For the last month, I’ve been staying at the Edward Albee Foundation, or the Barn, in Montauk, NY. It’s a retreat for writers and artists that is open only from late-May to early October. This time of year, when Rex Lau and Diane Mayo, two artists who live next door and take care of the place, get it ready for the incoming residents, the place is empty. The weather’s still cold, and the first week I was here it barely rose above freezing. I’d leave a glass of water on the kitchen table only to find a thin layer of ice forming an hour later. Cooking was physically painful, because it required using my fingers, and it hurt to touch anything due to the cold. My bedroom was heated, so I could work and sleep in comfort.
I was first here in 2007, at the end of the summer, and remember it as one of the more magical places I’ve stayed. There were five of us, three writers and two artists, and we got along remarkably well. From my desk window, I look out onto a forest, a stream, and often deer bending their necks forward to eat idly in the afternoon sun. Every single night I stayed here I had a series of incredible and vivid dreams, some of which still stay with me. This time my dream life has been subdued, and also I’m here alone.
What sets the Barn apart from other residencies, and in my view makes it stronger, is that it is largely artist-directed. There’s no welcoming committee, there are no set times for lunch or dinner, no stipulations for what you do with yourself beyond doing your own work the way you want to do it. When you arrive, especially if you’re the first to arrive for your scheduled month, you’ll find the door unlocked (it actually never locks), the rooms bare except for furniture, and the building entirely yours. You figure it out for yourself, pick a room, find sheets and blankets in the laundry room, set up your space, and get to work. For me, this offered a great feeling of autonomy and trust, and also ownership, and allowed me to enter the space of my own work much more easily.
With this set of photos, I’ve tried to capture the off-season feel of the place. It’s not inhabited yet, not made ready for the artists and writers who will work here. Winter’s still visible in the rearview mirror, and spring hasn’t fully shown itself. There’s a haunted quality, and a silence which pervades every room. It almost looks abandoned, and at times it feels that way, as if I’ve wandered here by accident and taken shelter under its high wooden eaves.
Over and again, when I asked about the precarious future of Greece, people gave me this response: “Greece has been here for thousands of years. It does not die, and it will not this time.” Walking the streets of Athens, I find myself marveling at the beauty and humor and energy of the graffiti I see everywhere, and also feeling dismayed, because it does mar the city, it does make it ugly, and it does make the lives of Athenians who have to encounter it every day that little bit worse. But I also think of that quote, and I know that cities, like people, go through periods of creative destruction. Who knows what will emerge out of the Athens of today, what city will stand on these shopworn foundations? But one thing is certain. The city will be here, and so will its people, and I suspect that much of the energy released onto its walls will also help to feed its rebirth. For in seeing the city so brought down, one can begin to imagine the city reborn.
Click on the images to view larger versions.
For additional photos, see the earlier post, “The City Painted, part one.”
All images copyright 2012 Ranbir Sidhu.
Up now at NYFA Current, I have an essay on Sandow Birk’s recent show at P.P.O.W. Gallery. Here’s an excerpt:
“What Birk arrives at in these paintings is a vision of a Qu’ran whose primary concerns are quotidian troubles and joys and the unadorned events of everyday Americans. A man affixes a satellite dish to the side of a bungalow. A boy and a girl shovel snow from a parked car. Shoppers at Walmart push carts and search through the bargain rack. Pedestrians cross a busy Manhattan intersection under a sky of surveillance cameras. A Latino mother and her children walk out of a market in Los Angeles.”