This May, we’d scheduled our first Open Studios, a month-long takeover of the building by our Residency Program artists—working on their projects, and sharing the process with the public. With the building closed, we’ve invited some of them to share their thoughts on the blog.
I think my guardian angel has taken on the form of my French press. While in the middle of scrambling up breakfast the other day, her fresh cologne wafted across the kitchen to where I stood, oven mitt and spatula in hand. It had been a headline-first kind of morning, so let’s just say the toast was burning and the eggs were already cold. When her scent hit me, I stopped. She replaced my smoky toast with an afternoon rain, took off my tattered socks and put Timberlands in their place, and settled my spatula onto the counter making space for a tray of freshly poured coffees. One black. One with milk.
It’s 2018 and I’m on my way to meet with Evalyn Parry for our Rhubarb rehearsal at Buddies. I’ve missed this place. I walk past the daily mix of strangers balancing my bookbags and attempting not to spill our wake-up juice. Crossing the street is tricky because the construction on the corner blocks the view of oncoming traffic, but the moment my feet hit the wabbly cobblestone, I find myself right at home. Once in the Cabaret, I pull the theatre curtains back as far as they can go. Even on cold mornings like this one, the giant windows greet the sun and tickle her right onto my skin. I hear tiny paws sprinting up the concrete stairs…Evalyn brought Fox into work today. I turn to greet her, and suddenly, I’m in the Buddies changeroom.
The week before I went into self-isolation, I’d been writing in here as a part of my residency. The show I worked on with Evalyn in 2018 has siblings and for the past two years, I’ve been in the process of developing them from titles and notebook scribbles into a full-bodied canon. This May was meant to be our Open Studios to showcase where the residency artists are at in their processes and to give us an opportunity to explore our projects in new ways. For the entire last week of the month, the Cabaret would’ve been all mine, this time, with curtains drawn and cellphones left at the door. I was going to be converting the space into the world of the latest play in the series, with the poetry the piece originated from incorporated into the structure of the set. The audience would’ve been invited to walk through and interact with the world as though they had been transplanted and placed inside of a comic strip.
When I was told the Open Studios wouldn’t be happening, I was honestly relieved. For a hot second I worried I had totally lost touch, but the truth is that the reason I make art at all is because I want to make our world better. I could talk your ear off about my theories on art’s relationship with society and politics, but at the end of the day, cut and dry that’s what I’m about. The installation I was in the midst of developing during my changeroom writing sessions revolves heavily around death and intimacy – two subjects that in our current state are shining their lights all too brightly. The pair have been companions to my thoughts from a supremely young age and writing about them has really fine-tuned my relationship with mortality. As much as it pained me to know that I wouldn’t be able to provide income for the artists and organizations I wanted to bring on board to the project, the mere thought of having people congregate to see my work in a setting that could ultimately put them in danger makes me sick and goes entirely against my artistic practice because, fundamentally, it goes against everything I stand for as a person. Yes, my project that I’ve poured countless cups of cold coffee into… and onto… is on hold, but I’m relieved to have it be so. Art doesn’t die, but people might if we don’t consider them when we’re creating it.
Standing before the make-up stained counter, I pack up my notebooks one by one. Just as I swing my satchel across my chest, it nicks the paper cup that had been sitting nearby and sends what’s left of my americano splashing across the changeroom floor. I rush to the kitchen to grab some paper towel but when I run through the adjoining door, I’m swept upstairs into the Chamber. It’s 2018 again and Evalyn is in the bleachers thinking deeply about something. It’s our tech day for Rhubarb and I’m standing at the edge of the seating area about to sip into a piping hot cup of coffee. I can see everyone in the room. I love it here. The moment the coffee hits my lips, the instant burn makes me jump and I’m brought back to my kitchen.
My French press is watching as I get my first kiss of caffeine and I realize all the fear I was holding from this morning’s headlines has dissipated. I take my cold eggs, my lack of sleep and my burnt toast over to the table, and I give thanks for my meal, my bed and my home. I bring over my French press and she continues to fill my apartment with memory as I count through my blessings. I count Buddies – all the coffee cups, the showcase cancelation, the rainy mornings in the Cabaret, the hallway smiles and the two-minute chats that always last a half hour, I count the coat check line and the dog paws on the stairs, I count the people whose laughs I could place with my eyes closed. I look down at my French press and count how lucky I am to have so many beautiful memories to visit while in quarantine. I thank her for knowing what I needed before I did. As I pour a fresh cup, I look forward to our next trip together.
Header image by Connie Tsang
Headshot of Heath V. Salazar by Gaetz Photography