Letter to Florentina Pakosta

Dear Florentina Pakosta! Thanks for your recent catalog! The tricolor pictures in particular interest me very much. You say, Florentina, that your painting has grown out of your political experiences of the last few years. I can understand that. The signals that come out of politics these days seem as solid as your painted beams -- sharply delineated. We've learned to read them in newspapers and on television , but not in art. What is usually desired in art is some sort of creative arbitrariness. So, I read any one of these seemingly easily readable pictures, but the more I try to decide on something that could be its "meaning," the more the picture withdraws. There seems to be a system behind it which is tautological -- which means just itself and nothing else. But the more often it is nothing more than itself, the more it can also be everything else -- or, at the other extreme, disappear altogether. The picture is then there, but, in a good sense, there is "nothing behind" it, because everything has been packed into it. Even though, as I said, one can't get hold of it. The trick of this disappearance behind the picture consists, perhaps, in the fact that the entire supply of meaning available to us has already been used up. There may still be the memory of this supply, but since everything is so much at our disposal, we are left with -- nothing. But not because there never was anything, but because at some point everything was consumed.

These tricolor pictures thus strike me as coming from a storage room that is empty, but about which we know that it was once full, because it does not exactly carry its memory, but allude to it. It's what is behind it, even though that is nothing -- but nothing not in the sense of nothingness, but in the sense of something that was once there, and now is not there anymore. I can't put this in a better way; sorry! A memory comes along (any memory, the memory of every viewer of these pictures) ...just comes along wishing to devour one of these pictures, and wishing to ta ke its place -- something which happens, after all, quite frequently in the contemplation of art. But damn! While sucking in the painting, the memory begins to notice that even though there would still be lots of room in the memory it is chock full of meanings, meanings which through the emptiness of these painted pictures become extinguished time and again. A nothing which permeates another nothing (even though that is impossible). These are strong, three-colored, vehemently delineated pictures which are capable of burrowing themselves into the viewer. The viewer, however, while looking into these pictures, must take note of the transitoriness of his or her memory -- memory which knows everything and nothing about these pictures because there is nothing in it that could give it a hold on things. Whether they want to or not, the viewers must forget the pictures -- not in the sense that they disappear from their minds, but in the sense that they personally encounter this disappearance, and that they reconstitute themselves in that -- in a state of being constantly threatened by something that is like everything else they seem to know. Thus: a rich world, but one that doesn't belong to us. Which doesn't really dawn on us till we try to appropriate it.


Tanslation: Jorn Bramann


Brief an Florentina Pakosta © 1998 Elfriede Jelinek

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