplicate not, one might say, that mythical garden of separation, division, and passing called Eden, but instead the gardens of the “Philippines,” the two-in-one of mandorla, not Eden but idemeadum, the garden of shehe, where — Cixous writes — “One is oneself the lost child, the orphan, the one without roots, the hostage of a forgetting, of an arrested memory” (36).

Carolyn Guyer, "Stains Quilt," 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.Carolyn Guyer, “Stains Quilt,” 2010-present, Stained vintage linen, Dimensions variable.

It is to there where at end Cixous calls us: “Let’s return” — H.C. writes at the start of “Philippines” — “revenons…’Revenons‘ will be my first word. As long as I shall live, and even more perhaps. Let’s return to our starting point. [Revenons à notre point de départ]” (1).

How to be both at the beginning and at the end is a question of twinning and telepathy alike, and so it is that Cixous writes, “when I started ‘writing’ this text, I thought it was called Telepathic Garden or Lethepatic Garden” (18), she having in mind –minding — the doubled gardens that, like Mimsey and Gogo, she and “Pete,” her brother-partner in “postnatal twinship,” explored in childhood and again later in rêverie télépathique. These doubled gardens of the Cercle Militaire in Oran and the Jardin d’Essai in Algiers each becoming lastingly, synchronically, what Freud’s contemporary, the Czech psychiatrist Arnold Pick, mislabeled as delusional; that is the “reduplicative paramnesia” which insists that belief that a place can exist in two or more places, say imagetext, simultaneously.

They can, they do. You only have to enter here to know.

“The more I dream” — Cixous writes — “the more I allow myself to dream/to be dreamt, the more dreams come to me. It is the same for the trees which stretch out their arms to us…those so powerfully powerless arms, which only wait for a glance to cry out a name to call me, are mine, it is the little one — the child who was happy and who is the keeper of happiness in my ruins, who holds them out to me. Here’s the gate. An avenue goes. The intense humming of insects and of light. Careful! Life is going to start again. Let’s cross the bars. — Go! Go!” (72).

Une meditation isomorph, for A.G., H.C., and C.G.

Il y a un forêt dans chaque cité and a forest in that forêt where creatures hide away in the serpentine undergrowth beneath, while others huddle hidden like the lost sigmoidal wiggle of the absent ess beneath the tiny capot which marks the roof of the hut where it has secreted itself like a worm after rain, ou un petit ophidien sur un chemin, somewhere deep in the forest of a story, which is not this forest, but the forest of letters of the alphabet that her mother wrote out again and again for her — upon her — before her, once upon a time when they were the lone two creatures in their portion of these woods, her mother tracing the forms upon the palm of her hand or across her forehead; writing them in the sand or through a scrim of flour spread upon the board where later she would knead the bread before baking it; or, best of all, on some glorious mornings, etching them into a runic sprawl, a crabbed nebula arcing across the great, blank expanse of the newsprint sheets her mother spread out to cover the little table sur le balcon as soon as the weather turned bright enough and the day warm enough to go out where suddenly the bare, dead stalks of the shrubs wintering in their clay pots miraculously sprouted miniscule green feathers twitching like bright commas at the bud scars along the new branchlets. One by one Mama pronounced the names of each tendril she wove into this boscage — ah bay say day — and gently taking her little hand in her warm, long, grand one, extended her pink, small index finger, holding it in her own hand comme un stylo, tracing over the forms as she sounded the names once more, ah such a day at the sea, ou au-dessus la cité.

Slowly she came so she could name them for herself, moving her finger along the twigs and curves while whispering their names, and other times calling them out in response as her mother pointed to them one by one. Some days her mother would quietly sing as they sat there, she on her lap, her arms encircling hers, as if they formed a two-headed torteau together, a twitchy, giggling, crustaceous thing big enough to devour the low table sur lequelle the procession of tiny insects marched through the forêt, ces araignées colorées from the box of pastel pencils she held in her little hand, choosing which color her mother should wield to form the next letters. And so it was that she slowly came to realize that the names of things gave their shapes to both the forest and the creatures within: citron, the cousin of jaune and the name of the sour fruit; doll-faced marron, the color of her hair; bleu foncé, her corduroy jumper; bleu clair, the color of air.

Before long she was able to spy her own name there amid the scaffolding and verticils, the ladders and whorls, its squashed round vowels whose sourcils eux-mêmes had names of their own. Her mother sang of a secret name that flowed like water beneath the name she already knew for herself; and she knew, without quite knowing how, that none else would ever pronounce that name quite the same as these times when she and Maman made their way tous deux dans cette fôret.

Michael Joyce at Grimaldis, 2012. | Photo: Trudy Moon.Michael Joyce at Grimaldis, 2012. | Photo: Trudy Moon.

Then one morning it happened that her mother announced a surprise. Next to her petit bol de chocolat chaud a sheet of cream-colored paper awaited face down upon the table Regard et vois, her mother said smiling. She turned it over and on the other side was something she did not know, a face smiling grotesquely amid broken marks she thought she should recognize. She turned the paper over again and looked down at the chocolate. A wispy cloud passed over its surface in a swirl whose tail resembled the smile on the other side of the paper. She said nothing.

She drank some of the chocolate, careful to keep the swirl from coming too close to her lips.

I thought it would make you happy, ma chérie, her mother said. She tapped the edge of the cream-colored paper, the polish on the nail chipped white along the edge.

She began to cry softly, knowing that she had somehow disappointed her.

Don’t you see? Her mother said, I’ve drawn your face there in the midst of the letters of your name?

She turned the paper over on the table and ran the finger with the chipped polish along the curve of the face of the girl she had drawn there.

Oui, merci, she said, though she didn’t see at all. The face took away more than it gave, it was not her, nor was it her name.

Her mother lifted her from the chair and into her lap, burying her face in her daughter’s hair, drawing its fragrance in as she crooned the name that no one but them would ever hear.

For years they sought each other in that forêt, following the face and the song and the name, trying to bring them together in one place and time.


1 Hélène Cixous, “Philippines,” trans. Laurent Milesi (Malden, Mass.: Polity Press, 2011), 22-23. Page numbers of further references to this book are cited in parentheses after the passage quoted.2 Hélène Cixous, “Coming to Writing,” in “‘Coming to Writing’ and Other Essays,” trans. Sarah Cornell, Deborah Jensen, Ann Liddle, and Susan Sellers (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991), 49.3 Ibid., 20.4 Robert Creeley, “I’m given to write poems,” in “A Quick Graph: Collected Notes & Essays,” ed. Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1970), 61.4 Robert Creeley, “I’m given to write poems,” in “A Quick Graph: Collected Notes & Essays,” ed. Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1970), 61.

5 George du Maurier, “Peter Ibbetson, with an Introduction by His Cousin Lady ***** (‘Madge Plunket’); edited and illustrated by George Du Maurier” (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1891), vol. 2, 146.

Top Image: Grant and Joyce with nimbus1 at Machine Project 2004.

Telepathic Fireworks/Ghost Snake

Come and draw with Lita Albuquerque in the Interior Forest

Friday, May 17, 11am – 3pm

18th Street Arts Center

1639 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404

As part of Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, Alexandra Grant’s residency at 18th Street Arts Center, she has invited both the public and other artists to lead drawing sessions to join her in illustrating Hélène Cixous’s book “Philippines”.

Lita Albuquerque is at the forefront of a generation of the celebrated California Light and Space and Ephemeral Installation artists who emerged during the 1970s. She has exhibited around the world and has major public works in the USA, Japan, Egypt, the UAE, and Canada. Her ephemeral instillations have been seen in locations as diverse as the Washington Monument, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Ross Ice Shelf on Antarctica. Lita has been awarded several highly coveted international grants and fellowships for her sculpture, instillations, and paintings and in 1996 she won the prestigious Cairo Biennale Prize. She has exhibited in the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum, LACMA, The Getty, and The Whitney Museum.

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Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

Contemporary ambivalence around the word “feminism” is remarkable for what it says about our times, when the question of women’s rights, especially in the United States, is increasingly being framed almost exclusively in terms of workplace achievement.

Earlier this year when Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, was generating controversy by associating feminism with “militant” women who “have a chip on the shoulder,” Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, launched her book Lean In. The book, which she calls a “sort of a feminist manifesto,” instructs women on how to “internalize the revolution” in order to better their chances to secure individual professional achievement.

The Cixous Reading Group, a newly formed collaboration of Los Angeles-based artists and writers, is a kind of pop-up seminar, trying to reframe what it means to be a feminist today. Bringing together women and men from a wide range of ages and nationalities, the group has been meeting every two weeks for the past six months to read and discuss the works of Hélène Cixous, the famous French poet, playwright and philosopher whose body of work includes some of the world’s most influential works on critical theory and feminism. Through close textual readings and wide-ranging discussion, the group investigates feminism in the context of what it means to be working artists trying to find grounds from which to create.

The reading group is an outgrowth of “Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest,” a project by Los Angeles-based artist Alexandra Grant that includes a series of public drawing sessions, artist collaborations, and an installation at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Co-curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas and Isabelle Le Normand, this work will premiere in Santa Monica and be presented at Mains d’Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen, France this fall.

Since Grant’s collaborative installation focuses on Cixous’ book “Philippines” as a source for imagery, the reading group was formed with the intent of activating discussion around the entirety of Cixous’ oeuvre, including the classic texts “Coming to Writing,” “Steps on the Ladder of Writing,” and her highly anthologized essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” which reads as a true feminist manifesto, as rousing and inspirational today as it was when it first appeared in 1975.

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

Born in North Africa and educated in France, Cixous has produced a body of work that is as famous for its breadth and variety as for its difficultly in being categorized. Multilingual, Jewish, and female, Cixous claimed early on that she had no grounds from which to write. “With no legitimate place, no fatherland, no history of [her] own,” her every text becomes an autobiography, every text a manual on how to read, how to write, and how to come to language.

What unifies her work is a belief in the importance of language, that the very linguistic structures we think with, speak with, write with, and are embodied by, are the sources of our limitations and means for our liberation.

For Cixous, the notion of “woman” has been “inculcated with the spirit of restraint.” She asks us to “be wary of names, they are nothing but social tools, rigid concepts, little cages of meaning assigned.” Her poetical and wildly imaginative texts try to enact a feminine position, which she argues is available to anyone of any gender, that allows for freedom from self-limitations and the limitations imposed upon us.

Indeed, Cixous’ texts are nothing if not playful. In some ways, the Cixous Reading Group functions as a kind of social reading party. The group rides together on the waves of Cixous’ irresistible rhetoric and wordplay, sometimes stopping to play within the gaps in meaning between translations and the original texts.

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

For many of the younger artists in the reading group who are encountering Cixous’ work for the first time, Cixous offers permission to “[let] yourself go, unwind, open the floodgates.” It was Cixous’ use of wordplay and double entendre that captured the imagination of abstract painter Lauralee Pope, a second year MFA student at CalArts. In her latest exhibition Pope found herself titling her paintings for the very first time: “I was waiting for this moment when I could use language in a way that reflected the type of play I already do in painting.”

For others in the group, who first started reading Cixous in the 90s, it’s been a welcome return to a writer who had earlier inspired them to find their voices as artists. “The thing I really respond to in Cixous is that she focuses on the process,” says LA-based artist and writer Cindy Rehm, “As a creative person you can get bogged down about worrying about the product. Focusing on being in the process is a much happier place to be.”

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

In an ongoing effort to draw in different groups of readers, the group meets at various locations around Los Angeles such as Lehrer Architects in Silver Lake, the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, and 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, where the group gathers in the very space where the installation “ForêtIntérieure/Interior Forest” is collaboratively coming to life.

Artist and writer Mary Anna Pomonis says, “Staying in touch with other people who are interested in feminism and supporting each other” is one of the great benefits of the Cixous Reading Group. For Pomonis, reading Cixous is “constantly reminding me what my job as an artist is, to stop and frame what I’m doing.”

Meital Yaniv, a first year MFA student at CalArts who works with language and translation in her own practice, says she has found in Cixous the new feminist voice she’s been looking and searching for. “Cixous!” she says, “Where have you been all my life?!”

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.

Cixous Reading Group | Photo by Kevin Kane.