I have with me this morning a collection of Kafka stories, which I assigned to a student for an independent study. Daniel's father likes Kafka, so Daniel read Kafka as a child. His teacher liked Kafka, so he read Kafka through school. His older brother likes Kafka, so he continues reading him when he sees his brother. But Daniel himself has never liked Kafka. He's now reading Bill Wilson's story collection, Why I Don't Write Like Franz Kafka.
In the past week each of us has received a letter from Camille, in her "bird cage" on Pine Grove in West Lakeview. Tree leaves and small branches encased in plastic, glitter, and glue. I immediately put mine in a folder – one of many where I sort correspondence. Daniel says he will throw his away. Because it cannot be re-sent. He keeps nothing that he cannot use.
Annelliesse has moved her belongings – she'll be in and out during the week and then stay on at Daniel's apartment for the next month or two, while he's in Germany. One of her Art Institute friends was over yesterday. Student questions, Daniel notes, are always the same:
Does tape have a special meaning for you?
I ask whether he's ever worked in another medium besides tape. In 1993, he catalogued a number of steel sculptures. One section was titled, Special guests: The Normals & their place. A "normal" in this case was a meter, a standard unit of measurement. Nearly all of Daniel's work is about standards (on his worktable lies a grid, a knife, a ruler, and stacks sometimes a yard in height of round cardboard inserts, left over after the tape's been exhausted.) He says in that early show he wasn't concerned about the stainless beauty of the material. But people complained about rust. It would take millennia for rust to affect the sculpture's proportions, but that was all people saw: the imperfection.
Today people ask, will the tape turn yellow?
The brittle yellow of tape in the pages of an old book.
I ask whether he will work in steel again. A slow shake of the head: no, too heavy. We talk about a trip he made, with Gert, in Turkey. They wanted to try an alternative route by boat to Kuzgunçuk, a town on the Asian side of Istanbul. Taking a map to the ticket office and tracing out the desired route (which they knew had to exist), they asked the attendant when the next boat left for Kuzgunçuk. The man, who spoke no German or English, pointed to the boat about to leave, and quoted what seemed an exorbitant sum for the ticket. Unfortunately, Daniel's system of rational map-consulting was not the attendant's system. With no time for bargaining, the two artists got themselves on the boat, moments before the platform lifted. An hour had passed, when they had to be well past Kuzgunçuk, before they realized they were on their way to the Black Sea.
In this circumstance, with two rolls of tape in his pocket, Daniel was able to spend the afternoon preparing postcards. Gert cut tape with his teeth. They could never have accomplished so much on that day, working with steel.
Roman Opalka paints according to a master plan for life. Each painting is titled "1 - , detail" (with the sequence, x to y, in parentheses). Small white numbers are painted continuously until the paint from one deep dip is used up. In the background, a monochrome gets whiter with each painting, as more white is added, with every painting, to the pigment. Eventually, as the artist ages, white numbers will start to disappear into the white background. After each finished work a self-portrait is taken to accompany the painting.
We discuss the temporary quality of tape: you use it to attach a name to a mailbox, because you won't be long at the address. Or because you'll put in something more permanent later. The material itself is timebound. Before the sixties, roughly, and before the era when personal life in the West became life in an office, tape was not so much in general circulation. When the bureaucratic society passes, tape too will disappear.
A title from A. R. Ammons flashes into my mind: Tape for the Turn of the Year. A long, thin poem, written daily in the form of a journal on adding-machine tape, then transferred foot by foot to manuscripts. When the roll ended, so did the poem.